Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Feyada

F

eyada has a feeling for these things. That’s why she got a rope-burn from the stand-up-hold-on strap on the bus when she pulled herself free, and rang the bus-stop bell so many times that the driver swore blue-bloody-blind in Brežec until the bus juddered to a halt.

“You stupid wife!” he shouted, banging open his Perspex box around the driving seat. There was a rattle of coins in the ticket machine, a rattle of rivets and aluminum and plastic; the thumping toil of the engine with the wheels disengaged. It rose up to her through her feet like a big dog barking. The driver didn’t get out, but he thought about it.

“You are a bitch pressing like a mad-woman. You think I can’t hear? That bus-drivers can’t hear? We’re not deaf! Button wife!”

Feyada thumped her wooden-heeled shoe on the running-board and glared first at him, second at the door. Faced with Feyada’s resolve, a face that said ‘I will get off this bus now and it means more to me than it can to you,’ the Desterna bus-driver threw up his hands in disgust and slammed his door. There was a pneumatic hiss of a hundred angry snakes and the battered yellow door next to Feyada concertinaed open with a bang.

Feyada jumped free with her raffia-woven bag of vegetables. The bus roared into life and country faces slid past in affected disinterest, of Feyada, as she click-clacked hurriedly along the pavement; a pregnant woman wobbling along like a railway train in a flowery dress. She barely caught the last “Shatal Bena!” from the bus driver, who had moved like a spiteful monkey to his rear-view mirror and his side window: “Fuck you, little woman!”

Feyada shook her head and grimaced, having bitten into a personality like a lime rind or a salt-fish, like kebosh – the ones her grandfather used to catch – bitter tasting, fresh-water crayfish.

It was a hot day, cloudless and baby blue. Feyada felt the heat on her blotchy legs, once beautiful like the ballet; on her toes, bare in the shoes she bought from Pello for a coin and a smile. Little winds fluttered her maternity dress. It was new and nylon; an uncharacteristic present from Mother Lenska, her husband’s mother. The white-haired wolf had seen an episode of her favorite program Columbo, subtitled ‘Colembe,’ on her battered black-and-white TV with its cockroach antenna, and saw Suzanne Hope, the knife wielding, frenzied stabbing killer, wearing one just like it.

Suzanne Hope – the actress, rather than the character – was the name on the scrap of paper pinned to the dress, when Feyada had come home to find it. She had waited a week to find out what ‘Suzanne Hope’ meant. Mother Lenska had said that she must watch the show in a year’s time, when they’ll repeat it, so she can see the dress again – just like hers, down to the flowers.

“It makes you look like a film-star,” Mother Lenska had approved, tugging it this way and that around Feyada’s expanding bulge, and then stood back to admire the effect, arms cross-folded in satisfaction under a bosom of boulders. It was good.

Mother Lenska, I am thankful, but the nylon itches so. Feyada hates the thought of finger-nails on nylon – catching, rasping in a sickly, electrified way beneath finger tips.

It is a long way to climb the hill back to the bus stop.

The grass verge is buried under weeds with rubble raked through. Beyond is bare ground, seeded with fragments of glass and brick and wood and material. Beyond that, slabs of concrete with weeds growing between, like disused runway. Among this, tall multistory blocks: huge empty buildings, of square, black, faceless windows, and no character, no shops, no people, no children. The Sikarflitzen Estate, where once buildings had been thrown up in a matter of weeks, popping into place like mushrooms after rain, but now where there were many half-finished shells on the periphery, like the husks of ant-chewed driftwood. It was as if things had been forgotten – ways of building things – that meant encasing the metal poles in concrete took years now. In fact, maybe no one knew how long, because none of the post-war buildings had been finished at all, so who knew how long? Maybe forever? Sometimes the Russian workmen turned up, trimming the weeds, but that was it.

Feyada has good eyes – sharp eyes – and she sees many of these things. Her husband says she has bright eyes, like a bird has. She liked that, when he pointed to the Thrush on the grass and then at her, whispering “bright eyes”, and kissed her eyelids. She and the thrush had watched each other through bright, bird eyes for a little longer, before it fluttered off in search of the worms sliding through the earth dikes.

She hears the cries now, feeble, but insistent and she is glad that she has bird-eyes and that she wasn’t wrong.

She curses the driver on the bus to Desterna, even though his bus is relatively frequent and is the only one. Mother Lenska knows his wife well. Perhaps she’ll mention him – his bad behavior.

The other people on the bus; they were just on their way to somewhere else. Feyada could understand their quiet looks; startled silences. They just wanted to get there.

“Oh, oh, oh…Shebeya! Shebeya!” she hushed, “Why are you here? Shhh…”

The bus-stop is a rackety affair of rusted green pipe and corrugated plates shot through with corrosion, neglect, graffiti and sharp-edged bullet holes. The glass is gone, leaving only semi-transparent brown-stained teeth, the colour of sun-faded Coca Cola bottles, rimed with blotchy, green-plaque algae. Raw gums, putty gums, have cracked and fallen away, leaving a mossy crevice of a rusty jaw. It is the only structure still standing between here and the concrete houses – a peak on a desolate hill of bulldozed ground, churned with caterpillar tracks; flowering here and there with primrose and lupins that had once been shared gardens. Now they were free for all.

The bus-pole has no sign, but the basket is next to it, bolted onto the side of the shelter, bearing the device of the Lindona Bus Company in its regional yellow. Inside it, on a bed of old papers and rusty cans, is a lattice-work throw of soft, pink, fuzzy material. On top of that, the baby.

Feyada has good eyes. She had been the only one to see it, perhaps – see him – from the bus.

I thought…maybe Sheya… maybe she had… But she looked the other way. The baby is beautiful and strong and has blue eyes like Iban, her husband, and bright eyes like her – like the thrush. Iban wouldn’t… Iban wouldn’t shout or demand, ‘How? How can we do this?’ Instead, he would say “Feyeda we will make do.”

Feyada carefully picks up little ‘bird-eyes’ as she has practiced, carefully cradling his head on her arm. Iban would like a son, and with the other child, resting in the round bulge of nylon flowers, they would have a family.

 

May 20, 2011   8 Comments

What Burns Inside

T

here are two-hundred-and-twenty-seven tragedies awaiting the flame of a lover’s heart. I have counted them all.

As I run, your flame grows longer and hungrier. You want to mix with things you better not: dry tinder, bin bags, the street-trash that hasn’t seen rain in weeks. I try to cup you with my hands like a cigarette, desperate to keep you alive, but even the breath of my passage through the night is making you waver and tear like a curtain of water.

You would think your flame would burn white – pure white like an angel’s heart, such is my regard for you – but you burn green, and sputtering and foul. You gutter with the smell of paint and window frame; lead and copper flaring like hot venom.

I cross the narrow bridge over the motorway. The cars stream past as uncaring as electric current, their lights dead and yellow, compared to your living green. Around us, the city, is as intact as it was before we started, though the ‘shop on the corner’ – selling its own trash from under the counter, whispering to children – is now a burned out mausoleum. For Sean, perhaps.

Though not you.

As the fire trucks and their writhing hoses tried to extinguish your rage, I slipped in and kindled your revenge: coaxed you onto a narrow spar of wood from the window, left when the gas tank exploded.

At first, you didn’t want to come. You wanted to die, but I wouldn’t let you. I fed you a morsel – you flickered, you writhed, but at last, you bit.

I would like you to become a majestic flame, standing as tall as the justice you felt you were dispensing – rag over mouth, petrol in hand like an alcoholic; so no other parent would suffer as we have done – but you cling to that stick with a barely defined menace, the ground beneath your feet turning to clinker; curling into red ash.

At parts, you try to escape, drifting on the wind, but I hold you as close as I dare.

At other times, you try to bite the hands that hold you; that want to feed and caress you. I don’t blame you – all that is left is your all-consuming rage.

Those masked and hooded savages were not there. The building collapsed before your revenge was complete. So, what? This is it? They’ll move on, peddle again? Other children, other shops arriving and blowing away like smoke?

But you are flame; the flame of you heart, and I won’t let you die.

We cross the canal.

Don’t do that. Please.

I blacken my fingers against your desperate desire for absolution in the oily waters below, but we we both make it over: my crying hot tears, burning a section of my own shirt just to keep you alive.

Now you passion is burning me up, piece by piece.

Two streets. Three streets.

A party is going on. I can hear an amateur band playing three floors up in a Georgian flat. Multicoloured lights phase one after another within a room’s hidden volume, as laughter and boorish shouts slip from an open window. They all make light, but yours is the focused flame.

Don’t let me down, now.

You sniff hungrily at the bottle in my pocket. Be patient. It’s sauce, not a meal.

Up the steps. Quickly. You’re dying. I can see it. That green ball of coach-light is shrinking, pulling back from the walls.

We scrape past sandstone.

The door three floors up is as red, and noisy, and full of lost souls, as a gate into Hell.

Trying to hold onto you – a wild cat, spitting sparks, as if you know what an opportunity this is – I’m slopping petrol from the bottle, the lid cross-threaded from my haste to fill it. But the last of my shirt is pushed into its neck, and then you are running up the taper, writhing up the last of me.

Your kiss ignites the petrol on my hands, but we push you in together, through the letterbox, dropping your exploding rage onto a doormat that no doubt says welcome.

Hell has its flames at last.

Who knows what chemicals were stored in that flat, because I barely make it down a flight before your revenge is so unequivocal and all-consuming, there aren’t any stairs left to run on.

***

In the darkness, as the fire engines come – wailing and lamenting – I flutter along on the evening breezes, watching their red and blue lights bounce around, as if the whole world is pulsing back and fore between just those two colours – red and blue, red and blue – the colours of violence.

Black smoke obscures the belching hole in the ground, but as I watch, a green shred of flame rises up majestically, darting this way and that like a butterfly with the aims of a meteor, attempting to retake the sky. I drift in your direction, willing a meeting of souls on the chill, night air, high above the city.

As uncaring as chemicals, we meet and merge; I consuming your scrap of clear, plastic film, you my scrap of wordless newsprint.

For a while we spiral together, ascendant, until the fuel of our bodies is utterly consumed by the last of our passions.

—–

Time for a footnote. If it wasn’t going to screw up my rather old and shaky drop caps plugin, I’d have put this at the top so you could’ve skipped the reading should you have desired.

Been meaning to do this for a while, but I finally got down to recording myself reading this week’s #FridayFlash. Despite the embarrassment of talking to myself again (while editing the text, and now, recording and editing the audio)  I figured I’d give it a go. If you fancy, click on the arrow below. Let me know what you think. Yes, that is my voice. My neighbours are are probably, even now, barricading me into the flat… 😉 St.

What Burns Inside – Read by Stephen Hewitt

 

 

April 23, 2011   11 Comments

Nothing but a Cold Digger

T

ammy saw a ghost last night. That’s what Martha says; saw him drifting right through the porch-siding like he was Elvis on a skateboard.

Tammy threw a fit, and threw her nice, new pitcher right through a window. That’s how scared she was. All she got left behind was an explosion of botanical glass and a five-dollar bunch of chrysanthemums, scattered all over, like ten dead, red men.

When I go see her, she’s still sobbing over the corner of a handkerchief.

All the rest of the Golden Acres women want to have it out with Tammy, grab her by the pink lapels, and shake some sense into that haze of permed hysteria, but I don’t. I just want to sit her down and feed her brownies – big, soft, brick-brownies – like I’m posting them into a letterbox.

You see, I think I’ve seen that ghost too, and more to it, I’ve got a notion he’s cheating on me. That you’re cheating on me. But I’ve got to hear it from her; from those chocolate-crumbed lips that are ‘umming’, and ‘awing’ over the old recipe Gramma’ Kennedy taught me, right down to the walnuts and the golden molasses, sticky as sin.

I can be patient, and, sure enough, she’s had a shock.

As I once did.

That’ll change, though. Sure, it’s all fresh and easy right now (she’s a spring-chicken sceptic at seventy-five, a hundredth of your age, if she’s a day). But you know what, something will go out of it. I don’t know what or where or when, but the spark will just leave – that little frisson of terror I thought would never go; that punch to the heart with every creak about the house, or a burst of static on the old B&W set with its Y and O of an aerial, or a flash and flicker of a light bulb, like something is squeezing along the wire – it’ll just… just slowly drift away.

I sleep well, these days – alone, but well – and maybe I don’t see anything quite as I should.

Now, ‘psychic’ or ‘sensitive’, or whatever you want to call it, are pretty big words. Not so long ago, I was just an honest soul who hadn’t seen so much; who only knew what I could see in front of me. I liked to bake of a Sunday, or clip roses on the front stoop – cupping their lip-kissing petals in the sunshine – or sip on a lemon soda, watching the bubbles fizz up out of the glass with the sound of a miniature steak cooking where the ice ought to be. And that’s the kind of person Tammy is, when she’s not scared half out of her wits, and throwing things through windows like she’s got an electric current shorting out her wiring.

And when Tammy pats at the corner of her lips – now with that handkerchief, mixing tears with chocolate – I wonder if those lips have kissed the frigid air my lips once kissed; perhaps howling wide in terror. Or she got electrified in a cold spot, tingling like teenage indiscretion; or clutched at a heart she thought might break ‘for the love of God’, stammering for whatever it was to go. Waiting for it to go. And it not leaving; deliciously intensely, horrifyingly, pulling out that moment like a gut string, tightening and tightening until…

It’s gone.

But only for a while.

Stubborn. Cold. A presence she feels in the house like a pit in a plum – dig it out with her fingers, right under the flesh – until one day, down the line, when she gets complacent, you won’t come any more.

Sure I got a home. But now it’s just a stack of firewood with a screen door and a porch, and a fridge that runs like a street car, and a few sticks of furniture, in a place that ain’t got no heart.

The horror didn’t get too much. It didn’t stop. It just grew convenient and familiar. We settled down you and I.

For a while, I did the dutiful thing: sat pulling the stuffing out of a goose-down pillow most nights, dull and unmoving, heart bursting, watching mama’s old tooth-glass move with jerky scrapes across the table and up over the plaster, only to drop like a crystal meteorite, while the energies got me twisted up to puking.

But it turned out, that my body and mind, and maybe my soul, couldn’t stay terrified indefinitely; that the promise of what could be manifest, never materialised; that I couldn’t stay hanging on forever, waiting on whatever that dark, toothed shadow in the cupboard had in store for me.

You had eternity; I had the last flutter of a graveyard moth.

So, guilty as I am now, sitting here on Tammy’s couch, Tupperware in hand, I’m trying to tell you – whoever you are – that I’m sorry. That I’d make you brownies, too, if you had the bones to eat them. But that’s just what I’m talking about: goddamn brownies when I should be shrieking and cowering.

Like Tammy.

Look at all that flooded mascara.

I know the times you’re going to have together. She’ll find life will never be so bright and precious than when she’s with you, floating by like a knife in the darkness.

I never felt so alive.

God damn. The Tupperware lid pops.

Then I’m standing up too quickly and telling Tammy that I’ve got to go.

I’m so sorry. So sorry, darling, but I can’t understand how this terror-stricken dolly-bird will ever make you happy.

 

April 16, 2011   9 Comments