Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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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

Oberbaumbrucke, 1988

O

ld postcards.

Take this card, from Berlin. A girl called Luanna Wechsler sent me a black-and-white photo of Gösta Ekman; folded a corner by the looks of it, licked a stamp. Here on my living room table, caught in a bright, hot, slant of sunshine, it’s like a ramp back into the past; one I don’t particularly want to slide down.

Luanna. Crazy Luanna. The one who drank too much and worked in vaudeville shows on the Eastern side, and had a costume for every occasion. If she wanted to be a cow, she was a cow. If she wanted to be contrite or flirtatious, she had the stockings and suspenders to prove it.

She drank too much: red wine by the cocktail glass. Feathers in her hair. Feathers in my teeth. Feathers floating in the bathroom porcelain, like little sail boats.

Her flat was tall, straight and narrow. Wooden floors under my unlaced paratrooper boots. A view out to the plazas, and churches, and the old walls, and the new wall, stretching out through a twisting maze of guard towers and barbed wire, where searchlights would suddenly focus on one fleeing body or another.

Luanna would laugh, and flop down on her couch, rich with throws, in a room that was empty of everything but plaster dust, and a fireplace with a mirror over it the size of a double-bed (Luanna always was a flirt, and if no one else was around, why, well, she’d do). And a record player. One of the old ones. The really old ones with the black ice cream cone, and the cranking handle from an old car, and the records that came in brown, rice-paper sleeves, and small writing I couldn’t be bothered to read, and the disks themselves heavy and brittle like hard liquorish.

She’d put one on and insist on dancing, eyes forward, stance like a ballroom dancer; my pulling back dreads and trying to shuffle along with her, wondering when-in-the-hell she was going to get curtains on those great, big bays, that showed half the city, and showed half the city Luanna when she got up in the morning and stretched – right out in one window or another – as soft and naked as the early morning sun; showing the day she had more than enough attitude and flesh to make it.

This is no longer a postcard, etched with her elaborate, copperplate scrawl.

At night, I know we must stand out like mannequins dancing in a department store. The lights are on – some five-Deutsche-mark bulbs shaped like candles, in an East-German light fitting shaped like a candelabra – and while she smiles and smiles, pirouetting, hands held in mine, just so, back arched, head tilted just a little left so that her throat shows, I shamble around, trying to get my bearings, trying to imagine us dancing above the city – amongst the lights – with some passer-by down below wondering, what the hell are those two crazies up to?

I wish I’d thought of that first. What were we up to?

Verrückten.

The mirror’s gilding looks fake in this too-much light, the record wheezes on in some ancient old waltz, with a woman singing in Swedish, I think, though its sounds as if she’s doing it into a cup, or her cupped hands, and as the dance progresses, there’s a dull, repetitive, click coming from the mechanism that’s making the handle twitch, and I can smell Luanna’s perfume all over again – some trip to Paris, but the artisans quarter or the artist’s promenade – and, as she laughs, and places her head to my chest, content to have me shuffle her around, I wonder if she’s listening for heart or clockwork, or imagines herself a child again; and the music is slowly pulling out and distorting, as all that energy she put in slowly plays out in grooved revolutions; the record wobbling, the voice starting to sound nasal and crazed.

Later, we sit on the balcony. It smells of pigeons. A light wind stirs a dangling aerial cable, from that annoying flat upstairs – “They’re bourgeois,” Luanna explains with a tip of her glass and exposes more of a leg from that V in her skirt. Long, attractive legs.

“I should have been a ballerina,” she sighs.

Cars beep and run furiously down below. Feathers detach from her boa, and drift like pink birds, intent on swirling back into the flat. On the floor, now, a simple mattress. I hauled it out of the cupboard.

“What should you have been?” she says, prodding my chest. She leaves the finger pointed there, bent like a sprung piece of metal. “Well?”

“I… I don’t know. Lots of things, I guess.”

“Like?”

She sips from her glass, lips fruitful; wine a crimson, shiny explosion of the heart.

“I dunno. Someone who could dance, I guess.”

She laughs, but says she’ll ask me again tomorrow.

More wine. More dancing. This time, to no music. Lights out, the ambient light of the city floods in for us to gawk at. I stare at none of it, of course: ignoring, as I, no doubt, have been previously ignored.

Later, we go to the bed we have been literally and figuratively dancing around.

If you lay flat, the hard parts of your body don’t clatter on the floor. It’s surprisingly comfortable. Luanna is warm. Her skin feels like velvet. Our empty glasses act like prisms for the moonlight, casting red arcs across the floor.

“I have a show tomorrow. Big German dancing. Sleep,” she commands, hair tousled. I was wrong about the Parisian perfume. She smells of patchouli. The mattress is a raft. Two plates lie next to us, like islands on that big, wooden floor.

If I wanted a memory that said I was all at sea, then this is it.

The postcard says, “I miss you, but I don’t love you.”

It was a lie, I think. But I got scared and let things drift away.

 

April 8, 2011   10 Comments