The Tale of the Old Man and the Maid

He stumbled into the room, roughly grasping the top of the chair by his well-worn desk and cursing each former lover in his moist and ailing breath, fell into a sorry heap upon the bed, too tired to pull off his boots and too saddened by the decline in his quality of life to remove his glasses.  Nothing, save the frothing fury of the tropical sea rising up and laying salty claim to all the beaches in the land, could save the loss of face that he had endured that day.  For in front of his red-headed daughter, who was buxom, proud and ready to marry the young military captain that had so captured her heart and stained it so openly on his own uniformed arm, he had been stripped of all power, humiliated and whipped like a cowering dog chained to a post in the yard.

The cause of his mistreatment was the maid, who had so blithely started that fateful day as gormless as she had entered this life, the daughter of a whore who had given her up at the first opportunity.  That is not to say that she, the maid, was unaware of the power that her accusation would bring to her master, as she knew from her dilapidated upbringing that the raw power of sexual lust could do strange things to a man’s heart.  It was a memory passed down in blood from her estranged mother, the one who would die empty-handed clutching helplessly at the passing shoes of the sons and daughters of her customers.  It was an ignoble end to a life lived in the shadows, but one that her daughter would not share with her mother, or so she had thought.

Instead she would carry around with her a glowing heart filled at the memories of a holiday romance, a fling that had lit a thousand nights of self-fueled passion spread across the decades following the now hazy memories of a lifetime ago.  These were the glimpses into her past that brought her body and mind onto the edge of so fantastic an experience that she temporarily blinded herself each and every time she accessed them.  Although her current life lacked little in the way of attention from the opposite sex, keeping as she had the plump and youthful looks of her mother, the willingness to partake in the tasting of the flesh was strictly divorced from the cannibalization of her own memories.  In short, it was these that she feasted on instead of the current attention that she attracted and returned to again and again in the silence of the night.

Time passed silently, the moon forever chasing the sun as the weeks leaped into months and the seasons dictated the passing of the years.  By chance work had found her employed as a maid for an owner of a large tract of land, which included numerous rented apartments and holiday villas for tourists that visited this small Caribbean nation alongside the owner’s main housing complex, hidden in a corner behind a curving perimeter wall.  The owner coveted his private life and communicated with both his retinue and his staff by way of paper notes, dotted across the working surfaces of a life he had little known intimately but instead managed from afar.  The practice worked as if by magic though, the newer members of staff at first baffled by the notes left in green ink each morning, documenting the previous day’s stock figures, both incoming and outgoing, and dictating the actions of the next.  The older staff however were well used to this method and blithely accepted whatever the writer of the note wanted, trusting as they did the path ahead as an apparition of the successful path behind.

The persistent rumours of the sightings of the owner were frequent among the staff, with wild recollections of a golden-haired Lothario prowling the grounds at night or that he was actually a hunchback man who had been seen howling at the moon in rage and despair.  Lucinda, the young slip of a girl who worked in the granary, had once caught a slender grey-haired gentlemen helping himself to the kitchen stores but he had pranced off into the night before she had a chance to shout his name.  No sightings were confirmed although that did not stop the rumours being mulled over and created late into the night by the staff at the end of their long shifts; instead the owner preferred always to communicate by his spidery flowing script rather than by sight and sound.

The maid had seen his notes and was taken by the veracity of the green ink on the faded, golden papers.  The twirls of the P’s and the L’s satisfied some small section of her stomach, pleasingly looped as they were.  In time she started to collect a number of the notes once the older ones had been discarded, their actions carried out by the ever observant and trusting staff.  It was late one springs night, in her provided for one bed-roomed cleaners cottage, that the maid noticed the odd word or phrase that silently rung a long-dormant bell within her memory.

Surely the owner could not be the very flame that had burnt for eternity within her chest, ever since that fleeting coastal romance?  She gathered up the dozen or so notes spread across the duvet and held them close to her tight chest, breathing in the vapors of the ink as her pupils dilated and the clothes fell from her body of their own volition.  When she woke she noted the cold sweat of her body, the notes plastered on the inside of her thigh, on top of her belly and her breasts, a love intent on the recreation of the physical and the spiritual.  She knew then that the owner was indeed her former lover.

Some days later a note went up on the main noticeboard: ‘To wit: My Daughter to Marry the Captain, Two Days Hence – Staff Welcome’.

The owner’s daughter was most unlike her father in that she was well-known in the community, haughty but well-known.  Little did she communicate directly with the staff, she was instead seen and not heard.  Two days until the wedding!  Some of the staff, the kitchen women and the mucker outers especially, expressed surprise that they were invited to view the proceedings, but all were excited by the prospect of finally seeing with their own eyes the owner of the land.  Much was made of the brevity of the note in comparison to the usual notes but none could argue that the next 48 hours were to pass in a state of increasing frenzy and intrigue.

Today was the day that she was going to proclaim that this stored fountain of love was directly transferable to the object of her affections, the owner.  In her fevered night-long dreams she could foresee a double marriage taking place, father and daughter pleased and pressed into unions of love, her simple maid’s status raised to the title of owner’s wife!  Oh, what pleasure awaited them both!  Dressing in her finest clothes and smartening up her shoes, she went to join the rest of the workers gathered outside in the courtyard, ready to proceed to the wedding venue – an outdoor folly that took into its expansive view the bay and the mountains in the background and the luscious greens in the foreground.

The crowd waited with bated breath as the procession of the captain and his bride, and assembled groomsmen and bride’s maids of honor, sorted themselves within the folly.  A minute or two later the owner strode into view, each booted foot planted with firm resolution, his tight thin-lipped mouth curled up into the slightest imitation of a sneer, framed by golden-greying hair.  A complete hush fell over the crowd of workers and some swore they could see green ink stains on his fingertips, a visual clue that this was who they suspected that he was.

It was at this moment that the maid, her breasts almost bursting out of her tight white top, lunged forward, one foot unsteadily following the other as a faint scream of ecstasy escaped her lips and the faint light of terror entered the owner’s eyes.

‘Matías!  Matías!  My love, it is me, Natalia!’

It was later recalled it was at this moment that the owner’s heart sunk fully into the very bowels of his body.

What for her had been an unforgettable romance by the sea, had been instead for him a desultory sink in status, one that he had revelled in at the time for its feeling of desperation but had since been forced into the very back of his mind.  Instead, and ever since that long weekend spent entwined in both the arms and breasts of Natalia, he had made love to women only on par with his social standing, determined to remove the grit that he had felt instilled itself in him from sinking so low that one time.

In short, there could be no worse time for his past to haunt the owner then at the very moment he chose to show himself for the first time to his staff at his daughter’s wedding.

His eyes sunk into their sockets, and continued to join his heart, whilst his cheeks became maroon curtains of the richest silk.

He ran and he did not look back as Natalia stumbled onto her knees and tried clasping onto his fleeing heels, just as her mother had once done in the street where she lay dying …

Photograph by the author using a Pentax S1a and Lomography Lady Grey film. If reproduced please credit as appropriate.

Dreaming in the Winter

Taking turns to sleep, taking turns to keep watch.  I wonder what my life could have been like if I changed just one of a thousand choices.  Would I still be alive?  Would I be living in a different country?  Would I still be as thankful as I am now for what I have got, or would I be hungry for more, oh so much more.

Taking turns to keep watch, taking turns to sleep.  Does she know just what I’ve done for her, even as I keep scanning the horizon, searching for the ever present threat of a life in the balance.  Would he still be dead?  Would I still be living in this country?  I’ll keep my watch, I’ll keep my silence.

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Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and Lomography Lady Grey film. If used elsewhere please credit as appropriate.

The Contract

How could I possibly tell her that I had thought we had a future together when these thoughts alone were just the remanent of fragmented dreams, and that those dreams were recalled by the half light ecstasy of sexual mores that only I could gain personal satisfaction in?  No, these feelings and lust-filled thoughts were just that.  They were simply a morning temptation before the creeping light of dawn awoke me fully to the realities of the day ahead.  I held the phone in my right hand, her number displayed on the screen with a text half-finished underneath.  I reread the message and cringed in shame, the liquid warm against my belly whilst I drew deep breaths.  Deleted.  For the betterment of us both.

Besides I had double English to attend and I still needed to scrub the sleep from my eyes, shower and dress.  The walk to the college alone would take twenty minutes and I had an hour at the most to get ready, prepare for the class and to arrive on time.  Timekeeping was never a strong point for me, the lack of punctuality ran in the family and infuriated my mother continually throughout her children’s adolescence.  My eldest brother, for I was one of four and the second youngest of our parent’s brood, would drive my mother crazy by getting up late, sometimes comically late and especially so if we had to be somewhere on time. This would then cascade a chain of fury from my mother to my father, who got annoyed on her behalf before the fury finally found us, his younger brothers.  Once we were out of the house however we were fine and I think Dad sensed this when he saw the frustration spreading and urged us out as fast as was humanely possible.

The house was empty this morning though so I could blast the music, keep the bedroom door open and move about freely as naked as the day my poor mother had pushed me out.  I loved it – the feeling of an empty house where my favourite music reverberated from wall to wall; where I could eat quickly before I jumped into the shower, laughing as I did so as the water followed and flowed over the contours of my limbs and ran down my thighs.  They were where the thick surgical scars outlined the orthopaedic surgeon’s fixation.  I was proud of these scars, they were my personal tattoos of a specific time and place, my memories of pain and pleasure entwined to produce a better me (or so the hope went).

The first lesson passed without incidence, we learnt of the black ram tupping the white ewe and the lecturer expounded on what this meant for the play, for the deft characterisation and turn of phrase the author was so well-known for.  I wondered of his contemporaries, of his hopes and dreams.  I wondered what became of his loves and hungers, what his reaction would be if he knew that his plays would be enacted out four centuries hence whilst his fellow playwrights would lie largely forgotten in the lands that birthed them.  But still, I had the break to look forward to where I would see her and think ashamedly back to my morning scene.  I wanted to hold her hair in my hands and look deep into the blues of her eyes.  This was a fantasy, the girl who I would later call my partner had brown eyes and curly hair, she wasn’t the person who I had dreamt of whilst I had lain in bed, regretting the passing of the minutes that I was powerless to stop.

This was the contract, signed by us both.  Remaining friends but no more, the blushes of a late teenage crush hidden by a mop of hair.  Instead I put aside my fantasy of my cheek against hers, my lips kissing hers, my body entwined with hers, and put our friendship on a higher plane. There was no underlying hidden moral heroism driving this, it was purely the shame of not trying and never asking for her hand.  The joy of seeing her and sharing stories over drinks replaced this erotic dream of mine, one that I had subconsciously harboured since school and let blossom fully at college.  Instead I focused on the give and take of friendship. The unsaid declaration of the fact that she and I were always willing to be there for one another, at the end of a text, a phone call or in person, that it remained hanging in the air never needing to be vocalised.

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Taken by the author with a Pentax S1a camera using Lomography Lady Grey film. If reproduced elsewhere please credit as appropriate.

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning

I can only offer myself up as a sacrificial lamb but please do not hold that knife too close, let me say my piece and then we shall see who loved her, who left her, and who needed her.

Put away that cold, cold gun, and put your jacket upon the hook.  Please take your time and do not judge me before you have heard my words, my pleas, and my love for her that did burn a thousand older lovers.

We met at the crossroads half eleven at night, the film had finished and I was wandering lonely and lost.  We came across each other on opposite paths, our eyes met across the street.

Nothing needed to be said, nothing needed to be motioned, what we had we had it for that night in my old hotel room, which crowded and small, our bodies stretched across that single bed.

Before I could say no, before I could say go, before I knew what was falling I was in over my head.  Don’t hold that knife too close, my head is heavy and I am tired, I’m not sure that tonight I could put up much of a fight.

If I see you again at the old Chelsea hotel, I’ll do well to hold away, to take my body and to cross the sea, to never bother you again.

But in my breast, against my heart, I shall carry the memories of her forever.

Hold your hand, hold it tight, we only spent the night together that once.  When I look in the mirror so my body does shiver at the thoughts of what could be.  You have it all and I have just my old acoustic guitar.  Cold and worn, broken besides.

My friend you have won without ever raising a weapon against me.  It is true that your wife and I made love, that we reveled in the lust of two bodies conjoined.  It is true we moaned our way through the small hours, but that was just the night, oh it was just the night.

What I did, and what I said, I cannot make it right and I will not put up a fight.  You have my word, you have my promise – I shall never see her again.  The flick of her hair, the arched eyebrow, those are the memories within me.  I shall go, oh I will go, but where my weary feet do take me I have no idea.  I just carry on down this dusty road for one.

Reprise: An Experiment. Part II.

~ Running in the night , screaming at the light

of a thousand stars dying and the all engulfing love

and tyranny

of skin on skin ~…

…~ Of memories long since buried

beneath the ocean of the beloved

that haunt

me still ~…

…~ Pain is pleasure and pleasure is

gained through the experience, but

there is nothing

and no-one ~…

…~ We are the sum of all we are,

what bullshit do we seek, when

thrills, high or low, can be found

on every corner street ~…

Do words mean anything when there is no context, no fabric into which they are weaved?  Are they meaningless if they are spoken to the ether, scored into the sky, taking no physical form nor permanency?

Dark Nights, Darker Days

The city of dreams,
This is the city of my nightmares.

The city of my last love,
This is the city of a thousand cold hard stares.

I can’t breathe, but
I can see what
(I think) is all around me.

The city has me in a
Choke hold and it ain’t
Letting me breath.

Let me go, just let
Me go.

I scream to mangled foes,
Whilst all I get is broken bones,
Blow after blow.

In this city of spite,
There is no respite.

I don’t need to be free,
I just need to be.

The Partisan

That old troubadour is back, with Leonard Cohen releasing his latest album, Popular Problems, this week.  I haven’t gotten my copy of the CD yet but I am looking forward to listening to Cohen’s album in full, knowing that I, as a listener, am in the safe hands of a man who has remained at his artistic peak for many decades now.  The songs I have heard so far have only intensified this feeling.  His voice is certainly deeper, whispering as Cohen has aged, but he is still intensely recognizable in both delivery and tone.  His voice has always been a distinctive feature as he is not your typical singer, with his rich lyrics delivered via a sometimes monotone voice.  This, however, does not detract from his music and actually highlights the inherent poetry of his lyrics.  Female backing singers have also become more of a permanent feature, sometimes helping to echo his own lines or provide the chorus, but always enriching his songs.

As a poet, novelist and song writer Cohen has remained fairly prolific in his musical and literary output, only coming to a slowdown in his 70’s.  On learning that the vast majority of the money had he saved had been swindled, he once again took himself on the road to earn some money.  We, as the audience, must be thankful for humanity’s greed, as Cohen has since toured fairly extensively and has released two new albums (Popular Problems being the second after 2012’s Old Ideas).  It seems as if he has been re-invigorated and is flourishing once again, no doubt surprising his older fans with new ones who are only just discovering his extensive discography.

As I’ve mentioned on this site before The Partisan has to be one of my favourite songs that is covered by Leonard Cohen , exemplifying as it does the close bond of the partisan and the people who help hide them, of the intense love, hope and brutality of a country at war:

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning,
I’m the only one this evening,
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

Paper Please

Once more Marías has accompanied me into the late hours of the night, into my bed where my body takes its own nocturnal rest.  It is where I clutch his book close to my eyes as I fall deeply into the world of his characters trials and tribulations.  Having now finished my second novel by him (this one being Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me) and having read a book of his short stories, I am keen to dig ever deeper into his works of literature.

There is something captivating about the written word and the paper page, something that cannot be captured electronically.  It’s the simple collected elegance of a person’s thoughts, pressed onto the paper for all times sake until either the page crumbles or the book is burnt.  The book represents, for me, one of the fundamental pillars of humanity’s humanity, one of its real achievements in expression and deliberation.  As such, and accordingly, my room is covered in them, each surface littered with books on anatomy, literature, travel accounts and histories.  It is into books that I disappear into most nights, where I am immersed for longer than a movie, more deeply than a painting.

“You’re right about one thing though: I won’t forget those hours you talked about.  There are certain things that we should be told about immediately so that we do not, for a single second, walk about the world believing something that is utterly mistaken, when the world has utterly changed became of them.  It is simply unacceptable to think that everything is carrying on as it was, when, in fact, everything is different, turned upside down, and it’s true that, afterwards, the time we spent in error becomes unbearable to us.  How stupid I was, we think, and yet we shouldn’t find that so very painful.”

– From Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, by Javier Marías (published in 1994).

A Letter To Simone II

Porto,

Portugal

Friday 20th August

Dearest Simone,

Your latest letter breathes joy into my very frame.  Yes, yes, I am always too formal in my correspondence!  Still I am here, I have managed to escape the landlocked country of the Switz and I now face the great open Atlantic, I am coming Simone, I am coming!  I can almost hear the gentle lapping of the waves against the great southern continent that holds you, my dear friend, in its gentle and comfortable embrace.  I am safe here on the southern tip of the European continent, no one knows I am here and the country is morose and still, but it is safe and stable.  The language is the same as your host country so I will be well prepared to converse and drop into the background on the journey over.

My very bones feel rejuvenated here in Porto, as the morning sun cascades down the terracotta tiles of a thousand roofs.  We are safe, we are safe!  My European plain sensibilities are becoming swamped by the Hispanic love of life and of relaxation.  I feel that although we will always carry the guilt of the free, of the survivors, we may try yet again to live in this beautiful world.  In all honesty Simone I am surprised I feel this way but it is because of our escape and of the dangers that we have survived that I feel this way.  We must answer the boot of our oppressor with the scream of our freedom.

Yes, you know I am always reading!  I have managed to find a few different novels but nothing of serious importance, just some light novels and novellas that keep me going.  I am finding deep inspiration in the architecture and geography of this city, in watching the swaying hips of the beautiful women and the light steps of the children inevitably trailing in their wake.  Although the great spirit of this country is asleep at the moment, under this monotonous leader, I have no doubt it will wake up and bring great vitality to a united and friendly Europe.

But of course that may be some time off yet.

Ah yes my love life, you know Simone that I rarely talk of such passions openly.  But what can I say, this country is infecting the very marrow of my bones and I have indeed been meeting up with a few of the local ladies for dates.  Do not misread that though!  I keep my distance and act with discretion, but with my local cafes often being graced with my presence I have come to meet several women for short dates, nothing more than fanciful dalliances really.  My heart does flutter however whenever I have the opportunity to meet Roberta though.  I’ll haven’t the time or space to write about here though as this is just a short letter before I sail to Recife, my next letter will be full of details though!

As I said there have been no more poisonous letters and I am positive that we are now safe to continue on with our lives, to make them worthwhile once more.  I’m sending a small package with this letter, including a book of poetry which I will think you will love.  The Atlantic crossing will take some time but each morning I will wake and think of you.

Yours faithfully and with all of my love,

Sasha C.

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A Letter To Sasha

Recife

Brasil

Monday 14th July

Sasha,

You are always too formal!  I have your crinkled and yellowed letter by my side as I write to you now, though it has took some time to arrive to me here on the sunny coast of Recife (I think Brasilian mail is slow).  I trust that you are safe, whatever devil wrote that letter will surely be thrown from your trail once you moved.  In truth I have to believe that you are safe, you are my link, possibly my last link to what we once had in the old world.  But I will not speak like that because we are strong, we have always been strong!  Remember when we were children and we used to rings around Joseph in the school yard, how his little cheeks became red with the effort of his exertion as he tried to catch us whilst we floated on the air, always beating him.  We were always the fastest in the school races as well.

Do you believe that whoever sent you the letter also knew about me?

Recife life is good, I am liking it here although it is very different from the home country.  The coast and the countryside are beautiful (a lush verdant green contrasting with the colonial town facade), the sea is sparkling and the living is good.  I should say though that this city is not without it’s own problems of course.  There is a large population here, full of migrants and manual laborers from the surrounding countryside, and whilst there is a strong regional and local identity it would not do to compare it to the cities in the south!  I know you think it is odd my coming here, after all this is country that is directly opposite to ours in ideology and views, one that has harboured those that seek to banish, isolate and, ultimately, flay us off the face of this earth, but in truth Sasha it is also a vibrant mix of people, of identities and cultures.  I can, with a good tan and some local knowledge, slip into the crowds here and form myself a new skin; I am born anew.

Please do not say that I am betraying our homeland identity though.  We both know what it is like carrying around our secrets and hidden pasts (that heavy depressing weight) but we have to be careful, we always have to be careful.  In my heart I believe that this is the last place that I’ll be found in or hunted down in- I am living in the open, eating fresh fish and fruit and drinking the vitalising local drinks.  I feel free here Sasha!  More free than I have felt for so many years.  It is as if I can feel my wings spreading that little bit more each day, as if the very horizon widens that little bit more every morning.  I am even taking educational classes, learning the local language slowly but surely and helping to sell goods at a small local market.  I know it is nothing compared to our previous lives but I am slowly earning to live again.  I pray that you too are doing the same.  In fact I know you are, we could not be so close and not know one another’s thoughts, even with an ocean between our physical bodies.

I wake up on the cool mornings, with the air laced with the salt of the sea spray, the sun’s rays casting shadows on my walls and the calls of the street echoing in my room, and I give thanks that I wake up in this lovely place.  There is history here too, although not classical it is every bit as intriguing as anything Rome or Athens produced, and so recent too.  Did you know that the indigenous peoples raised their own republic here in the north not so long ago?  That they repelled the central government so many times that the main rebel city grew and prospered for decades?  In resistance there is hope.  We know this, we live this.  To be alive is to be against the laws of the very known universe, but to be alive means that we must push ourselves even when we think that we can no longer function as humans.  We must, we have to, or else our lives would be in vain.

Forgive me, I know you know this.  And do not joke, your bones are almost younger than mine!  I will see you yet in Brasil and we shall dance together in the street.  I know that you have to stay in Europe; I miss it every waking hour of my life but I need to be away from it.  I cannot yet go back, too fresh is the wound upon my body and being physically back would surely open re-open those wounds.  I fear that is something I could not recover from quickly, if I ever could.  No, I have a horrible feeling that it could be fatal.  No, I need to Stay away, I need that deep blue gap between between me and the land we once knew.

Tell me, my dear, what news of your love life?  What news of your latest historical fix?  I miss your knowledgeable ways, the pointing out of nicked buildings and little cultured asides on some-such street feature.  Are you reading at the moment?  I find that I have to, that before I go to bed on a night I must pick up a European classic and read a few pages or even just flick through some favourite passages of a few novels.  I need to remind myself that evil has not permeated every facet of European life, that it has not indelibly marked the pleasure of our country or another.  Maybe it is stupid, or daft, but I feel it is necessary.

Do not forget Sasha that we are all sons and daughters of some one.  We have our history, our culture, our people, running through our own veins right now, even as you read these very words remember that we are free.  Whilst we live so do they.  Do not give up hope, and do not give in to despair.  Fly while (and when) you can but soon we will be settled once again.  Keep that hope in your heart and enjoy your historical tours as I am sure only you can!

With deepest love for you my brother, my family.

Simone

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