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.

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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.

The Earth & Everything In It

My room, I realize, is covered in books and CD’s.  Stacks of both poke out from under my bed, bulge on shelves, take root on free patches on the floor.  I have boxes of academic books and reference texts resting below where I sleep, buried alongside those are boxes of CD’s and cassette tapes, filled with yesterday’s music and recorded jam sessions made during the proclivities of my youth.  They are, it appears, my media of choice for consuming the experiences and thoughts of being human.

To be human, as to recognize to being alive, is temporary but what a beauty that it is in itself:

‘But the stars twinkle above our heads, the sun shines, the grass grows and the earth, yes, the earth, it swallows all life and eradicates all vestige of it, spews out new life in a cascade of limb and eyes, leaves and nails, hair and tails, cheeks and fur and guts, and swallows it up again. And what we never really comprehend , or don’t want to comprehend, is that this happens outside us, that we ourselves have no part in it, that we are only that which grows and dies, as blind as the waves in the sea are blind.’

From My Struggle: Part 2. A Man In Love (2014) by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Bodies Broke

Standing there on the twisting stairs,
legs wrapped around the banister
The cocked head leaning back,
throwing out your lonely stare.

A thousand bored nights wrapped
in your tight shawl of love and despair
Oh the pity just seeps off you, the
cold skin of a thousand frustrations.

It just makes it worse than I could care
But I still stand fixed with a potent glare.

Lips like fat potato chips, the body
dysmorphia can’t do more for you,
than I think that I thought we could
together, riding this wave of gigantic…

This wave of gigantic love that truly
fucked us up, spit and spat us out,
until we couldn’t give what was demanded
We were remanded, deported and resorted
to the horrors of the night.

The golden hair clumped in my right hand,
served as a fine reminder of a fairer time
Cast against the natural light, we dreamt
it could last always, but DSM-5 taught
me who was really alive.

(It was you and not I)

Caged room, the small ceilings always
find us kneeling, giving way on bended knees
Our deserved regression an assigned session
despite our former air of a passion kindled,
heated to intense temperatures.

Stepping up the stairs, I can see your green eyes
that silken purple dress which makes me quiver
against the oak and how I wish I’d had a toke,
but we crashed and careened as one, bodies broke.

To Pity the Fool in Love

No-one ever expects that they will walk around a corner and find the person that will become their significant other lingering there on the street before them.  How we meet our partners, our lovers and confidantes, becomes a personal legend shared between only ourselves in truth, embellished by time and by the ebb and flow of emotion.  Love can be a hard emotion to describe, to quantify or to qualify, to articulate to each other and to one another.  That drunken and passionate kiss goodbye, the result of a haphazard opportunity presented in all of its glory, sits side by side with the memory of a slow burning romance experienced in our youths when we fumbled anew under covers soaked in teenage sweat.  Experiments of connection and of lust, of two pieces of lego mixing and matching to form one.  As time recedes the flashes of faces become a Rolodex of past conquests and imagined hurt, often sitting uncomfortably close to one another.

Lust, as a rapid fire launchpad to the past, operates on much the same lines as those random encounters experienced during the vicissitudes of youth.  In moments of relaxation you are comfortably entertaining yourself, your thoughts ensconced on a particular moment and how it would play out in your mind, perhaps how you would make the move and seal the return of the love and physical intimacy as given in your affections.

Yet still, how the mind can shock and shake the very foundations of your core!

No longer are you in the throes of doubled or singled passion, your senses are startled and your hands are instead given to fumbling lamely against the body of skin and flesh before you.  No more thought is given to reaching the apex of sexual arousal.

You are instead seeing the failures of your past mount even as you have failed to.  The chances lost of forming romantic entangles in the freshly cut grass, of bridging the gap between brief fumbles on the sofa and maintaining long-term relationships.  The thought is half formed, it ghosts across the mind but briefly as you lie there on your bed, shivering in the warm night air.

To walk around the corner of the street you inhabit, to cross the road at just the right time, to be there to answer that question and to form that connection as the eyes meet, the pupils dilate, and the lips curl into a smile.  The heart that jumps a beat and resets into a rhythm of two.  To miss those opportunities.  To wait upon a table where the food of life will never be placed.  It can be a hard thing to think about in the moment of your greatest conquest, of a solo ascent.

Soaring

Ask yourself but one question: does it matter?

Everyone around me was having this great big conversation with god, or a version of their god, but I was sat there, half reclining, half lying, looking up at the birds, the clouds and beyond those the stars, thinking does it matter?  How many other people are staring at these..
…magnificent cloud formations, the shapes reminiscent of
Norway’s kinking coastal outline.

The gulls were soaring mid-flight, high, coasting on the invisible
waves of the wind. It was magnificent.  They could hear the call of
their feathered friends, could survey their kingdom beneath me.

I didn’t admit it out there by myself but I was trapped, not by faith but by chance, by accepting a job at a place I knew I hated.

So each and every break-time I head outside, go to see the wildlife, the clouds, the sun whose light streaks across the sky and I think, It could be worse.  It could be better.

A Visit to the Beech Hotel

You wouldn’t think with my violent history that I’d miss working the streets but I do.  I used to love hugging the brick walls in the late evening, my fingers feeling each gap in the mortar coursing, just waiting under the soft orange glow of the overhead lights.  I owned those streets, even if I disappeared for an hour or two in-between my mute watch.  You wouldn’t believe it but I felt a silent power in my prostate prose: I was in charge, I was the one you gave the money to.

Reading this I know you’ll disagree, you’ll think I’m daft or stupid – misguided at best, abused at worst.

I remember you well in the crowned hotel suite.  It wasn’t the city setting or tipping of the concierge that impressed me, it was your wry smile, the hand holding and the delicate kisses.  It was the dream that I lived in this moment for much longer than those dollar bills suggested.  I knew I’d return to my own corner soon enough, that I’d feel the sharp edge of a winter’s night once more plucking at my pale skin, but in that moment I didn’t care.

You gave me a way out of this job and I took it.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss those streets even as you returned home after a hard day of work at the office.  I am chained here, just as I was to those bricks.

Shipping News: A Cut Up Approach

I was on the second ship leading the north Atlantic convoy, which was one of six in total.  My head was screaming with the cold, my fingers numb and becoming number as the minutes passed.  We had to transfer mid ocean from our small liners to the bigger ones, the ones that could break the ice of the north, the ones that could pass by and crunch the icebergs that would otherwise soon sink these tropical ships that we had come this far on.

Morning medicine, my mourning drink.  I was sick of the air, sick of my mouth tasting of salt, my cracked lips and shaggy dog appearance.  I was becoming a wreck, like the Titanic in her grave slowly rusting, slowly breaking down to her elemental beginnings.

I was home, verdant fields of tall grass framed by never-ending blue skies and cradled by deep pleasant dreams.  The wooden door creaked as I opened it, I announced I was home and I heard the movement of my lover in our shared bed.  I imagined the sheets cascading off her body, the soft smooth silk of her skin and the comely shape of her buttocks, the two small welcoming dimples at the base of her spine.  The curls of her hair resting on her shoulders, her sumptuous breasts that were full of milk, nipples pert and erect.

Home smelt like home.  This was salt, this was corrosion.  The transfer was awful, I saw their pale and emaciated bodies silent in the bunks, numerous across the whole range of decks.  We could not go on like this, we must not go on like this.  Moving the bodies was horrendous, a horrible job.  I had thrown my younger brother around as a child and had remembered how heavy he was even when young, how I could feel the weight of his happy soul.  This was something else, the bodies far lighter than they had any right to be.  Glassy deep blue eyes set silent in paper thin crevices for faces.

I loved her then and I loved her still.  There was something wonderful about the moment between coming home from work and announcing my entry to the wooden house.  This was the liminal zone, I was neither away nor settled on the prairie.  When I remembered this moment consciously I tried to slow it down, to breathe in deeply, to try and enjoy the moment when I’d open the door and see her gorgeous brown eyes, the flicker of the smile that would start to spread across her face as she spied me coming in.

I could almost taste that moment, but the foghorn soon reminded me that I was a thousand miles away, surely more, from my beloved.

The bodies had been swiftly moved from the ice breakers to the tropic liners without any difficultly.  I was convinced that our skeletal crew would break down at this task but we kept quiet and professional, we carried out our task with ease and left the liners floating in peace in warmer climes, buffeted by only the smallest of oceanic waves.

Silently our breakers made the way north, the ocean becoming day by day peppered with more chunks of frozen sea than I could count.  Chunks that could rip and tear steel, that could doom whole convoys and destroy even the hardest of souls.

I craved her touch more than ever at this point.  My cracked lips had become something beyond sore, something that I knew hurt but was pushed deeper into my sub-consciousness.

I missed her hips the most, how my hand would follow the contour of her outer hip bone and glide slowly into the girdle where the delicate touch of my lips would meet her soft warm skin.  Where I knew that when she arched her back she was that much more relaxed, ready to give in to the carnal sin of our shared passion.

The bow of the ship cuts the ice, the sea underneath, and our dreams as clean as any knife I have ever known.  Our hopes are cleaved into two.  The ocean is our life, the seabed our grave.

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Photograph by author using a Pentax S1a and cheap film.

Epiphany

Clarity did not come from a hard day at the office, nor did it come from a bracing open air walk or from seeing his family locked in a loving embrace.  Instead clarity came from the drained pint class.   It came from the empty pint glass that clanked down onto the wooden bar as the bell rang ready for a lock-in.  It came to him in the pub, rising above the roar of the regulars, above the awful impressions on the microphone, above the blare of a population letting of a weeks worth of pent-up steam.  It was at this point that clarity put aside all thought and all distractions and came to him in the form of a clear mind.  It blazed for a singular moment only to be lost in the haze of the alcohol a second later.  He could only grasp at the tendrils of the thought the next day, but he knew that the ritual would be repeated the next week.