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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Full of Fire: Part 3

(Part 1Part 2)

She never regretted moving to this flat.  It was her bolt hole in this fast paced city, a place where she could flutter and eventually fly free of her parents, beloved though they were.  In fact, they were the reason why she had moved to the city.  She couldn’t quite face looking into their eyes once Robert had been to visit her at the parent’s house.  If they had known of all of the positions that they had made love in then her cheeks would be forever burnished, matching only those of rosy fresh apples.  No, much better that she had moved away to a swanky new flat with him instead, free to both explore their love and to allow their careers to take a foothold upon the employment ladder in their chosen fields.

The flat wasn’t really swanky in all honesty.  Sometimes, especially after a heated remark or two, it could feel like a shoe box and one that she yearned to escape.  It was at times like those that she felt she could happily return to her parent’s house, to become engulfed once again in their loving embrace.  But she realized that this would never happen again, she had flown the coop and would not return to live there in this lifetime.  She visited, from time to time, and had hosted her mother and father in her adopted city, but they would not meaningfully live side by side again.

Robert was her immediate family now, her lover and confidant, her romancer and family man.  Her father wrote often though, kept the familial bonds strong and she wrote back as often as she could, though writing was not her forte and clearly her path in life was not to follow her father.  She loved his letters though, decorated as they were with doodles on each page.  The notes on his latest writing project filled her with hope for her father and his health, as she often mistakenly equated the health of his imagination with the health of his ailing body.  Her mother sometimes added a page or two of notes as well, updated her on school crushes and old boyfriends.  It was these tidbits from her mother that she really enjoyed, kept her in the loop of small town life and let her feel guilt-free pangs of happiness.  In this raging city of 24/7 access, it was grounding to know that life continued as much as it ever had in other parts of the country, parts that the creeping suburbia of the city hadn’t yet reached.

The illness unhinged her for a while though, the images of her father spraying droplets of blood was not something that she wanted to think about, neither was the fact that her parents were indeed mortal and not immortal, as a childish version of her thought still.  Her foundation of independence had just become solidified yet it felt like even as she started to make her mark on the world, the world had started to shake the rock that she built her life upon.

In all honesty she tried not to think about the condition slowly taking over her father’s life.  To put death at a distance and to keep love close.  That was her motto, though she could never think of the words to articulate it, it was how she lived her live in the shadow of her parent’s slow, earthly demise.  Her father would probably be writing a poem at this very moment and she could just picture it, his pen gliding across the paper in what would seem to be a well-rehearsed manner.  The words would flow, the inconvertible truth that this man was born to give a voice to his generation would be undeniable.

In her darkest moments, sometimes the ones that followed the passionate lovemaking sessions with Robert where she lay in quiet repose resting, the thoughts would intrude into her mind like unbidden shards of shattered glass.  He would be remembered by the many, not by the few.

It would not be long now.

A Respite, A Relief

We pulled up in our rented vehicle, dwarfed quite comfortably by the incumbent coaches ferrying tourists from sight to sight, and prepared to disembark once again as travelers in a foreign land.  In reality the location reminded us, perhaps more grandly than we remembered, of our own homes and the landscape therein, the coast battered by salt-fused waves whilst brash accents announced a population who had become ingrained into the very land they lived on.  Our identities remained the same half the world away and we became a self contained unit, a family of friends.

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Photograph by the author using a digital camera. If used elsewhere please credit as appropriate.

On Love: The English Patient

I have been away for a while but nothing much really changes within the hearts of humans.  We are all flesh, we all feel, love and grieve, and we are all united by life and divided by it:

“What you find in him are cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history – how people betray each other for the sake of nations, how people fall in love… How old did you say you were?”
“twenty.”
“I was much older when I fell in love.”
Hana pauses. “Who was she?”
But his eyes are away from her now.

Quoted from the novel The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje.

Through The Window

The final flight to a familiar destination, my body sighs with relief.  You are my final stranger, the person who sits one empty chair away from me of who I do not know one bit.  I see your passport briefly, possibly from the Emirates judging from the silver cross of swords potent on the cover and the colourful shawl draped across your delicate face.

Your body is tiny in comparison to my towering torso and broad hulking shoulders. You curl up in your seat as soon as the plane starts to taxi, covering your head fully and aiming for a fitful fifty minute sleep.  I am envious of this talent, I can only stare straight ahead, dipping into a satirical magazine to ease my boredom.  This is the shortest flight that I have been on for some time now, but even here my eyes cannot rest.  I reacquaint myself with the politics and humour of this land, smiling to myself as the plane carries on heading to the north.

I look across from time to time, partly to see the green grass of home but also to check that you are still resting.  Your left hand is placed across your stomach, holding steady as your wrapped head lolls from time to time.  The silent movements in sleep stand in great contrast to the roar of the engines situated just a few metres from where we are.

We smile at one another as I let you pass me by to get into the aisle, we have arrived at our destination and I am glad.  I am finally home whilst you, I feel, may be very far from it but I hope you find a home here too and a loving family of friends.

Surrounded by the Seas

‘They had plenty of talent and some success, but this was England after all, where no one – least of all a good painter – was really rewarded or punished; in England, whatever your profession, you made your own life.’

 Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea (1983).

~

I’m currently reading one of Theroux’s travel books that I have not read before, a now rare occurrence.  I’m a big fan of travel literature, especially of Theroux’s (why yes, I have read his latest on the American South).  Partly I think because it means I can travel in my mind when my body cannot.  Reading does this to a person though, regardless of circumstance.  It lifts you above what you know and what you think you know, it forces you to don someone else’s view point to discover the world, and the people in it, anew.

I haven’t swam in the sea this year and I haven’t swam in fresh water either.  This saddens me as long term readers of this site may remember that I love swimming; I love the feel of the body gliding through the blue, the grey, the swirling torrents of frothing waves.  I miss the sun above my head, the all too often grey clouds amassing in the distance as my arms brush against seaweed, a mini chloroform power station floating in the middle of the brine.  I miss the shouts and the giggles as the bracing waves slap against puckered skin in early autumn, of two brave and lost souls powering through content in a cold embrace.

The sea, the sea, my soul cries for its limitless horizons and its unknowable depths.

Body to Body

From my body to yours, from your body to mine, we are apart and we are together.

We span years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

There is no binary, there is no suffocating art, there is no expression too wild.

There is no love that is not shared, no thought unanswered, no dream left empty.

From my body to yours, from each firing nerve and from each flexing muscle.

My lips are your lips and your lips are mine.

From your body to my body, from each extension and from each moving bone.

Yours eyes are my eyes and my eyes are yours.

We are apart, but we can be one.  We are divided, but we can be united.

From you,

From me.