She has an Anglo-Saxon sternness. She could be 20 or 40 years of age, her religious conviction writ large in her plain facial features. She loves warmly but disciplines firmly, an island of austerity in a world of plenty.
‘They say war is coming, that they want it so it’ll happen . . . Just like that! It doesn’t matter if you are the son of the mayor or of the dustbin man, it doesn’t matter what you think or what you feel. As soon as you join up, they’ll ship you out. Give you a rifle, a round, help you point it and let you start shooting. It doesn’t matter that you are scared or do not want to kill, it doesn’t matter if you miss the birthdays of your nearest and dearest. This is war! War does not stop for the dead, and it doesn’t stop for the living! It will continue regardless of what you think, so they say. Join up and get in the fight, prove yourself, prove that you are a man!’
Here, at this junction, he takes a rest and leans against the pillow before starting again.
‘I’ve heard it before and I’ll hear it again. Our lives are not so short that we won’t live through war, a war, any war. Just think about it boy, there must be a hundred wars going on right now – all across the globe people are fighting for this or that, spilling blood for the power of belief. Killing is justified, they say, it is justified because it helps to prove that what you say, what you believe, is right, is the only way. We must fight to take back our land! We must fight to stop them! We must fight to prove ourselves! We must fight because this fat bastard insulted me!’
Another rest before he carries on more lucidly.
‘Wars are funny things my son, they are odd things . . . They are both natural and unnatural. Nature telling us that we are too numerous and too many, that we need to thin the population somewhat, create a bottleneck so we can survive. Wars are the outcome of the idle rich, of those that seek power and revenge. War ain’t nothing good, but we’re used to it. Society accepts the causes and the outcomes, realizes that there is always a price to pay.’
War is war, the living are the living, and the dead are the dead, I wanted to add.
‘There is nothing to see here son but history, the ashes of a thousand dreams . . .’
‘Dad? Can you hear me dad, I’m right here . . . Just give me your hand dad, you’ll be okay. I love you. I’ll be back soon, okay?’
I shepherd the son out, who is caught briefly off-guard by the single tear running down the older man’s left cheek.
This speech wasn’t anything knew, but I knew that the son had to try and talk to his father, to try and establish reality once more.
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 thighs, on top of her belly and on 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 …
Please my feathered friends, take a seat and join me at my table. I have put out extra plates, cutlery and cups so that we may drink to our health and continued friendship. It is true that I have partaken in eating your brethren, please let us raise our glasses to your forgone cousins, brothers and sisters, but I shall dare say that if you had the chance to peck at my deceased body you would too, would you not? Ah ha, a shifting of the eyes and a quick nod of the beak!
But we are not here to debate such a delicate ethical matter are we! No, no, such matters of the higher order can be cast aside for today, for this is instead a more mundane meeting of the species. An exchange of information no more and no less. Please, have another glass of wine, let your fingers wrap around the stem and your nose smell the lush fruit of warmer climes. Isn’t it funny how our senses can move us so quickly, how our imagination can cast aside reality for the landscapes of our dreams? Ah good, you are all enjoying the wine!
I am ahead of myself, please forgive me, eat some of the home-baked bread, baked by my wife, no less, just yesterday! Can you see how moist the crumb is and how it crumbles at the slightest provocation? It is a most delightful treat when jam has been spread across a thick slice, goes down a cinch with a warm cup of coffee you know!
Yes, yes, we shall have coffees after our main course and after a few more bottles of wine or so. There is no rush to complete today’s meeting and, as you know, I have already talked to the head raven. He is fine in realizing the deal that we have, that I shall pass on what I can as and when I come across it. You know, of course, that this may be some time as the wars of men are fought differently to the battles of survival that we ourselves fight. Ho! Those beastly metallic traps clunking across the soil, those wooden fire sticks bursting forth nothing but pain and death . . . What a world we have inherited, make no mistake!
But still, we can farm our own foods from this mess, we can survive and I believe that we can indeed thrive in this matter. It will take some tricks, yes it will, but we can do it.
Don’t give me that look old coop master! I have seen that look before and I have vanquished it too, so be aware of old man Kerensky! Sure I may lecture you from the pulpit, but I have been on my share of the battlegrounds as and I will again serve my feathered friends whilst the great nations who rule over us become mired in their bog of war! Now, let me get my maps to show you where I think it is best to hunt for our treasure.
There is life in the old dog yet you know . . .
Peering at it he saw translucent wings that could be seen against the screen which, in turn, were attached to a fat round body with pinprick legs. Looking more carefully he could just about focus onto the fly’s multi-lensed eyes and searching feeding tube, flickering as it was here and there. The folded first pair of legs rubbed against each other seemingly in pure joy at the location that it had found itself in.
A flicker of disgust rose in his belly on seeing all of this.
To top it off that incessant buzzing noise was so annoying!
‘Hey there, do you mind not staring at me as I try to feed please!’, politely opined the insect under view.
Jumping back slightly and slowly rocking in his seat Joseph sensed that this was not quite right, flies did not normally respond in such a manner to human inspection.
‘I… well I beg your pardon Mr Fly! It seems as i you have chose a rather inconsiderate position, upon my computer screen where you currently reside, to settle yourself’, he stammered with half empty lungs still gulping down air in mid shock.
‘Well be that as it may but give me some peace please! I am more than half way through my life cycle and my weary wings need a rest!’ replied the fly curtly.
‘Also, could you please stop spraying that awful chemical around your house! You have already killed my brothers and sisters willingly, at least let me give your screen a quick clean’.
At this the fly gently patted his first few limbs against the screen’s surface and shook his head slowly to express his disappointment.
‘Well yes of course, please make yourself at home’.
His default manner in shock was one of prime consideration to his fellow man and, in this instance, insectoid. If the fly really did make itself at home and start to feed in such a manner flies are known to feed in, well then he felt that he really wouldn’t be able to keep the rising bile contained within his throat and would have to let rip in full bodily disgust.
‘So… how did you come to be able to speak?’, his question contained mild awe at the somewhat deep voice that the fly had spoken in.
‘Well sir, you are really asking but two questions there and I shall have to go into them on a granular level’, counted the fly in reply.
He started to regale the fellow as to how he first noticed he could talk to these upright lumbering beasts…
‘Since my answer is granular on a most profound scale, could I ask of you that you lay out some bread crumbs first so that I may feast before I tell my tale?’
‘Yes, why of course I shall be back in a moment’.
In the kitchen Joseph couldn’t quite believe he was rubbing pieces of bread together to collect a small surfeit of crumbs for his winged guest. Winged speaking guest no less! A dab of water was needed to cool his forehead but he did as Mr Fly suggested and brought the crumbs through to the office room and lay them out on a small dish.
Choking back the sickness that had welled in his throat he watched Mr Fly saunter from screen to saucer, hop onto a large crumb and attach his sucker. Presumably he digested it there and then, but his human audience did not care to look upon this part.
‘Just the ticket!’ squealed the fly in sheer delight. A small leg pad rubbed his belly and Joseph almost swore he could see a smile on his little insectoid face. He had to admit he was growing quite accustomed to his winged guest and admired his good behaviour.
‘Thank you Joseph for the food, it is much appreciated. Now let me start my tale of when I first knew I could speak to you humans…
On a summers day I found myself seeking shade from the blazing sun, we flies can get too hot you know and I could spy a blackbird, a hundred seagulls and more, who were all desperately trying to peck me. So I flew and I found shade and safety in an office, the door magically opening as I followed a human in. This human was bald, not like the rest of you haired apes (Yes Joseph, I too know my animals!).
He moved into another smaller room within this office and closed the door, but not before I snuck in and latched upon the wall, resting, tasting. I could hear him speaking but at first I could not make out the words as to what he was saying. This was to be expected! Fly speech is very different to human speech, our special buzzes hide all sort of sonorous tones that emit signals for how we are and what we want. You may hear our buzzes and
think nothing of it but we are speaking Joseph, we are speaking to each other!
I was glad to be on that wall, the pesky bumble bee bastards were buzzing me earlier in the day and getting me agitated. I knew I had to find a safe and clean place, and what is more sterile than a human office!
As I tuned in a most magical thing happened! I could understand partly what he was saying. I caught the odd word as he stared at his face in the mirror world.
I could hear ‘ha ha ha, haha haha haha, haaa haaaa’ and variations within. Every once and a while the words ‘game plan’, ‘going forward, go-ing forr-wood’, ‘in this instance’ and that most special of words – ‘granular, grain ula, gran-ular’ were spoken a hundred times, each inflection more varied than the last.
I admit it Joseph, that word had a special effect on me. I could feel the bass notes shivering through my thorax and my wings fluttered in simple delight. I felt I must try this word, I must speak it myself!’
At this Mr Fly shivered and slumped upon the remaining breadcrumbs and remained quiet.
‘Are you alright Mr Fly?’ ventured Joseph to no apparent reply.
‘Mr Fly… ? Hello… ?’
After what seemed like an eternity Mr Fly shook his wings and re-awoke. Joseph shook too, but with with thankfulness that his little insectoid friend had not become the late Mr Fly and instead resumed his previous courteous manner.
‘And so, when I had heard those words uttered from this humanoid form I could not help but be bewitched and in turn wanted to utter those words myself,’ he stated having not realised he had momentarily passed out.
‘But.. but how could you? You do not have the right anatomical equipment to utter such words nor the brain to understand them!’ stammered Joseph, at a loss to explain how this fly had gone from pest to best friend within a matter of some minutes.
‘Well all you see is not what you all get my dear fellow’.
A forelimb wiped gently at his lensed right eye and a quick shake of his wings indicated Mr Fly had something rather further more to say on the matter.
‘I practiced again and again at getting the words just so, how I yearned to emulate my master in the mirror world and utter the word ‘granular’, how beautiful did it sound to my fly ears and how each letter reverberated across my thorax! You see you humanoids all think that we insects are the same, that we cannot think individually and act instead as a mass of self denial, acknowledging only our queen or basic instincts but this is simply not true!
We lead lives just as you do! We too have feelings, thoughts, desires and romances, our hearts, little though they are, burst forth with the beauty and decadence of this life as do your best writers, painters and actors, thinkers and do’ers.
But of course we cannot express this – we are entwined with nature in such a way as to be invisible without it whereas you humans, you create whole new worlds of meaning, locked away in sterile isolated buildings full of arbitrary rules and regulations to govern each and every action and reaction.
No, I know of your world but I am not of it.’
Mimicking a courtesy head bow Mr Fly prepared to fly off into that world once more.
‘But wait! Why mimic human speech? Why become fascinated by something so much that you emulate it and then cast it aside?’ questioned Joseph, an imploring look plastered across his shrew-like features.
‘Why use language, we could talk you and I, our species could talk! Good God Mr Fly, could you think of the implications!’
At this Mr Fly shivered, cast his multi-lensed eyes across the room and wiped them once more with his tiny forelimbs.
‘No, I have seen your kind, preening in the mirror world. Only for today are my words for your ears Joseph.
I thank you though for sharing your bread with me, it is much appreciated and it will not be forgotten. But now I must go and join my own!’
‘Thank you, a thousand times thank you!’, cried Joseph in return.
The fly raised its head as if to sniff the air and then flew off, out of Joseph’s home office and back into the world of the living.
Meanwhile, in the work office in which the fly had learnt to use the language of humans but briefly, the balded man sat at his desk staring into his computer screen.
First his arm spasmed, then his left leg jerked uncontrollably. He tried to speak, to shout out in mounting horror but no words emanated forth from his now twitching mouth. Instead, only a series of low buzzes poured out which attracted each and every fly around to dance around his shoulders and atop the crown of his head.
The staff, not quite used to seeing the spectacle of winged insects invading their office, quickly shrieked and shirked in primal horror and abandoned their workstations en masse.
Mr Fly, at the centre of it all, landed on the computer screen observing each and every movement made by the now crowned man and his flailing colleagues. Yes, he thought, they may run now but in time each will respond as did Joseph, with warmth, kindness and compassion.
He flicked his wings, clicked his forelimbs and took flight.
The office I worked in dealt with applications from students and our daily targets were monitored and recorded for prosperity, and to check against what was and what wasn’t correctly documented in our individual tally sheets. Of course these sheets were digital spreadsheets that were specially formatted for each different piece of work that was allocated to the worker. The spreadsheets highlighted how much allotted time was given dependent on the category that the piece of work fell into, whether we’d have five minutes to complete it or ten minutes. Simple pieces of work could be given only a few minutes whilst more complicated pieces, such as responding to emails with extensive trails or queries, were given a timing of a quarter of an hour or more. We felt that luck was on our side when one such piece of work fell out of the electronic basket and into our caseload, we had time to breath, to relax, to look into the faces of the person sat beside ourselves and to realize that we each went through the same, day in and day out.
Many kept to this electronic tally, toting it up at the end of the night by memory or by scrolling through the master sheet. I, unlike many of my work colleagues, kept a ink tally in Roman numerals of each type of piece of work that I had completed that day. Towards the end of the evening, when we each heaved a sigh of relief and gladness that the working day was over, I looked down with fondness upon my scrap of paper to find an ever changing squiggle of lines, crossed and solitary, segmented by type and time.
It was the last action of the working shift that so pleased me, that I could scrupple up the piece of paper with my jottings on, tear it in two if needs be and thrice more into smaller pieces so that no readable piece remained, and declare that I was the master of myself once again. No greater feeling of satisfaction came with the job then that final action of labour destruction, or rather rapprochement that my work towards the whole could be so simply and so justifiably torn up. That my value as a worker was counted as so little that I needed to be constantly monitored for each and every movement within the workplace, each piece of work accounted for and judged against the character of my soul. The residual of feeling of loyalty, that thinning pool of employee liquid that had somehow lingered through the various turbulent governmental changes and process improvements, now felt at a very low ebb indeed. It could evaporate at any moment.
My action was, in its way, a minor everyday rebellion at the absurdity of employment itself. That each man and woman shall spend a third of their life strapped to the face of labour so that the other third can be slept through and the final third can be lived in a state of fretful suspense. It is perhaps not fair to categorize in this way what so many want, what so many need, but for me it is not enough nor is it a rightful use of the labour market. To rebel, in whatever fashion is feasible or at least in which way is not detrimental to your standards, is to acknowledge that you recognize that this is so. Such is life.
My limbs are heavy and my head is hanging low. I’m smoking the last cigarette I have and on the last piece of paper I own I have wrote down my last will and testament. The money in the bank can be given to charity, I ain’t got no family no more. Give out my belongings to the homeless and give the food to the hungry.
Do what I couldn’t in life, spare me the embarrassment of riches in death. Do what you have to do.
I could see Jackie crying at the edge of the road as I was carted into the back of the ambulance. I was annoyed as I was going to fuck her tonight at Tom’s party. She had the cutest smile and a small peachy bum, but her scrunched up tear ridden face disgusted me now.
The day at school had been long and boring, English followed Math followed French. I filled my notebooks with drawings in each class and managed to avoid any real work, focused as I was on going to Tom’s house on the night to get high and drink beer. In each class I thought of Jackie. She was the sort of girl you could see in a suit and high heels working in a boring business job in the future, her co-workers slavering after her as she pounded the corridors of power. Fuck, I wanted her so bad that day.
At dinner I’d gone to meet Jake and Mike round the back of the main block where the rusting gates and bins stood guard. Jake had managed to grow his first crop of weed and this was his inaugural toke, one fat joint between three. We each took three off and joked around.
“You gonna get into Jackie tonight?”
“If that douchebag Paul keeps his fucking distance”, I snarled in reply to Mike.
I’d noticed that Jackie and Paul had been getting closer over the past few days, teaming up together in woodwork to make some stupid box or some shit. It annoyed me the way she’d seek his protection when they used the tools. I’d see him leering over her, his eyes meeting mine as his hips would get closer to hers, cajoling me to punch him right in the face the smug bastard.
“Ah fuck that prick man, this shit is pretty good eh?” bragged Jake, though it was damn fine.
“Yeah yeah, you are quite the farmer! Why don’t you quit and go and grow some vegetables amigo!” joked Mike.
After dinner I was high but not too high. Physical exercise could go fuck itself I though and I got some food from the nearby cafe and nodded off briefly. The owners knew us and didn’t mind us, as long as we didn’t make a scene in the cafe we were welcome to frequent it whenever. I think it was because they knew we would get high and come and eat and drink almost non-stop for a period or so that they put up with us. Mike was starting to get a fat little pork belly due to his munchies habit but me and Jake were still stick thin, even after stuffing our faces.
I got to home economics on time. It was the class I’d elected to take because Jackie was there, it was full of girls and there were barely any boys in it. Mrs Finkle, who led the class, was something of a bore who smelled bad. Like a jumper that had been soaked in the rain and put away into a draw before it had dried properly. At any moment I expected to see Mrs Finkle’s top to be crawling in moths.
The weed had taken away the screech of her voice and I was relaxed enough to droop my eyelids. No one noticed or cared. I could see the shimmer of Jackie’s beautiful face on the edge of my vision and I sunk into a revere of kissing those plump lips.
Out in the car park after school I saw Paul by himself next to his kick bike. The weed made me feel a bit invincible but I really needed the whiskey to make me really feel it. Regardless Paul was smaller than me so I went over.
“Hey Paul, stay away from Jackie right” I barked into his face.
“What the hell you on about?” Paul replied, his voice bruised by shame.
“I’ve seen you both, seen you creeping up to her in woodwork, trying to touch her. Keep the fuck away from her you creep”.
To re-enforce the message I jabbed him in his kidneys and he instantly curled up like sad sack of meaningless flesh.
I walked home, taking in the sun and the last wave of lightness that the weed brought. I could see Jackie walking up ahead on her own, her hips sashaying as she went, hypnotizing me. So much so I didn’t hear the car pull up next to me nor the click of the car door opening.
It took one punch from Martin, Paul’s older brother, to get me on the floor and a few more before I felt a rib or two break. Through the tears and the dribbles of blood into my eye I could see Jackie walk on in the distance, oblivious at first to my pain.
Only when Martin finished pounding my body and I started to come to did I see her turn around, drop her books and come running. I heard Martin get back into his car, I looked up and saw Paul looking down at me from the passenger seat, a rictus grin plastered across his face as the car sped off.