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.

Advertisements

Farming the Battleground

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 . . .

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.

000039

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

The Corridor

I love you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m travelling down this corridor alone, strapped to this trolley with doctors by my side pushing through door after door.  I can see the light shining but I’m not sure if it’s for me or if it’s for everyone around me.  I cry out, not pain not in horror, I cry out in confusion.  I need you and I want you, to be by my side again.  Memories flood my frazzled mind, a skeletal hand clasps my own and tells me it will be alright, it will be okay.  I can help but feel that this is a denial, that my body is failing even as I flail in the half-light of an under-funded hospital, staffed by sleep walking staff with the warmest of hearts.

I need you and I want you, I can hear voices in the corridor, not my own or those around me but others, crying out in equal pain or in anger at the wait.  Where are my sons, where are my daughters?  I wanted to say to grow up in peace, to love your family, friends and neighbours as one, to move on or to leave if you need to.  We understand, we want you to be happy, we need you to be with us.  I love and I need you, and I wish that I could see you.

The final corridor, my body is checked in.  Checked once that I am who I say I am, that the arrows painted on my limbs are correct and that my brain is related to my body and my body is related to my name.  I say I am who I am and they take it on board, and I’m made to wait at Heaven’s Gate.  Two blonde angels guide me, make me comfortable on the slip green sheets which matches their sleek outfits.  Only bras and knickers must be under their gowns I think, wondering who they share their bed and younger, supplier bodies with at night.  My own is broken, battered and torn.  A mess of surgical scars, shortened limbs but above average, well we won’t go into that but it is according to a litany of my previous lovers.

I want you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I laugh, laugh at the futility of it all.  The drugs, I yearn for the warmth of the morphine, of the wicked sleeping potion to crawl up into my veins and up into my arm and to flood the chest cavity and consciousness itself.  I yearn to sleep with no dreams, where the minute that passes is not a minute but a moment between awake and awake.  My eyes linger on one of the angels, filling in the paperwork in the corner of the room, haloed by broken bodies on stripped back beds.

I need you and I want you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m moving, I’m moving, but I’m not moving, there are no words for this.  Through the first set of doors I am pushed, name confirmed once more.  Am I aware of what is going to happen to me and why it is happening?  Yes, yes I scream still dreaming of the green robed angels in the theatre waiting room.  Just do it, yes the heart always beats fast.  I need you and I want you, but I just can’t seem to see you.  I stare at the anaethetist’s eyes as the plunger is gently but firmly pressed down, a milky white liquid seeps into my own bloodstream diluting reality.

I needed you and I wanted you, but I just can’t seem to have seen you.  I wake as if I have been asleep for years.  I crave water, yearn to drink a thousand litres of the freshest water available.  I want to drown in crystalline lakes and to never wake.  A tube has been down my throat, a mainline into the neck is still present.  I wish that I could have seen you, I’m sorry to have left you.  I close my eyes again.

Still Life: Bedroom Scene

The guitar leans silently against the wall.  Both the pint glass and the cup are empty, the plate too is bereft of what was once resting upon it.  He is sated, fed and watered, content to watch videos streaming on the computer laid out in front of him.  There was no conversation taking place here, no exchange of ideas or of intimacies, no special spark between a bond shared.  It was as it was pictured.

That the walls once rang out with the thrill of love and the laughter of friendship was not deniable, that this would occur once again a known truth.  For the moment though this was a simple moment to relax, to enjoy the stillness present at this known time of deep changes.  For the walls did not move but the foundations surely did shake in their silent scream of protest.

CNV00071

Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and lomography colour film (if I remember rightly), please attribute if used elsewhere.

Clock In, Clock Out

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.

The Sea is My Sister

When I think of home I think of the sea, of the waves breaking against the rocks and the frothing remainder meeting the land in a head-on rush to embrace it.  I remember the time as a child when I was caught on a sandbar between the incoming tide and a deepening pool of seawater between the beach and I, making the pool a barricade that I had nearly lost the will, resolve and confidence to overcome.  I was scared of the things that could be lurking in the water, of the large flat jellyfish waiting with their tentacles outstretched and the crabs poised with their claws open, ready to snap at a moment’s hesitation on my part.

My feet were lost to the cold depths at this point and I could feel only the rush of water around my torso even though the bright intense sun hovered overhead, warming each body laid out on the beach in front of me, as if to mock my situation and to suggest that life went on no matter what happened to me.  With my cries of worry and my arms waving feebly I was eventually noticed and saved by an older brother who guided me by hand across the treacherous water that had so frightened and paralysed me.

I’d wanted the safety of the land, of something solid under my feet where I could look to the sea unmolested by creatures of the deep.  I’d become trapped because I was not paying attention to what was happening around me as I was too busy splashing in the water, resting on the sandbar and admiring the view of family and friends relaxing by the sea.

The journey to get to that beach had felt like a holiday in itself, not a fifteen minute drive from my family home.  Packed in the car, almost as tightly as sardines, we would be wearing our swimming trunks clasping plastic spades and buckets.  Sometimes a store box, packed with frozen ice packs, accompanied us and was filled full of cool and refreshing snacks that we’d eat after an hour or two of heating up in the fresh salt tinged air.  The North Sea would sometimes bring winds that had rallied and rolled across the water coming from as far away as Holland or Denmark, maybe even Norway at a push, or so I had hoped.  It was naive to think such things perhaps but I liked the thought of being connected with the countries that we had visited on holidays in the past.

After our little swim and exploration of the sand the two families would trudge back to the parked car, heading through a sandy beach that morphed into a half-hearted shingle before giving way once more to sand dunes, where shark sticks of dried grass would prick your feet and legs as you hobbled over them.  It was customary to then shake our clothes free of sand, shaking our bodies in union as we did so, and then push on to purchase an ice cream in a cone and try to all fit into the car once again.  We’d had a day at the beach and the sun had tired us out, we needed food and drink to replenish the physical and mental energy that we had lost exploring for shells, oddly shaped stones, the dried out remains of crabs and the dodging of the rubbish that protruded through the sand itself.

I had thought about these summer family trips to the beach years later as I relaxed in the back garden of my university house during my undergraduate years of study.  I had gotten lucky with this house so close to the university campus and the local parade of shops – French doors, from my room, led directly into our fairly big back garden where, during the summer, autumn and spring seasons, my house mates and I could relax unencumbered by walls.  We read in the sun, drank beer and burnt meat during numerous BBQ’s, we solidified our relationships here too.  It was the ideal relaxation area late on a Friday after a week full of lectures, research and writing, where we could gather with a few of our friends and get a mild buzz from drinking beers in the evening sun.  Music accompanied those gatherings, music that hung in the cooling air and permeated our bodies to slowly drift off out into the night once we had taken our fill.

The grass under my feet and the fact that I often took off my T-shirt as I lay on the grass meant that I felt truly rooted to the ground and I could stare at the sky freely, my eyes wandering from cloud to cloud or bird to bird as they popped into view.  It felt good being partially clothed, to feel the heat of the sun on my own skin or the coldness of the northern breeze against my chest.  It was different from sitting in a cool lecture theatre absorbing the information like a sponge, making notes on what I wanted to research and to write about for the next essay or presentation that popped up regularly, like ships on the horizon that appear in a pleasingly timely manner.  I wouldn’t admit it to myself, but I enjoyed the peace and the quiet away from the others that came with being down in the back garden by myself.  It had a timeless quality, that it felt like I could be a student forever and never truly grow up.

But still, I missed the sea.  The waves that broke, that swelled, that seemed to bore ceaselessly on against the land that I called home.

Mercurial Selves

I’m sitting at the table and I have an itch on my head, just above my right ear.  I go to scratch it, gently pressing my fingers in against the hair and the skin.  The fingers just keep digging in, drawing blood first and then they gently parse aside the fibres of the temporalis muscle.

Deeper still they go, through the border of the parietal and temporal bone, reaching into the bag that keeps the brain whole until finally the fingers penetrate the soft folds of the brain itself.

I look around and my family have not noticed anything different.  My breakfast sits before me, untouched and uneaten.

I am slightly sickened by this point so I retract my fingers, hold them steady in front of my face and twist the right hand around, noticing as I do the soft droplets of blood hitting the bowl in front of me.  They are red tears dropping onto my cereal biscuits, mixing with the milk to make it a pinkish dye.

I want to scream, to say that this is not normal.

But then I realize, slowly, that each of my family members also have one of their own hands extended deep into their own heads, exploring their own personality and their own individual ticks.

This is normal.  This is what we do.  We examine our own conscious, our feelings, for hints and tips on how to react to external stimuli as appropriate.  We look deep into ourselves and, finally, we also look to each other for social clues, for the nous that we think is missing from the familiar.

This is a routine that we practice each and every morning, the examining of our physical selves to better re-enforce our emotional batteries.  We are what we are, we are both flesh and blood; we are but thoughts and emotions also.

The milk tastes okay with the droplets of blood, there is the hint of the mercurial and the taste of the metallic as I crunch down on my breakfast feed.

It is the same every morning, it is the same every week.  For better or for worse.

On Health and Safety: Part 1

Q.1. A strong light has been misplaced so that it shines directly onto your computer screen.  What problems can this cause you?

Please select one of the answers below

a. The light isn’t warm enough to crack the dragon’s egg that has been
carefully placed on the desk.  The light needs to be turned around, with the
main focus of the beam on the top half of the egg, to ensure that the dragon
gets enough vitamin D.  This is so that the baby can crack through the toughened egg shell once it has grown enough.

b. The light has taken the form of a forgotten nightmare and thus
stirs in your soul a form of deep dread.  You break down crying in
the office, demanding that your line manager produces a bucket of drugs to
calm you down.  You lose your job and, eventually, your hair due to the
recurrent nightmares.

c. The light is so bright that it blinds not just your eyes but also the
eyes of the people either side of you.  You thought that this may occur at
some point in your much vaunted office career so you took careful
preparation and learned braille on your free nights.  You laugh in disdain
as your so-called office friends scream for help and you carry on with your
work as any good office worker would.

d. You bloody move the light!

Journal 10/09/15

Every night the front cover of my diary asks me ‘Who are you?’ and every night I struggle to articulate myself, to justify myself to myself.  Lyric after devastating lyric falls from the speaker and I want to share this moment with you, I want to bask in the radiance of your love for this artist.  I find myself driving along at night knowing that if I don’t take the turn off for home, I will not ever stop this journey north. The trumpets herald, but I am not sure what they signify.  I miss you.  Will this job ever end, will I ever escape this office?  How do I break free of my own body.  What are those birds thinking, soaring so high in the sky, eyeing each other, safety in numbers perhaps?  The land meets the sea, the sea meets the sky, the sky holds the stars.  Everything that has ever lived, nearly everything that has ever lived, is here on this planet, on this pinprick in the sky.  Where have you gone though, when will I cross that eternal divide?

I miss you.

This is the thought that is at the forefront of my thoughts, that one that pervades the bitterness of being here, of comforting your family when all I want is to say how much I loved you to you directly.

I miss you.

Did I ever mourn my lost family members enough?  Should I feel guilt now, why has this struck me so hard?  Why does this artist so move me to tears nearly every day.  Their music touches me like nothing else, a lightening bolt connecting the living and the dead.  I hate and I love.  I just want to say to my father, to my mother, hold me.  Hold me.  I miss you.  My elbow is dirty again, how can I scrub so hard yet it not get any cleaner?  I can feel the metal attached, drilled deep into my bones.  I can feel the plates and the rods pressing against my skin, the metalwork that keeps me standing and grounds me, that completes my alien body amongst this landscape of beauty, this hidden careworn ugliness.  I am jealous of your walk in the woods, your walk up the hills, your walk down the concrete slabbed route to town.

I miss you.

What is death when life is complicated enough.  What is life when death is eternal.  The great divide, never knowing just what it is that separates this from that.