Someone I did not like very much died this morning. I was taught not to speak bad of the dead – or the ill, just in case they passed while my dark thoughts wrapped round them. I hold scissors open near the bonsai and consider. Lop a branch and tell what I believed they had done to me? Leave it to grow and stay silent until my story bursts out as a bud, as a leaf? I close the scissors and put them down on the wooden floor. I look at them and half-open them again. That is more pleasing to the eye, though not to the heart.
Pros and cons. Benefits and not. I think of the family. Perhaps I would not have liked them too. I did not have the chance and would not have wanted it. I turn the scissors through ninety degrees. An improvement. I close them to a finger’s width and smile without meaning to.
I am not going to tell my story, I have decided, because if the truth once known can corrode. It would not be fair as the dead are not here to answer. Though they were never fair themselves.
One leaf, just one leaf and perfection. I pick up the cold scissors, close them, open them again to the sharpest V and finish shaping the tree. The dead remain dead for a very long time but trees can last forever.
Nobody knew what was at the falls. They just knew there were bad things there and they must never go there and their parents would literally kill them if they went there. Or they would not, or could not, because nobody had ever returned from the falls alive.
So of course she and I decided to go there together, hand in hand,and we saw what was at the falls and we felt what was at the falls and we fell together and we will never be back but we tell each other this story over and over. Now you.
Ji pulled the ladder up behind him and dropped the hatch. The only light came from the clouded sky beyond the clouded skylight. It was here somewhere, it had to be. He opened one box then another. In the last box he found it and held it tight, tears streaming. It was all he had ever wanted.
I saw you had written my name in the back of your book and fell to thinking stories about it. Was this the tale of how, after days and nights and months and years, you found your way to your only true love? Was it a permanent reminder of how the universe had fore-written our lives, how the or the way had found you?Was it just one of many examples of how you left my name everywhere, signing your path through the world?
With a needle and a pen I scratched your name beneath my skin and wore long sleeves to catch the blood.
Yesterday I saw your book left open at my name page but my name had been written in pencil and now only its shadow remained.
My arm itched and my eyes prickled. The afternoon and evening and long night passed somehow and now I write new stories.
The peacock landed heavily on the chess board, an overused, overweight symbol. Alexei, who said he had a photographic memory, half picked it up, half pushed it off the concrete table. People in the park shouted and pointed, but not in an aggressive way. Now they were laughing, but at the situation, not the victims.
Can you eat peacock, wondered Alexei, as the bird strutted away.
Oh yes, of course, roared one of the spectators, if you have good teeth and are not afraid of the soldiers.
Ah, I must have said that out loud, thought Alexei, making sure to keep his lips tight shut and his eyes from blinking. The bystander said nothing.
Alexei set up the pieces again, almost exactly as they had been when the peacock had arrived. The game continued until its inevitable outcome became clear.
The funeral was over. She was gone. Col stood apart.
We are here for you, the strangers said, taking his hands. He blinked away more tears. Everyone was saying the same. We mourn for you. We feel for you. We are here for you.
The bright Halloween sun gave no warmth. The graveyard was shades of green, each darker than the other. Nearby, mourners. In the distance, crows.
Thank you, he said, and tried subtly to let go of their hands.
No Col, one said, their firm cool grip gently tightening. We are here for you.
His heart slowed. Together they walked away.
The flight was already an hour late when the queue at the gate finally began to shuffle forward. I eyed the man in the heavy overcoat who, bishop-like, was trying to cut softly in front of me. As I shifted my weight onto my left foot the teenager on my right barged forward, eyes fixed on their phone. It was blatant obstruction, any referee would have called a foul. I stood up straighter and used my additional weight to block them. There. I inched forward, not lifting my feet from the floor. At the gate I had my passport and my boarding card ready and beamed triumphantly.
‘Your carry-on, sir? Where is your carry-on?’
A chill ran through me and I turned round in the crowd. The dog was sitting , eyes fixed on the suitcase. The man in the stab vest was looking our way.
‘I don’t have any’, I said. ‘I don’t have any.’
Sunlight – real, blue, sunlight – slanted through the sealed crylic. As he inhaled, slowly, painfully, the map became visible to her fourth-level receptors. As breath left him, the shapes disappeared. All his life from pre-seed had led to this, the discovery of the map. Timing was everything. The closer to fading his life came, the clearer the map showed in his spirit shape. His eyelids slid open again. Find them, he implored her. The door shook. I will. Her eyes flashed and with a silenced sigh he faded, his soul-motes drifting downward, returning to the greenheart as the hunters burst in.
First published on http://www.101fiction.com 10 March 2019
The Child ran out into the road, monkeys in their arms. For the adults nearby time stopped. The sound of the breeze through the trees was silenced, colours faded and hearts froze. For the Driver thinking of arriving home soon the world would never be the same.
The Child walked into the room, arms full of two toy monkeys, and sat down.
Adult 1 smiled. ‘I like your monkeys.’
‘It’s one monkey and one ape’ said the Child.
‘Oh?’ Adult 1 smiled again. ‘What’s the difference?’
‘Monkeys have tails and apes don’t. And other things.’
‘I see. Thank you. I always wondered.’
The Child smiled and Adult 1’s heart broke.
Adults 1, 2 and 3 introduced themselves. The Child kept turning towards the door.
‘They’re not coming, I’m afraid,’ said Adult 2. ‘They were halfway here when they changed their mind and asked to go back.’
‘But they said they would!’ the Child shouted. ‘They promised.’
‘I’m sorry but you know how it is,’ said Adults 1, 2 and 3 in their different ways.
‘No!’ said the Child. ‘No!’
The Child stood up and ran out of the room and through the front doors. The Adults chased after the Child, shouting the Child’s name. The Child ran out into the road, monkeys in their arms.
There is a guy sits every day outside the supermarket below the office where I work. Every Friday, when I am there, I fetch him a doughnut from the in-store bakery. The last Friday of the month, payday, I gift him a doughnut and a bottle of orange juice, full of Vitamin C.
“Here’s your doughnut, pal.” He acknowledges me by lifting his hand to take it. “Happy Friday!” I say. “And a juice! It’s payday!”
Then, the last Friday of last month, instead of just reaching up with his other hand as he always does, he looks up, his screwed-up eyes red, and says, quietly, “Go away. Just go away and leave me alone”.
And I put the juice down next to him, next to the flat cap he has laid on the pavement, the one with two silver coins and lots of coppers in it and go back into my building, my supermarket sandwich and mango slices in my carrier bag.
The next Friday I take the lift down to the basement and go out to the supermarket through the underground car park. I pick up a doughnut and put it down again.