1000words

where pictures make prose

Bigger on the Inside

Bigger On the InsideI want to regenerate.

I want to throw back my arms, puff out my chest, look straight upwards to the infinite beyond, and let my whole body explode in a violent burst of nervous energy. Then, when I’m done, I will be a new man. Ready to face the universe again. Ready to once more travel forward in time.

Upstairs, the colour of the carpet marks the place of the bed we once shared. Faded squares on the wallpaper reveal where our pictures used to hang. Only one remains: there’s you, my faithful companion, veiled and radiant in white, beaming to the camera. And then there’s me, with my dark tweed suit and question mark waistcoat, and a stick of celery in my lapel instead of the traditional carnation, and a fedora on my head, and an ancient glint in my eye. Two people, looking forward to adventures in time and space.

Alien and mysterious; that’s who I wanted to be. That’s how I wanted you to want me. But I guess you eventually saw through that. Saw me for who I really am. I have only one heart, so I suppose that makes me human. Now this one heart won’t stop hurting.

The last removal man’s just left. I asked him to leave just one chair. So he left the kitchen stool. There’s one exactly like it from the TV movie, near where the Eye of Harmony opens, so it will slot in perfectly. I carry it across to the den. This room, it’s not large; not like it is on the telly. There’s a miniature console in the middle, and circular patterns on the walls like in the classic era, and some old levers and buttons I got from the scrapyard. If the Time Vortex could distort the hours I spent working on it, giving those hours a spatial equivalent, it really would be bigger on the inside.

I put the stool down and leave the room. The rest of our house – my newly empty house – gapes in front of me. Without you here, it’s vast. It’s huger than the human mind can possibly comprehend. This is the real fourth dimension, and I am a centuries-old renegade, lost within, destined to be forever alone.

I want to go back to how I was, when we first met. When all that was, all that ever could be, was a beguiling myriad of possibilities. When I was the real lord of time, and all the time I had, I gave to you.

I want to regenerate to a previous version of myself.

But I can’t, because that wouldn’t be canon.

(Author: Mike Scott Thomson. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Sue Hutton. Image: All Rights Reserved.)

Annie

AnnieOnly the worst kinds of people, war criminals and paedophiles, hate puppies.  You wonder what this makes you as you reel Annie in and out with her new retractable leash over stretches of marmoreal snow.  For once the Ottawa River Parkway is empty of joggers and dog walkers.  You are grateful.  You don’t have to pretend you enjoy walking the happy, slobbery puppy.  For once your sick headache, the one that has dogged you for weeks, abates a little as you tolerate her and she disregards you.  The hissing of the occasional red and white city bus on the wet road feels far away.  The sky only grudgingly relinquishes a slate blue twilight and it seems impossible that behind the heavy cloud that blurs into mist on the far edges of the river the sun is rising.  Annie, with her gift for getting tangled in the skeletal wet-black branches of the bushes lining the path, yanks your thoughts back from the  horizon and you sigh heavily, dramatically, and bend down – again – to free her.

You don’t normally come down this way, preferring the bare minimum twice-daily trots around the block.  Fewer chances of meeting others who think Annie is “cute” and “friendly”  and “adorable” that way.  You resent these dog-lovers; even more you resent Annie’s unstinting love for them, tail whipping back and forth with every stranger’s friendly pat.  But you are getting even more depressed by the daily tours through the heaps of road salt and dog shit that line the sidewalks around the house.

This winter will be the death of you.

Annie noses through the snow, bounding through its fresh expanses, making sudden leaps and turns before stopping dead.  She has a fine layer of it on her muzzle now, like a dusting of cocaine.  Electrified, she chases clumps of snow that disintegrate when kissed by her nose or her over-large paws.  You clip and pull and reel her in and out with the leash.  The dog is like a recalcitrant trout.  Though you can’t smell anything beyond wet vegetation or dirty fumes from the buses, you know just  how the fug of soggy pelt will fill the house when you get home.  Like the gentle creeping of mustard gas into trenches in some old European war.

Dogs are supposed to be intuitive to human feelings and setters are considered a somewhat intelligent breed.  After the frantic shedding of fur over your black suit when you inherited her and the desperate sniffing around her new home, you have seen little to show that she realizes her world has gotten smaller.  Yet you weep every day (although sometimes it’s out of sheer sleepless frustration, finding the dog has peed—again—on the living room rug).  You feel like you spend all your days following her from room to room, armed with cleaner and paper towels, scolding and glowering by turns at the oblivious mutt.  And as soon as your back is turned, either the spray bottle or the roll of paper towels becomes the next chew toy, borne away in triumph to the dog bed in the corner.

Taking your eyes away from the animal for a moment, you spy a solitary cross-country skier gliding up the river near the Quebec side.  How you long for that.  The freedom to move so gracefully, so unencumbered, across the frozen surface.  You feel drawn to it, to the seductive membrane of ice that contains the drowsing river.  But on the cusp of March, and after a winter of unpredictable thaws, the ice is anything but reliable.  You have half-formed ideas of the risk.  It is terrifying and delicious, like the irrational desire to step in front of a speeding bus.  The lure of obliteration.  You call to Annie and together make your way down through the leafless shrubs to the beach—really to a small inlet by the water’s edge where people wade in the summer.  Your feet sink through the snow up to your knees as you tell yourself that you aren’t really going to do it.  You aren’t going to take the dog on to the river.  That would be stupid.  You just want to get to the edge.  Maybe clear away a little snow to see through the ice.

The inukshuks that tourists build every summer out of the flat rocks from the river bed have tumbled down, they are nothing but snow-covered markers.  Annie noses at them before following you.  The open river has allowed the wind to blow away much of the snow cover from the ice.  You dredge up a smile when Annie slips and wriggles like a baby seal on the surface.  The light is getting stronger now but the morning hush seems greater too.  The stillness.  The skier has gone.  You feel rooted here, though you know that beneath your feet there is nothing to be rooted to.

You want to stay forever.

But the damp air seeps through your wool coat.  You call to Annie and feel something like  gratification when she bounds back to you.  Perhaps she is learning something after all, even if it is only her name.  You return, past the buried inukshuks, and climb back up to the path, boots sliding into old footprints.  The river ice didn’t crack, the frigid water didn’t swallow you up.  You feel some slight  surprise, but not disappointment, and that is something.

(Author: Jennifer Falkner. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Transparent Retribution

Transparent RetributionI first became aware of my superpower at the Macy’s perfume counter in 1990. I was five-years-old. My dad, an ex-cop, wore his 9MM everyday like most dads wear neckties. I tagged along with Dad to pick up Mom’s Chanel N°5 for Christmas.

“Dad, that man has a gun.”

“What? Where, son?”

“There, right there! Don’t you see it?”

“That’s a brown lunch bag, son, look at his janitor shirt. Just a man bringing his lunch to work.”

“Hi, I have a coupon for the Chanel N°5, limited edition.”

“Okay, sir, let me…”

The janitor flashed his .38 at the lovely clerk, shoving my dad aside. Dad reached for his 9MM, but the rusted snap on the holster took one second too long to undo. My dad, my hero, died right there.

“Dederick,” the female clerk screamed, “what are you doing?” Dederick the janitor ended her.

I stared right through his work shirt. The Irish surname F-I-N-N-E-G-A-N tatted in Old English font, clavicle to clavicle. I scanned my eyes towards his unshaven face.

“Don’t you know it’s impolite to stare, kid?” And with that, Dederick fled.

Not quite X-Ray vision, I cannot see through epidermis, muscle tissue, et al. I can see through inanimate objects: a wall, a shirt … a brown paper lunch sack.

As a result of the double murder I witnessed, I suffer from PTSD. So I am not exactly superhero material. I am scared of confrontation, loud noises, and crowds of people, Macy’s, nearly everything. Well, except for money; I’m rather fond of that.

It’s July 2013, Las Vegas. I am about to win the World Series of Poker for the third straight year, this time with a pair of eights. A news alert flashes on one of the many TV screens behind the bar, distracting the crowd from the game at hand.

“Dederick Finnegan, aka the Black Widower, notorious for killing every woman he ever slept with, arrested today by Boston Police. Finnegan is a hit man for the Irish Mafia. Our sources say he is being placed in witness protection in exchange for testifying against his former colleagues.”

I win the hand. My entourage collects the bounty then fuels the jet at McCarran International.

I use my gambling connects; call a bookie I know in Boston. He puts me in touch with the Irish Mafia. The Mafia’s moles in the BPD have learned that Dederick’s safe house is located somewhere in Quincy, MA.

Five days and nights I cruise Quincy with a hit squad, scanning houses. Finally, I spot him; his red hair, those eyes, the tattoo.

“He’s in there.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. There’s three ‘plainclothes’ with him. Remember, I get to finish it … and don’t kill the cops!”

The hit squad makes quick work of the cops – beats them, ties them up. My cell buzzes, a text reading “it’s time.”

Dederick is beaten, bloodied, tied to a chair. He stares at me. I draw Dad’s 9MM.

“Don’t you know it’s impolite to stare, kid?” I ask.

“Do I know you?”

“Chanel, age 5.” [Bang]

(Author: Prewitt Scott-Jackson. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Craig Sunter. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Fred

FredWhen the thunder struck, Fred managed to jump out an open window on the second floor, knocking the screen free, onto the porch roof. From there, he leapt to the ground, jumped the fence, then ran a block in the storm before returning home. He couldn’t stand loud noises, and even though he wore his “Thundershirt,” the house-shaking bolts did him in.

A gorgeous lab, Fred gleams in the sunlight, glowing white like a snowblossom. But he’s nervous — very nervous. He likes small spaces, like the 1/2 bathroom, which, with the shade down, stays dark and cozy. But he doesn’t like to be left, and will do things like jump on the stovetop to get closer to the window in hopes of escaping.

At about 9 months of age, Fred had been deposited by some now unknown person in a kill-shelter, subsequently rescued by Dreampower Ranch, then adopted out and returned twice. He was pathologically shy, cowering in the corner of the foster family’s home. “He doesn’t like men,” said the elderly woman, who clearly adored him. “He needs lots of room to run and other dogs to play with.”

The third adoption seemed the charm. Playing with Fanny, a much smaller and older blue heeler mix, Fred was happy. She kept him in line, commandeering all situations — they were always together — and those were his best moments, free on the owner’s summer cabin property to roam, no barriers to check his speed. He ran long, looping ellipses around Fanny and lay on his back, paws in the air, begging for her attention, which she gave, albeit sparingly.

His owner thought she could love him back to health, love him past the wounds inflicted by those who damaged him in the beginning of his life. Fred became her full-time job.

Inside the house in town, however, he was suspicious of any humans who came near his owner, including her son. If someone knocked on the door, Fred would bark with such ferocity he had to be leashed, and kept away from all visitors. Alone with his owner and Fanny, however, he would curl up in the big comfy chair, head on the armrest, and stare out the window. Left at home when his owner went to work, he hurled himself, again and again, at the glass door when the housepainter came. Fearing Fred would break through the glass — he’d broken windows twice before — the painter fled.

He jumped the fence and bit the woman bicycling down the street. Fred didn’t like moving objects, apparently, including running children, and bit the owner’s son, who was racing home. The bites were always in the back of the calf, and never needed stitches, though he often broke the skin, sometimes ripping through the victim’s jeans. The owner tried herbal remedies, then prescription drugs, brought him to trainers and specialists in “rescues.” Little changed.

His owner adored him; his owner’s son despised him. When the boy’s friends came over, Fred bit two in the living room, even though they were moving slowly. After many tears, three and a half years and a dozen bites later, his owner returned Fred to DreamPower Ranch, which pledges support to their animals for life.

Love did not heal Fred; the owner learned its limits.

At the sanctuary, Fred doesn’t bite anyone. He’s settled in with a pack of dogs — again content to defer to the Alpha — and curls up on the owner’s couch, looking out at the mountains. After a visit by his owner, he broke a greenhouse bay window on the second floor, jumped onto the roof, and from there to the car below, startling the wolf dogs who were lounging there, absorbing the mile-high rays. After this episode, the windows were replaced with plexiglass, keeping Fred safe at home.

(Author: Annie Dawid. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Getting Myrna to Play the Piano

PianoMyrna’s knife danced around her plate with the last piece of broccoli, in time to the loud ticking of the mantelpiece clock. Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  One, two! Step, two!

Her knife squealed against the porcelain.

“Myrna,” said her father, without looking up. Myrna stopped the dance, and put down her knife.

She sat, watching her parents eat. They sat opposite each other, their heads bowed, their cutlery at forty-five degrees.  Choose, cut, fork, bite.

“Can I get down?” Myrna asked.

Her mother shook her head.

“Not yet.”

Choose. Cut. Fork. Bite.

Myrna’s eyes mooched sullenly around the room. On the wall behind her mother was a picture of her parents on their wedding day. Her parents were smiling, their clothes were smiling, the weather was smiling. It was a black and white photo but it looked to Myrna like the most colourful thing in the room.

Choose. Cut.

“Can I get down now?” she asked.

Fork. Bite.

“Myrna,” her mother said. She placed her knife and fork side by side on her empty plate. “When did you last play the piano?”

Myrna fired a sigh at the ceiling, tracking it with her eyes. “Why,” she said, “do we always have to talk about this?”

“I’ve told you, Myrna,” said her mother, “you’ll never know the piano, if it doesn’t know you.”

“Because we’re paying good money for your lessons,” her father replied, wiping gravy off his chin.

“Just think, Myrna,” said her mother, standing and stacking the plates, “what beautiful music you should be able to play, by now.”

Myrna defined disinterest with her face while her mother gathered the cutlery.

“Playing scales,” said her mother, answering a question that Myrna hadn’t asked. “They might seem boring, but they’re just the beginning. They’re stepping stones, that take you into the piano’s wildest dreams.”

The last half of a laugh burst from the living room as Myrna’s father turned on the telly. “They’re twelve-fifty a pop!” he called out, as he closed the living room door.

“And one day,” continued her mother, “after you’ve spent enough hours on the keys, scales will blossom into tunes, and then tunes will bloom into melodies. You’ll be conjuring chords, and weaving harmonies-you, and the piano, as one.

Myrna detached her glazed stare from the ceiling, and rearranged it onto the floor, while “Are you making coffee, then?”  penetrated the living room door.

“Eventually, Myrna,” her mother went on, “you play it a secret, and the piano will whisper. You play it a story- it’ll sing you a ballad. You-”

“Okay, mum! Geeze!”

Myrna stood up. She marched over to the piano, and thudded out an ascending octave with one hand.

She glared at her mother. “Happy?” she snapped.

Her mother stared. For several moments, she said nothing.

“Well,” she said eventually, quietly, “not exactly, Myrna. No.”

Myrna slumped onto the piano stool, shoved her hands onto the keyboard, and dragged a reluctant C major into the room. She threw a sulky glance at her mother.

Her mother was no longer looking at her. She was standing, her hands full of dirty plates, and staring at the photo on the wall.

Myrna watched as she turned away, absently, and began walking towards the kitchen. There was a distant smile on her face and an odd lilt to her gait, and it almost seemed to Myrna that her mother was actually…

One, two. Step, two.

Myrna opened her mouth to speak, and then hesitated.

She took a deep breath. She blew the dust from the piano keyboard and placed her hands on the keys; her foot on the sustain pedal. Then she gently released the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fuer Elise to flutter upwards and join the dust particles that were swirling and twirling in the air.

The dust began to settle. Myrna continued to play. Poco moto. Modulate. Ascending A minor arpeggio, chromatic descent. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see her mother standing absolutely stock still.  Myrna began to smile.

The living room door opened slightly. “Still waiting for that coffee, you know!” came barking through the gap.

Myrna kept on playing, and her mother didn’t move.

There was loud canned applause from the living room.

(Author: Jacki Donnellan. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: aussiegal. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Monument Man

I pick up my sister, just off her ER shift, in my cruiser.  As we leave the hospital lot, the dispatcher’s voice cuts in.  “There might be trouble out at old Pritchard’s place. Go have a look.”

“Take the Wilderness Road,” my sister says, “it’s shorter, and park near the Savage River Bridge.”

We take the overgrown path up, littered with chunks of granite and uncut marble, up to the house.  A slab of quarry stone, its edges covered with moss like a five o’clock shadow, leans against the porch.  An old man sits on the stoop, intently filing a square-raised chisel. A grimy light casts a web of shade over his face like a mask. His eyes slide sideways in our direction.

“Evenin’, Pritchard.  Remember me? Jonah’s boy? And my sister, the nurse who used to stop in to check on your wife?  You made the headstone when our Ma passed.”

Pritchard nods.

“Ay-uh,” he says, his voice aged in grain alcohol.  I peer over his closed face into a dim hallway that smells of hazelnut and regret.

Behind us tires chew on gravel, a car door slams. The hearse spits out Enoch, the funeral director. “Evening, Officer. Ma’am.”

Enoch leans against the jaundiced railing. “I come to leave an order with Pritchard. He don’t hear so good on the phone anymore. Nuthin’ wrong, I hope?”  Enoch nods in Pritchard’s direction.

“You come here often?”  I ask.

“Yeah, I try,” Enoch says. “Pritchard ain’t been right since his wife passed. Died too young, she did. Bless her soul, now there was a gentle woman. Never complained a day in her life, just took care of him and Ruth, that ingrate daughter of theirs. That girl done broke her mother’s heart. Pritchard don’t much like Ruth coming by.  Last time I was out here, Ruth blew in with her fancy coffee and a string of curse words. Always after Pritchard about his drinking. Put him down ‘cause he never made a headstone for his wife’s grave.”

“Ruth been around lately?” my sister asks. “Word is she’s a woman who could bring the devil to his knees.”

“She was just here this morning.  I was on the phone with Pritchard, we’re talking about this here order, and I hear her yelling.  Useless old man, drinking yourself to death, expecting me to do everything for you.  You ain’t done nuthin’ for me.  Or Ma.  You ain’t even made a stone for her. I can’t hold up my head in these parts ‘cause of you.”

“She’s mighty tetchy, that one,” Enoch says.

My sister stays with Pritchard while I take a look in the hall. In a small pool of light, blood leaks from the torso of a woman. Out on the stoop, the rasp of the file grates the stark silence.

(Author: Toni Giarnese. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: maryn0503. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

The Rain

The RainThe rain-scented air gently takes her in its fold. The dusty street looks cleaner now, the leaves greener, windows shinier. The road that she had walked every single day since childhood suddenly seems strange.

Last summer she was fifteen when the sun shone brightly. So bright, it blinded her. The lazy summer afternoon lay ahead of her, no homework and no chores. A nap would not have been completely out of order. But she was fifteen, and the nap sounded boring. That was when she saw him walking down the street. Every day, she had noticed him staring at her with that impish smile. His dark eyes were filled with light that shone onto the dark places in her soul and warmed the cold places in her heart. The eyes spoke directly to her. At first it was disorienting.  No one at home had ever talked to her directly or looked her in the eye. It was as if she was invisible, an elf, doing chores and disappearing in the shadows. She was accustomed to obeying every command coming from the adults, so it was completely out of character for her to lie to her mother and go out to see what would happen. But she was fifteen and lie she did.  And her great love story began.

That first meeting was awkward. The flutter in her heart would not stop. She could barely speak, but he was gentle and seemed to understand her discomfort. After all, he was eighteen and knew how to talk to so many more people than she did. She was thankful that his friend showed up to take the edge off the awkwardness.  Later, they met in odd places, always with the friend as a chaperone, more like a go-between, since neither of them knew how to talk to each other.  It did not matter, though.  Their eyes continued to lock and speak to each other through the veil of meaningless words.  At home, the lies continued. There was no reason for anyone to be alarmed. After all, she was an obedient and studious girl.

Then, one sunny afternoon he showed up sans the third wheel.  Oh, how her heart jumped. The awkward walk towards the outskirts of the town! The first time he put his warm throbbing hand over her pale shaky palm! The inexperienced fingers entwined for a moment. The sensation was so new that all the creatures on the earth suddenly became silent. The horizon seemed to loom so near that she felt the sun was within her reach.

The afternoon rendezvous soon turned into evening trysts.  The lies were elaborate now. She had to enlist the help of her best friend to cover for her.  Then she heard some rumors about him through the grapevine. One older girl actually claimed to be his girlfriend, but she ignored it. In her heart she knew he only loved her; the world they shared was impenetrable. When she mentioned the girl to him, he laughed it off. She was reassured, not that she needed much reassuring.  That evening, they lingered at the lake much longer; the kisses more intense, the pressure on her waist stronger. Her body slowly warming and becoming suppler! But her family believed in chaste maidenhood, and so did she. She dreamt of him that night a little longer.

Summer changed to fall. The number of school notebooks rose and the leaves fell. The darkness of winter sneaked up on them. The pitter-patter of rain on the window awning was haunting when she looked into his eyes that evening. The ardor in his eyes was a little unfamiliar, but his curious hands were familiar. She responded involuntarily, but his insistence was alarming. She tried to loosen his embrace, tried to break free.  She mumbled a faint “no.” His grip became tighter. “No!” she said a little more firmly. She was unsure of her next move. She did not like where this was leading, but she had come here voluntarily; she had lied to her mother. He was her boyfriend. She loved him, and opposing him was not an option. She had stepped in the fire accidently, and now it was burning her. She couldn’t, didn’t step out.

Now, she walks home. Dazed. Her eyes linger on the puddle ahead. She wants to feel unsoiled with all her might. She hopelessly wonders if washing her feet in it might salvage her. She wishes for the apocalyptic rain. Her life is changed forever. She is only sixteen.

(Author: Maya Malhar. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Sami Hurmerinta. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

Zaragoza

The cobblestone street is barely wide enough for our taxi as we pull up to the party. People and loud music spill out a heavy wooden door. Inside, Santos starts a conversation with a pretty Aussie with white-blonde hair, and I walk through a dark hallway to the kitchen. A tub of sangria sits on the counter, and I help myself. Leaning against the sink, I drink quickly, trying to lose the voices in my head: my father’s anger and Santos’s low whisper. We are alone as we can be.

Behind me, I hear a sexy soft slur of local Spanish. I turn to match a face to the voice. A girl with bright green eyes talks to a greasy-looking muchacho who leans against the wall. Their words are coded; the sentences don’t make sense. The man turns and glares, and I realize that I am staring. Green Eyes gives me a look. I try to melt her ice with a smile, and she turns and walks away. I start to follow her, but then, I stop and watch her walk outside. Later.

I stay back in the kitchen, talking to the Australians who have just come back from Ibiza. Their eyes are pinpoints. They talk quickly, overlapping each other, but I am distracted by the girl on the patio. When she turns, I do not smile, but I do not look away. Her eyes stay on me for a minute. My heart quickens. I pour another drink. She wears a white dress that drapes over her thin body. Her skin is tan from the beach, I think, almost as dark as me. Small braids weave through her loose, dark hair. Her nails are painted grey. She pulls a cigarette from a small bag that hangs over her shoulder. Then, Santos is behind her, offering her his lighter.

She does not smile for my cousin either. Santos leans down to her ear. I should look away, but I cannot stop watching. They talk back and forth, only a few words in each exchange. She leads Santos back inside and down a long, high-ceilinged hallway. I see the door close behind them.

Is it that simple? I am amazed at my disappointment. This unsmiling stranger is just one more girl who will go to bed with Santos after a few words. The predictability of it darkens my mood.

Later, in the dark of my hotel room, I sit and smoke. Against good judgment, I wonder what Kate is doing right now. I pick up my phone and turn it over in my hand. My thumb runs over the smooth touch screen, acting on its own, first the country code, then her number. My thumb hovers over the END CALL.

She answers with a laughing Hello? I freeze for a half a minute, both of us breathing into the silence from thousands of miles away. Hello? she says again, quieter. And then, she whispers with a catch in her voice.

Marcos?

When I hear my name, I hesitate for one more second before my thumb drops on the END button. She is gone again.

Why? Why would she say my name?

*

In the morning, there is a barely legible note shoved under my door: fuck you. I assume this is from Santos.

I dress in the only clothes I have with me, throw on my sunglasses, and take two Advil. Sunlight is never my friend these days, but I am ready to work on the relationship. I find a shop in the Old Town and buy some clothes and a bathing suit.

When I return to the hotel, Santos is already at the rooftop pool wearing nothing but his black underwear.

“Please, cover it up, joto. You’re going to scare small children,” I say as I throw a towel in his lap.

“No one seems to mind.” He throws the towel back in my face. “You left me at the party last night. Thanks for having my back,” he says from behind his sunglasses.

“Seemed like you already had someone on her back,” I answered.

“How would you know? You left before the party got going.”

“I saw you get a room with that girl on the balcony, so I left.”

“Who, Lena? That girl in white? That was business.”

I spit when I hear his words. “Business? We’re supposed to be invisible.”

He shrugs. “You worry too much.”

“Thanks for spending your spare time finding new ways to get us killed, cousin.” Santos, always creeping back onto the darkside.

Still, no Lena for Santos. Good to know.

I walk away and jump into the water. Santos orders some food and beers. After eating, my head is clearer. “So what is this business, Santos?”

“Coke,” he says. Druga de dias.

“Are you selling or buying?”

“Buying, but just for me, just for fun.”

I make a noise and a face, and Santos laughs at me.

“What’s the harm, cousin? We have nothing but time and money. And, some really fast bikes. ” He grins.

“And La Familia?” I ask.

His face hardens. “They are not here. We are alone as we can be.” His mantra.

“How do you find trouble so quickly? We haven’t even been in Zaragoza for a day.” I drink the rest of my beer in one swig.

“Talent. And luck,” he says, lying back onto his lounge chair in his black underwear and sunglasses, his hands behind his head. Girls walk by, giggling, but their eyes linger as they pass. “Get some sun and some rest,” he orders.

I think about the green-eyed, dark-skinned drug dealer.

“She is a beauty,” I think aloud. Santos laughs under his breath.

“Lena?” he asks. I stay quiet. Still, he gets it. “Si, but she is cold as ice,” he says, rolling over onto his stomach. “Good luck with that one, cousin,” he adds before he falls asleep in the sun.

Cold as ice, I think. Just like me.

(Author: Julie K. Wise. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Andy Troc. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

No Worries

You’d think he’d be too old for this sort of thing. Hell, that’s what he thought.

He’d met her in line in the shop, flustered and digging in her bag, looking for the extra bit of change to buy milk with, just a little jug, enough to pour in her coffee, she said, talking to no one, to everyone, looking around and smiling at the clerk, at the woman in line a few folks back, at Jim, there directly behind her. “Sorry,” she said. She said it to him, and he nodded a little like you do if you don’t just look away, don’t pretend it isn’t happening, don’t ignore someone else’s embarrassment.

“No worries,” he said. Why’d he say that? He never said that. His boy said that, only he wasn’t a boy anymore but a man now, off in the city, working long days for his family, his wife and little girl. But when he was a teenager, Danny, Jim’s boy, said that. About everything. “No worries, Dad,” when Jim got on him to help his mother with the shopping, to get at those weeds in the garden. “Sure, Dad, no worries.” He was a good kid, Danny was. And when Rachel died and Danny came back home from university and missed his exams that year, he said it again, “No worries, Dad.” And together they went through Rachel’s stuff and sorted it out and tossed some, papers and old photos of family members neither of them knew, and took the rest, clothes, bags, shoes, to the charity shop. And then Danny went back to university and then to the city where he got a job, got married, and so on.

So most days, especially now that he wasn’t working anymore, a pensioner—how’d he get to be that old, he wondered—Jim spent on his own, and he liked it that way. Quiet. No one bothering him or needing anything. Not like Rachel had been particularly needy, but those last years, when she got so sick and barely recognized him and couldn’t do anything for herself anymore, cook, get dressed, bathe, well, now not being needed was a bit of a relief. Long morning walks through town, a stop for the paper and pleasantries at the shop. Enough to keep Jim going, to feel something other than utterly alone. A routine. A ritual.

But there she was, this one, the lady with the milk, throwing things just a little off. And why was that? Something in her face, maybe. Her eyes. Brown and soft. Kind? When was the last time Jim thought of that word, kind? Kindness. And so he slipped a hand in his pocket and pulled out a pound and put it on the counter in front of the woman. “Let me,” he said, and smiled at Alan behind the till same as every morning, and he smiled at the woman, too, and said again, “No worries.”

She waited for him outside the door and made him promise that she could make it up to him. “A drink,” she said. And he could see the top of her head when she bent to write something on a small slip of paper, and there were gray hairs among the brown ones. She looked up again, handed him the paper with her name, Marie, and a number, the name of a café. “Yes?” She said. “Say five o’clock?” She was American, he was pretty sure, even though she hadn’t talked quite enough for him to know, to place the accent, but he was pretty sure anyway. He didn’t know a lot of American women. Saw some on the telly, though. Smart, mostly.

And so he’d bought a new shirt, only it had been so long since he’d bought anything new, and before, it had been Rachel who did most of the buying, so he got it a little small, a little tight around the middle. But it was bright white and sharp, he thought, when he looked in the mirror, smoothed down his eyebrows, plucked a couple of hairs out of his ears. And he sucked in his stomach and headed out the door for the café. It was just half four, and the place was close, but he didn’t want to be late; Jim was not one for lateness.

He got there early and stood for a bit, at the door near the tables outside. He saw his reflection in the window and stood up taller, but thought he looked silly there, standing, shifting foot to foot. Where should he put his hands? So he sat, ordered a glass of wine, waited. And she, Marie (he said it to himself, a mumble, “Marie, Marie, Marie,”) was late. And that’s when he thought what he thought, that he was too old for this. This—well, whatever this was. Meeting somebody. Buying new clothes. Waiting. He could be home now, sitting alone, with something cold from the fridge, some crisps. That was good enough for most days, should be good enough for today.

His palms were wet and his shirt was tight and he was just about to pay up and go, ten past five already, but then he saw her, Marie, hurrying around the corner, head down and feet quick and light on the pavement, her skirt dancing around her knees. She wasn’t young herself, but she had a nice figure, Jim thought. She looked up and he saw the line of her neck stretch from her jaw to her collar and he felt something like a shock, a spiral of something electric, something warm, something good.

“I’m too old for this,” he muttered to the man—himself—reflected back from the window. And he nodded at the reflection and pushed up from the table and turned to Marie just as she reached the café and she lifted her face to him, her cheek to be kissed.

“Here goes,” he thought, “no worries.” And Jim bent down.

(Author: Patricia Ann McNair. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Walter Kramer. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)

“to my brother in the water”

Each morning the same: a dull wakening from drowsy sleep, pulling on thick cottons and stitched wool over his body, across his palms and hands and arms. A milky, sweet cup of tea drunk always standing at the window where it horizons out to the sea. He sees a wall, a lumber of heavy cloud strung from coast to coast like damp overalls on the line, drying at the back of his mother’s house when he was young. The house where he and his brother grew up. His dead brother lost to the sea.

Every morning he is older, his face having changed imperceptibly in his sleep. And when he smiles the smile, like a boot print in muck, does not fade but leaves its own changes upon him; and when he shuts his eyes the creases remain and fold into other creases. His hair has gone white, his beard thick, his eyelids heavy.

Every morning he starts the bike in the coal shed and wheels it throbbing to the tilted lane above the sea above the earth and the stony beach below. He wraps his hands in gloves and cloth and yawns as the chattering starlings roar noisily above and over him, swirling in shifting patterns, far above the land, the sea. The earth must seem curved to them, he thinks, and jaws and thuds the bike into ragged gear and rattles down onto the lane, the road, the early town.

At the sailor’s hut he sits on the low wood stool. Ten o’clock Annie brings him a bite to eat, a flask of tea and he smiles warmly over sea charts and barometer and transmitter, speaking throatily into the microphone, measuring the lull and pull of waves, the wall of storm that muscles distantly, threatening to break over them.

He doesn’t tell her – sweet Annie, the woman he loves but cannot let himself love, because he is old now and so is she – how he hears strange things in the static wash of the radio. He tries at the end of the day, with the sun setting grapefruit hot into the silent sea; tries to square and shape his mouth around what he has heard so many days and nights before.

He redraws the map where his brother’s boat was lost forty years before in the dumped swell of a dark storm which made all directions useless and limp. He remembers standing knees wet into the water with his father roaring at the waves against the moon-tall wall of cloud and gale. He remembers standing limp jawed while his father tears his soft hat from his head and balls it into his fist.

Of how the morning after the beach was thick with upturned torn-out lobster pots and ragged splays of fishing net and shoved buoy decked and darkened where they had been sent down into the deep and thudded and scuffed against the ocean’s stony bed. And drift wood and yards of rope and broken glass. He learns not to speak and watches the glazed sickness in his father’s eyes as they give him up for dead.

*

He breaks a biscuit into crumbs and sighs hotly into the cup of his hands.

“Forty years today” he says to himself, drawing a wreath of cigarette smoke between his yellow teeth.

She wouldn’t understand, how he can hear the echo of his brother’s boat keeling and knocking against the storm; how he can hear ancient triremes that cut the waves with men in tall horsehair helms; how he can hear the voice of Ceasar’s time as the wooden galleys thrashed and broke apart in the channel’s swell. How he can hear the thud and boom of the Jutland metal ships lobbing shells to one another, putting holes deep into one another.

“I can hear him, Molly,” he said, once, and she put her hand on his worn, round shoulder, but didn’t say a word.

So he reads the weather and charts the progress of the boats and chatters across the waves with his voice a current, electrical, invisible. He lets it dip, his voice, and scud the water ; he lets it fall like a bob on line to scour the depth and deep.

“Nor, nor east, a squall” he says and jots it down with a stub of pencil in his rope-cracked fingers onto the pad of paper. He steers and calls the boats to sure seas and safety harbour.

The clock tick strikes the hour; he sighs and grapples with his eyes. The hours in the hut become slow and deep – or fast, he cannot tell. The tea is cold in his cup, the sun has sunk. He watches for car lights in the town streets and sees the hazy scar of a firework bloom like rust against the dark, but does not hear its fizz or cackle.

Brother.

He juts awake and blinks out across the faraway black; the channel sea, the blotted water.

“Brother?” he breathes.

A chirp and sway of electric splutters from the headset – a mess of tangled nothings. It has happened before – it will happen again. How the sea will lull and fool him – the sea that holds his brother’s bones and heart, the sea that drove his brother’s ship into its deeps and hollows, into its last.

Brother.

Every evening he rides his motorbike against the sea. He switches out the lights of the sailor’s hut and clips his key into his lock. He glances, for a moment lingering at the square of yellow-white that is Molly’s window, lace curtains touched by the bleary reflections of the TV set.

“You just come up any time for a chat, a cup of coffee,” she says.

And every evening he drives home to bed, with echoes of his brother drowning in his head.

(Author: Owen Vince. Story: All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Natalie Bowers. Image: Some Rights Reserved.)