The color tastes like silent despair. Don’t tell me it doesn’t. The images flicker across the screen in colors too bright, white, and blue. Children silently turn and adults smile awkwardly. Jumps and cuts: There a field, there a beach, next a room in a house where the clock is of interest to the smiling family before someone says something and all is now forgotten. The color tastes like silent despair. We feed on it like moths at a flame, fading in our mouth but without it how would we live. The images flicker across the screen and we smile.
I tighten the strap around their little wrists. “I told you- if you didn’t get your work done on time then you’d fight to the death.” I turn to the class. “What is this called, class?” “Actions and consequences.” “Right.” I hand each of the boys a knife. “Whoever is left alive gets another chance to do the math sheet. Go.” The class is screaming, I am shouting, the room is super charged with nervous excitement and mad lust. For a moment the boys stare, horrified, but in an instant their faces change and the first cut is made.
Once a year. Make her feel special, you know. It’s duty. Treat her like royalty. I need to stop in and grab a big fancy bunch of flowers, by the way, mate. Very important – I’ll tell you where to turn. She did it tough. But things are good now. She brought us up right, I’m proof of it. Made me the man I am. You missed the turn, mate. It was back there somewhere. Too late now, mate. Don’t apologise. No no, forget it and keep driving. Keep driving. She’ll just have to be disappointed. Drive.
Immense lips rose from the waves. They shimmered brilliantly as countless silver fish slipped teasingly across them before falling like rain into the ocean. They were red, but not too red, and creased, but not too creased. They pursed as though to blow a kiss, wobbling and trembling loosely, invitingly. At the last moment, as they smirked coquettishly, they rolled forward hugely, covering the ocean-going liner in a slow soft velvet embrace. The liner trembled, white smoke poured from the stack, and as passengers like tiny fish leapt, the liner submerged, locked in a loving embrace.
When the coffin spilled from the stand and the lid popped – allowing the corpse’s head to come rolling out – the funeral fell apart. With a stick I tried to retrieve the head from under the front pew, but I knocked it, and it went spinning away. Someone shouted in a language I did not understand and cordite filled the air. A priest open-mouthed, bared teeth in a dead man’s grin. I opened the coffin, climbed in with the corpse, and closed the lid. When the screaming started I put fingers in ears and fell into a gentle sleep.
It got chaotic when the head came off the corpse. Before that it had been unruly, but it was when the coffin spilled from the stand and the lid popped – allowing the head to come rolling out – that the funeral fell apart. I tried to retrieve it from under the front pew, but it went spinning away. Someone shouted in a language I did not understand and I took the easy way out – I backed up to the coffin, climbed inside, closed the lid, and waited for things to calm down. Sometimes you have to be conservative. one two three four
“The French say ‘kwuh-zont’. It’s just ignorant people who say ‘kruh-zont’.” There were glances in my direction. “Educated people, people who know, would never say ‘kruh-zont’. It sounds ignorant, doesn’t it. Just think about it. ‘Kruh-zont’. So ignorant.”
I grab the bacon out of the microwave where you had forgotten it, and your mother scoops coffee out of a jar and throws it into an oversized mug.
Insistent, you turn on me. “We need to start saying ‘kruh-zont’. Don’t you agree?” I wave a piece of burnt bacon above my head. “Viva la fuckin’ France.” I slurp my bitter coffee.
You laughed, young but serious. “When you grow up will you marry mummy?” About to say no, I said, “Yes,” because that’s what you needed to hear. You straightened my cardigan and began to button it. “I want to tell you a secret.” You half-laughed. The sun played across us as we sat. I nodded my head. Your tone is strange and I am listening closely. “When mummy was having Petey she and daddy had to get married.” Unsure, I say nothing. My body twisted slightly as you tugged on the cardigan and continued buttoning. You laughed, young but sad.
The streets are quiet tonight. Clouds slide across a half moon and a breeze gusts. My heart beats slowly. My blood runs sluggishly. It sounds thick in my ears, a faltering rhythm that speaks of fading. Death is coming.
The main square is empty tonight. Wind shakes the shutters and somewhere a dog cries to be let in. My heart beats weakly. The contagion is growing rapidly. The smell of it oozes from my pores, a greasy aura of infection.
The town well is idle tonight. My mouth is thick: I lean forward and into darkness I spit.
I remember this. He took a breath. He always did before saying something we should prepare to ponder. “His impact on the canon was… immense.” Others leaned forward, nodding. No one smiled or spoke. A serious moment to reflect on the poet’s impact and on our tutor’s delivery. He shifted in his seat, raised a hand. “With the war only just finished, a new way was sought. He provided it.” All these years later I remember this, for the whole time he spoke an enormous hair hung off the end of his nose and winked dustily in the sunlight.
Evidence now exists to support the theory that form and mass both directly affect auditory expression occasioned by vehicular impact against flesh. Throughout experimentation a clear pattern was manifest – aged bodies differed markedly from young, morbidly obese from anorexic; sexual dimorphism was measurable. More data is required to compare differences between bodies projected super-vehicle versus those manipulated sub-vehicle. After controlling for subject flight response, point-of-impact percussion ranged between low C and low E; decibels ranged from 105-125, excluding spontaneous ululation evinced by target subjects who saw it coming.
I bumped into you five fathoms down. Seaweed crowned your head and fish the color of garnets swam in and out of your eye sockets. You were the prettiest drowned corpse I’d ever seen. I fondled your clavicles with my suckers, exuded my gut over your pubis, nibbled your metatarsals with my beak. Entwined, we drifted through sea galleries, where the rise and fall of the swell picked your bones clean. I moved on, letting you fall into the depths where the blind creatures dwell. You were the best I ever had. Was I your first? Don’t answer, it doesn’t matter.
Remember that time we buried someone in the neighbor’s garden? Their dogs barked all night, so it was an obvious location. We were surprised at how hard it was to dig six feet down. Strange bones and alien pottery were unearthed in our descent. And by the time we climbed out we were tired, dirty, done with ceremony. You pushed the corpse in with your foot. Once the soil was back, we put flower pots on top, then went home to bed. But the following morning the corpse was in pieces in the backyard, the neighbor’s dogs gnawing the bones.
He’s not a bad kid. He’s not. He’s young, aware of the trouble he is in but not understanding it. “You’re late. Again.”
He peers around his mother. “He’s been with the babe,” she tells me, both defending him and exposing him. “I know. But he has to come. Now.”
I’m an awkward kid myself, but it’s my job. From somewhere inside I can hear him saying goodbye to the girl, to their baby. Soon we are moving together, him laughing, doing tricks on his bike. “How is your baby?” I ask, and we pretend he still has a life.
He put the tea cup down on the saucer where it rattled, like the final breath passing through the body of a dying soldier.
Three people in on a joke. You’d never been interested before, so I was surprised by your prompts, your questions, your, “I never understood it before!”s. You opened more wine and I rambled about Eliot and the canon and critics drawing visual representations of it all and how society would be better if we knew how to analyse. Your eyes were bright, flickered over my face, behind me. We finished and stood. As I passed the table behind me I looked into the faces of the two people there, their eyes bright with silent laughter, mirroring your own.
How conventional! I was sinking into my bed, my body a lodestone, flames enveloping me from beneath, and the only way to release the dead-weight and stop the fall was to cry out, “I believe in Christ! I believe in Christ!” A pretty big statement for one born without the faith gene, don’t you agree? The horror was outside me, though, for days later, while driving to class, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that big baleful red sun and knew it was watching me, you and everyone else, and that we were all in this shit together.
Dear Coral. I am writing to apologise for my earlier behavior. I understand how difficult it is for a new staff member (his name is Rick, right?) to join such a tight knit group as ours. And I do appreciate that the rumors and innuendo are childish and harmful, making his integration more difficult than it should be. I also accept that Rick needs to be afforded time to integrate and show something of his personality. I am sure Rick will be a popular team member. (By the way, does he spell his name with a silent P?) – Sincerely,
He had gone down for breakfast and saw her firm round rump trembling beneath the table. He admired it, thought about fucking her. No. Not now. Where is the baby? He is unsure and leaves. Walking past the neighbors house he ignores the dying dog in the yard. He glances back at his own house, frowning. Smoke is rising. Horror like a dull echo of human feeling flickers inside him. Unreal. He walks, passes strange fruit hanging from a tree, pink and obscene. The worst of things. Red was trickling from under the table but soon he will forget to worry about the baby.
A dark entrance with soft gold grass waving slightly. There are rusting cars and a hollow wind carrying dust. Entering, there are long passages: it is a place to explore. When I hear her voice I turn and stare. She is naked and precocious, a hand rests on a hip that she has stuck out jauntily. Lust stirs but I do not move, do not near her unblinking eyes, for the skin and meat of her thighs belly mound are curled back red and black revealing the glistening sinew and wet gore beneath.
Girls smelling of urine brushing horses beneath pine trees. Heat swelling in the shade and the horses are edgy angry. Moving from the girls and the horses deeper under the pines. Then the drumming hoofbeats and me clinging to a tree for safety peering through its forked trunk. Chasing a small pony the herd’s white teeth are champing at his sweating rump and he is crying with a human voice. I must avoid them. “Here he is!” comes the chanting of the horses and with raised legs they are passing the severed head of the pony into my waiting hands.
“Here lies Harry. A much loved guinea pig.” Eight words written jaggedly on the horizontal bar of a wooden cross built from two pieces of rough wood. Ours wasn’t a Christian house, but even at the age of ten I knew everyone (and everything) important was buried with a cross. Interment was under the old orange tree by the site of the original farmhouse. It seemed right to bury her there as the new house was… new. The family’s roots were entwined with those of the orange tree, and I wanted her amongst them, secure in earth’s diurnal round.
We were forbidden from going to the drive-in cinema in Preston because it was full of drug addicts. So we grabbed our cousins and went fishing. The rains had stopped, the weather was mild, and the river had settled into a swiftly flowing grey and white streak. Hundreds of carp were stunned by the rapid water and were half-swimming half-floating. Four of us took off shoes and socks and climbed in, where we could grab the fish in our hands and watch them squirm doggedly fighting for release. It was safe if you remembered to dodge the buoyant trees.
It was my dad’s false teeth that made my first football game so memorable. I ran onto the field to stand beside my 10-year old opponent.
“G’day,” I said, believing manners important.
“Mmm,” he said. Six inches taller than me with the lazy air of my older brother’s loutish friends. And then he did it. He lifted his false teeth out of his mouth, and balanced them casually on the very tip of his tongue.
Panic rose. My dad was the only person in the world who wore false teeth: this was a fact. I was playing against my father.
Updated post November 22, 2016
I learnt early about the value of a life. And I learnt early that I was a sure shot with a rifle. They were little birds swooping, calling to one another. It was no problem to draw a bead on one and swing the rifle back and forth back and forth following the looping path one little bird was taking. A sharp percussion and the swiftlet dropped. I walked over and stared. An anonymous red mark on the breast. I lowered the rifle. The other bird swooped back and forth back and forth, calling.
Original Post June 12, 2014
I learnt early about the value of a life. And I learnt early that I was a swift and sure shot with a rifle. They were little birds swooping, calling to one another. It was no problem to draw a bead on one and swing the rifle back and forth back and forth following the looping path one little bird was taking. Then there was a quick percussion and the swiftlet dropped. I walked over and stared. An anonymous red mark on the breast. I lowered the rifle. The other bird swooped back and forth back and forth. Calling.
“There’s no such thing as the law of averages.” I stare at you in silence. I’d been doing so well, finally I had the upper hand. I’d made it through your casual disparagement and denial, your harsher denouncements and diversions, and forced you to sit back and stare at the middle distance while smoke curled round you. “There’s no such thing as the law of averages.” I tried to regroup, humiliated, desperate to take back the upper hand and win. “There’s no such thing as the law as averages.” And now you’re gone and all I want is the chance.