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Archive for the ‘Guest Writers’ Category

It all started quite unexpectedly, shortly after they were married on a hot summer’s day in the little village church.  It was no secret she had married him for his pension, and of course for the shop he had recently inherited from his father.  She was very straightforward about things like that and he didn’t seem to mind a bit.  The thing is, she had the ideas.

When they returned from the ceremony, excited to claim the shop as theirs at last, she kicked off her high heel shoes and put on a pair of sneakers from her traveling bag.  She said she was dying for a cup of tea.  ‘Would you make me one, darling?’

 ‘It’s a bit tricky,’ said Joe.  ‘My father never got used to making tea for one… he didn’t bother fixing the kettle again… after my mother passed away.’

  ‘Oh well, never mind!  We can drink the champagne instead!’ she replied, picking up the bottle off the shelf that housed the books on vintage cars.

 She was about to pop the cork when he stopped her.  ‘Hold on.  I’ll see if I can find some glasses.’

 He made his way past an Austin Healy his father had been working on, towards a pile of trunks at the back of the workshop.  The ‘Union Castle Liner’ stickers that splashed across them were well worn and reminded him of the long forgotten trips to England and all the car boot sales and fairs he’d gone to with his mother.

‘I haven’t seen those yet! What’s in them, Joe?’ Her voice hooked his stomach and he was back at school, facing Mrs Norris, his pockets bulging with the day’s takings of marbles.

 ‘Nothing much… Mostly china… It’s just old junk, really,’ said Joe.

 She helped him remove the top case and together they placed it on the floor. She then nudged him aside and bent down on the cold concrete floor, to open the latches.  ‘Mhhhhmmmmmm,’ she said, ‘yes, there is some old china in here, very good old china, in fact.’  And then she examined one piece after another, turning each item carefully over so as to check the individual stamps and markings on the back.  Her eyes began to sparkle in the dim light of the shop.

 ‘Do you see any glasses?’ urged Joe.

 ‘Oh Darling! Can’t you see I’m busy right now?’

 He stood there for a long while, his hands deep in his pockets, ‘What about the champagne?’ he asked.

 ‘Never mind, never mind! I need you to do something else for me, would you bring the sign in from the front of the shop?  And I’d love some brushes and paints.  Bring whatever you can find.”

 She ripped off the turquoise scarf she’d worn to the ceremony and started dusting the china with it.

 Joe scuttled in with his arms full.  ‘Have you got the sign?’ she asked from behind several piles of china plates stacked up high upon the teak desk.

 ‘I am getting there!’ he replied.  ‘What are you going to do with it?  My father was always very proud of that sign, you know!’

 ‘That’s too bad, Joe.  Life has got to move on.  And besides, I have a marvelous idea!  Do pass me the paint, dear!’

 Joe stood by as “Village Service Centre” was drowned in red and “Martha’s Fabulous China Shoppe” was painted, in British Racing Green, instead.

 ‘There!’ she said as she placed the bright new sign against the wall and stepped back to look at it. ‘Now we can celebrate, darling! It’s time to drink some of that bubbly!’

 ‘Straight out of the bottle?’

 ‘Straight out of the bottle, you old fool!’

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There her head is now, asleep upon the pillow.  Sun’s up but there she lies.  What a face, beautiful as a pixie boy: large eyes darting behind closed eye lids, high cheek bones, pointy chin, bronze hair mopping up her pale skin.  There she is now late in the day, no alarm clock ringing to wake her up.  It’s Saturday.

Last night she locked herself away, put on Chopin, thought about him out at dinner, changed her mind about cocaine, played 4 poker games simultaneously on-line, won 2 of them, felt alive, thought of him out at dinner, cried, did cocaine, stayed in bed until four o clock in the morning tearing up the week’s photographs.

But now, there she lies.

He’d called at something close to midnight with things to say.  She told him of her state of mind. 

Shortly thereafter he stepped into her apartment, barefoot, out of the rain and there she was, what a face. A bottle of wine on the coffee table, several old movies scattered amongst the beer cans.  But there she was.

There she was, her slight nimble frame holding up her head, her big eyes looking up at him. He looked back.  Questions fired and answers swerved between them.  He’d realized.  He’d walked the road.  He knew now.  She thought he’d known already. 

There she lies.  The sun is high, shadows spill across her soft thin lips.

She’d taken a line in front of him.  He had stayed, only looked away.  That’s when she took his hand and led him to her bedroom.  That’s when he unbuttoned her black satin shirt and lay her down on the white sheets for the first time.

‘You’re beautiful,’ he said.  And she knew he was. 

There she sleeps now, her dreaming head upon the pillow.  He bends over, closes the curtain, gets up to make some coffee, pulls out her manuscript, reads it, looks across the room, picks up the pen, writes at the top of the first page:

willyoumylove?

The doorbell.  There she lies, doesn’t stir.  He answers.  A tall man, pressed pink shirt, shiny black hair, shiny black shoes on a Saturday, come to fetch her for the wedding what do you mean?  Swords criss, swords cross, she wakens, pixie face opens her eyes. Swords bend and break.  She opens her eyes. 

There she is now.  There she is now opening her eyes.

The End.

(And later, once she’d seen his guns & he’d seen her blackboots, she said these words: Iwill)

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The thunder in the distance sounded like huge sheets of plastic at play between giants. And indeed, she was surrounded by giants.

They were all over this part of the world. One lived in her back garden. A huge creature and very old, it was silent as the days gone by. Except, of course, for the baboons that lived in its creaks. And the birds that sang their songs amongst the Protea trees. And when the rains came in winter, there was a roaring waterfall that spread its silver wings down the slippery surface of the mountain’s ancient rocks.

She wondered what else had lived in those mountains. She wondered what sort of animals had gone before. All this while the soft spills of cloud fell like pin pricks into the pond before her.

She had found the lily, wrapped in its own green outer petals, camouflaged behind the reeds. It seemed closer to the water than yesterday. Although she was happy to have an answer (it had not disappeared into the depths of the pond), she still had many questions. Why had this particular lily closed itself off from the world today when the lily next to it had not? It was something akin to a caterpillar in its cocoon, this lilac flower.

‘Sounds like someone else I know,’ she thought as she rubbed the mud off her feet on the grass. She pulled her skirt up high above her knees and sprinted back to the house.

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She looks up from her magazine onto the street below: people are dashing in and out of shops with black umbrellas. No sign of a white one. She lights her cigarette and sighs. Her mohair miniskirt falls into the soft space between her thighs as a tall man blocks the light at the entrance. He glances at her shoes, shakes his umbrella and walks up to her with an easy confidence.

‘So glad you mentioned the red boots,’ he says. ‘You must be Frank.’

She stretches out her pale, slender arm to shake his hand. ‘How do you do? But you should know I hate to be kept waiting.’ He looks at his watch and chuckles, takes off his denim jacket and eases into the chair opposite her. ‘In Paris,’ he says, ‘It’s not considered impolite to be a few minutes late.’

‘Perhaps I am too punctilious for Paris,’ she says. ‘And how do they rate you here?’

‘I’ve worked with the best.’ His eyes are steady as he slides his resume across the table. ‘Take a look – accounts, awards, it’s all there.’ She flicks through the document. ‘Good. Fine, you’re hired,’ she says, briskly waving the approaching waiter away. ‘Congratulations.’

‘Well, that’s the fastest interview I’ve ever had!’

‘It was a done deal the day I called you.  I’m new here, I need you. ’ she says. ‘And besides, you speak English.  Let’s get straight to the Agency. Brief you there.’

He opens up his umbrella for her as they step outside into the soft grey rain and guides her into a cobbled street where a short stocky man holds open the brass door to the bakery on the corner. The smell of fresh bread wafts towards them. ‘Best baguettes in town,’ he says. Then he points to a shop decorated with intricate mosaics. ‘And that’s where I buy my cheese.’

‘So you live around here?’

‘Yes, I do. And I sure wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.’

‘Will you show me your place?’ He checks the sky that has taken a lunch break and laughs. ‘But what about the Agency?’

‘We can do that later. I want to know what it’s like to live here.’

‘You’ll excuse the mess?’ Her face softens as he takes her arm and leads her towards the square. The pigeons scatter as the heavens open up again and the sound of the rain is hard against the stone. ‘Let’s run for it – head straight for that green door on the other side. Can you see it over there?’

She doesn’t answer. She’s already dashing across the square and she screams as he comes up behind her. She bangs her hand on the wooden door. He grins at her, unlocks the door and runs up the stairs leaving her two steps behind him, breathless. She keels over and laughs as she reaches the top of the stairs.

He throws down his jacket and gestures her into the large white room with its vaulted ceiling and huge sash windows. ‘Wow,’ she says, loosening the black silk scarf around her neck, still getting her breath back.

‘What more does one need, huh?’ He puts down the umbrella and heads towards the kitchen in the corner of the room where the pots above the stove emit a golden glow.

She stands in the centre of the room on the wooden floor. She takes in the bookshelf, the fireplace, the bronze sculpture in the corner, the magazines piled up high on his desk, his paintbrushes, an easel, his laptop on the coffee table. She sits down in an antique rocker in front of the window and notices the small oil painting on the wall next to the fireplace. It’s a girl in a white dress, surrounded by a green field and a blue sky. She gasps. ‘Is that a Matisse?’ Her voice is low.

‘Yes and no. It’s what I do for a hobby.’

‘What, copy the masters?’ Her eyes blank over, mascara smudged.  She pauses and looks at him from afar. ‘I would have thought you’d be into originals.’ She raises herself up from the chair and runs her fingers through her thick black hair. 

Silence.

She straightens out her stockings and the scarf around her neck. ‘I’m sorry but I’ve got to leave now.’ 

He’s about to place the coffee pot onto the stove. He stops mid-air, not sure which way to go. Put the coffee down or respond to her? He puts the coffee down, turns off the gas and makes his way to the hat stand at the top of the stairs.

He walks up to her, looks down at her red boots, still glistening from the rain, and hands her his white umbrella.

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‘He’s late,’ I say to my friend

In her vintage coat and her long black hair

‘Give him five minutes,’

she says.

‘You’re late with the lights,’ I say

to the waitress behind the gilt mirror

‘We’ll switch them off soon,’

she says.

A dark figure hop-scotches across

the flickering square. 

‘Sorry I’m late,’

he says.

.

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When I was small, the world was round and full of wondrous things: stormy skies, haystacks with nesting mice, winds to fly in, tractor rides through vineyards, cows to milk, pigs to tickle, crows to talk to, ducks to waddle with, geese to run from, shadows and invisible monsters under my bed. There were tokeloshes, chameleons, bicycle rides and the discovery of new lands, fairies, magic toadstools and faraway trees, secret gangs and meetings in the mulberry tree, rabbits to play with, hailstones to gather, moths to wonder at, fudge to savor, gum trees to have tea parties in, mountains to climb, gulleys to slide down, wild strawberries, jackals’ dens, porcupines and buck. The world was alive and so was I, although I never stopped to think about it.

Then one day I was put into nice dresses. My smudged doll’s pram was painted perfect red to match my perfect shoes. I set off with my suitcase along the long road into the future. It took awhile to learn to read the signposts and how important it was to polish your shoes. I eventually realized that the signposts made my journey very safe: “1 km to the next corner”… “Rock falls ahead”… The only signpost that made me stop and think was “Only you can prevent bush fires”. Nevertheless, I walked on. I did not look through the windows at the side of the road. I did what I was meant to do. And I forgot about the round world.

Not too long ago, the long road, the perfect path with its perfect corners, came to an abrupt end. It halted at a large green door with flaky paint and a brass handle. I turned around, in disbelief, and scanned the landscape. Behind me was the road that stretched forever back, mapping my life so far. And that was that. There was nowhere else to go. And, sure enough, there was no sign to tell the way ahead.

I opened the door (I had to kick and push it a little) and stepped inside. Before me was a mirror. And in the mirror was me. And the mirror said, “which one comes here now?”

I stepped back, mesmerized, as I watched the marching out of the me, with the shiny red shoes, and the marching in of somebody else who looked vaguely familiar. “which drinks the coffee, which the tea?” asked the wild-haired woman in pants with roses blooming on them.

“What do you mean?” I asked. She sighed, put her nose in the air and walked off.

“Well, it’s about time?” said a judge, in his robes, as he took me aside and seated me at a large desk under an oak tree. “I have been waiting for a very long time for you, my dear. Ever since the world was round. Now, tell me, how are you?”

“I don’t remember,” was my honest reply.

“Ah!” laughed the judge. “You have forgotten who you are, haven’t you, my dear?”

“I don’t think I ever knew, your honor!” said I. “I thought that perhaps I was an artist but then I was told this was not an option. I have done some interesting things since then, I suppose.” I paused and looked at the wilderness that sparkled around us.

“This is confidential, your honor” I whispered, “but I have to admit, life out there on the straight road is dreadful and dreary,” and I pointed to the door.

The crazy lady in flower pants plonked a steaming pot of tea upon the desk, followed by frothy coffee in a pink cup and a milkjug of vodka.

“Yes, it’s true what you say. It is perfectly sound! One can’t live in a world if it isn’t quite round!” said the judge. And with that, he put a paintbrush in my hand and sent me skipping down the field towards the blue, blue lake, without any shoes at all.

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There wasn’t a penny left

in the tin

or in his suit pockets

in the suitcase.

So she hid the red

letters that made her cough

and set to cleaning

the house.

When the wind broke the roof

and forced the sun in

she put on his hat

and made tea.

And when they finally came

she pushed her bed

in front of the door

and lay down.

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