Short Story: Times They Are A-Changin’

I was ten years old when I finally went fishing with my grandpa. He had promised the fishing trip for months. Before we left the house mom handed me a black Nike baseball cap that once belonged to my dad. She said it was going to be sunny and to keep my face out of the sunlight. She asked my grandpa if he had enough sunscreen. He showed her the bottle in his bag. Alongside the sunscreen, there were a couple bottles of water, a few small packets of chips, a four-pack of Jameson, an orange juice and two sandwiches which he had made that morning. Mine was without pickles and olives.

During the drive, I kept on looking at my grandpa. I was trying to sit like him, to look at where he was looking, to match the same expressionless features that were carved into his face. My dad passed away when I was young so I never really knew him. Grandpa became the man I wanted to be like. Every now and then he would glance in the rearview mirror as he switched lanes and I would look too but all I could see where the tips of the fishing poles sticking out in the back of the pick-up. They seemed naked and out of place.

We fished at lake Issac. We rented a small two-seater boat and rowed to the middle of the lake. There was a heart carved on the seat with the initial A + D inside of the heart. I traced it with my nail. I sat in between my grandpas’ legs and rowed or at least I thought I did. I went through the motions but my grandpa did the pushing and pulling. Once we were far away from the shore, somewhere in the middle of the lake, grandpa stopped rowing. We cast our lines and then waited. Grandpa said to be patient. He said that’s what fishing was all about.

“We learn to be patient and to sit still,” he said. “We learn to feel the motion. To go along with the movement of the water.”

  The breeze picked up and the mist from the water occasionally fell on my sunscreen covered arms and legs. We listened to Bob Dylan songs on the portable radio that my grandpa had brought along.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

“How are you doing in school?” He asked.

“I got an A in history.”

“In Maths?”

I looked at the oblique dancing light of the sun in the water.

“B-.”

He tapped the brim of my hat. I pushed my hat back up.

“You need to study more.”

“Yessir.”

He tossed me a bag of chips and he took one for himself and we both ate listening to Dylan’s raspy voice, watching the fishing lines slowly move up and down with the rhythm of the water and feeling the warm touch of the sun. Every now and then my grandpa would hum parts of Dylan’s tunes and mimic the raspiness as he sang a few words out loud.

The sun was passed it’s prime for the day and fell on my back. There weren’t any clouds and the sky, in a way, mirrored the lake water. Clear, blue, endless and daunting.

“Mom said you were sick,”

“Did she?”

“Are you?”

He crumpled the empty chips bag and stuffed it into his bag pack.

“I am.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t think so. Not this time.”

The sunlight seemed only to fall on me. Grandpa smiled.

“Want some orange juice?”

I fell asleep sometime in the afternoon. By the time I woke up, grandpa was rowing back to the shore with an ice bucket full of fishes. He said that I snore a lot for a kid my size. I said I didn’t snore. He smiled. Bob kept on singing about war, death, and change and I ate my sandwich and washed it down with the last sip or two of the orange juice.

Since that day I’ve had this reoccurring dream. I feel like this trip was the catalyst for my perpetual dream because in my dream, I am rowing in a little two-seater boat just like my grandpa’s and the wood is chipped and scratched in the same places and it even has the same love initials carved into it. I am rowing in the middle of an ocean and I can’t see land at all, no birds, no fishes, the water is perfectly still except for the bit I disturb with my push and pull. The only other thing that is a constant in my dream is the sun. No clouds to block it’s touch, no hat to cover me. It was me, the boat, the oars, the water, and the sun. Those are the only qualities that are the same. My attire changes every now and then. No more shorts and stained Mickey Mouse t-shirts, they are replaced by buttons ups and khaki pants. Sometimes the empty seat is occupied. But what never changes is that I am there, the sun is there, the oars are there, the boat is there and all of us are floating on an ocean, even the sun seems to float on an upside-down ocean.

The first time I had this dream my grandpa was there. His foot tapped along to his own humming and he hummed Desolation Road. The oars peacefully dipped in and out of the water. I wanted to say something but no sound came from my lips. We just stared at one another as I rowed nowhere but there was no sense of worry. The light from the rising sun fell upon my grandpa’s back, he shielded its rays from me and he had a smile on his face as he glowed from the light. His crystal blue eyes teared up but I felt like the one who was crying. After he passed I stopped dreaming about him. It was like he had fulfilled some rite or ritual by showing me how to row and now he could move on.

When I graduated high school I took a year off from studying. In that year I went to Vietnam and Thailand. I spent a week visiting my cousins in Australia and I had plans of going to Japan but those fell through. I had the same dream often that year. But for some reason it was unclear like I had been staring at the same spot for too long and the surroundings became blurry. I could clearly see my hands on the oars but the oars themselves were out of focus. The water was lighter. The horizon foggy but there was no fog. The sun seemed to be a distant star from another galaxy.

Once that year was over, I started university. The dream started to return to its clarity again.

I once mentioned my dream to this girl I was seeing. We were laying in bed, her head on my chest, we were coming down from both a literal high and a spiritual one, having just made love.

“You ever feel like you’re just floating around, not knowing where you’re headed?”

“How much did you smoke?” She laughed.

I brushed away her hair so I could look at the side of her face.

“I mean in general like in life or something.”

“I’ve got a pretty good idea about that.”

“You do?”

“I’ve already started sending applications for my summer internship. Once I get that, along with my grades and volunteering hours I’ll be able to attend Columbia for my graduate program.”

“That simple?”

“I don’t think it’s simple. It’s going to take a lot of work but I’ll get there.”

We listened to some Beatles and then I told her about my dream. 

“That’s a pretty dream,” she said.

“You think so?”

“Sure. We should go fishing sometime.”

“Just pretty?”

“What else could it be?”

“I don’t know.”

She raised her head and looked at me.

“Do you want to talk about it some more?”

I shook my head.

“Not if you don’t find it significant.”

“Is it significant?”

“You tell me.”

She reached over to my bedside table for some smokes. She took a cigarette out and I helped her light it. She smoked and passed it to me.

“It’s kinda silly,” she said.

“What’s silly about it?”

“I don’t know. You just rowed around in some water by yourself. Doesn’t it seem silly?”

I handed her the smoke.

“It doesn’t to me. I think there must be some meaning to it if I keep dreaming about it.”

“Maybe.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Explain it to me.” She let me finish the cigarette.

“I can’t explain it. I don’t know. It’s not silly, that’s all I know.”

“Okay, it’s not.”

I had told her about my dream because she had been in the boat last time I dreamt it. She was wearing a sundress that revealed her slim ankles and a cream coloured straw hat which she wore on our first date. She needed that hat as the sun was above us. She was humming Yesterday. I suppose that’s why I told her about the dream. That song came on as we lay in each others arms and she began to hum it, I felt the vibrations from her throat in my chest, in my heart.

I probably dreamt of that boat more than twenty times but less than thirty and each time she was there, even after she passed away in a car accident. Only after I graduated did I find myself all alone on the boat. The sun blinding me without her being there to shield it.

There were other women in my life but none managed to come aboard. I waited for a couple, especially my wife, I thought surely she would meet me there but she never came.

I once brought that up during our couples therapy session. My wife, still my girlfriend then or was she my fiancé? All I know for sure was that she was pregnant with our first child and the stress of the unexpected kid coupled with our work lives and perhaps her hormonal imbalances resulted in us seeking therapy as advised by my wife’s friend.

The therapist asked for a lot of money in exchange for simple questions that you may find in a fortune cookie. What’s bothering you? Is there something you wish to say but haven’t been able to put into words? Have you tried seeing things from her perspective?

One time we were asked to come alone so it was me and this therapist who seemed too young and too pretty to know about problems let alone have ways to fix them. When I think about a therapist I think of sages, old wise men, hell, even Gandalf or some wizard who can snap their fingers and make all that is wrong, right again.

The therapist asked if there was something I wanted to tell her now that my soon to be wife wasn’t in the room. I shook my head. This was her idea and I had nothing to say.

“Nothing at all?” She asked.

“Nada.”

“Just try and think of anything. Even something as small as the way she says hello or perhaps the way she sits.”

I thought for a moment.

“She never came on the boat,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

I told the therapist about the dream. The sun was descending. It no longer blinded me and yet I could not help but feel even blinder, lost, alone rowing endlessly watching the water swell as if something was about to break the surface, break the calm and I wanted, I needed, someone there with me.

The therapist normally had this rhythm about her when she talked as if she were a calculator and one had to punch an equation in and the answer appeared instantly. The only difference being that instead of answers she spat out more questions. But now, at least for a moment, an error sign flashed as if I had plugged in an incomputable number.

When she finally spoke she asked if I dreamt of this often.

“When I was in college I kept track of the dream for a year and in that year I dreamt of it a hundred and sixty-five times.”

“The same dream?”

“For the most part.”

She picked up her notepad. “Please explain any change or differences.”

“Well at first the sun was half consumed by the shoreline.”

“First?”

“When I was about ten or eleven.”

She wrote that down.

“When I started keeping track of it that year in college, the sun was directly above me.”

“And now?” She asked.

“It had started to descend.”

“It’s setting?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s setting but it’s on its way. Maybe in a normal day it’s about four pm, I think, so a couple hours before it really sets.”

“I see.”

Her pen scribbled with quickness and she flipped the page of her notebook.

“Does it anger you that your wife isn’t there?”

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t make me angry or sad or petty. I was just curious that’s all.”

“You believe if she were on the ship—”

“Boat.”

“Boat. If she were on the boat then the two of you would have fewer problems?”

I thought about that for a few minutes. The therapist was used to awkward silences but I wasn’t so I answered even though I was still thinking about it.

“No that sounds unlikely.”

“Have you told your partner about this dream?”

“No.”

“Any reasons why?”

“I don’t think she’ll understand.”

“Understand what exactly?”

I took a sip of water.

“Do you think it’s silly?”

“Not at all,” she said.

“Did you always know you wanted to be a psychologist?”

“Not always but when I sat down to think about it I was drawn towards helping people.”

“So you always knew where you were going?”

“For the most part, I guess.”

“That must be nice.”

“You don’t feel the same?”

I finished the glass of water. “When I sat down to think about it I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to do. Things just kinda happened, you know, I never planned for none of it, I feel like I’m always catching up to things, trying to steer the right way as the wind changes. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. Sometimes I feel like I wasted my life. I don’t know. I feel like, I feel like—-” I don’t know why I started to cry.

The alarm on her phone buzzed. Time was up. She said that we had made good progress and that next time she’d like to discuss what I said along with my wife. I asked her what she and my wife talked about but she said she can’t tell me that.

It was soon after my wife gave birth to our son and we stopped going to the counselor. I didn’t dream my dream for a long time after. Probably because of the stress of raising a little human and not knowing the instructions for it. Then came our marriage and then our daughter. In that time I realized I was an adult and that I was old.

I dreamt of it again after I took my son on his first fishing trip. It wasn’t even the trip that triggered it but rather the Dylan song that randomly came on. It’s strange how sometimes what we consider important and significant can slip from our memory. I had spent a good part of my twenties thinking about this dream and then it’s significance almost left me. I guess having kids can do that too you. Their needs takeover your own and you spend your time thinking about them to the point where you forget to think about yourself. I told my son about my dream and like a kid he asked about the boat and what it looked like, if it was wet, if the water was cold, if I had sun screen on, a life jacket and if I was afraid of sharks. If it wasn’t for his line catching I would still be answering his questions.

That night I dreamt it and my son was there. Almost identical to what I had worn when I first dreamt of the dream. I could not see the sun but I felt its presence behind me. The setting sun cast a faded blood like image on the sky.

Another thing I noticed was that I was no longer rowing. My son was. He didn’t know how to. I could see the strain in his face and feel the rhythmless pushing and pulling. I wanted to reach out and show him how it’s done. To tell him how to breathe in and out with the oars and feel the water, using it to help you rather than fight against it. But I woke up before I could say or do anything.

As we ate breakfast that morning my son started to hum Times They’re a Changing.

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“You were singing it in my dream.”

He said the sun was rising behind me.

Short Story: A Warm Summer Evening

The warm summer air drifted through the open window. It shook awake the somber curtains and caused the ceiling fan to groan. The fan had three blades, one of which was crooked as if it were in mid bow. That one had less dust on it than it’s counterparts. The electric wires curled and twisted from the socket from which the fan was attached to the ceiling. He had meant to tell the landlord about it but he hesitated in case the landlord asked questions. It was just another thing he would have to keep to himself. He closed the window.

The sun had just risen but he had been awake. No rest for those who think and he couldn’t stop thinking. If only he could go down like the sun and forget that he had ever risen. He dressed for work, wearing the same beige shirt, the same black trousers, and the same black boots. The belt he chose was the same one as well. The brown leather belt that had been with him for too many years now. It had changed as he had changed. Now the last hole of the belt strained as he buckled it around his waist. There was a time when the second did him fine. It was like with each new hole, he had lost out on a different life, now that he was on the last one, there seemed to be no other lives left for him. The path he walked on now showed no signs of branching off, rather it gave the impression of being a dead end. But he held out hope that maybe as he approached that wall, he’ll notice some kind of opening, something that will take him a different way.

He adjusted his trousers so he could get some more breathing room. The ceiling fan hung motionless now and as was everything else in the small room. It was everything he had. The small possessions of his were his own and he knew them by heart which made them great because each piece meant something. Perhaps this was why he still used the old belt. This one was familiar to his touch, his hands felt the different groves of the leather as he wrapped it around his waist, a familiar embrace, the way his wife used too or his little girl. How old was she now? He could barely recall what she sounded like? Would the belt fit around her waist? The belt still had a purpose just as he did. His purpose, for now, was to open the shop and sweep the floors before the customers came.

The shop was hidden behind the new stores that were built the year before. The store was like a snapshot of some long forgotten past with its red bricks, yellow rooftop, and old western style font that spelled out its name along with when it was open and closed and how breakfast, which ended at eleven am, was half off. All of which was painted in black ink on the large glass window. This contrasted drastically from all concrete buildings that had sprung up in recent times. Which is why people described it as the little shop that looked out of place. From its appearance, it was still functioning. People still came through the doors but not as many as they used to. And the tiny bell still rang but not as smoothly as it used to and the customers still appreciated the food but not as much as they used too.

It seemed as if only the old remembered the shop for it was always the same people that came at the same time for the same food and said the exact same words. He greeted them the same as well and asked them the same questions. Robert, who worked as a server had noticed this and made a joke, saying that whenever he came into work it was like he was living the same day again.

“I could go about the day blind and still see,” Robert said. “I don’t know how you do it, man. I’ve been here for like two months and I’m going mad, you’ve been here like six years—”

“Eight.”

“Eight? That’s even worse, I don’t know how you ain’t gone mad.”

It was actually ten but he kept that to himself

“It’s not that bad. I don’t mind the everyday,” he said.

“This ain’t for me, man, I’m trying to get out when I can.”

“You should. You can do much better.”

“Franz you always be telling me this but you should take your own advice.”

He shook his head. “I don’t mind it here.”

The little bell rang with a slight hiccup and it was time for Mr. Friedrich to come. He was an older man, older than Franz but he still had a full head of grey hair, unlike Franz. He walked slowly, leaning on one side because of the wound he had suffered in his leg still bothered him. It bothered him more with each passing year. It bothered him the most now for he could not lean upon his wife anymore.

Mr. Friedrich had the choice between the four tables. All four were identical. White flowery cloth, salt and pepper shakers, a dessert menu that was rarely touched, a couple of mints that were placed in a small cup and a bunch of napkins. He took his usual seat in the corner table by the window. He liked to feel the warmth of the sun. Although he never said as much but Franz figured it to be true. The fragile sun spotted hands always rested where the sunlight fell. Robert went to greet him.

Franz already knew the order and had the eggs and bacon ready to cook. He also had the orange juice waiting for Mr. Friedrich. Robert came back and told him what he knew and Franz started cooking. Robert leaned up against the kitchen counter and folded his arms. He whistled a tune as Franz cooked, rhythmically tapping his foot on the tiled kitchen floor which was swept clean by Franz hours before.

“Why do you think he comes here every morning?” Robert asked.

“Mr. Friedrich?”

“Ya-huh”

“Maybe he likes my cooking.”

Robert laughed and his laugh made Franz smile.

“I heard he’s well to do.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Meaning he ain’t need to come here.”

“Mr. Friedrich has been coming here for years now. He used to come with his wife before. I’ve even seen him come with his daughter.”

“She good looking?”

“Out of your league, son,” Franz chuckled.

“You’d be surprised, Franz my boy, I can make plenty of things work.”

“Yeah, yeah. How about you make yourself work first and take this to Mr. Friedrich”

The trickling of the customers lessened in the afternoon like a leaking tap, the kind where one can see the water droplet form, gather size, cling to the metal rim before elongating and falling into the sink. It was just how things worked around here. The warm sunny days made people slow and relaxed. They much rather walk the coastline or lay by the beach and watch the waves come and go instead of being stuck in a small four table shop in the corner of the town. Franz liked this part of the job. Afternoons were what he looked forward to the most because he could step outside the kitchen and have his smoke under the sunlight. He sat on the curb in front of the shop and watched the quiet streets. In the big cities, you could not find such peace.

He looked at his left hand and no longer was there any mark that changed its disposition. With time, the sunlight had branded over his previous brand. Now, it was concealed as if there was never anything on his finger. The sunlight fell upon his chest as well. There was no concealing what was inside there. A branded heart cannot be rebranded. If only the smoke and the sunlight could calm his memories. Amidst the peace was disorder but only he felt his disorder, the rest of them did not see it, but he knew the rest had disordered as well, but he did not see it. He wondered how peaceful the town really was.

The little bell rang and Robert came out of the shop. He sat beside him on the curb and Franz passed him the smoke. Robert was a good boy. He complained a lot but he always did his work and soon he’ll move on like the rest of the kids had and another will come to take Robert’s place and Franz hoped he would be as good as Robert too.

“Did your daughter like the boots then?”

“What’s that?”

“You know, those black boots for her birthday. The ones I told you about.”

“Oh, yeah, she loved them.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, she said she wore them that day.”

Robert passed him the smoke.

“When’s she coming here? It’s been like a year since you said she was coming.”

“Thought better of it,” Franz said, “Wanted to keep her away from you.”

Robert laughed as he took the smoke from Franz and finished the last bit of it.

In the evening Mr. Friedrich returned. He never came back in the evening, however, Mr. Friedrich did take his usual seat by the window. He ordered whiskey but Robert told him that they didn’t serve alcohol. Mr. Friedrich asked for it again and when he asked for the third time it sounded as if he were on the verge of begging, the man’s voice quivered as he failed to look Robert in the eyes.

Franz gave Robert some money to run down the street and get the whiskey from the liquor store. Mr. Friedrich sat quietly holding the piece of newspaper he had brought with him. He did not read it until Robert came back with the whiskey. Franz put three ice cubes in a glass and drowned it with alcohol. He set it on Mr. Friedrich’s table who just nodded. He took a sip from the drink and then unfolded his paper and began to read.

“Odd fellow ain’t he?” Robert said to Franz as the two watched from the kitchen. “Made  a big deal about the drink and now he’s barely drinking it.”

“It’s not about the drink,” Franz said.

“What you mean?”

“He could have stayed home, in a comfier chair and had a drink.”

“I’m still not following,” Robert said.

“Night can be too long when you are alone.”

Mr. Friedrich finished his drink. He did not ask for more. When he tried to pay for the whole bottle, Franz told him not to worry about it. Mr. Friedrich was a proud man and he did not take the service for free so he left a good tip on the table. Franz let Robert keep the tip for himself.

“You deserve it,” Franz said, “Never seen you run that fast.”

Robert laughed and the two of them shared another smoke. Robert suggested that they might as well have some whiskey too while it’s here and Franz agreed. Franz did not talk much but Robert did, he never stopped talking, Franz simply sat there smoking and drinking until he felt a little light-headed and he wasn’t sure if it was the drink or Robert’s word that made his head feel that way but he was glad for Robert and his words because otherwise, it would have been him and his own words.

“You know I really want to be a dad,” Robert was saying, “I’ve been talking about it with my girl. I want a boy but she wants a girl. I’d love to have a whole bunch, you know, but damn, the thought of it is kinda scary, right?”

“It was.”

“But you just gotta do it, I guess, just go with it. But first I need to find something better, don’t you think?”

“You will find something better.” He took a sip of the whiskey.

“You think so?”

“Yeah, you’ll be a good dad too.”

“I hope so. No, I know I will. I know I’ll get something better. That’s how you gotta think, right? You have to get all those bad thoughts out so you can think only good ones. I think that’s how it’s gotta be.”

“You know, that isn’t a bad way to think about it.”

Robert looked pleased with himself.

Before going home, Franz stopped to see if he had received any mail. He hadn’t. When he got him, he sat down at the edge of his bed and took off his shoes. Afterward, he undid his belt and his stomach thank him. He laid the brown leather belt beside him and went to open the window. The warm evening air came through, slightly moving the cream-colored curtains which had yellowed slightly from the cigarette smoke. He made a note that he should get those washed before the landlord says something about it. He stood by the open window and had another smoke. All he could see from his window was the quiet back street where a cat lay curled up. He often fed the little cat and he called it Franny.

Once Franz finished his smoke, he grabbed the wooden chair from his study table and set it in the middle of the room. He went to his bed and picked up his brown leather belt and looped the belt through the buckle and tied it at the last loop which had been strained by the weight of his belly. He stepped onto the chair and put the belt through the arm of the fan until the belt was centered. Franz needed to get on his tippy toes to get his head through the loop. Once around it, he balanced himself on the chair, his toes scraped the chair as if he were testing out how cold the water was, not wanting to plunge right in, which was something he had learned from all his mistakes but if there was a time to plunge it was now. Here was where his coward came out. Always here. At the edge of it, he was always too cowardly to jump, to plunge into the nothingness and be brave about what happens next. But his heart wasn’t built like that or it may have been built like that but he had drowned his courage, the same way he had drowned his marriage and now all that remained was the coward. He swallowed his spit and took a breath and pushed the chair away. Slowly the disorder went away.

Franz woke up on the floor. The chair lay on its side and he unknowingly mimicked its stance, on it’s back, staring up at the ceiling. The belt still hung on the ceiling fan but it was no longer circular but rather it was limp, oval shape like a horse racing track. Franz rubbed his tender throat. Inhaling stung. He should have known better to take a deep breath. The warm evening air came through the open window and he lay there. After some time he got to his feet and set the chair in the middle of the room again. He climbed up it and reached for the leather belt. He saw the loop had finally given way and had ripped.

He liked that belt. He placed the belt in his cabinet and the ceiling fan leaned a little more. Outside, the cat meowed and he forgot that he didn’t even feed Franny. While outside, he decided to have another smoke. At least this time he had made progress.

Franny came up to him as he set the bowl on the ground. He opened the can of tuna and emptied it in the bowl. Franny started to eat. He gently brushed her fur saying, “Good girl, good girl, I love you, You’re so good, I love you.”

Poem: The Swingset

The swingset swings in its lonesome

the creaking of the metal chains

the gentle push from the evening air

the absent sound of laughter

echoes in the mind

watching the empty seat

from an empty home

filled with emptiness.

 

Once it wasn’t like that

once it was like spring

the emergence of flowers

the child-like giggle

the warmth of the sun

the touch of my little girl, pulling me outside, towards the swingset

no creaking

rather “papa”, “papa”.

 

That once wasn’t long ago,

but in the middle of winter,

underneath the pile of snow as more flakes come down the eternally gray skies

the feeling of spring is so far removed

barely comprehensible that such a thing existed

but the thoughts still linger on that distant memory

on that spring day

when the swing didn’t creak

when the child laughed

and it filled the emptiness inside of me

now she’s gone, spring’s gone, the laugh is gone

yet I’m here

without hope

with thoughts only for what which isn’t here

and what is here is the lonely swing

groaning, moaning, crying.

Short Story: The Bus

Recently I experienced my first car accident. It was just an ordinary winter day and the roads were a little slippery from the snowfall the previous night. I was driving downhill towards a set of lights that turned red and I applied the brakes. Everything was normal until my tires locked and I couldn’t stop and I hit the ford pick up truck in front of me. The crash was so slow that the airbags didn’t even go off. The driver of the pick up got out and came by my window with a smile on his face, waving his hand, I could see him mouthing it’s all right but that smile left him when he saw me and I imagined I mirrored the paleness of the snow which surrounded us and he knocked on the window asking if I was okay, his voice muffled by the window pane. I mustn’t have said anything cause he quickly called 911.

I was frozen in place. My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel. My heart felt as if it were trapped underneath a layer of ice and it was hammering against the icy sheet, trying to draw attention to itself while on the other side of the ice, gentle wind blew harmlessly without care.

The paramedics said I went into shock. They said it happens, it’s the fight or flight response but because I didn’t have anywhere to go, I froze up. They had to get my wife on the phone and once I heard her voice I began to unwind, the frost thawed out and my heartbeat slowly settled and I came back to myself. The whole thing was embarrassing. I was sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket around my shoulders and a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. I kept on apologizing to everyone but they were all too kind. They suggested I head back home and rest but I had work to do so I kept on going. Maybe that says something about me.

When I got home that evening, my wife asked if I wanted to talk about what happened. I told her not to worry about it. I made some half-hearted attempt at a joke which got a sympathetic laugh from her. She suggested that maybe I was overworked and stressed and she said that it’s a good thing Christmas was just a week away. Christmas rung a bell. Maybe the bell was always ringing but I piled on so much other noise on it that I stopped hearing it. That night I sat down with a pen and paper, slowly shovelling away at the flakes of clutter which I had knowingly or unknowingly gathered in order to repress a moment, a memory, an incident which happened on Christmas day when I was eight years old, back when I still lived in India.

Mama tell him to give them back, I said as I tried to get the bus tickets from my brother. The three of us were sitting on a bench waiting for the bus to come. I was wearing a grey Nike jumper which my brother once wore. My brother had on a navy jacket which he got for his birthday a month before. Christmas time in India was much different than most countries. The sun was blinding and yet there was a coolness in the air that required most people to layer up. Under the layered clothing the warmth caused me to sweat but my mother told I couldn’t take my sweatshirt off.

Mama, mama, mama, my brother mocked me.

I pulled at the tickets again and he dug his boot into my shin which made me cry out for my mother again.

Stop it you two, she said with quiet anger as the other passengers stood around us. She took the tickets from my brother.

But you said I can hold them, I said.

She ignored me. My brother smiled because I didn’t get what I wanted. He got up and I followed him with my eyes, keeping a track of where he went but all he did was go a few feet from us to kick a rock towards the edge of the road.

A patch of dirt separated us from the road. We sat on the bus bench alongside an old grandmother who covered her head and ears with a shawl and I thought it wasn’t that cold. Cars, bicycles, rickshaws, trucks and buses passed by in a continuous loop. The smell of manure was heavy and a few people had their noses covered with their shawls or handkerchiefs. To the left of us were a couple cows lounging under the trees, their tails whipping away the flies that hovered around them.

How long will it be again? I asked my mother.

Four hours, she said.

A silver Honda honked as it went around an old Fiat that slowly made it’s way up the road, hissing and moaning as a wisp of smoke snaked from the hood of the car. The Honda squeezed back into it’s own lane just in time before the oncoming traffic barrelled by, its honking lingered in the air along with the manure smell which stayed once the hoking left. The normalized danger went unnoticed by everyone but me. That morning, when we went to pick up the tickets, I caught a glimpse of a news story on the TV in the back of the ticket office. It was showing a car accident where a Suzuki had been flattened completely. My brother came and sat down beside me.

I leaned closer to him and asked, are you nervous?

He didn’t reply.

I poked him to get his attention and he swung his arm, striking my hand away.

Mother told us to stop again.

The bus came with a sticker of a Pepsi advert on its side. An actor, Salman Khan, was drinking the Pepsi or had just finished drinking it. He flashed a smile at everyone and good thing it wasn’t a colgate advert because his teeth were painted with specks of dirt.

Mama you said I could give them the ticket.

Mother sighed and handed them to me. I immediately showed my brother that I got them and he tried to punch me in the shoulder but I moved quickly to the other side of my mother.

The bus doors opened in a mechanical fashion as if it were just going through the motions and it made a yawing sound, tired of working. The conductor wore a grey jumper and a fuzzy maroon toque which made my brother and I laugh. His brow glistened with grease and sweat. The other people quickly formed a line and the three of us fell into place. I stayed close to mother, sheltered by her hip. My brother led the three of us and I felt as if I should be like that too. I edged my way by my brothers’ side.

You think it’ll be fun, I asked him.

I don’t know.

Mama said they play a movie now. What movie do you think it’ll be?

Probably some boring one.

You think so?

He didn’t reply. He was older than me by three years and this was his first time too. I wanted to ask him if he was nervous again but I didn’t. He was like me but he was older so I followed him.

We stopped in front of the conductor. I handed him the tickets. He looked at the for a quick second and then nodded, giving the tickets back and motioning us through.

We followed my brother in.

Go to the back, mother said.

All the seats were painted blue and you could see the white plastic underneath the peeling paint on most of the chairs. There was a red and black cushion placed atop the seats and particles of dust shot in the air when you sat down on it. The bus smelled like the deep part of the attic where you keep all your old photo albums and luggage that you don’t use. That area which is best of hiding when you play hide and seek.

My brother picked out the seats and began to scoot inside, going to the window seat.

I quickly turned to mother, you said I could have the window seat, I said.

Does it matter, she asked.

You said I could have it.

Let your brother have the window seat, she said in a tired voice.

My brother looked to protest but before he could mother raised her hand and I knew I had won. He threw himself onto the middle seat.

As I walked by him he stuck out his leg and tried to trip me but I knew that was coming and I stepped over it. I smiled at him, letting him know I won. When I sat down he leaned over and pinched me under my arm where mother couldn’t see. I cried out to her but she ignored the two of us.

I looked out of the window, rubbing my arm. It was like a school bus, I told myself. I had been in plenty of those. Every morning at eight I waited for the bus outside my house along with my brother. I rode the same bus back in the afternoon. So twice a day…for…I tried to count how many times I had ridden the bus in the past three years but I ended up settling on a lot. The door closed and the bus started, jerking us all back. The windows opened slightly at the top to allow the air to circulate. Mother was right. There was a television at the top corner of the bus, straight ahead. It played a bootleg movie that was still in theatres. You could see the silhouettes of the heads of the people in the movie theatre watching the movie and occasional a shadow stood up and sat down. My brother was right too. It was boring.

How much longer, I asked my mother.

Almost halfway done.

So two more hours?

More or less.

My brother was asleep. His head tilted back, his mouth slightly open, arms crossed over his chest. I tried not to laugh. Apart from the occasional fit of cough from one of the older passengers, there had been the usual sound of the movie playing and people snoring. I played my game most of the ride. Trees lined both sides of the road and their shadow fell on the road. The objective was to not let the shadow hit the bus. Whenever the bus approached the shadow I would unclench my teeth, separating the bottom row from the top and imagined the bus jumping over the shadow and when it cleared it I would clench my teeth again which meant that the bus came back down on the road. Then, once more I waited for the next opportunity to jump and land. I always played this game on the school bus. I was concentrating on the road, my teeth clenched, when a truck rushed past us, I caught a glimpse of the driver smoking a cigarette as the red and white stripes on the side of the truck almost grazed the bus. I stopped playing that game.

The bus slowed down. I asked mother what was happening. She told me not to worry. The bus came to a stop at the side of the road.

Mother asked If I needed to use the bathroom and I shook my head. I did need to go but for some reason I felt as if I left the bus it might leave me and I would be left alone on the side of the road. I stood up and leaned over my brother to see where everyone was going. There was a restaurant on the other side of the road.

My brother woke up and he elbowed me in the chest and told me to get off of him. I sat down rubbing my chest. He saw that mother was not here.

I told him not to worry, mama will be back soon. She just went outside.

He stood up to leave as well.

I called his name and told him to sit down. Mama said to stay here and don’t go anywhere.

Mama said—

He left.

I sat alone gripping the metal railing in front of me, trying to look outside the window to see where my brother was going, I wanted to go after him but mama said to stay put and I wanted to go find mama and let her know that he left and that we should find him because what if the bus left without him but I told myself It wouldn’t, it wouldn’t leave, I repeated it over and over but the other thought stayed firm, It might leave, It might leave now, without him and without her, It could, some of the people had returned and took their seats and I was still alone with the fear growing in my heart I felt it itching in my throat as the conductor came back and I wanted to go up and tell him not to leave but I couldn’t move because mama said not to, he was talking to the bus driver and as the noise grew in the bus, the more noticeable the lack of sound of my brother and mother became and the more alone I felt, I saw the conductor looking, counting the people, I tried to draw attention to the two empty seats beside me and I wanted to ask him where the bathroom was, the feeling reaching deep inside of me and the thought of it made my ears burn and I wished the windows would open some more as I felt my body shaking but didn’t know if that was from inside myself or from the motor of the bus, which had just started up again, and my feet wrestled to be in top position as I felt the need to cry.

An older man came up the steps and the conductor helped him. Behind him was my mother and I stopped shaking. Behind her was my brother, drinking from a juice box, holding a bag of chips in his other hand and I let go of the railing and sat back. I looked out of the window as if I had been doing so the entire time.

Mother came and sat in the middle seat. She opened her purse and took out a juice box for me and she was smiling. She always brought the same lemonade flavour. I could smell the fruity lotion on her hands as I took the juice from her. I took it without giving away what had just been in my head. She also placed a bag of chips on my lap and then leaned back in her chair, watching the movie as the bus got back on the road.

I tried not to think about the thoughts I just had but they kept creeping back into my mind like thoughts always did, especially the bad kind, the kind which kept imagining what will happen at night if the closet door was left open. I wanted to stop thinking and thinking about that made my ears burn again. I was older now. I should be more like my brother. He watched the television screen, gently rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the moving vehicle. I had finished my food and washed it down with the juice box. I placed my head against the cool window and watched my breath fog the glass. The sirens grew louder at once and an ambulance went past us and the sirens died away.

When I woke up it took me a moment to realize the silence that lay inside the bus. It was almost crushing if anyone spoke it would bring it crashing down upon us and I knew this instinctually for when I awoke I grabbed my mother’s arm and asked her with my eyes what happened and she slowly shook her head.

We were no longer moving. My brother was gripping the metal railing in front of him with one hand. Outside the only thing that was still unconcerned were the leaves of the trees. They kept going with the gentle wind. The uneasiness inside the bus made me want to move around. I felt the same whenever I took a test at school. The quietness of classrooms always made me more nervous as if everyone could hear or sense the little boy in me. I wasn’t a little boy anymore, I reminded myself.

I heard then the squeaking of metal chain. In the quietness, it spoke loudly. An old man, with a checkered shawl wrapped around his shoulder and head, rode his bicycle down the side of the road. He was hovering slightly above his seat and he was not looking ahead of him but rather at the inch of concrete directly in front of the rubber tires. I still remember those unblinking eyes. He disappeared.

The bus door opened. A family of three walked up the steps and the conductor did not bother checking their tickets. The family stood still for a second at the front of the bus, like new school children waiting to be told where to sit by the teacher. The father’s face resembled the colour of his white shirt which was neatly tucked into his trousers except for this one part at his right hip which was coming out as if he had been leaning to the other side for too long. The mother was holding the daughter’s hand and she was looking straight ahead but not looking. My mother put an arm around my shoulders. The daughter’s open jacket showed a pretty blue dress, the kind you wore in school plays. Her hair was done in the style of a ponytail which was held together was a butterfly pin. The mother clutched the daughter tightly. Both her hands were gripping the daughter’s shoulders as if she let go, the little girl will float away like some balloon at a fair. I noticed then the tears from the mothers’ eyes. Even they fell in silence. The father put his hand on his wives back and motioned her to go to the backseat. The three of them were in unison as they walked down the aisle, heads turned to watch them from the back. When they passed us my brother stared at the ground and so did I. My mother kept her arm around me. There was something haunting about them. It was as if we feared to look at them because whatever haunted them could haunt us too.

People made room for them in the back. Giving them plenty of space as if they were also aware of the haunting thing that accompanied them. The mother sat in the corner and then the daughter and the father beside her. The father leaned in towards his daughter and wife and kept a tight hold onto them. I could see the part of his shirt that was wrinkled.

The bus jolted in motion. The television started once more but the conductor turned the sound down. People’s heads turned towards the windows as we went past the scene. The back end of the bus came in view and soon after, too soon, the front. The bus had been compressed as if it’s inside had been taken apart, accordion like it stood, with its shattered glass sparkling on the ground, it looked so pretty, the sun glinting off the glass, fallen stars, hints of the setting sun painted upon certain glass pieces which had been stained with blood. Where the front of the bus ended, the front of the truck started and my mother made me look away.

I looked back and I saw them too. The white cloths covering something on the side of the road. So many white cloths covering the same thing. The image of the flashing lights from the ambulances engrained in the darkness of my eyelids when I closed my eyes.

Even now I can see those lights. I see the cloth peacefully fluttering with the wind and above them, the leaves of the trees still moved, unconcerned and above it, all the sun was so wonderful. That family was together but with the addition of something else, something new they had to carry with them but they couldn’t carry it alone so everyone who was there that moment had to take a small piece of it, to lessen the burden which would always be the heaviest on those three. Knowingly or unknowingly I had participated in some kind of human obligation and after all these years that thing that had haunted them showed itself. A part of me was exchanged for a part of that burden. That part lies under those covers. The part that wished to be sheltered by my mother’s hip. Know I know what that old man’s look meant. He was trying to erase what he had seen, to forget what was imprinted on his mind but it doesn’t work like that. We can’t pick or chose what affects us, what shapes us, what leaves a mark on us. We don’t have the will to decide. I wonder what kind of ripple I have started in the life of the man whose truck I hit or the paramedics who came after or all those cars that drove by and turned to look at my ashen state inside my own car.

Lessons From Stories: Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

‘Hills Like White Elephants’ is a short story by Ernest Hemingway. The story is about a young couple waiting on a train to come and In the meantime, they have a conversation about a lingering topic of conflict amongst them, the unplanned pregnancy. The initial conflict is simple, the American, as the boy is called, wants the girl to have an abortion. The girl wants their life to go back to what it was, prior to the pregnancy. Much of the conflict takes place subtly as was Hemingway’s style.

Without conflict a story is bland. No one wants to read about some person who got everything they wished and then lived happily ever after. This can barely be even classified as a story. At the surface of ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, you may think that it’s without much conflict as much of the time the couple bickers over hills which may or may not look like white elephants or what drinks to get, however, the conflict is evident in the changing desire of the two characters which takes place underneath the surface.

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

‘The beer’s nice and cool,’ the man said.

‘It’s lovely,’ the girl said.

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’

The girl did not say anything.

‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’

‘Then what will we do afterwards?’

‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’

‘What makes you think so?’

‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

The American wants the girl to have an abortion, this is his desire. The girl agrees but only if it pleases the American in the hope that this will return their relationship to what it was. She desires the past, a time before this “interruption” came.

‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’ (the girl said)

‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’

‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I don’t care about me.’

‘Well, I care about you.’

‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.’

‘I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.’

The American is displeased because he’s getting want he wants but not in the way he’d like because he loves the girl he wants her to do it if only she wishes it too and not as a favor. The conflict leads to a change in desire. The girl wants to please the American but can’t and the American wants the girl to be happy which she isn’t because her happiness is tied with the American who she knows desires the operation. 

And we could have all this,’ she said. ‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said we could have everything.’

‘We can have everything.’

‘No, we can’t.’

‘We can have the whole world.’

‘No, we can’t.’

‘We can go everywhere.’

‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’

‘It’s ours.’

‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.’

‘But they haven’t taken it away.’

‘We’ll wait and see.’

She is displeased now because she’s realizing that things will never be what they used to be and so it doesn’t matter if she keeps the child or not, her desire will never be fulfilled. This is where the story ends. A realization that there is no turning back the clock, whether or not the abortion takes place, this relationship has changed for good. The girl grows as a character through this realization and the story leaves the reader with the harsh reality of life which is that with each action you limit certain possibilities in your life and open others. Once that action is committed all you can do is make the best out of the possibilities that are left for you. 

‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.

‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’


Short Story: Senior

The day of the promotion Junior felt a surge of excitement which he had not felt in a long time. Last time he had this feeling, he had been accepted into his architecture program, which he still hoped to complete one day. He kept the acceptance letter in his desk drawer at work, occasionally taking it out and reading it over again, thinking about how it would have felt if he had been able to graduate. Now, however, he had another letter, one that informed him of his promotion. He carried that with him in his breast pocket so he could show his father.

He parked his car in front of his fathers’ house. As he went around the hood of the car, he almost stepped into the puddle of water which was slowly draining into the street gutter. The rain had just stopped on his way over here. Luckily, he caught himself and was able to skip over the puddle and onto the neatly kept front lawn. He went and knocked on the front door, which his father had built himself. It was made of thick red oak wood and it hurt the knuckles but you had to knock because the doorbell didn’t work. It was as if you had to pay a price to see him. His father’s footsteps fell upon the floor with authority, whose verdict he felt under his own boots. Something stirred inside of him from merely feeling the vibrations of his fathers’ footsteps, his presence coming nearer, and he straightened his posture and he held his wrist behind his back like a young solider does when a drill sergeant enters the room. He eased out a long, drawn-out breath and waited. The steps were not hurried. His father did not rush for anyone. He was always in control. The door sprang open and his father stretched across the gaping entrance. Junior could tell his father had not been expecting any company for he simply wore his robe with no undershirt and he could see his father’s broad chest and specks of grey hair that covered it. Junior found himself lowering his head as if he were bowing, a natural reaction.

“Is it Friday already?” His father voice was deep and his lips barely moved. There was some stubble on his chin.

“No, it’s still Wednesday.”

“Of course I know what day it is, you think I’m that far gone?”

Junior smiled, embarrassed at taking his father’s question literally. His father often joked and asked questions that didn’t need answers but he found himself answering them anyway.

“I thought you only came to see me on Friday?”

His father stepped back, granting Junior space to come inside. Junior squeezed past his father who closed the door behind them. His father was a big man, shoulders still strong for someone his age, chest still stuck out further than his belly even though men his age often had fuller bellies. He pulled him in for an embrace. There was a musky smell to him as if he had just been exercising. When he let him go, like a little child, Junior found himself staring up at his father.

“So, what’s the special occasion?” He asked patting Junior on the back which made him stumble forward a little. Before Junior could answer his father started for the kitchen and Junior hurried to keep up with his long strides.

“I was just making some coffee. You want some?”

“Sure. Two teaspoons of sugar please.”

“I don’t have any. The doctor said to lay off so I’ve been having it black. It might be too bitter for you.”

“I think I can handle it,” Junior said.

“You sure? I guess you’re a grown boy now.”

The sound of the news anchors filled the open room as the shifting light from the television set fell upon the yoga mat that was set in front of it. The mat was flanked on either side by two sets of dumbbells. You had to take a step up from the living room onto the kitchen floor where the table was lightly decorated with just a crystal bowl in the middle with a couple bananas in it and a war novel lay on top of the morning paper. The table was surrounded by a few chairs and his father pulled one out, gesturing for him to take a seat as he went to pour the coffee.

“This any good?” He asked his father as he picked up the novel and read the back summary.

“Junk,” his father replied, “none of them can ever capture it correctly.”

He put the book back down.

“How’s Emily?”

His father joined him at the table, placing a cup of coffee in front of Junior.

Junior felt the warmth through the mug as he lifted the cup to his lip. His father was not lying about the coffee. He had to consciously stop himself from making a face as the bitter drink went down his throat because he could tell that he was being watched. He took another sip for good measure.

“Better now, she’s almost over her cold,” Junior said, lowering the cup down to the table.

His father spread out on the chair and faced Junior. Junior felt as if he was back in school, in the principle’s office having to answer for some wrongdoing, that he hadn’t done. The silence alone was heavy enough to cause him discomfort as his father calmly sipped his coffee. He cleared his throat and attempted to say something but his father cut him off.

“I have been meaning to thank her for letting me stay with you for those few months.”

“Oh, that was nothing. It was the least we could do.”

“I must have been a real nuisance for you to get rid of me so quickly.”

This time there was only the illusion of silence as he tried to think of a way to counter his father’s ruling but instead, he sank further into the chair or perhaps his father grew larger. Junior stared at the tabletop where his coffee cup was, watching the steam rise. Although his father had been a difficult house guest because he needed so much attention, Junior could never bring himself to tell his father the truth.

“No, it was never like that,” Junior muttered, his voice was subdued, barely above a whisper, a courteous man would have leaned closer but his father kept his imposing position. It was as if his father’s gaze could change his tone, manipulate his words, cause the letters to come out quickly, in a hurrying manner as if he were breathing hard, trying to catch his breath.

He reached for the novel again but stopped, instead he folded his hands in front of him.

“Come on, I’m only joking,” his father’s loaded hand patted Junior on the shoulder, “we can joke with one another, can’t we? That’s what men do. Your mother never understood it but I told her that it’s all play between us.”

Junior replied with a smile and a soft, “yes,” that was barely audible and sounded more like a deep exhale.

“But I must say, I would like to see you and Emily more than once a week. I’m getting up there, not much left for me. If I can’t even get my boy to come to see me, what am I still doing here?”

“Don’t say that, please, I know I should come more often but I’m just trying to do for what you did for me. I’m trying to make it easy for you. Also, while we are on that subject of work—” he went to take the envelope out when his father asked, “How are you liking my old job?”

“About that—”

“Do they still talk about me or have they forgotten about the old workhorse?”

“They remember, of course, they remember, how can they forget someone like you?”

“What good is a horse if he can’t gallop,” his father said, his voice flat and toneless as if he were making a statement to himself.

“Mr. Edwards speaks so highly of you there that I’ve had trouble keeping up.” He said which made his father smile. “I’ve been working so much overtime recently so that I don’t fall behind on anything.”

“Just make sure your bride doesn’t mind. That was a good thing about your mother, she understands a man’s need to work.”

“Emily is a doll. She’s always putting up with my headache but I’ll take her on a vacation or something one of these days.”

His father finished his cup of coffee. He stared at Junior’s almost full cup, knowing he had been right about his son’s taste. He took his own empty cup to the sink and started to rinse it.

“I can do that for you,” Junior said, joining his father at the kitchen sink. There was a window above the sink but the curtains were drawn. The faint sound of the drizzle outside could be heard tapping against the window. He noticed the lack of dust on the windowsill.

“I’m not that old yet,” his father replied.

“I didn’t mean that,” said Junior whose voice was drowned by the flow of the tap water. His father shut it off and placed the cup to dry on the cloth that was placed beside the kitchen sink.

“So they still remember the old bull?” He asked.

“Oh, very much, in fact, Mr. Edwards was talking to me about you today.”

“My works got you looking soft,” his father poked Junior in the belly. “Here, look at mine, still solid,” he slapped his own stomach with an open palm, “Now you must know how hard I used to work to keep in shape.”

“I guess Emily’s been keeping me too well fed,” Junior smiled.

“That’s no excuse. A man has to stay tight. Softness is an illness to his character. How can you expect others to follow you if they see this belly of yours? You can’t lead men if you can’t even control what you put in your mouth.”

“You’re right.”

“Of course I’m right, I’ve been doing your job much longer than you have.”

“About that—”

“I saw the doc the other day and you know what he said?” His father didn’t wait for an answer although Junior opened his mouth to reply. “He said I’m in the top percentile of his patients when it comes to physique. I told the doc I’ve never missed a day of exercising. Every morning I exercise. You should do that too or else you’re gonna fall apart when you get to my age.”

There was a hint of a joke in his father speech and so Junior smiled, weakly. His father patted him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to straighten up.”

“But listen I got some good news for you,” Junior said.

His father turned towards him, leaning onto the kitchen counter, arms folded across his chest.

“What’s that?”

Junior pulled out the letter from his supervisor.

“I’m being promoted,” He said, presenting the letter to his father.

His father did not accept it.

“About time we got that position.”

He turned his back to his son and picked out a glass bowl from the cabinet above. “The son always eats the sweet fruit of his father’s labor,” he said, as he poured cornflakes into his glass bowl.

“I am very grateful.” Junior’s arm hung beside him and his hand still holding the letter.

His father spoke, as he poured milk into the bowl, “I suppose that is what the purpose of being a father is, I lay the foundation, build upon it, make it nice and pretty for you to come and see further than I ever did. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

His father took a spoonful and aggressively shoved it in his mouth, some of the milk dribbled down his chin which he wiped with the back of his hand.

“I was thinking,” Junior said, “This new position can allow me to hire some help to look after you the days I can’t come.”

His father chewed, his jaw flexing and relaxing, his eyes staring right at Junior and Junior’s own shifted back to the tabletop, where his coffee had lost its steam.

“So you’ll be coming to see me even less?” His father asked.

“No, no, nothing like that. I just felt it’ll be good for you to have someone around to talk to and be with.”

“Why can’t that someone be you?”

Junior’s voice softened. “These past few months I’ve been neglecting Emily too much and I just thought the two of can spend more time together.”

His father did not reply. Instead, he quietly finished his bowl of cereal, the metal spoon scraping the glass bowl after each bite. Once the bowl was empty, he let out a sigh and leaned back into his chair.

“It makes sense, more time for your bride and less time for your old man. Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon, you’ll have plenty of time after that.”

“Please don’t talk like that.”

“All these years I spent working, I only did that so I could see you do good in his life. So, I’m happy for you and now, if it means to watch you from afar, then I suppose I’ll do that, I’ll clap for you from the stands.”

He stood up, towering over Junior, “You do what you think is best, after all, you’re the man of the house now, right?”

Junior looked down, staring at his father’s strong legs and feeling the weight of his father’s touch as he lightly patted him on the cheek. His father picked up the coffee mug and carried it with the empty bowl to the sink. He poured out the coffee into the sink and rinsed out the cup before cleaning the bowl as well. He left both the cup and bowl to dry beside the other mug.

He seemed to be waiting for Junior to say something, perhaps apologize, to take back what he had said, thank him for the promotion but Junior stayed silent, his voice not allowed to speak.

“Well you must be a busy man these days,” his father said, “I shouldn’t keep you away from your mistress much longer.” He started for the door and Junior stood up without a word and followed his father’s strides.

His father held the door open for him and Junior stepped through.

“It was good seeing you,” his father said.

“Please, I would come more often if it wasn’t for Emily and the work—”

His father smiled, quieting Junior with his look.

“Your grandfather would not tolerate such words, in fact, I think he wouldn’t like you one bit for saying such things. I’m different than my father, I don’t judge like he used to. He would have judged you to be a lousy boy. Inconsiderate. He was a hard man from a different time but I still loved him and took care of him because that’s the duty of a son. But me, I don’t judge you. You do what you think is best and send my regards to my workers and also to Emily.”

The light from the sun cast his father’s shadow upon Junior whose gaze was fixed upon his father’s feet, unable to raise his head and meet his father’s eyes.

“I’ll try to make it work,” he said.

“You do what you like, son, you’re the man now.”

His father closed the door.

For a moment he stayed in the silence that was only present in his heart as the street behind him busied itself with an utter disregard. He felt so alone and so small. That silence that was within him began to break and it started as a whisper first but in seconds it turned into screams, screams of yearning, screams for acceptance, screams which wanted to hear his father simply say “I’m proud of you”, screams which were ultimately just the tantrums of a child, he understood. He took the letter and crumpled it into a little ball and threw it down the gutter as he got into his car and headed back to work. The rain fell tearfully from the skies.

Short Story: Everything Works Itself Out

The death of Katherine Moore overshadowed all other news for the past week. It was mainly due to the gruesome nature of the killing, her body was found littered with knife wounds, but also because she was an up and coming actress. All the news channels and the newspapers used the same professional headshot of hers where she was candidly looking slightly to the left of the camera, getting a profile view of her slender nose and her long blonde hair and her lively eyes, as the newscaster said. They kept referring to her looks as graceful and soft but he didn’t understand that. How could you tell that from a black and white photo? What he did understand was the use of words like potential and budding because she had just starred in her second movie which, to him, meant that she was on her way to becoming a relatively successful actress. Because that’s how life worked. It was like a ladder, you have to climb it one step at a time, no skipping, and she had started climbing and eventually, her work would have lead her to greater success and so, in that manner, her death was tragic.

“Her life unexpectedly—” The newscaster was saying when he changed the channel and right that second his mother’s nagging voice rang.

“Jaaake, I was watching that,” she said from somewhere in the kitchen behind him. He heard the tic-tic-tic of the knife striking the cutting board. “Put that back on, please.”

“Haven’t you had enough of that same ol’ story by now?”

He did as his mother said.

“The horrific scene was first reported by the victims’ landlord some three days after the initial incident as the other tenants complained about the foul odour—”

“Here, hun, eat something before you go.”

His mother joined him on the sofa with a plate of sliced apples with salt sprinkled on top and a handful of almonds bundled together on the side.

“Not hungry right now,” Jake said.

“It’s always good to go into big days—”

“With a full stomach,” he completed her saying, “I know ma and I’ve told you before that those kinds of things don’t matter.”

“Listen, mister, you may have gone to a fancy college but there are something books don’t teach you.” She kicked off her slippers and sat on the sofa, Indian style and had one of the apple slices herself as she watched the news. There was no point arguing with her. Her way of thinking was set so he just grunted in response and bit down on a slice, snapping it in half, making sure she heard the crunch.

“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” she shook her head as they showed pictures of a young Katherine in her first school play. She was dressed in a white tutu with wings. She was meant to be a fairy.

“Poor thing.”

“If you keep watching this kinda thing over and over your brains gonna rot,” he said, “like it ain’t full of worrying already.”

“You sure you didn’t know her?” She had completely ignored his comment.

“Yeah.”

The newscaster said they were still looking for the individual who did it and that the police had a few leads they were pursuing.

“I bet you a dollar it turns out to be a man.”

“Why’s that?”

“Just a feeling I got.”

The news switched to a different story. This one about a highway robbery in California and she turned off the television and placed the remote control on the table in front, on top of the newspaper with Katherine’s face.

“What are you wearing today?” She asked him. “Wear something nice so Mr. Edwards can be impressed.”

“I’m wearing one of the shirts and ties he got me.”

“That’s a good idea.”

Mr. Edwards was his manager. He gave him a birthday present each year. The present was the same every year. A collared shirt with a matching tie, nothing fancy but a nice gesture. By now, he had five such combinations and in another month he would have six. He wore one of the combinations for this special day.

A dark blue collared shirt which would be neatly tucked into his freshly ironed trousers. With it, he picked out a checkered pattern tie with various blends of different shades of the colour blue. He made sure to match his shoes with the outfit for Mr. Edwards was an old school kind of man who put weight on a man’s shoes.

“Dark blue?” She asked.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Oh nothing hun, you know you look handsome in any colour but extra handsome in something livelier. Don’t you have that salmon shirt?”

“I don’t like that kinda stuff. It draws too much attention.”

She cupped the bottom of his chin tenderly, “Why don’t you want to draw attention to such a handsome face?” He batted her hand away. She continued, “And I bet that burgundy tie will look something special with that Salmon shirt.”

He replied with a grunt.

“Okay, fine, you do what you like.”

She took the empty plate to the kitchen but not before sliding her forefinger across the surface of the plate and picking up some salt that was left behind and licking it clean off her finger.

“Are you sure today is the day?” The sound of the tap turning on and rushing onto the plate filled the moment of silence that followed her worrying.

“I told you everything is in order.”

“But don’t get too worked up if it doesn’t happen today.”

“Course it’ll happen today. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two. I put in the work and now I’ll get the promotion.”

“Okay, I believe in you—”

“I got a favor to ask you though.”

He joined her in the kitchen, leaning against the dark grey granite countertop with spots of black in different circular shapes. He folded his arms across his chest. His mother opened the cabinet beside the stove and took out a pot.

“What’s that?”

“I need the place to myself tonight.”

The burner clicked three times and came alive. She placed the pot over the flames and turned to look at him.

“What’s the special occasion?”

“I’m meeting someone for dinner and if all goes well, you know, it’s best that your not around tonight.”

“Whose the special lady?”

She poured milk into the pot and the twisted the pink bottle cap back on the milk carton.

“Amy. Friend of a friend.”

“She’s no hussy is she?”

“Ma, come on.”

“Sorry, dear, just don’t want my boy to get taken advantage of.”

He let out a sigh, “Could you please just go to Aunt Jenny’s or something.”

“Jenny might be busy tonight.”

“Ma, please.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go.”

“Great. I’m going to go get changed.”

His mother smiled at him.

“Hurry up, I’ll have the milk ready by that time. Lukewarm just how you like it.”

The meeting with Mr. Edwards went off without a hitch. First, Mr. Edwards compliment him on his salmon shirt and burgundy tie. Second, he invited him to take a seat and got straight to business. Mr. Edwards wasn’t a man who liked to waste time in small talk. Third, a few thank you’s and handshakes later, he left Mr. Edwards office with the thought of the car brochure that was in his desk drawer. 

Apart from that, the meeting had only further solidified his understanding of life. You moved up in a rational, orderly, step by step basis. Now that he had the promotion, the car was next and then, getting his own place. It was all falling into line. When he remembered he still had his date with Amy, he thought maybe today would be the best day of his life.

“You got the promotion?” She sounded surprised as if it were even up for debate.

“Didn’t I tell you. There was no other possibility,” he said as he flipped the brochure page and paused to admire the red convertible BMW.

“I’ll bake some cookies for Mr. Edwards.”

“You don’t have to do that. In fact, don’t do it. It’ll look too desperate.”

“Nonsense, he will love them. I’ll start right after this.”

He flipped the page and grunted in response. He knew there was no point in fighting his mother once her mind was made up.

“They say they’re getting real close to identifying the suspect.”

“What suspect?” He held the phone in-between his ear and shoulder, leaning back, he folded the top corner of the brochure page that he liked.

“The one who killed the Moore girl,” she said, “Are you sure you didn’t know her?”

“Yeah ma, why would I know some random woman?”

“There’s just something familiar about her.”

“Like I told you before you probably saw her in some dish detergent ad or something.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Or maybe at a grocery store.”

He could hear his mother thinking. If she were a poker player she’d be a bad one because every time she wrestled with her thoughts, she’d take these long inhales and quick exhales like she was hyperventilating. Thinking of poker, he thought it may be a good idea to go celebrate at the casino on the weekend.

“Ma, I gotta get going.”

“Huh? Oh,” she had forgotten she was on the phone he thought, “Okay hun, I’ll call you later.”

“Don’t forget about going to Aunt Jenny’s.”

“Oh, almost did.”

“Ma.”

“I’m only teasing you. Now, whose worrying?”

“Good one.”

His mother laughed by herself as he rolled up the brochure and batted it around as if he were hitting home runs at the park, “Speaking of it,” he said, “Did Amy call by any chance?”

“I don’t think so, no, only call I got was from telecommunication—-”

“I think I accidentally gave her our home number. I was meant to confirm with her about our date tonight.”

“I’m sure it’s fine and I’ll keep by the phone in case she does call.”

“Okay, thanks ma.”

“Take care and don’t drink and —”

“I know, I know, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m not a little kid.”

“You’ll always be to me.”

“Make sure you’re not home, ma, I don’t want another Monica Lewis situation happening. She never talked to me again.”

He rolled his chair closer to the desk so he could put away the brochure in the drawer.

“She was a hussy. I did you a favor.”

“Ma, I mean it, if you mess things up with Amy I won’t forgive you that easily. I really like her.”

“Fine, don’t be so dramatic. I already called Jen and made plans for tonight.”

“Great.”

The giant tv screen played the last few minutes of the Bulls game. He had been watching it since the first quarter. The Bulls were out of it by the end of the second quarter. In front of him were four empty bottles and a plate of french fries with only the small, burnt ones remaining along with the smeared ketchup. He took of his burgundy tie and tossed it on the wooden table which was marked with spillage over the years. The smell of cigarette smoke passed him as a group of guys walked past. To his right were a series of pool tables, from one came the sound of a gunshot as the cue ball scattered the other balls.

He went to the bathroom to relieve himself in order to make more room for the liquor. As he was leaving the bathroom stall, he bumped into another man who was coming in.

“Sorry,” he mumbled moving aside to let the man pass.

“Jake?” The man called his name.

Jake studied his face for a moment, trying to recall a figure in his memory that resembled this man whose face was half hidden by a patchy beard and the brim of his dirty hat shadowed the other half of his face. Only his eyes were clear which were paler than the rest of his tanned face as if he had been out in the sun for a long time with sunglasses on. He failed his attempt to correctly piece the picture together, an attempt that was made difficult with the liquor that circulated in him.

“Sorry do I know you?”

The man cracked a smile and put a hand on his shoulder. For a second he tried to remember if he had been coming in or going out of the bathroom.

“It’s Roy,” he said, “Roy Campbell. Remember?”

The name was familiar, very much so, but the face still didn’t match any of his memories of Roy Campbell. It was as if some stranger had picked that name out of a hat in some twisted reality show and now, he could go on living a life that didn’t belong to him and it was up to people who knew the real Roy to figure out if this one was an imposter or not. If he got it right maybe a camera crew would jump out from the corner.

Roy seemed to have read his mind as he scratched his beard and kept smiling.

“I know I look different. Haven’t had the time to clean up, you know how it is.”

He didn’t but he said he did.

Roy asked him to wait a moment as he went into the bathroom. He quickly returned and the two of them sat down at Roy’s table. Empty peanut shells littered the round stained wood table, along with a tall glass of water in which the ice has melted adding to the volume in the glass.

Jake reached for a couple peanuts which he cracked open.

“I’ll get us a pitcher,” Jake said.

“Not for me,” Roy replied, he dug into his back pocket and got out his wallet inside of which was his AA token. “Almost sixty days.”

“That’s great.”

“I just came here to watch the game,” he nodded at the big screen.

“What a blowout,” Jake replied.

Roy cracked open some peanuts and emptied the shell out in the palm of his hand before tossing them back into his mouth.

“What you been up too?” He asked.

“Just working.”

“Going good?” He chewed with his eyes fixed on the tv screen.

“Got a promotion today so yeah, going pretty well I say.”

“Big shot over here,” he said, “No I’m kidding, that’s great. How’d you do it?”

The waitress brought him a bottle of beer and refilled Roy’s glass of water.

“What do you mean?”

He took a sip and held on to the bottle to feel its cool temperature run through the nerves of his fingers and into his palm.

“How’d you stick to a place long enough to fool them into giving you a promotion? I tried so many times but I couldn’t hack it. After a few months I would pack my things up and keep on moving. Even now I’m getting the itch to get going, to go somewhere else, to run away in a sense.”

Jake shrugged. He was recalling now why he hadn’t kept up with Roy over the years.

“We can’t all just leave, besides that’s how things are. You put in the work for long enough and you’ll get rewarded. Two plus two equals four.”

He rubbed his eyes with the moisture from the cold bottle.

“That logic is too simple,” Roy said. Before Jake could reply, Roy changed the subject. “You married yet?”

“Not even close.”

“Really? We all thought you’d be the first one to bite it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, you just seemed like the type.”

“Looks like you bit it.”

Roy closed his hand around the glass of water but even through it you could see the pale moon like ring imprint around his finger.

“I was about too,” Roy said, “Was engaged but then I found out she was cheating on me so I decided to return the ring and get something for myself.”

“We got one thing in common then.”

“What’s that?” Roy asked.

“Lousy luck with women,” he said, “Was supposed to meet a girl here but got stood up.”

“Yeah, it is like that sometimes. When I found out she was cheating on me it kinda broke me, you know. Couldn’t get myself to go to work after that,” Roy explained, “And got let go but that’s a blessing I think.”

“You’ll land on your feet.”

“You think so?”

“Oh I know, we always said Roy was the kind of guy who was going to do big things. You just got to start stepping.”

“Two plus two equals four.”

“Yeah exactly.”

The game ended and for a brief moment, the channel switched the news coverage of the actress’ murder. Roy watched, quietly sipping on his water and as the newscaster began to talk about her promising movie career the channel switched to a football game and Roy shook his head, placing the glass of water down.

“Maybe she deserved it,” Roy said.

“Huh?”

This time Roy shrugged as he leaned back into his chair.

“Who knows what she did to get the guy to act that way.”

“Does that matter?”

“Two plus two, right?”

“What do you mean?” He asked Roy.

“Well, outside the moment of madness, there must have been a catalyst for the person who did that to her and if that catalyst was her then it adds up to it being her fault or at least part of the equation.”

“Man, that’s twisted. I’m sure whoever did it will be caught soon. It’s only a matter of time.”

Roy washed the peanuts down with his water.

Jake had finished another beer and got the urge to use the bathroom again. As he stood up he stumbled a little and caught the back of the chair to stay upright. Roy asked if he had enough and Jake slowly shook his head but even that simple movement caused him to grab the chair.

“Don’t drink much,” Jake explained.

“I can see that. You need help getting up the stairs?”

“I might just head on home.” He squeezed his temple.

“Can’t let you go by yourself. Did you drive here?”

He nodded and immediately regretted it.

“Give me your keys, I’ll drop you off and take the train back.”

“It’s a bit dirty but I’m gonna get a new one soon,” Jack tossed the empty McDonalds paper bags in the backseat and sat down. He apologized for the smell as he cracked the window, he said something about the gym bag in the backseat but Roy told him not to worry. The radio station started to play “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and he turned the volume up as they drove.

“Every time I hear this song it reminds me of Cor,” he said, “Remember when he got a standing O for playing this at the talent show? Man could he sing.”

“He’s dead now,” Roy said as if he were commentating on the incoming dark clouds which gathered above them.

“What?” He turned the song down. “He’s what?”

“Dead.”

“Stop saying that. I got a letter from him just the other week.”

“A lot can happen in a week.”

“You must be mistaken. I’m talking about O’Connor.”

“I know. He’s dead.”

“Stop talking like that, like it isn’t a big deal like you aren’t talking about something serious. What’s wrong with you?”

“Sorry.”

The song ended and a radio advert of new tires replaced it. Jake turned the radio off.

“You sure?” He asked.

Roy kept his eyes fixed on the road and nodded.

“I got a call from his sister. She was trying to get some old photos of us all. O’Connor never liked pictures so he didn’t keep many.”

“How’d it happen?”

“Just random luck. He smoked some weed that had some other shit in it and he went to sleep and threw up in the middle of the night and it went back down into his lungs. Pretty much drowned in his own vomit.”

“Can’t imagine a worse way to go.”

“He was all alone too. On the road for some gig. That’s the worst way to go. Being all by yourself. I couldn’t handle being by myself.”

“I should call his mother.”

Roy nodded in agreement.

“Life can be so chaotic,” he said, “One moment your riding high and good and the next it all goes to shit.”

The rest of the ride was spent in silence except for the occasional directional instructions which he told Roy.

“Make yourself at home,” he said as Roy followed him into his house. “I got some food and drinks in the fridge but not much.” He hurried upstairs, saying that he’d been holding it in for almost an hour now.

Roy went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Upstairs, he could hear Jake walking. There were a couple cartons of milk, some fruit, and vegetables, a Tupperware with some rice in it, leftover Chinese food and a box of four cupcakes with the word ‘congratulations’ stickered on the plastic. He closed the fridge. There was a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter, beside the telephone where a yellow light was flashing. He opted for a chocolate chip as he pressed the button to hear the voice message.

“You know I think you’re a real jerk and in all my times I’ve never seen anything more cowardly than to get your mother to call off the date,” a woman voice rang through the speaker. He ended the message without listening to the rest.

The phone rang right after and the name ‘Aunt Jen’ flashed on the little screen.

He picked it up.

“Hello, Jake?”

“No ma’am, it’s Roy.”

The woman’s breathing picked up and for a few seconds, she said nothing.

“Hello?” He said.

“Roy who?”

“Campbell, ma’am. And you are aunt Jen?”

“No, I’m Jakes mother.”

“Oh, we met a few times but I don’t blame you for not remembering me.”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the phone. Please.”

“He’s not here right now.”

He could almost feel her beating heart from the quick exhales.

“Put Jake on the phone,” She said. “Let me talk to him.”

“I can’t right now.”

“Why not? Where is he?”

“He had a little too much to drink but don’t worry, I’ll look after him.”

“Tell him I’m on my way. Tell him I’m coming home. You hear?”

“Don’t worry ma’am.”

She finally broke.

“Oh god, Jake, Jakey, oh god. I know what you did. I know it’s you who did it.”

“It’s okay, ma’am, it’s going to be all right. Do you understand?”

“Where’s Jake? Put him on the line.” Her tone became more authoritative like mothers usually are and it reminded him of his own mother and he smiled sadly to himself, thinking about what his mother would think of him.

“I can’t ma’am.”

“What have you done? What have you done to him?”

“Ma’am you remember that Bob Marley song? Don’t worry, be happy, ma’am you remember?”

He heard Jake walking upstairs again and told the woman he’s got to go now. She was crying. Another woman voice said something the background but he couldn’t hear what was said. He tried to think of something to say, some comforting words but his own mute screams were deafened by his cries of loneliness.

He hung up the phone and disconnected it.