short story

Fishing from the boardwalk

Simon Ferris stood on the boardwalk and leaned over the edge, looking at a large timber pallet that floated in the salt water below. The timber was covered in shells and black worms. He stood a long time and wondered what the things on the pallet were. After a while, he pulled back and staggered down the boardwalk. The timber was uneven and hurt his legs which were twisted and weak. He had refused to take a wheelchair today; he wanted to walk.

Halfway down, back toward the street that led up into the city, he stopped and watched a pretty girl who sat on a bench in the shade near Shraff’s Amusement hall. She wore a tight red top, and her blonde hair was tied back with a blue ribbon. Next to her was a baby carriage. She leaned over occasionally to look inside. Each time she leaned over, she smiled. Her red lips pulled back showing her smooth white teeth.

Suddenly a great tiredness overtook Simon and his legs gave way under him. He toppled sideways, off the boardwalk, into the water below. An old man watching nearby, tapped a young man who stood next to him.

“A man just jumped off the boardwalk,” the old man said.

“Are you sure?” the young man answered. He looked over his shoulder. The young man held a fishing line and was reluctant to let it go.

Advertisements

Bronze lions

The lights of the street flickered in yellow and red, Maisie pulled her jumper down over her hands and looked at the red lights above the buildings. She always felt relaxed and sleepy when she saw a red light; she remembered the rooms she used to stay in when the streets were too cold. A bar heater would be turned on, and it would glow on the wall. It stayed red all night. The girls would struggle to get a bunk nearer to that heater. Tracy came and sat beside her, and they both spent a moment looking at the bronze lions that flanked the steps of the library.

“Tony told me that if he could flog those lions, they’d be worth a mint,” Tracy said. “Do ya have a smoke?”

A smokes worth a dollar, but I have one for you,” Maisie answered, pulling two cigarettes out of a wrapper that once held a hamburger. A little bit of red sauce stained the paper of one of the smokes and Maisie saw this. She wondered if it would burn ok or if it’d taste different. She held the stained one back for herself and gave Tracy the other. “Smoking,” Maisie said as she handed the girl the cigarette, “Kills 480,000 people in the US each year.”

“God, I hope I’m one,” Tracy laughed.

“So when’s Tony gonna do it?”
“Do what?”
“Steal them lions?”
“They weigh too much to carry off.”
Maisie lit her cigarette and then lit the other. They both took a deep breath of the smoke.

A working man coming past stopped and looked at Maisie. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” she answered.

“You should be in school.”

“I’ve graduated with a degree in minding.”
“Minding what?”
“Minding my own fucking business.” The girls began to
laugh; the man said a few more things before walking off, but they ignored him. Just as he was speaking the morning sun came over the copper roof of the library and lit the square. The street lights, still aglow, would soon be off.

“I love this time of the morning,” Maisie whispered.

“I hate it; all the creeps are out. Early morning is the worst time.”

“Where’d you sleep last night?”

“I worked, I did a few jobs. I’ve not slept yet. Where’d you?”
“I stayed at Carla’s place.”
“Was her boyfriend home?”
“No, I wouldn’t be there if he was.”
They sat silently for a moment as a flock of pigeons gathered by the statue of T. S. Eliot.

“What are you doing today?” Tracy asked, dropping some ash from the end of her cigarette.
“I’m working at Ericson’s. They’re putting me on the register today.”
“It
don’t pay much, why don’t you come with me? I made twelve ‘undred dollars last night. Here look.” Tracy opened a cloth bag studded with red and blue sequins. Greenish blue looking notes were shoved in so that they were all screwed up, there were a lot of them.

“Give us a twenty?” Maisie asked.

“Sure,” Tracy pulled a twenty dollar note out, smooth it between her fingers and passed it to the thin blonde girl. Tracy was chubby, with a beautiful face, but she would, in a few years, become fat like her mother. Deep down she was jealous of Maisie; Maisie was thin and sharp like she had been cut from stone.

Maisie put it in her pocket. “I gotta start work now,” she stood up and lifted her jumper to show her supermarket uniform underneath. Her thin legs showed prettily under her dress. She let her jumper down and then dropped her cigarette and stamped it out.

“See ya; I’ll be here tonight at five if you want to get some dinner.”

“OK, I’ll meet you here.”

Maisie smiled and climbed down the wet steps that seemed to slope back too far so that each one held a puddle of water. Maisie then skipped from a patch of sunlight to another. She looked up and noticed the lamps were all off now and the early morning sun danced in the leaves of the Kurrajong Trees. She turned back to looked at Tracy and stopped. Tony held Tracy by her arm and was violently tearing her purse away from her. Maisie felt the twenty-dollar bill in her pocket.

Death and Roses

“We’re all going to die,” she said softly.

“It all ends so soon, just like our days off from work,

Sunday never lasts long enough.”

She would often say things like this and become sad.

“We’re all going to die, and there’s nothing we can do,

No matter how much fun we have, it all ends and ends terribly.”

I would never say anything to her when she became like this,

It was best to let her become quiet and sit in the dark

Like someone mourning every loss, and only the shadows give comfort-

But that comfort is nothing at all. Like eating ice for hunger.

Her friends were there once when she said this and they became angry.

“Why do you have to say that?” they wailed,

“We know we are going to die, what good does talking about it do?

Life isn’t just sadness; you’ll never be happy when you get like this.”

I watched her face become darker still as they responded.

When they left, she turned to me “They don’t really understand

How things change.” I listened to her quietly again, as I always did,

Like someone listens to the sea.

“They don’t think about things properly.

You aren’t you, what you were at six is not you at thirty,

That six-year-old is dead.”
“But it’s still you,” I answered.

She shook her head, “No, that is gone.”

I did not see her friends again for a long time,

We are all on the same path,

But for her to be reminded of death

Was to ensure she made special effort

To look at things carefully and truly love.

 

On Smith Street and Nagle Lane.

 

 Outside the supermarket

A man surrounded by fat, heaving along his belly.

Is squatting on a chrome bench

Sucking hard on a cigarette.

He looks a cool breeze away from a heart attack.

On the same road

A young woman as beautiful as summer rain

Stands by a fast food restaurant looking lost.

Her eyes are wide and gentle,

She has all the innocence and none of the hardness

too many people in this place carry in them.

Around her are cold people, angry at life. People whom lovers have fooled

Life has lied to them, broken their dreams like old sticks

This woman is no reflection of these others,

I watch her walk along the street

And feel ashamed to follow her with my eyes.

She passes near the fat man

He drops his cigarette

And leans forward, like a boulder soon to drop

And says something I am not able to hear.

Her face changes, something horrid has been spoken,

She steps away; he is laughing now.

 The flower has been stepped on.

How long will it be before she is changed forever?

The world crushes what it falls upon.

The meeting in the reading room.

In the reading room of the library,

Under the dome of the white and golden light

Where timber desks surround a great central platform

And students sleep next to their laptops, their devices keeping their laps warm,

An old man sits alone with white eyes, half blind.

He laughs to himself as if an angel is telling him jokes.

As I pass, I see a book of poems open before him,

The page he has open, features Blake’s great poem.

He sees me and says;

‘If only all God’s followers were prophets.’

I stop and look into those wells of milk

And he smiles again, a black smile of soft lips and moisture.

‘In the end, we are all alone, but we can always have the words,

The poems never leave us; it is we who leave the poems.’

He wants me to say something; I can see the desperation in his old face,

The desperation for someone to talk to him,

But I say nothing and move on, sitting in a far corner behind a young woman

Wearing a red coat, every move she makes sets fire to the air around her,

the world under her heal.

What time does she have for poems?

Poems are for the desperate to whom no one talks.

anvilsoul6o1

Thursday and I’ll be gone

On the tenth floor

-David, it’s important you read this letter

I look out across the city

-I cannot stay; I have to leave

The clouds mix with the steam

-I don’t want you to wait for me

that rises from the roofs of the buildings

-we would never work out

I have been watching from this window since 6 am.

-I have to be free

now it is light; I can see people at all levels,

-I don’t want you to come around

people sitting in offices

-take your things, don’t leave them behind

people on the street

-understand, this is the way it is

workers, in hard hats and yellow vests

-please don’t contact me

emptying broken tiles from wheelbarrows

-we had fun, didn’t we?

I can only imagine the noise.

-something to remember

Is true freedom being able to do what you want, when you want?

-I’m leaving, going overseas

On corners homeless huddle under blankets on soaked yellow mattresses.

-I love someone else

A car stops in the road; a bus turns quickly

-Thursday and I’ll be gone, I promise.

Thursday and I’ll be gone, I promise.

Two visions

An elderly man stands in the art gallery,

Before a picture of the Virgin Mary, and weeps.

I see him, tears on his cheeks, eyes swelled in red-dreams.

I can only imagine what he is thinking.

The years have washed upon him

In a frenzy, unexpected, unstoppable

Time has stepped upon him and moved on.

Now in front of such beauty, he weeps and in weeping feels sorry

For all the things he missed, either

In long nights at home in suburbs, wondering what could have happened if only…

Or

Merciless nights in bars, finding new lovers, never settling down and finding, too late

That it is too late.

Both, both miss much.

You cannot have it all,

And if you are lucky

At 90, stand before the Virgin Mary and weep.

 

 

This morning, at the bookstore where I meet old friends,

A man shouts into his phone

“We pay the payroll not them!”

He continued beside a shelf labelled ‘Literary Classics.’

“It’s not those guys who call the shots. Well you try it your way and if that works

Then well done,”

he stops before a shelf of poetry, and his hand reaches for but stops mid-stretch

“But I’m telling you; it will not go down like that!”

Speech finished, he hangs up as he passes Shakespeare.

He leans against a pillar as if he is out of breath

Out of life

And then pushing his phone deep into his pocket he takes the stairs,

Ascends to the street,

And is gone.

Something had taken his appetite for reading

A payroll will starve a poet.

There must be no prison.

All good things are wild and free

Kindness drops from her like rain from a leaf

She loves and wants love for all

She gives and takes, but never more than she needs.

She could be sitting next to me, but then turn

And she is gone.

Whatever makes her happy

Do not stand in her way

She would never stand in yours,

As the months go by, if she has not returned

Try to remember her face,

Try to remember her voice

Remember her standing in the kitchen

Turning to you and smiling

Glad you had come.

Remember the things she said to you,

But like all wild things

You cannot hold them,

If you do, you kill them.

You don’t own anything

I lost my sunglasses the other day

I’m not sure exactly when,

But they were good ones

Expensive ones.

I think about them occasionally

I wake early, and I wonder where they are

That empty feeling enters my guts

And I feel sad

I tell myself it doesn’t matter.

But it does matter, a little.

I wonder if other people lose things

And if it worries them.

A three a.m. worry, when it is dark outside, and you are missing something

And you look at the other side of the bed

And it’s empty.

I lost her too,

She left me

That feeling when you know you will never see her again,

you remember following her out of the apartment,

seeing her leave through the front door of the building

Into the cold misty morning

knowing that you will never see her again.

And I woke up thinking about my glasses.

The suicide

The phone rang on Tom’s desk. He sat there in front of his computer and let it go on for a long time. The sound cut into him, the persistent tune repeating and repeating.

“Hello?” he said picking it up.

“Tom? This is Mike. Can you head out to 12 Kitchener Road, we have had a report of a man hanged from a tree up on the hill.”
“A suicide?”
“Yes it looks that way. He’s a young man by the name of Simon McDouglas. Local school teacher, twenty-eight years old.”

“Shit, Okay.”

Tom took the car out, making sure his camera was in the locked box in the trunk. He drove out slowly, not wanting to go to the job. Kitchener Road is a steep road that winds up into the hills. Tom had been there six months ago, another suicide, a fifteen year old boy hanged himself from the rafters in a back shed. The town’s people called it suicide hill. Tom slowed his car when he neared the top of the road. There was an ambulance and a police car, four men stood about in the darkness. Something large was in the branches of the tree.

Tom climbed out of his car slowly. The men all turned and watched him. He took a camera from his car and hung it around his neck.

“No photos okay Tom” an old grey haired cop said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“No, okay,” Tom replied.

“What happened?”
“Young school teacher, only been in town for six months, hanged himself. A man walking his dog found him in the tree.”
Tom looked at the body, the face was twisted in the agony of choking. His eyes bulged. You could tell he was a young man, a little overweight. Tom knew him, he had been a nice guy, there was some talk of misconduct at school.

“Why haven’t you cut him down?”

No one spoke.

“He’s been dead for hours,” an ambulance driver said finally.

“Still, can’t you get him down?”
“The detective wants to see him,” the cop said. “Then we’ll get him down.”
Tom moved away and began to cough. The late night air hurt his lungs, something inside of him wanted to come out, he had to work hard to stop from vomiting.