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A Short Story

 

 

"She’s put out a beer for me!   That’s so thoughtful!" 

He feels shamed, just when he was thinking she takes him for granted.

He’s been slaving away out here all morning in the sweltering heat, cutting-back this enormous bloody bougainvillea that she keeps nagging him about.  It’s the Council's green waste pick-up tomorrow and he’s taken the day off, from the monotony of his daily commute, to a job that he has long since mastered, to get this done.  

He’s bleeding where the thorns have torn at his shirtless torso.  His sweat makes pink runnels in the grey dust that is thick on his office-pale skin.  The scratches sting, as the salty rivulets reach them, and he’s not sure that he hasn’t had too much sun.  He knows he’ll be sore in the office tomorrow.

 

 

Bougainvillia

 

 ***

 

"That’s so nice; she’s chilled the can in the freezer first and put it in the shade on the garden bench – really thoughtful."

“Oh, my aching back!” he exclaims to no one in particular.  It’s great to sit here in the shade for a moment, in his garden, his one real hobby and joy, enveloped in the early summer scents of roses and jasmine, as he enjoys an ice-cold beer. 

“This is just what I need,” he sighs, listening to the birds in the trees overhead and the distant buzz of a lawnmower.  It’s a soothing break before he attempts to cut and bundle these vicious branches - more scratches and heavy lifting coming up.   

 “Ah this beer’s good!” he says, satisfied.  The beer clears away the dust.  He likes to say that’s what a cold beer is best at – 'washing away dust and life's bitterness'. 'Existential detritus' he calls it.

"You know”, he thinks, "this is the most thoughtful thing she's done for me in, I don’t know how long." 

"I can’t even think when was the last time she did something for me, that was not really about me doing something for her.” 

Generally, he feels taken for granted.  He's a good breadwinner he goes to work, comes home, fixes things around the house, puts out the garbage, packs the dishwasher, washes and irons his own shirts, keeps the money coming in – but it’s all just expected – no thanks required or given.  

Then suddenly she does something like this: this wonderful, thoughtful beer.

To be fair, he doesn’t always acknowledge the things she does either, between her commitments to the tennis club and her gym.  She does keep in shape for him. Sexy!

"I’ll get her some more expensive flowers this afternoon,” he thinks, reviewing the scattered blossom from this morning’s efforts.

 

Blossom

 

 

But this beer makes up for so much.  It says: "I do appreciate you, even though I don’t always tell you so.” 

He’s in love with her all over again - and in lust.  "I'll spend more time on that something special, that she really likes, for her tonight," he decides, aroused.

Now he can attack those bloody thorns revitalised.  

 ***

 

When she went out early, he wasn’t even sure that she would remember that he was taking the day off to do this today.  But obviously she was listening, she’s been going on about: 'cutting back the out-of-control bougainvillea', for weeks.  

“I’ve done a great job. The garden looks great.  Even if I do say so myself,” he pronounces aloud, to no one in particular.  

Three big neat bundles, are now bound up in natural twine, to Council specification, and a pile of fallen scarlet blossom; leaves have been raked-up; the dust swept away to the bin; and the paths are hosed down.

“God, I stink!” he declares happily - proof of hard labour. “Time for a shower.”

 

***

 

“Ahh, this’ great!”  Soaping up under the soothing water he feels like singing: “I’m singing in the rain, just…”

But what's this?  As the shower screen glass mists-up are the faint remains of something scrawled large, in some recent fog: HORPER; HAPDER? - a message to the cleaners?

Wham!  The bathroom door has slammed open.  “You selfish bastard!” she’s screaming at him.  “Did you drink Jim’s beer?”  She’s beside herself with fury.

He’s appalled.  “Who’s Jim?” he demands. 

“Jim my friend who’s kindly been helping me move the dining room table. And you just drank his beer. You prick!”

“You’re giving some bloke a beer for moving the table? Why not ask me to help last night?  What else does he do for you?

“Why would you care?” she shouts - but now he detects an edge of defensiveness - and she's performing - for a double audience? 

He hears a movement. Jim is lurking somewhere back there. In our bedroom?

“Is he as good in bed as he was in the shower?” He finds himself demanding, in an appalling epiphany.

“Much better than you!” she yells incautiously, partly for her lover's benefit.

 

***

 

Naked and wet, he pushes past her, out of the bathroom and storms through the house, out to the garden bench.  Snatching up the bitter can, he throws it down on the ground and crushes the thin metal with his bare foot.  Again, and again.

The front door slams behind him, as she leaves the house, with the unseen Jim. 

In the midday heat, his instep and heel have begun to spurt ominously to the beat of his heart.   A sticky bougainvillea-red puddle blossoms out on the lawn, in vivid contrast to the jade-green grass. 

Looking down, in horror, at his sliced open foot, he feels chill.  He's about to faint.  The colourful scene turns grey as he falls, headlong into the golden roses, slamming his head onto the stone border.  

Now all is black and soundless.  

 

***

 

His naked body, half sunburnt and scratched, half ghostly pale, still glistening from the shower, lies unconscious in a golden bed of scattered rose petals.  The heady perfume of the flowers is tinged with the metallic scent of blood.

The scarlet ponds at its feet and head spread, then darken, then grow no more.

The razor-sharp sides of the torn can glisten in the unrelenting sun. 

In the distance, the mower is mowing again. 

From a house nearby, the sound of a choir is wafting on the breeze.  Mozart.  The Requiem.

No one comes.

 

 

 

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Travel

Southern France

Touring in the South of France

September 2014

 

Lyon

Off the plane we are welcomed by a warm Autumn day in the south of France.  Fragrant and green.

Lyon is the first step on our short stay in Southern France, touring in leisurely hops by car, down the Rhône valley from Lyon to Avignon and then to Aix and Nice with various stops along the way.

Months earlier I’d booked a car from Lyon Airport to be dropped off at Nice Airport.  I’d tried booking town centre to town centre but there was nothing available.

This meant I got to drive an unfamiliar car, with no gearstick or ignition switch and various other novel idiosyncrasies, ‘straight off the plane’.  But I managed to work it out and we got to see the countryside between the airport and the city and quite a bit of the outer suburbs at our own pace.  Fortunately we had ‘Madam Butterfly’ with us (more of her later) else we could never have reached our hotel through the maze of one way streets.

Read more: Southern France

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Soul of the Matter

 

 

 

 

It was hot, dry and dusty when they finally arrived in Jaisalmer.  But then, how often is it not hot and dusty here? 

In the markets a wizened woman, of indeterminate age, is using a straw broom to aggressively sweep the area in front of her shop. The dust will soon be kicked-back by passers-by; or swept back by her neighbours; requiring her to sweep again, and again.  She will do the same again tomorrow; and the day after; and the day after that.

Jennifer's mind is elsewhere. She's has dreamt of visiting exotic India ever since a client at the hairdressers told her, with enthralling details, of her adventures here.

They've arrived in the dusty city late in the afternoon, by road from Jodhpur.  In spite of his preference to visit California or Las Vegas again, she's finally persuaded Bruce that he might like India. He should try something a bit more adventurous for a change.

Below the entrance to the famous Jaisalmer Fort, is a small square that marks the start of the road winding up, then turning at right-angles, through the protective elephant-proof gates.  In this little square, motorised trishaws: Tuk-tuks, jostle restlessly like milling cattle.  They are waiting for tourists, like our travellers, who may hire them tomorrow to see the town or, if they are lazy or tired, just to mount the steep hill up to the Fort. 

Read more: The Soul of the Matter

Opinions and Philosophy

Bertrand Russell

 

 

 

Bertrand Russell (Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)) has been a major influence on my life.  I asked for and was given a copy of his collected Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell for my 21st birthday and although I never agreed entirely with every one of his opinions I have always respected them.

In 1950 Russell won the Nobel Prize in literature but remained a controversial figure.  He was responsible for the Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955. The signatories included Albert Einstein, just before his death, and ten other eminent intellectuals and scientists. They warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons and called on governments to find alternative ways of resolving conflict.   Russell went on to become the first president of the campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND) and subsequently organised opposition to the Vietnam War. He could be seen in 50's news-reels at the head of CND demonstrations with his long divorced second wife Dora, for which he was jailed again at the age of 89.  

In 1958 Gerald Holtom, created a logo for the movement by stylising, superimposing and circling the semaphore letters ND.

Some four years earlier I'd gained my semaphore badge in the Cubs, so like many children of my vintage, I already knew that:  = N(uclear)   = D(isarmament)

The logo soon became ubiquitous, graphitied onto walls and pavements, and widely used as a peace symbol in the 60s and 70s, particularly in hippie communes and crudely painted on VW camper-vans.

 

 (otherwise known as the phallic Mercedes).

 

Read more: Bertrand Russell

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