FICTION

COOKIESShort stories

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:55:41

Blog imageBy Mike Walton

Meredith Wilson loved to bake. She started to bake at the tender age of six, and burned her first fingers taking out the muffin from her Easy Bake oven she received at Christmas a few short hours prior. Since that day, the young girl continued to bake for everyone -- everyone except herself. She loved watching people eat the things she made, and hearing the praises and sounds of their enjoyment.

When most girls were hiding Nancy Drew mysteries in their backpacks and faux book covers, Meredith was hiding McCall's Cooking for Two and whatever edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook she could find. Her diaries were more full of recipes than reflections on life and love. When she was nine, she entered her no-bake chocolate dipped Macadamian nut cookies in the Minnesota State Fair under the "open" category, since she was not a member of 4-H. She won the Governor's prize that year and every year since to her 17th birthday except for one -- her sixteenth birthday, in which she did not compete because she was ill, first with the chicken pox and then with the measles.

Meredith recovered from both, and earned a full run scholarship to the University of Minnesota and later a paid internship at General Mills. Before her, "Big G" never paid for anyone's education while they tolled within the granite walls of their corporate headquarters and kitchen during the summers. Meredith had a key to the kitchens, and was encouraged to cook whatever she wanted -- as long as it included an ingredient or two from the food and beverage corporation.

Remember "Pocket Polly", a toy which was made by Kenner (which was a part of General Mills)? Polly was based upon Meredith Wilson. A marketing man observed Meredith cooking in one of the many kitchens and thought that little girls would love a pint-sized version of the little baker.

Standing at all of four foot seven at the age of 20, Meredith became self-conscious about her height and the fact that men were simply not interested in her -- the way she wanted them to be interested in her. Her answer was simply to eat more.

It was not a good move for her. She ballooned to almost 300 pounds before she went into an eating disorder clinic at the U and over two years, returned to around the same weight she was when she received her first check her freshman year.

Meredith was still lonely. Her dates consisted of men who enjoyed her laying out spreads of good tasting, enjoyable foods. Many of them commented that she cooked way better than their own mothers or grandmothers -- or both. Then there were the ones who wanted to date her simply because of her size -- fantasizing that she was way younger than she was. That became old quickly. Then there was Jimmy.

Meredith met Jimmy at a party her senior year. The liquor and marijuana flowed and practically everyone partook. The next thing she knew, she and Jimmy were curled up together on the floor in the laundry room, completely naked and completely out to the world.

It was the night/morning in which her only child was conceived. Meredith graduated top in her department and four months later, Candice was born. She was named for a popular television star of the time with a hit television show. The television Candice told off people, stated her opinion and had a relationship with a handyman.

Meredith wished she was Candice.

Jimmy took off for the oil wells of Texas, away from Minnesota and the harsh weather, the four seasons and the ten thousand lakes. Meredith spent a year -- the first year of Candice's life -- looking for Jimmy but he was not wanting to be found -- and not wanting to be a father.

Meredith was looking for Jimmy for another reason: her child developed allergies. To many of the things Meredith loved cooking with: coconut was first, in which her child broke out in hives and had to be taken to a hospital to have them to clear her windpipe. Then it was nuts, flour, and dairy.

Sitting in her bed one night after a really tough day with her now four-year old, Meredith wanted nothing more than just to find Jimmy and chop off his manhood -- the source of her tough times -- and feed it to him. "I'll boil his nuts too and make him eat those as well..." she thought to herself. She flipped the channels on her cable television and stopped at a cooking channel.

"My child suffers from food allergies," the woman wailed, "and I don't know what to do. Everything I buy has nuts in it, or made from flours he can't have...or something."
Meredith laid the remote on the bed beside her after turning the volume up -- not too loud, or else her child would wake.

"I would love for my child to have a real donut which won't kill him. Something that tastes like a donut. Smells like a donut. Looks like a real one."

It was as if someone hit her on the backside of her head.

Meredith jumped off the bed, walked over to the television set, turned it off and then sat down at her desk. She started writing ideas. Then she stopped.

"What am I doing? I have a child just like hers." She turned the television set back on, and took notes of the late night conversation. She then paid attention to the end credits and quickly wrote down the name of the production company. She went to bed, asking God to forgive her for wanting to remove the male contribution to a wonderful little girl, even though she was not really ready for motherhood.

In the morning, Meredith contacted her friends at General Mills, who were not pleased when she told them of her plans to make "alternative foods for children with allergies." Her true friends however gave her pointers and leads. She found a bread factory in Prior Lake, Minnesota and with pledges and her savings from all of her winnings went to a bank and applied for a small business loan.

She would name the firm "Jimmy's Foods". "He got me in this, he should at least get some of the credit", she thought as she designed the first logo for her new small company. She hired mothers and grandmothers to make small batches of cookies, cakes, and pretzels.

She sent the first box of gluten-free and wheat-free donuts to that woman whose son had never had a chocolate donut before. "The only thing I want," Meredith wrote to the mother, “if for you to take a photo of your son eating one of these and please send it to me. I promise I won't use it for marketing...but rather for inspiration!" Carla and Meredith became great pen-pals; and when computers came along, the two of them emailed each other daily.

Jimmy's Foods did not make too much money; when the Lund's food chain was looking to expand their offerings of foods, they offered to buy Jimmy's Foods complete. Meredith sold them everything except for the recipes to a few items which were passed down from her mom to Meredith...and over time to Candice.

Candice, now twelve, was waiting for her mom to finish preparing her no-bake chocolate dipped Macadamia nut cookies -- the ones which made her a household word in Minnesota. She looked around at all of the various cookies and cakes, labeled with "nut free", "gluten free", "no coconut oil" and "regular". Dressed in one of her favorite long dresses and wearing a tiara -- she wanted to be a "Sugar Plum Princess" for this evening's activity -- Candice smelled the warm desserts surrounding her. She had to sit down -- it was all getting to her.

Candice sat at the table staring at the platter of cookies. She knew she was supposed to wait until company had taken their share, but she just had to have one. As she reached out her small hand, her mother said…"You don't want that cookie, Cookie..."

Cookie was her mother's nickname for Candice.

"Where's my cookies?"

"I haven't made them yet, Sweetie. You would think that someone had invented a nut which crunches like one, but isn't a nut. You can't do peanut butter and -- HEY!" Meredith raised her voice in warning, then added, "And you shouldn't be touching those...remember the last time you did that?"

Candice quickly removed her hands.

"Let's not be doing emergency room visits tonight, okay? And go find your epi-pen so you'll have it just in case."

"Why are you cooking all of these things?"

Meredith smiled and responded, "A special guest is coming to visit. It took me a while to find him, but you're going to meet the person who is responsible for all of this special cooking."

"Grandma Wilson's coming?" Candice's eyes almost popped out of her head. She then remembered, "Sorry...who is it?"

"That's okay, Cookie. Every time I cook something it reminds me of Granny Wilson. She's in the air here...but unless she came back from the grave, it's not her." Meredith looked at her child. Grandmother Wilson was Candice's favorite relative.

"No, it's your Dad -- and his wife Arlene. And she has the same dairy allergy you have... so don't eat all of the cookies, Cookie!" and she grabbed her daughter and held her tight.



MOIRAENovels

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:53:19

Blog image

By Mehreen Ahmed

Following the stream of consciousness technique and embedded in dream allegory, Moirae depicts human predicament exploring notions of fate and religion. Taken from a fantasy land on a planet with two moons, called the Lost Winds, this story is about human oppression under a tyrannical regime which calls itself democratic. Much like our planet earth, people flee to seek protection in a place called Draviland, a long way away from the Lost Winds. Dramas pertaining to such human conditions often appear in the main character's lucid dreams and knitted in pink honeycomb pattern. This metaphor is used to construe self organized behavior among men, herding as they try to escape from persecution.

Prologue

In the cold grip of death and high alert, stands the silent land of the Lost Winds. Moral degradation has triggered a mass exodus. Those who were at great risk and in imminent danger have fled the atrocities of the regime by a boat called the Blue Moon to seek protection in a new land. Battling over the high seas through many violent tempests, their sea unworthy vessel, Blue Moon sailed for days until one evening it was spotted under the roaming beam of the light house on murky waters. The boat has finally reached the shores of Draviland. In the meantime, unfathomable ponderings rage in Nalia’s head in Lost Winds, as she explores the chaotic, dark fate of her mates. Unpredictable times have created such people, deemed as riders of the howling seas.


Table of contents

1.Red Tempest 4
2.Ash woodlands 14
3.Black streams 22
4.Orange soils 36
5.White Vines 49
6.Purple waves 59
7.Gold Foliage 70
8.Turquoise Roots 83
9.Emerald Luminosities 94
10.Sapphire Skies 104
11.Crimson Fields 110
12.Pink Honey Combs 120

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport-”
William Shakespeare: King Lear.

Red Tempests

Rain had already begun. Monsoon was unleashed fiercely that morning over Lost Winds, generally known as the village. Impending storm offered no sign of a let up as torrential rain fell from the ashen sky in every direction. Trees swayed, branches creaked and gusty winds lacerated through the tender leaves. Nalia put her knitting down on the chair, under the pumpkin vines to sheaf a broom. She put it together in a bunch with an adhesive around it at the top. Then she swept the throngs of meddling moths of black and grey pebbles off the front yard. The heavy rain pelted steadily down the tip of the serrated fungi, sprawling under the mossy matted fence. Nalia looked at it tentatively, as she finished her morning chore, gathering her clothes neatly over her young, smooth shoulder. She wore a long, cotton untailored piece of cloth wrapped around her like a large sarong. It was a black and white check garb.

A call out from a neighbour distracted her slightly, as she turned towards the entrance. Her gaze fell on a girl whose name was Pael. Nalia appeared in the open doorway of her thatched house. She saw that Pael was talking to Shinta.

“My brother has left Lost Winds.”
“What? When? Tell me you’re joking?”
“No, no I’m not. At 17, he has nothing, no money. Poor soul. Oh! How poor are we?” Pael sobbed.

Nalia stood there eavesdropping in silence and looked up at them with a lazy eye. Unexpectedly, she rubbed her snub nose with her palm making it appear even flatter than usual. She found her bearings and looked beyond the entrance, which lent a full view of the rain, like translucent paint on nature’s canvas running in rivulets along the gully of the leeches.

Nalia picked it up and resumed knitting. She knitted a sweater in honey-comb pattern. With a ball of pink, downy wool under one arm, she walked up to them, closer to the entrance.
“What’s up?”
“My father needs to borrow money.”
“How much? And why?”
“Why? We need it for my brother,” she said. “He needs 100 thousand to pay his Transporters who took him on a boat called Blue Moon into the island of Mundip.”
“And why did he need to leave?”
“To get away from police,”
“Police? What police? Tell me. Tell me everything.”
“I can tell you only what I know.”
“Then tell. What’s going on?”

Nalia looked straight at the vertical water lines falling through the curled up wet ferns over a wall of Rhododendrons and Frangipanis. She stood there knitting, listening to her neighbours’ ramblings. Her thoughts took her darkly away in a stream of sudden mindlessness.

On the day of her wedding, there were jubilations. Loud music and high-pitched songs were played repeatedly to entertain the wedding guests. Nalia was dressed in cheap silk of sparkly shocking pink. Matching pink slippers looked bright in the afternoon sun, as she stepped out of her father’s house into a new heavenly life of the blissful unknown. Little did she know that the cloth wrapped around her was stolen and so were her slippers; flashy studded multicoloured stones, set unevenly on the foot-ware. As darkness fell, an oddity took place which changed her life forever.

Under a full marmalade moon, she sat with her wedded husband in a small thatched room. Through the portal of the cane latticed window, she heard the ominous crow lapse into terrible wail, as it flew through the stooping, bunched up bamboo bush. No sooner, men dressed in police clothes kicked open her flimsy wooden door. Befuddled and frightened like a caged experimental mouse, she stood shivering in one corner, as police handcuffed her lover. Then they turned her wedding bed over and ripped through the new, custom made bed that the village mattress-maker had given them as a wedding gift.

Gawking, in the candle light, she could not believe her eyes. Police recovered millions of 100s, 50s, and 20s in notes. The money flurried out of the open mattress like the dry leaves of an autumnal maple tree. Accused of robbery, her love was taken and cast away in an ever forbidden hole of a dungeon. Her lazy eye welled up with tears. She wiped them off. Rain poured like a whole heap of tiny white nibbles, straight out of a party bag, in the process of strange metamorphosis.

Her thoughts returned when her neighbours left. She turned around and came back to her room. She felt tired and went to her room for a rest. Unknowingly, as she lay down on her bed, she slipped into slumber.
Night fell and she had the strangest dream; she ran, flew and soared, and then fell straight back down, waking with a scream. She crawled up to get herself a glass of water from the aluminium pitcher in the corner of the room. Sounds of the frolicking birds in the moon light of the early morning woke her up. She tried to hear, if the rains had stopped. In that moment every bit of happiness that she ever felt evaporated as rainfall on a parched land.

It was in shame that she returned to her father’s house, after her husband had been arrested. Each day she hoped for a miracle to happen and went without a meal for days. Hair uncombed, without a shower, she even surpassed banshees in looking her worst. She too had a brother once. Not being able to endure her affliction of separation from her husband any longer, he had hatched a plan in a sudden frenzy to help her. Brother had decided to borrow heavily from a wealthy farmer to bribe the police for her husband’s acquittal. He nearly succeeded. The wealthy man agreed to lend him 50 thousand in cash, but not unconditionally. It was a debt, of a most horrible kind. The brother could not pay it back. The farmer forced him to work on his rice fields without payment. It wasn’t an acceptable proposition. Brother decided to flee. On natural impulse, he desired freedom from this slave labour. Nalia heard a cough coming from the next room; her father lay snoring like a fat old cat. She called him, but didn’t hear a response. She looked out at the morning afterglow streaming in through the matted window.

She rose from her bed creeping quietly on the floor toward her belongings. Opening the lid of a black, battered suitcase, she drew out a beat-up tin of biscuits with a tightly pressed lid. With some effort she wrung it open. In it, there was some money, 500 only in cash, which she had found accidentally on that fate less wedding night after the police had left. It slipped somehow sitting in a shadowy corner to be picked up. Happy in the belief that one day she would be able to buy comfort, she put it in the suitcase tucked under the few clothes that she had, before she left this life behind her. Without anyone to care for, she had not much clothes and no jewellery at all. In all the world she only possessed 500 gold coins. Whatever relationship she had with the man, this husband of hers, was over. Her marriage was now over. The 50, 000 borrowed to free him from police had also gone unaccounted for and was now needed to pay off the farmer, which the brother had owed or else he would be confined to unpaid slavery for life.
Distraught by her sibling borrowing heavily and then trying to buy her life back, she was just as helpless as her parents to save him out of this troubled situation. They could never pay off this debt. Money and poverty was the root of all her worries.

Trepidation filled her up. The next morning, Nalia thought of her ugly life. She walked down the Murma river. The newspapers had said it all. That her husband was caught off the coast of the Panuma Island, selling riders to Transporters, people who agreed to organise illegal passage for a payment into the land of Dravi. Her brother was gone that way too. She sat down on the bank of the Murma River and weeded nettles from an over grown grassy patch. Strange, she could not find any flowers in the lowland of the river bank. Silvery waves dulled under the grey cloud. It was going to rain again. She looked up.

Her brother was gone. Yes, but his boat had capsized near the shores of the Siren peninsula. And that was that. It was one of the lucky stories. Boats always sank in the deep seas near the Underworld. Miraculously, they were rescued by Dolphins; the hapless people of the boat lived. Incredible indeed. The night was cold and so was the water. It was murky too when their boat sank as it proceeded through the Underworld Mountain range. Their legs constantly walked the waters under the sea; fear and panic seized them, as they heard their own shallow breathing. They looked around but encountered fury on every uncompromising lap of the waves. Children never made it back and adults were ready to embrace death just when a few survivors floated up on the bosom of the sea. They were suddenly encircled by Dolphins in the shark infested ocean while predators roamed at large on the outer circle.
Dolphins sheltered them as their own. Stories went a bit further, to say that these Dolphins, their saviours, even guided them to safety. They waded with them to the nearest island spotted within the radius of the beam from the light house where the ocean slapped those very shores in gentle wavering movement. Towards the light house, the Dolphins then swam away afterwards. And that was the tale of survival that seeped slowly into the village. Would fortune be with her neighbour’s brother too? He had also left. What if perchance, his boat also sank, and he was left with the sharks alone?
A shiver went straight up her spine. Since that day, Nalia feared the worst. She feared for Pael’s brother and for all those people who were leaving the village for one reason or the other. She was not on any boat, but was still in the village, safely enveloped within the shrubbery of banana plants and jack fruit trees. Circumstances will pull her toward a unique destiny, percolating beyond control perhaps. Her job was to continue to dream for that day, when she would become self-sufficient. God knows, she was not wealthy, but she was at least free.

Monsoon rain eased off a bit. The last of the rain water, dripped lazily down the tea leaves from the plantation along the river. Distant drizzles were a mass of tiny fluids poised spectacularly on air. Nalia got up and walked home warily; not sure if she would sleep well that night. Extending an arm down, she wrung little yellow flowers off the edge of the dirt path. These looked lovely, ‘blushed many a times to die unseen’, as many a times as the people in the village. Hapless victims ran away for reasons they were not responsible for. Human fate was strange. Stranger still was human dilemma.

Seventeen-year-old boy had escaped. His father’s arch enemy, Miah had framed him for an alleged murder. It had not stopped there. What was his name? Pontu, Pael’s brother. He left home in search of a new life, on a new soil on a journey through Mundip.

Poor Pontu. He was not wealthy, neither was his father. Look, what happened? Born in poverty, he was surrounded by vile people from childhood, who ensnared him in a murder case. A trap. Goodness me. Fleeing from one place to another was what he did all his life. The regime tried to recruit him to do the dirty jobs for them. When he did not want to do it, they beat him up; when he joined them, they played him; tied him to this murder case; an unspeakable crime committed by another.

What other option was left? The police had even arrested Pontu once, but he was able to escape from jail. He would be arrested again, he knew, in Mundip. Courage and optimism led him on, so he would live to the fullness of life. If only the wheel of fortune turned for the better. One lucky break was all that this lad needed. Being illegal, there were great uncertainties, as vast as the ocean itself. Anxiety gripped him like wet hair strand coiled around a finger hard to shake the moisture off. To be happy and to be safe were his basic rights, but he struggled to have even that. A child was always born in innocence until forces of circumstances snatched it away. It happened all too soon for him, happened almost in his infancy, at 17, only 17.

Reminiscence of her own life spoke again to her of how her marriage had ended before it was even consummated. 16 and she had barely put her foot forth into the world. Henna still fresh on her palms seemed to scream out for justice in brick red. Her entire being cried out of ingrown aches of unfulfilled love. She must get away. Get her life back together before it ended. Life would end sooner than people thought.

Up in the sky, clouds continued to manifest in dramatic moody hues. Tinges of crimson glowed momentarily, before masses of ink and grey crowded in. Constable’s sky would not have looked more poetic on its canvas with such a spillage of riotous colours. Vapours crossed broodingly about in emptiness, right before a melt-down. Quick lightening crept through unpredictably in toothed lines, followed by bellows from heavens above. Nalia began to run like a petrified black gazelle.

Funds needed to be raised. She walked past Pontu’s house and saw them eating. 100,000 was a far cry, when even one remained to be seen. Pontu would languish in some hellish hole for being illegal. But the Transporters must be paid in full or else this journey could be a futile one and not end up in Dravi. Dodging from bullets, police pastings and captures lay further ahead for Pontu in Mundip. Oh. How awful. He had only just turned 17. Nalia glimpsed at them briefly. Through the open portal, she saw them packing huge balls of fermented soaked rice in water. Radish and rice on their palms was galvanised straight out of an earthen bowl into their gaping hungry mouths. Hunger gave them insatiable appetite, anyway; fuelled by nervousness today, slowing down of the jumpy finger to mouth motion was impossible. Their son rafted on some remote corner of the Red Seas, and they were in the iron grips of bleak powerlessness.

Nalia slowed down her pace. Something needed to be done about her life too. It was not her desire to end up in the slave market or some big pleasure houses. Options were limited. She was not a defeatist. At 16 she did not want to be one. Perhaps, she could fall in love again. Her friend Tahu, worked in a garment factory in the city. She remarried soon after her first husband perished under the rubbles, when another garment factory collapsed.
Nalia picked up a tune from a movie translated as The Claybird. Forlorn and sleepless, she lay in her bed lamenting next to her parent’s room. These walls held no secrets back, as she heard them talk.

“100,000 is a lot of money.”
“They must sell the milk cow and raise the money,” A women’s voice sounded desperate.
“We could have given them a loan,” her father said,
“But we’re hard-up ourselves.”

Nalia got up from her bed and went to sit on the dirt floor in the front yard. The moon didn’t shine tonight. Sallow light from the hurricane lamp imparted almost a surreal, magical luminescence in the darkness. She heard her mother’s muffled voice.

“I wish Nalia would get married again. That would be one less mouth to feed.”
“Speak softly, I don’t want her to hear this,” warned Nalia’s father.

And then there was silence. Nalia knew what was expected of her. But she loved him, the one that she had married and he loved her so. But he was gone now. Tahu was different, the banal kind; the kind that did not procrastinate. She did what she had to do. Love was never an issue for her.

But Nalia? Would she be able to love again? Her best friend Tahu lived in the city. She left village a while ago, about two years now. She could find her a job in the garment factory in the city. She made up her mind to find work in just such a place, like Tahu and many of those young girls leaving the village. The native’s full innocence beguiled her.

She was going leave a pristine life behind to look for Tahu in the city and embark on a life of the unknown, not having the slightest clue of what awaited her. In one short move, she latched on this new exciting idea of the city full of adventure. Little did she know what she was getting into. The maddening rat race of the city knocked her over. She confronted here the most heinous of crimes.

Reality today would have been different than what it turned out to be. Fate had pushed her towards something she was helpless in resisting. Great expectations turned into unbearable misery, so much so that her plights led to muddled thoughts of an absurdist sporadic mind.

At first she couldn’t find her friend Tahu in the city, not until much later anyway. At her wit’s end, Nalia was engaged in deep monologue one summer’s day knitting her long sweater in the city of Grosnii, as her mind continued to travel randomly nonlinear across space and time; she contemplated on wretched occurrences happening not only in her life, but also in those of her friends. Echoes of the past raced through her head which offered reconnaissance of the time, quite out of joint.



THE MAGIC HOURShort stories

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:50:53

Blog imageBy Kathryn Esplin

When I was growing up, dinner-table conversation often revolved around scientific discourse, the recitation of poetry composed during dinner, and the recollection of past travel and of lands not yet tasted.

After dinner activity lay somewhere between bedlam, a genteel retirement to the parlor, and my father’s customary Beethoven piano recital. These evenings held some of the fondest memories of my early family life.

By this time, I was in college and was deemed too mature to accompany my siblings and their friends for the usual summer after-dinner games. My parents expected me to remain in the parlor to discuss the topics of the evening: often, these discourses began as quasi-serious philosophical treatises; then, as the evening progressed and as wine loosened our dinner guests’ inhibitions, the discussion lapsed into games of matching wits or attempts to convert sophomoric arguments into sound arguments.

Personally, I found these affairs tedious.

The conversation paled in comparison with the genuinely sophomoric arguments we college freshmen held late into the night. The topics my student friends and I had discussed revolved around relationship blunders, broken hearts, on how to get hot people into your bed, and on which frosh course is best to take to avoid flunking out.

In my parents’ middle-aged world, they were trying to appear young, with-it and collegiate. The main difference was that my college pals and I were actually living the fantasies that society awarded us: the right to behave less maturely than ever before.

My middle-aged parents tried to recover their youthful experiences by dredging up memories of their youth, then presenting them to me as if their follies were more real than those my pals and I experienced – or that their experiences were more important than mine because theirs were concerned with ‘social issues,’ ‘the revolution,’ and ‘unprecedented cultural change.’

If my parents expected me to pale before their exhortations of the 60’s, I wouldn’t. I explained: I wasn’t there, I didn’t do all those things. In truth, much of that era is lost on me, except for the carefully crafted ideologies published in my ‘Contemporary American History, or in my ‘Culture and Politics’ class.

And so my summer evenings at home were spent listening to the old folks talk about their youth, while I wished I could return to my youth and freedom, as I was living it in college.

And as much as I longed to break free from my parents’ lives, I did not want to join my younger siblings in their youthful games in the garden. So I remained wedged between yesterday and tomorrow, with little breathing room for today.

I longed for a magic hour.

My younger sisters and my younger brother seemed to have the world at their feet. They would gather at the edge of the parlor door, stand on their tiptoes with their necks craned as they stood together in a huddle – appearing as a clumsy cluster of children trying to look taller, older and more responsible than they actually were.

The reason for their awkward anticipation was no more complex than their desire to engage in a game of tug-of-war, tag, or in a treasure hunt. They were as bored with the grown-ups, just as I was.

At these appearances, my siblings often brought young neighborhood friends, who also begged for an hour of unrestrained silliness before bedtime.

And so this motley crew of scrubbed, groomed and usually polite children transformed into a gaggle of children whose plaited locks and combed tresses became ruffled, whose knickers became ruined with muddy grass stains and whose Oxfords became unrecognizably scuffed.

But it was this one magic hour each day that gave them their simplest pleasure: to be children.

Not until they were to leave home for college would they again find this simple pleasure. It was during these unsupervised moments that my siblings had the pleasure of being themselves without interference from a grown-up. Such an appearance by a grown-up would undoubtedly leave an invisible scar upon these games, or so the kids believed.

A magical tension lifted the night air.

Even a grown-up’s unwitting glance from behind a tree would break the tension in which these games were engulfed. During these games, self-consciousness did not exist and the children played as they never played before and as they never would again.

One summer evening, as my uncle was strolling alone in the garden after dinner, he seemed to feel a deep pang to return to his childhood days.

In walking around the garden, my uncle did not make any deliberate motion to signal his presence to anyone. He was not even aware that children were in the garden.

But upon looking over a hedgerow too high for children to see over but just high enough for my uncle to peer over, an occasion arose in which my uncle accidentally caught my younger brother’s eye across the hedge.

My brother and his friends were pulling on a heavy rope in a deadly serious game of tug-of-war against my sisters and her friends. Never mind that my sisters and her friends outnumbered my brother and his friends two-to-one -- the boys tried their mightiest to yank the rope so they could catch the girls in a tumble so the girls would have to let go of the rope only to land unceremoniously on their bottoms, muddying their petticoats and dresses.

This is exactly what happened. The boys gave a quick, hard double-yank to the rope, then let up some slack. When my brother caught my sisters not paying attention to the fierce competition, my brother winked to his friends that the end was soon at hand.

The boys then gave another quick, hard double-yank, let up a little more slack and then gave a final, quick double-yank that rippled through the length of the rope like the crack of a whip. The boys knew the game soon would be theirs.

My sisters and her friends were caught by surprise -- and one-by-one, from the youngest to the oldest – the girls let go of the rope as the tugs and yanks from the rope stung their tiny hands.

Caught off-guard, the girls slipped and slid in the muddy grass and landed on their bottoms, lacy petticoats and all. They wore a look of shame on their faces, and the boys laughed aloud.

At first, the oldest of my younger sisters was vengeful. She did not like being beaten by our brother and his ragtag friends.

Unbeknownst to the boys, my sisters and their friends were plotting their revenge, which they promised would show its hand another day.

They’d catch a dozen garden toads to hide in my brother’s drawer next to his bed, and would open the drawer after he went to sleep. The thought of this future sisterly mischief comforted the girls and mitigated their embarrassment. And so, after an initial pout from the girls’ team, they all shared a good laugh.

Upon standing up, my brother was the first to see my uncle looking over the hedge. My uncle had seen everything. My uncle had been an unwitting party to this brotherly mischief. My brother dusted himself off and gathered all the pride he could muster, at 14 years of age.

My brother looked sheepishly at my uncle for having been caught as the instigator of such mischief. In turn, my uncle blushed in shame for having unwittingly spied upon their game and for having spoiled their fun.
Even though only a brief moment lapsed, the lapse stretched into an eternity etched in the children’s souls. At the moment the children became aware my uncle had spied upon their frolic, they stood freeze-frame and slack-jawed with disappointment widening their eyes.

They and my uncle exchanged knowing glances of mutual embarrassment.

For several years afterwards, other summer evenings would see my siblings and their friends play their usual repertoire of garden games. Not one word was ever spoken about the incident concerning my siblings and my uncle, but that moment had dampened their future fun.

After that evening, their games were never as silly nor as spontaneous as they had been before. The invisible, magic hour of non-self-conscious play seemed to be lost forever.

The girls did capture the dozen toads and let them loose upon our brother one night that summer as he lay sleeping. He let out a yelp so shrill that the dog turned tail and fled the room. The girls squealed with delight as they hid behind the French doors, listening.

The girls were now even with the boys, but they took little satisfaction in their deceit. The incident concerning my uncle took the fun out of their child’s play.

Before I ran off to college the first year, the children would run back to the house after playing, all giddy and stumbling over each other as they pushed through the kitchen’s back door.

Now they entered the house in an orderly, somber fashion. They were older and they no longer played as children, but as young adults, whose actions were performed as purposeful actions.

When I returned to college that fall, I am certain the children played these same garden games nearly every warm night. I am certain they laughed and cried as they had done before and that they seemed to be without a care in the world.

Sitting in my dorm these past few months, I, too, remembered that evening last summer that droned on as my parents sang old ‘60s protest songs, prayed for the young men and women who did not return home from war, and decided for themselves that their youthful years were the best of times.

That same evening last summer, my siblings came to the same conclusion – that they had enjoyed the best of times of their very short youth that the magic hour of their childhood was forever lost.

Looking back upon that summer (and the incident between my uncle and my siblings), I realized I was forever wedged between the world of my parents and that of my siblings, and that the magic hour was not lost but would be forever lodged within in our memories, as the hour when we experience something never before or since experienced.

WHITE IS THE COLDEST COLOURNovels

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:45:59

Blog imageChapter 3

Cynthia Galbraith rose at 5:30 a.m. on Friday 10, January, as she invariably did on days when her husband was working. She showered, dressed in an immaculate white silk dress, carefully styled her caramel-blonde hair and skilfully applied her make-up, taking care to look her best. She suspected that her husband would treat her efforts with utter indifference; nonetheless, she reminded herself, she had to keep trying.

After one last anxious peek in the dressing table mirror, Cynthia hurried downstairs, ensuring not to make even the slightest noise that may prematurely disturb her husband’s slumber… He wouldn’t be ready to get up until seven o’clock, and she’d need every available second to prepare for his eventual appearance.

Cynthia rushed into the kitchen and began preparing breakfast in line with Dr Galbraith’s particular requirements… Every detail mattered.

She placed a choice of two high-fibre cereals on the large stripped oak table, lining up the boxes so that each was exactly parallel with the other. She added an exquisite French Chantilly porcelain plate, a matching cup, saucer and bowl, a solid silver spoon, a jug of full-cream milk, a bowl of dark muscovado sugar, and a silver gilt toast rack, that she would fill with his preferred white toast at the correct time. Next, she poured chilled freshly squeezed orange juice into a nineteenth-century crystal wine glass, placing it precisely one-inch from the right side of the plate. Cynthia used a stainless steel twelve-inch ruler to ensure she got the distance exactly right, and checked the measurements time and time again… He’d be disappointed if she got it wrong. That could mean punishment, and the ruler had a sharp edge.

Cynthia entered the hall and tensed inexorably as she heard the shrill tone of the doctor’s alarm clock permeating the air… He was getting up. It wouldn’t be long until he came downstairs. She had to get a move on.

She raced back into the kitchen and switched on the toaster, double-checking that it was set to her husband’s precise required setting… Too light, or too dark, and at best, he would refuse to eat it.
She checked again to ensure that everything was on the table and in its correct position… It had to be perfect. Nothing less was acceptable. A white linen napkin! How could she be so stupid?

She hurriedly took one from a dresser drawer and held it up in the light of the kitchen window, confirming it was clean and totally crease-free. She took a deep breath, sucking the oxygen deep into her lungs… Thank God, immaculate. Surely it was good enough?

Cynthia switched on the percolator and added her husband’s favourite fine ground Columbian coffee. Finally, she took two free-range eggs, three rashers of unsmoked Danish bacon, organic plum tomatoes and button mushrooms from the larder fridge located next to the range cooker, and laid them on the shiny black granite worktop.

She moved to the centre of the room and turned slowly in a circle, surveying the entire kitchen with keen eyes… There had to be something she hadn’t done correctly. There was always something.
Cynthia checked the clock for the umpteenth time that morning… Time was running out at an alarming rate. She had to start cooking.

Dr Galbraith awoke in unusually good spirits for a man who didn’t particularly like mornings. He threw back his duck-down quilt, leapt out of bed with an easy athleticism that belied his age, and paused for a moment on the landing en route to the bathroom to appreciate the glorious enticing aroma of high quality bacon and coffee wafting up the sweeping stair case… Was it worth heading down for breakfast? Cynthia was, he had to acknowledge, an excellent cook, although of course it would never do to tell her that. He was hungry, that was certainly true, but did he really want to see the obnoxious bitch with all that entailed? Did he need the distraction? He had options, naturally. He could order her out of the kitchen, and eat alone and in silence. That was worth considering. But she’d gone to a great deal of effort to prepare everything in line with his instructions. The bitch always did. It would be amusing to ignore her efforts and grab a sandwich on the way to work.

The doctor grinned at the thought, but rejected the idea almost immediately… What the hell was he thinking? He needed adequate sustenance to sustain him on such an important day.

Dr Galbraith dropped to the bathroom floor and began doing press-ups: one, two, three, four… The bitch’s psychological disintegration had been a glorious triumph.

He grinned, and rubbed the sweat from his eyes with the back of one hand: fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… Where oh where had the happy young law student gone? It had taken a little longer than anticipated to break her spirit completely, but he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Her abusive childhood had been to his advantage, but there were numerous obstacles that he had perhaps underestimated. By the time of their meeting she’d moved on to achieve an active social life, a wide circle of friends, and hobbies and interests. It posed a formidable challenge. And Cynthia possessed spirit. She’d left more than once in the early years of their relationship, before being persuaded back with unkept promises. Such things were never easy, particularly where a more intelligent subject was concerned. But, difficulties or not, his methods had worked. That’s what mattered. That was something to be proud of.

He glanced sideways, admiring his reflection in the mirrored wall tiles: eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six… The constant criticism, the never-ending fault-finding, the denial of pleasures, and the occasional physical punishments had proven an extremely effective strategy.

Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! He sat bolt upright on the bathroom floor… How would he summarise the demise of her self-worth and its consequences in his thesis? He had to use the right words, the correct phrases, if his peers were to fully appreciate his observations.

The doctor rested his stubbled chin on the palm of one hand, and visualised the words appearing on the page. But then it hit him in the gut like a physical blow… It was important work, certainly, but could he really spare the time at such a crucial juncture? Shouldn’t he be focusing his attention entirely on Anthony Mailer? Of course he should. Of course he should! The thesis could wait. The bitch wasn’t going anywhere.

Dr Galbraith showered, luxuriating in the sensual pleasure of the hot water warming his skin… Come on, man, focus, focus. Time was getting on.

He stepped out of the cubicle and dried quickly with a large, fluffy, pink bath towel, before throwing it to the floor next to the bidet… Right, come on, man. Time to shave.

He stood at the sink, stared at his reflected image in the illuminated magnifying mirror, and used a Victorian mother-of-pearl cut-throat razor to precisely shape the slightly greying sideburns that framed his well-proportioned face. Next, he used a silver-mounted mock turtleshell comb to coax his fashionably styled short hair into place, and to create a perfect side parting with copious amounts of shiny white Brylcreem hair wax. He stood there, staring into the shaving mirror for almost three minutes and admired his reflection… Come on, man, get on with it, get on with it. He’d wasted enough time already.

The doctor returned to his opulent bedroom to get dressed. He put on dark blue boxer shorts, black knee-length socks, and chose a white Italian cotton shirt from a choice of six perfectly ironed by Cynthia the previous evening. The shirt was followed by a dark grey single-breasted suit comprising a forty-four-inch chest jacket, and trousers tailored to fit his trim thirty-three-inch waist. There were large holes cut in both trouser pockets, big enough for a hand to fit through. The suit was one of several high-end Savile Row business suits hanging in his spacious fitted wardrobes… Off the peg items just didn’t meet his required standards.

Next came highly polished black leather-soled slip-on shoes festooned with bright silver buckles, and a pair of solid 18 CT gold cufflinks in the form of handcuffs, that never failed to amuse him. The final touch was a silk tie with a brightly coloured cartoon logo on the front. He adjusted the Windsor knot repeatedly until it was perfect… The tie was a stroke of absolute genius. He was a genius. What other explanation was there?

He made one final superfluous adjustment to the knot… Anything that helped engage the little bastards and gain their trust, however seemingly insignificant, was an undoubted bonus.

Dr Galbraith descended the stairs and approached the kitchen, where Cynthia was standing at the AGA putting the finishing flourishes to his meal. She turned, met his accusing gaze, and forced a brittle smile as he entered the room.
‘Good morning, dear!’

‘Is it? Are you sure, Cynthia? Are you really sure?’
‘Sorry, dear!’
He took a pristine white cotton glove from a drawer next to the Belfast sink, and strolled casually around the kitchen, running a forefinger across various surfaces… Spotless. She was learning. The bitch was learning.
‘Is everything all right, dear?’
‘Why the hell isn’t my breakfast ready?’
‘Take a seat, dear. I’ll pour your coffee and serve your full English in a second.’
‘Why do you assume I want coffee?’
‘You always have coffee, dear.’
‘Do I?’
‘Well, I thought…?’
‘You thought? Is that really such a good idea?’
Cynthia opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it again, unable to find the words.
Dr Galbraith glared at her with a sardonic expression that withered her fragile soul. ‘Just serve my bacon and eggs, girl. Perhaps you can get that right.’
She took a step backwards on unsteady legs, and looked down as the yellow urine pooled on the tiles around her feet.

Chapter 4

Dr Galbraith unlocked the doors of his metallic black Daimler sedan, and jumped into the driver’s seat with a self-satisfied expression on his angular face. He took a moment or two to appreciate the car’s lavish interior and smiled broadly before starting the engine… He’d earned it. It was nothing less than he deserved: a warm, sumptuous haven of supple grey leather and polished walnut. A man of his accomplishments and elevated status deserved such luxuries.

The doctor turned the ignition key and the 4.5-litre V12 engine roared into life… It was a good sound, a reassuring sound that pleased him.

As he drove the eighteen miles from his home to the South Wales Department of Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry where he was employed as a consultant child psychiatrist, he happily anticipated arranging Anthony’s initial appointment… Anticipation was a part of the pleasure. Not as pleasurable as it had once been, possibly, but still agreeable. The waiting had become more difficult; he had to acknowledge that. But things shouldn’t be rushed this time, whatever the temptation. He’d made that mistake once before.
He shook his head aggressively and tapped two fingers repeatedly on the steering wheel… Maybe he wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.

The doctor’s head was instantaneously filled with violent vibrating sound that made him wince. He closed his eyes for a fleeting moment, trying to ignore the pain, and then quickly reopened them, suddenly aware of the morning traffic… Come on, man. Get a grip.

He punched the windscreen hard with a clenched fist and felt slightly better… Focus, man, focus, stick to the plan. Stick to the fucking plan. He’d get his hands on the little bastard. He just had to be patient.

Dr Galbraith exhaled slowly with an audible hiss… If he wasn’t going to blow this he had to act on his experience, remember what he’d learnt over the years, and put those skills to good use. He’d come a long way since his first impulsive hurried offences and the inevitable anxiety that followed. Every knock on his door, every passing car, every phone that rang, had left him close to panic in those early days, all those years ago. The fear of arrest had been all-consuming at times. He’d fought against his base impulses, and actually considered stopping for a time. What was he thinking? What the hell was that about?

He flinched, and vigorously massaged his throbbing scalp with one hand whilst manoeuvring with the other… And why did he bother pondering the evolution of his inclinations? All that research and nothing significant to show for it. All those books. What a waste of time and money! As a child psychiatrist he theoretically understood the often insurmountable harm that men of his ilk inflicted on their victims. Of course he did. But what did it matter? He no longer felt any concern for their suffering. That was the crux of it. If he’d become an immoral creature, devoid of conscience empathy and virtue, so fucking what? He enjoyed his pastime, and the subject was worthy of scientific study. That’s what counted. There was no room for sentimental angst. What more did he need to know? All that mattered was silencing the victims, effectively concealing any evidence, and not getting caught.

The doctor squealed like an over-enthusiastic cheer leader as the discordant din in his head gradually subsided… And, hadn’t he done his job well? He’d avoided detection for almost thirty years, and nothing needed to change. Not if he reverted to his tried and tested modus operandi and slavishly stuck to it. Not a fucking thing!

Dr Galbraith parked in the clinic’s quiet car park next to his secretary’s aged red Mini Clubman and turned off the Daimler’s powerful engine… Right. The moronic bitch had arrived early.

His entire body tensed and twitched… Fucking typical. The bitch had an irritating habit of doing that. What was it with the woman?

He stilled himself, met his steel-blue eyes in the rear-view mirror, and addressed himself in the style of an alpha male sports coach or military drill instructor, ‘Game face. Mask on. Come on, man, mask on.’

Dr Galbraith tried desperately to ignore the resurgent pressure and deafening din inside his skull as he locked the doors, and strolled across the car park as casually as possible in case she was watching. He stopped at the entrance briefly before entering the clinic, and drew repeated urgent gulps of cold Welsh morning air deep into his lungs… His anger was building. It wouldn’t be easy, but he had to control it. The vile bitch would be there: sitting at her desk, flabby and sweating, stinking of stale body odour, doused in cheap pound shop perfume, and spouting some mindless crap as soon as he opened the door. How the hell was he going to cope with it this time? It would be therapeutic to ram her repugnant yellow teeth down her damn throat.

He smiled sardonically… How good would that feel? One day he’d make the bitch suffer. But, like it or not, now was not that time.

He grimaced as a sudden stabbing pain jolted his brain on entering the small reception, which also served as his young secretary’s office… He’d been successfully conning people for years. Why the hell should that change now?
‘Good morning, Doctor!’

‘And a good morning to you, Sharon!’ He paused, cocked his head to one side at an approximate forty-five-degree angle and studied her for a second or two. ‘Have you done something different with your hair, my dear girl?’
She looked down at her desktop, avoiding his gaze. ‘Oh, nothing special, Doctor, I just washed it before work and put a few curlers in.’

‘Well, whatever you did, my dear girl, you look marvellous.’
She smiled warmly and self-consciously adjusted her fringe with chubby fingers.
Dr Galbraith looked her up and down… The moronic bitch was as malleable as warm putty. ‘Now then, Sharon, first things first, there’s no clinic this morning as I recall; no patients for us to worry about. Why not make us both some coffee?’

She nodded. ‘One heaped spoonful of Nescafé, a splash of semi-skimmed, and one sugar?’
‘Exactly right as always, my dear. I’ll be in my office.’
She called after him as he walked away. ‘How about a biscuit?’

He snorted disdainfully… The greedy bitch was looking for any excuse to fill her repugnant face again. Maybe a trough would be a suitable birthday gift. ‘Not for me thank you, my dear. I enjoyed an excellent breakfast. But why don’t you have one?’

Sharon switched on the kettle and frowned: sullen, dejected… Had he forgotten her birthday? It wasn’t like him.
She spooned coffee granules into two mugs, added milk and finally sugar: one level spoonful for the doctor as per usual, and three heaped for herself, whilst waiting for the water to come to the boil.

Dr Galbraith entered his seemingly unremarkable magnolia office, adjusted his recently acquired black leather swivel chair, and sat at the modern veneered desk he’d located directly against the rear wall, avoiding any barrier between himself and prospective victims. He moved a flowering Christmas cactus aside, and picked up the silver-framed black-and-white photo of his wife and two young daughters. He held it out in front of him in both hands, stared at it for several seconds and smiled contentedly… He must ensure he referred to the portrait when first meeting the little bastard and his needful family.

Dr Galbraith placed the photograph back on his desk and slowly scanned the room with eager eyes… Was everything in its place? Was everything as it should be? The poster covering the glass panel in his office door could do with some additional Sellotape. That was a job for Sharon. Surely the incompetent bitch could manage that much.
He shook his head vigorously… It beggared belief. Why the hell were all the women in his life such a burden?

Dr Galbraith manoeuvred himself to the centre of the room in his chair and examined the room’s only window… That pleb at the garden centre had been surprisingly knowledgeable despite his youth and obvious limitations. The elaeagnus bush had grown significantly faster than he could have hoped, and the thorns formed an excellent barrier. He really couldn’t have made a better choice.

The doctor rose from his seat, pushed the chair back in the direction of his desk with a flick of his right foot, approached the window, adjusted the blinds and peered out… He still had a reasonable view of the car park without the fear of potentially interfering external onlookers. He’d need to strategically trim the bush at some stage, but that could almost certainly wait until spring.

He turned away from the window, surveyed the room for one final time, and smiled… It was an undoubted triumph. One more thing to be proud of.

Dr Galbraith opened Anthony Mailer’s file and read slowly, taking his time, and carefully considering each word… The little bastard had blamed himself for his parents’ break up and had developed various behavioural problems as a result. His mother had accepted the family doctor’s offer of specialist help.

He sat back in his chair and stretched his arms high above his head before lowering them slowly and deliberately… It wasn’t a complex scenario. Far from it, in fact; if he were of a mind to help, he could. Of course he could. If the little bastard had been a girl, he would have provided an excellent therapeutic service. If he was a little older he would have done likewise. That was entirely reasonable, wasn’t it? Of course it was. What the hell did it matter if he used a few boys for his own purposes?

The resurgent pressure began to build again… Why the hell was he forced to keep his true nature secret from the world at large? He helped the vast majority of children he saw. That was to his credit. People should be grateful for that.

The doctor’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his young secretary tapping on the door with the point of her scarlet court shoe, and entering his office with his mug of coffee in one hand and the clinic’s appointments diary in the other.

‘Come in, my dear girl. Come in, and make yourself comfortable. I neglected to wish you a happy birthday earlier, and so I will do it now. Is it eighteen or nineteen this year?’

She giggled bashfully. ‘Oh, you know I’m older than that.’
He grinned… The repulsive bitch looked nearer to forty than twenty. ‘Well, you don’t look it, my dear. Now then, to business; when’s the next free appointment?’
Sharon sat at his side, opened the diary, flicked through the pages, stopped, continued, and then stopped again. ‘Not until the twenty-seventh, I’m afraid, Doctor.’

He stared at the floor fleetingly, and then slowly raised his eyes, fixing her with an intense look that she struggled to decipher. ‘There’s nothing sooner?’
Was there a degree of anxiety in his voice?

She urgently reopened the book and frowned. ‘I’ll take another look, Doctor, but you really mustn’t overdo it. You’ve been looking tired recently, and you’ve been getting those terrible headaches of yours. Didn’t you say you were planning a holiday?’

Keep control, man, keep control, indulge the interfering bitch. ‘That is not your concern, young lady. The children have to come first. You know that. If I don’t help them, who’s going to do it?’ He tapped the desktop repeatedly with his right index finger. ‘Now, come on, diary.’

Sharon sighed… He was such a caring man. If only there were more like him.

‘There is one cancellation on Friday the seventeenth, Doctor. That’s half past ten a week today, but I’m sure you mentioned a dental appointment.’

Dr Galbraith visibly relaxed… A week was too long. But it seemed there was no viable alternative. ‘No, no, Sharon, that will have to do. It will have to do. Please ensure the appointment letter is sent out first class this morning. This particular child is in crisis. The Mailers need my urgent help.’ He stood, pointed towards the door, and smiled engagingly. ‘Do you hear me, girl? Get it done please.’

She left the office promptly, her body quivering like a pink blancmange with each step… If the doctor could be so very dedicated, then so could she.

Dr Galbraith opened Anthony’s file for the second time that morning, and reread the general practitioner’s letter repeatedly before pushing it aside a few minutes later… How could the stupid bitch take so long to type a few miserable lines of script?

He cleared his throat and shouted, ‘Is the Mailer letter ready, Sharon?’
‘It’s nearly done, Doctor. Do you want the entire family to attend?’
Oh for fuck’s sake, it was the little bastard’s first appointment. Why the hell did she always need to ask? ‘Yes, please, Sharon, a standard initial appointment letter: the mother, the father and the two children.’
‘I’ll have it done in five minutes, Doctor.’

He rubbed a hand over his chin… A damn chimp could type faster. ‘Thank you, my dear.’
She shook her head as she started typing… What was the hurry this time? Sometimes, he was too dedicated for his own good.

Dr Galbraith sighed loudly and screwed up his face. ‘Where the hell is it, Sharon?’
‘I’m typing as fast as I can, Doctor.’

Focus, man, focus. Too harsh, far too harsh, placate the bitch.
He actively calmed himself before entering her office. ‘I apologise if I appear somewhat irate this morning, my dear. But it really couldn’t be more urgent.’
Sharon finished typing a second or two later, her fleshy bust heaving with the effort of it all. ‘That’s it, done!’
‘Thank you, my dear. I’ll check the contents in my office.’

Dr Galbraith sat at his desk and held the letter out in front of him, accommodating his long-sightedness, rather than making use of his reading glasses. He began reading but struggled to concentrate despite the contents’ usual captivation… He was doing the right thing, wasn’t he? It was a fair question in the circumstances. He usually made a point of avoiding children who enjoyed close family ties. Why the hell was this time any different?

He clawed at his scalp and desperately tried to ignore the invasive crashing symbols in his mind… Was it really a wise move? The risks were high. What if the little bastard said something to the wrong person? What if that someone actually listened to him and acted on his allegations? It just didn’t bear thinking about.

He blinked and twitched and sweated and paced the floor, as the escalating racket threatened to overwhelm him completely… He’d made exceptions in the past. Of course he had. When it had suited him. He’d taken risks, but they were considered risks. That was the essential caveat. A man of his intelligence and expertise could handle such complications. Of course he could. And the little bastard was well worth the additional effort.

Dr Galbraith felt suddenly calmer… All he had to do was think things through and stick to a plan. Manipulating the little bastard would be easy enough. He was good at it, and had to remember that. It was just a matter of how. The father was an obvious vulnerability. And if that failed, which seemed highly unlikely, there were other viable options. Of course there were. He’d undertaken the task on numerous occasions without any significant issues arising. How many boys was it at the last count? Was it ninety-seven, or ninety-eight? Either way it was something to be proud of. What the hell was he worrying about? His methods had worked before and they would again.

He returned to his seat just as Sharon knocked on the door and entered without waiting to be asked. ‘Would you like me to post the Mailer letter at lunchtime, Doctor?’

Dr Galbraith beamed. ‘That will not be necessary, Sharon. You’ve done an excellent job. Thank you, my dear girl.’
She blushed crimson. ‘Are you sure, Doctor? You did say earlier…’

‘I’m grateful, my dear. Extremely grateful, but I’m about to leave for a meeting. I’ll post this one myself on the way.’
She smiled contentedly as he took a faux crocodile-leather wallet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, opened it theatrically, and handed her a crisp ten-pound note. ‘Happy birthday, my dear girl, please treat yourself to something nice for lunch. And don’t rush back. You deserve it.’
She gushed, and decided to ignore the fact that there was nothing marked in his diary… He really was a wonderful boss, and unbelievably generous. His wife really was a lucky woman. ‘Will I see you after the meeting, Doctor?’
She was hoping the answer was yes, but she didn’t receive a response. Dr Galbraith waved exuberantly as he rushed from the clinic and headed towards his car. His mind was focused on other things.

AS DUAS-CIDADESShort stories

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:43:10

Blog imageBy João Franco

Não havia outra solução. Vali, a grande sacerdotisa do povo castoriano, voltou a consultar os dados que o gigantesco computador biónico projectava no ar diante dela e confirmou todos os seus anteriores receios. Se não abandonasse o planeta de Xanthos, o seu povo tinha os dias contados! Como se não bastassem as radiações do minúsculo sol em torno do qual o planeta orbitava, que obrigava há séculos os castorianos a viver no subsolo, agora Vali, a sacerdotisa, a líder, a descendente de Castor, sabia sem margem para dúvida que as reservas essenciais estavam a esgotar-se. Sem água, sem alimentos e sem energia, a vida humana pereceria para sempre naquele planeta maldito.

Houvera um tempo em que o planeta fora belo e fértil, e os colonos tinham prosperado naquelas condições que lhes eram quase tão propícias como as da Terra. Agora, graças às doentias radiações, a superfície de Xanthos era cada vez mais desértica, onde os humanos, sujeitos a terríveis mutações, definhavam a um ritmo crescente.
Vali dirigiu-se a Mentor:

-Confirmam-se as últimas projecções?

-Infelizmente para todos, sim. E não há nada que possa ser feito no planeta para evitá-lo. A única solução é a fuga, e quanto mais rápido melhor.

Vali sentiu-se desesperada, mas teve de conter dentro de si a avalanche de sentimentos que a assaltaram às palavras de Mentor. Era necessário que o Conselho se reunisse sem demora, mas em segredo, para evitar o pânico entre os cidadãos das Duas-Cidades. Génesis, a gigantesca nave, aguardava no seu hangar secreto no deserto, pronta a partir com alguns milhares de castorianos a bordo, bem como autómatos e outros bens que lhes permitissem sobreviver fora daquele planeta moribundo. Já há algumas décadas que o Conselho sabia da existência do planeta Éden, como o tinham baptizado, na estrela XBW417, descoberto após centenas de anos de buscas infrutíferas nas galáxias mais próximas de Xanthos.

Agora que os autómatos tinham tido acesso aos planos da propulsão cósmica, redescoberta numa das luas de Xanthos, tudo se conjugava para precipitar a sua partida para um novo lar.

Vali deixou a sala do Conselho onde estivera a trabalhar com Mentor e dirigiu-se pelas ruas da cidade subterrânea ao templo, onde milhares de crentes veneravam Castor, o fundador da cidade e seu ancestral. Apesar do seu número, os fiéis eram muito menos do que no passado. Podridão, pensou Vali. O ateísmo grassava nas Duas-Cidades e cada vez mais a polícia religiosa tinha de intervir para lembrar às pessoas os seus deveres.

Há muito tempo atrás, as Duas-Cidades tinham florescido, e o espírito daquela civilização tinha-se elevado. Agora definhava e os habitantes afastavam-se das suas ocupações honestas e sóbrias para se entregarem às drogas psíquicas e a um hedonismo desenfreado. A grande sacerdotisa buscou o caminho de casa para se preparar para a reunião que se avizinhava.

Naquela noite, o Conselho reuniu-se de emergência e Mentor foi convocado. Vali tomou a cabeceira da mesa, pois naquele estado teocrático, um descendente de Castor era sempre o Presidente do Conselho. Para além dela, estavam presentes o chanceler da cidade, Morgos, o General Tau, comandante das forças de segurança, a chefe da polícia, Mikyza, o responsável do programa Éden, o cientista Nargos, o ministro dos recursos Alabir e o chanceler de Malgor, Usius. Vali dirigiu-se ao temido General em primeiro lugar:

-Que novidades há da frente malgoriana?

Todos os presentes viraram as suas atenções para o General e sustiveram as suas respirações enquanto este começou a falar:

-Foi uma vitória histórica! Os da superfície tentaram entrar na cidade uma vez mais e dei ordens para que fossem exterminados! Se conseguissem entrar em Malgor teríamos sofrido um massacre! Desta forma, nenhum escapou para contar a história e os seus corpos são agora reciclados nas fábricas da cidade!

A frieza do general chocava sempre Vali e pensou, como habitualmente, que ele já não era 100% humano, com os implantes que substituíam o que as guerras contra os da superfície tinham cobrado ao seu corpo.

Morgos, o chanceler disse então:

-Sabemos que os recursos deles também estão no fim e que recorrem ao canibalismo! Os da superfície não cessarão os seus ataques desesperados em busca de refúgio da radiação! A situação é no mínimo muito delicada. E se eles chegam a Castoriana?

Ninguém lhe respondeu a essa retórica questão e Vali perguntou:

-Ministro Alabir, podeis dizer a todos qual é a nossa verdadeira situação?

Alabir, bem nutrido, fazia jus à sua posição, e envergava como todos eles a túnica escarlate dos Conselheiros e o medalhão com a esfinge de Castor. Antes de começar a sua alocução segurou com ambas as mãos o medalhão e encomendou-se a Castor.

-A situção é crítica e sem esperança de retrocesso! Pelo santo nome de Castor! O abismo está à espreita! As reservas de água não durarão com o consumo actual mais do que dois meses e sem elas as culturas hidropónicas morrerão também nas estufas. O pouco trítio que resta serve para as necessidades básicas durante um bom tempo e é possível recuperar mais algum do arsenal...

-Protesto!-gritou Tau! Ficaríamos indefesos face a um ataque maciço dos da superfície!

Vali teve de acalmar os receios do general, quanto ao desmantelar das suas preciosas bombas e perguntou a Alabir:

-E os cristais para os conversores de energia?

-Precisamos de outros, pois estes têm a força vital quase esgotada. E se há mais Eles não sabem, ou não nos querem dizer.

Ao ouvir a menção a Eles, Vali sentiu um arrepio, e o desconforto instalou-se na sala.
Sangue e morte- pensou Vali. Poderá uma civilização que nasce disto sobreviver? Alabir prosseguia:

-Os autómatos necessitam de minérios raros para se auto-regenerarem e não será neste planeta e com as condições actuais que os encontraremos.

Vali interrompeu-o:

-Bom, já sabemos com o que contamos e Mentor confirmou os cálculos. A situação é grave, mas a prioridade máxima é o projecto Éden, do qual Nargos nos falará agora.
Este levantou-se, nunca gostara de falar sentado. As olheiras indicavam que nos últimos tempos pouco dormira, bem como as suas preocupações. Enquanto os outros falaram estivera sempre a efectuar cálculos na sua folha magnética, ligada a Mentor.

-Os autómatos construíram os motores como especificado e fizémos os testes. Funcionaram!

Houve aplausos na sala, embora de curta duração.

-Em relação ao planeta todos conhecemos os dados.

Todos anuíram com a cabeça. Conheciam.

-Água em abundância, talvez até de mais. Apenas 1/7 é terra firme, mas o espaço é mais do que suficiente para nós. Fauna e flora diversificadas e abundantes, possibilidade de depósitos minerais no subsolo e outros recursos.

A atmosfera também era propícia, embora tivessem de passar algum tempo em quarentena na nave. Nargos continuava:

...gravidade 1, 17. Muito aceitável portanto. Penso que a Génesis atingirá a superfície de Éden em três anos no máximo, o que é melhor do que as perspectivas iniciais apontavam. Há a questão principal: Só há capacidade para oito mil pessoas na nave!

Vali levantou-se, e fitando os restantes conselheiros disse:

-Esse problema tem sido a minha ocupação nos últimos tempos e a solução a que cheguei, em conjunto com Mentor, não é isenta de dor. Mas não há outra saída ética. Os não escolhidos devem ser eliminados de forma humana, para serem poupados a uma morte lenta e dolorosa!

Morgos e Mikyza levantaram-se em protesto, mas a voz ligeiramente mecânica de Mentor fê-los calar:

-Basta! Não há outra solução se queremos evitar um banho de sangue. Ou querem vê-los a morrer à fome e à sede, a definharem lentamente? E a matarem-se uns aos outros? Com base em diversas variáveis, escolherei os mais aptos para seguirem viagem. Os outros receberão com a sua ração de alimentos uma dose fatal de um veneno que em segundos, e sem dor os aniquilará.

-Para além dos conselheiros e seus familiares,que também seguirão na Génesis, bem entendido-disse Vali. É uma decisão brutal, mas a mais humana a tomar.

Com alguma resistência, todos acabaram por votar a favor, e foi atribuída total prioridade ao projecto Éden. Foi a chefe da polícia quem fez a pergunta mais embaraçosa:

-E Eles? Que faremos com Eles?

Poucos eram os cidadãos das Duas-Cidades que sabiam da existência d’Eles, e os que sabiam, mantinham por vergonha aquele segredo bem enterrado. Quando os humanos tinham chegado a Xanthos , o planeta não estava desabitado, como antes se supusera, mas era povoado por uma espécie muito antiga e avançada, os Lador, que totalizaria mais de 25 milhões de indivíduos. Dominavam a telepatia e outras capacidades mentais e possuíam algo de muito valioso: os cristais de Xeram dos quais extraíam a energia de que se alimentavam. Sendo um povo pacífico, que nem sequer tinha cidades, não tinham sobrevivido às ferozes investidas dos humanos, que os tinham chacinado. Milhões de Lador tinham perecido e os sobreviventes tinham-se refugiado nas montanhas com os preciosos cristais, com os quais viviam em simbiose.

Castor, o cientista renegado, feroz opositor do manipulador governo planetário, tinha descoberto o seu esconderijo e roubara-lhes os cristais para uso das Duas-Cidades. Os autómatos armados de Castor, tinham-lhes tirado as preciosas pedras à força e dos muitos milhares que tinham sobrevivido ao Grande Massacre, apenas algumas centenas tinham sobrevivido, para sempre levados para Castoriana e encerrados nas Câmaras mais profundas juntamente com os cristais. A vida dos Lador era muito longa e ainda havia alguns da época de Castor. Por motivos de segurança as fêmeas estavam quase todas esterilizadas e quando surgia uma cria era um grande motivo de festa.

Na prática, as Duas-Cidades eram como sanguessugas, que se alimentavam em parte da força vital dos Lador.

-Libertem-nos, disse Vali. Mas discretamente.

Sendo formas de vida tão diferentes dos humanos, quem sabe se até sobreviveriam às radiações e ao fim dos terrestres naquele planeta.

Vali deu por terminado o Conselho, que seria o último naquele planeta e desta vez, ao contrário do que era hábito, os Conselheiros dispersaram logo, ao invés de ficarem por ali à conversa até altas horas.

A população das Duas-Cidades estranhou os cortes e o racionamento dos abastecimentos, que foram justificados pelo chanceler, com a situação de guerra que se vivia em redor de Malgor. Em verdade, os abastecimentos estavam a ser desviados para os porões da Génesis, bem como outros equipamentos. Como ninguém trabalhava nas Duas-Cidades, para além dos autómatos, tudo lhes parecia normal e assistiam com indiferença às idas e vindas dos seres mecânicos.

Nos seus aposentos, Vali bebia um copo de vinho de líquenes e pensava no extermínio que teria de ser executado. Pesado fardo o do seu cargo! Mas não queria de modo algum ver repetir-se ali no subsolo as cenas de pânico e de violência que tinham ocorrido à superfície, quando se descobriram as mentiras do governo planetário, ao começarem as primeiras mortes devido à radiação. Castor tinha muitos seguidores que o adoravam, pois fora ele quem descobrira o perigo iminente vindo da estrela em torno da qual Xanthos orbitava, e avisara repetidamente o governo planetário, que sempre minimizara as suas descobertas. Estalara a guerra civil e uma torrente de sangue correra pelas ruas das principais cidades. Ellios, a maior e a mais rica das quatro luas que orbitavam Xanthos rebelara-se e imagens de mineiros barbudos e suados, de armas em riste tinham corrido o planeta. Em resultado disso, Ellios tinha sido atingida por várias bombas de hidrogénio que a calaram para sempre. A tecnologia do planeta regredira muitíssimo e só recentemente, uma ousada expedição conseguira recuperar o precioso segredo da propulsão cósmica.

Vali contemplou do alto dos seus aposentos a cidade, onde a luz artificial tudo iluminava. Daquela altura, as pessoas que circulavam nas ruas, pareciam mais pequenas do que formigas e entregavam-se como era tradição às artes ou, como cada vez mais acontecia, à ociosidade. Com um aperto no peito, Vali pensou que na manhã seguinte não haveria risos joviais nas ruas, mas antes pranto e gritos pela cidade e não pôde evitar duas lágrimas que lhe correram pelas faces. Faltava o último acto daquela tragédia. Vali percorreu devagar e em silêncio os corredores metálicos que a conduziram até à sala do Conselho. Ali chegada, começou a trabalhar com Mentor, pedindo-lhe que abrisse o ficheiro do projecto Éden.

Não contendo as lágrimas, Vali deu a ordem que enviaria a morte aos lares de milhares dos seus irmãos.

THE TOP OF THE WORLDShort stories

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:34:48

Blog imageBy Keith Madsen

I’m standing on the top of the world
Though others less schooled might say
The top of the steps
Of the Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon,
Downtown Branch.

The top of the world
Is neither bitter nor cold,
The warm air of my insulated soul rises above it all
Rises above the shivers of uncovered hearts on windy street
Rises above the teeth chatter of icy word
Rises above the distance
Those below see as safe.

The secret of my warmth
Emanates from the friends within
The hallowed walls of this repository
Friends not of flesh, but of word
Friends who speak with the gentleness of
Ink and paper
I will myself to know them all
I will myself to carefully peruse
Each book
In this bastion of learning
Each book
In this library where I live.

This poem launches my morning. Each word the same each day. One change of tense, one alternate word, one variance of cadence, and I wouldn’t know which door to enter, which place to sit, which book to read. I would have to go back and start my day all over again. The words begin their flow toward my mind, starting with my first breath of morning air, drawn in from my sleeping place underneath the Burnside Bridge. By the time I finish my ascent to the top of the library steps, they are flowing onto my tongue, and I whisper them to my soul, to let my tender inner core know I have arrived at home. You notice I did not say, “I have arrived from home”, because the library is my home. I have a right to claim it as my home because I am there more than anyone else in this city; more than the people who work there, because they have shifts; more than the people who use it, but have jobs elsewhere they must attend to; more than the so-called patrons and county officials who made the decision to close it on certain days, closing ME out, but are hardly ever there themselves.

This library is my life. Do I not have a right to life?

People judge me. They do. They think that because I wear second-hand clothes that often do not fit or match (I know they don’t match – do you think I am blind?), that I am unschooled and ignorant.

Do they comprehend Stephen Hawking’s argument for a Universe closed in on itself, which he makes in A Brief History of Time?

Do they understand what Paul Farmer says about how our country’s policies have contributed to the problems in Haiti and other underdeveloped countries?

Have they wrestled with grace and legalism in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables?

Do they know what Dostoevsky’s novels meant to people seeking faith in Russia under Communism?

They think they know what is happening in Iran and the Middle East. But do they even know who Mohammed Mossadegh was? Do they know Iran used to be Persia, and Cyrus the Persian was the one who freed the people of Israel from bondage and sent them back to rebuild their home country? Do they even remember what happened in Iran-Contra?

But they call me ignorant. They say,
“Mister Yeats, he speaks of his life in a poem
And the words don’t even
Rhyme.”

Thus saith the masses addicted to the poetry of Hallmark.

As I look out at those masses from the top of the library steps I just want to scream; I want to scream, “Stop running! Learn the TRUTH!” But I know they would never pay attention. They might throw a dollar or two in my direction, thinking that is what I want (and what else do these bums want, anyway?), but they would never be so generous with giving their minds, with giving their ears, with giving what I want above all else.
So I turned from my searching and ran for shelter.

“Hey, Mister Yeats!” said the young man who unlocked the doors. “How are you doing today?”
“An answer to the status of the moment
Lies not in that instantly evaporating breath of time,
But in the million moments before, caustically churning out
The billion fearfully chaotic moments after,
And in the time one takes
Humbly off-balance, but alert,
To envision them all.”
The young man paused and looked into my eyes. “Okay. Well, I’ll have to think on that a while, won’t I?” And he moved on.
Why do I even bother? They all want plain speaking, when all I can offer is a flow of feeling which comes from beyond me.

The Peacemaker came up from behind me, the second person from the street to enter. He reached up to put his hand on my shoulder, but paused short of that goal as he saw me already flinching.

“Not wishing to intrude, Mister Yeats,” he said, “but I liked your entry poem today. I would have given it an ‘A’. Do you ever write them down?”

Why was he asking that? To judge me? I shook my head.

“Well, I am a fan,” he said, “a fan of poetry, and of yours in particular. Just wanted you to know.” He moved on.
At least the Peacemaker listens to me in his small, inadequate way. I know many of the people in the library, and none of them want to listen to me at all. I’m not sure why. Intimidated, perhaps.

I quickly found my place in my reading; not in one particular book, but in the stacks of books. I was working my way through section 215, “Science and Religion.” I was now ready for my next selection, Frances Collins’ The Language of God. All about DNA, arguments for Creation, and how faith and science relate. The book would give a contrasting perspective to Stephen Hawking, so I was looking forward to it.

I wasn’t five pages into the book when an entire street family sat down next to me. Understand that when I say “street family,” I don’t mean an actual family that had been thrown out on the street, but rather a variety of homeless people who had decided to be a family to each other while in their transient state. I had encountered a number of such families, but I had spurned that direction myself. Didn’t need it. My books were my father, mother, sister and brother.

Anyway, I had encountered this street family before, and they all talked like magpies, even in a library designed as a sanctuary against such garrulous interference. I tolerated it for about five minutes before putting down my book and shooting them my most vitriolic glare.

“Dude!” said the effeminately-dressed black man around whom this family seemed to cluster. “Ya musta smoked ya’self some really nasty stuff, ‘cuz it seems to be oozing outa yo eyeballs!” The others looked my way and nodded agreement.

Having not been heard by my eyes, I spoke with my words:
“Silence
Empty of all sound
Yet full
Full of opportunity to hear
Full of uncluttered windows to the world
Full of the gentleness of void
It does not penetrate brutishly
But flows soothingly into the soul
Massaging, eliciting, caressing, inviting
Until you are lured into a different world
A world outside your own inner darkness
A world you robbed from me
When you stole
My silence.”

One of the teenage girls sat wide-eyed with her mouth open.
“Wow!” she said softly. “That’s so deep! I wish I were deep…”
“Space Princess,” said a young black girl who was part of the group, “ain’t no way you wanna be deep. If you was deep, ya would be totally lost to us, because ya would never find yo way out of ya own haid! Hell, we would have to send someone from Search and Rescue into yo little brain, and girl, they’ve got enough to do already! Ain’t that true, Emi-Lou?”
“’Fraid so, Camille” said a particularly attractive teenage girl to my left.
The girl who had been referred to as ‘Space Princess’ furrowed her brow for a moment. “That’s true…” she said quite seriously. Then her eyes widened. “Maybe I should buy a new hat instead.”
Everyone looked her way seeking an understanding of her last statement, but as far as I could see, no one found so much as a clue. Still the girl I now knew as Camille made an effort. “Girl, no one knows what’s in that little noggin o’ yours, but it’s true at least a hat would cover it up, so you go for it.”
“I know I don’ understand so well dee English,” said a Hispanic woman at the end of the table, “but I t’ink dees man he say for us to cierra la boca – how you say in Anglish? -- shut up our mouths!”
I sighed in relief.
“The miracles of Lourdes and Turin
The water into wine, the river into blood, the dew-formed manna
The lame walking, the deaf speaking and the blind freed to see --
All these pale next to this:
I have been understood
By a woman.”
“Okay, that’s war!” said Camille, standing up. “One thing I know when I hear it is an insult to my gender. Maria, we sistas o’ color need to get it on, ‘cuz our white sistas here, they got no ghetto in ‘em; so Maria, stand and deliver!”
The black teen grabbed me by the collar and pulled me to my feet. Did I mention this was a rather LARGE young woman? And although Maria was not as large, she most certainly looked street-hardened. She now also stood and glared at me with her arms crossed.
“All right you people,” came a quiet, but authoritative voice from behind me, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” A librarian.
“Hey!” said Camille, crossing her arms and looking at me. “We didn’t start the fire, if ya know what I’m sayin’!”
“I don’t care what you’re saying, and I don’t care who started it,” said the tall, masculine-looking librarian. “All of you – out!”
My eyes widened and my heart raced.
“Cut out my heart
With a finely honed letter opener
Cast me o’er the rail
So I fall on my neck on hallowed marble banister
Hurl me through a shattering window to the streets below,
But do not,
do not,
do not
Exile me from my home while living,
From the friends gathered here
From the books
That warm and nurture
My soul.”
Camille rolled her eyes and looked over at the librarian. “He talk like that all the time, I guess. Must be a disease er somethin’.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen him before,” said the librarian, speaking quietly. “And I don’t care. All of you, out!”
I shivered.
The girl Camille had called “Emi-Lou” looked over at me and gave me a half-smile. Then she leaned my way and whispered. “You know they let you check out books and take them with you, don’t you?”
No poetry flowed, and my heart raced in panic. I would have to face a personal onslaught armed only with empty, impotent prose.
“Take them with me where?”
******
I’m standing on the top of the world
Though others might say
Only the top of the steps
Of the Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon,
Downtown Branch.

I see nothing, nothing, nothing
But the frigid bottom
To which I must now
Descend.

I had never had a need for a departure poem, and so this adaptation was the best I could do. A soft punch on the shoulder interrupted my thoughts. It was Camille.

“Yo, Dude! Look, my friends are all sayin’, hell, like it’s all our fault you out here, so maybe you should hang with us. I mean, if ya want to ‘n all.”

I looked over at the others. They didn’t look hostile, but how could you tell with teenagers and others of today’s unschooled masses?
“I don’t know…”
Camille turned and walked away. “Okay, I tried--”
“Camille!” I was in such shock that I didn’t pick up which of the other teenage girls said this.
“I tried!” Camille protested. “What do ya want from me? I ain’t beggin’ no white dude to sit his white ass down next to mine, that’s fer sure!”
The statement took me by surprise. Fear of rejection was something I was more used to feeling in my own heart than hearing in the words of another speaking about me.
“Out of the darkness
Of solitary cave
Out of the quiet of dripping water
And self-generated echo
You call me
And I creep
Slowly, cautiously
To the edge of threat
To risk hello
To risk abyss
For you.”

Camille stared into my eyes and then cocked her head slightly to the right, while narrowing her eyes to slits. “I’m not really sure,” she said, “but I think I heard a ‘yes’ in there somewhere. What you think, Emi-Lou?”
The attractive teen came up and held out her hand. “Name’s actually Emily.” I shook it. “And maybe you can bring your books. Tell us all about them and your poetry?”

I had checked out two books and I held them close to my chest like a swaddled baby. I glanced down the library steps again at the street and foot traffic below. Everyone was going somewhere, most in a hurry. I think it was the speed that made my stomach tighten up. Or perhaps it was that, of all the many directions people were heading, I hadn’t the least idea which one I might choose for that day. Normally, the only time I was out on the street was when the library was closed. On those occasions I tried to stay away from both the shadowy places which bred assault, and the even more frightening well-lit benches and plazas which bred conversation.

I looked back over at Emily. She smiled a relaxed smile.
“These friends I have are bound
But not to me
I share them with you
If you brave to share yourself
Bravely, openly, tenderly
With me.”

And so I descended from the top of the world.

I can’t say I was always comfortable. When this family sits, where should I sit? When I could return to the library, would I return alone? But most of all there was the conversation.

“How in the hell do you do that?” said Camille later that day after I had spoken.
“Do what?” I said tentatively, fearfully.
“How do ya jes – I don’t know – jes spout off a poem, all neat and pretty like that?”
I could tell from her eyes she really wanted to know, but I had to suppress my initial lyrical reaction, because I knew it would not help. I took a deep breath and relaxed. I let the thought in my head come to my tongue slowly.
“What is difficult…isn’t doing it,” I said. “What is difficult for me is…is NOT doing it.”

The wonder was, she understood.

O DESFILADEIRO DE AMONovels

Posted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:32:33

Blog imageA história do último unicórnio
( Fim de semana em Faro / Capítulo Dezanove / Stevan V. Nikolic)

Traduzido do Inglês por
Adelaide Franco Nikolic


O unicórnio é um animal lendário, que tem sido descrito desde a antiguidade como um animal semelhante a um cavalo, com um corno grande, afiado e em espiral a sair-lhe da testa. Era geralmente descrito como uma criatura muito selvagem, que vivia na floresta, símbolo de pureza, graça e independência, que só podia ser capturado por uma virgem. Nos tempos antigos, acreditava-se que o seu chifre tinha o poder de transformar água envenenada em água potável e de curar maleitas. De acordo com a lenda, havia muitos unicórnios na terra há alguns séculos, mas, lentamente, com o avanço e a pressão da civilização humana, acabaram por desaparecer.

Nas montanhas do Sul de Portugal, algures na região do Alentejo, há uma ravina que se chama “Desfiladeiro de Amo”. Há algum tempo estive lá e ouvi os habitantes locais contarem a história do último unicórnio chamado Amo. De acordo com a história, havia dois unicórnios: o macho Amo e a fêmea Ama, mas ninguém sabia dizer o que tinha acontecido a Ama. Alguns acreditavam que ela ainda estava algures, a correr pelas florestas e pelos prados. Pelo menos, era o que dizia a lenda.

É assim que a história se passa. Há cerca de trezentos anos, já só havia dois unicórnios no mundo. Um macho chamado Amo e uma fêmea chamada Ama. Eles não se conheciam um ao outro, porque viviam em terras diferentes, mas sentiam a existência um do outro. Com regularidade, sonhavam um com o outro e sentiam uma estranha saudade, como se pertencessem um ao outro, mas a vida continuava e eles viviam as suas vidas separadamente, nunca esperando que se encontrassem algum dia.

Ama era uma jovem unicórnio, feliz com o seu ser, orgulhosa da sua independência e liberdade. Olhava muitas vezes para os outros animais, questionando-se por que é que deixavam os humanos domá-los e usá-los. Não conseguia compreendê-los. Ela apreciava cada pedacinho de natureza que a rodeava. Adorava as flores selvagens, os ribeiros de águas geladas, as florestas profundas e misteriosas, os sons do vento nas árvores e a música dos pássaros. Só se sentia completa quando sentia a terra, correndo sobre montanhas e vales. Sentia, então, a plenitude da criação. Sabia que era uma das criaturas vivas mais majestosas e estava orgulhosa desse facto.

Ocasionalmente, os humanos viam-na correr pelas terras e admiravam a sua beleza e a sua graça. Naturalmente, queriam apanhá-la e domesticá-la, mas ela nunca o permitiria. Gostava de sentir a sua admiração e de brincar com eles. Apreciava mesmo a atenção que lhe devotavam. Por vezes, Ama deixava os humanos aproximar-se e tocar-lhe, manipulando os seus sentidos, para que sentissem que ela era real e não um sonho. Em seguida, fugia, deixando-os a pensar o que teria acontecido e, muitas vezes, tristes por terem perdido a oportunidade de apanhar um animal tão precioso.

Não tinha a certeza sobre aquilo que sentia pelas pessoas, mas sabia que não estava disposta a abdicar da sua liberdade e da plenitude e felicidade que sentia quando corria sem rumo pela natureza. Era assim que ela era e ela não queria ter de mudar, por nada no mundo.

Por outro lado, numa parte completamente oposta do mundo, vivia Amo. Assim como Ama, sendo um unicórnio, apreciava as mesmas coisas e estava orgulhoso da sua independência e liberdade.

Era bastante mais velho do que Ama, mas ainda era um unicórnio macho bastante forte. No entanto, sendo macho, sempre tinha tido a necessidade de mostrar a sua força e superioridade em relação aos outros animais. Ele sempre tinha precisado de reconhecimento. Especialmente da parte dos humanos.

Ocasionalmente, deixava-os apanhá-lo e fazia-os acreditar que o tinham domado. Durante algum tempo, trabalhava nos seus campos, puxava as suas carruagens, corria nas corridas de cavalos e fazia tudo aquilo que esperavam dele, apenas para mostrar a sua superioridade e força e para apreciar a admiração dos humanos. No entanto, acabava sempre por se aborrecer e fugir, deixando o caos atrás dele. Mandava celeiros abaixo, partia cercas, pisava as colheitas em que estava a trabalhar, arranca as vinhas, tudo para mostrar aos humanos que não podia ser usado e querendo que pagassem pela crença de que podiam domá-lo. Em seguida, corria livremente pelos campos até à vez seguinte em que se deixava apanhar pelos humanos.

Com o tempo, foram-se espalhando rumores sobre Amo entre os humanos e havia muitos que, zangados, queriam apanhá-lo e puni-lo pelo rasto de destruição que deixava sempre atrás dele. Alguns diziam até que ele não era um verdadeiro unicórnio, mas um cavalo selvagem que merecia ser abatido. Para eles, os unicórnios eram criaturas graciosas, que nunca agiriam daquela maneira. Amo, no entanto, não queria saber da opinião deles. Sabia quem era e continuava a viver a vida da mesma maneira.

Depois de muitos anos, cansou-se de jogar o mesmo jogo e decidiu estabelecer-se num local onde ninguém o conhecesse, numa parte diferente do mundo, de modo a evitar os humanos para sempre. Veio para as montanhas do Alentejo, sem saber que se tinha mudado para a terra que era habituada por Ama.

Uma manhã, estava no alto de uma cumeeira, a apreciar o calor do sol matinal, quando, repentinamente, à distância, viu Ama a correr nos campos. Não podia acreditar nos seus olhos. Ela era a criatura mais bela que ele já tinha visto. Era aquela com quem ele tinha sonhado. O seu coração começou a bater com força. Ela também o viu. Ama estava igualmente excitada, mas cautelosa. Por um lado, estava contente por ver outro unicórnio. Era um pouco mais velho, mas parecia ser forte e bonito. Perguntava-se a si própria se seria possível que ele fosse aquele cuja existência ela tinha pressentido toda a vida. Não tinha a certeza se devia aproximar-se dele, pois tinha sempre receio de se desiludir.

Amo correu na direção dela. Corria velozmente, tentando impressioná-la e mostrando a sua força. Durante algum tempo, correram lado a lado, mas ao mesmo tempo iam-se examinando. A cada quilómetro, Amo aproximava-se um pouco mais. Ama continuava receosa, mas deixava-o encurtar a distância entre eles. Quando a noite chegou, encontravam-se ambos no mesmo pasto. Enquanto bebiam do mesmo ribeiro, observavam-se um ao outro com cautela.

Finalmente, Amo chegou-se a Ama. Ela estava imóvel, olhando para ele. Podiam ouvir o bater do coração um do outro. Ele tocou-lhe e deitaram-se ao lado um do outro, com os corpos a tocarem-se. Foi uma sensação gloriosa para ambos, uma sensação de realização. Uma sensação de sonhos que se tornavam realidade.

De manhã, acordaram e continuaram a correr e a andar pelos bosques, apreciando o que os rodeava, mas, acima de tudo, apreciando-se um ao outro. Ama estava verdadeiramente feliz. Finalmente, havia um unicórnio verdadeiro a seu lado, alguém que pudesse entendê-la e que não ia tentar domá-la, alguém com quem partilhar a alegria da liberdade e da criação sem limites e sem condições, alguém da mesma espécie. Ela não queria acreditar que finalmente acontecera, mas estava mesmo ali, à frente dos seus olhos. Tinha algumas dúvidas, pois tinha passado toda a vida sozinha, sendo ela o único unicórnio, mas ele estava mesmo ali, forte e real.

Amo também estava feliz. Prometeu que nunca sairia do seu lado. Pensava que estaria sempre lá para quando ela precisasse, mas Ama não queria que ele estivesse ali para ela, mas sim com ela. Nunca tinha sentido que precisasse de alguma proteção ou ajuda. Era forte o suficiente e inteligente o suficiente para tomar conta de si própria. Por tudo isto, queria estar com Amo como dois seres iguais e independentes, capazes de respeitar e apreciar a liberdade do outro. Queria partilhar com ele a grandeza do seu amor puro, assim como as experiências da natureza. Queria enriquecer-se com a presença de uma alma tão parecida com a sua e não ser restringida ou retardada por ela. Queria partilhar o afeto pelas coisas que ambos estimavam.

Bom, Amo sabia o que Ama queria e queria a mesma coisa, mas o tempo que ele tinha passado junto dos humanos tinha mudado um pouco a sua natureza. Por um lado, queria fugir com Ama até ao fim dos tempos e desfrutar da sua união na liberdade dos campos, florestas e montanhas. Por outro lado, também queria ter um sítio a que ambos pudessem chamar casa. Algures onde pudessem instalar-se e sentir o calor da sua união.

A casa que ele tinha em mente inseria-se na categoria humana. Para os unicórnios, casa era o universo no seu todo, o espaço sem fronteiras. Era a isso que Ama chamava casa. De qualquer modo, Amo era persistente. Levou-a à cumeeira que tinha descoberto. Queria construir-lhe um jardim, cheio de plantas e frutas diferentes. Ela olhou para ele, pensando que ele estava a brincar um qualquer jogo infantil. Por que haveria um unicórnio de querer um pequeno jardim no qual teria de trabalhar, quando o mundo inteiro era um jardim enorme pronto a ser explorado? Ainda assim, durante algum tempo, ela divertiu-se a planear e, até, a ajudá-lo a construir o jardim.

Sim, pensava ela, talvez, ocasionalmente, pudessem parar ali para descansar, mas assentar num único sítio era impossível – algo que ela pensava que nunca iria apreciar. Amo não percebeu que ela queria um unicórnio igualmente livre e independente, alguém que ela pudesse admirar pela sua liberdade. Ela queria dar-lhe o seu amor, mas não queria ter de sacrificar a sua liberdade. Era algo que não estava na natureza dos unicórnios. Ela seria infeliz para sempre, mas também não queria que ele sacrificasse nada pelo amor e pela união deles.

Amo pensava de maneira diferente. Pensava que se se estabelecesse num local e aí construísse uma casa, ela quereria juntar-se a ele. Demasiados anos entre os humanos tinham-lhe turvado o pensamento. Agora pensava como eles. Por isso, sacrificou a sua liberdade e estabeleceu-se na cumeeira. Queria mostrar a Ama que sacrificaria tudo pelo amor dela, até a liberdade de unicórnio, e que esperaria por ela pacientemente.

Ama aparecia ocasionalmente para passar algum tempo com Amo. Ela amava-o verdadeiramente e tinha esperança que ele percebesse a sua verdadeira natureza e que voltasse a correr livremente com ela como os unicórnios faziam, esquecendo-se definitivamente dessas ideias de casa.

No entanto, Amo era persistente e continuava na cumeeira. Ela estava cada vez menos excitada por ir ter com ele. Era só uma cumeeira, mais uma entre as muitas montanhas alentejanas. Ela começava a perder a paciência com Amo. Não percebia como é que um verdadeiro unicórnio podia comportar-se como um humano. Um verdadeiro unicórnio nunca sacrificaria a sua liberdade, nem mesmo por amor, pois a liberdade é parte do amor verdadeiro. Para os unicórnios, o amor era uma categoria incondicional. Na verdade, ela via o seu sacrifício como uma fraqueza, algo que a fazia perder o respeito por ele e não ganhar-lhe mais afeto. Tinha ouvido algumas das histórias que os humanos andavam a espalhar sobre Amo e, por vezes, perguntava-se a si própria, Que tipo de unicórnio alguma vez agiria deste modo? Talvez ele seja mesmo um cavalo selvagem a fingir que é um unicórnio. Seria possível que ela se tivesse enganado a respeito dele? Um dia, ela já não suportava mais olhar para ele dessa maneira. Ele simplesmente não parecia o unicórnio dos seus sonhos. Quase sentiu pena dele. Aquele não era o Amo que ela tinha conhecido – o unicórnio rápido e forte a correr a seu lado. Ela disse-lhe que nunca mais voltaria à cumeeira, que tinha tudo sido um erro e partiu. Estava desapontada e magoada, mas sabia que se sentiria melhor uma vez que voltasse a correr pelos campos abertos e através das florestas densas. Era o ar livre das montanhas altas que a faziam sentir-se livre. Para ela, era melhor que Amo permanecesse onde sempre tinha estado, nos seus sonhos.
Amo ficou na cumeeira, a sentir pena de si próprio e do amor perdido de Ama. Não acreditava que ela o tinha mesmo deixado. Negligenciou o seu jardim e em pouco tempo não tinha comida para comer. Durante dias não comeu, não queria comer, não queria viver. Já não se preocupava com mais nada. Só pensava no quanto precisava de Ama. Finalmente, percebeu que tinha cometido um grande erro. Tudo o que ela queria dele era que fosse aquilo que era, um verdadeiro unicórnio. Estava zangado consigo próprio por ter agido como um humano. Como podia ter sido tão estúpido?

Enquanto ele passava dias deitado na cumeeira, os humanos do vale, que andavam à sua procura para o castigar, deram pela sua presença. Começaram a subir a colina, cada vez mais ansiosos por fazê-lo pagar pelas suas más ações. Ele viu-os a aproximarem-se. Não tinha a certeza se devia fugir ou ficar e enfrentar o seu destino, até algo dentro dele lhe dizer para saltar e correr, para tentar ser um verdadeiro unicórnio. Talvez um dia, não interessava quando, voltasse a encontrar Ama e, então, poderia mostrar-lhe que ele era o tal: um verdadeiro unicórnio, o unicórnio dos seus sonhos.

Levantou-se devagar. Não podia descer a colina, porque seria encurralado pelos humanos. A sua única hipótese era saltar daquela cumeeira para outra cumeeira, por cima da ravina funda. Calculou a distância. Costumava fazer saltos muito maiores no passado. Ia conseguir, pensou ele, e saltou. Os seus músculos estavam fracos e o seu corpo já não era aquilo que costumava ser. Além disso, os dias passados deitado, sem água nem comida, tinham cobrado o seu preço. Ele não conseguiu alcançar a outra cumeeira, caiu no fundo da ravina e acabou por morrer aí.

Quando os humanos chegaram à beira da ravina, viram o seu corpo inerte e ensanguentado no fundo. Um deles disse, ”Bom, estavam certos. No fim de contas, ele não era um unicórnio, apenas um cavalo selvagem que teve o destino merecido. Um verdadeiro unicórnio teria conseguido saltar esta distância.”

Anos mais tarde, no sítio onde ele tinha caído, surgiu uma nascente na rocha com uma abundância de água extremamente pura e fresca. Os habitantes locais falavam das propriedades mágicas da água, que curava muitas doenças. Alguns habitantes lembravam-se que o unicórnio tinha caído e morrido naquele local e ligando as duas coisas, deram à nascente o nome de “Nascente de Amo” e ao desfiladeiro o nome de “Desfiladeiro de Amo”. Alguns dizem que era assim que ele quereria, que sempre tinha almejado pelo reconhecimento humano. Agora, tinha-o finalmente, para sempre.

Ocasionalmente, as pessoas juravam que viam Ama a descer o desfiladeiro para ir beber água à nascente de Amo. Mas eram apenas histórias. As pessoas gostavam de contos de fadas.