Mayuri twirled. The sequins on her frock and sandals shimmered in the afternoon sun, matching the colours of her glass bangles. Her fourth birthday gift from Aunty. Where mother worked part time.
‘I don’t want to go’. Her mother slapped her.
The pebbles scorching the thin soles of her sandals. Her water bottle empty.
Strains of her favourite film song from a distance. Her steps faltered.
‘Mayuri’. Her father. All sweat and grime.
‘Coming, let me drink water from the river’.
A thud and shriek….the water was tarred..stoney.
*Mayuri’ feminine for ‘Mayur’ (peacock)
An old girlfriend appears, she tells me she read about it in the paper and knew she had to come. We hug and it feels familiar. I had heard she was married so I asked about kids. Yes a boy and a girl just a little younger than mine. As she walks away I feel more loss.
I hadn’t thought much about who would come but I am surprised over and over. The past is here. I feel so good seeing everyone and momentarily confused by their morose expressions. Maybe my smile is helping the visitors, maybe I’m consoling them.
Nostalgia bears the weight of the soul. It provokes a hazy, misty-eyed recollection of events softly filtered by time and perspective. But that was before the uncertainty. The world has been turned upside down. Sixty days or six weeks ago is just as heartbreaking as several decades past. There is no constant anymore, except for sorrow.
Mental photographs now bear ambiguous time stamps: the last time we did this or the last time we went there. These are not sepia-tinted memories, but brilliant and painful. We were flying too close to the sun and we see clearly what we lost.
In the lee of a frozen hedge I dropped to my knees and hunched over myself, shielding my fragile core from the worst of the wind.
Shuddering hard I built up a small fire. My iced-up fingers fumbled the last match, but the kindling caught.
The thin, reluctant smoke shifted in the frigid air.
I pulled a battered paperback from my jacket’s inside pocket. Earlier, in my distant warm kitchen, I’d read a story about a fire that wouldn’t light, and a man that froze stiff.
I paused momentarily, and then, with gritted teeth, I burned the whole book.
As the walls of the steel chamber closed in, Darryl and Francine clung together.
“Leave me, Francine. Marry him,” Darryl cried.
“Never, my love,” Francine sobbed.
“I am but a commoner. And he is a Prince.”
“But it is you I love. Amor vincit Omnia.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s Latin for “love conquers all.”
“You’re quoting Latin, NOW?
“I only thought … .”
“That’s your problem. You’re always thinking.”
“Is that how you see me?”
“JAILER! I’ll marry him!
“Too la … .”
New neighbors in #204. I put a welcome note under their door, signed Penny #205. No response.
They slam their front door, but I won’t confront them. Maybe I should welcome the reminder that I have neighbors close by, but I grumble instead.
Maybe they don’t like my piano playing. #206 loved listening to me, but he was a friendly guy. We chatted together around the pool. There will be no chatting around the pool this summer. The pool won’t open in the pandemic.
Will I ever meet them? Do they even wonder about me?
The woman in red is stalking my dreams and I think she wants to kill me. She leads me over red rocks to a ruined house, the tide reaching into its rooms. “Trust me. You must trust me.” And she lets go of my hand, turns and goes, leaving me in the centre of the drowning house.
The more it listened, the more the demon understood the genius in the subtlety of the Deceiver’s ways. How people had been coerced into believing that they worked too hard and laziness was good. Taking narcotics was acceptable, until everyone was tranquillised by pills and too lethargic to care; if others were starving, then that was someone else’s problem.
The Deceiver had sent other demons to possess and influence people to kill their enemies and their friends, sowing discord, trouble and dissension until they spiraled further into darkness.
But, what would become of demons when the Deceiver destroyed the world?
They each drank a glass of Merlot, took off their clothes and were just getting started when her phone rang. She rolled over and faced the wall, said a few words but then remained quiet for the rest of the conversation. She set her phone on the nightstand.
“That was Mom. Dad started coughing this morning and now his temperature is 103.”
He sat up. “Your mom should call 911 right away.”
She started getting dressed. “They want us to come over. She moved his bed next to the window.”
“Your mom must have it.”
“He asked about the puppy.”
The young doctor swore he would cure Kabir, the Mumbai boy who mysteriously sprouted a horn from his forehead.
Other boys stopped playing soccer with the freakish “unicorn boy.” Neighbors hurled insults and rocks at his family’s shanty. Then a classmate sprouted a horn. More cases erupted across India and soon the world. In just two years every human had a horn.
The doctor declared he had discovered a cure and fittingly wanted Kabir to be the first to lose his horn. Kabir declined. Better the weight of a unicorn horn than that of again being different from everyone else.
As I paused to admire a glorious London plane tree, a couple passed by.
"It's a beautiful London plane," I said.
"It's not a plane tree," the man replied. "It's an acer, I think. Perhaps a sycamore?"
"I think it's a London plane," I repeated, having researched the matter.
"No it's not," his wife insisted. "When we meet next, we'll tell you what it actually is."
I considered killing them instantly, but relented. Instead I called the police, who duly arrested them: misidentifying a tree is a criminal offence in Scotland. They were each issued with fixed-penalty fines of £200.
"Over one-hundred-thousand deaths by June" the man with the pouty lips read from the teleprompter. "By fall we'll be back to normal— next spring the economy will be in full swing." He left, smiling, gesturing with his familiar thumb's up.
People were bombarded by new figures marching across their screens in increasing numbers. Every day the man's pouty lips delivered terrifying statistics.
For many, the numbers were inconsequential — for others, irreversible minus signs.
One day the man vanished. News came: he too had taken a direct hit from a number subtracting someone essential from his life.
Why?” Robert asks.
“Because he says we are too young. He doesn’t understand.”
Although it is midday, it seems to Robert that his world has been suddenly plunged into darkness.
The word hangs in the air—dangling like the pearl on a woman’s earring in a painting by Vermeer.
“I love you. And when the war is over—if it ever ends; and when I return—if I ever return; we will be old enough, and your father will no longer be able to keep us apart. Will you wait for me?”
“I will wait for you forever.”
“I got a new vehicle for us,” stated Dave.
“Not another ambulance!” perked Tomas.
“No, we have plenty of those riding our streets.”
Young Tomas lined up two cars on the kitchen floor.
“Ya, I know, because of Coronavirus,” he said. “Which one do you want to race, Dad?”
“The one on the left.”
“Where is ‘left’?”
“The Cadillac,” Dave replied.
Their cars spun out after hitting the fridge.
“What’s the new toy?” beamed Tomas.
Dave coaxed his son to a street-facing window, revealing a remote starter in his hand.
“Ten years from now, you can be its driver.”
Don had moved into a retirement home, located in the village where he'd lived all his life. With time to fill, his mind turned to reminiscing about boyhood matches he'd played on the now overgrown football fields he could see through his window.
Closing his eyes, he'd conjure up the smell of winter air and the sensation of mud splattering his wiry legs. In a flash, he'd broken through the defence, locked eyes with the goalkeeper and slid the ball into the net.
From the fields, dog walkers would sometimes see Don, seated in his armchair, arms aloft in celebration.
Summer Brady was daydreaming, thinking of an old boyfriend as she inhaled a cigarette.
She was unaware of the car. Summer never worried about risk. "it's all part of living" she used to say. Shakespeare penned "A coward dies a thousand times" and how right the great man was. Her cigarette rolled across the street complete with her trademark red lipstick.
John remembers how she cheered him up during his dark days. "You had a life worth living," he said, laying flowers on her grave.
I was tired and starving. Yet powered by hunger, I ghosted into their territory. Their dens were tall, silent, and glimmering. As stealthily as a zephyr, I ranged their lanes and by-lanes in search of dogs and cats. But, unfortunately, there were none. Exhaustion and disappointment then made me go off. Suddenly, a sharp piercing pain in the abdomen awakened me. That was a crowd of deadly people frantically shouting, “Man-Eater! Kill him.” I forced my head upward, towards the sky, for the last time, to ask, “Why do the man-eater and I look alike?”
In the midst of big headlines, big fears, big statistics and big noises, my tiny shudders, the heaviness in my chest, the dripping of my tears go unnoticed.
He lives too far away ; I will not see him one last time, I will not be able to run my hand through his hair and cry. I will not be able to remove the cotton pieces from his nostrils, shake him and try to bring him back to life.
In the midst of big headlines during the lockdown, my lover’s death goes unnoticed.
Tick. Slumped with his back to the wall, Ben looks at the peeled skin on his knuckles, then to the patch of blood on the door. His outburst futile, that dam ticking continues to pick at his brain. Tick, tick… Twenty seconds and it’ll all be over. A life with so much potential snuffed out because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tick, tick... The fluorescent numbers continue counting backward, grating his nerves over the faint whirring of the mechanism. If only he’d done what they asked. If only he’d listened, if only…tick…three, tick…two, tick…one….
Our love was suppose to be an eternal Spring, constantly bursting with renewed life, full of vibrant colors like the tulips and irises, soft as pussy willows, and warm as gentle breezes.
The love is still there, but it seems hidden. It hasn't been washed away by rainy days, has it?
I miss the spontaneity of our love. It seems to be fading along with the rainbows.
What happened? Oh! I see. It's called life.
Furloughed for how long? Tina had no idea, but this coronavirus put a daily ten hour hole in her solitary life. The gym was now off limits, but the sidewalk was available and free. Changes began to appear. Driveways were decorated with flowers and rainbows in colored chalk. Backyards rang with shouts of laughter. Neighbors in lawn chairs waved as she passed. Clusters of kids raced by on their bikes. Front yard signs celebrated life events: Congratulations Graduate, Happy Birthday, Thank You Essential Workers. Furloughed or not we are all in this together, she realized with a little smile.
“I...I came to visit is all.”'
“So? For all I care... You should be dead.”
“I know Mother. But I can’t do anything about it.”
“You lie! Your brother was begging you for life, and you just left him defenseless.”
“Mother, he was sick.”
“ I didn’t have the medicine nor the expertise to save him... he was doomed from the start.”
“You lie again. Pitiful. I knew you were a rotten child as soon as you were born.”
“How can you say that Mother?”
“I tried to help.”
“May God welcome him into his heavenly home…” the priest droned, the church’s only other occupant except for me and my Fred, lying in his Covid infected coffin.
His children and grandchildren had managed a birthday visit before the borders closed, shedding tears as his gnarled fingers clawed at the home’s window in a frantic attempt to wave at his loved ones locked outside.
“Will she send me a card?” His timorous voice had asked.
A cream card, embossed with a gold 100 stood on the coffin; written inside
‘To Mr. Fred Ramsgate, on the occasion of…signed Elizabeth R.'
Everyone is always kind to one another, and the deceased, at a funeral. Good things are said, only good memories are remembered. Then came my Uncle Jack.
At my father’s funeral, Jack rolled in, pretty loaded, and weaved his way to the front of the church. There he turned to face us and said loudly, ”Hell, Dan was a real bastard. He wouldn’t give you the time of day if your life depended on it. Being dead doesn’t make him a saint.” Jack looked into the casket sadly. “But I will miss the old son of a bitch.”