Strings


He remained warm a long time.

Warm and still. I lay with my head on his chest, straining to hear the heartbeat that had lulled me to sleep so many times before. Only this time, I wasn’t trying to sleep. I wasn’t tired. I was engulfed: drowning in the tide of arrangements I’d have to make once I picked up the phone to announce it.

The sun rose slowly behind the blinds. He’d usually be up by now. Every night he made sure the alarm was ready, and every morning he rose before it went off. On the rare occasions I woke before him I could practically feel his consciousness return to his body; the stages of his awakening marked by a subtle, sentient shift in his breathing. He’d yawn. Quietly stretch. And then he would lay still a moment, caught up in mental preparations for the day.


In the last few years his joints creaked and popped as he rose from the bed. But, it wasn’t because he was old. He wasn’t old. Not old enough, anyway.


coffee-1487886_1920.jpgEach day began with the same routine, ever since the kids moved out. He’d put on his slippers and shuffle to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee, humming softly. He’d make his way down the front stairs to grab the paper and pull the door shut quietly behind him, careful not to wake me.

The lapel of his pajamas was soft between my fingers. Our room still smelled like him. The scent of his breath. His hair. How long could I lay with him like this before the smell of him ripened?

It had always seemed like there would be more time.

There had been times throughout our marriage I fantasized he would die. I’d even longed for it in the days after we laid our first baby to rest. I had wanted him to go with her so I could move on. So I didn’t have to see the sadness of losing her swallow the spark of fatherly pride that so briefly lit his eyes.

It had been morning when he found her still and quiet in her crib. She had been released from life as irretrievably as the string of a helium balloon, floating above the reach of my careless grasp. I should have known. I should have felt her passing, but I didn’t. Just like I hadn’t felt Walter’s, sometime in the hours before.

He brought home a puppy, three days after Luanne died. He’d left me alone in the house until dinner and returned with the dachshund, a bag of kibble, and a rubber ball. How many years ago had that been? Fifty-three. Our Luanne would be fifty-three now.

How I hated Walter when he brought that dog home.

I didn’t love my husband. I hadn’t loved him before our daughter’s death, and I didn’t love him after. In truth, there was never any great spark between us. We went through the motions of love. Meet. Become engaged. Get married. Exchange our apartment for a house. Buy a dog after our baby died, as if that would help. As if a dachshund might entice me to forget the sweet way the top of her head had smelled, and the warmth of her tiny body at my breast.

I pulled back a little, moving my head to the pillow beside his to take in the sight of Walter’s face in the rising light. His colorless lips hung open slightly. Small grey hair sprouted from wide nostrils and spilled from his ears. Lines ran thin around his mouth and eyes, and deep across his neck.


He was old. We both were. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed before. Not really.


The blankets were wet at my legs. It had happened quietly. A final release of urine while the organs inside his body shut down, like lights switching off in an old house at night, one, by one, by one.

I left him to shower. The water felt good on my shoulders, and I adjusted the taps gradually until the stream was almost scalding. I stood naked beneath the flow, watching the clouds of steam rise in the air. He’d been a good father when he wasn’t pulled from the house by clients. I’d raised the boys alone for the most part. He mowed the grass, budgeted my grocery allowance, paid the bills, and came home to cold dinners, left on the stove long after the kids had reluctantly padded to bed.

That was a long time ago. There would be no need of asking Walter for permission to spend money now. I could paint the house whatever color I wanted. I could sell the house if I wanted. In fact, I’d have to. There’d be no reason to keep up with the shoveling in winter, the gardening in summer, and the raking in fall without him.

Partitioned from the world like this, water raining on my back, it was easy to imagine Walter at the table, drinking coffee, turning the pages of his paper. The memories came easy of him teaching our sons to ride their bikes on the road out front and to skate on the rink out back.

Would these memories come as easy if I lived somewhere else?

No, I never loved him. Not in the way women loved men in the movies. I could live without him now. Thrive without him. We had never been soul mates. We argued more often than not. About trivial things. They all seemed trivial now.

The boys would want to salvage some of his things. A few tokens to remember him by. What would they choose? His tools. His journals. His books, maybe. And I’d have to go through the rest, weeding out the objects binding him to our house. I’d made these arrangements before, for his parents, and then mine: the going through of the houses to remove the things. It had been hardest when Walter’s mother passed. She loved me like a daughter since the first time we met. She loved me effortlessly. Easily. I could almost feel her sadness of his passing now. The comfort she might offer me if she was still here. The tightening of her arms around my body.

What was this feeling constricting the bones in my ribcage? Sadness? Regret? What was a woman supposed to feel, in the moments after her husband died? I had been the witness of Walter’s life, and I failed him. I never loved him the way he deserved. I never loved him the way he loved me.


The conditioner rinsed from my hair, I turned off the tap. I hesitated, listening to the last of the water trickle down the drain. The house was quiet. Walter’s body waited.


Clearing the fog from the mirror, I examined my reflection. My eyes weren’t quite as sharp as they used to be; the border between my pupils and irises slightly blurred. Water dripped from my short white hair. My breasts hung heavily from my chest. Yes, I was old. Just as old as Walter. And we had come down this road together.

In the bedroom, I pulled Walter’s clothes off his soft, deflated body. I struggled to roll him to the clean side of the bed and dress him in fresh pajamas. Blue ones, his favorite. I changed the bedding and put the put the soiled laundry in the washer downstairs after ensuring he looked comfortable, head propped up on a couple of pillows. This is how the EMTs would find him when they came.

I puttered about the house, moving our glasses from the coffee table in the living room to the dishwasher and tidying the kitchen. The phone rang once, twice, three times, breaking the sanctuary of silence to remind me of the outside world. The world waiting for me to say it.

What were the boys doing now? Were they eating? Talking to their wives about their children and grandchildren? How could I tell them their father had died? I picked up my cell from the counter. A picture of Walter with our youngest great-grandchild lit the screen. A girl. The only girl in our family since Luanne. How Walter loved her. How he spoiled her. How she’d miss him.

They’d all worry about me now. They would swarm and hover. But I didn’t have to tell them yet. It would be days before they expected our call, checking in to see they were well in their respective cities of Vancouver and Saskatoon.

The old oak tree stood strong and tall outside the kitchen window. nature-3176398_1920.jpgBelow the surface of grass and dirt, its roots had likely twisted around bones of the dachshund I’d loved; the dog that had carried me through my baby’s death, just as Walter hoped.

We would bury Walter next to Luanne, next to her grey rotted coffin in the cemetery just out of town. But then, maybe Walter was already with our baby. With his parents, and mine. And maybe he was waiting for me.

I let the cellphone timeout to black and padded down the hall. I lay on the bed beside him, clean and fresh, and ready.

I kissed his cheek. I took his hand in mine.

Oh, how I had loved him.

This was how they’d find us.


 

Mayor Maynot


Guest Post by Ward Clever


Hi. I’m Ward Clever, a blogger type person.

According to my About Page that I just read, I’m a work of fiction come to life, a whore who can touch unicorns, a ghost manifest, a sensitive empath with a dark side, a watcher of the skies, a healer of healers, a lovable asshole, a guy who writes a nice bio.jhv

Welcome to this thing. I am a little teapot, and I put my whole self in and shake it all about. That’s what it’s all about.

I’m a struggling romance addict, lover of visual kei, and I occasionally speak in other languages. Sarcasm, metaphors, hai, yatta, ayamachi ni obore. Oyasumi,  oiche mhaith, tsai chen, bon nuit, buenas noches, and good night. I won’t explain myself, and I won’t stop ’til I get enough. But that’s all, because enough is plenty.

Here’s a little story about Mayor Maynot, called Mayor Maynot. He had an adventure, I guess, and this is it:


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There once was a woman named David. But that was only once, so why bother talking about it? You know?truss-2355992_960_720

There once was a town called Malice. The town hated that name, and preferred to be called Sharon. And the town down the road was called Bob, which it liked, so it was cool with being called Bob. Well, it wasn’t long, like 15 minutes, before a town sprung up between them called Alike. This town wasn’t anthropomorphic, so it wasn’t sapient enough to give a shit what it was called. I think it would have enjoyed being called Alike, though.

Alike had a mayor. The mayor was Mayor Maynot. He spoke sort of like a pirate. Once people from Sharon came into the office and asked him “Who is in charge of this town?”

He said “I, Mayor Maynot, be in charge of this town.”

“Well are you, or are you not, in charge of this town?”

“Aye, I, Mayor Maynot, be in charge of this town Alike.”

“You can’t just be in charge because you like it.”

“Alike, it, this town, that I, Mayor Maynot, be in charge of.”

“Well, whether you like it is irrelevant. All we want to know is who is in charge of it.”

“Alike, the town?”martin-luther-617287_960_720.jpg

“I think so. You just said you did. Who is in charge of the town Alike.”

“I don’t be knowin’ what town you like, but Alike, this town, aye, I, Mayor Maynot, be in charge.”

“So if… but you said… I didn’t tell… aw, fuck it. We’re claiming this town in the name of Sharon!”

“Who be Shar-”

Just then, or maybe a few minutes later, actually, because Mayor Maynot paused to get a drink of something that Mayor Maynot be callin’ grog, there were some people from Bob who barged in the door. This was quite difficult, because the nearest water that could float a barge was 47 miles away, and that was just in a parade that celebrated the Loudest Cupcake Firecracker Rhubarb Turnover. But somehow, they managed.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“Well, it is a specific pronoun denoting something close to the speaker, as opposed to ‘that’, which would denote something a bit less clo-”

“No, I mean, or we mean, depending on how many people from Bob there are in this part of the story, this, denoting the fuck that is going on here.”

“OH, that. Well, we are from Sharon, and we have claimed Alike for our own. So, good day, and have a nice life.”

“Not so fast!”

“Fine. Oh…that. Well… we… are… from… Sharon-“rovinj-2254575_960_720.jpg

“No, your speaking speed was fine. I mean, your actions are premature. Who is in charge of this town?”

“I, Mayor Maynot, be in charge of this town, Alike.”

“It’s good that you like the town, but you should be a bit more definitive on who is in charge.”

“Alike, I said, I, aye, Mayor Maynot, be in charge of.”

“Crap. Has he been saying this all day?”

“Yeah, I can’t get anything else out of him. Anyway, we the people of Sharon claim this town. We’re annexing it. That means joining it with ours.”

“I thought ‘annex’ was that thing that holds up your head.”

“Nope, definitely the taking over thing. It’s ours. It belongs to Sharon.”

Just then, Mayor Maynot realized that there was a barge, and being a pirate, he got a bit of the sea in his shorts.

“I be givin you the town Alike on two conditions.”

“Okay, what are they” both sides asked him without a question mark. Wow, that is a fucking good trick!

“One, Bob, ye be giving me that barge, so that I may once again set sail or whatever ye set with a barge, what, a pole?”

“Yes, something like that” said the person or people from Bob. “But what’s in it for us?”
“Me second condition be fer ye.”

“What’s your second condition?” asked the people from Sharon.

“Sharon, share Alike.”


hjio


If you like that, then visit my blog for depressing poetry. And a few more things like that, of course.

WardClever.wordpress.com

And maybe buy a friend’s book? Not to be all promotional. Here’s that:

Edward Hotspur – Scenes From A Hundred Morning Drives


DID YOU KNOW:


aWard won the opportunity to guest blog on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins by winning one of our Weekly Scribble Challenges. YOU can win the chance to guest post here too! Just click #SSC on the toolbar above to check out the final prompt for this season. Participation is quick and easy, and a great way to procrastinate interact with your writing peers. 

Flash fiction challenges fuel creativity. They’re a relatively painless pool for writers who’ve never posted their work to wet those feet, OR for established authors/bloggers to pick up a few new readers.


So, what are YOU waiting for? This week’s challenge wraps up Saturday. Unleash your writerly self.


 

Kiss of the Servant


This morning my power went out, so I didn’t get a chance to post my submission to Dan Alatorre’s Flash Fiction Challenge in time for the deadline. BUT, I’m throwing caution to the wind and submitting it anyway, because I’ve always enjoyed life on the edge. 😉

The Rules: Use this name generating website to create a title and write a story in a thousand words or less. Feel free to check out the “official rules” on his website and find other authors’ submissions there.


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“You have to stop this.” Belut’s small voice cracked behind me as she wiped the blood from my back with a cool, damp cloth. “The soldiers will kill you the next time you try to escape.”

Tears blurred my vision as I stared at the clothes laying on the stone floor, stained red, and ripped by the lash. I swallowed. “I can’t stay here. I know there are others like me out there somewhere. They’re looking for me.”

She dropped the cloth into the cracked bowl and knelt by my feet. In the candlelight, she appeared even younger than her sixteen years let on. A tangle of long black hair fell over her shoulders as she peered up into my face. “No one is looking for you, Iris. You were born a servant, and you’ll die a servant. There’s no use pretending any different.”

I’d only been gone a day before the soldiers found me, but my sudden disappearance had scared her. I forced a smile, and softly tucked my friend’s hair behind her ear. “I was born a servant in this life, sweet Belut, but you must believe me when I say I have known more lives than this.”

“Stop.” She waved my hand aside. “The others are beginning to talk.”

“What do you mean?”

Eyes narrowed, she stood and paced across the room, the soiled fabric of her one-shouldered dress fluttering between her sandled feet. “All this nonsense is catching up to you.” Her fists tightened. “We only get one life. This one. You’re going to waste it trying to run to a people who are nothing more than a, a figment of your imagination.”

I stood too, wincing as I wrapped myself in a tattered shawl and the fabric landed across the open wounds on my back. “The others are real. My husba–” The word died on my tongue as Belut rolled her eyes. “He’s real. He’s looking for me.” I pointed in the direction of the mountains to the North, invisible through the wall. “We promised to find each other when we passed into the next life. He’s waiting for me on the other side of the mountains.”

She sighed. “You know no one has ever been to the other side of the mountains.” Her eyes trailed up my form, taking in the full scope of my height. “You’ve always been different, Iris. And, not just because you’re tall. You need to accept the fact that this is all there is. Find . . . some kind of happiness.”

Footsteps sounded in the hall. Belut straightened, suddenly pale in spite of the orange candlelight.

Our door swung in, revealing a bare-chested man on the other side, a copper knife strapped around the kilt at his waist. His warm, dark eyes landed on mine. “King Arua demands you come.”

“Why?” I stepped back.

The guard rubbed his neck. “He heard about your escape.”

“But, the soldiers already punished her.” Belut stepped toward me, accidentally grazing the bowl with her toe. Water, red with my blood, spilled across the floor. Her eyes trailed up from the mess to the guard. “What does he want with her?”

He hesitated. “The King believes her attempts to escape are making him look weak. Since the boy broke free two moons past. . . he’s afraid more servants will follow.” His eyes locked with mine. “There’s nothing I can do.”

Outside the confines of our room, I limped down the narrow, shadowed hall hanging on to the guard’s extended arm. Some of the other servants reached from their doorways to touch the fringe of my blood-soaked shawl, whispering prayers as I passed.

Just as we neared the heavy doors at the end of the corridor, a child called my name. Standing uncertainly in his doorway, he bore a keen resemblance to the boy who escaped. “My brother, he told me you’d understand . . . ,” he scuttled forward, covering his mouth from the guard’s view, “the message you wanted delivered to the other side of the mountains. He did it.”

My heart tightened. “And?”

His voice so low I barely heard it, the boy answered. “They’re coming.”

The glare of the midday sun burned my eyes as I was escorted from the building. A pair of soldiers opened the entrance of the surrounding gate, allowing the guard and me to pass into the city. While we walked the narrow, dust ridden roads between connecting one and two story clay-bricked homes, my eyes remained fixed to the mountains.

By the time we trudged to the bridge leading to Arua’s palace, my lips had cracked under the relentless heat of the sun. Sweat stung the torn flesh of my back. A host of men and women, adorned in richly colored fabrics and gleaming copper jewelry waited for us in the bordering gardens. I climbed the steps of Arua’s grand stage and faced him, ignoring the required ceremonial bow completely when a reflection of light in the mountains caught my eye.

The King sat on a stone carved chair upon a raised platform. A blue and carnelian headdress shielded the glare of the sun from his shaved scalp. “Will you not bow to your King, servant?”

Behind his back, a cloud of dust moved down along the mountain. I straightened, drawing myself to my full height. “You are not my King.”

He laughed. But, staring into the audience, his face remained tight. “Just as I suspected. The girl has learned nothing from the lash. By defying our rules, she defies our gods, and the gods won’t suffer her life any longer.” He descended the steps of his platform, pulling a long dagger from the strap at his hip.

A horde of soldiers became visible below the furious cloud in the distance. A woman in the crowd noticed. She pointed, whispering to the man beside her. Standing in front of me, Arua glanced over his shoulder. His mouth fell open, eyes wide. Horns sounded from the palace, raising an alarm.

I leaned down to whisper in the King’s ear, my cracked lips just grazing his skin. “My people come for you, Arua. My people will make you pay.”