Photo by Sandra Trajkovska
They say eyes are the window to the soul. I’m not convinced people have “souls” but in your eyes, I find a mix of disgust, embarrassment and curiosity, and that’s all I need to know about you.
Like when I tell you I’ve never been in the kind of relationship you change your Facebook status over, but I do get some extra cash in my purse every time I’m with a guy. (Based on anecdotal evidence, it was probably your guy.) But you see, I’m in control while you’re in tears trying to salvage a lie.
We’re not that different, you and I. All the guys in my life — from the scrawny teenager behind the science block to the careless executive whose wife finally caught him with a roll of hotel receipts last week — have one thing in common. Their eyes. The way they stared at me, consumed with desperate desire.
The first time I saw those eyes, I felt powerful. Intoxicated. I caused that look in his eyes. You’ve probably felt that way too.
Back then I wanted to believe I was special, that it was me they wanted and not just my body. But it never is. I could have been anyone or anything with boobs that happened to catch their attention. A bunch of shapes to be pounded and discarded like a broken toy.
When I first realised the truth, I cried for weeks. Then I ran out of chocolate and Nicholas Sparks film adaptations, and had to leave the house.
On the way to the shops, I saw a woman about my age crying on the phone to her indifferent boyfriend. I saw a man who could be my father, a gold ring on his finger, with one arm around his wife and an eye on the teenage girls sauntering by. And slowly I learned another truth.
I’m not special and neither are you. And if we’re destined to be pounded and discarded like broken toys, we may as well get some new shoes out of the arrangement.
I wouldn’t know how to be someone’s girlfriend. But these days, I’m content with the power I get from their eyes. And their wallets aren’t too bad, either.
Photo by woodleywonderworks
Isabella asked me today if her mother and I had always been best friends. I almost said yes, but then I remembered. When we were eight years old, Amanda was just some kid in my class, and I made her cry.
Amanda’s grandmother had given her an opal pendant for her birthday, which she proudly presented to the class for Show and Tell. She even let the roomful of sticky fingers pass it around the class, following its progress with a watchful eye. I glared at it when it landed with a clink on my desk.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Opals are bad luck,” I told her.
“No, they’re not!”
“Yes, they are. Dad said.”
Amanda broke into loud wailing sobs that pierced my eardrums. The teacher scurried over, horrified. My face burned and I refused eye contact with her for the next month.
But it’s funny how life works out. It turned out we both loved Star Wars even though little girls were not supposed to, so we decided to go to her house after school to re-enact the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in her backyard. I lost because I was Obi-Wan. I also grazed my knees on the grass when I fell over, but I didn’t cry because Obi-Wan wouldn’t have. Amanda said I was a powerful Jedi and fetched me some band-aids and apple juice in a yellow plastic cup.
“I’m sorry I said opals are bad luck.”
“That’s okay. You’re wrong.”
I didn’t argue.
“Come on, let me show you the mulberries.”
Amanda’s neighbour had a black mulberry tree in their front yard. “Pretty, isn’t it?” She started to pick the fruits off the tree and popped them into her mouth. I shuffled my feet nervously as powerlines hummed overhead. She poked a stained hand towards my face. “Do you like mulberries?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Never had them.”
“Try it.” She held one near my lips.
I shook my head. “What if the owners come home?”
“We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re outside the house so it’s allowed.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but I took the mulberry from her and slipped it into my mouth anyway. The sweetness lingered on my tongue long after the berry had disappeared down my throat. I was about to take another when the grumble of a car engine alerted me to her neighbour in the driveway.
Amanda stared at the car, stared at me, then screamed: “Run!” She grabbed my wrist as we tore past the car and down the road, cackling nervously.
And somehow we’re still running together, albeit a little slower these days. I think somewhere in that story I was supposed to remind Isabella that stealing is wrong, but I guess there is always an exception to the rule.
I attempted to meet two challenges with this story: Focusing on Touch for the Senseless Challenge and writing about a fourth anniversary for FFDO’s Fourth Anniversary Blog Hop.
Alone at last. Exhausted, Rick sank into his sticky leather couch and squeezed his eyes shut, praying that sleep would rescue him for once.
It was four years to the day that Uncle Bud had died of cardiac arrest — Rick stole a glance at the clock — almost to the hour, actually, although his uncle’s heart had stopped much earlier. That was the only way Rick knew how to justify the man’s entire existence.
Rick was about to stretch out on the couch – one day he’d get a bed for this apartment, he promised – when his feet grazed against soft fleece. Rick sat up. It was his mother’s white acrylic jacket draped over the armrest. She must have forgotten it. Despite Rick’s protests, Mum had insisted the family all gather at his place this year to watch their collection of sickeningly happy home movies featuring Uncle Bud. And when his sister started to tease Rick about how he lived in the middle of nowhere and never had a girlfriend, it had taken every ounce of Rick’s willpower not to punch her.
Rick reached over and pulled the jacket towards him. Its woolly texture felt soft and snug against his fingertips.
The Ghost of Uncle Bud – Photo by imagina
Uncle Bud’s hands were rough and clammy. “You’re growin’ up real fast, Ricky,” he said, patting his nephew on the shoulder. “You want me to teach you some grown-up games?”
Uncle Bud placed a callused finger on Ricky’s lips. “Grown-ups have to be good at keeping secrets. Can you keep secrets, Ricky?”
“Shh. Come with me.”
In the safety of his room, Uncle Bud slowly crept his hands up Ricky’s Hey Arnold! T-shirt.
“What are you doing?” asked Ricky.
“Well, sometimes your Uncle Bud feels sad in here,” Uncle Bud explained, stroking the skin over Ricky’s pounding heart.
Uncle Bud slipped his hands down. Ricky trembled at his touch. “Does that feel good, Ricky?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“It makes me feel good. You want your Uncle Bud to feel better, don’t you?”
Ricky gave a quick nod.
Rick strangled his mum’s jacket between his fingers as painful sobs shook his body. For the next decade, the mere thought of family gatherings would make him physically sick. He thought Bud’s death would have brought some kind of closure but four years on, his uncle’s crusty paws still haunted him.
A knock at the door pulled him back to the present. He did his best to dry his eyes and nose with his sleeve before opening the door.
“Rick, I left my jack… Rick? Ricky, what’s wrong?”
The dam finally burst. Heaving through years of suppressed tears, Rick choked out an overdue whisper.
“He touched me…”
This story is my late contribution to the Senseless Writing Challenge, where each Friday in May is dedicated to a different sense. I didn’t participate in the first three weeks (Sight, Sound, Smell) but this week’s focus is Taste and I decided to give it a try.
Photo by demondimum
Water wasn’t supposed to taste like anything.
Krista sipped from her glass, closing her eyes as the tepid liquid passed her lips, flowing over her tongue and down her throat, settling uneasily in her stomach.
It tasted thick and dirty.
It tasted wrong.
It tasted like him.
Krista took another slow sip. Jake had used this glass last night. Krista had managed to sneak a bottle of her dad’s cheap Scotch whisky into her bedroom after Jake climbed through the window just after 10pm, crying about how Rachel never wanted to see him again. Jake drank too much for his own good but it was all Krista could offer to make him smile.
Krista drained the water then poured the last of the scotch into the glass, wondering when her father would miss the bottle and if he’d know to blame it on Jake. Her parents had disapproved of the friendship ever since Jake followed her home singing “So Hott” in his best Kid Rock voice back when they were 14. But Krista knew she was all Jake had whenever Rachel decided it was over yet again.
She took a sip of the scotch and winced as the warmth seared down her throat. How did Jake drink this for anything other than corporal punishment? It was like swallowing a spoonful of Vegemite.
Although his tears had mostly dried by the second glass, Jake’s face had tasted salty when Krista planted a soft kiss on his cheek.
“Thanks, Krista,” Jake slurred. “You’re a good friend.”
“That’s me,” Krista replied. Jake flashed her a lopsided grin, squeezed her shoulders and went to the window to light a cigarette. Krista prayed her parents wouldn’t notice; they despised smoking almost as much as they hated Jake. Truth be told, Krista wasn’t a fan of his little habit either but he had bigger issues than that.
As Jake breathed smoke out her window, Krista slipped her phone out from under her pillow. She frowned at the mobile uploads in her Facebook news feed of Rachel clubbing with friends, although it was hardly a surprise anymore. Similar photos popped up every time she broke up with Jake. Krista shook her head and put her phone away, wondering if Rachel had any idea of the power she had. Did she relish it?
“She kills me,” Jake muttered from the window. “I’m done. It’s over.” He doused the cigarette and flicked it outside onto the lawn, before sitting back next to Krista on the bed. “Over,” he repeated. Jake leaned towards Krista and kissed her. He tasted sour on her tongue.
There had been a note on Krista’s desk when she awoke, but with Jake conspicuously absent, she didn’t even need to read it to know where he’d gone.
Krista finished the scotch and went downstairs for more water. It tasted cool and bitter in her mouth.
Photo by Paul Copeland
Aiden turns four today.
Your little boy is growing up so fast. It fills me with a cocktail of pride and terror. Am I doing this right? Am I a bad mother? Who will teach him how to be a man?
Soon he’ll be at school and I’ll be helpless to shield him from the battles of the playground, from the afternoon he comes home crying because the class had to make Father’s Day cards and he has no words to put inside and no one to give it to.
Or maybe those are just my tears I’m imagining.
Believe it or not, the roses and azaleas you planted two weeks before you left are still there. I was never the one with the green thumb but I feel you watching over us when I tend those flowers, keeping us safe like you did all your life. Sometimes I pick a few to brighten up our existence. But as always, it’s bittersweet.
I can’t cry, not today. I have to be strong for Aiden. I have to get his cake and presents ready and perfect. We’ll put on some music and play some games and he’ll dazzle me with that cheeky smile that reminds me of you. I know he should be having a party with everyone from kindergarten instead of being cooped up in this house all day but I’m not ready to let him go.
And I just pray he’ll be okay without you. I pray he’ll be okay in spite of me.
“Mummy?” Aiden peers up at me with wide, anxious blue eyes, and my throat tightens, wondering what I’ve managed to mess up today of all days. “Mummy, I made you a picture.”
He holds up his creation and I inspect the swirling landscape of crayon colours put together in a way that only our little artist can.
“It’s flowers,” he explains. “I seen you pick the flowers from outside and then put them in water and then they die and you get sad. But when I make pictures you put them on the fridge and you look happy again. I want the flowers to make you happy.”
I burst into tears; I can’t help it. Aiden’s lip starts to shake. “Are you sad, Mummy?”
“No, no,” I assure him with a kiss and a hug. “I’m just so proud of you.”
He bunches his face up, looking slightly confused but ends up in a smile anyway. I scoop him up into my arms and carry him to the fridge, where his flowers take centre stage.
“Happy birthday, Aiden,” I whisper in his ear, ruffling his golden hair just like you used to. His toothy grin warms my heart.
“What we doing today, Mummy?” he asks.
“Whatever you want, darling.”
He puckers his mouth, deliberating, then says: “Tell me about Daddy?”
My heart sinks. I want to tell him no, you’re not ready, but that’s not fair to him when I’m the one who isn’t ready. I take Aiden outside and sit him down on the lawn by the flowerbed, stroking his hand. With a deep breath I begin: “Daddy loved you very much.”
“The other kids said Daddy wanted to die. They said he made himself die.”
My throat clenches as I fight the urge to kick down the other kids’ doors, shake their innocent little bodies for saying things like that to my boy and smack their parents for gossiping about you when it’s my job to talk to Aiden.
“Daddy was sick,” I say, struggling to keep my voice steady.
“Did you put him in bed and read him a story?”
Tears slip from my eyes. “Daddy wasn’t that kind of sick, Aiden. He was the kind of sick you can’t see just by looking at someone. He had a sickness in his brain that made him very sad and mixed up until he couldn’t think of any way to feel better.”
The guilt seeps into my gut. Could I have done something? Tell me. Give me a sign other than that note on the pillow. Would Aiden have his father today if I’d been different?
Aiden frowns in thought, then with fearful blue eyes, asks me: “When you get sad, are you that kind of sick too?”
I think of the cold mornings waking up next to an empty space, wondering how I’m going to pull myself together for another day. Then I remember our son, and what will happen to him if I can’t. “I’m just sad because I miss Daddy a lot.”
“Me too.” Aiden crawls into my lap and wraps his little arms around my waist. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Aiden.”
“Don’t be sad, Mummy. It’s my birthday. We get cake and presents on my birthday, right?”
A short laugh trickles from my mouth in spite of myself. I gaze into Aiden’s eyes that hold our hopes and dreams and fears about the future. But right now, our little man is four years old and deserves to celebrate.
“Yes, we do. Let’s go cut some cake now.”
Photo by angy (morgueFile)
Do you remember Summer?
It was like a scene from Grease
Singing cheesy songs together
On that sandy beach
The days went on forever
We swore they would never end
But clouds are breaking
The seasons changing
Reality sets in
I see you down on the sand
With a board in your hand
But I want to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band
No back up plans
Just chasing Summer
Days went on forever
We swore they would never end
I recall that childlike wonder
And it drives me around the bend
Time slips through your fingers
Mother calls you to come on home
Then tides of star-crossed lovers
Turn to face the world alone
I saw you down on the sand
With a board in your hand
I wanted to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band
But Mother had other plans
When we chased Summer
You can do anything
Be anyone, they say
Until you hit some magic age
and they take it all away.
Photo by Arundo (morguefile)
I was young once, and shiny.
When they delivered me to my new school and installed me in my classroom, I was so proud to be making a difference to children’s lives. I had dreams of teachers writing inspiring quotes on my dark olive surface, of eager young pupils solving earth-shattering equations and smiling back at me.
Then I found out school was full of cynical teachers who had grown tired of acting as surrogate parents, and disengaged kids who wanted nothing more than to draw genitalia on me. (They don’t tell you that in the blackboard factory.)
Soon no amount of scrubbing with the blackboard duster could make me look as shiny and hopeful as I did the day they drilled me to the wall.
Still, I grew to accept my lot in life. I encountered a smorgasbord of eccentric personalities over the years and eavesdropped on enough titillating tales to sign a book deal. You know, if I had hands.
I thought it would last forever.
I still remember the morning the principal sauntered in to announce a sexy new intruder to my classroom. Now the class flits and fawns over this shiny newfangled computer projector thing, while I hang abandoned at the back of the room waiting for someone to get around to unscrewing me from the wall and taking me away.
I wish someone would just come and draw a dildo on me.
Photo by Susan NYC (Flickr)
I felt Lydia’s pain before I saw it.
Having cashed in my annual leave, I was strolling along the beach at Batu Ferringhi when the first storm of nausea struck me. Gasping, I collapsed onto the sand, my chest tightening, my heart thumping with confusion and fear, swaying on all fours for what seemed like hours. Looking every bit like an intoxicated tourist, I crept off the grainy canvas and stumbled back to my hotel room, dropping onto the bed. Trying in vain to ignore the throbbing ache in my ribs and arms, I drifted into a restless sleep with the sounds of the Night Market beating below.
The next morning I booked the first available flight home and went straight to my sister’s house.
“Cora!” Lydia exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Is everything okay, Lydia?” I was in no mood for small talk.
“Of course,” she replied – quickly and a little too brightly, I thought. “Come in.”
I entered the house, placed my handbag on the kitchen table and leaned in for a hug. I felt Lydia stiffen and wince at my touch. Remembering my own anguish the night before, I took a firm hold of her wrist and pushed her sleeve up.
Dark purple bruises marred her pale white skin. I knew if I lifted her blouse I would see more of the same.
“I tripped on the stairs yesterday and fell,” she offered lamely.
Lydia and I were born just 10 minutes apart, with the same fair skin, hazel eyes and mousy brown hair but it didn’t take anyone who knew us long to realise that our similarities ended there.
I frowned at her guilt-ridden expression. Her gaze dropped and she began twisting her engagement ring as she often did when she was nervous.
Lydia had always been far more gentle and timid than me. As the one person who knew her inside and out, it was my duty to protect her.
“Hi, Cora. Wasn’t expecting you back so soon.” Lydia’s fiancé Austin emerged from the bathroom, flashing a sugar-white grin. “Sick of shopping already?” He finished knotting the tie around his neck and planted a deep kiss on my sister. She smiled back.
I felt a ripple in my stomach and narrowed my eyes.
“Just missed my sister,” I replied shortly.
Austin laughed. “That twin connection thing, huh. Alright, babe, I’ve got to get to work. I love you. You girls have fun, okay?”
The door shut behind him and I took a step towards Lydia. “You’re afraid of him. I felt it. He did this to you.” It wasn’t a question.
“He didn’t mean it,” Lydia whispered. “He was so sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“Like hell it won’t!” I snapped. “And once is too many.”
I made her a cup of tea and kept her company for the day, rubbing the jetlag from my eyes as I kept watch on the clock. At 5pm, I knew Austin would finish work and I had to be there before he left. I said my goodbyes to Lydia just after four and drove to Austin’s office building, pulling in to a parking space along the street.
Austin swaggered out at five minutes past five with three other men. They all hopped into a black van. I trailed them to a pub situated about halfway to Lydia and Austin’s house and waited with the radio on, as Only Women Bleed filled my car.
An hour later, Austin emerged alone and began his walk home as I followed slowly behind. He turned, startled, before his trademark grin stretched across his face.
“Hey, Cora, you scared me there. Any chance of a lift?”
My face stared stonily back at him. “I know what you did, Austin.”
I saw his lip twitch. “What did she say to you?”
“Nothing. She didn’t have to.”
“That twin connection thing, huh.”
“You know it.”
Austin grimaced. “Then know this: I love Lydia. I didn’t mean to hurt her. It won’t happen again.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Austin squinted sharply and frowned. “Then I’m sorry.” He started to walk again. I continued to follow in my car.
I saw the exact moment his fear engulfed him. The same fear he had pounded into my sister. He began to sprint through the side streets, sweat shaking off his athletic frame.
I stamped my foot on the accelerator. My bonnet collected him first. He bounced off the windshield and landed with a flop on the road several metres away.
I kept driving.
I reached Lydia’s house and found her in tears. “Austin hasn’t come home,” she sobbed, her hazel eyes wide and fearful when she saw me.
I held her in a tight embrace. “You’re safe now, Lydia. He can’t hurt you anymore.” I felt Lydia stiffen and wince at my touch.
She was scared of me.
The last week of 2012 ended with the achievement of a personal milestone, when I published my first Kindle eBook. They Don’t Talk About It is a collection of ten flash fiction stories centred around a loose theme of imperfect relationships (Is there any other kind?).
They were originally written over a period of about six or seven years, the earliest being “Unspoken”, which was penned while I was studying for high school exams. So if you’re up for a little light reading and willing to part with about a dollar, you can download They Don’t Talk About It from the Amazon Kindle Store.
I know that’s somewhat limiting to owners of other eReaders (or non-owners of eReaders), but if you don’t have a Kindle you can read it on your computer, smartphone or tablet by downloading the appropriate free app. And it’s a quick read.
No pressure, though… I won’t be offended if you don’t buy it or it’s not your cup of tea.
I didn’t include an Oscars-style speech in my book — It seemed a tad over the top for a small 99c bundle — but I would like to make mention of a few people now.
To Book Graphics for designing the cover. Thank you for making a blurry vision reality.
To all the amazing writers and readers I’ve met online, especially the #FridayFlash community on Twitter for taking the time to critique me over the past two years. It’s a long road to becoming the writer I want to be and I’m not there yet but I’m gradually learning and improving. Special thanks to Icy Sedgwick, whose photo prompt “Mandrake” inspired “Living on a Lie”, and Chuck Allen, who was the first person to give me feedback on my writing when I started dipping my toes into the #FridayFlash scene.
To the special friends in my life who have become almost a surrogate family to me over the past year or so… You know who you are. Thanks for the constant love and support. I hope I can repay your faith in me.
Here’s to a beautiful, insane, creative, productive 2013!
Photo by kahanaboy
It has been eight years, five months and 26 days since we spoke. But who’s counting?
I often wonder if you ever think of me because not a day goes by I don’t think about you.
I remember how you held my hand when we walked through the park to kindergarten.
I remember how you rushed over to cuddle me and clean up my bloodied knees every time I skinned them tripping over my own feet in the yard.
I remember my embarrassment when you marched into the principal’s office during his meeting and demanded the school expel Duncan for bullying me.
I remember how you took two jobs to pay for my private school fees.
I remember when you drove four hours through the rain to pick me up when I got drunk at school camp and waited until I stopped being sick to scold me.
I remember how excited you were to see me in a tuxedo for my school ball, the way you gushed about how beautiful Rebecca looked in her blue silk gown and joked about how cute our babies would be.
I remember how you baked my favourite chocolate chip muffins for me when the football jocks put me in hospital.
I remember your proud smile and the three packets of camera batteries you used up at my graduation.
I remember all the times you held me and told me you would love me forever.
I remember the day I finally plucked up the courage to tell you I was gay.
I remember how you insisted I was going through a phase.
I remember the day I brought my first boyfriend home.
I remember my heartbreak when you told me I was no longer your son.
I remember overdosing on antidepressants.
I remember when Jeff saved my life in more ways than one.
I remember waking up five years ago with Jeff by my side and realising I was happy and almost complete.
I remember our excitement when the adoption agency called and our pure joy when we held our daughter Hope for the first time.
I remember the tinge of sadness I felt last week as I watched Jeff’s parents play with Hope and thought about how she would never know my side of the family. I remember waking up this morning and thinking it shouldn’t need to be that way.
Asher stared at the page, salt water burning in his eyes for what felt like hours until his baby’s cries broke his thoughts.
“Sounds like naptime is over,” Jeff quipped, gently lifting Hope from her cot. He gestured at the Asher’s letter. “How’s it going?”
Asher shook his head. “Needs some work.”
Still cradling Hope, Jeff sat beside Asher and began to read. “Are you going to send it?” he asked.
Asher looked wistfully at Jeff and their child, then down at the letter. Stray tears slipped from his eyes and onto the page. He sighed.
“I don’t know. It’s been so long.”