Sunday, January 24, 2010

DWP - random book prompt

from: The Discovery of the Titanic - Robert D. Ballard

The research vessel Knorr heaved and plunged with the ocean swell as I leaned out over the bow railing, squinting into the blackness.

Eighty years ago, I died here. The same dark night, the same cold ocean, the same mysterious air. This is where I lost him, let go of his hand when I shouldn't. Only to die the same death; only to be eaten by the same dark cold waters that ate him. I cheated. I wanted desperately to survive but to do that, I had to get rid of him. He didn't know how to swim and he clung to me for his life. But I can't save him and me at the same time. Only one. Only one of us. I knew how to swim, and his life was in my hand.

"Hold my hand," I said, but my legs treaded the cold waters which made me move away from him. Splashes of salty cold water hit my face until he disappeared.

Then a lifeboat. There were hands extended and I heard yelling for me to grasp them. Above the yelling, I heard, "We can't have anymore. Let her swim to the next one, they only have five!"

"We can't have anymore!" But I clung to it until a strong hand pulled me up. I would survive after all. But when I looked, his other hand had a pistol. Although shivering from the cold, I still felt the coldness of the barrel as it touched my forehead. A deafening noise. A bright spark. Then it was just all darkness.

I had heard that after we die, we are always re-born, and each time we are free of the memories of our last life. Not me. I suppose I'd been sent to hell.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

DWP - continuation

Goodbye, Marvin - Part 2

As I sit on the train reading my Metro, I suddenly realize that it has been a full month since Marvin has left the apartment and that time really flies when you enjoy yourself.

Amidst the chatter and the noise of the train, I hear a small thud on the floor and a slim flow of expensive smelling latte passes on the floor in front of me and thins out almost to the back of the train.

"Theresa!" I recognize Marvin's voice as the train halts and I start to get up.

Forgetting that I should be frowning instead of grinning (after all he LEFT me, didn't he?), I look back, wave at him and say, "Hi, Marv! Bye, Marv" as I exit the train.

Friday, January 15, 2010

DWP prompt: my own little rain cloud


I saw your note last night when I came home: brief and to the point.

"been wanting to say i'm moving out; so today is my last day here. sorry, would've given more notice but just can't find the opp. i've removed much of my stuff, whatever i've left, keep if you want, discard if you don't. know that i've always wished we'd work out. but some things just won't. marvin"

I cried, both from sadness and relief. Sadness that we reached the point when we could no longer talk to each other and you had to say your goodbye on a small piece of paper. Relief that at last I am free of you and I didn't have to be the one to say goodbye.

The last several weeks, I'd wake up and seemed that the sky was always gray. I'd force myself to enjoy the sunshine and mild temperatures but you'd come to mind and it's like a bucket of cold water had been poured on me. I had been wanting to tell you to move out or I would, but I don't know if it's dread or pity or just plain hate, but I just took all opportunities not to have to look at you or talk with you.

The few times we had managed to make love (only out of physical need was the only explanation in my mind) you cooed at me when you noticed I was crying, thinking it was my expression of pleasure, when in fact what I wanted was to push you away. If you had noticed, I no longer open my mouth when you kiss me. Only the need to gratify the physical desires made me move my body in rhythm with yours. I cried because the act had become meaningless and I dread having the urge again to be loved by you. I know your style, your moves, your whispers, your touch, which now I all dread.

We had grown so far apart we can't reach each other anymore. And in the end, I had no more desire to reach you. I stopped talking because I couldn't pretend any longer. I didn't want you to think that anything about you still meant anything to me. I wanted you to leave me, to leave me alone.

And now you had left. I sat by the window and watched the almost horizontal rain as it pelted onto the glass pane. But the weatherman had said the rain would only last until mid-morning. And so did my pain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

DWP prompt: calypso


I wonder if you can hear me, Martha, as you lay there in your bed. The doctor says there's nothing more that he can do for you. I have signed the forms, once you take your last breath, they will start harvesting your organs, as you have wished in your will and in that little green card you kept in your wallet.

Martha, I regret about the accident. I know, I know, there's nothing I can do about it now. I have played it in my mind over and over, even in my sleep. And yet it baffles me that I am whole, nary a broken bone. But you, you're dying. Are you really? Martha, if you can hear me, do something so I would know.

It's not fair. Oh, God, it's not fair. How can I make things right, Martha? How?

We were fighting just before the accident. Just before we saw that big truck flying across the median on the highway and in a snap it crushed us, made us one with the glass and metal of our car. Just before that, you asked why I never sent you flowers? I told you, it's not my thing. Trinkets, lingeries, jewellery. I gave you hundreds of those. And yet you want flowers. Something that wither and then thrown away. You forget about it afterwards.

And yet, now you cannot see this. This flower that you so wanted. What good would this do for you? It will not bring you back; it will not cure you. Ironic, isn't it, Martha, that now I spent so much for these orchids that you wouldn't see, wouldn't smell, wouldn't touch, wouldn't know. This is not my thing, Martha. But here, have these. I got them especially for you. I love you, Martha.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mr. Blue Eyes

Note: This story was published in 2000 by the unfinished press in an anthology titled "Shades of Blue"

“Spare some change, miss?”

Isabela heard a deep voice. It came from what looked like a heap of garbage sprawled on the steps of the condemned Bank of Montreal building on the corner of Yonge and Queen Streets. She gave a cursory glance. It was a man.

On impulse, she walked closer to the curb, being careful not to step off the pavement onto the traffic. She looked away, ignoring the man, and quickened her steps. She glanced at the traffic light and saw that the Queen Street traffic was still on green. She could make it to the corner just in time for the Yonge traffic to go and she would cross the street. But guilt chewed at her conscience. She was brought up poor and her parents instilled in her a compassion towards those less fortunate than herself. She inwardly chastised herself then turned and walked towards him.

He wore layered clothing despite the humid July heat, the colours indiscernible from filth. His unshaven face was dirty. She looked at him full in the face. Beneath the brim of his muddied baseball cap, Isabela saw the man’s eyes. She was struck by their vivid blueness - blue as the ocean she had seen from the airplane during her many travels to Asia and Europe. They were the bluest blue eyes she had ever seen.

“What did you need the spare change for?” she asked. She reached down her suit pocket, pretending to fish out some change; but she guessed he probably knew it was just an act: there was no jingling sound of any spare change. The man propped himself up and sat at the very top of the stone steps.

“For breakfast, ma’am. I haven't eaten for two days,” he said. He returned her stare, a glazed, blank stare. She stood there for a long time in front of him, staring, hesitating. For some strange reason, she felt sympathy for him. The man and his blue eyes.

She felt a tinge of panic inside and thought about just giving the man a few quarters, as she mentally searched the inside pockets of her purse for change. But her feet seemed frozen on the pavement. She stood there gawking at the blueness of his eyes. Only the loud sound from the bell of a passing streetcar seemed to jolt her back to her senses. She said, “Look, I can't give you money, but I can buy you breakfast, if you like." She could not believe what she just said. I am being hypnotized, she thought.

He smiled; it was a mocking smile, she thought. “I know, ma’am, you don't trust me,” he said, his voice devoid of emotion, at the same time appearing suspicious of the offer at hand. “I can’t blame you. Thank you anyway.”

“No, it’s principle,” she said, “If you’re hungry, I’ll give you food, but not money.”

He looked down at the pavement; the expression on his face changed to that of resignation. She couldn’t see his blue eyes. Then he looked up at her again, and in an almost inaudible voice, he said, “I don’t want to impose, ma’am; you must be on your way to work.”

She shook her head lightly. “No, I’m not from Toronto,” she lied. “I’m a tourist.” Then she said, “Your choice.”

She motioned to her left, at the rows of McDonald’s, Burger King and a small diner with a 24-hour neon sign still blinking and a blackboard outside its door advertising “pancakes” special. Across Queen Street, towards the south, Tim Horton’s and Taco Bell signs loomed prominently.

The man stood up, tentatively, all the while staring at her face, himself unbelieving. He was tall, towering above her; the lean shoulders hunched as if in total defeat of what fate had handed him. The dirty clothes hung from his body, frayed from being unwashed; as a repulsive smell emanated from his movement, Isabela took a couple of steps back.

The man took a few steps, blinking his blue eyes and shaking his head as if seeing daylight for the first time. “Pancakes,” he said in his deep, tired voice.

Isabela pointed to the bundle he was using as a pillow.

“What about your stuff?” she asked, concerned his meagre belongings might get lost.
Instead, he muttered, “Pancakes,” again and the glazed blue eyes were fixed on the blackboard in front of the diner up ahead. Without another word, they walked towards the diner. The man trailed behind her. She made sure she was at a safe distance to avoid the putrid smell that had now assaulted her nostrils and caused a throb in the spot above her eyebrows. Her stomach churned and, for a moment, she felt like throwing up and almost regretted her act of kindness.

“Not allowed! Not allowed here!” the oriental waiter protested, in a heavily accented tone, as he tried to shoo the vagrant away, like he was driving away a stray dog.

Isabela looked at the waiter, raised one hand to stop him and said, “He’s with me,” a tone of resolute defiance in her voice.

Two men, both wearing business suits, appeared behind them, wanting to get in. One muttered, “What the fuck!” but held off when Isabela looked back at them with one raised eyebrow. They left, laughing and muttering obscenities Isabela felt were directed at her.

The Korean waiter looked at her with astonished disapproval and muttered something in his language, something that sounded savage. He looked at Isabela from head to toe, surveyed her Donna Karan suit, the pearl choker, the big leather purse and white Keds running shoes. His unbelieving look seemed to tell her, “Surely you don’t mean that!” But she knew the look meant more than that. He was belittling her, probably thinking she’s some Filipina shit who couldn’t resist picking up a handsome beggar. She cursed the waiter in her head. An equally savage curse in her own language.

“Bad for business, see?” the waiter said as he motioned towards the direction of the two men.

She could almost feel the waiter’s disdain: her face turned red. She continued to stare at him. She resolved she would not back down. She noticed his nose twitched from the smell of her unlikely guest. Then, realizing she would not leave, the waiter stepped back and let them in. He walked up behind the counter, still muttering savage sounds.

The restaurant was empty. Isabela chose a table by the opened glass window -at least the smell of fumes from the passing cars would be a relief from the putrid smell of her guest; the smell of rancid grease that permeated the whole restaurant was already a blessing. She told Mr. Blue Eyes (for in her mind she decided to call him that) to sit down. Instead the man motioned for her to sit first, taking his dirty cap off his head, revealing unwashed, unkempt dark blonde hair, bowing his head in a gallant fashion, bending his body awkwardly. It was a sincere gesture. Chivalry’s not dead after all, she thought as she smiled at him and sat down. She handed him the laminated menu card which was propped on the table. His face brightened at seeing the sumptuous colourful pictures. A smile almost appeared at the corner of his mouth, the colour of his eyes now a more vivid blue.

Without looking at his host, Mr. Blue Eyes said, “I may not have this chance again, ma’am, but do you mind if I get the pancakes with sausage and eggs?” His fingers pointed at a glossy picture. The dirty, pallid face was for a brief while painted with excitement, like a child opening a most wanted gift on his birthday. His lips stretched into a smile, the sunken cheeks revealed a pair of dimples.

“Sure,” Isabela said, nodding. “Go ahead.”

The man motioned to the waiter who deliberately tried to ignore him. Isabela then raised her one arm and flicked her fingers and said, “Mister!” raising her voice enough for the man to hear.

The waiter, making no effort to disguise his annoyance, walked up to the table.

“What!” It was a rude interjection rather than a question. Ignoring this show of rudeness, Mr. Blue Eyes ordered the pancakes combo and coffee. He ordered coffee for Isabela but she politely declined, amused at this show of gallantry but at the same time preoccupied with anger at the waiter’s attitude. She turned to the waiter and, in a quiet, firm voice, told him to give her the bill right away. Still mumbling with disgust, the waiter walked back behind the counter, angrily punched the order on an unseen machine then disappeared through the kitchen door.

“What is your name?” she asked, trying to make her voice sound kinder, friendlier.

He did not answer. He sat quietly, his head slightly bowed, stealing a furtive glance at her face. He was embarrassed and was visibly more uncomfortable than Isabela. Then he said, “Them people must be mocking you.” He motioned his hand towards the counter. He continued, “And thinking bad things about you bringing me here...” his voice trailed, “A bum, smelling like a pig.”

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled, but he didn’t see as he lowered his gaze down. For a while, they both sat down facing each other in awkward silence.

“What happened to you?” she asked in an attempt at small talk. When he did not answer, she apologized. He looked out into the street seeming to count passers-by and cars. His eyes had turned a darker shade of blue, like the colour of a gathering storm on the high seas. She thought he must have been offended by the question. She chastised herself: what right did she have asking him about his predicament just because she was buying his breakfast?

“I'm sorry,” she said. He didn't say anything.

The food arrived. He drank his coffee in one gulp and asked for a refill then ravenously attacked his pancakes. For a moment, Isabela was afraid that he would choke but he just swallowed and gulped. Nothing happened. She sat there, mesmerized by the man’s blue eyes. She noticed his lean hands, the long bony fingers which probably did not know manual work now dirty, the long uncut fingernails black underneath, protruding from a pair of dirty, shorn, knitted gloves. She surveyed his dirty face and guessed that it must have been days since he last shaved.

Halfway through his breakfast, he said, “Cocaine.”

Isabela strained to hear him between his chewing and the noise coming from a passing Fedex delivery truck.

“Crack cocaine. That's what happened to me,” he said again. “And booze!”
He was adept at using knife and fork, Isabela observed. She guessed that he must have been brought up properly, had good education. She pictured him in an expensive car, with beautiful women. She pictured him neat and trimmed and clean, in a suit, lounging in a large well-furnished home. She pictured him not as he appeared. Then after a long silence, he spoke again.

“I used to have a family, a big home, a nice car, a good job. I lost them all because of cocaine. I sold my soul for cocaine. I didn't care if I didn't eat; any money I could get my hands on, I spent on cocaine.” He paused. He contemplated one of the sausages before cutting it into four pieces and forked one piece into his mouth.

“And alcohol,” he continued, pouring syrup on his last pancake. “But I prefer my life now, a bum. If there is drugs, then so be it. If not, it really doesn't matter.” He slowly placed his fork down as he chewed the piece of sausage. He looked away.

His face betrayed emotions of sadness and regret. His gaze lingered outside into the street. He furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head. Isabela thought she saw a glint in his blue eyes: he was fighting tears. She followed his gaze. At the bus stop, a man, probably in his thirties, dressed in a yellow golf shirt and neatly pressed khaki pants held a thin briefcase and a lunch bag in one hand; the other hand held the tiny hand of a small boy, no more than eight years old: father and son, engaged in casual conversation. Then, almost abruptly, Mr. Blue Eyes grabbed his fork and continued to eat his food in silence, more deliberate now, as if trying to memorize how each bite of food tasted, or maybe, Isabela decided, trying to purge his mind of the poignant memories spurred by the scene outside.

When he finished, the plate was wiped clean: no crumbs, no spills, no leftovers. He was really hungry, Isabela thought. He drank the rest of his coffee without so much as looking at her. When he finished, he sat quietly for a while, then started to fidget with his feet underneath the table. She sensed his uneasiness and Isabela took this as a signal to leave. She stood up, walked to the counter, grabbed a cello-wrapped cinnamon bun, waving it to an older oriental woman crouched unseen behind the counter. She heard the woman say something in the same language as the waiter’s and the waiter appeared from the kitchen. She asked for the bill by making an imaginary rectangle in the air with her fingers. She walked back to the table and gave the cinnamon bun to Mr. Blue Eyes, placing it on the table in front of him.

She smiled and said, “Have a nice day.” Before he could say anything, she turned away and walked back to the counter.

She paid the waiter, telling him to keep the several cents change. The waiter said something under his breath that she strained to understand: “Why a nice woman like you do this?” She glared at him. It was her turn to look at the waiter with disdain. She fought hard within her to ignore the question and, without saying anything, left the restaurant. But inside her, she asked herself the same question. Was it pure pity or curiousness? Pity wasn’t it. Maybe she’s curious. She quietly charged it to her religious upbringing: help the poor. But she passed by many other beggars every morning, everyday, everywhere and she never as much gave them anything. “Why don’t you get a job, you idiot!” sometimes she would tell a what looked like an able-bodied person. But Mr. Blue Eyes. She couldn’t resist those blue eyes.

Outside, in the street, the still, humid air seemed a precursor to another scorching day. She sensed someone walking closely behind her: it was Mr. Blue Eyes. She quickened her steps but he had longer strides and as he went past her, he walked backwards so that he was facing her. He smiled and said, “Thank you.” Isabela looked at him and his blue eyes one last time and smiled at him, then, aware of strangers’ eyes with questioning looks, nodded in dismissal. He smiled back. In a moment, the man with very blue eyes was gone.

At the corner of Yonge and Queen, as she stopped and waited for the lights to turn green, she looked up at the hazy blue sky, a ray of dull morning sunlight that shone between the tall buildings struck her eyes. She removed her blazer as she felt sweat from the back of her neck trickling down her spine and forming beads on her forehead. The lights had turned green and a throng of people from the other side started to cross. She slung her blazer across one shoulder and without looking back, she met the throng head on and crossed Queen Street. She walked past an old man holding a sign that read “Homeless Viet Nam Vet” begging for spare change. A few yards farther, a young couple with green spiked hair huddled together underneath a blue blanket and asked her for a dollar. Isabela twisted her lips in disgust. She kept walking.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A SHORT STORY - The Ocarina

Music fills the almost empty pathway between the Eaton Centre and the subway station. In my head, I put words into the music: Should old acquiantance be forgot and never brought to mind? The music is so smooth I can picture notes floating in the air. A flute, maybe? Then I remember that my immediate concern is to get on the next train so I walk faster to get to the escalators going up the station. It is New Year's eve and I want to get home right away.

It is hard to ignore the music and in my mind I have decided it is the sound of a flute. A picture came to mind of someone standing beneath a bridge in Amsterdam - a woman flutist, wearing a traditional dress of the Dutch and wearing Dutch sandals, her flute of silver color glistening in the setting summer sun. I remember stopping, admiring the music she made with her flute, and fishing out a ten American dollar bill and gently placing it on the velvet lined case of her flute which lay open on the pavement by her feet. It was a scene from long ago, the summer of 81, when as a young exchange student, I had toured Europe to augment my historical and geographical knowledge.

At the turn, I realize the musician is a man. I can see him now. He has combed back dark curly hair that reaches down his shoulders. He wears a pair of glasses, the one side being held together by thin strips of gray duct tape. His frayed jacket, too small even for his thin frame, used to be the color of the sky but has now turned dirty gray. He holds a small blue instrument that sounded like a flute, cupping it delicately in his hands, his dirty fingers adeptly working the holes. It is an ocarina. My heart pounded at the recognition of the thought that suddenly asserted itself in front of my vision. Jeremiah.

I look at him again and at the same instant, he lifts his head and opens his eyes shaded by the glasses’ rim, one glass broken in two. He looks at me for a second then shifts his eyes, away. I see his mouth stiffens. He quickly brings the ocarina back to his lips and blows a note, then two, and starts to play a melody. He stops, looks down behind him, and pulls a small plastic stool. He sits down and tests his ocarina again. I stop right in front of him and wait for him to look up. He bends down and fixes the shoe lace of his worn out running shoes, his toes peeking. When he seems to have settled, he places the ocarina in his mouth and starts to play Ravel’s Bolero, softly, slowly, as the music should be. He closes his eyes, as if by doing so I will go away.

“Jeremiah,” I whisper. He misses a note but carries on with the music. I lean on the wall and I can feel the cold tiles through my thick winter jacket. My legs feel like noodles and my vision start to blur. Tears start to swell and my throat seems to close and I couldn’t breathe. “Jeremiah,” I say again, this time louder.

He turns the other way, and I can only see the side of his face and mostly his long hair. My son, my son, I cry in my head. I stand there and wait for the music to finish even though I know it is a long piece.

Three years ago, he left home. My baby, my first born. It broke my heart when he did, but I kept my hurt to myself. He had been out of school for two years, didn’t know exactly what to do after high school. He loved working on computers and I had hoped he would’ve wanted to enroll in a course. I pushed him into working, save enough money for a downpayment for tuition. I could not afford to send him to college. I chastised him for wasting his opportunities, 180 IQ, his adeptness at a lot of things, but he only settled for a part time job at Dunkin' Donuts. He had a girlfriend, Sarah, and he spent all his free time with her or talking to her on the phone and spending whatever money he had on her.

"Do you not realize that other people would’ve loved to have the good start you and your brother had?"

Then I ranted about how my siblings and I grew up poor, we never had the things he had; we were not smart but we had scholarships even partial ones just to get us to the next year of school because we studied hard. The older ones worked during daytime and schooled at night and scrimped on money to send us the younger ones to college. We never asked for anything back because we resolved we would give it back to our children, so they don’t experience that poverty we suffered.

With his meagre wage, he bought the ocarina. He was always short of money, borrowing from me, from his brother, from anyone. But he could afford to pay for that ocarina.

"What are you going to do with it?" I had asked. "That’s why you’re always short of money, if you’re not spending it on your girlfriend, you spend it on unnecessary things. What good will that thing do for you unless maybe you do that in the subway. Is that the life you want?"

And now, this is what he does. The subway music gig. With that blue ocarina. He continues to play but still would not look at me. As he plays, I see a tear flowing down his cheek. A young couple throws a tooney into the oversized hat in front of him. I open my purse and pull out a fifty-dollar bill. I reach over and put it in his jacket's pocket. "Jeremiah," I say. "Please come home." He continues to play, he does not open his eyes. "Or at least call." I stand near him and wait for him to stop and say something. But he is unmoved.

As I walk away, he switches his music to "Auld Lang Syne" again, until the sound is drowned by the coming subway train.