Wetland Blossoms

If Jack remained inside his room for too long, he was often victim to having his body overcome with an overwhelming pressure. A kind of presence within his blood, pulling at the sinew under his skin and forcing him into a state of irritability, one which he could not account for.
At times such as these, he would stop what he was doing and take a long walk to gather flowers.
He couldn’t recall when he first started doing this, but he knew that when he returned to his house, hands full with fresh picks, he would be cured temporarily.

Jack found himself following the walkway which traced the edge of the creek. He came to life at the shifting gravel under his feet, the loose sediment playing a melody of white noise with every step.
It had been a wet summer, and the heat was late in arriving. Spring felt as if it had doubled in length, and Jack breathed deeply of the moistened air, taking in the fragrances of fresh growth.
The forest across the creek was absorbed in shades of pine and moss, all of the trees being evergreens, and the mangroves owned the banks with complete autonomy. Jack remembered walking through these as a child, coming back cold and covered in sludge, the stench of which was so that it caught like rotten eggs in the back of your throat. Once, a fresh shoot shot right through the bottom of his brother’s foot, coming up between the bone next to his large toe. It didn’t quite pierce all the way through and instead appeared like a tiny hill atop his foot.
These walks were walks of memory. Contemplation of nature and of Jacks own nature. It was his habit to walk the length of his walk, eyeing out potential picks, and then doubling back, confirming those choices. This was in line with how Jack lived his life.
At this time of year, the tuis had flown from the deep inland bush to feed on the flower nectars and the insects which stuffed themselves full of the sweetness of nature’s bounty. Their song was such that Jack found himself whistling back to them. He was envious of their two voice boxes, but he rarely knew what to do with the one he owned.

Jack now turned for home, the compiled list completed.
The tactile sensations of picking were his favourite part, and he would spend a short time with each plant, running his hand along the bark to feel their textures, along the leaves and flowers, gently caressing them with the lightest of touches, and coaxing them to release their distinct aromas.
He first picked a thin stem from a young Manuka tree, with small white blossoms climbing the length, and round woody seed pods scattered about it. Next, he pulled several lots of the long, curved flowers from the Harakeke flax bushes which dominated the walkway. Due to the odd weather, the bushes were in different stages of flowering and he was able to pick from a gradient range of yellows, greens, reds. Lastly, he came to some roadside perennials, blossoming in a rich shade of cherry, streaked with a tangerine and honey centre. Jack could taste the fruits of his labour.

The Ocean Is A Memory

The terrace is encased in trellises covered with grape vines, and troughs filled with herbs lay along the edges. The air is fresh and smells of meals that haven’t been cooked yet.
Rosemary on lamb. Tarragon rubbed chicken. Mushroom fettuccine topped with basil and thyme, and time put into it.
The waiter brings me a long list of drinks, and some bread, no butter.
The sea is to my left and the white canvas sails snap in the breeze, reminding me of the woman who lived on the cobbled streets of Nice, who would hang her washing to dry in the spring heat, snapping the sheets with a whip of her arms, and scolding the children who would run through the tenement yard, but it was their yard, everyone shared, even the baked pastries she would leave as treats near the wash basket, and the children would scrub soiled undergarments and white canvas sheets to earn a warm tart with cream, the only treat they would see, and they would be pleased, running through the yard which they all shared.
Sails will never go out of fashion, even with better and more powerful engines being produced. The sound of a sail catching wind is a signal to men of the sea to meditate and follow the currents of their lives. To catch fish and feed their families, to enjoy the breeze and misery of lost dreams.
I am not a sailor, I have no legs for the decks of damp surroundings, so I eat my bread and think of the woman hanging sheets, and I sail on the winds of my memories imaginings.

Dinner for Juan

Juan hadn’t eaten with another person in months. He couldn’t remember the last time. He couldn’t remember what it was like to sit across from someone discussing inconsequential things, like the quality of the food, what the people at the corner table might be talking about, or what he’d do when he got home.

Everyone that knew Juan, thought he was busy. A man-about-town, appearing everywhere at once and shaking every hand.

Juan had a knack at first impressions, they all agreed on that. They thought him affable and charming, though no one could tell you why.

No one could give any definitive answers about him, and as time passed they were more inclined to avoid the subject.

All in all, Juan was an acquaintance. He was nobodies friend, but everybody’s buddy. They would smile at him in the street and he would smile back, an empty mouthed, tight-jawed smile, wrinkling his eyes on reflex because he’d read somewhere that is appears more genuine. Everyone would smile this way.

It was only by chance that Juan found his way to parties. No one went out of their way to invite him. He wouldn’t be invited anywhere. He’d hear about these events after the fact, and everyone would assume he’d been there and they missed him, and he would lie and say he had been, or that he’d left early, or that his cat was sick, even though he didn’t have a cat. The only thing for him to tend to was his reputation.

Things were simply assumed of Juan. That he was kind, cultured, intelligent, desired by many women, envied by men. This is what people said to one another, but no one had expressed the fact, only shared it as second-hand knowledge.

Juan knew all of these things about himself, yet he was incapable of remedying them. He fermented in his skin daily. He’d ask himself why it was that he was forgotten so quickly? He would listen to others stories, feeling rejection well within him.

He would eat lunch at the same café every afternoon. During this routine, he would torture himself by watching couples and groups walk past, sharing their days together, and he would imagine that he was looking out of their eyes, living their stories.

Juan had no stories. His were confined to books, which he quickly forgot the details of because the quality lay in reading the words and not in the re-telling, or so he said. The only ones he told were his stock stories, which he would perform when meeting new people. These were tried and true tales. Ones that guaranteed to make his impression a good one. These were much like stock photographs that come inside picture frames from the stores, which incidentally, Juan would put on display, lacking any of his own to put inside.

He could never tell them true things about his life. He didn’t even like telling himself about those.

How he was miserable, desperate for affection, though unable to give it. How he still cried at night when he remembered how his brother would punish him by smothering him with a pillow. Juan had become so accustomed to this treatment that he found if he could get a hand in with his head, he could use it to push in the plush and produce a tiny pocket of air to breathe in. Juan’s mother did not believe him when he told, even when he showed her the outline of his face, impressed on the underside of the pillow by his crying and panicked sweating.

Once when Juan and an old girlfriend had been play-fighting, she began to force his head down with a pillow, and he beat her so viciously that he blinded her left eye permanently. Juan could not recognise her face from his brothers, through the tears, bile and burst capillaries.

How was he to tell people these stories? Blinding somebody in a blind rage over being blinded by a pillow.

He’d never get past the gate. And once he was through, he’d be confined to the foyer. He would never be allowed into the show, private viewings were for the inner circle. Juan had never been in.

Despite being seen as affable, it was unspoken that he made others feel anxious, guarded even. It’s as if everyone wanted to think him charming but really wished he would leave.

This is how Juan felt when on empty evenings when he looked at photographs of nameless families on his mantle. This is how he felt when he would smother himself with his pillows, leaving the shadow of his face on the casing. This is how he felt when he could no longer leave his room, and no one came looking.

Juan felt that he no longer existed, that he was imagining himself. Someone would come searching for him if he existed, he thought. They knew his name, his face, but all else was left to speculation if anyone took the time to speculate.

When someone did come looking, for the late rent, they found Juan with a blue velvet cushion tied to his face with a polyester-leather belt, and the picture frames of strangers arranged around his body like a funeral procession. His face had welded to the fibres and the skin pulled free from his skull when it was removed. Juan was unmasked and proved to be empty and decaying.

A Ballet

“It’s like, at this time of the night there isn’t as much interference. Other people’s thoughts and minds aren’t clogging up the air space. You know what I mean?”

We’d gotten into the habit of walking home together after work, talking for twenty minutes and finally getting somewhere. We would really be talking, then we’d reach her house.
I’d say goodbye, lingering that few extra seconds I knew she noticed, and wanted her to notice, but neither of us would ever acknowledge.
My house was still another forty-five minutes away, every other night I would catch the bus. Sunday was our day for walking.
I had that forty-five minutes to continue the conversation inside, mumble regrets, and imagine what the night could have become had I hugged her.
In my mind, our conversation flows through the evening. We’d manoeuvre the initial awkwardness and then speak freely.
I imagine it every night after we say goodbye.
It’s no matter, though. I don’t need company. Missing people isn’t a problem. It’s only when I want someone specific.
With her it was specific.

“I’ve always wanted to go see the ballet, but I’ve never had anyone to go with. I don’t really want to go by myself, you know? I’d like to go with a group of friends or something. But, no one will want to go.”
“I’ve always wanted to go, we should go, yea? We could ask Nyla as well. It would be fun, make a night of it. Dress up all fancy-like.”
“Really? That could be good.”

We never went to the ballet. I never bought it up again. We both knew that we wouldn’t go. It was one of those conversations you have to fill time. It’s like talking about what technology will be like in the future, we might never see it, but it fulfills something just to toy with the idea.
I should have asked her again. More regrets.
It could have played out like The Nutcracker, but instead I walked home with the combined sound of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, Schoenberg composing beside me, and Coltrane improvising during his free period.

“Hey, are you walking home tonight?”
“Oh. Yea, no. I’m sorry, I’m meeting somebody for a drink. Next week, we’re back on like normal”
“Ok. See you.”

She smiled when she said that. There was no walk the next week. Or the week after that. Or ever again.
I couldn’t take it. I quit. Working there was a reminder that at 4 am I would be lonely and unable to sleep.
They went to the ballet. Of course they went to the ballet. He asked her. Of course he asked her.
Evolution was at work. Not my evolution, though.

“Hey, long time. You’re looking well.”
“Yea, you too.”
“Hows things? You kind of just disappeared on us, huh?
“Yea. I needed it. A change.”
“That’s cool, I guess. Well, I’ll see you around then?”
“Yea, of course. See you.”

I didn’t see her again. Better said, I never let myself see her again. We passed on the street once, but she was with him, and so I tucked my chin into my chest and pretended to button my shirt cuff. I went to the ballet alone.

Simon

He would smoke and drink from sun up, and continue for the rest of the day. His front teeth were black-yellow nubs, and the rest looked like termites had crawled from the cigarette smoke, through the filters and bored holes in every one of them. The skin on his face was pockmarked, scaly, and came off when he moved his head. His eyes and nails were the colour of jaundice and stale nicotine.
Though, despite this outward appearance, he had a certain charm.
He made you laugh, and he was so self-effacing that it made you feel warm, giddy, and good about your own life in that morbid kind of way you only get when you feel better than somebody else.
“I can do card tricks you know?”
He botched them, every time.
“My father was the only person outside of Africa, to have been kicked in the chest by a zebra. Any higher and it would have killed him. Sent him shooting across the room and broke his glasses.”
Somedays he would lose his mind.
“Your grandfather was a criminal associate of H.G. Wells. A spy in the emerald castle, 1884. Look it up. Ask your parents.”
When I asked him if it was my mother’s, or my father’s side, he couldn’t answer.
“Did you see that? Someone’s just died. I saw it through the T.V screen. An EMP just burst out of it. Someone’s having a bad time, somewhere.”
I asked him why he sat on the street all day. He didn’t know why.
“It’s been, ‘the day of the stingy git’. Are you feeling slightly benevolent this afternoon, by any chance? Do you think you could spot me twenty dollars, so I can get a pack of cigarettes?”
I told him that I couldn’t give him money if I knew I was contributing to his smoking.
“Well, you can be an arrogant, self-righteous prick if you want.”
He was still there at two a.m, when I finished my shift, sitting cross-legged outside the record store, waiting for money to fall into his lap.