Monday, November 30, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
The doorbell rang, startling Eleonor, who was asleep on the couch, feet tucked under her bottom, magazine across her chest. The magazine slid to the floor as Eleonor swung her feet down to the Persian rug. She anchored herself before standing up; she’d been having dizzy spells again and wondered whether her blood pressure was dipping. Not having had time to get to the doctor recently, Eleonor was self-diagnosing – something she was becoming quite good at these past few years.
Peering through the peephole, Eleonor recognised Jules, her neighbour. Eleonor was relieved; she hadn’t been expecting visitors and knew her hair looked dreadful, not to mention she was still in her pyjamas and it was well past lunchtime. She unlocked the door and pulled it open, remembering to focus on Jules’ face and give her a smile of welcome. Eleonor didn’t like having visitors, even if it was Jules, who, in addition to living next door, was her best friend. Actually her only real friend; the others, from before the change, had faded away, becoming more acquaintance than bosom buddy.
‘Hey Eleonor! How’re you going?’
‘Oh, pretty good thanks Jules. Um, do you want to come in?’ Eleonor was focused on the doorstep by now.
‘Well, I think we’ll both be more comfortable inside,’ Jules said.
Eleonor ushered Jules into the front room and bade her sit on one of two highbacked sofas she had in there. The light inside the room was dim, although it was a bright sunny day outside, but that was the way Eleonor liked it. She knew Jules was becoming used to her foibles, so didn’t force herself to open the blinds the smidgin she conceded to on rare occasions when she had other guests.
‘Can I get you a cuppa?’
‘No thanks Ellie, I can’t stay long.’ Jules was the only one who had a pet name for her. Not even her parents had called her by any name other than Eleonor.
‘I’ve got some news. Fred and I are going to Japan!’
Eleonor’s face told the story. She looked devastated. Jules, knowing each one of Eleonor’s looks, picked her up on it immediately.
‘On a holiday, you silly! Fred’s work is sending him over to attend a conference and partners have been invited. We’re staying on an extra week to see Tokyo and Kyoto and a few other places we’ve wanted to see for ages.’
‘Oh...that’s great,’ Eleonor managed.
‘I’ve come to ask if you’ll be right to get the mail while I’m away.’
Eleonor looked at her friend to see if this was some kind of prank; Jules’s sense of humour was pretty well developed. She was looking pretty serious though and her body language wasn’t giving anything away. Jules jiggled a little when she was up to something.
‘I’m not sure Jules. Can’t you ask someone else?’
Looking at her friend, the blonde girl tried very hard not to show her frustration.
‘Eleonor, it’s your mail. I’m not asking you to collect mine – Ethel from across the road will do it. But I can’t ask her to get yours too. Come on, you’ve made a lot of progress over the past three months. You only have to take a few more steps down the path to the letterbox. I have confidence in you Ellie. You can do it.’
Looking doubtful, Eleonor acceded. Jules had been so supportive after Max had died. She’d visited Eleonor in hospital every couple of days, looked after her house during the coroner’s investigation and taken charge of repainting and recarpeting the room where Max died. None of Eleonor’s family had come until Max’s funeral and they refused to stay with Eleonor, not wanting to ‘intrude’. Eleonor retreated mentally and physically from her old life and refused to leave the house; she was connected to Max and couldn’t bear to leave the last place she had seen him. The months ticked by. She had her groceries home delivered and paid her bills online. In the Internet age she had no need to leave the house. Work had given her indefinite leave and Max’s life insurance payout was keeping the roof over her head.
‘Listen, I’ve got to go. We haven’t packed yet and the cab is booked for five tomorrow morning – we’ve got an early flight.’
Jules stood up and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.
‘We’ll be back in ten days. I’ll look in on you as soon as we get back. Your letterbox had better be empty!’ Jules’s admonishment was half in jest, but Eleonor didn’t want to let her down. She owed a great debt to Jules.
Eleonor stood on her doorstep, meditating on the tilework that led to her front door. She did her breathing exercises and, on the fifth breath out, lifted and fixed her eyes on the edge of the veranda. She took the four steps she knew would take her to the top step leading down to the concrete path. She paused and breathed. So far, so good. She had made it to the bottom step the day before Jules had visited and she was confident she could make it as far again. She took them one at a time, trying to keep her eyes focused on each new step, not daring to look further in front of her. The shimmering haze that threatened to overwhelm her was building in her peripheral vision. Eleonor took a deep breath and looked for her next milestone. The letterbox. She remembered the counsellor’s advice. Channel your energy into a touchstone. Set your inner mind on reaching that touchstone. Focus and move. Don’t think about anything else till you reach it. Then, when you’re there, breathe, take stock and find your next touchstone. It’ll be slow going, but you will succeed if you persist.
Eleonor looked to where she knew the letterbox to be. Touchstone.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
* * *
By Lily Mulholland
I am awoken by a noise I do not understand. I am wet and cold, mortally so. Enough light trickles in through cracks around the door for me to see that the floor is made of stone. Hand-hewn rock with deep channels between has been my bed for hours unknown. I do not know how it happened that I am here. I draw myself up from my erstwhile mattress and every fiber of my body screams its protest. I have been transported, although I do not recall from where or by whom. What I know now is that I am prisoner in this frigid cell. I lift my hand and the sound of chains accompanies the resistant pressure on my wrist. I am shackled. The distant rumbling that woke me sounds again. This time I feel it in my bones. What is that noise? So loud, so inhuman?
I hear footsteps. They echo within my rocky room and I cannot discern whether they approach or recede. I tuck myself as far back toward the wall as I can and draw my knees up under my chin. I am freezing. The footsteps grow louder and a key is inserted in a lock. Twice it turns before I understand that it is my door that is about to open. The light that floods my cell is blinding. I try to shield my eyes with my hands, but the restraints pull them tight. I bow my aching head and offer up a prayer to the gods to spare me from torture.
The guard does not speak as he comes toward me. I shrink back into myself and will my heart to stop beating so fast. A surprise. A tray with food and drink is placed in front of me. The guard leaves and locks the door without a word. I am ravenous. I feed like a dog, on my hands and knees, my head low to the floor. I tear strips of meat with my teeth and swallow them without tasting. I wash the food down my throat with what I discover to be beer. Sated, I push the tray away and rest against the wall.
Although still wet and cold, the beer has warmed me and the food has quenched my hunger. For the first time since I awoke I wonder to the future. Where am I? Why am I here? Although the light is still dim, I can see bruises on my arms and legs. I must have been tied up. And then I remember; I was sold.
A new noise startles me. A terrible howling reverberates through my cell. The sound is animal and unmistakable: mastiffs. Fighting dogs. I shudder.
I hear the sound of footsteps again. This time there is more than one person coming. The door opens with a clang and a guard kneels before me and unfastens my manacles. The two men lift me to my feet and march me out into the passageway. I ask them where they are taking me but they do not answer from under their headgear.
I am tossed into a new room with the door locked behind me. This room couldn’t be more different. It’s full of people. Full of men; naked, semi-dressed and robed. I am escorted to a table, my stinking clothes cut from my body. Oiled from head to toe, my skin is sloughed clean. My hair is washed. I am dressed in clean white robes. I ask the slave why such care is being lavished upon me. He will not meet my eyes. I am shown into the next room. A deafening roar fills my ears and I see the other men in the room shudder with fear. Before I can ask any questions, the roar is answered by tormented howling.
My knuckles grow white gripping the seat. I know where I am. Roma. Il Colosseo. I am to fight to the death with starving dogs for the entertainment of the people.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I screw the lid on the flask, being careful not to spill the contents. It took a lot of effort to fill it and I didn’t want to waste a drop. Wrapping the flask in foil to keep it warm, I place it securely in my messenger bag.
Skipping down the stairs, two at a time, two at a time, two at a time, I descend to the basement where I store my bike. The apartment is too small to hang even a hook on the wall. Fortunately no one else in the block seems to ride. They all take a bus or walk. A lucky few have a car. Well, I sometimes think they’re lucky, but they pay for the privilege, that’s for sure.
I carry my bike up the stairs to the foyer and wheel it out the door. Making sure my messenger bag is sitting in the middle of my back, so it won’t swing around when I mount my bike, I push off and dive out into traffic. As I dart between cars and zip around buses, I can’t keep the stupid smile off my face. I’m wondering if anyone else threading their way through the city is carrying millions of sperm on their back. Then I think of possums – the way they carry their young, clinging tight with a concrete hold to the folds of their mothers’ skin. Then I feel silly. I’m not a possum. I’m a guy hoping to make a buck from tossing off.
I pedal faster, knowing I only have fifteen minutes to get the little fellas in the door and processed. I make it to the clinic with a couple of minutes to spare, park and lock my bike outside and head in to the collection counter.
Damn. There’s a hot chick behind the counter and I feel my cheeks start to ping. That’s not all that’s pinging either and I’m wearing cycling pants. I slide my messenger bag around in front of my crotch, like a shield.
Making eye contact with the clerk, I retrieve the flask and place it up on the counter.
‘Been here before?’ she asks.
‘No. I registered online and this is my first time.’ I feel like an idiot when I realise our conversation sounds exactly like an RSVP first date.
I give her my details and she looks me up on the database.
‘Fine. Your blood test and initial sample results are here. So you received your donation kit?
‘Did you fill the flask up to the line as specified?’ she asks me.
‘Line?’ I ask.
One plucked eyebrow ascends and she looks at me the same way Mrs McGurk looked at me in Grade Three.
‘We can’t take your sample if it’s not up to the line.’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I didn’t notice a line. I filled it.’
She stares at me.
‘To the top?’
I look at her, unsure what to say. The moment is rather awkward, as we continue to stare at each other. I look at my watch. She fixes me with one last look, trying to work out whether I’m pulling her leg or in earnest.
‘Yes, and I worked really hard to get it here within the fifteen minutes,’ I say, trying not to let my embarrassment strangle my epiglottis. It wouldn’t do to be talking like an eight-year-old, as well as feeling like one.
Her eyebrow descends; she’s made up her mind.
‘Okay Mr Scott, thank you for coming in today. If your specimen meets our criteria, you’ll receive your cheque in the mail,’ she says in a bored tone. She places my carefully wrapped package on a turntable and spins it round so it disappears behind the partition. My little fellas have begun their journey.
Understanding I’ve been dismissed, I head back out to my bike. A little tear forms in the corner of my eye; I feel like I’ve just waved off a child on his first day at school.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Max headed into the bar. Rocky was already there, three sheets to the wind. Max nodded to the bartender, who knew to send down two of the finest. He poured the shots and whizzed the glasses down the well polished bar. It was a neat trick. One glass stopped in front of Max, the other in front of Rocky.
‘Max,’ grunted Rocky in greeting.
Max saluted his friend with the glass before downing its contents and signalling for another.
‘Wassup?’ asked Rocky.
‘Lemme just get this into me. I need it after the day I’ve had.’ Max slugged the second shot and slumped down on the barstool next to Rocky.
Rocky raised an expectant eyebrow.
‘Got the vet’s bill today.’
‘Five hundred. For a freaking teeth clean.’
‘Jaysus. That’s more than my kid’s orthodontist’s bill.’
‘Aint that the truth.’
Max signalled for another round.
‘Yeah, and that isn't the worst of it. Vet tells me that I’ll have to bring him in twice a year for a teeth clean – that’s ten thousand over ten years! I should’ve got me some of that pet insurance.’
Max and Rocky stared at the TV above the bar.
‘Who’s winning?’ asked Max.
‘And,’ continued Max, ‘the vet tells me that I’m likely to have to fork out for a full tooth extraction after about ten years. That’s another three freakin’ thousand.’
‘Jaysus mate. Is that normal?’ asked Rocky, dragging his attention from the game.
‘Yeah, the vet says it’s normal with this breed.’
‘Shoulda got yerself a smaller pet. Like a goldfish. They don’t have nearly as many problems,’ said Rocky, with just a dash of irony.
‘Yeah, I reckon I was sold a pup.’
‘You gonna get it put down?’
‘What’ll I tell the kids?’
‘That it’s gawn to live on a farm?’
‘That oldie. Don’t know if they’d go for it. They know humans were kicked off their farms after the Overthrow.’
‘Damn. They teach kids too much at puppy school these days,’ said Rocky.
‘Yeah, not like the good old days where all we had to worry about was chasing balls and catching frisbees.’
‘Ah well, dogs rule the world now. We’d better get used to the responsibility, I spose.’
Rocky checked his watch.
‘Well the missus will be wondering where I am. Best head off. It’s bath night. My job to make sure the kids haven’t picked up any fleas at school this week. There’s been an outbreak apparently.’
‘Righto mate. Give the missus a sniff for me. Tell her Princess says hi and we’ll see you on the weekend.’
‘Save a snag for me,’ said Rocky as he shrugged on his leather coat and padded out the door.