Worms

“Worms! Worms! You bastards and your worms! YOU are the worms! Hahaha! No point in fighting it! Your work for my father? Oh? Dave? Save it, you worm! Worms! All these God damn worms!”

Sweet, sweet Charlie The Worm sat on the curb, rolling his cigarette with dirt ridden fingers, screaming at the pavement, cold and cracked beneath him. The shoppers and the workers and the seers and the doers moved past and around Charlie The Worm like stepping over a steaming pile of dog shit. Charlie The Worm laughed manically, drooling heavily from his gaping mouth.

“That’s it! That’s it! Dave? Oh, he works for my father. You better tell him! Tell him! Tell the worm! Jesus, these worms! Hahaha!”

Charlie The Worm stuck his crooked loose cigarette to his his lips, lit it and blew out the gray smoke in quick bursts. Across the street were a pair of women, tall blond twins with full chests and exposed long long long legs. The blond twins sat down on a bench and crossed their legs simultaneously, eerie in their symmetry. They powdered their noses, painted their lips, flicked their hair, primmed prepped solidified their presence. It took some time for Charlie The Worm to notice the twins, but when he did, his eyes lit up, ballooned pupils red with excitement. Charlie The Worm struggled to his feet, groaning like a sick pig. He shuffled across the street, a few cars darting around him, honking and yelling out of their windows. The twins saw him approaching and they whispered to each other, a couple of stoned looks of serious apathy covered their bony faces. Charlie The Worm circled the twins, sniffing their hair and blowing smoke and drool into their faces.

“Worms! God, God, God! Oh? You work for my father? Tell him! Tell him! I’ll tell him, I’ll tell him…worms! My…my gorgeous worms! Hahaha! Shh!”

Charlie The Worm put two fingers to the lips of each of the twins. They looked at him with their big eyes, without fear, without contempt, without anything puzzling at all. Charlie The Worm grinned wildly and clapped his hands together, retarded with joy. The twins stood up, a foot and a half taller than Charlie The Worm. They both took one of his hands and moved down the sidewalk. Charlie The Worm stood between the twins and looked up at them, from one to the other, his filthy face radiating something like happiness.

“Dave? You work for my father? Tell him! Tell him!…Worms, worms…my beautiful…”

“That’s enough, Charlie,” one of the twins said, lacking any sort of emotion in her voice.

“Things will be alright now, Charlie,” the other twin said in the same flat monotone voice as the other twin.

“Your troubles are over.”

“No more suffering.”

“No more pain.”

“You deserve it.”

“Yes, you have earned it.”

Charlie The Worm began to sob, strings of snot falling out of his nose and onto his shirt. In a matter of seconds, he was shaking, writhing like a newborn, ruined. The twins smiled at last and gripped his hand, tighter and fully, a strong warmth suddenly running through the three of them.

“Did you see that?”

“What?”

“The twins with the homeless crying guy.”

“No. I can’t say I did.”

“Strange. Very, very strange.”

“What is is strange, very, very strange?”

“I just told you.”

“I don’t care.”

“I don’t either, actually.”

“Are we gonna have to wait here much longer?”

“Not sure. Probably.”

“What time did he say he would be here?”

“5:10.”

“What time is it now?”

“5:11.”

“Fucker! Fuck!”

“Settle down.:

“Alright.”

“He’s always late. Most of the time. Usually, actually. Most of the time he’s usually late.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Most things don’t, I guess.”

“HAHAHA!”

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing is pretty funny.”

“What time is it?”

“5:12.”

“Fucker! Fuck!”

“Settle down.”

“No.”

“Alright.”

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You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Maggot And Misogyny

The jarwal stared at her malevolently, saliva dripping from its gaping jaws, making its fearsome teeth glisten in the harsh winter sunlight.

What’s a jarwal?

I don’t know. I haven’t though about it. Something fierce and nasty. A huge maggot-like beastie with a ferocious temper and huge teeth. A bit like in Alien, only more like a maggot.

It’s a bit science fiction isn’t it? You don’t even like science fiction.

I know. I’m just trying to convey an atmosphere of terror and anger in the light of recent events. I suppose the jarwal is a representation of my anger.

Well try another approach. Don’t make up words or fierce animals. No jarwals. Be direct.

He was angry.

That’s good. You can’t get more direct than that.

What? Why are we waiting?

What was he angry about?

I don’t know. You’re writing the story. Make something up. Draw on your own experiences.

He was angry. He hated her. And not just her. He hated everybody. He wanted to go to the cupboard in the hall, get the axe he kept there, walk out into the street and inflict bloody, messy carnage on anybody he found passing by.

You are angry, aren’t you? I can’t help feeling though, that if you’re going to make this an interesting story, you’re going to have to try to focus your anger just a tad more.

The jarwal bit her head off at the neck and he watched with grim satisfaction as her corpse fell to the floor juddering and spurting blood in a crimson fountain.

Forget the jarwal. No-one knows what a jarwal is. Anyway, this is way too bloody and violent. It’s distasteful and you’ll repel most of your readers before you’ve even started. Besides, how are you going to top that opening? Your story will need to end with a climax. How are you going to top a beheading and a juddering corpse spurting blood in a crimson fountain? Start small and work your way up to the big stuff, that’s my advice. And keep it real. Draw on your experiences, on what you see around you.

It was nine o’clock in the evening.

I know I said small, but not quite that small. Small but interesting. You’ve only got small there. Still, it can be quite rewarding to draw on your immediate circumstances. Work it up. It is nine o’clock. Tell us a bit more.

It was nine o’clock on a crisp and chill winter evening.

That’s better, but you still need a bit more detail. You’ve got to get your reader or listener hooked from the word go.

The phrase ‘the word go’ had always appalled him.

I didn’t mean literally the word ‘go’.

I know. I was just messing about. I’m finding this very difficult.

Get on with it. Apply yourself. We need a small but interesting beginning. We need focused anger, we need detail. You were on the right lines with that nine o’clock on a crisp and chill winter evening business. You just need to work it up a bit, that’s all.

It was nine o’clock on a crisp and chill winter evening, the sort of evening when the natural instinct is to nestle by the fire, the sort of evening that’s so cold that those poor souls who are out in it are loth to breathe in for fear of the damage the air will do to their lungs.

Good image. A bit Victorian, perhaps. Too many words, but a good image. Try and cut it down a bit.

It was cold – the sort of cold that hurts when you breathe in, that you feel in your lungs and makes the skin of your face what?

What?

What does it make your face?

I don’t know. It’s your story.

  But it was your idea for me to write it. You’re so angry, you said. Why not try and write a story, you said. Use those feelings creatively, you said. You’ve got a real way with words, you said. I’ll help, you said.

OK. Sting and smart like it’s been slapped.

What?

Makes the skin of your face tingle and smart like it’s been slapped.

That’s good. That’s very good. We’ve got bitter cold, which I like, and we’ve got a suggestion of violence, which I like a lot. Very indicative of my mood. Maybe we need some sharp teeth and a giant maggot.

No, we don’t. In any case I’m not so sure now.

Why? I thought it was going quite well.

It’s not bad, but there are no people in it.

We’ve only had the one sentence. We can put a person or two in the next one.

OK. Give it a go.

It was cold – the sort of cold that hurts when you breathe in, that you feel in your lungs and makes the skin of your face tingle and smart like it’s just been slapped. Next sentence: She was very cold.

That won’t do at all, will it? We know it’s cold. You’ve told us that already. We need to be moving forward. Tell us something else. Make something up.

There was a maggot in her ear.

A giant maggot?

No, just a maggot. Ordinary, household variety. In her ear.

Actually, I rather like that. I like that a lot. I like that much more than I liked all that cold stuff.

 

I thought you liked all that cold stuff?

I did. I’m just saying that I like this maggot thing even more. It’s really strong. It’s a great image. I think you should forget all about the cold stuff for a while and concentrate on the maggot. What happened next?

It crawled around a bit.

That’s a bit of a disappointment, if you don’t mind me saying so. ‘There was a maggot in her ear’ was such a strong first line, but you ruin it completely by saying ‘it crawled around a bit’. You need to amplify your first image, or explain it. Why was there a maggot in her ear?

I don’t know.

Don’t try to think about it. Don’t try to work it out. Feel the answer.

Because she left me.

Yes, I know she did. In real life. But you’ll still need to explain why the maggot is there in the story. ‘There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me’ just doesn’t work. Or does it? Maybe it does. It’s different. Startling. Perhaps even intriguing. Let’s go with it for a little while. If it’s not working we can come back later and take it out. Continue.

There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me. It had been there for two weeks.

You know, I really like this. It’s slightly distasteful, but you’re building up a great image. Already I want to know why the maggot is there, what it’s doing, and I want to know about her. Gillian, I presume. What did she think about the maggot in her ear?

She didn’t mind. In full. There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me. It had been there for two weeks but she didn’t mind. I don’t know.

What now?

Well, it’s a bit misogynistic, isn’t it?

How do you mean?

Well, the reason she didn’t mind the maggot is because she’s dead. That’s the only reason someone wouldn’t mind a maggot in her ear. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s probably the only reason there would be a maggot in someone’s ear in the first place.

Maybe you’re right.

So I can’t use it, can I? I can’t be misogynistic.

Why not?

Because it’s misogynistic.

Is it misogynistic because you’ve got a dead woman in it?

Yes, I suppose so.

What if it isn’t?

Eh?

What if it isn’t misogynistic, just because you’ve got a dead woman at the beginning. What if you’re just stating a matter of fact, like saying it was cold. What if you’re just reporting events?

You mean, what if I think of it as morally neutral?

Precisely.

Won’t work.

Oh? Why not?

Because she‘ll think it’s misogynistic and I won’t be able to get her back.

Do you want her back?

Yes.

Even though you’re so angry with her?

Yes.

You chump.

I know.

She’s a cow. She left you standing at the airport the day you were supposed to be flying off to Corfu for a romantic holiday. She took all your stuff, she left you stranded with the plane tickets hoping that you’d get on the plane anyway and go on your own so that she’d be able to use your flat for shagging this Graham character in the meantime, and you would have gone had you not accidentally met me at the departure desk. And you want her back?

Yes.

Double chump. She’s bad news. If she’s thinking about you at all she’s probably laughing her socks off because she still thinks you’re in Corfu. Forget about her. Write your story. Get it out of your system.

There was a maggot in her ear. It

What now?

It’s not working. I can’t do it. I love her.

Write about that then.

He loved her. Even though she was the cruellest, meanest, vilest person he’d ever known. Even though she’d betrayed him, humiliated him, even though he wanted her dead. He loved her.

And that’s not misogynistic?

It’s true though.

But what’s the difference between this and the maggot? Take it from me, the maggot’s better. Go with the maggot.

I’ll try.

Good.

There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left him. It had been there for two weeks but she didn’t mind. She was certainly not complaining. I think this is better.

Why?

Because I changed the me to a him. There’s a bit of distance now. It’s not me doing the violence.

See? It’s just a question of sticking with it once you’re on to a good idea.

It was a question of distance.

Yes, you said.

No, this is the story.

Oh, I see.

There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left him. It had been there for two weeks but she didn’t mind. She was certainly not complaining. It was a question of distance – the distance between her head and her heart. It had always been too big, but now it was more than three miles. The one was on a shelf in his bedroom, and the other under a metric tonne of coal in her mother’s cellar. He’d always hated her mother.

I can see why you were worried about this being misogynistic.

I think I might be able to tell this story without condoning violence towards women.

No-one in their right mind would condone violence towards women.

Absolutely.

It’s a bit risky though. You’re going to have to make sure that the thrust of this story isn’t saying ‘if she leaves you, put her in her place’.

Or, as in this case, places.

Well, quite.

I see what you mean. It’s difficult. Maybe the problem is the maggot.

The maggot in her ear?

Yes. The maggot in her ear is connoting violence from, as you would say, the word go.

Maybe you should change direction and make it plain that there’s no violence involved right from the word start.

Good idea. Shall we get rid of the maggot?

No, the maggot’s good. Keep the maggot for now.

OK. How to make plain she’s not dead? I know … The maggot in her ear itched like torture but she couldn’t scratch it because

Because what?

I’m not sure. Because she had her hands tied behind her back, I suppose.

Hmm.

It’s not working, is it? If anything, this is worse than the head in the coal cellar.

You’re right. It’s the maggot that’s the problem. It’s a good image, but it implies violence. Forget the maggot.

Hang on a minute. I’ve had an idea.

What?

There was a maggot in his ear. She’d put it there when she’d left him.

That does seem somehow more acceptable, doesn’t it?

Yes. I guess the answer is to turn one’s rage against oneself.

Do yourself damage, you mean? A way of coping with your feelings of rejection and humiliation and inadequacy, your utter insignificance?

I might not have put it quite like that, but yes. It’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? I didn’t feel at all comfortable expressing hostility towards her, even after everything she’s done to me, but I feel quite comfortable expressing hostility towards myself. Maybe that’s because deep down I’m a really nice guy. Or maybe it’s a reflection of the way I really feel. More angry with me than with her. For being a chump.

You may be right. You are a chump. You’re a nice guy too, and it’s OK to feel angry with yourself. Let that hostility out.

The jarwal in his head was screaming to get out. He wanted it to bust out the front of his face, eat his whole body, rend him limb from limb and toss the severed remains of his body to the four winds of that bleak and barren place.

And you feel quite comfortable with this?

Yes, I suppose so.

You don’t think you might be taking the self-hatred thing just a little too far?

I don’t know. Am I?

We’ll I’m beginning to get a little concerned about it, I must admit. I think you need to calm down a little.

Maybe you’re right. It’s just that I’m so angry. I want to feel hurt. I deserve it. I’m a chump.

Yes, you are, but the answer is not imagining giant maggots bursting out the front of your face. It’s disgusting, and it’s not altogether healthy. People will think you’re crazy. I think the answer is for you to feel some real pain.

Are you going to hit me again?

No. I’m suggesting a mixture of pleasure and pain. I think we should both do ourselves some real damage. I’ll keep you company.

You mean …?

Precisely.

They were going to the pub. They felt like getting completely bladdered.

That’s more like it.

They were going to get obliterated.

Wrecked.

This story telling business was too difficult. He was too angry.

Maybe he would feel calmer in the cold light of morning, especially if he woke up with a headache and nausea?

Maybe he would feel better if he felt worse in the morning. It was entirely possible. Right now, though, he needed a sedative and he needed it bad. He knew just the place to get it.

The Bow Bar?

If they met the jarwal on the way there, he would kick it in the nuts.

No he wouldn’t. Forget the bloody jarwal. He was angry, but he was trying to calm down. He needed to stay calm to write his story. Violence wouldn’t help. Besides, the jarwal was probably female.

His friend was right. If he met the jarwal tonight, he would ignore it.

Precisely. Well done.

He thanked his friend and said Come on then, let’s go. He got his coat. They were going to get smashed. It was cold out but it was going to be good night, he could feel it in his bones. They had demons to exorcise and a broken heart to mend. They had a jarwal to ignore.

They had a what?

Nothing.

Exactly. You can get the first round.

 

 

The Crash

The car was devastated, and almost unrecognisable in its new, crumpled form.  The street light suffered less damage; a little dented, it was now bent forwards, leaning precariously over what had been the bonnet of the car. The bulb flickered intermittently, and, like a spot light it cast long, strobe-like shadows of the twisted metal form across the tarmac.

So simply it had happened, they were not going fast and he assured himself of this. But then he knew that perhaps they had been going fast. Far too fast in fact, but surely, surely not dangerously fast. Darkness… his lights had  been on, hadn’t they?  He saw only the blur of tarmacked surface underneath him as they cruised silently… And then there was light, and the streetlamp on the turning straight ahead of him and all the time it rushed towards them closer and closer as he tried -too late- to turn. Beth screamed, screamed along with the screech of the tyres, she turned her clean, beautiful face away from him. The streetlamp smashed through the bonnet, the windscreen, like a rock to a wave, showering them in glass.

The street lights were positioned far apart from one another, so that around the crash was a ring of semi darkness. He was not sure for how long they had sat there, and he was not sure if it was voluntarily or because he had no choice that he did not move. In his sweaty palms he still gripped the steering wheel tightly.  The impact had driven the front of the car inwards, and now the dashboard and steering wheel where only inches away from their bodies.  Inside, the only light came from the streetlamp, and they were mostly in shadow, with some of the icons of the dashboard still uselessly alive in the darkness. He continued to sit, his chest rising and falling in time with his own irregular breathing, overlaying the thumping bass line of the tiny radio that seemed ironically untarnished by the destruction around it.

Before, just before, he and Beth had sat in the little car not speaking; their evening together ruined after the wrong choice of word and interpretation of body language left the other feeling unwanted and irritated. They sat in silence, not having argued but quietly and silently accusing the other, yet each hoping that the other would apologise or touch them in such a way that they could know everything’s alright. The radio played late night trance anthems, the pulsing beats filling the silence between them with a great, hypnotic awkwardness. Paul’s eyes strayed to watch Beth’s hand on the volume wheel; she turned it up a fraction louder; blocked him out.

As he now sat there now it seemed odd to Paul that the same song was still playing that had been playing when they had crashed, he felt as though he had been sitting here for hours, that the impact had passed in a moment and now he was reflecting on a vivid memory of something very distant. The music continued. The heavy, crescendo of the chorus felt somewhat out of place with the almost anticlimactic silence of the night air that surrounded them. He realized it was, perhaps, only a couple of seconds that had passed since the crash. And although the shock was now overwhelming him completely, making him shake and turning him white, he suddenly released a deep breath of relief and was overwhelmed with a fantastic wave of joy, of simply being alive.

Immediately he tried to open his door, but the bonnet had been driven upwards in such a way that he could not reach it.

“Beth? Are you ok? Try opening the door on your side, we have to get out. My side is stuck.”

She didn’t respond, and her head was leant backwards in the darkness and to one side, not facing Paul. He could only see her hands resting on her thigh, illuminated in a thin strip of light by the flickering streetlamp.

“Beth?” he said again. “Are you ok?” He realised the shock was overwhelming her, even more than it was to him, she needed a second to calm herself. He tried to comfort her just by speaking, letting her know that they were safe, that the car was destroyed but it hadn’t been as bad as it felt, that they were ok, thank God.  He laughed, and when she still didn’t respond his light hearted tone faltered;

“Beth? What’s up? Are you hurt?”

She didn’t answer him, and he felt the breath within him catch at the bottom of his throat for a second as he saw that her chest was motionless.  The head which he thought was simply turned, was lifeless like a dummy, her neck twisted violently away from him. Quickly he struggled out of his seatbelt and touched her, his hand on her hands stroking her anxiously.

“Beth? Beth” he was close to her, his face up to her, trying to take her in, but the claustrophobia of the seat and the tiny confined space grew too much for him and the more he fumbled and tried to wake her up the more motionless and silent she appeared. He twisted and breathed heavily and began to shout and swear. Turning her face towards him he lightly slapped her cheek and kissed her eyelids, his lips trembling, trying to shake her to some form of fragile life. Finally he stopped and just held her head still in his hands, trying to hold it upright in front of him, speaking only to himself in soft, wretched whisper.

He looked her face, thin scratches from the broken glass lining it beautifully; they complemented her short, slim, scarlet dress and the matching heels that she had bought especially for the party, that she had so excitedly tried on for him in her bedroom.

Suddenly the passenger seat airbag burst to life, making him jump. It quickly inflated, forcing the two of them apart, filling the tiny space almost completely. He let go of her head and watched it flop forwards onto the skin of the airbag.

“Fucking shit! Shit fucking car!” he screamed, now slamming his hands madly against the steering wheel, against the dashboard, the doors and the seat.

Exhausted, he sunk back into his seat. Outside the car the cool night hair lay gently upon the simmering wreck. Unaware that he was doing it, he reached for his phone and slowly dialled 999. He turned off the pulsing radio and was greeted only by the monotonous ringing on the on the other end of the line. He reported the incident and told them where they were, that they had crashed, and that there was a dead girl and no, he wasn’t hurt, but she was and they need to send someone quickly please to come and look at her because he thinks she needs some help.

He hung up and sat with his eyes open, looking at her, replaying the scene over and over in his head, over and over and over until the blue sirens of the ambulance woke him from the sleepless trance.

Bruises

In 1960, I am born the fourth daughter of seven children, soon to be eight. I live with my siblings and my eleven half-siblings in a home that is too small for my father and my mother and my second mother, let alone all of us children. Our home is built out of sun-bleached plywood and metal, with coconut leaves for a roof. It keeps out little of the heat of the equatorial sun, and I sleep with a fan inches from my head. The nights are better for me than for my younger sister, who sleeps above me, and has no fan up there where the hot air gathers. Still, other children play outside in the wobbly heat, throwing bruised brown fruit that has fallen from the trees at each other. I don’t join in, but I get hit anyway, splattered with multicolored juices. It is a fun game with another purpose; I have something sweet to eat that night. And hot as it is, I can pretend that the bruised, mushy fruit is store-bought and cold. I could never have imagined people wanted to vacation in this weather, the sun always high overhead, the air always thick with moisture.

I go to a school where the teachers scold us in clipped British English. Sometimes they can’t tell us apart, though I think that when they are red-faced and screaming, they all look and sound the same. Don’t they know that maths is no use when you have no money to count? What use is English when the vendors who sell mangoes at the market don’t speak it? My younger sister does not talk back, but I am not her, and I do. They paddle your hands if you are a girl and your bottom if you are a boy. They leave thin red bruises on the palms of my hands. But we get to laugh last when they turn red all over and burn in the sun.

My mother works for weeks without seeing us, and at first I cry when she comes back because I don’t know her. She doesn’t make enough money to feed us all, so we catch small fish from the river and insects from the grass. To forget we’re hungry, we play games with sticks and stones, and we have scavenger hunts for scrap metal. If you find the most, you win, and get to sell all of it for a few extra bites of food. At the end of the games, there are always bruises on my arms from my father, and I see them on my brothers and sisters and mother. I remember the two times my mother miscarried, and the bruises that came after.

My eldest brother, over 10 years older than me, learned why maths is important and he flies away from us so he can have his own house, and a wife, and a job where your spouse cannot come and collect your pay for you. When he leaves, I kick his pillow until I miss and bruise my toe on the wall. I wonder what’s so special about a place so far from the sun.

The cold and dry air is the first thing I notice; it is the opposite of where I come from. And even though I slip on the ice and bruise my hip, I laugh because this bruise is accidental. I have never been halfway around the world before. My brother’s apartment isn’t big enough for my sister and me to join him, so we stay in a hotel. We don’t know about the complimentary breakfast in the hotel, so we stay in our room and eat bread that we smuggled in. We wash it down with the free peanuts we kept from the plane ride. How rich everyone must be if they can afford to give away food for free, I think. And how strange it is that the British were also here, and things turned out so differently.

Summers here remind me of home, though not nearly as hot or humid. It is a dry heat, but even though it is not the heat of home, it warms me just the same. My boyfriend pretends to chase me around a football field, and I think I must be very beautiful. After all, he pays so much attention to me that he doesn’t see the goalpost in time. The bruise that comes after is small and blue with purple petals blooming around the edges.

When we kiss at our wedding, I kiss so hard that I’m afraid I’ll bruise. Not everyone I’d want to be there is, but everyone who is tells me I am beautiful, and I believe it.

No one told me giving birth was this difficult, but I won’t have a C-section. My mother didn’t for all nine of her kids, and my second mother didn’t for her eleven, so I will not either. I laugh at my husband because he wants our future son to be a doctor, and yet he can’t stand to stay in the room with me and see the blood. He goes pale, and I think about how much more nicely contrasted that flowery bruise would be on his forehead now.

My mother-in-law threatens to kill herself if my husband does not take her advice over mine. It works, and he spends all his free time with his parents. I have not held a job in years, and I have two young sons at home. They shove and punch and sometimes even bite each other. Sometimes one or both say they hate me and their father. I am told this is normal and boys will be boys, but someone has to care for the bruises. I know a thing or two about that.

When they go off to university, the hugs they give are soft and light enough to bruise my heart. I cry because they seem so eager to leave. But later when I think on them, I smile, because I sent them off with summer and mangoes. And I know that they will be alright, because they lived in the land of sun and fruit and bruises.

Glue

In the morning, my eyelids feel glued together, the weight of some pressing spell pushing back down as I struggle to open them, fighting the tug of the mattress that pulls back down into darkness as panic rises in half formed horrors that are part dreamt, terror that I am missing something vital right now, and yet it is fifteen minutes before my heavy eyes stay open and let the light in.

I quickly sit up, turn to the window to force light into my eyes, and fumble at the bedside stand for any device to tell me if I have really missed something life changing. My mind jumps from one terrifying conclusion to another until I have read the calendar. I am not due anywhere till ten.

Still, lazing here will condemn me later to scold myself and imagine spots of laziness as fat or little leeches of genius attaching themselves to me, gluing me down tighter. So I slide my feet to the floor and press them into the wooden boards, the day’s first real sensation calming me and bringing clarity. I dig for shorts in the inevitable pile on my shelf, settle for wearing jeans that I will want to put on later anyway and pad into the living room. In the kitchen awaits tea and on my laptop the cavernous throat of the social internet and on the iPod I clip to my shirt, the lure of tunes not suitable for exercise and on the fridge the tapping toe of the shopping list and notes about chores. The glue stretches me towards them all, gelatinous tendrils pulling in all directions till I am unable to move quickly. But at least my eyes are open now and I am upright and I ignore their tug and begin my stretches.

Afterwards, I am proud of the expanded, worn feeling in my muscles and the fizzing of energy-inspiring blood flow, but almost an hour has passed and the tendrils are expanding, stretching now towards the shops and work, guilt seeding in my stomach like an ache of having gone nowhere.

At my desk, my fingers drum by the steaming teacup struggling to hold onto an ounce of my thinking as I stare at my own unfamiliar words on the screen. The glue has me cocooned tight in the chair but it clings to my mind and my thoughts run slow, what feels like a letter a minute etching onto the page as the windows of the internet behind on the screen and the window of the sunny outdoors behind the desk and the steaming tendril from the kettle on the other side of the room tug gently but insistently on my concentration.

At four thirty the sucking insistence of the shopping and cleaning and home drags me from my seat with little left behind, and I move slowly on.

When food has vanished and the cupboards are full and the television has momentarily sucked the energy from my mind with the lure of a fleeting warm place beside another body, I can barely stand to walk to bed as the mirriad gelatinous strands still clinging to me push down in a heavy web. As I roll heavily onto the mattress and allow my eyelids to flicker, the web slides from my shoulders, reabsorbed into the bed’s softness to reenergise itself as I rest. And though it is now late and I should sleep, recharge my energy to resist it again tomorrow, now suddenly I feel freedom, and energised, hassle my weary partner for attention and a place to use this energy up so I can sleep.

Forgotten

I once told a girl I loved her, until one day I didn’t, anymore.

The problem with people is that they’re never constant. They always change. Sometimes gradually, sometimes so abruptly that it just takes you by surprise, and you’ve got no other choice but to accept it.

Their faces remain, the way memories do to remind us, often painfully, that there was something good in the past… and it’s lost now. The past and who they were, back then: never to return again.

But what’s even more painful is when you change. You look in the mirror and you see someone else, you feel another heart beating in your chest, and the images you see in your mind are different. You feel alien to yourself, because somehow you remember how you used to be and you know that’s not who you are; you know that’s not how you’ve been, these past few days, weeks, or months.

And try as you may, you can’t convince yourself just well enough that the love you once felt is still there.

It got lost in the past, just like you.

It got forgotten, and forgotten it will remain.

Now that’s heartbreaking.