Tag Archives: Short Story

We the People: a Grim Fairytale

[a short story by  ~ burning woman~ ]

Once upon a time (well, that is the usual opening for a fairy tale, is it not?) there was an empire that covered an entire world. It was not a peaceful empire, in fact it was terribly dysfunctional. However, the kings and other rulers of the various kingdoms, duchies and quaint inventions called “nations” liked it that way.

There were endless wars which greatly benefited the elites and allowed the peasants and serfs or citizens to pretend at being “somebodies” by fighting and killing each other on a regular basis. For that world such behaviour was considered entirely normal. People who thought otherwise and who refused to fight and kill their neighbours were classed as traitors and in some periods, were executed, in others simply jailed. One thing for sure, at all times they were mocked and called cowards.

Such conditions are conducive to bringing forth cowardly and corrupt leadership and at times some group of people would overthrow such leaders and change the status of their land from, say, a kingdom or a colony to, say, a democracy. None of them actually understood what a democracy was since there had never been any to learn from, but they made it up as they went along and lo and behold, before they knew what had happened, their “democracy” had become a totalitarian regime quite identical to what their history books told them of the times before their revolution.

But, they cried, how can this be when it is “We the People” who decide how things should be run? So they talked, loud and vociferously about the role that “We the People” played in this drama and why things had turned on them. They blamed one-another for failing to vote, or for supporting the wrong party and those who were blamed, blamed right back. They blamed the politicians, well, of course! They blamed their elites, just as their forebears did. The problem was that now the elites operated with impunity within the democracy that “We the People” had presumably set up precisely to prevent such a thing from happening.

As things heated up, there even began talk of another revolution. It was a lot of angry talk and no one really knew how to bring about a revolution. It seemed that would require much organization and really, no one was up to jump starting such an irrevocable step. They needed the support of “We the People.”

In keeping with the propaganda relating to the previous revolution, it seemed logical that once again it would be “We the People” who would have to rise up, overthrow the entire corrupt system of religion, government and finance/business, and establish a new system. That made sense, so those with the loudest voices decided to bring “We the People” together.

And children, that is when those who wanted a revolution discovered that “We the People” was a complete chimera. There was no such thing as “We the People.” The idea that a majority core group held the real power of the democracy had always been pure propaganda by the two-party system of government so that the people would continue to believe that at the heart of it a legitimate, patriotic, educated, aware watchdog group of citizens kept tab on its government and had a tight leash on its politicians.

It was a terrible blow to the ego of those who would stop the corruption to discover that there had never been a “We the People” force in the land but exactly the opposite: a ragtag collection of people who distrusted one-another and often hated one-another for being of the wrong skin colour, or from the wrong ethnic background, economic level or religion. Instead of unity, they saw mass shootings and mass incarcerations of innocent individuals. They saw greed, hubris, abuse, violations of every known human rights and widespread destruction of the environment. They also saw that the masses, those who should have been “We the People,” identified with these destructive ways and participated in them, often with gusto while supporting and defending their blatantly corrupt leadership.

“Sadly children, they did not live happily ever after.”

“What happened to that world teacher?” asked a small boy.

“As to be expected, it destroyed itself and all the people on it died.”

“Oh!” echoed the children in horror.

“But it’s only a fairy tale, isn’t it?” Ventured an older girl in the back row.

“Well… no, it’s not really a fairy tale at all.”

“Life Aboard Ship”

[a short story, by Sha’Tara]

Star date: 190623-I haven’t spent as much time on this as I would have liked to but I am choosing to post now rather than wait two weeks when I return from an “Island” job. There is no internet where I’ll be working, though I will be doing some limited blogging on my cell phone. “Enjoy” this bleak story – it is what my heart is showing me these days.
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“Maybe what I really need is sleep, he said to himself. A sort of twilight of living, with only the background sound of Beethoven audible. All the rest a blur.

No, he decided; I want to be! I want to act and accomplish something. And every year it becomes more necessary. Every year, too, it slips further and further away.” (A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick)

I awoke, as does everyone sooner or later, aboard a strange craft, a ship that sailed through emptiness, bound for nowhere; a ship that would never find a port of call or ever crash on any shore. I knew this long ago, although no one ever spoke of it. In the daytime, the closest non-ship entity one could see was, of course, the sun. At night, if one happened to be on deck, one could see the stars out there, forever out of reach, the ship never getting any closer to any one of them. Sometimes one could see the moon, and although much closer than any star, or sun, it too remained aloof, at an unreachable distance.

One did not board the Ship, one was born on it and was automatically made a member of the crew. Everyone on board was crew, no exceptions. What you did as crew was determined by others and their perceived, claimed or stated needs.

Since Ship itself was quite automated, there really was nothing to do as far as sailing it. So crew served crew until that was the only thing that anyone knew how to do. The more people were born on Ship, the more it all became self-serving, with those who became leaders demanding more from their underlings. Of course the underlings had to find ways to please their masters so they learned to delve down into Ship to find resources that could be made into objects that would please or titillate the masters. Most of us became resource extractors, all to stay alive, some to seek promotions.

I don’t know the exact day, but an idea came to me: what was the point of all that? Who were we all, why were we on Ship and where were we going? I stopped my drilling, much to the annoyance of my partner, and sat down to think about this.

Where did I come from? Nowhere. Where was I going? Nowhere. What was then the point of my existence? There was none. Even if I found the strength and motivation to fulfill and surpass my quota of diamonds; even if I finally got a promotion, I would be old and near death by then. What could I expect then? Nothing. I would cease and my body would be thrown overboard, as all were except for the Captains and other rich and powerful who had themselves encased in crystal caskets and buried with much pomp and ceremony down the empty shafts of what had been our most productive mines. The shafts were then sealed and commemorative plaques put on the entrances. I leave the question with you: how much better off were these rich dead than the dead flung overboard?

Although I would become one of the outcasts, I left the mine and went up on deck to feel the noonday sun and the wind; to hear the waves beat against the hull and listen to the endless sounds of people everywhere talking, laughing, crying, cursing, praying, cheering and some even singing. These people were, in a sense, alive, but what is life without purpose except to satisfy the immediate, to seek a bit more pleasure or to avoid punishment for any and all reasons? It seemed to me that they were simply going through the motions of something they believed in, not as happening now, but as some sort of hope that it would happen by and by.

I do not need to tell you that there were many varieties of official and quasi-official beliefs aboard Ship that most people adhered to. The gist of those beliefs was that one’s soul would go to another ship once separated from one’s dead body and life would be vastly improved in that new place. The new masters would be benign and merciful… of course.

I asked myself why people believed such things when no one could furnish any evidence of their truthfulness? There was a simple enough answer: why not, when life on Ship was general misery and pointlessness and there was nothing better to believe in? If nothing came of it after one’s death, one would be none the wiser. Meantime this bit of hope made life’s tenuousness, fear and misery a bit easier to bear. It was a simple mechanism grossly exploited, of course, by those who pretended to know about life after death. 

Without dependents being an outcast is not as bad as it sounds. You can use your skills to help others and be paid back in food, clothes and temporary shelter. Survival is not difficult when one has been toughened in mining for diamonds deep in the lower bowels of Ship. On deck at least there is a pretense of freedom; there is fresh air, water can be skimmed from water barrels, left-overs and discards can be looked through before they are incinerated or recycled.

Thus I lived the later years of my life and thus I discovered a new ‘connection’ to Ship. It came to me gradually that Ship was talking to me, had always been talking to me but the people noise had blocked Ship’s communications from my mind. Now that I had more freedom I could, and did, move away from people whenever possible and in relative quiet I heard Ship.

I hadn’t known that Ship was aware of what the people were doing on board and in particular, how they were damaging Ship by their greedy delving for ever more esoteric ‘resources’ below deck and down, down, into its deepest accessible bowels. Ship’s voice was sad.

‘You are killing me,’ she said to me in an old woman’s voice, ‘and when I die, you will all die too. That should be obvious to as intelligent a race as yours but somehow your lack of purpose has deadened your understanding of cause and effect. Where are your logicians? Where you philosophers? Where is your empathy? When those things die, you die. No intelligent, sentient and self aware species can guide itself without logic, philosophy and empathy.’

What happens now, Ship?’

‘Like you I am going to die. My lifeless hulk will continue to haunt this orbit for millions of your years. Perhaps, in time beyond time I will return and bring it back to life again so I can be another ark. Perhaps.’

‘Everything, everyone, on board will die then?’

‘Yes, everything.’

Gimpy

(A short story, by Sha’Tara)

I was starting my third grade year when I got to know a scrawny first grade little kid with large beautiful brown eyes everyone called “Gimp” or “Gimpy.” I just want to quickly write up how it was we actually met, I mean to talk to each other.

It was lunch time and most of the kids who didn’t go home for lunch gathered in one large room of multi-purpose usage. There were tables and benches and the odd older desk too for those who liked to sit alone and perhaps read, or draw. Remember that was a while ago, even transistor radios didn’t exist then!

I had picked one of the old desks because I wanted to continue reading a book I’d just got my hands on: Treasure Island. It promised well right from the beginning and I was eager to find out if Jim would get to go sailing.

I had opened my lunch kit and was inspecting my food when there was a bit of a commotion. A scrawny kid was being called names and laughed at. One of those at the ‘bully’ table called the kid over, dangled a chocolate bar in a wrapper in front of him, then threw it down the aisle. The kid raced after it, got it, tore open the wrapper to find that it had been stuffed with dirt.

Amidst the jeers and laughter, I looked at that kid’s sad, confused and disappointed face. He saw me looking at him and realized I wasn’t of those making fun of him. He carefully put the chocolate wrapper still filled with dirt into the garbage can and limped over to my desk. He stood there and I saw his eyes grow even bigger as he eyed my lunch.

I may have been only eight years old but I came from a large family and I knew a hungry look on a kid’s face when I saw one. I asked him to come over and sit beside me, then I offered him half of everything I had packed for myself. The kid ate every crumb and I realized that he was starving. So I gave him more and kept less. I felt, I dunno, something warm and good and powerful rising inside me as I watched him devour my lunch. I didn’t even feel hungry anymore.

We became friends, and I think he sort of adopted me as a big sister. So I decided to help him with his school work as well. He was, from my point of view, terribly slow. Obviously he’d never been shown how to read, write or even do simple arithmetic at home before coming to school. In fact, when I asked him his age, he reluctantly admitted he was also eight years old. He looked no more than five.

“How come you didn’t come to school when you were six like the rest of us then?”

“My mom said it was too much bother and she couldn’t afford to buy me new clothes, that school was useless anyway. So I stayed home and on the street until a lady called a social worker came to see my mom and after she got some clothes for me, I came to school. Is school really useless, Deena?”

“No it isn’t, Gimpy. School is like being on a holiday where you get to practice your imagination, you get to learn things only adults would normally know, and when you know how to read, oh boy, all those books, all those amazing stories you can make your own, like you can accompany those people in the stories, become one of them, play along, have endless adventures.”

“Why doesn’t my mom know this?”

I had no answer but to admit I didn’t know. My own parents loved reading all sorts of stuff and they made sure we would not be kept in the dark. I had learned about measurements from reading labels on cans and bottles. I had already tried some recipes printed on the back of cereal boxes. I knew how to tell the difference between several ‘medicines’ stored in the bathroom medicine cabinet, as well as those stored in the milk house to be used for the cows, pigs or chickens.

A couple of weeks after I had gotten to know Gimpy I had to miss a day of school. After school Gimpy came to my house crying, his jacket torn and with a terrible black eye and split lip. My heart raced when I saw that. Even more so when he told me that the bullies had assaulted him at afternoon recess and beaten him severely.

“What about Sister Blanche? Didn’t she see what was going on, or heard anything?”

“I dunno. She watched, didn’t do nothin’.”

“Did nothing… Oh, never mind, let me fix you up as best we can and we’ll deal with this tomorrow.”

As I remember that day, so many years ago now, it wasn’t one of my best days. I wanted to be a truly good person. I never wanted to get into any kind of trouble and certainly did not want to get involved in a fight with other kids, particularly bullies. But I knew I still had to confront them. After all they had assaulted my ‘little brother’ and this was a blood thing from my point of view.

I kind of started it wrong the next morning when I waylaid the chief trouble maker who had assaulted Gimpy with, “Hey chicken shit, are you so scared to take on someone your own size you gotta beat up a little kid?” And I walked right up to him, sticking my face practically in his. “That’s unfinished business you left yesterday and I’m here to make sure it is finished so you’ll know not to mess with us.”

That was the trigger. He threw down his books and came at me. Now I may have been a girl but my dad had taught me a few fighting tricks of his own, some of which he had warned me never to talk about or brag about. He taught me about men’s particular weakness down there between their legs and I saw my chance to test that particular move. Needless to say it worked like a charm. When the others saw their leader down on the ground moaning and crying, they not only backed off, they ran.

I suppose that would have been that except a sister of those bullies went to tattle to Sister Blanche who immediately stepped over to us, grabbed me by the arm, pinching as hard as she could and made me stand by the blackboard in front of the whole class. When all were settled she ordered me to bend over her desk and she certainly didn’t hold back on the strap. When I yelled that “they” had started it, I got more, so much I couldn’t sit straight the rest of that day.

I didn’t cry and swore I’d get even, not on the bullies, I knew they’d stay away from me and Gimpy from now on, oh no, my aim was Sister Blanche. Whatever was her problem I’d make her pay. And I did, though not in any way I had thought possible if quite impractical. What I needed was something practical, and that’s what I got, from a very practical source: my mother.

After school (and after I managed to give the evil eye to Sister Blanche) I took Gimpy home so I could do a bit of sewing on his clothes, and put more salve on his shiner – that left eye was almost shut by then. It happened that mom had come in from the fields and of course wanted to know the story behind the black eye. So I told her, and Gimpy haltingly told his own version, without embellishments, including my punishment at school.

I should tell you, my mom has a fiery temper. She doesn’t “take any shit” as dad would often, and proudly say and she’d tell him to “shush George.” She didn’t say anything but I knew that she was brewing something up; I heard her and dad talking later that night.

Chores done, lunches made and time to head for school and here’s mom, in her Sunday best outfit, holding the door open, then walking with me to school.

“What’s going on, mom?” I asked and got the predictable answer,

“You’ll see.” And that was it. She went in with me and stood at the back of the room until the kids were settled at their desks then walked up to Sister Blanche and stated, loudly and clearly, “I want to have a talk with you, Sister. Now, and no excuses. Either right here in front of your class, or find us an office to talk in. Just know that I’m in no mood for games, savvy?”

I liked that “savvy” the way she said it. It was like reading a novel. I was so proud of her at that moment I swore to myself that I would become just like that some day. Anyway, Sister gave the class a reading assignment, put an older girl in charge and she and my mom left the room.

Sister Blanche came back a while later and let me tell you that if looks could kill, I’d have been six feet under and Sister Blanche in prison for life! I didn’t feel uncomfortable though. I gave her the same look right back, you know the kind when you feel that palpitation in your eyelids? The danger look full of hate and anger? It was at that moment that I realized Sister Blanche was just as much of a bully as those who had beaten up Gimpy. I grew up a lot that day!

That had been a Thursday and when Saturday morning was well engaged mom told me to get dressed, that we were going to see Gimpy’s mom. I was surprised but not terribly. Mom did things like that. If she had her mind on doing something it got done, (case closed as I liked to add for myself). That was mom.

When we got there, we had to bang heavily on the door to get an answer. Gimpy’s mom (who seemed too young to be a mom by my standards) stood there, holding on to the door, bleary eyed and her hair a total mess. She didn’t smell clean either.

“Where’s Gimpy?” asked mom.

“I dunno. It’s Saturday, innit? He’s probably roaming the streets looking for stuff.”

“You mean looking for something to eat, don’t you Violet?”

“I feed him. I got food here.”

“Yeah? Let’s see what you have that your kid could eat and live off of then.”

“Not today, I just cleaned out the fridge yesterday. I was going to go shopping today.”

“But you spent the money on booze, didn’t you, Violet? Look Vi, it’s none of my business what you do with your own life, OK? But the whole village is talking – not that those hypocrites are any better – but you’re going to lose your boy sooner than later. My daughter here has been seeing to getting Gimpy food at school, but that’s not enough. We could do more, but where would be your responsibility? By the way, I need to know your kid’s real name, Vi. What is it?”

“It’s Vidal. Don’t say I told you, and please, oh please, don’t call him that, he just hates it.”

“I don’t blame him. OK, at least I know. Now is not the time but later this afternoon I want you to come over to our house for tea, and I want for you and me to have a very, very serious talk, OK? You were a good girl not so long ago Vi. You babysat my kids and did a great job. It’s never too late to get back on track. If you don’t, Gimpy will be taken away from you and there won’t be anything any of us can do. Deena and Gimpy are very good friends and I’d hate to see them separated. Promise you’ll come?”

“I promise I’ll come Mrs. Bennett, I promise.”

“Good. I have a few dollars here for you to buy some decent groceries. Do something good for your boy, it’s high time to make him proud of you just as my kids are proud of me, if that makes any sense. Go shopping, hold your head high and ignore the snotty noses. Right now you have one thing in your favour as far as I’m concerned: you’re not a pew warming hypocrite. Not much but it’s something to go on. See you later.”

We walked home together, mom and I, and I held her hand as if she’d been royalty and I’d just been adopted. That kind of pride. And she taught me a new word. She said, “there’s a name for people like Sister Blanche and that’s a bigot. She thinks Gimpy’s mom is a bad sinner because she doesn’t go to church and she ‘entertains’ on her own. That’s why she didn’t help Gimp. You don’t ever want to be like that Sister Blanche.”

That was my mom. That was the shining light of humanity I swore to myself I would learn from, and I did. My mom didn’t actually die, she just moved inside me where I had left a big part of my heart for her to live in. She is there still.

I need to finish this, so here goes. Violet, that is, Mrs. Atkinson did choose to become responsible and raised her boy properly from there on. Gimpy became Doctor Vidal Atkinson, now retired. Sister Blanche was transferred halfway through that school year – she was not regretted by anyone, and isn’t it sad to not realize when one’s character is faulty and needs changing? The ‘bullies’ grew up and did change their characters… I even dated a couple of them and we had some pretty wild times. When my dad was dying, his last words were, “Don’t take any shit, Jane” as mom sat by his bedside crying and saying, “It’s so hard all of a sudden Todd. You were my life, my whole life. What will I do now?” But he passed on without an answer for her, or me.

And me? Well I’m still Deena Bennett and I’ve been sort of a writer of stories and tales and of the stuff that any observing person can see. Some of us just know how to put it in words so that others can also remember. Have I been successful? That depends. I was there for Gimpy and how many lives did he save as a good doctor? I grew a heart big enough to accommodate my mom and I and quite a few Violet type strays over the years. I never had to beg for anything.

 

The House at the Crossroads of the World

[a short story by    ~burning woman~    as told by Sha’Tara]

As I sat by the River one day and pondered the state of the world I had a thought: I will build myself a home at the crossroads of the world. So I did.

My home had a good roof but it had no walls, just posts holding it up. I planted ivy, honeysuckle, clematis and sweetpeas by each post and they grew swiftly and beautifully. I was very pleased.

First a family of refugees passed by and they came in to rest, drink of the cool, clean water and eat from the garden I had planted. Sated and after a good sleep their children ran out and played in the fields. Their laughter filled the air and more birds sang.

A couple of starving, ragged men came by and asked if they could stay for a while. I smiled and said, ‘Look, no walls, anyone is welcome here.’ They were gays who had been persecuted and escaped with only their lives and the clothes on their backs. Soon they were playing with the children and entertaining them with tales and magic tricks.

A group of migrant workers heading north came by and also partook of this unexpected hospitality. They were earth people and soon they had my garden cleaned and explained about plant symbiosis. I could grow much more food if I did it right. I learned much from them in that too short a time.

Some young girls came running, crying, and stopped at the house. I invited them in and they shyly came, sat down and explained they had escaped from a van filled with sex slaves bound for the black market. They got washed in the creek, ate and slept together in a corner of the house.

The honeysuckle was in full bloom and its sweet smell filled the house. In the dark we sat in the house and sang, each her or his own songs and everyone listened in awe. It was so good to find each other here and not worry about any difference.

It was too good, actually. They had watched the comings and goings to and from the house and in that country the government and its propaganda press declared that it was a terrorist training center. So they sent the drones.

We are all dead now. I am dead too but since I am mind and not matter I am made of memories. This story is a memory, and it is real.

There is no longer a house at the crossroads of the world though there are walls everywhere and for that reason the world is dying.

Reaching for Awareness

[short story by   ~burning woman~  written by Sha’Tara]

“If it is true that we only live a small part of the life that is within us, what happens to the rest?

What could, what should be done with all the time that lies ahead of us?

Is it a wish, dreamlike and nostalgic, to stand once again at that point in life; to be able to take a completely different direction from the one which has made us who we are?

The fear of death might be described as the fear of not being able to become whom one planned to be.” (quotes from the movie, Night Train to Lisbon)

It was, he figured, around the middle of the night. He’d crawled out of the warm sleeping bag to stand outside and look at the night sky. The stars were slowly revolving overhead, only he knew it wasn’t the stars that were moving, but himself riding his wild planet through space and time. The thought made him feel vulnerable, fragile. Who am I to be standing here alone to witness this incredible sight? A couple of dozen years have gone by already since I was born and what do I know? I don’t even know why I was born. Happenstance? That’s it? I’m here, feeling this incredible surge of life just because, and no reason for any of it?

He thought about that as he began to shiver and long to crawl back into his little tent and the sleeping bag with its residual warmth. “I think therefore I am” he said out loud. “Well, that’s not good enough anymore because really that is meaningless. What I need to establish for myself is not the realization that “I am” which is pretty obvious and need not be stated, but “Why Am I? That’s the point!”

It was early Summer and the river level was still rising. There was the smell of fresh leaves and muddy waters flowing over mud banks and through thick grasses. You could hear the waters hissing as they flowed by the little island he’d chosen for his stay: it had just enough room to pitch the tent and bring the kayak safely out of the water. He knew “his” river, that the little island would not wash away. For the time being it was his own little private world surrounded by water. He’d chosen it as his sanctuary, a place to be alone and away from people. A place to think in ways not possible among others.

He had given himself this gift. He already knew that from here his life would take another path, go on another tangent, new ideas coalescing in his mind to foster yet another nature even if his body chose to remain essentially the same, ageing and eventually dying. That, he understood, was the way of things on Earth, “but not for me” he would say and watch friends and family walk away from him, afraid that his madness might be contagious.

“I’m sorry, Nadia” he’d told his young wife as she berated him for leaving on his “crazy” kayak outing on the river. She of course wanted nothing to do with his water ways and had done her utmost after their wedding to dissuade him and get him to sell his kayak even though she had promised she would never interfere with the part of his life that involved the river. “It’s my time of year to go on the river and partake of her awakening. I know you cannot understand this but there is no need to fear, or be jealous. This is whom you married and I kept no secrets or surprises to spring upon you. I will be back when I have done what I must do. If you do not wish to share this with me you are free to leave. I would be pleased to find you here when I return but I will not be expecting it. Take care o’ you, my lady.”

That had been his way, to set the people around him free of bonding to himself. The freedom he sought, he gave to everyone. He had never told his wife that he loved her – he did not believe in love because, as he so often said, love has proven it’s weakness in unreliability. Respect and honour, that I can offer, but not love.  This included his concept of bonding.  Stay or leave, as you choose.

Ignoring the night’s cold he let his mind wander this strange new world he had decided to enter into: detachment. Is detachment simply a coward’s way of dealing with a violent, cruel and unpredictable world? Is it a morbid fear of losing someone close, another that one has fallen in love with or developed a special bond to? Is that why I’m here, to work this out for myself?

The stars continued their uninterrupted journey over his head and he realized once again and logically that what he was observing was his own journey through the cosmos, one tiny fraction at a time.

‘I’m traveling through the cosmos but not only that, I am fully aware of this fact, right here, right now. But where am I going? Do I get to choose that or am I a piece of flotsam on the river of space-time? No, that will not be. This new nature of mine I will dedicate to discovering my destination and the next one I will use to figure out how I am supposed to get there.’

It was some time before he could calm his mind and resume his sleep.

I’ll Forgive you, Eddie

(I do have a short story for the March Blog Battle “Dusk” but this isn’t it!  I was in a mood so I wrote this out tonight… go figure.)

Short Story – by Sha’Tara

I’ll forgive you Eddie, just as soon as you give me time to work this one out. I mean, the lying, the cheating, the way you’ve made me feel cheap in the eyes of our friends while boosting your bottomless pit of an ego and sucking the life out of me.

First, I have to go back over time and find that place, not in the photo album but in my memory, where I found myself truly “in love” with you; that place where I said “yes” when you asked me to marry you. But there is no such place, is there, Eddie. I said “yes” because I was pregnant and I’d call that duress, wouldn’t you?

How did you make me pregnant, Eddie? Do you remember your little trick at the Christmas party? Sammy told me how you put the date rape drug in my drink while I went to the ladies’ but years only later, Eddie. I remember the shock of discovering that bit of truth about you. Why did you stick around after that? Did you feel guilty, or was it the fear of being exposed by your own friends who knew what you’d done? Fear, wasn’t it. You felt obligated to marry me because it’s how we did things in those days.

Why did you stick around after our baby boy died of crib death Eddie? Was it because I brought in good money from my legal secretary job while also providing the house wife bit? So you had a comfortable place to live when your contruction jobs went soft? A safe base from which you could go out to bars, bowling alleys, race tracks and clubs to have fun, screw and gamble our money away? So you’d have someone to beat up when something pissed you off?

Hey, don’t make that face. Did you think I didn’t know about the affairs? You fucked my best friend Vivian and she finally admitted it because she felt guilty she said. But you Eddie, did you ever feel guilty? Does a rat ever feel guilt? No. It’s not in its nature, nor yours. You’re not just a rat Eddie, you’re a cockroach and I’ve been thinking that it’s time I did something serious about my pest problem. Time I returned the favour for that date rape drug thing, the beatings and my suspicion that little Alfred had help in his crib death.

You’re lying there on the floor beside the couch and wondering why you can hear what I’m saying to you but you can’t get up. It’s really quite simple: you’re having a heart attack. OK I’ll admit to having helped it along by playing with your prescriptions but you won’t be blabbing to anyone about that. That’s why I became a pharmacist after quitting the legal profession; this is so much more fun. There was no point seeking redress through legal channels, you’d eaten us out of house and home back when and even if you went to jail you’re the type that would just ooze through the bars to walk the streets again.

I’m sure you wondered why I invited you back into my life after all these years but you couldn’t resist a free B&B and you’d always considered me stupid, all evidence to the contrary. I have to thank you for accepting my invitation to come in out of the cold for old times sake. A softy, me, right? An easy mark, that’s me again. Oh you ignorant, vile, murderous imbecile, Eddie. I made it my life’s goal, after I got rid of you, to get even with you. No, not exactly even, just one step further. I felt I owed you that much.

What’s that you’re saying? You want me to call an ambulance? Oh but I will, I promise. That’s all part of the plan. I just want to watch you die in pain and agony first, is that too much to ask? What? I didn’t get that but I’ll assume you said that you understand completely. Thanks Eddie for agreeing to help me fulfill my lifelong ambition. I’m going to sit by the fireplace, have a glass of our favorite wine and watch you die.

Here’s to us, Eddie. I’ll forgive you when I see you in hell you bastard.

I Choose to be a Teacher

[a short story by Sha’Tara]

“Anee?”
No answer.
“Aneeta!”
“Yes ma…”
“What are you doing up there, sleeping?”
“Finishing the boys’ room ma.”
“Leave that, come down. I need you to go to the Bellamy’s and get me fresh produce. We’ll have payin’ guests tonight.”
A pretty young woman of about fifteen, with thick auburn hair adorned with a couple of ribbons, comes down. Her heavy footsteps indicate how reluctant she is to obey her mother.
“Mom, can’t you send Petee?”
“Pete’s in the lower meadow with your pa, he’s working. What’s wrong with you?”
“I hate the Bellamy’s mom. Joram is always shoving his hands into my dress, feeling me. I hate him. I hate what he does. And he smells like something dead.”
“Well, look who’s so high ‘n mighty now! You’re a woman now an’ Joram, he’s grown into a fine young man and he fancies you! Do you have any idea how much land the Bellamy’s own, or lease?”
“That’s not the point, mom. I don’t like him and I don’t want him. I hate it when he touches me and breathes on me.”
“That may be girl, but it’s time you learned some facts of life. How do you think I fed you and your oldest brother when your pa was in the Lord’s wars?”
“They did that to you?”
“Well, Mr. Bellamy did. He was a fine looking young man then, exempt from the war, and for convenience sake I was called the widow Lacey. I was still beautiful then too.”
“You’re still beautiful, ma! But that’s not right, what they do, is it? I read in a book at the butcher’s last week that it’s wrong. The book was on the corner table and I was waiting for my cut. It was called a “digest” and had many stories in it. This one was by a woman. She wrote that we shouldn’t be “sexually molested” she called it, and we should be able to vote.”
“You read that did you? I warned your pa not to teach you to read, that it would only cause us all trouble, and here we go. You read what other people think. Can’t you think for yourself? Joram Bellamy is sweet on you and he makes sure you always get the freshest produce, and he gives you more than we pay for. Last Fall they sold us their best pig, no extra charge. Don’t you understand anything?”
She points to her breasts: “It’s time you realized the value of these in a man’s world, Anee. And the lower part of you as well. We have a certain value and there is an exchange. It’s been that way forever, don’t you go questioning it and upsetting things for us. The Bellamy’s are much richer than us; they’re our neighbours and it’s you and I that keep things good between us. Your pa doesn’t question my loyalty to him, but he well knows how I kept our small farm and fed my children during those years he was gone. I started to talk about it once, long ago. He put his hand over my mouth, then took it off and kissed me, long and sweetly, and he thanked me. That is the kind of man your pa is.”
“I know pa is good, ma. But this is about me. I don’t want to settle with Joram. I don’t like him at all and certainly not that way.”
“He’s young, what, seventeen? He’ll grow up, mature, be more like his dad.”
“Well that settles it then: I don’t like his dad either. He’s done it to me too, you know. And he smells bad too!”
“Yeah, I know how he smells. But some of it is the smell of success and money. We’re lucky some of that smell has rubbed off on us, girl. Don’t be so particular. One would think you were born in the Lord’s castle with a silver spoon in your hand.”
“You don’t care do you! I want an education and I want to become a teacher, see? I can’t have a man if I’m to be a school teacher.”
“Oh, a teacher is it? Listen to the professor. Miss Radick has a lot of years in her yet, there won’t be any need for a new teacher in these parts for many years, girl.”
“I don’t mean around here, mom. I mean to go and teach in the coal mining country. They can’t get, or keep, teachers up there. I’ll be needed, for sure.”
“The coal country? God help us! You’ve taken leave of your senses, girl. Half the people there don’t even attend services. Men are drunkards and beat their wives. The children are half naked and starving most of the time. And the dirt, it’s in everything there. What an idea Anee.”
“I read about that too, ma. They need teachers like myself, girls with farming and gardening experience. I can teach them to grow food and I can explain about basic hygiene.”
“What are you talking about! Who is Basic Hy-Gene? Is that somebody you met at the butcher’s also?”
“Ma, hygiene means cleanliness. Basic means plain. Plain cleanliness. It’s not just the job, ma, it’s something I’ve known for sometime that I want to do. I need to do it. It’s a calling, see? Like a vocation? Do you understand that?”
The mother stopped, turned to face her daughter – they were the same height and their eyes met. There were tears in her mother’s face. Then she reached for her daughter and embraced her.
“Oh Anee! Of course I understand that part. I was there too, and I turned away to marry your pa. He was so good to me, and I knew I would be forever safe with him. But I was afraid also; afraid to learn how to read n’ do numbers; afraid it would change everythin’ for me. I hid from my calling in my family. I wanted security, not adventure.
I suffered a long time over my choice and now it’s come back to me in you. I suppose that’s fair enough; that God would give me you so you could go and do what I chose not to.
I will go with you to Bellamy’s and if Joram is there I will explain your choice to him. It doesn’t matter what he says, you will be a teacher, Anee. Your pa will be so proud, I can’t wait to see his face when you tell him.”

They both put on their long grey coats and boots to ward off the damp air and residual dew of a sunless day and walked silently, hand in hand, to their rich neighbour’s farm. A keen observer would have noticed there was a certain lightness to their steps.