A bloody finger
smudges the crisp white paper –
red skyline at dawn
A bloody finger
A bloody finger
smudges the crisp white paper –
red skyline at dawn
One late morning as he wound his way home through the streets of SnakeIn after laboring to load a fishmonger’s haul into separate wheelbarrows for the city market, Alec found himself wandering through the stalls looking for something to take home to Jon. An elderly woman and child were offering various flowers for sale at a small, roughly built stand. Alec meant to walk by, thinking that it would be best to find something more tangible, such as a nice belt that fit Jon better after the weight loss caused by his injuries, or a sturdy hunting knife to replace the one Jon lost during the ambush, but an array of large, white blossoms caught his eye. He also noticed the raggedness of the child’s clothes and how the elderly woman used one hand to continually pull closed a thin shawl. He stopped and greeting the woman pleasantly and asked after the white flower buds.
“They’re closed now,” the elderly woman explained. “But they’ll open wide after the sun sets. They’re Moon Flowers.”
“They are very special to a friend a mine,” he replied. “I’d like a small bouquet, if I may.”
“Of course, Sir, of course,” the woman said happily. She waved at the child to wrap up the stems, and Alec couldn’t help but smile as he thought about the surprise that would be on Jon’s face.
When he reached the inn, he wanted to run up the stairs to their attic room, but walked up slowly, being careful not to damage Jon’s moon flowers. He tucked them behind his back with one hand as he opened the door and entered their small room. Jon was sitting in one of the upholstered chairs his sister had given them, and Erienne was organizing the medication and dishes on Jon’s table. She glanced up at Alec at the same time that Jon did, so she didn’t see Jon’s happy surprise when Alec revealed the flowers.
“Oh, they’re beautiful,” she said, her voice breathy and her eyes wide. She hurried over to claim her prize, then turned her back to the two men while she found an empty jar that she could fill with water. “I don’t think anyone has ever brought me flowers.”
Alec looked at Jon with his eyes opened in astonishment and held up his open hands questioningly. Jon sighed, tipped his head back and forth as if he had no answer to the dilemma, but then waved his good hand toward Erienne to indicate that they should let her have the bouquet. Alec nodded in agreement, happy that Jon realized the meaning of the flowers, but also glad that his friend was not willing to hurt Erienne’s feelings by telling her the truth.
She moved the various items on the small table she had just organized and placed the flowers in the center proudly. Walking to where Alec still stood by the door, she went up on her tip toes, kissed his cheek, and whispered, “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, Erienne,” Alec said gallantly. “But you need to thank Jon, too. He’s the one who suggested it.”
“Oh,” she said softly. She looked back and forth between the two men as tears rolled down her cheeks. “The two of you are so kind to me. Other people called me names, and some of them even spit at me. You’ve never tried to force yourselves on me. You always appreciate the few things I can do to help, and you’ve made me feel as if I have a home again.”
“You do, Erienne,” Jon told her. “Of course this is your home. You and Fia are family now.”
Fia stretched as she rose from the floor, wandered over to Erienne, and pushed her nose into Erienne’s hand. Jon and Alec chuckled with affection for the dog’s obvious concern for Erienne, and soon she was laughing, also.
“I hope dinner will be ready soon. I’m starved,” Alec said as he settled in the empty chair opposite Jon.
“I’ll run down and see,” Erienne offered as she headed toward the stairs with Fia trailing loyally behind her. “I need to go downstairs anyway, because I want to borrow a vase for the flowers, if they have one.”
When the door swung closed behind her, Alec leaned forward and rested on hand on his friend’s knee. Jon responded by quietly resting his hand on Alec’s. He missed their time alone together and was glad for this rare moment. He didn’t begrudge Erienne the flowers. He realized that she worked as hard as he did nursing Jon, answering every need as quickly as humanly possible, and he understood that her presence made all their lives easier right now. Still, an evening with only Jon and him sitting together talking or maybe with Jon already sleeping and him beside him in the uncomfortable wooden chair, or maybe with no conversation at all, but Jon’s hand resting in his, the way it was now.
He heard Erienne’s footsteps coming back up the stairs, so he squeezed Jon’s hand and rose to his feet. “I’ll like to get some of this fish smell off me,” he as he walked over to the empty buckets. “I’ll pop down and get some more water first.”
He smiled at Erienne as they passed on the stairs, but didn’t watch turn to her ascend. Nor did he notice that she paused to watch him.
### End of Sneak Peek ###
The beginning, the first time was incredibly
simple: you smirked, you rolled your eyes
and said ‘that isn’t how’
and the next time with a wider smirk and a tad more
authority ‘that isn’t what’
and weeks, months, years later there were no longer
smirks or eye rolls, instead
you glared and snarled with angry impatience,
and I walked away, so
far away that we couldn’t see each other
glancing back over our shoulders,
and will never know
if either of us did.
It used to be more than his job. It was a career. It was his profession, his identity. No, it used to be even more…it was art. As surely as Picasso swished a brush or Michelangelo altered stone. A twist of experience, a dash of street sense. Don’t speak. Put the deal on the table and wait. He did it well. He did it easily. He thought he would do it forever. Rake in money. Toss crumbs to the cold and hungry gathered outside that fancy house he lived in. Put the deal on the table and wait. If old folks want to sell out, their house too cumbersome, their children caught up putting their children through school, make friends with the wives. Visit after all the lunch meetings when she’s just put the beef steak on the counter to thaw, covered with a bit of tin to keep the cat off. She’ll have time to talk then. Keep a ready supply of ink pens and contracts ready. Put the deal on the table and wait. Now, his Buick is parked in a great nephew’s unheated garage, and he can’t make it beyond the front stoop without his cane. From the senior van he eyeballs the value of houses on the way to buy groceries. In this market he’d be able to put in a second swimming pool, shallow enough for the babies to play in, like Margaret always wanted. He’d could take her to Belize. But he couldn’t take Margaret anywhere anymore; she lies in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. She doesn’t remember who he is. He plays cards with friends he’s made at the senior center. They bet straws and coffee stirrers. He does well. Puts the deal on the table and waits.
No one knows exactly what happened, but we do know
that early in the Napoleonic wars your friends killed you, Andy.
I’m sure that everyone talked all at once when you first disappeared,
then again when you were brought back in shackles.
It’s a sure bet that you were surrounded by laughter and
merciless sniggering as they cleaved off each of your hands,
then chopped through your right and left legs.
Did your superior officers leave them on the ground,
thereby forcing you to watch yourself rot? Did they exhibit
those irreplaceable pieces of you like grand, holy relics,
shipping them from garrison to garrison as a lesson
spelled out too bluntly for anyone to ignore? It isn’t clear,
Andy, if you were gibbeted alive, or gibbeted dead.
Nor was it recorded exactly why. Extant records
do not say that you were found guilty of desertion, but only
that you were accused of it. Who knows what that means?
Were you always planning to leave at the first opportunity?
Or, were you traumatized so deeply that something in your mind
fractured, causing you to run off in terror? Or, were you in some little
Mediterranean cottage sharing intimate moments
with one of the captains’ wives, or a local Italian’s daughter?
Nothing is said about you having been given a fair trial
with solid evidence presented against you. Nothing is said
about the possibility that you were falsely accused
of the worst crime, short of treason, that a soldier could commit.
You were Irish. We all know that often wasn’t a lucky thing to be in those days.
Whatever happened, you were buried still locked in that iron cage.
You stayed that way until a new set of prisoners dug you up
and a new set of officers put you display again,
using the sight of you for their own, you know, personal entertainment.
But then something changed. Your fate was announced to moneyed
tourists strolling by. Tourists who thought being seen next to you
was fun, and made them important. They took photos of themselves
with you and shared those images on technology that zips around
the circumference of the world in less than a second. You’re famous.
The British soldier Andrew Leonard.
It’s true, some people still smirk and jeer. But most of us loudly
point out the enormous disgrace that over two centuries of harsh punishment
has brought to the country which first put you in the Cage of Milazzo,
and to the country that keeps you there.
Most people who were in the mood for looking, kept their gaze on his shoulders. He knew it. He’d known it for years, and focused on it. He practiced in front of two mirrors to learn the exact way to flex them for attention, spent hours with his tailor draping fabrics across his back and arms to see whether the cloth would ripple or cling, and at the last faire, colleagues taught him a dehydration technique that thinned his skin across the shape of his muscles. Beyond all that, he made certain to exercise. His career warranted it, of course, but he put in extra, because of the stares he garnered.
He’d fathered several children, on both sides of the blanket, because of his shoulders. He’d wed twice, both times to women, although there were some fine young men in the world, and he never turned away what they offered. Neither marriage lasted. None of his relationships did. They were intense and flattering, but invariably short-lived. It wasn’t because of him. He never did anything wrong. He took care to be polite, gentle, and supportive. No, it wasn’t him. It was them. They couldn’t accept his line of work. He was successful, in fact, renowned — as renowned as someone deliberately anonymous could be. He owned a large house, ate well, and kept a smart team of fast horses. Yet, every single lover he ever had abandoned him once they discovered his line of work. He supposed, since it was so small of a city, it was inevitable that they all knew someone he’d handled professionally. Someone whose head ended up on a spike outside the city gate.
He wondered what more they wanted. After all, it was swinging the axe that kept his shoulders so strong.
I heard a Banshee wailing. It cried
all night, fearing, I suppose,
the impending loss of the moon,
lamenting the last of all darkness.
I thought of everyone already gone
is new and beautiful and when it arrives,
everything I’m feeling tonight
will vanish, that the screeching I hear
is only the tires of a worn-down
delivery van with an even older driver,
both of them sorely in need of new brakes.
He perched on the back steps, his long legs stretched awkwardly, his thin, shoulder-length hair tumbled into his face, his afternoon cannabis rolled in new papers and pinched between the index finger and thumb of his right hand. As he sat there alone, he watched their dogs bouncing in circles while tugging back and forth at the same tree branch. In the nearby shade, unsightly moss crept along the edge of the patio stones, and he supposed he would scrub the patio clean of it one day.
He had run out of words. The task was so simply. Wash the blue jeans. Put them into the dryer. Take them out of the dryer and fold them neatly with the seams apart so that the bellbottoms flared right to left when worn. How hard could that be? Folding the seams together so that the bottoms flared front to back was ridiculous. Nobody wore hip huggers that way.
He’d tried to explain the first time she did his laundry when they’d been married only a couple days. The wedding had been easy. They’d call their friends on the phone and said, “Getting married in the park on Saturday. Pizza at the house afterwards.” A good thirty people made it. It had been spontaneous. It had been fun despite the rain.
He’d tried to explain it again the next time she did his laundry a week later. She’d peered over her eyeglasses at him and continued what she was doing. It was a reaction he’d admired when he’d seen her target others with it.
When he’d tried to explain it two days ago, she opened her hands and let his jeans drop to the floor in front of the dryer.
Just five minutes ago he’d said loudly, “I guess I’ll have to pick my own jeans up off the floor.”
She simply answered, “Yes.”
He wished they could go back to that moment, before the phone calls had been made and the pizzas were ordered. When it was still fun. Before it was like this. Sighing, he pressed his left hand against the wooden step and pushed off to rise to his feet. The hemostat was in the living room and he’d need it if he were going to keep smoking. He’d picked the jeans up and put them away as he went by.
The young mother, clearly overworked, wore a thin, ill-fitting jacket and blue jeans. On her right shoulder hung her purse, a diaper bag and three plastic grocery sacks. In her left arm slept a baby bundled in a white snowsuit and pink blanket. There was one empty seat on the bus, so she told her three-year-old son to sit there.
The boy obeyed, but squinted suspiciously at the fortyish woman in layered work clothes and a reflective safety vest sitting next to him. He squirmed. He glanced over his shoulder to see out the window behind him. He turned his face the other direction and eyed the overweight, old lady with a gray, metal cane propped against her knees. The boy stared at her challengingly.
She smiled at him.
He dropped his head, squirmed again, leapt to feet, and darted to his mother. Flinging his arms around her legs, he buried his face against her knees.
“Mikey,” she said uncomfortably. “Mikey, go back and sit down.”
“No,” the toddler whispered.
She shrugged her purse and the diaper bag higher onto her shoulder, leaned forward awkwardly, and placed her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Go. Sit. Down.”
Mikey shook his head defiantly, looked into her eyes, and started to cry.
Other passengers on the bus pressed against each other, some pointed, others jerked their chins in Mikey’s direction, and all of them snickered. The driver’s angry glare bounced off the rear view mirror and slammed into the harried mother.
“Mikey,” she said pleadingly.
The old woman canted her head as she measured the exchange between the boy and his mother. Finally, she called out cheerily, “Mikey.”
The child twisted around to look at her.
“Mikey, come back and sit next to your Aunties,” the old woman suggested.
The woman in the reflective vest nodded toward the boy, then patted the empty plastic bus seat invitingly.
The boy glanced at his mother, who smiled with desperate frustration and repeated, “Go sit down.”
Realizing that he had been saved by his “Aunties,” the boy raced back, and the woman in the reflective vest helped him climb onto the seat. The boy knelt with his nose and one hand pressed to the window. He used the other hand to gesture at all the wonderful things outside the bus window: the overhead train, another bus, a truck from the south side delivering produce. Tapping his hand on the glass enthusiastically, he grinned and cried out at the truck’s logo, “Let us!”
The old lady thought of the three-story walk up and the twice used tea bag waiting for her at the end of the bus ride. The string from the tea bag would be dangling down the side of the cup and beside it, along the edge of the saucer, would be the half-slice of cold toast she’d set aside for her lunch. She tightened her grip on her utilitarian cane.
“Lettuce,” she agreed feigning excitement. “And tomatoes.”
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