The Mural

“Ok, Cal. Up, Up, Up.”
Dad was clapping his hands around my head. He grabbed the edge of the duvet and ripped it from my body like a stuck bandaid. My body was dislocated in space and time, what year was it? Yellow spunk gunk stuck my eyelids.
“Up and at ‘em!” He picked up two large cans of paint and smashed them together in front of my face.
“No.”
“Get up!” He banged the cans again.
“What if I was naked. This is my room. I’m sleeping.”
“This is actually my room. My money, my house, kiddo. And I’ve already seen your dick. I wasn’t impressed, Cal. Got it from your mother, no doubt.”
“Gross dad. You pervert.” I trailed off, “It’s big ‘nuf.”
“I’ve touched it too! And wiped your ass.” He pressed his nose to mine, “Out of bed.”
“It’s still daytime.”
“What?”
“You. Get. Out.”
Dad grabbed my guitar and started singing an old country song that I hated.
Something, something, whisky. Something, something, my girl back home.
I pulled the pillow over my head and screamed into the underside.
Dad sat on my stomach and pushed his weight up and down.
“Oh…uh…K…uh…da..ad…ah…sto..p”
He stood and strummed a huge open E chord on the guitar, and put it back on the stand.
“Yes. Alright. I get it. Up, up, up.” I rolled out of bed, edging my way across the room slug style to pick up my prosthetic.
“I got a surprise for you.”
“Yipee.”
“Come on, you’ll love it, my lil songbird.”
“Don’t call me that, Dad.”
“You love it.”
“Really?”
“Really.”

Dad took me round the side of the house, where there was a scaffold set up, paint rollers, and more cans of paint.
Across the wall there was an outline of a mural.
On the left, a Tui puffed his chest out with spread wings and beak open singing to the sky. In it’s claws he had a huge limp eel, trapped in a vice grip. A creek, our creek, ran from the left to the right and the weeping willow stood in the distance beside it.
“Surprise.” Dad stretched his arms out, doing jazz hands. His face the picture of expectation. “Well?”
“Well?” I looked at him, expressionless.
“Well! We’re painting this thing. Today I was up all night doing the outline and getting yelled at by your mother to come inside. What’d ya think?”
“It’s great, Dad.”
“Gee. That all?”
I didn’t know how to express myself to him clearly enough. Maybe I was afraid that if I started speaking I would start crying.
He looked at me with that knowing look. Eyebrows slightly raised and a slight asymmetrical grin built on understanding.
“Let’s get to it then.”

Wetland Blossoms

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

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

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

Dinner for Juan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon

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