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.

The Ocean Is A Memory

The terrace is encased in trellises covered with grape vines, and troughs filled with herbs lay along the edges. The air is fresh and smells of meals that haven’t been cooked yet.
Rosemary on lamb. Tarragon rubbed chicken. Mushroom fettuccine topped with basil and thyme, and time put into it.
The waiter brings me a long list of drinks, and some bread, no butter.
The sea is to my left and the white canvas sails snap in the breeze, reminding me of the woman who lived on the cobbled streets of Nice, who would hang her washing to dry in the spring heat, snapping the sheets with a whip of her arms, and scolding the children who would run through the tenement yard, but it was their yard, everyone shared, even the baked pastries she would leave as treats near the wash basket, and the children would scrub soiled undergarments and white canvas sheets to earn a warm tart with cream, the only treat they would see, and they would be pleased, running through the yard which they all shared.
Sails will never go out of fashion, even with better and more powerful engines being produced. The sound of a sail catching wind is a signal to men of the sea to meditate and follow the currents of their lives. To catch fish and feed their families, to enjoy the breeze and misery of lost dreams.
I am not a sailor, I have no legs for the decks of damp surroundings, so I eat my bread and think of the woman hanging sheets, and I sail on the winds of my memories imaginings.

Midnight Ministry

“The tapestry weaves and unweaves
The hand grips and ungrips
Wait
Something
Sombre
Time lapse to yonder
Harken now
It’s begun”

He’s making eyes around the room, but mostly he watches himself in the reflection of the window. Does he recognise himself, this faceless caricature, faux poet, and man of misspelled letters?
He comes here every week on a Tuesday, with his air of fake eclecticism in tow, and then he stands on the window bar ledge and throws his shit around the room, expecting us to eat it up off of the floor.
‘Thanks, that’s from a poem called, “Perennial days”.’
The six people in the room look around, feigning interest for a second or two, before looking back into their coffee cups.
Please, God, smite him.
‘I’m working on a novel.’ He implores to his audience with an outstretched arm. ‘It’s a kind of epic, post-hype, meta-philosophical anthology, depicting the rise of a counter-culture anti-hero, in a dystopian future ruled by bureaucratic demon-alien-androids.’ He coos at his reflection in the window. ‘It’s a work in progress, but my manager says it’s good.’
His manager is the woman who walks around town with yellow supermarket bags wrapped to her ankles and a rainbow feather boa around her waist from which she hangs a plastic cutlass.
I don’t like my job much at all. The internet doctor calls it, ‘work aversion’, my other diseases are apparently seven kinds of cancer and people.
This place attracts some less than palatable patrons, but rent exists. It’s easy to own slaves, you just offer them a base rate of extinction and they sell you the best hours of their day. I worked the night shift, and my best hours were robbed of me. As if I could afford the sun anyway.
I watch as Cecil ambles to the counter with his persistent limp, his cap pulled low over his eyes and a worn satchel at his side. He hands his thermos over the counter and spills what was left of his last drink over the stale muffins. In his seventy or so years, he hasn’t been able to grasp the concept of speaking. It’s all grunts and murmurs, with every second word being vaguely recognisable after it’s trip through the abattoir. It’s how I imagine the primitive man spoke.
He only ever takes his coffee with a flat top and a shot of hazelnut syrup, always in his thermos and never paying full price. Cecil had been coming to this same spot since the sixties, back when it was a family diner and he was pulling late shifts driving taxis.
I would have liked to of asked him what it was like, but I only ever heard every second word. He waddled back to his seat, the second table from the door, his back to the counter, always.
The minstrel on the bar is still spewing his words to the crowns of downturned heads wanting to go unnoticed.

‘Yip, yip, yip, yip,
The brakes are oily slippery
That man has arms of hickory
Pumping effluence and
Pop
I bark
Yip, yip, yip, yip’

One of the cafe kings pulls his crown up and throws a sugar container right at the minstrels face. ‘Fucking hippy faggot! Shut the fuck up.’ He moves to throw a chair and I can’t be moved to stop him.
My boss, George, runs out and grabs him, glaring at me for not stopping this. I shrug and wipe the counter down.
Our minstrel is crying atop a pile of sugar, nursing a chipped tooth and checking his face in the window. George gets rid of our martyr, and those of us who had suffered, silently revere him.
‘What are you doing letting these animals run the zoo, man?’ George is coming towards me, short but stocky, less than intimidating thanks to his height.
‘The poetry does suck.’ Simon, another regular, pipes up and saves my ass. ‘I agree with Russell’s account that he was a “fucking hippy faggot”.’
‘Yea, well you guys can allot street justice on the street! Not in the cafe!’ George’s little fists swung to slap his thighs. Emphatic. He turns and points at me, ‘Keep the beasts under control.’ I lift my chin slightly, to show I’ve heard him. He goes back to the kitchen, intoning curses under his breath.
‘Thanks, Simon.’ I throw him a muffin, topped with Cecil’s backwash. He winks and curtsies, letting the muffin fly over his head and dent the wall.
‘My pleasure. It was truly awful.’

Novel Passage #2

In the haze of my half-cut wandering, I’d walked to a part of town I’d never been. The buildings were low-lying, each only having one or two stories at most, and appearing even smaller in the shadows of the surrounding skyscrapers.
There was a small fruit stand with two fermenting pears and a basket of spotty bananas on it. The woman standing next to it did her best to swat at the flies with a rolled up glossy magazine. She smiled when she saw me looking and waved, with bits of wing and crushed insect spraying from the pages around her in a halo of decay.
Across the courtyard a man sat carving a log with chisels. He was wearing a kilt, nothing on top, and a thick mat of hair on his chest, chin and crown.
Further down I saw a chalk board sign which said I could get coffee and food inside. I hadn’t eaten all day, and the streets were cold at that time of year.

The door stuck to its hinges as I pulled it open, the wood tracing an arc which was etched permanently across the cobbles. Inside it was low-lit and a man stood looking at me from behind the counter.
“Coffee?” He pulled a head free from the machine and tapped out a spent shot, prepping to pack a new one. I nodded and he beamed, beginning to tamp the ground coffee down and placing a mug under the stream.
“I can tell you’ve never seen one of these before. Am I right?” He asked.
“Yea, man. That thing looks crazy.” He laughed and put a milk jug under some steam.
“Most people just get theirs without the wait time these days. These things became obsolete after you could just punch some buttons into one of the thousand drink machines around the city. Pop! Out comes a perfect flat white in a styrofoam cup, no work needed. Would you like some crude oil with your order, sir? God. Don’t get me started on the smart-cafes either.” He was grinning, laughing to himself about a joke he was constantly recalling. I just nodded, it was all a bit weird.
“It was a bit of a mission to find one of these bad-boys. My old man knew someone who ran a cafe, way back before automation took over, and he just gave it to me. Can you believe that? Its one of the only ones left in the whole city. This thing is priceless, man. A good cup of coffee, made how it should be, shared and with free, genuine conversation. But, you gotta pay for the drink.” He winked and then poured the milk with an exacting eye, his wrist relaxed and the milk ribboning silk-like through the copper crema. He admired his work for a moment and then slid the cup over to me. On top there was a bronze and ivory cosmos, with milk moons circling golden planets encased in a fractal patterned border.
“Hey man, thats amazing. How the hell did you do that?”
“Practice. Latte art isn’t a lost art, if i’m still kicking.”
“Well, I appreciate it. Thanks. How much?”
“You know, since its your first real cup, you can just take it. You’ll be hooked once you taste it and have to come back for more.” He walked away through a door behind him, brimming with self-satisfied laughter. I looked through the door, which led to a kitchen, and he was singing a melody to himself while cracking eggs into a frypan. He saw me watching and started throwing his hand toward me, pointing. I turned around and saw the doorway he was gesturing at.
I picked up my coffee, careful not to spill it, and too wary to drink it, and walked through to the other room.
There were bookshelves along the walls, crates of records, and people looking through them all with intense eyes. Tables lay chaotically around the room, all made in differing styles. Some people sat lounging on cushions strewn around the floor in a corner nook, drinking tea and having intimate conversations. Others sat alone, reading, writing feverishly, or just staring around the room at the hustle.
I edged in, finding a seat around the bar, which skirted another coffee machine. Behind the counter there were jars of strange leaves, teapots, cups, coffee beans, and a bartender cleaning mugs.
The man a couple seats down was ranting to him.
“He was a wacko, I tell ya! He kept asking me if I was CairoClueless67, getting all nervous like and pulling on his sleeves, looking over his shoulder and all that. Says that I’m wearing what I said I would, but come on, how many people were out that night wearing black jeans and a blue sweatshirt? Naturally, I told him to get out of my face. I figure he’d booked a night with some lover-boy online and the guys a no-show. So, I go back to my drink, ten minutes go by and this guy is getting antsy, when wouldn’t you know it, a guy in black jeans and a blue sweatshirt walks in. Our guy here, gets really excited about this and he gets up fast, shooting his arm up at this guy. They talk for a few minutes, and next thing you know, BLAM! Blue sweater fucking blows this guys goddamn head off. Sends chunks of his skull into martinis around the room. People are screaming and it all goes to shit, man. This guy, he just asks the barkeep for a phone, calls the cops on himself and goes to sit on the curb. Naturally, I finish my drink. At ten bucks a beer what do I do, you know? Anyway, the cops, they come racing round the corner and our guy starts fucking blasting them. They fire back and just tear his body apart. Chunks of his chest are spitting off of him like meat shrapnel and he goes down, hard. Woah, mumma! Better than any late night b-grade film I’ve ever seen. The police wanted to question some of us about what we saw, its all done by the book, you know? A couple weeks later, I see an update in the papers. Turns out these guys met on some site, way deep in the dark net. Basically its a place to organise a double suicide, for people who don’t have the guts to top themselves. You organise to meet, then one of you offs the other, waits for the cops and then lets them kill him. Both get to die, but neither have to kill themselves. How fucked up is that?”
“That never happened, Kyle. You’re a goddamn liar.” The bartender didn’t buy it.
“Like hell I am, you son of a bitch! Ill bring you the news articles and then you can eat shit.”
“Yea, yea. Is this like that time you supposedly survived a cougar attack at some circus show?”
“Piccadilly circus, nineteen sixty-five!”
“Piccadilly circus is a round-a-bout.”
“Well, it’s all true. I ain’t a liar.” He turned to face me. “Hey, kid, you’ve been listening the whole time.” I’m sprung. “You think I’m a liar?”
I look into my still full coffee mug. “Uh, no, um. But I guess I don’t really know you enough to be able to say. The story was interesting, though.” He turned back satisfied, shooting smug lips at the barkeep.
“At least someone around here is a good judge of character.”

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.

A Ballet

“It’s like, at this time of the night there isn’t as much interference. Other people’s thoughts and minds aren’t clogging up the air space. You know what I mean?”

We’d gotten into the habit of walking home together after work, talking for twenty minutes and finally getting somewhere. We would really be talking, then we’d reach her house.
I’d say goodbye, lingering that few extra seconds I knew she noticed, and wanted her to notice, but neither of us would ever acknowledge.
My house was still another forty-five minutes away, every other night I would catch the bus. Sunday was our day for walking.
I had that forty-five minutes to continue the conversation inside, mumble regrets, and imagine what the night could have become had I hugged her.
In my mind, our conversation flows through the evening. We’d manoeuvre the initial awkwardness and then speak freely.
I imagine it every night after we say goodbye.
It’s no matter, though. I don’t need company. Missing people isn’t a problem. It’s only when I want someone specific.
With her it was specific.

“I’ve always wanted to go see the ballet, but I’ve never had anyone to go with. I don’t really want to go by myself, you know? I’d like to go with a group of friends or something. But, no one will want to go.”
“I’ve always wanted to go, we should go, yea? We could ask Nyla as well. It would be fun, make a night of it. Dress up all fancy-like.”
“Really? That could be good.”

We never went to the ballet. I never bought it up again. We both knew that we wouldn’t go. It was one of those conversations you have to fill time. It’s like talking about what technology will be like in the future, we might never see it, but it fulfills something just to toy with the idea.
I should have asked her again. More regrets.
It could have played out like The Nutcracker, but instead I walked home with the combined sound of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, Schoenberg composing beside me, and Coltrane improvising during his free period.

“Hey, are you walking home tonight?”
“Oh. Yea, no. I’m sorry, I’m meeting somebody for a drink. Next week, we’re back on like normal”
“Ok. See you.”

She smiled when she said that. There was no walk the next week. Or the week after that. Or ever again.
I couldn’t take it. I quit. Working there was a reminder that at 4 am I would be lonely and unable to sleep.
They went to the ballet. Of course they went to the ballet. He asked her. Of course he asked her.
Evolution was at work. Not my evolution, though.

“Hey, long time. You’re looking well.”
“Yea, you too.”
“Hows things? You kind of just disappeared on us, huh?
“Yea. I needed it. A change.”
“That’s cool, I guess. Well, I’ll see you around then?”
“Yea, of course. See you.”

I didn’t see her again. Better said, I never let myself see her again. We passed on the street once, but she was with him, and so I tucked my chin into my chest and pretended to button my shirt cuff. I went to the ballet alone.