An Illustrated Promise of Paradise

As I have been writing about birds in art, film and literature this week I am rather cheekily including my own short story A Promise of Paradise, which has been published on here before, however now including brand spanking new and rather wonderful illustrations by sueblackpenart.

If you enjoy the story, my collection Motion No. 69 will be available for sale November 30th 2017 (3:23PM GMT to be precise), fully and marvellously illustrated by T.Kiros.

A Promise of Paradise

promise of paradise header

1.

Sara was sickening for something. Every day Alex had noticed that she was a little more drawn, a little more drained. Upon awakening he saw that her pale skin was flushed with fever. He felt her forehead and nudged Sara awake.

“You’re burning up, baby,” he whispered.

“I know, I don’t feel so good,” she replied drowsily. Her breathing was a ragged gasp, sweet with distemper.

“I should really get you to a doctor,” Alex suggested.

“I don’t have a doctor down here. The only doctor I know is the family doctor back home. I have never really needed one, apart from my bout of anaemia.”

“Well I think you need one now Sara, I’m worried about you. Don’t they have to take you on as a patient if you turn up at the practice?”

“Not sure about that really. Look it isn’t that serious, just a touch of the flu. A couple of days in bed will see me right. Besides, I hate doctors, they give me the creeps. The only person I want examining me is you, Alex.”

Alex felt that Sara was deluding herself as to the extent of her illness but was relieved at the same time that she didn’t want to see a doctor. He shared her aversion to the medical profession; found their probing of orifices and suggestive personal questioning highly intrusive. He doubted if there was a career more suited to people who held a deep-seated grudge against the human race. “Well if you say so. But if it gets any worse you will have to go. And while I’m at work you need to look after yourself. Fags and fever don’t mix so now would be a good time to give up. Plus, only one drink a day, a hot whiskey before you go to bed. And certainly nothing else. Do you understand me, Miss Essein? Now don’t go making that face at me Sara.”

Sara’s grey eyes had clouded over further while she put an elegant hand over her mouth to cover a large yawn.

“Aye aye Captain,” she saluted Alex, as he rose from the bed.

“I’m serious Sara. Do you want me to be worried sick about you all day, so worried that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate?”

“Do you have to go to work today? Can’t you pull a sickie and stay home to look after me? Please, Alex, you know that we would have such fun.”

He found the cigarette pack and took two cigarettes out. He lit the first with a yellow disposal lighter and lit Sara’s from his own. He passed the cigarette over to her.

“Thanks, well, I thought I wasn’t supposed to smoke.” Sara said as she drew on the cigarette, her eyes half closing.

“Sorry, well one wouldn’t kill you I suppose. You know I can’t take off; things are dicey enough at the moment without going AWOL. I promise I will call as soon as I get a chance. Please don’t pout baby. How about I make you a nice cup of tea and a bit of toast before I leave?”

“Honestly Alex I don’t know why you bother. You’re far too intelligent to be doing that job and be taking orders from that pig Wilkinson. It’s not like they pay you that well either.”

“You know I can’t stand it Sara but it’s only for the time being. As soon as something better comes along I’m on it. In the meantime, we have to have money coming in, don’t we?”

“You worry too much about money. You know my father would be more than happy to contribute to his little girl’s well-being.”

“I don’t want to go down that route Sara. I know I that I have never had any money, but I also have my pride to think of. I look after my own.”

“Does your precious pride mean that you have to neglect me, when I’m so sick? Fine, just go on to your job then,” with those words Sarah buried her face into the pillow.

“Do you want that tea and toast before I go?”

Sara lifted her face up for the pillow. “If it will ease your conscience, certainly.”

*

Out on street, though, Alex started to fret. Already he was missing her. He hated not having Sara in his sights. He felt at a loss and incomplete.

Although he had left only five minutes ago he felt a sickening nostalgia for the airless atmosphere of their bedroom.

I really must concentrate, he thought. You can’t live on love alone; you have to earn your crust, contribute to society, so they’ll leave you in relative peace; be a worker bee, a drone.

The train was overflowing as usual and Alex found himself squashed between an old African lady and an attractive pony tailed blonde who bore a passing resemblance to Sara. The old anxiety descended upon Alex, his mind overwhelmed by the undisclosed contents of all these other personalities with no relationship to himself. What, exactly, was the Sara clone thinking right now? Did she feel that her undoubted looks set her on a level above the nobodies surrounding her, who could only gawp and gape? Or maybe she was just thinking about her lunch hour. And the old biddy who was disintegrating as she rocked back and forth in her much-prized seat; was she remembering the time when she was young and pretty and had no knowledge of the inevitable decay and dissolution that faced her?

These projected imaginings of other people’s thoughts temporarily coloured the terrifying blankness of Alex’s mind but quickly became draining. What would they say if they saw into his own internal landscape? Would they see only an empty world with a cloudless blue sky; a place as vacuous as an award-winning ultra-modernistic glass office block? Or are other people simply too self-absorbed to concern themselves with the unanswerable enigma of other people?

His thoughts quickly returned to Sara; these days they never strayed far for long. A vague premonition (aren’t they always vague, but no less disturbing for that?) that her illness was far more serious than either of them suspected haunted his mind. It wasn’t just a cold or flu or some other common or garden ailment. It was something else, some other illness. Exactly what, he had no idea, however he knew, just knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had to return home straight away. The hotel would just have to carry on without him today. Wilkinson wouldn’t be happy, but he felt sure that he could talk him around in time.

At the next stop Alex got off but instead of going over to the opposite station that would take him back towards home Alex heading towards the station exit. Maybe a spot of fresh air would do him good; make things appear in a clearer light. He went to a café and ordered a cup of coffee and sitting outside at a patio table smoked two cigarettes end to end. Perhaps he was exaggerating Sara’s condition. It wouldn’t be the first time that his imagination had run away with him. At school every teacher had seen fit to comment on his over active imagination. This time, though, he felt that his instincts were right. He stubbed out his third cigarette half way though and returned to the station and caught the train home. Before returning he stopped by the supermarket and stocked up on essentials, mainly drink as they had been going though their supplies rather rapidly lately.

As he opened his building’s door and walked through the lobby with its dulled chessboard marbling, he dimly realised that now that he was home again that there would be no going back from here on out.

*

Sara was dead to the world; the bedclothes had been kicked restlessly to the floor. Alex unpacked the groceries, poured himself a stiff drink as there was nowhere he now needed to be today and sat down in the decrepit bedroom chair. He always enjoyed watching Sara sleep. Her guard was down, and her vulnerability was on view. The childish habit of sucking her thumb explained her slight overbite which he found so endearing. Her shallow breathing highlighted her ribcage. Alex could count the ribs; usually he got to eight but lately with the illness the flesh had melted off her already slender frame so now ten ribs on either side were exposed.

The telephone started ringing from their small living room and Alex tensed.

He was certain that it was Wilkinson calling about his absence; however, he was in no mood to talk to Wilkinson, so he let the machine get it. He was more concerned that the ringing would wake up Sara who quite obviously needed her rest. After the third call he disconnected the cord from the wall.

He would plug it back in tomorrow.

With the silence in the flat Alex had been about to nod off in the chair when Sara cried out and sat bolt upright in bed. Alex noticed her confusion as she looked around the room and noticed that he was there.

“Alex, you’re here. What time is it?”

“I don’t know, about one I think.”

“How come you are back home Alex, what happened to work?”

“Didn’t go. You were right; they can do without me for a day or two. I couldn’t leave my darling all alone when she’s sick could I? Even though you don’t seem that happy to see me.”

“I’m so happy to see you Alex. I was so miserable when you left this morning. It’s just that I had the most horrible dream,” she shivered at the memory.

Alex went over to the bed and after gathering a sheet from the floor wrapped it around Sara’s naked shoulder and pressed her close.

“Look at you, you are shivering. It’s OK baby, I’m here, I’m here.”

“It was so awful Alex. I’m so glad that you came home. It’s terrible to have a nightmare in the middle of the day. I know other people’s dreams don’t make any sense but if I tell you it might make it go away.

“I was walking on a deserted platform of an underground station. I was wearing my grey winter coat; you know the one, the one with a patterned lining.”

Alex nodded.

“Well it was stiflingly hot down there, especially with my coat, so I sat down at one of the benches. The indicator was down as usual. The tunnels kept zooming in and out before shutting up like a telescope. The only other living thing on the platform was a beautiful white dove. Its whiteness was so pure compared to the dingy yellow of the walls and the impenetrable blackness of the tunnels. I felt that if I could follow the dove to where it had come from that I would find a wonderful place without pain or sickness or fear. That dove was like a promise of paradise.

“I waited for a long time and nothing happened. No other passengers, and no train came, and the dove remained perched on one of the other benches, motionless.

“Coming from nowhere Alice sat down next to me. She looked different, she had gone all gothicky. She was wearing all black, her hair was dyed black and she wore thigh highs. What with the bright red lipstick and nail polish and her pale skin the effect was rather striking. She looked like a vampire dominatrix. Well you know what Alice is like.”

Alex did indeed know Alice was like and hated her for it. It wounded him that Sara was dreaming of that bitch.

“Daaarling, my god it has been a long time no see. Have you been avoiding me,” Sara continued, mimicking perfectly Alice’s plum posh accent. “I didn’t know what to say; after all I have been avoiding her somewhat, so I said that of course I haven’t, just been busy with one thing and another.

“Alice forgives you, this time and this time only. You are lucky I’m so sweet-natured. It is fantastic to see you again, even if I had to go to such extraordinary lengths to get even just a peek at you again.”

“This seemed a strange thing to say but I put it out of my mind.

“Are you heading up West, Alice? When is the train coming? I feel like I have been waiting forever.”

“No Sara, I’m going nowhere but here. Don’t you know where we are?”

“At the train station,” I answered.

“Yes Sara, the station where the train never stops. Not ever, ever, ever…”

“As Alice was speaking I noticed red bumps appear above her right eyebrow. Soon they joined together and formed an ugly-looking blotch. Alice did not seem aware of anything, just went on talking but I wondered how she could be unaware of such painful seeming hives. She was gesticulating wildly, the heavy silver bracelets flailing. At this point the dove flew over and perched on Alice’s left shoulder. Alice paid the bird no notice even when it started pecking at her temple. Soon her forehead was nothing more than a bloody gash as the dove kept on pecking. With impeccable timing the dove’s beak pierced a twitching vein causing a shower of blood to drench my coat and face, I wanted to scream but couldn’t. How could Alice remain so composed, she hadn’t missed a beat, when all this was happening?

The face consuming splotch had reached her cheeks. Hesitantly, almost tenderly the dove drove its beak into Alice’s left eye. It plucked out the eyeball and swallowed before proceeding to do the same to the right eye. Its purpose served the dove flew away lazily, its blood-stained plumage shimmering exotically. I wanted to escape but the sight of Alice’s face, which was now completely red, competing rash and blood stains with accents of smeared lipstick, not to mention the horror of absent eyes paralyzed me.

promise of paradise sarah

“But this was too much.” She had grabbed hold of my wrists and she leans towards me with her tongue, which resembled a piece of under cooked veal, protruding obscenely from hemorrhaging lips.

“We were rocketing above the city now, thousands of streets and millions of people streaming beneath our feet. I just wanted my feet back down on the ground but Alice’s grip on my wrists was so tight that little crescents of blood had formed beneath her fingernails and there was no avoiding that devouring mouth no matter how I twisted and turned, except to fall…

“At that I woke up, Thank God, and found you here.”

After Sara had finished Alex was silent. She obviously needed to be comforted after such a nightmare, but he couldn’t think of anything to say that would assuage her terror. He kissed her softly on the forehead.

“What do you think it means?” she asked hopefully.

“Nothing Sara, it’s just a dream. You’re ill and you have a fever. Fever dreams are often particular vivid. It’s only a dream and nothing more. Anyway, you have nothing to worry about now. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

II.

A Promise of Paradise Salon

After a sleepless night Alex stirred from bed to call Wilkinson to tell him that he wouldn’t be back at work for a couple of days. He remembered pulling the cord out from the wall but couldn’t recall cutting it. It had been completely severed. Obviously calling was out of the question, he would have to walk three blocks to the nearest phone box and it would probably be vandalised anyway. He could ask the neighbours, but he had never met them, so he presumed his request would be met only with blank stares. Oh well he thought that’s that job gone then. They would be OK for money for a little while, they probably had enough in the bank to cover the rent and bills for two maybe three months. As for being without a phone, Alex was actually quite relieved. Who did they need to speak to apart from themselves? Not Alice or Wilkinson or her father or his mother certainly. Sara must feel the same otherwise she would not have cut the cord. At last they would be alone together without any outside distractions.

Although Sara’s worsening condition was a cause of considerable concern for Alex in the following days he secretly welcomed it for several reasons, though not without guilt. For now, Sara had real need of him in her weakened state and relied upon him for everything. He cooked all her meals and administrated her medicine. He dressed and bathed her. This coolly perfect woman was totally dependent upon him and he in turn was her willing servant, slavishly satisfying even her most bizarre whims. The second reason was the sex. The fever had unlocked something inside Sara and now she made love vociferously, urgently. Their previous kisses and embraces seemed polite, formal; almost abstract in contrast to the intensely wanton caresses Sara now lavished on Alex. Never had Alex known such rapture. Every passing day and night confirmed Alex’s initial revelation upon first seeing Sara; that he had to possess her totally, whatever the cost. As she gazed down upon him, smiling her slightly asymmetrical smile, the one flaw that in the manner of a baroque painting made her perfection unique he knew that there was nothing he wouldn’t do to keep hold of her. Alex wanted Sara to stay down here with him forever.

It was inevitable really that Alex would succumb to the sickness in time, given that she never left his side or that his body had absorbed all her secretions. Every salty drop of her blood, sweat and tears.

A Promise of Paradise Illness

The sickness started with the world dividing itself into a complicated grid except for the centre which was a black and white tunnel. The peripheral pattern consisted of various nauseating clashes of neon primary colours. To escape the electric disturbances of the periphery he descended down the tunnel. Alex’s head exploded with the pain. Every sense impression was an infernal torture. He didn’t move for two days. Then the fever began. Alternating periods of equatorial heat and arctic chill. Nightmare ridden delirium or a disturbing lucidity. Pre-occupied as Alex was with his own condition, he could hardly fail to notice that Sara was rapidly deteriorating. She would spend hours in the bathroom eking out the last strand of bile from her shrinking stomach. An angry rash had appeared on her left arm constantly screaming to be scratched. Laying his head on her breast and listening to Sara’s heartbeat he had detected a definite arrhythmia. With these proliferating symptoms and his own sickness Alex knew that they had to see a doctor but the thought of venturing outside the flat brought on severe panic attacks that resulted in spells of hysterical blindness. In his mind their mutual illness was forging a bond that could never be broken. Soon he wouldn’t be able to tell where he began and Sara ended.

Diurnal time had ceased. The heavy blackout curtains cut out all light, so it was neither night nor day just an unceasing now. Time without season, without reason or rhythm, in retreat they made their own weather. Their disintegration was reflected in their surroundings. The kitchen roof sagged with the rain. Sections of the support beams in the bedroom ceiling were exposed as parts of the panelling fell. The sinks drained on some glacial time scale; a millimetre every millennium. The toilet had to be constantly plunged. Bags of rubbish were strewn around the kitchen floor. Every inch of counter space was covered with haphazardly stacked dirty dishes and glasses in constant danger of toppling. Even the television had turned a strange shade of blue, a cause of paranoid consternation. Alex became convinced that it was leaking radiation, which resulted in mutations to their basic genetic structure which was the cause for their various afflictions. However, no improvement was apparent after Alex had kicked the screen in. Most seriously of all they were almost out of food; even taking into account their decreased appetites Alex knew their supply could not hold out for much longer. Sooner rather than later something would have to give, one way or another.

III.

“Can’t you sleep either?” Sara asked.

“No, yet I am so tired. I haven’t slept for ages,” Alex replied.

“It’s this itchiness with me, God I just wish I could scratch this arm.”

“Don’t Sara. You don’t want scars all over your arm, do you? And it will cause it to spread.”

“I know. It’s just really hard not to. Why can’t you sleep?”

“Well, apart from feeling absolutely awful, I’m afraid to go to sleep. I keep having this nightmare about my father.”

“But you never knew your father Alex. Didn’t he die when you were a baby?”

“Yes, when I was nine months old. I often wondered about that coincidence. Officially the verdict was misadventure, but my mother told me that it was definitely a suicide.

“In the dream I am at my old house, my mother and step father have since moved. For some reason, although I am my current age I am wearing my school uniform, short trousers and a blue blazer with a stag’s head crest.

“On the dining room table is laid an open coffin. Inside is my father, although I have no recollection of his appearance I recognize the body from the one photo my mother kept. Though it is his funereal my father is not dead. However, I seem to be the only one to notice the fact. Nobody else is paying attention to the wide-open eyes roving back and forth. All my relatives and the other guests are too busy enjoying the champagne and the food served on trays by the exotic waiting staff.

A Promise of Paradise Dream 1

“Somebody passed by and told me a joke. I was already quite drunk and found the joke so funny that soon I was coughing. I coughed so hard that I coughed up some phlegm that landed on my father’s face. He glared at me through narrow eye slits. At first there was silence but then somebody started clapping and soon there were raucous cheers. My grandfather summoned a waiter to bring me a bottle of whiskey.

“In great spirits I went outside to the back garden with grandfather. From somewhere my grandfather had got hold of a double-barrelled shotgun and proceeded, with unerring accuracy, to despatch every bird in sight. He collared his son Chris to act as retriever, who on all fours would go lolloping across the suburban gardens and over fences to pick up the carcasses in his mouth and bring them back to deposit them at his father’s feet. Soon there was a hastily constructed pyramid of slaughtered pigeons, starlings, swallows, tits, orioles, pheasants, thrushes, grouse, peacocks, eagles, guinea fowl, sparrows, ravens, albatrosses, a dove, vultures and birds of paradise. When Chris placed a dodo on top of the heap it collapsed and entombed my grandfather.

“Back inside all decorum had been lost. Guilty as I felt about unleashing such fury against the defenceless remains of my father I could understand how the sheer helplessness of the corpse provoked everyone to commit further outrages. My mother tried to pull off their wedding ring, but it was struck fast. Next, she tried to lubricate the ring by sucking on her dead husband’s finger, but it still wouldn’t budge. I suggested cutting the finger off, after all what use did my dead dad have for it? Somebody went into the kitchen to get the knife.

“Even my stepfather, usually so gentle and placid, was affected by the atmosphere, stubbing out his cigarette in a pool of spit on my father’s cheek. The cigarette sizzled as it slowly extinguished, filling the air with an acrid smell of burnt, embalmed flesh.

“The revellers, for that is what they were really, were now engaging in the kind of senseless atrocities that marked the latter days of the Borgias. I would have been loath to witness such acts if I hadn’t somehow instigated them.

“This question haunts me though. I keep on thinking throughout that my father would have been better off dead. All the time, better off dead.”

*

When Alex saw Sara leaving he was afraid that their protective magic circle had been broken and that all the denizens of the lower depths would be let loose.

He had been too exhausted to stop her. As she packed her backpack and told him that there was a world outside these four walls, that she missed her family and friends, that she was better now, he had done nothing but lick his dry lips. He wasn’t sure if she was really preparing to depart or if it was just another hallucination. He was becoming increasingly prone to visions whose vividness made him question what was really happening anymore.

It was only after the front door had closed that he realised that she had really gone. Sara would return he reassured himself. She was far too ill not too. She had convinced herself that the illness was abating and that she was on the mend, but Alex knew that it was all wishful thinking, merely a brief respite.

Sara would return, but in the meantime Alex was tormented with jealously. He imagined her in increasingly perverse situations with a wide selection of men and women stroking and fondling her yielding flesh. Try as he might he couldn’t stop thinking of Sara in a variety of obscene postures. Her body was a banquet which the whole world feasting on; he alone was denied a taste of her succulent sweetmeats.

Most of all the image of Alice plagued Alex. Sara greeting Alice with arms wide open, their lips meeting and merging, fluttering tongues probing. He’d always known what Alice was after. He pictured her whispering in Sara’s ear; stroking her long blonde hair to reveal the exquisite swan neck before kissing and then sinking her teeth into the snow-white skin, drawing blood.

Alex realised this was the quickest route to insanity. Sara had only been gone an hour, what if she never came back? Then he would have to find her. Of course, it would be better if she returned of her own volition but if not then he would have to bring her back. How long could he wait before he ventured out onto the streets? Not long but he decided to give her a while yet. In the meantime, he had to do something. What exactly? He paced around the flat going from room to room. In the bathroom he searched the medicine cabinet which was still well stocked considering the number of pills they had been taking. He found a bottle of sleepers but rejected them as he wanted to be wide awake when Sara returned so chose instead some uppers. Closing the cabinet door, he caught his reflection. Alex had to admit that he looked dreadful. Unshaven with sunken eyes entrenched beneath the violet and purple circles. Before the sickness Sara had always shaved him with his old-fashioned cutthroat razor, the only possession that had been passed down to him from his father. He enjoyed the feeling of powerlessness that being shaved by Sara with a wickedly sharp razor blade brought. A moment’s distraction, a slip of the wrist and he could end up with a nasty cut at the very least.

*

He heard the key turn in the door and Alex forced himself to remain calm. She had come back of her own accord. But what if she was just returning to collect the rest of her belongings?

One look at her face as she entered the bedroom and Alex knew that he didn’t have to worry. Her shattered expression and the wan little smile that played upon her lips told Alex that Sara would never leave again.

He went over and gently embraced her. She rested her shoulder in the bony hollow of his shoulder. He stroked her hair while she cried.

“There there my love, don’t worry, you’re home now. No need to cry, you’re with daddy now.”

“Do you forgive me Alex?”

“Nothing to forgive my darling. You are back now, that’s all that matters. I wouldn’t let anything, or anybody ever hurt you again. I promise. You believe me, don’t you?”

“Of course, Alex. I will never leave you again. It was so strange out there, all the people rushing around and the noise and all the traffic. What’s it all for? I don’t think I could ever begin to understand. There must be something wrong with me; other people seem to get on just fine. What’s wrong with me Alex?” Sara had composed herself somewhat and looked into Alex’s eyes beseechingly.

“There is nothing wrong with you Sara. If there was something wrong with you then that would mean that I am messed up as well, because I feel the same. It’s just that we are not of this world, we feel things differently. There is nothing for it, Sara, we are what we are, and the world just is, and nothing will ever change.”

“I feel so sick. I thought I was getting better, but I feel worse than ever. Are we ever going to feel well again?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we left it too late. Perhaps it will pass in time. I doubt it though.”

“So, what do we do now, Alex? I want to be with you forever but where do we go from here?”

Alex looked at Sara. Soon she would realise the inevitable.

“We could go travelling. I have always wanted to see Rio and we could go gambling in Vegas. I hear Hong Kong is wonderful. Wouldn’t that be lovely Alex? A change of scenery might make us feel better” Sara said hopefully.

“Of course we could Sara, but in the end it would only disappoint. We have already been there many times in our dreams and the reality will pale in comparison. At first it would be exciting and new but after a while every place becomes the same, just another hostile environment full of strangers. No amount of sunshine is going to cure us. The sickness is inside us. Besides wherever we are in the world we would still be ourselves. I suppose we could always get married.”

“Oh Alex, I want to be with you but not like that. Could you bear to see me aging: losing my looks, so that you have to take to drink, both of us numb and insensible to the point of stupidity. Our eyes dimming and the fire inside us quenched. No thank you. You have to come up with a better solution than that.”

“We could go our separate ways after all, but would it really be the same with someone else Sara?”

“No, I could never pretend that it would be Alex.”

“There is nothing else for it then, is there?”

“Just like we discussed that one time”

“Exactly like.”

“When?” Sara asked.

“Soon. Tonight,” Alex replied.

“Let’s push out the boat first, O.K., I am so exhausted, I don’t think I have the energy without something to keep me going.”

“Of course, a little artificial stimulus never hurts.” Alex went to the bathroom and ransacked the medicine cabinet. He selected a handful of violet pills which he hoped would be conducive to the mood and returned to the bedroom where Sara ate the pills from his hand. He swallowed the rest and they settled down to wait.

“How long now do you think?”

“Not long now. Don’t worry; just enjoy.”

passion

The hours rushed by. The moment came, and they knew. They rose at the same time and kissed before walking hand in hand to the bathroom.

Sara ran the water for a bath while Alex got out from the cabinet his shaving kit. Then he positioned the rickety chair so that he could see his face in the mirror. When the bath was full Sara took off her clothes. She mixed up the shaving soap and with the horsehair brush applied the lather to Alex’s face and neck.

“You remember what I told you don’t you Sara”

“Yes, always downwards never crossways.”

“That’s right. Don’t be scared, everything’s going to be alright” Sara hesitated. “Why do I have to wait? Couldn’t I go first?”

“Believe me it has to be this way. I couldn’t bear to be alone without you ever again. Before I met you, I was alone for my entire life. You already tortured me with your absence once today. I can’t be alone. Besides I don’t have your courage. Trust me, it won’t take long, and we will be together again soon.”

Sara nodded. She started shaving Alex’s cheeks. He watched her beautiful face in the mirror studying his face. Soon he was clean-shaven. Sara paused. He took her hand which held the razor and pressed it against the skin of his throat. This was the moment of truth. He was surprised to see himself sweating. He nodded upwards towards Sara and held her hand as she moved the blade. The razor blade broke the skin and the blood started flowing as Sara cut across his throat, going deeper. Alex willed himself to not utter a sound as the pain became unbearable. He saw that Sara’s face was tear-stained as she continued to slice with the blade. Before long she succeeded in severing an artery. He heard her cry out. Before losing consciousness, he saw Sara step into the steaming bath, the razorblade encrusted with blood poised ready in her left hand.

The Station Where The Train Never Stops

The Station
The Station Where The Train Never Stops

If, after having decided that you need a short holiday away from the Uneasy City, and lets be honest who doesn’t need an occasional break from its atmosphere of incessantly vicious inanity and barely suppressed menace, you find yourself at the station where the train never stops, the best way to while away the seasons, millennia and kalpas waiting is the fully illustrated collection Motion No. 69, available within the coming weeks. Not only does it hold the possibility of a promise of paradise, it also comes in handy in avoiding the too frank gaze of the woman with the smeared lipstick, containing as it does a calculating carnality.

The Return

Art Collection of Roy and Mary Cullen

The cat arrived a few days after my father disappeared. The pouring rain weighed down my already overloaded backpack as I walked home from the bus stop after school. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the bedraggled black cat at the top of the cul-de-sac until I had almost tripped over him. I bent down to stroke him and then, of course, he followed me home. Since there was no question of leaving him outside in that weather, I let him in. I called out for Dad just in case he had returned but there was no answer.
As if he knew the way, the cat went straight for the kitchen. Guessing that he must be hungry and thirsty, I filled a bowl with water and set it down for him. Then, after digging around in the cupboards, I retrieved a can of buried kippers.
While I watched him devour the fish, I noticed that he was collarless and on the skinny side. I didn’t have the heart to throw him out, even though Mum wouldn’t be happy. Unlike Dad, she had no time at all for animals. Nevertheless, much to my surprise, she hardly put up a fight when I said that I wanted to keep the cat for good.
“I want nothing to do with it,” she had said. “You’ll have to do everything yourself.”
Maybe she wanted to spare my feelings, though I think she was just too tired to resist. She did refuse to drive me to the pet shop, however. I had to improvise with an old paint tray and newspaper for the night. After dinner she asked me what I was going to call him.
“Edward,” I replied.
She didn’t say anything; she didn’t have to because disapproval was written all over her face. Edward is my father’s middle name.
Mother was convinced that Dad had run out on us, leaving behind only debts, worry and heartache. I knew that whatever his faults he would never do that me. She said that it was time I faced the facts. I was old enough to see things for what they were.
I didn’t tell her that Dad had already returned in a different form. It was pointless; she would have carted me down to the psychiatrist straight away. There, she would explain to the good doctor, the history of mental illness in the family (Dad’s side) and how the recent distressing events had caused me to have a breakdown.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when I realized beyond a doubt that my father had returned as the black cat, but this awareness had steadily grown in me day by day. The very fact that Edward made his appearance so soon after Dad was last seen could, I suppose, be dismissed as mere coincidence, but I shared with my father the conviction that there was no such thing. Besides, it made perfect sense in a way. My father always had a certain cat-like quality about him. He certainly seemed happier in his new form. All the seemingly contradictory traits of his personality were absolutely natural in a cat. As a human, his idleness, punctuated with sudden bursts of concentrated activity would draw comment. Yet this was the very essence of the feline nature. The friendly warmth that could turn in a moment into arrogant aloofness confused and alienated people, but was thought of as charming in a pet. Undoubtedly it was a little mad, but then all cats are mad.
I had soon fattened him up, bought him a fancy collar and generally just spoilt him. Mother, true to her word, had nothing to do with him at all. She had, in fact, taken an active dislike to him, shooing him away every time he came near. I bore the reproach for the cat hairs on the couch.
Mother feared and therefore hated animals. And yet, when I was younger, Dad had insisted on keeping pets in the house, mainly cats but also dogs, despite her disapproval. The presence of the cat in the house undoubtedly served as an unpleasant reminder. Any mention of Dad had become strictly verboten, but I wasn’t about to re-christen Edward. Every time I called out his name, I could see her heart harden a little more against me.

As the year wore on, my mother and I spoke a little less each day. Really, we had one subject to discuss but as we already knew and disagreed with the other’s opinion, we kept silent on the matter. Edward was always waiting for me at the front door when I arrived home. First thing, I would feed him and then hurriedly complete the chores Mother had set for me before going to my room to do my homework. Edward always followed and would curl up in my red moon chair while I sat at my desk. If I was stuck on a particularly difficult question, I would ask him. He would look at me knowingly in the
manner of all cats, but of course, remained silent. I missed Dad’s explanations even if
he would digress and give lengthy lectures on all kinds of unrelated subjects. Almost everything was twisted to fit into his own eccentric worldview. You would always have to ask again what the answer was. Now, he could only appear wise.
I would stay in my room, reading or listening to music until I had to eat dinner or to cook, if it was my turn. Mother insisted that we eat at the table. Out of politeness, I would ask about her day at work, to which she always replied in monosyllables. Then she would ask me about school and I’d respond in kind. After that she would proceed to critique my housework or my attitude, particularly what she referred to as my adolescent sullenness. At first, I rose to the bait, but soon I realized that these were arguments I had no hope of winning. While all this was going on, Edward kept hidden in a corner so as not to antagonize Mother. For if she caught sight of him, she would scream at me to get that bloody cat out.
After doing the dishes, I would say goodnight to Mother, invariably ensconced in her chair, watching TV while nursing a gin and tonic. Some nights she never made it to bed. Edward would reappear and be waiting at my bedroom door. However, he always stayed outside until I was changed for bed before coming in to settle down in his chair. I would say ‘goodnight’ and ‘love you’ and although he never responded, his mere presence was answer enough.
Then, just as I had gotten used to the rather strange state of affairs that existed in our household, Mother brought home a new boyfriend and everything changed.

She had obviously sought out the complete opposite of Dad. Rather than handsome, vain, unpredictable, broke, quick-tempered and fond of a good laugh, the new boyfriend was plain, stable, comfortably well off, even-keeled and serious, or to neatly sum up in a word: dull. Dull as dishwater and a governmental accountant to boot. I am still at a loss to understand the attraction. There was nothing appealing about his thinning, mousey brown hair, that narrow, pinched face, the thick glasses perched precariously on an unremarkable nose.
Even the fact —or perhaps even more because of it— that he didn’t drink, smoke, swear or gamble made me wary. Dad always said that you are never to trust a man without a vice. Dad had also told me to beware of men with small feet and the new boyfriend had, even for a man of such moderate stature, uncommonly dainty feet.
And interestingly, the new boyfriend was immediately at odds with Edward. In fact, he seemed physically afraid of the cat. Edward would arch his back and hiss and the boyfriend would in turn flinch and draw back. Although this obviously afforded me some amusement, I wished Edward would behave, as I was concerned as to the new boyfriend’s plans. His symmetrical centre parting and the crease lines around his mouth were suggestive of a cruel vindictive nature. I’d sometimes catch him staring though those ugly bifocals at Edward while he slept. Seeing that queasy, unpleasant smile stretch his thin lips, I would involuntarily shiver. The fact was that I did not know what was to become of Dad and me if they were to carry on.
The worst of it was that Mother assumed a triumphant air. As if the fact that she had a new boyfriend vindicated her and enabled her to behave like a petty tyrant. Before she had been harsh but after that she became merciless. The number of chores multiplied daily. She criticized me constantly. The ban on mentioning my father was lifted but only to denigrate him and myself in turn.
We had a fierce argument about the boyfriend. She warned me that I had better start being nice to him. I told her that I had no intention of being nice to him; he wasn’t my father, after all. She said that it was a pity he wasn’t because then I might be a decent human being. Instead, I was the daughter of a worthless bastard and as a result, what could you expect but a crazy ungrateful bitch? I slapped her face, hard, and ran upstairs to my bedroom where I locked myself and Edward in. Mother banged on the door calling me horrible names and promising to bring down all kinds of punishment upon my head. Eventually she gave up, but it was hours before I was able to sleep. All the while, I talked quietly to Edward of my fears.

A new day brought a change of tactics from Mother, now suddenly all conciliatory. I sensed that something was up and had my suspicions confirmed when she announced that we would be going to the boyfriend’s house for dinner and to spend the night. I started to object, but Mother stopped me and said that it wasn’t up to debate.She said she expected me to be at my very best, as tonight was an important night. I agreed but asked about Edward. This question shattered her pretence of calm.
“The cat will be fine for one night!” she snapped. “If only you would show the same consideration for me as that cat then we wouldn’t have these ridiculous problems.”
I didn’t bother to respond to such a stupid comment. Rather, I said goodbye and began my walk to the bus stop.
All day long I was in a state of dread over the forthcoming dinner. I had been to the boyfriend’s ostentatious pile before. It was utterly detestable. Mother’s cooing and sighing over the absurd antiques and useless collections of figurines and curiosities only heightened my distaste for the place. I was sorely tempted to move the ornaments on the shelves a fraction of an inch or knock over a drink on the coffee table, anything to shatter the illusion of order that the boyfriend obviously went to great lengths to present to the world.
Mother was already getting prepared for the evening when I arrived home from school. She had left work early especially for the occasion. Anxious to avoid confrontation, I ignored the stinging remark that I should dress proper for once. The evening was going to be long and difficult enough as it was without starting off on the wrong foot. So like a dutiful daughter, I put on my knee length black skirt (the dressier of the two that I owned), a white blouse and the strands of pearl Mother bought me for my last birthday. After studying myself in the mirror I sighed. I looked like Mother going on a job interview. By the disdain in Edward’s eyes as he turned away, it was obvious that he didn’t approve either. There was nothing for it, however.
In the car, I kept silent and just watched the lights of the passing cars be consumed by the darkness in the wing mirror. Mother, of course, was harping on her favorite theme —her only theme— of me being my father’s daughter and consequently, a constant source of disappointment.
The boyfriend was eagerly awaiting our arrival and had prepared a veritable feast (his very words). As I nibbled smoked salmon canapés, I nervously wondered what could possibly be the occasion? The unbearable sense of foreboding grew after we sat down to dinner. I thought it odd that Mother was sticking to Coke, as she was never one to turn down a glass of wine. She and the boyfriend gazed at each other with eyes shining in happiness. A happiness I neither shared nor understood. After the main course, the boyfriend said that they had some news that they wanted to share with me.
‘Oh, really, what is it,’ I answered, trying unsuccessfully to sound enthused. I abandoned all pretense as their revealed their announcement.
Mother had just found out she was pregnant. We were to move into the new boyfriend’s dreadful home, by the end of the month. “For the space,” she explained.
Inconceivably, Mother thought I would be delighted to have a new baby brother or sister. I felt on the verge of throwing up. Gathering myself, I asked, “Can I bring Edward?”
They looked at me in pity now that they were assured of victory, as they shook their heads and said no.
“Unfortunately, cats can’t possibly be around newborns,” Mother said. “But we’ll try to make sure he goes to a good home, a more suitable place.”
The subject was dropped. After that they talked of their bold, future plans between themselves —a future in which it seemed I was a mere afterthought— until I excused myself. I made my way to the alien bedroom which would soon be mine. Here I was to spend the night.
I couldn’t settle; all I could think was that I was soon to be separated from Dad for a second and final time. When I did finally sleep, I dreamt of green eyes glowing accusingly in the absolute darkness.

(Special thanks to Dr. M. Sorick for editorial advice and support).

A Throw of the Dice

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A Throw Of The Dice Doesn’t Abolish Chance

There is a good chance that my collection Motion No. 69 will be published sometime in November, 2017. As well as providing certain recherche pleasures Motion No. 69 will disclose under a close and attentive reading the workings of Shangri-La, that game of total chance that is said to originated in Xanadu but was more probably created in the boardroom of Hilton-Tetragrammaton Pan-Dimensional Inc.

So buy the book* and then maybe you will be able to stake your claim and with the combination of a turn of a card, the spin of a wheel and the throw of the dice make your appointment with destiny. The possibilities are infinite: you could find yourself up above the clouds in the Imperial Suite at The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel with a bed the size of Hy-Brasil or Cockaigne, sipping from a Jeroboam of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay with your significant other, or if the fates are against you end up down there alone on street level with hell around every corner. Or maybe, even more bizarrely, nothing will change at all.

*Over 18’s only. Terms and Conditions Apply. Strictly pay to play. Please gamble responsibly.  And remember, a throw of the dice doesn’t abolish chance.

The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel

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Hotel Corridor Circa 2027

I would like to invite my dear readers to an assignation in The Very Heaven Heavenly Hotel, which is located somewhere in the stratosphere, just outside the Strip, quite near Paradise. The only possible way to get there at the present time is to buy my forthcoming collection, my first, Motion No. 69, which will be published shortly, details to follow when they become apparent.

For anyone interested in this trip and a taste of Cake with a cup of tea, please leave comments below. All enquiries that attract my attention will be answered in a timely fashion.