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April 12, 2005

Bound in Memory (Fade to Sunset)

Ok, a hefty post for you all. This is the first draft of my portfolio. I would really appreciate feedback – be as harsh/nit-picky as you feel necessary!

Bound in Memory (Fade to Sunset)

From a birds-eye-view Central Park was deserted, but for the odd jogger trailing down East Drive. The grass was streaked with long shadows cast by the rising sun, emerging from the Manhattan skyline. The grass was an emerald shade, deepened by the dew, and the trees were lush and waxy, glinting in the morning haze. As the sun gradually chased the lingering shadows into their deserted hideaways, it shed some light over a lonesome figure perched on the Bethesda Fountain edge, looking out over the boating lake.

He didn’t know what time it was, but Aran guessed that it would be about 6:30am as the pinky rays of the chilly dawn were starting to fade. He looked directly at the sun momentarily and observed how like a grapefruit it looked this morning. The thought brought a citrus taste to the tip of his tongue and he winced slightly as his glands omitted a spurt of acid. His stomach gurgled, he was hungry.

Aran had come here every night for the past week to bathe beneath the pasty-white moon and relieve the claustrophobic state in which the daily crowds left him. The park was his sanctuary and during the night it seemed to expand infinitely allowing him to breathe and escape the clustered box of his mind, which was driven mad by the pollution, the commercials, and the crazy people on the subway. Solitude suited Aran. He had always been most comfortable alone, outside, unrestricted by any worldly imposition on his thoughts. He was not a man of intellectual conversation or social revelry. He preferred to sit alone under a friendly tree, or beside a calming fountain, and stare hard into space, to contemplate nothingness and silence, to look within himself.

Tonight he had found more within himself than ever before. Aran had spent the night tracing Ria’s face in the stars, creating constellations with her name and sending longing thoughts to her on the wisps of cloud that curled across the sky every hour or so. She was still woven through him in every way: her smell lingered on the nape of his neck, her heart beat inside his stomach, her laughter echoed in his ear, her music reverberated through his bones. The week that had passed had lasted an eternity and the months that lay ahead seemed to stretch past the horizon and into a painful oblivion, but it was not solely Ria’s absence that was causing this. He was not feeling right within himself. The city had awakened something new inside of him which he did not understand, could not put his finger on. It was something that had lain dormant in him his whole life, he was sure of that, but it was still a mystery as to what exactly was finally emerging in him, sparked by the heightened atmosphere of New York City.

Aran closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He held it for as long as he could, exhaled, and smiled in satisfaction. The park’s atmosphere in the morning always lifted his spirits. People would begin to venture through its many street entrances, and it would become increasingly alive throughout the day – talking, dancing, creating art, making love; the park brought people together. The humanity of the place brought some colour to his cheeks and the pale tone of his face brightened as he got up slowly and stretched, taking his last look at the lake. He turned to climb the steps and reached into his pocket for his battered earphones, found his favourite track on the tape that Ria had made for him, and her passionate strumming burst forth into his ears. The flamenco rhythms, subtle chords, and ripeness of her soft voice uplifted him. With a heart full of determined love Aran bought a pretzel and turned onto 72nd Street to begin the day’s search for a job.

<>>O<<>

New York is truly alive. In every nook and cranny of the city something is happening. People scurry about their daily routines in the metropolitan city like ants; sightseeing, shining shoes, presenting court cases, battling over shares in Wall St, , babysitting, drug-dealing, eating, playing music, reading the NY Times latest bestseller over a Starbucks Latte. It never stops to catch its breath and never falters in emitting life-filled electricity.

Central Park is a good example of New York’s humanitarian cultural life. I visited the park on a lazy summer afternoon, expecting to have a quiet stroll, an oversized pretzel and a refreshing nap on a patch of grass, which would be chosen at random when my legs simply gave in beneath me. I met a friend and was immediately taken by the hand and led to see the disco roller-bladers. The image in my mind was of trendy young people kitted out in skimpy outfits, bopping along to whatever was popular in the charts and showing off their blading stunts. However, we arrived at a sectioned off piece of road with reggae pumping out of the make-shift DJ booth and the most unthinkable combination of people skating around. A kid, maybe five years old, swung past me as I leant on the barrier to watch and was followed by his grandmother – a small, grey woman wearing cycling shorts, gliding round the circuit backwards whist keeping one eye trained on the demon toddler.

My favourite characters were two Rastafarians, about 30-odd, who I guessed were twin brothers by their matching outfits, and who had obviously been born on skates. They bopped up and down as they skated round in tandem, perfectly in time with one another and the music, which flowed through their veins more naturally than their own blood.

I couldn’t drag myself away from the skaters because it was so wonderful to see so many different people – business men, the elderly, the young, black people, Chinese people, Dutch people – all moving in time to the same rhythm, happy and content with who they were and the people that surrounded them.

Later, we came across a fountain and by chance there was a tango session happening. Couples circled the fountain in rapturous movements while a man played the accordion under a beam of sunlight, eyes closed, absorbing the heat. The scene made me want to fall in love. I wanted a strong, dark man – expert in tango – to take my hand, reel my into his firm grasp and lead me into each spontaneous step, ignited by the trills in the music. The fantasy stayed with me as I moved on and sat by the boating lake for hours afterwards, gradually watching the sun sink and the sky fade to blue-grey as the dusk settled.

<>>O<<>

Ria sat with her guitar on her lap, her hand draped over its body, fingers caressing the strings in fluid strums, nails catching strings to pluck notes that pierced the languid chords like arrows. The sand had moulded to her form and spiralled out from beneath her, spreading for miles East and West, sloping into the calm sea before her. Ria had her eyes closed, completely absorbed in the rhythm of the waves that broke religiously over the randomly strewn shells. Her hand strummed up and down with the rocking movement of the waves and her chords harmonised with the hum that could be heard from a speedboat in the distance.

The sun was setting and she was finishing her sequence of songs in dedication to Aran. She decided to end with his favourite one, a song she had written about a harpist who would sit and play on the cliffs by the sea that had carried her lover from her, eventually dying of a broken heart. The ghostly chords and haunting lyrics were spell-binding. In her head she found the musical memory and opened her eyes to bid the sky good night and send her love-infused notes with the dissolving sun to Aran as she sang:

She sits upon the cliff top high,
Tears streaming, breast releasing heavy sighs
As she watches him depart his homeland,
Watches as he blows kisses with his hand.

He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.

Ten years gone by and yet she still
Plays daily, no hapless doubt rots her iron will:
He will return, and I’ll be married-
To him, wind-bound, let my music carry.

He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.

She grows old and the strings grow thin,
The harp one day with sudden pain gives in-
It cannot play loves hopeless tune no more
And knowing love is lost, she dies upon the shore.

He who said he would return,
His promises to ashes burn,
And she who’d play him daily odes
Dies softly in a sea of woes.

Aran’s last words to her had been promises of his return, promises of money, marriage and happiness. It was these promises that she remembered when she played this song, hoping with all her heart that the same fate would not befall her. Soon, she could no longer remember playing anything else. It became a daily routine and she slowly became the harpist of her song, devoutly playing to her absent lover each day. As days turned to months she gave up her music apprenticeship with the gypsy Almago, and insisted on spending her days on the beach playing her song, looking out across the ocean, waiting for news of her lover.

<>>O<<>

Aran was becoming tired of the Spanish community in New York. There was too much resentment and homesickness in their hearts. They would spend all day working hard in a low-wage job and would come home with a mouthful of hellish curses for their employers. For Aran, this was very frustrating to hear. He had spent months trying to find work and had watched each of his Spanish peers get lucky, without any hope of an income himself. He had had enough of applying to pizza joints and Spanish restaurants, he had had enough of shining shoes on the corner of the New York Library in order to buy food and pay rent. He wasn’t going to make a penny this way. He decided to bite the bullet, leave his adopted Spanish community and go out to find work on his own in a more respectable business.

He got a decent shave, cut his hair, and bought a suit with the last of his savings. He worked hard on perfecting his American accent and loosing his Spanish lilt. He built up two weeks worth of courage and walked into the first professional business he came across on his morning walk. It happened to be a printing business, and Aran wasted no time in politely demanding work. Jack, the owner, looked up from his desk calmly, not startled by Aran’s desperately direct approach in the least. His grey eyes bore into Aran and pierced his spirit. Jack felt overwhelmed by the young man’s soul; it washed over him tsunami-like and Jack felt a connection fuse between them, a connection he had never experienced before. He recovered himself and blinked away a tear that had accumulated in his left eye. He stood up, smiled, and offered his hand to Aran who took it and shook.

Ten years later, Aran and Jack had the third most successful printing business in New York. The two men had agreed upon a partnership the very first week after Aran had walked through the door. Within a year the hectic life of growing and maintaining a business had consumed Aran’s thoughts and Ria was a distant memory that would haunt his dreams on occasion. After three years Ria was no more than a ghost that would appear momentarily when Aran spoke of Spain.
At five years Aran and Jack had finally given in to what had always been there and declared their love for one another. Jack’s grey eyes had been entranced by Aran from the first moment and Aran had fallen in love with his business partner gradually, easing himself into the idea of homosexuality, superficially questioning what his heart already knew – he was gay, but did Jack feel the same way? He did.

Years later, they would fondly reminisce about the day that they had finally found each other. It had been raining and the city was damp and grey, filled with an air of expectancy as everyone waited for the sun to appear from behind the retreating clouds. Jack was at his flat on Eighth Street looking over some papers, his eyes flitting to a picture of Aran and himself shaking hands at the opening of their new office every few moments. He shuddered with desire every time he glanced at the dark features of his secret love. The telephone rang. He let it ring. The answering machine beeped. Unexpectedly, it was Aran’s voice that followed the beep and Jack leapt for the phone. Meet me at the Bethesda Fountain in twenty minutes, I need to talk to you, I don’t understand what is happening but I will know when you arrive. Jack didn’t hesitate; he was there twenty minutes later, heart pounding with anticipation. Adrenaline pulsed through his hot blood as he ran down the deserted steps towards the fountain. He could see Aran standing alone by the waters edge, looking out over the boating lake.

Jack paused behind Aran for a few seconds before putting his hand gently on his friend’s shoulder and asking him tentatively what had happened. There was an awkward silence in which words flew inches above the two men’s heads, unable to be tied down in any cohesive order. Aran took a deep breath to ease his nerves and relieve the clamp around his lungs. The tension was creamy thick. Aran parted his lips and the cascade of words fell into place:

“You Jack. You are what has happened. You are what is happening to me.” He turned to face Jack as he said this, revealing a tear-stained face, the salty trails glinting in the emerging sun. Jack was stunned. He did not know what to say.

“What do you mean?” he managed after looking into Aran’s eyes for some time. He knew what was coming and he didn’t know how he would express his happiness when it came. Aran looked at him with beautiful, sad eyes. His pain was spread across his face as clear and honest as a children’s picture book.

“You fill me with love. Every time I look at you, hear your voice, remember your face, my heart skips a beat and feels ready to explode. You are underneath my skin, I breath you, drink you, dream of us becoming one. I don’t know what to do. I just had to tell you. I just had –” and Jack could not help but kiss him. Both men were shocked and their bodies were stiff at first, but soon they began to relax; their lips comfortably locked into a fluidly passionate kiss, hands touched cheeks, arms interwove and drew each other closer. They lasted like that for hours, like two entangled sea urchins unable to prise their clinging claws apart.

<>>O<<>

There were two things that helped me understand homosexual relationships: the film ‘Angels in America’, and visiting the place where it was set – New York City. I have never had anything against same-sex relationships, but being a heterosexual I had never been able to understand the attraction. That was until I saw ‘Angels in America’. The film depicted the painful process of dealing with aids for both parties of a gay couple, one partner with and one without the disease. It did so with such emotional sensitivity and beauty, that I found myself completely convinced of the love between the two men.

New York’s gay area, West Village, was a wonderful place to me. I was staying a street away from where it began and on my first night wandered into it without realising. I was window shopping absentmindedly and suddenly realised that I had been glancing over a condom display for the past thirty seconds or so. I snapped out of my daze and found myself looking into the polished window of a porn shop: magazines, dildos, condoms, blow up dolls, lubricants, furry handcuffs – the lot. In England, you’d expect blacked out windows, a mysterious black door (closed) and a large, shameful sign simply saying XXX over the shop front. In New York, there was no shame in selling and buying sexy products – you checked out the display, waltzed in, had a chat to Bobby-Zach behind the counter, bought your Huge Fat Cocks magazine and some extra large Durex, and walked out whistling the Thunderbirds theme tune. Easy as pie.

After my porn-shop epiphany, I popped into a Mini-market to get some gum and shampoo. I asked the guy behind the counter if he stocked the brand I like, too lazy to go and search for it myself. Before he could answer, a gorgeous creature emerged from behind me and began to touch my hair, suggesting brands of shampoo that would best suit it as he did so. I looked at him in awe. He had long, fine black hair and a gentle face. He was beautiful. I listened intently and bought some Garnier Fructis on his advice.

I went back out onto the busy street to continue my walk and found myself alone in a stream of gay couples. It was like being carried on a river of homosexual energy; I had never been amongst so many gay partners and, for some reason, it was mesmerising.

A few blocks after the Mini-market I spotted my “advisor” again. This time he was with another man. They held each other in a tight embrace underneath an aged tree, withdrawing slightly every now and then to peck each others lips and smile. His partner clutched his silky hair. They had obviously just met up, maybe after some time apart, and the love seeped out of their pores, radiant in the glow of a nearby street lamp.

<>>O<<>

Ria had grown tired of being lonely. Every day for five years she had played her song to Aran on the same spot of the beach. Every day the lyrics of her sad song would confirm to her the fateful inevitability which she had know since the day she had composed it. Aran was not coming back. His promises to ashes burn; her own prediction dug a hole in her heart, deeper and deeper with each repetition, and when the five year anniversary arrived Ria had had enough. Guitar in hand, she began to climb past the beach and onto the rocky cliffs.

Dusk was descending when she arrived at the highest cliff-point above the ocean. She sat on the trembling lip of the precipice and tuned her guitar to the melancholy wail of the salty breeze. The first chord she strummed shook the rock around her and she sang her song for the last time. The sea swelled and began to dance in whirling pools of white froth, crashing against the cliff in time to the song, eroding the rock, lamenting Ria’s unattained love. Upon the last vibration of the final chord, Ria’s guitar splintered and shattered into wooden chips that hung, suspended in the air for a moment before rushing towards the impassioned waves below.

Ria stood up. Walked back a few paces, opened her mouth to let loose a cry of agony that made the sky shudder with pity, and ran forth to follow her beloved instrument. Her feet left solid ground and she flew forwards. I’m flying, she thought, I’m flying, and I am as weightless as a soaring eagle! What wonder is this? I feel infused with love, a passion for life- to live! I want to live!

“I want to live!” The words tumbled forth and wrote themselves in the clouds as Ria’s body curved through the air and began its tragic descent. The sea lashed its tentacles, eager to possess the beautiful creature that was slicing the air with regret. Her heart jumped into her mouth, and her eyes were closed in terror. All she could think of was her will to live and, just as she was about to pierce the watery membrane, she made one last plea of salvation to heaven.

<>>O<<>

On my second day in the city I came across a wall covered in worn pictures of people. It was a 911 message-board, created by people whose loved ones had gone missing during the disaster. There was something very eerie about all of the smiling people who beamed down at you from the photographs, most of whom were now kept alive in spirit with memories and moments captured on film. The most heart-wrenching pictures were the ones depicting a couple on their wedding day, a black circle drawn around the head of the missing bride, or pictures of missing people with their newborn children.

Desperate messages were pinned up with the photographs: “HAVE YOU SEEN MICHAEL? PLEASE CALL 9128880324 WITH ANY INFORMATION” or “Sasha is missing, please help us find her, we miss her. Call 9124453682. God Bless.”

So many broken relationships: lost husbands, dead wives, mothers missed, fathers buried, friends gone, not to mention the hundreds of service men who gave their lives trying to save others. So many people’s hopes for the return of their loved ones dashed against the New York pavement.

<>>O<<>

Almago was the first thing that she saw as she opened her eyes. The wind was still rushing past her filling her ears with a torrential whooshing sound, her heart was pounding like a ceremonial drum, and she was no longer descending, but ascending towards the dark sky, falling in reverse. She didn’t understand, but the motion exhilarated her and she submitted to the feeling. Almago was wrapped around her like a fierce cloak, and she felt safer than she had ever done before. She looked into his black eyes, noticing for the first time how genuinely devotional they were. It was like he knew everything about her, as if he had sat and conversed with her soul for many hours like old friends. She suddenly felt very light-headed and just before she lost her senses his deep, chapped lips brush hers.

Hours later she awoke in an elaborate tent enveloped in folds of smoke from incense that was burning close-by. She waited, knowing that he was watching her and, sure enough, there was a rustling sound as he emerged from behind a drape.

“Don’t speak,” he said as he put an index finger to her lips.

“But, I must know how. How did you do it?”

“There is no need for you to ask, you already know that words cannot answer that question.”

“I don’t understand –”

“Shhhh….” Their lips met and everything Ria wanted answered was delivered to her in an instant. She realised now that it had always been Almago with his fiery flamenco and infinite patience, Almago who had given her the gift of music, Almago whose heart beat in time to hers, Almago who understood her deepest passions and most intimate rhythms. He sat up suddenly and she started, surprised and curious. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his hand, fingers curled around something in a fist shape. Ria watched intently as he uncurled his hand slowly to reveal two small oyster shells, hinges bound and shells varnished. They were the most beautifully fashioned castanets that Ria had ever laid eyes on.

“I am going to teach you how to dance, Ria. You will be the most beautiful flamenca of our time and with my music you shall fly.” They melted into one another and created a new rhythm with their love-making that was so intricate and unbound by time or structure, that they could not bring it to an end until three months later.

<>>O<<>

Aran looked out of the window and watched the meringue-like clouds drift past. The mountains would emerge every-now-and-then but Aran liked the comfort of being tucked away in the clouds. Jack had the aisle seat and between them sat a lovely old lady who snoozed for periods of five minutes or so, and would wake suddenly to shower a torrent of stories upon them about her children and grandchildren and great-grand children who she had been to visit in America.

She gave them a box of biscuits as they departed the aeroplane and they kissed her on both cheeks after declining her generous dinner offers. They had to start their journey as soon as possible to reach Aran’s hometown before sundown. They picked up the rental car and wound their way along the scenic country roads. Aran’s memory was terrible but he drove instinctively, as if his body knew better than his mind which direction they should be heading.

The first landmark he recognised was Giorgio’s Bar. He smiled as memories of his friends and the nights they had spent together there came flooding back. He pulled over and told Jack that it would be a good time to eat.

“Shouldn’t we get to your father’s before the sun sets?”

“This is a special place to me Jack. You wanted to see everything about my past, this place is fundamental. Come on, be spontaneous. This was where my friends and I would come to drink for free and talk about our girl fantasies.” Aran let out a chuckle at the memory of such boyish good times.

“What will your father think of me?” Jack surprised himself at thinking out loud. Aran’s laugher died and he spoke nothing more until they entered the bar. Jack had no idea how hard it would be for him to explain this to his father. The older generation did not understand relationships such as theirs.

“Giorgio!” Aran let the tension drop when he saw his old friend and Jack was pulled into a strong embrace by the smiling Giorgio. At least Aran had had time to prepare his friends, thought Jack. They were led to a table near the stage and Giorgio told Aran that they were in for a surprise.

“What did he say?” Jack inquired.

“He says we are in for a surprise. I think there will be a performance tonight. Its about to start. Oh, and don’t be too full on with me – no one understands the depth of our relationship yet, if you know what I mean.” Jack’s heart sank and simultaneously the lights dimmed. A woman walked onto the small stage wearing an exquisite flamenco dress and the bar erupted with enthusiastic applause. The guitarist walked on a short time after her and struck up a tune.

The music was liquid in texture and the way in which the dancer’s body responded was like the moon’s pull on the tide. Her dress flew about her like the wings of a hundred peacocks. The pace quickened and the woman produced castanets in her hands that appeared as if from nowhere. The pearly white shells caught the dim lights and reflected in each man’s pupil as they watched, their eyes drawn to her on the invisible strings of infatuation. Like puppets they sat enthralled. Aran touched his cheek in deep thought and bit his lip as he racked his brains for the memory of where he’d seen this wondrous bird before. And then, could it be? After all these years, how could I have forgotten her face? It is her – and the man? Almago. His face flushed as he felt reality dawn on him for the first time since he’d planned to return. He had made a mistake. His people weren’t ready to accept him as he was. They didn’t need his strange relationship to bring shame upon them. He did not want the shame that he would inevitably feel at their disappointment in him. He wanted them to hold the memories they had of him close to their hearts. Memories of his youth, not this new image of him, of the way he’d been changed and awakened by his city existence.

He got up and took Jack’s hand to leave before Ria’s dance was done. He left Giorgio some money for the drinks and walked out. They got into the car and pulled away in silence.

As she twirled, Ria fancied she saw an apparition. She could have sworn that Aran was sat watching her. She smiled to herself, remembering that a long time ago he had sat in that same place and watched her first guitar performance. It was sweet to think he should be watching her first dance performance now. The music suddenly rose in volume and intensity and she was once again swept up in the moment. The memory of Aran instantaneously fell from her mind and became entangled in the wisps of cigarette smoke that spiralled endlessly throughout the murky bar.


March 27, 2005

The Harp–player

A piece that I have written as the starting point for my super-portfolio. Let me know what you think.

The Harp-player

Leila, upon the high cliff strums
The tale of her love; with each
Note, her heart strings murmur
With hopeless longing for him,
For he who left her:

I must go. You know I must. But I will be back; I will make my fortune and return a better man with enough money to marry you. I will make you the happiest wife a man could have. I love you, don’t forget it. I will return.

She looked into his large, sad eyes and saw her reflection in his watery pupils. Her distorted expression was strong, more so that she’d expected. She believed his true tone of voice, returned his promise of love and limply let him push the woven ring onto her finger. The blades of wheat stem were silky to stroke but rough against her finger, a constant reminder of the grating strain of love on her heart. It was a temporary token, to be replaced by a golden seal on their wedding day, that joyful day, a cloudy mirage of the future happiness that they would have.
The beach was crowded with village-folk who had come to bid the three young men farewell; the three sons of Ishtar, their village Chief. The oldest, Kamiar, was watched closely by Leila as he boarded the boat reluctantly, waving his hands at family and friends, speaking phrases of farewell. Tears were dabbed with handkerchiefs or wiped away by sleeves. Leila’s trickled freely down her pink, wind-bitten cheeks and dripped into the gusts of wind blowing about her as she stood on the cliff-top, looking down upon the farewell scene. Some of her tears carried as far as the boat and settled upon Kamiar’s head. He felt them and looked up, expecting to see rain clouds, but instead he saw his lover, perched high, plucking the strings of her harp. The doleful melody pierced him and left a mark on his breast; a perfect circle.
His last words to her made an imprint on Leila’s mind and her memory of everything else slowly faded: her family, her music and songs, all disintegrated gradually until they were nothing more than shadows, cowering in the dark corners of her mind. With his words, she composed a new scale of notes and a melody so melancholy that birds would drop out of the sky as they flew by her cliff-top perch, a gash in their breast from where their heart’s had exploded.
Each day was the same. A routine developed. She would rise from her bed, take up her harp and go to the cliff-top. The sky would clear around her and the birds would stop singing and retreat to happier parts of the countryside. The sea would dance and moan in pain as she plucked his words on the harp strings, her heart growing weaker with every vibrating note.

  • * *

The city was overwhelming. Kamiar had never seen people of so many creeds and fashions and stared in awe as they strode through the busy streets, each following their own purposeful path. Traders and sellers of many wares paraded the high street calling out advertisements about the quality of their goods; children played in gutters and mice ran between people's feet, narrowly dodging death; commercial buildings towered above the scurrying business professionals, and it was not long before Kamiar and his brothers were lured into a lifestyle of chance, success, money and women.
For the first few months, Kamiar would wake to the sound of Leila’s harp and, as she intended, he would be inspired to find decent work, always holding the dream of their wedding day in the front of his mind. As time went on, however, Kamiar began to notice other women: beautiful women, witty women, women who were skilled in conversation, languages, music and business. He began to forget his home and let the city life engulf his spirit, let the women seduce him, let the business preoccupy him. As the months turned into years, the memory of Leila and the haunting sound of her harp faded into the dusty files of his mind and the circular mark her music had left on his breast began to fade.

  • * *

The strings of Leila’s harp grew thin and tired, as did her aging fingers, but she played on. The ring Kamiar had made for her was disintegrating and rasped against her skin so furiously as she played that her finger had become callous. The salty sea air kept her body healthy and the wind had knotted her hair into a length of woven plaits. The birds had long deserted the cliff for fear of their lives. The village folk had abandoned any notion of helping Leila; they knew she could not be healed – her ever fibre was surviving on the dwindling hope of her lover’s return, but there had been no word from Kamiar for over ten years.

It was sunset, a summer evening, and Leila was coming to the end of her daily ode to Kamiar. Her fingers we running the last scale and just as she was about to strum the last chord, a string suddenly snapped. The finality of the snap shocked Leila and she realised that her love was lost to her, Kamiar had forgotten. Her heart gave in, and, choking on the years of accumulated sadness, she passed away as the strings of her harp snapped one after the other in a mass crescendo of painful relief. Her body slipped from its perch and fell; fell down past the deserted bird nests, past the weathered rock and into the rolling sea. The carcass of the harp, now devoid of musical ability was left to rot. The stony cliff accepted it, fused the wood to its rocky surface and gradually the harp became a part of the cliff’s architecture, an arched frame of remembrance for Leila’s perch.

  • * *

Kamiar’s life had been satisfactory. His printing business was doing very well and he had married a beautiful, successful woman who had borne him three healthy, handsome sons. Their house was modern and comfortably large, they had the best clothes and his sons were given the most comprehensive education available. Life was satisfactory, but Kamiar had lately begun to think of his origins again, his father, his relatives, his childhood home. He wanted his sons to see the home of their ancestors, the life he had left to provide for them, the place he had had to work up from to become the important man he was today. His wife thought it a nice idea. A trip to the countryside.

The boat rolled into the harbour and Kamiar felt rain drops on his head. He looked up to see rain clouds littering the sky and noticed the archway. It jogged a memory and the fuzzy outline of Leila’s face materialised in his imagination, but he said nothing and diverted his eyes to the shore where his family were waiting to greet him.
That night, they sat around a blazing fire in the village square, exchanging stories of the city and of the countryside. They discussed the farming, the price of paper and meat, the taste of ale and wine, the children’s education, the weave of cloth, the recipes of food. They reminisced about the old days and told tales to Kamiar’s wife and children of his mischievous youth. Leila had changed that though, brought him right back down to Earth. The mention of her name brought a misty silence upon the group and the fire shrank into remnant flames. “Where is Leila? I have been meaning to ask. Where is she, that dreamy harp-player I once loved?” Kamiar’s words seeped through the thick tension that had suddenly descended and everyone stared hard into the fire, avoiding his searching eyes. The fire flickered in the wind. Eventually, Ishtar raised his head and looked hard at his son. “She is dead. You broke her heart and it killed her.” Kamiar shook his head dismissingly and replied, “That is a great shame. How fleeting the heart can be. How was I to know she was so deeply infatuated? Poor girl; 'tis a shame, a great shame.”
That night, as Kamiar slept next to his wife on a simple straw mattress, a distant sound pervaded his dreams and grew louder very gradually. In his sleep, he rose from the bed to follow the urgently wistful call. Out of the house, through the village, past the village boundary, up towards to the cliff-tops he went, the sound of the sea swelling in his ears, mingling with the music to compose a salty lullaby to his fate. Kamiar did not stop at the cliff edge. He reached Leila’s perch and stood for a moment to absorb the night’s heavy burden before jumping, arms wide, into the frothing sea which embraced him with curling waves. The sea where his lost lover waited for him. Somewhere, Leila’s spirit sighed, curled up and closed its wings to rest in peace.


February 13, 2005

FF2

Here is my second fiction. I don't know what to make of it, I didn't really want to post it up here but I don't have anything to lose so here it is! Let me know what you think…OH! And any ideas for titles will be much appreciated…

The moon shone like a polished pearl as it sat upon the cloudless velvet sky. In the spectrum of her vision, Elaila saw the sky, black and clear as ink, merge with the earth encapsulating her in a weightless sphere. The moon illuminated everything, yet created more darkness in the shadows beneath the trees, those pools of nothingness which would devour any who strayed from the moon’s gaze. Better to bathe in the light, Elaila thought as she gazed upward from where she lay on the cold ground. The woodland was young; the trees were barely ten years-old, but their distorted figures seemed so pained and aged. For a moment she imagined that she was surrounded by crowds of starving people, all reaching their pale, bony arms towards the heavens in a silent plea for nourishment and salvation. A blink and they became mercury sculptures, dancing in the moonlight. She closed her eyes once more and opened them to see the silver birches suspended in timeless static.
Elaila reached out to the nearest trunk and touched the silvery bark which looked like silk pulled taught around a pole. It was surprisingly rough against her sensitive skin, but the way it grazed her finger tips pleased her. She retracted her hand and hugged herself to savour the tingling feeling pulsing through her body. Senses heightened, she became aware of the utter stillness around. No sounds. No movement save her own. The silence pounded in her ears and became almost unbearable but she dared not make a sound to break it. Time might be started into motion again if she did that. She wondered where time went when it had been expended; what happened to the seconds that had been knocked out of sync by the driving seconds hand?
Elaila failed to notice the grass around her growing at an abnormal rate. The blades curved around her body and wove together to form a basket, cradling her. Time sped up and slowed, dancing amongst the stars, smiling down upon her; the grass grew fast and then stopped to hold her.
The pounding silence was making Elaila dizzy and she sank deeper into the grass cradle, closing her eyes. The pounding eased and as she relaxed, Elaila heard the silence begin to sing. It was faint at first, a dull note far off, but it grew louder and louder until the woodland reverberated with a dissonant melody that penetrated the core of each atom. Elaila could no longer keep her eyes closed and they shot open to see the sky, once so serene and clear, full of lights and shifting constellations. Orion was striding out from behind the moon towards Pegasus who was flapping her wings and swishing her tail. The seven sisters danced wildly in circles chanting horoscopes. Far away Galaxies could be seen expanding and contracting, revealing parallel galaxies on each expansion. The noise and the visual stimulation of the sky made Elaila’s body burn with adrenaline, her muscles tensing and relaxing rapidly. The shadows underneath the surrounding trees were drawing her towards them by some powerful force. She glanced at them in awe and fright, and realised that each one was a black hole, willing her towards their space, wanting to own her, to crush her in their binding love. Silence’s song now echoes throughout the universe and each note moved Elaila into a deeper appreciation of the substance of her being. With each notch up the volume scale, Elaila’s body drew further apart. The cells were separating, the atoms pulling apart to join the universal energy and suddenly –

– She’s waking. The morphine is wearing off.
– Do you thing she’ll recognise herself?
– The plastic surgeon did his best.
– The crash was just so awful, and the burns, oh, the burns.


February 12, 2005

Flash Fiction

Hey Guys, here's my first flash fiction. It definately needs refinement but I'm not sure where to start on that so let me know what you think :) It also needs a title…

The mountains tower around my insignificant car, sheltering me from the wind, but taunting me with treacherous winding roads. The map is useless and so is my sense of direction. Each house I have passed has been deserted, rotting from the inside out, pining for its warm past and the homely smell of soda bread.

The car is jittering now and the petrol gauge is creeping into the red. It is four in the afternoon and the sun is out for a change. I have been travelling for hours. My eyes are becoming weary from scouring each nook and cranny of the mountains, searching for some sign of life. A village, town, hamlet, cottage, cave: anything that might mean food and communication.

I drove off the Swansea-Cork ferry six hours ago at eight am with an old map and a chest-full of excitement. The boat ride was bizarre. I watched pulp fiction projected onto a wall in the makeshift cinema and I drank a pint of Guinness in a traditional Irish pub. I browsed the gift shop and bought my car a present; a Guinness key ring. I then drank more Guinness and got talking to an old man who asked if i'd like to hear a true ghost story.

He told me about his family who lived in Kerry. I mentioned that I would be staying there and he smiled with misty eyes that were lost in some distant memory. He continued. His family had lived in a cottage, deep in the Beara Mountains near to the village of Lauragh. There were twenty of them that lived together, his immediate family and that of his uncle’s all under one roof. They survived this way for many years until his father grew old and his uncle grew greedy. The aged siblings began to dispute over whose family would own the land upon their death. The disputes got worse and more violent and one night, when they had driven each other quite mad, the brothers took their fight outside and drew their knives. The situation was resolved with the death of his uncle and the family abandoned the house soon after. The old man paused. I wondered where the ghost of this ghost story has disappeared to. I waited. “It has been told,” said the old man eventually in a sad, husky tone, “that my uncle’s ghost can be seen walking the mountains around the deserted cottage, guarding his family home and searching for his sheep. I haven’t been back there in years.”

The next morning, as I was passing by the bar to take the escalator down to my car, I saw the old man again. This time he was asleep in an armchair with a stain on his shirt and a half-finished pint by his side. I thought to wake him but didn’t and instead I wondered to myself if he ever got off the ferry. Maybe he travelled back and forth perpetually, searching, like his uncle, for what he knew he would never find.

I feel myself drifting ghost-like through these craggy passages, lost in my mechanical tragedy like a sheep that’s strayed from the flock. I am loosing hope and the car gives its final shudder as I notice a house tucked away in the mountainside ahead. There is a driveway and I manage to swerve the car into it just as the engine stalls. Luck or coincidence? I think to myself as I step down from the car and lock the doors. The house stands about two hundred metres above me on the slope and there is a neat footpath amongst the bulrushes and stacks of heather.

The building is renovated, painted green, and faces south so that the sun shines directly upon the garden that is in full bloom. I see potato plants and tomatoes and marrows tucked beneath broad green leaves. There must be people living here. My heart rate increases. I knock on the front door. I knock again. And again. No answer. I walk around the building peering in windows but there is definitely no one in. I see a door ajar and decide to explore.

I have stumbled into a studio. The walls are lined with paintings which are all by the same artist. They mostly depict colourful buildings and shop fronts typical to Southern Ireland. There are a few portraits too and a man trekking across the desert. I notice an easel erect and a fresh white canvas upon it. The palate of paints is ready too and still wet. They must have been freshly mixed.

I sit in front of the easel and stare at the canvas, deciding what to paint. I pick up a large brush and dip into the green paint. The brush guides my hand to the canvas and I begin to swirl the brush to and fro, creating grass-like patches. Next I use blue; the sky and the grass blend seamlessly in front of me. The cottage should be grey, with flecks of brown, and the thin brush that I reach for follows my command, but my eyes are finding it hard to focus on the detail. Exhaling in mild frustration I reach for my glasses which are balanced on the toolbox to my right. That’s better. I see a small smudge and get up to retrieve the white sprit from the cupboard on the back wall, beneath O’Shea’s Supermarket. My large, speckled hand carried the large bottle with ease.

The cottage is done and the sheep I have dotted about the landscape need little attention. Almost finished, I smile with satisfaction. I lean back for a moment to absorb the entire painting and reach for my joint which has been smoking in the glass ashtray that Val brought back from India. Just one figure left to add before this painting is complete. My 3mm E18A brush slides between my forefinger and thumb, where it is most comfortable, and with browns, pinks, blues and black the figure of Michael Molly is fused to the landscape amongst his sheep. Bless the old man. The really was a crazy old fool, but by God he tended those sheep well, forever roaming these mountains with his bad leg and an angry frown that told of a tough life and a hard soul.

“George! Dinner’s ready love!”
I stand up and take the last drag of my joint, stubbing it out in the ash tray that I pick up to take with me. The painting stands finished, a sentimental dedication to Old Mike Molly. I chuckle to myself: our mountain won’t be the same without his hopping all over it with those funny crutches. I head out calmly, forgetting to shut the door behind me, and I think of calling Teddy to help tow away that mysterious car.


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