Together forever

Bougainvillea

Finally, Pili gathered courage and approached her husband, Saad. “Oh darling husband, I’ve passed the interview,” she said calmly. Her husband, however, did not look up from his reading.

“I’ll be reporting for work in my new employment tomorrow,” she pressed on.

“Get out of my way,” he said threateningly.

“We shall now be better off.…”

“I said you get out of my sight,” he said, looking up for the first time.

“Darling, how can you be so unfair?”

“Don’t you hear?” he said rising from his seat.

“I assure you.”

“I don’t need to be assured. You can take your assurance elsewhere.”

“No darling. Don’t say that.”

“If you wish to avoid trouble with me, do keep your distance.”

“I think we’re not communicating.”

“Any more of this nonsense,” he said rising to go, “and I’ll break your nose.” He threw the paper violently at her and walked away.

The following day, Pili reported for work in her new job.

In the evening, Saad was raving mad. “You’re now puffed up with pride, eh,” he started. “With a car to visit your men, you now feel at the top of the roofs.

“Have I ever been insincere to you?”

“One day, I’ll teach them the lesson of their lifetime.”

“Come on,” Pili said sharply. “I’ve endured long enough with you.”

“Who gave you authority to talk to me like that?”

With time, Pili adjusted to her new job despite chaos at home. In one of her official meetings in the office with the boss of the company that employed her husband, she found an opportunity to address the simmering crisis in the family.

“My company,” her colleague said, “is in the process of down-sizing its labor force, starting with the redundant staff.”

“Do you know of a man called Saad who works with you?” she asked.

“Oh yes. He is among those to be retrenched. But if he undertakes an in-service training he would be retained. In that case he would be given one year unpaid leave. Otherwise, he leaves in grace.”

“Did you know he is my husband?”

“You can’t be serious.”

“He is.”

“I didn’t know. But are you not jiving?”

“No, he is my husband.”

“Oh, if only there was anything I could do!”

“There is,” she said leaning forward. “There is something I want to tell you in confidence.”

“You’ve my word.”

“He is terrible. Go ahead and declare him redundant.”

“I’m sorry. If only I could help.”

“Don’t mind. Just go ahead.”

For some time, Saad had been idling around the house after having been declared redundant by his company. Being a spendthrift, he had spent all his handshake moving about town and in rich living. Only after clearing the entire amount did he return home to face the landlord.

And the landlord showed up right on time with a group of burley men behind him. Going out through the back door, Saad escaped across the bougainvillea hedge leaving his family at the mercy of the unwelcome visitors.

“Get in and throw everything out,” said the landlord with his hands akimbo. “Only one hour for the job. No mercy. No nothing. Ok?”

But one hour was too long. In less than half an hour the house was emptied of everything and locked. The landlord, satisfied of a mission well-accomplished, congratulated his thugs and left immediately.

The following day, Pili visited her husband’s employer at his company offices.

“Welcome, Pili.”

“Thanks.”

“How are you getting on?”

“Yesterday we were evicted from our residence. Fortunately, I got another house.

“I’m sorry. But Saad got a handshake.”

“The hand-shake did not help him in any way. He got lost in town and remembered his family only after he had spent everything to the last penny. Anyhow, the purpose of coming to see you is to pay for his in-service training. But for one thing, please, do not tell him who sponsored him for the course.”

“As I told you, you have my word.”

Saad, now a vagabond received a letter out of the blue. On opening he started dancing, holding the letter high in joy for everybody to see. “Look! After all, things are not so bad,” he said giving the letter to his friends to read. They congratulated him profusely, hopeful one day he would remember them.

On the reporting day, a jubilant Saad went to see his employer.

“Congratulations Saad,” greeted his employer when he entered his office.

“Thanks so much. I’m so happy. I don’t know how to express my happiness. But tell me Sir, who is this magnanimous person who has sponsored me?”

“She is a lady and is not around at the moment. I’ll introduce you to her at the appropriate time and place.”

“Anyhow, pass my heartfelt regards to her. I’m so grateful. I would have liked to thank her personally.”

“I’ll try to get her someday. She is a very busy woman and she rarely comes around. I’ll remember you to her. No problem with that.”

After some few discussions Saad left feeling highly elated. He thought; who could this philanthropist be? She must be a terrific woman, no doubt; the best under the sky, perhaps. He went on singing praises to her in his heart until he arrived at the college where he was to spend the rest of the year.

Saad finished his course successfully. But during his graduation ceremony, he saw no sponsor as his employer had promised. As they moved about the crowd with him looking for her, they bumped into Pili who had all her children around her. Surprisingly, Saad did a quick about-turn and walked away almost running. His employer stopped abruptly and watched dumb-founded as the children ran in hot pursuit after their father who was now negotiating through the crowd at supersonic speed. In no time he had melted into the crowd.

“Did I not tell you?” Pili said. “Saad is a terrible man. Believe me.”

“But I never expected him to go this far,” his employer said, bewildered. “I now believe what you told me. Saad is an animal. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll attend the evening function.”

“I’ll surely attend,” said Pili.

In the evening, as usual, the invited guests started arriving. It was organised Pili and her children stay behind a curtain to conceal them from Saad. Unaware of the presence of his family, he entered the hall gallantly and took his seat at the high table. Pili had a rough time trying to hold back her children as they attempted to break free. The master of the ceremony then took the rostrum.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Saad for his successful completion of his studies. It’s an honor for me also, to introduce you to his sponsor who has made it possible for this function to take place. We’re greatly indebted to her. Before she comes, Mr. Saad do please come forward and greet your guests.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Saad started. “I’m grateful to you all for having found time to attend this auspicious occasion. I’m particularly grateful to my sponsor and also my employer who have worked together tirelessly to see that I go through the whole course without a hitch. I don’t have much to say at this moment except that I’m very eager to see her. For the one year that I studied in this college she did not get any time to visit me, but since I’m told she is in attendance, I only hope to see her before the function is over. Thanks so much.”

As the master of the ceremonies took the rostrum once more, Saad’s heart migrated to his mouth. It pulsated with such force that it put him off balance as he tried desperately to maintain a forced calm. He studied the ladies present closely but could not make out who she was. Unable to maintain his composure, he begged to go out briefly but the master of the ceremonies motioned him to stay. And he sat back a resigned person.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the master of the ceremonies went on, “as we approach the end of our function, it is an honor for me to call the guest of honor who also is the sponsor of Saad to come forward. And do please stand up in her honor. She is none other than the Managing Director of the well-known International Manufacturing Company, Mrs. Pili Saad. Mrs. Saad, do please come forward and give your closing remarks.

As Pili came forward, her children raced before her to embrace their father who was by then frozen in his seat. He thought of running out of the hall at terrific speed, but his children had already milled around him and there was no way he could escape. He had no option but to stay. Then, when he looked up, he saw his wife bending forward to kiss him. “Together forever,” she whispered in his ear.

 

By Khamis Kabeu

 

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The Fallon Holding Company

Lanterns

China waits in doorways.  In the seaports, in the cities of the hinterland, and in the rural villages dotting the tapestry of hills and swales, the indigenous endlessly gossip, gaze, and gape, amused by the panoply of the world that spins about them.  So was it in the beginning, so will it be at the end.  Who am I to make such accusations?  I am a gentrified crook, an elusive con artist, an entrepreneur in the opium and the hard liquor trade.  Looking for a proper, refined young man to accompany your chaste daughter to some function?  I am not him.  I am Ivan Stone. 

British by birth, Chinese by breeding, my grandfather, with his family, undertook their exodus to the Orient arriving on the heels of the Opium Wars.  Before the ink on the Treaty of Nanking had even dried, my extended family holed up in Shanghai, which with the treaty, became arguably the busiest port in Asia.  Of German stock and heritage, Kurt Stone was the patriarch of the family, who had impoverished scores on the European continent in accruing his fortune.  He then set his sights on England, buying a small estate an hour by coach northwest of London.  Everyone who knew Kurt the least bit intimately was cognizant of the lies that were his stock and trade.  But the old man did manage to assemble the Fallon Holding Company, a shipping concern that traded in tea from India.  Furthermore the ships of the holding company conveyed everything from dress goods to manufacturing implements in the bowels of the hulls of their ships bound for seaports that stitched the world together: Lagos, Cape Town, Bombay, Hong Kong and others that sailors had sullied on their shore leave.  Among the shipments were guns and other outlawed weapons of war.

Being a shrewd man, Kurt conducted himself as a polished patrician, raising his two boys to be perfect Englishman, ones that might have been mistaken for any other Brit every bit the polished Englishman that only Eton and Oxford could turn out.  Peter, older than my father, was carried away with my great grandfather in a cholera in the summer of broiling heat, and with that my father, Siegfried, resolved that someday he would run the shipping business, as soon as he could wrestle the helm of Fallon Holding Company from his father, Gunther.  That was a contest that never materialized for one day my father, already in his twenties, arose to find his father had absconded with all the pounds and francs, rupees and yuan the monument of a bank safe nestled in the estate office would hold.  My father was unconcerned: he had the company. 

Only vaguely do I recall the Tudor mansion, for I was too young for it to make an indelible impression on me.  But with the passing of Kurt and Peter in the epidemic and the midnight departure of my grandfather, my father put the estate up for sale.  Taking a beating on the price, he got out right before the local sheriff came to arrest him with a fistful of complaints of fraud and embezzlement.       

Leaving, scurrying in the light of day, Siegfried abandoned my mother in the streets of London with a shamefully meager amount.  I can still see Greta, my mother, pleading with him on the docks to not to leave her behind.  This brought peals of laughter from my father.  Once on the deck of the HMS Pearl of the Orient, I queried my father, “Where are we going?”

“You’ll know when we get there, Frederic,” he replied.  The wind was snapping the sailcloth like a pennant in a hurricane as we eased out into the English Channel.

“What about mother?” 

“Just you worry about yourself now.”

“What if I don’t like it?” 

“Then I suggest you swim home!” 

This brought a guffaw from one of the sailors.  “You should have been born with fins mate,” he retorted.  Taking forever, the cruise anchored in the docks of so many seaport towns, that it seemed like being in heaven with civilizations floating beneath us.  Only twelve when I made the exodus with my father, I gave him wide berth for he would swipe at me if I crossed his sensibilities at any given moment.  Finally, we landed in Shanghai.  There, with the money he had secured from the sale of our estate, he bought a handsome domicile in the French Concession and immediately went to work on the new Fallon Holding Company.  In China, the Opium Wars were recent history.  With the Treaty of Nanking, the imperialist countries carved Shanghai up into five concessions.  On the Bund, next to the tidal bore of the Pu River, my father set up the headquarters for the company where he was more a thug than a manager.  Through its doors passed the high and low that walk the earth: those with black coachmen at their side; those wearing rags, those wearing eye patches and those whittled down by war.  Some came to sell, some came to buy.  It was in my father’s office that they traded opium for tea and sundry things not normally available in the East.  A large man, one well over two meters, with a stout frame that had not completely gone to fat, my father would physically toss clients onto the Bund’s packed earth who insulted him with low bids.  And to a soul they took it from him. 

Once in Shanghai, after we moved into the house in the French Concession, my father inaugurated me into St. James’s Academy to be a proper young upstart.  The week after he enrolled me into the academy, he stormed into our first class of the day, and grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, dragged me out, muttering, “my son gets his religion from me and not you scalawags.”  That was the beginning and end of my formal education.  My father had an entirely different idea of how I was to be educated.  Tagging along with him in my plus fours, I witnessed most of the transactions my father conducted.  Well I remember his asides to me as we scuttled along the wharves, such as, “can you fathom why he believes me,” or “wait ’til he finds out what he signed over to me.”  No one along the Bund liked my father as much as they feared him.  Crowds would part for him like they would a feral feline creature of the jungles. 

As time passed, my father grew richer and richer.  But as human nature would have it, others seeing my father’s wealth (and that of other importers), other roustabouts tried to muscle in my father’s business.  We had been in Shanghai for only two or three years that I noted certain entrepreneurs unexpectedly disappear from the shorefront of Shanghai.  By this time my father had gathered a half-dozen Pretorian who accompanied us on our sojourns in the nettle of the seedier side of the city.  The smell of smoldering opium pervaded the streets of Shanghai both day and night.  It was a smell my father reveled in.  Cecil, a friendly giant of a man from Scotland, who joined my father from almost the beginning, seemed especially affectionate as he ensured nothing troubling occurred to me.  The first trader to move on was Foster Sutherland.  One day my father and I encountered him walking on the Bund.  My father, rather cooly, said to him, “You know there’s a lot more opportunity in Fujian or Hong Kong.”  It wasn’t but three weeks later that the authorities found his body in the swamps next to the harbor.  Other traders avoided dealing with my father after they found Sutherland’s body.  People would whisper as my dad and I walked past them in the avenues, but no one directly accused him of having any hand in the man’s murder.  Nor did the authorities manage to capture the assassin. 

Like locusts in the year of a plague, other traders came to Shanghai.  This time, they brought their own muscle.  Though most of the traders pledged fealty to my father, Siegfried, others sought protection from the younger, heartier traffickers who moved into the concessions.  Exceeding the murder rate of anywhere on the Chinese mainland, the police lost count of the bodies. 

Then when I was sixteen, I was walking beside my dad down a dark alley off the Bund.  He wanted to check on some opium that had just arrived.  Suddenly, from a door in the brick building, out jumped a half-dozen Chinamen, their hair in queues, with their guns drawn.  My father never had a chance.  Nor did his two bodyguards.  The Chinamen left me.  I wasn’t worth their trouble. 

Now, people speculate if Ivan Stone can keep the Fallon Holding Company together.  But I was born to the breed.  China waits for me in doorways.

 

By Joseph Dylan

 

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Handsome stranger

Handsome Stranger

When Anne saw the remarkable stranger walking a dog in the park on an otherwise ordinary summer evening, she sensed that fate had arranged for this man to cross her path. Her mind could only hold one thought: This is the most handsome man I have ever seen.

“Hello,” the handsome man said through a smile so white his teeth pulled light from the air around his mouth.

Anne could hardly believe he had spoken to her, had said the word “hello” through lips so full and perfectly shaped for kissing.

“Hello,” she replied through her own lips, which were suddenly dry.

“I’m Paul,” the handsome stranger said, his voice a mix of honey and cello. “I just moved in down the street.”

“I’m Anne,” she said, grasping handsome Paul’s offered right hand, his big, soft hand that buried hers. His left hand, dangling from a thick wrist, well-muscled arm, and square shoulder, held the dog’s leash. That lovely hand, Anne noticed, held no wedding ring.

“This is Bowser,” handsome Paul said, nodding a square jaw darkened with thick evening whiskers toward the dog standing beside his sandaled feet.

Anne tore her eyes from Paul’s handsomeness to look at the dog for the first time. Bowser was mid-sized, about two feet tall, the color of charcoal, so dusky he looked like he would darken the palms of anyone who touched him.

“Hi, Bowser,” Anne said, noticing the affected lilt in her own voice. Anne wasn’t a “dog person.” She didn’t have one as a child and had never felt the need for one as an adult. She had no interest in paying for, housing, feeding, walking, and cleaning up after such creatures. She could take them or leave them. In Anne’s experience, humans made the best companions—humans like Paul, for example.

Handsome Paul was leashed to this dog at this moment, so this dog was worth the effort. Anne knelt beside Bowser, whom she now noticed was a mutt of undeterminable lineage—and not a good mix. Maybe some Lab, perhaps some dachshund, a pinch of boxer, a hint of terrier—overall, more a chunking of attributes than a true blend. He was as thick around as a beer keg with a football head, meatloaf neck, and short, spindly legs.

“I think Bowser likes you,” handsome Paul said. “Don’t you, Bowser?”

Bowser grunted and thrust his head at Anne. Reflexively, she put her hand on his back but had to consciously force herself not to pull away. Bowser’s spine bones jutted into her palm through his wire coat. Dander dust wafted from just the light stroke she gave him.

It’s not his fault, Anne thought. He’s a dog. He can’t help being a little dirty. Think about how handsome Paul is. Just keep petting. Pet the dog. Think of Paul. Pet the dog. Think of Paul … handsome, handsome Paul.

“He likes being scratched behind the ears,” handsome Paul said. Anne glanced up at him. She liked the view from this angle. Yep, she thought, just as handsome as he was fifteen seconds ago.

Anne looked down at the big ears on the back of Bowser’s clunky head. The skin was scabrous. Anne thought of how Paul’s wavy hair was nothing like Bowser’s ratty rug. She guided her fingernails lightly over the ruined, patch-furred skin just behind Bowser’s right ear.

Bowser looked up to meet Anne’s gaze. His right eye was ink-dark and featureless. His left was circled in a blood-red, inside-out lid. That eye bulged, nearly disconnected from the socket. Bowser eased his snout closer to Anne’s face. His breath smelled like something found months too late in the back of the refrigerator, something turned green with fur growing on it. Bowser’s moldy tongue lulled across one side of his jaw. Anne saw only four intact teeth, and the holes in Bowser’s gums oozed pink puss.

“Awww, he wants a kiss,” handsome Paul cooed. “Bowser wants a kiss. Go ahead, Anne. Give Bowser a kiss.”

At the sound of his handsome master’s voice, Bowser licked the puss from his gums and dribbled a yellowish glob of phlegm to the ground. Anne had to pull her foot away to avoid the glob landing on her newly purchased walking shoes, a maneuver that nearly sent her toppling over.

Anne regained her balance and stood so quickly that Bowser and handsome Paul both backpedaled. “I just remembered something,” she sputtered, striding down the sidewalk like a power-walker. “I have to be someplace for something,” she called over her shoulder to Paul, his smile drooping like the sagging leash he held, like the slack skin at Bowser’s four armpits.

Anne didn’t look back at handsome Paul, couldn’t look. She walked straight toward her echoing house—a house with no pets, no kids, no husband.

One thought filled her mind: Nobody is that handsome.

 

By John Sheirer

 

Books for writers                                       FAQ

I am air and fire

Beijing

The night wrapped its arms around Beijing.  As they sat on the patio of the Pearl Street Market Restaurant dining on grilled lamb and gently fried rice, the stars swam in the firmament above them, coalescing in the seas of constellations.  The three of them, Jack Willoughby, Jerry Heard, and Dr. Abel sat quietly, musing on all that had transpired since their days at the Intercontinental Clinic.  Perhaps a decade had passed since they walked the hallways together; more likely it was fifteen years.  Now, only Dr. Abel remained, the others going their separate ways, John to another clinic in Beijing, Jerry to a practice back in the States.  Dr. Abel held on at Intercontinental by his fingertips doing all he could to bolster his rolls of patients.  As a psychologist who’d attained a doctorate from a prestigious school in the States, Dr. Abel was a rare commodity in Beijing, rare as a cab driver in the city who didn’t smoke.  More than once, John and Jerry discussed their colleague’s predicament.  To them, the problem was Abel himself.  Continue reading “I am air and fire”

The last mission

Jungle

Flying, falling, unfurling, tumbling towards earth.  For a moment, I know I was out, but then I was awake and there I was, freezing before the parachute unfolded.  Senses back, I watched jungle rise up as though it were coming to embrace me.  Already I felt the ribs that were broken from being catapulted from the jet.  Hanging there in the parachute harness, I could feel the nylon rubbing against the fractured ribs on my right side.  It hurt to take a deep breath.  With the jungle coming up to meet me like a welcoming wagon to the highlands of Vietnam, I took inventory.  My eyes felt swollen.  In my mouth, I could taste blood.  I ran my tongue across my upper lip.  I had bit my tongue ejecting, but none of my teeth seemed to be chipped.  From my left ankle I felt pain.  Somehow, I had sprained it in the ejection of my Phantom F-4.  Dangling next to me, tied to a line in the parachute harness was my survival kit.  In it, I knew I’d find a two-way radio, a small caliber gun, a K-Bar, a canteen of water, ready-to-eat meals, power bars, as well as Snicker’s candy bars I put in with twenty tablets of Percocet in two foil packets.  Continue reading “The last mission”

The promise keeper

Drip

Looking back on my long career in emergency medicine, the one thing I’d tell you: you’re nobody’s friend manning the emergency room.  It’s in the emergency department that the politics of the hospital begin.  The staff of doctors is always unhappy when they receive that call for an admission at three in the morning.  They are the first to find failure in your care and the last to help you out.  It’s always, “Dr. Norris never told me he was this sick,” or “Dr. Norris missed that hairline fracture in the emergency room.”  And the nurses are just as bad.  To them, an empty emergency room is a happy emergency room.  They won’t have to face the family members or lawyers when you miss something in their loved one.  And where the doctors are more direct at going after you, the nurses are slyer as they stab you in the back.  Continue reading “The promise keeper”

Lot’s wife

Theater

No small grievance was the fact that Jennifer Harris, my steady through medical school, came from a family living so close to Washington, D. C., where we were learning about medicine at George Washington University.  A more deranged family could only be found in a play by Albee or O’Neill.  To this day, I have never known a woman so beautiful and beguiling, so pure and seemingly innocent as Jennifer Harris.  Golden as the sun at noon, her hair fell in waves past her shoulders.  In her face, one perceived the architecture of a deity with the beneficent smile of a wistful saint.  Finally, there were those lucent, cornsilk blue eyes, the eyes that Eve stared Adam down with, that paralyzed me every time she looked my way.  It was the only time that I have ever fallen in love at first sight.  And yet, years later, I failed her.  Our lockers being side by side, there was no way to avoid her, but it was months before I gathered the courage to ask her to see a movie with me.  When I asked her, I couldn’t believe she wasn’t someone else’s.  I was amazed that she didn’t belong to someone else.  But for as much as I loved her, I could see her irreproachable grace and goodness slowly unravel the more I got to know her.  Continue reading “Lot’s wife”

Evichor

Lush

The phone rang.

“Ma’am, the White House is waiting for confirmation of the discovery.”

I hadn’t decided what to call it yet. I looked thoughtfully at my surroundings. It was a lush land, with different plants and flowers that I had never seen before. As of yet, I had not come into contact with any life forms, except my crew and myself and the abundant vegetation. I knelt down and ran my fingers through the soft, moist substance that covered the ground as far as the eye could see. There seemed to be a unique, almost majestic feeling that stepping foot on this island had incited within me. Evichor. Yes, that was what I was going to name this island. My island. Continue reading “Evichor”

Battle Mountain

Nevada

Stranded between the towns of Reno and Elko, tucked within one of the many folds of the tortured basin-and-range topography of central Nevada, was Battle Mountain, a mining town, more a hovel than a village.  In an earlier life, I’d pass through Battle Mountain on I-80, driving a flatbed loaded with drilling pipe.  Always I stopped in Elko, about an hour away, just to avoid the place.  Each time I’d drive by that fringe of shacks that went for homes, I’d pray that the weather would hold, for the gusting, torrential windstorms had waylaid many a trucker there, upending their freight in the bar ditches. 

But this time when I came, I’d flown up to Elko in a small commuter plane out of Henderson Field in the City of Dreams.  It had been in the sixties when I left Henderson Field in Vegas.  In Elko it was snowing.  Elko was a town that had been built on the riches of gold mining on a massive scale, but the open mining pit extracting gold from the folds of the fecund earth surrounding the town was not to be seen.  Continue reading “Battle Mountain”

The part where you confess

Pills

After we made love, I lay face down on his white couch, head dangling bobble-style off the edge. Spent, more than satisfied, stupefied. I had never orgasmed before. He was light, my Airie, and playful. He kissed my bottom lip, we mock-fought in his prison-lit hallway, I asked him to send my Xanax through the mail. Our mutual friend had a connection and I had to have a means to drift away or I grew anxious. Life is often overwhelming. Right now, I think, a child is hiding in a concrete corner and fearing bombs. Right now, I pay for black market drugs to quiet the only voice in my head, to play at death without commitment. I could barely commit to a major, or to my closest friends. Everything is transient because it must be, for me. I collapse under solid weight. So I liked him, my frolicsome, breezy, blasé boy. No doubt Airie took me for a fool. He had chased me casually (everything he did was casual) for half a year before falling in with a girl who raged at him exactly six months later, “So what is she? Sophia 2.0?” Continue reading “The part where you confess”