The way I figure it I’ll have, if luck is with me, five chances. Tomorrow will be like today and all the days since my capture so my reckoning is sound. My first opportunity will come early, in the crossing. Sometimes my guards are too eager. If I slow they come onto the bridge to jab at me with bayonets. They are vulnerable above the drop.
The second comes when our work party is given its implements for the day. A hoe would be little use but a spade, hammer or pickaxe; only circumstance makes them tools rather than weapons.
The next chance comes at lunchtime. The broth is little more than peelings and salt but at least this new cook brings it to the boil. Sometimes he adds an onion or two or a yam from the forest. He is better than the other, who served it safely tepid. No matter.
Another, of course, is the crossing back to the camp, when the guards are tired from the labour of watching.
But it will be the last chance I take again, when the candles have been snuffed and stiff limbs stretch on stiff bunk boards. That’s when I will act. Dream it again; the brief pleasure of another’s death scream.
I was there the day Destiny was shot. She’d just come off stage, ignoring boos and catcalls. Other times I’d seen her, countless shows all over the country, the crowd had always called for more. But some time since the last tour she’d chucked in her hard-core grungy sound for more of a big band thing; country swing meets gospel. Her fans wanted angst, not hope. We wanted dark eyes and slow grind. As she skipped offstage with a wave as if the world would always be perfect, the hall fell silent. In shock. There was an explosive crack. After an initial collective gasp all eyes went to a stage light smoking, but that was just a ricochet. I was there. I was in the wings. Still trying to comprehend. I saw her fall. I saw her look my way.
Adelie kept a book of them;
recipes for black. Thirty or more,
each with its mood and purpose.
She covered each canvas with one
before obliterating it with swirling colour.
Her hidden darknesses, her sweetest secret.
When he reached the edge of the world Hercules looked out at the heavens with a heavy heart for this, his greatest quest, was over and it was the pursuit of it he had cherished most. The edge was like a beach, oblivion lapping onto it in wavelets. He had an urge to see what was beneath, so he lay flat on the sand. Carefully he leaned over to see. That part of him that extended beyond the world stopped being. The sensation was of weight and mass and energy reaching only to those parts of his body that stayed on the sand. Beyond these, where his head and his fingertips had been there was a blind consciousness, which Hercules told himself must be the state of his soul. He had endured many hardships in his life and the Gods had taunted him with endless trials for the body they’d made him. The sensation of nothing that could be seen or touched, excited him. Only beyond the world could he be freed of his need to be and become, instead, only the notions he held true of justice and honour. Without a thought the hero edged forward, neck then shoulders gone, then chest. He found a purchase on the sand and pushed towards where zero and infinity were indistinguishable, where now was all of time and peace as absolute as its absence. He let himself slide into it. At the last moment as the hero struck out beyond his embodiment the buckle on his sandal caught on a length of vine. But, as his physical consciousness had been all but extinguished, he had no idea, as he drifted out, of the calamity he had set in train, as first the vine, then its roots and the things it had ensnared slipped towards nothing and the world he’d honoured with his bravery began slowly dragging itself, each small part so connected, piece by piece into a void beyond.
Twin sisters shared their girlhood home in a way. One occupied the rooms in front, back to the kitchen, which was in the middle of the house. The other took everything to the rear. A schedule, pinned to the kitchen door, limited their need for further contact.
They were seen coming and going occasionally, but never together. Over time the occupants of nearby houses changed and the knowledge of the family that once lived at the house was lost. In its place a single woman, pleasant but reclusive, emerged, though no one knew her name. Beyond Luskin Rd, in the files of the country’s corporations and agencies the women disappeared as well. Surviving frugally, as their father had, taking only what they needed of the savings he had hidden in shoe boxes beneath the pantry floor, they left none of the usual evidence of their existence.
When the fire broke out – old wiring in the roof space – it spread unseen above them before bursting through old ducting into rooms at either end of the house. It converged towards the middle, the kitchen, where two charred bodies, embracing in death, were to be discovered by fire-fighters dousing the embers.
So it was that a mystery woman, an unknown lover perhaps, became the talk of the people of Luskin Rd in the days after the fire. Only the old cat, who had been with them all its years, knew the women’s real story, but it took that secret with it days later when starvation overcame it.
After trouble in town the boys take to the hills for a licking of wounds and a bit o blarney besides that for theres always stories from exploits and the hills is the best place for em. Up in the hills stories grow big like alehouse yarns and therell be whiskey to be had and good times and thats what a band o fellows wants most. More even than company with lasses I reckon true enough a fellow wants a yarn and whiskey and up in the hills is always plenty enough of both and Eddys brother Danny will most likely do a song and a jig and the world will be great like it should be. Like the Lord intended itll be with the sun shining bright on his making. So when Stevie Boy sends a message down I think sure that’s for me and I drops me shears and leaves with Cuttler cursing cause his sheeps half sheared and I take his pony too on a loan for wages and goes up there at a fair clip cause I’d not be missing the fun of it thats for sure. And the boys are there havin a fair old time and soon enough I has a bottle and a full pipe and I’s leaning back with em. The sun is warm and it makes the whiskey smooth and sure nough the airs soon filling with singing ballads and the crows joining in and theres nothing in the world as good as that and nothings going to spoil it cept thats when theres a shot – bang – in the bushes and next moment theres all hell and the clearings got troopers and dogs in it that have crept up on us and us only drinking and singing of lasses and things and Joe takes a pellet but hes up and all the rest are up quick smart and their rifles loaded too. Ready like they been waiting and next moment its shots exploding near me head and Dannys rifle smoking and the two big coppers go down before they can reload. And as quick as it started the other one is high tailing and Eddy grabs me arm and we give the dog chase and we calls to the others to clean the mess and they ought head off north where weve got another place and we get to our horses just as the yellow cowards mounting his and we’re on after him in a flash. And he aint got no chance hes getting off not with Eddy chasing whos the best horseman round and sure a match for any fat Scotsmen. At the bottom of the spur Eddys got him bailed up. When I gets alongside hes got his pistol drawn and the copper is near going to shit and Eddy just looks at first staring at him then he spits like hes got a bad taste and he cocks his pistol. The Scot hes pleading like a girl to a fellow and he says if hes shot theres others will come and Eddy says I aint never shot a dog wasn’t lame and needed putting down and the Scot looks worried then when Eddy aims at his leg but instead o shooting he says you tell them others and you tell them good it was me that shot them two up there dyou understand. And the dog nods and Eddy says true and that in defence of life and limb it was too and as God is witness that’s the truth and you tell it good. Then he takes the scoundrels gun and his horse and kicks his arse down the hill and we turn and head off north. And Eddy says to me its bad times coming.
You’ll lead four white horses, like
a pageant. Or, perhaps, world’s end.
And you’ll ask me to choose.
I’ll pick wrong. The love horse –
Apocalypse. You’ll ride off on Freedom,
the one I should have chosen.
She visits monthly. Always asks for
me, even though I’m the youngest.
Says her boyfriend likes her smooth.
She wants to talk. She lifts
her skirt. Bruises dark on fake-tan
thighs. ‘The weather’s nice,’ she says.
Because you have to start somewhere
Clarissa showed him middle C. ‘There.’
She pushed his finger onto it.
A familiar note. ‘Now you try.’
Her thoughts returned to a wonderful
night when he’d played her Debussy.
Behind Bertram’s Wax Works there are
three large bins of old exhibits,
props, models, wigs all awaiting disposal.
Costumes and trimmings. Seersucker and lace.
It’s a place you’d barely notice
an arm extending from the pile.
Cleopatra turned up in first-year Classics,
as spectacular as her royal namesake.
I imagined myself her Mark Antony
but I was merely Cleopatra’s pearl.
She held me out, dropped me
and watched as I dissolved away.
Point Despair. Great name that is.
Someone must have really hated it.
Typical, my family takes holidays here.
‘Fishing’s good.’ ‘Peace and quiet, too.’
Yes. Isolation. It has its advantages.
No one disturbs me. For once.
After the first drops the deluge.
With riverbanks breached, water starts spreading.
Felix carefully packs Melissa’s best things,
placing them into a dinghy he
launches on the floodwaters, before calling.
‘Her stuff’s coming down, you bastard.’
I think it might have been Lenny. He left just before they say it happened. When he got back, which was much later, he was pretty agitated. I asked him if he was OK and he snapped at me about why I was still up, even though I wasn’t still up at all because it was morning by then and I had to be at Dr Francis’s early.
The Doctor said I was doing well. I thought maybe I should tell her about Lenny but I knew she’d only worry.
I didn’t see Lenny for maybe a couple of days after that.
That’s not so unusual because Lenny’s not the sociable kind.
The papers say there’s a manhunt on. Lenny won’t talk about it even though that’s all anyone in town wants to talk about. It’s a big deal in a place like this. The cops are onto it, and the papers are onto it and the mayor’s onto it in the papers and at the pub everyone’s onto it as if they’re all vigilante heroes. They’re gonna get that guy and they’re going to do this and do that and they’re going to teach him a lesson and they’re going to send a message. Then they’ll all get drunk about it.
And the girls in town are onto it too and they’re all around in whispering groups and crying and stuff. Like I said everyone’s onto it.
And I think it might have been Lenny. I found her bag in Lenny’s washing, because I do all the washing for Lenny and me. His stuff is mostly black or camouflage like a soldier. I think maybe I better talk to him ’cause I’m pretty sure it was him.
This then was all that was left. Dex’s climb had been stratospheric. At thirty he’d been ready to fly. Too close to the sun. The crash hit hard. The auditors did their job for once. His bosses held him to account for the same things they once demanded of him. Everything solid turned to dust. Now this was all that was left. A torn matress, a dirty blanket, a transistor radio and a bunch of clothes. He kicked his belongings together into a corner, sucked his last cigarette almost to the filter then flicked the glowing butt into the pile. Black latex smoke started curling upwards. He glanced at the door. Now at least he had options. Freedom of choice. That’s what made the country great. Dex smiled. Smoke pooled beneath the ceiling. A lick of purple flame struck up among his t-shirts and jeans.