Friday, 26 February 2010

Strange Kind of Friend (#fridayflash)

During the winter of storms, the night came when Mimi couldn't cope any longer.

Every night it rained, and every night it kept Mimi awake. The wind pounded her bedroom window with torrents of water. Thunder shuddered in the skies. And when the rain stopped, the dripping started. Drip, drip, drip, from the branches of the tree in her garden. Drip, drip, drip, from her leaky gutter, down the side of her house.

This soft dripping sound was the one that made her most angry. She'd fall to sleep once the storm was over, but the moment she lost consciousness, the dripping called her back.

Tonight, Mimi's anger takes control. Before the rain stops and the dripping starts, her body tenses with the thought of how it will keep her awake. Anger explodes inside her, and she finds herself stomping downstairs, then outside, slamming the front door behind her.

She forgets her dressing gown and coat. Her anger has pushed her beyond these. She runs out across the grass, slips in the mud, and lands forward on her knees. She wants to scream, to rage, but at first all she can do is flinch at the cool touch of the rain on her skin, over her shoulders, down her back.

Though it is a shock, it also soothes her. She stands up again, letting the rain wash the mud off her legs. The water, running down her body and dripping from her hair, feels peaceful and cold.

Inside, she wraps herself in a warm, soft towel, gently stroking the raindrops off her legs.

Back in bed, sleep comes easily. She hears the rain as a friend now, singing her a lullaby, calling her to sleep.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Tortured Silence (#fridayflash)

The sell-out, his face twisted with scars, risked his life to tell me of you.

He said, when he saw you last, my son, you had no fingernails.  He said they'd taken them from you with pliers, one each day, except on the Sabbath.

He said when you slept beside him in the prison cell you shared, you yelped and convulsed.

He said your left arm was broken, snapped backwards at the elbow.

He said he could not tell me of your face.

I asked him how he knew, how he'd escaped. He shrugged. They'd let him go. He didn't know why.

"Sell-out," I hissed. He met the accusation with silence.

I asked about your eyes, your beautiful eyes, your father's eyes.

His shoulder slumped, defeated. He had risked his life to find me and tell me all he could, and he could not tell me this. Instead, he wept.

"Tell me," I screamed.

I had searched and waited years for news of you. But now the sell-out came with news, I was offended at his presence. Why was he here? Why not you?

I slapped him, and he took it. He stood and let me slap him and scream in his face how worthless he was to have given in while you, my son, held silence, while you remained broken and strong.

I slapped him with all the energy of my pain and worry, pent up with years of not knowing. I slapped him because I cannot hold your splintered body. I slapped him and punched him until I collapsed, sobbing.

With each slap I struck across his scarred cheeks I betrayed you. With each slap, I wanted him to explain. Why did you, my son, believe so fiercely? Where did you find such faith? Why couldn't you have sold-out too?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Samurai (#fridayflash)

Sitting beside me, you say you feel alive.  You say I am radiant. You ask me the secret to this energy.

It is no secret.  You have this phrase already in English, "To take a man's life".  But you say it in disgust, as though taking life were a bad thing.

You forget, in your Christian piety, that you kneel before the altar each Sunday and you take the life of your god.  "Christ's body, given for you," the preacher says, and you take it.  Greedily, you take it.

You forget, in your Christian piety, there is no morality.  Only Yin and Yang.  Only enemy and friend.  Let me tell you this: I have taken the lives of many men.  Their bodies given to me by the enemy.  We are alike, you and I, we only take the life that is given to us.

This is why I am radiant.  This is why you see life in my eyes.

I have taken it.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Digging Mud (3WW)

I am here, digging mud, to salvage myself.

I think back to when I stood on the threshold of manhood, gazing into the horizons of possibility. I understood possibility then, and that is why I surrendered the opportunity to be fully alive. That is why I was afraid to stare death down. I wanted to hold on to possibility, not to look death in the eyes.

Instead of fighting in the war, I went undercover, ignored the draft letters. Dad helped me find a new home in the countryside as a farm-hand.

I ran from death, driven by thoughts of possibility, of all the paths my life could take, of everything I could be. But the moment I ran - it was an irreversible decision - I realised I had, by running, sabotaged possibility forever. My life would be dictated by fear.

Years later, whilst reading, my condemnation haunted me. It was not in the Bible, but in a tome of theology that I saw the truth of my decision, of what I had surrendered:

"A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine."[1]

I trembled as I read those words. I would never know that moment, a moment I have since craved with all my being. To numb the craving, I drink. I drink to forget this: The one chance I had, young enough to fight, the one chance I had to be righteous, to face death with furious indifference and thus to know the lucid effervesence of life compacted into a single, abundant moment, I squandered.

In secret, on my computer, I watch the videos uploaded by suicide bombers, and I understand. Yes, I understand. I want to be them. I watch their eyes, absorbing their eager hunger for life, for a righteous death. They, on the threshold of manhood, know all the possibilities of life, and they have made their choice.

We have dug deep enough now. It is time to use our hands, the sensitive touch of our fingertips and gentle brushes to feel the skeleton and remove the dirt from its skull, its axe, and its warrior helmet with Viking horns.

They believe this was an ancient battlefield. I am here, digging mud with them, as a volunteer. I'm retired, I've got little else to do. They appreciate the help.

One day soon, I will be rotting in the ground too, in a church yard. Died in his sleep, they'll say.

Before I go, I had to see this warrior, to salvage him from the death I wish I had. There is life in him yet - I can feel it - how lucid and righteous he was when he died, stabbed through the heart.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908).

Friday, 5 February 2010

Amichi the Thoughtful Monkey (#fridayflash)

Amichi is a thinker.  Snakes, he's figured out, turn on the charm and act like your best pal until you let them close enough to snap at you with their poisonous fangs.  Elephants, Uzura the wise one aside, are boring conversationalists, but are good for a ride when your arms are tired from swinging branch to branch.  Trees without leaves are vengeful, their branches liable to snap anytime you sit on them.  Parrots, especially the blue and yellow ones, speak mostly nonsense. And monkeys, of course he knows this best, they live for the good times, and most days, for Amichi at least, is good times.

Sometimes, Amichi feels he isn't like the other monkeys.  Yes, bananas are his favourite food, he finds tasteless jokes hilarious, and he loves treetop parties.  But he also likes spending time alone, thinking.

"Monkeys don't think," Imja, his mother, always chides when she catches him staring into space.  "Monkeys live."

Uzura the wise one is more encouraging.  "A good thought is better than a good lunch," he says wisely, "and a good deed is best of all."

Also, Amichi is different because he feels bad when his monkey friends bully the smaller monkeys.  He'd felt especially guilty when they'd played a practical joke on blind Dimitri, the most ancient elephant in the jungle, telling him to follow them because they had a special treat lined up, then ran away, leaving Dimitri lost and miles from his herd.  He joins in when they throw stones at the hummingbirds because he doesn't want to be called a wussy, but he hates when a bird is hit, especially when it moans and struggles before it dies.

Today, Amichi is sitting alone in a tree by the river, watching the water and thinking.  Under the water he notices a small fish struggling to swim against the flow of the river.  He feels sorry for the little fish, and he works out that if he can climb onto the low branch, hold on with his tail, and reach down into the river, maybe he can help.

This is precarious.  The branch over the river is leafless, and Amichi doesn't have the best balance when he dangles from his tail. 

Amichi tries anyway, and he succeeds.  He grabs the fish in his paw, climbs back along the branch, then puts the fish on the ground beside the river.  At first it wriggles in grateful excitement, then it goes still.  Amichi watches it sleep peacefully after its exhausting day of swimming against the current.

Amichi is delighted.  Inside he feels glowing and proud.  He has done a good deed, he has helped another animal, and not at small risk to himself.  He is not like the other monkeys: rude, self-centred, obnoxious.  He is a helpful monkey.  Tonight, he will find Uzura and tell him what he did, and how good it feels.