VERY SHORT STORIES
Write me, he whispered. But the writer would not wake – so tired from the stories that had been spilling from her, night after night.
Write me, he said again, urgent and afraid. Still, the writer slept.
Please, I beg, write me. Just a line, that’s all I need. Just a word and I will be.
But the writer, now conscious of the call, ignored the voice, rolled over, and chose a dreamless sleep.
Morning light moved across her empty page. Not a phrase, not a word. They would not come, she could not write. The story had died in the night.
THE MAN BENEATH THE BOWLER HAT
The man beneath the bowler hat stood still a long time before addressing the Gods.
‘You do not exist,’ he began.
The Gods yawned. They had heard all this before. But the man beneath the bowler hat continued.
‘You do not exist to serve our insecurities. We exist to serve yours.’
The Old Ones had warned them – Zeus and the rest – but they had refused to listen to reason. Now, before their eyes, the man in the bowler hat began to fade. Each construction disappeared in the order it had been fashioned: the long limbs and upright body, the heart that beat faster in fear and love, the beautiful oversized brain with all its confusions.
The bowler hat spun on the spot where the man had stood, and the Gods, in the end, were alone.
Before I even took my first breath I had lost something. Its absence has marked me. Defined who I am. Determined whether I go this way or that, share or hold back.
My father was not there to witness my entry into his world. It was perhaps months before he knew my gender or whether I had survived the ordeal of birth.
He saw my first smile in a photograph, long after I took my first steps, the static grin a reminder of what it was all for. He celebrated those unsteady steps with a tin of powdered milk, but by then I had begun to talk. News of my chatter reached him on the eve of my first day at school. Did I ask about him, he thought. No, I did not.
My father was an image in sepia, burned into my retina, recurrent in my dreams, never moving, always standing straight and proud with a smile I imagined was turned on me. Though it couldn’t have been, I was not known to him.
For five years my mother tried to bring her son and husband together through words and recollections. ‘So like your Da,’ she would say.
With his eyes so blue, like the deepest part of the ocean, I think of you. Come home to me.
You did come home. I woke one morning to your brown weathered face. I thought I was dreaming but I wasn’t sure of what. You looked like the brown people I had seen in a book, though your eyes were familiar. I cried out and you moved away.
That was how it would always be.
And now I wonder. If I had recognised your eyes as mine and your face as the smiling soldier of my dreams, if I had wrapped my arms around your neck and begged to be carried all over town so everyone could see it was Us, would we have found what we had lost in the long years of the war?
‘Behold,’ he said, his hand outstretched, his smile wide.
‘It looks like a sunburnt bum.’ I reached out to take it but he pulled his hand back, feigning hurt. ‘Oh, let me have a closer look,’ I said.
He offered it up for inspection. But I wasn’t to touch, not yet. His hand was calloused, dirt stuck to the rough skin. Not that long ago I had teased him about having ‘privileged’ hands. ‘They’ve never done an honest day of work,’ I’d said. He started planning.
‘Is that bird shit?’ I asked. A crusty splash of white clung to the crimson skin.
‘Yeah. Great isn’t it? You wouldn’t get that on a plum from Woolworths.’
‘No, you wouldn’t.’ My desire to hold it was fading.
‘Close your eyes,’ he said, still smiling.
‘Aw, I don’t know Hon.’
He cajoled, ‘Come on, close your eyes.’
Water splashed against the sink. Flesh gave way to blade. I heard him come towards me.
The cut side was against my lips, bleeding into my mouth, filling my head with the warmth and fragrance of the hot day. He could just as easily have been kissing the back of my neck.
I took a bite.
I fell in love with him all over again.
‘It’s not as if we are the first,’ says Eve.
‘No, but it will be remembered that way.’
‘And why a snake?’
‘Why do you think?’ Adam cocks an eyebrow.
Eve sighs, bored with it all, ‘A slug would be more realistic, though it’s true, I might be tempted by something more snakelike.’
Adam laughs, throws her the apple, ‘You and me both, Evie. You and me both.’
TIE ME DOWN
‘Why do you always wear a tie?’
‘It suits me, don’t you think?’
She thought it did, but she still wanted to know. ‘When did you start wearing one?’
‘At school. It was private, the tie was maroon and grey, we all wore one. Then as a junior clerk, as a senior analyst, a manager – I’ve always worn a tie, it’s what I am.’
‘And what is that, exactly?’ She held his gaze as she unzipped her skirt, rolled down her stockings, slipped each button through its hole. She took his tie in her hand and pulled his face towards hers. Her tongue parted his lips, her fingers started to loosen the knot.
But the knot refused to give him up. Her fingers slipped, her tongue stilled. The knot began to tighten.
He hissed into her mouth, ‘Whatever they want me to be.’ It was a scream for air.