Entries for June 2010 round of 15 for 15
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June 3: Waiting
Cowardice held him back.
She looked so much angrier than he expected. And he hadn’t broken the news yet. But then again, they had been standing on the line for almost two hours now. With her whining the whole damn time.
So how was he going to explain that he had forgotten to buy tickets beforehand? She’d sent him so many emails over the past two months he’d taken to deleting without reading. Could he really be blamed for forgetting, under the circumstances?
I’d better stop thinking like that, or it’ll show on my face. He was screwed beyond belief.
Until fifteen minutes ago he thought everything would be fine. He’d eat the higher at the door price, or buy a pair from a scalper. Who would have thought this hick music festival would be sold out weeks in advance? The bands were terrible, the accommodations worse, and the kicker was that is was in mother-effing Tennessee.
Oh god he was in so much trouble. She had that face on, the one that made her look exactly like her mother, the one that he secretly believed led to her parents’ recent divorce. What man could look at the pursed lips behind wrap-around shades and not feel his manhood wither away?
They had driven almost five hours to get here. Now there were no tickets to be had. She’d cashed in her last vacation days for this trip. If he was lucky, she'd kill him quickly.
Man up Steve. Dragging his feet the whole way, still praying for a miracle, he walked towards Anastasia to deliver the news.
June 4: Steampunk
He hated the city with every molecule of his stunted frame. Lured in, like so many country boys, by the promise of lights, excitement, and the chance to make a bit of flash.
At age eight, when his father rolled their ramshackle caravan into the old town gates, he'd been astounded at how unlike any other place on God's green earth the city was. But now, nearly ten years of hard-living later, he admitted defeat. This was no place for him; the city was nothing like he'd imagined. The glowing cathedral spires, elevated trains lines, domed skies, it was a beautiful mirage over the true filthy core. Over the wreckage of broken engines and beaten dreams. At the bottom, from the perspective top-siders rarely saw, is where the machines - human and animal - kept the illusory city running.
And where all unwanted, unnecessary things ended up. He shook his head to clear the bitterness. For today, he would enjoy the view as if it were his first time.
Everyone back in Abersdale knew he'd make it big someday, his keen imagination and sheer determination an anomaly in that sleepy village. But the city was littered with the walking corpses of other boys who'd dreamed his same dreams: fame, fortune, dames and dancing. And he knew he didn't have the criminal constitution to become a player in Undercity. He wasn't native, for one. Neither was he quick enough with his hands or feet to take advantage of his small stature. Mostly, he didn't have the stomach for violence extreme poverty entailed.
So he starved more often than not, begging by the rail platforms for scraps until the organization ran him off, filching rotting apples and such from negligent or kind-hearted sell-rats.
It looked wondrous from up here, the city. Two eagle-fens took flight to his right, light up by the filtered sunlight to look like angels. That was the sign he was waiting for. With a deep breath, he spread his arms and flew away from her, his cruel mistress.
June 5: Figure
for alchemical games.
No. A fine example. A unique
to be admired. Young, tough,
tasty. He’s nubile,
for their delectation.
They disagreed. Put
to the test, lit, heated, worked
over. It glowed with
white fire. Signs of
The boy was to be
preserved. Chanting softly they
called his soul forth. It
would rest quietly inside
for the rest of time.
June 6: Climb
The steppes vibrated marching feet a craven climbing caravan
of the old the diseased who at least had reasons for bowing
to the captors pale skinned invaders with lightning sticks
trees that spat thunder and lead but I could see others young
village girls who laughed at the unkempt mane
mocked the cracked feet and warrior’s markings
on my body with their chants of malice and fear
Samara going so far as to spit in my path before the village elders
put a stop to such naked disrespect I knew
my father’s soul still rode herd on the shamans who failed
to usurp his power their guilt abated by the dubious charity
they bequeathed me Samara now the beast of burden she called
me the flesh of my tormentor’s back flayed neatly open by
whips that cracked as loudly as the earth gods themselves I admired
the pride that made her resist their crudely worded invitations
rebellion which served no purpose save to prolong the pain
of the violation the other three her comrade in arms made
docile the naked display of brutality enough to unlearn their heritage
those girls I had no respect nor the men who submitted
to the yoke of dishonor rather than earn an honorable death
following the clumsy pale skins up the mountain their
guttural speech like everything else about them full of unchained
power and little learning for hours the five-year old boys
of the village could have done as well as I so naked
were the tracks but then again what use did they have for
obfuscation when they fought with wondrous weapons gathering
the shadows around my army we watched as they made camp under
cover of night I crept into the tent of the bearded one who led
his ice blue eyes an unnatural complement to
the wheat of his hair I stroked my father’s bone dagger in
reverence before plunging it into his eye his surprised shout
drowned by those of his men impaled with the flaming arrows
of our vengeance the skies screamed of blood until the debt
was paid at dawn’s light we rounded the captive captors the steppes
coming alive to the music of marching feet
June 7: Booby
Should've called out sick, But one more absence and she'd be taken to task by the principal. Not to mention her parents. "We can't keep funding your profligate lifestyle." As if wanting the nice things they raised her with were somehow a crime.
Her feet squelched inside her khaki rhinestone sandals. They matched her tan capris and white linen sleeveless blouse perfectly. This morning, they seemed a great idea. How was she to know that this nature field-trip would involve traipsing through the god-damned jungle? Some of the kids were in wheelchairs, for crying out loud. And it was hot as blazes, with the air thicker than soup.
We couldn't have gone to see that movie about penguins instead? That's nature. She muttered something foul under her breath and quickened her stride. She'd fallen behind while woolgathering.
A city girl through and through, she regretted her impetuous move cross country even before her car crossed the New Jersey border. Looking down at her dirt-caked feet with a sigh, the pedicure she'd spent her last twenty-five dollars on ruined beyond repair, she felt something akin to despair.
And to think I left New York for this. This being a boyfriend who left her two months later several thousand dollars poorer. More ammunition for her parents to use against her. But in the intervening year, she'd gotten her life together, more or less. Though it often times looked - and felt - like a carnival sideshow.
"Miss Brooke, Miss Brooke, look at the boobies! I love boobies!"
"Thomas, it's impolite to mention people's private parts. We've had this conversation before, remember." She pitched her voice soft as to not alarm the boy. He had a lamentable tendency to bite when agitated, which Brooke had experienced enough times to not want a repeat.
"No Miss Brooke, not those kinds. The birds. Look at the birds. Can we get one? I want to take one home."
Ruffling his hair affectionately, Sara looked in the direction of his eager pointing. The birds were majestic, in an awkward sort of way. Certainly they looked more graceful on land, their electric baby blue feet confidently waddling, than she did scrambling up the rocky path to the cliff.
"We can't take them with us. They belong outside. If you took one home, what do you think would happen?"
He looked up at her with trusting eyes and nodded sadly. "It would be lonely, because all its friends are far away?" She nodded. "That would be bad," he declared, taking her left hand and tugging. "Can we go back down and get some ice cream then? I don't want the boobies to be sad."
"Ice cream sounds great Thomas. But in a little while. Let's have a sit and look at the birds for now."
"Ok." He smiled and pulled her over to an outcropping of rock barely big enough for two. He didn't look like the hellion he was when he smiled. She found herself smiling back. Maybe it was the unparalled view, the ungainly, beautiful birds, or the warm pressure of a sticky nine-year old hand. Maybe it was just acceptance. Whatever it was, Sara was suddenly very glad she'd come on the trip.
June 8: Horses
“A touch to the left if you would please.” The hostlers gave each other that inscrutable look he started hating mere hours after landing in blue-sky country.
“Whatever you like Mr. Blair. This good enough?” The wanker in the blue cap was practically smirking, his manner so overly helpful it smacked of raging condescension.
At least he had the courage of his convictions. Most of the locals were content to stare at him as if he were a talking two-headed dog.
Edward wiped his sweaty hands against his crisply uncomfortable new jeans, taking care to keep the lens free of grime, and nodded. “That is perfect. If you would just hold that?”
After the first few shots, he was in the zone. He called out directions, ideas, and despite the pre-shoot hostilities the hostlers were remarkably good subjects. Finally – finally – this trip was worth the unimaginable aggravation. The horses were fantastic, sweet-tempered, responsive and beautiful. They reminded him of those at his grandfather’s summer estate, and some of his happiest childhood memories. Before the troubles, as his nan would say. Referring, of course, the cataclysm of his unrepentant homosexuality. Typical nan, no trouble appropriating geopolitical events to express her displeasure.
Even the hostlers, now that they were silent, were a thing to be admired, the lines and planes of their faces speaking to more interesting stories than the ones they regaled him with. When they talked to him at all, that was.
That thought snapped his concentration.
Given how bored the little boy looked, and the fading light, he had lost track of time. Again. He’d have to hurry if he wanted to get anything else done today. Edward opened his mouth to ask them to pose on the horses. As fortune would have it, he caught the tail end of the look passing between the stablemaster and the one in the blue cap. That decided it - he'd have to call it a day. As he'd already learned this week, it wouldn’t be worth the bother if his subjects were feeling mulish. And he’d gotten some good shots, he could tell. Not the one he was looking for. Not yet.
“I think we’re done for the day. Thank you for all your help.” He received grunts of acknowledgment from several of the hostlers, a quick cheeky wave from the boy, and steely silence from blue cap. Edward wondered if it was his foreignness or queerness that rankled them most. But he had to get back to the hotel and review the day’s shoot, as well as plan tomorrow’s; there wasn’t really time to contemplate their decided unfriendliness.
He was so intent on stowing his gear he didn’t hear the man approach.
“It might help some if you went out and had a couple of drinks afterwards. They’d warm up to you better.” It was blue cap, whose name Edward was embarrassed to realize he didn’t remember. In fact, he hadn't exchanged more than two sentences with anyone but the boy. “We’ll be at The Wild Mustang, so you know.”
Advice delivered, the man strode away calmly, silhouetted against the early twilight, a trail-weary cowboy heading home.
June 9: Train
Hot rank sweat dripped from her hanging flesh, another reminder of better days. Her world stripped down at last to the rags on their backs and vengeance in her veins. The remaining babes were too hungry, too sick, too tired to afford her the luxury of mourning Aline. Her daughter’s anguished screams as the infidels took her away miles back, savoring not only the girl’s screams but a mother’s hopelessness, reverberated still.
She supposed they were luckier than most. She’d seen with her own eyes – and had to hide it from the little ones – the burned corpses. They were monsters, these soldiers that rode and jeered and raped and massacred. Monsters without conscience, compelled by intolerant nationalism into committing atrocities. Kohar could only pray that God would be just and deliver the righteous retribution her people deserved.
They had been crammed into the train cars like cattle for several hours, hours in which they cradled broken spirits and ignored weary bodies. Such was their plight many considered it a godsend. They had not always been as lucky. Any rest from the march was welcome, even with the fetid air of ailing, melancholy despair of the train car.
That was days ago. The railway incomplete, they were dismounted and made to march. The pigs had the effrontery to mock the fallen.
Antranig wept for the breast milk that had curdled in her breasts, from heat, from hunger, from anger. She shushed him listlessly, her baby boy, the light of her life back in such days when the world made sense. Looking around she spotted Hermine and Dalita further ahead, flirting with equally emaciated boys. The resilience of youth. Lord willing they would be strong enough to survive. Kohar herself held no hope of rescue, as some of the others did. She knew she would die, if not here then further on, in these horrid lands of their forced exile, while their captors laughed and raped the barely living.
Whispers floated back to her. A daring escape plan, a group of youths that got away. Heading for Russia, and its promised freedoms. Only when Kohar saw the anxiety on the soldier’s faces did she let herself believe.
There were more rumors. That all was not going well for the Empire; that those who drawn deportation duty were lucky to be away from the European front; that there was talking of suing for peace, and surrender.
The going would harder now, if it were true, the beatings and murders more frequent. But still her spirits lightened. God would keep his covenant with the faithful.
June 10: Inferno
you thought me insane unhinged maddened
by sadness baddened by grief thus you forgave
the tantrums the temper that very patience
a reminder of what you hoped I would forget you sought
to gentle the hurt by speaking of different places
the age difference the animosity of your ex-wife’s spawn
indeed the pull of your ex-wife with her big thighs
bigger hair the comfort of those fifteen extra pounds
being with her allowed you to gain seemingly
more important than the acrobatics
a fitter man and a younger woman could engage in
you ought to have noticed I noticed when you
slipped away the first time out to get milk
as though you had read one too many
dime-store romance novels and came back with
the sickly honey of her drug-store perfume the one
that coated the surface of my house
it was mine had always been though you were
content to let others believe what they would
whenever the twin devils descended whirling dervishes
invaded my domain because she trusted them
to report more accurately than you would
on my fabulousness you thought I bluffed
when I told you I meant my forevers chalking it up
to my youth and inexperience that I followed you home
visited the wrath of the scorned on my replacement
you hoped I exaggerated when I styled myself
a villainess promised a face for an eye and that I
would laugh at your funeral byre you ought to
have known I was too intense too driven too tightly wound
something not quite right all the other phrases you used to
describe how you fled from me when I demanded that
actions follow words of love and commitment too focused
unable to loosen up and have fun too goal oriented and did you not
always complain that I couldn’t tell a lie even
small social ones designed to flatter and please and ease
so why you would think I lied why would you act surprised
when the bat struck your kneecaps with the force
of my costly disillusionment and I smiled at the
shattering bones why ask for mercy as I poured the gasoline
meticulously placed it around the bed on the curtains
when I made sure it soaked the floorboards to ensure
that it would be quick if not painless
why curse me then at the end if I was
your only hope of salvation
did you think such rankly amateur pop psychology
would change my mind or had you come at last
to the limits of your imagination facing a fate
preordained that you denied to last
I want you to know I didn’t lie I stood at attention a good
soldier outside her house and watched it burn to the ground
accompanied by your screams until there was nothing
but smoke in left in your lungs and that I laughed
laughed myself raw from across the way
as the firefighters tried in vain to get you out
because obsessive that I am I wanted to make sure
the job got done
June 11 - Raft
Everyone knew impeding marriage made you loopy. But Joel was taking it a little too far. It was summertime, they were eight young healthy guys, and they lived at most two hours from Atlantic City. Or Foxwood's. Or anywhere but the godforsaken Poconos.
Rest assured that when it came time to throw his bachelor party, he wasn’t making anyone travel to the hick infested mountains of the Northeast . He didn’t care if it was the best whitewater rafting on the entire planet, Sam heard “bachelor party” and thought of strippers, Irish bars and limousines. Judging by the grumbling around him, he wasn’t the only one.
“It’ll be great, you guys will be begging me for the name of our agent. We’re staying at a chateau, it is absolutely breathtaking up there.” Joel’s enthusiasm wasn’t catching. “Come on, it’ll be like a weekend in college. Sports and beer. Absolutely awesome.”
“Absolutely fucking nuts is more like it,” Adam muttered to Sam as they loaded their gear. The three of them were the heart of their college crew, having risen through the hyper-competitive Manhattan preschool ranks together. But ever since the engagement, the trio was starting to feel a lot like a duo. “Have you noticed that he talks like her now?”
Her, of course, being Vanessa, the current bane of their existence and the reason for this half-baked rafting idea. She didn’t believe in the ‘objectification’ of women, and flatly refused his and Adam’s offer to host a more conventional bachelor party. “I think it’s ridiculous,” she said, “that you still act like you’re in high school. Joel understands my reservations and has agreed to my conditions for allowing him a bachelor party.” When Sam heard that, he knew his buddy was a goner. Allow him? As if Joel were her kid, not her soon-to-be husband.
“I know. But we’re here, we might as well make the best of it.” He sighed. That line sounded like crap to him too. But what else was there to do?
“Wish she was coming so I could push her in.” Sam knew the feeling. He patted his buddy on the back and climbed aboard the bus.
The ride upstate was uneventful, with much jostling for radio position, and a miniature food fight breaking out. The lodge – excuse him – the chateau was, as promised, breathtaking. More to the point, there was a bachelorette party staying not fifteen minutes away, as they found out soon after checking in.
“I heard them say they’re going rafting tomorrow,” Adam stated gleefully. “Did you see how he gawked at the maid of honor?” He flopped enthusiastically on the bed and looked at Sam. “Old Joel was more right than he knew. It’ll be. Just. Like. College.”
Sam laughed at the memory. The last time they’d run into a bachelorette party, in their younger, wilder college days, Joel ended up knee deep in the maid of honor. Who happened to be his then girlfriend’s younger sister.
Reaching into the cooler they’d brought into the room, Sam pulled out two Bud Lights. He cracked open the barely cold beers and handed one to Adam. “To whitewater rafting with bachelorettes, and the mayhem sure to follow.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
June 12: Alien
“I am cold.”
“We all are. Be quiet.”
“But I am cold.”
“Come huddle closer. Do not let the guards see.”
She was still young. They had to work hard to calm her, to soothe her, to keep her, more importantly, from agitating their captors.
The vigilance had relaxed in the last week. It seems they had that much in common – one could only sustained heightened paranoia for so long. No one was going to be crawling out of these cages anytime soon. But their every move was no longer subject to hostile scrutiny. More like every five or six.
But that was all they had in common, as far as the mind could see.
“I am hungry.”
“We all are. Be quiet.”
She was still young. He had argued against bringing her on this trip. Argued himself into incandescence. He thought the Consensus would agree. She was too young. She had not yet learned how the weaving worked. Thus they had to vocalize everything.
And thus the humans had found them. He had to work to block the thoughts from leaking. He was not the only one.
“Why will they not let us out? We are not warriors. We are scientists. Surely, a civilization with space flight must have scientists.”
“We frighten them. Hush little one.”
She was still young. But so were they all, once. Everyone must have a first mission. I had argued for inclusion. It was clear she was coming into her powers, coming into them quickly. Were it not for the stress of imprisonment – and yes, her obdurate refusal to listen – she would have them now.
I hear footsteps. I know we must calm her. These humans, they can only speak, not listen. They do not like to hear us talk.
“I am responsible, am I not? If I spoke with them, made them see, do you not think – “
It was the first time I heard the Consensus. They thought I was too scared to open myself. I refused their comfort consciously, to avoid the condemnation I knew would surely follow. I was responsible, my fledgling connection to the Consensus the reason we were heard, were seen, by the lumbering monsters who called themselves human.
It is a bitter pill to swallow. And now, despite my efforts, I understand what I had wished to ignore.
June 13: Cave
We come up for air. The cave is further from the shore than I’d thought; we almost didn’t make it. And if we almost didn’t, I hold the hope the goon squad had drowned.
“There.” Thank God it is still there. There is a depression higher up the rock, high enough to be out of the water, low enough to climb. I need to sit. You need to get out of the water. I could see the tips of your fingers turning blue. My throat closes with fear. How could you love me so much, love me still, after all of this?
Ten distressingly long minutes later, we are sitting on dry rock. Those ten are a bad sign. It should never have taken so long. “We need body heat. And food.” We haven’t any food though, that left along with everything but our wetsuits back on the boat. And we are lucky to have the suits. Or we would have died hours ago.
“Naked cuddle-time.” Despite it all your smile warms me, reaching into my innards and rearranging my worry. I want those smiles. I want to wake up every day with your riotous curls spilling onto my pillow, your legs inevitably wrapped around mine, and kiss that smile.
The wanting is what got us into this mess. But beyond comprehension, here you are, smiling at me. Love made tangible. And I can’t believe we could make it this far only to die now. Not in the face of that smile.
“I love naked-cuddle time. But –” you shrug sheepishly, “I think I need a little help.”
I strip you because your fingers are too numb to do the job. The joys of naked cuddle-time notwithstanding, it is about the body heat. What we need is to leave before the tide comes in. This cave will flood. I think you know this, but I am afraid to put it into words. Because I don’t think you have the strength to swim to last leg of these caves, the leg that would bring us out to the cove and the rock path to freedom.
I could, I know. Tired as I am, I am still a world-class athlete. If I left you, I would make it. The goons would find you, save you. I am the one they wanted to skin alive.
My skin is the most valuable thing I own; I want to keep it. I am not proud of myself for having such thoughts. I thought I had changed more than that. Yet I have changed. When you smiled at me that first time – eighteen months, five days and three hours ago, give or take – I stopped being the kind of person that could do more than think awful thoughts.
“Somehow I don’t think it’d be a smart idea to nap, right?” I shook my head. You already knew that. I see the knowledge of all the other things I am afraid to say shine in your eyes.
“Nope, no sleeping. But I will tell you the story of how I stole the contessa’s diamonds if you like.” Your nod tastes despondent, replete with love.
I wrap you in my arms gently, giving as much of myself as you could take. Please, Dear God, let it be enough. I smile at you, a lie in my eyes, and begin my story, shaking you every so often to make sure you’re awake.
A miracle of sorts. You are turning pink again. You smile at me, elation evident in every pore. It is still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. You are stronger than you know, as I have always told you.
Thirty more minutes and we could press onwards.
But I hear distant splashing, fifteen minutes away on the outside, and know that will not be fast enough. I speak a little louder, to cover the noise.
“And so then I was hanging upside down from the roof…”
I fight the tears pooling in my eyes. Your smiles were worth it.
June 14 - Concert
We play a game of keep-away.
Deliriously drunk, I move towards him, only to retreat into the arms of another. I dance, hair escaping from the pen haphazardly used to bind it, face rosy, lips swollen and glossy, arms, legs, hips, thighs, waist undulating, shimmering with glitter and sweat. Every eye, every thought, every whisper in the room is on me. I feed off their worship. I dance for him alone: softly, madly, outrageously, making love to myself on the dance floor, motion as an invitation to greater splendors. Languidly, he comes back my way. The frenzied sheen in his eye gives lie to the calm of his walk.
When the night is over he will leave. There is no enchanted slipper to bring him back. This truth permeates my skin. I am dancing to hold it at bay.
Insane with fury and longing, electric with stress, I have drawn the stare of all and sundry. They watch transfixed by the violence of my movements, mesmerized by the rise and fall, dip and roll.
He grabs me, pulls me, pushes me, off the floor, against the wall, onto him, and where before it was my hands running wild over my body, now it is his, skimming the surface, unwrapping me quickly, hands over my blouse and under my skirt. While the music changes, the beat surging frantically, I hike my leg up onto his waist. We fall upon each other ravenously with the dancers as our backdrop.
He leaves tomorrow. There is no fairy godmother to make him stay. It does not matter. Another tour, another city. Another. But for tonight, the moon is full and I am wired on witch’s brew, dancing to myself.
June 15 - Cat
Dropped back behind enemy lines, it had been too many cycles since their last reinforcement. Had they been forgotten or ignored by the great mother? Only she had faith in rescue, only she kept to the great ways. Even the first, renown for wisdom throughout the seventeen suns, had gone native.
She stalked her perimeter grimly. It was difficult. The golden light, so much warmer and stronger than their own, was absorbed by her greedy skin. After a millennia of ice the temptations to forget were great. If there was no rescue…
Her fur stood on end. Such thoughts were akin to heresy. It had been so long, and there was no one left to police her. The fresh cut grass demanded her attention, as did her bowels. Living had been pared down to such basic, immediate needs. To her left was the heavy tread of work-boots and Mr. Samuelsson’s dog. Stupid creature. It barked at its own shadow.
Later she would blame her distraction on the dog. At the critical moment, her concentration had wavered. They breached her perimeter.
Weapons radiated the same menace whether held in two or twelve hands.
A long shadow blocked the life-giving sun. Fear, wet and primal, stained the grass below her. “There’s nothing here but this stupid cat.”
“Fuck me man, we’ve traced the temporal distortions to this sector. We had a fucking fix on it.”
“Don’t I know it? But there’s no one here, and the counter’s gone back to normal.”
"Feel bad I scared the piss out of it.” The one who spoke lowered his rifle and chucked her chin. “Sorry Miss Kitty. We’ll be on our way now.” Straightening, he and the other soldier slipped back into the bushes. Try as she might, she couldn’t see the energy emissions of their micro-wormhole.
She waited until they left before meowing softly. The others wold hear her call for help, would come if they could.
For the first time since she saw their strange yellow sun she felt despair. If the humans had mastered wormhole technology, perhaps not even the great mother could save her people.
June 16 - Boat
The natives were restless enough. What brilliant homeland administrator had come up with this? Stewart wiped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief that had seen better days. Then again, everything he’d brought to this god-forsaken country had seen better days, including his sun-burnt skin. Rule Britannia indeed.
“Mark my words Amelia, there will be blood in the waters before this day is done.” He turned to his housekeeper-cum-mistress and managed a weak grin. “I’d take the wee ones and go visit your mother in the hills were I you.” With a quick nod, she ducked her head in obeisance and went into the house. She was a good girl, quiet and respectful. There was no way she’d be coming back, even if things did calm down. A pity; he’d miss her. But his sons would be fine in her mother’s house. They looked native enough that perhaps his parentage wouldn’t be held against them. And there was always the package of pound notes she’d bring with her.
He took a sip from his canteen, the warm gin-and-tonic fortifying, and headed towards the dock. The sense of foreboding that had ridden him ever since he’d heard of the festival intensified the closer he came to the harbor.
“Can you believe this?”
The voice, as usual harried and out of breath, belonged to his neighbor. Although Stewart had never particularly cared for the man – Ellison's servants ran around half-dressed and mostly beaten – with the tension in the air it felt good to see a familiar face.
“I’ve heard talk of revolution. And what would they do if we gave them the country back, I wonder? Ignorant peasants, the lot of them. Unappreciative fucking bastards.”
Stewart nodded noncommittally. The few times he’d attempted to have a rational discussion of colonial policy with Ellison, they’d both walked away frustrated and unconvinced. It was better to let the man rant. And to an extent, the man had a point. Some of the indigents were two steps above bush savagery. Certainly there was no educated populace in place to take over should the colonial government ever decide to decamp.
Not that the government was displaying any such intelligence today. Only a young ambitious Oxford don could have dreamt up such nonsense. A pageant celebrating one hundred years of civilizing rule? Complete with reenactments of key battles with actors in blackface? The whole damn thing was appalling.
They heard the screams before they reached the docks. A flotilla of native ships, overflowing with mine and farm workers, was heading into the harbor. Two of the lead ships had docked, disgorging their human cargo. It made him think of the slave ships of his grandfather’s day.
With one key difference. From where he stood, Stewart could see that at least some of the indigents were armed, machetes and axes in abundance. He glanced over at Ellison. Shock had leached any animating color from his neighbor's already pasty complexion.
“Looks like we’re on the short of the stick today. Who would’ve thought it?" Ellison's voice dripped with disdainful fear. "They went and got themselves a bloody fucking armada.”
A succinct summation of the situation. Stewart nodded his agreement and took another swig from his canteen. Any able-bodied civilian not caught in the harbor would head towards the barracks. He wasn’t so sure, however, that the army would quell the uprising any time soon.
“My friend, it seems the natives object to theatre.” He briefly contemplated running for the hills. “I suppose we ought to go lend a hand.” Clasping his neighbor’s shoulder, Stewart steered Ellison, who seemed to have gone catatonic after his outburst, back towards the city center.
June 17 - Frogs
“Is the world ending?”
Samantha’s question saddened him. It meant she’d overheard his argument with Lorelei.
“No, love, it’s not. Remember from bible study, Revelations speaks of a plague of locusts. This is just cane toads.” Which were a plague of their own. A blight on the land, a disaster to his fields and, most distressingly, perhaps the end of the Winters’ homestead. His family had labored, first as convicts, later as freed men, for decades.
The living had never been easy. But the cane toads would be the end of Innisfail.
He remembered the hope with which they’d greeted the news of their introduction. That was years ago. It’ll save the crops. It worked in Puerto Rico, the toads eat the cane beetles. Problem solved, no pesticides.” A variety of promises, most of which not worth the spit for speaking. They had cane beetles in abundance, always had, probably always would. And now they had the miserable fucking frogs to contend with. It was hard learning.
Tom shaded his eyes and looked out onto his fields. “Daddy, I heard from Jude Parker that you can play cricket with ‘em. Wanna give it a try?” Sam smiled at him shyly, her grin crooked with missing teeth, her braids nearly undone, and his heart clenched. He wanted what any father wants – to give her a better life than the one he’d had. She was a smart girl, his Sam. Schooling, not the farm, would be her ticket.
He tugged on the loosening braids affectionately. “We can’t whack on the toads. It’s not sporting to attack animals that can’t fight back.” Tom smiled though. He’d heard of cane toad golf. Cricket was a new twist. Trust the Parker boys to find a creative use for their cricket bats. The youngest was a great striker. “Run along and help your mother with the jam.”
“But Daddy – ”
“Run along.” She pouted but left. He was pretty sure she’d be sneaking out in an hour or two, soon as she trampled underfoot of Lorelei. But smart as she was, Sam was a trouble magnet, and those Parker boys were nothing but trouble. More trouble on the horizon too, soon enough. She’d be twelve soon.
There was something disconcerting about the dead toads. They were a dangerous nuisance, dead or alive. Just now he stepped on two on his way to the overseer’s cabin. The damage they did...
All in all, cane toad cricket seemed a fine idea. If he couldn't plant, he'd work on his bowling. Tom wasn't half bad, he'd played some in his day. He’d have to talk to Judd, see if they couldn’t organize themselves a league. Might even get themselves some uniforms. The thought cheered him immensely.