Saturday, November 17, 2012

Harris Tobias

OTTO & THE CLOTH BABY

OTTO and the Cloth Baby were just changing back into civilian dress after yet another astounding super caper involving an international crime cartel whose attempt to smuggle drugs in hollowed out cucumbers met with a stunning defeat. The two Department of Agriculture super heroes were going off duty and, hopefully, getting some much needed R & R.
They had changed into their secret identities: Otto as Clanston Mudridge, wealthy bachelor and gay man about town; and The Cloth Baby as his illegitimate son, Drone.
“You know I’m glad that caper’s over Dronie baby ‘cause I got a heavy date tonight with Troxine.”
“Don’t forget to to polish yer boots, Otto. We might be needed again any second and yours have cucumber all over them.” The way he said it made you want to push his face in. Yet it was just that pushy obnoxiousness that made him one of crime’s greatest foes.
Little did our heroes know as they parted company for an evening’s diversion that sinister forces half a world away were plotting a nefarious scheme involving avocados.

So they parted company and went to their separate perversions, Otto to his companion Troxine and the Cloth Baby to hang around the turnstiles in Queensboro Plaza.
They were about their diversions for less than two hours when the first call came in—a low humming in a poorly implanted device behind their left ears, the gizmo’s unsightly bulge poorly disguised to look like flesh. It took the Cloth baby only six minutes to retrieve his costume from his locker in Grand Central Station, don it and run panting up the nineteen flights of stairs to meet Otto in front of Delany’s office.
“You’re late, schmuck” said a scornful Otto. “What happened this time?” The sweating Cloth Baby still managed to look magnificent in his orange tights and matching cape. Otto stood in sorry contrast in his sagging blue uniform bunched and wrinkled.
“I’m late because I took the trouble to get the correct uniform, you stupid ox.” The Cloth Baby gave Otto a withering sneer. It made Otto want to pound his partner into something resembling strawberry jam. Instead, he just just gritted his teeth. The Baby was never wrong about the uniform. Otto had simply put his old one back on after a quick tumble with Troxine. It still reeked of cucumber and trans-gender sex.
Besides, there was no time to bicker, Delany was buzzing them in. Ralph Delany, chief of Agricultural Security for the Northeast Region, welcomed the legendary duo into his office. Delany’s desk was heaped high with produce—carrots, celery, cabbages, and leafy greens. In fact, there were mounds everywhere in Delany’s office. It looked like the produce section of a large supermarket.
“Come in quickly you two and close the door,” an obviously agitated Delany said. “Boy, am I glad to see you guys.
“What’s all this?” asked the Cloth baby gesturing around the room.
“They’re vegetables,” Delany replied, “and they’re all fakes.”

© Harris Tobias 2012

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers, and despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. He has published novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim, short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival, and is a favorite here on MuDJoB. He currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Donal Mahoney

PADDY MURPHY'S WAKE

THE PRIEST had been there earlier and the rosary was said and relatives and friends in single file were offering condolences. "Sorry for your troubles," they said one by one, bending over Maggie Murphy, the widow silent in her rocker, a foot or so from Paddy, resplendent in his casket, the two of them much closer now than they had ever been.
A silent guest of honor, Paddy now had nothing more to say, waked in aspic, if you will, in front of his gothic fireplace.
The moon was full this starless night and the hour was getting late and still the widow hadn't wept. Her eyes were swept Saharas and the mourners wanted tears. They had fields to plow come morning and they needed sleep, but the custom in County Kerry was that no one leaves a wake until the widow weeps.
Fair Maggie could have married any man in Kerry, according to her mother, who almost every day reminded her of that.
"Maggie," she would say, "You should have married Mickey. His limp was not that bad," but Maggie wouldn't listen. Instead, she married Paddy, "that pestilence out walking," as her mother often called him even on a Sunday but only after Mass.
Maggie married Paddy the day he scored the only goal the year that Kerry took the trophy back from Galway. That goal was no small thing for Ireland, Paddy would remind us all in pubs, night after night, year after year, until one of us would gag and buy him another drink.
That goal, he'd shout, was something historians in Ireland would one day note, even if they hadn't yet, and every time he'd mention it, which was almost daily, Maggie's mother would remind her daughter once again that she should have married Mickey and had a better life.
The final time her mother praised poor Mickey, a screaming match ensued, so loud it woke the rooster the very day her mother, feverish in bed, gurgled like a frog and died.
This evening, though, as the wake wore on, the mourners grew more weary waiting for the tears the widow hadn't shed. Restless in his folding chair, Mickey put his bottle down and rose to give the eulogy he had needed days to memorize.
"Folks," he said, "if all of us would holler down to Paddy now, I'm sure he'd holler back. Despite the flames and all that smoke, he'd tell us all once more that Kerry winning over Galway is all that ever mattered. We'll always have cold Paddy over there to thank for that. Ireland never had a better man. St. Patrick himself, I know, would vouch for that."
The Widow Murphy hadn't moved all evening, but after hearing Mickey speak, she began to rock with fury as she raised a purple fist, shook it to the heavens and then began to hum her favorite dirge. The mourners all joined in and hummed along until midnight struck on the mantel clock and then, as if released by God Himself, the mourners rose, one by one, from folding chairs and paraded out beneath the moon, freed by a deluge of the Widow Murphy's tears.

© Donal Mahoney 2012

Donal Mahoney has had work published in MuDJoB and various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandra Davies

‘From battle and murder, and from sudden death’

   ‘YOU as good as murdered him, so don’t even think about coming to his funeral. We don’t want you there.’
   Des.
   Unaccustomed mid-morning coffee still hot on his breath, as was tobacco from a half-smoked cigarette, thrown down and swivel-killed under his toe as I emerged.
   The eldest of my four step-sons, newly succeeded, due to his father’s death, to the ownership of Burdock’s Farm. Entitled and impatient to occupy the family farmhouse. Waiting only for me to remove myself and my personal belongings, his failure to immediately expel me, in the shocked small hours of Sunday, still rankling: others, less vindictive, had overruled him.
   Now, contrary, he had parked his Land Rover so as to prevent my final leave-taking until he spoke his piece. Thinking, from my silence, that I’d not understood he repeated ‘We don’t want you there.’
   The sourness of his scowl had telegraphed hostility but his ultimatum had been delivered with unprecedented viciousness. It had taken more than a moment for me to recover the power of speech. Then, holding rigid the muscles in my jaw and throat so as to disguise any tremor, lifting my chin, fully meeting his barely-shamed eyes, I retaliated with precisely-enunciated scorn.
   ‘You are being unnecessarily melodramatic which does no credit to your father. Bearing in mind that I have spent the past thirty years as his wife, have born two, have brought up four, perhaps five of his sons (I don’t know how your brother feels about that) and in all that time he uttered not a single complaint about my behaviour, you may be sure that under no circumstances whatsoever will you prevent me both organising and attending his funeral.’
   I made no claim to having mothered him. Never had done since he, thirteen years old when I married Mike, had declared himself not to need it.
   And at the time I was but seventeen myself.
   Those extra four years, plus, thank god, a talent for quick-minded verbal self-defence (honed in dealing with my elder brothers) enabled me to manage him far more effectively than ever he learnt to deal with me. Even so it had been another dozen years before we reached any sort of equilibrium, during which time he moved from a confused hatred which oozed, pustulent, from his unadmitted (because thought ‘unmanly’) mourning for his first step-mother, to resentment at my too-speedy (and in his eyes unsuitable) substitution. Resentment had been shortly after intertwined with discomfort at his dawning perception of his father’s lust, and only superseded by a rampant need to satisfy his own, culminating in an attempted rape (which I never did inform his father of). Thereafter, guilt-spattered, threadbare tolerance ensued.
   And even now – especially now, despite him having reached his early forties – I had to maintain ascendancy because, in a complex confusion of anger and revulsion, Des still found it impossible to be dispassionate towards me. His nature contained too little in the way of moral certainty, a lack uncompensated for by his inheritance of better-than-average Burdock good looks and a deceptively easy-going smile.
   One he’d never used on me.
   Grief further aged him – he anyway looked older than I nowadays – and he barely listened as I said ‘We cannot even begin until after the post mortem. And then I shall tell you what arrangements have been made.’
   ‘No. You’ve forfeited the right. He was our father, and we will organise the funeral. You have no choice. We don’t want you there, you won’t come, it’s as simple as that.’
   I smiled.
   With apparent confidence and with pity. It cost me, and was wavering brittle, but I smiled.
   For all his bullying and his bluster Des was not a patch on his father. Mike was – had been – no saint, had a devil of a temper, was inclined to arrogance, was impatient, stubborn and could be unthinkingly cruel in some of the things he said, but he had many virtues too. Certainly he would have been incapable of the underhand disloyalty, would have roundly condemned anyone who displayed the moral weakness that I’d long known Des possessed. Even so, I was glad I had full-size ammunition with which to shoot him down.
   ‘No, Des, you have a choice, one that’s even simpler than you realise. Either you accept my right to organise Mike’s funeral and to be there to follow Mike’s coffin, in first place, as his wife. As his widow. Or I tell Alice about Natalie Brown.’
   I made sure to watch his face to see the twitch of shock before he swung guilt-blistered shutters into place.
   ‘Tell Alice …? I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t know a Natalie.’
   ‘You’ve forgotten her already? When you were there on Friday afternoon? You’ve forgotten that she has a five year-old the spitting image of your Eddie? That she had an abortion, at your request, with your signature countersigning the permission form, at a clinic in Hertford a year ago? Don’t give me ‘don’t know’ Des, you may be a two-timing shit, but you’re not a stupid two-timing shit.’
   Unable to continue facing me he turned, walked away, saying ‘It’s grief, or guilt, gone to your head, anyone can see that …’
   ‘Then you’ll not mind if I go round and tell Alice? See if she thinks I’m deluded with grief …’
   Finally my words penetrated his hear-no-evil rant. He turned, grabbed my arm and brought his face close to mine. ‘You say anything of that, of those lies to Alice and you’ll be sorry!’
   Disliking having to stoop to this level of attack, I nevertheless demolished his threat. ‘But you’ll be sorrier won’t you? Because you need Alice’s money to …’
   ‘Shut the fuck up! How the fuck did you get hold of this stuff?’
   ‘Never mind how. Just accept that I did. Just accept that for something as important as this I am prepared to expose your dirty behaviour just as readily as tales were told about me. I’d prefer not to, but you do need to believe that I will if necessary.’
   And without waiting for him to reply I turned and walked away. Away from thirty years of family memories, from a centuries-old farmhouse, not especially beautiful except in the patina of its familiarity, but a place I’d been fulfilled and happy in. My destination now, temporary but more than welcome, a utilitarian red-brick and slate-roofed agricultural tied cottage, home of my eldest son, three villages away.
   This battle, unanticipated though it had been, I’d won.
   The next I would lose.
   Not necessarily on my arrival but before too long my son, as shocked and aching at his father’s death as Des, would question me.
   And he would very quickly force me to admit that it was witnessing the fleeting more-than-kiss between myself and the man with whom, for the past two years, I’d been having an affair that had caused the heart attack that killed his father.

© Sandra Davies 2012

More writer than printmaker these days, but still needing, and responding to, those wide horizons while juggling three novels. The blog is sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.co.uk

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