Down In Smoke

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“Women! You can’t live with them. You can’t live without ‘em.”

“So true! They’re like popcorn.” I ruminated and took a slow drag. Smoke descended on the table like chemical mist.

“What do you mean?” He asked, “Women are tasty, ephemeral and frail?”

I hadn’t put any thought behind my words. They were the bastards of a threesome of beer cans.

“Precisely.” I crushed my cigarette and lit another.

Leaving in twelve hours, I had resigned myself to be molested on both sides of the great divide by people, mere people, who held absolute power over my destiny. I had to pass, with poised docility, the obnoxiousness of sunburnt, potbellied men whose armpits stunk down to seventh hell before the crossing, and then, twenty-four hours after the travail of travel, the scrutiny of uniformed inquisitors with swollen egos and a worldly empathy smaller than a scorpion’s pussy.

“Ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you,” I blurted, savoring the misquotation.

“Cheers, buddy. Kassak! May you go and return safely.”

“The pussy of this place’s sister. It’s but a grotesque mutation of those who reign over it. JFK wasn’t more important than America. Was he?”

“No, but Hitler, the little shit, was bigger than Germany. Stalin’s mustache thicker than Russia. Idi Amin fatter than all of Africa. And we, here, in this goddamned place, eat, sleep, fornicate and ultimately die beneath the feet of tyrants who are larger than life.” He gulped down his fifth or sixth. I lost count. “And you know what? All of the third-world dictators were propped into their chairs by the Americans.” He burped. “Yet, and here’s the irony, this is where you’re going. America!”

“For once, I wanna live the life of the blissfully ignorant. I don’t wanna give a shit anymore about Middle East politics or the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar. I might even get a dog and feed it better than these children of a lesser god. I’ll post pictures of Rex, that’s my Lab, lying in bed and sticking its tongue out on Facebook.

“You’ll get hundreds of Likes!”

“I’m gonna miss you.” I looked away and smoked.

“I’m gonna miss you too, man. And, I’ll join you as soon as I close shop here. We’ll start a Hummus joint together. We’ll call it Hummus Tartous.”

“Hey, we can hang a copper plaque on the wall and write in cursive that Hummus started in Tartous, spread to Mesopotamia, and eventually inundated the whole world. Americans like this sort of shit. And they’ll buy it, eh!”

“Millions of them support Trump and the others turned Bernie Sanders down. They’ll buy anything.”

“I think I’ll change into a white racist bigot once there. Trump is Great!”

“Yeah, the pussy of his mother.”

I was glad the night had fallen. I avoided his eyes but when I looked, there was nothing to see except two dark pits in the infinite blackness of this place.

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Be Careful What You Wish For…

220px-Seal_of_Solomon_(Simple_Version).svgIf only Shadok didn’t have to toil in the Artuleries all day. In the morning, he hauled crystals for the Mardook. In the evening, he sat memorizing the passages of the Sharpath – that sacred magical book that every Moogrid was supposed to master before the solstice of their 6th Nocturne.

He put down the weathered copy of the family tome and stretched his arms above his head. The candle’s flame flickered madly. Shadok stared as it danced its crazy dance to some silent tune known only to it. His shoulder ached. He must have slept in an awkward position the night before.

Kloda, his betrothed, had rubbed her fingers into the side of his neck during the short breaks the Mardook allowed and that had helped. Sweet Kloda! he thought. Oh, if only this was his 6th Nocturne already! He hated how slowly the solstices came and went. Shadok got up to stretch his legs. There came a knock on the door. His father matrixed his head in through the wood and gave him a stern look.

“I was just having a break, sir” he said.

His father’s look softened, and he smiled, “It will come, my son. Don’t try and force it. The Sharpath is a complex magick, and will only recoil the harder you try.”

“Yes, father” said Shadok. He always did that and hated himself for it. Saying yes, when really he meant no.

“Good. Now get some rest” said his father. He gave Shadok a wink – the one which meant, don’t worry, I’ve got you and it’ll work out – and vanished. But things didn’t look like they were going to work out. The truth was Shadok had been slipping. He felt the Sharpath, a devious book, resisting him, pushing against his attempts to memorize its pages. Labyrinths of thought turned in on themselves. What if he couldn’t finish it by his 6th Nocturne? Would Kloda wait for him? It was then that the first inkling of a thought grew in his mind. What if he was to jump straight to the advanced Babs? Why waste time with the ridiculous introductory Babs like some infant Moogling? Yes, he thought, that was it!

The candle light flickered again, and crazy shadows painted themselves on the bare walls of his den. He raised his hand to the Sharpath, hesitated for a second, and then opened the heavy tome near its end. The text whirled into his mind, and he started exploring the brightly painted pathways unfurling before him. There was a violent, frightening energy in them, like a rainbow-coloured waterfall. Shadok steeled his nerves and pushed on. The Sharpath yielded obediently. This was more like it! he thought, feeling pleased with himself. It wasn’t so hard after all. It was at that moment that the Voice from Behind the Light spoke to him, and its words were colder than an ice bath.

“Sigul, Nigurl!” it boomed. The tome slammed shut and Shadok realized that he was no longer alone.

Ever get the feeling you are being watched?

It’s late at night. The bright light from Laura’s small office spills out through the doorway onto the dim light of the hallway. In the daytime, you can see a tasty slice of Toronto skyline through the one, long, thin window. Now if you look into the window, you just see Laura and the room glimmering in their own reflection. It is all there is for the seeing. You could stand in the doorway, look into the window and see what you wanted.

You could observe how Laura’s face is drawn with concentration as she works. Her features are precise and maybe you would say a bit hard; but then she has eyes that are big and green and a mouth that looks like it’s never really entirely dry, and usually not even closer to dry than say the inside of a fresh apple. It’s hard to describe her. Laura doesn’t just look like anybody else. Just let me say the overall impression she makes is that what you have here is a very beautiful woman.

What you did then would be up to you. These are bad times; getting worse. Maybe your tastes run to horror movies. Maybe it is surprises that you want, an explosion of sound and movement, rape, murder, mayhem. Or maybe I’ve got you all wrong, and all you want is some class, some dialogue that’s kind of funny and true and uplifting and goes on from that thought Cary Grant land on to where we can see George Clooney frolic with …oh, what is her name, these days? It doesn’t matter; frolicking with somebody cute with style and a brain and an interesting job.

 

Yup, let’s hover a moment with our eyes about a quarter inch from her forehead and stare into those unblinking orbs of hers.

Laura’s sitting in the room in her mind only now there is a handsome man at the doorway. His name . . . well, somehow he’s got my name and he’s been watching her only she doesn’t know it. She has been working fast, inspired, with her whole body and mind online, creating a graphic on the screen. And now she can see she has created a wonder of an image: a brilliant red heart beating against a background of purple incandescence.

Then Laura presses a key and the heart stops beating, and breaks into two as the background breaks down into a melange as ugly as the world most days, in most ways. And as our image of Laura fades out we see her laughing or shrugging or maybe you think you saw her crying for a moment; it’s hard to make her out now in the near dark; but still you can hear or maybe just feel her breathing, with her heart still beating in your hand as you walk away.

 

@ 2016 David Clarke

The Art of Shaving

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Whether a man is a rapacious glutton or a Sufi hermit, he is essentially a slave to his desires. He overindulges in carnal delights on one hand or in abstinence on the other to satiate his physiological drives or his spiritual compulsions. Being but moderate in my pursuit of revelry and a devout secular humanist, I heed idiosyncratic thrills with pious abundance. Come evening, for instance, I smoke one roll of tobacco that costs next to nothing to buy but days and weeks to acquire and cure. I light it with reverence and draw its smoke between sips of amber Scotch, which I can’t, for the life of me, imbibe unless poured in a specific glass that I call Véra. Such is the case with shaving. For ten minutes every other morning, I have elevated the elimination of my facial hair, save for my mustache, to a hedonistic feast of self indulgence.

I like growing a beard. In fact, I wore one for years. Had it not been for the indescribable joy shaving brings me I would’ve kept my beard forever. Perhaps my mustache is my way of rebelling against ephemeral fashion.

I feel sorry for the poor sods who hate shaving but have to. I would hate it too if I had to use disposable razors and gas-propelled foam out of canisters. Ewww… No way! I have turned a dreaded chore into a zen moment of aloof extravagance.

I’ve used every conceivable blade on my face, disposable Bic shavers, electric, wet, dry, three in a row, and five in a row, to name but a few. I shaved in the shower and out in the field. Gosh, I shaved whilst floating in a river once, but that’s another story. After close to 6,000 shaves by my count, I couldn’t find anything that comes close to using an old Merkur Classic razor, a boar hair brush, a stainless-steel bowl and a tube of Hamol shaving cream. Sure, many a shaving enthusiast might dismiss my choice of boar hair for a brush instead of a badger’s as that of a boor. I look at it differently, however. I strive to possess the highest quality tools I can afford. I can conveniently buy the best boar brush in the world but only a mediocre pure badger’s. The same is true about my possession of a German Merkur razor instead of a Japanese Feather. I do use Feather Doubled-Edged razor blades almost exclusively, though. The almost is dictated by the fact that I’m not allowed to pack double-edged blades in a carry-on when I choose to fly light.

Running a blade across one’s face is a most intimate affair for a man. I seek solitude, like a Sufi mystic, and pamper myself to unabashed excess, like a lascivious rogue, or gentleman, depending on the observer. I have to yet fulfill my ultimate shaving fantasy, though, a mysterious woman giving me a close shave with a straight razor on the morning after.

Mexicali

It turns out my wife was right to worry.

The stifling heat only accentuated the dry air. I breathed in the stench of dust and sweat, shuffling my weight on the metal chair. Sweat began to pool around my bound wrists and ankles.

The man I nicknamed Jose napped in a chair across the way. This concrete shack had no glass in the windows, only metal bars. I prayed for a breeze, but none came.

Pardon! Pardon! Agua, por favor!”

Jose shifted in his chair. I should have emphasized my inability to speak Spanish to the D.A. when he sent me to Mexicali for a case. I was assigned to defend a murder suspect with ties to a Mexican cartel, and now, I’m here.

Somewhere. Probably dying of thirst, waiting for whatever gang jefe to decide what to do with me.

Senor, Por Favor! Agua!!!”

Jose stirred. Looked at me. I summoned the last of my high school Spanish.

Tengo thirsty, por favor. Quiero agua.”

Jose stood up, grabbed a plastic bottle of warm water. He held my face and carelessly poured the water in my mouth. At least, I cooled down as it evaporated from my skin and dirty dress shirt.

As Jose settled back into a slumber, I scooted my chair near the wall slowly. I leaned my head against the concrete, closing my eyes. Every second felt like a lifetime spent recounting every stupid life decision which led me to this hellish limbo.

Why didn’t I just go into personal injury law like all my rich friends? Why was I such a damned fool?

I imagined myself on a tropical beach, a cool, humid breeze caressing my face. I felt the icy, blue drink in my hand with its slice of pineapple and green umbrella.

The rumble of a truck brought me back to reality. I kept my eyes closed as it approached. Time stretched forever.

The truck parked, and I opened my eyes as the door slammed. The staccato of Spanish tore into the silence. I tried to make out the meaning, to decipher my fate, in vain.  I listened to the resonating sound of heels slowly moving over gravel. A pair of black cowboy boots emerged from a cloud of dust in the doorway.

Jose stood up straight, brushed himself off, and took off his hat in deference to the well-dressed, sharply groomed man. He was slender but not slight.

Senor!” Jose greeted.

The man nodded to Jose, and then looked directly at me. His skin appeared barely touched by sun, and his eyes betrayed an intelligence to be respected as much as feared. I stood up with as much confidence as I could muster.

“So, you are the puto abogado defending my cousin Francisco Jesus Moreno Garcia.”

“Yes.”

“He is a fool.”

Stunned, I just glared.
“But family is family,” he continued, “You do me a favor.” It clearly wasn’t a request.

This was worse than I imagined.

 

 

 

The Voice

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The cellphone Stephanie bought me rang, breaking the silence into tiny shards. It must be her, checking up on me.

Had I eaten? Was I warm enough? Had I heard from social services? Anything she should bring me on Friday?

At the other end, a woman who didn’t sound like Stephanie said hello. Her voice cascaded through the earpiece the way the white satin sheets slid over my naked body in the Hotel Rouge a lifetime ago. I hadn’t spoken a word all day.

“Who’s this?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I must’ve dialed the wrong number.”

I cleared my throat. “But, but… you sound familiar. Your voice, I’ve heard it somewhere. Sometime before.”

“Perhaps in a previous life!?” She laughed. An irresistible small chuckle that didn’t stop but dissolved unhurriedly.

Emily? My first love, my sweetheart. Could it be Emily? But we haven’t spoken since I left to Vietnam.

“Are you there?” The woman asked.

“Yes! Can you talk some more, please? I’m still somehow groggy…”

“And, you’re trying to figure out if you know me.”

“Yes, I am.” I replied.

Ellen! It must be Ellen. My lovely bride. But wait a minute, Ellen died twenty years ago. She had cancer. Oh, my darling Ellen. “I’m so confused. I don’t know what to say. You’re not Betsy, are you?”

“Who’s Betsy?” She asked, seemingly amused.

“My ex-wife. But she wouldn’t call and she doesn’t sound anything like you.”

“Then I’m not Betsy. Listen! Who’s been on your mind lately? Someone you often think about.”

“No one. They’ll never come back and it only makes their absence harder.”

“Do you live alone?”

“Yes.”

“Any children?”

“A daughter. Stephanie. She visits once a week. So!”, I swallowed hard. “You really dialed the wrong number.”

“Uh, huh.”

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting. It’s just that…”

“That you’re lonely.”

“I guess so. And, you have such a beautiful voice.”

“Hmmm, you still got it in you, old man. How old are you?”

“Seventy-two.”

“That’s good enough for me. But, where are you?”

“Modesto, California.”

“That’s not too bad. I live in San Francisco. My name is Michele Wright, by the way.”

I felt light-headed. The possibility of daring to hope was intoxicating.

“I’m John Forest.”

“Like the Franciscan Friar.”

“I have no idea who that is.”

“Never mind. Say, would you like to get together for a cup of coffee? Do you drive?”

“I’d love to, but I don’t have a car.”

“I have to come to you then. You can take me to your favorite café in Modesto.”

“But… What if?”

“What if we don’t hit it off? Let’s leave that until it turns out to be the case. How about Saturday? Are you free on Saturday?”

I nodded as if she could see me. “Yes!”

“I have your number. Until then, John.” She hung up leaving the sound of her laughter behind.

As a huge grin wrinkled my face I popped a Warfarin with a swig of water.

 

*Photo “By the Window”, Edvard Munch, 1940

Badger Wars!

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So I’m here, stuck in a bog, with nothing but the stench of the swine next to me squealing incessantly like a banshee on acid trying to escape this trap of nature.

How’d I get here? Would you believe – badgers?

It started a few hours ago, there I was, having tea with the family when our two ginger cats started acting oddly. We nicknamed them ‘The Ginger Ninjas’, on account of them being able to swing on the net curtains. They darted towards the patio and started meowing – growling at whatever they could see.

Curious I decided to have a look, when the trash can gets tossed violently to the floor! I opened the patio to investigate; wifey and kids, scared, ran upstairs to view the events from the bedroom window, leaving me to fell whatever beast had decided to encroach on to our lands.

I switched on the patio light – there it was, a badger! I swear it was more like a bear! Its white stripes acted like war paint, its teeth snarling at me; the ginger ninjas rushed out and positioned themselves like velociraptors on a hunt.

I decided to grab my son’s huge water canon with back pack.

I squirted a single blast near the huge beast to try and scare it – but it charged forward; I rushed backwards, stumbling over the patio entrance. I tried to drag myself in, looking like a flip flop wearing overweight ghost buster.

Before the Badger could get to me, the cats attacked, it just knocked them to the side nonchalantly and chased them into the distance, so I followed.

I heard the cats’ ‘meow’ in the farm which is in the field behind our house, and this is where the pig comes in. Unknowingly I encroached into its pen, and it decided to chase me out, followed by what looks like an army of badgers dancing like silhouettes on the horizon, preceded by two felines running for their lives. I slipped and landed in this thing, with the pig.

Now I need to escape, luckily the water canon is attached with a rather strong hose.  I swing the gun; it anchors itself just enough so I can leverage myself out. Unfortunately, my trousers get sucked into the bog along with my flip flops.

The farmer appears with all the commotion, he sees his pig in the bog and me in my ghost buster getup, trouser-less.

I hear the cries of the ginger ninjas behind me as they rush past, the badgers aren’t far behind. I shout, “Run!”

The farmer quickly pulls the pig out of the bog; I grab the ginger ninjas and leg it back towards the house, throw the cats in, slam the patio shut with my trailing foot roaring into the air like William Wallace after a battle! It was only then I notice the in laws sitting on the sofa, drinking tea. This is going to be a tough one to explain….