Luft

They burned books in the hallways. I could smell it, the pain, the anger, the protest as the words scurried out of the open windows, sucked out into the great, black yonder by the treacherous summer wind.

I had expected more of Nature. After all, She had suffered enough over the millennia, as Man chewed Her up and spat Her out. But no, here She was, aiding the destroyers of the only beautiful thing that we had managed to create without destroying Her.

But. Maybe that was the point.

Helping Man wreak his own destruction.

Checkmate.

 

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The Mirror Crack’d

Dad gave me a wink, like we were pals or something. Little did he know,that I hated him, had hated him for years. Little did he know that the very reason that I hated him was because he reminded me far, far too much of me, or rather the parts of me that I disliked the most. Little did he know that I envied him, because he had given into those parts, had lived his life just the way he wanted to, had left chaos and destruction in his path like the tornadoes that plagued our part of the world, and yet I, I had not. And he seemed not to care. Here he was, sitting opposite me in the bar, sipping meditatively on his scotch on the rocks like the past twenty years just hadn’t happened.

“So, Shelley, how’re you findin’ motherhood? It’s a tough call, am I right?”

Huh. ‘Am I right’ – that phrase that took me back to my shitty teens, when he went to work one day and never came back, when he tossed us all out of his life like so much trash, when he shacked up with that two bit floozy in her mouldy old trailer and was happy, dammit.He hadn’t had to pick up the pieces, watch Mom take away the pain by losing all our meagre savings at the casino, lose herself in a rainbow of meds, and then finally walk away from me and my brother once I turned seventeen.

“There you go, making up lies again.”

“What?” I double-taked, cartoon style. “What did you say – err, Dad?” The word still felt uncomfortable in my mouth. Like eating chalk.

“You didn’t answer, so I know that means  you’re thinking. Thinking about all the bad stuff – and Shell, I know it was bad. I know you thought it was all my fault.”

“Wasn’t it?” I demanded, heart thumping. Our relationship, such as it had been, hadn’t been built on blunt questions, let alone honest answers.

“Shell, your mom, God love her soul, well, she was sick. Sick for a long, long time. I couldn’t handle it any more. Granted, I wasn’t always on it, wasn’t always there for you kids when I shoulda been, but she wanted it all, Shell. The 6 bed 3 bath house, the cars, the housekeeper, the chef, the gardener, the pool. And it was just me earning. I couldn’t be there to look after you and work all the hours to provide that for her. She wasn’t a happy woman, Shell.”

I looked at him. I mean, really, really looked at him. Searched the expression on his face, the look in his eyes, noted the silver hair, the crows feet, the nails bitten down to the quick as he nervously turned his scotch glass round and round in his hands.

“There was only me, Shell, only me. And I wasn’t enough for her. She told me to leave, told me not to contact you or her ever again, told me I was a piece of trash, so I should go and live with the trash, out at Riverside Park. What could I do?”

“And Lucille? Who the fuck was Lucille?”

“Is. She and I are still together. I worked with her, kinda. You know, she was a cleaner at the office, nobody gave her a second of their time exceptin’ me. But I was there all the hours, saw how she did her work, polished every inch of every desk, every bin properly emptied. She was good to me, brought me a Subway every night, and God, she didn’t ask me for anything in return. I just moved in to the spare room to begin with. It grew from there.”

“A cleaner, Dad? Really?”I shook my head. Why sink so low?

He looked at me, sadly. “You may think you’re too much like me, Shell. You may hate the parts of me that remind me of you. But really, it’s your mom you don’t like the reflection of. I loved her, but she never really loved me, for me. Only what I could buy for her. That ain’t love, Shell. Better wake up before it’s too late.”

Steak Out

My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.

We are, all of us, habitual liers. It’s not because we actually want to deceive one another, but mostly because we want to protect our nearest and dearest from the painful truth. My mum, God bless her, didn’t tell my dad that she was suffering from skin cancer whilst she was pregnant with me, because she knew how desperately he longed for a child. The doctors had told her that it was either chemotherapy to save her, or have the baby. She chose the baby, waited until after I was born and then embarked on her too-late treatment, which she took in secret whilst he was away on the oil rigs. The thing is, he would much rather have had her alive than be left on his own at the age of 28 with a 2 month old daughter and no wife. I don’t take it personally. Why would I? He had no idea how to look after me and was forced to rely on my aunty for childcare whilst he was working away. She hated him for it, resented me and was only looking after me out of a sense of duty to a dead sister who she knew had been adopted. My mum didn’t know about that. Yes, you guessed it, my aunty kept it secret because she wanted to save her sister from pain.

On Tuesday, she asked me the most peculiar question. “Lily, do you know who I am?”

Of course, I gave the obvious answer. “You’re Aunty Jean, my mum’s sister.”

“In a manner of speaking,” she had said. “You know me as Aunty Jean, but I’m not actually your aunty.”

To be honest with you, I felt a little bit relieved that there was at las tsome honesty going on. She had kept many secrets over the years, but had never failed to hide the fact that having to look after me had ruined her life, or what she had imagined her life would be. Widowed at a very young age (a car accident perhaps, if the stories could be believed), she had intended to make something of herself, have a career, be an independent woman – and then I had been foisted off on her. Dreams ended.

“Oh?” I had said mildly, hoping that she would leave it there.

It wasn’t to be.

“I’m actually your grandmother.”

Oh. Oh damnation. I didn’t need to know this, the sheer seeming impossibility of it all tying knots in my thoughts.

“Yes,” she continued, taking my silence as a yearning to hear more. “The way Herb – your grandfather – defrosted the refrigerator used to drive me mad. He’d just turn it off, leave the door open and leave me to deal with the food. Who defrosts a refrigerator without running the food stocks down first? God, it was infuriating!”

“Okaay…”

“So I hit him over the head with the griddle pan. Damn well killed him I did. Of course, the police turned up eventually, but I really, really didn’t want to go to jail so I ‘became’ your Aunty Jean. We let it be known that ‘Granny’ had run away with the family savings and… voila! Here I am.”

I should mention, we were in the kitchen at the time, and she was at the stove, frying steaks. On the griddle.

But then, we are all of us habitual liers. Go figure.