The Old Man with The Third Hand

Ocean_beach_at_low_tide_against_the_sun

 

The old man with the third hand sat on the beach and watched the waves wash over the sand.

Hi guys.

That up there is the opening line of a story I recently did for the good people at The Manchester Review. For obvious reasons (*cough* they paid me not to) I can’t post the whole story on this site, but you can read it by clicking on that link up there.

This is a story I love and thoroughly enjoyed writing, and I’m glad it’s finally out there. I hope you’ll read it and, if you like it, please share it with someone. (If you don’t, well, you can always send me anonymous hate in the comments. Go to town. It’s the internet; nobody will ever catch you.)

Once again, here’s the link.

 

Until later,

Nyameye.

 

Grandfather’s Story

“Papa, tell us a story.”

Grandfather looked up from the book he was reading. My sister and I stood in front of him, flashing what we hoped were our most winning smiles. I was eight and Ama was six, and we were bored out of our minds.

Grandfather looked at us for a long time, and then he nodded. “Fine, children. I shall tell you a story.”

“Yaay!” Ama said, sitting down by Grandfather’s feet and looking up into his face. I sat down on the floor too, a little distance away from Ama.

“Will you tell us about Ananse and his family?” I asked.

“No,” said Grandfather.

“What about King Arthur?”

“No. I will tell you a new story, children. I will tell you a story that my grandmother told me, and her grandmother told her, and which one day you will tell your grandchildren in turn. I will tell you the story of the river that fell in love.”

“Don’t be silly, Papa,” Ama said. “Rivers can’t fall in love.”

In any other house she probably would have gotten into a lot of trouble for those first three words, but Grandfather simply smiled and said, “This one did.”

“How is that possible?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

“Was it a big river?”

“Yes, Ama, it was.”

Ama, who, being only six years old, had a hard time keeping quiet, said “A really really big river? This big?” She spread her arms as wide as they could go.

Grandfather threw his head back and laughed. “Quite a bit bigger than that, my child.

“Now will you let me tell the story?”

We both nodded, and he said:

 

“Once upon a time,” and stopped.

Grandfather cleared his ancient throat. “Once upon a time.”

“Time, time,” said my sister and me together, finally catching on.

Grandfather smiled.

 

“Once upon a time there was a river that ran by a large village.

“It was the first village in this land, for it was the village of our ancestors, the village of the first of our people.

“The people of the village worshipped the Spirit of the river. They prayed and gave offerings to him and in turn the river provided them with fish for food and water to drink, as well as the biggest swimming pool you ever saw.”

 

We giggled.

He continued.

 

“Nobody could remember exactly when the river became their god, nor could they remember a time when it was not so. Years passed, generations passed. Kings came and went in the village, but the river stayed eternal, and all was well with the people.

“And occasionally the Spirit of the river would take the form of a man and walk among the people, unnoticed, and he would listen to their problems and commune with them, though they never knew it. He did not do this often, perhaps only once in a few decades. Gods do not lightly mingle in the affairs of men.

“One day the Spirit of the river took the form of a man and went walking in the forest. And he came upon a young woman bathing naked in a pool, and his heart was stolen away, for she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on, and from the moment he laid eyes on her the Spirit of the river was lost.

“She did not see him; he hid himself in the trees and watched until she was done and had gone back into the village. The Spirit made himself invisible – most gods can do that – and followed her. The woman came to the palace and went inside, and the Spirit knew who she was: daughter of the King and Queen of the village, Princess of the land.

“And the Spirit returned to his throne at the bottom of the river, and sorrow seized his heart. Because even though he loved the princess, she was human, and it is not given to the gods to love the daughters of men.”

 

“So what did he do?” I asked.

“What did he do, Papa?” asked Ama.

 

“I’m getting to that, children, I’m getting to that.

“So now the Spirit of the river walked in the village more often, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the princess. The more he saw her the more he loved her, and the more he despaired. Especially since she didn’t know who he was; to her he was just another man from the village. And the Spirit dared not reveal himself to her, or she might be afraid, and then she would truly be lost to him.

“A year passed like this. The princess was nearing the age where she would need to take a husband. The Spirit did not want this to happen.

“And so the Spirit of the river sought advice. He left his watery throne and went out into the world, chasing the wind. He chased for a long time, for the Spirit of the wind is hard to catch.

“When the Spirit of the river finally caught up with the wind, he went on his knees and bowed before it, because the wind god is one of the oldest and most powerful children of, Mother Earth.

“And the river god said: ‘Oh Mighty Wind, I have sought you for many moons with diligence, and now I humbly seek your counsel.’

“The Spirit of the wind, The Four Winds who is One, replied and said unto him: ‘Speak, young one.’

“And the river god spoke, and told his problems to the wind, saying: ‘You have travelled the world many times since the dawn of Time, and you know the ways of men better than I. Tell me how I might win the princess for my own.’

“And so the wind told him.”

 

“What did the wind say to him?”

 

“You’ll see.

“The Spirit of the river returned to the village. He took the form of a man for the last time, and crept up on the princess when she was bathing alone in the forest. And there he struck her down, and stole her life and hid it, and thus the princess died.”

 

What?”

“He killed her?”

“Yes.

“He killed her and left her body for the people of the village to find. And when they did there was great mourning in the village that went on for many days, because the princess was well loved by everyone.

“One day the King and Queen of the village came to the river, just as the Wind had foretold. They brought the body of their only daughter with them. They came alone, in the early hours of dawn.

“They knelt by the banks of the river and offered the Spirit everything they had in exchange for their daughter’s life. The Spirit of the river, ever generous, told them that he would bring their daughter back to life again, but only on one condition:

“That she be dedicated to him for the rest of her life.

“She would stay by the river, and she would serve him all the days of her life, and she would never marry another man.

“And the King and Queen agreed. Anything, they said, as long as their daughter would live again.

“And the Spirit of the river gave the princess her life, and she opened her eyes and drew breath, and became alive once more.

“The village rejoiced. The princess was eternally grateful to the river (for she did not know that he was the one who killed her in the first place). The villagers made a hut by the banks of the river, and there the princess stayed. And in the nights the Spirit would appear to her, though never in the form of a man, and talk to her, and over time the princess became quite fond of him.

“And time passed.

“But the princess was not happy.”

 

“But you just said…”

“I said she grew fond of the Spirit, and she did. She liked him, but she was not happy.”

“Why?” Ama asked.

 

“Well,” said Grandfather, “She missed the company of other people. She missed the chatter of the young women, and she longed for the warmth of a man. She would occasionally visit the village and watch the little children playing. Deep in her heart she wanted children of her own. A family. You cannot start a family with a river, you know.

“One day, when the Spirit of the river arose from the depths, the princess was gone.

“The river was furious, thinking that the villagers had snuck in the night and stolen her away. He overflowed his banks. He destroyed the crops the villagers had planted. He poisoned their wells and drowned their livestock. And the people of the village were afraid that he would kill them all.

“And he would have, too, but in the dead of night the princess came back to him.

“She begged his forgiveness, begged him to spare the village. She told him that she was run away of her own choosing.

“And the river was angry, but he loved her and was glad that she had returned. So glad, in fact, that when the princess knelt down and asked him to grant her a wish, he told her to ask him anything.

“And so the princess asked for permission to leave his side and start a family with another. With a man.

“Now upon hearing this, the Spirit of the river was deeply saddened. It broke his heart to look into her eyes and know that she was unhappy with him. It broke his heart that he couldn’t keep the one he loved happy. It broke his heart that he was not enough for her. It broke his heart that she desired another.

“But he had given her his word, and he could not take it back.”

 

Here Grandfather paused, and said quietly, “And perhaps even an immortal being like a river Spirit could come to learn that sometimes when you love someone the best thing to do is to let them go.”

My sister and I, for once, were quiet.

 

“So the girl went to the village. She met a young man, fell in love with him. They made plans to leave the village and the river and start a life on their own.”

 

“Where did they go?”

 

Grandfather smiled. “Far away. And every day that she was gone the Spirit of the river mourned.

“The princess settled in a faraway land with her husband. There she bore him many children. There they raised a family. There they grew old together. There she finally came to know happiness. But she missed the river, and thought of him often.

“And then one day she fell sick, and she knew she was going to die.”

 

No!”

 

“Death comes to everyone eventually, child. One day it will come for me too. We just have to accept that. Besides, she was very old.

“And when the hour was come and she was ready to go, she asked one final thing of her husband:

“She asked that, when she died, her body be returned to her home village and laid in the waters of the river, that she may know his embrace one final time. Her husband gave his word that he would do so.

“And so, closing her eyes peacefully, the princess died.

“The morning after her death, her husband wrapped her up in her favorite cloth, packed supplies, and set out on his journey.

“The journey took him many days and many nights, and he was no longer a young man. He was exhausted by the time he stumbled to the banks of the river, starved and near death himself. But it did not stop him. He waded in and gently lowered his wife’s body under the surface of the water.

“And the river water took her body from him, and she sank out of sight. Then the Spirit of the river came out of the depths and spoke to him, saying:

“‘In Life she was yours; in Death she belongs to me, and neither of us is any worse off for it.’

“When he heard these words the husband turned and left, and never returned to the village or the river.

“And the next time the villagers visited the river and gazed into its depths, they saw the spirit of the princess and the Spirit of the river dancing joyously within.

“And there they have remained, dancing, ever since.”

 

Here Grandfather stopped, and we knew the story was ended.

“Now off to bed with you, children. It is late.”

 

*

 

There is another version of this story.

That one is told among the gods and the spirits, the children of Father Time and Mother Earth, in the language that existed before the world was made and will exist long after the world has passed away. And in that version of the story perhaps things happened differently.

But then we may never know, for that is a tale of the gods, and it is not told to men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forgotten.

It is the year of our Lord 2135, and the world is breaking.

If you are reading this, I may or may not be dead. That is of no matter. What matters is that this story be told, and not be forgotten.

What matters is that you remember.

The world has changed, and I feel that I am largely to blame. Even as I write this I only have to look out my window to see them walking around, blissfully unaware, with that look in their eyes. That blank, emptily content look that shows that particular person has made a recent trip to The Memory Bank. There are more of them every day; the rich and the poor, the tall and the short, the young and the old.

It is enough to drive a man to despair.

The Memory Bank was first inaugurated in 2100. It was the culmination of my life’s work. Hailed worldwide as the Bank of the future; a life-changing establishment. The media called it “The 22nd Century Bank”.

I suppose they were right in all these things, for my Bank could do something that no other human establishment in history could:

The extraction and storage of human memories.

That was its purpose, the goal I had spent my entire adult life perfecting.

My father immigrated to America from Serbia in 2049. I was born in 2061. My mother died bringing me into this world.

My father was all I had.

Then Alzheimer’s took him from me.

As I watched the man I called Papa unravel before my eyes, to the point where he no longer recognized me as his son, my life’s dream took shape.

I created The Memory Bank for Alzheimer’s patients like my Papa. It was created so that patients of that terrible disease could come and keep their precious memories in a safe place when the vault that was their mind began to fail them. They could then come back and re-live those memories. If they so chose.

And they came.

For the first few years this is all my Bank did. We cheated the disease that sought to take our past away from us.

But then the War began, and everything changed.

In the year 2113 the United States of Africa, led by General Mutombo, rose up in revolt. The Africans proclaimed that they would no longer live in the shadow of the Rest of The World, no longer provide their precious natural resources to other Nations while its children wallowed in poverty. The Africans knew full well that we could not simply nuke them into submission, for by so doing we would destroy the very resources we were trying to recover.

There was only one thing to do. So we sent in soldiers to fight.

But the war dragged on, and the soldiers who did return home were scarred for life. The horrors they had seen were tearing them apart from the inside. For as long as those memories remained, they could not adapt to the routine of normal life.

And so they chose to forget.

The Government funded the establishment of Memory Banks all over the world (except Africa). The broken soldiers came, and left their dark memories behind.

From there, it was a small step to making The Memory Bank open to the general public. From a place of sanctum for victims of Alzheimer’s, the Memory Bank became a place where anybody – anybody! – could come and leave their worries behind.

And in this way, my Bank has harmed the World more than it has helped save it.

For you see, the People choose to forget.

The world is breaking, and the People choose to forget. Overpopulation and global warming are everywhere. Crime is at an all-time high but few cases are ever actually reported, because the People choose to forget. Children are dying in the wastelands of Africa but the War drags on, because the People choose to forget.

We are no longer facing our demons, because the People choose to forget.

Nobody ever comes back for their memories anymore, because they don’t want to remember. My Bank has become a place for people to avoid their problems, problems that are never actually fixed.

The world breaks, and the People choose to forget.

I have created a monster.

I myself have only ever used the Memory Bank once. I was drunk and depressed one day, as I mostly was in those days. I drove too fast. There was an accident…

…a little girl died, I killed her…

I knew her name once, the girl I hit that day. But I could not live with the guilt. So I erased her from my memory, but no matter how hard I try I cannot completely forget her face. At the same time I cannot atone for my sin, for I cannot really remember her either. The 22nd Century Bank saw to that.

Is this what I have done to the world?

I have created a monster; only I can destroy it.

My name is Doctor Randy Djokovic. If you are reading this, I may or may not be dead. It is of no matter.

I have on my desk twenty plasma grenades. I intend to set them off in the main Storage Room of The Memory Bank headquarters. The resulting explosion should sufficiently damage the storage banks, rendering the Headquarters useless. Without it, all the branches in the world will in time fail as well.

The Memory Bank will be no more. Only then can humankind begin to heal. Only then can we face our demons head on and maybe, just maybe, fix the world.

It is the only one we have.

I have asked for nothing but your indulgence, but now I ask one more thing of you. You may hate me, curse me, vilify me, support me, empathize with me, but do not forget me.

Do not forget.

Above all, remember. You must remember…

 

 

 

Randy Djokovic,

1st April, 2135.

The last Watch

They will come.

They have come every night for the past week, and every time we have driven them back. We have lost a lot of men in doing so; my battalion used to be over a hundred strong, but now our numbers have fallen to a mere thirty-seven.

The year is 1914. The night is dark, the cold biting. Even so, sweat makes our army clothes stick to our bodies like a second skin. I am lying on the bare earth, clutching my rifle to my chest. In the all-encompassing gloom it is difficult to see anything beyond a few feet ahead. This makes the wait all the more grueling, for we know the enemy is out there.

In the end, it’s the wait that kills you.

There is a man lying on either side of me. I know neither of their names, but they are as close to my heart in this moment as anyone I have ever known. Any one of them may save my life in battle. We are brothers.

The night drags by; I wish there was a way to pass the time. A good song would lift our spirits greatly but we cannot do that, for then we would give our location away to the enemy.

Besides, what would we sing?

The only songs we know now are the songs of war; the melody of the mortar and the machine gun; the orchestra of explosions and the opera of Death. We have sung these songs every day on the Front. They are all we have; they are all we are.

I am tired.

I think of summertime, of mellow fields and peaceful days in the sun. We knew these things once, but now they are as foreign to us as the language of the enemy who come at night with their rifles and bayonets to kill us.

The soldier lying to my right passes me his water bottle. I take a swig and am surprised to find that it contains whiskey. A part of me wonders how he managed to come by whiskey on the battlefield, but I do not dwell on it. The drink courses through my body and warms my bones. I hand him the bottle back and he smiles at me. My heart is filled with love for this man who will be dead by dawn.

*

We were young men once. We lived and loved and drank and fucked and had not a care in the world. We were dreamers; the future lay in wait for us. In our hearts we were champions.

But the War has taken all that from us.

Now we are old men. We are in our late teens and early twenties but we are old men still. We have seen too much Death, too much suffering.

The propaganda machines back home would have you believe that we fight for a noble cause. They would have you believe that we fight and die with honor, but there is no honor in Death. There is no meaning, no poetry. There is only death in Death.

We have no homes to return to in our hearts. The trenches are our home now; the Earth is our mother. It is into her embrace that we fling ourselves when the roar of the machine guns fills the world and Devil himself walks among us. It is out of her that we are born anew when the fighting stops and the guns fall silent. We cannot remember what our lives were like before 1914.

The War is our world now; the business of Death has become our life.

*

The night drags on; we keep watch still. The enemy is out there. They will come.

*

One day the War will end. The Front and the trenches will pass away and those of us who survive will be thrown back into our old lives, lives in which we will no longer belong. We will always be a lost generation. Some of us, fueled by our memories of war, will try to change the world. One of those men will be Adolf Hitler.

Most of us, though, will be dead. We may walk and talk and breathe and eat and shit, but inside we will be dead men. The War will have taken our humanity from us. We will be no more than empty shells. We are lost, and cannot find our way home.

This is the fate of my generation.

*

I check and recheck my rifle to make sure it is in working order. In the heat of battle it will be all that stands between me and the grave.

I have no idea how much time has passed since we began to keep watch. It may be hours, but who can say for sure? The days and minutes and hours run into each other out here on the Fron –

A slight movement catches my eye.

I am moving even before I know it, lifting my rifle to my eye and clicking the safety off. The enemy soldier who was crawling on his belly towards me is momentarily caught off guard. He scrambles to raise his own weapon. He reacts too late.

He has a kind face, the man I am about to kill. In another life we might have been friends.

In the last moment, he looks directly into my eye. He is scared; I can see it plainly. But then so am I. I squeeze the trigger and the man who was my enemy and in another life might have been my friend is now a corpse.

The night erupts around me. The silence is ripped apart by the staccato sound of machine guns and the answering booms of rifles; from behind me I hear the shout of my comrades as they leap into battle. Out of the darkness before us emerge dark shadows; armed men who have come to kill us. The enemy.

They have come.

A Garden of Bones

Today marked the seventh year in a row that he had come here to dig.

The muscles on his arms and back rippled as he pushed the shovel again and again into the cold, unwilling earth. Sweat ran in rivulets down his face, joining other beads of perspiration to form little streams that flowed down his back. A cold wind picked up, but he did not feel the chill. A pale moon hung overhead, bathing the world in a silver light. He did not carry a torch; the moon was enough.

The ground was harder this year than it had been last year; there was a dull ache in his arms already, but he wasn’t done digging. Or maybe I’m just not as strong as I used to be, he thought. Maybe I’m growing old. The thought saddened him.

He blocked all other thoughts from his mind and fell into a rhythm: the shovel went down, soil came up. He’d lost track of time, but it did not matter. He continued to dig. The shovel went down, soil came up. Slowly, steadily, the hole grew deeper.

Dig, dig, dig. After a while – thirty minutes? Two hours? He could not say – he decided that it was deep enough. He stopped digging.

He straightened up, letting the shovel drop from his fingers to the ground. His back ached, but he welcomed the pain. It distracted him, kept him from thinking… thinking of what he did… thinking of her…

Seven years. Happy Anniversary, he thought bitterly.

Turning his back, he walked away toward the spot where he parked his car. It was an old and battered thing, not much to look at. But the sight of it filled him with memories, as it did every time. He picked her up for their first date in this car… it seemed so long ago and yet he could remember everything. Would that he could only forget. Fishing a key from his pocket he popped open the trunk.

The girl was there.

The blood had stained through her wrappings, a deep angry blot surrounding her head. It dripped from the cloth into the trunk. He sighed. That would leave a stain.

Slowly, gently, he reached into the trunk and lifted her in his arms. He took particular care not to bump her into anything on her way out.  Then he turned and walked back the way he came.

The walk back took shorter than he remembered; before he knew it he was back at the site he had dug, with his shovel lying discarded in the sand. He knelt in the freshly dug earth and slowly, softly, laid her in the ground. As he did so a portion of the cloth covering her head came away, revealing her face. She had been beautiful once, but death had taken that away from her. No, not death, a voice inside him whispered, you did this. The marks that his hands had left on her face had disfigured her, left her face swollen and bleeding. But this girl had been beautiful once, as she had been beautiful, all those years ago.

Seven years. Happy Anniversary.

“I’m sorry, Emily,” he whispered to the girl. “Forgive me.”

The name of the girl lying in the ground was Melissa.

*

He first met her earlier that night. Picking her up in his battered Toyota, he drove her to the house where he lived. When they entered the living room the girl pressed her body against his, ran a slender finger down the side of his face and asked him: “So how do you want to do this?” No doubt she was expecting him to take her up to the bedroom and fuck her.

Instead he walked over to a stand beside the old fireplace. He picked up a worn ring case and opened it. Inside the case lay a ring; a slender band of gold inset with a single blood red ruby. It was a simple thing, and beautiful in its simplicity. He carried the ring back to the girl and placed it delicately into her hand. “Put it on,” he told her.

The girl’s face showed bewilderment, but only for a split second. She was a prostitute, after all, and no doubt she’d heard much weirder requests from clients than simply ‘Put on a ring’. Smiling coyly, she eased the ring onto the middle finger of her left hand.

“No. Not there,” he said to her. “Your ring finger.” The girl did as he said. The ruby caught the light in the room, glowing on her slender finger.

“Now,” the girl purred in a sultry voice, “what should I do?”

“Tell me you’re carrying my baby,” he replied.

The girl said, “What?” In her confusion, all the silkiness dropped from her voice. She spoke with a sharp accent.

“Tell me we’re going to have a child. Tell me you’re carrying my baby.”

She looked at him queerly for a moment, but then her professionalism took over. She flashed him her sweetest smile and said the words that had haunted him for seven years.

“We’re going to have a child.” Here she took a step toward him. “I’m carrying your baby.”

Deep inside him he wanted to take her in his arms and tell her that he forgave her, that he understood. He wanted to tell her that everything was going to be alright. Deep inside him he wanted to succeed with this one where he had failed with all the others.

Instead he hit her.

The girl fell backward, her face dissolving into a mask of pain and confusion. It was quickly replaced with fear as he climbed on top of her and hit her again.

And again.

And again.

After a long while her body went limp, and she ceased to cry out. He knelt astride her immobile body, his hands dripping with blood, and said: “I’m sorry, Emily.”

*

His mind wandered back to the present, kneeling in the ground.

He rose up out of the pit and fetched his shovel. Working with quick movements honed by years of practice, he shoveled the earth onto the dead girl. As he worked, it seemed to him that the eyes of the girl were staring straight at him. He worked faster.

It took him fifteen minutes to completely cover up the grave. Once again he thought of the girl lying beneath the ground, and how he had failed with her. How he had failed with all of them. The moon hung low in the sky; daybreak would soon be upon him. There was one final thing to be done.

Casting the shovel aside once more, he reached into the pocket of his sweat-soaked trousers and drew out a package in which were seven slender roses, carefully wrapped. He opened the wrapper, and even in the dim light the pale blue color of the petals was plain. Lavender roses. One of the rarest types of rose in the world.

He knelt and placed a rose reverently on the freshly-dug mound. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

Turning, he walked away from the site – not back toward his car, but in another direction. The ground here was barren and hard, and unmarked except for some wild weeds growing here and there, but he knew where he was going.

After a while he stopped, then knelt and placed another rose on the ground. This was where he’d buried Anna a year ago. I’m sorry. He walked off again, and did the same for Denise. Denise, with her quick smile and big, bouncy breasts. Denise, who he’d brought here two years ago. A short distance beyond her he did the same for Celine (three years ago).

After Celine he couldn’t remember their names, but he placed a rose on each of their graves anyway. Each time he whispered how sorry he was, but no matter how many times he whispered those words the guilt and the shame were always with him. And then he came to the last one.

Emily.

As he stood over the grave of the woman he once called Wife, the woman he’d loved with all his heart – the woman who betrayed you, a voice inside him whispered fiercely – he began to cry.

And with the tears came flooding back the memories of that night, seven years ago…

*

“I’ve got something for you,” he said to her.

Emily’s eyes lit up at that. “Oooh, what is it?”

He reached behind her ear and with a practiced move of his wrist pulled a single flower form his sleeve. It was a trick he had learned from a street magician many years ago.

Emily’s eyes went wide as he theatrically knelt and held out the rose to her. “A lavender rose?” she breathed. She reached out and took it slowly, as if she were afraid that moving too fast would shatter the illusion and cause everything to disappear.

He smiled. He knew the symbolism of the gesture wouldn’t be lost on a flower-lover like her. Lavender roses – rare, beautiful – were generally recognized to be a symbol of enchantment and love at first sight.

“Happy Anniversary,” he said, rising.

Emily threw herself into his arms and kissed him. He thought about the other gift in his pocket: a gold ring set with a single dark ruby. He was not a rich man, and it was not a cheap gift; he’d saved for months to be able to afford it. But she was worth it.

Emily pulled out of the kiss and said, “I have something for you too.”

Oh? Well this was a pleasant surprise. He grinned. “I’m waiting.”

She stepped back and squealed: “I’m pregnant!”

No.

His smile vanished. A heavy silence descended upon the room like a cloud. He asked quietly, “Are you sure?”

This was not the response Emily expected. Nevertheless, she nodded and said excitedly, “Mm-hm. I went to my doctor today, and he confir—”

He hit her.

It was a backhand slap, cruelly delivered. Emily’s hand flashed up to her face, where an angry red welt was already developing. Shocked, she blurted, “What the hell – ?”

The next blow sent her sprawling to the ground. As she lay unceremoniously on the floor, their eyes met for a brief second. And in that moment something changed in her eyes as realization dawned, and suddenly there were no secrets between them.

In the years that followed he went back in his mind and relived that moment many times, but all he remembered was a blinding rage overcoming him, moving his body as if on its own accord. He vaguely remembered that Emily tried to flee, crawling on her hands and knees into the kitchen and slamming the door shut, but he threw his frame against the door and broke it. That was one of the things he could not bear to think about: He hunted his own wife like an animal.

Emily was backed against a wall with nowhere to go, and then he was all over her, hitting her till she screamed no more.

And when it was over and the punishing revelation of what he had done hit him, he knelt over her unmoving body, hugged her disfigured face to his chest and cried. Try as he might he couldn’t remember exactly how long he cried for, but he knew it must be hours. There was nobody around to hear him as, with emotion choking his voice he whispered into the silence, “I’m sorry, Emily.”

It was much later that he realized that the little ring was still in his pocket, untouched.

*

That ring was in his pocket seven years later, as he stood over the grave he dug for the woman he still called Wife.

…He wipes the tears off his face with the back of his hand. He kneels and places a lavender rose on the weeds which have grown to cover the site. He says nothing; there is nothing to say that he hasn’t already said in the years since he beat his wife to death. The voices in his head still decry him. The guilt and shame are with him still; constant accusers, everlasting companions. In a way he welcomes them; they are familiar faces, they are his friends in a world in which he has precious few…

The horizon to the east had taken on a light tinge. Dawn was not far away. It was time to go. He fetched his shovel and walked away from Emily and the others. As he walked, he fingered the ring in his pocket. Maybe next year, he thought. Maybe next year he would finally be able to make things right…

After a few minutes he came to his car. Tossing the shovel carelessly into the back seat he climbed into the driver’s side. After a few minutes of coaxing he got the engine to start. He did not drive away immediately, but instead sat staring into space, silently cursing everything he could think of.

He cursed God, if indeed ‘He’ was out there. Fuck him.

He cursed Emily, and he cursed the others too. He cursed them for making him do what he did.

He cursed the man he had become, for it was a man he passionately loathed.

But most of all, he cursed the disease he had contracted when he was fifteen: the disease that almost killed him but changed its mind and left him with a haunting secret he would keep forever. He cursed the disease that left him sterile, unable to father children.

…We are going to have a baby, she said…

The sun was rising. Sighing, he put the car into gear and drove slowly away from his garden of buried memories, and never looked back.

*

“What the heart has always known, leads to that path of stones. A hand that destroyed its own, forever returns to a garden of bones.” – Kwabena Amowi Koomson.

**************

Author’s Note.

I started A Garden of Bones in October of 2012, but I got stuck somewhere in the middle and abandoned it until very recently, when someone came along and gave me a well-needed push. This story is dedicated to Kiiki Quarm, without whom I would never have found the discipline to finish it.

As always, I thank you for reading.

Nyameye.

The Final Letter

This is a story I did a couple of weeks back for The JR Show. I’m just reblogging it here.

Nyameye.

******

THE FINAL LETTER.

 

My Dearest Wife,

I am cold. The fire burns bright and hot in the hearth barely ten feet from where I sit, yet inside I feel a cold hand touching me, enfolding me in dark embrace.

I am dying.

If you are reading this then it means I am already dead. Do not be sad. Do not mourn for me. Take care of the children. They are all I can think about, aside from you. When they ask you, tell them that I have gone away. I do not think their little hearts can bear the truth, especially Molly. I cannot bear the thought of what this would do to her. Please, take care of the children.

Dearest wife, from the first day I saw you, Never once have I betrayed your trust, never have I left your side or desired another since I met you. I love you.

But I do not deserve you.

It pains me that I have to tell you this in this way, but I feel I do not have much time on this earth. Wife, I have kept a secret from you for all this while. I told myself every day that one day I would have the courage to tell you…

When I was sixteen, I met a girl. She was a pretty thing, short and cute. The minute I saw her I knew that I desired her. How was I to know that that smiling young woman would be the death of me?

Her name was Tracy. Her parents owned the mill in the center of our little farming town. They were the richest family for miles around; her father drove a fancy motor car, her mother was a respectable lady of influence. She was their only child, and they doted on her.

I was not born to a postman and a seamstress, as I have repeatedly told you in the past. I lied to you. Forgive me. My father was a farmer who raised two strapping boys, of whom I was first. My mother was a housewife, plain of face and strong of spirit. My earliest memories are of toiling on the farm with my father by day and reading the bible by candlelight beside my mother at night. We were far from wealthy, but my parents taught us to be content in the Lord.

And then I met Tracy.

My brother and I were walking down the street when we saw her, walking in the opposite direction with two of her friends. I had never seen her in town before, and I said so to my brother. Younger though he was, he was better with the ladies than I had ever been. Without a second thought, he walked right up to them and introduced himself. I suspect he fancied one of the other ladies. I only had eyes for the one who introduced herself as Tracy.

I asked her out not long after that day.

My love for Tracy grew fast and so did her love for me. We were always together, much to the displeasure of her father. Her mother did not mind though, and treated me with warmth whenever I came to visit.

One night, in my father’s field beneath a starry sky, Tracy gave herself to me for the first time. She screamed once as I tore through her maidenhead, and then again as I spent my seed deep inside her. Afterward, we lay side by side on the soft grass as the stars kept their everlasting vigil over us.

Four months later we discovered that she was with child.

I am not proud of what I did then. I was young and scared. We did not have the money to raise a child on our own, and we were afraid of what her father would do to us if he found out.

We decided to get rid of the child.

We found a shady street doctor and I managed to steal enough money to pay for the operation. He warned us beforehand that the operation was risky. But we were desperate. On that day, I waited behind the door with my heart in my chest while he performed the dangerous procedure.

You can only imagine how I felt when the doctor emerged an hour later to tell me that Tracy – my Tracy – was dead. I tried to push past him to go see her but he prevented me. He told me that he had already sent someone to inform both our parents. My blood ran cold. All I could think of was what her father would do to me…the dishonor I had brought upon my family. My poor mother; it would break her heart. And Tracy’s father would surely kill me. And so I did something that has haunted me since.

I turned and ran. I shamed myself and my family and ran.

I ran, not only from the doctor but from the town. I ran through the fields with only the clothes on my back and stowed away on a train going south. That is how I came to live here in our small town. Here I struggled for years and finally made a respectable man of myself. Here I met you, dearest wife. And here I finally managed to bury my past, and with it all thoughts of Tracy.

That is, until I met her exactly one week ago.

At first I was convinced that I had seen a ghost: the years had changed her but I recognized her at once. And she recognized me too. After all those years, Tracy still remembered me. It was after I had gotten over the initial shock of seeing her that I learned her story:

Tracy never died at the hands of that doctor: the man lied to me. When we went to him first with our predicament, he went behind us and told the entire thing to Tracy’s parents. Together, they formulated a plan. The plan was to make me believe that she died and hence force me out of the town and out of their daughter’s life forever. And it worked.

But she never forgot about me, she said. And against her parent’s wishes, she kept our baby. She gave birth to my daughter.

Surely I could not help but desire to see our daughter. When I asked her this, she told me to meet her at the local hotel in a week’s time.

Today.

Today I came here with equal parts excitement and foreboding. For even though Tracy was my first love, how could I bring another child home to you? But I had to see our daughter.

I arrived to meet a lavishly laid table, but no sign of my daughter. When I asked Tracy, she told me that the girl was on the way and she wanted to have dinner with me first. I thought nothing of it, and sat down to eat.

It was midway through the meal that I began to realize that something was amiss. My arms refused to move, and my head swam. I vomited profusely all over myself. I looked at Tracy with an unspoken question in my eye, but in her eyes all I saw was hate. She told me then what she had done: Tracy – my Tracy – had poisoned me.

And then, before she walked out and left me to die alone, she told me the truth.

On the day that I fled my old life, Tracy suffered as well. Her father absolutely refused to allow the illegitimate child of a poor farmer boy to grow inside his daughter. He forced the doctor to abort the baby. But the action was not without its consequences; when the doctor destroyed my baby inside her, he also destroyed her ability to give birth ever again.

And as the years went by, Tracy became the black sheep of the town. A laughing stock. No man would marry a barren woman. Her life became miserable. And deep inside her, Tracy blamed me.

So she sought me out, and made me pay.

And now I am dying, hunted down by my past sins I ran so desperately from.

I write these words to you in my own blood; I could not find any ink. But I feel you must know this final thing.

They shall probably find my body in the morning. Do not cry for me, Dearest Wife. In the shed behind our house, beneath the floorboards, you shall find a sum of money. It should be enough for you and the children. I am sorry that I could not leave you with more. Forgive me. I pray to God that you shall find it in your heart to forgive me for all my sins. I love you. I always have and I always will, now and evermore.

I am so very cold….

 

 

TWO

A couple of days ago a friend of mine sent me a link to this post on www.thenakedconvos.com. It led me to a very interesting challenge: a story told backwards, in time blocks of two: two hours earlier, two days earlier, two months earlier and two years earlier. The premise caught my attention immediately, as did the word-limit. I had never written a story as short as 1200 words before, and neither had I ever written a story unfolding in reverse. And so I decided to give it a go.

This is what I came up with.

Enjoy.

*

TWO

Now

Aigbe watched Esosa tumble backwards onto the floor. He thought to himself that she quite looked like a fish out of water – flailing about, reaching for support that would not come. He watched the back of her head crash onto the cold, tiled floor with a sickening, wet sound. Leaping astride her semi-conscious body, he rained three solid blows onto her torso, working his way from her lower ribcage to her sternum. She yelped, shook and choked with each blow, unable to fight back.

“You are the one that will die, not me, Stupid Harlot!”

He spat into her face as the last blow landed and she choked violently, jerking with the impact of the blow and recoiling from the glob of projectile spittle that had hit her face.

“You!  Are! A! Mad! Dirty! Prostitute!”

Each word was punctuated by a slap that sent waves of pain coursing through Esosa’s head. She could barely speak or shout or scream in protest, much less move. She felt herself start to slip into a numb blackness but she tried to hold on.  Aigbe wrapped his hands around her neck and muttered.

“Witch! Harlot! Your plan has failed!”

Esosa closed her eyes and let the numbing darkness take her as her husband choked the remaining life from her, his wedding ring pressing into against her carotid artery…

2 hours earlier

Esosa smiled to herself as she poured the brown powder into the bottle of Merlot. She re-corked it and shook it violently until the powder began to dissolve. She knew Aigbe was already on his way home. Frank Ocean played softly from the speakers; her long dress billowed about her legs as she walked purposefully to the dining table. Today she had prepared Aigbe’s favorite dish, the one he ordered on their first date. She smiled at the memory. It seemed so long ago. Esosa checked the bottle of wine.

The poison had dissolved completely. That was good.

She went into the bedroom she shared with her husband, lay down on the bed with her eyes closed, and waited.

The sound of the car horn a while later told her that Aigbe was home.

Esosa walked to the dining room, opened the bottle of Merlot and poured into two glasses. She took one in her hand and held it to her lips. She breathed deeply, once, tipped her head back and swallowed the wine.

Wiping her mouth, Esosa picked up the other glass and went to meet her husband. Aigbe walked in through the door and paused. His wife was wearing his favorite dress, the one that hugged her hips so sensually, and was waiting for him with a glass of wine in her hand.

Esosa smiled, showing her perfect teeth. “Hello, love.”

She walked over to her him and kissed him gently, lovingly. Aigbe smiled his slow mischievous smile. “Oookay, talk about a warm welcome. What are we celebrating? Don’t tell me I forgot our anniversary again?”

“No,” she replied, placing the glass in his hand. In truth he had forgotten their anniversary, but that was last week.

“What are we celebrating, then?” he asked again.

“Us,” said Esosa simply.

He smiled wider, and drank the glass empty. Esosa watched him do it.

She would tell him what she had done. But not now, she thought to herself. She would wait till he ate the dinner she lovingly prepared. She would wait till they made love in their matrimonial bed, wait till she satisfied him in every way.

And then she would tell him…

2 days earlier

“Do you have it?” Esosa asked.

“Do you have the money?” came the quick reply.

Do you have it?” Esosa retorted, firmly.

The young man scowled. “Yes,” he said.

She nodded. “Good.”

The youth reached into the pocket of his oversized jacket, his eyes darting left and right, scanning the empty street. He had refused to meet with her anywhere else.

The youth drew a plastic bag with a fine brown powder in it out of his pocket, but did not offer it to her. He held it loosely between two fingers, waiting.

Esosa glanced at it, then back at him. “How long did you say it takes to act?”

“A couple of hours, give or take. Maybe three. More than enough time to be far away from the scene when it happens.”

She nodded, satisfied. More than enough time. Esosa opened her handbag and pulled out a wad of cedi notes. She was paying much more than she knew she should, but it did not matter. She handed the money over to the boy. He handed the bag over to her.

“One more thing,” he said. “You did not meet me here. You have never met me anywhere, ever. After we leave this place, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. Understand?”

“I understand.”

The young man turned and started walking away. Esosa called after him, “Wait.”

He stopped.

“Are you sure it’s painless?” asked Esosa slowly.

The boy nodded. “There’s no pain. It’s like dropping slowly off to sleep.” He chuckled. “Or so I’ve been told.” He continued walking.

Soon she stood alone on the street, a bag in her hand and her head full of memories…

2 months earlier

“What did you say?” Esosa whispered. But she knew what she heard. She simply could not bring herself to believe it.

It cannot be…

The middle aged man sitting across from her – the Doctor she knew and trusted for years – sighed and rubbed his temples. “It’s a relatively new disease to us.  We… we don’t know much about it yet. But the tests are definite. I’m sorry.”

She felt her world collapsing around her. From far away she heard her own voice asking:

“Is there a cure?”

The way the doctor avoided her eyes answered her question even before he said, “No. It has no cure, as far as we know.”

There was a long silence.

“How will he die?” Esosa asked quietly.

The doctor hesitated. “Sorry..?”

How will my husband die?”

The doctor hesitated again, but something in her eyes begged the truth. There was no point in feeding her false hope. “Slowly,” he said. “And when the time comes, painfully.”

There was another, shorter pause. Then Esosa rose. “Thank you, Doctor. Thank you for being honest with me.”

He asked, “Would you like me to inform him?”

She replied, “No. I will.”

But she wouldn’t. She never would.

As Esosa exited the Doctor’s office and closed the door behind her, she knew exactly what she would do.

2 years earlier

Esosa had never felt as happy as she felt that day. As the priest recited her vows and she repeated them after him, she was the luckiest woman in the world. Aigbe, standing with her on the altar, flashed her a secret smile.

The old priest intoned, “In sickness and in health… till death do you part.”

“Till death do us part,” said Esosa.

“I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Then Aigbe took her in his arms and kissed her, and the crowd assembled in the auditorium erupted in cheers, and in that moment she was the happiest woman in the Universe.

And deep in her heart Esosa made a vow.

Not even Death would do them part.

 

*