The Man Who Used to be Sam

Prompt: Bridge

moonlight

Sam had sometimes carried, sometimes dragged his friend Peter for almost two hours, in the damp coldness of early morning. He wanted to reach the bridge by sunrise. Once they crossed the bridge, everything would be all right.

He was done with the war, and was pretty sure Peter felt the same way. No, Sam was a pacifist now. He’d seen enough. He didn’t know the memory of a battlefield could sear itself in his mind like a photograph. He didn’t know that death smelled so terrifyingly sweet. He didn’t realize how an explosion could deafen him for hours, in a silent prison that provided no escape or comfort. He didn’t like that the enemy had no face at all.

Peter was surely deafened by the blast, as he remained unconscious, or slept, through the heavy thuds of artillery, the screaming, and later the screeching of night creatures as they made their way along the riverbank. The bridge couldn’t be much farther. Unless he had made a mistake, and followed the river upstream instead of downstream. In a moment of panic he eased Peter to the ground and knelt over the river. The moon was reflected on its still surface, rippling near the shore where the wide stream flowed among polished stones. Sam saw a man’s reflection, too, in the moonlight. It wasn’t Sam.

Sam was gone. In his place was a thin, mud-stained, bloodied (from Peter’s blood) mass of crumpled skin and filthy clothing. He stared out from the surface of the river. He said, “Keep going.”

They reached the bridge just as the moon set and a scarlet glow oozed from the horizon in the eastern sky.

Peter stirred when he was laid gently in the soft grass on the other side of the bridge. Birds lived near the bridge. Sparrows and finches and meadowlarks. Peter hadn’t heard them in years. “Where are we?” he asked. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” said the man who used to be Sam. “I don’t know.”

 


  • Image: Nolan Nitschke
Advertisements

Sugar Bunny

Prompt: Smoke

cupcake-yellow

We were making cupcakes again. This time there would be no sabotage or bullying while Lily was watching daytime TV. Isabella could put whatever stupid designs on her icing that she wanted. I wouldn’t say a word.

Our tools for icing the cupcakes were pâté knives, spoons, tiny paintbrushes, two tubs of store-bought icing, one chocolate and one lemon, and a bottle of red food colouring. “Be careful with that,” Lily told us. “Don’t make a mess.”

While we waited for the cupcakes to cool, Lily dumped the icing into two bowls for us to stir up so it would be nice and soft and smooth for frosting the cakes.

Isabella absently sang a sing-songy little verse as she stirred the lemon icing with a wooden spoon:

If you love me, show me
Show me that you want to know me
If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey
Show me that you love me
Put no one else above me.

I said, “What is that song?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

“Is it a record?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Isabella.

What was left of the chocolate icing I had been stirring was carefully spread on the top of half of Bella’s cupcakes, and half of mine, the last one a little scant. I used the spoon to put yellow polka dots on the chocolate. There was a lot more lemon icing left, but only because Isabella didn’t like it as much as I liked chocolate.

We dipped our brushes into the bottle of red food colouring and painted animals and faces on the yellow cupcakes. It would have made a mess if Lily hadn’t put newspaper down all over the island counter.

“This tastes like strawberry,” Isabella said, touching the red-soaked brush to her tongue.

“It does?” I picked it up and took a sip. It didn’t. Even at that age, I had a better palate than Bella.

Just then smoke started seeping out of the oven, a natural occurrence since some of the cake batter had spilled to the oven floor, and Lily hadn’t turned it off  before she returned to General Hospital.

“Fire!” I said. I was teasing Isabella, but she grabbed the food colouring from my hand, opened the oven door, and emptied the bottle– probably less than an ounce– onto the bottom of the oven, on her overalls, and on the floor. A little of that stuff went a long way.

“Uh-oh,” I said, as I heard our mother coming in through the back door.

Her scream brought Lily back into the smoky kitchen, where she saw two little girls, one who looked like she had vomited blood all over the other one, and spots of blood all over the floor and walls. My mother was near hysterical, until Lily took the empty bottle of food colouring from Isabella’s hand.

“You are definitely fired this time!” my mother said to Lily.

Lily turned off the oven, opened the kitchen window to let the smoke escape, took my and Isabella’s hands, and led us to the upstairs bathroom. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she said.

Isabella sang as Lily stood us in a tub full of soapy water and scrubbed us with a loofa:

If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey.

Immunity

Prompt: Diverse

King of Jamaica

I come in pieces: I am part Italian, part Jamaican, and part Metis Indian. I look like a white man with a perpetual and very even tan. My eyes are brown, and my hair dark, though I streak it with ash blond. I’m not sure why I do that, and lately I’ve been wondering.

There was never a hint of racial prejudice directed at me, unless all or part of my muddled heritage became known. The boys across the street, using brilliant deductive reasoning based on my last name, called me Wop. My mother, the Metis (though her father was Jamaican), was too fearsome for them to confront, even indirectly, so they had to settle, on school grounds only, for “chief”, which was pretty mild, but since it was meant to wound me, it did.

I have since heard every racial epithet known to man, I think, most of it by oblivious people unaware they were attacking me, my parents, and my grandparents, and who were certain I would be in on the joke since I was “white”, like them. Sometimes I corrected these people, sometimes I didn’t, sometimes I got into fights, and one time I stabbed a man. I didn’t realize the cut had severed an artery, but fortunately for him the bartender knew how to apply a tourniquet, and he survived. I went to the hospital and offered a blood transfusion, just to irritate the guy.

I didn’t serve any prison time for the incident, since this man also had a knife, and witnesses told the police he attacked me first. Self-defence, and all that.

That racist’s near death experience, and my ugly idea to put hybrid blood into his veins, got me started with the idea of giving blood. I donate my mixed and mixed-up blood, regularly. Not only that, but I am a well-paid executive with the Red Cross. You could say blood is in my blood.

In college I discovered self-loathing, as a concept. My mother wouldn’t allow such a sentiment in practice. She didn’t spoil me, except psychically. She had me believing that I was as good or better than any other person who walked the earth, even the Pope, whose picture hung in the kitchen.

My full college tuition, by the way, was paid for by the federal government, because as a child born to a Metis mother, I qualified.

Meanwhile, I was streaking my dark hair with highlights, and I realized why, finally.

I was in love with a white woman. A 100% bleached, British-style, Mayflower-descended, blue-eyed, privileged in every way, white woman. I was ashamed and abashed about this, without completely understanding why. She was many, many  other things besides the colour of her skin, as I was. But she was such a thoroughbred white, that I was blinded by it.

And I wanted her to love me. So I made myself whiter; lamely with streaks of dye from a bottle. She never requested such a change by word or deed, and I was barely aware of what I was doing myself, to myself. Still, she knew very little about my background.

The actual idea of self-loathing, and my imaginary immunity from it, arrived at my doorstep at the same moment. Self-awareness is necessary, sure, but I can tell you it can be painful.

I am taking her to my sister Felicity’s wedding next weekend. She will think she’s waltzed into the United Nations. All shades of white, brown, and black will be represented.

There is no one blacker than my grandfather Hannibal. I look forward to their meeting