Oasis

Romantic Couple at Sunset

Leep got himself a ferocious sunburn on his very first day at the resort, and subsequently had to wear thick lashings of sunscreen, a hat, and cover both his arms and legs to protect himself, even when he sought refuge in the shade under a tree or umbrella or beach canopy.

He regularly submerged himself in tub of cold water until his steaming skin warmed it to soup temperature, and took two extra-strength Advil every four hours as directed, to deal with the stinging pain of the burn. He lay in darkened rooms until the buoyant nausea subsided.

He watched the swimmers and boaters and fishers and wind-sailors with wistfulness and regret, even though he couldn’t swim and wouldn’t dream of paying $185 to frighten himself by wind sailing. And so he became an observer of others on vacation, not a vacationer himself.

There was the self-conscious newlywed couple, desperate to make romantic memories but curiously awkward and restrained; Felipe the activities director whose bright encouraging expressions dropped from his face in seconds when he turned his head away from the giddy group learning to line dance or build leis or use flippers. There was Alejandra, lean and muscular, who patrolled the pools and cafes and restaurants in a navy staff bikini and black pareo; the blonde sisters who took pains to befriend the staff and ignore the advances of other guests; the quiet man and woman who spent long days in the sun in silence and stillness, growing black; and the young family whose children were more dignified and well-mannered than their parents.

And Leep, anonymous in a wide rimmed straw hat, behind dark sunglasses, in long sleeves and grey cotton trousers that covered him to his ankles, distant and unapproachable.

Then, one day, he fell in love. He didn’t kid himself: love among the palms was a fantasy of Leep’s, at least it was since he researched and booked his ten days at a lushly landscaped all-inclusive tropical resort. There were photos online of couples laughing together in an azure pool, sipping exotic drinks in candlelit dining rooms, silhouetted by orange skies as they strolled hand in hand at twilight. He understood, of course he did, that these were marketing ploys, alluring and fantastical and unreal, but he fell under their spell nonetheless. The silhouette of the man could be Leep, why not? The woman could be a blonde sister, or Alejandra in a black pareo, or someone seated next to him at the fish and chip lunch, or someone he encountered not far from the resort, while sitting on a stool in deep cool shade, sipping Dos Equis and watching the beach vendors hawking their silver and leather.

Yes, there.

She was tall and too thin and wore a gauzy embroidered top cinched by a leather belt over jeans so faded as to be almost white in colour. Her leather sandals had loops that surrounded her big toes. She was dark, naturally, since she lived in constant sunshine, and her voice, though soft, betrayed too many years of smoking cigarettes.

“I quit in 1990,” she told Leep. “Cold turkey.” She spoke in short bursts like that, which Leep liked since they made his halting manner of speech seem almost normal.

“Another beer, Leep?” She took his empty glass and smiled at him with slightly raised eyebrows.

He’d already had his usual limit, two, but he smiled back, shrugged and nodded, and Lacey laughed and pulled another frosted green bottle from the little refrigerator with the glass doors.

Reggie was at the far end of the bar as he was every day, setting himself apart because the fragrant smoke from his pipe did not please everyone. He sat with his back to the beach, facing the tiny bar and the banyan tree behind that and the modest whitewashed hotel behind that. Soon Camille would roll out of bed and appear in her rumpled sundress and open weave cardigan sweater, ordering an orange juice, then and orange juice with vodka, then a vodka straight up.

Tourists strolling the beach might spot the small, shady, set-back oasis, but Leep knew it looked like a black hole from the sand, appealing only to someone like Leep, sweating under his hat and his shirt and with an eye for the black holes of the world.

Sometimes the curious would appear anyway, and perhaps have a drink with pineapple juice or slices of papaya which Lacey served up with a flourish, before setting off into the real world again. Reggie and Camille and Leep would fall silent for a while, as Lacey bantered with the fresh faces, and when they finally left Camille might pick up the story of her ex husband where she’d left off, or Leep would ask Lacey another question about her travels, or Reggie might say, “When did shoulder pads come back in style?”

Leep and Lacey, Reggie and Camille. They were a group. A gang. A comfortable clique. A casual club. An exclusive society of dark sitters, nectar sippers, easy idlers. Leep had never been a member of a group that welcomed him by choice, not ever. Among these people, Leep was a swaddled stranger, a mysterious man of few words, a kindred soul, a fellow traveller. He had never been happier in his life.

In the evenings, before bed, as he lingered in the tub of cold water he would dream about calling Mr Duffy and quitting his job, taking an inexpensive room at the whitewashed hotel, banging out his stories on a typewriter, sipping beer and sharing experiences with his group, his club. His friends. His woman.

Why not?

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Conquer [Repost]

Prompt: Senses

yin yang fish

Beth wondered how much to tell him, as she snuggled close, her arm draped over his waist and her middle finger idly stroking his breast bone while he slept.

It wasn’t love. It wasn’t just lust, either, exactly. It was an almost Zen contentment, a match, a yin and yang, a yearning perfectly met. Theirs was a playful relationship, without intimacy, but with good food and fun and flirting and far too long in bed. Beth was reeling from the intoxication of it, she walked just a bit above ground, she was just a bit too forgiving, a bit too ready with a smile that couldn’t be contained.

There was no reason she should feel ashamed of anything in her past. Ok, her military husband left her for a man while she was pregnant. Ouch that did hurt, but didn’t really reflect on her, since in the end she was well rid of the bastard.

A single mom then, basking in the attentions of a rich man, who some might say bought her “services”. She didn’t look at it that way. Roman was lovely, attentive, in love, and Beth was young and desperate and tired of the struggle. Who could condemn her for that?

And Deborah. Beth had never really approved of Deborah’s husband, Vincent, but Deb was like her father— there was no stopping her when she wanted something. They shared a healthy ego, confidence, and the sense that the world owed them a happy life. He hadn’t met Deb yet, hadn’t heard the story of Vincent’s murder. How would it sound to him?

Vincent was out walking late at night (why?). He was robbed. It happens. But how often does the robber shoot their victim in the face? It was more than a robbery; Beth could feel it. No one had ever explored any other motive for the crime. But Beth could add. She knew Vince. Something happened that night.

And Beth didn’t know how to explain it to Geoffrey, or even if she should try. She longed to talk about it with someone. Geoffrey, deep in a dream adventure, was breathing heavily next to her, smelling strongly of his cologne, Makizmo.

Yes, and that scent had to go. It had been Vincent’s cologne too. Very musky and sweet. The smell of it upset Deborah, and even Deb’s strange friend Leep noticed it.

Beth had a little gift for Geoffrey on the night stand. A new cologne. Musky, grassy, citrusy, fresh, and not Makizmo. It was called Conquer.

A new cologne. Beth knew how foolish it was to set landmarks in relationships, but she set one anyway.

Conquer meant both defeat and victory.

Beth moved even closer, and Geoffrey, in his peace and comfort, started to quietly snore.


  • Original Prompt: Conquer, March 19, 2017 

What do you do

What do you do when your dog grows old? When his feet are tired and the pads are worn? When your words of praise are muffled in his ears, and his eyes are milky from their years of use? When his face is grizzled and his color isn’t as vibrant?

You love him.

You rub the feet that dutifully carried him by your side.

You speak your praises more loudly, so everybody else can hear the words that he can’t.

You guide him the way he has guided you, and prevent him from getting lost as you were before he came along.

You kiss his muzzle and admire the wisdom that has beset him in his later years.

And when it comes time to put him to his final rest, knowing that an irreplaceable part of your heart will follow him, you will do so knowing that you loved him.

And he loved you more.

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  • Written by Jackie Short-Nguyen

Westmalle [Repost]

Prompt: Love

blue-crayon

Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.

Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.

The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.

“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.

They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.

“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.

“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.

“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.

“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.

“I can pay you,” Leep said.

“Yes, but—“

“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”

“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”

“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”

Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.

“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.

“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.

“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.

“And the story?”

“Improved.”

Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.

It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.

“Oh my god,” said Amanda.

People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.

“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”

“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”

“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”

Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.

Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.

This was the best date he had ever been on.


Alarm [Repost]

Prompt: Observe

 

diamond cross 2

“You have to know I would never harm you,” Marcus said.

“Setting fire to the house with me in it kind of belies that statement,” said Envy.

Twice he had tried to reach across the table to take her hand, and twice had been rebuffed, once by the guard, and once by Envy herself.

He didn’t look like a prisoner waiting for a trial date. He looked like he had just turned up from a round of golf: a little tanned, a little tired, wondering what was for lunch. In fact, an outsider who observed just the two of them, seated at a small, pine-veneered table, would have pegged Envy for the convict; her hair was tangled, she was pale and nervous, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She was still a little battered from the fall from the balcony. Never a famous beauty to begin with, Envy was not at her best.

“The smoke alarms should have warned you,” said Marcus. “Why didn’t they?”

“That will remain a mystery for the ages,” said Envy, “since they were destroyed in the conflagration.” She wore a white gold chain with a diamond-encrusted cross pendant. She was thinking of returning to the church.

“You saw how upset I was,” said Marcus.

“That I survived,” Envy said.

For the third time, Marcus tried to take her hand. This time she slapped it. She was surprised to see his face contort in something that looked like pain. Existential or physical? she wondered.

“When did you stop loving me?” Envy said at last.

Marcus fiddled with the little sign in its plastic casing, propped up on the table. No touching. it said. No item exchange. No food. No shouting. Visitors and/or residents can and will be removed at any time at the guards’ discretion. No smoking.

Marcus looked out the window to an empty field, then back to Envy. “I never stopped loving you,” he said. “That’s why I asked you to come. I need your help.”

“Carmen got the police to describe you only as a ‘person of interest’,” Envy said.

“Carmen?”

“Your lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“That is the help I am giving you,” said Envy. “Take her advice. Tell the truth for once in your fucking life.” She stood up and leaned on her crutches. “And I’ll pray for you.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Marcus.

“Exactly,” said Envy.


  • Original Prompt: Burn, July 2, 2016

smoke-detector-monitoring-system

Joy and Dismay

Prompt: Partake

manet picnic

Shhhhhh! —The leaves of the lime and birch shuddered and bobbed in the wind, blinking green and dun yellow, green and dun yellow. Five six seven fat quail scudded across the grass. An animal pounced; they flew up into the air like ashes from a fire.

Molly tried to keep her knickers hidden, but the hem of her dress was not weighted like her sister’s, and so flapped and fussed and threatened to reveal not just her boot-covered ankles but her stockinged calves, her frilly pantaloons, proof a woman was hidden somewhere beneath the billows of robin’s egg blue fabric.

She didn’t partake of the claret as it took her shyness away, and sister had told her that her shyness made her prettier. So she blushed and stammered in full sobriety, while her sister sipped and laughed and flirted with Donald Heath, the man Molly wanted to wed.

Egg sandwiches were passed around, which Molly denied herself too, as they made her flatulent. Sister took two small wedges, and fed one of them to Donald Heath.

James Fenwick and his cousin Halifax attended to Molly, embarrassed as they were by the intimacy on display between sister and Donald Heath, and Halifax braided tall grasses, adorned the halo with violets, and crowned Molly, much to her joy and dismay.

Sister caught Molly’s eye and winked under long lashes, and held out her glass without looking at Donald Heath and he filled it with wine. Her dress was cranberry red with pink ribbon trim and if she spilled a drop of claret on the bodice of the dress, which she did, no one would notice.

When they all rose to make their way to the carriages, sister stumbled and this time James Fenwick took her elbow on one side and Halifax on the other. The three walked ahead on the path as Donald Heath caught up with Molly and she could smell him— tobacco, horses, and mint.

“You must be very hungry and thirsty,” said Donald Heath.

“No, not at all,” said Molly as her stomach growled audibly. She half crouched as they walked, as the wind had not subsided and pulled recklessly at the hem of her skirt.

“I don’t usually eat egg sandwiches,” he said. “They make me fart, so please forgive me if we share a carriage.”

Molly let out a rather ungodly snort, before blushing from head to toe. Donald Heath, victorious, grinned broadly, took her elbow and whispered in her ear, “One day you’ll be my wife, and we’ll drink claret, spill it on our clothes, and—“

“—eat egg sandwiches all day long and fart as much as we choose,” said Molly. The wind calmed and they were suddenly children again, chasing each other through the tall grasses until they tumbled onto the ground, exhausted and unafraid.

Sister could go to hell.

Slow Motion [Repost]

Prompt: Frantic

Carton of eggs. one dozen

He was in the supermarket when it happened. It was early in the morning, and the market had just opened its doors. He only needed bread and eggs, which he could store in the fridge at work until the end of his shift. He wanted to get home right away after work and make things right. He waved to Mrs Smithers, his neighbour, who was cheerfully pushing a trolley filled with toilet tissue. Only yesterday she had brought him a jar of her apricot jelly. It was usually just a little too sweet, he thought, but it was such a kind gesture.

First, he noticed a rumbling, as if a subway train was running underground directly beneath him; but there was no train, no subway. The structure– the floors and walls– then actually quivered, violently, and Damien lost his footing. Someone screamed. It sounded like the young cashier, Denise.

The floor was liquid beneath his feet. Cereals, cans of fruit, cases of soft drinks flew off the shelves: they flew as if there was no gravity, careening across aisles and thudding into the store manager, who was trying to run outside. Lights and generators shut off.

He frantically reached for his phone. There was a loud crash and then Mrs Smithers smashed into him, knocking the phone out of his hand. She had blood running out of her nose.

In slow motion he crawled on his hands and knees, as plaster and chunks of wallboard rained upon his shoulders. Something sharp lodged in the back of his neck. He felt the wetness on his back, but no pain.

Somehow he reached the phone and punched in the number.

He smelled smoke, heard someone praying, and the roof over the produce section collapsed, trapping a man and his teenage son, who only a few minutes ago had been arguing; something to do with a car.

He couldn’t see anything any more, and felt suddenly, terribly, weak, but he got through! He heard the voice on the other end of the line. “I love you,” he said, as loudly as he could, and then collapsed into the broken glass and rubble.

Disaster averted.


  • Image by Corbis
  • Original Prompt: Disaster, April 16,2016