June 2008

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Seven.

Nobody notices the cat at his feet eating duck’s beak.

“Who the fuck?!”
The handful of customers in the restaurant turn their heads.
“Who the fuck?!”
His family at the table closest to the kitchen return to their dinner.
“Who the fuck!?”
He has a meat cleaver in hand. The ducks glisten on the hooks behind him.
“Who the fuck?!”
A man with a full head of grey hair stands up at his table and leaves.
“That’s who!”
A woman of same age and colour hair returns from the toilet.
“And you too!” He points to the door with his cleaver.
She follows his directions.

Our gentleman murderer’s taste for cigarettes has returned. He sits outside the restaurant and watches the entrance to the building opposite. A woman stands just off the entrance. She has been there for as long as he has been watching.

A young man with a clear garbage bag full of laundry comes up to the entrance and swipes a key card. She comes over and holds the door open for him; he gives her a circumspect smile. He could be the man I killed, he thinks. The thought confuses him.
She lets herself into the building.

He calls for the bill over his left shoulder, not taking his eye off the entrance, and smokes the cigarette as close to the butt as he can. It is his last.

He leaves the cat with the tip and walks out of the restaurant as the first suits of the lunch rush arrive.
Abuse comes from the kitchen; this time aimed at the front-of-house staff.
He can still hear the row from the other side of the street as he measures the height of the building: eight floors.
He remembers the haggard face of the woman, the way she took long blinks while waiting. This shouldn’t take too long, he thinks, and surprises himself by saying it out loud.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Six.

One man hugged his wife at the gang-plank. A puffy-eyed mother sat in the car and blew cigarette smoke out the window while she waited for her teenage son; she started up the motor as soon as he jumped in the passenger side.

The old fisherman and thumb-sucker had taken up a spot on the pier. The grey gulls that had came over from the city-side of the bay fought with the local white gulls for the first of the fish guts thrown into the water. All except the cat and the gentleman murderer, and the old fisherman and thumb-sucker, had people for them at the pier.

Ten years ago these faces would have meant something to him. The pier was just a place, now, and each face bore a resemblance to someone he once knew.

“Have you quite finished?”

The cat had not finished and continued licking the cut across the bare skin on the ball of his ankle. In her fervour her velvet tongue worked up his leg and caught on the hairs and, despite ticklish satisfaction, he has to pull his leg away. He smiled, looked down at the cat, and said, “Charlotte.” She ignored him after that.

The first of the tugs was heading out and the ferry was being loaded with passengers and freight for the return trip.

The alarm went off on his wrist watch with little surpise.

This is the last scene he imagined seeing before the grace of old age took his sight away: a sea corridored by mountains, and the sun, bright, yet a weak heat; water lapping at the rocks and the sand of the shoreline.

This isn’t the place to make amends, he thought.

He boarded the ferry and bought a ticket from the bemused inspector, who would later share the oddity with his father. His father would ask what what the man looked like. He wouldn’t remember, and finish the thought by saying, “blow-through”, before the pair sat down to dinner at the table.

There was a splash in the water and he looked over to see thumb-sucker’s head going under and above the water. He had caught and held a white gull in his hands. The old fisherman pulled him out by the collar with his pole-and-net and released the bird and made thumb-sucker strip his wet clothes down to his underpants.

He smiled. He was still capable of that.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Five.

The fisherman’s bucket had drawn the shrieking gulls far out to sea.

Our cat’s gentleman murderer had come up to the deck from the car berth and was taking whatever pleasure came from his cigarette.

She had mewed at the car window when he locked up his black sedan, and rather than outright submission, he had opened the driver-side door and wound down the window and slammed the door with her still inside.

Looking at him now, flicking the last half of his unsmoked cigarette into the sea, she thought he seemed resigned to his anger, or at least out of energy to express it.

The cat rather fancied herself as a crime-writer, as cats are rather fond of ignoring the ignorant and the obvious and seem, to some, at least, like criminal’s in disguise.

Last night, before he had turned the corner sharply and gone out of sight, his walk was straight-legged and direct and his face strained to show calm. When he came back into view a few minutes later he rounded the corner like a drunk; sure of the way home, but not sure of his steps; feigning sobriety as not to be noticed by passing patrols. There was an economy of emotion in his face that stayed with him, now, as he looked at the sea passing slowly below; his face held together by stubble, which showed up salt, pepper and ginger in the first light. The fingers of his right hand still bent in the same position to hold the cigarette he had just thrown away. In the other hand he held the piece of paper he had been given the night before.

He pushed off the railing and walked over to the pay phone booths.

Down the railing an old fisherman was gingerly bending backwards in the back-swing of his cast.

The cat watched the young boy next to the old man’s hip sucking his thumb. A bad habit, thought the cat.

Her gentleman murderer was waiting for a phone.

She returned her gaze to the thumb-sucker to see he had removed it from his mouth and it was teeming blood from a small, deep cut. The thumb-sucker laughed in delight as he squeezed more blood from the cut.

She walked over to her gentleman caller. He had just dialed the number. He looked down at her and whispered, ‘Ssh, Charlotte.’ It sounded nice to have a name, she thought, but this was not her name.

‘Why do fish want worms if worms don’t live in the sea?’ said thumb-sucker.
A stupid question that only a boy would ask, thought the cat. But she did not have time to contemplate desire as she wanted to hear her gentleman caller’s side of the conversation.

He spoke slowly at first and then not at all for a few minutes. Every now and then he licked the inside of his cheeks, but never opened his mouth in anticipation of speaking. With the gulls and sea and the old fisherman telling off the thumb-sucker she couldn’t be sure there was another side to the conversation.

Thumb-sucker came over and picked up the phone in the booth opposite. Her gentleman caller could see him and his blood-stained grin and dead front tooth through the plexi-glass.
‘Okay’, said her gentleman, clear and succinct.
‘Hello!’ said thumb-sucker.
‘That’s the name.’
‘He hooked me, see.’
‘That’s right.’
Thumb-sucker tasted his thumb, ‘Yum-my!’
‘Can I have a taste?’ said her gentleman.
And thumb-sucker hung up.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a photography/ flash fiction collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Four.

Pictograms (Austin Andrews)

A man always finds himself in the dark, alone, as usual,
judging the patterns and depths of his own breath, his own life.
He sees and hears and feels that he is alone, with only his body to depend on.
He is probably wearing ill-fitting pants.
Does he  see the cold reflected in face after face after face?
How does he keep the cacophony out?
What can he feel all alone besides the bunching off his ill-fitting pants in awkward places?

An unrequited audience — players — whisper in the wings.
Get an actress; for you do not seem to believe me.
Would you prefer an impersonation? The pleasure of watching an actress play me.
Surely not.
Looking on and losing the pain at the origin of each detail;
each muted word turning into unconscious action — I don’t think I could.
I don’t think you could bear watching me.
What’s that again?
The lights are down but I can still hear out beyond the stage.
Forgive me, that in the speed of my enthusiasm I might get the words wrong.
I have nobody to depend on. And once had nothing to want and nothing missing.
He is no less real to me now, though;
if his name exists on blue or yellow forms; if his search belongs to this department or that.

What would you say if you could hear me? She mumbled a rhythm.
She had better ideas for everybody else.

You can’t talk about one without talking about the other.
And where the other is concerned she speaks for both of them.
Is that what you will say when others ask?
What? What’s that again?
You say nothing yet. At least that I can hear.
He is missing; presumed found by the police.
Can you say something of that, at least?

I’m too tired to go on with possibilities.
You see the face of the woman.
A woman, yes, but not as old as you would imagine.
Not so unfamiliar for me to say:
It is you, to the theatre. It is her, to the wings.
It is me, to my senses. It is us, to the streets.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a photography/ flash fiction collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Three.

Traffic Lanes (Austin Andrews)

‘I would like to report a person missing.’
‘A missing person,’ says the young policeman sitting at his desk.

Like every other cat she chose her company with the utmost fuss but would selfishly slink into a car with a stranger. She did this on that night and became acquainted with a gentleman murderer.

‘He has lost his routine — we can be sure of that.’
‘That may well be true, but…’
She waits for him to continue. He takes some paperwork to the shredder and feeds the machine one out-of-date report at a time.

Speeding through the city streets in a black sedan the cat felt uneasy.

‘He has been missing three days. I was sure he would return.’
He enters data into the computer, and without looking up says, ‘True.’

Her chauffer chewed on the heavy stubble of his top lip as he drove through narrow alleys, coming to dead-ends regularly, reversing, grunting as he crunched gears.

‘You needn’t worry; I’ve thought it over beyond surprise. Not a tear on my cheek will you see. Not a word in broken tune will you hear. If it overwhelms others it is because knowing nothing draws on the same resources as knowing everything.’
He looks up at from the computer: ‘Do you think you could you put that on this blue form, and again on this yellow form. They’re for different departments, so please keep the same specifics for cross-referencing purposes?’

This was not his part of town, thought the cat.

‘But, I am family.’
‘Feel free to state your relationship with the applicant on the yellow form. But not the blue form; different departments.’

She was familiar with this man in a past life, she was sure. He had thick, gentle fingers and seemed to enjoy rubbing her behind her ears.

‘For all I know he is stressed, or drunk, or both.’
‘With all due respect…’
She waits for him to continue.

They had parked in plain view of three boisterous drunks climbing the steps of a basement bar, when a car came up behind them with its lights dimmed and slowed to a stop right beside them.

‘I have waited on the very sound of his breath–‘
‘–be that as it may…’
He turns back to the computer and smiles.
‘Oh, sorry, the blue and yellows forms,’ and he hands them to her over the desk.

Her gentleman murderer, yet to commit his crime, leaned out the window and received a piece of paper in the palm of his hand. The other car moved on down the street and picked up all three of the drunk men who know spoke in sharp whispers.

She returns to with forms in hand: ‘Here.’
‘True,’ he says, scanning the yellow form, ‘and the same name on the blue form. He was reported missing three days ago.’

She couldn’t read the piece of paper as she had never learnt the human alphabet, but could tell by her gentleman’s pinched eyes and now the bite of his bottom lip that it concerned a man he knew.

‘By whom?’
‘I wish I could tell you…’
‘– No, you don’t.’
‘…but it’s possible that we’ve already found him.’

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a photography/ flash fiction collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Two.

Purchase (Austin Andrews)

He constantly checks his wallet in the back pocket of his pants, as if just by walking through the neighbourhood would see him lose it.

“When I saw him last he was unshaven, unsure of who his hairdresser was or what style she now cuts. But most of all he was sick and slow to speak and, all in all, sad.”

The streets were empty except for one black cat that lay curled in a bundle on the steps outside an apartment building.

He arrives at the jewellery stand on time with nobody to meet him.

“Good Health. Etcetera. These are not the things you can rush.”

Across the street a dog barked inside a house, but that didn’t bother this cat.

He looks down the street, lit by a half-moon; clothes hang from balconies and the street lights are out. Not a place to sell trinkets.

“A furnace with nothing to burn. What a diagnosis, poor darling.”

By the pitch of the yelp she could tell it was a small dog with a superiority complex born of an inferiority complex. Cat got your tongue, she thought. She was more concerned by the wait for someone to let her in.

He pretends to browse the table and picks up a bronze hair comb and runs it through his hair.

“So, slowly; sit and wait, sit and wait, while the lovers upstairs run around naked; anticipation heats them as it warms me.”

The building was taken from one plan many years ago, and was not suited to the hours and habits of cats, she thought.

His attention is broken by a wet-cough from the man standing right next to him, wearing a beige apron and loud red shirt. “Don’t think you can use it and not pay for it, young man.”

“It’s so surprising that he has gone out into the night like this. I can see you’re not too worried about him; this only makes me worry more.”

Her previous owners had bought her before they lost a child to wet lungs. She did not mind that, as it was a dog of a child: a layabout with no mystery to him.

If he were near home he could go home, but now he must be gentle with his words if he wants to stay out in the night and make it to morning.

“But, slowly, slowly, I say, you must sit and wait and you will worry too.”

She can only imagine they followed the fleck-trail of blood to find him, yet neglected to notice, or else ignored that he had not so much as a scratch on him. And any cat can tell you what is possible, and what is not, when blood is found.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a photography/ flash fiction collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day One.

The Magic Show ( Austin Andrews)

Using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef

– Tom Robbins

“On this occasion,” she says to the empty kitchen, “I would like to thank those who believed in me, and also those who didn’t, because you are still essential.”

She checks herself, tucks grey wisps of her otherwise red hair behind her ears, and makes sure the taps are turned tight.

“I can see you now; some of you with your hands in your lap, others picking at the wax in your ears; even as I say this some of the men are crossing their arms and holding a grumble in the back of their throats.”

She goes over to the cutlery draw and takes out a wooden spoon, a knife, a fork, and a teaspoon, and wraps them up in a tea-towel.

“No worries.”

She is fixing herself a cup of tea when she hears keys rattling in the lock of the front door. The door opens and she hears him give his customary sigh. She can hear him slip out of his shoes and store them in the shoe cupboard; take the change out of his pocket and place it next to the phone – one coin falls to the floor, but he doesn’t bother to pick it up; she even thinks she can hear the beginnings of a sore throat in his scratchy breath.

She does not do as she has previously done; she does not have time to scurry back to her crawl space. Yet with each second that passes she reflects that she could still hide. She could hide herself three times over, still, but distraction draws her attention to revelation.

His heavy footsteps give away how drunk he really is.

He switches the kitchen light on. She stands there, silent, with two cups in her hand.

“Oh, it’s only you,” and he reaches out for the cup in her left hand, drinks it in three gulps, and walks through to the bedroom.

She decides not to take the cutlery, and talks to cover up her noisy work at the drawer: “Isn’t he just… everyone should live alone to experience how much control company exerts. Did you see him?”

He comes back into the kitchen. His tie is loose, his top button undone. She looks up from the drawer; a strand of grey hair sticks to her temple. His mouth contorts in a search for words. He finds: “I’m drunk. Goodnight.” He takes out the knot in his tie and throws it in to the soapy water in the kitchen sink, picks up the change by the phone, including the coin that fell on the floor, wrangles his shoes on, catching himself against the wall with one hand as his heel slips in, and opens the front door, only to turn back into the apartment, take one step from the landing, turn his head around the corner to find the switch and turn off the kitchen light.

“Did you see it? Did you see that?”

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

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