Tagged: people

November repost 3 – Your tears aren’t good enough

November is with us, and as you know, I am taking part in the increasingly inaptly named NaNoWriMo (inapt because the 'Na' stands for national - not really appropriate when they boast entrants from six continents). The majority of my posts between now and the end of November will be pre-written and scheduled.

This story was originally posted on 12 August 2014. I hope you enjoy it.

I should probably apologise for this story. It's what happens when I give the rational side of my brain an hour off, and allow the rest to go off on a frolic of its own.


“Sorry. No can do. Your tears aren’t good enough.”

The words echoed around the large, oak-panelled room in the middle of which I was standing. With a height to the ceiling of about five metres, it had tall, arched windows all around at about three metres from the floor, and was devoid of contents, save for what looked like a pulpit at the same level as the bottom of the windows. I was alone in the room, apart from a fearsome-looking woman in the pulpit. She was dressed entirely in black, and her expression reeked of malevolence. A label on the pulpit displayed a single word in large, ornate letters:

That my tears weren’t good enough wasn’t what I expected to hear from the Judger, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I questioned it, “What do you mean, my tears are not good enough?”

“Simply that,” she replied. “One of your people has been found guilty of stealing. The penalty for that, according to the law, is death by misadventure. There is no right of appeal, although real tears from a person directly related to the miscreant, who is innocent of any and all wrongdoing; and who is, in the judgement of this court, that is to say me, a thoroughly nice, kind, generous and practically perfect example of citizenship; real tears from such a person may, and I stress may result in the sentence being commuted to a life of misery.”

“And that’s supposed to be fair?” I asked, “That’s supposed to be justice? What happened to mercy, to—”

“JUSTICE? MERCY? This has nothing to do with justice or mercy.” She retorted, testily, “That may be what they do in other realms, but here … here … the purpose of this court is to keep order, to maintain the law. And we choose to do that by simple, impartial vengeance.”

“May I approach Your Worships more closely?” I asked, respectfully.

“No, you may not. If you have something you want to say to me, you must say it in the full hearing of everyone here. Now speak up, or go away and leave me alone!”

“But there’s no-one else here, Your Worships; just we two.”

“There might have been others, and I’m sure that if there were, they would have wanted to hear what you had to say. As well as … we don’t know if someone may be hiding in the corners, or under the stairs, or even inside the bottom of my judging box.”

This was not going well. The Judger’s brain had clearly gone out to play, leaving the rest of her to run the court.

I tried polite deference. “If it please Your Worships—”

“But it doesn’t.”

“But if it did …” I said, in a teasing, drawn-out manner.

“Go on.”

“What are Your Worships’ reasons for saying my tears aren’t good enough?” I asked; very respectfully, of course.

“You don’t understand the rules at all, do you?” she snapped, “I am the Judger. I don’t have to explain myself to you. You have to explain yourself to me. You have to tell me why you think your tears are good enough. In short, you have to prove to me that you fit the definition of ‘a person directly related to the miscreant, who is innocent of any and all wrongdoing; and who is, in the judgement of this court, that is to say me, a thoroughly nice, kind, generous and practically perfect example of citizenship’. Can you do that?”

“I can try,” I said, resigned to having to do what I had to do to obtain something approaching justice for my sister.

The Judger almost screamed at me, “I didn’t ask if you can try. I asked if you can do it. You must learn to answer the question you have been asked, not one you made up yourself to suit your case.”

“I apologise, Your Worships,” I said with all the humility I could muster, “I shall do that. I shall present my case through a story. If Your Worships will allow, of course.”

“Very well,” she said, her voice sounding as bored as any I had ever heard, “I suppose I’d better let you. But it mustn’t take too long; I’m almost ready for my lunch.”

I began my tale. “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…”

“Oh get on with it!” she instructed, by way of interruption.

“Sorry,” I said, “I’ll continue.” I paused to gather my thoughts. “A man took his son to the bridge over a nearby river, for a game of Pooh sticks.”

“What’s Pooh sticks? I’ve never heard of it,” she said, “and I know about every game there is.”

“Pooh sticks is a game in which two or more people stand on one side of a bridge—”

“Sounds boring. Carry on with your story,” she said.

“When they leaned over the downstream side of the bridge, the boy disappeared.”

“Disappeared? Where did he go? People don’t just disappear,” she yelled, adding more quietly, “except on the orders of the court.”

“Well, this boy did, Your Worships. He simply disappeared without a trace. His father searched high and low, but could find no sign of him.”

“None?”

“None whatever.”

“What was the boy’s name?”

“Does it matter what his name was, Your Worships?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Why?”

That question seemed to enrage her a little more than somewhat. “Because I am the Judger, and if I say it matters, then IT MATTERS.”

“Sorry, Your Worships. His name was Jack. Jack Russell.”

“He can’t have been a very well-behaved boy, with a name like that. Go on.”

I took a deep breath and continued, “Two days later, Jack’s father—”

“Mr Russell”, she offered, helpfully.

“Mr Russell,” I agreed, “was still looking when he saw a young man sitting on the bridge. ‘Have you seen my son, Jack?’ he asked. The young man said, ‘It’s me, Dad. I’m Jack.’ His father—”

“Mr Russell”, she offered, helpfully, again.

“Mr Russell was confused but delighted. Or was he delighted but confused? No matter, he was both. ‘You’ve only been gone two days, Jack,’ he said, ‘yet you have come back much older. How can this be?’

“‘I was taken to another place, Dad,’ he explained, ‘a place where things are very different to the way they are here.’”

“What place?” the Judger asked.

“Does it … yes, I suppose it does. It was a place called, erm, Grintsk.”

“Grintsk… Grintsk. No, never heard of it. Tell me about it.”

“That, Your Worships, is what I am trying to do if you will stop interrupting me.”

“Then make it quick. I want my lunch,” she said in what seemed to be her trademark short-tempered manner.

“If you’ll stop jumping in, and let me tell my story, Your Worships, I promise I will do it quickly.”

“Good. Carry on,” she said, her voice and face betraying that she considered she had won a minor victory.

“‘In Grintsk, the way they enforce their rules is very different to the way it is done here,’ Jack said to his father – Mr Russell,” I gave her my most steely expression at that point, daring her to interrupt again. She didn’t.

“‘In Grintsk, anyone caught stealing can avoid harsh punishment if they return the stolen goods in good condition, apologise to the owners and to the court, and do some work for the people from whom they stole the goods. The length of time that they must work for them varies according to the value and nature of the goods stolen. If they can’t return the goods, they have to work for the people a good bit longer’”

“No one dies?”

“No one dies.”

“That’s not much fun, is it?”

“It’s not meant to be fun, Your Worships, it’s meant to be justice,” I explained, “anyway; Jack had lived under these rules for about fifteen years. When he explained our ways to the people there – they call their judgers magistrates – they said that we were clearly primitive and barbaric.”

“What does barbaric mean?” the Judger asked, “I don’t know that word.”

I saw my chance here, so I gave her a suitable definition; one that might give her pause for thought. “Barbaric, Your Worships, means cruel, unsophisticated, uncivilised, uncultured; that sort of thing.”

I could almost see the steam coming out of her ears, as she bellowed, “Uncivilised? Uncultured? Unsophisticated? We are the very epitome of culture and sophistication. I’ll show those Grintsk people what civilisation and culture mean.” She cupped her hands and yelled towards the door at the far end of the room, “Bailiffs! Release the miscreant.”

I looked up at her and said, “I don’t see the miscreant. Where is she? What have you done with her?”

“Oh, she’s probably escaped,” she replied, “they usually do.”

 

November repost 2 – After Autumn

November is with us, and as you know, I am taking part in the increasingly inaptly named NaNoWriMo (inapt because the 'Na' stands for national - not really appropriate when they boast entrants from six continents). The majority of my posts between now and the end of November will be pre-written and scheduled.

This story was originally posted on 26 August 2016. I hope you enjoy it.


I’m getting better. I really am.

The periods of unrelenting tearfulness are becoming fewer. The depths of loneliness I feel, especially at night, in bed, alone, are as powerful as they have been throughout the decade since my wife died, but I am becoming stronger. I am working with them and not against them. I am beginning to relish the memories of her presence instead of lamenting her absence. Not that I don’t miss her. Nothing could be further from the truth. I never want to stop missing her. Last month, though, I celebrated my first natural, un-medicated sleep for more than nine years.

Jim, Col. Lieves, arranged a memorial service for August on the first anniversary of her death. I couldn’t attend. I know I should have, and there will always be people who will feel that I was less of a husband, less of a man, for not turning up; but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never believed in Karma before that date, but since then, my attitude has changed. You see; I was supposed to have travelled to the service and back with my parents, in their car. How different things would have been if I had.

Instead of going straight home after the service, Mum suggested she and Dad should come around to my place to comfort me and to offer some support. If they had gone straight home, they might not have found themselves directly behind that propane tanker truck when it jack-knifed and burst into flames, engulfing their car in the process. If they had gone straight home instead of coming to help me, they’d probably still be alive now. I knew that, and the knowledge hurt me more than I can say. When one of my uncles, Dad’s younger brother, told me that I should have been in that car with them, and would have been, had I steeled myself and gone to the service, I was devastated. Yes, Mum and Dad might well still have died, but so would I; and natural justice dictates that I shouldn’t be here now. Fate, Karma, circumstances, whatever you choose to call it, decided that my life was forfeit and when I frustrated that, Mum and Dad had to take my punishment.

What did I have to live for after that? The three people I cared for the most had been taken from me, one by an undiagnosed medical condition and two as a result of my spinelessness. No-one could possibly hate me more than I hated myself. The love of my life, my soul-mate, had succumbed to a brain tumour, and my parents, the source of all that I am, took the punishment for my crime, my total lack of moral fibre.

Do you know what was the most surprising thing? Not that I tried, on many occasions, to end my own life; knowing the depth of my love for Autumn and for my parents, I don’t think anyone saw that as anything but a strong likelihood. The biggest surprise was not even that one person stood by me, supporting me, counselling me, holding me as it were in his hand and cushioning me against all the pressures from without, and my demons from within. The surprise was who that person was: Jim Lieves, August’s father.

Jim came to see me a couple of months after that fateful day with Marie, August’s mother. I’ll never forget his words; he told me that I was all he and his wife had left of August. She had been their only child. He asked me to move into his house, to use August’s room. He asked for my permission for him to treat me as a member of his family; as his son. I broke down then. Those tears represented the first feelings I had expressed in a long time; before that, all I had was fourteen months of numbness; not so much living as going through life like an automaton, doing only the things I had been programmed to do. And once I had released the floodgates, there was no stopping me.

A few years, and a greater number of hospital visits later, following my various failed attempts to join August wherever she had ended up, Jim and Marie knew what to look out for; how to recognise my lowest periods and how to help me through them. As you can imagine, the hardest time of year for me was, and is, Autumn. As soon as I see the falling leaves drifting lazily by my window and the trees wearing their red and gold finery, my thoughts go to my wife – amplified as the days and weeks go by. Then, part of me wills time to rush by; I yearn for the end of nature’s finest display and for the covering of snow to hide the visible signs of the object of my undying love. My in-laws know how to nurse me through this period, and stop me from reaching the depths of despair I felt in those early years.

Now that I am starting to sleep naturally, and am feeling stronger by the month, Jim and Marie have invited me to go with them on holiday for much of the season. I get to choose the destination; either south to Australia to avoid the northern autumn, or west to the US to endure and enjoy it. I know that they will be with me, to lend me their strength, and I know that it will be as hard for them, as it is for me. They were surprised and delighted when I told them about my choice.

“I think I’m ready,” I said, “I can listen to either of the two songs that used to give me so much pain and relish the sentiments. My pain no longer owns me. I own my pain. Let’s go to what is billed as the finest show on Earth,” I added, “Let’s go to the Adirondacks.”

Wish me luck.

The other song?

Video from YouTube. Published on 18 Oct 2012 by user ClassicPerformances2.
Arranged by Gordon Jenkins, there are not to many versions of "Autumn Leaves"
that can stand up to Sinatra's 1957 recording from the "Where Are You" album.

Kreative Kue 198

Kreative Kue 197 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
John W Howell is the author of the John Cannon trilogy of My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice and Circumstances of Childhood, co-author of The Contract, and blogs at Fiction Favorites.

Red Sky by John W. Howell © 2018

“What’s that old saying?”

“Okay, you got me. What old saying?”

“Something about the red sky.”

“Oh, that one. Red sky at night sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning sailor take warning.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Have you seen the sky tonight?”

“No, I haven’t been out of this radio shack for five hours.”

“You gotta go out and take a look. I’ll watch the radio for you.”

“What am I going to see?”

“You will not believe the sunset. It is almost like the sun is going to drop into the ocean.”

“I would love to see that. All you have to do is put on these earphones and listen for our call sign which is ‘Fairwind.”‘

“What happens if I hear it.”

“Just record the message in this log and answer them. Start your answer with ‘Fairwind.”‘

“Sounds easy enough. After all, you won’t be gone but a few minutes.”

“That is true.”

“Okay, I got this. You go look.”

“Thanks. Be right back.”

*

“Boy, that was quick. You back already?”

“Are you kidding me? It must be a hundred degrees out there. That sun is coming very close. I couldn’t stay long.”

“Well, there was one message.”

“You have got to be kidding me. I was only gone a couple of minutes. What was the message?”

“Here it is. It is from the atmospheric agency. It is pretty short.”

“Read it to me.”

“Fairwind. Farewell.”


Meanwhile, my effort was:

The captain

“Can you give me any more speed, George?”

Isaac Williamson, Zak to his friends, was owner and captain of the fishing vessel Golden Maid. She had left harbour on the west coast of the island six days previously, headed for the rich fishing grounds to the southwest. The fishing had been good. Better than good, in fact. A normal trip, if the word normal can ever be used in relation to deep-sea fishing expeditions, involved two days out, three days’ fishing and two back. This time, the holds were full after only two days on the nets. Having been able to cut the trip short, Zak was keen to get back as quickly as they could manage – he had received a message on the ship-to-shore that Ellie, his wife of nine years, had safely delivered their first baby whilst he was at sea. Mother and baby were doing well, the message said, but it was important that he return as soon as he could. No reason or explanation was given, just that Ellie and the child were under observation in the hospital’s maternity ward and that his presence was urgently required. Naturally, Zak’s emotions were all over the place: elated that, after years of trying, he and his wife finally had the child they so wanted but worried sick as to the nature of the problem that called for his speedy return.

“I’m doing what I can, Zak,” engineer George Hanson replied over the ship’s comm system, “but if I push her any harder the old problem might come back.”

Zak didn’t need to be reminded what happened last time he made George push the Golden Maid too far. It had started with a minor misfire on one of the cylinders – just a gentle cough every so often – but, in the end, a couple of core-plugs blew and they needed to be towed to the nearest port for a major engine refit. That repair, coupled with the cost of the tow and the loss of a complete catch, had cost Zak a lot more than he could afford and set his plans back by a year or more.

“Just do what you can, George, eh?”

“Will do, Captain.”

The rest of the crew were on deck sorting and cleaning the catch and loading the landing baskets in preparation for offloading. This was always their favourite part of the trip. It was a job they’d done so often it was pretty well automatic. They didn’t need to concentrate on what they were doing, so it became a time for chatting, exchanging stories and jokes, and occasionally singing. Sea shanties? Hardly. This was a group of hard-working young men and women, not old-time sailors. Their songs were whatever was current. One or two would even leave their work and perform some rap numbers. Zak never complained about that, just as long as the work was completed before reaching port. There was something romantic about coming home under a setting sun, too. Somehow it always resulted in an amount of light flirting amongst some of the crew. Again, as long as it didn’t interfere with the ship’s readiness at port, Zak never objected to this although George, as the senior man and something of a father-figure to the crew, made sure that it never developed beyond flirting. What had to be avoided at all costs, was anything that could impact on the smooth running of the trip, so if ever George saw anything that veered towards romance or sexual tension he stamped on it swiftly and decisively. The crew knew this and respected the restriction.

“Can we get his done quickly?” Zak asked George when the Golden Maid was secured to the quayside bollards.

“You go do your thing, Zak,” George replied, “I’ll see to this.”

“Thanks, George. You have control.”

“I have control, Zak. Now GO!”

Zak left his ship in George’s capable hands, hailed a ride and asked the driver to make best speed to the hospital. The driver took him literally and, despite more than two decades at sea, Zak was feeling a little queasy when he arrived at the hospital. He made his way to the maternity suite and asked the duty nurse where his wife and child were. She pointed to the half-obscured door at the end of the public ward. “In the private ward,” she said, “good luck.”

I wonder why she said that, Zak thought as he approached the door.

He pushed down on the handle. Nothing. It was locked. He knocked on the door. “Who’s there?” a man’s voice said from behind the door.

“Isaac Williamson. Is my wife in there with my child?” The click told Zak that whoever was inside had unlocked it. He opened the door and stepped in. Ellie was propped up in the hospital bed.

“You look tired, Lover,” Zak said. Ellie started to weep. “Whatever’s up?” he asked, “You okay?”

Ellie took a few deep breaths As calmly as she could, she said, “Did you ever find anything out about your birth parents, Zak?”

“Well, no. You know I didn’t. The adoption people always said the records were lost or incomplete or something.”

“So you don’t really know who… or what you are?”

“What do you mean, what I am?”

The doctor left the room and came back, carrying their baby.

“Look at it, Zak. Just look at it,” Ellie said, weeping again. The doctor uncovered the baby’s face. Zak looked at his child and blanched.

“My God,” he exclaimed, “What is it?”


Due to NaNoWriMo and other commitments, there will be no Kreative Kues until Monday 3 December. This week’s challenge will, therefore, remain open until the end of November.

Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at keithchanning@gmail.com before 6pm on Sunday, 2 December (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.

Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries, with links to your own blog or web site, on 3 December.