Ti Li was proud of his helpful nature. He helped people, whenever he felt they needed any. It didn’t matter for Ti Li, if they asked for the help or not. As Ti Li was a very wealthy man, he could afford doing so.
One day, while travelling through the village, Ti Li saw a curious sight.
A man was swimming across a water stream, to get to the small island with fruit trees. The man reached the island and collected the fruits from one of the trees in a bag. Then, he swam back with the bag. Ti Li watched in amazement at the tremendous effort man was going through. Ti Li felt pity for the man, and decided to surprise him.
Jake swiped the bottle of gin across his till. Beep.
‘I thought you said you weren’t going,’ said Kate from her seat behind him. ‘I distinctly remember the words ‘hot pins’ and ‘eyes’ being used.’
Jake continued swiping. Beep. Beep. Beep.
‘I changed my mind,’ he said over his shoulder. They weren’t supposed to talk to each other while serving customers, but the middle-aged woman in front of him was glued to her mobile phone, and Mr. Peters had sleazed off down aisle seven after Sally from Baked Goods.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
‘That’ll be £137.63 please,’ said Jake as he glanced at the three carrier bags he’d just filled with top brand goods worth more than he’d earn in the next three days. Without looking up from her phone, the woman tossed him her debit card. Jake bit his tongue.
‘Well, I’m not going,’ said Kate. ‘Not after last year. He can fire me if he likes. No job is worth having to go to one of Pervy Peters’ team building evenings. I had enough of that kind of thing when I was on the force.’
‘Good for you,’ Jake said. It was all right for Kate. She was retired and only worked at the store a couple of shifts a week to keep herself ‘out of mischief’. What she earned, she spent on presents for her grandkids and holidays with her husband. For Jake, this job barely kept the bailiffs from his door.
‘Any cash-back?’ he asked the woman.
She carried on tapping her phone. ‘£50.’
He, a high Catalan, lay happy at home on the dope material. His hands sent sensation humming through his every nerve, his hair prickled, each stroke hitting embroidery humps. His hazy world rocked in helpful harmony, a soothing mother’s balm. Her boundless generosity honoured in his life. Her gift kept giving. His clothes. His oil. His weed. His heavenly haven hiding harsh happenstance.
Everything revolved around him. Enjoyment, excitement, an eco-friendly existence. Effervescent expressions of pleasure erupted from his even lips, easy echoes of his emotions. Even his work, executing evocative Eastern Mediterranean imagery, was extracted from his ever efficacious grass, and framed in rope of its herby fibre.
Those first few weeks are okay. Sometimes we chat in the hallway. She lingers, seems to want company. Picks up letters addressed to long-gone tenants, turning them over, feeling the weight of them. A scavenger.
Then one morning she’s just standing there in her open doorway wrapped up in her sheeny dressing gown, eyes full of dread, shoulders hunched and frozen. I stare, say, You okay?
She hisses the words: “I saw a mouse.”
Mice don’t bother me. I haven’t noticed a thing.
A week later she’s in the doorway when I get home. “I got someone in. They set traps and took away….” She gulps, as if she’s close to vomiting. “Said they’d be back, but it’s gonna be three months.”
The bridge stands stark and black against roiling charcoal clouds that spit rain in deepening dusk. Iron girders glisten in the headlights as those saner than I rush homeward to warm dinners. We who are not so sane stand alone, feeling rain and wind and haunted thoughts hurl themselves against us as the year slips away. We are the outcasts, the homeless, the good-for-nothings without rules, responsibilities, or remembrance of things past or future.
Except one memory. I worry about Mickey. Does his father cook or do they live on trans fats and sugar? Will they find the perfect superhero costume for Saturday’s trick-or-treat? Will they sit together at the kitchen table and carve a pumpkin, yanking out the seeds and strings with slimy fingers and soup spoons?
Does Mickey touch my photo, wondering what happened to Mom? Does he weep in lonely midnights when he wakes to find me still gone?
Schizophrenia slashed me open and pulled out my heart and brain and everything that made me human, leaving a withering rind to rot and stink of lunacy. The drugs the doctors gave me intensified the split. There are no prescriptions that can bridge the gap between the world’s reality and mine. I found only hopelessness and fear. And finally, numbing indifference.
But sometimes, I creep out of madness.
I begin to walk.
I’d thought I wouldn’t remember the way back, but aloft I could feel it, the quiet currents whirling this way and that, homing in on the one small mark in the distance. Beckoning.
It had never been so difficult before the…. Before. Whether it was the smarting, mending wing, the ache of muscles protesting at long disuse, or the memory of what once was, I cannot say. Perhaps it is just because I’d never flown North this late… or is it ‘this early’ now? Time and tide have twisted over the span. Today blurred into yesterday and all the days before that, and tomorrow; tomorrow stopped having meaning altogether.
I wouldn’t have left. Not of my own volition. The little ones took care of me. Their chirping was alien, strange, but sweet, not like the song of the big ones with their sharp branches, whistling through the air, punching through wings and catching feet. I followed the big ones once. Saw them take a brother from the ground, pluck the brilliant plumage until only puckered white skin showed. I watched them make the bright light that hurt my eyes with the heat of high summer. Watched them make the white flesh turn brown, brown as the soil below, and rip him to pieces, all the while their harsh chanting infesting the air. I never followed again.
Lisa stepped onto the balcony and breathed in. This hotel had been a good idea; in the evenings the warm air was filled with the smell of frangipani and the sea sounded so near, as if it were right outside their window. It washed the night clean in the darkness and lulled her to sleep along with the sound of the crickets.
This morning, she had found herself alone. Jim must have gone for an early run along the beach. Between the palm trees bright slivers of turquoise water shone enticingly in the heat. Lisa rested her hand on the balcony railing and stretched her back, bending carefully at right angles at the waist. Perhaps they would be able to patch things up here. Nothing had been the same again since they lost the baby.
No. She closed her eyes. Don’t think about that.
She might get pregnant again. That’s what the doctor said. Maybe even while they were here. Yes, it was just the right sort of place. She smiled and stood up, turning her face to the sun. Maybe she already was.
My wife opened our doors to a homeless man on Christmas Eve. He carried a New Yorker, so I took him for literate.
Under a button nose, he wore a ginger beard but no mustache. Gaps separated all of his stubby, brown teeth. He was bald.
Having welcomed him from under the evergreen door wreath, my wife left on an errand with our baby. I gave him panna cotta, and he watched the Stars on Entertainment Hollywood.
At eight o’clock sharp, he insisted on rearranging our silver and put it all in the refrigerator’s vegetable bin. With the utensil drawer empty, he demanded vinegar to clean the toilets.
At first she didn’t fully notice. Like shadows, the grinning faces flickered in her vision. When she stopped at a crossing, she heard the snicker. It was almost like snorting: the hideous sound when somebody extrudes laughter and tries to inhale at same time. Like a pig! she thought, disgusted. The people behind her were whispering, as if sharing an inside joke. As the traffic lights shifted, she hurried to get away. The blisters on her feet were making her walk awkwardly. Yet she was determined to ignore the pain. The laughter pursued her, like an echo of every clunky step.
The front office lady that looked like a man as she handed over her belongings. She remembered the man-lady’s plump hotdog like fingers as her iPhone was pressed into her small, and delicate hand. One phone call allowed. With barely any battery charge left. Everyone she knew was busy at work back home. Scrambling to think of someone, anyone, she called her dry cleaner. Ring. Ring. Ring. A cheerful female voice answers, “He-roe, Sunshine Dry Creaning, how may help?” She nervously spoke, “Uhh, yeah this is– Taylor. I need you to get me out of this place where I’m at”. A pause. “Tay-loe? You have ticket? I can no barely hear.” Click. The man-lady with fat fingers wearing man pants with a man shirt bellowed loudly, “We can’t let you leave unless you reach someone on the phone!”