The Perfect Tableau


“Can I give you my secret? It’s okay. You can keep it; I don’t want it back.”

Ruby looks through me and out the other side. Her nail scratches at the wooden frame. The last specks of mud come away as she persists. It is still a beautiful painting in spite of the mud but my friend, Ruby, always needs things to be clean and blemish free. Her mother is no different. They are two women sliced off the same cloth; there wouldn’t have been much cloth left to make a third.

“Well? Do you want it or not? You don’t have to but I’m going to leave it here in Manchester anyway.”

“Why are you giving this away? It’s gorgeous. Look at the shades of red. You really are a good painter, Kezia. Why hide it?” Ruby runs her hands over the lines of the life-size young woman under the glass.

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Kin to the Crooks

“You remember what to do,” Dad said. He towered over me, grimacing. Orange embers illuminated his eyes. Black smoke smothered his face as fire reached the cigarette’s filter.

Dad’s spider-like fingers rested on my thin shoulders.

His other hand pulled a black ski mask over his face.

“Wait for the sound of a window breaking,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “Wait for that sound, but be on the lookout. Make sure you watch where we go. When you hear the window break, you run to us as fast as you can.”

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Hannah woke when the cuff began to constrict her arm until it was about to fall off as the blood pressure machine did its work.

“Open up. Hold it firm,” the nurse said as she stuck the thermometer into her mouth. The nurse reached down to draw a vile of blood from the catheter in her arm, affixing a small label to the tube before removing the thermometer and silently leaving the room. In the twilight of the room, Hannah could make out her mother curled up in a chair as she drifted away from reality and back into her dreams.

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Moving a Desk

Here we are, facing each other, arms loose at our sides, uncrossed for a change.


Here is the desk that I found at the good antique place on Queen Street: a solid thing from the thirties, warm maple with white water rings, a key taped to the underside of the first drawer, and one leg just slightly shorter than the rest. So, as you typed out your stories up here by this window, a rhythm of faint taps on the floorboard always kept me company downstairs. Two hundred fifty I paid for it, but it’s yours now. We decided yesterday. The last of the things to be set on one side or the other.

Let’s get this over with.

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The Thought of Memory

I watched as two birds picked at fragments of something once-living. Crows or ravens, they stopped scavenging and I felt as though they were looking at me as if they were about to speak. I walked on and flinched as the birds took flight, their claws brushing against my head as they flew over me.

Later, in the street, I saw the two women again. “You knew us once,” one of the women said. “Have you forgotten us so soon?” A composite voice as if they had spoken together. The tone soft but neutral, the voice grey. Somewhere I sensed a memory being triggered, but I couldn’t bring it into focus. I had no answer and the two women turned and walked away. I watched them until they were lost in the crowds, the question troubling me. Did I know them?

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Secrets Served Rare

Once in a blue moon, Eddie craved a steak. A rare slab of red meat that oozes juices across the plate when barely touched with a fork before soaking into the baked potato loaded with butter and sour cream. The bacon on top only added to the whole experience.

When the craving struck, Eddie would stuff himself into the navy blue suit he’d owned since high school and drive forty-five minutes to the steakhouse. The five-star restaurant charged a small fortune for the meal, but it was worth it. With each passing mile, the chance of running into someone who knew him diminished.

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Only One Careful Owner

The prospective buyer felt that he’d already seen enough of the showroom. It was a bright, modern building with glass walls and ceilings; the display areas were laid out according to a cunning design that played with light and space. Whatever price you end up paying, he thought, you’ll be paying for this place.

In each display space, there was a replica of a planet, too small for any life to be visible. The salesman, oily and persuasive, sang the praises of each one, but to the buyer they all seemed too big or too small. Some had the wrong proportion of oceans or aesthetically unpleasing continental outlines.

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Pear Infused with Jasmine

She smells dead people. That is what she told me over a pot of tea in the height of summer in her garden. We were watching a hummingbird and its flight of fancy, dancing like a seasoned ballerina on opening night. A perfect marriage of grace and elegance.

I cannot even recall how we got there, to that conversation, something about the heavenly nature of living things and free spiritedness. Was that the trigger that allowed her to open wide, to show her trust in me and that she could share something of the extraordinary? Or was it my passing comment on the scent of the tea, a subtle aroma of pear infused with jasmine with undertones of Madagascan vanilla and with a name that resonated with the essence of Zen.

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