Sixmax Tutoring

Short Stories

White feathers

Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020

 

“Stand to!”

Upon his orders the troops lined up for war; green versus red with rifles at the ready and canons in support.

“Ready…aim…FIRE!”

It was a bloodbath. With a sweep of his hand whole armies were swept away, falling where they stood, left to lay rigid in the carpet. But like the Vikings in Valhalla the plastic soldiers were resurrected one by one as the small boy put them back onto their feet, aggressively arrayed for another dramatic confrontation.

Potpourri fragranced the living room and impeccably dusted china figurines adorned the mantelpiece. The man of the house was forbidden to smoke indoors but his wife had no objection to the newspaper. It was a polite partition, a black and white broadsheet shield against the verbal slings and arrows of his hectoring gossiping wife. He usually only perused enough of the pages to maintain the pretense of reading, but now he was peering over the top, watching his son play at sterile death. His newspaper told him it was nothing like that. It was terror, horror, shit, blood, gasping, begging and hoping against hope that it would all end before you’re killed and left to stiffen in the mud. 

The man of the house quietly squirmed as the armies fought and died once more. This time the little boy added cinematic screams and puffed out his cheeks as he mimicked explosions that he himself had never heard. 

The newspaper told the man of the house that it was nothing like that. It was deafening, ear-splitting, bone shaking, so loud that the death screams were never heard; a soldier’s last words might as well be silence.

A knock at the door announced the arrival of the prestigious dinner guests, the colonel and Mrs Sheffield. The man of the house fussed with hats and coats while the colonel, encumbered by his wooden leg, lumbered down the hallway. He was still a gentleman, though, gallantly escorting his wife with his one remaining arm.

When the man of the house reached the living room his wife was already arranging drinks.

“I’ve got it all under control here darling, has the table been set?” The glance that came with the question made it a mandatory suggestion. The man of the house handled the best china with the delicacy it deserved, folded the silk napkins exactly as his wife had shown him and laid out the best silver just so. Soon enough the roast was in the middle of the table and grace had been said. The man of the house carved and distributed the roast, ensuring that the guests got the choicest cuts. He’d done everything right. He couldn’t understand the judgmental glare from his wife. Why were her vicious lips pressed so tight and white? 

“No bother…” said Mrs Sheffield, reaching over to pick up the knife laid to the right of her husband’s plate; the side of his mangled arm. “…we do this at home all the time” She explained as she began cutting his food into bite size pieces.

As the boy looked agape at the Colonel’s empty sleeve neatly folded and pinned to his shoulder his innocent mind took in all the horror it could cope with. He still hadn’t heard the explosions, smelled the blood or screamed against the din; but he understood that “FIRE!” had consequences. Unable to fully comprehend, the boy turned his gaze to his father. Unable to look at his wife, the man of the house turned his gaze to his son and found an expression that washed away his pacifist guilt. The boy understood it wasn’t about avoiding the horror; it was about not inflicting it. Reassured, the man of the house knew that his son would never ask him, “Daddy, what did you do in the great war?”

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Head in the clouds

Copyright C.J. Lindsay 2020

Eddie was bored. He decided that it would be fun to make his sister squeal. He reached across his brothers lap and thumped her. 

"Muuum make him stop" Brenda cried. 

"Its your fault that they're like this you know" said her father. 

"My fault" said her mother "what about you?". 

"I'm at work all day, you're the one who's unemployed you should be spending more time with them but no, you spend all your time doing Yoga or weaving baskets at that woman's centre". 

"Muuuuuum, make him stop" Brenda cried. 

"I hate the way you say that, you always say "that women's centre" like it's some kind of disease or something. Anyway, Mrs. Perry is perfectly capable of .. 

"Muuuuuuuum. MAKE HIM STOP!" Brenda screamed. 

"Oh yeah Mrs. Perry. You use my hard earned money to pay a complete stranger to look after our kids." said Brenda's father who then looked at her mother with a "beat that" expression on his face. 

"You need petrol" she said. 

"what?". 

"You need petrol" Brenda's mother insisted. 

"Christ!" her father said through his teeth. 

Eddie got bored again and stopped hitting Brenda. When they had stopped at the petrol station her father got out without looking at her mother. 

"Mum, my arm hurts" Brenda moaned. 

"What?". 

"My arm hurts" 

"Here" she said, handing them a dollar each "Go and get yourself an ice cream, that'll make your arm feel better". The two children launched themselves out of the car and  ran past their father towards the shop. Their mother changed the radio station and then realised that their was a child still left in the car. 

"Oh! sorry Jeremy, do you want an ice cream too". 

"No" he mumbled. 

"Oh, don't sulk Jeremy we'll be there soon. Why don't you go out and play with your brother and sister". 

Jeremy wasn't sulking. He didn't feel like going after his brother and sister. He was looking at the "NO SMOKING SWITCH OFF ENGINE" sign and was trying to imagine what would happen if the whole place blew up. He imagined fists of flame punching people through windows. He imagined the petrol pumps shooting into the sky with his father still holding onto the hose. Just then a man rode into the petrol station on a motor cycle. While the man went into the shop Jeremy watched him and wondered which prison the man had escaped from and how many people he had killed. Jeremy imagined himself saving his whole family when the biker tried to hold up the station. 

"Jeremy!" his father said through the window. "I have to go and find the others, can you watch the machine and stop it when it gets to fifty dollars?". 

Jeremy nodded and got out of the car. He stood at the pump and looked through the car windows at the counter inside the shop. He couldn't see the biker, and the man behind the counter was missing. "He's probably unconscious in the cool room out the back" Jeremy decided. "yuk!" he yelled when the petrol tank overflowed and showered his feet with petrol. 

"What have you done now?" his mother said as she got out of the car. Before he could make up a story his father was standing over him screaming "eighty eight dollars!, eighty eight dollars! I told you to stop at fifty, what the hell were you thinking of? huh? answer me! Christ!" His father got back into the car and honked the horn impatiently while his wife tried to clean up her son and get him back into the car. "Muuuum, Jeremy smells like petrol" 

"You shouldn't have yelled at him like that, he'll wet the bed again" said Jeremy's mother. 

"The boy has got to learn. He's got to wake up to himself' said his father. "Muuum, Jeremy smells like petrol... 

Jeremy hated being talked about as though he wasn't there so he ignored his family and pretended that his father was racing with the other cars other road. When they reached the picnic site his mother held three towels in the air and said "go and have a swim while we get lunch ready". Eddie grabbed a towel and began to whip his sister with it as she ran towards the water. When Jeremy collected his towel his mother said "Watch your brother and sister okay". 

Jeremy didn't feel like a swim so he walked out onto the pier and watched the people fishing. He walked up and down the pier looking in the buckets of fish to see if any of them had teeth. finally, in desperation he approached one of the men and asked "are there any piranhas in your bucket?". 

The man smiled and shook his head. He knelt down and reached into his bucket and said "No but this one is a Flathead, and this is a ... " 

"Thanks anyway" Jeremy said and turned to walk back down the pier. When he reached the beach he saw his brother and parents talking with the lifeguard who was pointing to the rubber boat which was out on the water. Brenda was nowhere in sight. Jeremy knew that he was in trouble again, but while his father turned his back and stared out to sea his mother held onto him tighter than she ever had before.

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I Stumbled When I Saw

Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020

 

The darkness didn’t come all at once, like someone turning out a light, it came slowly and softly, like a shower of black snow. I thought that this would allow me time to prepare for coping with a world of darkness, a world so small it would only be as deep as the reach of my arm, but I was mistaken. I had no idea how broad and deep my world would become.

Faces lost all expression, of course, but they became a combination of geometry and geography. ‘Seeing’ with my hands turned noses into oddly shaped triangles, ears into gelatinous ovals and chins into little bums hanging off the bottom of a face. Eye sockets were nothing but black holes, but the wrinkles around them formed little deltas that I found had nothing to do with age and everything to do with how crowded the years had been. Cheeks were like an archaeological dig, revealing the cumulative leathery effect of a blissful childhood spent in the sun and surf, or the scars left by acne, hinting at a wallflower’s youth hovering around the edges of romance.

Makeup was an annoyance, just something to collect under my fingernails, but eyebrows were marvellously revealing. Men’s were bushy and unkempt, no set of tweezers had ever been anywhere near them, and the older the man the more stray hairs there were, but women of all ages were another story; they were often a smooth void of skin from hairline to eyelid.

Relationships became closer more quickly as introductions became more intimate. When a stranger surrenders their face for tactile examination it is nothing like a handshake. There is no distance between us. I have felt their summer sweat, their breath in my palm, touched their lips with my fingertips knowing their lover is the only other person to have done the same. I now knew this face in a way that nobody else did, or ever would. And still it was isolating, because they didn’t reciprocate. They still saw me the old way, from a distance. Once, only once, I tried to guide an acquaintance's hand to my cheek, only to feel them recoil and say, “I don’t need to do that’, and then dissemble in embarrassment for having called attention to my ‘disability’. It wasn’t the faux pas that made me cry, it was the distance, and the realisation that they didn’t want to know me the way I knew them, they weren’t ready to reach out, and I had no way of showing them how.

It was then I saw the need for humour, to disarm the sighted. At first I was bitter and the humour was cruel. I would sweep my cane into shins and cause a panic by wandering towards the sound of traffic. Then, with the same bitterness I moved on to irony, saying ‘That’s a nice top, the colour really suits you’ or ‘I like the sound of your shoes’. My favourite was to get people’s names wrong, then explain the mistake by saying they smelt like the other person’s dog. But it was hollow, after all, I couldn’t see the horror on their faces. But after I learned that the darkness outside didn’t have to be matched on the inside, things became much more fun. A Canadian friend of mine swears this is a true story that happened to her back home, but I made it my own by turning it into a pantomime with unwitting costars. At pedestrian crossings, when the ‘bip bip bip’ sounded I would put on my best Texan accent and say, ‘What’s that sound?’

Some kind person would respond, ‘that’s the signal to say the lights have changed’ and recognising the accent they would continue, ‘Don’t you have that in Texas?’

‘No ma’am” I would say, deadpan, ‘in Texas, we don’t let the blind drive’. I never saw the looks on their faces, but I could hear the snorts that went with their smirks, and that was enough.

It’s true what they say, the other senses do become more acute when you can’t rely on your eyes anymore. The birds in the backyard noisily greeting the sunrise used to annoy me, now they delight me to the point that I have made a point of differentiating the species by names I had never previously cared to know. Smelling my father’s aftershave before he even enters the room allows me to pretend to have superpowers by greeting him before he turns the doorknob. But it is touch through holding hands that matters most. Not because it keeps my shins away from coffee tables, after all, I stumbled when I saw. Hand holding is the purest form of communication. My mother’s hand always tightens around mine when we visit her mother, and my father’s does the same pretty much anytime we leave the house. Her tension is visceral, his concern all encompassing. It is reciprocal, our feelings are as open as each of our palms. My parents are finally catching on, and I didn’t even have to show them how.  

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Just in Time

Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020

 

As the battlefield fell quiet around him Arthur pulled his blood soaked sword from his son’s chest.

‘I didn’t know it at the time, Mordred’ he gasped in exhaustion, ‘but my life ended when I took the sword from the stone’. Looking up from the blood sodden grass Mordred watched his father, hollowed out by battle and old age, fall to his knees and stab Excalibur into the ground between them. ‘It was heavy Mordred, so heavy, and I’ve been carrying its weight ever since’. 

“I want to say I forgive you Mordred” Arthur muttered, taking hold of the downturned blade so that the hilt formed a cross against the darkening sky, ‘but I don’t know if I can. You see, I don’t think I’m real’. Mordred’s eyes were darkening along with the sky, but Arthur continued regardless, his own eyes gazing off into the distance, and the past. ‘It took me a long time to realise this, it wasn’t as easy to grasp as the sword itself, but I am, I have always been, nothing but a puppet under God’s fingers, a tool in God’s hand as much as excalibur was a weapon in mine ’

His life nearing its end Arthur’s mind happened upon a memory of his wedding day; the whiteness of Guinevere’s gown stained by the colourful shadows that the sun cast through the cathedral’s high glass windows. Arthur smirked softly, ‘I was lucky Guinevere was pretty, but it didn’t matter what was hidden under the veil, I had no choice, I had to marry her, I had to marry her. At the time I was completely fooled, I thought I was in love. Maybe I was, but now I can’t see it as real, I never was free to choose, to feel what I wanted to feel. I felt only what fate allowed me to feel, no less, and no more.”

Casting his eyes across the battlefield he saw Lancelot’s solitary corpse encircled by heaps of the dead; he had sold his life dearly and guaranteed Arthur’s victory. ‘Lancelot was no different. Just like you, and Guinevere he had no choice. He never lost a fight not because he was the best, but because he could not lose.’ Arthur let out a maudlin chuckle thinking of the first time they’d met, of their epic clash of swords, and how Lancelot had defeated him, utterly and honourably, leaving him chastened and humbled. Arthur realised now that was why Lancelot had been sent, to teach wisdom to a hot headed young king. Pointing to the corpse Arthur panted, ‘He died Mordred, just over there, probably still thinking he made a difference.’

Arthur could support himself no longer in his heavy armour, it rattled around him as he sank to the earth. Looking up at clouds ripe with rain he said, ‘He didn’t, I mean HE didn’t, he was just like me, a player on a bloody stage ignorant of the script. He made no difference and neither did any of them, it all happened the way it was meant to.’ Arthur said, sweeping his quivering arm across the battlefield. ‘I slew dozens of men today Mordred, maybe more. Some charged at me, impaling their courage on my blade. Others stood off, hacking at my shield trying to eke out a few more minutes of existence. Still others turned and ran, no doubt to curse their cowardice for the rest of their days, but how can fate and cowardice exist at the same time? How can there be crime, or criminals? As King I have condemned men to death and watched as their heads rolled from the block to stare at their loved ones weeping alone amidst a cheering crowd. How...how can fate and justice exist at the same time? I thought I was doing good, but was I doing good, or was I just doing? Good...evil...in a world of fate words as as worthless as deeds. I finally understand you, my son you were never evil, just like me, you had no choice.’

‘But we are redeemed, we are redeemed because at last I’m free, Mordred. I’m free because I’ve done it, I’ve killed you, and now I’m dying. There’s nothing more He can ask of me, there’s no time anyway. The strings are cut, my limbs are mine to command. I think...I feel like I’m the one saying this, Mordred. I forgive you...I forgive you.’

Arthur’s son stiffened a little, then his body relaxed, his lungs sighed and any hint of a soul vanished from his eyes. Arthur had spoken his final words just in time.

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Another Man's Medals

Copyright C.J.Lindsay 2020

 

There's a weight about my chest;

three small metal mementos 

of painful loss and pyrrhic gain.

I didn't earn them.

They're not mine so

they must be yours.

Bequeathed by a fallen soldier,

it doesn't matter which war.

 

 

There's a weight about my chest;

feelings made raw and tender

by timeless tales of painful loss

and pyrrhic gain.

I haven't earned them,

but they're not yours

they're mine.

Bequeathed by our fallen soldiers.

That's why I go and march in time.

 

Lest We Forget.

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