La Belle Époque

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Something from the past as I’m editing, re-editing, revising my stories …

sebnemsanders

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The theme of the dinner party was La Belle Époque,

In the vintage shop, I found a dress befitting Jane Avril.

Took it home, put it on a hanger and began imagining…

The urge was great, so I slipped into it.

The lights dimmed for a moment and

I was transported to a busy bar in Paris.

Champagne flowing, cigarette smoke hanging in the air,

as the pianist accompanied the sad song the soloist sang.

Toulouse came to say “Bonne soirée, ma chérie”,

but my eye was on the young Picasso, surrounded by alluring ladies.

Hiding in the corner with Zola was Pierre Currie,

having left Marie at the laboratory with her radiation tests.

Lumiére was looking up and down my gown,

to decide on my next role in his film,

as Picasso approached and bought me drink.

Moulin Rouge, he said, or Casino de Paris or maybe even La Tour…

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The X-Factor

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The X Factor

Notting Hill, London

 

Scarlett gazed at Frank, lying next to her in bed.  His tousled hair covered part of his face, eyelids framed by dark curly lashes fluttered in sleep. She stroked his hair. He opened his eyes and looked into hers.

“Good morning,” he said, yawned and stretched, and kissed her on the mouth.

Scarlet sighed and held his hand. “Why do you always disappear?”

“Because I’m a spy.”

“Liar, if you were, you wouldn’t tell me.”

“True, but it could be possible — the X-Factor.”

“There’s something spooky about you. I can’t put my finger on it, but you go away for a long time, never call, then you surface and ask me out.”

“I told you. My job requires me to travel.”

“Why don’t you call when you’re away?”

“What’s the point? I won’t be able to see you.”

“Is that what this is about? Spend the evening together, make love, and vanish afterwards. You never tell me you’re leaving town. Last time you were gone for three months.”

“I never know in advance. Once I get new contract, I have to leave immediately. IT matters can’t wait.”

“Are you married, with a family in another country?”

“No. You already asked that.”

“Come here,” she said and wrapped her arms around him. “Promise to be with me on Valentine’s Day.”

“I’ll try.” He caressed her ivory skin, partly veiled by her flaming locks and held her chin. Looking into her green eyes, he crooned. “I love you, Scarlett.”

 

The Y Factor

 

Bullseye arrived at Fiumicino Airport and took a taxi to Via Veneto. He checked into the hotel, and looked out the window of his room, which faced the American Embassy. He changed into casual clothes and trainers, and went out for a long walk. After dining at Cafe de Paris, he returned to his room. He made a few calls to set up the meeting for the next day, before settling in for an early night.

Next morning, he drove a rented car to a small town outside Rome. The Alfa Romeo parked at a convenient spot, he took a racket bag out of the boot and headed for Giorgio’s shop. In fluent Italian, he spoke to the salesgirl. “Buongiorno, signorina, ho un appuntamento con Giorgio.”

The girl phoned the boss. “He’s waiting for you, sir. This way, please.” She led him up the stairs to her manager’s office.

Bullseye entered the room and shook hands with Giorgio. He sat in a pressed leather chair, its ornate legs akin to the paws of lions, chewing on a cigar. “Long time, no see. Come va?”

“Fine, thanks. Do you have the merchandise?”

“If you have the cash?”

“It’s all here,” Bullseye said, pointing to the bag.

“Va bene.” Giorgio rested his cigar in an ashtray on his desk, pulled himself up from the chair, and stepped across to the door, which he locked. Stepping back across the room, he approached a reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus, swung it away from the wall, and reached in to the safe set in the wall cavity behind. After keying in the combination, he opened the door, took out a bulky parcel, and laid it on the table.

Bullseye unwrapped the package and examined the contents. He assembled the pieces, looked through the lens, and turned to Giorgio. “Untraceable?”

“Completely. Abandoned terrorist stuff, with the bullets.”

“Hope it justifies the price.”

“All good things come at a price.”

Bullseye dismantled the gun and wrapped the cloth around the pieces. He stacked the bundles of cash from his bag on the desk. Giorgio counted the money and locked the bundles of notes in the safe.

“Ci vediamo,” he said to Giorgio as they shook hands.

 

Bullseye drove back to the hotel. The racket bag placed safely in the wardrobe, he grabbed his camera and wandered passed designated places on the streets of Rome. Each night, he downloaded the photos taken onto his laptop and magnified them to highlight the details. Late at night, he assembled the gun, crept to the window, and peered through the lens.

 

The day of the grand reception at the American Embassy arrived. Sitting at the open window in his darkened room, he watched the approaching cars, checked number plates and focused on the guests. The procession at the gate made them the perfect, slow-moving targets. The limo he anticipated appeared and stopped behind a car, dropping off dignitaries in formal eveningwear. The Mercedes with the CD plates moved forward. The target stepped out, talking to the man accompanying him. They paused at the gate, for the security check. Bullseye aimed at the man’s head and fired the first shot. The target jolted, but before he collapsed to the ground, Bullseye fired another shot into his chest.

Hand steady and breath imperceptible, he closed the window, dismantled the gun, and placed it inside the racket bag. He picked up his holdall, left the room, took the lift to the lobby, and checked out at reception. In the underground car park, he dumped the bags in the boot of his Alfa and drove into the side street by the exit. In the rear view mirror, he could see the flashing lights of police cars by the entrance of the embassy.

 

Lugano, only six-hundred and fifty kilometres away, he cruised the Alfa at a moderate speed of 80 km/h. Under the cover of darkness, Bullseye dropped the gun and the bullets in a convenient lake that lay just before the Swiss border. Flashing a fake passport at the border control, he drove into Switzerland and headed for Zurich airport. His vehicle left at the arranged agency, he boarded a flight to London, using his British identity papers.

 

The Love Factor

Notting Hill, London

 

Scarlett awoke on Valentine’s Day with a solitary question in her head. Will he or won’t he show up? Preoccupied with this thought throughout the day, she attempted to pass the time in the evening by watching the X-Factor on TV.

At 8:31pm the door bell rang. Her heart leapt when she saw his smiling face through the peep hole. She opened the door and her eyes misted at the huge bouquet of red roses he held out to her. In his other hand, two bottles of Dom Perignon. Speechless, Scarlett took the flowers, as he stepped into her flat. The bottles and the bouquet placed onto the table, she embraced him and sobbed, burying her face in his chest.

“Hey, don’t cry. Look at me.”

“I … I’m over the moon, thank you for coming,” she said, gazing into his eyes.

They kissed. He reached for the champagne bottle and popped the cork. As the fizz rushed out, Scarlett squealed.  He poured the golden liquid into two flutes.

“Cheers, my Scarlett Valentine.”

As the bliss of each other’s company warmed their hearts, he extracted a small box from his pocket. He lifted the lid and held it to her. An emerald-cut solitaire gleamed at Scarlett. Her eyes widened as he took it out and slipped it on her finger. She admired the exquisite stone and lifted her eyes.

“Oh, my God, really?”

“Yes, really, my Valentine.”

“You mean it, seriously?”

“Seriously, one of these days we’ll go off together and settle down somewhere remote. I’m getting tired of travelling.”

 

The Fate Factor

 

Tired of his job, Bullseye wanted out, but wasn’t sure whether his past would follow him. The last contract he had accepted was his most profitable. Shooting prominent politicians was not everyone’s game. Great skill and experience was required to escape the scrutiny of the CIA, MI6, FSB, MOSSAD, and INTERPOL. Tempted to accept one last assignment, he viewed it as something that would bolster his retirement pot. Never having to worry where his next dollar would come from meant he could live care free.

 

Doubts filled his mind. Could he? He had more money than he could possibly spend in a lifetime. In possession of countless identities equivalent to those of the residents of a small village, he could hop from country to country. Passports, language, appearance, and profession changed, he could cross many borders with ease. Though he made certain no trace of him was ever left behind, he did not take the worldwide intelligence agencies lightly.

He simply wanted a life with Scarlett, the woman who had stolen his heart. He no longer wished to lie to her, or be without her for long periods. He had already made her a promise and slipped a solitaire diamond on her finger during a Valentine’s Day rendezvous. He could take her to Toscana, but Italy was not safe, and the Adriatic, too risky. The Pacific was also eliminated as a threat as he could be easily exposed. His gut feeling indicated Central or South America. Costa Rica? He could buy protection there.

The trigger pulled, a bullet penetrated the victim’s skull, leaving their brains to spatter the air. Bullseye vacated his elevated position. He jumped into his car and drove to Switzerland from France, changing his passport at the border. Hire car ditched, he procured another once in the neutral country.

Taking refuge at a Swiss mountain resort, he called Scarlett on the mobile he’d given her. “Pack light, pick up your passport and meet me in Vienna in two days. Tickets, funds, and details will follow. Don’t try to call me until then. I love you.”

Disguised as an American tourist, wearing a baseball cap, a colourful t-shirt over jeans and a camera around his neck,  he left the Swiss village and drove to the German border. In Munich, he changed the car again and entered Austria as a German Catholic priest. On the outskirts of Vienna, his contact met him with a different vehicle. At home, taking on the appearance of a middle-aged English Professor, he stepped into the lobby of Hotel Sacher, and headed for the Café.

In the opulent decor of the Café, Scarlett’s red hair blended into the colour of the fabric on the walls and upholstery. Forking the generous slice of Sachertorte in front of her, she raised her head and smiled when their eyes met. “Very appealing. Silver hair suits you, my love.”

He kissed her and sat down.

“Enjoy your cake and coffee. Then we’ll be leaving.”

“This is more delicious than Fortnum’s, but I couldn’t possibly finish it. Would you like a taste?”

He nodded and ordered a coffee to complement the dessert.

Scarlett knew not to ask questions. She had trained herself over the years. After sharing the rich chocolate cake, they left.

Bullseye drove them to Budapest, changing passports at the border and again at the departure point of the airport. They flew to Frankfurt, and onwards to Mexico City.

By the time they landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, Bullseye and Scarlett had used several identities and disguises. She arrived as a brunette with a stylish short cut. He portrayed a Scandinavian with corn-silk hair.

They drove to the Gulf of Papagayo on the Pacific coast. He had rented a luxury villa in the hills. Bullseye never invested in property or cars. He believed in cash, the majority of which he kept in bank vaults scattered across a dozen countries.

Surrounded by high walls, monitored by security cameras and full-time staff, the property would provide a safe haven. Scarlett was delighted with the panoramic views of the bay and the amenities of the house. Designed by a renowned architect and decorated with exclusive taste, the indoor living area and the grounds displayed an exquisite selection of furniture and fittings.

A week later, Bullseye took Scarlett to a hacienda where their wedding took place in a small church. She wore a white dress and his wedding present, an emerald pendant necklace that matched the colour of her eyes. Finally her dreams had come true.

He sorted his business at the Bank, and showed her the contents of his safe in the vaults. Cash in hard currencies, gold bars, and several passports for both of them. Joint accounts and authorized signatures allowed Scarlett to access their assets in case of an emergency.

That evening, while sipping drinks on the viewing deck above the infinity pool, Scarlett gave him a mischievous look.

“So, I was right all the time. You are — were, a spy.”

“It’s best you know nothing.”

“Hmm, what’s your real name, Frank?”

“I’ve forgotten it. I have so many, call me anything you like.”

“You are my love.”

“You are my love, too.” He smiled and held her hand.

“Maybe I should call you by a different name every day.”

They hired a boat and sailed around the bay, enjoying fishing, water-skiing, or wind-surfing. Life was good. Bullseye counted each day as a gift. The number of days they spent together had now surpassed the number of lives he had taken. Scarlett took photos, painted watercolour sketches of the exotic views and the colourful flowers in the area.

 

While celebrating their first wedding anniversary on the terrace, Bullseye strolled over to the edge with a champagne glass in his hand. He stopped to admire the view.

 

Scarlett watched him, her heart beating with the excitement of the news she would be giving him as a present. She stroked her belly.

 

A crimson sunset painted the sky, his silhouette ethereal against the colours. He turned and smiled to her, raising his glass.  A cool breeze ruffled his hair. He jolted and collapsed like an empty sack, the glass in his hand shattering on the tiles.

 

Scarlett rushed to him, dropped to her knees and hugged him as the blood oozing from his chest stained her white dress in patterns of haphazard batik. She sobbed and screamed in silence, rocking back and forth, her arms clenched around him.

 

She stared at the solitaire diamond on her finger and swore to remain solitaire.

 

Photo credit:

Don’t leave by Delawer-Omar

 

 

 

 

 

A Kind of Loving

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Jack Vetriano A Kind of Loving large

Jack Vetriano, A kind of Loving

Photo prompt: Jack Vetriano paintings

 

Bernard visited the flea market every Sunday and looked for objects to add to his collections, or something interesting to start a new one. Seeing a display of old-fashioned mannequins at one of his favourite stalls, he stopped and studied them, imagining what he could do with them. He negotiated the price for four, and carried them to his station-wagon, one by one, taking great care. They were a treasure, rare samples from the 50’s, made of wood.

Bernard installed the mannequins in the basement of his house, which he’d turned into a nostalgic bar, after his mother died. Not that he was a drinker, but he liked the idea of people socializing under the influence, telling each other their secrets, or meeting someone new. This was something he envied, yet his shyness prevented him from making friends. As soon as someone began to chat to him about something other than work, a hot flush would creep over his face. He’d begin to stutter, and lost for words, escape to find solace in the privacy of his home.

A hard-working mechanical engineer in a manufacturing firm,  Bernard had attained the rank of manager, though he knew he couldn’t move any higher due to his lack of social skills. When he inherited the family house, he had gutted the basement and reproduced the model of a bar he visited on the Internet. Wood panelling, decorated with bevelled mirrors behind the racks of bottles, and in front of it, a mahogany counter with matching stools. He bought a bottle of every alcoholic beverage existing in a bar’s inventory, along with glasses and accessories. Every Friday night, he prepared a cocktail recipe from a famous barman. He sat on a stool and watched his image reflected in one of the mirrors. Yet, he was still alone, in the midst of silence. The introduction of a LED TV screen fixed to the wall solved the problem. Bernard watched people from another world, and music videos providing sound. He listened to sensual women singing songs and wearing next to nothing.

The mannequins presented Bernard with the opportunity to create something more intimate. Not so fond of their bare bodies, he decided clothes might give them a kind of reality and ordered sexy dresses to make them more enticing. He embraced his new friends with passion, yet felt a tinge of disappointment when they did not respond.

A few weeks later, he thought about giving them more personality. He spent his weekends searching for heads with the choice of eyes, wigs, and flexible body parts. The task of fitting them took all his spare time, and in the small hours of each morning, he stumbled to his bedroom. Once he mastered one, Bernard moved onto the next. A month later he had created his beloved possessions. Natasha, the Slavic beauty with blue eyes and long, blonde hair. Anita, the Scandinavian, whose fizzy red hair framed green eyes. Carla, the Italian, with hazel eyes and cascading brown locks, sitting next to Manuela, the Spanish seductress whose dark gaze and short cropped black hair promised an exciting adventure.

Bernard sat at the head of the table, and with the grace of a butler, served wine and small portions of the exotic dish he’d prepared to his alluring companions. He raised his glass and said, “Bon appétit, mesdames.”

The girls looked real. Almost. He had arranged their postures, manicured hands or elbows resting on the table, their heads facing him, and hair swept in sync with their pose. Bernard took photos. Drank his wine, as well as theirs, and cleared the table after finishing his meal. The Friday night dinner parties kept him busy for a few weeks until they became boring, and he felt the need for more animation from his guests.

Bernard changed their costumes, gave them whips, chains, and chokers. He drank more wine and ate more food than he normally did. He could feel their hands on his body. Maybe something would happen now.

****

Monica, the Office Manager, entered the house with two police officers. They searched downstairs and upstairs, and found neatly arranged rooms, but no sign of Bernard. Coming down to the hall, one of the officers saw the door leading to the basement. He pushed it open and descending the lit staircase, gawked when he witnessed the scene at Bernard’s bar. Chained to the chair, at the head of the table, a leather bondage choker had been pulled tight around Bernard’s neck. His swollen tongue sticking out, head hanging at an angle, decomposition had already disfigured his face.

Monica screamed and covered her mouth as the policeman shouted, “You’re compromising the crime scene!”

She staggered to the bar and poured a finger of whiskey into a tumbler. Perched on a stool, she downed the drink, and scanned the fetish clothes, wigs, and accessories scattered around the room. She gulped and turned to the officers. “I don’t understand. Bernard was a very nice man.”

The Forensic Team found no fingerprints, other than Bernard’s and Monica’s on the glass and the whiskey bottle. They examined the photos on Bernard’s mobile. The mannequins in the pictures had curiously disappeared, having left their clothes and wigs behind.

 

 

PS. Please don’t ask me how these paragraphs are indented. I have no idea. I just uploaded an edited version and this is how it came up. WordPress has its moments!

 

Ripples on the Pond

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Ripples 3

 

Cover reveal for my anthology of flash fiction and short stories to be published later this year.

Cover design by my author friend, historial fiction writer, Angela Elliott.

Conventional vs. Traditional

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Flash Fiction on ScribblersBIG-PHARMA

This is my effort  for this week’s flash fiction thread on Scribblers with the prompt “take over, take-over, or takeover”. Isabelle and Hans are characters from a previous tale, though the subject matter is a difficult one to fit into 1000 words. I managed to stay under. Unplugged!

Flash Fiction on Scribblers

 

The Worldwide Alliance of Holistic Medicine was a secret society whose leading members included experts on traditional herbal therapy, doctors, academicians, and practitioners from  different countries. Receiving grants from the supporters of alternative medicine and homeopathy, the Alliance had formed Terra Plc, twenty years ago. A Hong Kong based company, that launched its operations trading commodities from China.

Established as reputable company in South East Asia, Terra had begun its discreet acquisition scheme on Dewey Pharmaceuticals stocks to carry out the mission of the Alliance to defeat Big Pharma and its followers in the health industry. Starting with small subsidiaries in Asia and South America, Terra invested in the shares of the associates indirectly linked to the parent holding,  Dewey, whose global operation map was more intricate than a spider’s web.

This coincided with the untimely deaths of some herbal practitioners in the US and Europe, who had found cures for illnesses conventional medicine failed to heal. Although the involvement of Big Pharma was never proved, the unexpected demise of these healers rose questions and led to conspiracy theories.

The initial acquisitions in the lowest branches of its organization chart went unnoticed by Dewey,  as it continued to invade the global market with its American, European, and Asian partners. However, a decade later, the second biggest player in the pharmaceutical scene had serious concerns.

 

Hans-Ludwig Schiller, the President of Dewey, tapped his fingers on his mahogany desk, his gaze shifting from the company report lying before him to the view of Lake Geneva through the open window. He picked up the phone and called, Isabelle, his CEO and mistress. “Drop whatever you’re doing and come to my office immediately.”

Isabelle stepped in, dressed in a cream and pale pink tweed Chanel suit. Her blonde hair pulled into a tight chignon accentuated her violet eyes lined with dark kohl.  He motioned her to the chair in front of the desk and slid the report towards her. “I want you to find out who’s behind these acquisitions. You’re the only person I can trust. Do whatever you must, employ all necessary methods. Bribery, bullying, using your femininity and creativity. Keep me up to date and don’t discuss this with anyone else. Delegate all other work to your deputies and say you’re working on a private project for me. I need results fast.”

Isabelle picked up the report and flicked through its pages. Looking into Hans’ steel-blue eyes behind the frameless spectacles, she said, “They’re copying our methods. The buyers seem like independent companies, but I’m sure there is a single entity behind it. They’re probably using a shareholding network to follow their plans.”

“Exactly my thoughts. The holistic lobby might be behind this. They receive considerable grants from various offshore trusts which are difficult to trace. You need spies to investigate this.”

“I’ll find the right people, Hans. We have contacts.”

“Get on with it then, before we lose the rest of the company.”

Isabelle rose and walked around the desk. She placed her hand on Hans’ shoulder and kissed him softly on the cheek. Running her hand over his silver cropped hair, she spoke in a confident voice. “Trust me.” She turned around and left the room.

Isabelle decided to work from her house facing the lake. On her computer screen, she scrolled down the list of market investigators. The name Weber & Weber rang a bell. She looked through their website, tapped their number on her mobile, and insisted on an urgent appointment with Franz Weber she had contracted before. Sworn to secrecy, these international market detectives boasted of the latest technology and contacts to carry out the required work.

Later that afternoon, sitting opposite Franz, Isabelle filled him in on the details. “I want the results very fast. Money is not an issue. I’ll pay whatever it takes to have the information on at least a few companies who bought these shares. You can carry on with the rest after giving me some solid leads.”

Franz  clasped his hands together, debating the pressures of timing. “Madame Duncan, you do realize such investigations require a great deal of meticulous work.  I don’t wish to make false promises and mislead you. ”

“Do your best, Mr Weber. You’ll be reimbursed for all extra services.”

As soon as Isabelle received the required intelligence, she flew to locations where the listed companies were located. Equipped with a variety of wigs, coloured contact lenses,  and a wardrobe to hide her identity, Isabelle visited each establishment under false pretences to extract information from the executives. Loyal associates of the Alliance did not leak vital information, nor did they respond to Isabelle’s seductive charms. Some of them had unfortunate car accidents, some died of food poisoning, yet the Alliance resisted against the lethal threats.

As data poured in from  Franz, she changed countries and persevered in her mission, talking to Hans daily. A year later, Hans called her back. “Enough, Isabelle. Get back here and let’s work on a different plan.”

Seated at the executive office in Lausanne, Hans and Isabelle schemed on an immediate solution, when a tall, young man barged through the door, the security officers at his tail.

“I’m Robert Langford from the Alliance of Holistic Medicine. With the recent acquisitions, we now hold the majority of Dewey shares. An extraordinary board meeting will be held this afternoon and the entire organization will change.”

Hans waved away the security officers and extended his hand to Robert. “Pleased to meet you, Mr Langford. Please have a seat and let’s talk. This is Isabelle Duncan, my CEO.”

Robert shook hands with Isabelle and sat down. “What are your plans, Mr Schiller?”

“Please call me Hans. After the board meeting, Isabelle and I will be taking that long-awaited vacation in the Pacific.”

“Hold on to your stocks, Hans. This company will be a pioneer in the world of holistic medicine, forming a bridge between the conventional and traditional methods for wellness.”

Tragedy

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Tragedy tears_-_cropped_1

 

I open my Facebook page and begin to type on a purple background that matches my mood.

“Not feeling well. I have a summer cold that hasn’t gone away since last Wednesday. Now it’s further complicated by tendonitis or bursitis on my right wrist. Sry cant use apostrophes. My hand hurts, my nose is clocked blocked. I keep sneezing. Why do disasters come all at the same time?”

The coloured background changes to plain white as the wording is too long. I give up and post it, indulging in my misfortunes on the last days of August.

Replies pour in from friends who commiserate with me. “So sorry. Put ice on your wrist, use a muscle rub, take pain killers, rest it.”

Unable to comment on each post, I like their replies and use emojis to show my appreciation. Then a post appears from a group writer, with 3000 friends, against my 330. I never know why I’ve accepted his friend request. He never likes any of my posts and always brags about himself, stating his political and philosophical opinions as though he’s the tower of wisdom.

“What are you whining on about when there’s so much real tragedy in the world? Hurricane Harvey and Houston, Myanmar and ethnic cleansing, earthquakes, fascism, hunger, climate change, Florence approaching Earth? Shut up and don’t crowd my notifications with stupid posts. End.”

Tears well in my eyes, as my wrist throbs, the pain shooting up the arm towards my shoulder. Under normal circumstances, I’d write a response, but it’s too much trouble to spend the effort and go into a pointless argument with such a pompous scum. Maybe just as well – he doesn’t deserve a reply. Not even bothering to post an angry emoji, I unfriend the self-righteous bloke and log off. My real friends can call me if they want to hear my voice.

The word tragedy echoes in my mind as I ponder why some people behave in such abominable ways on the Internet. Does the virtual atmosphere give them more power than they have in real life? Are they insignificant, mediocre characters who aspire to be heroes and take centre stage in a make believe world?

Tragedies come in all sizes and shapes. From the Greek plays to Shakespeare, and contemporary stories. Murder, incest, complexes, unrequited love, loss, war, death, terrorism, natural disasters to environmental and health issues. From the personal to the global, we live under the threats of internal and external factors as our bodies suffer from their physical and psychological side-effects.

Millions of functions inside our outer shell are taken for granted until something goes wrong, and we’re unable to perform simple tasks. The left hand fails to replace the agility of the right hand, or the opposite, as we’re not ambidextrous. My personal tragedy is how I’m going to cope with the, hopefully, temporary dysfunction of my right hand when using utensils, opening and locking doors, washing my hair, and driving the car have become challenges. Maybe tragedy is an exaggerated word and should be replaced with misfortune, hardship, or trial to make the situation more realistic. Engrossed in the difficulties of my circumstances, accompanied by excruciating pain, how can I concentrate on the real tragedies in the world? I need to heal myself, before I attempt to heal or commiserate with others.

I don’t wish to be remembered as a moaning, self-centred person, yet we forget when we make a public post on social sites, the repercussions go beyond our intentions, presenting some of the virtual beasts with the opportunity to criticize and humiliate us.

Rule: Don’t share private matters on public sites and be sparse with stating your opinions.

Reminder: Get that terrace door fixed before you damage your wrist permanently.

Delayed Plans

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Eclipse Jackson, Wyoming

 

 

Leila read on the web, “Sometimes it’s perfectly okay and absolutely necessary to shut down, kick back, and do nothing.” The message boosted her ego, but she knew it was an excuse, not a solution to her condition of apathy. Why had she ended up this way? How had she lost her joie de vivre? Why was she so paralyzed to carry out her plans, from daily chores to meaningful pursuits she once believed were the purpose of her life? The conversations with her alter ego, more demanding than those with a school principle, led nowhere. She sat frozen, as time sped, not willing to clean the flat, organize her home, take care of her hair or body. Each day, she delayed these tasks until tomorrow, yet when tomorrow became today, she postponed her plans until the next day. This had been going for a while. The heat, the humidity, combined with the occasional threats of earthquakes in the Southern Aegean did not help, either. A series of excuses, symptoms – not causes.

 

Faced with the question, “When were you last happy?” on an internet questionnaire, Leila stopped to reflect. She couldn’t remember. This is pathetic, she thought, and tried to recall a moment of bliss. She was not an ungrateful person, she loved her home. Each night she went to sleep with the thought, and woke up feeling safe in her comfort zone. Scanning through her memories, she finally found a happy moment. The boat trip along the Bosphorus in Istanbul. The plankton explosion, the turquoise sea, on a warm and sunny day in June. That was two months ago, which reminded her that the suitcase from the trip still lay on the divan in the spare bedroom, to be dealt with tomorrow.

 

Life passed her by, despite her conscience disturbing her from time to time, and urging her to do something – anything.  I need help, she thought and reached for the phone to call an old friend. One she didn’t have to pretend to and say she’s fine. Joy answered, in her soft-spoken voice.

 

“I was thinking of you. Glad you called. How are you?”

“I’m not well. It’s like I’m having commitment issues. I can’t get anything done. Days go by and I lack the enthusiasm.”

“You’re depressed. Are you taking anything?”

“You know I don’t take any pills, just my vitamins. I’d rather have a drink.”

“A drink or drinks?”

“Drinks, some, but that’s not the issue. I can’t understand why. It’s hot and humid, uncomfortable, and the political situation is very frightening. It’s like someone, something has turned off the light. I’m late for everything. I’ll be late for my own funeral.”

“The political situation is dismal everywhere. We’re not the only ones. Look at the US and Europe. UK, Brexit, North Korea, the threat of nuclear war.”

“There were days when I was so busy I didn’t have time to stop and read or watch the news. Now, it’s compulsory. Something bad is happening all the time and it’s pulled me into an abyss I can’t see a way out of.”

“Don’t read it or watch it. Stay away for a while. You won’t miss a thing. What will happen will happen. Remember that film, Stranger than Fiction, when the guy was told to sit still, not to do anything? He squatted on his settee until a bulldozer wrecked the front of his flat.”

“Yeah, I remember. Great film. Maybe that’s the answer.”

“Baby steps.”

“Right.”

 

Leila switched off the phone and feeling marginally better, thought tomorrow is a new day before she went to sleep. I’ll be more productive. One step at a time and I’ll do the chores and manage the more meaningful plans…

 

The anticipated solar eclipse over North America reminded her of the total eclipse over Turkey back in 1999 and the subsequent earthquake. A memory which haunted her every time the earth rocked beneath her feet. The after-shocks of the Bodrum earthquake in July heightened her fear. Her favourite astrologer said the eclipse is the beginning of a new age, The Age of Aquarius. All the troubles in the world could be explained by the resistance to let go of the old order, an attachment to the past, a denial of change by some humans. The sun is the light, the moon is the past. Let go and enter the new era.

 

For the next few days, Leila found the incentive to carry out delayed plans from personal to practical, indicating her intent to the universe. She cleaned the house, dyed her hair, sat at the computer writing and editing her work, and felt good about her small achievements.

 

The eclipse took place and she was relieved nothing bad happened. Leila carried on, taking baby steps to realize her plans.

 

Sitting at the computer one evening that week, immersed in her work, she heard a distant noise that magnified. The house shook, the furniture rattled and the walls moved back and forth. She froze. Then, forced herself to rise, grab her handbag and the phone. Staggering to the kitchen, designated as her safe area, she found her pills and stuck them in her bag.

 

She gripped the edge of the table with both hands, waiting for the reverberating roar to end. The lights flickered. The earthquake-proof walls creaked and began to crumble down. Curled into a foetus position under the table, the floor tiles pulsated against her body. Thoughts flashed in her mind, as the flat plunged into darkness. Is this how my life ends? No. This is the end of what used to be and the start of a new beginning. I shall rise.

 

Photo Credit : Eclipse over Jackson, Wyoming

http://www.boredpanda.com/jackson-wy-1138am-8-21-17/

Virginia Creeper

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Happy to see my story published on Spelk Fiction today.

Spelk

by Sebnem Sanders

Ivy fascinated Ivan. English, with prominent white or yellow-green veins. Boston, with a reddish bronze colour in the spring, and bright, deep green during summer, turning to shades of scarlet, purple or orange in autumn. Yet, the Virginia Creeper was his vestal virgin, with five separate leaves joined at the centre. Just like a human hand, as described in its Latin name, Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Parthenocissus meaning “virgin ivy”. Why virgin, Ivan didn’t know, but he liked the connotation.

Ivan was a loner who never got married or had any lasting relationships. After his retirement, without a partner or close friends, he spent all his time gardening. A lifetime passion and hobby became a way of life for him. Despite his lack of formal education in horticulture, he was a natural with green fingers. The two-storey stone house he had bought in the countryside boasted a greenhouse…

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Sunset Café

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 Sunset Cafe 2

 

 

Like the flickering sunrays at the end of the day, Emily was at the sunset of her life. The golden ball of light would soon sink into the sea, and disappear temporarily, until its rise the next morning. That was a ninety-nine percent probability. She had witnessed this certainty throughout her life of eighty-five years. The one percent she put aside as a possibility for things that might happen otherwise. Just in case.

Yet, her life, as an aged mortal, offered her no guarantees that enabled her to witness the dawn tomorrow morning. That was a fact. Besides, as an old person, her beauty had faded away while the eternal splendour of the sunrise and the sunset remained. People did not possess the rejuvenating powers of the elements of nature, which made them preserve their appeal, at least for the duration of a human lifetime on Earth. Their bodies and organs deformed, though their souls remained young.

A dismal picture. Decay and die. When exactly the decaying process began, she couldn’t put a finger on. Maybe it starts at birth, or after puberty? Who knows? We only begin to see its visual signs in mid-life, during our forties and the fifties, and it’s downhill from there.

Emily was not a religious person, but thanked her stars for still being in command of her body and mind. Her movements, thoughts and decisions still under her control, she had wanted to go to the seaside café to watch, perhaps, her final sunset.

At the Retirement Home she had moved into five years ago, relenting to her granddaughter’s will, watching sunsets and sunrises was not an option due to the location of the building and its small grounds. From her home, at the top of the hill in the village, she had seen a myriad of memorable episodes of the same scenes, with different variations of light, cloud and wind, making each one unique.

On this glorious day in April, she had risen at first daylight with the wish to see the sunset that day. Her transport arranged by the staff at the Home, she settled into her reserved scenic seat at The Sunset Café. Her handbag and the just-in-case cane next to her, she ordered a glass of Merlot to enjoy the show.

Memories of long gone beloveds on her mind, she sipped her drink as the colours in the sky changed from golden to pink and coral. The orange sun turned into a crimson hue, and sank into the sea.

Emily lit a cigarette and inhaled. Thinking about her long lost daughter and husband, tears welled in her eyes. The loss of a child is the hardest to bear in life. I could have gone, she could have stayed. Life is unfair. Still, believing Bill was up there somewhere with her, gave her some consolation. At least, she’s not alone. My darling, you wouldn’t be able to cope with it. She fought a losing battle with the illness.

Emily’s mobile rang. She fumbled in her handbag, found the phone and pressed the key. “Hello.”

“Nana, how are you?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Just watching the sunset, maybe for the last time?”

“Oh, Nana, why the last time? Don’t make me sad.”

“Sorry, Natalie, I didn’t mean to upset you. Just memories.”

“I know, dearest. Listen, I’m coming to pick you up next Friday to stay with us over the weekend.”

“Ah, you’re planning a birthday party?”

“Yes, and without you, I’d be sad. Say, you’ll come.”

“Of course, I’ll come. But I’m hoping you’ll accept a cash gift from me. No nice shops around here to find something special for your fortieth, and I might buy the wrong thing.”

“Thank you, darling Nana. We’ll go shopping together, if you like.”

“I’ll enjoy that, sweetheart.”

“See you, Nana.”

Emily put the phone in her bag and sipped the remainder of her wine. The pinkish brush strokes against the pale blue sky seemed to promise a few more sunsets and sunrises in her life.

 

 

 

Photo credit:

The view from Lapad Bay © raspu / Moment Open / Getty Images

 

 

Dust, Smoke and Love

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Smoke art Mehmet-Ozgur_1600_600

 

Memories gathered dust among the cigarette fumes. The smoke had always surrounded them in times of love and pain. A silent witness to the affair, it rose in spiralled clouds that vanished into the atmosphere, the hint of its existence trailing behind in scent. Consumed yet lingering, like the hurt in her heart.

 

She sat on the open deck of the channel ferry, as the scenery passed before her eyes. Her thoughts eclipsing the images, life seemed to evolve without her participation. Sunsets and sunrises, the moon and the stars no longer evoked feelings of wonder. Their charm exhausted, their meaning lost.  A meandering melancholy had stolen the colours and transported her into a scene from a black and white art film with little conversation and tedious gazes shot in slow-motion.

 

In a state of detachment, she continued to stare into the distance, as the ferry approached the terminal. A scurry of muffled footsteps and snippets of conversation sneaked into her reverie. Silhouettes passed her by and disappeared, until new figures emerged and left at intervals.

 

Cruising back and forth across the channel, the vessel made its scheduled trips, as she sat unmoved through the motion. Daylight turned into night, electric beams lit up the distant hills like a shower of fireflies.

 

A ferry conductor’s voice broke her thoughts. “Lady, this is the last stop for the night. You must get off.” The pixels of his face materializing before her, she tried to command her paralyzed legs to get up and move. Holding onto the barrier, she stood and staggered to the stairs. The abyss frightened her. One step at a time, shaky limbs proceeded towards the set destination. Reaching the bottom platform, she paused and took a deep breath.

The conductor following her asked, “Are you on drugs?”

“If memories are drugs, that’s what I’m on.”

“You lost someone.”

“You could say that, but not to death.”

“Ah, to someone else? That’s even sadder.”

“Is it?”

“You seem like a ghost in the land of the living. That’s bad.”

 

She resumed her steps and froze when she came to the portable bridge connecting the ferry to the quay. Images of falling into the gap and of being squashed between the vessel and the concrete rushed to her mind. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead.

“Here, let me help,” the man said. He held her hand until she landed safely ashore.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice quivering.

“Stop and think,” he said, and smiled. “Fear of death means you want to continue living.”

“Yes.”

“Live it up, then, instead of ignoring it.”

“I’ll try.”

“There are no buses at this hour, you must take a taxi.”

“Thank you for your help. Good night.”

 

Her steps now more confident, she ambled to the taxi rank and took a cab.

 

Home she thought, and the sanctuary of her bed. She needed a rest from the memories. Tomorrow would be a new day, when, perhaps, she would allow them to gather more dust while she followed the cigarette smoke to new destinations.

 

 

Photo credit:

Smoke Works, Cutting Edge by Mehmet Özgür,  Mehmet Ozgur