Virginia Creeper

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

Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shephard

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Sam Shephard

Jeanne Moreau

 

On my Instagram page, Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shephard gaze at each other. Her sad news came before his, on this last day of July 2017. She is talking on the phone, with a pensive look on her face, staring into the distance. He is watching her closely, to incorporate her character in one of his new plays. In the photos, hers in black and white, his in colour, she is younger than him. He was 73 when he died, last Thursday. She was 89, the same age as my departed mother.

I remember the black and white movies of my youth, mainly French and Italian, of the New Wave. She was the unpredictable protagonist, smoking Gauloises, in the dark stories. Her eyes and lips acted the part when she let them take over, instead of speaking.  A mysterious beauty whose acting talent has been endorsed in cinema and on stage over the years.

Sam Shephard, a soft spoken man, whose talent is deeper than his image in the movies. A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, one who, as the New York Times says, captured the darker side of the American family life. A member of the Off Broadway movement. A  man who has crossed the borders.

Sam looks at Jeanne and studies her, remembering the many characters she’s played. He’s thinking about a new screenplay. She’s the protagonist, wild, sensuous, intriguing and mesmerizing.

Jeanne feels she’s being watched. She recognizes the man, the playwright, the director, the actor. She likes challenges, she likes change. “If he offers me a part, I’ll take it. But I’m too old,” she sighs.

Sam smiles. “The part is for an old lady, but a mischievous one.”

Mummy’s Torchlight

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Mummy's Torchlight IX

Cover by David J. Meyers

 

 

Here’s the link and the blurb to a short story I posted on Wattpad and submitted to OMP, One Million Project, for their Thriller Anthology.  (2,700 words) 

 

Toby waited for Mummy, but she never came back. Uncle Jim and Aunt Doris told him she was in Heaven. Why did Mummy go there without him? Why couldn’t he go to see her?
He kept Mummy’s torchlight safe, to guide him through the darkness, knowing she’d watch over him.

 

Mummy’s Torchlight

 

https://www.wattpad.com/447960743-mummy%27s-torchlight

 

Floods of Hope

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sel

 

At the top of the hill, I pause for a rest and contemplate the scene around me, disheartened and perplexed. I cringe. Weary of the battles lost in the name of integrity, I yearn for some breathing room from the oppression we, The Others, are being subjected to.

 

Ever since the day he came into our lives, I knew he would not leave. All the beliefs and values I was brought up with would crumble and wither under his merciless feet. He moved ever so discreetly, building his strength. Fooling the foolish followers, he cast his web. Insidiously, undetected by the naked eye. Over time, the tyrant’s network grew, while the rich became richer with his encouragement. He bought them, sold them, rewarded his loyal subjects with treasures that belonged to the land.

 

One morning we woke up to find all that we had was gone. He became ruthless, greedy and revelled in his power. No one could disagree with him. If they did, they rotted in jail with sentences from the courts of justice that became his domain. A one man show, one man’s law, against The Others that dared to fight for their rights. Lies, controversy, megalomania in the disguise of religion ruled the land. The Others wept and protested, hissing at the imperial powers who created this monster for their sinister purposes.

 

Darkness fell on the country with nightmares in real time. Human rights and ideals crushed under the corruption. This was no purgatory, but hell itself. The Others, buried beneath the rubble before their deaths, floods of tears and blood poured into the rivers that ran to the seas surrounding the country. As the waters rose, the lands sank, drowning the oppressors together with the oppressed.

 

 

A lonely flag sways in the wind atop a green hill, still resisting the mayhem. Will this ever end? Only time will tell. The Others are weak and have run out of weapons and ammunition. Can this silenced opposition be pregnant with a hope of change? This is not a tale from a distant past. History repeats itself. How long do dictators last?

 

Maybe when the waters subside, there will be a different land. Cleansed and purified from the hostile residues of hypocrisy and fraud. I pray for a miracle, a miracle of justice. They’re hard to come by these days, but I have to believe in something to survive this turmoil.

 

 

NB. I wrote this story about a year ago. The floods in Istanbul today reminded me of it.

Sleep

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Dreaming of Pomegranates

“Dreaming of Pomegranates” (1912)_by Felice Casorati, Italy

 

 

She sleeps on the grass

with a pomegranate in her hand

Drifting into the world of altered consciousness

she dreams of other fruit,

apples, apricots, peaches, oranges and tangerines

cherries, berries, plums, grapes and melons

that give the world the name of the colours,

like the bed of wild flowers upon which she lies.

Her mind and body at peace,

nearly all her voluntary activities ceased.

A tranquil expression spreads upon her face,

she travels into another world

where the rules and dimensions are different.

Her eyelids flutter,

her lips curl into a smile,

she takes her lover’s hand

as they fly towards the green hills,

racing with the feathered clouds

and the birds in the sky.

Her reality becomes the dream,

unaware which dimension she belongs to.

When she wakes to the sounds of the birds,

her eyes drift to the bunches of purple grapes

hanging down from the vine above her.

The only remainder from the dream,

the pomegranate her lost lover gave to her,

from the orchards on the terraced hills.

She blinks,

presses the pomegranate to her heart,

closes her eyes,

and slips back into the dream.

 

 

 

Amber Street

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Old Witch

Photo saved from Pinterest,  crazyaboutphoto.com

 

 

 

The last customer leaving the bar, Harry staggered into the cold night air and made feeble attempts to walk in a straight line. The icy wind, signalling the approach of harsher weather, chilled him to the bone. Despite the protective shield of his padded coat and the woollen hat pulled over his ears, he felt naked. The combination of intoxication and freezing temperatures blurred his sight. All he could see ahead were dark buildings on either side of the road and a few flickering streetlights. He followed the pavement, counting his steps on his long walk home down Amber Street.

Harry kept counting to keep his mind active, but the road seemed to continue forever. 2500 steps later, he still had not arrived at the turn to the street where his flat was located. He halted and glanced back, and looked ahead again. There were no side roads, but one long avenue where all buildings looked the same. “I’m lost,” he muttered.

Though midnight had come and gone, Harry began to knock on doors, in panic. No one responded, not a single soul who might rightfully object to the disturbance of their peace. He decided to go back the way he came, hoping he’d missed his street. An eerie silence persisted in spreading its wings, despite the commotion he made at intervals. As snowflakes fell, misting visibility further, despair set in. He stopped in front of a weathered door, and seizing a worn knocker, banged on it several times.

A jeering voice answered. “The door is open. Shut it tightly behind you.”

Harry stepped inside. He blinked, surprised by an archaic hall,  lit by candles poised on brass candelabras. The wheezing voice barked, “Straight down, the room on the right.”

Entering the chamber, he saw her- or him, he wasn’t sure, sitting at a table in the middle of which a large crystal bowl glowed. Wood crackled in the fireplace, casting shafts of light upon the creature’s face. Harry shuddered. Whatever this thing was, it looked older than the 250 year-old-man in China. Its features were deeply buried under the folds of time-chiselled wrinkles. A pair of sparkling amber, feline beams perused him through the slits below the forehead. Random spikes of white, straw-like hair escaped the grip of a colourful scarf wrapped around its head.

The thin, lipless slit at the bottom of its head opened, displaying the odd jagged tooth. “Sit,” it said. “I’ve been waiting for you. I’m Amacunda.”

Harry hesitated, but he obeyed his exhausted body and sat.  “I’m Harry,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m here. I’m lost.”

“I’m also lost. My reasons are unclear, but I know yours.”

“Why are you lost?”

“I’m in purgatory. Neither here, nor there.”

“How long?”

Deciding the creature must be female, Harry watched her raise a lizard-skinned hand and point a crooked finger with a curled nail at him.

“Too long. I’ve been here forever. It defies your notion of time. Let’s come to your story. Why are you lost?”

“I can’t find my way home.”

“What’s home?”

“My writing. Stories. My dreams. Illusions, disillusionments, disappointments.”

“Rejections?”

“Exactly.”

“You must leave her.” She giggled, her rasping voice whistling between jagged teeth.

“Who? I’m not in a relationship.”

“Whiskey. You’re an alcoholic.”

“I’m not. I’m what’s called a functioning alcoholic.”

“You can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to me. Why do you think Hemingway committed suicide?”

“He couldn’t write anymore.”

“Why? Because alcohol ate his brain. No more grey cells to dream stories.”

“Dostoevsky wrote all his life. He also drank.”

“He wasn’t an alcoholic. Some can hold their drink, some can’t. You’re drinking earlier and earlier in the day. There’s always an excuse. Pain, pleasure, anger. Find another relationship, a woman, a soul-mate.”

“The ones I want reject me.”

“Probably because you’re drunk all the time. Sober up and look around with eyes that see. You’ll find the one.”

Harry lowered his eyes and sighed.

“Regarding other rejections. There’s a name … I can’t remember, like thorn, splinter, something sharp from a tree or plant. My memory escapes me these days. Look them up and send your stuff.”

“Thank you.”

“Healthy eating, healthy drinking , healthy living and like me, you can live forever.” She chuckled again. “Time to go, young man. Remember what I said.”

Amacunda snapped her claw-like fingers, and Harry found himself at his front door. Once inside the flat, he crawled onto his bed and crashed.

The following day, he woke at noon and ambled to kitchen. Whiskey beckoned. The moment he grabbed the bottle, Amacunda’s voice rang like a siren in his ears. “Healthy eating, healthy drinking .”

 

Harry dumped the bottle on the counter and put the kettle on. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, buttered toast and tea, he took a shower and shaved. In fresh clothes, he sat at his desk and began to write.

During a tea-break in the late afternoon, he remembered something else she’d said and began to search on his computer. Wood, Woody, splinter, Spillane, Tor, thorn – Thornton Publishers are looking for Anthology submissions. Submission deadline March 31st. A week from today, enough time to edit his stories. No alcohol for a week?

That evening Harry dined at a steak house and only drank mineral water. On his way home, he stopped at the supermarket and stocked up on healthy food. Just before the checkout, his hand went for a pack of bacon he’d missed in the morning. He wavered, unsure, then grabbed it. The sirens didn’t shriek. Maybe once in a while it would be okay.

 

Amacunda’s voice reverberated in his head each time he accidentally approached the liquor section in the supermarkets. After a sober period of many months, he became a social drinker, enjoying the occasional glass of wine at dinner parties.

 

Thornton’s published his Anthology and The Witch of Amber Street became a hit. Harry didn’t live forever, but his stories did.

 

Amber street on medium.com