Friday, 28 March 2014

""The Mango Season" by guest writer Susmita Bhattacharya


Our Guest writer this week is Susmita Bhattacharya. Originally from India, she resides in Plymouth,Wales. Sailing on her husband's oil tanker for three years has taken her all over the world. This story has appeared on commuterlit.com. Copyright is held by the author and is used with permission. Susmita's web site is listed below.
The Mango Season is a beautiful story
 
 
My great-grandmother died at the age of a hundred and two. She had been pickling mangoes on the terrace on a sluggish May afternoon.  We found her with a piece of mango in her mouth and a satisfied smile wrinkling one cheek. 
 
Boroma, was one hell of a woman. The terrace was a steep climb and she climbed it everyday. She had outlived her husband and her son by decades and yet she was so optimistic and yes, very famous for her razor-sharp tongue. After my grandfather died, we moved to the ancestral home, a cavernous house with surrounding gardens shaded with fruit trees. As a child, I loved to listen to her stories of the legends of each tree in the garden. They all seemed to have illustrious lives, most of all the mango trees, which had never failed to flower and bear fruit for as long as she could remember. 
 
My mother was relegated to being the kitchen helper, while Boroma cooked and fed the family. It was difficult at first, my mother not adjusting to playing second fiddle to an old woman, and my father having to listen to her moan all the time. But the situation was such, we couldn’t afford to live in our flat any more, and Boroma refused to sell the house. But I profited from the deal, as the house had so much history and hiding places and secrets, that it made up for most of my free time. 
 
After the last rites, I moved into her room. It faced the east, overlooking the temple towers and the pond. One could spend the whole day just looking out of that window, watching the bustle outside the temple gates and the placid gliding of the ducks and geese on the waters. I spent my childhood perched on this window, sketching figures and trees and animals. Eventually I studied art in college, which once more I could only thank Boroma for, arguing for my case with my parents who wanted me to become a doctor instead. 
 
“Let the child do as she pleases. Life is too short to compromise on what others want.” She had said to my father.
 
“But who will marry her?” My mother complained. “We’ll have to pay less dowry if she’s a doctor.”
 
Boroma clucked her tongue and pushed her thick glasses up her nose. “You didn’t have to pay a big dowry, did you? And you can’t even cook a hilsa fish right.”
 
 I think Boroma would have liked me to occupy her room. I was the rebel in the family. I was an artist and I followed my heart. Something I began to understand I had inherited from her. My parents never deviated from the norm, and even then they seemed to struggle with everyday problems. The room had been cleaned and sanctified and I felt robbed of her presence. It no longer smelled of coconut hair-oil and jasmine. I missed seeing her tiny body bent over her flower-laden gods and goddesses, her spider-web hands ringing the prayer-bell as she chanted her mantras. My mother had relegated Boroma’s idols to the back of the puja room, while hers were now basking in new found glory.
 
I lay down on the four-poster bed and spread my arms. How many times I had slept here beside her, while she stroked my hair and told me stories of the past: of life during the Raj, the struggle for freedom and the climax of independence. She had been a freedom fighter who had marched alongside her husband, shouting slogans, sewing clothes, attending to the wounded along with other brave women. She would show me scrap books of newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia she had collected. Many featured my great-grandfather with Gandhi at the Satyagraha marches, eminent freedom fighters who looked so unlike their god-like posters and portraits that we were familiar with. She would touch the faded newspapers and laugh. “See how carelessly I touch his face now,” she’d laugh mischievously. “When he was alive, I could only touch his feet.” 
 
But Boroma had been very western in her upbringing. Theirs had been an influential zamindar family, enough to make the British want to keep them happy. Her father entertained many of the British and made sure every member of his family could speak English. She had learned to play the piano and sing arias. She had a Scottish nurse who taught her to wear a corset and write poetry.
  
She married when she was thirteen. An old maid, she would cackle. Her sisters were married off when they were seven or eight. But she had retaliated. When it was her turn, she had played up an enormous ruckus. With the prospective groom’s family sitting in the front room, she had screamed and bitten her mother’s hand when her mother tried to drag her out of the cupboard.
  
“I will not go to the monster’s house,” she had screamed. 
 
Even when she told me this story a hundred times later, her eyes would still well up as she laughed at her memories. She was dragged down anyway and the groom’s father had held up her chin and smiled. He agreed to her demands and said that she would be betrothed to his son, and only after he returned from England would they get married.
 
Her husband eventually became a highly regarded barrister. They led a lavish lifestyle in this very house, which was then stocked up with the finest of things, until one day my great-grandfather crossed paths with Mahatma Gandhi and he was converted. He gave up all his English airs and joined the fight for independence.
 
I wondered often what Boroma had to say about this ideology: her meat-eating, ballroom-dancing husband suddenly becoming vegetarian, giving up his silks for linen and following the Mahatma through the countryside. She had resisted for some time, unable to sacrifice her piano and her Burns, but one day her husband came home to find a blaze of fire that he could see from miles away. She had set fire to her piano, her gowns and a library full of English literature. When he asked her why she had done this, she fell at his feet and asked for forgiveness: for loving the English more than her own kind. She then fought to oust them from her country.
 
I loved these stories. She told them as if they had happened just the other day. I’d make her describe her gowns and perfumes. I couldn’t believe my Boroma in such finery. She was always dressed in a white, coarse sari, the dress for widows. She would smile mischievously and say that she allowed a wayward dream where she’d be in her taffeta dress, playing the Moonlight Sonata. Why did she renounce them then? Surely she could have kept her piano? Boroma always smiled and said it was for the best. 
 
One night, as I slept on this bed, I felt her bony fingers caress my cheek. She was singing softly. It was one of her favourite Burns’ compositions.
 
Why, why tell thy lover
Bliss he never must enjoy?
Why, why undeceive him,
And give all his hopes the lie?
O why, while fancy, raptur'd slumbers,
Chloris, Chloris all the theme,
Why, why would'st thou, cruel-
Wake thy lover from his dream?
 
I waited till she finished her song. The temple lights were shining on her face and I saw tears.
 
“Why are you sad, Boroma?” I asked her.
 
She continued to stroke my face. “You have his eyes, my lovely. Definitely his eyes. He had such beautiful eyes.” She whispered, and stared out into the night. 
 
It was true. My grandfather, her only son, had had beautiful eyes: like the colour of the sea after sunset – a deep grey with diluted hints of gold that shone as the waves ebbed and flowed. Only if you looked deep into his eyes, could you see the golden sheen behind the grey. 
 
He died when I was eight. His death affected Boroma very severely. She would sit in her room and stare at his photographs for hours: pictures of him as a child, sitting erect on her lap in a khadi kurta and as a young man, in his air-force uniform. He was tall, well-built and with a good sense of humour. He was treated differently by everyone, as if he was someone regal. His colouring, his stature, his demeanour were fit for a king, everyone said. My father did not inherit his stature or his looks and that was a disappointment for Boroma. “Gone towards his mother’s side of the family,” she’d mutter, clicking her tongue.
  
Now I had those eyes. I was her only great-grand-child and had inherited her son’s looks. My eyes, she told me, were an artist’s delight and sorrow. The artist would delight in the challenge to paint such beauty and then break down in defeat. He would never be able to capture the essence and the magic held in them.
  
My parents decided to sell the house and so they started to sell the furniture. One by one, the mahogany and rosewood pieces disappeared from around the house. Eventually it was the turn for my Boroma’s bed. It was dismantled and stacked on the floor. I looked at it guiltily. It had stayed in this room for eighty-nine years. My great-grandparents’ marital bed. The mahogany still gleamed. I ran my fingers along the silk-like finish. I felt the textures of the carvings. Smooth. So finely chiselled, my fingers glided across intricate rose patterns. As I caressed the wood, I felt something wedged between the wooden slats. Carefully, I prised it out.
  
It was an ivory-coloured leather glove. It looked frail and discoloured with age. The golden trim was moth eaten. I felt around the slats and found its pair. They looked like they had been cherished, not forgotten in the depths of this cavernous bed. Did they belong to my Boroma? Were these the only Western possessions that she had saved from the fire? Something she held close to her and reminded her of the glorious days of being a ‘memsahib’? I read the label inside. Made in England. The gloves felt soft and powdery like butterfly wings. They crackled in my hands, and I discovered some bits of paper folded inside them.
 
I removed them to see if these gloves would fit me. The papers were thick and glossy. Unusual to stuff gloves with, I thought. I unfolded one, and just as I had expected, it was not stuffing at all. It was a thick letter-paper. The words were in neat copperplate, black ink that had faded to a purplish-brown tint.
 
 
You were an angel descending from heaven, when you walked down the stairs last night. I could only hold my breath and watch…and my lips held a prayer in your name. You are not real, my love, because I cannot touch you. I cannot feel the gossamer of your skin. You are a vision to me. Gliding in front of my eyes, but when I reach out to touch you, you flit away. My chest hurts in disappointment, and my arms hunger for a stolen embrace. How I burn when he takes you in his arms and whirls you around the room. But when I look in your eyes, I feel assurance. They are empty. They search the room frantically… and then they stop when they find me. That is all I want from you.
 
I stared at the note and wondered who it was addressed to. Why it was hidden in a glove in my great-grandmother’s bed, I had no idea.
 
I pulled out another piece of paper.
 
It is mango season again. I delight in the first bite of its sweet flesh. The fragrance stays with me all the time. Its juices burst into my mouth and tease my tongue so. The mango taunts me: of flavours forbidden to me. And you? Do you think a bottle of your pickle can satisfy my longing? Why must you punish me, and leave me to hunger for you in my mind? Come away with me. I’ll give you my life.
                                                                            John.
 
The raw sexuality of this letter washed over me, and my skin prickled in response. Erotic visuals danced inside my head as I wondered who the dancers in this dreamscape were. John, an Englishman and …? 
 
I searched for other letters in the bed, but couldn’t find any more. My attention went back to the gloves. They looked so fragile and vulnerable on the smooth, hard wood. I held them close. They smelled musty and faintly of the mahogany bed. I pulled out all the bits of paper tightly rolled into each finger of the gloves. There were ten in all. I flattened them out and read them. I read and re-read them. The words made love to the paper. I surrendered myself to them.
 
By now I was beginning to see. This love-dance was being danced by my Boroma and John.
My dearest,
I know that you will not go against your husband, or your religion, or your country. The stars are against our union, but what is done is done, and no one can undo it now.
I prayed for you to come away with me. I am returning home to Devon next month. My passage has been confirmed on the S.S. Duchess. My time here is done, but yours is just beginning.
Everyone has left our cantonment and the district commissioner has said there is no more future for us here. There will be bloodshed, my beloved. My heart aches to think what lies ahead. It is a terrible thing that the people of this land must die in order to regain their freedom. And you, dear heart, I can see you marching alongside your brave husband… towards your freedom.
But my heart also rejoices in the freedom. You will have your identity and pride restored to its full glory. You will know happier times, my dear. I promise you. Accept my parting gift with love.  And perhaps in another lifetime, we will be reunited again. In a different land, in happier times…
I will love you forever
Yours
Captain John Everett
 
 
I read every word until I could see the naked truth between the lines. The proof of what the letter seemed to suggest. Did Boroma burn her Englishness to mourn the loss of her true love or did she do it to remind herself of her reality? She had deceived my great-grandfather. She had marched with him, fighting for their freedom, fully knowing that she loved an Englishman.  I found that I was shaking… but I had no name for my emotions.
 
I thought of my beloved Boroma.  A fiery, outspoken woman. Her never-say-die attitude. Of course she would have had an affair with ‘the enemy’, if her heart led her to it. There was more to her than just taffeta gowns and ballroom waltzes. Or linen saris and hunger strikes. All the time, there was one secret burning inside her. Ninety odd years of secrecy. Of remembering and hurting. Yes, I was sure of that. That was her punishment. The price she paid for her secret. How I wished she had kept one of her letters. I wanted to know her feelings, I wanted to see her handwriting.
 
I realised then, that night, when she had cried and stroked my face, she had been looking into my eyes and remembering. She had said I also had those eyes… those deep grey eyes flecked with gold – the eyes of her English lover, who had been lost to her forever.
 
The End.
 


Susmita's short stories and poems have appeared in various magazines, journals and anthologies. Her debut novel, Crossing Borders, will be published by Parthian Books in 2014.Visit her website www.susmita-bhattacharya.blogspot.co.uk












 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Wasps!




Wasps!

Seymour Troffmok hightails it out of the baby barn like a scared rabbit with a hungry fox hot on his tail. Four angry yellow jackets, insect warriors, swarm his upper body for the first thirty feet of his escape into the open yard, their stingers dripping with venom. Their intention is to kill. Deeming the threat no longer remains, the determined protectors veer off from the fleeing intruder quickly returning to their hive satisfied the menace has been sufficiently warned.
Seymour is skinnier than a yard rake and the welt on his neck is a big as a walnut. He’s moaning and cursing, rubbing the sore bump. It feels as if someone drove a three inch nail in his neck, or at least he imagines it hurts that much. He’s scared too, his bulged out eyes search the yard around him where he stops running by the large pine tree at the edge of his property, fifty yards from the bomb laden storage shed. Confident there are no more of the horrible insects chasing him he rests his shaking body against the tree, eyeballing the open doors of the barn as they swing in the spring breeze.
The sun is behind him as it begins its ascension into the sky.


The pine tree is thick and wide enough to keep him in shadow, old enough to remember Seymour’s ancestors. The bark is rough, deeply veined and reassuring upon his back.  One of the massive roots has grown from the ground before burrowing back into the rich earth creating a low uncomfortable seat about four feet long.  The rounded top is wide enough for an average bum; hundreds have polished the aged root for the last fifty years.  Seymour buffs it up once more by plopping down on the wood. Dead needles are scattered at his feet. He’s in his comfort zone, far enough away from the damn wasps.
He sits facing the swaying doors. Turning his head slowly in circles trying to ease the pain he glares at the opening as several wasps appear, hovering briefly as if to decide which way they should proceed. Seymour freezes, wills his heart to stop beating, chilled with the thought they might be looking for him. The three bugs bug out to his left at full velocity, uninterested in Seymour any longer. His shoulders visibly droop in relief, an inaudible sigh escapes his lips. A snicker covers his nervousness when he whispers
“What in the blazes am I going to do? And my aching neck…ohhhh…those little buggers.”
Seymour’s fear turns to anger, that some small pest would chase him from his own property. He strikes up a little bravado directing his comment towards the unseen hive.
“That’ll be the friggin’ day!”

Almost in response to the verbal threat, two wasps buzz down from the inside ceiling, holding position in the open doorway, facing Seymour, for several seconds.  Seymour gulps, his Adams apple moving up and down nervously. Before he can react to this new threat the wasps go off in the same direction as those that flew out moments ago. He sighs, trying to calm his jitters.


Watching the entry to the small barn, he stares at the top of the opening trying to figure out what he’s going to do. He can see the edge of the patio table inside the shadows of the baby barn. He had been going in to get it out when the wasps attacked him. His first trip had been for the barbeque. They struck when he entered for the second time. The wasps figured that was too many. 

It’s the first Saturday in May.  The yard is covered with dead grass, flattened by the winter’s snow. Small shoots stick up here and there between the brown dried up blades of last year’s lawn, a green promise.  A promise that can be detected in the air, the old tree exuding its piney aroma, the clean earth after April’s rain, the dead seaweed washed up on the shore in front of the house. Breathing deeply through his nose, Seymour continues to rub his neck even though the pain is subsiding. The familiar smells have a calming effect on his nerves. He is embarrassed at himself for being scared to go over there. He hates them. All he thinks of is how he can kill them.
 

Seymour arrived early today, a little after 7am at his summer house. Normally his wife Zelda accompanies him as they “open up the cottage” but she and her three sisters are doing the May Run to Prince Edward Island this weekend. They packed tents, coolers, lipstick and gloss, some clean undies, hiking boots and compasses and way too much booze for four women, all in the back of Daphne’s minivan, she’s the youngest. Seymour decided to come to the cottage on his own.

Several wasps are returning to their hive as they zoom into the baby barn and disappear up towards the roof. Seymour realizes they aren’t paying attention to him anymore. Their arrival spurs him to action. He doesn’t bother to lock up, instead jumps into his truck to head out to Melanson’s general store. Knowing Gerry Gautreau will be working today, he’ll ask him what to do; the guy knows everything about outdoors stuff. Everybody calls him Goat, a short take on his last name. Watching the road as it twists along the shore, Seymour’s thinking about the wasps, his animosity growing by the second. Seven miles later he turns into the cracked parking lot.


He loves the smell of the old store, ripe bananas and produce to the right, popcorn by the movie rentals in the back, new shoe and glove leather down the center, an open can of paint and boxes of nails in hardware to the left. The floor creaks as he heads to the left where Goat looks after the nuts and bolts. Seymour finds him at the paint counter hammering the cover back on a fresh can.  He’s chatting up the young lady he’s serving while Seymour waits off to the side studying the man he only knows sparingly. He can’t remember ever seeing Goat without a smile, just about the friendliest grin possible. Full head of white hair, eyebrows and moustache to match, make him look wise.  He’s saying something to his customer while he comes from behind the desk to hand her the can of paint and Seymour can’t hear him. The woman blushes a little and thanks him for his help. I step up to catch his attention.

“Hello there.”

“Hey, hey Seymour, comment ca va?”

“I’m doing great...except for one thing.”

A look of concern crosses Goat’s features. “What’s the problem?” 

Seymour relates what happened at his house and before he can finish his story, Goat is heading towards the back and disappears to the right. “Follow me.”

Scurrying around the corner he finds him by a bunch of spray cans, insecticides, pesticides, six sided birdhouses and garden tools. Goat picks up a tall red can from the top shelf. Shoving it towards Seymour he says, “Here’s what you want.”

On the main body is a giant hornet. The image makes Seymour’s neck throb. The can is a foot high, as big around as a coffee mug, graced with the words in bold black letters, Wasp & Hornet Exterminator. There is a five inch straw-like plastic taped to the side.
“What’s the little straw for Goat?”

Goat retrieves the can and pops off the top. Pointing to the tiny pore where the spray comes out he says,

“Stick it in there and you can spray in tiny holes…” His eyes take on a mischievous glow, his words a bit of a dare. “…or you can stick it right into the hive if you’re brave enough to get that close. Good luck!”

 

Twenty minutes later Seymour is standing in the garage door.  He’s wearing a one piece gray winter snowsuit with a big silver zipper in the front. A blue Toronto Maple Leafs toque covers his bald dome and is pulled down to his eyebrows. Oversized safety glasses with an amber tint cover his eyes. A red neck warmer graces his neck and face up to his nose. He is wearing black mechanic’s gloves and in his right hand is the large red can.  It’s a mild 18 degrees and he’s dressed for a blizzard. Sweat runs from every pore because he’s hot and nervous. His glasses keep steaming up when he breathes. He counts to ten.

“…eight, nine ten!”

Heading directly to the baby barn which is between the garage and the house set back towards the property line, he enters, turns and immediately sees the hive in the apex of the gable end. He can reach it quite easily. When he lifts the can, a lone wasp escapes from the hole in the bottom of the hive. It attacks Seymour, harmlessly stinging the padding on the snowsuit. Seymour stumbles backwards, scared and swinging his free hand. Luckily he clips the defender with a swipe. The bug bounces off the right wall and slips down behind the lawn mower. Gathering all his courage he rushes forward, jabs the skinny red spout into the soft side of the hive and fills it with foam. Two or three more wasps have escaped before being consumed by the poison. They swarm about Seymour’s head and he runs. 

Back to the big pine tree, only this time behind it. Seymour knows the bugs will be mad. Peering from behind the wide bole, he can see foam drip into the open doorway from the roof. A smirk crosses his face when he thinks of how he filled the hive, of how the deadly fumes are working right now. There’s almost a glee in his eyes as he removes the goggles. Several wasps have returned to the nest to find it uninhabitable, toxins emanating from its pores. They buzz about with no pattern. The chemicals in the repellant have eaten away a section of the fine paper the hive is made of, causing a piece to fall to the floor. The wasps flee as if in terror.

After fifteen minutes there’s no action, no wasps. Seymour dons his shades and walks hesitantly towards the open doors, ready to sprint in the opposite direction in a second’s notice. Making it all the way to the front, he can see several wasps on their back, on the floor, in a puddle of killing liquid. Each bug has three sets of legs that paddle uselessly in the air. Seymour feels a tinge of remorse, but only the slightest of shade.
“It’s either you or me boys. Looks like I win.” 

Backing into the storage area, Seymour checks out the hive. A portion of the bottom, the size of a child’s fist, has been eaten away exposing a cone like inner structure. More dead bugs fall from the opening. With his foot he sweeps them all in the corner by the snow shovels. Returning to the garage, he tosses the toque, glasses and neck warmer on the work desk. Unzipping the large zipper, Seymour`s dark green t-shirt is sweat stained on the front. His bald head glistens in the sun.  Even though he fells the menace has been effectively dealt with, Seymour decides to keep the padded garment on for a while as a precaution; otherwise he sets about setting up the summer furniture and cleaning up. By mid afternoon, he’s forgotten about the wasps. 




Just a bit before 7pm Seymour has showered, changed clothing and is attending to a 10oz sirloin that hisses on the hot grills of the barbeque. The Montreal steak spice and the rich meat flavour fill the air about the bonnet. Seymour has peeled and sliced a couple of potatoes and placed them in an aluminum pan along with butter, garlic, onions, a little water and shredded cheese. The pan sits to the left of the cooking meat on a low burner. All the food sizzles in harmony. The cooker is at the far corner of the deck across from the sliding patio doors. Disturbed by the pleasant calling of the birds gathered at his neighbor’s feeder, Seymour looks around reflecting on what he’s accomplished today.

The new yellow chairs add some color to the weathered wooden Adirondacks in the sitting area to his left, equally spaced around his new fire pit, a flat black toad-like thing on legs.  The gazebo is up on the right: the uprights drilled to the floor, the screens tied back neatly, the cloth on the roof is taut. The glass dining table is inside, accompanied with the six complimentary chairs that have fat olive cushions. The yard is raked and free of winter’s mess, the screen is replaced on the back storm door, and the water is back in, the dripping faucet is fixed, the kitchen appliances all cleaned, his bed changed and the sheets washed. He’s beat.

“I’ll sleep like a dead man tonight”

Laughing at his quip, he fills his plate with the cooked meal.  After turning off the gas, he retreats to the kitchen to fetch his glass of merlot and brings the bottle as well. There are no mosquitoes yet, the air is fresh with a tang of salt. The meat is tender, the wine dry and robust, the evening slightly warmer than usual. Seymour eats slowly, watching the shadows of night approach. The land is low to the west and the last rays of the sun reflect upon the water to the east, steel blue horizon with pink and orange wisps. The wine disappears at the same pace and by nine o’clock, Seymour is almost falling asleep. Gathering up the dishes, he leaves them on the cupboard, locks up the doors, makes a pit stop in the bathroom, sheds his cloths across the bedroom floor and crawls into the fresh sheets. He’s asleep in less than ten minutes. All evening he never once thought about the wasps.

**

In the middle of the night Seymour shifts restlessly upon the bed, the clean sheets tangled about his lower body. Tossing and turning he moans in the darkness, his dream turning into a nightmare. In his mind he has fallen on the middle of the road in front of his house and he’s naked. He tries to rise but his movements are sluggish as if the air is as thick as molasses. Spying a swarm of insects rushing towards him, he is panicking, knowing with a dire certainty that they are coming for him. He urges his body to move more quickly but every effort is useless as if a terrific weight is upon him and he can’t understand why. The insects, closer now, are huge, each one the size of a baseball, they are bright yellow with glossy bodies. Their stingers are visible and poison drips from the sharp points. He can see this as clearly as if they are only inches away. The large wasps are rushing towards him, closer and closer they come with what seems like unbelievable speed and yet, he himself can barely move.
 
Just before the swarm reaches him, one giant hornet escapes from the buzzing horde, a mini dive bomber propels itself towards Seymour’s exposed body. The stinger is long, gleaming in the sun like a brand new sword. It hovers briefly above Seymour, points its wet dagger towards his prone body and attacks.  

Seymour is startled from his sleep, sitting up suddenly in his bed. He is covered with perspiration, his heart pounding and he is shaking from the fright of his dream.



He opens his eyes and can’t see anything, the room has never been so dark, no starlight, no moon light, nothing. His neck throbs where he was stung yesterday morning. There is a terrific noise, like the sound of a dozen circular saws running at the same time.  And then he can feel them. Something or some things are all over his body.

He reaches for the switch to his night light. The 60 watt bulb casts a mellow yellowish light and once his eyes focus he gasps. The room is full of wasps, hundreds and hundreds of them. They cover everything. They cling to the walls, to the open door, to the bed; they cover the floor so deep that he can’t see his clothes he shed last night. The room swirls with a cloud of yellow jackets. Staring at the mass of moving insects he screams.

The buzzing stops, every wasp stops moving except those in the air. He feels every insect eye upon him. He experiences an impending doom. He knows they mean to kill him. Reaching for the magazine on the night table, he curls it amid the frenzy of the insects and starts swinging it in the air. The hornets assail him. Trying to untangle his legs from the sheets he swats at the mass, killing a dozen every time he swings the curled paper in his hand. They sting him all over his body, the pain is excruciating. Rising on the bed, his head near the ceiling, he swings with both hands. He needs to escape from the bedroom. When he tries to jump, his tangled feet cause him to fall. He lands on the floor crushing another twenty or thirty wasps. Scrambling to his feet he makes for the stairs. The wasps set upon him even more vigorously, this time about his head. He’s blinded; he slams into the bedroom wall. Feeling with only his hands he finds the open doorway and turns towards the stairs. He can’t see the steps and plunges into the darkened stairway. Missing the first step he falls.
                                                *
 
Zelda returns home Monday afternoon. When she enters her house, there is no one home. She finds this odd as Seymour told her he would be returning Monday morning because it is her birthday and he promised her dinner at her favorite restaurant. He is never late. She tries his cell phone only to discover that there is no answer and his mailbox if full. Seymour is meticulous about clearing his messages, almost obsessive with deleting useless data. Immediately she knows something is wrong, a dread she can feel. She leaves her bag and camping gear in the middle of the kitchen floor, hurries to her car and heads to the shore. Forty minutes later she unlocks the front door. Calling out his name and getting no response she heads towards the stairway. Turning the corner from the living room, she freezes in her tracks and screams.

Seymour Troffmok lies at the foot of the stairs, his neck and arms twisted in an unnatural position. From the pallor of his skin, it is obvious he has been dead for some time.
 
 
Thanks for visiting. Please feel free to leave a comment.
 
Next week guest writer, Susmita Bhattacharya will share her short story - The Mango Season.
Susmita is originally from India but now Lives in Cardiff, Wales.  She spent three years travelling around the world aboard her husband's oil tanker. Her writing has been showcased in many publications and featured on commuterlit.com.
 
A talenter writer that you won't want to miss.


 
Join me in an adventure that starts on the east coast of Canada, continues on to the Caribbean before entering the rivers of Bangladesh in the pursuit of one of the world's cruelest men. Dark Side of a Promise. Available in hard copy from this site or as an eBook from Amazon.com.
 



Friday, 14 March 2014


 
I'm posting an excerpt from my novel Dark Side of a Promise. Drake Alexander has just received a phone call from his best firend, Williston Payne. The man they seek has been spotted.....

 
CHAPTER 1

Drake pockets his phone and reluctantly turns his back on the rising sun. He retains faith that he will return to see it again. Williston’s call has given credence to Drake’s earlier unease and leaves him feeling restive. He senses he is on the precipice of something significant, something diabolical. It feels like a small insect crawling up the back of his neck, a small segmented creature called danger. It isn’t fear.

Drake makes his way across the deck, his bare feet against the warm darkly stained wood, and into the house, calling for his housekeeper, Jemina. The aroma of fresh baking tells him she is in the kitchen, where she is preparing breakfast.

Jemina and her husband, Luis, maintain this large house, giving Drake the freedom to come and go as he pleases. They and their three children have been in Canada for 22 years since Drake’s father, Jacob, rescued them from Peruvian poverty and sponsored them as immigrants from South America.


The Pisconte’s are indebted to the Alexanders, and reward them with undying loyalty and love. After Drake’s father died two years ago, the mantle of their continued employment and care had fallen to Drake, who accepted it graciously, knowing that his father would have expected it of him. Drake always reminded himself that this was Jacob’s way. Having toiled long hard hours over the years to become the success he was, he always took the time to help others.


Calling out to her, Jemina responds to Drake’s summons, hurrying into the great room that faces the bay, her tiny feet shuffling across the wide-board pine floor. “What do you need, Drake,” she casually asked, the language escaping melodically from her lips. Still pleasing to the eye at 46, her dark hair falls delicately to her shoulders, framing a shy sweet face. Her diminutive frame is clad in the linen blouse and pants she wears while attending to Drake’s needs, the bright hues of her attire redolent of her homeland. Although not much older than Drake, who is 38, she fusses over him like a second mother.

This maternal instinct kicks in as she notices Drake’s countenance; she’d seen this before when he left unexpectedly and for reasons unexplained, often for months on end. She rationalizes in her mind that over the two decades she’s known him, he has always lived life as if he were on a perpetual dare. She, however, is constantly worried. All she can do is see him off with whatever care he allows her to give, but she never lets him go easily.

“I’m leaving to join Williston for a bit and I’ll need you to pack about a week’s worth of clothes, please. Some light cottons, several work pants and black tees, raincoat, a light fleece and my usual boots and shoes. Oh, and some deck shoes.


We’ll be on the Drifter and you know how fussy Williston can be,” he tells her, trying to act as if an impulsive but casual excursion is in the offing. He figures Jemina is probably on to him, but he doesn’t want to cause her concern. If she knew where he’d been and what he’d done over the years, no matter how justified he felt his actions to be, she would probably have him tied up and sedated for the rest of his life to protect him. 


“I don’t like it when you and Williston get together sometimes, I think you both like trouble too much. You always come back with too many cuts and bruises and sometimes with broken bones,” exclaimed Jemina. Looking at him more directly, she places her hand on his arm as if for reassurance and continues, “You always defending somebody, Drake.” Fear breaks up her usual faultless diction.

Drake dislikes lying, and the worry he causes her. “You fret too much, Jemina. I’m meeting Williston on his boat and we’re going to cruise the Caribbean for a week or two. Eric Clapton is playing in Antigua to raise funds for the Crossroads Centre next week, so we’re going to check that out. It’s at an intimate venue and by invitation only. Williston is quite the socialite these days. Money and benevolence get him on just about any invitation list he likes. It should be fun. I’ll mind my business this time, okay?”

“You are not fooling me, Drake. You be careful. What else do you need?”

Grabbing his shirt from the back of the recliner he proceeds to an antique writing desk. Opening the top drawer he withdraws his passport. Passing it to Jemina, he said, “Please put this with my things for now. I’m taking the Zodiac over to the Island later to get the plane ready and I’ll need some help. Do you know where Luis and Alvaro are?”

“Luis left 20 minutes ago to meet with the contractor who’s adding the addition to your garage,” Jemina replies, leading him toward the kitchen. “Seriously, what are you going to do with all those vehicles you keep buying?” she asks rhetorically, knowing that Drake enjoys his toys. And besides, it keeps Alvaro, her youngest son, busy. “Alvaro will be at the shop in about an hour to start on that engine you wanted changed. Not everyone is an early riser like us, Drake.”  She points to Drake’s usual place at the breakfast nook, with the local newspaper folded neatly on the table, and begins preparing his morning repast. Never having enough food for her or her family many years ago makes Jemina a frugal and practical housekeeper, but she never skimps on anyone with an appetite and she knows that Drake loves to eat.

“After breakfast I’m going to Beth’s for a couple of hours and I’d like Luis and Alvaro to get the Skywagon ready, do the pre-flight check, top up the tanks, ,” Drake said, seating himself where Jemina has carefully laid out a setting, “I’d like to be away around noon or one o’clock.”

“I’ll tell them both. Now read your paper and I’ll get this ready for you. I’ll pack your things when I’m done here.”

Both Jemina and Drake fall into a pensive mood. Jemina wondering what Drake is really up to but too polite to ask when he isn’t forthcoming with details. She busies herself, a bright red and yellow blur gyrating around the kitchen with efficient silence. Drake watches Jemina fuss reminding him of a humming bird, always busy, always with a purpose. He muses with great affection about how much she and her family mean to him.

The breakfast nook is an annex to the main kitchen area. The nook was architecturally planned to take advantage of the enticing seaside surroundings. Tall glass windows with the lightest, transparent curtains face the water at an angle to the great room they had just come from. Dark brown marble tiles with a rusty colored hue cover the floor. Wood from Italian olive trees with striking burls throughout, lightly stained a matching rust, formed extensive cupboards set against a taupe background. Olive trees were only cut after the tree reached such maturity that it did not bear fruit any longer. While alive, the trees were always trimmed short so that the fruit was easy to reach. Long and wide pieces were rare, making the cabinets markedly impressive and very expensive. Stainless steel and black enhancements frame all the appliances. Jemina, with her effervescent presence, would never blend in. The early sun, more yellow now, streams in casting a mellow ambiance.  Photos, mementos, keepsakes are tastefully placed about, making the room personal.

Jemina presents Drake with his favourite breakfast, a mouth-watering blend of South American and Western cuisine: bacon, cheesy corn cakes called arepas de queso, toasted honey quinoa bread and a boiled egg. Neither of them speak, Jemina is contemplative, Drake aflame.

Jemina hastily tidies up, leaving the rest of the kitchen details for later. Pouring Drake another cup of St. Helena coffee, she hesitates at his side. Her lingering quietude stirs Drake to look up and into her direct gaze. Jemina laments, “I don’t know where you go at times, Drake, and I don’t know what you do, but you remember that I love you like you’re part of my family. The many days and months when you are around fill us with delight, and there will never be too many. You come home safe and as soon as you can.”

At that very moment an errant beam of pure radiant sunlight reflects from the polished surface of the table causing a faint and delicate tear in the corner of her eye to twinkle.


Before he can reply, she turns away, returning the coffee pot to its nest and hastens from the room.


Drake reflects on the moment; then tosses his reluctance to answer aside. He needs to focus. He doesn’t need sentimentality clouding his senses. He’ll finish his breakfast and drop by Beth’s place to say goodbye, then meet Luis on the island, get his gear packed into the plane, file a flight plan and fly out to meet Williston and Uday.

 

Drake jumps into his Jeep Wrangler, the top already down and pulls onto Route 535 heading north to Beth’s parent’s place several miles down the road. Her parents, both doctors who had established a busy and productive practice, and made several shrewd investments, are more than adequately moneyed. They had recently sold their practice and now serve as volunteers with Doctors without Borders. Beth maintains their country estate in their absence – a rambling and century-old farm that had been neglected for many years before they bought it. With the aspiration to own a working farm, Beth’s parents had recreated the buildings in their original configuration and tenor with solicitous care. The modern, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment that made the farm functional are in some cases obvious, but most are cleverly disguised. It has a Rebecca of Donnybrook exterior with an ultra-modern interior.

Beth could certainly afford her own place, but she has spent most of her life enjoying both the natural landscape and the closeness of the sea just across the road. All four of her sisters have migrated to larger, more urban centres. Drake knows that she genuinely loves living here in rural New Brunswick, just as he also knows that she needs to be near him. They had met when his father had been building the house Drake lives in now. 

Drake was born in Massachusetts, near his mother’s home, but to a Canadian father who had grown up in this area and had purchased a plot of land shortly after he had inherited his father’s jewellery business in 1965. Dominic Alexander, Drake’s grandfather had immigrated to Canada from Scotland as a goldsmith apprentice in 1919, his earlier instruction interrupted by the Great War. A little luck, a little money and lots of charming honesty brought him respectful success throughout the ‘20s. Dominic never bought anything on credit, never sold anything on credit, stayed away from the stock market, banked his cash, invested in his own establishment and survived the crash of ’29 in much better shape than his peers. Many businesses failed. The rich still wanted their baubles so Dominic’s business on the other hand prospered. As a young man with an astute mind, Jacob joined his father’s establishment, and they turned a one-store operation into a thriving four-store family business prior to Dominic’s death.

Jacob was embedded in the m├ętier of jewellery, with little time for socializing. In 1950, however, he attended an extravagantly large trade show in New York City that introduces many of the world’s finest jewellery pieces and suppliers. There he met Mellissa Wilbraham. Wilbraham’s Fine Jewellery was an influential corporation that owned nine stores throughout New England as well as a small manufacturing facility outside of Boston. He wooed her, married her, and united the businesses by setting up offices in both the United States and Canada. They made a winter home in Plymouth, Massachusetts; summers were spent in New Brunswick at their cottage on the old homestead.


In 1965, Jacob purchased land in Cormierville that contained a section of wooded land on the west side of Route 535 with five fabulous cleared acres on the east side. Those five acres had over 900 feet of beach frontage that every day either frolicked or did battle with the waters of the Northumberland Strait. That’s where he built the grand and fashionable summer home. The one where Drake met Beth. Incredible summers, idyllic romances, crumbled hearts, sun-drenched afternoons, a few bruises – a small collection of the events making those days unforgettable.


Drake slows the Jeep as he approaches the driveway to Beth’s place. Turning into the rustic lane, Drake is assailed with the pleasant aroma of cut hay. The gathering season is well under way. As he continues toward the house, he notices the seasonal workers harvesting the bounty so generously produced from the earth. Huge round bales of fodder dot the fields. Drake imagines the generations of farmers before them who had worked the same fields, albeit with differing methods of cultivation, to meet the same demands of their livestock.

Beth must have seen him arriving because she is coming from the back entrance, waving to Drake as he approaches. Bringing his vehicle to a halt, he cut the ignition and jumps from the Jeep. He hollers out, “Glad to see you got that cute ass of yours out of bed so early. I didn’t call in because I like surprising you. ”

Beth hurries to his side to quickly embrace him with a hearty hug and a quick kiss on the cheek before replying, “Well I’m glad to see that cute ass of yours in my driveway. What brings you around today? I thought you and Alvaro were working on the old truck you bought.”

Beth’s natural beauty always gave him pause. Her blondish locks are tied back in a classic ponytail, highlighting her pleasing face. Chocolate coloured eyes radiate her pleasure at seeing Drake. A square jaw complements her face, portraying an image of unabashed confidence and creating the perfect setting for her audacious and teasing smile. A strict disciplinarian with her habits, she works out daily keeping her body as lithe as a dancer. Clad in white knee-length denim shorts, a red sleeveless top and beige leather sandals she portrays a casual, yet intoxicating image. Drake always joked Beth would look great in a burlap bag.

Eager to share the recent revelation, Drake gets right to the point, “I spoke to Williston earlier.  He met with Uday, Sakeema’s father. You know him, don’t you?”

Beth catches the shift in Drake’s demeanour. The delight in their greeting changes to one of grim interest for both of them. She moves toward the cedar gazebo, beckoning Drake to follow and leads him inside. Moving to the compact refrigerator neatly tucked into a kitchenette, she remarks, “Yes, of course, I met him briefly at her funeral. I had an opportunity to talk to him and get to know him better at Williston’s birthday party last year when I visited Chrissie.” She points to a white wicker chair smothered in cushions, tosses Drake a box of juice then sits opposite him.

Chrissie Alexander, Drake’s cousin, is the managing partner of Williston’s Geneva law office. As a teenager she became an integral part of Williston’s “Gang of 7” – a clique that grew from kids caught between a world of adults and children. They found each other, grew with each other and defended each other. A lifelong trust developed. The girls in the group – Chrissie, Beth and Amber – experienced an affinity cemented by independence and mutual compassion.

Drake shifts in his seat and explains, “The scent of Sakeema and Amber’s assassin is strong! Uday has sent word that one of his business managers – also a close member of his family - befriended a local who mentioned Bartolommeo Rizzato’s name.” Leaning forward to give his words more emphasis, he continues, “It’s been almost two years since that slug slipped away from our last encounter.


He only emerges from under some plank when he needs something… Maybe he ran low on cash or maybe he just needs to satisfy his malevolent appetite to maim and ultimately destroy. Powerful people, capable of the same brutality, find him useful. Right now, it seems he’s committed to something in Bangladesh, Dhaka more significantly. It’s imperative that we hunt him down.”
 
 
To read the rest of this chapter, please visit www.amazon.com and search for Dark Side of a Promise, and when you find it, there is a "look inside" icon available, click on that and you can read the rest of Chapter 1. Thank you for visiting.
 
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