AN UNOBTAINABLE NEED, A SHORT STORY

 

He stands in the shadows, staring out the window of his one bedroom suburban house onto the street outside. The late afternoon sunlight skirts the jaded red carpet as if looking for a way out. An old typewriter gathers dust on a desk next to stacks of unwanted, and seemingly unworthy, manuscripts. A breeze blows through an open window, filling the room with a sense of unease. The laughter of children playing outside occasionally drifts in and out, breaking the eerie silence. His gaze is upon these children and lately, his thoughts have been incapable of leaving them.

A bachelor all his life has meant no chance to have children and with his 86th year approaching, the possibilities seem to have fallen away like the blonde hairs that once covered his balding head. Although his chance has long since faded, his wish for children is something that will continue to haunt him for as long as he hears the laughter.
As his life draws to its climax, his spirit itches to move on from this existence and yet his fragile body continues to breath and he remains staring out a window, nurturing distant dreams that are now as futile as the pages on his desk. Manuscripts that he had hoped would fill the void in his life and yet all he could bring himself to write about was that very void. A void that nobody wanted to read about. He is now become a prisoner trapped inside his own body; a body that has changed while his feelings have not. He doesn’t remember growing old and yet his frame has welcomed it. No longer standing with the poise of a young man, his back now slouches forward, his pace has slowed and all movement has become an effort. There is little on his body that is familiar to him any more.
The mundane pattern of daily life tries to convince him that he is settled. He settles daily into his cream cardigan, his brown slippers settle unto his feet from morning until night. His pleasures are all but dead, except for his smoking, though even that brings a chesty cough. Alone in his house, he is noticed by no one because life has passed him by. His aching body no longer fits into the momentum of modern living. He takes one final glance out the window before climbing the stairs with legs no longer capable of climbing. On a single bed, he rests until dinner. The children continue to play outside on the street.

He tries to go for a walk everyday, but who can go far with legs that want to rest. Resisting the temptation not to, he forces his legs to take him past his neighbours who watch over their children with the usual parental intensity. He watches them run when their little ones fall over and hold them tightly as if to smoother their tears. The moment shared by parent and child is filled with so much love that their bond is almost visible, as beauty is to fragility, as love is to loss, while alone he simply clutches a cigarette. They barely notice him anymore. He is the old man who lives in the old house with the old curtains and the musty smell. He wanders on, past the school playground where again children laugh and play and, watching from behind the wire fence, he feels isolated. He lowers his hearing aid. With no sound, the visions are less painful, but for all too short a time. When the scene needs no sound to hammer home the truth, he moves along, continuously smoking and pent up with jealousy.
He passes the graveyard where voices jeer him from deep inside his own head.
“It will be the end with you, my friend. Your grave shall be bare but for you. No one will continue your name and none shall follow yours on the tombstone. When you go, your name will be no more; for you are the last.”
This is the place that hurts the most. This is the place where green eyes drown in bitter tears. He has been here many times lately, dressed in his black suit, bidding a final farewell to others like himself. But there were always children huddled together on these occasions. They may have been adults, but they had always been children to their parents, in the same way that a single lonely old man can only be a single lonely old man. When the inner voices mourn too loudly, he moves on, using each headstone as a morbid crutch. The hardest truth to accept is that which lies directly in front of you. Waiting.

Epilogue

It has been one week since his 86th birthday. A single card rests on the mantle piece; a sympathetic token from the local Meals on Wheels. There is not a sound in the house, all is quiet. No one looks out from the shadows, no one is haunted by the sounds from the children outside. Junk mail collects in the letterbox. The last of the evening sunlight just hovers in the hallway, creating ethereal shadows in the musty air on the stairway. Upstairs, on a single bed, there is a single body surrounded in silence. In his room, there is not even the sound of breathing. His body is lifeless. His name will continue no more.
All Words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Photograph taken in the gardens of the Musee Rodin, Paris, France

BREAKING NEWS; A TINY STORY

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It wasn’t front page breaking news or even in the supplement section. It wasn’t the sex scandal that scorched the headlines or bloody enough to have readers beat each other for a copy but it still found its way into black and white, pressed forever, or until the print faded, into a line between births and marriages, deaths and disasters.

“Mary, come take a look,” Peter called to his wife at No. 19, “it’s here. Look at it.”
Mary wrapped her dressing gown around her waist but didn’t need to ask what he meant as she came downstairs towards what she knew would be the tiniest of ads, for what more was there to say?

“Have you seen it?” Joe asked his brother over breakfast at No. 15.
“I did,” he said sombrely, “still can’t… can’t believe it. Has she called?”
“No,” replied Joe, “not a sound, but, sure… we’ll see her later.”

At No. 21, Matthew could hear the newspaper being shoved through the letterbox. He was lying on the daybed, in that room, with the cot, staring at a million stars they’d filled the ceiling with only a month ago.

Michael was busy folding the morning paper into a million creases at No. 22, covering it with smudged fingerprints, looking for yesterday’s football results when Anne came in and saw the mess he was making of everything that had kept her awake all night.
“Would it kill you to think of something other than sport, just for once?” she asked him, pulling the paper from his jam-stained clutch and bringing it up to her chest like it were gold leaf about to dissolve and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

At No. 20, the kids were throwing Cheerios at one another when John walked into the kitchen, wondering why his normally rule-rigid wife was ignoring the commotion as she held the newspaper up, lost in what she was reading. Was the world ending and only the newspaper was reporting it? He walked behind her to see what was stealing her attention and then, there it was, the tiny message, not even a paragraph, but it had been enough to let riot rule at their breakfast table that morning. He put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and Alice knew, instantly, that that gentle touch meant more than any words he could ever say.
“I can’t go over yet,” she told him, looking up from the newspaper to her children who played as if there wasn’t a worry in the world. Suddenly she felt guilty at being able to see her own kids on front of her, as wild and wearisome as they were.

Back at No. 21, Jane was also lying down, but in their own bedroom, when she heard the weight of the newspaper falling to the floor downstairs, just below the letterbox. She felt the force of it like it was a building falling on her chest. She couldn’t move, breath. She couldn’t face reading it, not just yet. Was it wrong to seek comfort in the shadows and stillness for just a moment longer? Was it wrong to let reality linger outside for another minute or two? She knew he was in the other room, that room, with its yellow walls and butterfly border. Why had they listened to everyone telling them to paint it yellow? Why was yellow a neutral colour? Now it felt simply cold, sickly and uninviting, or at least that’s what she imagined. She hadn’t gone into that room since, well, not for a while.

In a daze at No. 19, Mary made Peter his coffee, with a dash of milk and two spoonfuls of sugar. When she finished, she sat across from him at the table, watching him drink it, wondering how and when she’d made it. His black hair had a life of its own in the morning, finding every way to stick up, out of place and at odd angles but she would’t have him any other way. He put his cup down and caught her stare. The clock ticked away on the wall but he heard nothing except his wife’s gentle breathing and he realised that if that one sound was all he heard, for the rest of his life, then that would be more than enough.

Joe stood by the hallway mirror of No. 15, attempting to knot his tie for the forth time while his palms perspired.
“Ah, for God’s sake, did Dad teach you nothing?” his brother asked him as he came over and took the tie and all its complications away from his younger brother. When he finished, they both turned and looked at each other in their black suits, white shirts and black, now neatly knotted, ties.
“Our sister needs us today, so head up, young man,” he told Joe, smiling at him in the mirror but they both knew there was nothing concrete behind that smile to hold it up for long.

“For feck’s sake, come on now, Mick, why are we always the last ones? You’re always saying that women are the slow ones! And look at you, Jesus, was it too much to ask for a suit… on today of all days?” Anne was asking at No. 22.
“Ah for Christ’s sake, you kidding me? It’s bloody Tuesday, Anne. I’ve a job this afternoon. Want me fixing a leak in that penguin suit? I mark it and I’ll never hear the end of it from you.”
She took a deep breath, as if every reply from him lately was the wrong reply and he knew exactly what she was thinking, saw it all on her face. 18 years of marriage was a lesson in reading expressions, if nothing else.
“Hey, come here to me for a minute,” he said and, totally unexpected, he put his arms around her and held his wife against his chest like he had done so often in the early years and it felt so good, in that moment, to be held, to be wanted, to be still seen amid all that was now invisible.

“I want you both to behave today,” Alice told her kids while John finished washing the breakfast dishes at No. 20.
“Maybe we should get a dishwasher,” she then said randomly, “to make life a little easier, you know?”
“I think it’ll take more than just a dishwasher for that,” he answered with nod towards their two blonde boys, already kicking each other under the table, “don’t you agree? And you were the one who wanted kids?”
“We wanted kids,” she corrected him, “and aren’t we lucky to have them,” Alice reminded him and he hit his head with a sudsy covered hand for his majorly inappropriate remark in the midst of the current devastation that had brought a silence and a halt to life on their normally idilic street.
“Jesus, I’m sorry, you’re right… of course we are. I’m a gobshite at times.”
“That’s true, but I love you for that too,” she told him as she walked behind him on the way to put on her black dress and ran her hand along the broad expanse of his back, the back which she nestled her head against every night.

When they finished dressing at No. 21, they came downstairs together as the cars arrived. The silence felt like a presence that had moved in with Jane and Matthew, suffocating them. The only break came from occasional cries that filled certain rooms, cries from adults now, not their child. The newspaper was lying by the door. They didn’t pick it up. They knew what was written inside.

‘We held you for only a moment, but we’ll remember you for a lifetime.’

All Words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly.

Photograph taken in the Musee Rodin, Paris, France.

Originally published by OriginalWriting in Ireland in their 2015 Short Story Anthology ‘Second Chance.’

THE STARS, A SHORT LIFE/STORY

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She was a married woman, with stars in her eyes, by the age of ten. She’d seen him in the back yard at 9 ¾ and in seconds had painted their future together. Mrs. Mulligan’s daughter would be Mrs. Michael Menkas and at 12 she dropped her bike at his gate and, upon his stoop, told him so.

At 13 he kissed her upon the lips; clumsy, sloppy and unaware of what to do with his tongue. But she was unaware that it could have been any better. At 14 he held her to his heart and promised her the earth, the moon and the stars but at 16 he heard the call and got wrapped up in a flag with stripes and other stars.

His letters came home twice a week at 18, from the front lines, they said, tales of heroes covered the pages while between the lines she saw the smudges of fear but they always signed off with a kiss.

When he first came home, he held her in his 19 year old arms. He placed a ring upon her finger as she glowed from head to toe in a white dress his mother had made her. She was a woman now whose breasts filled her bodice and eyes still sparkling stars beneath her veil while he, in uniform, played his part but the stars in his eyes had blown out.

For 20 days they played house, like in their childhood dreams long gone. Nights of passioned love making that ran far into the dawn before dreams fell to sweaty nightmares and she held him to her heart afterwards as if someone could pull him away from her at any moment. The truth of his imminent departure seeped out of every thread on the uniform that hung on the side of the closet.

At 21 she answered the knock at the door with a hand upon a swollen belly. Two men, too young to be adults and too young to be delivering the burden handed her a letter that ripped her apart before she could rip the envelope.

At 22 she bore his child and a tiny girl roared into the world. When Mrs Michael Menkas looked at her daughter, a tiny ball of wrinkles and wonder, her heart broke all over again for the tales she would one day have to tell her daughter of a husband and father now lost in the stars.

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

BOOKS TO READ: Jane Dougherty & Christina Strigas

New Reading just arrived:

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Today I bought two new books from Amazon:

The first is a new novel from Jane Doughtery, entitled The Pathfinders, Abomination,  who you will recognise from http://www.janedougherty.wordpress.com and if you don’t recognise her then go check out her work, go on, move it…

And the second is a poetry book from Christina Strigas entitled Your Ink on my Soul who can be found at http://www.christinastrigas.com so after you’re finished looking at Jane’s site, move directly on to Christina’s and no dilly dallying…

Okay, time for me to read them…

 

Catch you all later X

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 10, PORTUGAL, PEACE AND…

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 10, Portugal, Peace and…

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Henry spent the first two days of the Portugal leg of his trip in Lisbon, amid a wave of modern architecture in stark contrast with its older, neighbouring terracotta rooftops of charm and a sea of towering cranes best seen from the sleek cable-stayed Vasco da Gama Bridge while he satisfied his appetite with an array of fish dishes and an impressive selection of wines from the region but, after two days of hectic life in another city, he craved something a little more remote, so he hired a car and took to the hills and valleys and happily lost himself along country roads twirling through the landscape of forest covered mountains, tiny, almost deserted towns and sprawling vineyards that crept their way over the scenery as he coasted past it all.

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He stopped, finally, at the Pousada Convento Vila Pouca da Beira, a place that had quite literally been chosen for him when he fell upon it during a spectacular rainstorm; a white beacon of hope in the early evening’s sudden downpour, with it’s huge cross and flickering lanterns on either side of its front door, a vision of sanctuary that came out of nowhere as his wipers frantically swept across the windscreen of the car just as he’d started to worry that finding a decent place to stay, in the middle of nowhere, in this erratic weather, might prove positively impossible.

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As he slowed the car down and turned into the cobbled courtyard, the building and its adjoining church loomed over him in the darkness, looking haunted, naturally, but somehow cosy too, austere, yet comforting at the same time.

It turned out to be one of a chain of hotels all established in former convents or historical buildings throughout the country, hence its name. But it’s timing and arrival along Henry’s route was nothing less than a miracle. The large entrance door had just clanged shut behind him when the heavens finally crashed with thunder and, as he was lead to his room, past an inner courtyard and up a huge marble staircase with enormous tapestries and a thousand shadows that loomed ominously, the lightening clashed with the blackness of the night sky and echoed through the hallows of the building itself, giving an eerie uncertainty to the shapes, columns, corners and stone eyed angels that decorated the walls, lingering in shadows, waiting for the next bolt of lighting to announce their spooky presence.

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The room itself was basic but spacious and, when morning woke him, he opened the doors, stepped onto his balcony and took in the breathtaking view that spread itself out before him. The rain had washed away the shadows and the landscape now sparkled in a million shades of vibrant, life affirming greens as a scent swept through the air of the bounty of nature’s freshness, crispness and energy while below him, fresh coffee was brewing which enticed him back through the same corridors, inner courtyard and down the same glorious staircase which had been home only to ghosts and shadows the night before, but which was now bathed in its own glow of morning light as antique treasures glistened in their own grandeur before he took a seat on the empty terrance overlooking the lushness and life of the whole valley.

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It was silent, he was silent, the whole world was silent as he sat himself down. It was exactly what he had needed after almost a month of being constantly on-the-go; looking, searching, rushing, seducing, being seduced, being let down. A time of huge highs and a few comical lows. A time to become a man, he though as he figuratively tapped himself on the back. He had secretly feared the trip to Europe, all by himself. He hadn’t even travelled in the States without the boozed-up comfort of his often out-of-it mother, the occasionally present father or just on the road with his own friends, at the very least. But this trip had been his test, his personal journey, his own awakening. And boy, oh boy, was he beginning to feel awake.

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He sipped his coffee, looking down over the vineyard that grew out from the end of the gardens by swimming pool of the former convent before it disappeared into the forest below it, just as the land rose up to greet the sky, sighing in the welcome return of the sun after a night of unimaginable rain which seemed like a dream now on front of this view; this mirage of tranquil wilderness. The car had been pounded so heavily with rain that he’d feared for his own safely along the tiny, mud soaked road the night before, so when he’d seen the light, literally, at the end of the road, he’d stopped the car and knocked on the door without a single care as to who or what answered. He’d already seen the ghosts of Europe, bold and brazen and tempting him on streets in broad daylight. What was wrong with another one or two to add to his list?

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But surprisingly, in a place that looked more welcoming to the afterlife, even with its own gated old chapel in the basement, a crucifix on every available wall, and saints, carefully carved in stone, perched in every nook and cranny, the only souls that lingered about were living, breathing ones; smiling, nodding and giving off not a single scent of the scary.

The only Portuguese visions he saw came from nature itself as he wandered down the hills, amid the vines, and over fences to open pastures with grazing sheep and sleeping cows. The only smells he noticed sprang up from either the dew in the morning or out of every oven; simple roadside restaurants with the best roast chicken he’d ever tasted, deliciously fragrant cheeses from goats and sheep that came in clumps and spread itself over bread like butter or the traditional mini custard tarts, pasteis de nata, which was the one thing that haunted him as their delicate taste lingered on the tongue long after he’d finished them.

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It was life and it was his for the tasting, his for the taking, his for the smelling, he said to himself as he swaggered nakedly over to his bed as the open window let a gentle, warm breeze blow in past the curtains and he turned off the light and slipped his youthful, unlined body beneath the folds of the perfectly crisp hotel sheets. He closed his eyes and let his head nestle into the soft pillow, sensing sleep lean in to take him just as a hand reached over behind him, beneath the constriction of the blankets, and ran its icy cold, fine, foreign fingers up along his spine while his entire body froze in fear and the window slammed shut as the scent of death crept along his flared and frightened nostrils…

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All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 9, ABERDEENSHIRE

Scene in Europe, Scene 9, Aberdeenshire, Roses and Thorns

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Sophie and Marty were sitting across from an ancient dovecot, amid the topiary gardens of Craigievar Castle, on a hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, not far from the Queen’s summer retreat in Balmoral which they’d driven through earlier in the hope of a royal glimpse but settled for buying a packet of custard creams in the local convenience store. It was an unexpectedly sunny day having arrived 4 days earlier to their two story Nordic styled lodge in the Hilton’s Craigendarroch resort, tucked into the woods of Royal Deeside, under a heavy blanket of clouds and rain. They’d detoured from their mainland European vacation for a family wedding, a distant relation of Sophie’s whose name she kept forgetting, but the festivities had distracted them from the downpour of the previous days. But now the party was over and it was their second day of Scottish exploration, at a slow pace, of course, considering the bunions, new hips, angina and all round ageing. Thankfully all bowel blockages were now a thing of the past, helped hugely by the sausage, bacon, eggs and haggis breakfasts.

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“It’s a castle,” Marty said disappointedly to his wife.

“I can see that, Marty, you think I bring you with me to point out the obvious? You think I thought it was mall?” his wife joked in her usual sarcastic tone, “this is what happens when you don’t want a shoe larger than your foot!” she whispered to herself. Even as a young girl, she knew she would never be able to cope with marrying someone bigger or better than herself, so you get what you’re given instead.

“But another castle, Sophie, really?” her husband questioned.

“Yes, another castle. Oy, if only I coulda got me another husband. Listen Marty, we don’t have these back home. It’s a once in a lifetime trip and at least it ain’t a cathedral,” she reminded him.

“But it ain’t all that different either,” he tried to point out.

“Oy Marty, you old putz, it’s a whole other story to a cathedral. People lived here; lords, earls, barons; the elite, gentry. Didn’t you watch Downton Abbey, it’s all the rage these days, all that old fashioned stuff; maids and servants, upstairs, downstairs; the traditions. We don’t have that sorta thing back home, all that land and not a bit of room for tradition. We pretend we do… but it’s all fake. We prefer a good condo to an old castle, even though we build our condo’s to look like castles.”

“Sophie, may I remind you that we’re Jewish, we have nothing but tradition.”

“Well, mazel tov to you then. We have our path, I know that, our Halakhah. I walk it daily and with you, believe me, Marty, it all takes on a whole other meaning,” she said with an exhaustive shrug, “we have Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kappur, the mitzvah’s, the brit’s, the kipa, yada, yada, yada… they’re all a part of me, I ain’t denying that. But this, this is a whole other something, this is tradition on a whole other level. This is grandeur, this is excess, ain’t no one chopping anything off in these traditions, Marty.”

“Soph, you can’t say that,” her husband replied in an attempt to reprimand his wife’s words of disrespect for their faith.

“Really Marty,” she slapped back at him with that look he knew so well, reminding him instantly that he had forgotten that nothing was ever forbidden from falling from her lips, aside from a few words of affection that wouldn’t go amiss occasionally and a few other unmentionable words that he used to miss in the bedroom department, although that was now a department they no longer visited together. Someone had to love her, he told himself, maybe this was his Halakhah; his path in life.

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The baronial 17th century Craigievar Castle with it’s practically pink turret towers and glaring gargoyles loomed over them like a fairytale come to life as they shaded themselves beneath a giant topiary bush which Marty suggested was shaped like a UFO, a comment he’d earlier regretted sharing with Sophie.

“This one has a ghost too, you know, another story of love and loss,” his wife mentioned with a certain lightness to her gravel based voice while she scanned over the guide book, “seemingly, the father of a beautiful damsel tried to kill one of her suiters while he was climbing in the window one night, but before he was pierced in the heart, he fell from the window itself and plummeted to his death. Right here. Now they say he roams the hallways, in the eternal search for his love,” Sophie told him, “now ain’t that just darling. See Marty, men knew what love was back then, would do anything they could for it, dead or alive.”

“You know, Soph, they told us all this while on the tour, is your hearing all right? You think it’s time for a hearing aid? We could be hearing aid buddies,” he joked but as usual, she didn’t smile.

“The only aid I need is carrying around your lard ass, Marty. That pizza overload from Italy’s still pushing your tush southwards. And I can hear damn fine, thank you. Just can’t understand a thing anyone round here is saying. You sure it’s really English they speak in Scotland? I have my doubts. I can tell you. But it sure does sound good and boy oh boy, the men round here are real men, Marty,” she said, reminding him once again, in her own not-so-subtle way, of all his inadequacies.

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Yesterday, before their walk around the Spittal of Glenmuick at the end of Loch Muick, protected by the luscious heather covered hills dancing over glorious green mosses all rejoicing from the recent rainfall, they’d driven to Braemar Castle, built as a 17th century hunting lodge. It was there that Sophie had first been driven wild with excitement by the history of it’s reported ghost; a young woman who’d killed herself on her wedding night after awaking alone and believing her husband had deserted her. Sophie was almost teary eyed at the thought of the poor ghost, newly married and newly dead. And yet Marty’s wife managed to spent most of her time critiquing him, chastising him, chopping him. Today Marty realised he would never fully understand this woman on front of him, even if he managed to survive as long as this castle on front of him.

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He looked over at her; her dyed blonde hair, the skin a little softer now on the face as she’d missed her last two Botox sessions since they’d been away, her once buoyant chest now almost leaning on her fanny pack as she bent over to adjust the side seam of her turquoise leggings. Romance, he said to himself, half the time her heart’s as stone cold as these bloody castles and cathedrals, impervious to time and man himself. And other times, well, sometimes the drawbridge lowers itself to allow entrance but nowadays, with body getting older, that drawbridge seemed to be having trouble opening up as much as it used to.

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“You’re a real oxymoron,” he told her with a smile on his face.

“And you’re a real son of one, but so what? We make do with what we have, Marty,” she said as she took his hand to heave herself up out of the seat, “all these tales of youth and romance, they bring a flicker of something to me, what can I say?” she said with another shrug, an annoying habit she’d picked up in France.

“And what about us, what about our romance?” he asked, hands back to hiding in his tracksuit pockets, fearing the reply.

“Oy Marty, come on now, love in youth is a crown of roses, love in old age… it’s a crown of willows,” she told her husband as he made a small yelp, having leaned back too far against the shrubbery and pricked himself on a thorn from one of the low lying rose bushes.

“All righty then,” she continued, ignoring his pain, “how about we see about getting you a kilt to show off those legs of yours? You know how much I like your legs.”

“Well Sophie, that’s real nice of you to say,” he said, instantly forgetting the prick and suddenly beaming with an underused sense of pride and a rise in affection for his fortified wife. Perhaps the drawbridge just needed a little oil, after all, he thought to himself.

“Yeah well, Marty, anything to distract me from that saggy ass of yours.”

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SCENE IN EUROPE, SCENE 7, ERUPTIONS IN POMPEII

 
Scene in Europe, Scene 7, Eruptions in Pompeii

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“You remember the dust in Florence, Marty? Well, let me tell you, I was wrong, that wasn’t dust, this is dust. How many bubkes did this cost us? Look at it, I mean, the parties certainly done and dusted in this fakakta place,” Sophie complained, not for the first time, to her long serving husband as a sea of sweat swept its way down her neck, seeping under the strap of her bulging brassiere strap and on down to places her husband hadn’t seen in years, “and where are the people? I read in a book they had folks from ancient times, days of yore or what-have-you, who were turned to stone, literally, and you could see them! Well, I ask you Marty, where the hell are they?”

“That’s a lot to deal with all in one go, Soph. You want me to start anywhere in particular?”

“Oy, Marty. It was rhetorical, re-tor-ic-al,” she repeated phonetically, “don’t be a schmuck, if I ever needed an answer to anything, have I ever asked you? Come now Marty, let’s face it, you don’t send a dog to the butchers shop!”

Marty ignored her little saying, and the knowing dig, but was grateful that, since being in Europe, she’d actually managed to reduce her spewing of confusing little rhymes, phrases and all around sayings about what to do or not do with life, though never her’s, alway other peoples, but she rarely managed to use the right saying at the right time, he knew her more as a woman who liked to be heard than to put too much worry into the content of what she was actually saying.

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“If we ever get to Berlin, you can be advised to just lock me up in Jane’s apartment, after we check it out first, mind you, and then just leave me there, night and day,” she told him.

“What, so you can take to peeing in the closets like Mary Margaret’s old klutz? That was a narrow escape, I tell you.”

“I just need some structure, can’t you understand that?” she asked him as she twisted her fanny pack back around to the front, “I need walls that are built to last, air conditioning, the fresh smell of polish. I believe the Germans know the difference between a bomb site and a bloody good building,” Sophie said, ignoring the still painful reminder of the loss of two shiksas who seemed like the perfect travel companions who they’d bumped into in Barcelona but who turned out, regretfully, to be no more than one half of a pack of lunatics.

“You can’t say that,” her husband told her.

“You wanna bet? Show me a good German and I bet they can show me a perfectly made bed with hospital approved corners and a decent martini, but I will say this,” she said, looking up along the remains of a cobble stoned road and off into the distance, “I will confess to being very partial to this landscape. Look up there, at that mountain, the pointy one,” she said as she mustered up enough force to raise her arm through the weight of the midday heat, “I wonder if they have a cable car or yet another form of decrepit transport to get up there. I’m sure the view from the top is just darling. And away from all this soot into clear breathable air. I need something to get my mind off all those vulgar men, loitering around that backwards station this morning. What is it about Italian men and their need to constantly touch themselves, as if it makes us gals all wanna run up to them and have a go on it ourselves?”

“I’m not sure what you mean about the Italian’s and having a right old go on them, but I do know about that mountain up there. That’s Vesuvius, Sophie!”

“Oy, look at you, who’d have known it? A schmuck like you knows the name of a hill. Marty, you wanna build one of those now, too.”

“It’s not a hill Sophie, or a bloody cathedral, and I never wanted to build a cathedral in the first place, thank you very much. But I will tell you that that hill you’re talking about, that’s the damn volcano that tore this place apart,” he informed his uninformed wife, “but if you want me to send you up, then I tell you now, Sophie Moskowitz, I’ll sure as hellfire carry you up there myself,” he told her, eye to eye, in no uncertain terms, “and throw you in.”

“Marty,” she yelled at him as the already ruined walls shook from the force of her gravel grazing voice.

“Sophie,” he yelled back, sending further reverberations into the city of what used to be.

And then there was silence. It was a standstill. It was 40 years of marriage together, day in, day out. It was 50 days on holiday, alone but together, back to back, with no family to break them up and distract them from each other. It was Pompeii and the weight of its own destruction in the scorching midday sun reflecting poorly on their own long standing, but often fragile, union. It was blisters, bowels, bunions. It was flights, fatigue and foreigners. Eruptions were bound to arrive, eventually. They just had no idea who would blow first.

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After 30 minutes of time out, Sophie found Marty sitting in the remains of the 80BC Roman Amphitheatre, looking more broken than usual as he sat on one of the steps, melting in his white tracksuit. What a vision, she thought to herself, this ancient site with its rising stone walls all around her and her ancient husband amid it, certainly no gladiator but, well, he’d done her well, so far. Maybe his angina was acting up again, she thought as she came towards him, although she was secretly more concerned that he’d get dirt stains on the seat of his white pants.

“But you love me,” she began coyly, hopefully and her head nodded with a mix of rejection and old age.

“But I love you,” in said as his facial frown cracked like plaster and he reached out and took her fine freckled hand in his as he stood up, next to her, and they looked around as if there were Pompeiian King and Queen.

“You know Soph, we’re just like this place. Once young and happy and now just crumbling under a heavy layer of ageing.”

“Oy vey, I gotta tell you Marty, you sure are full of shit sometimes. The only thing heavy about us is your mozzarella and basil filled pizza belly. How I ever managed to marry so beneath myself, I’ll never know,” she told him, much to his surprise as she looked out over the walls of the amphitheater until her gaze closed in on the point of Vesuvius, once again, “but I guess we gotta face it,” she continued, rubbing her free hand along the length of her husbands arm, at the end of which their hands were forever entwined, “it’s gonna take more than a volcano to tear us down!”

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All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Scene in Europe, Scene 5, Barcelona Bonding

 

Scene in Europe, Scene 5, Barcelona Bonding

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Gravel voiced Sophie and her hard of hearing husband, Marty, were sitting on a sun drenched terrace near a bustling intersection, burnt, blistered and blocked up but embracing a very real possibility of relief. They’d just met another American couple, also doing a European tour, though travelling in opposite directions, and they were overjoyed at finally finding like-minded people after all the weirdos they’d come across so far. It was also a well deserved distraction from their own company. Marriage could be a blessing, but 40 days together, without a break, was beginning to put more of a strain on their relationship than their previous 65 years of togetherness. Mary Margaret; big earrings, big boobs and bigger smile, and her grown up daughter, JoBeth; no earrings, no boobs but winning smile, had been at the same cafe, a table away and, as accents carried, a conversation began between the 4 foreigners and, 2 hours later, they were huddled together under the heat of the Passeig de Gracia putting this strange European world to right. Sophie was already calculating the possibility of cancelling Jane in Berlin and following her new BFF’s while Marty basked in the much appreciated attention of his new female admirers who knew nothing about his bunions or his wife’s poop problem.

“Oh golly, I tell you, Parc Guell is just wonderful, truly, like Disney without the Mickey’s. What can I say, I’m a Gaudi fan, love the man, even have one of his t-shirts. So much colour, I was in heaven while Mother just loved the mosaics, didn’t you, tell them, you did,” JoBeth was saying, “and then the beaches, oh my! Although I’d stay away from Mar Bella and Sitges. It’s sorta boys only, if you know what I mean,” she told them and gave Marty a cheeky wink along with her winning smile.

Marty and Sophie didn’t know what she meant but nodded away in blissful ignorance.

“And you gotta take the cable car up to Mont Tibidabo. I swear, I didn’t think that old contraption was gonna make it, truly. Thought we’d plummet back down when we were only half way up, but once you’re up, golly, the view is just wonderful, I tell you, wonderful. Am I right Mother, or am I right?”

“Oh well, she’s right, but she always is, it’s just darling,” Mary Margaret replied as she fumbled with her phone, “we should take you both up there.”

“And the food,” JoBeth interrupted in another bout of excitement that seemed irrepressible, “have you ever seen so many small plates just begging to be tasted? Tapas back home’s nothing like this. Authentic, didn’t I say that, Mother? It’s truly authentic. Watch out for anything red, mind you, blows your head off. Mother here downed a whole pitcher of water last night after the peppers,” she told them in between gulps of sangria, “then spent the night pressing her ass into the fridge. Not really, but you get my drift,” she said as her mother giggled and Sophie and Marty smiled at them even though they’d been petrified to try anything that wasn’t sauce free and grilled to cremation.

“Red is hot in every language, in every culture, on every plate,” the daughter told them.

“Unfortunately, Marty here ain’t really one for anything too hot,” Sophie told her BFF’s, as if signalling a slight disappointment at her own husband which, this time, didn’t slip past him.

“No, but you could sure do with something to let more than just the steam out,” he whispered to her “if you know what I mean.”

Sophie knew exactly what he meant. There was rarely a time when she didn’t, but there was many a time when she wished otherwise.

“And you gotta see the Flamenco, it’s wonderful. How they don’t break their heels with all that banging I just don’t know, and the noise, but it adds to the atmosphere. Just don’t go expecting a quiet romantic dinner,” she told the couple and Sophie wondered if this younger woman had any idea what romance was when you’d been stuck to the same man, bunions and blockages, for more than half a century.

“Our JoBeth was taken up, actually, two nights ago. This moustached man got her into a right sweat. She brought the house down, our little girl,” her mother said, smiling at her daughter and touching her cheek as if she were still 13 with pig tails and double track braces.

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“Oy Marty, things are finally looking up,” Sophie said, almost unable to contain her excitement when JoBeth went to the restroom and her mother left them to find a better reception for her cell phone, “these are the kinda gals who could put fun into foreign, into being away from home, for so long, away from good company. I feel homely just hearing their adorable accents,” she told her husband as she waved a salamander painted fan over her glowing cleavage.

“Thought we got away to see something new, Soph?” Marty replied, not wanting to appear too over eager at the adoration he’d been getting from these new glorious gals.

“Oy vey, you wanna make friends with these European freaks, Marty? I’ve barely understood a word anyone’s said in the last 3 cities. And now, at last, two smiling shiksas, happy to share their adventure with us. They’re probably lonely too, starved for a little male company, I’d say,” she said as she jokingly elbowed him, “seems such a pity it can’t last a little longer.”

“Well, they are good ones, I’ll give you that, Soph. And they seem to like us, even listened to your description of every cathedral we’ve seen so far. I can’t believe you hold in so much,” he remarked, with pun intended.

“So, how is everything?” JoBeth asked her mother when they both returned to the table.

“No change, praise the Lord,” she replied as she checked the buoyancy of her body-waved hair, “he’s in bed and she’s still held up in the suite with her empanadas for company.”

“And the closet?” the daughter asked.

“She won’t check,” came the response that intrigued Sophie and Marty and he gave his wife a look to see if she knew what it was all about but she seemed equally lost.

“Is everything okay?” Sophie asked, hoping her new friends felt close enough to confide in them.

“Daddy’s taking to peeing in the hotel closets. It’s our 3rd hotel in Barcelona,” JoBeth told them bluntly while her mother covered a giggle with a napkin.

“Daddy’s taken to what?” Marty asked, feeling more confused, “it’s not just the you of two?”

“Oh Lord no, sometimes I wish it was, Daddy’s here with us,” Mary Margaret explained, “and our Chilean nurse who’s decided to get homesick. Locked herself up in the hotel in the last 5 cities. Refuses to come out anymore till we go home.”

“And your Daddy?” Sophie asked Mary Margaret, confused as to whether it was her husband or if she just called her husband Daddy.

“Oh God, last time we took him out we lost him for 3 hours, at Park Guell. Security found him before we did,” she said, now unable to cover her laughter, “he’d taken off all this clothes and was sitting in the fountain. They didn’t see the humour so we were asked to leave.”

Neither did Marty or Sophie whose connection to their BFF’s was suddenly slipping away.

“He took a body wash across the road, in the Casa Batllo,” JoBeth added like it was nothing unusual, “there was an old washstand in one of the rooms, we got carried away with a painting and when we turned back, well, he’d just dropped his pants so we can’t go back there again either. It was truly a sight to see. A Chinese couple took a photo of him, they promised to email it to us.”

“Does this happen often?” Sophie enquired, deflating in her seat as her hopes ran down the drain.

“Oh golly, this is nothing, truly, wait till we tell you about Paris and the Louvre. He certainly put the smile on Mona Lisa. But it’s best if you meet him, maybe tomorrow?” Mary Margaret suggested.

Sophie shifted her position so she could kick her husband in the leg. It was time to go.

Who needed strangers, who needed peeing Daddies, who needed naked men in fountains? They had each other. They’d survived 65 years together. It was time to get back to just the two of them. Who needed American wackos, Europe had its own and they had each other.

5 minutes later, they’d made their getaway and were happily strolling hand in hand until Sophie felt her bowels finally move and she smiled at Marty lovingly before she made the most startling noise.

“There she blows,” said her husband with a proud smile.

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All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Coming tomorrow… Scene in Europe

Coming tomorrow to 

Deuxiemepeau,

The first instalment of my series of Prose Vignettes entitled

Scene in Europe

The comments, comedy and commotions

of a married couple and a single man

making their way through Europe

on vacation…

Scene 1: Prague; Crumbled, Cracked and Magnificent

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All photographs and artwork by Damien B. Donnelly