Fiction Section: Free Fiction
Mystery is an important element of storytelling. It awakens curiosity in the minds of readers, invokes questions that draw them through a story, and promises to let them in on a secret. Even in stories outside of this genre, the slightest hint of mystery can cast a certain spell. The three stories we have chosen to share with you in the February 2011 issue of Write from Wrong each possess a mysteriousness of their own that contributes to their appeal.
Mary J. Webster ‘s “The Graveyard Shift” features a protagonist whose night working at a seedy truck stop is interrupted by some unusual customers. The incredible descriptions piece together a vivid setting and lend a distinct atmosphere to the tale.
The Cherokee housewife in Keith G. Laufenberg’s “The Ants” has all who observe her unconventional behavior around insects completely baffled. He successfully sets up a contrast between her behavior and that of her neighbor’s, bringing depth to his thought-provoking story.
Tommy Dakar’s “News of the World” begins with his narrator lifting the roof off of a house and allowing readers to peer inside and observe his characters. In a metaphorical sense, his story lifts off the roof of all humanity as he artfully and insightfully gives us little glimpses into the lives and thoughts of several very different people.
We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as much as we did.
Write from Wrong
The Graveyard Shift
By Mary J. Webster
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Wipe the mayo off the dessert menu.
I kneel down and pick the cold fries up from the floor. There were kids here this afternoon. I toss the fries in the bucket under the cutlery station and move on to the next table.
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Scrape the pink gum off the underside of the table. I could do this job in my sleep, which is a good thing, since no one who works the graveyard shift is ever really awake.
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Hum along to the radio that never ever stops.
Air brakes hiss outside, but all I can see is my reflection in the big glass windows. My eyes are dark and my ankles are swollen from standing for so long. Anyone outside can see me, but I’m just another piece of furniture to them, just a part of the scenery. No, that’s not true… people don’t shout at chairs and scenery doesn’t have a butt to pinch.
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Fold the old newspaper up and put it behind the counter so I’ll have something to read at two a.m.
The trucker walks in and flops in the first seat he comes to. His eyes are dark, too. He tosses his hat onto the table and rubs his eyes as I walk over with a menu.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I ask, “or would you like a minute to look at the menu?” My mouth moves independently of my brain, which is taking a nap in the cozy, dark space between my ears.
He shakes his head and mumbles, “You got hot turkey sandwiches?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Fresh?” he asks.
I think of the vat of congealed, grey-ish gravy that’s been percolating since before I started working here, and I find myself wondering if the spoon is still cemented to the counter beside it. The dishwasher said he’d pry it off before he left for the night, but never does anything to help anyone.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Coffee and a hot turkey sandwich, then,” the trucker says.
“No problem,” my mouth says. I take the menu back and head for the kitchen to wake up the cook.
“Hey,” the trucker calls. “Get me a beer instead of the coffee. It’s too late for coffee.”
“Bud or Moose?” I ask.
I nod and walk carefully through the kitchen, trying not to slip on the floor. The storeroom door is open and the cook is lying on the floor with his balding head on a bag of flour. I kick one of his dirty shoes and he wakes with such a jolt that he knocks over his ashtray. The hot butt sizzles on the greasy floor. He’s a creep, so I never get any closer to him than kicking range.
“Customer,” I tell him. “Hot turkey sandwich.” I go to the beer fridge and pretend that he didn’t just call me a bitch… again.
Back out front, I set the cold bottle on the counter in front of the trucker. I should have given him a glass, too, but I have to wash any dishes we use before I can go home, so I’m trying to use them sparingly.
“You got a bottle opener?” the trucker asks. I raise an eyebrow at him, pick up his beer and touch the sharp lid lip to the edge of the table. I bash my other palm down on top of it and the lid pops off. I pick up the lid and leave him with his beer so I can finish up the tables.
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Wipe the ketchup off the window.
The trucker’s watching me. It ticks me off a little, and I wonder what he’s going to say. Every creepy, old man who hits on me thinks he’s the first one to do it. I should have my name legally changed to “Sweetcheeks.” Or maybe, “Hey you!” When I bend over to pick up more cold, squished food, I make sure my butt points away from him to minimize the leering.
“You wanna make a little extra money?” he asks, suddenly.
I look him dead in the eyes and say, “No, I don’t. And don’t pester me or the cook will call the cops.” Actually, I know from experience that he’ll just stand there and laugh when I’m in trouble. “I’ll go check on your food,” I tell him. My brain is fully awake now.
I grab the ratty old mop from the broom closet and head into the women’s bathroom, just to get away from him. I start by flushing all the un-flushed toilets, then I plunge the mop into the fresh water and start moping the floors, walls, and toilet seats. The bathrooms always smell like urine, and the vanilla tangerine automatic air freshener just seems to make it worse. The broom closet has a whole bucket full of cleaning products, but they’re all empty and cracked. As I work, I check the walls for new jokes, funny cartoons, and amusing poetry. Someone’s drawn a series of penises, each wearing a different hat. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’re on the wall in the crapper, they’d be considered as some kind of artistic study. I flick a tampon into the garbage can with the end of the mop.
I don’t pee at work.
“Order up!” I hear through the thin walls. I head for the kitchen. There’s a plate under the warming lamp with a slice of stale, white toast that’s topped with desiccated turkey.
“The turkey looks kinda dry,” I tell the cook as I use the mop handle to bash the gravy spoon loose. It flies across the room and skitters under the deep-fryer. There’s no way I’m going to kneel on this floor so I squat down and use to mop to fish it out. Behind me, the cook spits on the turkey to moisten it. The spoon is covered in dust and hair so I rinse it under the tap before jabbing it deep into the gravy vat to find a pocket of liquid.
I don’t eat at work.
I load the plate up with the slightly lumpy gravy, because truckers like lots of gravy, and carry it out to his table. “Here ya go,” I tell him.
He doesn’t even look at it. “Sorry if what I said came out wrong,” he says. “I just wanted you to do me a favor.”
“Yeah,” I say, as I write up his bill. “I’ll bet you did. You want some dessert? We have pie.”
“What kind?” he asks.
I think of the shapeless, anemic-looking, freezer-burned blob in the display case and try to remember what color of juice was running out of it. It might be peach, but it’s probably apple… or the juice is left over from another pie and it’s cherry.
“Apple,” I say.
“Is it fresh?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Okay,” he nods. “But heat it up.”
“Sure,” I say.
I add it to his bill and take the pie out of the display case. I set it on the counter next to the gravy crud the spoon left behind and I cut him a thick slice. It’s peach. The saucer bangs off the back of the microwave as I fire it in. Behind me, the cook cleans the grill and fan with the same mop I use to scrub the toilets. Little nuggets of wet toilet paper rain down onto the grill. The microwave overheats and the pie turns to soup. I grab a fork and carry it out front.
The trucker is gone but he left a fifty dollar bill on the table. He didn’t eat his turkey. The fifty goes in my apron pocket and his dinner goes in the trash can, plate and all. The pie slides off the saucer as I throw it into the garbage and it leaves a sticky smear all down the side of the trash bag that kinda looks like orange vomit. He didn’t touch his knife and fork, but his napkin is all crumpled up. I’m just about to throw it out when I see that he’s left me a note.
Some guys are looking for me.
When they come, tell them that I ate the turkey and left.
I throw the note in the trash and tell the cook that the guy skipped out on his bill so I don’t have to give him 50% of my tip.
Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard. A fistful of cream cups in the bowl. Wipe the table. Napkin, napkin, napkin, napkin. Fork, fork, fork, fork, knife, knife, knife, knife. Restock the sugar packets.
I go to the cutlery station, pull out a big cardboard box full of jam caddies, and set one at each table.
Strawberry, raspberry, peanut butter, maple syrup, and marmalade.
The radio announcer tells me that it’s 12:30.
Strawberry, raspberry, peanut butter, maple syrup, and marmalade.
The radio announcer tells me that it’s 12:45.
Strawberry, raspberry, peanut butter, maple syrup, and marmalade.
Air brakes hiss and two rough-looking guys walk in. They sit at the same table as the first guy and I give them two menus. “Can I get you something to drink?” my mouth asks, “or would you like a minute to look at the menu?”
“Two diet Cokes,” one says. The other nods in agreement.
“Is Pepsi okay?” I ask. “We don’t carry Coke.”
They look at each other for a moment and then the first one nods. “Yes. Pepsi’s okay.” They open their menus simultaneously and I go get them their drinks. A minute later, I place two miniscule plastic glasses in front of them and pull out my bill book.
“What can I getcha?” I ask.
“Two garden salads,” the first one says.
My brain turns on again. Is that even on the menu? No one has ever ordered a salad before. My eyes glance down to the menu and sure enough, we offer a wide selection of salads. I’ve never taken an order for anything that didn’t come with a side order of fries and/or gravy. I wonder if the cook even has lettuce back there.
“Sure,” I say. I take the menus and hurry into the kitchen. I clip the bill into the order roster and spin it around for the cook to see. The cigarette falls out of his mouth and smolders in the grill.
“Do we have lettuce?” he asks.
“We must,” I say. “The burgers are all supposed to have a piece of lettuce in them.”
The cook taps a fresh cigarette out of the packet he keeps in his folded up sleeve and lights it on the grill. “Yeah,” he says, “but I never bother putting it on.” He opens the big fridge and stares at the defrosting cuts of cheap meat. There’s no lettuce within ten miles of that fridge. He shrugs and points to the tray of dehydrated turkey. “Tell ‘em we just ran out of lettuce, but that we’ve got lots of fresh turkey.”
I roll my eyes and plaster my best smile on as I head back out front. “I’m sorry,” I tell the two guys, “but we’re fresh out of lettuce. Can I interest you in a hot turkey sandwich, instead?”
They exchange glances and the first one says, “We don’t eat turkey.”
“Okay,” I say. “How about a nice cheeseburger. It’s the cook’s specialty.” It’s true. Hiding burned meat under cheese is what he does best. “Or eggs on toast, maybe?”
“Is there any turkey in it?” the second man asks.
“No,” I tell him.
“Then we’ll have the hen fruit,” he says. “I mean eggs. We’ll have the eggs.”
I nod and head for the kitchen. “Two orders of eggs on toast,” I tell the cook. He rolls his eyes and fires up the grill. “They’re a couple of jokers,” I say.
“Just make sure they don’t dine and dash this time,” he snorts. Cigarette ashes fall into the eggs and he stirs them in, along with the bits of mop string and toilet paper that drift down from the fan.
“Yeah, yeah,” I mumble as I head back out front to keep my eye on them. They’ve finished their drinks so I offer them a refill.
“We’re actually looking for a friend of ours,” the first one says.
“Yeah?” I say.
“He was here earlier,” the man says. It’s not a question.
“There was only one guy in here tonight,” I tell them. “He ate a hot turkey sandwich and he left.”
The men look at each other for a moment. “He ate the turkey?” the first one asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Really?” the second one asks.
“Yeah,” I repeat. I pick up their glasses and head for the kitchen.
“It can’t be him, then,” the second guy says to the first.
Air brakes hiss and the cook and I look at each other for a second before we run out to the dining area. The men are gone and they didn’t pay. We burst through the front doors but there’s no truck in sight. No rumbling engine, no lights, nothing. The cook swears and storms back inside but I pause to look at the few stars that are able to outshine the lights on the off-ramp.
I turn to go back inside, but then a loud jake brake echoes through the parking lot. I look up to the highway and the off ramp, but there’s nothing there. An air horn blasts and a tractor trailer swoops down from the sky and rolls to a stop in front of the restaurant. The air brakes hiss and the driver kills the engine before he climbs down to the ground. I’m a little freaked out, but not as much as the time a crack head robbed us at knife-point… or the time the road-tripping, frat boys molested me… or the time I had my wrist broken when the hockey players brawled… or the time the roof caved in above the grill and started a huge fire… Aliens? Hell, so long as they don’t piss on the bathroom floor, I think I can handle them.
The trucker’s eyes are dark with fatigue, like he’s been driving for a long time. He shifts his feet and looks me over until I realize I wasn’t supposed to see what just happened. “You still open?” he finally asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“What’s the special?” he asks.
“Hot turkey sandwiches for the locals, eggs on toast for the out-of-towners,” I tell him. “We’re out of lettuce, but I’ll get some in for tomorrow.”
He grins. “Great, ‘cause I hate turkey.”
“I know,” I say as we head back inside. I’m gonna make this guy pay upfront.
Mary J. Webster is a Canadian writer with an English degree on her wall and a trucking license in her wallet. She enjoys SCUBA diving, metal detecting, tea, and up-cycling things she finds at the dump.
By Keith G. Laufenberg
When they came to the Valley of the Ants, an ant said: ‘Go into your dwellings, ants, lest Solomon and his warriors should crush you.’
Betty Ross looked at her husband and could not fathom his unbridled anger, as he glared at the mass of small ants scurrying over the cupboards and kitchen table. They had gotten onto the left-over dinner plates and then inside the cupboard, where the sugar container, which was a supposedly insect-proof Tupperware Bowl had been totally infiltrated by the small red balls of fury. “Good Gawd Betty—do you believe this—the little devils are everywhere. I’m gonna make this my first priority, to kill these bastards!” Stephen Ross, an aerospace engineer at nearby Lockheed Martin, in Marietta, shook his head sadly. They had just moved into a new house in the country and he had given no thought to the insect population, until now.
“Well Stephen I’m sure there’s no need to kill them.”
“Wha’ … Betty—oh, right—well—ain’t that just like you. You don’t think there’s any need to kill these buggers? Are you crazy Bet’? Look—look?” Ross spread his hands out, palms up then moved them furiously back and forth around the room, signifying that there were ants everywhere. He walked to his large kitchen table, a solid mahogany beauty that had been a wedding present, and slammed his open palm down hard upon it, again and again, turning his hand over after every slap and then wiping the results onto has pants-leg, before continuing his one-handed assault. He only stopped when his wife walked over and grabbed his forearm. “Honey, why don’t you just take a shower and I’ll get rid of the ants for you.”
Ross glared at his wife and then at the innumerable ants spread throughout the kitchen and dining room, then shrugged his shoulders, seemingly calming down, but only on the surface.
“Fine, what the hell, it’s only midnight and I ain’t gotta get up till six in ah morning.” He stormed towards his bathroom, warily eying the ants, which seemed to be everywhere, now. He knew that no one could get rid of the little buggers, much less his wife of less than a year, but, as he stepped into the shower he smiled smugly; this would finally teach her something, as she was always complaining about all the pollution and how it, and progress, were so dangerous. She was against nuclear power and had history, such as the near meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, to solidify her nature-first philosophy but her lectures on the environment drove him crazy.
Stephen Ross stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, hurrying out of the bathroom and into the dining room, where his wide smile soon faded, when he looked around the room, which was devoid of even a single ant. It was as if someone had taken a vacuum cleaner and sucked them all away, but, as he searched for one, he could plainly see that there was no such household appliance in the room.
God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear,
To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here.
—Robert Browning, Saul. St. VI.
Betty Ross sprinkled the water onto the flowers and smiled, as several bees flitted about pollinating first one than the other of the white and red roses. She nodded at her neighbor, as the woman approached her, eying the bees warily. “Oh hello Missus O’Brien,” she said, smiling.
“Oh, call me Emily please—Betty?”
“Well alright then—Emily.”
“God—how can you stand these bees? Oh my God.” Emily O’Brien put her hands above her head and began fluttering them noiselessly, flailing in exasperation as several bees, sensing her fear and frustration, began swarming around her.
“Oh, Emily, please just stand still and forget about them and then they’ll leave you alone.”
Emily O’Brien gasped and paled noticeably. “Stand still? God, how can I? They’re so noisy. Why, I’d be stung for sure!”
Betty Ross shrugged her shoulders and set her water-pail on the ground. “Well, won’t you come inside for some breakfast then?”
“Well, maybe just for some coffee.”
“All right then,” Ross replied, as she walked her neighbor to the back porch of her large home, which sat on two acres of relatively undeveloped land—out in Cherokee County. As she motioned her neighbor to a table on the back porch, Betty Ross walked into her kitchen and grabbed a pot of coffee from her stove. She brought it to the table, along with two porcelain cups and poured one hall-full of the dark liquid, then nodded towards the empty cup sitting in front of her neighbor. “Say when?”
As she poured, the other woman smiled and cut her off when the cup was almost to the top. “I take it black,” she said and, as they sat sipping their java, Emily O’Brien smiled. “Oh, you do make a good cup of coffee, Betty.”
“Why thank you Emily.”
“Oh, it’s so beautiful out here, isn’t it?”
“Yes—yes it certainly is and I hope it stays that way.”
Emily O’Brien smiled languidly at this statement. “Oh, I know what you mean. We do need to keep the area as private as we can.”
Betty Ross sipped at her mocha and smiled imperceptibly.
“If it wasn’t for these damn insects and bugs it would be paradise out here, you know?” Emily O’Brien said.
“Well, they were here before we were, you know!”
Emily O’Brien smiled at her neighbor and stared out the screened-in porch. She had ascertained from her husband, who worked with Stephen Ross at Lockheed Martin, that Betty Ross was part Cherokee Indian, which she had considered a romantic idea at the time, but now she wondered if the woman weren’t just a little too strange for her taste. She was about to light a cigarette when Betty Ross quickly interjected, “Oh, I wish you wouldn’t—please.”
“Oh … what … you mean my cigarette?”
“Yes—and thank you very much for not smoking,” Ross replied, smiling.
O’Brien kept the cigarette between her second and third fingers but didn’t light it, instead crossing her legs and leaning towards her neighbor to lower her voice, as if someone would hear them. “Of course dear, I won’t smoke if it bothers you. Oh Betty, by the way, could you please let me in on your secret?”
“My … secret … my—”
Emily O’Brien rolled the cigarette in her fingers aimlessly and leaned closer to Betty Ross, as if they were discussing a conspiracy that reached into the highest levels of the government.
“Oh come now Betty, don’t be coy with me, please. Just tell me what brand of poison you used to get rid of those pesky ants. They’re all over my house too. Bob says it must be some sort of a secret Indian herb that you use?”
Betty Ross smiled languidly at her neighbor and shook her head. “Well Emily you could say that that is what it is, but it’s not a herb and it’s really not much of a secret, not among the Cherokees anyway.”
“Oh? Oh, you’re, you’re part Cherokee then?”
“Yes, my mother is an Anidjiskwa.”
“An an-nadish …” I thought you said she was a Cherokee, Betty?”
“Yes, she is, she’s a full-blooded Cherokee and a member of the Anidjiskwa—it is the Bird Clan—my ancestors were members of the Raven Clan, a clan that is now called the Bird Clan. She has taught me many things, only one of which is that we must live in harmony with all creatures and if you treat the ants in your house as you would treat human beings who were guests in your home they honor your wishes.”
Emily O’Brien’s mouth dropped open, as her eyes magnified. “Wha’ … what … wha’ …? But what poison do you use? That’s all I wanna know?”
“Ah, but I don’t use poison—Emily—no, I use love.”
Emily O’Brien’s brows furrowed together in serious consternation. “What? You can’t be serious, love? You mean you love the ants?”
Betty Ross smiled laconically and sipped her coffee. “Yes, I guess you could say that, although respect might be a better word.”
“Love …? Respect—but they’re only ants—they’re insects.”
“They are living beings, Emily.”
Emily O’Brien stood up uneasily. She felt she was talking to a crazy woman; either that or a witch. She had just seen a movie about witches and Emily O’Brien whose I.Q. was only a point or two above a baloney sandwich, believed whatever she saw on the big screen, especially if there were any big-name stars in the picture. She bid her neighbor a hasty farewell and hurried out the back door; lighting her cigarette almost before the screen door slapped shut and inhaling on it greedily, as she hurried towards her home and safety.
Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.
—Old Testament. Job, XII, 8.
Betty Ross placed the plastic baggie inside her apron pocket, just alongside the clothespins and walked out into her backyard. It was early in the afternoon and she had a load of wet clothes to string up on her clothes-line. She stared up into the sky and saw the sun shining brightly and stopped abruptly. Suddenly, she was a little girl again and it was 1950, and she closed her eyes and saw her grandmother who was also her teacher, and this caused her to verbalize her thoughts, without her even realizing it, a she whispered: “A ke yv ku gv, Squa ne lv nv hi Ha do, wa do. Ye ho waah, Oo n jl nauh hi. Yo, U ha lo te qa, A at nv ti.” ‘Sun, my Creator, thank you. God, Maker of all things, good and great beyond all expression, here is the place of uniting.’ She stared at the sun for almost ten minutes before walking to her clothesline and hanging up the wet clothes. She then left the empty clothesbasket and walked to the first of the mounds—which was slightly sloped and similar to what Betty knew her ancestors had copied on a much larger scale, in centuries past. She pulled the plastic baggie from her apron and spread some of its contents across the mound, closing her eyes as she did so. “Ah—workers—I know you have been wronged by my husband, as well as so many others, but they do not understand you as I do and I am here to make things well, as I promised you last night I would and I have Ye ho waah’s blessing in this. I will not forget my promises to you, as I know you will respect mine also. I am sorry that the house I live in has destroyed some of your mounds but I will see to it that it never happens again here.” Betty Ross spread the sugar granules liberally around the mound, then stood up and moved on to the next mound, several feet away.
Emily O’Brien spoke into the telephone, almost in a whisper, conspiratorially, as she exhaled a stream of toxic fumes from her nostrils and sat her burning cigarette in an ashtray, on the counter-top of her dining room table. “Yes, yes I know Sherry but I’m telling you I saw her putting the poison on top of the ant hills and they have absolutely no ants in their house. What? Well, I’m not sure about that but I think she’s some sort of a witch. Oh yes—yes—well it would explain a lot of things—how else could she stand watering those flowers among a mass of bees and not even be afraid of getting stung? And how else could she have plants blooming practically overnight? And….and wait’ll you hear this, she said she loves ants, yes-yes and worms, worms Sherry. Yes, really, she said they, the worms, can help save Mother Earth. Mother Earth Sher’, I mean weird, weird, she, she must be a witch.”
Emily O’Brien stood up and walked towards her picture window, the one that afforded a splendid view of both her and her neighbor’s backyards, and, as she did so, the telephone cord knocked the ashtray with her lit cigarette onto her new rug, and on top of the front page of some old newspaper, but Emily O’Brien was oblivious of it, as she chattered on and on—gossiping—her favorite pastime, since moving to the suburbs.
Keith G. Laufenberg has been writing for over 30 years and has had over a hundred poems and short stories published in numerous literary magazines and journals and two novels published: “Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die”, both in 2007.
News of the World
By Tommy Dakar
“But look at these lonely houses… Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.”
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It is the seventeenth of November, any year. These crimes against humanity take place in, say, Britain, or any other place on earth of your choice. They are simultaneous and complimentary, and only the dictates of the printed word confer them any logical order.
Let us prise off the roof of number twenty-seven Littleton Road. As you can see, the walls in every room have been entirely covered with newspaper from sensationalist tabloids. Above the bed hang photos of breasts, lots of breasts, in full colour. There are serial killers in the bathroom, adulterers in the pantry. Slander fills the living room. TV celebrities and Win a Car competitions vie for space in the stairwell alongside the printed heads of traitors, placed on spikes for the birds to eat.
There are double locks on the doors and bars at the window. It is a safe home.
But that smell.
He has stuffed newspaper in all the cracks, sealed off the windows, placed draught excluders at the doors. But the odours prevail.
It is a scent of spices, flavours unknown to him, both exotic and menacing.
At the dining table, surrounded by three-word headlines, he is once more assaulted by the all-pervading stench.
Cardamom? Mace? Funegeek? The dried roots of plants from distant lands, whose strange names are as mysteriously threatening as fakir, or voodoo. Foreign, like languages. As unintelligible as jargon, in-jokes, sniggering.
And as he covers his nose, he desires, in his heart of hearts, that something will happen, no matter how terrible, to make this nauseating aroma go away forever.
Lilly Tomlinson has recently developed an interest in architecture, design and interior decorating, so she turns a critical eye on her new bedsit.
The walls are painted murky green, the furniture is cheap and chipped, the view from the window is of office blocks, motorways and petrol stations. Her suitcase is visible on top of the disjointed wardrobe. There is not a lot she can do.
So she starts with a few posters. These are rising stars. One day perhaps they will achieve universal fame. Then, their exclusivity gone, she will unpin them with a frown.
She pulls out knick-knacks from another era–a joss stick holder, a pocket size video game, a pot of hair dye. They no longer represent her, she has moved on.
Lilly lives alone through choice. She has shared in the past, with friends, with strangers, with lovers. But co-habitation means compromise, means having to listen to their point of view, watch their programmes, adapt to their time schedules. She prefers to be in command, for the remote control to be in her hands, to apply her own filters. She needs no one.
On her squeaky bed she scours her laptop for novelty and inspiration. Not politics, not economics, not international suffering, but a Bright New World, now, as it happens. New releases, the latest fashion, famous divorces—she has to know.
Then move on. Alone. Because true freedom is egocentric.
These are the premises of Doctor Ewan Sutcliffe.
Premise number one: wealth reflects worth.
Premise number two: money attracts money.
There are more. No doubt his wife and two grown up sons could draw up a lengthy list, but these are his favourites.
To back up his statements he has acquired a large reconverted mill in a peaceful village with excellent access to the nearby city. He subscribes to a national newspaper, which wholeheartedly agrees with him on almost every economic issue.
Today he is overseeing a group of men who have been hired to repair and paint the fence that surrounds his property. He is telling them that hard work never hurt anyone, and is the road to fortune. One of the workers, a long in the tooth character with a face like damp cardboard, comments that all Empires are built on cheap labour.
Dr. Sutcliffe smiles. Being an educated man he is aware that others flaunt alternative, even contrary theories. Invariably they are the weak arguments of weak men used to justify their own inadequacies and failures. What is required is evidence. In such cases he spreads his arms and shows them the full extent of his grounds.
Premises and conclusions.
13 Chisholm Way. At first sight it appears there is nobody at home. As from a black hole, no light escapes. But come a little closer, through the French windows and the heavy curtains, past the living room into the kitchen.
There she is, Larisse, preparing supper for her family. Like everything in life, it is a thankless task. She has seen the documentaries and read the reports. Now she has the proof that life is a cross to be borne, she forces herself to follow her own harsh rules. There is an ever-growing list of forbidden foodstuffs pinned to the cork notice board alongside pamphlets, circulars and magazine clippings detailing the infinite horrors of the modern world.
Larisse will eat while mothers in poorer countries cook stones to lull their hungry children to sleep. As she watches her husband drink white wine the dry wells of Somalia will torment her. When her teenage children pick at their organic meals and moan about the peas under their mattresses Larisse will fly into a rage.
She has been informed, the knowledge will not go away. She has no right to complain, no right to be happy.
She is a convict of conviction.
On a lighter note there are other news items today. A woman was stabbed to death by her ex husband in what appears to have been a crime of passion. Six people died in a multiple collision in thick fog, and two young boys were burnt to death in a tragic household accident.