The Betrayal of All Humanity

I saw a woman walking down a footpath towards the sea. One woman of a group of three pedestrians, not yet elderly, certainly no longer young.

They carried between them the paunch of middle age, tucked neatly under a belt or a waistband. The woman wore sensible leggings stretched out underneath a summer shift, a pursebag between the stripe of a strap across her back, sandals slapping on the footpath.

“I’ll let you know the next time we get one and I’ll send it over,” her friend was saying, as they swung past me on the final zig of the sea-bound zig zag.

“That’d be great,” the woman replied, leaning to her partner by her side. “Last time we paid, what was it? Sixty? You can go by train, but…”

As she said these words, she veered to her left, reached out a hand, grasped a stray branch and, with the deft clench of an expert, stripped the branch of leaves. She walked on, without breaking her stride.

“Oh no, you’ll want to fly,” her friend said.

But it was too late. In that moment, the woman had betrayed all of humanity for the apes we are.

Seen Seine Scene

This is a better story than the one you are reading. I know it is because I am looking over your shoulder. You are the Japanese man sitting up straight on a marble bench, at the head of the Île Saint-Louis, where it prows into the Seine. The winter sun is propped up on the draughty apartment blocks of the Île de la Cité. You squint over at the river whenever the sun squeezes through the clouds; otherwise your head is bent to the paperback pocket book in your hands. But it’s not as good a story as this one and it never will be.

Beside you is your trusty leather briefcase with its brass buckles and also your thin rain jacket and your hat, discarded in an unexpected light of February. Your bare hair is graveled with grey. You must be about fifty years old.

 You lean back to watch one of the tourist navettes as it rumbles on towards the Tour Eiffel. Your interest is gone for a moment from your book. I do not wonder, for it is not as interesting as you thought, is it? In fact, you yawn, teeth straining against lips. Then you rub your hand over your chin, feeling the stubble that wasn’t there this morning. It seems to grow faster as you get older. It seems to grey faster as you get older too. We’re not alone on the bank. A man and a woman twist into each other’s limbs. Three girls sit, legs dangling over water. Two dogs walk a man. Your attention drifts like the current.

 Reluctantly, you pull your eyes from the girls on the bank and back into your book. But you’ve lost your place. These things happen more as you get older. You try to start again from a page you remember, but it’s too much. Who is this character? You flick back a couple of pages, forward a couple of pages. Where are they? You frown. This dialogue doesn’t seem right. This description isn’t familiar.

You flick right back to the start of the story, but even the first line looks foreign now: ‘In 1962, a child was born…’ That would make him fifty today, you think to yourself – but who is he? He hadn’t been there before. The book had been about a nineteenth-century poet before you’d got distracted. You put a hand on your trusty leather briefcase for reassurance, but the brass buckles are cold. You shiver as the sun struggles. The words of the book are confusing, making your grey head hurt. It had been about a romantic poet with a flair for society, but now it talks about photocopiers and divorce?

 You snap the book shut and sigh. It’s too much. You look out at the water. The sun pushes hard one last time. The girls on the bank laugh. You bend your back and stand up straight. A dog barks at nothing. The navette rounds a corner in the river, beneath a span of the Pont Neuf. Without quite meaning to, you draw back your hand and, with all your force, launch the book out into the Seine. I quite understand, because this will always be a better story than the one you are reading.

A Disturbing Night

He awoke with a restless sense of unease.

What was wrong?

He felt for his hands, pushed his legs against the mattress, brushed his tongue over his teeth. All present and correct.

Something was missing.

His sheets were there, in some disarray, but there. His blanket and pillow were there. But the feeling remained.

What had gone?

He looked around the hotel room, sunlight sliding through. Maybe something had happened. Maybe his friend had gone. He looked over – but there she was, sleeping in the other bed, the sheets rising and falling, slow and steady.

Then it struck him: his boxer shorts.

He felt for them under the bedsheets. Gone. He bent to look around on the floor, keeping the sheets tight around his body – but they had disappeared.

How can a pair of boxer shorts simply disappear?

He had worn them to bed, he was sure. He knew he had worn them to bed last night. His friend would have screamed if she’d seen him naked. She wasn’t that kind of friend.

So where were they now? Was this some kind of practical joke? Was he the victim of alien interference? Had he, in the Freudian depths of his unconsciousness, somehow removed them? And if he’d been able to remove them – what else had he done?

The mystery of the boxer shorts would linger through the day, teasing his mind as his friend showed him around the ruins of Ġgantija.

Death of a Snail – RIP 22nd July 2006

I went to refill the watering can. As I lifted the grille on the water butt I noticed a snail shell stuck to the top; no sign of the snail mind you, but, damn, I’d be hiding out in this heat too. As I dunked the can into the murky water of the butt, filled overnight by heavy storms, something floating on the surface caught my eye. There it was, bobbing serenely into my half-submerged watering can: one gruesomely bloated carcass of an ex-snail.

I gasped and brought the can sharply out of the water, leaving the slug behind, drunkenly pirouetting in the disturbed water. I examined the carcass more closely; the slug had swollen to gargantuan proportions. It was half a foot long and its tentacles burst from its head like an over-inflated novelty balloon.

A long hot humid spell inevitably wrought thunderstorms; the rain was straight out of The Old Testament and brought a harsh mercy to garden life, but marked one snail in particular for spectacular extinction.

This is a reconstruction of his final hours.

In the ne’er do good pre-dawn of Saturday, with his foolish progress punctuated by Frankenstein thunder and lightening, one snail attempted the daredevil crossing of the water butt. In the dark, the depths echoed danger, but the treacherous grille cover proved temptation too much.

Snails love water, but you don’t see them swimming in puddles, except face up.

This snail had not accounted for the rising water from the depths of the parched butt.

The vengeful rains brought down inches in moments and it was not long before our snail started to feel the waves lapping at his underbelly. Another ten minutes of deluge and the water butt starts to overflow, washing mercilessly over the body of the snail. The grille prevented the shell from slipping into the wash, but as the rains eased, the slug drowned from the bottom up.

Love Letter Litter

The rubbish truck crawled down the road. Two men in orange suits trailed behind, feeding the truck with the green recycling boxes from the kerbside. One man did the odd houses, one did even and the lorry drove between them, its lights whirling.

One of the men in orange suits hoisted the recycling box from number 73 up to the truck and was about to toss it, when he stopped: something caught his eye. He rested the box on the side of the lorry and took out a single sheet of A5 paper.
“Here, look at this,” he called to his even-house mate.
“What’s that?” The other bin man walked over. “Anything good?”
“It’s a love letter.”
“Aw, how sweet! – you soft or something? Drooling over mush!”
“Shut up! What’s it doing in a recycle bin, that’s what I want to know.”
“It’s paper, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant: why is a love letter being recycled? You’re supposed to keep them forever, aren’t you?”
“Love don’t live here any more,” the second bin man sang.
“Maybe it was the wrong address, you mean?”
“No idea, Sherlock.”
“Maybe it wasn’t sent to 73, but was meant to be from 73.”
“The mystery of the love letter litter!”
The first bin man looked at the letter. “It’s addressed to 73. But I guess that could be the sender’s address, couldn’t it?”
The second bin man leaned over the first’s shoulder. “Where’s the envelope?”
“It’s not here.”

Just then, the driver leaned out the window and banged on the side of the lorry.
“What’s keeping you?” he yelled over the churning engine.
The first bin man looked up from the box and shouted back, “come and have a look at this, Bill.”
“What is it?”
“Just come and have a look.”
Bill face huffed and disappeared back through the window. The engine shuddered to a silence. The door opened and Bill jumped down from the cabin.

“What is it?” he asked the first bin man when he’d got to the back of the truck.
“A love letter.”
“A what? You got me down here for a bleeding love letter?”
“What’s it doing in a recycle bin, Bill?”
“I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what it’s doing in a recycle bin! Come on, let’s get back to work,” and he turned away.
“Ah, come on Bill, play the game. Why’s it in the bin?”
Bill turned back to the first bin man and shook his head. “I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t love him any more.”
“Is it from a man?” the second bin man asked the first.
“I can’t tell. I’ve only got the first page here. It’s addressed to someone called Anne.”
“Maybe it’s not even from a man. Maybe it was a letter from her mum,” said the second bin man.
“Could be.”
“Has it got a date?”
“Come on guys, let’s get back to work,” Bill said.
“No, wait, let’s see,” the first bin man looked closely at the letter. “Yes, there’s the date: the 14th of February.”
“Mystery solved: Valentine’s,” Bill said.
“Could be…doesn’t explain why it’s in the bin, though.”
“What year is it?” the second bin man asked.
“It looks old to me,” said Bill, leaning back over the letter.
“There’s no year, just the 14th of February.”
“Blows your theory of the mother out the water,” said Bill.
“Not necessarily – Mums often do stuff like that.”
“You get Valentine’s cards from your mum?” Bill sneered.
“Shut up – I didn’t say that!”
“Never mind. Maybe it’s from her mum, maybe it’s not. But why’s it in the bin?” the first bin man asked them again.
“Oh – maybe it was sent to the wrong address,” Bill said.
“I thought that,” said the first bin man.
“Or maybe not the wrong address, but maybe it just arrived too late.”
“Too late for what?”
“Well, Valentine’s day was on Monday, wasn’t it? What if it arrived on Tuesday? What if she already had a Valentine for Monday?”
“Or that she didn’t want this one,” the first bin man said.
“You’re not suppose to know who your Valentine is – I bet the letter was anonymous,” the second bin man said.
“How come you’re such an expert?” said Bill.
“Shut up – some of us can get with the ladies, you know.”
“It might have been anonymous, but no one just sends a Valentine’s out of nowhere. You can always guess,” said the first bin man.
“All right, so here’s my theory,” Bill said, “maybe this fella was an ex. Maybe he was a arsehole. Maybe he used to beat her and that, so she threw the letter away.”
“Oh, dark, mate. What are you saying that for?” the second bin man said.
“Well, it explains why the letter’s in the bin, doesn’t it?”

The three men fell silent and looked at the letter, two reading over one’s shoulder.

After a while, the first bin man spoke up: “maybe it got sent and it arrived and Anne said yes and they lived happily ever after.”
“Why’s it in the bin then?” asked the second bin man.

The first bin man shrugged.