The Heart Without, Within

Her mom told her everyday to never go down there — and twice on a Sunday. But after years of being told this, there was only one thing Cindy could do. One night, feeling its inexplicable pull, after her mom had gone to sleep, Cindy grabbed her dad’s old Maglite and went to the basement.

She stood on the threshold in her slippers and dressing gown with an ear pressed against the peeling door. It was already past midnight, she should be sleeping, but the extreme stillness wouldn’t let her rest. There was no harm in looking; after all, it was too late to expect approval from her mom. Or that feeling she often saw on her friends’ faces, which she imagined was acceptance or love or something comforting like that — it was too late for that too.

Cindy opened the door. A creak announced a strange draft, one that smelled cold and ancient. She tried the light switch. Nothing. She tried it again. Still nothing. The descent was exhilarating, terrifying, all-consuming; all her fears reeled and cycled together at each step as the torch failed to shine past the heavy curtain of darkness. What was her mom hiding down there? At the bottom, she managed to make out a scattering of odd things: battered, leather suitcases with rusted clasps; scrawled, cardboard boxes stacked and sagging beneath each other — PHOTOS, MEMORIES, DIARIES; worn armchairs sitting on top of each other; her old bicycle with the pink basket parked next to her baby cot. Then she saw a child’s hand. It was attached to an arm on the ground. She stifled a silent scream. But it was only her old doll, Annie.

Then something else caused her heart to erupt through her mind and leave her body frozen. A figure stared at her from the shadow cast by the torch. Cindy’s mind wanted to run, but her feet couldn’t move. She turned the torch slowly until she found a pair of dead mannequin’s eyes staring back at her. The mannequin screamed. She screamed. The mannequin moved. In panic Cindy swung the torch, to her left, then to her right, she swung its weak light and found only darkness. She swung it back, but the figure was gone.

It had moved closer in those short seconds. It was upon her. She could smell its breath. It reeked of alcohol. Its voice was familiar.

‘I told you to never come here!’ The face in the torchlight was strange, yet familiar; the eyes were distant, filled with raw sadness and wet with tears. The voice slow.

‘Mom? Is that you?’

‘You shouldn’t be here.’

‘You scared me. What are you doing here? What’s going on? I thought you were asleep.’

‘Please, go away. Leave me.’

Her mom, whom she was used to seeing as forceful and inaccessible seemed so frail in the gloom of the basement. They stared at each other not knowing what to say. The first thing Cindy thought was, she must miss dad too. But her mom never talked about him, they didn’t talk about him since he left. In that moment, half-clothed in shadows, Cindy realised they didn’t really talk about anything anymore.

She extended her hand and felt the unfamiliar touch of her mom’s, who recoiled as more tears refracted in the beam.

‘It’s okay mom.’

At that moment, Cindy understood nothing is for free, everything had to be earned, companionship, respect, love, nothing is taken for granted; but sometimes, between parents and children, hidden reserves are kept, strewn somewhere among the bric-a-brac of the dark recesses of the heart. It was just a matter of finding them again.

‘Please, leave me alone.’ Her mom cried.

But Cindy didn’t. She couldn’t.

She sat next to her mom on the cold, dusty floor of the forbidden basement among remains of the past. She saw her mom as she had never seen her — vulnerable, fragile. She put her arms around her, her mom recoiled until her slight push became a deep, embracing pull and they held onto each other fully with tears wetting each others shoulders.

‘I’m sorry, honey.’

‘What for?’

‘For failing you. I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see me like this.’

Cindy said nothing and held her mom closer. How could she blame her? Dad’s leaving was his problem, not hers. And her sadness wasn’t entirely her own fault either. Her parents — grandpa John and grandma Marie — were messed up, and probably their parents too; each generation messes up in their own way and carries a little of the carnage over for good measure. Within that big soup mixture parents force feed their children — that magical elixir, they tell their children is for their own good — is a potent concoction of the happiness and pain they endured, sprinkled with hope that their children will succeed where they failed. Or fear they will follow in their own failures too.

‘I come here to get away from things,’ her mom said.

Cindy didn’t know how long they had been sitting there, but she could see the appeal of descending where nobody came, where nobody could see you, where there were no distractions, and be free and apart. Her mom wanted to keep it exclusively hers, she understood that. But Cindy felt its danger too, of the madness of darkness that consumed, working its way towards the heart without, within, and back again at the sacrifice of all else.

‘Come on mom. Let’s get some sleep. Then tomorrow we’ll clean things up a little.’ She grabbed hold of her old doll. ‘Put some things up for sale. I forgot about Annie. You think anybody will buy this? Maybe we’ll fix up the lighting, put some new chairs here, get some books. You can still get away mom, but isn’t it better to do it somewhere brighter, more comfortable? Or we can go for a walk in the park. Like we used to. How about that? I love you mom.’ She rested her head on her mom’s shoulder like a child does.

‘I love you too, honey. I’m so sorry.’ She kissed Cindy’s hair, the way a parent does when their heart tells them their child is in need.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: _GBD1020 by Gabriele Diwald / CC BY

The Unremarkable World of David

David wakes on swollen mud banks, under the shadow of dead trees where dull rushes struggle to stretch into the brown haze of sky; a lone crow dives and caws above. This is David’s world, this is his mind — where he decided to live long ago — where stories were born, residents became characters, and time was held within its own sphere; where, when real stars died, his continued to shine, vibrant and clear. But something happened. David’s world became sick. Time turned into an unending, bituminous stream, over-spilling and consuming everything. But this is David’s only world — his source of everything. He continues past his old house, near a crossroad of innumerable paths where unreadable signs hang. David finds a rusted cart sagging with wood. It is something new to his mind. He tries to write about it. But worryingly, the cart has no past or future, offers no story, it just exists without meaning or purpose; David doesn’t know how to comprehend something like this anymore. And so, he writes nothing.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: FFfAW Challenge-Week of April 18, 2017
Image by: Yinglan

Scenes from a Ward

Reg wrapped his towel out of communal showers
in all the wrong places. Jill still can’t forget her eyeful.
—My brother drove down a ditch, says Reg, now dressed.
—How awful. Jill can’t stomach things no more,
since Bill went & got himself a whore.
—Said a rabbit ran out. It’s a dangerous road. Out there.
—Safer here, Jill laughs & lights a cheap fag;
      I accidentally woke today, she sighs,
      for seven days, staring at the carpet.

*

Nurses wheel out drinks, tolling cups announce a procession,
Jill clears cards, wraps a pinky.
—Look at my hair how it’s super curly.
      Makes me want to die. Drinks her tea.
Reg breathes on his glasses — now his mother can’t do it.
—I’m going to Canada when the weather clears.
—It should be nicer than here, says Jill.
      My sister locked me in when it was raining.
      Called the cops. Said I was ill.
      (She’s mad that way.)

*

With a sigh Reg admits:
—I’m sick, (the doctors give an eye)
      I’m gonna study King Arthur. So I can live in the past.
He palms his face, shaving never goes to plan,
the razors here just don’t cut it.

*

So many want out. But Jill can still taste tears.
—If I pick a side, she frowns, it might ruin my soul,
      better to be neutral in here — a hand on her gown.
      And let God decide.
Reg picks pieces of a puzzle,
—I just want earphones in. Be busy. Chores, reading you know?

*

—My brother wasn’t alone.
      My sister was there too. She works in a bank.
      But he’s stubborn, born angry like me,
      that’s why he drives
      everything into the ground you see —
      that’s where mom went. Now he just stands around.
      Doesn’t help.
      Now mom’s not around.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: NaPoWriMo, Day Twenty-One (Overheard Speech)
Image: #56 by Yasmeen / CC BY


Inspired by real conversations overhead in a barber shop recast into the voices of two patients in a psychiatric ward.

A Game of Chess

With an opening gambit, lines learned from a song,
—Let your puny body lie down lie down,
he unpins her frock; but before too long,
her blockade he encounters:
—The lady’s not in the mood tonight, and walks away.
What a fool’s mate! Checked like that.
What would the boys at the club say?
The board relaid over drinks, he assaults again.
—You look wonderful tonight, my sweet Caïssa.
A calculated book move, this time he can’t lose,
an early en passant, he takes advantage, presses on —
she’s quite a capture. With an exchange of moves
he controls the centre, a kiss on her shoulder, a caress of a bust,
a leg over hers, a cramping emotional move if ever —
what a clever pin, what a clever fella!
But then oh! what a blunder; no defence is required,
this isn’t the endgame he desires.
His bishop’s quite sozzled, in no mood for encounter —
what an epaulette mate, what a patzer.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Chess 4 by Laury Rouzé / CC BY


NaPoWriMo, Day Twenty: ‘write a poem that incorporates the vocabulary and imagery of a specific sport or game’.

This takes inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land where chess is seen as an analogy for unromantic love and sex.

Notes:

Blockade: A strategic placement of a minor piece directly in front of an enemy pawn.
Blunder: A very bad move, an oversight.
Book move: An opening move found in standard reference books on opening theory.
Bust: Colloquial term for a refutation of an opening.
Caïssa: The goddess of chess.
Capture: To remove the opponent’s piece from the board.
Centre: The four squares in the middle of the board.
Check: A direct attack on the king by an enemy.
Cramped: A position with limited mobility.
Emotional move: A suboptimal forcing move played with the intent of seizing initiative at any cost.
En passant: French for: ‘in the act of passing’; a rule that allows a pawn that has just advanced two squares to be captured by an enemy pawn.
Endgame: The stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board.
Epaulette mate: A checkmate position where the king is blocked on both sides by his own rooks.
Fool’s mate: The shortest possible chess game ending in mate.
Gambit: A sacrifice (usually of a pawn) used to gain an early advantage in space or time in the opening.
Lady: Slang for queen.
Patzer: A weak chess player.
Pin: A piece that cannot move.
Unpinning: The act of breaking a pin by interposing a second piece between the attacker and the target.

‘Let your puny body lie down lie down’ – The Smiths, ‘Stretch out and Wait’
‘You look wonderful tonight’ – Eric Clapton, ‘Wonderful Tonight’

Fella Named Muckle

There was an odd fella named Muckle
who had a good old chuckle.
Wanting to be like others,
having friends, parties, lovers,
he chortled along as they beat him with a buckle.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Chuckle

Picnic on the Beach

Aphrodite leaned in,
whispered a kiss between bites of a peach.
Knees curled up, sands still damp from rain.
On a blanket of surrender and sandwiches.
A serenade of ice cream vans,
children released balloons in celebration,
kites rose like doves into the sky.

I was a creature of pain,
I never knew I was suitable for love again,
until that kiss. Her brown hair waving
sea windward, calling the mermaids’ songs.
The myths were wrong, Psyche had nothing
on her. That was the moment — strawberries on shingle,
wine between nicotine kisses,
bare arms embracing, thighs pressing. I was born
to love and laugh and love and love again.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Florida – Sunny Isles by Wally Gobetz / CC BY

Lost Ring of Saturn

I am a tree floating in a lake
like a scar that rests on a dying man’s face;
a muddy shore, sandbagged, dirt-bound,
bracing, to spill amid white horses,
and freely drown under the glass blue shelf.

You tell me there’s treasure in empty rooms,
that still wells will bleed,
dead weeds will birth flowers,
feasts will be laid when flies clear,
and one day we will live there.

But I can’t see it where I am,
far away like a lost ring of Saturn,
floating rock in an ice of stars —
born barely burning — caught in my own radiation storm;
temporal, cold, colliding for light and years.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Opaque
Image: NGC 3455 by Judy Schmidt / CC BY

Moving On

It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday lunch, but Elsie wouldn’t shut up. She kept going on and on; Bill was getting earfuls between mouthfuls.

‘Get over it,’ said Elsie, ‘there is no us anymore.’

‘But, I love you,’ said Bill.

‘It’s over. Move on,’ Elsie kept repeating.

Bill refused, raised his voice, got a few looks. Welled up with tears. She was driving him crazy.

He glanced over his plate at the young couple, smiling and laughing like he and Elsie used to when she was alive.

Move on how? It wasn’t that easy anymore at his age.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: 100 Word Wednesday, Week 14
Image by: Anjo Beckers Photography

The Handle

No matter what Alan does, the handle always breaks. It is held to the door by four, small screws and has no connection to the one outside — although he finds that when one breaks so does the other. When it breaks on the inside, he has to insert his finger nails into small gaps around the frame and pull the door before leaving; if it breaks on the outside it is easier, he can just push, and worry about having to pull again later.

Damn that handle! Alan stares at it in his hand. It’s going to make him late for work again. The handle has seen better days, it has been mended and taped so many times; cracks are beginning to show, he doesn’t know how much longer it will last. If he fixed it good and proper — perhaps got a new door — it would shave precious moments off his day. Imagine the things I could do then, he thinks. Standing here before the door — perched before this moment of pulling that preceded later thoughts of pushing — he thinks of the wonderful things he could do, if only he fixed the handle. Accumulated together, he calculates the time would allow him to read a third of a book a week, perhaps plan out a career change, sleep more, eat better, put together that online dating profile, get some time at the gym.

If he had a letter box, he could pull it, grasp the metal lip between his index finger and thumb, how delicious that would be; he would already be stuck in traffic now. If he had a letter box, he could attach the handle to a string for later retrieval so he could arrive home in style, with the pretence of turning a handle like most people did. What a sight his door must be when he was at work, those small holes exposed and getting grubbier around their edges.

And what a strange shape the handle is! He’s never noticed that before. It feels so uncomfortable in his hand. If only it were round. How pleasurable his grasp would be then! He would stand and turn it all day long. Holding an oval handle seemed very displeasing.

Alan thinks about the pulling again, locates the optimal place around the door frame to insert his fingers. If only Sally was still living with him, she would be helping him open the door now. She would know what to do. She would have replaced it for something solid, reliable, perhaps made of heavy brass. How happy a handle like that would make him feel. But Alan has been pulling and pushing everyday for so long now, struggling to get in and out, that it would be frightening if he didn’t have to do it anymore. Perhaps he should leave it as it is.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: handle by Aamir Raza / CC BY

Inexplicable Splendour (Part 1)

‘It would be better if there were nothing. Since there is more pain than pleasure on earth, every satisfaction is only transitory, creating new desires and new distresses, and the agony of the devoured animal is always far greater than the pleasure of the devourer.’

– Arthur Schopenhauer

One cold Wednesday afternoon Harry stood up and said, ‘Fuck this, I need to detoxify. Coming?’

Harry Szabó didn’t talk like most people I knew. But it gave him a unique charm. And I couldn’t help liking him. Detoxification for Harry meant drinking himself into oblivion. ‘Purification through alcohol cleanses the toxins of working life,’ he said.

I guess Harry was what you’d call the nouveau riche. His family was Hungarian or something and his uncle had died leaving him a fortune. But he wasn’t exactly subtle or wise about it if you asked me; he would often turn up in new designer suits, sports cars, and latest gadgets; but the most perplexing thing was his decision to keep working. It’s not like the civil service is the most exciting of careers. Most days, working in local government is like sitting and watching a reel of endless red tape unravel slowly.

‘Why are you still working?’ I asked him over beer that evening. ‘I mean, with all that money, you could retire. Go on a permanent holiday.’

‘Without the flagellation of employment, the absolution and purification is less satisfying,’ he said. ‘Besides, I’d miss my buddies.’

‘Well, I can’t say I’d be so willing to put myself through much more flagellation if I was in your position.’ I took another swig of beer. The alcohol was getting to my head. ‘I would tell them to stuff their job up their arses and say, “fuck you all!”‘

Harry laughed and called me a crazy drunk who couldn’t hold his drink. ‘You’re so desperate for approbation to define you,’ he said, ‘your desperation is like isinglass, transparent and glinting, it’s quite charming in a way.’ There he went again with his fancy words. I didn’t know what isinglass was — sometimes I wondered whether he understood half the things he said.

Harry didn’t turn up for work the next day. I caught up with Wendy at lunchtime. Wendy worked in finance, and was another reason I was in awe of Harry. It was no secret they had an on-off relationship. Wendy and I had reached that stage of familiar friendship where anything intimate was forbidden by an unspoken law. I was a shoulder to cry on, an ear to complain to. I would spend hours listening, wishing we were lovers, while she complained how Harry didn’t love her. Although I remember Harry once telling me about the ‘potent, interminable passions she aroused within every sense and feeling’ of his being. I guess that was his way of saying he loved her.

Wendy said she hadn’t seen him.

I tried calling Harry, but got straight through to his answer message, and hung up. I missed his strange charm and fancy words. I wanted to learn from him. Although, I wouldn’t admit it then, I wanted to be him — be him, so I could be with Wendy.

My phone buzzed. It was a voice message from Harry. ‘Hey you,’ he said. ‘Hope I’m not discommoding you. Sincere apologies for the protracted silence, unfortunately the privations of life were in some desperate need of redress, hence the absence today. Listen, I need to discuss something with you surreptitiously. Meet me at Duke’s in an hour. Hope to see you then.’

Duke’s was a jazz bar near Embankment that Harry often frequented. He enjoyed jazz because, ‘the disarrangement invigorated and enlivened the soul, it helped to assemble the disparate facets of being, it fashioned inexplicable splendour from chaos and nothingness,’ he had a habit of telling me. It was a busy night. The live band almost drowned out by chatter and laughter. I found Harry in the corner with Wendy. She looked beautiful, and radiated even without make up. I wondered if she and Harry had been together that evening. I imagined them together in bed, and cast a nervous glance at Wendy as I sat next to her.

‘Hey man’ said Harry, ‘glad you could join us. I was worried that you would forsake me. I am cognisant of the short notice, for which I apologise, but it’s a rather grave matter, I’m afraid.’ He said without taking his eye off the band. ‘That’s why I requested you both to come down. Naturally, you should be disposed to the entire truth, but certain protocols and discretion need to be considered. Let me get you a drink, and then we’ll go for a walk.’

‘I’m good.’ Curiosity had quenched my thirst, and the noise of the bar was making me nauseous. ‘Some fresh air would be nice though,’ I said.

‘Well, I won’t remonstrate,’ said Harry, flicking his immaculately pomaded hair. ‘Let’s make haste. The agitation is perturbing’.

It was just before midnight, and I remember, it was unusually quiet for a Friday night. In the distance there were voices, half shouting, half singing as we walked across Waterloo Bridge. We rested in the middle looking out across the black, gleaming river towards St. Paul’s. Harry found some stones, and skimmed them with ease. I wanted to do the same, but had a feeling mine would sink. Wendy wrapped her arms around herself; I stood close so our elbows touched, and breathed in her perfume in the breeze.

‘It’s difficult to know where to start,’ said Harry. He turned around and faced us with his arms outspread, elbows resting on the bridge. ‘You see, something of controversy has arisen. A matter that calls into question my very existence. I told you that my recent fortune had been the result of an uncle who had passed away. That isn’t entirely true. It wasn’t my uncle. It was my father.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I said instinctively.

Harry ignored my comment. ‘And I’m afraid it’s all rather catching up on me now. A bit of an inconvenience really. You see, he didn’t just pass away. He was murdered.’

‘Murdered? How?’ I said.

‘Shot. In his bed. Police said it was a break in, but there was no sign of a struggle, and recent events suggest otherwise.’

‘What recent events? What’s happening Harry?’

His face had a worried expression I had never seen before. ‘I’ve become the recipient of some rather threatening communications. Letters through the door, mainly. Each describing horrific ways I could perish. And I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point where I can no longer disregard them.’

‘That’s awful, Harry,’ said Wendy. ‘Have you been to the police?’

‘Oh, they are of no assistant at present. So I had the compulsion to divulge my secrets,  before it’s too late.’ And then he turned around and faced the river. Started saying things like, ‘Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song’, which I later learned was from a T. S. Eliot poem. And strange things like how hypnotic the wide, expansive nothingness of the river was; of how it was like brittle glass. ‘Feels like you could walk on it,’ he said, ‘and be caught precariously between two things, drowning and existing.’

Dreams arrived in fitful spurts that night, in them Wendy and I made love. In my dreams I was inside her. And yet she remained distant, ‘like an enigma, waiting to be deciphered’ as Harry often said. And then I dreamed of Harry, we were driving in his Porsche. The sun was shining, John Coltrane was playing on the stereo. I was telling him how great sex was with Wendy. He said he was happy for me. Then we were being pursued by these dark vans. I jolted awake, sheets drenched with sweat, around 06:30 — too early to get up, too late to go back to sleep. I thought about Harry’s revelation, about his murdered father, and the death threats; and then about Wendy again, caught between images of sex and death when the phone rang.

‘It’s Harry,’ said Wendy. ‘He’s gone.’

To be continued…

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Domes of London by Tom Waterhouse / CC BY

Crazy in Love

Despite everything he did, Alastair was the most debonair man she had ever met, Amber would often say; with his Prussian blue eyes, and a charm that invited you in like a whirlpool. They had met in university halls one empty autumn evening when neither expected to do anything, least of all fall in love — each turning a corner with a pile of books, both side-stepping in the same direction until the books fell.

Amber was still delicate after her split with John. The beginning of the end had started a month earlier with an argument on platform eight at Birmingham New Street, and was finished by John’s short, unenthused text — ‘CBB GB’ — while Amber was barely halfway to Bristol Temple Meads.

But Alastair’s shadow soon obscured any memories of John. And grew darker in the winter. When she looks back on it now, it seemed almost warlike, how it happened; the way he came onto her, gentle at first like a pioneer, but then the aftermath was that of a ruined, divided nation. The slow imposition of a foreign culture, causing the demise of another — the little bathroom laws, and kitchen rules, the bedroom dictates — until she felt nothing but the chains around her arms and legs and mind moving towards her heart.

It had happened so quickly — a quiet night in, some rosé, a romantic movie, then Alastair had other ideas. But by then Amber had grown tired of the chains, wanted to stretch her arms, find her own feet again, discover her own words. Alastair insisted, called her a few things, which he said he later regretted. The dangerous thing with love is it can kill a heart as equally as it can mend it. Lucky for Alastair then that the knife was blunt. She didn’t want to hurt him, not that way. But he had hurt her. So had John. And they were both blind to it.

There was no going back after that. The fall was liberating — like someone on a ledge who has no other release but descent. ‘I was crazy in love,’ she would later joke in hospital.

When they discharged her in the spring — the shadow of chains fading around her heart, some medication for her mind — she stood beneath the cherry trees in the hospital grounds watching a stream of people going in and out of life; the branches shifting in the breeze as the blossom snowed; she closed her eyes and thought of all the things beyond her control, of how we are all chained to something, while trying to expand her notion of forgiveness to include herself.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: your love is like bad medicine by Rakka / CC BY

Breaking Eggs

By the time Richard dragged himself down for breakfast Libby was correcting her eye shadow and pushing her leftover corn flakes around; Jimmy was munching through two pop tarts at once while listening to music on his phone; and Hillary’s half-finished egg sat on the breakfast bar with a lone soldier as she caught up on the morning’s news on her tablet.

‘If you want breakfast, you’d better get it yourself. I don’t have time,’ said Hillary without looking up.

‘You could’ve woken me.’

‘I told you to get up. You ignored me.’

‘I didn’t hear.’

‘Not my problem. You better get a move on.’

‘You finishing your egg?’

‘When I finish this.’ Hillary chuckled at some news and shook her head.

Richard sighed and forced some bread into the toaster. He hadn’t been sleeping well. And woke with a feeling that a tap had been dripping in the night, that before the day had started, his reserves had already been used up. There were rumours of takeovers and restructures at work — which he knew was just a euphemism for casting out flotsam like him.

‘Jimmy, are you ready for school?’ said Hillary. ‘You’ll miss the bus again.’

‘Jimmy!’ Richard scraped his burnt toast and waved a spare hand in front of his son’s face.

‘What?’ Jimmy pulled his ear buds, spilling tinny, rhyming profanities all over the table.

‘Your mom’s talking to you.’

‘What?’

‘Are you ready for school? You’ll miss the bus,’ repeated Hillary.

‘Whatever.’

Libby, having finished her eye shadow, attended to her lipstick, leaving her corn flakes to luxuriate in milk. ‘Dad, can I get a lift again today?’ she said.

‘Sure, honey. How’s the new job?’

‘It’s alright. Some guys are a bit strange though.’

‘Yeah? How so.’

‘Dunno. Just odd.’

Hillary looked up. ‘Have they said something to you?’

‘No.’

‘Have they done something?’ said Richard.

‘No, dad. Nothing like that. They just seem… weird. Like… they’re from another planet or something. The way they stare. I dunno. It’s weird, I can’t describe it. Like they’ve given up on life or something.’

‘Well, maybe it’s because you’re still new there, love,’ said Hillary. ‘Give it some time. I always feel uncomfortable in a new job.’

‘Your mom’s probably right,’ said Richard, dolloping jam to sweeten the bitterness of his toast.

‘Probably?’

‘Sorry, your mom is definitely right — as always.’

This pre-morning rush was one of the rare times they still spent together. He treasured and dreaded these moments around the breakfast bar. But everything seemed steeped in secrecy these days, it was the thing that drove them all on individually — silently; it whispered in his dreams, and woke him in the morning with a hundred things he didn’t know how to say.

It wasn’t that long ago he was bouncing Jimmy on his knee, and chasing and tickling Libby around the play room. And now they were strangers. Jimmy was becoming increasingly inaccessible in his own brooding world of rap music and games; Libby, as an HR officer, would soon be leaving her blotch on the world of corporate disappointment, and already had her own studio flat lined up; and the distance between him and Hillary seemed to extend nightly.

As he drove Libby to work, they exchanged a few words, but her replies dropped off until she replied with silence. Once gone, such moments together could never be recovered, but as much as he regretted the loss, he equally didn’t know what to do when they presented themselves.

‘Love you honey. Have a good day.’

Libby smiled and closed the door behind her.

Richard staggered through the morning traffic to work. The sun shone brightly in the sky. Inside, the tap continued to drip.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
Image: Break-fast time by Phototropy / CC BY

Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce Que C’est

Talking Heads formed in New York in 1975, and comprised part of the CBGB club scene, which included, among other post-punk bands, Television, Ramones, and Blondie.

Their unique sound often blended edgy rock with funk, blues, and African rhythms, and were accompanied by eccentric and introverted lyrics. They released eight studio albums, before finally splitting up in 1992. Talking Heads remain a highly distinctive and influential band, their songs are still unique and listenable, and their performances still a delight to watch.

Here is a performance of one of their most famous songs, ‘Psycho Killer’, recorded as part of their 1983 live concert movie Stop Making Sense, with a typically quirky performance by lead singer David Byrne.

In response to daily prompt: Cranky

Bela Lugosi’s Dead

My father had brought the television down for the night. I sat in the dark storage with my cathode-rayed babysitter, watching some black and white horror movie while my family milled about the kitchen and the shop. The sound would be turned down, so my movies remained mostly silent until the drunkards came.

Sometimes, if I was caught outside, too far from the storage room when the door’s ting-a-ling announced another customer, I would be quickly shuffled beneath the counter. It wouldn’t do for a small child to be seen in the shop, it was very bad for business, my father said. So, I crouched between tins of pineapple and water chestnuts; bent down low, so if it was a busy period — such as a Saturday night after closing time — I would be stuck in such a position for quite some time until my neck began to crick. And when I was eventually let back into storage, I had to slump in my chair in order to watch the TV because of the restricted movement of my neck.

So, there I was that night, my chin on my chest due to another prolonged concealment among the tin cans; the thin, green veil drawn to hide me, my TV turned down low, while Bela Lugosi’s Dracula stalked and transfixed me to the small screen.

This was my escape from an incomprehensible world. Sitting there, late at night, eight-years-old, half prostrated, I learned that the dread behind the celluloid or in the pages of books was nothing compared to the real horrors that visited most nights — between the strange words: slurred, abrupt, argumentative, were racist taunts, pounding fists, and laughs of loathing; these couldn’t be muted, were always in Technicolor, and had no off-switch. But they had to be endured, because our family had to eat too. (Sometimes they would stay outside, and stuff fireworks and excrement through the letter box instead.)

That was how I measured out my weekend nights as a child, hands cupped over my ears, sounds of real horrors leaking behind a veil, while watching unreal ones play out on the screen.

I would like to say that this prepared me for life by strengthening my resolve, so such hatred affected me less when I became a victim of it myself later on. But it didn’t.

Bela Lugosi may be dead, but my memories of hate and racism are still alive. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I hear half-veiled sounds of abhorrence and abuse emanating from Bela Lugosi’s eyes.

It was through these events that I learned that the world can be unpleasant, things are not always within our control; where people are often too angry to be anything else; and senseless hate comes and goes, and visits you in the night. And when it leaves, it leaves its mark. And when all is silent, you are unable to celebrate its absence because you dread its return — waiting for it appear suddenly again with another ting-a-ling of the door.

Nouvelle Vague, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Measure


An autobiographical piece about growing up in a takeaway in 1980s Britain.

Sartre, Beckett, and Kafka

11221-jean-paul-sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre,
I wished he woulda
Lightened up and lived a little,
Wrote a treatise and taught me how to do it too.

cropped-Samuel-Beckett-Directing-

Samuel Beckett
Couldn’t hack it,
A psychiatrist helped him see tomorrow —
Wonder if he’s still waiting for Godot.

franz-kafka

Franz Kafka
Felt the angst of Gregor Samsa —
A man morphed giant insect —
But he, like Josef K., just wanted peace and rest.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: napowrimo, day fourteen (clerihew)


A clerihew is a four line biographical poem that satirizes a famous person.

Beggar in the Sand

My senses have been at sixes and sevens since the birth of memory — hearing what I feared, tasting what I couldn’t see — it even earned me my BA (Hons) in Underachievement at Dropout University.

But I reckon my sense of self is pretty rumpled now — like a parched beggar blind beached and teased by the sea — perhaps this timely thirsty reminder of mine will help dig him out. I’ve been taking empathy courses, and delivered some canapés (well past their sell by date), and some hors d’oeuvres of the future. Careful not to overfeed him, lest he be sick of the hereafter.

My beggar has been left in a thirty-year sterile season. I really should take more care, build a shelter, have a chat, take a change of light and clothes, and comb his hair. Look at his face, like a cactus drained of rain, sleeping sallow in the mirror. It would be a shame to wake him now and rudely rob me of my companion in the sand.

But I rope in some community volunteers, and with advice from professional overseers, I wake up the beggar. And, I’m embarrassed to say, cast him with some new clothes; ‘Go on, shoo, off on your way.’ Out of sight, out of mindless stupor, that’s what they say.

Now this is the part where I exclaim, ‘I feel better, now my beach is clean, and I can swim in the sea!’ But the truth is, I miss my beggar, the sands blow guilty without him, so now I lie down and take my thirsty place in his wallow.

Please don’t wake me now — leave it till tomorrow.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to daily prompt: Timely
Image: Chia, 2014 by Maurizio Agelli / CC BY

Honeymoon in Kraków

Morning train from Wrocław (née Breslau) — so like a musty movie — a nun silent with God’s love
where Wałęsa may have prayed before the fall; a honeymoon at the Grand Hotel — Kraków, I’m in love.

Post-modern Chopin interpretations; ambling hand-in-hand past star-lit, street-lined trams;
wild boar and beet borscht; night river sailing, we sat mooring kisses in the rain, on the Vistula in love.

Mickiewicz rises romantically; gothic St. Mary’s trumpets call; a hard cafe of rock;
Europe’s oldest bookstore; clopping carriages pass Tatra mountain stalls; couples lean, like us, on fountains, in love.

Kazimierz stands tall, a bullet-ridden star, graffitied beauty past Wawel’s walls
where heads attend, and Kaczyński sleeps above the dragon’s den; on across Piłsudski Bridge where Oskar stowed away love.

Bergen-Belsen to Auschwitz, oblivious tourists V-signing — Arbeit macht frei — railroad scars on grass; brick fingers, like lost limbs, breaking for air;
dark hair mountains; standing panic cells; an anguish of shoes, soulless and stripped of love.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: napowrimo, day thirteen (ghazal)

My Father’s Watch

Waking while the world is still,
staring at my father’s watch from afar,
unwinding, expressing regret since ’46 on the dresser.

It has kept time on heartbreak across oceans —
a father seized by red hands of armies,
a mother by another time zone in her bed;
clasped the hand that clasped an arranged partner,
deranged in troubled times taking trash out;
raised, raging for obedience’s sake, sobbing in the ’70s (sorry thereafter);
betting between beatings, blowing money on football scores.

Saying my father’s watch has witnessed many changes
is an understatement. Undressing heart surgery scars;
immersed in rivers, fatherless, fathoming future life; measuring medicine doses —
ticking broken beaten eating sleeping diabetes.

Sometimes, its malignant mocking mechanisms
makes me wonder why we clock,
just for one day, for everything to
stop.

© 2017 The Wasted Love Song
In response to: napowrimo, day twelve (alliteration & assonance)

Remember, Nothing Is Ever Free

My birthday month, a German doctor,
we talked of Brecht, Weill, and The Threepenny Opera
while she picked at my brain’s cadaver,
and smiling pinned a label. Arms bandaged (heart too),
It looks like you’ve been in a war, they laughed —
in some ways, it was true.

Remember, nothing is ever free.

Five months watching rain, blue chairs, plastic sheets,
swallowing pills to swallow pain and public-funded food.
When your trust is sanctioned daily,
when each scratch of ear, nose, or arm is a sign of danger,
it becomes easy to surrender what remains,
like my friends: Shaun who mislaid words; Harold, the king, who careened his car;
Debbie only wanted a child; and Martin with his Chlorpromazine smile.
Then they surprised me, released me into snow, wearing freedom like a strange shoe.

Remember, nothing is ever free.

A dragged spectator, reluctant player in someone else’s game —
My back is fine, their assessments said, there must be work to find.
But life’s page flipped, became a strange, perplexing vocabulary:
art therapy, psychotherapy, CPNs, CBT, community-funded therapeutic communities,
Prozac, Seroxat, Lithium, Efexor, MOAIs, SSRIs, tricyclics, suicidal tendencies
it was enough to give anyone anxiety.

Remember, nothing is ever free.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to: napowrimo, day eleven (Sylvia Plath / bop)

The Disunited States of Bill Harmony

Bill Harmony raises his head. But it has lain prostrated for so long, it is a struggle. His body aches. But his mind hurts more; at this moment, it sits like a dark, angry globule swelling somewhere inside his head. He takes it as a sign, meditates, smiles, and goes back to sleep.

He always had a difficult relationship with his mind, the more he contemplated, the more it protested. And it was in such a way that Bill Harmony had always struggled with this said dark, angry globule. It was a mutual, unhealthy relationship in which neither mind nor emotion capitulated in his lifelong battle between the warm glow of enlightenment and the comforting, indulgent darkness of ignorance.

In his quest for betterment, he was acquainted with many musical instruments and could carry, what (at a push) could be termed, a ‘tune’. He owned many books – some of which he read, others he would take cursory glances at random and absorb the greatness of their words — some he understood. He found that he was able to lose love as easy as he gained it. A talent he improved with practice until he was able to lose it before having gained it at all.

Then one morning — when his body was still young at least — Bill Harmony sat at breakfast with a niggling feeling that lay somewhere between indigestion and depression, and thought it was high time to contemplate his predicament.

A few days later, he contemplated his predicament. Between mouthfuls of porridge, before the tea was half drunk, he concluded that, ‘this is it and that is all’. It was simple. Why had he been so blind? He had reached the limits of understanding, that, he told himself, was why he struggled. There was simply nothing more to know or feel. And upon this gleaming realisation, that feeling that was neither indigestion nor depression became comforting; like a warm compress for the soul, a bandage for the psyche, antiseptic for the ego — you get the idea, it was good.

He had finally gained the enlightenment he had once read about in a pamphlet while waiting for a hernia operation. Now it was just a matter of persuading his mind and his heart so they could stop squabbling. But his heart had a mind of its own, and his mind was disheartened.

Yet Bill Harmony continued with the belief that ‘this is it and that is all’. He told himself everyday as he meditated between sips of tea and mouthfuls of porridge. It calmed him in between having to say it again — which was usually around the time of his second breakfast.

And who am I to correct him now, for am I any better? Should I let this man pass away with his warm, comforting (mis)belief. Or should I at this late hour do the decent thing and break a man’s heart to heal his mind?

Between you and me (come closer so I can whisper), if Bill Harmony’s life was a candle, if true awareness burnt within the flames, then unfortunately this poor man’s state of self-cognizance (despite the burning and suffering) had never reached any higher than the puddles of wax coagulating at its base — constantly melting and forming, melting and forming, and gazing up from darkness at a faint, indistinct glow above.

Oh, it’s okay. I can speak louder now.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Blindly
Image: Candle by David Monje

The Fall

With one eye on a skewed, gilded mirror — horrified at the bloodshod eye reflected back below a cheeky cherub’s posterior — the other blinded by sudden sunlight through muslin, William had an awful feeling of falling and thought, either he was sinking fast or the hotel was. As his hangover dissolved into a cacophony of screams and alarms tumbling from the corridor, the rattling of the chandelier as it pitched and crashed, the fall of the television from the dresser, and the smashing of the bed’s edge into his legs, which pushed him onto the Juliet balcony confirmed, beyond any doubt, the latter.

And now hanging off the balcony — his choice limited between prolonged dangling and premature plunging — this was an undignified way to go public with his fetish, William reflected; whatever was consuming the building would soon usher him into a sweltering eternity wearing nothing but his wife’s lacy knickers and negligee — shit, he thought, as he fell.

© 2017 Occasional Dreams
In response to: Three Line Tales, Week 62
Image by: Serge Kutuzov


Many thanks to Sonya for hosting Three Line Tales.