End State

flash

“Hey, wait!” K bounded down the steps and into the plaza that was, aside from L, empty. “Don’t go.”

Upon seeing her L, hunkered down in the morning air, stopped in his tracks and peered over one shoulder. The long breath he let out condensed, rose up, and dispersed.

“You could have waited.” K huffed loudly as she bent double. “I’m not that late.”

L made a full turn toward K and pulled himself up straight. “I wasn’t expecting you for another fifteen minutes.”

“Oh,” she frowned. “Then…”

“Thought I’d get us coffee.” He turned back around, hands in pockets and resumed his traipse across the plaza.

K ran to catch up, readjusting her raincoat. “Well, glad I didn’t miss you.”

L nodded.

“You look nice and warm.”

“I suppose.” He shrugged, making a vague head motion to the scarf, hat and heavy parka he wore.

They passed the fountain at the plaza’s centre, which still trickled water from the mouth of a cherub statue. A coat of ice formed around the outer stone rim, jostled by the bubbling pool.

“Sure got cold fast, huh?” K said.

“It certainly did.”

“How have you been?”

“Fine.”

“Did you get my email?”

“Of course,” L said. “It was an interesting idea.” He stopped at the coffee shop and opened the heavy door. The bell tinkled and the hot, earthy aroma of fresh coffee wafted out to meet them. K looked up at him with her wide, pleading eyes.

“So?”

“We should get inside, it’s cold out.” He ushered her in.

“Should I go ahead with it?” She said, her words coming out muffled as she pressed her face against the counter glass and squinted at the pastries.

L held up two fingers and the barista started up the machine.

K leaned in past him. “Make mine with soy please.” She jabbed a finger into L’s side. “So?”

“It’s your thesis.”

Her eyes widened.

He exhaled with another shrug. “I think it has merit.”

She didn’t reply, rather smiled and nodded to herself.

“So I should go ahead with it.”

He remained silent as they waited for their coffees. He lifted the lid and emptied three sachets of sugar into the cup.

“You should avoid having so much sugar,” she said, watching him.

“Don’t worry about me,” L said. He made a movement towards the door, all the while rummaging in a coat pocket.

“Where are you going?”

He held up a pack of cigarettes, a lighter crooked in his thumb.

“But it’s cold out.”

His shoulders dropped.

L approached K, removed his scarf and gently looped it around her head.

“There,” he said.

He stepped outside. The bell gave a short tinkle. A slip of cold air ran across the floor and up K’s spine. She shivered.

“Thank you?”

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Silent Skies

flash

“This is wonderful.” She says.

“What is?”

“The silence.” Her body circles mine, naked toes flicking at the long grass.

“I suppose so.”

“You suppose? Well I think it is.” She stops, puts a hand to her brow and searches for contrails. “No planes, no clouds; blue skies. Days like this should last forever.”

Her body droops.

The sun pricks at my body.

She rises and spins, throwing up a patterned parachute about her waist. I almost-.

I feel: enraptured, captivated.

Again she pauses. Her face becomes eclipsed, her expression masked.

“I feel light,” she says. Her body floats above me and she becomes a bird – outstretched fingertips made of feathers. Hollow bones.

She continues: “My feet aren’t fully grounded and it’s like: at any moment if I run fast enough, and leap, I’ll fly.”

“You’ll be the only person in the sky.” I tell her.

“Yes, I will.”

PIANO

flash

I wish I could produce sound like that.

Like what? He gulps at his beer.

You can’t hear that? Straightened back, she closes her eyes, and as her head tilts back, his eyes follow the shape of her jaw, neck, shoulders. So elegant, like rain in summer.

Oh, the piano?

Left index finger, picking at right thumb. A staccato, three breaths in succession. Exhale. Yes.

His chair scrapes against the tiles as he shifts and turns to look.

Sounds like elevator music to me.

Teeth on teeth. Right index finger, picking at left thumb.

Where

flash

Debs, hi, great to see you here. And uh, Grant, right? Glad I could finally put a face to that name.

Where are you?

He moves through the room, his face shifting into the right position for the right person. Shaking hands, firm and not so firm. Kissing cheeks.

You must be here.

Sally! And quieter. Have you heard from the guys upstairs yet? I’m sure it’s just paper work, you know how it is.

Her eyebrows turn upwards, inwards. He holds her hand as long as is required.

He stops at the bar, orders a bourbon and water.

You’re popular tonight, the barman says.

I guess.

Please don’t strike up conversation.

Waiting on someone?

Just a face in the crowd. Please stop.

Uh-huh. The barman places the bourbon down. Pours out a large white. Fresh bottle, a good one too.

Just the bourbon.

She’s waiting for you on the balcony.

You.

He turns, catches a glimpse of red hair. He fumbles for cash.

Don’t worry sir, I know you’re good for it.

He places a ten down. For you. He takes both glasses and drifts forward.

For you.

Stairs

flash

A shoulder brushes against hers, silk slips across her wrist. On the steps, she stops and grabs the rail with both hands. Lavender. The memory slips under her ribcage, clutches at her heart, and twists. It was lavender.

“Excuse me, err, miss?” A hand on her back. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you need a doctor?”

“Not the kind you’re thinking of.”

“Pardon?”

“Don’t worry,” she says, standing up straight. “I’ll be fine.” She looks him in the eye until he feels uncomfortable. His eyebrows turn upward. He looks up the stairwell. Little lines of worry form.

“There’s no need to wait on me.”

He offers a blank look. Not worry. Not at all. Confusion?

“Who are you looking for?” she asks.

“Oh, I’m not. I just thought I saw someone I knew, that’s all.”

“Knew?”

“From a long time ago.”

“They usually are,” she said.

He smirks, either in agreement or amusement.  “You are okay though?”

“More than,” she says. “Someone’s perfume overwhelmed me, that’s all.” She works to iron herself out, push out the person she’s supposed to be.

He doesn’t take to it. “Coffee?” That smirk again.

She clutches her bag tighter, locks her fingers together. At the bottom of the stairs, a silk scarf flutters.

Six String

stories

“Shit, your apartment is a mess,” Ken said. He pushed past Lloyd, who was now fidgeting with the lock on the front door, and stepped into the living room-come diner, or rather what he would consider to be a single drift of clothes, plates and post waiting to be opened. Turning his car keys over in one hand, he let out a long whistle.

“Come on, not that bad.” Lloyd started throwing his weight into the door, a fresh scowl on his face. “Thought you were gonna help me with this.”

“Frame’s warped. I’ll bring my tools next time.”

Lloyd huffed. The lock clicked shut at last and Ken wondered whether, with all that force going into it, there was a good chance it wouldn’t open again. He took a cursory glance to satisfy himself that he could free it from the frame without too much trouble or permanent damage. In any case, it was the last worry on his nephew’s mind, who now slipped in and stood beside him. The scowl lifted, long enough to be lost as a sort of panic washed over his face. The kid raced around the room gathering up what would fit in his arms, dirty or clean, and move it out of sight, through to the kitchenette.

“You can grab a seat wherever,” Lloyd called out.

“Oh, sure.” Ken had already followed him in, and shifting what he hoped to be clean laundry to one side of the sofa, perched on the edge. He pulled off his leather jacket, folded it and, with an absence of anywhere clear to put it, placed it over his knees. He felt like the jacket in most respects: too many creases and too many years on the road. He ran both hands through the length of his hair that recent years had faded from dirt blonde to grey. But, he thought, they both looked good for it.

“Don’t start tidying on my account,” he called out.

Lloyd lifted his head above the kitchen bar, where he packed in clean pots and crockery, transferred from the drying rack, with an earnest speed. “It’s not that, I’m not a messy person, it’s just that, you know, work and stuff.” He nodded to himself, the way his father used to, back in the day.

“I do know.”

Lloyd gave a weak smile. All the dirty plates and cutlery clattered in the sink as he dropped them in. The tap groaned, screeched and hissed.

“You ought to get that fixed.”

“Okay. Do you want a beer?” Lloyd opened the fridge.

“Sure. Wouldn’t object,” Ken said. The apartment wasn’t all that bad, if looked after, not that he had been any better or neater at 23. He eyed up the peeling posters and dusty book piles, the records that belonged to his brother, once. There would likely be one or two of his own if he bothered to sort through them. Probably better where they are, he thought. Over in the corner, though, was the little treasure trove; a drum kit, a couple of amps, an overflowing box of pedals and leads, all piled up together. And on a stand, a guitar. That guitar.

Lloyd dangled a small can, colourful and patterned, in Ken’s eyeline.

“The hell is this?”

He shrugged. “Hipster beer I guess,” he said as he fell into the armchair opposite. he tapped the top of the can, eyes turned down, appearing to study it.  They sat there a while, not speaking, allowing the minutes to roll past. Ken’s leg bounced on the spot as he tapped out a four-four beat. After a while his can hissed open.

“Do you want to say something?”

Lloyd shook his head.

“Ah, what would be the point in starting now, anyway.” He held the can up, prompting a rush from Lloyd to open his and follow suit. They kept their arms up high for a moment longer than was comfortable and each took a sip.

“Not bad,” Ken said. He turned the can in mid-air, his eyes narrowed.

Lloyd held his in both hands, taking quick, short sips. “You not wearing your glasses?”

“Glasses are a bigger bloody pain than they’re worth.” He laughed, intending it to sound joking, but instead it came out hollow. He pretended to stop reading and took another swig. “Eyesight’s never been better.”

“You were squinting.”

Concentrating, kid.” Ken nodded and pointed a finger. “Concentrating.” He leaned back in the sofa, dripping fake nonchalance all over it. “On that subject, how is that new job of yours going?”

“Not what I want to do, but they treat me alright and, you know.” He lifted his palms up.

“It’s work.”

“Yeah, it’s work.” Lloyd let his head flop back.

Ken tapped off a short beat on the can. “Are you still playing?”

“Of course.” Lloyd lifted his head up, and an eyebrow.

“Guitar looks dusty though.”

Lloyd’s eyes widened. He rolled them over, toward the corner of the room. “I don’t play that one.” He sat up straight, then, ran a hand through his hair, pulling one side back behind an ear. He took a swig. “Not for any reason, though, I’m not precious about it or anything.” He shook his head.

Ken lifted a hand. “It’s cool.” He nodded. “I get it.”

“But?”

“But a piece of kit like that.” Ken bit his lower lip and gave his shoulders a little wiggle, a slight smile playing out. “It wants to get played.”

Lloyd breathed out, took his time with it, too. Then he nodded, with greater affirmation on each dip of his head. “Alright.” He stood up, tanked the rest of the can and crushed it. He walked over to the fridge. “Finish your beer.” He came back with two more from the fridge in one hand and a cloth in the other.

“Okay, alright,” Ken said, smiling. “You want me to tune?” He gulped at the first beer until it was gone.

“No, you get on that drum kit.” Lloyd dragged an amp over to the arm chair, plugged it in and beat it down with the cloth. Then, picking up the guitar with a gentleness he hadn’t reserved for the rest of the room, he let out a long deep breath across the surface of its body and slipped the cloth down from the headstock, the neck, between the pickups and around the dials.

He eased into the chair and plugged the guitar in. One foot up on the table and his eyes closed, he started twisting, tuning. Separately and together, they started letting out tests: a note, a tap, a drone, a roll.  As it started to form into sounds that could be recognised, they stopped.

Lloyd opened his eyes. “You prepared?” He asked.

“Do I look like a boy scout?”

Lloyd grinned. “Then are you ready?”

“Always, kid.”

A thought crossed Ken’s mind before he started, that he wished someone was there with them to take a picture. He could bet any amount that it would be apparent, then, the resemblance between the two of them, the connective elements that identified a brother to a brother, a son to a father.

Screen Test #1

flash

Face the camera please.

A little to the left. Yes that’s fine.

Turn your head to one side.

Which way? 

Whichever way you want.

Okay… Now the other way. Thank you.

First line please.

I hadn’t expected you so soon. 

Carry on.

I – I had it all worked out, everything I was going to say, why this can’t go on, why I can’t go on. It’s over, I’m sorry. You know I love you. 

And again.

Which part? 

The last line.

I love you. 

You know…

You know I love you. 

Take your time.

I – You know. You know I love you.