AMSTERDAM SCRIPTUM ISSUE 3 APRIL 2005
This should have been the March issue, but we’re one day late. Most of the selected stories in this issue are from women authors. In the last two issues, the men outnumbered the women, so no one can accuse me of sexism. Once again, I think I’ve succeeded in presenting a diverse selection including humor, history, broken hearts and horror.
Lori Romero: SURREAL ESTATE
Patricia Wellingham-Jones : WHIRLWIND
Stephen Johnston: PARIS ABSINTHE, 1893
Robin M. Buehler : FALLING
Debra Broughton: FAREWELL SHOWERS
Rosalyn Gingell: HAGS IN AUTUMN
We appreciate reader feedback. Please browse the archives of our earlier incarnation as Treehouse Scriptum for more reading pleasure. The next issue will be online in March.
by Lori Romero
“Welcome to Land, Ho! Home Finders,” said the agent. “We find that perfect rental for you.”
Mr. Smith reached his hand across the desk to the agent’s outstretched one, “I’m glad you can help - the housing situation is outrageous in this city.”
“My name is Mr. Black. I see you’ve completed your application, so let me just take a peek. Have a seat.”
Not able to find a chair, Mr. Smith perched uncomfortably on the edge of what looked like a sculpture. “None of the other agencies had any houses available. I can’t really afford to buy a house right now, although I plan to later on.”
“I just transferred here.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“Let’s see – that’s ‘Mr. Smith’ with an ‘S’?”
“And ‘Bob’ with a ‘B’.”
“Actually, ‘Bob’ with two ‘B’s’.”
“Fine. It says here you are looking for a two bedroom. Correct?”
Mr. Black pulled out a gigantic red pen from his drawer and wrote ‘correct’ on the application. “It says here you don’t have any pets.”
“No cats or dogs…?”
“…no aquariums teeming with guppies, no guinea pigs, salamanders, white lab mice…”
“You look like the kind of person who might harbor a Gila monster – do you have one?”
“I don’t have any pets!”
“You understand we have to be certain. One of our clients moved here from New York and brought a whole bevy of cockroaches. We had to penalize her because she did not have a pet deposit.”
“I haven’t had a pet since I was ten years old.”
“You’ve had a pet? Then, you are really a ‘possible pet owner,’ not a ‘non-pet owner.’ I’ll make a note of that.”
“I haven’t had a pet in more than a decade.”
“I won’t charge a deposit yet, but I must change this answer to read ‘possible pet owner’.”
Mr. Smith loosened his tie, “Whatever.”
“Now as to marital status, you’ve selected single.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, it’s just me.”
“Because if you have a girlfriend, it is technically not correct to term you as ‘single’.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Well, we’ll leave that for the moment. Let’s see – you have, very neatly I might add, checked the box marked ‘male’.”
“Are you homosexual?”
“No, I just don’t have a girlfriend…”
“If you’re not sure, we’ll just put down bisexual.”
“What does sexual preference have to do with anything?”
“That’s really not my area of expertise. If you’re confused, you might want to read a book by Freud – he has a lot to say about weird shaped windows, crossing streams and all that…”
“Look, I want a house. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase. I have no pets. I’m very quiet and clean; do you have anything for me?”
“Absolutely. It says here you are a non-smoker.”
The agent jotted ‘correct’ on the application. “We frown on smokers. All those nasty little burns in the carpets.”
“I quit five years ago.”
“You used to smoke? Then there’s a chance that you might backslide.”
“Never say ‘never’. I think we’re going to have to put down ‘smoker’. Once you’ve tasted that first cigarette…”
“I need to speak with your manager.”
“Certainly,” Mr. Black picked up the phone as Mr. Smith drummed his fingers on the sculpture.
“Ms. Pearl, could you come in here?” Mr. Black hung up and stared at Mr. Smith.
A woman joined them moments later. “Are we having a problem with the application?”
“We are not having a problem. He’s changing all of my answers,” said Mr. Smith pointing at Mr. Black.
“Mr. Black, would you mind giving us a few moments?” “Not at all,” said Mr. Black as he left.
Ms. Pearl glanced at the application, “I’m sorry. Mr. Black is one of our best employees. We’ve been having a placement contest and I’m afraid it’s been too much. I’d like to take 3-2/8% off the fee.”
“Strange percentage, but sure.”
“I understand how pressure can get to one. I push paper all day…”
“You’re a maintenance engineer? But it says here you’re an account executive.”
“Pushing paper is just a figure of speech.”
“We don’t discriminate here. Everyone is equal whether you pick up garbage or you’re an account executive.”
“But I’m an account executive!”
“Mr. Smith, calm down. You say you’re an account executive – fine. No need to shout.”
“I didn’t mean to shout.”
“No problem,” said Ms. Pearl studying the application, “I’ve been looking for a small scrap of carpeting for my car. If you happen to see anything in good shape when you empty the trash, would you mind picking it up for me?”
“What is the matter with you people? I’m an account executive. I do not, I repeat, do n-o-t collect trash.”
“Sometimes the strain of house hunting can be too much. Why don’t you take a moment to collect yourself – oh, I am sorry about the pun.”
“I can’t take this anymore!”
“Would you like a cigarette? Maybe that would calm you.” Ms. Pearl lit a cigarette and passed it to Mr. Smith. “Now, I see here you put down ‘non-smoker,’ but you’re smoking. Mr. Black was correct in changing that item. And you can see how that might throw suspicion on your other answers, can’t you?”
Mr. Smith grabbed the application and tore it up. “You might be a little too violent for us to trust you in one of our rentals…”
Mr. Smith retrieved the torn application and taped the pieces together. “No, please. Look, it’s fixed. I’m so tired of eating awful hotel food.”
“I just want a house.”
“Of course. Shall we take it from the top?”
“Yes. It’s Smith with an ‘S’ and ‘Bob’ with two ‘B’s’…I had a dog when I was ten, named Rusty, which means I’m probably going to own another.”
“Excellent. Now let’s discuss your marital status…”
About the author: Lori Romero’s first poetry chapbook, Wall to Wall, was recently published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry and short stories have been published in journals which include the Quercus Review, Plum Biscuit, Edgar Literary Magazine, Poetry Motel, Mobius, Branches , and Zillah: A Poetry Journal. firstname.lastname@example.org
by Patricia Wellingham-Jones
Across the whole leaf-strewn
lawn not a whisper
of air moves
in one small circle
near the orange tree
Sycamore leaves rustle
upward in the mini-
cyclone by the fence
The black cat
slits her yellow
ready to pounce
toward the whirlwind
then retreats, as the wind
an unseen door,
About the author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones, a former psychology researcher and writer/editor, is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work is published in numerous anthologies, journals, and Internet magazines, including Red River Review, Rattlesnake Review, Phoebe, A Room of Her Own, Thunder Sandwich , and Niederngasse.Whirlwind was previously published in Rattlesnake Review, 2004. Patricia’s website is www.wellinghamjones.com
PARIS ABSINTHE, 1893
by Stephen Johnston
After having spent just over two months in a comfortable set of rooms between Avenue des Sept-Isles and Bergerac in the 7 th Arrendissement, it is of course a shock to realize that I must now abandon my lodgings. But I have resolved myself to the fact that this is indeed the case. The misguided soul presently settling into the mud of the Seine has seen to that.
Of course, I shall return to St. Petersburg no worse off than when I left.
Nevertheless, it seems a rather shameful way to depart. I had quite hoped that a year in this glowing city might serve to temper my ‘wayward’ nature, as some of my old acquaintances used to call it.
However, fate has laid other plans for me, and the short walk by the river that I took tonight has altered the course of my life irrevocably.
Yes, please. Another one would be much appreciated.
Pardon the interruption. Well, anyway, the fool did have occasion to attack me, and that is the end of it. He rots in those black waters over there, and I sit over here contemplating my present circumstances.
The ruffian was no stranger to me. I had often seen him circulating about – one of those innocuous, ragged little people that one always finds on the periphery of one’s passing days. Quite insane. And had he not accosted me, I would not have reacted with violence. The blood is on my hands, as the saying goes, although the close proximity of the river to the act was most fortuitous in that not a spot remains on my person.
If I felt in any way to blame, then I would of course gladly turn myself over to the authorities. Yet I have no compunction at all in this regard. I was simply protecting myself as any gentleman would. I am even willing to admit that I am feeling slightly buoyed by the experience. Everything since the unfortunate episode has taken on a charged, excellent quality that I find difficult to describe. Tonight I feel truly alive.
But, of course, it is impossible to stay. In the fresh light of morning I shall take my leave. For now, however, I shall sit back in my chair on this wonderful terrace, order one last Absinthe, and watch the city’s heartbeats go by.
My God…do you see how the night simply shines?
About the author: Stephen Johnston is a Canadian copywriter and editor currently living near Utrecht with his Dutch wife and two children. He’s a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and has recently started to write fiction seriously. email@example.com
by Robin M. Buehler
my heart pounds
for your touch;
yet you turn
into the arms
that hold you tight...
About the author: Robin M. Buehler is a journalist in NJ, USA. Her poetry, reviews and short stories have appeared in print and online publications such as Sabledrake, Gothic Revue, Dark Walls, Sigla Magazine, Canadian Zen Haiku, Poetic Voices, Enchanted Visions, Writers Post Journal, Sacred Twilight, Byline Magazine and Taj Mahal Review.
by Debra Broughton
Cocooned in the car one rainy Saturday morning, crossing the dull border from France to Belgium, “We never have fun any more,” you say. You stare ahead as you speak, your face blank and unmoving.
We never make love any more.
As the rain beats down on empty Luxembourg pavements, the city where even the tourist office admits there's not enough to do, we sit drinking coffee, sheltered behind glass. I watch the films of water streaming down on the windows, washing away the grime and wonder why you brought me here. I stare at the side of your face as you look outside, away from us. I remember your smile, the way it used to light up your face; your hungry eyes, now full, but still unsatisfied.
A man opens the door, shakes the rain from his coat. His eyes alight on mine, and he smiles. I notice the way his hair hangs down in curling strands, blackened with moisture. I shut my eyes and try to picture your hair; I open them and make corrections to my imagination, file it away for later. The man sits down, close by. He studies his menu but his eyes return to my face. I blush and look away. Your eyes cast a glance over me before they turn back to the rainy streets. You don't say a word.
I wonder how hard it will be to say goodbye to a country.
I trail behind you as we wander down damp empty streets, watch you browsing in bookstores, trace the outline of your cheek as you smile at sales assistants in record shops, etch your shadow on my memory.
Back home, we walk through rain-washed streets that glisten in the
weak evening sun. Tears prick at my eyes as I take one last look. You
don't notice. As we enter the Boulangerie familiar words ring out and I
realise that this is the last time I will hear them.
I walk home clutching hot bread to my chest, the oven smell wafting up towards me. Nostalgia hits in tight waves as I remember Sunday morning croissants and steaming coffee.
We encounter friends in the street; they cross the road to meet us, armed with kisses and smiles. Soon I will have to unlearn these habits, surrender to cold English hellos. We invite them in for an apéritif; my mind is numb as they talk about the future. You make plans for next weekend. I smile and nod. I hold Marie as tight as I dare when I say goodbye.
Over dinner you smile at me, but those once hungry eyes are far away. We say nothing and you fall asleep in silence. I lay awake in the darkness, listening to your rhythmic breathing, and wonder if it could be any different. Is this is as good as it gets? Reflected moonlight on the river outside sneaks in through the closed bedroom shutters and I gaze up at the stripy ceiling. The light hurts my eyes and I close them, willing myself to fall asleep. I roll over and hug close against you, but you struggle in your sleep and turn away.
A cold grey morning dawns, the steel blue sky threatens me but I pay no heed. My suitcases packed, I take one last look around. I see the ghosts of us, hear distant laughter echoing as a happy Julie and a contented Marc open the door for the first time, their eyes full of smiles and future. I remember when the bed arrived, hauled up on a rope through the open window, how we put the legs on badly. It broke that first night, sent us sliding to the floor in the midst of our lovemaking, but it didn't stop us then. Now, everything gets in the way.
I check my watch, there is still time to change my mind. The goodbyes have been executed in silence, retractable until you notice my absence. I stare at the ticket in my hand. I imagine the future; eyes turned away, missing smiles, everything getting in the way.
I slam the door shut and it sends an echo down the dark corridor. All through the long train journey I stare out of the window at winter rain. I am swapping open landscapes for nestling hills, but the rain will remain. I will avoid chic cafés, baguettes, red wine. I will blot out my memories with fish and chips and beer. I will speak my own language and I will not love again.
Rain falls on the runway but it doesn't deter us. The country is showering me with farewells. The tear-streaked landscape vanishes under a mantle of cloud as we climb away from goodbye. I settle down in my seat and stare out until we emerge from grey clouds, soaring upwards into blue skies.
Next to me a wrinkled old couple sit holding hands. She has her eyes shut. I examine the lines around her mouth, set into a permanent scowl. I imagine my face in twenty years; now I can see laughter lines where yesterday my fate was a forehead scored with frowning. The woman begins to snore, then with a snort she opens her eyes.
"Going home dear?" she asks. Her accent makes me wistful. I nod in reply.
"It's a wonderful country, but nothing beats going home," her husband says as he leans across her towards me. He is English. They are like we were, but their love has soared above the divide that is more than just a stretch of water. Or perhaps unlike me, they were afraid of change.
I stare out at the sky; the sunshine reflecting on the plane wings makes my eyes blink and water. I look at my watch - it is the exact moment that you will notice I am gone, your voice echoing in an empty apartment as you call my name. You will sigh, pour yourself a whisky, beat the pillows on our bed with your fists. Then, waking from a two-hour sleep, you will begin to understand. In a week you will start to smile again. And then before you know it you will be having fun. You will be making love on a bed and next time I hope it won't break under the strain.
I remember the man in the Luxembourg café, his rain-dripped smile. There is hope in my future. I try to smile, but it is too soon for that. Perhaps I will love again; perhaps I will snore on an aeroplane while my husband holds my hand and longs for home.
The landing is smooth for once. The air steward thanks us for travelling with them. He hopes we will return soon.
"Never again," I whisper, and let the steward say my goodbyes.
About the author: Debra Broughton was born in London; lived in the UK and France; and is settled for now in Amsterdam, where she works for a global environmental organisation. Her short stories have been widely published on-line and in print, most recently as a Momaya Press Award recipient. Farewell Showers was previously published in print at QWF magazine. Debra’s website is www.debrabroughton.com
HAGS IN AUTUMN
by Rosalyn Gingell
Deep in the heart of the forest, two hags harvested their prey. Practised fingers tore at metal as they emptied traps of their kill. Above them, crisp autumn leaves caught by the morning sun bronzed the sky.
Birds huddled in groups, perched silently, motionless in branches. Frogs and toads peered from the safety of fallen leaves and dead wood. Rabbits braved the entrances to burrows. Forest eyes watched from behind every tree and from beneath every fern.
Along the narrow woodland path, worn sandy grey over the centuries, the hags had crept the evening before, destroying unfamiliar snares and setting their own. They had been watched then, as they were watched now.
For as long as the forest could remember, the hags had dwelt within it, were a part of it, carrying out their seasonal harvesting. It was expected, awaited.
The screams and agony that had ripped through the night had ceased. The terror and anguish that echoed through the forest was fading.
One hag, black eyes glazed, forced the jaws of a large snapping trap apart and released its lifeless quarry. She drew her axe and hacked it into small enough pieces to fit her sack, funnelling the blood into a bucket.
A deer darted across the path.
The prey in the next trap was still alive. Gaping holes in its flesh from the jagged teeth oozed blood. Its eyes, pitiful, pathetic, pleaded release. It came as the butt of the axe split its head.
One by one the traps were emptied, the bodies mutilated: no pity shown, no mercy given. And the forest watched.
Harvesting completed, the hags disarmed the snares and buried them deep beneath the ground, covering the grave with the damp mush of fallen leaves. They would return to re-set them. The terror would begin again.
When the forest warned them, the hags would return. Their harvest would feed the forest. Poachers’ blood was potent.
About the author: Rosalyn is British, lives in the Netherlands (where she raised 3 children) and freelances as a translator and language coach. This, her first flash, was originally published by LSS in June 2004. Many of her short stories and poems have appeared on-line in British and American ezines. Rosalyn.Gingell@chello.nl