|Jan/Feb 2006 Fiction Special Feature|
(FIRST PLACE WINNER)
It was a cold, January night. The trestle tables (kindly loaned to us by Mrs. Jean Webster) were set a-dazzling with every color and vintage of cheese imaginable, and the wine--well, there was the taste of something there to suit every gullet. The evening was set for a most enviable time, every vittle available to set the heart-a-fire and loosen the tongue to many a mushroom tale.
The hearty turnout soon plunged eagerly into the fray, and before too long, there was nothing left but a handful of discarded water biscuits and a green olive or two. Then it was time to get down to business. There was a slight delay when the lights needed to be turned down, and the pavilion manager (in charge of all the electric controls) could not be found for love nor cheese. Finally, he was located outside, ploughing his field of Turnips (rather late in the year, I felt, but I was not in the mood to quibble). The delay was no trouble--Mrs. Marie Arbutt came to the rescue with a delightful selection of home-made truffles. We were all... speechless.
Finally, the lights were dimmed, and the show began. Those coming to the meeting expecting a lecture on gastronomic fungi (entitled "Introduction to the Gasteromycetes") were not disappointed. The slide show was a HUGE success. We were treated to a whirlwind tour of the fascinating (and sometimes mind-blowing) world of stomach fungi. We looked at the personality and behavior of this group (as well as the behavior of those who study them!). A heated discussion then followed as to whether Suillus sphaerosporus was beautiful or not, and most agreed that, if not beautiful, then at least it qualified as handsome.
It was only when our own photographer, Mr. Jack Bernard, brought out a box of slides that had been water damaged in a flood, that the evening turned. We were surprised to find that many of his slides had undergone a most incredible transformation. While they had been stored in a damp, dark basement, a fungus had chosen to colonize them! And after close inspection, we discovered the fungus to be Aspergillus, which seemed to have given a poignancy to the otherwise ordinariness of Mr. Jack Bernard's slides.
We were much impressed by the strange and wonderful swirls and mists created by the fungus throughout Mr. Jack Bernard's slides, and there were plenty of admiring Ooh's and Aah's lifting up in waves around the darkened room.
Then we came to one particular slide, and the room hushed to heavy silence. It was a picture of Jamie Bernard, Mr. Jack Bernard's son--then only a young boy of 9 or 10. And this is what Mr. Bernard said to us, as he straightened his shoulders and lifted his gaze towards us:
"When people look at an original photograph of my son, they usually see a cute boy with a sad look in his eyes. What they don't experience is the range of emotions that the same image provokes in me. Now, because of the fungus, you see the same picture, but one which has taken on a new meaning, as if it touches a secret wound in your hearts, too."
We stood, then, and sang. I think it was Mrs. Vanderhilt who started us off with "I will never forget." We all joined in, each and every one of us, until our words lifted right up from the bottom of our hearts, rich, full and vibrant, floating Heavenwards, towards Mr. Jack Bernard's little boy.
Thoughts of an Otherwise Nature
When I'm shopping, I think of Jay. I think of the way he hugs me from behind, while I'm stirring something on the stove. I think of his easy smile, the way it warms up his whole face. I think of how I must stop eating, so much, all this cake. It's not good. I must stop drinking, all this wine, night after night, just for something to fill the empty space.
When I'm at the Doctor's, I think of sex. I think that the Doctor is bloody gorgeous, that if he invited me to lie back on the examination couch, then I probably would. He's talking, pointing to something on the screen. I nod, but I'm thinking, what would his hands feel like, cupped around my breasts; what would his tongue feel like, his lips, his cheek against mine. He tells me that if there's anything he can do to help, anything at all, then just to ask.
When I'm at my mother's, I think of Elsie and May. I think of their smallness, how they need me, how I am the only one of me, how they won't understand, how much they will hurt. I think of how fragile they are, how tentative life is, that it can be puffed out, so easily, so instantly.
When I'm waiting outside the school gates, I think of my mother. I think of how she has loved me, through everything, through all that I have done and said to hurt her. She's never stopped, never turned her back on my anger.
When I look at the trees, I think how lucky I am. How lucky I have been, to have all this, to have experienced a life, to have felt and seen.
When Jay and I make love, I think how sad I am, how this feeling will not last, how he will be loving someone else, and it matters, that his hands will be on another woman's skin, that he will be connected, as close as, to some stranger, who is already out there, somewhere. I think that I cannot stand to let him see me fade away. I think that I don't want his pity. I don't want him to remember my body as it soon will be, don't want to have to stop making love, to go past that point of no return.
When I lie here, with my eyes closed, I think of peace, of happiness, of memories never lost. I think of wanting to fall, into sleep, a deep restful sleep. I think of life's end. I think how good, how right it feels.
Getting Bendy with Apeneck Sweeney
Apeneck Sweeney spread his knees and asked the class before him what they thought. A small voice called out from the back of the room, "Could you do it again, please?"
Apeneck gladly obliged, stretching out his elasticated legs and pointing his long-toed feet into fine points at either end. The result was Lotus Position Plus, with Bells On.
"Much," came the small voice.
"Then let us begin."
Apeneck had discovered at a young age that he had the flexibility of a rubber band. How many times had his mother, Mary, been called to untie his legs from around trees, loosen his arms from behind his bottom. It wasn't easy having a child like Apeneck. One minute he was there, watching the TV like any other kid. The next, he was hanging from the banisters in a complicated reef knot. It was even worse for Apeneck's younger sister, Caroline. She was an unfortunately chubby child, who spent great chunks of her time in close proximity to crisps and cream buns. It may well have been an unconscious attempt to balance Apeneck's wild, elastic energy. Or it could easily have been an entirely separate matter.
Mary was very proud of her bendable son, with all his new found interesting positions. She insisted he call her at the end of every day, just so she could catch up on the latest and pass it straight onto Suzy in the cash and carry, where she worked nights.
"Suzy, you'll never guess. Apeneck's got this new move, where he sticks his hand... and then brings his... round the back, and then pulls it all the way over to his...!!"
(Suzy lived for the night shift, couldn't wait to get there and hear about that pliable son of Mary's).
Sadly, Mary was not quite so keen on Caroline, who'd grown to the size of a small elephant and moved up to the North West coast of Scotland (out of everyone's way). It wasn't as if Apeneck and Caroline shared anything in common. They'd always viewed each other with barely hidden hostility, particularly at the last family Christmas when Apeneck had strung himself up to the roof in a kind of human light display. When the bulbs had begun to pop and fizz with circuit overload, Caroline had come out into the frost to watch, crunching on a family packet of cheesy nibbles and refusing to be moved by Apeneck's beetroot face. He was upside down at the time, and the blood rush was beginning to make him feel sick and dizzy. Even a, "Pleeeeeease, Caroliiiiine," hadn't done the trick.
So be it. While Caroline festered in a far-flung corner of the Highlands, Apeneck toured the globe with his illustrative classes, spreading his knees to one yoga and/or Pilates class after another. He boinged his way through a variety of village halls, community centers, city parks, and one or two hospital waiting rooms. There was no shortage of people who were keen to get bendy--even the unbendable wanted to bend!
Word of Apeneck and his supple limbs inevitably spread to the glitzy world of Hollywood. His agent Wes (who'd fortuitously stumbled across Apeneck in a Welsh village hall--quite literally, during a particularly tricky maneuver) was flooded with calls to meet this bendy wonder, pleas for him to become an elasticated guru to the stars!
In was in the middle of a one to one (with a certain Diva, name beginning with M ending in A) that Apeneck was called to the phone. It took a while for Apeneck to disentangle himself from the lady in question, which he did with not a little frustration at their time being rudely interrupted.
"But it's an emergency," pleaded Wes. "You're to call home straight away."
Apeneck hit in the numbers to home, clicked his knuckles one by one while waiting for the call to be connected Transatlantically.
"Ape? It's Caroline. I'm afraid it's bad news. I've got to tell you, that mum has, well, died; yesterday, while trying out one of your moves. I forget what it's called. Anyway, it was her and that Suzy, after the pub. They came back, thought they'd have a bash at that Lotus Plus, that's it, with Bells On. Mum sort of got tied up, and Suzy couldn't undo her for laughing. She's ever so upset. Seems like mum asphyxiated herself."
Apeneck flicked his neck out to the side, like an emu with a fly in its ear.
"I'll be on the next flight out. Don't worry. It's what she would have wanted."
The Lotus position was deemed unsafe at the inquest, and Apeneck was warned to strike it out of his repertoire forthwith. Caroline caught the coach back up to Scotland after the funeral. Neither of them wanted the house. It was to be sold, split down the middle, fair and square--no fat portion for the beloved skinny boy, no thin slice for the alienated fat girl.
Caroline married a sheep farmer and had seven children. She was very happy, and so was her husband. Apeneck got himself tied up in a succession of libelous knots with various celebrities. He found it all too much in the end, took himself out one night on an indoor Las Vegas beach, bent out his knees into the Lotus Plus, with Bells On. And waited for the end to come.