Lights!

In my first essay on the Duchess of Malfi, we have to consider how we would stage one of the scenes. In researching this it has turned my mind to lighting in tv, film and plays.

Drive was the first movie I watched where the lighting really struck me. I found it fascinating to learn about the deliberate use of lighting in film, how props and costumes are considered and used in telling the story, and the colors used in sets. In Drive is was very blue, red or yellow. I watched Only God Forgives on Thursday and was again struck by the use of color – the heavy red lighting used with the American family and how the retired Thai cop never entered that sphere of red light but remained in white light – occasionally cast in a pinkish red glow when coming into contact with Julian or his mother. Julian becomes less ‘red’ as the movie goes on and in the fight scene with the Thai cop ends up being lit the same. There was also pink in the movie and I’m still trying to work that out – is it being lit in pink or wearing pink signified the character could go either way, ambivalence?

Breaking Bad, Moonrise Kingdom, Utopia were other shows/films where the lighting or color significance struck me. There is a whole article about the color of Breaking Bad.

It’s interesting to find out about and has definitely made my essay more interesting to write and research.

NaBloPoMo November 2013

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Two Things

So I experienced two things today – one was finishing the book I have to read for my university course. The book is called Oroonoko by Aphra Behn and is one of the first novels written. It was written by a woman in the 1600s and is about an African prince who becomes enslaved by the English. It starts off as a tale about the Prince being in love with Imoinda, a beautiful young woman. Imoinda also catches the eye of the King (Oroonoko’s grandfather) and is brought into the King’s court to become his newest ‘wife’.

This was kind of an interesting read and reminded me of all the other love triangle tales of this time and before. But (isn’t there always) the story takes a turn and Oroonoko ends up being enslaved and taken to England. Behn then sort of whips the story around about her adventure to India with Oroonoko (who obviously fascinated her) and this goes on until we finally get back on track with the love story and its tragic end.

It seemed all over the place and I found it hard going. I hope when we go through the workbook and tutorial something is said about the narrative jumping around to the India adventure. She did say in the book she wanted to show Oroonoko’s character but she had already painted him as this honorable, intelligent, regal prince. I didn’t really need to know about the whole India adventure and him killing tigers.

The second thing that happened today was watching more episodes of Catfish. I didn’t think I would be so sucked in by it and although some of the episodes are pretty same-y (how many times are we going to see someone being catfished by their own gender – seems very common), I am completely hooked 😉

It is heartening to see the people who have been conned acting so rationally toward the ‘fisher. I thought for sure one young woman was going to be vile but she turned out to be okay. Considering how hurtful and shocking it must be to be conned this way, people have reacted very magnanimously – is it because there are cameras there so they don’t show their true reactions or are people really able to rise above all the hurt and crazy just heaped onto them. I wonder how I would feel (and I hope I never have to find out!)

The ‘fishers usually seem to be hiding their true selves for whatever reason – trying to make a connection, trying to be someone else because they don’t feel comfortable with their own looks, trying to escape their lives.

I enjoyed Catfish over Oroonoko. Both of these aren’t helping me finish my first assignment due on the 7th about the Duchess of Malfi.

Is it all tragedy at the moment?

NaBloPoMo November 2013

 

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You Are Home

You Are Home

Gravel crunched under the tires. The sound of home on Cape Cod. Amy came to a stop at the back of the house and cut the engine. She looked out of the bug-spattered windshield at the neglected house looming before her. Weeds poked through the drive. She glimpsed more weeds from the rear view mirror; the entire drive was being taken over.

Amy didn’t want to get out of the car. The temperature was in the mid-90s. Thick grey clouds hung in the sky collecting water from the ocean. They would burst open in a downpour that still left the air oppressive afterwards.

She opened the car door and breathed in thick air. Of all the times of year to be doing this, she thought as she walked onto the deck. But it was the only time her older brother, Tom, would agree to. August was quiet at his work so August it was. Amy stuck the key in the lock and twisted it around a few times. Perspiration sprung onto her forehead as she wondered why she didn’t come down here on her own in April or May. Because she wanted it to involve both her brothers so that everyone had a say about the house.

The lock finally relented and Amy pushed the door open. Hot, dank air hit her nostrils and she recoiled back into the scorching outside air. She stepped into the family room and grimaced at the worn acrylic pile carpet that always smelled damp and earthy. Her parents had refused to get rid of or change it in their later years. Stains glared up at her, exposed after some of the furniture had been moved out when they put her mother into a nursing home.

In the kitchen, she threw open the sliding glass doors that led out to the patio and pool area to the side of the house. The only thing opening the doors would achieve would be an exchange of hot air but she hoped it would get rid of the stale, unlived in smell.

She drifted through the dining room and formal living room through the laundry room and into her parent’s bedroom and bathroom. Years of being a home had been dismantled to accommodate her mother’s move into the nursing home near Amy in Vermont. The bed was stripped bare. Dresser drawers were half open. Amy remembered hurriedly packing clothes back in February, not thinking any further than what she had to do right then. Everything else in the house could come later. And here it was – later.

She wandered back to the family room and spotted her father’s reading glasses on top of an unfinished book. She ran a finger over the glasses and frowned as sadness hit her chest.

Her father’s accident had happened at the end of January. He had been driving to church when he’d had a heart attack that caused him to veer off an icy road into a ditch. Her mother had suffered a broken leg but on top of that had dementia so couldn’t be left alone. The heart attack had killed her father. The suddenness and shock of it all set Amy on auto-pilot. Hospital visits, funeral arrangements, then the decision to move her mother closer to where she lived so she could oversee her care and be able to visit while her mother recuperated.

Amy glanced at her watch – nearly 4.30pm. She needed to pick up her brother, Tate, from the airport. There was still no sign of her older brother, Tom, who had promised to arrive early afternoon.

 

Tom was sitting on a chair on the deck by the time Amy returned from the airport with Tate. He thumbed at his BlackBerry and gave an off-hand wave. He loomed larger than the last time Amy had seen him. He bent his head back down to look at his phone and she could see his hair receding at the top of his head.

‘Whoa, who got old, fat and bald?’ Tate said before they got out of the car.

‘All of us?’ Amy glanced at Tate.

‘Not you.’

‘Flatterer. I’ve been plucking grey hairs out of my head for months now.’

Tate sighed. ‘Let’s go see big brother.’

They got out of the car and headed up to the deck.

Tom glanced up. ‘I’m trying to find a couple realtors’ numbers. I’ll call them now and get them to come value the place tomorrow.’

‘Hi, Tom. Great to see you,’ Tate said cheerfully.

Tom eyed him. ‘I waved. Do you want me to organize a welcome party?’

If we decide to sell.’ Amy returned to his original greeting.

‘We have to sell, Amy. Who will live here? Who will look after the place? It isn’t practical.’ Tom flicked through his BlackBerry and sighed in disgust. ‘You can never get a signal down here.’

‘Maybe Tate or one of the kids…’

Tate shook his head. ‘I’m California-bound, baby. I’m not living back here in the cold winter with snow piled up to my neck.’

‘None of the kids want this place. None of them are old enough to settle here. Then there is the money issue. You’ve got your head in the clouds if you think we can keep this place. Are you going to live here?’ Tom raised his hands and shrugged, his eyes narrowing.

‘Well, since I’m the only one who regularly visits Mom and she’s up near me, no. Maybe she and I could move back down.’

‘You can’t take care of her on your own. Dad used to say crime was getting worse. Someone tried to break in a couple years ago. It’s just like any other place now. It’s no haven anymore.’

‘I’m starving. Let’s go get something to eat. Some classic Cape seafood.’ Tate changed the subject. ‘Then we’ll all feel better.’

‘Somewhere with air conditioning and Wi-Fi.’ Tom suggested. ‘We should stay in a hotel. It stinks inside.’

‘It’ll be fine,’ Amy said, already tired of Tom’s griping.

‘The upstairs is a wall of heat. None of the air conditioning units work.’

‘We can sleep downstairs. It’ll be cooler. The air conditioning in Mom and Dad’s room is okay.’

‘It’s leaking,’ Tom grumbled.

They locked up the house and got into Tom’s car.

‘Where to?’ Tom started the car.

‘It’s got to be Kreme ‘n Kone, best local seafood on the Cape.’ Tate rubbed his hands together. ‘I haven’t had one of their clam plates in forever.’

‘Clams sound good to me.’ Amy agreed.

‘Do they even have Wi-Fi?’ Tom asked.

‘Then let’s do McDonalds.’ Tate sneered. ‘You’ll get your AC, Wi-Fi and dead atmosphere all in one place.’

‘I’m pretty sure Kreme ‘n Kone have Wi-Fi now.’ Amy tried to placate everyone. She wondered whether it was possible to have a meal together without worrying about the repercussions of no Wi-Fi or email. My god they might have to spend an hour interacting with each other rather than a phone or an invisible electronic entourage.

‘It better,’ Tom muttered as they pulled out of the driveway.

 

They found a table toward the back of the restaurant and slid into their seats. The table cloth was a plastic red gingham pattern and the wooden chairs captain style. Tom checked his phone as the beep, beep of emails arriving sounded.

Tate put a fried clam in his mouth and looked at Amy. ‘Oh my god, I have missed this so much!’

‘Delicious.’ Amy dipped her clam in tartar sauce and savoured the texture of the deep fried batter and the briny ocean taste of fresh seafood.

‘A benefit of the east coast, for sure.’ Tate rolled his eyes as if he was in heaven. He motioned his chin toward Tom. ‘You’re the only one in the place eating a hamburger. This is a seafood joint.’

Tom glanced up from his phone. ‘It’s what I always have.’ He sneered between Amy and Tate’s plates. ‘The two of you are going to have stomach aches all night long.’

‘It’ll be worth it.’ Tate crunched on the golden coating of the clam and beamed a smile at Tom, who already had his eyes back on his phone.

‘Let’s just eat and get back. There is a lot of packing to do. With all the crap I saw when I walked through the house before you got back from the airport we aren’t going to finish it all on this trip.’ Tom set down his phone.

Amy dropped her fork and looked up at Tom. ‘You can’t call their stuff ‘crap.’ She thought of all the cookbooks, books, photos, CDs and knick-knacks that filled the rooms.

He waved her comment away. ‘Whatever. It needs to get packed up and there is a lot of it.’

‘We need to stop at Four Seas and get an ice cream on the way home,’ Tate said between mouthfuls of clams.

‘The line on a Friday night will be ridiculous,’ Tom said.

Tate grabbed Amy’s arm. ‘A triple scoop peanut butter chip chocolate cone. Huh? Are you in?’

Amy laughed. ‘I think my guts might burst.’

‘C’mon, we have to make the most of what makes this place great and the seafood and ice cream are two. If we go to the beach and eat the cone then it’s a trifecta. We’ll stop off at CVS and get some Pepto-Bismol. We can do this!’

‘We need to deal with the house not swan around the Cape like we’re tourists.’ Tom devoured his hamburger in four bites.

Amy caught Tate’s look and they both sat back to enjoy the rest of their clam platter.

 

Tate balanced his ice cream cone in one hand and pulled the radio on the kitchen counter toward him. ‘Look at this! An actual radio with an antenna. This is old school awesomeness.’ He turned it on and it crackled. ‘I bet it’s on AM. Mom and Dad were totally AM.’ He studied the buttons on top of the radio and flicked it over to FM. He twiddled the dial until music came blaring out. He turned to Amy and laughed. ‘Hey, how ‘bout that!’

‘I feel like I’ve been warped back to the 70’s. This kitchen, that music.’

‘Hey, don’t fight it. Any station that still plays Pink Floyd has got to be worth listening to. Forget all that canned garbage on the airwaves these days.’ He handed her his cone and started playing air guitar.

Amy swayed back and forth with the cone held in the air like a lighter.

Tom lumbered into the kitchen, wiping sweat from his forehead. ‘I packed most of the clothes in suitcases. They can all go to the Salvation Army. It’s stifling upstairs even with the windows open.’

Tate carried on jamming on thin air.

‘I’m glad this is a goddamn game to you two. There hasn’t been much packing going on in here.’ Tom motioned around the kitchen.

‘We only just started,’ Amy replied defensively. ‘We’ve been clearing the cupboards in the dining room.’

‘Get packing. We’re not here for a good time.’

Tate stopped playing guitar. ‘With you around that’s for sure.’

Tom turned and pointed a finger into Tate’s chest. ‘Maybe if you took things seriously and got down to some hard work for a change. All this hippy, dope smoking bullshit you’ve always pulled. Disappearing to California to be some rock star and what are you – some crappy sound engineer. How do you even make a living out of that?’

‘Oh, so I should’ve followed in your footsteps and become some Walter Mitty travelling salesman all around New York. That’s a better living – selling insurance. Least I’m true to myself.’

‘You’re full of shit.’

‘No, you are. Always telling people what to do.’

‘Let’s get back to packing.’ Amy tried to intervene.

‘Yes, let’s just pretend we’re one big happy family, Amy. Let’s keep up the fairy tale of this place and our family.’ Tom took a bottle of Coke out of the fridge, took a long drink then belched. Sweat trickled down his face.

‘Lay off her. She’s done more for Mom and Dad than both of us and you live closer. New York isn’t a million miles from the Cape.’

‘Oh, so you’re in the clear because you live in California. Distance doesn’t absolve you from responsibility.’

‘Let’s just drop this,’ Amy mumbled. She looked at the counter and noticed the Formica peeling away from the edge exposing the chipboard underneath.

‘No, let’s have this out.’ Tom stood like a mountain in front of them, immovable, implacable, just like when they played tag football as kids. He would never relent or play nice then either.

‘You’re never around. When was the last time you saw Mom? When did you last see Dad before the accident?’ Amy rounded on Tom.

‘Oh, here we go. We’re done with this place. We’re selling and I’m not going to listen to your pie-in-the-sky reasons for keeping it.’ Tom turned to walk out of the kitchen. ‘The sooner I can get the hell away from you two the better.’

Amy and Tate looked at each other in silence, eyebrows arched. The radio blasted from its tinny speakers Starship singing about how they built their city on rock and roll.

Amy shook her head and stepped out onto the patio. The slate was still warm under her bare feet. The sun-bleached pool cover bobbed forlornly at her. She dreaded to think what the water looked like covered over for as long as it had been. Their parents had given up on the pool three years ago but never drained it.

‘Hey.’ Tate stood next to her and handed her a beer. ‘Don’t listen to him. He’s an ass.’

Amy motioned to the house, lights glowing from all the windows. ‘This place could be something again. It could be a great summer place for the family.’

Tate nodded and sighed. ‘It could. It could also be great for a new family.’

‘You think we should sell too?’

Tate shrugged and took a swig of his beer. ‘I think we all had our time here and now it’s time to let someone else breathe new life into it or ‘sink their life savings into this money pit’, as Dad termed it.’

‘But he didn’t mean it.’

‘He kind of did. It’s an old beast, Amy. The plumbing, the heating, the septic tank, the kitchen – it all needs to get ripped out and redone. Dad knew but it’s a huge cost. That’s why he never did it. He wouldn’t want us to carry that burden. ’

‘Did he talk to you about all this?’

‘Sometimes. He would huff and puff about all the work the place needed but how he wanted to travel more, come out to California with Mom and visit for the winter. He talked about renting a place out there.’

‘I never knew that. I thought they loved it here.’

‘It’s changed a lot since they first moved down here – more tourists, more traffic, more noise. He wasn’t too hot on all the Brazilians moving up here, either. That stuck in his craw. He blamed them for me moving to Cali, if you can believe it. Like me not getting a summer job on the ferries because of Brazilian cheap labour was my reason for moving to the west coast.’ He motioned to the main road on the other side of the fence. ‘Listen to the traffic. It’s endless day and night during the summer.’

‘It’s a beautiful place, though. I’ve always thought that.’

‘It’s a last century idyll that’s being paved over by highways and malls. The New England charm is pretty faded if you really look at what the Cape is becoming.’

‘I always had this vision of lining the outside of the house with twinkling lights and sitting here on a summer night, a glass of wine, family, conversation.’

‘It’s a nice vision.’ Tate leaned into her. ‘But you know Dad would have hated twinkling lights.’

‘We don’t have to take Tom’s ranting decision as final. We’re all executors of the Trust.’

‘No, but we better get back in there and start packing up the kitchen. I just saw him glaring out the window at us.’

 

Amy opened her eyes and glanced at her watch – 7.18am.

Tom barrelled through the downstairs waking her where she was sleeping in the family room and Tate in the living room. ‘Wake up. I have coffee and donuts. We need to clean up and get ready for the realtors.’

She heard Tate swear as Tom turned on the radio full blast in the kitchen.

 

By mid-morning Amy and Tate had packed up endless books, CDs and photo albums and thrown out magazines and newspapers by the stack full while Tom showed the realtors around.

Tom’s voice boomed out extolling the virtues of a house he didn’t believe in.

Tate glanced at Amy. ‘It’s good we’re at least getting a realtor’s opinion and then we know what our options are.’

‘Typical salesman.’ Amy piled books into boxes wondering what would happen to them. She envisaged her barn back in Vermont reconstituted as her parents’ house; all their house contents accumulating until the space finally exploded at not being able to contain anymore.

‘Let him do what he’s good at – bullshitting. We can talk about it over dinner once we know more.’

 

Amy and Tate stopped off at the penny candy store after delivering boxes of clothes, books and saucepans to the local church. The penny candy store was a favourite place of their childhood. Hours had been spent picking out hot tamale cinnamon balls, Swedish fish, jaw breakers, salt water taffy, candy necklaces and more. The aroma of candy and cranberry scented candles and potpourri mixed with the new textile smell of Cape Cod sweatshirts and the old wood of the 1856 Country Store intoxicated Amy. ‘This place.’ She smiled as she breathed it in.

‘Let’s hit the sugar high.’ The unfinished wooden floorboards creaked as Tate headed to the back of the store where row after row of multi-coloured candy was displayed in old fashioned glass canisters. They grabbed wicker baskets and started picking.

 

When they returned Tom was sitting outside on the deck. Tate popped a Swedish fish in his mouth and murmured, ‘Busted.’

‘While you two have been gallivanting around I decided on a realtor. They’ll put up a sign on Monday.’

Amy dropped her brown bag of candy. ‘You have no right to do that. Call them back and tell them we haven’t reached a decision. It’s a decision for all of us, not just you. Not just the one person who doesn’t give a fuck about anybody.’ Amy picked up her bag of candy and threw a jaw breaker at him as she stormed inside. ‘Asshole.’

 

They grilled steaks on their father’s Weber grill for dinner. They all sat outside at the patio table and ate in silence.

‘Can’t beat a steak grilled on an outside grill.’ Tate tried to make conversation.

Amy smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes.

Tom dabbed a paper towel against his forehead. Amy wondered when he would have his first heart attack. Anyone that full of impotent ire was bound to drop one day. She wondered whether it would be behind the wheel the way their father had gone. She looked back down at her plate knowing the look on her face was filled with disdain and that he would call her on it if he caught it.

 

They spent the evening in different rooms packing what they could with the few empty boxes that remained. Amy had resolved to come down again in September when the air was cooler and pack the rest.

Tom appeared in the family room carrying a box. ‘I’ll go to the Salvation Army and drop this stuff off at the back door. It’ll save us going in the morning before we leave.’

‘I haven’t decided what I’m doing with some of this stuff,’ Amy said tersely.

He let the box he was holding thud into their father’s leather recliner. ‘We’re doing the right thing. This place is so out of the way now. It would be difficult for any of us to just drop what we’re doing and come down here to sort anything out. And Boston is getting worse to drive through.’

‘You’ve made the decision. Let’s just go with it.’

‘If we left the house empty for us to use and something went wrong we wouldn’t know who to call down here to fix it. If we rented it out, we’re all too far away to keep our eye on the place. I’m just trying to make a reasonable decision for all of us.’

‘I know.’ Amy picked up a mouldy Christmas wreath from where the logs for the fireplace were stored and stuck it in a trash bag.

‘And yet you’re still pissed off.’ Tom sighed.

‘I don’t have anything to go to the Salvation Army. You can go now.’

Tom heaved the box up. ‘You’ll thank me for this one day. With all the shitty decisions you’ve made in your life, I’ve saved you from one. You’re welcome.’

Amy whipped around to face him but he was already on his way out the door. Anger exploded in her chest and flashed into her brain. She picked up her father’s slipper that was tucked under the recliner and threw it at the door. It hit with a heavy thud and smacked onto the floor.

 

Early the next morning, as Tom silently packed his car with the few things he wanted to keep, Amy walked along the grass in the backyard; overgrown weeds poked through, brown in places, scorched from the sun and lack of water. Her father had diligently tended the grass. It had been a rich, dark green carpet, soft and tickly underneath bare feet.

Amy turned and looked back at the house. The fence, once stained grey to fit in with the Cape colour scheme, was now rough and weather beaten, cracked and splintered from too many freezing winters and blistering summers. The paint on the eaves of the house was split and peeling and in dire need of a sand down and fresh coat of white paint. She wondered when it had last been painted. She couldn’t get over the signs of age and wear that she had never noticed before. Now that the house was lifeless and devoid of her parents presence it was all she could see.

 

After their curt goodbyes, Tom’s car crunched resolutely out of the driveway and disappeared around the corner.

‘Well, that was a happy reunion!’ Tate half-laughed.

‘I wish it wasn’t like that.’

‘It’s his problem. He’s grumpy and unhappy and whatever. He always has been. Forget him.’

Amy looked back at the house, sealed up again, devoid of human care. ‘Are we doing the right thing?’

‘C’mon, let’s stop at the beach before you drop me off at the airport.’

Amy started the car and pulled away. She swallowed hard against tears. Now wasn’t the time. The house receded; the weeds waved her off.

They pulled into the parking lot at the beach. Tate hopped out and headed onto the sand. He plopped down, facing the sea, his back to her. Amy followed and sat down next to him. Seagulls squawked overhead, looming low, waiting for food.

‘The beaches are like this in Cali. You need to come out and visit me.’ He leaned into her in that conspiratorial way he had.

‘You’d get sick of me.’

‘Not my big sister. We’d have fun. We’d get drunk and get Cape Cod’s premier rock station from the 70s on the internet and sing all night.’

‘I’d like that.’

‘You’re it, you know.’

She looked at him quizzically.

‘You’re home now. Your place. Mom nearby. We’ll all come to you for holidays. We’ll even invite Tom and his family.’ He covered his mouth with his hand and said, ‘and hope they don’t come.’

‘You think?’

‘I know. Home is the people, not the house.’

Amy spotted two young parents with two young kids building a castle in the sand and laughing as one side disintegrated. It was their time now. For her, it was time to go home.

(4066 Words)

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Troy

This is a recent creative writing assignment – write a 2500 word short story. I am posting the original but have put it back to a work in progress to rework the ending.

Troy

‘I’ll get it, Mom.’ Dex called out as he loped down the stairs.

‘If it’s Grandpa send him out to the backyard to keep an eye on the barbecue.’ His mother called from the kitchen.

‘I said I’d do it.’

‘I don’t want you doing anything on your last day here.’

Dex opened the door and froze.

‘Hello…Jason.’

Dex felt his eyebrows tighten together, ‘What…why are you here?’

‘I bumped into Tom from next door. He said you were deploying tomorrow. I…’

‘You what? Decided now was a good time to show up and be a father? This is my third deployment. Where were you all the other times? High school? My first deployment, second deployment?’

‘I only just heard …you were in the army.’ His father looked down at the space between their feet.

‘What do you want?’ Dex held onto the door wondering whether to just shut it. ‘Because I don’t get it.’

‘I know I haven’t been here… It’s just, when I heard, I thought…’ his father dug in his coat pocket and brought out a small box, ‘I got this when I was in Vietnam. It’s…I kept it with me.’ He hesitantly handed it across the threshold to Dex.

Dex glanced down at it. ‘So this makes up for twenty four years of nothing?’

‘No…no…when I heard…I just wanted you to have it. The symbols are all Vietnamese power and luck symbols.’

‘Well, that’s just great…’ Dex pushed the box back into his father’s chest, ‘I don’t need your bad juju with me, old man.’

His mother came out of the kitchen, ‘Paul…’

‘He’s just leaving.’ Dex turned to his mother.

‘Why don’t you invite him in?’ his mother’s tone was firm.

‘Because this party is for my family.’

His father raised a tentative hand and kept his eyes to the ground, ‘Hi, Jeanie. Sorry to trouble you.’

‘Why don’t you stay for a glass of lemonade, Paul?’ Her tone was gentle.

Dex glared at her.

‘No, no, I’ll go.’ His father straightened himself up a little but still didn’t look at either of them. He walked down the porch steps and got into his car.

Dex shut the door and turned to go back upstairs but his mother’s look stopped him, ‘What?’

‘You could have invited him in for a drink before the others arrive.’

‘He’s never been there for me. I don’t know him. Why would I let him in now?’

‘Because he’s your father. Because it must have been hard for him to do what he just did. Because he’s been through what you’ve been through and you can see he didn’t come out of it very well.’

Dex shook his head and frowned, ‘I don’t want to hear it. I’m nothing like him and I never will be.’

*

White. That was all he saw. White, blurred. Two words. Did that mean he wasn’t dead? If he could see and think words? Where am I? He tried to move but his limbs wouldn’t respond. Maybe this is what being dead is. He moved his eyes right and saw more white, different shapes: blinds. He turned his head and pain seared his brain. Where was this place? Not home. His bedroom was blue. The thought of home added a layer of confusion. He hadn’t been home in a while. Where had he been?

‘It’s nice to see your eyes open.’

He looked left toward the voice. A woman in white headed toward him. Nurse. He opened his mouth but nothing came out.

‘I’ll get the doctor. He’ll go through everything with you.’ She smiled gently. ‘You’re a fighter.’

What did that mean?

She left before he could try to speak.

The nurse reappeared with a doctor who shone a small flashlight into his eyes. ‘Welcome back, Sergeant Dexter. What’s your first name?’

‘Water,’ he whispered hoarsely. His lips felt tight.

The nurse filled a cup and let him sip it through a straw.

‘Jason.’ He answered the doctor.

‘What year is it?’

Good question. ‘2005?’

‘Good. Can you remember what happened?’

He started to shake his head but stopped. Pain pressed against his temple. They were travelling on a road. The Humvee was packed full of equipment and soldiers. The vehicle in front of them suddenly disappeared in a cloud of dust and dirt. Sound and air vanished as the explosion tried to suck them into the vacuum, cloud enveloped them like a claw clutching at prey. Then there was white and now. ‘Yes,’ was all he answered.

‘Where is your hometown?’

‘Troy, New York.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Twenty-five. I can’t move my legs.’

He caught the look between the doctor and nurse. Alarm travelled up from his bowels to his brain.

The doctor motioned to the bandage on his head. ‘You’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury, a TBI. You’ve been unconscious for two weeks. Can you remember the accident?’

‘An IED. It got the Humvee in front of us then… I don’t know. How many guys…’

‘There were seven fatalities. All four in the front vehicle and three from your vehicle.’

‘I’m it?’ Dex said as the names of his squad hit his brain at once: Garcia, Jackson, Emerson, Sanders, Cooper, Chen, Rodriguez.

‘Along with the head injury you also sustained burns and a crush injury when the vehicle in front landed on your Humvee trapping your legs. Your right leg was broken. Your left leg took most of the impact. I’m sorry, Jason, but your leg couldn’t be repaired. We had to amputate to save you from bleeding out.’

Dex stared at the doctor trying to understand.  A sharp pain hit his brain and he closed his eyes against it all.

*

His mother leaned forward toward him and held onto his arm. He blinked and wondered if this was a dream but guessed not since she looked like her, not some ghoulish version of her, dead eyed and bloody faced his usual nightmares these days.

‘Dex.’

‘Hey, Mom.’ His voice was groggy and wooly from the painkillers.

She hung her head and her shoulders shook in silent sobs.

‘It’s okay, Mom.’

‘I’m sorry. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.’ She pulled a tissue from her pocket and wiped her nose.

‘Where am I?’ he fought against the drug tide trying to pull him back under.

‘Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda. You were in Landstuhl, Germany for the first ten days. When the swelling on your brain reduced enough they moved you here. I’ve talked to the doctors; they say when you’re even better they’ll transfer you up to the veterans hospital in Albany so you’ll be close to home.’

Dex nodded trying to take in the rush of her words. He felt himself relax a little knowing that at least he was back Stateside. He wouldn’t let his mind think about home.

‘Can I get you anything? Books, magazines? Your iPod was sent back with your belongings…’

He turned his hand towards her to try and stop the stream of her words making him dizzy. ‘I’m okay.’

‘Oh, Dex…’ she gripped his hand and a big tear plopped down onto his thumb.

*

Garcia, Jackson, Emerson, Sanders, Cooper, Chen, Rodriguez. There was too much time to think. His squad, his friends, his brothers occupied his mind now. What could he have done differently? Why was he still here?  Why didn’t anyone else make it? As soon as he saw the front vehicle hit the IED he knew Garcia, Jackson, Emerson and Sanders were gone, but Cooper, Chen and Rodriguez were with him. Why didn’t they make it? He hit the metal bars on the side of the bed in frustration. A few of the other guys on his ward glanced his way but then went back into their own worlds, mostly staring at nothing, watching TV or trying to ignore the pain of their injuries or missing limbs.

*

Dex looked down at the bed sheets covering him. He hadn’t looked yet, wasn’t ready to face it. He let out a deep breath and pulled back the sheets, exposing his legs. His right leg had a metal rod and six giant screws sticking out of it; his left was bandaged at the knee with nothing but space below it. His whole body felt woozy looking at it. There it was: the stump.

‘Hurts, don’t it?’

Dex looked at the guy in the bed opposite his. He was missing his left arm from the bicep and left leg from the thigh.

‘All them nerve endings knock knockin’ on that stump wantin’ to go somewhere but your leg’s lyin’ in a ditch in Tikrit or blown to smithereens scattered in the sand. Part a me’s just blowin’ all over that shithole, getting’ in people’s eyes, irritatin’ the shit outta everyone.’ He laughed at the irony of it.

Dex covered his legs and swallowed against the tingling nausea in his mouth. He leaned back into his pillow and stared at the ceiling.

*

Sand is everywhere. Plumes suddenly appear turning the world a hazy orange. Shapes appear from the dust cloud, soldiers with no faces march toward him but he knows it’s Garcia, Jackson, Emerson, Sanders, Cooper, Chen, and Rodriguez. Metal fragments rain down on his skin, piercing flesh, causing blooms of orange sand to explode before his eyes…

Pain jarred him awake. He reached over to rub his leg but his hand touched the mattress. He bit the inside of his cheek as he breathed through the throbbing in his leg that no longer existed. He held onto the rail of the bed until he could catch his breath.

*

The physio stood at the side of the bars, ‘Let’s go again. You’re getting the hang of it even with that broken leg. Not bad for eight weeks after the injury.’

Dex looked down the middle of the parallel bars, ten feet, it felt like a thousand. He looked down at his legs, one held together by metal, the other a plastic lump with a metal stick leg and a square foot, his temporary leg that was helping him learn to walk again.

‘You get the hang of this, you’ll be up in Albany within a couple of weeks, then home. Your legs are healing nicely and your new leg will be ready by the end of the week.’

Dex took a deep breath then dragged the metal leg forward one more time, sweat hitting his forehead.

*

The dreams that wake him in a sweat are of road patrols. He is packed into the Humvee with his squad. They are looking at each other and laughing but he can’t hear the joke. He speaks but they can’t hear him. He looks into their faces to try and get them to understand what he is saying but there is silence. He feels weighed down and slow. There is no sound. They are enveloped in the vacuum already. The flash that follows wakes him with a scream already out of his mouth. No one on his ward reacts. They all wake up that way. The adrenalin surging through him makes him hyper aware. He lies back and waits for his heartbeat to return to normal. He won’t sleep again for hours. He goes over the names of his team again, his mental rosary: Garcia, Jackson, Emerson, Sanders, Cooper, Chen, Rodriguez.

*

‘It’s not as hot up here as it is in Bethesda. There’s a nice breeze outside.’ His mother made small talk. ‘Does it feel good being back in New York?’

Dex shrugged as he put his stump sock on and gently put his leg into the metal leg.

‘Let’s take a walk, maybe have lunch outside.’

‘Outside the hospital?’ Dex tried to hide the anxiety that hit him every time he thought about going outside. Roads, open space, noise, baking sun. His head ached just thinking about it.

‘Just on a bench in the grounds.’ His mother put a hand on his back.

They made their way along the atrium where the white sun was streaming in through the glass roof. His head throbbed with the each step along the bright, hot light.

His mother kept him going until they reached the cooler air outside. ‘Mmm, nice breeze. We’ll find a place in the shade.’

She let him settle onto the bench, ‘I’ll get us some lunch and be back. You enjoy the fresh air.’

‘But Mom…’

‘I’ll be quick.’ She disappeared back into the hospital.

Dex looked at some of the other patients, walking carefully around the courtyard on new limbs or being pushed around in wheelchairs.

‘Do you mind if I sit?’

‘My m…’ he stopped staring out at the courtyard and turned his head toward the voice. His father was standing there, hands in the colourless windbreaker that he was wearing the last time Dex saw him. He felt a flash of anger at his mother.

His father sat down on the bench and looked at the ground. ‘Your mother thought…’

‘Yeah, I bet she did.’

‘I’m sorry, Jason.’

‘It’s Dex, nobody calls me Jason.’

‘Right. I’m sorry about your leg. I know…’

Dex turned sharply toward his father, an argument on his lips. He stopped and clenched his jaw instead. He recalled the words his mother used to describe his father when he had come back from Vietnam: siege mentality, walking wounded. He was those words now. His brain was always replaying the explosion and he was back there, not here. He dragged his damaged legs around. His father never had that problem. His father was whole apart from his brain and his slow speech.

‘I know a little of what you’re feeling. I hope you’re …getting help. It gets better…over the years.’

Dex nodded.

‘It’s hard to talk about…but it helps. The veteran groups…where there are people like you…us… helps.’

‘Is that where you go?’

‘Yes…talking to civilians…they don’t know…what it’s like.’ His father looked around at the other patients.

‘No, they don’t.’

‘It would have been hard when you were younger… to tell you things I’ve seen. You have to…be there to understand.’

Dex nodded again. What could he say? He knew now. All the things he wondered about his father while growing up, all the wanting to know what happened, now it was all inside him. Garcia, Jackson, Emerson, Sanders, Cooper, Chen, Rodriguez would always be inside him now.

His father’s hand moved out of his pocket and he set down the soapstone box that he had tried to give Dex before he left, ‘You should have this… you deserve it. The carving on the top is a phoenix. Big Vietnamese symbol.’

Dex glanced at the top of the box and recognized the phoenix as it expanded its newly formed wings and ascended away from the plumes of flame and smoke surrounding it. He felt his lungs constrict as tears sprang to his eyes. His chest clenched making him motionless. The first sob pushed its ragged way up and out of his throat. He doubled over and covered his face. He felt his father’s hand on his arm, supporting him. His metal leg knocked against his father’s leg and he felt his father’s tentative pat on his back. Dex buried his head in his hands and cried.

(2554 Words)

 

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Ahuvati – Screenplay Version

The assignment was to write this in spec script style:

[gview file=”https://lizculver.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/ahuvati-screenplay.pdf”%5D

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Ahuvati – Short Story Format

Photo from surf-israel.com

He was alone in the churning surf. A ship stacked with multi-coloured containers drifted on the horizon out in the Mediterranean. He caught a wave and cruised on it as far as it would take him before being dumped off the board into the water. This was his freedom; his place to submerge and forget.

He trudged out of the sea toward the beach and noticed a woman walking along the damp sand toward him. As they neared each other he felt his smile falter as he recognised her. His expression turned as ominous as the skies above them.

‘How are you?’ Eva asked. Her look was cautious. The wind whipped a strand free from her ponytail and she tucked it behind her ear.

Yair planted the surfboard in the sand with a thud. ‘How did you find me?’

‘I went to Tel Aviv first. Your father said to try the Haifa coast.’

He put a hand through his damp hair and breathed out a deep sigh. ‘Why are you here?’

She frowned at him. ‘I need your help.’

Yair shook his head and wiped away drops of sea water that clung to his face. ‘I can’t help you. I’m not Mossad anymore.’

‘You can never quit,’ Eva said quietly.

‘Oh, yeah?’ he grinned ironically. ‘I did, and so should you.’ He picked up his board and headed up the beach.

‘I’m calling it in.’ Her voice carried over the wind.

His back was to her when he stopped.  His shoulders sagged in defeat. ‘My debt to you,’ he said softly as a gust grabbed the words from his mouth. He turned and looked her in the eye. ‘I was hoping I’d never see you again.’

Did I mean that? He wondered as he continued up the beach and crossed the road to his house, a small, worn grey, sandstone with bars on all the windows. He sensed Eva behind him as he unzipped his wetsuit and took the house key from around his neck. He unlocked the front door and paused, wondering whether to tell her to go away. Instead he opened the door and stood back to let her in.

She glanced at him then stepped into the gloomy interior.

Yair moved past her. ‘I need to get changed.’ He motioned her into the living room then headed to the back of the house.

 

After changing into dry clothes he went into the kitchen and made coffee to buy himself some time before having to face her. The smell of freshly brewing coffee drifted through the house. He went into the living room and sat down across from Eva. ‘What?’

She took a deep breath and hesitated, looking unsure of how to start.

He leaned toward her and clasped his hands together. He tilted his head. ‘What do you need from me?’

‘I’ve been tasked with studying surveillance photos from CIA recon drones. There is a camp in northern Africa with escalated training activity. There is a western man I keep seeing in the photos…’ She knelt in front of him and reached for his hand. ‘It’s David, Yair. David is alive.’

The only sound in the house was the steam from the coffee machine escaping under pressure. He remembered the day David had died.

*

Yair was lying on his stomach next to David on a hilltop. He kept watch through his sniper scope at the encampment below. ‘I could do with a coffee right now.’ His voice was rough from lack of sleep and water. The sun was making its way up into the sky, burning a trail of mist and chill from the air.

‘Fresh brewed, extra strong,’ David replied. He was on camera duty, the long telephoto lens ready for action when the camp below woke.

‘Eva thinks today is the day. She has a feeling,’ Yair said.

David’s heavy gaze turned his way. Their eyes met and Yair quickly returned to looking through the scope.

‘Eva shares too much of her feelings,’ David said.

Yair left the comment hanging in the air.  The first rays of the sun climbed over the hill behind them and cast a yellow hue on the earth. An early heat haze shimmered in the distance.

They watched in silence as the camp started to wake. Men surfaced from their tents, stiff and stretching; guard duty changed over. They observed men loading heavy looking wooden crates into a truck. A man appeared from the largest tent and called over to two men to follow him to the truck before it left.

‘This is it, David.’ Yair checked the scope on his rifle. ‘Are you getting it?’

He heard the click of the safety being taken off a gun. David grabbed Yair’s sniper rifle away from him with one hand, the other pointing the Glock at Yair’s face.

‘Wha…’ Yair rolled onto his back, arms bent defensively in front of him, looking up at David.

‘Time’s up, Mossad. You took your eye off the ball while you fucked my wife. Neither of you were paying attention to the truth in front of your face.’

There was a whistle from the camp and David raised the rifle in acknowledgement. ‘Gotta go. I’m sick of sitting on my hands waiting for the CIA to make a decision. Do you know how much these boys pay their contracted-in military advisers?’ David raised his eyebrows. ‘A lot.’

All Yair could see was the barrel of the gun. This would be the last thing he saw, perfectly rounded iron with a metal jacket bullet about to slam into his forehead. His stomach clenched as he tensed, waiting.

He heard the muted sound of gunshot as David jerked and stumbled down the hillside. Yair scrambled to his knees and reached for his sidearm at the same time. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Eva rush for the brow of the hill, gun with silencer attached, in hand.

Yair shook his head as adrenaline surged around his body. His chest constricted as he fought to breathe.

Eva dropped to the ground beside him and looked out at the camp. ‘They’re coming. We need to go. Now.’ She tugged at his arm and started back down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill Yair grabbed her arm and turned her toward him. They held each other’s gaze. Tears were streaming down her face and her expression was clouded. ‘I heard it all on the comms as I was coming up the hill. Langley suspected he might be turning.’

‘You… knew…’

‘I couldn’t say anything to you. You’re Mossad. This is a CIA problem.’ She turned away from him.

‘You knew this was coming and let me walk into it?’ Yair stepped in front of her so she would have to look at him.

‘We need to get back to camp.’

‘But us, Eva? What does this say about us?’

She kept moving toward the jeep. ‘I had your back. One day you’ll have mine. There’s no time for this now.’

*

‘Are you sure it’s him?’

‘We never had confirmation he was dead. I know his face.’

Yair kept hold of her hand and looked out the window.  The swell kicked up white frothy waves against the dark grey sea. He closed his eyes, ‘You didn’t trust me enough then…’

‘It’s what we have to do now that matters. We have to go back and end it.’

‘It’s not our fight anymore.’

‘I listen to the satellite audio feed they pick up from the camps. He knows I’m still out there tracking him. He sings the line from Evita, Eva Beware of the City. It’s a warning. He will come for us. CIA won’t even admit he’s alive. You’re the only one who can help me.’

Yair shook his head as an old memory from that time filtered back to him.

*

She’d been lying on her stomach next to him, their legs entwined, mouths close. There was only a sliver of moon casting light through the tent flap. Her fingers were in his hair. ‘I never want this to end.’

‘Ahuvati,’ he whispered and kissed her mouth.

‘Translate.’ He could hear the smile in her voice.

‘You are my love.’

*

 

He studied her face for the first time since she’d appeared on the beach. Her expression was tight and weary. The smile in her voice long gone. He felt himself soften a little toward her. She was scared. She must be to run to him all the way from America. It had been over a year.

He had refused to see her again after the incident with David on the hill. She didn’t object. The fist of betrayal had hit them all. His skin felt icy every time he thought about the triangle of duplicity that ran between the three of them and how Eva had kept secrets about David from him. It was an ugly mess that everyone wanted to bury from the top of the CIA all the way down to Eva and him.

‘You should send someone else in. Don’t go back.’

‘He will come for us, Yair.’ She gripped his hand tighter. ‘You know he wants to settle the score. Comms chatter says they’re getting ready to move. That means David could disappear from Africa and then he could turn up anywhere.’

Ahuvati, he thought as he looked into her worried eyes and he knew what he would do for her, for them.

The waves pounded the rocks outside on the beach. The storm was coming.

(1594 words)

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8 Seconds

**This story is from my final assignment for the OU A215 course.**

Eight seconds, that’s all it would take, then he’d be done for the day.

Wade hung his head over the small stainless steel sink and tried to breathe. He’d be up soon, out there in the ring again for the first time since the accident.

Nerves clenched his gut. He heaved but only water came up. He couldn’t eat anything this morning. The thought of coffee made his stomach churn in rebellion. He splashed some water on his face then spit to clear the acidy taste of puke from his mouth.

There was a knock on his trailer door, ‘Broncs up next, WJ.’

The thought of Lucy hit his brain just then. It used to be her at the door. She had been there for his last rodeo. She was gone now. He shook his head as if it would shake her out. He wouldn’t let himself think about her very often. Losing her made time seem like a Montana blizzard, endless and harsh.

He looked at himself in the mirror. His tan skin looked sallow today. His brown eyes had lost the happiness women always commented on when he was younger – ‘That Wade is a happy one, smiles right up to his eyebrows.’ And it had been true.

He checked that his chaps were strapped tight around his jeans. When he had decided to return to the circuit, his father had presented him with a new pair of chaps with the same pattern his family always wore at roundups and rodeos – three circles of intertwined turquoise colour leather and silver on brown leather with fringe trimming down the sides and bottom. His last pair of chaps had been cut off of his body.

He strapped on the body protector given to him by his mother. She had campaigned for him to wear a helmet when riding bucking broncos but nobody did. Helmets were for bull riding, and his bull riding days were over. He decided bronc riding would be his first competition back on the circuit.

Wade put on his tan cowboy hat and took a deep breath. He grabbed his gear and stepped out of his trailer, greeted by a milky June sun. Daytime temperatures were on the rise, but night time cooled off sharply. There was still snow on the high caps of the Rockies visible from their ranch.

‘Hey, WJ.’

‘Good luck, WJ.’

He held up a few fingers in acknowledgement at the well-wishers but concentrated on the ground in front of him, trying to shut out the crowd.

The smell of barbecue hit his nose and made his stomach grumble, despite his nerves. He smiled a little at the memory of last June when he’d met Lucy on the circuit.

She was an Equine Management major at the University of New Hampshire and spending a year interning in Montana for Masons, a stock farm that supplied horses for rodeo riders who didn’t have their own rides. His horse had gone down with a tendon problem, and he’d gone to Masons for a loan horse.

When he’d met Lucy she’d been eating sticky ribs and her mouth was covered with dark barbecue sauce.

‘You got a little…’ Wade had motioned around his face, ‘sauce thing goin’ on.’

She grinned wickedly and ripped off a piece of rib meat before dropping the bone back in the Styrofoam box. ‘I haven’t eaten all day, and this stuff is just heaven. You can’t get any barbecue like this back East.’

Her East Coast accent sounded out of place in the Midwest. He didn’t know of any East Coasters on the Montana circuit.

‘I’d shake your hand, but you’d be covered in sauce.’ She raised an eyebrow at him, ‘then I’d be tempted to lick it off.’

He felt his face turn red at the thought. Girls on the circuit flirted with him, but it sounded different coming from Lucy. Nearly innocent, but he wasn’t sure if he saw something in her eye that said otherwise. She dressed differently too, English style riding boots with shorts and a t-shirt, nothing western. Everything about her seemed exotic.

She led the loan horse out of the trailer. ‘Be a good boy for…’ she turned toward him waiting for his name.

His brain fumbled. Everybody on the circuit knew who he was.

She stuck her now clean hand out to him, ‘I’m Lucy.’

‘Wade. WJ.’ Everyone on the circuit called him WJ, only his family used his first name. Lucy called him Wade from the beginning.

‘Ah,’ she nodded in recognition of the name, ‘WJ Nolan, the Real Deal.’

He shook his head in embarrassment.

‘That’s what they call you, right, the Real Deal?’

She was right. You could hear people say it all over the circuit. He was the most promising bull rider in Montana. He had had the best record of rides the previous summer in the whole of the North West. Everyone knew he’d be headed to Vegas for the winter to compete at the national finals and that meant big money. He could have been a millionaire at the age of nineteen. Then the accident happened.

 

They soon became inseparable, and he forgot about time when she was around. He did his stint before and after his bull ride, helping the other riders get in to the chute, getting the next bulls ready, and then he’d take a break. Lucy was always out tending a horse when he walked past Mason’s trailer, so he’d stop and say hi.

It wasn’t long before she started taking her break after his rides, and they’d end up in his trailer.

Lucy discovered a place on his neck just behind his ear. When she put her mouth on it, he felt time freeze as if his heart had stopped. It was like living and dying all at the same time. The thrill hit him from his chest down to his groin. It was a better buzz than bull riding.

After she was gone, he would catch himself absently rubbing the spot. It made his heart sink, and he missed her all over again.

*

Wade nodded to the other bronc riders standing around waiting for their turn. He hauled himself up onto the platform and forced himself to look out at the ring. Fear prickled down his back but he ignored it.

The concept was simple, stay on the bull or bronc for eight seconds; the execution wasn’t so easy. He watched as a rider was just falling to the ground and rolling away from the horse. Plumes of dust rose from the heels of the horse bucking away to the other side of the ring. That was one reason he chose broncs over bulls. Horses ran from you; bulls ran toward you.

It was the first rodeo of the season, and the stands were full of families. Red, white and blue bunting lined the perimeter of the ring. People were cheering and kids were eating pink cotton candy clouds. He scanned the crowd for his parents but couldn’t pick them out.

One of the rodeo men nodded to him, ‘Hey, WJ, you’re fifth up now. Can you give me a hand with a couple of these broncs?’

Just like that he was back in it as if he’d never been away, never had a six month recovery, never been told by the doctors he shouldn’t compete again, never lost Lucy.

Wade saddled his horse and climbed the grey metal gates again to ready himself for his ride. He slid along the railings getting closer to the bronc chute and his turn. He climbed in to the chute on top of his ride, a black horse called Bullet. The horse jittered underneath him, muscles rippling with energy. The desire to lose Wade from his back felt more urgent than Wade’s desire to stay on for eight seconds.

‘Welcome back, WJ.’ A rodeo hand patted his back, as two others leaned over the railings to steady Bullet.

He looked out at the crowd, now just round faces with no features. The emcee announced his name, adding it was his first time in the bronc competition. The unspoken left hanging in the air after the announcer’s voice died away. His first time in the bronc competition because he was too shit scared to get back on a bull. The horse jolted sharply, and the image of the last bull he rode flashed in his mind.

*

Negro Diablo was a 1700 pound bull pissed off at being stuck in a chute with a 180 pound moron on his back. Wade would never forget the black devil.

Its menacing bulk shifted forward and back in the chute. The gate flew open. Wade lasted 3.2 seconds before he started to fall. His hand became hung up in the rope holding the bull, and he couldn’t get it to release. The bull charged around the arena dragging Wade alongside. A metal railing closed in on him and his body slammed in to it. The force of the bull’s fury lifted him in the air.

The last thing he remembered was his head colliding with the bull’s head. Pain ricocheted around his brain and he lost consciousness. If he hadn’t been wearing a helmet he would have been dead. He’d seen the YouTube video of it. The wreck lasted 43 seconds. He had looked like a rag doll after the head injury. The force of the bucking bull yanked Wade’s hand free from the rope, jettisoned him over the bull’s back and then to the ground. The bull fighters rushed toward the centre of the arena but not before the bull twisted back toward Wade, stamped on his chest and then tripped over landing on him.

When he arrived at the hospital his brain was swollen, he’d dislocated a shoulder, and had broken ribs, one of which had punctured a lung. The weight of the bull had bruised his pelvis and broken an arm. All anyone could do was wait and see how damaged his brain was, or if he’d regain consciousness at all.

Lucy had refused to leave his bedside. Everyone gave in and let her stay. If Wade had been awake he would have told them all how headstrong she was. She didn’t succeed in the Midwest as a newcomer being a shrinking violet.

Hers was the first face he saw when he regained consciousness three days later.

‘That was a wreck,’ he’d croaked.

Lucy hung her head and cried.

*

Wade closed his eyes and shook the memory from his head. He glanced at one of the rodeo hands and nodded as he raised his hand to signal he was ready.

The chute flew open. He held the rope tight as Bullet bucked him high in the air. His ass crashed down on the saddle when he landed, only to be tossed up high again as Bullet kicked his back legs up in the air. The third time he landed hard, he felt himself slide sideways on the saddle and lose his grip. Wade crashed to the ground, putting his hands over his face and head, as he kept an eye on Bullet who was moving away from his prone body. He didn’t waste any time getting to his feet and moving toward the gate. Three rodeo hands were there beside him to see if he was injured. Everyone remembered what he had looked like in the ring eight months ago.

He looked up at the time board – 5.3 seconds.

‘Take a breather,’ one of the rodeo hands said to him.

Wade nodded and walked into the holding area where they kept the livestock in pens. He didn’t want to go back to his trailer yet. He knew his parents would be there waiting for him. He wandered down the alley between the pens where the bulls were. He looked around for Negro Diablo and thought he saw him in a pen in the next alley.

5.3 seconds, he could take that time for the first ride of the season. He was a rough bronc rider despite helping break horses on the ranch. Being a lighter touch with an unbroken horse was different from riding a bronc horse trained to buck.

He wondered if Lucy was training horses right this minute. She didn’t like him saying he was breaking a horse. She preferred the term gentling or joining in. Their terms were different but their approach was the same – get the horse to follow you, to trust you. She had worked with a colt for his father two months after the accident. Wade had been there on the side lines itching to be the one in the ring, to be back in action on the ranch. Everyone had treated him like he needed gentling. He wasn’t broken.

Lucy and his mother had watched him like a hawk. Every time he went outside one of them would be on his heels making sure he wasn’t going for a ride or trying to help with any of the heavy lifting, like cleaning out the cow sheds or hauling bales of hay.

He snapped one day when they’d both appeared at the barn door to check up on him. He turned on them, ‘Leave me the fuck alone! I just need some goddamn air.’ He had wrenched a halter off the wall and thrown it at them. They had retreated.

After that he froze Lucy out. In the back of his mind he knew his time with her was coming to an end. She was going back to New Hampshire in April to finish her third year by writing a dissertation on what she had learned working for a horse contractor. It was mid-February. He did the maths. She was going back home, back to her life. There wasn’t a place back East for a rodeo cowboy who worked on his daddy’s ranch.

He recalled the last words he’d said to her, ‘Just go. All your good time fun this summer was just shit. I don’t want you around anymore. Stop crowding me like I’m some cripple you need to take care of.’

He watched tears hit her eyes, but she blinked them away. ‘Wade…’

‘Don’t ‘Wade’ me. Just go, get.’ He had sent her away like a shamed dog.

And she’d gone. She was like a horse in that way, lose the trust and lose the horse. He had been spending the last few weeks eroding away her trust in him. He thought it would make the break easier.

His last words had trampled their seven months together in less than a minute, a wreck worthy of any brutish bull. There were three dark blotches where her tears had soaked into the barn floor. He clenched his jaw and refused to add to them.

*

He eyed Negro Diablo in the pen and frowned. A lot can happen in eight seconds, he thought, crushed by a bull, or words spoken that can never be taken back, hurt carved into a person as real as any physical injury.

Wade dropped his saddle and took the phone out of his bag.

He pressed the phone icon then her name.

It rang on the other end and she answered. Two seconds.

‘Hey.’

‘Wade.’

‘I’m sorry…’ Four seconds.

‘I’m here, Wade. Your mother invited me out to see your first ride back. I’m outside your trailer.’ Six seconds.

His smile reached past his ears making his eyes crease for the first time in months. He ran. He wasn’t wasting any more time. Eight seconds.

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