Chien-Yu Kuo + Stuart Young

BMW

BMW

The BMW crunched on the gravel drive like ski boots on fresh powder. The gauge showed the diesel tank was nearly empty. The driver flipped down the mirror, checking his balding pate. He tried to push his hair over his scalp strategically, and then gave it up as a lost cause. Making a mental note to visit a garage, he jumped out. Remembering the bottle of Merlot in the back seat, he grabbed it and double-locked the car with a pip-pip.

“John!”

A voice and a smile from the doorway. He suddenly felt far younger than fifty. Like an awkward schoolboy, he gave her a gawky smile.

“Don’t stand out there in the cold. And me in my nightie and all”.

The voice wore a white cotton gown. Its name was Louise. She had greying hair and a knowledgeable aura. John walked towards her and kissed her on the cheek. She closed the door.

“Good day?” The question was banal and commonplace but the intention fond and honest.

“Not at all. We lost the bid and our stock dropped half a point. But it’s over and that doesn’t matter now.”

“You’re not upset?”

“I am. It took a bloody month to write that proposal. I was furious. But I counted my blessings – tallied them up on a post-it note – my health – being OK for money – the existence of certain branded products – you.”

“I was on your list? It’s nice to know I can trade blows with Reggae Reggae Sauce.” She gave him a smile.

“Would you like some wine?”

“Yes, yes I would.” Louise stood on tiptoe a little and kissed him on the cheek. “It’s thoughtful of you.” She went into the kitchen, and rummaged in a drawer for the corkscrew. He took his shoes off, left them neatly on the mat, and hung his jacket on the coat rack. She had found glasses and was pouring.

They took a few sips. Louise put her glass down. She took hold of John’s hand. He leaned in and kissed her. She put her glass down in one movement and ran her hand up the back of his shirt. The smooth cotton crumpled around her fingers. She touched the notches of his spine, and a sharp shiver of sensation held him in the moment. He felt the blood flow to his penis.

She pulled away, and disappointed him momentarily. Then she was pulling him up, leading him by the hand, and they climbed the stairs. They paused for another kiss on the middle step. Louise lay on the bed, and then pulled him down next to her. She stroked the back of his thigh. He went taut.

“Relax.”

Louise let go and looked intently in his eyes. She let her hands wilt over his shoulders like petals. They lay for a few moments, and then she kissed him again and unzipped his trousers.

“Hello Mr. Thomas.”

She undressed herself and unbuttoned his shirt. He removed the rest of his clothes, quickly, and, turning back, found her holding a condom. She slid it over his penis, rubbed the shaft gently, and then guided him in.

***

“Are you…” John lay back in the darkness. “Are you busy later?”

“I can cancel” Louise said, quickly.

“No, no, there’s no need.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“No, there’s no need. I need to get going. I …I was meant to meet David for a drink.”

He dressed quickly, found his jacket, shoes and keys, and left a handful of neatly folded notes in the bowl by the door.

New Green Leaf

New Green Leaf

It was a summer where the classroom was a prison and every lunch-break was an hour of the infinite. We were the New Green Leaf, an organisation, a club, a movement, a nation state unto ourselves. We convened in the wood bordering the school, a forest only we had ever explored, a region of danger and rebellion pupils were forbidden to visit unsupervised. We escaped through a hole in the chain-link fence.

Our den was hidden from the path. It was so perfectly like the forest that ignorant eyes might fail to see a human construction at all. Without hammers, planks, or any of the other useful items children in fiction find themselves in possession of, we balanced groups of sticks on tree branches. To turn them into walls, we tried to weave long willow leaves between them in imitation of a documentary we had once seen in class. The leaves fell out, but we did not care. With our dirty fingers, we pulled the twigs and mulch away to form a soily floor.

We were fiercely moral. We possessed non-specific ecological principles. We loved all the creatures in the world; we were pagan-atheists. When we found a dead bird or a shrivelled mouse carcass, we would lift it carefully using twigs – we had all been told about germs – and take the body to the patch of ground inside our headquarters. Here we would take drawing pins stolen from school or sharp sticks of wood, whittled to a point on stones and tree trunks, and pin the creature down.

We wanted to return it to the earth. In our presence, we, the guardians of the forest, the process of decay would be enhanced and concentrated, and the soil renewed with the offering. This is the most accurate description I can give of what we believed.

The tramp was a shock to us at first, but over the course of that lunch hour we came to realise he was simply a larger creature from the forest. He was tattooed, scrawny and coated with clothes. He was covered with human relics; metal teeth, an old ear stud, worn loafers. But, like us he was a subject of the earth, and when we discovered the corpse, we soon realised what was required of us.

The next day, we searched the school grounds for objects large enough. We found; a large shard of broken glass from a smashed window in the shrubbery outside 2C; a fence post, knocked out of the ground by someone’s clumsiness in the “gardens”, the neat grey allotments that each class was encouraged to cultivate together; a thin, rusted iron tent peg at the back of the boiler room; and a bamboo cane that was rejected on grounds of insufficient strength. A corner of a broken concrete slab out on the football field was pulled loose and deemed appropriate.

We did not want to rush, so we spent the next day moving the body, and the day following trying to sharpen our tools. Only on the third day was the tramp posed like vitruvian man and each object driven into his limbs. It was hard work. The glass went in easily up to a point, but it was difficult to drive it further. Eventually it exited the other side of the ankle and bit into the ground. The tent peg was the easiest; it could be safely pounded in with a large rock. The fence post was too large, but a sharpened branch pierced the foot easily. The concrete only smashed and bloodied the left hand. A stick was used where a red hole had formed.

We spent a panicked half-hour hiding in the toilets at the end of that lunch, barring the door, and washing away the blood. Then we returned to class.

When the body was found, parents and teachers shielded the children. Still, we heard the furtive whispers in the corridors, snatched glances at newspaper headlines and observed the awkward silences when the woods were mentioned to an adult. Two teachers were posted at the entrance each lunchtime until the police left, case unsolved.

Guilt and nausea matured, like the slow smell of decomposition, and we returned to our den only a few times. Even when we did, that final offering was never mentioned, although it seemed to linger in the periphery of our vision, and I developed a horrible, fuzzy notion that something irreparable had occurred.