Blinding Lights

A neon red light buzzes and flickers in a room that’s too small to be a walk-in closet. Click. Red is drowned out by a strobe of white. Shit, my eyes! Oh, sorry. Men are cramped in the room, surrounding a bed covered with a blue sheet; a woman lays there naked from the waist up. Her face is a delicate oval with skin of light brown caramel. Strands of shoulder-length hair that’s black as her dilated pupils fall to her sides disheveled. Her face carries a smile that’s starting to give the faintest hint of a grin. I hate it when they do that. Do what? Smile. Fucking rigor mortis. Click. A glassy stare shines like two lonely stars for a second before going dark again. There’s a small gaping hole at the center of her forehead surrounded by a purple bruise. Under her head, a dark red stain has spread and soaked over the blue sheets. Poor girl got a .38 kiss, not even two hours ago, judging from the body. Third one this week. Someone had lit a cigarette, mingling the stench of smoke, blood and a tinge of burnt flesh. Click. White over red, red over blue. Click, click, click. Someone call the body movers, sending a live one for cold storage; she’s beginning to stink.

Sweat trickles down your chest, your body crying in fear. Run, run! Satan’s hell hounds are not far behind, looking for your blood. You feel the gun’s warmth on your hand. Another sinner cast out. But now they’re on to you. You’re out of breath. Stop, police! Out of time. Drop the gun, drop it, man! Do it now! You raise your divine instrument, you shall not go to your just reward meekly. Oh shit, fire! Flashes of light tear your body, then darkness.

Yeah, man, shit went down! I was walking on 5th when across the street a group of cops were chasing some guy inna trench coat, right? Ok, good. Yeah, they cornered the poor fucker, but instead of giving it up, the guy starting talking shit. Sumthing about God and shit, crazy talk, y’know? The pigs were shouting at him like crazy too, drop the gun, lay on the ground, all that bullshit. But he didn’t listen, cool as ice, he raises the gun. Was he gonna shoot at them? Fuck do I know? Shit. Anyhow, it was all over in a blink, man. Bam, bam, bam, lights out. Dead fucker’s on the floor leaking all over, prolly shat himself too. Cousin told me dead people do that, shit themselves. But yeah, after that cops were all like show’s over, move along. Fuck’em. Now I’m walking down the street, rain’s starting to fall over, everything’s getting wet and dirty, I had to deliver some fine Colombian flour, ya follow? Nah, you can’t have any from my stash. Anyways, shut up…where was I? Ah, yah, so I was minding my own bidness when vroooom! One inch, motherfucker. Car almost ran me over, blinded me with his fucking headlights. Jesus…I tell you, fuck this town. Pass the chips.

Waiting

We’ve been sitting here for hours and hours. A man dressed in white pushed another man in a wheelchair, all bandaged and had blood everywhere, he looked scared. I don’t like hospitals. It’s all cold, boring, smells funny, nose itches. Gran’m looks down at me, smiling. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” She smells nice.

“Yes!” She always carries grape gumdrops, m’favorite. She’s making an upset face, uh-oh, I almost forgot. “Please?”

She smiles again and pulls up her big purple purse. She puts her hand in, and comes out with two gumdrops! “Thank you, Gran’m!”

A lady dressed in white goes to where we are, she seems to be tired. “Mrs. Henderson?” She looks down at me and smiles, I smile back. She seems nice.

“Yes? Is my daughter still in surgery?” Mom fell from the stairs this morning. I was playing out on the garden when mom screamed. Gran’m said it had been an accident.

The lady doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out, recovering in the ICU, but there were complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private.”

Gran’m squeezes my hand a bit too tight. “Oh God…”

“Is mom alright?”

The lady doctor smiles again. “Your mom is resting right now, but you’ll be able to see her soon enough. Right now I have to speak a bit with your grandma, is that alright, James?” She smiles like mom, but her hair is blond. Mom’s is black.

“Uh-huh.”

She turns to look at Gran’m, but she’s not smiling anymore. She should sleep. “If you could follow me, Mrs. Henderson, it’ll be just a minute.”

“Wait…wait for me here, dearie. I’ll be back in a minute, ok?”

“M’kay, Gran’m!”

***

Dolores Henderson was not a bad person, at least she hoped she wasn’t, according to how she had lived her life up to this day. There were certainly mistakes that she had made along the way, nobody was perfect. Maybe, maybe even one or two that would be judged harshly if people knew, but then it wasn’t nobody else’s business. It was an accident, plain and simple, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. She would never hurt her daughter. Not once did she ever spank her whenever she got in trouble, though more than once she sent her without supper to her room. She only meant to grab ahold of her daughter’s arm, she was walking away angrily, but the staircase… It was an accident.

St. Reuben’s Hospital has that strong ethanol smell that she can barely tolerate, and they’ve been waiting for close to two hours, with poor little James confused, probably scared, especially after seeing the man in the wheelchair -covered from head to toe in blood, no less! Some candy will probably make him feel a bit better, something to distract him. “They’ll probably call us any minute now. Do you want a piece of candy, dear?” The last time she was here was when Herman died of cancer, five years ago, she wasn’t keen on hospitals in general.

The little boy’s eyes light up and looks up at her. “Yes!” Please and thank you were sacred staples in her house, of course she raised her daughter with them. Dolores frowned down on James, she was in no mood for discourtesy. “Please?”

After giving him the gumdrops (“Thank you, Gran’m!”) Dolores saw a young woman, a doctor in her white robe, exit the ER, when she saw them the doctor started to walk towards them. Finally, some answers.

“Mrs. Henderson?” Dolores catches her weary expression, those long hospital shifts, but the doctor still manages to smile at James. Maybe things went well in the operating table.

“Yes? Is there any word on my daughter? Is she still in surgery?” Dolores’s looks at the doctor’s face trying to look for an answer in her expression.

The doctor shakes her head. “No, she’s out and is recovering in the ICU, but, there were…complications. I’d like to speak with you, in private, if possible.”

“Oh God…”

Snow In Shibuya

The cup warmed Christobella’s hands as she took a sip, her favorite brand of green tea comforted her. It had snowed yesterday, but the streets of Shibuya were already cleared up to let traffic flow at its regular pace. The lights of a nearby building advertised a new video game. A young Japanese woman, probably in her late teens, was dancing, dressed in a school uniform -skirt above the knee, no less-, brandishing what appeared to be a pink AK-47. “Happy lucky adventure, yes, yes!” The young woman’s voice was chipper and high-pitched, a cute doll wrapped in plastic. Decades of living here and she could still be surprised, or at least amused. Japan, never a dull moment. She smiled at the young woman, now fighting what appeared to be a three-headed dragon. Another sip from her tea. Was the woman Hanzo slept with a school girl? She did look rather young when he saw them walking out of the love hotel one evening she was returning from her academy. She set down the cup, having lost her appetite.

Her father had also chased after some young skirt back in Rome, while her mother feigned ignorance. Vittoria, you fool. Something tightened inside Chris’s chest as soon as she thought of her mother. The telltale prickling sensation behind her eyes made her reach to rub them, but it was too late: she blinked and down rolled a fat tear over soft olive skin.

They had phoned her all the way from Italy, she had no idea how they got her home number. Her mother had died suddenly, just two days ago, from a heart attack. She was 73. Twenty more years of life than her bastard father. She still pondered, out of boredom nowadays, really, how different things would have been if signore Yoshimura had been her father instead. Not only did the older gentleman, back then in his early 60s, taught her how to play the violin, but filled her head with wondrous stories about his country to the point that she dreamed of going to Japan. He had died three years after she left for Japan, it was the only time she had considered returning to Italy. She would make the time to pay her respects at his shrine on his old home back in Rome.

“Chris?” Hanzo had walked into the living room entrance and was standing there, shifting slightly from left to right. His voice was soft, almost tender. Of course he knew about her mother. She had several flights to catch tomorrow to Italy, to attend the funeral -her relatives could hold it off for a day, two tops, but their divorce papers still had to be signed. “Do you need anything for tomorrow? I can have Satsune drive you to the airport.” He was not quite looking her way.

It had been her who filed for a divorce. Chris made no excuses for her father when mother told her about his infidelity, two years after his death; she would not make them for Hanzo. That was that. They had settled terms quickly: she would receive a very generous alimony payment each month, he would keep the apartment. He could afford it, seeing how he practically owned half of Shibuya’s buildings already. “Don’t bother. I’ll call a cab.” The man who had been her husband for the past fifteen years nodded, standing there like an actor who just forgot his lines, then simply left without another word. Good, she needed to start packing. It would be a very long day tomorrow.

Memory Of A Tune

A valley of desire runs long and untended between trembling thighs.
Carry my wishes to them with the breath of a unrepentant kiss,
then, maybe, I shall swallow your little gasps; pizzicato notes on our merry old symphony.
Oh, how this smirk -is it yours or mine?- flickers our lovers’ delight.
I’ll be sure to whisper your name, so please, spare a thought for my lonesome;
one day I’ll be sure to remember it.

Coming and Going

We were out on the porch enjoying the Summer twilight, under its pink horizon. The air was a bit muggy, but we kept ourselves cool with some cold Heinekens, listening to crickets serenade us. Out of the blue, Masdall gave out a long sigh while staring at the sky. He sounded like a balloon being deflated. “What’s wrong, Mas?” 
 
“Well…”, he bit his lower lip like he did whenever he was feeling nervous or just a bit too shy around people, “…y’know how I love getting hugs from you? I mean a good squeeze.” 
“Love you too, babe, but I’m too comfy on my chair right now to get up.” I reached out from my chair and tousled those grey locks of his. He didn’t move, but kept looking at the horizon as it slowly turned dark.
“Ah, forget about it. Just being silly.” He took a long sip from his can without turning to look at me. Guess he was being serious.
I grabbed his hand and looked at him, “Can’t. Got an elephant’s memory, or so my mom used to tell me.”
This time he turned to look at me, giving out a small timid smile, like he was asking not to be put on the spotlight. “Ah shit, Cass…I grab a Heine or two and just get all nostalgic. I’m just talking out of my ass. Making too much hoo-ha out of nothing!”He started to scratch the back of his head, looking at his feet. Whatever it was, Masdall was having a hard time getting it out there. 
I gave him a look that pretty much said I wasn’t dropping it. Masdall swallowed twice, running fingers across that gray mane of his. It really needed a haircut. “Ok, ok. Fine, geez! Don’t have to give me such a dirty look…” He gave a low whistle. “Well, I just remembered how I didn’t get much affection back when I was livin’ with my folks. At all, to be honest.”

Childhood talk wasn’t taboo between us, but it rarely came up. This took me by surprise: Masdall was never really eager to talk about his family. “I think you mentioned it once, long ago, but…I didn’t want to force that talk.”
 
“S’alright. I know I can be a bit of a clam and keep shut all day. Yeah, I didn’t get much in the way of affection until I met you.” He squeezed my hand.
“Aw, I’m sure someone gave you some lovin’ before I came along.”
Masdall shrugged, “Not from my parents. Nor anyone that stayed with me for long. You really changed things.”
“Hopefully for the better. I’d hate to be the gal that turned you into an old bitter lemon.”

He bent forward laughing a bit. “It’s not too late for that! But all kidding aside…I wasn’t good with showing affection. You helped me overcome that. One hug at a time, and the rest followed.”
 
“You’re welcome, hon.”
 
“Though…”, there was the slightest crack in his voice, “…I sometimes feel…my heart aching some when you hug me. But only sometimes. Makes me think of them years back with the folks and how I never…”, and like that he dropped his voice.
 
I squeezed his hand softly in silence. The stars were already twinkling on the dark horizon. Somewhere in the distance, a truck passed by. A song was playing loudly on its radio. I thought I could recognize it, but then it was gone into the night.

Vanessa & Lucia

Vanessa strides towards the center of the stage, a lone shimmering spotlight follows her faithfully as if to a wedding. The soles of her knee-high, red leather boots echo loudly over old floorboards; the public is silent in the darkness of the cabaret. She is wearing a very short, black ruffle dress, tied with a red sash across her waist. Vanessa has never been a petite nor lithe woman, a fact she has always been proud of.

She can barely make out the curves of the faces of those sitting in the front row. Unmoving, their faces were clearly oriented towards her, staring. They saw her, the faintest glimmer from the spotlight shone on their eyes and Vanessa saw; they adored her.

An old, but well-kept accordion was held in both her slender hands. Vanessa took a few more steps towards a lone microphone at the center of the stage, she leans forward with lips painted black, almost as if wanting to kiss it.

“I’m Vanessa, and this is Lucia.”, she raises the accordion as if showing her newborn, “We are Shattered Woman and Lucia. Now we’re going to play our song, just for you.”

Lucia stretches and compresses in Vanessas’s hands, her keys pressed with nimble fingers. A sensual, almost drawling, song breaks from Vanessa’s lips.

On a nameless street

I heard you calling

Yesterday

Yesterday

But when I got there

You were long gone

On a solitary corner

I now call you over

Today

Today

But you never answer

You were long gone

On an empty city

Everyone is quiet

And nobody answers

Anymore

Anymore

We are all long gone.

Vanessa playes Lucia for hours between bouts of applause that seem thunderous in the small, cramped space of the cabaret. At the end, she gets a standing ovation from the crowd. When the show is over, and the last person has gone home, Vanessa stays behind alone. She had asked the stage manager to leave the spotlight on for her. She would turn it off afterwards. Looking out at the dark rows of empty seats, Vanessa looks down at Lucia.

“Just you and me in the end like always, eh Lu?”

Slowly, she begins to play for no one else but herself, letting the music fill the empty space, to keep the silence at bay, if only for a moment longer.