Randolph Minster woke up squint on Monday morning. Although his bed was straight on all three plains, and although he was relaxed and sunk flat when he awoke, it seemed his body was bent to the right and determined to stay that way. When Randolph stood at the toilet to void yesterday’s liquids, he stood askew. When he padded around his little kitchen making boiled eggs – five minutes for large soft boiled, toast notch three on the dial – he was undeniably squint, as if gravity’s pull had moved a little, but always to his right.
People faint now and then. Eva envies their respite – she’s been awake for nearly 26 hours, and Matt too. The night before, they stopped at a small lake surrounded by poorly assembled tents. The moonlit water shone like heaven. Yesterday’s driver had warned against bathing. Matt obeyed, Eva tried to, but others were scrambling in, cooling off.
All high schools are pathetic, as are all high school students, high school existences, high school achievements. That your team beat anyone else’s, ever, you should forget two days after graduation. We’ve fabricated childhood – damn you, Locke, damn you, Rousseau – then built traps to keep young people in it – that comfortable space of “for your age” and “improving” and “participation.”
When Subha began working for us, I was twelve, and she said she was seventeen. It seemed a big age difference at the time, despite the fact that I was already taller than she was, and broader too. She was the latest in a long line of full-time housemaids that my mum had employed and subsequently fired for various reasons: stealing my old stuffed animals, taking extended holidays to their hometowns, and the most recent, moonlighting as a sex worker.
As any sensible person would be, Cylia was wary of long-distance relationships. Given the lack of options in her own vicinity however, she was inclined to look further afield, succumbing to the smorgasbord of electronic dating sites. Eventually, her search reached such sequestered spaces, the depths of some of the most seldom used applications, yet she had little to show for it except for some faded sparks, clumsy comments and innumerable unopened messages, each with a hint of potential, though probably promising disappointment.
My German Grandmother Was Totally a Bitch, and Also So Much Cooler than Yours by Shannon Frost Greenstein
Certain things are absolute, compulsory. There are universal experiences of a German grandchildhood that link so many of us in a complicated daisy chain across space and time: holiday cookies. Hiding an ornament shaped like a pickle on the Christmas tree. Church, specifically Lutheran church. Being early. Raggedy Ann dolls and Hummel figurines and Black Russians and, at the foundation of it all, resilience. Grit.
Sammy pronounces it more like “kit-hen” when he points to the upper right-hand part of the diagram. It’s a common problem for a lot of Somalians, that harsher “-ch” that doesn’t exist in all languages. We’ve done a sheet like this with cutesy drawings of architecturally unsound houses every week for the past month that I’ve been coming to the refugee centre. This week there are five rooms: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, an empty living room, and a hallway.
Outside, heavy, wet snow falls on this serene little city and clings to trees, hedges, power lines and parked cars. Inside the classroom, Mr Khatri disrupts the idyll by dimming the lights and introducing a Holocaust film to his twelfth grade, world history students. For the next forty-five minutes, Tanner and the others are deluged with eviscerating images.
She could only watch him, silently noting that she should be doing something to help him, ease his suffering somehow, but she couldn’t. All she could do was feel shades of some sort of compression. Time passed. All those moments and days and everything in between seemed to just press together, bound with dreamless sleep.
Karen was a brilliant woman, effervescent with ambition and energy. She could see through all fakery and pretention and she could prize from you your deepest thoughts just by opening her eyes and giving you a quizzical look. I became her lover, because I wanted to, oh how I wanted to, but also because it was impossible to deny her. It was as if there was some kind of destiny that drew me towards her.
When Clive saw Erica standing at the bar, he was uncertain whether to approach her. He watched as she ordered a large glass of white wine – pinot grigio? Sauvignon blanc? – and deftly wove a path through the knots of early evening drinkers, to a solitary table in a quiet corner of the room. She hooked her handbag over the back of the chair and started to read the newspaper that had been tucked under her left arm.
He sits next to me staring ahead, his eyes shaded by the cap’s peak. He doesn’t hold my hand. I look at him through the rearview mirror and I swallow that image of him. My eyes dilate to take in more until my own reflection is merely a fragment.
I wrestle a pack of tissues from my bra – the only place to put them, as my funeral garments are short on pockets and my bag is so tiny it barely fits my phone – and pass them to Willow, then Nai. Willow’s been clutching my hand since we left her parents’ house this morning, as though she’s afraid of losing me too.
My brother and I liked words, he would always use the ones I didn’t really understand. I made a mental note to find out what rustic meant. Perhaps it was something like ‘rusty’, in which case he was right, it was almost the right colour for rust. In fact, if that’s what the word meant, everything looked pretty rustic at the moment.
He could not help but recall his earliest childhood memory, when they had both been no more than 6-years-old and had only just met at primary school. At this time she looked boyish and revelled in this look, proudly displaying her scrawny, ragged ginger hair.
They had expected warm, white sand and high waves. They had seen themselves in the southern heat, in cotton clothes and shaded glass. They were sitting beneath enormous parasols where iced drinks were served at welcome intervals. The surfers were young and skilled.
We took the property out of necessity, and because even though it was a basement suite there were no tenants upstairs, leaving us to the quiet of our own lovemaking or shouting in the mornings. We had even become used to the sound of the mother next door, who screamed at her small children in Mandarin after breakfast as they walked towards the car.
The examiner hasn’t said anything for a long time, not since we first pulled up to the junction. What is her name again? Tade, I think. Perhaps I should say something, just to break the silence.
Contrary to what you might think, Old Blue was not my dog. Blue was the lawnmower that led to the salvation of my dog, who was also named Blue. Together, these two formed the strongest, inextricably entwined cords of my youth. The one, a black lab puppy; four and a half pounds of love, joy and energy that filled my waking hours and slept by my side.
The truth is that those who made it their business to solve this mystery were wasting their time, for the simple reason that he had not disappeared. There was, of course, a mystery to solve, but it was a different one.
Outside, the sun is glaring. The puzzle of tiny streets with tiny houses leads to the park. She finds her usual spot, a bench hidden behind the shrubberies that adorn the pond, makes herself comfortable, unscrews the bottle and drinks. One large, quick gulp.
My flat was small, top floor of a city tenement. What would otherwise be the living room became my studio, lit during the day by the industrial skyline through ill-fitting French windows which opened onto a tiny balcony. I slept in a box room just off the front door, and, when not painting, washing or cooking, spent the rest of my time in a white-walled annexe with only a sofa, laptop and bookcase. Such was my life. All else I’d left behind.
I don’t think many people remember Lewis. Apart from the two or three people you’re really close to, you don’t remember anyone you went to school with, or even really care. At school, everyone has to play nice because for six hours you’ll probably share a class with them. But when they step into the real world they don’t need to play nice anymore. They don’t return the messages, and soon enough, you are left with a pitiful handful of people whose company you never quite grew out of.
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