Shoes Like That

 

Everybody knows The Old Man.

An army veteran, hair white as snow turned grey from nights of sleeping on the pavement. One arm extends into a pale hand, turned up towards the sky in a shaky plea. The other arm is a stump. Barely surviving the biting winter, he wears only a pale sweat-stained tank top and ripped-up jeans.

‘Really,’ the women say as they cross the street to avoid him. ‘He could wear something a little more decent, there are kids on this street.’

Yes, they knew the Old Man. And if there ever was a burglary around the neighborhood, they would know who it was.

Beside him lies a washed out pair of boots, a memento from his army days, his glory days. They are too small now for his curled up toes, but he wouldn’t part with them for the world. He is curled up on an old mattress he found in the neighborhood dump. A stray dog sometimes comes up and lies next to him for a while, but the mattress is so thin that soon it gets back up and limps off to find a more comfortable place to sleep. Even strays need comfort once in a while.

 

The kids know The Old Man too.

He is the subject of many Boy Scout horror stories, told with an eager smile and a glint in the eyes.

‘And then,’ they hiss, the beam of the flashlight resting on their face, ‘he steals your arm and sticks it where his used to be!’

The boys fall over themselves laughing, partly because they know it’s a joke and partly to hide that deep down, they’re not so sure. Now, when the kids pass The Old Man’s corner, they giggle and run away at full speed.

The kids knew the old man. And if they had learnt anything from the stories they sometimes heard on the news, it was to stay away from him at all costs.

The Old Man used to have a name, he thinks, but he can’t quite remember what it was. Robert, maybe? No matter. For what is the point of a name if it is never used?

The businessmen know The Old Man as well.

He is an inconvenience, sure, but no more than an anomaly in their data, a thorn in their side. A pestering flea continually begging at their feet after they come home from a hard day’s work.

‘No, I don’t have any spare change today,’ they say with veiled annoyance, checking their Rolex watches furtively the whole time. Secretly they think ‘my, how lazy the world has gotten. People sit around all day then expect us hard-working citizens to buy them a meal? Not on my watch, my friend, not on my watch.’

Yes, they knew The Old Man. And what a lazy no-good he was.

Sometimes it seems that everyone knows the old man but he himself.

He has been called so many things in his life, spoken to with so many varying tones of disdain that they have all mixed and mashed and ballooned up in his head, squeezing out the memory of who he actually is.

No, that isn’t right. He is a soldier, an army boy. He had lost his arm in that war. His best friend had died in his arms. So many stories to tell, yet no one to tell them to…

Hunger. He is distracted from his thoughts by an acute pain in the depths of his belly. He realizes he hasn’t eaten for a few days. Although he hasn’t seen his reflection in months, the protruding ribs he sees shining through his shirt as he looks down sets off warning bells in his head. Food, that’s what he needs. He stumbles towards the house across the street, stopping at the doorstep to desperately sniff at the overwhelming smell of ham.

Ding-Dong.

The door opens slightly. Through the little crack in the door appears a mother’s head. When she sees who it is, her smile freezes in place, polite but obviously uncomfortable.

‘Children,’ she calls, ‘go to bed.’

The toddlers run upstairs screaming, for they too have heard the stories.

The Old Man shivers.

‘I was wondering if I could have some food.’

‘Oh. Right, of course.’ The woman makes no sign to open the door.  ‘Here, I’ll go get it. You can stay right here, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.’

The mother comes back with a slice of bread on a chipped china plate. The Old Man sighs at the measly portion offered towards him, but hell, one slice is better than nothing. He takes the plate from the mother with a quick thank you, but the woman looks at him, shocked.

‘Are you stealing my plate from me? And to think I was about to offer you food. You homeless, you’re all the same. Disgraceful.’

Grabbing back the bread, she slams the door in his face.

The Old Man stands in front of the door, heart pounding. Stealing? Was that how people see him? Was that why the children all run away? Maybe they are right. Maybe he is a thief. Now that he thinks about it, the lady had never explicitly said the plate was his to take… No. He isn’t a thief. He isn’t a thief because he has his boots! His boots he had worn in the army, where he had sacrificed so much to save his country, where he had seen his best friend die… Seen his best friend die…. Die… The old man convulsed into a heap, still clutching his shoes.

On a cold winter night, The Old Man disappears, leaving no legacy behind but a pair of army boots.

‘It’s a shame about the old man, isn’t it?’ A mother says to the pastor’s wife. They are sitting at a coffee table, glancing at each other without ever really looking.

‘Yes, yes, it is. Always a shame when a war hero passes away. I’ll ask Mick to mention him in the sermon tomorrow. What was his name again?’

‘You know,’ the mother stirs her cup of tea thoughtfully, ‘I can’t quite remember. Maybe John? Yes, that was it, John. You know, my brother’s called John too.’

‘Of course, John, how could I forget. Why, he mentioned it to me just the other day. I was giving him some food, you know. I always used to help the man.’

‘You did? Well, of course you did. So did I, now that I think about it.’ The more the mother thought about it, the more she could imagine herself helping the man. And really, imagining was the same as remembering.

‘I’ll get Mick to write him a little something, bless him on his way to heaven and such.’ The pastor’s wife lowers her voice and leans in confidentially. ‘Although I must say I’m the tiniest bit relieved. It wasn’t safe to have him hanging around our children. Homeless people, you never know what they’ll do next.’

‘Well, I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but the other day he did try to steal from me. And right under my nose too.’

A moment’s pause.

‘You know, they found those shoes of his lying next to the body. They were even more ripped up than I remembered.’

‘What did they do with them?’

‘Why, they threw them away, of course. What else do you do with shoes like that?’ The mother shook her head as if to convince herself of something, though she wasn’t quite sure what. ‘What else do you do with shoes like that?’

Our Cycle

Hey guys, this is a short story I wrote a few years ago, but I still like it and I think it’s relevant today. Enjoy!

At first it was slavery.

Hundreds of them, working free of charge and twenty-four-seven. We took their kind for granted, treated them like objects. We thought that they were objects, that we didn’t look the same so surely they couldn’t also be living feeling beings. Sure, some of us had the inkling of a doubt that something wasn’t quite right, that in the foreseeable future they could realise that they deserved as much as us, that we had grown so dependent on them to do our chores and feed us we needed them. That just as easily our situations could be swapped. But these people soon traded in feelings of discomfort for the luxurious life they could get you, and the doubt went unfounded for decades.

Then the apartheid came.

Okay, we were forced to admit, they might have feelings, but surely inferior to ours, not as acute or sharp. I remember working for a cinema as a part time job that summer. One sweltering day a couple came up for tickets, no different than the couples before, except for one thing; mixed-race. I remember looking down at them contemptuously, taking my own sweet time printing out their tickets, and finally handing them two tickets at opposite ends of the cinema, with the snide words: ‘ Your section is at the back of the cinema, our section is at the front.’ Sometimes I turn in my bed at night when I can’t sleep and wonder just how many people gave them a smile that day, a small nod or a ‘how do you do’. You know, those things we all consider basic human rights. But then I Guess that was the point of the apartheid. We didn’t want to consider them human.

Then for a small while there was equality.

That peaceful era where everybody pretends to consider the other their equal, and see how many condescending comments they can slide into a conversation before being called racist. That era where they reclassified the definition of a human as ‘a creature with thumbs’, because, after all, equality means we are all the same species. That era we call the ‘ Iron Age’.

This is as far as we go in history class. They say that it still is the ‘ Iron Age’, that today is a good day to be alive. I know better. I know that equality is a fragile thing, left to communists and idealists. And I know that while food and water went into decline, renewable energy took on a sinister meaning. They no longer had to regulate their population. After all, why restrict yourself when there’s an abundance of sun to go around? They soon learnt how to build themselves, a new kind of ‘reproduction’. Evolution had a new favourite, and the rest of us can fend for ourselves. I am the only human at my school. My dad was lucky enough to stay in a job, a menial apartment janitor. It doesn’t bring home much cash, but a job is enough to stay off the streets, without a government bullet through our heads. Every day as I walk to school I am pushed around by bigger, stronger ‘humans’, people I can’t hurt or outsmart. People I can’t kill.  Out of our eleven billion population, around two million of us are humans. Forget the ‘ Iron Age’. Soon, history will reset, by a flood or volcano or worse, and humans will be nothing more than a robot’s bedtime story.

Xmas

Surely ‘tis that time of year

Where streets are full of Xmas cheer

Where coins slip into begging hands

And from the kitchen, smell of ham

Goes over under through the chimney where St. Nicholas descends

 

Where little children eyes aglow

Stare through the fogged toy shop window

And the nutcracker in the corner

Comes alive: a stiff small soldier

One girl blinks and rubs her eyes, for surely her imagination ran away again

 

And even Scrooge would stop his counting

To witness the excitement mounting

A taste of nutmeg’s in the air

The forest’s silent, no bird nor bear

But wait a second, what’s that noise? Surely not the clunk of toys

 

Even grown-ups who in Santa don’t believe

Feel a glint of magic on Christmas eve

 

Sinking

Fastened to a ship that’s slowly sinking

Cut up and fed to monsters by the crew

Above the screams my mind won’t shut up thinking

 

Whispering in my ears a voice: ‘you’re sinning’

Inside my blood-red heart the abyss grew

Fastened to a ship that’s slowly sinking

 

Satan’s birds (wide jaws agape) keep singing

And all my truths the devil can see through

Above the screams my mind won’t shut up thinking

 

Yesterday my shadow I tried killing

Scared he’d snitch all the secrets that he knew

Fastened to a ship that’s slowly sinking

 

At night I’m sure I can hear you smirking

It’s better than the silence though, that’s true

Above the screams my mind won’t shut up thinking

 

I think that this is what they call dying

At the end of the tunnel only you

Fastened to a ship that’s slowly sinking

Above the screams my mind won’t SHUT UP THINKING-

Christmas Prompts Challenge

Hey guys!

In the spirit of Christmas, I’ve come up with three Santa-related short story prompts: My challenge for you guys is to choose your favorite prompt, write a short story about it, then send it in through contacts. I’ll post some of my favorite stories up here, so don’t forget to come check them out in a few week’s time. Here are the three prompts:

  1. Santa is a grumpy old man with diabetes and a bad attitude. He isn’t exactly committed to his job, so it’s inevitable that one November, he and his elves realize they have completely forgotten to build that year’s Christmas presents. With only one month to go before the big day and no way of making presents in time, Santa is left with only one choice;  convert every child in the world to the naughty list.
  2. Due to global warming melting his home down, Santa and his elves are forced to relocate to a warmer climate. So they pack up their bags, put on their tourist shirts and move to ___. But nobody here seems to care about Christmas spirit or the gift of giving, and soon Santa learns that living in a big city isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…
  3. Santa’s parents visit the North Pole, and they are not happy. Having had enough of paying the rent for their lazy son, they tell him to buckle down and get a real job. So Santa moves to the Big Apple, and gets a job at __ company. Will he manage to climb the ruthless corporate ladder, or is he just too used to working one day a year?

Look forward to reading your stories!

Happy Holidays,

Elsa

The Metamorphosis Of Narcissus

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

 

A hand rises from the frozen lake,

where there is no longer

any joy

And still Narcissus stares

 

It carries him up,

above the mirror

in its rough fingertips

And still Narcissus stares

 

The handsome boy starts

to metamorphosis

into mother nature’s egg

And still his spirit stares

 

And the great hand

from deep beyond,

starts to take a different shape

and still his spirit stares

 

And the egg

hatches

into a head

And still a woman stares

 

And she gets up

she walks away,

and then comes civilization,

and the mirror still reflects.close-up-of-dali-s-metamorphos