Amsterdam Scriptum Archives
Treehouse ScriptumIssue #3, October 2002
Where does the time go? We've decided to make Scriptum a bimonthly due to time constraints. This gives writers the opportunity to showcase their work for a longer period of time with exposure to more readers.
This edition contains five selections from talented writers.
Jacqueline Wales' poem sprung to life during a Treehouse exercise class and left everyone breathless with admiration. Matthew Tate's story also got its start in the exercise class. Mat is more at ease writing longer pieces, but proves here that word count is no obstacle to a good storyteller. Maggie Mountford's chilling contribution must have been inspired by current world affairs. Let's hope it remains fiction. Allen McGill has written an entertaining little tale about a gossip.
Last, but not least, Debi Orton's story explores the words of a Spanish proverb.
We appreciate reader feedback and hope that Scriptum becomes a popular showcase for talent.
It's only lips………..!
By Jacqueline Wales
Searching hungry open wide mouth tongue thrusting between teeth saliva drooling flooding cavities with wanting tasting greed colliding behind crashing neon eyes shut tight fingers toes tingling deep aching spread from belly to groin hips urging pelvis groaning toward contact that suck currents of passion rise inhaling citrus hiding folded musty skin opening every cell reaching in small whimpers that trip over hungry lips like cat's meows caught in webs of hair matted with lust grinding teeth clicks swallowing gasps of air chasing lightening charge of floor black charred stain melting flesh and nerves and imagination
Never trust the lips that trip in lust
About the author:
Recently relocated to Holland from Paris, Jacqueline is both a writer and a musician. She has published in the Paris literary magazine Pharos.
DO NOT DEFROST
By Matthew Tate
It was not so cold that morning, but Jasper Jaggins had frozen to the cat flap. Russell, three years old and everywhere at once, toddled over to the rigid corpse with a bewildered expression on his face. Normally he couldn't get within five feet before the tabby dashed away in fright. Russell's mother, Catherine, was white-faced and hyperventilating. She stared at the petrified animal, its jagged tail frozen in such a violent attitude that it half seemed as if the creature had been plugged into the light socket. The choppy lines of its fur, shaggy with ice crystals, only added to the impression. Grandpa Hal was not a well man; Catherine couldn't be sure he would survive the death of his beloved Jasper Jaggins. She watched, spellbound, as Russell inched tentatively toward the extinguished cat. She noticed that Jasper Jaggins appeared to be smiling, almost nuzzling some invisible hand, if such a thing were possible for a cat whose rear flanks were now fused to the kitchen door. She didn't hear her sister wander into the kitchen with the groceries; didn't hear her drop the bag with a little shocked yelp. The sound seemed to reanimate Catherine. She leaped forward and scooped Russell up from the floor, just as his fingers were reaching for the brittle tail. She intercepted Suzie, her golden retriever, who padded into the kitchen, looking for attention. Catherine scratched the dog behind the ears, plopped Russell into his play-cage and gave him a banana.
"I don't get it," her sister, Nell, was saying, staring uncomfortably at the body. "It's not cold in here. How the hell did he freeze to death in the kitchen?"
"Does it matter?" Catherine mumbled weakly, rubbing the top of Suzie's head. "What are we going to do?"
Catherine sat at the table while Nell made hot chocolate. She moved her palms to her temples, rattled and desperate, trying to think. "All right. We could defrost him, for a start. We can't let Grandpa see him like this."
"Good idea," said Nell. "We could take him upstairs and sort of curl him up on the floor outside Grandpa's door. He won't notice anything's wrong."
"No, he'll call to him," Catherine said. "I've seen him do it."
"Really? I thought he was a cabbage," Nell said, her sensitivity borne of medical school.
"Only Jasper Jaggins," Catherine said, "can make him lucid. It's some kind of glitch in his brain." And indeed, as the Alzheimers had advanced, the words 'Jasper Jaggins' had become the only coherent ones out of Grandpa's mouth.
"Well, whatever," Nell said, striding toward the microwave. "Let's put him in here for a bit."
"Can't do that, you'll liquefy him," said Miles, home from school. His Bumper Book of Urban Legends had been a gift from Grandpa Hal himself, a few Christmases back. "You'd be better off using the oven," he said sagely, sitting down next to his mother.
"Put it on the lowest heat then, Nell," Catherine ordered, flustered now and starting to panic.
"But it's still not going to work," said Miles.
"Why not?" Nell demanded anxiously, as she struggled with the cranky gas oven.
"Because Jasper always goes to Grandpa's lap after his food. Don't you think he's going to notice if you dump a dead cat on his lap, when you take him his tea and biscuits?"
"I don't know," Nell said, shrugging, looking to her sister for clarification. "Will he notice?"
"Grandpa nearly died three times this month, right?" Miles said, taking charge of the meeting. At twelve, he was the man of the house. "Last Thursday and Tuesday it was his heart, the time before, his kidneys, yes?"
His mother and aunt nodded absently. Little Russell pointed to the spot on his belly where the home-nurse had pointed out his kidneys. "Heart and kidleys," he repeated, determinedly following the conversation's thrust.
"Maybe we should help him along," said Miles, and a shocked silence filled the room.
"You mean kill him?" Nell whispered, scandalised. "Kill him?"
But Miles was not, in fact, some pint-sized sociopath. When he spoke again, his eyes filled with tears."Jasper Jaggins is the only thing he has left in the world," he said quietly, his voice scratchy and soft. "You want him to lose Jasper too? Grandpa doesn't know any of us anymore," he continued. "It's the cat that makes his life bearable. Without Jasper, he's just a scared, confused idiot. Do we want him to live a few more days or weeks like that?"
Another pregnant pause followed, building in the vacuum before giving birth quietly, anti-climactically.
"He actually has a point," Nell whispered, which was exactly what Catherine had been thinking. How hard would it be to induce a quasi-natural death in their damaged, dying father -- how much harder to break the news to him, to watch him unable to comprehend its truth -- how hard to listen to his weak cries for Jasper, to watch his agitation slowly overwhelm him?
The three of them sat quietly around the table, struggling to come to grips with these weighty proceedings. The silence was broken by Russell, who stood in his play-cage, his banana-ry bottom lip trembling, his eyes wide and frightened. "What's wrong, sweet-pants?" Nell asked, rising from the table and scooping the boy onto her knee. "There, now, what's up, little man?"
But Russell was too upset to respond, at first. He wasn't stupid; he went to preschool. He knew that cats and dogs didn't live past twelve or thirteen.
"When Suzie dies," he said carefully, his face white with fear, "Do we have to kill mummy too?"
Catherine burst into anguished sobs and went to her son, lifting him from Nell's lap and hugging him tightly. "Shh, now," she said through her tears. "No one's killing anybody."
Suzie, seemingly relieved, settled down on the floor for a snooze. Miles and Nell stared down at the table top, feeling ashamed. "Let's go," said Catherine, lightly kicking Nell's chair leg. "Miles, you stay here with Russell."
They climbed the staircase as though they were marching to the Last Post. Catherine hesitated at the top, so Nell stopped too, and they both stared solemnly at Grandpa's bedroom door, Catherine thinking: "How am I going to explain this?", Nell thinking: "How do you explain death to a plant?"
The door creaked on its hinges, and a wave of stale air escaped from Grandpa Hal's room. The first thing Catherine noticed was the empty bed. Then, as her eyes swept the room, she saw him, standing at the window, one hand pressed against the pane, the other reaching out to the sill, as though he were tickling a beloved pet. Grandpa Hal was frozen solid, his knuckles and eyebrows frosted white, his pale face set in an expression of unutterable contentment. Nell's first thoughts weren't exactly of ovens or microwaves, but she did feel an urge to dislodge him, to take her dead father back to the dignity of his deathbed. Catherine raised a hand to stop her. She took one look at her father's warm, frozen smile and shooed Nell from the room. Then she tiptoed out to the landing herself, and closed the door quietly behind her.
About the author:
Originally from London, Matthew Tate lives in Utrecht, where he is currently working on his first novel. This is his first published story.
By Maggie Mountford
"Tell me - how many would be killed, supposing we go ... " The Colonel pauses, and his General supplies the missing word, the difficult one, up to this moment.
"Supposing we go … nuclear? Say, one strike?" The General strokes his chin. Blue eyes fasten on numbers, noughts. Nothing's quite real any more.
"Ten thousand, at least," he says, vaguely. "Maybe more than ten thousand. Maybe one hundred thousand. Or half a million. Even more … impossible to say, with any certitude. It's beyond us, to calculate." "And you think it's worth it? The only course we can follow? Our own population, bearing it?"
"Numbers won't be the problem. You understand that, don't you? What are people, besides winning? Ants understand. Ants are intelligent creatures."
The sun rises as they speak. The Colonel glances at his watch, stands up, stretches, then salutes his superior. "I understand you," he says, and turns on his heel, briskly.
"Remember," says the General, before he opens the door.
"Emotion isn't for us. Emotion spells failure. Repeat. Emotion spells … "
"Quite," interrupts the Colonel. "Emotion is … losing." The hands of the clock move towards noon. Noughts multiply. Over and over and over. Before all the clocks in the world strike once, and are stilled.
About the author:
Maggie Mountford writes Flash Fiction and Short Stories and has been published by the BBC and on the Internet. She lives in the UK.
A MATTER OF DISCRETION
By Allen McGill
Father Manning sat quietly listening, fingertips steepled before him as Martha Crenshaw, the parish's resident rumormonger, expounded on the demerits of virtually everyone in the congregation.
"And, finally," she said somewhat hesitantly, her face flushing with rare color, "I think you should talk with poor Amy Spencer. Her husband ... has been seen behaving in an unseemly manner with ... " her voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper, "a young man.
"Now I'm not one to point fingers," she said, "but something like this cannot be tolerated. He was seen putting his arm around the young man's shoulders, touching his face, even hugging him right there on the street! God knows what else they've been up to. I'm sure I don't.
"Now I, as head of the ladies' auxiliary, took it upon myself to send a little note to Mrs. Spencer -- incognito of course -- to advise her of the situation. I want you to be firm with her as to her actions if she should come to you as her pastor for advice. Which I think she will." Father Manning slowly nodded, a gentle smile softening his already kindly features. "Thank you, Mrs. Crenshaw," he said.
"As a matter of fact, she already has been to see me, and showed me your note. I, along with everyone else she showed it to, recognized your handwriting. You were rather more graphic and descriptive in your letter than you were with me just now. Startlingly so.
"Remember the commandment, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor'?" He paused for effect. "I think it's time for me to hear your confession, Mrs. Crenshaw. Don't you?"
"I saw what I saw!" she complained. "That man was … "
"That man was being affectionate with his son from a prior marriage. A son he hasn't seen in ten years."
Mrs. Crenshaw's jaw went slack. She watched Father Manning raise his hand to point toward the confessional. She rose and went timidly toward it.
About the author:
Originally from New York City, Allen now lives, writes, acts andS directs in Mexico. He has published articles, essays, short stories, plays and haiku. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Writer, Newsday Magazine, MD Magazine, NY Sunday News Magazine and many other print and electronic publications.
IF I RECOVER
By Debi Orton
"If I die, I forgive you. If I recover, we shall see." - Spanish proverb
Jeremy writhed beneath his sheets, moaning. It was the dream again, the one which had tormented him for the past eight years. Every time the same: he remembered that proverb Marcella had told him once long ago, and was transported back to the day that had changed his life.
The scene was as vivid to him as if it were yesterday -- sitting at a desk, with his sophomore biology teacher asking him a question: "Jeremy, what's osmosis?"
His mind was blank, the others beginning to titter at his failure. But Marcella, his friend and lab partner, was there. Quickly, she drew a picture of a cell and drew a double-sided arrow from the outside to the inside.
Jeremy cleared his throat. "It's...um... when fluids pass the cell wall so that there's ... like ... equal concentrations on both sides."
"Good!" Mr. Gaither said, continuing his lecture. Jeremy looked at Marcella and mouthed, "thank you." She smiled back. At the bell, Jeremy rose and waved to Marcella as he hustled out the door. His next class was phys ed, and if he was late he'd have to run laps.
He'd just changed into his shorts when he felt something behind him. Jeremy turned to see three wrestlers, all large, burly guys, leering at him.
"Hey, Jeremy," the biggest one, Hal, sneered. "How's about fixin' us up with your little friend?"
These three had picked on smaller children since grade school, and beat Jeremy up more than once. They robbed him and played humiliating practical jokes on him. Last year, they shoved him into his locker and snapped the combination lock shut.
"What do you mean?" Jeremy asked, hoping that playing dumb would buy him enough time to think his way out of this.
"You know what we mean," Hal said, and his companions began nodding with stupid grins on their faces. "We want a little of that."
"No," Jeremy said, surprising himself. Hal moved closer and pinned Jeremy to the locker, his forearm across Jeremy's throat. Jeremy couldn't breathe and panicked as little spots danced in front of his eyes.
"No?" Hal asked, bearing down harder.
"Okay, okay," Jeremy croaked, really frightened now.
Hal let him fall and Jeremy gasped deep gulps of air. "Here's what I want you to do," Hal said. His hand grabbed Jeremy's hair and pulled the smaller youth's face close to his. "Tell her you'll meet her at the tennis courts tonight at 9:30. We'll take it from there."
Jeremy was so frightened that he did what they told him. He stayed home, sleepless and miserable all night, and had just drifted off when Mrs. Arroyo began pounding on their door. His parents called him downstairs, where Mrs. Arroyo pleaded with him, tears in her eyes, for any clue where Marcella might be. Jeremy said he didn't know, but he'd go looking for her. He headed straight for the tennis courts. Marcella lay unconscious on the ground, her clothes half torn off.
She'd been raped, and her arm was broken. She was in a coma. The doctor wasn't optimistic that she'd ever come out of it.
Jeremy never said a word to anyone about what happened to Marcella or his part in it, but the guilt was just as strong after eight years.
Every time he thought of Marcella, he pictured her in the hospital bed, tubes running in through her nose, needles in her arms, pale and unmoving. Every time he thought of Marcella, thoughts of suicide came too. It was time to listen to those thoughts.
Yes, he'd had enough. He would end it today. But first he'd have to see her, to apologize. His mom had kept him up to date on Marcella's progress -- rather, her lack of progress. Jeremy knew she was in a nursing home now. The halls were quiet and clean. A nurse directed him toward his friend's room, and he was relieved to see that there were no visitors. He was afraid he'd have to face Mrs. Arroyo again.
Marcella looked as beautiful as she had eight years ago, still pale and lovely despite the hardware that surrounded her, keeping her alive. Jeremy approached the bed and stood over her, looking down at her dark hair fanning out over the white pillowcase.
"Hey, 'Cella," he said softly, "It's me, Jeremy." He stroked her hair, her face, and felt tears pooling in his eyes. "I'm here to say goodbye." A tear fell from his cheek to hers. "I'm sorry."
As he looked down, her eyelids began to flutter, and he realized that what he'd dreaded most when he'd found her was coming to pass. Marcella would regain consciousness and tell them who had set up her attack.
Jeremy stumbled from the room and into the corridor, then ran for the front door. The nurse saw him, then hustled into Marcella's room just as her eyes opened.
Outside, there was a screech of brakes, a scream, and a dull thud as Jeremy flew through the air, landing twenty feet from the car he'd run in front of.
Jeremy was the one in the hospital bed now, unmoving, bandaged, tubes running everywhere. His face was a mass of bruises, and a machine connected to his throat controlled his breathing.
A beautiful, slim, raven-haired young woman walked into the room, all traces of her long coma gone. She stood next to Jeremy, smiling down at him. "Well, querido, we have seen, have we not?"
About the author:
Debi Orton's short stories, essays and articles have been published in many publications, including Mindprints and The Paumanok Review. She writes and lives in rural upstate New York, and publishes flashquake (www.flashquake.org), an online journal of flash literature..