In the Shadows (2)

Sal crouched under the tiled worktop in the kitchen. Her wet face smeared the cool plaster wall as she pressed her body into it. She heard the creak and grind of the metal doors as they came together to close, the two sections adjoining with a dull clunk and the rattle of glass, announcing Guy’s departure and punctuated with the click and slide of the key turning, being withdrawn. She sat a while longer, part crying part humming, beginning to move her legs away from their limpet like position at the wall and out into the wider area of the room. Her hands crept down from their blocking position over her ears. She was vaguely aware of a monotonous drone somewhere in the room but entirely oblivious that the noise was coming from her. Her hands felt for the cool floor, fingers fanned out and started to feel their way over the floor, moving her from her refuge. Distress remained palpable in the room and as her head turned slowly, her hair plastered wetly to her neck and face, her fingers encountered the sticky, congealing wetness on the tiles; kicked back like the recoil on a rifle. The feel of it made her finally open her eyes. Butterfly pools of red flitted over the floor, glistening, patterning the white and turning brown in the grouted channels. Dull red shrieked down the far wall and a metallic tang hung in the silence that now boomed in her ears after the onslaught. She felt defeated and the sight before her just brought it all back. She slumped onto the kitchen floor amongst the mess and the filth and slept. Continue reading


In the Shadows

Sal stood on the tiled balcony an arm draped casually around the chalky pink column. Her other hand rested on the damp balustrade, fingers flicking at a rotting papaya leaf that had been swept there by the afternoon rains. The post rain breeze carried a pungent waft of leaves, moist and decaying in the ditches beside the road, and cleansed away the fumes of the traffic below. Petrol and oil would soon resurface as the traffic geared up again and would mingle with the symphony of smells that told her she was home: the neighbour’s drifting incense, the steaming food carts, the open drains.

She gazed at the scene laid out below and thought about leaving; distracted herself by counting. No radio, no television, this was her favourite game: people watching, people counting. The most people on a motorbike (seven), most on a bicycle (four adults but they quickly fell off), biggest family in a cyclo (seven again), largest load on a bike (a fridge freezer), most cops on a motorbike (five), weirdest thing on a cyclo (a motorbike? A curb side petrol station?) She’d even tried counting tourists (one looking lost). The balcony was her window into another world. The sun’s descent had left an earthy glow on this side of the city, the daylight not yet gone but the cool moving in. Tuol Sleng stood a street away surrounded by green grass and palms, trimmed with barbed wire. The shady confines were tinted red. She shivered at the sight and as she scanned the street below she felt simultaneously removed from it and a part of it. The exertion of the afternoon had shined her face and arms and sapped her remaining energy as she moved back into the house.

Guy lay on the bed. Sweat glistened along the coarse, wiry blonde hairs that coated his arms and chest, shone in the dark hollows beneath his eyes and slicked his upper lip. Continue reading

Burying Myself

I touch, slowly and carefully, along the lines of my bones and wonder how this came to be. I look at my hands and they seem no different. Maybe a few more creases, a few more lines; slightly darker than the rest of me. The Khmer women wear elbow length gloves to shield their hands and arms from the sun. I stay covered up but not gloved: it seems an excessive vanity. The sun is wild here, not like at home where it heats up slowly, lazily climbing blue skies and drifting amongst white clouds: it gives fair warning of a hot day in its languid build up. Here it cranks itself up into the bleached out sky and aggressively torches the city, every day the same. My hands ought to look like frazzled bacon the amount of time they are exposed. They don’t. The changes are more subtle than that. I don’t notice until I slip off the gold band on my finger – then I can see the difference. A thin white ring remains; a ghost of a ring. How fitting. Continue reading

Verbal Fluffer

He tells her his sex life has improved no end since they started doing overtime together. They talk dirty for a couple of hours while the labs are empty and dusk gathers outside, but she’s wondering why she peps him up, preps him up, gets him ready for his girlfriend. She thinks he’s lovely. That shaggy dog hair all tousled and natural highlights – which is weird really because she normally goes for the dark haired types. It flops over his eyes that twinkle naughtily. He does a great Deputy Dawg impression and he can make his mouth look like a letter box. He makes her laugh. And her? She knows she’s nothing special. Hair a dirty blonde, skin too-much-time-in-the-lab pale, ingrained with coal dust around her hairline, smutted with dirt. She’s the best in the lab at heads though; holds the record. But then Dave Cowper taught her. She sets them up, calibrates them running up and down the row, always moving, no sore arse on heads. Right now she’s on methanometers: D6s and D6Ds. Her least favourite instruments but the area of most overtime, and she knows, overtime is Richard time: fluffing time. Continue reading

Another Outback Night

‘You bloody nurses. Don’t they teach you anything?’

The nurse kept pressure on the wound and the patient just lay there. His eyes rolled drunkenly and his hand slapped pathetically at the nurse trying to bat her away like an annoying fly. She arched her body away from him and kept up the pressure, her nose wrinkling slightly at the sickly metallic scent that leaked under her fingers and filled the disinfected clinical air around them. She caught his flapping hand and firmly placed it by his side, wished restraints were legal. She ignored the doctor’s comment. He was just venting at her because he thought “on call” only really meant “if they’re dying”. His problem.

The doctor turned his attention from the nurse and cast a look of disgust over the patient. ‘They shouldn’t employ you if you can’t suture. Get me a sterile pack and sutures.’

‘Right behind you, open and ready on the trolley, 5.0 and 6.0 nylon, your choice. Gloves are underneath,’ she avoided eye contact, kept her focus on the patient.

‘I asked you to get me the pack, now.’

She looked directly at him and removed her hand from the head wound. A spurt of blood hit the doctor’s shirt. Continue reading

The Generation Game

A woman in her thirties puts the phone down. She rests her chin on her hand, her smile fading, a sigh escaping…

That’s the third time she’s phoned tonight: my grandmother. She wants to know if her rent’s paid. I’ve told her it is. It always is. She couldn’t live like people do now; all that debt. Would drive her clean round the bend. Instead it’s us she’s driving round the bend: ‘Do you know, is my rent paid love?’ So I told her, ‘Don’t worry about it grandma, it’s all paid and dad’s coming up on Thursday to pay the next two weeks.’ But still she worries. Five minutes later she’s on the phone again: ‘Do you know, is my rent paid love?’ So I reassure her, tell her dad’ll be up soon. She won’t let him set up a direct debit, no, never paid that way before. She’ll pay same way as always, by cash. But it isn’t the same is it? No rent man knocking on her door now. Would’ve been someone to talk to an’ all. The tragedy of longevity; how isolating to outlive all your friends. Continue reading

A Seventies Schooling

St Andrews – 1974

The lady bus conductor has knobbly knees poking out above her long white socks; socks like mine; socks like a girl. She’s old, maybe twenty three: just like the engine which is knocking and rumbling, belching out black smoke from bus to us. We bounce our way to school under conductor lady’s watchful stare and stern beaky face; not daring to move and risk a reprimand. As I fidget on the scratchy seat I feel the rash rising on the back of my thighs. I stare at the identical homes trundling by and hope my mum runs to meet me or how will I know which house is mine when I return?
We walk across acres of playground, past the friendly oaks of home base from kiss chase with their comforting knobbly bark with nooks and crannies that fit my grip, all old and crumbly leaving green stains on my dress and an imprint over my heart. They smell now of earth, moist and rotting, permeating my lungs after the acrid ride in. As I near the building my senses are overtaken by the stampede of children thrum thrumming up the steps, the clatter of doors flung wide and a cacophony of voices rising to the ceilings and racing down the corridors, rapidly filling all available space. I’m swept along with them and plunged into the hot body smell that rises as we pull off our coats.
In the classroom the outside world is lost and calm prevails. I sit on my chair, feet skimming the floor as my legs swing, bent over my desk and I love that it all fits me just right. My teacher leans over me; wafts of her perfume envelop me along with a warm fresh soapiness. Her large chest swings towards my back and I feel the heat of her as her necklace dangles in front of my face hypnotising me. I long to reach out and touch that medallion, close my hand around it and feel its ridges and curves. She’s explaining but her voice is soft and gentle and far distant as her breath tickles my ear. I like the sound as it rises and falls; meaningless, soothing. As I turn towards her the massive expanse of her bosom fills my vision. Soft, downy white, motherly; safety, a home from home.

© Ammie-oy 2010