Michael Joll -Author’s Short Story

 

Born in England during the Late Pleistocene Age, Michael Joll has called Canada home since shortly after Confederation. He has held many jobs, from selling Continental Delicatessen in Selfridges on Oxford Street in London, to temporary part time deck hand and purser on a car ferry plying the North Reach of the Bay of Quinte. In between he was gainfully employed for forty years too many. Retired since 2004 (“The hours are great, the pay not so much”) he has spent most of that time writing fiction. He has lived in Brampton, Ontario since the mid-1970s with a wife (his own) and the memories of the dogs with whom he has been privileged to share his life.

 

MJoll New Background for CS

Author Michael Joll

A HANDSOME WOMAN

by Michael Joll

He studied her through binoculars from the shade of his second floor suite balcony at the Fairmont Colony Hotel. A handsome woman, he concluded. Lissome. Striking even, with her thick, wavy red hair pulled back and tied behind her neck. The late afternoon sun caught the silver strands in her hair and set them glinting like quicksilver.

   She stretched her long limbs, arched her back and reached behind her neck with her fingers extended and her toes pointed, a springboard diver about to enter the pike position. She pushed her sunglasses up over her forehead until they rested above her hairline, and swung her legs over the side of the padded chaise lounge until her feet met the patio pavers.

   The Barbados sun had travelled along its prescribed arc and the umbrella no longer cast its shade over her. She reached past a magazine and a thick paperback novel on the table at her elbow and picked up the plastic bottle of 60 sunblock. She squirted a generous amount onto her palm and smoothed it into her thighs.

   He wished he could do it for her.

   Her thighs firmed to her touch while she massaged the lotion into her skin. She bent forward as she worked her quads, squeezing the firm muscles as expertly as a masseuse She turned her attention to her shins and calves and leaned further when she spread the lotion over her ankles and feet. Her breasts moved with her, straining to escape the skimpy bikini top that revealed a tantalizingly generous, freckled cleavage. He held his breath, hoping for an accidental wardrobe malfunction. When none occurred, he took in the polished toenails and matching fingernails, and the freckles dotting her arms and cheeks.

   He sighed. Without question he was in love with the red-haired goddess lounging beside the pool.

   He set aside his binoculars and rubbed his eyes. A bead of sweat ran from his temple, along his jaw line and under his chin. He made no attempt to mop it as it disappeared into the tangle of grey chest hair sprouting from his pale skin.

   Her calisthenics over for the moment, the goddess sat up again. She applied another generous helping of sunblock to her abdomen and over her breasts and throat, slipping her fingers beneath the cloth of her bikini top. Making sure she had all the bases covered, the man decided, the binoculars back to his eyes again, regretting that he was too late and too far away to offer help. She undid the elastic back strap, reached behind her neck to untie the shoelace thin straps and let them dangle at her side while she held the top in place with one hand. Inviting. If she knew what she was doing to him . . . She pulled the front of her bikini top down until the interesting bits almost peeked out, leaned against the backrest of the chaise and applied lotion to her face and shoulders. Satisfied, she dropped her sunglasses over her nose and glanced over her shoulder toward the hotel.

   He held his breath. “She’s teasing me,” he muttered. “It’s as if she knows I’m watching her.”

   A slight commotion coming from the beach disturbed the man’s thoughts. He aimed the binoculars in the direction in which he saw several people pointing. He focused through the palm trees near the water’s edge, and then he saw them: a shoal of flying fish breaking the surface of the Caribbean, their fins flailing the surface into a maelstrom and showering the still air with a million diamonds. Hard on their heels a pod of dolphins surfaced, basket-weaving their sleek bodies over and through the lazy waves in search of dinner.

   He turned his attention to the woman at the pool edge, on her feet now and clutching her bikini top to her chest with one hand while shielding her eyes from the sun with the other. She turned to a white-haired woman at her side and pointed out to sea. The old woman followed the line of the outstretched arm and jumped with excitement at the sight of the dolphins in full chase. He saw the women exchange words, then resume their seats once the show was over.

   The redheaded goddess hooked her bikini top back together and pulled her chaise into the shade of the umbrella. The man saw her lean toward the elderly woman and say something. She opened her beach bag, reached in and pulled out a diaphanous chiffon top, which she wrapped around her shoulders.

   The show was over for the man, too. He put the binoculars down and turned to his crossword puzzle. He only did the cryptic crosswords, and always in ink, never pencil. He didn’t make mistakes. Not any more. He had made too many in his life. He sipped at a cold bottle of Banks beer, its sides dripping with condensation in the February heat while he wrestled the crossword into submission.

   A movement caught his eye. He glanced up from his crossword in the direction of the redheaded nymph. She stood up, and now she wandered towards the pool edge. He grabbed the binoculars and watched her dip a toe in the lukewarm water, sending ripples scurrying away from her. Her bare, freckled shoulders shone in the sun. The flimsy top lay abandoned on the chaise, a sleeve draped over the side as if it still contained its wearer, the cuff touching the concrete paver. A slight breeze fluffed life into the cloth before fading away, leaving the sleeve a study in still life.

   The goddess slipped into the pool with scarcely a ripple to betray her entry. She surfaced and pulled her hair behind her, squeezing water down her back. She smiled as she spoke unheard words to a young man close by. The man on the balcony overcame a momentary pang of envy, envy that she should be speaking to a good-looking, tanned and lean-muscled young man, and even a little jealous that his own body, now well past its best days, could not hope to compete with that of a narcissist half his age.

   She swam several effortless lengths then hauled her body out of the pool in one movement and sat on the edge with her feet in the water. From the vantage point on his second floor balcony, the man noticed that the young Lothario had already moved on to a trio of much younger women with whom he was obviously flirting. She moved her head. For a moment he thought the woman might have glanced up to his balcony. No, he decided, she hadn’t, but he imagined he caught a hint of a smile flick across her lips before she looked back at the pool. Or maybe not. His rational brain told him that a human heart does not melt, do backflips or any other such nonsense, including standing still. He froze for a second, and then turned his attention to his crossword. 14 Down. Backflip. He wrote the four missing letters in the empty squares, and set his pen aside with a satisfied smile.

   He thought of lighting a cigarette, a Sobrani Black Russian, his favourite for twenty years, ever since his business allowed him to indulge his weakness and he could afford the premium price. His hand twitched involuntarily in a gesture all too familiar, reaching out. The cigarettes were not within reach. They were back home, where he had deliberately left them, in a silver and tortoise shell cigarette box on the desk in his den, the box unopened for four months as a test of will power. He studied the twin purple-blue ridges of the long scar running down his sternum, and the marks left by the staples, a now-permanent reminder of his open-heart surgery the previous fall, and knew he was lucky to be alive. His heart had indeed stopped. Once.

   The sun cast long shadows across the hotel’s spacious palm-studded grounds. He searched the pool for the goddess, but she had vanished from sight. Through the binoculars he sought her by the beach, but could not find her. The large, open sided pavilion where they served breakfast and lunch, accompanied by hummingbirds, lizards and the occasional inquisitive parakeet bent on sharing a meal with the guests, surrendered no trace of her. He noted with satisfaction that the young man with the muscles had also departed the pool. So, too, had the trio of scantily clad women the young man had been trying to impress.

   Then he caught sight of her, the goddess with her skin now aflame in the orange and red fires of the setting sun. A gentle breeze tugged at a strand of unruly hair at her temple. She rescued it with a finger and hooked it behind her ear. She turned, and when she looked towards the hotel he saw a yellow hibiscus blossom tucked behind her other ear, and her chiffon top tied loosely around her trim waist like a bronze sarong, softening the sharp triangle of her bikini.

   He knew he had to go to her. He had to speak to her, to bask in her presence.

   He left the suite and took the stairs to the ground floor. He pushed through the French doors of the hotel’s art deco rear entrance and stopped on the patio, his head swivelling from right to left, searching for her. He spotted her, standing alone, gazing out to sea, one side of her slim, lithe body illuminated by the flame of a tiki lamp flickering by her side, the other cast in shadow. The sun had almost set, dipping the bottom edge of its disk in the sea like a nervous swimmer testing the water. In minutes, night would cloak Barbados in velvet and the steel pan band would begin its off-key duel with the tone-deaf cicadas.

   She turned as the man neared her. Her face registered neither surprise nor fear at his approach. He slowed and came to a stop a step from her side. He tugged at the hem of his Hawaiian shirt, lurid purple and pink glowing in the sunset, and for a moment stared away from her at the silhouettes of the palm trees. Then he lowered his gaze to the flame coloured hibiscus printed on the front of his shirt. He shuffled his feet, fighting to suppress the nervousness that had bedevilled him since he was a gawky teenager with acne and braces and horn rimmed eyeglasses, trying to summon the courage to ask a girl for a date.

   He looked into the eyes of the red haired Athena standing as immobile as a Greek statue. A quizzical and slightly bemused smile crossed her face. He took in the freckles on her cheeks and the tracery of crows’ feet radiating from the corners of her eyes, crinkling with her smile. Her eyes glowed emerald green and sapphire blue with flecks of gold and amber to add to his confusion. He had never beheld a woman more serene or beguiling as the one who stood before him now, eyeing him with curiosity.

   “Hi,” he said.

   “Hi, yourself,” she replied with a broad smile. Her hand strayed to her hip. It swayed slightly, provocatively as she twisted round to face him fully.

   His licked his lips nervously, covered his mouth with a hand and coughed lightly. He gazed into those bewitching eyes again and took a deep breath.

   “I just wanted to tell you,” he said, “how glad I am that you married me all those years ago.”

END

THIS AND OTHER STORIES APPEAR IN MICHAEL JOLL’S COLLECTION

CHECK OUT MICHAEL’S BOOK HERE

 

Stories
by Michael Joll
Permalink: http://a.co/9kZPd6y

 

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Down Independence Boulevard –What Readers Say About it

February 19, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase 
“Down Independence Boulevard” is another masterpiece by Kenneth Puddicombe following on the heels of “Junta” and “Racing with the Rain” both of which also fall into the category of excellent historical fiction.His latest work is packed with sixteen wonderfully written stories from which the reader can pick and choose the ones that are most appealing, as I have. Anyone who has read Ken’s previous books will have been already accustomed to his skill in holding the reader’s imagination with page after page of exciting detail. Whether he is writing about the political struggles between different factions in the former British Guiana or more intimate stories of a personal nature within a Guyanese family, his possession of a broad vocabulary and a masterful use of the English language should impress any reader. I haven’t yet read the entire sixteen stories which is another benefit of selecting the stories that one wants to read in any sequence. So far I am enjoying “Down Independence Boulevard”.You will too.

Rosaliene Bacchus

February 27, 2017

Format: Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent read. Ken Puddicombe’s short stories are riveting and, in many cases, heartbreaking. His stories give us a close-up view of the effects of political unrest in disrupting the lives of families and individuals, forcing them to seek refuge in foreign lands. But Puddicombe doesn’t end there. He takes us to Canada and the United States where the immigrants, legal and illegal, attempt to rebuild their lives. Each story is a gem.

Ken Puddicombe sparks curiosity, melancholy, anger, and laughter as he shares the lives of the various characters in “Down Independence Boulevard”. These stories lend a glimpse into Guyana’s history and culture, while unraveling unique storylines. The reader is torn between being able to relate to the characters in one story, then feeling outraged by their actions in the next story! The stories build slowly, and you find yourself pondering and questioning, and then the answers are slowly revealed. As a first generation Canadian, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Guyana through the lives of Puddicombe’s diverse characters, his choice of settings, and the lifestyles of the characters. “Down Independence Boulevard” left me missing the characters and wondering what is to come for them…perhaps a sequel!


Having read the previous books by Ken Puddicombe,I must say that Down Independence Boulevard was masterfully presented by him and once again showed his skilful depiction to detail, which appeal to the five senses and imagination. Ken’s way of delving into our imagination with his many sensuous details help the reader realize that persons,places and things are within the phenomenon he describes.
The start of every page not only brought humour but the longing to get to the next page to experience the characters with the imagination you could be that person.
Reading the assorted stories was a pleasant change from having to read through a book with the same characters from beginning to end.
Well done; highly recommended and look forward to the next writings of Ken Puddicombe.
Bazp


Elaine Gardiner

March 7, 2018 at 3:47 pm

“Down Independence Boulevard” is an amazing first collection of short stories and Ken Puddicombe’s remarkable story telling. “Black Friday” left me with sadness; “The Family Photograph” brought a smile to my face, but “The Last Straw” has to be my favourite, as I am left imagining about the outcome of the moustache (!) and hoping that Zorina was able to have a successful and happier life, but then I am continuing in my mind what was only a story, but such a good one!



Jean Tiwari

Down Independence Boulevard and other stories

A great book of well written and descriptive short stories.

I do have quite a few favourites, some of which relates to my years growing up in Guyana.

My favourite of all would be “The Last Straw” a story a woman being exploited by her in-laws and her very vain husband. Her revenge was quite amusing, and I smiled to
myself a long time after, whenever I thought of the ending. Was even smiling while writing this and recalling the story. Would love a follow up on this. -Jean Tiwari


Ratings on WRITING Competitions

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Sites for checking up on the multitude of writing competitions, separating the chaff from the ones worth pursuing…because it’s always wise to do your due diligence before proceeding.

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/allis-self-publishing-service-directory/award-and-contest-ratings-reviews/

Guest Author -Conditions

 

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Guest Authors are invited to submit their work for publication in my Blog. It will appear on this page. Writing can consist of a Short Story, Slice Of Life, Poem or Travel Piece.

ALL the following conditions MUST be met:

  1. The work must be the original work of the person submitting.
  2. Pieces MUST be 2,500 words or less.
  3. The work must not be defamatory, libellous, racist or pornographic in nature.
  4. Submit a brief Bio [no more than 150 words].
  5. State contact information.
  6. Attach a Headshot.
  7. Previously published work acceptable, providing the rights have reverted to you.

THE AUTHOR MUST ATTACH THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT TO THE WORK SUBMITTED 

[NAME OF WORK]

I, [author’s name] understand that for the Work listed above:

  • It is being submitted for the purpose of publication in Ken Puddicombe’s Blog for a limited time.
  • The work is subject to editing for format and content.
  •  I understand there is no payment for publication.
  • I further certify that I own the copyright to this work and have all rights to it, and that if it was previously published, all rights have reverted to me and will revert to me after publication in Ken Puddicombe’s Blog.

Send your work to

kenpudwriter@gmail.com

Subject Heading: Publication in Blog

 

 

Junta Review -Guyana Times

‘Junta: The Coup is On’ – A novel by Ken Puddicombe

‘Junta…’ is more than a novel merely about a bloodless coup, executed by the military in a seemingly flawless plan headed by General Septimus Ignatius Marks, wrenching power from the legitimately elected government, as it goes beyond the coup into the machinations of the junta to hold onto to power, at whatever cost, pitting its machinery of manufactured fear and military decisiveness backed by a gang of mercenaries/thugs, headed by The Reverend – a merciless criminal, carrying out the dictates – doing the dirty work – of the army acting under direct instruction of Captain Stevenson, against tiny groups of people seeking the return to civilian rule and the restoration of Front Cover of Junta A Novel by Ken Puddicombedemocracy, a group consisting of students of a university led by Melanie Sanderson, the pugnacious editor of a newspaper, Clarence Baptiste, and a reformist priest, Father Bert, as it goes beyond the junta birthed in the wake of the coup as General Marks is supplanted by his protégé, now General Glen Stevenson. All of the above is set against the backdrop of Hurricane David which adds little to the suspense of the plot, but was a major player in further pauperising the less fortunate while sparing the rich and fortunate few.

 

Continue reading

Story Of The Month

NOTE: “The Story Of The Month” changes every month and might also have been featured in my collection DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD published by MiddleRoad Publishers in 2017 and available on Amazon, or might be an Extract from my two novels RACING WITH THE RAIN and JUNTA.

FOR MORE WRITING LIKE THIS CHECK OUT

Down Independence Boulevard: and other stories
by Ken Puddicombe
Link: http://a.co/4Fy5oBg

 

2017

December -The Touch Of Peace

2018

Jan – The Interview

Feb – The Underground [2nd Prize Polaris Magazine]

Mar -Welcome  To Punta Canada

APR – Return Of The Prodigal [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]

MAY- No Thank You

JUNE – The Shoplifter

JULY/ AUGUST: The Last Straw [from Down Independence Boulevard and Other Stories]

 

THE LAST STRAW ©

[featured in DOWN INDEPENDENCE BOULEVARD AND OTHER STORIES available at Amazon and in eReaders]

“Bring my food, I will eat here.”

Zorina heard the command from Raj who was sitting in the family room.

And she brought it, as she’d been doing for what seemed like an eternity.

man couple people woman

Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

It was a habit he’d picked up lately. He was looking at one of those long Sunday afternoon football games, refusing to budge, demanding to be served. The first time it happened, she’d suggested they eat together as a family. He shouted her down and told her to mind her own business. She never interrupted his game again.

He stretched out his left hand when she approached. She placed the plate on his palm and he took it without looking away from the TV. The plate was filled with rice smothered with dhal, bhaji, aloo-curry and roti, along with sweet-rice for dessert, an appetizing combination that always brought out the best in him.

She’d been cooking and doing chores most of the morning while he watched television. No frozen food for him, or his mother. Fresh food was essential to a long life, he often said.

“The food is too cold,” his voice was filled with scorn. He flung the plate across the room. “How many times must I tell you that I hate cold food?”

She was shaken. Half-hour ago she’d told him she’d finished cooking and he had ignored her. It was his own fault the food had grown cold while he sat there glued to the set. What did he expect her to do?

Raj had done many mean things in the past but never anything violent. There was the time last winter when he’d invited his friends over for drinks. He had quite a few. His glass fell on the floor and shattered. In her haste to clean up and leave the room, she had nicked herself on the broken glass. As she headed back to the kitchen she heard him say to his friends, “Clumsy woman. She can’t do anything right.”

Back then, she’d felt humiliated. Now, she was enraged. She scooped the food off the floor and hurried to the kitchen. As she passed through the entranceway, waves of nausea engulfed her. She dropped the plate on the table, rushed to the sink and vomited.

After she composed herself she went back with a brush and a bucket filled with water and soap. The rug was stained: a long, yellow streak where the plate landed. As she scrubbed away at the discoloration, Raj sat there, attention focused on the game, not saying anything or acknowledging her presence. It was the same way his mother and three sisters treated her. They would be talking to one another and if Zorina tried to get involved in the conversation, they’d ignore her. What am I, Zorina thought, a servant girl who has to know her place? Only speak when spoken to?And the looks they gave her, cutting up their eyesand turning away, treating her like some mangy cat whose owner no longer could bear its presence.

Zorina went back to the kitchen to clean up the sink and wash the brush and bucket. I can’t take much more of this. If this continues, I will lose my mind. She felt her stomach heave and throb. Especially now, of all times.

There was a presence looming behind her and she thought it was Raj. Had he realised how mean he’d been to her and come to apologise, perhaps?

“Zorina.” It was her mother-in-law. “I don’ like the way you sew dis dress.”

Here we go again. There is no pleasing this woman.

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“It not fitting praperly.”

It must run in the family. She and her son are just the same. “It’s like all the other dresses I sew for you.”

“I tell you that dis one not sew praperly, girl.”

Zorina caressed her protruding stomach. I can never do anything right, in her eyes. First, she tells me she wants the dress to be loose fitting, now she’s telling me it’s too slack. This all started when the results of the test came back and she heard that it was a girl. Instead of being happy that I finally got pregnant after so many years of trying, she was far from pleased. She as much as said it, she wanted a boy to carry on the family name. As if it’s my fault. She’s trying to get back at me. I just know it.

“Where is it not fitting properly?” Zorina said.

“It bunching up here and here, and here.” The old lady pointed to the top of the dress, the waist and the hips.

The number of hours I spent on this dress! She must have put on weight since I made the last one. I dare not tell her that, though! She will end up complaining to her son that I told her she is getting fat and useless, and he will give me hell, again.

“Why don’t you try it on again for me to see?” Zorina said.

“I telling you it not fitting right. The whole t’ing gat to rip open and sew back again.”

Zorina was speechless. She knew it was futile to argue, useless to tell her of the number of hours it had taken to sew the dress, hopeless to try to please her. The familiar response would be: “You have to do it the way I want it. Is not your money paying for it, anyhow.” Zorina knew she was better off ignoring the remarks, although they would linger for a long time, gnawing at her like a migraine that can be eased with a pill, but in the long run could be the sign of worse to come.

Her mother-in-law tossed the dress on the kitchen table and left the room.

Zorina sighed and shook her head. Days like this she had to keep reminding herself that it was not the end of the world. She reached into the cupboard, pulled out a plate, made her way over to the stove, filled it with food. She stuck the plate into the microwave and pressed the Reheatbutton.

***

Zorina was reworking the dress on the machine in the master bedroom as Raj prepared for bed. She could see him through the open door of the washroom. She knew all his habits—could tell what he would do, when he would do it, how he would do it. It wasn’t as if she was gifted. After all, he reminded her often of the advantages of a good family background and first-class education. And if he didn’t tell her that so many times, there was always his mother to remind her how fortunate she was to marry into an upper class family, considering the small dowry she had brought with her.

Raj opened the grooming kit and started his nightly routine in front of the mirror. Over the years she’d noticed the increased dedication to his moustache and before long it became something attracting favourable comments wherever he went. When the comments came, they seemed to strike the right chord with him, bringing out a sense of pride and accomplishment. She knew he was following in his father’s footsteps. He’d joined the police force in what was then British Guiana, same as his father. He joined the military after independence came; his father served with British forces during WWII. And he had grown his moustache, the same as his father.

Zorina continued her sewing, taking an occasional glance at Raj.

The moustache: handlebars that started off thick and abundant immediately below his nose, spiralling outwards and upwards across his cheeks, the outer fringes gradually tapering off until the ends looked like two small paintbrushes around the sideburns.

The most important part of his primping: he used a small pair of scissors from his kit to trim the hair around his nostrils, black flecks falling all over the bathroom sink which she would have to clean before she went to bed. All through the day, every day, he defended the shape of his moustache from wind, sleet, hail or rain, ensuring it retained its structure with an application of wax in the morning and a second before bed. She wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he applied wax at work, too.

The waxing was just one of the ways that his moustache managed to retain its appearance. She saw many men fidgeting with their moustache in a pensive mood or during a conversation. To her, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, a habit so ingrained it became second nature. But Raj had tremendous willpower. She saw him many times as he sat with his friends, drinking whisky and soda. His face would twitch and jerk; yet he never touched his moustache. When someone entered the room he looked down his nose and along the sides of his face, checking that all the hair was still in place, fully knowing that sooner or later, his moustache would be the centre of attention.

Raj always boasted of the discipline he acquired in the police force and the army. In public he sat with hands folded, as if he were grasping them and refusing permission to scratch, until all his features eventually assumed the traits of a twitching rabbit. His face went into spasms and his large brown eyes dilated but he would not pull or tweak or curl his moustache. At times like this, his large nostrils flared, his cheeks turned dark brown, his eyes watered. She never saw what happened to his lips—they were concealed beneath the thick growth above and below, but she thought surely they surely had to be quivering.

Now, Raj took his last look at the mirror. Even as he made his way out she knew he would look sideways, keeping his eyes on the mirror, checking the shape of his pride and joy from every angle, right up to the moment his reflection disappeared from view. It was the same when he left for work in the morning; he took such a long time to lace his shoes she swore he was looking at his image in the bright sheen. And not once had he told her what a good job she did on his shoes. When he went through the door and paused to take the flask of tea from her, he would take a last glance at his reflection in the glass in the top half of the door.

 “Do you remember what you said about the dress that I sew for Ma?” she said.

He hesitated at the side of the bed. She thought he looked wary, as if he felt she was trying to lure him into a trap.

He shrugged.

“Don’t you remember how you said it was so nice? Well, here it is. I’m reworking everything for her–she didn’t like it one bit.”

“Oh?” He climbed into bed.

“Yes, and there is nothing wrong with it. I sewed it exactly the same way she wanted it.”

“Why is that such a big problem? Why do you always make such a big fuss over such trivial matters? If she doesn’t like it, it must mean that it doesn’t fit her good. Just sew it over again.” With that, he turned away and pulled the blanket over.

She shook her head. So many times over the past years, she wondered how things had reached their present state. When they were first married she was happy, even though she was living in his parents’ house on Independence Boulevard. Eventually, she realised she was the one doing all the housework, even though Raj had three sisters who were old enough to share the burden. She soon started to feel like a stepdaughter, instead of a daughter-in-law. Like the Cinderella character, only, there was no prince coming along to save her. She already had someone who thought he was a prince.

She hoped he would change, and in those first few years when they lived in their own house on Canal Road, before it was renamed Independence Boulevard, he was a lot more considerate. Sometimes he even helped with the household chores on the weekend. Then, came the period of political instability in Guyana, a general strike that crippled the entire country and riots sending refugees fleeing to areas where they felt safer among their own kind. He started to feel the discrimination of being one of the few East Indians in the armed forces. It didn’t take long to realise there was no future for them in the newly independent Guyana.

Canada beckoned and they came with great expectations of a better life. The first thing he did was to apply to join the Metro Toronto Police but was rejected outright as being unsuitable. The explanation given was vague, something about not meeting requirements, but he was sure it was discrimination all over again. Working for private security companies in a series of low paying jobs followed. It was never the same again.

On the few occasions they went out together shopping at the City Centre, he walked ahead, as if she were a servant required to follow in her master’s footsteps. When they returned, he wouldn’t help to bring in or pack the groceries. Clearing snow off the driveway was entirely her job, and his contribution to cutting the grass was to raise his feet off the ground as he read newspapers on the lawn chair.

Despite all her misgivings, she knew she should be thankful. She had security; a large house with all the conveniences she never knew existed when she was a girl back in British Guiana. And now, she had a child on the way. But, every new confrontation with Raj or his mother made her feel as if it were the last straw, as if she would end up doing something rash. Her situation became so desperate at times that she wanted to scream and lash out at both of them, tell them she had enough, and couldn’t continue to take their lack of consideration.

It was no different when his family came over to visit. Not only did they take her for granted, they acted as if they had more rights in the house than her. At times she felt like his mistress instead of his wife, especially with their habit of glaring and whispering in the background. What really troubled her, though, was the lack of recognition of her contribution to what she and Raj had achieved so far. Why, it was her sewing that brought in the extra income over the years and if it hadn’t been for her skimping and saving, they would never have been able to leave their apartment in Toronto and move to their first house in Brampton. She could remember the look of defeat when he was about to sponsor his mother for immigration and he thought he would fail because of lack of funds and accommodation, and then the amazement on his face when she pulled out the bankbook and showed the money she had saved, all from sewing for people who recognised her talent.

She woke up early the next morning, starting her chores earlier than usual. She’d already piled all her clothes in the laundry basket the previous night. Now, she brought the basket down to the kitchen, pulled her suitcase from the basement and started to pack. She stuffed the old suitcase, folding her dresses, slips and underwear, with swift, precise movements, the stillness of the morning broken only by the low-pitched whine of the condenser in the fridge kicking in every now and then. The steady rhythm of the pendulum of the clock on the wall counted the minutes until daybreak when Raj would rise.

She finished packing her suitcase, but before closing it, there was one more thing she had to do. She hurried up the stairs and headed for the master bedroom.

There was no sound coming from her mother-in-law’s bedroom as she passed it. In the master bedroom, Raj was still asleep. There was no waking him; that was the way he slept after a heavy meal. She’d made sure the food was piping hot and was not surprised at the satisfied look on his face, the contentment of a man whose two pleasures in life were flagrant exhibition of his moustache and that from eating a hearty meal.

She opened the walk-in closet, turned the light on and reached for the sewing kit on the top shelf. It was the one item she needed, had to have if all her plans were to work. The kit almost fell from her hand as she reached for it. She caught it just before it hit the floor but the lid flew open and banged on the door. She held her breath and tilted her head in the direction of the bed but the steady rhythm of his breathing continued. She opened the kit and extracted the scissors. The twin blades were cold steel in her hands.

It would be so easy, she thought.

He’s sleeping. He would never know what happened. Am I brave enough to do it? Should I repay him for all the insults, all the cruel acts he and his mother inflicted on me over the years?

And it was true. She felt she had reached her breaking point.

She waited on the driveway for the taxi she had arranged the night before; she wanted to make sure the doorbell did not ring when it arrived. The taxi took her straight to the GO station and she caught the first train to Toronto.

Settled in her seat, she looked at her watch. It was exactly fifteen minutes to six. Raj was like clockwork and he was rising at this time. In the next minute he would be calling for her to bring his first cup of tea as he headed for the washroom.

At ten minutes to six, he would stand at bathroom mirror to wash the sleep from his eyes. She could imagine him, reaching for the towel from the stand.

He’d be saying: “I wonder what the devil is taking dis girl so long with my tea,” and he’d shout her name at the top of his voice. “Zorina, you trying to make me late for work or what?”

He would take his first look in the mirror after he washed his face. In that exact moment, he’d probably notice the image staring back. He’d wonder who the stranger was. She could picture the lack of comprehension, the horror growing on his face by the second as he reached out for his cheeks, pulled them to see if he was really awake or in the middle of a terrible nightmare. Then, he would open his eyes wide as the truth stared back—the right handlebar was gone, pruned like a brush cut-back all the way to its trunk in spring. She had snipped as close to his nostril she could get without disturbing him. Later, he’d find the snipped section in his lunch box—a present to ponder for a long time. The best part of it: he’d have to trim the left and feel the pain of the moment as he did it!

She wished she could be there, if only for that moment. It would almost make up for everything.

END