When Your Lover Has Gone

 

My uncle is a wise man. Forty-two years of age this Autumn. He graduated from the Imperial College London university in 1988 where he had studied civil engineering for seven years. In the same year he received his master’s degree, he found work as a structural engineer for a top firm (partially due to ample prior experience as a trainee and then an intermediate engineer). He excelled in whichever position he reached, and was generally liked and looked up to throughout the board for his commitment, ideas and adeptness.

He got married also in the same year, and moved to Brighton with his wife a few months after the wedding. Before they were married together, my uncle and his wife had only known each other for six months. Everything was so abrupt but he didn’t mind. That’s the way he liked to do things, that’s the way he maneuvered through life; quickly, quietly and without too much thought or planning involved (though also with an incredible measure of efficiency).

He and his wife found a nice little home and set out to begin their life by the coast. To my uncle, it only made sense for him to alter his profession slightly to coastal and geo-technical engineering as he had decent experience in both sub-disciplines. Unsurprisingly, he flourished in these roles. He had an unmistakable knack for whatever he put his hand to. It was a product of discipline and hard work just as much as it was product of some natural flair he seemed to emerge from the womb with.

By 1996, my uncle became a senior engineer, and in the following two years, a specialist. He made a lot of money, more than he and his wife even knew what to do with. They didn’t have kids; she didn’t want to at the time. Fortunately, he wasn’t so keen on having children either. It’s not something he ever looked forward to (til this day, he still has none). My uncle hated living in Brighton, he missed London dearly. Though, his wife had made it clear before they were married that she wanted to stay in Brighton near her parents until they died.

*

Since he retired his engineering work in 2001, my uncle has been for three years the owner of a ritzy restaurant in Central London. Fair-sized and specialising in seafood, the restaurant is managed day-to-day by a close friend of his, whom he met whilst in Brighton. Living by the coast for twelve years seemed to have fueled an affinity for seafood in him. And even though he wasn’t involved practically with the restaurant, he had become a kind of expert on all types of edible fish during his time in Brighton, and learnt variant ways of preparing seafood gourmet.

My uncle and the woman he had married got divorced in 2000 when she admitted to him that she was having an affair with her ex-fiancé. She’d claimed to have lost feelings for her ex-fiancé, and that she was no longer in contact with him. Naturally, the news completely tore my uncle apart. He had had an idea that she may have been sneaking around; seeing someone here, another person there – for something casual, maybe a couple of drinks with a pinch of coquetting every so often (it’s what married couples often did for whatever reason, at least he thought). But that did not seem to be the case in this particular instance. He was devastated. My uncle truly loved her to whatever extent he knew how to. He really envisioned spending the rest of his life with her. They made plans together to move to the south of France once her parents had passed away. I never met the ex-wife, and he rarely spoke of her. In fact, he only ever brought her up once when I asked him if he’d ever want kids of his own.

*

My uncle is a loving and honest man. He loves to paint, though he never thought himself to be any good at it. He is, however, exceptionally deft with words, and equally good with women. On average, he brings four different women home every three-or-so months – always in their 20s – and sleeps with each one for weeks at a go before repeating the cycle all over with a new batch of women. Though at times the women desired so, my uncle never pursued committing to a real relationship with any of them. He no longer trusted women. It was unfortunate, he said, that one bad experience had changed his entire outlook on women. But what am I to do – leave myself vulnerable to hurt again?

His experience with his ex-wife etched an everlasting grey area in his mind which he felt no woman could ever purge. Some menacing pool of apprehension and gloom that taunts him, piercing his conscious whenever he dared forgetting his wife and that whole episode of his life.

He never used to, but after the divorce my uncle began to drink a lot. On most weekends, he and some old colleagues meet up at some bar and the boys go wild. Occasionally, though, he stays in and quietly spends the evening with a chilled bottle of whiskey while some 60’s jazz capers in the background as he laps a random car mag.

All in all, my uncle isn’t a terrible man. Just a simple, humble, hardworking soul submersing himself in the many mysteries and adventures and scenarios and turns which life presents. Taking life one day at a time, he is just another man with his own set of flaws and struggles.

 

 

Thank you for reading. With this piece, I was focusing on character building, and also simply practising pulling words together for the joy of it. No promises, but I may write up a second part to this which expands on who the nephew/niece is.
Criticisms and feedback are much appreciated!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Eddy’s Brother)

 

“When did he get back?”
“Who, Eddy’s brother? Last week Tuesday. He’s been quite busy, that’s why I haven’t had a chance to see him yet.” Vince says.

Uriel takes a lengthy sip of his now lukewarm bottled water. He lights himself a Marlboro Gold then tucks the almost empty packet back into the chest pocket of his cream shirt. The sun beams down while the two young men sit on a bench. Birds glide skillfully overhead, supple branches sway in the gentle breeze.
Vince and Uriel are seated outside a small sandwich shop. Opposite the bench is the main road which the duo gape at whilst conversing during their lunch break. It’s an early-Spring afternoon, a little before 3pm.

An easy silence swings between them momentarily, then as if suddenly remembering he’s with Vince and not alone at home, Uriel throws out, “What’s he like?”
Vince, who chomps eagerly at the remains of his toasted BLT sandwich, squints his eyes at a spot on the ground, trying to come up of a brief but reasonably conclusive answer to Uriel’s question.

“Hmm, well, I’d say he’s an awful lot like Eddy, but just only a little more… out there, I guess. Or rather, was. I mean, sure it’s been only four years since I last saw him, but he might have changed. People tend to when they move away to a different place. Environment and associates can have a relatively substantial influence on an individual, whether they realise it or not.”
“Quite often they don’t.” adds Uriel
“He might not be the same Ian as I remember him.”
“What d’you mean more out there though? In what sense?” Uriel ashes his cigarette as a cluster of smoke follows his question out of his mouth into the air around them.

Vince stops mid-chew, trains his eyes at roughly the same spot on the ground as before, then relaxes this stance.
“How can I put this?” he mumbles half to himself. “Well, he’s more talkative than Eddy, for one. He’s spontaneous, he’ll be up for anything. The most random of things at that. He does crazy things for crazy reasons. Don’t get me wrong, Eddy does crazy things, too, but the reasoning behind it is often later revealed to be somewhat justifiable. Somewhat [As he says this, Vince looks at Uriel and gives a half smile, who offers the same smile and a monosyllabic laugh back]. But Ian, he’s totally different in that sense.”

“Example?”
“Okay, take this example: one time, Ian, Eddy, this Dutch chick called Romy who I met through Eddy, and myself were chilling out at Ian’s place, right. It must have been around eight or nine in the evening, we were all drinking beers. Now, Ian lived near a park stadium. Not a huge one, just your average sized stadium. It was used mostly for sports days, charity events; things like that. It’d close around six in the evening, and by eight it’d be completely locked off and empty. During that whole summer, we used to sneak in through some back entrance and climb over this nine-or-so foot iron gate and sit in the stands, just talking and drinking and laughing and fooling around. We were, what, eighteen? It would be ’round about midnight hours, so no one was around. Nobody could hear us. All the cameras directed at the tracks and at the stands were shut off ’cause, I mean, there wasn’t much to be stolen, unless some weird bloke decided he wanted to loot some stadium seats or something like that. Anyway, so we were virtually undisturbed. It was summer so the air was nice. We used to spark up and everything. You ever got high at a closed off stadium in the middle of the night? Shit’s epic.”
Uriel’s face bares a very slight smile as he jokingly shakes his head, then slyly peers at his wristwatch, and continues smoking as he listens for the rest of the story. Vince scrunches his wrappers up and tosses them in the bin beside the bench. He rubs his hands together and strains his eyes as if trying to focus in on a visible scene of where his story left off.

“But anyway, that particular night, Ian had a few too many beers I think. So imagine this, right: on our way back to his place, instead of going towards the back entrance we came in through, he thought it’d be a great idea to start a fire at the entrance to the stadium. Right by the front! Of course it was locked off from the outside, but the way we came in gave us direct access to the main entrance. He took a little bundle of flyers he’d found somewhere inside and set them alight with a clipper. At first, we thought, Hey, Ian, what are you doing? Stop playing, but we weren’t paying all that much attention to it. We were all too high and tipsy. About five minutes later, this flame was huge! And I’m not talking one of those fires you and your friends start in some deserted park when you’re sixteen. I’m talking a great big fire! Right inside the stadium.”

“Man, are you serious? Inside?” questioned Uriel, taken aback. The tone he carries conveys less bafflement than it does disappointment.
“Dead serious. None of us had realised it was growing that rapidly or vigorously, either. I’ll never forget how tall those flames were. The smoke… It ended up on the local news and everything. The cameras by the entrance must have been shut off, too. We never got caught. No suspects, no nothing. There wasn’t even a smoke alarm. The investigation didn’t follow up any much longer than say a few days. They were probably lazy and ruled it off as some unexplained accident. Someone left something on, and it sparked up and caught fire or something.”
“What, like how the guy in Fight Club thought his apartment exploded because of a jolt from his fridge triggered his gas-filled apartment into it exploding?” Uriel interposes.
“Yeah maybe something like that.” Vince says with a small laugh. “The security in that place was a joke. Awful. At times when I look back, I think maybe they deserved it. For lack of care and proper security.”

Uriel’s mien bears residue of perplexity as he mulls over the story of Eddy’s brother again. He tosses the end of his cigarette to the ground and lightly stomps on it. His left hand then reaches to caress the fresh stubble on his neck and chin.

“But anyway, you know why this was all so crazy?” Vince continues. “The next morning when we asked Ian why he did it, he said to us, I wanted to see what they’d rebuild, or some B-S like that. Can you believe that?! The guy is nuts. Whose curiosity drives them to set fire to a park stadium just so they can see what would be rebuilt after it’s all been burned down to the ground? Nuts.”
To see what they’d rebuild.” Uriel repeats blankly. He then looks to Vince with a playful expression, saying, “He sounds kind’a interesting if you ask me.”

Vince rises to his feet, dusts remnants of his sandwich off of his smart navy blue trousers, and reties his left shoelace. Uriel, too, gets up and stretches his back slightly and scans his clothes for any stains or crumbs or ash.
“We’d better head back,” says Uriel. “don’t want the boss getting cranky again now, do we?” Vince smiles. They both get into Uriel’s Peugeot 206 and head back to their office.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading. With this particular piece, I was focusing on dialogue. Criticisms and feedback are always welcome and much appreciated!

 

 

 

 

 

Alone Together (Traditions, traditions)

“Hurry up, Zack, or we’ll be late!” I hear from the other room.
“Mum, mum. My tie, mum. My tie,” Zack said.
I fold the corner of the page from the book I’m reading and place it on the desk beside me.
“Here,” I say to him, rising from the sofa. “Let me give you a hand with that.”
His eyeballs stay unwaveringly focused on my hands as I wade through the steps of tying his tie.

Zack and his mother, Elaine, are going to the wedding of a family friend. Elaine’s long time friend’s daughter is getting married. My mother, who is good friends with Elaine and the mother of the girl who is getting married, is also attending the wedding. I, too, would have been attending, though Elaine’s daughter, Sandra, is feeling poorly. And so Elaine had asked me to come over to the house and watch over her while they went to the wedding (Sandra is seven years of age, she was born mute and almost completely blind). I told her it was no bother. I wasn’t so keen on going to the wedding anyway. I packed a novel, a small lunch and my pen and pad.

“She’s getting married to an accountant from New Zealand. God knows how they met. The mother had told me some time ago, but I’ve forgotten,” Elaine says to me as she peers at the Elaine in the mirror who meticulously applies a thin sheet of eyeliner. “Isla. Beautiful girl. Not much older than you, actually.”

“Uncle,” Zack says. “why aren’t you coming with us?”
I kneel to him and place my hand on a shoulder of his. “I’m staying at home to make sure Sandra’s well.”
“To make sure Sandra is well and gets better?”
“Mm-hmm. Now you go have fun. And behave yourself.”

Five or so minutes pass, and as Elaine does her last minute scurry-around for anything she might’ve forgotten to pack with her, she says, “There’s a leftover casserole in the fridge that you could warm up for you and Sandra at some point. I think there’s some garlic bread in the freezer, too, if you want to put some in the oven.”

*

I hear the steady roar of the car engine, and listen to it as it gradually fades off until I can no longer hear it. I stretch myself languidly onto the sofa for some moments and remain motionless – physically, and also in state of mind (to whatever possible extent the mind can be motionless).

***

It was well into the spring of 1993. A lax downpour of sun spread itself over the church building, and around its steeple a small company of wrens praised cordially beneath the sun’s generosity. The church building was brimmed with men, women and children – all suited in their cleanest, sharpest attire – smiling uneasily at one another. There were awkward verbal exchanges amidst an abundance of forged, nervous laughter. The mass awaited the arrival of the bride in sour and frantic anticipation. There was a peculiar air of tense excitement about the place, though it all weighed fickle, as if everyone couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with.

The bridegroom sat in one corner of the church building, alone, gently though unconsciously stroking his knees with the sweaty palms of his hands. He was nervous, and whenever he felt this way, his hands seemed to take on a mind of their own. Like some strange, independent organisms that latched themselves onto the end of his forearms. He took several deep breaths.

Friends and family members approached the bridegroom multiple times to either check on him or provide him with some urgent piece of information of which he needed to receive. If they had nothing he deemed important to say, he’d send them away hastily, almost foully. I need to think, I need to prepare myself, he’d tell them, Go find something else to do for now!  Understandably, he was erratic and impulsive – he was about to echo wedding vows to a woman he’d never met before in his entire 47 years. The bridegroom’s father and the parents of his soon-to-be-wife had met a few times beforehand, and had spoken even more frequently to each other than the couple who were about to be married.

It was an old tradition that both families kept; if a man’s daughter reached a certain age and had not found a husband to marry, the father of the unmarried woman would find a husband for his daughter to marry, regardless of whether she desired the chosen man or not. It was a custom that went back several generations.

*

“It’s stupid,” said the woman, exhaling smoke from her nostrils. A stern look daubed her face as she glared into the mirror before her. With both hands, the woman slicked back the few unfettered strands of hair on either side of her head. A Marlboro Gold burned between her lips. A young lady was crouched at her waist, tugging at any pleats or minor creases on the woman’s wedding gown, and scrupulously checking for any visible imperfections. Eyes and hands still trained on the wedding gown, she said to the woman, “I think it’s a beautiful thing to get married, regardless of how it comes together and happens. The ceremony, the vows, the celebrations the—”
“Are all meaningless,” the woman then interjected nonchalantly, though with evident undertones of conviction and antipathy. The young lady paused and sighed. The woman continued:

“The vows are nothing but hollow promises spurted in the moment. I’ll literally be repeating what the vicar says without an iota of passion or real meaning. I don’t know the guy [She drew in one last pull of her Marlboro Gold deep into her lungs before crushing its remains into the gravid ashtray behind her, then she looked back into the mirror]. It’s all an act for my parents. They want this, not me. All I know about him is that he dropped out of med-school after two years and decided to chase his seemingly unsuccessful career as a musician slash comedian, he’s in his late forties, and he has a wealthy father who has four wives. That’s it. Technically zilch. Nothing of importance, nothing that’ll make me mean it when I say I’ll love him in sickness and in health and all that shit.”

The young lady stood up and placed her hands on the woman’s left shoulder and gave her a half smile as if to say, ‘I understand what you mean, I really do, but…’.
She said to the woman, “I understand what you mean. It’s all true, but what’s also equally and unequivocally true is his side of the coin, too, right? His wealthy father… well, essentially bought him his wife, in an indirect sense, of course, but you know. He doesn’t know you either. This is also an unexplored landscape for him. I know the difference is he was looking for someone to marry and you weren’t, but what’s done is done now, and the only way you can make it work, is to make it work! Together. That’s the only way it’ll be bearable. Don’t let this crumble before you’ve even started building it. You never know, you could learn to like him at least, if not love him. Think of him as a friend. A very close friend whom you must live with and share your entire life with. But once you get a little comfortable with each other, you can begin to draw the lines. You know, set rules and make things clear and stuff. He knows just as much as you do that, from your part, at least, this is all an act for your parents.”

The woman’s eyes didn’t avert from the young lady’s eyes not for a millisecond. The words which emerged from the young lady seemed to penetrate right into a receptive canyon of the woman’s soul, and perhaps left an impression.

“Look, Elaine”, the young lady concluded, “I cannot imagine how it must feel. And I guess I kind of envy you for that. But please, please. Try. You’re 42 now. Tradition is tradition at the end of the day. We are all equally, though unjustly constrained and chastened by it.”

The young lady was barren, and, by the ruling of her country’s tradition, was not allowed to get married.

Thank you for reading. With this piece I was focusing mainly on narrative, and so have left character and scenery descriptions to an absolute minimum. Feedback and criticisms are very much welcome!!

P.s – I sincerely apologise for not following up ‘Washed Up on Love’ with the part two I initially promised my readers, but I will be working on plenty new material when I get some time! (or discipline myself to make time. Yes. Make time).