Tag Archives: stories

What is happiness?

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A prose poem by Rohini Sunderam

The following piece was written for a collection of inspirational stories, articles, and poetry produced and edited by Robin Barratt called Happy. If you want to read it or indeed buy it, do visit his website where you will also learn more about this wonderful man who is totally committed to writing and promoting writers, and whom I am pleased to call a friend. http://www.collectionsofpoetryandprose.com/happy/

“What is happiness?”

The infant gurgled in the old man’s arms.

“You are happiness,” The old man replied. “Your innocent enjoyment of every breeze. Your laughter at the sight of your mother’s smile. That’s pure happiness.”

“But, how do you know if you’re happy?” the child asked the old man.

“You don’t,” the old man replied, “But your pleasure in every morsel of food, the fact that your tongue can taste all the nuances of each mouthful, discern all its textures, its layered flavours, top notes that tell of meat that’s been braised, its delicate juices released as you bite into it. The sweet-sour melting tones of a fruit, some with the sweet blossoming just as it slides down your throat. Your ability to catch all the subtle nuances of a single grape as it’s crushed on the tongue. That’s happiness.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” the young boy said, “How do I taste things so differently than you do?”

“Your palate is young and hasn’t been tested by the acrid tastes of disappointment, nor yet savoured the bitterness of sorrow. Your lively taste buds are still easily aroused by hundreds of smells and sights. Your eyes are still bright with the hope of youth.”

“I still don’t understand you,” the young lad said. “Surely I see as you do. The sun as it rises and sets. The leaves on the trees, the fine delicacy of a bud on a twig. Granted my vision is sharper, but yours is softened by wisdom.”

“Ah!” the old man sighed, “Wisdom. That is just youth’s way of taking the edge off the blows of old age. Our faces are weathered by the winds of sorrow. Toughened to leather by the salt of our tears. Our once young, soft hands are calloused with care and our shoulders hunched by the weight of our regrets. Your youth gives you strength to handle the onslaught of life.”

“I think I now get what you’ve been saying to me,” the young man said taking a deep breath. “I now have concerns and worries, like you. Responsibilities too. I have a family and their needs overtake my own.”

The old man smiled, his eyes lit up, bright as the sun as it sinks in the west. His weathered face glowed a mellow red and the whites of his eyes had a hint of blue. “Thank you for making me happy,” he said.

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Excerpt from ‘An Undesirable Marriage’

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Meriel Brooke is another fellow author from Ex-L-Ence Publishing. She has written four books: The Story of Jacqueline Jackdaw, Pot of Gold, Sugar Pants and An Undesirable Marriage, here’s a little peek into the book that spans both the World Wars.

Finding cabin number nine, he knocked on the door softly. Ruth opened it immediately and, after a quick glance around, took his hand and drew him in. The cabin, was remarkably spacious and contained a single berth, a dressing table, a writing desk, a small wardrobe and a wash basin. The porthole was closed, and an overhead fan whirled gently.

“Ruth, I really…”

“It’s all right, I won’t eat you,” she interrupted. “Come and sit down. Do you know Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto?” He shook his head.

“It was written twenty years ago. Sit down and listen.” Sam sat down on the chair next to the writing desk on which there was an open gramophone which Ruth proceeded to wind. She lowered the needle onto the record, and the stirring strains of the third movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto filled the cabin. For three minutes Ruth stood quietly beside him. As the needle reached the centre of the record, she leaned forward, pressing against Sam as she turned it to the other side. He did not react. She went and sat on the narrow bunk as the music started again.

When the needle reached the centre of the record once more, Sam raised the arm and gently repositioned it in its holder. He rose to his feet. “Thank you, that was wonderful. I’d like to hear the rest of it sometime.”

To buy her book click on the link above or here.

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Excerpt from ‘An Appropriate Act of Love’

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Lynda Tavakoli is the first of my author friends to share an excerpt from her book of short stories, Under a Cold White Moon.

Thanks Linda, that sent chills up my spine.

One evening my father failed to return from work. The house had been, as usual, quiet during the day, my elder siblings having by then dispersed to lead more normal lives elsewhere and I now wonder how I never noticed their leaving or indeed how long it had been since I was the only child remaining. The food was on the table; bacon, sausages, tomatoes, potato bread and two eggs – all fried as he liked it and now coagulating on my dad’s plate. Mother sat across from me at the table, hands tidily on her lap; mine stuffed in the pocket of my sweatshirt making bigger the hole already there. Where is he?

For an hour, maybe two, we sat like dead fish frozen into an icy lake and still he did not come. Beyond the window of the kitchen light was being sucked slowly out of the day and finally the grey gloom of evening started to invade the room. A fear was beginning to gnaw at me and although my mother had moved not an inch during that time I regarded the subtle change in her manner with growing panic. The eyes that for so long had scorched her resentment into my soul had taken on the look of a hibernating tortoise reluctant to accept the onset of its awakening. They were dead eyes to match the dead words that finally slunk out from in between her teeth,

“Now are you happy?”

To read her book click on the link above or visit her publisher here.

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Nothing

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So here’s another old, “dark” poem. It was written to inspire a story and then I never wrote the story!

nothing-2The silence had enveloped her

In its warm black anonymity

She was safe.

No rasping voice

No sound

Penetrated it

A gag order

On insanity.

A restraining order on life.

She buried deeper into it

A mole, escaping the light. Read the rest of this entry

Do you believe in ghosts? She asked…

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Yes, was my unabashed reply. I won’t go into the details of personal experiences, strange happenings and other worldly feelings that I have had over the years, but in the end, yes. I believe that there are spirits of people who have ‘gone on’ that seem to reach out and connect to those on this side of death.

The spirit doesn’t have to be a loved one. Sometimes it is, quite literally, a lost soul still searching for someone to leave a message, to make a connection, who knows. Are the spirits malevolent? In my experience, no; but, there are times when these visitations seem to carry a forewarning to those amongst us who are alive.

Opinions on the subject vary, sometimes there’s a ‘logical’ or psychological explanation for what various folk have experienced. But, there are times when neither logic, nor science, nor ‘ghost-busting’can penetrate that veil.

As that famous line from Hamlet goes:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…

In the spirit of that, and with no pun intended, today I was mesmerised by these tales, purported to be true:

49 Real Nurses Share The Terrifying Hospital Ghost Stories That Scared Them To Death

An honourable mention

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Every now and then I wonder if my writing really cuts it. I know I’m not alone. From what I understand, all writers go through these self-doubts. They wonder, doubt, throw in the towel, pace the floor, read another writer’s words and say, “wow I wish I could write like that!”

To try and reassure myself I try and enter writing competitions. For the most part these are an expensive proposition as there are entry fees, waiting times, the nerves… and so I can’t and don’t enter that many.

For a long time now, I’ve been meaning to enter one or more of Morgen Bailey’s writing competitions. Last month I finally did. I didn’t win. The story that did, is one of those that elicit that response, “I wish I could…”

But, I am pleased to say, that the two entries I submitted received an ‘honourable mention’. For the moment that’s encouraging. I shall soon take one of Morgen’s online courses appropriately on Entering Writing Competitions.

Let’s hope I fare better next time.

The theme was ‘Fireworks’

Story 1: Dinnertime

Ma’s hand outstretched, indicating a dish. So busy talking, scolding, she can’t stop the stream of consciousness flowing from her mouth.

Meals at our home were like that. Ma at the ‘boss’ end of the table, Papa at the head. It must have been the head; guests sat next to him, when they visited or dropped in and were asked to ‘stay, there’s plenty,’ while we were told FHB (Family Hold Back).

Pa, eyes twinkling mischief, reaches across, shakes her hand, says, “Pleased to meet you.”

Ma, dumbstruck, silent.

We laugh, we laugh, until the lights are sparklers, gilding memories.

Story 2: Adamantine Anger

A tiny diamond in a silver ring, it caught the light, like a thousand twinkling stars, or snatched rays of sunlight shattering them into a kaleidoscope, the aching carbon screaming in silent agony at the exquisite pain of its creation. Its fury was a thing distilled – a jinn in a jewel prepared to battle humankind.

She entered the store. The diamond slung its lasso of light; caught her eye. “This one,” she whispered, slipping it on her finger. A facet slashed her thumb, and poison shot into her heart.

“One down” the jinn sniggered; laughter exploding into a myriad lights.

Dai the Aries Cat

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Last week at our Bahrain Writers’ Circle workshop, a number of us brought in and shared excerpts from pieces we had written. At the end of the session, we decided that if a piece is read out aloud, mush of its success depends on the reader. Certainly, as far as my contribution (below) was concerned, I felt this was true. As you can see, some words are a bit long and a bit of a mouthful, so the person reading it stumbled over these words. 

Did it adversely affect the impact of the story? This of you who were there, tell me what you think after reading this one!

“Just Another Day”

As anyone who’s ever known or had a cat knows with some certainty, from way back when, that a cat always has three names. There’s the name the family gave him or her that very ‘sensible everyday name’, then of course there’s the name by which the other cats know him or her, and then there’s that marvellous third name, which, as TS Eliot so cleverly called it, the ‘ineffable, effable, Effanineffable, deep and inscrutable singular Name’ which only the cat knows.

But, Dai, as the family called her, had only one name. “And that,” she said with a meoooowwwrrr, that rang all the way down that elegant street and struck terror into all the other cats and dogs and even some of the neighbours where her family lived, “is Dai!” She had to be singular. “Or else,” she purred, “what’s the point of being me at all?”

In fact she made the family call her Dai by grabbing the diamond bracelet that Angus had given Madeline the day they brought Dai home. She and the bracelet were Madeline’s birthday present. But Dai was the gift that Madeline loved most. Even the children Jeff and Tara couldn’t get away with as much as Dai could.

She insisted, by imperiously scratching at the door that the family make a separate entrance for her and fluffed out her fur and marched in and out whenever she wished. When she sashayed down the street with her tail in the air, everyone gave her a wide berth. She chuckled wickedly to herself when she did that, “It’s such fun!”

“You’re mean, you know?” her friend the street cat, who everyone called Katz, said. He was the only one who could walk alongside Dai and say almost anything to her as he’d chased off a nasty dog the very first day that Dai had ventured out alone.

“Am I mean to you?” Dai purred so low it was just a little rumble in her throat.

“Naah. You wouldn’t be.”

“Don’t tempt me Bozo,” Dai grinned as her whiskers twitched testing the sensitivities of passersby. Bozo as you may have guessed was Katz’ cat name.

Today was a stroll and check-it-out day, not a day when Dai and Katz were looking for adventure or stuff for Katz to eat.

So by the time they’d spent the day chasing pigeons, sitting on a wall and watching the street while the sun warmed their backs, climbing a tree, which Dai decided today was not the day she’d go to the top, and it was time to go back, the evening shadows had started to grow long.

“Ahhhhh!” said Dai as she stretched her slim body “Yawrrrr” she sighed as each leg was stretched so that Bozo just had to look the other way. “Let’s head home, I need some of that cat food Madeline leaves for me, and maybe I’ll demand a little cuddle.”

Bozo said nothing. He just sighed; sometimes he wished he had a home to go to.

The house was still dark as Dai slipped in like a soundless shadow through her private entrance, not a single light on. “That’s odd” Dai thought as all her senses became alert and she silently sniffed the air.

And then she froze. Madeline was tied to the kitchen chair and gagged. Angus wasn’t home yet and the children were still at their friends.

Dai just looked at her and went into the bedroom where she saw a man with a mask throwing Madeline’s jewellery into a bag and with it her diamond bracelet.

Dai a furious streak of flame leapt at his face, scratched his eyes and removed the mask.

Bozo, on hearing Dai’s yowls came rushing through the cat door and attacked the man’s hands.

He dropped everything and fled through the door and down the street just as Angus was driving into the driveway. Angus leapt out of the car, ran after the man and caught him before he reached the street corner.

By then there was enough of a hubbub. The neighbours came. Madeline was released. The police were called. Tea was made. The burglar was taken away.

Madeline told everyone how marvellous Dai had been but where was Dai?

In her favourite place. On the back of the sofa, fast asleep. Or was she?

Threading the Needle

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A Bahrain Writers’ Circle Creative Workshop Exercise

Secreted from the underbelly of the moth caterpillar called Bombyx mori, it sat in suspension for thirty-five days, a single filament one and half kilometres long. The cocoon was plunged into a hot bath to loosen the glue that held the threads together. Then it was cooled so that this thread could be unravelled. The caterpillar died in the process. That fine single strand of silk, for which a life was sacrificed, then joined three other martyrs to form a thread of one of the finest, most prized fibres in the world.

It shone in the light with a gentle glow, blushing as each of its minute three-sided faces caught a sunbeam that exposed its lissom length and supple sinews. It glowed as a moonbeam caressed its tresses. And it stretched in pleasure almost to its tensile limit pleased at its own resilience as one of the strongest natural filaments in the world. Its pride was short-lived.

Before it could revel in its own existence, the thread was trapped. Caught and wound into a skein. Then, enslaved in a ring, the yarn was packed off to a fabled land, Turkey. Here in the dyer’s harem the skein lost the innocent cream of its youth and was plunged into an indigo dye.

The indigo whispered its own sad story of capture, beatings and torture. The two strangers in a strange land wept and embraced each other. As their tears mingled the indigo imbued the silk with the softest, most beautiful hue of sorrow – blue; the kind that shines bravely in the sun and glistens pensively in the moonlight.

Today, a three denier thread of that silk waits suspended, rigid with fear, as a lady’s fingers clutch its neck and aim to push it into the oval eye of a sharp metal spike. At the last moment the thread flinches and dodges the eye of the needle.

The lady looks at the thread, then gently slides it over her tongue. The wet muscular rough appendage arouses an old memory – the glue that once held each strand tight and safe in that cocoon of the Bombyx mori caterpillar so long ago. The recollection makes all three deniers cling to each other now stiff with anticipation as they fly through the eye of the needle. It is threaded.

And the slavery of the silk is complete as the metal spike pulls all three strands together through the squared fabric to form a blue daisy in the lady’s embroidery. The silk sighs as it succumbs to its eternal punishment, forever bent, never free to flow and dance in the light again except in minute parts of its length as it weeps across the tapestry.

Note: This was another exercise through the Bahrain Writers’ Circle – Creative Writers’ Workshop. Back then we had a different format: we’d do exercises and were then given homework to share at the next session.

I remember it was given to us by  Shauna Nearing Loej when, as a group, we were mendicants going from one refuge to another. At the time we were kindly granted a spot in a bookshop in Adliya. Shauna gave us us all a choice of subjects to write on. As usual I, ever the ‘teacher’s pet’, had done my assignment – the above post. It was an inspired piece although written frantically the night before we were due to meet. The atmosphere was perfect: dim lights, leather sofas and a slight chill in the air. I intoned my piece and at the time felt my voice sounded almost sepulchral, later I was told I sounded poetic! Anyway, this was met with such enthusiasm that I sent it to the Flaneur, where it still resides as a story under the same title! I’m hoping it’s okay to publish it here after almost two years. And I hope you will enjoy it.

NOW PODCAST

Thanks to Morgen Bailey, this is the first time a story of mine has been Podcast!

And, here are the links

iTunes
https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/baileys-writing-tips/id389840707

Just sharing the info… don’t feel obliged to listen to it 🙂

Other links taken from Morgen’s email to me:
I’m pleased to say that the podcast of your flash fiction is live. The direct short link to the relevant blog post is http://wp.me/p18Ztn-8Kp and long link ishttp://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/baileys-writing-tips-podcast-short-stories-episode-no-39. Feel free to use them wherever and whenever you like. I’ve also added the details to the Podcast Short Stories, Flash Fiction Fridays and Contributors pages.

The links to listen to the podcast are on the blog post but they are…

iTunes (the first item), Google’s Feedburner (scroll to the end), Podbean, Podcasters and Podcast Alley.

Trap in a Steel Dawn

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Still grey. In the whisper-quiet of a steely dawn a man with a stubbly beard comes whistling ever so softly as he sets a trap.

The trap is vicious. Its teeth horrid. Its jaws gaping, but there is no bait. He places the trap on a partly sandy, partly grassy mound, not far from a semi-ruined house, then turns and vanishes into the soft grey mist.

Is it real or does his ghost chuckle quietly at the aspect of a tired young man leaning against the rubble-remains of a pillar? He is a strange young man. His clothes are of an indeterminate age. His hair is neither long nor short. He seems extremely exhausted.

Read the rest of this entry

Growing Away

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“Hello,” he said, “I’m Amar.”

“Hello. I’m alone.”

Amar laughed. “Do you always have these opening lines?”

“Not always. I never do anything always. But then I don’t always say never to anything, so perhaps I do.”

“What a complicated person you are,” said Amar.

“Do you always make snap judgements?”

And that was how we met.

Read the rest of this entry