A short story by David Antrobus
“I see you now.”
I might be the stupidest man who ever lived. This is my delayed tribute. I never saw you, but I see you now.
When I wheel her onto the concrete platform behind the fence so she can look out on the cove, her head is like some piñata, loose upon a bundle of sticks, desirous of being hung and being beat. I will never hang it. Or ever beat it. I want her to drink the waters and the misted skies of the bay forever. I don’t want to ever say goodbye. But she knows this and brays laughter like a crow.
“My damn voice barely works anymore, and you’re a total prick of a man, and I know what you want, and I’ll be damned if I’ll do what you want right here and right now, you complete and utter…”
Though I tune her out, I am penitent. I barely flinch.
She always was a cursing virtuoso, a maestro of malediction.
A cormorant rises from the shallows like a fiend released in our world and spreads the sodden shawl of its wingspan as if we could discern some profane script inside its scope, then it drags its sopping body impossibly and barely airborne, mere feet above the waves. Inwardly I cheer, but I know that is gauche. What self-respecting lifeform shits and grubs in the shallows and the dirt before it can soar in a blink, and arrow like the dream of a spear? This cormorant. This cursed black serpentine jinx with dripping parchment wings. This ink-dipped oath. Not bat but not bird either.
If somebody says, “I can’t do this anymore,” that’s the time to start listening.
It’s also true that if they say they’re struggling, you listen too, but these, these are crisis words, this is the klaxon, the clamor of an alarm aboard a starship where everything’s bathed in alternating crimson and black, and sirens blare.
“Tell me how you are,” I say to her.
“I can’t… encompass it.
“No. For you. And for her…”
A tide brings the waters in, tosses great boatloads of kelp on the beach like the tendrils of cephalopods, waxes so ferries can leave, wanes like a moondrawn thing. Tourists keep gathering on the heights, to watch, to listen, to smell this thing. This hermetic zombie thing.
Grief lies curled like a dead fern in my gut.
“Talk,” I say. “It’s your moment. I did you harm, woman, but here’s your time to preach.”
Like scraping molluscs from an antique hull.
Then a silence falls on land and water alike, a birdless quiet, until at last she croaks out her testimony.
“Right. You raggedy motherfucker. What did you ever want with me? With us? Like actors, you want us to drag our indignities like ruined limbs across the stage, explain away our shame… Wait. No. That isn’t right. Reboot. Start over…”
Her voice is a rasp on fibrous wood. Her flintlike sorrow moves from her eyes to her entirety.
“Lookit. Imagine there’s this vast mural painted by generations upon a stucco wall, each segment independent of the rest, great scenes of despair and dread, of busted dreams and the mockeries of hope. Leaving some alleyway trattoria, you stumble on it and you close on some small grey drama, something ugly or mean. Shocked, you look upon another patch of the canvas, equally tawdry, and you think the ugly is winning, but then you go to leave and something makes you turn around and you see the whole fresco and you gasp and you cry out and you finally stand mute, comprehending, and you see it’s your life. All your life. And you…” She points a misshapen finger at me. “You were one of the shabby sections is all. Now cut the fence and tip this damn chair already, you gawking ungainly dipshit. Time to introduce this meat suit to the unforgiving rocks.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David Antrobus is a freelance writer and editor whose origins lie in northern England and who currently lives in the Vancouver area. As if in tribute to the abused and neglected children he spent two decades working with, his writing in all its forms bristles with outrage, sorrow, dark humour, and resilience.
As a writer, David is far from prolific, which he justifies by assuring anyone who cares to listen that he much prefers quality over quantity. The fact that he has one perfect daughter lends support to this approach. However, his steady intake of wine, caffeine, and deeply questionable movies just as easily undermines it.
As an editor, he created Be Write There in 2009, a one-stop service that provides proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, and manuscript evaluation.
He has published two books, both nonfiction, and has written numerous dark yet lyrical tales scattered among various anthologies and websites.