Eithne Cullen

SLQ FICTION

Dragon Fruit

 

I am sure she’ll be Ok. She has to be Ok. I tell myself over and over, “She’ll be fine!”

 

The image still floods my mind though, of Phi-Linn, slim and beautiful, in the home of that man; that ugly, deformed creature. She’ll be warm, she’ll be fed and she’ll have nice things, but she is a captive, trapped in that beautiful house, in its gated compound, security guards at the entrance.  And it’s all my fault.

 

It’s hard for her, but she must know it’s all my fault, I am sure she blames me, though she would say she doesn’t. She will be keeping her thoughts to herself, staying calm and controlled. I have tried to visit her, ask her forgiveness, I am not allowed past the security guards. I will try again next month. I hope she doesn’t see that I am growing old and tired.

 

It’s not easy for a man, a poor country man, like me. Having seven daughters has been my burden, the hardest part of my life. The birth of my youngest child, Phi-Linn, saw the death of her mother. She bled, she didn’t have a chance. If we had lived in the city, who knows what could have happened. But here we are, in a country town, miles from the city, miles from the hospital. I don’t know if people like me would have been given the treatment anyway, I’ll always wonder.

 

And what daughters they were. The first three, who had been old enough to remember their mother’s love, were kind and helpful. They showed love to their little sisters and helped me on the farm and in the house. Like all the girls in the village, they left for work in Bangkok. I knew they would be good girls; they’d work in hotels or offices and live in the crowded streets below the railway, close to the water. They’d work hard and send money home.

 

The people of the village watched my face for signs that they had gone off the rails, gone to dance in sleazy bars or sleep with tourists for gifts and money. My face never showed any of the shame they sought. I felt sure they would be fine, they had been good girls all their lives.

 

With money coming in from them, and the good advice of my brother, I managed to keep the rest of the girls at home. But what a life I led. The next three are cross and spoiled. I must have lavished too much love on them when my dear wife died. Bringing up girls and making them into decent women is not a man’s job. I was always looking for a wife for myself, but the fathers of the girls I looked at thought about a life with all those daughters and sent my prospective wives away.

 

My brother helped me invest my money in some land close to the capital. This would give the dowries needed for these daughters of mine to begin an independent life. But the land failed, it was swamp; it was occupied for many months by anti-government demonstrations. My money was lost. My daughters grew greedy. They wanted fancy foods and fine clothes. I was beaten down by their spirits. My brother said my best bet was to marry them off to foreign husbands. According to him, there was a market for “Thai brides.” The phrase disgusted me. I would keep them here and suffer their scornful tyranny.

 

The youngest of my daughters was not like the others. She did not have the humility of the eldest three; she did not have the selfishness of the others. She had a grace and charm, so like her mother. She had an independent spirit, but no arrogance or pride. I knew, if any one of my daughters would help me in my old age, it would be her. But now, tears fill my eyes. My sadness is a beast within my chest. I tell myself she’ll sail and soar above the incarceration I have made for her.  

 

Again, it was my brother who came up with the scheme. There was a man, a rich investor; he lived in the suburbs of Bangkok. He would buy the useless land from me, save my sorry shame of bad investment. Pay for my daughters’ lifestyles till I could marry them off.  A trip was planned; as I left, the girls demanded gifts from the capital: watches and phones, silk for dresses, face creams. Phi-Linn did not ask for anything, I asked her if she’d like a gift on my return, she gazed into the air, as if to say there was nothing she desired. I pressed her for a reply, she said, wistfully, ”Dragon fruit, father, it does not grow so well round here. Please bring me dragon fruit.”

 

We visited the man in his home, behind the gates and fences. His home was luxurious, shaded by trees and guarded by jade statues. The man himself, seated in a plush office, was a hideous sight. His face has been burned, was scarred and furrowed. One eye was shrouded; hair grew like scrubland on his scalded head. He looked at us like dirt but offered a withered hand for us to shake. Our business was completed easily, he robbed us, but we had no choice. He asked about my daughters, he’d heard I was in the market for husbands for them. I resisted; told him they were not for sale. He laughed, his corroded vocal chords made his voice a shriek. “Everyone’s for sale in Bangkok,” he ridiculed, “I just have to find the right price.”

 

As we left, I shuddered at the man’s inhuman appearance and air. Heading for the gates where we had parked my brother’s truck, I noticed the fruit on the trees. My girl, my little bird had asked for dragon fruit: I picked some from the laden branches and stuffed them inside my jacket.

 

We drove to the gates, waiting to be dismissed from this world of plenty. The security guards were slow to leave their hut. I could see them pointing at the screen of a TV monitor. One came to me, another reached for the phone. In that moment, I realised what a foolish thing I’d done. My clothes were searched, my jacket torn like a rag from my quaking back. We were bundled into a jeep and taken straight back to the rich man’s house.

 

I saw him smugly grinning like a little Buddha. He had me now, and hours passed as he goaded and humiliated me. It all came down to one thing, though. I had a choice, off to the police and prison now, and leave my girls at the mercy of any one; or bring one of my daughters to be a companion for him. I resisted, an iron statue in the face of his prevailing storm. My brother slapped my face and told me to see sense. This way I’d have my freedom and get one of the girls off my hands. I knew only one would comply; only one had the affection for me to save my life, and I’d lose the favourite of my bosom, the child of my heart.

 

I will never forget her face as I let her go from me. My brother took her from our home. Her sisters did not show themselves, hiding in their rooms. She held her head up high and told me she’d be fine. No tear grazed her cheek, no anger entered her voice.

 

Somewhere in the garden where she’s confined, I hope she can reach above her head and take the dragon fruit. Somewhere in the ugly face of her captor, I hope she finds some affection and respect.

 

I am sure she’ll be Ok. She has to be Ok. I tell myself over and over, “She’ll be fine!” SLQ


Dragon Fruit by Eithne Cullen was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition  November 2014


January – March 2015 Contents

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***

David Woodfine

SLQ FICTION

THE KING

The King rose from the table in the feasting room and walked to the large window. There he looked out at his kingdom twinkling below in the darkness. As he did, the voices of the feasters, the music and the smell of cooking meat faded from his senses. It was cold out there and warm in here but he still felt a chill, and pulled his cloak around him a little tighter.

 

He sighed and ran a hand through his beard. It was still thick but much greyer now than when he had first worn the crown that he wore tonight.

 

It had been in this very room, many years ago that he had taken his chance, and the crown. He had taken it up from the floor and placed it on his head.  That day he had taken the decision to be a common man no more. A king by his own hand.  So many years ago.

 

Still gazing over his kingdom, he felt a pang of regret. A long life, his. He had done much, yet perhaps not enough. His words and deeds had not always been wise, especially his words, and there was no queen to keep him warm now that autumn had become winter. Sometimes on nights such as these when he had taken too much ale, he feared that there may never be a worthy legacy of his reign. He feared that he had misspent his rule. Misspent his life.

 

But this was a feast, not a time for such melancholy reflection. He shook his head imperceptibly and touched a hand to his crown. As he did so he could feel it rise; the swell of power and pride in his breast. The sadness faded and then disappeared and he felt a smile part his beard.

 

An old man now he may be, but still a king! A crowned king! Loved by some, feared by others and scorned by many he had no doubt. But known by all. All knew who he was. All knew he was King.

 

He turned and walked deliberately back to the table, his cloak brushing the floor. With the bound of a much younger man he mounted it, his boots scattering meat and drink across the table top. There were gasps as he stood to his full height, expanded his chest and surveyed the room with a steady eye.

 

All were watching him now. In silence. His subjects’ upturned faces shone the spectrum of emotion from joy to dread as they awaited his pronouncement. The silence was pregnant and the anticipation prickled around the feasters.

 

He savoured that.  He could inspire such powerful reactions. Some positive, some negative, but always something. Never indifference. Never the hell of anonymity that had haunted and tormented him before he wore this crown. It made him forget his failings, his disappointments, his heartbreaks, his fears. He was someone. He would be remembered. He mattered!

 

The euphoria burst in his chest as he threw back his head and cast his arms wide, his voice deep and filling the room.

 

“I AM YOUR KING!”

 

Then silence again. For a second. The declaration hung in the air. Then cheers. Cheers from delighted subjects. They washed him like summer rains, anointed him like balm, they raised his spirit and gave it flight. It was what he needed to remind him of who he was.  And that he still ruled. Still lived.

 

Beaming benevolently, he stepped down from the table, stood with his feet planted and soaked up the acclaim. And the fear. Then he walked with sure steps to the head of the curved staircase. He paused for a moment, then swept down the stairs, a group of children flattening themselves fearfully against the wall as he did so. At the foot of the stairs he strode across the tiled floor and through the large doors and out into the snow, out into his kingdom, his chin high and the cheers still in his ears.

 

One of the young servers watched him leave, leaning on his broom. He turned to the man at his side, an older man with the same clothes as he and spoke:

“We shouldn’t let him in.”

“Why not?”

          “Because he stinks, he scares the kids and he never actually buys any burgers. Where did he even get that crown? We haven’t had that design for years. I remember it from when I had my birthday parties here!”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think most people quite like him. Did you hear the cheer he got from that stag do up there? They’re still laughing now. Someone‘s even set him up a Facebook page. It’s got something like 5000 likes. He’s a fixture in this town.”

“He’s a nutter. And his Facebook friends don’t have to go and clear up all the fries and milkshake he kicks everywhere. We do.”

“Make a start, mate and I’ll give you a hand when I’ve sorted the coffee machine out.”

 

When the younger man had left, the older man walked to the doorway and put a hand out to close it. He stopped and sighed as he caught his reflection in the glass. He thought he would be wearing a suit by now, not this uniform. He needed to make something of himself before it was too late.

 

He watched the King out of sight, his paper crown glinting red, then amber then green as the traffic lights on the roundabout changed. He saw his wild matted hair, the blanket knotted round his neck trailing in the slush that surely must be soaking through his holed boots.

 

But he also saw how straight his back was, how high his head, how assured his stride. And he smiled. He felt better. He felt strangely inspired.

 

“Goodnight Your Majesty” He said quietly, then pulled shut the door and returned to his work and to decide how best to take his own crown. One day soon. SLQ


The King by David Woodfine was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition  November 2014.


January – March 2015 Contents

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.

Julian Dobson

After

 

In the end we scour for crusts,

nervously turn wire-pronged slabs

of rubbled concrete, red-eyeing

anything to chew on.

 

Where the market stood, lemons

rot in shattered boxes.

Legs have been left, too,

though not of goats or sheep.

 

To eat, you must not search too hard.

The stomach will not digest

some discoveries. Better to chance

on something dropped, fallen

 

from those who got out in time.

Flies signal what might still

be edible. They have no interest

in dust, the windblown scraps of prayers.


After by Julian Dobson was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition  November 2014


January – March 2015 Contents

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