Used To Be Skywater

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Saturdays we got up even earlier so as to get the chores done before setting out. If Carl’d stayed sober Friday night, then the delivery would be ready. That hadn’t been the case for months.

It was just getting light when I got to the still. Jody was already there, wrapping the mason jars in burlap so they wouldn’t rub, packing them into them wooden case flats we got from Albany Peach Company and stacking these into the pull-wagon. We was always real careful at this part since the time the wagon got away from us and we’d busted half a load.

The Casino was the first stop, being full up with the gentry from Atlanta and Macon. Carl like to say “they come for the waters but they stay for the shine.”

I heard that Marie Curie come to Skywater once to test the springs for the radium, which is why they changed the name.

 

What Pegman Saw: Radium Spings

Immediate and Long-Term Effects

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Disbelief at first. Then anger, outrage. How could somebody do this? What kind of person?

Then fear. What if I’d been home? What if they come back?

A sense of violation. I didn’t know this person. They left traces, like an opened can of Coke that I didn’t know I had. Maybe it was from Thanksgiving, or maybe it wasn’t even mine. They smoked a cigarette in my living room.

Now a sense of sudden panic and regret whenever I can’t find something. Maybe they took it like they took the TV and my father’s gold watch.

It’s been a year.

Friday Fictioneers

 

8:08 Churchgate Slow Train

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Every weekday I take the 8:08 Churchgate slow train from platform number two in Borivali.

At 8:40 I get off the train at Mahalaxmi.

At 8:45,  bus number 154 arrives and I arrive at my office between 8:56 and 9:04.

There have been four occasions in the past twenty years when I was late because of a train delay.

Three were due to flooding, in 2005, 2013, and 2014.

The last occurred just last week when a young man threw himself onto the tracks and was killed.

I realized later I had seen the young man before, several times.

You would think it would be hard to notice a single man in all this throng, but he was unusual in that he was always openly weeping.

I can visualize him standing there, holding the bar, his slim body wracked by silent sobs, his young face shining with tears.

None of the passengers spoke a single word to him, myself included.

 

What Pegman Saw: Mumbai

Pictures

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When her children were young she had taken scores Instamatic snapshots. In these photographs, they seemed to have been frozen by the flesh-bleaching flashbulb, stunned faces and red glowing eyes making them look like newly spawned demons.

She’d kept these photos in a box in her closet.

One day she carried the box to the garbage and that was that.

She hadn’t spoken to any of them for years.

One Christmas her son David sent her a brand-new Olympus digital camera.

It was gift-wrapped. There was no card.

She still wonders why David thought she would ever need a camera.

Friday Fictioneers

 

Exile

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Longwood House, the only residence on the island large enough to accommodate the Imperial Retinue, has proved unsuitable. Rats scuttle along the hallways with impunity, the acrid tang of their urine and copious droppings in every room.

Ever the soldier, he seems oblivious to such discomforts, instead nursing a private resentment because Governor Lowe refuses to address him as Emperor.

But when accompanying him on his long walks I have seen his face as he watches the island population, most of whom have never heard of Waterloo.

In such times, he wears an expression I have seen many times before, always just before he launched some brilliant stroke that confounded his enemies.

It is never wise to count the Emperor out entirely.

What Pegman Saw: St Helena

Historical Note:

In the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the Allies exiled Napoleon to Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean. They gave him sovereignty over the island and allowed him to retain the title of Emperor. In the first few months on Elba he created a small navy and army, developed the iron mines, oversaw the construction of new roads, issued decrees on modern agricultural methods, and overhauled the island’s legal and educational system. Then, Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed on the French mainland, touching off a hundred days of further war.

After being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo and abdicating the French throne, Bonaparte gave himself up to the British. Not wanting to repeat their experience at Elba, the British government decided to imprison him on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena.

On August 8, 1815, Napoleon left Plymouth Harbour on the Royal Navy’s ship Northumberland. St. Helena came into view over two months later, on October 14, as a small dark dot on the horizon. The Emperor’s valet, Louis-Joseph Marchand, wrote:

Contrary to his normal practice, the Emperor got dressed early to go up on deck and get an overall view of the island, which he could only see imperfectly from the porthole in his cabin. He had before him a sketch of that part of the island where we were; he had told me to bring it along, and I had given it to him, heavy with sorrow. Once dressed, he went up on deck with his small spyglass in hand. One could not see the town, hidden by a terrace that followed the contours of the bay; one could only see the square church tower through the foliage, sitting between two enormous bare rocks that rose perpendicularly above the sea to a considerable height and seemed to be equipped with gunnery units on several levels.

After watching for a few moments, the Emperor went back into his cabin without comment, allowing no one to guess what was transpiring in his soul.

The End Of Something

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He stood in the sun listening to the train as it pulled away, its busy huffing inconsequential and even ludicrous when considered against all this landscape.

It stretched for miles, dusty under an immense sky, the wrinkled hills seeming to waver in the hot air.

He stared at the platform, where, moments before, her suitcases had stood next to his.

His and hers. 

A bitterness came into his throat.

He glanced back at the meager building, the liquor advertisement painted on its beaded curtain, just as it had been.

He could still see the train glittering on the faraway plain.

 

Friday Fictioneers

This photo reminded me of Hemingway”s famous story Hills Like White Elephants, considered by many to be a masterpiece of “show don’t tell.” In the story, no explanations of any kind are given, though the meaning is clearly implied. I took the liberty of writing a coda for this week’s prompt (and used the title of another Hemingway story to add insult to injury).

Boss Up

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You men, he said, meaning us.  Bleedin’ pongo  inspecting us like a proper sergeant-major, looking at the shine on our buttons and the laces on our boots.

Ain’t been here a week yet and I’d wager this soutpeel paw-paw is sending cables back to England about how he’s solved all the colony’s problems, calling us Rhodies behind our backs and saying how we’re lowering ourselves by taking Shona wives.

He forgets that this is a real war. Has been for years, and every day it gets worse for us.  Whenever the government outlaws an organization, two more take its place. The ZAPU turned into the ZIPRA, then split into the ZANU and the ZANLA.

These rebels don’t fight for wages. They fight for their families, their nation, their freedom.

I am true Rhodesian, but my skin is white.  I wear their pongo uniform, but what side am I on?

 

What Pegman Saw

Southern Rhodesia was a British colony founded in the 19th Century  by the British South Africa Company and named for company director Ceclil Rhodes. The decolonisation of Africa in the early 1960s alarmed Rhodesia’s white population who feared the inevitable black majority rule. In 1965, Rhodesia’s predominantly white government issued  a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom, even though the UK supported Rhodesia’s transition to a multi-racial democracy. Fifteen years of brutal bush war resulted. The country finally achieved internationally recognised independence in April 1980 as the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Boss Up is Rhodesian slang for “go carefully.”  

Gris-Gris

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Mama Cole tell me that to shake the old man’s curse I need some bleeding done, and not no chicken neither.

Mama Cole say a living breather, with skin and a face.

I know she mean two-foot, but four will have to do. I am no murderer, me.

Just a man who want to shake a ghost.

Use something of his own, Mama Cole say, so I take his cold razor from the high shelf, strop it on the belt he beat us with.

I lead that little billy to the Saint Roch tombstone, look away when I cut.

 

Friday Fictioneers

Curtain Call

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We had a full house for once, the crowd electric with recent events.

I stood by the curtain as I had so many times before, my hand on the ropes.

It was the seventeenth of September, 1939, almost three weeks after the Nazis had invaded Poland, and we were in the sixth night of what was planned to be a ten-day run of Witkiewicz’s The Madman and the Nun.

Witkiewicz himself was rumored to be in the audience, having fled Warsaw with his lover Czeslawa Korzeniowska.

The actors were more tense than usual, the backstage banter taking the tone of gallows humor.

We could hear the distant thunder of German artillery as the stage manager dimmed the lights to summon the audience to take their seats.

The shells shrieked overhead and thudded into the distant hills.

I said a quick, silent prayer that we might finish the play before the Nazis came.

 

What Pegman Saw: Krakow

Historical notes:

“The Madman and the Nun,”was  written in 1923 by the Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Dadaist in its style and denunciatory in its intent, it tells the story a young poet confined in a mental hospital.

The last Polish play at the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre was produced in Autumn 1939.

During Nazi Germany occupation of Poland, the theatre was run by a German troupe.

The theatre reopened for Polish audience in February 1945.

Lifted

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“You take cream, right?”

“Good memory,” said the agent. He accepted the coffee, then took his notebook from his pocket. “So, we’ve monitored his bank accounts and credit cards. No activity at all since the disappearance. There were no unusual withdrawals during the previous year. We’ve circulated his photo but nobody has come forward. Hospitals. Morgues.”

Her eyes stung, but she was cried out.

He shifted in his seat. “Is there anything new you can tell me?”

“I remembered something. He started going to this church a few weeks before…before…”

She handed him the pamphlet she’d found in the closet.

 

Friday Fictioneers