THE TEMPLEMAN REVIEW
Issue Number 4, Autumn Term 2021
Letter from the Editor
Another Autumn term brings another (very late) issue of The
Templeman Review. The delay is due to being crushed to death in the
cogs of neoliberalism.
Thanks to everyone who submitted their work for this issue. As
an editor’s note the untitled poem in the poetry section was submitted
without a title. The poem is not actually titled ‘untitled’.
Untitled Cyrillic Poem and Writer’s Translation
ты несёшь его на руках.
звезда на лбу,
затем твоя память горит.
собака с человеческой головой,
он спросит у вас дорогу.
Но ты ешь его голову,
и тогда ты забываешь все о будущем.
Time is heavy,
You carry it in your arms.
A Star on the forehead,
that your memory burns.
A dog with a human head,
it ask you for directions.
but you eat its head
And then you forget everything
about the future.
Ivan de Monbriso
Rain or shine, she lives outside —
the chosen one, the Pagan bride;
as cool as Venus, hot as Mars —
her home’s always under the stars.
Call her tame or call her wild,
there’s no way she’ll be domiciled;
and trying to buy her good will —
she’ll not accept my window sill.
I used to fantasize I might
get her to stay with me all night;
but there’s somewhere she needs to go —
a place untraced by radio.
She’s independent to a fault —
her heart won’t fit inside my vault;
and there’s no use assigning blame,
for only she knows her own name.*
She might sleep all night in the street —
good luck with bribes and things to eat;
she has a logic of her own,
inscrutable as Pagan stone.
* T.S. Eliot, ‘The Naming of Cats.’
Believe me, I’ve tried many times,
inveigling with treats and rhymes;
she’s got her own religious code
and she needs not my safe abode.
How does one sleep in pouring rain? —
the lack of perfume seems profane;
you’d think it’s bad to get so wet
but better than life as a pet.
She won’t respond to ringing clocks —
there’s none inside her cardboard box;
a wedding ring’s a ball and chain
when ev’ry day’s a new Beltane.
There’s no chance she’ll deign to stay put
and where she goes, she goes barefoot;
where do dreams go when we’re awake? —
they’re in the shadows moonlight makes.
It’s possible she disappeared
into dimensions multitiered;
but what most people call ‘homeless’
to her, the whole world’s her address.
Late Breaking (poems from The Manchester Guardian, January 17,
HOME RULE THROUGH THE COMMONS
Orange Demonstration in Belfast
A BRITISH STEAMER BREAKS IN TWO
GERMANY AND THE BALKAN SETTLEMENT
A Chance to Arrange Matters with England
“Suffrage Weeks” in Manchester, Blackburn, and Eccles
WOMEN WEAVERS AND THEIR WAGES
London, Berlin, the drunken weavers… (HMS
Ireland, Belfast steaming…) ‘Different
worlds’? Sarajevo, Manchest-
er… (‘Free spirit’? Wage limits…) ‘His-
tory,’ ‘tradition,’ women
As the snow falls from the roof of my cranium-dome
I wonder, wander through moon-like tunnels
Finding alien faces in this cave of mirrors
In pursuit of rats tail just around the corner
I stumble upon a piece of myself; a navel string
As I, once again, get lost in the snow-maze
Did the mountain
Did the mountain come to you when you called?
Did you call loud enough for it to fall,
and did it stand unmoved and resolute,
or lay in ruins at your feet,
large broken rocks and small,
and what did you ask it when you called,
did you wish for change,
did you ask for the answers to life,
or the why and the wherefore and the wonder of it all,
and as you lay amongst the answers did you find beauty or
and did you comprehend them as opposites to what you thought,
was the prism of your lens viewed through a different colour,
than that was what you sought.
was beauty disgusting to your taste,
was destruction more palatable to the tongue,
were you trying to satisfy yourself that everyone else was wrong,
and the language that was spoken did you understand it all along?
Or did you have to learn it,
for life is best lived with an education that is never ending,
and with a lifetime of constant understanding and a lifetime of
For such brings about the improvement of humanity,
but alas, ignorance they say is bliss,
but to choose to live a dull life eternally would be the life of a fool,
and if you choose to live as a fool,
it is a wasteland full of regret and remiss,
and not worth remembering at all.
You stand before me
as glorious as The Birth of Venus -
only with a fuzzy blue rug replacing the shell.
My lips smile at the view,
hoping they look as slight and demure as Mona Lisa’s -
but I don’t dare look in the mirror
as I’m almost certain
that they are actually stretching a little too much.
But I can’t help it.
And I feel them stretch even more
as you begin to walk towards me
oh so slowly,
ending the catwalk with a kiss -
that you know I can’t live without -
a form of sustenance
as crucial as the air we breathe.
We don’t waste any time.
Passion quickly paints the entire room;
with lace trim.
Desire quickly fills the entire room
with sweetened air,
leaving no space for anything else -
not even a single letter.
But it can’t stop the illumination from trickling in,
courtesy of this perfect Starry Night.
It deepens the sunny yellows and oranges
of the Sunflowers you bought
which still bloom brilliantly beside us.
It loosely highlights our joined bodies
and the art that they’re creating
upon a silken red canvas.
this must be
Our piece de resistance.
Tennessee Williams’ Last Play
We all know Blanche Dubois. All too well as they say in western
Tennessee. We live in the shadow of Anna Mae Bullock, we do. Only
white men don’t wail on their women in quite the same way. My
mother looks an awful lot like Shelley Winters after she put on weight,
two-hundred and fifty pounds of misery and sexual frustration.
That poet of human wrecks, Adrienne Rich was the voice of the
desert, dry air, and broken spirits. Mother’s is a wet despair. Smelly
bras and stinky underarms, beauty parlors, beehive hairdos, chipped
nails, and the sort of gals who miss their lips altogether and smear
polish directly on their teeth like Kabuki actors.
They cannot be compared to Jean-Paul Sartre. Why blame Paris
Hilton? She didn’t go to the École Normale Supérieure. American
children of the rich do not obtain world-class educations; that is left
to the Chinese and, before them, the Jews. The rich for reasons not
entirely clear assume the education of a plumber’s daughter will do
They are sent to school, private or public, and learn nothing.
Parents agree that shopping is more important. One of my favorite
stories is of the retired vaudeville theatre owner who contracted for a
hot-air balloon off the top of the Eiffel Tower for his daughter’s 27th
The whole thing went up in flames and drifted away.
The men have been beaten down. Excuse me, sir, my dear husband
here would like to have a word. He is a little bashful. You will find him
standing in the corner with his fingers in his mouth. The man had not
spoken in eleven years except to tell the gardener to take care not to
scratch his new Thunderbird convertible.
I have three sisters. Mother likes to wear her mink stole to bed.
She spends her afternoons at Seessel’s, turning over baskets of
strawberries. She lets the little ones roll onto the floor. She insists on
having hers filled with the plump and succulent; she hates the way
they try to hide
unripe berries. ‘Get over here and pick that up.’ I can just hear her.
When Seessel’s closed, after 150 years, Mother threatened to block
the store entrance on Union until she got their recipe for Canasta
cake. Thing is made with butter, Coca Cola, chopped pecans, and
confectionary sugar. She already knew how to make their mahjong
stew. This was back in the days when string beans, corn, and sliced
beets came in cans.
The only men in the house are my father, Hubert, and the
gardener, Jake. He lives beneath the house, behind the boiler, and
bathes in whatever escapes from the water heater. His first job was
out at the Colonial Country Club. Following a serious injury, he was
let go. Father offered to take him on. Jake never sets foot in the house
but he is always around. He lies on his belly and clips the grass with
scissors. He urinates in the bushes. He wears women’s stockings left
in the garbage on his head to absorb the perspiration.
Mother likes to say, ‘Get back to work.’ This she utters day and
night to the maid,
Estelle, my sisters, who have nothing to do, and on rare occasion to
Jake, the little man in the basement who makes her feel
uncomfortable. She pays them more than they deserve, she says. The
women at the country club call her cheap. She never tips.
Estelle’s mouth is full of gold. Years ago, she lost her left hand
at Father’s warehouse.
I had never known this. She told me this just last year while I was
home for the holidays. She says it is her job to air out the loneliness.
Father says Estelle keeps the house from rotting. My sister insists
blacks keep us whites from rotting. Now, without them, everything
feels dead. Children need a large breast to loll their heads.
There were a few years there when we kids ate nothing but Lucky
Charms. Mother had stocked up. It was all we had for breakfast,
lunch, and dinner. They’d gone to Europe. Father produced an old
push mower and told me to offer my services. None of us had a cent.
I ended up cadging dimes from poor old Jake. He still called me ‘Mr.
I must have been eleven. A couple of times, my sisters made me go to
the drugstore by the Luau to get ice cream. I came back with a handful
of orange sherbet push-ups and cherry popsicles. They let me use
Mom’s charge account. They knew me by name. A redhead dropped
by on Sundays to take us to Mass. We weren’t Catholic.
Mother moved uncomfortably from her Buick Skylark to a Mercedes.
There are now guard dogs and guns. Security cameras, motion
detectors, even metal grates on the windows. I got the girls out. Jake
is harmless. Estelle is on full alert. Father passed away. He was buried
at Hollywood Cemetery down in McComb, Mississippi, the closest he
ever got to stardom.
Daddy died of the knife and fork. ‘Eat like this and you be dead ‘fore
sixty, sure enough,’ Mother said. ‘Get yourself a fatty liver and a burst
kidney, you old fool. Have yourself a heart attack for all I care. You
will be stuck on one of them dialysis machines next to the 7/11, and a
goner for sure, but don’t listen to me. Why would you? You’re from
Dr. Lindy had him on a special diet. ‘Get me some of that stewed
squash, honey, and I’ll take an order of the sweet potato casserole.’
He was to stay off the red meat. It’s autumn all year round in these
vegan places. The very mention of squash makes me think of
Halloween. Pumpkin seeds sprinkled on the salads; reminds me of
cutting out faces and scraping the bottom of one of those big scary
‘Save room for the vinegar pie, you hear. I’ll have me some of that
fried eggplant and a grape soda.’ Generally, I ate pretty well when he
was around and that's probably why you won't see a whole lot of
cheese pulls, pizzas, and ice cream in my house. But the whole thing
was to get my Daddy to clean up his act. He was what my mother used
to call ‘a real mess.’
For our main dish we ordered the Portobello Pesto Penne and the
Buddha Bowl. He decided to stop for a Big Mac as soon as he finished
his broccoli and brown rice. ‘I’ll just stop right quick when we pull off
to get gas. Don’t tell your mother. ‘Stuff’s all right, just not filling.’
Daddy used to call it hippie food. ‘Comfort food for the low IQ crowd.’
He said the soup was creamy but a lot blander than most
butternut squash soups, probably because there was less salt. He was
supposed to avoid other fatty things. Estelle brought him consommé
with a splash of sherry. He used to ask the butcher to grind his meat
with the fat from around the kidneys. ‘You want the juices down your
front. Let it ruin your Sunday best.’ He never wanted to go to New
Orleans. ‘It is a loony bin. The madmen were once waiting in the
wings. Now, they’ve taken the stage.’
The thing is, it’s not just the strawberries. Even the cheese is
rotten. Mother orders meat direct from wholesalers. Last week, they
delivered 250 pounds of fresh beef. Mother had no business being
back there. The only thing that makes sense is that she was out
looking for Jake. She lay at the bottom of the ravine, flat on her back,
calling for help. Meow. The fat old lady had had a fall. She’d rolled
down the hill, having broken her ankle. Father used to tell her to
watch where she was going.
Mother has one of those absurd bodies, round on the bottom,
flabby, and heavy on top,
with two wobbly jugs of extra fat. Her ugly flesh is white with blue
varicose veins like English Stilton. Truth of the matter is that she eats
pretty much the same as Daddy. She’ll run in for a glazed donut and
coffee on the way to church, stop by Krystal’s coming home, and then
insist on having Estelle or one of the girls run her over to Justine’s for
a light supper of French onion soup just because she craves their
Justine’s was my parents’ restaurant of choice. We kids were
never invited. Father said if you ordered right, it was no more than
Shoney’s. I know he always had snails. I remember, too, that he loved
their curried eggs. Mother’d have onion soup and a side of asparagus
(‘If Jackie can order asparagus at the Ritz, I can have asparagus at
Justine’s.’), or they shared an exquisite blanquette de veau, although
Mother insisted Estelle’s was better. They never ordered beef or
coffee in a restaurant. Father said both were a waste of money.
As she tumbled down the hill, Mother’s teeth fell out. Her hair
messed. She lay there in a heap: ‘Help!’ No louder than a bat. Or
perhaps a lamb. It was more baaah! than screech. No one heard her
but the cat. Meow. By then she was practically all alone. She rarely
does the laundry. Estelle has trouble getting over there to help.
Mother’s feet are misshapen, having grown a sixth toe.
Everyone calls her Jo. Only Dad called her Josephine. She called
him Hubby, never Hubert. He was impressed at a young age by the
fact that he could shut her up with his consoling prick. She could be a
bitch. Not that any of us called her that. She was our mother. Dad said
she was grumbling even when she still had nice tits. A nag she was.
But he learned soon enough that a good fuck shut her up. Even the
mailman noticed her smile. She sang. She hummed. She even cooked
breakfast. It didn’t cheer him up so much, but it turned her into
Dad is long dead. My sisters say she mixed poison into the sugar
bowl. She got rid of him when his cock quit. He’d become a joke, he
and his shriveled dick. She liked it rock hard. We knew such things
because Mother could be indiscrete. In fact, she was vulgar. I once
came in from school (5th grade?) singing a bit of the Rolling Stones’
new hit, ‘Satisfaction,’ really belting it out, in my feeble imitation of
the Mick. Mother called out from the other room: ‘What would you
know about that?’ She talked frequently about how much size
matters, to me and my sisters.
She never had many friends. Mother put people off. The church ladies
asked her not to stay for coffee after services because she never
pitched in. She didn’t smile or wave when she ran into people at the
mall. On Halloween one year…. this was very Jo: she both hadn’t
remembered to buy treats and had forgotten to turn off the porch
lights. A large family showed up – parents on the sidewalk, children
at the door – and, after fussing and complaining (‘Shouldn’t those
little ones be home in bed?’), she wandered off and returned with a
stale candy cane she found in a drawer. She tore off the Santa Claus
wrapper, lay the candy across the palm of her hand, and crushed it
against the door knob. Then, she invited everyone to step forward to
help themselves. ‘Come on, we haven’t got all night.’
Her cat noticed her lying there. Meow. He looked for a while and
headed to our neighbors. He cried at their door. Mrs. Appel came
right out. She was not young. We’d known the family forever. When I
was very young, no more than three, I’d say, she’d drop by, and when
she stood to leave, I would throw myself on the floor and, hugging her
legs, beg to go with her. I wanted her to take me home. I cried like
mad. Screamed my head off.
Then, I remember that time years later. I was still in high school. A
senior, I suppose. I opened the door, only to find her standing,
holding out a plastic shopping bag stuffed with bright red radishes.
‘They’re from our garden. First harvest, I wanted you to have them:
freshly picked this afternoon.’ Mother came to the door. Mrs. Appel
was clearly waiting to be invited in. Looked like she could use a drink.
Mother just took the bag and closed the door. Not a word. Maybe she
‘What’s the matter?’ The lady followed the cat out of curiosity and
yelled for Jo. Then she heard the muffled voice of the fat lady. Jo? Is
that you? You-who! She summoned the fire department. Six men and
a young lady showed up in helmets and bright yellow vests. They
rescued the old lady. Meow.
Everybody wept. I did, too, when I got the call. I flew right out.
I found her in a lot of pain. Her ankle was messed up. Momentarily, I
experienced grief as if she had actually died. I was glad she hadn’t. Of
course, I felt something, but you can't let it .... She would have wanted
us to wallow in grief and let it take over our lives but I resisted. She
would have enjoyed that. She would have wanted to ruin our lives as
she felt we had ruined hers.
People often say in such circumstances that a person is no
longer what she once was. Not in Mother’s case. She most certainly
was what she once was; she remained unchanged; absolutely,
unmoved, shall we say; just the same as ever. In fact, she reminded
me of my father. I often wonder what she got out of being with him.
They’d both been through the Depression. They didn’t fight in the
War, but they knew its hardships. She lost her father, which broke her
heart. He lost both parents, one after the other.
They were optimistic, unlike myself, certainly in my twenties.
For many years, I was rather oracular, spouting off all sorts of dismal
rubbish, all terribly cynical and dreary. They both just laughed it off.
If I’d been to a play and declared it dreadful, my father would
flamboyantly order tickets and quote the Times’ rave review. He
didn’t give a shit what I thought. But he did used to ask how
everybody could be having such an amazing time. ‘And when did
awesome replace fine and dandy? Can you tell me that?’ This would
make Mama laugh. ‘Because, all this enthusiasm just doesn’t make
sense, not that I’m into singing the mockingbird blues. I sometimes
think we all got lost on the hallelujah trail.’ I got a kick out of listening
I just wanted my Mamma to be an independent woman who’s
got it going on, but people her generation didn’t have enough money
to have it going on. Nobody back then had it going on, not even or,
especially not, the men, outside of business. Whites got all full of
themselves is what happened. The towels weren’t meant for drying
yourself; they were just for show, like
the living room furniture. It was all about shopping. Blacks had
furniture all right, but it was for sitting on.
I don’t mind telling you I am just stunned and discouraged by the
absurd and debauched spectacles before me. My mother became a
monster. Who could blame her, poor thing? Bless her little heart.
That’s what I say. There really wasn’t much else for her to do besides
shop and she told us how much she hated it. That’s why there was no
food in the house.
Had she actually mixed rat poison into his cereal? Something
tells me he’d outlived his usefulness. He must have felt as hopeless as
poor old Johnny Cash, no doubt feeling lost as well as impotent. The
old lady hobbles around. Estelle said she fed chicken livers to the cat
for a week to thank him for saving her life.
She told me she thinks often now of what living alone does to a
person. Everyone she’s ever known is dead, beginning with my father.
He comes to mind from time to time. She always pictures him
standing before her, naked as a blue jay.
She is right about one thing. It’s a miracle we’re here! I’m trying to
write a song
around that. Can anybody listen to Porgy and Bess and still say life is
a shit sandwich? The Shirelles! I should say not.
I tried so hard to get away. Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco. I
was riding one day on the train, looked up, and realized the man
sitting across from me used to be my father. I recognized those blue-
veined arms on the corpse riding with me. That’s the corpse of my
father, I said to myself. I swear to God. I recognized his receding
hairline and his pale skin. It even had his curly hair and was wearing
That’s dad, all right, sitting there beneath the sign for special seating.
That’s exactly where he’d sit if he were alive. Dad saw himself as
disabled and he was. He was an emotional cripple, that’s for sure. He
flew into rages over nothing. He hated taking the bus. He resented
the attention it drew. He’d have preferred to climb in through a
window. ‘Stop fussing,’ he’d roar.
When I came to see him in hospital, arriving straight from the airport,
he looked up and said, ‘No! I don’t want visitors.’
Oh, but how well Mother understood him. What he wanted above all
else was love: L.O.V.E. He pushed us away, especially her, but all he
really wanted was attention. When I asked her what I should bring
him, she didn’t even blink an eye. ‘Get him some cavier.’
I once got up the courage to point out there were no other cars
on the road but he was cursing. He was ranting. He looked out the
window and stopped. When I was nine, he’d have turned around and
smacked me on the head. I was twenty-seven. He was always
threatening to trounce me.
Dad was a bully. When I was little, Mother asked me to get Dad
an aspirin to go with his pickled herring and dry martini. From this I
learned the importance of timing, how to avoid conflict and, most
importantly, how to manipulate an adversary. I looked up to him.
Years later, he said, ‘After two martinis, I’m not afraid of anything.’ I
Like a lot of monsters, he had a heart of gold. Like Frankenstein and
all his monster
friends, he scared the neighborhood children but felt lonely. Like
many bullies before him, what he needed was a blind man to make
him tea. It was precisely because people were not blind that he hated
Just like an alcoholic, but he didn’t drink. His father drank enough
generations. His father said to him, ‘You think you’re a big shot, but
you’re nothing but a big shit.’ He repeated this to me on many an
It is hard living with people who hold your feet. It is so important to
get away. But you never can.
I used to pick cashews out from father’s dish of mixed nuts.
Amazingly, it didn’t make him mad. He liked it when my sisters
combed his hair. When he came home, we all set to work. Mother
came to hate him. Even this amused him.
That old guy sitting across from me reminded me of my father
when he was alive. The old man there looked very thoughtful, looked
intelligent. My father, too, had that look. I wish I did. ‘That man’s
flesh is as white as a frog’s belly, so pale I can see his blue cheesy
veins.’ I could see my father’s, too. It made him look frail. Later on,
he’d get cross but had no power. It was Mother’s turn to be amused.
He became pathetic, especially when he smelled of urine.
It’s hard to control other people when they stink. It’s impossible
to run the show when you’ve sprung a leak. It’s hard to frighten your
son when you have on pampers. What I learned those final years
helped me learn to live alone as my mother had.
We seek to arrange the rhythms of our disgruntlement in stabilizing
stanzas. ‘Course, as Jo used to say, there is nothing a nice slice of
vinegar pie can’t cure.
Remember What I Said About Puddles in the Bathroom
It was five minutes past five on Friday evening. The non-committal
hour that threatened to suspend the evening in limbo. When Gloria
passed Max’s room, this time she hesitated. She pushed the door
open gently, as if wishing not to disturb its occupant. She found the
window open as it had remained for some months now, as if he had
just gone out on a short errand and would be back soon. It had been
several months since she had set foot in the room, and several more
since she had picked up his guitar to pluck on its tired strings. It was
even longer since she had brought his jersey to her nose. The smell
had started to diminish which made her sad. She was disappointed
to find that the room was exactly as she had left it, with the unmade
bed resembling a face with a wonky smile, and the ghastly Ikea
paper chandelier, dotted with the corpses of several dead moths. She
threw the apple that she was eating, of which she had only taken a
few bites, into the bin; something to perish she thinks, to change
colour, to metamorphose.
She hadn’t made any plans because she knew already the trajectory
that the evening would follow. She would have dinner with some old
friends. They would ask her how things were going; life, work,
partners. She didn’t care too much to hear their updates, less so her
own, considering nothing had really developed in any of those
departments. No, I am not dating anyone she would say. And the
faces around the table would twitch with a disinterested pity before
changing the topic swiftly to something controversial a politician
had said. She was still shopping for men on dating apps, and
occasionally meeting with them ‘IRL’ in order to feel like a normal
person living in the 21st century. Each time she would promise
herself that it would be her last following yet another
disappointment at finding that they were not how she expected
them to be, based on the few photos she had seen, the emojis
exchanged, and whether they had ticked the hashish icon or not.
So she decided to stay in, to cook a goulash with meat and potatoes.
The large pot simmered on the stove, enough to feed a family. She
watched the hypnotic orange pools blaze and bubble on the surface,
a suggestion of concealed life. Stirring the liquid, she glanced
helplessly at the consortium of unused utensils around the room.
Shiny things that winked with dust. Gifts from friends. Who do they
think I am? The stew still had some flavour to acquire so she ambled
to her bedroom. Opening her wardrobe, she began to rifle through
some old clothes, dresses she hadn’t worn in decades. Dresses with
the labels still attached to their necks that made them feel brand
new or her less old; a feeble rebellion against the passage of time.
Taking one down, she wriggled into its fabric. She then levered
herself precariously from the edge of the bedframe to reach a pair of
heels from the top of the wardrobe. Cocking her head, she smiled at
her reflection in the mirror. The dress looks better now than it ever
has, she thought, with a committed cleavage and fuller hips.
In her shoes and dress, she perched on the corner of the bed in
Max’s room. The window was open, but the shutters drawn; casting
a sequence of rhomboid shadows across the adjacent wall. Blue
shapes that quivered like a dizzy horizon. She glanced at her watch
and closed her eyes. And then, in the darkness, something soared
into the window. Gloria’s right hand immediately reached for her
left breast as she was inclined to do in moments of panic. It must
have been a bird, she thought, hearing the spattering of its broken
body reverberate on the pavement. She leapt from the bed and
peered out the window, but there was nothing to be seen. No bird,
no nothing. She tip-toed down the staircase. Behind the frosted
glass stood an amorphous figure. She opened the door.
A boy sidled past her into the corridor, wielding some sort of cake
wrapped in shiny foil. He could not have been older than twenty-
‘Hi. Andrej. Nice to meet you.’ He offered her his hand, his nails
underscored with dirt. He was just a little taller than her. His shirt
clung to his torso, marking the contours of his muscle.
‘Oh sorry. That was rude.’ Pulling his hand through his unkempt
hair, ‘you must be Caroline.’
‘Not the last time I checked,’ she retorted, inspecting an imaginary
name badge on her lapel.
Squinting at some squiggles on a dirty post-it, ‘you’re not Caroline?
Oh yeah, course. She said Caroline was a blonde.’
‘Sorry, who’s Caroline?’ she asked, craning to survey the post-it,
which he had already screwed up into his pocket.
‘I think you must have the wrong—,’ she said, taking the cake from
him, which almost toppled with the unexpected weight.
‘Goodness me. Do you carry your life in this thing?’
‘Apple pie Ma’am. Homemade.’
‘And the purple bits?’ she asked as she unpeeled the foil.
‘Blackberries. Secret ingredient’
The boy was already in the house now, slipping off his trainers
which Gloria noticed were more than a little scuffed up. Licking up a
few beads of sweat from his upper lip, he told her that he was
thirsty, so thirsty he said, the thirstiest he had ever been, would you
believe. He smelt of tobacco and a smell she hadn’t smelt before. She
didn’t know how to feel about it. His knees were cut up.
He signalled to his skateboard wedged like a crutch into his armpit.
She leant the board against the wall as she removed his jacket. She
couldn’t help but feel his body, wet with sweat and firm like freshly
modelled clay. His eyes flickered around like hungry lizard tongues.
She glanced back at the door.
‘The toilet’s up at the top of the stairs if you want to clean your knees
a bit,’ she remarked as if it was the most ordinary post-greeting. A
bidet for your mucky patellas.
He arrived at the bathroom in two leaps. She watched him as he
twisted the tap, devouring handfuls of water from his palms. When
he was done, he peered down at Gloria as she waited at the bottom
of the stairs, transfixed, with the half-exposed pie in her hands.
‘A little privacy?’ he asked, closing the door with his foot.
Gloria returned to the kitchen and sat waiting at the table, tapping
her foot. When the boy appeared, he looked like a changed person,
with his hair slicked to the side like a good fifties Christian. He smelt
of synthetic vanilla. His knees were squeaky clean.
‘You really need to get that tap fixed. It’s leaking all over the shop
‘Yeah. Sorry about that.’
‘I almost died slipping in it.’
‘You smell like Febreze.’
‘I needed some deo--’
‘You could have asked. I’ve got some in the other bathroom.
My…someone who used to live here left some things.’
He shrugged. He wandered around the room, picking things up and
putting them down again. He selected a book, glanced vaguely at its
blurb whilst surveying its weight in his hand as if its value was
vested in its heaviness and not the words in its pages.
‘– Look I just made a goulash. Would you like some goulash?’
At her suggestion, he fell into the chair at the dinner table, the one
with the spindly leg that stuck out.
‘This place must have pretty good sound-proofing—’ he told her,
wrapping his knuckles against the walls.
‘Good solid bricks.’
She watched him with his manners of a young child; slumped
forwards, his left elbow splayed on the table as he shovelled hunks
of meat into his mouth with innocent abandon.
‘What?’ he asked, sensing her scrutiny.
‘Sorry, you just remind me of someone.’
‘This is really good. Goulash is my favourite.’
She smiled beatifically. She felt that she could have laughed or cried.
‘You know,’ he scratched at the table top, peeling off a piece of dead
wood ‘I practically destroyed my lighter getting in here.’
He opened his palms to reveal the shrapnel of a red clipper.
‘I threw it at your window.’
‘So that’s what that was. I was certain it was a bird.’
‘Nope, just my loyal clipper.’
‘Why did you throw a lighter at my window?’
‘To get your attention.’
‘We have a doorbell.’
‘Phtt. Doorbells. Who uses doorbells?’
‘So, you threw a lighter at my window? Like an urban Romeo?’
‘Yeah. Right,’ he grinned at his host mockingly, one tooth slipping
into his lip like a mini porcelain dagger, ‘like Romeo and Juliet.’
He fingered it with his index, staring at her all the while.
‘You better get me a new one.’
‘I don’t smoke.’
‘Either the walls are solid stuff or you’re deaf as bat.’
‘Bats are meant to be blind not deaf. Their hearing’s exceptional.’
He shrugged. She reached for the first-aid kit and began to dress the
wounds on his knees as he licked his plate. He groaned and stomped
his feet furiously.
‘Careful. Keep still!’
Sticking what he could of his fist into his mouth, ‘Sorry,’ he
‘Do you mind?’ he asked, rolling a cigarette. Before she could
answer, the furious orange tip already glistened, incandescent.
‘You have a nice home,’ the boy told her as he glanced approvingly
around the apartment.
It was unusual to hear someone say this. Her home felt less a home
than a collection of things that had happened to remain with her
‘Can I hold your hand?’
‘You want to hold my hand?’ she inspected her open palm as if
surveying its suitability for the job.
‘I just want to see how it feels to hold someone’s hand. To imagine
how we would look to others.’
‘But no one’s here.’
‘Maybe we should do it walking down the street, then,’ he added.
‘We could do our weekly food shop and bicker about which brand of
passata to put in the Bolognese.’
‘Bicker,’ he repeated, smiling.
He stubbed out his cigarette and asked her if he could take a shower.
‘Of course, if you would like to.’
Gloria, disappeared, checking that the shower was decent. When she
returned, she handed him a towel with a blown-up face of Finding
‘It felt like you were gone for a really long time’
‘No, not really,’ he laughed greedily, throwing the towel over his
shoulder. He disappeared down the corridor, whistling a tune she
didn’t know. Gloria kicked off her shoes as she reclined onto the
sofa, soothed by the faint sibilance of the shower. Her head tingled.
But it felt good, she thought, closing her eyes.
When she half-opened her eyes, she found her guest looming over
her, drying his hair with Nemo’s fin. A few drops flew onto her skin.
‘Max?’ she smiled sleepily.
‘Good evening. Sorry to wake you.’
‘Did you use a bath mat? Remember what I said about puddles in
She rubbed her eyes and sat up in a start.
‘Puddles in the bathroom. Hey, that sounds like a ballad.’
‘Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else—.’
‘It’s ok. Apparently, I have one of those faces. People always mistake
me for other people that they know,’ he sighed with cheery resign.
‘How long was I--?’
‘Not long. An hour. Maybe two.’
‘An hour or two? You should have woken me.’
‘It’s ok. I cleaned up. Did the washing’
‘How did you know where to put everything?’
Touching his nose conspiratorially, ‘I have a knack for that.’
Switching on the lamp beside her, Gloria inspected the boy from
‘Where did you find those clothes?’
He was wearing the jersey that Max had lived in. Max with his funny
ears that were pinned back when he started secondary school. The
right ear had rebelled against the surgery and continued to
protrude, she thought, even more defiantly than it had before. She
liked to call him George, after Curious George, because he looked a
little like a monkey. He also had a birthmark between his fifth and
sixth rib. Or was it between fourth and fifth? No, of course it was
between fifth and sixth! She corrected herself but nevertheless
panicked at having almost forgotten. It was plum-coloured and
shaped like a bird with one foot. The nurse who delivered him to her
said how, but for a minor defect, he was a beautiful baby. But she
thought how the blemish was the most beautiful thing about him.
‘You left them out in the bathroom.’
Her mind was still whirring with half-remembered dreams.
‘And the slippers?’ she enquired of the feet that now perched on the
‘They were there too. It actually gave me a fright because the outfit
was hanging on the doorframe and for a second, I thought it was a
person. A man with no head waiting for me in the bathroom. Psycho
2 or some shit.’
Gloria rubbed her eyes and reached for her glass of wine. How much
have I had to drink she thought, massaging her temple as she
squinted to make out the level of liquid in the darkened bottle.
‘I wouldn’t mind running over my beard. I’m looking like
‘Yes, yes of course,’ she mumbled and together they stumbled
through the awkwardly narrow corridor into the bathroom so that
their bones brushed up against one another.
Perched on the edge of the tub and he on the toilet seat, she ran the
blade over his skin. She felt his eyes fix on her with a trust that both
moved and embarrassed her.
‘I miss watching a man shave,’ she mused, as she erased the shadow
of hair, dipping the blade every now and then into the sink. Frothy
clumps of foam floated like fallen icebergs on the surface of the
water. With his head tilted back, the skin on his neck stretched over
his Adam’s apple causing it to jut from his body as something crude
and angular. She glanced from the blade to the sharp protrusion
which rolled vertically, as if he had swallowed something live.
‘All done.’ She tilted his head with her fingertips, as her own private
‘--Since when did you get to grow a beard like that!’ she quizzed the
reflection in the mirror, spattered with the hairs of his old-self.
‘There’s that handsome face.’
With boyish defiance, he straightened his back to observe his
reflection, ‘I look different.’
‘Yes. Not like a hobo anymore. A beautiful b--.’
Andrej lurched towards Gloria and stole the boy from her mouth
with a kiss, as if the advance could only be made with a brazen
recklessness or not all. She drew away. Her hand reached for her
breast. Then she closed her eyes, and as if playing dead, she kept
She kept her eyes closed as the boy led her around her home. They
fell onto something soft. He loomed over her, his hair tickling her
‘Hey, you play guitar.’
‘Guitar?’ she opened his eyes to find him reaching for Max’ acoustic.
She leapt from the bed, rearranging the duvet into its familiar
‘Sorry,’ he gestured, fondling the disarrayed cotton.
‘Don’t touch anything. Please’
Guiding him to her bedroom, she peeled back the duvet. Taking his
hands to her shoulders, she guided his fingers first to the straps of
her dress and then to the clasp on her bra which pinged open so that
her breasts fell into his hands. She removed his underwear, and then
hers and watched his ribcage rise in the purple light. She held her
breath as she filled her mouth with his ears. With her index finger,
she pressed, dragging the nail across the shallow concavity between
his fifth and sixth rib. In a spasm, he jerked noiselessly, bringing a
hand to his side to catch the drop of blood. Holding him to her, she
rubbed her hand vigorously across his back as if nursing a wounded
‘—It’s ok. George. It’s ok.’
They lay, their bodies intertwined in silence for some time. She
asked if she could smoke one of his cigarettes.
‘What is your success rate?’ she asked
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know what I’m asking. How many recently begrieved mothers
answer to Caroline?’
‘You were the first.’ He bowed his head, embarrassed, not for
himself, but for her.
‘What is your name?’
‘Gloria,’ she said.
‘Gloria. That’s a nice name’
‘If you are lonely you should get a cat, Gloria,’ he added.
‘What tells you I’m lonely?’
‘You took a homeless man to bed.’
She fell asleep on his shoulder, drunk on the hot night, on his body,
on the cruel absurdity of everything. She wondered what it would be
like to start over. Not to click ‘power off’ but to restart. As she
slipped into sleep, she murmured into his hair--
‘Can you sing me the song?’
‘The song. The one about the…’
‘I don’t know that song, Gloria’
‘You do. You do.’
‘I don’t know that song, Gloria—.’
‘Oh, but you do. You do. And I can remind you. It goes like—.’
Before she could begin, her urging words gave way to small snores
which punctuated the night-time, haloed by the gibbous moon
which cast faint tongues of silver into the purple sky. When her
snores fell into rhythm, Andrej rose, careful not to wake her. He
gently looped the clothes over the hanger she had left out for him.
He let himself out of the apartment. When Gloria awoke, the night
had cooled. She glanced over to find the space beside her empty.
She found Max’s clothes hanging from the bathroom door. He is
right, she thought, it does look like a person who has lost his head.
She took the clothes, folded them neatly and left them on his
dresser. When she entered the living room, she did not find a
remnant of her guest until she noticed a small piece of paper on the
floor, illuminated by the moon. It was the post-it he had inspected
for the address, bearing the doodle of a cat. He was never looking for
a Caroline, and she had recognised instantly the embossment of the
local bakery’s logo on the apple pie’s latticing. She laughed freely.
Pouring herself a cold glass of water, she took a seat on the sofa,
which she sipped, waiting.
‘Oh, I’ve been moving around the world for about fifty years now.’
‘Wow…’ Ezra was genuinely dumbfounded. ‘And… are you not tired?
I mean… how do you still have the energy?’
Ezra had wanted to ask him how he could still travel such long
distances at such an old age, but he didn’t know how to phrase it and
was scared it might not come out right, and since he didn’t want to
offend his new friend, he resorted to a more general, vague question.
The old man widened his smile, and this confirmed to Ezra that he
had understood the meaning of his question and was not bothered.
‘Oh, I always make space for the energy. You see, at a certain point in
life, you begin to understand what you want, and this… letting go…
saves you so much energy.’ The old man sat back in his chair, visibly
engaged in this conversation. Ezra was leaning forward, his head
bobbing animatedly, eager to use this opportunity to learn as much
wisdom from this old man as possible.
‘But, of course, sometimes I can get weary and… I’m sorry, what’s
your name? I’m Gustav.’ The old man extended his hand. Ezra broke
off from his gaze and shook hands with him. ‘I’m Ezra!’
‘Are you also travelling through Taiwan?’
Ezra had not expected that question, which was stupid of him of
course, since they were both on a plane set for Taipei. Why hadn’t he
thought he would be asked that? It was a perfectly normal thing to
ask. ‘I’m backpacking…’, he lied.
The two men resumed their conversation, with Ezra deflecting and
turning it back on Gustav each time. He hated lying, especially to
someone he was fond of, but he felt compelled to, since telling the
truth would complicate things and focus the whole conversation on
him, and he didn’t want that. Gustav was aware that something
wasn’t right, but he did not push it, for he, too, liked Ezra and wanted
to keep on good terms with him.
The conversation went on like this for another ten minutes before a
flight attendant came to them and announced that Ezra had been
assigned the wrong seat and that he had to change with someone else.
‘The plane will take-off soon so you must change now.’
‘But it won’t make any difference– ‘
‘I’m sorry, sir.’ She was quite insistent.
Ezra did not protest further for he did not want to create a scene and
he wanted to leave a good lasting impression on Gustav, but as he
shook hands with him and as he went past him, he felt an
overwhelming urge to just spill out everything to him right at that
instant and tell him the whole truth; moreover, as he moved away
from Gustav towards the front of the plane, Ezra felt a certain
uneasiness grow within him, and he couldn’t ignore the feeling that
he had made a big, irreversible mistake in not confiding with the old
man. Ezra felt terribly alone.
Ezra was seated just behind the cockpit, next to a fat, cold man. The
moment he saw him he already missed Gustav.
The flight felt so long to Ezra that he became crazy. He kept asking
himself during it: ‘what am I doing?’ and ‘why am I here?’. Before the
trip, Ezra had felt so sure of his plans but now all of that firm
resolution was gone. He was so miserable that he could not do
anything: he could not read to pass the time, or even think of
something, or even reflect on his misery; all he could do was suffer in
silence. There were many times when he wanted to cry but he could
not even do that since he was constantly aware of the public setting.
Sometimes he would go to the toilet to wash his face and brush his
teeth not only so that he could suffer alone for a bit, but also because
he was stressed about keeping up appearances and creating a good
impression on the person he was about to meet whom he hadn’t seen
for so long. However he was so shocked and hopeless by the force of
his gloom that he did not think of this while doing it but just did it so
he could do something. To combat his gloom, he tried to reason with
himself that ‘this is normal’ and that ‘the beginning is always hard’,
but even though he could find no faults with this reasoning and
agreed with it completely it still did not stop his gloom. The memory
of his contact with Gustav felt more and more like a distant dream.
In the last hour of the flight, as the plane was descending, Ezra looked
out of the window at an ocean of clouds and for a short while, he
forgot all of his gloom and just looked at the clouds.
Something bad happened while Ezra was waiting for his luggage.
A young woman fell on her arm when trying to pick up her bag and
started shrieking loudly as a crowd surrounded her. She was
obviously in pain; there was no embarrassment in her cries but just
Ezra did not try to help her as he thought that enough people had
surrounded her and that he would just be in their way. Someone had
run to find an airport worker. Ezra saw that the fat man whom he had
sat next to and whom he had seen as cold had been the first person to
lay next to her and examine her arm. Ezra could not stop himself from
staring at the scene, and upon looking around him, he noticed that
everyone else who wasn’t helping was also staring. As the poor
woman was being led away, Ezra wanted to go up to the fat man and
ask him if she was okay, but he did not will himself to do it as he felt
ashamed and felt that his question would seem insincere and
performed so as to create a sympathetic image of himself. He didn’t
know if this shame came from not helping that woman or from
judging that man. He also didn’t know if he wanted to ask that
question because he truly cared or because he wanted to improve his
own image. Ezra’s first reaction to all those helpers had been that they
were all doing it for themselves, but as he picked up his luggage and
walked towards the exit, he realised how wrong and stupid that
assumption was, and felt even more ashamed for having such a
thought. ‘They’re all good people and I’m just an ass’, he concluded.
This action at the airport had briefly distracted him from his gloom
but as he stepped outside and into a taxi, it resurfaced and hit him
like a punch in the gut.
The taxi driver seemed like a decent, honest guy.
When he had picked up Ezra, and put his address in the GPS, he
noticed a frown on his face. Finding him interesting, he resolved to
have a good conversation with him and to hopefully lift up his spirits
by the end of the ride.
Ezra was looking out of the window at his old home and even though
nothing much had really changed since he had left as a child, it
seemed so different and unfamiliar to him, like he was in a foreign
country or something, and this surprised him a bit and made him feel
even more lonely.
‘It’s a lovely night, isn’t it?’ The taxi driver made his move.
Ezra turned around blankly as if spotting him for the first time.
‘Yes, it has a nice, cool air. And what an atmosphere! At such a time!
It must be annoying for you to work in the middle of the night like
The taxi driver smiled. ‘Oh, but on the contrary, I choose to work at
night. I prefer it. It’s better for business!’
‘How so?’ Ezra was genuinely curious. He was also mesmerized by the
taxi driver’s general contentment with life.
‘Well, first off: there are less taxi drivers who work at this time so it is
easier for me to get clients. And second off: if I work during the day,
I can’t see my children at night because they’re sleeping. That’s why I
like to work at night – so I can come home in the morning and play
with them before they go to school.’
Ezra listened intently and developed a close attachment to the taxi
driver. He appreciated the simplicity of his words. The taxi driver
noticed this in Ezra’s expression and continued to talk freely and
comfortably, as if he was with a close friend that he had known all his
‘– Their names are little Grisha, who is nine years old, and Lea, who
is five. I love to play with them and see their giggles. They mean the
whole world to me and I work all night for them, for their future. You
see, this job is only temporary. I would never work so hard and for so
little if I was alone. They’re my whole life. Their mother is busy all-
day taking care of them and the house; and she has been looking for
a job for a while now. But, you know, it’s not easy. This city is always
moving and moving. There are almost no jobs to find here. You would
have to move away from the city. But we don’t want to do that to the
kids. This is their home. I’ve struggled to find a higher-paying job
myself, but life goes on… I do my part. She does hers. And that’s all
we can do…’
And so, the taxi driver kept talking like this, losing himself,
encouraged by Ezra’s questions. And the more he talked: the more
bliss Ezra would feel; the more cured he would feel from his gloom,
from his unworthiness, from the stress of his plans; and the more he
would look out and refamiliarize himself with his old home, it would
all come back to him; the more he would understand what had been
missing all these years and why he had decided to come back; the
more convinced he would feel of his plans.
And when the taxi dropped him off at the hotel, Ezra felt so
comfortable and relaxed that he had forgotten to ask the driver’s
After checking in, and brushing his teeth one final time, he collapsed
on the bed and fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.
The next day Ezra was set to meet his old friend: Hector.
After eating breakfast in the hotel, Ezra decided he would walk
around the old streets and avenues of his childhood. However, as he
strolled through the city and recognised all these sites where so many
blissful memories had been made, he felt nothing; now, with his adult
eyes and body, they felt just like any other building or street or house.
Ezra had expected to feel something, like a feeling of release, or a
surge of memories, but all he felt was a certain detachment. However,
Ezra told himself it would come eventually.
Not only did he feel a detachment with the landscape, the
surroundings, but he also felt one with the people, the crowd. When
Ezra was a child, his blond hair had been lighter and shinier. No one
had blond hair in Taiwan and so this made him stand out. It would be
often that a stranger or a group of strangers would come up to him
and ask him if they could take a picture of him or pose next to him.
Sometimes he would even be invited to do photoshoots for kids’
clothing magazines. Ezra was only a child back then so, to him, this
was all perfectly normal. Looking back at it, what he found the most
peculiar was the extreme niceness and nervousness of those people.
It was as if he was a rare species that they had never seen before and
which had to be treated with a certain grace and respect. Ezra liked
being the centre of attention because it made him feel unique and
But now Ezra experienced none of this and the crowd which normally
was so amiable and attentive to him was now like any other crowd
back home: bustling, selfish, busy…
Ezra was not able to feel calm and relaxed in his stroll around the city.
He felt tense the whole way, and this was due to the fact that he was
set to meet Hector in the afternoon, and he was scared of being
awkward and creating a bad impression after such a long time away
from each other.
At one point, Ezra noticed a pretty woman walking along the street
and about to cross him. In the short moment when they crossed each
other, Ezra did something unexpected. He straightened his shoulders
and raised his chin, so as to appear more confident in front of her. As
soon as the moment was over, however, Ezra felt nothing but shame
for being so artificial. ‘How can you be so fake?’, he thought.
It was at this moment that he decided he didn’t particularly enjoy this
stroll and resolved to return to the hotel and take a shower before his
meeting with Hector.
It may seem insignificant, but Ezra loved taking showers and was
obsessed with cleanliness. And now, as he buzzed on Hector’s door,
all clean and dressed in his good clothes, he felt a bit more relaxed,
but he was still quite tense. He couldn’t wait for his old friend to open
the door and yet he dreaded it at the same time.
When the door finally opened, it wasn’t Hector behind it, but a young
‘Hello Ezra? You must be looking for Hector, right? I’m his wife,
‘Oh… nice to meet you!’
‘Here he is!’ Ezra could hear footsteps coming down the stairs and
saw Hector emerging from the door. His face had completely changed
but Ezra had no time to react or greet him properly in the moment.
‘– Well I’m just gonna head out for some groceries. Ezra, want
‘Uhm, no thank you.’ Ezra wasn’t thinking what he was saying. He
When she had left, and the door was closed, and Ezra and Hector were
finally alone, both said ‘hi…’ at the same time, and both cringed at the
While Ezra on the exterior remained polite, on the inside he was
upset; he hadn’t expected the quickness and brute speed of their
introduction. He thought that this uncomfortable pace had been
imposed by Hector’s wife. He thought their grand moment of reunion
had been robbed. Ezra had been anticipating this reunion for weeks,
playing it out in his mind, but all of this nervous excitement had been
crushed in the space of a few seconds.
Ezra began to study Hector’s face and was shocked by how much had
changed. Both felt awkward about their sudden adulthood; and Ezra
wished they could be children again. It all felt so weird and unnatural,
as if their growth was something to be ashamed of. As they began to
speak about their lives since he had left, Ezra got the sense that
Hector was speaking quickly so his old friend couldn’t settle on him
By the time they had separated, Ezra was eager to leave and, on his
way to the hotel, was left completely dissatisfied with this meeting,
and he blamed it all on Alma who, to him, had ruined everything.