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Blind Pigs

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Simon didn’t like to be alone with Grandma. He didn’t like the noises she emitted and was worried she might die on his watch and he wouldn’t know what to do. He might even be blamed. 

She liked to tell boring stories about when she was young and Simon was too polite to get up and leave like his sisters did. 

Simon’s family was at his aunt’s for Sunday lunch. Grandma lived with Aunt Julie and you could tell Simon’s aunt was unhappy about that – there were wrinkles around her mouth and staccatoed across her forehead. Simon thought that Aunt Julie’s body might be keeping a tally of all the boring stories Grandma told.

The aroma of the roast idling in the oven drifted in from the kitchen and sunlight slipped enticingly through the window. Simon was too slow getting off the couch when his sisters bounced from the room and, before he could stand up, Grandma had lassoed him with her opening sentence.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I was a coatroom attendant?” she asked. 

Her teeth weren’t in properly and Simon could hear them coming away from the gums and clacking every time she opened her mouth, it sounded like she was chewing taffy with damp velcro.

Simon knew his mother would be livid if she heard he had been rude to Grandma, so he sat back down and gazed out the window at his sisters running around the backyard.

“No Grandma,” he said, sitting on the edge of the cushion with his hands tucked beneath his thighs – as if he would catapult himself from the room as soon as Grandma finished her story.

“It was back in the ’20’s,” she said.

Wow, Simon thought, Grandma’s ancient.

While Grandma talked her teeth clacked and drool collected in white pockets at the corners of her mouth. Simon felt a compulsion to reach over and wipe her lips with the cuff of his shirt. He pushed himself all the way into the back of the couch.

“I was just a baby, barely into my twenties when I worked there,” Grandma gazed at the opposite wall, as if the movie of her past life was rolling across the paintwork. 

“It was a speakeasy. Do you know what one of those is Sam?”

“It’s Simon,” said Simon. “Yes, Grandma, I do. I think.” 

He frowned and looked at the same wall as the old woman, searching for pictures she might have conjured. 

“It was a type of bar wasn’t it? One in a secret place?”

Grandma chuckled.

“A secret place,” she said. “Yes, I suppose it was. Hidden away below street level of a sewing shop.”

Simon tried to imagine a bunch of people gathering on purpose in a basement.

“Blind pigs they called them, the speakeasies. I loved it. I got to meet so many people. Fancy ladies with sequins on their dresses and furs of such rich, deep colors,” Grandma smiled and closed her eyes. 

“I would bury my face deep in those furs,” she said. “And inhale their lovely musky smells and the ladies’ perfume,” she opened one of her eyes and glanced at Simon. 

“When they weren’t looking of course,” she added.

“I remember one night I got to work. It was pouring buckets outside. I was soaked and had to change in the tiny bathroom at the back of the shop. I was late going downstairs and there was a man standing over the shop owner. I thought he was sleeping.

“The man looked panicked when he saw me, like he was caught doing something bad. ‘He was unconscious when I found him,’ he told me.” Grandma shook her head.

“What happened to him?” asked Simon, now perched on the edge of the couch.

The laughter of his sisters drifted into the room. He heard the muffled voices of his aunt and his mother chatting easily in the kitchen. 

His father wandered into the living room. When he saw Simon sitting with Grandma, he raised his eyebrows.

“All right lad?” he said. “Don’t you wanna go outside?”

Simon recognized the lifeline his father was throwing, but he shook his head.

“Nah Dad, I’m fine. Grandma’s telling me a story,” he turned back to Grandma, whose cheeks had reddened slightly. 

She smiled. Simon noticed how much it lit up her face, even her eyes sparkled.

“Now, where was I?” she said

“The body on the floor,” nudged Simon. “The suspicious stranger.”


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Sonja goes about her morning routine as usual. She wakes up with the sun, then heats water over the stove, drinks her tea and watches as rain begins to fall. She imagines each drop as a cocoon filled with poison, soaking into the soil and slowly killing the town.

Her husband had thought her a fool for coming back here, to live in the shadow of Chernobyl’s great disaster. But this is her home and has been since she was a small child. It will be her home when she finally comes to the end of her journey. 

After the explosion at the nuclear plant the townspeople had been evacuated to an area that reminded her of a refugee camp. Sadness and terror had soaked into the very bones of the place and Sonja, always an empath, could feel the fear of the people who had lived and lost their lives in the most painful of ways. She woke shaking and whimpering from nightmares of cannibalism and packed her suitcase soon after to begin the long trek home.

“You are a fool,” Sergei had told her, but she had left anyway.

“But what will I do?” he had cried.

“Find somewhere for us,” she had called back, without once turning her head. 

She remembered the story from the bible of the woman who had looked back. She didn’t want to turn into a pillar of salt. You can never look back once you make the decision to leave.

“I will write you,” he said. “I will send for you.”

That was the last she had heard from Sergei.

For months she had checked the mailboxes out by the fence. Every day she would look inside the cold mouth of her mailbox and every day it would be empty.

The months turned into years and soon she only checked every other day, then once a week. Now she can’t remember the last time she checked and she can’t remember Sergei’s face or the sound of his voice calling to her in sadness.

Sonja pulls on her coat and takes a bucket of scraps from the garden. She has been saving the bones from her soup and the vegetables that molder and rot at the bottom of the pile and the scrapped rinds of cheeses she makes from the old goat’s milk.

She walks along the road, and greets her neighbors by name. There are very few of them now, she remembers when she was a girl and the streets were alive with people, going about their business. Scurrying like ants. Now it’s a ghost town, but she would rather be here than anywhere else.

“The patrols are slow this morning Sonja,” calls Andrea. “But watch yourself.”

Sonja smiles and nods.

The fence marking the boundary to the exclusion zone is tall and impassable in most places, but Sonja crawls through a hole that lies behind a stand of dead trees. 

The bare branches reach toward the sky. They will never reach heaven, they are frozen in purgatory. This is what the blast has done to them. Sonja fears the same fate awaits her.

She scampers across the rubble and waits, crouching beside a wall. 

The first dog comes around the corner, belly to the ground. Others soon follow.

“Hello little ones, how are we today? Hmmm?” Sonja reaches into her bucket and places some of the food on the ground. 

The first dog sniffs at it, then drags a bone a few feet away. The other dogs come forward and bolt food as their tails wag. 

Sonja sits on the ground, scratching the dogs’ heads and rubbing tummies when they allow her.

The sky is darkening and the rain is coming down heavier now, so Sonja takes her empty bucket and crosses back to the fence. She hears an approaching engine and ducks behind a wall. The patrol car passes slowly, the guards looking out from their post, their heads turning as they search the perimeter.

Sonja is soaked by the time she reaches home. She passes the mailboxes and realizes she hasn’t looked inside in over a month. There’s an envelope inside, the scrawled handwriting on the front is her long lost husband’s. 

She holds the envelope to her lips and closes her eyes. She cannot recall Sergei’s face or his voice. Instead she sees the dogs. She sees the houses and buildings and faces of her friends. She sees the glorious toxic sunsets. She hopes she will die here.

The Fuselage

Tabitha had heard rumors about a diner in the middle of the forest.

She spoke a smattering of Portuguese, but the dialect in the town was difficult to understand. The locals laughed when she asked them to show her the way to the restaurant in the jungle. 

A young woman, toting a large backpack and wearing a yellow t-shirt with ‘Eat and Greet’ written across the chest, approached her as she struggled to ask directions of a stall holder.

“You American?” she asked.

“Yes,” Tabitha said, relieved to hear an English accent. “Can you show me the way to the airplane diner?”

“The cooking lady?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll take you,” she held out her hand and Tabitha frowned down at it.

“I don’t,” she began. “Ah, okay.”

She reached into her pocket and counted out ten Reals, the woman’s hand stayed outstretched. Tabitha sighed and added another ten. The woman smiled.

“I’m Georgie,” she said and bounced away toward the outskirts of the town. Tabitha followed.

They reached the forest and Georgie used a machete to cut a trail through the undergrowth.

The day took on a greenish hue and Tabitha glanced up towards the canopy, feeling a sudden claustrophobia beneath the immense trees.

Her shirt stuck to her body. She slapped her arms and face every few seconds at the insects buzzing around her. 

The trees were alive with the croaking of frogs and the calling of birds. 

“Do you know the cooking lady?” Georgie asked. 

Tabitha struggled to keep up.

“Well, no,” she said. “I’ve heard about her. And her restaurant. Although no-one seems to have ever been. I’ve been thinking it must just be a rumor. An urban legend.” 

“And her plane?”

“Yes. Do you think we could take a break?”

“We’re not far now,” Georgie glanced over her shoulder at Tabitha and smiled.

“So you’ve been there? It’s real?”

“Oh yes,” Georgie said.

Tabitha daydreamed about swimming pools and waiters bringing her drinks with tiny umbrellas shading them.

“She crashed it, you know? There were a dozen passengers and they just left her.” There was an edge to Georgie’s tone, an accusation bubbling just beneath the words.

“She had a baby,” she continued. “And they left her there.”

“How did she get out?”

“It took her a while. She was starving and close to death and the baby, poor thing, it barely survived,” Georgie turned to face Tabitha. “She made it to a village. The same village the other passengers had found. She gathered as much food as she could and trekked back to the plane.”

“And then opened a restaurant?” Tabitha was incredulous. She felt she was missing something.

“That came later,” Georgie said. “There was some kind of convention in Rio that the passengers had been going to. A chefs’ convention or cooking or something,” Georgie’s voice trailed off.

A large, colorful bird flew above them, its call an alarm issuing a warning to all that would listen.

“She found all kinds of equipment in the hold. Perfect for cooking the most delicious, gourmet meals you could ever dream of.”

“I imagine it must be difficult to get supplies so far into the jungle,” Tabitha said.

“Oh, not as difficult as you’d think,” Georgie said. 

They had come to a clearing. In the middle was the wreckage of an airplane. The cockpit was buried nose deep in the trees and the wings were nowhere to be seen, but the rest of the aircraft was miraculously intact. 

A large, hand-painted sign leaned against the plane, it read ‘The Fuselage.’ Flames leaped out of two metal drums placed closely together and a large grill sat over the top.

A woman stepped down from the plane. She was wearing a long, black apron and aviator goggles. She carried a cast-iron skillet to the grill. 

When she saw the two women approaching she gave a big, welcoming smile.

Tabitha relaxed. She had started to think that Georgie was leading her on a wild-goose chase.

“Georgie,” the woman called, waving the women over. 

Georgie gave the same smile and strode towards the woman, arms outstretched.

“Mom,” she called. 

Tabitha froze. Georgie turned to her and Tabitha couldn’t help but glance at the machete she was carrying.

“I didn’t think you’d be back so soon,” said the ‘cooking lady.’

“Yeah, well, just one this time. Hope you’re not too hungry.”

Tabitha wondered how fast she could run back through the trees.

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