An Afternoon in a Pub

Short story

They agreed to meet in a pub near where she lived.

It is what he does from time to time – asks her out for a drink or a meal, depending how much money he can spare.

Only rarely he lets her pay and only if she insists and he judges that she can afford it.

She was late and reproached herself for it; the place is only few minutes from her flat, while he probably had to walk all the way from his downtown office. She really should have been more organized. The whole day she was aware of that engagement. And it was after four in the afternoon.

She tried to remember what was she doing all day; it took an awful long time to peel herself off the bed, the wind rattled the front door all night – she hardly slept. Sweating was terrible too. Must be withdrawals. Her doctor said something about that last time she saw him which was not long ago but she could not remember what. She remembered him (the doctor) standing very close to her and stroking her arm then brushing his hands over her breasts. Which, she briefly thought are still rather firm and responsive.

Only later it occurred to her that she should have probably said something. Like – what do you think you are doing – or something like that, like those English women say. Easy for them – their mothers probably taught them how to do it.

Then there was business of washing and dressing. It took even longer. She felt big and ugly and lazy. Every move was like wading through the thick undergrowth. Paddling through swamp. In the end she threw well-worn dress over and shoes she once thought boring. It does not matter she thought – he is just a friend.

The place was empty but for a few middle-age men loudly betting on horses under the giant TV screen. Interior arranged to match shabbiness of their living rooms. Working-class pride.

She spotted him immediately – caressing a pint of a pale-yellow beer at one of the tables close to veranda. So she can easily go outside for a smoke.

He had a fresh haircut and a new looking shirt.

His greeting was of a familiar, carefully rationed warmth. She once asked him about it and he explained that he must be careful not to encourage her feelings for him since he cannot possibly give her what she truly wants and deserves, which he pronounced to be; ‘all consuming passion’.  He is just not capable of it being of Anglo-Saxon stock and raised by a war-veteran father and an overly strict mother.

At the time she thought of asking him what does he really mean by it, but thought better of it. She learned that, every now and then he would say odd things like that.

By the time she sat down and managed the smile, beads of sweat were traveling down her spine soaking her back and making stripes of her bra cutting into flesh.

He walked to the bar to bring their drinks and hot chips. She watched him eat in a way he does; with an apologetic greediness. A little boy comforting himself – hands deep in his mother’s most precious jar before she catches him. Guilty.

They talked;

How’s going?

Yeah, not too bad. You?

Ok, I guess. Still on holiday.

Wow that’s long.

Yeah, coming to an end, dreading going back.

Work is good – pays rent.

I suppose.

You should do something with yourself.

Like what?

Here – it is your local I am introducing you to.

So?

Look around; see those men over there where TV is?

She laughed hysterically; high pitched, uncontrollable outburst. Covered her mouth with hand and rubbed tears (supposedly from laughter) from her face.

What are you laughing like that for? Don’t you know what happens in pubs? You look around, flirt a bit, they buy you a drink or two, have a chat, take them home and if you still like them in the morning – do it again.

Really? I think I rather stick to my hourly rate.

You still doing it then?

What? Whoring?

Nah, just kidding. Too tired.

Other things?

Nicking you mean? Nah, lost the touch. Too slow. Got scared of cops after the last time.

Good. Stay scared. Don’t get into any more trouble.

What’s to you?

Just saying.

They left the pub and he walked her into the nearby dairy where loud noise announced their arrival to an Indian man standing behind the counter over-stocked with sweets.

He insisted on buying her a bar of chocolate before walking her home.

Before the Rains

End of summer holidays.

Every year at the end of January and before the rains end summer,

I try hard to cheer myself out of my holiday and into another year of paid employment.

Carefully, I go over all the benefits of having place of work and honestly admit that there are many.

I dare not to think of Charles Bukowski or even Tin Ujevic or any of the bohemian fraternity.

In this endeavour I mostly succeed as all the years gone by confirm.

Then I sit on the balcony and look across the roof tops,

Heavy, low clouds hang over the hill tops.

Cruise ship glides across the water away from the harbour.

Alone seagull screeches into the still, hot air, heralding his

Freedom.

To come and go

Unaccounted.

And I stayed there for a long time,

Until dusk brings cold breeze of night.

Then I must go inside and start preparing for

Morning’s work.

If only I can remember

Why.

 

Makeover!

After 183 posts and 44 months of blogging – Lantern Post has well and truly deserved a makeover!

And so one has been duly administered to ensure the old girl remains, if not exactly in the vogue, at least not completely dishevelled either -:)!

Makover

New, more up-to-date garments have been obtained and matron squeezed into them with rather much less ceremony than it was the case in her youth!

Sleepy streets of old Zagreb she nestled against in the background for almost four years, have been replaced by Wellington’s sunset.

It is, after all, what we see every day … sun setting over the harbour, shaded lamps casting glows over benches in Botanic Garden.

Where we sit and smile sentimentally to the images of a city we once knew, gliding across our inner vision, briefly; like a snow-flakes drifting across frozen glass-pane in the winter morning.

Then we walk to the ‘Room with a Balcony’ thinking nothing at all.

Just the two of us;

The Lantern and

The Keeper.

In a new City.

Joy for the New Year!

I know … after not blogging for few months – here I come with a second post in three days!

Between you and me – consistency has never been my strong suit. I blame me it on restless and relentless mind! That in addition to a holiday season, meaning – some free time at last!

Now to the real reason for this post – in a word – sheer joy!

Yep – that’s right! As the popular song goes – ‘don’t believe me just watch!’ Or in our case – read, since, luckily, you can’t see me (luckily because I am typing this in my nighty and no it is not the one suitable for audiences!).

So why joy you may ask!

Shall I tell you? Oh, ok then here goes:

New Year has arrived to New Zealand’s shores already and with the spectacular fireworks over the Wellington harbour which I watched from my balcony with a glass of chilled Riesling in hand while trying to establish any kind of conversation with my daughter who was (judging by the noises over the phone) having hell of a good time with her mates in Queenstown (the suspicion has since been confirmed as true – good on her I say and can’t wait to see her tomorrow and hear all about it!).

Today (1 January 2016) was an absolutely amazing summer day! Living in Wellington you learn to appreciate and treasure such days like your family’s most precious heirlooms! So, just like everyone else, I trotted down to the beach and here is what I found there:

WP_20160101_003.jpg

Well half of Wellington at least!

We all (that is to say who ever was perched on the sand next to you/passing by, etc) wished each other happy New Year and thank God (Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, etc.) for the weather. In our hearts of hearts, we all knew it would not last – so offering sincere gratefulness to our respective gods was in hope to prolong it even if just for a few more days!

Everyone ventured or was coaxed to swim (yours truly included -:)! As soon as sea reaches your ankles – shivering starts! Never mind that minor annoyance; with assorted degrees of speed and variations of; ‘oh isn’t it lovely once you get in’ – we all made it! Yours truly even swam past floating pontoons and small boats which, I will have you know, almost qualifies as swimming in the open sea!

On the way back from this glorious escapade, I climbed on the tiny space still available on the pontoon and indulged in listening sounds. Yes, sounds – not words or snippets of conversations. No one person spoke in English! Amongst lively conversations and laughter, I could recognize German, Italian, Spanish, French and most likely Chinese.

I will take the risk of sounding rather cheese here – but I truly felt overwhelmed by joy and gratefulness in that moment … for so much;

For being alive and reasonably healthy,

For New Zealand … this tiny speck of dirt in the mighty Pacific ocean;

  • where total strangers will ask you to come ‘over for a drink’ for no other reason but because it is Christmas/New Year,
  • where you can leave your belongings safely on the beach for hours without a fear of losing them,
  • where people from all over the world come to stay and are made welcome regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation,
  • where there are no drone strikes,
  • no crazed members of Islamic State threatening to cut my, or anyone’s else head off,
  • no famine (ocean is brimming with fish if all else fails),
  • no recession (not like seen elsewhere in any case),
  • no Donald Trump trying to take the country over and, rumour has it – Vladimir Putin may not even know we are on the planet (thank God),
  • where my daughter can go to University without fear of being taken hostage or killed.

I do love you New Zealand!

Have a Happy, Safe and Peaceful 2016 Everyone!

In a words of an old Greek: ‘Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.’ (Epicurus)

Thank you everyone for reading the Lantern!

Tides of change

It has been a long time since I last wrote.

It was a winter of my fiftieth birthday.

It is summer now.

Outside my windows night cradles round-faced moon into a bed of stars.

No breath of wind to upset the delicate operation.

As in attendance – air stands still and warm.

And if I am now to think about all that has come to pass in those last few months – it seems every new season brought some changes to my life.

Perhaps it all started with that shy, early autumn when I wrote ‘Visitor

After,

Winter arrived and lingered for quite some time – bleak and colourless. There were days when wind was merciless. There were days when breathing was too.

In the midst of it all, and quite unexpectedly – I was offered a new job. One I never really thought about. Initially I was unsure what to do. Not that I was sure of much at the time.

And then, as often is the case – we are nudged towards the road we need to take, even if, or especially when we cannot see it ourselves.

From the distance of almost six months – I understand that it was the right, almost necessary step to take.

The new job brought new challenges and new responsibilities – all of which ensured that, by the end of each day, neither desire nor energy were left for another thought let alone reflection.

I sometimes wondered whether I would ever write for pleasure again.

Instead of quiet contemplation and writing – I was challenged to learn on the go and come up with solutions on demand. And through it all I realized that solving problems and caring for others is still what I love doing and, so they tell me – am good at it. Which is to say – I work hard and care genuinely, all of which comes naturally once we are engaged with purpose and meaning.

As winter neared its end and spring reluctantly knocked on the door – I moved the house too.

The ‘Writer’s Den’ which was nestled amongst trees and shrubs gave way to a ‘Room with a Balcony’ – no more than ten minutes’ walk to downtown and my office, or twenty minutes to the closest beach.

Once I moved in – I remembered the little piece I titled ‘A Wish List’ and wrote some three years ago, for one of the wishes was ‘to own the room with a balcony’ …  and this is what I now

WP_20151223_001.jpg see from my balcony.

Someday I watch boats sailing in and out of the harbour and hear

Cries of seagulls before the day-break.

As sun fills the ‘Room with a Balcony’ every morning and lingers over it in in evenings, I read Daniel Klain for he ponders such wisdom as: ‘Every Time I found the Meaning of Life They Change It’, Clive James as he wrote; ‘Cultural Amnesia’ and Anna Akhmatove for she wrote

I Taught Myself To Live Simply:

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses about life’s decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

 

 

 

Visitor

It was well past midday when she reached the airport. Taxi drivers stood in batches smoking and chatting in mixture of exotic languages. African, Arabic, Russian. World at your service.

She walked into the bathroom and stood in front of a large mirror. A tiny Vietnamese woman was mopping the floor. She smoothed her dress over and smiled at the Vietnamese woman. The woman did not smile back.

In the arrival lounge people were gathering around the luggage-belts. A toddler was trying to climb on it. She was trying not to look nervous.

She saw his forehead first. He was walking towards her with the long strides of tall-people. And then the eyes. As blue as she imagined them to be. Smiling. He greeted her with the embrace that was friendly rather than longing. But then she could never be sure. The words of the poem she wrote months ago whispered into the air around her lips.  Dust silvered into stars.

Outside, the Indian summer was cradling the day into afternoon. A breeze lifted the skirt of her dress. She quickly apologised and held it down with both hands. She knew she was blushing under the make-up so she kept on chatting.

In the shuttle they sat next to each other and their hands brushed for the first time. Her fingers touched the skin where it brushed against his. She was hoping he would not notice. She kept on chatting and smiling. Talking about the city unfolding outside the shuttle window. Tall houses with ornate verandas dotted along narrow streets. A speck of harbour in the distance.

His brother lived in that city many years ago. Before he went back to Ireland, the original home-land.  Eire. She remembered the name in Irish from a book she was reading. She thought how the country she came from also has the original name used only by its people. But she did not say anything.

They disembarked in the city’s centre and she showed him the tall building where she worked. With its large entrance and marbled corridors it looked important. She wanted him to know that she could keep a job in such a building. In a city she hardly knew.

The sun was high above the streets lulled into a temporary stillness between the lunch-hour walkers and after-work commuters.

They walked towards the waterfront. A couple of students and a young woman pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby passed by. A lone seagull cried over the glistening water and swooped down to snatch scraps of food off the rocks.

Galeb

Her hands were starting to sweat. She was worried about walking too close to him and talking too much. And not finding the popular café with expansive harbour views she has chosen weeks ago. He told her there was a flower with that name.

Foxglove

The place was almost empty. She regretted choosing it at once. It seemed wrong for the time of the day. They ordered drinks and chatted about how lovely the city is on a nice day. She noticed how his face lit up when he smiles. He told her she is beautiful and she felt as shy as a girl of 16.

Along the outside deck a few lounge chairs and coffee tables were arranged in small semi-circles. Young couple sitting in one were laughing and feeding each other French fries.

She wanted to ask him whether he remembered the letters she wrote to him the last summer and the summer before. But she reminded herself that it is getting late and he is probably tired and hungry.

They walked a few blocks to an Italian restaurant where they serve pasta and red wine on the plain wooden tables with a single candle and water decanter placed in the middle. The waitress could not speak a word of Italian.

Their table was beneath a framed map of Italy. The Adriatic Sea behind his eyes. The image of a small, white-stone church hanging from the cliff rising from that same sea entered her vision. She thought she might cry and excused herself to go to the ladies’.

The night was rich and warm when they walked to a late-night cocktail bar with soft leather couches and green card-tables. Before they reached the place he took her hand in his. It was a strong, safe hand. She was hoping her hand would not tremble.

It was almost midnight by the time they reached her place. The full moon was hanging over the wattle tree in her garden. The last train to his destination long gone. She felt embarrassed for not keeping a better watch on the time. And because her place was so small. She opened the bottle of wine thanking God she had saved one.

When he kissed her, tiny particles of her soul started to grow wings. She read somewhere that dreams are unfinished wings of our souls. She dreamt of that kiss for so long that all she could think was whether he now feels compelled to kiss her. In such a small space where limbs practically touch each other. In a city far away from open skies of his home. ‘Back home’ he calls it. She worried whether she somehow tricked him into her dream. Unwittingly.

He touched her hair and thanked her for letting him touch it. She placed her head on his chest and when large, salty tears arrived she said she was very sorry. For exposing him to her crying.

The whole night she listened his heart-beat and slow, steady breath of a man in a deep sleep. Long ago she wrote that it is all she wanted. She slipped away silently to make sure he has enough space.

When morning arrived she worried about his business and how late he was going to be. She made him breakfast of what was there which, she knew, was not much and noticed his shirt needed ironing. She was glad of it. He let her do it. She pressed each part of it for as long as possible. It had been years since she ironed a man’s shirt.

She thought he looks very handsome in his suit and tie.

His taxi was waiting.

She returned to her room and saw it all; breakfast dishes, the still warm iron, unmade bed. Her legs felt like they were made of iron ore. Slowly she slipped into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. The scent of him was bursting her lungs open.

In the days that followed dreams arrived in waves.

Sometimes she dreamed a horse as black as the deepest summer night was galloping over the sun-drenched meadows at the bottom of an island. The horse had a white star on its forehead and was trying to tell her something but she could not understand it.

The other time it was a bride walking into an old wooden church dressed in the palest yellow silk carrying a large bouquet of mimosas and spring snowflakes. Before each step she felt the space before her and flowers slipped from her hands like a floral water-fall. She was blind.

Visibabe

Each morning she touched her face wet from tears and prayed. The morning she found her face covered in tiny crystals the colour of blood, she knew he is not coming back.

Summer

Summer is my favourite season.

I like all of it; brightness of summer mornings, big open skies, lazy afternoons, scented summer nights … and of course long days of holidays when each and every hour belongs to me to do (or not) with it as I please. For a limited number of days at least.

In New Zealand summer arrives in December and that means that most of us combine end of the year festivities with annual holidays, aka – BBB (Beach, Batch, Barbeque)!

While there is certainly no shortage of beautiful beaches in New Zealand either by the lakes, rivers, or sea, batches and barbeques have undergone some transformations over the years and are now somewhat fleshier with price-tags to match. Still, as most Kiwis know – no price tag should be allowed to stand in a way of proper Kiwiana summer and to that end camping grounds (either organized or freedom ones) remain popular and well-attended as I observed on my recent trip to South Island.

Even though I spent my early years and couple of more recent ones on the North Island, South Island remains very special to me. Not only because I lived there for more than ten years, but also because my daughter still lives there as  a student at Otago University in Dunedin.

Otago University
Otago University

And so it is no wonder I could hardly wait to finish work on Christmas Eve and board the plane to take me from Wellington to Dunedin. Seeing my daughter and my two dear friends waiting for me at the air port in Dunedin was truly wonderful! We had a lovely Christmas in Dunedin, city with strong Scottish heritage, breathtakingly beautiful peninsula and home to New Zealand’s oldest University. While once the centre of gold-rush economy, nowadays the city is dominated by its University and income its generate.

Dunedin
Dunedin’s Railway Station built in 1906
Christmas in Dunedin
Christmas in Dunedin
St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral

After Christmas we travelled further South to visit picturesque little township of Roxburgh nestled in truly amazing region of  Central Otago, famous for its landscapes, bike-treks, stone fruit orchards and mighty Clutha River on which one of the earliest hydroelectric dens was built. Our friends who own and operate local hotel – Goldfields, extended to us their warm hospitality including trip to nearby rodeo in Millers Flat and ever popular Pinders Pond so named after the original owners of the land.

Goldfields
Goldfields
Pinders Pond
Pinders Pond

It was a hot and dusty day almost custom made for the local cowboys and cowgirls to show off their skills some of which were rather impressive! Not to mention unmistakably masculine odour; smell of horses, human sweat, dust, tobacco and leather. I can almost hear my grandfather next to me. And in some of those tall, green-blue eye boys with broad shoulders and large, working hands – I can almost see him.

Rodeo!
Rodeo!

After few more days basking in the company of my daughter (yes by that time she had rather enough of her mother constantly trying to hug her, like hugs and kisses can be bottled up and taken with me -:)) I left for Christchurch, city I once lived for a long time, including horrible times of earthquakes and where I have some of my dearest friends.

285
At Millers Flat

Before the earthquakes, city was known as a ‘Garden City’ for its beautiful gardens and overall very English atmosphere including punting on Avon River. Nowadays city is still very much under construction, but large and significant developments can be observed everywhere.

To say that I had a lovely time with my friends in Canterbury would not do the justice, perhaps ‘wild times’ would be better description!

The last leg of my journey took me from Christchurch to Picton via magnificent Coastal Pacific Scenic Route, courtesy of Kiwi Railway. The train journey took five hours and that means five hours of watching truly wonderful scenery of bushy hills and rugged Pacific coastline. The train’s open carriage provides opportunity to really enjoy the views as you travel very close to Pacific Ocean.

View from the train – quintessential NZ landscape!
View from the train – quintessential NZ landscape!
Another view from the train!
Another view from the train!
Train travel
Train travel

Once in Picton it is only a short walk to board the ferry across the Cook Strait. At the peril of sounding like a promotional tourist brochure, I must say that sailing across the Cook Strait is absolutely amazing. While I have crossed it before, every time is different; the beauty of Marlborough Sounds, wind that always blows across the Strait, (known as ‘Roaring Forties’) smell of sea and then approach to Wellington’s harbour after three hours journey.

Disembarking from the ferry, I thought how wonderful it all was and how fleeting.

Familiar streets of the city came into view and I knew that another year is now ahead of me … year, I decided is to be of solitude and writing. But of that – another time.

From the ferry
From the ferry
Crossing
Crossing
Sailing across the Cook Strait!
Sailing across the Cook Strait!