I have seen

I have seen a man bare-fist a grizzly,
Roar and claw and bite just like the bear.
Chased it up a tree and screamed defiance,
Challenged it to face him if it dare.

I have seen a man brought low and weeping.
Weak and meek, and trembling like a leaf.
Terrified to hold his new born baby,
Overturning all his old beliefs.

I have seen a lake by a volcano,
Stream a-steam and bubbling from the heat.
Boiled an egg and ate it on the shoreline.
Heard the hiss where rock and water meet.

I have seen the sun drown in the ocean,
Bled the reds and golds into the sea.
Felt the desert winds caress the evening,
Saw the foreign stars wink down at me.

I have seen compassion in a killer.
Heard a word that’s true come from a mayor.
I have seen the devil in an angel.
I have seen a legislator care.

I have seen the world and all its wonders,
Sights you might not deem could yet be true.
I have seen the best that it can offer.
I still see them all when I see you.

   

Purple Heart

With all the quiet grace and subtlety
Of helicopter gunships you bore down
And shattered my defences as I stood
Bemused and unprepared upon the ground.

I hid my heart below the canopy
Of cool detachment where no-one could see.
Your cloud of Agent Orange looks and smiles
Stripped bare my hiding place beneath that tree.

I cried for you to spare me, but you knew,
In order to defend me from my hell,
You had to raze my village of despair
And build a city fit for us to dwell.

You were my patron saint and devil too.
I blessed and cursed the night your war began.
Now you have other men to fight and love
And I’m alone, no more a family man.

Growing Up

“Mike!” Ellen frowned and leant away from her partner.

Mike affected an air of exaggerated innocence. “What?”

“You know what. Oh jeez, that’s disgusting.” She moved to the other end of the couch and leant away again.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“You are so immature, you know that? You’re a little kid.”

“What? I can’t help it. Do you never let one rip? It’s a natural biological function.”

“So is dying, and I shall smother you in your sleep, so help me God.”

“Seriously, what’s the matter? Don’t your farts smell?”

“Yes, on occasion I have passed wind, but the difference is, I excuse myself. I don’t giggle like a four-year-old that’s just said ‘Willy!'”

“He-he. You just said ‘Willy’.” Mike covered his mouth with his hand and sniggered. Helen clenched her fist and glared at him.

“See? See? You need to grow up.”

“But I thought you liked my sense of humour. I’ve read your Cosmo. The surveys all say, top answer: sense of humour.”

“You read my Cosmo?”

“Only for photos of women in underwear and the chick porn. ‘With one bound he was by her side. She felt his hot breath on her cheek as his rough hands tore at the flimsy silk.'”

“Then you should know that you said, ‘childish and immature’ Our survey said: Uh-uh.”

“I’ll keep you young when we’re in a retirement home.”

“You’ll put me in my grave long before that. Seriously, love, it’s fine in small doses, but please, please try and grow up a bit. Given the choice between you groping my boobs and shouting ‘Whey-hey-hey, how many of those do you get to the pound?’ and a romantic, fart-free evening in front of the TV, I know which one I’d prefer. Don’t!” she shouted, as he leant forward, hands reaching for her chest.

“Oh, you’re getting old and boring.” Mike pulled a sulky face and crossed his arms. “Next you’ll stop me reading Harry Potter.”

“You are not reading Harry Potter anymore. I told you that.”

“But it’s a modern classic, love.”

“We are not having this conversation again.”

“They do versions in adult covers.”

“No more.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

“Is it because you want me to make love to you in bed instead of reading the book?”

“We’re not going there.”

“Is it because you’re embarrassed that your friends might catch me reading it?”

“You’re not reading any more of them.”

“Or is it because at the peak of my passion the other night I screamed ‘Expelliramus!”

“See? See? That’s exactly what I mean. Why did you do that? Why did you ruin a perfectly beautiful and tender moment shouting that out.”

“Because it was funny.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Yes it was.”

“No, it was childish and immature.”

“Yes, and funny too.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“It was.” Mike leant forward, trying to catch her eye. “Just a little bit funny.” He held his finger and thumb up. “Just an incy wincy bit funny.”

She glared at him while he maintained his hang-dog expression, lower lip theatrically quivering, his fingertip almost touching his thumb.

“Okay, just a little bit, but you still shouldn’t have done it.”

“Yes!” Mike punched the air. “I knew it was funny.”

“It would have been funny if you’d said, ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I shouted that?’ But not to do it at the time.”

“No, no. You just said it was funny. I win, you lose. I win, you lose.”

Ellen sighed. “Jeez, are you even listening? Being young and being childish are two different things. Sure, I want you to be fun, but -”

“But you want me to be boring too. Fun but boring. Yep, got that message loud and clear.”

“Fun but responsible. Fun but grown-up. Fun but not immature.”

“But think what a great granddad I’ll be. The kids will be able to identify with me. I’ll know exactly who they’re talking about when they’re discussing the kids’ TV programmes.”

“And crying because Granddad won’t let them have their turn with their toys.”

“And adventure parks. I’ll be able to go on the merry-go-rounds without being thrown out of the park again.”

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. So what you’re saying is, you want me to have adult fun?”

“Yes, that’s exactly – ” She saw the lecherous grin on his face, but it was too late. “I meant, I want you to stop being a four-year-old.”

“Adult fun, eh?” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Well, you know I’m always up for that. You want to see Harry Potter’s magic wand?”

“I’m warning you, Mike.”

“I can turn myself into a raging animal, you know.”

“More like a wounded puppy.”

“The Ministry of Magic certified -”

“Stop! One more Harry Potter reference and you’ll be banned from nooky for a week.”

“Nooky?” said Mike, faking surprise. “Nooky is a very childish word for sexual congress. I really wish you’d be mature like me.”

Ellen sighed again and looked at her watch. “Well, okay, if you’re quick. I have to get up for work tomorrow.”

“Dammit, I love it when you talk sexy like that.”

Ellen finally allowed the chuckle that had been building up to escape. “Go on. I’ll switch everything off down here. But I really mean it about Harry Potter.”

Mike locked his lips and threw away the invisible key. Then he mimed straddling a broomstick and ran towards the door.

Ellen switched the TV off and double checked the doors. He was a big kid, and the child-like qualities he had, the easy laugh, the enthusiasm, the honesty of his emotion, they all appealed to her. If only he could be more child-like and less childish. Still, he was maturing, even if he fought against it

She smiled to herself. ‘When we are together in a retirement home,’ he’d said. ‘When we have grandchildren.’ Those were grown-up thoughts. Yes, in three or four decades he’d maybe even reach twenty. No older, though. Please God, no older.

Serenading Oranges

“Can you believe this place?”  Angie stood on the veranda and looked over the bay.  It was still hot, even in the evening.  The sky seemed solid, unbroken by cloud.  It looked as though it hung just a few inches above the wisteria.  If she could reach up, she could almost touch it.  On the calm sea little fishing boats bobbed.

The stranger looked up from his newspaper at the scene.

 “You know, you’re right.  This is a wonderful view.”  He looked at her and smiled.  “It’s easy to get used to it.  It’s good to be reminded every now and then.”

 “Oh, no, I didn’t mean that.  I meant this screwdriver.”  She raised the glass.  The orange liquid fought to be seen under a canopy of paper umbrellas and slices of fruit.  “Ten Euros!  I can get it for five back home.”

 “Ah, but back home, do they make it with oranges picked that day from two hundred metres down the road?  Does the barman slice it into eight exact slices measured with a protractor while a guitarist serenades it with a song written to thank it for its contribution to your enjoyment?”

 “What?  They do all that faffing about?  Why?”

 The stranger laughed, his white teeth contrasting with his tanned skin.  “Well, okay, no, they don’t, but they do pick the oranges from the orchard next door.  Back home I bet the barman just pours the cocktails from a ready-made bottle.  And the measures are more generous out here.  Be careful, the drinks are far stronger here than back home, and you don’t want to spend your first night in the bathroom.”

 “How did you know this is my first night here?”

 “I bribe the staff to tip me whenever a beautiful woman arrives.  That, and your skin is snow white.”

 Angie rubbed her arm, as though she could hide the give-away skin with her hand.  “Oh, right.  It’s that much of a giveaway, is it?”

 “Yes.  Tomorrow, if you go into the market, the traders will be all over you.  Give it a day or two, and they’ll not try so hard to rip you off.”

 “I’m Angie, by the way.”  She held her hand out.

 “Marco.”  He rose from the chair and shook her hand with a slight bow.  “I’m charmed.  Would you care to join me?”

 Angie hesitated.  Back home, she’d never talk to a stranger, never mind sit with him.  But then, back home she would have her mates at her back.  Besides, they were in a public place,.  What could happen?

“Your friend is welcome to join us as well,” said Marco, as she hesitated.

“Oh, she won’t be – wait, how did you know I had a friend?”

“People don’t come here for a holiday on their own, not usually.  No ring, so either you’re here with a friend or a ‘friend’.”  He wiggled a finger to show the quotes.  “Either way, I don’t want to play the gooseberry.  But I would be delighted if you wanted to chat until they came down.”

“You’re quite the Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you,” she said, but sat on the chair he pulled out for her anyway.  “Shirl’s not well.  She’s having lie down.”

“I’m sorry.  Nothing serious, I hope?”

“We were delayed at Luton.  Three hours waiting to get on the plane.  Shirl, um, well, she doesn’t travel well.”

“No?”

“Well to tell the truth – ” Angie leant in close conspiratorially.  “Truth is, she doesn’t do sitting around quietly well, so she hit the bar while we were waiting, plus the trolley on the plane.  I left her snoring her head off.  She’ll be down later, I expect, but I just wanted a moment to be me, you know?”

“I understand.  And at ten Euros a glass, you don’t want to be in a drinking competition, not on your first night.”

“Ha, no.  Shirl always wins anyway, whatever the competition is.”

“Well, I’ve won this evening.  Cheers.”  He lifted the tiny coffee cup.  Angie blushed and murmured a thanks, suddenly embarrassed.

“You’re right, though.  It’s nice here,” she said.  “I didn’t realise when we booked it that you got this view as well.”

“It is nice.  We’re as high up as they allow building, so we have the best view in town.”

They looked out over the bay in silence for a minute.  It was like a painting, Angie decided.  Not the cheap sort her mum hung in the hallway, but a proper one like you got in hotels and places.  A picture that you thought was made up, because nowhere real actually looked like that.

“You speak good English,” she said after a while, to make conversation.

“How do you know that I’m not English?” he said, smiling.

“I bribed the staff too.”

Marco laughed and clapped his hands.  “Touche.  But what gave it away, really?”

“Hmm, let’s see.”  Angie sat back and regarded Marco critically.  “My turn to be Sherlock Holmes.”

Marco sat up straight and adopted a look of feigned innocence.  Angie giggled.

“Well, you’re tanned, so you’re not fresh off the plane, or if you are, it’s not from England.”

“I could have been here a while.”

“True.  Also, Marco.  Not exactly an English name.”

“My parents could be immigrants.”

“Your clothes.”

“My clothes?  Really?”

“Yes.  English boys would be sat out here in shorts and T-shirt.  Your clothes are good quality.  Italian, maybe.  Maybe even handmade.  I worked in a clothes shop once.  And you’re wearing shoes, not trainers, but you’re not wearing socks.  English boys always wear socks, even with sandals.  You said metres instead of yards.  And the little coffee.”

“My espresso?”

“Yes.  An Englishman would only ever drink one at the end of dinner, just to impress the woman he’s with.  This time of day he would have a beer in his hand.  How’d I do?”

Marco laughed and gently clapped his hands together.

“Brava.  I didn’t realise I was so easily read.  I’m Italian, but I went to school in England.  I thought I was English through and through.  Maybe I’ve gone native.”

“You been here long?”

Marco checked his watch.  Angie couldn’t help but notice how understated it looked.  Only really expensive watches looked that plain.

“About ten minutes.”

She laughed.  “No, you numpty.  Not here on the terrace, I meant here on the island.”

“Yes.  I’ve been here for a few months.”

“Gawd.  Are you a millionaire or something?”

Marco smiled.  “Maybe I am.  Why?”

“Well, I get to have one holiday a year, and I’ve saved up all year for this one, and me and Shirl got a good deal on the Internet, and it’s still emptied my account.  If you can afford to be on holiday for a few months, you must be rolling in it.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not on holiday.  I work here.”

“Jeez.  You work here?  That’s awesome.  Gawd, you should see the dump I have to work in.  I tell you, if Luton had an earthquake it would improve the place.  You really work here?  That’s gobsmacking, that is.”

“Well, I like it.”

Angie took another draw on her straw, then winced as it loudly slurped the remains from the bottom of the glass.

“Oops, sorry.”  She giggled, her hand in front of her mouth.  “I’m dead common.  They’ll throw me out.”

“No, I’m sure they won’t.  Would you like another?”

“At ten Euros?”

Marco spread his arms.  “Hey, I’m a millionaire, remember?”

“Look, I don’t want to lead you on.  When Shirl comes down, we’re off clubbing, you understand?”

“I understand.  Besides, ten Euros?  A millionaire couldn’t afford you.”

Angie grinned.  “Thanks.  Hey, wait.”  She frowned as she tried to work out if that was a compliment or not.  “Was that a crack?”

“Not at all.  I meant it as a compliment.”

“Oh, okay.  Cool.  Hang about a mo.”  She took the slices of fruit from the lip of the glass, biting into them and sucking the flesh from the rind.  “Ten Euros,” she said, catching sight of Marco’s quizzical look.  “I’m stuffed if I’m going to let any of it go to waste.”

Marco laughed and clapped his hands again.  “Fair enough.  I’ll get them to add extra fruit.  Maybe I could have them add a slice of bacon?”

“You cheeky sod!  Just ’cause I’m not posh like you, there’s no need to take the Mick.”

“Not at all.  Most people here, they’re stuffed shirts.  The hotel has only started taking package holidays this year.  To be honest, I think our shirts are a little too stuffed.  They could do with a little less starch.”  He turned to the dark interior of the hotel and waved his hand.  A waiter appeared.  Marco engaged in a long speech.  The waiter frowned and asked a question.  After perhaps a minute the conversation ended and the waiter retreated into the bar.

“What was all that about?” said Angie.

“I asked for another screwdriver and a coffee.”

“Yeah, right.  That takes five words.  What were you saying to him?  Seriously, if it comes out with a rasher of bacon stuffed in it, it’s going straight over your Italian jacket.”

“Oh, I forgot the bacon.”  Marco turned as if to recall the waiter.  Angie grabbed his upraised arm and pulled it back down.

“Stop it!  What did you really say?”

“Well, I tried to order it in Spanish, but my Spanish is not as good as my English, and then it turned out the waiter is from Albania, so I tried in Italian, and then I had to explain what a screwdriver actually was, and, well, we’ll just have to see what arrives.”

“He understood me when I asked for one.”

Marco slapped his forehead.  “English!  Of course.  I should have thought of that, but I was just trying to impress you, with my little coffee and no socks and my command of foreign languages.”

Angie regarded him suspiciously.  “I’m not joking, Marco.  If that comes out with bacon I shall chuck it all over you.”

Marco held up his hands in defence.  “No bacon or other pork products, I promise you.”

“Hmm.”  Angie turned to face the sea, not convinced.

“You like the sea?”

“Yeah, it’s all right.  I mean, it’s not a holiday unless you get a bit of sand between your toes, right?  Me and Shirl, we’ll go clubbing all night, and soak up some of the rays tomorrow.  Recuperate from the dancing, sort of thing.”

“Be sure to put on the sun cream, though.  The sun is still hot, even at this time of year.  But I thought, if you like the sea, you should try the dolphin cruise.  See that pier down there?  The one with the blue flag?  They do trips out into the sea.  There’s a pod of dolphins out there, and most times they swim in the bow wave of the boat.  It’s an amazing sight, apparently.”

“Leave it out.  Dolphins?  You’re having a laugh.  They’re, like, in America or somewhere.”

“No, no, it’s true.  We have dolphins, only they’re slimmer and don’t wear cowboy hats.”

“I mean it, Marco, you keep taking the Mickey I shall thump you.  Just ’cause I’m not as posh as you.”

“Angie, you are truly an angel, here from paradise, believe me.”

“Paradise?  No, Luton airport.”  She laughed, while Marco looked on confused.  “Sorry, it’s an in joke.  There used to be an advert like that.  A posh bloke and a common girl in a hotel.  Never mind.”

 “Ah, our drinks,” said Marco.  The waiter arrived with a tray, a young man with a guitar in tow.  He put the tray on the table and the three had a rapid conversation in Spanish.  Finally the waiter shrugged, took an orange and a knife and looked up at the guitarist.  The guitarists struck a chord, then played his fingers rapidly over the strings as he sung a soulful song.  The waiter cut the orange in half, cut two slices from it and twisted them over the lip of the glass.  Finally he placed the glass carefully in front of Angie, who looked on with her mouth open.

 The waiter asked Marco a question, and Marco nodded an assent.  The waiter left and the guitarist walked slowly to the end of the terrace, playing softly, as Marco looked at Angie with a polite enquiry on his face.

 “What the blood and sand was all that about?”  said Angie.

 “I told you, they serenade the orange.”

 “Bullshit.  You told them to do that!”

 Marco giggled.  Angie slapped him on the arm, giggling in spite of herself.

 “You absolute nutter!  You’ll get me chucked out the hotel.  They look down their noses enough at me as it is.  You can’t get them to do that.”

“Oh, why not?  Everyone here is paid to make your stay here as nice as possible.  This isn’t McDonalds.  You want something that’s not on the menu?  Ask.  You want extra slices of orange in your drink?  Seriously, you’re the boss in a hotel like this.  The more they please you, the more you’ll spend, the more you’ll tell your friends, the more successful the hotel is.  You are a beautiful woman and delightful company.  They should be honoured you chose here to stay.  There are plenty of other hotels around if you don’t like this one.  Besides, I know these people.  They really want to do a good job, you know?  And they’ll get a kick telling everyone about the crazy English rose that insists her oranges are sung to.”

“What?  You told them that’s what I wanted?  Me?”

Marco shrugged and waved at his espresso.  “Well, it wouldn’t be me, would it.  I am drinking a silly little coffee.”

“You, you, you numpty!”  She wanted to sound angry, but she couldn’t help laughing at Marco’s feigned innocent look.  “Gawd, they’ll think I’m a nutter.”

“No, you are eccentric.  That’s much more appealing.  An eccentric angel that wants to make the last moments of fruit a beautiful thing.”

“And you, you’re a demon that wants to torment a poor innocent girl on her first evening in a strange land.”

“Yes, I’m devilish.”  Marco jiggled his eyebrows and Angie laughed again.  She took a draught of the cocktail and looked over the bay.

“You know, I thought I was going to be dead bored this evening, stuck down here while Shirl sleeps it off.  I thought everyone else would be stuck up and in couples, you know?”

 “I can go if you’d prefer to be dead bored.”

 “You nutter.  No, it’s really nice.  Especially as, you know, you’re posh.”

 “Why do you do that?”

 “What?”

 “Put yourself down like that.  You’re a guest here.  This hotel employs a hundred and twenty-five staff.  Every single one of them is paid to make sure you want for nothing.  You are beautiful, and you are delightful company.  Seriously, I have not had as much fun since I arrived here.  You’re a breath of fresh air.  It’s me that should be honoured you deign to talk to me.”

“Shut up.”  Angie blushed and took another suck on the straw.

“But it’s true.  For these two weeks, you are no less than royalty.  You are at least everyone else’s equal.  Enjoy it.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Angie!”

They turned.  Shirl walked up to them.

“Bleedin’ ‘ell, Angie.  I wondered where you’d gone.  I thought you’d gone on the pull without me.  Hello,” she said, noticing Marco and giving him an appraising look.

“No, Shirl, I wouldn’t go out without you, would I?  I just thought you needed a kip, that’s all.”

“Yeah, well, I’m up now.  We going clubbing or what?”

“Yeah, half a mo.”  Angie downed the drink, then, giggling, took a slice of the orange and sucked the flesh from it again.

“Gawd, Angie, you can’t do that.  Not in a posh hotel.”

“Actually, Shirl, I’m a guest here, and I can do what I please.  I paid ten Euros for this.  Oh, actually, I didn’t, Marco did.  You want a piece, Marco?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”  Grinning, Marco took another piece of fruit from the glass and imitated Angie.  “Divine, as though the fruit had been sung love songs as it was cut.”

Shirl looked to and fro between the two of them as they laughed.

“Yeah, all right.  Still, better get a move on, eh?  Otherwise the clubs will all be full.”

“Ah, let me help you there,” said Marco.  He pulled a card from his pocket.  “The best nightclub on the island is the Cabana.  There’s normally a queue to get in, plus a door fee.  Don’t bother with the queue.  Just give the doorman this, and he’ll let you in for free.”

“Really?”  Angie took the card.  “Thanks Marco.  Here, you want to come along with us?”

“I’d love to, but I’m working this evening.  I’m free tomorrow afternoon, though.  I was thinking of seeing the dolphins.  In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never actually been.”

“Wait!” said Angie, looking at the card.  “You own the hotel?”

Marco shrugged.  “I’m one of the owners.  Why?  Too posh for you?”

“Posh?  You?”  Angie stuck her nose in the air and took Shirl’s arm.  “I’ll have you know, I’m bleeding royalty, I am, this week anyway.  And if it pleases us, we might allow you to accompany us tomorrow dolphin watching.”

And as Marco bowed, Angie led a bemused Shirl towards the lobby.