International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction
Oh well, he rationalized,
that was part of the appeal after all. It was still early and, if his
luck held, he would have at least an hour or so before the beaches emptied
and the restaurant filled with noisy, sunburned tourists. It had been
a trying day. Teaching his class on the Irish Literary Renaissance out
at the University of Hawaii was becoming increasingly more difficult
with each passing year, indeed, with each passing day. Students these
days, or so it seemed to Professor OConnell, were simply incapable
of appreciating the power of, say, Yeats poetry. "The Wild
Swans at Coole," for example, a work that literally sang to his
terminally Celtic soul, was virtually incomprehensible to a generation
that used glyph-speak and for whom Big Brother and Survivor
constituted high drama.
James C. Clar
sipped a glass of California Cabernet as he sat in a booth at Trattoria
on Kalia Road between Lewers Street and Beach Walk in the heart
of Waikiki. Even the faux-Tuscan décor was a welcome change
from the Hawaiian commercial juggernaut that roared on the streets
around him twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five
days a year.
After his class was over, Liam had taken a bus into Waikiki and then
walked the two blocks over from Kuhio Avenue to his favorite restaurant.
It was a warm and humid evening and he was glad to be sitting quietly
in the dimly lit and air-conditioned dining room. Catching the faint
scent of lavender, Liam looked up as the establishments owner,
Connie Graziana, slid effortlessly into his booth. Connie, too, was
in her late sixties although her thick black hair, penetrating brown
eyes, and lithe grace belied her age. Liam had been coming into Trattoria
once or twice a month for a decade. Since nothing that happened in her
restaurant escaped Connies attention, it was natural that, before
too long, she had taken notice of Liams repeat appearances. The
two quickly became friends and, whenever she was able, Graziana would
sit and chat with Liam until the place began to fill and she had to
go to work overseeing her business. Over time and given the rather
casual nature of their relationship Liam and Connie began to
share what might genuinely be called affection or even a certain kind
"Good to see you, Liam. I missed you last week. Is everything alright?"
"Everythings fine, Connie, thanks for asking. Its been
so hot and Ive had so much work to do that I just didnt
feel like coming out. I was going to call and leave a message for you
but, well, you know how it goes."
"Oh, sure, no worries on that account, as long as youre doing
well. Whats new up there at UH?"
"Same-old, same-old, Connie, the kids get younger and younger and
I just seem to get older. I used to be able to communicate with them
quite effectively. These days Im convinced that they conceptualize
the world in an entirely different way than people from our generation
"Actually I see that here as well. Patrons and staff. Were
both getting to the point where we need to retire I think."
Liam sipped his wine and looked around the room at the familiar artwork
and fixtures. The wait staff bustled about at least looking busy
as they kept wary eyes on the owner. "Youre probably right,"
he responded as he turned his attention back to Connie. "Speaking
of retiring, one of my colleagues is doing just that. Do you remember
David Brilliande? Hes come in here with me a few times. If Im
not mistaken, I think I introduced him to you."
"Moustache and glasses, right? I seem to recall you telling me
that his wife died a year or so ago."
"What a memory! Hes the one. Well, hes going back to
the mainland to live with his daughter. It seems that his grandson is
allergic to cats. He sent out an email today asking if anyone was willing
to adopt his beloved feline, Buttons. Youre not interested
are you? In adopting his cat, that is."
Liam was surprised at the pained expression that he saw on Connies
face. He was even more surprised when she reached across the table and
placed her had lightly on his.
"Liam, Im not much of one when it comes to pets," she
began. "Let me tell you a story. Maybe you can someday work this
into that novel youd like to write. Its something that Ive
learned to live with but, honestly, its also something for which
Ill never completely forgive myself. Its funny how its
the little things we do or, in this case, dont do that weigh us
down. I try not to think about it but even now, years later, when I
do it still makes me want to cry."
"Good God, Connie," Liam stammered, "I didnt mean
"No, No," she said as she removed her hand from his and delicately
wiped the corner of her eyes with a napkin, "its not your
fault. And, really, its nothing of consequence to anyone but me.
But let me tell you my story."
"By all means, then," Liam finally said somewhat reluctantly.
Given his background in literature, he shouldnt have been so astonished
that such a chance remark could be the occasion for what must be some
Regaining her composure, Connie began. "This had to be forty years
or so ago, when my son was, maybe, six or seven. My brother gave him
a puppy for Christmas. The kindhearted fool never bothered to ask or
even to tell me what he was going to do. I was a single parent and back
anyhow, he was always trying to help out.
This time, though, I wanted to kill him. Even before I realized what
was happening, the damage was done. What could I do? The dog was a mutt.
But she was a cute little thing, all black but with a few patches of
white on her breast and paws. We named her Tosca."
"Thats right; youve told me how much you enjoy opera."
"Yes, well, you have to understand. We never had pets or animals
around when I was growing up. My parents never would have put up with
it. For better or worse I inherited their compulsion for neatness. I
wouldnt even let Tosca into the house itself. She stayed in the
breezeway between the garage and the entrance to the kitchen. Id
come down in the morning, open the door in order to let her out only
to find Tony asleep on the floor with the damn dog in his arms. The
two were inseparable."
"A boy and his dog," Liam commented. "Thats
certainly the subject matter for an archetypal story."
Connie motioned to one of the waiters and asked for a cup of espresso.
When it arrived she leaned closer to Liam. "Do you know we had
that dog for nearly two years and I never once so much as touched her?
I would come into the house from the garage and she would be so glad
to see me
wagging her tail and barking. Id stick out my
leg, rub her with my shoe, as if that somehow fulfilled my obligation
and satisfied her need for contact, for affection. Dont misunderstand
me. I never mistreated her in any way. Its just that I was cold,
"Listen, Connie," Liam interrupted. "Some people are
good with pets while others
besides, cold and aloof
are not adjectives that I would use to describe you."
"Thank you, but be that as it may, its how I treated that
poor dog. One day I came downstairs and opened the door to the breezeway.
Tosca had been sick everywhere. I was appalled by the mess, of course.
After I stopped fuming, I realized she was so weak she could barely
stand. Truth is, she hadnt been eating properly for some time
but what did I know about dogs? I told you that I had never touched
I never petted her, never picked her up. I had no idea how
I was going to get her into the car in order to take her to the vet.
I ended up calling my neighbor over. She picked the dog up and carried
her out to the car. She even came with me so that she could carry Tosca
for me when we got to the animal hospital. Even after all these years
it still sounds
Liam shifted his weight in the booth and finished his wine. He signaled
for another glass. "I have a sense now of where this is going but
I need to hear it and, it seems, you need to tell it as well."
"It turns out that Tosca had cancer. Who even knew dogs could get
cancer? I surely didnt. The vet said she was so riddled with it
that it would be criminal to take her back home, to allow her to continue
to suffer. I did the only thing I could do; I had her put to sleep.
That afternoon I had to tell Tony when he got home from school. He cried
for nearly two days. He didnt eat. He wouldnt go to school.
Not once, though, did he ever ask me if we could get another dog. I
think he knew enough not to bother. God forgive me, I think he knew.
In all the years since, Ive never had the courage to ask him if
hes forgiven me for the way I treated that dog."
"For heavens sake, Connie," Liam responded when she
had finished. "It was only a dog. And besides, as you say, you
didnt mistreat the poor creature in any way. Your son knows what
a wonderful mother and, indeed, grandmother, youve been."
"Youre right, of course, but still, if only I had acted differently.
It may not have changed the outcome but certainly it would have been
easier on Tony. Oh well, time heals all wounds, I guess.
The truth is Ive never told anyone else that story. Thanks for
listening. You must think Im a maudlin old lady."
"Neither maudlin, nor old, and I appreciate
you telling me. Youre a good friend, Connie."
Connie practically blushed. "You are too, Liam. You are too."
Imperceptibly the restaurant had started to fill and Connie was soon
called away to deal with the multitudinous details that comprised running
a popular eatery. Outside, night fell as it always did in the tropics,
like a curtain of soft blue velvet. Liam ordered his meal and ate it
in silence. Paying his bill he stood to leave. Once again, he sensed
a presence at his elbow.
"Theres one more thing I need to tell you before you leave,
Liam," Connie Graziana practically whispered. "I guess this
is a night for true confessions. "
Liam replaced his wallet in his back pocket and waited expectantly.
"The deal seems to have gone through. The owner of the building
accepted that offer I was telling you about. I have no choice now. I
own the business but only rent space here. Well be closing in
six to eight months. In fact, the entire block is going to be demolished.
Trump is putting up some type of resort complex on the site, as are
the Fairfield people."
"Will you relocate? Liam asked.
"No, I havent got the energy to start all over again someplace
new. Im going to take what they offer, sit back, and spend more
time with Tony and his kids. Im actually looking forward to it.
But til then its going to be business as usual, you can
bet on that!"
"Of course, I wouldnt expect anything less from you Connie."
"Good night, Liam, and thanks again. Ill see you next week."
Liam turned and made his way to the door. He descended the stairs to
street level. Walking over to Lewers Street he then made his way up
to Kalakaua Avenue. It was a fifteen or twenty minute walk to his condo
down beyond Queen Kapiolani Park where Kalakaua ended at Coconut Avenue.
It had cooled considerably and the light trade winds had returned causing
a susurration in the palms overhead as he continued east through the
crowd. By the time he passed Kuhio Beach Park and crossed the intersection
of Kapahulu Avenue, he was gripped by an ineffable sadness. The ironwood
trees that grew along the road in front of the Waikiki Aquarium looked
almost menacing in the moonlight. Even the white façade of the
newly refurbished Natatorium took on a dismal, almost leprous aspect.
Connie was a wonderful woman, Liam thought, as he plodded on toward
home, but shes wrong about one thing. Time doesnt heal anything.
All it does is anesthetize, deaden the pain like a narcotic. The sins
of the past are like slow-acting poison, or like one of those weird
viruses you read about these days. They lay dormant in your bloodstream
waiting for an opportunity, for a moment of weakness, and then in a
fresh burst of malevolence they reassert themselves and assume control
once again. Theres nothing whatsoever you can do about it, either.
Theres no antidote, no antibiotic that can stop it. Its
simply a matter of time, like the tides. Although he lived in paradise,
Liam seldom used explicitly religious language or categories. Nevertheless,
as he walked along he came to the inescapable conclusion that there
was absolutely no such thing as redemption.
Liam passed the Colony Surf on his right. As he did so he lost sight
of the ocean but he could still hear the slow roll of the waves as they
broke gently on the shore. He thought of his failed marriage and his
nearly total estrangement from his two children, both now grown of course
and with families of their own. It had been years, literally, since
he had seen his grandchildren. He had made so many selfish and arrogant
choices in his life. But there was no going back, no way to rewind the
tape or undo the past. As he mounted the stairs on the outside of his
building, Liam truly saw for perhaps the first time the long, lonely
years that stretched ahead of him with little but continual regret for
company. Connie had used the word pathetic earlier and it
certainly seemed even more appropriate when applied to his situation.
The scent of ginger and the soft sound of laughter carried on the breeze
from the beach below served only to confirm his worst suspicions.
Entering his apartment he turned on the light and sat down at the computer.
An hour later he hit print and, placing the resultant documents
neatly on his desk, he stood up. He made a few more surprisingly simple
arrangements and then, opening the door to his lanai, Liam OConnell
went out into the soft night and hanged himself.
At about the same time that Liam was finishing up at his computer, Connie
Graziana went over to the hostess station at Tratoria. She opened the
telephone book in search of a listing for D. Brilliande.
There was only one. Before she even knew what she was doing, she had
dialed the mans number. "After all," she said quietly
to herself as the connection began ringing, "cats are supposed
to be very clean
and Ive heard that theyre quite
easy to take care of."
Clarr April 2008
News, views and reviews related to hardboiled, classic pulp and genre
fiction on THE MEAN STREETS at: http://journals.aol.com/jcc55883/TheMeanStreets/
Religion & Current Affairs weblog: http://www.mcquaid.org/weblog/textpattern-4.0.3/
James C. Clar is a teacher and writer who lives in upstate New
York. His book reviews, author interviews and articles appear regularly
in the pages of MYSTERY NEWS. He has also published material -- including
short fiction -- in the CRIME & SUSPENSE EZINE, LONG STORY, SHORT,
WORD CATALYST, POWDER BURN FLASH, MYSTERYAUTHORS.COM and CRIMETIME MAGAZINE
James C Clar
It was one of those nights that the word balmy
was simply born to describe. The palm trees shrugged their shoulders
and rustled overhead in the light trades as I walked my dog east along
Ala Wai Boulevard.
James C. Clar
“Excuse me sir, are you the caretaker here?”
My inquiry was met with the kind of deep silence that only the Japanese have truly mastered.
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