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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction

Understanding Bill
Alan Stokes

What Bill told me first.
Maybe it is the heat. I heard a man say that. He said the heat here makes people happy. I remember thinking that this was strange because he seemed anything but happy. No matter. The point is I am a different person since I came here. Whether it is because of the heat or something else does not concern me. What is important is that I have re-invented myself. I am happy.

I will describe my day to you.
I wake early. I make coffee, sit on the veranda and smoke and dream about the past. Then I shower, get dressed and take a walk around town. I go to the harbour and talk to the fishermen. I talk to the shopkeepers. I talk to lots of people. Then I return home and sleep.
Then I meet you. We talk for a while and then I tell you my stories.
Then I go home and I sit and I think about what I have told you. Sometimes I cry.
Then I sleep.
Then I get up and I have a beer, maybe more than a beer. Okay. I have several beers. I drink too much, I know that. Alcohol helps me.

In the evening I listen to music. I listen to all kinds of music. I put on the radio and I listen to that channel you told me about. I never go out.
Some days I walk to the beach and I swim out to your boat. Once I walked to the far side of the island and slept the night in that cave you told me about. But most days I stay at home and sleep.
One day I will do something constructive with my life. I have always wanted to work with my hands. There is something gratifying about working with your hands.
Maybe one day I will meet a woman and settle down and raise a family. Stranger things have happened.
Actually I have met a woman here. Not long after I arrived I was in the square and a woman sat down next to my table. She was beautiful.
I think you know her. You seem to know everyone here. Her name is Alice. She came here four, five years ago and lives behind the church. She has dark hair and big blue eyes. Her father grew up on the island and emigrated to America. That’s why she’s here. She wants to re-connect with her past, or maybe her father’s past. She has a stall in the market and sells paintings of the island.

I’m getting tired now. I think I might go home and sleep. Then take a swim. I love swimming when the sun is going down. Actually I don’t swim much these days. I just float on my back. I don’t know, it helps me to relax. Sometimes I close my eyes and the next thing I know I’m out at sea. I say ‘sometimes’ but it has only happened once. I will never do that again. I thought I was going to die. It took every ounce of energy I had to get back to the beach. I didn’t realise how dangerous the sea can be here.

I came here once before. Did I tell you that ? About ten years ago I came here with a group of friends and we rented an apartment up on the north coast. We did the usual thing - went to the beach during the day and got drunk of a night. I remember thinking I wanted to come back here one day. I’ve been to many places in my life and it is the only time I have thought that. There is something about this place.

That cave is amazing. All night I lay there and listened to the water passing over me. I’ve never been interested in nature before. But that night it hit me that I am part of everything and everything is part of me. I could have lay there for days. At one point it felt like the water was inside my head. I’m not joking.

The second thing Bill told.
I was with Jason. We’d been drinking all day. We were enjoying ourselves. We were having a laugh. We were engaging with people. We were being sociable, for Christ sake.
It’s difficult to say how it started. There were women involved, I know that much. And confusion. One of us said something and it was taken the wrong way and all hell broke loose. I can’t remember what was said. Thinking about it, probably it doesn’t matter. They were out to thump someone and they chose us. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can happen to anyone. Trust me.
I caught the first blow. As my body doubled I took another and flew backwards, hitting the juke box and collapsing in a heap.
Jason got the worst of it. The man stuck a knife in him and slashed his face.

I forget when Bill told me this
They were sitting on the fence. When they saw me they shouted obscenities at me. Normally this would not have bothered me but today I felt depressed.
I walked over to the biggest and hit him in the face. He fell backwards off the fence and hit the ground. I asked if anyone else wanted some but no one replied. I continued on my way.
I reached Jason’s. I rang his bell and waited. I had told myself not to have anything more to do with Jason but, as usual, I decided to give him another chance.
The door opened. We grinned at each other.
- Sorry, Bill.
- Don’t worry about it, I said. Just don’t do it again. Okay ?
He nodded. We went inside.
Let me tell you about Jason. Jason is an idiot. I’ve known Jason for years so I can say that. The guy can’t even add up. You can tell him something a hundred times and it will never sink in. He’s beyond help.
- What’ve you been up to ? I asked him.
- Not much, he shrugged.
- Seen Maria ?
Maria is Jason’s girlfriend. Sorry, was Jason’s girlfriend. Maria died last year of an overdose. I’m not sure what happened exactly. One minute she was alive and the next she wasn’t.
- I haven’t seen Marie for over a week.
He stared at me but I didn’t respond. What’s the point ? Their business is their own. I’ve got my own shit to deal with. It’s not like anyone’s looking out for me.
I got up and put on some music. I think it was Travis. Then I went into the kitchen and got myself a beer.

- You’re better off without her, I said, sitting back down.
- Don’t say that. I love her.
I laughed.
- I do, he said.
The reason I disliked Maria is straightforward. She was a nut. Then again all women are nuts.
- Look. If you’ve just come round here to -
The bell went.
- That’ll be her now. Go on, I said, go and answer the door like a lapdog. Do what you’re good at.
Jason went out into the hall, closing the door behind him.
In a second they would start fighting. Jason and Maria had been together for years and all they did was fight. Sometimes I split them up but mostly I did what I am doing now. In a way I enjoyed listening to them fight. Most couples keep their problems to themselves. While I sat and listened to Jason and Maria fight it was like they were educating me.

Finally Jason came back into the room. He shook his head and said Maria was at it again, meaning, she wanted money. I told him to forget her. I told him she wasn’t worth bothering with. I told him to wake up and demand more from life.
Did he listen to me ? Up until Maria died Jason was convinced he could change her. He never stopped loving her, no matter how badly she treated him. He still does. I saw him before I left and all he could talk about was how much he missed her. I refuse to feel sorry for him.

The fourth thing Bill told me
His name was Kurt. He was from New York or maybe Las Vegas. He was a prick. I met him through a friend and I hated him immediately. He was about six-five and his neck was huge. Everything he said was offensive. He only smiled when he thought he had hurt someone. I’d like to say he was an ugly fucker but it isn’t true. He looked like a film icon. Women loved him. He was all surface, though. When he spoke you could hear his brain turning over, like a dead car.
I can’t remember where and when I knocked him to the floor. I remember pulling back my fist and thumping the side of his head but that’s about it. Jason insists it was at a party but I don’t go along with that because, as far as I know, Jason has never met him. Whatever. I knocked Kurt to the floor. Where and when is irrelevant. The point is he was a bully and he got what was coming to him.
Actually I remember where it was now. It was in the Jacaranda. I remember him speaking to me like I was a piece of shit before pushing himself off the bar to go the toilet.
- I’m going to bang the fucker, I said.
- Don’t, Bill. He’s not worth it.
I looked at Jenny, my girlfriend at the time, and told her enough was enough.
On my way to the toilet I clenched my fists and breathed in deeply several times in an effort to relax myself. I remember telling myself that if I took him by surprise there could only be one outcome.
I pushed open the door and stepped inside. Kurt had his zip down and was pissing in the urinal. There was no one else in there. I walked over and punched the side of his head, following through with my fist and almost hitting the wall. He dropped to the floor. I paused a moment, amazed, then turned and made my way out the toilet and back to the bar.
- Let’s go, I said, draining what was left in my glass.
We went to another bar. Jenny still could not believe I had hit Kurt. I’m not sure how long I had been seeing Jenny. During this period I saw a lot of women.
- Tell me again, she said. You went into the toilet…
- He had his back to me, I told her. So I went over to him and smacked him.
- And ?
I grimaced.
- And what ? He hit the floor. End of story. I came back out and now we’re here. What d’you want me to tell you ?
- I want the truth.
- I’m telling you the truth.

This makes me laugh. Back then I thought I could say that - I’m telling you the truth - and automatically people would believe me. Now I know that nobody tells the truth. The best policy is to say nothing. Keep your secrets to yourself. That way no one can accuse you of being a liar. A hypocrite, yes, but not a liar.
After that, my guess is we went back to Jenny’s and had sex and in the morning forgot all about it. Or maybe we stopped seeing each other. Whatever. The point is I stood up to him. Jenny could have been anyone. I don’t even think it was Jenny. My head’s all over the place.

When Bill told me this everything made sense
I was having a bad day at work. All day I had been putting out fires, expending my energy and getting nothing in return. I was frustrated. I wanted to scream. Everyone was getting on my nerves. Whenever anyone spoke to me I glared at them and said nothing. I wanted to be alone. It was like I had a fever.
Late in the afternoon, just before we were due to leave work and return to our respective lives, a meeting was called. Before I entered the room I heard someone mention that it was serious.
- What’s happening ? I asked the woman from admin, who had sat down next to me because there was nowhere else to sit. We getting the sack?
I laughed.
- John The Baptist finally gone mad ?
She put a finger to her lips and told me to shush. The meeting had started.
I listened for a while then stopped. The meeting was about nothing. As per usual. Every time we had a meeting I wished for something dramatic to happen but it never did. I suppose it happens in every workplace. People go to work to escape drama, not to seek it out.
Three, four minutes later the meeting was closed and everyone began filing out the room. I stayed in my seat.
- Everything okay, Bill?
- Not really.
Nicola paused a moment then sat down next to me and asked what was wrong.
- I can’t do this job anymore, I told her. I feel…wiped out. All I do is give, give, give and get nothing in return. I’ve had enough.
I hardly ever talked to Nicola. She was nice, though. Attractive. Intelligent too. You picked that up by the way she conducted herself. She left her private life at the door.
- Maybe you just need some time off ? Put in for a holiday.
- It’s more than that.
I wasn’t sure why I was saying this but there seemed some truth in it. I needed a fresh challenge. I was bored.
Nicola went to say something but I stopped her, got up and walked out the room, went down the corridor and into my boss’s office. And for fifteen minutes I ranted. Then I sat back and waited for her to respond.
- I think you need a break, Bill. You’re stressed, that’s all. You need to get away and forget about everything. You need to relax.

And that’s what I did. I took her advice. I went away and I relaxed and I forgot about everything. Literally. I mean, I never went back. I made a new life for myself. A better life. Better because it was new and different. That’s why I am here. That’s the point I’m trying to make here. Every now and again you have to change things. Otherwise, well, you end up bored and frustrated. Which has to be the worst thing imaginable.

The last thing Bill told me
You are in a foreign country. Let’s say it is America. You are in America and you have not spoken to anyone for days. You are tired of speaking to people. To buy things you gesticulate, make animal noises, whatever. Ditto if someone asks you for something.
You are wondering how far you can take this.
Okay. You haven’t spoken to anyone for days and you’re starting to believe you can do this indefinitely. Then a woman walks up to you, sits down and stares directly into your eyes.
For the first time in years you feel your blood beginning to boil. All your thoughts, all those conclusions you have reached about women have evaporated.
- I love you, you tell her.
A lyric enters your head and you almost burst into song. You do burst into song. You need to mark this moment.
- I love you, you tell her again.
You go back to her apartment and you make love to her. She asks questions about your life and you tell her everything. Occasionally, you exaggerate. But that’s okay. You have a right to do that. She needs to know what you have been through. Every second counts now. At any moment she may change her mind and banish you. Plus you haven’t spoken to anyone for days and you realise now just how much you have missed that.
It’s like you have been reborn.
You tell her that. You hold her face in your hands and you tell her that you have been reborn.
© Alan Stokes Feb 2005
alan stokes" alstokesy@yahoo.co.uk

See also Stone Cold in the staffroom

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