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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Fiction

James C. Clar

Liam O’Connell 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.
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 O’Connell, 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.

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 establishment’s 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 Connie’s attention, it was natural that, before too long, she had taken notice of Liam’s 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 of intimacy.
"Good to see you, Liam. I missed you last week. Is everything alright?"
"Everything’s fine, Connie, thanks for asking. It’s been so hot and I’ve had so much work to do that I just didn’t 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 you’re doing well. What’s 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 I’m convinced that they conceptualize the world in an entirely different way than people from our generation do."
"Actually I see that here as well. Patrons and staff. We’re 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. "You’re 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? He’s come in here with me a few times. If I’m 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! He’s the one. Well, he’s 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’. You’re not interested are you? In adopting his cat, that is."

Liam was surprised at the pained expression that he saw on Connie’s face. He was even more surprised when she reached across the table and placed her had lightly on his.
"Liam, I’m 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 you’d like to write. It’s something that I’ve learned to live with but, honestly, it’s also something for which I’ll never completely forgive myself. It’s funny how it’s the little things we do or, in this case, don’t 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 didn’t mean to …"
"No, No," she said as she removed her hand from his and delicately wiped the corner of her eyes with a napkin, "it’s not your fault. And, really, it’s 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 shouldn’t have been so astonished that such a chance remark could be the occasion for what must be some momentous revelation.

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 then, well … 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."
"That’s right; you’ve 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 wouldn’t even let Tosca into the house itself. She stayed in the breezeway between the garage and the entrance to the kitchen. I’d 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. "That’s 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. I’d stick out my leg, rub her with my shoe, as if that somehow fulfilled my obligation and satisfied her need for contact, for affection. Don’t misunderstand me. I never mistreated her in any way. It’s just that I was cold, aloof."
"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, it’s 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 hadn’t been eating properly for some time … but what did I know about dogs? I told you that I had never touched her … 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 … no, is … pathetic."

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 didn’t. 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 didn’t eat. He wouldn’t 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, I’ve never had the courage to ask him if he’s forgiven me for the way I treated that dog."
"For heaven’s sake, Connie," Liam responded when she had finished. "It was only a dog. And besides, as you say, you didn’t mistreat the poor creature in any way. Your son knows what a wonderful mother and, indeed, grandmother, you’ve been."
"You’re 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 I’ve never told anyone else that story. Thanks for listening. You must think I’m a maudlin old lady."
"Neither ‘maudlin’, nor ‘old’, and I appreciate you telling me. You’re 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.
"There’s 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. We’ll 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 haven’t got the energy to start all over again someplace new. I’m going to take what they offer, sit back, and spend more time with Tony and his kids. I’m actually looking forward to it. But ‘til then it’s going to be business as usual, you can bet on that!"
"Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from you Connie."
"Good night, Liam, and thanks again. I’ll 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 she’s wrong about one thing. Time doesn’t 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. There’s nothing whatsoever you can do about it, either. There’s no antidote, no antibiotic that can stop it. It’s 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 O’Connell 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 man’s number. "After all," she said quietly to herself as the connection began ringing, "cats are supposed to be very clean … and I’ve heard that they’re quite easy to take care of."
© Jim Clarr April 2008
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 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 (UK)."
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.

Mr. Kuroda

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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