|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Cosby, S. A.
|Crouch & Woods
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Dick, Paul "Deadeye"
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Goddard, L. B.
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|King, Michelle Ann
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Smith, Brian J.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
He seldom visited the pond
Had once been seen
A portly figure in an ermine robe
Crouched in the rushes like a
There had been gossip, laughter
The dry unsubtle
warnings of his chancellor
The tower now his only place
He saw his son below
A tiny comma on the green
Hop like a sparrow to his nurse's
He tried to think of taxes and
Saw only his small son so far
Turn his pink face toward the
Spiral his laughter all around
The prince turned back toward
Back to his lost wife's endless
hissing, courtiers’ eager smiles
glass spilling colour to her face
His wife still turning, tearing
at their love
Bent to destroy, to end them both
While in his mind he held her
Forever young and charmed
On that first day
At the pond
Stone cold and frightened
Pressed by the water and the mud
The shivering silver canopy
Until the blazing sunshine
Of her kiss
Whirling to his feet
poem appeared in PM published by Toulouse Press in 1993. Originally appeared in
Richard and All, Indeed, published by Cornerstone
Press in 1989.
The Frog Princess
by Richard Hill
now she hated him so much it made her stomach churn
That he should touch, be near
His flesh should touch her own
Made hatred almost fear
His trying to avoid her made him
more a threat
She would be near before she knew
Would see his face now wet with
His insect eyes
Which once upon a time were human
That she had kissed those lips
Had held that creature in her arms
Had lifted him and made him briefly
Too late to try to understand now
as she walked
And crackled through the dry grass
of the garden
On to the pond
Where it had happened
Where it had all begun
He crouched, she saw him
There, beside the water, staring down
The past? The future?
Heard her gown sweep across the grass and turned
She gripped the spade
Her heart, her mind
To finally be rid
She swung it high and down
Easier to kill than man, the frog
Open eyes evil as alive
And once and twice more
All her hate swung up and then brought down
The freedom as she dropped the spade
And smiled at all the bright tomorrows she had
And walked into a story
Now her own
This poem appeared in PM published by Toulouse Press in 1993. Originally appeared in Richard
and All, Indeed, published by Cornerstone Press in 1989.
|Art by Mike and Aisling Kerins © 2011
Barbara tore up the card from her sister and threw it into the bin. It was just typical
of her to send it almost two months after her birthday, a £20 note stuffed into the envelope; small change for her but just
enough to be an insult. And she had signed it “from your best sister.” She always had to be the best; the best
looking, with the best children and of course the best husband, the cleverest one, the Doctor, Mr. Handsome. But he wasn’t
a real man, not like her Billy.
Not one of the family had ever met Billy. They had invited him to all the family gatherings,
at Christmas and New Year’s, to all the tedious celebrations of a desiccated English middle-class family. But Billy
was anything but middle class, if he had any class at all. Billy was outside class. Billy was outside everything, so far above
them; and he had chosen her to take with him.
To her family, especially her sister, he was beneath their notice. He was just a faceless
odd job man, living off what he could earn from small deliveries, house clearances, whatever he could pick up. When Barbara
had shown them the cards he’d had printed “The Van Man—no job too big or too small,” her sister had
snatched it from her, laughing, dancing, as she read it out. And to her family, he had been The Van Man ever since.
There was a loud thud from the bedroom and then the squeaking of bedsprings. Billy must
be almost finished.
Barbara flicked on the electric kettle and put hers and Billy’s mugs on the worktop
and spooned in instant coffee. She looked at her face, flushed with excitement, smiling back at her from the mirrored cupboard
above the sink, and made a mental note to wash her hair sometime. Her sister was the beautiful one, thin and elegant. That
was the word her father would always use to describe her, “elegant.”
“You just don’t try, Barbara. Your sister is so thin, and always so elegant.”
Billy didn’t think that she was fat. He would tell her that he loved having so much
of her to hold. Although he had never seen her, he called her sister “the stick.”
The window gave a sudden shuddering rattle as the wind from the sea threw another gust
of rain at it. At this time of the year, when the nights were dark and windswept and the days grey and wet, there were few
visitors, but in the summer this part of Cornwall was infested with visitors.
Barbara loved the winter best, when the place belonged to her and Billy. Even in the summer
no one ever visited their run down old house. Barbara often liked to imagine that she and Billy were the only people in the
world. Sometimes she would spend weeks without seeing anyone except Billy and then she was happier than she had ever been
in her life.
Her family had called the “the chameleon.” They had all treated her as if she
were a blank nothing until she felt herself becoming one. Her father had once lost his temper, shouting at her through the
closed door of her room. “For God’s sake, Barbara, I sometimes think that if you didn’t have someone to
copy, you’d disappear!”
That was the year that her sister went to university, to become a lawyer, to be successful,
to marry and have two perfect children; to do everything expected of her as Barbara did what was expected of her and eventually
When they were both children, Barbara had desperately wanted to be like her sister; to
be her. She had aped her sister’s speech, her manner, whatever she did or
said, and become a joke. The joke grew when her parents would laugh at her attempts to be like her schoolmates. “Who
are you today?” her mother once asked her when she came home from school, “Susan Meadows or Cheryl O’Brien?”
It was even worse when she met Kevin. He was a tall, gangly boy who worked at the local
Tesco. He was passionate about motorbikes. All that Barbara had done was to share his interest. She began reading biker magazines
and bought an expensive set of leathers which she wore constantly.
After Kevin there was Paul, with his love of art. A cab driver, he longed to be a painter,
and he saw himself as an undiscovered genius, a modern day Van Gogh. The two of them would go out sketching together, and
her family would join together in mocking her drawings, at her trying, as ever, to become someone she could never be. Only
once did she try to explain to them that what they saw as slavish copying was about her being open to new experiences, experiences
they were too stupid and insular to understand.
And then she met Billy.
Barbara could hear slapping sounds from the next room, and what sounded like a muffled
cry. He would be finished soon. It was time to make the coffee.
Billy was far more intelligent than her stupid, shallow mother and her pompous father,
with his pathetic dreams of one day moving to Spain, “when the time was right.” Billy had what he called “street
smarts,” but Barbara was the only person in the world who knew that he was a genius; a secret genius.
Billy read a lot. He read all the time. And together they would cuddle up on the old beat-up
sofa and watch true crime programs on TV and Billy would ask her questions about what they had seen and about the books he
gave her to read. He had shown her just how special she was and why the others, the sheep, like her family, could never be
capable of feeling and knowing what they did. She and Billy were alive and they were already dead and so their pointless lives
When Billy stepped into the room, he seemed to fill it, with the warmth and excitement
she loved so much. He took her into his arms and gently bit her neck, holding his hands away from her body so as not to mark
her dress. She had already filled the sink with hot water and, after he had finished, she watched the stained water whirl
away before handing him a clean towel and then his coffee, just as he liked it, laced with rum. He reached into the pocket
of his jeans and handed her a ring. It was plain, silver, but with a very beautiful curling design, and clearly expensive.
It was so small that it only fitted onto her little finger.
“Souvenir,” he said and smiled his secret smile.
He was so kind and thoughtful, and she was his special person, the only person who knew
He tilted his head towards the
“Time to wrap it up.”
Wrapping the plastic around the parcel, Barbara started to giggle. Billy always said that
he loved the sound of her laughter and, kneeling opposite her, tugging at the cord, Billy smiled across at her.
Barbara smiled into his eyes. “It’s like Christmas, isn’t it? Maybe we
should use wrapping paper.”
“You’re mad, you are!” Billy said, and leaned over to kiss her.
Driving to the old mine, he had begun to sing.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas,” in time to the rhythmic swishing of the windscreen
wipers as they drove through the underwater darkness. Barbara had joined in, wrapped in the knowledge that not only their
voices but their whole beings were in harmony.
When they threw the parcel down the old mine shaft to join the others, Barbara could still
feel its warmth through the plastic. As they bundled it over the edge, she imagined she felt it give a faint shudder. And
then it was gone.
It was a dark, twisting drive back home and Barbara let the familiar feeling of peace and
satisfaction wash over her. These were the special moments; the ones that only she and Billy could share and understand when
they were one with each other, and the lost abandoned mine.
One day soon, she and Billy would take her family there.
|Art by Mike Kerin © 2012
by Richard Hill
did, I did for love. No one said that at the trial. They all had enough to say about me, calling me a stalker, sick, possessive,
but none of them said a word about how much we loved each other. That fat friend of hers, Vicki, standing in the witness box,
calling me a “control freak,” enjoying every moment of it, fake tears running down her great flabby face, getting
her moment of fame at my expense!
one understood. What had happened was just a moment, an accident, one terrible error in our love for each other. If words
hadn’t been said, if the knife hadn’t been on the table. Just a moment’s passion, that's all it was, and
that's what true love is, after all, isn't it? Passion.
And all that stuff about intent. There was
no intent. How could anyone possibly intend to kill the person they love? Someone they love more than life itself, someone
who is their whole world; their universe.
Couples make empty promises when they get
married. All of them. They promise to stay together, forsaking all others, in sickness and in health. But they don't mean
it. When things get difficult they dump the person they pretended to love, without a qualm, without looking back to see what
they have destroyed.
It was different with me and Alison. Alison’s
special. Forever. Eternal. Even the bad times that they went on about in court, we would've got over all that if people hadn't
interfered. I tried to protect Alison from them, from all of those false friends who were jealous of our happiness, our perfect
love. I always wanted to protect her. They were the ones who wanted to put her in harm's way, just to separate us and take
her away from me. Even her mother, who was so kind to begin with, turned out to be our enemy. I told Alison that she was just
like the others, spreading her poison, trying to turn her against me, but she wouldn’t believe me. That's when I explained
to her how happy we would be away from the people who were against us, and how she could only trust me and my love for her.
That's when I realized that they were making
her ill. She started to lose weight because of them. She would cry at night and even in the daytime, even when I held her
as tight as I could to protect her.
I wanted us to go away that night, the night
that it happened. We were to slip out of the house in the early hours of the morning. We would leave everything behind and
just disappear to a new life far away, where no one could find us, somewhere deep in a forest where we would never need to
see anyone. I would keep her safe. We would take the car and she would stay safe inside the little cottage I would find for
us. I would drive to the nearest town for supplies so that there would never be any need for anyone to ever see her again. There would be just the two of us, no one else, ever, in our own private world. We
would be safe and happy ever after, just like in the books.
Hearing what was said about me in court
proved just how right I was about her evil mother and all those friends of hers. They’d all had it in for me from the
start, they were the ones who had been plotting, not me. And they carried on, twisting what happened, even when they were
What had been a momentary lapse, a tragic
mishap, they turned into something which was all my fault. To hear their version of our marriage, I was some insane monster
who had cunningly tried to separate Alison from everyone who loved her. How right I had been about them all. It drove me wild
to hear them twisting something pure— my love and devotion—into something bad.
The final argument had been caused by their
meddling, so if anyone should have been on trial that day, it should have been them, not someone who was totally innocent.
When I lost my job, it gave me a chance
to keep my eye on Alison as anyone would.
The papers are always reporting women kidnapped
and murdered by some of the weird characters roaming our streets, and if I was worried about it happening to Alison, how could
that be bad? If I had the time to ring her at work three or four times a day and drive her to work in the mornings and home
at night, surely that's proof of our love for each other? And it isn't just the streets which aren’t safe. I'd seen
the way some of the men she worked with looked at her. And there were other things.
The way they would stand close to her when
they were talking to her, or they would smile in that special way. I know Alison didn't realize what it meant, but I did.
Once, one of the men touched her elbow and I almost ran into the building to cut his filthy hand off. I was parked in my usual
spot outside her office where I could keep an eye on her whenever I felt that she was in danger. I would drop her off at work
and sit watching over her all day and then collect her when she finished work. I have this little pair of binoculars and luckily
the glass building she worked in meant that she was seldom out of sight. But that was another worry, because if I could see
her all day, so could anyone else.
It was one of those malicious bitches she
worked with sparked it off, actually. I'd had to park the car closer to Alison's building than usual, because some busybody
was parked in my favorite spot. The woman said at the trial that she just stepped out to buy some sandwiches, but I knew that
she was looking for some way to make trouble, and she did! It was raining and it made it hard to focus the binoculars. I had
to wind up the window so as not to get wet and it blurred my vision of Alison.
That's how the woman managed to sneak up on me, hammering on the window like that. She
could have smashed it. I’d had a sandwich, my lunch, on my lap, and she made me jump so much as it fell on the floor
of the car and it was ruined. I’ve always warned Alison how we’re surrounded by germs, so I certainly couldn't
pick it up and eat it! So she'd not only taken my attention away from Alison for precious moments when anything could've happened,
but she’d ruined my lunch as well.
The woman kept hammering on the side window until I had to slide it down to prevent her
damaging the car. I'd often seen her talking to Alison, hanging around her desk. “Beauty and the Beast,” I used
to think when I saw her talking to Alison or handing her a file. She was much older than Alison, thin and dried-up looking,
with a mean mouth and a loud voice.
She started shouting as soon as the window was half open. About how she knew I was stalking
my own wife, torturing her, and making her life a living hell. All the nonsense she enjoyed spouting at the trial. I wanted
to tell her just how wrong she was, but she wouldn't stop yelling at me, and then people, stupid people like her with no lives
of their own, started staring at me. I wound the window up and drove away.
I’m a very placid person but people like that woman, who have no right or reason
to be alive, can really upset me and make me angry. So I just drove away, thinking about the tire iron in the boot of the
car and about how I should have used it to teach her a lesson. I imagined smashing in her empty face until there was nothing
left, shutting her foul mouth forever.
And she was worse at the trial. Pretending that she been Allison’s best friend and
that Alison had confided in her that I was getting worse and had told her how desperate she was to get away from me. It was
only then that I realized what a mistake I'd made. Alison had never wanted to leave me; the insane idea of her being unhappy
with me had been planted in her mind by her so-called friends. In that one moment I realized just how wrong I'd been. She
still loved me the way she always had. Those other women were just being jealous of our shared love, a love that they knew
they would never be lucky enough to have.
That last day, her fear and her anger at me, saying that she was leaving and that she
couldn’t bear for me to be near her, that wasn’t Alison, it was the voices of all those poisonous witches. They
were the ones who should have died that day.
It keeps playing over and over in my mind. It’s like clicking a remote which always
takes you back to the same channel. The two of us standing in the kitchen. She’d been chopping vegetables when I walked
in. I always insist on cooked meals, they put so much bad stuff in prepared foods, that’s why we never eat out. “Better
safe than sorry,” I always say. I could tell that she was upset over something, but when I reached out to comfort her,
she backed away from me.
They said at the trial that we fought, argued, but how could they know, no one was there
but the two of us, the way it was always meant to be.
The Coroner said that there were fifty-three stab wounds but I only felt the first, the
rest were so quick, one after another. Even when I slipped on the blood and fell down, she kept stabbing and stabbing and
shouting terrible things at me.
I’d recently redecorated the kitchen and I remember wondering how on earth we would
get all that blood off the walls as she stood over me, that long carving knife in both hands, screaming and stabbing.
I can’t remember actually dying, only a switch of awareness, the realization that
my body had moved outside me.
It’s strange, isn’t it? You read about—what’s it called—out
of body experience, but in those first few moments, I felt my body moving away from me, sort of the other way around.
I was looking into her eyes, trying to speak through all that blood filing my mouth, choking
me, and then, suddenly, I was here, inside her mind.
Alison gets upset so easily, that I don’t talk to her anymore. I whisper, so softly
that I sometimes think that she can hardly hear me. That’s why we are in this place, Alison and me.
Poor Alison. They found her guilty in the end, despite everyone trying to say that it
was all my fault. I think it was because of the odd way she was behaving, not like Alison at all, shouting and waving her
arms about and yelling at me to get out of her head. In the end they said that she was insane.
Now we’re locked up forever in this place, but I keep telling her that at least
she has me and I’ll never leave her, ever. You see, I whisper to her; after all, our love is eternal.
But nowadays she never answers me.
|Art by Noelle Richardson © 2013
By Richard Hill
(For Jean Hill)
Christmas is a time for memories, of times gone by and
friends lost and passed away, and for you of a Christmas spent
in cold and snow in another country and a story of terror whispered in the night.
believed that we move through time, heading, willing or not, from the past into
the future, moving through time until our own time ran out, ceased.
Now, older and lessened, you have discovered
that time moves through us, taking away youth and health and dreams,
leaving only what clings by will or by accident, to the person we have become.
And the memories that remain are seldom what we would choose.
Often they haunt us like ghosts; for what are memories, if not ghosts.
You remember that Christmas
now as you would remember a ghost story, the
classic old-fashioned ghost story, of travellers, strangers, thrown together
for a winter night in a strange place, an old inn, or a haunted
The classic elements may
have been there, but your experience was more mundane,
more prosaic, like your companions. You were one of a party of teachers
and administrators from assorted educational establishments in your own country,
sent to Eastern Europe as one of those well-meaning, but always
ineffectual, government funded schemes to coordinate international
standards of education. There had been thirty members of your
party, transported to assorted colleges and universities to observe and judge, and, in turn, you
supposed, to be observed and judged yourself.
You have always
been unable to separate your judgment of yourself
from the judgment of others. Even now, as you write this, as
you read what you've written, you judge your story. As what? Inept? Unclear?
Like your memory. You know only that words are too weak to support the reality
of what you heard and felt on that night.
You were nearly
at the end of your tour, jaded with
the long journey and with your travelling companions, when the story joined itself
to your life.
The story, of a curse and
a haunting, began at the end
of a long drive. When, by one of those vagaries of your journey, to which you have become resigned,
you arrived or, in your own tired mind, been delivered, like
an unwelcome and ill-addressed parcel, to your hotel, you were told that there had
been a mistake in the booking and that sadly there were no beds available
for you and three of your party. The receptionist, a nervous
youth with bad skin, finally phoned a nearby hotel, which had accommodation,
and so you unlucky four ended up at the ‘Hotel Europa Star’. You had
hoped to be home in time for Christmas, but delays and diversions
meant that you would spend the night in this dismal place.
When you arrived at the hotel it had been almost
half empty, with the decayed air of a building clinging on to
life, and not doing it very well, and the food you had been given was every bit as bad as the accommodation.
Still, you told each other, it was only for one night and you
would soon be home.
As well as yourself, your
little group was made of an attractive young woman called Jane,
an even younger redheaded teacher called Warren, and the oldest
of the four of us, the tall thin headmaster of an inner-city Academy called Steve, who had had the
foresight and experience to bring along a bottle of Irish whiskey,
which you were soon sharing.
Outside the hotel
it had begun to snow, not the
anaemic city snow which you were all used to, but the wild and extravagant snow
of the countryside. You had been sitting around what passed as a fire in
one of the reception rooms, a 70’s faux log fire, giving
out more light than heat, exchanging horror stories about your respective
rooms, with their loose sinks and deadly wiring. It was then that the woman
called Jane suddenly said,
would hate it here. She was afraid of Poland, ever since my father died.”
Steve refilled your glasses and you all leaned forward.
Everyone else, you were sure, was as curious as you were to hear
about her mother's fear of an entire country. A romance gone wrong perhaps?
Had she had a bad experience here, or with a Pole back in England?
Jane looked up
from her glass surprised, you thought, at our interest.
happen to her when she was here?” Warren asked.
Jean gave a nervous
“No, she's never been here.”
so, in a strange hotel in a strange land,
as the snow whispered against the windows, she told us her story.
“It was a
long time ago, but I'll never forget. My
father was a tall man, very quiet, very distant; dignified and somehow vague. He left
when I was too young for me to know more about him than that. Not much
to remember him by, I know. The other thing I remember is that he never drank
alcohol, not in any form, ever. He was the barrister, one of the best,
diligent and quite brilliant. And he was an honest man in a world
in which they have become an endangered species. He made enough money
to retire early and we moved, if not to the country, to the furthest of suburbs
of the city. We moved to a big house where my mother could enjoy
her love of gardening, and, since I was born late in their marriage,
and I had no brothers or sisters, I became not only her daughter, but for her companion. We
were friends. And my father gave full rein to his passion for
antiques. My mother told me that he constantly bemoaned the loss of
small antique shops to online buying and selling. She said
that whenever he heard of an antique shop going out of
business, he would lament the loss like that of an old friend.
One of his favourite antique shops wasn’t far from where we lived, and if he
had an unsuccessful trip to the antique shops in town, he would call in
there to see if he could pick up what he called a consolation prize. Its stock was as
much bric-a-brac as antiques, which was one of the main reasons for it being my
father's favourite. One of the reasons that my father so hated the growing
online trade in antiques, was his love of poking around in such
shops, searching in dusty corners, looking for hidden treasures.”
“You can't pick up something beautiful from
a computer screen.” He would tell my mother. “You
can't feel its weight or touch its beauty.”
had found the wine glass on the back of a
shelf full of chipped and dusty glassware and china. The owner of the shop was
not very enthusiastic about it.
“Just the one I'm afraid, Polish crystal. It's
not old, mid-20th century. Buy the silver cigar cutter, and I’ll throw it in
“And so my father bought the crystal
“My mother told me that it was beautiful, heavy and ornate, and
yet when you held in your hand, it seemed almost to lift itself
towards your lips, and when it was cleaned it shone and glistened
like no glass she has ever seen.
‘Let's put it on the mantel piece,’ she said to my father.
‘We can't use one odd glass when we have guests to dinner.’
But my father
decided to use the glass himself. From the first time he drank from it my
mother said he began to enthuse about it.
‘I know it can't
be so.’ he would say ‘but something about it, something in the type of
glass, I don't know what, makes any wine taste delicious, even cheap plonk.’
And then, as if to prove his point, he would drain it and refill
“That was how it began. At first my mother wasn't
concerned. Often, when he came home with what he called a ‘special
buy’ he would be like a child showing off a new toy until
the novelty palled, and then he would sell it or trade it in at another antique shop. But the wine
glass was different. Like a child's favourite toy, it seemed
to be always with him, and he began to be constantly drinking. My mother had seen addiction
among some of her friends, for drugs, affairs, shopping, but
they had all been gradual, growing slowly, like an illness. With
my father it was different. He became a drunkard in a matter of weeks, and not
what’s sometimes called a happy drunk. He became distant and angry,
finding fault and becoming dictatorial, looking always for a culprit to vent
his anger on. He became obsessed with what he called ‘lowlife’.
Once, watching a TV news item about violence in some inner-city
sink estate, he started shouting at the television. Those people weren’t human, he said, and
stood up spilling wine from the glass, which was always with
‘Vermin that's what they
are. Sub-human vermin! But we know
what to do with them, don’t we? Let them wallow in their filth.
We'll sweep away the filth and those vermin with it. A year from
now they'll all be dead, and you and I will be able to breathe
clean air again!’
“My mother had, for the first time in her life,
been afraid, afraid of my father, and she had confided in me.
wasn't your father behind those eyes anymore. I didn't know him. So much
anger and loathing, so much hatred. He almost knocked me down, yelling at me
to get out of his way, that he was going to bed, that there was
more cleaning up to be done in the morning.’
that day one of those dead, dark, English afternoons with all the colour
of the world sucked into the greyness of the sky. And how my life changed
in that moment of my mother's frightened confidence.”
Jane paused and
seemed to bring the focus of her bright dark eyes back to us and the room
“I'm sorry; this is all silly; let’s talk about something
You remember leaning towards Jane, and the sound of
your own voice, sounding nervous and unfamiliar.
pleased when she told you what had happened? I think I might've been. Pleased
about her trust, I mean.”
She looked around the
room at the others.
“Most of us of spend
all of lives without knowing our parents, not really knowing anything
about them, until they die. And then it's too late.”
reddened slightly and sat back. Someone asked what happened next.
anti-climax, really; my mother dropped the glass as she was putting it into the
dishwasher. She was so flustered that she stepped on the few unbroken pieces
of glass, so there was no possibility of ever repairing it.”
The same voice
“And your father, what did he do when he realised that
it was broken?”
Jane smiled, a thin,
“He divorced my mother;
not right away of course.
There was a terrible row over the glass, which grew into arguments that never seem to end. Arguments
about nothing and everything, an endless war, which neither of
them could win. It was round about then that I left home and got married. In fact, I
was married almost at the same time as they were divorced. And
my mother’s happier now than she ever was. And as for my father,
he always wanted to go and live in Spain, and he did. I hardly ever heard from
him, just the odd Christmas card, I do know that he doesn't drink anymore.”
You can never see snow
without thinking of her story and that shabby far-off room. You remember the woman
taking a sip of her drink as a sudden soft flutter of snow padded
against the window softer even than her voice.
“I inherited my
mother's curiosity, for better and sometimes for worse. She went once
to the shop the glass came from, and she told me that she had
been surprised at how much the owner knew about all the items in his packed little shop.”
‘Your husband was a strange collector.’
the man had told her. ‘Most people are interested in the
provenance, in the history of the antiques they buy. They like the
connection with the past though not, I suppose, the history of something like the glass your
husband bought. He always bought what took his fancy for the look of the
“Like a magpie,” my mother
had said, “things picked up easily, and just as easily
discarded. So, was there a story behind the glass?”
Sitting there that night you remember
wondering at the life of stories, of how they grow and change as
they spread from person to person, from one time and place to another.
Jane seemed to
be looking beyond us now, beyond the room, and beyond the present moment.
“The owner of the shop told me the answers to
my mother's question when I went to see him after my father had
died. When I told him who I was, he invited me to this little cubby at the back of
the shop. It was cosy and peaceful in that antique shop; that's what
I remember thinking, a quiet shore, where all the jetsam of the
past had come to rest. His name was White, the owner, and he was white too,
as old and pale and brittle looking as the china cups he took out. He offered
me tea and we sat together at that table at the back of the shop, his eyes
constantly straying to look out of the plate glass window of the shop; on the
lookout I suppose, for customers who wanted to buy and not just to listen.”
‘There’s always a story,’ he said, ‘to
every object we hold and use. Mostly we can never know what time
and space it had found itself in and who it was used by and, for what purpose.
Often when we find out it gives us pleasure, but sometimes we would be
better not knowing. I bought the glass in Shropshire. I had gone to buy some
rather nice prints, German street scenes of Dresden. 18th-century, quite
beautiful. I had a buyer for that sort of thing and I had heard that
this chap in Shropshire was selling off his collection which included
the prints. A retired major he was, must have been eighty if he was a day. An
antique himself, old and frail. He said that he was selling up and intended to end his
days in the best nursing home that money could buy. He wasn't sentimental
about his belongings. Most of it he described as his loot. Pillaged
from a ruined Germany when he was there at the end of World War
II. He threw in the glass for nothing. Originally, it seems there
had been a set of six, and all but one had disappeared in transit from Germany. They
came originally from Poland he told me. Looted by some Nazi he
supposed - he laughed at the thought- and then looted by him.’
You remember Jane’s face, soft in
the fire light. Her gaze had been far away back in the antique shop and now
she suddenly focused on the faces around her.
there,” she had said, “surrounded by all those pieces
of the past which had been so precious to their long-dead owners,
made what he told me believable. Right there and then the past
seemed so much more solid and tangible than the present. And when he talked about the
time the glass came from I believed what he told me and I still
do. I'd read about the Nazis and what they had done in the countries
they conquered, but I had seen them almost as pantomime villains,
with their jackboots and those skull and crossbones badges on their caps. But in the year he
told me about, in 1941, when the wine glasses were made, they weren’t
pantomime monsters at all, but the creators of a modern, terrible hell.
And now I know that it spread, their evil, across time as well as the countries
they conquered. It was here in Poland that they were at their worst; they made
it a country of murderers and their victims.”
the glasses, those beautiful glasses, were made by one of the victims
for his murderer, for one of the most evil men in the most evil of times. His
name has no meaning now, wiped away by history as he was. Like
so many of the Nazis, in a well world he would have been no more
than a mean and spiteful nonentity, but when the world grew sick, in those dark times, he rose.
He was sent by Berlin to rule over a vast area of the conquered
land, where he pillaged and terrorised and gave full rein to the darkness
of his fantasies. He even lived in a castle, like some fairy tale Ogre.”
was the last of generations of glassmakers, a man so talented that his genius
was recognised throughout Poland. When the Ogre heard of his genius for
creating beauty he had Rozenblit brought to him.”
nervous, almost embarrassed.
“I'm sorry, this is beginning to
sound like a fairy-tale, but it was such a time of darkness and monsters.
Thousands of people were murdered every day. Jews like Rozenblit disappeared,
killed in their homes or on the street, or taken in cattle trucks
to who knew where. Rozenblit feared not just for his own life,
but the lives of his whole family, and so, when the Ogre offered to save him
and to save his family, if he made him a set of wine glasses more beautiful than
any which had ever been seen, he had no choice. You understand why I see it as a dark
fairy story? Of course as Ogres always do, he had Rozenblit and
his family murdered as soon as the glasses had been delivered.”
You remember looking round that dimly lit room at
the faces of your companions, your fellow listeners, wondering
whether they felt the same horror and sadness that you did. One of them, the headmaster
you think, asked the question you were about to ask.
“Did you ever
find out what happened to him - the Nazi, the Ogre?”
faintly into the middle distance.
“He perished of course, as all Ogres should. But he wasn't slain
by a hero riding a white horse. Or even shot or hanged at the
end of the war. He died of drink, a raving alcoholic in SS sanatorium,
sometime in late 1944. I like to think that in his last days, this body racked
by alcohol poisoning, he was haunted by the ghosts of innocents
he had murdered. I found a photograph of him, just one, on the
Internet, a fat little man looking like the doorman of some third-rate hotel.
He was at a party surrounded by his cronies, waving a glass full of wine at the
camera; one of the glasses Rozenblit had made for him.”
The next morning you
rejoined the rest of your party and your journey through Europe and
the story was never mentioned during the rest of the trip.
You never heard
from Jane, or any of the others, again, but every Christmas you remember that
night, and her voice and her story have never left you. You think now,
as you read what you have just written, of the years between that night and
this night you now inhabit, and about how many times your memory has taken
you back to that shabby room in that far off hotel, and, as you remember, you wonder about
five missing wine glasses, and where they are, and who they are destroying,
and how long fear and hatred can live on.
Richard Hill, a widely published poet,
has also written for radio, TV, and the theater. He has an MA in Victorian Literature
from the University of Liverpool, where he headed up their Editorial Office, as
well as teaching Creative Writing.
relative newcomer to the horror genre, his stories have appeared in such
publications as Yellow Mama, Tartarus Press, The Horror
Zine, and Dark River
In Association with Fossil Publications