I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

A Short Story

 
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The Broken Bubbles


The absence of the bubbles hadn't been on that day’s list of priorities, so when the doorbell shook the house and a man with an accent yelled out - not even giving her a chance to respond to the bell - Elizabeth Carraway was more than a little annoyed.

‘Mrs Carway? Sorry I late. Wife have baby.’ He had a grin that refused to let its style be cramped by bad teeth.

‘What?’ She buttoned up her apricot-coloured cardigan, which her husband said should never be worn outside the house. ‘It’s Carraway.’

He came up two more steps, seemingly keen to bring himself to her level. ‘The spa. I come to fix.’ He flipped over a small badge that hung from his jumper, revealing the name Heavenly Hot Tubs.

‘Oh, yes, yes. Well, you’ll need to be quick. Through there ... under the glass patio.'

‘I’m late because baby born,’ he gushed, shaking his head as if he found the words too incredible to believe. ‘My wife have baby boy.’

‘Yes, yes. Never mind.’

She walked briskly through to the patio after sensing in a flash that he wouldn't be able to find it quickly enough on his own. With her mind on the iron upstairs and the new sesame bread about to burn in the oven, she waved her hand at the tub that hadn't been producing bubbles for months. Her husband, Alistair, had vaguely mentioned an appointment when he was last home but she'd forgotten to make a note.

With a less cheerful face than before he said, ‘First baby in England. We very happy.’

‘Oh? Very nice.’ She looked at her watch. ‘The bubbles stopped over Christmas and so we drained it. Do you have the right tools? Do you know these kinds of tubs?’

She didn't like the look of him, his clothes too baggy and scruffy, a long scar on his bony cheek. There were also patches of pink skin amongst his stubble, which she found particularly troubling; she wondered if he might be harbouring some kind of contagious disease from his wretched homeland. She warned herself not to get too close. She could also smell the bread.

‘My wife names him after my dead papa. My family killed in war.’ He put his duffle bag down on the tiles, taking in a quick breath, as though to stifle a hidden pain.

‘Splendid. What? Oh.’ She wondered if the bag was greasy and whether her tiles might need cleaning afterwards. She leaned on the edge of the spa and looked down at the bottom, noticing with alarm that Alistair hadn't yet cleaned out the leaves from the old indoor tree that had died from a lack of water. ‘I'm sorry ... I mean ... that's nice. Well, sorry for your father but nice for the baby.’

‘All my family killed.’ He put his hands over his eyes and stood still.

‘Oh.’ She cupped her hands into the praying position, a spontaneous gesture that she hadn't decided on. ‘Goodness. Are you alright?’

He didn't answer. He lowered his head and brought his feet together, like a prisoner waiting for a sentence to be pronounced.

She looked back into the spa. ‘It may just be the leaves stopping the bubbles. It may be something quite silly. What do you think?’

‘Baby is new hope, Mrs Carway. New life in family.’

‘Oh dear. Are you crying?’ It was a silly question because she could see he was crying, his tears streaming down between his fingers, like he’d just splashed his face with water.

‘We come for peace. Too many die.’

She reached down into the spa and picked up one or two of the dried leaves that lay there, gently crushing them in her fingers. The little pieces scattered over the tiles. The iron was getting hotter. The bread needed to be taken out. Alistair’s suits needed collecting. She had to ring the boys to see if they were still coming home from university for the Easter break - she'd heard from their meddling grandmother that they had voiced a preference for a trip to France with their friends.

The man dried his eyes with the sleeves of his jumper and then bent down to pick up his bag. ‘I'm sorry, Mrs Carway.’ He slowly started to inspect the spa, but it was clear his mind was elsewhere.

‘I'll leave you to it.’ She pulled on her knuckles, making them crack. ‘Will you be long?’

He nodded and smiled forlornly, reaching down to clear out some of the leaves.

She went back upstairs to the dressing room but felt bothered about something she couldn't grasp. With the iron held loosely in her hand she found herself staring out into the backyard, unable to blink. It seemed only a few years before that the boys had played on the swings and chased the dog across the lawn. She only got one sleeve of her husband's shirt done before she headed down the stairs into the kitchen, where the burnt smell had already built up.

She flicked off the oven but didn't bother opening the door. She slouched and looked at her watch: four o'clock and nothing accomplished. The back lawn suddenly struck her as being as bleak as a graveyard. The man's words came to her then: happy, hope, family. She folded her arms and closed her eyes, allowing a chill to spread through her body. She felt weak and sick. Utterly sick. Sitting down at the table, she gently placed her head on an outstretched arm.

The sound of rushing water startled her some time later. She went to the doorway that led to the patio and saw the man carefully replacing a panel on the side of the tub, wiping away a streak of grease he'd left. The water rose quickly, swirling and frothing like the wild whirlpools they'd seen in Scotland the year before. ‘It’s funny but I’ve never actually been in that tub. Four years it’s been there and I’ve never hopped in … only Alistair and the boys.’ She wasn’t sure if he’d heard her.

She suddenly had visions of the man’s family, bundled into an old lorry by armed thugs, blindfolded, taken away in the dead of night, never to be seen again. She leaned up against the door frame and tried to imagine how it must be for him to visit homes like hers, people who'd never suffered such atrocities, whose only worries were about the functioning of their daily comforts.

‘I didn't even ask your name,’ she said quietly. ‘I didn't even ask your new baby's name.’

‘Oh, I nearly finish, Mrs Carway. Bubbles good now.’

‘My name’s Elizabeth. I feel awful about before, when you were talking about your family. I was in a world of my own. It must have seemed very selfish.’

‘No, I'm sorry. My baby not make you happy news. I am just man for repair.’

She leaned forward and swallowed, desperate not to let the moment pass. ‘I really do want to hear about your baby, about your family, about your thoughts on us and ...’

He frowned, tilting his head to the side. ‘You have good bubbles now. No more broken bubbles. Pump not good. Not leaves. Just bad pumping.’

‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about the bubbles now. They seem so very low now in the wider scheme of things. Would you like a cup of tea? You could even test the tub if you wanted. Have you ever been in one? You could even bring your wife and new baby over for a spa.’ She felt herself stiffen, standing up straighter. Her face felt flushed but her body seemed cold.

‘Thank you, Mrs Carway, but I meet wife in hospital park. Six o’clock.’

‘Oh. Yes. Of course.’ She pictured the man laughing and walking with his wife and baby through a gorgeous park, determined to put their past horror behind them.

She felt hopeless watching him leave, with an acute sense of bereavement at not having heard his story, about the country he’d come from, about the family he’d lost. She turned and looked down her long, vast hallway, listening to the rush of bubbles from the patio. She sobbed uncontrollably, putting her hands up over her eyes.



© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.

25 comments:

Emre said...

A nice blog like mine:).How about link exchange?Here is my address www.phototerm.blogspot.com

Shameless said...

Emre, your photos make me want to go to Istanbul. One day I will get there. It looks magical! :)

Minx said...

Oh, I just wanted to shake her, give her a slap!

I thought you handled the ending beautifully - it would have been so easy to rosey it all up. I like a bitter aftertaste.

Verilion said...

This really struck a chord. The blandness of her life compared to the striking harshness of his reality. Good story Seamus.

Susan Abraham said...

Gosh, Seamus, it is heartache leaving a comments here today. It is so difficult. I wrote you one & Blogger clean wiped it off.

I think I said how super it is that as writers we are able to show we care...and now I'll add...not blatantly but subtly with stories. And that it doesn't hurt to show and taste the pain of poverty.

You captured that message easily through stirring emotions that bounced off the paragraphs and blended smoothly with your imagery of water descriptions.

I also said I thought your line of She could also smell the bread.
a deep observation of the ordinary thing.

But I had a problem reading this line though...He eagerly came up two more steps, seemingly keen to bring himself to her level.

Gorgous pic. Did you shoot it? :-)

Susan Abraham said...

Oops...
grammar error,
meant to say,
it is a heartache leaving comments...and not written as above.

Shameless said...

Minx,
Yes, I wanted you to shake her and yell at her! :) Good. Glad you liked the ending.

V,
Thanks for your feedback. I really enjoyed putting this together.

Susan,
It's a right pain when our posts get lost after writing screeds and screeds. Thanks for having a second go though. Your comments are always appreciated. The pic is the result of playing around with my new fancy photo programme .. I took a simple shot of some bubbles and then blew it up, zooming in on just a portion, and then added colour. I'm going mad with transforming images now.

Susan Abraham said...

I took a simple shot of some bubbles

Oh Seamus...you call that dreamy shot simple? Now, I'm properly jealous all over again. tee-hee!

Cristina said...

Thanks for the story!
Made me subscribe to this blog

L.M.Noonan said...

Ah Shameless, I wondered where this story was going and then...bam. I felt really guilty afterwards because there have been many times when the door to a complete stranger's life opens the tiniest bit and I haven't noticed until I seen it slam shut again. I castigate myself for days afterwards like I suppose Mrs Carway. Thankyou for the story

Shameless said...

Cristina,
Welcome! I'm glad you have subscribed and I look forward to sharing some more writing with you. You are always welcome to stop by! :)

LMN,
Yes, those moments often come and go for many people I think. Funny how we don't always see the universal stuff we have in common, often thinking we're so different to the next one. I believe we have more things in common than we like to admit! :)

Shameless said...

Oh, Susan, thank you, your message has just alerted me to an oversight with the story ... I meant to delete the word "eagerly" in the passage you cited, having added "keen" a bit further along. It is gone now, so thank you. :)

goodthomas said...

Shameless, this is very nice, really nice work.

This was a great length and there was great depth to each character. It is easy to identify with both and actually have sympanthy for each character as well. And though it was ends with a bit of a twist, it is very logical, very realistic.

Meloney Lemon said...

I felt sorry for her. She is obviously lonely. Absent sons that have their own plans..and she did redeem herself.

Shameless said...

GT,
Thanks for your feedback. Yes, I was hoping that the reader would actually have sympathy for both the characters. I'm glad it spoke to you.

Meloney,
Yes, we can probably all relate to Elizabeth! :) And life lessons come in such unexpected moments ! :)

Susan Abraham said...

Ahh...
adverb..adverb...
naughty! naughty!
*grin*

John said...

This really is a very striking story, Seamus. The dissection of her paralysis and isolation might make a good novel. Showing her breaking out of it into an authentic life would be the revelation of a small miracle. Still, nice story, deftly told.

The Moon Topples said...

Shameless: I have nothing to add except to say that I really liked this story.

Shameless said...

John,
Thanks. Yes, there are many possibilities with this kind of set up. I have a few scenarios like this that I must bring to life! :)

Maht,
Thank you. It's a bit longer than the other short stories, but a good length to be able to squeeze out the essentials.

mutleythedog said...

I liked it - I worked with war victims through the 1990s . Invisible people. Its shorter than my short stories by the way.

Shameless said...

Thanks Mutley,
Welcome! :) And I'm glad you liked the story. This is an area of great interest for me. I've seen you popping up on other sites I visit ... I look forward to checking out your site! :) I'm in Ireland at the moment but will check it out on my return.

Atyllah said...

Wow, great story Shameless and a potent ending.

mutleythedog said...

I shouldn't if I were you - or if you value your sanity....

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