The Old Man and the Stars

I was looking back at my old LJ (here) and remembering the year of the 100 Rejections Project, when I was submitting stories regularly.  The first one accepted for publication was called The Old Man and the Stars, and it was first published by a now-defunct publication called Mixer Publishing.  Here it is again:

 

The Old Man and The Stars

Wendy Bradley

 

“Your name isn’t Jim,” she said.

She was human today; female, probably. Beige skin, china blue eyes and bright red hair, red the colour of strawberries. He remembered strawberries. That wasn’t right. Strawberries were red, not hair.

“Maybe not,” he said. “I could change, too. I’m an amiable guy.”

He thought about it for a moment. “Jim’s a good name. I could be a Jim.”

“Come back to bed,” she said sternly. “It’s cottage pie.”

That wasn’t right either. You don’t eat cottage pie in bed. Food goes on tables while people sit on chairs. Beds are for sleeping. And he wasn’t sleepy, he was almost certain.

He hadn’t killed her for a while, he thought, and there were bricks. In fact, now he looked, he seemed to be building a low wall on a dirt floor under a marmalade sky. The wall was three or four courses high, stretching in lazy curves with the lie of the land. He seemed to be adding a fifth course, round about knee height. He found there was a brick in his hand so he hit her with it, clean, smashing her skull like an egg. She lay awkwardly across the dirt floor on the other side of the wall like a broken doll.

“Really, Mr. Antrobus,” she said, “it’s time for some tea. And a biscuit, if you’re good.”

“Cottage pie first,” he said, “biscuits after.”

 

Today it was sand. Pale green, like ground glass, like walking on the remnants of a billion bottles of beer. He thought he remembered beer.

The ocean reminded him of beer, too. Straw-coloured, the colour of lager, the colour of piss. It rolled back and forth over the edges of the green glass beach making a sound like the hiss of the foam out of a bottle.

He thought she was a crab, but it might have been a lobster, scuttling alongside him, all claws.

“Come now, Mr. Antrobus,” she said. “This can’t go on for ever. Come inside. You must be cold. Have some hot beer and biscuits.”

“Nothing here is right,” he complained. He tried to stomp her but she was tricky, and he wasn’t wearing shoes. Barefoot in the head, he thought, but he couldn’t remember why.

“I’ll tell you what I DO remember. My name is Jim. And my surname isn’t Antrobus.”

“Oh Mr. Antrobus, you are so funny,” the lobster said. Or it might have been a crab. “Have some Bakewell tart.”

It was hopeless.

No, it wasn’t, he remembered. That was the point.

The sky above the bottle beach was bright and navy blue. He looked out onto the yellow ocean, but never thought to look up.

 

He was tied down on a bed with his feet in the air in stirrups. Green ceiling tiles looked down on him, the bubbles in the tiling making little smiley faces. He struggled against the stirrups, lifting his bottom off the bed and feeling the spikes beneath him as he squirmed, like lying on hairbrushes.

“Why are you doing this to me?” he said, pretty reasonably, he thought, under all the circumstances. She was wearing purple scrubs that brought out the fuchsia of her eyes, and her skin was the color of porcelain, Wedgwood blue. “I’m very fond of you, Mr. Antrobus,” she said, tightening the straps on his wrists.

“Please,” he said, “call me Jim.”

“Your name isn’t Jim. And you have to eat the rabbit.”

He was pretty sure he didn’t eat rabbit. But if he did, it was usually cooked first. And skinned. And dead.

“I only want to please you,” she said. “Tell me what you want.”

He tried to relax his muscles, let himself sink into the bristles. “I want a cup of tea,” he said carefully. “And a lemon meringue pie you eat with a knife and fork.”

It might have been the right answer. The bristles itched him, and the straps were gone. He used the fork to stab her in the throat. Her blood was purple too, he noticed.

“Mr. Antrobus!” she said crossly, “You haven’t touched your cake.”

 

His name was still Jim; that, he held on to, (although was his middle name really Tiberius?). He was stupid hungry and there wasn’t any tea.

He was back beneath the marmalade sky when he suddenly thought of the moon. When he glanced up, the world wavered, and she popped a champagne cork next to his ear that made him bleed, a little.

It was coming. Something. Something was coming. He held on to the skies. Marmalade or maple, neon or navy, day or night.

She meant him no harm. He was almost certain of it. But he was so hungry.

He steeled himself.

(“Mr. Antrobus. No,” she said faintly in his ear.)

He looked up, finally, through the casket window to the hanging stars.

 

 

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