Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Vol. II, Issue 39

Check out fiction from previous Snake-Oiler Kevlin Henney, and poetry from newbie Esther de Vries below.


Monday – Fiction

Wednesday – Poetry

  • skin by Esther de Vries

 

Keep your eyes peeled for more coming this week!

The Woodcutter’s Stepdaughter

“Your hair is the break of day, the beauty of autumn.”

These might once have been her mother’s words, spoken as she brushed Scarlet’s hair each morning. With patience and love she would look into the eyes of her only daughter, her only child, her only family. Gazing at Scarlet she would look into the past. She would talk about Scarlet’s Papa, how she missed him, how they were when they were young, so free, so in love.

“Your skin is the falling of snow, but with the warmth of spring.”

These were words of love, but not her mother’s. That childhood was past. Her mother’s kindness was buried in bitterness and time and a marriage to the brawling Bûcheron, a man Scarlet was forced to call Father but could never call Papa.

“Your eyes reflect a summer’s sky with a sparkle from the North Star.”

These words of love were born of passion, the love of a lover, Benjamin, her dearest B’jou.

“They are like wolves. His kith and kin are low-born forest dwellers, little more than foragers. You should be done with him. The young men of the village are finer and would court you.”

These… these were her mother’s words, the jealous contradictions of the woodcutter’s beaten wife.

“I take it you have seen the ‘wolf’.”

Her grandmother greeted her at the door, smiling, knowing. Holding out freshly picked flowers, Scarlet blushed. Her late morning visits on market days had become lunchtime visits. Against her mother’s will, Scarlet would take the route through the woods to see her Benjamin, to stray from the path with her B’jou, before taking bread and fruit to her grandmother’s cottage.

“Why your mother hates him so, calling him such feral names, I do not know. Such strong hands, such a beautiful voice, such lovely big eyes. A kind and gentle man. Not like that drunken, hateful husband of hers. With my son she was carefree and beautiful; together they were such a couple. That Bûcheron brings out the worst in her. He has made her mean and cowering.”

That night her grandmother’s words fell in anger from Scarlet’s lips.

“Spoilt child! This wolf’s lechery and your grandmother’s doting affection have poisoned you against us!”

Her mother hit Scarlet, hit her and wept, hit her to protect her, hit her to prevent the woodcutter doing the same. He went to grab Scarlet by the hair, he moved to strike her, but looking her in the eye, he spat and left, disappearing into a darker night to drink.

He returned in the morning bringing with him a twofold tale of sorrow. Scarlet collapsed and cried, but through her grief her anger rose, rose and gave her strength to shout at him, to strike him, to tear into his lies with a passion born of love. He did not strike back. He had no need. The story, a story, was around the village. It was said, so they said, that Scarlet’s lover, her Benjamin, her dearest B’jou, had slain her grandmother as she slept; that the woodcutter had happened upon the cottage and tracked him down, closing the circle with his axe.

* * * * *

Kevlin Henney writes shorts and flashes and drabbles of fiction and articles and books on software development. His fiction has appeared online and on tree with Litro, New Scientist, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-oil Cure, Word Gumbo, Fiction365, Every Day Fiction, The Fabulist and FlashStories.net, and has been included in the Jawbreakers and Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories anthologies. He is winner of the 2012 Oxford Flash Slam. He lives in Bristol, UK.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Two Weeks in Spain

This story was originally published on July 16, 2011. The author nominated it for Snake-Oil Cure’s First Short Story Contest.

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erence, what’s on your mind? You seem a little preoccupied.”

“Nothing.” Everything. Your mother! “I was just running through everything in my head, making sure we’d left nothing behind or forgotten to do anything. Don’t want any upsets for our fortnight away.”

Terence hoped the reassuring smile he offered Jenette was both reassuring and a smile. He glanced at the time.

Another hour and a half.

The motorway. At least in name. The long series of roadworks strung together with brief stretches of road served a slow route to the airport. Terence had, of course, accounted for the extra time it would take. But he found little comfort in his planning. The contingency gave him longer to mull and stew.

He did not consider himself awkward or shy, just particular. Particular about social situations and particularly about physical contact. Intimacy wasn’t public and it didn’t come in degrees.

They crawled past traffic cones and through contraflows. Jenette leafed through a holiday guide. Janie slept in the back in her car seat. Scenarios and evasive manoeuvres raced through Terence’s mind. Roadworks only gave him more time at the wheel to contemplate the possibility of having to hug — and perhaps kiss — his mother-in-law goodbye at the airport.

Read more of “Two Weeks in Spain”

Exposure № 034: Skydivers

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ou wake. You wonder at the gimps in the sky, strung out, beads on wire. You wonder at the pounding in your head. You wonder, as you come to, sit up, look around, at the dead urban space around you and the lightness of your wallet. It’s morning, sunrise, you’ve spent the night in the company of concrete, beneath an overpass, near trains. You didn’t reach the station.

You are in the city of peace. It is spring. Your head holds the rhythm of a good night out. Your wallet agrees. Oslo sentralstasjon is a few hundred metres away. Your concrete bower was a place to stop for no more than a moment as your thoughts swam in tiredness and alcohol. One moment led to another led to slumping led to slumber. Calls were missed, the vibration of your phone soothing you in your sleep.

You stand. It’s time to go. Somewhere there is breakfast, with aspirin and friends. You thank the divers for watching over you, with a promise to return in more sober moments. The station is that way.

Two Weeks in Spain


erence, what’s on your mind? You seem a little preoccupied.”

“Nothing.” Everything. Your mother! “I was just running through everything in my head, making sure we’d left nothing behind or forgotten to do anything. Don’t want any upsets for our fortnight away.”

Terence hoped the reassuring smile he offered Jenette was both reassuring and a smile. He glanced at the time.

Another hour and a half.

The motorway. At least in name. The long series of roadworks strung together with brief stretches of road served a slow route to the airport. Terence had, of course, accounted for the extra time it would take. But he found little comfort in his planning. The contingency gave him longer to mull and stew.

He did not consider himself awkward or shy, just particular. Particular about social situations and particularly about physical contact. Intimacy wasn’t public and it didn’t come in degrees.

They crawled past traffic cones and through contraflows. Jenette leafed through a holiday guide. Janie slept in the back in her car seat. Scenarios and evasive manoeuvres raced through Terence’s mind. Roadworks only gave him more time at the wheel to contemplate the possibility of having to hug — and perhaps kiss — his mother-in-law goodbye at the airport.

Joan was half French. She hadn’t grown up in France. She didn’t have any trace of a French accent. She didn’t seem particularly French. She was, nonetheless, half French. No matter how peripheral, all factors had to be considered relevant: as well as a hug she might expect a kiss on each cheek.

Or is it three kisses? Right, left, right again? Or is it left, right, left again? Can’t remember. And if it is two, is it right then left or left then right? Or is she English about this, settling for just one? In which case, which side? Starting on her right doesn’t feel quite right… but then again, is that because I’m left handed? Or in spite of it? Contact with the cheek or air kisses? Who leads…?

His father-in-law was a no-nonsense sort of person. Terence liked him because he knew precisely where he stood. And precisely how he left. First across the threshold, framed in the doorway, Terence would bid Joan a verbal farewell as he offered John a firm but brief handshake. Following an exchange of pleasantries about the motorway, the weather or work, Terence would retreat to a safe distance outside, exuding departure while Janie hugged her grandmother goodbye. He would seem suitably parental, taking Janie to the car, fussing over her car seat, arranging her entourage of teddies, toys and snacks. This simple, effective and practised exit strategy ensured Terence could be in the car waiting for Jenette under the guise of preparedness. And he didn’t have to hug, kiss or otherwise physically engage Joan.

When his in-laws visited, Terence would use John as a human shield, standing in the hallway shaking hands and discussing matters of inconsequence while Janie, Jenette and Joan huddled and cuddled their farewells by the door.

Terence had sidestepped the mechanics of a parting embrace for years.

The pride he had taken in his own creativity and execution was, today, all for nothing. Joan was seeing the three of them off at the airport without John.

Every possibility had to be imagined, every contingency considered, every risk mitigated. Take, for example, Joan’s height: Terence’s mother-in-law was petite. If he had to kiss her he must remember not to give her the fatherly peck on the forehead he gave Janie.

Miles passed. Anxiety did not. Arrival, parking the car, securing a baggage trolley and the general busyness of the terminal granted Terence a temporary stay of fixation.

Joan had not been delayed. She was waiting for them exactly as planned. She gave her daughter a hug, mouthing Terence an over-shoulder hello, before taking her granddaughter’s hand. Terence assumed a rearguard behind the protection of the baggage trolley as they drifted, chatting, through the aisles and isles of holidaymakers, business travellers and farewell bidders.

Terence found sanctuary in the order of the check-in queue, disturbed only by the odd uninvited thought.

Yes, just these three suitcases to check in…. Yes, I did pack them myself…. No, I haven’t been given anything to take on board…. No, I definitely have no issues with giving my mother-in-law a farewell hug. None. None at all.

Downsized to the buckler of his hand baggage, the surrender of suitcases left Terence exposed. Taking offence to be the best defence, he suggested they get a coffee before going through to departures.

As they approached a free table Terence slowed to let Joan take the first seat, and then quickly secured the place opposite with his shoulder bag. He busied himself with the logistics of the order before joining the volley of chatter. The table offered some peace of mind and a sturdy shield; drinking a diuretic upper less so.

It was time.

They stood up. Joan knelt down and gave Janie a big hug. She straightened herself and turned towards Terence.

OK, she’s definitely expecting something… maybe only a hug.

“Come here, Terry. How about a goodbye kiss?”

Oh… K…. OK. It’s OK. It’s not a problem. I can do this and then it’s done and we can go through to departures and we can catch our flight and spend two weeks in Spain and don’t kiss her on the forehead.

Hesitantly, he bent down towards her and —

Oh no! Oh God!! Oh shit!!!

— the affection brought forth, spontaneous and automatic, was not the fatherly touch Terence had sought to avoid. His left hand cupped then squeezed her breast. By the time he became fully aware of what was happening, reflex was brushing his lips against hers. Shock realisation panicked to clumsy intervention. He veered awkwardly and upwardly to his right, his lips grazing her cheek then her ear, his chest against hers. Overbalancing, his right arm pulled her closer to him.

NO, NO, NO! How did that happen?! Shitshitshit!!!

Fumbling, stumbling, he withdrew. Surprised, tousled, Joan wore a tilted smile with a raised eyebrow.

“ByeMrsPatayseeyouinacoupleofmonths!”

Lurching off to the security of the queue, the metal detector and departures, he grabbed hand baggage and Janie by the hand. Jenette kissed her mother goodbye and joined them a long minute later.

Divorce? Too messy. Separation? No, would still cause problems for Janie. Besides, I still love Jenette. And we should be together… if she’ll forgive me. Emigrate? Keeps the family together while putting some distance between us and Joan. Perhaps we shouldn’t bother with the return flight? Strike while the iron is hot! But what about if she comes to stay? She will come to stay. And she will stay that much longer to make the journey worthwhile. Perhaps I could arrange to be away when she visits? Maybe if we moved somewhere remote or somewhere Joan doesn’t like? She likes Spain, but I think she once said she had no wish to visit Iceland… or was it Indonesia? Wherever, the question of extended visits — or any visits — would simply unask itself—

“She’s rather flattered, you know. I think you made Mum’s day.”

Two weeks of holiday. Fourteen days to put all this out of his mind. Over three hundred hours and a thousand miles between him, Joan and the incident.

Yes, I think that should be OK. Then fly back, go home, return to work. Return to normal. Yes, everything will be OK. Good…. Yes…. Good.

“By the way, Mum says she’ll meet us in arrivals when we fly back.”

Two weeks.

100 Words: Something to Eat

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ed pesto, green pesto, black olive tapenade. Filigree sauce trails spiralled in from the edge, surrounding three halved cherry tomatoes standing guard around three razor slices of mozzarella di buffalla. Across the plate was a scatter of ground pepper, a rumour of truffle oil. Elegant. Suggestive. Insubstantial. Wilbur tried to focus on his starter. “That’ll be four fifty.” Three courses and as many calories later Wilbur found himself across the road. This was worth paying for. Orders of magnitude separated the guilt-drenched doner kebab now in his hands from the drawn-out bemuse bouche skulking in a corner of his stomach.

by Kevlin Henney