Sunstroke – Translation of Quiroga story La Insolacion

The puppy, Old, went out the door and crossed the patio with an upright, lazy step. He paused at the boundary of the pasture, craned his neck in the direction of the mountain, half-closed his eyes, and sat quietly. He looked at the monotonous Chaco plain with its alternating mountains and fields, fields and mountains, colourless except for the creaminess of the pasture and the blackness of the mountains. The view enclosed the farm to a distance of 200 metres on three sides. Toward the east the field broadened into a clearing marked nevertheless by the inescapable shady line farther on.

At the early hour, the confines, washed in blinding light at midday, possessed an air of repose. There was not a cloud or a breath of wind. Beneath the silver sky, the fields exuded the freshness of a tonic that brought to the pensive soul, aside from the certainty of another day of drought, dreams of better-paid work.

Milk, the father of the puppy, crossed the patio in his turn and with a lazy moan of well-being sat beside Old. Because there were no flies both remained unmoving.

“It’s a fresh morning,” observed Old, gazing at the edge of the mountain.

Milk followed the puppy’s gaze and looked fixedly, blinking with absent-mindedness. “There are two falcons in that tree,” he said after a moment.

They turned their indifferent gazes on a passing ox and went on looking at things out of pure habit.

Meanwhile the eastern sky commenced glowing in a fan shaped blaze of purple and the horizon lost its early morning precision. Milk crossed his front paws and felt a slight pain. He looked at his toes without moving them, deciding finally to sniff them. He had removed a flea the day before. In memory of what he had suffered he licked the full expanse of the toe.

“I can’t walk,” he exclaimed at last. Old did not understand what he was referring to. Milk added: “There are a lot of fleas.’

This time the puppy understood and after a long pause responded in like manner: “There are a lot of fleas.”

One by one they quietened down again, convinced.

The sun rose and in the first blaze of light the mountain turkeys cried out with the tumultuous trumpeting of a musical instrument. The dogs, golden in the oblique sun, half-opened their eyes, further enhancing the sweetness of their lives in a blessed blinking. Their friends arrived one by one: Dick, the favoured silent one; Prince, whose teeth showed behind his upper lip, once split by a coati; and Isondú, an indigenous name. The five fox terriers spread out on the ground, deadened by their lives of ease, and slept.

After an hour they raised their heads. They sensed the footsteps of their owner on the opposite side of the large two-level ranch, the lower level of which was made of mud, the upper of wood, with corridors and banisters on the stairs fit for a villa. The owner stopped for a moment at the corner and looked at the sun, already high. A solitary night of whiskey drinking, a night more prolonged than usual, showed in his dead gaze and protuberant lower lip.

While he washed, the dogs approached and smelled his boots, lazily wagging their tails. Like trained wild animals, dogs can sense even the least indication of drunkenness in their masters. They slowly removed themselves and lay back down in the sun until the increasing warmth drove them into the shade.

The day continued precisely as those of the entire month had done: dry, clear, and with fourteen hours of burning sunshine that maintained the melting cycle and that in an instant scorched the damp earth, leaving it encrusted with white. Mr. Jones went to the farm, examined the work of the day before, and returned to the ranch. He did nothing that whole morning. He ate lunch and then went up to take a siesta.

Despite the heat and because the cotton was not yet free of weeds, the farmhands returned to work at two in the afternoon. After them followed the dogs, who had taken a liking to the cultivating process the previous winter when they learned how to fight the falcons for the white worms the plough brought to the surface. Each of the dogs waited by a cotton plant, panting along with the dull blows of the hoe.

In the meantime the heat intensified. In the silent landscape the dazzling sun vibrated the air on all sides, distorting the view. The turned over earth exuded an oven-like steam that the farmhands coped with as best they could, wrapped in flowing scarves up to their ears, as their silent work continued. The dogs changed their location every so often, determined to find cooler patches of shade. They lay down lengthwise until fatigue brought them on to their back paws, a position that enabled them to breath better.

A bleak plateau that had never been ploughed shimmered into view before them. There, the puppy suddenly saw Mr. Jones sitting on a trunk gazing fixedly at him. Old got to his paws, wagging his tail. The other dogs rose too, their hair bristling.

“It’s the owner!” exclaimed the puppy, surprised by the attitude of the others.

“No, no it’s not him,” replied Dick.

The four older dogs growled dully, without shifting their eyes from Mr. Jones, who continued to sit unmoving, looking at them. Incredulous, the puppy started approaching but Prince bared his teeth:

“It’s not him, it’s Death.”

The puppy’s hair bristled and he rejoined the group.

“Is the owner dead?” he asked, anxiously.

The others, without responding to the question, broke into furious, frightened barking. But Mr. Jones had already vanished in the undulating air.

On hearing the barks, the farmhands raised their eyes and turned their heads to see if a horse had entered the farm. Unable to distinguish anything, they bent over again.

The fox terriers made their way back to the trail leading to the ranch. The puppy, frightened still, led the pack and covered the ground with short, nervous steps, aware from the experience of his friends that when something’s going to die the signs appear beforehand.

“And how do you know it wasn’t the patron himself that we saw?”

“Because it wasn’t him,” they responded, peevishly.

After Death would come a new master, misery, and kicks! They passed the remainder of the afternoon at the side of their owner, sombre and alert. At the slightest noise, without even being sure of the direction it came from, they growled. Mr. Jones felt at ease in the company of his anxious guardians.

Finally, the sun sank behind the black palm tree by the stream and in the calm of the silvery night the dogs positioned themselves around the ranch while on the upper level Mr. Jones recommenced drinking. At midnight they heard his steps and then the double sound of his boots tossed upon the floorboards. The light went out. The dogs felt closer then than ever to the reality of a change of master and alone, outside the sleeping house, commenced whimpering. They whimpered in a chorus, releasing their dry, convulsive sobs as if they were chewing, in a grief-stricken howl that Prince’s hunting voice sustained while the others sobbed again and again. The puppy could only bark. The night wore on and the four older dogs, in a group beneath the moonlight, their snouts extended and swollen with their moans – snouts so well-fed and caressed by the master they were going to lose – continued whimpering their domestic misery.

The following morning Mr. Jones himself went and got the mules ready for ploughing, working until nine o’clock. He wasn’t satisfied though. Besides the fact that the earth had never been well ploughed, the blades of the hoe lacked an edge and with the rapid movement of the mules it jumped out of the ground. He sharpened the blades. But a screw that he had already noticed was bad when he bought the machine broke when he tried to put everything back together. He asked one of the farmhands to go to the nearest mill, recommending that he take care of the horse, a good animal but one that had seen a great deal of sun. He raised his head to look at the fluctuating sun of midday and insisted that he not gallop the horse for even a moment. Then he ate breakfast and went upstairs. The dogs, which had not left their owner’s side that morning, remained in the shade below.

The siesta hour hung heavy, weighed down with light and silence. The surrounding area had become misty with the intense heat. Around the ranch, the white earth of the courtyard, dazzling beneath the heavy sunlight, appeared deformed into a tremulous boiling that made the fox terriers’ eyes heavy with sleep.

“It hasn’t returned,” said Milk.

Hearing the word ‘returned’, Old’s ears rose with alacrity. Incited by what the word evoked, the puppy rose and barked at that. In a moment he quietened down and, together with his friends, began defending himself against flies.

“It hasn’t come again,” added Isondú.

“There was a lizard beneath the stump,” Prince recalled for the first time.

A hen, its beak open and its wings spread out, crossed the incandescent courtyard, trotting with heavy step in the heat. Prince lazily followed it with his eyes and then jumped.

“Here it comes again,” he cried.

The horse the farmhand had taken entered the courtyard from the north without its rider. The dogs arched upon their paws and barked with cautious fury as Death drew nearer. The horse walked with its head lowered, apparently unsure which route to follow. Passing in front of the farm it took several steps in the direction of the well, slowly disappearing in the harsh light.

Mr. Jones came downstairs. He had not slept. As he prepared to continue assembling the hoe, the farmhand arrived unexpectedly. Despite the order given, he must have galloped to return so quickly. Unfastened, its mission completed, the poor horse, whose flanks bore the marks of countless beatings with the whip, shook and lowered its head and collapsed on its side. Mr. Jones sent the farmhand, still carrying the whip, away; he would fire him if he had to keep listening to him apologising like a Jesuit.

But the dogs were content. Death had looked for their owner but satisfied itself with the horse. They felt happy, free of worries, and were preparing to follow the hand to the farm when they heard Mr. Jones in the distance, shouting out for the screw to be brought to him. But there was no screw. The store was closed; the manager was sleeping, etc. Mr. Jones, without replying, removed the casing and went off himself in search of the part. He stood up to the sun like one of the farmhands and the walk did wonders for his bad temper.

The dogs left with him but sought the shade of the first carob tree they sighted; it was too hot. From there they watched the owner move away on steady feet, frowning and observant. But fear of solitude overcame them and with heavy step they followed on after him.

Mr. Jones obtained the screw and returned. To shorten the distance and avoid the dusty bend of the road, he followed a straight line to his farm. He arrived at a stream and penetrated the straw field, the flooded Saladito River straw field, which has followed a cycle of growth, drying out, and new growth since straw came into existence in the world, without once having been destroyed by fire. The bent brushes formed a vault at chest level and transformed themselves into solid blocks. The task of crossing it, difficult enough at a cool hour, was very hard at this time of day. However, Mr. Jones succeeded, waving his arms between the cracking, dusty crescents of straw as he made his way through the mud, suffocating from fatigue and acrid nitrous vapours.

He got through finally and stopped at the boundary. But it was impossible to remain still in this sun and feeling so tired. He went on again. The heat, which had increased without let-up for three days, now became enjoined with the suffocating effect of time corrupted. The sky was white and there was not a breath of wind. The shortage of air was such that it was hard to breathe properly.

Mr. Jones became convinced that he had passed the limit of his resistance. He felt the throbbing of his carotid artery in his ears and sensed that he was floating in the air as if the skull inside his head was being thrust upward. He became dizzy looking at the grass. He resumed walking so as to remove that feeling once and for all … and soon came to his senses and found himself in a different place; he had gone half a block without noticing anything. He looked behind him and experienced another wave of dizziness.

Meanwhile the dogs followed after him, trotting with their tongues hanging out. Now and again, suffocating, they paused in the shade of an espartillo plant; they sat and quickened their rate of panting but went back out into the tortuous sun. As soon as they came near the house, they trotted faster.

It was just then that Old, who went ahead of the others, noticed Mr. Jones behind the farm’s wire fence. He was dressed in white and walking toward them. The puppy, suddenly remembering, turned to his owner and confronted him.

“Death, Death!” he cried.

The others had seen him too and barked, their hair bristling. They watched Mr. Jones go though the wire fence and for an instant believed he was going to take the wrong direction. But after proceeding five metres he stopped, looked at the group with his heavenly eyes, and went on.

“May the owner not step so lightly!” exclaimed Prince.

“He’s going to run into him!” they all cried.

In effect, the other had advanced after a moment’s hesitation, but not right above them, like before, but in an oblique line that appeared wrong but led right to Mr. Jones. The dogs understood that everything was over because their owner continued walking with an even step, like an automaton, without noticing anything. The other arrived. The dogs lowered their tails and ran from the side, howling. A second passed and what resulted from the encounter was that Mr. Jones spun around and collapsed.

The farmhands saw him fall and carried him with haste to the ranch. But all the water did no good; he died without coming to. Mr. Moore, his brother, arrived from Buenos Aires and spent an hour at the farm. He needed just four days to settle everything, returning at once to the south. The Indians shared responsibility for the dogs, which lived from then on thin and itching all over. Bearing a secret hunger, they went every night to steal ears of corn from other people’s farms.

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Crisis (short story)

Link to my short story Crisis, now on Diverse Voices Quarterly

Click on ‘Current Issue’ to read.

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Modern Love with Variation

My latest published story Modern Love with Variation can now be read at Go to the site and click on ‘current issue’.

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Ennui in a Nation with its Back to the Wall – two films by Paolo Sorrentino

As different on a narrative and other levels as they are, two of Paolo Sorrentino’s most well-known films, his Academy Award winning (for Best Foreign Language Picture) The Great Beauty (2013) and Il Divo (2008) comprise a complementary vision. Early in the first film 65-year-old Jeb Gambardella is seen living it up in style at a party held to commemorate his birthday. He is no stranger to this life, having embraced it since his arrival in Rome as a young man. He made up his mind then, we are told, to out bon vivant the best of Rome high society, to make or break parties according to his whim.

Were there a measure of world weariness in such a free wheeling, self-indulgent man it would hardly be surprising given the years that have passed. Thoughts and remembrances of what he has forsaken in life – most notably his writing ambitions and a lost love – compound Jeb’s ennui. The early promise he showed as a novelist has never been realised. He bankrolls his lavish lifestyle with cultural critiques for a magazine run by his friend and foil the dwarf Dadina.

But he is a man capable of genuine feeling. His sorrow is heartfelt when he learns of the death of the one who ought by rights to have been the love of his life. Further salt is rubbed in the wound on hearing, from her distraught widowed husband, that the deceased never stopped considering him her true love though she went on to wed another.

Death is pervasive throughout The Great Beauty. The film commences with the sudden death of a camera toting Japanese tourist. The maudlin son of one of Jeb’s closest friends meets an inevitable early end. The ageing stripper Ramona, a woman with whom he has a short-term affair, also dies in the course of the story. As to why Jeb watched his potential fade to nothing … he was, he says, searching for a beauty he never found. Ironically enough beauty surrounds him in the Eternal City though living there entails putting up with an existence in ‘provincial, shitty Italy.’ This is a pressing contradiction that blinds him to what might otherwise be seen.

Huge disappointment, with Rome, with Italy, informs many of the characters in the film. Jeb’s loyal friend Romano returns to his home town fed up. Another of his circle, the oft-published but opportunist Stefania, tries to put on a brave face. But she has little success. Jeb and others see through her and relish reminding her of latent inconsistencies in her life and compromised art.

The capital city and country depicted here is not far removed in time from the earlier incarnation focussed upon in the director’s Il Divo (The Divine). The film is based on the life of the enigmatic 7-time prime minister of Italy Guilio Andreotti, a political leader notorious for alleged ties to the Mafia. The narrative deals with his seventh election to the post, his failed bid for the presidency through to the Tangentopoli bribe scandal and his 1995 trial. Andreotti is implicated in the murders of journalists, bankers, police and his one-time colleague Aldo Moro, the former prime minister kidnapped by the Red Brigade in 1978 and executed after 55 days in captivity. It is a bloody legacy but Andreotti’s conviction is ultimately overturned.

The cynical derision toward Italy on display in The Great Beauty is not overtly politically motivated. But it is hard to divorce it from the tumultuous events that have scorched the land in the decades since the ignominious World War Two defeat. Jeb’s ‘who could bother to care less about anything’ attitude is more easily understood when one considers the broader context. Just as out of Guilio Andreotti arose the corrupt Silvio Berlusconi, the failed writer and his cohorts are the logical offspring of a nation where impunity has been allowed to run riot at the highest levels of government.

At least until he begins to show signs of a sort of coming to terms, Jeb’s hands are as tied as Andreotti’s, whose principal justification for his alleged condoning of murder and other misdeeds resides in the vagaries incumbent on high office. In their relentless quests for truth and nothing but, Moro and kindred were ingenuous, asserts the 7-time prime minister. A lasting, greater good, stability in a fractious nation, cannot be achieved without bloodshed.

Paolo Sorrentino is blessed with an astute cinematic eye and raises important issues in both films. They can be viewed as completely separate works and enjoyed in their own right. But taken together each helps to illuminate and add depth to the other. It is hard to imagine The Great Beauty without the equally accomplished, eye opening Il Divo.

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A ‘print shop’ in Da Nang

In quest of an outlet to print a couple of documents stored for safe keeping on a 16 GB flash drive, I was advised to make my way to a certain street in the neighbourhood.

“You will find a print shop there,” my friend Kimmy told me.

Off I went looking for the place. I proceeded up the road she indicated and made a left on to Nguyen Cong Tru Street. I had walked the length of this street since coming to town approximately three weeks earlier but had no recollection of having passed a print shop along this stretch. It’s just a few doors down, my friend said.

I looked carefully as I walked east. I passed the doors of residences and businesses but failed to locate the print shop Kimmy had assured me was there. I turned around when I could go no further east and retraced my steps. This time I was in luck. High on one of the walls, I saw the lettering Printing Business. This had to be place.

I made my through the open front doors and into a space more like the entrance of a private residence than a business as such. Undaunted, I fished my flash drive from the zipped pocket of the bag I was carrying and showed it to the man approaching me.

“Hello,” I said. “I’d like to copy a couple of things from this, if I can.”

Conversant in English, the middle-aged man indicated that his was not a ‘printing business’ like the one I was seeking. Rather, he was involved in offset printing. My need was not urgent by any means and I would have troubled him no more except he graciously ushered me inside.

“Sit down, please,” he said.

I slipped off my shoes and followed him, taking the seat he pointed out while he moved into one nearby. He was prepared to help me with my need after all, in a few moments. In the meantime he asked the young boy with him to pour and bring me a glass of water. The June heat being oppressive, I drank while I answered his questions about my stay in Vietnam. It was my fifth visit to the country, I said, but my first time in Da Nang.

“Where are you from?”


My genial host had some knowledge of my country. He spoke of the giant Australian enterprise BHP Billiton, the Anglo-Australian multinational mining, metals and petroleum company headquartered in the city of Melbourne. They had operated in Vietnam in the past, when he had worked in another business undertaking.

“They started in Broken Hill, a country town in New South Wales,” I told him. “In what we call the outback.”

The person we were waiting on, a young woman, appeared and led us over to a table upon which sat a laptop computer. She took my flash drive and inserted it in one of the USB ports. The list of documents, photographs and other items stored on the drive showed on the street. I pointed out the two I wanted copied and watched as the attached printer did its work.

“How much do I owe you for that?” I asked, turning to leave.


I thanked the three for their kindness and went on my way, thinking that I had rarely had such a pleasant trip to a print shop. Da Nang would continue standing out for the friendliness of many of the locals met during my six-week stay. Language could be a barrier but was rarely a great impediment when good will existed all round.

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Ebooks links to Inevitable

My just released novel Inevitable is now available in ebook format at the following. Enjoy!
·         Apple iBooks –
·         24symbols 
·         Scribd –
·         Tolino 
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Inevitable (Excerpt)

The following is the prologue and first chapter of my upcoming novel Inevitable, published by Black Rose Writing and to be released on June 23rd.


She was the apple of her mother’s eye. The epitome of the blonde, blue-eyed, squeaky clean all-American high school girl. Never in a million years would she have been so base or degenerate as to drink to excess or combine heavy drinking with hard drugs. She could be trusted wholeheartedly, even when not under the watchful gaze of her mother or in the company of other elders who frowned on such vulgar behaviour among the young.

Marianne Canny, backed to the hilt by the girl’s stepfather Vaughan and more so her grandfather Andy, grasped every opportunity that came her way to play the same card as the days passed and no definitive solution broke the mystery open. The means were considerable and originated as much from the print media as they did the old stalwart radio and the cocksure, noisy brat television.

Newspapers, magazines and book publishers did all in their power to milk the ‘guaranteed to be a winner’ missing pretty white woman syndrome. But television, with its immediate auditory-visual dissemination, trumped the competition. For their particular ends the TV networks were gifted with industrious Marianne, a woman who slaved many hours a day for a public relations firm in her home state of Mississippi.

She was as shrewd as the most battle-scarred politician at handling reporters and tricky questions and fanned the flames with her imaginings of dastardly deeds done to ‘my darling Gloria’ or ‘my beautiful baby’. She might have been awaiting this chance all her life. Additional mileage lay in the fact that the case provided a spin on the syndrome inasmuch as Gloria was a mere eighteen, an ingénue, a new graduate with her whole life ahead of her, as the cliché went. More than one lip biting television anchor alerted viewers of this in the immediate aftermath.

The cast supporting Marianne in her quest, an assortment of friends and family, endorsed the line. Gloria was an angel and had always been an angel. Anyone who suggested otherwise was no friend of theirs. They were as bad as the skunks on New Mendoza who had, without any doubt, done grievous harm to the girl.

Even for an extremely gullible audience, poisoned daily with misinformation or half-truths about news events, this must have been hard to stomach. Gloria began resembling a figure out of myth, far from the high school girl who, like her classmates, eagerly packed her bags in anticipation of a sojourn in the relatively distant Caribbean. But, unlike them, she met trouble before the five days ended.

The youngsters who travelled with her hardly ever featured in the news reports. When they did they verbalised not a word about the trip. As if a harness had been affixed, they utilised platitudes or hatched inconsequential anecdotes about the kind of classmate and friend Gloria had been in the months and years before the tragedy.

Watching the broadcasts from far away, a young man from the island, Vanburn Holding, was given to thinking. Rather than a fairy tale upbringing fit for a princess, might the missing girl have undergone something as tempestuous as his own formative years had been? The more he heard Marianne’s sound bites, in interviews short and long, the more he wondered about possible similarities between this girl with the silver spoon and himself, her seeming opposite.

One / Van and Hank

When a child has advanced to an age of any consequence, to have a virtual stranger suddenly dumped on him as the new dominant male in his life can be a hard ask. I was six-years-old, but I would go on to recall the manner of Hank Van Neal’s permanent entry into our lives like it happened the other day.

Dad had died and been buried in the island cemetery, located on a patch of high ground that on clear days offered a view of the South American coast in the near distance. Van Neal was among the mourners on the bright, hot day of the funeral. My father gave him work in the car rental business he owned and managed. Van Neal came to dinner frequently during the time. A childless man whose Dutch wife died within twenty-four months of their marrying, the invitations provided a panacea for his solitude.

I never suspected he would inveigle his way into our lives in the way he did and within such a short period. Only six weeks had passed since clods of earth were strewn upon the polished lid of my father’s coffin.

“Vanburn, this is your new dad-ee.”

Fresh home from school, I closed the front door behind me. Still befuddled by the untimely departure of one who in future I would remember only by dint of old photos and an ever-diminishing memory of me balanced upon his shoulders as we bicycled our way along a gravel laden stretch of road, the last thing in the world I wanted or needed then was a replacement.

Josie, my mother, stressed the word’s dual syllables until it exited her mouth sounding more like two words than one. Her background – she was born in the Deep South of the United States and lived there as a little girl until her mother and father, who was from the island, moved to New Mendoza to live – shone no more clearly than at such moments. When I saw Van Neal’s familiar face alarm bells went off.

I resented the affected way she stood dabbing her eyes with a lace handkerchief. Had she so readily, so soon, forgotten her late husband? I abhorred him on several counts – the fact that he’d brought her to such a state, his forwardness in having wrapped an arm tight about her then narrow waist, like she was his woman and had always been his woman, the creased jowls, the high forehead, the fair hair that crowned it combed straight up, and his phlegmy Dutch accent.

Self-assured to the point of arrogance. That was him, if I read the expression on his chops right. He resembled a man who had finally, after an excruciatingly prolonged period of waiting, gained the prize sought-after. Had those visits to the house for dinner been a pernicious setting of the scene?

“Hank’s going to be moving in and him and me will soon be marrying.” I looked from him to her and back again. “So you won’t have to be without a dad-ee.”

Again the stress on the two syllables. I loathed her accent that afternoon. I wished she’d left it behind in America. But her presumption was worse. At her bidding, I took Van Neal’s offered hand. As I did, he bent at the waist and brought his pug-like face close. His bright blue eyes drew level with mine.

Boldly, given his superiority in age and strength, I held his gaze. It was war on, but there was not even a remote chance of my surrendering the first round to this usurper. We stared at each other for up to a minute, each aware of the other’s rank animosity. I knew he locked mine away for safe keeping when his eyes momentarily hardened. On the count of one his more benign look was back, but the message had gotten through: I’ll whip you into shape, God be my witness. You’d better believe it, sonny.

“Don’t worry, Hank. He’ll come round.”

Van Neal glanced at his wife-to-be, taking in her positive spin on the no love lost situation. She didn’t know me well if she sincerely believed I would modify my attitude toward him. I didn’t so quickly forget. He unwound to his full height and brought the hand that had grasped mine unnecessarily hard to the top of my head. I became aware of uncomfortable pressure there, intensity that reiterated what the hand grip and fugitive flash in the eyes had conveyed loud and clear.

Josie often reprised the same line – Hank, you’re not to worry, he’ll come round – in the months ahead. In tense times, I would also overhear her say, Give him time, Hank. He misses his dad. I saw it as belated recognition that I’d had a genuine father. But bringing up the fact worked negatively on Van Neal. He interpreted it as a slur on his capacity, an implication that he didn’t fit in how they hoped. By nature he was quarrelsome, but at least two or three times in my hearing her his dad citations angered him.

Years later, when I had unrestricted time to think everything through, I drew the conclusion that but for my refusal to accept him the two of them might have stood a realistic chance of being happy together. Bridging the distance wouldn’t have cost me anything. I could’ve done that without necessarily embracing him as a father figure.

But potential in that area went right down the drain the day he nearly wrenched my right arm out of its socket. A journeyman from way back, or so he bragged to anyone who would listen, he liked being on the water. For several years before he moved to the island full-time, he appeared annually for three- to six-month stretches, the period coinciding with the bleakest winter and spring cold in the Netherlands. Sometimes spring over there could be as stark and drear as winter, he used to say.

When he wasn’t manning an office counter and attending to clients for my father or supplementing his income with odd jobs, he was to be found on the water, in a homemade skiff, a small sail boat or a single-engine speedboat. The speedboat featured a blue awning at the top, a handy add-on in a climate as hot and sunny as ours.

Rare were the days when the sun failed to shine in our little plot of paradise. We were the recipients of more than three hundred and twenty days of sunshine annually. The prevailing breeze blew out of the east. Its southerly bent tended more toward the north in the wet or hurricane season. That was one reason why the terms wet season and hurricane season were misnomers to us. An average annual rainfall rate of less than fifty inches put us in the dry, or arid, tropics range. Year in year out, some Antilles islands received drenchings to the tune of twenty, thirty or forty inches in a single storm let alone the whole season. Hurricanes never threatened us. Our position in the Caribbean ensured immunity from monster systems.

No matter how often I point blank refused to join Van Neal and her on a boat outing, Josie always asked if I wished to go along. She liked me to come along. This was in the period when she preserved hope that peace, of a sort, might be brokered. I did step into a boat with them a handful of times, but not once when it would’ve been just him and me.

When he paid the equivalent of 2000 American dollars for the speedboat, he berthed it at the marina, Nestor Bay Wharf. Early one Saturday morning, partway through a two-week spell of unbounded sunshine, Van Neal rose early and headed to the wharf. He got underway without incident but hit a mechanical problem a mile or so to the south, off Hawkings Beach. We’d lived inland of there a long time and so the area had a ring of familiarity. Josie and I spotted him when we arrived at the shore. He was marooned and fuming, a hundred yards up from the southern end of the beach.

He sighted us but made no acknowledgement. He went on spewing invective into his cell phone. I guess the target was the poor unfortunate who made a hash of repairing his precious possession. It was akin to a piece of junk anyway. The awning on top, functional though it may have been, made it look more ridiculous. I had no sympathy for him, yelling and screaming, treading back and forth like an imbecile at the water’s edge.

“Can I go back?” I asked my mother.

I knew she wouldn’t agree but I thought it worth a shot. I watched her watching him. We were about twenty yards away from him, awaiting his next move in the shade of some tall pines at the rear of the beach. She answered without giving up her scrutiny of him.

“No, you wait here with me.”

“I’ll take the bus,” I said, making another effort. “I’ll wait for you at Ronnie’s.”

Ronnie, a girl a few years younger than me, was the second daughter of our next door neighbour. Though this was happening less than in the past, it was to their house that I was sometimes sent to be ‘minded’ when Josie and Van Neal went out and I didn’t go along. I thought it a sensible out except for the prospective difficulty posed by the distance between the beach and home, six and a half miles.

Josie went on staring at this man roped in as a husband in a misguided bid to provide me a surrogate father. Her unease wasn’t just a figment of my imagination. And I believed the reason she did not okay my beating a retreat to Ronnie’s had nothing to do with the distance I would have to travel. I had, after all, reached the age where I could be trusted with things such as riding public transport alone. She never let me go, I thought, because I was, in a manner of speaking, her protection in a tense predicament. I would stand up for her if the worst came to the worst. She would stand up for me.

We left the pine canopy after he completed his call and waved us forward. It was incredible to see a simple gesture imbued with such anger and hostility. The hapless boat kept bobbing up and down in the shallows behind him. Neither Josie nor I were sure what he wanted us to do, whether to board in the hope he might be able to rectify the problem in a moment or what.

When I moved too close to the boat for comfort, both mine and his, he grabbed my right arm, pulled and slung me away. I felt the pain of a damaged ligament or muscle instantly. By some miracle nothing tore. Had I been seriously hurt Josie would have scratched his eyes out. Deferential as she was with him ninety percent of the time, he could cross an invisible line in his treatment of me.

He bided on the right side of that this time because everything was over and done with in a flash. My loud squeal was an automatic reaction, much like how anyone would respond to an assault of that kind unless they’re made of steel. Even the song and dance I performed on the beach, gripping my sore arm, lasted just seconds. I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing he had discomfited me badly. I quietened down, let go my arm and brushing past Josie thundered back to the shade. There I dallied a moment before turning on my heels in open resistance, determined to have no further part in this latest instalment of our twisted family drama.

My right arm served no useful purpose for days. I hid the fact from both of them, difficult as that was because it lolled by my side, an unhelpful appendage, for everyone to see. Attempts to do the standard daily tasks with it failed because I lacked the required freedom of movement. One evening at dinner, with Josie and Van Neal mid-conversation, I reached out with the afflicted arm, aiming to pick up a salt shaker. But I couldn’t extend it the required few inches until I brought my left hand over, grasped my right wrist and manoeuvred it the rest of the way. Josie reacted to the late corrective movement with a pitying look. Van Neal smirked. King of the castle. Well, I would show him one day and how I longed for time to speed by till the day was upon us.

He’ll come round. The boy’ll come round. I overheard Josie make such divinations less and less over time, as if she no longer believed the mantra herself. What I heard more often were his assertions to her. That boy’s not right or, less commonly, something’s not right with that boy. I never heard him theorise as to what precisely he believed to be not right with me. But he blazoned the claims in a particular tone, one that would have swayed even those partial to granting me some elbow room. If my mother, if anyone else, opened their eyes the obvious would be illuminated for them too: that an undiagnosed mental impairment was at play.

My arm righted itself eventually. No thanks to him. The natural elasticity of a twelve-year-old saved me from nothing more harrowing than several days obscure soreness. Much of the time I could forget it. I was hardly aware of any wound. The mental residua was another affair.


Were your dealings with your stepfather, Gloria, in any way similar? Was your experience with this man Vaughan like mine with Van Neal? Standing at your mother’s shoulder in interview after interview, he is the ‘yes man’, there to assure the world he is with Marianne by hook or by crook. But he’s unsuited to the role, uncomfortable. And what a gaffe he made when he acknowledged that you and he weren’t close.

Your mother bowed her head hearing that admission from her second husband. That wasn’t in the script. Nor his quip that you never took drugs. Before someone from the media scrum was astute enough to see the inconsistency and ask your stepdad how he could be sure of something like that if you and he weren’t close, Marianne called time. Enough harm had been done.

But no one in the family panicked. Your mother was a master of damage control. The hale and hearty if bumbling Vaughan began appearing live to air, or unscripted, much less after the first twenty-four hours. The lead male role would lodge in the safe hands of your no nonsense granddad Andy. Anything aired about your character henceforth aligned with the image of the blonde, blue-eyed maiden in the senior portrait.

You look so pretty in your senior photo. Lustrous, long blonde hair parted in the middle falls behind your shoulder on the left, over your shoulder and down to your nascent breast on the right. Your off-the-shoulder black dress becomes you, as do the white beads around your neck. Your skin is lightly tan. Most fetching are your eyes and smile, fixed directly on the camera. This is how everyone knows you now, Gloria. In the full blossom of youth. Not a hair out of place. But it’s not how I remember you.

Who were you really? Purchased prior to the publication date of June 23, 2016, the promo code:PREORDER2016 may be used to receive a 10% discount.

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