The Storm

Published in “Opening Boundaries: Toward Finnish Heterolinational Literatures” (2019)

“Stay awake and hold on!” she cried as the storm rolled in and covered everything in my eyes.
I couldn’t hold on. I had no worthy thought nor aspiration for breath. It was a whirling freedom that called me through into the dark and shuddering night. It was liberation. The kind that would carry me away through its eye into the depths of the sky finally and forever into nevermore.
“I can’t,” I shouted back. The rustling of the trees, the high-pitched sound ringing through the air and the shaking of objects surrounding me was too much to mull over in sanity. We were elsewhere, and she refused to follow me into oblivion. She remained grounded, holding onto the railings of the staircase that promised her flight if she was to release the crushing clutch of her frail but determined fingers.
“I can’t hold on. I want to let go. I should let go!” I screamed, releasing all of my fear and panic through my vocal cords. The words were carried away swiftly, along with half of the objects in the house.
“Don’t do it, Frank. Don’t do it!” she shouted. I had never encountered such a heroism in her until it was all about to fall apart. A free flight was tempting. I was sure not to fall. I would be leaving it all behind and would take on the end somewhere in midair over the old neighborhood.

We dropped in the blink of an eye, thudding across the wooden floor and her across the staircase. The storm passed as if it had never entered our life. I was laughing, and she was crying.
“Why are you laughing?” she asked.
“I didn’t know you were so brave,” I commended her.
“I didn’t know you were such an idiot,” she shouted, just as picture frame of the two of us fell from our living room shelf and shattered across the floor.

The End

I walk up the flight of stairs and through the hallway. The sensor lights come on one after the other as I make my way up each floor. The building is as empty as midnight, bearing no signs of life. Here, I will not be seen, making my way step by step and up through different floors. The lights flicker as they come on, but there is no sign of people. With only a window to the outside, I turn around to look through the large stainless glass, to witness the occurrences of the evening but there are none. The ground outside is cold, peppered with rocks and an unfinished cement sidewalk which has been in the same condition for months.

When I arrive at my door, I turn the keys slowly. There is no rush to enter into anonymity, no need to hurry into silence. The winds outside create a low whistling, with the soothing whooshing of the trees the only sound in the distance. I turn on the light in the doorway and see my reflection in the window. My vision is blurred by distance and weakened eyes, the silhouette of my stature appearing as it always does. I close the front door, turn the lights off and stand quietly in the darkness. I can no longer see anything. I take a couple of steps in through the apartment and find the couch without much difficulty. I put down my work bag, and look in the direction of the wall facing my bed. I am soon engulfed by the darkness, weightless as air as I sit patiently. Emptiness surrounds me and I am left without sense. Slowly, my thoughts leave me one after the other until I am void. I am almost asleep when suddenly, I hear loud voices from the neighboring apartment.
“Surprise!” they scream and shout in unison before clapping.

Things we aren’t told

I was about 17 when I first saw him. He never talked to the other neighbors or chatted with anyone. I heard from my girlfriend at the time that he lived alone and that he had recently lost his wife. There was nothing extraordinary about his appearance but every time I walked past him, I felt gripped by a cloud of anxiety and silence. I would stare at him awkwardly not knowing whether to drop my head, say hello, or keep walking nonchalantly.

I never said hello and more often than not, I dropped my head to avoid awkward eye contact. Still I noted his appearance every time I saw him. He seemed quietly desperate, almost bursting with something but I couldn’t figure out what. When I was told he had recently lost his wife, I felt immense pity. Imagining a life of such startling sadness was difficult. I was hardly an adult and this man had seemingly suffered beyond my comprehension of what life could do to people given the chance to go awry.

I feared such an existence but also wondered what sparked the silence around him. Being fairly innocent, I assumed he was just weird or that something else was wrong with him. Maybe he was simply crazy and everything that happened to him could never happen to someone like me; someone so favored by luck and good fortune.

He was worlds away when he would walk past and I let him disappear from my mind for weeks only to be reminded of him when we would occasionally cross paths in the neighborhood. My life was so busy with parties, friends and fun that I had no time to wonder about the fate of such men.

One day, while I was feeling particularly happy, I felt the need to acknowledge him so I said hello. He didn’t say anything back. I considered if he was rude or maybe even a snob. How could this weird guy think he was better than me? He hadn’t given that kind of impression before. I set aside my feelings and settled on the thought that he was probably strange, just as I had imagined earlier, or arrogant.

Soon after 9/11 happened, things changed forever. Our lives were never to be the same and tragedy had struck through the middle of our city and through the heart of my fragile young existence. People disappeared from each other’s lives and society had been rocked at its foundation. I didn’t understand much about what had happened and how it would impact us.

One evening, I was walking through the neighborhood with my girlfriend when I saw him again. She greeted him and he smiled and waved. I turned to her surprised.
“You know him? He’s weird” I said, taken aback.
“I know. I feel bad for him,” she said.
I wondered if he lost more family in the terror attacks.
“I know he lost his wife. I hope he didn’t lose more family?” I said.
She looked at me and her tone changed. I felt the strange silence again. I turned around to see him walking off in his yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts, alone as always.
“Many years ago, a plane crashed in the Potomac river. He jumped in the water and tried to drag people to safety. A lot of them died in his arms. He’s a hero. I didn’t tell you this?”

 

Book Release: Glass Streams

Hi all! Here is the link to my second collection of short stories titled “Glass Streams”.
It’s available for only $3,99 as an eBook (paperback coming soon!).
There are a total of 17 short stories in this collection. I’m very excited to finally publish this book!
“Glass Streams is a collection of short fiction stories written by Shashank Mane. Stories and plots are based around an eclectic mix of characters from all walks of life. The stories range from situations of war and love to old age and longing. Adventures unfold in various locations around the world with themes of displacement, isolation, and hardship often present. The stories have been written between 2015 and 2019. This collection is suitable for lovers of literary fiction. Glass Streams is Shashank Mane’s second collection of short stories.”

Peas in a pod

We were close friends with the world to gain. Parties, weekends, and friends were just a few of the pleasantries we shared. As teenagers, we lived like peas in a pod, but more like a mismatched pairing fused into a whole, eclectic being. We never passed judgment on each other when we met to share the stories of our young lives and the excitement that built around school, relationships, and the debauchery we could indulge in, as innocent as we were. I listened carefully when she told me about her relationship with older men. She was concerned when I told her about the fights and trouble I would get into but no matter the worries or hardships, we always ended the night laughing, hugging, and parting ways happy to have seen each other.

As we grew older and moved on with our lives, I stopped seeing her as much as I wanted to. I heard rumors about her well-being, as I am sure she heard about mine. She lived in the corner of my mind, holding a small but firm space within my life and memories of brighter and more care free times. We eventually lost touch for a few years and I began to stop wondering about her and our times together as friends. Sometimes, I thought I saw her from the corner of my eye but when I looked closer, it would always be a stranger.

A few days ago, I was riding the bus home from work when a car pulled up next to my window seat at a stop light. It was a small, rickety vehicle with little holding it together. A young girl sat in the front seat. Her silhouette appeared identical to my old friend, and for a brief moment I thought it was her so I knocked on the bus window to catch her attention. When I noticed a small stream blood on her forearm, I stopped knocking. I couldn’t see her face but I thought she was hurt so I kept looking to see what I could. We were separated by the glass, my world to hers. As the large arm of a man reached over to shift the car into gear, the girl brandished a needle, poking it into her arm. I gasped in shock at the sight of her seated stoned cold the passenger seat. Before the car took off, she came into view. She was beautiful and pale as she looked up from her lap. Her eyes were cold to the sunlight and she looked straight down the road into oblivion. It wasn’t the girl I had known.

Many Years

The rum drips down the front of my shirt. It is warm spring, a season for celebration but I am alone on my front porch. I swipe at my chin with my forearm, the thick liquid sticking to my shirt sleeve. The cool brown alcohol slides into my gut but almost comes back up. The sip I took was too large, and the liquor from the night before refuses to share space inside my stomach. I should have put more ice cubes in my drink.

My red lawn chair is out of place but I sit on it regardless, my ashtray blooming like a spring flower, an assortment of brown and white cigarette butts poking out from the glass. I lean back into the sunshine with nothing to cover my eyes. My arms are thick and musty, the unwashed skin smelling of stale cologne and sweat. The sunlight proves too strong so I get up and stumble, blowing out the last puff of smoke before making my way into my condo.

Inside, I step onto the stained carpet that has been tread upon thousands of times by dirty shoes and bare feet, with ashes and splashes of drinks. It feels thick and soft beneath my feet. I look across the television. A game of baseball is on. It will be a long season and I never get caught up in the details of the game for long enough, as much as I would like to.

It won’t be long before they’re here. They said they would arrive within the hour but I can’t remain standing. I fall asleep thinking about my leather-bound desk chair. It has endured, but unlike the folding chair outside, this one hasn’t been rained or snowed upon. Simply sat on for hours. The leather is cracked, still holding firm to the metal and plastic frame keeping it upright. I am startled from my sleep by the sound of knocking. I propel myself up from the flower printed sofa mattress, a couch refusing to fit in with the rest of the decor, and open the door.

First Dates

Maria called William out of the blue one Monday morning. They hadn’t seen each other in forty years. The years gone by had brought sweeping changes but William concluded that it wouldn’t hurt to meet her. They decided to see each other in a small café.

William arrived first, unsure of himself but sitting patiently with a newspaper in hand. He looked over the current events section. Avoiding the obituaries had become a pattern over the years, not wanting to see familiar names printed within the pages.

Maria’s hair was streaked grey and William wore a hat to cover what little was left on his head. She appeared from nowhere, surprising him just the way she had years ago. He didn’t take her hand and they didn’t hug. She simply sat in front of him, a large smile appearing on her face. It hadn’t changed in the slightest over the years.
“You want ice cream? A scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate, wasn’t it?”, William asked, embarrassed that he still remembered her tastes.
“How on earth do you remember that?”, Maria said, bursting out laughing in pleasant surprise.
“I’m old, but not senile.”, he replied, grinning.

It was freezing outside but they removed their coats and sat across from each other, digging their spoons into the glass bowls.
“I never thought I would see you again.”, he said abruptly. The cafe was full but had fallen silent.
“I didn’t know if you would ever want to.”, she said.
William looked down into his bowl, swirling the strawberry shortcake with his spoon.
“Why didn’t you ever call earlier me then?”, he asked.
“I couldn’t wait forever, William. You were always around but never really there. I could never get through to you. I told you what I wanted but you didn’t move fast enough.”, she replied, ashamed but shaking herself into a stern posture.
“Why did you choose this place to meet?”, he asked, knowing that they had been on their first date there decades ago.
“I just thought it was a nice place that we might both know.”, she replied, searching his eyes for any hint of his memories. They sat in silence for a few seconds before they tried speaking. They stumbled over each other’s words and went quiet again.
“I can’t believe they’ve stayed open so long. Everything else has gone out of business from our days in school.”, he said, looking around.
She dropped her gaze to the floor. She didn’t care about businesses.
“I used to bring my kids here.”, William said, trying to change the subject.
“Me too!”, she said, almost shouting in delight. “But my husband is gone now, and my kids hardly ever call. I’m always chasing them just to hear their voice.”, she said.
“I’m sorry to hear.”, he said. “I never got that far.”
“You never got married?”, she asked.
“Never. Got engaged once but never married. Don’t regret it one bit. I’m happy having my kids but relationships….”, he said, stopping himself and laughing.
Maria looked away saddened.
“I’m sure you made a good dad.”, she remarked.
“You think so? I’m not really the patient type.”, he said, putting his hand on the table and looking at their reflection in the cafe window. The wrinkles on his face pressed together as he smiled.
“I’m happy to be able to see you after all these years.”, she said.
“You going to finish that?”, he said, pointing to Maria’s bowl of ice cream.
“Glad to see you haven’t changed a bit”, she said, laughing and shaking her head.

A Political Party

*I wrote this piece over a year ago given the nature of history, current events, and happenings in the media and society. I do not intend any offense with this short story. It is simply a play on historical characters, moments, and events with added fictional twists. If it isn’t funny, I hope you might at the least find it entertaining picking through the clichés. *


A Political Party

I once had a strange dream. I woke up in a bright white room. Malcolm X knocked before walking in. He looked sternly at me before telling me to sit up straight for “they” might walk in at any time.
“Who are they?”, I inquired, rubbing my eyes and dusting off my jacket to avoid any signs of my nap.
“I told you a million times! You never pay attention. You should wake up to what’s going on around you, man!”, he shouted.
“I…I…I’m sorry.”, I replied.
The doorbell rang and in walked a cast of characters capable of charming, flooring and making the most resilient of minds question their eyes. I watched Gandhi walk in, bowing before placing his walking stick near the coat rack. Behind him was Bill Clinton holding a cigar between his long slender fingers, and after a brief pause, in walked Martin Luther King Jr., George Bush, John Kennedy, Susan B Anthony, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama, and a host of familiar faces and historical figures. I retreated to a corner, wondering if I should serve drinks, or take my place on the couch and rub elbows with the greats.
“It is an honor.”, Obama came up to me and shook my hand.
“The honor is all mine…your honor…I mean Mr. Presi…” Before I could finish my sentence, Bush Jr. walked up and patted Obama so hard on the back that his drink splashed over my shirt.
“I’m so sorry.” Obama was apologizing profusely. “We will find a way to fix this.”
Malcolm X, who was watching me with great displeasure, walked over. “I hope that you know that whites and colored must be separated.”
“Wha…what?” I managed to stammer.
“Oh, for God’s sake, just go to my bedroom and grab a shirt and a pair of trousers. And put the white shirt in the “lights” basket and your black trousers in the “darks”. You’d think he was born yesterday.”
George Bush snickered. “So, Barack, haven’t seen you for a long time. Fool me once, shame on you! But fool me twice, well, then I’m glad at least Michelle answers my calls. I painted something for her. He snapped his fingers and a man walked in carrying a covered piece of artwork. “Just put it there by the Bill’s coat. I’m sure it’ll be safe.”, he said.
Bill Clinton was sitting on the couch, inattentive and fully focused on Susan B Anthony. He was nodding his head in appreciation, his eyes wandering as he leaned in towards Ms. Anthony.

As I walked into Malcolm’s bedroom, I heard a drawer shut. It was Nixon, grinning and his hands behind his back.
“Funny catching you here. I wasn’t expecting you to walk in.” He extended his hands but I had my trousers in one and shirt in the other. I offered my wrist as compensation, but he was unsure what to do so he slapped it with his hand.
“I’ll be outside if you want to talk.” He rushed out of the room, making sure I understood him. I had not.

I put my clothes into the laundry basket, separating them as instructed by Malcolm X and walked back out into the living room. The chandeliers hung low brightly lit and the party was in full swing. George Bush was having a great time, until his father walked in a few hours later to make sure he went home. I was sure that Senior grabbed him by the ear but it all happened in a flash and they disappeared quite quickly. Gandhi danced but did not drink, Susan B Anthony refused to dance with any of the men, even Bill Clinton, who wouldn’t hand over his cigar to any of his guests. Perhaps the most dignified and gracious guests were Martin Luther King and JFK. They drank to their heart’s content but eventually ending up arm wrestling on the kitchen table. Sleeves rolled up and ties hanging loose, the men glared at each other. The Kennedy clan hung around their fighter.
I looked over to Malcolm X and managed to stammer out incoherently.
“I don’t think this is a good idea for Martin. I mean he’s outnumbered.”
“Utterly foolish. I don’t think this will go his way.” Malcolm X agreed, watching eagerly.
There were fights, there was debauchery, and there was abundant drinking.
By the middle of the night, few were left standing. George Washington walked in around 2am.
“So, this is what I have fathered. I cannot believe this insolent mess.” He said, looking over to Lincoln, who returned his glare in defiance.
“No, George, you are the mess. I’m with them now.” He put his arm around Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.  Malcolm X smiled awkwardly, easing away slightly as to not be too close to the volatile Lincoln.
“I challenge you to a duel.” George Washington stamped his foot and reached for his pistol.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please, can’t we just get along? If you don’t behave, I’m going to take away your guns.” Barack Obama said, approaching slowly to diffuse the situation.
“Quiet! Everyone shut up!”, Malcolm X rushed towards the window, creeping alongside the curtains and cracking the blinds.
“They’re here. They’re here. I knew they would come. You fools.”  Malcolm X shouted. “Well, I’m ready.” He reached for a vase, crouching into a mode of attack, hiding behind the couch. Luckily, the police were merely passing by and before long, the eye of the party’s storm had settled.
A few groups broke out and discussed politics and people from their age. Particularly enthralled was George Washington, who was the only one sober to have any sort of real discussion. But he, too, lost interest. I could tell he was feeling a little out of touch.

I felt more comfortable and soon, I was in the mix, offering my opinion and absorbing information.
“I’m slowly learning. I’m slowly learning. I feel like a student. Yes, yes, like an apprentice.” But the second those words entered my thoughts, it was as if I had uttered them. The room went somber, etched in darkness and silence. They all looked at me, eyes blazing in fear and anger.
“You’re fired!” They screamed in unison, the words echoing endlessly.
“What? What are you talking …from what exactly?” I said.

I woke up. It was still 2008. I patted the sweat on my brow. I had overslept. Some television show called “The Apprentice” was on. Just when things were getting interesting, it had to end, I thought. Too bad it was just a dream. I turned off the television and rolled over.

Incidents

“Life will kick me down he had said”, Samuel spoke into the glass. “Get back up he had also said”, Samuel said, looking down at his breath covering the window with a film of fog. The words had lost meaning. He only repeated them to himself. He had heard somewhere that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. “I have been punched in the face plenty”, Samuel said. “And I have never dropped. I never stopped”, he said. “Never broke, hardly bent, never came to a halt requiring a moment of silence or any pity”, he assured the man who was standing behind him. Samuel said he was ready to take on day after day, ready to take on the world, and ready to take on his life. “There is little to stop me from rolling, barging endlessly into the unknown with confidence and coming out on top”, he said, clenching his teeth.

The doctor nodded without any emotion.
“Do you feel like you’re up now? Do you remember anything from the incident?”, the doctor asked Samuel. Samuel shook his head, thinking the doctor was playing a joke on him.
“I shouldn’t be here, man. I should be out there”, Samuel said, pointing out into the building’s parking lot. It was a windy and rainy evening, and not a soul was to be seen outside.
“I’ll give you time to think it over. You’ve been through a lot and you should probably lay down and rest.”
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I cannot be defeated”, Samuel said, patting his chest.
The doctor bowed his head slowly before walking out of the room. Samuel expected resistance and protests to his stance and began shaking. The blue ceiling lights flickered, the white sheets on his bed sterile and uninviting. He looked out into the evening through the window. He could hardly see himself in the reflection.

Through the windows of darkness

The barks and laughter sound in the early evening. Howls and thrusts of warm winds scratch upon windows and through the dusty alleys. Darkness creeps over into the star covered sky. The blanket of clouds clear, with nothing but streams of white fog and building rooftops placed between arms and a touch of the stars. The belts and constellations are there to be picked apart by the naked eye for those wishing only to raise their heads.

A somber silence falls and all is quiet. The winds whistle again but there is nothing left to hear. The people have disappeared, the roars have quieted and the breaking spring season has passed into cool, slumberous night. The many have gone as one, vanishing for the evening. The toil of days has passed and work has been set aside for sleep. The midnight snack is a night sky, cut through and divided into pieces of black skyline to form pies of peace.

Where does a world in sleep go? The ticking hands of time stand still. Calm but in quiet motion, the hands of the clock reluctantly inch forward towards morning. The night clutches to the breaking grey dawn, refusing the daylight a gentle entrance. Through the struggle for the horizon unleashes an early emergence of light. A hare stands firm on the damp lawn, discreet as the oncoming dawn. He does not move for minutes, watching, searching, escaping with the hums of sleep and silence. No one wishes to be awoken and rustled, to be as disruptive as the occasional crashing wind, disturbing a state of rest so thin.

The hare does not move. With ears perked, the feet do not spring forward until the first footsteps of the morning have crumpled a path upon the rock filled tracks. Crunching beneath plodding feet, the hare takes slow notice. The statue of the animal comes alive, tumbling away into the shrub, and the sun break awakens those holding onto light blankets and tight sleep. The sequence of hours moves forward.