Still Life with Shaky Oranges

Fiction
By Simon Owen


“This is probably breaching patient-doctor’s receptionist ethics.” She laughed, shook her head. “You dork.”

“It’s what I’m good at,” Stephen smiled, then left without another word.

They met in the city and drank coffee. The conversation was smooth but sparse; Liz busied herself with her hair to cover her shyness, and a hint of boredom. Stephen stared. He was an artist, so he said. But he had never drawn a thing. So he said.

Eight o’clock came, and they walked close together to the room, brushing past people, slamming into others, making shy apologies.

Liz was not amused.

I am always amazed that places like this actually exist, thought Stephen, as they ascended the stair, and paid their two dollars each to gain admission.

They sat, Stephen smoked, Liz coughed. They ordered drinks. Straight Jameson and an orange juice.

The lights went out, and Stephen enquired as to whether his date was enjoying the evening.

“Sure,” an indifferent voice answered.

They eyed the stage with anticipation on one hand and restlessness on the other. There was a shabby table and chair, and one glass. The crowd grew, became restless and drunk.

Stephen brushed Liz’s hand and whispered, “it’s time,” coughed and pocketed his cigarettes. Liz quickly rose to go with him, thinking escape was approaching. She was wrong.

“No, sit down,” said Stephen, and he disappeared from view. He’s probably just gone for a piss, and trying to be artistic about it, thought Liz.

When she lifted her head from spitting an ice cube back into her glass, Stephen was looking straight at her. From the stage.

He had taken the seat behind the old table and was producing things from his pockets. First a small bottle, which he placed on the tabletop beside the glass. Then a candle, he held his lighter to the bottom, melted some wax, and stuck it down beside the bottle.

The glass was half full with liquid when he pulled five orange balls from a pocket, and proceeded to toss them into the front row of the audience who caught them incredulously. He kept one for himself.

“Welcome,” Stephen addressed the crowd, then took a sip from the glass, coughed a bit, and held the ball aloft. He started to shake it back and forth with little movements of his wrist, and it made a noise similar to that of maracas. With a glance and raised eyebrows to the front row, the audience joined in, and the sound of five rustling instruments filled the room in rhythmic waves. Others tapped feet and clapped. The atmosphere was thickening toward something, and Liz looked excited.

Through the beat, Stephen lit a cigarette and produced some pages from his jacket pocket, unfurled and flattened them against the table, and smoked, letting the anticipation of the crowd escalate.

He drew the cigarette to the butt and then husked out through the smoke, “it’s still life,” and crushed the filter on the table.

Murmurs and laughs from the crowd, and the beat went on.

He lifted the top page, and, foot following the orange rhythm, began to speak.

—With smashed leg I lay on a floor of thistle pains for thirteen days, I was hunted by Kafka’s kids, but I was no fox, I could not run, was no mouse could sleep, was no librarian could read, was no needle could relieve.

—Was no… and nodded to the bottle and glass, people laughed, and Stephen chuckled deeply.

—Was no man could stand, was no towtruck, got wheeled in, out,

—Was no man could stand, and piss,

—Was no man.

—Was no.

—Woman.

And more laughter and innuendo filled the air.

Stephen looked toward Liz, through five bobbing heads and shaking wrists, through the rhythm of it all, to the woman who pain had brought to him;

—Was no woman could — he paused, —relieve me…

More laughter, raucous.

Stephen chuckled again,

—could relieve me — of —

Shouts and whoops from the crowd,

—My pain.

And then, silence. Except for the shaky oranges.

—Except,

And he lifted his eyes to meet Liz’s,

And she had gone.

Eager listeners leaned forward.

—Except, he drew out the word, hissing at its end,

—You, dear, he said, and nodded to the bottle, and was applauded with shouts and claps and shaky oranges.

pencil

Simon Owen was born in the Republic of Ireland and emigrated to Australia in 1997. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Architecture and working as a draftsman and musician to support addiction to writing. He has a rather large stainless steel rod embedded in his left leg and likes the number thirteen, Mexican food and the incredibly coincidental. His intercontinental nickname is Slime. He is currently working on a novel entitled “The Last Years of Francis Flood”. Simon can be reached at Barflychinaski[at]hotmail.com.

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