Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lost on the Rock Contest - 2nd Place

Denise Covey, or L'Aussie as she is often referred to in cyberspace, hails from Brisbane, Australia. I have become familiar with her over the past several months due to her regular contributions to the #fridayflash scene where she posts her stories at http://flashquake.blogspot.com. Some  may even consider her a 'prolific' blogger as she also posts travel stories/photos at http://laussiestravelblog.blogspot.com and has a blog devoted to her French travels, stories and book reviews. You can find that at http://pichetsinparis.blogspot.com .

Be sure to drop over to Laurita's blog, Calling Shotgun, where you can find our interview with Denise. Without further delay the Lost on the Rock team presents the second place story Lost, by Denise Covey.


Her black hair is wetly plastered on her forehead; her dark robe pulls around her ankles like a shroud as she stumbles along the slick sidewalk, a forlorn figure in the misty rain.

I scrape my chair closer to the window and watch. Flowing like rivers around the woman is a multitude of people – tall Africans in technicolour caftans, blue-swathed Afghani women, dark-robed Muslim gentlemen.

Looking out from the café window, I can imagine myself in Baghdad, Beirut or Nairobi.

Anywhere but Paris.

                                                *  *  *

The sky was black and starless, heavy with the thought of rain when I shut the door to my little pensione in the Marais district. My aimless wandering has brought me again to my favourite square in Belleville where it’s market day. More like a Moroccan souk than a Parisian square, I think, with its hodge-podge of wares and rowdy jostling.

I watch turbaned African women elegant in striped boubous, children chattering at their skirts. Tourists weighed down with cameras jostle sober Orthodox Jews heading to the synagogue. North African men, tall and stately in jellabas, enter the mosque on the corner. Turkish men drink their java in the open wooden tea-house across the road, their cigarette smoke sending smutty curls into the grey sky.

The woman is at my window. I see black eyes sunken and mouth gaping. My God! I start to my feet. She jumps back, tosses her head and wails, her keening sharp in the sopping morning air.

I fall back into my chair.

‘Oh my God,’ I groan. I hang my head while the woman sobs. I reach a shaky hand toward the cold glass where her gnarly fingers clutch at her face.

‘You poor thing,’ I whisper. I stay where I am, pressing my cheek against the damp pane, remembering...

I remember the day the bomb fell out of the muggy midsummer sky…

                                                *  *  *

I see the Arab woman turn the corner, stumbling towards hell. She covers her face with her hands, sobbing raggedly, gulping the acrid air. As the searing heat and pestilential dust find her, she drops her hands from her face and stares.

Cement columns lean at strange angles; blocks of wall twist grotesquely like a miniature World Trade Centre, bolts and steel exposed. Where the floor once lay there is a gigantic hole from the mortar, filled with debris, the toxic dust rising in grey filthy puffs.

The debris includes her two children, left at the table, reading, only moments before.

The crowd watches as she throws herself into the smouldering heap, her lips quivering, her arms outstretched, her robes spreading over the monstrosity as if to shield her darlings from the unspeakable sight.

She begins to scrapple in the debris, oblivious to her ripped and scorched fingers, her torn knees, her blood mixing with their precious blood. She chants as she digs, frantically pushing cement chunks aside with super-human strength. Suddenly her frenzied digging stops, she gazes downward, blinks. An unearthly sound erupts from deep inside her.

Men in the crowd step forward at last, their garments flapping as they fight her, drag her bodily, her legs jerking, incomprehensible garble spilling from her mouth. Her scarf falls into the grey pit; her long black hair escapes its bonds and trails behind her in the putrid dust. Her screams get louder, piercing the gritty afternoon air. Mothers turn away, rushing home to their loved ones, to smother them in kisses, to breathe in their baby smell, to hold them safe in their arms.

The woman is hauled away. She looks back. The puddle of blood, dismembered arms and legs, a smouldering tiny leather boot are her last sight of her precious ones. Does her crazed stare register the foreigner clutching notebook and camera stepping from the crowd, reaching out?

                                                 *  *  *

How did she end up in Paris? Perhaps she arrived in Paris’ safe haven via Syria or Beirut, facing further danger on her road towards freedom, but how she would have hated to leave her children.

Their dust lies somewhere in Baghdad.

I sip my coffee with shaking hands, tremble and wonder. When I look at her she jerks away, eyes downcast. She stands erect, walks alone into the crowd, daughter of Ishtar, dignity restored.

S’il vous plaît.’ I call the waiter for more coffee.

I reach into my bag and stare at the tatty photo of my family.

The backdrop is the gigantic columns of the World Trade Centre, splendidly piercing the sky. I can still hear them laughing as I joked around with my camera. I gently kiss the darling glossy faces.

I remember afresh the terror of that day when the plane that was flying them home veered off course and crashed into the very same building. My loved ones became part of the debris that floated to the ground, that toxic shower.

Did my little ones cry for me? Did my husband feel relief that my work compelled me to catch a different plane, a plane to my Baghdad assignment? I can only imagine his final thoughts in his final minutes, as he held our children close to his beating father’s heart.

I reach for my press card, tap it on the table, remembering. I fumble in my bag again, retrieve my blank notebook and flip it open.

Merci.’ I thank the waiter who brings my coffee. I click my pen and slap it against the page, rhythmically, tap, tap, tap

My hand shakes as I begin to write:

An Arab woman
Lustrous black hair…no…

Try again

Dust to dust, dust to dust…oh God…oh God…no…

Suddenly the pen races across the page as if propelled by another source:

The bowels of the earth
Are filled
With pestilential dust
That was once
Flesh and bone

I cover my face with my hands. I begin to scream.

Denise Covey published her first short story at eleven when her dog saved her from being bitten by a snake. She was delighted when it won a competition and so she was bitten by the writing bug. After studying Arts, she taught High School which gave her endless story scenarios. She now tutors English, and writes constantly. She has written two novels and has short stories and travel features published.

Denise loves to travel and dreams of writing a travel narrative. If she’s not at her laptop you can find her reading, researching or running. You can find her at her writing blog.


Angel Zapata said...

Heartbreaking. The pain you've created here is so real and evokes so much emotion. Masterfully done.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Stunning, Denise, absolutely stunning. Wow! Sensational story! I don't have enough words!

Anonymous said...

Wow Denise, I am near tears here! This is excellenty told, with such vivid, and deep emotional detail. Outstanding!

Anonymous said...

A great story and so very well told.
The pictures you created with your wonderful words were so vivid.

David Barber said...

An emotiopal piece of writing, Denise, that conjures up so much imagery and pain. Excellent! Well done.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Angel (loved your story, congrats) Cathy, Deanna, mjshorts, david. I appreciate your comments and so glad you felt the emotion.

Thanks again Al and Laurita for finding a spot for me to post this story.


Cheryl said...

An amazing story. Well done Denise!

notesfromnadir said...

This is really a vivid portrayal of the ugliness of war. So descriptive. & so sad for these women to suffer so much.

SueH said...

Sorry to be late with my comments (Blogger not 'playing' yesterday and 'iffy' WiFi on my phone today!) Denise, this is a powerfully descriptive piece that draws the reader kicking and screaming towards the horrors that are daily faced by people inhabiting thwarted of war and their aftermath. Excellent writing all the same. Bravo!

N. R. Williams said...

Excellent Denise. Powerful. Both mothers lost in the terror that others have decided for them.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Michael Di Gesu said...

I'm speechless. I see why you came in second.... it should have been first. This so hits home. I am and always will be a New Yorker. I will NEVER forget 9/11 for as long as I live. For someone who lives thousands of miles away you certainly captured the trauma and emotion of that time.

The Arab woman.... haunting, brave, and fearless, portrayed so deeply by your words will never be forgotten.

This is by far one of your strongest stories Denise.... I am awed.


Margo Benson said...

I have shivers all over after reading this. What a haunting, heartbreaking and superbly written piece. Fantastic.

Francis said...

Beautifully emotive, the whole thing was epic

Lou Freshwater said...

Way to write close to the bone. Well done, and congrats to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm excited to read Denise's story. I've copied it to read from the comfort of my sofa.

Don't know how I've missed you, David! But I'm glad I'm here now. I came over because my friend Denise said you had posted her story. I see you have a story in The Cuffer Anthology.

I love your blog. The photographs and colors are so beautiful, so restful. I think I'll be dropping by frequently just to feel the peace of it all. I think Land's End is a place where I'd like to be.
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Rosaria Williams said...

I followed Ann Best to read Denise's story. I agree, the story is rich and tender, sparse and illuminating.

Old Kitty said...

I came over from Ann Best's blog. Thank you, Denise for sharing this amazing story! It's rich in detail and raw powerful emotions. Well done you! Take care

Theres just life said...

Denise, You had me in tears, with a big lump in my throat. Very powerfully done. I am typing this now in a blur through the tears and emotion still with me.

Pamela Jo