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Short story, Thriller

In The Garden Of Krakow ( Part 2 )

Author: Timothy Connolly

Illustration: Mark Smith

He left the apartment with sweat dripping down his back.

Christ, that had never happened before. A woman offering that. Christ, that. Jesus, he hadn’t known what to do. The only thing he could think of, besides that, was to get the hell out of there.

He didn’t even get the money. The snow touched his blush as he remembered what happened. She probably thinks he was an idiot. ‘Don’t worry, I can find out what’s wrong with your machine.’

She was probably mocking him. The mucky plumber man. His Kinga would know what to do. His wife, well, his ex‐wife, would know what to make of a woman like that. Whether she was a strumpet, a seductress or the Virgin Mary herself.

He sighed as he stepped between a shadow reaching for the stars. He needed vodka. Like a baby needed milk. Like he needed his wife. But, unfortunately, she had left him. His mind turned black.

Focused on the metal in his pocket. What could have marked it like that? A bit of machinery caught? But it’s so goddamn unusual? Perhaps he should find out and show that lady he was no fool.

Marcin went home and opened the door. He looked at the mess. His mother had cleaned, and then his wife had cleaned, and, when they were all gone, he had been unable to. Clothes lay on the floor. A nude woman looked at him from the wall. The picture of the pope squinted through months of dust. Marcin felt a moment of absurd guilt. He really should clean, but Christ, the pope himself is hardly going to visit.

He turned the television on low. Just to hear another human being. The news played a scene of starvation and disease.

The pierogi flavoured the air like burning wax. His fingers pressed on smooth metal as he popped open the can. Ancient paint flaked off his skin. He could feel the silence in his apartment. As if the ceiling reached to infinity. The dust in his fingers. The grain of the wood. This feeling of weight…

The piece of metal lay before him on the table. What could make that mark? It was not accidental, of that he was suddenly sure. No other metal was ruined. No parts were bent. Nothing was amiss except for this single hunk of icy steel. He remembered the woman’s black eyes glinting from the sun. He wondered what had happened to those immigrants…

His doorbell rang. And, still thinking of that piece of metal, he got up and opened it.

‘Marcin,’ the voice spoke with the scent of smoke and old leather. He blinked. The man before him had silver at the side of his hair. Lines ran along his face, his eyes were pale and the pink of his lips flaked. White blazed from his collar like a dying sun.

‘Yes… how can I help you, Father?’

‘My sister sent me. You may have met her today while you carted off that damned contraption?’

He blushed when he remembered.

‘Eh, we may have said hello.’

‘I’m sure you did,’ he looked at him as if Marcin had forgot his schoolwork, ‘May I come in? The night is cold, and these bones are so old.’

‘Of course… Of course, Father.’

He let him in. The light grew bright. Showing the magazines, the dirt, the lack of a woman, and ending with the dusty picture of the pope. Marcin covered the magazines with a rag, and dusted the neglected Pope. Smiling, he looked at the priest. The priest stared at him.

‘Eh, so Father, what can I do for you?’

‘It’s what I can do for you.’

He stopped himself from scratching his head. The priests used to frown at that when he was a schoolboy.

‘Sure, sure. Sit down please,’ he fiddled with his thumbs. ‘So, how can I… No, how can you, help me?’

‘My sister was telling me about the man she had met. An unfortunate meeting as our brother should have arrived. My sister should never have called you. I have to ask… have you met him yet?’

‘No… Should I have?’

‘Good. It’s best that you don’t, lest he leave a stain. Let us two men, old men, wise men, talk this out amongst ourselves. Leave the women, leave the children, leave that man who you will not meet, it is just us. Two men all alone in a too young world. In a place where evil is rife and redemption infinite.’

‘I’m sorry, but…’

‘Go on my son.’

‘I completely lost you.’

‘Few people can follow,’ the atrocities of the television lit his eyes and formed a lullaby beneath his words. ‘But I hope you will. What do you see when you look out that window?’

He looked out the window. Streetlights spread like stars in the sky and, if it were not for this man, he would have felt like the last person on earth.

‘Some streetlights.’

‘What else?’

‘… the sky?’

‘Exactly. Light and dark. Two opposing forces that we must contend with. We all go from the light, every night, into the dark, and hope we are not spirited away. We fear the footsteps, as we should, in case we cannot find our way. We fear the strangers, as if they may take our soul. We fear ourselves, as if we will be swayed from this mortal realm. It is a terrifying place. This land of light and night. A place to tempt you, to corrupt you, to end you. But we all walk out again. We all remain pure. Uncorrupted and back in this heavenly realm. Where we belong. Don’t you agree?’

‘I have no idea…’

‘If somebody passes into the darkness, should you stop them from coming back to the light?’

‘Father…’

‘Just think, my child. The son of God. A man of free will, passed from father to child.’

He looked at the piece of machinery, and it blazed with its own scalpel glow.

He looked at the priest and his voice hardened, ‘Father.’

‘I’m saying all that can be said. I’m saying nothing. I’m saying what needs to be said.’

‘Get out.’

It was the priest’s turn to blink, ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Get out. You are not welcome.’

His mother would have scolded him if she had heard him. Christ, he would have had some slap.

But, in that moment, he did not care. The priest stood up and left.

But his presence did not leave. Marcin could taste it on his tongue. It smelt of hot air, undulating candle flames and shadowed alcoves. It smelt of heaven, hell, and every dark crevice in between. He looked at the metal. He held it in his hands. He touched the scratches on its surfaces and wondered: Could this have kept the gas flowing?

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Short story, Thriller

In The Garden of Krakow ( Part 1 )

Author: Timothy Connolly

Illustration: Mark Smith

‘I hope you can fix it’

That woman wouldn’t give him a moment’s rest. Sweat ran down his fingers. He could taste the
garlic on his breath. Christ, he didn’t want to talk to a beauty when he felt half a beast.

‘I’ll do my best.’

He heard her walk away and he breathed a sigh of relief. It had been near the end of the day when Marcin got the call. His back had ached, and he had been washing the grime off his fingers. The phone had rung. The voice would not take no for an answer. Could it not wait until tomorrow? No? You want me right there right now? You want me to drop my evening just so I can handle that water heater? Sure, why not. What else could a plumber in Krakow have to do on a Friday night.

If it was a man, he would have told them what to do with themselves. But, well, women were a different sort. Even listening to that voice sent a thrill through his synapses. It lit him afire. He hoped she hadn’t heard the rasp in his voice. Truth be told, the only women he knew were his wife and his sisters. He hadn’t been able to think. Had no chance for reason. Sure as hell wasn’t thinking of her as a sister. And all he could smell was that subtle scent of perfumed air. While he still fumbled, this woman struck. She offered him a large amount. So large as to be stupid. He had no choice but to say yes. And he had packed his stuff with a sigh.

Right now, his back ached. His knees trembled. The tiles pulsed red, the bath as white as milk. He couldn’t kneel. It would look savage. Couldn’t touch the bath. What if she wanted to shake hands? His calves ached from the stress. It was difficult to take apart a water heater. Lots of parts that crunched. Gushing water that stank. His callused fingers reeked of grease, but it helped to block out the scent of the woman. He paused. What was that…something had glinted in the depths of the machine. A star in a coal mine. He pulled it out. The cylinder was scratched as if by nails. His eyes ached as the silver clashed with the colour of the walls. He had to get out of here. He could taste the copper in the air, and the salt on his tongue. He put it in his pocket without thinking and packed up his equipment.

If god willing, he would have a drink when he went home. Boil some pierogi, open a can of peas, and throw it all together with some soy sauce and vinegar. First, he had to get the money off the woman, and his mouth dried at the thought. He walked through the hallway. The pain in his calves leached through his body as he stood. The floors were clean. The wardrobes spotless. A child’s box lay in the corner. It was green with a purple petal on its cover. It had been opened. He saw an old coin, a beaten book and a bent spoon. He entered the studio apartment and he noticed a couch. A bed. A table, and little else. The ceiling was in the shape of a square that had been spun on its axis. His feet felt unsteady, rolling with the very movement of this world.

The woman’s back faced him and he licked his lips at her shape. Her shirt left the centre of her back to touch the curve of her buttock. Her hair gushed like ink on her shoulders. She turned. Motes of silver burned in her hair. The outside light turned the whole room red.

‘Have you finished?’

‘Yes’

He felt awkward. Uncomfortable under those cool dark eyes. His eyes were drawn to her lips, her hips and her cleavage glinting in the light. It was as if he were the gardener suddenly called into the tea‐room. Should he sit on the floor to eat with his hands?

‘Nice place you got here. Tidy.’

‘I wouldn’t live here. Someone else did’, she replied.

‘Oh. Good. Well then…who was that?’

She leaned against the windowsill and he kept his eyes on her face, ‘Immigrants from another place. A gas leak killed them. Accidental. The minister told us so.’

I wasn’t saying he hadn’t.

The woman’s disapproval flavoured the air. He could smell his sweat. The blue of his overalls had never looked so faded in this room. Christ, he had been married. He should be able to talk with one woman. He didn’t want to leave a bad impression.

‘You know, I found some strange scratches on the machine. I can check them out for you? I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been doing this for years. And, you know, some of these government folks can be wrong.’

She paused, ‘Really?’

‘Here, why don’t I show you?’

He held it up and it blazed like a bloody sun.

‘That’s strange. Why don’t you leave it here and I can check with the minster?’

‘Don’t bother. I can check myself. I’ve been at this for years. Won’t miss a thing.’

‘Really’, the piercing on her tongue glowed green as she licked her lips, ‘…What did you say your name was?’

‘Marcin’.

‘Well, Marcin. I thank for offering your help.’

She blinked her lashes and he could feel their softness from where he stood.

‘Okay. That’s fine.’

He found himself short of breath. Flushed as if in fever. Blood pounding all around his body as the light flushed her skin.

‘No, it’s not fine. Not many other men would have been as gallant as you. So brave, so strong, so fearless to go against the long arm of the law. Marcin, you are a ripe apple that falls from the sky.’

‘Eh, well, maybe.’

‘A man of few words. I see. I wonder….’

‘You wonder what?’

The shadow of her opening legs ripped wounds in the floor.

‘Whether there is another way to pay you.’