Club Members Share Their Writing
The Writers’ Circle
This page features recent work by members of the Writers’ Circle. These were added on May 19, 2021.
Members and guests with an interest in writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama are welcome at the Writers’ Circle, which meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. At the present time, these meetings take place via Zoom. To be put on the Zoom list, contact Martin Jones.
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MY MOTHER LIED
By Anya Orzechowska
My mother was a liar.
Yet, somehow, I can understand and maybe even admire her for it, although perhaps she was – at the same time – politically correct and incorrect, too.
Let me explain.
It was politically correct (in the civic sense) to lie to the German officers who arrested her when she was a young woman of 24 and involved in the Warsaw uprising of 1944. She had fought hard, together with her friends and colleagues from university, her family and her patriotic neighbours who did not want to see Poland destroyed by the German occupation.
But they lost.
My mother was marched, defeated, bedraggled and without any possessions, into Bergen-Belsen, a prisoner-of-war camp, along with all of the others who had been captured. There, following the meticulous Teutonic mentality of the time, she was made to identify herself, by name and birthdate. Although by our standards, my mother was still a young woman, it was different then. By the mores of mid-20th century society, she was beginning to edge closer to being a spinster, an unpopular category. Despite war, bombing, the starvation she endured, and despite the loss of family and friends, she was aware of this superficial fact.
So, when directly asked her birth date by the German officer, she lied.
And left the office a few years younger than when she had entered it.
Fortunately, the war ended less than a year afterwards and she was liberated by the British army who collected all the paperwork processed by the Germans and prepared their own British documents based on that information. My mother became a student in London and finished a degree in architecture. She met my father, fell in love and married him; there was no need to change the British identification, even when they decided to emigrate to Canada and her papers remade her into a Canadian citizen.
My mother did not volunteer any new information, either to the government, nor to my father, who never learned of the true age of his wife.
As was more common in those days and despite her education, my mother felt her life fulfilled as a housewife and mother. If asked about her age or her date of birth, she would act confused and say that “it was a language thing” because the method of counting was different in Poland than in Canada. One did not ‘become’ 20, as an example, they ‘finished’ it.
I believed her. There was no reason not to.
Then the tragedy of my father’s death changed her life yet again. It became financially necessary for her, as the sudden head of the family, to dust off the degree she had earned 25 years earlier and she successfully applied for her first ‘real’ job.
It was not easy to join the workforce at her mature age, whatever it was at the time.
However, it was only when she was nearing retirement that – while the false younger age in her papers served her well for many years – it would have the unfortunate consequence of postponing her retirement.
At that point, she had the audacity to notify the Canadian government that, after 40 years, she had ‘just’ noticed a discrepancy in her papers.
“Really?” asked the slightly suspicious clerk in the office of the Canadian Immigration. He checked all the documents that she had brought to the government office where her age was listed over and over: her citizenship papers, her passport, even her faded German-minted identification papers.
He told her that she needed to find her Polish birth certificate to initiate the changes at a bureaucratic level. She explained that the church in Poland had been destroyed, as had so many other buildings, during the war. He said that all she needed, in that case, was a notarized legal document from two citizens who knew her when she was younger and living in Poland, testifying to her true age.
This was duly accomplished and the Canadian government was satisfied. My mother was able to retire at her suddenly-uncovered true age.
So never ask a woman to reveal her age. She might truly not remember it. She might have the wrong one. She might, indeed, give you the wrong one.
And it really doesn’t matter, does it?
THE WASTE LAND TOO
by Bradley Crawford
April was the cruelest month,
Crushing hopes for a sunny, socializing summer
With new and deadly clouds of variant-viral strains
That ravage and kill old and young indiscriminately,
Throttle the breath, sap the vitality,
And crush the spirit
Of those confined;
Of those who work to live;
Of those who do not scoff defiance,
Or cynically dodge compliance
With angry assertions of their rights
As well as those who do – all the innocent and the guilty
Congested ICUs and makeshift hostels
Now, too late, mask the non-conformers
And impose the social distancing they scorned.
The pleas and all the experience,
All the science
Failed to convince, failed even to influence
The cynical calculations, the PR puffery,
Of those who placed politics above prudence.
Caregivers who have given, given and given
Despair, but give still.
For how long?
All this is happening; we are living it,
Awaiting the deliverance of the blesséd Saint Vaccine.
But this set down. Set down
It need not have been this way.
by Martin Jones
Let Go of Summer
Let go the trill of morning dove on waking,
the jaunt at dawn above the lake
and sun that splashes, darts among the trees.
Let go the lazy hiss of eggs and bacon on the grill,
the early dip that chills one’s soul to life,
the moments for reflection, let go of these.
Let go the slow, turning times on water,
drifting with a current, dreaming with a friend,
let go the cool diving lakes of afternoon,
the tennis courts, the summer partners who
live no longer than a season’s lease, then disappear,
let go of seaside souvenirs in sunny rooms.
Let go of evening’s laughter on the dock,
and brown-eyed girls who dance with you
in lantern-lit pavilions under summer moons.
These almost-auburn days of August grow oddly brief,
the evening’s chill sets early on the folding mist,
and though winter’s sleep may have yet to call,
it one day will, and not far off, so let summer gently
slip like starlight into fall.
Things to Learn Before You Vanish
One day, it happens and you vanish,
maybe as you ponder words in Spanish,
strange to think, or worse, outlandish.
Perhaps a love affair grows sadly sour,
perhaps the fellow never brings you flowers
perhaps it’s best to vanish for an hour.
Or consider – you find a way to trash all hope,
but not calamitous enough for rope,
vanish with forged papers and you’ll cope.
Should we practice absence now, or soon?
Maybe learn to vanish in a crowded room
or for longer, like the far face of the moon.
One does not wish to banish all belief,
or consider losing wives and kids a big relief,
so each day steal a quiet hour like a thief
to vanish into daydreams and to thought,
not of things that can be priced or bought
but of noble passions, loves that harrow hell,
then, from all of this, learn to vanish well.
THE TUCK MAN by Vipin Sehgal
No matter how hard I try, I can’t eradicate the memory of those few minutes of gratuitous and casual brutality on that November Saturday in 1991. Like a demented Whack a Mole, the memory pops up when least expected.
That fateful day began no differently from any other for the seven of us, senior students who had been left behind in our boarding school to await the Senior Cambridge Exams. The junior students and teachers had already left for winter vacation. Only the Principal and a solitary Master on Duty remained, along with a skeleton kitchen staff to make sure we didn’t starve or, worse, get into trouble. Following a dull breakfast of porridge and fried eggs, lethargy had set in so deep that we couldn’t be bothered even to complain about the awful food. We simply waited for something, anything, to happen.
Each of us in this motley group, none older than seventeen, had been re-christened with nick names designed to capture, sometimes cruelly so, our dominant characteristic, and we addressed each other by these names exclusively. Although we got along reasonably well, there was no fabled warm, fuzzy, fraternal bond amongst us. You could say we barely tolerated each other. Paranoia ran rampant within the group. The studious among us would slyly keep track of how diligently the competition was studying, using this as a motivational tool to pace our own efforts. The rest were constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to create disruption in the somber, studious atmosphere.
The school was located in a tiny hamlet, miles from anywhere, and in spite of covering almost 2,000 acres, felt like a prison. The gloomy November weather was only worsening our depressing loneliness. We moped about in the dark and silent school building, when suddenly, Tuffy, our school’s quiet boxing champ, broke the silence: “Shit man, I am losing my fucking mind. I can’t stand being cooped up here any longer.” His sentiment was echoed by Cappy, the School Captain and resident diplomat, “I’d like to smash the arsehole who said these are the best days of our lives, which will be missed forever.”
Ducky, a devious and insufferably arrogant individual, always on the lookout for trouble, shouted, “Miss this? Bullshit. Can’t wait to get away from you fuckers forever.” He then turned to me. “What do you say Fatty, you going to miss this shit?” My name not only reflected my size, but alluded to my being a perennial also-ran in sports and scholastics. Not being the most popular in the group, I had to resort to various stratagems to ensure acceptance, including never questioning the majority opinion. As usual, I simply shook my head in agreement.
Ducky continued “You know what, you pussies; it wouldn’t be so bad if I had a girl for company.” Cappy shot back “You wouldn’t know what to do if a girl fell in your bed.” Ducky countered with “You want me to show you? Just take your pants off you fag.” Of course, Cappy immediately lunged at Ducky and landed a punch to the gut and the rest of us were forced to separate them.
Just as the two finished dusting themselves off, the Master on Duty appeared and announced that Princi, the Principal, had gone away for a couple of days. “Yipeee”, we let out a combined cheer as soon as the Master left. It was truly a cause for celebration as we would be free of supervision for a few days. Carried away by the general good cheer, I suggested, “Before you fuckers end up killing each other, why don’t we go for a Pomelo raid to Rajpur”, which gave raise to another cheer. The unanimity of the decision was never in doubt. Rajpur, situated about six miles below our school grounds, was the only civilized place nearby and stood at the point where the mountains met the plains.
The seven of us broke into a jog down the corridor, through the covered shed and past the lower pitch. We were soon beyond the Junior School and the Front Pitch, without having caught our breath once. Bravely, we raced past the Princi’s empty home, curved into the rough path to the Valley, and passed through the archway, arriving at the path to Rajpur. We stopped in unison, both to catch our breath and marvel at our daring. Savoring our prison break and regarding each other with stupid grins, Tuffy voiced everyone’s thoughts “We did it.”
“Rajpur, here we come” we all yelled and started loping down the rutted, rocky path which wasn’t much used even during the peak summer season. With winter approaching, we had the path to ourselves. The sky was overcast and the mist blocked our view of the plains. The cool wind through our hair and in our faces was intoxicating. I was giddy with joy at the freedom and, best of all, the ecstasy of camaraderie. It was all a bit too much. I didn’t want it to end, and drank it in greedily while I could.
Having settled into a steady jog, the guys started ribbing each other, “Come on you sissies, see if anyone can catch me,” challenged Ducky.
“Who do you think wants to catch you. Pity the girl who is forced into marrying you,” Cappy responded.
“I’ll be marrying your sister, you mother fucker”
“Take that back you bitch born bastard, or I will bugger you, and your whole family you arsehole”.
Tuffy finally intervened “Enough you guys, take it easy or I will have to kick both of your arses.”
“He started it” They both said simultaneously. Faces saved and peace restored, everybody settled down to a gentle walk.
Someone started singing “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes, ……” and we all joined in with croaking voices; the insults were forgotten. We broke into groups of three, with me tagging along at the rear, first behind one group then the other, looking sheepishly around and hoping not to be noticed in my attempts to pile on. In being with both groups, perhaps I was trying to delude myself that I was part of each. As we rounded a curve in the bridlepath, singing the second stanza, we came upon a young man coming uphill with a steel trunk on his head, cushioned by his rolled up gamchha. I recall that he had large, bright eyes and looked at us with an expectant, obsequious smile as he lay down his olive-green trunk of wares. Heaving a sigh of relief, he unrolled the gamchha to wipe the sweat off his face imagining, perhaps, that his day’s sales were made. Poor sod, little did he know what was about to hit him.
We, of course, had already intuited the contents of the trunk, which was a clone of Maulla Bux, our regular Tuck Man’s trunk of weekly goodies. As soon as the fellow put down the trunk, Ducky leapt forward and threw the top open, displaying Peach Cakes, Jap Cakes, Sweet Rusks, Stick Jaws, and other treats. As the other five followed Ducky in swarming the trunk, grabbing whatever they could, an incredulous look of panic came over the defenseless Tuck Man’s face. His eyes flooded as he and I helplessly watched six feral teens attack the trunk in a free for all. The whole thing was over in seconds. The trunk lay empty on its side and the guys were laughing maniacally as they stuffed their faces, horsing around, trying to snatch confection from each other’s hands. Nobody cared that the loot was being destroyed as it got crushed and fell to the ground. Goodies finished, it was high fives and back thumping all around.
Throughout the melee the Tuck Man stood transfixed, his hands folded in supplication, his eyes piteously pleading with us or to a cruel, uncaring God. The remarkable thing is that he didn’t utter a word, just stood there frozen, silently crying through large, childlike eyes, not even bothering to wipe away his tears. It’s those damn eyes that haunt me. Although I didn’t take part, nor eat a morsel, neither did I lift a finger or utter a word to try and stop the bullying theft taking place in front of me. I could not even offer the poor fellow money to assuage my conscience since, in accordance with School Policy, none of us had even a paisa on us.
Over the years I have wondered many times about the poor Tuck Man. Had he borrowed the money to buy the goodies to resell, or was he an employee of the Bakery whose story of being set upon was dismissed by his employer? If the money was borrowed, what collateral was lost and what suffering was borne afterwards by him and his family? If an employee, was he beaten and forced to work without pay to cover the losses? What about Karma? Shouldn’t the weak and righteous be protected. And what of the perpetrators? Instead of being smitten from the heavens above, they prospered mightily in later life and suffered no divine consequences, that day or since.
Almost thirty years later our group met for a reunion in the school grounds. Only six of us were left, Tuffy having passed away. We already knew the outlines of each other’s biographies, thanks to the internet, and reconnecting was easy. After a heavy dinner, preceded by heavier drinking, we gathered around the bonfire for a Cognac and a cigar. As we warmed ourselves, the conversation turned to reminiscences of ribald times and tall tales. Since everyone was so comfortable with the company and feeling expansive, I became emboldened enough to ask whether my old friends ever wondered about the fate of the Rajpur Tuck Man. The conversation came to an abrupt halt. Everyone became still, as if ‘sniffed by a snake’, as they say in the vernacular. The silence was finally broken by Ducky spitting out, “What the fuck are you talking about Fatty?” The others too made similar noises.
The atmosphere plummeted from convivial to oppressive. I avoided looking at any of my old friends, preferring to stare intently into the bonfire. The only sound was the crackling of wood on the fire. When the silence became unbearable, I excused myself for a bio break, got up awkwardly and shuffled off. As I stood at the pissoir relieving myself, I heard someone else come in. It was Ducky. He came and stood beside me. After looking around to make sure there was no one else present, he started speaking softly, but menacingly in my ear. “Fatty, you know I am in politics. Such shit coming out wouldn’t be good for me. If that happens, I will make sure you too suffer the consequences.”
With that he jerked the last drops of piss, turned around and walked away, without washing his hands.