Consultation

Nurse: Are you sure you don’t want babies?
Woman: Absolutely.
Nurse: Ever?
Woman: Maybe one day. Not yet. Don’t know.
Nurse: Well, you’re thirty now.
Woman: I know I am, yes.
Nurse: Your chances of conceiving reduce at 26.
Woman: Uh huh.
Nurse: You have between 10% and 15% chance.
Woman: Uh huh.
Nurse: Of getting pregnant.
Woman: Uh huh, got it.
Nurse: And it goes down to 5% when you hit forty.
Woman: CAN YOU JUST GIVE ME THE GODDAMN COIL, PLEASE??!

Quick Fiction: “It”

The second she saw it, the air solidified and hit her chest with the force of a hammer. As she tried to catch her breath, darkness pulled her under and fabric muzzled her mouth, stifling a silent scream. Her pulse splintered across every limb, needles pricked the hollows between her eyes and a stranger’s heart slammed inside her rib cage with the rage of a mercenary drill. In a desperate attempt to escape, she clawed at her flesh and sent punches into the air that betrayed her gasps.

It was coming for her.
She had to get away.

Blood clouded her vision. Squirming, she choked on her fear as she struggled to break free from the pair of invisible hands that held her down…

She woke up screaming in her lover’s face. He would hold her until her tears dried and, once the light had broken the terror of the night, he’d trace butterfly kisses across the scratches on her face, whispering; ‘there’s nothing there, baby, there’s nothing to be frightened of…’

And she would say; ‘I know, I’m sorry…’ as she watched it crawl across the wall and disappear into a crack.

Havana, Cuba (Day 10)

11174760_649668065668_4065209252452500544_n

(Photo by VB)

Our communal taxi came at 9am but because two Spanish girls couldn’t get their shit together, we ended up sitting cooped up in the back for a good hour before we even left Vinales. I verbalised my annoyance; in broken Spanish, English, and some Spanglish. Nothing I love more than driving around in circles in a bloody oven of a car. When we did eventually leave (not letting this go), the ride took about 3 hours. We each paid 15cuc… and there were 8 of us.

11174988_649668030738_4813176289133394773_n 10423848_10155474489300008_2680007943840978953_n

We arrived in our beloved Havana and had lunch at a local paradera near to the first bar we ever stepped foot in, 10 days ago. We ate lobster as live musicians serenaded us. It was lovely.

11148512_10155474488730008_5350234538011446512_n 11174981_10155474488180008_5446185171801219914_n

Then we chilled out until the evening when we got absolutely obliterated on mojitos and shots of dark rum. One of us was sick on the street, another one of us shouted at the casa lady… and the other one drunkenly wrote a blog about it. 😉

19218_649668559678_3168745254341295241_n

Good night.

Viñales, Cuba (Day 9)

Horsey day!!

11196270_649577796568_6612787201024909514_n

10941827_649575476218_7290870466556045085_n

(All photos by Vicki Brand)

My horse was called Regaton…

11173337_649575905358_836735956100796389_n

Victoria’s was called La Ganga. Vicki’s was called La Goya.

11205119_649577222718_3879930949042528859_n (1)

La Ganga was a bit of a brute. La Goya looked pretty dishevelled. And my one was a bit slow. He didn’t go faster when I kicked him. He’s not like an English horse.

11150695_649575695778_1009951493761702134_n

Our guide kept telling us they were semi-automatic. Think he’s recycled that joke a fair few times. He also joked about being our boyfriend. “6 girls, all for me!!” Bla bla bla.

The valley is stunningly beautiful. In fact, the entire horse ride (about 4 hours, including stops) allowed us to absorb the beauty of the natural landscape. Mountains framed the valleys; the earth of which is rich red.

11014669_649577167828_708662502201074978_n

21280_649578036088_6314296365061223080_n

11071767_649579108938_4580791591779715648_n

Vinales is where all the finest tobacco comes from; we visited a farmer and heard how he make cigars. Then we smoked one that was dipped in honey (nice way to do it). Of course, it was all in aid of a sales pitch – but at 3CUC per cigar, it’s not surprising that he sold a few.

11174939_649577716728_3621712177957655526_n

They have to give the government 80% of the tobacco they grow. The man told us that fact with an expressionless face. But I was angry on his behalf. All that work for 20%.

We also visited a cavern – a welcome relief from the heat of the day. The cave was really cool – as were the waters of the natural pool within it. We chickened out of having a dip but most of the tour group gave it a go.

11163808_649577447268_8636353722049199513_n

It was boiling hot by the time we returned (around 2pm) so we slowly made our way to yesterday’s paradera – but it was closed so we made our way to another one which was opposite. We had fish and tried to hold our tempers with all the annoying school children who were throwing things at a sleeping woman on the street. Little shits.

11159979_649578001158_939825541787890819_n

For dinner, we went to El Olivio – there was a queue outside which is usually a good sign. And it was. Good, I mean. I had duck. It was L-U-S-H. The Vickis’ had chicken. My duck was better.

20887_649578185788_6517129770212690926_n

We couldn’t go back to the dancing place last night because a certain Cuban was lurking (I won’t go into detail). He spotted us in the queue for dinner and said he wanted to talk to me. It was all in Spanish but I got ‘I go riding on my horse at night and look at the stars’. That was enough to put me right off.

11169979_649579947258_6070634706748187204_n

So we went to the Polo Martinez Centro Cultural Salvader (try saying that ten times fast!) and we met up with two Spanish guys; both of whom were on our horse-riding tour. I couldn’t stop dancing (the blokes here are very persistent) so I left the four of them to it while I [dis]graced the dance-floor. And I kissed Jesus. Again, I’ll spare you the detail… but he was an acrobat (I feel like that’s an important & necessary detail). Then I met a really sweet Columbian girl. And we had a whole conversation in Spanish. At least I think we did.

Needless to say; there was a lot of rum.

(All photos by Vicki Brand)

Quick Fiction: Daydream

The writer couldn’t write the way she used to. Her wiry hands hung heavy above the keyboard as she watched the screen blur and wave. The handful of words that had somehow made it shuddered before her, as if they knew they’d be subject to the ‘delete’ key.

Writing, for her, had always been therapeutic; an embrace, an escape – a way to make sense of the world. Yet she was as lost as the characters she couldn’t conjure; clueless to the plot she couldn’t think up. She lit another cigarette, took a sip of her coffee, and smirked at the image of herself.

Enough.

The curser moved and her green eyes reflected the glow of Google. She typed. It felt good. She followed all the prompts and, before she caved into her fear, ticked the terms and conditions, pressed ‘confirm’ and exhaled.

Later that night, Tracy Chapman played on the radio; ‘she’s got her ticket, I think she’s gonna use it, I think she’s gonna fly away.’ And she did.

Viñales, Cuba (Day 8)

11014972_649573041098_489474816148170923_n 11188336_649573061058_8521810964252586047_n

Chill out day. To get over all the car journeys. Sunbathing at the casa in the morning, followed by a wander around town. We went to a cute little market and bought earrings, bracelets – most were a CUC each. So cheap: not sure how they can live off their earnings. I think it’s because there’s one price for tourists and another for Cubans.

11151062_649569373448_2686971946552535116_n

We had lunch at El Gallito. The girls had fish and I had lamb. It melted in my mouth. ** Drooooool ** Oh and needless to say it came with the usual rice and beans. We’re turning into a hybrid of where a rice grain meets a bean – a rean / brice. (Had a lot of sun today; it’s clearly fried my brain).

We had a casa-made dinner; this time it was fish, and not particularly nice… but hey ho, can’t win ’em all.

11169422_649573390398_6182384825754553421_n11140252_649573435308_6205363168405283192_n

In prep for the evening, we got our glad-rags on (god, I sound like a pensioner) and went to Patio del Decimista. The Cuban men aren’t shy AT ALL and Vicki was the first to grace the dance floor. I followed suit and the pair of us sweated it out with the various guys who grabbed us and pulled us up there in the first place. (Hmm, just realised that could sound dodge to the tainted mind: sweated it out dancing, I mean…).

11193251_649573684808_6930958297394419236_n 11111781_10155474477435008_3067595434846596359_n

11188411_649575231708_344280146448591961_n

Victor played the maracas but said ‘no’ to the millions of men who asked her to dance. The heart-breaker.

11164604_649574917338_5464689890239329883_n

We got wasted and played on the equipment of an outdoor gym (don’t ask) before retiring for the night.

11188378_649575356458_38051192320893484_n

(Photos thanks to the gorgeous Vicki Brand)

Verongelijktheid

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

This short one act play has been loosely inspired by the murder of Theo Van Gogh. Working alongside the writer and women’s rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh directed the short film Submission, which portrayed violence against women in Islamic societies. Both Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh, as champions of free speech, sought to publically cinematise and raise awareness of the brutal crimes that had been inflicted on women in the name of religion. The short film triggered offence and outcry from the Dutch Muslim community and on the 2nd November 2004, Islamic extremist Mohammed Bouyero murdered Theo Van Gogh on the sunlit streets of Amsterdam. A letter addressed to Hirsi Ali was affixed to Van Gogh’s corpse with a knife, warning that she would be next.

CHARACTERS:

ALINA, thirty-two. A short, stumpy woman with mousy brown hair and a friendly face.

VINCENT, thirty-five. Tall, dark and handsome.

THE SCENE:

This one act play is set in an upstairs flat in Ruritania on a cold and stormy night in November 2014.

PRODUCTION NOTES:

– = interruption

O.S. = off stage

……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 

VERONGELIJKTHEID

[ALINA is nervously pacing up and down a living room in a dark and dirty upstairs flat. Mould lines the window frames, and wallpaper is peeling off the walls from which empty picture and photo frames hang askew. Having checked her watch for the second time, ALINA wearily lowers herself onto a small two-seater sofa and flicks through the manuscript lying on the table. There’s a knock at the door. ALINA takes a deep breath, stands, and makes her way towards the door. She opens it and VINCENT stands before her.]

ALINA: Hello. Come in.

[ALINA moves aside to let VINCENT through. He walks in and awkwardly navigates the space. ALINA closes the door behind them, but not before checking the corridor outside.]

ALINA: Yeah, none of the lights work so it’s a bit… well, anyway. Please, take a seat.

[ALINA gestures towards the two-seater sofa. VINCENT doesn’t follow his cue.]

ALINA: Sorry, I should take your coat –

VINCENT: No, it’s ok, really. I’ll just keep it on.

ALINA: Yeah, sure –I know it’s nippy in here, sorry. Can I get you a drink or anything?

VINCENT: No, I think I’m ok.

 [The two stand in awkward silence.]

VINCENT: Can I just check that we’re alone?

ALINA: Yes.

VINCENT: And we’re not likely to be interrupted at any point?

ALINA: No. I live alone.

VINCENT: And does anyone know I’m here? Have you spoken to anyone about –

ALINA: No, nobody.

VINCENT: Good.

[Pause]

ALINA: I haven’t done this before.

VINCENT: Neither have I.

ALINA: I’m nervous.

VINCENT: Me too.

ALINA: We’ve both got a lot at stake.

VINCENT: Yes.

ALINA: I should say thank you for… well, for coming here, for agreeing to talk to me.

VINCENT: You didn’t leave me with much choice.

ALINA: Well, I knew it would get attention. I just didn’t know what kind. [Pause] Look, please sit down.

[ALINA indicates the small sofa and VINCENT takes a seat. ALINA, aware of the lack of space, crouches on the floor beside him.] Do you know what? I’m gonna make us a drink. [ALINA gets up again] It’s too formal, this, and I don’t really do formal so… drink?

VINCENT: Water would be good.

ALINA: Water. Sure. Coming up.

[ALINA leaves VINCENT alone as she heads to the kitchen. VINCENT quickly flicks a page or two through the manuscript.]

ALINA O.S.: Biscuit?

VINCENT: Er no. No, thank you.

[VINCENT stops flicking. ALINA returns with two glasses of water.]

ALINA: Here you go.

VINCENT: Thanks. [Looking around] Nice place.

ALINA: Ha! I mean thank you for saying something nice but it’s clearly a hole.

[ALINA crouches down on the floor again.]

VINCENT: Well, it’s got a certain –

ALINA: Don’t say charm.

VINCENT: Character.

ALINA: I’m not really the domestic type.

[VINCENT takes a sip of water]

VINCENT: So, Alina, tell me about yourself.

ALINA: What do you wanna know?

VINCENT: Well, I guess we could start with what you do?

ALINA: You know what I do.

VINCENT: Aside from –

ALINA: I’m a nurse.

VINCENT: A nurse?

ALINA: By day, yes.

VINCENT: Where?

ALINA: OVLG.

VINCENT: And by night, I’m guessing you’re a – ?

ALINA: I’m attempting to be, yeah. [Pause] Sod this, I’m getting the wine.

[ALINA stands and heads back to the kitchen]

ALINA O.S.: I’ve got Malbec or… Malbec?

VINCENT: I’m ok, really.

ALINA O.S.: No, no, I insist. If we’re gonna do this, we might as well do it in style.

VINCENT: Ever been to Argentina?

ALINA O.S.: Random!

VINCENT: Malbec.

ALINA O.S.: Ah yes, of course. A man who knows his wine, I’m impressed. No, I haven’t but I’d love to someday. Have you?

VINCENT: No.

[ALINA returns with two large glasses of red wine. VINCENT looks apprehensive.]

ALINA: Don’t worry, I rinsed them.

[ALINA returns to her crouching stance on the floor.]

VINCENT: Why did you decide to trust me?

ALINA: I had to trust someone.

VINCENT: So I’m the only one who knows about all of this?

ALINA: Yes. And I’d like to keep it that way for now.

VINCENT: That suits me just fine.

ALINA: You hear about what’s happened to the others and… well… it takes balls to trust anyone these days. You’re the first and only person I’ve talked to.

VINCENT: Why me?

ALINA: I’ve heard things about you, Vincent. Good things.

VINCENT: Nice to know. Who from?

ALINA: People talk.

VINCENT: They do, do they?

ALINA: Yeah. Well, when they think it’s safe to. And I’ve read stuff. Figured if I had to –

VINCENT: What have you read?

ALINA: Everything you’ve ever published. I know the language of the underworld, you see.

VINCENT: You do?

ALINA: Yep.

VINCENT: Elaborate for me.

ALINA: Oh come on, you know what I mean. We don’t have to play games here. [Takes a sip of wine] And I figured if I had to trust anyone, it might as well be you. So yeah, I do trust you. Well, I’m trusting you. Not sure if there’s a difference.

VINCENT: I’m risking a lot too, you know.

ALINA: I know. [Pause] What is it about this then? What’s making you take the risk?

VINCENT: I can sense your passion.

ALINA: That’s enough?

VINCENT: No, passion is never enough. But you have a lot of important things to say and I want to help you say them.

ALINA: You do?

VINCENT: I do.

ALINA: And I do, yeah. Very important things to say.

VINCENT: And you say them well.

ALINA: Thank you.

VINCENT: We need to start talking. People need to know.

ALINA: Yes.

VINCENT: No one has pushed back against them before and unless they’re challenged, they’ll win. That’s why I want to help you, why I’m putting my neck on the line.

ALINA: It’s not for me, it’s for them.

VINCENT: Of course.

ALINA: I want this to change or to at least start changing the way things are.

VINCENT: Well, I think you’ve got the potential to do just that.

ALINA: You do?

VINCENT: Change is possible at the edges.

ALINA: The truth’s trouble, eh?

VINCENT: The truth’s our weapon.

ALINA: And the book is an axe to break the frozen sea within us.

VINCENT: One you prepared earlier?

ALINA: Oh that’s Kafka’s. I pinched it.

VINCENT: How did you get your hands on him?

ALINA: These mitts get everywhere.

VINCENT: Seriously though?

ALINA: If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.

VINCENT: Ha.

ALINA: Probably shouldn’t joke about that.  [Pause] Forgot to mention I’m a lightweight.

VINCENT: I like it.

ALINA: Lightweights?

VINCENT: ‘An axe to break the frozen sea…’

ALINA:  Yeah, me too. The sea’s powerful, as is the human spirit.

VINCENT: Cheers to that.

ALINA: Cheers.

 [VINCENT and ALINA clink glasses] 

VINCENT: [Looks at manuscript] That’s it, right?

ALINA: Yeah.

VINCENT: Has anyone else got a copy?

ALINA: No, just you.

VINCENT: Is there an e-copy?

ALINA: I don’t trust computers, no. And we all know about the cloud.

VINCENT: Yes, probably best hand-written. And yours is just about legible.

ALINA: You say the sweetest things.

VINCENT: Verongelijktheid.

ALINA: Bless you.

VINCENT: I didn’t… it’s –

ALINA: Ha, I know. Sorry, I’m making fun. You said it all wrong.

VINCENT: Well, it’s a bitch of a title.

ALINA: There’s not an English equivalent.

VINCENT: What does it mean?

ALINA: A feeling of being wronged, not by a person, but by a society.

VINCENT: Apt.

ALINA: I thought so.

VINCENT: And how do I say it?

ALINA: Ok so, let’s take it syllable by syllable… “fur”, like the coat made of animals. You go.

VINCENT: “fur”

ALINA: Very good. Next; “ron”, like the name, Ron. Do both.

VINCENT: “fur ron”

ALINA: Yeah, like fur on a coat. The next bit you have to say fast; “hellick”. The ‘g’ is like an ‘h’. You?

VINCENT: “hellick”

ALINA: Kinda. But with a throaty, guttural sound. hhh-hhh-hhh –

VINCENT: “hhh-hell-”

ALINA: “hellick”, yeah. Try again.

VINCENT: “hellick”

ALINA: Then the “heit” bit, “heit”, the ‘d’ sounds like a ‘t’ so “heit”.

VINCENT: “heit”

ALINA: All together?

VINCENT: FUR-RON-HELLICK-HEIT.

ALINA: Verongelijktheid.

VINCENT: FUR-RON-HELLICK-HEIT.

ALINA: One more time. Verongelijktheid.

VINCENT: FUR-RON-HELLICK-HEIT.

ALINA: Ok, maybe we’ll change the title.

[Gentle laughter.]

VINCENT: So these stories are real then?

ALINA: Yes.

VINCENT: Verbatim?

ALINA: Pretty much. I edited and dramatized where necessary but they’re all true.

VINCENT: Where did you – ?

ALINA: The hospital. They come in on a daily basis.

VINCENT: And you’ve got evidence of this?

[There’s a sound in the distance.]

ALINA: [Quietly] Hold on.

[ALINA gets up and checks the peephole on the front door. She then heads towards the window and pulls the curtains aside to check the street down below.]

VINCENT: [Quietly] Alina?

ALINA: It’s nothing, sorry, I thought… [returning to her crouching position on the floor] Anyway, where were we?

VINCENT: Evidence? Have you got – ?

ALINA: Yeah. I’ve kept hard copies of all the interview transcripts and I’ve got the recordings. All on tape.

VINCENT: How did you manage to interview them?

ALINA: Again, the hospital. Who would suspect a nurse?

VINCENT: Where are they? The tapes?

ALINA: Safely hidden.

VINCENT: So you have proof?

ALINA: Yes, Vincent. I can prove it all. Every claim.

VINCENT: Are there any others?

ALINA: There are always others.

VINCENT: Are you writing them all up?

ALINA: Every single one.

VINCENT: Can I have a look?

ALINA: Yes, of course.

[ALINA gets up and walks over to her bag. She retrieves a case file.]

VINCENT: Is that all of them?

ALINA: No, just the last few years.

[ALINA hands VINCENT the case file.]

VINCENT: I asked you to bring everything.

ALINA: I know but I figured it was safer to go through it in stages. You know what it’s like out there.

VINCENT: Right.

ALINA: I didn’t want to risk it all in case they’re watching.

VINCENT: Yes, you’re completely right, Alina. I’m sorry.

[VINCENT starts flicking through the case file. ALINA takes a seat next to him on the small sofa.]

VINCENT: The last few years, you say?

ALINA: [Nodding] You really think we need to include more cases?

VINCENT: I think we need to include as many of them as possible. Perhaps we can even work on a handful of volumes and get them printed and distributed in one go, so we don’t get our throats slit before we get the chance to publish them all. That’s why I asked for everything.

ALINA: Well, we can always meet again, can’t we?

VINCENT: ‘Course we can. Is it ok if I take this with me?

ALINA: No. Sorry but I like to keep everything together.

VINCENT: In the safe place, right?

ALINA: Yeah. I call it my anarchist library.

VINCENT: Cute.

ALINA: It’s not supposed to be cute.

VINCENT: So all the others are – ?

ALINA: Yeah, the rest of them are –

VINCENT: In your “anarchist library”?

ALINA: Yes.

VINCENT: And you’re sure they’re safe?

ALINA: As safe as they can be.

VINCENT: Do your friends know about this? Your family?

ALINA: I haven’t got any.

VINCENT: No family?

ALINA: No nothing. My parents died when I was quite young and I move around too often to keep any friends I make along the way.

VINCENT: Nobody?

ALINA: No. But it’s alright, I’m a tough cookie.

[VINCENT downs the rest of his wine]

VINCENT: I take it that it’s not an actual library?

ALINA: No, it’s a van.

VINCENT: A van?

ALINA: Yeah, my motor home.

VINCENT: What about – ?

ALINA: I don’t live here.

VINCENT: Then where the hell are we?

ALINA: Well, technically, I do live here. For the next forty-eight hours anyway.

VINCENT: You’ve lost me?

ALINA: I rented it out especially. In your honour.

VINCENT: Seriously? You rented out a flat for this?

ALINA: Yeah, well, you know. We live in a soulless society. You can’t trust anyone. I figured that in case we were being watched, they wouldn’t be able to find us or set my house on fire or anything like that.

VINCENT: You thought of everything, huh?

ALINA: I’ll take that as a compliment.

 [VINCENT returns to the file]

VINCENT: “Francisca Van Alst…”

ALINA: The women have to be kept anonymous. I promised them that.

VINCENT: Yes, of course. [Begins to read the notes on Francisca Van Alst] “They think we do not talk, but we do…” Clearly.

ALINA: I haven’t finished writing that one up yet.

VINCENT: How many?

ALINA: Hundreds. Maybe more.

VINCENT: What about the hospital?

ALINA: What about it?

VINCENT: Do they know? The management, I mean?

ALINA: Probably, yeah, but they’d never do anything about it.

VINCENT: Why’s that?

ALINA: They don’t want to ruffle any feathers, I guess.

VINCENT: They won’t say anything?

ALINA: I doubt it. They’re a peculiar kind of evil those management types.

VINCENT: And your patients?

ALINA: Current ones, you mean?

VINCENT: Yeah?

ALINA: Well, I’m encouraging them to speak up but fear’s a pretty powerful deterrent.

VINCENT: But there’s a chance they’ll stand up for themselves and say something?

ALINA O.S.: There’s always a chance.

[Pause]

VINCENT: Give us a top up, will you?

ALINA: Sure.

[ALINA gets up, picks up the empty glasses and goes to the kitchen.]

VINCENT: So… tell me more about this van of yours?

[VINCENT quietly withdraws a handgun from his coat pocket]

ALINA O.S.: Well, it’s beige. Pretty dull, I know, but at least you can’t see the dirt on it. And it’s got really old school curtains, a cute little shower, and a single bed… I know, I’m thirty-two and I sleep on a single bed, tragic, huh?

[VINCENT nonchalantly attaches a silencer]

VINCENT: Where’s it parked?

ALINA O.S.: Right now it’s in The Hague but I’ll move it tomorrow. Not tonight – I’m too squiffy.

VINCENT: The Hague, hm? Nice. A friend of mine grew up near there.

ALINA O.S.: Oh really?

[ALINA returns carrying two full glasses of red wine. VINCENT shoots her… a double tap…and she drops to the floor, dead. VINCENT calmly packs the case file into his bag and, avoiding the spillage of wine and blood, makes a phone call]

VINCENT: [On the phone] It’s me. Send someone to The Hague – tell them to look out for a beige motor home and call me when it’s found, ok? [Pause] Have we dealt with Vincent Evers yet? [Pause] Good. The usual protocol with 43 Van Goghstraat, please. Oh and as for OVLG Hospital – burn it to the ground. [Pause] No, no evacuation necessary.

[Blackout]