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The Taxidermy of Eric Herschberg (Short Story) (1 Viewer)

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Hello everyone, this is a short story I have been working on for the past month. I understand it is a long read (just over 7000 words), so I completely get that people wouldn't want to read such a long 'short' story. I could have broke it up into chunks for people to read but I felt the story has a different effect by breaking it up into parts. I appreciate anyone who reads it, thank you.

The Taxidermy of Eric Herschberg​

Synopsis: A father delves into his past to help his son recover from a mysterious illness.

The Iron and Steel theatre, for the most part, looks the same, except for the large welt that has erupted from the side of it. The theatre used to be a smooth grey granite construct that slanted to one side like a giant extraction fan - an idea by the cities architect and the famous playwright Eva Costa (whose plays were the only ones to show here) to have the building represent an industrial setting like its industrial city. But the granite walls have grown a welt of gnarled wood, dwarfing the old glass entrance.

It’s like a nightmare has reached boiling point, condensation leaking from it, blurring what was here. The nightmare has attached itself to this familiar building like an ulcer. The ulcer trying to make my past unrecognisable like a tomb of herbs lost under waves of ivy. But I need to find those herbs again. I need to get inside the theatre and find the herbs that will help my son, Tim recover from his strange illness.
I perform a lap of the building sliding my hand along the smooth granite, then the chewed, sharp wood, waiting for my hand to snag. Hoping it will mean an opening. But my hand doesn’t snag. It appears the theatre has pulled the sheets over its shaking, ageing body. It has only been in this state since the great playwright Eva Costa passed away. Her work now closed off to the world.

I look up to the apartment blocks above, longing to see Eva looking down from her window at me like she did to all us fans rushing to see her plays in the evenings after work. I wonder if she would be inspired to see that one of her fans is trying to watch one of her plays after her passing.

For a second I thought I heard her voice, but this ladies voice is sharper in tone to Eva’s - her voice sounding like every word rode on a soft cloud. The voice comes from the front of the theatre. I peak around the corner like I do to Tim to see how steady his breathing is, not wanting to cause a disturbance. And see a lady in a pin stripped suit holding a clipboard, and pointing to the apartments around her like a real estate agent. The man and woman she is leading are a fur coated young couple - dressed far too well for this city. Since Eva died six months ago I have seen people in clothes I would have to sell my apartment to buy, and cars I could only ever drive in a video game visit this city infrequently, like lost tourists. However, over the past two days more and more of these rich people have been visiting this city. They wonder around and into every building from the factories to the apartments like these buildings hold something important to them. And now it appears, so does the theatre. It’s as if some invisible barrier has crumbled and the gold is rolling in the mud. They flock to us in their lush cars, their backseats down, trunks empty. They even sometimes arrive in vans, always empty. I just wonder what they are coming here to collect.

The couple look around with eyes as wide as the alley, and the alleys here are abnormally wide. They’re the width of a runway, and the windows in the apartments around us start from sixty feet up. It’s as if fire and smoke were meant to be fuelling the streets below. The couple then point and squeeze each other’s arms in excitement as if the alley is becoming their dream home. The real estate lady says, “And in here I will show you the artefacts.” They proceed by pushing a part of the wooden wall that flaps open like a trap door into the theatre. I was told I would never find a door.

The Copper Lady told me this only thirty minutes ago. She sat on top of a mound of copper bowls and sieves in a back office in the cities bank, everything else covered in ash (a fire erupted a week ago and burnt the buildings insides away). Her wide frame almost the same width as the mound of copper she spread herself on, lying across them like she was expecting me to pull out an easel and sketch her, but her fading navy dress and skin that you could roll around and make bread from would not give an artist much of an impression. The bullet proof glass was the only barrier separating her and I. Blueprints and maps stacked on top of a coffee table next to her. They looked like maps of this city, but with roads and buildings that did not exist. I only came here because that morning Tim was asking about how it felt to be old, how it felt to know your body is shutting down. I knew this wasn’t just a general question kids his age ask like how are babies born? This was a warning he was getting worse. But with money tight, my only answer was to seek the thing that helped me and Sarah in the past. The Iron and Steel theatre. I rung the theatres number to ask what plays were on but I was told by an automated voice all enquiries for ‘derelict buildings’ were at the bank. I was then told to visit the ‘Copper Lady’ for further ‘information’. I said to Tim that I was only going out to buy cotton wool buds. That was a valid reason because my reddening skin gave promotion for me needing them. I needed them to spread my body cream all over my arms. For the last few weeks my skin has become so hard it hurts to stretch, it’s like my skin is hardening like paper Mache, but I do not have to be in any rush to get back home. Mrs. Milch is looking after him. He always sits up in his bed when he hears her light footsteps echo the corridor. His eyes following her from the point she opens the door, unlike when I walk in - pretending to be asleep.

The Copper Lady told me I would not find the original theatre entrance by looking for a door. That I would only find it by getting ‘lost in the cities back streets and stores and roads you did not know existed’.

She warned me, “If you venture too far. You will see yourself in the paintings of a home you do not recognise.”

I check my phone, just encase there’s no signal inside, or if I am about to get ‘lost’. No missed call from Tim. He and Mrs. Milch must be hard at work on their ‘art project’. Hopefully it’s not exerting him too much, his breathing was steady and consistent when I left, still a little shallow, but it always is nowadays.

I push the wooden door and it flaps open with minimal resistance. Straight away I knew it wasn’t just the outside that’s changed. The Iron and Steels design and decor is supposed to represent the labour industry as a pioneer for the future of our society. Our work turned into post modern design from the glass sofas and chairs made from the factories, the reception desk carved from dark slate in the shape of billowing smoke, the floor and walls carved from granite, the stairs and walkways made of black grate metal, and the lifts rigged and wired for wheelchair access. Even our manual labour was turned into art. Displays hung from every wall from a conveyer belt made of plastic dollars churning out factories made of wool, to a clam of silver pipes, to a one armed bandit machine made out of tin cans, the wrappers of food signifying: jackpot! But this is not the Iron and Steel I know. Not the one that gave us hope that our tired bodies and growling stomachs weren’t just for the production of some wealthy tycoon in a white bricked mansion. But were the foundation for society, that without us society would have no ground to stand on, and nothing to sell. But this is like the theatre has fallen mentally ill and lost its identity. The old red carpeted steps with golden trims around the edge are all that remain. The stairs, walls and floor are now made of wood. The lift is a wooden platform attached to a long chain running up the staircase. The sofas replaced by wooden tables and chairs. The reception area just a long wooden table. Everything in here is replicated as if it were now part of history. Wooden beams instead of smooth grey slate walls. The lobby dim, only lit by candles in silver dishes. My neck has to bend so I can duck under the ceiling. Everything in here is small, like this is only supposed to be a replica model. Even the artwork has been restored by replacing them with photos of the original pieces. And where each piece of decor I described are gold plaques. But it’s too dark to see what is written on them.

I stay on track of why I have come here, and follow the narrow wooden winding staircase. My legs able to skip four steps at a time. The walls brush my arms, painting my sleeves with dust.

At the top of the staircase, I see the familiar sloping aisles of seats, but I should also be seeing brown velvet seats. However, they are covered by tarpaulin like rows of teeth. The ceiling has not risen to normal height either. I am still ducking.

Where the back wall should be, is a large glass screen, the width of a cinema screen. In it, different shades of black swim in and out of view like an aquarium bleached in tar. I hear the rustle of crisp packets and distant murmurs like an audience wants to remain hidden behind the screen, ready to watch the show. Focus Eric, just get the recording and get out of here. I get my camera out of my canvas rucksack, and wait for the stage lights to come on. Sarah and I used to come here every Friday to watch one of Eva’s plays after work (me, a cashier for a DIY store and Sarah a production worker). That was until Eva died six months ago. She was found in an almost derelict New York hotel room surrounded by briefcases full of her plays. Her body withered as a tree struck by lightning. No food in her. No one knew why she had travelled there. No one knew she was penniless. But that is why we idealise her. She did it all for us working class, not the money.

All the miners, carpenters, factory workers, builders all barely made enough money to feed the cat let alone the kids. But her plays offered us hope when she was alive. She wrote stories of the common man/woman triumphing against the odds, living happy, healthy lives. These plays gave us a sense of placement in history. It helped us feel like even a cashier was as vital as a heart surgeon, ‘we shape the iron walls that protect the rich and vain’ as referenced by her play, Wandering Life.

The last crowd I saw in this city was outside the Iron and Steel two weeks ago when everything in this city began to close down. Everyone was trying to see her plays, but not as a tribute for her after her passing, but for their own sanity. At that point, more than ever, we needed the hope and promise of her stories. My boss had sat me down at his desk two weeks ago - my co-workers sweeping their lockers full of their possessions into carrier bags. He told me that all production across the city has been asked to stop. No reason given as to why, except: ‘consumers want a different kind of ‘service’ from us’. This vague statement was recycled for every employee in every industry across the city from the factories, shops, gas stations, bank, labourers, etc. My boss said, “All we were here for was to create economic value, but they want to stick hooks in our necks, Eric. Stick hooks in us like a painting and hang us from their walls”
Who was going to stick hooks in us? Corporate entities? CIA? God?
The rich?

Sarah never lost her job though, she didn’t get time to. According to a colleague, every worker in the factory she worked including Sarah was searching the aisles of the factory for their manager who had gone missing from his office since that morning. After a while one colleague said to check the machines encase he fell into one. And they did find a body, but it wasn’t the managers. Sarah had been crushed by one of the spool machines. Papers sprinkled next to her like crushed doves. The papers were documents pertaining to the sponsors and orders from a hundred different companies for glass bowls, cups, drink mugs etc. Sarah must have tried to retrieve the papers, knowing how important it was to keep buyers on your side. When she reached into that machine I know she not only did it for the good of her co-workers. That’s what attracted me to Sarah. She would look out for the good of the community.

The manager must have thrown the documents in the machine and ran off – he must have known an end to their business was coming but was too scared to tell any of his employees. Two weeks later officials came down and told everyone the news anyway. Saving that coward the job.

Tim looks at me now as if I am waiting to confess something, as if I somehow programmed the machine to kill Sarah so I could have him all to myself in our top floor apartment. He does not speak to me most days. I think he thinks I am responsible for his illness too.
There is a loud ‘shush!’ then a light beam reveals the stage. The light showcases a table with a deck of paper lying there, glowing like the main star of the show, but this isn’t the start of any of Eva’s plays. I remain standing, not seated like the one bald man in the seats below. At this stage I’m unsure if the seats are for spectators or they’re part of the play itself. The bald man cups his head, leaning down to his feet, clasping his head like he is holding it together because it’s been cracked on the side of the seat. He sobs into his hands. His head doesn’t glimmer from the stage light but look gritty, a thin layer of some kind of dust making him look grey.
He shoots ups, continuing to sniffle and rub his sleeve across his nose. He balls down to the stage as if he is about to begin an exchange of words with it. I recognise his jaunty walk. As soon as he vaults onto the stage he kicks the table and as his leg collides his leg gives way and he collapses as if he’s kicked the table so hard his leg has gone dead. I run towards the table shouting, “Carl.” He doesn’t even flinch at the sudden break in silence my shout causes. My call seems to leave my mouth and get sucked into the theatres walls. I can’t even get close to him. He has already clambered up and limped through the fire exit before I reach the stage. This is the first time I’ve seen him since he was sacked from his department store job two weeks ago, like the rest of us.

As I am on the stage, I should really check what this paper is anyway. I do a lap of the table first, checking to see if there is some kind of booby trap I’m about to walk into, like the thing that ‘numbed’ Carl. I don’t know if this script will suddenly turn me to stone or something like one of those old myths. Out of the screen at the back like it’s coming from the theatre itself, a stern feminine voice that sounds like the real estate-looking-lady I saw earlier says, “Wait, who has moved him across the room. You know he is supposed to be placed here.” I don’t have a clue what she is talking about or where she is for that matter, but I grab the pages, flick through it and my eyes catch the eloquent flow of Eva’s hand writing. It’s one of her plays, Concrete Birds Can Fly. It will have to do. I need to fly out of here. I shove it in my backpack, careful not to crease any of the pages encase if I did this whole place would crumble, and I bomb through the fire exit.
The fire exit was in fact another trap door. And I came out of the slate wall, the old part of the theatre. The sun is now lower, shadows darken the alleyway. I check my watch. I’ve been over an hour.

I will have to rush home. Tim will be wanting a scolding hot water bottle or for me to pinch his legs as hard as I can – he always wants me to do this once a day, to test for even a tinkle of feeling. I’ve been too long. But it’s his fault, I wouldn’t have had to go out anyway to buy cotton buds if he didn’t keep stealing them from me when I am asleep on the couch. He must slump himself into his wheelchair and hide them in his short pockets. I reckon he’s using them for his ‘art project’ in our storage cupboard with Mrs. Milch, who is a sculptor. The first thing I Mrs. Milch doing was sculpting. She was chiselling parts of the gravestone of Eva when I came around the corner at the cemetery a week ago to visit Sarah’s grave. When I asked what the hell she was doing, she claimed she just wanted to have a bit of Eva with her at all times. She seemed flustered as she told me this, like she knew she was doing wrong, but obsession can drive people to commit heinous acts, or make desperate decisions, like breaking into a public theatre. She pouted, but a pout that blocked tears from flowing. She told me she never saw any of Eva’s plays. I think it’s why she found me so fascinating. Besides, she said she lives in a museum full of taxidermy and old clothes from bygone eras, but I’ve never caught her say where this museum was exactly. I assume she lives in the city considering she’s heard of Eva, and her clothes are of the low cost variety, always wearing the same polyester green dress. Yet it is well polished and clean, and with all the air pollution in this city, that’s quite a feat.

Tim seems to enjoy her company too which is fantastic. It gives me time to leave the house and hunt for things that will help him in his recovery. He always seems to responds to her better anyway, asking her questions about where she lives and her interests. He always says, “If there is one thing I ask of you, please let me and Mrs. Milch’s creation remain unseen until the end.” I never know exactly what he means by ‘the end’, he says it with such foreboding finality for a kid, but I always nod and promise. He and I would never do anything like that together. I get the impression I am just an annoying wind on a cold day.

With this script we could read it together, me by his bedside. He can find hope that he can overcome this strange illness by hearing this inspirational play. How a common man rose up from the death trap of the coal mines, got lung cancer and was told he was going to die, but wouldn’t accept his fate. He kept working until he could fund enough money to open his own shop, and gradually his lung cancer wore off long after treatment had stopped and the doctors had told him there was nothing more they could do. It is one of Eva’s most famous plays. I hope by reading him this it will give him the same hope it used to give us. I mean, something has to help my son recover, because the truth is I don’t know what will heal him. I can’t afford hospital bills. Well, I can barely afford two hundred dollars a month for utility costs. I’ve had to stop paying for gas and cable TV. Our lighting mainly consists of dim candle lit evenings.
No one I have spoken to seems to have any idea what illness Tim has contracted. It happened over a period of a week. On the Monday a month ago he was told his school no longer needed students, that the education system no longer ‘benefited them’ (around the same time I lost my job, and Sarah died). Tim stayed in his room all week, his friends not being able to leave their homes and go and out play with him as there was supposedly a ‘bug’ passing round the school before it closed, but Tim had not picked it up.

Tim continued to stay in his room, no noise, no slick sounds of brush strokes of him painting, or soldering bits of rubbish he found in the bins to make into art (his favourite way of making art) only came out for meals, until one dinner time he did not come out at all. I opened his door and saw him lying stiff on his rug like an insect that had been sprayed by repellent. Tim said he could not feel his legs, and then he began to have fits of violent coughing that brought up soot and cable wire length hairs like he was somehow inhaling the underneath of a factory machine.

Sometimes the feeling in his legs returns, only briefly, before he becomes weak, pale and sweats black tar. There have been growths on him too. His right foot is spotted with rust. I heard from friends down the corridor, that their children had picked up the same illness. But no one had a name for it, or a cure. I tried everything to stop him from getting worse: endless medicines from pharmacy’s, herbal remedies, I even tried to keep myself as germ free as possible, shaving my greying hair, nails and wearing the newest pair of clothes I owned because they would carry less dirt.

As I walk, my phone vibrates in my pocket. It’s Mrs. Milch. I can hear her voice cautious and low like she is in an art auction and waiting for her winning bid to be accepted. “He’s walking, Eric. He’s up out of his bed without his stick,” she said this with a plain tone like this is some kind of formality. Her voice usually sprite with energy and joy.

“Mrs. Milch, he is sick. You’re draining him, tell Tim he needs to rest.”

“No. Eric, Tim is fine. We’ve been completing the art project together and he’s been talking and laughing and walking around. His legs aren’t wobbling, and there is colour in his cheeks.”

“You don’t just get better. It’s an illness.

There is a pause. Mrs. Milch sighs, “I think he may need a more forgiving environment.”

I let out a sharp cackle of a laugh like those words need to be shot out of my system. “I’m sorry, but you have no idea how well I look after this boy - ” I can’t believe she is accusing me of this now, she usually says how I’ve kept my apartment in great condition considering our money troubles before this.

“But there is only one egg and some rotten carrots in this fridge, and there is not even any furniture in here. You do a good job of making him feel like a prisoner,” she said this like she carried a clipboard and it is her job to perform an inspection.

“We don’t have money, you know that. I had to make money somehow. You must know how hard it is to earn money in this city now.”
The line went silent, then after a beat, “He says he wants to come home with me.” Her voice had a sharpness I had not heard before.

“Well he does start saying strange stuff when his blood pressures low. As I said, let him rest.”

“No, he said this as soon as I walked in, Mr. Herschberg,” she has never addressed me by my surname, neither have I told her it.

“Hang on. Let me speak to him.”

“I think it is advisable if he comes home with me right away. We have much to complete,” the delivery of this line was like she was simply delivering it to the telephone line, like my response will get lost in the static.

And before I can ask what the hell she is on about, my phone is yanked from my hand. A high heeled lady wrapped in a mink fur coat runs with it in her outstretched arm.

“Hey,” I begin to pelt after her, but she is somehow already more than fifty feet ahead.

I chase her as hard and fast as my legs can propel me. I keep on following the sounds of the heels clapping the concrete. But she is quicker than me, as if a map is showing her shortcuts I do not know about. Maybe she has acquired a map from the Copper Lady. Every alleyway looks the same, so does every apartment block. I follow her through a labyrinth of concrete pillars that guide me through the empty streets full of vacant liquor stores, convenience stores, dive bars and signs with tired, faded writing. These are all places for self medicating. Gone are the car mechanics, labourers, carpenters, mills and factories that build for the future. They’re all still looking the same like they’re open, their shelves so full of stock. Little plaques on the window, and I stop to read them as I’ve lost the lady a few blocks back. The plaques read: ‘this is where Eva bought her groceries’ . . . ‘where she took her car for repair’ . . . ‘where she got her shoes polished.’ I realise the plaques in the theatre must have all been about Eva too.

A few shops down, For Shaw Shoes is still open. The Shaw family own it. I know them from when I went to school with the father, the owner, Pete. The shop sign reads ‘open’, and Pete is polishing pairs of black work shoes with the precise care he brought to everything from his family to his job. It’s like he still believes this city is going to be rebooted at any point. His is the only shop in the street with its lights still on.

A black stretch limo pulls up outside like a giant beetle. A skinny man with cropped slicked back brown hair in ripped grey trousers and a white vest steps out. The clothes are too big for him, like he had just stolen them off a homeless person. Another man steps out, his body modelled on the curvature of a bowling ball and his head modelled on a pigs ass, with one strand of hair curled on his head like the tail. His skin is smooth like a baby. He looks overstuffed like his body has been flooded with all the riches of life from an early age. They point at Pete like you would a rare species on safari. They watch Pete lace shoes with whip-quick finesse. Skinny man pulls out a camera from the side door of the limo and the camera’s flash flickers the whole street. They stand and stare at their camera, not interested in going inside the shop despite it boasting a ‘70% off’ sign. Every shop in this block has a sale sign, and their stock is still full. I can feel the wind chill my arm.

Maybe these two know where this rich woman went, if they don’t I’ll have to head back home.
As I get closer I see they are still looking into the camera talking about how much they are going to sell this picture for. I glance to Pete who now stands in a rigid stance as if the flash from the camera has sent a metal rod shoot up his spine and turned him into a window display. His facial expression is also vacant. And he’s stopped lacing the pair of shoes he was working on. The two men must have heard my footsteps. They now face me with manic grins like that of a gurning puppet.

“Y-You haven’t seen a lady running around these streets, she’s wearing a mink fur coat, high heels.”

They ignore me, and Bowling Ball clamps my arms with his pudgy hands and hoists me off the pavement, dangling me from his grip like a manikin in a department store. Bowling Ball says, “There you go, Nathaniel.”

The skinny man eyes me like he’s measuring for a tailored suit. I shout to get off, I tell them I have just been mugged and want to find my phone. They still ignore me. Skinny man nods his head, “Yes, this will complete my outfit for the ball.”

I feel the large pair of hands under my jacket now, they slip my jacket from me and my backpack drops to the floor, and so do I. Skinny man says, “You know it reminds me of that jacket from one of Eva’s plays, which one is it, Clark?” I know. It’s from Eva’s play, Becky Telwin. The jacket worn by the maverick builder Hank Telwin who dies at the end to show the upper class they can’t keep treating us working class like sewer waste.

Why do these two rich guys have such an interest in Eva anyway?

I try and shove Bowling Ball but it’s like trying to kick a medicine ball: it only moves slightly and you hurt yourself in the process. Neither one of the men acknowledge that I tried to shove one of them, they carry on a conversation about how their friends will be surprised by the ‘lavish attire’ they have acquired in this city. But I don’t have time to stand and tussle. I grab my backpack and run.

I tried to run most of the way back home, but at times I couldn’t help but slow to a walk and gawk at what I saw. I saw high-end cars parked across the middle of the street like it was suddenly their own driveway. I saw people I once knew from all the different industries across the city, but they weren’t alive, they were in the paintings the rich people carried. Portraits of us working class walking smog filled streets with one giant silhouetted figure watching down on us, Evangeline Costa. The homeless were having pictures taken of them. The rich ignoring the requests for food and shelter. I heard the rich people comment how this city was just how it was depicted in Eva’s plays, how us working class would sell for a lot ‘back home’, like we were action figures from a popular franchise. The rich paraded up and down the streets reading the plaques, amazed at the place they were in like it was some kind of giant open air museum for Eva.

As I reach the corner of Carpet Grove, my home block, I see on the side of the curb, a blacked out Sedan with its passenger door wide open, counterfeit ‘gold’ watches spilt onto the sidewalk like sand. A bald man clenches the steering wheel, his head bowed into it like a vice. I’ve found him again.
I say, “Were you in the theatre just thirty minutes ago?” His face rolls to the right so it can face me, his left cheek resting on the steering wheel, his right cheek bumpy and crusty like paper Mache, “They’ve burnt my face, Eric.”

“Who did?”

“Have you not seen them? They’ve come here to poke and prod us like dead insects.”

“The rich people?”

“Read the newspapers, Eric. Eva’s plays got discovered. Some upper class playwright from New York who makes pretentious plays, uh, Carter . . . something – who gives a shit. But she’s famous because of him,” Carl clenches his face muscles as if a spasm has eclipsed him, he manages to squeeze out, “Not one of these new ‘fans’ care what her plays are about. They just want to say they’ve seen them, makes them look affluent you see.”

“But her plays were for us, never for the upper class.”

Carl strains his face muscles – the spasm continuing its grip, “Not anymore they’re not. You seen all these rich people the last few days parading these streets. Carter has bought the city. He has closed down every industry down and turned us into a guided tour so you ‘can see Eva’s plays come to life!’ He has resigned us to history, Eric. We are an exhibition now.” He coughs, and then his eye lids flicker down for a final curtain call.

I close the door to Carl’s car with a respectful quiet push. And as I walk the rest of the way home I realise Mrs. Milch could be one of those rich people. Thinking about it, there are no museums in this city, never was. And when she was chiselling Eva’s grave, she wasn’t doing to as a memento, but to steal some of it and place it in her museum in whichever rich town/city she resided. She only became interested in me because she sees me as expensive memorabilia of a great playwright. But she is interested in Tim because he can carry on the legacy of a great artist, Eva.

When I get back up to my apartment I stand at the door listening for the conversations Tim and Mrs. Milch have when I am not there. Listening for the lies she whispers to him. But the other side of the door harbours silence. I edge my way in as I do when I have to head to the shops at night when Tim is asleep. There’s no sign of Mrs. Milch, and Tim is lying flat on his back, still awake. His eyes are pinned on me, his arms by his side like someone has just put him into that position. He’s wearing those doll eyes again. Those eyes with nothing behind them as if he does not recognise you. He does that when he’s angry with me. But I don’t want to scare him by warning about Mrs. Milch, so I say, “I here you’ve been up walking about, Tim.”

He doesn’t respond. I walk round to the side of his bed. His eyes remain on the door. “Has she worn you out? Just say, because if she’s making you tired - ”

“No, Eric, I - ” He coughs, his whole body kicking from the violent convulsions. I hold the back of his head, but he shoots straight up in his bed. He holds out a hand for me to wait and says, “Eric, you don’t understand, when Martha is here I don’t cough. I don’t feel this pain all the time.”

He calls her Martha now, “But look what it does to you when she leaves . . .”

He ignores my comment, smiling now, no signs of rust or tar on his smooth face, “She showed me pictures of all the artefacts in her museum when you were gone. She said I can help preserve them. That I can work there. And I got a feeling like I can’t tell ya. I felt this energy surging through my legs. I-I could walk, I could move around. I could even finish our art project. She even said I could display our project in her museum.”

“You’re not going anywhere Tim. You need to be resting. It’s too smoggy out there. Your lungs won’t take it.”

“Mrs. Milch says, I’m not even ill, it’s just that my body is corroding in a dying city. She says there is no hope for the next generation here anymore.”

What Mrs. Milch says, what does she know, she’s not here now is she?” Tim starts to reply but I carry on,Well, guess what kid, guess what I’ve been doing,” I go over to my backpack on the table, “You know why I was so long, well, this is going to make you hopeful for your future,” I unbuckle my backpack, making sure Tim is looking at me so he can see this piece of great writing, “Me and your Mom used to - ” I pull the script out. But the pages have turned to stone. I’m holding an ornament. All the words of the play lost in a solid rock. It’s like the only thing this script is useful for is to be displayed on a wall and stared at.

“Please. I just want to get better,” Tim’s eyes are glacial now. Tears looming at the bottom, more out of desperation to make me understand, “Mrs. Milch can make me better. She says I am a great artist, that I deserve a future.”

“Mrs. Milch couldn’t give two damns about any of us working class, where is she now, huh. She’s left, just like all those rich people will.”

Tim looks up at the ceiling, and as if the words are too heavy to move he sighs deeply and says, “She’s coming back in her car, right now, she says I can only get better with hope for the future,” Tim said this with a hint of optimism in his voice, like it was his ticket out of here,

“J-Just wait out on the road when she comes, ok, you’ll see that I can walk.”

I feel the options narrowing on me like the streets in the city are closing in with the smog. Would it hurt to at least let my son try and get better a different way? Maybe I am infecting him. Maybe there is nothing I can give him as all of us in my generation are resigned to the history of one famous icon. But Tim can still make his own history. Maybe Mrs. Milch sees Tim as the shining gold plate in a room full of rusting antiques. She knows he just needs a polish. I say to Tim, “I-I can come with you.”

“Dad,” this is the first time he has ever referred to me as his father, “I can’t walk when you’re around.”

He stays looking at the floor, and I back off towards the door, and say, “You can spend a week there, no more, and I want to be able to visit you, ok?”

Tim looks at me with the doll eyes again, “Sure, Eric.”


He didn’t let me walk him down the stairs, so I wait across the street. But he promised me that when he is in the car, Mrs. Milch will come over and give me her address.

I watch him duck his head into Mrs. Milch’s probably-one-million-dollar Porsche like any teenager when they hop into their friend’s new car, acting all jazzed because they are finally away from their parents. His body moves like that of any healthy boy his age, letting her hoist him into the passenger seat, flashing a strained smile at her as if he could really get in the car without assistance, but shows her warmth anyway. He wouldn’t have smiled if I did that. Mrs. Milch doesn’t even turn to acknowledge me. It’s as if I am a discarded piece of furniture on a street corner. She just gets in the driver’s side and pinches Tim’s nose. She speeds off as if there is important work to do.

For the rest of the day I sit in my apartment looking at Tim’s empty bed. Unsure if I will ever see him again. Maybe Tim being with the upper class will give me him the ‘fruits’ to live a life with some kind of purpose to it, maybe that will be his cure. Perhaps I will see him again when he comes to collect his art project. Perhaps I should see it. It might show me that I really was holding back such a huge potential all this time.

I wonder over to the cupboard and try to twist the door knob but it’s jammed. Nevertheless, the door opens by itself, as if it were on a slope. The telephone box sized storage cupboard is unlit. A dangling piece of string brushes my shoulder. I pull it and just like the theatre, a light shines on what I came here to see, and like the theatre it isn’t what I expected. I see a figure of a human body shaped out of cotton wool stuck to a plain wood terracotta board. It’s the same height and width as me. And it’s laid out like stuffing . . . I wonder where they will place me in the museum.

Harper J. Cole

Creative Area Specialist (Speculative Fiction)
Staff member
Chief Mentor
I found this rather interesting, especially the second half, starting from his telephone conversation with Mrs. Milch. The first half had a lot of long descriptive passages; perhaps these could be broken into smaller paragraphs? I know there are plenty of great authors who use longer paragraphs, but it can intimidate readers a bit to see them.

I'd also watch out for repeating information, e.g. Eva is introduced as a famous playwright then re-introduced as a great playwright only a paragraph later.

The second half of the story was surreal, sinister and intriguing. I rather like that the reasons for his son's inconsistent health are left ambiguous. Nice work, all in all.



Senior Member
I found this rather interesting, especially the second half, starting from his telephone conversation with Mrs. Milch. The first half had a lot of long descriptive passages; perhaps these could be broken into smaller paragraphs? I know there are plenty of great authors who use longer paragraphs, but it can intimidate readers a bit to see them.

I'd also watch out for repeating information, e.g. Eva is introduced as a famous playwright then re-introduced as a great playwright only a paragraph later.

The second half of the story was surreal, sinister and intriguing. I rather like that the reasons for his son's inconsistent health are left ambiguous. Nice work, all in all.


thank you Harper J. Cole for the helpful feedback and for you taking the times to read this.
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