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"Yesterday I saw a documentary about veterans of a World War II prison camp. A veteran said the best thing about being free was 'being able to say no' again...."

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words by misha cahill


Black night of black stars. Our car sat under the Hopeville Bridge, alongside the other workers with their tricks. Mine, Ralph, was a 56-year-old thermal engineer. He thought himself very clever: he’d read The Da Vinci Code. He liked me because I had “skinny legs.” Many junkies do.

The horror of the night was that he had a rash. That’s how I like to spend my Friday nights, looking close up at red lumps. He said it was just eczema.

This Ralph reminded me of my bald Uncle, also an engineer. I wondered whether my Uncle was similarly addicted to pornography. I was revolted by my Uncle as a girl. Perhaps you can sense that sort of thing. My Uncle, like Ralph, tended to hold forth in an Essex accent about solutions to traffic congestion.

We were finished now. I twisted the rear vision mirror to check my face, and asked for ninety dollars.

Ralph fumbled in his wallet. He gave me four twenty dollar notes, and turned to the change purse for the remaining ten. Great, ten dollars in coins. The change purse was a square leather attachment on his wallet. He could only come up with eight dollars.

“That's all I’ve got. I'm honestly sorry. I didn't expect ...”

I explained that he would have to pay, or face Lawrence, my manager.

“Look,” he said, “Take these. Five dollars worth of taxi chits. I get them from my work. I’m giving you more value than you even asked for, see?”

Yeah. Fantastic. But I took the chits. Yesterday I saw a documentary about veterans of a World War II prison camp. A veteran said the best thing about being free was “being able to say no” again. It immediately struck me that all workers—if not all girls—were like prison camp inmates.

“You should be grateful,” he said, seeing my face, “I know for a fact I’m a lot better than the other guys you girls get. I’m not some violent bastard.”

Yeah, you were the first person today not to murder me.

“Don’t look so glum, love. I’ll be back tomorrow night and I’ll look out for you so we can repeat this enchanted evening.” He sucked in his cheeks as he said “enchanted evening,” as if to emphasize the phrase. It was my Uncle, exactly.


Misha Cahill hails from New Zealand and is currently completing a degree in English poetry. She has been published or has work forthcoming in Thieve’s Jargon, Skive, and Long Story Short.



©2005 Misha Cahill • Smokebox
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