the writing disorder


radha bharadwaj

New Fiction


by Radha Bharadwaj

       “…everything in its place in the world, in the right amount. Not too little, not too much. Everything as it should be—in perfect balance,” Trotter said for the trillionth, zillionth, gazillionth time—but who’s counting?
       Not that Liam could count much past sixty-seven, anyway, and that too erroneously, with skipped numbers and numbers all out-of-order, things that had earned him cuffs on the head and skinned knuckles from his fish-lipped, storm-eyed mother who died when she was sixty-seven, and who was determined when she was alive to have a college-going son (“…like the Chinks in the next block even if I have to kill you to do so, goddamit,” the quote from the afore-mentioned mother, mother of Liam, Mariam Elspeth McNeely.)
       It all fitted together, like odd pieces thrown together in a quilt and coming to form a pattern of singular symmetry and balance: his mother and the basement apartment in the Halifax brownstone (number 67) leading up to Trotter and this expanse now of the uncompromising, anonymous, incalculable white that he had to trudge through. A white so cold it separated your self from you, and you watched from some place safe and warm and distant as your doomed self trudged, like one in a chain-gang, through crunches of snow and bunches of ice, everything you touched crackling and turning into filthy slush, everything untouched still a poached-egg white as far as your snow-blind eyes could see. A cold so real it made everything else unreal—the ice on your lashes and the mist from between your teeth. Everything unreal but good old Trotter, who was talking loudly and boisterously, like schoolboys do in the face of imminent danger.
       Liam, all six feet six inches of him, lumbered steadily through the cold and ice like a beast of burden, a Tibetan yak. The cold touched him, too—but only so far. Deep inside were places he could dive to, hide in. So he smiled gently, for he was primarily a gentle man, as Trotter explained his theories on the need for balance.
       “Too few fish in the sea means the big guys—the sharks and whales—go hungry. Then they start to eat each other, or eat us. See what I mean? That’s why everything needs to be in proper proportion. But good luck getting those turds shouting slogans to understand that!” a hoot at this from Trotter—a bleak bittern-like cry that scurried away in an echo and came back, like a boomerang flung by the prismatic dunes of primordial snow.
       A thin sleety rain had started, piercing their eyes and skin with minute needles of fish-bone ice. The line groaned collectively. Liam did not. He looked at the punctured sky with his round blue eyes—the sleet hit his face and open eyes, but it did not hurt him. The elements had never hurt him, not even when he had been a child.
       They trudged through the remaining miles to the Paradise Hotel. It took them a few minutes to leave behind the unforgiving cold—they stood in a huddle by the massive front door like a bison herd, stamping their feet and steaming through their nostrils. But flesh is stupid—at least, the flesh of other men, Liam observed, for they soon forgot the cold, and Trotter’s blather of balance and proportion, and every terrible thing that they had done to earn their pay that day. They charged to the fire where a spread was spread: grease and fat and things fried and turned and slathered in what would clog their pumps and turn them blue in a few years. But who cared? Here it was warm and there was food and drink, while the next day waited outside, concealed by the cold, camouflaged; like a snow leopard….
       Trotter had told him everything would smell of their workday; that he, Liam, would perhaps never lose that smell, no matter how long he lived. A thick smell that was sometimes all things sweet and sometimes acrid salt; the smell of the flow of life; the throb and thrust of things. It was the one true thing Trotter had ever told him.
       Liam looked around the cavelike fire-lit lobby, and everything indeed seemed drenched with the smell, its viscous stickiness. He wondered if the rest of the crew smelled it—and surmised, by the vast amounts of food that they shovelled uncaringly into yawning mouths, that they did not. You couldn’t eat, not a bite, not with that smell no amount of washing could get rid of—not that this lot washed, anyway. They were shoving meat and bread into their mouths with fingers stained and sticky from work. The food made Liam nauseous. He took a stein of beer, the froth stilled into a pissy fizz by the fire. That was all that he could manage.
       That was all Trotter could manage, too, Liam noticed, as he walked up to the crew leader. The latter was huddled by the fire, beer in hand, his narrow head bowed in some conspiratorial conference with the men who owned and ran the operation. They all had the same look, of furtive cornered rodents leading slow-witted goliaths by a deft game of con and connivance.
       “We need to hit a target of 140,000 each day. 140,000! We’re way behind…,” someone’s whisper, dripping with worry, was thrown to the group and chewed upon collectively, like a bone by dingo dogs. Someone else saw Liam and shot the rest a warning look: a worker nearby. They turned to Liam, feral-eyes gleaming and hackles raised, on guard. Only Trotter thumped his tail in greeting, his expressive brows raised in a question. Liam merely lifted his stein in a vague gesture of goodwill, and the rest followed suit, half-hearted, begrudging. Trotter got up: “We’ll hit the target,” he said to the bosses, his bark as cheery and optimistic as ever. “I’m not worried. We’ll do it.”
       The owners watched Trotter as he joined Liam. Liam noticed that the owners looked at Trotter with a mixture of admiration and envy—it was what Trotter always evoked in people. But Trotter himself was oblivious to other people and what they thought of him. Which is perhaps how he misses signs, thought Liam. Signs and configurations and repeated patterns that are like signposts on a trail—he missed them all, poor Trotter. Didn’t even know they existed.
       Filled with warmth and tenderness for his friend, Liam threw a giant arm around Trotter’s thin, neurotic shoulders and ruffled the dark hair that grew thick and silky on Trotter’s fine-boned head. They watched the frigid sky as it gathered force outside the hotel windows. They raised their beer steins in unison and drank at the same time, like choreographed dancers.
       “You never asked me why I agreed to come here, Trotter,” Liam said. He looked at Trotter, waiting for the latter’s response.
       Trotter chuckled: “The money’s great, Liam.”
       Liam asked, quietly: “You think I came for the money?”
       Trotter shot him a quick look, as if skinning Liam to his core. “Not for yourself. You’re like a saint—money means nothing to you. You’re a martyr to your cause.”
Liam asked: “And what is my cause, Trotter?”
       Trotter didn’t say anything for long. Then, a bit grudgingly: “Her—Ruby. You want to give her a good life.”
       A wolf loped past outside the window, its lean belly close to the ground, eyes green-gold in the dark.
       “I would have liked that,” Liam said, quietly. “To have given her a good life. But it ended that summer.”


       Her name was Ruby, but Liam had called her Ruby Red—first to her face, and then, when he learned it displeased her, in his own head. It was the first and only word-play he had ever created, and he was very proud of it, its alliterative vigour. It also made her seem rare and precious, like a small stone nestled in silk and spitting fire—like the stuff on display at the jewellers near where they lived. For they had been neighbours for a while, when her father was laid off and had to leave Toronto where she was born to live in bleak, dead-end Halifax.
       “Nothing red about me,” she used to say when he came up with the Ruby Red sobriquet, her voice thin and brittle, her fine nose drawn in a disgruntled snarl. That was how she was with him—always whining and complaining and moaning and whimpering, and when the spirit was strong in her, snarling and growling and cussing and fighting. And he had thought that that was the way she was, she didn’t know any better, she was a grouch and a curmudgeon—and who wouldn’t be, if they were forced to leave a vivid, vibrant city for this dump where he couldn’t even find the sort of presents that would make her smile. Understanding and indulgent he had been, like a father with a persnickety, colicky child who puked and crapped all over the clothes he had worked so hard to buy.
       Ruby had been right, though. There had been nothing red about her—not in those days, anyway. She was transparently pale, like the icicles forming outside the hotel windows. Even her hair was colourless, like the colour of cold made solid, the colour of the arctic air.


       Snow fell thick and steady in large misshapen flakes from a sky that merged with the earth and the sea in one vast, grey-white sweep. The crew was huddled in a tight fist out of sheer instinct, to keep the cold out and the warmth made by their bodies in, but also, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate to the crew leader their unity. And unity is always a frightening thing, especially when demonstrated by the dull.
       The 140,000 goal had been announced that morning at breakfast, before the crew left the hotel. The murmurings began on the way to the site. A man called Sasha had started it, a Quebecois from some hole near Trois Rivieres. Liam had warned Trotter about this man, asked Trotter to fire him, and Trotter had paid no heed, like he ignored all signs—spoken and unspoken. And here was Sasha—an integral part of the team now, having burrowed to its core like a worm to the heart of a living thing—here he was, winding them up to wage his war.
       “140,000 a day—on the same wages they’re paying us?! No raise in pay? Not that money can wipe off the terrible nightmares—“ he gave an eloquent shudder, the Quebecois, while his sharp eyes shot darts around the group to pin down pockets of support. And it came: one man remarking how they all looked like babies, with their round faces, big black eyes and high voices; and someone else from the back of the line remembering his mother in her last days, tethered to her bed by tubes and needles, her skin white with approaching death, her eyes made large and black with atropine. Their steps slowed, Liam noticed, as he marched on at his usual steady pace. They were like gigantic children being dragged to school by some unseen parental hand.
       They reached the site, and the usual two things were waiting for them, like posterns of fate: the victims, and the protestors. The protestors usually greeted the crew with slogans and pleas—this time, they were silent. They’ve sensed the mutiny in the herd, thought Liam. And mutiny was the crew’s intent: they refused to pick up the tool they needed for the job—a heavy, blunt-edged club. They stood, as if frozen in a tableau, as the snow fell on them and around them, and Trotter finally arrived.
       Trotter looked at the crew and understood the situation. For a beat, he looked confounded, almost helpless, and Liam felt pity for him. Then Trotter began to speak, his voice tremulous, thin and unsteady like a trickle: “I see what you’re feeling.” Trotter took a deep breath, peering through the snow at the crew, who looked like eerie mammoth snowmen.
       Trotter resumed: “No—I feel—“ that last word seemed to be the key he needed, for his voice became stronger—a trickle with the promise of a flood: “I feel what you’re feeling. This is ugly work. In horrible weather. With these people here—“ a sweeping wave at the protestors—“—to make you feel like shit.”
      Everyone was quiet—even the protestors.
       “But this is when you remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. How we need balance. How everything now is imbalanced—“
      “Like you, ass-hole!” this from one of the protestors, who could no longer restrain herself. “You’re mentally imbalanced. You’re mad!”
       Liam chuckled softly. There was nothing mad about Trotter, that Liam knew. He had known Trotter since boyhood, though Trotter went away when he was eighteen to seek his fortune in the big cities out west. But Trotter returned to Halifax, older, more sure-footed; smooth with good-living, and mighty mysterious about what he had done to live so well; crowing a bit since he was back on home turf to hire men—big, burly men—for whom he was going to pay very good wages to “put things back in balance…” That was how Trotter had talked about what they would be doing in Newfoundland. But there was nothing mad about him. He was sane. Given to occasional delusions of grandeur—but these delusions, Liam knew, were the most solid proof of Trotter’s sanity. The truly insane present themselves as meek and humble, which is why they end up inheriting the earth.
       “Look at him, now,” Liam thought, as he watched Trotter striding in front of the crew, waving his arms, talking in a rush about how too few many in the sea would make the seas imbalanced, and how that imbalance would make the whole world imbalanced. “Like the hero of some big American movie—that’s who Trotter thinks he is,” Liam remembered films he had taken Ruby to, films she had wanted to see. Films with vital, vibrant men so unlike Liam, who moved their troops to action with their power of speech.
       And like those heroes, Trotter, too, was undeterred by his naysayers—the protestors—who were now roused to hiss and boo, pelting Trotter’s winding flow with their outraged shouts, their cries meeting Trotter’s rhetoric in a singular blend: “The choice is simple—” “You idiots!” “—walk away from work—” “Like the morons you are!” “—or know that what you’re doing is important to the world. It’s—” “It’s the ecology, stupid!” “—like saving the world, with—” “Slaughter!”
       And that last word echoed and touched the sky, like a battle cry. Through it all, the crew did nothing. They remained standing, staring at Trotter impassively—all that was missing was cud for their mouths.
       Sasha the Quebecois piped up, after clearing his throat: “That was a fine speech, M. Trotter. Like all your speeches. This one, too—first class.” More throat-clearings, as if Trotter’s speech was stuck in Sasha’s craw. “But it comes down to this: we cannot meet your 140,000 a day goal at these wages.”
       Shocked gasps from the protestors. But the crew stirred slightly, like a gargantuan body stirring from a coma. This sign Trotter read, and correctly. “All right,” he said, with a weary sigh. “Let’s see what we can do…”
       Trotter and Sasha started to work out the pay raise, shouting through the snow to each other, at each other. The crew waited patiently. The protestors began their slogans and their pleas. And as if having sensed that their fates were decided, the seals and their pups lying by the frozen bay began to bark wildly, releasing the stench of their fear into the air. They beat their flippers, as if drumming up support for their lost cause. Their liquid eyes were full of an almost human anguish and outrage.
       The pay raise was agreed to by both sides. And it turned out to be a work-day like any other: the cries of the seal-pups; the futile barking of their mothers; the steady drone of the protestors’ shouts—their prepared slogans, their spontaneous screams—as if they were receiving the blows. The crew worked steadily through the din, oblivious to it as they were to the constantly falling snow.
      But missing from the usual pattern was Trotter’s incessant exhorting of the crew, which he kept up everyday as a counter-balance to the protestors—about how they were doing good work, necessary work, work that would eventually save the world, for the seals were multiplying rapidly and eating up all the fish and that would upset the ecological balance, the delicate ratio of predators to prey; that that was why they were killing the pups—at least, that was the main reason. Liam saw some of the other men glancing around as well, and knew that Trotter’s absence was noted, observed, filed away. It was Sasha the Quebecois who spotted Trotter—he was in the distance, cell phone in hand. He seemed to be sending an e-mail, his fingers punching away furiously.
       “He’s making arrangements to get a new crew for the old wages so he can fire us,” Sasha said to the crew, smiling to indicate he was jesting, but planting his seed as insurance, in case the pay raise deal did not materialize, and the crew turned against him.
       His remark made them all pause—but only for a brief minute. They were bred to work—it was in their cells, it was what they did, on auto-pilot. And there was plenty of work to do. So they went at it—blow upon blow; the smashing of the bodies; the crisp crackle of breaking bones; the fountaining of blood—hot and thick like a volcanic gush; the writhing, then the stillness; the liquid eyes growing hard, like stones, soon too cold to melt the snow that fell thickly on their marble-like surfaces.
       Around mid-day, the usual break: thermoses of bitter black coffee and hot rolls. The crew threw their clubs down, elbowing one another for food and drink. Occasional fights broke out between them—half in jest, an equal half not. Liam did not eat or drink. He stood silently in a corner. Not that he needed a break—he could have worked the whole day without a twinge of exhaustion. He took a breather from work solely to keep in step with the rest of his crew.
       A flurry among the protestors: a new arrival, in a splendid snowmobile. A pale slight wisp of a girl, accompanied by an older woman. The girl was dressed head to toe in white faux fur, with gleaming boots made of fake leather pulled up to almost her non-existent hips. The protestors cheered. They crowded around the girl, like she was visiting royalty, like she was much-needed fuel to their engine.
       “She’s a movie star,” said one of the crew, eyeing the girl glumly.
       Liam peered through the snow at the girl, who read a few lines from a piece of paper to her fellow-protestors. He caught a few snatches: “big business greed,” and “rape of Mother Earth…”
       The protestors clapped loudly when she was finished, then swept her—quite literally, as if she were a feather on a tide—to the work-site. The girl took one look at the bleeding, mangled pups, and immediately turned away, refusing to look any more. The crew sniggered. Someone said, loudly: “Wimp…”
       The girl was kneeling on the ground, retching violently. Nothing came out of her. The older woman tailing the girl like she was grafted to her side explained to everyone that the girl had had nothing to eat, some new diet she was on. She was a pale girl to begin with, but now she was whiter than the snow. Some strands of her hair had come loose from the hood, and her hair was the colour of cold made solid, the colour of arctic ice.
       Liam found himself moving towards the girl. Her protestor-friends were helping her to her feet, but she kept slipping on the ice, falling, pulling them down with her. Liam pushed through the crowd, grabbed the girl’s arm, and held her straight. Some protestors flew at him with shrill cries, like irate penguins. But another restrained them, telling them in a whisper that was not meant for Liam’s ears, but which he heard anyway, that it would give the star a chance to “change the enemy’s heart…”
       The childishness of these people! But Liam said nothing. The girl was shivering in his grasp. She said, to no one in particular: “I want to go back to the hotel. I can’t stand this…”
       So Liam found himself almost carrying her to her snowmobile. Sasha the Quebecois joined him. Sasha was staring at the girl with open curiosity. He tried to hold on to some piece of her—her arms, her legs, her waist. He said to Liam: “Why should you have all the fun, huh?” This was clearly supposed to be a joke, for Sasha slapped Liam on the back and laughed loudly, his eyes never leaving the girl’s face. To the girl, Sasha said, in an exaggerated French accent: “I’m from Quebec. I’m French. I’m not like these people…”
       The girl said nothing. Her eyes were very wide and dilated, and her teeth were chattering. The woman who followed the girl everywhere was following them now, too. She introduced herself as the star’s acting coach. Then she turned to the girl and talked non-stop—about how this showed how sensitive the girl really was; the truly great and gifted are like flowers bruising at the slightest touch; and how what the girl had seen that day--the poor dead pups--would help her with her work; it was all raw material, grist for the mill that was Art; could provide excellent sense-memories….
       Liam glanced at the chatter-box—it was just an ordinary passing glance. But the old witch must have seen something in him, for she shut up immediately, her dark eyes glowing with fear. They walked quietly. The sound of the snow was like silence—only richer. The girl spoke—so suddenly that Liam started. She had a thin voice, brittle; a bit breathless. She said: “They told me that those babies that aren’t properly killed are piled up in Beluga Bay…”
       The three men looked at her, confused. The girl was looking at Liam, her huge eyes burning: “You’ve got to kill them in a certain way or their fur will be damaged, isn’t it? And all those babies that you didn’t hit right and whose fur you damaged, they’re dumped like trash in Beluga Bay. And they set fire every morning to those poor, ruined babies. So much for your crap that you’re killing them for ecological balance…” Two thin tears were squeezed out of her eyes, becoming bullets of ice with the touch of the air.
       The two women got into the snowmobile. The acting coach turned it on, and it spurted like a bunny. The girl’s small head bounced up and down with the motion of the vehicle, limp and useless as a rag doll.
       Now Liam knew why she had been sent to him—this girl shaped and coloured such that he would have had no choice but to be drawn to her side and hear what she had to say. The way was emerging, like a path through the woods. The snowmobile had vanished into the thicket of falling snow—the incessant snow was another necessary part of the pattern that was forming, pristine and precise, from the seeming shapelessness of things. His heart full, Liam turned—and then remembered that Sasha was with him; that he, too, had heard about Beluga Bay.
       “Did you know that—about a pile of bodies in Beluga Bay?” Sasha asked, casually, lightly. Liam shook his head: No. A shrill whistle from the work-site signalled the end of the break. Sasha and Liam headed back to work, and the air was charged with the energy of infinite possibility.
       The workday had ended, all ten brutal hours. 138,000—they had almost made their goal. Trotter’s thin face was pink with pleasure as he encouraged them—he knew they would hit the mark the next day, surpass it the day after. The day after….
       The trudge to the Paradise Hotel began. They fell in line out of habit, each man behind the man he had followed the day before.
       Not Liam. He waited until all the men were in place, then caught Trotter’s arm as the latter was about to take his place at the head of the line. Trotter looked at Liam, and Liam shook his head briefly. Then Liam led Trotter to the end of the line, placing himself in front of Trotter. Though puzzled, Trotter acquiesced. The line began its weary march.
       The snow was falling thick and hard now, and it was impossible to see. The wind rapidly picked up pace, and everything and everyone was almost horizontal with its force. Each man clutched the man in front of him, everyone in turn trusting the internal compass of the man heading the line.
       Trotter followed Liam, his hands tight on Liam’s waist. Liam lowered his head and ploughed through the blizzard. It did not affect him—the elements never did. His pace was slow but steady. So steady that Trotter was unaware when Liam stopped, and butted his head hard against Liam’s immovable bulk.
       “What’s up?” asked Trotter, but did not wait for an answer. It was as he feared. They were separated from the rest. Just falling snow all around—a shifting curtain of blinding white. “We’re lost?” Trotter asked, and Liam did not answer. Not that Trotter really wanted one. It was clear to him that they were lost, and he talked because talking calmed him down, gave him space to think things through, come up with a plan.
       “We’re lost,“ Trotter answered his own question, “And the thing to do, when you’re lost,” all this in the manner one uses with a very slow child, “is to stay right where you are and wait until they find you. Until they find you.”
       “If they find you, you’re dead,” said Liam quietly. And he raised his club and listened to the wind, on guard, alert.
       Trotter felt the first real pinpricks of fear—it shot heat through his system; a volley of fire through ice. He looked at the solid, implacable figure in front of him, seen now and then through bursts of clarity in the snow. Then peered past Liam to see where Liam had led him: a pile of rotting seal-pup bodies. The bow-shaped curve of the beach. Beluga Bay.
       “Sasha knows about this,” Liam pointed to the pile. “And,” Liam continued, “…he thinks you aren’t going to come through on the pay raise…”
       An involuntary twitch on Trotter’s face—and Liam knew that Sasha’s guess had been on target, that Trotter was not going to honour his part of the pay-raise deal, had no intention of ever doing so. Liam said, quietly: “What’s one more body, in a pile? And who’d even think of looking in here? They’ll just burn everything…’
       Now it was becoming clear to Trotter—the light breaking on his mobile, expressive face, showing every emotion from guilt to outrage.
       “You get it?” Liam asked. “For a smart guy, you sure are dumb, Trotter.”
      And Trotter smiled, weakly, stupidly, like an idiot. “I seem to have been—at least in this case,” Trotter admitted. Then, as a sudden thought struck him: “This is why you took this job, Liam? To protect me?”
       The grandiosity of the insect! Liam smiled and shook his head, the smiles becoming irrepressible chuckles, and the chuckles swelling in size and shape, becoming mighty guffaws of laughter. Liam laughed and laughed and laughed. Trotter had the fleeting thought that it was the most heartbreaking sound he had ever heard. And that thought was a sign—but he, being Trotter, did not heed it.
       Abruptly, like a tape being switched off, Liam stopped laughing. He stiffened, eyes rapt, as if seeing something in the distance. All that Trotter could see and hear was the sound of the falling snow, white and soft, beguiling.
       “What’s it, Liam? “ Trotter asked. “What do you see?” And his voice trailed away into silence, because he could see what was holding Liam in its thrall: it was not the snow and the approaching night and this moment now, but a long-past summer in Halifax when Trotter had returned, a local boy who had made good, in town now to hire workers to “put things in balance…”
       And what Liam saw were the lost days of that all-too brief Halifax summer, with light the colour of ripe oranges that spilled its juice far into the night. It was Liam who had introduced them to each other—his Ruby Red and Trotter. Proud of her and of him; feeling his own worth rise at his having hooked such a rare girl, at having such a smart friend.
       Strange that he who had seen all the signs, the posterns and premonitions, the patterns and signposts—he had missed everything that must have been dancing like dervishes in his view. Until it was a sight on open display, for all to see: in a public park, one in a sea of entwined couples soaking up the last slop of the sun, Trotter and Ruby. She was relaxed in Trotter’s arms and laughing. Her pale skin had taken on the light’s liquid gold, becoming burnished, and she was loose and liquid herself, like a glass of red-gold wine. Her colourless eyes were shot with the red of the sun. Even her arctic hair had become a blaze—the sun seemed to be setting in its waves and whirls, streaming out from behind her head like a crown of rays. And she wasn’t grouchy or crotchety or irritable or ill tempered—no; she was the essence of everything sweet and heady, easy to please, quick to delight, a rare and precious stone, spitting fun and fire. His Ruby Red.
       Liam saw himself then, turning away from what he had seen like that movie-star girl had turned away from the dead pups; retching on the street, then running, haphazard and blundering, the object of jokes and jeers of those he passed as he stumbled past, a red-faced, sobbing stupid giant. And what he saw then, through his grief, was not the warm rust of summer—but some bleak, ice-bound wasteland in the future where it would all be set right, with the wildly crashing scales of justice finally settling into a perfect and inviolable balance.
       So much red, in such a pale girl. He knew he had named her right after the killing. That magic summer in Halifax was staring at its own end, so he dumped her in a pond, knowing it would soon freeze all over and wrap her in ice. It was a clean job in one sense: she was reported missing, but her body was never found. But it had been a messy killing—he had been all emotion and misery when he had clubbed her, and it showed in the aftermath—bits of Ruby everywhere. It had left him with a hankering for perfection. He hoped he was up to the task now. He smiled at Trotter gently, for he had managed to remain, at his core, a gentle man: “No. This is why I took the job.”
       He touched Trotter’s face with his club—it brushed Trotter’s cheek lightly, like the wings of a passing bird. He held the club there for a beat; then, with a broken sigh that came from everything that was unmended in him, lowered it. Trotter stood rooted to his spot, not daring to breathe, to blink.
       Liam’s sudden shout made him almost shoot out of his skin: “But I don’t want anyone to beat me to it!”
       Out of nowhere, the club came at Trotter, crashing on his head. A rush of air into what housed Trotter’s brain. Another blow on Trotter’s jaw, sending his teeth flying out of his mouth like kernels of corn. The third landed on Trotter’s eye, turning half the world a spinning red. Blow upon blow; the crisp crackle of breaking bones; the fountaining of blood—hot and thick, like a volcanic gush; the writhing, then the stillness; Trotter’s eyes growing hard, like stones, soon too cold to melt the snow that gathered thickly on the open orbs.
       When Liam was finally done, Trotter was smooth pulp. But Liam had thought ahead, and left the feet intact. He dragged the mess by its feet and piled seal-pup carcasses on it until the human corpse was completely covered. He then arranged everything carefully until it made a perfect mound, with the upturned nose of a tiny pup making for the pointed pinnacle.
       He stepped back to survey his work: the falling snow had covered the bloody tracks. The sky was black—no stars or moon in sight; no witnesses. Even the elements are my friends, thought Liam, serene and happy. He turned to go. But the movement of his large body moved the air around him as well, and a carcass or two shifted, and the perfect hill collapsed with a wheeze, like a fallen cake. So he had to go back and re-arrange the mound. This time, the tiny pup with the upturned nose would not stay on top; for whatever reason, the miniscule corpse kept sliding down. He had to use snow and ice to gum the body to others below it. And this mound, too, was perfect—until he moved away and the mound collapsed, this time revealing Trotter. So Liam had to start all over again.
       Which is why he missed the signs and symbols, the premonitions and posterns of fate: the cessation of the incessant snow; the burst of dawn in a pale gold shower in the frosted skies to the east; the furious hoot and wide-winged flight of a snow owl, heralding the approach of intruders; and the men themselves—the crew that came to set the damaged seals ablaze each morning, raucous and bawdy and full of mirth and high spirits—until they saw him.
       Liam did not hear them or see them. He was setting the finishing touches to the mound, making sure, for the millionth, zillionth, gazillionth time, that everything was in its proper place. As it should be. In perfect balance.

Indian-born Radha Bharadwaj is an award-winning feature film writer-director. Her short story, The Rains of Ramghat, was the basis of a screenplay that won her the top screenwriting prize when she was in film school.

Bharadwaj’s screenwriting and directing feature debut is Closet Land. The acclaimed surreal psychological drama has gone on to become a cult classic. Closet Land starred Alan Rickman and Madeleine Stowe. Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment produced the feature, which was released by Universal Pictures.

The screenplay for Closet Land won the prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The script was also chosen to participate in the highly competitive Sundance Screenwriting Laboratory, sponsored by the Sundance Film Institute. Author Kate Millet devoted an entire chapter to Closet Land in her acclaimed book, The Politics of Cruelty.

Closet Land was featured at major film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, the Women in Film Festival, Los Angeles; Stockholm International Film Festival, to name a few. Bharadwaj’s stage adaptation of Closet Land continues to be performed around the world.

Bharadwaj’s second feature was the Victorian gothic mystery, Basil. The period thriller, based on Wilkie Collins’s book, was set in the United Kingdom, and starred Christian Slater, Sir Derek Jacobi, Claire Forlani and Jared Leto. The director’s cut for Basil was twice selected to be the closing night film for the prestigious Special Presentation series at the Toronto International Film Festival, and chosen for a prime slot at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

She has just completed two literary suspense novels, and is at work on her third. Her short stories have appeared in various literary journals (she was the Featured Artist in the August 2012 issue;

Bharadwaj is an award-winning theatre writer-director-actress.

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