Category Archives: Ed Mayhew

Third Floor, Passing Down

[Based on a true story]
by Ed Mayhew

He saw them waiting at the foot of the narrow stairwell and uncertainly sized up the gap they had left for him to pass through between themselves and the banister rail.

“You shouldn’t be wearing that.”

At first, Rashid didn’t register that they were talking to him. He had been exposed to racism around the block enough to have developed blinkers and mufflers towards these sorts of comments.

“Hey feller, you shouldn’t be wearing that.”

Rashid blinked out of his trance, fixed on the two men frowning up at him.

“No no, brother. Is good. I am Christian now,” Rashid said, indicating the poppy on his coat which they seemed to be deriding. “I want remember men and women that they died for this country I live in.”

“You know what I remember when I see a poppy?” one of the men cut in, “Every time, I remember all the people the British army killed in Ireland. Gunned down in the streets. You want to remind me o’ that do yer?”

The two men were clearly in earnest; one even ground his teeth. Rashid reached to his chest, and slowly took the paper flower out from his lapel. He cupped it delicately in his hand. “My friend, I did not mean to cause to you offense.”

“Ah don’t you fret, just educatin’ yer feller.”

Rashid made his move now they were smiling. They let him pass. He assured the two lads that he would tell other people what they had said; they told him he was a good man.

“I respect your people,” he explained as he moved on, “The poppy, I weared not for the people who kill. I weared for all the people they were killed.”

Down the remaining three flights of stairs, Rashid prayed silently. The Irish men on the stairs were the first people he had told face-to-face that he had converted. He was breathing heavily as he opened the door on the cold November morning, imagining that no flowers would be laid for him if his family ever found out what had happened.

Popo and Izza

by Ed Mayhew

“They called the volcano Popocatépetl.” Freya flashes a smile as the strange name jumps off her lips. “They believed when it erupted that the world would end again. I suppose with the Spaniards coming in a few years later, they were almost right!”

Mark takes a sip of wine and looks at her, the story washing around him. It’s six years since they first met. Her bright red hair had been the only reason he remembered her at first. But soon he began seeing her in lectures, and by the time they left university, they were in the habit of talking on her bed until one of them fell asleep. Each had assured their respective partners at the time that they were friends, nothing more. After graduating, this friendship had negotiated a course through his ultimately fruitless Valentine’s Day stunts and her break ups with a man she hated, but couldn’t leave. After that, they had counselled each other through a series of first dates and disasters. A week before this evening’s meal in Pêle’s up in the Shard, they had kissed.

“Before he was a volcano, Popocatépetl was originally a warrior. He had a fiancé – Izza-something. They’re the Aztecs’ Romeo and Juliet really. Popo and Izza.” Over her shoulder in the open kitchen, a flambé glows blue. It leaps high, hisses and crackles. As it subsides, it draws a trickle of applause from around the restaurant. All of this seems to disappoint the chef, ashamed that this delight is so easily won.

They had kissed in a nearly empty cinema. She had leaned into him and he had wrapped his arm around her. A few minutes later, he had turned his head towards hers, their lips easing together. As the closing credits rolled, she laughed about it and said it was normal and it was nothing.

“While Popo was away, Izza heard rumours that he had died. Obviously, she was so distraught by this and, of course, being a woman, she had to kill herself!”

To occupy his hands, Mark straightens up his knife and runs his thumb over a ridge in the tablecloth from where it was folded. He remembers silently protesting Freya’s statement that the kiss meant nothing. He finds himself thinking two people’s thoughts: searching for her hidden inferences; pausing that extra half-second to weigh up whether his words might destroy their fragile flame; waiting for her heart to open a crack to him.

“So, Popo returned from fighting to find her dead, and he cried a bit and thought it was only decent to die as well. See, just like Romeo and Juliet! Except for the twist! When the gods saw this example of devotion and love, they transformed the couple into two mountains, so they could always be near each other.”

Before his eyes, Mark can see the Mexican landscape, the blue sky between the two rising white peaks. Freya taps him on the hand, breaking the trance.

“Hey, Mark! If I died, would you kill yourself? I think you should.”

Unknown Land

by Ed Mayhew

At the very second the cry “Tierra! Tierra!’ fell from the crow’s nest, the sails curled with the gale that spoke of an onrushing storm. It was as if the cry had woken the adolescent child of Boreas from a deep sleep, in a foul-temper and set on destruction.

Wearied men gathered themselves in one last effort, their skin shredded on the ropes as they hauled, blisters scored into their palms.

The ship careered towards the rocks on the shoreline, pitching in waves and dislodging the little men from their anchor points. The shipmen gritted their teeth in grim acceptance. Ending our journey smashed against the very country we sought would surely provoke our ‘just’ god into an ironic smile.

I returned to the quiet of my quarters to pray. The noise on deck, the shouting and the ocean’s rage were muted through the closed doors. For a moment I felt suspended between the turmoil of this earth and the peace of Heaven.

I remembered how we left the sandstone outline of Lisboa — a shrinking speck, dipping below the sea like the head of a whale. The bright white dawn was rising over the city, speaking into each heart something of new hope. We turned and fixed our stares on the opposite skyline. Thus began the monotonous days, days that passed to ballads whistled by dry-lipped, old men, drifting.

The ship jolted. Alarm drew me from my cabin and back up onto deck. One of the sails had caught and the wind was toppling the ship. Waves rose high over the bow. I drew my sword and hacked at the ropes with the others for it was clear that we would sink if we tipped much further.

A Portuguese sailor who had joined when we sheltered at Lisboa turned away from his duties. “He’s after us! Death is riding this storm!” he roared. Another made the sign of the cross and kissed his pale fist, clutching beads or a necklace – whatever it was it did not stop him sobbing. The other shipmen, large by human standards, little by the storm’s, threw their weight at the work.

It became very dark. The waves continued thundering against the side and the mast, warped by the strength of the gale, groaned and cracked. Another impact caused us all to be thrown forwards. Crack — the whole hull scraped and splintered. Everyone held perfectly still.

We felt the ship come apart beneath us.

Two men hurled a canon overboard unbidden – a small offering to Neptune for our lives. The balance of the ship shifted and we came loose and drifted shorewards again. We had taken much damage, and sunk lower and lower in the water. But the waves were losing their ferocity and we could see the trees and the sand nearing. We were greeted at the new world by the scratching of the beach along our hull.

Men variously praised God for the safe arrival and cursed him for putting them in danger. I took a moment on shore to quietly voice my gratitude and, if I may say here, my fear that all could have been lost.