Reece Choules


Reece is a contributor to Litro and The Culture Trip. His stories have previously been longlisted for the Fish Prize and the Aesthetica magazine creative writing competition, winning publication in their 2014 Anthology.



View as PDF: Reece Choules - A Lover Loves

A Lover Loves 

Despite the early hour it was hot in streets busied with those trying to find places to be. Newspaper sellers in branded t-shirts offered headlines to the morning’s weary, ARMY MOVES ON WESTERN BORDER, as women kissed men, half in, half out, of military uniforms; in doorways, at bus stops, while getting into taxis.

         ‘You did tell them eight?’

         Children stopped to stare at the classic car, red, convertible, until being pulled away by anxious mothers bemused at the absurdity of it parked in a poor part of town.

         ‘I don’t want to get stuck waiting at the checkpoint. We said eight. It’s quarter past.’

         He pressed hard on the car horn, to hurry those waited on, to rouse her from the silence overbearing.

         ‘Jack please. Let’s have a nice day. For once.’

         He turned his gaze from the young man loitering in the rear view mirror, to Anna, forlornly spread across the seat. She tilted her head to reveal green eyes disapproving. He pressed on the car horn again.

         ‘For god sake.’

         Sofia appeared, heavy hamper in hand, descending the twisted iron staircase of the dirty white building. Alberto followed with four small fishing rods, a six-pack of beer.

         ‘Come on we said eight not half past.’

         Anna got out of the car. She made her way towards Sofia. Taking the hamper in her right hand and placing the left on Sofia’s shoulder, she pulled her into an embrace, which they held while saying,

         ‘Sorry we’re late.’

         ‘Don’t be silly. Everything ok?’

         ‘Of course. You?’

         ‘Me? I’m alright, it’s him.’

         Alberto nodded towards Jack. He raised the six-pack slightly, the fishing rods too.


         ‘Put the rods in the back with the girls.’

         Alberto nodded yes, and caught the eyes of two men smoking cigarettes in a stairwell across the street. One of them, an amputee supporting his broken balance on wooden crutches, spat in the direction of the car. The other, head and face heavily bandaged, laughed and muttered something behind his hand. Alberto felt ashamed. His freedom, the shirt on his back, the fishing rods and beers in hand, became heavy to his thinning frame. He wanted to say,

         ‘No, my brothers, I am like you.’

         Jack pushed hard on the car horn. Keeping it down to punctuate his insistence.

         ‘Alright, calm down darling, we’re coming.’

         They set off down claustrophobic streets towards the town checkpoint. Where armed guards demanding to see papers, greeted cars full, with furniture strapped to roofs, while dogs on loose leashes barked, and soldiers not yet called into action smoked cigarettes and laughed at jokes shared.

         Jack said, ‘Has everyone got their papers?’

         A driver was ordered out of her car. Four soldiers began a routine search as she made her way to the side of the road.

         ‘You don’t think they’ll search us do you darling?’

         The driver handed papers to a greying senior officer, allowing a younger man, clipboard in hand, to proceed with the questioning.

         ‘They might.’

         Anna straightened out her dress. In the papers she had seen a photo of a man face down in the cracked mud, a pool of blood joining the space between his head and a pair of heavy black boots. It said he had been a deserter. A draftee caught fleeing.

         ‘What do you think they asked her? Do you think…’

         ‘How would I know Anna I’m sat right where you are?’

         The car in front, occupied once more, was waved on. A soldier, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, waited for her departure then motioned Jack to the front of the queue.


         ‘Just heading out to White Rock forest for a picnic.’

         ‘A picnic?’


         ‘White Rock’s nice this time of year.’

         ‘It is.’

         The soldier looked at Anna, grinning awkwardly, at Sofia facing forward. In the car behind, a baby could be heard crying the weak cry of a new born.

         ‘Just the four of you?’


         ‘Going on a picnic?’

         ‘Is there a problem?’

         The soldier took a small government stamped pad from his breast pocket. He took their names and addresses. Tore off the top piece of paper, timed and dated. Then handed it to Jack.

         ‘Keep hold of this, it will be requested when you return. From your picnic.’

         The soldier waved them on.

         For a long while after none of them spoke. They listened to the sound of the engine. They watched the world spread out, roads become wider, houses sparser, and slowly returned to roles assumed long before. When each of them had battled, through dinners, and drinks, to impress upon the others an image of themselves they had hoped to be. That routine was tired now though. The will to perform was weak.

         ‘It feels so good to be out of there,’ said Anna, as she reached up, spread her fingers wide, and fell back into the seat.

         Sofia squeezed Alberto’s right shoulder. He looked in the wing mirror to find her blowing kisses. He smiled half-heartedly.

         Anna said, ‘Oh I’ve missed you, both of you. Let’s not leave it this long again.’

         ‘You’re never this happy to see me,’ said Jack.

         ‘You’re never gone long enough darling.’

         ‘Mother’s always said it’s the money you love.’

         Anna kicked at the back of Jack’s seat.

         ‘She should know.’

         Anna moved into the corner.

         Sofia said, ‘Did Alberto tell you he’s having a new piece published?’

Sofia liked to hear Alberto’s written work as spoken words. In the right mood his voice alone could arouse her

         ‘You kept that quiet, it’s usually the first thing you say after hello.’

         ‘Nothing’s confirmed.’

         ‘I thought you said you received the acceptance letter.’

         Sofia liked to watch him pace the room, his hands gripping the paper. She would undress slowly in front of him. Then silently walk towards the bed.

         ‘I said I was waiting on one.’

         ‘He’s waiting on one.’

         ‘I lose track of what you’re up to.’

         ‘How’s business Jack? Sofia said you’d had to lay workers off.’

         Anna, seeking refuge from embarrassment in the open terrain, the slithers of green on thick burnt yellow, turned to face Sofia, who was already mouthing apologies. They took a right down a long stretch of road blanketed by dried out trees bent at obscure angles.

         ‘We’re not laying them off; we’re losing them to the draft. In fact we just picked up two new contracts.’


         ‘There wasn’t much competition. Most of the smaller firms are just trying to stay afloat.’

         They turned right again, onto a dirt road, spreading thick grey dust in their wake. Anna, looking down at her wedding ring said,

         ‘I can’t think of anything worse than being drafted.’

         ‘Sometimes you have to give back Annabel.’

         ‘Feeling patriotic darling?’

         ‘I could be.’

         ‘So think of those young boys, those husbands and fathers.’

         ‘Well it’s not something you’ll ever have to worry about is it?’

         She thought about this. She said,

         ‘And what if you were drafted, or Alberto?’

         Alberto looked in the wing mirror, at Sofia, eyes closed, the sun reflecting off her red hair. He turned his gaze to shadowed roads pierced by sunlight. He thought about the men in the stairwell, their ugly laughter, resentful. He tried to steady trembling hands, more bone than flesh, while remembering the number recently assigned. One. Nine. Eight. Six.

         ‘Right, ladies and gent, here we are.’

         Jack brought the car to a stop by a wooden gate. Rotting. Weathered. He stepped out on to the weed littered gravel. Took a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, a lighter engraved, For Jack, On Your Birthday, Love Annabel, and smoked unhurried. He thought about saying something to Alberto, shifting his weight awkwardly from right foot to left, but it felt forced and he felt foolish, so he said,

         ‘We ready then?’ as he stubbed out his cigarette.

         ‘Yes darling, we’re waiting on you.’

         ‘Ok then girls and boy, lets go.’

         At Jack’s set pace they walked below tall trees cracking fallen branches underfoot. Alberto watched Sofia with hamper on hip, while she talked work, and those war-torn territories once a world away. He had always loved how she walked, its rhythm, its sexuality. The hamper stunted this, so he fought to recall morning strolls for coffee and breakfast, when he stole glances at her from behind his newspaper, and imagined a life built around her, for her.

         ‘Mind your step ladies,’ said Jack.

         ‘Tell us again why you brought us here darling?’

         ‘Are you not always complaining about the smell or the heat or the noise?’

         ‘I complain about your smell darling. I complain about your noise.’

         ‘I apologise. There’s so much now its hard to tell.’

         The thick forest scenery began to thin. The sound of water running over rocks soothed in its calm repetitiveness bodies tuned to the sounds of city life.

         Jack said, ‘So Alberto what’s this new article about?’


         ‘The new article, the one we’re not sure has been accepted.’

         ‘Oh it’s nothing really.’

         Jack laughed as he stepped over the root of a tree broken through fractured white rock.

         ‘Alberto you’re not trying to be modest?’

         I guess it doesn’t hurt every now and then.’

         They came out onto a large clearing where the water was shallow at a flat point of the river, and shade was ready if needs be, but not overbearing.

         ‘Here we are then,’ said Jack, with arms stretched wide.


         Anna put the small basket down beside her feet as Jack made his way toward the edge of the riverbank.

         ‘It was good enough for my father and me.’

         On bended knee he reached into the cool water and rubbed cupped handfuls over his face and on the back of his neck. He waited for ripples to fade away. For his reflection, shadowed, fuller than expected, to reveal what once was.

         Sofia said, ‘I think it’s nice.’


         ‘Its quiet, its out of the way.’

         Anna sighed with hands on hips.

         ‘Just ignore me.’

         She took out a large folded blanket from the basket. Shook it free of dust and creases. Sofia took up the opposite end dragging along dry mud. They laid it out over the flattest bit of land. Anna slipped off her shoes, sat down, and said to Jack,

         ‘Are you going to come and open the wine then darling?’

         But Jack was lost to memories of a summer years before. He was with his father and had just caught his first fish. Open mouthed on the riverbank, it stared vacantly up at them. Blood trickled from where the hook had pierced, down the glistening scales of its body. Moving in small bursts, as if still swimming, it hopelessly sought release.

         ‘Jack. Come and open the wine.’

         He came and stood by Anna, already turning her back on him.

         She said, ‘I took the wine from Jack’s father’s cellar. His mother adores it.’

         ‘I hope you asked them.’

         ‘What’s mine is yours darling?’

         Alberto leaned the fishing rods in the wide jagged burrow of a tree long dead. He wedged the six-pack of beer between two rocks poking out of the river.

         ‘I mean it Anna.’

         ‘Of course I did what do you take me for?’

         ‘It wasn’t so long ago that Mother threw you out.’

         Alberto wiped his hands on his trousers. He walked up behind Sofia and put his arms around her waist, just as she said,


         He kissed her on the back of the neck. She smiled and reached round to run her hand through his hair. He liked it when she did this. He liked it when she rested her head upon his chest. She would talk. He would listen. When the war is over we’ll leave here. I’ll go back to teaching. You can start your novel. All the while secretly hoping, her words, her being, would soak into his soul.

         ‘It’s nothing. Just Jack exaggerating.’

         ‘Is that what I’m doing?’

         ‘Yes. You’re trying to embarrass me.’

         ‘Me? Why?’

         ‘You’re not funny Jack.’

         Alberto and Sofia sat down on the blanket. He stroked her arm, from shoulder to elbow, over tiny fair hairs and goose bumps.

         ‘You’re not cold?’

          ‘A little.’

         It never ceased to amaze him that whatever the condition of the weather, she felt the opposite. At first this had been annoying, her insistence on feeling life differently. He rubbed her arms with his hands. She lowered her smiling face into her chest, inviting him to come closer, to give himself to her and her alone, not the war or the next article, but hers, willingly, completely.

         Jack said, ‘Maybe I’ll have a beer.’

         ‘Not with lunch.’

         ‘So I’ll skip the wine and have a beer later.’

         ‘Just open it will you.’

         Jack took the wine, red, from the basket. Patches of dust were visible on the glass exterior. He studied the label to confirm his doubts. This was not his mother’s favourite.

         ‘So where are the glasses darling?’

         ‘In the basket Jack, look.’

         He took out a thick white towel, wrapped tight. Unrolled it. Four crystal glasses lay out in a line, head to toe.

         ‘These are my mothers.’

         ‘Just pour the wine will you.’


They shared conversations about senseless things, small changes in the weather, neighbours overly familiar, and when the sun began the slow descent from its highest point and all that was left was the to be avoided idealised politics of war, Jack stood up, brushed crumbs from cold sausage rolls and sandwiches on to the blanket, and said,

         ‘Who’s for fishing then?’

         Anna fanned her face with her hand. She pulled at the front of her dress.

         ‘Count me out darling it’s too hot.’


         ‘No Jack, Sofia can keep me company.’

         Anna topped up her and Sofia’s yet to be emptied wine glasses. Jack took off his shoes. Rolled the bottom of his trousers up over his knees.

         ‘Looks like I’m spoken for then.’

         ‘What? You want to leave me too? Am I that much of a bore?’

         ‘What? Of course not.’

         ‘Don’t encourage her Sofia.’

         Anna took a sip of her wine. Then said,

         ‘You can fish if you want to Sofia. Don’t let me keep you.’

         ‘Don’t be silly.’

         ‘I mean it. I don’t mind.’


         Alberto, also bare footed, with trousers rolled up to his knees, waited with the fishing rods in hand. He looked up towards the blue sky, the blinding white-hot sun. Distant mountains peaked amongst thin summer clouds. He thought of heaven and everything it could be, but all that he could imagine was bound to the earth, to life, what beauty could it hold that he couldn’t already see.

         ‘Come on Alberto let’s get out of here before she really gets going.’

         ‘I heard that.’

         ‘You were meant to.’

         Alberto smiled at Sofia. She picked up her wine glass and raised it to him. He turned and headed for the riverbank. And she watched him and missed him even though she knew he was going to be right there.

         ‘He seems quiet today,’ said Anna.

         ‘Does he?’

         ‘He’s looking ever so thin.’

         ‘He hasn’t been sleeping.’

         Anna brought her knees up beneath her chin, her arms around her legs.

         ‘I read yesterday that the rebels could be at the city within weeks.’

         ‘I wouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers.’

         ‘Jack says the same thing.’

         Jack, feet in the river, watching dragonflies hover above the water, said,

         ‘I told you my father used to bring me here.’

         Alberto took a sip of beer.

         ‘Every summer, without fail, of course he can’t now, but…well…its tradition.’

         Alberto took another sip of beer. Laid his rod down at his side. He took out a packet of cigarettes from his trouser pocket.

         ‘Since when?’

         Alberto shrugged his shoulders.

         ‘You want one.’


         Jack put his fishing rod down. He took a cigarette from the packet, placed it between lips still greasy. Alberto lit them. They took heavy puffs. Exhaled.

         ‘Does Sofia know?’

         Alberto kicked his feet slightly in the water.

         ‘Anna hates my smoking. I sometimes wonder if I do it to annoy her.’

         ‘You could give all your money away. I’m sure that would annoy her.’

         ‘You know I think she’d quite like it.’

         Alberto took another puff on the cigarette.

         ‘She admires Sofia. The way she lives. She wants something like that for herself.’

         ‘We all need a purpose.’


On the blanket Sofia drank the last drops of wine left in her glass.

         ‘So what was Jack on about earlier?’


         ‘His mother.’

         Anna pushed a left over crust around her plate.

         ‘Forget her.’

         She snapped the crust between her fingers.

         ‘Anna? Come on.’


         Sofia sat up.

         ‘Tell me what happened?’


         ‘Jack’s mother.’

         ‘You remember my wedding?’

         A small affair, with very few of Anna’s friends and family in attendance. It rained heavily all day, ruining her dress. Her mother said this was a bad sign. Anna didn’t believe in signs.


         ‘Remember Jack’s sister? Big girl, bad hair.’

         ‘Always shouting everybody down.’

         ‘I threw a glass of wine over her.’


         ‘I don’t remember.’

         ‘She must have said something.’


         Anna picked up the bottle of wine, poured them one final, half empty, glass. Her eyes welled with tears.

         ‘Anna. What’s wrong?’

         Anna wiped her eyes. She shook her head. A soft smile spread across her face. In the paper she had seen a picture of a school reduced to rubble, chalky white, and by the smouldering frame of a burnt out bin, a single shoe remained unclaimed.

         ‘I honestly don’t know.’

         On the embankment Alberto put his empty can down by his side. He took another one from the water. A bird flew overhead. He lit a cigarette. The bird landed on the thin branch of a tree in full bloom across the river.

         ‘You know, when I’m working on an important article, or editing the magazine, Sofia does everything.’

         ‘Yeah? Pass me a beer.’

         Alberto reached back into the water, took out a can and handed it to Jack.


         Alberto wiped his hands on his trousers.

         ‘She cooks, cleans, does the shopping. Despite having worked all week herself.’

         ‘Anna just mopes about the house.’

         Jack opened the can. Thick white froth oozed out, causing him to slurp it down before losing it over the edges.

         ‘I say to her you know you don’t have to do all this. Let me cook. Let me clean.’

         ‘We like to go out for dinner, well, we liked to. We don’t much anymore.’

         ‘Do you know what she says?’

         Jack wiped his mouth with his hand. He shook his head. No.

         ‘She says, “A lover loves”.’

         ‘A lover loves?’

         ‘That’s what she says.’

         Alberto puffed on the cigarette burnt to a looping stick of grey white ash. Jack knocked back a mouthful of beer. Scratched his right knee, his left elbow. The ash broke and fell. The bird flew away.

         ‘Do you think in times like this a lover can love?’

         ‘I don’t know. Why?’

         Alberto stubbed out what remained of his cigarette. He picked up his fishing rod.

         ‘No reason, just a thought I’ve been having.’

         ‘I think about what might have been.’

         ‘If what?’

         ‘If I wasn’t Jack Warren. If I woke up in a different time, a different place.’

         ‘Who knows, one day we might.’

         Jack nodded. Drank. He picked up his fishing rod. Accustomed himself to silence. A silence Alberto filled with rootless thoughts of an imagined future, maybe lost, and a recent past romanticised and free of his souls restlessness. A baby held in arms, rocked gently to a lullaby softly sung. Blue eyes revealing happiness in a sun lit morning. That walk, rhythmic, sexual, down empty streets, over bullet hole ridden helmets, through blood and tears and lost limbs, to a coffin draped in the flag, lowered in the rain, by a headstone bearing the numbers One, Nine, Eight, Six.


         ‘So did everyone have a nice time?’ said Jack.

         They had made their way back to the car lazily sharing conversations that came in fragments, as the sun drifted out of view with the late afternoon shades of a blue sky being split by oranges and reds and purples moving in from the edges.

         ‘Yes Jack, thank you for inviting us, it was a lovely idea.’

         Anna, hidden behind the door to the carboot she was packing, began to cry. When she felt the tears run, she wanted to laugh. The ridiculousness of it, on a beautiful summers day.

         ‘No worries, gets us out of the house doesn’t it Anna?’

         She wiped her eyes, and the nostrils she felt were moist, roughly, with her hands.


         She shut the boot of the car. Sofia turned to Alberto. Quiet. Thin.

         ‘Never mind’, said Jack.

         ‘No. What did you say?’

         Alberto looked down at leather shoes scuffed and dirtied.

         ‘It doesn’t matter?’

         ‘Tell me what you said?’

         ‘I said its nice for us to get out of the house. To be with friends.’

         ‘Oh. Right. Yes.’

         They drove back down the dirt road. The long stretch blanketed by dried out trees bent at obscure angles. They came up alongside a bus. Grey. Battered. The government insignia in the centre, beneath steel mesh covered windows. Alberto looked up at the faces of young men, blank, cold. He wanted to say to them,

         ‘I am like you brothers.’

         He turned away. Soon he would be sat on a bus just like it, with the men and boys drafted. They would not look at each other, too distracted by their own self-pity. She would have read his latest article, WHY I SIGNED UP FOR THE WAR. She would have cried. She would have begged him to reconsider. She would have told him that she didn’t understand. That he didn’t have to do this. He didn’t have to fight. He would have held her. He would have kissed the back of her neck, and she would have said, ‘but a lover loves Alberto, a lover loves’.

         ‘So did you catch any fish?’

         ‘Not even close Sofia. My father reckons the numbers are dwindling.’

         ‘Never mind. Another time.’ 

         Sofia squeezed Alberto’s shoulder. He took her hand in his. He kissed it. He turned back to what was in front of him, still holding her hand, and said,

         ‘Yes. Another time.’