Even S. T. Joshi exclaimed that he’d never read anything like “Phoenix on the Orange River”, the final story in A Darke Phantastique. Written by Tom Conoboy, it begins:
Once, on a moonlit road, quiet and warm, Death trundled by with a handcart bearing the belongings of my father. I was kissing a woman at the time, Magenta de Rosa, full-bosomed and fifty, energetic, lying beneath the shade of a hackberry tree with the smell of oranges and almonds like perfume in the air. She looked like a catfish, whiskers and all, but she had talents and I could close my eyes to her ugliness. I was sixteen, a virgin becoming a man, entering the new order of maturity, usurping my father as the virile centre of the family. Magenta de Rosa had my pants down, her hand in my shorts. Her body was beneath mine, her legs apart. I held my breath as I waited for the moment I would enter a woman for the very first time, imagining it would feel like the sweetest suffocation. Magenta de Rosa whispered in my ear, “Strong boy, brave boy, hard boy,” while I concentrated and looked away, watched the dust that hovered above the roadway in the moonlight and at that moment I saw Death.
He says about the story:
“The father dead has euchred the son out of his patrimony. For it is the death of the father to which the son is entitled and to which he is heir, more so than his goods.”—Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Needless to say, I disagree with the judge. This story is about community, love, connection.
Tom Conoboy is Scottish but lives in England. After taking a break from writing to undertake a Ph.D. he has now returned to the joys of fiction and is writing a novel set in Scotland in the 1980s. He has been published in a number of journals and e-zines and has won several short story competitions.