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WEIRDMONGER
Monday, 12 May 2008
Misbegotten Love

 



(published 'Exuberance' 1990)

He came into the room expecting to find his fiancee. Imagine his surprise when he saw me sitting in the armchair,by the log fire, where she usually sat.

“I’m sorry, Bill, she’s not here, she’s upstairs, and would like you to go without any fuss and bother,” I said.

“But, why?” He was crestfallen. “She’s not in love with you any more. Not since,you know...well, I’m told she’s very disappointed with what you tried to do to her last night, to be blunt.”

“You mean...well, whatever it is why couldn’t she have told me herself? I could clear up any misunderstanding.”

As if automatically, he went to the window and drew the curtains across, as the street lamp just outside had just been belatedly lit by a man on tiptoes. He stood there for a few seconds, as if gathering his thoughts, staring at the floral pattern in the curtains that he’d man-handled, no doubt seeking some inspiration in the weave. He then turned, expressionless, having regained his composure and said:-

“It’s you,isn’t it? You’ve turned her against me. I’ve always seen it in your eyes, now I know it’s true...”

Any outside observer would have described my face as turning white as a sheet. I could not even bring myself to believe I heard what I heard him implying. Then the door to the room opened and in she came, tears streaming down her uncannily young face.

“Bill, just go! Make it as easy as possible. We can’t go on, and that’s that,” she sobbed.

“What did I do?”

I had ceased to be party to the gathering; I slipped into the shadows and just watched.

“Fancy saying you could pretend to be a doctor and that you would give me an internal examination!”

“But it was a game! You agreed, darling.”

“But you didn’t do it right, Bill.You only used your finger!”

Hearing a smart knocking at the window, I went over and undrew the curtains. It was now completely dark outside, but one could see that there was the lamp-lighter with his face squashed up to the glass, flecks of drool rhythmically bubbling at his nostrils.

He shouted something like:

“Doctor,come quick, there be an accident down the road...”

I immediately grabbed my coat and ran out to help, leaving my daughter to deal with her ex-fiance herself.


Posted by augusthog at 4:09 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 12 May 2008 4:11 AM EDT
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Wild Jokers and Square Balls

 

(published ‘The New Truth’ 1988) 

As a freak of fate, those who were already there when Antonian arrived in the lamp room, were discussing the dice-throwing set who used to frequent the commercial markets all over the world. Antonian had once considered himself to be part of that scene, but not for some years. It all came flooding back to him when someone shouted out: “Hey! Antonian, thrown a clutch of sixes lately?”

He scowled at the unseen perpetrator of this cruel jollity.

The gas lamps were so aligned with the wall mirrors, they cast shadows over the faces on the settees, but made the ceiling brighter than a sunny sky in mid-June.

He went to the hatch in the wall where pootch was being served at a guinea a schooner. The young lady serving, in contrast to the customers, was in full view, not even a shadow down her cleavage.

“Six schooners,” he ordered.

She poured them from a cask with a brass tap.

“Can you top them up - there’s at least half an inch of head.”

She stared back.

“Oi, Mistah, you may be a right oo-de-lah in your mummy’s eyes, but here you get what yer given. That’ll be six guineas and, if you want me to say please, thàt’ll be another guinea on top!”

Antonian fidgetted his feet. The lamps flickered as a nearby underground train shook the whole building. Like ghosts, the faces of the other drinkers were partially revealed by the tapering, leaning and bluing of the gas jets. He recognized at least one of his fellow shakers from the old days, one who owed him more than vice versa.

“Hey, Jack,” he called, “Give this here lady a guinea and she says she’ll say please.”

“Yes,” she laughed, “I’ll say please for a guinea and give me yet another, I’ll give you a sweet thank you too!”U

“How sweet, Brenda?”

“You’ll see.”

He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a wad of tight change. He threw it into her cleavage and heard the splash several seconds later.

“Is that enough, Brenda?”

She smiled innocently and fished down her front to retrieve the payment.

Meanwhile, he who had been addressed as Jack had stepped up to the hatch. If anyone had a misaligned smile he did - either that or his head had been put on at the wrong angle.

“Yes, I thought it was you Jack - come to rub along again with your old Uncle Antonian, eh? We were muckers once, so let’s call it quits. Give me a wad, and I’ll let this young lady have another one for her chest of drawers ... and maybe she’ll entertain us both together, later.”

“And maybe I won’t”, she said, as she topped up the six schooners.

“Thanks, Brenda, have one for yourself.”

Antonian wrapped the six glasses in his fist as if he were a born waiter and, without warning, smashed them all to the floor, splinters of glass and flecks of pootch flying in all directions … save one, where Antonian himself stood with Jack.

The rest of the company were not so lucky. They had their women picking shards out of their cheeks for weeks after.

But that was the last six Antonian ever threw. He left the lamp-room that night - smiling from ear to ear and, for the benefit of those who pry, he was carried out in a state of apparent drunkenness. Well, what do you think, after downing six schooners of pootch?

Brenda (if that was her real name), when dressing later that night, told Jack that she’d enjoyed it more than ever, his new pouch being far more chunky.... But it had been strangely dark in the lamp-room and, in this day and age, what matters is who trumped her - names were wild, bodies shuffled and tricks far too easy to take - and who cares whose deal it was anyway.


Posted by augusthog at 4:04 AM EDT
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Sunday, 11 May 2008
CATHY COME HOME
A Collaboration with Anthea Holland

At a point in the distance the trees merged with the horizon, a dark rim on the pan of the world. The bowl of hope was empty, the dish of dreams devoid of anything but the dregs of a nightmare.

The flatness of the landscape reminded him of the desert. Not that the desert had been flat, far from it; the sand scalloped into shapes beyond the imaginings of the finest sculptor. But it had been arid - like that flatness that lay before him in the future. The trees that he could no longer discern were nothing but a hiccup in the digestive system of existence.

He turned and looked over his shoulder whence he had come. Nothing much there, either. A few streams perhaps, but he had passed them without noticing them, so they counted for nothing. Once or twice a flower had bloomed, only to be flattened by his size 10's. The wildlife along the way had scurried into holes and burrows to avoid his deadly gaze.

Even wildlife with roots had scurried! Or so it seemed. There was one particular form of orchid that managed to move from place to place of its own volition. Dragging its roots behind, in hope of a new seedbed to mulch it. A rare plant. A rare disease, too, imagining that such a plant could exist. Yet indeed it was no fever of his brain that told him he was following one such specimen between the now featureless horizons. Duneless and dour.

Of course, a rare orchid would never be able to survive in the dry terrains he now crossed. It was wishful thinking or just sheer bravery on the plant’s part to act as his guide. Only desiccation could be its ultimate fate. Sacrificing its life for his. Still, rare orchids only lasted a blink of an eyelid in the scheme of things, at the best of times. He shrugged. It wasn’t sacrificing that much, was it? Rare beauty was ephemeral to the nth degree.

Like Catherine’s rare beauty. She had not been a lover of exotic blooms. She simply relished the act of pressing ordinary wild flowers into scrapbooks. Wild flowers were all very well in their place - in fact he thought they should be protected and nurtured; nothing was improved by removing it from its natural habitat, he thought, including man. Take him, for example - and he wished somebody would, now that Catherine had relinquished her claim - he was not improved by being in this desiccated landscape. No, he should be in his rightful place; armchair by a log fire, a book in his hands, a glass of beer at his side and preferably with Catherine at his feet. Or, better still, with the same log fire but on the rug in front of it - with Catherine, naturally.

A sound made him look down to catch the tail end of a rat scurrying beneath a rock. A rock that surely hadn't been there a moment before. But then he was used to rocks cropping up unexpectedly in his life - all designed to trip him up, he was sure. It was only the sound the rat had made that had saved him from tripping over this one.

Rats. They kept appearing in his life as well. Always when he least expected it; when he believed his cup of happiness was full to overflowing, some nasty rat would come and drink the contents of his vessel while his back was turned.

One half was dream. The other was real. A hybrid of waking and sleeping. The free-wheeling orchid and memories of Catherine by the log fire were in the dream. The rats were real. The desert was real. Desert rats. Still, he’d seen rats in his local park back home – and during his seaside holidays in North Essex, too. That had only been too real.

He decided to allow the dream to take sway. It seemed preferable; the dream took place in a desert, a different desert. But Catherine, a different Catherine, not the dream one, was in a deckchair, sun-bathing, or rather, sun-burning. It was like looking at chicken roast. She was quite naked, her voice emerging from above curvier dunes than the desert could ever boast.

“It’s nice here by the sea,” she said. The sea was so far away. The whole universe was global-burning. She pretended to be on a pier in a cool sea breeze. She watched, she said, children playing on the beach. Scurrying around like rats in a panic.

He resumed his walk towards the nearest horizon, intent on a quest, the purpose of which was lost in the dream he wasn’t now dreaming.

The him that was a dream had a spring in his step; the tree-lined horizon now taking shape so that he could see the moving forms beneath them. Catherine was there, he knew - not the sun-scorched version, but the languid on the rug one. His heart-beat quickened as he increased his pace until he was running - and yet the horizon seemed to be no nearer; the forms beneath it no better defined.

The real him was also moving forward, but slower. For him, too, the horizon was becoming clearer and the trees more defined. Beneath them the shapes that moved were less friendly than Catherine - although the solar-cooked version might be there, he supposed. But it wasn't a sight he really wanted to see - except for the small part of him that sought revenge.

Revenge is sweet, they say, and so were the fruit gums that he dug around for in his pocket. He was sure there was a couple left. Eventually he located one trapped in the seam and covered with fluff and other detritus that defied definition. Aware (because his mother had told him) that you had to eat a speck of dirt before you died, he put the whole thing in his mouth, hoping that the speck of dirt might speed him to a death that he had been seeking. It seemed a preferable way to go than facing what lurked beneath the trees - which he seemed to be approaching remarkably quickly considering the slow movements of his feet.

It was a doll. The china cheeks mottled by the browning of history. The rubbery-looking limbs mapped all over with an unfathomable geography, peppered as it was with cack-handed archipelagos. There was a pustule or bubble on the doll’s china neck as if the sun was beginning to frazzle it. The toy gums were caked with gooey colours. The bone china teeth or dentures were browner than the staining on the cheeks. The eyes jaundiced. The face pointed like a rodent’s.

Dead orchids were crumpled in the vicinity and he sniffed the residue of some ritualistic mass suicide on their part. Their tiny roots like centipede legs wilted and flickered in the breezeless air. These had once been the trees that had seemed to merge with the horizon, given the perspective of contourless distance and its misalignment of terrain. Also given his own inchworm proportions. He threaded the eyes. Riddled the dark sands. A rare specimen. A squirming speck of size 10 dirt.

Catherine, having woken, lazed back in a log-chair on a log-pier above a log-fire. The deck swayed. But that was a different dream. And only perspective in dream was a measure for how real waking was. Embarking on a voyage to ancient China or far-off Cathay.

Posted by augusthog at 5:38 AM EDT
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HOME IS WHERE YOU LAY YOUR HAT

A collaboration with Anthea Holland



Going away; going away; going away;
Coming back home; coming back home; coming back home.

Stanley couldn't decide which of the two phrases the rhythm of the train wheels were saying. Still, it didn't really make any difference to him - he wasn't going anywhere. Not home - where was home, anyway? Not away - not in the sense of the word that most people used it.

He sat back, listening to the rhythm as it lulled him - not to sleep - no! Never that! But to some kind of inner peace where the demons that had been driving him for so long could be pushed to the back of his mind.

In his eschatological journey there were few things more designed to upset Stanley than the thought of the demons, even more so than death itself.

Trains used to be the safest form of transport, someone in the future claimed. Only young people had any future, maundered Stanley. He was old – old enough to sense the creeping onset of extinction. What use the future for the likes of him?

He raised his sights, just at the moment a veil was lifted from the face of the passenger opposite. Stanley and this now beautiful gifted individual had both snatched the window seats at the terminus, leaving the other more run-of-the-mill commuters like us to make do, elsewhere in the carriage, with the mended moveables that one could claw out of the seatbacks on which to place the arms. Even the crested headrests had been darned.

Stanley smiled at his vision of manifest female splendour.

Even from within the idle talk of co-travellers, words were sometimes too complicated actually to speak. Talk too small even to mention. Glances were the simplest handles to hold.

She nodded at him. Returning to her gold-tooled book, her young face resumed its caul of anonymity and plainness.

Stanley, in some panic, turned to the rest of us hoping against hope that one of us would have words simple enough to speak. Yet large enough to create diversions from death. He needed lifting from his own doom.

“Home is where you never arrive,” one of us wheedled, with a snort and a sniffle.

"No, no, no!" a lady with a walking stick exclaimed, "Home is where the heart is."

"Not at all," a portly, balding gentleman claimed, "Home is on the range."

"That would be the aga, I suppose?" I asked, trying to insert a hint of humour where none reigned.

I was met with a group of withering looks and felt my roots tremble.

"Home is sweet," the child seated next to me whispered without looking up from the gory paper-back novel he was reading. In fact the words were uttered so quietly that I wondered if they had actually been granted to the air. I looked more closely at the child and saw that it was not, in fact, a child as I had thought but an under-sized man of indeterminable age. Unwashed, hair awry, rings the size of knuckle-dusters and - now I concentrated - emanating a rather strong smell of the sewers. How could the word "sweet" have come from his cracked lips?

Home is sweet … like treacle? Like fly-rotten pudding?

Home, sweet home. I tried to imagine Stanley’s home. A twouptwodown with chintzy fittings. Ill-trimmed flock wallpaper. Ruffled curtains in a flowery mode. Yes, sweet, curdled and claustrophobic. No wonder he wandered the world on a Rail Rover ticket, going nowhere, hoping never to return.

I then looked askance at the ‘child’ with the over-sweet aroma: evidently one of the demons who followed every track of Stanley’s footsteps, even shunting into the darkest sidings or making the briefest stops at tenantless halts. If the truth were known, I am, also, one of Stanley’s demons.

Less of me. I have my pointy ears pricked for any conversation that grows beyond the stunted pleasantries of mere co-travellers, even homing in upon the slightest sweet nothings.

“Coming home?” asked the beautiful lady opposite Stanley, her husky tones making me think of the way cats would talk if they had human articulation. She did not turn her eyes towards Stanley, but stared at the fleeting plains of rape seed oil and an even yellower town that nestled in a distant valley. She wrinkled her mouth without pursing.

“No, going away,” replied Stanley, as he fingered his train ticket, examining it for blemishes.

Was he just being perverse, I wondered? Having previously thought that he was neither going away nor coming home, I now realised that he was, in fact doing both - going away from one well-known place to another, less familiar, home.

So why had he disagreed with the vision of beauty that he so obviously wanted to impress? He could have answered quite correctly, "Yes."

Aye, and there's the rub. A simple agreement would have stopped the conversation dead, whereas a disagreement left the conversation open.

I watched the face of the girl reflected back from the window. Her green eyes never flickered yet the longer I watched the more convinced I was that one of them closed ever so slowly in a kind of conspiritorial wink.

Another of Stanley's demons, I wondered?

If so, she was from a different dimension to me; there were no such beautiful felines where I came from.

She lifted her hand and stroked her face from lip to ear, much as a cat would clean its whiskers.

"Coming home?" she asked, as if the previous question had not been asked.

Stanley frowned. "No, going away," he said - this time with a little more conviction.

He and the girl abruptly left the carriage at the same halt, one where its rattling speed merely slowed down to a walking pace, no doubt to ensure catching something in the guard’s outstretched parcel-net.

The two of them leaped upon the sliding platform, their legs pumping against the residual motion to regain their balance. I looked askance at my co-demons. The couple had pulled the wool over our eyes good and proper. Stanley and the girl, we were now convinced, had known each other all along. They were an item merely masquerading as corner-seat grabbing rivals. She probably darned his socks at home. Or licked the puddle of milk from his belly-button.

As to us … well we eternally travel the now commercially dislocated network of British Rail - furthering curtailments, enticing delays and derailments, evoking squabbles with ticket collectors, collecting the turgid souls of you mindless folk who merely stare into the distance or bury yourself in pot-boilers … as A turns to B, towards the XYZ of death’s ultimate halt. Journeys are merely excuses for not living. Home is where the action is.

We have your best interests at heart…

I was suddenly interrupted by the guard’s face at the carriage door. He waved an object which he was intent on delivering. It looked like a dead cat, flat as cardboard meat.

I waved him away; we could not be bothered with such imponderables. The lady with the stick smiled in evident agreement. The sweet child looked desperately around for its mummy and daddy. The portly balding gentleman took out a notebook and started scribbling words that had just sprung to mind. Every passenger has his or her own fascinating story to tell, they say. Something inscrutable behind the eyes. It’s just impossible to tell. Home is not where you lay your cat, I guess, but it is that fire at the seat of the brain. I shrugged and got back to my knitting.



Posted by augusthog at 5:35 AM EDT
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Friday, 9 May 2008
Scales and Balances
Through the mists of time and the relatively clearer gaps between them, there swooped the Beasts upon detachable wings of silver and steel scales. The rhythmic clanking and clanging could be heard from one universe to the next, even permeating the otherwise dead silence of those untenable realities which lay endlessly beyond the edge of the tenable ones. Each Beast was itself larger than a good-sized star and their wing-spans spread like heavenly shafts of white light through the depleted blacknesses of deepest space. Suddenly (and in the time-scale of which I speak, ‘suddenly’ lasted longer than a tandem of eternities in your own scale), the biggest Beast with by far the biggest wings with an ego bigger than the rest put together collided head-on with an even bigger Black Hole. Gradually, the eventual consequences of such a shunt became clear, but even God (whom I once was) wasn’t around to weigh the repercussions in His own silver and steel balances.

Published 'Crossings' 1993

Posted by augusthog at 4:38 AM EDT
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Sun, Sea & Sorrow
Arthur felt inhibited. He decided to take a holiday by the seaside where, he was told, Bridget, his sister, had once lost all her sexual inhibitions …


Arthur frowned. That child was now his. His cold-hearted sister had abandoned the baby. And Arthur was too kind to refuse responsibility to become Bridget’s lifebuoy for her drowning waifs and strays...

The child knew that Arthur wasn’t his real Dad … being Arthur's nephew conceived one unseasonably snow-driven night on a closed pier – to the sound of gurgling.

Waves.

Arthur found it difficult to shed his own sexual inhibitions … with a brat in tow. Most of the women wanted clean-cut flings without such appurtenances as a sister’s off-load.

Arthur used a bench to sit on the promenade – between two showers – watching the sun set over the sea. Or was it rising? He had lost all sense of timing. Bridget’s boy sat beside him pretending to cast imaginary fishing-lines towards the distant horizon.

“Trying to catch the sun, son?” Arthur asked.

The boy nodded. He had Bridget’s nose.

Unknown to both – an electric ice-cream van had drawn up beside the kerb. Raspberry rippling ... and Magnums making melted chocolate sculptures between the two cones of the gurgling lady with the wafers.

Eventually … “Want an ice or a lolly?” she called to the large silhouette that was Arthur and to the small silhouette that was his sister’s child - from both of which silhouettes upon the promenade bench the sinking sun retreated with timely abandon.

One silhouette turned towards the voice – whilst the other silhouette merged into the darkness that gradually subsumed them together, sucking both like scooped cocoa ice-cream towards its single heart. Towards the sucking, dragging, flesh-grinding shingle...

“I’ll have a Melon Mivvi,” said the voice that emerged as a cross between a deep filling and a frozen sculpture … as if two throats (one dark choc ice, one lemon sorbet) spoke with a single tongue-like ladle.

The ice-cream lady only had sorrow to keep her company; and, with no customers, she took a Lyon’s Maid from the deepest fridge of all … from the frozen core that knew no love …


Waves.

(unpublished)

Posted by augusthog at 4:37 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 7 May 2008
Peter Jeffery II

(published 'Overspace' 1990)



I knew him when he was a shopkeeper.

I was, I am sure, his most regular paying customer, going in of an evening for an ounce of baccy and a pot noodle.

It was a grocery/off licence in the better end of Leicester, but his trade in penny chews and the custom coming off the likes of me, did not keep him in the luxury he would have wished. So you would have thought that a customer such as I needed to be looked after, treated with some people, but let me tell you...

One day, he invited me into the back room of the shop. He crooked his finger and said: “Would you care to partake of your pot noodle with the hot water I’ve already got a-bubbling in my kettle for a cup of tea?”

“That’s very kind of you, mister Peter, but my wife always shares it with me, and she’ll be likely sitting at home right now, eager with anticipation, hungry as a...”

As a gutted pig was the only thing that came to mind, but I did not say it.

“I’ll give you two for the price of one..

Well, I was a good customer, after all. He went to the shelf and lifted down another pot and handed it to me with a smile.

“Now come back here, for I see you are a gent to whom I can tell things...”

I shrugged, walked behind the counter and followed him into the back room, where a television,with its screen missing, sat on top of a humming freezer. I wrinkled up my nose, but at that time I couldn’t be certain...

The kettle was already steaming so hard that it was not difficult to imagine an engine around it. a genius once thought of that - but, today, this can occur to even one such as me.

He poured my share of the spluttering water on to the noodles and, I think this was the first time I’d noticed it, they seemed to whine in pain, much like unto what I would imagine scalded worms give off...

As I tucked in with a rusty spoon, he told me his tale. Said it would be true. And if I didn’t believe it, I needn’t bother to get my pot noodles there again. Perhaps I wasn’t such a valuable customer after all.

It was none too easy to follow his thread, for every five minutes or so, he would raise his finger, indicating that another customer or suchlike was in danger of being within hearing distance. And, on occasions, he even got up to slap an ear or two of the ragamuffins who had come in off the downtrodden catchment areas of Leicester, evidently in the hope of scrounging provender well beyond the ‘sell-by’ date.

He even got up, if rarely, actually to take money from genuine customers such as me. But they were an ill-breed to my way of thinking. I would not have done business with them at all. But Jeffery had to make a living, didn’t he? And even customers well beyond their own ‘die-by’ dates were treated even-handed...

But I race ahead of myself. I’ll tell you how Jeffery told it to me, as far as I can remember (and you know what my memory is like), but also keep in mind that he lost track of his own tale what with the so-called customers and the snuffling noises I made as I ploughed through the noodles. I had a pretty bad stomach, anyway, that day. But I owed him a listening at least. I didn’t get a free pot noodle every day...


**




Did I ever tell you what was on this spot afore the shop was built? No? Well, that doesn’t surprise me, because we never exchange words other than about the weather or the cricket, do we?

I think that’s a real shame. There’s more to a man than that, I hope. If weather was all there was, we’d be a pretty dull race. God didn’t give us life, just so that weather could have people to annoy.

“Oh, the cold’s eatin’ into me very bones this mornin’, mister Jeffery,” they say.

“Oh yes, missus, it’s a shameful day, shameful...”

I could recount a thousand more conversations like that, but that would be more boring than the conversations themselves, wouldn’t it, mister... What’s your name? Well, nevermind. I’ll call you Noodle, for short.

I mentioned God a while back, if I remember correctly. Well, I tell you, I don’t rightly believe He exists. I don’t know, I’ve had no proper proof, but I reckon He didn’t ever happen to become, if you see my meaning, Noodle. That’s all there is to it - I’ve got no proof, but He still don’t exist, no way. But it’s useful to bring Him into the tale, as so many people do believe in Him, proof or not. And then they can latch on to what I’m saying more easily.

You’re one of the very few I’ve told all this to. I’ve not even breathed a word to the various bed-fellows I’ve had over the years. No time, you see.

Well, Noodle, gather closer, for what I’m about to tell you is not for every spare pair of ears. Let me whisper it...

This shop stands on the site of a church. And when it was a church, it was so ancient, it looked as if it had been built even before they’d invented God himself. And inventions come in two sorts, as I expect you know. There’s the ones that are so obvious, it’s a wonder they had to be invented at all. And the others are those you can’t imagine anyone having enough brains to invent because they’re so damn clever. Take your pot noodle as an example...

Where was I? God? Oh yes, He founded the church that was here on this very site. He sat up in that there Heaven, called an apprentice angel to His knee and said all deep and hollow, as you would expect:

“Go to Earth to a place which will one day be called Leicester and build a church in My Memory.”

And the angel, fresh from doing out the public loos (yep, they did have them up in Heaven - stands to reason, don’t it?) replied:

“In Your Memory, Sir? Alleluia!”

“What? What did you say, young angel?”

“Build a church in Your Memory. Alleluia!”

“Did I? Did I really? Christ, that’s strange! Well, if I said that, you’d better go straightaway, for if I’m not obeyed, I can become a very cross God indeed…”

“Alleluia!”

And off the apprentice angel went. He flew across space and came to this very place, Leicester. They do say it was named after that very angel, who, it turned out, was called Eric Steel.

He stood as tall as a mighty oak, wings furled around him like a winter coat - it was a snappish day he’d chosen. Gets right to you, the winter wind in these parts, don’t it, Noodle? I’ve got an Albanian flap-jacket. Needed it last winter, not half. But it’s the summer I like best - most of my customers follow the cricket, and I like to see them happy. Oils their purses. And cricket seems to do that okay, especially when Leicestershire is on the up.

Where was I? Yes, last winter, the winds whistled round here like an express train. Took the trees up by the roots, burying them in the parked cars which ended up like the squashed tomatoes in the greengrocer’s next door.

He keeps a good potato, I admit. But I don’t go much on his spinach. And the fellow himself, there’s a lot to be desired there. I reckon he got an onion for a brain. Makes me want to weep out loud, to think the way he rips off old ladies with his mouldy stalk of celery...and his wrinkled parsnip...and his, what do you call it? Brassica? More fit for manure than an honest-to-goodness dining table... Stinks a lot round these parts, you know. I reckon its his goods next door. Expect, you’ve noticed it even in here. it gets everywhere.

Used to be a public loo on this site. The building’s much the same, in fact...

**

I swiftly finished off the pot noodle and, making polite noises, I went to leave the shop.I

I didn’t know whether he had actually finished what he wanted to tell me, and I didn’t really care. He had evidently not reached the punch-line, for he turned frantic on me:

“Wait! The most important bit’s to come out...”

“Thank you, mister Jeffery, but I’d better be off now to settle my wife’s stomach...”

“Why such a hurry, Noodle? It looks as if a lousy lump of weather is about to land on our doorstep. And the flying ants... it be not at all healthy out there... Let me offer you some natural yoghurt, only six months beyond the ‘dung-by’ date…”

My own belly turned over and I felt the end of it, to which my intestines were joined, creeping up into my gullet...

I couldn’t get home fast enough.

I’ll never go back. And I left the free pot noodle on his counter. It may still be there, if you’re feeling hungry. Just go down Overdale Road, round the corner...

But whatever you do, don’t let Jeffery entice you into his back room.

I’m sure he keeps bits of angel in the freezer. It stinks to High Heaven...


Posted by augusthog at 10:02 AM EDT
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Down By The Fast Canal

 

 (published 'Vollmond' 1990)

He ached all over, whined a good part of the night and then decided he was not at all committed to life. and he might as well fling it off like a stripper on the stage.

But he wanted the biggest audience. More than just himself, anyway. So he rose from his sick bed, wandered over to the devil-top chest of drawers and pulled out suitable apparel for his grand exit.

He poised a needle upon the inlet groove of an operatic record he'd liked since childhood - one with grand chords and buxom sopranos - and its heroic tale wove the bed-sit into something akin to wondrous myth and legend.

Pulling on long, striped socks to above his knees, he suddenly knew that he would find it difficult to carry out that to which he'd so far dedicated his life: death. And he decided he didn't much care for an audience, anyway.

He shivered in the morning air that was given off by the frozen butter of the sun decking the street in premature wakefulness. The other early-goers were evidently firing on all cylinders from some internal white heat engendered by the promise of this particular day.

And now he did not know exactly what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it. But if he did it. he knew there would be no going back.

To one looking at him (and I was), he did not act confused. He did not see me lurking behind the unemptied dustbins outside the tower flats and, God forbid that I will ever need to use that as my reconaissance spot again, even in my dreams, the smells come on me.

I lost track of him down by the Fast Canal, where the Bell-House sits like an abandoned primadonna (which has always given me the impression that some architect or other once played a blinder, for it makes the surrounding urban sprawl seem even more sprawling).

Whether he I followed dropped his nose into the scummy waters of the. Fast Canal (which at that time of the morning, believe it or not, still bore a veneer of ice) or he just gave his amnesia more rein and wandered off to lose himself in the outer inner city where nobody went if they could help it - no man's land for the rich and poor alike.

But, as he would have been the first to admit, he was indeed a no-man and that's perhaps why he decided to live up to such a label.

I've returned to his bed-sit where ghosts of his aches still linger. I've decided to take on the role that showed so much promise. And I dedicate the rest of my life to his memory.

Even in here you can smell the dustbins outside.

The opera record is still turning - it has been scratching for a living all day.

Within the Bell-House, the bloated hammer-rats do skimp and scamper. But when a new corpse drops in, it becomes their lucky day.

They crack its nut and suck the software out.


 


Posted by augusthog at 9:54 AM EDT
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Sunday, 4 May 2008
Dead Eyes

 

 
(published 'Dementia 13' 1993)

Wednesday was her day for muddling out the week. It would be washtub, hoover-out, dust-off, polishrub, bedamake, stew-and-bake, from the head of the morning to the bottom of the evening. To her mind, she topped and tailed the whole world.

The flanks of the week, she merely sat back upon the laurels of her handiwork, gently sipping upon fine bone-china and mindlessly tearing strips from celery-sticks with her long fingernails.

I approached the front door, wondering about her reaction, for I was convinced she was used to meeting next to nobody. I was hoping that they’d be at least a half chance she’d a room to lodge out. The holding looked big enough, literally bulging all over with bay windows. The various extraneous lumps in the roof indicated a healthy supply of assorted attics. I would be willing to shake down literally anywhere. I knew she lived alone, because the milkman told me he only left one half pint per day. The postman, whom I had consulted earlier, said the letters were far and few between (none of them bills), mostly written in a feminine hand postmarked Kidderminster.

I gave the front door a modest knocking. Slowly, it opened almost immediately upon a chain-lock.

‘Yes?’

I could just see a face of designed darkness, speaking with a hole laddering up and down in its knitted flesh.

‘Have you a room to spare for a poor unfortunate?’

I’d had my speech prepared, but she’d phased me somehow.

‘Come in, Mr Cobb, do.’

I was taken by surprise, as she unzipped the lock.

My name was not Mr Cobb, but something far more unusual.

She showed me a room without an outside window, where a bed was already made up, its lip of sheet mathematically straight.

As I limped behind, I seemed to echo her own gait.

The oil paintings on the walls were pretty pointless, as the light from the meagre fittings did not seep that far.

I suppose it was tantamount to an interview. Me following like a shadow. Her leading. Talking about the room, as I did, she could see I was not blind. Resorting to the parlour, she offered me tea and celery. Telling me about her empty life. By nodding at the appropriate points in her monologue, I proved I was no deaf man either. She gave me the job. I was to be the corpse that would decorate the room I’d just been shown round. Apparently, she gathered corpses to her, much like other old maids collected ornaments for their marble mantelpieces. I pictured to myself all the rooms in the holding: dead eyes gleaming in the darkness as they sat propped up in the armchairs, antimacassars liberally peppered over to prevent green stains forming on the expensive fitted covers below.

I heard the letterbox rattle down the hall. The dull clink of a milk bottle from the porch. I tried to cry out, as she tore strips from my manhood. Indeed, I could not disprove my dumbness.

Nor my immortality.

Come Wednesdays, I feel the tickle of her duster behind the ears.


Posted by augusthog at 4:44 PM EDT
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Friday, 2 May 2008
The Bullace Tree

 

 --published 'Peace & Freedom' 1988--

The little girl had spent years looking from her bedroom window towards the bottom of the garden where the bullace tree had stood and grown since many years before.

It had been a lifetime to her, as long as it takes from the first memory to the last, and it always seemed to be early evening, to such an extent that mornings and afternoons were forgotten completely under the growing shades of dusk; and night, for her, did not exist at all, dreamful sleep being the natural outcome of twilight.

#

The stars shone bright over the garden, awaiting the moon's arrival with the expectation of excited children early on Christmas day. The tree caught these silver fruit in its branches, and shapes crept up the trunk in yearning quest for their juice.

The compost - formless heap behind the water butt - bore its own fruit: blooming with each heave of its new found life. And more shapes of rapes, turnips and other rooters on route for the tree, lingered at the manure's edge, like unto cars at a petrol station, and moved on, silently, steadfastly...

#

I am a tree. You can only see the rough bark but, when I place my hands to my body, I feel the sown cruelties and chasms that woman can only bear and, higher, the unripe breasts that need nipples as well as soft flesh.

Up my only leg creep and crawl the rapes and rooters, with whips as long as their arms; and, between the hard strands of my wild head, others munch, mumble, come close to teasing my ears open with foulness.

I have the girl's soul with me, someone's posthumous gift to an ex-lover, an embossed trinket with etched words that mean less than nothing, especially as the affair had slipped into an unattainable past. The words? I LOVE YOU. But useless saying them for my ears are clogged up with grunting brassica.

#

As dawn enters its first phase, which many mistake for darkest night, I know that Christmas will never come. The gift of soul is rudely snatched from beneath my sagging, blackening dugs: and I can think to speak no longer...

#

The end was final, until the next; and of root and branch nothing more can be said. The girl, if one she be, did not wake with the dawn, could not wake until her soul grew again and nourished out its containing vessels. If, as one will say, a soul a day keeps the nicker-nacker away: then, the bullace tree will fast agree.

I look up at the bedroom window and her dear little face, like a bill poster, is ever there, day or night, unblinking, unflinching. She looks at me, I look at her, but it is only at certain rare times that we truly see; and then we yearn desperately, for each other's arms to ease the cruelties. But by that time the rooters swarm between us, not very understanding of our plight. And not understanding, there we must leave it.



Posted by augusthog at 4:42 PM EDT
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