The enclosure was empty. The nearby cage, too. No longer any loud meat.
I stared up at the invisible giraffe, gasping with astonishment. At last I believed it existed.
MY FAVOURITE BOOK IS LE NEVEU DE RAMEAU BY DIDEROT, NO PUN INTENDED by DF Lewis
Published 'Aabye' 1998
“Stop faffing about!” Flossie said.
“What’s the problem, eh?” I managed to muster through loose teeth and porridge.
“Go to the dentist and get your gums sorted out. I’m fed up to the back...” She suddenly stopped, realising what she was about to stay would have been a very bad pun, albeit an unintentional one. The worst sort.
“There’s more in the scheme of things, God, the cosmos, coincidences, creation, ley-lines, geomancy than worrying about nitty gritty things such as bleeding gums,” I said, grinning widely. I hadn’t eaten real solids for quite a well. Bread in hot milk. Cup-a-soups. Yoghourt. And, yes, porridge was the most chunky stuff I could possibly manage. But it didn’t stop my performance in other quarters. Battering-rams and mediæval catapults at dawn. Nuff said? Faff off! But euphemisms are worse than puns.
At that moment, Radio 3 put on Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum (if I’ve got the title right) by Olivier Messiaen (if I’ve got his name spelt properly) . A pretty solid piece, at the worst of times. At least, it put paid to Flossie’s nagging, because she liked it, too, if the truth were told. Neither of us are that picky where music is concerned. Though we do draw a line at Rameau. No black hole intended.
Previous unpublished (written a number of years ago)
Whether it was with some I-can't-posssibly-continue-living stab of pain or some I-don't-believe-this-can-be-happening-to-me rictus of rage, David listened to the news he was in the silent process of receiving from the telephone. He'd vouch for ghosts having backbones rather than accept this incredulity.
The house was silent, too, knowing, perhaps, that Melanie would never be returning to the protection of its walls. Even the television had switched itself off. The heating-pump was in an unaccustomed mode of thermostatic rest, depite the freezing weather. The children had finished squabbling, in the bedrooms upstairs. The traffic - as if it realised that it were somehow implicated in Melanie's death - was no longer conducting its rush hour trundle past the house, keeping, as it did, a tactful distance from David's consciousness as he replaced the handset in its cradle.
To receive such news from a bodiless voice almost persuaded David that he was dreaming. Surely, with a tragic event like the sudden death of a loved one, the Authorities - police or whatever - had a duty to arrive in person and break the tidings.
But everything seemed to fit somehow.
David had always suffered from a disorderly imagination.
His three children huddled together, their disagreement abruptly forgotten under the weight of silence. One of them had turned off the light, even though the other two were not yet ready for bed. Their names were irrelevant in the darkness for, without faces - without, indeed, any physical shape - their need to define identity had vanished.
Their disembodied voices were, absent, too, more by inertia than intention, ever since they had heard their father answering the call of the telephone.
Now, they heard steady treads - their father ascending the stairs to start the tucking-in process, a nightly routine about this time.
Downstairs, the television screen bore a silent snow. Evidently, the transmitter had cut out at source and the receiver had a device which automatically muted the ugly noise of no signal.
David climbed the stairs, his memory having short-circuited in its own autonomous effort to cut out - or, at least, blunt - the dreadful news that the telephone had brought to its owner. Indeed, he recalled the happy days when he first met Melanie...
He was one of many Mods on motor-scooters - a nineteen sixties cult of sharp-dressed mohair-suited youths with molls in mini-skirts and stylish blouses - who visited the seaside resort of Hastings in 1963 despite a potential showdown with the black-leathery Rockers on huge snarling motorbikes: the latter raging through the town like supersonic beetles.
One could sit on West Hill looking down at the beach covered in resting Mods - apparently conducting a pow-wow before the expected onset of Rockers.
The sea was out; so was the sun.
Blue faced blue, a rarity for England in those monochrome years of newsprint and black & white TV. Suddenly, completely unpremeditated, the Mods, rose as one, lurched, swarmed and milled about haphazardly - radiating in more directions than those any normal circle could encompass.
Which figure was David, it was impossible to judge from the top of West Hill. Which Melanie. Which anybody. Perhaps it didn't matter.
Today, it doesn't matter; David continues to climb the never-ending stairs towards a memory of children who, if Melanie had not been killed, would have been born to fulfil a promise of bodies and bones for ghosts. In fact, Melanie had been run down all those years ago in Hastings by a Rocker's rubber-snatching front wheel, practising drag-racing with her body as friction fodder. So, the telephone saying it was an incident of road rage today, in 1988, rather than then, in 1963, derived from a modern dose of obscene anonymity. 1988 was an odd year. It made the sixties seem almost sensible.
But who had it been watching the flailing, fleeing, flowing figures upon a distant descent of angle from West Hill? David had spotted the black speck up there from the beach and he had guessed it was, in turn, solely intent on spotting him and the mini-skirted girl whose soft hand he'd happened to grab in the suddemn random scattering by the Mods over the yellow sands (sands which later looked so terribly grey on the television and in the Daily Express). The girl, of course, turned into Melanie, just before her fatal brush with a Rocker's cutting-ridge rimful of spokes.
Hafley Clapp, as Fate would have it, was the Rocker who killed the girl with his roaring metal underswag. The girl David would have married, given half the chance.
The peculiarity was that Hafley Clapp returned into David's life in 1988 (the heyday of Margaret Thatcher). By that time, the erstwhile stubble-cheeked, beer-bellied, bike-thrusting Rocker had transmuted into a respectable spine-doctor who David hired (through private insurance, rather than National Health) to wield osteopathic skills upon his slipped disc. If that was not a coincidence, the fact that anyone was in a position to exercise Free Will seemed under considerable doubt.
David reached the landing at last - set to tuck in his three children, biting his tongue as he remembered the telephone's call.
David vaguely remembered seeing the Mr. H. Clapp nameplate on the spine-doctor's door. Only doctors of senior rank could use Mr as opposed to Dr as their handle - a fact which seemed an odd tradition to David.
"Come in," roared the deep voice of Hafley Clapp.
Being a privare patient, there was no waiting-room. Consultations were immediate, the secretary at her desk merely nodding him through with a knowing smile.
David was indeed intrigued by Clapp's resemblance to somebody from the past, but he soon shrugged it off - blaming his own disorderly imagination.
If David had pursued the meanderings of his mind, he would have been able later to rehearse the likely conversation in the leisure of his own home...
"Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"I don't think so," said Mr Clapp as he placed his fingers firmly upon the almost fin-like ridge of David's spine.
"Many years ago ... when the Beatles were never off the top of the Hit Parade..."
The conversation was far too stilted to be a real one.
"Well, that far too long ago for me to go back!" laughed Mr Clapp.
"Yes ... I remember ... in Hastings ... weren't you riding a motorbike?"
Clapp visibly blanched - as anyone could have attested given the vantage point - his fingers freezing upon David's rubbery skin.
"I've never been to Hastings in my life."
"I met a girl there called Melanie ... who you killed."
This time the retrospectively rehearsed conversation short-circuited as if David's probing had hit a raw nerve too near the bone. Hafley Clapp was no longer co-operating within the confines of David's memory-conduit - two memories inside the other like Russian Dolls, that of Hastings in 1963 and that of the spine-doctor's consultation room earlier in the day, that day, today, in 1988.
David had by now reached the first bedroom door, his hand outstretched to twist the knob. His children were being remarkably quiet; they usually screeched and screamed as they flung rag dolls from wall to wall.
David's back suddenly seized up, the way it often did. Age had many concomitants.
He couldn't move - neither towards his original shape nor to a new one with which he had intended to open the bedroom door. Neither into the past, nor the future. Stuck permanently in the present, with the ugly noise of no signal as sole accompaniment.
But then the phone rang.
STORIES IN THE 'WEIRDMONGER' BOOK (2003) BUT NOT INCLUDED AS STORIES AVAILABLE ON-LINE:-
Whispers From The Dark #14 (1995)
>Always in Dim Shadow
Exuberance #3 (1991)
Frisson Vol 1 No 2 (1996)
Sackcloth & Ashes #6 (1999)
>Angel Of The Agony
Necropolis #18 (1994)
Nasty Snips (MT Book) (1999)
Dead of Night #9 (1994)
Black Tears #2 (1993)
Black Moon #4 (1995)
Gothic Light #7 (1993)
New Dawn Fades #14 (1995)
Hadrosaur Tales #8 (2000)
>Big Ship, Little Ship and Brown
Substance #2 (1995)
Stygian Articles #6 (1996)
At'mos faer (Kadath) (1997)
Deathrealm #13 (1991)
Best of DF Lewis (Tal Publications) (1993)
Dementia 13 #10 (1993)
Elder Signs #1 (1997)
Dark Legacy Vol 3, i (2001)
>A Brief Visit to Bonnyville
The Third Alternative #7 (1995)
Atsatrohn vol 3 no 6 (1993)
Contortions #1 (1996)
Nasty Piece of Work #11 (1999)
>The Chaise Longue
Gravity’s Angels (The T Party) (1998)
>The Christmas Angel
Grotesque #6 (1995)
Parasol Post #18 (2000)
>Dark They Were and Empty-Eyed
Nyx-Obscura #1 (1995)
Visionary Tongue #3 (1996)
At’mos faer (Kadath) (1997)
Elegia vol 2 no 3 (1995)
Dream #26 (1990)
Parlour Papers #1 (1993)
Dagon #24 (1989)
Twisted #1 (1996)
Flicker ‘n’ Frames #12 (1991)
Best of DF Lewis (Tal Publications) (1993)
Earwig Flesh Factory #3/4 (2000)
Palace Corbie (1995)
Scheherazade #8 (1993)
Palace Corbie (1997)
>Encounters with Terror
Weirdbook #29 (1995)
Dark Horizons #34 (1993)
The Vampire’s Crypt #14 (1998)
Peeping Tom #29 (1998)
Dark Regions Vol 3 No 1 (1995)
Lathered In Crimson #4/5 (1998)
Heliocentric Net vol 2 No 1 (1993)
Psychotrope #3 (1995)
Imelod #17 (2000)
>The II King
Ocular #18 (1998)
Stygian Articles #3 (1995)
Black Rose #2 (1998)
Exuberance #3 (1992)
Best of DF Lewis (Tal Publns) (1993)
>The Last Prize
Albedo One #5 (1994)
>The Merest Tilt
Mystic Fiction Vol 2 No 4 (1994)
Beyond The Brink #9 (1995)
>Migrations of the Heart
Dreams and Nightmares #39 (1993)
>A Mind's Kidney
Severin' #4 (1993)
Footsteps #2 (1996)
Tales After Dark #2 (1986)
Fantasy Macabre #15 (1993)
>Queuing Behind Crazy People
Night Dreams #7 (1997)
Eldritch Tales #26 (1992)
Roadworks #6 (1999)
Alternaties #13 (1993)
Year’s Best Horror Stories (Daw) (1994)
>Scaredy & White Mouth
Chills #8 (1994)
>The Scar Museum
Palace Corbie (1996)
Strix #17 (1999)
>Season of Lost Will
Hobgoblin #2 (1991)
Dark Horizons #33 (1992)
Vicious Circle #2 (1993)
Eclipse #6 (1998)
>A Selfish Strain
Scar Tissue #13 (1998)
Drift #96 (1998)
>The Sun Setting
Never printed before
>Shades of Emptiness
Never printed before
The White Rose #16 (1990)
Dreams & Nightmares #37 (1992)
Never printed before
Alternaties #16 (1994)
>The Spigot & The SpeechMark
Deathrealm #28 (1996)
>Sponge and China Tea
Dagon #26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)
Year’s Best Horror Stories XVIII (1990)
>The Stories of Murkales: Twelve Zodiacal Tales
Dagon #20 & #21 (1987, 1988)
>Stricken with Glee
After Hours #16 (1992)
End Of The Millennium #11 (1999)
Visionary Tongue #9 (1997)
Dread #4 (1998)
>The Tallest King
Cerebretron #6 (1988)
Sierra Heaven #1 (1995)
>Tentacles Across the Atlantic (The Story)
Stygian Articles #7 (1996)
>The Terror of the Tomb
Heart Attack #2 (1992)
Cthulhu Cultus #15 (1999)
‘Signals’ anthology from 'London Magazine' (Constable Books) (1991)
>Top of an Angel's Head
Barfly #2 (1996)
The Fractal #6 (1997)
Foolscap #12 (1992)
Visionary Tongue #11 (1998)
Gateways #6 (1993)
>The Walking Mat
Sugar Sleep (Barrington) (1993)
Dagon#26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)
Oasis #62;63 (1993)
>Watch the Whiskers Sprout
Cthulhu’s Heirs (Chaosium) (1994)
Back Brain Recluse #11 (1988)
The Dream Zone #8 (2001)
Vandeloecht's Fiction Magazine #5 (1992)
Year’s Best Horror Stories XXI (1993)
The Stylus #1 (1993)
Dagon #26 (DF Lewis Special) (1989)
(published 'Masque' 1994)
When Mirren first met me, I was just recovering from a bad do, suicide being not too strong a word. However, Mirren, china-doll's face with crushed aspirin make-up, was due to become my saint and saviour. To say I hoped that she would save me from myself may be trite, but how else can I tell the truth? By telling lies?
Mirren could speak for herself, in any event.
"I love you for yourself. Nothing else."
"What else is there?" I asked.
Her eyes milked over and I knew she meant the money.
Despite my selfless misgivings, I was rich. Really rich. If you bacon-sliced me, a watermark could be seen running right through. No counterfeit money, me.
Mirren was beyond all that. I could tell from the sincerity in her face. Hard to hide that behind make-up, however thickly applied.
Then there was that day, when I sensed another do coming on me. Depression was like that - crept up when least expected.
In the throes of foreplay, nothing but moving shapes in the heavy drizzle; the red pulsing light of the electronic advertisement-sign making our skin have episodic wounds. St Paul's Cathedral loomed silently through the air's patina - with lighting-effects beyond even those a night-demon once used in my special never-to-be-repeated and often, thankfully, never remembered childhood dream.
Sleeping rough, of course, had its drawbacks. There must have been a general power-cut in the city, since we suddenly discovered ourselves in pitch darkness. The black sky had descended like a sopping wet funeral blanket.
"Bugger!" Mirren was heard to enunciate with some conviction.
Another street-lady moved nearer to her, crushing corrugated cardboard between body and pavement. "Don't fret, Mirren, that bloke's just a dream, cos I had him, too ... once."
And no amount of money in the world could bring me back.
I wandered a Great Britain that I did not recognise. I gathered I must indeed be a dream, rather than actually dreaming myself. I had hiked from London's cardboard city to the Scottish Highlands in less than a day, faster than the railways, in fact. I had negotiated previously untrodden paths, intermittently coming across towns named after Scottish football teams. But snatches of sleep disfigured the dream I was with unconscious darkness.
Eventually, I found myself resting upon a steep slope of heather, gazing down upon a lagoon. I could just discern the forms of children diving and splashing in its inviting pink waters. Their distant cries of joy punctuated the living silence. I was a stranger on the shore and the first to spot me were the older ones. Shame-faced, they continued to careen through the bubbles: evidently a healing process, since the younger ones had long sores along their sides, opening and shutting like mouths: waiting for the white lips to close up permanently. The older ones cared for those younger, keeping them from sinking in the water and encouraging them to move sinuously like sea-snakes. As soon as I became too obvious to ignore wholly, the older ones helped those younger to make as much progress as possible to the centre of the lagoon, where natural frothing geysers concealed them from me.
"Who is he, Meadowbank?"
The one who was addressed was the oldest and his only answer was to teach them how to continue treading water since, there at the lagoon's furthest reaches, no steady footing was even remotely near; the insecurity of that fact could very well lead to panic. The children had paired off - and were embracing in combined attempts to remain afloat, each set of four legs pumping away at the nothing below them.
Meadowbank took hold of his peer, Heart of Midlothian, and pressed himself against her buds and uprearing limbs; she, in turn, pressed back against his scissoring, sapling form. But such frenzied, spinning motions only served to re-open their wounds which, until then, had begun to knit together in the soothing mountain waters. Redness dyed the springs around them. Fearing that the legendary monster had got them, I forged on towards what I thought was a northerly direction.
During the next bout of self-awareness, I had arrived at a black city among the towering mountains. I first saw it from afar as I broke new summits. Its many gothic cathedrals were like the Redoubts of another dream ... dark places of sanctuary and spurts of intermittent foundry fire breaking between the clustered buildings where I could see the wandering populace flinching at each fresh outburst.
As the slopes neared the highly wrought affair of the city gate, I saw the inner watery courtyards where craft with purple sails dodged from quay to quay. Soon, I was below the looming gates and could no longer see within; the ripping cries continued to increase in volume as if it were market day in Hell. I was a tiny dot at the foot of the sky-high city walls, knowing instinctively that it would take more than a day for the heavy workings of the groaning gates to be set in motion. But here, at last, was sanctuary from the dream I happened to be.
The guardian of the gate appeared as if from nowhere, covered from tip to toe in an armour of cardboard pound notes, accusing me of being a carrier of plague dreams and thus not welcome to shelter in the city of Partick Thistle.
I strode on, holding my shut-eyed head high and ignoring the tolling alarums of the cathedrals' behemoth-bells that now reverberated throughout the mighty valley ... seeking the sanctuary of Saints Mirren or Johnstone further north.
"There were no preambles to the conversation," she said.
"What, no introductions?" I queried, not quite believing her version of events.
"None at all. Just two voices emerging out of nowhere, as it were." She tilted her wide-brimmed hat so that the shadow was lifted from her face. The rest of her clothes seemed to big for her, as if appearances were not her prime motive. I recognised her but could not put my finger on where and when. She appeared irritated, as if I were speaking my thoughts aloud. "Of course you recognise me," she resumed, "you were my lover many years ago."
"Ah yes," I said, by and large unconvinced.
"You're not sure then?"
"Yes, of course I am." I was afraid to admit otherwise.
"Well, I was telling you about the conversation, wasn't I?" She knew I was afraid of her, and I merely nodded as she continued. "The two of them started talking as if they'd known each other for years. One minute the room was empty. The next they were nattering twenty-four to the dozen. It was as if reality had started up from scratch, with all memories already complete but not actually experienced. Real memories, by comparison, are built up piecemeal from the sheer survival of existence. Their memories had been born as if from nothingness."
I nodded again, humouring her. How had I become embroiled with such a weird creature? How could I disentangle myself? I looked at the window. It was completely black outside. The door was shut, but with nothing to suppose it was locked. Perhaps I could make my excuses...
"Look here!" she snapped with a scowl. "There's no way I'm going to let you go. It's been ages since I had anybody with which to keep company and you having been my lover in the past, you can damn well stay put and reciprocate."
At that moment, the door swung wide on shrieking hinges. A man of middle years stood in its frame, staring at the pair of us. He was older, or perhaps younger, than he looked, in view of the baggy clothes he had chosen to wear.
"Hello, Meadowbank," she said as if on a reflex to the newcomer.
"Heart of Midlothian!" The one called Meadowbank addressed the woman with the loose tongue who claimed to be my long lost lover from a past so foreign she seemed like a complete stranger with an incomplete grasp of the present. They acted like people who had been lost-presumed-dead in an endless war. But presumptions were what they indeed were: they slid out of sight within each other's gaping wounds which I now realised had been previously bandaged beneath their ill-fitting clothes. Not even the slightest bubbling or gurgling remained, as the dream I was finally expired - like a period return on the railways.
The bells of St Paul's Cathedral tolled loudly, as Mirren settled with a smile into the sticky warmth of my own recently vacated body. It was better than a cardboard box any day. A body-bag of riches for an undressed doshless dosser of a dreamer.
"Bugger!" A misplaced rib stuck awkwardly in her back.
The author of ODALISQUE has been kind enough to send me a CD of the whole novel. He started writing this novel in the nineteen-eighties. Recently completed (June 2008).
I hope to read this novel chapter by chapter on a weekly basis - and record some thoughts below. There are 50 chapters plus epilogue.
PLEASE POST YOUR OWN COMMENTS BELOW, USING JUST YOUR NAME AND TYPING OUT THE VERIFICATION CODE FROM THE BOX. IF THE CODE IS DIFFICULT TO READ, YOU CAN CLICK ON THE BOX TO REFRESH IT.
The author is happy for me to send to you a word-document of each chapter at any time, at your request. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a long-term epistolary friend of the author (handwritten letters from 1967 on a rough weekly basis).
I believe in ODALISQUE as a great fantasy/horror novel (spiritual, grotesque and humorous), but I am still in the personal throes of grappling with its strangely powerful (for me, almost alien) ethos -- greatly assisted by its beautifully silky style of expression.
My previous chapter comments (up to chapter 28) on an earlier version of ODALISQUE (namely OF BONDLINGS & BLESH) may also be of interest here: http://newdfl.bloghorn.com/205 These should give a good flavour of the actual plot of the novel's first half.
Recommended additional reading: PFJ's GOLDEN GODDESS AND BLOODY TIMES: http://bondlings.blogspot.com/2006/05/golden-goddess-and-bloody-times-part-1.html
Being the memoirs of Tuerqui
The Founder’s Concubine
Usurper’s Daughter from the Blood Victoria
Transcribed by P F Jeffery
Edited with reference to the original manuscripts and annotated by Jennifer Petrie, senior archivist at the University of Pain
Is the existence of a rock preferable to that of a candle flame? My feeling is that truly living is better than merely existing – however brief its span. Rather a single night as my mistress’ odalisque than a long life free from trouble.
– from a memorandum book in Tuerqui’s hand
Well this is the business. It really flows sweetly about sexual, grotesque, spiritual and dynastic matters - as if it were meant to be!
Please ask for attachment of this one chapter if you want to check it out. And then see if you can resist the rest!
“I’ve heard people mention it, mummy, and know that Surrey folk do very bad things.”
“The Third Battle of Lundin was bloody hundreds of years ago,” Jenna remarked. "If the ghosts haven’t got over it by now, they need to get a life… Or get a death!”
and we we’d be carried off as slaves.
CHAPTER COMMENT LINKS: http://weirdmonger.blogspot.com/2008/06/odalisque.html
Published 'Eco-Runes' 1996
I dreamed of dropping asleep, where it was so difficult to wake.
Yet a young man, whom for a split second I recognised, demonstrated the path back through the wood, but not without warning me about the sheep that nibbled grass in the clearing at its heart. Their wool was morling, not shoring, shaved.
I took my ancient life upon my shoulders and, after shaking hands with the stranger who had sought to assist me, I entered upon the various darknesses that embraced the trees. When I woke, deep down somewhere, I was just as disappointed as relieved.
Once, I must have been a boy, I suppose, being a young man now, but the boy I had been I never really knew as me. So, I was delighted, several benighted dreams later, to become the same old man from this previous dream who then met a boy halfway into that same wood. I recognised him from the yellowing photographs in my waking album of memory. He squatted in the crook of a Bend-Over.
“Hi!” he said as if he had been waiting more than one generation for this meeting. I approached and pinched his arm to see if he was real. “Ouch!” he squawled.
“Are you really me as I once was?” I asked.
“I don’t know about that, old man, but I sure know I am the tender of baa-lambs round this neck of this woods.”
I awoke before the dream was complete. This time I tried to force myself back to sleep, eager for its ending. But daytime worries interposed, as they often did, along with the new array of memories.
In the future, probably sooner than I then thought, I shall be an old man in real life, being a young one now. So, when I paid my last visit to that dream, or vice versa, I began to feel no longer a protagonist in it. The now autonomous old man and the shepherd boy are in the heartwood counting the number of times a white ball of wool is thrown back and forth, without dropping it. The boy’s so intent on the game, I wonder what can have happened to his bo-peepery. I squint at them from behind some Sting-Backs, intrigued to see which of them falters first. I simply know the old man will drop the ball. There’s no way to pull the wool over a young man’s eyes, even if the curve of his sight’s skewed by the filtering lens of dream. They ever count a sheep, asleep.
(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.
(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?”
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.