Wednesday, 5 October 2011

So Flows The River, Part One


In the sky-dyeing evening sun, Constance parked the Honda in a narrow, double-yellow-lined road off the side street of the high street, and tucked her sunglasses into the glove box as Michael got out of the passenger side, brushed down his jacket and attended to his tie. Flickering red candles were the only sign of life in the Spanish-looking restaurant across the road, Casa Ira. The two left the car and went further into the city.

"Well what do you mean?" She asked, while gazing to her left impatiently. A monstrous woman waddled around the corner with the nonchalant and disgusting expression usually worn by one that has just birthed an horrendous shit. Elsewhere pub-goers obediently got on with their drinking: the old boys in the corner, the young estate agents on the sofas self-importantly waving about the latest dross that the ever-enterprising drinks industry had managed to pour down their throats (spiced apple and rhubarb cider no less), the long-redundant actor boring customers at the bar with details of parts he never landed and casts he never was a part of.

Michael forlornly examined his flawlessly rolled cigarette, his face that of his newest guise - the desperately tortured soul, as solemn and statuesque as he dared get away with. Such exhaustive effort left little capacity for much else, so he left the question unanswered and continued to fondle the cigarette.


"How's you're writing going Michael?"
"Slow and sporadic. Writing is like anal sex." 
A sigh. 
"Don't force it. I always find that's a good a-nalogy for me."

They moved on to the next bar, some twenty minutes' walk elsewhere, sat down with their drinks at the back of the garden and settled into the murmured trickle of a water fountain and warbled Italian and chirruped Scandinavian of some form. Michael rested his hat on the head of a three foot high statue of deep green bronze, from whose mouth spurted a long thin cum of cold water. He was a sort of modern amalgamation of a Riace bronze, a Laocoon and a Discophoros all thrown into one tangle of testosteronic decadence - but a man that still managed to look relatively authentic, albeit in a charmingly kitsch kind of way. 

Things were much more serious here. There were little fairy lights in the uniformly trimmed yew trees, great expanses of glittering granite paving, and glass, lots of it. And the pints were £4.50, just to reinforce how seriously things were taken here. Another couple sat at a table next to the railings over the river, and as these awkward and mismatched couples often do, they made throwaway comments on the beauty of the skyline, the city lights, the reflections on the water, the relatively decently priced wine and the not too overdone fillet steak.

"Just listen to those two. Do we not slip into this stereoscopic view of life in such a perfunctory way?" 
A slight raise of Constance's left eyebrow invited him, world-wearily, to continue. 
"In the sense that we, people, comfort each other by pretending everything's all A-OK. When alone, I can see that this is all pointless, 'Ah But', you say, ah but what? Am I scared to be alone? Am I being too vague, too hypothetical? Am I wrong? It all works just like a stereoscope, two images shot from slightly different positions - take their views, only a yard apart - that are put together to create the illusion of depth. The illusion! There is no depth, it's a shit as you see it on the surface. Great, I can see a fucking great rusting crane and some long-derelict warehouses reflected on the river. It's bad enough having to see it once, it should just wash itself down into the sea with all the other shit the Thames picks up on its way down and out into the vast ocean of futile fecundity that is this life."


So conversation had not moved on much; at least nothing of any great consequence had been achieved, the two were just a little more drunk than before. Bruce Springsteen wafted out onto the terrace and a very high class prostitute swept across the floor of the bar inside with the kind of heels that make such a noise as to demand the attention of everyone in the vicinity, potential customer or otherwise. Michael sniffed, wiped his hands on his trousers and pulled a cigarette from the inside pocket of his blazer; Constance rearranged her skirt over her milky knees. Another portly banker sank bank into a cream Chesterfield and chewed an olive, dreaming of the next time he would fly to the US of A in business class to sell madcap loans to going-nowhere 'entrepreneur' loners somewhere in the Midwest on behalf of his failing employers.

Laughter echoed around the tall buildings outside, that carefree kind that is only laughed by someone with a particularly puissant bank card. It began to grow cold; Constance wrapped her jacket around her shoulders and they moved on.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Scared, Yet Strangely Aroused


"Charlie's fucking mad. You know what he's been doing since he got made redundant at that graphic design place?" 
"Let's not be too economical with the truth, Alfie. He was fired after painting a mural of a snarling yeti having its way with the boss's wife on the wall of the gents', and that's something quite different from loss of job via redundancy. Certainly not something that would warrant an inquiry into unfair dismissal either, however realistic the beast's lathered tongue might have been. And no I don't know what he's up to these days, I haven't seen nor heard of him since about February."
"He's insane. He's been breaking into art galleries at night, but rather than stealing paintings he's been taking in a box of oils and adding his own little amendments. At first it was subtle, he might add a bit of extra shadow here and there, or a couple of extra leaves on a tree, just to see how much he could get away with, but since then he's added sunglasses to a Nicodemus in a deposition, a digital watch to a Madonna and giant cocks on all of the horses in a Uccello battle scene. The best bit is that all the cocks are pointing perfectly down the perspectival lines with the rest of the painting. It's all one massive joke to him. The last I heard of him he still hasn't been caught yet, miraculously. To be completely honest I think some of it's quite admirable, why not make Christ smile for once, it's amusing. And all in all it's relatively unobtrusive..."
"Well I don't know about that."
"Is it not art? At least it's not some skyline-raping mega-fuck-up - Anish Kareallyquitepoor - or a sea of wobbly cocks and flange à la Spencer Tunick. Their works are just huge egotistical monstrosities." 
Greta shrugged. "At least he seems to have given up posting photographs of his genitals through people's letter boxes at random." 
"Indeed that is a plus." 

Mia gave me such a surprise bursting her clumsy way through the unlocked bathroom door that I dropped my spliff in the bath. I paid scant attention to her hysterical jabbering and drifted back to the discussion I'd been having in my head with Hegel and Kant. And I was winning the argument easily before the bitch came in and broke my concentration. When I reckoned she had just about finished, I rolled my eyes down from out of the back of my head to look up into her eyes lovingly. 
"You're not even listening to me are you Charlie? You've been in this house for five weeks now and haven't contributed a single thing to any of us. In fact what do you contribute to anything? Why can't you go and do something constructive for once? Ever thought of helping somebody less fortunate than yourself? Anyway. Enough. You've well overstayed your welcome. " 
"Oh ha ha! Somebody less fortunate than myself indeed! What's crawled up and died inside you? Is the quiet reality of your decaying love life bugging you, hanging there like an errant tampon string dangling below a tight miniskirt stained in sweat and cheap alcopops? Ring any bells? One day you'll grow out of your ignorant ways and thank me." Graciously I held back from going too far. "I am sorry Mia, but a condition of my living here is that you must accept that I have certain habits that must be respected. Please do not disturb me again." And I sunk under the water until she sulked out, slamming the door behind her, resurfacing just time for a "Bitch."

"You know Charlie's reasoning for becoming a Christian again?" 
"I assume you're going to tell me."
"This is the only occasion that I've ever seen him genuinely unsure of himself, yet at the time he still managed to retain that smug sense of superiority to just about everything. He was baptised and even confirmed at thirteen. He said he - and I quote - 'turned to the cross' because he'd lost belief in everything else. Like he would put any faith in anyone on earth other than himself anyway, but I digress..."

"In a sense I could myself have created something to believe in, or taken up some new and trivial hobby perhaps, but why go to the trouble of inventing something when whoever dreamt up religion has already done all the hard work for me. I'd abandoned religion in my early teens in favour of atheism, but I got to such a strenuous point in my life that I decided I should pin all my worries onto the breast of hope, even if I knew full well that it was all fake. Do people get so desperate that they invent something to keep them going? Do they pluck this shit out of midair? I did." 

"Have you seen that he's started to make the papers now? He's a veritable noctivagant. He's started to paint murals all around London now, and no one seems to have caught him yet. There's a flock of green sheep running down a street in Camberwell and a priest eating the Queen's entrails somewhere in Croydon near where that furniture shop got torched. Rumours are flying about that he's some malevolent looters' champion or something, and they've adopted him. Here, look at this - 'Unnamed youth from Croydon area, identity withheld', says "I think it's well funny. It's showing the government and the rich people that we're not finished yet. We're gonna take down the Queen and shit." I swear he doesn't even have a point to make, it's no cry for help, he just does it because he can. You know there was a police patrol car driving round Marylebone for about two hours before anyone notified the coppers inside that the car's registration plates read 'F3LCH'? I have no idea how he does it." 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big Take Over


Her gaze stems from her miserly little eyes. She looks down her velociraptorous nose at me. A nose that starts a fierce perspectival line that guides the viewer down to a vanishing point in the abyss between her withering breasts. 

"You need to provide your student-tutor supervision sheet," she growls flatly. I can tell that it is obviously fast becoming a tiresome refrain for her, but still I make the deadly error of confessing that I have have lost mine, and I drive the last nail into my own coffin when I tell her that in any case, I didn't get it filled in properly. 

She flicks through the pages and notices that I have fallen pathetically short of the word count. "You do realise also that this counts for a third of your marks for the whole year?"

"Yes." My eyes meet hers, and before we kiss I realise I am staring down the barrel of a third class degree, or worse, and she is licking her chapped lips as she hungrily fingers the trigger. Smoke rises on the horizon.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Just Like John Wayne


     I'm not a religious man, I don't believe in any kind of god and I certainly don't believe in life after death, so the idea that a spirit could come back from an afterlife and 'haunt' me used to seem preposterous. Despite this I've always loved ghost stories, so the one I'll tell you here is one that I experienced first hand. 
     I started to believe in the realm of the supernatural soon after I moved into a new home in the south of Manchester when I was 21. It was the final year of university for Josie, Hannah and I, and we had all been looking forward to moving in to the house we had fallen in love with when we saw it on the first viewing. The house itself was at the quieter end of Davenport Avenue, just off the student bustle of Withington High Street. Considering that the size of the area's student population led to a such a vicious demand for housing we were stunned that no one had snapped up this gem. The estate agent explained to us that the landlord had lived in Australia for years, and that apparently we were the house's first tenants for about four or five. 
     A few days after we moved in, I was having a shower when I heard Hannah calling out from downstairs. 
     "Oh my God Tom lookwhaddifound, amazing!"
     Once out of the bathroom and dressed I ran down to see what the excitement was about, but she was not in the living room. 
     "Down here!" 
     I went down to our small basement to find that she had moved aside an old empty filing cabinet that had stood against the wall, or what we had assumed was a wall. In fact it had concealed two small doors to another smaller room with a very low ceiling. It was completely full of rubbish as far as we could see, but we got a torch to have a little poke about anyway. The room was littered with dusty papers, half a bicycle, an ancient computer screen and a few packing cases - nothing really of any value or interest. Then we looked a bit harder. 
     At the back in the corner there was a large red leather trunk; I remember what struck me as most odd was the fact that it was not even half as dusty as the other bits of junk in the basement, almost as if someone had cleaned it recently. It pricked at our curiosity so much that we decided we would have to open it, so Hannah went and fetched the hammer, and I smashed the padlock apart. Curiouser and curiouser. Spread out in the trunk under a huge silty covering of what looked like ash (we blew it off), was - of all things - a plethora of hardcore pornographic publications. Gay porn at that. And there on the front cover of the magazine at the top of the pile was a muscular man with a neat moustache and an erect penis opening out like the largest telescope that ever was. Oh how we did laugh.
     Of course we took out a few of the best and paraded them upstairs and out of the chilly basement to peruse and show Josie when she got home. I remember that we cut up a few of the magazines and used the saucier pictures as decorations for Hannah's birthday a month later in October. That was roughly when the trouble started. 
     We noticed something odd was going on when things started mysteriously disappearing, or in other cases appearing, around the house. Later on in the month things had started going missing from the kitchen, mainly. At first we argued amongst each other - we all thought that one housemate was stealing the others' things. It was not until much later that we noticed the connection between all the missing objects - a cucumber, a rolling pin, some vaseline, an electric toothbrush, and several carrots. Always the goddamn carrots.
     There were noises too. I spent many a sleepless night because of them. At first we merely assumed we had some prolifically randy neighbours, until one night when the groans were particularly loud, we turned the volume down on Come Dine With Me and noticed that these noises were coming from somewhere within our very own house. The source of the noises we located to the basement, and with the two girls close behind me I edged down the stairs with the torch on, but as soon as my front foot touched the bottom stop the moans ceased. I walked over to where the entrance to the smaller basement room was only to find that its little doors were impenetrably fastened. We had not even known they could be locked - there was certainly no keyhole on the outside, or anything resembling a catch or bolt. I shuddered in the cold of the basement and turned to go back upstairs. We sat around smoking with the television still on mute and discussed, with no fruitful result, how we might go about dealing with this state of affairs. We all agreed that the disturbances must have had something to do with us opening that chest.
     "The one that had the porn in it, all covered in ash."
     "Well we can't very well return all the mags, we've cut half of them up to make gay bunting for fuck's sake!"
     "I could have like, an excorcism wank down there or something?"
     "Urgh. Tom you are neither funny nor helpful."

     On a Thursday in January we organised another party for my twenty-second birthday. It was on this day that things really began to get serious. I had just come back home from staying at my girlfriend's the night before, and I was lying on the sofa with a beer when Josie rushed in with a face like thunder.
     "Tom you are a fucking disgrace! Look what you've left on the floor outside your room, it's disgusting."
     "What have I left on the floor outside my room?
     "A used condom you fucking douche!"
     "No I haven't. I wasn't even here last night bab."
     "I stayed over, remember?"
     "Well it's not going to be Hannah's is it? You don't suppose it' Surely not." Josie clasped her hand to her mouth and looked at me wide-eyed.
     We had no choice but do dispose of it and try and forget about it. The rest of the morning and afternoon passed in a blissfully uneventful manner, and by about nine o'clock guests began to arrive for my little fiesta. At about one, even over the loud music and talking, those terrible groans and grunts could be heard from beneath our feet again. Ricky, a friend who had come over from Leeds, gave me a cheeky elbow to my ribs.
     "The fuck's going on in your basement man? Who'd you invite?"
     We went outside the front of the house for a smoke and I told him everything. Speaking encouragingly in the most eloquent of tones, said Ricky: "Well let's go and bust this bum-boy then!"
     The lights had fused in the basement, and as ever it was a few considerably noticeable degrees colder than the rest of the house. I cautiously ran my fingers down the exposed brick wall until I found the torch, which I handed to Ricky. Extingushing cigarette under foot I reached for my lighter and lit the three-pronged candelabra that stood on the radiator cover. Glad to have him with me, I approached the locked doors to the little room, and before I could say anything Ricky had put a heavy foot through the wood and pulled them half off their hinges. Glancing the light over them we saw that they were covered in some kind of dripping opalescent goo. 
     "Have you seen Ghostbusters? The first one. Look, it's like that stuff that the poltergeist leaves behind in the library. Ectoplasm, that's it!"
     "Actually dude I think it's semen."
     "Oh. Euw that's foul man. In my fucking house of all places. I so dare you to go in."

     Ricky, never one to refuse a dare even in the face of impending doom, obliged, and stepped up into the shallow cave of a room, bowing his head low as he did so. It was when he was fully inside that everything happened at once. The doors, that had been seemingly knackered, swung shut with a bang, the candles blew out and I could hear the torch bulb burst in its glass. Ricky was a hostage, and as much as I kicked and pulled and smashed the doors with a hammer they would not budge, and the hole he had made with his foot was certainly not big enough to pull his whole body through. The screaming was terrible. I sank to my knees and held my hands over my ears to try and block out the sound.
     Fortunately, however, it was all over relatively quickly, and I thankfully relit the candles. Ricky managed to knock the doors down from the inside and crawl out sheepishly. Are you alright? What the hell happened? Did it touch you? Are you hurt? No answer, he just slumped the ground at my feet and burst into tears.

     How we managed to pick ourselves up and carry on the party after that, I don't know. But the important thing is that we did. Even better, after that day, the disturbances ceased altogether - we never saw nor heard any trace of the poltergeist for the rest of the time that we lived in the house. But I will never forget the way Ricky walked up the stairs. Just like John Wayne.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Baby, I Love You


I must have lain still for at least an hour listening to John Wayne's drawl from the television in the background until my fear of moving was outweighed by the clamminess of the wet sheets, which had by now become unbearably cold. I rolled out of the back of the bed and turned the light on, I was completely soaked. In the bathroom the mirror told me I'd be needing some serious quality dishwater tablets to get this out (my washing machine was broken). I stripped and chucked the clothes in the corner of the bathroom before going to get a black bin bag from the kitchen. 

Back in my room I chuckled at how fortunate I was not to have been hit, a nervous laugh - why the fuck had someone burst into my flat and shot at me? I thought it would be amusing to shrug this off lightly - ah fuck it, I've never been caught up in anything that would lead someone to want to rub me. Must have got the wrong guy. Maybe they were after the previous tenant, I had after all found a lock-knife down the side of the bath when I moved in, maybe that guy was mixed up in some funny stuff. And they must have thought they had shot me - they would have seen the spray of blood. I doubted they would be back, considering. But they fucking shot Mary. Bastards. 

I shook out the sack as I entered the room and looked at the poor girl on my bed, she was turning as stiff as anything, and her beautiful golden locks were matted with blood. As tenderly as I could, I picked her up and put her in the bag, wondering how I might go about avenging this.

I always imagined that burying a body was going to be a pretty clichéd affair, and I was right. I put her in the boot along with a shovel and had already started down the drive before I had decided where I was going to take her. Out in the middle of Richmond Park near the lake maybe - we always used to enjoy long walks together there on Saturday mornings - or maybe just round the corner somewhere, keep it simple. No, I had more heart than that. I carried on down the A3 past Roehampton. 

By the time I left the motorway it must have been about three in the morning. I turned the radio off as I got onto the country lanes and relaxed to the sound of the old Bavarian engine, twenty-two, maybe twenty-three years old and still going wonderfully. The headlights lit up the nebulous fog and dewy hedgerows beautifully, and I let myself bask in the warm red glow of the dashboard, the rev-counter flickering about excitedly as I dropped into third and danced past a Golf going at that annoying speed - slowish, but near enough to the limit for you to have to take a few risks when you overtake. Most likely pub goers on their way home. I threw the car around a few more corners before a muffled bump reminded me I still had a passenger in the boot. Poor Mary. I sat up in fourth and tapped my nails against the frosty window. 

I eventually got to that place in Dorset, and turned down the muddied road towards the little hamlet where my uncle lived. I thought it would be OK if used his garden - Mary had loved this countryside, running through deep snow in the winter, pawing at fishes in the summer. And there was a nice pub nearby where we used to chase birds in the garden. The gravel trickled under my tyres as I parked against the back wall of the house. I turned the car off, got out, lit a cigarette and sat on the warm bonnet listening to the gentle clicking of the engine. Then I got the spade, clicked the latch of the garden gate and started digging.