a dismal edged guillotine
t’s a bitter sharp taste to a dream
When prospects are soured by reality.
a dismal edged guillotine
t’s a bitter sharp taste to a dream
When prospects are soured by reality.
Their laughter trickled in
from the garden.
Fairy light decadent bells
ringing of innocent mischief.
This morn’s wail and tantrums
long since replaced
by joyous squeals and giddiness
so utterly contagious
hearts beam and swell berry ripe,
bulging with the warm
that parenthood can often be blessed with.
A lone feather floats
composing a symphony
cadenza for air
Had I known our final walk was to the gallows
I would have counted the steps.
You gave nothing away
no last requests.
The noose looped round my neck;
I leaned to kiss.
you turned from my lips.
I dropped, slipknot tightened;
you delivered the last rights,
You left me hanging
when you fled crying like a mourning wife.
She loves me.
She loves me not.
But what of the petals
faith has forgot?
Of those that fell
before the final
can one among them
foretell of her heart’s
From a wish
to the wings
of a breath,
to candle’s flicker and
flame’s sudden death,
as it dissipates
into the ether
in good faith;
and the wisher
filled with hope,
From the soft pastel fabrics of dawn
to the ghostly hue textiles of twilight
the day dresses solely
for the night.
Her hand rests snug in mine
synchronized fingers slip
into perfect symmetry
of interlocking flesh and bone.
Lightly knuckles fold
an affectionate clamp.
Tips softly caress then settle,
crux over hinge.
Her delicate palm,
lays engulfed upon
my cold slab
weathered, welted, rough worn.
My hand feels older than I
as it guiltily draws warmth
through the touch of her cushioned skin.
The difference balances
as both blend as one
joining in simple physical unity;
the weave our hearts sew.
The sweep of road,
a gradient line
The stretch of a mile.
Few cars hug the rising bend
in the morning;
And in between the bulk of day
scarce are the travellers
passing that way.
It is there I found myself
sauntering with time to kill,
upon the wood speckled hill.
A dangling limb of weathered spruce
I snapped off and put to good use.
A gentry gentleman ambling
through his claim
with stick in hand,
a worthy cane.
While not a sinner,
Nor other voice sound,
but chirp and whistle
of birdish talk.
For awhile it belonged
just to me
Money tight? well this won’t cost you a thing.
Because you are all so fabulous and cool
I’m giving my poetry book away for free to everybody in the world.
It’s called “There is one here for you” It is available from the 27th, 28th of February and 1st of March.
on the link or paste the above in your search bar and it will take you directly to it.
There is a free kindle reader app available too in most countries sites just above my book, oh and to the right.
So, even if you don’t want it, you can get plenty of other free books with the app.
hope you all enjoy it, if not, well you’re all still groovy.
Hindsight’s the sister of regret
“What ifs” tease attempts to forget.
Random objects mirror moments of reflection
Dejection’s the brother of rejection.
The perfect someone does exist
it’s our standards that are flawed
Wilting shadows weep for the company of night
lacking comprehension they only exist where there’s light
Just want to say a big THANK YOU to everybody for your very kind support, encouraging words and for taking the plunge on my little book
So, Hugs all round and thank you, again. I really do appreciate it.
all the best and take care
I’m delighted to announce my book “There is one here for you” is available for FREE download
from Amazon Kindle from today the 20th to the 21st of November.
Simply click on the link and it will bring you directly to it.
If for some reason it does not, Copy and paste http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O1DGMRC
into your search bar and away you go.
Or go to the kindle books at Amazon web site and type in David Patrick O’C.
There is one here for you.
I hope you enjoy the 85 free poems within.
I’d really appreciate any feedback/kind reviews, but you are under absolutely no obligation to do so.
If you do want to leave a review, simply go to the website, scroll below the book and the review section is there.
All the best, and I really hope you enjoy my poems
Take good care
David Patrick O’C.
those tired eyes
with fond recollections
how we made them so
by the lush warmth of the fireside
through the night:
how those eyes and your body glowed.
seconds in a day,
it took just
three of them
to make mine;
one for every word you said,
“I love you.”
Our bodies have missed
Let’s let them catch up
Charlock, buttercups, clovers and more
For the lonely,
for the loveless,
for the forgotten and overlooked,
for the discarded and trodden on,
for the neglected,
for the ignored and mocked,
for societies weeds,
for circumstantial weeds.
For you outcasts are weeds
the flowers nobody wants,
weeds are resilient.
They persevere where others can not.
Often mistaken for weak, but no,
weeds are strong
and tough enough to break through tonnes of concrete
Clever enough to find growth in places
others perish in.
Adaptable to every habitat and
brave enough to exist on barren wasteland.
Weeds need only the tiniest of a chance to flourish
For the unwanted,
for the unclaimed.
You are beautiful.
You are equal to every other flower.
You are the Charlock, the Buttercup, the Clover,
the Pinapple-May-Weed and so much more.
Next time you see a weed by the roadside,
or peeking out from a crack in a wall,
or between paving slabs in a busy city,
or overgrown in a garden,
or weaving through rubble and debris,
You are not worthless
You are magnificent.
How to talk of such things
When suitable words make a game of hiding;
verbs and adjectives are not rich enough in describing?
How to speak of such things
When a brittle voice trembles in the mentioning,
Tongue tied trickery trips every uttering,
While throat clench tightly trapping sentences to the point of suffocating?
Who to hear of such things
When guttural grunts are all that come crashing
and gasping breaths are too weak for their releasing
While listeners impatiently tilt heads from my scratchy stuttering?
Who to read of such things,
When the vagueness of text can’t hold true meaning
and impulsive eyes leave print that is boring,
When you can’t fault the font because it is indifferent to what you are attempting?
All the while the essence of a poem is slipping,
opportunity to grasp it is fading
and inspiration waning
The moment wilting
efforts are dying.
We sidestepped the stars and became engulfed with the vast nothingness of space
without which they could not shine.
We avoided roses and carnations and gave ourselves over to the earth from which they sprang.
We ignored the music, but marvelled at the waves of vibration which made sense of the sound.
We shunned the masterpiece, becoming enthralled by the technique which allowed its longevity to be enjoyed.
We spurned the story, but delved into the grammar and structure of every single word.
We spoke not of love, but acted. We cherished each breath shared in between without which there would not be us.
He used to say hello to everybody
even to us children
as he quickly walked to the shops, for the bus or home.
For us children to be counted as equals with adults
to be included
in a kind greeting
was something special.
It felt nice.
Often he’d spy a piece of rubbish: a cellophane wrapper lodged in a bush, a squashed drinks can next to a tree trunk or a balled up newspaper tumble-weeding across the road.
He’d pick them up, but only on his way home.
We guessed he binned them, but we never knew.
“Hi, hello. Grand morning, grand, grand,” the words spoken as rapidly as his feet moved.
“Hi Charles. Yes, it’s a fine day.” This was the most anybody replied as he swiftly paced home clutching a takeaway bag while a pile of litter was hinged in the crux of his arm by his chest.
A giant of a man
A head taller than the tallest father.
His face was that of an aged cherub: warm, friendly, cleanly shaved and full.
I am uncertain, but think his jet black hair was styled like a Teddyboy.
Still as children, but a little older,
a little less naive,
a little more curious,
Something kicked in.
A discovery that he was not like the other adults in our lives.
He always smiled.
“Hi, hello. A bit nippy today.”
“Hi Charles. Best wrap up.”
“Yes, yes,” he would add with a nod and smile before carrying on about his way.
Older still and I asked about him.
Not fully comprehending all the words such as “Mental breakdown,”
but he had one a long, long time ago.
“He used to be a scientist in London,” I was told, “but he had a mental breakdown.”
The phrase carried weight because it was always whispered as if he could hear through the walls and houses two streets away.
Everybody said how terribly sad it was.
But Charles always smiled.
I wondered who it was saddest for.
Despite my ignorance of things I understood that I should feel sorry for him, so I did (a bit).
The ones I really felt sorry for was us children.
It was understood he only ever said hello because he had a “breakdown” and if he didn’t he would be like the rest of adults in the neighbourhood.
Knowledge stole this from us.
For Charles who was a kind man once.
His stomach grovelled for sustenance
His skull rattled like marbles in a spray can
He didn’t dare guess the aftertaste marinating his pallet and tongue
With bladder on the verge of rupture
And eyes aching: blinded my the midday sun
Through the protest of tiredness, he managed to trudged towards the bathroom.
Feet more dragging a slow shuffle upon the cold tiled floor than a proper step.
The disheveled face in the mirror winked back,
“That was the best night yet!”
Walk with me
Let us stroll together, you and I,
Just the two of us,
Away from here for a spell.
Let us link arms, or hold hands, or simply walk
Side by side.
Nowhere too far
Nothing too rigorous
A leisurely step in the open.
No need for words,
But if you wish, let us speak easily,
If one should ask an intrusive question
Let the other be quick to forgive
In the understanding it was asked out of care and sincerity.
Or if footfalls should be the only sound between us
We’ll enjoy it for what it is
A friendly saunter.
We can return when you feel it is right
Or if the hour is getting late.
And if you want to continue
I will be with you every step of the way.
Come, my friend,
Let us remind the path why it is there.
For all those who work for the good of scientific advancement
Be it medical, technological or environmental
There are others who claim it is their right to unravel
Any particle that hints of something magical
Can we not hold on to marvel, astonishment, love and aspirations
Or will we always be subjected to their will of research and investigation?
They are bleaching life of its mystery
Mocking wonderment as a child of naivety
They pillage secrets to examine and analyse
Already, they have stolen the beauty of a rainbow
with explanations of atmospheric moisture reflecting the sun’s glow
They dissect, experiment and strive to replicate
The incandescence of the universe in its first spark of a primitive state
They legitimise their reasons under the banner of knowledge
But neglect to recognise the significance of wisdom and morals.
They can pinpoint emotions to electrical discharges of the limbic system
Stripping back basic kindness to the release of endorphins.
But I would rather simply enjoy the sweet fragrance of a carnation
without somebody scrutinising aspects of olfactory senses from the time of creation.
Do we really need to know the intestinal reactions of a slug in an earthquake,
Or the mathematical formula of orange jelly when it is shaking,
Or when you can map the symmetry of a pentagon to facial alignments; in theory its perfection,
Or know the wavelength and frequency of a house-wren’s mating song?
Am I the only one who thinks some things should be allowed their secrecy?
Please do not analyse my thoughts to a sporadic episode in my history.
Abandoned cobwebs left to gather dust.
Draped gossamer rags
Discarded and forgotten with the lost and found
In the cloakroom that is the attic.
Suspended between rafters and roof tiles.
Clinging wistfully from all surfaces
Impartial to texture, shape or purpose.
Plastered vacant traps
More numerous than posters on an adolescent’s bedroom wall.
The minute slipstream of careful movements
Is enough to send the ghostly sails billowing and reaching with spindly strands.
Their constructors crawl silently having cast their carcass net
Prospecting for morsel nuggets,
Struck with goldfeverish hopes of sustenance .
Time and again, they pan their webs into the aphotic streams and
Mines of the Attic.
(The problem with eavesdropping)
We get annoyed when our neighbour’s scream, fight and shout
We get frustrated when we can’t clearly hear what it’s all about
Black leggings stretched beyond design
Snooze button pressed for the third time
Cracking open another bottle of wine
Calling double or nothing while flicking a coin
she was looking for Mr. Right
But ended up with Mr. Alright
She left him because it didn’t feel right
There’s no pleasing some people, Right!
Perched on the edge of his seat
Leaning over his knees
His jaw line is busy working
Constantly gnawing teeth
Unconsciously, he spits out insults or encouragements
As his patience is put to the test
His elbows dig deeply
Into the corners of the armrest
His hands nervously clench, and then uncoil
Fingers fidget and flick before fists are recoiled
Several times he began to rise ready to shout and cheer
Several times he disappointingly sunk back down and consoled himself with a swig of beer
Yelling at the TV screen
Expecting the players to hear his point of view
Distraught, he turned to prayer
His team just went down three goals to two
There is still time to turn the game around
If they only did as he said
But the clock is quickly ticking down
And he senses an impending dread.
The driveway from her house was a gangplank
overhanging a lonely sea
In vain, he looked over his shoulder
as the door slammed with finality.
The mutiny happened quickly
he was exiled and forever banished
All tethers had been severed and hacked,
all connections slashed
Cut adrift from a wreck of a relationship whose anchor of regret
Threatened to pull him under
He kicked and splayed his body frantically
just to keep his head above water
Even Captain Bligh was offered a boat
He hoped his anger could keep him afloat
Dusty flakes from the butterfly’s wings
Powdered her palm with a silky sheen
She feared she had wounded the fragile thing
After saving it from the tangle of the mesh screen
Or had it come for one final stay
To bask in the warmth of the morning light
before eternity called it to slip away
She worried she forced it to take flight
I had an unconscious coupling once
It was the best weekend of my life that I will never remember
The children excitedly scream while leaping about the floor.
Giddy with delight, they scamper for position behind the front door.
Laden down with grocery bags and exhausted from her day,
Mum’s swamped with hugs and kisses before she is in halfway.
Like summer flowers reaching up to follow the path of the sun,
Her radiance is reflected back from them with love, ‘We missed you mum.’
I never thought I would reach a hundred posts, but I have. I decided to head back to where I made my first leap of faith and re-post my first one. I hope you all enjoy Admiral Knightsky
Ian examined the skip with an eye well-practiced in such things. Old pine doors semi-shedding varnish of the darkest hue aligned its walls. They were evenly spaced and angled in descending order from back to front allowing him room to view the contents at the lowest end. It was a timeless technique to add volume to the metal bucket. Little, if anything, was significant enough to pick through.
A battered mattress and an assortment of broken wicker chairs were compressed beneath the rubble of shattered porcelain sinks and a cracked toilet. Rusted front forks of a bicycle poked awkwardly out of a pile of damp muck and rotten vegetation like a dinosaur’s ribs awaiting excavation. A scattering of empty white tubes, stinking of adhesive, were jumbled among crumbled cinderblocks and stained floorboards. Crowning the heap was a stew of twisted metals and electrical cables which reminded Ian of the mangled intestines of some savage beast.
Nothing worth his effort, he assured himself again. He was about to leave when something caught his eye. Jutting out from between a knackered washing machine and a wickedly mottled pillow was a slab of plasterboard.
Eagerly moving towards it, he glanced round. Nobody was looking. He reached out and gripped its sides. Ian was surprised at how easily two chunks of the stuff snapped off. As he turned the treasure over to study its condition an angry voice yelled, ‘Oye! Clear off you little git or I’ll…’
He did not wait to hear the rest. Clutching the fragments tightly against his chest, Ian ran. Fearing to look back in case it provided his pursuer with an advantage, he kept pace until he rounded the bend which to his mind was a great distance away.
Worse than getting caught fleecing the skip was the wrath his mother would dish out if she discovered he wandered around the block all by himself. ‘Stay in the Green, I’m warning you,’ she warned. ‘Stay where I can see you.’
At most, he figured, she only looked out for him three times a day: before dinner, before tea and in-time. He knew he had plenty of time having just finished his dinner. There was no way he would have risked going for a walk around the block otherwise. The danger he faced came from the many informers his mother had. She had spies everywhere. Ian couldn’t remember a time when his mother wasn’t chatting to every second person they met. He often spotted his dad raising his eyes to heaven and shaking his head, or checking an invisible watch on his wrist. His dad said she had the tongue of a shirt sleeve flapping on the washing line on a windy day. Ian’s dad often said such things being careful not to let his mother hear. She ruled the house on all fronts and her tongue could wag like the devils if she was not happy.
Out of breath, he reached the cul-de-sac. In all, it was horseshoe shaped with the Green filling up most of its hoof. The circling road and houses were like the horseshoe itself. A little in from the neck of the entrance was Fernley’s gates. Though old man Fernley lived on the main road his back garden encroached in to the entrance of the Green. A long, tall hedge that attracted millions of green-fly during the hot summer months hemmed the side of his garden. At the end of it were two large yellow gates padlocked together. Ian never figured out why they remained standing. Behind them was a thick sprawl of dense bushes. Covered in thorns and clingy vines, they were impassable. The gates made a perfect goal for football and gave off a satisfying clank whenever a ball smashed into them. More than that, however, it was Ian’s favourite hangout.
Sitting there, he was shielded from Mrs McGrath’s, the nosy old cow at number twenty-seven. Always with her head out of the window, that one, threatening she’d take a knife to the football if it ever went into her garden. It often did, but she never did. Still everybody held their breaths when she went off on one of her rants in case she was finally driven to make good her continuing promise.
Ian sat at his spot by the gates. To his left and behind him were several stumpy branches dense with leaves. It took him two days of careful manipulation to worry the branches enough so they would twist aside and spring back into place without revealing the secret spot he used as a hiding place. Even now, a minor sense of pride welled up within at the knowledge nobody knew it existed. His place was even safe from Mr Fernley. On a previously adventure he discovered the shrubs sprawled deeply into the garden. His hide was too far to reach by lawnmower or garden sheers and well concealed.
It started to get chilly. Zipping up his jacket, Ian looked up. The sky had turned into a sheet of grey given the sun a pale haunted appearance. Disregarding the minor inconvenience of the weather, he snapped the plasterboard into several handy sized pieces. He placed all but two of them into his hiding place. Ian pocket one of the pieces and began peeling the card backing from the other. It was time-consuming and involved a lot of carefully placed spit to remove the tough backing without crumbling the plaster, but he had time on his hands.
Scanning the Green, he was confident the older kids hanging out at the top would not bother him and the little ones playing in the front garden of his neighbour’s would never dare venture past the boundary of the driveway. He tested the structure of a chunk of pink plaster on the concrete path beside him. The chalk held together well.
With his treasure he could do many things. Spelling his name in large letters was one option, but he disregarded the idea as soon as he thought of it. His mother walked by the very place on a daily basis. But that was not the main reason. It was the girls. Once they spotted his name, there would be no end to their pestering him for some to etch out a hopscotch grid. Naw, he thought, not my name.
And Clive, he was the worst. Clive was one of his two friends, well, one of the only two boys the same age as him. Apart from the girl because they did not count, everybody else was either five years older or five years younger. Along with Pete, Clive was one of his best friends because he had the best toys of anybody he knew. Clive’s father worked abroad, or so Clive said, and that was why he got more toys than anybody else. He was spoiled rotten, the lucky sod. Maybe it was because he always got what he wanted that Clive always insisted on trying out or using anything Ian had. He would insist on having a chunk of his chalk, without a doubt.
And Pete, he would not really care. Knowing Pete he would probably crush it under his shoe or throw it at Mrs McGrath’s window. Pete did not care what anybody said. He spat all the time and cursed. He did not even have to change his clothing everyday. Ian once counted Pete wearing the same clothes for eight days in a row. Ian’s mother said she felt sorry for the boy, but Ian didn’t. If anything, he was envious by the way Pete could stay out as late as he wanted to. Whenever Ian stayed out for even five minutes longer than he was allowed his mother would give out to him. In fact he was surprised Pete was not at the gates already. But sometimes Pete was like that. Days could pass without a sight of him, and then he would appear and never say where he was.
Pete was the best fighter of the three and the best at making things like catapults or hideouts. He could be very funny at times, but sometimes his mood could change rapidly and it scared Ian a little. Clive was the smart one. He was in Ian’s class and always got top marks. Whenever Clive did well, and was lavished with praise, he would sit with a smugness that drove Ian mad. All the teachers loved him, just to make matters worse.
The only thing Ian was good at was drawing. Even his teacher said he showed potential. He was unsure what that meant, but took it to be a good thing. His father thought him a secret about drawing. It was his secrete and he never told anybody else in case they became as good, or better than him at art.
Every picture, his father said, no matter how complex or easy could be drawn with four simple rules. The first was using a straight line, the second by using a line with one or more curves. The last two involved using different colours to make things shady or bright. With only one colour, Ian did not have to worry about using colours other than pink. By putting more pink in certain places it would make other areas seem shaded or bright. He loved the easy rules because they were easy. The tricky bit comes with knowing when to draw straight and curved lines and where to place thicker areas for shading. He practiced all the time. Every wall in his bed room was covered with artwork. His favourite pictures and drawings were of horses. He loved horses and knew all about them.
Ian’s dad had a passion for horses too. Some evenings he would spend his entire time reading about them in the newspaper. Whenever his mother nagged him about the ‘GGs’ as she called them, his Dad always said if it was not for Admiral Kinghtsky they would never be married. On occasions his father muttered that he still wasn’t sure if he won or lost the bet.
Sometimes when he ran, Ian slapped either side of his thighs with his palms in time to his run. Although Pete and Clive and the older kids use to mock him for it, he didn’t care. He knew with certainty when he ran like that it made him go faster. Ian wished he was a horse at times, but that was something he would never tell his friends.
Smiling, he knew what he was going to draw: a horse at full gallop.
Hunkering down, he began the smooth curve of its belly. That one swooping line was perfect, but his pink chalk had started to whittle quickly. After retrieving the rest of his stash and speedily removing more of the cardboard backing he was ready to continue.
The legs, fetlocks and hooves, muscle lines and veins flowed easily onto the path. From neck to back through to rear and hind quarters were all done in one fluid motion. He was lost in the gliding motion and could almost feel the watery flow of the outline as it took shape. Drawing did that to him sometimes.
Standing, he examined his progress. It was good, perhaps the best he ever accomplished, but it was far from finished. One misjudged stroke and the whole thing could be ruined. The placement of the furthest front leg was difficult, but he struggled through. The powerful neck where it rolled and joined the crux of the jaw was the finest he ever achieved, he was positive. Flaring nostrils, the bridge of its nose, fierce eyes and pricked ears followed shortly. Ian considered placing a saddle, harness and bit on the animal, or even a rider, but he opted not to. He was not the best at drawing people’s faces and was afraid he would spoil the horse. Besides, in Ian’s mind he was the riderless horse running free over a lush grass land. The last of the outlines were slashes of a pink ruffled mane and wild strands of tail hair. His chalk was dwindling fast. He hoped he had enough to complete the shading of the animal’s to add power to its form. With the last of his chalk he managed to lightly etch the grasslands the horse was galloping over. It was finished.
Stiff limbed and covered in pink powder, he stood to take in his work. The light had faded since he begun. He had never been so absorbed in a drawing before, or so pleased with his efforts. Always, even with his favourite drawings at home¸ there were still things he wanted to change or never got quite right. This was by far the finest thing he ever did. He was so lost in his labour that he didn’t notice Pete and Clive standing to the side of the gates.
Embarrassed, he hung his head waiting for the slagging to begin, but it never did. His friends stared at him, before briefly exchanging a look at each other. ‘It’s bloody cool,’ Pete said sincerely.
Clive remained silent, but nodded his agreement. There was something about Clive’s expression Ian never saw before: a look of jealousy. It was right then the first splashes of rain began to fall.
Ian was certain Clive briefly grinned out of spite, but would never admit it. All three looked down silently as a heavy volley or rain bombarded onto his creation. Great splodges of pink erupted with each drop. Ian felt queasy. It was not fair, but he hadn’t time to dwell on it.
‘Ian? Ian, get in here before you catch you death. Tea’s just ready. Get in.’
As he plodded towards his home his mother continued, ‘What on earth happened to your clothes?’
His clothes were blemished in pink dust. Shrugging was the most he could manage. Words escaped him. The best thing he had ever achieved was getting washed away and all his mother cared about was his damn clothes.
‘Up them stairs with you, straight away, and have a wash before tea,’ she said as he stepped into the hallway. She let out a sigh of disapproval and shook her head as he passed her. ‘I only got them dry last night…. I don’t know?’ she muttered as he stomped up the stairs.
‘Ah, leave the boy alone,’ his father called from the kitchen. Ian didn’t wait to hear her reply. In his room, he stood by the window looking at the streams of pink trailing into the shore. A vanishing smudged outline was all that was left and that too would soon be gone along with his joy. Clive and Pete went running back to their homes and all other life in the cul-de-sac had fled. The Green was empty. Ian felt empty too. Closing the curtains, he tried his best not to look at the other pictures upon his wall. Ian undressed and tossed his clothes into the wash basket. A minor thud sounded as something landed on the floor. Bending down, he discovered one last piece of plaster had fallen from his pocket.
Ian snatched it up and buried it in the back of his draw. A slight smile crept across his face. He would ride another day.
Squirrels bummed titbits off the tourists
Who in turn oohed and awed at their cuteness
While slowly raising cameras to capture images
Of the grey bushed tailed rodents
Before they skittered away
To the safety of the treetop canopy
It was within the revolution of three, that’s in the A.M., you dig, when I left the arms of a sleeping fox to steal away into the night. I wasn’t even quail hunting when this shape in a drape stumbled in to me.
‘Want to get Dixie Fried?’ she asked nodding to two bottles of bourbon hanging low in the pockets of my drinking mac. When she said she was jungled up with a pad of her own close by, well baby I was there. I was planning to gift a bottle to Pony (he’s an angel) but I knew he’d understand. She was everything plus.
Man, her hair was honey, her limbs were liquid, and she had golden skin to cry for. She was as radiant as the sun can get after the witching hour. But I wasn’t crestfallen leaving her pad. No. I strutted a peacock’s strut. You see, her warmth stayed with me like a fine wine as I hit the streets. And I, I was going to meet my faith.
Since Pony told me about the cats laying it thick off fifty-first and second, my blood bubbled over with giddy anticipation to hear their crazy horns. He said the rhythm section came straight off the boat from Tunis after tripping with Dizzy G. If Pony said it, it was true. That cat’s claws were sharper than any other hipster I knew; and I knew a lot of them.
You should have seen his eyes light up. They were so wild they caused me to sweat.
‘Fever, baby. They is pure FEVER,’ he said before slumping in his reincarnated zoot suit. ‘Baby, pure fever.’ He grew wistful and out there, the way he gets sometimes before something gigantic unfolds. When he’s that way, man, you gotta ride the wave. Ain’t noting like those waves he sends rippling about him.
I took a Benny and a couple of blues. I washed them down with a slug or three from a bottle of bourbon. I had to smile. My fox’s lipstick was still fresh on the neck. Man, I felt good. The night felt good. The traffic buzz felt good. The catcalls from the whores, the bawling and brawling from the Beat gangs, the city lights and the solid pavement, damn, they all felt good.
I watched some cats snake the kerb up ahead of me. As edgy as vipers, they too knew it was going down, down, Downtown. With their hefty lids rolling, ecstatic filled and moist, they could taste the echoing swing of the gig.
The one they called “Horse” blocked the entry. He could emit a look which didn’t need words for his meaning to be understood. Standing six-foot five, he was as silent as they come. He looked straight at me with those big angel blue eyes which seemed out-of-place glaring out from his slab of a face.
When he saw me coming he stood to one side. Behind me a desperate hiss snapped through the air from those huddled in line like bums at the soup kitchen. They weren’t really hip. It was not cool to queue.
I passed Horse the remains of my bottle as I stepped through the door. He finished it in one long gulp of appreciation before saying the only thing I ever heard him say, ‘You’re alright, baby.’
His baritone voice reverberated in my wake. ‘Yeh, Daddy O, I’m feeling it.’ Then the corridor sucked me into its shadows before spurting me into the womb of the club.
The Charlie Thumb Trio was finishing a set. Decanter Nash frantically walked the double bass as his solo reached its pinnacle 3/5, 5/8 and triple 4/4 beat before slackening off and repeating a 2/4 loop, and shuffling lazily to an A-flat minor riff.
I missed Connie Mykel’s run by about five minutes. I championed the drummer from the early days. I could tell by the sheen glistening upon his brow that he pulled something mighty out of the skins. Man, could he jazz it up.
Sitting with his eyes half closed and swaying ever so slightly was Charlie Thumb. His upright piano was topped with a crown of empty shot glasses like the wafer thin candle holders in church when the wick is all that remains. This was his alter and many paid tribute to the dude.
A sassy hipster was rolling her bountiful appendages right under his nose, but he didn’t look. He didn’t even flinch. Charlie Thumb was lost, too swallowed up by Nash’s hook. With a timing only known to the best of them, Charlie gave a nod. The number and the set ended abruptly in two notes.
The applause was good and just, and welcomed by Charlie’s classic half bow and stumble. We were ready for it. He did it most nights he played, and damn it, we loved him all the more for it. He was one of our own, was Charlie.
‘You broke it out, baby. Man, you cracked her right open tonight,’ a voice called from the crowd. ‘You broke it real good,’ others muttered. If he heard the accolade or not, I don’t know. Either way it didn’t matter to Charlie Thumb. He played it all for himself.
I saw Pony kneeling in front of the now empty stage. Pleading for the headline to roll on, he was as close to frantic as I had ever seen him. ‘Bring the Fever,’ he called towards the wings. A lone voice heard above the call of more alcohol. His cry was infectious. Others soon echoed his mantra. I too found myself joining in with the crowd as I managed to cut through to Pony’s table. It was right up front as usual, almost an extension of the stage.
Charlie Thumb was slumped next to Rio and Delray. Those two cats were floating between line-ups and joined in whenever a group allowed. Mediocre, at best, but as committed as they come. They gave me a nod before also focusing on the side curtains. Pony had regained something touching sobriety and reclaimed his toppled chair when he saw me.
‘You’re here, you hear?’ he referred to the crowds’ savage chant.
‘I hear,’ I said while taken the empty seat reserved for me. I helped myself to the bottle of schnapps waiting for my arrival. Even when wildness destroyed his sanity, that baby, Pony, always remembered me. An angel, you dig? Man, I tell you there’s never been a better cat to call an amigo.
The hush fell like Thor’s hammer as they slowly filled the stage. Trombone, trumpet, tanner sax, drums, double bass, guitar and piano, it was a big line-up for the venue. They each picked up their instruments and broke the wax as they fine-tuned and warmed up. As expectations boarded on climatic desperation, he entered. Clinging to his alto-sax as if it was an extension of his arm, he smiled favourably to the crowd. Cool as they come, he didn’t walk, he didn’t stroll, no, he swaggered right up to the edge of the stage. Man, if I wanted to touch him all I had to do was reach out.
No applause, no heckling, no announcements of love, no shuffling, no glasses or bottles clinking, no breathing, no squeaking leather shoes, no second-hand ticking, no motion, no emotion, no pin dropping, nothing except eager eyes urging and hankering for him to bring the fever. Then I noticed it: his foot rose. Then we could all hear the soft sole of his shoe gently tap upon the wooden flooring of the stage. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. He placed his lips to the sax,
When it ended, I must have aged a thousand lifetimes. Each note twisted paths to places my soul thought were too crazy to reveal. Fever, baby. Pure FEVER. I wept sweet, sweet tons. Even the silent voice within remained silent. Oh, Daddy O, it was real, but all too quickly it slipped away.
Years later, those that were there and still alive, always brought it up in conversation. We couldn’t help ourselves. It was like reassuring ourselves that the fever really happened.
I swear to you it happened. Better than any hootenanny. I saw a man walk on the moon; I held my breath when world war three was close to erupting, I was there for Woodstock, but I tell you, this out did them all. It was the gas, it was the end, it was PURE FEVER, baby, and its likes will never happen again.
They are starting to grow and I am so, so proud of them
With every little achievement they succeed, they are blooming.
But a selfish part of me silently cries
Because I am becoming less and less needed in their eyes.
They no longer need me to push them on the swings,
Or warn them not to pick up dirty and stinky things.
They can wash themselves and brush their own hair
And decide for themselves what clothing they ought to ware.
They have mastered Velcro and zips, buttons and laces
But sometimes they need reminding to wipe their faces.
They can open the fridge and help themselves to a snack
And are sneaky enough to swipe extra cookies behind my back.
They are growing quickly and will definitely be
Taller and stronger and smarter than me.
I pray for their happiness, their health and their safety
No matter what happens they’ll always be my babies.
I do and will always love them, come what may
And I hope they will know I do each and every day.
• Should trespassers be welcomed because there is money to be had in a good prosecution?
• How long do you have to stand in one place before it is considered loitering?
• Is it more logical to put a “No Entry” sign no a wall instead of on a door?
• If I do not apply for the vacancy how will the employers know if I am a timewaster or not?
• Similarly, if I have all the credentials for the position, but occasionally enjoy laughing, will I still be considered as a serious applicant?
• If water is transparent, why do clothes look darker when they are wet?
• If the earth still exists in a couple of billion years, and every creature continues to evolve, eventually will there be only one type of ultimate life form on the planet?
• Where does the white go when snow melts?
• Why do people pretend marmalade tastes nicer than jam?
• Do astronauts use sunscreen when they are in outer space and closer to the sun?
• Is phlegm evil?
• Do female actors really feel offended if you call them actresses?
• If vegetables are so good for you why is there vegetable fat?
• Do bats fly when it is raining?
• The population of the earth is roughly seven billion people. If horoscopes are to be taken seriously does that mean 12% (or approx. 583 million people) of the earth’s population born between April 21st and May 21st , will meet somebody new today and have an exciting opportunity waiting for them when they least expect it? Or am I being silly?
A vast ball of starlings rolled and swished as they swooped in perfect synchronization. Cast against the salmon-pink sky of dawn, the murmur briefly exposed its flanks before flicking a thousand silhouettes into a corkscrew manoeuvre. Their tiny bodies rapidly vanished, appeared, vanished and re-appeared as their voices cracked through the air. Gradually they danced westward growing in number as others were drawn to their exotic display. The scene reminded Francis of a tragic ballerina in the throes of a fluidly choreographed pirouette: it was breathtakingly graceful.
‘Cute blighters, aren’t they? You wouldn’t believe how many people hate them.’ grumbled an old man.
Francis could have screamed as the magic of the display was broken by the slip of words. With a sigh he surrendered the moment. ‘Guess you’re right.’ he mumbled, feeling the need to comment. ‘Isn’t it an odd time of year to see them flying about?’
The man shrugged. ‘When you get to be my age, odd sights happen more often than not. Ah, sure isn’t it a grand morning? Starting to heat up nicely.’ The stranger said shifting himself forward from the depths of the arched doorway.
Francis looked down the road. The slush which froze solid during the night glistened as it wept the first tears of thaw. Dry patches along the pathway were visible where bins were left out for collection the previous evening. He was surprised the clanger and clanking of the refuse trucks did not wake him from his slumber.
There was no wind, he noticed, and it did seem to be a little warmer than the last few days. ‘Aye,’ he replied. ‘It couldn’t get any colder than last night. It was so, so cold. A bit of heat would do nicely.’ Francis shivered as the memory came back.
‘Both our poor souls will be warmed up in no time, me nibs,’ the old man said confidently as he edged his position to sit inches from him. ‘Name’s Peter, me nibs. I’ve seen you about from time to time. Heard you busking a couple of nights back. Sure, you’ve a fine voice. A voice like that don’t belong on no street.’
Francis looked down at his scuffed shoes. Embarrassed? Ashamed? Both?
‘It’s Francis, isn’t it?’
‘Aye. Fran if you’d like.’ Francis turned sideways to better view his new companion. He offered his hand by way of an excuse to get a decent look at the old-timer. One of the earliest lessons he learned on the streets was to be wary making eye contact with other homeless men. It often led to aggressive behaviour on the one hand, or overly friendly liberties on the other. Both were to be avoided.
Peter accepted his hand. Despite thin parchment skin stretched taut over brittle knotty fingers, the man’s grip was sturdy and safe. His palm was rough to the touch, but felt cosily warm. Peter had the same beard as many homeless men. It was semi-groomed with wisps of wild springy spindles left free to roam. In the morning light a few remaining flecks of brown whiskers appeared golden amid the mostly dusty grey ruffles. His nose was crooked, broken more than once, Francis wagered. High on his cheeks sat tiny sunburst of veins contrasting to his leather like, weathered skin. What could be seen of his mouth beneath the facial hair had a friendly grin, but it was his eyes that stood out. They held wisdom, those eyes. They had seen things nobody should ever see. Weary, and yet they twinkled, oddly so. They were calming pools of hazel, almost protective. It had been an age since Francis held anybody’s gaze for so long that he nearly wept at the simple intimacy.
There was something familiar about the man too. Something recognisable in his stare, Francis thought, but could not remember from where. It was not the first time he had forgotten a face. Years of alcoholism played havoc with his memory. Some faces he recognised instantly, but there were others that did not register at all. More often than not, he did not want to remember. It was better for him to remain in solitude.
Though he kept pretty much to himself, on miserable nights after the soup wagon left, he never protested to others seeking shelter in his archway. Behind Peter another body laid huddled in the corner. Slumped on a cardboard bed and concealed beneath layers of clothing similar to his Francis’, the figure slept quietly. Nestled in the crook of the man’s arm was a wine bottle wrapped snugly in its own paper jacket. Peter glanced at him too. ‘We’ll leave this one be, I think. Sure, he’s lost to the world, me nibs.’
Frances nodded his agreement. What good would it do to disturbing the man?
‘I’ve seen them all about the Mediterranean sea. From the Lebanese coast to Italy.’
Francis looked at him questioningly. ‘Winos?’
‘No,’ the old man laughed. ‘Starlings.’
‘Yeh. I knew a man once who used to work along the fishing ports and towns along the Roman coast. You’ll never guess what he did.’ Before Francis had a chance to entertain the question Peter told him. ‘He used to scrape their droppings off rooftops. Can you imagine? Night and day, he’d be up a ladder with his stick, or whatever it was he used, and he’d be scraping away. Form noon to moon. Seems they’ve destroyed and collapsed roofs along the coastal ways.’
Francis eyed him suspiciously unsure how to take the yarn. ‘Still,’ he said after a time, ‘isn’t it a funny time of year for them?’
‘Maybe, but that’s starlings for you. Never know when they’re going to show up.’
There was a lull in the conversation as the two men looked at the swirling trail of birds disappearing in the distance. Then the question came. Francis knew it would.
‘How’d you end up here, me nibs?’
Sooner or later the topic always raised its ugly head. How could it not? He considered giving the short version and leaving it at that: split up with his partner, got sacked, nothing to do but drink. And it was true. One hundred per cent true. It was a straightforward answer neither offering regret, nor seeking praise, but it was empty.
He heard hundreds of stories similar, more or less, to his own. He never pried for the seedier details, but eventually it was not long before they appeared, usually explicitly so. The last details of every story always ended the same. It was always somebody else’s fault never their own. Except addicts, they blamed the disease of their addiction. ‘To hell with them,’ he thought. True, circumstances had a part to play, but the only one responsible for him living on the street was himself.
For some reason, Francis wanted to tell his full story to this strange homeless man who seemed to appear out of mid-air. Or perhaps it was because of the starlings.
‘Do you really want to know?’
Peter smiled warmly. ‘I do. Every poor soul has a story, me nibs. But if you tell me it’s none of my business, I’ll leave it at that. Promise.’
Francis considered him, wondering if the man was working at some angle. He did not think so. For the first time in the seven years that he was homeless he told his worth. ‘I guess it began with my father. Now, He was one mean, miserable and angry bastard. He used to beat eleven shades of blue out of me mother. Often times, the only thing stopping her getting battered was my face. Sometimes I would pray to God and thank him it was her getting the punches and not me. Once, I must have been about fourteen or fifteen, he hit me and I swung back. I missed complete. He’d the height and reach.
‘Well, this big ugly smile twisted across his face. The one he sometimes had when he was beating my mother. Boy, did I get the pulp kicked out of me that night. Next morning he threw me out.’ Francis stopped and stared Peter straight in the eye. ‘Now, I’m not telling you this as an excuse, but so you’ll appreciate why I ended up here.’
Peter’s expression didn’t change as he conveyed his understanding with a gentle nod.
‘I was taken in by my aunts and uncles. Doing a turn between them like a ball in a tennis match. It was enough though, for a while. I didn’t have much schooling and had to worked doing hard grafting on building sites. Was better than what I had, so I didn’t mind. I worked everyday of my life since. Learnt a trade.’ A moment of pride washed over him as he said honestly, ‘There’s nothing in the building trade I wasn’t able to turn my hand too. And that’s the truth.’ Why he needed this man to believe him, he could not say, only it was important that he did.
‘Eventually, I started earning a little bit of money. It was about the same time when I met Laura. She was a beautiful lass back then, so she was, with the most amazing eyes you’d ever see. Blue-grey, they were, with speckles of green dotted throughout.’ He gave a slight laugh. ‘I was only thinking of those eyes last night. Although the colours are different, they reminded me of the white flecks on a starling. That’s what I use to call her: my Starling. Funny coincidence.’ He searched the distant sky for a final trace of the birds. His heart sank a little knowing they were gone.
‘I loved her so, and I know she loved me too. We ended up getting a small place together, nothing fancy, but perfect for us. Things began to get serious. We talked of marriage, but I was hesitant despite claiming it was a good idea. Then we decided to have a child. That’s when it all started to go pear-shaped. I suppose.’ Francis paused for a moment as he relived a snippet of his life before continuing. ‘Bless her. She really wanted kids. I wasn’t so sure, but after realising how happy the notion made her, I began to warm to the idea of having a little tot to chase about all day. Soon, I began wanting one too.
‘We tried for four years, in all. It was after the first two when things between us became increasingly tense. The little incidences of bickering gradually turned into yelling matches. Doors slammed regularly. Occasionally, cutlery was shattered.’ Francis looked up at Peter. With a grin he said, ‘She had a fine throw with a plate for such a little thing, I can tell you.’
Peter smirked back, ‘They usually do.’
Clearing his throat, Francis’ face darkened. His voice lowered. ‘One day we were arguing about something, or another. I can’t even remember exactly what it was over. Anyway, she said words to the affect of, “You’re not man enough.” That’s when I hit her.’
His face grew serious and grim. ‘I’m not proud of it. She wasn’t to know I got the results from the doctor a few days previous. You see, she had been nagging at me to have a fertility test for over a year. I didn’t tell her I finally got it done. I didn’t tell her…I’m infertile. If I had told her I know she’d never have said what she did.’
His eyes rested on a pile of blackened slush across the road as if seeking understanding and acceptance, but all he found was remorse. ‘The feeling of being inadequate and not being a real man, humiliated me. I don’t know. I guess it’s some bullshit macho thing, but I was so ashamed. I was looking for a way to tell her, but it was never the right moment. When she said what she did it was like a hammer blow. I thought not her. I can take a lot from a lot of people, but when she said what she did it broke me. It shattered the last strands of dignity I grasped onto. She’s only a little thing, five four in heels at best. And I hit her. I must have broken her cheek as she collapsed in a heap.
‘I tried to help her up, immediately apologising, but it was too late. Laura shot me a scolding glance. At the time I could’ve sworn it was almost a mocking look. I still can’t tell if she grimaced, or whether it was a grin of gratitude because now she had a definite reason to leave me. Up until that point, I think neither of us could accept the fact that it was over between us. This gave her a way out that no amount of apologies could change.’ Francis eyes welled up as he tried to cower deeper into his manky overcoat.
Gradually he looked up. Peter was staring at him strangely. It was as if his very soul was being weighed.
‘There’s more,’ the stranger stated with certainty.
Wiping his eyes in his sleeve, Francis nodded. ‘The worst part of it was the instant I hit her. In that split second, less than a heartbeat…I’m more ashamed of this than anything else. I’m so, so sorry…the moment I hit her, it was like a sense of euphoria. Can you believe that? It was as if everything negative in my life up until then was centred in that instant. Every snide remark, every embarrassing moment; every bloody beating from my father; all my fears and shame were compacted and condensed in the moment I hit her and the pressure of the impact. I can only describe it as an ecstatic moment of triumph grabbing hold of me, a moment of utter release.’ He gulped drily.
‘If it was anybody else bar her, I think I could have handled it, but it was my Starling. When the weight of what I did dawned on me I panicked. I left. I had to. I had become my father. When he smirked I knew it would be a bad beating. I came to fear his sinister smile more so than his fists. When I hit her I could feel his grin, but only this time it was coming from me. I turned into that bastard. The one thing I hated more than anything else in the world.
‘Not a word was spoken between us as I packed a small bag. I feared I’d hit her again. As I was leaving she looked at me one last time with her starling eyes swollen with tears. They were pitiful tears. Tears that still burrow through me to this day.
‘Some days later I was made redundant from the building contractors. There was no connection to what happened, it was just bad timing. Only then did I turn to drink. I followed it to here. Been on the streets a long time. I’ve done things I’m not happy about, but becoming that monster and enjoying it shames me as much, if not, more so than hitting my Starling. And I fear it will happen to me again, you see? I fear it more than anything else in the world.’
He swept his surroundings with a glance. ‘Out here, I avoid people.’ He laughed sarcastically. ‘It’s a hard thing to do when you’re panhandling or busking.’ Peter smiled, yet kept his silent vigil. ‘The thing that gets me, I mean, really gets to me is if I could go back to that one moment. I’d like to think I could restrain myself, but you know, I’m not sure I could have. I’ve had plenty of time to think about what happened. Only afterwards did I realise how angry and frustrated I was about the situation between us. I was never good with words and often became tongue-tied. I wanted to scream, but that’s not what grown men do, I was taught. My delicate Starling suffered by my own hands, and I don’t know if I’d ever have the control to stop it from happening again if she ever did take me back. It’s this realisation that taunts me, forever sneering and reminding me what I have become.’
Francis’s tone became calmer. ‘So, I drink, and if there’s a chance of getting pills, I take them. I know it doesn’t make things better and will never change what happened, but for a spell, in anyway, things don’t seem so bleak. I don’t feel so…’ He shrugged and glanced at Peter.
The old man nodded as if in deep contemplation, or listening to somebody else whispering quietly in his ear. It seemed as if the world stood still as he waited for the stranger’s judgement. He realised he had not spotted any traffic or noticed signs of passers-by since he began relaying his sins. He was surrounded by utter silence. Eventually Peter stood and offered his hand to Francis for support. If it was a hand of friendship, understanding or acceptance Francis did not know, but he eagerly took it.
As he stood to join the older man, the figure in the corner slumped forward a little. Fearing he would crash onto the pavement, instinctively, Francis grabbed him by the shoulder and carefully shunted him back into position. His head lulled backwards with a thud where it collided with steel grated doors he was sleeping against. Francis grimaced at the noise, and then staggered backwards when he saw his own grey-blue lifeless face and contorted mouth set in a rigid gape. An empty brown prescription bottle gave a hollow echo as it rolled down the two steps to the street. A frozen pool of red wine trailed from the capsized bottle still wedged in his dead arms.
Saint Peter gently gripped Francis’ hand and whispered, ‘Come now. It’s only a shell, me nibs. Didn’t I tell you that one’s lost to the world?’
Michael sat examining an 18th century book of Italian poetry. First stat Quarto (29cm) pages numbering 778. The cover was well preserved. It was bottle-green leather exterior, but with speckled calf inlay. Triple gilt fillet on each side of the two raised spine bands. Lower rear extremities showed signs of slight rubbing with mild crushed bottom open corner. One ancient velum paper label with title manuscript left shadowed suggesting original binding replaced 30 to 50 years from first woodprint. That would place the first edition to 1731- 1751. An extra inner leaf was handwritten with a dedication scribed in the looping style fashionable to this estimated era. As for the contents, well, the yellowing aging upon the pages’ outer edges was expected. The text was of, again, woodprint despite the improved method being readily available. There were several annotations in ink margining pages 52 through to 84. Believed to be authors own hand; however, apart from the romance of the story there were little, if any, indicators weighing proof favourably for this theory.
Michael had hoped the trip was not a waste of time, but his gut feeling was one of disappointment. He made his mind up within the first ten minutes of inspection, but to ensure his client was getting her money’s worth, he made a show of slowly scrutinizing the edges of the binding. Every so often he made note of his observations, and in a neat hand relayed such to his pristine diary.
In his peripheral vision he could see the client hovering on the outskirts of the adjacent room. He did not mind. His current client, Mrs Hover, was similar to the majority of those who contact him for his appraisals. Eager clients were common in his line of work. He never minded those with a genuine interest in his examination. Michael seldom tired of explaining techniques of analysis or educating why one type of horse-glue made a better adhesive than another. Even those who only cared about the price a manuscript would fetch at auction, were fine, if not a little disheartened when his appraisal pointed to less zeros that was hoped for.
No, the genuinely interested and cash greedy clients were fine. It was the amateurs who annoyed him with their constant yearning for flattery and craving of intellectual gratification. Sometimes he deliberately allowed them to prattle on while pointing out the knowledge they cherished so he could enjoy correcting them at length and send them off embarrassed for their interference. It was his way of saying ‘Go back to your mammy and leave the grown-up stuff to us adults.’
After running out of ideas on how to prolong his examination, he carefully replaced the volume back in the glass case it was presented to him in when he first arrived. Coughing politely to gain Mrs Hover’s attention, he carefully removed his cotton gloves and proceeded to return his magnifying glass and notebook back into his briefcase. As always he doubled checked none of his small collection of bottled chemicals used to date the rarer manuscripts had been damaged.
His findings would be typed up from his notes later that evening and sent to Mrs Hover along with his invoice or copy of his invoice if she decided to pay there and then.
Michael guessed Mrs Hover was in her early sixties. She had a pleasant cheerful face along with the alert characteristics often portrayed by actresses in adverts for vitamins for the elderly or exercise machines aimed at those of advancing years. Slim as a whippet, but standing strong as a fighter half her age, she approached him and stood next to the case. ‘Are you sure I can’t get you anything?’ She asked him twice already, but again he responded that he was fine.
‘So, what can you tell me about my book?’ she asked eagerly.
Michael roughly outlined his findings and assured her she would receive a full report in a day or so. The only thing he omitted was the estimated retail price. When she initially said it was in her family for three generations, usually with that came with three generations of expectations that the price would have increased significantly. He did not like letting his clients down, but it was part of the job. He had a feeling she would be more accepting, although just as disappointed, than most.
Michael took a second to compose himself before breaking the news. ‘If it had been an original first edition with its original binding, I would have estimated it to come close to 24 to 30,000.’
Mrs Hover was physically surprised by the amount mentioned, but he continued before she was too carried away. ‘As it stands, I’m afraid in its condition, we’re talking about 5 to 600 max.’
He waited for it, but the disappointment he expected did not come.
‘Oh, I see,’ Mrs Hover commented with a slight nod of the head. She seemed to be waiting for more from him, but there was nothing further he had to add.
‘As I mentioned earlier, a report of my complete findings will be with you in a day or two.’
She nodded her under standing. As he was about to leave, Mrs Hover interrupted his progress to the door. ‘Are you going to take it with you?’
Michael shook his own head. ‘Sorry, I don’t understand!’ He hoped she was not under the impression he was going to purchase it from her.
‘I mean, you were only here an hour, tops. Surely you can’t have finished already.’
He was getting a little techy. It was seldom that anybody brought his expertise into question. ‘I can assure you madam, I have scrutinized every inch of your manuscript. My findings are correct, on this I can absolutely guarantee.’
‘But you haven’t done anything,’ Mrs Hover insisted. ‘Are you telling me you’ll have everything sent to me in only a day or two?’
‘Yes, I give my word,’ Michael said, but did not mention the bill also due for payment.
‘Oh, if you’re sure. I though these things could take week, if not months.’
‘They used to madam, but with today’s technology, things have sped up exceptionally so.’ Michael was glad this was accepted and the hint of hostility was rapidly dissolving.
‘Well, I guess that’s something. Can I ask you just one question before you leave?’
‘Absolutely, Mrs Hover.’
‘Can you tell me what the first poem is about?’
‘You know, the first poem? At least tell me what it’s about before you translate it all’
Michael was confused ‘Sorry?’
‘Oh, do you need to use your computer to translate it?’
‘Translate it? What are you talking about?’
Now it was Mrs Hover’s turn to get techy. ‘That’s what I’m paying you for, isn’t it? I asked you to tell me everything about my book’s contents.’
‘But…but I don’t speak Italian. I’m not a translator,’ he uttered.
‘Then what on earth have you been doing this whole time if you were not translating it?’
‘Err? evaluating! That’s what I do.’
‘How can you value the price of something you didn’t even read without taking into account the ability of the poet?’
He was a ware of, but could not recall what reply he stammered before leaving Mrs Hovers, nor of the long drive to the his hotel. His years of study and apprenticeship, the thousands of hours spent examining manuscript after manuscript spanning the centuries; these all came to a head in her simply stated question. With the exception of historical documents which either confirmed or contradicted believed events, he was never once asked to place value on the actual written content only on the physical condition and rarity of a piece. His thoughts could not stray from the idea that she was right. As he entered his room with a glass of whiskey he ordered at the bar, he imagined the souls of every author are whose work he appraised. He could feel their condemning him from their graves; grieving each judgement he made. A wave of nausea flushed through him.
Sitting on his bed, he froze as his eyes landed on a bible. It was the usual edition compulsory provided in every hotel he ever stayed in. Guilt ridden¸ Michael shunted to the edge of the bed, picked up the book, and began reading: In the beginning…
There is anger, there, in her movements.
In the loudness of each trudged step.
In the rough handling of inanimate objects.
There is anger in her words.
Each syllable designed to cut and puncture.
Each consonant rasped,
Each vowel stretched and barked.
There is anger with each noise that cannot be spelt, but only hinted at:
In the gravity of her sigh,
In the emphasised grunt,
In the poignant snort.
There is anger in her scathing look,
Or more so, in the avoidance of eye contact.
There is anger in her hands:
In the clenching of a tissue,
In the balled fist barely kept in check against her side.
There is anger in her tight-lipped frown,
In the malice of her clenched teeth
And in the danger of her jawline.
There is too much anger in the four-year-old girl when she does not get her own way.
1…..Award winning agriculturist Miles Fansworth donated his record-breaking 123lb swede to the National Library last night. During the presentation ceremony he was quoted as saying, “There’s a turnip for the books.”
2….In other news, Bootylicious singer Beyonce Knowles has successfully sued her dietician of twelve years, Professor Susan Alswell, for deliberately prescribing her laxatives instead of a nutritional supplement after the recent birth of her child.
A spokeswoman for the singer has stated the following: “Ms Knowles suffered greatly due to the incorrect medication. And she regrets the professional relationship with professor Alswell has came to such a messy end.”
Silly Bit of Comic Book Hero part 2.
(Please see part 1 for the following to make sense)
Superman returned just as rapidly as he left. Batman and Spider-man watched him sit down with a look of disgust. He muttered something incoherent. ‘Sorry about that. I heard a distressing scream. Turns out it was just a bunch of teenagers mucking about. Have they any consideration?’
‘No, none at all’ Spider-man and Batman said in unison.
‘Now where were we?’ Spider-man asked taking a swig from his beer.
‘We were deliberating breaking out our nemeses.’ Batman reminded him.
‘Bruce, that would be stupid, immoral and against everything we believe in!’ Superman adjusted his glasses. ‘Ridicules,’ he stated, gaining a little composure, ‘We’ve given most of our lives to rid the world of those evil monsters. We cannot aid them in their escape.’
Spider-man sighed. ‘If we don’t, Clark, you’ll spend the rest of your existence picking lint from your Kryptonite bellybutton. Well, that’s if they had navels on your home planet. Here Clark, give us a look?’ Peter reached across the table pretending to lift up Superman’s shirt. Superman swatted away his hands.
‘Cut it out Peter. Leave him alone. This is a serious matter.’
‘You don’t have to tell me how serious it is Bruce. Penny hasn’t stopped nagging me since we got married. I’m doing everything to stay out of the house. And when I am out, she keeps ringing me wondering where I am and what I’m doing.’ His phone buzzed again. ‘See what I mean.’ Choosing to ignore it he continued, ‘How exactly do we break them out?’
‘The prison is impenetrable since Captain Miscellaneous enhanced security. It would be foolish to try.’ Superman intervened with a tone of finality.
‘Does this mean you are out Clark?’ Batman asked.
‘Out! I was never in. Something has to be done, but this, this is madness. How on earth do we bypass security? Hulk, Thor and Captain America are in charge not to mention Ironman and the Phantom. And that’s just for starters.’
‘What about you, Peter?’
Spiderman sat back as he considered. ‘There is something you are not telling us. What is it Bruce?’
‘Your spider senses are still working, I see. Very well, there is a way. You have left out one player Clark, one who is sympathetic to our cause.’
Batman sneered and managed to emit a sound as close to laughter that the other two ever heard coming from him. ‘Me. I have been the major contributor to the security firm setup by Captain Miscellaneous. Without my resources, all those we captured would easily have escaped from the compounds traditionally used to hold them. Indeed, as such, I have the blue prints of the building from the early stages of its foundations, its structural progress, all the way up to its completion. I assure you there is a way to access all cells without being discovered.’
‘I’m waiting for a but.’ Spider-man added.
‘But…are you happy now? But we still need somebody to gain access through the frontal compound. We need somebody with experience who can move stealthily enough to bypass the Superheroes’ patrol. The latest advancement in speed censor-monitors restricts Clark from going in, and my costume is rigged with so many gadgets every censor in the place will set off as soon as I am within a hundred meters of the place. So, that leaves us with only one option. ’
Superman smiled and winked at Batman before turning his gaze at Spider-man.
‘No way. Forget it!’
‘Ugh…hello! Webs… you know the things I leave behind. They don’t dissolve for weeks. They’ll know it was me in a plasma beat.’
‘There’s always that. I never considered it’ Batman’s eyes darkened in contemplation.
‘How about Robin?’ Superman asked.
‘Are you kidding me? Since he hooked up with Flame, I can’t get him to do anything lately. If that was not bad enough, Diplomacy Girl’s Sidekick and henchman union has set his head in a whirl. Do you know what he demanded of me the other evening? Guess! …Only a month off to go cruising with Flame. Can you believe it? He hasn’t even been with him for three weeks and he’s talking about holidays away. I don’t know.’ Batman shook his head in disgust.
Superman nodded his understanding. ‘They are so eager to fly the coop, so to speak, that’s why I never bothered with a sidekick.’
Spider-man and Batman knew it was best not to mention Super Girl. Some stones were best left unturned.
Spider-man snapped his fingers. ‘I’ve got it. Somebody perfect for the job. A lesser hero. One who is always fighting above his weight.’
‘Boy, you two are slow tonight. Wolverine! He’s perfect.’
‘Wolverine, yeah, he could work.’ Superman nodded his agreement.
‘How do we get him on board?’
‘Ah, that’s easy. Offer him a few kegs of beer and promise him one of the nemesis knows who his mother is. Simple as.’
‘Yes, it could work,’ Batman nodded now the idea was taking shape as something with potential. ‘Speaking of which, how is Wonder Woman?’ Superman asked.
‘Ah, keeping well. Alfred assures me she has stayed sober for the past eight years. He’s besotted with her, the old goat. In fact, he’s planning on proposing to her over the holidays.’
‘No way! The old dog. Cheers to him any way.’
Glasses were clinked and another round was served before the three Superheroes filed out of the bar. Each heading in different directions, but each with their minds on one thing: a way back.
Deep within the shadows of the bar, the debris from the table Superman destroyed began to move. Ever so slightly at first like singular raindrops on a window pane, splinters of wood slowly emerged and morphed together as they took shape. And like the raindrops, the more they united the quicker the steady flow of movement was. Soon the lone figure of a women stood in place of what was once a smashed up table. She smiled knowingly. With knowledge came power and with power came fame. The only dilemma Random Object Lady had right then was deciding with who the profits lay. She smiled as she slipped unnoticed out of the back door of the bar. Her mind lost in the possibilities of celebrity status.
#### Will our Superheroes really attempt to break out their nemeses?####
####Will Wolverine fall for their trap?####
####Will Robin and Flame’s romance crumble in ashes?####
####Will Alfred pop the question####
####What devious exploits has Random Object Lady got in mind?####
##### For all these answers and much, much more join us next time here on
—- Silly Bit of Comic Book Hero… Den-den DEN!!!!—–
Eight second rule.
One second for a glimpse.
Two seconds for a peek.
Three seconds for a glance.
Four seconds for a look.
Five seconds for a gawk.
Six seconds for a stare.
Seven seconds for an ogle.
Eight seconds for a leer.
Silly bit of Comic Book Hero. Part 1
Peter Parker took refuge within the shadows of a begrimed bar. Frequented by hopeless cases, wrecked dreamers and begrudging winos, he merged seamlessly with the other clientele as he waited. His mobile vibrated. The tremor revived him from thoughts of past adventures. Choosing to ignore the silent beckoning device, Peter searched the length of the bar from his seat near the rear. Finally, a familiar colleague picked his way through the semi-mobile patrons; brushing against one whose mouth overhung his drink like a cobra ready to devour an innocent.
‘Oh, hi Spiderma…I mean…’ he nervously scanned the bar, ‘Hello Peter.’
‘Don’t make it so obvious Clark. You’re as subtly as one of Doctor Doom’s henchmen.’
‘Ok, ok jeez, sorry Peter.’ Superman slid into the booth facing Spiderman. ‘It was out of habit, ok.’
‘I thought you’d be use to it by now. How long have you been lounging at home anyway?’ Spiderman asked sarcastically.
‘I don’t lounge about. It’s just heavy object, which potentially threaten the lives of hundreds of innocent people, don’t fall out of the sky as often as they use to do. Anyway, you’re one to talk. I thought you were supposed to be dead.’
‘Shush,’ Spiderman snapped. ‘Listen man, keep it down, will yah! I’m not getting into the ins and outs of my demise just now, ok. Let us just say for the mean time, it is best for all concerned to believe I am dead. Well, at least for now. Besides, ever since Captain Miscellaneous showed up things have slowed down all round.’
‘That’s why we’re meeting here. It’s best we wait for Batm…I mean for Bruce to arrive. After all, he called the meeting. Where is he anyway?’
Spiderman smirked, ‘Some gala or another. He’s probably donating a new hospital wing or something. Honestly man, he’s such a bighead at times. Always flaunting his cash about the place. He actually believes money makes him superior. Even if it does, it doesn’t give him the right always to be late.’
‘It can be frustrating at times, Sp— Peter. He’s always had that haughty arrogance about him, even as a child. But he’s one of us Peter. A good guy. And we have to stick together especially in times like these.’
Spiderman shrugged in agreement as his mobile vibrated again. Instinctively, he wiped it out and scanned the message. Grunting, he returned the device without replying.
Superman waited until he was finished, and then spoke, ‘Before he gets here, don’t you think it would be best to change?’
Spiderman muffled a curse. ‘Shhhh…Old habits er. It was the only way to get out of the house without Penny accusing me of seeing someone else.’
‘How is Penny? I haven’t seen her in nearly a year.’
‘Let’s just say that since we got married, Penny has gained several pounds. But the worst of it is her nagging. She nags when I’m at home and she nags because I am at home. There’s no pleasing her anymore.’
‘Sorry things aren’t going so well,’ Superman said with concern.
‘No, they are. We still love each other to bits, but only lately it has become obvious that we both need a certain amount of space. A little room to breathe. We’ll be ok. I guess I better change. I’ll be back in a second.’
As Spiderman hurried out of the bar, Superman caught the eye of a passing waitress. ‘Two beers please.’
Unfazed by the departing superhero, she headed slowly towards the serving hatch. Superman watched as her foot began tapping in tune to an old Beastie Boyz number playing in the background.
Superman found himself doing likewise: tapping in time on the side of his leg with his hand. Getting slightly carried away, he moved his drumming fingers from leg to the table just as the chorus kicked in.
[ KERRANG ] the table instantly smashed to smithereens. Blushing with embarrassment, he quickly checked the other drinkers in the establishment. Thankfully nobody noticed. Seizing the opportunity, he blew the splinters across the room into a darkened, unoccupied, corner. With super speed he grabbed an empty table resting against the adjacent wall and replaced the broken one just as the waitress turned from the bar counter with his order in hand.
He had only paid her when Spiderman returned in civilian clothing and plopped back down in his chair. ‘Are you wearing your costume under that?’ he asked while reaching for a beer.
Clark nodded, ‘I always do.’
‘Well, a piece of advice for you. If you’re changing don’t do so behind the bins out back. Somebody threw up all over the place. I nearly stepped in it.’
‘You know I use phone boxes.’
‘Yeh, good luck finding one around here. Since mobiles they’re nearly obsolete.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Superman took a gulp from his bottle.
‘There’s an empty trailer across the street. Behind that’s the best place… Oh-o, will you look at him. Where does he think he is?’
Superman followed Spiderman’s gaze. ‘Shush, he’ll hear you.’
Batman spotted them and made his way through the bar.
‘Relax Clark, he doesn’t have your ears. What is up with the tuxedo? He walks like someone shoved a broom handle up his–’
Superman gave him a gentle kick under the table. [ShaaaDing]
‘Ow! What the…Oh, Hi Bruce. So good of you to join us. Impeccable timekeeping as always ’
Batman took a seat and glanced about the bar with a grimace. ‘We could have met up in mine instead of this dump. I take it you chose the location Peter.’
‘Anywhere is better than spending another night listening to you fawning over your extravagant possessions. What’s your latest passion: seventeenth-century chambermaid chastity-belts?’
‘I wouldn’t speak ill of the dead, Peter. In fact I’m surprised to see you’re still alive,’ Batman countered.
‘Cut it out you two. Honestly, it’s like babysitting two kids. It’s the same every time we meet up. We are here for a reason. Lets get on with it and be done, shall we?’
‘You’re right Clark. Sorry Bruce.’
‘Yeh, me too.’ They shook hands and waited for the waitress to take a fresh order of beers and make her lazy trip back to the counter. ‘Right, I may as well begin.’ Batman shunted his chair closer to the two superheroes and lowered his voice. ‘The reason I called you here is for a serious matter. It’s paramount this doesn’t leave the table unless we decide to act.’
The heaviness of his warning was understood. With a brief nod to continue, Spiderman and Superman moved closer still.
Once sure he had their full attention, Batman continued, ‘You can no longer deny it, we have become nearly obsolete since the arrival of Captain Miscellaneous.’
Superman and Spiderman’s silence confirmed their agreement.
‘Since he made nuclear reactors and biohazard transportation vehicles failsafe against even the most diverse chances of destruction, the opportunity for contamination has diminished drastically. This, as you know, has led to a steep decline in mutations. Even venom from the rarest of animals has come under such scrutiny that the very notion of the phenomena intermingling with the physical and mental capabilities of “normal” citizens is minute. Our likes are close to extinction.’
Spiderman gritted his teeth as his phone vibrated yet again. Choosing to ignore it he turned to Batman. ‘I agree with you Bruce, but let me be honest; you and the likes of Ironman have not been mutated.’ Then facing Superman, ‘Clark, sorry about this, but your from another planet, so why are you so concerned?’ Spiderman asked.
‘I’m getting there, Peter. I and Ironman and those like us turned to crime fighting to prevent crime, not just to look cool in our costumes.’ He smiled, ‘Lets face it, I definitely look cool.’ It was an old boast that kept rearing its ugly head ever since he was voted Sexist Superhero of the Year 1971. ‘However, we are not the only ones affected. There are no new nemeses or arch-nemeses worthy or our powers.’
Superman looked thoughtful. ‘Is the plural nemesis or nemesessss or nemesi?’
‘Nemeses, spelled “ES” not is “IS” the plural.’ Batman assured him.
‘Are you sure?’
A nod was the reply.
‘There’s no denying what you say is true, Bruce. And for the most part his sidekick, Diplomacy Girl, has changed the views of most of the nemes-es we caught. So What should we do about it?’
An awkward silence fell over the three.
It was Spiderman who broke the deadlock. ‘We all know what needs to be done, but we are all too afraid to say it.’
‘What?’ Superman asked naively.
‘I’ll say it if nobody else will.’ Spiderman offered.
‘What? Say what?’ Superman asked growing impatient.
‘In order to survive as we have grown accustom to we need to breakout our nemeses’ Batman finally admitted. ‘Clark? Clark, are you listening?’
Superman’s head was cocked to one side. Forty-three miles away a series of distressing screams ripped through the night. Without a word, Superman took off in a blur.
Batman frowned. Spiderman raised his eyes skyward. ‘Well, what did you expect?’
##### What heinous crime is unfolding forty-three miles away?######
##### Will Superman arrive on time to rescue the victim? ######
##### Is Batman really suggesting a prison break? ######
###### Will Spiderman ever answer his phone? ######
##### For all these answers and much, much more join us next time here on
—- Silly Bit of Comic Book Hero… Den-den DEN!!!!—–
Silly bit of terror
Housed deep within the bowels of the Mancroft institution, secreted away from all but an elite few, was the psychiatric ward. Deeper still, concealed behind a four-inch thick steel door, guarded twenty-four hours a day by two of the most experienced wardens money could buy, was a corridor.
The walls of the corridor were of a slate grey colour. They conveyed a tunnel like hue under the soft lighting system which guaranteed shadows were non-existent. An electric buzz continually emitted from the high-tech security cameras set in place to ensure every movement from the only patient confined in the unit was monitored at all times. Security was the only aspect of the Mancroft Institution that did not come under the constant scrutiny of the accounts department.
Doctor Hamstead led Professor Ann Winterowly along the painted yellow line. Protocol was of the utmost importance. This was the pinnacle of the grand tour. He wanted to see what kind of woman the new head of the psychiatric unit was. So far she had not flinched and maintained her professional rigidness throughout. This, for him, was the ultimate test. Standing to one side, he gently reminded her not to cross the red line which ran parallel to the entrance of the only chamber within.
Winterowly needed no reminding. Early on in her career she had witnessed first hand the outcome of those lax in their work. She had lost two close colleagues one day for failing to follow procedure, and she herself gained a nice jagged scar along her left upper arm as she attempted to free them from the clutches of a frenzied patient thought no longer a threat.
On reaching the appointed position, she took a deep breath readying herself for the notorious patient imprisoned within. Facing the door which mirrored the one she had just entered, she nodded to Doctor Hamstead who in turn nodded to one of the near invisible cameras.
A warning siren pulsed like a heartbeat as a segment of metal slid to one side. The observation window was two-inch thick bulletproof, bombproof and shatterproof glass. At first Professor Winterowly could see nothing inside the stark chamber. A moment of fear washed over her as she thought he had escaped. For most of her adult life she had waited for this moment. A slight gasp escaped her. She did not know if it was from fear of him escaping and all the consequences that would follow, or from disappointment at having worked so hard for this moment only to be deprived at the last fence.
‘Look to your left, Professor.’ Dr. Hamstead indicated with a nod.
Sure enough, bound in medieval looking manacles and tethered from the ceiling by titanium chains was the suspended figure of Hula-hoop. She couldn’t help it, but as soon as she attempted to take a step forward, Dr. Hamstead’s clutched her shoulder, restraining her movements. ‘Back Professor!’ he warned, ‘that’s one vicious circle.’
The dodge and weave
The sidestep and double shuffle
Outer clothes brush and flap a ruffle
Ever so slightly.
“Cant be late.”
Carving through the crowd:
Pedestrian verses pedestrians
The slow drooling cumbersome ones who stop
And ponder over their wonderings.
“Get out of my way. Have you nothing better to do?”
Shifting from heel to toe as the instinctive jolt and pivot demands. “idiot,”
I call to one who shunts left suddenly.
One that represents all of them to me.
Frustration becomes the harbinger of anger.
I am unable to tell if I am annoyed with the awkward people impeding my travels,
or at myself
for hurrying to be on time so I may wait for one known for his lateness.
Back by unpopular demand.
Luanna was attractive. She had that eastern European attractiveness which until recently was only seen in spy movies, but she wasn’t from eastern Europe. She had a very pretty face: blemish free, high cheekbones, pouting lips and the clearest blue eyes Craine had ever seen. Her accent was very cute too, that was, when she spoke English. When she spoke in her native tongue; however, Craine got the sneaky suspicion she was a bit of a bitch.
Her phone was her constant companion. Apart from showering and making love, it was always there. The rare occasions when she left it on a table or the arm of a chair, her eyes flickered towards it with anticipation. One time Craine gave her in two plates of toasted cheese and tuna sandwiches (her favourite). When Luanna began to tuck into the second plate he stopped her. ‘That’s for the phone,’ he said jokingly. She didn’t even smile.
Her phone, in truth, was his arch nemeses. Perhaps it derived from the fact he spent all of his working hours answering calls. When he returned home to his flat all he wanted was an evening of hush. But such a notion was not within Luanna’s reasoning. The never-ending beeping, ringing, calling, texting, scrolling and downloading niggled away at his core. But he had to admit she was a skilled artist in its usage. She swished her fingertips across its screen demoniacal quick and stabbed the keypad with razor sharp nails which warned him never to interrupt.
Craine’s ignorance of her country was exactly that. He totally lacked any knowledge about the place that gave birth to her. Although he asked about it i.e. scenery, economic state, festivals, religion, popular music, food and all the rest, its people as a race were harder to pin down. The only other of her ex-pats he knew was her cousin. At least she said he was her cousin. His name was Del, not his real name, but an accepted form for the tongue-tied. Del was also serial phone-a-holic. He spoke in his mother tongue during every conversation, and why shouldn’t he? That was ok too, but Del sounded like most people did: normal. Craine had no problems with Del and his phone addiction. What kind of scared him, though, was how Luanna talked to other people in her own language. It was borderline threatening at times. She always seemed stern or sinister as far as he could tell. Sometimes her words snapped sharply or the more guttural comments came across as a bit creepy. He could not believe everybody from her country addressed each other in such a severe manner. Up until they met they had lived entirely different lives. And if truth be told, there was a kind of harshness or bluntness to her that he could not put his finger on. A coldness almost that presented its ugly head unexpectedly. Maybe, he thought, it was her way of protecting herself from a cruel world. Or, maybe, just maybe she was a spoiled brat who always got her own way and couldn’t handle being told “no.”
On the morning after the chair incident Craine woke up to the sound of George Michael’s greatest hits blasting out of the kitchen. The clock read six twenty in the a.m.. He fought with all of his might to yield to the last strands of sleep from under his pillow, but it was pointless. Staggering from the bedroom, he showered, dressed and entered the kitchen.
Luanna was yapping on the phone while brushing her bleach blonde Debbie Harry hairstyle when he entered. After barking out a few chocking syllables to whoever she was speaking too she hung up. Crain could feel her staring at him while he was waiting for the kettle to boil for a coffee. Turning, he found his psychokinesis ability true. Her blue eyes seemed void of warmth as she looked at him beneath neatly trimmed puppy-dog eyebrows. Slowly, her slim frame snaked across the room towards him. The wrists of her bare perfect arms rested on his shoulders. Her lips pressed gently and mostly against his in a kiss of fondness. Then she broke away leaving him open-mouthed with his eyes momentarily closed. Then, as plain as the brown linoleum floor of the kitchen, she said, “I think I won’t see you for long time.”
His puzzled expression won little by way of an explanation. He watched her perfect ass wiggle within a pair of tight nineteen eighties blue, blue jeans as she crossed the small room to retrieve her electric lime overnight bag. When she opened the door she looked back at him with a hint of pity. Her exit was calm. No door slamming. No flurry of curses as her trainers squeaked towards the elevator.
The blissful fuzziness of a hangover disabled Crain’s usual overdrive of thought and emotions. That would come later. Right then he didn’t know if he felt stunned, maddened with rage, in denial or relieved. Opening the kitchen cabinet draw he searched for a blister pack of headache tablets. Once the two bullets were digested, he waited for them to earn their keep. After washing down a third of the coffee, sober sparkles latched onto Luanna’s departure. ‘Okay, Okay, think…’ He took a deep breath.
Not always, but sometimes, Crain was glad to suffer with bouts of insomnia. The extra time awake prepared him for the possibilities of Luanna leaving. Having planned, rehearsed and figured out mock protocols in case such an event was to happen he reflected on their time together.
For seven months they had been “an item.” She had her own flat which she shared with a Polish girl and her Lithuanian lover and a middle-aged woman from Portugal. U.N.ish to say the least. She lived on the other side of the city close to where she worked as a waitress for three days of the week, as a nanny for two, and not far from a small club where she held a regular DJ slot. They met up four times weekly. She stayed most of the nights, but not always.
Craine knew the details of how they hooked up in the first place would run through his head over the following days, so he opted to overlook it right then. With a determination that surprised him he managed not to dwell on the finer points she brought to their relationship, the things he’d miss most and, more so, how he felt emotionally without her companionship.
More pressing matters troubled him. His main concern was (not from a lack of trust, but from hearing, reading and seeing so many con-jobs in the media) being fleeced. While slurping on the drags of his cold coffee, Crain turned on his mobile and rang twenty-four-hour-banking. After multiple options and digit pressing, he sighed with relief when the virtual voice recited roughly the amount he believed was in his accounts. Although he only had modest savings, they were all he had put by for a rainy day. Next, the credit card company. He hesitated before pressing number four: lost or stolen. A kind voice asked the usual questions. ‘No, I don’t remember the last time I used my card…yes, it’s normally with me all the time….No…No…as I’ve explained already my account number is on the card.’ By then he managed to find his wallet. His card, thankfully, was stuck to the back of an organ donor card. Crain thought the voice on the other end of the phone would have been delighted that he found it, but no. ‘Still she only had to get the details and I’d be fucked…no…just cancel any further transactions…No, I don’t want a replacement….How long?…Ok send me a replacement.’
Despite the voice assuring him he did do the right thing by contacting them and that he certainly was not wasting their time, he had a niggling feeling they were spluttering out such jargon to everybody. It was, after all, not too dissimilar to his profession. As the discussion continued Crain admitted to himself he definitely was untrusting. He knew why. He had known he was for a long time. Having traced the reason back to many, many years before.
About two years after his dog, Peddler, chucked down on something rancid, his folks were throwing a shindig for their friends. (see Crain part 1 regarding the death of his dog) He was condemned to his room earlier than usual with strict orders not to go moping down stairs looking for attention. With little else to do, he decided to star-gazer. It was a beautiful summer evening. The velvet sky held a hint of a chill when the sun went down, but it felt good against his face as he leaned out of his bedroom window which overlooked the back garden. By then, Peddler was all but forgotten.
The garden was converted from the mut’s yard into a super barbecue and patio lover’s dream. Reclining on the decking, his father was in his element as friends and neighbours admired his work. One such friend, who Crain could not make out other than him having a cat’s arse bald spot on the top of his wavy grey hair, was in loud discussion with his dad. ‘Beautiful, really lovely,’ the man remarked to Crain’s father. ‘It must have taken you a lot of time to do. Was it hard to convert?’ Crain could feel the goose-pimples rushing over his body at his father’s reply. ‘The hardest part was killing my son’s dog, Peddler!’ The two men burst out laughing. ‘No, but really, turning over the…’
The rest was lost to young Crain’s ears. He knew it was said as a cruel jest. Although he never mentioned it to anybody, he never quite trusted his father thereafter. It was the bond between father and child never to be breached. The holy line never to be cross. The fleeting acknowledgement shared in a passing glance or shrug which spoke of so much. Despite telling himself it was a mere joke and no truth lay behind it, a part of him often wondered.
With the memory freshly set, Craine, just to be sure, re-entered his bedroom. Over by the radiator where the cheap carpet was slightly stained by water damage, Craine rapped on the skirting board. It sounded as he had hoped. Deciding it was best not to take chances, he slid a fingernail between the wall and wooden board. A segment of the skirting tilted forward slightly. It was enough for him to see his second master-card, the one Luanna, never knew about, was still in its place.
Only then did her departure begin to grip him. ‘Damn it! She wasn’t a thief.’ Suddenly, he felt the first pangs of separation grab hold. He did not feel so up set about her leaving, but did feel down with the knowledge that if he trusted her more¸ well maybe, he’d be in tears about then.
With a sigh he left his apartment. When the door closed behind him, he paused and looked back while considering if he should have the locks changed or not.
Silly bit of it
‘Where the heck is it?’ Peter muttered. He frowned in contemplation while scratching his scalp through tufts of pepper grey hair. The quirk was a throwback to his childhood. It was an involuntary action which occurred whenever he was in the depths of concentration or nearing the brink of irritation. Marlene often teased him about it and, more often than not, gave out to him for messing his hairstyle.
‘It’s got to be here somewhere.….Urrrgh!’ Frustratingly he knew it was time to call in the cavalry.
‘Mar?’ It was his wife’s turn to cook dinner, but that could wait.
‘Mar?’ She was always pretending not to hear him; he knew what she was up too.
‘MARLENE?’ he eventually bawled down the stairs.
In the kitchen, Marlene’s grip tightened on the paring knife. She closed her eyes, ground her teeth, and took a deep breath before answering. ‘What?’
‘Have you found it yet?’
Peter had been tearing up the house for the best part of the morning searching for it. In truth, she gave up looking for it hours ago, but to appease him she feigned examining draws and presses when he was within visual range only to return to whatever it was she was doing the moment he left. She knew it was perfectly acceptable to have the person you loved annoy the hell out of you from time to time. Peter did exactly that on the odd occasion like that morning, or whenever things did not go according to his plan, or whenever his team lost a game, or whenever he came down with a dose of sniffles. But she loved him all the same and made a point of annoying him in equal measures.
Placing the paring knife on the chopping board, Marlene picked up a semi-naked carrot and mimicked strangulation. Since that morning Peter seemed to be making an extra effort to annoy her. Marlene was fed up and decided, as was her right, to frustrate him even more. ‘Have you tried the sock draw?’
‘How about the shelf in the box-room?’
‘The storage cartons under the stairs?’
‘Yes!’ he snapped.
‘The garden shed?’
‘What would it be doing in the garden shed?’
‘I don’t know. I’m just asking.’ Marlene strained to keep the humour from her voice.
‘No! I have not tried the garden shed. I never bring it near the garden shed.’
‘What about the bathroom cabinet, have you tried there?’
‘The old tea-chest?’
‘Have you tried under the bed?’
‘Of course. What do you think I’ve been doing?’
‘I don’t know… Did you try the airing cupboard?’
‘Are you joking? Do you think I’m some kind of idiot to keep it in the airing-cupboard?’
Now that she had her fun, Marlene picked up the knife and finished undressing the skin from the poor carrot. ‘No, Peter. I don’t think you’re an idiot…a pain in the ass, yes!’ She added.
‘I heard that.’ Peter barked down the stairs.
‘You were meant too.’ Marlene smiled as a sense of victory washed over her.
Upstairs, Peter shook his head before returning to the task at hand. Bloody airing cupboard. Think, think… he thought as his scalp was well and truly raw by scratching.
‘Hey Peter, what do you want it for anyway?’
‘What?… What do I want it for?’ he wondered. The reason for needing it had long since been outstripped by the principle of finding it. She would skin him alive if he couldn’t remember. ‘Ahh, just for something, okay. Just let me look for it first and I’ll tell you then.’ He hoped it was a good enough response until he remembered his initial plan. Once he found it, he knew its purpose would accompany its discovery. Peter, however, had another problem: there was nowhere else left to search except the airing cupboard. Relenting, he took off his shoes and tiptoed across the landing. He would be damned if he was going to give Marlene the satisfaction.
As Marlene scraped the vegetable peelings into a brown compost bucket a satisfied grin spread across her face. She was positive she heard him tiptoeing about, and if she knew their house as well as she figured there was only one place he was heading. ‘I thought it wouldn’t be in the airing cupboard,’ she called up.
Damn! ‘I’m not looking for it there,’ he shouted back hoping she believed his lie.
Marlene wrung her hands on a towel and snuck up the stairs. ‘Gottcha!’ she yelled.
Peter was rummaging through some linen when she startled him. Panting, half from the fright and half from embarrassment, he dropped the linen to the floor. ‘Mar, you can’t be sneaking up on me like that. Not with my blood pressure.”
His expression of panic only made her laugh louder. But all joviality waned as she reached the bedroom. ‘Look at the state of this!’ she exclaimed while threading carefully over the contents of several upturned draws. Clothing, papers, and an assortment of keepsakes and tokens of their individual and shared life together were strewn about the carpeted floor and bed. Marlene shifted some clothing and long forgotten bank statements to one side of the bed and sat down. The mattress’ protest went unnoticed as she rested herself. ‘I’ll tell you this! I’m not cleaning it up. Do you hear me, Peter?’
‘Stop fretting. I don’t expect you to clean up my mess. Besides…’ he entered the room and for the first time actually noticed the piles of jumbled belongings that accumulated on every flat surface m. ‘…sorry, Mar. I didn’t know it got this bad.’ His jaw slackened and his hand was once more occupied in the task of cranium scraping as he figured out where to begin tidying up. ‘Sorry,’ he groaned again apologetically.
‘Come ‘er you mug. Will you look at your hair, it’s worse than the room.’ Marlene shoved more debris to one side of the bed making room for him.
Resigned to the faith all was lost, Peter conceded with a tut. He dropped his hand from his scalp knowing she was probably right about his receding strands. He gave her hand a gently squeeze and sat beside her.
‘What’s so important about it anyway?’
‘Nothing…nothing, and that’s what’s annoying me. I’m searching out of principle of finding the blasted thing.’ Their eyes locked in a gladiatorial moment of battle. Then the struggle to keep up such a serious demeanour over something so trivial was useless. They both began to laugh. It was short-lived as Peter’s eyes swept the room again.
Marlene knew it was futile to stop him. Conceding she asked, ‘When did you last see it?’
‘Just before I put it away,’ he said smugly, gaining a little bit of heart with the reply.
‘Funny.’ Marlene threw a meaty arm around his narrow shoulders. He leaned into the warm embrace, heaving an exaggerated breath.
After a moment of silence Marlene spoke, ‘You know, if you do find it you should throw it out. It’s an ugly piece of junk.’
‘Nonsense! It’s been in my family for years. It’s practically an heirloom.’
‘It’s a piece of crap. If you listened to me a month ago you could’ve had five of them for the price of two. But no. You’re like one of those hoarders at times, I swear.’
‘I wouldn’t expect you to understand, It’s a man’s thing,’ Peter added the footnote with a sneer.
Marlene took her arm off his shoulder and turned to face him. Her eyes narrowed. It was the usual quite before the storm. Peter waited for the onslaught.
‘Oh! No, no, no, no. No, Peter. You’re not turning this argument in to a sexist quarrel. I’m on to you, mister,’ she waggled an index finger inches from his face. ‘Every time you run out of answers you always play this card. Well, I’m not fallen for it.’
Peter grinned widely. ‘Nearly had you.’
‘No,’ her anger subsided. Then, tilting her head slightly, she looked into his eyes, ‘you have got me.’ She nodded to the bed.
‘Now, Marlene, don’t be giving me that look. I know that look.’
‘So you should. You’ve got the same one. Come ‘er and kiss me.’
As they kissed they simultaneously collapsed back onto the bed. Suddenly, a scream of agony erupted from Marlene as a spasm of fiery pain shot into her lower back.
Coming to her aid, Peter jumped off her and rolled her onto her side. Her hand rubbed the tender spot of her back. ‘Ooooch, what the F was that?’
‘Don’t move,’ Peter advised tenderly. He gently leaned over her. ‘Oh, Marlene. You little Dixie. You found it.’
There on the bed, concealed beneath doctor bills, sports socks and a sweater she thought she lost, was Peter’s treasure. Giddy with joy, he snatched it up off the bed and raced down the stairs leaving Marlene crumbled in two on the bed. ‘Oh, to hell with it!’ she cursed.
She tried to sell it to him as a big adventure, hoping his eight-year old imagination would thrive on such a thing. But Mathew was a bright child and did not buy it for one minute. On the platform with hundreds of other children frantically making their farewells, he looked up at her. His eyes were red from the earliness of the hour, but more so from tears.
‘I don’t want to go, Mam,’ he pleaded while trying to conceal the tremor in his voice. After all, he was acting as the man-of-the-house.
She gulped back the rising despair. Promising herself she would not allow him to see her tears. He could not know how hard this was for her.
‘I know, love,’ she assured him and hunkered down to match his eye level. Clutching his outer upper arms in her hands, she deliberated how to make him understand. “My poor child. How can I tell him the truth?” Biting her tongue in an attempt to drive away the overwhelming urge to cry, she found herself lying. ‘It won’t be for long, you’ll see. I need you to be brave for mammy. Wont you? Won’t you be brave for mammy?’
She engulfed him in an embrace as the pain of the imminent separation erupted. A single tear escaped. She could feel it burrow into her skin matching the wounds etched in her heart. Anything but this, she thought, Almost, anything but this. She knew, however, it had to be.
Mathew gripped onto her light woollen overcoat. His little sobs vibrated with the flow and ebb of his tiny chest against hers. She waited until the worst of his crying dwindling away. Quickly, she wiped away her own tear with a gloved hand, thankful he didn’t notice.
Pulling back from the embrace, she looked long and hard at him attempting to absorb every detail of his beautiful cherub face. His fluffy brown hair, unkempt and mouse-like; his button nose sprinkled with minute freckles, his cold flushed cheeks, pert lips and the makings of a strong chin, all these things resonated from his father’s features.
She drank in every part of him from his scuffed shoes, off-white stockings, bruised kneecaps, khaki shorts and dark navy woollen coat. Although it was there, she tried not to look at the green rectangle box slung over his holder with a piece of rope. Every child carried one and most of the adults too: a gasmasks. She did not want to picture him with anything associated with the war, but war was everywhere. It was the reason she had to send him away. Stolen innocence was among the thousand other things the war thieved.
She did not want him to leave, but knew it was probably for the best. So far their street was lucky, but the adjoining ones were not. Pickers’ road, Andrews Lane, the Avenue and Murfruit Street were nothing but rubble now. The shells that fell left little other than ruined shells of buildings and desperate shells of lives.
At least this way he had the chance to escape the worst of it. She had to believe. Believing was all she could do to keep her sanity. ‘God, you better bless him and keep him safe, you hear!’ she warned the Almighty when she finally made up her mind. Mathew would leave for some strange family to care for him in the country two hundred miles away. ‘And they better be a good family. I’m warning you.’
Matthew’s little tattered suitcase caught her attention. The brown fake leather was worn in most places showing the cheap cardboard which lay underneath. She listed everything within and felt guilty at the poor contents. Three pairs of socks, two shorts and underclothes, two clean shirts, and a cardigan she knitted in the shelters during the night raids. It helped keep her mind off the hell exploding above ground. Yes, a silly cardigan. She knitted it with more love than he would ever know.
Seeing Mathew’s little possessions, his treasures, crammed into the corners of the suitcase brought a pang all or its own. The tiny childish things were his world: comic books, string and conkers, his favourite toy car and tin soldiers and a penknife his grandfather gave him. She knew about the small transmitter radio that he made himself. Bless him, she allowed him to believe he had hidden it from her. She loved his innocent rogishness.
What the family would think on seeing such meagre things, she could only guess. The letter she received from the Willoughbys described how they were an elderly couple who never had children of their own. They promised to look after him as if he was their own son. (Stressing) until peace returned once more. They had chickens, rabbits, two cats and a lazy dog that could do with a youthful companion to help keep his weight down. They seemed nice, but there always lurked the fear…
The stationmaster’s whistle blew recalling her from the darkest of thoughts. It was time to board the train. She forced another wave of heartache away as the memory of another farewell returned. It was that of her husband setting sail to join the war effort. Mathew’s face echoed his father’s. It only made things harder for her to say goodbye.
Peter was in the Navy touring some stretch of ocean which he was not permitted to name. Times being what they were, in his letters he had to leave large chunks of detail as vague as possible, even that didn’t stop the sensors destroying his precious words. By the time the sensors were through hacking and blackening out his pages all that remained was a correspondence not a heartfelt letter.
Their delivery was a paradox. She hated and loved their seldom arrival in equal measures. Peter’s words were always upbeat. They were always positively sketching things as being not so bad. The food was always fine, but never a match to her homemade cooking. And he always wrote of his love for her and Mattie, as he called the boy. She supposed he did this in the same way she treated Matthew with news of his departure. Peter didn’t want her to worry about him just as she didn’t wan Mat to worry about her. Oh, what fools we can be.
Still, she was so, so grateful the postman did not deliver the telegram. That was one of her biggest fears. She was there when Alice Waynor received hers. Her dear friend did not have to look at it to know its contents. Jerry, her husband, was killed in action. The rest of the details about his valour and patriotism meant nothing. Alice broke down in the doorway like so many others. They came to hate the mailman. The poor sod was only doing what the government were too scared to do. She never knew of a politician knocking on anybody’s door to inform them their loved ones had been killed, taken prisoner or worse: missing in action. At least there was a definite to the first two, but only worrying desperation to the latter.
The whistle blew one last time. It was time. Clutching him as close as she could, she could not help tears streaming down her cheeks in rivulets.
How can I let him go? How can I? but she knew she must.