Bold and Underlined

First, I fell for the heavens and then the deep blue sea. I came to rest in a rain gully that ran the length of the street. My stomach was damp and cold, my hands were grazed and electric. Somewhere there was laughter like a bell.

Where are my friends? My dear, dear friends? Who amongst you will grant me safe passage?

I found my feet, took two long balletic strides and fell again.

I must be on hill of some kind. But where?

Hateful, harsh voices documented my folly.

I must hide. I’m too delicate for this savagery.

A sob was growing in my chest. I sang instead.

“Oh Mama! Can this really be the end? To be stuck inside the Ring Road with the tumbledown blues again!”

I beat a palsy retreat.

Let the darkness find me. Chart my course. Tack away from light and sound, until there is one…

My body danced with inertia.

Let it find some peaceful place for me.

For every five steps I took, my toes found the tarmac thrice. Slowly the sound, the light, the fury and the fight slipped away, another world was willing me into its arms.

When I woke there was pooled-blood pain in my knee and a stretched smile on my lips. I sat bolt upright and found myself on the deck of a canal boat. My wallet was in my right hand.

Have I bought the bugger? No, nonsense. No such arrangements could be made with a man of such frightful dispositions.

Still, as if to distance myself from this hypothetical buyers remorse, I disembarked and climbed the wet stone steps which lead to the street.

How had all of this gotten started? A train, a kindly God-fearing creep and a copy of C.S Lewis’ radio lectures on morality. That ‘orrible bastard had seen me coming. He’d probably been carrying that book around for weeks waiting for a derelict like me to slip, trip and fall arse-over-tit into his lap.

“Religion is the opiate of the masses, old man! Do I look like the masses to you? It takes stronger stuff than that to lay me down!”

No, before the train. The interview…

It hadn’t gone well. They hadn’t bought into my bulllshit. Nobody ever did. When I realised the jig was up, I babbled about Wittgenstein, Gaullist myth and the Ethereum blockchain for what felt like hours, words turning to porridge in my mouth, tumbling into my lap. I was still staring at the porridge in my lap when one of them said,

“O-kay, thanks for coming in, we’ll let you know in a day or two.”

I carried their pity with me like guilt until I hit the bar at Dirty Dick’s. I hit the bar at Dirty Dick’s like a water balloon hits a freight train. It went straight through me and I was carried a hundred miles east in its slip stream.

I flipped the sermonising C.S into the first receptacle I passed leaving Norwich station. I pictured it spinning all the way through to Narnia and hitting Aslan the Lion square between the eyes…

Enough! Sweet Christ, ya basta!

Down by the canal in the half light, dusk or dawn, dawn or dusk, a head full of C.S Fucking Lewis. I decided to walk down the hill, less resistance. The sun was rising and I heard the coarse rattle of shutters being lifted.

I asked a shopkeeper if he would sell me wine. No one was around so he let it slide. I took my bottle of red into the street and felt the day creep up on me. I owed the boys in Nottingham three thousand words on, The Tangle: The Hottest New Shit In Imaginary Money. What was the world coming to? Had we filled our lives with such rot and filth that we willingly embraced nothingness?

TRUSTLESS FUNGIBLE NOTHINGNESS

No matter, I had a plan. Home to bed for three and a half hours, shower, breakfast, papers, sit down at the computer and…bleed.

As it turns out, I slept for twelve hours, kicked my phone into the garden, watched the sun disappear over the wash and considered joining the Kurds in their quest for autonomy.

I wrote this last part down with the word quest in bold and underlined. It looked something like this;

QUEST

 

 

 

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Vonnegut Made Me Do It

Bafetimbi Gomis is such a great name that I thought I’d write a story about him. Not a whole story, just enough of a story to pass an ad break or two. He’s not even getting his own story but being dropped into another. The story he’s being dropped into began with the infamous hijacker, D.B. Cooper, boarding a plane, ordering a drink and it goes on like that…

That part of the story is here somewhere under the name Little D.B. Needs to Fly. Bafetimbi is flying the Boeing 727 that has just taken off from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. D.B. Cooper is the only passenger left onboard and he’s just become 200 grand wealthier. Bafetimbi knows this as he arranged for D.B’s conditions to be met. The money has been handed over, along with parachutes, meals for the crew and it goes on like that…

Both men have been remarkably calm throughout the experience. D.B. Cooper is remarkably calm for a man who has just hijacked a plane and extorted the United States government out of 200 grand. Bafetimbi Gomis is remarkably calm for a professional football player who has never flown a plane before. By the standards of professional football, Bafetimbi’s career has gone well but not great. He’s played for Saint-Etienne, Swansea, Galatasaray and it goes on like that…

Bafetimbi suffers from suspected Vasovagal response. This means he faints at times of stress. His co-pilot, William Rataczak, knows about his condition but hasn’t had the chance to raise his concerns with the bosses at Northwest Orient Airlines. Rataczak hasn’t been able to catch a break all day. He started the day by pissing on his socks, then tripped over the dog leaving the house. Now the plane he’s co-piloting with a French footballer has been hijacked and it goes on like that…

Where will it end? Somewhere over Nevada, D.B. Cooper asks the crew to join Gomis and Rataczak in the cockpit. He requests that they stay there. Cooper begins lowering the aft stairwell. Rataczak notes the change of cabin pressure indicated by a dial on the control panel. Gomis nods in recognition even though he has no idea what Rataczak is talking about. All the while, D.B. Cooper is getting ready to leave; he puts on a parachute, takes off his clip-on tie and it goes on like that…

Gomis and Rataczak land the plane in Reno, the ordeal ends. Bafetimbi Gomis cries openly now, clasping William Rataczak to his chest. Rataczak doesn’t cry, he just wants to raise his concerns about Bafetimbi Gomis to the bosses at Northwest Orient Airlines. After Gomis has let go, Rataczak is first debriefed by law enforcement and then by the aviation authority. William Rataczak then finds a Northwest Orient union rep, requests Grievance Form 4J and it goes on like that…

D.B. Cooper remains on the aft stairwell somewhere above Nevada. A ferocious current claws at his legs, chest and face. D.B. Cooper has eternity to stare into the deep void beneath him as paper bank notes are sucked away, one at a time. He neither jumps nor falls nor lives nor dies. D.B. Cooper is descending the aft stairwell, descending the aft stairwell and it goes on like that…

Sisyphus Shrugged

“So you don’t really know, do you?”

“No, like I said I can get someone to come and help you? This isn’t my area.”

“Nah, you’re alright mate I’ll take my money elsewhere.”

The customer left, Jay sighed, folded up a cardboard box and steeled himself for the next interaction which came almost immediately.

“Question, is this alright to use without having the Dremel sprocket pack?”

The man was holding up a small metal coil with a rubber catch running it’s length.

“I have no idea, what’s it for?

“Plumbing, your plumber about?”

“Plumber?”

“Yeah, where’s your plumber?”

“This shop doesn’t employ a plumber. I can go and…”

“Why not?”

“Err, plumbers don’t generally work for minimum wage. I’ll go and get Graham, he’s a bit of a whizz with plumbing, one moment.”

He passed down the aisle, eyes peeled for Graham.

“I need six of these but there’s only five on the shelf… Oi! I’m talking to you!”

Jay spun to meet the hateful gaze of a middle aged woman.

“I need six of these…”

“I’m just with another…”

“Forget it, I’ll get someone else.”

Seeing no down side to that, he carried on towards the timber saw.

“Graham! Do you mind helping a bloke down 26, I think he’s a trader.”

“If he’s a trader he shouldn’t need any help.”

“Cheers, Graham.”

Jay went back to the warehouse and loaded up a pallet of tiles and took it out onto the shop floor.

“You got a toilet?”

The woman was half his size and appeared from directly under his chin.

“No, they don’t sorry.”

The pallet had run into the back of his legs.

“You used to!”

“They closed the public toilet, I believe it was vandalised or something.”

He allowed an apologetic smile to limp across his face.

“Fucking ridiculous…”

She left, but not towards the exit.

The tiles he was stacking weighed 23kg a box and there were 27 boxes. It worked out at seven quid a tonne, minus interruptions.

This is a colleague announcement. Can I have a code 2000 at the checkouts for compost please?  

What an offer! Jay idled down to the checkouts and found a shrunken old man standing patiently by a flatbed trolley loaded high with bags of compost, slick with rain.

“This gentlemen just needs a hand to his car.”

Gerry was a pleasant woman with a strong face who seemed practically unflappable.

“No worries, lead on mate.”

He took the handle of the trolley and followed the old man into the car park.

“Getting a bit old to carry these.”

“Take it easy then, I don’t mind lending a hand.”

The old man smiled lamely and pointed his keys at a little lime green Fiat Punto.

“I’m not sure they’re all going to fit.”

They did, as Jay walked away the old man tried to give him a handful of change, a tip. Jay refused it politely, it was an unnecessary gesture which shed a harsh light on the exchange. He felt conscious of his uniform as he walked back into the store.

Check out our new collection of wall tiles available in grey, beige and greige! Ask a colleague for more details!

Surely the word colleague is being used incorrectly here, Jay thought. I’m your colleague, we are each other’s colleagues but I’m not ‘a colleague’ in abstract isolation, devoid of relation. As for ‘greige’, that bollocks doesn’t warrant further consideration.

As he approached the plinth he saw his boss Damian waving him over, a determined scowl on his ruddy face.

“What d’ya need Boss?”

“I wanna do a swap with you.”

“Right?”

“I’ll take over from you and you get down 15 and face-up the Mocha Illusion tiles.”

Jay pondered this nonexistent trade as he gathered a hand pump truck from the yard and headed to 15. The Mocha Illusion bay was in a bit of a state, half the boxes had fallen down the back of the display, some were open and others broken.

He felt a familiar ache in his back as he rearranged the boxes. He had suggested that the heaviest tiles be kept in the warehouse as customers couldn’t lift them without making a mess but hadn’t got a reply.

Code 90 at checkouts, code 90 at checkouts!

The announcement was joined by the bleating of the barrier alarms, shoplifters evidently. Jay didn’t even look up, the whole thing was a farce. The company line was to ask the shoplifter to return to the store and if they didn’t then note down their route of escape, he wasn’t even sure if they called the police or just logged it in some file.

Jay actually pitied the shifty, nervous characters who made such an obvious show of concealing goods. When they met his eye he just smiled and walked on, he probably threw away more stuff in a day than anyone ever stole.

When Jay’s shift ended at four, he made a beeline for the locker room, removing his badge and jacket to discourage any further customer enquiries. His high would last until he got to the bus stop.

“Why didn’t you come when I put out the Code 90? You were only down 15, I saw you.”

Ashleigh was about eighteen and the hurt on her face made Jay smile with almost paternal bemusement.

“I had to protect the Mocha Illusions, I wasn’t sure if they were coming back!”

He laughed and she frowned then let out a short impatient gasp.

“What happened to all the real men?”

Jay stopped and gestured wildly at a huge poster on the wall depicting a group of ‘colleagues’ grinning wide-eyed, holding shovels, paint rollers and drills. He’d stopped smiling.

“Hadn’t you noticed? We’re all children now!”

When he got outside it was bright, crisp and cold, a few snowflakes had begun falling. He put his headphones in his ears, left the store behind and felt a brief surge of divinity.

 

Little D.B Needs to Fly! (Part 1)

D.B Cooper ordered a Bourbon and soda and lit a cigarette. When the stewardess returned with the drink he handed her a piece of paper. Florence was slightly disappointed, it had been a long day and she wasn’t in the mood. Besides, he seemed pleasant. He was smartly dressed and polite, but now he had become over familiar, just another bum wanting a shot at her. She flashed him a practiced maternal smile, folded the note into her pocket and turned to leave.

“Err, Miss?”

Cooper said, in a concerned manner, as if to save the stewardess from some unfortunate faux pas.

“You might want to read that now.”

His insistence was a touch embarrassing but Florence found Cooper’s soft, almost pleading drawl quietly disarming so she took out the note and read it.

I HAVE A BOMB. I WILL USE IT, IF NECESSARY. PLEASE SIT WITH ME.

The shock was such that she complied automatically even smiling to other passengers as she sat down. Cooper leaned forward and produced a neat attache case, opening it slightly to show her its contents. Eight matt red cylinders bound together with electrical tape, several coils of blue wire and what looked like a bastardised battery. Instinctively she turned her shoulders to shield the case from prying eyes.

Cooper closed the case and her attention snapped back to his face which was as calm and patient as her first grade teacher’s. Florence saw her reflection, small and startled, in the dark brown of his eyes, realising then how close he was to her as he spoke.

“I need you to write down what I tell you and take it to the cockpit. Is that okay?”

Florence nodded, relieved that she could soon share her burden with the pilots. She took out her order pad and steadied her shaking hand.

“Get this down, ‘I have a bomb. You are to land in Seattle and refuel. In exchange for 200,000 in negotiable American currency and four non-military sky-diver’s parachutes, all passengers will be allowed to leave. We will then take off and I will give you further instructions as to where to go.’ Okay?”

“Sure, got it.”

“Okay, go.”

Florence left for the cockpit, Cooper sipped his drink and put on a pair of shades as the sun dipped towards the horizon. He wondered idly what Martha might be up to and whether or not she ever thought of him.  As of that moment it occurred to Cooper that it truly didn’t matter, nothing did, the world was irrevocably altered, it had tilted off it’s axis and had taken on a decidedly darker tint…

Guppy Love

Black-Guppy
Approximately Smokey Joe

The coffee table was a crate someone found in the bin yard, it went well with the ancient sofa and the dead Christmas tree that was slumped in the corner. I was shaking a nightmare off as I tried the locked toilet door before lurching into the living room with a full warm bladder.

“Who’s in the bog and why is there a fish on the table?” I called out.

“I’m having a shit but I don’t know about a fish” Tom called back.

“Fuck’s sake, I’m gonna go in the sink then”

“No you are not Dove!” cried Pfeiffer, muffled by his bedroom wall.

“Pfeiffer? Did you buy a fish?”

Pfeiffer was rearranging himself in his jogging bottoms as he came to investigate.

“What are you talking about?”

“This fish right here, complete with bowl and water and so on, sitting pretty on our coffee crate!”

The toilet flushed and Tom shambled out in his dressing gown, the smell following him from the can only added to the immediacy of the situation. He ruminated for a moment.

“Ohh yeah, Sora told some Irish girl down the pub last night that we’d look after her fish while she was away. That must be it.”

“No shit, what girl? Isn’t Sora in the Bahamas?”

“She left this morning. Do we even know any Irish girls?” Pfeiffer added.

“What does that matter? And yes we do know at least two Irish girls, the fit one with the insanely blue eyes and the one who looks like Meryl Streep crossed with a baby elephant. So Sora expects us to feed this thing?”

“And clean the tank, it looks filthy already.  So which was it Tom?”

“Sorry?”

“Insanely Blue Eyes or Elephant Streep?”

“Oh! Streep, Sora is not a fan of Insanely Blue Eyes”

“Well, either way this takes the piss”

“Yep”

“Yep”

The fish was a black guppy whose small glass bowl had a layer of gravel at the bottom and was filled barely half-way with sooty water. After I’d taken a piss my initial resentment waned somewhat and I began to feel a touch of paternal concern.

“Poor bastard, can’t even see where he is!”

“Not necessarily a bad thing”, replied Tom surveying the living room.

“Nonetheless, just because we live in a shit hole doesn’t mean he has to. Let’s change his water”

Pfeiffer brought through a ladle and a cereal bowl from the kitchen, which he felt would suffice for the task.

“Woah there Pfeiff, that’s not gonna work”

“Why?”

“It’s kitchen ware for a start, this thing could have dysentery or something.  Secondly, it’s my kitchen ware, use Sora’s stuff”

“Right, good point”

A real sense of achievement filled the room as the newly Christened Smokey Joe did circuits of his crisp clean home. Over the next couple of days we bought food and a few little ornaments to brighten up the tank. Joe had first the Eiffel Tower then a road sign to Truro and rather alarmingly a grinning ceramic golliwog.

“Is that a golliwog?” I enquired not entirely sure how I felt.

“Yeah, I got it in a charity shop for 50p” replied Pfeiffer triumphantly.

“I would have thought they were banned or something, kinda racist no?”

“Nah, we’re passed all that. It’s post-modern, a moral comment on the ethical vacuum that is rudderless global capitalism. Irony is bulletproof son!”

“Well as long as Joe isn’t offended, as a guppy of color, it is his line to draw”

This artifice held for all of six hours when our Spanish squatter’s very much black boyfriend came for a visit and the golliwog evaporated completely in the heat of our white middle-class guilt, its ghost probably still haunts that flat in South London.

On another night I was watching Attenborough whilst Tom and Pfeiffer played indoor cricket with a tennis ball and VHS cassettes as stumps. Pfeiffer fizzed in a yorker from the sofa, Tom lashed it over mid-off clipping a heavy mug on the coffee crate which toppled and cracked poor Joe’s tank. Water gushing forth, our unity of action was nothing shy of heroic. I necked the contents of my wine glass and caught Joe in it as Pfeiffer pulled shards of glass from his path bare-handed. Tom came running through from the kitchen with a pan of water and Joe was plopped into it. We hadn’t missed a beat.

“I told you two about that bloody game, now Joe has to suffer your folly!”

“Sorry Joe”

“Yeah, sorry mate”

Further errors of judgement would pepper Joe’s tenure with us. On several occasions Joe was suspected dead until it transpired that all three us thought it was our turn to feed him. Quiet vigils were held over the pan as our listing charge recovered his vigour. After all, he was one of us, we were all hopelessly aware of the solid boundaries of our limitations and the world of plenty that lay beyond them.

Smokey Joe’s stay was short and we didn’t see him or that pan again after he had left. Apparently we still owe some Irish girl a fish bowl.  It wasn’t long before we all slipped our moorings and drifted on disparate currents…

Sora never returned from the Bahamas.

Pfeiffer went on to coach a middling Australian ladies football team.

Tom accidentally paid somebody else’s gas bill for a year.

And me? Well, that’s a story for another day…

A Real Hero

Hersch waits a second, just in case anyone fancies teeing up the punchline but they don’t so he carries on regardless.

“I still made him mop the floor though, fucked if I was doing it myself after that fucking performance!”

A few days ago, a porter had gone a touch postal and Hersch had tackled him.  It was an incident so ripe with irony that he feels the need to acknowledge it before anyone else does.

“Shit, I wave knives around and threaten to kill myself all the time.  Where’s my parade?”

His audience laugh intermittently and disperse, Hersch decides to jot down the anecdote before retiring it for a while at least.  Alone again, a great blue ache yawns in his stomach and he remembers the girl, her eyes pregnant with tears.  Blood seems to rush to his ears as he checks his phone.

At this exact moment when a billion events are shaping the totality of human endeavour, each individual action altering the face of all things forever, the one he’s hoping for doesn’t come.  His inbox is empty save some spam about hotels in Ibiza and an unsolicited job offer.

Neat Spirit

Sentient vigour passes in fits and starts, jerking along self-consciously until it stops, shaking itself apart or receding piecemeal, rubbed by the warm embrace of time.  An irresistible inertia marshals the wheels forward, onward and onward.  Trying to slow or stop this march only jars, the ground moving beneath our feet.  Lurching nausea…

Tossing aside the notepad and picking up the battered acoustic, Dunn notes the time.  He clatters out a few loose chords, crooning…

“Forty-five minutes is all I wasted! Whilst her warm brown skin I barely tasted!”

The phone rings as it does roughly every twenty minutes on a Sunday.

“Pastry kitchen, Herschel speaking! How may I direct your call?”

“Check-on chef”

Crunch, dialling tone.  Rude bastards.  Dunn shifts his weight, feeling a sprinkle of needles down his left leg as he steadies himself, stretching arms up and laying his head back.  He feels flush, sedate and yawns loud, the electricity darting behind his eyes.

“Ennui! Ohhh sweet, sweet malady”

Passing down the empty unloved corridor the pastissier nips into the store cupboard to half-inch a bottle of Fanta, fancying it might go well with the Cointreau he liberated earlier.  On bumping through the swinging doors he breaks into Release Me (Let Me Go) as Martin George barks,

“I wanna see a receipt for that drink, Trouble!”

“Sure thing, Chef!”

Hersch allows the fans to drown him out as he salutes the boss, plucks his ticket from the printer and drifts round back to his section, an icy little burg safe from prying eyes.  The ticket’s an easy one (they all are), Dunn balls it up and hooks it into a sink full of spinach where it promptly sinks, unmourned.  After splashing around a touch of syrupy sauce and an assange of garnish Dunn calls service and retires back to the pastry.  A salvo of catcalls from his colleagues escort him out.  By the doors, he turns, bows and waves.

“Fuck you Hersch!”

“Yezz, Yezz, Yezz. You Sweet Princes… Kings of Maine!”

In the pastry Dunn helps himself to a little can of strong lager left over from the Christmas Pudding mix, cops a squat on an up turned stock pot and regards the ceiling. It’s a harsh white plastic, pocked with tar coloured marks, a pattern which lends itself well to the lager, a bouquet of wet brown leaf.

The clock strikes four, half way home and lunch time. Dunn defrosts a spiced brioche bun, brushes with pesto oil and blasts in the combi (200 degrees, 2 minutes) before layering it up with grilled chicken, romaine and tomato. It hits the spot dead centre, winding the poor chef and making a nap all but inevitable. A few sturdy cardboard boxes make for a fine cot under the work top, the phone is disconnected and away he goes.

Joe comes in, kicks the bench and drawls, “you’ve got some checks on, I’ve already done two so plug the fucking phone back in.”  Awaking to such chilly disdain is unpleasant but hardly bothersome and Hersch rolls out of his fort and follows his former pal down the corridor musing that every rat has it’s race and we only really knock heads when our tracks cross.

The checks are nothing to lose friends over and they’re plated and sent before Dunn’s vision has even cleared.  Some waitresses are gathered by the doors as he leaves.

“What’s in the box?”

“Party supplies, the clown’s upstairs in the Gun Club doing a kids party”

“That fucking clown’s here tonight?”

“Yeah, you made doughnuts for it yesterday, remember?”

“Oh right, I’ll just grab one of these and be on my way”

“You’re allowed that!”

“Always a pleasure girls… you ain’t seen me, right?”

Dunn carries on through the pastry and out into the street.  He blows on the party whistle as he goes, trying to recall the moment the clown had first crossed him.  A soft loneliness goes with him.  It’s the sense of a battle not losing but lost.

On the corner by the service entrance sits a van marked Razz Entertainment, the back doors hang open.  Inside there’s a bunch of twenty or thirty helium balloons, Dunn separates a few and lets the rest free.  His eyes moisten slightly as watches them float bravely into the dark blue abyss.  Have that on me Auntie Pearl, you floppy fuck you.

Cocktail hour in the pastry is seven to eight and with a bitter-sweet orange, Hersch toasts the dying of the light and picks a few melancholy bars on the guitar, stopping only when the phone rings.  Such a tragic waste it is to serve the alien needs of others, so bloody grating!  Still, not long now.  This too shall pass.

Martin George is unusually animated when Dunn comes in.

“Oh for fuck sakes Herschel!!  Why are you fucking with the clown?  She’s furious!”

Taking the whistle out of his mouth Dunn protests, “I found this in the store Chef, it’s only a bit of tat!”

“The fucking balloons Hersch!  You idiot!”

Dunn remembers that he has two pink balloons tied the back of his apron, they’re gently bobbing against the ceiling as he speaks.

“Oh right, these.  I found these outside by the bins.”

“Just get out of my sight, fucking disgrace!”

“Yes, Chef!”

The shift ends without further incident, Dunn gets a couple of hard slaps on the back as the kitchen staff leave.  Martin George claims he’ll be having words tomorrow but he’s smiling so it seems unlikely.  Finishing up Hersch feels tired and a touch deflated.  He gives his remaining balloons to the Iraqi kitchen porter who seems puzzled.

“Set them free my friend.  Pin all you’re hopes and dreams to them and set them free!”

“Okay, Chef”

In the bar, Hersch sinks a pint or two and invites himself over to one of the girls flats. She has almond eyes that he mistakes for salvation.  However, he’s shortly asked to leave, party whistle still in mouth, wheezing in and out with each breath.  He’s drunk and she needs to get up early.

Twenty minutes later Dunn is arrested for driving under the influence whilst wearing a bear-skin cap and playing heavy metal whilst blowing a party whistle.  Both charges stick.

Once the heavy cell door has clapped shut behind him, Dunn takes a long steaming piss and flops onto his rubber mattress grateful that he doesn’t start until four tomorrow, though he does wish they would turn the fucking lights out.