Guppy Love

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?”


“Insanely Blue Eyes or Elephant Streep?”

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

“Well, either way this takes the piss”



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”


“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.


Having finished a self-portrait, I’m reclining in comfy cum-soiled shorts watching film reviews on the internet.  The likeness is decent, all in blue, looking like something out of American Splendor.  I’m feeling well fed, relaxed and utterly disgraceful, still it could be worse and most probably will be.  God knows I’ve earned it.  Oh and apparently the new Power Rangers film is no good…

Bittersweet Soliloquy

The dog’s sleeping on the sofa yelping intermittently, legs dancing like marionettes.

“Shut the fuck up!”

The dog looks up, softly offended, before his eyes begin to droop and close again by stages.

“He does the same exact thing every day. He eats, he sleeps, he chases tennis balls. What the fuck does he have to dream about?”

Dunn pauses for reply, receives none, continues.

“The most limited range of experience possible and a kernel of a brain to process it with and still he has the gall to dream!”

Dunn’s mother has gotten up and busies herself in the kitchen. Dunn gets up and turns off the television just as a cartoon fisherman is casting his net.

“Well you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve farted. It smells so bad that I’ve made myself feel unwelcome.”

Dunn lopes upstairs.

“Night Love” his mother calls, pulling the plug from the sink.