The Fatted Calf

Free market capitalism has lifted 350 million people out of poverty since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The irreversible machinations of supply and demand have dragged us kicking and screaming into the light. It’s a light so fierce and bright that it burns. Only the rational and the brave can stand it. The fool and the coward retreat back into the shadows where it’s safe.

Dunn noticed an old man reading over his shoulder. He was the sort of duffer that had been getting in Dunn’s way all morning…

Having run a strong 10k around the common, Dunn was feeling the weight of history in his stomach. He marched at the head of an army; down the Champs Elysée, along the length of Becmead Avenue and right on the high street. The 1812 Overture carried Dunn and his Grand Armee as far as the dry goods aisle of Lidl. Here, he met with his Waterloo. Blood sugar dropping and a shower on his mind, Dunn was entirely unsurprised to find a cripple blocking the entire coffee display.

“Excuse me,” said Dunn. Barely bothering to articulate himself.

The cripple moved his motorised wheelchair slightly to the left, forward a touch and then back to the right. He wound up roughly where he’d started.

“I just want a can of coffee, mate” said Dunn using his stretched frame to reach over the cripple and retrieve a can of Maxwell House. He heard the engine of the chair buzzing but had turned and left before it began its awkward manoeuvres afresh.

At the till, a partially blind man prattled to his dog and Dunn wondered to himself whether they ran some sort of discount for the infirm on Monday afternoons. The blind man was ahead of Dunn in the queue but he still felt vaguely the frustration of the patrons waiting behind him.

The homogeneity of the welfare state serves only to fetter the vanguard.

This, Dunn noted down as a draft text on his phone. He revelled in the reclamation of the words vanguard and fetter. He imagined himself stealing them from the greasy lips of Karl Marx whilst the bloated parasite slept off another Camden bender.

“Scuse me, Sir! Scuse me!” the minute Asian cashier broke Dunn’s 1848 daydream and jerked him back to present day Streatham High Road.

“Hmmm?” Dunn enquired.

“Is fourteen-nine-eight” insisted the weary cashier, turning the till display to face him.

“Oh right, of course” Dunn held his bank card over the reader, paused for the bleep and proceeded to leisurely fill his backpack with groceries.

As he strolled out of the shop, his load borne with a modest ease, Dunn failed to notice the Asian cashier apologising to the blind man for the delay.

Once the shopping was unpacked and a light lunch taken, Dunn decided to work in the library for a few hours. He felt that he was beginning to achieve real clarity with his latest effort entitled, Capitalism: You’re Welcome.

Progress came steadily that afternoon. With ideas this self-evident it was less an exercise in writing, more an exercise in typing. Dunn had always typed slow but it mattered not. Let the mouth breathers clack away and let their nonsense fill the records of future historians. Historians who would no doubt be brought to the brink of self-immolation with each freshly unearthed Twitter account.

Slowly, Dunn’s pages filled with simple statements of fact, unburdened by sentiment, a true historic materialism. They filled, that is, until Dunn noticed an old man reading over his shoulder.

“What a loada bollocks…” said the Duffer. His diction held a measured venom.

“I beg your pardon!” replied Dunn in wounded indignation.

“The free market feeds on the human spirit…” spake the Duffer in an unerringly even tone.

“The only improvements it’s ever made to the living conditions of the poor are entirely incidental” the Duffer continued.

“Is that so! Well, incidental they may be but intentions are none of my concern. Facts, on the other hand, are.”

“You’d probably argue that the calf owes its healthy weight to the farmer?” asked the Duffer. His eyes were wandering to other computer screens around the room as if his insights might also be needed elsewhere.

“As a matter of fact, I would! The farmer has more to do with the well-being of the calf than any bleeding-heart animal rights activist ever will.” as he spoke he watched the Duffer slip a flat cap over his bald head and rise to leave. Dunn’s voice wavered slightly as he imagined he was now talking only to himself.

Just as he was about to return his attention to Capitalism: You’re Welcome, Dunn felt the breath of the Duffer warm the side of his face.

“The question you need to ask yourself, Son, is this; To what end is the calf being fatten?”

Concentration broken, Dunn decided to check his dating profile.

No new matches.

As he climbed the low sloping route home, Dunn pondered the lack of quality singles in his area…

 

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

 

 

 

Mystery Box Challenge

Let’s take a trip to the Masterchef kitchen now as the finalists face their toughest challenge yet…

“Chefs! It’s time to open your mystery boxes and find out what you’ll be cooking with!”

Gregg’s eyes are wild with practised zeal.

“That’s right Gregg! Two beautiful dishes, one hour!”

The pair sidle over to Kevin’s work station. The dentist from Truro has been wowing the judges with his Eastern take on French classics.

“What have ya got there Kev?”

“Err it’s, oh God it’s…my wife’s head…”

Kevin’s box contains puy lentils, heritage carrots and his wife’s severed head.

“You look a little daunted there Kev, what are ya gonna do?”

“Oh Jesus God…I have no idea, Olivia! Baby, oh Christ….”

Kevin’s hands shake as he takes up his oven cloth.

“I could braise the cheeks and maybe pickle the carrots with some star anise and ginger?”

The Ghost and the Sunflower

Johnny Mills was busy mangling his turn to read from the play.

“Prick….love for pricking, and BEAT love down!”

Sniggers all around.

“Keeds! Come on now Keeds! Be sensible!”, crowed poor Miss Barton.

The Sunflower carried on highlighting every instance of ‘Our Souls’ he could find. Ghost had been doodling a graphic little cartoon of his friend molesting a giant troll of a woman which he labelled ‘Your Girlfriend’.

“Is that to scale?”, enquired The Sunflower before adding the words ‘BIG FUN’ to the troll’s ruffled summer dress. Ghost rounded off his vision with some sores on the lovers’ faces labelled ‘herpes’ and a speech bubble reading, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man!”

Wagon Wheels, Pilgrim

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and Jack pulled out his gun…

Dunn woke from a cowboy wagon dream, rocking back and forth, head swimming in flies. His John Wayne gait carried him from bed wreck to shop corner where he coughed a dry fury at the check-out, spooked the cashier and with forty proof in hand scuffed the pavement home, his free hand raking sweat through his hair.

There was no key on his chain when he reached the door, just the sunflower fob, an empty weight in his pocket. She had done it at last! Backing into the street and the prairie sunset, Dunn closed his electric welling eyes.

“Take a bow, Jackie Boy! The wheels have come off!”, as a neighbour passed by walking his dog.

Brief Encounters with Manky George

In a sweet myopic daze I ambled the length of Grove Walk, Beethoven’s Pastoral swimming in my ears.  The suburban streets drew the blood of the city in and out with benign maternal inertia and as a sedate breeze rustled in my hair, my legs carried me through the well-thumbed pages of my journey home.

I could scarcely remember where I’d been.  I hadn’t been working nor had I been to the shops as I was well rested and empty handed.  I hadn’t been socialising or boozing as I was certain I hadn’t spoken to a soul in days and my sobriety was crisply clear.

There seemed to be a warm white blank being left in my wake.  With every loping stride more of the world behind me was enveloped, everything that was and could ever be lay ahead.  Home was my terminus but only arbitrarily so, I could have continued my aimless strolling indefinitely.  My legs and arms swung gently and of their own will, guiding me safely over the cracks and contours of the pavements surface.  My eyes were free to dance over the scenery.

What passed through my periphery seemed a celebration of the mundane, a perfectly painful little suburb.  Small front gardens stretching a few feet from the facades of the terrace houses, some neatly kept others not.  Each house had two wheelie bins one black and one green displaying the detritus of happy average lives.  Young children growing fat on the contents of those bins so they could begin assuming the dimensions of adult humans.

The painted doors and fading drapes of the quieter houses held the musings of the elderly.  Half-forgotten lives in reflection. Boney trees were struggling against their concrete collars whilst a pale sharp sun refracted through their auburn plumage (the strains of Beethoven lent this scene an almost comical grandeur).

I drifted easily passed a giant red umbrella which was shuffling in the opposite direction, its little orthopedic feet carrying it on its laboured way.  I was still puzzling the fact that it didn’t even appear to be raining when I was disturbed by the voice of a child carrying a cat and pushing a pink and white bicycle.  She wore a large foam helmet which was all the more amusing given the pained expression on her face.

“Excuse me!  Excuse me!  I need your help!”

“What can I do for you?” I asked, suppressing a smile of condescension.

“This cat is sick and hungry and I think he’s been fighting.  Look at his ears and how skinny he is!” she spluttered in panicked gasps.

“Hmm…” I inspected the cat and it was in quite a state and filthy too.

“Have you called the RSPCA?”

“No, I just found him. Do you have a phone?”

“Not on me, have you?”

“Yeah but my Mum says it’s for emergencies.  Do you think this is an emergency?”

“I’m not sure, I’m not a vet.”

“What shall we do?”

I pondered briefly, have I got time for this manky cat?  Out of a sense of growing ill ease I suggested that I took the cat home with me and I’d call the authorities when I got there.  The little girl thanked me and cycled off, I waved and mumbled something about taking care before continuing on, holding my new companion.

I put the cat down as I reached the front door of the flat.  I hurriedly unlocked it so my stricken charge wouldn’t escape but I needn’t have bothered as he watched me calmly as I fumbled with my keys.  Once inside, I placed the cat on a spread of newspaper in the hall, poured it a shallow dish of milk and sprinkled a few flakes of tuna in it for good measure.

Whilst I was searching for the RSPCA’s number, I nervously watched the cat as he inspected my offerings.  He drank casually and ignored the flaked fish, I couldn’t blame him.  I swear he glanced up at me enquiringly, “Why is there tuna floating in the milk? Couldn’t you have given me two dishes?”  At this I said aloud,

“You seem quite malnourished so I thought a sort of milky soup might be appropriate.  Y’know…just to get you…started”, I had lost confidence in what I was saying, my voice whinnied.

The disheveled cat paused purposefully before gliding around the corner, into the bedroom and out of my sight.  I suddenly realised that I was standing in the exact middle of the living room, phone in hand, like a haunted statue.  It occurred to me that I just tried to impress the cat.

A helpful voice on the end of the line told me there was an officer within half an hour of the flat, I thanked them, pleased that I had made responsible arrangements.  I then sought out my manky friend in the bedroom to break the news and make sure he hadn’t died on my bed.  He sashayed passed me as I stepped into the room and I felt compelled to follow him back into the living room.

“It’s been rough for you since you lost your friend, hasn’t it?” the cat said, over his shoulder.

“Of course it has”, I replied in a monotone whisper.

“Death smiles at us all…”

“Smile back?” I interrupted “Yes, I know that one”

“You’ll be next if carry on like this”, the cat was supine at the foot of the sofa.

“How do you know?”

“The same reason you know”

“I see, well your ride’ll be here soon, do you want any more to eat?”

“No thank you, I’ve already had breakfast”

Quite confused, I jumped when the doorbell rang and when I answered I found a pleasantly plump young woman in a grey uniform carrying a small kit bag.

“Are you Mr. Dove?”

“I am, come in, the cat’s in the living room”

The animal officer gave the cat a quick check up before debriefing me.

“I’m afraid he’s just a very old cat, he’s only got one tooth and his ears have a lot of sun damage.  I’ll take him back to where you found him, I’m sure he has an owner as he seems content around people.  He probably gets taken in a lot so there’s not a lot we can do.  He just hasn’t got very long left.”

She then scooped up the placid feline and turned to leave.  As she did I accidently exclaimed aloud,

“I guess you’re next pal”

The officer turned as she reached the door.

“Sorry?”

“Thank you very much for coming out, hope I didn’t waste your time”

“Not at all, Goodbye”

And they were gone.  I closed the door, rinsed out the tuna/milk dish, tidied away the newspaper and sat on the sofa, staring at the wall for what seemed like hours, endless white…

The next day I found myself on Grove Walk again, floating lazily along when I spied a small hand written note tacked to a gate post, it read,

OUR CAT IS NAMED GEORGE.

PLEASE DO NOT WORRY ABOUT HIM,

HE IS LOVED AND WELL LOOKED AFTER.

HE IS JUST VERY OLD.

THANK YOU.

George! Manky Old George!  I had a headache, diarrhea and a strange pain in my side for days after.  Also I smelt burning.

On the last day I woke up two hours early, sun in my eyes and dull dread on my tongue.  I dressed quietly, bade farewell to my sleeping girlfriend and cast off into the morning, crisp and bright.

Grove Walk carried me like an impatient mother carries a reluctant child.  The streets were already filling with the daily trials of school kids, pensioners and office drones.  The kaleidoscope of young and old seemed to pass straight through me; cars passed me by like driftwood.  I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw Manky George sitting in between two parked cars and he didn’t seem at all surprised to see me either.

“Ready now?” said the cat.

“I suppose”

At this, we ambled slowly down Grove Walk into the brilliant white blank which enveloped us and lead me here and here I’ll stay.