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Posts from — September 2010

Tattooed to the Bone

The Dragon Tattoo


his tattoo has gone so deep it’s on his bones, it’s on his liver. His heart beats one out for the human race, while his hand leans against the wall.

Down the street, Jimmy Ju Long’s tattoo parlor is nothing but the red dragon neon outside, lost in the harbour mist – like that dragon is breathing fire. It catches a rhythm with the fire on his ribs, where the bandages and tape are sliding off, covered in blood.

There’s an old man right here, picking through garbage and cans. He tosses away a plastic bottle in disgust, but when paraffin slops out, he smells it – a strong kick to the face. He picks up the bottle and slides a dirty fingernail around the rim before taking a swig.

Deshi is more taken aback by the filth on that black, cracked nail, than he is that the old man is drinking turps. Seems to like it too – has a look on his face that says, ‘that shit is sweeter than plums’.

“Hey, you sticking in my light,” says the old man.

“Shit, sorry,” says Deshi and staggers off trailing shreds of red like a communist parade.

“What’s up with you?” shouts the old man after. “You have an accident?”

Deshi says nothing and just shakes his head, while red knives chop up and down on his spleen.

“Yeah, you better run,” calls the old man.

“Poq gai,” shouts back Deshi. Then regrets it – the old man really will die in the street.

The El Train rattles past, causing a massive ball of fog to well up around it and roll down the road like bat wings. Deshi tries to duck as the swirl passes overhead, but can’t get far, what with the pain. A coloured lantern and a few phone wires bob around.

Two kids run past, one says, “You ain’y gonna get into my mamma’s for supper!”

Deshi waits for the hard-core sarcasm, or the punch in the gut, but the kids keep running. Good, they’re following the train – gonna stick gum on it, or something, from a footbridge further down the line.

“What is it? Whadya get from that old hatchet merchant?”

It’s Mamma Xu, out for a ride. Her bike has an old carpet hanging over the handlebars, and she has trouble stopping with the weight. There’s a scrape of Chinese plimsolls on the tarmac as she judders and scrapes to a halt. The bike almost tips. “Shit!” she hisses.

Her grey hair is smoothed back into place. Teeth all angles. “So why the tattoo?” The ‘s’ on ‘so’ catches a high rat’s squeak.

“Yeah, well, I thought it was a good idea. I got the one my wife wanted.”

“She wanted you to get? Or you wanted?”

“You can guess – just to piss her off.”

“Uh,” said Mrs Xu. “You going up to the old bell? The old temple?”

“Maybe later.” There’s fire down here, and here, and all over – as if the old man had just poured the turps on, or the kids had punched him after all.

Mrs Xu shakes her head, “Why you do it. It’ll not come off – not on this side, anyway.”

A car rolls up, bottle-green, long and flat like a kid’s Matchbox car. Do’hip is at the wheel, looking stern. But he stops long enough to wind down the window, cranking like a cob, and saying – spit out the window – “Ni Gan Ma? What have you done there? Eh?” He pushes back a pair of shades onto his head, to get a better look.

Mrs Xu leans in the car.

“Hey, I got a pair of glasses just like that free with my weekly.”

“Get your shit-bird shit-hands off,” he says, swatting away her long, arthritic fingers.

“Hah, hah,” she says, as she knocks the shades off his head and down under the seat somewhere.

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” he says, one hand on the wheel, foot accelerating, other hand under his ass, searching the polystyrene cups and discarded newspapers. He roars off, and a hubcap plinks off at the first intersection and rolls off up the hill, sparkling in the sunlight that’s starting to come through.

Back at the shop is the land of mists and eagles. Back here, on the concrete sidewalk, it’s Mrs Xu smoking a black, saggy cigarette and telling him he’s a fool.

September 27, 2010   Comments Off on Tattooed to the Bone

Samuel Watches the Cat


amuel watches the cat. The cat is completely unaware of the Jew – it clumber-saunters along the up-and-down planks of the fence with some awkward claw work. Samuel waits with a stone. He has turned it so that the sharp edge points out like a shark tooth. He runs his finger along it experimentally, visualising piercing the cat’s hide.

The cat teeter-totters along, up-and-down. Rage burns in Samuel’s brain at the unabashed disrespect, as the cat nuzzles the clambering honeysuckle, dishes its backside through the willow, swats at a fly – an odd, three-legged operation, with the cat hanging on like a crab and the fourth paw high-fiving a plank and skittering around. It’s the perfect moment to throw the stone.

Cara wanders out of her yellow shed, brushing compost from her soft, brown hands. She spots the cat and strokes it. The cat arches its back appreciatively. Cara’s hair is down – long, black, glossy hair that suggest oil and hazelnuts and sparkles on an Irish oxbow lake. She laughs her soft Irish laugh. She is everything a twenty-two-year-old Irish girl should be.

Samuel hides the stone – for now – in the soft cotton pocket of his jeans, twisting the cat’s demise around and around, out of sight. He waits patiently for the glowing figure to notice him, where he stands by the butt and compost, in the shadowy lee of his own shed. His shed is weathered and dirt-grey, where soft, untreated wood has retreated. There is no paint – no colour – that appeals to him.

She doesn’t see him. She lets the cat twist about her hand. The cat sniffs appreciatively. Samuel scowls.

Later, Cara is watering her hydrangeas with a ridiculously small watering can. It’s a child’s thing, of purple, with a yellow plastic flower for a spout. This boggles Samuel’s mind. There is no sign of the bastard cat, but he has the stone ready.

Cara is sowing seeds – tiny, black, mustard grains – a seed at a time. She holds them between her finger and thumb, with some difficulty, where her long pink nails scissor together. The drops are both delicate and awkward. As each seed is placed, she carefully shifts a little soil on top with one of those self-same nails. Samuel might have thrown a fistful of seeds over half an acre in the time it has taken Cara O’Dare to plant her immaculate half-dozen.

When dusk falls, and the midges begin to whine and buzz about – suddenly brave now the heat of the day has passed – Samuel strikes a heavy brown match and lights his paraffin lamp. The lamp is burnished in black soot and oil, mirrored, in places, between the rusting seams. A coat hanger holds it in place, embedded in the chest of a dressmaker’s dummy. The dummy sags in brown folds of torn material, hunched over in its wooden ellipses and metal stays.

Clara looks up from the birdbath she is rotating: pulling it one way, then the next, walk-dragging it into position. It’ll make a nice centrepiece, he assumes she assumes. He can’t help staring at her chest – two globes of firm, brown, flesh that spread out from her dungarees. Gravity and her movements are page three conspirators. She waves cheerfully.

Samuel nods. He is using a tough pair of pliers to throttle a hosepipe, twisting heavy-duty wire around the fleshy, green rubber. Where he kneels, the stone is digging into his thigh. A little bit of the hurt for the cat has found him instead. But he will get his revenge when he next catches sight of its black-and-white patches, and when he is alone. Revenge is best enjoyed quietly and carefully, where hands can throttle rather than ball up impotently. Samuel wants, needs, to get his hands on the cat – or at least a stone in its flank. It is getting too dark to throw stones, though. Neither is he alone.

An hour later, and it’s too cold to continue. He pulls on his jacket, safely padlocks his shed, and walks off the allotment. Cara has already gone – gone with the sunshine – her shed ‘secured’ with a willow branch she has painted with spirals.

Back at home, Samuel stares through the television. The cat lolls on top of it, occasionally dropping a tail or paw down, but mostly just snoozing in the warmth from the vent at the back. The stone is in Samuel’s jacket pocket; the jacket is hung neatly in the hall. It would be no good anyway, he is not alone. Samuel’s wife strokes the cat and sits down heavily with the remote control. She has brought Rich Tea biscuits and strong coffee.

The cat cracks an eye open, studying Samuel disdainfully, before drifting back into sleep.

September 26, 2010   Comments Off on Samuel Watches the Cat

Dreams on the Estate


helly walks the palomino down the estate at night, after the scratchy kids go to bed and the lights come flickering on. She likes to carry a silver pistol and Merrick – the palomino – wears matching silver harness.

Shelly thinks this is a dream she has each night, after she mumbles through her little ritual of tea, toast and then hot chocolate. If it wasn’t for these things, it would be so much weirder, she thinks. She doesn’t know the half of it.

Out in the gardens, and streets, around the monotonous, uniform pebbledash, she wanders like a shadow. She doesn’t know what she’s wearing. If she did, she’d blush.

The palomino is a consistent friend. Shelly’s not a girly-girl into pink and ponies – she’s never had a thing for horses – but Merrick waits by the gate every night, as dusk falls and the sodium lights fire up, pink and dull. He nickers softly as she hands him some peanuts. She’s not sure where the nuts came from or whether nuts are good for horses (at least they’re not salted), but he scoops them up appreciatively with his wide, rubbery lips; hairy lips that tickle her hand. Afterward, she wipes her hand on her hip, amazed once again, that all her fingers are intact. Clever horse.

They clip-clop along Waveatree road, the night smelling of laburnum blossom – the trees as enthusiastic as fireworks – warm plants, and humidity. It’s quiet. She never sees other people out here when she walks with Merrick – another reason she thinks this is a dream. “It’s not a very complex dream, is it,” she says, patting the horse. He snorts and rolls an eye in her direction. She snickers.

They clip-clop along a few more garden fences, pass a few more identikit cars and front lawns. I feel like a suburban Indian, she thinks. Then: a suburban Native American, don’t you know.

Out in the darkness a cuckoo or a unicorn calls – Shelly really has no idea about wildlife, apart from the fact that horses like nuts.

Two houses down, a flicker of moving pictures comes from an un-curtained window. Inside, there is no one watching the TV, but a cup of tea sits next to the big fat couch, a couch as bloated as a witchetty grub and as multi-layered as a chocolate pastry. Merrick shakes his head. Shelly cannot but agree – how many more episodes of Red Dwarf can they show on Dave, before everyone in the whole, wide world has seen it twice?

Down at the bus station, Shelly peruses the timetables. Strange – she has never done this during the day. Shelly has no illusions about leaving Crestwood and all the humdrum monotony of her life. I was born here and I’ll die here, she says. If it wasn’t for these flights of fancy, I’d just be like everyone else. That’s what she says; mostly in this dream.

But Merrick found her and now she carries this pistol. That too is an anachronism. Why the gun? It rather implies she has to shoot someone, something, or defend herself, but unless TV can attack in a dream, nothing moves. The gun maintains its mirror shine, Merrick’s harness sparkles, the moon smiles down.

During the day, she could get a return fare to Burton. But that’s just the same as Crestwood. She could take the horse. It occurs she’s never tried riding him, and to do so would be somewhat impolite. Another scratch around horse ears. She thinks Merrick agrees.

Outside the football ground, Shelly considers turnstiles and horses and can see a traffic jam before it happens. They pass on, with Shelly wondering if Merrick might like some of the wide, green lawn that is Crestwood FA. There does seem to be a somewhat resigned plod to his step when they turn away.

Outside the bead shop, Shelly plays with her hair, wondering about how long it would take to braid it and fill it with colourful beads. She also looks speculatively at Merrick and his lovely long mane which flows like ice. Merrick is obviously not impressed.

They return through the ‘big park’, and once more down Waveatree Road.

Shelly tries a few quick draws and ‘howdy partners’ with the gun. There are a few hysterical moments, but it’s not as much fun as doing it in front of the mirror with a hairbrush. She carefully retrieves the gun again from the bushes. It is thankfully undamaged.

A block later, Shelly unlatches the gate to her garden. Merrick has already gone ‘poof’. She leaves a small pile of peanuts on the brick post and smiles happily.

In moments she’s upstairs, asleep once more.

September 25, 2010   Comments Off on Dreams on the Estate