Posts from — May 2011
eyada has a feeling for these things. That’s why she got a rope-burn from the stand-up-hold-on strap on the bus when she pulled herself free, and rang the bus-stop bell so many times that the driver swore blue-bloody-blind in Brežec until the bus juddered to a halt.
“You stupid wife!” he shouted, banging open his Perspex box around the driving seat. There was a rattle of coins in the ticket machine, a rattle of rivets and aluminum and plastic; the thumping toil of the engine with the wheels disengaged. It rose up to her through her feet like a big dog barking. The driver didn’t get out, but he thought about it.
“You are a bitch pressing like a mad-woman. You think I can’t hear? That bus-drivers can’t hear? We’re not deaf! Button wife!”
Feyada thumped her wooden-heeled shoe on the running-board and glared first at him, second at the door. Faced with Feyada’s resolve, a face that said ‘I will get off this bus now and it means more to me than it can to you,’ the Desterna bus-driver threw up his hands in disgust and slammed his door. There was a pneumatic hiss of a hundred angry snakes and the battered yellow door next to Feyada concertinaed open with a bang.
Feyada jumped free with her raffia-woven bag of vegetables. The bus roared into life and country faces slid past in affected disinterest, of Feyada, as she click-clacked hurriedly along the pavement; a pregnant woman wobbling along like a railway train in a flowery dress. She barely caught the last “Shatal Bena!” from the bus driver, who had moved like a spiteful monkey to his rear-view mirror and his side window: “Fuck you, little woman!”
Feyada shook her head and grimaced, having bitten into a personality like a lime rind or a salt-fish, like kebosh – the ones her grandfather used to catch – bitter tasting, fresh-water crayfish.
It was a hot day, cloudless and baby blue. Feyada felt the heat on her blotchy legs, once beautiful like the ballet; on her toes, bare in the shoes she bought from Pello for a coin and a smile. Little winds fluttered her maternity dress. It was new and nylon; an uncharacteristic present from Mother Lenska, her husband’s mother. The white-haired wolf had seen an episode of her favorite program Columbo, subtitled ‘Colembe,’ on her battered black-and-white TV with its cockroach antenna, and saw Suzanne Hope, the knife wielding, frenzied stabbing killer, wearing one just like it.
Suzanne Hope – the actress, rather than the character – was the name on the scrap of paper pinned to the dress, when Feyada had come home to find it. She had waited a week to find out what ‘Suzanne Hope’ meant. Mother Lenska had said that she must watch the show in a year’s time, when they’ll repeat it, so she can see the dress again – just like hers, down to the flowers.
“It makes you look like a film-star,” Mother Lenska had approved, tugging it this way and that around Feyada’s expanding bulge, and then stood back to admire the effect, arms cross-folded in satisfaction under a bosom of boulders. It was good.
Mother Lenska, I am thankful, but the nylon itches so. Feyada hates the thought of finger-nails on nylon – catching, rasping in a sickly, electrified way beneath finger tips.
It is a long way to climb the hill back to the bus stop.
The grass verge is buried under weeds with rubble raked through. Beyond is bare ground, seeded with fragments of glass and brick and wood and material. Beyond that, slabs of concrete with weeds growing between, like disused runway. Among this, tall multistory blocks: huge empty buildings, of square, black, faceless windows, and no character, no shops, no people, no children. The Sikarflitzen Estate, where once buildings had been thrown up in a matter of weeks, popping into place like mushrooms after rain, but now where there were many half-finished shells on the periphery, like the husks of ant-chewed driftwood. It was as if things had been forgotten – ways of building things – that meant encasing the metal poles in concrete took years now. In fact, maybe no one knew how long, because none of the post-war buildings had been finished at all, so who knew how long? Maybe forever? Sometimes the Russian workmen turned up, trimming the weeds, but that was it.
Feyada has good eyes – sharp eyes – and she sees many of these things. Her husband says she has bright eyes, like a bird has. She liked that, when he pointed to the Thrush on the grass and then at her, whispering “bright eyes”, and kissed her eyelids. She and the thrush had watched each other through bright, bird eyes for a little longer, before it fluttered off in search of the worms sliding through the earth dikes.
She hears the cries now, feeble, but insistent and she is glad that she has bird-eyes and that she wasn’t wrong.
She curses the driver on the bus to Desterna, even though his bus is relatively frequent and is the only one. Mother Lenska knows his wife well. Perhaps she’ll mention him – his bad behavior.
The other people on the bus; they were just on their way to somewhere else. Feyada could understand their quiet looks; startled silences. They just wanted to get there.
“Oh, oh, oh…Shebeya! Shebeya!” she hushed, “Why are you here? Shhh…”
The bus-stop is a rackety affair of rusted green pipe and corrugated plates shot through with corrosion, neglect, graffiti and sharp-edged bullet holes. The glass is gone, leaving only semi-transparent brown-stained teeth, the colour of sun-faded Coca Cola bottles, rimed with blotchy, green-plaque algae. Raw gums, putty gums, have cracked and fallen away, leaving a mossy crevice of a rusty jaw. It is the only structure still standing between here and the concrete houses – a peak on a desolate hill of bulldozed ground, churned with caterpillar tracks; flowering here and there with primrose and lupins that had once been shared gardens. Now they were free for all.
The bus-pole has no sign, but the basket is next to it, bolted onto the side of the shelter, bearing the device of the Lindona Bus Company in its regional yellow. Inside it, on a bed of old papers and rusty cans, is a lattice-work throw of soft, pink, fuzzy material. On top of that, the baby.
Feyada has good eyes. She had been the only one to see it, perhaps – see him – from the bus.
I thought…maybe Sheya… maybe she had… But she looked the other way. The baby is beautiful and strong and has blue eyes like Iban, her husband, and bright eyes like her – like the thrush. Iban wouldn’t… Iban wouldn’t shout or demand, ‘How? How can we do this?’ Instead, he would say “Feyeda we will make do.”
Feyada carefully picks up little ‘bird-eyes’ as she has practiced, carefully cradling his head on her arm. Iban would like a son, and with the other child, resting in the round bulge of nylon flowers, they would have a family.
May 20, 2011 8 Comments
L eigh, Leigh, what are you doing? Your mother is dead. The house is still warm, and yet, you are staying over all alone.
eigh, Leigh, what are you doing? Your mother is dead. The house is still warm, and yet, you are staying over all alone.
This is a ghost house, though it doesn’t look like ghost house. There is no Adams Family peeling banister, no entry hall the size of a football pitch, no distant, clanking garret. Instead, it’s a cramped, two-story council house on a rather dodgy estate. Four hours after her mother was pronounced dead, somebody – some urchin – stole every garden gnome from the garden. Which was almost funny. But not quite.
Leigh is thirsty and needs a pee. Why is it always like that? Stupid body should re-route the stupid plumbing – one to the other – so she can get a decent night’s sleep.
Wishes her bladder was the size of a bin-bag, and that all dreams be about Mr Depp in that pirate cozzy, and not that shitty dream about that big, old chair.
Villains marching, hand on plough, turning through a door.
The wrist says: 4:27am.
Sees only those blinking numbers as, bumps elbows and knocks head, exits wrong side of bed. Wall in way.
Now standing in Gia T, Miffy knickers and well-woolly socks. Shivering.
4:28. Zero seconds. Right on the transitional minute.
And this? Rucksack packed; sits on the bedside cabinet. When did she do that?
Forget stupid luggage. Doing the dance. Must go pee. Or… will… go… in… own… socks…
Falls over a pair of purple Doc Martin’s; stands on a mobile phone charger; steps on a runny piece of soap on the bathroom floor. Skids a little. Her mother was scrupulously clean. These are Leigh’s daylight errors, come to haunt the night.
Christ. Foot hurts. You don’t want to stand on a plug.
White plastic, pink flesh. Soooooo good.
Giant clock goes, BONG!
Says F-word. Climbs back into skin.
Left dangling on the toilet pan. So thirsty, sucking tooth enamel for moisture. Has a nagging feeling supposed to be meeting someone, but can’t think who. 4:31am. Depp married.
Must drink. But not from funky toilet tap.
Heads downstairs, hitching a clump of sock from under her arch – the sticky, soapy patch is coming back to hex her every step. Never mind. Should warm up soon enough; or it’ll go black and furry like a gum spot.
Here’s that annoying clock, halfway down the steps: a big grandfather job, made from laminated plastic. Strikes every half hour, and on the hour, and – presumably because Mum anticipated being hard of hearing in the afterlife – you can hear it right across the street, let alone in the next, eternal dimension.
Leigh pauses by the living room door. It opens into a blank space. And it is here she treacherously thinks: Stupid cow, falling over like that.
Christ, Leigh! I can’t believe you just shat on your mother!
Remorse, moments later. Selfish, then. Just tired. Now what, darling? Glass of warm milk like Mamma used to make? That what life comes down to?
Either way, it moves on.
Despite being a ‘bad person, who’ll probably go to hell’, Leigh tromps on through the living room doorway, intent on milky goodness. But the dire feeling of being left behind remains – like a petulant child alone in a shopping centre with no toys to throw.
This room is full of shadows – tasteless shadows inhabited by crystal unicorns, frilly dolls; the spider-work of lace on the TV as much icing sugar explosion as the ectoplasmic remains of the dead. There is silence here; a space with her mother’s name on it.
By the fire – a three bar gas fire, that should by-all-rights be condemned – is her mother’s pride and joy. Imagine Artex on the ceiling, and walls of seaside-sick-yellow with a pinch of mother-of-pearl pink, and a carpet that makes your finger tips crackle with phosphorous fire if you touch something metal after shuffling across it, and then… this chair, high-backed, gothic, gnarly with curvaceous carvings, that twitter and swoop and cluster and ripen, while the back, and seat and rests are taught tapestry, woven into scenes of castle life: slaying the dragon, beating the villains, supping from the pees pudding pot. To put this in context, there are three other chairs in the room that all came from Milkley’s Bargain Hut down at ‘the front’, for £3.50 each.
So, a little bit of Adams Family, after all…
Shadows stick to that chair. She can just about make out her mother’s cushion propped in the well of its armrests, that follows a design for ‘expert embroiders’ featured in Women’s Weekly. Letters A-Z and ‘No place like home’, with a rather tatty ‘p’. That indeed is true – this really is no place like home, up to and including, that problem ‘p’.
“Speak to me,” says a soft exhalation.
She finds herself asking, “What?” before even realising she, herself, has spoken. The room is resiliently quiet. It smells of stale chip fat and cigarettes.
Then, rising like a draft…
“Speak to me. But ask me no favours and I’ll tell you no lies.” Laughter.
Hands clasped under her bottom lip. In vibrato: “Mum?”
There is a very long silence, and then…
“No. Just a passenger.”
Silence once more.
She feels like a fool standing in a cluttered room, looking, now, to the chair. This is the centre of her prickled neck, and blood-carried chill that makes her knees ache.
There enthroned in shadows, flickering like an inverse of fire, but gathering form from those tattered shades around the cushion, the tall back – a graceful thing designed for repose in front of a massive hearth of cyclopean scale – a brutish man, part animal, resolves in the corner of her eye. A musty smell; a cough (her own).
Otherness settles in that chair, flexing god-knows-what, and, despite the horror of it – so abstract, she isn’t at all scared – she meets its eye as the thing looks round. It’s as real as a ten pence piece or a can of cola, beaded with cooler condensation: skin and bones and flesh of shadow; reality cut around with scissors. It sits as a prince, solid, unforgiving – haughty, perhaps – but interested. Very interested.
Its words wander along, like fingers on a page: “Sometimes, when a door closes, something else slips through…”
Leigh raises a hand. Or at least, her fingers twitch to do so.
Instead, it is the voice that moves to a higher register. “No. Not your damned ‘Devil’. And, no to being able to read your sticky, little mind.” The darkness crinkles in merriment. “Or can I?” Then it snickers until the red thrum of it fades, like wine slopped down the side of a crypt.
Horns? Some sort of faun? She’s seen The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Cramped cinema; stank of popcorn.
And it’s sitting in that stupid chair.
“Ta da! It’s ‘for Vincent Price, innit?”, she’d said. “Should he ever have occasion to, you know, pop round. Lovely, innit? Wha-da-ya-think?”
Impish. Insane. Always with the bargains. Gee, thanks, Mum. It…uh… goes with the baroque curtains? Or maybe, some other frickin’ flat!
Life over. This is it.
Goat breath huffs out. “No, not death.”
There is a creak, as the shadow sits forward, face, lips, not present and yet, a haze close to the edge of that high carved back, speaking into the light – moonlight, which is no light at all; to some, only darkness. The ebony twist of a beard.
“I sit. I wait. To observe, smell, conjure. Laugh at folly. See with your human eyes.”
No, not human. That musky smell, like ancient forest.
Past pictures come with clarity. The tapestry, she can see, is feverishly embroidered and emboldened with a picture: a horned beast, resplendent; a throne ten feet high. While men, line up and cross a door stacked with blazing wood, Bayeux-style. Norman writing rambles along the contours of a warning, in shaky, penitent stitching.
“Your mother, a collector?”
There is no sweeping hand, but a sweeping gesture none-the-less.
Unaccountably, she’s embarrassed by the plastic guddle; the sparkly gifts of the shopping channel.
She looks around. There’s nobody else in the queue. Out in the hall, comes the deep tick-tock of Taiwanese manufacture in that tinny clock, which is all grandiose façade. No pressure, then.
Leigh breathes in, curves her lips around some vowel or other.
“No, not that.” Comes that hushed, wind-thrown blade.
“Hu.” She blinks in surprise. Frowns. Mouth open, to…
An imagined hand waves, revolving from the elbow; a royal exhortation. Bring it on, it says. The real question.
Leigh frowns, bunches fists. “I want,” – a shadowy chin lifts in interest – “to… I want to. I want…”
“Enough!” Wood pops at unsettled seams. “Oh, Leigh. Adventure never proclaims itself! Never at a time of your ease-and-choosing. Think upon all your most essential changes. Which were announced politely? Which, just when you were ready? No. I am humbled, to bring you fear, trauma and uncertainty. Something new. And the price? Why, a slight companionship on the road, is all. Any memories, pack and bring them as you will.”
Was it just her, or did that sound entirely suspect?
And yet, why is it she wants to do whatever it says?
May 13, 2011 6 Comments
atty has a small roller charged up with orange paint. The rest of the can is sitting behind the electrified fence. So he reaches through, and carefully – oh so carefully – pulls it past the humming wire.
The button on his cuff picks up a fuzzy, whining sort of noise, as if it’s about to take one hell of an arc. He’s wearing a bizarre concoction of claw-proof materials – American football shoulder-pads, a catcher’s face-guard, a camouflage jacket stuffed with newspaper (Sunday editions, mostly, with all the rend-resistant supplements). More important, are the trainers so he can run fast. Really, really fast.
Now where the hell is it? That’s the most pressing question.
Away from the tarmac paths, and the warning signs – four foot across, with their dire prophecies and enthusiastic exclamation marks – he’s in Sumatra: a rocky, mountain scene with pine platforms, striped, long-leaved undergrowth, and the dark, concealing cascade of a waterfall. Truck tyres drift gently on steel wire, lazily – at some point – punctured and pulled into ovals.
That’s just a clawed-up stump, scored to its heart-wood.
The distant drone of an aeroplane…
Quiet. So quiet, in fact, he can hear his trainers creaking. Creak. Creak. Creak.
His heels are slipping because his socks are sweaty. Sweat seems to be gathering between his toes; toes that slide into interior slices of sodden foam with every surreptitious step. The only islands are his instep supports.
As he sneaks around the enclosure’s pool, he discovers a couple of huge, articulated beef bones draped over a boulder, not five yards away. Somewhat akimbo, they could be the legs of an unsuccessful tourist sitting back in a lounger. They look desiccated and horribly organic in the sun.
White cartilage is surprisingly shiny and white.
A fly or two circles lazily. A cricket chirps.
There’s a muffled, clothy bang back at the observation window. A small girl is making pig-noses on the glass, stretching her snout one way and then the next by pressing it against the glass. Her brother, a good two feet shorter, is making his own ice-creamy, snotty smear at her knee. Child flesh goes squeak.
This is exactly why you need to do this, he considers. Tigers – tricky critters, always with the pouncing and the rending and the clawing; always with the clawing. He gulps and his throat bobbles.
And there. There? Yes. A sloppy, ruggy, sprawled out tiger noozing in the noon-day sun. Big as a sofa with all the extra seats; its tail flicks out onto the concrete like a paper party hooter with a feather at the end, black and fluffy, though the rest of it is napping in the grass – tiger bulk crushing those stems, tiger teeth exposed in a gnawing position on a meaty bone. One corner of its lip is hitched on an immense, scythe-like fang it could drive into a railway sleeper.
It’s as if it heroically expired eating its midday meal. But the tail goes flick, flick, flick.
No sign of a cracky, amber eye. Could it be true that they don’t sleep with one eye open? It’s… it’s true. For now.
Creak. Creak. Creak. Frisk. Frisk.
Matty is standing within arm-yanking reach of meaty, rendy death.
There is a musky, animal reek that stinks like a discarded jock strap. The beast – for it is, at least a beast and then some – is likely to be dreaming about that happy day when somebody with a paint roller got into its enclosure. It’s front paw, the muscles in its flank, twitch, as if running something soft and fleshy to ground.
Sweat blisters on Matty’s face.
There’s that first black stripe wandering like a river channel.
As he extends his hand, one drip of paint hanging like orange syrup, all he can smell is emulsion. Make sure you stay within the lines…
Contact. Soft, fluffy resistance, with muscley steak underneath.
Snooze goes the tiger. Squeeeeeeeeak goes the tiny roller wheel. Squerkkkk. Christ, shut up! But… Oh my God, it’s working. Look at that! It really is.
Tiger pelt is pretty fibrous and hairy, and the wheel is a bit slippy, but if he presses the foam cylinder in just so, and moves it slowly enough, it rolls out an even strip about two inches across; that forces paint in between the hairs and tufts.
His movements are so quiet, and yet so delicate, and that faint squuueak. Back in the can. Splunch. Doonk. Doonk. Clunk. More paint.
Zzzzzz goes the tiger.
Matty takes a stuttering breath. The first one in, what, the last ten minutes? Maybe longer. Sweat in his right eye.
Why da little cutie-pie-ting. The tiger seems to be enjoying it. Its flattening out some more in the sun, exposing more of its paunchy belly – the leafy shadows branching across it, spreading out – it snorts, shifts a little. Sque… … … … … … and settles gain. Squeeeeeeeeeeak. Splitch. Dink. Bloop. Reach…
Black stripes are vanishing one by one.
The tiger starts to purr. It’s like a rumbling volcano and a toiling truck, all in one, rising up through Matty’s sweaty trainers; the vibration hanging in his gut like a refrigerator coil.
So what’s that? Twenty five to thirty percent of its left flank now covered? That’s one orange tiger.
Now, another thought occurs. Car jack? To get the bugger to roll over? And face? Could’ve done with a smaller brush for the details: those tiny stripes over its eyebrows and cheeks; around its snout. And while there is some black and orange highlights in the whiskers, is that just the reflected tiger light, or do they count too? Painting whiskers? Now that really would be crazy…
Still, gotta ask.
An ice cream cone, sloppy like a wet turd, arcs through the air and lands on the tiger’s head.
There is not much to be said about this for a split second or two.
The bulge of ice-cream starts to run, which may be a good idea…
“Whot you doin’ mister?”
Matty’s beautiful line is suddenly crazy, polygraph-wobbly. He turns horrified. That snotty goddamn kid – the girl, not that other snotty goddamn kid – has petulant knuckles pressed to her hips. There is ice cream on her hand, her brothers head and most of the glass, but the rest of it – oh my god, the rest of it – has, in one long sloppy, pink, ice-creamy streak of doom, left a trail across the enclosure in drips and blops, and arrived, with horrible, child-like precision on the tiger’s napping nonce.
There is a moment of congratulatory horror: that child’s a demon genius. Freakish aim. Arrived like an Exocet.
Matty is running like an Ethiopian sprinter covered in BBQ sauce, while five hundred pounds of part-painted Sumatra bounds after him as if its tail has been flambéed in petrol.
The kids, behind armoured glass, scatter, screaming, creamy paws to their faces. Orange paint is slopping down Matty’s thigh; he’s already bleeding orange.
The change in the tiger is woefully incomplete. It’s still a gnarly, claw-wielding, steak-snapping, maniac. But at least the end will be easier to see… at the right, part-painted, sort of oblique, angle, that is.
May 6, 2011 12 Comments