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“Your Kung Fu’s Pretty Good, Old Man. You’re Not Too Bad, Either – Old Woman!”

ORTHOPAEDIC ORIENTAL ADVENTURES PROUDLY PRESENTS:

Part three of love’s great adventure, and this time we go to a ‘mysterious nursing-home of the Manchester Orient’, where Grandma, Grandpa and wall-mounted weapons await,  in what I hope is a humorous escapade involving throwing stars and a light, eggy breakfast; just as soon as Grandpa has found his way out of the bathroom and Grandma remembers who he is.  

Cue Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting crackling into life on the phonograph at 45rpm…

***

W

hen Grandma became a Seventh Dan of Chai Gan Wo, Grandpa had to follow suit. Before long, he was also launching rather acrobatic attacks from the top of the stairs, knee joints popping, whopping the wooden practice sword with the natural grace of an abandoned typewriter. His ‘Huy!’ was a potential heart attack.

Over the weeks, the doddery dance-of-dementia escalated, with the slight whiff of Deep Heat.

Grandma retaliated with her own version of Chang Cha – Drunken Monkey Technique – involving no actual monkey, but a generous tot of gin, a sharpened walking frame, and the whizz of nunchucks spun from bird-like wrists.

You might think that Grandpa stood not-a-chance – stuck for over twenty minutes in ‘bullet time’ as his back gave out, or when a nun (or chuck) clobbered his jaw with a plastic chackeroo, and his teeth rattled along the floor like escaped tap shoes. Not so. He gave as good as he got, cackling wildly as he spun – a master of Mr Chaplin’s Cane Gu – on a long-handled walking stick, and swept Grandma’s swollen feet from under her. It was a move he’d seen in The Tramp.

“Use your enemy’s mass against them,” his home-help had advised.

And this, indeed, was fruitful advice, as the continent that was Grandma went over like a plated whale, only to be caught on two fingers, hardened through years of Ko Lung Crochet.

“Think again, old man!” she growled, producing a vicious array of knitting needles and looped chains of spiked macramé.  The sofa was quickly punctured with a deadly volley of knitted ephemera, the weave of death carefully followed from a pattern in Martial Crafts.

Barbed wire, it seems, is knittable.

Grandpa back-flipped behind the sofa, using the simple expedient of slipping on one of Lionel’s – their  grandson’s – toy cars and was lost to view, railwayman’s tie fluttering around his head.

Grandma knew this was not the end.

Lights out! An insanely fast, shuffled attack from Grandpa!

She flicked on the radio and caught the last of the Archers, before his huffing and puffing eventually closed like a steam train, firmly on the siding, and a bony hand shot out with the cutting power of a spatula. This was blocked, minutes later, with the hefted end of a bed pan. K’tang!

Both combatants circled, with the cronk-squeak of rubber feet on walking frames, the shuffled drag of battle-worn slippers, and the gleeful sneering of the infirm. Who would find an opening first? Grandma with her inedible rock-cakes, bundled up in the ass-end of an old pair of tights – heavy as lead? Or, Grandpa, ready with that disgusting pipe of his – to parry a wild blow, create a fug-screen of Old Hoban, or gouge for an eye with the gnawed, plastic stem?

He could wish. Grandma’s eyes glittered in the darkness like a cobra with cataracts.

“Time for your suppository, old man,” howled Grandma, jaw cracking, lips dribbled and speckled with liver spots. The gesture she made with the TV remote control was quite disconcerting.

The white-haired ninja merely laughed, a dull “mwah, mwah, mwah!” in the dubbed on tones of a twenty year old. “You’re fooling no one, old woman.” But he knew she was already tracking him in the darkness, using the smell of his own wee.

Grandpa tried for a Murray Mint – the Heimlich choking-hazard a potential disaster on aged lips. Grandma caught the throaty lozenge between knitting needles clacked together, like those chopsticks catching Miyagi’s fly.

Grandma went for a ginger throwing star  – rolling her lips round her false teeth in an effort to warm up for crunch – but Grandpa slipped through her guard with a cup of Earl Grey in a best, China teacup. The saucer rattled delicately, as the razor-sharp biscuit-of-death was doused in the tepid, near black sea. Half its mass broke away, and the squichy blob bobbed on the surface like an expelled bite of an orthopaedic mattress.

Such dishonour!  The band aides and support socks were off!

There was banging on the ceiling; the yowled, feedback-howl of hearing aids; ugly gouging with rattley old elbows; and – quite disgracefully for a nursing home – the police were called twice.

Eventually, after the Night of a Hundred Arthritic Blows, both insomniacs dropped to the La-z-boy Recliners in front of the TV, exhaustion in every floppy sinew. They glowered at each other over their bingo wings, too proud to admit they were no longer as young as they once were.

Grandma’s hand wavered out. His, too.

They clasped hands.

“I love you, you crappy old ninja.”

“You too, you sloppy old, samurai!”

“Same time tomorrow? After The Voice?”

“Heh, heh – I wouldn’t miss it for the world… if you didn’t fight like a girl one-twentieth of your age!”

And so it went on.

May 12, 2012   30 Comments

Daughter of Cronus

The love-in continues with my next amour-inspired story: this time we join Hera in the park, as she waits for Darren Snider. It looks like it might rain, and that ain’t so good for glasses… 

***

T


his is it! Deep breath, chest forward.

Heels? Check.

Lipstick? Scarlet.

Glasses? Uch – it’s that, or end up asking out a rubbish bin or somethin’.

Leaf in hair?  Shit.

Fussing with the gale.

My, my, the sky looks dark up there, grey as old bobby socks. Don’t think about socks.

This is the way that Darren Snider walks home. I know – I’ve followed him before. Maybe. Once or twice. Livingston Park is four or five miles away from where I live, but, once again, ‘I just happen to be here’.

It’s going to pee down any minute and this frocking frock is going to be round my ankles, weighed down with rain.

Or tears.

Here he comes.

Why isn’t he alone? That’s one, two, three friends – all boys, thank God. Or are boys worse? Hands draped over each other’s shoulders.  Pushing one away, pushing the other. Mock outrage. Hands rough-ploughing hair. Laughing and climbing each other like collapsing columns.  Shoved away, too kool for skool. Bags swinging – swung like maces.

Snider – I, HEART, you.

Like, this is a terrible idea. Why am I wearing a Christmas frock in April?

Wilted daffs are crawling from the beds, heads black. Time is running away – like I should.

Ok, head up, chest –

Oh for  He knows I love him. He has to. The stuff on the book? On the cover? Open? Facing him? Drawing hearts on my forehead like a freak. Glitter everywhere – even between my teeth, in my hair – in my pants, for God’s sake.  

A woman coming the other way, wearing grey – white hair wafting up like detached eggshell. Little, puckered dog straining against an orange pistol grip and strapping.

Yeah, don’t want to be alone like her. Huh!

Och, what a terrible thing to say – you’re going to Hell.  

Tottering forwards on heels, real ‘profesh’, like I wear them every day; hand swinging nonchalantly… this way up – no, that way up. Fingers gentle, as if bridging a cigarette. Think cool, like the back of the porta cabin.

Lips pouted? Too far? Not enough? Hair shrugged back – me channelling Jesse J.

It’s going to ‘dump it’ any second. Look at those clouds. It’s a race isn’t it? Between me and water molecules.

His nose, his hair – perfect. I say the word, “perfect”, like an exhaled balloon. In my head, that word is form – he’s tall, with arms that can enfold like Anne Rice; when I read – in tears – in my window nook, bloody heart exposed. He wears an American jacket – immaculate, striped. Basketball – Chicago Bulls. I Googled that team. I love basketball, now – so much in common.

More laughter ahead. I think he’s seen me – stopped, staring.

That sneer – he doesn’t know it’s me!

Stomach compressed with doughy hands.

Mates nudging each other, behind – beta dogs.

Alpha says, “Hera?”

Time stops – the world cracks into freeze frame. I focus on his eyes, which are glistening like marbles, strangely crystalline, his lips framing my name in the way that Michelangelo must once have said, “Venus?” A warm riffle of blond hair on his lip. A perfect hand just reaching, one move short of a caress. His trousers folded like a dropped cylinder of clay. The giggling of the other boys stilled and stopped by flooding syrup. Trees are sticks. The tarmac solid and dead – everything moves, I realise; you can tell the still-frame from the video.

And then, I’m moving again: my Aunt’s stilettos hurting the balls of my heels, the little toe aching as it presses down the side of the lay-over straps. My long, deep breaths from deep within my stomach, blowing in and out with the light, last sound before the kettle begins to boil – almost an anti-climax, as the chips of air clink around.

I have the shoes in my hand, now – dangling, rubbing my heel. This is the grit and stony roughness of the path below my feet. Toes damp. Tights soiled.

I pit pat up to him. He is as still as a Snide-cicle.

I examine that expression, minutely – in itself, a micro expression writ large. It must’ve sprung from the country of that earlier sneer. I might have missed it, if time were not on my side. I can touch his face – move my fingers along the grooves. I can feel that expression like a thought, and it says: “I don’t –”

What? “Like you”?

That’s not it. Let’s try again – staring at those lips, teeth and tongue, trying to thought-read the next monument of words.

“I… hate – ”?

No. What?

It’s not a phrase, and I shudder. It’s a cruelty: something that words cannot form – that my words cannot form.

Tiny flecks of rain are on my glasses, clouded now. I tear them off; roughly smear them on creamy taffeta. Throw them back – the world is on a slant in pink frames.

See evil, say evil, and hear evil all stand behind him – equally still – hooped in wide-armed gestures, waiting to expand into shit-throwing gibbons.

It’s a near miss – a near mistake; that last second of car crash before you hit the rear bumper –where everything telescopes forever.

I shrug bare shoulders to the rain, and, on tip-toes, kiss his cold, dead, lips.

It’s like kissing raw steak.

I shake my hair.

I sniff with a whistle of snot.

I head for the gate.

There are plenty of cherry trees here, their blooms so thick and perfuse I can’t see their branches. Such love is eternal for moments, while for me, there is plenty of time.

May 4, 2012   12 Comments

Electrica Amor Vincit Omnia

Hello there. I’ve been writing some stories about love. I fancied throwing in some lighter tales, but of course it’s all wrapped up in my storytelling — which loves of the unusual. So, uh, yeah… let’s see how we get on.

Last night I was trying to work out what had happened to Google Friend Connect (one of the boxes of followers over there on the right) — it had stopped working — only to discover that Google has decided to stop supporting it for non-E-blogger folk. I’ll try not to rant, but ‘thanks’ Google — I won’t be transferring across to Google+ any time soon, in deference to your kind suggestion.

So if you were following before, or want to join what was once a slightly larger throng, do feel free to click that button on Networked Blogs. I miss your smiling faces and cherish those who remain. 

But enough of such technical things — we have love to talk about. 

***

I

dream of an electric heart. It sits in the windows of Amor and Astarte where the crowds come to watch it beat and pulse, throwing red heart-light into the street. I hear the seagulls calling, I see the litter blow, I feel the moments pass, when I see that heart beating – valves shiny, chrome gleaming, glass smooth. It rests amongst a display of wrapped packages, with floppy bows, and it makes me wonder what gifts love has to give.

I save, day by day – a penny here, a penny there – but love, it seems, costs. It costs a lot more than I can make in a year. I have a job that seems fulfilling (working for an Atherosclerosis charity) and I try to live in a way that others might admire, but I do not know whether I love life or not – or, indeed, can love – as I haven’t got the heart for it.

Days, weeks, months pass. I am back again – the dedicated, cardio window-shopper. Rain falls in soft trails from the sky and pitter-patters on the window glass. Nose touching, my breath blooms, and a message is revived: ‘I love you’, in a heart pierced with an arrow, drawn in finger grease.

Inside, the heart beats in its own light, but there are fewer crowds, now. Fewer people stand at the window, looking at the displays of cupids and paper hearts, and roses blooming. The flower heads are curling, the paper beginning to wrinkle.

The heart beats on.

A few years later, I swing by that old department store to look in the window, but the heart isn’t there. I feel a small start of panic, as if it had finally gotten into my chest. But I see, now, it’s been moved to a side window. A thick layer of dust has settled on the mechanism – its light dulled to a fleshy pink. The paper hearts have faded, the cupids are a jumble, and the banner proclaiming TRUE LOVE, droops and is marked, ‘50% OFF!’ It’s a still a fortune, though – I know it, though I’ve yet to see a price tag.

Hands in pockets, hat down, rain pattering off the brim, I shuffle off for a hot coffee in Mae’s.

Years pass. My charity closes down as the city seeks to invigorate the local economy by closing one good charity to give to another.

Somehow, I don’t seem to mind. Mine is not a life where love lives, but I do keep that cardioid vase on the mantle drip-fed with pennies – hope kept alive by dreams, in a deep-throated wishing well.

One day, I reach the top of the vase; coins touching its pursed lip. I decide to count them – to cash up, tot up the ante, and go see, at last, what kind of love money can buy. The coins are dark and unloved, somehow stale in their years’ collecting. I count them out and stack them and find I have very little. No reason to expect that this sorry amount is enough.

I pull on my jacket, fetch my hat, and wash my face. I put a hanky in my breast pocket – looking smart, out of habit – on the day I travel to love’s lost country.

It should be an unremarkable journey – but the sky is clear blue, touched to white on the horizon; cherry trees bloom in the electric sunlight, though the air is cold. Magpies flutter from one branch to another, chack-chacking, tails bobbing. A woman steps through long, triangles of shadow – touched with a cumulous pink – carrying her vanilla wedges of shopping.

I catch the Eastside bus.

A Guardian newspaper has been left on this seat. I read the small ads – ‘lonely hearts’ from those other true seekers in twenty-five words or less. Their creativity leaves me feeling humbled and hollow. It is great for them, I think – I still know what I’m missing: that patent, electric heart.

When I get to the store, I see that it is not just me who has bet on love and lost. Behind padlocks and rusting grilles – the colour of pistachio – the windows are dark and empty, streaked with long runnels of water and dust. Browning newsprint hangs on the glass, against a twilight gloom that stretches back into a cavernous darkness. The 1920s art deco, the cupid buttresses, the swirling lines through women, carrying urns or posed, hand on face, are left to question, ‘why are we?’ For love, itself, has gone.

There is no heart, no ‘love of the future’, and despair has taken its radium reactor. The gift box is closed, the ribbons shed. There is no elegant assistant to take the kerchief of coins I carry – the warm, heart-shaped bundle that weighs down my hand.

“Oh. Oh, I… I’m sorry.”

A woman touches my elbow. Brown jacket. Hat feathered; the arrowed-quill of a pheasant, dancing.

“I used to… well, never mind.” There is a distance. “Oh,” she says again.

One hand trails back from the grille, fingers rubbing a fine red dust from themselves. She gestures a hand to the Trojan windows and walls above, handbag hanging from her elbow – smooth, swing-low and elegant.

“Do you think it – all this – will open again?

The sun smiles in her face – fair skin, red lips, red berries. Blue eyes, sigh. Cupid’s kiss.

I have, I realise, a handful of gold.

May 1, 2012   24 Comments