Thankfully, with folks popping by to read ‘Lion on the Court‘, I’ve managed to get past that rather shaky moment of 666 comments sitting on the Café. Dark shadows loomed, the door rattled. I was scared to cash up. But next day, sunshine and clouds, following some kind words of appreciation. I’m past all that. The Café is now open to its 676th comment, which must surely happen if you click below.
This week, a darker tale (perhaps slipped through the letter box on the night before).
What kind of Café is this? ’#119 SUICIDE?’ ‘Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ?’ (complete with strange ‘æ’)? Yeah, I’m going to have to get some nice things on the wall. But in the meantime, mama is missing.
n empty glove box and the knife is gone. The blade has scratched the paint down to the van’s old, tin bones.
I wish I was back at school. School is the one place where the wheels don’t move and the scenery stays still, and I can find one place to call my own. It doesn’t have to be a big place: a carved up desk; a step and a book; a sit on the cloakroom spars beneath the jackets. I don’t look to life to be generous.
Mamma has gone again and returned and gone once more, and in between there have been monsters in the truck yard, where the old families lay their vehicles down. It’s like a graveyard here – except there is rust rather than decay, and weeds for stones, and windows of algae and bird shit for eyes.
I was worried. That maybe… I don’t know what. I saw the way that Nicolæ was staring at mamma; like he wanted to own her. I’ve seen her flick her skirts away on more than one occasion; slap his butcher’s hands, cursing while covering my ears. The last time, I ran to hug her and turned like a caravan dog, all spiked up and mongrel, skinny fists to the looming bulk of spit and gold, and wondered how I might beat Nicolæ to bloody dog steak, though he is like an ogre and – as mama says – twice as ugly. Look at the hams on him. An ogre would be preferable, but still, papa taught me to box; beat me to box, until I was my own bloody dog steak. I want to believe I could take Nicolæ, but my own fear keeps me warm.
All things are a question of belief – mama says – and she also says that all things are possible, if we just believe in them enough, though that does sound like one of the well-turned, palm size, polished stories from her ‘shameless magazines’ (shameless as she calls them). I believe they are quite shameless, but mama reads them because she really is so beautiful and, she says, cosmerche was made for her thick lashes and large brown eyes and… bones.
They don’t wear makeup in the ‘other’.
I try to get comfy and there’s a baggy-ass creak of springs. A copy of Cosmo twists and rips under foot. I consumed it hours ago, word for word, like a chop dog thrown a lamb hock. I guess I was trying to remember her in pictures – in that feminine thing. I read ‘Ten Ways to Keep Your Man’, while the blower had battery, though that article doesn’t seem to have worked for her: that’s ten, small failures on two to three long outsiders.
Boys shouldn’t read that stuff. She doesn’t like me reading too much English, anyway, because we belong to a different world with its own tradicae. But I think the old ways are just another way to keep us apart from the people here, and what more so than: ‘believe enough, and so it is’? But the joke is, you don’t need to believe in the Twilight for it to creep up and get you. It’s real, anyway. That boy Sam with the light up trainers at school (blue like jaybird); and that blackbird, perched right there on a fender like a glob of watery, black marrow; and that little drop of blood on the steering wheel that hums like a hammer; and the Twilight, are all as real as each other – belief or no. I bet that boy, Sam, doesn’t vanish if I don’t look at him, either – he’s still lit up, dancing. The Twilight still darkens down; hunkers, and waits.
Papa’s old watch creaks round, buzzing like a shrew in my hand. In the van, the condensation on the windows takes on the tartan and scruffy wool of the blankets where my moving presses out. If I could just stop breathing, perhaps that wobbly underwater of cars, stuffed high like coral, would resolve into their actual elements: tin and rubber tyres, fat like squeezed bread, treads exploding as the rubber corrodes.
My deep sea view suits the old yard well – I imagine it a place of wide mouthed things with teeth and whisp-fyre lures; or perhaps it’s the high-tide line, where what’s washed up can be much worse, more alien, than that. In the place beyond the yard, nothing is known for certain and only folklore can provide the answers.
I yank my hand away as I find spittle in my hair.
Mamma and a drop of blood. Mamma and blood. Knife gone. Mamma, blood, knife. Took it in tears and pushed me – pushed me – on the crown of my head, palm like a spider and she hurt my neck and scratched my cheek – I can see a little fleck of skin in the scab in the rear-view mirror – and took the knife. It has a blade like the edge of a dog-food tin: ragged and shiny and meaty, all at once.
Mamma said she’d never needed me to stay in the van more than now, and now she is gone walking again in the other world, and I am terribly, terribly scared. But I won’t show it. The door slam made my chest hurt with the whomp of the air.
Mama has gone to kill Nicolæ – for what he has done.
Jaya has come and there is to be council. I am not to bring Rahdi, because ‘this is no time for toys, boy’. And no crying, or hugs, or touching and Jaya won’t say where mama is, except ‘they will come to that, boy. Now get your shoes, and smarten that face. No need for a jacket.’ And he has a spade-struck expression, jutting with gold-capped teeth, and a firm hand on my back propelling me along so fast, I think I might fall in the truck tracks and mud, and I must carry on or lose a foot of height when he pushes my head off. This is more friendly and scary-making than I have ever seen him, and he won’t talk about mama and the knife. I am running over my own running. How I hate the mud.
This is a court of sorts.
Nicolæ has done and gone into the Twilight.
Here there are tall thrones on the heaps, and the masks of elongated whiskery hares, eyes stitched, fur worn, like a well-loved toy. Flies pick across them. The ears are like strips of sun-dried meat. They tell me, I can take the knife and follow Nicolæ into the Twilight, or I can burn the van and never come back – go to school, get my own blue jay trainers.
But mamma is as dead and blackened and blue – in that strangely deep blood in a tyre furrow – as she’s always going to be.
I pick up the knife, feeling the tape on the handle like ribbed bone; note the bloodied blade; weigh the decision.
Jaya looks away.
Others look on as if I am about to give a concert.
“It is his right.”
They are bitter and funny and pooled like decay, and for a moment I wish I could take a photo of them all. But I believe in what Nicolæ has done…
So I and the knife are gone.
August 17, 2012 12 Comments
Strangely, for me, I’ve been watching the Olympics and quite enjoying it: they’ve been throwing stuff and all sorts and I’ve been paying attention. I used to do a lot of swimming, so seeing that and the other events floating by in the background – while doing something much more sedate, like reading a book – has been pure gold. This week’s #FridayFlash wasn’t planned as an Olympic-appropriate story, but kind of ended up that way. I guess the coloured rings must’ve snuck into my subconscious and stuck, demanding sport-related shenanigans. As I’ve never been one to turn down shenanigans, sporting or otherwise, this one is called ‘Lion on the Court.’
elly found the lion basking in the sunshine of the court.
At first it was a quality of that high, summer light and the wind-dust blowing across the cracked, compacted grit, and the weed-heads dancing in between – a soft, susserant breath of movement that could be muscle shifting.
How big is it? What does it want? he wondered, even as he knew it was very, very, big and very, very, old (ancient, wandered through his mind) and it wasn’t entirely friendly. Its golden pelt was patched from the glitter of small stone and mica, golden sunbeams and childish wonder. He pictured the soft pad of paws and the warm, soft, fur that could be gathered in armfuls – if only it’d let you.
Where the net sagged, string rotting; where the volley ball plopped, deflated; where the other kids came along with a challenge or other – or laughed at the little boy taking soft-wristed punts and splatting the leather bladder on his wrists (playing ‘wally ball’, they said) – the lion ran underneath, tail flicking, jaws grim, tongue lolling.
And surely those teeth had to be there, if the boy had stared so long into the sun? Or played so long with a dream in his heart? Or had to overcome so much in such a simple place, where grit and promise, and a skint knee or elbow on the wasteland court, had demanded so much imagination? The lion spoke of an older time, when hearts were inspired and battle raged, when glory was held above all other pursuits, where death was a simple thing, unremarked.
“You have stood guard,” the lion rumbled, “for years of your short life and so I shall do the same.”
Clouds shifted and the lion sat up. Kelly could feel its warm, moist breath on his face and hands; grimaced at the carnivore in it. He punted another shot. Plop went the ball in the dust, unlamented by mum or dad or community or council. Only his grandfather had known: champion of champions, gold so distant it was grey in celluloid. The long shorts, the moustache, the blocky shoes – unshaped and unlovely – the mane of wild hair, were alien, but the look in the old man’s eyes was familiar.
“Yes,” breathed the lion.
Kelly kept the picture close, even when it frayed and he had to tape it.
Spray paint ran in the jumbled mounds of brick and slate amongst the fireweed to the sides of the court; broken glass spoke of dereliction as well as the derelict. Kelly played on in determination.
“Well, you’ve caught me by the tail now,” the lion said. It vanished at sunset, Kelly exhausted, with nothing to indicate the beast had ever been.
That night, the boy flopped into bed feeling sick and sunburned. But the next day he was back and so was the lion, breath blowing through the boy’s sandy hair; and Kelly was intrigued as to what it intended.
The lion’s breath filled him. From dawn to dusk, there was only the boy’s grim smile, the splat-plop of the ball, and the pad, pad, pad and scratch of trainers in the dust as the boy collected the ball, and tried again, punting it once more into the harsh sunlight. Beside him in the endless desert, there were soft-pawed footfalls and the low rumbled purr of approval.
Slowly the boy began to improve.
Though rain came and threatened to banish the lion, or times came when Kelly thought it best not to wolf down his breakfast and do battle on the court before school (when the lion sat on his chest and growled like a motorbike full of rocks until he relented, claws sharp in that first glimmer of light beneath the shades) the boy was given over to his fate and the lion prowled beside him.
Kelly had spent years alone, had gotten some kind of job – not even he was entirely conscious of what – and the ball was now firm, the court cleared of the worst of the glass and cans and condoms, and his gear was cheap but new; if worn and well used. His sword and shield was the light of the sun, and there wasn’t anywhere he couldn’t put that ball if he had a mind to it.
As he’d grown, so the lion had aged. Its teeth were wonky, its pelt moth-eaten; flesh sagged. But Kelly knew this was the state of things – that the old lion must fall away, so that the new may take its place.
“It’s not cold, it’ not sad, it’s necessary,” the lion had once said. And so it was true. “Take your place in the sun, should you want it” and the lion had motioned to its feet.
A few months later, Don Finch came to the old court – a miracle, he later said: just a detour off the main road to the middle of nowhere and a conversation over a bacon roll and a coffee. A waitress had sat down for a ‘quick breather’ to rest her varicose veins. Amongst other things, she asked him what he did and he’d said ‘sports promoter’. She frowned where the word ‘sport’ had resonance, and complained that her ‘fool son’ was out in all weathers knocking a ball about. “Good too, them other lads say, though we all wish he’d give it up. ‘Specially his father. Get his head sorted. Get him back to school.”
Well, Don’s heart shrank, of course: all mothers have sons knocking about with some well-worn ‘talent’ or other, but there was something in her vehemence against the boy that suggested there was fight here, between will and woman, between old and new, that made him want prove her wrong.
Fat, arthritic pads wound through the chairs and tables beside him.
A couple of times Don got lost finding his way down into the old factory works – even had to climb a fence – but there was a nudge when he needed it: a yawn of gap-toothed alertness that ensured his onward path to the battlefield.
“This kid’s ‘mazing,” said Motto. “It’s like, it’s like he’s got God in his hands. Jus’ look at ‘im go.” Gutty agreed. So did Franky. So did Stevo.
Don stood back and watched as the court ran with kids, and Kelly sprang the grit and flew and darted and spiked and clawed and played out with all the grace of a feline hunter, all gold in the afternoon sunlight. And later as they talked, Don, who was unfond of melodrama, thought to himself: this kid’s already a legend.
And on the old court, as the last of the sun tickled the bricks and glittered it’s last of the day, the old, old lion roared its agreement, before softly padding away.
August 11, 2012 20 Comments
This week, a story that seemed to pop out fully formed, where other attempts to fill this post felt horribly overworked or disconnected – other stories which, having gone ‘bump in the night’, may yet see the light of day, but only after some rather deconstructive editing. Instead, text hacking to a minimum, I present Miss Briana and her dog, Enid, who have both come to visit.
iss Briana arrives at the Flodden wall at her usual time – Enid, her black Labrador beside her, tail a flag in the early morning mist – and smiles through the postern gate, fingers over an iron cross-bar, head framed in an iron square of cullis. Is it my imagination, or is that smile tighter than normal? Blond hair and pink lips are a smooth curve to the harsh black paint and blistering metal.
There was a time when she’d have to clatter the bars with a stone or stick to call me, the ‘man on duty’, but now we are aware of each other’s routine. I have just walked the circumference of the battlements, high over the falling slopes of grass and wild flowers that fall away to the jumbled crush of buildings waking up below, a fine flow of fog about them; tendrils of smoke rising from breakfast fires. The air is still. The smoke dissolves above like frayed rope.
There is something I must remember for her; in the words.
Enid has Briana’s handbag in her wide, soft mouth. It is a peculiar image: dog’s muzzle agape on Versace; black leather softer than gun-cloth. It drops the saggy, clasped bag carefully, unblemished, by her foot.
“Hello Calla,” she smiles. “All well?”
“All well, Miss Briana.” I don’t quite manage a smile in return. That, we both know, is not my way – the serious, automatic firearm in the crook of my arm, man of the watch, and all – but it is always good to see her.
“My, it’s cold today.”
“Aye, it is. It is.” I nod, thumb and forefinger touched to my beret. “Hot yesterday. Misty morning and harr today.” The stones are damp with it. The steps, the narrow doors and transitways between towers are moist. Moisture glistens on Briana’s woollen bonnet.
“So what has Methrin done today?” Her eyes bob in a ‘Lord only knows’, a well-practiced intro she knows will get me talking. I barely catch my gulped desire to avoid the answer.
“Ach,” I sigh, slipping down the gun, though it still rests in the crook of my arm, its magazine full of silver and mercury. “I probably shouldn’t go on.”
“But?” She smiles.
“Ach. He’s a rogue. Always away from the job. Down in the town, last. When a night watchman should be doing what his name suggests: watching the night.”
“In the middle of the night.” she adds, biting her lip, eyes grown large with theatrical consternation and that little twinkle that never quite leaves.
“Aye. But, uh, I’m sure the Calloch will have him right shortly.”
She places an arm through the grille, as if looking to pat my own, but instead loops the stem of a buttercup around her finger. The bloom is quick to bruised and oily. “My father, my brother, should sort him out soon.”
“Aye, well. They will. Old friend or no. I always say nepotism is your father’s only flaw. Last night was the last of it. There was some unformed thing climbing the wall.”
“There was?” all trace of humour gone.
“Aye. Rounds were fired. The alarm went off.”
“Down there a bit, by the sports centre. Don’t worry,” I say, off her expression. “There’s a knack to living through the nightshift. I keep myself happy, tell a few stories of my own, and hope they don’t come back to haunt me. But Methrin always liked ale and women too much.”
And she gives me a slightly longer glance that seems to say, ‘maybe you should try it sometime’. Or, at least, my heart imagines it so.
Instead she says – popping the bloom off that buttercup and, smearing it, looking down to her fingers and the mess she has made – “I heard he was already dead.”
I stay level, though the ground moves. Well, she was bound to know it soon enough, if told it long enough.
Behind me, parked under a bridge-like arch of medieval stone, is a jeep. In the back is the body, wrapped up in paint-stained cotton, taken from a decorator’s store. Not all the paint is paint. He’ll be making a mess. That, at least, is how the shadows show it.
“I heard it was you, Calloch.”
Hopes and fears come out in stories and later climb the walls. Her face, itself, is like a dry wall of black stone, so artfully fitted that not one shred of paper could be fitted between the cracks. Her expression is bitter as blood.
“And I’m sure I’ve got a story to tell, tonight, when the candles flicker and everyone’s imagination is up for it. Secret, like. To amplify things. And anything we conjure, I’m sure they’ll want to say hello.”
“Oh, they will. I’ll send you my love.” Her eyes glitter. Flint from the wall is reflected there.
And the dog picks up the purse, careful as a downed duck, and Enid and her mistress pick their way down the path to the city again, to safety and storytelling – to how Calloch took Briana’s love with a bullet, and how that story came back in the night to scramble up the stones, scritching and scratching, reaching out – the colour of bile in the yellow sodium light of the streets – and came with long fingers and claws to open him like he was only stitched closed, because he’d found the man, Methrin, in league with stories, dancing with them in the moonlight, lost to the swirling dance of mumbled dreams.
I can hear the guard coming to change old for new – relief for those suddenly found weary – and the flag on the flagpole clatters its metal cables as the cloth cracks in the gathering breeze. The city below swirls as the fog shifts, but it still feels like illusion.
I wish, to the fullest of my heart, she would not come like this – each morning, the last of the unbedded dreams – before all fades on the touch of the sun.
June 7, 2012 17 Comments