A Little Fiction – Clown

Photo by Robert Zunikoff on Unsplash

There was a genuine smile on his lips as Kelly painted the ragged scar of lipstick across his mouth.  No tears lurked behind the mask of white pan-stick that made his face a canvas.  Beneath the unruly mop of ginger nylon ‘hair’ and ragged Tam O’Shanter, behind the illuminated bow tie, he was happy.  All he had ever wanted to do was to make people smile; to hear them laugh at his antics – what more could he possibly want..?

*

He remembered the mocking tones of his teacher when he accidentally spilled his schoolbooks at the master’s feet, “Oh, you think you’re very funny, don’t you Mr Emmett?  But don’t worry, because I will have the last laugh.  I have a job, you may think it clever to make fun of me, but I… I have a job.  You?  What do you think you are going to do with your life, eh?  Do you think you are going to put food on the table by being a clown?  A funny man, eh Kelly?  Well, when you’ve picked up your books, you can write out one hundred times, ‘I may think that I am funny, but I am not.  I am an idiot.’  We’ll see how amusing you find life then…”

Kelly had tried to explain then, and again many more times, that he wasn’t trying to be clever.  Of only one thing in this world was he certain – he would never be ‘clever’, and he most certainly did not want to make a fool of his teacher.  Such a shame: he really liked Mr Newby.  He was just accident prone.  He couldn’t help it.  He couldn’t stop the other kids from laughing at him.  He liked them to laugh, but not like that.  Their laughter was not of the joyous kind.  It was sneering, taunting, cruel.  He did not seek that laughter.  But it wasn’t long before Kelly learned that the laughter of his peers was less cruel if he looked for it; that he felt included in it if he deliberately caused it. 

Of course, it didn’t help that his family were poor, that his clothes came from a long line of hand-me-downs, and all from his three elder sisters – re-tailored by his mother in a way that did not always adequately disguise feminine origins.  His footwear was even worse.  He had to wear his father’s cast-offs.  They were many sizes too big, the toes stuffed with paper, the loose soles having been glued and re-glued back in place a hundred times or more. 

Mr Newby was a good man; he saw so much promise in young Emmett.  He recognised his difficulties and he did all he could to help.  He felt physical pain when he witnessed how this quiet and sensitive soul was beaten and jibed into the role of class clown.  How the soft intelligence he saw behind his vulnerable eyes was slowly corrupted into something disruptive, almost malevolent.  Even as he watched him succumb to the mob, Newby tried to intercede – to encourage and to punish: the carrot and the stick – a public humiliation, a hundred lines for a misdemeanour perhaps and then, much more quietly delivered, some apples to take home for a successfully completed task.  He had desperately wanted to guide Kelly to a better future, but he had failed him, and he carried that failure in his heart until his dying breath…

*

The sun prickled the surface of the pond on the green as Kelly made his way to school.  He alone, it would seem, was content with his life.  He smiled happily, kicking stones even as his sole flapped loosely on his over-sized shoe.  His bag was heavy, but it made a satisfying ‘thump’ against his back with every step.  Mr Newby greeted him at the gate, and he smiled.
‘You’re early Kelly.  Good to see you looking so happy.’
‘Thank you, Mr Newby.  I just have to go to the washroom and I’ll be straight back to class…’

And he was as good as his word.  Fifteen minutes later, as the chattering hub-bub of his classmates settled for the day’s lessons, Kelly Emmett, the smile now firmly painted onto his face, strode into the classroom, confident, for once, in his actions and in his ability to perform them.  The sunlight that filtered in slatted beams through the dusty window blinds glinted starkly on the long knives he held aloft in his hands.  ‘Right,’ he said.  ‘Let’s see who’s laughing now…’

***

Oh, I really fretted about posting this.  I found the first paragraph in my workaday notes, I liked it and I decided to give it its head.  It took me on a little journey I did not expect.  I have sat on it for a few weeks now, because I really didn’t know whether it could fit in here.  I toyed with lengthening it, explaining a little more, but I think the sparseness actually works.  I could be wrong.  I thought of filling it with jokes, but I decided that it had to be posted as it was, or not at all.  So I scheduled it as the only way I know of committing myself.  It is very different, very dark for me, but it is only a story…

Odds and Sods – Alduous Senna, A Life and Times

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

For those critics who love the sound of their own tortured vowels…

Even as he lay dying, an unsavoury old man in clothes roughly hewn from sanatorium blankets, felled by a halibut-wielding caretaker, high on a mixture of camphorated oil and Werther’s Originals, Senna refused to hide his contempt for the ‘Art’ that had failed to provide for any of his basic needs for almost fifty years and, turning to his long-time confidante, Layette, uttered his immortal last words, ‘Boil me and egg, Harold, and fetch my teeth from the dog – they will not bite me again.’

To trace the roots of this disdain we have to go back to his eighteenth birthday and the first real indications of a burgeoning talent.  Haunted by the butcher’s bill and a landlord who threatened to, ‘Hang him by the ears from a really tall building until he pays his rent,’ Senna put his quill to paper for the first time since leaving school:

‘Dear Mother,
This quill is very difficult to write with and leaves large blobs all over the paper.  I think it may need a point, but I cannot afford to buy one.  If I am to progress as a writer I will need something from a nobler bird.  Send money.
Love Aldy.’

One can only imagine the consternation caused by this outburst, as not a single one of his contemporaries in the so-called ‘Cellar-set’ felt it worthy of even the briefest of mentions in their own, extensive, missives.  It did, however, appear to have a totally debilitating effect upon Senna who did not feel well enough to raise a quill again for over two years. 

His first attempt at poetry was an agonising challenge to him.  Poverty forced him to drink the first gallon of ink he bought, and the only paper he was able to find came from his neighbour’s walls, none-the-less he forged on, producing his first real masterpiece – only a tiny fragment of which survives today:

‘“I must go down to the sea,” he said.  “My boat has sprung a leak.
My socks are on the mizzen mast and have been there for a week.”’

Was this an indication of his earliest yearnings for a life at sea, or merely his dissatisfaction at owning only a single pair of socks, both of which, it would appear, he had misplaced?  Whatever his reasons, it was a theme to which he was to return throughout his career.  It was a mere decade later that he produced his next work, a lyrical evocation of the lure of the sea.  Sadly, only two pages of this four thousand stanza meisterwerk survive, all but two lines of which consist of crossings-out and an oblique reference to an unpaid laundry bill:

‘And as they drifted onward ‘twixt lofty sky and shore,
He lost his favourite pair of socks and they were seen no more.’

Clearly he now owned more than one pair of socks – that is implicit in his reference to a pair that he held in higher esteem than all others.  Various experts have subsequently estimated his sock-holdings at this time as being anywhere between two and thirty seven pairs.  As always in the art world, there are dissenting voices.  Dyer, for instance, states, ‘It’s two bleedin’ lines from an unfinished ditty about an incompetent sailor.  How the hell can you calculate the contents of his sock drawer from that?  Besides,’ he goes on to add darkly, ‘We only have Senna’s word for it that the poem was ever longer than two lines in the first place.’

Without doubt, it is one of literature’s great mysteries that such a prolific writer managed to leave behind only two lines from an entire decade’s labours.  Some have postulated that his legacy may have been plundered at the time, by a bevy of less-talented contemporaries.  Perhaps we can glean some indication from a fragment of a letter that he wrote to Layette on the occasion of his thirtieth birthday:

‘I fear I must leave my rooms.  Each night I write a complete novel, sometimes a play, toiling away into the darkling hours, but each morning, the fruits of my labour disappear into the ether as I visit the bucket.  I have only my poetry for solace, but I do not know where I put it.  Send more money.’

We have nothing left of his mighty legacy from the ensuing decade.  He did, at one time claim to have written an entire novel in Sanskrit but, claims Dyer, ‘It turned out to be nothing more than The Arabian Nights written backwards, sent to a publisher who he had forgotten was Saudi Arabian.’  Senna was forced to flee, under the threat of being made overly familiar with the publisher’s Kukri, and he began his opus work You’d Better Look Behind You When You Next Walk Down a Darkened Alley Matey, the very next day:

‘I wandered lonely as an insurance salesman with halitosis
Who plies his trade from door-to-door,
And if I could find my walking socks
I’d really give you what for…’

It was as far as he got, as he reported that his quill had been stolen and it took him almost five years to locate a new duck, by which time he had quite lost his drift.  We can, however, surmise much from this literary fragment.  He was clearly a poet at the very zenith of his powers: it does not scan, it ignores all basic word structure, it barely makes sense: a man ahead of his time.  Artistic licence?  Dyer suggests he would have failed the oral.  In fact, the intrigue is deepened when we realise that this is the very last piece of work ever officially attributed to him (although Merry claimed to hold a fragment of an old shopping list).  Senna, himself, never claimed to have written a single verse from that time until his untimely death, ten years later, at the hands of an apprentice masseur with a grudge.

In reviewing Senna’s contribution to the literary riches of history, we may be forced to review Sewer’s opinion that Senna was ‘Perhaps the greatest poet never to have been Laureate,’ although few are likely to agree with Dyer’s view that he was not even the greatest poet ‘Never to have so much as a single word published.’  History, and a hefty TV advance will tell…

I barely remember writing this at all, but clearly somebody had got deeply under my skin.  As I go through it now I have a weird amalgamation of Melvyn Bragg, Brian Sewell and Will Gompertz inside my head.  It is deeply unsettling.

A Little Fiction – The Morning After… (Dinah and Shaw part 6)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

The first thing that crossed Dinah’s mind when she woke that morning was that the head on the pillow was almost certainly not her own.  The second thing was that neither was the pillow – nor the bed come to that.  The third thing, as she was counting, was that, wherever she was currently lying, she smelled like she had been there for a week.

‘Sorry about the T-shirt,’ said Shaw.  ‘It’s all I could find.’

Dinah’s eyes snapped open and her brain recoiled from the light that flooded in.  It actually banged a drum between her ears.  Her mouth opened and closed, as if in speech, but as she could not even think what to say, she emitted no sound.  She pulled the sheet up around herself, before venturing a little peek under the cover.  Well, at least she was wearing something, even if it was clearly not her own.  She peered down inside the neck.  Oh God!  She screwed her eyes tightly shut and breathed in as deeply as she dared in the circumstances.

‘You were a little… soiled,’ explained Shaw, and Dinah felt herself bridling at his obvious ability to read what was left of her mind.  ‘You managed to get most of your clothes off yourself, in the end.  The rest I left.’

Dinah shuffled down, uncomfortably in the bed, relieved to confirm that she was still wearing the rather dog-eared pants that she remembered deciding would suffice the day before.  ‘Oh Lord,’ she groaned.  I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve washed and dried all of my clothes, are you?’

Shaw was dumbstruck.  ‘Me?  Good god no.  They’re in a bag outside.  I think when you see them you will probably wish I had burned them.  Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘Oh yes please,’ Dinah croaked in reply, realising for the first time that her throat was in drought.

‘Don’t suppose you’ve any idea where the kettle is?’

Dinah opened one eye, to try and limit the amount of light that assaulted her, and tried to take in the room.  Slowly, feature by feature, she recognized it as the back room of the office she shared with Shaw.  The bed, she realised, was what her mother used to call a put-you-up.  ‘Do you always sleep in here?’ she asked.

‘Well, not always, said Shaw.

‘Only I’ve never seen a bed in here before.’

‘It folds up behind the curtain.  I usually use the armchair.’  He indicated the sagging remains of a once-upon-a-time chair that appeared to be decaying in the corner of the room.  As her eye became increasingly accustomed to the light, she could see that it was, itself, draped in a recently vacated blanket.

‘What on earth have you done to this T-shirt?’ she asked.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Shaw.  ‘As I said, it was all I could find.  I may have used it a time or two undercover.  I had to get you… you know.’

‘What do you mean undercover?’

‘I may have slept in it… a time or two.’

‘Under a flyover, from the smell of it.’

‘It’s possible…’ he said.

She thought about this for a long time before asking the question she most needed answering.  ‘What happened last night?’

‘Last night?  Oh nothing…’  She gave him a hard stare.  ‘I found you in the park,’ he said, trying to make it sound as routine as he could.

‘The park?’

‘Yes.’

‘What was I doing in the park?  What were you doing in the park?’

‘I was looking for you, of course.’

‘But why?’

‘Well, I’m not entirely sure.  It just seemed to be the right thing to do.’

Not for the first time, Dinah found herself staring open-mouthed at this man to whom fate had tethered her cart with a mixture of bemusement and amazement.  Not for the first time did she feel that he could actually see inside her head: as if he was stirring up the contents like a Cup-a-Soup.

‘You seemed a little out of sorts,’ he said.

‘It was my birthday.’

‘You never said.’

‘I don’t celebrate it.’

Shaw raised a quizzical eyebrow.

‘It was more in the way of a wake,’ Dinah responded.  ‘In memory of so many wasted years.’

‘Who were you with?’

‘With?’

‘Ah,’ Shaw gave her a look that was intended to say Ok, the subject is closed.  I won’t ask any more.  Of course, if you choose to volunteer any more information…  Dinah did not, but she was curious.

‘What, exactly, was I doing when you found me?’

‘Crying, mostly,’ he said.  ‘Bit of shouting.  You threw your shoes in the pond.’

‘I still don’t know why you were looking for me.’

‘Like I said, you seemed out of sorts.’

Dinah knew Shaw by now.  She knew that questioning would take her nowhere.  He liked to preserve the mystery: liked you to believe that there was more to him than there really was.  The trouble being that there actually was.  She tried to think what had brought her here, to this point in her life, but the effort was too great.  ‘The kettle’s in the office,’ she said at last.  ‘You’ll have to fill it in the toilet… Not from the toilet.’

Shaw smiled and left the room.  Dinah suddenly felt alone and vulnerable.  ‘Shaw!’ she shouted.

‘Still here,’ he soothed.  Infuriating! 

Dinah propped herself up a little on the pillow, a tiny doubt began to nag in her head.  ‘Shaw!’ she yelled again.

‘Yes?’

‘Where’s my bra?  Is it with my clothes?’

‘Not exactly,’ he said.  ‘But I think it is with your shoes.’  He came back into the room carrying a jam jar and a measuring jug filled with something that approximated tea.  ‘I couldn’t find the mugs,’ he said.

Dinah took the jam jar gratefully.  ‘Was I naked?’ she asked.

‘Not completely,’ he said.  ‘Otherwise the police would have arrested you, I think.’

‘Oh Lord.’

‘Because it was only your top half, they let me bring you home.’

It was Dinah’s turn to raise an eyebrow.

‘I told them you have eczema…’

Dinah sipped the massively over-sweetened tea appreciatively.  Here, hung-over, in a strange bed, drinking what amounted to brown sugar-syrup from a jam jar, in the company of – he would admit himself – a very strange man, Dinah suddenly realised that she felt safe – and stupid – but mostly safe.

‘I’ll go and get you some clothes,’ offered Shaw, uncertain of how, or from where.

‘No need,’ said Dinah.  ‘Bottom drawer in the desk.  I always keep a spare set, just in case.’

‘Of course you do,’ grinned Shaw.  ‘I should have known…’

This segment of the story came about after a comment by Herb set me thinking.  I wrote it immediately after publishing episode 5, but I wanted to leave a little gap before we went back to them.  To give them some air.  I’m pleased I did.  I think this is probably my favourite segment to date.

You can find more of Dinah and Shaw’s story below:
Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.
Part 4.
Part 5.

Odds and Sods – The Smallest Room Monologues (part two)

If you missed part one of this little monologue and you have even the slightest interest in reading it, it is here.

…Take Benjamin Franklin, was his name Benjamin or was it William?  William Franklin?  Frank?  I don’t know.  One of the brothers anyway, one of the brothers, let’s say Benjamin.  Benjamin Franklin could never have invented electricity unless someone before him had invented the kite.  That being, I think I’m right in saying, that being the Chinese.  Chinese people being, of course, several thousand years ahead of us at that time, in the invention of things like kites… and ancient paper folding… and opium burners…  Things happen in order, don’t they?  You can’t get to C, if nobody’s bothered to invent A and B first…

Except, except that I’ve just thought about the electric toothbrush.  I don’t know why I never thought of it earlier.  The electric toothbrush.  Obviously… obviously an instance where the toothpaste we use now was actually invented for a non-electric toothbrush – a manual toothbrush you might say –  and so, in that way, the toothpaste actually came before the toothbrush we now use to apply it.  And you know, I’m sure, I’m sure that many people still use the conventional, manually-operated toothbrush, as it were, especially when they go away on holiday, or away for a night, I mean, perhaps staying at another persons house, with permission of course… nothing untoward… but, essentially, the toothpaste, having been invented for the manual toothbrush came along before the electric toothbrush ever had its first chance to flick it in your eye and was therefore backwards… the invention was backwards…  It’s a bit like the chicken and egg situation: which came first – the electric kettle or the pot noodle?  The electric toaster or the square-shaped crumpet?  The freeze-chilled, calorie-counted slimmer’s meal or the flip-top bin?  And wouldn’t it be nice if we could un-invent some things: the nuclear bomb, for instance; obscenely loud in-car stereo systems; Piers Morgan…

F.X.           AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH IS TURNED OFF

…It’s strange actually how much it sounds like, the electric toothbrush, how much it sounds like the hygenic nasal hair remover, because it would explain why I did, on one occasion, having not turned on the bathroom light, so as not to wake my sleeping wife and children, actually manage to apply toothpaste to the end of my nasal clippers and, in fact, severely damage my front teeth whilst attempting to clean them with it.  Also slightly damaging the blade so that it does have a tendency to leave a slight sore patch to the left hand side of my nostril when I use it.  I would imagine, also, that most of us now have an electric razor, to save the inconvenience of shaving with a conventional blade.  I, myself, continue to shave in the traditional manner, with a safety razor, because my electric razor never seems to do anything much but graze my skin, it sort of leaves the stubble where it is whilst removing the top layer of skin around it, so I do, as I say, carry on in the traditional manner, using the cream and the razor blade and, of course, the toilet roll to staunch the bleeding.  That is, of course, when there is a toilet roll actually hanging on the dispenser.  Having a family: my wife, myself and my two children, I tend to find that mostly, when I’m… not always, but mostly… when I’m in need of using the toilet roll, that I find there isn’t actually anything there.  This tends to happen at a fairly… inconvenient time… and when it does, generally I have to call upon someone to fetch one for me or, if there’s no-one else at home, I shuffle along to the cupboard where they are kept.  I obviously understand the inconvenience it causes, finding oneself in this situation, so I always endeavour to then put the roll onto the dispenser.  For easy use of the next person and to facilitate them knowing whether or not the toilet roll does need changing immediately they get there.  I like to have the leading edge of the paper hanging to the front of the roll and so, of course, that’s the way I tend to hang it.  My wife, however, prefers to have the leading edge hanging to the rear of the roll and is therefore constantly taking them off after I’ve put them on and turning them around so that they hang to suit her preferences.  Sometimes I wonder, is there, in fact, a correct way of hanging a toilet roll?  Does etiquette, protocol perhaps, dictate that the sheets hang to the front or rear of the toilet roll?  Should there be the merest edge of the front sheet in evidence, or should it hang one or perhaps two full sheets below the roll?  I wouldn’t honestly know where to look for guidance on this, presumably there must be correct form, as it were, for instance in the royal household I’m sure toilet rolls have to be hung in a specific manner.  A sort of Royal Decree perhaps.  Maybe that’s a way I could look into it.  Is there perhaps, in Buckingham Palace, a Master of the Queen’s Toilet Roll.  A sort of toilet roll pursuivant, who ensures that every toilet is, at all times, equipped with a full toilet roll and not just the cardboard tube from the centre, which one is, of course, forced to use, from time to time, in extremis…  I must admit, I’ve never seen such a job advertised.  Perhaps it’s one of those jobs that one can only get by appointment.  Perhaps you cannot apply to be the royal toilet roll changer, you have to be appointed to the job, perhaps being promoted from some more menial task around the palace like… like royal lint remover, perhaps… or the man who disposes of the royal cotton-buds for instance.  Perhaps this task forms only part of the duties of a job with much wider scope.  Perhaps the person responsible for this task is also resposible for ensuring that the royal soap-on-the-rope does in fact stay, as intended, on the rope and not down in the bath where it forms a sort of semi-coagulated mess that blocks the plug-hole.  The same person may well be responsible for placing the little blue block into the lavatory cistern.  And, of course, the very same person could very well be responsible for removing screw-top shower gel bottles from the royal bathroom, putting them instead in the staff showers, for instance, for members of the household who are probably far more manually dextrous than the Queen and Prince Phillip, and replacing them with what I think we have now established are the far more convenient and stylish hook-on-the-rail, flip-top bottles.  By Appointment to The Master of the Queens Own Andrex I shouldn’t wonder…

F.X.           TOILET FLUSHES.

N.B. This piece was written pre-beard when I undertook the daily, painful routine of scraping off my stubble along with the top layer of epidermis.  I have pale skin and have always struggled with shaving.  From the dawn of my facial hair to my mid-fifties I had a beautifully smooth, but sore face.  I now have a permanently grizzled, but comfortable face in which to live. 

A Little Fiction – Train of Thought (Dinah and Shaw part 5)

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

‘…Why do they even put backwards-facing seats into railway carriages?’ asked Shaw.  ‘Nobody likes them.’

‘Well, I don’t think they are backwards facing all the time, are they?  I mean, when they get to where they are going, they don’t turn around to come back, do they?  They just get pulled from the other end….’

‘No, of course not.  I know that,’ snapped Shaw, who felt that he had to say something, but really just wanted to concentrate on the fact that he was distinctly unhappy at having to watch where he had just been funnel silently away into the distance.  Knowing that his future was looming up, unseen, behind him made him anxious and, as everyone that knew him would testify, an anxious Shaw was a spiky Shaw.  For the moment, he occupied himself by staring malignantly into the distance, but Dinah recognised the signs, some kind of irrational outburst was just around the corner.

‘Would you like a coffee?’ she asked, all smoothing oil on troubled waters.

‘I would,’ said Shaw, ‘but that’s another thing: no buffet car.  A two hour journey and no buffet car.  What do they expect you to do, drink the sweat from your own brow?’ 

Dinah recognised the warning: a troubled sea fanned by a full-on anxiety storm.  ‘’I’ve brought a flask,’ she said.

‘A what?’

‘A flask.  I’ve brought a flask of coffee.’  She unscrewed the little metal cup and poured the black steaming liquid, watching as Shaw’s bottom lip began, petulantly to protrude.  He opened his mouth to speak, but Dinah was ready for him.  ‘Milk and sugar are in the bag, she said.  Shaw’s mouth made the slightest twitch towards complaint.  ‘And biscuits,’ added Dinah.

‘What kind?’

Dinah allowed herself the faintest of smiles.  ‘Bourbon, of course.’

Shaw looked into Dinah’s face as passed the cup towards him.  She smiled and he felt the tension leave him in an instant, tingling away from the nape of his neck.

‘Now, do you mind telling me where we are going – and why?’

‘There’s something we’ve got to see,’ said Shaw.

‘What?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Well, where then?’ persisted Dinah.

‘There’s the thing…’

Dinah sighed deeply.  ‘You don’t know do you?’

‘Not exactly, no, but I think I’ll know when we get there.’

‘How?  How will you know?’

‘The man in the tartan hat,’ Shaw nodded, indicating the man on the seat behind him.  ‘He’ll be getting off there.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Well, he has to get off somewhere, doesn’t he?’

‘I suppose so, but why him?  Why are we following him?’

‘To see where he gets off, of course.’  Shaw sipped his coffee, indicating that, as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed. 

Dinah, as ever, absorbed and understood the subliminal message, but ploughed on anyway.  ‘I mean, you must have some reason to want to know why he, in particular, is going to get off the train, wherever he might choose to do so.’

Shaw drank slowly, eeking out the silence as long as he could.  Finally, his cup empty, he sighed resignedly and said, ‘Do you think we should be following somebody else?’

‘Well, no,’ Dinah stuttered.  ‘That is…’

‘Good,’ said Shaw, settling back in his seat and revelling in his moment of triumph.  ‘That’s settled then.  We’ll stick with my original plan.’

Despite a billion reservations bouncing around in her head, like a zero-gravity hailstorm, she decided that the time had come to just go along with the flow and enjoy the day out.  She would have said ‘watching the world go by’, but she had to agree with Shaw, there was little fun in watching the world that had already gone by.

Slowly, imperceptibly, she surrendered to the steady sway of the train, and her head sagged steadily towards Shaw’s shoulder.  She drifted off into a soft, dreamless sleep, unaware of the gentle rhythmic snoring of Shaw in her ear…

…They both awoke in the otherwise empty carriage to the first lurch of the return journey.  Outside the carriage, all was dark.  ‘Typical,’ said Shaw.  ‘We’re facing the right way, and now there’s nothing to see…’

Previous snippets from the lives of Dinah Shaw are here. Part one, part two, part three and part four.

A Little Fiction – Party Impolitics

Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

Carol had been working at the Wilton Tribune for seven years, but never allowed to report on anything more glamorous than the Ryland cat show, the local ‘am-dram’ production of ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ and The School Friend’s Fancy Dress Disco, Barbecue and Charity Beetle Drive.  She was officially titled ‘Community Correspondent’, but known amongst her colleagues as ‘Our Man at the W.I.’.

Today she was scheduled to be reporting on the long term effects of a burst water main outside the Wilton sub-post office.  The leak had been cleared up over a week ago and as far as she was aware, the only long term effects had been felt by a cardboard box-full of Reader’s Digest ‘You may already have won…’ cards.  Still, it was an assignment and it didn’t pay to argue with the editor.  It would get her name in the paper and if all else failed she could always make something up.  Perhaps if she tried really hard, she would be able to find a water damaged water bill…

Not to be.  The Tribune’s senior leader writer had been taken ill with something that the whole staff sincerely hoped would be fatal and a replacement had to be found to cover the annual Society Bash.  Carol was to hand when the Editor went ballistic and was duly despatched, party frocked and coiffured, to the local conference centre.

It was a nightmare.  Wall-to-wall swank… and swankers.  A room full of the kind of people that only ever get to fill a room of this kind.  Carol stood, spiral bound notebook and pencil in hand, and watched as the dinner suits and sequined frocks wafted by: all designer-label mating-plumage, silicon-breasted, botoxed and lipo’d, carved and padded, a room full of semi-clothed and penguin-suited egos and shoulder chips.  A human menagerie, doused in expensive perfume and naked ambition, smelling of pride and envy, jealousy and impotent rage.

She had tried to get a ‘star’ interview.  She had tried to get any interview.  She had tried to get some inside information from the caterers, from the waiters, from the bar staff, from the cat…..  It was impossible; no-one willing to talk to a reporter wearing a borrowed frock and less-than-expensive perfume.  No-one willing to talk to a woman who was asking questions that didn’t appear on the crib-sheet.  No-one willing to talk to a woman who was ever-so-slightly tipsy…

She yearned for her long-since burst water main and its all-too-difficult-to-find water damage.  She began to crave her W.I. meetings, lukewarm tea and soggy biscuits, interminable lectures, dried flower arrangements and crocheted blankets.  She began to ache for the company of people in pleated dresses, high-necked woollies and sensible shoes.  She began to long for gin and tonic.  A very large gin and tonic, with very little tonic…

Then salvation arrived.  It was in a face she knew.  It was wearing an expensive dinner jacket of immaculate fit.  It was looking cool and comfortable in a silken shirt and bow tie.  It was tall, slightly ungainly, but none-the-less relaxed and at home in these opulent surroundings.  Damien West, the most eligible boy in the whole class of ’99 strode easily through the gathered throng towards her.

“Carol…  It is you, isn’t it?”

“I think so,” she said, aware of the banality of her answer and desperately eager for the floor to swallow her up.  He laughed.  He laughed!  Joy of joys, he laughed.  She wanted to laugh too, but embarrassment led her to try and hide it and, in doing so, she merely succeeded in contorting her face into some kind of grotesque halloween mask.  She feared she might be dribbling.  “Save me, God.  Please save me…”  And then she remembered that he had crossed the room to come to her.  Of all the people in the room, he had come to her.  And he’d remembered her name.

“So, what are you doing at this boring old lot?” he asked.  He sounded friendly, he sounded interested and Carol felt closer to heaven than she thought she had ever been.

She took a deep breath, determined to speak without stumbling over her words.  She looked up into the crystal blue eyes and knew that it wouldn’t be possible.  “I just, that is I…  I work for a newspaper.  I have to cover this… I have to get, that is, I have to try to get some interviews.  I haven’t done very well up to now.  Nobody wants to talk to a nobody.  I might have had a glass or two of wine…”

“You could interview me,” he said before leaning in and whispering conspiratorially into her ear “I don’t blame you, I don’t think anyone can make it through one of these evenings sober.”

Carol studied his face.  He meant it, he really meant it.  She smiled in gratitude, hoping that it didn’t look too much like a gloat.  And then she noticed for the first time the elegant woman at his side.  Her blonde hair was expensively styled, her clothes had obviously been designed especially for her, her perfume was intoxicating.  She was every inch the professional woman, every man’s dream and every fibre with Damien.  She leaned towards him and whispered into his ear before slipping away into the crowd.  He smiled and nodded before turning back to Carol.  “Do you know, at school, I used to loiter around the corridors, waiting for you to come along, hoping I would be able to speak to you, but you seldom came my way.  When you did, I could never think of anything to say.”

“I was hanging around some other corridor, waiting for you.  I could never speak to you either.”

“It’s strange,” he said.  “When you look back, things could have been so different.”

“Would you have wanted them to be?”

“Not everything, for sure, but you always wonder, don’t you.  ‘What if’s’.”  His colleague/agent/companion/partner/wife (bitch, bitch, bitch!) appeared carrying champagne.  She handed a glass to Carol and one to Damien before taking up station once more at his side.

Carol coughed her thanks and stared hopelessly from her notebook to the floor, to Damien and his tall and perfectly proportioned odalisque and then back to Damien, who was looking at her expectantly.  She took her cue.

“You’re a famous person these days.  A well-known and respected author.  Is there any facet of your fame that you find difficult to handle?”  An obvious, but sensible attempt to get the interview back onto some sort of professional footing.     

“Evenings like this,” he said.  “Usually…..”

“I used to stand in the trees, you know, watching you playing football.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Well, I know that you used to stand in the trees.  I thought you were watching somebody else.”

She laughed, more loudly than she should have.  “Half the Sixth Form was in those trees,” she looked down at her feet.

“I didn’t realise teenage girls had a ‘thing’ about uncoordinated boys with gangly limbs and knobbly knees.”  Embarrassment flashed across Damien’s face.  He turned to his companion who smiled benignly, like a mother.  Suitably assured he turned back to face Carol and she realised she had shocked him.  Oh God, she didn’t want to blow it now.  She had to get a decent interview.  “I’m sorry.”  She was stammering again.

“Don’t be,” he said.  “It’s erhm… flattering, I guess.”

Carol coughed, nervous and excited.  “Did you… Have you based any of your characters on people that you have known?”  She was trying again, to get the interview back on track, but at the same time, she couldn’t help but fish.

“No.”  His answer was definite and a profound disappointment.  “But you’ll be in my next book, I promise.”

“The villain?”

“The love interest.”

He smiled.  She swallowed and felt her whole body flush red.  In her mind, they were now alone, the crowds around them ethereal, insubstantial.  For reasons she did not understand she was overcome by anger and hunger and injustice and need, mostly need. 

“You must have known how I felt about you then, but I suppose I was just one of many.  Besides…” she was becoming indiscreet and she knew it.  The couple of glasses of wine were actually many and they had been washed down with an equal number of gins.  They had fortified her resolve, galvanised and empowered her ragged self-belief and honed her indignation into a dagger.  Carol Massingham felt herself rising.  She prickled with resentment and exhilaration.  “…You had someone special, don’t you remember?  The skinny redhead from the fourth form.  She had the most awful buck teeth.  She wouldn’t leave you alone, stuck to you like glue she did. You must remember.  I wonder what ever happened to her?”

“I got myself a dentist,” said the goddess at Damien’s side.  “Put some weight on; dyed my hair…”

A Little Fiction – A Further Further Excerpt from a Different Unfinished Novel (Conversations with a Bearded Man part 3)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

I think you may well recognise these two people.  If you do not, you can find them here in part one and part two of their conversations…

The bus was just as buses always are on rainy winter evenings: hot and steamy, filled with the smell of impatience and anxiety, damp dogs and incubated dust, perspiration and yesterday’s kebab.  It was approaching full and I was, as usual, trying to look large enough to fill both halves of the seat without actually spreading myself over the entire thing – that would be rude.  I focussed briefly on each person as they walked down the aisle, beaming out my telepathic message, “Don’t sit here, sit elsewhere,”  vaguely aware of how uneasy I would be if I turned out to be the last person that anyone chose to sit next to: the last person with a seat to himself – the public transport pariah – the man with whom not even the unwashed neurotic would choose to sit. Behind me, a child was rhythmically kicking the seat, sending tremors through my backbone like juddering metrical tics.  I should have turned and asked his mother to make him stop, but she was in a deep and shouted mobile phone conversation with somebody called Tiff, about the lacklustre nature of her sex life and I had the feeling that any attempt to communicate would inexorably lead to accusations of a nature that would drive me, red-faced from the bus and out into the translucent sheets of freezing rain outside.  In front of me two teenage girls carried out a yelled conversation, each struggling to be heard above the tinny cacophony of the friend’s still-playing i-pod.  I thought of Ray Bradbury, his little ‘Seashells’ and decided that, were he not already dead, I would kill him for that one.  Somewhere, someone was eating cheese and onion crisps.

“Like research labs for observers of human perversity aren’t they?” said the man at my side.  I hadn’t noticed anyone sit beside me, but I knew that when I turned to reply, it would be to an elegant, lean and hirsute man, with whom I had spoken only twice before.  “Buses, I mean,” he said.  “All human life is here.  If alien life-forms really do visit this planet of ours, they could learn all they would ever need to know of human nature by beaming up the 5.30 North Circular.”

“I’m sorry,” I was trying hard not to splutter, “I didn’t know you were there.  I didn’t see you get on.  I didn’t feel you sit down…”

He held out a white paper bag.  “Pear drop?”

“Thanks.”  I took one, popped it in my mouth and sat back. 

“I have your petrol can,” I said.

“Do you?” he said, looking down at my feet.

“Well, not with me of course, but I still have it.”

“Right,” he said.  “Good.”

“I need to let you have it back.”

“Do you?” He looked out of the window.  “Well,” he said.  “Don’t worry.  You will.”

“When?”

“Oh, we’ll see…” 

We sat in silence for some time sucking mutely on the fossilized concoction of sugar and chemical something-or-other. 

“Always seem so full of lonely people, buses, don’t you think?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” I said.  “But, to be honest, most of them deserve to be lonely don’t they?”

“Do you think people are ever truly happy alone,” he asked.

“I thought I would be.”

“But you’re not?

“Not always.”

“When are you not?”

“When I’m alone…”  Odd, I’d never thought about it before.  I loved not having to worry about anyone else, pleasing just myself, being alone, but only while I was in company – at work, in the pub, watching the football – when I was alone I felt, well, alone.  I was quite happy to sit in silence when I was in company, but when I was alone I had to have the sound of music or the TV or often both.  Meals for one are so bloody boring.  Eating straight from the foil container is sad.  Drinking straight from the bottle is sad.  Waking up at three thirty in the morning with an empty wine bottle in your hand and your face in a half finished chicken vindaloo is sadder.  You can judge how long a person has been single, by the strength of the take-away curry they buy.  By the time they are eating phaal, they have given up on ever having friends again. 

And yes, I still thought of sad, lonely people as ‘they’ and never ‘me’.

“What about you?” I asked.

“Me?”

“Are you happy?  Are you alone?”

“It’s hard to be alone.  It’s easy to be happy.”

“So, are you?”

“Alone or happy?”

“Both.”

“Yes,” he paused as if trying to decide.  “Both,” he said.  “Sometimes both.  Sometimes neither.  When I’m alone it is because I choose to be alone, when I’m happy it is because I choose not to be alone.  Everyone deserves the everyone they get,” he said.  “But you, you need a friend, I think.”

“I’ve got friends.”

“Any that don’t see friendship as weakness?”  He smiled and held out the paper bag as he rose to his feet.  “Have another,” he said. “This is my stop.” 

He moved towards the aisle and as he did so he indicated the two teenagers in front who had fallen into silence, the music clearly audible from their earphones, a song I had known for years.

“‘Everybody Needs A Friend,’” I said.

“Exactly,” he said and was gone.

Everybody Needs a Friend’ – Wishbone Ash (Listen to the end of this ‘acoustic’ version for my favourite guitar outro of all time, by the great Andy Powell)

Odds and Sods – The End of the World

It’s quite a while since I’ve published ‘poetry’, and I feel that I need to give a little context to this particular piece.  I was reading a poem by James (James Proclaims) the other day and the style of it encouraged me to look back on something of my own from long, long ago.  Many many years ago I started a book which, much like a lot of what I have done since, I didn’t finish.  It was called ‘The Six Days’ and it was about the end of the world.  There have been many such books and films both before and since – at least one of which, I note, has utilised the same premise and exactly the same time scale as my own.  My book was actually a collection of short stories, vignettes and poems telling the story of how little the forthcoming Armageddon actually impacted on everyday life for most of my cast of misfits.  It stalled about half way through.  I wasn’t old enough to write it, and before I was, somebody else had done it.  Not as I wanted to do it, but close enough to make me look like the sub-plagiarist if I persisted – so I didn’t.  In my head, the book I intended to write was like a ‘concept album’ and this was the title track.  I have played with it from time to time ever since.  This will help me to leave it alone…

The End of the World
Bloody ‘fridge has packed in again.
A pool of water spilled onto the floor
Where the cat sleeps.
Froze as solid as a rock, it did;
Had to ease him out with warm spoons
And that’s no joke.

I think it must be the warmest place in the house –
Except, maybe, for the freezer
Which stopped freezing almost a month ago –
The milk has turned to cheese,
The cheese has turned to mould
And the little light doesn’t come on anymore
When you open the door.

Still,
At least the walls are thin –
We can hear them rowing next-door.
Screaming and swearing because the dog has lost control
On the Shepherds pie
And the central heating has developed a mind of its own:
Equatorial temperatures killing off the house plants;
Giving the children heat bumps;
Melting his favourite nylon vest…

It seems that Jim at number three
Arose the worse for wear;
Fell down the stairs
And cut his head on the ornamental pig by the door.
Yelled the house down.
Woke the whole bloody street.
Such a fuss!
Went to hospital on his motorbike.
Strewth! What a noise it makes,
Set the baby off
Screaming…

I wonder if she knows
About the end of the world?

And now the power’s gone.
The government says we could grind to a halt unless we tighten our belts,
Pull together
And get back on our feet.
But nobody cares about inflation, taxation, education, or unemployment;
About food rotting on the supermarket shelves
And children screaming into the emptiness of dark
Because there’s no time left to die
And life is still the toy of the few who can play:
A gift for those who know
That food is power among the starving,
God is strength among the poor
And death is the only truth they’ll know
About the end of the world.

You see, it’s about the end of the world and yet it still sounds, to me, unduly bleak.  The rest of the book was more uplifting I suppose; funny in parts, sentimental, but not bleak.  This frontispiece was just not right, and I couldn’t make it so, so I stopped trying and now, I hope, it has gone.

I would hope to be able to wait for the final curtain on a grassy hillside somewhere, with my family, a picnic and a bottle of wine, playing football and toasting marshmallows on the bonfire – it has to be the way to go, doesn’t it?

“The year 1999, seventh month, from the sky will come a great King of Terror: to bring back to life the great King of the Mongols, before and after Mars to reign by good luck. The present time together with the past will be judged by the great Joker: the world too late will be tired of him, and through the clergy oath-taker disloyal. The year of the great seventh number accomplished, it will appear at the time of the games of slaughter: not far from the great millennial age, when the buried will go out from their tombs.” – NOSTRADAMUS (The Prophecies of Nostradamus) – Is it wrong to suggest that he might have been twenty one years adrift?

PS The new photo has nothing to do with the end of the world, it’s just that I thought I probably needed to update it, to prove that I am not a bot (whatever they are). As far as I can see, the only thing that has changed is the specs. I still look like a dork – and I still have to look at my hand when I’m trying to take a selfie…

A Little Fiction – The Meaning of Life

“…I was just saying to Meerkat here,” said the man in the lovat green cavalry twill suit, “that it is impossible to consider the meaning of life without reference to the impact of Bobby Moore’s spurious arrest before the 1970 World Cup finals.”

“Hang on…” said the man in the meerkat ‘T’ shirt, as his friend in the moleskin waistcoat placed three pint glasses onto the sticky dark wood table, spilling just a little as he did so.  “I…”

“’Ere, I hope that’s yours,” snapped Cavalry Twill.  “Don’t want to go paying for a pint and finding that most of it has been slopped onto the table.”

“It’s just a drop,” said Moleskin, none-the-less pushing one of the full glasses towards Cavalry Twill, “and anyway, you paid for nothing.”

Cavalry Twill sucked on his pint noisily before placing the glass down carefully on the soggy beer mat.  “No peanuts?” he asked.  “No pork scratchings?  Not even a pickled egg to share?”

“I forgot,” said Moleskin morosely.  “I’m sure that you will rectify the omission when it comes to your own turn to buy a round.  Unless, of course, you have mysterious ‘other business’ in the Gent’s again.”

“Leeks,” muttered Cavalry Twill darkly.

“I…” said Meerkat.

“Anyway,” interrupted CT, raising himself just very slightly from his stool, “the moment will have passed by then.  Pardon me, vicar.  Better out than in, eh?”  Meerkat and Moleskin shared a glance.  They had their doubts.

“You see,” continued CT, “what I’m trying to say is, you cannot simply consider the direct wossname, consequences of an action; you have to consider the indirect implications, viz, would Sir Alf Ramsay have removed Bobby Charlton from the fray so early if he hadn’t had his eye taken off the ball as a result of seeing his captain in cufflinks just prior to the tournament?”

“Handcuffs,” said Meerkat.  “Surely you mean…”

“The type of wristwear is, sunshine, what we in the psychology game call an irrelevance.  Best not mentioned.” He directed a long, dark look at Meerkat; took a pull on his beer and continued again.  “Point is, unforeseen consequences: you just don’t know what they might be.”

“Isn’t that what makes them, you know, unforeseen?” ventured Moleskin.

“Precisely,” said CT.  “It is like…”  He waved his hand in front of him as if trying to evoke some distant memory.  “It is like him what had the box of chocolates: you don’t know what you’re going to get.  Think you’re in for a cushy coffee crème and you wind up losing a filling to a toffee finger.  Buggers are toffee fingers.”

“I never understood why he didn’t look at the little picture on the box,” said Moleskin.  “If he didn’t know what he was going to get, I mean.”

Life does not come with pictures,” said CT profoundly. “And anyway, illustrations are not always accurate.  ‘May be subject to change,’ it says so on the box.  Also, you cannot trust the average Walloon; they put the little pictures on the bottom of the box.  Drop your guard for one second and try to work out what the whirly little numbers with the nuts on top are and before you know it you’ve got fourteen individual little brown stains down the crotch of your chinos.”

“Forrest Gump…” said Meerkat.

“Belgians,” corrected CT.  “Was a time when we had our own chocolates.  Knew where you were with a box of Milk Tray: no unpleasant surprises there.  If it looked like a lime barrel, then a lime barrel was what you got.  Not,” he cast an accusing glare in the direction of Meerkat, “some kind of nutty sludge.”

“Praline…” said Meerkat.

“Mmm, strange kind of Christmas present I have to say – requires you to scrub your top plate with a dishmop to get the bits out.  Anyway, least said, soonest mended.  The accepted social norm does allow for the occasional detour into Crystalized Fruit when circumstances demand the less than ideal solution; when your ‘proper’ chocolates are not, for some reason readily available: in time of nuclear war for instance; as the result of fire or pestilence; when the petrol stations are closed, you know, but Flemish confections are seldom welcome on a more advanced English palate.”

Meerkat looked crestfallen.  “The wife’s sister won them in a lottery,” he said.  “They said that they were of exceptional quality.  The crème de la crème…”

“And not a raspberry ruffle among them,” scoffed CT, draining the last of his beer.  “I think I’ll just have to…” he stood awkwardly.  “Braised liver,” he said as he lurched from the room. 

Meerkat drained his glass and rose slowly to his feet.  “I don’t suppose he’ll be back until well after I’ve got them in,” he smiled wryly at Moleskin.

“No,” answered Moleskin.  “I think he will be taking a little time out in order to develop a new theory on the meaning of life.  Something which, I would imagine, will completely bar him from putting his hand in his pocket.” 

Meerkat sighed deeply as he gathered up the glasses and turned towards the bar.  “Hungry work, I should imagine.  Do you think I should get him a roll-mop herring?”

“Does he even like them?” asked Moleskin, somewhat surprised by the suggestion.

“I shouldn’t think so for a second,” answered Meerkat, smiling broadly…

A Little Fiction – Morning is Broken (Dinah and Shaw part 4)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

In Shaw’s long experience, nothing quite matched the exquisite pain of toothpaste underneath the contact lens.  The eye, it would seem, was no more designed for the absorption of fluoride than his teeth were designed to withstand the Cif with which he had inadvertently cleaned them that morning.

He had not had a good start to the day.  His alarm at waking in an unfamiliar room had been of such magnitude that the hotel staff had alerted the management who, in turn, had despatched Security to handle the situation.  By the time the man in uniform arrived at his door, Shaw had recovered some equilibrium with fast returning Tarantino-style flashbacks of an over-indulgent night in the hotel bar, but his renewed calm was not matched by the generously proportioned man in the over-tight suit who blocked out the light in his doorway.  Indeed, Shaw’s own mood was darkened further when the be-suited Neanderthal pushed past him and insisted on looking around as ‘there had been reports of something that sounded like animal abuse,’ from the room.  Shaw, in particular, did not care for the pointed remarks about his lack of luggage, nor the persistent bone-headed references to ‘people of your kind’.

Eventually, satisfied that the room had not been the scene of some bestial ritual sacrifice or perverted sexual practice, the shaven-headed behemoth returned to his dot-to-dot book and Shaw sat heavily on his bed to think.

He had been doing this ‘job’ for many years now and had, during that time, woken in many places far more alien than a hotel bedroom, but never in the state of agitated disorientation in which he had awoken on that morning.  He felt around his body, searching for signs of injury or attack but, save for the extreme discomfort of a severely over-extended bladder, all was as usual.  Of course, there was the issue of the hotel bedroom itself.  Shaw presumed that it must have been paid for, but he had no recollection of how.  He, himself, never carried more than a few pounds in cash – it was a matter of principal – and the only credit card he had ever possessed had been eaten by an iguana in 1999.  He claimed ‘eaten’ – it had actually fallen into the animal’s terrarium (or ‘lair’ as he insisted on calling it) and Shaw, having witnessed the lizard’s scaly little swivelling eyes in action, was too freaked out to retrieve it.  Even when the friend had returned the card to him, he refused to keep it and posted it instead, back to the bank in an envelope marked ‘Sanitisation Department’.  The bank, for their part, seized the opportunity to withdraw the card from the man who had run up an overspend somewhat in excess of a developing nation and who possessed more aliases than a Sicilian telephone directory.  He had never had a credit card since.

He rifled through the detritus from his trouser pockets and attempted to assemble some sort of coherent chronology to the previous night’s affairs from the crumpled papers he retrieved.  There was a name and address he did not recognise, several old bus tickets and a National Lottery ticket from almost a decade before, but no sign of a receipt for the room.  It was not until he found the neatly folded slip of paper in his shoe (he always took special care with Dinah’s phone number) that he realised he had also lost his phone.  Dinah would know how to handle the situation in a manner that he was unable to fathom – e.g. without causing an incident that required the presence of police from three different counties – but there it was; she was not available to him.  ‘Just goes to show,’ he thought bitterly.  ‘You just can’t rely on anybody.’

He couldn’t pick up the phone in the room and ask reception to put a call through for him: he just knew that the ape of a security guard would be right there, uncovering the fact that the room had never been paid for: polishing his knuckles and devising his excuses.  Dinah would have to wait for now – although he made a mental note to speak to her about unreliability – while he considered how he could extricate himself from his current predicament.

He could, of course have crept downstairs and made a run for it as soon as he reached the hotel lobby, but he remembered, with some pain, the consequences of his last attempt at such an exit, when the revolving doors had spun him straight back into the room and deposited him at the feet of the receptionist who had gripped him in an arm-lock so severe that he had suffered from pins and needles for months, before she doused his face in the depilatory spray that she had mistakenly put in her pocket in place of mace.  It worked just as well.  He certainly wouldn’t be able to talk himself out of the situation as he had done back then – the face that had launched a thousand ships looked as if it had done them all with a head-butt this morning – and not even a protagonist of more advanced years would ever find her head being turned by a man who had absolutely no idea why he was wearing odd shoes.  Besides, he feared the only head-turning to take place would be his own, at the behest of the muscle-bound troglodyte at the door.

No, it was clear now.  He knew what he had to do.  Stealthily he traversed the wall, past the still un-noticed partition door – on the other side of which an ear-plugged Dinah slept soundly on, with both of their phones and her credit card beside her – past the ceiling CCTV (actually a long-disabled smoke alarm) and to the sanctuary of the curtain, from the shelter of which he deftly slipped the catch and opened the window.  Good, only three floors up.  All he needed to do now was to reach the drainpipe…

This is the fourth little snippet from the story of Dinah and Shaw. If you are interested, you will find part one here, which has links to parts two and three

Part five is now here.