A Little Fiction – Frankie & Benny #3 – The Night Before

“You, my friend, were drunk.”
“I was not drunk, Frankie.  I have not been drunk in many years.”
“You were slurring your words.  Were you having a stroke?”
“No.”
“Then you were drunk.”
“Nobody else said that I was slurring my words.”
“Well, they wouldn’t would they?  They wouldn’t want to upset you, in case you were having a stroke.”
“I was as sober as a Methodist christening.  I was not slurring my words.  I was not drunk.”
“You were most definitely not sober.  I walked the several miles home with you.”
“Several miles?  We were only across the road.  Eight hundred yards at the most”
“As the crow flies, Benny, I’ll give you that.  Eight hundred yards in a straight line, but you were not walking in a straight line.  You, Benny my friend, walked as far backwards as you did forwards, and twice as far to the side.  You were bouncing off parked cars and garden fences like a pinball.  You were singing to the lamp-posts.”
“You’re exaggerating again.  I know what you’re doing.  Alright, I had drunk a little – as had you – but I was not drunk.”
“Ah well, ok, have it your own way.  Have you checked your coat pocket, by the way?”
“My coat pocket?  What for?”
“Why don’t you go and check?”
“…A mushroom vol-au-vent.  What does that prove?  Everybody sneaks food away from a buffet.  It’s expected.”
“We weren’t at a buffet, Benny.  You went through the baker’s bin on the way home.  Check your other pocket.”
“…What the?…”
“Chicken Chow Mien, I believe.”
“I don’t even like Chicken Chow Mien.”
“I know.  You kept bothering a young couple at the bus stop, telling them your life story and eventually they offered you some of their food to go away.  You said that you didn’t actually like the fore-mentioned concoction – I seem to remember you showed them how the noodles get under your dentures – but that you’d take some home for the dog.”
“I don’t have a dog.”
“Indeed you do not.  Nor do you have a parrot, but you also took their prawn crackers.”
“Oh dear.  I must admit, I do have a bit of a fuzzy head this morning, but I don’t remember any of this.  Are you sure you’re not winding me up here?”
“No.  No, not at all…  Well ok, maybe just a little bit.  The landlord brought out the vol-au-vents after the quiz, that’s where you got that from.”
“And the Chow Mien?”
“That was from the couple at the bus stop.”
“Oh God…  What were we even doing at a quiz, we’re both thick aren’t we?”
“I believe that is indeed what our teachers told us Frankie.  A verdict I have never felt equipped to contradict.”
“So why were we doing a quiz?”
“There was a prize.”
“What?”
“A bottle of whisky.”
“And did we win it?”
“No, but we did drink one.”
“I think I’ll put the kettle on.  Do you want a tea?”
“I wouldn’t say no.  If I’m honest I feel a little out of sorts myself.”
“Do you want a biscuit?”
“Yes, and a couple of aspirin if you’ve got them.”
“…Why do we do it?”
“What?”
“Drink too much.  At our age, why do we do it?”
“Well, I think that if we were sober, Benjamin my friend, we would not do it, but as soon as we get drunk, then we start to drink too much.”
“So you’re saying that if we didn’t start to drink at all, then we wouldn’t drink too much?”
“Precisely.”
“Well, that’s cleared that up for me then.  Here, have a biscuit.  I’ve only got Rich Tea I’m afraid.”
“Rich Tea?  What happened to the Hobnobs?”
“I don’t have any.”
“You do, I was with you when you bought them yesterday.”
“I ate them.”
“When?”
“Last night when we got back from the pub.  I also appear to have eaten several slices of toast and fried my last two eggs.”
“You ate your last two eggs?”
“You should listen to what I say Francis, perhaps clear some of that wax from your ears.  I did not say that I ate my last two eggs, I said that I fried them.”
“So what did you do with them then?”
“Well, one of them I appear to have put in the fridge with a beer mat and a half-eaten spring roll.”
“And the other?”
“I have just found in my slipper…”
“So are you not going to wash your foot then?”
“I think I’ll just sit a minute first.  Drink my tea…  I might need to take a minute or two before…  The yolk, you know…  So how many of us did this quiz thing then?  I mean, how many were in our team?”
“Just you and me old chum.  Just you and me.”
“So we came last then?”
“Oh yes we did indeed.  Very.  But we did win a prize.”
“Really, what?”
“This.”
“A tiny cup.  Very nice.  I’ll keep it in my trophy cabinet with all the others.  What does it say on it?”
“‘Wankers.’”
“Oh classy.  Charming that.  Quite a wag, that landlord, isn’t he?”
“He did apologize.  He said that if he’d known we were going to take part, he would have had our names engraved on the loser’s trophy in advance.”
“Oh well, fair enough.”
“Yes, fair do’s, he could have insisted that the losers at least scored some points.”
“Did we not score any?”
“We never answered any, Benny.  We spent the whole night arguing over our team name.  I wanted to call us ‘Frankie and Benny’ – everyone knows who we are anyway – but you said it should be something clever and witty.”
“And?…”
“We couldn’t think of anything…  How’s your head now?”
“Not so bad.  I’m starving mind, how about you?”
“I could certainly go a fry-up.”
“Come on, I’ll just get this yolk off my sock and we’ll go and get one.”
“Ok.  I fancy the whole works: fried bread, black pudding, mushrooms…  That’ll sort me out.”
“Mind you, we did spend quite a lot at the pub last night.  If you want, I could warm us something up here instead.”
“Oh yes, and what have you got?”
“How do you fancy Chicken Chow Mien?”

These chaps are currently my favourite characters. You can find their previous appearances here and here.

A Little Fiction – Conversations with a Bearded Man (part 7) – Helpline

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

For Ellie (Mrs Underfelt) – who said she liked this character.

“…I knew it would be you as soon as I dialled. How do you do it?”
The voice at the other end of the phone was exactly as I had grown to know, except for an air of confusion with which I was not familiar but, never being one to let doubt get in the way of indignation, I pressed on none-the-less. “Your card in the newsagent’s: how did you know that I would see it? How did you know that I would call?”
“Call?”
I quoted directly from the card that I had removed from the shop window. “‘Tired? Lonely? Need to hear a friendly voice? Just ring,’ and then it’s got your phone number.”
“My number? Are you sure?”
“It’s the number I just dialled.”
“But I don’t have a card in the newsagent’s.”
“Yeh, right.” I said, regretting my tone instantly. “So how come I just got you?”
“You must have mis-dialled.”
“That really is…” I wanted to say preposterous, but the notion was simply so far-fetched that I was already checking the number on the card against the number I had dialled. It was, of course, one digit different. That single digit had connected me with the man I know as Lorelei. But how? How is it even possible to dial what now amounts to a virtually random phone number, and get him. It must be some kind of trick – a mind-game or something. Maybe I was having some kind of psychotic episode. Perhaps I’d been brainwashed, or hypnotised, or… I have no idea what… I would wake up soon and find that this was all a dream.
“So, are you?” His voice pricked into my brain like defeat into an ego.
“Am I what?”
“Tired? Lonely?”
I wanted to say ‘no’, but I knew that he would see right through that. Why had I rung the number in that case? I really didn’t want this man to think that I might have been trying to contact the kind of person who routinely displays their phone number in the newsagent’s window. “Well, I’m tired of how things are. Does that make sense?”
“I don’t know. What sort of things?”
“I thought I was making progress. I thought that she might have been ready to change her mind, but instead she just told me that she was getting married again and…”
“Ah, this will be your ex-wife.”
“The new man is called Duncan. Bloody Duncan! He sounds like a Blue Peter presenter.”
“I thought you had put that particular situation behind you. I thought you said you were moving on.”
“Duncan has a sports car. Duncan has his own house. Duncan, apparently, wears clean socks every day and doesn’t behave like a three year old when things don’t go his way.”
“Ah, so you’ve not moved on quite so far as you might have hoped then?”
“The thing is, I’ve done everything she asked.”
“Have you?”
“Well, I listened.” Even through the mobile phone I could sense his eyebrows arching. “There was a lot to take in,” I explained. “She had a lot to say. It appears that I have quite a lot of faults.”
“I don’t suppose you can remember what any of them are?”
“Not really – she might have a point with the not listening thing I suppose – but the other stuff… I’m willing to try.”
“She doesn’t want you to though, does she?”
“Not now she’s got Duncan. Good old Dunc’…”
“She was alone too, just like you, although without the six foot pile of takeaway containers in the kitchen and a mound of dirty socks in the bidet, obviously.”
“She left me. She started the divorce. She said we were both unhappy.”
“And?”
“…It’s bloody infuriating.”
“She doesn’t want you to be lonely.”
“She wants me to meet somebody. To ease her conscience.”
He sighed the kind of sigh that, even over the phone, comes accompanied with a world-weary roll of the eyes. “Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m in the park,” I answered. “It’s the nearest thing I get to excitement these days. Can I get home without treading in dog shit? Can I sit on a bench without having my hat stolen by a gang of feral kids?”
“You’re not even wearing a hat.”
“How can you possibly know that? I…” I looked at my phone only briefly before ending the call. “Don’t tell me,” I said, turning to face the man who I knew I would find standing beside me, “you just happened to be in the park as well.”
“I like to walk,” he said. “I like to meet people. It’s a good way to meet people, don’t you think?”
“I’m not really lonely you know,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “Let’s have an ice cream.” We joined the short queue to the kiosk. “And we’ll see where life takes us.”
“Beautiful day,” said the woman in front of us, trying to defy gravity by remaining upright with a bouncing toddler dangling erratically from her arm. She smiled apologetically as a whirling hand caught me a glancing blow a-midriff and gently eased the child out of range. “I brought my nephew to play. An ice cream is a small price to pay, don’t you think? It’s so nice not to be staring at the walls.”
I waited for Lorelei to fill the void, but he was silent; smiling benignly at me, the woman and the world in general. He had a look of contentment that, as ever, I found impossible to understand. I tried to grin my way out of the situation, but the silence was becoming increasingly awkward.
“Do they still do 99’s?” I asked nobody in particular.
“I hope so,” said the woman. “Otherwise I’ll have to get a Flake from the newsagents on the way home. I’ll be particularly unhappy if they don’t do sprinkles.” She smiled. Quite a nice smile, in its own way. “Sara,” she said. “My name is Sara.”
“Jim,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you. And this is?…” I looked down at the child clinging to Sara’s hand.
“Oh this,” she said. “I’ve really no idea. He’s not my nephew really, I just picked him up at the playground. It’s so much easier to talk to people if you’ve got a child with you, don’t you think?” I could feel my mouth dropping open. “It’s a joke,” she grinned. “Of course I know his name… It’s written in the back of his coat.” The smile again. “This is Tom. Say hello Tom.”
“Aunty Sara’s going to buy me an ice cream,” said Tom clinging tightly to her hand. “We’re both having sprinkles.”
Lorelei coughed quietly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve just…” He turned to the woman in the queue. “I’m sorry Sara – I hope it’s ok for me to call you Sara – I hope you don’t think me terribly rude, but I have to go. It’s been good to meet you. I hope you enjoy your ice cream.”
“We will,” I replied in perfect harmony with Sara and Tom as Lorelei turned and wandered quietly away.
“And don’t be lonely,” he said. “I’m just a call away…”
“I know,” said Sara…

The first conversation with the bearded man is here
The sixth conversation with the bearded man is here
 

A Little Fiction – Goodbyes (Frankie & Benny #2)

“Well Francis my friend, that was a pleasant kind of morning, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes, certainly.  You can’t beat a good funeral, can you?”
“No, you can’t.  Indeed you can’t.  Providing, of course, that it’s done right.”
“Oh yes, has to be done right.”
“Proper mourning.  None of that happy-clappy nonsense.  Proper solemn hymns.  I like a good hymn.”
“Traditional, yes.  A good traditional hymn, where the words don’t fit the tune properly and the verses don’t rhyme unless you pronounce them wrong.”
“Yes, nothing worse than being asked to sing something that sounds like it might have been written by Gary bloody Barlow.  I am at a funeral, not a Take That concert.  I do not wish to clap along.  I do not wish to shake my hips.  I do not want my vicar to wear a kaftan.”
“And I don’t want to celebrate the life of the dearly departed either: he was a miserable bugger anyway.  Wouldn’t have appreciated a good joke at his own expense when he was alive, let alone now he’s in a box.”
“You knew him then?”
“Who?”
“The fella in the box.”
“No, no… not at all.  I was just generalising.  I didn’t recognise a soul.  I thought the widow was very dignified though.”
“Even when they had to lower her down into the grave to get her bracelet out.”
“Always a perilous business, chucking soil down into a hole.  Fraught with danger…”
“Nice to get out in the fresh air though.  Get a bit of sunshine.”
“Definitely, beats a cremation.  Who wants to sit indoors for twenty minutes just to see the curtain come around and knock the flowers over?  Who wants to listen to the corpse’s favourite song when you could be on your feet banging out ‘Jerusalem’?”
“…Did I see you putting money in the collection, by the way?”
“Changing really.  Couple of those coins in there that you can sell on Ebay, so I swapped them for a couple of bog-standard.  Nobody loses out and possibly I might make a bob or two.  Silver linings and all that.”
“Do you know how to put them on Ebay?”
“Not a clue, but still, better in my pocket than the vicar’s.”
“Have you ever considered your own funeral, my friend?”
“How so?”
“Well, what hymns you would have, what prayers… who would read your eulogy?”
“I don’t suppose it will be you: you’re three years older than me.”
“Fitter mind.”
“Do you reckon?”
“I traipse half way across the estate and up the stairs to your flat every day.  All you ever manage is a stroll to the pub.”
“I walk a lot faster than you.  You dawdle.  Dawdle, dawdle, dawdle, like you’ve not a care in the world… Mind you, there’s no doubt why you want me to get to the bar before you, is there?”
“Nor why you never decide to have a pie until the second pint.  ‘Oh look, it’s Benny’s round.  I think I quite fancy a chomp on a chicken & mushroom.’”
“…I’ve written it all down, you know.”
“What?”
“My funeral wishes.”
“What on Earth for?  What does it matter?  You won’t be there, will you?  Listening, I mean, or watching.  Well, you’ll be there of course… unless you’ve been lost at sea or something.  Unless you’ve just wandered off.  ‘Police are making enquiries about the whereabouts of Francis Collins – known to his friends as ‘Tight Bastard’ – who they believe was trying to walk his way out of buying peanuts…’ but you won’t know what’s going on, will you?  They could be singing a selection from Abba for all you’ll care.”
“No, no.  I want it to be right, you know.  I expect all of my friends will be dead by then – you’ll be long gone – and I want to make sure that I don’t repeat mistakes, you know.”
“Mistakes?”
“Well, look at that funeral we went to last week.”
“The one at the chapel?”
“Yes, the one with the paste-table for an altar.”
“It wasn’t a paste-table Frank.”
“It was made of hardboard!”
“It was not.  Granted, it was sagging a little bit in the middle, but a paste-table it was not.  Have you any idea how heavy all that silver is?”
“Well, no.  Now that you mention it, Frankie, I do not.  I have never lifted any.  Tell me old friend, have you and, if so, when?  Perhaps you could fill me in on the circumstances.”
“I have seen it being lifted on the Antiques Roadshow.  Comment is often passed viz-a-viz the weight.  ‘A fine example,’ they say.  ‘Full of… decoration… and… very heavy.’”
“Yes, well whatever, the service was much too long and I didn’t know a single word of any of the hymns.”
“Nor the tunes.”
“Nor the tunes indeed my friend.”
“Lovely wake though.  Corned beef sandwiches and pickled onions.  Trifle.  Lovely.”
“Yes, nice food, I’ll give you that.  Good spread.”
“No free bar though.”
“No, shame that.  Fortunate you had your hip flask.”
“Indeed.  My many years of Dib-Dib-Dobbing not entirely wasted Frankie my boy.  Always prepared.”
“So, don’t you have any last wishes then?”
“Well, nothing special.  I want to be buried, not burned: the surgeon told me that this new hip will last a hundred years – I wouldn’t want that to go up in flames, now would I?  …And I don’t want a photograph of me looking startled on the front of the Order of Service.  Why do people always pick ‘amusing’ photos?  I want a picture of me looking serious, sombre like, you know.”
“When did you last have your photograph taken, Benny?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I had a passport back in the day.  I must have had a photograph then.”
“Your passport ran out in the eighties.  Have you not had a photograph taken since then?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, what on earth are they going to put on your pamphlet then?  A drawing?  A photo-fit?”
“Well, I don’t know.  I always thought they might take one after I… After, you know.”
“Oh yes, that’ll be nice won’t it.  ‘Ah look at him on that photo.  He looks really… dead.’  Classy.  ‘You can see where the cat chewed the end of his nose off.’”
“Are you suggesting that I should have my photograph taken now, in case I die suddenly?”
“Well, it would save a lot of bother, wouldn’t it?  Tell you what, I could do it on my phone I think.”
“Could you?  Do you know how?”
“Well no, but how difficult can it be?  Look, there’s a little picture of a camera there.”
“Well, press that then.”
“Alright, alright, I will.  There…  Oh look, it’s me!”
“You need to turn it round.”
“Now I can’t see the screen.”
“I can.”
“Oh, shall I press the button then?”
“Yes.”
“Right… Which one?”
“I don’t know.  Let me see.  What about this one?  Oh… That’s your ear.  That won’t do.  We’ll need to practice a bit, don’t you think?  I don’t want to be buried with everybody thinking that I looked like your left ear.”
“Yes, you’re right.  It’s not urgent anyway.” 
“No, I’m not ready to say my ‘goodbyes’ just yet.  It can wait.”
“Shall we just take a little stroll down to the pub?”
“Yes, a fine idea my friend.  Lead on MacDuff, lead on…”

Frankie & Benny first appeared here.

This was written and scheduled in late March (since which time I have barely been around, even for reading your wonderful blogs, for which I sincerely apologise) and somehow – through a process known to WordPress alone – sneaked out to some of you at the time. If you have read this before, I can only apologise. Frankie & Benny (names have been altered etc etc) have gone on to become half a play since I wrote this, whether they will ever become a full one, only time will tell. I feel sure that I will be back with you fairly soon (please don’t report me for threatening behaviour) when I have got whatever-it-is out of my system. Thanks everyone!

A Little Fiction – Ancient Greeks (The Meaning of Life #3)

The man in the lovat Cavalry Tweed suit drained the last of his pint, loudly belched a beery fug laced with peanuts and bumptious pontification, and turned expectantly towards the man in the moleskin waistcoat who had barley sucked the froth from his own drink.  “Your round, squire, I think,” he said.
“Bloody hell,” said Moleskin.  “You got a shift on didn’t you?”
“Yes, well, as Archimedes pointed out, a man is only as heavy as the amount he can drink.  You, my friend, are bordering upon reedy.”
“Eureka!” said the man in the Meerkat T-shirt as he painstakingly attempted to remove shards of Cavalry Tweed’s eructation from the head of his stout.
“What does?” said CT, tapping his glass impatiently.
“Eureka.  It’s what Archimedes said after he sloshed his bath water all over the bath rug.”
“No, you my friend are mixing him up with Aristotle when he discovered logic: my glass is empty, therefore it needs filling.  ‘I think, therefore I am.’”
“Descartes,” muttered moleskin, gathering up the glasses and heading, reluctantly to the bar.  “It was Descartes who said that – ‘cogito, ergo sum’- not Aristotle.”
CT chuckled loudly.  “Cogito, ergo sum,” he said, means ‘like clockwork’.  It is actually the motto of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club.  Didn’t they teach you nothing up that posh boys school of yours?”
Moleskin bridled.  The hairs on the back of his neck rose in a villus concert.  “I did not go to a posh boys school.  I went to a state grammar school.”
“Of course,” said CT.  “I forgot.  So,” he continued, “how many girls were there?”
Moleskin passed a twenty pound note over to the barman.  “My point,” he said, quietly contained, “is that it was not a posh boys school.  It was simply a boys school.”  He placed the three glasses onto the table a little more heavily than was strictly necessary.  “You did not need to be posh to go there, you simply needed to be able to demonstrate a certain level of education…”
“…Attainable only to those who did not have to be up at sparrow’s fart to do their paper round and thus supplement the family income,” sneered CT.
“You never had a paper round!”
“Not for the want of trying, sunbeam.  They were all taken up by you posh boys whose dad’s took them round in the family Volvo.  My battered old hand-me-down bike did not conform to the corporate image.”
“Corporate image?  It was a local paper shop.  Mr and Mrs Singh would not have cared if you went round on a pogo stick as long as you got the papers delivered.  You never got a round because you were bolshie even then.”
“Didn’t he have a principle of some kind?” asked Meerkat.
“Mr Singh?  What kind of principle?”
“No, Archimedes.  Didn’t he have a principal?  Something about a solid object displacing its own weight in water…”
“Common mistake,” said CT.  “Firstly, what Archimedes invented was the screw – everything was nailed before he came along – and secondly, when you put something in water, what it actually displaces is its own volume in water e.g. drop an elephant in your average bath and you’re going to wind up with suds on the downstairs carpet.”
“Unless the object was absorbent, I suppose.”
“Not many absorbent elephants around though,” chuckled Moleskin.
“That,” said CT, “is where you are mistaken.  All elephants are absorbent due to where they live in the desert.  It’s why they have humps…”
The man in the moleskin waistcoat opened his mouth to object, but his attention was taken by the man in the Meerkat T-shirt who was taking peanuts from the packet and dropping them into his pint, where they floated on the, as yet, untroubled head.  “How come,” he said, as he tried to get the last few peanut shards from the packet “those huge boats don’t push all the water out of the sea?”
“Well, they do, in a manner of speaking,” said CT.  “They cause the tides, don’t they.”
“No they don’t,” said Moleskin.  “That’s the moon.”
“The moon?” laughed CT.  “The moon?  Have you gone mad?  Might cause a bit of sloshing around, I’ll give you that, as the Earth goes around it every day, but not the tides.  Have you ever been stood there when a big boat goes by?  That’s where your waves come from sunshine.  That’s the tides.”
Meerkat looked on solemnly as the salt slowly flattened his beer and the disappearing head lost its grip on the nuts which sank to the bottom of the glass.  “I don’t think I fancy a cruise,” he said.
“I must admit,” said Moleskin, “I never quite understand why they don’t turn over, those big liners.  There’s so much more above the water than below it.”
“Kaleidoscopes,” said CT.
“Kaleidoscopes?”
“You must have seen them.  Set ‘em spinning and they’ll balance on anything.  Send them scuttling along a piece of string or whatever.  They never fall off.”
“Do you mean a gyroscope?” asked Moleskin.
“Or a cat,” suggested Meerkat.
“A cat?”
“They don’t fall off things, do they?  And…” continued Meerkat, his face suffused with triumph, “…and they always land on their feet.”
“Are you suggesting that ships have feet?”
“No.  Don’t be stupid.  What I’m suggesting is that if you filled ships with cats, they’d never fall over.  Man’s best friend and all that…”
“That’s a dog, surely.”
“Dog’s don’t always land on their feet,” said Meerkat after a short pause for thought.  “Also, only one life.  Cats are nine times more cost-effective.  You don’t have to keep replacing cats.”
Cavalry Twill and Moleskin lifted their glasses in unison and drank in quiet contemplation as Meerkat tried to retrieve the peanuts from the base of his glass with a knife.
“Where would you put the passengers?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you filled the ship with cats, where would you put the passengers?”
“They would have to share.”
“Except for those who are scared of them, of course” sneered CT, staring directly at Moleskin.
“I am not scared of cats,” he replied.  “I am allergic to them.  They affect my breathing.”
“Yes, it’s always difficult to control your breathing when you’re terrified.”
Moleskin drained the beer from his glass and thumped it down on the table in front of CT.  “Like when it’s your round,” he said.
The man in the Cavalry Twill glanced casually at his watch, drained his own glass and rose to his feet.  “Good Lord,” he said.  “Is that the time?  Must get on.  Carpe Diem, and all that” he said.  “God is a fish…”

The Meaning of Life #1 can be found here.

The Meaning of Life #2 is here.
 

A Little Fiction – Frankie & Benny

“…So, you know what it’s like, you’re well into discussing the state of your underwear when you realise that the person you are talking to is not the person you thought you were talking to, but you can’t stop now, can you, without drawing attention to it?  Without, as it were, looking an even bigger pranny than you already do.”
“Perhaps it would be wiser to keep the on-going condition of your undercrackers out of the conversation until you had a little more time in which to ensure clarity, viz a viz the ‘who am I talking to’ conundrum, in future.”
“What?”
“You do tend to introduce your grundies into the chat rather more early than is altogether seemly, if you want my opinion Benny.”
“I don’t!”
“Fine, that’s fine then…  So, who were you chatting to in the end, anyway?”
“Turns out she was from the council.  She’d come to discuss the complaint I’d put in about the smell.”
“And you thought it was the ideal time to introduce your trolleys into the conflab?”
“I thought it was a long-lost aunty or somesuch.  I’d even offered her a Yo-Yo.”
“Mint or toffee?”
“Mint.”
“Classy.”
“Well, I thought she might have turned up out of the blue to tell me that I’d inherited some money or something.  You can’t go offering Rich Tea in those circumstances, can you?  That’s a Penguin conversation at least.”
“I have Viscount myself.  Superior quality of tin-foil on a Viscount I find: stay fresh for week’s they do.”
“Yes, well, we’re not all superannuated you know.”
“Right, well, I can see why you got the Yo-Yo’s out Benny, need to make the right impression in such a circumstance, but what drew your shitty pants into the discourse?”
“She mentioned the smell.”
“From the yard?”
“Of course, that’s why I’d rung the council in the first place – not, of course, that I realised that she was from the council at that stage – but I thought that, if she was indeed a solicitor or somesuch, planning to make me the sort of offer that could see me as the proud owner of an automatic washing machine or an induction hob et cetera, then I needed to make her au fait with the fact that, whilst the money to make my laundry days a little less time consuming than my current trip to the laundrette in Morrison’s carpark would be most welcome, those same arrangements were not the cause of the unpleasant odour at that time permeating my whole flat and, to that effect, I thought it legitimate to mention that my pants were clean on last Thursday.”
“That being?”
“Monday.  So a good few days left in them at that point.”
“And how did she react?”
“Well, that’s when I began to suspect that all might not be as it seemed, Frankie, that things were, indeed, somewhat at odds with my expectations.”
“Go on.”
“‘The Council is not in the habit of handing out loans to those who are – for whatever reason – unable to stop themselves from being the source of unpleasant odours,’ she said.  ‘We do not, in short, expect to be called out to the properties of unsavoury old men in order to experience for ourselves the smell that they give off due to not being able to keep themselves clean.  I bid you good day,’ she said, and made to leave.  ‘Now just you wait on,’ I said, but she was ready for me.  ‘If you think,’ she said, ‘that you can threaten me, Mr Anderson, you’d better think again,’ and she scooped up her Yo-Yo and left without a by-your-leave.”
“Oh dear.  So what will you do now?”
“Well, we need to get out there and find out where the smell is actually coming from.”
“We?”
“I’m an old man, Frankie, you wouldn’t have me out there on my own would you?  ‘Now, what’s causing that smell?  Oh my God, look at that!  It’s a…’  Exit Benny, gripping chest in agony.  Alone and friendless in a smelly backyard.”
“Alright, point made.  You are certain of your underwear situation, aren’t you?”
“Would you like to take alook for yourself?”
“No, no, definitely no.  Ok, I’ll accompany you onto the patio.  I’m not touching anything, mind.”
“Right, let’s go to it then: strike while the iron’s hot.  I want to find out what’s causing the stink and rub that old luxury biscuit thief’s nose in it.”
“Ok.  How do we get in there?”
“Where?”
“The backyard.  How do we get in there?  The door’s always locked, but I’ve never seen a key for it.  Who’s got the key?”
“Ah, I’d never thought of that.  I bet it’s that bloody TFW on the ground floor.  I’m not knocking on his door to ask for it.”
“I’m not sure he’s even in.  There’s an old lavvy outside his front door and about three week’s milk.”
“He took the lavvy out himself – with his head.  It was annoying him, apparently, but the milk… You don’t suppose he’s dead do you?  It would explain the smell.”
“I’m not sure that he could smell any worse dead than he did alive, my old chum.  He had what I believe the BBC would term an ‘uneasy relationship’ with soap.  Ten years I’ve been coming to your flat Benny, and other than the day of the gravy incident, I’ve never seen him change his clothes.  I hear that David Attenborough is preparing to do a whole series on the life contained within his jogging bottoms…  You want to get rid of the smell, you need to get out of this flat my friend.”
“But what if he’s dead?”
“Does he have any cats?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Nobody to eat him then.  He could lay there decomposing for months.  They say that you can never remove the smell of a dead body.”
“Particularly one that is welded to his clothes.  I’ll phone the council again.  I’ll say I can’t manage the stairs…  Have you still got that spare room, Frankie?  Just as a stopgap I mean.  Just short term.  Until they sort me out with a new flat.  There are some empty near you aren’t there?”
“There are, yes.  They are constantly becoming vacant, in fact there is a permanent hearse on standby at the end of the block.  We used to run a sweepstake on who would be next, but there’s not enough of us left now.  There’s more chipboard around me now than a kebab shop.  Come on, let’s not bother phoning, we’ll just wander round and see them.  Get your stick.  Put a marble in your shoe, that’ll help.”
“Ok, I will…  Shall we just have a cup of tea before we go?”
“Ay, why not.  Don’t suppose you’ve got any of those Yo-Yos left, have you?””
“No.”

I decided to revisit some old ‘Little Fiction’ friends and whilst I was doing so, I met these new ones…  N.B. my thanks to Billy Connolly for ‘TFW’ – Tattooed Fuck-Wit.

A Little Fiction – An Item (Dinah & Shaw part 10)

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Although, unofficially at least, an item, Dinah and Shaw had kept their own separate homes.  The fact that Shaw slept in the office, was his reason for keeping Dinah’s name off the door – it would lead to confusion within the organisation of the Royal Mail he insisted – an inaccuracy she countered by sticking a large Post-it across the glass during office hours when she was, for the most part, alone with the phone and a laptop that was, for reasons known to Shaw alone, permanently connected to a Scandinavian server which had a default ‘wallpaper’ that left her feeling giddy and not a little nauseous.  She considered herself a woman of the world, but not necessarily that part of it.  Each Google search had to be translated into something that vaguely resembled English before she was able to make use of it.  All attempts to use Google Maps to plot a route stalled at the earliest possible stage as the software refused to let her begin her journey from anywhere other than Copenhagen.  She had not been able to afford data for her phone since meeting Shaw – a relationship with Shaw came along with few certainties other than poverty – and utilising the only local source of free internet access she could find ensured that she constantly smelled of kebab.

Most of her ‘work’ hours were spent fretting over the payment of bills.  Shaw’s tendency to insist that his investigative methods only really functioned in full effect when he stumbled into cases rather than being employed to solve them meant that she was often left bereft of anyone to invoice.  Dinah, for her part, contributed all that she was able; taking what money she could for locating lost cats, flyaway budgies, errant husbands etc, paying bills only as failure to do so became increasingly critical.  Shaw painstakingly kept for himself all of what he considered to be the ‘big cases’ – although he seldom gave Dinah any indication of what, exactly, they might be and they rarely added anything other than expenses to the company accounts.  On the few occasions Shaw called on her to help him, he did so by furnishing her with the very minimum of information possible.  Often she had to adhere to Shaw’s own methods, taking the first bus she encountered and getting off somewhere that, for reasons unknown, seemed the right place.  Sitting in a café with the dregs of a cup of coffee hoping that something might take her attention: that somebody might, in some indefinable way, strike her as suspicious.  Hoping that she might find somebody to follow before the café owner (again) remarked on the fact that she had spent two hours over her latte and that he had placemats that were more profitable than her.

It was to her undisguised chagrin that whenever she did encounter somebody she felt there might be some point in following, she invariably found that Shaw was following them too, although he always claimed to have been ‘on to them’ first.  Shaw always complained about this duplication of efforts but Dinah was always quick to point out that a) there was no discernible effort put into such ‘tailings’ by Shaw, who, as far as Dinah could tell from his crumpled ‘expenses’ at the end of the week, seldom left the pub and b) as nobody was paying for either of them, what difference could it possibly make?  “When we find out whatever it is that we’re looking for,” was Shaw’s stock reply, “then whoever wants to know it will pay us.”  To be fair, they often did, but almost always after it had cost Dinah Lunch and a bottle of wine.  From that point on, although working together, they always worked apart.  Their methods of tailing a suspect could not have been more different: Dinah employed stealth – ducking into doorways, hiding behind newspapers, carefully observing her suspect in shop window reflections, taking mobile phone photographs whilst pretending to be absorbed in a protracted phone call – whilst Shaw wandered around aimlessly, hoping that, in the fullness of time, his path would somehow cross with that of his prey again.

It never ceased to amaze her that she, Shaw and suspect would almost always find themselves together at some point, along with the client who was invariably blithely unaware of the very existence of the investigative duo.  Dinah knew only that Shaw would wander away at some point whilst she dutifully stood in the pouring rain outside an office, or a bookies, or a lover’s flat for hours on end.  When they were reunited some time later, a usually slightly flushed Shaw would drown her in beer breath and inform her that he had found the client who by some fluke of chance, wanted to know exactly what Dinah had found out in the previous few hours.  It was seldom anything that Shaw himself did not already know – or at least so he claimed.  The biggest annoyance was usually that he had already informed the client of whatever-it-was she had only just learned, without ever needing to discuss it with her and without ever leaving the warmth of whatever bar he happened to be in.  How he did it, she had no idea, nor how he always managed to smell of beer when he never had a penny in his pockets.
“You know I couldn’t do it without you,” he always said.
“Yes, I know,” she replied, but it didn’t help.

…And so it was, her mind whirring over every detail of their relationship, their work, the mystery of how they ever paid for anything, of why nobody ever threatened to break their legs when they did not, that she entered the office expecting, as usual, to find Shaw absent and a scribbled note in his place.  But there was no note.  There was a real-life Shaw, a grinning Shaw who, had she not known better, she would have taken for excited, pointing at the glass panel on the door which now read ‘Shaw & Parnter.  Investigators.’  “What do you think?” he asked.
“Well, I’m not sure what to think,” said Dinah.  “What’s a Parnter?”
Shaw peered at the door.  “Damn!  I thought he was cheap.  Do you think we can afford to get it changed?”
“No, parnter, it’s fine,” said Dinah.  She hugged Shaw.  “It’s fine.”  She looked around the office, confused, and opened the door to the back room.  “Where’s your bed?” she asked.
“I paid the signwriter with it,” he said.  “I thought that if we were going to be… ‘parnters’ and this was going to be a proper office then I ought to find somewhere else to live.”
“Oh right,” said Dinah.  “And have you?”
“Well, not quite yet,” he answered.  “I wondered, well, what are you like for space in your flat?…”

4 Revisions

It’s been quite a while since our last visit to Dinah and Shaw, which I managed to work into the ‘Writer’s Circle’ strand, so in case you want to catch up, episode 1 is here, and the last episode (Slight Return) is here.

Superpowers

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Frankie squatted down with his back against the redbrick wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, his fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind his neck, his eyes screwed tightly shut.  The noise around him was deafening even through the barrier of toilet paper he had managed to cram into his ears before playtime, but he wasn’t actually as aware of that as the voice inside his head yelling at the children to quieten down, even though he knew they never would.  He didn’t really need them to.  He didn’t even want them to.  He just needed to step back from it.  If he faded far enough away into the background, then the noise would no longer exist.  Frankie could make that happen.  That was Frankie’s superpower.

With the noise turned down, Frankie was able to think much more clearly.  With his eyes and ears shut tight and his back to the wall, he could join in all of the playground games: the push and the shove, the running, the climbing, the tag and the chase – he was the virtual schoolboy.  When played behind his silent wall, he loved football, he was good at it.  He was Messi.  It was as if the threadbare old tennis ball was tied to his boot and none of the other kids could push him away from it.  Except for Maureen Jackson who was bigger than him – much bigger – and super-keen on inveigling him into a game of kiss chase that was both diminutive in the size of its teams and liberal in its interpretation of the rules.  Once engulfed in Maureen’s over-zealous embrace it was entirely possible that they would never make it into school dinners again.

Not that that was a great concern.  Even on his ‘quiet table’, tucked away in the corner of the hall, down by the wallbars, surrounded by the smell of socks and baked beans, he was engulfed by a discordant riot of sights and sounds that he found it impossible to process.  Not even the foreknowledge of Spam fitter, lumpy mashed potato and tinned tomato, chocolate sponge and pink custard could calm his mind.  Not even his superpowers could shield him on a pilchard day.  That was the day of the headteacher’s study, a glass of weak orange squash and a biscuit that looked like a sheet of cardboard filled with flies.  He didn’t mind flies.  At least they didn’t try to kiss him.

Frankie enjoyed lessons at school, even if they often meant sitting alone.  He was really good at spelling, and at maths he was second-to-none, but he wasn’t quite so good at sitting round the table and building with straws.  He wasn’t good with scissors.

Mrs Cook, his teacher, often sat with him whilst Mrs Cass spoke with the rest of the class.  She smiled a lot, Mrs Cook, and Frankie loved her.  She helped him to understand the words he did not know and when he didn’t want to drink the warm, playtime milk, she didn’t force him, but she always left it there in case he changed his mind.  He never changed his mind.  Superheroes don’t drink milk.  They drink acid or something like that.  They eat girders.  They can turn down the noise with the blink of an eye.

If he’d had the choice, he would have been Spider Man.  Spiders can hear through their legs.  If he was a spider, he would wear thick trousers.  Jimmy told him about the spiders.  He said they also have loads of eyes.  Dozens, he said.  A thousand, he said, like the night.  Frankie didn’t understand that.  The night doesn’t have eyes at all.  The night is pitch-black, isn’t it?  If it had eyes, it still wouldn’t be able to see.  In the dark.  Frankie liked the night.  It was like the world was wrapped in cotton-wool; soft and mute like a swan, but without the capacity to break your arm with a flap of its wings.  Sometimes Jimmy told Frankie that the two of them were put together because they were the same, but sometimes he said it was because they were different.  Frankie wasn’t always sure that Jimmy really meant everything he said.  Sometimes he made him mad and sometimes he made him laugh.  He told jokes that Frankie didn’t understand – his favourite was ‘What’s the difference between a frog?  One leg’s the same.’ – but it never really mattered because Jimmy didn’t understand them either.  His jokes were their little secret.  Nobody else got them.  Nobody else even heared them.  He never said them out aloud: that was Jimmy’s superpower.

The boy who never spoke and the boy who didn’t want to hear, two wise monkeys, faced playtime together, squatted down with their backs against the redbrick wall, their knees pulled up to their chests, their fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind their necks, their eyes screwed tightly shut.  The school bell rang and the two boys rose as one, for once welcoming the clanging cacophony.  Side by side they joined the ragged ‘snake’ of children meandering its way back into class.  It was afternoon, and ‘quiet play’.  The two superheroes took their places at the big table in the centre of the class, alongside all of the other children.  The voice inside of Frankie’s head was unusually still.  With a wink, Jimmy told him a silent joke and together they laughed.  Frankie smiled at Maureen and, hesitantly, together they began to build a house of bricks, whilst Jimmy, clearly happy, faded slowly away…

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

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Of one thing it is certain, John Keats, to whom the title of this piece belongs, may well have been many things – great Romantic poet, prolific letter writer and consumptive – but he was most definitely not a gardener.  Had he needed to tend my own humble little patch of England’s Sward, his ‘Ode to Autumn’ would have had a very different feel…

My Dearest Fanny

I have spent the entire morning gently perspiring over my latest ode on account of having to wear thirteen layers of clothing due to the fact that three solid weeks of rain have ensured that I cannot set fire to the kindling in the grate without first dosing it in brandy which, of course, I cannot afford as I am a poor, impoverished poet etc etc and so forth. I am sick of this weather, my shortness of breath and the constant hunger that grips at my very soul. I would sally forth and collect some of the abundance of mother Earth’s autumnal bounty – apples, pears and other assorted seasonal fruits – but due to this incessant bloody fog I keep walking into trees.

Next door’s cat hath not been put off its daily business by the seasonal deluge and has, indeed, left remarkably weather-resistant parcels of the stuff wherever I happen to put my fingers in the flower beds.  Mine fingers are designed for the purposes of creating great art and I should not need to keep scraping under the nails each time I settle to write.  I do not know what they are feeding the bloody thing, but I note that the mangy dog they used to keep chained by the door has disappeared of late.  It is sad, for I oft felt at one with the animal which seemed to be increasingly wearied by its lack of fur, its diet of rat and the fact that it couldn’t raise a paw without wheezing.  Had I, myself, owned more than the clothes I cough up in, I would have offered him some solace.  As it was, I was instead forced to give him a sharp kick every now and then due to his ceaseless night-time barking and his tendency to seep into neighbouring properties..

Unwell as I am, I have been drawn into the garden owing to the fact that the lawn hath taken on the proportions of pampas plains during this month of rain and may well be harbouring herds of large game animals, or moles of similar size.  I tried to mow it but one of the titchy wheels on the mower has seized, so I just went round and round in circles for twenty minutes before falling to the ground, spent and hungry.  I was sorely tempted by some of the berries that hang full, ripe and juicy from the bush near the cess-pit, but I remembered the last time I tried them when I woke up naked in a Mexican barber’s chair, next to a man with half a moustache and decided, instead, to avail myself of the mushrooms that grow so readily around the old oak tree stump.  In the five days that have since disappeared, the lawn has grown longer and something has eaten my trousers.

Around me, everything that was once green and vibrant is now brown and limp – except for the bits that are spiky.  I do not recall it being a feature of my planting scheme that everything within this garden should have such potential to cause harm.  There is nothing I must prune that does not have the capacity to pierce me from at least three feet away.  Besides, the secateurs are rusted solid, having been left under hedgerow last September, and I have been forced to trim such foliage as I am able with the nail scissors.  The rest of it I have taken to battering back with a spade, during the course of which I think I might have located next door’s dog.

My spirits were greatly lifted by a short time spent dead-heading the plants that grow along my garden borders.  The colours – a million luscious shades of dead – are so inspiring.  I will try to write something about it, as soon as I have thought of a rhyme for mildew.  I have attempted to lift a number of precious bulbs and rhizomes that they may be stored safely over the winter, but as most of them have already taken on the appearance and odour of one of the cat’s little piles, I am not holding my breath.  (Not with my chest, I’m not!)  Besides, the shed in which I would normally over-winter them appears to have been partly digested by a rat colony of such size that I was forced to try and drive it out with sulphur candles.  The man next door was most understanding about the consequent conflagration involving his own shed, pig-pen and bedroom and stopped punching me as soon as exhaustion set in.  The rats have now taken up residence in the compost heap which, since the rains, occupies approximately four acres and twenty six kitchens.

As usual at this time of year, my gutters have become blocked with falling leaves and as the woodworm have taken out all but three of the rungs on my ladder I have been forced to stand on an upturned bucket and push the foliage out with a broom handle.  I am sure that, given the state of it, it will soon decompose and stop blocking the downpipe where it is currently stuck.  Mind you, it is at least currently holding the roof tiles up.  I will attempt to mend the wall as soon as I get the splint off my leg.

As I compose this letter the sun has started to set over the bright western horizon and my autumnal garden looks truly wonderful.  The colours are quite staggering – the bright red stain where my head connected with the window sill being particularly vivid – and the smells issuing forth from the flora that surrounds me produces a lump in my throat – which is just as well, because it keeps the content of my stomach down.  I cannot wait for the pitch blackness of autumn night when my garden looks just as good as everybody else’s.

I am yours, as ever

JK

The Writer’s Circle #32 – Sex, Greed and Revenge

“Sex,” said Frankie, to the consternation of some of those around the circle, many of whom had not yet had time to let their dinner’s settle.  “Sex, greed and revenge are the only true motives for murder.”
“And love,” suggested Deidre.  “Surely love is the strongest motive of all.”
“Love, sex, what’s the difference?” said Billy.
“Surely love is a deeper, more passionate emotion,” said Deidre who, by her own admission, wouldn’t know.  “Who would consider killing for sex?”
“There are plenty of men right throughout history who’ve killed for sex,” said Vanessa.  “Surely sex is the biggest motive of all.”
“I don’t think that’s quite the case,” said Tom.  “Sex is just the weapon.  Power is the motive.  Men don’t kill for sex, they kill for the power over women…”
“Or other men,” said Jeff.
“…Or other men,” said Tom with a nod of acknowledgement.  “Whatever, power is the real motive.”
“And jealousy,” suggested Elizabeth.  “Surely jealousy has to be in there somewhere.  Unrequited love.”
“Jealousy always sounds rather more like uninvited love to me,” said Vanessa.  “More like unrequited lust than love.”
“Well, a little lust can go a long way,” said Louise.
“And there’s infatuation,” added Penny.  “Unrequited love becomes infatuation, and infatuation is certainly a motive for murder.”
“She’s right,” said Elizabeth.  “I remember being infatuated with a boy at school.  Followed him around like a little dog I did.  Held his books while he played football, gave him half my meat balls at school lunches.  I’d have done anything for him.”
“And what about lust?” asked Louise.
“Hardly.  I was seven and he was eight so I’m taking about anything within reason.  Anyway, he broke my heart when he paid a penny to see Wendy Patterson’s knickers.  I could have killed him!”
“There!” said Frankie.  “Right there; sex as a motive for murder.”
“Not really.  I was most annoyed because it was my penny.  I’d been saving it for a Bazouka Joe and he blew it on Patterson’s scabby knickers.  He could have seen mine for free if he’d wanted – or anybody’s really – we all did PE in the bloody things.  Navy blue serge.  They were like the Mary Whitehouse of sex appeal.  We changed them once a week, less if the weather was wet and they didn’t smell too bad of wee…”
“Why if the weather was wet?”
“They weighed half a ton when they were washed, they took forever to dry, even on a sunny day.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Phil, “we just need to open out our definition of sex to encompass lust, love, infatuation, jealousy… all the affairs of the heart.”
“Is lust really an affair of the heart?” asked Elizabeth.  “I think, perhaps, you are setting your sights a little too high.”
“Always been my problem,” grinned Phil.  “Too high and generally just wide of the mark.”
“Yes well, putting Philips slight paucity of aim to one side for now,” said Elizabeth with a barely concealed, theatrical wink, “surely lust is the last thing you would kill for.”
“Unless it was unfulfilled,” suggested Jane.  “Or if it was for someone else.”
“Someone else?”
“Someone it wasn’t wise to lust over.”
“Ah, I get it,” said Phil.  “A woman scorned.”
“Or man,” said Jeff.
“Or man…” said Phil.

“Sex it is,” said Frankie.  “Lust, infatuation, jealousy, even love; they’re all sex at the end of the day.”
“Only the end of the day darling?” drawled Louise.  “How terribly Puritan.”
Frankie grinned.  “Point is,” he continued, “you can call it what you like, but it’s still the same thing.”
“Oh dear,” she said.  “What a quiet life you must have led.”
“I mean,” he persisted, “it all boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it.  Boys and girls…”  He looked at Jeff.  “…and boys.”
Jeff smiled broadly.  “Love has no boundaries does it?” he said.  “Nobody chooses who to love.  Nobody chooses to have their heart broken, but people do choose how to respond to it.  Some go under, some bounce back up and some… some fulfil Frankie’s criteria and look for somebody to pay the price, but the thing is, if you’re going to write it, can you put yourself in their shoes?  Can you understand their rage?”
“Rage.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Rage is about sex, lust, infatuation, jealousy even, but not love; there’s no rage in love.  That’s all hearts and flowers, birds and bees, and ‘I will if you will’, not at all the kind of thing to kill over.”
“Surely in war,” suggested Deidre, “all those young men sent out to kill, they died for love: love of their country.”
“Love of not getting shot as a traitor, most of them,” muttered Frankie.  “How many of them would ever have shot another man, except in abject fear.  Fear never leads to a neat murder, does it?  Too messy, too easy to solve.  Besides, that’s quite a different kind of love, isn’t it?”
“Different from the kind that leads to murder?”
“Different to the kind that leads to sex.”
“What about the love of one’s family; one’s children, one’s parents.  Surely a man (and let’s face facts here, murder is almost exclusively a male failing) could be driven to kill for the love of those towards whom he has no sexual desire.”
“Well, as you put it like that, Deidre…”  Frankie mimicked rising from his seat and approaching Deidre with his arms outstretched and his hands clawed.
“Frankie!” whispered Louise.  “Be careful.”  They were all pleased to have Deidre back in the fold and while she was clearly more than happy to join in the cut and thrust of the standard inconsequential argument, it was generally acknowledged that she was not yet quite ready to accept humorous affronts.
“Right,” said Elizabeth, with a certain finality in her voice, “so I think by now that we’ve probably established that love – in all of its manifold forms – is the very worst of human emotions.  So what do we think about greed and revenge?…”



The Writer’s Circle #31 – Dinah and Shaw (part 9 – Slight Return)

“I’ve been toying with these two characters for months,” said Phil.  “I would like to give them a story of their own, a book perhaps, but I still don’t quite know where they’re going…”  The gathered members of the Circle, including the prodigal Deidre, shuffled themselves comfortable on the hard, moulded plastic chairs, and Phil retrieved a sheaf of papers from his pocket…

“…Shaw laid his knife and fork down neatly on his plate.  It was clean, except for a small, tidy pile of sweetcorn kernels and two slowly leaching slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot which were actively turning the corn a florid hue of gentian violet as he looked on.  ‘Serves them right,’ he thought.  ‘Who puts sweetcorn in a pork pie salad anyway?’  A motorway service centre was the answer and, if he’d bothered to ask the hair-netted man behind the counter, he would have also discovered that it wasn’t actually pork pie in the first place, it was Gala Pie: hadn’t he even noticed the boiled egg in it?  To which Shaw would have answered, ‘No, I bloody well did not.  The pastry was like a rock.  As soon as I tried to cut it with the cheap plastic utensils you gave me, the inside shot out like a bullet and landed under the table near the ‘gents’.  It could have had a golden snitch in it for all I knew.  I wasn’t crawling around under the tables to find out.’  He contemplated the beetroot with a shudder, it reminded him of school dinners.  No sweetcorn for it to leach into when he was at school of course – far too decadent – just a lukewarm mound of half-mashed potato, half a dozen shrivelled-up peas that always brought to mind a leprechaun’s testicles, and something that may once have been some manner of dead fish.  He shuddered again at the memory.  It was at school that he had first developed the habit of eating only when he felt that he really had to.  Dinah was just the latest in a long line of women who tried to impress upon him the need to put a little meat on his bones and he had to admit that, on the rare occasions he considered his reflection in the mirror, he did look rather like a skeleton wrapped in Clingfilm – only by and large, he was forced to concede, less healthy.

Mind you, Dinah was, he was happy to admit, rather different to the other women in his life.  She wasn’t a blood relative for a start.  Shaw’s whole life had been shaped by female relatives.  His mother, his ‘real’ aunties, his ‘assumed’ aunties and, it always seemed to him, any ancient woman who happened to sit next to him on the bus.  They all had a view on what he should be doing.  They all knew that he didn’t eat enough.  Dinah, to be fair, never actually pestered him to eat.  She just let him know that he was not comfortable to be around.  ‘Angular and pointy,’ she said.  ‘Devoid of all padding.’  And, if he was honest, that was why he’d ordered the apple crumble and custard that was now congealing on the plate in front of him.  He wanted to eat it, but it would have taken far more strength than he could ever have mustered to drag the skin off it.  So, instead, he just stared at it, hoping that he could absorb some calories by osmosis.

He was, he knew, in the process of being thoroughly beaten down by his current ‘case’.  He was growing tired of looking for someone for whom he had no name and no photograph.  He was growing evermore weary of the constant trudge of trying to find somewhere to search.  He stared hard at the scrap of paper on which he had written down the details of the case and the client’s name but, as on each of the previous occasions on which he had attempted to make head or tails of it, he could not.  He had started off confident enough, he hung around the places where enlightenment usually found him, believing that, sooner or later, he would discover what he was meant to be doing.  But he hadn’t.  And he was running out of places.  Why, in God’s name, had he sent Dinah off to find somebody’s cat again: she’d have known his client’s name, who he was searching for, why…  And she hated the cat cases.

He must never let her know that he was out of his depth, of course, that his usual methods were not getting results.  He was getting distracted.  He needed to focus.  Perhaps if he just stared at the paper for a little while longer… 

Dinah regarded herself critically in the mirror.  She wanted to see a detective looking back at her.  She wanted to sense a steely intellect and a clear understanding shining through from her reflection.  What she actually saw was a mad woman who couldn’t find a bloody lost cat.  She had done the normal stuff: schlepped around the neighbourhood with a fuzzy, out of focus photograph; called in at all the police stations, vets and strange spinster’s bungalows she could find; stood on a thousand street corners shouting the bloody thing’s name.  Who calls a cat Pickles anyway?  Perhaps what she really needed to do was to reappraise her current situation.  She had a job that wasn’t a job and which, by and large, involved the search for ‘lost’ felines, most of whom she sensed really did not want to go back from whence they came.  She sensed that she was becoming a little closer to Shaw than was healthy for either of them, but exactly which of them was most reliant upon the other, she had no idea.  It was like a symbiosis: she was the apple tree, Shaw was the mistletoe – even if the most unromantic parasite she had ever encountered.  She was tied to him because he relied on her.  Sometimes, she thought, he would struggle to get dressed without her.  (Actually, when she stopped to give that a little thought, she knew that he would struggle to get dressed without her.)  But he had gentle – albeit perennially confused – eyes, and he made her laugh, although seldom when he meant to…

Dinah left the ‘ladies’ with one last glance in the mirror – ‘It’s not much, but it’ll do’ she thought – and returned to her seat at the table.  She smiled at the man sitting beside her.  ‘You’re not leaving that beetroot are you?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll have it…’”

I’d quite forgotten how much I like writing these two.  At first I thought that it must tell me something about myself that I had chosen to give them to Phil, but of course it doesn’t.  I could have given them to any other member of the Circle: they are all me, they all wish that they were not…

Dinah and Shaw have appeared in this blog a number of times before – although this is their first outing as part of The Writer’s Circle.  If you should wish to find out more about them, you will find their previous appearances listed below:
Episode 1 – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 2 – Return to Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 3 – Another Return
Episode 4 – Morning is Broken
Episode 5 – Train of Thought
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Episode 7 – Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt
Episode 8 – Searching for the Spirit of Christmas