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

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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.

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

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This is the second fragment from a far-away unfinished story that I played with for months before deciding that I didn’t know where to take it.  Recently Dinah and Shaw have appeared in my life and I suddenly understand where everyone is going.  Now all I have to do is to get them there…

…I was walking along some god-forsaken ‘B’ road, somewhere between the middle of nowhere and the middle of nowhere else.  The rain was falling so hard that it was bouncing back from the road surface and having another go at making me wet.  It cut through my clothes like icy spears and made its way down into my very heart and soul – and drowned them.  It had already made its way into the engine of my car which was residing, hopefully beneath several feet of extremely acid rain, in a lay-by somewhere short of the middle of nowhere, whilst I was trudging, huddled and freezing, along this unlit country road searching for somewhere which, for all I knew, quite possibly did not exist.  However low my previous lowest ebb, my present one was even lower and I was beginning to ponder the possibility of drowning by syphonic action.   It was then that I first became aware of the car that had stopped beside me.  I hadn’t heard its approach, nor had I seen its lights, yet there it was, stationary and alongside me; engine running, lights on.  I didn’t wait for an invitation to open the door.

The warmth from within billowed out and enveloped me as I lowered myself into the passenger seat and closed the door behind me.  My glasses steamed up instantly so that, with or without them, I was practically blind.  The car began to move smoothly away as I tried to wipe away the condensation from my spectacle lenses on a sodden jacket that just made the problem worse.  The heat made me feel a little light-headed and the music from the stereo seemed to increase in volume as the car accelerated.

“Persephone,” I said.

“You really do know your Wishbone,” said a voice that I vaguely recollected.

Now, I’ve never been one for putting two and two together and coming up with five, but suddenly I was into double figures.  I went through my pockets, frantically trying to find something dry with which to restore my eyesight.  I felt an arm reach across me and I’m ashamed to admit that I flinched.  The glove compartment dropped open in front of me.  “There’s a box of tissues in there,” he said.  I fumbled around, expecting to come across a gun or a knife or… I don’t know what I expected to come across, but all I actually found was a box of tissues.  “I keep the gun under the seat,” he said.

I was suddenly profoundly uneasy.  I knew from the tone of his voice that what he had said was nothing more than a joke, a light-hearted remark, but it was as if he knew exactly what I had been thinking.  I needed to see him properly.  I pulled out a tissue and wiped the lenses unnecessarily hard.  It crossed my mind that if I continued it might alter the prescription.  I put the glasses back on.  It was him.  A slightly blurry him, but him none-the-less.  Tall, distinguished, white-grey hair, long, but immaculately neat, the beard full, but neatly trimmed.  He looked like an anorexic God, in jeans and a checked shirt. 

“Where are you heading?” he asked.

“To find someone who can mend my car.  It’s broken down, about two miles back I think, probably more by now.  I know it’s in a lay-by, near some trees…  That’s not going to help is it?” I looked through the windscreen at the rain-sodden trees hanging limply to either side of us as far as the eye could see.  “I’ll have to come back this way in the morning, in the light, when it’s stopped raining.  I’m sure I’ll find it then, as long as no-one’s set fire to it.”

“Don’t suppose it would burn in this,” he said.

“No, I guess not.  Well then, I suppose I’ll have to find somewhere to spend the night.  Can you drop me at the next town?”

“Of course,” he said and we lapsed into silence, both entranced by the swish of the wipers on the rain-spattered windscreen and the sound of the tyres on the road.  “I don’t suppose you know where the next town is, do you?” he asked.

“Don’t you?”

“No, I was just out for a drive really, when the rain started falling and I saw you walking.  I never really pay too much attention to where I’m going.  I just sort of know when I get there.  Where were you going?”

“I’m not sure, I just sort of drove.  I was in a temper, I suppose.  I needed to cool down.  It’s something I do; I just get in the car and go.  I think I was driving for quite a long time, I’m not sure, the car just sort of stopped really.  All the lights came on and it stopped.”

“Like you’d run out of petrol?”

“Exactly.”   Light dawned somewhere in the declining grey ooze behind my eyes. “I ran out of petrol.  Stupid, stupid.  Why didn’t I check the fuel?  I…”  The car began to slow.  “Why are you stopping?” I asked.

“I think we’ve arrived,” he said.

Puzzled, I looked around.  The rain had eased, but everything else was as it had been for miles.  Trees, trees and more trees.  And a lay-by.  And my car…

“Erm, thanks,” I said.  “I really… That is how…?”

“It’s good that you’ve cooled down,” he said.  “But I think your family might be wondering where you are.”

“I don’t have one,” I said, instantly aware that I sounded really pathetic, “but you’re right, I ought to be getting home.”

“There’s petrol in the boot,” he said.

I eased myself from the seat and went round to the back of the car.  I wasn’t surprised to see the petrol can, alone in the centre of an otherwise empty boot.  I carried it quickly to my car; the rain had eased, but it was still cold and wetting.   I heard his car begin to pull away behind me.  I wasn’t surprised.  I think I had expected it. 

“Hang on,” I yelled.  “Your petrol can.”

His window opened slightly. “Don’t worry,” he said “I’ll get it next time I see you…”

A Little Fiction – Another Return (Dinah and Shaw part 3)

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Typical!  It was one of those rare days when Dinah found herself with time to think and she could think of nothing at all with which to occupy her mind.  Since meeting Shaw she had become used to finding her head full of the kind of clutter that resembled his life, but today it was full of the kind of void that she always imagined lurked between his ears…  No, that wasn’t fair.  He had more going on in his head than anybody she had ever met.  It was just that none of it ever made any sense.  Every time she thought she had started to get the hang of him; thought that she might guess where he would go next, he would lithely side-step her, leaving her stranded, like a cataleptic jelly fish abandoned on the ebbing tide.  His quantum leaps of illogic were, at times, truly stunning.  His arrival at a point of resolution confounded all reason; even he only seemed to know he had reached it after he arrived there.  Right through his haphazard progress, whatever that might be, he proceeded in a manner that suggested total conviction of purpose.  He never showed doubt.  Even when people shouted at him, ‘But that’s not what I paid you to do!’ he would look them straight in the eye and say.  ‘But it is what you wanted me to do.’  Heated argument often ensued, bills were often ripped-up and tossed into the air, but Shaw simply smiled, took a step backwards and waited for the anger to subside.  ‘You have my number,’ he would say, ‘if you change your mind.’  That’s another thing that Dinah had never got used to; the way that cheques would turn up in the post, days, weeks or even months later, generally with no explanation, just, more often than not, a simple ‘Thank you’ paper-clipped to them.  Whatever Shaw had found for them, it obviously took them some time to discover it for themselves.

It wasn’t strange that she’d never met anybody else quite like him – she wasn’t certain that such a person actually existed.  Even physically he was perplexing.  He was thin to the point of an Estate Agent’s morals and, although barely taller than Dinah herself, he always appeared to tower above her; permanently bewildered.  He had a face that actively discouraged ageing – his features flitted between old man and schoolboy.  He was always heavy-eyed; giving the appearance of someone who most certainly could do with more sleep.  He had a small room behind the office that appeared to be his home, but she didn’t recall ever having seen a bed in it.  She wondered if he slept, like a bat, hanging from the light fitting.  More often than not, he actually slept in her chair, at the desk – most often with his head across her painstakingly sorted paperwork.  When he was awake, he was always on the move.  He always had something that had to be done, but he was never quite sure what.  His pace alternated between laid-back and languid.  She had only ever seen him agitated once, and that was when he was looking for a pencil because he had developed a buzzing in his ear – which he feared might be a bee.  He was terrified of bees.  She’d spent hours trying to educate him about them: their sociability, their vital importance in propagation; their reluctance to sting, when he eventually looked up at her from darkly hooded eyes and said, ‘Earwigs, I meant earwigs’ and terminated the conversation with an airy wave of his hand, before sensing her annoyance and announcing, ‘Cake.  Let me buy you cake…  Do you have any money?’

What most annoyed her about Shaw was that he did what he said: he helped people find things – even if they did not know they were missing.  Mostly, she had to reflect, what they found was themselves.  In Shaw, Dinah had found what was missing in herself, although even now, she was unable to quantify it.  She did not know what she had found, only that it was missing before she found it.  You know when you try so hard to be one of those girls at school that everybody likes, only to find out that that is exactly why nobody likes you?  Well, she’d stopped that now.  She’d realised it was no way to get friends.  She’d realised that might be why she didn’t have any.  For the moment she had Shaw and today, she had to admit, she had never been so pleased to see anyone in her life.  ‘Yes, yes,’ she had said in feigned annoyance when she first saw his lopsided quizzical smile.  ‘That’s fine.  Laugh now, but then go and find ladder to get me out of this tree…’

This is Dinah and Shaw’s third appearance, and probably their last for now.  In my head, I have started to develop some idea of where they are going.  Now I just have to work out how to get them there…

If you are interested in them, this is the link to their first appearance.

A Little Fiction – Return to ‘Another Unfinished Novel’ (Dinah and Shaw part 2)

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It had taken Dinah a little time to settle into the job and to adjust to Shaw’s more eccentric work practices, which he claimed were based upon the Chaos Theory, but were in fact, way more chaotic than that.  He could be very grumpy at times, although he could also occasionally be very sweet.  On balance, she preferred grumpy.  When he was being sweet he brought her things that she could never possibly want – last time it was a four-legged star fish that he had just found on the beach (explanations were requested as he was supposed to be looking for a hamster in Birmingham, but none were forthcoming) together with a bowl of water, a sachet of salt from the café below and the instruction to ‘See if you can make it better.’  It didn’t get better.  It got smelly.  At least when he was grumpy, she wasn’t given decaying invertebrates to resurrect.

Shaw was generally grumpy when he had a case to solve.  Although most of the time he was employed by people hoping to relocate missing pets, what he generally found were lost people, most of whom had no idea they had ever been misplaced in the first place.

Whenever they were out together, Dinah found herself tagging along at distance, either struggling to keep up or asking passer’s-by whether they’d seen where he’d gone.  It didn’t help that he would never tell her where he was heading.  It didn’t help that he never actually went there anyway.  She grew tired of tramping the streets with the photograph of a misplaced ginger cat only to find that Shaw had spent most of the day in the pub chatting to a man from Builth Wells who had no idea his wife was looking for him – in fact, had no idea he had a wife.  Often that did at least give him one thing in common with the woman to whom he was subsequently introduced, who either had no idea she had a husband or, if she did, mistakenly thought it was the man with whom she had been living for the past forty years.  A grumpy Shaw would waft away any discussion – he knew that they belonged together and if they claimed never to have met before, well, they were obviously mistaken and, by the way, had either of them seen a ginger cat?  By the time that Dinah found him, Shaw had normally mellowed in the face of the liquid hospitality of the happy couple and persuaded his cat-less employers to accept that they were not suited to cat ownership in the first place, which often left Dinah with a homeless moggy and blisters that made her extremely tetchy.

‘You really should relax more,’ he would say.  ‘Take things as they come.  Why don’t you go and buy yourself a drink.’  Shaw never had money.  He never got paid and he never paid for anything.  Dinah found that she spent most of her time trying to persuade clients who were searching for a precious pooch to accept that they should pay the bill for a service that far from reuniting them with a beloved pet, had merely introduced them to the son that they had never had.  They were seldom persuaded by Shaw’s admonition that ‘You can get a dog anywhere’ and quite often unhappy to find someone they had never met before living in their spare bedroom.  Dinah tried to remind herself not to get too obsessed by it all, it was just a job – except it wasn’t, was it?  You get paid for a job.  You have regular hours and days off.  Your employer seldom, if ever, asks to borrow your shoes so that he can go down to the corner shop in the clothes he has slept in to get milk.  Particularly since the shop’s owner had threatened to set the dogs on him if he didn’t pay his tab.  A normal employer does not wander out to get milk on Monday and return on Friday with a packet of flatbreads and a chinchilla.  Without your shoes…

…It was no use in asking him where he’d been, he never answered.  He just handed over a matted clump of bills and muttered, ‘Pay these will you?’ before falling asleep in the chair.  Dinah sighed, ‘With what, Shaw?  With what?’  She unfolded the papers and laid them out on the desk, attempting to find some kind of chronology to them, except that they were not bills.  They were merely scribbled notes in Shaw’s erratic hand, each detailing in one word or two the failings that she regularly attributed to him.  On the last one he had written ‘I will repay you somehow.  Would you like to adopt an elderly gerbil?’ 

Against every screaming instinct, Dinah allowed the faintest of smiles to flicker across her lips.  She shook her head and flicked the switch on the kettle.  ‘If you’re making tea,’ said Shaw without opening his eyes, ‘We’ll need milk…’

Dinah and Shaw first appeared in January and I liked them.  I feel that I might return to them again, but first I have to decide what to do with them.  If I think of anything, I’ll let you know…

Part three of Dinah and Shaw’s journey is now here.

A Little Fiction – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel (Dinah and Shaw part 1)

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‘Are you absolutely certain you know what you are doing?’ said Dinah, aware, for the first time, that she was gripping the seat rather more firmly than was strictly necessary. Shaw thought for a moment. He raised his eyes to the sky, without moving his head and breathed in sharply.
‘Certain is a very strong word,’ he said. ‘Can we ever truly be certain? I’m not sure…’
‘But you have a pretty good idea, right?’
‘I have a good idea of what I’m doing,’ he said after a pause that was just a beat too long for Dinah’s liking. ‘Only by dint of the fact that I am doing it. Whatever it is that I am doing, I know that I am doing it. Whether I’m doing it correctly, well, that’s a whole different bucket of frogs. Besides,’ he ploughed on, having gained the kind of momentum that, like the Queen Mary at full steam, meant that stopping was both protracted and cumbersome. ‘There are no prizes for doing things right.’
‘I think you’ll find there are,’ said Dinah.
‘Well, yes,’ agreed Shaw after a pause for reflection, ‘but not necessarily the kind of prize that we would like…’
Dinah pushed hard on a brake that did not exist on her side of the footwell. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she squawked, aware that any prize, however fanciful, would be preferable to an untimely death. ‘Do you think we could possibly stick to the right side of the road?’
Shaw peered exaggeratedly into the distance. ‘Well yes,’ he replied when, eventually, he was happy that his point had been made. ‘Which side would that be?’
‘Just choose one that doesn’t have vehicles hurtling towards us,’ she shrieked, attempting to fold herself into the glove compartment.
‘I mean,’ continued Shaw, ‘it’s all subjective, isn’t it? There is no right or wrong is there? Only opinion…’
Dinah swallowed hard. ‘I would really rather like it if you went along with the majority view. At least,’ she said, ‘until you manage to drop below a hundred miles an hour.’
Shaw glanced down at the dashboard dials. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s what that is… What’s that flashing?’
‘I think it is a tiny piece of the car’s AI that has managed to retain its sanity and is questioning why you are still in third gear.’
Shaw gazed questioningly at the gearstick. ‘It’s not automatic?’ he asked. Dinah shook her head in answer, as a rigor-like grimace fused itself to her face. Shaw, uncertain of how to approach the gear change, lifted his foot slightly from the accelerator and the car began to slow a little. Dinah peered out from between her knees. ‘Where are we going anyway?’ she asked, hampered only by the fact that her tongue had become welded to the roof of her mouth.
‘I’m, not certain,’ said Shaw. ‘I normally decide that when I get there.’
‘So, how do you know when you’ve arrived?’ She persisted.
‘Well, if I wasn’t there, I’d be somewhere else, wouldn’t I?’ Shaw looked at her as if it was, just possibly, the most stupid question he had ever been asked.
Dinah blushed slightly; embarrassed but affronted and, therefore defiant. ‘So, what if you arrive somewhere that you’re not meant to be?’ she asked.
‘Not meant to be?’ Shaw, again, looked confused. ‘Where you are,’ he said, ‘is where you are meant to be – although not,’ he paused for effect, ‘not necessarily where you had aimed to be.’
‘But how then,’ Dinah groped on, ‘do you know that you will find what you’re looking for?’
‘Looking for?’ Shaw, himself, looked alarmed now. ‘Who actually ever knows what they’re looking for?’
‘But your advert,’ said Dinah, hunting through her pockets for the scrap of paper. ‘It says that you specialise in finding things: missing people, missing pets…’
‘I do,’ he protested. ‘Although what I find is not always what I thought I was looking for.’
‘But how do you know what’s lost?’
‘We’re all lost,’ he answered. ‘Somehow…’
Dinah eased herself back into her seat, happy, for the first time, that the car was travelling at a reasonable speed and roughly in the same direction as all the other vehicles. This was without question the weirdest job interview she had ever been on and, having assumed some kind of self-control, she decided that it was time to get a grip on the conversation. ‘So,’ she began, ‘if you don’t know where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, why do you even need an assistant?’
‘To assist me,’ he replied, deliberately trying to inflect an unsaid ‘Doh!’ into the words.
‘To do what?’ she persisted.
‘Whatever I’m doing.’
Dinah realised that she was on a road to nowhere and tried a new tack. ‘What’s the rate of pay?’ she asked.
‘Pay?’ Shaw was shocked. ‘What for?’
‘You advertised for an assistant.’
‘I know,’ he said, ‘but not an employee.’
‘You expect somebody to assist you for free?’
‘Only for as long as they want to.’ He passed her a mint which she unwrapped and placed in her mouth, deep in thought.
‘Erm, I thought,’ he said, only a little petulantly, ‘that you would unwrap that for me.’
‘Oh,’ she mumbled, fishing the sweet out of her mouth. ‘Do you want it?’
He looked at it in her hand, glistening with saliva, and was tempted, but, ‘No,’ he replied. ‘It’s fine.’
Dinah, meanwhile, had made a decision. She realised that somehow, via a process she did not fully understand, she had, herself, found something for which she did not realise she was searching. ‘Alright,’ she said. ‘I’ll be your assistant.’
‘Good,’ said Shaw, now taking the half-sucked sweet from her and popping it into his own mouth. ‘But, in future, you’ll have to be a bit more careful with the mints…’

If you have enjoyed Dinah and Shaw, their little story now has a part two and a part three