The Second Last Thing You Expected

November 23, 2012

When are you going to write that book? Not sure, I haven’t really had the time to sit down recently, you know with the kids and life and everything. Yes, yes, life’s a bit like that. I always wanted to build a yacht, I may as well have moved to Switzerland for all that dream did for me. Switzerland? They have lakes there though don’t they? You could sail up the Rhine to the North Sea and onwards. Could I? Well it’s a moot point now, whatever a moot point is. Moot? Something to do with collectivity perhaps? Yes, perhaps. What’s the book about anyway? I think you told me, but I can’t remember…

How’s Sandra? She’s alright, although she.., Yes? She seems unhappy for some reason. I think she’s decided to finally leave me for Alan. Whose Alan? He’s a writer. A columnist. Not very good I think, but he seems to have his charms. They have a lot in common apprently, soulmates, that kind of thing. Ooof. That’s hard to take. What about the kids? They’ll stay with me of course, Sandra has no interest. Blimey, that’s a hard hand to play. Have you asked why she’s unhappy with you? It’s because I haven’t written that book.  


By, By, Fat Floydie, Wanker Tout

December 28, 2010

If I’ve learned one thing in this life, it’s that one thing always leads to another thing. Take the fine matzah brei I wolfed first thing. It will be traveling through me as we speak.

You look at me and you see a speciman of a man, trim for his age. If you possessed what they call x-ray specs, you would hear another tale being told. A tale of endless examination, my flesh pushed and probed by expert hands. A gesang of failed diognosis recited by men who wish for nothing more than the money you have in your pocket book.

When my brother befell, let us say, his consequence, it was my mother who could not comprehend it. To her, he was as white as a ruach, her personal court found him not guilty at all times. But my brother had made decisions, choices that led to other men deciding his fate. To me these actions my brother initiated were not immoral, but like so many, he had not given them the requisite thought. The men who were affected by them were men whose characters you had to ponder and digest.

Another visit to the probing hirurg beckons. I shall place myself with good time in the waiting room, and think of my brothers ending. Since the event, many have changed their choices, and so the chain continues to spread. As I sit, the constant moving in my mogn brings the thought of my brother and I on Darian beach on a day in Connecticut. He turned to me as we walked, facing me, walking backwards. ‘Will you come with me Hiam?,  he shouted. I looked ahead of him, towards where the sea hammered the grey sand. I walked on and did not answer him. I wish now I had chosen to speak.

Uncommon Values

October 17, 2010

I am Tom Calder, selling dilute orange and aged burgers to a dwindling crowd of true believers on the edge of a wood, a top a green carpet of sward,

fertilized by faith.

Yer man in the white suit is the Big Man, Big Ian, you’ll have seen him jawing on time and time again. He doesn’t like catholics, much. Mind you he probably doesn’t have much time for the moslem or the jew niether. Especially if they came from Monaghan. Well, Great Protector, a catholic has just serve you tea. He smiled up at me and asked my name. ‘Tom Calder Mr Paisley, pleased to meet you.’ I thrust my hand a little eagerly towards him. He grasped it and squeezed with brotherly tenderness. ‘Good tea, Pilgrim, good tea.’ He was then hustled away by two young virginal Orangmen towards the flat bed where we watch him now. They held him at the elbows, as thought they were carrying a delicate chair.

He wouldn’t know I was born a catholic, have lived a catholic and my full title is Mr Tomas Fintan Callaghan. Then why would he? I wear no silver cross, no Padre Pio icons adorn my hot food vehicle and I bear no stigmatic signs. I slip unnoticed into this tiny crowd of bible readers as like a thief in the night, and serve them poor food and weak drinks to sate their diminishing appetites. I watch them congratulate themselves on their safety, until timely scolding reminds them of the need for constant vigilance. Then they look outward, to the edges of the field, but no one comes.

I remember last year, I was out the side of the van idly smoking a Regal, listening to the approaching bands, when a man, unsashed, idled up to me, tapping a smoke. After I’d lit his fag, he looked out over the field and spat into the grass and mud. He was dressed in gray slacks with, a cheap white shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal ‘Wynchurch Loyal and True.’  ‘Look at these poor fuckers, just look at them.’ ‘Sorry mate, look at who?’ ‘Not one of them has any balls. Peelers are useless, tied down. Put any of these fuckers in an H-Block and they’d start organizing a disco.’ I started to make the obligatory ‘I’m on your side’ noises, but this boy had axes to grind.

‘Think any of these would starve themselves to death for the cause? 72 days Sands lasted – 72 minutes with these and they’d be ringing a taxi to the nearest chippy. Look at them.’ He took a long last draw of his Regal, and flicked it between forefinger and thumb into the trees behind the van. He turned to face me, and I saw his eyes for the first time.  ‘Born to lose’ he spat, half hoarse.

As if someone else, someone braver and more stupid, had become me in that minute, I reached out and gripped his elbow. ‘Don’t worry mate, it’ll be alright.’ His face changed from angst to a blank wall. I let go his elbow and he turned and left, perhaps for home, perhaps not. I turned to look into the field and saw the bands had arrived. I stepped up into the van, and turned up the fryer, there was work to be done.


September 27, 2010

Laurence could no longer remember her face. He could recall the walks in the parks, the rooms they had made love in, but in each image her face had blurred. What colour were her eyes? Was her hair short or long? Was she still smiling?

They had parted amongst cold hearts, ground down by his drinking and her growing, silent awareness that he would only change if she left him. There was no fork, only one straight road ahead of them. She went on a Friday. He sat on the third step, and at the sound door closing, he looked up to see her shadow through the frosted glass of the front door. Her step was quick and clean. Her parting words to him shimmered in the air, ‘look after yourself Larry.’

This he did. To win her back, his temple became the gym, he enrolled in courses of self-improvement and made a loving attempt to directly care for the other human beings that inhabited his world. Each Sunday afternoon he would drive out to Moira to pick up his Nan, who by this stage was as frail as an autumn leaf, and drive to Roselawn to leave flowers by her second husband’s grave.

His family had noted this care, and at Nan’s funeral he was given the role of reading the lesson. Matthew 6:25, – ‘is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?’ Looking out across the small gospel hall, at the royal blue hats, and shaved heads that had gathered to bid a dutiful farewell to this stalwart of their community. He spoke the King James Version in measured, well-practiced beats, he searched in his mind for her face.

At the climactic final verse his voice failed him and a sob too large to control leapt to his throat. As he realised what had been given to him, what had been lost, what he would never regain, he whispered the words, the last air in his lungs pushing each syllable out.

The Coming of Morning

September 23, 2010

As the first side of the Chuck Mangione album ended, Michael put down his pen.

He’d been working on a new show, Happy Stars. The basic premise was to sell products, at least that was what Anglia had told him. Their new chairman was big in plastics, and wanted some kind of way of promoting his various products –  radios, blenders, clocks. It was what the Yanks had been doing for years, taking television for what it really was, a small and insistent shop window.

The phoned bringed in the corner, next to the wilting money plant. He had a feeling it was his mother, and it was. Her flat Yorkshire vowels came at him like the sound of a car starting on a cold morning. ‘Michael?’. ‘Yes mother’. ‘I’ve news, news of a death. It’s your great Uncle Mikael.’ ‘Mikael? I thought he already was dead.’ ‘No. He’s just being dying for so long, people assumed he had already gone. He was holed up in some care home in the Catskills, and had little or no memory left, poor sod. Anyway the point is, I need you to go out to the funeral.’

Michael didn’t reply immediately. He had been named for Mikael, who was something of a legend to the family. A strong 6’2, with enormous feet, Mikael was married 3 times, and had a large car dealership in four states in the Midwest. He hated the Irish, blacks and Chinese, but especially the Irish. Michael had traveled to stay with his third family, a dowdy Polish woman and three sullen female children who seemed cowed by the huge shouting man they lived with.

Mikael and Michael hit it off though, and there were tearful scenes at Lambert as Mikael told him he was the son he never had, although he had two sons in Milwaukee. He remembered that as he was clutched to the old man bosom, his hands had gripped him so tightly they had pinched the skin. He could still feel it on the flight, still felt the little sting as he traveled home in his father’s car. It faded that night, and he was aware of the lack of it.

‘Micheal? Did you hear that.’ ‘Is there no one else?’ ‘My knees kaput, your dads in hospital, who else is there?’

Michael didn’t answer. He looked out at the garden, to the low wall that separated his house from the road. In the fields beyond crows jousted with one another among the stalks of cut wheat.

Stop. Understand Me.

September 12, 2010

After spending the best of the day drinking milk and scotch in her underwear, Toni took the usual three o’clock step of putting on her housecoat. She stepped out onto the balcony, its peeling pink paint turned to a sinister hue by the now setting September sun. Toni was 46 on Tuesday, sliding down faster, maybe still able but now unwilling.

She belched softly, and looked out over the quiet sea edged by caravan sites, and over to the left, a tin mine, long since turned over to rust and misuse. Her stomach had plenty more to give to the air, filled as it was with dairy product and cheap alcohol. It had been 2 years since she ate more than a half loaf of bread in a week. She imagined the residues they would scrap out at her autopsy and the thought reminded her of her uncle 40 years before, preparing tripe to sell at the market, his face ruddy from the heat of the rolling, dirty soup in the bucket below him, the white tripe breaching like dying seagulls.

As the air cooled around her, she shuffled inside, and refilled her glass. She’d burned most of her books in the harsh winter before, but as a birthday treat she had made her slow way to the Oxfam shop and bought a bundle of cheap thrillers. Now, picking up the nearest to her, she opened the cover. Something dropped to the floor beneath her.

It was an invitation to some civic occasion at Guildford Town Hall, in September 1984. Toni stared at the card for a while, imagining men with guilty well-fed faces, justifying expenditure to their bored wives. She put it down on the table, and then noticed writing on the back. The blue script was small, almost unreadable, and it was hard for her to work it out, with the effects of the scotch. As she read though, a voice came out of the words, a voice not heard for many years:

‘Mary, my beloved. When I come I shall come to you as in a dream, come to you as your head hangs. I shall come to you in the manner of the poets, the seers, those with what they call the second sight. I shall drive fleets of glittering ships across your mourning window, I shall appear to you as a planet, predicted in your horoscope, I shall be the saviour of your dark hours, the child of a barren marriage. I shall bring rain to your drought, I shall return what is lost. Till then, hold fast. LPB’
Toni stood a little while longer, and then felt her breath rush back into her lungs.

History’s Plughole

September 5, 2010

Vienna – 1960. An awareness had crept over Alan, that this new world would not comfort those of their kind.

From a regiment of 500, only 12 were still alive, (Siggy and Manfred were unable to attend this dinner, due to family commitments).  The private room where the company would usually have met was unavailable, and they were forced to eat in the public rooms. Across the room a young family argued as to the destination of their next holiday, Sweden or Southern Italy. Their children seemed listless, absently moving their food around their plate. Another family talked of a new car and two women were drunk and sang Jim Reeves softly to one another.

It had been five years since everlasting neutrality had been declared, and Alan, who had flirted with the Anarchists in his youth, looked at his comrades like a stuffed bird that had awoken inside the glass cases of the museum. None of these men had reached any understanding of how they had ended here, wearing uniforms they couldn’t afford to clean, and believing in ideas they could not express.

As they left the couple began to argue about the nuclear threat, with the husband, a fat man in a tight shirt, spewing out loudly that she would love the Russians to return and visit their little whores like her.

The group of dying soldiers all paused, all except Rolf, who was at this stage profoundly deaf. The men looked to Alan for a sign of what action to take. Should they punish this loudmouth?  Should they at the very least upbraid him? Alan looked at the man, then looked at his comrades. ‘Come, let us go gentlemen’, he said ‘our defeat is complete.’ Following, they shuffled on into the daylight.

A pallet on your floor

September 4, 2010

As he lay sideways on the hardwood, his eyes were energetic in contrast to his limbs and torso, which he realized, has ceased to be his.

It had, by his best recollection, begun in De Brekkes at 9, moved on to The Iron Lung at 11, and then, well then, things steepled.

Frantically he rifled his memory – scratching vinyl from a taxi door, being physically worn out by a conversation with Tabitha about The Beatles, the cold water not making any discernable difference, noticing the loss of a shoe, trying to rob Bensons from the last vending machine in the city centre, vomiting in a bin, half-halfheartedly goading the employees of a homeless shelter, and on and on, each recollection scratching at his skull, leaving deep grooves where it once was smooth.

As the feet shuffled closer, he realized that however he had worshipped ‘experience’ in the past, this was to be the beginning of his education. Proper.

Astonished Marmot

August 27, 2010

After Angela left, Simon travelled to Stevenage for one last tattoo. He asked Maurice to ink the words ‘Sweet Pussy 05’ across his shoulders, with an eight-sided dice replacing the zero. Throughout the two sessions the work required, the men, roughly the same age, discussed a mutual loathing of West Ham. Simon noticed that Maurice wore a wedding ring. ‘I’ve been married fifteen years now’, said Maurice, ‘I’m a lucky man. Truly.’

‘Sweet’ ended up resembling ‘Sweat’, due to one of Simon’s scars.

Growth and development

August 23, 2010

It was early morning and Mr McCracken had seen enough of the 1960s. He had been waiting for the small boat for over an hour, his feet becoming hot as the unseasonable sun bore down on his body. His brother had hoped to leave Carrick at 6, and it was now 9. Mr McCracken was aware of his fear and memory of his brother’s weak swimming in the back of his mind. A goods vehicle passed behind him, crushing the gravel beneath its rubber tyres. The sound panicked him, and he pulled the package, wrapped in used brown paper, tighter to his chest.