I (sometimes) call myself Mr. Pondersome. I'm a rather wordy, weirdy person. I say hullo a lot. I write a lot more. While you're here, why not give some of it a read?

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

01/01/2014 - LOTS OF LITTLE SECONDS


Lots of little seconds that drive by in Italian trucks – they say it’s like something we heard when I could still go back inside the questions, maybe later. Why not take the car on the left? Why not let the foe go and stick to the villain instead? They say you know where you are with him, sat somewhere atop a vendetta bridge with your legs dangling down over the provocative dead. The shop owners want to keep you in hiding but you’re making it hard for them with your American GI speedsters and your maleficent basket wielders. She was a beauty with brown acres but we keep her in mind for all forms of orange caressing, she is the only one who can manipulate the axe in such a way. The bottles they bring would bring a tear to the eye of most stricken girls with their nightsticks and just wanting to pay attention becomes a task of drinking whiskey whilst giving off airs of the sober man with a ribbon in his hair on a dare.

What is wrong? I don’t believe in daughters that carry their own bruises on their own shoulders and let them hobble the beady curtains via pathological invention within the borders of braced permission. Come this Sunday and see the pub signs march out their names in golden grass and green sands. Come out of your hovel and let your car exhaust sputter for the sake of the windshield which doesn’t see so much clouding as it used to. The silver platter has laces and button-up issues that would cause a fugitive to seek out letter owners for their smooth, circular faces. Look up and say thank you or else you will receive the worst cold that a lifetime could preserve. They could break you and probably plan to, either on or across rocky terrain. Your shirt is riding up in the crotch and that’s normal when the girls go off in a tizzy.

Save it for the pick up, save it for the furry fists to implement with matter-of-fact starters. Please don’t hurt Adrian any further than is deemed humanely necessary. I am a depressed switch that tells the children to stop in black showman numbers and wait their turn. Get the violence out of the way and, no matter your height restrictions, the new year is good for you, as good as the breadth of your socks on your worst day.

All this falling about is gregarious and involves elaborate headdresses that I wouldn’t even consider whilst in delicately-toed company. You are exempt from the party because then the ends would justify the means and the wheelchair wouldn’t have to go anywhere anyway. The tunes start up again and we all have settle down for the sake of the old respirator in the back of the dentist’s. This is a wedding band and this is the strand of the year that is waiting to be pulled out. The days want to make love to you and yours.

31ST DECEMBER

When he arrived, Ben was already sat at the table folding a paper aeroplane. He took his seat and watched his old friend creasing the middle at crooked angles. He couldn’t remember ever showing Ben his technique for making aeroplanes, his old technique.
‘Annabel managed it then,’ Ben eventually said.
‘I suppose she did.’
‘Well, if she’s good at anything, it’s manipulating. Always has been, you’ll remember.’
‘I didn’t know her very well before.’
Ben glanced up. ‘A master of manipulation. Or is it a mistress?’
‘Maybe madam.’
Ben laughed. ‘They’ve got me bang to rights before you ask. I did it.’
‘But why did you do?’
‘He stole my dog tags; beat the shit out of me with his mates. Then I saw him at the bus shelter. All alone. I didn’t need more than that.’
There was a silence. He tried not to look directly at Ben or his handcuffs. Instead he reached out for the aeroplane. ‘May I?’
‘Go on then.’
He unfolded the wings and then smoothed out the middle crease. He made the overall shape smaller but lighter. When he was done he held it up.
‘But will it fly?’ Ben said.
            He smiled.

Monday, 30 December 2013

30TH DECEMBER

            He let Annabel walk ahead of him as they passed the empty duck pond. He hadn’t quite managed to wipe the sleep from his eyes yet.
            ‘Is he doing all right?’ he said.
            ‘Yes but its Ben.’
            ‘I get it. I remember his outbursts at school.’
            ‘Didn’t he knock over one of those big tables in art class once?’
            ‘And marched off down the hallway humming Ride of the Valkyries.’
            ‘He’d been on a war movie binge.’ she dashed a pebble across the water. ‘I think.’
            He considered touching her arm but kept his hands in his coat pockets. Feeling a loose button, he pulled it out and passed it to her. ‘To throw,’ he said.
            Annabel smiled and moved further up the pond. ‘So you’ve been feeling depressed, is that it?’
            ‘I suppose so. It’s more a lonely thing though. When I realise that I’m alone.’
            ‘Then perhaps you should see Ben. He’s getting sick of me and dad constantly visiting.’
            ‘I’d certainly like to. It’s just its hard. I can go out but not for very long.’
            She turned to him. ‘Visiting hours aren’t very long.’
            He nodded and watched fresh ripples. The pebble landed on the bank.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

29TH DECEMBER

            He refreshed the internet article on his computer. He read it again, word for word, just in case he'd somehow got it wrong. When he was satisfied that both the surname and date were correct he pulled out a slip of paper with Annabel's phone number on it.
            'Hello?' she said.
            'Hi. Is this Annabel Tyler?'
            'It's you then.'
            'Yes. I thought I saw you the other day in Bright and Earl. Was that you?'
            'Yes.'
            'So how are you?'
            'I'm fine. But it is rather early.'
            'Oh, sorry. Yes, it's...sorry.'
            'You're ringing about Ben, aren't you?'
            He clicked off the webpage. 'I just read.'
            'You just read? Christ, it's been a year!'
            'I haven't been right.'
            'What do you mean?'
            'I just...I dunno, I just haven't been right.'
            'You must've had something bad then. They're still talking about Ben on the street.'
            'I don't get out much. Yesterday was the first day in a while. Look, can we talk? Like I said, I've only been able to read about it.'
            'In person?'
            He gulped. 'Yes. If you like.'
            'I have work today. How about tomorrow?'
            'Okay.'
            'The park?'
            'Okay. Sorry. Bye.' He put down the phone. He breathed out.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

28TH DECEMBER

            'And is that the receipt?'
            'Oh, yeah.' he passed it across to the customer service worker.
            A cacophony of beeps started up. He turned his head to yawn.
            'Hey,' a voice spoke up beside him, 'Just cleaned up the condiments aisle. Joe told me to tell you.'
            'Right,' the customer service worker said.
            He glanced up at the sales assistant. He mouthed 'Annabel' though she wasn't looking at him. She left as quietly as she had appeared.
            '£5.20, sir.' the customer service worker held out the exact change.
            'Cheers,' he said, slowly pulling out his wallet. Money still in hand, he walked away.

            An hour later, he was still in the shop. He scrutinised the electronics section, eventually pulling out a self-stirring mug.
            'I was fairly certain it was him.' he recognised Annabel's voice instantly, even from behind a shelf.
            'And you didn't say anything?' the other voice was husky but feminine.
            'Can't, can I? He's a customer.'
            'Rules don't work like that. So he knew your brother?'
            'They fell out a year back.'
            'But he knows?'
            'It's public knowledge.'
            He replaced the mug on the shelf and moved onto the next aisle.

            'What's happened to Ben?' he eventually said.

Friday, 27 December 2013

27TH DECEMBER (a.k.a. Part 1 of a 200-Word Episodic Short Story - just go with it, until New Year's Eve...)

            He slid the bowl of cereal out of the way and picked up the remote control. The toy helicopter was in the middle of the dining room table, one of its rotor blades still slightly crooked at the tip. That was how it had come out of the box, the blade jammed into one corner without thought of padding or appropriate packaging design. He considered straightening it out again but flipped the 'on' switch instead.
             The little green light blinked on the side of the helicopter. He pushed down on the activation button and the rotor span fast; maintaining a straight, steady circular motion. Carefully he pushed up one of the analogue sticks. The helicopter dithered briefly in the air before collapsing on its side. He stood it upright and turned it off.
            He grabbed the box and opened it up, pocketing the receipt. He tried to give each of the helicopter blades enough room to hang low inside. The lid wouldn't shut properly so he left it and finished the four soggy spoonfuls of cereal.

            After washing it up he climbed back into bed. The shops were probably open but he hadn't slept right. Boxing Day had hurt.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (a.k.a. Part Four of the Festive Groan Tetralogy - that's it...)


HOST: And good morning! Or is it late night? Who cares? Who needs windows? I know I don't! Let's get this show on the road, this very jolly show! That's right it's...

[Cue two thumps, two beats, two beeps, a cacophony of laser sounds]

ELECTRONIC VOICE: Merry Maker FM!

[Cue sleigh bells jingling and a rush of wind]

ELECTRONIC VOICE: At Christmas!

HOST: Well actually it's Christmas Eve but we are at the cusp, the edge, approaching the turn of midnight. Sounds like we're teetering. Oh dear. Let's try that again, something a little less ominous. It's technically still Christmas Eve if you're not an insomniac child. But if you are an insomniac child, the phone lines are open. Ring us up and tell us your favourite lesser known Christmas song and why and maybe we'll play it for you. Well I say we but I mean me. Either way, bear in mind 'lesser known', we don't want any famous carols or cheesy tunes that have survived the 80's or earlier. We definitely don't want any crap from the 90's, well I don't at least. A-ha! And we have our first caller! Tell us, Morris from Paterhurst, what song would you like us, me to play?

MORRIS: Hi.

HOST: Oh and hi. Sorry, completely forgot.

MORRIS: That's quite all right. I was wondering if you knew Crunching Through the Snow by the Hartnells?

HOST: Let me check. [30 seconds] Nope, I'm afraid nothing's showing up.

MORRIS: Oh right.

HOST: Sorry. How about your next most favourite Christmas tune?

MORRIS: Stocking Prayer by Edgar Henderson?

HOST: Stocking Prayer? Sounds suitably saucy. [30 seconds] I'm afraid it's not looking good, Morris. How about-?

MORRIS: [overlapping] For Pete's sake...[click and phone line goes dead]

HOST: Sorry, Morris. Still, there's really no need for that sort of language. Really no need. Anyway, bringing things swiftly along, how about a change of question? And of course that wasn't the question for all you...eagle-eyed viewers? Sharp-eared? Whatever. Anyway here is the question: what is the wildest argument you've had during the festive season? It can be any year but I would absolutely understand if you chose the 90's. That was a very hostile decade. Anyway caller you are on the air!

UMA: Hi this is Uma.

HOST: As in Uma Thurman?

UMA: Yes.

HOST: Go ahead, Ms Thurman.

UMA: Actually it would be Mrs Bullock.

HOST: As in Sandra Bullock?

UMA: If my name was Sandra then yes.

HOST: Sorry. Go on.

UMA: Anyway my family had a rather explosive argument last Christmas over who did the washing up. We all thought it was our mother and she does everything. It wasn't right that she should do that as well.

HOST: And it was her?

UMA: No it was the dog.

HOST: The Dog?

UMA: Yes.

HOST: D-O-G?

UMA: Yes.

[30 seconds]

HOST: Is that a nickname?

UMA: No, his name is Morris.

HOST: Just like the last caller.

UMA: He was the last caller.

[30 seconds]

HOST: So you're from Paterhurst too?

UMA: No, I live in Lyonesse.

HOST: As in the female big cat? Only slightly more French?

UMA: Yes.

HOST: Is Paterhurst in Lyonesse?

UMA: No! Completely different ends of the world! We're separated.

HOST: I'm sorry to hear that. [30 seconds] So what you're telling me, Uma, is that your dog Morris rang me up and requested a couple of lesser known Christmas songs?

UMA: But you didn't have them.

HOST: Well yes. And I presume that your, um, your recent separation is because of the, uh, the issue with the dishes?

UMA: Among other things, yes.

HOST: Okay. Well thanks for that Uma. Have a nice Christmas.

[click and phone line goes dead]

HOST: Okay. So let's put on a classic! Now do we have any classics around here...A-ha! We do have Stocking Prayer for you Morris! Here's hoping you have no bones about me not checking properly. Oh dear. So, without further ado, here is Stocking Prayer by Edgar Henderson.

[Cue song]

HOST: [muffled, away from the mic] I'm not completely useless. Here perhaps yes but that's because I've gone and picked the wrong media, the wrong set-up. But I do have a way out, just need to jiggle the playlist and now I'm...

 

EDGAR HENDERSON: CHRISTMAS, AS ALWAYS. Relive the classic songs that made the 80's a decade to remember. And some of the 90's. Let the angelic guitar solos echo through your yuletide mind, like the unforgettable Snowy Bells:

 

I stood there,

unbelieving,

the moment you were

retrieving

the snowy bells that lasted through

the night...

 

Or ride your one-horse sleigh high to upbeat Christmas hits like Decorating Father:

 

Tinsel round the neck,

baubles on the chair,

a Santa's hat all crumpled on

father's snowy hair...

 

And let us never forget the raw beauty of Edgar Henderson's first song, a number one at Christmas for almost five years, Buying Shit for Stocking Fillers:

 

I grabbed myself a stocking

and hmmmhmmhmhmhmm

and stuck it up your fat dog arse

blah, blah, something or other

and bells.

 

Edgar Henderson: Christmas as Always. You're not even listening, are you? It's because this isn't working again. I need something that doesn't require me to rhyme. I need to switch on to the visual. Now where would Edgar Henderson feasibly appear? Christmas TV! Of course, CD plugs on a late night chat show or, one better, a sketch show! Now I had a name ready, I even wrote it down in my diary. I've had this diary since I was eight. Well, it wasn't that page, it was this...

 

AND WELCOME BACK TO THE ROMEO REDDING COMEDY HOUR CHRISTMAS SPECIAL!!! WITH YOUR HOST ROMEO REDDING!

 

ROMEO: As if it'd be anyone else.

[Cue laughter track]

ROMEO: Is this at the bottom of my stocking? Canned laughter?

[Cue laughter track]

ROMEO: Or is it tinned. Nah, I'm just kidding with you. Welcome back. So we've already discussed the plight of the paper party crowns you get from crackers and, of course, the typical British reaction to a little snowfall so let's move on to the next most inevitable progression: the dinner itself.

[Cue laughter track, quieter this time]

ROMEO: One time I remember vividly was when I came to this big family Christmas up in Lyonesse and we were all expecting a mammoth of a meal. My grandmother was the world's finest cook, she even broke the chicken's neck with love.

[Cue sketch. EXT: a large dinner table set up for a glorious Christmas meal. All the silver gleams and the plates aren't made of paper. A much younger version of Romeo is sat mid-shot with a young woman to his left and an old man to the right. He looks very hungry, in a cute sort of way.]

ROMEO V/O: The platters had just been lowered. Yes, grandma had platters because she was that sort of old-fashioned. Anyway she started with a covered bowl and there was the soup for starters...

[Young Romeo stares at the bowl of soup but can barely see anything aside from the croutons. Cue laughter track, louder this time.]

ROMEO V/O: Well, it was somewhere under there, underneath all the croutons. They seemed to push together on the surface of the soup, almost forming a plateau. Now this wouldn't be so bad, grandma's cutlery was usually rather sturdy but, as soon as they hit the croutons, they just couldn't pierce. I tried each of the knives in turn and still no deal.

[Young Romeo stabs the crouton upper crust with a sharp knife but gets nowhere. Cue laughter track, the loudest its ever been.]

ROMEO V/O: So what I did was, what I did was I picked up the bowl, the whole bowl mind you, and ran out of the door, out onto the street and kept running. Auntie Uma followed me all the way to the butcher's and just as I reached it...

[Young Romeo runs with Auntie Uma following just out of reach behind him. He stops in front of a butcher's shop and collapses.]

ROMEO V/O:...I had a brain aneurism.

[One minute of silence. Cue Romeo back on stage.]

ROMEO: It's no joke. Well perhaps it was something like one, only with more shock value. But you're still not paying attention. I can't really blame you though, I'm none of these things, I'll never amount to them. I lack the patience. [rips open jacket and throws it down on the ground. He sits down on stage] Originally Romeo never looked like me, he had far more personality in these eyes. He didn't have to be funny, he'd just sparkle with it. Now me, I don't sparkle with much at all. I'm good at devising scenarios but lack the drive to do much about them. I'm no social climber, I'm a stay-at-home guy. It's sad, yes, but it's not New Years yet. No point resolving change till the New Year, maybe not even then. [glances around] The lighting in here is ridiculous. I'll just take the tinned joy and go off. Canned laughter. Whatever.

[Exit Stage Left just for the hell of it]

 

            I suppose I'll just have to settle for a blog-like thing with bloated paragraphs and an overuse of bracketed side notes. You see, I'm like one of those kids living on an estate somewhere in England watching an American TV show featuring all his favourite actors and celebrities gathering together for one fantastic Christmas romp. I'm watching it, barely realising that it was filmed in the past and that all the actors and celebrities have probably long since gone home and besides there's no way I could get to have a ridiculous conversation with that famous improv comedian from the 80's because he's probably nowhere near as likeable in person and I'm nowhere near him, geographically or in terms of fame. If I appeared on stage it would be for me more than the audience and that would take something away from the work all the other actors and comedians and personalities are putting into the performance. It gets worse when you see a pair of famous women who you find insanely beautiful walk on together and all you want is to be snuggled between them like you were a ladies' man or something.

            I'm not quite getting this point across am I? Okay. Succinctly, it's like this: I'm not famous, I'm not really that creative and I just don't feel like I'll reach the height of either vocation. I'm not energised enough and besides I'm about to enter the illustrious career of a till worker at some grotty little supermarket. That may sound like the beginning of a rise to fame but it's all a little too comfortable for that to be true.

            I can always write but who reads Christmas stories or musings that isn't part of a feature article in some sort of newspaper? And who can properly communicate the joy they feel at Christmastime in a blog post anyway? Joy is a bit of a loose word to be honest because we all know there is a lot of shit to deal with at this time of year: family, loneliness, work and more pressing concerns than decking the halls. And, from the way that that joy is sold, it may as well be tinned goods. There's a lot of room in my cupboard.

            What I'll round off by saying is this: the Christmas Special is there to create a warm fuzzy feeling inside you but mostly around the shallow parts. We all know that it's saccharine, we all know that the actors and celebrities really aren't that mad about each other, we all know that the illusion is hiked up as soon as the sleigh bells start to ring but we take it because we need it. Otherwise this whole time of year would just be piles of presents with the occasional charitable act squeezed between and you know that as soon as we try to take a closer look then everything will come tumbling down.

            If you'll excuse me I'm going to fall asleep whilst watching a black and white movie. At least the snow will look cleaner. I might even go running through it whilst I'm still lucid.

            And, hey, no parenthesis. Ho, ho, ho.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

CONVERSATIONS WITH CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS (a.k.a. Part Three of the Sullen Night Tetralogy - well it might do...)

   Hugh grabs a basket in the entrance for appearance's sake. He has done his shopping, all of his shopping, online. He just comes to the department stores to soak up the ambiance, to listen to the less intrusive jingles, the ones that don't get onto the radio.
Bright and Earl is the kind of shop that he doesn't really mind: they are neither too sophisticated nor are they 'Everything for a Pound' hole-in-the-walls. They sell taste along with the tat. If there is any place where he can figure things out it is here.
He stops just behind the perfume counter and lowers the basket onto the floor. This is one thing, one thing he can't understand. He stands in front of the display and stares directly at a Christmas tree with eyes. Big plastic eyes with green plastic lids. They stare back coquettishly. He glances at its skinny black arms and scoffs.
'Who buys these?' he mutters, 'Who buys you?'
Hugh moves down the aisle to find a boxed version. The tree is supposed to sing "Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree", "Good King Wenceslas" and, of course, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". He returns to the display item.
'Go on then,' he says, 'Let's see if your batteries have run out yet.'
He taps the button at the front. The arms start working fast but the song comes out garbled and with glitchy pauses.
'We wish...mass...we...Chris...wish...and a happy new...'
Hugh pushes the button again. It is sticky and smells slightly of stale beer. As he wipes his finger clean on his trouser leg, a crooked smile breaks across his face.
'Oh, Mr Tree?'
'...tidings...'
'What do you want for Christmas?'
'...your king...'
'I'm afraid I don't have a king. There's a queen down south though.'
'...mass and a happy...'
'I'm not a Christian, unfortunately.'
'...we all...'
'At this time of year? Yes, I suppose most of us do pretend to be Christian, in a way. Myself included.'
'...figgy...'
'Did you just call me faggy? Did you just call me a faggot? Sorry, I just don't like that term.'
'..all like...'
'Someone did a number on you, eh?'
The tree stops singing and starts to whirr instead. Its eyelids slide back suddenly.
He steps aside and grabs his basket. The whirring seems to be getting louder.

Hugh moves onto the kitchen aisle at the opposite end of the store. He heads towards the wooden spoons but he stops just short of them.

He picks up a nutcracker soldier, beautifully painted in red and green with a debonair moustache over its grimacing chompers. He reaches around to its back and flaps the handle up and down. It makes a rather hollow clack.
'Stand to attention, soldier!' he says, resting it back down on the shelf with the rest of its duplicates. 'I hereby promote you to sergeant. Now address your troops!'
Spinning the nutcracker around he starts to work the handle again. 'You heard him, lads, stand to attention!' the voice he gives the nutcracker is surprisingly Scottish. 'Right then, we've got a lot of work to do. I expect each of you to maintain your position until such a point as when you are taken away to be bought. Do I make myself clear?'
Hugh imagines the 'Sir, yes, sir.'
'Any words, sir?' the nutcracker sergeant turns back to him.
'Just remain old-fashioned, nostalgically whimsical or you won't get sold.'
'Pardon me, sir?' the nutcracker sergeant speaks up.
'Yes, sergeant?'
'You say that as if we cannot do it, sir. As if we weren't born to do it.'
'You weren't born, your were made.'
'We were made into nutcrackers, sir. So long as we have strong jaws we have our purpose.'
'Not really.'
'How dare you, sir!'
Hugh stares at the nutcracker, eyes widening. 'You're decorative. You're bloody inanimate!'
'Waiting for action, sir, waiting for action! You are animate. What is your excuse?'
Hugh glances around him. Fortunately there is no-one around to hear, let alone speculate. He puts the nutcracker back down in front of the troops and hurries towards the childrenswear department.

  Hugh escapes the clothes section relatively quickly and wanders up to a sales table. He runs his eyes over various bags of cheap plastic baubles and almost knocks over a bronze bookend. The item looks bashed and scuffed but it seems to feature a group of reindeer or rather their heads and front legs. He pushes it up against its other half and picks up the snow globe sat beside it.
It's a reduced item: was £15 but now is only £5. He follows the hairline crack that has been carefully taped over and wonders why they haven't reduced it further or even just got rid of it. He shakes it slightly, holding a hand over the crack to see if it leaks.
'Wonder if they sell the tape here?' he chuckles.
The white powder descends slowly on the small cottage inside the globe, gathering most in the space around it. The ground seems to be sunken there for some reason. Hugh wonders if the garden had escaped when the snow globe had been dropped. Either way all that is left is a trench. He shakes the globe again.
'Surely someone's at home,' he says, bringing it closer to his eye. The interior of the cottage is intricately detailed, he can see an armchair, a stack of towels, even a kettle. He thinks he can see the back of a head poking out from behind the door but the window at the side of the cottage is just too tiny. He tilts the globe, letting the snow enter through the crack in the lattice. 'They wouldn't make this thing without a friendly face. Hello?'
The snow starts to pile up against the lower cupboards reaching all the way up to the stove. He shakes the globe violently trying to shift the snow out of his line of vision.
'You're in here somewhere, I know it.'
The mounds of white tip back but there is just too much to get a proper look behind the door.
'For goodness sake.'
Hugh spies the head again but now the snow is getting in through the roof as well. He feels the dampness coming from the crack but continues to shake.
'For goodness sake!'
Everything is white inside.
'For God's sake!' he slams the snow globe against the corner of the table. His hands pull away just in time to avoid the shards of glass but not the backsplash.
He kneels down and picks up the cottage first. Looking from the bottom of the house he realises that the head was completely disembodied though attached to the door by what he presumes is glue. He sees a hand wrapped around the handle and wonders if this belonged to the same figurine. It must have broken apart after the first break.
'Excuse me,' a voice says from over his shoulder. He turns around: it's a sales assistant. Her hair is neatly stacked in a bun but she has a childish face. 'Did you break that?'
Hugh starts to pick up the larger shards of glass hurriedly.
'No, sir.' she pushes him back. 'Someone's coming to tidy up. Now did you break it?'
'Yes.'
'Why?'
'I was trying to see inside.'
'Inside the snow globe?'
'The cottage.' He passes it to her. She stares at it.
'Sir, I'm afraid you're going to have to pay for this mess.'
Hugh reaches into his wallet.
'Could you follow me to the front desk please?'
He nods and follows her, wallet in hand. He turns back and realises that he's left the basket behind but remembers that there's nothing in it anyway.
As he moves through the many aisles, he can't help but start to hum along to the carol currently playing. The woman looks back at him. He holds back a smile, for appearance's sake.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

HATS LIKE ARROWS (a.k.a. Part Two of the JESUS CHRIST!-mas Tetralogy - needs a little less blasphemy...)

Marion started from the bottom right corner of the recreation room, around the entrance. She could barely push her trolley around the mounds of mushy cake on the floor. She pulled out the air freshener and squirted it behind her. She could not abide the smell of rotting fruit.
            Approaching a relatively clean patch of blue carpet she knelt down, her ankles creaking. Turning her attention onto the surrounding piles of crumpled paper plates and wrapping paper that spilled out of the black bin bags, she worked through the pain. Besides it pained her more to see such a spacious office room suddenly shrink into some kind of messy aftermath. Joseph had taught her that word, 'aftermath', though it didn't really work for her. It was just two words squished together, a boring and lazy trick.
            'C'est regain,' she muttered. Renewal, resurgence. Much more hopeful.
            Tying up the last bag, she used it to prop open the door. The carpet was surprisingly greasy but she moved onto the wall in front of her instead. Somehow the party guests had managed to stick streamers onto it. She peeled a few of them loose with her fingernails, scrunching them up and tucking them into her apron pouch. At least nobody had made holes in the plaster this time. Joseph had checked thoroughly before leaving, desperate to get home for the holidays.           
            Applying a chisel to the last tangle of streamers, she checked the ceiling. It seemed virtually intact but she would no doubt check later. She grabbed the trolley and pulled it forward to what appeared to be a nest made from shards of wine glass, bottle glass and various chocolate wrappers. There was an abandoned Santa hat beside it laid flat out on the floor, no creases or folds. Marion picked it up carefully at first then threw it onto a nearby table.
            'Champagne.' she sniffed a large shard of bottle glass. 'Gaspill√©.'
            She pulled out her dustpan and brush and swept up the smaller pieces. She threw the wrappers straight into her trolley's bin bag and moved on.
            One of the wheels snagged on the second Santa hat. This one was angled differently, bobble pointing around the corner. She walked past it and found a third hat and then a fourth hat. She frowned and started to pick them up.
            This seemed like a game, a treasure hunt. It had been years since Marion had taken part in one. All these hats could be leading her to a massive mess, the carefully laid-out disaster area from a bored and addled mind. She had originally planned to work her way around the room but with each subsequent Santa hat, this mystery gained in significance. It all seemed too clean and neat to be the handiwork of a simple booze hound.
            The hats led her out of the recreation room and through the main office where she was forced to zigzag through the rows of cubicles just in case they led to some smaller messes on the way to the big one. She gradually grew more and more irritated and, after reaching the twentieth hat, surprised that the company would even waste its resources on buying festive decorations in such bulk.
            Somehow the clutter was diminishing from room to room and she half expected the final prize to be a spotless cupboard. Collecting the twenty-fifth hat, she found that she wasn't far wrong: the trail had led her to the store room.
            'Sot,' Marion said, reaching for the handle. She paused. There was giggling going on inside accompanied by a rhythmic wet clapping sound. She opened the door partly. 'Pardon!'
            There was a man and a woman, presumably office workers, party guests. From their positioning they looked to be having anal sex. Marion slowly closed the door.
            'Not a problem,' the man said, 'Feel free to leave it open.'
            'He's serious,' the woman said, 'Are you serious?'
            'Yes, I'm serious.'
            'Leave it open.'
            'No, miss. Sir.'
            'What's your name?' the man said.
            'Tag says Marion,' the woman said.
            'Would you like to watch, Marion?'
            'You followed the trail after all.'
            Marion examined their faces. They were smiling but there was nothing cruel to it. They probably thought they were doing her a favour.
            She backed away from the door, leaving it open, and returned to the trolley. She threw all the hats straight into the bin bag and glanced around. She decided to start on this room and then work her way back to the entrance. There wasn't that much to do here anyway.

            She stepped into the store room again briefly to pull out the vacuum cleaner. It was the oldest and the loudest. She turned it on as the two lovers shrugged their shoulders and started up again. The vacuum wasn't loud enough. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

COATS AND SHOES (a.k.a. Part One of the 'Murky' Christmas Tetralogy)

In the spot by the bushes, across from the bicycle parking space. Night's early at winter, cold is right on time. Don't need to check the shelter's full. This is a good spot. Will move on to the next in a few hours. Shut eye.
            Excuse me, man says, excuse me.
            Yeah?
            Would you like this?
            He has a chunk of pasty in his hand. A small chunk.
            Do you have any change, mate?
            No. Would you like this?
            Yeah.
            It's chicken by the way.
            Right.
            Have a safe one.
            Right.
            Chicken pasty. At least it's warm. It's actually fucking hot in the middle. Little bites, nibbles.
            Excuse me, do you have any change? Say and say again.
            None of you ever do, you coats and shoes. Just holiday cash.
            Do you have any change, love?
            She's a bit of all right. Bites her lip and disappears.
            Nothing's going on for now so just a quick nap. Turn the timer to fifteen. The ticking starts.
            Excuse me, man says again, excuse me.
            What, mate?
            Would you like some of this?
            Roast chestnuts in a paper bag. Don't really like chestnuts.
            All right. You not going to eat them?
            I had a few.
            Yeah. All right.
            They're a bit chewy. He's still standing there.
            Do you have any change now, mate?
            Barely. He laughs.
            Hold the bag up and smile. He's been waiting for that. He's a merry old fuck.
            I'll be on my way.
            Okay. Thanks, mate.
            Don't mention it.
            There's a group of new ones coming from the zebra crossing. They move fast, don't stop. Shoppers. Arseholes. Almost get trampled. Grandma nearly falls flat on the sleeping bag. Can't even hear what she's saying. Fucking foreigners.
            That a bobby? Can see a reflector jacket on the other side of the road, ugly bright yellow. No hat though. This is a good spot, not moving for another couple of hours at least.
            Excuse me.
            Sigh. Yes, mate?
            I have a drink.
            Thanks, mate.
            Actually this is for me.
            Right, mate. A little change goes a long way, yeah?
            Man stares at me and storms off. Am hungry but not some fucking duck in a pond.
            Man stops, pulls something out of his pocket. He lobs it, a packet of something. Crisps. Smokey bacon. Quite like these actually.
            Ta, mate.
            He's already gone.
            Tear it open. Dark red outer, golden brown inner but not even vaguely Christmassy.
            At least have had half-decent tonight. Just a little nap after this, fifteen minutes, then move onto one of the tunnels. Could do with a coffee actually.

            Excuse me. Do you have any change, mate? Spare anything? Yeah, yeah, Happy Holidays and all that.