Friday, 11 April 2008

The incalculable dove

It flew for fun. It was purity released and it flew straight and true. Its feathers were heaven and goodness shone from its wingtips. People looked up from their work and smiled as it passed them. A flash of glory, a white jet of hope. Halcyon days to come, drenched in peace. Everywhere it flew it dropped feathers of redemption on the cold grey landscape.
The white dove sped on. A rarer and rarer site in England, it seemed to be racing time, outpacing extinction, but only just.
It whizzed across fields now. A buzzard stirred from its perch on a telegraph pole but the huge raptor was incapable of catching such a fine prey as the incalculable dove. So on it strove.
The landscape changed now as the road widened. Countryside turned to village and village turned to town. There were lamps to avoid and intercrossing wires chained buildings together. And the traffic. The traffic hummed everywhere.
The bird banked sharply and swung into space. Then, its body thudded into a window. Stunned, its beauty twitched on a black step. The brown boot of Pap Frung came down on its belly and forced its stomach out through its beak.
Skelhorne helped him over the remaining stair and into a warm reception. "Come along girl," barked Frung to the spinster at a desk before him. "He needs to see me."
The air in the room changed now and the woman said nothing in return. She fixed her eyes on Frung and pressed the intercom firmly, as she had done time and time before.
"Pap Frung to see you, doctor."
An audible intake of breath came through the loudspeaker. Time stood still.
Eventually; "Send him through, Miss Semple."


This piece is an old story, part of a larger tale about Pap Frung that I started writing with my friends Paul Craven and Tom Allen. If we finish it, I will post it somewhere. I include this today, because I have man-flu and am not up to writing.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The pull of the tide

Flowing very softly, like the trickling of melting butter, the tide came in around their feet.
They were sleeping, naked on the warm secluded sands, Stefan and Magda - each dreaming of the other.
In Stefan’s dream, Magda was a ghost. She came to him as he turned out the last light in his house. She was brilliant white, with mouth aflame. She reached out to him and he stood his ground for her touch. She kissed him and the flames spread across his body in waves.
In Magda’s dream, Stefan was a cruel master to her. She worked hard for his care, but whenever she displayed the weakness one has when they can’t help but reveal their love, he would attack her with words so barbed, she felt each syllable snagging on her heart.
Magda, mercifully, woke first. Her hands shook and her eyes were grey. She looked at the beautiful body of Stefan, almost glowing like an angel in the midday sun, but he was tainted now. Magda wanted so much to wake and hold him, for this all to go away, but the power of the dream still gripped her. So she just sat up, pulled her legs into her chest and sobbed into her knees.
Though they were inches from each other, their minds reeled, whole universes apart. Stefan’s dream was bringing him such joy, his body had no wish to escape the sensation. The spirit of Magda flowed through his entire being and his veins pumped with vitality.
And then, above the slowly melting tide came the first of the white water, the first gush that signals the world has turned and the tranquillity of the beach must be reclaimed.
As it splashed this fresher, colder water across Magda’s calves, the nagging grip of her dream was broken. She looked at the frothing waters and opened her legs, to allow the next wave to surge through her.
The wave broke, fizzing across their bodies, and Magda leaned her head back into the surf, her hair dabbling in the foam. This last sea wash woke Stefan with a splutter and a cry.
He looked at his lover in confusion, but she smiled sweetly at him in return and stroked his wet face. Then she pulled herself on top of him and kissed him as the surge crashed into her back.
They made love there, in the tidal waters, fighting a valiant last stand against the inevitable. They strained with every inch of their beings for these seconds on their sand and their beach, before the tide came.


There's more love, longing and sand in this tale: On the beaches, far away.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Chasing pennies

I have always thought of myself as a man with an open heart and a sober mind who can find deep joy in the chase for pennies.
From my earliest years, the glistening sight of jewellery excited my childish eyes. The crinkle of notes or the clinks of my father counting his coins was enough to send me to sleep amid the most fabulous dreams of laden riches.
Growing up, my father instructed me in the ways of book-keeping from an early age. He would pay me a meagre wage for the task of looking after the family’s accounts, which he would then check over, quite laboriously, as though it were a vital examination at school.
Of course, he was teaching me the fine art of accounting, a charming life skill to have at one’s disposal. I thank him now for the effort he put in to me, just a child. The very real effort he put in as a father.
These efforts, I hope, he would feel have been rewarding. He cannot tell me this, for he lies six feet below the ground, but any can see the rewards have been great. I’m sure he would have felt a great pride, or at least a sense of satisfaction in what he has created in me.
Not long ago, my book-keeping enterprise reached new heights. I no longer have to be the man who works through the night to balance his client’s monies. Others do that now. Trusted employees; fine men.
One cannot be seen, as the principal of a respected firm of accountants, to be doing the work of a mere book-keeper. My society, my learned friends and colleagues, the peak of Manchester’s political echelons; they would not lend me the same respect I command now.
And yet, I miss the chase.
The chase, let me explain, is something I see as eternal. Oh yes, you may find the missing monies, you may locate that lone numeral that had somehow eluded your imprecise eyes, but the chase does not end there. The chase goes on because trade never ceases, so money never sleeps. Accounts constantly writhe, thrusting capital forth or gladly accepting an injection of funds within it.
And this, all this, it fills my mind, so that I find it hard to speak of much else. When I attend my dinners and gay social dances, I find the conversation difficult to hear. The swollen words of the princes and oligarchs of this growing industrial city have no room in a mind that favours the simplicity and absolute beauty of numeric perfection.
So I tend to sneak back, back to the firm’s apartments on Moorgate Place, back to the old counting house. I’ll light the lamp, take a chair, and pore over the pages, the ledgers, the statements and receipts.
These are my children, these great books of ours, these are my pride and my joy. I’ll stay here, until first light, chasing pennies ‘til I sleep.
I’ll stay here, gladly, and hope I wake before the clerks find me, in the morning.


If you enjoyed reading the tale, try this one: Skimming the mire.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The confidence of faith

By the nineteenth year of his life, Dante felt he was cursed. Whatever he thought about, at least, whatever he imagined to be, it never came to pass.
He would sit alone, music bathing his ears, low lights filtering out what he didn’t want to see in the room. He would try, try very hard, not to imagine a thing, maybe not to think about anything at all. That way, he could be sure that his imagination would not destroy the possibility of the future.
When Dante was a child, his burgeoning life was filled with possibilities. He would imagine what he was going to do when he grew up. The careers he would have, the countries he would visit, the great love affairs he would enjoy.
He saw his life stretching out before him - a rich platter, a joyous miracle to come. He thought about it, almost daily, as his teenage years gathered momentum. What times were to come! The excitement sometimes left him giddy. He’d sit there, sit in his room with the music filling his ears, lie back and stare at his dreams.
When he was eighteen he left home for the first time to attend a university. The road of the life he had forseen, he was now travelling.
He saw Beatrice on the third day of his first university semester. A voluptuous vision of hope, the first step on the road to his envisioned life.
That night he sat in his dormitory and imagined their first meeting. His vivid mind planned every nuance of the conversation - the speech that would make her fascinated by him, the ideas that would entice her passion for his precious soul, and later the words that would bring their entwining.
On Friday, the fifth day of the first university term, she was there as he had imagined, leaving class alone. All the confidence of faith, a faith built up across the divide of almost nineteen years spinning upon this human planet, carried his legs towards her and allowed him to begin the conversation he had rehearsed so many times this week, and pictured almost infinitely throughout his recent adolescence.
The first barrage floated with perfection from his lips. She gazed intently, focusing on every syllable. Her first reply, however, was alien to his mind.
Her voice, the very structure of her sentences, moved freely and independently of all his thoughts - of his entire constructed experience.
A crumbling edifice, his rhetoric was as dry as his tongue. His mind, as empty as his mouth.
Beatrice shrugged and said ‘bye’. Dante barely encountered her again.
A retreat to his room. A final hard look at his imagination. A real fear came upon him.
Dante knew now, he knew nothing about the world. Everything was an uncertainty. If he stepped from his room, he could never be sure, again, that the floor would support him.
A film of panic clung to him. He shook a little. The cold realisation of how hard his future would be. The realisation of how much easier life could have been had he discovered this truth, years ago. This realisation clawed at his heart.
Dante stared hard at the handle on the thick wooden door that separated his dormitory from the outside world. He tried to imagine what was on the other side, but all he could see was a world with no floors and many, many opportunities for him to fall.


If you enjoyed the tale, try this one: The blonde man.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Drying out

People were noticing they were drinking more.
Always, when paying an impromptu visit to the flat, would there be an offer of a glass of wine. “Red or white? We’ve got both open,” he’d say. That poor, unfortunate man.
Tina, Brian’s wife, would be drinking too, cajoling him, opening another bottle for him, but she always seemed to stay pretty sober. It was like she could just drink and drink, and keep on drinking without feeling the effects of the hedonistic grape.
But Brian, Brian would get in a hell of a state. A hell of a state and he’d keep on drinking. And she’d be there, Tina, opening another bottle and pouring him another glass, and then one more.
His friends saw him pass out on numerous occasions and it was lucky that he did his heavy drinking in the comfort of his own home. They rarely seemed to go out anymore but, when the couple did, Tina seemed quite able to control their drinking. One couldn’t help but wonder if they were just saving themselves for when they got back home. Back home there was lots of wine.
Christmas and New Year had been quite a time. Full of partying and misbehaving. Lots of drinking.
On the third day of 2006 Brian woke from a prolonged stupor that had presumably lasted since New Year’s Eve. Glancing at the watch on his left forearm he was surprised to see a network of thin veins had risen up across his arm. The veins seemed full of vitality but their prominence was made all the more unusual by the slightly greenish tinge to both them and his arm. The skin pigment had lessened in terms of usual colour and had even become translucent in places.
Nausea, caused by a combination of this sight and his woozy head, made Brian attempt to stand and reach the bathroom before he threw up. His legs, though, were less than useful and seemed to flex and bow when he put weight on them. As he staggered forward he felt some pain around the knee and heard a sickening noise, like flesh tearing. He collapsed into an armchair.
Looking down at his leg he expected to see his trousers covered in blood. Instead he saw a damp patch running down his inside leg and a small puddle on the floor.
“Ah shit!” He thought he’d pissed himself.
The urine smelled sweet on the floor and the scent greeted his nostrils with a kick that brought a sharp acid reflux up to his gullet. He choked and then vomited all over himself. The sticky liquid that covered him was as clear and sweet as that which now pooled around his feet.
Confused and feeling feint, Brian gathered what he could of his brain, of his working senses, breathed deeply and cleared his head. His crotch was pretty dry, so he reached down and slowly rolled up the sopping leg of his trouser.
His lower left leg was now a beautiful fleshy green - quite the ripest looking lower leg you’re ever likely to see. And there, close to the knee joint, where the pressure from the rest of his body had caused his ankle to squash and pull at the tauter skin of the knee, was a thin tear from which was trickling this beautiful sweet juice.
Brian looked down at his leg in bewilderment, looked down at the sugary juice running into the veins of the wood floor, looked and saw another pair of feet standing next to his.
His wife was standing there with a glass of chilled white wine in her hand. Condensation dribbled down the stem of the glass.
“Nearly done Brian,” she said. “You just stay right where you are though. Don’t want anymore accidents, eh?”
“What is this? What have you done?” hissed Brian, his fat flopping tongue making it difficult to speak now, or at least be understood.
“Hush now, dear. You’ll be ready soon. Nice and ripe for tomorrow,” she said. “The family are all coming round for dinner, so you drink up your wine and be good, ok?”
In response, Brian managed an expletive and then knocked the glass from her hand. She punched him hard in the face so that he bit his tongue, which hurt a little and then seemed to deflate. His mouth filled once more with sweet warm juice and then Brian tried, but failed, to cry.
She stamped down on his foot. He heard it pop and burst, but he didn’t really feel anything.
Tina then forced his mouth closed and made him swallow everything that he could feel was in there. He looked into her eyes and saw nothing but seething rage. He was little more than a fattened pig who had bitten the farmer, come to slaughter.
Brian then passed out, his body drowned in sweetness.
They roused him, as best they could at 3pm the following day. His sticky eyes opened enough to make out the shape of his wife and her family standing around him, holding long thin straws. His mother in law smiled at him, punctured his stomach and drank deeply.
Brian’s sticky eyes meekly sealed again.


This story has a similar premise to this piece: The Green Man