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Monday, 12 May 2008
Egg Stew
Published 'Inkshed' 1992

When I started living at Atlas House, I knew it would not be the easiest of transitions. It was a tower block of flats, in essence, I suppose ... except it was on its side. There was a single long ground-level corridor into which each flat's only exit opened. From an outsider's point of view, the building looked like a prefabricated Nissen hut. It was difficult to gauge its exterior geometry, since the opportunities of perspective in a built-up area were of course rare.

Inside, because I was not able to view the whole corridor from any point along its extensive length, I guessed the building was at least semi-circular. But why I moved there is another story altogether. Suffice to say, I was strapped for cash, and the economies of scale represented by the specific location of Atlas House were not easy to ignore. Whilst its other tenants were disincentives, the initial rent-free period together with the council-taxmen being frightened even to consider entering the seemingly endless corridor were quite hefty compensatory factors.

Let me get this off my chest at the outset (if it's not already too late): the other tenants were godawful. I was a saint by comparison which said a lot, because the few who knew me were fully aware that I dared no longer go for Confession in fear of the nasty things that lay in wait for me in that telephone box of the spirit. Local calls were cheap, but long distance ones were pretty costly both on the pocket and the soul.

Well, those so-called tenants were always (always?) standing outside their doors gossiping. Not ALL the tenants ALL of the time. They took it in turns. When duty called, some thick-skulled son-of-a-bitch would struggle from his pit, only to stand at the doorway exchanging scandals (and insults) with neighbours. When he felt tired, he would fetch his missus from the back parlour where she was cough-dusting, to stand in his stead, to face the onslaught of the verbal googlies and defend their flat's door as if it were a vital wicket in the Ogre Ashes.

There was an ever-changing pattern of participants. Permutations beyond count. Ragbags of fish-wives plus the flotsam and jetsam of each flat's low-life made man. Red bawling faces, shaking fists, outlandish curses, ludicrous suppositions, crude sign language, blatant innuendoes, plug ugly facial expressions. Gobs of spittle levelled and fired, often to meet mid-way between mouths, only for in-house rainstorms to evolve.

If you can believe that, you can believe anything. Well, let me try you on this. One amongst that rota of doorstep squabblers was a dish of a blonde. Softly spoken. Doe eyes. Curves fit for fine art to emulate. Clothes a peck or two up the order of fashion from all the other dowdy, tawdry, bawdy ensembles which could have stood up by themselves without the internal scaffolding of half-washed bodies wearing them.

At first, I ignored her. I did not want to tarnish her even with the possibility of lewdness from my own lips. I could not entrust even myself to bandy words with the likes of such a maidenly icon. Then, eventually, one of the battleaxes called her Trudy within my hearing. I decided that knowing her name was tantamount to an invitation, if by coincidence alone. My own name, of course, was Trudy. Therefore, at the optimum moment, when the mix of mummers upon the corridor's stage was as near as it could be to cohesion - with quarrels burbling along quieter undercurrents rather than on the storm-tossed waves at the surface - I approached Trudy with a smile upon my lips, a smile that was as sweet as I could muster in the backward-looking circumstances of my upbringing.

This meant that I had to leave my flat door unguarded. I lived on my own, so even the bare necessities of sleep and food had been foregone to strut my stuff at the sharp-end of my corridor door. My last meal, I vaguely recalled, was a hastily prepared egg stew, eaten on the hoof. But, today, Trudy was worth forsaking the threshhold for. She would be someone I could respect ... perhaps be friends with. It was almost too much to hope for. But God gave us hope to use.

"Hello, Trudy..."

My voice was hardly discernible above the increasing hubbub of the hoi polloi around us. She vigorously pointed at the door I had abandoned for her. I kissed her lightly on a petal soft cheek and marched back to prevent a gang of old age pensioners daubing obscene graffiti beneath my number. Not that I blamed them. Even I felt senile on off days.

After dealing with the resultant fracas on my doorstep, I turned back towards Trudy. But she had gone in, never to come out again.

"I wish to confess my sins, Father."

"what have you to confess, my child?"

"In addition to not attending Confession since my first communion, Father, I have recently been lewd with a woman."

"What was the result of your lewdness?"

"She became pregnant with my child."

"How did you do that?"

"I kissed her."

"How many times?"



"'Cos I loved her."

"I meant, why only once?"

"As I say, 'cos I loved her."

"Well, my child, let me put your mind at rest ... a woman cannot be made pregnant with only one kiss."

I sighed with relief. It was that Atlas House gossip again. I should never have believed it.

"You should get happily married, my child ... find yourself a husband."

There was a long pause.

"You are right, Father. Will YOU marry me?"

It started raining through the bore-holes of the grille.

Without even one single redemption, I ran straight back to Atlas House. The doors were empty, except there were voices beyond each renewed curve of the corridor: a scimitar of Hail Trudies echoing in unison. The heady aroma of egg stew filled the air like incense.

I found the door with my number on it. Not bothering to read what was scrawled underneath it, I fumbled with my bundle of keys and this time opened the lock with the first one I tried. Never before had I managed this, but there's no accounting for the above average strength of the law of averages.

I went in, only to come out again when Trudy did. A kiss is often a bite. And vampires eventually need their beauty sleep. With dreams of my my boney blood-egg child.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:50 AM EDT
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