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Sunday, 25 May 2008

Published by Colchester Library in 'Dead-Ends' by DFL



The girl was seventeen, but she looked younger.

She was working in a bread and cake shop until her first University term began in October. I had been staring meaningfully at her for days, ever since first spotting her behind the crusty loaves and jam doughnuts. However, she had failed to meet my eyes fully: that is, until the day I attempted small talk with her.

The amount of traffic in the High Street was my chosen topic, since I always avoided broaching the subject of weather. In fact, anybody who hangs an encounter between two separate human beings upon whether the sun shines is cheating both parties. That’s because the sun is always either shining or not shining. Come to think of it, the sun does always shine, whther it’s behind clouds or not (or even when it’s night time) .

She merely smiled half-heartedly as she plopped the toasted macaroons one by one into the crinkly bag, finally crunching up the saw-edged opening into a fuse of paper. I must have purchased more bread and its accessories during that holiday than I would eat for the rest of the year. Eventually, she responded to my prattle with a willingness

I had never previously dared to expect. The voice was as pretty as the face. In many ways, the bakery overall made her body strangely sexless, yet this was an intrinsic part of her charm, having no pretensions to flaunt, keeping her goodies, as it were, done up like a surprise parcel for Christmas.

She had no choice, really, since all the girls in the shop had to wear such overalls. But the others seemed somehow more careless with their top button or had bigger busts or both. I could not see any legs behind the high counter, so comparison was impossible that far down.

The fundamental mystery centred around the fact that, whatever time of day I arrived to buy bread, however long the queue and however quick its demands could be fulfilled, I was always served by my favourite. She always seemed to be the one who had just finished serving another customer when it was my turn. Not intentional on her part, nor mine for that matter (how could it have been?), but this always happened - without exception.

And I visited the bread shop twice a day for a whole fortnight.

When my stay in the area was fast approaching its end (a particularly sunny one as it turned out, spending most of my time feeding the pigeons in the park), 11 decided to pluck up sufficient courage to ask her out.

I had debated whether to wait until the bread shop closed in the evening, and follow her home. Then, at least, I would be afforded a glimpse of her without an overall, thus, perhaps, releasing me from any desire to ask her out in the first place. However, I did not want to tarnish her innocence with any such surrepitious behaviour. That was the last thing I wanted. Still is.

So I asked her out, whilst she was still in her overall, at the optimum moment when all the other girls’ attention was elsewhere, either wielding cake-tongs or haggling with an ugly customer over cheap offers of stale bloomers.

She said yes, without vacillation, filling me with wordless excitement and, yes, surprise. During out little chats over the bread, we had never reached anything more personal than that she was due to go to University in October (so she must have been at least seventeen) and that I was on holiday, whiling away a fortnight until work started again. She probably failed to guess how old I was.

Of course, she never turned up for our date. And on the Saturday, the last shopping day for me in the area, she was nowhere to be seen behind the counter. I asked after her, but one of the brazen hussies simply shrugged her padded shoulders and said my favourite was “off sick”.

I was off sick, too, for the first few days after my holiday. The doctor said it was constipation resulting from too much starch and carbohydrates, next to no green things and lack of exercise.

As far as my emotions were concerned, they were left relatively unscarred, since, if I am honest with myself, I had been relieved she did not turn up for the assignation. Her innocence remained unsullied.

I know she exists somewhere on the face of the Earth, somewhere under sun and sky, even if I never see her again. And, because of our relative ages, this will surely be true for at least as long as I shall live. That thought unaccountably gives me enormous pleasure.


Posted by wordonymous at 4:17 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 25 May 2008 4:19 PM EDT
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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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The Windcheater
First published "Flickers 'n' Frames" 1990

In his dream, the female had sharpened nails, one of which she viciously dug into his cheek. The blood gouted as if a bomb had dropped on a high pressure mains...

Dell woke. That particular dream was becoming more vivid each time it recurred. Including the waking up process itself. Without fail, the drone of aeroplane engines above the house sent his eardrums into deep murmur and mumble. Forty odd years since the War, and here he was imagining it still going on. The contemporary newspapers were full of the Berlin Wall being dismantled (whether it be in reality or symbolically), and of the face of old Europe taking on a new disguise. *And* there was still this one mischronological pilot maintaining a blitz of London single-handed! For him (or her?) the War perhaps never began and he (or she) was trying to stir the embers of man’s natural antagonism to man by dropping a dream bomb or two on an innocent at home, such as Dell.

He had given the game away. He woke himself up with a start, knowing that dreams within dreams could not be allowed to continue or one of them might take on a semblance of unshakeable reality. The Berlin Wall was a fixture - its crumbling less likely than the London skyline being without the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral for one of its credentials.

Dell took a black ready-stick stamp from the album beside his bed and applied it to the wall mirror. He never questioned this routine. Much like an assassin would notch his gun handle (one for an enemy soldier, two for a nun, three for a new born baby of either sex). These stamps ware the mementoes, insignia, regalia, accoutrements of dreams had. Sometimes the stamp was white. An inch by inch square. Often black *and* white. With straight or blurred divisions. Sometimes slightly smaller, sometimes bigger, or that might have been a figment of his imagination. But always square enough. They began to fit like limbless jigsaw bits, as time built up. They were his proof of waking up. The room with the mirror was where he was at. He needed confidence in the reality of reality and in the discontinuity of dreaming. As long as he could return to this room in time, find the stamp album, *know* intuitively the exact place on the mirror’s surface to position the next randomly chosen sticker and, finally, with a flourish and a fanfare of tuneless humming, press it neatly next to its neighbour. Soon, Dell would not be able to see his own face at all.

One dream he feared more than any other. It was the female with nails. They looked sharp enough to worry and tease the edges of the stamps and eventually peel them from the mirror. If *that* actually happened in the dream, perhaps he would discover that it was not *him* dreaming it in the first place, as the silver back-up reflector shone into the room like an air-raid warden’s hooded torch ... lighting up his face as a wild ghost in the mirror.

Waking up from the dreams with *her* in them, he would be shaking and shivering, not even able for a few minutes actually to establish the whereabouts of the album, let alone have fingers nimble enough to pick out a single stamp.

In the early days, Dell thought the design of evolving stamps was a Jackson Pollock mishmash of monochrome. No rhyme nor reason to the shapes and smudges of black into white, white into black. They were predominantly spreading from the left hand side of the mirror in a snowstorm. After a spate of dreamless nights, he gave up the idea of ever finishing it.

Then eventually, a pure white gap began to appear about three-quarters of the way up, imperceptibly widening out as it angled downwards at forty-five degrees (or thereabouts). For several weeks of sporadic dreaming, each stamp was pure white. There were, of course, different shades of black that intervened, ever positioned to leave the white bar uncorrupted. There was, after all, a partially recognisable form emerging. It was as if real life was in slow motion, compared to the speed of his dreams. No other way to explain the phenomenon, however unsatisfactory. Holding his breath, to die...

One night when he dreamed of the old drone over the house, it was so close, he could hear the bombdoors unlatch and the half-stifled, shrieking whistle of a shortcut doodlebug. None of it made sense. It *must* be a dream. He woke, thankfully, before, whatever was dropped fell on his house.

But the stamp that particular night convinced him. He wondered how he had been so blind. The design on the mirror was nat a wartime St Paul’s Cathedral amid revolving floodlights: it was one half of an old-fashioned aeroplane. He recognised it from some of the black and white films they still showed on the box. Not knowing what it meant, he felt crazy to finish it, even If it meant ripping out stamps without the concomitant dreams first. It built up under his flickering hands, square by square. A star on its wing. Friend or foe, he could not recall from the history lessons at school. Heading into a snowstorm, or was it flak, over the dark seas of the past time … cheating the wind. The last stamp went in perfectly - there seemed to be a dome, too far back for a cockpit, he thought. Was this some consolation prize for it not being his favourite cathedral? He knew next to nothing about Fokkers, to know it wasn’t one. Or that the dome was a gun turret. He knew too little to know that he would be wrong, *whatever* he decided. That’s the way dreams are built up. With bricks that seem to fit, until they topple down.

The relentless droning above his head, he did not notice, despite being fully awake by now. The noise was too obvious. He had met it too often in his dreams, teasing the eardrums with barely heard undergrunts of vibration. In real life, it was there and not there at one and the same time.

Crossing the wall of the mind he heard the bomblatch slip...

Dell woke, not with a start, but an ending. The bedroom’s walls ware shimmeringly lit with a city ablaze. The mirror threw back the red shadows like shunting ghosts. Dell stared wild-eyed at the image of self staring wild-eyed at its replica. Raising the sharpened claw to the cheek, Dell scored, as the bomb missed.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:27 AM EDT
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Sunday, 11 May 2008

A collaboration with Gordon Lewis.

Tommy wandered the land he owned, wondering who owned the river. The river flowed through his land, but was that enough? He stopped and sat beneath a big tree he considered his big tree. He took off his shoes and socks and dabbled his feet in the river. They were his toes he wiggled, that’s for sure. As he laughed, a thousand birds took off from the tree. Of course, they were not his birds to count. A mix of twigs fell on his head, dislodged by the sudden departure. In pain from the heaviest, he watched the birds swarm smaller than bees with stings. He dropped some of the smaller twigs into the river to watch them race each other until out of sight and out of mind. No human being, he thought, could truly own any Air, Earth or Water. Nobody would have the right. He even doubted God would.

The slow moving river, undisturbed by wind, mirrored the trees and shrubs along its banks, and, as Tommy withdrew his feet, he too was mirrored on the glassy surface of the water. But was it his own face he saw there reflected? He thought it was his father’s face he saw! The father who, it was said, took his own life, drowned in the very river that meandered through his estate. Tommy never accepted that his father committed suicide, but there was nothing to prove that he met his death at the hands of a murderer or that it was an accident.

He dismissed what he thought he saw in the water; of course he was not the same age as his father when he died, but he supposed, as he was his father’s son, it was natural that the reflection reminded him of his father and the painful occasion of his death.

When his mother died, Tommy inherited the estate lock, stock and barrel just a year before he lay there on the bank of the river with the sun drying his feet. His thoughts dwelt on the tragic death of his father. Was it too late to look again into the circumstances of his death? Nearly two years had passed since that fateful day, and now that he had all the time imaginable, he resolved to try and get the case re-opened so to end the speculation in his mind.

Hearing his name being called he turned to see it was his wife Sarah that called him and that she was waving frantically, beckoning him to come to where she stood on the raised patio at the side of the great house. Waving in reply he hurriedly picked up his shoes and socks and ran towards his wife.

“Hurry up Tommy,” she called as her husband neared the patio. “There is someone called Simon Ratner on the phone. You really ought to carry your mobile when you go wandering off.”

“Simon Ratner?” queried Tommy, “don’t know anyone by that name.” He hurried into the house to pick up the phone.

“Hello, this is Thomas Bowen speaking. How may I help you?”

“It is I that can help you Mr Bowen,” came the reply. “I have something that concerns the death of your father, something I can’t divulge over the phone, perhaps we could meet somewhere, The White Hart hotel near Jaywick is conveniently placed for me, perhaps you could meet me there this evening at say six o’clock?”

Tommy’s interest was aroused but he paused before he answered.

“Look... I don’t know you from Adam and I am not likely to meet a perfect stranger on my own. Naturally I am more than interested in what you may have to say, nevertheless I shall want to bring a friend with me.”

“I hadn’t thought of divulging what I have to anyone else, but I understand your caution, I guess it would be okay for you to bring a friend. So it is at six o’clock this evening I will expect to see you.”

“Okay,” said Thomas “we’ll meet in the bar of The White Hart hotel, if it is the one I know just beyond Jaywick.”

It all seemed too neat — that phone call arriving immediately after Tommy’s renewed speculations concerning his father’s death. Who owned the river? Who owned a death? A natural death was one that nobody owned. Or God did, perhaps. Yet, otherwise, it was the perpetrator of the death who owned it. Such a crazy panoply of thoughts beset Tommy’s brain as he drove his Fiesta at break-neck speed along the A120 towards Clacton. He had only vaguely heard of a White Hart hotel in that area — but he had been given directions away from the pier which should allow him to find it. Alongside Tommy was the so-called friend of whom he had spoken to Ratner — an upright silhouette etched against the passing moon as it rose. Indeed the moon rose, bigger than Tom had ever witnessed it before, above the flat landscape near Weeley. The friend was an old one, it seemed, but not close enough to be called anything but Mr Jones. A strange friendship, that.

Friends come in various shapes, sizes and relative intimacies. Tommy shrugged.

In the back seat was Sarah. She had insisted on coming on this jaunt, having maintained that a wife was a worthier companion on such escapades, rather than the likes of the inscrutable Mr Jones. She promised — as a bottom line — to stay in the car whilst the meeting was being held.

“I’ll bring you out a bag of crisps and an orangeade,” Tommy joked as he drove beside the black shimmers of a moonlit monster called the sea. He recalled a brand of potato crisps which he was regularly given as a child (to keep him quiet) — the one with a tiny blue bag of salt hidden at the bottom.

Sarah grunted: “I’d rather have a gin and tonic and a ham sandwich, Tommy.”

Mr Jones was heard to snigger; then they all remained silent as Tommy followed conscientiously with practised twirls of the steering-wheel — as the car almost autonomously journeyed beyond Jaywick towards the White Hart hotel and a stranger called Simon Ratner.

Thomas pulled on to the forecourt of the pub, his mind in a whirl, wondering what this Simon Ratner was going to disclose. Was the true facts surrounding the death of his father to come out of the meeting? Sarah was expectant too, knowing how much it meant to her husband. But surely, if there had been doubts about the verdict, the jury would not have returned a verdict of suicide.

Entering the lounge bar of the White Hart at that early hour of the evening the two men found the place empty and a push bell had to be depressed to call for service. In response to the bell’s summons, a man, who looked the part of a publican, materialised behind the bar.

Ordering drinks for himself and Mr Jones, Thomas questioned the barman.

“Do you know a man called Simon Ratner? We are supposed to meet him here around six o’clock.”

“He’ll be along soon,” said mine host, “of course he finds it difficult to get around in that wheel chair of his…”

“Wheel Chair?” questioned Thomas. “No wonder he couldn’t travel to meet me in Colchester.”

With that there was a kerfuffle at the lounge bar door and a man seated in an invalid carriage wheeled himself into the room.

Introducing himself, Simon Ratner was the first to speak, and, after handshakes all round, he addressed himself to Tommy, saying:

“Thank you for coming to meet me here. I hope to convince you there was more to your father’s death than meets the eye.”

“I knew my father well,” said Tommy, “I have firmly believed he would never take his own life.”

“Before my unfortunate accident,” began Simon, “I was employed as a messenger for a large firm of Solicitors. One day I was in a store-room when I overheard two men talking outside the door which stood ajar. Your father’s name was mentioned. I pricked up my ears for I knew your father was a client of the firm I worked for. It was just one of the voices I recognised as he lowered his voice to say... ‘Well that ends the matter, Sir George Bowen is no longer a threat, a good job done gets both of us of the hook.’”

“Did you say you recognised one of the voices?” cried Tommy.

“Yes,” came Simon’s reply, “but before I give his name, I want to know what’s in it for me?”

There was a silence, unremarked and unmeasured. Each participant in the meeting kept their thoughts to themselves. MORE TO YOUR FATHER’S DEATH THAN MEETS THE EYE. Who said that? Tommy was so used to calling his father ‘Dad’ that the name Sir George Bowen meant little… especially in the environs of coastal North Essex, where all was more down to earth than anything connected with breeding or nobility.

Mr Jones, the so-called friend sat stonily still, as if it were him controlling such silence. The puppet-master. He was, however, not allied with the Ratner creature who was, by the sound of it (before this very silence ensued) angling for a blackmail sting concerned with Tommy’s sadly departed Dad. Sarah was, no doubt, still in the car outside crunching studiously through the crisps. Ham sandwiches were, apparently, off.

“In it for you?” repeated Tommy, breaking the silence, as if it had never existed.

The non-descript pub in the dull lamp-lit atmosphere and its flat-capped locals turned their heads away, as if they’d been spotted ear-wigging.

“Yes,” snapped Ratner, “where money is in the offing, there are many fingers grabbing for the pie... and, not to put a finer point to it, I’m not too proud to sell the information I’ve got. I know your pockets are well-lined.”

Tommy thought back. He remembered the poverty with which his family had been beset, long before George Bowen was knighted. Knighted for what? Tommy had never been sure.

Gradually, he recalled his Mum and Dad — in the old days, fetching out their red tin, with compartments for paying the bills — loose change, painstakingly, lovingly, shared out for those who wanted their dues.

His memories were rudely interrupted by some knowing looks from Mr Jones. Tommy wondered how long he had known Mr Jones and how Mr Jones had been one of those acquaintances who turned into a friend for no obvious reason. Perhaps, Mr Jones was more (or less) than he seemed.

When his parents’ red tin disappeared, Tommy couldn’t recall. He’d never questioned it. A child had too many difficult preoccupations for there to be any spare time to dwell on the antics of one’s otherwise trusted parents. But there was a time, when Tommy had suddenly rea1ised that his Dad had abandoned the red tin and taken to poring over fussier containers, ones with embossed decorations depicting the signs of the Zodiac.

Mr Jones suddenly said: “Mr Ratner, let’s get to the bottom of it … you want my friend here” — he nodded towards Tommy — “to give you some, what shall we call it... reward, for information relating to his father’s death.”

Simon Ratner simply nodded, But then Sarah burst into the bar, face red, clutching her side in evident pain!

“Whatever’s the matter Sarah,” Tommy cried as he hurried to his wife’s side. All that had gone before forgotten in his concern. “Come, sit down whilst I get you a drink. A whisky and soda will be good for whatever ails you.”

“I’ve had this pain in my side all day,” she said. “I’ve not bothered you with it, because it hadn’t been too bad... till now.., it’s sharp and stabbing.”

She looked distressed. Tommy felt sorry he’d left her out in the car like abandoned luggage. He didn’t know what had come over her. Meanwhile Mr Jones was hovering around Sarah like a detached shadow… ministering to her needs. She quickly recovered.

‘Probably the beginnings of appendicitis or something...’ thought Tommy. Meanwhile, Simon Ratner in a seemingly flustered state, had abrubtly left for the bar. It was almost as if he had recognised Sarah. Or Sarah him. If so, neither gave an overt sign of this mutual recognition.

Mr Jones said something in even tones, with a sense that the most unlikely scenario was also the most logical:-“Sarah has been attacked by an invisible enemy. We shall have to be on our guard.”

The words made no real sense to Tommy. The Ratner individual at the bar had a few of his cronies gathered round him in a secret huddle. Tommy went over to button-hole him. He was not going to let the matter rest there. If he could prove his father had not committed suicide, then that would mean risking anything.

“You’ve not forgotten it was you that contacted me, Mr Ratner — if you have any information regarding my father I would be willing to pay you. If you can leave your friends for a while we could find a quiet spot to discuss what it is and the amount of cash you are asking for it.”

“You are not going to like what I have to tell you,” replied Simon Ratner, as they found a quiet corner in the saloon bar.

“I’ll be the best judge of that,” said Tommy. “Let’s get down to the facts.”

“I don’t know how deep your father was involved with the two men I overheard speaking about Sir George Bowen. All I do know is that they were involved in something illegal… to do with drugs or something. The voice I recognised was that of a partner in the Solicitor’s business I worked in. Still before I reveal his name I want to know how much you are prepared to pay me?”

“Would a thousand pounds loosen your tongue?” asked Tommy.

“That is a nice round figure. I think the information is worth more, but I will accept your offer … I would like to see the colour of your money before I tell you what I know.”

“We will have to meet again… tomorrow perhaps. You will appreciate I don’t carry that amount of ready money... I could pay you by cheque... but I suppose you will accept only cash?”

“You supposed right,” replied Simon. “We”ll meet here, same time, same place”

How the three of them (Tommy, Mr Jones and Sarah) got home amid a freak lightning storm — peculiarly without thunder but with plentifuls of lashing hailstone — it was hard to remember. Mr Jones, apparently, had much to say for himself, some of which Tommy did remember as half whispers into his ear from the general direction of the front passenger berth. Sarah was uncharacteristically non-forthcoming from her backseat position; Mr Jones kept saying something like “Your father was only knighted, you know, Tommy - because of the money he had got from the dark world of drug-runners and midnighters.”

Tommy took ‘midnighters’ to mean a breed of latter-day smugglers (liberally tattooed and pierced) that abounded on this North East Essex coast… with some of whom his father must have become entrammelled. But the journey home was now a bit of a dream, as he drove, during the following daylight, towards his bank in Clacton to fetch the money. More money than anything the red tin had seen in all its long life. Tommy laughed. But the dream was soon to become a nightmare,

* * *

Tommy went alone that night to the White Hart pub. Mr Jones and Sarah had been more trouble than they were worth. A pain in the neck, both of them, not to put too fine a point on it.

The place seemed further than he remembered — and at a different angle of attack, taking him on non-descript roads, this time beyond Jaywick that were further than it was healthy to go in these forbidding shanty lands.

The pub, though, was familiar, if not exactly a replica of the one in his memory. It was still full of the bar-leaners, as if they had never left in the meantime. As he patted the wad in his back pocket, Tommy’s eyes began their search for the Ratner man amid the suddenly uplifted faces that looked startled, or, in some lights, angry, by his entry.

Simon Ratner was conspicuous by his absence. It had to be supposed he liked to make an entrance, arriving just that bit later than the time arranged for their meeting.

The door to the bar opened and Tommy was surprised to see Ratner, not in a wheel chair, but on a pair of crutches. Their eyes met and Ratner skilfully crossed the room as a path opened up through the rest of the occupants of the bar-room.

After acknowledging each other they retired to a quiet corner in the adjoining saloon bar which was practically empty. Tommy, without preamble, went straight into the business of the information he had come to pay for.

“I have the thousand pounds you asked for he said, as he reached to his back pocket to flash the wad of notes in Ratner’s face. Showing him the first note’s number he flicked through the fifty £20 notes that were all in the mint condition of unused crisp notes, until he revealed the number of the last note.

Placing the wad of notes on the table Tommy kept his hand on them as he said: “That’s the thousand pounds, now is the time for you to name the man who seemed pleased at the news of my father’s reported suicide, but who may have had something to do with the death.”

Ratner touched the wad of notes before answering.

“The man was Robert Benson, and it is not what he said, it was the way that he said it, particularly when I heard him say ‘it was a good job done’. He is a partner of the firm of solictors I worked for before I had my accident that forces me to use a wheel chair or crutches. I always thought that Benson was a bit bent, I wouldn’t be surprised if you discover that he was connected in some way with your father’s death.”

Robert Benson? The name meant nothing to Tommy. He looked around at the others in the bar; then heard, from behind him, the crutches clip-clop like a lame horse towards the Gents. There were figures — amongst the motley throng of topers — reminiscent of Mr Jones and, incredibly, Sarah his wife. Their faces turned away as soon as he looked at them. If it were them, how had they got here… and why? Perhaps the name Robert Benson would strike a chord with them. The thought did not seem absurd.

He went over to ask them — his legs moving without volition — but the dissembling crowd shuffled to cover the retreat of those with whom Tommy so desperately needed to confer. It was like a nightmare teetering on the brink of waking, but never quite doing so.

Tommy still found himself still clasping the wad of notes. Like the red tin, they were more a symbol of temptation, a token, in the end, of honesty and truth. He could have left them at the car and nobody would take them. He simply knew this.

Suicide was like falsely claiming the ownership of death itself. Tommy’s father was indeed an honorary knight, if nothing else. All good men were thus.

Tommy clasped his side. The pain, if it were not for the numbing of the nightmare, would have been intolerable. But, at least, he could die in peace — knowing that everything was in the right compartment of life’s red tin. He had only read his Zodiac today that life was on the brink of something big.

Like waking from superstition into the full-blown fruition of faith. Robert Benson — whoever he was — could go hang. And probably would — hung by his own noose for the ill he’d done Tommy’s father. Life was too cheap, these days. Not like in the past, when every moment was cherished and honoured with significance.

Eventually, Sarah emerged from the crowd and kissed his cheek. She helped him to the car, He was either dead or in Heaven, it didn’t matter which

* * *

Mr Jones (if that was his name) wandered through the hurly burly holiday crowd of Clacton town centre. He wondered why so many people were so scantily clad. He himself was shivering. He was due to meet a Mr Benson(another cipher of the drug trade). Smuggling still went on in the best of communities. Even the smuggling of souls.

And strangers who pass in the night.


Posted by wordonymous at 5:47 AM EDT
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A collaboration with Gordon Lewis

Published ‘Red Republic of Parasol’ 1998

Rain Rain go away — Come back another day — sang the little boy, his face pressed against the window of the speeding train, lashed with rain that gained momentum with the speed of the express on track for the seaside town of Fairhaven. The last line of the jingle was lost in the thunderous noise of the train being swallowed up in the hungry mouth of a tunnel where the rain could not reach.
I wanted the rain to stop too, but couldn’t for the life of me remember the rest of the jingle that I used to sing over forty years before...

* * *

I struggled from the warm covers of my bed (that’s not strictly true). It was not my bed, but one of twins in a hotel room, only mine for a few days. It was against my wishes that I was occupying a twin-bedded room, but it was all the hotel could provide. That second bed was a painful reminder of my ex-wife. Almost three years had passed since she slipped out of my life after a devastating divorce.
Never again I declared, promising myself I would live the life of a happy-go-lucky bachelor. Yet here I was in a strange town, embarking upon something I thought impossible. I had chosen Fairhaven as a venue for a ‘blind date’(that’s not strictly correct either). It was an arranged meeting, by of all things a ‘Lonely Hearts Dating Agency’. So, I had at least, a description of what appeared to be in print, a very good looking lady I was to meet near the bandstand of Central Park, Fairhaven, on the Sussex coast.
I opened the curtains of my hotel window and was dismayed to find the rain had followed me, and that child’s voice entered my head again:
‘Rain, Rain, go away... Come back another day…’, but this time the last line came too. Why I had not remembered it was ‘Little Johnnie wants to play’ was very strange. My name was John... and Johnnie is what I was always called by my dear mother… a name that died with her.
I wondered if my date would turn up at 11 o’clock. The rain was unabating, and there had been no arrangement — ‘If wet somewhere indoors’.
I had asked for my breakfast to be served in my room, not wanting to mix with folk on holiday, bemoaning the weather, spoiling a holiday planned months ahead. What would they do with the children? Again I saw that little lad smearing the carriage window with who knew what, wishing the rain to go away.
I prepared myself for my excursion to the park, my furled ‘Morain’ umbrella at the ready. I twirled out of the revolving doors of the best hotel in Fairhaven, surprised to find that, for the time being I wouldn’t need to unfurl my brolly. The sky had lightened, heralding the approach of the most welcome Sun. Everything was sopping wet, but midsummer heat would soon dry up the park, towards which I was heading for the morning’s meeting. That little boy too, would be happy with his bucket and spade, his parents spared from having a fractious child on their hands.
But then I thought again. Any organisation purporting to match people up as couples — surely, they’d not be so blatant as to call themselves a ‘Lonely Hearts Dating Agency’! I, for one, didn’t consider myself to be a ‘lonely heart’ so called — and it would be very patronising for a third party to deem me such. I should really have impressed upon them that I was simply ‘between partners’. My heart was only lonely by virtue of being the sole tenant of my chest. I was never very good at Biology in my schooldays; of course I knew my heart had neighbours, but I regarded heart and lungs as an entity keeping one alive. Whatever the case, I challenge anyone to say different. All people are fundamentally selfish. But sometimes it pays to hide it.
The band was playing a lively tune, one I recognised as ‘High Jinx’ — so the dating agency had even got the venue wrong!
I had imagined an empty bandstand, a disused one, with nobody else about to confuse me as to the identity of my assignment. Instead there were crowds of holiday makers on their feet — careless of the deck-chairs they had thrust behind them — as the all-woman wind ensemble made even the summer sky throb with their rasping sounds.
The repercussions, then, which I had anticipated emerging from the eventful meeting, were drowned out by real items of percussion. Not only bugles, euphoniums and cornets but a snare drum had brought these otherwise sedentary souls to their fidgetting feet. I, too, failed to dislodge the rhythm from my head — especially when the lung-bursting players went into a remarkable rendition of ‘Sergeant Pepper’.
Rhythm was just another version of rhyme on the hoof. The parallel beds back in my hotel room were exact echoes of each other. And, yes, towards the rear of the wind band, were two identical shapes of female persuasion, both wearing white gardenias: the heavy clue that the ‘Lonely Hearts Club’ had informed me would be the sign for my entree to the creature of my dreams.
The Sun had skidded behind a rather abrupt bubbling accumulation of thunderheads — and once more, rain shoved slantwise across clattering deck-chairs as their erstwhile human inhabitants abandoned them...
My white identifying button-hole was hidden in my coat pocket. I wanted to see the lady I was meeting first — the flattering description could well have been much exaggerated. Now that there were two women put a different complexion on things, I decided to end it all as quickly as possible, but instead of just leaving I decided to have, at least, a bit of fun out of a very unfunny situation, although one might argue it was becoming comic. I suppose I was intrigued by the turn of events, and as I moved a little closer to the twins’ table, I have to say the description I had been given was not at all flattering; they were very attractive ladies, and there were two of them, mirror images of each other.
By this time all the people around the bandstand had left, the hard working ensemble, still wrapped up in their music, womanfully trying to outdo the rain clattering on the roof of the band-stand. Their erstwhile audience were now in a building called ‘The Winter Gardens’, where there was plenty of room. The bad weather of the past few days had kept, at least, the usual crop of day-trippers away.
As it had passed the time for the usual ‘elevenses’, I decided to partake of an early drink from the licensed bar. This I carried to an unoccupied table where I took out a folded daily paper from my inside pocket, then pretended to be occupied with the news of the day; with an occasional sip from my glass of white wine spritzer.
Though I thought I was surreptitiously flicking my eyes in the direction of the two women from the bandstand, it must have been obvious to them that I was the man whom one of them was to meet. They must have abruptly taken shelter here, leaving their colleagues to blast an empty park with their music. I stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the obvious holiday-makers, dressed as I was in a smart grey suit, to say nothing of the slender furled umbrella I kept close to me; something of a treasure it was with its silver and leather embellishment. Of course, not forgetting that they, too, would have a pen picture of what I looked like, even without a white gardenia.
‘In for a penny, in for a pound...’ I decided to walk over, but had already promised myself, my search for a soul-mate was not going to end with one of the ladies. It was probably a bit of lark for them; surely they were not expecting me to pick out the twin that was actually the ‘lonely heart’ hoping to couple with the heart that I had thought was beating alone (a little faster than usual) within my breast.
I suddenly remembered a condition — a rare one, true — where the heart is placed on the wrong side of the chest. I’ve forgotten the name — a rather medical/technical word. And why I suddenly thought of this condition was as a result of a dream’s reminder...
Or had it been a dream at all ? It seemed so real now and I wondered how I had completely forgotten about it until this very moment. When asleep in my hotel room, I had woken suddenly — or dreamt I had woken — really scared about something. A frisson trickled down my spine like icy droplets, as I sat up in my clammy pyjama top. My heart was beating very hard. I could feel it beating within my chest. I was breathless f or literally minutes on end, as I listened to my heart, not from inside me, but from that other bed parallel with the one in which I had chosen to sleep...!
Shaking off this disturbing memory of what could only have been a dream, I did finally follow my original impetus to walk over and introduce myself to the two women. But I had missed my chance. A brief brown study on my part... and they had already got up — with their shiny golden instruments slung over their backs — leaving for the now sunny evening outside. I hadn’t even noticed the thunderclaps moving on to other quarters of the world.

** *

I had imagined one of the two figures had given a glance in my direction: a surreptitious one which revealed more than it intended. I almost suspected that the gender of this pair of creatures was even more ambivalent than I had originally assumed from my first impression. Well, with one of them, at least. The one with the shifty glance.
And I couldn’t help noticing they were holding hands.
I shrugged. I’d do no better than to abandon them to their lung-bursting renditions of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and suchlike. This had been merely one day in my life. There were thousands more to go. I vowed, in future, to listen only to my own heart.
When I went to sign out of the hotel, I was amazed to find I had already done so, and it was raining again as I walked to the railway station. The childhood jingle had vanished from my head, along with all those nursery rhymes which my mother intoned to me as I sat on her lap. One with a title that quite escaped me. Perhaps it would come back another day...

* * *

Little Johnnie raced raindrops down the train window towards its leather tongue. The tongue’s sharp edge reminded him of a wife he might love one day and then hate the next. Or rather warned him.

But he was too young to understand. He could not even feel disheartened.

The End.

Posted by wordonymous at 5:45 AM EDT
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Friday, 9 May 2008
And Never Was Piping So Sad
Published 'Celestial Shadows' 1992

My mind had been drifting upon a becalmed doze. But, then, I heard music from another part of the house. I glanced at my companion in the bed, only to discover he was also looking at me. We questioned each other with our eyes.

The music was an air, sweet but sad in its piping; and the voice which eventually pricked out from the harmonies was that of one who'd rather sob than sing.

The house had single corridors on each floor—so long and thin, it could almost be a frontage for an entertainment. A windy spot, too — and we knew the whistling at night was no more than the various imperfections of the house's structure opening and shutting like valves—and the hissing down the flues merely serpent gods with which our over-active imaginations could dally.

When we first moved in, we'd wander about at night like lost souls, bewildered by the house's settling and slippage which seemed not only in the direction of its foundations as one would expect, but, on occasions, upwards to the roof and chimneystack complex.

At each keyhole, we'd childishly press our ears. Although we knew there was just the pair of us, we relished the delights of ear-wigging. We only received sharp blasts of cold air into the deepest parts of our bodies for our pains.

It was not that there were even ghosts roaming about to justify such behaviour; although, I confess, we both hoped that one day there would be a couple of ghosts fit to haunt the likes of us. Indeed, there's a romantic quality about ghosts; and on long wintry nights in that Chinese Wall we called a home, each of us took turns in pacing the corridors, pretending to be such a ghost. I lay awake listening to my companion playing a "don't touch a crack in the floorboards with your feet or you'll surely die a terrible death" game; and hooting woefully like a wounded owl in the chimney.

I recall it was often my duty to scuttle in the manner of a coaldust imp from room to room. When I acted the spirit ghost, however, I was fearful I'd "come" mid-wall, with all the fibres and tender vessels of my body engrained in the actual structure of the brickwork. And the pain I conjured up in myself was tantamount to drawing-pins being pressed hard into the bone of my skull one by one, till I bore a helmet of them. The whooping screech I emitted from my lungs woke my companion unseasonably ... and I was scolded for it, come morning. I could not withstand his stern looks or the way he played with my tortoiseshell hand mirror.

So, at long last, we come to the night of the music, as I call it. On this occasion, we were both between the long sheets in double-backed slumber. The drama evolving around us was Grand Opera. The walls were breaking out in stretched mouths, their long-held notes reverberating from the empty cellars of the house. The curtains veiled large staring eyes. The firehearth spat flame as from the backside of Heaven, Wagner's anvil hammers thudding time to the soaring music. The four corners of the bed raised a scintillating canopy above Tristan and Isolde who nestled in the breast of the whitest lakeside swan. And such a swan floated upon the buoyed airs of the floorboards' ever-widening cracks...

Our dream duet arched and shimmered, an endless rainbow of perfect sound.

I don't know which of us woke first. I think it was him, since his face suddenly seemed real. I could see all the hairline cracks, his weathered furrows, the worldy worry of the eyes. But I still loved him, despite his liaison with the never-ending grind of living. Eventually, I woke up, too, released from dream duty ... and he cast me from his arms on seeing the crow's feet return, marking time beneath my smudged eyes.

I dream to wake up and, sometimes, I wake up to dream.

I am in an opera chorus. No single personality can be pinpointed among us, since we're not much better than a second audience.

The helmetted soloist, my one and only truly love, stands mighty and alone at the front edge of the stage, his thumping bass notes drawing to him a Lady of Sound, whose body, which only he and I can see, reaches up, like winding scales of heavenly brightness, to the gods; and it's her towering beauty that he really adores.

My own piping song cannot be heard as I'm drowned out by the rest of the chorus. None can know that I'm really sobbing my heart out.

I yearn for the dream to return, where there's no audience to worry us and, if not real, at least he's mine.

Posted by wordonymous at 4:44 AM EDT
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 Published 'Best of DFL' 1993

The room was like eyes squeezed tight shut, darker than darkness itself, whilst alive with the fuzzy edges of colour-moving patterns.

I had been left here, I did not doubt, to think myself stupid. This was a variety of punishment favoured by the more friendly bobbies on the beat, more efficient for confessions than the sledgehammer techniques of the others who would come later. Whatever the crime, they always seemed to apply capital punishment those days.

Needless to say, I’d done just nothing wrong. Only contravened some gratuitous law which had been on the statute books since when words were spelt differently than they are now. I had trespassed on a technical wrong-of-way near some derelict Government outbuildings. I was obviously up to no good. Come off it, I’d said, how can a twelve year old be a spy? You’re too old to be twelve, they’d replied, looking me up and down with their scanners. The words you use are far too long for a twelve year old, anyway, they’d added, after a pause.

My mother had always said that I looked too old for my age, even when I was a new-born baby, but I did not tell them that. I did not want to add suspicion to their doubt. They just hived me off into this (god)forsaken room... to think it over, as they put it.

“Okay, okay, I’ll come quietly. I’ll come clean,” I eventually shouted at the echoing walls. No hurriedly answering footsteps. Only the sound of my own shallow breathing. I felt scarcely alive.

I got up from the chair, only quickly to realize that it had not been a chair at all, only my own bones locked into a sitting position. I shuffled round the room, arms being stretched out by my hands desperately seeking the door or, at least, the sign of a wall. No such luck, as I wandered the interior of my own blocked-off eyesight. Like exploring the dripping cavern of one’s own skull, with the eyes swivelled back-to-front in their sockets. Hope I don’t stumble into the brain, I mused, and, as if in reply, I began to feel soft floor underfoot. Walking on a soggy trampoline or living human fat. Then the walls closed in clammily, as if, after all, they were really searching for me, rather than vice versa. At the interface of the ventricles of a heart sluggish with congealing blood, was the only way I could describe it to myself. But not to you.

Thinking that I might as well die happy, I rummaged for my body member whilst it still belonged to me; circled its bobbin with caressing fingers and I finally gunned it like my old grandmother’s sewing machine.

I did come clean (if that’s not a paradox). All they found at the centre of the cell was a mound of bubbling white ectoplasm. They said it was my brain and put it in a jug for ever more.

Unknown to them, I still haunt the corridors of an empty echoing prison, one of those derelict Government outbuildings which, it is said, houses most of the convicts on the roof.

But sometimes, I have a nightmare that someone has unstitched my head, exchanged me for someone else inside it, and stitched it up again.

I must be thinking myself stupid again.

Posted by wordonymous at 4:42 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 7 May 2008
I once thought Greens were things I was forced to eat at School. Later, more long in the tooth, I reckoned that they were something to do with jealousy or envy, lack of empathy, inability to enjoy vicariously...
The Greens were, I then thought, the storm troopers of the one big Gloater in the Sky - or were they undercover agents waiting to assist in His overthrow? How could I ever be certain?
Now, as I fade into the last stage of senility, I understand their identity to be far more insidious. Blake's question about those ancient feet is still apposite. At least my head's not QUITE so bald as the concrete sphere on which WE walk...

(published 'Purple Patch' 1991)

Posted by wordonymous at 10:11 AM EDT
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( published 'Purple Patch' 1988 ) 

He came into my dream as large as life. Toting six-shooters, he was, and he came right up to my face without even a bye or leave, leering into my mouth,as if he was a dentist.

'Hey! What you want? Step outside, if you want to sort somethinc out,' I spluttered, forgetting we were already outside.

Infuriating! He didn't even deign to reply.


He smiled,showed his own teeth as even as piano keys.

'What are you doing in my dream, anyway?' I whispered, having decided that a low profile was the best policy with this ugly customer.

And he replied 'Perhaps I should ask you that question, as it's, your dream,after all.'

Evidently, I had a lot of soul-searching to do. If you can't take responsibility for your own dream, it's a poorer world for that.

I spoke again: 'Well? errr? what I mean to say is, you look like a man who knows his own mind, in complete control of his own destiny,a man's man, but, lo and behold, you claim to be just a pawn on the chessboard of my dream...'

I'd got him! He would have no answer to that.

He immediately beat a retreat, with a Red Indian, in full war-dress, previously unnoticed by myself, stalking him into the scrubland. Come to that, I hadn't noticed the scrubland before either - a pretty dreary environment for a resplendent dreamer such as I. Ah, well, never mind, I hope to wake up shortly.

Posted by wordonymous at 10:09 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 7 May 2008 10:13 AM EDT
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Monday, 5 May 2008
(published 'Stuff' 1993)

It’s darker towards the middle of the room. There’s no fear greater than that of a greater fear. Surprisingly, fear of death is not the greatest fear. John is never surprised. John’s thoughts spark off each other, take fire from fire. John dreads the eventual outcome of John’s thoughts: insanity, complete and utter. John awakes on the parlour window-couch having, the previous night, fallen asleep, John thinks, in John’s usual bed upstairs. The couch is under the inset bay: a wooden surface with narrow mattress. For most of the daylight hours, John has been snoozing between supposed dreams. Now, with the onset of dusk, John infers that the outskirts of the room, including even the windowless walls, are shimmering with light, leaving the central rug between the fireplace and the bay in shadow. Or is the shadow a sooty mist rising towards the ceiling? With growing horror, John realises that the supposed dreams were not dreams at all, but merely what John fears most: the onset of insanity, complete and utter. Then comes an even bigger doubt. The one flaw in John’s line of argument. John’s mind floods with mental flame, as John grows less confident regarding the nature and/or demarcation of dream and insanity. There is, of course, a rogue force called reality which feeds equally from both dream and insanity, but then calls itself sanity for convenience (or just for the laugh). John feels confused, without realising that such confusion is affecting more than just John’s thoughts. All senses sense each other wrongly. John smells awful. John tastes John’s own dead body. John sees nothing but John’s own eyeballs slowly revolving in their sockets, as the scratching at the bay’s window tries to get in. John touches the top of John’s head and feels a gluey substance instead, and this action itself seems to cause John’s other senses to be even worse affected. The darkness in the middle of the room disappears from sight. John wakes up in John’s usual bed upstairs, having slipped peacefully through a dreamlessness more akin to death than anything else: a beauty sleep to end all such beauty sleep. But, surprisingly, outside, there’s still a darkness, complete and

Posted by wordonymous at 6:49 AM EDT
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