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The Tragedian (a Maidstone tale)

the-tragedian-by-andy-export

The Tragedian

An account from the battered quill of Andy Fraser aka Andy Export of Unlucky Fried Kitten.

The evaporation of friendship and relationships comes quickly in the lurid company of alcohol. This tale of lost jobs and dark agonising self-therapy takes place, mainly, in Maidstone...the county town of Kent...in the South East of England. It could quite easily have happened anywhere in the UK. It probably already has.

The Master of Tragedy

Andy found pleasure in alcohol but it did not occur to him that he was an alcoholic. It is an attribute not generally apparent to the victim, but one which is totally visible to other people. The worst thing an addict can do is associate with someone in the same situation because they will both see the supposed beauty of the drink and will rarely be sober enough to see the beastliness it will bring out in the other. Rego came over from Dublin to live in Maidstone, the county town of Kent, and soon became Andy’s partner in bar-room occupation. They reigned familiar in the town’s taverns …Andy comic-cut in his black bowler and baggy trousers…Rego ridiculously tall with a lop-sided grin and a miniscule moustache one inch square beneath his ever-twitching nose. They teamed up with an American “guy” called Chris…button-nose…unusually coy (for a Yankee)…and revelled in their mutually intoxicated company.
Their existence was an unchanging cycle of happy evenings, missing hours, black swirling arguments and days off work resulting in lost jobs and rent arrears…followed by deep depressions. And so to drink!
During their not often enough soberish periods they did realise that the drink could only be disastrous for them and they were each creative in their own ways. Chris played guitar, Rego painted and sketched and Andy wrote…but their creativity invariably led to unhappiness due to an intense, yet unfulfilled, desire to reach the top of the tree.
One day Andy met a girl and he soon discovered how pleasant an absence of delirium tremens could be. He met her in a grill bar on one of his mornings of regret. They had seen each other before on a few occasions, in a local pub where they had mutual acquaintances, but they had never spoken to each other…Andy always too drunk and the girl always too disinterested. Her name was Rachel.
He was in love with her particularly because he felt that his love would not be reciprocated. One-sided love is always stronger than mutual love because you desire something to a greater extreme if it is unobtainable. It becomes an obsession.
Andy was soon in custody of her dreamy beauty as they moved in conversation with the ease of two pawns’ movements on a chess board. Always forward. From time to time Rachel gathered her fantastic cherry auburn hair in her small hands and pulled it back to highlight her heart-throb features. It struck Andy in such a tinderbox fashion that he was in subliminal fear of spontaneous combustion.
Fiery particles of love danced around his heart, scaling his emotions, slowly chilling his insides and finally leading to a gradual vibrant descent of intense stimulation. And so…he was in love.
Rego and Chris were less than happy with the situation. Dipsomaniacs get very possessive about their kinsmen and the thought of losing Andy, their fire-water friend and poet, to a “stupid girl” was an horrific thought in the mildest. Even more daunting that she was a delicately beautiful girl. Her fine hands, to them, were the threatening hands of a social strangler. Her Pierrot countenance was a decoy for a devious fellowship-crushing plan. They sat in wooden-panelled alehouses discussing the downfall of their absent friend, denouncing him with poisoned tongues and malevolent accusation. The steady bickering accompanied the regulated sinking of the liquor and their malice for Andy soon filled the gap that he had left. The jilted drinkers would see him walking through the streets every now and again armed with a floral bouquet or a box of chocolates for his new love and true love. He would smile and wave as if he had not a stress in the world and they would return his greetings…but with lips of falsehood and hypocritical hands.
Seldom did they stop to speak…but when they did…Andy would tell them how happy his life had become with his loving girlfriend. Their lives continued in this manner until six months after the drinker’s initial disruption…when , one evening, Rego and Chris were startled to find Andy awaiting them in their favourite corner of “Drake’s Crab and Oyster House” down by the River Medway. They made their stumbling way to the corner, slopping their drinks en-route, and took a seat opposite Andy, eager to discover just what he wanted in their hostelry…in their corner. Andy told them that he intended to marry Rachel and he wished to take the opportunity to advise them both to cut back on the drinking…and to search out a happier route in life. He told them how much healthier he was without the alcohol-abuse and how much more rewarding his life had become. He stressed that it was personal concern for two friends that brought him to pass on his advice. Rego opened his drunken mouth and asked Andy who he thought he was to come lecturing…just because he had got some girl who kept him under her thumb. Chris, spurred on by Rego‘s slurred outburst, promptly emptied his booze over Andy‘s head. There was no retaliation. The victim watched in despair as his erstwhile friends laughed in merriment, bearing their alcohol-stained teeth before their ulcered tongues. He silently rose to his feet, shook his head and walked away…flinching as Rego’s cold beer hit his back, soaking him instantly.

Most eyes were upon him as he left the bar feeling like a convicted criminal leaving the dock….head held high but with mock dignity.
He walked for more than one hour…playing the tortuous pub-scene over and over in his cinematic mind. He wondered why he hadn’t told them the truth…that Rachel had not been interested in his advances or his gifts, designed to soften her up. Perhaps he should have told them that his six months away had been a sham. He had only wanted to reform…conform…and ask Rachel again…after demonstrating his sobriety.
Andy wiped his dusty shoes upon the worn-down coconut matting and pushed hard on the stiffly-wedged door. The bell clanged fiercely, startling the baggy-eyed shopman propped up behind the counter with his racing paper. Andy made a purchase.
A solitary hoot carried from the woods, followed by a cracking of twigs and the sucking of the rising wind through the creaking trees. Darkness was on it’s inevitable way and he marched on…thinking about Rachel and his two friends.
“So bloody typical” he said aloud.
“So bloody typical…and why me? And you can shut up”, he shouted…at what he assumed was a fox amongst the trees.

Steve pressed two glasses down onto the new Auto-Washer…and sighed an Irish sigh. “To be honest, love” he said to the girl at the bar, “We don’t see too much of him now, you know” He shook the glasses and grasped two more. “Pops in from time to time, occasionally. Why d’ya ask?”
“Ah, nothing too important. He said he’d help me with my stories, that’s all. It was a while back anyway”
“Oh yeah” Steve’s eyebrows were raised in friendly interest “I’ve seen him writing in here…always carrying a book around…what’s his stuff like, then?”
Rachel finished a sip of her fruit-juice “It’s all very…well….” she smiled sympathetically like she was thinking about a misguided child
“depressing really…black metaphors…deep emotional traumas”
“Oh really”
“Yeah….I’ve only read three of them…he sent them to me….with a few other…er…gifts”
Steve wondered why she stressed it that way….as if she disapproved of what Andy had sent. He decided not to ask.
She wrinkled the soft skin of her forehead. “Perhaps, one day, his stories will have a happy ending”

Steve nodded. “Quite a dark horse then?” and his attention was distracted by a busty girl in a white leather jacket, waving an empty glass at him. Rachel could see that the girl had a tight and white leather mini-skirt to match. And shoes relative.
The outside door opened noisily, causing Irish Steve, Rachel and the hide-white girl to look over.
“They might know where Andy is” Steve suggested, pointing a lazy finger at the new arrivals.
Chris sat Rego down at the table below the notice-board and sauntered to the bar in an unsuccessful attempt to appear sober.
“Yo, Steve” He fumbled in his pockets, pulled out a clutch of coins and picked at them in his opened hand.
Steve poured a drink and asked “Have you seen Andy, like, today?”
Chris adapted his mind to the question “Yeahuhh…we seen him at Drakes….down the road”
“Really” said Rachel “Is he still there?”
Chris swung round to face the girl “Nope…we soaked him in beer….he blew dodge”
“What’s that mean?”
“Left”
“Why did you do it?” she asked, concerned.
“I dunno…he’s getting’ married….I s’pose we did give him a rough time”
Steve cocked his head. “Getting married? Who to?”
“Rachel”
“I’m Rachel”
Steve and Chris looked at her in bewilderment. Rego was sick.
“I think somebody has some explaining to do” said Rachel.

Andy climbed the steps that led to the old hay-loft…the wooden slats growling under his weight. He squeezed through the half-open door and sank to the floor to gather his dark and shifting thoughts. “Is it bloody worth it?” he mused…tortured by his severe mental anguish.
He slumped against a clutch of hay and slowly, dramatically, unscrewed the lid of a bottle. He closed his eyes and tasted the first warm drop of sherry as it burned into his throat.


Love Hearts

The sunlight filtered through the nets, illuminating tiny particles of dust in the air. Whilst chipping the cup with the teaspoon, and crunching on some out of date Love Hearts, Rachel was reading one of Andy’s compositions. It was a streaming soliloquy really….or perhaps, she thought, a cynical epitaph? Whatever? It intrigued her.

AMBITION
My solitude stands in the way of my happiness in much the same way as my alcoholism stands in the way of my health. Drunken-ness is detrimental to my bodily performance, I know that, but I’ll still tread it’s hazy path until I find some other hypocrisy to master and to believe in. I must find a cause. A reason for being born to this planet and into this world of repetition. All men are equal in death and I often imagine that I am racing towards that unwelcome goal for the sheer satisfaction of being on every man’s level for a change. I need stimulation and motivation to do something noticeable and worthy, but, even with that design in mind I can see no gain in achievement whatsoever. If people speak of me two hundred years after my demise it makes me no happier in my present life. I have options. Be a man of ambition or just have another drink. Why does a man have to have aspirations when you consider that Shakespeare is no better off…now that he’s gone…than any other man? His toils have done nothing for him now. Presley could’ve stayed a truck-driver. No difference now. The hand of fate decreed that those men would do what they did..and fate is our destiny. So…if it is all so destined…then why have ambition? I’ll eradicate any feelings of status seeking ambition…and go for this next drink.
I play guitar. I write songs, stories and poetry and I sing.
I laugh a lot and I cry frequently. I take up new hobbies on a regular basis and I change my job when I change my mind because I am in pursuit of my kudos. Why do I do this when I am aware of the futility of life? The certainty of death’s deliverance to oblivion. Why did my guiding planet mess me up so much and make me so Goddam lonely? How come I love the ones that don’t love me and repel the ones that do? Is it because my guide ordained that I should be unhappy? A rejected, dejected person who hates the way of his existence but has no hankering to amend it.

Contention is a joke. A smirking, vicious, two-fingered gesture of badwill designed to rip your mind apart with false values and debase your very psyche. I have no will to continue because I see no gain. The light at the end of my tunnel has been snuffed. My great dreams have vanished along with my vanity, pride and dignity. I came into this world alone and I’ll go out alone just like everybody else will. Wealth can’t buy salvation from that terminal blow which, to me, is the loneliest act of nature. The inevitable expiration. My ancestors await me and I applaud my willingness to join them. Who needs the world? We’re all heading for the same earth so why not get there a little early? A punctual passover. Another drink for the president. Somebody has to press that Goddam button.

She placed the sheet of paper next to her Weetabix remains, let out a gust of confused despair, closed her eyes and crumpled to the linoleum floor.

the-tragedian-by-andy-export

Napoleonic Enid Blyton

Andy took the following day off work. The sun was superabundant. “What a magnificent day to be off work” he thought. “Dear Tina”, he wrote. “What shall I write?”, he thought. Tina was Andy’s regular writing pal once. They always used the “shared problem” theory and would spill out their self-doubts and difficulties to eachother. The agonies Andy would have then….acne, poverty, libido-concerns and such…..seemed inconsequential to him now. Lovers’ tiffs, once Earth-shattering, were chickenfeed to the memory. Explosive arguments, prompting fake suicide bids, were steady bickers, in retospect. Andy wondered if it was his turn to write or if it was the girl’s turn. It had been rather a long time since the last exchange of letters. He held the pen loosely in his hand. He thought of a bear eating honey and wondered if he should send a breezy letter or a meaningful, perhaps even shocking, collection of sentences. He looked around the pub, for inspiration perhaps. Steve had been engaged in a telephone conversation for a long time. He remained hunched over the receiver like some snotty kid guarding his exam paper. He spoke in near-whispers so Andy assumed it to be an explicit personal call.

A girl and a man were chatting at a nearby table. Andy thought she looked about seventeen, but, for some reason, would be older. She was pretty..in a mousy sort of way..and she made him think of a dormouse that needed protection. Her white cotton blouse was un-buttoned rather too much and Andy could see that the man with her was moving to certain angles to catch a view of her moderate breasts. He was slightly older than the girl…and healthily tanned. Or unhealthily tanned.(given the peril of the sun on the skin) His carefree blue eyes and his sun-bleached hair, tossed nonchalantly backwards, made him a picture of relaxed spirit. Andy began to write…but made a mental note to look up at the beatnick boy looking at the girl’s thorax mounds from time to time.

“It seems ages since I wrote to you, Tina, and I’m sorry if you think I’ve forgotten you. I think I’m going through a nasty patch of deep emotional trauma again. I hate my job at the Post Office cos I can’t get up on time. I hate my debts and the interest that’s building up on them all the time. How are you, anyway? Are you still drinking quite a lot? I am. Sometimes..in the mornings..I think my brain is going to burst. I’ve been having strange dreams too. Some are very sinister…like last night’s dream. It went like this…..”

He stopped for a moment to inspect the girl and her blouse. The material bent out slightly and he could see the man looking at her curvy flesh. Her position changed slightly, closing the gap.

“….it felt as if I was rampaging through the pages of an Enid Blyton storybook….jogging through the Enchanted Forest among the red-spotted toadstools and green luscious trees…and excitedly climbing the friendly Magic Faraway Tree. I poked my head through the fluffy white clouds..at the top of the tree..expecting to see elves giving away sweets to funny furry animals and happy old women..with broad grins and cuddly spiders. I was disenchanted. I saw politicians arguing over the abortion law..and I saw..disasters of our modern age…I saw… two tall trenchcoat-clad gentlemen beating up BigEars…presumably the victim of a money-lender’s trap. I saw the Three Golliwogs being ushered into a Black Maria…hand-cuffed not to a jovial PC Plod but to three vicious looking bastards with hands the size of three hams. So I slowly started my descent of the once majestic tree…now riddled with dutch elm disease. Each limb and twisted bough offered a view of life’s ugliness. Where once sat a chuckling pixie now nestled an ogre..with a dagger and a threat. I hit the ground..with a soul-stirring thud..and decided that adulthood was a sever blow to my life. I awoke. I laid in sweat..and decided that I should do something today with my life…because I knew that somebody up there was wheeling the old metal chair towards me and booking my place in that rest home by the sea…where I had the opportunity to assume the identity of Napoleon..and strut around..hand in coat-pocket, declaring ‘Not tonight Josephine’ over and over. So I considered my predicament. I’d reached the age of 28 years and I had a string of non-successes hanging around my neck..like a conglomerate dog after a blood-stained bone…but this bone had no marrow. I knew that someday soon one of my canine pursuers would bury me in life’s garden..and not return to disinter me…too disinteresting you see. I hoped that one day I could make one of these dogs my best friend..which incidentally should be easy…because they wag their tails whereas we wag our tongues. I am ill. Will you write to me, Tina, soon?

Love from Andy

Scroll to Continue

He folded the paper in two and slipped it into the manilla envelope ready for posting. Tina had married a Yorkshire lad who worked in a Lancashire clog factory some years before. Andy’s letter would go unanswered…even unopened..as his last half a dozen or so had.

The girl with the opening and closing top was standing up…getting ready to leave with her buddy..when Andy felt a hand upon his shoulder.

“Hi”

Andy turned to see his greeter. “Oh..Whatcha…no college then?” he asked, trying to remember if she still went there anyway. ” I took the day off because I got ill last night” Rachel sighed.

“Nothing bad, eh?”

“Well…it’s a long story…but I get these dizzy spells sometimes, especially in times of stress….exam times”

Andy saw her shy, apologetic smile..and wanted to hug her and wish her well.

“Long time, no video” he nodded.

“Yeah…Rego said he’d seen you around..and…well…I was looking for you last night…didn’t Steve mention it?”

“Ah-no…he’s not around…he was on the dog for ages earlier…deeply en-conversed…so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him”

” I was reading one of your stories last night…the Baby Blue one where the mother dies in child-birth…and I wanted to get some more off ya…if you don’t mind?”

Andy flushed in flattery. A warm feeling of heady romance swirled in his head.

“D’ya want a drink?” he asked

“Cider..Dry…please”..she said.

“Can I read your book, Andy?” she called to him as he headed for the bar.

“Sure”, he turned “it’s mostly poetry…not great”

His shaven-headed pal, Simon, was seated at the bar in his trilby and denim jacket. He turned his hulking figure to Andy and whispered “Gettin’ married again then?”

“Piss off, Simon…I don’t come here for that kind of abuse” he replied “I come here for THAT kind of abuse” he said, pointing a wavy index finger at the ale pump.

“Anyway…I don’t hate anyone enough to marry them”

Rachel flicked through the pages and stopped at a poem entitled LIQUOR IS LOVELY. She read it through:

LIQUOR IS LOVELY

I’m freezing, I’m tired, my suit’s in the cleaners

I’m fed up with hiding my life’s misdemeanours

My cat has contracted a deadly disease

My house has been burgled, my dog has got fleas

My t.v. is broken, my girlfriend has run off

A Spanish kidnapper just whisked my poor son off

My car has been stolen, my brother exploded

My kidney machine has quite badly corroded

Whilst drunk I cavorted last night in Belgravia

The police locked me up for indecent behaviour

The gang from the gasworks, they want me in rubble

One of their sisters I got into “trouble”

I can’t give up smoking, I can’t quit the drinking

The chains of my life are all slowly un-linking

The bugs in the bathroom are constantly breeding

I’m putting on weight and my hairline’s receding

My shirt is old-hat and my trousers are baggy

My shoes are worn down and my jacket is saggy

My sight is declining, my hearing is failing

There’s fur in my kettle, cos that needs de-scaling

The moths ate my curtains, the roof has unthatched now

I’ve bust my guitar and there’s no strings attached now

My garden’s a mess and the shed is subsiding

The costly extension is slipping and sliding

The mortgage rate’s rising, the property’s sinking

But liquor is lovely, that’s all I am thinking.

My washing-machine just keeps spewing out water

A mystery girl says “I’m having your daughter”

The bailiff is coming to seek repossession

Of my 3-piece suite, it’s a real indiscretion

My carpet is mouldy, the wallpaper’s peeling

Got cracks in my window-pane, stains on the ceiling

My pot-plants have died and the fridge needs de-frosting

My pantry is empty, God knows what that’s costing

My records are warped, I’ve got lice in my basement

A larder of ‘roaches and mice in my casement

The doors of my keep are all rusty and creaking

I can’t get to sleep cos the rodents are squeaking

My toaster is bunged up with bits of old cheese and

My best friend won’t visit because of the sleaze and

My lodger has herpes, he’s given it to me

The curry I had has just worked it’s way through me

The goldfish can’t swim and the hamster’s gone septic

The budgerigar has just turned epileptic

The rubber ducks in my bathwater are sinking

But liquor is lovely, that’s all I am thinking.

My uncle’s in prison for fiddling his meter

My favourite uncle, an electrical cheater

My mother has rabies, a bad hydrophobia

My sister slays babies, a terrible phobia

My 5-year old niece is on anti-biotics

My radiant granny got bust by narcotics

The way I chat girls up is quite ineffectual

My aunt’s anorexic, my dad’s homosexual

I’ve nothing to eat and my stomach is rumbling

Even my rock-cakes are cracking and crumbling

The old tumble-drier is grinding and grating

And inside my clothes are all disintegrating

Pop music is crap and the charts are no fun now

Kylie and Jason are at number one now

My head is convulsing with wild apprehension

My bowels have collapsed, I’ve got pre-menstrual tension

I’ve lost all my marbles, my teeth are decaying

The hens have diarrhoea and they’re no longer laying

We’re all going to die in a nuclear war soon

Phil Collins and Cher are both going on tour soon

My bedroom has fungi, there’s damp in the wardrobe

My earrings are cheap so I’ve scabs on my earlobe

The doorbell is ringing, my mum’s on the scrounge

The cat just rolled over and died in the lounge

The budgie is swearing, I heard the dog belch

I’ve stood on the goldfish (cue sickening squelch)

I feel so hungover, I must give up drinking

But liquor is lovely, that’s all I am thinking!

THE END



“Thank you” Rachel laid down the book and picked up her drink.

“That’s really good” she said, stubbing the book with a finger.

“Oh, it’s only notes” , he lied, "I'll change it all later, re-write the bloody thing”

“Are you still getting into fights?”

Andy looked up sharply “What d’ya mean?”

“Chris told me about your…little…encounters. He said you are a dead giveaway”

Andy was confused. “A dead giveaway? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well…apparently…before you hit somebody…you lay your hands upon their shoulders”

“Huh I’ve not really analysed it, to be honest. I guess I just have intentions of peace…of pacification….and then they piss me off and I lose my temper”

He nodded, as if to strengthen his case.

“I don’t go looking for trouble, you know!”

“As long as you don’t lay your hands upon MY shoulders” she laughed.

Andy looked up “Here’s Chris, now”

The three exchanged greetings.

“Look, Andy” said Rachel, “I’ve got to go now. Perhaps I could visit you sometime…soon? Read some more of your scrolls”

“Yeah…sure”

She stood, unsure, for a moment.

“Ok, then, see you soon”

Andy and Chris watched her walk away. The sky outside darkened as the pair quaffed steadily. Another session ended.

Andy laid upon his bed…worrying. The anxiety nagged him. He wanted to leave the path of drinking but he couldn’t see an exit point. Booze had become his best friend and life without it would be lonely beyond imagination.

Sometimes he felt it would be far easier to give up on the whole package….of life. He was, of course, far too cowardly to do that. He fell asleep on crumpled sheets and soaked pillows....to rest in dreams.

He could never have guessed how his life would be rocked the next day.

In his dream he was being chased by two large hounds. A voice called out their names. Scavenger and Chelsea. Andy dodged in and out of derelict shop doorways. He was alone in a chaotic city governed by angry street-people. It was a non-Police state. The slobbering canines were almost upon him. He could hear the greedy snorts, smell the hot tongues and taste his own sweat. He reached his house with seconds to spare and hastily bolted the door as the dogs sprang upon the woodwork. Outside his uncurtained windows he heard the stormtroopers marching along the empty street. They were turfing people from their homes but they passed Andy’s home, for some reason. He stood…panting against the wall…and stiffened as a fist punched through the door panel. The big hand fumbled at the lock, spurring Andy into urgent action. He made a firm grasp around the screwdriver in his hand and proceeded to scratch it across the intruder’s veins. The intruder’s wrist became bruised, the veins bulged blood and the fingers flicked and curled around Andy’s hand. Andy gouged and raked at the ruby-blue tubes until they suddenly burst open, showering him with warm, sticky, blood. His shirt was steeped in crimson…as the attacker’s arm fell limp.

Andy awoke with a jolt…and he laid awake for some time.

Worrying.

Praying.

The Duke of Marlborough, Union Street

It was a dissatisfaction depression that kept Andy off work the next day. The ‘Duke’ had one ample bar, horse-shoe shaped, with a long line of beer pumps in a starting position for the drinking race of the day. The first customer was Andy. The lady Scot behind the bar filled a gleaming glass which the prime drinker carried over to a high wooden table at the top left tip of the ‘horse-shoe’. The pub seemed different from when Andy and Mary had frequented it. He pondered, though, that most pubs seemed a little less attractive these days. It was, perhaps, because the country was bordering on a recession…and had been for the best part of a year. He tried to push Mary from his mind but her face and voice continued to cast image and ululation in his head. The marriage, on an appropriately cold January morning, was doomed from the very start. They loved eachother, of course, but not quite as romantics or idealists…more something between the two. They had a bond of caring consideration…but that could never be enough for either of them. Andy was sure that she’d be ideal for some man…but not for him. He was far too selfish. He knew that. He was too selfish in his opposition to her fastidiousness. She insisted on brushed teeth before bedtime, scrubbed hands prior to meal-time and devout tidyness before leisure-time. A carelessly placed teacup or a slightly filled ashtray would send her into raptures of teeth-clenched anger. He would bite his lip for peace,but, invariably, after a wait for tranquility, he would scuttle out of the house to find sanctuary in a bleary saloon. That was in the past, though, so why was he in the pub now? There was nothing for him to escape.

He looked into the mirror in the Gents and and thought how he looked older today. He recalled how he had once looked at others and seen what he could now see in himself. A sadness.

Lines of experience and cracks of dilapidation wisely teased the swelling character of his aging face. He noticed more and more of his father’s features as he grew older. That pleased him, in spite of the aging process, because he loved his family and he felt proud to adopt his father’s warm countenance. His embittered disconsolation, though, was due to the uncertainty of his future. He could not stay a pack-horse for the rest of his life but he had no career…and very little hope. Qualifications were absent from his CV and…although his intense thoughts bubbled with imaginative ideas and interesting theories…he felt trapped forever in a pit of doom. He saw no way out. Failure, to Andy, was a man holding him by the shirt-tails…laughing at his futile attempts to break free and run. He thought of Mary again. She had tried to shake him from that failure….but she had always been there wearing the trousers.

To keep his mind active….and to deflect him from the heavy thoughts…he tried to create a new story, which he called “The Happiest Man In The World”. He wrote…and he quaffed…and he scribed…and he gulped…but he was eventually displeased with his composition. He decided to take a break and have a change of surroundings…and it was in the pedestrian precinct that he bumped into Rachel, with two of her pals. Her friends waited, chittering, whilst Rachel talked with Andy. She took the story he had just written, after his own condemnation of it, and the three girls were soon waving farewell to the lone wanderer.

A while later….Rachel laid on her bed and read “The Happiest Man In the World”.

The Happiest Man in the World

Who is the happiest man in the world? Does it follow that he's the richest man in the world? The best-looking man in the world? The most talented man in the world? Let's say that the happiest man in the world is the richest man in the world. Does this mean that the poorest is the saddest?

I am sitting in a cafeteria in London's East End...listening to the sounds of commerce and everyday existence as I sip at my tea. The table next to me has it's surface wiped clean by a shrew of a woman with with a cigarette end dangling from her gloss-smeared lips. Let me tell you that I am a very rich man...but I am also an extraordinarily unhappy man.

I made my fortune in property and architecture some three decades ago in the house-buying boom of the early sixties....and my assets snowballed into millions within five years. The day I became a millionaire was a day of much celebration in my country mansion as I revelled in my happiness with a collection of close friends...as they were in those days. In retrospect...they were close friends because of how literally close to me they stood as we rejoiced in my success. 'Good old George....we knew you'd do it', they'd say, with the obligatory pat on back and arm around shoulder. I was pleased with the cards I had been dealt by fate's dispenser....which had bestowed upon me great treasures and fine philosophies. My table was never devoid of a feast, my wine-cellars were lined with the finest magnums of Bollinger and my walls were decorated with unexampled masterpieces of many generations. I was dotted with capital. It was, however, whilst I was cruising upon this ocean of opulence that I had a strange encounter which was to alter my life in one fell swoop. I was indulging in one of my pet occupations...a healthy stroll through the lanes of my village...when my ears detected the sobs of a weeping female...behind the hedgerow which surrounds the local cricket field. 'Young girl', I found myself saying...as I moved closer to the unfortunate and obviously unhappy young lady. 'It hurts to see you in such clear misery...is there anything I can do to help?' She lifted her head to expose a tear-stained face of such acute sorrow that I almost shed a tear myself. My heart leapt to it's feet and shouted 'love' as the stranger looked innocently into my eyes. She could have had no idea that I had fallen in love with her as we spoke. As I tried to justify this sudden feeling in my own mind...and as I questioned the validity of what the Romantics called Love At First Sight...she began to explain her plight. 'My parents went away seven months ago...and I've been so lonely and upset ever since....and I have lost my job...because of my parents going away...and I am lost myself' 'Yes, yes' I rationalised 'nobody would blame you for being lonely...but when are they coming back?' She cast her heart-melting stare back against mine and the words dripped from her lips like crystal tears. 'They have left me...gone to live in Heaven...and I want to be there...with them' Her lower lip trembled as she attempted to suppress the grief...but the sobs still came...and her emerald eyes still drowned in sadness...with tears like bright green precious stones in a pool of iridescent water. I wanted to pick my new friend up...and embrace her with all the affection I could render. I wanted to hold that girl and gaze into those beautiful eyes....eyes that promised Paradise for the beholder. I resisted the power that tore at my fast-beating heart...in fear of putting her into more confusion and misery. We walked a while...at my proposal...and I listened to all the young angel had to say. I learned how her beloved parents had expired within months of eachother...the father...a policeman...despatched by a thief's bullet...and the mother...curling up to die with a suicidal fusion of drugs and alcohol.

Emma-Leigh...for that was the girl's name...was unhappy working for her keep at the manor house...in the employ of Mr and Mrs Winchell. Taken on as a 'trainee domestic assistant' she was no more than a legalised slave to cook the family's meals...wash the family's clothes...tidy the family's rooms...and scrub the family's dishes. I relieved Emma-Leigh of her services by way of a large donation to the Mr Winchell....accepted readily thanks to his mounting gambling debts

I gave her a good home and she trusted me as a friend. All my spare time was taken up entertaining Emma-Leigh and she looked upon me...I considered...as an older brother...or perhaps a best friend. I also looked upon her as a friend and I suppressed my initial feelings of love. I found that she had an immense aptitude for music...and she delighted in playing the piano. For her 19th birthday I bought her a harpsichord which she played beautifully..entrancing me on a multitude of happy evenings. She composed arias for me...encapsulating airs of rhythm which danced before my ears and told me...in a special language...that she really was grateful...and that she really cared about me. My friends had become infrequent visitors...perhaps sensing that I was only truly happy when I was with Emma-Leigh. It was Emma-Leigh herself who...one day...intimated that our love was more than just 'friend-ship-love'...and the lid slammed firmly shut on my box of friends when we announced that we intended to wed. There was I....a 29-year old man...conspiring to entice a young girl 10 years my junior...into a state of 'unethical matrimony'. I couldn't see the immorality of the confederation of our love. I am pretty damn sure that if Emma-Leigh had been a million-pound princess in her own right...my friends would have been far less condemning.

Our future was sealed. We spent blissful days preparing for our union...choosing the emerald-encrusted ring to match Emma-Leigh's eyes...designing the dress of lace and fresh flowers which was to deliver my prize to my arms in our chosen cathedral in Rochester...pledging our love.

I am 51 years old now...and my story is almost done. The lip-glossed hag is telling me that the cafe is about to close and I must vacate the premises. It is lashing down with rain on the bootless streets outside as I turn up my collar...ready to brave the storm.

Emma-Leigh took to her bed...a week before our wedding day...and the Lord took her to Heaven...to be with her mother and father. Even now I recall telling her...on that fateful day we met by the Cricket Ground...that Heaven was just a fairy-tale. Well...now I'm not so sure. I am very rich...and I am very unhappy. Money cannot buy happiness.

I shall pin this sealed letter to the notice-board by the exit door of this cafe. I hope that whoever reads this will understand my wretched situation and will understand why I am taking my own life…to be in Heaven…with Emma-Leigh.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN – THIS IS MY LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT. I BEQUEATH MY ENTIRE FORTUNE…ALL OF MY ASSETS…AND MY WHOLE ESTATE…TO YOU…THE FINDER OF THIS LETTER. I HOPE THAT IT MAKES YOU VERY HAPPY…AS HAPPY AS I SHALL BE WHEN I AM WITH EMMA-LEIGH.

Just who is the happiest man in the world?

The End

Rachel wrinkled up her nose and lifted an eyebrow. She folded the sheets of paper in two..placed them on her cabinet…and laid back on her bed…thinking….deeply thinking.


Teddy Bear Holocaust

Andy sat in the taxi-cab and read the letter he had just composed in the coffee-shop. He was on his way home. Home to a bottle of malt whisky and a massive overdose of pills. He read:

The pull-yourself-together brigade can hang onto their uninvited moralising until after my expiry…when their cosily complacent contributions can be bandied about between themselves and not fucking slung at me. If I choose to drink then I choose to drink…and if this is my suicide letter then so be it. I shall point out that I am not ungrateful for the true concern that certain people have shown for me. I just need to make my own decisions…and I have to stand or fall by them. I’m happy to fall right now. My various friendships are well-mixed and varied and often fulfilling…but they can’t stop me from feeling desperately lonely. I don’t mean lonely in love…I mean lonely in life. I am forever plagued with fixations…fascinations…infatuations…and I want their agonies no longer. My eyes were fixed on fame…my thoughts were fascinated with creation…but…ultimately…my mind was infatuated with my expiry. I just saw Rachel in the shopping mall….what the fuck? It’s a shopping centre. I’m from Maidstone…not Madison. We talked for a while but the words were just loose-speak dementia and served no purpose. . Her image outshines these stupid soft words of sensitivity. She skipped off with her friends. As for my bad self…a veritable trainee-vagrant…well…I clunked my heels dejectedly and mooched off in the opposite direction. She’s 19…I’m 29. She talks of college-dates…I talk of mortgage rates. She thinks of fashion…I think of fascism. Her bad-hair days and my Chekov plays were just not meant to meet. She still has her thoughts growing mildly in the topsoil of life whilst my thoughts are burrowing energetically towards the centre of the earth. So…what should I do? Condition my heart to love someone else? Aim to love someone who’s free spirit has been chained to the railings by years of learning…like mine? No…NOT ON MY LIFE….

He slipped the letter into his jacket pocket….aware that the cabbie was talking to him…in concerned tones.

Rachel tidied her bedroom at her family home in Bearsted. Her plan was to invite Andy for tea and conversation in the morning. She glanced at the Snoopy clock. 6.05pm. She rounded up the stray books…half-read most of them…which dotted the floor…and arranged them neatly on the shelf. She placed them in size order…Rupert the Bear next to Life Sciences Evolution. Beat Teen Romance beside Wuthering Heights. Death In Venice next to Everything Men Know About Women. She made her room presentable and danced down the stairs for tea at 6.30. At 6.45 she was nibbling fish-fingers…and holding some ugly kind of worry for Andy.

‘Trouble up ahead by the looks of it’ the cabbie was saying. Andy returned to stark reality. ‘Uh-Oh yeah’ he said. He could see the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles and he could see…as well as smell…the smoke. ‘That’s close to where I live…actually’ The driver dipped his lights. ‘Yes…I thought it was’ They rounded a winding corner on the Tonbridge Road and the flames became clearer. ‘My God’ yelled Andy ‘That’s my fucking house’ They leapt from the car. The fire-crews were in full deployment. A policewoman and a male colleague held Andy firmly as he watched the orange glow passionately devouring his home. He didn’t struggle or lose control. He forgot about the letter in his pocket. He just saw pictures in his head. Images of his life in flames. Personal possessions in the furnace…family photographs so irreplaceable…taken proudly in past decades. His constantly dependable guitar…which he’d not strummed much of late…but he would now…if things could be different. Home-made recordings of songs from amateur Sunday afternoons…recorded with friends and cider in a sunny garden which was now burning ferociously. Paper…written words upon paper…the women-and-children-first of the inferno…given their obvious vulnerability. Notes of a score of unwritten novels…and a century of short stories. Love-Letters…once stuffed snugly into a suitcase and hoisted to the loft…now burning embers aloft. Holocaust-taken Teddy Bears…fire-ravaged smoking-jackets…and blazing blazers. Inferno-eaten football videos and fiery French furniture. In a confounding way he felt invigorated as he continued the death-watch of his burning house. Perhaps too shocked to feel the depth of despair the blaze should have evoked Andy was…unknowingly…being extricated of his small troubles with one considerably monumental trouble. Like a shop-lifter being charged with murder. What did it matter now about the flea-ridden cat-basket…the grimy oven…the crooked curtain-rail or the leak in the spare bedroom? No concern now for the windows that needed painting…the grass that needed cutting…the kettle due for de-scaling or the mice in line for crushing on the Little Nipper Trap. Historic problems now…in the light of this destruction. ‘Huh…in this light’ he muttered…as he stared at the thirsty flames.

He stayed the night with Max and Sarah. Max was a friend…another of Andy’s drinking pals. Max had been getting on top of his own drinking issues…with the help of common sense and with the kindness of Sarah who had allowed him to allow her to help. Andy fell asleep on the couch which Max had so frequently urinated upon.

People were benevolent. Max and Sarah accomodated him. Chris and Rego helped him to clear up mentally and physically after the fire. Rachel urged him to keep writing…and she bought him a second-hand guitar. She typed up his existing stories…the ones in her possession…and she had them made into a spiral-bound booklet. Andy began to smile more at life for a while…pleased with his friends…proud of his modest art…and almost happy with the prospect of an uncertain future. ‘There’s only one thing in life you need more than certainty’ he told anyone who would listen at the time ‘And that’s UNcertainty…it’s the only reason you will change things…and the only chance for you to achieve something new’ Andy felt he had a new jigsaw to put together…but the jigsaw still had plenty of time to go wrong for this master of tragedy.

Andy was still lonely. He continued drinking and the shame was building inside his soul like an ever-spreading cancer. He started to avoid his friends…not wanting them to see him in his return to the crutch that was alcohol. One particular afternoon he saw Rachel walking towards him in the grill-bar where they had first met. He was aware of his tattiness. He was unshaven…hungover…tired. They greeted eachother. She sat down…and pressed her palms together. ‘You’ve been scarce lately’ she quipped. Andy wasn’t sure how to take this. Was it an invasion of his privacy? ‘Rachel’ he began…deciding to be frank. ‘I’ve tried to sort myself out…but it’s been hard. I just needed time alone…to reflect’ She patted his hand. ‘Don’t worry…I’m not going to nag you’ she assured him…’I love you just the way you are’ He was mildly shocked. She did say ‘love’ but did she actually mean it? Was it just an expression? From that day…however…they began a fantastic courtship. He was astounded at her patience and understanding as regards to some of his behavioural traits…and pleased with her attitude pertaining to his failed marriage. That union was seen as a thing of the past…and not a subject for axe-grinding for the present. Andy fully admitted that he was actually to blame for his marriage breakdown…but Rachel refused to criticise him for his ‘once-upon-a-times’.

Home Pride

November 1990 saw Andy and Rachel sharing rented accommodation at Buckland Hill...a leafy part of the old town. The houses were old and the rooms...large and ominous...effected a feeling of security for the pair. Self-contained with a lounge, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom it gave them the privacy and homeliness needed to start a good life together.
Rachel was overviewing the backs of the factories on the river's edge. The sweet factory...in clear view from the bedroom window...was smoke-stained and gloomy in an antiquated industrial fashion. The sprawling car-park was being covered by the shiny metal cars...like sweets themselves...in all colours...as the morning shift arrived for labour. Andy's mother...hard-working and moderately consciencious...had worked for years at the Sharps sweet factory. The grand-children ( Andy had 2 sisters...each with their own kids ) were kept in constant supply of goodies which the workers could buy cheaply.

Often was the time when Rachel and Andy had a harvest of humbugs and a cache of chocolate in their vegetarian cupboard. Rachel examined the metal fire-escape steps and the fume outlet hoses which seemed to be playing snakes and ladders on the graying structure. Trebor Sharps...the company name...was painted wispily upon a huge tin plate fixed to the side of the building. She recalled the advertising jingle from the 70's...and sang it softly. 'Trebor Mints are a minty bit stronger' She didn't add the rude addition made up and sang by a thousand schoolkids of the era. She turned quickly when the door of the bedroom flew open. Andy stood there in his dressing-gown. Grinning. 'I've got a cheque....look....from Newsland UK'  he said...as he waved the paper rectangle. 'Nineteen pounds....they've used one of my poems'
'Which one?'
'I don't know. I sent them fucking loads'
She put her arms around his midriff. 'Good boy...told ya you'd do it'
'Babe....I've gotta get the magazine...gotta read it'
He broke away. He speedily ingested the gist of the letter. 'Living Love' he said 'For the use of your poem...usual rates...'
Rachel grabbed the letter. 'I've not heard of that one'
'Living Love...it's that new one...alternative love story mag...you told me about it...you idiot'
She cuffed him ' I am NOT an idiot'
He dressed quick-time. It was 11.35 and he was not due in at work at the Post Office until 2pm. His plan was to grab the mag and settle in the Royal Albion to read it...and to show off a little...perhaps. His plan failed. He tried all of the big stores in town. No result. Like a blighted orchard...his efforts were fruitless. At noon he entered the Albion. They sat at the bar...Max and Andy...drinking until Andy was drunk enough to want the afternoon off work. They sat...drinking...philosophising...and getting into a serious discussion on the design of Rollercoasters.

Rachel bedded down shortly after midnight when her man was still not home. A flushing toilet woke her a bit later...followed by a frenzy of clanging cutlery from the kitchen drawer.
When she rose early in the morning she found him snoring in his armchair. A full mug of cold toughened coffee guarded a sketch-pad on the coffee-table. From the corner of his mouth hung a piece of burnt cheese. She shook him awake. 'What happened to you last night then?'
'Last night?' he mumbled...pushing eyes on palms.
'Where did you go?'
'Max got beaten up'
'Where?'
'At the taxi-rank....some chavs nicked his beer'
Rachel walked to the kitchen and saw the semi- devoured chinese meal oiled up on the plate. She opened the fridge and remembered how she had run out if milk the night before.
'Why didn't you come home after work anyway?' she yelled.
'I didn't go to work....too pissed off'
'Too pissed more like....let's just hope you won't be too pissed off to pay the rent next week'
She shook her head as she walked back into the lounge...and picked up his cold coffee.
'Where did you get the milk then?' she asked...showing him the cup.
'Ah' he pondered 'Oh yeah....the cats bowl'
'Yeah...well...I'll forgive you...cos you got the poem published' she said...heading for the bedroom.
'I didn't manage to get the bloody mag'
'No...but I did' she said...slapping the mag down in front of him.
'But I looked everywhere'
'Mills...in Union Street'
'Oh shit....but thank you'
She cuffed him. He flicked through the shiny pages.
'Page 17'
He reached page 17 and he smiled at Rachel.
'Fucking coo-el'
He read the poem...flushed with pride...and thought how it looked so much more professional in a glossy magazine.

Betrayal

I shall never betray you
'Though they cut my fingers off
Drag me through poisoned pits of acid
Feed me to the lions
Use my eyes for postage stamps
My skin as lampshade
Drown me in boiling water
'cause I love you


Wire me to the mains
Thrust me with a thousand volts
Pull out my nails
Throw the switch
Drop the noose
Burn my flesh with hot razor blades
Send me to the cemetery
Grill me radiantly
Hang me, draw me, quarter me
Kiss me and kill me
Rub salt in my wounds
Tar and feather me
Threaten execution, decapitation, castration
A night in the dungeon
A year in the Chamber of Horrors
A decade in Pentonville
A lifetime in Hell
Chop me, chip me
Blind me, whip me
Strangle me, tangle my limbs
Ostracise me, kneecap me
Lobotomy, death, open-brain surgery
Break my heart, break my limbs
Twist my arm, change my mind
Alter my psychology
Bury me in mud
Throw me into quagmire
Push me off the Post Office Tower
Tie me to the track
Shuttle me to space
Send me to bed early with no tea
Give me a wooden overcoat
Bathe me in earth
'cause I love you


Stick me with knitting needles
Send me to Coventry
Chuck me in the cellar
Throw away the key
Make me work at McDonalds
Fry me, fritter me
Crucify me, cut my hair off
Tie me to a pony and ride roughshod on rocky road
Bash me with a baseball bat
Laugh at my clothes
Bundle me off Beachy Head
Fire a bolt into my heart
Feed me to the firing squad
Sit me in Old Smokey
Mash me on the M62
Incarcerate me in the Tower of London
Freeze me in Bejams
Read me my rites
I love you
I shall never betray you


Torture me in cold blood
Truss me to an atomic warhead
Hurt my feelings
Break my pride
Threaten anal annihilation
Blood-letting Lynch Mob extermination
With a crude instrument or a fork
Or a DIY implement
Hypnotise me, mesmerise me
Wash my brain with bleach
Blind me with science
And the SDP/Liberal Alliance
Spike my sherry with strychnine
Bait my breath with bromide
Make me celibate
Confiscate my Get Out Of Jail Free card
Debase me
I love you and I shall never betray you


If they blind me I shall not see the flowers
If they deafen me I will not hear the birds
They cut out my tongue and my voice is dead
My tormentors will not win
I have faith to overcome their barbarism
Trust to combat their brutality
Truth against treachery
I shall never betray you


Not in a million years
Never in a month of Sundays
Or in a thousand blue moons
Over my dead body
Not even if the seas go dry
Nor even if the sun expires
Or Lady Diana dies
Never
I love you and I will be your friend forever xxx

A TRIP TO HUNTON

The following day was a crisp Saturday which saw them sauntering along leafy November lanes and tramping over hardened, earthy fields. A great amount of Andy’s childhood had passed in Hunton…a snippet of a village in the Weald of Kent. They clumped along the stone-strewn redundant cart-track…Andy recalling boyhood events which had left him guilt-ridden and steeped in shame in later life.

‘I strangled my cat here’  he announced…pointing to the hedgerow. ‘Accidentally, of course’

‘What?  How do you mean?’ Rachel looked dismayed.

‘I made a lead for him…from my sister’s skipping-rope. Shrimpy…his name was. So I made this lead…and he went out one day…and he never came back. I cried for weeks…then I found him one day….what was left of him…tangled up in this hedgerow…caught on a post’

‘What do you mean…what was left of him?’

‘Well…like I said..he went missing and I assumed he’d  run away. I cried for ages’  He gave a resolute smile and paused.

‘Go on’  Rachel urged

‘Yeah…I found him a while later…half-decomposed…really’

Andy felt grim. It was  his fault that an innocent and trusting creature had died such a hideous gasping death on the end of a life-taking leash designed through love and affection. It was his fault that the fur and purring of a wretched pet had been turned into a matted elastic stench upon a powdery skull.

They drew level with a derelict barn. It was ready to fall down. It looked that way…at least.

‘See that barn…I almost blinded a kid there’

‘What?’

‘Ah…throwing stones one day…one flew into a baby’s pram…fucking scared I was…but the kid was fine’

‘Where’s your happy memories, babe?’

‘Huh…I do have some happy memories…but…well…even those seem sad because it’s things that happened way back…and I know I can’t get those days back’

He leaned on a gate and gazed down at the valley.

‘Of all the things I could have done…I’ve ended up by doing none’

‘Don’t be silly’

‘I used to love the farm…you know…sleeping in the hayloft…playing war-games in the forest…cowboys and Indians in the woods… and acting out scenes from The Sweeney in the store-houses and apple-sheds’

‘Well…I love you anyway’  said Rachel

‘I love you too’  he replied  ‘I’m just not very great at showing it sometimes’

She put her head next to his. They stayed silent for a while.  Andy picked some moss from the gate…until he went on.

‘I used to stand tins on this gate…Castrol GTX cans from Dad’s shed…and Coke cans…and I’d pelt the little mothers off with stones.  Great fun….sometimes with a catapault I’d made from a bit of a branch. No computer games then. The bloody Etch-A-Sketch was considered hi-tech…and the Stylophone was state of the art…in my eyes anyway. Ah…some happy memories at last….sitting on the wall at the Children’s Home…down the road…creating little songs and jingles on my magnificent Stylophone. I wrote a song called Made In Russia when I was about 7 years old…after finding a sticker with Made In Russia on it…in my bubblegum pack. I stuck the sticker on the climbing-frame at Yalding Infants school. I bet it’s not there now. The crazy thing is…I still play that Made in Russia at gigs now. MY GIRL WAS MADE IN RUSSIA…MY FRIENDS WON’T EVEN TOUCH HER…I NEVER KNEW THEY COULD BE…SO DOWNRIGHT NASTY TO ME. Ha Ha’

‘Where’s the house?’

‘One of those cottages…over there…see…the one on the left.  2, Hammond’s Cottages, Hunton. Listed buildings now…of course.  Hammond Cottages and former barn and oast houses attached . Early 17th century  origins, with 19th century
addition. Re-built in several stages during 20th century. Red brick houses….brick kilns…timber-framed weatherboarded section to right end………’

‘Stop it Andrew…you’re talking like an estate agent…that scares me’

‘Bert and Marjory lived next door…she always made a cake for our birthdays…Jackie and myself, that is. Isla wasn’t even around then. I burned his garden down…accidentally…tried to make a camp-fire in the woods beside the garden…and naively tried to put it out by smothering it with bamboo. Bad move. Bert had not so long before bought a mini flame-thrower for his weeds. My mum and dad were looking at the raging flames and discussing how foolish Bert had been to set his garden ablaze with his new toy. Next thing there’s me…right on cue…being dragged out of the woods by the firemen…I think they saved me that day’

They passed the cottages by.  Andy was looking across the corn-field and towards a small cluster of trees at the bottom of a hill.

‘I almost drowned in a swamp down there…saved by some farm-workers’

‘You’re ‘shitting me?’

‘No…seriously…I must have been a fucking nightmare…like an naughty cat.  I was in a mad panic that time and my mind was going back and forth like a mad cassette-player. I got a good dressing-down for that one…come on…let’s go see where I almost OD’d on mud’

They made their way to the trees and stared down at the swamp.

‘I used to have a recurring dream about that swamp…I would be drowning…but I was always rescued in the nick of time…by Popeye…he’d come punting along on a boat..well…a raft…pipe in mouth…and he’d pluck me to safety’

‘My boyfriend…with a Popeye fetish’

A collection of old light bulbs…and other debris…littered the surface of the swamp. Andy gazed at the silent…still…ravenous mud.  The hungry porridge of doom that  almost devoured him.  He wondered if it had ever actually eaten anybody. Perhaps some animals?  He wondered how deep would he have gone had he not been rescued. Who would have known?  Would he have just been a sorry statistic..another missing child?  How many children have lost their lives that way?  He wondered all this. Nobody really warned kids about swamps in those days. They were too busy warning them not to climb into old fridges and freezers. He mused that more people had disappeared into  swamps than had curled up to expire in a in Hotpoint Larder Fridge.  Life at the bottom of a swamp….doomed to decay sixty feet under the ground…never to be found.

They resumed their stroll…past the conker-fields…over the pig meadow…and alongside the grand mansion house.

‘An American family lived there. I didn’t really know them…but I snuck into their gardens occasionally. It was like going into another world…my Wizard of Oz moment…huge lush greenery with large…strange…exotic flowers.  It felt odd being there…and it felt very dangerous…like I’d be shot if they found me. I think the guy went to prison…for embezzlement or something?’

They reached the farmyard itself.

‘That was the apple-shed’  he said as he pointed to a grey pre-fabricated structure.

‘They packed apples in there’

They entered the apple-shed…and reclined upon a huge pile of cardboard boxes.

‘Let’s get married’ suggested Andy.

WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE

December 18th....Wednesday.

Andy sat at the frame...the puce-painted metal carcass...sticking letters into holes and watching the hours crawl by on injured limbs. He had a ten-hour shift to do...theorised rate of fifteen-hundred letters sorted each hour.  Andy's rate...given breaks for coffee and various other interference stoppages...would average out to a thousand letters per hour. This meant he would sort, stick, poke, toss or stab ten-thousand letters into those fifty or so holes during the course of his shift.  All sorts of letters to sort. All grades of letters to grade.  He could only see the addresses and could only guess at the contents...he could only imagine what delights or horrors these letters might hold.  Friendly letters...threatening letters...letters keeping appointments...letters breaking appointments...creating disappointments...and making appointments. Letters entering competitions...bringing good news...bad news...old news...sad news. Begging letters...chain letters...letters from dead people......from live people...to dead people. More chain letters.  People ordering flowers...ordering people...soldiers ordering Peace On Earth...ordering funerals for dead soldiers.  Doctor's dilemmas...politician's press-packs...solicitor's affidavits and Inland Revenue Tax Returns...devoid of stamp.

It was the week before Christmas week and the sorting office was abuzz with 'casuals' (part-timers) oozing from the woodwork of the old building...like woodlice in a casement.   Andy realised that the building was actually far from being old. It just felt that way.  One hundred and fifty years of rules and regulations under one roof.  Don't smoke...don't drink...don't eat...don't answer back...don't ask...don't assume.  Where's your shirt?  Where's your tie?  Where's your badge?  Where's your common sense? If you had a brain you'd be dangerous.  'No, sir, if I had a fucking GUN I'd be dangerous'

The casuals were scrabbling over mail-bags...tipping...humping...carrying weights far exceeding the safety guidelines. Their muscles wrenched and their wrists snapped in their vigour to impress...wearing themselves out...but never complaining.  Fools...the postmen sat...sorting and scoffing cake.  Andy noticed how most of the letters to Father Christmas...or Santa Claus...or Santa Claws in a few cases...were sent in second-hand envelopes. Materialism at Christmas time from Mum and Dad.  He tumbled some resolutions in his head for the New Year ahead.  He thought of his 1991 diary at home...sitting virginal on the shelf above the cat-basket.  He saw himself scribbling in some oaths.

Drink more!

Smoke more!

Spend more!

Fight more!

Then he restructured his thoughts..with a sigh.  It would be useless to consider a vow of total abstinence because he had done that...and broke that...many times before.  Solemn vows...so much more likely to fail.  Once broken...forever escalating...like a failed diet and it's resulting binge-feasting. His thoughts turned to Max...and his current predicament...drying out in an institution for the psychologically disturbed. He had been in for ten days...lessons to be learned. Never trust alcohol when it tells you it is your best friend.  Andy recalled an old quote he once saw written on a desk at the tax-office.  'Alcohol will tell you she is a beautiful mist...but she is really a dangerous fog'  He wondered if Max would be let out in time for a  'good piss-up'  for New Year's Eve.  His mind drifted back to work...and he focused on the place-names on the envelopes. As he sorted the letters he saw the places in his mind...like it was a cinema with rapidly changing films.  Or a tv jumping from one channel to the next.  From drab flats and dead rats in Stoke...to chocolate-box cottages and sundials in Oxted.  For Nottingham he saw Robin Hood....for Battersea he saw a pack of howling dogs...pissing against the wall of the Power Station...singing Pink Floyd songs. Hastings brought King Harold...Yorkshire brought the Bronte girls...knee-deep in snow on the moors...and Manchester just brought rain.  He had no desire to spend the rest of his life...or a third of the remainder of his natural life...under the wing of the Royal Mail.

He planned to tell Rachel that evening that he was to quit in the new year. It was to be his radical resolution.  He knew she'd be dismayed...given the afore-planned ceremony of wedlock...but he based his decision...not in spite of the wedding...but...because of it. If he was to enter into marital bliss with Rachel he had no intention of working all the God-given time merely to earn a few precious hours with her...preciously spent snoring in front of a fully-paid-for television set...showing a late film about a man in Scunthorpe who blew his head off through pressure of work. Or a documentary about a missing Soviet scientist.  He had other plans...self-formulated plans...plans to see him spending more time with Rachel.  His resolutions would carry that aim.  He was to tell her that evening...after his long and tiring letter-lobbing shift.  He was Number 131.  Missing eight hours of daylight and four and a half hours of open pubs. Every so often he would visit the coffee-machine to buy a time-consuming beverage...or he would pass time...and motion...in the lavatories...with an obligatory cigarette...reading the rumours of the cubicle walls.  Tracie's been busy...it seems...if some of these carnal boasts are true.  Seemingly...her biggest crime is possession of some well-rounded measurements...her boobs very much the focus of the vast majority of  WC scribes.  Andy wondered if he was developing a hygiene fetish as he noticed that more and more of his friends were declining to use the wash-basin after a urine-relief.  It bugged him deeply to see them wiping their piss-covered fingers upon their trousers...and even worse...to see them skipping ablutions after an anal-offloading.  Straight from the copra-cloyed trap...to the canteen...for a hamburger and some sandwiches.  A diabolical way to be.

On his way home that afternoon he was in serious thought for a sick friend...Bish...a regular of the Royal Albion...moved furniture for a living and pints for pleasure...who had colappsed in the pub's inglenook on Saturday night.  Bish was popular and friendly and though he liked a drink he was never a nasty drunk...and he had carved a niche in the hearts of his friends. We were not too alarmed at his collapse at the time.  Superficially it was Bish-typical...but nobody could have known that he had sunk into a coma.  He had been on painkillers. They worked with the vodka...they worked against his body.  Andy thought about Bish...his journey from inglenook...to ambulance...to Maidstone General...and finally onto the Brook Hospital in London. He prayed for his recovery...dreading the thought that he might become another loser to the dangerous fog.

Delicate flakes of snow were falling.  He put out his tongue to catch one as he bounded up the steps to his home overlooking the sweet factory.  Rachel was making a stew with dumplings...making Andy think of his Grandad's housekeeper...Bessie...as he always did when this particular dish was on the boil. He recalled the coughing and spluttering of the woman cooking...and he saw...again.. the huge shot of phlegm fly from her shaking mouth...and into the stewpot.  Andy smiled as he thought about how he  declared himself as 'Not Hungry' on that night in his Grandad's cottage.

He placed his keys upon the rather large pile of magazines and books on the occasional table (it got tidied occasionally)

'No college today then, Rach?'  he asked

'What does it look like?'

'I only asked'  he high-pitched...flicking the television on.

Rachel walked into the lounge...sat down beside him...tea-towel inhand

'Andy...I'm pregnant'

Andy took the next day off work...and the next day.  He wrote...wrote...re-wrote...re-wrote...a new story which he called Rough Justice.

On Saturday 22nd he walked into the Albion at 12 noon.

'Any news on Bish?'  he asked

Irish Steve pointed a finger to the notice up on the wall

NOTICE FOR FRIENDS OF BISH

The funeral will be held at Vinters Park Crematorium on Friday 28th December at 12 o'clock

The funeral directors are Freemans in Union Street.

Andy sat in a corner and read his new story.

ROUGH JUSTICE

She threw herself into the arms of the garden shed, secured the latch on the door, and sat, disconsolate, listening to the beating of the rain upon the tin roof.  A spider ran across a fablon-covered work-top and headed for it's cantilever home in a dark corner of the huge tool-box. Becky sighed. She remembered how her mother used to tell her not to cry her eyes out in times of despair. She could feel the pressure building up though...with the strange tingling in her nose...the tingling that would always precede the tears.  Just as the spider reached it's haven of threads, Becky's tears began to flow. She swallowed at the lump in her throat and tasted the warm tears as they passed around and over her mouth. Her mother's words...'Don't cry your eyes out'...ran through her mind. She was crying herself blind.

'I hate you, Mr Darwin she snuffled

Mr Darwin was the man of the house and the master of the manor...a man of drunken arrogance living on a diet of vodka and analgesic tablets. In his mind he was flamboyant squire of the estate...drenched in social eloquence and oozing charm. To others he was a liquor-swilling boaster who shuffled cards to control other people's lives and who spat venom at his underlings. He had no real friends. His acquaintances were simply stakes in his ever-running lottery of hate and oppression.

Becky pulled the dog-eared diary from her hessian bag and...grasping her sad pencil...she began to scribe some new words of despair upon the weary sheets. She wrote:

'Old Waster Darwin has taken Tippy away and he says I'll never see him again. Why? Tippy is my bundle of fluff...my wet bundle of fluff. Tippy loves the rain. Tippy is gone forever. That's what Waster Darwin says. Tippy is going to miss this storm...he loves storms...and he will miss all storms to come'

She rolled the pencil between thumb and forefinger and took the end in her mouth...gripping but not biting...with her careful teeth. She thought of new words to write but the latch on the shed door went up before her pencil could go down. A boy walked in.

'You're in father's workshop'  he screamed, examining Becky from head to toe like she was in a Pears Soap competition. (His sneer indicating that she would stand no chance of winning)

This was Broderick Darwin...son of the man Becky called Waster Darwin. The heir to the throne of the ruler. His tough face contrasted with his plump, flabby body and his eyes whipped around the room as if in search of a slave to flog. Becky deduced that he exercised his foul mouth and his slashing  fiery eyes much more than he did his slothy abdomen.

'MY FATHER'S WORKSHOP'  he shouted

'If I don't move anything...he doesn't care that I've been here'

'If you don't move anything...he doesn't KNOW that you've been here...now...OUT!!!!'

She picked up her bag...slipping the diary into hessian asylum...rose to her feet...and brushed past the smarmy Broderick...into the rain outside. She felt happier in the rain outside than in the house with the bullies...or in the shed with Broderick. He slammed the door behnd her and lit up one of his French cigarettes.

Becky stood beneath the oak tree...under the tree-camp. The gargantuan parasol and the diminutive shelterer She was waiting for the shower to pass. The nursery was out of bounds for her today because Isabella Darwin was holding her birthday celebrations there with her clever friends. Becky was allowed to sit in the drawing-room but Grandma Hambrell...from Isabella and Broderick's mother's side...was always there...ready and waiting with her lectures...her many questions...and her dreadful War Stories. She constantly reminded Becky how fortunate the girl really was to have been taken in by the Darwins since her mother had passed away.  Becky couldn't face those reminders today.

The rain stopped...she walked to the edge of the pool to see what effect the shower had made upon the water-dwellers. The water was murky. On it's surface lay the remnants of the passengers of the stiff breeze. Stripped sprigs of fern and sycamore seeds which Becky called God's Helicopters...which she had been watching earlier in the day...spinning towards the watery landing-pad. She gazed closely at the twig which moved resolutely against the fallen yellow flower. She wondered why the flower was so simple...yet nature was so complex. Suddenly...her keen fascination turned to panic and horror as a shove in the back sent her sprawling headlong into the water...upsetting the slowly forming jigsaw of the pond...and filling her mouth with water. She didn't hear the sarcastic  'Sorry Becky'  as Broderick hurtled up the stone steps and away from the pond. He didn't mean her to hear it. 

Becky's eyes were struggling to see a way out and her heart pounded like a kettle-drum as she gulped water and took it back in disgust and uncontrollable frenzy.  The beating in her head was accompanied by sudden popping sounds and a harsh ringing that sounded like a thousand voices in the hollows of her mind. Her arms and legs thrashed as her eyes tried to focus on the grassy bank.  She lunged at a stone...a huge rock...but her fingers scraped over the top...digging into a slushy wall of slime and swampery. She vomited and swallowed...almost simultaneously. She was losing her stamina...and beginning to lose her very consciousness...when she closed her grasp around a heavy clump of reeds and managed to drag herself across the pond. She was still not clear of the life-sucking lotion but she was, at least, half-draped across some weed-tangled rocks which allowed her time to spew out some stagnant water...and to breathe in some air. Her hands followed her eyes to the bank and they scrabbled at the greenery...raking..almost skeletal...mechanical.  She came to rest at the tiny feet of three grinning gnomes...one with a broken fishing-rod...and her eyes flickered as she saw a rainbow overhead. She fell into a kaleidoscopic sleep.

Becky awoke in her gloomy room and looked up at the stained-glass window. It was a small room....Becky always felt like she lived in a confession-box.  She stared through the coloured glass...and...seeing the same colours she had seen earlier...by the pond...she drifted back to sleep.

Isabella brought Becky's bag up in the morning.

'Father is very cross with you. You totally-utterly ruined his pond display...AND...you utterly-totally ruined your dress...AND...Mrs Braddock had to wash the dishes'

'Broderick pushed me into the pond'

'Don't be so ridiculous...how could you really-possibly think such a thing?  Besides...he was with us...unquestionably...in the nursery'

'Well...somebody pushed me'

'You must take the morning off'  Isabella announced  'Father has friends in the lounge and he wants you to stay in your room...or you can take a walk to the village for the afternoon'

Becky nodded....Isabella left the room...Becky shut the door. She fished in her bag for her notebook. Her notebook was her diary.  She was pleased that it hadn't been with her in the water. She looked that the picture of her mother for a while...the picture she used as a bookmark...and she wrote:

'Broderick pushed me into the pond yesterday. I know it was him because he was in the shed before it happened. The shed is behind the pond. I don't know why he did it. I have never hurt him. I don't know why some people get pleasure in life from hurting others. Maybe it makes them feel better about themselves. A dog attacks a cat...and it feels better about itself.  Broderick pushes me in a pond...and he feels better about himself.  A boy breaks a donkey's back with an iron bar...and he feels better about himself.  Some soldiers slaughter some other soldiers...and the country feels better about itself.

Maybe some people...some animals...are born to be hurt...and some countries are there to be destroyed.

Isabella had a party... and she is twelve now. Two months younger than me...but she is treated like a lady.  I wish I had you still...Mummy...but it's not your fault...so don't ever think that. One day I might get the chance to help somebody...as you always helped me. I suppose Mr Darwin IS helping me.  I just get upset. I don't know who carried me to my room after the pond incident. I hope it wasn't Broderick.  Mr Todmorden wasn't in the garden yesterday...he'd gone to the new shop in town to buy some seeds.  Waster Darwin probably made Mrs Braddock carry me'

Becky closed up her book...got dressed...and set off for the village.  She took a slight detour along Pump Lane...knowing that she would get a mug of tea and some cake at Mrs Todmorden's cottage. Mrs T always treated Becky like a lady. They often shared a cosy chat and a hot drink...and Mrs T listened to all Becky had to say. 

She saw Waterpump Cottage...with the bright red waterpump on the neat lawn...up ahead...and she held her dress tightly as she ran towards the tea and biscuit den.  Mrs T met her at the gate...and ushered her in.

'It's been a long while since you called, Becky...Walter tells me you were ill yesterday'

They deged into the cottage as they talked.

'Well...I've had a bad cold really...but yesterday I fell into the big pond...not the little one...the big one'

'Oh darling'  cooed the old lady...as she shared the Damson Creams

'Did you have a bad turn?'

'I was put to sleep, Auntie Elsie. I woke up in bed'

Elsie Todmorden diverted the girl to a chocolate hobnob and pulled gently at the hair growing from her chin.

'Walter says you're still not happy with the other children'

'They're not happy with ME...Aunt Elsie'

When the tea was finished Elsie packed Becky off with some more biscuits. She never stayed for too long. Mr and Mrs T would get into a lot of trouble if she was found to be at Waterpump Cottage.  She was discouraged from talking  'tittle-tattle' at the Manor House...God forbid she indulged in news-mongering and hearsay away from it. She wandered around the village...talking to the animals...greeting the village-folk...until early afternoon when she returned to the home of the Mighty Darwin. She walked alongside the tennis courts...glancing up at the ugly gargoyle (and thinking of Broderick) and entered by the kitchen door.

'Mr Darwin is after your guts young girl' said Mrs Braddock

Becky mooched off to the drawing room...hoping that she wouldn't bump into Waster Darwin....or Bully-Boy Broderick. She made it unseen to the room where she slumped into the corner wing-chair...ready for Grandma Hambrell's War Stories...which were preferable to Darwin's rants.  Oddly...the old lady did not lecture.  She sat still in her chair...staring towards the window...with the afternoon sun filtering through the nets. Becky thought she looked like an owl staring at the moon.

'Go to your bed, dear'  the old lady eventually crowed

'He is gloriously drunk...and in a massively foul mood. This is no place for a child...go to your room'

'But why are you so concerned now? I have seen him drunk before. I can outrun him when he is so unsteady'

' I said...go to your room...I have known this tyrant for many years...but I have never seen him so angry.  I shall make arrangements to get you out of here...but...for now...GO TO YOUR ROOM'

Becky sneaked back along the corridor...ignoring the raised voices from the kitchen. She heard the heavy back door slam downstairs...just as she reached her room.She peered through a lighter portion of her coloured window-pane and could just make out the shape of Mrs Braddock...hurriedly navigating the rear pathway...in the half-dusk.  She was wrapped in a shawl...which flapped around as she swung her generous frame.  Becky heard some snatchy footsteps on the large staircase and recognised the flushed voice that followed. Waster Darwin.

'Becky..ya bitch' he slurred

She ran to the bedroom door and stepped outside to confront him. She felt safer in the open space of the landing than she did in the small coffin-like bedroom.  He couldn't get her there.....she thought.  She was wrong.  With no warning...he slapped her hard across her cheek with his spade-like hand.  She didn't stagger backwards...she flew...like a rag doll tossed by an angry bull.  She landed on the floor...by the ottoman...dazed...stinging...with the imprint of his hot steaming hand. Blood seeped from one of her eyes.  She regained a slight composure and...much to her relief...the monster had gone. She heard him...vomiting in his room.  When she got to her room she bolted the door...and she cried.  She picked up her little notebook.  She cried as she wrote for a short while...until she was distracted by Isabella's loud screams.  Isabella was a poor sleeper...forever succumbing to the nightmares and to the imaginary visitations of the supposed Ghost of the Manor.  With Darwin in a state of alcoholic rage and with Mrs Braddock gone Becky knew that there was nobody to comfort Isabella.  She remembered that Broderick was staying with friends and she knew that Grandma Hambrell was too weak to negotiate a few steps...let alone a staircase.  Becky traversed the long landing...yanked open Isabella's door...and was shocked at coming face to face with the monster Darwin.  Isabella was crying. Darwin raged.

'No child of mine calls me a drunk' 

He turned and struck Isabella...perhaps...thought Becky...not for the first time. For some reason...a renewed strength came to Becky.  She charged at the unsteady brute and sent him on a lengthy stagger...during which he tripped drunkenly over his own feet.

'Run...Isabella...run...run to Grandma's room and lock the door'

As Becky shouted...Darwin...back on his feet...swung a heavy arm at her face...propelling her back into the hub of the landing.  He stumbled after her and shoved her to the wall.  Becky tried to bite and kick as his sweaty hands encircled her throat.  A kick from the girl struck his shin and his hands momentarily dropped.  She moved to break away.  A hand grapped at her hair and yanked her along the railing at the top of the landing. 

'Let me go'  she screamed

He swung her body over the rail. He began to growl.

'Now girl...hold still...unless you want me to drop you...bastard'

Isabella sat starch-still...like a small statuette on the ottoman. Mesmerised.

Becky was beaten. She was in no position to argue...literally.  She waited.  Darwin belched out a small amount of vomit. It splashed across his prisoner's reddening arm.  He slumped against the railing....exhausted...drunk.  He could see Becky's face...looking up at his...in disbelief...as she plummeted to the marble floor below.  She didn't scream. He truned his face away for the moment of impact.

'Go to your room Isabella'  he bellowed

'This is a bad bad dream'

He locked Isabella's door...and pocketed the key.  He walked...slowly to his room.

The moonlight shone through the window in the  hallway...and lit up the motionless body of the young girl.  Just a small stream of blood trickled red from a nostril on her milk-white face.

The sun replaced the moon. Becky lay motionless still.

Her face was beautiful...in death.

William Edmund Darwin stirred at 7.35am.  He unlocked Isabella's door at 7.55am.

She ventured downstairs

'What happened, Father?'

'You had a nightmare...you need rest...you'll see a doctor soon'

'It was so real...you hit me'

'Nonsense...I constrained you...you were out of control...you were beside yourself'

''And Becky?  What happened to her?  Can I see her?

'Certainly not...never again...she caused it all...she tried to kill us all...tried to burn the house down'

Becky's death fall played over and over in Darwin's mind

'She's gone away now...and you are never to speak of her again'

He paused..and stared unflinchingly at his daughter

'The staff are all dismissed...we are going on a long holiday...to help you with your dreams.'

He left the room

Isabella ate her breakfast.  Darwin went to Becky's room...to get rid of her belongings.  He picked up the tatty little bag...about all she had really...and he found the sorry little notebook.  He looked at the picture of the pretty lady...and he read the words on the page that it was marking:

'Mummy...I love you so much. I've nobody to love me here...except Mrs Todmorden. I miss you badly.  Auntie Elsie said that you and I will be together some day.  Mr Darwin doesn't like me seeing Auntie Elsie.  He's very strict.  He just slapped me very hard outside my room.  Perhaps he found out that I saw Auntie Elsie today.  I'm still crying.  He was drunk...he still is.  It's a shame...because he might be a good man without his drink.  He was probably nice...before it really got him.  I don't blame him.  Perhaps he just wants to feel better about himself.  You know I'll always love you...and it's important to be loved...more important than anything else.  I must go now...Isabella is screaming.  She's having a nightmare...and there is nobody else to love her.  I love you xxxxxxxxx'

William Edmund Darwin closed the tatty notebook...placed it gently upon the bed...and looked out through the stained-glass window.  His tears made the colours dance like little fairies.

The End



Hardcastle Crags...Hebden Bridge

Diary 15th January 1991
I have taken myself away for a few days. Rachel seemed to understand when I said that I needed a relaxation break to sort my head out. I am at Lady Royd Cottage which is situated on bleak moorland at Hardcastle Crags near the town of Hebden Bridge, South Yorkshire.  It affords me the solitude which I need at this moment in time…and it is spooky. I have a profound and clustering guilt feeling because I have not been honest to Rachel. I really couldn’t tell her why I had to get away.  I blamed it on external pressures such as the escalating Gulf War…where tens of thousands of young lives could be lost…the problems in the Soviet Block…death and suffering for the freedom which, by most, is taken for granted.  I added myown little woes and difficulties to the worry-mound…unpaid bills…concerns for my sanity. I know that…around the world…babies are dying…women are raped…and men are crushed by tanks…but…to me…my problems are just as big and real…and they are still here to be dealt with. One of my friends…Ken the Rev…so-called because of his revolutionary outlook…once told me that EVERYONE’S WORST IS EVERYONE’S WORST. I guess he’s right…and my ‘worst’ is an amalgam of too much work…too much alcohol…ill-health…money-worries…ever-rising interest charges lurking like shadowy figures in the dark streets of New York….and more.  Meagre portions of misery in the eyes of some…but not in my eyes.  A soldier dies…a town is reduced to rubble…a jet-liner crashes…a ferry sinks…but I miss an episode of Neighbours.  I have kept one specific worry from Rachel’s ears.  I just can’t find the way to tell her…not yet.
Lady Royd Cottage is small and stony. Grey-washed.  A token of dereliction…from initial perception.  The owner…Mrs Brocklehurst…rigged the store-room  with a good supply of chopped wood…a stockpile of  bliss in the freezing Lady Royd…and she left a neat heap of coal outside against the blackened stone wall.  Fetching coal and gathering wood has certainly flavoured the imagination with morbidity.   Outside the wind whistles like an untrained woodwind section and composes a frightening passage of narrative gloom. I feel sheer loneliness.  The melody carries with it a selection of my regular early childhood fears.  Bogeymen…axe-murderers…ghosts…inanimate objects taking flight…suffocation…and a headful of other such frenetic terrors.  The wavering pitch of the wind throws me into dark mansions with dead birds scattered outside on the driveway…and I’ve only been here for two days.  Dark panic…lost on a cold blind night in the lonely forest.  Pip…in Great Expectations…running the moors to escape the grotesquely lovable prisoner. Lovesque. Childhood horror.  Comic scenes flashing through my mind in a demonic carousel of the macabre.  Children walking amongst graves and singing sweetly in churchyards.  Frankenstein’s castle…Lizzie Borden’s axe…pit-disasters…war-crimes…long and lonely unparachuted falls from empty skies.  The store-room…colder than the rest of Lady Royd…thrills my senses in a similar way.  The chilled stone walls and the slab stone bench fills my mind with mausoleums…crypts…tombs…a mini-morgue. Statues crying…tears flowing across the floor and under the door.  A portable mortuary…stuffed with limbs and organs…the illicit remains and remnants of an illegal amateur post-mortem.I am steeped in some kind of grisly melancholy.  Instilled with the chill of Christie…the barbarism of Burke and Hare…the un-Godliness of Edward Gein. I have warmed my outside…on the fire…but I am icy on the inside.  As I sit now…a shadow of cold frost over my heart…I am scared.  The fire rages in a semi-circle of heat…as I sit…warm-chested and cold-kidneyed.  I can only think about my real reason for this escape to the moors.  I am pixilated.  She tangoed into my heart…the same heart that should be tangled with Rachel’s own.  She rounded upon me with her cute serrated teeth and her cheery cherry-chomp hair.  My mind is in turmoil.  I’m not even certain if I am in love…or if I am in love with the feeling of being in love.  Or in love with the feeling that I am capable of feeling love…again.  It started as an auto-suggestion.  I told myself that I loved her…and now I do love her.  That’s not to say that her beauty and her character did nothing to snare me.  Her’s is the utmost grace.  I shall need to reflect…illuminate the screen upon which my emotions are projected…and rearrange the cast and story-line.  Tonight…I shall find an ale-house in Hebden Bridge.  I need to drink…to think. Back soon diary. Kiss kiss kiss.

The Land of the Northern Bitter-Brutes

Andy closed up the book…stood it upright on the stone fireplace and reclined in the old wing chair. He began to think of himself as a house…a cold shell of a dilapidated dwelling. He decided that he would employ that theme for his next day’s diary entry. Andy…the abandoned house…frequented…variously…over the years…by squatters and vagrants and tenants behind with their rent. He checked his thoughts. He left the chair…stacked some wood by the fireplace…took a bath in the frost-bitten bathroom…and decked himself out in some strong trousers and a trenchcoat for his trek into town. For company he carried a bottle of Thunderbird Wine (blue label)…a pack of cigarettes and a flashlight. In the darkness…aided by the torch…he hobbled over stony dirt-tracks…padded upon squelching grass-patches and sidled down steep earthy banks ( short-cuts pointed out by Mrs Brocklehurst earlier in the day ). He marched along the grit-covered lanes rather urgently…over-zealous…with his rapidly emptying wine bottle. Noises which would mildly intimidate him in a sober state were now challenging and baiting his aggression. He stood by a wall for a while…overlooking a river. It was a small and twisted wall and the drop to the river was a long one. The river trickled…rather bunged up…about seventy feet below. It was stuck with the usual potential weapons. Iron poles. Bedframes. Cans. Sticks. Items of household redundancy….waiting to impale him should he drunkenly fall. With a kick from his heels he tore himself away from the spot and marched onwards. He entered the Shoulder of Mutton public house…feeling very confident. He stood tall…the intrepid explorer…amongst the natives. The obvious truth was that he was stimulant-confident. He took a few pints of the local bitter and drifted into quite a different mood. Drinker…more paranoid…and…after an hour of solitude amongst a room-ful of strangers…he began to court self-pity which soon turned to self-detestation. He opted to leave the oak beams…the red panel Axminster…and the happy drinkers…and he lurched towards the door…steadying himself on tables and chairs throughout his journey. He jolted a table and watched some glasses slip to the floor…spilling their contents…splashing a sockless foot. A firm hand pushed his shoulder.

Diary…16th January 1991.
Last night was a mess…but I think I enjoyed myself. The Lord alone knows how I got back to the cottage. It’s hard enough to find by daylight…and in complete sobriety. I have a vague recollection of petitioning some copppers for a lift home. I was in a police station…I think. The buttons have gone from my coat and my nose feels like it has been attacked by bees. Fucking agony man. I probably went to the cop-shop to complain about the Northern hiding I got from the Northern Bitter-Brutes. It’s all a bit like a drawing pad…sketchy man. I can’t stop thinking of Michelle. What a fool I was to tell her that I love her. She’ll be having a right royal laugh about it now. She snubbed me…obviously…but I felt somewhat lighter in my mind…like I had removed some restraints. I sent her flowers the next day. Fool. Fools never learn. So said Peter Perrett. ‘Fools….never learn…you play with fire…you’re gonna get burned’   They are probably all laughing now. She promised that she would keep the matter secret….but I know how people love to talk…and secrets are almost impossible to keep. Even killers blurt out their fucking secret in the end. They get caught cos they simply have to tell someone…they have to let someone know what they have achieved. The pride of the murderer….but that’s another matter.
She must have told her friends. How charming it is to have cause to tell the world how someone else is so in love with you. Be they Valentino or Quasimodo….beefcake or pudding…it is still so incredibly nice to be loved.  I love many…which may be why nobody will really ever truly love me.
By the time I get back Rachel will know about it…and she will be hurt. By the time I get back Stevie will know about it…and he will want to hurt me. Michelle is bound to tell Stevie cos they have been falling out a lot lately. I can see the scene now:
‘Well…Andy loves me anyway’ she will say…tossing her garnet barnet to one side with a sudden surge of satisfaction …as one would do after launching a deadly missile.
Then will follow the stunned silence. The dropped bomb…an unreversible entity. The stunned disbelief….leading to the explosion.
‘What the FUCK are you on about….he told you THAT?’
‘Yes…he said he loves me…deal the fuck with it’
That will be the end. Three friends wiped out in one clean sweep. One scuttling strike and a death to the linkage of my close trio of friends.
So long Stevie
Ciao Michelle
Au revoir Rachel
I could try to explain to Stevie…have a man-to-man with him…tell him I was really drunk. I might end up boozing in a pub with him. How would he take it? God…when Chris chatted Rachel up that time I took a bloody knife to his throat….until he regretted his actions…until he apologised…until he cried. Huh…it was just a British Airways knife…blunt as fuck….but always polite. Chris was drunk though…when he chatted Rachel up…I’m just a bastard.
End of Diary Entry
16th January 1991

AF 4 EB

Andy loved to walk. Or did he? He certainly made a habit of therapeutic pedestrianisation in times of self-concern. Today he covered the moors. The darkening skies were closing down upon threadbare jelly-moulds…the comatose countryside. The moors were alive…but barely. Sighing…not heaving…over a land that had seen so much but had done so little. The moors were never-changing….change-

objective…centuries of regrown grass…billowing dust…and hunched bones of deformed stone. He was passing the day at Haworth…sharing the fluttering winds which had once chilled the chainless soul of Emily Bronte. Emily…many generations before…had crossed over the same stone bridge with…more than likely….the same isolated feelings…and nursing the same thwarted dreams. How could she have known that she was destined for the greatness of literary success that she so rightly hit upon? With her scandalising story structures and her ever-patient…always poignant…plots of heart-wrenching sadness…she passed her days in daydreams and her nights in secret story lands. The private lands would one day become public. Andy thought if the sisters and reflected that they would have had ample time to create their piteous plots…whereas…he himself was living far too fast and way too erratically. He carved something upon a large rock…with his Swiss Army Knife.
He was depressed at the amount of time ha had wasted in incessant alcoholis stupors.( He was sure that Emily, Anne and Charlotte had not succumbed to such idiocy…but he knew that Branwell could have given him a run for his money)
So long spent perched around the bars of his favourite pub…discussing the latest war…the current crop of local criminal diversions…the super-skills of George Best…and a thousand other topical and personal dilemmas of his age. If he did write he would barely spend an hour at the desk. Sixty minutes to satisfy his misguided conscience…and then six hours in the pub. Result: One fragmented chapter of unscrupulous inanity and a stomach churning with fermented bilge…and a magnificent headache. His short stories….mini-tragedies as he liked to call them…were generally and variously penned in public. He wrote in bars…in coffee-shops…in crowded shopping centres…in pubs (of course) and once…he recalled…in the dead of a snowbound night at his local cemetery. (That particular tale…about a mass-killer praying for forgiveness from the souls of his victims…never did get to the typing stage…but it was a firm favourite in the writer’s mind) The first flakes of white prima-snowfall pattered down around him as he trudged through the half-dead grass…thinking of his life. His job would be gone now…at the Royal Mail. He hadn’t even given them a courtesy call. There would be a letter waiting for him at home. A letter…telling him that he was to deliver no more letters. Au Revoir to the Postman Pat Anarchist Group…ably led by Ken the Rev. His work record…sicknesses and absences…was already far from exemplary. He stood still…gazing over the horizon like a madman in a black and white menace-movie. The wind rushed over his ears carrying the snow-flecks…each one unique…to a resting-place on the moors. ‘White snow…like falling fingerprints’ he muttered. He was feeling quite sick now…from the circling cold and from the stale beer in his gut. Because of his trembling condition he chose to leave the moors and to seek shelter in the ancient village. To sup tea…and to write. As he tramped on…he felt that he was becoming weaker and weaker. He had no doubt that he would go back to Maidstone in the morning. To face the music….to encounter the wrath of the orchestra…to be sounded out by woodwind…and to be slashed by strings. It would be a classical tragedy…to keel over on the moors…he thought. To collapse witheringly and to expire in the solitude to which he had become accustomed. Mystery on the moors. He continued…instead. He gave a long look to the high-sided Parsonage as he passed by. A man dressed in black was seated on a grave-slab in the churchyard. He appeared to be unaware of Andy’s presence…no outside influence to enter his world of grief. A Peugeot 305 glistened…as an anachronism…in the cobbled streets. A ruddy sign-board caught his eye. ‘Yorkshire Parkins and Curd Tarts…Lemon Pies…Rich Mince Pies…Bury Simnels’ Interesting. He climbed the steps and entered The Olde Tea Shoppe. Home-made cakes, pies and biscuits for the voracious and inquisitive appetite filled the glass display case. He used a tray to carry his teapot to the table. The mixture of disorientation and the heebeejeebees made hin shake. Or was it his new illness? He thought of Anna…a friend from his primary-school days…forever poorly with thin yellow nails. He couldn’t recall the name of her illness…but he knew that she was a girl of short life. Perhaps she saw 1974? Maybe she didn’t? The tea was hot. He opened his notepad:


I was 13 years old when I began my cider-swigging....sitting at the shops...hiding bottles of Strongbow from the cops.The were also my cock-tail cabinet-raiding days. It took a decade to really grip me...as a monster would...in it's pink elephantine grasp. I couldn't take the blame then...in the habit-forming days...like I can take it now. Nothing was ever my fault...back then. My mother often had to scold my friends who had been 'pouring cider down my throat' in foul alleyways. It was never my fault...always the design of my friends. 1974...bubblegum pop...bombs in London...the Watergate gas...shit tv sit-coms...disappearing Lords...McDonalds in London...and a million tv-addicts sucking round lollipops and saying 'Who Loves Ya Baby?' Oh...and then there was me...already on a one-way ticket to Mainline City on the Brahms and Liszt Express. The Rollercoaster Ride to Hell. I felt no pain...at first. I laughed at hangovers...until my mid-20's...when they all came rumbling in as one...the tumbling fall of the British Pancreas Empire...in my Intestine United. The mid-eighties...filled with seventies Kerplunk-style headaches rattling through shattered nights and fractured days. Toothpaste-induced vomiting in the morning. The indigestion attacks rising piston-steady to close my throat and burn my heart. The shakes arrived....with the guilt...and the conscience. Guilt and Conscience....one fed the other...dog ate fucking dog. I began to leak lager through my pores...my hair smelled of fiesty saloon bars...my clothes reeked of smoky conversation...and my eyes...well...my erstwhile big brown eyes...had become violent shining symbols of desperate defiance...eyes that gave so much away with their psychologically exposed suits of armour. The more I tried to conceal...the more I showed...as the drink continued to laugh in my face and to step up it's cruel mental warfare. Cold sweat...sudden shock...wet palms...wet arms...damp back...wet brow...cold panic...ale-house collapse. The ale-house militia turned me into a victim of mis-appropriation of loyalties. I was a fool to my friends and a discredit to my family. Some blot their copybook...I mutilated my workshop manual of survival. Still....I had some FUCKING GREAT LAUGHS!!!!!!


He closed the book and headed back for his last night at Hebden Bridge.

Smith's General Stores


Rachel’s day was drawing to a close. She sat at the large splintered table eating her Death Dish…one of Andy’s recipes…and reading through some of his old diaries.  There was plenty more food in the casserole dish for Andy…in case he came home…as she hoped he might.  New potatoes…mashed…with cheese…bacon…sprouts…onions…mushrooms…and mint…and topped…architecturally…with  a Stonehenge of fish-fingers…and a coating of cream-cheese.

His 1988 scribblings…peppered with mainline-injected misery…revealed a curious aspect of his character…reinforced in the topic of the short story which she was now reading from the crinkled sheets of paper taped between the 1st and 2nd August. It was in play-form.

SMITH’S GENERAL STORES

(ting)

Morris- Good morning…you must be Mrs Smith? Keeper of the shop?

Smith-  Miss Smith, young man, MISS Smith. As it clearly states on the sign over the door…Miss Amelia Smith. Now…what can I get you?

Morris- Allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Steve Morris…and I’m down here for the hop-picking season. My first visit to Kent, I’m afraid, but I wish I’d come sooner. It’s delightful.

Smith- Of course it is. Londoner, are you?

Morris- Cambridge actually…slightly further up

Smith- So Cambridge isn’t London then?

Morris- No, I can assure you it’s not, Miss Smith

Smith- So you like it here in Brenchley?

Morris- Oh yes…it is nice and idyllic…quaint…especially your shop. I haven’t seen this type of chocolate in years…and I thought this soap company went bust decades ago.

Smith- Look, young man. My goods are all fresh…and up to date. If you don’t like it…then get out.

Morris- Sorry…I didn’t mean to cause offence. So what goes on in the evenings around here? No disco’s I suppose?

Smith- Discose? What on earth is a Discose?

Morris- Oh…you obviously don’t know. What do YOU do in the evenings then?

Smith- I usually listen to the wireless. I sometimes go up to Lord Marr’s house at Buston Manor…his twin boys sing from the piano…and the butler brings sherry.

Morris- Wow…you still have butlers in Kent?

Smith- Of course…butlers and maids…in all the big houses

Morris- Speaking of houses…any lodging houses around here? I’ll need some accomodation

Smith- Yes….go to Mrs McGinty’s tea-shop…she’ll let you have a room

Morris- Oh really?

Smith- Yes…turn left at The Blacksmith’s Arms…over the road

Morris- I thought it was called The Churchill Arms?

Smith- Of course not…just listen

Morris- Sure…carry on

Smith- By The Blacksmith’s Arms you will see a waterpump

Morris- Oh yes…next to the telephone kiosk

Smith- Do listen…and stop speaking drivel…do you want a room or not?

Morris- Well…yes…I only said………………

Smith- Well don’t only say or I will only stop helping you

Morris-  Sorry…do go on

Smith- Down the horsetrack…next to the waterpump…that’s called  ‘Waterpump Lane’  You’ll see a small cottage…draped in honeysuckle.  That’s the tea-shop….Mrs McGinty is a good lady

Morris- Really?

Smith- Yes…but watch out for her lodger…a cockney varmint with shifty eyes…he’s a wrong ‘un…make no mistake

Morris- I take it you don’t like him?

Smith- He is a rogue…I caught him stealing. He called me a witch…said I should be burned like a witch

Morris- Well…whack him with your broomstick then, Miss Smith

Smith- You cheek me like that and I will drag you out of this shop by your ear, boy.  You’re as bad as him. Are you sure that Cambridge isn’t in London?

Morris- Calm down…sorry…I was just kidding…now…do you have a ballpoint pen?

Smith- A ballpoint pen?

Morris-  To write with…to write a letter

Smith- These are our finest pens

Morris- That’s a fountain pen…it needs ink

Smith- We sell ink too…obviously…this is a General Store…can’t you read?  Are you sure you’re not a Londoner? Because IF YOU ARE…….

Morris- Calm down….I’m NOT a Londoner. I’ll take a pen…and a bottle of ink

Smith-  About time…sixpence please

Morris- What’s that in English? (laughing)

Smith- It is English

Morris- Here’s a pound coin…keep the change

(footsteps and bell)

Smith- Hey…come back here….you cheat

***************************************************************

Voice- Directory Enquiries…which town please?

Morris- Actually…it’s a village…Brenchley…in Kent

Voice- Name?

Morris- Mrs McGinty’s Tea Shop

Voice- Have you an address?

Morris- Well…apparently it’s called  Waterpump Lane…but I’ve been searching for it for ages.

Voice- The lane or the waterpump?

Morris- Well…both really

Voice- McAlpine…McDonald…sorry…nothing under McGinty

Morris- That’s strange

Voice- You’ll have to go without your tea, Sir

Morris-  Actually…it was tea and lodgings I was after…incidentally…do you have a pub called The Blacksmith’s Arms listed for Brenchley?

Voice- No Sir…..hold on….I’ll have another look. No…but there is a Churchill Arms in the village

Morris- Thanks for your help

Voice- Bye

***************************************************************************

(ring of bell on bar)

Morris- Hello there…do you have any rooms for rent?

Landlord- Yes mate…we do…how long do ya need it for?

Morris- A fortnight…maybe…I’m hop-picking at Hononton Farm for a while

Landlord-  Yeah mate…fine…just fill in your details on the booking form…if I can just find my soddin’ pen

Morris- It’s ok…I have one in my bag…..I got it at that old eccentric lady’s shop…The General Stores

Landlord- Oh…which one, mate?

Morris-  Miss Smith’s….Smith’s General Stores. God…she’s a strange one.

Landlord- Like a joke…do you mate?

Morris-  Sorry…I don’t understand…I am really sorry

Landlord- Well…Millie Smith’s store burned down over fifty years ago

Morris- Now YOU’RE joking????

Landlord- No…seriously…burned to the ground…took Millie with it.  They caught the guy…some cockney arsonist

Morris- Good Heavens

Landlord- What’s up mate?

Morris- My pen…and the bottle of ink…it’s disappeared

*********************************************************

Rachel closed the diary…and thought about the essence of the story-cum-radio-play. The timeslip factor…a sudden and sporadic slide back into the past. The subject had established itself as Andy’s paramount obsession in his late 80′s writings. Rachel  read of his experiments with hypnosis and his attempts at self-regression. She wondered about his state of mind during those evidently troubled times…and in those months of his time-travel fixation…especially after reading of his earnest desires to overcome the calendar-barrier…and deeper still…his claims of out-of-body experience.  She could see that he was absolutely convinced of the existence of his paranormal powers…so sure he was of his psychical abilities.  She read more of his diary of the time…one particular preposterous account had him crouched upon an earthy hillock…a cold and lonely figure…witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Adamant at the feasibility of success in those realms…he had also written voracious attempts to justify his journey through time to see other great historical events. The painting of the Sistine Chapel…the ill-fated voyage of the Marie Celeste (with suggestions that her small crew were themselves non-returning time-travellers…whisked away with no trace)….construction work at Stonehenge…the maiden voyage of the Great Eastern (Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s mighty ship…eventually broken up for scrap) Coveted visions of the Dark Ages. The ramblings of a fossilised mind. Andy’s mind awash with unfulfilled wishes and troubled to breakdown point with ongoing obscene anxiety…caused by overweight ambition…the roly-poly double-chinned God of spiritual avarice.  The pain was clearly evident in the prose of the fantasist.  If there ever was to be a Happy Valley…Rachel felt sure that Andy would never get to graze there.

She wanted to read all of his diaries…not to satisfy any bloated interest in the writer himself…but because she had a curiosity for psychology in general…and she wanted to assess the character rather than the person. Andy’s books were available thanks to a puritanical and tee-total friend called Ashley…who happened to be guardian-reader of them at the time of the fire.  Ashley…with much time on his hands…as he rarely left his bedroom…was a keen reader of Andy’s jottings of juvenile-dementia. The diaries amused him…and kept him from the money-gobbling telephone chat-lines of which he was so fond.  Better to be immersed…he thought…in reading…than in debt.  Perhaps it was because Ashley was so completely opposite to Andy…in morals and behavioural ways…that he had no qualms in reading his quasi-private thoughts.  Ashley was Andy’s favourite person…outside of love and romance…and they each shared an old-age vision of senility in museum-piece wing-chairs…sipping Earl Grey…and stroking the many cats in their midst…discussing events long since covered by sediments of time.  Ashley was the only person…outside of love and romance…and family…that Andy felt he could give his life for.

Rachel read herself to sleep…dipping out somewhere in September 1988.

Wonder-Garys and Super-Traceys

Andy raked the last smoulders of the fire before riding the small splintered staircase to the bedroom. The room was small and stony-white....clumsily plastered so it looked like an arctic shelf in places. It felt as cold as the arctic too...to Andy...though he'd have been proved shockingly wrong had he been thrown lionwitchwardrobe-like into an arctic land. One bed. One wardrobe. One tiny window. He was scared. The shuffle and thump of the milling sheep in the sheds outside kept him company...in an odd way. He was glad of the known sounds because it stopped him from morbidly listening for the unknown sounds. The drawback...of course...was that if an intruder did chance upon the cottage they would be able to get in under cover of the known sounds. Andy pictured the bedroom door crashing in to reveal a masked maggoty killing-fiend bent on the brutal extermination of the weak-hearted and feeble-minded. Ridiculous...yet...remotely possible. He started to think about the creepy stories related to him as truth over the years of his youth. Classic creepy legends like the one about the young courting couple parked in a lover's lane...who heard a newsflash warning of an escaped deranged maniac in the area. The man was said to be extremely dangerous and he had a hook for a hand. The girl was very scared and had begged her lover to drive away from the area. After much teasing and after no small amount of irritation at having to postpone their canoodling he gave in to her wishes and sped away angrily. When they reached home later the girl...on stepping out of the car....was horrified to find a bloodied metal hook hanging from the handle of her door.
Creepy....but apparently true...if Andy was to believe the stories.
He ran similar stories in his mind. It was almost as if he wanted to scare himself. Maximum fear.

The next tale?
The next gruesome psycho-theatre production in his head?

A young boy sleeps in a four-poster bed in a mansion. The bedroom is dark and he is the sole occupant of the house....with the exception of his pooch...laying on the floor at his bedside. From time to time the boy reaches down to make sure his doggy is there. The dog licks his hand and the boy feels safe and protected. He drifts off to sleep...waking every now and then...to let the dog lick his hand. At one stage he wakes up and the dog is not there. He goes to the bathroom and is aghast to find his dog suspended upside-down over the bath with it's throat cut....dripping fresh blood. On the bathroom mirror....there are four words crudely daubed in the canine's claret. 'Humans Can Lick Too'


With that scene Andy decided to clean up his mind. He wrote a song for Rachel....whom he was missing dearly by now:

Wish You Were Here
I've got a problem with my cottage on the moors
I wish that you were here now
Snow falling on the sheep outside my door
I wish that you were here now
I dream at night that you will come along
I wish that you were here now
So for you I wrote this windswept song
I wish that you were here now

Rachel....I wish you were here

I had to get this message off to you
I wish that you were here now
Rachel I would stick to you like glue
If only you were here now
So now I'm laying here without a friend
I wish that you were here now
I think of ghosts and phantoms and I pretend
That you were here with me now

Rachel...I wish you were here

The television's broken
And the phone won't ring
I've drunk my Thunderbird Wine
And the fire is dying
The bedrooms are freezing
This cottage is creepy
I would do anything
If you were here

I wish that you were here

******

The notepaper slipped to the floor and...after turning out the light...he began to muse over his reasons for fleeing Maidstone. It was obvious that he had severe social problems. He could see himself now...in the pubs of Maidstone...as if he was looking at a film of somebody else. A dreadful drunk. He pictured the Royal Albion first. Hardly a night passed that he wasn't gracing it's oaken bar with his slovenly lurch and his slurry talk. It will be better...he reflected...when Irish Steve leaves the pub. Steve ran a good pub and he greatly contributed to Andy's reasons for being there. Steve...although given at times to scant bitchiness...had furnished the pub with a nice air of hospitality....he made the drinker feel at home...with his personal attention to their chosen topics of conversation. Andy loved the way that Steve had embraced him as a stalwart part of the clientele and as a friend and sometimes confidante. So...until Steve was to hang up his bar towel...Andy felt sure that he would frequent the place with his misguided articulation...his scrappy attire...and his terrible friends.
He sees himself next in the Dog and Gun on Boxley Road....where once a week he suffers from what he now sees as Celebrity Syndrome. He assumes that everyone has missed him throughout the week...and the evening flows with beaming hellos and extra-contrived handshakes.

His self-elevation to star-status is...however...a misconception. Reality sees him as the Ayatollah of the Public Bar. A Day-Glo Charlie Manson. Certainly not the person of his skewed imagination. Then he sees himself between pubs...a shambling wreck framed in the reflection of a shop-window. He is trying to look straight but he is stupidly exaggerated...a blurry portrait slipping from the irritated canvass. In the town pubs...surrounded by the Wonder-Garys and Super-Traceys...he starts to feel uneasy about his appearance. He stands and sips...and stands and sips...and stands and sips. Eager to leave...and less eager to become engaged in conversation...he stands and sips...and he leaves.

Back in the cottage...in the real world...Andy was entering sleep's primitive stages. Then he was awoken from his slumber...by something. He awoke to find that he was still very cold. He could tell that it was not yet time to get up and face the day. He nuzzled his head closer to the cold pillow...then...he heard it. A peculiar clicking sound...not like one he had heard before. It had a sinister ring of ill-fate to it...a metallic death-slap...droning giant ants...he couldn't quite place it. Was it his imagination? He dared not move. The gritting of his teeth reverberated in his head. He tried to scold himself for his foolish dip into gullibility. The sheep? The wind? His mind? The mind? The cold? The snow? The sheep? The mind? The discordant strains of a distant harmonica. A mewing cat. There were two possibilities....either he had become utterly unglued...or there was somebody...or something...downstairs...in the front room of Lady Royd. Someone with a harmonica...perhaps unaware that Andy was upstairs. The melody was faltering and out of tune. He felt it could have been from a different time...the music-hall of the sinking Titanic in 1912. The tune dipped and wavered. The bedroom door opened...slowly.

There stood a figure of a person whom Andy was quick to recognise.
'What the Hell are you doing here?'
It was Michelle.
'I just had to find you' she whispered
'But how did you know? I mean...how did you find me?'
'That's not important' she said...raising her hands to reveal a gun.
Andy was staring into the barrel of a gun...a huge silver six-shooter...and Michelle was grinning...like she was playing some childish game of cowboys and Indians....bang bang you're dead. It was whilst he was thinking of his childhood home of Yalding...where he last played the game...that he heard the bang. It rang out in his mind for what seemed like hours and then he opened his eyes to see the gun was still pointed at him. He dived forward...surprising himself with his sudden unusual agility. He made a grab for the gun in the girl's hand. She was bleeding. Her red hair was a mass of blood. It was clear that she had shot herself in the head. As she stumbled back she pulled Andy with her and they began a bloody scramble upon the cold floor. Her open mouth showed teeth that gleamed like ivory razors. A headful of scalpels looking for flesh. She began to chew at her own lips as he held her off successfully. Her fingernails...sharp as razors too...raked across his bare back...shocking him to open his guard. She threw herself upon him and...whilst kissing him violently...she spat her top lip into his plasma-filled throat. It felt like he had a huge slug in his mouth. He pulled himself away and spat the lip out. Her lower lip was hanging from her face. With cold cruel bloodshot eyes she glared...and with ever-chopping teeth she threatened more malice. With malice aforethought. Her lower jaw...hanging...torn...made her look like a blood-soaked ventriloquist dummy.

Another person came into the room. It was Billy Childish...an old school-friend of Andy's....and he held a sickle in his right hand.
'Move girl' he shouted...as he trembled with the sickle. She grabbed her own breakaway bottom lip and ripped it from her face. Andy looked on...astonished. Billy drove the sickle with an almighty swing into the side of her head...just near to her left ear. It came through on the other side...splitting her head and slicing part of the visible brain. Andy followed his old pal through the cottage which was now crackling with blue sparks amid an electrical storm. Two men...one stout the other skinny...both in shiny plastic masks...ushered them outside and into a waiting car. Andy took control and drove along the moonlit track...cradling Billy...who was now a tortoiseshell cat. The cat was still Billy...in recognisant essence...but it had the face of the infant Billy. The face swam around like a crude projection on the cat's head. A super-8 cine-faced feline with human body. Andy had two concerns during his drive. He knew he had little time to reach a known civilisation because Billy the cat was very poorly...and yet he dared not drive too fast for the tracks were bumpy and a rough ride could have killed the fragile cat. The lanes became familiar and Andy was sure that they would reach safety ...soon....until he suddenly found that he had gone too far and was once again in unknown territory. In the middle of this no man's land...high on a grassy dune...was a 3-tiered cottage. He carried the cat....Billy...into the cottage. Two thick-armed thugs...archetypal suit-clad Mafiosa Playboys were interrogating two women. They showed the frightened women some loose change...made of clay...some kind of terracotta coinage...and they asked for more. When one of the ladies whipped out some rusty metal pincers Andy decided that he had seen enough and he clambered through a small window with the cat. Outside be was pleased to find that the sun was shining gloriously and that the birds were singing as punctured larks above his head. Rich green pastures were spread alongside tarmacadam lanes lined with chestnut trees. He could hear the working sounds of a distant sawmill on a summer day. He was with a teenage girl in a leather jacket. He'd not seen her before...and yet he thought he knew her. Her name was Maxine.
'I told you I'd get my hair cut' she said..with a late 60's smile.
Andy could see that the nape of her neck had been shaved. He saw a name tattooed on her neck but when he bent over to read it the word had gone. He looked up and around himself. He discovered that he had stumbled into a new environment. The air was fabulously fresh...he took great gulps of it. He held Maxine's hand as they meandered through the middle-eastern market-place...inspecting the clay pots and the flowers which covered the stalls. They talked with swarthy gentlemen and pitcher-carrying women and they patted the heads of camels laden with wicker baskets and rolled-up handmade rugs. He felt more serenely relaxed than ever before. He was pleased to believe that he had finally found his Persian dream....his garden of Eden. A bygone age. 20th century? 10th century? They continued...hand in hand...Maxine and Andy. They forged through the ancient streets until they reached a huge stone building. They went in to find another market...an indoor one..bristling with shoppers raking for bargains in a stock of household goods. A man leaning next to a garden wall looked up at them. It was Andy's father
'Welcome to Manchester' he said
Two soldiers appeared from beyond the wall. They landed one either side of Andy and the girl. The two were then marched off...at gunpoint...to a small dark room by the side of the indoor market. The market was now situated within a cluster of fisherman's cottages in a small fishing village. The layout of the dwellings was familiar to Andy. He could easily reach out and touch all four walls in the tiny room. He knew that...apart from Maxine...there could have been nobody else in the room.....but he was wrong! A third person lit a match...and showed himself.
'Remember me?' he asked
'We collected matchboxes together in Scotland when you were young. We tried to swim in the cove near Montrose. We argued. You punched my eye'
The boy held the match closer to his face.
'Well...look at what you done'
Andy saw that there was a hole where the lad's eye should have been. In the hole..a swamp appeared and he could see scaly horned creatures rising from the mass. He fell into the swamp and began to splutter. A well-muscled man punted a raft towards him as he went under...again and again. A tough- looking reptile dragon churned towards the sailor. The sailor-man hit the dragon with the stick he was using to propel the raft. The stick caught the dragon's back.

Bang
Crash
Crash
Crash
Crash
Andy opened his eyes
Crash
And realised where he was
Crash
He sat up in bed
Crash
The noise was coming from the cottage
Crash
From downstairs
Crash
It wasn't just the wind out there
Crash
Crash
Crash
Crash
Then he realised what it was.


Murder On The National Express

It was snowing during the journey home. He thought about his dream the night before and he smiled at his stupidity on two counts.....total belief of the situation during the dream and total fear of a few sheep banging against the cottage door. Still...he was glad to wave ta-ta to that place. Now he was safe. His estimated time of arrival at Victoria Coach Station had been severely disrupted due to the snowstorm causing slow speeds on the motorway. He watched the windscreens wipers cut their semi-circle path across the snowed over glass...time and time again. He ripped his gaze away...knowing he was falling prey to a wiper-induced trance. He grabbed his pen and notebook...and made notes about the hypnotism of the wipers.
' One contribution...fatigue aside...to people falling asleep at the wheel whilst driving....is the hypnotic surge of the wipers. Not a planned watching of the wipers...but a subconscious recognition of their hypnotic to-ing and fro-ing.'

He looked away....not wishing to invite windscreens-