LIVING WITH LESLEY DYING FOR FAME
EXTRACT FROM THE NOVEL
The work is now at the last re-write stage.
Scratch me and sniff.
You’ll think me mad. But you won’t be the first.
My forensic odour is as fresh as a baby’s skin.
Clean, scrubbed pink, almost raw in the all the proper places, I have bathed away the old stenches and lost the residual pallor. I’ve chased the tell tale smut from my disgusting aura. I’ve trashed things that I’ve grown out of, incinerated things that I’ve moved on from.
I’ve changed the hard drive.
I am virtually invisible now, a paying guest. Someone seldom seen, like a play angel. Cute. Yes. Someone astute who has paid up in advance. Someone whose actions and eccentricities will now seem less bizarre and more akin to that imaginary haven of Above Reproach, as in- see that smartly suited gentleman in polished shoes, well take it from me he is above reproach.
As I said. You will, most likely, think me mad. I prefer the tag- psychic.
That’s what it is with us. The extra sensory perception.
Some errant strangeness leaking to the surface from- never mind. No lectures from me on the ways of the paranormal. Not yet.
I’ve seen myself.
I’ve countered foam bits in the corner of my leer. Laughed off the betrayal of a wayward tic. Blamed alcohol for states of undress and underwear messiness. Only paranormal explanations will undo me. It’s either that or routine sectioning and an ongoing mixture of in-hospital care and care in the community care.
Hey. I’ve taught myself to bend.
Now I blend, do nothing untoward. Do nothing attention seeking, never. Not now. You would probably know me in an instant then deny me in a flash, yes- one of those, nondescript. I am that common or garden. Like Nemo I do a very convincing no-one.
Doubtless, you will not have been there. Planet care. In Queer Street. A special wing. Vagrant. Down and out. In an HMP, at Her Majesty’s pleasure, banged up, tagged or on an ASBO. So, reserve your fucking self serving judgement, you will not be in a position to judge me fairly. Not yet. Not yet, if ever.
Who are you anyway? A reader. A reader of people? Someone crowned by self importance?
Who are you to know which one of us is the nearer to being insane?
Fifty fifty. Be bold. Take a stab at it. It could be you.
I wait, see. I watch, that’s what. I’m a seasoned watcher, me.
Better than any confessor, AIDS buddie or trained counsellor, I really listen. I listen intently. Listening with unrushed intent. Collecting. Recording.
I can insinuate. Enter in. I can secretly penetrate people’s private space.
But, for reasons I shall not divulge so soon, my vast machine memory is virtually exhausted.
A total systems crash is imminent. I predict it.
What can we do but go on, stiffly. There is suicide of course. I’ve been there a number of times and not done it.
You’ve caught me though, now. Very timely. And shrewd. You must be bright. Well, you’ve caught me on a new mission. Homicidal. It may well be my last. Well, that’s very good for you. All the several delicious treats will come raw, blood warm and untarnished by censorship. You’ll get to see the rushes, all of the vile footage, the full unedited version. Timely, that’s what you are. A fine adversary or fan. You’ve obviously got a feel for it, a true natural flare.
You little tinker.
Believe it or not, friend, even as we speak, I am- oh yes, I am the multi sensing eyes and ears and touchy feely finger pads of not much more than half an acre of a South Watford suburb. London North, in the United Kingdom. Just for the one week. Less. Six days in fact. It could be more- if I like. A short break between relationships. A re-fuelling vacation somewhere pretty much unexpected. Watford is not a tourist magnet.
But join me, remotely.
We’re a bit cramped but we don’t mind. It’s a largely ignored location this, on account of its meagre facilities. There are no tourist or playground attractions here, not as such. But I’ve struck a rich seam of gold. I just know it.
Bingo- as they say in Watford’s refurbished cinemas.
I am forbidden to disclose the exact postal details. See, after, when all the words have run out, you’ll only want to come and gloat, to compare notes and red-neck to your heart’s content.
So, think of it as just a spot nearby. A familiar trysting place for you. That’s the best. Think of it as somewhere local, somewhere psychologically manageable. A soft cot. Somewhere safe to watch the hidden world go travelling by. How could you possibly get hurt?
I have a small eyrie here. Not an en suite eyrie but no matter, it has all the essential comforts; a single bed on castors, a sink, a waste bin and a clean window with exactly the view I wanted. I got it because I demanded it. It sparkles. Smell the recent vinegar and newsprint.
Here we go.
Here we go.
Parting the plain nets, freshly laundered, white and stiff, I can see two back gardens, plots identical in size but very contrasting. One has been quite decimated, all but swallowed up by an over large timber construction, which I have only recently discovered is Lesley Munroe's secret domain. We like him. Oh, we are positively warming to Lesley, shedloads.
The other patch, Martine Spencer's pride and Martine Spencer’s joy, is far too planted, too much shuzzed and fussy for my taste. It’s fussed to the point of kitschness, with its profusion of flowering pots and repro’ ornamentation. And, it has an ugly Zen fountain. It is cheap. Imagine it. It is hideous.
However, happily and conveniently for me, both the garden and the fountain are illuminated for our night enjoyment. And there is just enough space amongst the summer fireworks for vivid sunloungers and a table on a trimmed grass area. A place for intimate exchanges of body fluids and the display of splayed flesh. Very Lucien Freud. This is private space, where body language need make not so much as a nod to decorum. It is a voyeur’s dream.
The two gardens are divided by a low picket fence. Woolworths. You’d think we were on set, filming in a fake Louisiana. There is a rose-arch gateway in this white painted fence, a support for pale yellow roses. Canary Bird, I’m sure the climber is. Healthy it is, flourishing in its close proximity to the entrance to Lesley's shed. Presumably it thrives on noise and abnormality. This is the frontier. And that shed is a log cabin of a thousand possibilities.
Even more joy, with my hungry eyes peeled, I can see right into a property looming in from the mid distance, an architectural allsorts in need of urgent repair, the one that adjoins the bottom of both gardens. Imagine all that extra access and, furthermore, think of all the added detail made possible by my inner vision, my sixth sense and my wonderful case of tech toys and other odds and sods. It’s a very long toothed habit- I never go anywhere without the best means possible to both defend and dissect.
Now, this towering, down at heel building has a large sign on the roof which reads The Bangkok Sauna & Massage Parlour. It has been expensively executed in various shades of strip neon and it lights up brilliantly at night. So it should, a big and brash, beautifully vulgar sign like that.
Then, further distant, can be seen another electric sign barking its business on the skyline. Another infringement to the local planning laws. They pay the fines, these fly by night people, and they continue to rape the view at will. Written in green and yellow light bulbs, it reads- The New Taj Mahal. It also illuminates at night, making its considerable contribution to the micro climate whilst also screaming that the grubby little takeaway is open for trade. Strictly cash.
The New Taj Mahal’s after the football match food is fast but battling for promotion from the pigswill division. The nosh is the pits. However, I find the clientele is first class. It is heaven sent for my dubious purposes. Pullers. Pushers. Prostitutes. A liquorice allsorts of races and psychopathic disorders. Judges. Prosecutors. Masons. Every type of gender known to man, woman and beast. Then there are the pensioners and the night children sent out on errands. And then there is you, and your curious astral body. You, come to roam with me.
Waste your life land.
Super sleazy. Lemon squeezy.
YES! I am in a killer ‘Soap’. I am so fucking sorted.
On pleasure alert.
It’s early afternoon.
The first week in October.
In the garden of this very cramped hotel I can see, hear, smell and virtually feel the two close friends; Shelley Davidson, mmm, that’s Jicky by Guerlain, a youthful middle-aged divorcee, a close neighbour; semi-detached, and Martine Spencer, a plump Jewish landlady, Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor, of course. She’s in her middle fifties, very weathered. She’s loose lipped but not so juicy elsewhere. Fruitless. Passed child bearing. She’s safe enough for the time being. Her name’s not yet on my list of things to make a difference to.
Along with my lonely self and a dab of Chanel’s Antaeus, not that they have an inkling that they have me for company, or that I harbour a taste for retro after shaves, we are all enjoying the unexpected delights of an Indian Summer. One cotton sarong the colour of pilau rice. The other seemingly splashed with a chicken tikka sauce. The baby shit yellow at art war with the lime green.
I’m taking stock.
Here are two half-baked, honey skinned women determined in their attempt to luxuriate. They’re lounging in a bijoux box of tricks, surrounded by the last of the flash summer flowers. Snapdragons. Lush pink pelargoniums. Tubs of cascading ballerina tu tus. Loathsome.
Note, if you will, the Wimbledon green plastic table with the triangular pub ashtray. They would not have been my choice. No. And, note also, the state of the art mobile phones and a small portable digital radio and CD player. These are halfway up the heap, ‘made good’ ladies who like to stay connected. Ladies who sing, maybe. Ladies who may have once done the samba on the streets of Buenos Aires. Ladies who like to dance the dirty and suggestive dances. These are ladies who might just jig a very good jig.
Both of the bitches are heavy smokers. Suicides. The stupid, stupid pricks.
How can I be expected to stuff my cock in the mouth of a nicotine addict?
The damned tenacious Zen fountain is still running. The whacked out water most likely recycling itself over and over, attracting masses of negative energies. Minute by minute it’s growing beefier, thickening up on an ambient diet of sin and swearing. Drink it, like the local cats, and you will go to hell.
We can all of us hear the distant sounds of urban traffic. It was the same in Beverly Hills.
A light, polluted breeze is moving the tired shrubbery, making the sound of some pseudo sacred music in the wind chimes. Psychic shop sacred music. Psychic shop wind chimes. Martine Spencer, God bless her Jewish soul, is seriously sick, terminally ill with Psychic shop disease. She is terrified of being re-incarnated. She never wants to visit this planet again, ever. Why? We might find out.
I can see they’re lost in thought. Still fucking smoking.
Then Shelly gets up and selects an audio CD to put in the player. It’s a favourite of hers, Trisha Yearwood CD, ‘Hearts In Armour’. She plays track one, ‘You Say You Will’. The first verse runs through uninterrupted. And then Martine perks up and suddenly joins in like a reinvigorated holiday camp redcoat. Since dignity is not being required of her she gives none.
‘I keep forgiving,’ she sings, her voice as rough as an inebriated Lulu, ‘I keep forgetting, I keep expecting you to change.’
Shelley, full of wine and up for a laugh, joins her on the chorus. They both add a spot of private dancing to the mix. Moving the moveable and the cellulite. ‘You say you will,’ is launched at the top of their voices, ‘you say you will, you say you will, but you never do.’ The Dixie Chicks they ain’t.
Martine yields to her younger friend who goes solo with the second verse, the voice mellow and in tune, ‘Love doesn't come with any guarantee, it's give and take a little, that's the key. So I give you every little thing you choose and you give me back a stack of bloody IOU’s.’
Martine takes over, slick as the old stager that she is with, ‘There seems to be a pattern here, how can I tell if you're sincere.’
For no reason the impromptu singing stops but the pelvic dancing doesn’t.
Martine, still gyrating, indicates the empty wine bottle. Shelley nods in silent agreement and congas off indoors for a replacement. Martine sits down, more than a little breathless, and listens to some more of the track. She’s got compelling things on her mind though, things becoming increasingly compelling, ever so. She switches the machine off.
A momentary silence.
Quick, take stock.
The piss provoking dribblings of the Zen fountain, for one. Then secondly, the dull thrumming of urban traffic. Thirdly, the rather satisfying sound of a cork being pulled from the neck of the very inexpensive Asti.
My secret oasis.
My virginal field of play.
Martine’s compelling thinking suddenly bubbles to the surface and explodes into the near silence. In seconds, he is immediately animated and very loud, feeling the need to project as loudly as she can from the garden to the kitchen, ‘Where the fucking hell is he at, Shell? That's the question I couldn't help asking myself, not if I were you. What's he got stuck in to? Yes. What are his immediate influences? Who is his current Svengali? Exactly, girl. Come in number sixty nine, I'd shout, I know what you're bloody up to. Yes. Come in number sixty nine 'cause your bloody time is up. And I'd scream, Shell, I’d really scream- where the bleeding hell are you?’
She stops. Her stopping makes more silence. A brief respite from her stage voice. I hear a dog bark. By the sound of it, it is a small dog. Probably an Italian whippet.
She suddenly doubles up and rummages in a Technicolor straw bag, returning to her previous sitting upright position, complete with incongruous sunglasses and a sunhat that suggests wishful thinking. She must know something about the local weather that I don’t. Either that or she’s about to utter things she thinks are better said incognito. That would be it, risqué remarks made darkly.
She’s the poor man’s Swanson.
Stuff for an audience of one.
‘It would plague me’ she goes on, ‘every minute of every day, Shell. Every single second he wasn't in my sight, I'd feel as if I'd been stripped bare by locusts. Every single second I'd be asking, where is the two-timing bastard and what. Yes. What is the slippery low life getting away with? Is it lies, Shell? Is it falsehoods? Is it both- the falsehoods and the fucking falsies!’
Shelley returns with the new bottle. She’s refreshed the Jicky. I can tell, even from my height. Why? She’s probably had a mid-menstrual piss, that’s why. I thought I heard the pipes grumble. She pours full glasses, then sits without a care, her shorts altogether too tight in the region of her slightly bulging front bottom.
Martine magically keeps centre stage without moving a muscle. ‘This is gender deception that's what it is.’ she says, a lot less loudly, but still as intense as anything in American TV’s CSI, ‘It ought to be outlawed. It ought to be criminalised. I don't know how you cope, Shell. I don't cope. So I don’t know how you cope, really I don't. I don't mind telling you, Shelley Davidson, my wardrobe is my life. It's worth far more to me than any man, even if he has got a degree and packs a king-size Mars bar. Listen to me lady. My bloody wardrobe's sanctified ground, you've got to be elaborately ordained to have any kind of unsolicited access to my wardrobe. You've, at the very least, got to be a high priestess, a very high priestess of extremely high street fashion. Any male personage, of the masculine persuasion, caught wearing my under garments risks being burned at the stake, Shell. He risks being hung drawn and quartered at the bloody stake after having his pink courgette kebabbed and his peenie nuts roasted!’
Shelley’s not the slightest bit shocked. Shelley's heard it all before. The glorious and profane. One crisis is remarkably much like any other. And in this crisis, just like one supposes, it has happened as it has with all the other crises; Shelley’s had nothing but uncompromising wall to wall advice from her friend Martine for weeks. The air between them has been all the possible shades of blue since she first broached the tricky subject again. Yesterday. 3pm Greenwich Mean Time.
Well, this is Watford and the subject is conspicuously Jerry Springer. In some respects more so.
Small talk and big talk about Lesley’s surprising little hobby has been difficult to contain. It’s not been at all easy. Nothing this explosive ever is.
Yesterday Shelley had defined the nature of the problem as being rather like teetering on the brink of saying goodbye to two weeks worth of backed up shit. It’s like this, I heard her reasoning, it’s been twenty long minutes since you took the ‘never fails’ suppository, the white toilet walls are liberally clad in clear PVC. You are on the point of blowing your guts to smithereens. Your counting to three has reached two. Then, in the final second, nothing. No exploding shit. No tears. It’s mad.
We all get let down, I thought. That’s life.
There’s nothing new there.
‘Sometimes it beats me.’ Shelley pipes up, the tone fake jovial, ‘You don't care though do you Teen. What about your in-house guests? You know the ones. You can be quite shameless you. Moral stands get set aside. It’s your business streak.’
Quick as you like, I take evasive action, diving to the side as she suddenly points in my general direction. Pretty soon after, I crawl back to find her indicating, with two rigid fingers, towards the local den of relaxation and iniquity.
‘Tell it as it as and like you couldn’t care less, that’s you.’ she goes on, brightness beating back the bitterness, ‘That’s experience for you. Well, it’s pretty pointless caring what the shameless neighbours might think. Haven’t you heard of that phrase- loose talk costs lives. That was the old Home Guard speaking that was. Your era dear. And there’s that other one- walls have ears. Well, true enough, you never know who might be listening, Martine. No. You never know who might be overhearing. I don’t want my Les to hear us. You won’t want your Raymond getting his long johns in a twist. Not at his precarious juncture. And we wouldn’t want some perve getting a stiffie on account of what we say. Perverts are never very fussy. Once they’re fired up they might attack us.’
She takes a lengthy pull on her glass of cheap bubbly and struggles on, filling the glass for the second time as she goes, ‘Well, what does it matter eh, there's only a bunch of dozy tarts in there. They’re all up there, in that banging cock thingy playing hunt the fucking brain cell, and they've heard far worse I shouldn't wonder, ‘course they’ve heard worse. Well I should bloody well hope so, Martine. If they are the professionals that they say they are, whenever they’re up in that court, you know, people who say they take a real professional pride in their work, they will have heard a bloody lot worse. A bloody site worse. Here. They’ll have heard the one about the prolapsed lesbian- she's legs akimbo at the gynaecologist's. Have you heard it, Martine? No? Good. This dyke see, she's all legs akimbo at the gynaecologist's. He says, in a posh voice, My! My! Madam. Your vagina's remarkably clean. She says, quick as you like, So I should bloody think doctor, I have a woman in twice a week.’
They laugh. Jesus! No measure of restraint.
They laugh like two loos flushed simultaneously. Two tipsy ladies belly splitting themselves, tip-toing around the truth.
Martine removes her sunglasses. It’s getting overcast, as I expected it would. Shelley summons up her serious face. ‘Right then.’ she begins again, brave as you like, ‘The ongoing Lesley Munroe situation. Yes, Martine. Sometimes it does beat me. He’s my lover, Teen. My luvvv..err. Sometimes, on account of you being my best friend, I have to tell you how it feels. I have to repeat myself. I have to repeat myself like I’m repeating myself now, Martine. Sometimes it’s like. Shit. Sometimes it feels like it's beating two weeks of crap out of me, two whole weeks, and other times, well, well I try and beat it. It's called give and take. It’s called fucking give and fucking take. As you know, Martine, he takes my knickers, you know the score. He takes my knickers, the clean ones, and then, that, that very sad act, gives me a bloody good excuse to go out and buy new ones. There’s a result. Yeah. There’s a result. I bet you, Teen. I bet I've got the biggest collection of knickers in the whole of Watford, all the types in all of the temptations from the red stretch lace see-thru with swan's down trim to the delectable fake leather crotchless. Lesley can't abide the delectable fake leather crotchless. He says that the black thong elastic of the delectable fake leather crotchless pulls at his bum hairs, Martine. Ah. Bless. Bless him. He's not been one to have his crack waxed. No. And then he says to me, a little sly boy again, shy and shifty, he says he finds the gaping aperture of the delectable fake leather crotchless, intimidating, big. It’s all about him, Martine. It’s all about his insecurities. Lesley argues, can you believe it, that he just hasn't felt the need to be framed in that way. I called him a hypocrite, Tina. What choice did I have? You fucking hypocrite I yelled at him. Well, someone needed to remind him. I said, let me fucking remind you Lesley, for ten bloody years you've been badgering your poor art students with- presentation is everything, presentation is everything. See. I put his dinner on the table, Martine, and I can see him muttering under his breath- presentation is everything, bloody presentation is everything. I don’t do nouvelle cuisine, darling. I might stretch to all manner of things but I have no empathy whatsoever for the refinements of food arranging. Small portions? I just can’t be fussed. That’s it, in a nutshell. I told him, Teen, I said it can be very edifying having to have a taste of your own medicine, extremely edifying.’
I see the instant threat of interloping clouds, the colour of cigarette smoke. Maybe the whole of Watford is having a fag. A big fat joint. Shelley, restless now and unable to control it, is out of her lounger, idly dead-heading the last of the French marigolds. Suddenly absorbed and quick fingered, she’s able to crush the brown petals into dust almost, proper worm grub. We like a bit of home composting. The ceremonial bringing out of the dead wood and the ringing in of the new broom. Cleanliness. Diligence. The king has snuffed it, long live the kinky. Where would we be without our little rituals?
Where would we be without our designer drugs?
Shelley remembers the booze and I watch her sip some, being oddly girlie. Then she shoves the super gob in forward gear again. ‘Oh, I cope.’ she goes on, nostrils flaring, getting back to speed, ‘I'm a woman, Teen. Women are born to cope. They are. And the reason I cope, Tina, the reason I actually do cope. And I do cope, don't I Teen? I do. I thought so. Yes. I thought as much. Well, the reason is simple really. The reason I can cope is that, believe it or not, Tina Spencer, I actually do know where he is most of the time. Remarkable isn't it. It’s so bloody remarkable I’m always remarking on it. But there you are. I actually do know where the wayward bastard is most of the time. In fact, Martine, he's so regular, I think I know where he is all of the time.’
Martine stops to think.
She thinks Shelley is delusional.
‘Do you, Shell?’ Martine suddenly asks without wanting an answer, ‘Oh, do you now? Well that's what my old mum and I would call a disturbing luxury. Mmm. It's a very suspect luxury, if you ask me, and I wouldn't, not in a million years, advise any woman to rely on it.’
‘But he's only ever in the two places, Martine, just the two..and there's the routine journeying in between, of course. He's not as fly as you think, you see, not what you might call a gadabout. He doesn’t cruise, Teen. He’s never cottaged. He's an absolute doddle to check up on.’
Martine has hold of the dog’s bone and she just won’t let it go. ‘There you go, you see.’ she says, ‘What man alive is a doddle, as you call it, and only ever in two places? I tell you, Shell. It's very suspicious. I’ve heard some fucking rum things in my time but this one just about takes the biscuit. It's very suspect, Shelley, when a man gets so repetitive. Leastwise, it always has been in my experience. Look, when a man gets so regimented that you can set your kitchen clock by him you're in dead trouble. True. It is. It’s as true as I’m Jewish. What I mean, Shell, what I’m trying to say is, it's not natural, all that blatant clockwork monotony. It's against their basic natures, routine. Routine can be a very queer thing if you ask me. You mark my words. Real men, men with real men’s needs, like my Raymond and Sean Connery, they have such vagrant basic natures. God bless ‘em.’
I’ve heard half cut women, stuck in a mindset, rattle on about masculine qualities before. In private they’re sickening. Sexist. Fascist. In public, much less so. It’s like they’re subconsciously prejudicially obsessed. Deeply divisive. As deep as their DNA. But, what I’d like to know, I really would, is, on what authority is it that they imagine themselves qualified to express an opinion on the subject.
Me. It’s me, ladies. The subject is, in fact, me and the likes of me.
What is it, do you think, qualifies them? Is it the profoundly true experience of actually being a man? Never. Do us a favour. How many women have you ever idly gossiped with, low fat muffin and a skinny latte a short hop from Marks and Spencers, who’ve volunteered the inside information that they were once a fully paid up member of the members only club? You know, stood up to take a piss. Peed on the pearlised loo seat. Spoiled the cotton shag pile pedestal mat with beery urine.
Da da. Shock horror, post and pre op transgender scandal in local brewery. Drayman not a gay man but a draywoman in toilet drama. Give over.
Do you not watch any daytime TV? And was that the cut or uncut version of the lost appendage madam? Hirsute or not? What bollocks!
Yes, I posses two of the little blighters, skins like a Shar Pei puppy, one hung ever so slightly lower than the other. The testes.
Maybe los feministas lay great store by the vicarious experience of having had a man in the biblical sense or having lived with a man in the sense of sharing, not only the bed, but the various chores and the general accommodation, the driving to a supermarket and the endless debt control? In other words, screwing his head in. Fuck knows.
But now I have it.
I finally have it.
It’s slipped through the ether like a message from the disembodied Jesus. Spiritual hanky panky. Having been a fully fledged and functioning man in a previous lifetime, of course women would know how it all works. They’d know how we tock. They’d know how we tick? Right.
Now it dawns. Re-incarnation. Martine’s greatest fear.
When in doubt or losing the argument, cite religion or the paranormal.
And there is no doubt that there are far more women than men gripped by the dubious pleasures of the unknown. And, similarly, there are far more women than men who buy books and read books. They buy books for their men. Maybe they are left unread. Oh! Three words will suffice; Bridget and Jones’ and Diary.
Well, what do I know, eh? I’m just a mere man today, heaven knows what tomorrow. What could I possibly know?
I’ll hush up. Keep mum. That’s the best.
The best thing is, to let the ladies speak for themselves. Allow them to dig their own graves. Let them be damned by their own admissions, always. Out of the mouths of Baywatch babes and witches and stressed out bitches.
Shelley’s formed her answer. She steps up to the her turn line. Stretches. Serves.
‘During the day time he's safe at school, thank God, very safe except for the school holidays.’ The ball is in, she plays. ‘The long school holidays can pose something of a danger, of course. All that flexi daytime on his hands, it can pose something of a danger. That's his job, though Teen. Teaching. Reaching out. Inspiring tomorrow’s movers and shakers. He kicks over the bushels and he frees their hiding lights. Motivation, Tina. Inspiration. It's easy to forget what that's like if you're self-employed. I mean, Raymond's always been so self regulating. He’s never been a worry. Well, you’ve never said. See, salaried jobs are always the easiest to check up on. In salaried jobs meticulous records are always kept. Always. And then at night, Teen, most nights between six and his bed time, he's in that mega shed of his, being aux fait with the transferring of the vests, being obsessed with the making of his next selection from the rails and rails of a whole variety of fancy vestments. It’s our little investment, he says. And don’t think I don’t see that, Martine. For an artist, he’s always been so forward thinking. Oh, I can see plain as day what he does night after night. I can see what he does alright. I can see those make-up lights twinkling from deep inside the house. He’s got banks of the buggers. He illuminates himself like he is something worthy of a fly past, something monumental, something post baroque by Wren. I’ve caught him, Teen. Oh, he's often been seen by me, walking up and down, talking to himself, weaving in and out. And sometimes I even catch a glimpse of him dancing. You know. He does this too close for comfort dancing. And sometimes I’ve seen him doing things. Doing things to himself. You’ll have to use your imagination, darling. He does these things, see. Things that defeat my vocabulary, Martine. Words, Teen. Don’t give me the words. Words fucking fail me. See, he's very habitual, Tina, very predictable. And, as you well know, Les almost never goes out at the weekends. He’s too absorbed, see. He's totally self absorbed, so totally self-absorbed, he very seldom deviates. Very seldom, if ever.’ Her concentration lets her down. She misses. The ball is out. ‘I hate this game.’ she says, weariness suddenly on her like a faint shroud. Shelley hating the game, it jangles with the ring of truth.
However, game for most things, Martine is, in fact, playing no such thing. Martine is being matron, is seriously engaged in getting to grips with the whole dilemma. This is no bloody game, she reasons. This is war. Know your enemy, she’s thinking, only then can you map out exactly how to manipulate them into the catch net. Get ‘em in the cast iron catch net then decide at your leisure what their fate will be. It’s Guantanamo bay revisited. She’s Bush in drag. Then her face lights up with what can only be described as a knowing smile. I’d go so far as to suggest that it seems mildly poisonous.
‘And then,’ she counters, drawing from the mythical well of her vast experience, ‘to top it all, there's the wanderlust, Shell. The wondrous fucking wanderlust. They all have it. Men. At some time or other in their lives they all show some signs of it. All through the fidgeting fifties Ray had this peculiar wanderlust, his own bespoke version of it. He was forever lusting after being elsewhere, anywhere but here, where he belongs. Here. Right here, Shell, safe in the ampleness of the bosom I espoused him to. It made me almost mental. It did. I don't mind telling you, it nearly drove me to distraction. Now you see, Shell, here's the difference. My Raymond is prone to deviate, he's marginally inclined, you see, always has been since the onset of the sixties, it's his suppressed wanderlust. I wouldn't him let it out. Oh no. I said, put a lid on it, put a fucking lid on it. I told him, its either that or me, Raymond, you've got your choice. You’ve got your choice, I said, so hurry up and make it. Well, it was no contest Shell. It was no contest. He complied in the end. Totally complied. Came like a baby, sweet as a lamb. They all do, men. 'Course he's still somewhat prone, still liable to lapse, still likely to change his schedule at a moments notice. That's his male prerogative, Shell. It is his testosterone driven tendency. Fickle he is, particularly with domestic timetables. It's irritating but there it is. After all these years, all these anniversaries, we know what’s what. We do. And that’s what matters. But, he's never, never, never gone so far as to be what I might call a high church deviant, a fundamental Catholic cunt. Never. Not like some as you'd be keen to mention.’
Sweaty, she struggles to her feet, pulls her short’s material out of the crack of her fat bum then shakes like a wet dog before slowly repositioning herself in the complaining lounger.
‘Sometimes I think that you and me, Shelley Davidson,’ she says with surprising eloquence that betrays her hidden intelligence, ‘we're an island, an archipelago of companionship, the only like minded people in an uncharted desert of devilment and deviancy.’
She doubles up again, reaches into her cavernous bag and retrieves a four finger KitKat chocolate bar which she unzips, snaps in two and promptly shares.
‘So, Shell, come on. What were these things?’
Shelley’s slightly caught out, a chocolate covered wafer finger hovering suggestively on her bottom lip, ‘What? What things?’
‘You said, darling, he's been spotted walking up and down and weaving about and what have you, and that you’ve spotted him doing things to himself, in his shed. Well doing what things exactly? I’m very interested, Shell. It’s totally fascinating, really it is. What abhorrent thing in particular have you spotted him doing?’
Shelley, flustered, is clearly seeking to avoid having to revisit that particular memory, and crunching the wafer, chews slowly, buying a little time. Eventually she parries with, ‘It's a Thursday. It is isn’t it. Good. Thursday's are always good. You see, Martine, every Thursday it’s the same, barring an outbreak of something infectious, a fire, a bomb scare or sports day. He'll be with 4R now. See, I can stake my life on it. All boys, 4R.’
She can see Martine’s having none of it. Well, Martine is a past master of the facial expression that says don’t you so much as dare try and bullshit me.
Shelley capitulates. The second wafer’s in, all the way in, the lot in one go. Mmm. A mouth fuck. The lips quivering. Brief oral satisfaction. One long swallow. A very deep breath then, ‘He was parading actually, I call it parading, well, the usual, flouncing, I call it flouncing. Parading and flouncing for want of better words. And he was adjusting his false tits, his plump prosthetics, and he was obviously checking his stickytaped crotch for signs of resurgent tackle. Splits in the material. Give-aways. That kind of thing. He was attending to the details, Martine. Christ almighty and Mary, Mary Mother of God, he was dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. That’s what he was fucking doing, Tina. I’ve seen my Lesley, urgently and with immense care, like a nurse in an ICU, attending to all the scary but essential details.’
Martine is unmoved, and being unmoved she teeters on the brink of being downright dismissive. I catch her thinking better of it. Good girl. No need for cruelty. Shelley is scuttling to more manageable ground.
‘That class,’ she finally adds, ‘Thursday’s 4R, they're not his favourites. They’re not his favourites by a long chalk. And that letter R, Martine, is R for rejection. R for runts. The rejected runts. It is I reckon. I reckon I’m right. God, just think of it Teen, you gotta pity the poor cows that end up with that lot. Dick brains, that’s what they are. Dick brains the lot of them. Half of them have been sent away, you know, sent as in sentenced and come back. Boot camp, Les says. Teen, they come back worse than what they were before they went away. They come back far worse than when they went away. There's no correction. For a start they’re suddenly more qualified in thuggery and petty theft. They’ve matriculated then. Now the bastards want to graduate in law breaking. It’s unreal, Tina. And they're so fucking out of it, so not on this planet, that they imagine that correction- the proper rule of the rod, the pummelling and the cattle prod, is a pleasure, a pleasurable bi-product, which is, I have to say, stunningly clever of them. Well, art is not what they want to stuff their empty little heads with. Not Art. Art’s far too cerebral. Not art, Teen, not on a Thursday afternoon. They don't want your Hockneys and your Bacons on a Thursday afternoon. Poofs with paintings. Far too taxing. Football's what they're really after, football, more football and under age sex. What they’re really after, what they’re all gagging for is a session of masturbational under age sex with stimulating virtual reality. They can’t handle the real thing, Martine, not at that age. What they want is celluloid distraction, that and shopping. Well, not our kind of shopping but their kind of shopping. Shopping, in case you haven't heard, my love, is the current trendy buzz word for thieving.’
Unlike me, Martine has not been especially gripped by Shelley’s enlightening little diversion into the murky world of fifteen year old boys.
‘I thought he might have been parading.’ she announces as if poised to make a judgement. ‘I have to confess I've seen him myself, before now. Oh yes. I’ve clocked it. Many a time I've eyeballed his little perversive practices from the net-curtained window of the small back bedroom. You can see an awful lot from there, Shell. It's something of an eye opener. I’ve told my Raymond, it’s a positive boon that room. It’s a boon to the perpetual student of the human condition. We even thought we might exploit it.’
Shelley’s back to being interested. I’m all ears, nose and throat since the hotelier is obviously referring to my room. The preferred room.
‘You can see most of Lesley's shed.’ she goes on, ‘You can even see across the gardens, right into the rooms in the Bangkok whorehouse. It’s our third floor see, Shell. An extra third floor will always make a world of difference to both aspect and outlook. What a shame you haven’t got one. On a clear day you can cast your eyes across the intricate flocking on the flocked wall paper, you can even let them rest on the fag burns in the candlewick bedspreads. You can learn something spying like that, Shell. I know I have. Lately I feel extremely well informed and up to date about the ancient art of pleasuring a personage. You can see so much sometimes I even thought it might be worth my while to charge double. It’s a niche market isn’t it. It’s very specialist. Well, there's the voyeurs you’ve got to think of, Shell, it's an untapped minority, virginal. The world is full of potential voyeurs and they’re just not catered for are they. Tell me, Shell, above and beyond the internet and Second Life, who is there really who caters for voyeurs? What small hotel in Watford? No-one, Shelley, not a single one. I’m right about that. I’m dead right, Shell, spot on. Never wrong about a business opportunity. Not me, baby. Not my Raymond and me. We don’t want no more of your psychic weekends, your new-age weekends, your murder and forensics weekends. What we want is something new, something innovative. We want something saucy, Shell, something naughty but nice. Look and learn weekends, that’s what I’ll call them, come and look and fucking learn weekends. It’s got a certain ring about it, Shelley Davidson, cock your ear to the whole idea and hear what I hear. See. I can hear tills ringing, Shell. I can hear the joyous ringing of full tills.’
I am stunned. Stunned and delighted by the proprietor’s entrepreneurial flair, to say nothing of her moral largesse. Though I have to admit that what actually passed through my mind was the phrase ‘Well I’ll be buggered’.
I didn’t conjure up that, as it happens, in a fit of wishful sexual thinking because, on this occasion, I haven’t the slightest inclination to be buggered. In point of fact, the inclination seldom bothers me these days. Buggery being a model case to apply the adage once bitten twice shy. Yes. Alright.
On the ball or what.
It is true that I’ve been bitten, once upon a time, though it was more than just the once, and somewhat deeper than I would have liked. Today, as a consequence of that psychologically significant fact, I am indeed shy. Noticeably so. Some people have even remarked that they find my shyness charming, one of my finer attributes in fact. How stupid of them. They were easy to distract, that’s all They knew nothing. They knew nothing at all about me, much less than you do now. Much less.
Go on, you. Enjoy it. That feeling of privilege.
I’m missing my privileges. In particular I’m missing the supreme comfort and safety of my own space. So I’m contemplating rearranging this uncomfortable and discomforting room. I could ease the abused bed towards the windowsill and lie there pretty much unobserved. It is logistically possible. There’s just the small but irritating matter of finding new sites for the mini cameras and the micro microphones.
Anything would be preferable to the cramps I am starting to suffer. And, should that Spanish cleaner, fat and ovulating, dressed in black with the beginnings of a black moustache, ever pass on this sudden change to the management I would argue the need for constant airflow while I sleep. Wheezing at such a point is generally rewarded with an understanding look.
It is a special gift being able to enable the drawing of consent as easy as it is to draw cold water. Operatives like me, regardless of the circumstances, should always make it an imperative to have everything they desire made available on tap. The angels, in their infinite wisdom, have plumbed me in to a heavenly water park.
Martine has a theory. ‘He's building up to something.’ she says, sharing her tabloid theory with her close friend and immediate neighbour, ‘That's what I think. Well, Shell, do you agree or disagree? He's been advancing his fantastical feminine credentials hasn't he? Oh, I thought so. He's been licking his Max Factored lips, he's been busting here, and adjusting there, and he’s been thrusting out his snakeboy hips and now what? For what? He’s perfected the Essex totter that’s what. Now that is what I call major, Shell. It’s unquestionably major. That's not just a minor alteration, Shell. That’s never a mere blip in the greater scheme of things. It’s a blimp that’s what it is. He’s not just flying a kite, Shell. What’s the betting he’s got a whalesized dirigible holed up in that shed of his. It’s not normal, Shelley. This is not some little but irritating deviation from the normal straight and narrow where real men leave their socks on while they're getting their rocks off. It’s as big as the Ever-ready airship this. This is pure unadulterated deviency, Shell. Pure, self-inflicted deviency. Highly inflammable, that’s what this is.’
‘Yes. It is, isn't it.’ Shelley, once more, on the backfoot, resigned, close to tearful. ‘It’s what a brief might call unadulterated deviency. But there's absolutely no adultery involved, Teen. I swear to you Martine, there’s never been any adultery involved.’
Martine more strident now, summoning up her schoolmistress self. ‘Well.’ she says, puffing up to maximum power, ‘Well my girl, what are we going to do about it?’
‘I don't know, Miss Spencer. I just don’t know.’
‘I do. I bloody do if you don’t. Shift your arse girl. It’s breaktime. We’ll put the kettle on.’
They are off set, backstage, the objects of my obsession.
I hear them moving in the kitchen despite their being two floors below me. Their private lives communicating like Morse code, sending tiny shock waves through the structure of the hotel. They are my familiar but invisible forms defined by only noise and complex memory. My misshapes shifting. Lifting. Putting. Dragging. Gliding. Scraping.
Bubble babble chat. Shuffle and cough. Switch on. Switch off. And fart and laugh. And farting again.
Then laughing like drains.
Laughing like troubled water.
I get it all in surround sound, a virtual reality. It is an amalgamised effect of old plumbing, chimney breasts and 21st century surveillance equipment. Techie porn. You know how it is. You’ve got to spend your rotten spoils on something.
Don’t they know a watched pot never boils.
My storm in a Watford teacup’s hotting up nicely.
I’ve watched an unusual can of worms come on from stone cold to simmer. Nerve dead bits of me have stirred pleasurably, already begun to wriggle, as if another chance at real life beckons. You’ve seen nothing much but a small portion of the whole material.
I have sensed it all.
And I know what immense potential all this cultivated ordinariness has grown.
Its abject ugliness has enormous potential. The powerful potential of achieving great beauty.
Again, I hear them moving in the kitchen below me. Their perfumed lives like olfactory triggers swimming through the arterial system of the building. Give it time. Give it a tad more simmering.
In just a few more seconds I can run the cold tap on my hands, dampen my face and actually breathe them in. My caged creatures. I can breathe them deeply and, with that breathing, be with them briefly. It’s like rape in that intoxicating briefness. I will, I will know them more completely. It’s like I will have had them, done the deed, and been genitally, anally interlocked.
I will have my total knowledge of them.
It reminds me, somehow. Warm, moist, gabardine. Poole. July 1954.
Summer rainfall had come to punctuate the day with shelter episodes.
Old steam trains gave off a tangy smoke that smelled and tasted of hot irons. It lingered in the high pile velveteen and in the wood and the leather. And these carriages had rotting notes of soap and nicotine and brilliantine that must have mingled with the slough of sputum, skin and other spots of DNA. Blood and spunk. And, there besides, all the cast off crumbs, the specks of chocolate and jam and marmite. Slivers of lost blue cheese. A shard of citrus peel. And in the coal soaked air the residue of setting lotion, cheap perfume and sweat.
Then, signs of the seaside.
A happy bouquet of sand and salt and sugar. The dreamy drift of raw pine oil. Tarmacadam. Tram seats. Tea on the brew. Park grass. A bandstand’s brass. The clover’s honey dew.
Shit on my mum’s French navy suede shoe. Not new.
Light rain come smelling of thunder and lightning, factory breath and cemetery breath. Light rain making the fabrics spawn scents of secrets wet and warm. Chip vinegar in the litter by the bench. Dog’s wee. Stale beer. Fish.
The glass roof thick with guano and precipitation.
Ma guides my damp hair head to find the pillow of her ample breasts. Warm flesh breathing. Deep, sweet. Cotton and wool dried in her heat. Nylons the colour of foreign skin. Very extra special things.
The last of the lily of the valley perfume.
Ham. Mustard. Butter. Bread. The roar of a broken open hard boiled egg.
Short grey worsted shorts. The naked, scuffed knee smell of a boy. A boy in thrall to magic and tragedy.
A boy on the long road to picking flowers of evil.
‘Odours there are, fresh as a baby’s skin,
Mellow as oboes, green as meadow grass.’
Baudelaire, ‘Correspondences’, James McGowan (Trans), in Flowers Of Evil. Oxford.
Shelley’s stressed gullet is part ulcerous. Part stress. Part stress induced diet. Martine’s hot mouth is a hothouse for gingivitis. Ignorance, hotheadedness and forgetting. But they are friendly, intimate, as friends are. In and out of each other’s spit zone like lovers. United women.
What’s yours is almost mine, women. Viruses. Bacteria.
I’m lying down on the rearranged bed.
I hear the floral patterned glass fibre tray being laid.
How I see it is this, one star hotel quality china, chalk white with a maroon band. Chrome clad pots. Skimmed milk in a waxed carton. PG Tips pyramids, Canderel and Marks and Spencer’s regular sugar cubes. And my betting is on the bourbon cream imitations and those sickly gum pink wafers. They’ll be a recent Watford market purchase of broken biscuits passed their sell by date. They’ll smell of enforced intermingling and have early signs of mould. And I also sense, breast shaped chocolate marshmallows, fragile and in branded tin foil, the real McCoy- Tunnock’s of Uddington, Scotland. A school girl treat.
Shelley, as she has done for many years, will nibble irritatingly at the thin milk chocolate carapace, gradually revealing the soft white underbelly which she will then lick ever so slightly, making it quiver suggestively. And then, when you least expect it, she’ll hoover the disgusting blob into her mouth in one long suck, the mallow mammary reluctantly leaving the jammy biscuit base like a cockle prised from a rock. She’ll set the biscuit base down in deference to her latest diet. A gulp of tea followed by an indigestion tablet.
Waste not want not Martine, who does not miss a trick, will idly tidy the biscuit remnant away between dirty and disinterested teeth. If they were lesbians I’d say it was very David Lynch.
I’m a pushover for a good domestic cameo, me.
The new set up in the room works. Just as I planned.
Now I can lie for long lengths of time at full stretch on my front or my back, either way supporting my head with a pillow and, I will miss absolutely nothing.
So glad you could join me.
Back onstage again. Martine is talking up a hypothetical state of independence born out of a sense of self worth. In her own small way of course.
‘Go for promotion at work Shelley, I should. And have a marshmallow, they’re the real McCoy, Scottish. Set your tilt at Undermanager. Maybe even the Overseer. Why put a limit on yourself, bright girl like you. Lay a proper foundation for the future, Shell. Lesley won't be around for ever, you mark my words. He won’t be around forever with his two-ton truck of sequins and taffeta.’
‘He might be. Well he might be. I’ve got to take into consideration that he might be’
‘Do you want him to be, though Shell? That’s the thing.’
‘I might, see. And that’s it, Teen, I might very well want him to be around for ever. You know me. Sometimes I love a bit of theatre. It’s not unusual. You do. I love a bit of slapstick, a hairdo, false eyelashes and the dressing up. And you’re right. I am not without my own aspirations. In fact, I’ve not been entirely without aspirations in the drama department. RADA didn’t want me, but they’re not always the B all and end all. You go through that being special stage don’t you? Thinking God has plans to make you a star. You have real hopes of Hollywood. That Julie Walters, you know, the fab one, the one that still looks so bloody good we want to know her secret. You know, the northern bird who went from Educating Rita to Personal Services via Acorn Antiques. Married an ex policeman. Got her tits out for the film ‘Calendar Girls.’ Well, some days I'd give anything to be her. Some days, Martine, I'd just die to be that fucking normal and drop dead famous all at the same time. If I ever thought I had that kind of fate waiting for me as some kind of lottery winning outcome of going on, yes, going on as I am, living with Lesley, as he is, with all his faults, his little peccadilloes. I’d hang on, Martine. Oh, I would. I’d hang on like chewing gum to the soles of high heels. Besides, I might very well decide that it's far better screwing the devil you know than the devil you don't. After all, it could be worse, Martine. He could be gay. He could be having an affair. He could be shagging some clever bird at work, some gawky stork with brains for bosoms. Leastwise, what I've got, for better or worse, is better than nothing. It's still better than having nothing and no-one. I couldn't face it, Tina, not at my age, I couldn’t bloody face it, all that uncompromising nothing, all that lonely no-one, not again. That’s it, Teen. I find, life loses all its dubious charm when you've got no-one, when you’ve got zilch, zero everything, nothing but fucking sweet FA. And the thought of having sweet FA, Martine, well, it gives a sort of credence somehow to the most unlikely of circumstances. It even gives hope to my most unlikely of circumstances. He’s only a trainee transvestite, Tina. He’s learning, that’s all. When he qualifies, he might say- been there done that, now I want to learn to play golf. Why not Teen? Why shouldn’t he, besides all the shit, and behind the veil so to speak, in secret with me, inside our partnership, in the boudoir, why shouldn’t he have all the on screen credentials of a Sean Connery or a Jack Nicholson, the balls of a Matt Damon or a Colin Farrell? You answer me that, Martine. Yes. You just answer me that.'
The sticky mallow has been licked and sucked. Martine has yet to rifle the discarded base with it’s tempting trace of blood red jam. You can’t help but warm to the old tart. A few smoked salmon vol aux vents short of a buffet, she has no notion of how to answer Shelley’s delicious question. But wisdom she has. So, with no real understanding of Lesley’s libido, she elects not to reply, preferring instead to steer the conversation to what she sees as safer waters, to a favourite topic, the constancy of family ties, particularly family ties in a crisis and the ever increasing dependency of adult sized children.
Shelley has care of the airhead teenage Wendy.
Martine has a psychotic Harvey in his early twenties.
‘There's always your Wendy. She’s lovely, Shell, a lovely girl. That's family that is, real family. We do family, don’t we Shell. We do family in a big way. And Wendy, well, she's a proper permanent fixture that one. She’s company though, Shell. Kids usually are. How can anyone say they’ve got nothing when they’ve still got kids? And, it might seem strange and a little bit out of place for me to say it but, I can't for the life of me, see that one saving for a bottom drawer somehow. She’s there for you, Shell. She’s there for herself as well, but the point is she’s also there for you Shell. She is. And God would be proud. No, darling. If there's one thing I do know for definite, one thing I’m totally sure about kids, it's that once you've got the little bleeders, you've got 'em for life. You got them for as long as you live. Take my Harvey. Take my Harv- ooh! blimey! listen to me, Shell, I sound like the madam of an escort agency! There’s an idea. He needs a bloody job. Openings. Well, he does. But, serious now, seriously for a moment, take my Harvey, Shelley, can I get shot of him? Can I hell! And it's not for the want of trying, Shelley, it's not for the fucking want of trying. Well the army wouldn't have him. Did you ever hear of such a thing? The army being choosy! You’d hardly credit it, would you? Don't you just know there's not a bleedin’ war on. Get a war going, Shell, get a bloody war going and they'll take anything, anything, even transvestites. I know his problem, Shell. He’s my boy, Shell, ‘course I know his fucking problem. More tea. I’m having some. Too arsey, he was, Shell, too arsey if you ask my opinion, too arsey for his own good, too bloody arsey by half! God! My God alive. If they send him down, Shell, and they will, you mark my words. They'll send my boy down for a tidy stretch. More than six months they reckon. Just think of it, Shell, more than six wonderful months. It'll be like a surprise break for my Raymond and me, an unexpected holiday. I might even go so far as to contemplate another honeymoon.’
Now, I’ve met young Harvey before. You could say he was something of a lure. An essential nugget in the complicated bait to get me here. The surprising end square. I can live with that. Imagine his surprise when we eventually meet again. My God, which I have made in my own image, like yours, makes moves in mysterious ways.
At the time, I was on familiar ground, cruising to get my rocks off. He was sniffing alien territory, on the look. On the hunt, I thought, for something he had lost inside himself. Young men often do this, they cultivate a confusion of inner conflicts, to shield their fragile psyche from blame. They do what they are driven to do. They enjoy what they are driven to do but loathe the fruit and fault of it. Then they get to loathing themselves. But, it must be blissful for the likes of Harvey, knowing there is always a fallback position, one in which all the arguments hinge on some degree of diminished responsibility, one where blamelessness can and often does triumph. They’ve got this syndrome, that syndrome, every useful syndrome going. The little shits.
Cruel and criminal without responsibility.
They go underground, marry young and reproduce young and live in cloud cuckoo land believing that the tracker dogs of life will never sniff them out, and sink their fangs in the thin skins of their cover.
It’s a modern phenomenon, the greed for therapy. Don’t they know you do things and move on? Don’t they know there’s no erasing what’s been done? In the emerging tapestry of us the snakes will feature every bit as much as ladders. We are intended to be stitched up by every stitch we make.
If what we have done is abhorrent, so what, learn to live with it. And, you may well be an abomination but, double so what, you will have to learn to live with yourself. You will have to negotiate a way to live with others or be constantly lonely and uncared for.
Oh, fucking get on with it.
This life, whatever it is and it is not, you fucking chose it. You elected to ride it’s trials and tribulations on a Harley Davidson you bought in heaven. It is all down to you.
A dark space lit by not much more than the glow of fag ends.
I sit, unmoved.
The rest like a living Sydney Pollock, interlocking strokes of cloth and flesh, exchanging body fluids. I spot him, not yet on the canvas. A clean white tee shirt made electric blue, printed with the legend, Harvey. I think, hello Harvey, and follow his butt at a safe distance.
He visits the gents. I don’t. I’ve read Genet. My Edmund White.
The boy thinks this is the way to unlock the mysteries.
Sometime later, when he re-emerges, he looks somewhat aged, used. Imagine being sixteen going on thirty two. I smell his fresh confusion. It is rich with equal measures of triumph and regret, long notes of garlic, stale urine and fish, short bursts of poppers, a slight trace of bliss.
Dirty, dirty, nicotine.
A not uncommon abstract odour, the cry of wanting to be back home, under the duvet, clean and warm.
The stench of a small bridge, charred and smouldering.
Go back to the start you silly boy. Go the long way.
Daydream of throwing pairs of sixes, over and over.
Get on with it then. This vivid life, whatever it is and it is not, you fucking chose it. You elected to ride it’s trials and tribulations on that sensational Harley Davidson you somehow bought in heaven. God gave you the license.
It is all down to you.
‘It doesn't matter how old they get.’ says Martine, spouting from a well travelled roll of thought, ‘It doesn't matter a blind bit how bloody deep into trouble they swim, how bloody deep into debt they plunge, they never go away, kids. Being kids, they stay for life. They hang around you, screaming for the lifebelts. You give them bloody lifebelts. You give them inflatable water wings, any fucking thing that floats will do so long as it keeps their heads above water. We’re not mothers, we’re lifeguards. Baywatch, that’s what we are. But it traps us, Shell. It traps us in mantraps. It traps us because we never want to see them drown. Never. It's not unlike a prison sentence, that’s what it is. A prison sentence, in here, in the heart, deep inside the heart of you. It’s imprisoning. You can see the steel bars can’t you, Shell. You’d have to be blind not to see the fucking steel bars. What God awful crime did we commit eh, Shell? Whatever it is, we got sent down, Shell, and don’t we fucking know it. But, whatever did we do to deserve it?’
Shelley’s a little taken aback. She’s never been altogether happy being summarily lumped together with Martine’s particularly skewed view of motherhood. Wendy might not be Lesley’s, though he insists he loves her with a vengeance, but at least Shelley did give birth to her and, although no upbringing is without it’s various problems, her hat box of photographs, taken from day one to the present, is filled with hundreds of reasons to be joyful. Priceless snaps of captive happiness.
It must be a very strange experience, having to adopt a baby in the first place, but then to draw the short straw; to bring a supposedly innocent child into the vulnerable bosom of your family life only to watch it kick, scream and bite its way into intermittent bouts of Local Authority care and then youth custody, well, that’s not just unfortunate, that’s weird. And so, in a climate of close proximity weirdness, and struggling for anything sensible to say, she eventually settles for the obvious. ‘It's hurt you, Martine, hasn't it, all this parenting lark? I can tell. I mean, deeply it has, truly deeply. It’s got to your demeanour. I can see it has. It's hurt you deeper than you ever let on.’
‘Oh it has, Shell, it really has. It really, really has.’ Says Martine, beginning to conjure up a mixed bag of dark recollections, bitter-sweet misshapen things like Wembley market, Black Magic, reject chocolates. ‘He's hurt me, Shell. Harvey’s hurt me more than anyone would know and that includes my Raymond. My Raymond don’t know the half of it. I seldom let on you see. And even if I was to, he wouldn’t cotton on. It’s been my cross, Shelley- to borrow a much used Christianism. It’s been my albatross, darling, juggling the gravity with the levity. It's the difference, see, between my public and my private face. All small hoteliers are the same. Now, I'm not one to wear her grief on her sleeve. Never have been. I'm a performer, Shell, a former showgirl. What you might call a trouper. You know how it is in that business, every day's a new day, and with every new day there comes a spanking new audience. The show must go on, Shell, the show, for all its foibles, must go on. And that's what motivates me still, Shell. Greasepaint. The smell of greasepaint and tapshoes. I'll be lost, you know, in me head, hoovering the velour on the bar stools, turning the breakfast stained table cloths, teasing the serviettes into origami swans, and I’ll be listening to myself saying to myself, Shelley, here, inside myself, deep and secret. I’ll be saying to myself, the show must go on, girl. True. And the next thing is, I say smile, smile Martine Spencer, smile and the whole world smiles with you. Small hotels see, Shell, looked at in that way, they're magic, they’re pure theatre, they’re Disney for adults.’
She’d beamed at me when first I checked in.
Fingers on the crisp fifties like rats’ claws at a plate of thin sliced ham.
I detect a faint fart, a remembrance of spring in autumn, of the fusty odour seeping from bright acres of flowering rape.
The fixed grin beaming was not a light that in any way impressed the word Disney on my mind. She smelled of something darker even than that. A bucket seat in an underfunded privately owned cinema showing something close to the edge by Wim Wenders, maybe.
Martine still offloading, ‘You know how it is with adopted kids.’ Shell, ‘You always feel guilty somehow. In all ways. Every day. They do warn you about it, the adoption authorities. They warn you but it makes no difference. You feel inexplicably guilty, see, always feeling guilty because you're not their natural parents and so, there it is. Because you’re not their natural parents you over compensate. Oh, I went to all the talks, all the lectures. I read all about it as well. All those fucking self-help books in Watford library. I read, Shell, I read until my eyes bled. And it's true, you know. It is true what they say. You can read too much into things. And that’s parenting for you, always reading too much into things. It’s a job you need a degree of experience in Shell, you need a degree and Raymond and I had not so much as an eleven plus between the two of us. That’s parenting. It’s like the blind leading the blind. For a start, you work too damn hard at it. And then you invest too bloody much in it, particularly if it's just the one. Harvey was always going to be just the one, an only adoption. That’s how we planned it. Blindfold. Thank God we never doubled up, Shell. God alive, it doesn't bear thinking of. Two of the bastards! No stop! Imagine. Raymond would have left me long before now. He’d have fucking left me and I'd be in an early grave pushing up the daisies, venting my residual energies on the ordinary bellis perennis. They’d have to send someone to come and move me on, Shell. I’d be on TV as an unexplained phenomenon. There’d be Richard and Judy and me. They’d have to have me exorcised. Imagine that.’
I was visualising it and it all seemed horribly plausible.
Thinking that I might be dreaming rather than imagining, I had to pinch myself to check that I was awake.
Of course I was awake. My heart racing regardless of the murmur.
Deep breath. The lungs ingesting traces of sloughed skin and lavender oil.
It would be nigh on impossible to go to sleep through a Martine Spencer monologue, a Martine giving it maximum lip in full flood. It’s an innate talent she has. In full unexpurgated flood she can be as compelling as Shelley in tears or a six foot Beckham in a thong, a light frosting of fake perspiration adding to his natural glow.
‘I hated Harvey's drug pushing, Shell, hated it. Loathed it. Well, it scared me. It scared me rigid. It's the drugs I can't stand. Can’t stand the thought of fucking drugs. You expect the violence somehow. You do. Somehow the violence fits, see. Brutality, like it said on the TV Shell, raw brutality you can slot into a vision of urban existence but the drugs is something else. The drugs is dripping pain and running misery, Shell. Like I said, I read the lot. The lot. The whole lot, from AIDS leaflets to Last Exit To Brooklyn, to photocopies of actual blood curdling autopsy reports. It’s true. I read the lot. All of what there was to read in Watford and its satellite libraries. He never did anything with all that money, Shell. Gone, the fucking lot of it. Thousands of pounds. Tens of thousands of pounds. I lost count. You lose count. You do. It's such a crying waste of a life. It’s such a crying waste of an education in how to live your life. We were diligent role models, Shell, model business people, we never owed anybody anything, not a farthing piece. If we couldn't pay cash for something we bloody well learned to live without it. And we stayed together, Shell, we stayed together through thick and thin and we were caring, we were so very caring. And we were solvent. 'Course, Raymond wouldn't hit him, always refused to. Pacifist inclinations, you see, that’s what he has. He’s still got ‘em. In a war, Shell, given half the chance, he'd be a conscientious objector. He would. He's very principled is my Raymond. He'd prefer to shovel coal for his principles rather than stick one on the bleeding enemy. That was it, see. We were soft, Shell, too bloody soft by half. We were a soft touch, Shelley Davidson. But then who isn't? Who isn’t? Who isn't a soft touch where their kids are concerned. And, Christ, soft or not, look at the bloody thanks you get. I said, look at the thanks you get. I guess it's my Karma, that's what it is. It was always there in my godforsaken birthchart. You know. You know. It’s in there like a cancer- significant family disappointments. Significant fucking family disappointments! Well, just you think about that, Shell. It spooks me. Was there ever a truer star crossed forecast? Was there? And it’s the accuracy that kills me. Uncanny, that’s what that is. Unbelievably uncanny. It’s too Stephen King to get your head round. It’s too Stephen King by half. And, Shell, tell me sweetheart, was there ever a more painful prediction?’
She has a point.
She has a view from a point of alienation.
Too much of a bad thing and you’re left slinging accusatory looks in the direction of twelve rising signs, two nodes and umpteen ruling planets. And that’s the slippery slope to spell casting and psychic defence. Witchery.
Bouts of psycho drama.
It’s a bit of a last ditch act of desperation ‘cause there isn’t another belief system in the whole world that’s going to help you out, lady, not when you’re doubly fucked. Don’t you know, all the ‘Save Your Soul’ buses have been born again as sheet metal.
Fucked thrice? Left for dead? Forget it.
Don’t expect to dine with bishops if you’ve been in any way cruelly served by life. Hatted and mitred folks don’t do losers. Christ! They do lobster and fois gras for starters, relishing the association of pain and genital pleasure in food that fires their jaded taste buds. They do what they want.
Pope Paul 11 died whilst being sodomized by a page boy.
The reek of shit and burning censers.
Pope Paul 111 had more than 45,000 prostitutes in his employ.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
All the western theologies buckle under a mild attack of bad luck visited on their flock but if your shit should so much as multiply then you’ll stand accused of being a friend of Satan or some such demon regularly brought to the fore in situations such as yours. In the past you’d have to be very careful that the help that you so faithfully sought didn’t turn tail and denounce you for sleeping with the enemy- there being no goodly explanation for your tragic demise.
Instead of succour and protection you’d get strip searched by perverse hands, great fingers of faith feeling their way, intent on finding stray nipples or marks of meaning.
For drawing the short straw, you could be burned, or hung drawn and quartered as a matter of public spectacle. Shakespeare as a small boy, sat on someone’s broad shoulders, and might have seen your innocent inner-self flower in ribbons of Technicolor bowel. A growing poet drinking in the scents of the abattoir. The dreadful sight inviting the most beautiful of writing.
Even today, for being less than fortunate, you run the risk of being ostracised and, as a consequence, socially crippled, put out of the village loop, beyond any conceivable recovery.
Need in the 21st century has become contentious and ugly.
Imagine being fat and spotty.
By some media means or other, homelessness is thought to be not what it suggests.
Need is fashionably suspect and therefore required to be validated.
The validation, I have found, is very often at the discretion of nothing more than the inner circle of the local resident’s association. Moral inquisition is alive and well in Mannings Heath and Waltham Abbey, to name but two hotbeds, one of them a stone’s throw from the M25.
These stalwarts meddle.
These heroes of middle England peddle their paltry propaganda.
They know everything and nothing.
I am in the community again, but you wouldn’t know it.
I have been many things. And once I was a psychiatric care assistant, for want of a better cover, in a top security hospital north of Liverpool.
Everywhere was uniformly fawn. Prescriptively normal.
Everyone was bleached cream.
We were always on a knife edge, mere inches from a scream.
Two incurable killers come to mind.
One was six foot two, blonde, blue eyed with honey coloured skin. A son of old money and an Oxford education. In another reality he might have been Prime Ministerial material. In this one he defined a hunter hooked on power, play and pain. But he was unexpected. He had no ecclesiastical leanings.
Nothing in his perceived nature or any facet of his known nurture, in any way predicted him. But, just like a messiah, he could charm then do immense harm.
Date rape drugs. Duct tape. Sharp surgical instruments.
You do the graphics.
He collected wets, ovaries and testes post mortem. Let slip his DNA into the wounds which he then sutured neatly. Someone who takes a pride in his work.
At twenty six, a young lifer serving seven consecutive lives.
Musky, moist, the scent of Horse Chestnut candles.
The other patient, in his fifties, five foot four, and ginger.
You’d not forget a minger with a big dick framed by ginger pubes.
Dark freckles on his opaque skin like tea leaves on fine china.
A passion for nine inch penetrating pins like giant acupuncture needles.
A liking for butane burners intended for crème brulee.
Someone never to be freed.
Citrus and cucumber.
Lovers of convenience, they shared, courtesy of the crown, a lovely suite. Twin beds. A garden aspect, lounge area with books and magazines. Separate shower and WC. Sound system. DVD player. Digital TV. Contextual homosexuals practising safe sex on CCTV with an abundant supply of condoms, KY jelly. Endless time and opportunity.
I have seen the tapes, acquired a copy of the edited highlights. Choice.
In plain clothes, with minders in plain clothes, they’d stroll together through the dubious delights of Formby, their plainness making them invisible in the light rain. True. And they’d replenish their plain wardrobes in Oxfam and other charity shops, spending the rest of their pocket money on toasted teacakes and tea. And they’d be super realist smiley and so would you be.
You could so easily be taken in, exchanging mindless pleasantries, passing the time of day with them.
There’s validation, of a sort. Don’t blame yourself.
You with your wicker basket full of carrots, potato scones and a can of condensed milk, you could not know that you were the chosen one, that you were unwittingly witnessing the socially impossible. How could you be alive to it? Even your right wing tabloid never knew. It let you down.
You’re you. You could not know that they were gay. As good as.
You could not know that they were deadly.
You could not possibly know that we recently refused them access to membership of the National Front and other new Reich organisations.
What we were doing was waiting.
We were waiting for one of the formidable pair to kill the other.
Large bets were laid on the outcome.
We were not the first. A Las Vegas hospital suspended staff for betting when patients would die.
We will not be the last.
Someone’s son. That red haired one.
Some child mother’s memories of her pelvic bones softening, of how the room was Spartan and forgettable, the day he came nameless and unwanted into our world of questionable need.
Our nature cooked him.
We all booked him. The bible and the registrar.
Gave him like a cuckoo to another’s nest. Done. Done and dusted for the best. The dictates of the mysterious heavens working through our several deliberations by hook or by fucking crook.
In God we still trust. Just.
Aged seven, adept with his penknife and hatpins, he skinned a kitten alive.
Give him time. Give him time.
Shelley’s no fan of the social Semtex that is Harvey Spencer. Not at all. It makes the motherhood territory a minefield. But she tries to keep things even by airing her own daughter’s imperfections. There’s generous. There is, then, a sweet and sour unity in shared adversity. A certain blindness deriving from a measure of hysteria that is common to them both.
‘My Wendy's a Gemini, Martine, as you know, slap bang in the middle of the terrible twins. And most days you can never tell who you're talking to, is it this Wendy or is it that Wendy, the thin Wendy or the fat Wendy. The only thing she's ever stuck to is her karaoke, that and the habitual need to get laid by a total stranger every Saturday night. And that I don’t approve of. That I can’t approve of. It makes me wish that nothing was the least bit predictable about her. I keep thinking she’ll get bored. I would. You would. But not a bit of it. I’ve been subtle, Teen, and I’ve been dead obvious. I’ve told her before now that one cock is pretty much like another. She’s having none of it. Fuck off, she tells me. She’s into men, Teen, like them creeps into philately or train spotting. Seen one bloody diesel inter city, seen ‘em all, eh? That’s what I say. I said to her, you wouldn’t catch me licking the back of anything descended from a penny black without I’d checked out it was first class from the off. Proper first class mind. I don’t know. You bring ‘em up to be fussy to show discernment, that’s what hurts. I’ve tried , Teen. I have tried. And there she is, on a weekend, stuffing her face with seconds. It’s not a picture that I care to dwell on much. She's got a good voice on her though. I’ll give her that. It’s rocky, Teen, in a rocky range that stretches all of the way from raucous to a whisper. When she goes out on a Saturday she is Bette Midler. She’s the spitting image of her, all of the gob and all of the bottle, in all of the gear from her boobs to the booty. She came from next to nothing, that Miss Midler. There’s a role model. Well, it’s one heck of a hike to Broadway from cubing pineapples in Hawaii. And you’ve heard my Wendy, Teen. She’s no receptionist. And what does she care about hairdressing. She’s a star in the making, that’s what she is. You’ve seen her, God love her. Two vodkas and she’s lost it though, Teen. Three vodkas and she reverts to trailer trash. Trouser snake bait, that's what she becomes. In all honesty that’s what she is of a weekend, trouser snake bait. And dogged, persistent. You got to give her that. She won't give up, Teen, not 'till she's charmed a live one. Which, as we both know, is quite a specialist accomplishment for South Watford on a drunken Saturday night.’
‘And there’s me thinking she had a boyfriend, a steady fella. Harvey was asking and I, well, rightly or wrongly, that's what I told him, Shell. A certain Colin I said it was. I said it was him ‘cause that's who you said it was.’
‘Last week it was dubious Colin. This week it might still be the dubious Colin but I'm not entirely sure. Oh lord! This week, see, we have read all our girlie magazines. We have thrown all our alien laundry through the black hole of the washing machine. And we have spoken tearfully to our mum of absolutely no-one. But then, this week she's been going to Weightwatchers, Teen. She’s been eating bits of this and bits of that, and then chucking it up. She’s been totalling her points then chucking ‘em all up. God! How the hell should I know, Martine? She goes through long spells of changing boyfriends as often as I change my knickers. But you're right, Teen, it has been that Colin for some time. Or it was. Excepting the weekends of course. It always has to be someone different on the weekends. Colin, see, always had to work a lot on the weekends. Shifts, he said. I said to her, that's a nice and handy arrangement, ain’t that choice. That’s very bloody convenient, I told her. Nice one Wendy. Nice one.’
‘I never saw him, Shell, this Colin what ever 'is name was.’
But I did. Mmm. I really did.
As is my way, I clocked him, gasping in the mortuary car park. An untidy slouch, in a rush for a mid morning breath of fresh air. He smokes- the stupid cunt. That’s understandable in his line of work, but not at all to be desired. Friendly enough. Obliging. He gave me neat directions. A surprise Burberry cologne defeated by the reek of dead flesh and chemistry.
Wendy’s boyfriend Colin bears a remarkable resemblance to the older patient I spoke of previously. Formby. Aged fifty five. By any measure, off the scale dangerous. But Colin is in his early twenties. Harmless. Dead boring. Could it be that they are closely related? No it could not. That would be too much of a stretch.
‘You never missed anything.’ Shelley says, ‘Real streak o' bacon that one. One strong gust of wind and he'd be gone. Not her usual sort. Ginger with freckles and a funny smell he is. A loitering, hard to place smell, Teen. Not her usual sort at all.’
Martine unfolding an old agenda, ‘I like a girl who knows her own mind, Shell. And your Wendy seems to know what she wants, she does, and I like that. And she goes for it. I like that too. My Harvey could do worse, you know, Shell. A lot worse.’
Shelly’s been on this square before and is having none of it, ‘Colin is something of a catch though Teen. He works for a start. He works at the hospital. He's tapped into the might of the NHS, in permanent employment with prospects. He rents his own flat, Teen. He rents with a view to buying. He drives his own car. He has a road fund licence and comprehensive motor insurance. That's very good these days for someone who's only twenty three. He's twenty three, Teen and already on the rungs of ladders. He works earlies during the week and does both shifts all weekends. It's very good money, I believe. Well, it stands to reason. Besides compensating for the shifts, his wages have got to be commensurate with the socially destructive nature of the work. He plugs the dead bodies in the mortuary, Teen. Somebody's got to. It’s an art in some ways, that’s what he says. I used to think it was his aftershave until Wendy told me what he did. After I twigged what the odour was, I wasn't overly concerned. He might be a catch and a half but he was never going to catch on, Tina. Not permanently. Well, it was never forecast was it. It’s never been on the Tarot cards for me to have an undertaker as a son-in-law.’
Martine determined and in blinkers, does not stop for a breath, ‘She could really straighten him out, Shell, an experienced hand like her. A man needs proper piloting, Shell. She could make life wrinkle free for him. She could be the steadying, sexually fulfilling influence any young man needs.’
Shelley increasingly displeased, ‘Really? And who says? Exactly who is it who is saying this to me this time? Is it Madame Martine the clairvoyant by any chance or is it brow beaten Tina Bar Mitzvah the good Jewish mother? You know every bit as well as I do, Tina Spencer, it was never on my fucking cards to have a criminal in the family?’
Martine keen not to fight, not yet, ‘Yes. Criminal. Well I can't deny he's that. He's certainly criminally intended and he might even be borderline psychopathic, but he's handsome though, Shell. He’s handsome. You've got to give 'im that. He's as handsome as handsome comes, Shell. Firm. Close shaven. Have you ever seen a body like it. Have you ever in your life seen a body like it. Lean. Hard. Not in the least porky but beefy. Meaty, Shell. He's beefy and big with it. A proper eyeful. He's just the sort to have, I reckon. If you're going to have a sort at all that is, have one that's a proper eyeful. Get sorted. What do you think, Shell? Substantial. He's a young man of such obvious substance. Don't you tell me you haven't ever thought about it. Don't you tell me you haven't ever dreamed of troubling the duvet with a fine figure of a young man like him.’
Now. There’s a thought.
Shelley’s all set to fume, wired to ignite, but you can tell from the set of her shoulders that she’s promised herself not to lose control. If you’ve got any sense you don’t fall out with your friends on account of your kids. But, by the way that she lights up the snatched cigarette, you can see that she’s decided not to hide how she feels. A violent first inhalation followed by an intentionally slow outpouring of pale grey smoke.
‘He's handsome, Tina Spencer, I'll give him that. He’s hard, he’s handsome and he's very cute. And, by all accounts, he's hung like a porn star. But that's the easy bit, Teen, the look. The window dressing. And his look says it all. But it takes a lot more than a shag and a Badedas bath to be suitable marriage material. Oh for sure, he's got substance, I know that. The whole of bloody Watford knows that. Your Harvey's a man of substance all right, certain listed as bloody illegal and banned substances, as you very well know. Coke. Crack. Speed. Smack. And he's far too free with his fists. He's a regular charity of give away fat lips and broken noses. And one day he'll go too far, Martine. He will go too far. We both know that. We’ve chewed it over enough. One day, we very much suspect that he'll go the whole fucking hog and take up butchery as a hobby. Christ! The word is he's already apprenticed to it. And the other word is he was within a cat’s whisker of not being bailed. Do you know what that means- apprenticed to it and not bailed? And do you think, knowing what that means, you really think I'd let him cut his criminal way to my Wendy? Fuck me, Tina, the only thing he'll be cutting is the number of years that he's sent down for. He’s going to be doing bird, darling, regular in the cage who’s a pretty boy then bird. Single figures or double figures, that’s the burning question, Teen, that's the only bet worth taking round here.’
‘Oh well, darling, aren't we so high and bloody mighty all of a sudden.’ Martine, baited and beginning to lose it, is unsheathing knives, ‘And your Wendy, all of a sudden, she's had her long lost virginity returned to her I suppose. She's, all of a frigging sudden, got Carmelite nun written all over her I suppose. You think so. You bloody think so do ya! It's a good bet, round here, anytime of the bleeding year that's she's well up the spout and no idea who's shout it is, I suppose. And I suppose you know, Shell, she worked at that massage parlour, moonlighting from the hairdressers. Oh yes, she did, she really really did. She really did the business for fourteen whole nights. Really. Oral specialist, my Harvey said. My Harvey supplies the owners. She only packed it in to have her wisdom teeth taken out. You remember that, don't you. ‘Course you do. You gotta remember the day she had her wisdom teeth taken out. Well, it was no fucking loss was it? Wisdom! What fucking wisdom? She has no bloody common sense, Shell, let alone wisdom. What was she though, Shell? What was her role I wonder? Let’s think. Was she the Miss Midler- guaranteed hot and steamy, or was she the Betty Blowjob, or did they take her on for her shorthand, exemplary typing and administrative skills? Now. My Harvey, he's not bothered any which way. He says all that was yesterday. He can be very obliging, particularly in the sexual department. That's his saving grace you see, Shell, his moral broadmindedness. He's told me, many a time before now, what a blessing he thinks indifference is. What choice has he had, Shell. Like you keep fucking telling me, he's from the criminal persuasion, what avenue has he had but to be flexible and forgiving. He’s told me, Shell. He says he has to be anything and everything to anyone, as and when, all according to the guidelines of the prevailing context. Oh yes, clairvoyantly now, Shell, straight as a beam of light from the realm of spirit, I can see your only daughter marrying well above her station. Can I hell! Can you really see that happening with The Bangkok Massage Parlour slap bang wallop in the middle of her old CV. Kings Cross station, Shelley, that's her high pinnacle in life. I can see it looming now. She could do worse than my Harvey Spencer you know. You mark my words. She could do a lot worse, an awful lot worse.’
Delusional dream merchants with the parenting blues or deep psychoses. Both. Bad mummies. Bad mummies. Bad, bad dads.
Get an itsy bitsy kid and rid your pointless days of pointlessness.
Kid yourself on that you can do unconditional love.
Get stuck in.
Do all the ill conceived guiding. The moulding. The rearing. The blatant manipulating. The gilding of the less than perfect life damaged lilies.
It is heinous gene pool activity like you would not fucking believe.
See millions of misplaced expectations outwitted, outflanked by nature, the unexpected and the downright mysterious.
Have mad parental tantrums spun by griefs which are not complex griefs at all but merely simple disappointments. Plain reversals. The farce of family failure, from still-born aspiration to the deaths of immortal dynasties.
Do life threatening shit.
Rats and humans persistently shit in their nests and need to move on.
Only Americans believe you can be anything you want to be. It’s unbridled selfishness dressed up as drive.
The average American marriage lasts just under ten years.
The bare faced interferences.
The uses and the sick abuses.
The sad excuses.
How difficult is it really, not having the key things in life exactly the way that the god in you would like them?
Have loss, true loss. Have scars and be less afraid.
My good mother is dead. Violets. Wallflowers. Gold top milk. Chrysanths. Her going made a magnificent nothing. Now I have another, she is a good living substitute. Good in someways bad in others. Her bad health is frail, failing. How remarkable is that, strong minded woman like her- seven planets in her rising sign of Scorpio, one of them’s the sun, another is the moon. Someone who has stamped her feet when life won’t play her tune.
No daughter. No womb by proxy.
Five sons. One gaysexual. One bisexual. Two metrosexual.
And along came, surrogate me.
Lesley’s fertility challenged mother wanted a girl. A girl would seem less out of place with the already doted on Bichon Frise and its demanding schedule of daily bathing, powdering and clipping. White with a pink aura, Minnie went about her doggy business of eating, licking and shitting like a treasured piece of rococo animal topiary. Five star accommodation for her. A four poster pooch bed draped in white chiffon and highlit with clusters of pink silk rosebuds.
My research was starting to suggest a link between interior design and sexual anomalies. It might just be possible to link all forty nine variations of gender with forty nine different styles of living arrangements. I’d been years attempting to divine a suitable subject for a doctorate thesis and, hey presto, a semi detached in Croydon was suddenly delivering inspiration in shedloads.
Wall to wall, in every room except the kitchen and the bathroom, was the meanest nylon, Wilton effect carpeting in solid shades of either plum or cherry or orange. The entire scheme having been lifted from a full size replica of a macaw which graced the hallway on its gilt swing. When you are childless you travel. Hence the half, life-size wicker donkey with storage panniers stuffed with film magazines that graced the pearlized hearth in the lounge. And the bamboo themed wallpaper. And the commemorative ash trays. A crematorium urn full of Minnie. And the ceramic and gold leaf ‘age of elegance’ phone that celebrates mansions in Florida. The honeysuckled air. And in the toilet there were bronzed mirror tiles and a dozen framed portraits of Elvis. A tin leopard skin print waste bin. The down light, a small glass chandelier in an iridescent violet.
Opening my all terrain laptop, she believed that I was from the Local Authority Planning Department.
Leslie’s aged mother with the biggest peach hair, tan colour pancake face and blood red lips. A shocking lime green two piece velour leisure suit and turquoise trainers. And the long tortoiseshell holder and Sobranie cocktail cigarette that would shorten my stay.
She could have fitted in a line up of transgender suspects. Doreen or ‘Dreen’ Munroe, the fount of Lesley’s foibles. We loved her.
Lovely people like that, they just want a bit of plain honest to God company.
Then, like a journalist, you fuck their heads for information.
A winning smile, white lies that flatter and a few choice post-war reassurances, all together allowing me to steal whole megabytes of her burst memory.
Shelley, feeling the drink, self admonishing, letting the flash flood drain away, ‘Christ! Listen to us two, eh, two old north London slappers growing hours older by the bleeding minute. We need to take a grip, Teen. We need to take a deep breath and take a proper good grip. Look, it's bloody pointless us arguing over the children. It is, it’s pointless. They're both born survivors, Martine. They've survived so far. And they're both selfish enough to go on surviving. They'll do what they're going to do regardless. Whatever it is, whenever it is, bloody regardless! We mustn't ever fall out over the children, Tina, not ever, not over the kids or over the men in our lives. And we should agree, now, never to fall out over family, especially the men, else when they go, Teen, and they probably will go, Tina, we'll have nothing. We'll have lost each other and be finally left with no-one. I couldn't stand that. Could you? No. Well it ain’t going happen. We're superglued together you and me. Stuck fast like Siamese twins we are. After all these bleeding years, should it ever be deemed really necessary, it’ll take a whole busload of surgeons to separate us.’
After a burp. Martine, half cut, keen to capitulate, ‘You're so bloody right, my darling girl. My very very good girl. Have another drink why don’t we. Yes, Shell. We don't have to fall out like dozy tarts do we. Tell you what. Have ourselves another fag, that’s what. Kids. Fuck 'em! Here's to friendship, Shell. Here’s to friendship.’
I am back at the window. Put in soft focus by the sheer nylon, large grey birds like rising smoke lift off the traffic jam of grey roofs and disperse.
There is true smoke in the view. No joke smoke.
I once painted smoke.
I drew smoke in grey-blue pastel on sheets of grey tissue. I burned the tissues in a grey glass dish. I ground the ash. I bound the ash with an acrylic medium. Then I painted with this gloop on a large sheet of white paper. Smoke.
We react to smoke as quickly as we do to the sound of a baby crying. Doesn’t matter whose baby. Doesn’t matter whose fire.
A woman cries rape. She might as well be pissing into the wind.
Cry fire. Always cry fire. Cry fire like a baby cries.
I can smell the mounting danger.
Then my expectancy is sliced by the sudden onset of insistent ringing. A small magic box of chrome and light, crying like a bird on fire.
Martine poking the ‘live’ mobile phone with the same suspicion that she shows in lifts eventually begins to shout as if she believes the effort is required. ‘Yes. Yes of course it's me. All right!’
She lowers her voice to Shelley, ‘It's Raymond.’
Shouts at the mobile again, ‘No I'm outside. Outside in the garden. I don't know. I can’t. There’s a background noise, Raymond, it just makes me holler. It forces me to shout. It must be the traffic. Shelley's here. Yes. When. Oh Raymond! You promised me, Raymond. I was going to do a very big cauliflower cheese. And I've already defrosted the profiteroles. No. No no. No. I've got that meeting at eight. The meeting about the talent contest we've been planning, the karaoke whatsit. No. No. Yes. I'll go to bed straight after that. I'll be fast asleep when you get home. Bye.’
‘That was Raymond, Shell. The bastard. Oh, I told him you was here. It's just like I was saying before, Shell, he can be very fickle with his diary, his day to day commitments. Sometimes I despair of ever having a family life. God, is it any wonder I found my psychic powers. Where would I be, Shell, without my predilections, my planetary aspects, my predictions and my perceptions? You know where I’d be, don’t you Shell? Like all the other buggers, I'd be up that bloody lifeless shopping centre flashing the concertina of plastic, that's what. He better not push me too hard, Shell. Well, it's never been easy. It’s never been easy living with a frustrated ventriloquist. I can only go so far. I only ever go so far Shell, then it's goodbye to the mousy suburban housewife seer and guru and hello to the flash Dallas bitch from hell. Hold on to your plastic, darling, it's meltdown time. If they're Jewish, Shell, hit 'em in the wallet. Hit 'em in the pig skin, Shell, and they can't fall into line fast enough. That’s men for you. That’s men alright. They're the first to tell you that a knife in the soft belly of their personal bank account is a far far greater pain than castration would ever be. I know my Raymond, Shell. Give Raymond the choice, Shell, the shiny gold bars or the lack lustre gonads and he'd, just like that, quick as a tit in winter, whistle goodbye to his bollocks, Shell. He would. He’d shout shalom and good riddance at his diminishing masculine assets.’
They’ve not noticed the small vertical plume of blue black.
Meanwhile I find myself absentmindedly checking my testicles, like a nervous Mussolini.
Shelley, looking a bit queasy, ‘If I look a bit queasy, Teen, it's because I'm not very good with verbalised notions of castration, not with my Lesley the way he is at present, him being so very vulnerable with his general direction. I mean, Teen, that could be our future that, him binning his ball bag. It’s an extremely extreme makeover, that. Lord, the big chop, it might be hanging over us like a sword of Damocles. No cock, Teen. No cock. And then what? I go there in my mind and it quite turns my stomach, that and tripe. Tripe has always had exactly the same effect. It's weird, Teen. Tripe, see, has an awful lot of give in it. You need huge amounts of flexibility for a successful vagina construction. It's rubbery, tripe, with almost a three way stretch, quite like a scrotum really, so I guess that explains it. Well, the truth is that any meat with long straggly hairs on gives me the colly wobbles, Martine. It always has. Always will. Pig skin? Do me a favour. And I’ve not plucked anything, never. Never been inclined to. Skinless, that’s the one. I might have been a total vegetarian were it not for the skinless option. Where did he say he was then, your reliable Raymond? What did he say he was doing then, so as he had an excuse to be late?’
‘He didn't say, Shell. Leastwise he did say but he didn’t. And, do you know what, like a flash, I knew straight away that he was lying, Shell. Right away. No messing. What a bastard. Lying, Shell. Lying, after all these years. After all these years he's suddenly started lying to me. Now, I wonder what could have brought that on? Secrecy? Sudden onset insecurity? Impotency? That's it, isn’t it? That’s the downside of clairvoyance, Shell, you very often know the truth, so you’re bound to know when someone is lying.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘Me? Do? Oh, I'll probably hire a private detective and hit the bloody plastic.’
‘Where do you buy them lambing shears, Shell? Hows about a couple of house bricks? Do they sell cheese wire in that Harlequin Centre? Oh, listen to me though. I am so very wicked. Oh I wish! I wish, Shell! How I bloody wish!’
I feel under attack.
The women’s unrestrained laughter exploding like bursts of small arms fire. In this din I can hear, less hidden, an ancient and modern derision. A profound lack of respect widening the gender divide at every spit and splutter. This is forbidden meat. The backyard air awash with sudden blood lust.
Are men pigs? Are pigs unclean?
In a screaming, drug fuelled trance the Roman man who would be less than man, would have rattled through a crowded Rome street. Naked. His eyes bulging like an animal’s exposed to fire. In his sword hand, his slicing sword. And in his other, his precious testicles, not yet detached. And driven by false faith and false promise he becomes the local spectacle, hacking through his scrotal sack just like vermin, for survival, chew through trapped and broken limbs.
The mortality rate was higher than one in four.
Wagers were made. Blood loss. Septicaemia.
For something as valuable as eunuchs, the wastage was considered intolerable.
Financial inducements have made us so inventive.
Ever alive to market forces, some Roman jeweller devises a contraption of hinged metal rings with pins that grab and two integral knife slots for the blades that stab and slice. More efficient. Nice.
We still circumcise for no more sense than faith. We still must interfere, making perfect that which was made, in God’s image, less than perfect. Making the babies of faith cry out in untold pain, a pain unable to be diffused by the new-born nervous system.
A pain whose echo will reverberate in persisting nightmares of castration.
When will they come and finish the job mama?
Martine who still believes in the mutilation of boy babies, is still engaging in the old routine of being at war with men, ‘Your Lesley's a good Jewish boy at heart, Shell. I can see that. This vivid little hobby of his, it's only a temporary aberration, you see if I'm not right. It’s just a mild flirtation with fame and femininity. That’s what it is. You'll see. Aberrations take a lot of looking after, Shell. In the end people just don’t have the stamina for them. They get out of ‘em exhausted and straight away book themselves into The Priory. Reinvigorated, they get born again, Shell. It’s not unlike recovering from a virus. Call it a bit of a wobbly. I would. It’s much easier to forgive, a wobbly. A wobbly is altogether much easier to forget. Once, darling, when we were courting. We'd been courting eighteen months. I noticed that Ray was a little bit that way inclined himself. You know. Mildly swervacious, I supposed. He was getting a tad too heavy on the talcum powder, powdering all his creases, putting perfumigated talc up the crack of his bum. And he was smelling like a polecat of that Hungarian Water. I thought it was another woman. Well you would do at first. But no. What do you think it was? It was Bridge. That’s what it was. Bloody up market Whist. It was Bridge, Shell, an all male Bridge Club, very exclusive, men only with an occasional cabaret. Strippers he said. I saw one of them- drag artists more like! I put an immediate stop to that, Shell. Nipped it in the bud right away. Perversions- I wasn’t having any of it. You've got to be razor sharp if you want a relationship, Shell, a proper family relationship. And you need a proper family relationship to stand any chance at all of having a life of your own. They're men, Shelley, men. And because they’re men they need perpetual guidance. They might not know it at the time, but what they really need is astrological guidance and telling what’s what, kosher fortune telling hot from The Kabbala. They need moral structure and all our divine feminine insights, Shelley. Oh yes, the rogue male of the species has always needed a firm hand, a very firm hand indeed. They'll thank you for it in the end. It’s true. They will. If you've got the patience to wait that long, Shell, they will thank you in the end. Oh yes. My Raymond has a great deal to thank me for, a very great deal.’
At last. Martine has noticed the increasingly intrusive smoke which, by now, is fairly billowing from the backyard of the Bangkok.
‘Look at that, Shell. No. Take a whiff of that. Fuck me! They must be burning some waste bins of rubber rubbish at the Bangkok. The mind boggles. Dirty cows. What do you think that is then, towels too soiled to launder? Don't they know we're taking in the sun here. What on earth are they incinerating? God, Shell, I dread to think! ‘Course, it's too bloody much to hope for I suppose, the greening of prostitution. It’s hardly what you might call an enterprise with a conscience. It's ridiculous. What do they care about the community? I mean all the community, Shell, not just half the community, the half that’s stuffed full of women hating dickheads. And, whoever heard of an eco-friendly call girl? What are the chances of any of them having green fingers, eh Shell? Gangrene fingers, that’s what they’ll have. Gangrene fingers from scrubbing their hands so much. It’s the bane of a scrubber’s existence, Shell. You use your hands, then it stands to reason you got to scrub ‘em. If that was me, Shell, I’d scrub ‘em ‘till they were bleeding. I’d want time for them to heal before I laid hands on anyone else. That’s their trouble though, Shell. A never ending supply of punters. No time to feel. No time to heal. The poor bitches.’
I don’t do crones. I might have to do her in.
Searing emotional sunburn.
She wasn’t ever on my list but now she fucking is. Bitch.
Welcome to my world number six.
It’s going to be a bit of a crowded houseful. Not a problem. I won’t be short of the required rooms. Not exactly. Not here.
I’m beginning to plan an end game for the newly dispensable Martine Spencer. She’s always so fucking sure she’s right when she’s wrong. She’s so uptight and righteous.
She needs tying expertly, tightly to a stiff chair.
Needs gagging. Needs teaching.
Needs having her old head shaved.
Wave goodbye to your princess hair, darling.
My turn to choose the video clips.
Watch the pictures I’ll choose for you and weep.
Completely innocent of any change in her fate, the neo-fascist, come new age, Jewish mother Martine suddenly segues into the safe haven of suburban horticulturism, ‘Look at these generous Geraniums, Shell. I think I'd die if I couldn't ever have blood red in the garden, you can't ever have enough red, not in a town garden. It goes so well with green. And you can never have enough green in a town garden. And look at this one, darling, salmon pink, a late second flush of the scented Nicotianas- Jolly Jester Raymond said the variety was. It's got a certain ring about it, hasn't it- Jolly Jester. It always puts me in mind of the Duke of Wessex, as he is now, in that Jeux Sans Frontieres. And the Fuschias, Shell, look, look at my fantastical Fuschias, they've all got lovely names. They've all got the most cute little names like Tinkerbell and Prima Ballerina. Oh. It's another world isn't it, the thoroughly weeded world of the flower fairies? I think so.’
Spread thick kitsch. A joy to the ears of a collector.
Then she neatly dovetails back into the dark heart of her discourse, ‘And Raymond knows full well, you know. He knows, Shell, and Raymond thanks me, in his own Rayish way, with this trim garden. Everything in it’s place, behaving itself, doing its thing as promised on the packet. Not a spot of rust or mould. Nothing ungainly or unsightly. Not here. No. Never. He wouldn’t dare. Oh yes, my Raymond knows when he's well off. Men do, Shell. Men usually do. They might be proper pricks at times but they’re not all complete fools. Our jobs, as women, Shell, is to persuade them to make the necessary sacrifices. We have to persuade them to make the necessary sacrifices in such very subtle ways that they haven't the slightest notion that they've ever made any sacrifices in the first place. No. No. That’s not me. That’s not my homespun philosophy. That's Barbara Cartland, Shell, pure unadulterated Barbara Cartland, and I make no apology for it.’
Barbara Cartland, the heart chakra terrorist, you mean, Martine.
Maybe men are fools.
Maybe the majority of us are overgrown boys in constant pursuit of motherly approval. Nothing more demanding than praise will be needed to get their tails wagging. Get them young and you’ll be able to teach them all manner of tricks. How to beg. How to give head.
Fill their tummies, then tickle their fancies. Not much more is required to keep a man to heel. Well, Raymond, you sap, if what she says of you, were true of me, I would seek immediate therapy.
We want proper climactic sex. None of this pathetic servility to myths of gentlemanly service. No prescribed foreplay. No more submission to the role of jumped up dildo. Men are substantially more than diminutively breasted women with strap ons.
Come on ladies, stop shaving the armpits, fuck the lippie, give it some bicep. Masturbate him with a manly grip. Go for it. Sink your moist thumb up his bum. Suck his glans like a man would. Swallow. Let him do all the screaming. Give him multiple orgasms. Do these insignificant things well enough and you will stand a fair chance of having a friend for life.
Maybe men are not fools.
Maybe these kow-towing men of Martine’s utopia, the bored men, the hen pecked men, are feigning co-operation. Could they be fiendishly playing at being hoodwinked? Face it, anyone accomplished enough to lie about being in love would not find it difficult to lie about much else. And does your paramour love you really? Maybe they have a totally separate life, a life kept secret from you and the gene pool.
What do any of us know about each other really?
Exactly. And, what do I intend?
It could be control.
Control is the grail of the new millennium.
Shelley has quietly thought through the matter of control but is still afraid her manipulatory skills might not be up to the tough job that Lesley presents, ‘These subtle persuasions, Teen. What if you can't pull it off? What if you don't manage it? What happens to me if I fail?’
Martine, perceptibly flinching, ‘Well, that's different, Shelley. That's very different. Complicated. A quite unsettling kettle of fish. You're teetering on Cosmopolitan territory there, Shell. That's a different matter all together. It's altogether quite another ball game. You're nowhere near that, darling. No. That's crisis point, girl. You're talking counselling and Prozac and gaining weight there. That’s not you, dear, not by a mile. Belief in yourself, Shelley. That’s all that’s required. Self belief, Shell, well it’s virtually a religion in it’s own right. He’s hardly going to deny you the freedom to worship in the church of your chosen religion.’
‘Well, to be honest, the last time Lesley and I spoke about it, he said he wanted to make it a religion. He wants to spend every forthcoming weekend, twenty four hours a day in total female garb, completely, to all intents and purposes, Tina, being as far as he can make it, a complete woman. A complete woman, I ask you. Would you credit the gall of it? That Barbara Streisand might very well sue you, I told him, she might sue you for unfair impersonation and character deformation. He said, like a shot, no hesitation whatsoever- he said his future in life and in show business depended on that high level of commitment. And in any case, he said, how else do you complete the hatching of a hybrid like an Eddie Izzard or a Lilly Savage. I said what about your teaching career. He said he'd already had a word with his headmaster. He said, Tina, that he’d already had a word with his headmaster. Yes. Yes. And there’s more. Between them they were engineering some sort of a fake nervous breakdown and the taking of early retirement on medical grounds. Wait. Wait for it. Well, it transpires that his headmaster cross-dresses on the weekend. He cross dresses on the bleeding weekend to relieve stress. What a small world. Very cosy, I thought, that’s very co-educational. Though, I have to admit, they might have a point, Teen, teaching can be very stressful. Lesley’s always stressed. Lesley says to me how it was a very well known fact that cross-dressing can be very relieving. I thought, that's handy, ain’t that fine and fucking dandy. How fucking appropriate for him. I mean, well, he's not alone is he, Teen, craving a little sensual relief on the weekends. You know me, Martine. I am only human. God knows, when all is said and done, I am only human. Like the rest of us I need respite from the workplace, Teen. I need some form of genuine escape from that bloody perfumery. By Friday afternoons, Teen, my nose has just about had it. I said to him, I hear you, I do. I hear you Lesley, but listen, this thing cuts both ways. What's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Then he said it. He said it like he always knew it was a killer blow. Lesley said the headmaster said, go for it, apparently. He said, if only he was ten years younger he'd be doing the self same thing. I was shocked. Well, I thought it was a calling, teaching, like being drawn to the priesthood. How wrong was I eh? So there’s Lesley, silent, all out of things to say, so I just out with it. I said, well fuck me Lesley! Fuck me while you’re at it in your chiffon scarves and high heels. I know I shouldn't have, but I was speechless, Martine, dumbstruck. I had absolutely no idea the condition was so widespread. It's in all ranks, Tina, rearing its confusing head in all walks of life. All ages and all walks. All I could manage to get out of my soft gob was fuck me!’
‘Shush! My God alive!’ Martine shrieks in too many decibels, thrilled to be shocked and hungry for more, ‘Such words. Such passion. Whatever happened to Real Ale and Football?’
‘Well, Teen, it's funny you should mention football. My Lesley said that his first ever memory of wanting to be dressed as a girl was of this one particular time when his school forced him, in spite of his being obviously ill, to strip off and play five-a-side football. They wouldn’t have done that to a girl his age. Never. Girls didn’t play football then, they wouldn’t have been allowed. Anyway, the short of it is, they forced him to run and kick a ball around when he had this grumbling appendix, a genuine grumbling appendix this was. Munroe, it'll make a man of you, they screamed at him. How wrong could they have been, Tina? How wrong could they have been? Although of course he still insists that he still is, a man. I mean, a fully erectile, red blooded, totally heterosexual man. Yes. It's true, Teen. He still thinks he's all man. How wrong could they have bloody been, eh? Men can be such arseholes.’
Of course. Ask anyone who’s worked in A&E or the music industry.
Mobile phones trilling through the lower bowel.
The urban fable of the traffic cones.
We have all of us been sphincters when it suited.
Worst kept secret of the twentieth century, the widespread, cross cultural, multi gender utilisation of the rectum as a plaything. Then there’s its reported use as a pretty successful method of contraception. Then there’s its use as the hole of choice in those cultures where sexually active girls would, nevertheless, like to be virgins on the day they marry.
Flowers of blood and evil, spotting the virginal cotton sheeting.
Then there’s the markedly homophobic Jamaican social structure in which the men shy away from their women’s genitalia and habitually make love to them via the more attractive, as they say, back door. That is, until they are trained differently.
Behaviourists would argue that behaviour is a matter of schooling.
All this before so much as a mention of the English disease.
I should not be telling you this, but it is a fact that, in the entirety of my schooldays, from aged four to aged eighteen, all my rewards came from father figures, all my punishments derived from the emotional bent of mother figures. I have searched the data in the genuine hope of finding any contradictory evidence but there is none. I should not be telling you this because now you will imagine that this is something for you to understand. And that this understanding will draw you closer to a point of knowing me. Some chance.
The chances are you probably don’t even know yourself.
I was always too correct.
I was too polite. It did not fit the model.
You could not smell so much as a slight whiff of the animal about me.
Maybe the schoolmistresses read my monstrous mind.
Early in the juvenile manuscript they would have understood that I would not be entertaining Freudian fantasies about them, that I had no subconscious desire to first screw my mother then have her bring me to book and a second orgasm with elaborate restraints and whips.
I was more inclined to want my schoolmaster fathers to enfold me in chest hair and urgency. They could take me to war with them. This was England in the swinging sixties. It never happened. Not for me.
Schooldays. Best days. Games without a vest days.
Ways of imagining getting laid.
It’s a heady mixture- boys and girls, their soft brains struggling to mature, their adult bodies screaming to engage in what nature intended senses for. All this and the scents of summer. Wild flowers on the banks of an abandoned railway cutting. The sweet wine of it irresistible. Intoxicating.
Out of bounds, the more compelling in our minds.
Quite a spot to look and learn.
Boy Aaron. 14. Cut. Cut flowers in his curling pubic hair.
By Greek rule of thumb a man. A mutilated man.
The avid girlies at him like bent tailors, with firm measuring tape and brazen admiration.
Frankness. No deluded modesty.
A three-way fuck. Then the distant bell. Then double French.
The clever Martine, busily exercising her right to be ignorant and flagrantly prejudiced, ‘Well, that's schools for you Teen. I’m a properly self educated person as you know. But, bugger it, here is the opinion of a self made person. The private sector, nothing but hotbeds of things too exotic for our climate. Sodomites. That’s the word. And the public sector, nothing but cheap thrills. Thorpe Park Comprehensive. There’s a lesson in bloody long queues with only short bursts of excitement at the end of them. Life, Shell, that’s the best teacher. Always was, always will be. Did he ever have it out, that appendix?’
‘Oh yes. Lesley had the op, he has no vestige of an appendix now. I just hope to God he still wants to hang on to his penis. It’s not like his dick is grumbling or anything. Still, if he does make it, Teen. If he ever makes it to the top of the bill at the Palladium, say, just think. I mean it's not going to harm my chances of a stage career, is it? And it's what I've always wanted, Tina. I’ve craved a career on the stage, acting, dancing. Craved with honest to God craving. That's the truth, the honest truth, Teen. It is. Well, the truth is I've been dying for fame for as long as I can remember. I suppose I've been dying for fame ever since I was voted Miss St Albans Young Farmers. And the fact remains, I have been dying for fame for a lot longer than I've been living with Lesley. So, do you know what I think? I think, well, you bloody well scratch my back Lesley Munroe and I'll be there for you when it matters. I'll be there to lather up and shave yours to a right baby’s bum. You see if I don’t. I'll be there to watch over it. Every last vulnerable inch of it. And I'll be there to pull the knives out. And there will be knives. The knives always start flying when you get famous, Teen. When you're famous it seems that the whole world and their starving dark side wants their pound of flesh. First you get the knives then you get the forks. Well, you always said I had a glittering future, Martine. Maybe it was the glittering sequins you saw, darling, the glittering Geranium red sequins and the pulsing neons and the endless strings of sparkling diamante.’
The thickening smoke is making it look like the mediocre weather has taken an exciting turn for the worse. The signs are dark. Their tidings menacing. Ugly, fire associated odours have begun to loiter like a gang of unwashed gatecrashers. Burning rubber and plastic, foam and polystyrene, meat and vegetables, they are never the most welcome of guests to our nasal passages, but they do serve to alert us.
We react. We sniff deeper.
We map fall back plans.
Martine, suddenly abandoning her indifference, ‘This is getting beyond a joke, this. We should get the hell out of all this damned smoke, Shell. This air’s gone carcinogenic. What do you think? Right. Great minds think alike. I'll bloody die if I have to wash my bleeding hair again. I will. We've got to do something.’
‘But what if we miss something, Teen. Christ! The old Bangkok burning to the ground, tarts in the arms of firemen, it’s not an everyday occurrence. That's just got to be worth a look. We’re front row of the stalls here. How about that little back bedroom of yours?’
‘Oh Shell, buggeration, I’ve almost told you once or twice already. I let it earlier in the week to a night worker for the Home Office. That’s what he said he was. Paid cash for seven nights in advance. Nice man. You know, instantly, the ones that are no trouble. He's on data gathering this week. Missing persons in Hertfordshire. He's a psychic as it happens. That’s what he said. Sees through walls. The lot. He's up there now having his kip I shouldn’t wonder. How about your Lesley's shed, Shell? There’s shelter in there with views to the back. Well, now’s your chance. You've been promising me a secret look. You’ve promised and you’ve promised. And now we could kill two birds with one stone. Why don't we? Come on, Shell. Why the devil not!’
‘Oh, alright then. Yes! Bloody good idea. Why ever not? We've got at least two hours before he's home. Let's do it. I’ve got the emergency key. Wooden structure, see, stuffed full of inflammables. But no cigarettes right. No fags whatsoever, else the fire brigade might get themselves double booked.’
‘Look at it, Shell. There’s more smoke than building. That’s serious, girl. I know serious shit when I see it. And that's smoke’s got a peculiar reek to it. Very unusual. You know what that stench is, Shell. That's condoms and credit cards that’s what I reckon that is. That’s their whole stock of condoms and duplicate credit cards. Business must be booming. Bloody marvellous! Where’s the emergency services. There’ll be firemen, Shell. Bound to be. Watford’s finest. I could do with a nice young fireman to get the leaves hoicked out of my guttering.’
Impressionist figures in great haste, an intermittent blurring in the Bangkok.
Rooms rank with sex and loathing being left to cope.
My guess it’s a kitchen fire insinuating up.
Fingers of flaming chip fat getting a grip.
‘Well it's not going to be us, phoning the emergency services, Teen. Oh no. No way. Not me. I couldn't ever get to sleep at night if I thought that I'd missed out on a once in a lifetime chance of watching that godforsaken place burn to the ground.’
She opens the plain door to Lesley’s elaborate den.
Martine enters being immediately swallowed by the darkness.
Shelley, struggles for the mains switch then finally succeeds, ‘Voila, Martine! It's showtime!’
Martine, utterly gobsmacked, is on rare and unsettling territory, her being totally lost for words.
The shed door closes.
Reviled bimbos begin gathering in the street like this is a moral Armageddon come to strip them of all dignity. Night girls file out in the daylight being bleached and bleak. God love them. In another, less censorious age they would be worshipped, loved and ritually perfumed. Fucked but never fucked up, graced and humoured. Christ’s stress alleviating toy of choice.
The street authorities may very well impound them like so many stray cows or clamped cars.
Their Bangkok temple is no temple. There is no set creed but greed.
All gay nights once a month. Packed out because of the need.
‘Course I have. You would.
Just to reconnoitre.
Impossible to resist going, just to look and learn.
So, my gay night in the building that is presently burning.
A small windowless entrance hall, sir, papered in gold metallic. Smells of chlorine and Safari by Ralph Lauren. A booth like a small post office or a seedy cinema. A languid boy framed by banks of grey towelling. A till, miss. An array of witnessing keys on ankle sized bands.
How am I doing? Praise me, please.
I give the jaded youth my money and a false name. In return I get a key, two laundered towels and a half smile. I see him immediately forget me. Unlike Beckham or Simon Rattle, I have a forgettable face. Through the door marked ‘enter’ I descend down mean stairs to an open plan locker room. Armpit. Arse. Footballer’s crotch and feet. The complete pot pourri to undress in.
Naked, I shower with naked strangers.
In the froth of the Jacuzzi a straying limb or sea snake with a mouth like an anemone ensnares my flaccid and disinterested cock. The limb pretty soon fucks off, its driver handling the implied insult like a jilted girl.
The shadows flickering on the low sofas in the TV room are in unison, on porn watch. My eyes like an interloping moth’s get drawn to the oblong light. Bright Californian sunshine, lighting on the bronze of pool boys taking a break from skimming off the dead flies. Cute bodies. Cut cocks. Buckets of cum in L.A. Noises off, like the foraging of forest creatures, piercing the softly furnished gloom.
In the pea-souper steam room there’s a comical knot of pot bellied ghosts playing twister. No holds banned. No holes barred.
After my massage, a massage without extras, I rest in a rest room, my eyes in a Virgin Air flight mask.
I am half asleep. The closed door opens. I don’t move a major muscle.
I decide he can be whosoever I want him to be.
Beckham’s mouth making me rigid.
Beckham making me spend blindly like I can really afford to.
Watford’s sick air, in the small hours smelling of piss and emptiness. The post climactic sense of regret still clinging to me in the wet.
I remember an old memory of the very first blot on my copy book.
Dirty little sod.
Loveless words, miss.
Hard to forget.
A florescent blue machine in the mini cab office zapping the overpopulated low life- blue bottles and fruit flies, unseasonal, encouraged by heat and meat..
No lamb kebab for me.
( 86 pages, 22,312 words.)
Extract from the novel LIVING WITH LESLEY DYING FOR FAME
Copyright Chris Madoch 2013. All Rights Reserved.