Tag Archives: FLASHFICTION

DEDICATION?

12 Sep

 

RUN FOREST RUN……

Masseur Invades Game, Avoids Crucial Goal And Qualifies His Football Team In Brazil (HD)

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ART FOR ART’S SAKE

10 Aug

             

 

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“The first time I ever laid eyes on him was at the night school down the High Street. I was modeling for an art class and he was obviously there to improve or better whatever talent it was he supposedly had. I’d never done it before, the money was good and well, you only live once don’t you? They’ve got all sorts of people they use as models, funny when you think about it. When you see an advertisement in the paper for nude modeling you’d think that only the perfect bodies would apply but that simply isn’t the case. All kinds of shapes and sizes, people from all walks — makes you wonder what the attraction is? Personally I needed the cash — that was my excuse. Obviously exhibitionism springs to mind but when your way past you prime and your knickers would house a troop of boy scouts on a Dartmoor camping expedition that doesn’t seem likely does it? What did they have to gain by standing in a drafty old classroom with clanking radiators and poor central heating in their where-with-all, in the buff, in the nude.

I received a telephone call a couple of days after applying to the advertisement in the Press.

“Wanted.

Models for the School of Art.

Two nights a week, travel and time will be reimbursed.

Call Professor Pinkney. (York 55724)

 

 The telephone interview had been fine, all the usual questions. Did I realize that I would be posing for nude portraits and body imagery?

Yes I said.

Was I comfortable standing in front of strangers for a couple of hours?

Yes I said.

Could I be there tomorrow, a little before six to meet the professor?

Yes I said.

The office was small or rather it was full. The professor, John, sat behind a desk that burgeoned with the weight of untold amounts of paper and what appeared to be a libraries worth of books. Typical artist type. You know the sort — wild hair, glasses, bit disheveled. Nice enough though. He dug around the drawers looking for the release papers for me to sign and finally after a wild paper chase through all the books and folders came up with a coffee stained copy of what he’d been looking for. He was very nice. Put me right at ease.

The session generally lasts for a couple of hours.

No, you don’t have to sit still the whole time.

If you need a break, need to use the loo, then feel free to stand up.

Yes, yes, everybody is very respectful.

“You have to understand,” said John, Professor Pinkney, “that this is about art and nothing else. We’re simply creating an atmosphere that will fire their minds, get their creative juices flowing — capturing the moment as it were. These are fourth years, so they’re all pretty advanced and some of them really are quite talented!” He opened a folder on his desk and pulled out a couple of large pieces of paper. Beautiful penciled and inked pictures of not necessarily beautiful people. It seemed that the models ranged from people of my age in their early twenties to models who were way past retirement. Fat ones, thin one, skinny ones — all shapes and sizes. The professor smiled at me, not the way some bloke would down pub, but appreciatively as though he were seeing beyond the boobs and the blonde hair, seeing me for who I was, seeing me. He paid me up front — twenty quid for two hours! Where can you earn that kind of money for taking your clothes off? Well I can think of one, but this was legitimate, this was art.

The first time I’d been nervous. The professor had introduced me to the class, a mix of about twenty students most of whom I could barely see as they were stood behind their easels. It was a little like being in a darkened theatre where the actors don’t see the audience but rather feel them, the intensity in the shadows. That’s how it was, the feeling of their eyes upon me. Easier than I thought, and as I slipped out of the dressing gown there was a round of applause, not something I was expecting but there you are.  A woman assisted me into my pose — draped me as they say, just me, a bowl of grapes and nothing else.  The time flew by the only sounds the scrape of pencils and the scuffle of wood as the students adjusted and then a flurry of activity as they captured my likeness, my essence.

I saw his easel first, it was different from the others, painted bright yellow, as if he’d tried to add a little personality to what’s essentially just really three sticks held together with a couple of screws and a bit of wood. But it stood out and so I concentrated on that. The lad behind it was fairly ordinary – nice enough face and fairly well built but nothing special. He was so intent, so serious, and clearly very keen on what he was producing. I never did find out his name, it was all a little sterile. A big clock ticked away on the wall and along with the huff and puff of concentration there wasn’t much going on.

No music, which would have been nice as John, Professor Pinkney, didn’t want to spoil the atmosphere.

Time flew by and before I knew it I was putting my dressing gown back on, smiling my thanks for their brief applause at the end of the session, and exiting the room. It was suggested that I didn’t mingle with the students as there should be no hint of impropriety and so I simply went to the ladies, put my clothes on and left. Money for old rope, easy as falling off a bicycle.

Well the money came in handy and before you knew it I was modeling three or four times a week, same place but not always the same class. You could tell by the standard of the art that there was broad mix. Some of them really did me justice and the sketches really were very nice. I was allowed to keep a couple. One of them’s hanging in the down stairs loo. The lad with the yellow easel would be there a couple of times a week. Never spoke to him, just noticed him. He  stuck out like a sore thumb!

Think I’d been at the college for the best part of a year when something funny happened. I remember it was raining; I was rushing so I wouldn’t miss the bus, grabbed my mac and brolly and ran for the shelter at the end of our road. It was a Wednesday — they collect the bins on a Thursday so most of the bins were already on the pavement. I think I saw it when I was halfway to the college – water running off the windows, smokers upstairs, non-smokers down – hard to miss really but there it was, sticking out of one of the bins, a yellow easel, the one that belonged to the lad. One of the legs was snapped off and it’d been stuffed in with all the other rubbish.

Never did see him again. Strange that.”

AN ODE TO CURRY

24 May

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a couple of quid and a belly full of beer must be in want of a curry…”

Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice.

 

“Oh, sweet elixir of life, the meaning of reason, and the object of my desire. What it is to be bereft of thy company, only to rekindle joyous acquaintance in my unhappy hour of want? Words cannot quantify nor does allusion describe the bitter sweet of fond empty-plated remembrance. Clothed in plastic-bagged-fantastic and foiled in silver, thou art a joy to behold; a breath of fresh, pungent air, a tangible tingle to the nostrils, a veritable mistress of saucy delight. A jewel to the eye, a sear to the soul and a burning rush of requited love. Solitary confined moments shared and savored where one can reflect and revisit the intimacy of oral delight. Never was there a less selfish lover – never were the clinging moments more cherished – never was one left so bereaved by flushed adieu. Until we ‘eat again, I bid thee a flatulent farewell!”

*

“Last orders ladies and gentleman, please!” screams the potbellied publican from behind faux teak and poor dentistry. Standing amidst an island of factory-produced nostalgia he checks his watch and rings the bell one last time. “Come on now move your arses! Ain’t you got homes to go to?”

I finish the suds in my glass, choking back the stagnant liquid that just moments before browsed golden as it bubbled and foamed, and place it on the counter top with the other dead soldiers. Pint and shot glasses stand together in blissful union, unaware their usefulness has passed and that closing time has robbed them of employment. I look around at my fellow imbibers and through alcohol-addled eyes, spy the lonely and the loved as they file through the exit and into to the icy embrace of life. Their moments of communal pain-dulling congenial inebriation now forgotten as they check wallets, grab jackets and fondle newly-found soul mates. The weekend is over and the morning brings another day at the foundry, office or other unworthy place of forced employment. Wage slaved to the boss, the credit card, and the mortgage they scuttle to grab precious hours of sleep before the onslaught of fresh corporate demands engulf them.

I consider making a move on the last female at the bar however realize before I engage in optimistic social intercourse that either from want or neglect there’s probably a reason she’s still there. I rethink my strategy, drag myself from my wooden throne, and trudge into the night.

It’s cold outside and I spy my reflection in the puddles of monsoon-ravaged Middle England. Despite the chill there’s prospective inner warmth, the knowledge that only mere yards away lays a harbor of tranquility – a safe haven in an otherwise harsh, unforgiving world. I smell it before I see it; my feet splashing through water, my heels clicking on the pavement as unseen, aromatic hands grab me by the shirt collar, slap me about the face and drag me towards their irresistible event horizon. The choice isn’t my own. It’s a necessity, survival instinct; an innate sense of following one’s nose and complying with one’s inner hunter-gatherer. I stand before the plate glass window, the light from the restaurant transfixing me with its hypnotic tractor beam. There’s no escape, no use running – the dinner bell has sounded, and like a Pavlovian puppy I salivate into my jacket.

 The House of Bombay; it might as well be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the final resting place of the Holy Grail, or the gates of Valhalla. I grin moronically, my eyes wide with anticipation, my tongue thickening in my mouth at the prospect of what I am about to receive. I am truly grateful and I push open the door and enter paradise on earth. It isn’t a religious revelation however the Buddhists and Taoists would recognize the spiritual transformation I am experiencing. Truly one of the converted, my faith unshakeable, I accept the dogma completely and throw myself before my altar of expectation.

The restaurant is full of excited voices and exotic smells, its tables occupied by like-minded individuals who’ve escaped the pub and stopped for a bite on their way home; a perfect ending to a perfect night. Ten pints of lager, a bag of crisps, a game of grab ass on the dance floor, all washed down with lashings of the hot and spicy.

*

“…These are the things. These are the things. The things that dreams are made of…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Human League

*

What to choose, what to choose? The delicacies of the great Indian sub-continent are catalogued before me in a cornucopia of delectation and gastronomic delight. A temptation to the weak, a fix to the addicted but a delight to the enlightened. The crash of pots and pans and the mantra of cursed Urdu transport me to a place far from windswept, rain-soaked, Yorkshire. No longer the last man at the bar but a willing supplicant at the place of pilgrimage. An acolyte shoves a much fingered menu into my hands and demands to know what I’m drinking. Being the connoisseur that I am, I choose an Indian beer that claims to have been brewed on the banks of the river Ganges. National Geographic images waft through my mind as I briefly swim through the corpses and crocodiles to the sari-ed beauty that holds a bottle outstretched in her henna-ed  hand.

 I grasp, I sip, I swallow.

 Reacting to the broken English of the waiter, I flick through the curled pages of the stained menu and peruse the delights of the Punjab, the Kashmir, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas, and the golden sands of the Southern Keralan coast line.

 Lamb or beef, chicken or shrimp, veggies or not?

The aromas are intense, the Bollywood music blaring, the Indian chatter emanating from the kitchen incessant. Having made my choice I shut the menu. Poised with pen in hand, the sauce-splattered waiter prepares to notate my desire.

“Vindaloo, so bloody hot that it’ll burn my arse. Don’t forget the Nan or the poppadums, and jump to it Gupta! I’m bloody starving.”

The waiter smiles, he’s heard it all before, the well-meant racial slurs roll off his back like a rice-paddied buffalo flicking flies. He beams his gold-toothed smile and moves quickly behind the counter and disappears through the hanging colored beads into the kitchen, The bastard will make me pay for my flippant comments and no doubt there will be more than just chili powder in my tinfoil take-away box – a huge dose of scotch bonnet pepper, a little liquid napalm perhaps. It will be Gupta’s name that I scream in abject agony the morning after the night before.

Cold hard cash clinks from my sweaty palm and the mutually beneficial exchange is made. A silver container, already oozing brown joy, exchanged for  a couple of dirty notes – the pleasure is all mine, although judging by the grin on my newfound friend’s face the pleasure is all his. I walk to the door and make my exit.

As I trudge through the rain I reflect on the wisdom of ignoring the femme-fatale at the bar. The last girl in the world, at least on this particular Friday night, shunned for the illicit pleasure of liquid love –I hate to share and besides Gupta only gave me one plastic fork.

C’est la vie baby, maybe next time.

*

“…Club Tropicana’s drinks are free. Fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wham

FREELANCE BABY…

19 May

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SHAKESPEARE IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN – A free-lance piece for the Arizona Magazine

(The surprising popularity of Shakespeare’s plays in a desert landscape.) 

An investigation into the popularity and influence of Shakespeare’s writings in 21st century Phoenix.

By Colin James 

            Margery fusses with her wig and quickly applies another coating of grease-paint. She can feel the swell of voices beyond the curtain — sense their expectation. An audience that’s wined and dined and who now expect to be entertained; after all they’ve paid their $15!
            The Pebble Creek Players have rehearsed for months, in fact the best part of a year. If they haven’t got it down by now they never will. They’re word perfect, and perfectly practiced. It wasn’t easy; a passage of trial and tribulation — long afternoons fortified with iced whatever’s. But tonight’s the night, the moment her amateur thespians will eke out their lives as shadows and poor players as they pace the boards of the Pebble Creek community center.
            Margery adjusts the prosthesis underneath her shirt, looks across the void, and smiles nervously at one of her fellow cast members hidden in the shadows. Slowly she ambles to center stage; difficult to do with one leg in Plaster of Paris however, assisted by crutches she does her best. Suddenly there’s a hush, the only voice that of the compere. “Ladies and Gentleman welcome to this evenings performance.” The voice is a mumble, the words barely audible through the thick curtain that separates the performers from the audience, or rather the Christians from the lions. “Ladies and Gentleman I give you The Greys, Pebble Creek’s answer to Shaftsbury Avenue and Broadway.” Applause. The curtain is lifted.

*

            Arizona sunshine beats down on black top as Snow-birds and visitors from colder states caper nimbly in newly acquired tennis sneakers defending their own side of the net. The laughter and mirth generated by an afternoon of tennis is palpable in contrast to the intensity of a small but dedicated “band of brothers” that while away the hours in rehearsal and recitation of a Shakespeare play in a private home across the street. Pebble creek, a Robson Retirement community on the west side of Phoenix, caters to those lucky enough to have left the work place far behind; an active adult retirement resort where no matter your flavor of distraction, it can be found behind it’s secure stucco walls. 

          Wendy Jackson, 65, a native of Madison Wisconsin and grandmother to six, holds a copy of Spark’s Notes “No fear Shakespeare” in her hand and reads aloud to the assembled mixture of silver haired ladies and gents who sit comfortably in a semi-circle around her. The text is Henry the V, the notebook a study guide for those introducing themselves to the works of Shakespeare. The Greys, the Pebble Creek Players is an erudite bunch who intend to perform the play later this year. The “happy few”, with drinks in hand, listen intently to Mrs. Jackson as she enunciates; sipping gratefully from freshly made iced-tea. 

            “Theater has always been in our blood,” explained Wendy, “My mother was a dancer and my father, during his military service, worked for a glee-platoon that put on productions for the troops. Although my father was often a little embarrassed of his service, he often spoke of his wonderful-war, entertaining front line soldiers. My father had been a painter and decorator before the war, so when they came looking for volunteers he was a shoe-in, as they needed someone to paint and construct the sets. I guess you might say that the grease paint and limelight was spooned into me as a child. Shakespeare came later for me, probably around the time I went to college.” 

            Wendy looks wistful as she relates her amateur dramatic experience. “Of course it all started in high school with the Christmas show and the annual production the drama society would perform for the parents and students. Once bitten by the bug, I never really lost touch with the stage, and the discovery of a deeper more thoughtful production developed in me with my first taste of Shakespeare. I remember it was Twelfth Night and I was lucky enough to get the part of the maid. Quite an undertaking however, clearly my director saw something in me that, looking back now, was probably a turning point. I’ve been involved in amateur dramatics, and in particular Shakespearian productions, even when pregnant with my two boys ever since. There is something in the language that is so enduring and meaningful. As my old director would say there is ‘cadence on the tongue and music in the ears’ when his plays are performed.” 

            But how much enthusiasm can there be for the Bard in a retirement community on the far edge of Phoenix? Is there really a market for a 16th century play-wright in the Valley of the Sun? 

            Wendy laughs, “You’d be surprised. Of course there’s always enthusiasm for the golden oldies,” as she calls the more popular Broadway productions, “but there’s always a lot of interest in Shakespeare. You’d be surprised how many people have made it to retirement, who only now are listening to, and enjoying his plays. She shakes her head and smiles, “Seems like a waste to me, but better late than never.” 

            The Pebble Creek Players have to date performed 3 sold out productions of William Shakespeare’s plays and alongside their theatrics have created both a reading club and a study group. “A lot of the residents,” explains Wendy, “can’t seem to get enough, and we’re always being approached by new people interested in joining our various groups.” 

            There is no age limit, or statute of limitations that makes the plays popular. When one thinks of Shakespeare penning his prose and performing his plays for the mob in London, clearly it wasn’t sunbaked Arizona that he had in mind. 

            It’s Friday night and a group of around 10 teenagers sit on a stage beneath florescent lighting at Saint Luke’s Church on the corner of 19th Avenue and Camelback road, a location popular on Sunday mornings with a largely Hispanic congregation. The group of young enthusiasts waits eagerly, chatting and browsing on their smart-phones. The teens have volunteered to participate in a Shakespeare workshop run by the Brelby Theater Company on the West side of Phoenix in Glendale. This older, less in vogue area of town, has suffered the effects of economic malaise. During the 16th century, when Shakespeare’s plays were being performed for a half-penny a time for the groundlings in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames in London, The Globe Theater hardly had an address to boast of either. Glendale is now populated by lower income families, with a large Hispanic demographic. At least half of the kids waiting for Geoff Shelby, the organizer of the workshop and one of the principals of the theater, are the children of Latino immigrants and not all of them are legal. 

            Geoff a tall, gangly, salt and peppered veteran of the theater calls the kids to order and hands out copies of this evening’s texts. Romeo and Juliet; the balcony scene. 

            “Something they all know about even if they don’t realize it yet.” Geoff throws me and infectious grin and launches into Romeo, oh Romeo. 

            “Alright then who’s heard that before?” asks Geoff. A couple of hands go up in the air. “Who’s heard of Romeo and Juliet?” Several more hands appear. “You guys have been holding out on me. Seems you’ve have already heard of this Shakespeare character.” Laughter ripples through the small group that’s excited to get down to business. 

            “Shakespeare,” Geoff tells me, “is as relevant today as he ever was. It’s simply a case of getting young people’s attention. With so many distractions and sources of instant gratification one has to bring the plays to the fore, sit the kids down, and show them what they’re missing. It’s amazing to see the transformation from disinterest to over-the-top enthusiasm; their pride in being able to recite and remember tracts of text. You literally see the kids grow as they stand on stage and recite for their parents at the end of the course. 

            The Brelby company has been a feature of the Phoenix theater scene for well over 15 years and was formed by Geoff Shelby and fellow thespian Anita Rodriquez . 

            “At the time,” says Geoff, “there was no real theater. Sure there were movies but it wasn’t the same thing. Live theater grabs an audience by the throat and forces their senses into the action without the distraction of popcorn and product placement. We originally formed the company to perform one play however, since then we’ve done over forty. Shakespeare has always been a main-stay of our revue, an evergreen that audiences don’t seem to grow tired of.” 

            The Brelby, a not-for-profit organization, has benefitted from Arizona for the Arts funding, hence their community give back. “Ticket sales,” says Geoff, “ are unfortunately only half the story, and alongside our theatrical work we all hold regular jobs. Theater is our passion, unfortunately not our profession.” The look on Geoff’s face at the interaction of the kids is worth the million dollars the Brelby Theater Company truly deserves. He believes that keeping Arizona’s kids on the stage and off the streets is money and time well spent.

*

            Arizona is a keenly diversified state where one can ski Flagstaff in the morning and bathe in Phoenix sunshine in the afternoon; a state known more for copper, cattle and cotton than Elizabethan English theater. One can rodeo-ride in Buckeye or sling six-shooters in old-town Tucson, but one can also find the theater in all its diversified forms throughout the state, and surprisingly that of William Shakespeare. There is a ground swell of enthusiasts and over 20 independent theater companies, private individuals and interest groups, who devote their time to either studying his works or performing his plays.

*

            In the heart of downtown Mesa a very different atmosphere can be found from that at Saint Luke’s, although their intent is the same. The Desert Rose Theater, “The best theater you’ve never seen,” as they advertise themselves, are in the throes of final preparation. Unlike the Pebble Creek Players who were surrounded by garden furniture and cooling beverages there is a sense of urgency, a heated atmosphere of needs-to-be-done; a group in excess of 30 people, swarm around the theater building preparing for an opening night that is only a week away. The posters are printed, the blurb gone to the local press, and ticket sales haven’t been too shabby either. They intend to perform William Shakespeare Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kathryn Stewart, the director of the theater, is in no mood for half-measures, and even less time for anybody not directly related to the play. 

            With tousled brown hair and eye-glasses pushed up on her fore head, Kathryn is the epitome of efficiency. She continuously shuffles papers through her hands while we talk, and despite the interview, is keen to engage several people in conversation at any one time. In between her directions for stage management and interjections between actors, I discover her passion for the plays. 

            “I finished college in Washington, and joined a theater group directly afterward. With a liberal arts education and a passion for the stage, much to the disappointment of my parents, I took to the road. For me it’s always been Shakespeare. I’ve worked with other companies in the past, but it’s always a welcome return home when I go back to doing what I love best.” 

            Kathryn has trod the boards for the past 30 years and is clearly a devotee to her art. But why Phoenix? Why Arizona? 

            “The Rose Theater first came to Phoenix in ‘92.  At the time we performed mainly for schools and colleges. Now, much to my distress, the study of Shakespeare and his works has nearly disappeared from the curriculum and so we’ve had to make ourselves more affable to the public. This has meant more elaborate stage craft and a sense of utter professionalism in order to attract paying audiences. Although we’re a volunteer organization we do employ several professionals and very often contract actors for our leading roles. This allows us to take our plays on the road, and during any given year we cover most of Arizona. Our season is generally made up of four plays two of which are always Shakespearian in nature whether Shakespeare, Marlow or Johnson for example.” 

            Judging by the amount of people involved and the projected two weeks of four performance plus matinees, Kathryn has her hands full. I leave her to her work and head for my final Shakespearian experience.

*

            My destination is the aluminum and glass edifice of the Mesa Arts Center, An opulent, outwardly expensive monument to the theater and performance art. The center features art, dance and music, and is home to the Southwest Shakespeare Company, the most auspicious of all the Shakespearian players within Phoenix’s city-limits. I step into a polished steel elevator and wend my way to the office of Margaret Monroe, the current publicity director for the company. As expected Ms. Monroe is dressed in impeccable business attire and exudes and air of supreme confidence. A total contrast from Geoff Shelby and his make shift accommodation in Glendale. 

            “You have to understand that Shakespeare can be performed in many different ways,” she explains, “and have been on many different occasions. The fact that we’ve this beautiful facility and the ability to hire top notch actors doesn’t detract from the work being performed by others. You have to remember that during Elizabethan times there was also a differentiation between those who paid pennies to stand and watch performances in the rain, and those who sat on cushions in the balconies. Shakespeare is for everybody and in order to proliferate his works we offer a first class location with a first class experience.” 

            Although the company does receive some arts-council funding, it is a self-sufficient organization and turns a profit. When not performing in Phoenix, they take their plays on the road and even internationally. “Phoenix is a great base for us,” explains Margaret, “as everybody here is from somewhere else. Many residents have come from larger cities where they’ve enjoyed quality theater and so expect the same.” A classic case of the market will provide.

*

            Mrs. Menendez watches her teenage son as he leaves the house, walks down the garden path, turns, waves, and disappears into inky blackness. Menendez crosses herself; not in fear for her son but in thanks for a certain individual who’s come to town — a voice that will take her beloved boy off the street and keep him safe from harm. She knows exactly where Jose will be for the next two hours; in fact she knows where he’ll be every Tuesday and Thursday for the next two months. Secure and surrounded in the caring environment of the Brelby Theatre and Geoff Shelby; free from the scum who pollute the streets.
            So who is this masked man, the caped-crusader that has arrived to save the youth of Glendale? No man of steel, rather a man of words; a warrior poet whose plays and sonnets have brightened the planet for over 400 years; a writer who has chased away the shadows and illuminated the lives of millions. Parents of Glendale and Phoenix take heart. William Shakespeare abides in Arizona.

 

The End

PASTAWAY

23 Jan

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The machine gun barrel smoked, the restaurant echoed gunfire. It’d been over in a muzzle-flash, a full drum of thirty rounds pumped through the weapon in the general direction of the dead men who even now dripped scarlet on freshly laundered table cloths. Broken crystal reflected subdued lighting and a half shattered Champagne bottle leaked its last onto the polished wooden floor. A great neighborhood eatery, famous for its scaloppini and pasta, that after tonight  would be known for more than just its culinary excellence. The boss had warned them. There were no second chances. Capiche?

After the first few shots his killer instinct instinct kicked in – the screams and smoke culminating in a tableau of mayhem and death. He’d squeezed the trigger until the gun clicked – simple enough, nothing new. One clip had been sufficient, although ever the professional, he’d a spare magazine in his coat just in case. Lifting the muzzle Joey stared at the destruction he’d wrought.

He shouldered the weapon, drew his pistol and walked towards the shattered table. “No mistakes,” the boss had told him. “Dead men speak no tales.” Short and sharp the pistol cracked, a shot to the head of each of the dead men – a third eye blooming on their foreheads as the bullets found their mark. No screams this time, no pleas for mercy, just the report of the gun and the silence of the recently liquidated.

In this town you didn’t mess with the boss. There was no forgiveness. Sure you could buy a little time, but a little was never enough. The boss was right, “You have to command respect. No bastardo give you nothing.”

The instructions for the hit had been in his pigeon-hole in the hotel lobby, the names and photographs of the soon to be exterminated. Nothing out of the ordinary, no major planning necessary, and he’d enjoyed his bagel and coffee at Lew’s on 35th street while casually contemplating the job. It was straight forward. The nearly deceased would be at Toni Fratennilies restaurant on 69th, same way they always was on a Thursday night, enjoying the food and dividing up territory or whatever it was bosses did.

What did he know? He was small time, a pawn in very large game of chess, where if you didn’t stay one step ahead you’d wind up dead as these fishes laid across the table.

He kicked the chair of one of the unfortunates and sat down; a corpse slumped to the ground. What a fucking mess, there was pasta and spaghetti sauce all over the place but miraculously some of the table had survived. His prowess with the Thompson was legendary. Holding the gun at waist height he’d simply scythed his way through the diners, his bullets cutting them down at chest height. It was the crashing bodies and their urgent attempts to avoid the unavoidable – hands reaching for weapons, smashing through piled plates, toppling wine glasses – that had caused the table top devastation.

Holstering his pistol he removed his black leather gloves. He’d time before the cops showed up – the amount of money donated to police headquarters meant there was always time. Half the frigging city was on the boss’s payroll. With cash, girls and booze you could buy anybodyand that’s just what he’d done. 

A pasta-splashed bottle miraculously still stood in the middle of the table, corked and as fresh as the day it had left Naples. Chianti that had been pressed and bottled in Italian sunshine, a land he still remembered from his youth. He reached for it and poured wine into a glass. He sniffed, then quaffed.

Darn good stuff. Apperritifo wine is what the fellas would call it. Better than nothing, that’s for sure.

He swirled the dark liquid, coated the walls of the glass, watched the tannins skin its crystal surface.

Not bad, he thought, and poured himself another.

He looked around greedily, there was still salvageable food on the table, not quite the banquet there’d been before but enough to satisfy. He moved one of his victim’s hands from a silver tureen, wiped blood from a spoon, and scooped pasta onto a plate.

Bellissimo.

He could smell the olive oil, the spaghetti falling apart in individual strands across the plate. Al dente, perfect – just the way he liked it. He’d heard about Toni’s before the contract. When this mess had blown over and they’d cleaned the place up he’d come again, maybe bring the old lady or one of the dancers from the cabaret – the red head perhaps?

Picking through the detritus he selected what appeared to be veal scaloppini. A flower from a vase that had obviously been on the table before being blown to smithereens sat in the middle of the dish giving it a festive look. He removed the greenery and poured the meat and sauce over the pasta. Fantastic smells emanated from his plate; basil, garlic, oregano – thick edible aromas that indused instant salivation.

He was back in his mother’s kitchen on Sicily, the lady standing before her range, hour after hour, creating plate sized pieces of heaven for her husband and eight children and whoever else might appear at the table. Memorable times when the house had been filled with laughter and music, happy days when the term family hadn’t referred to the outfit he was with, but rather the company he loved. He spooned food into his mouth and was immediately transferred to Tuscan hills and orange groves, warm Italian sunshine and mountain fresh air – a taste of the old country, the essence of Italia. He could hear them all – see their smiling faces, the checkered table cloth, the wisp of curtain in the afternoon breeze. Looking around the table at his brothers and sisters he felt a belonging, a oneness, a sense of famiglia. Village life and home town remembrance washed across his tongue. The voice of loved ones ringing in his ears, young girls in summer dresses, wrinkled older couples, who’d lived and laughed forever, dancing slowly on terracotta tile.

Delizioso

Finishing his bite, and finding himself back in a restaurant populated by death, his thoughts quickly returned to reality. He could hear police sirens somewhere in the distance, it was time to go. Grabbing his gun and pocketing his gloves he moved swiftly through the restaurant, through the kitchen, and into the back alley where a car was waiting for him. Splashing through puddles, his shoes clicking on cobbles, he opened the door and sank into the leather passenger seat.

The driver smiled nervously, hands clutching the wheel, “How did it go?”

Joey shrugged.

A look of panic crossed the driver’s face and he pointed at Joey’s shoulder. “You get hit? You ok?”

Joey looked at the driver and then his shirt – redness oozed through white cotton.

Joey smiled, swiped his finger through the wound and stuck his finger in his mouth. “Spaghetti sauce! Damn good as well.”

“Yeah I heard about that place,” said the driver putting his fingers to his lips and making a kissing sound. “Besta pasta on the east side.”

Joey looked up at the sign hanging above the door of the restaurant.

Fratennilies – he’d be back.

The car drove off into the night.

TEA TIME

30 Oct

 

It was the 22nd of February 1942. It didn’t matter how long he stared at the calendar it was always the 22nd of February 1942. Time, if it could be called such, with no perceptible movement hung like a wet blanket. Einstein had his theories however, Bill could attest to the facts. Hours spent with a beautiful woman may evaporate in mere moments but time spent with his companion George had lasted an eternity.

Bill sat on an upturned crate, newspaper open with a cup of tea steaming on the table beside him. He didn’t know why he bothered, he’d read the same text a thousand times. He could recite the obituary column word for word, broadcast the shipping forecast to the entire room from memory, and could announce the complete sports section in either a Scottish or Irish accent. He’d perfected the subtle nuances so well that his intonation could resemble either northern or southern regional peculiarities at whim. Quite an accomplishment for a man who’d never travelled further than the coast, but there again he’d time enough to perfect his delivery.

”What’s the time,” asked George.

Bill sucked his teeth,” What does it bloody matter what the time is?”

“Course it matters. I want to know, “persisted George.

Bill glanced at his wrist. It was five o’clock in the evening.

“Soon be time then,” said George. The same thing he said every day.

“Soon be time to get it done,” mouthed Bill before George turned around to face him and said, ”Soon be time to get it done then!”

“Exasperating! Bloody exasperating is what it was. The man had no conversation, no hobbies, no game, no stories, nothing. This wasn’t purgatory, this was bloody hell. Stuck in limbo between this world and the next with a mindless moron would be the death of him, of that he was certain. At least cast the occasional aspersion, proffer an opinion – hell, pick a fight. Do something, anything to change the monotony.”

George turned back to the window, Bill to his newspaper.

Busy on their way to somewhere to do something, people bustled passed the window; as ever the planet continued to revolve, life went on. They’d seen it all. The changing fashions, hairstyles, the cars on the streets, the aircraft in the sky. With every passing, reintroduction of the very-same-day, they took no part in modernity and change.  Change wasn’t for everybody, at least not on their side of their glass. For Bill and George it was always 1942.

They could see humanity, but humanity couldn’t seem them. Energy transference was not transmutable and so having passed through the veil of death it was only possible to observe – interaction was physically impossible. A whole world had walked by without ever registering their none-existence.

 He’d stood where George stood now, watching the pretty girls and their ever decreasing hem lines. Things had certainly changed since they’d walked the earth in human form. Now as mere shadows or rather specters of the people they’d once been they could only listen and watch as regular people went about their hum-drum lives. Bill yearned for hum-drum, what they’d had to endure was beyond mundane. If it wasn’t for the fact they were already dead, the boredom would’ve bloody killed him.

George turned, opened his mouth and went to speak.

“If you ask me again, I’m going to punch you on the nose.”

George looked shocked, “What do you mean?”

“If you ask me what the time is, I’m going to kick your arse

“I was just going to ask you if you wanted another cuppa?” said George.

Tea was the only thing they had left, that and a couple of curly cheese sandwiches. Every day as much tea as they could drink was available, their only sustenance the brown paper wrapped sandwiches they’d brought with them all those years ago. What the hell, “Sure I’ll have another brew.” Wasn’t as though he was going anywhere.

“What’s the time?” asked George.

Bill screamed, clenched his fists and tried to control himself. “It’s five bloody minutes since the last time you asked me.”

“ Nearly time then,” said George.

“Yes, yes, it’s nearly bloody time. It’s always nearly bloody time. You know that as well as I do?”

With an audible demonstration of lost patience, Bill turned the pages of the newspaper.

Page six; Political commentary. The rising cost of living, or the dearth in your shilling by Michael Maverick

Bill read about an expanding war economy that instead of creating wealth, cheap beer and lucrative over-time was the cause of an overworked underpaid population. The fruits of their labors, instead of going to the British workers, went instead towards more advanced munitions with which to kill more Germans toiling under equally diabolical conditions. What was it all about anyway? The papers in the early years had been filled with ‘poor little Poland’ needing protection from the ‘big fascist bully’. Old John Bull had been just the man to put an end to the playground tyranny except, it hadn’t worked out that way, and mean old Adolph had sent England home with a split lip. Three years now they’d been pounding the shite out of each other, and for what?  Ration coupons, rickets, longer lines, blackouts, conscription and fake butter!

“Sugar?” asked George.

“Yes.”

“Milk?”

“Yes, the same as bloody always. How long have you been making me tea?” screamed Bill.

 “Touchy, touchy,” chided George,” I was only asking.”

Their work at the local munitions factory had placed them in a protected occupation category and so call-up papers had never arrived. There was money to be made in a blitzed city and the shift work had enabled their moonlighting. Between the munitions, moving families out of bombed housing and the black market both he and George had done pretty well , in fact their war had been going rather well until February the 22nd 1942.

“Here you go, drink it while it’s hot.”

“Thanks,” said Bill.

George went back to the window raised the cup to his lips and sipped. Even in death the British had tea, a cruel irony that the afterlife consisted of hot brews and stale butties. What had happened to the paradise they’d learned about in Sunday school? Where were the blue skies, the wispy clouds, green pastures – where were the harps?

They’d been told by some celestial authority figure or other that they were on a waiting list. The war was causing a huge back log of transferees, the term used for the latest residents entering the kingdom of heaven. It was just a small matter of paperwork, a little patience if you please”, and they would soon be through the gates. Clearly the bearded, winged-figure’s estimation of a little time was worlds apart from their own. It seemed like an eternity since they’d last seen the official – who knew maybe it was?

 Surely they hadn’t been forgotten?

Bill drank his tea and considered George; he wasn’t a bad lad, just a boring bastard. There again, after being stuck in here for all this time he probably wasn’t the most brilliant conversationalist himself.

He looked at his watch, “Bollocks, it was ten-till, they’d have to get a wiggle on, it was nearly time.”

“George, get your arse in gear we have to get started.” With so much time on their hands they were running late. What kind of sick joke was that?

The men picked up the box and moved towards the staircase.

“Up up on your end, down on mine, to the left, no the right!”

It was the same dance they did every day as they fought to get the packing crate up the stairs. Once they’d made the first landing the stair case widened out a little making their task easier. Puffing and panting the two men placed the box on the floor – a quick breather before they proceeded up to the next level.

Suddenly a woman dressed in a night gown walked out of a bedroom and across the landing to the bathroom. Tall with blonde hair, she stopped and stared at the two men, rubbed her eyes and shut the door.

George looked at Bill. “Did she just see us?”

“You know they can’t,” said Bill.” She was probably dreaming.  She was half asleep, anybody could see that.”

The toilet flushed and the woman reappeared briefly before disappearing back into the bedroom.

“Bit of a looker,” said George.

“Not ‘arf,” smiled Bill. “Wouldn’t mind spending an afterlife with her.”

George chuckled. “Half an hour would do.”

With the box safely delivered to the top floor the two men took their prospective positions. Bill sat on the bed and George stood by the door, in exactly the same manner they always did.

“Any moment now then.”

“Yeah, any moment now.”

“See you in a bit then.”

“Aye, see you in a while.”

“Tea and sandwiches?” asked George.

Before Bill could reply the bomb dropped by the German aircraft crashed through the roof and exploded, eviscerating their bodies and turning the building into a ranging inferno.

*

Bill looked at the calendar, it was February the 22nd. It was always bloody February the 22nd.

 

 

 

POE – ETRY

14 Oct

 

The stack of prepaid junk-mail had lain on his desk;  offers of credit cards, Caribbean holidays and a notification, courtesy of some no-named agency in the Philippines, informing him he was worth a million dollars in prizes. Buried beneath all the unsolicited correspondence he’d almost missed the letter.  He still didn’t know why he’d done it, why he’d stopped the shredder in mid-mangle and pulled the white envelope clear of the paper shards. It was personally addressed in a hand he didn’t recognize, franked from a sea-side town where he’d spent many happy hours. Maybe it was the recognition of the Florida state symbol foiled by the bright white of the envelope, or perhaps the shinning sun on the postage stamp, either way it had peaked his interest.

Slitting the envelope open, he read.

“Dear Bill.

Long time no see. I’m finally leaving the service and taking retirement.”

An old Navy buddy he hadn’t seen for years was hanging up his hat and heading for the beach. A great guy, and a good friend, but that’d been a million years ago.

I’ll be staying at the old house on the Cape and thought you might like to join me and maybe catch up on old times. Drinks are on me, so’s the vacation. Think about it. It would be good to get together after all these years.

The letter contained dates, addresses and a proposed time table. His old comrade wouldn’t be there for the first couple of days;

I’ve some pressing business to attend to, so if you’d like to come down and treat the place as your own for a couple of days  that would be great – in fact you’d be doing me a favor. Nothing worse than walking into an empty home!

Bill smiled, “Who wouldn’t want a fully paid vacation in a fancy beach-front house?”

Even now he could see himself sitting on the deck, toes in the sand, drink in hand, as he watched the liquid lucidity of an azure-blue ocean break and wash across golden sand. With the sound of gulls in the air, and a vision of sun-bronzed beauties wandering the beach, he’d quickly made his decision.

“Hell! After the year he’d had, he deserved it. What with the housing crash, the corporate restructuring and the latest unobtainable sales goals. Fuck yes! Work used to be fun, now it was just work. It’d been a tough couple of years, not just on the business side of things but his personal life had taken a hit as well. After the accident his wife had packed her bags and left, taking the maid and the dog with her. Married for over twenty years, she’d just got up and walked out. The bitch!”

It hadn’t been his fault, there’d been loads of people at the party that night. How could he possibly have been responsible for the death of the girl found floating in the hot tub. The police had been sympathetic but the media merciless. Descriptions of a drink, drug fuelled party, which although not entirely untrue, where exaggerated to the point where he’d been cast as a modern day Caesar overseeing weekend orgies and hosting untold debauchery behind the walls of his Malibu mansion. No blame could be attached to him, and there was absolutely no proof that he’d supplied the drugs. Sure, he had his connections and with the money generated by the housing boom at the time, it’d been too easy to get hold off. A quick phone call to the friend-of-a-friend of the loosely connected Cuban-exile contingent and the necessary had been provided.

Drugs, girls, whatever he wanted, and all just seven digits away.

He hadn’t known her. She’d had some foreign sounding eastern European name. Sure, she’d been a looker, judging by the newspaper photographs, but all he remembered was a water logged body tossed up on the pool deck with paramedics trying to pump her back to life. The moment had been surreal, the blue flashing lights of the emergency vehicles, the uniformed officials surrounded by half-naked party guests in little more than bikinis and shorts. A moment that had been far too serious for the light hearted party atmosphere that had prevailed. Of course the press had camped outside his door for weeks, bothered his family and accused him of God knows what. He was no plaster saint and he’d had his share of flings with girls so numerous he’d forgotten most of their names, but he wasn’t a murderer.

“Saborsky? Sikorsky?  What had the girls name been?” Didn’t really matter now, it was all so long ago.

Of course his fair-weather friends had deserted him, his phone calls going unanswered, his lifestyle of the rich-and-nearly-famous gone forever. After his wife had taken what little money wasn’t mortgaged into the house he’d moved into a regular neighborhood, with regular people, earning regular money. Guilty or no, the mark of Cain was upon him. Scarlet-lettered and treated like a social leper the invitation he held in his hand was a breath of fresh air.

He checked the calendar on his desk. There was nothing that couldn’t be reshuffled and decided he’d accept the offer. “Fuck it, what did he have to lose?”  He pressed the button on the intercom and spoke with the secretary outside. “Louise do me a favor and get a letter off to,” he dictated the address and the name. “In fact send a telegram,” that should get to his old buddy a little faster; hopefully he’d have an answer before the end of the day.

* 

Two weeks later Bill found himself waiting in the Florida sunshine on the side of a road. The telegram had come back in the affirmative.

…..Sounds good stop

Look forward to a few drinks stop

Relive some of those glory days stop.

Will send car stop

Details to follow stop……..

Planning on relaxing he’d packed a suitcase with a couple of tropical shirts, board shorts and some khaki slacks. Not required to dress-to-impress he’d judiciously left his ties and stiff collars in the closet where they belonged. He glanced at his watch; the car should have been there by now? The sun was starting to climb and Bill was beginning to perspire – a bead of sweat leaked from his brow.  Pushing his sunglasses up his nose he watched as a dark limousine indicated, moved out of traffic, and pulled up to the curb.

The door opened and a chauffeur liveried in black stepped out of the vehicle. “Mr. Brown? I’m here to collect you Sir.”

Brown climbed into the rear of the car – the suitcase was placed in the trunk. The interior of the vehicle was a gorgeous mix of richly stitched leather and Ebony carpentry replete with drinks cabinet, a television and a cassette player. Brown was impressed; clearly his friend had done well for himself. The glass slide partition between the front and the back slid down, and the chauffeur spoke over his shoulder. “Mr. Keagan instructed me to ask you, to make yourself at home. You’ll find drinks in the cupboard and there are some cigars, which you may appreciate, in the humidor. Anything else you need, just speak into the microphone and I’ll be more than happy to assist.” Brown thanked him, the partition slid up, and the vehicle glided back into traffic.

Bill couldn’t help but smile. It’d been a long time since he’d enjoyed any form of hedonism and he was about to indulge. Crystal-glass chinked and rattled as he decanted a generous helping of whisky. His fingers found the latch to the humidor, his eyes greedily selecting from the Cahaba’s and Monte-Cristos. Glass in hand and cigar in mouth, Bill watched the City disappear behind them as they headed for the coast. For the first time in months he was smiling. Life was good.

*

Bill woke slumped in the back of the car, the vehicle motionless the engine off. There was a heavy smell of whiskey and his shirt was damp, the crystal glass lay smashed on the floor. Not understanding what had happened Bill tried to sit up but couldn’t. His head was pounding and there was enormous pressure behind his eyes. He attempted to focus but found it difficult, went to move but felt hampered by his leaden limbs. There was a face on the TV screen. He was sure that it hadn’t been there before? Was he drunk, surely not?  Just because his means had diminished didn’t mean his bad habits had, and he was still a regular imbiber. He stared at the face on the screen not recognizing the image. He held his hand to his throbbing brow and forced himself into an upright position. Where was the driver? He stared through the darkened glass, there was nobody there. What the hell was going on? Looking out of the window he could see the ocean. The vehicle was parked on a slip-way, slightly angled down toward the ocean. Where they there? He didn’t recognize anything, but there again it had been a while since his last visit. Sitting erect and doing his best not to slide back down the seat he stared at the image in front of him. It was young woman. Something fizzed and clicked in his brain and he began to trawl on a dim recollection.

“Surely not?” The female face stared at him from a past life. “It couldn’t be?”

“Shirovsky,that was the girl’s name, the girl who’d died at his party. Stupid cow what had she been doing? Ruined his life she had. Her death had taken everything from him and yet it wasn’t his fault. The girl on the screen was her, he was sure of it. What was she was doing on the TV? It didn’t make any sense.”

*

The driver’s door opened and Bill watched as the chauffeur leant in. The man released the hand break and the vehicle lurched forward. Slowly and deliberately, the glass partition slid down. Like a face in a dream he saw the man’s lips move disproportionately to his words. “Mr. Shirovsky wants you to know that it really isn’t his fault.”

Bill pulled on the handles but to no avail, everything was locked. He did his best to kick at the doors but he’d no strength. He felt as though he were struggling in quicksand – everything he did, useless and weighted. “Hey, what’s going on?” he demanded. “Let me the fuck out of here! Hey arsehole. What the hell does that mean?”The chauffeur smiled and the partition slid back into position.

With the image of the drowned woman still on the TV screen,  Bill watched helplessly as the driver walked to the rear of the vehicle. Putting his weight against the car the chauffeur pushed. The vehicle slowly edged forward. Inertia took hold, and the limousine began to roll down the ramp towards the sea.

Bill still dazed from the effects of whatever had been in the whiskey was now keenly aware of his situation. “Let me out,” he yelled.

The car bumped into the ocean, the water slapping against, and enveloping the windscreen. Bill could only stare. Trapped inside the car, and weaker than milk, there was nothing he could do. Fear was taking hold and Bill, unable to resist his fate, could only sit and watch as the vehicle slowly floated from the dock and gradually dipped beneath the water. He felt his bladder release, smelt the piss – the warm liquid pooling in his trousers, the dark stain spreading across his lap

The chauffeurs words rattled in his head, “Mr. Shirovsky says it isn’t his fault. What the hell did that mean?”

The ocean pored through the doors and windows, the front of the car submerged as it surged relentlessly upwards towards his chest. He watched the screen flicker, the image of the girl disappear. He screamed but it came out as a whisper. Cold water raced into the vehicle and he fought to shift his position as the pressure of  inundation forced the air up into the roof of the vehicle. Struggling to hold his head clear he thought on the girl – thought about holding his breath – thought about dying.

 It hadn’t been his fault.

*

The chauffeur watched as the vehicle disappeared beneath the water, the residual air exploding to the surface in a tsunami of bubbles. With the car gone his task was completed. He turned and walked back to the waiting vehicle.