Podrall sat in the thick air of the flat trying not to breath in too deeply.
Flowers had called him and asked for his presence. Joel Podrall, who never was one to jump to anyone’s will, immediately made his way to the flat.
As usual, the door was ajar when he arrived. As usual, he knocked respectfully three times and waited. As was the way with these things, a voice from within beckoned him to enter. Podrall was not always sure that this was the same voice. At first he suspected that it was Flowers playing practical jokes with him, yet later, when things started to turn really weird, he was sure that there was at least one other person in there with him.
This morning he had entered and placed himself on the sofa and waited. He could hear Flowers in the bedroom moving things around. The two didn’t exchange conversation. Podrall waited and waited. After half an hour, Flowers shouted from the bedroom.
“I hope you’re on the edge of your seat!”
Podrall checked his position and was going to adjust it when he realised that Flowers wasn’t being that literal.
“With baited breath,” he returned feeling again how much he had learnt through his union with the other.
“Good, and if it’s not too childish, may I ask the members of the audience to cover their eyes for a moment. No peeking.”
Podrall wasn’t about to peek. He knew, knew as if his life depended upon it, that Flowers was aware of every tiny thing that his young accomplice did.
“Cue drum roll,” Flowers said in a practised circus master’s voice and from somewhere there came a sound that could only be described as a drum roll.
Not for the first time, Podrall felt that he was in the presence of a genius. He could hear big clunking movements, the scraping of feet moving along the floor before bumping into something that could have been the table.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; I present to you the first, but not last public appearance of James Harrison, also known as the Leatherman.”
There were a few moments of silence. Podrall waited for the all-clear.
“It’s okay now, you can open your eyes.”
Podrall opened his eyes slowly and was confronted by the sight of a very old man with a very dark and obviously fake tan. He didn’t know what to say.
“So, what do you think?”
“Yes, very good.”
Podrall wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be admiring. His gaze moved around the room in an uncomfortable manner.
“Not the out-of-date interior decoration you fool, look at the corpse.”
The corpse, Flowers had said as if he were talking about a bunch of flowers or a rabbit. Podrall looked and saw for the first time that there was something very unworldly about the bloke who stood before him. For a start, he didn’t have any eyes. The spaces were there for the eyes to go, but there was nothing in them. And there was something about the skin that didn’t look real, even with the overdone tan.
It was the smell that should have given it away. The thing was, he had become so accustomed to the way that the flat had smelt that he had stopped noticing it. It was the smell. The bloke in front of him gave off a very distinct aroma that reminded Podrall of smoky bacon. He smelled of smoky bacon that had been left in the fridge for too long.
“He’s dead,” Flowers said. “He’s been dead for about sixteen years and I think he looks good on it, don’t you?”
In actual fact, if there was such a thing these days, Podrall agreed that he did look very well on it. For someone who had been dead for so long, he certainly could pass for one of the living, at least in this neighbourhood.
“Now I shouldn’t really do this bit, but it’s hard to resist.”
Flowers produced a medium-sized kitchen knife from the sink drawer.
He moved around to the front of the Leatherman and thrust the knife into its chest cavity where its heart should have been. He looked at the creature.
“Now, look me in the eye and tell me that that didn’t hurt.”
There was no response.
Podrall sat entranced on the sofa. He had always known that the other boy was special, but this went way beyond that. This guy was in charge of a dead body and God (he smiled to himself at the irony) only knew what they could do with that.
“Are there any more like him?” he asked like a student being drawn into a particular subject.
“I am made to believe that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands like him around the world. I’m told that there are at least another four in this city alone and all we have to do is find them.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, that’s a big task. It’s a decent sized place.”
“Ah my boy, that’s when my next little surprise will come in handy.”
Again, he moved towards the bedroom door and opened it with a flourish. Out poured close to fifty large black rats. They raced into the room pushed on by the cohort behind them and ran towards where Podrall was sitting on the sofa. He pushed himself back and immediately raised his feet off the floor. Terror pricked every sensor in his body. He could see into their black beads of eyes and saw himself reflected.
“Halt!” Flowers shouted and they stopped almost instantly. They turned as one towards Flowers and lowered their front legs so that they gave the appearance of bowing.
“These, Joel, are going to be your little helpers. They are ever so good at finding things that have been lost or are hiding. Nothing escapes their attention. The problem is that they do have ravenous appetites and will eat just about anything. Christ, they had Turkish last night, something I’ve always found too greasy. If you wear this, they will do as you bid them to.”
Flowers moved towards Podrall and pulled something that looked like a ribbon from his pocket. He pinned the ribbon onto Podrall’s chest. Looking down, Podrall could see that it was a medal, its dull weight hung reassuringly from his shirt.
“Remember that when you are in their presence, you must wear that or risk becoming lunch,” Flowers tittered.
“Oh, and one more thing. Have you ever seen that mother of those brothers? The Andrews woman.”
Podrall had seen her on several occasions dropping the boys off at school. In his opinion, she was quite tasty for an older bird.
“Put quite simply, we want her to have a nervous breakdown. There’s a doctor who is currently giving her medication and it shouldn’t be long before she cracks. If you see her around, give a little helping hand would you?”
“Definitely. Anything else?”
“Just stick to that and all should be well.”
A silence filtered up between them and the lesser boy knew this to be his cue to leave.
Podrall left, feeling, once more, that he had been increased. Now he was the master of flesh-eating rats. His chest puffed out and his stride became emboldened, he did not see the curtains of the flat being pulled back slightly.
Can you trust him?
“We can trust him for now. He might get out of his depth later. For the moment, however, he can be trusted.”
Read After Burnout.
They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for salting.
When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.
I have no marlin waiting to be butchered.
More than forty years have floated by since my visit to the library and my borrowing of the book. Hemingway’s tome never returned to its place on the shelf, taking up residence on mine instead. It still sits there and so does the scent of that brave fish that fought and died.
The sharks have been fattened over the last four decades. Each of my dawns are always followed by failure. I must be getting good at this. In truth, I hate failing. The only thing I hate more than failure is accepting failure; not trying to do battle with the thing that throws scorn. That’s why I keep on trying. I get up in the morning and climb into my skiff and set out for the most promising of vacant sea that I can dream of, and then I cast the bait.
My bait is myself.
I cast myself into the empty blue and pray that something will bite. I pray to a God that I no longer believe in. I pray to a sea that is ungiving. I pray to whatever governs chance and opportunity and I pray to the stray readers who drift past my words.
I pray that this last launching will not bring sharks.
Bad food is made without pride, by cooks who have no pride, and no love. Bad food is made by chefs who are indifferent, or who are trying to be everything to everybody, who are trying to please everyone… Bad food is fake food… food that shows fear and lack of confidence in people’s ability to discern or to make decisions about their lives.
Big decisions had to be made and I was not the man to make them. I was waking up to another morning of completing a profoundly profound post and then moving into a contemplation of my life from that moment on. It was set to be a long day conversing with myself.
Before I started my arduous toil, a cup of coffee was needed. Coffee, unlike tea, is not a domesticated drink. It is a drink to be consumed in public, amongst others who share the same addiction. My favourite place to upload caffeine is a cycle themed cafe, Cafe Velo.
The coffee is sublime and there are cycle magazines in abundance. In the last week however, my choice of venue has received an unwanted complication. I visited another coffee shop, one that served amazing almond croissants as a morning freebie. It is unfortunately part of a chain, but I have been there.
I was in the midst of this internal dilemma when I saw myself in the mirror. My hair was wayward, suggesting that there was still some madness within. A shower was in order. Yesterday, I shaved and I had already completed any other toilet tasks earlier, so it was just a shower. The random mayhem of the night’s sojourn would soon be mended.
On my way into the bedroom, I noticed my phone sitting on the bedside table. As I went to uplug the charger, it lit up. The phone was on silent and it was not set to vibrate. There was a certain fortune about this as it would certainly have gone unheeded if I hadn’t noticed my lunatic follicles.
Unwanted phone calls have been plaguing my life recently. There are a number of companies who have my number. They hand it out to any trainee cold-caller who happens not to be able to get a job, and have declined the golden mitt of teaching, so call unknowns up to try to sell them things. There are tribes of these telephone tormentors in Glasgow, Manchester, and London. The ones from the Indian sub-continent, with spurious names such as Grant or Mitch, have fallen off the map of late. Anyway, I checked the number and recognised it to be local. It may have been that the tribes had invaded my region, but I sacrificed due caution for curiosity (the cat was safely out of doors at this point).
“Is that Mike, Mike Evans?”
“Could you possibly do a day’s supply work?”
“Yes. Where?” I was a little too enthusiastic for my own liking.”
“Could you do Darfield?”
“No, that’s one of the places I said that I would not do.” Darfield had been the place where my pot finally boiled over.
“Could you do Polaris?”
State controlled private schools seemed to be involved in a competition to have the most stupid of names. Polaris was a set of officially ‘Good’ academies. It did a half decent job of educating the offspring of an economically, and culturally, deprived area. I had spent almost six months there until the person I was covering for annoyingly reappeared.
“Yes, I’ll do it.” Again that overly enthusiastic tone.
“Good. Get there as soon as you can.”
I bounced in the shower, brushed my teeth, ironed a shirt, said goodbye to my bemused middle daughter (but wasn’t that the place you left on Monday?), patted the cat for good luck, took the car to the petrol station, bought a cheap sandwich and drove to the north star.
It was with a happy indifference that I walked into the reception to find that my details were still on the clocking-in system (data protection error) and received my lanyard, class lists, and temporary timetable.
It was with well acquainted irony that I discovered that my first class of the day was maths, but with a number of students who were collectively my least favourite.
It all added up; I didn’t particularly like maths, I didn’t particularly like a number of those students, but I also didn’t like the prospect of sitting with my own company trying to reach a difficult decision.
Life had become a smorgasbord of indifferent delights.
Upon waking (normally at least twice during the night and once for good in the morning), I took to the stairs, descended them, made cups of tea, spoke to my now awake wife, browsed the various pieces of news that had been deemed of importance by those in charge of the news agendas, checked who was (n’t) reading my blog, then turned to that old standard that is Facebook.
Strangely, there are things that can still be panned from the slowly flowing stream of digital dross.
A favourite guilty pleasure of ours is to read the oft’ published micro thoughts of a woman who used to be a much closer friend. She is a divorcee who plunders the singles sites for possible pleasure, pain, or prey. Then she announces her night’s work to all that have the stomach to read it.
She is a lonely person who thinks that frequent injections of male parts will somehow make her happier. Her relationships last between three hours (including meal and drinks) to several months; at which point all hell will break loose with open accusations of betrayal, being a poor partner in bed, having a secret desire for ladyboys, or just being a lying, cheating, uncaring sack of faeces. Last night she announced that her most recent date was so successful that she was home by ten, presumably at night and presumably on her own.
So with that pleasure to one side, I moved on to the unavoidable nonsense that is generated by my membership of a couple of writers’ groups.
I know why I joined these groups.
I know that my intentions were sound. I know that I wanted to team up with other decent writers and share ideas and contacts and a little bit of know-how. What I didn’t know was how much shit could be generated in a single sitting by some of my fellow writers. Or, to put it more bluntly, how many ordinary people wish to call themselves writers as quality assurance stamp even though they spend much of their time posting insanely about having sex with somebody else’s partner, whether or not anyone out there has ever lived through a nuclear holocaust (as I am currently writing a novel on this), suggestions for a character’s middle name, or simply suggestions of how to overcome writer’s block when only one chapter, or paragraph, into the process.
We have two fruit trees in our garden. Both were bought as homage to the coming summer, many years ago. Both ought to bear exotic fruits that do not grow on these shores. Both should have been kept indoors.
Being me, I placed them outside. I believed that that was where trees deserved to be. I had a slight faith that the summers would come and encourage them into blossom. I hoped that they could find a new home in our garden. I left them to be.
A sort of summer has arrived. It is one of those four-day affairs that we English so much look forward to, yet rarely see. It was an equally unusual splash of warmth and sun that straddled a long weekend. After such a never-ending winter, relief was upon us. The garden became busy with ourselves. The ritual of cutting grass took place along with a raising of our new family-tent. We even breakfasted on the lawn this morning and all was well with the world.
I was perusing the plants on our patio when I noticed the fruit-trees. They have been denuded of the promise of fruit and raised their spiked branches towards the sky in an arboreal supplication. Their gift of fruition has been taken away and their response was to protect what little they had left.