Saturday, 14 January 2012

"Simon, it's me. Don't you remember? It's me, Simon. It's Batman."

Batman stared into the eyes of his old friend, searching for a hint of recognition. There was nothing there. Simon was gone. His mind had worn away like an old cloth sack, his memories spilling out and catching on the wind, to be lost forever. Batman climbed painfully to his feet, his knees popping as he straightened up.

"Good bye, Simon," he said, "good bye, old friend."

It was winter in Gotham, and Gotham knew all about winter. No snow, just a cold wet tang to the air and a leeching chill like a fog of spectres sucking the warmth from the living. Batman wrapped his overcoat tightly around himself and held it closed. The buttons had disappeared, one by one, just like everything else in his life. With Simon gone, it was just him. Him and the cold. Batman thought he might cry, but he didn't have the strength.

Batman caught the bus back to his apartment. He was 3¢ short of the fare, but the driver waved him on anyway. He must think I'm a veteran or something, thought Batman. I guess I am, in a way. Taking a seat at the front of the vehicle, Batman removed a battered paperback from the pocket of his overcoat. The book was Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Batman had been reading a lot about the Holocaust lately. He found it comforting.

After a couple of stops, someone got on the bus and sat next to Batman. It was an old negro, dressed in a threadbare zoot suit and grubby pork-pie hat. He smelled of liquor. He peered over Batman's shoulder.

"You Jewish?" asked the negro.

Batman tried to answer, but when he opened his mouth he began to cough.

"Take it easy, don't go dying on me," said the negro, jovially. "Don't go dying on the public bus."

It was good advice, the best Batman had had in years. But Batman had never been good at taking advice.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Inconclusive Adventures of

"The setting is Transilvania circa 1993. The hero is one Elbridge Epicurus, a disgraced travelling salesman fleeing his murderous gold-digger wife, Edema, and her kick-boxing instructor cum lover, Anton Gallop. Driving along the Autostrada Transilvania one dark and stormy night--"

Ian rang the bell, which was actually an old shortbread box full of foreign coins, which he actually kicked across the room. "Wait, wait...what's the word? Pleonasm. It's pleonastic: a night is dark by definition. You're out." He grabbed Lenk's ankle and yanked, pulling his flat mate off the bed and on to the sheep-skin rug.

"Fuck you, you grammar Stasi," replied the floored storyteller. "I know what a pleonasm is. I was using quotation to--"

"To prove that you're an idiot?" Ian, now seated on the bed, began to rock back and forth in excitement. "You are unworthy. You bring shame to this once distinguished enterprise." He turned his attention to his other flat mate, who was sitting on a chair by the window, gazing out at the brick wall opposite. "Doesn't he bring shame to this once distinguished enterprise?"

Clioul sighed meaningfully.

"So, Elbridge Epicurus," said Ian, continuing the story, "was driving along the Autostrada Transilvania one freakishly bright night in the pouring rain, which rain was actually the cause of the unnatural illumination, because it was radioactive and glowed radium green, when he lost control of his car and skidded off the road into a herd of cows."

Lenk blew a raspberry of disgust. "None of this lost-in-the-wilderness-after-dark shit," he said. "This is late-20th-century Transilvania. Things have changed. They spell it with an 'i'."

"Oh my God," said Ian. "Are you the president of the National Tourism Board of Late-20th-Century Transilvania, or what?" He planted his slippered feet on Lenk's jumpered chest, menacingly.

"Political correctness," said a quiet voice originating in the vicinity of Clioul's mouth, "gone mad."

"Political correctness gone indeed mad," echoed Ian. He tried to stand on his fallen flat mate, who whimpered in pain. He sat back down again. "It's time for a recess. I want to eat chocolate biscuits."

Clioul abruptly pivoted 180° in his chair, revealing a long, bony face dissected by a broad orange moustache. "Ooh, chocolate biscuits," he said.
Critically-acclaimed novelist Ira Humpstein skateboarded into the Alton Towers control room wearing a purple dinner jacket and yellow corduroy trousers. He was singing the opening aria from a Verdi opera. He came to rest at the chair of the duty officer and kicked his board (decorated with a pipe-smoking sheep skull) up into his hand. "Skeleton crew tonight, eh Marcel?" he said, lisping outrageously.

Marcel, a fat Frenchman in the early-later stages of middle age, sallow skinned and fiercely bearded, grunted in the Gallic manner. He raised a greasy hand to his head and pasted an errant shoot of hair back into place. "Fucking children don't play out no more. They stay at home. They play in their rooms on their self with the Play Box, the Game do you call it?"

"The X-Box, frog prince. The Playstation. You really don't spend much time in kiddies' bedrooms, do you! What kind of unwholesome mischief are you getting up to?" Humpstein smiled. He had only twelve teeth, but they were all at the front, so it wasn't a problem unless he tried to eat food.

"What you think, you fucking English person? I wank myself half dead. I go on the internet for pornographies and write the letters to the famous actress." Marcel licked his lips at the thought of his latest missive, in which he implored former Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Charisma Carpenter to send him a video of herself doing Pilates in a crotch-less pig suit. "When I finish, I say a prayer and go to sleep under la table du jardin."

"Excessivo informatio!" quipped Humpstein. He scratched himself on the foot with the end of his skateboard. When I'm finished with you, he thought, you'll be nothing but a skin-sack of warm shit and whatever you stole from the cafeteria this afternoon. He began to laugh, indiscreetly.
He felt like a free-standing tumor that, having completely devoured its host, now lacked the energy necessary to expire, and just went on and on and on, moving from room to room, brushing against objects, swaying a little from side to side but never falling, never building up the required momentum to topple over and break itself to pieces on the polished hardwood floor of the dining room of its parents' semi-detached suburban home. I have no mouth and I must apply for jobseeker's allowance, he thought, allusively.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Learning on the Job

Evan was convinced that working in a bar for a year had taught him nothing at all, but that was far from being the case. For an introspective type, not in the habit of following what was going on around himself, he'd picked up quite a lot. For example, he'd noticed how a customer left waiting for a minute or two at a crowded bar would invariably adopt a grim, otherworldly expression, as if contemplating an alternate reality in which everyone present was wired to explode in five minutes' time and didn't know it. As soon as you uttered the magic words 'what can I get you?' this expression would be replaced with solicitous friendliness, but that only made Evan more suspicious.

Another thing he'd learned was that almost no one knows anything about wine. For the first few months he'd been caught out again and again by expert sommeliers who would ask him for a 'dry white' or 'something from the Old World', but once he'd discovered that nine-times-out-of-ten all they wanted was a Sauvignon Blanc their power over him was broken. He had actually come to take pleasure in humiliating customers by reciting at length the names of lesser-known grape varities--Gros Manseng, Chasan, Malvasia Istriana--while they attempted to simulate an expression of thoughtfulness. When at last he finished with 'and we also have a Sauvignon Blanc' they would latch on to it gratefully, at which point he would ask if they wanted the Chilean, the New Zealand or the Australian Semillion blend. Not one of these wines had he ever tasted.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Let Me Tell You about My Blog

Kennington isn’t so much a village as a conurbation of estate agents: Field & Sons; Barnard Marcus; Kinleigh, Folkard & Hayward; Daniel Cobb; Winkworth; Atkinson McLeod—all of them occupying a single stretch of otherwise inoffensive high street. This is the Brick Lane of the property market; it’s a wonder the salespeople aren’t out on the pavements hawking their wares to passers-by: “Two-bedroom semi for rent in Stockwell. Convenient distance from tube. Move in this week and I’ll do you a loft extension for free.”

Monday, 4 April 2011

Don't I Know You from Somewhere?

He was wearing a shapeless, colourless pullover adorned with the insigne of some forgotten martial arts society, and a rough blazer about three sizes too large. On his feet were a pair of lace-up plimsolls that would have been well on the way to turning brown if they hadn’t been that colour to start with. His flat-footed gait had caused the shoes to collapse inwards, so that they resembled the heads of twin Dobermans, inclined in a pose of symmetrical pathos. He held out a pale hand florid with eczema; I grasped it and shook, silently reassuring myself that the condition was not communicable.