I’m Reviewing a Play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along

 

Charles Thornton was a stenographer. A stenographer is someone who takes notes in shorthand or operates a shorthand machine. I didn’t know that until I happened upon in it in a dictionary, but Charles had known it all his adult life.

When he was 11 he received a vision informing him, among other things, that he would become a stenographer. He began working towards it right away, saving up his errand money for a second-hand stenograph and subscribing to Junior Stenographer magazine, a monthly journal published and printed in Canada. At fourteen he took his first stenography exam and passed with the highest mark the examining board had ever seen (94%). There was a story in his local paper about it, but it is too boring to include here. Soon after that he started workingas a stenographer’s assistant at Bartleby Throws, a legal firm in the city. For two years he wore a ¾ size suit and tie and, in the evenings to wind-down, played a ¾ size cello.

Charles was also a theatre critic, but it didn’t pay much and was really more of a sideline. By the age of thirty-three, Charles was Stenographer in Chief for Sing, Sing & Beard – which was pretty good. He was in love with a woman namedMadison Piper, head of Sales Received for Sing, Sing & Beard. She was 5’ 6”, blonde and often wore a black flower in her hair.

This is important as it happened in Charles’s past: when he was nine he walked into the bathroom and found his babysitter, a seventeen year old girl named Petula, standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror, humming a tune he sort of recognised. ‘Hi Charles,’ she said. Charles walked back out of the bathroom and sat down at his desk where he practised writing in shorthand.

One Tuesday morning in Spring, after two years working for Sing, Sing & Beard, Charles found Madison at the water buffalo, drinking glass after glass of ice cold water. Madison Piper was a woman of remarkable thirst.

‘Good morning,’ said Charles, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ He handed Madison the Albany’s Spring brochure.

Saturday, April 23rd, 7:30pm – Chase Bullmori’s ‘The Sausage and I’. ‘The Sausage and I’ is a play after the epic tradition for five actors (all sausages). The sausages are tied to invisible thread and jiggled around in order to simulate movement and dialogue. It is a silent play. After the performance, Chase Bullmori discusses theinspiration behind the piece. Bullmori’s past works, ‘The Parchment’ and ‘Eponymous Milk’, were both nominated for BonesongAwards for Innovation and his first collection of poetry, ‘Poems’, is published this year by Charlie Horse Books. This is the first British production of ‘The Sausage and I’ – which premiered at the Oslo Theatre Festival in 2002. “The challenge,” said Bullmori, in interview with P. S. McFadden, “was wringing tragedy from the situation. When I told most people the premise behind ‘The Sausage and I’, they laughed out loud – but those same people left the theatre weeping.”Adults £13, Concessions £8. The play is not suitable for young children and contains strobe effects.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Madison. ‘I don’t really like experimental theatre.’

‘Oh, it’s not experimental as such,’ said Charles. ‘I’ve seen his other plays – Bullmori’s narratives are actually pretty traditional.’

 ‘It sounds lovely,’ said Madison Piper. ‘But I have an awful lot of work to do on the Bird Index.’

‘In that case,’ said Charles, ‘I’m just going to ask you over and over again until you say yes.’ And with that Charles asked Madison Piper if she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. She laughed – and Charles asked her again. He wouldn’t stop, even when Madison poured a glass of ice cold water over his head. He followed her into her office and continued to ask her if she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. Madison explained that such behaviour was unacceptable as it was tantamount to harassment and, when two hours later Charles hadn’t stopped asking her to accompany him to the theatre, decided to take legal advice.

‘Would you describe his tone as “stridulous”?’ asked Madison’s lawyer, Mr. Haycock.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Madison, holding the phone to one ear and putting her hand over the other.

‘For the sake of argument,’ said Haycock, ‘we’ll call it “stridulous”.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘It’s really annoying,’ said Madison.

‘Good,’ said Haycock, ‘that’s very good. Try to suffer as much as possible.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘I don’t know,’ said Madison, ‘I might just go to the play with him.’

‘On no account should you agree to go to the play with him,’ said Haycock. ‘At this stage in proceedings it would be very damaging to your case. You wouldn’t even get a hearing. You’re going to have to tough it out, Maddy. And if you suffer a breakdown, all the better. That would be very good for your case. I recommend that you speak to your doctor. Tough it out.’

Madison called her doctor.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

 ‘I need to speak to Dr. Blend,’ she told Dr. Blend’s receptionist. ‘It’s an emergency.’ Dr. Blend was an Eastern European G.P. with very little to add to this story. He suggested booking an appointment for later in the week.

‘Geeze,’ said Haycock. ‘You sort of have to admire his persistence.’

‘No you don’t,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘For the love of God,’ cried Madison.

‘Call me tomorrow,’ said Haycock. ‘I’m interested to see how this plays out. I’ll look into a few relevant cases this evening.’

Madison’s conversation with Haycock cost her in the region of £500, but it was worth it as he was a lawyer.

At six o’ clock, Charles Thornton followed Madison Piper to her car, asking if she would like to accompany him to the theatre. When Madison unlocked her car, Charles got into the passenger seat and said, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’

After they had eaten together, Madison took a bath, surrounded by candles. Charles sat outside the bathroom doorof Madison’s apartment, saying, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ All night, Charles sat by Madison’s bedside, whispering, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ Madison fell asleep at two a.m.

The next day, Charles stood outside Madison’s bedroom door while she dressed and put a black flower in her hair. Madison drove Charles to work and bought him a large coffee from a drive-through cafe. ‘There you go,’ she said. ‘Enjoy your fucking coffee.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Hey kid,’ said Haycock, on the phone. ‘What’s the state of play?’

‘He hasn’t left my side since yesterday.’

 ‘You let him into your house?’

‘I tried to shut him out,’ said Madison, ‘but he started weeping. The sound of him wondering if I’d like to accompany him to the theatre through his tears was too much to bear.’

‘So you let him into your house?’

‘Mark, please don’t start repeating things.’

‘You let him into your house?’ said Haycock and laughed. ‘I’m just messing with you,’ he said. ‘Ha ha ha. Did hebecome violent?’

‘No,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘I don’t think he slept at all,’ she said.

‘Listen to this,’ said Haycock. ‘In 1988 a man was fined £75,000 for yelling at a tree.’

‘I’m sorry?’ said Madison.

‘That’s the closest I could find,’ said Haycock. ‘And the details are kind of patchy. The guy pleaded insanity so they had to prove that he wasn’t mad – and they managed it, somehow. He wasn’t mad at all. Only way you can get away with yelling at a tree is if you’re nuts. Here’s the weird part: he pays his fine – he was a pretty well-off guy – he pays his fine and two weeks later they find him yelling at the same tree again, only this time even louder. He was tried again, pleaded insanity, and this time it turned out he was insane. Spent the rest of his life in a secure institution yelling at a goddamned tree.’

‘That doesn’t strike me as relevant,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Is this guy Charles insane, do you think?’ said Haycock.

‘I don’t know,’ said Madison.

‘Have you seen your doctor yet?’

‘I haven’t had a breakdown yet,’ said Madison.

‘It’s probably in your interest to have the breakdown as soon as possible,’ said Haycock. ‘The sooner you have it, the sooner we can proceed with the prosecution.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

 ‘Call me tomorrow with an update,’ said Haycock.

Madison placed the phone back on the receiver.

‘Lets go for lunch,’ she said to Charles.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

That afternoon Madison Piper had an important meeting with her colleagues and superiors at which she was to give a presentation. She tried to explain this to Charles, but his only response was to wonder aloud whether she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. The meeting was not a complete disaster as her colleagues and superiors took Charles to be part of the act.

That night Madison took Charles for dinner at Montgomery’s. They had three bottles of red wine and stayed for cocktails.

‘You did what?’ said Haycock.

‘Nothing happened,’ said Madison. ‘He just lay next to me, whispering, I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along, until he fell asleep. He looked so awful, sitting in that uncomfortable chair by my bed, his eyes all bloodshot.’

‘This isn’t going to stand up too well in court,’ said Haycock. ‘Neither is your buying him dinner. Do you have the receipts?’

‘He has to eat.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘If you have the receipts, burn them. How are you coming along with the breakdown?’

‘Not great.’

‘Are you trying to destroy me, Maddy? I was telling your story to Rube last night and he gave me the Tanning case – Rube worked on the Tanning case years ago. This Tanning decides he wants to write a novel about a colleague of his – so he starts writing down everything the guy says. Whenever he opens his mouth, there’s Tanning, waiting to write it down. Drove the poor guy crazy.’

‘What happened?’

‘It’s actually a pretty good novel. But Tanning got five years for fraud in a completely unrelated matter. And the other guy, I don’t know. Once he’d recovered he tried to write a novel about Tanning in response, but it sort of flopped. The whole Tanning wave had peaked.’

The line went dead.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Okay,’ said Madison. ‘I’ll come to the stupid sausage play.’

***

The dialogue between the sausages, manifesting only as jiggling movements, was noted in the programme.

sausage2: [Your attempt on my life has backfired.]

sausage1: [I was raised in a pit of snakes.]

sausage2: [When I found you I threw in more snakes.]

sausage1: [I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.]

In the interval Madison drank a slightly off-chill glass of white wine with Charles Thornton in the theatre courtyard. The sun was setting over the grey apartment blocks and Charles hadn’t said a word since she’d agreed to go to the play with him.

Somebody tapped her on the shoulder. She turned. Hey kid,’ said Haycock. ‘If I’d known it was Bullmori, I’d have taken you myself. Is this Charles?’

‘Hi,’ said Charles.

‘Good for you,’ said Haycock, patting Charles on the back. ‘I knew you’d get her sooner or later.’

Haycock had greyed since the last time Madison had seen him. He drank a champagne cocktail from a highball glass and his tie depicted the surface of the moon. ‘How are you enjoying the play?’ he asked.

‘It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,’ said Madison.

Don’t thank me, thank the moon’s gravitational pull

Christine was managing the office relocation, an opportunity to take her mind off the break-up with Malcolm. Malcolm, however, was health and safety, and everything had to be approved by him.

She indicated with a polished fingernail the position of the new building but Malcolm moaned, shook his head and did nervy jazz hands. ‘You’ve forgotten something vital. The building’s relationship to where staff live.’

Christine explained about public transport.

‘I was wondering whether it’s east or west. I only ever work west of where I live, so that on the way to and from work the sun is never in my eyes.’

‘But you come to work on the tube.’

‘I have a strong sense of the planet. Even underground I know where I am in relation to the sun.’

She agreed to go with him to a cellar bar so he could demonstrate this skill, and it did explain something. The time he’d consulted a compass before making love, claiming the moon’s gravitational pull enhanced his performance, he’d been lying.

The Three Daves

David Gaffney

Fat Dave thought Budapest was shabby-chic.  Little Dave thought Paris was shoe-shop-manager-on-a-midlife crisis. Big Dave didn’t want a repeat of Krakow where they had to put on padded clothing and get chased through the woods by attack dogs. So for a laugh. Big Dave suggested they have the stag in Pontefract, where they’d visited the liquorish museum as part of a confectionary campaign. Little Dave said yes right away, and Fat Dave loved the idea. It would be uber-post-post-ironic-out-the-other-side-and-back-into-being-just-ironic. Shoreditch media spods in sarcastically tilted flat caps sipping mini-Bollingers in the street. There was even a Wimpy so they could eat burgers off a plate with a knife and fork.  It was Little Dave’s idea  to use the stone troughs in the market place, and the president of the National Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was so impressed that Pontrefract’s troughs would be returned to their original use he gave his blessing right away.

 The night before the stag the three Daves donned overalls and went into the town to prepare their troughs. Each Dave had a clearly defined role, set out on Fat Dave’s spreadsheet. Little Dave was to dig out the soil and flowers and fit the plastic liner, Fat Dave was to operate the wheelbarrow, while Big Dave had to deal with passer’s by.  But Big Dave didn’t need to deal with passers by because no-one  in Pontefract paid any attention to the three Daves at all.

Come the night of the stag each Dave sat on a stool next to his trough and began to drink through a long bendy straw. There were no other guests to cater for because the rest of the Shoreditch crowd had decided it would be more ironic not to come.

After an hour the Daves began to feel cold sitting by their beer-filled troughs. It was quiet too. A few hardy smokers stood outside the nearby pubs looking into the middle distance, but apart from polite nods, they didn’t call across to any of the Daves.  No Dave rang or texted any of the other Daves to see how he were getting on at his trough because there was a strict no mobile rule on stags and the three Daves followed this to the letter because stags were about bonding and getting away from the world.

Piggy-back

He shivers awake. Sand has collected in the folds of his skin and rubbed him raw. He must have had a heavy night. Stag night was it? Some stupid drinking game? That would account for the filthy taste in his mouth, like ashtray dust washed down with car engine juice. He should know better by now, him a married man and all.

He hopes he hasn’t been in a fight. If he has, he hopes he didn’t hurt anyone. His eyes won’t open. Eyelids seem to be stuck together. His feet inside his boots are clammy like a pair of dead fish. It’s a funny beach where you wear your boots, he thinks. A memory flits like a ghost across the screen of his mind. Not a beach but a vast stretch of sand, like a beach without the sea, but it’s strange he can hear surging waves, moaning.

Seagulls are screeching. It’s a hungry sound as if they’re about to swoop. They do that sometimes. Big buggers nowadays, seagulls. Killed a dog in St Ives or somewhere, pecked a hole in his head. They snatch the sandwiches out of the picnickers’ hands; snaffle ice creams from under their noses. They’ll have him if he doesn’t watch out, lying like a cored apple on this smelly beach. They sound like screaming children.

And who did that to his heart? Pulled it up his tubes and stuck it in the back of his throat, where its fat pulsing makes it hard to breathe. It’s one thing to paste somebody’s eyes up for a joke but yanking their heart about, that’s not on. It’s dangerous. Is the taste in his mouth the black blood from his own bitten heart?

‘You alive buddy?’

Who’s that? Is someone talking to him? ‘Me?’

‘Thank God, you’re alive. Do you know where we are?’

Funny, you don’t usually get Yanks in Ibiza. ‘You lost then are you, mate?’

‘Ssh. Someone’s coming.’

Footsteps approaching and the murmur of voices. You can’t hear people’s footsteps on a beach. And another thing. That’s not Spanish. That’s something else, that is. Guttural sounds. He’s heard that before. He tries to swallow the lump in his throat, but it’s stuck fast. Someone pokes at his stomach and uncovers a whole new area of discomfort, not to say pain, no, don’t say it, save that word for the bits that really hurt, like his right foot for example. He’s been wounded, that must be it, shot in the foot maybe. They’re in a hospital. Hospital, any hospital, that’s a good place to be when you’re wounded. Hippocratic oath. That applies everywhere doesn’t it? Like the Geneva Convention. Oh oh oh! Help, he thinks, help. The footsteps move away. ‘You still there?’ he hisses into the hot air. ‘Hey you!’ He raises his voice a fraction.

‘Yeah, I’m still here. My name’s Joe.’

‘I’m Sam. Am I badly injured?’

‘You look in good shape. Real good.’

‘Why can’t I open my eyes?’ A scraping noise is followed by a thud. ‘Joe, what happened?’

No answer. Silence, apart from those seagulls. Sam pats his pockets to find a hanky but has no saliva to wet it. He sucks in his cheeks trying to gather some, not swallowing, working his jaw and managing a globule of spit. He scrapes at the congealed lashes and stretches his eyebrows up to his hairline to drag his eyelids apart until one eye blearily half-opens. He sees a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling above. He shifts his weight and turns to look over to his right, the direction of Joe’s voice. A line of metal beds stretches away, each containing some tattered remnant of a human being, some of them groaning. On the pallets laid out on the floor against the opposite wall bloodied children are crying.

The bare mattress on the empty bed next to his is stained rusty red. On the floor between lies a shuddering bundle of clothes. It looks like a uniform. A door bangs at the other end of the room and indecipherable but important-sounding male voices ring out. One of them seems to be English but as a collective tremor ripples through the ward, Sam knows this is not good news.

Three soldiers have stopped at the first bed. They are looking at the patient, a white-faced boy with a bandage over his eyes, and listening to a man in a suit who is flapping his arms and speaking in an urgent whisper. A gesture from the most decorated of the three in uniform silences the suited one. There is a gun in the soldier’s hand. The bandaged boy swivels his head wildly from side to side but he stills when the metal touches his temple. Sam turns away. When he looks back, the boy’s head is lolling and the soldiers have moved on.

The suited man, a doctor perhaps, is more subdued as he explains the second case. That one is spared but the third is dispatched without questions. Sam starts rubbing his other eye. Joe said I looked fine, he reminds himself. Survival of the fittest. Joe, where is Joe? He looks back down at the heaving bundle on the floor. That is Joe. Got to get him up.

When Sam swings his feet down, a hot knife of pain stabs up his right leg and he gasps. He drops to his knees and shuffles, genuflecting his way over to Joe, who is in a crumpled facedown huddle. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our, let it not be yet, sweet Mary, not yet.

‘Joe, wake up mate. You’ve got to get back on the bed.’ He shakes the limp hand. ‘Come on. Help me a bit here.’ The hand clutches.

‘That’s it! Slide your knees up under you. You can do it!’ Sam looks quickly around to see if anyone has noticed them. A man with one trouser leg flapping is barring the soldiers’ way to a bed where a child, eyes open on to nothing, lies absolutely still. Sam puts his hand on Joe’s bed and uses it to lever himself up to a semi-standing position, with the other man’s back resting on his thighs. He braces himself, slides his arms under Joe’s shoulders and heaves him upright momentarily before skewing him sideways. Joe grunts as he hits the mattress. Fast, fast, pray for us sinners. Sam catapults himself back to his own bed.

His nostrils flare into an involuntary sneer of rejection as the butcher-shop stench crawls up the hairs inside his nose. He sucks in air through his mouth but he can still taste it, as if he’d taken a greedy gulp of a raw hamburger. Sweetbreads, he thinks, sweetbreads laced with an added sweetness. He gags as he inhales. Fresh vomit. He waits for his panting chest to quieten, fixes his slitty eye on the ceiling and breathes the putrefaction. This is how a 60-fags-a-day man feels. You can kid yourself you’re still alive but the cancer’s coming. It’s coming all right.

W

Chickens

  

            ‘What number did you say your house was?’ I said. 

            ‘115,’ said the boy. 

            We pulled over and I mounted the curb, reversed off it, straightened up, mounted the curb again, reversed off it again, wiped the sweat from my forehead and straightened up, leaving the car over a foot away from the gutter. When I rang the doorbell it played the second bar of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme. ‘That’s nice,’ I said. 

            The boy was fiddling with a bright gold crucifix on a thick chain around his neck and looked up, when I said that, to see if I was being sarcastic. A young woman wearing a pink towel gown opened the door and said, ‘Hello?’ like she was answering a phone. Then she noticed the boy. ‘Gary?’ she said. ‘What’s going on?’ 

            ‘This is what your son did to one of my chickens,’ I said, handing her the partially exploded chicken. The woman in the pink towel-gown looked at the chicken and then at me, like it was my fault. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ I said. ‘I don’t even like chickens – I 

like eggs, that’s why I keep them. So don’t call me a hypocrite.’ 

            ‘Who are you?’ she said. Picture of chicken

            ‘My name is Gerald or Gerry,’ I said. ‘What worries me is that your son may be a budding psychotic killer. Most psychotic killers started out interfering with animals. I myself killed several insects when I was a boy – and it was a thrill, the moment when I  realised I could choose whether the ant, if it was an ant, would live or die. But afterwards I felt disgusted with myself and I cried. I have no problem admitting that.’ I heard my car start – I recognised it as my car as my car makes a high-pitched wheedling noise when it starts. 

            ‘Gary!’ shouted the woman in the pink towel-gown, elbowing past me and running into the road. 

            Gary drove away in my car in second gear. The woman in the pink towel gown stalked back to her house, glaring at me. 

            ‘Your son is out of control,’ I said, crossly. 

            ‘No shit.’ Gary’s mother folded her arms. 

            ‘Do you have any idea where he might be going?’ 

            ‘No,’ she pouted. ‘Do you?’ 

            ‘Melissa,’ I said. ‘I think we got off on the wrong foot. You are Melissa, aren’t you?’ She looked concerned. ‘I recognise you from the Express,’ I said. ‘Those cakes you made.’ Melissa unfolded her arms. ‘For the old people’s home?’ 

            ‘That was over three years ago,’ she said. 

            ‘I’m an archivist,’ I said. ‘I’m an expert in local events.’ 

            ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Must be interesting.’ 

            ‘Not really,’ I said. ‘Helpful, though. On balance, for every mindless act of violence there’s several small acts of kindness. It’s good to see things that way.’ 

            ‘I’m sorry,’ said Melissa, tightening the cord of her pink towel-gown. ‘Why don’t you come in? It’s cold out here.’ 

            I put the partially exploded chicken into the wheelie-bin and closed the lid. 

‘I’ve got the exact same picture,’ I said, taking off my shoes. Over the gas-fire hung a large hyper-realist painting of a mountain, its apex obscured by clouds, hundreds of brightly coloured little climbers all over it. 

            ‘Please don’t worry about that,’ said Melissa. 

            ‘I’ve taken them off now,’ I said. ‘Where should I put them?’

            ‘Just put them back on,’ she said. ‘Tea? Coffee?’

            ‘Coffee,’ I said. ‘Is it decaffeinated?’

            ‘No,’ said Melissa.

            ‘Tea then,’ I said, grudgingly putting my shoes back on.

            ‘Actually there’s actually more caffeine in tea than there is in coffee,’ said Melissa from the kitchenette. I turned to look at her, busy with the kettle, the cord of her pink towel-gown loose again. I sat down in a rough, squashy arm-chair. It looked new, her pink towel-gown, the pile was sleek and unworn and probably not adequately absorbent. I was going to recommend putting it through the washing machine a few times, but I think you should only give advice when you’re asked for it. ‘Well, for some reason coffee keeps me awake more,’ I said. ‘I’ve got the exact same painting.’

            ‘Which one?’ called Melissa.

            ‘The mountain,’ I said. ‘I suppose you know why that’s funny?’

            ‘No.’

            ‘The local artist?’ I said. ‘McAndrew Esslin? He claimed it was a limited edition of five? Turned out he’d printed over a hundred. The mayor’s wife discovered it. The prints were recalled and he was forced to refund everyone’s money. Only I kept mine because I don’t care about things like that. And I see you kept yours, too.’

            ‘Do you take sugar?’

            ‘I’m actually allergic to sugar.’

            ‘I never heard of that before,’ said Melissa, placing a steaming mug of tea on the coffee table.

            ‘The painting?’ I said.

            ‘The allergy,’ she said, sitting down in the other armchair, exposing one knee. ‘But I never heard about the painting, either.’ The mug was embossed with Paddington Bear. He was wearing sunglasses and Bermuda shorts and surfing on a wave which was made up of the words Paddington Goes Hawaii! in blue. I had a suspicion that the mug

was not official Paddington Bear memorabilia. ‘I notice you have damp,’ I said. ‘All the houses on this road do. Builder’s fault. You can actually get the council to pay for

someone to look at it.’

            ‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s finding the time.’

            There were five books on a little shelf by the telephone. One was the telephone directory for our area. The next one was a red leather-bound edition of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, next to that a devastated paperback of Ben Elton’s Stark. Next to that an adventure from The Babysitter’s Club series called Close Call for Trudy. Last was a Bible. ‘You’re a reader,’ I said.

             ‘Not really,’ she said.

            ‘Don’t be modest,’ I said.

            Outside, Carol Carpenter was singing ‘RAINY DAYS AND MONDAYS ALLLLLWAYS GET ME DOWN…’ on full volume. Then the engine cut halfway through the saxophone solo and the music stopped. ‘Sounds like he’s back,’ I said.

            The second bar of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme sounded unpleasantly loud inside the house. I was pleased that Gary didn’t have his own key.

            Melissa opened the door. ‘What do you have to say for yourself?’ she said.

            ‘Sorry,’ muttered Gary, sloping upstairs without looking at me.

            ‘Gary!’

            ‘It’s all right,’ I smiled. ‘I won’t be pressing charges.’

Someone had parked in my space on Pendragon Close. I left my car on the main road and folded in the wing mirrors. In the middle of my front lawn six dead chickens had been arranged in the shape of an asterisk.

            ‘Gary, you evil little shit,’ I said out loud. I looked up the number for the local police station, but I already heard myself remonstrating with a lethargic receptionist. And then there was Melissa – who had enough problems. I replaced the receiver. On the television, car-bombers drove into busy esplanades while presenters offered sad little explanations. On the next channel, some out-of-focus pages from Ceefax; then a call-in show where contestants had to fill in the blanks in the phrase A ____ in the hand is worth two in the ____. Lastly, a programme that seemed to feature nothing but young men mauling their own genitalia or pouring chilli sauce into one another’s arses or jumping out of trees onto neatly arranged piles of champagne glasses. Howling as if in surprise – as if they weren’t expecting it to hurt. I left it on that.

short story by sally flint

Listen

I was at the open window. The bird in the tree was singing to me. It was beautiful. I didn’t know who they were or what they wanted. They stood smiling.

The man said, ‘it’s ok, we will see to everything. Don’t worry.’

The woman said, ‘what would you like to bring?’

‘Listen,’ I said.

The man and the woman did not listen. They were looking in cupboards.

‘Would you like a cup of tea? said the man.

‘I’m sure she would like a cup of tea,’ the woman replied.

The man went into the kitchen. I heard him. ‘She hasn’t been taking her tablets.’ He came out holding something in his hand.

The bird was singing. It was beautiful. I watched the blossom float from the branches. ‘Like snow,’ I whispered.

‘Your tablets are like snow?’ The woman laughed.

‘I walked in the snow,’ I said. She did not hear. She was putting things into bags.

‘Tea up,’ the man said, ‘but no milk. It’s gone off.’ He handed me a cup. A pretty cup with a gold edge and flowers. The gold made patterns in the tea.

‘It’s pretty,’ I said. The two people were talking. The tea tasted bitter. I spat it out.

‘Don’t do that, don’t you like it?’ the woman said. She took the cup from me.

‘I want some, some… ‘

‘Yes, yes.’ She ran her fingers across the sideboard and sprinkled the dust into the air. She touched a photograph in a silver frame.

‘Don’t,’ I said. She had a bonnet and a bracelet. ‘Can you see?’ I asked.

‘See what?’ the woman said.

short story by sally flint‘The silver, silver.’ The woman looked at me. ‘Sixpence,’ I said and touched her. She moved away.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Why what?’ said the man.

‘What are you?’ I asked.

He laughed at me – out loud. ‘We’re helping you. You know that.’ I watched him clear away cups with gold rims and pretty flowers. He said something to the woman. She went away and came back with a coat.

‘Put this on,’ she said. I didn’t want to.

‘Listen,’ I said.

‘Come on, it’ll be ok. You’ll be looked after properly.’

I sat down and folded my arms.

‘Come on then. Let’s go,’ he said.

They put their arms under my arms and lifted me out of the chair. ‘No, no, no.’ I could see the cobwebs around the light shade. ‘Spiders,’ I said.

‘There are no spiders to hurt you – no one’s going to hurt you Mum,’ she said.

‘Shhh,’ I said.

The bird in the tree was singing to me. It was beautiful. They stood smiling.