Week Four and the final instalment of Inktober 2017. One ink drawing by Laura Morgans, one piece of writing by Tom Spooner, every day in October.
Glasgow to Edinburgh
Three kiddies in Hibs shirts clamber on to the train at Queen Street station. Their team has lost to Celtic, but they don’t care. They slap each others faces, tease each other about their shit haircuts.
Outside of Cloy, a flame burns ten feet tall. Chimneys rise and fall.
Ten year old whiskeys. Glencadam, Arran, Aberlour. Spiced explosions on the tongue, a slowness between the ears. An epitaph reads: ‘whisky is watered down sunshine’.
Falkirk High passes by, a stone grain store crumbles to the ground. Sheep roam. A brook babbles.
A plate of Haggis, neeps and tatties, and tiled depictions of Benjamin Franklin and Robert Stephenson look down on me unamused, smug.
My kind of superhero is a bit different. Rather than protecting the innocent, tackling corruption and ridding a dirty metropolis of its seething underbelly, my superhero delivers wholly disproportionate punishments to the people that do things that annoy me.
A middle-aged man with cropped grey hair drives his SUV through a zebra crossing, at speed, despite a couple waiting patiently to cross. My superhero would place a giant heroic super strength hand in front of the speeding SUV. It would come screeching to a stop. He would open the door and grab the man, drag him from his over-sized car. Next, he would lift the car up above his head and smash it over and over again until it forms a small colourful cube of smouldering twisted metals. My superhero would then remove some Go-Kart wheels from his utility belt and solder them onto the cube of metal with his white-heat solder breath. He would make the man power himself along the road using only his skinny little legs and quip: “Watch your speed!”
Three friends shout and laugh together at a music concert. They are drunk and obnoxious, speaking loudly and inanely through all the songs, even the quiet bits. All the fans of the band that find themselves stood in the vicinity of these friends can no longer enjoy the show. They find themselves instead trying to think of ways to ask the idiots politely to go elsewhere to continue their very loud conversation, without getting a smack in the nose or a torrent of abuse. They mainly ask with their eyes.
The idiots have created a negativity bubble, swirling with toxic selfishness, and it needs bursting. My superhero falls from the ceiling, landing fist down just in front of the idiots, bursting the bubble. In lighting quick speed, he stretches their tongues out from their mouths and ties them together into a disgusting fleshy bow. With one hand, he picks up the three of them and deposits them at the back of the room. They are forced to dance in reverent silence with their fat tongues still tied together.
My superhero pays charity canvassers more than minimum wage to directly help people and animals in need.
My superhero flicks every man out there mansplaining something to a woman square in the nuts.
My superhero forces every customer service helpline operator to actually be helpful by whistling softly in their ears.
My superhero stops snoring, pub farts, and garlic burps with the power of telepathy alone.
My superhero takes money from the richest in the world and gives it to the poorest. He does this faster than a speeding bullet or a bank transfer.
My superhero turns every act of aggression or violence into a hug, apart from in the instances listed above.
Various Small Fires
A bus load of tourists tramp the graveyard ground. Soft from the traffic and the mizzle, it oozes underfoot.
The car park lights are bright and in neat lines. There are no cars.
Through wide brightly lit windows, the red headed girl scans miniature Irn Bru bottles on the Poundland self-service machine and places them in a bag.
Two kilted pipers have words about a prime spot by the castle. One tunes up and the other tells him he sounds shite.
The bearded troubadour sings about Caledonia in a pub where Robert Burns once stopped. A sign in the window suggests that in 2016 some people on TripAdvisor quite liked the food they were served there.
A Paolozzi foot, a pint-swilling Syrian bear, Pitt, and a half-finished row of Greek columns up a hill. It’s a city of statues, of monuments, of past edifices.
My dad would take me up the road to visit Len once, sometimes twice, a week. Len was an artist and a storyteller, but in the quietest possible way. He was understated in everything he did, but always warm – a gentleman.
I would sit at Len’s small kitchen table and draw whatever he suggested. It was usually a small posey of flowers or a tin that only old people seemed to own. He and my dad would talk and drink tea. I would sip squash so strong it stripped the enamel from my teeth, making them instantly furry.
Occasionally, Len would break away from a recollection to provide encouragement and compliments on my drawing. Always, may I add, without cause – I was a terrible drawer.
One Saturday, my dad and I had walked up the road to Len’s and we were all gathered in the small kitchen around the table. Len’s wife Sylvie buzzed around in the background, putting away crockery, rearranging papers, in and out of the kitchen, hands always full or flapping in anticipation of being such. There was a contrasting calm and stillness around Len, and me and my dad enjoyed it.
When Sylvie had eventually settled into her armchair with a book, Len began a new story. This one was different – I knew it right away from the tone of his voice. One that I hadn’t heard before. He was telling us a secret.
I was in Tangiers. The ship had docked for the night and we were on leave. Most of the men went straight to find women, if you know what I mean, and liquor of course. This didn’t interest me. Never has done. There was something else for me. From the moment I stepped foot on land, I smelt it. Above the sewage and diesel, I could smell lamb cooking on open charcoals somewhere nearby. I knew that I needed to taste the lamb.
It was a dirty place, full of noise and it was so hot and sticky, strange men and children, grubby faces, grabbing at my arms, my clothes, pulling me this way and that. I hated it. It was so hectic; all that hassle and hubbub. But I carried on in search of that lamb. I took one narrow passageway away from the port and then another. Some of the children darted after me, pulling at my jacket, saying ‘mister, mister, money, money’.
I took smaller passageways, barely wide enough for my shoulders. And after five minutes or so, I’d lost the children altogether – I was completely alone in a dark narrow space not much wider than this.
Len held his big hands out in front of him, trembling slightly above the tabletop.
I took a deep breath then opened my nostrils and sniffed. The lamb was still there, faint and distant, just discernible above an intense perfume. The stink of the port had gone. I could smell spices and sandalwood and the smell of summer rain on the road – strange it was.
I started to head back out of the passageway, quickening my step because I sensed that I was trespassing, that this was someone’s private space. It was murky in there and I was tired and hot, and my eyes stung from the sweat. Something strange happened then, something I can’t explain. When I got to the end of the passageway, where I expected to see the main alleyway leading off left and right, there was only a wall. I turned, ran back in the opposite direction, and came up against a wall again. I did this a few times, getting increasingly panicked. The smell of perfume was everywhere now, you could taste the stuff, and no matter how hard I smelt I could not pick up that lamb anymore.
I looked up from my smudgy, scratchy pansies and at Len. His face was relaxed and his eyes were far off.
The walls seemed solid but I knew there had to be a way out, a door or a weakness in the brickwork. I ran my hands along each section, tapping and probing. Eventually, I found something, a break in the dusty mortar. With my back against the opposite wall I used my legs and pushed with all my strength. It gave way and I was enveloped within a swirl of dust and these exotic spices. I’d uncovered the very source of the perfume. When the dust settled, I could see a lavishly decorated room. It was draped in silks with candles flickering from ornate lamps. Everywhere I looked it was beautiful, with things I’d never seen before. I was admiring a lioness painted as a mural on the wall – the brushstrokes were so energetic – when I heard a noise. I turned and that’s when I saw her for the first time. She was stood to my left.
Looking at her, my breath was taken straight out of my body and I was gasping like a fish out of water. She was beautiful, the most beautiful women I had ever seen. It was like stumbling across a rare bird, being aware that you were in a precious fleeting moment that could never last or be repeated. It wouldn’t be long before she spread her wings and was gone for good.
I stayed there a week, in the space behind the walls with her. My ship sailed without me, but I didn’t care. I painted my own murals to join the others on the walls.
Len turned to me, his eyes refocusing on my page: ‘Those pansies are coming on, boy. Just the job.’
“Are you just a dream?” she asks me.
“What does it matter?” I reply.
“I want this to be real.”
“What is real?”
She rolls over and pushes her face into the pillow, like she might be about to stifle a scream.
Answering questions with questions is something of an in-joke. It isn’t funny.
I get out of the bed and stand for a moment, naked and light-headed. I yawn and stretch, swallowing some of the fusty bedroom air.
She removes her face from the pillow. I see the creases of cotton embedded on her white cheeks, crimson cuts, blood on snow.
I can feel her eyes on me, looking for evidence that I’m an android: a few exposed wires, a sliver of metal, some inconsistency in flesh tone. This isn’t the 21st century – there are no mistakes, no proof. I am immaculate. I tense my buttocks and look down from her apartment window. I see a street sign below. It reads Happy Lane. Next to it, a parking sign has been defaced – ‘Fuck Off At Any Time’ – the fuck off written in black pen.
She is still looking at me. I walk over and kiss her cheek and then her neck. I have no sense of why I do this. It’s programmed, which means it’s what she wants.
‘You aren’t dreaming,’ I say. ‘I’m as real as you are. What we shared was real too.’
She props herself up on two elbows and holds her head in her hands. I study her face. The lines have faded and she looks content. I notice something else – a tiny silver hair by her lip. I stroke her cheek, run my hand down to her lip and sharply tug at the hair. A six inch piece of fibre-optic cable comes away from her face. We both start to laugh.
A goose. A car horn. An outcry. A word on a gallery wall.
The goose parts its beak and allows air to rise up. It emerges like steam from a New York subway grille.
A car changes lanes into the path of another. Each driver feels in that moment the very real possibility of death. Next, one of them experiences relief that he is alive and vows in that nano-second to do better. The other slams his fist into the horn and keeps it there.
A lady startled by a squirrel lets loose a strange sound that she can’t imagine came from her. She instantly tries to catch the noise with a movement of her lips not dissimilar to the blowing of a raspberry. The Victorian pleasure gardens blush for her.
Ed Ruscha in 1962, draws freehand four slanted letters H O N K.
The moose skeleton was powerful. The bones were black, like it had stampeded through fire, through hell to stand upon its podium. Its antlers were stark and wide and violently contrasted to all around it – a branch snapped and laid upon virgin snow, a shadow of an antennae on a white-washed Spanish villa.
There was no lolling tongue or slack-jawed idiocy now, no drool or spittle, no boss-eyed comedy in this creature. It was magnificent – violence and majesty incarnate.
The tired tufted taxidermy of the mongoose beneath had been stripped of all its dignity, rubbed away roughly by the sticky mitts of toddlers; a matted mess, a prince forced to wear pauper’s clothes.
The elephant was plastic and the dinosaur a resin cast. The dodo was just an illustration in faded ink beneath plexi-glass.
The moose was heroic. Frozen and gothic, it owned this realm.
The Sweetness Lies Within
Griselda Nevermire was as bitter as bitter can be. Her face was always scrunched up like she was constantly sucking on a lemon. And her grumbling, well, it had to be heard to be believed. It was always: why this, what on earth that, I don’t get this, why did they get that.
In her eyes, which were little piggy eyes in case you were wondering, the whole world was out to get her. People, animals, even vegetables, were conspiring against her from the moment she awoke to when she lay down in bed at night. Each day was a catalogue of conspiracies to make her feel worse.
Happiness was impossible. It was simply out of the question for Griselda Nevermire. Every time she came close to finding it, it would run in the opposite direction, waving its arms in the air and screaming. And, of course, this made her even more bitter.
There’s one more thing that hasn’t been mentioned that you need to know about Griselda Nevermire and that is that she had the sweetest of sweet tooths. And I know what you’re thinking, it’s ironic, or at the very least a little curious that someone so bitter could put so much sweetness into their bodies. Cakes, chocolates, doughnuts, eclairs, pastries, pavlovas, pies and puddings were just the start of it. She would never say that she enjoyed the sweet treats she devoured, but if you ever caught her mid-eat you would think she was enjoying them very much indeed.
When the cakes, chocolates, doughnuts, eclairs, pastries, pavlovas, pies and puddings were all gone, she would switch to the really good stuff. Stuff so sweet, they could only be kept in jars and tins. She’d lick the stickiness from her spoon in anticipation and pop open a jar of golden syrup, a pot of honey or a tin of treacle and get to work. It would get messy, so messy, as she forced the sugary syrups into her tiny pursed lips. If you didn’t know her better, you would almost be inclined to say she was experiencing a great deal of pleasure. She was not, of course.
Once the sugar and sweet treats were all gone, she would use her mouth to start grumbling again. What on earth had so and so ever done to deserve this-and-that and why didn’t this happen to me instead of that. She went on and on and on.
And then one day Griselda Nevermire woke up, got out of bed, stubbed her toe as she invariably did before stomping to the bathroom and scowling in the mirror. What she saw gave her a terrible fright. All of her teeth had turned to little black tombstones. They had rotten away to scary stumps. Of course, this made her moan and groan and kick and moan some more. Why her? Why her teeth? Why now?
Five minutes later and the pain began. It was unbearable. Unbearable for you, me, anyone, but especially for Griselda Nevermire. There was nothing for it – she would have to go to a dentist. It would cost money and be painful, but she simply had to get her teeth sorted out. Her bitterness levels increased some more.
In the waiting room, she waited. She also tutted. She tutted because the magazines were out of date, because a toddler was banging some Duplo together noisily, and because she was more than a little scared. She had never been to a dentist before.
Eventually her name was called and the man in his green pyjamas and blue mask came out to show her to the chair. He told her to open wide. She did so. This was the very moment she should have felt most scared, yet there was something in his eyes that made her feel a bit better about her situation.
For three whole hours, he drilled and scraped and glued and whistled. He pulled and pushed, waggled and wiggled, and then he stopped. His work was complete.
Griselda Nevermire got up a bit shakily from the dentist’s chair and walked over to the mirror. Instead of her usual tiny mouth, she saw a big white smile beaming back at her. She had brand new shiny white teeth and somehow her new teeth had made the creases in her face disappear. She looked happy. The sourness was completely gone.
The dentist removed his mask, revealing a chiselled jawline, plump kissable lips and dimples that were to die for. He was drop dead gorgeous, Griselda Nevermire thought, and her smile grew a little bigger.
“Remember Ms Nevermire, sweetness lies within,” the dentist crooned. “You don’t need sugar to become sweeter than you already are.”
With that, Griselda Nevermire skipped out of the dentist’s office, out of the building, and off down the street, smiling at everyone as she went.
Fall Back (Haiku)
The clocks went back
Our faces are now all wrong
Where does the time go?
Hip Flask Jimmy & the Whiff of Freedom
The morning was cold. His rib cage ached and his eyes felt raw. Removing a hip flask from his inside pocket, he took a deep pull. He swirled the whiskey around his mouth, allowing the liquid fire to take on oxygen before swallowing the flames whole. They licked the rotten depths of his guts and he felt momentarily better.
He turned the collar of his jacket up and beat his arms against his side. The horse looked over at him, billows of white steam coming from its flared nostrils. He took two steps towards the mare, rubbed its flank with his knuckles and cooed softly in its ear. They were in this together.
Twenty minutes later and he could see sunlight making its way through the gaps in the barn wall. She was late. It was no longer first light. He paced around the small space, stamping his feet and muttering angrily to himself. Another pull on his hip flask, but this time without ceremony.
It was a paid job, but he would not get his wage until he delivered her. Failure to do so and he would almost certainly be hunted and killed. He knew the risks when he had shook that huge calloused hand. In that long crushing grip, he had signed a contract with his life as collateral. The sun now cut a sharp silver line into the gloom of the barn.
He checked the horse over once more, adjusting the stirrups with numb fingers. The chances of him being discovered were now very real. He was trespassing and would be shot on sight. He could picture them dragging his body towards the house, across the rough dew soaked ground.
There was a frantic knocking on the barn door. He ran over and slid it back. There she was, shaking in nothing but a petticoat. For a moment he froze, transfixed by the panic in her eyes and the deep scratches on her porcelain skin. Then, he was moving, mounting the horse, gathering her up and they out into the open.
The light burned his eyes and his heart was beating out of his chest as they took off away from the manor, out towards the fields. The horse responded to the sharp thud of his heals and galloped on.
The first shot made his ears ring and his companion scream in terror. The horse bucked, but carried on its course. He could feel the girl’s nails in his side, even through his overcoat and the thick, coarse jumper he wore.
They took the fence in a single leap and the whole world held its breath. Frozen in air, flying, floating, the two of them on the chestnut mare suspended and then the thunder of hooves as they landed safely. On they went.
The air split once more, a loud snap like the crack of a whip, as another shot was fired. He tightened his grip on the reins with one hand and removed the hip flask from his coat with the other. He took a swig and then another, before offering the girl the rest. She took it and finished it down with only the slightest of coughs.
The woods were some distance away. The Lord and his men knew about the escape now, had seen the course they had taken. Within five minutes, they would be tracking them down with pistols and shotguns. They didn’t stand a chance. They’d never make the woods. He didn’t want to die and he knew that she didn’t either.
Without a word to her, he bought the horse to an abrupt stop behind a small copse of trees. He leapt from the horse and lifted his companion by the waist from its back. He slapped the horse and commanded it on without them. They watched silently as it went. What now, they both wondered.