The Long Route

Nan dabbed a tear from her cheek with a handkerchief and leaned in to my mother.

“Janet, have a look at my eye,” she said, teasing down her watery lower lid with the tip of her finger. “I think I’ve got a weeping rectum.”

This was one of the many things we loved about Nan. The way words fell from her lips. Her malapropisms and misrepeated sayings. So my mother didn’t correct her. Instead she stifled a laugh and advised her to visit her doctor.

This troubled me. Because I could picture the imminent misunderstanding in his office.

Nan repeating her error. Her trusting nature stopping her from questioning his request for her to remove her underwear. But despite a lifelong confidence in medical professionals I could imagine her thinking, as he asked her to bend over and raise her dress, that he seemed to be taking the long route.

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A Full Hour

“You can’t wear that.”

I was aware that I was speaking out of turn. That Gordon was my boss and that I shouldn’t have challenged him. But some situations require you to take a stand. In this instance over the t-shirt he’d had printed and was planning to wear to a pirate-themed event funded by one of our suppliers.

He’d been so pleased when he’d shown me. So proud of his work. The front bore our camera shop’s logo, festooned with clip art cutlasses and Jolly Rogers. On the back he’d listed the photographic services our store offered, tweaked with a pirate theme and written in a quilled font across a foxed, yellowed scroll.

1 hour rape

4 hour murder

24 hour pillage

“You just can’t.” I persisted.

“Why?” he replied, deflated. Worryingly oblivious.

“Because it says you provide rape. For a full hour.”

“Within the hour,” he said briskly. “We print photos within the hour.”

“But this says rape!”

“Oh, everyone will get the joke,” he said. “They have a great sense of humour at these events.” He paused to consider my opinion. “I mean, 24hr rape I’d understand…”

Herons

d51ba50d3c9048f2f2053ac79bba457aThe cleaners were chatting in the staff kitchen this morning.

“Alan something,” One of them said, trying to recall the name of a deceased local barber. “Brilliant. Only charged £3. Didn’t believe in hairspray.”

“What did he use?” her colleague asked.

“Air freshener.”

They always spoke like this. In dryly amusing fragments. Snippets and sighs. As if their exchanges were determined efforts in efficiency. But when I walked in on their conversation the other morning it seemed especially concise.

The three of them were sitting around a table, each speaking in turn. The first with a note of victory, as if she’d just successfully answered a quiz question. The second like she’d just failed to answer the same question. And the third as though she was confirming the answer.

“Ah! Herons.”

“Oh! Herons.”

“Yes. Herons.”

I waited for more. Some context. But they all sat back in contented silence. Staring into space. No more needing to be said.

The quiet was heavy and compressing. I fought a sudden, rising desire to speak. A desperate, tick-like compulsion. I stirred my mug of tea and bit my lip. The clock hit 8am.

“Right,” One of them said, slapping her knees then getting to her feet with a soft grunt. The others followed suit and the three of them left the room.

I waited for the door to fully close behind them before releasing the word like a long held breath.

“Herons.”

A Family of Armadillos

4320516714_0df8b18584_bIt was Christmas and the meeting room had been transformed. The table where we sat for appraisals and stern one to ones about our internet usage was covered with a red crepe tablecloth and dotted with plates and foil trays. Of warm quiches and air-dried sandwiches. Processed meat in all its forms. Coleslaw, crisps and brightly-coloured curry dishes. It smelt like a freshly opened can of dog food. Still we piled our plates high and settled around the table, chatting.

“So, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” someone asked.

I stacked potato salad and chicken biryani onto a segment of Scotch egg. Ready for a question like this.

I’d long defined myself by my capacity to eat. Anything and the most of it. Always the one with the fullest and subsequently cleanest plate. The 10 second rule meant nothing to me. Unless something had fallen onto a patch of vomit, I would pick it up and eat it. But as I opened my mouth to reel off a list, Derek got there first.

“A family of armadillos.”

Derek had spent most of his career in the army. Much of it in Jungle Ops. Eating whatever he could catch.

“You just gather them up in sacks,” he said, making it sound as simple and everyday as picking flowers. “Then separate them and pin the sacks to the ground with stakes. They just sit there quietly until you’re ready to cook them.”

I considered this poor armadillo family. Heading off on a summer outing and suddenly finding themselves swept into a dark web of burlap.

“Dad? What’s happening?”

“It’s okay, son. Just keep still and they’ll forget we’re here. Trust me.”

“Then you just roast them in their armour.” Derek said. “Like a big shrimp.”

I considered judging him for this but remembered how many Sundays I’d happily eaten a baby sheep then asked for seconds.

“We’d eat monkeys,” he said, enjoying the attention that should have been mine. “Black Mamba. Anything.”

“What’s monkey like?” I asked, unable to deny my curiosity.

“Stringy,” he said. “All sinew.”

You could see the memory of it on his face as he spoke. Of biting into a roasted arm, the meat coming away from the bone in threads as if he were eating a violin bow.

I couldn’t compete. I considered mentioning that I’d eaten alligator but I’d ordered that in a restaurant from a set menu. I hadn’t torn its throat out then carved a steak from its flank. I guessed there was that coconut mushroom I’d struggled to chew and, upon removing it from my mouth, discovered a large, blooded toenail embedded in it. But I’d spat that out.

“One time,” I said, rushed and desperate. “A moth flew into my mouth and I swallowed it. Then I coughed, it flew back out again and the cat ate it.”

Derek listened thoughtfully, picking his teeth with a plastic fork. As he’d surely done with an armadillo claw.

“Jungle rat was my favourite,” he said.

I jammed a bhaji and a pickled onion into a tuna sandwich then bit down. Determined not to be outdone.

 

Live reading at Bad Language

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Following my first public reading at The Real Story: LIVE! back in January, I’ll be doing my second at the Bad Language event at The Castle, Manchester on March 25th, taking one of the open mic slots below headliner Chris Killen and reading an excerpt from my short story The Wall.

I’m terrified of public readings and would rather wrestle a lion than stand in front of a small group of people and recite something I’ve written. But not having access to a lion, and knowing it’s for my own good really, I’ve no choice but to read. Literally no choice at all.

Bad Language is a great, free event, held monthly at The Castle and in various other venues across Manchester, where you will hear some fantastic stories and poetry. Seeing as I’m involved for the first time it might be a little less fantastic than usual but Chris Killen is great and I’m only on stage for four minutes. You could use that time to visit the toilet or the bar. Or simply to sit back, listen and think about punching me across the face and neck. Especially if you’re from Liverpool as I will be attempting a scouse accent, largely based on that of the boy from the “Accrington Stanley” milk advert.