What you wish for

Dad and Liz, which is what I call Mum ‘coz she hates ‘Mum’, like it makes her sound old, as if she isn’t, but that’s her problem, are having another big fight downstairs. Liz is on about money again. About why other women in our street have got this and that and why they go places on holidays. ‘Actual places,’ she says, ‘on planes,’ like that ‘ll hurt him big time which is what she wants. But he just goes, ‘Planes. Really?’ Then there’s a crash and another plate hits the wall. And I sneak into their room which is where I’ve always gone when they’re like this and I start going through their drawers. I don’t know why but it makes me feel better looking at grown up things to remind me they’re more grown up than me and so far they haven’t actually messed me up too bad. And even Mum seems like someone soft you could like when you’re looking at her creams and her frilly things and I can block out the racket they’re making.

After I look through Mum’s stuff for anything new, but it’s just the usual goo for skin and corns, which is hard bits on your feet, and bras and pills to stop babies and stuff like that I go round Dad’s side of the bed and there’s a big envelope on his table and it’s been opened and I think wouldn’t it be good if it said, Dear Mr Harrison, you got that divorce you wanted and you can take Ryan but he’ll have to see his mum on weekends, something like that ‘coz that would be the best thing I reckon. But I know about letters and I know it’s not right so I don’t touch it and I look through his drawers instead and there’s the ciggies he’s not supposed to smoke and a whole lot of loose change and old watches and rubbers to stop babies and downstairs in the kitchen there’s another crash and shouting and my eyes keep going back to the envelope and it gets so as I have to look what’s there ‘coz it might be something like that about starting new just Dad and me so I pull the paper out and it’s addressed to him and it’s from some laboratory and I think maybe he’s sick. Maybe he’s real sick. And it’s hard to read ‘coz I don’t know all the words but half-way I realise it’s about me which it calls ‘the child in question’ and it’s saying something about why he’s not really my dad.

Downstairs goes quiet. There’s footsteps coming up. Usually that’s when I’d run out, fast.

Real cars

There was a time, Don remembered, when V8s ruled the highways. Proper cars. Valiants and Falcons. Chargers. Now the streets were clogged to a standstill with putt-putts. That’s what he called them. And what good had they done. Bugger all for all he could tell. The summers were hotter than Hades. Winter was cold but dry. The whole city drank recycled piss for God’s sake. And if a fella like him wanted to, if he hadn’t had his licence taken from him years ago, he couldn’t drive a decent car.

Lenny arrived. The kid was a disappointment. He worked for the government for a start, some sort of scientist. It was Lenny and that Clara who’d put him in this place.

Against my will, Don grumbled as Lenny straightened the photos on his dresser. What sort of family…

You been taking your pills? said Lenny.

Those pills ‘ll kill me, said Don.

You wanna live like this? said Lenny.

Whadda you think. You tell me.

Take the pills Dad, said Lenny. They’ll either kill you or make you feel better. You can’t lose.

Bugger you, said Don. He knew the score. He’d been at the home longer than anyone. He’d watched the others arrive like him, defeated. He’d seen them come over all smiles for a while. He’d watched them getting taken out.

Happy, happy, happy, die, he said.

You’re making it up, Dad, said Lenny.

Am I? said Don. And you with your government job. Don’t talk to me about making things up.

He closed his eyes. His head filled with the scream of a big donk hauling steel from nought to a hundred in the time it took to smell rubber burning on tarmac. All the good things were gone now. Outside the last of the dying pine trees was being taken out. They’d planted cactuses.

Insurance

 

gaol3

Labourers are a dime a dozen. Lonnie knows he’ll have work in good times but only his wits when jobs are scarce, which is trouble. Lonnie knows. He knows about walls like these. Their familiar shape. He knows about exercise yards.

Carter, the foreman, is a hard man. Lonnie half considers a change of plan but now’s not the time. He makes a note of the stones, fires a glance either side, then draws a blade from his sleeve. He lays it at the edge of a thick line of mortar that he’s mixed soft,

Just in case, he mutters as he trowels the mix quickly across. North wall, four lines up, five blocks from the right. The job is done. Carter can wait.

The methodical mind

There are many ways information can be acquired. It can be bought or stolen or had by intimidation. It can be discovered, either by accident or design, or, most commonly, by the fortuitous combination of both. It can come in a dream.

I have taken three years to learn, in various ways, the following things; the habits of each and every guard and each and every inmate, the design of the buildings right down to the plumbing, the best ways to hide small tools, the manufacture of rope from sheeting scraps, a technique to muffle noises in my cell, the exact timing of shift changes, and the recipe for a soft paste indistinguishable from the mortar between the stones.

Tonight I begin tunnelling. I do not fear the dogs or guns. I do not fear the deadly drops from the outer wall. I do not fear the loose lips of those whose knowledge came hardest, for they have been silenced. The only thing I fear is that I do not know what it is I might have missed.

 

The pay off

She changed the spelling of her name so it was hardly a name at all. X-oe; how the hell did anyone pronounce that. Drawing on her loyal art school friends she developed signature projects; animations, improvisations she performed at clubs and parties, spoken word rants, flash installations and endless images. Then she hit social media hard. She established a profile; X-oe, anti-art assassin, whatever that was, because it was just a bit of spin she concocted one morning in the midst of a vodka and pills hangover.

The art-suckers bought it. She traded in her old friends for a more influential bunch. Momentum built around her, a reputation that needed form, because anti-art had become more art than art and it was time to cash in. She created a single non-art work, an unlimited edition of unsigned solid cubes that could be recreated endlessly in whatever size, colour or material the non-art collector desired. Business boomed.

X-oe incorporated, skimming an executive salary while finding others to fill the orders of art fans keen to get onboard her non-art wagon. They outdid themselves on size and materials. She went viral. She went global.

The Guggenheim called. The Guggenheim! It was enough to crack even X-oe’s non-art cool. Her time had come.

Transfer it to the office, she called. She took a long breath before lifting the receiver. Yes…Speaking.

We’re acting, a severe voice replied, on behalf of the estate of…

X-oe recalled—but the memory was vague because she’d spent so many hours trolling the internet for exploitable ideas—a manifesto written by some post-dada, beatnik hack.

Chances

The way I figure it I’ll have, if luck is with me, five chances. Tomorrow will be like today and all the days since my capture so my reckoning is sound. My first opportunity will come early, in the crossing. Sometimes my guards are too eager. If I slow they come onto the bridge to jab at me with bayonets. They are vulnerable above the drop.

The second comes when our work party is given its implements for the day. A hoe would be little use but a spade, hammer or pickaxe; only circumstance makes them tools rather than weapons.

The next chance comes at lunchtime. The broth is little more than peelings and salt but at least this new cook brings it to the boil. Sometimes he adds an onion or two or a yam from the forest. He is better than the other, who served it safely tepid. No matter.

Another, of course, is the crossing back to the camp, when the guards are tired from the labour of watching.

But it will be the last chance I take again, when the candles have been snuffed and stiff limbs stretch on stiff bunk boards. That’s when I will act. Dream it again; the brief pleasure of another’s death scream.

Diminuendo

I was there the day Destiny was shot. She’d just come off stage, ignoring boos and catcalls. Other times I’d seen her, countless shows all over the country, the crowd had always called for more. But some time since the last tour she’d chucked in her hard-core grungy sound for more of a big band thing; country swing meets gospel. Her fans wanted angst, not hope. We wanted dark eyes and slow grind. As she skipped offstage with a wave as if the world would always be perfect, the hall fell silent. In shock. There was an explosive crack. After an initial collective gasp all eyes went to a stage light smoking, but that was just a ricochet. I was there. I was in the wings. Still trying to comprehend.  I saw her fall. I saw her look my way.

The Hercules train

When he reached the edge of the world Hercules looked out at the heavens with a heavy heart for this, his greatest quest, was over and it was the pursuit of it he had cherished most. The edge was like a beach, oblivion lapping onto it in wavelets. He had an urge to see what was beneath, so he lay flat on the sand. Carefully he leaned over to see. That part of him that extended beyond the world stopped being. The sensation was of weight and mass and energy reaching only to those parts of his body that stayed on the sand. Beyond these, where his head and his fingertips had been there was a blind consciousness, which Hercules told himself must be the state of his soul. He had endured many hardships in his life and the Gods had taunted him with endless trials for the body they’d made him. The sensation of nothing that could be seen or touched, excited him. Only beyond the world could he be freed of his need to be and become, instead, only the notions he held true of justice and honour. Without a thought the hero edged forward, neck then shoulders gone, then chest. He found a purchase on the sand and pushed towards where zero and infinity were indistinguishable, where now was all of time and peace as absolute as its absence. He let himself slide into it. At the last moment as the hero struck out beyond his embodiment the buckle on his sandal caught on a length of vine. But, as his physical consciousness had been all but extinguished, he had no idea, as he drifted out, of the calamity he had set in train, as first the vine, then its roots and the things it had ensnared slipped towards nothing and the world he’d honoured with his bravery began slowly dragging itself, each small part so connected, piece by piece into a void beyond.

Ambush

After trouble in town the boys take to the hills for a licking of wounds and a bit o blarney besides that for theres always stories from exploits and the hills is the best place for em. Up in the hills stories grow big like alehouse yarns and therell be whiskey to be had and good times and thats what a band o fellows wants most. More even than company with lasses I reckon true enough a fellow wants a yarn and whiskey and up in the hills is always plenty enough of both and Eddys brother Danny will most likely do a song and a jig and the world will be great like it should be. Like the Lord intended itll be with the sun shining bright on his making. So when Stevie Boy sends a message down I think sure that’s for me and I drops me shears and leaves with Cuttler cursing cause his sheeps half sheared and I take his pony too on a loan for wages and goes up there at a fair clip cause I’d not be missing the fun of it thats for sure. And the boys are there havin a fair old time and soon enough I has a bottle and a full pipe and I’s leaning back with em. The sun is warm and it makes the whiskey smooth and sure nough the airs soon filling with singing ballads and the crows joining in and theres nothing in the world as good as that and nothings going to spoil it cept thats when theres a shot – bang – in the bushes and next moment theres all hell and the clearings got troopers and dogs in it that have crept up on us and us only drinking and singing of lasses and things and Joe takes a pellet but hes up and all the rest are up quick smart and their rifles loaded too. Ready like they been waiting and next moment its shots exploding near me head and Dannys rifle smoking and the two big coppers go down before they can reload. And as quick as it started the other one is high tailing and Eddy grabs me arm and we give the dog chase and we calls to the others to clean the mess and they ought head off north where weve got another place and we get to our horses just as the yellow cowards mounting his and we’re on after him in a flash. And he aint got no chance hes getting off not with Eddy chasing whos the best horseman round and sure a match for any fat Scotsmen. At the bottom of the spur Eddys got him bailed up. When I gets alongside hes got his pistol drawn and the copper is near going to shit and Eddy just looks at first staring at him then he spits like hes got a bad taste and he cocks his pistol. The Scot hes pleading like a girl to a fellow and he says if hes shot theres others will come and Eddy says I aint never shot a dog wasn’t lame and needed putting down and the Scot looks worried then when Eddy aims at his leg but instead o shooting he says you tell them others and you tell them good it was me that shot them two up there dyou understand. And the dog nods and Eddy says true and that in defence of life and limb it was too and as God is witness that’s the truth and you tell it good. Then he takes the scoundrels gun and his horse and kicks his arse down the hill and we turn and head off north. And Eddy says to me its bad times coming.

Buried

 

Behind Bertram’s Wax Works there are

three large bins of old exhibits,

props, models, wigs all awaiting disposal.

Costumes and trimmings. Seersucker and lace.

It’s a place you’d barely notice

an arm extending from the pile.

 

 

 

 

Empress

Cleopatra turned up in first-year Classics,

as spectacular as her royal namesake.

I imagined myself her Mark Antony

but I was merely Cleopatra’s pearl.

She held me out, dropped me

and watched as I dissolved away.