Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The law of unintended consequences 3

Hannah assumed she’d woken up in someone’s spare room. It was small, had a flat-pack wardrobe and flimsy spare room curtains. . The walls were in pastel lilac. There was, mercifully, no potpourri. She didn’t think her hangover could cope with potpourri; coming to in some unknown person’s spare room was tough enough.

Her clothes were neatly folded on a chair beside the bed.  She peered rather anxiously beneath the floral sheets and was relieved to see she was still wearing her knickers but disconcerted to find she was also wearing a rather prim, floral nightie. It had lace finishing at the neck. She didn’t check the hem.

Hannah tried to conjure up the events of the previous night that had brought her there. She remembered just the first two bars, and then the club. They’d switched clubs, more than once she thought, and sometime Sheila had dropped out, and then Joanna. And there’d been some guy called Rory, but he’d been seen off by an enormous... For a moment she gasped in horror but then looked around her. No huge gangsta male would have a faultlessly Ikea back-bedroom like this. It looked decidedly Born Again.

She shrugged and got up to put on her dress, leaving the awful nightie on the coverlet. She’d go downstairs, make a few apologies, find out where she was and get a cab back home. Her dress was up over her head when the door open and a huge man walked in, covered in bling and scars.

“Put your nightie back on,” he bellowed, “You supposed to look like a house mouse not a tart! They pay extra for house mice.”

The distant echo of some late night compact sounded faintly in Hannah’s back brain. That last slammer had been a slammer too many.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The law of unintended consequences 2

Save the World arrived in a North African country known to cognoscenti as Blowfly Central with a convoy of mining engineers, artesian specialists and drilling equipment. They’d selected a desolate corner by mineral survey partly paid for by an Ecumenical Foundation (Known to the same cognoscenti as God’s Own Dowsers). Although set apart from the traditional migrations of nomadic herdsmen, they had found considerable water resource beneath the baking earth.

Collection tins rattled, tax deductible donations were wrung from the business sector, tax concessions were shamed from home governments and local cooperation was bought outright.  Save the World set out to produce sparkling fresh water in the wilderness.

Although the depredations of parasitic worms killed one of them and sent two back to Europe, comatose and incurable, Save the World built its well-head. It then bribed one local warlord to allow nomads to water their herds, while keeping other brigands away. The UN sent a couple of Scandinavians to see fair play. They stood pink-faced and blue-helmeted while the herdsmen queued with their spavined beasts for water.

They’d broken all the tribal patterns this way, and attracted a large number of goats, sheep and cattle to one corner of the country, away from the seasonal treks from one meagre waterhole to the next. There was water for all, though.

There just wasn’t enough grass. The sheep cropped the grass so close the cattle couldn’t eat it, and there were gun fights. The cattle walked farther and farther away to find fodder, and found themselves unable to get back to drink. And they starved.  The sheep and goats removed all the rest of the sparse vegetation and then, in their turn, starved too. The water glistened in its shiny new pipes and valves as their bones littered the scrubland.

This happens.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The law of unintended consequences 1

Butler sat on his usual bench at the appointed time, for his daily converse with the sea. Hands resting on his paunch, he gave the waves a benevolent smile. He found their eternal rhythm a source of deep satisfaction; the glinting highlights on their surfaces as they broke upon the beach both dazzled and delighted him. He shut his eyes for a moment to listen to their susurration and splashing as they broke and the drag and rattle of the pebbles beneath as they withdrew.

Earlier, as he’d strolled along the promenade towards his bench, Butler had been so taken with the brilliance of the day and opulent swell of the waves, that he had absently patted a small boy on the head as he passed by. It had been an affable gesture but the child had run screaming to his mother, busy with a baby in a push-chair, and she had shouted something abusive after him. His reverie momentarily interrupted, Butler had paused to assure the red-faced women that his motives had been solely avuncular and that he deplored violence on anybody, especially children. He then had to explain, courteously but firmly, that while he did not know what a pudding-faced kiddy fiddler was, he thought voicing the sentiment might be slanderous.

At this point the small boy returned and kicked him repeatedly in the shins and the serenity of his day was severely jeopardised. Unwillingly to keep the sea waiting, Butler had dealt with the problem with commendable speed and efficiency for a man of his bulk. He doffed his hat to the woman, but she was too busy peering over the sea wall and hyper-ventilating.

A howling of sirens mingled with the rhythm of the waves. But for the moment Butler chose to keep his eyes shut.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Where did that come from? 5

First day, first year in junior infants. There wasn’t much of an induction. It was a small village and even the children who hadn’t been able to afford to attend the nursery class, knew the others who had.

They introduced themselves, nonetheless, and then they went round the class, calling out what jobs their parents had, if any. Mrs Isaacs had gone to some lengths to explain that being a housewife was as important job as any other. And that people who right now didn’t have a job, had been let down by the country, and were just as good as anybody who had a job. Despite this egalitarian manifesto, Richard called out proudly from the back of the class, “My dad hasn’t worked for twenty years and he’s damned if he’s going to start now.”

Mrs Isaacs deplored the world “damned” but allowed the sentiment to pass otherwise unremarked upon. She looked for more positive contributions from the rest of the class. And they were quickly forthcoming.

“My daddy’s a fireman and my mummy works in a pharmacist.”

“Dad works for the Gas Company. And mummy helps out at the store.”

“Mom stays home and dad’s a mechanic.”

“Anybody else?” Mrs Isaacs invited brightly, as the trickle of jobs dried up.

“Daddy works away on the oil rigs,” chimed in little Annie Mason, “And mummy screws anything in trousers.”

Mrs Isaacs looked at Annie’s affable little face, and felt her throat constricting. Eventually she managed a husky, “I don’t think you can have that quite right, Annie.”

“She’s got it wrong, Miss,” called out one of the girls.

“OK, then,” Mrs Isaacs turned swiftly towards the blackboard, hoping to move on to the safer territory of spelling.

“Her dad’s away in prison,” Richard offered by way of additional explanation.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Where did that come from? 4

Good afternoon, archbishop, as head girl and on behalf of the entire school, I’d like to thank you for gracing our annual prize giving with your presence.

Right. I’ll go again.

Good archbishop, afternoon, no no no.

Good afternoon, archbishop, as head girl and on behalf of the entire school, I’d like to thank you for gracing our annual prize giving with your presence. And, again.

Good bishop, afternoon, Bugger.!

Good afternoon, archbishop, as head school and all the girls. Now, come on. COME ON.

He’s only a human being.

Good afternoon, archbishop, as head girl and on behalf of the entire school, I’d like to thank you for gracing our annual prize giving with your presence.

Oh Christ, he’s almost up on stage. Right, here I go…

“I don’t care how Holy you are, I’m not touching your winky!”

A wrong illustration for the story above.

Chips says that Phillip Larkin would have loved it.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Where did that come from? 3

Hendricks returned to consciousness and the conviction he was in a submarine being tumbled about the seabed, his head swollen with the pressure, his stomach churning with acid fear and nauseating dislocation. This he might have accepted but for an implacable sense of foreboding welling up through the terror and bewilderment. The situation would disintegrate further. Whatever unspeakable deeds he had enacted, regardless of irreparable damage caused to himself and those close to him, he would soon be making things worse. Nothing he could do about it.

His mouth tasted of corpses; his soul had left for the coast. He was crawling out of blackout. He didn’t know what terrified him more - what he’d done in this latest one, or when the next one would descend on him, He reached automatically for a bottle under the shabby, wet bed.

Once he found the bottle, he discovered the room. It was a small room and smelled of things even worse than himself. There was a small notice affixed to the back of the door. Another hotel room, then. And, from the damp on the walls, not quite one star standard. He’d landed lucky.

He pulled himself to his feet, gagging with the effort and crept over to try and decipher the language on the tariff notice on the door. It refused to swim into focus. The door was bolted, though. He’d had that much sense when he’d arrived.

It was a mildly peevish gurgling that jerked him into feral alertness and sent him stumbling into the bathroom, horribly afraid that he wasn’t alone. And he wasn’t.

There was a piglet in the bath, entangled in his top sheet and blankets. It looked reproachfully up at him. He sighed with relief. For a moment he’d thought he’d heard a baby.