Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Friends in low places 2

The alleyway was narrow and Brunson had difficulty negotiating his considerable girth along it. He sighed when he saw the sharp turn at the end and the high brick wall confronting him. He managed to drag a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, and mopped at his sweating face. Good job it hadn’t been in his trouser pocket; he’d have had to stand there and melt. No way he’d have reached it.

He inched his way along the passage, feet stumbling over unseen detritus, both shoulders rustling against the grubby brickwork on either side, the music from within the Club throbbing through the walls.

Then all at once a nightcreeper slipped around the corner and moved up swiftly upon him, lithe, urgent yet indifferent. The street rat came to a halt inches from Brunson’s heaving chest, deigned to register his sagging tie and sweat-soaked shirt and finally looked up insolently from beneath his hood.

“Taking up too much space, fat boy,” the nightcreeper pursed its lips, mockingly.

Brunson stared outraged at the little creep. Hot bile rose to his mouth, but no words.

“I’d slip between your legs, but them thighs don’t part much, do they?” The nightcreeper yawned softly. Gave his watch a cursory glance.

Brunson forced a hand into his inside jacket pocket pull out his warrant card. He flicked it open and held it up in front of the nightcreeper’s indolent gaze. “Vice!” he announced, thickly.

“Not right now,” replied the street rat evenly, “And most definitely not with you.”

He gave Brunson a dismissive smile and turned around, to pad back the way he’d came.

Brunson tugged out his heavy police revolver, a faithful friend, from his shoulder holster and blew the back of the nightcreeper’s head off. He’d like to hear a snappy answer to that.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Friends in low places 1

The coach jolted along the pitted roads from Brighton, tipping alarmingly at many a dangerous corner. Rain lashed down upon the coachman, hunched into his portmanteau, hat tugged over his eyes, blunderbuss propped beside him.

Inside, the Dowager Duchess of Swinborough, an august presence in the King’s circle, peered myopically at her companion, Amelia, whom she had dressed with sufficient expenditure to present her to fashionable society, should they ever make it to her town property in Park Lane. The great lady grunted with satisfaction. Amelia was gratifyingly plain, and so cast no shadow on her own fast ebbing looks. (The Duchess owned to forty, and had done so for decades.)

Pressed in tightly between them, almost lost amongst the wigs and crinolines, her spindly secretary Prescott essayed to maintain a placid expression. This fast travel unnerved him, the Duchess’s powder made him want to sneeze and Amelia’s sharp elbow was forever in his ribs.

“You will say nothing at Court, without my permission.” observed the Duchess for the umpteenth time. “I have a reputation to consider.”

Amelia nodded dutifully.

Suddenly the carriage jerked to a dizzying halt. Amelia was thrown to the floor. Prescott found himself pince-nez deep in the Duchess’s mountainous cleavage, and the great lady herself found herself confronted by a leering ruffian, brandishing two enormous pistols through the window.

“Money or perish,” snarled the villain, as Prescott fainted.

“Get out!” bawled the Duchess.

“Fat Lizzie?!” the highwayman was dumbfounded, “Thought you was still rolling sailors Brighton way.”

The Duchess’ eyes bulged. Her chest heaved.

“No kidding me, you old doxy, “continued the roadman amiably. “Tupped you meself often enough, haven’t I?”

Amelia made a bleating sound from the floor.

The roadman didn’t want to take it, but the Duchess gave him ten sovereign to just stay away.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The joys of self denial 4

“You must be at least curious, surely?” Ernesto wheedled. “After all this time.”

He slid the plane ticket over the cafe table. Pablo, poet in exile, cultural icon, curator of national nostalgias, looked at it sceptically.

He’d lived in Geneva for thirty years, summoning up his homeland in tightly constructed poems and infrequent public statements. They enabled his countrymen to relive a world gone by, where the present was stable and productive, where hopes were fresh and the future attainable. They reaffirmed their ideals in his measured and wry protestations.

He had rendered their hopes timeless and inviolate by his verse and also by his absence. He was a distant reminder of what ought to be.

“Come home Pablo,” cajoled Ernesto.

The warrant for his arrest had been rescinded years ago. An academic bursary had been offered and declined.

He had denied himself the quotidian experience of the land his work embodied. He had denied himself the buses, the pastries, the pollution, the buskers, the smell of drains and gardens. He had denied himself the humid transference from summer to autumn, the uniquely tinged streetlamps, the myriad worthless small coins wearing holes in one’s pockets. He had denied himself the ageing of friends and the natural entropy of families.

He had not gone back because, in his heart, he suspected it wasn’t there anymore. A football team could summon up as much of a national identity as his meticulously crafted poems.

“You can lecture, give readings,” enthused Ernesto. “It’s all arranged.” He pointed at the ticket, “First class. All expenses paid.”

Pablo shut his eyes and thought of all the ordinary things he had missed over the years. And of all the things that had gone on without him.

“It’s better I stay,” he said, and pushed the ticket away.

Los placeres de la renuncia.

“¿Seguro que no sentís un poco de curiosidad después de tanto tiempo?” insinuó Ernesto.

Pablo, poeta en exilio, ícono de cultura, preservador de nostalgias nacionales, miró con escepticismo el billete aéreo que el otro le deslizó sobre la mesa del café.

Durante treinta años había vivido en Ginebra, conjurando a su patria en poemas cuidadosamente construídos y escasas declaraciones públicas. Así había permitido a sus compatriotas revivir un mundo ya desaparecido, donde el presente era estable y productivo, las esperanzas eran nuevas y el futuro era alcanzable.
En sus mesuradas y sardónicas protestas ellos reafirmaban sus ideales.
Con su poesía, y también su ausencia, había logrado que las esperanzas de ellos se eternizaran y permanecieran intactas. Él era un lejano recordatorio de cómo deberían ser las cosas.

“Volvé a casa, Pablo,” lo incitó Ernesto.

Hacía años que se había revocado la orden de arresto. Le habían ofrecido un puesto académico que había rehusado.

Se había auto-negado la experiencia cotidiana del país que era tema principal de su trabajo. Se había privado de los colectivos, las empanadas, el aire contaminado, los artistas callejeros, el olor a cloacas y los jardines. Había renunciado a la húmeda transición de verano a otoño, los faroles callejeros de tonos únicos, las cantidades de moneditas de valor ínfimo que abrían agujeros en sus bolsillos. Se había negado el envejecimiento de los amigos y la entropía natural de las familias.

No había vuelto nunca porque, en el fondo, sospechaba que ese país ya no existía. Bastaba un equipo de fútbol para conjurar tanta identidad nacional como sus meticulosamente elaborados poemas.

“Podrás dar conferencias, lecturas”, insistió Ernesto, “está todo listo”. Señaló el billete: “En primera clase, todo pago”.

Pablo cerró los ojos y pensó en todas las cosas normales de las que se había privado durante tantos años y en todo lo que había sucedido durante su ausencia.

“Mejor me quedo”, dijo, y empujó, rechazándolo, el billete.

Traducción de Patricia Grillo

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The joys of self denial 3

“Not long now, darling,” Sophie’s huge eyes looked beseechingly up at him. “I want to, too, you know. I’m having to be to be just as patient as you.”

James looked down at her as the moonlight danced on her golden ringlets. In his present mood, his fiancée bore a passing resemblance to an amnesiac sheep.

“Damn it, Sophie,” he muttered, “Nobody goes in for this chastity before marriage nonsense. Not in this day and age.”

The huge eyes brimmed with tears, “You don’t really mind, do you?” she wailed, “Oh I can’t bear it.”

James brightened up a little at this anguish. Perhaps she was coming round after all. He slid an exploratory hand down towards her hemline. She stepped back with a disconsolate sob.

James clenched his fists in exasperation. She was his first real girlfriend. An adventurous girl, he had thought, with certainly a daring dress sense. Yet with a surprising reticence in sexual matters. They’d known each other for just over a week and he’d proposed after three days, hoping to encourage her to greater intimacy. But all he’d had so far was a kiss in the Pictures and a series of promissory notes of carnal paradise. Still, he’d come this far. He had to keep going now.

“I’m going to make you so happy, darling” she promised him smiling through tears. Then she pecked him on the cheek and dodged nimbly inside her front door.

James walked off home gruffly to yet another late night session of porn and self pity. Sophie waved to him from her bedroom window. And then busied herself with the unguents, pessaries and antibiotics, cursing that drunken evening with the Russian trawlermen. She really should have shown more control.