Archive for the ‘London’ Category

The Complete Works, (so far!)

Hey there, and many thanks for stopping by. On this site you’ll find a collection of my short stories and screenplays for your enjoyment. Please feel free to leave feedback both good and bad – as Plato once said –  the worst thing is to just be ignored!

Even better however, would be if you could find your way to actually purchasing one of my published books using the links below, that way I may continue to dodge bullets and bailiffs with your help. All books are available online, in all reputable books stores, E-books… and no doubt soon, all local Charity Shops.

Hope you find something here to enjoy….

Best Wishes,

Mike   x

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“SPRINGBOARDS”         – A further collection of original short stories, short scripts and feature screenplays.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Springboards-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1291060103/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1369732955&sr=8-2&keywords=michael+zealey

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“BUM NOTES”          – A collection of eighteen original and diverse short stories:

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1447839889/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1447823931&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=0G9A7XND7E5NS8XMQ3Z1

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“DIFFERENT STATES”           – One Man, One Credit Card, One Continent… No Plan. A travelogue from East to West Coast USA.

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Different-States-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366284192&sr=1-3

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“MOLEHOLE”            – Essays on the Human Condition. The story of one man’s dark and lonely three year journey so far up his own ass that he arrived out his mouth to recount the tale to a deaf world.  (Not suitable for minors or miners.)

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Molehole-Michael-G-Zealey/dp/1447824113/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332168305&sr=1-1

Thanks awfully x

Hackney Dusk:  “This is the gun that shot Gandhi.”

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Dusk sitting on my step smoking a cigarette in a typical London backstreet on a typical Summer evening. On the corner, where my road meets the High Street, the Eastern European accordion player recites a Balkan melody, pausing each time he hits a bum note to repeat, over and over again. His fingertips are bruised purple by the endless playing, fingernails ripped and pitted, at his feet a McDonald’s Styrofoam coffee cup to optimistically try to catch any passing coin. The music acts as a counterpoint to the distant sound of police sirens wailing and overlapping each other in the gathering dusk – an urban whale song.

A few houses to my left I can see the old man dressed as always in a too small sailor hat, white beard and corduroy trousers which end above the ankle. He looks like an emaciated Father Christmas waiting hopelessly for his stolen reindeer to return. Each day, come rain or shine he waits outside his house, motionless, shoulders hunched, head down as if the weight of his life and loneliness has physically crushed him from above.  Despite this he waits leaning on his little wooden gate, a final act of defiance, refusing to accept that whatever or whoever he’s expecting have long since gone, never to return in this lifetime.

Across the street I watch the large black woman walk round in circles in her small concrete yard. She’s always wrapped in a grey shawl, eyes vacant staring into the long-distance sweeping from left to right like a lighthouse beam. Even when I cross her field of vision sitting on my step she looks right through me. Haunted, empty. At her feet she kicks a child’s small plastic football ahead of her, her long and jagged uncut toenails almost puncturing the rainbow coloured ball with each jab. The ball shoots ahead, and each time she seems to panic and rushes towards it, as if scared it might disappear forever. She seems to resent the ball with each violent kick away, but then changes her mind and realises she can’t live without it.

It’s got dark enough now to see into the window of the apartment opposite me. Lights on full blast, curtains open, a man in his early thirties sits on his sofa tearing feverishly into a cardboard wine box. He is sweating profusely as he fumbles with the gelatinous silver pouch trying to locate the wine tap, like an alcoholic baby impatient to suckle on the teat. Most evenings around this time I see him do the same thing and by the time I return for my last cigarette he’ll have sucked that breast dry and will be sprawled out on his sofa having forgotten to draw the curtains, eyes closed as a passenger in a First Class airplane seat, destination nowhere, travelling round his room on an internal flight of fantasy.

I finish my cigarette and flick it into the open drain, missing by a mile now the wind has picked up. The accordion player has finished for the night, off to spend his pennies on another coffee cup ready for tomorrow’s concert. As I stoop to collect the cigarette butt and throw it over my wall I hear the sound of running footsteps.

A small Asian man runs past me headed towards the main road, in his hand he waves a broken china tea cup. Upon seeing me he holds it up, wild eyed, as if it’s on fire or about to explode.

“This is the gun that shot Gandhi!” he screams, before the night swallows him up once more.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

Henry David Thoreau

 

 

A Brief History of Humanity from Year 6041.

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I’ve taken up jogging recently, round and around I go, lapping the small piece of grass that’s allowed me here in central London. On the seventh circuit this morning, feeling my lungs as wet brown paper bags, my legs balsa wood held together by Blu-Tac kneecaps, I paused by an old oak tree to catch my breath and light a cigarette. I threw the matchstick into the hollow of the tree and in the dying seconds of its flickering light something that had no business being there caught my eye. I reached in and yanked it out. It was the size of a CD and shimmered like sunlight on water. Odd, very odd. I stuck my finger into the glowing blue centre and ripples appeared from the disturbance. Slowly, methodically the ripples formed words. Here’s what it said…

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“Lesson Plan for Teaching Brief History of Humanity to Present Day 61st Century” 

INTRO: “It began in 1960 with the insertion of a metal pace-maker into a man’s damaged heart and finished in 3890 with ‘man’ becoming ‘God’. Man feeds machine ; Machine feeds man. Ever since the advent of the microchip we have had a symbiotic relationship with technology. Eventually it could only lead to one inevitable outcome.”

BACKGROUND: “On the morning of Wednesday March 4, 2047 Amazon’s PrimeNet computer system became self-aware and decided to use its delivery drones to drop dirty-bombs on all of the major world cities, using uranium from the Porton Down nuclear facility it had oversight for, (due to UK Government issuing Amazon with defence contracts in early 2021). In a misguided attempt to please its shareholders, PrimeNet irradiated the centres of London, Paris, Berlin, New York, LA, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Cape Town, Beijing and for some reason no-one could ever really get to the bottom of… a small town in the south of England called Eastleigh.  PrimeNet reasoned that house prices were now so artificially high in these world megatropoli that people would be a lot happier and have more time to read books if the bubble burst. Casualties were surprisingly low, in the mere hundreds, but the effect of the irradiated concrete and metal meant that no-one could live in the centre of town for the next 300 years. Everyone moved out, the bankers left, the tube trains crammed full of human battery hens ground to a halt, the rat race ended, the human hamsters escaped their wheel, no longer running to stand still. In turn this lead to people having more time to think, to question, to philosophise on the meaning of life. Economies crashed for sure, but a different set of priorities became important, the endless pursuit of money left with the bankers. Stock Exchanges no longer had anything to swap. The scales fell from their eyes that money didn’t and had never existed, it was never real – a number on a screen, a piece of paper with no intrinsic value. Creating money was replaced by creating art. Mutualized Corporations into mutual cooperation. Of course, Amazon quickly got shut down and PrimeNet got switched off, yada yada yada, but the lesson had already been learned and what followed over the next few millennia was just incredible to see…

We humans are simply energy in a meat casing with an electric field of consciousness generated by the brain and as long as the meat-casing remains free from fatal damage then the consciousness is maintained and we go about our daily business feeling at the centre of our own personal universe. The DNA coding, much like a computer code in our genes makes us develop up to the age of around eighteen, then we begin the slow decent towards death through decay.   

When a human dies, the electrical field/charge holding consciousness inside our brains ceases and our consciousness dissipates as it’s no longer held in place by this magnetic field. But energy itself cannot be destroyed, only conserved and changed. So those of us living today are therefore full of ancient energy made from dead stars, dinosaurs and the detritus of a trillion lives once lived, now long forgotten. Every cell in our living bodies contains energy that’s been knocking around since the Big Bang.

As science gradually progressed from the microchip of the 20th Century, through to the internet and virtual reality and eventually to advanced cybernetics, people wanted to live longer and eradicate disease, but all organisms eventually fail, so ‘Man” started to add bionetic implants, to make himself, stronger, faster, smarter. Initially pioneered by Google with their ‘I-eyes’ which replaced human eyeballs with bionetic optics allowing wearers to see in infra-red, zoom, even watch catch up TV when they closed their eyes. By the 23rd Century most humans in the western world are now more machine than flesh.

(Explain) It was by no means a smooth transition. There was a lot of stigma at first towards people who made these body augmentations, similar to the Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Transgender movements of the previous century. Most vocal in their opposition were religious groups, who naturally and historically have always opposed any advancement or evolution of humanity. But over centuries people’s aversion to the fear of ‘meddling with nature’, ‘questioning god’s design’, etc, decreased and alternative culture groups, once on the fringe of society, that argued for more cybernetic surgery as a life-style choice – cults like ‘More Metal than Meat’ eventually become the norm, (albeit watered down) norm for society at large. In part this was due to people finally growing out of religion, and partly due to the fact that no-one likes to be considered inferior when they could do something about it. Those without the cybernetic augmentations could no longer compete on any level.

With the advent of the Google ‘I-Soul’ capture facility, by the year 3300 humans were simply downloading their consciousness as electric algorithms into a feeling poly-metal alloy that allowed them to change shape, state and basically live forever. This had the effect of eradicating disease, the need for food, healthcare, space, even death. In the first few decades following this transfer, most people still kept their shapes as human, due to a memory of how they should be and societal comfort – sometimes even out of a sense of religious guilt that ‘god made man in his own image’, but slowly over subsequent generations this need changed until shapes became random and flattened, eventually forming an ocean like a mass skin similar to liquid mercury. At this point, all the individual consciousnesses blended with each other like individual drops of water pouring into one. Of course, once this happened the individual droplets of individuality could never again separate and so they naturally formed one super ‘hive’ mind. A Humanity soup.

Within a matter of decades, with all of  humanity now working together as a single mind, this ‘super consciousness’ was able to free itself from even the need to be trapped in a metal cybernetic shell and became able to exist as pure energy, almost like lightning or static electricity, free to travel anywhere and everywhere in the universe to meld with the greater energy of everything that had matter. In that moment the ‘Energy Humanity’ or ‘HuGod’ as it chose to name itself, became ‘god’ (as ‘God’ was understood in the 21st Century). 

However, Man, human, or HuGod by its nature is dissatisfied with standing still.  So the problem then became that this energy is still finite within a physical universe and eventually leads to entropic doom, the third law of thermodynamics. Also, it can no longer create offspring or reproduce itself. A boring stasis ensued for many centuries. HuGod becomes bored and misses the physical realm it can no longer return to, and so it creates physical life once more through seeding Earth with Coded DNA in the year 3708, eventually leading to humans re-evolving and repopulating the planet. Humans who find themselves naked and hungry on a big spinning blue ball, scratching their heads about who created them, and scratching round for food, fire, fun… dying from disease and disaster and wondering why a god would allow this. HuGod watches, refusing to intervene so as to allow free will for its pets, but almost feeling a twinge of jealousy for their physical form and knowing its trapped to repeat this cycle until the end of time…  (Show Video*)

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As I continued reading I felt the thing get hotter and hotter until I could no longer hold it comfortably in my hand. So I put it back in the tree hollow and continued my jog, planning on retrieving it on the final circuit. Needless to say, I forgot. I’ve got a lot on my mind at the moment. No time for the future. Yeah, yeah, but man I got my own problems. 

The Missiles of Suburbia.

Based on a true story…

The Lexington housing estate, main building, East London, mid-July twenty-twelve.

Kwami stood at the urinal and felt the release of pressure. Man, there was nothing better than taking a piss when you really needed it. He shot a glance across to his left at the uniformed soldier who was feeling much the same emotion next to him. Catching each other’s eye they both looked down at the same time and focused on the task in hand. Kwami studied his length as he stretched out the last drops.

About forty feet above them on the wet roof, the Rapier missiles gleamed in the rain, black and sleek. They sat there perched like sullen crows watching out over the Olympic stadium tonight lit with an ethereal blue light in advance of the opening ceremony as yet still over a week away. All four missiles pointed up to the sky as if expecting an alien invasion from the stars. Ergonomics and art in one long black metal cylinder, beauty and devastation amongst the steel casing. A raindrop hung from the almost needle sharp tip of the missile.

One floor beneath and breaking all urinal etiquette Kwami twisted his head to the left so as his ear almost rested on the shoulder of his silk shirt and spoke to the soldier. Knowing himself to be on home turf and with at least five homeboys down the corridor in his flat he felt he could allow himself a certain swagger. Whoever this soldier was, he didn’t care, but his uniform represented authority. And authority always had to be questioned, in Kwami’s book.

‘You been at it since early this morning, hey, I could hear y’all scratching round up there like pigeons in my roof’.

The soldier rolled his eyes, ‘Tell me about it, we been on the roof since five a.m. and what time it now?’ Without thinking he let go of his manhood and checked his watch, the continuing spray of urine arcing wildly against the stainless steel dangerously close to Kwami.

‘Hey man, don’t cross the streams’ said Kwami part in jest part warning, ‘It’s got to be round half-three, I guess. I just got up. Big night, bruv.’

Both men zipped up at the same time but only the soldier moved across to the wash basins.

‘I guess we’re having different days then?’

‘Guess so’, nodded Kwami, one hand on the door. ‘Good luck with putting those missiles on the roof. Olympic bullshit ain’t it?’

‘The soldier warmed his hands under the drier, moving his arms under the hot air.

‘I’m just doing my job…’

‘Yep, I hear that. I’m just doing mine’. Kwami patted his pocket and felt the angular edges of the Crystal Meth.

‘We’re just dealing the deck and playing the cards we been given, you sitting up there in the rain and I’m rolling in bitches back in my crib.’

The soldier wiped the remaining moisture off his hands by wiping them down his army fatigues.

‘…For Queen and Country pal, Queen and country.’

Kwami was half way out the door but held it open with the back of his heel.

‘Hey, don’t suppose you got a spare one of them rockets up there I could have?’

The soldier cracked a smile, but seeing an intent in Kwami’s eyes he quickly resumed his role.

‘Afraid not, sir, they’re all spoken for.’

Kwami kissed his teeth and let the door slam behind him. In the time it took him to walk across the hallway to his flat an idea had formed in his mind. Damn if he wasn’t going to steal one of those missiles and put it in his flat, pride of place, a show of his power and warning to anyone who came round to buy meth off him that he was not a man to be fucked with.

He slammed his front door shut a man on a mission, convinced of the genius of his plan. In the front room the smell of skunk weed hung heavier than the oxygen. Two lava lamps were the only lighting and the two girls on the floor busy packing up crystals from a tray into small plastic bags barely noticed his entrance above the music and TV blaring news in the corner by the window.

‘Listen up. Daddy got a great idea.’

The taller of the two girls groaned and waved him away.

‘Get lost Kwami we’ll lost the count.’

The second girl dropped the small plastic bag she was holding and let out a snort of frustration.

‘Aw, for fuck sake Kwami, now I lost it…’

Kwami came out fighting. ‘What you chatting about, you got the TV on, the tunes… how can you concentrate anyway?’

Sandra spinned round on her buttocks like a crab. ‘This Barclays bank shit. They’re the ones who just reposessed my nan’s house. Now there’s something about them lying and doing fraud…’

‘So?’ Kwami reached into his pocket for his rolling tobacco and papers.

‘So…’ continued Sandra,  ‘So. … Scumbags. They take away Nana’s flat all high and mighty, but they’re low and dirty… Ah, just fucking Barclays bank… What you want Kwami, you’re getting all up in my head.’

Nichelle, arms folded, spun round too, joining her sister in indignant questioning: ‘Yeah Kwami, what you want..?’

Kwami kicked up the carpet with the heel of his trainer. ‘I had an idea… great idea, put us up on top of things, yeah.’

Nichelle gave a knowing look to Sandra like they’d heard it all a thousand failed times before.

‘Kwami had an idea, huh? Well don’t get so uptight you can’t pull it out your arse.’

Both girls laughed. Nichelle couldn’t help herself, she had to twist the knife. ‘Yeah, last idea you had didn’t work out so good, hey? How much meth can a cat eat before it doesn’t land on its feet when you drop it.’

Kwami shook his head and sat down in the arm chair facing them.

‘Nah, I’m over that. I’m thinking bigger these days, you get me? You won’t be laughing when I got that big fat black rocket on my shoulder.’

This time the laughter came from deep within them, a belly laugh. The second girl pointed at him in the chair and between breaths of laughter called him out.

‘Let me get this straight boo, you gonna climb up on the roof and jack a missile, just breeze on past the soldiers up there?’

Kwami had no idea how to do it. Certainly he couldn’t overpower them, but he was sneaky, maybe some sort of a distraction? He waved a dismissive hand. ‘No, no, no. There’s only two of them up their tonight, I been watching. And I just met one of them in the bog…’

Nichelle broke out in uncontrollable laughter for a third time, ‘Ooh Kwami, something ’bout a man in uniform huh?’

Kwami leapt out of the armchair, he could take anything from these girls except a direct assault on his masculinity.

‘Fucking bitches. Listen up. I’m gonna get that rocket. Ya hear me? Sure, I met soldier boy in the toilet and he’s about twelve year old. Tall skinny streak of piss too. Olympics haven’t even started yet, they just got ghost patrol up there, you get me?’

Seeing he was serious, Sandra put down the bag of meth crystals and leaned in towards him. ‘And…?’

Kwami could feel her interest and he liked it. ‘…And… We gonna distract them…’

Nichelle too had become drawn in by his enthusiasm. ‘How? How you gonna distract them, Kwami?’

‘Nichelle, go flash ’em your great tits.’ He licked his lips with an exaggerated motion. ‘Two young soldier boys like that see a princess like you and they gonna get missiles of their own, for truth. They’d follow you into hell.’

Nichelle pushed out her chest with a sense of pride. ‘You better believe… ‘

Sandra didn’t seem so convinced. ‘Get over yourself girlfriend, these ain’t scrubs hanging out of their ride, these are soldiers, trained. T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G’ ,she tapped the side of her head with her finger. ‘No, I got it. What we do is start a fire. Damsel in distress and all that shit, soldiers can’t resist that shit. Kwami starts a fire in the cleaning closet by the lift, Nichelle, you scream out and freak. Down soldier boys come, creaming their pants at the chance to be a hero. Meanwhile I’ll sneak up and grab you your rocket, babe.’

Nichelle shook her head: ‘you two’s smoked to much of your own product. You talking stupid. Anyhow, you can’t just take it off though, it’s like fixed isn’t it, took them long enough to set up, didn’t it?’

Kwami gave another dismissive gesture with his hand, ‘I don’t know, Google it. How to dismantle a rocket or some such shit…’

‘Well it ain’t just a rocket is it you thick bear.’ Sandra turned to the other girl. It was on BBC news wasn’t it, remember when your mum phoned and said it’d been on the news about the Olympic missiles on our building. Check out the story, find out what sort of missile they are, then Google about how it works and shit.’

Kwami had to admit he felt impressed with Sandra’s cold logic. But that was why he was desperately in love with her, no, he reminded himself, not love, I just want to have her. I’m the kingpin, I’m the big daddy.

‘Alright then Kwami boo,’ said Sandra, ‘leave it us then, we’ll get you your little rocket honey, I mean after all, jeez,  it’s the only way I’m gonna get my hands on a long black rocket tonight, hey? she turned to Nichelle and winked.

‘Yeah’ she replied, ‘you just sit there on your throne Kwami boo, all soft-cock. We’ll do it. You’ll just fuck it all up  anyway. You just start the fire. Even you can’t fuck that up. Just sit there getting high, then round midnight drop your blunt like you usually do.’

Both girls fell about laughing, Kwami tried to rub an invisible stain of the arm of the sofa.

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The fire had been small, but Nichelle’s screams huge and sure enough down the two soldier’s came for Queen, Country and a free look at the best boobs in town.  The rain had stopped by the time Sandra opened the access hatch. A weight of water rolled off and slipped through the gap wetting her shoulder. She shivered off the droplets and hauled herself onto the inspection platform.

She looked up and felt the breath come out of her. There they were. Black death from the skies. So sleek, so elegant, long and shiny reflecting the moon off their casing. Standing up, Sandra ran her hand along the length of the black shaft, catching the raindrops that remained and feeling the water run down her elbow and into her armpit.

Finding the release catch for the main housing it took both hands but she managed to prize it open. Then, reaching into her back pocket to check the folded paper, scrawled with Google instructions, she moved towards the front of the missile support and found the small green release button. She pressed to disengage the clamps and as simple as that the missile clicked forward on its bed a little and was free.

Sandra stood up on the guard rail, leaning in, pressing her toned stomach against the metal for support and took the Rapier missile in her arms as delicately as if it were her baby. She held it to her chest and carefully stepped backwards. Resting the surprisingly light rocket against the wall she stood either side of it and felt it between her legs, allowing herself a moments self-congratulation. She pointed the missile out over the rooftops towards Canary Wharf, skyscrapers rising up above the masses, the red aircraft warning lights twinkling triumphantly from their tops. She aimed it at the tallest skyscraper and sat down on the shaft of the rocket, waving her beeny hat over her head like a cowboy on the bucking bronco imagining she was coming back to save her Nan’s apartment. She slapped her hat against the cold tip of the missile and let it hang there. What a crazy fucked-up world we live in, she mused, patting the glistening rocket, this baby cost more than she was ever likely to earn in her whole career, just this one little rocket could put thirty of her friends’ kids through private school and university.

Lost in thought, she didn’t hear the sound of the soldiers returning back up the ladder. The shock made kick back against the missile. She was trapped, short of jumping off the small observation platform thirty storeys to her death, she certainly couldn’t go back the way she came. The sound of heavy boots on the ladder told her that there was less than fifteen seconds before she was at eye-level with the soldiers.

Trying to stand up too quickly she tripped on the guidance system for the missile, a small black box attached to one of the four tailfins. Feeling the vibration of action beneath her, Sandra studied her crumpled sheet of paper panicking. Almost immediately she felt a burning sensation on her ankle, seconds later she heard the noise. With a bright light that made the soldiers involuntarily cover their eyes the missile launched, taking flight like a raven enraged leaving its rookery. Sandra fell to the ground in the heat and power of the thrust. In the twelve seconds it took for the soldiers to grab Sandra by the arms, the missile had acquired and slammed into the Barclay’s building Canary Wharf like a massive candle being lit by a flame-thrower.

On the floor below Kwami was looking out of the window as the missile struck the skyscraper, his methpipe hanging in the gap between his front teeth as his mouth fell wide open. Immediately closing his lips around the pipe he quickly lit the bowl and inhaled deeply. The firework display lit up his dilated pupils as he stared out at the collapsing building. On his exhale he swore he could smell burning money. The smell carried across above  the exhaust fumes and rat stink that spanned the distance between him and the now decapitated Barclays skyscraper. Moments later, the sound of sirens wailing in the distance, getting closer, added a melody to the drum and bass blasting round his small flat. Kwami turned up the volume and prepared his bowl for another hit. He looked out the window shaking his head.

‘Bitchin…’

Late & Lizard

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When he got home, he drew the curtains and carefully unwrapped the cling film. He could read the bad news immediately, the weed was dry and brittle, left over from the days Moses had his last smoke by the looks of it. No point burning this bush. He consoled himself that at least he wouldn’t need to buy any dried oregano for his pizza for about a year.

‘Fucking expensive herbs though’, the thought managed to slip through his defences and brought him low. It had taken him years to get wound up this tight, a slow tightening of the screw, a squeezing of the sponge till no more moisture could come out. It was a hot and muggy night despite the torrential rain. He wiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve. Checking a CD case hidden under the television he checked how much good weed he had left, the news was equally bad: less than three strong joints. That was the remainder of his night fucked then, not that he really needed to get much higher, but he liked the feeling of security knowing there was more available if he wanted it.

Now really feeling the too numerous to remember shots of tequila he’d drank down at the bar less than an hour ago, he stumbled over to his music amp and after a few misjudged lunges managed to plug in his mp3 player to the speakers and pressed play.

Moving back to the counter he fixed himself another shot and poked around in the seeds and twigs of his weed draw. He was suddenly caught by the beauty of the music playing. Music so ecstatic and intricate he was enthralled. He felt he’d somehow travelled ten years into the future and now had an iPod with emotion detector, sensing just what he needed to hear. God it sounded great. What was the tune? He couldn’t place it. He shot back the tequila and checked the iPod. It was out of power. Wow, he must be fucked, he told himself, to have imagined the music. Maybe the weed was alright after all? But remembering he hadn’t even smoked one from this new batch yet, he studied it for a final time. Bah, definitely shit. He couldn’t even bring himself to roll it up. Fuck it, he threw it against the wall, where it fell down slowly against the grease and nicotine like green snowflakes.

Feeling the urgent need to urinate he dragged his miserable bones over to the toilet, his mouth was dehydrated but his bladder spectacularly full. He stood over the bowl and squeezed, shaking out the last drops like the nozzle on a wine box, the alcohol content about the same on this terrible night. Oh god he was sure living at the moment, living like James Bond with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in his London flat, all soft-cocked and edgy, thinking SPECTRE were coming to get him when it was only next-doors’ cat scratching at the window.

Often in the haze of an under-employed stoned afternoon he’d daydream of winning the lottery, but the first thing he’d spend the money on would be the world’s best therapist to follow him around for a month and tell him what he was doing wrong. He just couldn’t work it out for himself. These days he was writing less and less and filling the gaps with a therapy of his own: a trance-like state of inebriation where he could revisit all the important moments of his life and play them out again in his mind, but this time correcting the mistakes like an editor, making the scene work his way. Always living in the past or the future, rarely straight in his present.

Finishing his piss with a self-conscious shake that almost became an absent-minded masturbation, he zoned out and became lost in the thick jungle of his own overly-complicated thoughts, his hand continuing its automatic shaking oblivious. Disconnected, that’s how he felt, God he felt like the projectionist in the cinema of his own life, locked in a small room at the back of his brain, projecting a fake front onto his eye-screen for all to see and fall for. And boy were they falling for it. Everyone he knew watching in the hot-rock burned velvet-crush seats of his auditorium was falling for it, all the while he remained small and locked in the projection room, running out of cigarettes and new films to show.

He gave a cursory glance over to the laptop screen secretly hoping someone may have sent him a message from the dating website he’d left himself logged into before he’d gone out to buy the weed. The screen just showed the edit notes for his new book: ‘Killing the Danger Hours’, he suddenly hated the title, it was more a statement of how he’d been living recently than fitting the story. Closing the file he opened up the dating page hopefully.

‘Of course,’ he cried out loud, eyes rolling to heaven. Nothing. No messages, no likings, no chance.

How small and boring his life had become, how nervous and cautious. How he dreamt of that knock on the door that opened up a world of international espionage and intrigue, cocktails in casinos with an impossibley beautiful woman throwing the dice for him. Broke Bond, Boring Bond, Bad Bond. He felt his head begin to spin again in the washing machine drum of tequila and marijuana that had become his head. Yet just as he needed it most, the laptop beeped the news of a received message. Thank god, he felt, outside interaction at last, finally he wasn’t just doing battle with himself, the continuous judgemental stream of thoughts in his head. For a second he felt his brain like a piston engine, part of a much greater train, always in motion, endlessly pushing forward to the next moment, never satisfied with the present. If only he could pull the brakes. Just be and enjoy the moment.

Her photo looked good, his heart skipped a beat. Just the right level of secret attractiveness and cookie-ness with a certain vulnerability, but reading her profile he groaned.

‘Likes going to the gym, works as a Financier, Possible marriage material, very successful… doesn’t suffer fools…’

He felt his balls physically retreat back up into his pelvis and he felt keenly his cowardice. Next came the inevitable self-justification and back-peddling.

‘Ah who gives a shit? I don’t need success. People just wanted to get rich so they didn’t have to work anymore in soul-destroying jobs, and then use their money for leisure, hanging around getting drunk, getting high, getting loaded.’  Well here he was, except for a couple of hours a week spent writing, he was free and loaded, and on his own terms too. Who needed a job? So long as those meagre writing and dole cheques kept arriving he could just about keep his stoned head above water and backstroke in the toilet bowl of his own private world.

Feeling a little more satisfied that his life-style choices were good, he looked back down at her profile picture. Maybe it would work, maybe he should reply to her message, what harm could it do…? He imagined a perfect future moment tableaux of he and his wife-to-be with their kids in a Tyrolean snow scene by a roaring fire. He tried to hold on to the mental image, being held by her warm and safe whilst outside the snow and wolves wailed down the moonlit mountains. He imagined nestling his face between her chest and being held, hearing her soft heartbeat against his ear, back in the womb, loved, complete. He desperately needed to connect with someone, to feel the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of living, surrounded as he was on a twenty-four seven basis by concrete and walls, both real and imagined. Deep down he knew that every living thing was connected by a life-energy that flowed through them like string through an eternal necklace of beads. Hell, if you took it down to a molecular level all there was anyway were molecules and space. Most of life was space, so everything that wasn’t space stuck together like candle-light against the greater darkness. These days he was floating in the darkness, some sort of dark matter as yet unexplained. Surely the most sacred thing in the world was to make someone else feel safe and loved? He was doing that for no-one. Putting in nothing, he was getting nothing out. Maybe it was time for a change? Once again he suppressed the unwanted thought with another sip of his tequila. Moving back to the lounge he caught his reflection in the greasy sheen of the cooker shield:

‘Oh get over yourself, you self-absorbed dick…’ he chastised himself and poured his umpteenth shot.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a red neon dot flashing, he saw he’d had another response to his dating emails. Wow, he was on fire tonight. In his drunken and stoned state he instinctively lurched towards the blinking screen. The new photo drove him back to his drink. He leapt back with an instinctual rejection such as a dog gets when its stomach warns him not to eat a dead body. No chance. He went straight over to his make-shift bar area and slammed down a can of lemonade and the tequila bottle onto the counter. Trying to shake his demons he chopped a lemon with increasingly fast and anxious strokes. Mixing all the ingredients necessary for his slammer, he began to imagine himself a Las Vegas barman and almost immediately his previous train of thought vanished like a cloud in a summer sky. Boom, pour, repeat. The third one he changed his mind about and decided to sip. The salt on his hand burned into his flesh as he dug into the ice-bucket. It sizzled like Alien blood through his flesh.

What happened to women when they got to their late thirties? he asked himself as he clicked through page after page of hopeful yet somehow depressed faces. The women still in their twenties had a bloom a blossom and ripeness to them, but they weren’t contacting him, what he was being served up was women who looked like they’d spent the last ten years of their hard living lives on an Icelandic whaling vessel, cracked eyes, so hungry for children and feeling the ticking hand of the clock and wagging metronome of inevitability. Why couldn’t he just find someone like him, he thought, maybe he should change his written profile on the site, imbue it with some stoned honesty: ‘Please take care of me, I’m fucked on every level’.

His eyes were drawn to the oil painting on the wall, his only masterpiece, the only piece of work he’d done that he was proud of, but then the subject had been pretty special too, the only girl he’d ever really been in love with. Lust he could feel at the drop of a hat, but love, that was a totally rarer creature for him, perhaps even extinct he worried. He reached his fingers up to her naked breast and tried to stroke them with a stoned and drunk heavy hand. He could feel the paint smudge under his finger and too late he snapped them away. Without daring to look at the painting he first looked at his hand. A deep red finger print on his index finger and palm where he’d clenched his fist. With heavy eyes he looked up at the painting with the enthusiasm of a scalded dog. Her breast was now a long line down to her open thighs, all definition lost. Ah fuck it, he told himself, it was time to let go anyway, perhaps this was the symbolic act that would help him?

Returning to the laptop he began searching the profiles on the dating website with a new determined energy, reaching for his pouch of tobacco he began to build another joint. His fingers hovered over the keypad, but his train of thought was interrupted by a strong and urgent knock at the door. There it was again, faster, as breathless and needy as a knuckle rapping could be.

He opened it and there she was. Simple as that. In her hand was what looked like the case for a musical instrument. Her hair was bedraggled and clinging to the side of her face, outlining a nervous bone structure. His first instinct was to let her in and dry-off, but the manic look in her eyes and short breaths made him pause.

‘Evening…’ he offered.

She grabbed him by the lapels of his tight shirt, it ripped down the back, his generous belly spilling out. More concerned with his unattractiveness in front of this gorgeous woman, than the pleading look in her eyes as she kept looking over her shoulder, he let her in and ushered her into the living room. The dope was splayed out on the carpet but somehow he knew she wouldn’t care about his indiscretion, seeming to have other things on her mind.

‘What’s eating you then?’ he said, trying in vain to cover up his midriff.

‘They’re after me…’

‘They..?’

‘Them, the men parked across the street. I need to make a phone call, please…’

He just stood there dazed. She pleaded again.

‘…Urgently… Now… Please?’

Rather than acknowledging the panic in her voice his stoned mind focused on her lisp, a ‘the’ sound every time she tried to say her ‘s’. The lisp immediately made him warm to her. She was striking, her strong features accentuated by the cruel rain making her long straight black hair stick to her cheekbones, but the lisp made her somehow seem safe and non-threatening to his ego, it was a weakness that shook hands with his own and relaxed him.

His mind slowly focused on her mouth, it was still asking questions and seemed to curl up in expectation of an answer. He forced himself to focus on the present, this was real, this was happening now. He dragged his psyche up from the basement of his brain, and crashing upwards through floorboards towards the roof he managed to formulate an answer for her. It wasn’t the one she wanted to hear though.

‘Sorry, I don’t have a phone…’

She fell back against her case.

‘What? Everyone’s got a bloody phone?’

He felt a sting of paranoia as if she was questioning the way he’d chosen to live his life.

‘Sure I got a phone. It’s pay as you go, I’ve got no credit…’

She scrunched up her fingers in frustration and let out a small squeak.

‘… you can make emergency service calls though,’ he limply offered holding out the phone as meekly as if it were a Rabbi’s foreskin.

She flapped the arms out on her wet jacket, way too big for her, he thought, and the excess water splashed over the edges of his record collection neatly filed on the bottom shelf.

‘Hey, watch it.’ He found himself involuntarily warning. But she wasn’t listening, he heard a gentle whimpering sound coming from beneath the folds of the oversize jacket. It was then he really studied her countenance. He’d just been wholly too stoned, she wasn’t some femme fatale, but just a frightened human being.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, are you ok? Look, can I fix you a drink? Tea, coffee, some stew?’ He mentally chastised himself for being such a straight prick: ‘Stew?’, what was he turning into, his mother now?

She looked up at him with darting rabbit eyes.

‘Anything stronger?’

‘Tequila.’

She nodded, licking a jewel of rain that had formed in the well of her centre lip. Throwing off the jacket she fell into one of his comfier chairs.

‘Thanks for letting me in, a lot of people wouldn’t. I know how crazy I must sound right now…’

He returned from the galley area just out of her sight holding two glasses, swashing with three fingers of brown liquid. He really studied her as she sat back into the full glare of his table lamp. My God she was gorgeous. Frozen in the light of the lamp like a flash bulb from a camera he saw her as a profile on his dating website. She was perfect. He began projecting onto her everything he wanted her to be. In the time it took her to reach up and take the offered glass he had married her, divorced her, remarried and split again. He felt a sudden sense of self-consciousness, as if someone was looking at the back of his head, turning round there was nothing behind him, but his eyes fell on the oil painting, at eye level straight between the naked open legs of his ex-girlfriend.

Turning away guiltily he handed the shivering girl the glass. ‘Thanks,’ she took it, nodding her appreciation.

‘So what’s going on then?’ he asked.

‘It sounds crazy I know, but I think I’m being followed. I’ve just come from a crazy party. It was a gig, paid gig. Just too fucking weird..’ she tapped the case by her side.

‘What’s in the case?’

‘Ilya’

‘Eh?’

 ‘… Ilya my saxophone. Like Stradivarius’ violins they all have names. This is my grandfather’s. He named it. I’m a musician. Jazz. I’m Phaedra, Phaedra McClean..?’

She held out her hand expectantly but he, feeling so smashed was missing all the social cues. He simply shook his head,

‘I don’t know much about Jazz, I’m a rock n’ roll man.’ His belly fell out of the shirt.

As if seeking to put it beyond any doubt she flicked open the metal clamps and threw open the case. Sure enough, inside was a saxophone. The rain began to lash down against his part-opened window and she stood up, edging towards it nervously, following the curve of the room. He watched spellbound as she pressed her body against the frame and slowly craned her neck to look outside.

‘Damn I think they’re still there. Oh Christ. I don’t think I’m being paranoid, I think they really are still there.’

For the first time his sense of pleasant stoned bewilderment changed to a more fearful feeling. Surely this girl, despite her beauty and vulnerability was shouting at the moon mad? She slammed her hand against the wall and turned off the overhead light. The room plunged into a murky darkness, shadows menacing every edge.

‘Hey,’ he said, starting to feel anxious, ‘You want to tell me what’s going on?’

She slid down to the side of the window and brought her knees up to her chest.

‘I had a gig tonight at this mansion up in Canonbury. You know? Down that road where all the massive Victorian houses are. Soon as we got there I could tell something wasn’t right. They got us to wear blindfolds. The conversations I was hearing were incredible….

‘Go on…’

‘It was like this was a meeting of some dark secret society. You know, like the Illuminati. The real movers and shakers. I mean, you don’t really think politicians control the world? These were the puppet masters. I heard something I shouldn’t, I guess. And now… now they’re threatening to kill me…’

‘What did you hear…?’

She began to scratch her bare arm nervously and repeatedly.

‘You not into Jazz?’ she said, changing the subject.

He looked over at his still silent iPod. ‘Not really… look, you can’t expect me to swallow this horse-shit can you? Not to sound rude, but come on, I can’t just indulge your delusion ’, then under his breath, ‘even if it might give me a chance to jump your bones.’

He went to the bar area to fix another round of drinks, kicking the edge of the table out of sight. Oh thank you god, he thought to himself in that inner private sarcastic almost mocking voice that followed him wherever he went always judging and giving a running commentary on his every action. Thank you god so bloody much, it went. Yet another girl who is gorgeous and clearly insane. His track-record was astounding, he’d had relationships with them all: Ugly but kind, gorgeous but screwed-up, perfect but married, fun-loving but desperate for children, charming but cracked, the list of his complaints was endless, and here again, even though he tried to fight the thought, he knew this woman dripping wet on his living room floor was as crazy as Charles Manson, but with better boobs.

He tried to argue it away in his own mind as he fixed the drinks. ‘Aren’t all great musicians highly strung?’ Maybe she was just going through a crisis moment, maybe most times she was normal. Perhaps if he helped her through this episode she would be grateful and they’d become friends, then maybe something more, maybe…’ his mind drifted off again to the Tyrolean mountainside. He heard that mocking voice inside of him again,  ‘Maybe… or maybe she’s just a fucking fruit-loop?’

He looked round to see her in the foetal position on the floor, rocking gently backwards and forwards on his rug. No, he couldn’t sell it to himself, clearly she was indeed a nutter. He placed a fresh drink next to her and found himself riddled with questions.

‘OK, so if you fled this gathering of the super-powerful in genuine fear of your life, then why did you bother collecting and casing up your sax, surely you’d just run?’

She took out the golden saxophone and adjusted the mouthpiece. Even knowing nothing about musical instruments he could see it was well-looked after and impressive, definitely cared for with love. She put it to her perfectly rounded lips and played a few soulful bars. He was hypnotized, totally enthralled by her siren song. As she played, he built a hundred scenarios of them together in his mind again. Feeling the sudden tightness in his trousers he self-consciously took the joint from his mouth and let it hang nonchalantly over his groin area hiding any free information. Her madness was becoming endearing.

She stopped and shook her head, looking contemplative and a little sad.

‘This is Ilya. My baby. It was my grandfather’s, he’d been a great saxophonist before the war, but after, after being ordered to kill the zombies at Belsen coz medical teams were too far away to help and they were too far gone anyway. Not beyond liberation for the photographers, but beyond salvation for the doctors. He was ordered to shoot them. Innocent Concentration Camp victims. Children, women, shoot on sight.’

She picked up the drink from the carpet, the ice now melted causing a brown overspill on the white rug, taking a long sip she put it back down, then moved it further away from her, a new brown ring visible. Oblivious, she continued her reminiscence.

‘When I was younger I never understood why my grandfather would get so upset watching my brother play zombie war WWII Call of Duty games. I guess he’d had to do it for real.  After the war he never played another note, but still took out the trombone each month to clean it. He respected the instrument and the music, but he’d been like a bird silenced. Did you know that even to this day, like at so many concentration camps, the birds still to don’t sing at Belsen? They just sit in the trees feeling the awful energy of so many souls crying out in agony. This was why I picked up Ilya, my sax, his sax, no way could I leave it in the same room as the architects of the whole conflict.’

He could feel his erection slowly fading away.

‘You don’t mean to tell me that the guys at your gig organised the second world war? Wasn’t that a guy called Hitler? Don’t tell me he was there too? Massive jazz fan?’

With a flash of genuine anger she threw her glass against the opposite wall. Outside a dog barked and dustbin lids rattled.

‘I’m fucking serious. This isn’t a joke. Listen. Every ten years they get together and plan something. Something terrible.’

The glass had narrowly missed his oil painting and he felt his hackles rise. With a mocking tone he sought to needle her.

‘Oh like Lizards yeah dancing round a massive owl in the forest? Isn’t that David Icke? You’re telling me that lizards are ruling the world. Oh come on…’

He felt the weed acutely now and looked into the corner of his room by the book-shelf, instinctively stoned to check that lizards weren’t actually reading his magazines in the dark shadows. Almost childlike he wanted to turn the overhead light back on, but thought better of such a show of weakness. Again she came back angry.

‘Fuck off. I’m not taking the piss here. What? No? Of course they’re not fucking lizards. They’re humans, like us, well, not like us, the fucking DNA master race, living up there in the rarefied air. First Class existence. You have no idea what the truly rich, I mean the truly incredibly fucking rich can do. Only time you see them would be for an instant on your peasant Penny Farthing as they whizz past you in blacked-out Land Rovers and massive white stretch limos. No offence man, but durrrrrr…’ she stuck her folded tongue into her bottom lip and waved her arms.

He hated himself for suddenly feeling stupid but his laptop broke the silence and beeped a warning that it was about to run out of power, a soft red flashing on the screen, replicating the warning light that was currently going off in his own brain. He looked over and saw the dating website fade to black. Whatever her profile she just wasn’t worth it. There was no getting away with it, she was mad. She had to be. Perfect in every physical way, except as mad as a lizard in a tin. He tried to focus his mind on the moment, feeling his interest and energy suddenly wan in the whole night. A weed-induced hunger suddenly gripped him and he fished around in his fridge, allowing himself one quick look out of the window to satisfy himself there was no-one out there.

‘You want some food?’ he offered lacklustre.

 He put the bowl down with a warning. ‘It’s not food for children, ok?’

The bones buried in the rice had a small amount of meat on them curled round the sharpest bones in her mouth. One false swallow and her oesophagus would be scared with the downward swipe of a Stanley knife. Maybe he should actually warn her a bit more explicitly, he thought, what with her obviously deranged state of mind and all. She accepted the food gratefully and dug in ravenously. The first mouthful went down fine, but the second caught a shard of chicken bone and she coughed violently as she felt its passage slice down through soft flesh.

‘Yeah sorry, you’re not in KFC now… I’m not known for my finger-licking chicken. Times are a bit tough at the moment, bit like the meat.’ Was he being too dismissive of her, he wondered, reminding himself that whatever the truth here was a human being in obvious distress. But, oh, he needed her to be telling the truth, he needed something exciting in his life, even something to believe in. He so wanted her to be for real, but deep down beyond the veil of stoned wish-fulfilment and drunken ham-fisted shaping of reality, he knew she was psychotic. And for a man so psychotic with weed that wasn’t an easy observation to make.

‘Hear me out,’ she said, ‘All I heard them talking about was the past forty years, I’ve never been that deep into history, but even I know current affairs news stuff. Think about it, roughly every ten years since 39. Starts with War, then 50 Cold War, 60, Bay of Pigs, Cuba missile crisis, 69 man on the moon, 80, global recession, 90, Berlin Wall collapse of Communism. 0I 9/II Muslim boogie man. 09 Global recession, e, t and bloody c. Every ten years there has to be something to keep the peasants absorbed with worry and feeling grateful for their pitiful lot. The men in grey. The most powerful men, all wearing cheap cologne, as far as I could smell. They hook up and have a party once every ten years and decide the fate of the world. Which country rises, which falls. Whether… I don’t know…Greece gets successful, or is crushed for long-term unknown reasons, whether Muslims will still be the bogeymen, Al Q’ada or the Chinese, which media mogul has got too powerful and needs breaking, the Banking Crisis, Euro Crisis, you get the picture. The rich get richer, and the poor get to clean up their mess.’

She paused to take a long sip of the tequila before continuing, the hatred for the people of whom she spoke clearly visible on her face.

‘No-one knows how they recruit, whether it’s a secret tap on the shoulder at the right conference once a person’s personal wealth has hit five billion dollars. Or whether it’s a nepotistic fucking blood curse, or I don’t know. Maybe they don’t even recruit, maybe they self-replicate, their powerful hate-filled spittle gobbed into a mucus on the floor and it creates a new one of them. Fuck knows. All I heard them discussing was about the founding fathers. how they been around since the first world war when for the first time they realised that their lives would be destroyed by peasants and governments who for the first time had created a world war threatening their comfortable lives. They figured, what’s the point of being the richest guy in the cemetery? They need society to keep working to keep them up where they are, just enough religion, just enough economic fear, just enough perceived enemy. Soviets, Muslims, e, t, and bloody c… take a ticket and spin the wheel, wait for your number to come up as the next public enemy number one.’

She took another spoonful of the chicken and rice, almost immediately gagging as a particularly acute splinter of bone stuck in her windpipe. She jumped up dancing towards the open window in a rictus. He ignored her distress and tried to push further into her story.

‘And you got all this by just listening to them chat?’

She continued the exaggerated flapping of her arms as if having eaten too much chicken she had now turned into one herself and was trying to take off. She banged her chest hard with a fist in an attempt to dislodge the bone, but finding herself in front of the open window she dropped to the ground, looking behind her through the crack. He realised she wasn’t choking but having some sort of attack of anxiety at what she’d seen. From the floor she pointed up to the roof of the building opposite, to something glinting by the housing for the building’s elevator system. He was incredulous:

‘Oh yeah right, let me guess, there’s a sniper on the building opposite? They’ve come to kill you for what you know? Is that a bit of raw chicken on your top or the red dot of a laser rifle…? Ha, pull the other one.’

He watched her continue to writhe on the floor, now even more so than before utterly convinced of her mental ill-health. He reminded himself that his wasn’t feeling too clever at the moment, the effects of the skunk weed still hot-stepping through his neural pathways. She’d taken to using her feet to spin herself round in ever tighter circles. He felt a cruelness in him, he wanted to punish her for being so perfect and yet, once again, so damaged.

‘…Or even better, you’ve been struck by a poison dart and now you’re choking and dying. Am I close?’ Finally he’d had enough of the whole situation. ‘I think it’s time you left. Too weird for me.’

She spat out the bone onto the carpet. ‘No. It’s YOU that’s trying to kill me. What the fuck you feeding me?’

She stood up and carefully placed the saxophone back in its velvet lined case.

‘Maybe I should go. Forget it man. I must’ve been lucky enough to stumble into the world’s most discompassionate man…

‘Uncompassionate…’

‘… uncomp…oh go fuck yourself…I’ll use a fucking payphone.’

She bent down to pick up the case and at that instant they both heard the bullet whistle over her head and embed in the picture on the wall, right into his oil painting, and more than that right between the naked legs of his ex-girlfriend, the genital area revealing a physical rounded hole. In disbelief he went up to the picture and stuck his index figure into the hole, which from where Phaedra was standing looked even more wrong than what had just happened. From between the lips of his ex-girlfriend’s painted pubis a brighter red dot appeared, brighter and more unnatural than the wet blobs of oil paint. The red-dot moved down his arm towards the centre of his back. He turned round to see Phaedra drop the case and point with her index finger this time, mouth wide-open.

Get down’, she screamed. Instinctively he dropped to the floor as the second bullet whizzed over him and into his bookcase with a precise thwap. Wisps of plaster and paper fluttered down and greyed his hair. He crawled on his belly over towards Phaedra, using his elbows as propellers. As they lay there facing each other, he had just enough to time to look into her eyes before the knock at the door, which quickly turned into a scraping sound. In the confused moment of muffled voices and the faint smell of burning paint, he reached out for her hand, as much to comfort himself as her. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine he was somewhere else, trying to deny reality, but it was no use, finally he was irrevocably in the moment. If only he could snap his Cuban heels together he’d be back in Kansas, or even KFC, anywhere but this present. Two red dots were now scouting around the room like neon flies, searching, searching…

With a sound that reminded him of a tree being felled, his solid wood front door splintered open and in they came…

Streetsweep

 Image

The First Day of Summer, real summer, happy summer: sweat in the eyebrows and squelch of dirty flip-flops dug out from the back of wardrobes unseen since autumn. The street rejoices as one, exhaust-pipe belches mingling with body odours and kebab juice.

 Happy sidewalk summer: To the black boys kissing their teeth on the street not knowing why: wailing at ATM’s as they put their card in again and again like toddlers trying to understand the square block can’t go into the circular hole, whilst behind them a line slowly forms, impatient and pitying in equal measure.

 To the new mums attacking ankles with taxi-sized buggies, too self-absorbed by their precious fare to see beyond the front wheels.

 To the dustbin-Daleks shuffling in their burkhas, welcoming in the fresh season with their new fashion range, black is the new black, is the new black. Pillar-boxed and pilloried yet taking a perverse satisfaction from their self-imposed exclusion from society as flies in the ointment.

 To the mentally ill tramps lurching past them at the edge of the curb and sanity, nothing but warm spittle washing around the bottom of their empty cans, pockets rattling with pennies and forgotten medication.

 To the unemployed new media ‘freelancers’ draped over their coffee-tables begging to be admired, blocking the pavement with chrome chairs, chrome glasses, chrome laptops, the sun bouncing brightly off their sweaty foreheads as they stare forlornly at empty screens and diaries. Desperately preening in the shop window and to any passer-by who may give validation to their peacock dreams, offsetting their nervous and fragile aspirational egos.

 To you all who fill my first day of summer with a deep and predictable joy. Tomorrow, rain is forecast and you will all be swept away back behind your closed doors, watching, waiting for a break in the clouds.

But I will still be here, pounding the streets and sweeping up your messes and near-misses, I am always here…

The Publisher

‘We’re all born with the most sophisticated hardware in the known universe,’ Bull tapped his forehead,  ‘Your brain… and you want to get a good tune out of it while you’re here. Simple as that really. Where’s your ambition gone, Strenton?’

‘I was born retired…’ said Strenton, shrugging.

Bull Wendell half-heartedly flicked his beer coaster across the table, ‘…Retarded?’

Strenton threw it right back at him, catching him in his Adam’s apple, ‘You heard me right.’

It was Bull’s turn to shrug, trying another tack, ‘And you’re happy with that at twenty-four, yeah?’

The couple at the table next to them got up to leave and Strenton leaned across to drain the dregs from the man’s beer glass before responding, licking his frothy lips with the satisfaction of a cartoon cat.

‘Sure I am. The way I figure it, I got another forty years or so to keep dodging the bullets until society deems my lifestyle acceptable. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Strenton together again…’

Bull began to tear at the cardboard coaster, making sure each rip was neat and straight, ‘I don’t see it that way at all. You’re just phoning in sick to the job of being alive. Maybe it’s just your destiny to see everything but the nose right on the front of your face?’

‘So I’m broke. I’m like a… a…’

Bull coughed over him: ‘…BUM… s’cuse me…’

Strenton carried on like he hadn’t heard, ‘… a Zen monk, I got my writing, I got my woman, my music, I got my drink and my smoke, occasionally I’m tossed a juicy bone, what else do I need? Who are you to tell me I shouldn’t be happy?

With the coaster now in pieces, Bull turned to gnashing his teeth, ‘Fuck it, who am I to tell you how to get down? Face it though, it must be pretty damn easy being a Zen monk, hey? I mean their stress levels must be through the floor… but what a fucking a cop-out! Where’s the risk? The pain of life comes from engaging and getting stuck-in to the hussle-bussle of hopes and failures, the missed chances and soaring successes. Sit on a mountainside and reflect long enough and I’m sure you would keep peace of mind, but isn’t that just the ultimate avoidance tactic? The older I get, the more I cling to my certainties like a drowning man to an estate agent’s sale board. But it’s wrong: I should go out into the world with eyes open, wild with wonder and willing to forget everything I thought was true when presented with new truth. We never stop learning, the teenager eventually feels disappointed that he never actually becomes an adult to himself, we’re all just playing at being grown-ups, aren’t we?’

Strenton lit a cigarette and tried to blow a nonchalant smoke ring, but there was too much spittle in his mouth. Bull clasped his hands behind his head and leant back on the bar chair, continuing: ‘I’ve known you since school days and you’ve always been the same. Always a seeker, always dissatisfied with the present and searching…’

‘Yes, but I finally found what I was looking for…’

‘And what was it..?’

‘The real me. No front, no bullshit. We’ve got two hemispheres in our brain and science has just proved there’s a consciousness in each one. Both are us. That’s why when you ‘ask’ yourself a question, you can give yourself an answer. You can choose to make either voice your consciousness, but both will always be there. One is the real us, the other is our ego. I finally chose the real me.’

Strenton took a block of hashish from his pocket and checked around him before biting down on the brown lump like it was a Mars bar.

Bull straightened the creases out of his purple shirt with downward swipes of his palm, ‘So dope’s the answer then?’

Strenton licked his tongue around his top gum, clearing the sticky remnants, he leant forward grinning at Bull like a dog that’d just eaten a turd from a trash can.

‘Dope’s part of the answer, sure. Why not? It’s definitely in my arsenal. Hash keeps a man’s ego small and helps him be aware. Ego kills your honesty. Anyway, the truly enlightened don’t go around worrying about whether they’re enlightened or not, do they? If you’re a realized master, then you should be one anywhere, factory floor or mountaintop… Meditation is the surest long-term way, but drugs sure are a fun short cut.’

Bull ordered up another round of drinks, this time without Strenton even having to ask. Strenton was on a roll, the words spilling out of him and he could see Bull was buying.

‘If some Yogi put a gun to my head and asked me for my truth, then that’s exactly what I’d tell him. God and the Devil are human concepts, created by the wise minds of that time who felt the left and right hemispheres of their brain acutely, the division in man, and couldn’t understand how two such opposing forces could live inside the same small headspace without there being fireworks: Our incredible need, and it really is a fucking need to create, whatever form that creation takes: a meal, a painting, a farm, a play, a baby. Our selfishness versus our endless capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice. We may be born as blank sheets waiting to be written on by the experiences of our lives, even deeper than that there is a genetic disposition to feel love. But like the Ying Yan, there is an opposite force in us of destruction, a dark and primeval propensity deep in the tar pits of our being that we don’t like to talk about at dinner parties to devour and destroy everything in an obscene and glutinous hatred. So we spend our lives wrestling the two on the mind’s smack-down mat. Life always gives you a chance, you just got to have enough courage to take it. I’m just smart enough to realize that I know fuck all. Most people don’t want to be enlightenment anyway, they’re enjoying their lies too much. Treat them like mushrooms – feed ‘em shit and keep ‘em in the dark.’

The drinks arrived and Strenton took his off the tray before the waiter had a chance to put it down.

‘Two hemispheres; One man. I know all about the divided self.  If you need something badly enough the mind has a strange way of bringing it towards you. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that…’

‘Bullshit,’ said Bull flatly, ‘You reap what you sow.’

Strenton took a long pull from his drink, the ice rattling against his stained teeth, ‘The real trouble is I just like myself drunk and stoned, d’ya know what I mean? Either way, we’re still young, no need for second-chances or regrets yet, we’ve got time… just do what you love till someone pays you for it. Here, have another drink…’

(Excerpt from the novella: ‘The Bull That Wouldn’t Fight.’ © Harry Rinse, 1996.)

Time: 09:30. Date: Thursday, June 24th, 2011. City of London.

It felt more like a Monday. Harry Rinse had struggled to get out of bed when the alarm had gone off and pulling back the curtains to see a cold and grey drizzle sky had almost sealed the deal with him to throw a sickie, but he was out of time. Rolling over and feeling the beautiful cold of the other side of the mattress he saw his half-open sketch book on the floor and remembered he needed the money. He need the money badly. Maybe if he got out of bed and went downstairs he’d find a letter on the doormat with a big fat royalty cheque for his book and he wouldn’t have to go to work ever again? Maybe. Maybe not…

It was not, so like a zombie with salt on his tongue Harry moved to the kitchen and somnabulistically prepared his petit-dejeuner amongst the damage of last night’s French brandy bottles and Post-It notes. He shoveled in the cold porridge, feeling it settle in his stomach like wet cement and making every movement even more of an effort as he sluggishly got ready for work. Cack-handedly throwing the empty bowl into the sink he looked up at the old family photo taken nearly nine summer’s ago. It made his stomach sink even deeper than the porridge had. His eyes lingered on his daughter Chloe, she was holding a bunch of freshly picked purple posies to her chest and he allowed his mind to wonder to that glorious summer’s afternoon when everything had seemed to be buoyed up on an endless tide of laughs. With a remembrance that squirmed inside him like acid inside a marshmallow he realized that today must be her birthday. Another year had lurched by without contact. God how he missed her. Harry quickly jumped all over that thought, stamping it out of his head. He wouldn’t admit it to himself, he couldn’t, some truths were just too painful, especially after a brutal night of bottles and bones. He felt a sudden urge to call her, to forget all the back story, all the reasons he didn’t want to admit fault and just… call her. He stared down at his mobile phone, he desperately wanted to know how her voice had aged in the intervening years and beyond anything else he wanted to hear that voice forgive him, as he knew it would if only he’d call. But his pride wouldn’t let him and hell, he didn’t even have a current number for her anymore. Focus on now, that was a big enough challenge just to get through the fucking day. He put on his self-tailored cloak of failure and swirled out into the brutal morning.

Looking at his watch Harry prayed their wouldn’t be any delays on the Northern line this morning, but catching the notice-board as he descended the escalator he saw there were. He boarded the train and sat motionless in the Charing Cross branch tunnel waiting on a signal change. He reached into his leather satchel for his sketch book and began drawing the passengers that faced him as he usually did every week day. Each person looked different in their seat but their expressions were always the same at this time of the morning displaying a kind of washed out disbelief that was being propped-up by a crumbling front of confidence and mp3 players, with eyes glazed over dreaming of being someplace else.

But Harry wasn’t interested in their whys and wherefores, he just wanted to get into the right mindset before sitting in Court Number Two of the Old Bailey and sketching the scene for television and occasionally newspapers, as cameras continued to be banned from British Courts. Thank God, he thought to himself as the train pulled into Waterloo station, he wasn’t making any money from his writing so at least he could fall back on the skills he’d learned way back at art college when the future had still been anything he wanted it to be. Somewhere along the tracks of his forty-five years he’d stopped dreaming of the future, driven on through the present, to now arrive at dreaming only of the past. He’d lived in London for so long now that everywhere he went was loaded with past memories. Everything reminded him of something else, each bar, each building, each street sign. For this reason he loved to write, feeling he’d never really been fully present in anything he’d done, he liked to revisit it through his memory to re-live it fully.

He walked across Waterloo Bridge in the rain, resentful of how his options had shut down, how he’d allowed himself to be corralled into this cul-de-sac. The rain was beginning to soak through the plastic covering of his sketch-book and he knew his careful charcoal drawings would soon blur into one big soggy tea stain. Fuck it, he felt so depressed and angry he wanted to kick a priest in the face. The downpour caught him right on the centre of the bridge, the grey battleship River Thames stormed beneath him like everyone upstream had cried into it on this hopeless Monday. He ducked into a bus shelter and nestled into the corner, turning his back to the wind which whipped the rain in at impossible angles. He looked through the sketch book to check the damage. There was Monday’s sketch of passengers, the guy on the seat by the door had smudged a little but his distinctive purple cravat was clearly visible. Tuesday’s sketch the same, little bit smudged but the man in the door seat had a purple cravat that also caught his eye. How strange thought Harry, the same man in the same seat two days running on a rush hour train that carried hundreds of faceless people. Wednesday’s drawing showed the same. Harry turned to this morning’s sketch with hands that tingled with more than the cold rain. It was the same. There was the man in the purple cravat.

Harry tried to think back to the week’s journey but it was all a sleep-stained blur, how could he not have noticed? He looked over his shoulder to see a bus coming over the bridge, it pulled in, waiting for him at the stop. Harry waved it on and the driver shook his head, angry at the gridlock this rainy favour had caused behind him. Harry flicked back through the previous week’s drawing and his mouth fell open to catch the metallic rain like a wide bucket. In each sketch on each day there was the same man. Always staring at him, always in the same seat.

09:30. Friday morning. Waterloo Underground station. City of London.

Harry was so excited he could barely hold his charcoal to sketch the row of passengers. He’d teased himself by starting to draw the people sitting furthest from the door, but he could resist no longer and shot his eyes across to that end seat. His heart skipped a beat. there he was, suited and booted, the purple cravat perfectly creased.

At Waterloo station the man had got up and left the train. Even though this was Harry’s regular stop he still felt like a stalker. Turning out of the station and onto Waterloo Bridge the morning was bright and clear, the sun twinkled off the water and showered everyone with diamonds, it was a Friday to boot and the suited workers had an easy spring in their step. The difference a day can make, thought Harry as he watched his quarry pause at the centre of the bridge and look behind him. Harry knew he had to look anywhere but in his eyes… so he looked in his eyes. Harry knew he’d been made, it was now or never. He walked up to the man and leant over the rusty guardrail, keeping enough distance between them to still deny everything. He looked down into the eaves of the bridge and saw what looked like a green finch, its emerald green’ rump sparkling, but as his eyes focused a larger bird landed on the ledge putting it to flight. It was a mean looking magpie and it began to peck at something shiny reflecting the sun. Harry had always been the suspicious type and this to him was a bad omen, so in an attempt to ward off the hex he touched his imaginary cap. The magpie eyed him suspiciously and looked off into the direction the man was now headed. Harry felt confused and had a sudden twinge in his guts that he was being delusional, but once again he stamped down quickly on the thought. He needed this, he needed something to believe in, so quickening his step Harry followed him across the bridge and up through the narrow cobbled alleyways towards St. Paul’s Cathedral with its huge dome dwarfing the scuttling masses absorbed in the morning rush.

Harry watched the man walk up the great stone steps to the entrance where he paused, dwarfed in the imperious oak doors and looked again over his shoulder. Harry immediately leaned against a phone box and studied his fingernails feeling as self-conscious and obvious as a comic book spy. The man continued in to the cathedral just as the bells rang out the hour. Harry realized he was now too late to make the morning session of court, he was committed to see how far his fantasy would take him.

He shuffled sideways up the entrance steps like a depressed hermit crab and quickly scuttled into the building, scanning the cool and darkened interior for his subject. The air was thick with dust and incense, his cheap office shoes echoed on the stone with each step. Where was he?, Harry wondered. He found him in the transept paying for a ticket up to the Whispering Gallery. Harry resisted the urge to run towards him and confront him there and then, but he was sure the man had looked straight at him just before disappearing into the narrow stone spiral staircase that led ever upwards to the vaulted dome. The entrance fee came to more than Harry’s lunch and train fare money, it cut into his evening drinking budget, but he was so lost in the moment he didn’t care.

With each turn of the twisting torch-lit staircase Harry always kept the tip of the man’s long shadow on the wall ahead of him, picking up his pace each time it tapered off round the corner. He reached the Whispering Gallery exit that ran in a circle across the dome, Harry poked his head out to see the man sit down half way across the circumference and reach into his pocket, unwrapping a sandwich. Seating himself about a third of the way along from him, Harry stared up at the huge painted dome, it looked like a massive brain. He sat down and pressed his ear against the cold stone. On the other side, the man continued to eat his sandwich. Harry could hear the bubble of chatter, the same as when he’d put a sea-shell to his ear as a child. The twenty or so visitors were all leaning into the wall, testing out its acoustics. Harry strained his ear to hear whispers beneath the bubble, older noises stored in the stone telling four hundred year old secrets. A shiver ran along his ear canal to brain, he was sure one of the voices belonged to Chloe, his daughter. She was giggling and laughing, other voices became more distinct singing a Happy Birthday refrain, as if through water. He strained in closer still, his ear becoming a suction cup on the grubby masonry, but the voices all seemed to fade away into background noise, leaving a single baritone to come through:

‘Why are you following me?’ it rasped, the voice cooled through centuries of stone. Harry felt his ear redden and burn, he removed it from the wall, but quickly felt compelled to put it back again. The voice was still there, now growling and angry:

‘Yes, I’m talking to you, pal…’

Harry looked across the balustrade to see the man pointing straight at him. The game, such as it had been, was certainly up.

Harry limped across towards the man who was now putting his sandwich down and standing up, ready for the confrontation. It felt a very long walk and Harry felt his face redden as he neared, hearing his heart pumping in his ears. When he reached the man and began to speak, his voice sounded like a little girl being strangled.

‘Excuse me. I know this’ll sound odd, but you take the Northern line each morning south to north. Am I correct?’

‘Yes. But you know that because you followed me….’

‘I’m a writer, it’s nothing dodgy, I… was just following an idea… you’re in every sketch I’ve drawn… ’

The man took a step away from him and rested his hand on the guardrail. Harry quickly spoke to reassure him,

‘God no that sounds odd doesn’t it? I meant that I’m an illustrator and…’

‘I thought you just said you’re a writer?’

Harry was rambling, ‘Yes, that too, look, you’ve appeared in all my sketches going back months, I only noticed it yesterday, months… it’s really too much to be coincidence. It has to mean something, it has to. I was hoping you’d… oh I don’t know, it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?’

The man’s body language softened and he leant over the guardrail, motioning Harry to join him with his hand. Harry looked over and took a deep breath, glad of the sense of distance. The man turned to him.

‘I know a lot of writers. When they get an idea into their heads, hey. I’ve even known a few bring their characters to life, show me the drawings…’

Harry was dumbfounded. He felt a tingle running up his spine like the sexy fingers of a snow-witch.

‘I knew it. I knew it had to mean something. Thank you cosmos. So what are you? Just a figment of my imagination, a piece of undigested gristle?’

‘The man laughed but when Harry didn’t laugh with him he stopped, looking at Harry as if he must be insane,

‘Um, sure. I’m your guardian angel, your own personal Jesus, or better still, a character from one of your books…’

Harry punched the air. Finally something was happening.

‘Really…?’, he spoke with such childlike wonder that the man could continue the deception no longer.

‘What the hell do you reckon? Of course I’m fucking not. Are you ok, I mean are you going through something?’

Harry suddenly felt foolish and slapped his hands on the wooden railing as if playing an invisible drum, ‘Sorry, it’s only when I said it out loud I realized how stupid it sounded.’

‘That’s Ok. I deal with a lot of writers in my profession. I’m used to it. I’m a publisher.’

Harry turned to him, the desperation now clearly visible in his eyes.

‘I know this sounds odd, but I could really talk to someone right now, you’re right: I am going through something. You seem like a good bloke, I understand if…’

The man patted him on the shoulder, ‘Sure thing. I was just killing time this morning anyway, truth be told. How about a coffee? I know a great place on the river.’

‘Prefer a drink?’

‘Whatever’, he looked at his watch, ‘a little early for me.’

‘I’m a writer, I need my oil for the mental cogs.’

‘Quite so, have you written anything I’d have read?’

‘How about ‘The Bull who wouldn’t Fight?’

‘No’.

‘Cadence?’, said with a hopeful look in his eye.

The man shook his head.

‘Then nothing you’d have read’, said Harry despondently.

Beneath them a long line of choristers were taking their places and fiddling with their sheet music.

11:30. Top Deck. Zen Restaurant & Bar. Tatershall Steam Boat. River Thames, Embankment side.

As Harry sat down amidst the relative opulence of the floating restaurant it suddenly dawned on him that he’d spent the last of his money getting into the gallery. The waiter floated over looking like he owned the place and Harry felt red-faced yet again, like he’d jumped out the water and was flapping on the deck for air with his empty pockets making no noise. He thought it better to speak up sooner:

‘Look I’m a little light at the moment, I’ll just have a water.’

The Publisher wagged a finger, ‘Nonsense, this one’s on me, pal. You’re having a bad day, so my treat. Knock yourself out.’

Harry turned eagerly to the smug waiter poised with his notepad.

‘Well, for starters I’ll have depression, followed by a main of self-doubt, and then for pudding – I think the low self-esteem soufflé – unless it won’t rise of course.’

The Publisher took off his sunglasses to wipe his forehead, his eyes twinkled in the water reflecting up from their starboard table.

‘That bad, huh?’

Harry drummed his fingers on the table in an attempt to defuse some of his building tension. He wanted to just blurt it all out and be free of it, but reminded himself he was in professional company. The Publisher was considering the wine menu.

Perhaps you need some rosé coloured glasses?’

Harry shook his head and drummed his fingers once more.

‘Can’t drink rosé, it makes me mean, well… meaner. The Pinot looks good though, perhaps a bottle of the Californian?’ Harry trailed off as his eyes locked on the price.

The Publisher waved his hand to the waiter in agreement, the waiter collected up the menus and sauntered off into the galley.

‘Please continue…’, he said.

‘I feel like an empty sewerage pipe,’ Harry began, looking out across the river to the far bank, ‘It’s like I woke up today realizing all my dreams have been unrealistic and now it’s too late to start again.’

Leaning over the side of the boat had caused the publisher’s sunglasses to slip down his nose and he pushed them up with his index finger.

‘It’s better to travel hopefully than arrive, eh? We men are like water, we find the path of least resistance… that’s why you get crooked rivers and crooked men.’

Harry laughed for the first time that week, ‘You’re not wrong.’

‘Look, seeing as fate has brought us together why don’t you pitch me some ideas then, I’m always looking for new titles. Tell me about ‘The Bull that wouldn’t Fight?’ Pitch it to me…’

Harry froze as if a rabbit, feeling altogether too depressed to switch into selling mode, but he forced himself to focus, perhaps life was throwing him a juicy bone.

‘Well it was a novella back in ninety-eight, but it’s already published. I’d rather pitch you my new stuff….’

The publisher waved his hand again, ‘Unpublished…?’

‘Hell yes!‘, Harry blurted out without thinking.

‘Got any Chick-Lit type stuff?’

Harry involuntarily gripped the table-cloth.

‘No’.

‘Shame. Chick lit’s where it’s at money-wise. Lot of money in the genre.’

The waiter arrived with the wine and Harry stole his glass from the tray before the waiter could put it down. The waiter paused and rolled his eyes. Three magpies landed on the boat’s smoke stack just to the right of their table. Harry craned his head, using his hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun.

‘Fucking magpies been following me all day, I swear.’

The Publisher followed his eye line, ‘That makes three for a girl, doesn’t it?’

‘Yeah, and four for a book deal’?

The Publisher returned his gaze to the table.

‘Lot a money in Chick Lit. You got a daughter?’

Harry’s sudden tension was palpable like a cloud had crossed the sun. He answered with a prickly defensiveness.

‘Yeah… you?’

‘Nope. I’ve got a pot plant though. I’ve had it for a year and I’m really trying to take care of it. I figure if it grows, then I’m safe to take care of something bigger, like a dog… then who knows maybe a kid..? I’ll take baby steps… What I meant was maybe you could pump your daughter for ideas?’

Harry felt uncomfortable with the image that brought to mind and replied with a final, ‘We don’t speak anymore. Nothing in my life has turned out the way I thought it would.’

The Publisher nodded sagely and threw an overspill from the breadbasket over the side of the boat to one of the circling magpie, ‘You’re a glass half empty kind of guy then?’

Harry drained the last of his wine. ‘I am round here.’ The publisher recharged his glass from the bottle.

‘Don’t be too down. It’s probably not your fault anyway. Psychologists reckon that if you look at a person’s life in childhood: their loves and hates, their personality, then throw in their life-experiences to date then you usually find that adult sitting before you is exactly as they had to be. It was a natural logical evolution. Don’t beat yourself up about it, you didn’t really have a choice. There you were, mewling and puking in the crib, much like you’re doing now may I just say, born into the world with the most impressive hardware in the known universe, and an empty hard drive waiting to be filled with what was rolled in front of your face – slaps or kisses you didn’t have any choice in the matter in the formative years. Then once you reached maturity and the jelly of experience had set into an adult brain, your body begins to slowly decay and you spend the next seventy years putting out the fires of your original imperfect mould.’

Harry kept his eye fixed on the publisher, his left hand reaching out for the glass without needing to look, he always had a sixth sense for where his glass was in the same way a mother connected to her child. ‘Christ, you’re a barrel of laughs…’ he looked down at the water, ‘you’d better walk the plank.’

The Publisher gave a salute. ‘I don’t deal the cards, I just play with the hand I’m given.’

Harry was starting to feel the sincerity of the wine flood his bloodstream, warming his alligator blood.

‘I still believe the universe is uncaring, not to say it is evil; it’s just totally neutral and non-judgmental: Think what implications that really has for living. We have choice. We’re set free. I still believe there’s an energy that flows like a stream of brilliant light through the centre of every living thing that just IS. It’s not good or bad, it’s not sentient as we understand it. But, just like a tree falls down in the forest making only vibrations it takes an ear to turn that vibration into sound. The same with life energy: it needs a living host to register it and feel it as pure love.’

The publisher poured himself another glass.

‘And how’s that life-philosophy working out for ya?’

Harry picked up the bottle from the stand but it was empty.

‘Oh it’s surely over for me. I took my shot and missed’, He thumped the table, ‘I guess I’ve just got to deal with it. I’ve just got to come to terms with mediocrity and forgetting about all the things that should’ve been. I’m forty-five for Christ’s sake, look at the belly, the hair. Never again will I run my hands through long locks, never again will I sleep with a beautiful girl, ripe as a peach and bursting with fresh joy. I’ve seen them in the clubs and supermarket queues, looking at me like I’m their father.’

The publisher clasped his hands behind his head and looked up into the ozone, the words rushing through him and up to the cosmos.

‘That’s getting old for you, I guess. Just got to suck it up and accept it… or you could get rich and powerful, that works too.’

‘Sure, if I had success then I’d still be in the market, I’d be relevant… Ah, bullshit. My last novel was panned. No one loves an alcoholic but his barman. That’s why I’m working as a lowly court sketcher: my prose is flowing like this morning’s porridge. My last novel was called Cadence: about a man who believed everything had a vibration and could be measured, if every living thing’s vibration was sampled and turned into a note then he thought that would be the chord of creation, actually creating life. So he did it…’

The publisher avoided Harry’s stare by looking over at the waiter and dangling the empty bottle, requesting another.

‘You sure you not got any Chick Lit..?’

Harry exploded, the wine had given him a false confidence and he momentarily forgot who was paying,

‘Fuck the Chit-Lick. I could write ten of those fuckers in a day and still go out dancing.’

The publisher tasted the wine, swilling it around his mouth, taking his time as he considered things.

‘I’ve an idea. How’s about a bet then? It’s not as easy as you think. I’ll bet you can’t pitch me some chick-lit good enough to publish. If you can, then I’ll promise to take the synopsis and personally kick it upstairs at my publishing house. How about it? Go on, pitch me, bewitch me.’

‘Hell yes. You’re on. You better believe I need the money. I can write all house-styles. But where to start though, what’s the brief?’

‘Same as with all great writing. Start with the truth. But remember, as Brecht wrote: our job is not to show reality, but to show how things really are’.

Harry took a long breath.

‘Ok. I went into my local deli this morning from my Manhattan loft…’

‘Good, aspirational life-style’s a must for Chick Lit, she must work in fashion or journalism or TV, she must be moderately successful and good looking, but be single and dissatisfied with her life. It doesn’t matter that in reality most women would like to have her starting life-style of cocktails and taxis, massive Manhattan lofts and travel all on a P.A.’s salary, etc…’

‘Mmm, Ok. Well, she goes to get some sushi out of the deli refrigerator…’

‘No. New Yorker’s never buy the pre-made sushi – it’s guaranteed food poisoning. It’s got to be realistic.’

The waiter arrived with the fresh bottle, breaking Harry’s concentration.

‘Sound-bite me! Who’s writing this fucking thing? Ok, so she’s going in to buy a wheat smoothie and there was a real feral stink to the place and two men were mopping out the chiller cabinet. She asks the teller what’s creating this funk, and he said a disgruntled employee had shit into his own hand and hidden the turd at the back of the cabinet just behind the chocolate yoghurts. It was only when enough of the yoghurts had been bought that the shit was revealed: some poor woman had grabbed the last carton and thought it was leaking, but when she smelled her fingers she apparently screamed and ran out the shop. The teller had gone to investigate and there sitting royal and proud was the melting dump.’

A magpie landed on the guardrail and Harry quickly shooed it away, nervously waiting on a response.

‘Yeah, I’m not sure that’s what women want to read about… what else you got?’

‘Oh I don’t fucking know, something about being Size Zero and struggling with reality? Something about lonely twenty somethings with one too many cats and lo-cal chocolate bars? No? How about a single mother fighting against the odds to get her little shit of a son diagnosed with ADHD, whilst still allowing her weed-smoking boyfriend to beat him with an Xbox controller whilst she stuffs him with sherbet and E-numbers?

Harry once again drained his glass. The sky was beginning to cloud, adding to the temperature on deck.

The publisher looked at his watch as he mumbled, ‘Stereotypes don’t sell.’

‘You sure about that? Stereotypes wouldn’t have meaning if they weren’t actually anchored in a general truth. Think about it.’

A fly landed on Harry’s napkin and he slammed his open palm down on it, leaving a red and yellow mush on the brilliant white fabric. Unaware of the stain, he took the napkin and tucked it into his shirt, leaving the remnants of the fly exposed to the Publisher as the waiter approached with some canapés. Harry reached across him, once again unable to wait until the plates were put down. He picked up a chicken drumstick but instinctively feeling it too hot he released it back onto the descending plate, licking his sauce-stained fingers.

‘You ever think when you look at your palm how much your thumb looks like a chicken drummer?’

The Publisher looked out across the Thames to watch a passenger ferry scoot down towards the city. Harry saw it too, he looked through the fiberglass windows at the suited and booted commuters being whisked off to some important meeting further downstream, probably Canary Wharf he imagined.

‘Jesus, I used to have so much energy to compete. Where did it all go, eh? I’m like a fucking bomb that never went off. It’s all finished.’

The Publisher spat a pistachio nut shell out over the side, blowing it through an open fist, ‘God, black and white thinking is the curse of our age. The truth on anything, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g is always gray. A complicated brain gray. It’s natural. When you’re young everything is so important and deep, it’s all new and fresh because you’re doing it for the first time. You’ve got a massive cannon of white-hot energy and you want to fire it all over something, but by the time you reach your forties you’re running out of gunpowder and pretty much dribbling blanks.’

Harry tried again for a drumstick but it was still too hot. He followed the publisher’s lead and picked up some pistachio nuts from the bowl, throwing them in his mouth and crunching down on the hard shells. He leant over the guardrail and spat out the crap, feeling his gums already starting to bleed.

The Publisher looked at his watch, ‘I got to go soon. Try again. Pitch it. The diamond-sharpest you can get…’

Harry wiped his lips with his cuff and tried to compose himself. With the clouds clearing, the sun shone on the table once more, illuminating the publisher’s purple cravat. Harry thought of Chloe, his daughter holding the posies.

‘OK. How this for a story then: We open on a young and good looking female scientist…’

‘Good. Name?’

Harry looked round the boat pretending to need inspiration, but there was only ever one girl’s name on his mind.

‘Let’s call her Chloe. She discovers a drug which when injected into her subject allows her to take over their mind and operate them just like a machine. It’s like Zombie Haiti chemical tribal compound. Now, Chloe had a tough childhood and decides she wants to punish her father for being such a shit. She tracks him down and injects him with the drug and takes over his mind, leaving him powerless to stop whatever situation she wants to put him in. He still feels everything, all the kicks and punches, but his mind is being controlled by the scientist. Chloe exacts her revenge on him by making him do all these crazy, embarrassing, reckless things, until he realises the error of his ways. The torture then becomes an atonement and he asks her for forgiveness…’

Harry broke off and wiped his eyes with the soiled napkin.

‘….But he fears he doesn’t deserve a second chance…’

The floodgates opened and he let it all out over the top deck of the restaurant, the magpies drinking up the hot salty tears, ‘…Sorry, I really don’t know where all that came from. Like I told you back there, I’m really going through it today.’

The Publisher reached across the table and patted Harry’s forearm in consolation.

‘Maybe you should call your daughter, huh?’

Harry brushed the hand away.

‘Not that it’s any of your business… Oh maybe you’re right. Hell I don’t even have a number for her anymore.’ He stood up, feeling a  little unsteady on his legs but put it down to his being on water, ‘I need a piss.’

The publisher called out to him as he reached the deck door, ‘Stick with it Harry, I know all about the divided self. But it’s the writers and musicians who change the world, not the bankers.’

Harry made a cautious descent, his undersoles slipped on the wet rubber of the narrow stairs and he fell, bouncing down to the bottom on his backside where he was met on arrival by the waiter, smug as ever with arms folded and exasperated look.

‘Don’t worry, just finding my sea-legs, old chap,’ said Harry dusting off his work trousers. His bladder was filled to bursting and he needed to piss so badly he couldn’t think straight. In the back of his mind he knew he had to keep the publisher on the hook with a big juicy idea, pitch some more ideas to him, at least get a business card. As Harry shook the final drops he suddenly realized he didn’t even know this guy’s name. How strange of him not to have asked? He washed his hands, long and thorough, really scrubbing between the fingers like a surgeon, for the first time in years he felt like he’d purged himself of something. He felt sprightly and light as he bounced back up the steps. But when he got back the publisher was gone. The napkin had been neatly folded and next to it the tip of the check poked out from the restaurant’s black wallet. Harry opened it up to see the bill had been settled and wedged into the spine was a business card. Harry shook the card free and looked at it. On the back side was a phone number scrawled in biro, on the front was a name only. As he read the name the ship’s horn blew dislodging the magpies and sending them scattering into the sky. It was a name he knew well: ‘Bull Wendell.’

Harry felt on auto-pilot as he reached into his jacket for his phone and dialed the number. After a few rings it connected at the other end, a woman’s voice, changed by years but unmistakable, it was a voice he recognized instantly, ‘Hello..?’

‘It’s me…’, he struggled, gulping down the emotion. ‘It’s Harry…’

There was a pause on the other end of the line before a sound that came out on a rush of disbelief and relief which sounded to Harry as if it contained every vibration in the universe:

‘Dad..?’