Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

mail

I received a letter from god this afternoon…

Yeah, I know what you’re all thinking… but stick with me on this.

You’d think a letter from god would be all badass gold trim and fire shooting out the envelope corners, delivered by angels playing harps rather than fat postmen listening to their ipods playing Chris Rea, but no. From neither messenger did it come….

I’ve just moved into a new apartment and in doing the regular cleaning that a new place requires I found this small letterbox size space under my sink. There was a little red flag sticking up on the outside, rather like you see in old American movies to show that mail was coming in and out. I got a torchlight and cranked my head right up there to read the name on the flag.

It said ‘God’.

As someone who respects a good joke, that night after all the cleaning, I stretched out on my cheap faux leather sofa and wrote a letter to him. Once finished I stuck it in an envelope and, drawing the line at actually sticking a real stamp on it because I suddenly felt a bit foolish, I reached back under the sink and posted it through the small aperture.  The little plastic flag went down, I closed the sink cupboard and went to sleep. I haven’t thought about it since. But this morning whilst doing the washing up the sink became clogged and I opened the cupboard to see if I could unblock the shit I’d clagged it up with and I noticed that little plastic red flag was shot up again, as if mail had been received.  Sure enough I pulled out an envelope, the postmark all smudged, but inside was a handwritten letter which against my better judgement I’m including below for your consideration. It went like this: (and I’m writing it word for word, spelling mistakes and all, because who am I to interpret or rewrite the apparent word of god?)

.

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your correspondence,  it’s sure been a while.

To answer your question:  I created a perfect world, then decided it was too boring, no one was worshipping me, I got a little lonely frankly. So I created suffering and horror just so that people would turn to me and cry out for help, I figured that at least that way I won’t be ignored up here, I mean come on, it gets pretty lonely being able to do anything, create anything, decide who will live and who will die, till the end of time, FOREVER….

However , even that got a bit tiresome, so to add real spice I decided I’m going to ignore everyone when they pray, because otherwise I might reveal that I exist and I don’t want that. So I’ll mix it up a bit by letting believers’ children die of cancer and let hurricanes tear the roofs off mosques and churches, so that you feel that it’s your own fault because you didn’t pray to me enough. But I’ll let rapists win the lotto and murderers live to be happy at 95 years old just to confuse and test ya.  I’ve got it made, because if anyone complains about me not existing, the sheeple who live in fear of me will say, ‘well I just move in mysterious ways.’

Here’s the best part: and I really love this: they don’t worship me because they love me, they may think they do, but really it’s because they are scared. Scared that I will punish them, either in this life or the afterlife. So I’ve become a form of OCD, you must follow this ritual otherwise something bad will happen. Even when they realise that I’m probably not around, don’t give a shit, or don’t exist, they then feel guilty for feeling that way because they fear what will happen after they die, so they hedge their bets and choose to believe in me while things are going well.

When things are going bad for them is the funniest, in fact when things go bad for most of you I watch how you pray to me. I find this really strange – you don’t believe in me yet in your extreme moments of distress you try to plea bargain with me, as if I give a shit. Fucking hilarious. If I ignore those who believe in me;  what do you think I’m gonna do with those who’ve never believed in me and slagged me off?

Wow, I love your man made religions. I’d love to be here for those of you broken by life who need to blame someone for your misfortune or a father figure to replace the one you lost when you grew up. I’d love to be here for those of you following rituals in the hope it means you’ll be safeguarded from suffering in this life, I’d even love to give you hope that the pain and trouble you go through is for a greater purpose. But I’m sorry. It’s like watching fleas arguing over who owns the dog. Well here’s the news – there IS no dog. There’s only me, and I don’t exist. Well, at least not in the books that you follow as truth. I can tell you that in another 2000 years people will find an old comic of Superman and start believing in that, because what is old enough must be true, yeah?

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough. Good luck to you Michael, and in fact to you all, and thanks for the comedy value all of you have given me these past few millennia, but for what it’s worth, you’re ALL wrong, not one of your patriachal self-created religions gets it. Now, go and have a lie down,  please get over seeing me as some sort of wish fairy that’s outside of you, please finally realise that I AM you and you ARE me.  Yep, sorry to read you the bad news but YOU ALL ARE GOD, each and every living atom is god.  So for what it’s worth, please stop fighting in my name and start enjoying your lives which were freely given to you in order that you might make as many people in your short time happy as possible whilst not making yourself unhappy in the process. Come on, enjoy it, at least you’re not stuck under here, bored like me, waiting on the mail.

 All the best,

God. ( Jehovah, Yaweh, Allah, Babel / Label…. ) x

Harry and the Whale

.

Harry paused in the doorway to study his reflection, making sure his tie was straight and hair slicked back. The glass wasn’t clear enough to check that his eyes weren’t looking too bloodshot but he was sure they were. By way of summoning up the courage he recalled what Caroline, his wife, had said to him that morning whilst pressing his shirt, all smiles and hope, her pregnant belly nestling against the ironing board:

‘When I was a child I used to have this book of fairy tales, you know the type, I always wanted to be the princess who was swept off her feet by some noble and brave knight. But when I grew up, and looking at you right now, I realise that a truly brave and noble man is the one who gets his head down, works hard to provide for his family, hardly ever complains and lives his life as kindly and thoughtfully as he can. That’s true courage, and you have that in spades Harry. You are a decent man, Harry. A true nobleman.’

As he entered the bank and tapped on the desk with the lucky silver farthing his father had left him, along with the small Cornish small-holding that he was now running into the ground, he just knew that he was going to let her down… again.

The bank manager was halfway out the door to lunch when his intercom buzzed. He was in two minds whether to even answer it such was his hunger, but having always felt a loyalty to the job and secretly hoping for that fat promotion to a comfortable office with perks in the city, away from this yokel Cornish coastal town, against his better judgement he picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing red button.

Harry entered the small windowless office dressed like he’d just come from a funeral. The bank manager sat back down in his chair, mentally kicking himself now that lunch felt like a distant dream. Over the rumbling of his stomach he heard his guest speak.

‘Good afternoon, I’ve got all the forms here, I even filled in the Ethnicity survey, and I don’t usually do that, it’s against my principles… And age wise I’m glad your forms tick box put me in the next category, I’d hate to be classed as a youth these days, what was it..?’

Harry looked down at the forms in front of him on the over-lit desk and took off his suit jacket feeling the heat and pressure.

‘… thirty-five to fifty. I mean look at the eighteen-to-thirty-fours these days, all miserable and spending all their waking moments pretending they’re not. Then again what do you expect? They can’t help it. All their lives they’ve been brought up on TV and these… these… magazines…’

He threw his arms wildly around the small office as if somewhere there might be magazines to prove his point.

‘… These magazines full of women with their tits out, men in sharp suits with fifty pound notes falling out their arses, excuse me but… I mean, something like 90% of people in England hate their jobs. That’s why… that’s DIRECTLY why they all go out and get smashed at the weekend. They spend the whole week being belittled and humiliated by a job they feel is beneath them, get their pay cheque on a Friday night, then blow it all so they can feel like the people they see in magazines for those precious weekend evenings.’

Harry became aware that he was gabbling out of nerves and tried to finish on a strong closing statement.

‘…It keeps them trapped, you see..?’

The bank manager let it wash over him, he knew the decision had already been taken, no amount of banter could change it. Harry reached into his suit pocket hanging off the chair back and pulled out what looked like a hip-flask. About to take a sip he paused, suddenly aware of the other man watching him, and he remembered his surroundings.

‘Sorry… do you mind? I’ve got Diabetes and must keep refreshed…’

The bank manager waved his hand in agreement, his eyes incredulous. Was this guy for real?

‘‘Please…’

Harry was already drinking deeply. Between sips he spat out, ‘…it’s like everyone… is Tony Mantero… you remember…? From Saturday Night Fever…. just living for the weekend to feel alive…’

The bank manager seemed agitated. ‘Well it’s money that makes the world go round, Mr…’ He tried to hide himself looking down at the file in front of him. ‘…Chapman. Even teenagers need money.’

Harry’s thirst quenched he turned round to put the silver hip-flask back into his pocket, his fingers rubbing over the embossed letters of the moniker ‘JC’. He was talking again before he’d even turned around.

‘But I got out of that game. I stepped off the wheel figuring I wasn’t really cut out to be a hamster, or sheep I guess would be a better animal… although sheep wouldn’t really walk round a wheel would they? Hmmm, sorry I’m talking all over the shop here. What I’m trying to get across to you is I’ve done my time working in offices, everyone bloated on their own self-importance and miserable, that’s why I moved down here.’

The bank manager looked at his watch, a mixture of anxiety and irritation. Leaning back on the head rest of his plastic chair he swept his hands over the dome of his receding hairline and decided to force the issue.

‘So… how have things been, Mr Chapman…?’ He leaned across the plastic wooden desk, clasping his fingers together as he’d probably seen his father do before him.

‘No idea. I don’t like to think in those terms. I’ve blocked it all out.’ Harry picked at a little dirt missed from scrubbing under his thumb nail that morning. The bank manger unfolded his fingers and took to tapping nervously on the badly veneered faux-leather desk, making it sound more plastic and cheap than ever.

Harry caught the small fleck of black from under the nail and flicked it to the floor. Suddenly his mind was back in the room.

‘Sorry, did I just say that out loud…?’

The bank manager offered the smallest of affirmative nods. Harry leaned back on his chair feeling the die had already been cast in this grey man’s mind.

‘Okay then, how’s about it. Are you going to give me this loan or not?’

The bank manager felt totally back in his comfort zone. As a bad poker player slow-rolls his hand, so the bank manager languidly flipped up the plastic cover on the file in front of him as if it weighed a kilo. With mock concern his eyes looked down then back up again straight into this gentleman farmer’s wide, pleading gaze.

‘It’s a no, I’m afraid.’ Slap bang down went the file onto the plastic desk, as shallow and plastic as the man who sat behind it.

Harry gripped the chair arms, his knuckles turning white. ‘I haven’t told you everything,’ he said, ‘things have got a lot more complicated since I filled in the application last week… I really need you to help me…come on man, help me, one human being to another, I’m desperate here… My wife’s expecting our first child, I say she’s expecting a child;  I’m  just expecting trouble. Anyway, that’s the least of it…’

The bank manager leaned forward across the desk once more his palms flat on the closed file.

‘Yes…?’

‘Well, it’s like this… things have recently got a whole lot more…complicated… I’ve got this Whale see…’

The bank manager put all thoughts of a quick lunch out of his mind. He sure had a live one here.

‘‘Look,’ said Harry in pleading tones, ‘ just call me Captain Ahab, I don’t fucking care, excuse my language, but I’ve just got to shift this dead whale…’ he stabbed his finger into the side of his temple, ‘it’s fucking with my head, see…’

_______________________________________________________________________

Harry dragged his heels along the coast road, dejected and desperate, remembering his past mindset and salary. Five years ago that bastard of a bank manager would have bitten his hand off to offer him a loan, but now he was alone. Freelancing was what everyone did. All of his friends were making it pay freelancing in the media. Just because he had decided to move down to a place without broadband shouldn’t make a difference. By way of consoling himself he looked around at all the trees and imagined how to make them work for an advertising campaign. Yes, he still had it, still great. Why was no-one paying him? It should have worked. He should be working.

He marched back through the winding country road past the parish church, hearing the rich and comfortable inside praising a God that had seen them right, he couldn’t help but feel that the Lord giveth with one hand, taketh away with the other and was  now flipping him the bird. This whale was like a dark thought, a hangover, a brute fact that refused to disappear however much he tried to think it away. Having chosen to beach itself on the thin strip of land that had come with his deceased father’s property not more than a week ago, he’d already gone through the fist-waving at a cruel universe that on a three hundred miles of clear coastline this stricken mammal had chosen to die on his little hundred metre stretch. He hadn’t even bothered to show the bank manager the letter he’d received from Restormal council telling him it was his responsibility to remove it.

Harry could’ve guessed something bad was coming even before he’d been woken that morning a week ago by locals admiring the whale, trying to save it: The nightmares had started again. Not like normal bad dreams but more visual and profound, night terrors he thought they were called, having searched online. A spiritual crisis rather than just undigested pork belly. They always followed the same story-line: He was underwater in a midnight ocean, with whale-song, a terrible moaning whale-song filled with disappointment and regret. There was a pain to the twisting and mewling sound that went right through him. In the dream he was naked, swimming in the murk, he could feel the cold water enveloping him but he had a slime on his skin and barnacles that seemed to resemble the faces of everyone he’d ever known, even though he was able to breathe and feel the icy water rush in and out of his lungs, he couldn’t tell if these barnacles were giving him buoyancy or were a weight dragging him down deeper into the canyons and crevices of the frightening unknown blackness below.

Such powerful lucid dreams reminded him of being a small boy. Not since he’d been about seven years old had his sub-conscious thrown up dreams like this. Being a child was like being in a permanent state of dreaming, he’d thought with the benefit of hindsight. In a dream he could experience true fear, true joy, true sexual arousal, true panic as there were no boundaries of his adult mind to set perimeters and rationalise away the infinite expanse of possibilities. Now the dreams were back with a strong adult vengeance and it was starting to affect his daily interactions.  Fear of having these images was keeping him awake at night, and with such a physically demanding job as being a gentleman farmer the insomnia was making him crazy. Whilst his childhood dreams had always revolved around him being some sort of lithe dolphin, chattering and rushing through the light blue sunny warm waters, accompanied by an incredible sense of speed and freedom, these new nightmares occupied the same known ocean but now he was slow and bloated, the waters always dark, cold and green with menace.

Then, less than a week after these dreams began to infect his mind the whale had appeared, beached and flapping on the rocky coast of his small-holding. At first he’d thought it a waking hallucination brought on by the financial stress and anxiety of his situation, Caroline’s pregnancy and his unwanted impending fatherhood, but as the locals started gathering to try to help the creature he knew for sure that the two tonnes of immovable blubber and fins was real.  Throughout all this, in his mind’s eye he could see the milky eye of the dying whale watching him steadily, mocking him.

Upon leaving the bank Harry found his legs had walked him to the only bar in the village. He decided to fall back on the one thing that hadn’t changed since he’d moved here: getting smashed. Alcohol could always be relied on as a steady certainty in an ever changing world. Reading again  the letter he’d received from the council he scrunched it up and threw it over the bar, missing the slop bucket by a wide mile. They’d do nothing to remove the whale, it was his responsibility as the landowner. However, if he couldn’t afford to do so they’d very graciously do it for ten thousand pounds, and as Harry ordered up another Scotch he mused how he was about nine grand short. Surely there had to be another way? Pulling out his iPhone he Googled for information from a Canadian website, an area of Ontario where Whales frequently beached. Apparently the gases in a whale’s stomach will eventually build up and make it explode. So, surely he could play the waiting game? He knew the farmer down the road from him kept pigs and those greedy porcine teeth could surely munch their way in a few days through all that blubber? As the second and third Scotch disappeared down his throat, he could feel the gasses building up in his own stomach. Overdrafts, credit card payments, loans, all due within days. No, he couldn’t wait, he needed to do something about it right now. He’d felt impotent for too long, a rudderless ship in a storm that he hadn’t even created.

Outside the bar window he could hear children throwing firecrackers. The barman tried to move them on, but it had already given Harry an idea. Firework night was fast approaching and this was the one time of year his local shop would stock colourful exploding projectiles. He had thought about buying some to celebrate Caroline’s pregnancy photo that day she’d come back from her first ultrasound scan and the gender had been decided but his heart wasn’t in it. He was to become a father to a boy. He’d secretly hoped for a boy to help out, then chastised himself for falling into old country ways. He’d been born a metrosexual city man, why force gender roles on his kids? Maybe this was the trade-off for selling up and living the good life on a farm? He was slipping into unreconstructed ideas. Pink princess wings for his daughter and a pitch-fork for his son to help him bring in the harvest? God, was he actually becoming his father after all? Feeling the effects of the alcohol he forced his mind to deal with less abstract concepts. Fireworks. Yes, that was the answer, he congratulated himself, he would blow the fucker up, then once it had been reduced to bite-sized chunks of flesh he’d get his neighbour’s pigs to eat up the remains. What Genius, he thought and ordered up a final Scotch to toast the scheme.

Almost sliding off his bar stool, he settled his tab and left, stopping in to the village store on his way home, trying to look as sober as possible in front of the redoubtable Mrs Stouter, the proprietor. She reminded him of a fifties school ma’am and they’d taken an instant dislike to each other, but without another store for two miles he’d had to get over it. Upon entering she eyed him with the same disappointed features he was sure his wife would have when he finally winded his way back home. In his mind he rehearsed the dialogue that was about to take place.

‘Yes, it’s me, drunk again. Yes I’m about to buy another bottle of whiskey’.  He lurched up to the till and as he leaned back to reach into his back pocket for his credit card he studied the fireworks on display in the glass counter beneath her, all the while his internal monologue continuing.

‘And a bottle of John Power. Fuck it, make it two. Yes two you sour old puss. I’ll drink a toast to your judgement and dried up snatch. You should be grateful I’m spending money in this store, quit with the eye darts.’ So absorbed was he that he failed to notice the small queue forming behind him. Making sure he was now speaking aloud, he matched her gaze and handed over the plastic credit card as if he meant to stab her with it.

‘How many fireworks you got, Mrs Stouter?’

‘A fair few Mr. Harry, business has been slow since they changed the law…’

‘I’ll take them all.’

Her eyes narrowed, changing from benevolent judgement to mercurial incredulity.

‘All…?’

‘You heard me, (you old witch)’.

She reached for the keys that hung next to the tobacco and unlocked the glass case beneath her counter, much to the groaning of the three people behind him in the queue.

‘Stick it on my card… (and stick my card up your judgemental old arse)’.

‘What was that…?’

‘…and don’t forget the two bottles of Scotch….’ He suddenly felt self-conscious and added a meek ‘…thanks…’ on to the end.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Drunk, he stumbled back home, any fear of getting lost down the dark coastal path road were soon forgotten in the unbelievable stench of the whale getting stronger with each step. For the first time in his relationship with Caroline he felt a sense of dread at returning to her. He could already see the stoic disappointment trying to be hid on her face. What a failure of a husband, a father, a man he had become. He patted the fireworks at his side as a soldier about to go into battle. He dodged the inevitable confrontation and headed straight down to the beach.

Caroline watched her husband sitting cross-legged on the beach staring silently at the whale from her kitchen window as she prepared the evening meal. Hadn’t she become the good country wife, she mused to herself, against all her better judgement? She peeled the potatoes, her mind drifting back to that morning watching Harry get ready. She’d ironed his shirt mindfully, really digging in with the palm of her hand on the old steam iron around the cuffs and collar. She hadn’t taken this much care over a shirt since he’d gone for his promotion at the BBC nearly five years ago. She felt the hand of fate pushing her own hand down onto the creases and didn’t like it. He hadn’t got the promotion that day despite her careful laundry effort, and now she felt the same way about his trip to see the bank manager about their loan. She desperately wanted him to be happy, in fact hadn’t these last five years demonstrated that, she thought to herself as she neatly folded the completed shirt and put it on its hanger. Hadn’t she subjugated all her hopes and dreams to help his, to push him up into the light even if that meant her own face must be below in the darkness? Her belly was starting to notice now, only in the last few days, but it pushed out distended from her t-shirt, like an unavoidable brute fact. She’d talked to him about having a child and he’d always seemed evasive, talking in abstract terms. She worried that now the child was becoming visible he was having second thoughts. She looked out the window again to see him poking the whale’s distended belly with a stick, it looked bloated and inflated with all the gas now it was clearly dead. She imagined it building up for some great explosion and suddenly panicked that her husband might engender it with his poking and get injured. She chastised herself for being so foolish. Harry looked a truly broken man as he limply poked, no real conviction or force used.

He poked at that blubber willing it to disappear but it wouldn’t, just like so many of the other thoughts in his head. Throwing the stick over the whale into the waves behind it he retreated back down the beach and sat down out of Caroline’s sight to kick up a few pebbles. Dejected and crushed he lit a cigarette and took a few puffs, listening to his lungs wheezing and creaking like an old wooden ship. Christ, he thought to himself, when did he get so damn old? Too much. He placed his earphones carefully in each ear, making sure no sand or grit had got in there and pressed play on his iPhone. Reaching into the side pocket of his trousers he pulled out the hip-flask and touched its side, feeling how warm it had already got against his nervous and sweaty torso. How ironic it felt that tonight was the perfect early autumn evening. Under normal circumstances he’d have felt so smug that he’d jacked in his stressful media job and was now sitting staring out at the kind of pink sunset you only ever got on an October evening on the northern Cornish coast. But now it felt like a curse. No matter how he tried to block it out, no matter how hard he tried to see beyond it by looking left, right, over out to sea, each time his eyes would be drawn irrevocably back to the now darkening shape of the dead whale.

Some well-meaning second homers had lit Chinese lanterns on the water behind the carcass and Harry watched them bobbing up and down in the twilight. He could see the handful of people, some with candles holding a misplaced vigil for its dead soul. To them it was a glorious imperious creature taken out of its natural habitat. To him it was ten grand he didn’t have. Fucking thing. What about his dying soul? He was still alive, just… Who was going to hold a candlelit vigil for him?

Harry felt the stress of the day bubble up through him and through lack of sleep he began to lucid dream again. This Whale was a stain, a blip, a fly in the ointment, something he couldn’t ignore. All his hopes and dreams of being someone, being a success whatever that now meant to him, all his graceful dreams flipping through endless clear water now came to a head with this massive mammal beached on his land. It was too much. Both he and the Whale were fish out of water. No, mammals out of water he reminded himself and no amount of music or Scotch would render either of them invisible. He could delay no longer, it was time to face the music, so like a schoolboy on a Monday morning he forced his wobbly legs to take him back up the rocky steps to face the missus.

______________________________________________________________________________

Caroline took the news exactly as he’d feared she would. She continued to dry Harry’s favourite coffee mug in the dishcloth, the mug he’d used all those years ago at his desk at the BBC. He was so lost in thought about what to do about the uninvited guest down on the beach that he hadn’t noticed her scrubbing motion had become almost pathological. She was grinding the damp cloth deeper and harder into the edges of the old cup. Finally she could take no more and threw it against the furthest wall in the kitchen hoping to make the biggest impression. The pottery smashed into a few choice chunks and flew over his head causing him to instinctively duck under the oak table.

Realising it wasn’t an earthquake he stuck his head out to see the large ‘C’ from ‘BBC’ remaining at his feet having narrowly missed his eye.

‘WHY? Why Harry?’ she could take no more, no longer could she formulate her thoughts into sugar coated pills to be administered nightly with his whiskey, now it all came out at once.

‘What fucking dream are you following? You got lucky with your dad dying and leaving you this place.’ She realised how brutal this sounded but with the smashing of the cup something deeper had smashed, along with the egg-shells she’d been walking on these past few years. ‘You’re living in a fantasy. You got lucky. You brought me up here, leaving the job I loved, promising me children. Now you’re bottling out, leaving me to iron your bloody shirts, iron away the crinkles in your damaged ego…’    Caroline felt her natural instinct to pull back on this final outburst and once more force her feelings down deep inside her, but like a volcano dormant too long she allowed herself to erupt, to cleanse and let it all out, all the poisonous thoughts she’d subjugated in the hope of her husband getting his act together by himself. Finally, irrevocably she couldn’t hold it down any longer and like a bad kebab she wretched it all up.

‘Time is precious. You’ve forgotten that, haven’t you Harry? You’ve got too much fucking time on your hands. It doesn’t MEAN anything anymore. Remember that time is PRECIOUS…. WE are precious… THIS…’ she patted her stomach with a gentle hand, ‘… he is precious, he deserves better than a father who’s given up on life. YOU and that fucking whale are the same. Do you hear me? You’ve both run aground, given up on life to slowly die on some godforsaken beach bloated and fucked…look at you. Husk of a man, what happened to that go-getter I fell in love with, eh?’

She felt it all come out, the pent-up aggression of a thousand conversations she’d backed down on for his greater good, only now she was starting to enjoy this new-found freedom, the raging felt liberating.

‘…You hear me Harry? You and that bloody whale. FUCKED. Time to grow up. Jesus H Christ what is it with men? You’re all just babies looking for mothers, new mothers you can have sex with… Well here’s the news Harry, I’m not your mother, and the sex isn’t even that great anymore. Not since you moved us here in your beaten child-mind…. Get over it…. This whale is a blessing I swear to god. Really. It’s like a boil that needed lancing. Quit dreaming, Harry.  Admit you fucked up. Go back to the BB fucking C. Make some money. Provide for us. Provide for our unborn child. Admit you took your shot and missed. Be a man. Fucking man up. MAN UP…’

Harry continued to cower under the table his mind racing with the onslaught of a thousand terrible things heading his way. Like a hurricane Caroline continued.

‘…I’ve taken all I can take. If you can’t find it in yourself to save us, US, then at least save yourself. Fight for yourself, Harry, goddamnit, FIGHT YOU PUSSY… PLEASE… I LOVE YOU…’

The smashing of the mug was nothing compared to the power of her cursing. Harry looked down at the letter ‘C’ of his BBC cup, shattered beyond repair. In the ten years he’d known her he could count the number of times he’d heard her swear on one hand, now he was cowered under the table amongst the smashed pottery of his previous life. With a weak gesture that he knew to be weak even as he did it, he flicked the chunk of pottery emblazoned with the ‘C’ towards her like an impetuous child.

‘Yes…’ her eyes were blazing now with a deep fire, a maternal protective fire for her unborn child, cutting him out of the picture as she’d done so many times now she was pregnant. ‘…And the ‘C’ stands for ‘CUNT.’

She’d finally reached him, this was too much. He leapt to his feet. The Caroline he knew would never have hit the C-bomb. He frantically scanned the draining board beneath the window for something to throw back. She had stacked the washing-up neatly into tidy clean piles. Looking out the window he could see the greying stinking blubber of the whale glistening down on the beach in the new moon. He could take no more. Grabbing the fireworks from the bucket by the door, he rushed out, uncaring that he was barefoot. Captain Ahab would kill his white whale and set himself free or die trying. It was a noble gesture he told himself as he began his headlong descent.

His movement was part stumble; part leap. His eyes were full of salt water tears, part anger; part self-pity. As he hurtled towards the small crowd still milling around the shoreline he could no longer see the dead mammal as a thing, it had become a concept, a thing he must vanquish, was it his pregnant wife, was it his impending bankruptcy, his hatred of the city world he’d tried to leave behind yet had somehow found him and beached itself unavoidable to be dealt with? Was it his own bloated ego, his own desire to be swimming lithe and nimble in his own environment? Or had he just gone mad, was it just a Whale? All these thoughts turned over and over in his skull and as he got closer he could see the silvery mass of the dying creature as a physical thing, his thoughts made flesh. The stench hit his nose before he could even get near, forcing him to slow down.

A father and son had made a makeshift fire on the beach out of twigs and driftwood in a hopeless vigil to save the whale’s life. Without even stopping to see if he knew them or giving a ‘hail fellow well met’, Harry threw down the heavy bucket of fireworks and jumped over the fire and picked up the largest of the burning branches. Feeling himself to be an Olympic javelin thrower, or worse some sort of caveman he lunged at the stricken beast, sticking the flaming spear into it’s side again and again. His tears came freely now, as in a dream, without boundaries. He fell to his knees repeatedly stabbing the moist blubber.

‘Die you cunt. Die Die Die…’

With each pointless stab the whale’s flesh seemed to give up a flatulent moan, more putrid and wet than before. The hot spear soon became a sodden tip and was no longer strong enough to pierce the tough outer skin. Godammit he would kill this fucking thing, he would rid it from his property, from his mind. Whatever it truly was, whatever it truly represented to him, IT MUST GO. NOW.

Turning back to the startled father and son, Harry lurched back to the fire covered in the stinking blubber. They were scared, the father pulled his now crying child close to him as the madman started rooting around in the fire for something to light the motherload of fireworks.

One by one Harry stuck them in to the carcass without thought: Catherine Wheel, Rocket, Starburst, he didn’t care – they all went in, like sticking the spines back into a naked porcupine, all the while frothing at the mouth for the moment he could strip naked and dance round this motherfucker lighting each taper. Soon…. Soon it would be gone and everything would go back to normal, he comforted himself. Back to the way they were, without children, without money worries, Caroline in love with him…. soon and forever. In the coming explosion he prayed that somehow against all the odds he could get caught up in the blast and be blown back these past five years to when things had made sense.

Left with just the bloody rib cage opened up like a doorway into Narnia Harry dropped the fireworks that couldn’t be wedged into the tough hide and lit each firework where it lay, hanging out of the flesh like a Stevedores spear in some futile bull-fight. He made it just round in time to stare a final time into the milky mocking eyes as the first cord burnt down to set off the rest. He had just enough time to look behind him, back up the cliff to Caroline, her palms pressed against the window. She seemed to be shouting at him, but in the roar of the ocean it was lost, he managed to get his hand half way up to wave when it hit.

The explosion lit up the night sky as far south as Land’s End to the south and Plymouth to the north. It would be reported in the local paper that seven people had called the police fearing a terrorist attack. But Harry would never get to read the morning’s paper. With arms out-stretched he embraced the blast, and in those final few seconds Captain Ahab couldn’t tell what was whale blubber and what was his own burning flesh as they became one in the hiss and fizz, rendering the fat down to each mammal’s bone.

Going Down in the Drinks Elevator

 

21:43. A Thursday two weeks after Mardi Gras. Decatur Street. French Quarter, New Orleans. Present Day.

With the job gone everything else had followed with a certain inevitability, like a Louisiana mudslide gathering speed and swallowing everything in its shit-coloured path. To Saul Barstow it had seemed more like a car crash in slow motion only he’d long ago taken his hands off the steering wheel and petulantly folded his arms in defiance to the gods. When the impact of how he’d been living finally crashed home, Saul found himself without an airbag or insurance.

In the days that had followed him walking out on his job he’d initially felt a certain rush of freedom, but this was soon replaced by a lethargy. He told people who asked him, less and less now, that his get-up-and-go had got-up-and-left and he couldn’t be bothered to go look for it. Despite the absolute freedom that came from being answerable to no one he found he still needed a routine. But after the first year even maintaining that came to feel like a job. It was so boring buying the same old things each day, milk, bread, something for dinner, it became like a treadmill. Do the washing up, just more to do tomorrow, have a shave, the stubble always grew back. The absolute futility of it all! Why did it always end in lost these days, never found?

So he just stopped. He stopped looking, he stopped it all.

Only there was one thing he couldn’t quite bring himself to stop…

‘Hit me up again, barman, the booze is flowing like molasses round here…’

It was round this time he discovered The Drinks Elevator. It was usually to be found in the Apple Barrel, a bar half way down Decatur street, but these days he could mostly find it anywhere. He didn’t have long tonight, he had something to deliver. He picked up the massive rucksack and slung it on his back. He hated it, stuffed full as it was with unpaid bills, unfulfilled dreams and the general detritus of life washing round in a stagnant harbor like so much fetid flotsam. How much heavier the backpack felt when he thought of it in those terms. He became Bunyan’s Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, but his only progress recently had been paying off his outstanding tab at the local liquor store. The nylon straps on the rucksack had become twisted and now cut into his shoulders as he prepared to leave the apartment. Hang it all he needed a drink! Now the weight was on his back again, he knew it’d be a miracle if he could remove it without one.

‘Fuck it. I’ll treat myself to the elevator. It’s a smoother ride and I deserve it today.’

Miracles are to be found in the little things he told himself as he tied the laces on his pumps. They don’t have to be thunderbolts or old men parting the sea with heavy stone tablets. Miracles happened everyday if we could only stop to look, but most of us were too busy or self-absorbed to ever notice. This thought always made him feel glad he was without gainful employ. He had the time to stop and look and catch a glimpse of the divine plan in the overlooked cracks. He recalled an incident from his childhood growing up on his parents homestead in the Ozark mountains, a frog was being eaten by a snake. He’d been darkly fascinated, unable to look away like the urge to rubberneck a car-crash, not really wanting to see the smashed bodies but transfixed all the same. It hadn’t been a fair contest, the snake had the frog bang to rights clamped between its reticulated jaws, and was slowly digesting it. The frog was reversing down the snake’s throat and each time it squeezed on the frog’s belly the amphibian let out a squeak much like a dog’s chew toy, getting more desperate with each life-draining squeeze. It wouldn’t be long now. The meal was taking place in the long grass at the back of the homestead, no-one else on earth was supposed to see this. Then for no reason the snake seemed to sneeze and let the frog go. The frog kissed its teeth to the snake and hopped off towards the mangrove swamp. A miracle for the frog, but of no real importance in the scheme of things, but a miracle nontheless. This was how he viewed the Drinks Elevator, it was his own little miraculous secret, his second chance away from the serpent’s jaw.

He walked towards the Art Deco elevator admiring as he always did the ornate doors. His phone began to ring, he didn’t need to look at the screen: whoever it was he didn’t want to speak to them, not now he had set his mind to the wheel. He pressed the button to call the lift, there was only a down button, there only ever had been a down button. With a groan of cables and badly oiled cogs the lift gently rose to meet him.

Inside, the attendant reached eye-level with him, touching his cap in respect and resplendent in his neatly pressed shirt and collar with jacket buttons so polished that Saul paused to check he hadn’t left any turkey sandwich between his teeth in their reflection.

‘Good afternoon, sir. A little early today aren’t we?’

Saul swung the backpack as he got in, intentionally hitting the man for not minding his own business.

Going down I assume sir?’ said the attendant, pulling shut the grayling. The interior was spotlessly clean, with paintings of great historic battles on each side surrounding a central relief of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

The elevator descended to the next floor and came to rest with an almost imperceivable bump. Through the grail Saul could see his ex-work colleagues busying themselves in what looked like a hotel banqueting suite. He could hear the chink of crystal glass and the deep murmur of convivial bullshittery. He didn’t usually bother getting off at this floor anymore, finding it far too formal, but he managed to swipe a large glass of white wine from a passing waiter without even having to step fully out of the elevator. The lounge speakers droned out a Burt Bacharach beat and the whole thing just screamed flakiness at him from his vantage point safe inside the cage. Those that were dancing did so in nervous jittery movements like the spasms of shot deer, all the while trying to hold on to their drinks and the next conversation, never really listening, using the time the other person was speaking to think about what they were going to say next. Saul didn’t feel up to mingling with any of them and instructed the elevator attendant to speed on down to the next level, resisting the urge to go straight to the basement, knowing that may well come in time.

As they rattled down to the next level the light became softer and the music more relaxed. Saul visibly exhaled with relief as he saw three of his acquaintances leaning against the bar. He exited the elevator and headed over to the polished wooden counter. He hadn’t seen any of them in a while and quickly fell into an easy conversation once the ice had been broken with a few swift shooters of Jameson’s. At the appointed time he returned to the elevator with a spring in his step, bouncing into the carriage so that the floor yawned on the metal cables.

The attendant was leaning against the picture of Venus, collar undone and buttons seeming a little less reflective.

‘Feeling a little better sir?’

‘Jack, I’m feeling a million dollars. Take me down to the third floor immediately.’

Saul took his phone from his inside pocket and rested it on the horizontal metal bar of the lift. He reached his left hand out to the room in front of the lens as if trying to grab all his friends and everything else in that moment, freezing time.

‘Good luck to you, sir’.

‘Luck’s just the door, you got to come in through the window.’

‘Well said, sir’, the attendant seemed to hiccup as the last syllable trailed off into a burp.

Saul felt like he was flipping a silver dollar whilst having his spats cleaned on the corner of Chartres Street as he’d seen his father do when they used to go to the races on a Saturday morning. Saul’s phone started ringing again, only this time faint from inside his pocket like an embarrassed cough, inconsequential, the signal fading as the lift descended.

Saul had become talkative and barrel-chested. ‘I’m like a stereo see? And the booze and the drugs are like my graphic equalizers, I adjust them up and down, trying to find the perfect alchemy of buzz with which to get stuck in to the action.’

The attendant moved Saul’s jacket out of the way of the closing doors. He flipped down the pulley lever and the elevator once more began its descent.

Saul heard the musical baseline before he could see his friends dancing in the dimly lit club. Green and blue strobes shone through the elevator door to cast strange shadows over his face. The air was thick with weed and tobacco.  Fairground music and gunshots.

Saul ordered up another round of shots and tried to dance. He almost convinced himself he was having a good time, but something felt missing. The more he tried to hoof it, the emptier he felt. Instead of feeling loose he began to feel a pitching queasiness in the pit of his stomach. He looked up at his friends who were gurning up at the strobe lights. How could he be feeling so separate right now? He could feel the hot salty lava building in his osophegus burning its way up, hellbent on an eruption. No, what was this bullshit? It was far too early! He hadn’t even drunk that much as far as he could remember. He tried to tell his friends that he was feeling a little off colour but they just seemed to look straight through him lost in their private dancing, only wanting to know about the next round of drinks and happy stories. Saul knocked back a large one for the road then on the excuse of finding the rest room he instead found the elevator. The attendant seemed surprised to see him back so soon.

‘Everything alright sir?’

‘Take me down Jack, life should be lived on the knife’s edge but I’m feeling as soft as rancid butter all of a sudden.’

‘Perhaps you should slow down a little sir? Take some water on board perhaps?’

Saul waved him away with his hand.

‘Fuck it. Don’t tell me my business. You’ve been doing it all evening. What are you, my wife now?’

The attendant didn’t answer. He simply closed the sliding door and yanked on the down lever. With his back turned to him, Saul couldn’t see the sly smile on the increasingly aging face of the elevator attendant. Saul was looking into the reflective glass of the elevator doors. Not for the first time he didn’t recognise his own reflection. He stared into the bloodshot eyes and didn’t get any flash of self. How he imagined himself to look in his mind’s eye was at total odds with the reality now presenting itself. When did he get so old? Some haggard version of his father looked back through the frosted glass as the outside neon lamps streaked past as the elevator fell further.

His heart always skipped a beat as he approached the fourth floor and saw the orange sunset strike him in the ankles like a welcoming searchlight through the slats of the elevator door, gradually ascending to his thighs, then his chest and face as it reached level. He saw her silhouetted against the sun coming through the roof-terrace, vines thick with succulent grapes and her looking like the most succulent of all fruits. Saul’s feet left behind the sticky metal floor and touched pampas grass. The Mexican evening felt hot on his bald patch as he walked towards her. He was suddenly overcome by nerves, he hadn’t planned on stepping off at level four tonight, he’d felt too self-conscious and worthless to delve into this memory, and yet, here he was, walking towards her, the sound of the ciccadas mixing in his ears with his own pumping heart, but as he got closer he fancied it was actually the croaking of frogs.

She was pouring some of the new season olive oil onto an end crust of the morning’s bread now hardened in the dusk. Her usually jet black hair had found the heart to melt to a russet in the strong sunset. He walked across the veranda and pulled back a metal chair making it grate on the dirt floor.  He sat down, facing her, feeling the bougainvillea wrap itself around him as he lent against the fence.

He stared straight into those blue whirlpool eyes, he knew she saw him even though she continued to stare off across the valley munching on the oil-soaked bread. Feeling keenly the inadequacy of words Saul tried pure telepathy. He looked at her and tried to find the honesty of himself to connect with the honesty of her.

‘We couldn’t even be in the same room to begin with, do you remember? It was so strong, the electricity between us, it was like bringing two lightning bolts to a magnet, the whole room would get so electrified people’s hair would stand on end when we kissed.’

He studied those eyes trying to see a flame get started, but all he saw was his own memory of the two of them intertwined like a medicine snake in those black pupils, from that black past. Nothing more. Fuck it, now he had a new medicine and a new snakebite he didn’t need her. Time to get back to the thing he could always rely on. Memories were lies anyways, like old movies he could re-edit again and again in his mind choosing with each viewing what scenes to leave out until they played perfectly, according to his iron will.

He walked quickly back to the elevator unhappy with this surge of unwanted emotion. The attendant was there as usual with a kind word:

‘I wouldn’t dally here if I were you, sir. Time is a-wasting’.

Saul tried the same telepathic look into his eyes, but they were opaque and emotionless, like a snake about to slough it’s skin. He suddenly felt like a frog unable to escape the jaws of the elevator. He allowed his gaze to lose its intensity and fall down the attendants uniform. It was looking bedraggled, what buttons hadn’t fallen off were now sullied, none of their proud sheen remained. They were unpolished and unloved; yet so was he. Damn if he didn’t need another drink already. The sweat had broken out on his forehead and he tried to rally the woozy attendant.

‘I like your style Jack, respectful. You know what, I’m gonna tip ya right now, just send me down quick, uh?’

Saul rooted around in the pockets of his slacks. Feeling nothing folding he moved to his jacket inside pocket and pulled out a cheque book. The cover had been torn into neat rectangles from the rolling of numerous joints. He flicked open what remained to find nothing but stubs.

‘I seem to be a little light tonight, I’ll get you on the way back up.’

The attendant continued to stare blankly at him.

‘Ok then, good… I always say…’ Saul’s voice had been battered down by the booze to a mumble and he gripped the handrail to steady himself. Caught in the sickly glow of the elevators strip lighting he cut a broken figure, cowed by every bottle he’d ever drunk being smashed over his head in the morning.

‘…Just take me down the drain, Jack…’

The eyes of the attendant flickered open like a TV screen being switched on. He reached his hand up to the lever, now carved in the shape of a snake’s head and let it hang over the snout.

‘Are you sure sir? It’s still early. I was told you had business to attend to?’

‘No, the basement is best ways tonight, Jack, the game’s not worth the candle.’  .

The attendant’s legs buckled as he raised himself up on his haunches to depress the lever.  He still looked a little queasy round the gills but a good belch seemed to correct it enough for normal service to be resumed.

‘Mind the doors please. Going down.’

He reached for a rope cord hanging  from the wooden slats and yanked. The meat-packing service lift closed horizontally. And as it slammed shut, Saul saw that the attendant was now just wearing an off-white vest. the hairs on his sunburned back turned silver in places.

The elevator felt like it was free-falling snapped loose from controlling cables. It shot down to the basement with such force that it knocked Saul off his feet and into the air where he and the attendant hung for an instant as if strange Cosmonauts engaged on a sling shot round the Sun. When the metal cage slowed to a bumpy halt just before the smash, Saul found himself on his hands and knees. There was a silence. He could hear the burb rising in his throat before swallowing it back down, feeling the need to remain straight, in front of the attendant.

Until it had stopped he hadn’t even been aware of the tinned music in the elevator, but now it was gone it was almost like there had been another person in the room. On his knees Saul heard the tinkle of soft harpsichord notes, as if plucked on a metal wheel.

The elevator doors remained closed and he looked over to the attendant slumped on his corner stool, sound asleep. Saul called out to him to open the doors, no response. He got up and shook him by the lapels, still no response. Feeling justified in the circumstances he slapped the attendant round the face, softly at first, then harder. He remained stone unconscious.

Saul smelt he’d reached the basement before his eyes caught up. A heavy scent of rich myrrh, cigar tobacco, opiates and just enough astringent disinfectant to add an undeniable piquancy. He felt he was home again. As if loaded with explosive charges, his backpack jettisoned off his back and shot against the door control lever. Like a troll’s sickly yawn the elevator doors creaked upon horizontally. Saul rubbed his sore shoulders.  It sure felt a lot easier without that weight on his back. As he left the elevator he hoped that whatever had been in the sack wasn’t important or urgent, he couldn’t remember now, but no matter, he comforted himself with the knowledge it was usually there neatly stacked by the elevator in the morning.

The attendant was slumped in the corner without the strength to lift the elevator shutters. Saul yanked on the cord and stepped through like a child in a sweet shop.

He gave a last look over his shoulder to see the elevator’s shutters transforming into the metal jaws of a bear trap. They snapped shut like a robotic mouth on a breeze of necrossing halitosis. He moved through the wooden cellar, the smoke so thick it was as if everyone inside were fish being slowly smoked. To left and right the kippers were kipping, stretched out on their opium-den stained mattresses, stained with the life force of all who’d rested there as it had been sucked out of them, never to be returned. Saul sucked in the thick chocolaty air. He was back amongst his people.

He found his personal corner, decorated with the posters of all his ego’s past triumphs. A small crystal screen was embedded in the ceiling of the four-poster bed, surrounded by plush Bedouin drapes peeling out from the centre  like petals from a rose. The screen intermittently showed flight departures to places he wanted to visit, interspersed with pornographic movies of people he dreamt of laying. He lay back on the cool silken pillow and reached for the tube containing the dark juice. It hung from one of the posts of the bed at eye level like an emergency oxygen mask on a doomed flight, Saul pulled down on the plastic tubing to start the flow of the thick molasses liquid, bringing the suction cup end to his lips he began to gulp down the yoghurty silt directly into his brain stem. He lay back on the soft mattress and released a belch into the sunken world lit by candlelight, as the medicine took its effect, the room felt almost religious but instead of the cold stone draft of his childhood religion this was some priestess cult and her temple was warm and womb-like, pulsating with living tissue. This was the place he really wanted to get to each time he took a sip or gulped a slug. This was always his end game and ultimate destination with everything stripped from him, pared away like the layers of an onion. Here he was at the most basic level, uncluttered, not responsible, just being, uninterrupted by the external demands of a world he couldn’t quite figure out. His right hand slipped off the bed and trailed on the floor. His knuckles felt cold rock there at the bottom.

The plasma screen sparked into life and She appeared on the screen, but not as before, now she seemed perfect to him, like a memory remade as he wanted her to be.

‘There is a silence at the heart of all great things’ he said to himself.   Through the membrane walls that separated each cubicle thin veins containing the juice crisscrossed pumping it into individual areas. From the next chamber a voice could be heard. Saul came back into focus to realise it was addressing him.

What brings you here then, you’ve still got a bit of fight left in you haven’t you?’

Saul answered as if from a warm dream, ‘’I’m like a Faberge egg, see? I spent years making my outside as intricate and shiny as possible, but I neglected my inside and when the hammer blow came the shell shattered and there was fuck all in there.’

A mellow laugh that seemed to contain all the understanding in the world came through the leathery membrane back at him.

‘You and everyone else here I’d guess’, the voice said in mellifluous tones, ‘Don’t sweat it. We all paid the entrance fee one way or another. How long you in for?’

Saul took another long pull on the juice before answering.

‘The night only, my bag will be packed somewhere, ready for the morning.’

Saul turned his head to look through the membrane on his other side, the walls seemed more yellow and stained, the face was a blur but he could still register a spastic movement from within. He felt it was his turn to do the asking,

‘And what brings you here..?’

The voice came back shrill and with an uncomfortable edge that immediately bristled the hairs on the back of Saul’s neck.

‘Hard to remember now, this junksuck kinda blue-rinses the brain after a while, don’t it? I recall it was something to do with not being able to be myself. I was so soft inside like last harvest’s cotton, but I could always hide that and put up a killer front, boy could I sell it to ‘em. Mr. Humpty-Dump, but it was all painted shell, inside there was an empty cold wind blowing round a small, scared kid. The real me, huh? Someone took a sledgehammer to the shell one day and the kid inside wasn’t ready for it. The shell didn’t count for shit.’

Saul sucked on the tube starting to feel absent-minded. The story sounded familiar somehow but he couldn’t place it. The pages of colourful comic books from childhood flapped through his brain. Perhaps that was where he’d heard the story? The rice-paper pages flew from the comic and flapped away like tropical butterflies. Saul reached out with his hand and tried to catch one.

‘I’m sorry for you mister. That sounds a real bummer in the summer.’ Saul caught an escaping butterfly and squeezed its stamen between thumb and forefinger releasing a yellow viscous liquid. He tasted it, all sugar and spice.

‘Bah, it’s just another tale of the bottle. We’ve all got one here.’

Saul brushed the dead butterfly from his fingers, ‘How long you here for?’ he asked.

‘Same as you… according to your medical notes… for all time!

Saul was unsettled by this.

‘I can leave anytime I want, pal. I choose to come down here.’

‘Sure you do. How many drinks has it been today so far? You’ve got to commit to get this deep in my friend, they don’t just give a key to anyone.’

‘Bullshit! I’m the fucking landlord of this place! Look at the walls, this is all my stuff, look what I’ve been over the years, you can’t talk to me like this..!’

The laughter from the next cell was so vile that the membrane itself reverberated like the albumen of a rotten egg, releasing a foul stench into the room. He felt like he was inside the stomach of some unspeakable creature being slowly digested.

Saul ripped the tube from his mouth causing it to hiss and spit the remaining globules of juice from his mouth where it landed at the foot of the bed like congealed pork fat. He got up and attempted to shake the dream from his unresponsive body, moving tortuously as if suspended in glue. He stumbled back to where he knew the elevator to be. But all he found was a smooth keyhole. He reached for his cell phone to see no signal, both he and the phone were out of range tonight, not possible to be connected at this time.

He banged on the smooth metal teeth until a small slit opened horizontally in the mouth of the shut bear trap. He recognised the sneaky eyes of the elevator attendant.

‘Hey Jack, thank the lord it’s you! Let me in won’t ya? It’s time to go.’

But the bloodshot eyes of the attendant just stared back at him.

‘You can only visit here so many times, sir, before you can’t return.’

Saul shoved his fingers into the slot and tried to open the door himself.  The attendant pushed the metal slit against the chubby reaching fingers like a guillotine.

‘I must insist sir. There’s nothing I can do… it’s the rules.’

Saul retracted his fingers sensing the futility of this tactic. The attendant relaxed a little and stopped his finger execution.

‘Of course sir, you can always buy your way out, but it takes time… forms have to be approved and signed off, payment’s made, you understand? It’s a long old crawl back up otherwise I’m afraid.’

Saul gave himself a near fatal headrush as he leapt in the air,  ‘I have money!’’

He began jumping up and down on the spot, the sound of jangling coming from his trouser pockets. With a new found confidence he reached in and grabbed a rich handful from both left and right, thrusting them proudly into the slit for the attendant to inspect. But again that awful mocking laugh that he’d heard before came from the cubicle way back where he’d come from. The membranes rattled like the glottal of a fat businessman.

Saul looked down at his hands to see nothing but old beer caps, corks and damp cigarette papers falling to the ground in a jumbled incoherent mess.

The attendant slammed shut the slit and Saul could hear the elevator ascending, the un-oiled cage squeaking above the sound of croaking frogs.