stevenmdodd

Prologue for a Novel

In Extract, Pending publication on June 27, 2017 at 11:44 am

They’d come back.

Albie could hear them in his front room bumping into the furniture.  Had to be the same two who’d tried to break in before.  As stealthily as he could move his octogenarian legs out of bed, Albie picked out a can of deodorant from his bedside table and crept to the door.  When the first one tried to come through, he’d spray the bugger in the eyes.  He had nothing planned after that.

Fifty years he’d lived on the sunshine isle and he’d never known any crime.  Leave your doors unlocked and never worry.  Now twice in the same day these toe-rags were out to do him over.  Well he’d show ‘em.  Picked the wrong pensioner to prey on, the parasites.

The door handle moved and Albie raised the aerosol to head height.  He used both hands to stop his outstretched arm from quivering.  Early on-set Parkinson’s, not fear.  Albie Treagust had seen too much trouble in his long life to be afraid of a couple of chancers.

The door swung open and Albie sprayed.  He pressed so hard on the aerosol button; he thought his thumb would pass straight through the can all the way to the bottom.  The cloud of deodorant made him gag, but he could tell it’d done the trick.  The first one through the door was screaming like a stuck pig.  His hands at his face.  But there was still the second one.

In the half light from the window, Albie just had time to see a tall figure barge past his mate.  Then he felt a heavy blow to his ribs, and he buckled over.  Strong hands gripped his arms and dragged him to the bed.  Threw him down.  The rough landing jolted his bad hip like he’d been stabbed in the pelvis with a cattle prod.  Albie groaned as the pain went shivering through his body.

“Be still old man and you won’t get hurt no more,” said the lanky one.

The other one said something in Greek and kicked the bed frame, hard.

“No”, said lanky, “It easier if he co-operates.  Right, old man?”

“Bugger off,” said Albie.

“Not nice, old man.  See if you not nice, how I’m to stop my friend from getting you back for spraying eyes?  What you spray anyway?  Smells nice.”

Albie pushed himself up to a seated position.  He could see the pair of them more clearly that way.  The lanky one stood over him, so close he could see his big Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat when he talked.  But it was the other one, the stocky one with a barrel chest that had his attention.  Even though he was still rubbing his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, Albie could feel the hatred coming off him, like heat off a pit bull.

“You got the wrong party,” Albie said.  “I aint got nothin’ worth stealin’.”

The lanky one sat beside Albie on the bed, so he was between him and his stocky friend.  Albie had liked it better when he could see what that one was up to.

“Oh, you have something someone want old man,” said lanky.  “Want very badly, yes?  Something you have hidden for long time.”

Albie wriggled away from his interrogator, so that his back was pressed up against the bedroom wall.  The coolness of the night came through the thin partition and seeped into his pyjama top.  It was refreshing in a cold, damp, unwelcome sort of way.  “I aint gotta clue what you’re on about,” Albie said.

The bed frame shook from being kicked again.  Even with two of them sitting on it, the fury in that kick had been enough to remind Albie how much the stocky one wanted revenge.  “Give us the Drago Stone now!” he shouted.

Albie pulled his knees up to his chest, “Who’s a dago?” he asked the lanky one.

“Dray-go, old man, stone,” said lanky, holding an outreached palm between him and the stocky one.  “What he means is the stone ball you have.  About this size,” he made a ball shape between his index finger and thumb.  It is bit like paper weight.  Not fault if he not know what is.”  He smiled a lizard smile.  “Is very old, older than you even.”  He jabbed Albie in the chest.  “You know now?  A stone ball with carvings on one side?  Give it to us and we leave you alone.”

Albie knew.  But how could they?  Ever since he’d come by it years ago, another lifetime ago, he’d kept it hidden.  Never could throw it away, even though it’d been nuthin’ but trouble.  First it got his old mucka Harry killed, then it was the main reason his boy left, why his wife died of a broken heart.  Albie rubbed at his aching hip, his bruised side.  Oh, course; he twigged how they’d learned of it.  Stupid old sod, Albie, you thought all that trouble was in the past.  That its curse had worn off.  That it’d grown to be like him, worn down by age.  So he’d started taking it out of its hiding place, using it for pawn when he needed to borrow against his pension down the pub.  He didn’t think Andros would talk, but he must’ve.  Hang on; they didn’t know he did that.  They thought he still had it.

“Enough waiting!” the stocky one grabbed Albie by the shoulders and heaved him to his feet.  “Tell now or…”

“Tea caddy,” whimpered Albie.  “Tin tea caddy in the kitchen.  I keeps it in there.  Please don’t hurt me mister, I’m just an old man.”

The stocky one shook Albie and said something in Greek to his partner, a snarl of contempt on his face.

“Show us where is,” said lanky.  “And soon all this be over.”

Stocky frog-marched Albie to the little kitchen next door.  His rough grip tearing at the worn fabric of his pyjama top.

“It’s over there on the shelf.  I’ll get it for you, if you could just switch on the light.”

Lanky patted at the kitchen wall feeling for the light switch, when the fluorescent tube tinkled into life the stocky man stumbled and tripped cursing to the floor.  For just as Albie hoped, his old tomcat had awoken from his bed under the kitchen table and come looking for his breakfast.  The light going on in the morning was his dinner gong and true to form, he had begun winding around the legs of the man who dolled out the tuna.  Only it wasn’t Albie’s legs, it was stocky man’s.  And when he fell, his grip took the sleeve of Albie’s pyjamas with him, but not Albie.

Quick as thought, Albie grabbed the ancient tea caddy from the shelf and made for the front door.  Lanky was right behind him, but Albie struck out with a bony fist wrapped around the tin tea caddy and caught him square on the nose.  Adrenaline pumping through his veins, Albie felt fifty years younger.  It was true what boxers said about the sight of your opponent’s blood spurring you on.  Albie knew he’d make it to the front door first and be able to slam it behind him.

On the landing, he chucked the tea caddy down the stairs.  It rattled and crashed on the echoey, concrete steps.  They’d think he’d gone down, but he’d go up.

 

At the top of the apartment block’s stairs was a battered steel door that went to the flat roof.  It was where the occupants could hang their laundry or sit out and enjoy the view all the way to the sea.  Now that Albie was the last one staying in the old block, he never came up there.  What was the point?  He got his washing done in the laundrette in town and he’d seen enough of the sea in the navy to last a lifetime.  No one came up there any more.  Maybe only he knew it even existed.

Albie closed the rusty door behind him and stood, shaking, in the night air.  A million stars above and the shock of what was happening jolting his old heart from stop-to-start, stop-to-start, stop.  Oh god, thought Albie, I think I…  Then no more stars, just inky blackness.

 

“Thought you’d trick us?  Nothing in it but tea old man.”

“Stop kicking him and let me see.  Yes, he dead now.”

Somewhere over the olive grove nearby, an owl hooted.

“No, I don’t know where he hid it.  You want to go have another look?  Maybe he don’t have it no more?  Oh no, you can tell him he died before we got it.  I told you, he old, strong arm stuff not good idea for him.  You not listen.  You never like listen.”

They dragged the old body to the roof door and man-handled it back into the apartment.  After they tossed him onto the bed, for all the world, Albie looked like he’d died in his sleep.

Writer’s Hub

In Accepted for publication on April 28, 2016 at 9:45 am

Dead Cat Bounce

by

Steve Dodd

Like all classics, Pete had endured a decade of derision before reaching ironic vintage status.  For now, he was having to make the best of a new job in the lower leagues, the ones with numbers not sponsors.  At least they hadn’t had to move.  If anything the training ground was a little nearer.  She loved that bloody house.

‘Goalhangers’ stood on the corner of Laburnum Avenue.  It had a red door and creosote mock Tudor timbers.  In the front room window and beside the boot scraper, were examples of his wife’s art.  She made sculptures that looked like curly dog turds.

“My inspiration comes from nature,” she’d say.

“From a dog’s arse,” Pete, would mutter after a few nips from his desk drawer bottle.  But then he was only talking to the team photos on the plaster board wall of his new office.  Tiny it was.  The last gaffer had been a whippet of a man.  Marathon runner, fitness freak.  Pete had to squeeze between the wall and the side of the desk to get to his chair.  Players had to be athletes, managers sat and thought.  Even managers of teams of midlands, mid-table cloggers.  He’d had a lovely office at United.  Wall paper, drinks cabinet, enough room to entertain.  He loved that side of the game.  The after match meet with his opposite number.  They were a rare breed, football managers.  Especially the old guard.  These new boys, some of them hadn’t even played.  How could they understand the pressures of the game?

  Pete liked to think he could’ve survived another five seasons at United and made it safely to retirement, his status intact.  After all they’d only just missed out through penalties in the play-offs.  But no, the board had listened to that property developer bastard of a chairman and called for new blood.  Someone with continental ideas.  Everyone wants to be bloody Barcelona.  One day he’d get the credit he deserved.  Oh they’d be sorry then, when it was too late.  Like Blackburn with Big Sam.

His marriage had been the only constant throughout his career.  He’d not had a lot of girlfriends before Janet.  Truth was, being a centre back for Southampton in the sixties wasn’t the chick magnet it was today.  And he was shy around women.

He’d been introduced to her by the old physio’.  She was a friend of his daughter’s.  Went to art college together.  Well, he hadn’t known what to expect, but Janet was fine.  Not good looking in an obvious way but fine, and quiet.  She showed him her drawings after a couple of dates.  Leaves and acorns he remembered.  Lots of still lives, all very pale and delicate.  She wanted to be a sculptor.  When she fell pregnant in their first year of marriage, talk about that stopped.  And anyway, he was transferred to Albion, the big time.  First of their eleven moves, his playing career ending up in Stenhousemuir.  God that was a low point.  Then into coaching.  Scottish leagues again before his assistant job with Malcolm.  Only took two more jobs to get United.  She’d never complained.  Not really, just the usual moans about the kid’s schools and decorating.

They had three children.  All girls, then they’d given up.  Becky was already married, Paige was finishing teacher training in Chichester.  Only Lottie was left.  Halfway through her BTEC at the local college.  When she’d told them she wanted to specialise in PE, that’s when the arguments had really begun.  He could see that now.  Janet was convinced their youngest was truly creative and would regret it later.

It was the subject of many late night discussions.  Held in that rabid register halfway between whispering and spitting, when they didn’t want their daughter to hear them through the bedroom wall.  When their emotions ran high and sentences rushed to emphatic conclusions with bulging eyes and clenched teeth.

“Why don’t you just let her choose what she wants?”

“I’m her mother.  I know she has the artistic spark.”

“How?  She hated art at school.”

“That’s because they don’t give them the freedom to express themselves at GCSE.  It was the same for me.”

“I don’t see Becky doing anything with her artistic gift and you said the same about her.”

“That is uncalled for Peter!  Rebecca is putting her creative urges into starting a family.  It will emerge later.  Just like it did for me.”

But these exchanges belonged to the time when they’d shared a bedroom.  Now that Lottie was well past any last ditch alterations to her subject choice, Janet had decamped to Becky’s old room.  Their marriage had entered a new phase.  Janet told him she needed to conserve all her positive energy for her work.  That, after all these fallow years, ‘it’ was just bubbling up and ready to burst inside her.  Peter’s attention was a distraction she could not afford.  And when the work came to fruition he would see it was worth it.

In the meantime, Janet was getting all the physical expression she needed from Pilates.  She’d found this wonderful class at the Spa just when she needed it.  Wasn’t it funny how everything fell into place when you knew what you wanted?  Janet worked hard at maintaining her ‘S’ shape and she knew everyone noticed how poised, how much more energetic she now looked.  She’d found this wonderful catalogue too, of ethnic clothing from Norway.  Such beautiful fabrics and colours.  Very distinctive, no one else she knew had even heard of Orjan Birger.

Pete thought the new clothes were far too expensive for his wife to end up looking like an East European peasant.  He thanked god she didn’t attend match days like she did in the old days.  He’d be a laughing stock.  If only he’d gone to Lottie’s last parent’s evening.

Janet had come back in an exultant mood.  Wafting into the kitchen from the garage in a cloud of that awful perfume she’d taken to using.  It stung his eyes.

“I’ve volunteered to be a visiting artist,” she declared, thwacking her leather and raffia bag onto the kitchen table where Pete was enjoying a late night bacon butty.

“What’s that love?”

“I went to ask if it really was too late for Lottie to switch courses and they sent me to see the head of art.”  She stood with her hands on the back of a chair beaming.  “He was resistant to the idea at first, but when I told him I was an artist too he became quite chatty.  Ended up asking me if I wanted to be a guest speaker.  He’s under all sorts of pressure to meet targets for, what did he call it?  Ah yes, academic enrichment.”

Pete looked at her with concern.  Her cheeks were flushed and she was shifting from foot to foot like a child who needed the toilet.  He said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea Jan?”

“It’s too late for Lottie this year.  But maybe next.  If she does a third year, she could drop the PE and do the whole art course from scratch.  And if the lecture goes well, I could do some part-time teaching next year too.”

“How does Lottie feel about this?”

“Oh, she doesn’t know yet.  But she’ll come ‘round.  After I establish myself in the department, she’ll see.  Oh Peter, how wonderful.  I didn’t know it before, but teaching art is what I’ve always wanted to do.  And now I have had my breakthrough, I have so much to give.”

“Steady on love, just what have you gotten yourself into?”

“Hmm?”

Janet danced towards the dining room door, the embroidered felt skirt she was wearing swayed heavily, causing the row of little bells on its hem to tinkle.

“Visiting artist,” she trilled from the doorway.  Next Wednesday afternoon, I shall give a presentation to the students, as a visiting artist.”

He hardly saw over the next few days.  They had a midweek home tie against Portsmouth in the cup, if Pompey could field a team.  No joking apart, they’d be tough opponents and Pete had been drilling the defence on the subtleties of the off-side trap.  Always start with how to earn a clean sheet, then dead ball plays and finally goals from open play.  Competitive football, it wasn’t rocket science.  In many ways the change to three points for a win had spoiled the game.  Taken the pleasure out of nullifying your opponent.  Revie’s Leeds, now that was a golden age.  Anyway apart from bumping into her in the bathroom, Janet had been a ghost in their house.

Tuesday evening she emerged.  Desperate that he watch her practice presentation.

“I’ve got a very important game tomorrow love…”

“So have I Peter.  Only for me it isn’t a game.  This is one of those life-changing events.  It has to be perfect.  Oh Peter please, let me rehearse in front of you, Lottie won’t help and I so wanted the student’s perspective.  Peter, it’s important.”

“All right love.  Will it take long?”

“I just want a fraction of the support I’ve given you over the years.”

“My job’s been our bread and butter all these years.  It’s brought up three children.  Pays for this house.”

“There’s more to life than money Peter.  This is about art.  But if you won’t help…”

“I said I would didn’t I?  Come on, where do you want me?”

He sat on a hard chair in the dining room with instructions to tap the mouse on the laptop whenever she waved her notes at him.

“We haven’t got a projector so you will have to change slides on my PowerPoint when I give the signal.  Of course, I’ll have sample pieces to show as well, but this way they can see my whole process.  From inspiration to sketches and final work.  Click the mouse Peter, I’ve started.”

And so it went on.  Janet ran through the whole thing twice.  Most of the first time, she’d got flustered and mixed up her notes.  Or Pete wasn’t concentrating.  In the end he didn’t know what he’d witnessed.  Lot of waffle about organic forms and holistic technique.  The pictures were all right.  Well they were mostly in focus.  What did Pete know about art anyway.  Jokers had been getting away with worse for years.  That bloke who put a dead shark in a tank.  He was a millionaire.

Pete had a sneaky hope that Jan would give Becky’s room a miss tonight.  Burn off a little anxiety.  But she was of a mind that it was her cup final tomorrow and she was in training.

“Maybe Thursday?” she said.  Then she smiled slyly, “We should have something to celebrate.”

“Getting through to the next round you mean?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

They drew nil-nil with Portsmouth.  Not a disaster by any means considering they’d had two players sent off.  The crowd had got a bit uppity, but Roma wasn’t built in a day.  Pete preferred away games anyway.  The tactics suited his game plan.

Being a late kick-off meant he didn’t get home until after eleven.  There was a light in the front room.  When he went in she was sitting in the middle of the floor, heaps of crumpled papers around her, her handbag emptied onto the couch.

“What’s the matter love?”

“They hated me,” she muttered in a voice cracked from weeping.  “I was a little ruffled to start with, that’s only natural isn’t it?  But they started sniggering the moment I went into the classroom.”

“Well surely the teacher kept order?”

“He joined in,” she squeaked.  “In the end there was a question and answer session and he called my work, ill considered and undeveloped.”

“Cheeky sod.”

“But he’s right Pete,” she cried.  “It is.  I saw the student’s work.  Kids of sixteen.  Their drawing’s already better than mine, and they know the names of all the artists.”

“You’re a lovely drawer.”

“Terry Moore, I said Terry Moore not Henry Moore.”

“Terry Moore played right back with me at Southampton love, he was our best man.”

“I know,” she wailed.  “Oh Pete, I’m not an artist at all.  I’ve been kidding myself.  I’m just a football manager’s wife.”

Pete kneeled down beside his wife and put an arm around her shoulders.  “Now you listen to me.  You’re not just a football manager’s wife.  You are the best wife any man could ever want.  And a damn good artist to boot.”

“I’m not,” she whimpered.

“You’ve just had a little set back.  It’ll all look different tomorrow.  Pundits don’t know nothing.  It’s easy to criticise, harder to build.”

“Oh Pete, Lottie’s friends will all know her mother’s a crank.  Everybody will laugh at me.”

“They’d better not try.”

“I’ve taken my sculptures in from the garden.  People must have been laughing at me all this time.”  She pressed her wet face into his chest and sobbed.  In between the gasps she squeezed out, “I don’t know if I can go outside the door ever again.”

The next day he put out some feelers.  Football was a small world and Pete still had friends who valued his classic approach.  There was a job going as assistant coach in Glasgow.  The club there was going through a bit of turmoil but it truly was too big to fail.  In many ways it was a promotion.  They wouldn’t stand in his way here.  The captain was taking his badges and Pete knew he’d been angling for the position of player/manager before he arrived.  They’d save money.

Janet had been good as gold about the move, even offered Lottie her car as a sweetener.  She’d have to move colleges but she was like him, happy in the company of sports people.  There’d be new teams to join, she’d be fine.  And Janet could put all that silly business behind her.  Sometimes when you were on a losing streak a change of direction seems like a good idea.  But it doesn’t last.  The trick was to keep the faith.  Continue with the tried and tested methods.  In the long run, people would see you were right.

“I went to ask if it really was too late for Lottie to switch courses and they sent me to see the head of art.”  She stood with her hands on the back of a chair beaming.  “He was resistant to the idea at first, but when I told him I was an artist too he became quite chatty.  Ended up asking me if I wanted to be a guest speaker.  He’s under all sorts of pressure to meet targets for, what did he call it?  Ah yes, academic enrichment.”

Pete looked at her with concern.  Her cheeks were flushed and she was shifting from foot to foot like a child who needed the toilet.  He said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea Jan?”

“It’s too late for Lottie this year.  But maybe next.  If she does a third year, she could drop the PE and do the whole art course from scratch.  And if the lecture goes well, I could do some part-time teaching next year too.”

“How does Lottie feel about this?”

“Oh, she doesn’t know yet.  But she’ll come ‘round.  After I establish myself in the department, she’ll see.  Oh Peter, how wonderful.  I didn’t know it before, but teaching art is what I’ve always wanted to do.  And now I have had my breakthrough, I have so much to give.”

“Steady on love, just what have you gotten yourself into?”

“Hmm?”

Janet danced towards the dining room door, the embroidered felt skirt she was wearing swayed heavily, causing the row of little bells on its hem to tinkle.

“Visiting artist,” she trilled from the doorway.  Next Wednesday afternoon, I shall give a presentation to the students, as a visiting artist.”

He hardly saw over the next few days.  They had a midweek home tie against Portsmouth in the cup, if Pompey could field a team.  No joking apart, they’d be tough opponents and Pete had been drilling the defence on the subtleties of the off-side trap.  Always start with how to earn a clean sheet, then dead ball plays and finally goals from open play.  Competitive football, it wasn’t rocket science.  In many ways the change to three points for a win had spoiled the game.  Taken the pleasure out of nullifying your opponent.  Revie’s Leeds, now that was a golden age.  Anyway apart from bumping into her in the bathroom, Janet had been a ghost in their house.

Tuesday evening she emerged.  Desperate that he watch her practice presentation.

“I’ve got a very important game tomorrow love…”

“So have I Peter.  Only for me it isn’t a game.  This is one of those life-changing events.  It has to be perfect.  Oh Peter please, let me rehearse in front of you, Lottie won’t help and I so wanted the student’s perspective.  Peter, it’s important.”

“All right love.  Will it take long?”

“I just want a fraction of the support I’ve given you over the years.”

“My job’s been our bread and butter all these years.  It’s brought up three children.  Pays for this house.”

“There’s more to life than money Peter.  This is about art.  But if you won’t help…”

“I said I would didn’t I?  Come on, where do you want me?”

He sat on a hard chair in the dining room with instructions to tap the mouse on the laptop whenever she waved her notes at him.

“We haven’t got a projector so you will have to change slides on my PowerPoint when I give the signal.  Of course, I’ll have sample pieces to show as well, but this way they can see my whole process.  From inspiration to sketches and final work.  Click the mouse Peter, I’ve started.”

And so it went on.  Janet ran through the whole thing twice.  Most of the first time, she’d got flustered and mixed up her notes.  Or Pete wasn’t concentrating.  In the end he didn’t know what he’d witnessed.  Lot of waffle about organic forms and holistic technique.  The pictures were all right.  Well they were mostly in focus.  What did Pete know about art anyway.  Jokers had been getting away with worse for years.  That bloke who put a dead shark in a tank.  He was a millionaire.

Pete had a sneaky hope that Jan would give Becky’s room a miss tonight.  Burn off a little anxiety.  But she was of a mind that it was her cup final tomorrow and she was in training.

“Maybe Thursday?” she said.  Then she smiled slyly, “We should have something to celebrate.”

“Getting through to the next round you mean?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

They drew nil-nil with Portsmouth.  Not a disaster by any means considering they’d had two players sent off.  The crowd had got a bit uppity, but Roma wasn’t built in a day.  Pete preferred away games anyway.  The tactics suited his game plan.

Being a late kick-off meant he didn’t get home until after eleven.  There was a light in the front room.  When he went in she was sitting in the middle of the floor, heaps of crumpled papers around her, her handbag emptied onto the couch.

“What’s the matter love?”

“They hated me,” she muttered in a voice cracked from weeping.  “I was a little ruffled to start with, that’s only natural isn’t it?  But they started sniggering the moment I went into the classroom.”

“Well surely the teacher kept order?”

“He joined in,” she squeaked.  “In the end there was a question and answer session and he called my work, ill considered and undeveloped.”

“Cheeky sod.”

“But he’s right Pete,” she cried.  “It is.  I saw the student’s work.  Kids of sixteen.  Their drawing’s already better than mine, and they know the names of all the artists.”

“You’re a lovely drawer.”

“Terry Moore, I said Terry Moore not Henry Moore.”

“Terry Moore played right back with me at Southampton love, he was our best man.”

“I know,” she wailed.  “Oh Pete, I’m not an artist at all.  I’ve been kidding myself.  I’m just a football manager’s wife.”

Pete kneeled down beside his wife and put an arm around her shoulders.  “Now you listen to me.  You’re not just a football manager’s wife.  You are the best wife any man could ever want.  And a damn good artist to boot.”

“I’m not,” she whimpered.

“You’ve just had a little set back.  It’ll all look different tomorrow.  Pundits don’t know nothing.  It’s easy to criticise, harder to build.”

“Oh Pete, Lottie’s friends will all know her mother’s a crank.  Everybody will laugh at me.”

“They’d better not try.”

“I’ve taken my sculptures in from the garden.  People must have been laughing at me all this time.”  She pressed her wet face into his chest and sobbed.  In between the gasps she squeezed out, “I don’t know if I can go outside the door ever again.”

The next day he put out some feelers.  Football was a small world and Pete still had friends who valued his classic approach.  There was a job going as assistant coach in Glasgow.  The club there was going through a bit of turmoil but it truly was too big to fail.  In many ways it was a promotion.  They wouldn’t stand in his way here.  The captain was taking his badges and Pete knew he’d been angling for the position of player/manager before he arrived.  They’d save money.

Janet had been good as gold about the move, even offered Lottie her car as a sweetener.  She’d have to move colleges but she was like him, happy in the company of sports people.  There’d be new teams to join, she’d be fine.  And Janet could put all that silly business behind her.  Sometimes when you were on a losing streak a change of direction seems like a good idea.  But it doesn’t last.  The trick was to keep the faith.  Continue with the tried and tested methods.  In the long run, people would see you were right.

Liars League HK

In Accepted for publication on January 24, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Jervis Street

by

Steve Dodd

It was the scent of lilies in a florist’s window that brought it all flooding back.  Not much anyone can do to stop such a primal trigger.

I remembered how I’d almost slept with Heather in the first year.  We were on the same course at uni’ and she quickly got a reputation when she gave every boy on her floor of the halls of residence crabs.  She may not have looked like much, being short and squat with a broad face and her dark hair cut with an unfortunate fringe, but in the parlance of the day, Heather was obviously a goer.  I hung around when everyone else treated her like a leper because I figured she’d soon get treatment for the infestation, then I’d be first in line.

When Heather did ask me around for dinner, we were second years and she’d moved into a house with Suzie and Lezzer.

Suzie and Lezzer were a couple of freaks.  Suzie wilfully so.  A pretty girl from money, she wore charity-chic clothes over tight black body stockings and laughed too loudly at nothing in particular.

Lezzer was just the inevitable nickname the class gave Leslie Wong.  A tall, handsome boy with a pony tail and a motor bike, given to long, sulky silences and wearing women’s clothes.

To begin with it was nothing obvious.  A silk scarf that could have passed for cool with his leather jacket.  Blouses that made him look like a romantic poet and too-tight knitwear that showed off his muscles.  The same charity shop collections that Suzie was so fond of.  Once they started swapping outfits it all became a bit tragic, and then he started wearing make-up.

Still, they never bothered me, and Heather clearly remembered the sympathetic coffees I’d bought her after her little spot of difficulty.  So I eagerly accepted a dinner invitation to their little place on Jervis Street, miles from campus in a dock-side neighbourhood.  All gone now of course.  Replaced by skyscrapers and fancy seafront restaurants.

Back then, choosing to live on Jervis Street was a perverse decision, bordering on the masochistic.  One entirely consistent with the rumours of their house-warming party.  When Lezzer was strapped naked to a dining table and Suzie encouraged the guests to drop hot wax on him, whilst Heather waited behind a homemade glory-hole made from a blanket pinned up in the kitchen.

I didn’t know anyone who’d actually been to this orgy.  Stories of its lewdness varied depending on who you asked.  It seemed someone always knew someone else who’d dropped by but left before it became too crazy.  And since the three of them hardly came to classes anymore, who was there to contradict a good story?

It took two buses and most of the afternoon to get there.  The crowded terraces all looked the same.  I missed their door and was relieved when Suzie called out.  She was dressed in her standard black leotard, this time with a garish silk kimono draped over it, but she seemed genuinely happy to see me.

“I saw you walk past,” she said as she ushered me inside.  “It’s easy to miss this place.  That’s one of the reasons we chose it.”

The doorway opened straight into a small room, neatly ordered around a second hand dining table with artfully unmatched chairs and calligraphy scrolls on the walls.

“Ah, don’t worry about the table,” she said.  “We only sacrifice virgins when there’s a full moon.”

Then she laughed her shrill laugh, and I realised, close-up, she was really just a nice, nervous person with regrettable dress sense.  “Sorry I’m late,” I said.  “Took me longer than I thought.  Here I brought these.”

“Oh, lilies, how lovely.  Their smell is divine.  Heather,” she shouted gaily, “Your friend’s arrived.”

Heather entered the room with a glass of wine in each hand and handed one to me.  “Welcome Jon, she said and lent forward to kiss me on the cheek.  “Leslie will be along shortly, he’s just fussing over dinner.”

“Oh, I hope it’s not turning into a drama in there,” said Suzie.  “He’s been cutting and dicing all day and he gets so temperamental when he’s creating.”  She smiled at Heather, and went to help in the kitchen.

“It was nice of you to ask me,” I said.

“I’d been meaning to for ages,” said Heather.  You’re one of the few at college we’ve got any time for.  The others are so,” she wrinkled her snub nose, “Judgemental.  Cheers.”

We clinked glasses and made some steady eye contact.  I was beginning to be very glad I’d made the effort, then Suzie re-entered the room clapping her hands.  “Dinner is served.”

Behind her came the tall, broad shouldered figure of Lezzer carrying a tray heavy with steaming bowls.  For once, he was dressed half-way normally.  Jeans, a Blondie T-shirt, just some garish plastic beads around his neck and a hint of eye liner.

The dinner passed pleasantly enough.  Actually, it was rather good.  Lezzer proving himself to be an excellent cook and Suzie keeping up the conversation whenever it looked like faltering.  I sneaked Heather the occasional meaningful glance, but she remained demure so I decided to play it cool.

When dinner was finished, Suzie and Heather cleared away and I steadied myself for some one-to-one with Lezzer, but he didn’t hang about.  Through the thin curtains I could tell it was quite dark outside, there being no street lights to speak of on Jervis Street, and without the two girls flanking him he had become quite agitated.

“Scuse me,” he said and literally ran up the narrow stair case that divided the front room from the tiny kitchen behind.

At the sound of his feet on the stairs, Suzie and Heather rushed in, shouting in unison, “You are not to go out again.  You promised.  We won’t let you.”

Within moments, he appeared at the foot of the stairs, tottering on stilettos, wearing a floral dress and a ridiculous blonde wig.  “I must,” he cried, and forced his way past the two women out into the night.

I could hear him running off, while the others stood huddled together in the doorway.  Suzie started to cry and Heather looked at me, desperation in her eyes.  “Could you go after him?  He’s done this before and got horribly beaten up.  The men ‘round here, once they’ve been drinking…”

I stood up and went out.  What choice did I have if I wanted Heather?  Maybe I could find him quickly and drag him back.  But as I walked slowly in the direction of his footsteps, thoughts for my own safety took over.

In the near distance I could hear drunken voices.  Laughter and something else, something uglier.  I turned and fled.

It took me fifteen minutes to find a taxi and go home.  I had a couple of days off sick.  When I went back, Suzie and Heather had dropped out of college, I never saw them again.  Now when I smell lilies I’m in the darkness of Jervis Street once more.  Hearing screams echoing in the shadows and the sound of my own feet, running away.