A Short Operation
Green became tawny. Between tall spindle trees smoke rose from a cottage chimney. It hung in the air and then spilled to one side.
As Ern and Kast drew closer they heard sweet violin tones, muffled by thick limestone walls. The door was open – they knocked and Ern shoved his head inside. Both were grabbed, shaken and invited to dance by a frenzied crone, drenched with a bitter perfume. Mascara cascaded down her wrinkled cheeks. Her breath smelt strongly of onions.
The face of the violinist caused them to leap back towards the door. It resembled a metal flower – well-rusted and extremely scrappy – fit only for the junkyard.
They both ran for it, of course. Afterwards Kast said to Ern “You know, I liked very much that violin-playing.” Ern agreed that it had been astoundingly skillful. They returned to their small boat and sailed back across the channel to their homeport.
At work, wearing new overalls he spilled a plastic cup of hot chocolate over his chest. His father emerged from behind a forklift truck. His eyes were pointed heavenwards.
“Commend my son unto thee. See he is like a whisky bottle run dry – the last drop of spirit lies unevaporated around the concave bottom. His mother passed away many years ago, since when I have used a fish in order to be faithful to her. Aye, a fish, like fisherfolk do on long sea-voyages.”
His dad was acting like a raving widower. He could not bear to see him thus transformed and went for him with a box of nails, assorted into handy sizes.
His father, with a cut eye and forehead lurched back out of what was now a chapel. A rather lively fugue was being performed on the organ. He followed the injured man out into a sunlit courtyard. Out in the open air, church bells pealed deafeningly. They were quickly surrounded by ostriches with long inquisitive beaks and necks.
He retreated to the chapel where he watched through the peephole whilst the ostriches, somewhat excited by the smell of fresh blood, perpetrated hideous disfigurements on his father’s whole body. The old chap still clung on though and, when he could, delivered stubborn kicks that winded several of the birds.
Ern was interrupted by a tug of his sleeve. “Could you sit down during the sermon, please” asked a rather presumptuous lay-worker. He sat in a central pew.
“Hells’ teeth, friends, are long, like fritters, coated in tartaric acid with the taste of rancid margarine exhumed from a dead man’s gut. Eventual Justice Will Prevail. I can’t express this too often. Some of you here today will be clawed by bird-men till you are but bleeding wrecks – raw carcasses yet still alive.”
At this point in the sermon Ern blushed, thinking of his poor old dad at the mercy of those unusually savage ostriches. Defying the lay-worker’s despising glare he hastened to the door and looked out to see his father struggling to get in, a mass of blood and feathers. Although one could not make out much of his face he seemed to cast a reproachful glance at his son through the small glass square. Ern repented. He opened the door. The lay-worker loomed up behind, slobbering with rage. Ern’s dad, now a vicious fighter, jumped on this rather pompous little individual.
At first Ern was quite amused to see this little runt take a beating, but then he noticed the scissors in his father’s hands.
“How the devil did he get those” he thought.
It was already too late – the sharp little blades had gone straight through the shirt that had been white, but was now reddening, and split the lay-worker’s abdomen open.
“You fool!” shouted the angered official.
No-one paid much attention, for meanwhile the ostriches had invaded what was now a cathedral. Some could fly and defecated on the choir and congregation from above. It grieved Ern’s heart to see such desecration.
La Flèche Sympathique
Eventually Kast and Ern never returned to their home-town.
Edgar felt lost without them. He mooned around the quayside where he had so frequently welcomed them in past years. One afternoon he sat on a backless metal bench facing a light dredger of dowdy appearance. To his left, by a rusting capstan, an unkempt mongrel was spewing up a dark red (almost russet) mixture that reminded him of something he had once seen on the floor of a Parisian public convenience.
This only added further to his irritation. Back home, his landlady would invite him to a game of chess, but both she and the game itself he found boring – he preferred to watch the dog.
“At least out here some adventure might befall me” he thought.
His wish was granted. Perhaps Ern or Kast had something to do with it, but after all, who cares – an adventure’s not to be scoffed at.
Later that evening he had returned to his apartment and was intently studying a cup of tea, when someone climbed in through his living-room window – open as it always was at this time of the year. A smartly-casual clerical type with a bulbous nose and a complete lack of eyebrows walked briskly across the room towards Edgar, seized him by the wrist and led him back to the window.
Most people would have resisted, but Edgar’s present lethargy and ennui induced him to succumb. One must admit, however, that he did begin to have serious misgivings when he found himself on a narrow ledge some thirty feet above the concrete yard at the back of the house. But there was no need to worry – they jumped and both started flying through the air.
“How peculiar” mused Edgar. It was certainly an unexpected twist to the day. They followed the widening channel and then reached the sea. As Edgar watched the beach and cliffs fade into the distance his thoughts turned to Ern and Kast – lost friends drifting in a void. Probably eating hamburgers. He, too, was hungry and rather cold by this time. He looked towards his companion for some sort of explanation, but the clerical character would not look at him. In fact, he strained his neck away, searching in the distance.
Gulls glided below complaining to the wind of the hardness of their life. Or so it seemed to Edgar. Actually he felt like complaining himself. I mean, an adventure is something, that’s true, but there must be limits, after all.
Eventually they reached another coastline. Highlands rose steeply from sea-level. A few miles inland they reached a pass between two craggy mountains. A medium-sized office block reared up on a grassy plateau. The two aviators came close to the building, hovered down and entered through a window just like his at home.
The room was a rather dreary office. At last his abductor spoke,
“You have been chosen as one of the few here in Arsanda – the few given the chance to marry the King’s daughter and rule at her side when he dies. This is a magical kingdom and the perks and benefits are unbelievable – I cannot begin to explain them to an uninitiate like you. Yours could be a life of luxury. But in order to win the Princess you must work here for forty years. She is but two years old, the King is twenty-four and has a good many years left. You must in the meantime prove yourself worthy of the Princess’s favours. You or one of the fifty like you – it matters not which.”
In The Golf Club
(The golf club bar. It is dingy and dimly-lit. The 4th Trombonist is acting as barman. Pious and unrelenting he pours lager over the heads of the customers. Whilst the following exchange is advancing, the customers throng, jostle and joke incessantly. Gordon and Firtree are sat on stools some ten feet from the bar. Each has his drink. The juke-box plays Amarillo Zippodder’s “Crazed ‘Bout You” as many times as necessary.)
Gordon: Nice whisky.
Firtree: You think so? Not a mixture?
Gordon: No, not on my nelly.
Firtree: Your nelly?
Gordon: That’s what I said.
Gordon: Been playing?
Firtree: Praying, actually.
Firtree: No. Praying. To Jesus.
Gordon: I say, really?
Firtree: Well, no, just my little joke.
Gordon: You’ll never believe what happened to me on the fourteenth. I was trouncing old Thompson, the building chappie, by a clear seven points when we were interrupted by a balloon race. One of the blighters landed on the fairway.
Firtree: Gawd, did you chase them?
Gordon: Tried to, but they turned on us with empty propane canisters. Smashed up our clubs, too. Spoiled the game completely. You know – it’s impossible to go on when you’ve been put off your stroke like that.
(A bunch of drunken young men lurch backwards knocking Gordon and Firtree off their stools.)
Gordon (still on the floor): Have care, you swine.
Firtree (rising painfully): Oh my ribs – something’s smashed.
Gordon: See what you’ve done, you bastards, my friend’s haemophiliac.
1st drunken youth: We don’t care if he’s made of delicate china or fine cut glass.
2nd drunken youth: Or built like Humpty-Dumpty. Eggshell surface – a bag of wind inside.
(The lights fade. A whistle pierces the stillness. A single beam of light returns – directed on a solitary drunk.)
Solitary Drunk (thinks): We burnt his feet, by the side of the fishpond. The wind blew backwards, rushing repeatedly through two silver tree-trunks. A renegade ice-cream van careered through the undergrowth, an ominous green light within. He staggered up, his feet peeling and blistered, and crawled off to look for his mother, on her way home from the supermarket. But she had run off with her new boyfriend – Cyclops. They had taken a taxi to the station and were already arguing.
“Do you always wear blue socks with brown shoes?”
Cyclops began to stammer an excuse, but kept silent. They passed by a huge red-brick factory which caused the very air to stink of rotting carrots discovered under one’s mattress on a winter’s night.
Then, the station. The taxi pulled up, but neither mother nor boyfriend showed any sign of stirring.
“I’m bored” said Maria (the mother, that is).
“I’m not going to cringe before you any longer, you toadthug.”
“What a cheek! You frisky cad!”
“Don’t ever ask me again. Come on, let’s get the train. Pay this citizen.”
“Don’t talk to me like that. My father was a foreman, my mother was a nurse, and I was made to swear, I’d never end up worse.”
An Only Child
Sebrana rose – she’d had enough. The kettle was left to boil as she slipped through the Judas trees, her eyelids pinned to her cheeks.
Night it was and fine, bright one too. The wind sounded like rustic pipes, blown by a dolt.
She walked head-down across the clodded meadow, pretending to be with Gordon, her imaginary lover, who whistled a tuneful waltz in her ear. They were in the desert – on a sand dune – it was jolly.
Back in the forest, as tall as trees, Sebrana sobbed on Gordon’s shoulders. Now they had grown even larger and used mountains as armchairs in their cosy apartment.
In truth she was alone. Even the little animals seemed to avoid her. If she had carried a knife in her bag she could have stuck it in her heart. Kept it there as a souvenir. Of Gordon, vanished, running into the night, lost in the forest.
Gordon eventually reached the house and entered by the conservatory. Once inside he ran upstairs into the bathroom and removed his sore eye. In the next room he could hear a hungry baby wailing for attention.
He slipped his plastic clammy fingers over the door-handle, pushed the door open and took a step inside.
One day, in the Caucasus Mountains, a goatherd had a dream :
He was in a red polystyrene beaker in a turgid canal – floating whichever way the wind blew. From this vantage-point he saw the moon, with a face, bend down and kiss a mad dog. Marching past, a military band were playing a foxtrot, but stopped and drew swords. The dog was slain. He saw tears on the eyes of the moon-face.
Back in the bottom of the beaker he found a handful of salted peanuts – and, shortly afterwards, woke up.
Back in the house, Gordon side-stepped into the corridor. The lights began to flicker incessantly in the umbrage, causing his thoughts to flash back to the freak meteorite storm that had occurred in his bedroom when he was nine years old. The next day he had found a smooth, rounded pebble in a clear mountain stream. His mind and indeed his life was full of such irrelevancies.
Suddenly he cried, “Yike!” as an enormous jellyfish, crimson with purple spots, plopped off the glass roof onto his neck. As it slipped down his shirt he sat on the foam carpet, sobbing.
Another door opened. Gadfly, the boy jockey, appeared with a handful of radishes.
“What’s up?” he queried.
“I need your help, I’ve been the victim of a vile ambush” said Gordon, opening his shirt-front to let the jellyfish slop out over his lap onto the foam. It scurried down the passageway towards the stairs.
Gadfly sniggered. “That’s Tony. He loves his little joke”
“Tee hee” thought Gordon.