So, did it make you laugh?
Obivously, because you're reading this backwards, as it were, I must point out that I am talking about the story that is displayed below this post.
That means, if you haven't read it yet, this will be meaningless. So, read it and come back.
Rest assured it doesn't contain any fire-related plot and it isn't quite as dark as the others.
You know the score by now: read, think, comment...
Friday, November 26, 2004
So, did it make you laugh?
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please can you take your seats for tonight’s performance. The show will begin in two minutes and latecomers may be refused entry to the programme.”
2 minutes and 10 seconds later
“…and he said to me. Oh, hang on. Some stragglers decide to stumble into my show, late. No, no, come on and take those seats – I was disappointed that it wasn’t a full house tonight as it was; the rest of these people can thank you later for gaining them more of my time for their hard-earned dough. Now, where was I?”
1 hour, 15 minutes and 10 seconds later
“That was fuckin’ great Larry, fuckin’ great. How’d’ya do it, eh? You’re funny as, well, funny as fuck.”
“Yeah, yeah, Slim, you’ve always thought I was. It’s the rest of ‘em, don’t you see: do they think the same way as you?”
“Course they do!”
And so, it all began on that fateful night in January. I remember staring into the mirror for what seemed like days, turning that question over-and-over in my mind: did people find me funny, or was it simply a case of overly potent wine? Pun intended.
Y’see what I mean? I’ve started pointing my jokes out to people, willing them to laugh, to chuckle, to show some degree of fucking mirth. Even when they’re ROTL, as they say nowadays – I’m down with the kids, let me tell ya – I still find myself questioning the legitimacy of their laughter.
It’s been like that for over three months now.
It’s not that I’m scared to get up on stage, that I get some kinda fright going on or summink; I ain’t getting old in that respect, too old for the circuit, like. Nah, not me. I’m an old hand at tickling ribs – and we ain’t just talkin’ at the Comedy Club here. Hehe. What? Surely, I don’t need to spell that one out for ya, do I?
Give me fuckin’ strength.
Anyways, I’m, like, turning these new ideas over in my head, thinking them through and making humour out of the spiralling dust of everyday living. That was just the other day, too. Well, the thing is right, it’s like this: I had come up with such a killer joke that I started to laugh on the tube – that’s the underground for you philistines that live ‘in the [fucking] country’. (Yeah, I’m educated, I can write proper.)
Look ‘ere, let me tell the fuckin’ story; stop interrupting, for fuck’s sake. You’re a hard audience to please, a real boost to the old confidence, a shot-in-the-arm-type of people. Yeah, it’s a collective noun. Ain’t nuffin funny ‘bout it.
Whatever, let’s move on.
As I was saying, etc, etc, there I found myself, on the tube, like, and I was laughing at my own joke, which I’d literally just told myself in my own head.
Anyways, people began, like, staring at me real closely and all.
I’d made the mistake of smoking the biggest fuckin’ doobie before I got on – some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to take police sniffer dogs on the transport system – and it made me a little bit paranoid, to say the least.
I decided I had to get off – I was compelled by the growing paranoia that people knew that I was stoned. I’d begun to sweat like the proverbial pig. It seemed to take so long to get to the next stop. Even though in two more minutes I could alight at my normal station, as soon as the tube train came to a halt I barrelled from the train, knocking fellow passengers to the side like ninepins. Some witty bastard shouted ‘Strike!’ as I exited, but I didn’t feel up to my usual, venom-spitting self, so I carried on headlong through the crowds.
I needed a Mars Bar.
The sweat was pouring off me and my eyes were wild with fright – albeit with red rims. I must’ve looked a right sight as I corralled through the shiny-tiled corridors. My breathing quickened and I felt the bile of panic rise into my dry throat. The escalator loomed into view and I took the left lane – for those idiots that assume that running up a ‘moving’ staircase will increase their lifespan. From this experience, I can tell you: it won’t.
In an attempt to gain my quarry – the Mars Bar, keep up people – to sate my hunger for sugar, I made the fatal error of taking the stairs two at a time. Big mistake.
Anyone out there that’s ever been stoned, or even slightly pissed, will recognise the flaw in my plan. My brain, starved of the necessary fuel, could not compute the distance between my feet and each (moving) metal step. Consequently, it wasn’t long before I completely misjudged my ascent, pitching myself forward at an alarming angle. Stupidly, I put out my arm to prevent any damage on impact.
Look, I’ve never been skiing. I didn’t know that putting out my arm was stupid, that these joints were my body’s weakest links – not to mention the other joints that contributed to my downfall.
There was an almighty crack, which echoed through the cavernous tube network. I fell flat on my face, a cry erupting from my mouth as my chin met a step with a sickening crunch.
People around me laughed. I still had the ability then. I tried a smile; all I managed was to black out completely. I blame the pain.
Later on, I awoke covered in yellowing bed sheets and realised I was receiving NHS treatment. While I suspect someone had been through my pockets looking for a mobile phone, cash and credit cards – vultures, all of them – I bet they left my BUPA card alone and failed in their ‘moral’ duty to inform my new carers, the London Ambulance Service. My head was fuzzy; I later found this was due to the painkillers I had been given. I had a plaster cast around my arm and a cut on my chin that was stitched.
On the plus side, there was a Mars Bar on my bedside table.
As I absently picked at a piece of scab adhered to the blanket that covered me – it wasn’t my scab, it’s just that something innate in me makes scab-picking a fundamental task that I am happy to carry out on myself and others – I waited for someone in authority to appear…
After three days of marinating in my own sweat, I checked out. Sorry, it’s not a hotel: I went and discharged myself.
While I picked up bag, a volley of shouts came from down the corridor. A group of white-coated personnel spilled into the room, brushing me aside. I heard one of them whisper, “Thank God he’s finally giving up a bed for someone who actually deserves it,” but I couldn’t think of anything acerbic enough to throw back. I had a gig to get to and I couldn’t afford to miss it, or another mortgage payment.
Well, we’ve gone full circle now, we’re back at square one. The good news is that I now have a date for the cast to be removed. It’s tomorrow.
Five hours later, I’m back on stage and it’s my final chance to be funny again, to prove I ain’t lost the ability to make the punters laugh.
So, I’ve still got some time to work on my new material. Except… well, except I can’t think of anything new. Not a position I’ve ever found myself in; more to the point, it’s a position I don’t know how I got into in the first place. I’ll have to try and get some answers tomorrow, at the doc’s place. Kill two birds with one stone and all that. I might also find out what I broke in terms of bones, too, cos I still don’t know.
Check the fridge: two bottles of wine and five cans of beer. Should be enough. And, it might lead to a funny anecdote for tomorrow’s show. Maybe.
Well, here’s something well funny. Yeah, hilarious. There’s a bloke in Harley Street, looking for number 43. He can see 42, 44 and all the others, but no 43. He’s been walking round for ages staring at the buildings, a map in his hands. He’s alternating between the two numbers like he’s watching a personal tennis match going on that no one else can see. And then, after being soaked to the skin in the torrential rain…
I got to be funny again, raised a laugh in the crowd; got a standing ovation and an encore. It all came back as soon as the cast was removed. I couldn’t work it out, but then the doctor said to me: the bone you broke in your arm was the Humerus, also known as the funny bone…
Posted by sime white at 11:49 am
Well, it seems that the two stories I have blogged so far contain content that points to me being a pyromaniac!
Can I just state, for the record, that I am not sponsored by Swan Vestas or Cooks' Matches or any other flammable material manufacturer. However, if any of those companies out there want to send me some money to write more stories about setting things alight, well, I can be swayed.
I'll post something else that is not so fire-orientated in its plot.
Posted by sime white at 11:44 am
Monday, November 22, 2004
The story below (yes, you might have noticed that I always post the story first, it's the way of the blog) is from a creative prompt provided to me by a friend for a creative writing group I used to belong to. It's recent, though.
The prompt was: Take the 9th CD in your rack and write something about the 4th song on it.
Mine was The Star Spangles and the track was "I don't want to be crazy anymore"
So, there you have it. Watch this space, more to come.
Posted by sime white at 9:55 am
I don’t want to be crazy anymore than you would. Those were her last words to me, her back to the sun so that I had to blink at the haze surrounding her body. She looked ethereal, as if she were an angel sent to warn me. I didn’t cry, not a sob. Her scowling face, eyes screwed tight in bitterness and her arms crossed in defence; those are the images that will stay with me for the rest of my days, how ever many I might have left.
She used to sit against the radiator for hours, complaining of the cold even in the height of summer when everyone else would be collapsing on the London Underground, sweat pouring from them – a personal monsoon season. Not even a motherfucker of a Simoom would make Carole warm. Again, those are her words.
She was diagnosed back in the late 80s, a time when people were grateful for what they could get. The country was in the grip of economic crisis; people were losing their homes on a daily basis. Carole used to sit in front of the television, laughing at these poor people, those who had stretched themselves with the mortgage, as they were forced onto the streets by the bailiffs, struggling to carry the possessions that they had left or what could be sold to make ends meet. She told the doctor she had thought it was a new comedy sitcom, one that she happened to find hilarious. They did the necessary tests, again and again – to make sure, that’s what the consultant said – and then they began dispensing the drugs.
The mood swings weren’t the worst of it. I used to hate the silence that she could drop as if it were an old toy no longer of any use. Days would pass by without a word issuing from her lips. Even if you tried to make her cry out, she would refuse to utter even a grunt. I hid anything sharp during those episodes. It didn’t stop me loving her: she was still my “little girl”.
Jack used to joke that we should station an ambulance at the end of the drive during the teen years. I’d blink back tears and wonder how he could say such nasty things about something he had helped to create, but I know now that he was just using it as a way of coping. Course, he can’t joke anymore, not now.
Two weeks later I discovered her stash of pills, those she had spat out over the years. The kind man that came to fix the heating poured them out of our tired looking boiler pipe. He told me that she must have popped them into the heating system via the tank in the loft. I daren’t go up there, just in case she left me some surprises. The man from the plumbing company was gung-ho to get up there until I told him about Carole. He drank his tea so quickly he burned his mouth and tongue. Another man had to come back the next day and replace the pipes. His name was Kevin. He didn’t say a word and was in-and-out of the house within the hour. I’d never known a workman refuse a drink before. Carole had that effect on people, even if they had never met her.
As I was lighting the candles, closing all the windows, I remembered all these things. I knew Carole was somewhere in the house, I had heard her creep back in through her bedroom window in the early hours of the morning. I took my time, made little noise. I looked in at her bedroom, but it was empty. I locked the window and closed the door behind me as I retreated to the kitchen on tiptoes.
I drew the match across the box, its loud scratching a warning sign to anything within listening distance. I heard a cry from above my head, somewhere in the upper reaches of the house. All the matches had been removed from the house a long time ago; this was the first box to return to this abode in many years. She must have heard it, the distinctive scrape of the match head along the side of the box, the satisfying hiss as it lights the wooden stick. She may have heard the whoosh as the flames took off around the house, igniting the fuel I had liberally sprayed in every room. She may have caught a whiff of smoke on her throat, a small cough emitting as she went to clamber down the loft stairs. Did she scream when she realised they didn’t exist anymore, that someone had removed the rungs? Did she jump down the twenty feet to the bottom of the stairs, I wonder?
They never found her body in the ashes that remained, they told me that in court. The judge said I gave no hint of remorse, that he believed it had not been because of diminished responsibilities, that I had purposely arranged the house so as to trap an “innocent human being” while I “committed arson”. I protested that she was as guilty as I was, that there were no innocent people in my story. He silenced me with a wave of his hand and a two-year prison sentence. It was suspended on appeal, pending psychiatric reports. My doctor and I both see the irony in my visits, but he cannot help me. I know I have to face this on my own. I just don’t want to be crazy anymore.
Posted by sime white at 9:54 am
Friday, November 19, 2004
I received an email this morning from a good friend, someone I used to be in a creative writing group with. Online, of course; it would be too much to see their faces as they read my work.
It reminded me that I need to start placing more stories up, set up a sort of database of work, keep the words flowing and let people judge not just my new work but also my older work, too.
In this way, you - the readers out there, whenever you materialise - will be able to see if I have bettered my writing. And, you can leave a comment to let me know.
Jury service awaits a week Monday, so I shall post every day until then.
That should provide enough reading material for everyone until I get time to post up some more.
Posted by sime white at 2:25 pm
Sunday, November 14, 2004
I was sitting at home trying to write something different, in a different style, to other work I had done.
I thought about an exercise that could be used to focus my writing. I came up with the following:
Every single paragraph is to be exactly 100 words long
The first letter of the first word will follow the alphabet, beginning at 'a'.
Below is the piece that came out of it.
Posted by sime white at 9:35 pm
Arnold was approaching the dreaded age of 40 when it happened. He had to admit that it hadn’t come out of the blue, but it still hit him like a train, as it would anyone finding out that your wife of 23 years was leaving you for another woman. A man, well Arnold could handle that, but this new twist took him completely by surprise. She said that, finally, she was being satisfied in bed. That was like a knife to Arnold’s heart. She’d said this to him as she laboured with the suitcases, the front door slamming behind her.
Beatrice has done it. She breathed out in relief at finally making a decision on her own. She stood on the porch and took in the view of the garden. She wouldn’t be back, that much she knew. The other thing was she hadn’t regretted the lie that she had told Arnold, her husband. Soon to be her late husband if only in word. As far as she was concerned, her husband was dead. Some might think that this was harsh, but to Beatrice it was the only way it made it all bearable. The only way she could leave.
Considering what had happened to him, it was no surprise that Arnold couldn’t stand at the door once it had slammed shut. He turned his back on the glass, missing the opportunity to make amends for whatever it was he was supposed to have done. Instead of pleading on his knees, Arnold simply turned around and walked into the kitchen. He took a cup and made himself a strong coffee. Two sugars and plenty of creamy milk was how he preferred it. As he stirred his cup, he realised that he was stuck in his ways. Could he ever change?
Dancing on the spot was something that sprung to Beatrice’s mind as she stood outside the door. Instead, she moved away at a brisk pace, not really knowing where she was going, but not wanting to attract the attention of the group of young people who had congregated in front of the local shop. Head down, her eyes succumbing to the tears that had dammed up against her eyelids, she thought about what Arnold would tell people, how he would make a story of her having left. Would he lie to family and friends, or would he tell the truth?
Everyone would know that she had walked away from the marriage, but Arnold wracked his brains for a plausible excuse he could tell the kids. They were still young enough to be protected, but old enough to make their own decision about their mother and how she had treated them, how she hadn’t bothered to say goodbye. Tessa and Charlotte would have to live with the knowledge that their mother had left while they were still at school. In fact, she had left just after they had and Arnold had all day to consider this timing. What did it mean?
Further along the road, Beatrice stopped again, trying to get a purchase on the suitcases that were digging grooves into her hands. She had tried to drag them across the cold, damp pavement, but that had aggravated her bad back and she had taken to carrying them again. Why hadn’t she called a taxi, she wondered. People offered to help her, but she shunned all contact with other people. They seemed to sense her emotions and didn’t offer twice. Beatrice thought she might have marriage-breaker written on her forehead. Perhaps word had already got out and they were judging her.
Getting up from the chair, Arnold had taken his cup to the sink. Instead of rinsing it through warm water as he might normally have done, Arnold chose this moment to change the habit of a lifetime; well half his lifetime, he supposed. He wanted to live longer than 40. After all, he had the kids to consider more than ever now. He didn’t want to let them down in the same way their mother had. Suddenly, the anger caught him like a forest fire, flaring up in his chest. Arnold threw the cup to the floor. It didn’t break.
Having lugged her suitcases over three miles, Beatrice was worn out. She was feeling hungry and all she could think about was the food stacked on the shelves in her kitchen cupboards. Well, it wasn’t her kitchen anymore, she had to concede that, but she sat in the warming spring sun contemplating her new one. The image faded as Beatrice realised that she was not only a long way from home, she had no home and was further away from getting a new one the longer she stood still. She had an appointment to keep; she had to get going.
Initially, the thought of taking his own life had passed across the mind of Arnold, but he had dismissed it almost instantly. What the world didn’t need was another man committing suicide over a woman. Having changed his routine by throwing (but failing to break) the coffee cup, Arnold felt empowered to do more. He was now in overalls, paint can in hand. He whistled through his teeth as he applied a new colour on the walls. This would change things more than Beatrice leaving ever could, he thought. He wasn’t sure he believed his own thoughts. He kept painting.
Just as Beatrice was giving up hope of getting into town with her load, a bus rounded the corner. Glancing up, Beatrice saw she was near a stop and so she held out her hand, requesting the bus to pull over. It carried on past her and pulled in at the stop. Everyone on the bus turned around and watched her as she pulled her suitcases along the pavement, hurrying towards the open doors. Once she was on the bus and safely in her seat the chatter began again, but no one spoke to Beatrice. They all ignored her, completely.
Keeping himself steady, with a second cup of coffee in his hand, Arnold stood back to admire his handiwork. He smiled to himself, pleased that he had eradicated one of the many memories. He glanced at his watch – there was still time to do more. Grabbing the car keys from his pocket, he rushed to the car. His urge to get to the DIY store was so great that Arnold almost forgot to write a note, just in case the kids came home early. He began the note with Dear Beatrice. He scrawled over it and wrote Dear Kids, instead.
Laughter interrupted Beatrice’s thoughts and she realised that there was a conductor asking her for her pass or the ticket. Beatrice didn’t know how London buses worked. The conductor said she would have to pay a fine. That was what had made the girls opposite laugh. Beatrice said, Oh, but the conductor simply wrote out a form and asked her for five pounds. The girls laughed again as she paid, counting out the coins into the inspector’s hand, one-by-one. It was only when she got into town that she found her original ticket. But, by then it was too late.
Mothers walked across the pedestrian crossing as Arnold waited in his car. The DIY shop was in sight and he revved the car a little, a sign of his impatience with the traffic lights. Soon he was off driving again and pulling into the small car park that served the shop. He knew what he wanted and was in and out of shop within minutes. He looked up as he approached his car and saw clouds gathering to the west. He narrowly missed stepping into a half-eaten and discarded egg and cress sandwich, but he didn’t notice his good fortune.
Noise came at Beatrice from all sides. The many different accents and cultures blurred as she continued on her journey. She was heading towards a small bed and breakfast where she was going to drop off her cases. Once she had freed herself from the baggage she would be able to get over to the school and meet the girls. She wanted to be the first person they saw. Still no one came to her aid. The people flowed around her as if they were water meeting a static rock. It took her fifteen minutes to reach the hotel door.
Once Arnold had arrived home he had a quick bite to eat (a pasta salad with tuna and peppers) and another drink of coffee. He still hadn’t washed the cup and it now had paint splatters all around the handle. By his feet was a large toolbox. The plastic bags from the DIY store stood all around. Arnold was going to be busy this afternoon, painting and fixing and changing. Realising that the task in front of him was a huge one, Arnold swigged back his drink and set about beginning the transformation. First task was altering the front door.
Phoning hadn’t been in Beatrice’s original plan; she hadn’t thought beyond saying the words: I’m leaving you. After that she had just flung spiteful vitriol at Arnold, much of it she hadn’t meant. At first she thought that she might just ring to make sure he was okay and alive, that he would be able to continue without her there. When he picked it up in a cheery manner she had held her breath for so long he asked if anyone was there. She said her piece quickly; his acceptance of her return was something she hadn’t expected to ask.
Questioning her motives, that was natural. It was these thoughts plaguing Arnold as he moved the brush back and forth. Well, it had been over four hours and Beatrice had never been gone that long before. He had agreed to pick up the girls from school, it was the least he could do. Yes, he was absolutely fine, he had told her, but busy. He refused to give more details. She could pick her suitcases up later; the room was already paid for. Now, all he had to do was finish up so he could get over to the school.
Retching over the toilet, Beatrice realised that she hadn’t taken food at all. She was hungry and thirsty. Abandoning her bags she rushed down the stairs and out into the street, searching left and right for a café or sandwich shop. Her mind was asunder and in her panic she almost missed the bright sign across the road offering fresh rolls. The traffic was backed up along the road as a woman pushed a child in a pram over the zebra crossing. Beatrice stepped out between the cars and headed towards the café. Then, she would take a taxi home.
Several hours after he had started, Arnold had painted every wall downstairs and he stood in the hallway in his paint-splattered overalls, the floor littered with empty pots. There was still a brush in his hand and it was dripping paint. Arnold didn’t spot this happening, but he had placed sheets on the floor to protect it. Arnold liked forward planning. He knew it would take some time to clean up so he gathered up everything and rammed it into the dustbin. Out of sight, out of mind. This was unlike him, but Arnold was feeling better for changing things.
The walk back had taken longer than Beatrice had first expected. This was because she had passed by the school and picked up the girls. For some reason, she didn’t trust Arnold to remember, he hadn’t seemed right on the phone. She had to admit that this probably had something to do with her actions. The girls dawdled behind Beatrice, asking incessantly: where’s Dad? She always gave the same answer, but even she was beginning to doubt her words: He’s at home. She didn’t know what she might do if he wasn’t. The girls couldn’t see her panic. Could they?
Undisturbed by the usual clamour in the house, Arnold was free to patter about in his socks. He carried a can in his hand and was walking around the house in a pattern that was not discernable, even to Arnold himself. However, he walked with a purpose – something he couldn’t remember having done so for many years. Once back in the lounge, Arnold dropped the can to the floor and began systematically breaking the furniture into small pieces, placing them on the floor in front of him in a haphazard pile. As he worked, Arnold hummed just under his breath.
Very close to the house, Mr Banjhiani from the local shop (the one just on the corner of the street) stopped Beatrice. Even though she hadn’t been inside the shop for months – and who could blame her at the prices he charged – Mr Banjhiani appeared to be up on his knowledge of the family. He spoke to the girls in turn, by name, and asked after Arnold. Beatrice, while flustered, stood her ground and smiled sweetly at the shopkeeper. Thanks for your concern; we are all well, she said, looking down. The shrewd Mr Banjhiani knew that she was lying.
While Beatrice was, unbeknownst to Arnold, being kept from returning home by Mr Banjhiani, a strange silence had settled on the house. Arnold was sitting in the front room, carefully tearing photographs into small strips and letting them flutter to the ground like feathers; they gathered around his feet like pets being fed from the hand. The pile grew bigger and bigger until Arnold had exhausted the supply of photographs stacked off to one side. He didn’t look up once from his task, no even when he heard the first footsteps on the path that led up to the house.
X MARKS THE SPOT what does that mean? It took Beatrice a moment to take in the words, as her eyes were fixed on the front door. Painted, crudely, on the front door were the very words that Charlotte had read aloud. What on earth could they mean? Beatrice didn’t have the answer to this particular question. She shrugged the children aside and retrieved the key from her purse. Clumsily, she dropped it on the floor and, as she bent forward to pick it up she thought she heard the sound of crying through the letterbox. She couldn’t be certain.
Younger men may have been able to deal with things differently, especially when they found themselves with broken hearts. For Arnold, he only had one way to deal with things, he was set in his ways and, as the cup incident had proved, he was too old to change them now. He was laughing at the proverb, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Well, he was the personification of that, he thought. The first match didn’t quite catch as he ran it down the length of the packet. The heat engulfed him as it caught on the second attempt.
Zinc in the diet can help burns heal. This was the first thought that came into Beatrice’s head as she tried, valiantly, to enter the house. The girls were screaming behind her and the key wouldn’t fit into the lock. As she looked closer, Beatrice saw that she would never enter the house again, for the lock had been changed. The smoke was billowing against the inside of the windows as the curtains caught the flames that filled the room beyond. Someone in the crowd that had gathered said they could see a solitary person sitting on the burning sofa.
Posted by sime white at 9:32 pm
Friday, November 12, 2004
It has been decided. There is to be a reason behind this blog and that is...
I will be posting a new short story each week on this blog, which you can comment on.
If you happen to be publisher and you want to sign me up on a multi-million pound deal, well, be sure to drop me a line.
All criticism is welcome, good or bad.
Posted by sime white at 7:25 pm