This time, the orange streetlight loomed large in the foreground. With an irritated click of the tongue, Bryan took two steps to the right. 

Right, he thought. 

The overgrown privet now shaded the lamp on its post, but a cloud had appeared along the top of the moon, occluding the upper half. Across the garden Jean, crouching in the shadows, shifted on her haunches.

“How much longer now, Bry?”

“Just a minute love.” Bryan paused, willing the clouds south west with a wave of his hand. Not much cop, he mumbled. 

“What was that, Bry?”

“I said, wrong f stop.” Stalling. “Here we go.” Mercifully, the cloud scudded off, revealing the huge orb of the full moon. “Right, now!” Jean rose slowly from her position by the bay and, as Bryan clicked, she stood with her arms aloft, the brilliant white of the moon illuminating her. 
A few moments passed.

“Well, have you done?”

“What? Oh, yes, sorry love.” Bryan, flustered, fiddling with the dial on the camera, started towards where Jean’s dressing gown hung from a branch on the bay. A fresh cloud scudded over the moon. In the sudden dark, he clouted his foot on the low fence around the lavender bed and with a grunt hit the turf.

“Bry? Y’daft beggar.”

“I’m alright, love… Hang on.” As the moon emerged, Jean watched Bryan heave himself to his hands and knees, groping about for his glasses, which sat askew on his moonlit scalp.

 She stifled a giggle and reached for her dressing gown. Pulling it on and fishing her spectacles from the pocket, she started over to help.

The full moon shone down.

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We’d bumped into each other at the GUM clinic. I’d walked into the crowded waiting room of desperately casual out-patients, my first thought being ‘So many dirty fuckers!’, my next being ‘Oh fuck, it’s Jimmy!’. Not through embarrassment, more an amused moment of simultaneous recognition. We both broke into grins that we were there, and sat and nattered with only the slightest of awkwardnesses until it was time whichever one of us had to go off first to get our waters siphoned and urethras scraped.

A couple of hours later and we were coincidentally discharged, or maybe dismissed is a better word in context. At the exit, we both pointed towards the leafy garden of the White Swan and said ‘Pint?’ with a matching hand/forearm gesture, in an amused moment of happily resigned certainty. It was one in the afternoon.

Now, Jimmy Duggan slumps against his beer. He doesn’t like the band on the juke box. ‘Is there anything worth saying about them? Their art means nothing to me.’ He knits his fingers round the straight pint glass. The sun’s shining in his face and he’s squinting as it’s glaring, the backwards lettering of a beer logo in the big window of the pub shading his mouth and frown. It’s two in the afternoon.

Outside in the baking heat of the park next to the boozer, I can hear kids screaming with early summer delight. The rattle and roll of scooter wheels and plastic beads on bike spokes. I don’t think Jimmy is hearing this, but you never know.

‘The fucking kids!’ He gulps down at least half a pint, as if the mere sound is enough. Refreshed, maybe a bit dewier of eye, he softens and purses his lips. ‘Headachey,’ he mitigates. He’s been talking with alternate bitterness and what is meant to be wry detachment about “The Scene”, with capitals, in quotes, as he insists on pronouncing it, for about at least 40 minutes. He seems to not want to talk about anything real. The knitted fingers are a bit trembly when he unlaces them and runs a hand through his hair. His barnet’s longer and less kempt than I recall from last time I saw him, which may have been six months, about, at least. He’s overall a bit unattended looking. Wearing loafers sockless, cardie buttoned up wrongly – buttoned up at all, on, in these temperatures. He is thin and distracted.

That’s when he mentions the cause of his headache, who he’s been seeing, and my bollocks retreat inside.

Hooves drummed off iron earth and two plumes of breath boiled away into frozen, faintly misty air. The horse and its rider were galloping for the heat through the little valley. It was mid-December and early in the morning. Rapidly, they passed a large tree next to which a rough track began, and then on the track ascended slightly towards the downs of the hills at the neck of the valley. Ahead, the road wound up the slope, snaking through a high wall about halfway up before continuing its climb. The horse slowed, the rider pulled the reins a little more sharply, and they stopped.

The rider threw back the hood of a heavy cloak and felt inside it for a small flask. Uncapping it, he took a drink, paused, looked about, and took another drink. Replacing the flask, his hand wandered to the other side of his belt and clasped the pommel of his sword for reassurance. He knew the valley well, knew it was unfrequented, that he had been through here a thousand times and loved its silence. It was just reassurance.

Whickering impatiently, the horse stamped a foot. With a sigh, the rider leaned backwards and checked for the thousandth time a pack tied securely to the saddle. In a decisive movement, he gripped the fingers of his right glove in his teeth and pulled his hand free to unsnap a flap on the back of his left gauntlet. A green glow showed hazy through condensing breath. He tapped three keys, reins running through his palm. Then he hit another key, snapped shut the flap, and pulled on the empty glove. The horse was dragging a fore foot against the ground in anticipation. Picking the reins back up, with a shout of encouragement aimed as much at himself as the horse, the rider snapped the reins and dug his heels in.

They took off up the track, gaining speed. As they neared the wall, which was broken with a plain stone archway, the rider realised he was holding his breath. He blew out with another shout as they thundered through the arch and vanished from the track.

On the other side of the wall, the frozen ferns shifted slightly in the breeze as something unseen seemed to pass by at speed.

****************************************

Sat at her desk in a windowed alcove, Emma set down her drink and scratched just above her right elbow, underneath the short sleeve of a pale blue shirt, with a pen. Her eyes were fixed on the green glowing screen a few feet away, and she blew a little raspberry through pursed lips. She slouched to her left and swivelled in her chair, tapping the pen arrhythmically on the desk in irritation. Always the same, she thought. Outside the window, the dank tunnel was lit by the glow from the alcove window. She reached for the drink again, sipped a little of the bitter back fluid and inhaled through her nostrils appreciatively.

She sat forward. Something had finally happened on the green glowing screen. Swivelling to face a different monitor, emitting a softer, pale white and blue glow, Emma reached for the keyboard in front of it and tapped at the number pad, three times and then a decisive fourth. Outside the alcove, sat about ten metres in from the end of a tunnel, a cool light appeared. Emma snuffed a short, snorted laugh. Open sesame, she said, half aloud, making a mocking half-circle with her right hand as she stepped to the door.

In the white gleam of the mouth to the tunnel, Emma felt a chill that had her jump back inside the office to retrieve a dark blue fleece jacket. She was shrugging into it and struggling with the zip, looking down and carefully feeding it into the fastener, when the rat-tat…tat…tat of a slowing horse became audible. She looked up and smiled as she reached into her pocket for the round mints, catching the reins of the horse as it trotted to a steaming standstill next to her and her hand found its muzzle with the treats.

‘Bleak midwinter at your end as usual then? Hello Roz,’ she said to the horse. Glancing up at the rider, she noticed he still had his hood up. She frowned. ‘You’re not Mercurio,’ she stated flatly. The hood came down. Emma’s eyes narrowed. ‘Do we… know you?’

Sorry about the lack of fiction this Friday.
I had written this quite interesting story about a couple living in a coastal village with a dog. The dog starts acting oddly, and it emerges that one of them has a guilty secret. Stormy climax and a twist ending.
The digital dog ate my homework.

The dazzling bright white lights of a truck hurtled past, accompanied with cacophonous discordant horn dopplering, chased by a slushy swish from the cold rain. Briefly, the taillights morsed as the driver pumped the brakes at the curve ahead, the message from the red squares flashing, over and over: tough + luck + stop + tough + luck + stop + tough + luck.

Silence settled again on the long straight road gunbarrelling between the thick pines, grown in orderly rows for crow-flown miles and miles west and east of the needle strewn, snow-crowned highway sludge along which Dag Heuter was trudging as night fell.

Heuter watched the receding tail lights with his right hand clapped to his head, as if trying to prevent his hat blowing off. With ear flaps tied snug under his chin, the gesture was more frustration, an invocation. His left arm curled in what looked like it could be trying to be a fist coming up for a jab. Brief freeze. He made a pushing gesture of dismissal and walked backwards a few steps, as the four red squares fused into a single condensing gas dwarf and vanished into the cosmic night. Heuter squinted with some difficulty to see as he turned into the rain, still walking, hands jammed back into his jacket pockets, facing the oncoming traffic.

Facing the direction oncoming traffic would come from eventually, he qualified to himself, turning positive, turning again to look at the tiny tiny pulse of red flicking further back down the road. He put a gloved hand up to his throat and tightened the zip two teeth back to the top.

Since abandoning the cold shell of his own wheels, but uncertain which way salvation lay nearest, Dag Heuter had decided to walk back to the last town he remembered. It had seemed like a few miles or so. Heuter knew he was an unreliable guide. The lack of traffic meant he was sticking up a hand for anything, going anywhere, but so far, not so good. He licked dry, chapped lips and thought of one, probably two beers and a couple of whiskies in that little brown wood and smokey bar he’d been in.

It might have been only minutes later that there was a swoosh through the slush and wet. Heuter straightened, regarded the lights playing through the spray up ahead of him, his shadow on the trees. He turned and shaded his eyes with one hand, throwing out the other first in a kind of wave, then a more resolute hitcher’s thumb. The car – some kind of pony – slowed, then passed him, before coming to a halt a few yards ahead. Picking up his step, Heuter shambled towards what he could now make out was indeed a Camaro, the rear lights making a red fuzz in the rain.

Up against the passenger side door, Dag Heuter stood with one arm on the roof. As the window wound down about halfway, he paused for a second before lowering his head to peer inside. There was a moment’s silence.

The figure inside the car said,
‘Jesus, Dag. What happened to your face?’

Dag Heuter looked up into the spray illuminated by the headlights and smiled painfully. Of course. He lowered his head.

‘Hey, Petch. Uhh, gimme a ride, I’ll bring you up to speed?’

‘I doubt that,’ the driver said. There was another moment’s pause.

‘Well, get in.’ A sigh.

The window closed as Dag opened the door and slumped inside.

Coming up in part two: Dag and Petch retread some old ground.

Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin
Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.

The bartender handed me the gin and the couple of bits of blank paper. I yawned a big yawn as I carried tonic bottle, gin, paper and a fresh pack of cigarettes over to a table tucked away in one corner, behind another of those plastic plants. A little hideyhole. I grunted to myself. Momentarily, I was a teenager again, looking for the one of a hundred ways to be snotty about this situation, this request, this imposition. Taking a long pull on the gin and tonic, I set it down on the napkin – I can’t bring myself to use the miniature paper, what the fuck was it that designer had called it just then? the doily – and hovered over the cigarettes.

I looked across the bar as I picked up the pack, slit the cellophane and pulled out the foil. I’d bought Lucky Strikes because she’d always smoked mine back then when we were hanging out, even though her brand was that terrible French shit with a winged helmet on the pack. I savour the smell of the new carton. Lighting up, I had a little lost time while I savoured the memories.

Coming back to myself, I drained off the rest of the gin, sat up and stubbed out the cigarette. Maybe that could be my tack, I thought. Turning my mind back to this memoir some Doctor from Silversmiths had just talked me into doing with no effort at all. Talk up the old cunt by way of self-aggrandisement. “What was Isabelle Bauze doing with Enrique Hemaski?…” Which would be kind of expected… I wheezed silent laughter at myself, picked up the empty glass and set it back down again. I stared down at the blank paper.

Izzy… Where were you now? She’d have had the idea like that. I snapped shut the lighter as I lit another Lucky, sat back and looked out the window through more plastic plants and thought about mortality and all that bullshit. I remembered this one time we’d been to see some new flick in the early 70s, Gene Hackman bugged out and freaking. We’d both flipped, at last, someone showing it like it was to come off, at least like we’d seen with Sergei. Not nice. He hadn’t made it as far as us.

She was pretty much best known to everyone as the philosopher that wrote Fin, which has been mostly translated as ‘The End’. The film closing, fin-ality, ticks all those Lacanian boxes Dr Jenny would probably fill up, but it’s not what Izzy meant. If it’s a rock ‘n’ roll song you need, and I do, it’s further back: the Orbison melodrama of ‘It’s over’, which sounds like the end of the world, like it is for a teenager, but has something of the seeds of hope, the idea of continuing in the face of desolation. I mean, if that’s what you need. She did a damn good job of getting all that into five chapters.

Halfway down the cigarette, the Big O reverbing around my head, it comes to me, finally. I scratch it out on the paper, laying each line down as it comes. When I’m finished, I wave Dr Jenny’s card in the air, meaning to get the barman’s attention. It occurs to me it’s like I’m signalling teacher to let her know I’m done. Luckily, he’s a gifted mind reader, this kid.

When the drink arrives I make him swerve the jolly old doily and set it down on the napkin. It makes a little figure eight with the mark the other left when finally I lift it to toast Izzy: it’s over.

Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin

Some stick-thin English chick literally stepped from behind a plastic plant in the bar of the terrible chain hotel I’ve been suffering. “Enrique Hemaski. You knew Isabelle Bauze.” It was almost an accusation. She had her light brown hair in a not-too-severe ponytail, with a stray bang tickling one bony cheek. Dial-a-cliché black trouser outfit on.

OK, here we go, I thought. I’d expected something like this ever since I’d heard Izzy died, having met serious, take it personally girls like this before. I had a couple of gins in me from brunch with a designer and I decided to live down to my rep. “Yeah. And yeah. Who the fuck are you?” I hammed it up, the breathless tipsy swagger, and finished my cigarette off with what I hoped was maximum phallic symbolism, stabbing it in the dirty sand of the ashtray next to the plants.

I straightened while she waited with a look of detached amusement.
“It’s okay, Mr Hemaski, I’ve read your books. I think you’re funny. Relax.”
I had to laugh. She had me, the insouciant floozy. I relaxed.
“Yeah, I knew Isabelle. She just died. That’s why I’m in this dungeon. I’m going to Paris. You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“My name’s Jen…” I stuck out a hand, which she shook cordially but impatiently, a sharp amused exhalation through the nose and a pursed lip smile. “…Collis. I lecture at Silversmith’s. My doctoral thesis was on Bauze. I’ve been asked to edit a memoir…” She put a hand on one hip and extended the other to the side, palm up. She was a hieroglyph signifying what can you do. I did my De Niro bottom lip shrug and moved my head a little.
“So what do I write about her? That I haven’t already, I mean…” I laughed a raspy laugh and rubbed some silvery stubble. “If you know which of my fuckin’ hilarious books I’m talking about.”
Now she laughed. “Everyone thinks Fin is about Jean-Paul Duchamps. I think it’s about you… Well. It can be read…” she said, a voice that seemed bored with academic qualifiers. I liked her style. In a previous novel, life, I’d probably have tried to fuck her. Whatever. She shrugged. “Well, you knew her, anyway. You definitely had a thing going on. And yes, I think you’ve definitely written about her.”
I cocked my head and waited, my arms folded. She shifted slightly in what looked like an anticipated move. The pony tail swapped shoulders.
“Not in Tricoteuses.”
I waited. She rolled her eyes and her voice took on a quality which suggested a deeply professional annoyance born from a deeper passion for I know exactly what. “Diners Club. I take it you’ve read Alessandro.”
I rasped a laugh again. The air con was fucking drying my throat out and anyway I feel awkward with professional academics.
“I met her, once. Tried to have a man to man chat about her Famous Reading…” She nearly stops herself smiling. “Heh. She didn’t want to know. ‘It’s so aaahb-vious!’… What the fuck, I thought it was funny. So did Edith, in point of fact. I mean, Tricoteuses…” I do the honkiest chateau du Frog I can manage. “C’mon. I wouldn’t mind some credit for doing my job sometimes.”
“Quite.”

Miss Collis crossed her ankles and leaned back slightly. Her hands were together in front of her and she’d magicked a card into them somehow. She held it out with a slight gesture of the wrist. Business card. I took it. “So, if you could say… something… Doesn’t have to be too long. Whatever you think.”
I held the card about chest high and gestured decisively with it a couple of times. “I will, Miss, uh, Collis. It, uh, is, miss?” I added, kind of hamming, kind of weakly. My heart wasn’t even in it for playing. She gave me a knowing, pursed lips smile. “It’s Doctor Collis, Doctor Hemaski. I look forward to hearing from you.” This time she stuck her hand out, and we shook.

I lit a cigarette and watched her head out through the revolving door. So, eulogy from Dr Hemaski. I had a bite in my stomach, which was maybe the dried out scrambled eggs from breakfast, maybe the gins, but mainly a sudden sense of responsibility to the dead. I decided to try for another drink and see how it sat.

Coming up in Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.