NIGHTWATCHMAN

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

At the age of five Terence was sent to fetch milk and found himself tempted to steal a chocolate bar. He stood sweating and shaking, the milk in his hand. The impulse pushed him so hard and his inner sense of right struggled so much with it that a trickle of urine dribbled down from his short pants, forming a pool around his buckled sandals. He shook so much the bottle fell and shattered on the tiles. He could feel the heat on his leg and smell the stench. His mother was red faced as she changed his pants. As he grew he felt impulses as all boys do. His reaction was always to fight them, whether they were healthy or unhealthy. Eventually he couldn’t tell the difference. He went to school alone, ate lunch alone and came home alone. He didn’t read or watch movies or have an interest in sport. He never drank. When he was in his late teens his mother left home, leaving him alone. She said she needed to be free and to have some fun in her life.

He avoided women because of the temptation. He avoided children in case he felt a temptation, though truth be told he never did. He avoided men because of the things they said and did. He left school with average grades and a perfect attendance record. It was this single thing that allowed him to get the post of night watchman at the local light bulb factory. At night he walked around the silent factory as though it were his kingdom. He liked to do so in the darkness. During daylight hours the factory hummed with life. Three hundred women and girls filed in through the gates to start shift at eight-thirty am. They filed right back out again at five-thirty pm.

The night watchman, whose full name was Terence Birtles, started shift at six pm and finished at seven-thirty am. Mostly the girls on the factory floor did not even know he existed and to any who did he was known as Batty Birtles, probably because of the way he walked soundlessly, possibly because of stories of him flitting around the factory in the dark of night. Terence brought sandwiches and a flask to his hut at the gate, timing his arrival for just after the day workers had gone home. He made his rounds three times nightly like clockwork. He saw how each worker organised their little space, a personal touch here or there, a snapshot of a loved one. Terence had a key to every lock. He knew that the stationery store could be locked from the inside and sometimes was used for more than storage. He knew what had gone on in there that day when he stood for a little while in the dark room and sniffed the air. He never let himself spend too long in there.

One autumn night Terence walked into the security hut to be met by the HR manager and a woman.
“I’m Grace.” she said.
He shook her hand and as he did her expression changed, she withdrew hers and when he looked away she wiped it on her skirt. Terence could feel the sweat begin to gather in his armpit.
“Right, Terence, Grace is here to study how we do things. Time and motion studies, that kind of thing, I’ll leave you to chat.” the Manager said as he left.
Grace crossed her legs and even with his eyes glued to the floor Terence knew she had sheer nylon tights covering shapely legs
“I’m glad he’s gone.” Grace unbuttoned her suit jacket and slung it over the chair. “I know it seems intimidating but honest to God all I’m here to do is look at working methods and suggest efficiencies. I’m sure we’ll get on fine, you and me. Now, do you have a kettle here?”
Terence got up and put the kettle on. Her relaxed manner caught him off guard and he found himself unusually at ease.
He kept his back to her as he made the tea and couldn’t remember the last time he had been alone with a woman apart from his mother. He focused his mind on the task at hand and that seemed to help.
“You can stop stirring now.” Her voice had a hint of a laugh.
He turned back and for the first time looked at her as he handed her the steaming mug. She sat cross legged, her skirt an inch above her knee. She was small, brown haired and her face was the shape of a heart. She pulled her skirt over her knee.
“Thanks. Right, next Wednesday I’ll spend a few hours with you as you do your job, and we’ll see where we go from there. Is that all right?”
Terence nodded as she passed him back her mug.
“Ta ra. So see you next week. Relax we might even have fun. You never know.” And she was gone.
Terence sat alone and smelled the air. He sat where she had and the seat was still warm from her. He sat there for a long time. He didn’t go on any rounds that night. The next day he slept fitfully. When he walked in the park he walked past people without even noticing them.

The next evening when he got into work an email alert was flashing on his computer. He held his breath as he clicked open.
From: Human Resources
To: Employee number 297
Subject: Work Assessment
Work study postponed until Friday at 5pm
Yours
Ms. Grace Goodyear
He looked over the email and then he printed it. He made himself a cup of tea using the mug that she had used as he pondered the meaning of the message. He liked the use of the word “Yours”. He didn’t object to her use of his employee number rather than his name as he knew she was the ultimate professional and would always be professional in her business dealings even if both of them knew better. She had used the title Ms which he knew was a message to him that she was available and eager. In summary, he could not have been happier had the email been delivered by Cupid himself in a bouquet of roses.
At home he looked at himself in the mirror. He was surprised. He used to only glance at the mirror, afraid that what he saw would reveal something dark and dangerous. Now he saw a smiling face with a twinkle in his eye. He calculated there were 1800 minutes from then until he would see her again. 108,000 seconds. He sat in his armchair and counted.
By five-ten pm on Friday evening he was standing in the centre of his office. Then she breezed through the door. He looked at his watch.
“Hello,” he said.
“Right, let’s get started.” She sat at the desk without looking at him and opened a laptop.
“Would you like some tea?” he said.
“So what do you do first when you get in?” Her finger was tapping the desk as she looked at him over bifocals. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
“Mm.”
“Okay, okay, they said you were a bit… why not just show me? I’ll go around with you and make notes; you do what you always do.”
She clicked the stopwatch. Terence was frozen to the spot for a split second then shook himself out of it. He pulled on his tunic over his new shirt and began to button it up.
“That’s better,” she said.
He thought he heard a smile creep back into her voice. Maybe her hard-ass approach was all part of the act. After all, it wouldn’t do if she was seen to be fraternising with him during work hours. He remembered hearing that women could be wily in the ways of love, before he stopped listening to the things men said about women. She stood up and patted down her suit. He looked down as she did, noting the open top button and the triangle of milk-white skin it revealed.
“What are you waiting for?” She tapped the watch. “Time is money.”
He shrugged. If this was the game he would play along. He picked up his keys and they left the hut for the short walk to the factory. A short walk, but he wished it would never end. She walked across the car park just ahead of him and he couldn’t help but notice the sway of her hips. He was sure this was her hidden signal to him.
“I’m yours. I said we’d have some fun. I hope you’re enjoying our little game. You’ve just made it to level two. Congratulations.”
When they got to the factory door, the keys jiggled in his hand as he leant across her to unlock it. He caught the scent of her perfume. That confirmed his suspicions. The voice in his mind said, “Hey fool. You don’t think she puts that on every day for any old occasion.”
He managed to open the door and hold it for her, as she clicked her stopwatch and made a note on her palmtop.
“Okay the first round is the factory floor. I usually go this way.”
They walked in through the double doors to the factory. Moonlight trickled through the roof windows.
“So show me what you do, please.” she said.
He walked along the line checking each workspace. As he did she clicked the stopwatch repeatedly. After a few minutes he began to enjoy the noise of the clicking. It became the beat of their song. He even began to check things for real. When they reached the end of the factory, she said, “Forty seven minutes. Not bad.”
He stood in front of her.
“You could do it quicker though.”
He was sure she smiled as she said that, though he didn’t look.
“Next we check the stores. It won’t take as long,” he said.
They walked through to the stores. The hair on the back of his neck bristled. He detested this place. His face began to burn. Bare breasted beauties beckoned from the notice board over each desk. He turned away.
“I…I..I’m sorry about this.”
She clicked her watch.
“What are you talking about? Get on with it, will you? I’ve not got all night to fart about with you.”
He kept his eyes to the floor as he checked each space and the door. He glanced up to see a page three girl smiling at him. He felt a long forgotten feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hurried through the rest of the stores.
“Okay, much faster here, but I think you missed a couple of things.”
He was glad to breathe the air of the offices when they finally got out of the stores.
“This is the last round of the evening. I check all the offices to see the computers are off and doors are locked and everything is as it should be.”
“Sounds right, let’s do it.”
Something about the way she added “please” made him relax. More than that, it made him think she wanted him. She wanted him so much. Badly.
“What’s in here?”
“The stationery store. It’s usually okay,” he said.
“Let’s have a look.”
He took out the keys but paused.
“What are you waiting for? Let’s finish what we started.”
The door opened and she walked in ahead of him.
“Looks fine to me.”
When she turned around he was standing in the doorway. Sweat was pouring down his face, a patch of dampness spreading on his slacks.
She clicked her stopwatch.
“R-right..I think I’ve enough to work on.” She pushed past him. “I’ll make my own way out.”
He didn’t turn around. He heard the doors of the factory close behind her. He locked the room and stayed there in the blackness.

A wee bit of horror

Posted: September 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Zander

To clear the mind for this project it became necessary to know the enemy in order to prepare to fight it. Unflinching, Zander faced the indictment of the full length mirror on the back of the washroom door, naked from the waste up, no effort to straighten up, slouched, he looked from top to bottom surveying the middle aged spread, the generous unused love handles, the three day old varicose bruising around his left nipple, turned his back to the mirror craning his neck to see tonight’s damage. Five long welts snaked down his back diagonally from the bulb at the base of his neck to his arse which had in the last year begun to succumb to gravity. He swabbed the cuts with spittle damp toilet roll, his gnarly face flinching. His eyes stung from lack of sleep and three nights of oncoming headlights. He knew now what he had to do to beat this thing.

He picked his white bloody t-shirt from the tiled floor and ran the water into the sink washing it as best he could, a job not made easy by the pushbutton tap, wrung it dry as best he could and held it under the hand dryer. It was still damp and sticky when he put it back on, the red stripes coming through the white cotton. He covered this with his donkey jacket, swished cold water on his face and made his way back into the all night café. A drunken couple slobbered over each other in a booth, the only customers. Zander was sure they would never recognise him again. The single waitress though was a different proposition. He considered leaving until he caught her looking at him from the corner of his eye so he took a stool at the counter and ordered a coffee. Why did she have to look? He could feel the heavy wool of the jacket eating into the scrapes on his back through the light cotton shirt. The pain soothed him. He stretched his arms onto the counter flexing his shoulder blades to open out the gashes, the fibres of the jacket burrowing in so that the stings multiplied along his back. Easing back he grimaced as the infliction focussed his mind on the task to come. The waitress wandered over, chewing gum as if her life depended on it and, he thought, maybe it did.

It had taken him precisely three days earlier as dawn gloomed through his bedroom window. A fitful night ended when he sat bolt upright. Thirty two years of normality erased in a blink. Zander didn’t know why it took him then or why it delayed so long to do it and then he didn’t know how to fight it. When it had him he had only a single compulsion. As his wife wriggled under the pillow her hand had crept from under the covers clawing at his chest until he used his bulk to make her still so that the only movements were jiggling nerves. He got up from the bed and dressed while her muscles flickered. Across the landing his twin two year old daughters slept the sleep of angels in a room of little ponies. Zander and the enemy stood in the doorframe inhaling their shallow breaths. The pain in his left breast allowed him to turn away closing the door softly behind him before easing his car into the morning torrent. An inkling on how to fight it. Three days ago. Since then he drove until he had to stop.

Zander and the enemy stopped twice in three days. Souvenirs of the last stops filled the trunk of Zander’s Volvo. The ad said the trunk was large enough to take two sets of golf clubs. Yesterday’s town was somewhere north of the centre and he stopped because he had to eat and piss, even though he had no senses now the enemy had him he still had to fuel both himself and the Volvo, it would not allow him not to and now the pain around his nipple was gone it was savage in it’s compulsive demands. He knew he had to stop it in that town. It gave him no choice but Zander saw an opportunity. The car park beside the supermarket was dry as ashes in the August afternoon. A young mother bundled children and shopping into her SUV and reversed without looking, unable to see Zander on his knees beneath her rear wheels. Zander could see the end of this. But the enemy had not yet taught him the rules of the game. As the wheels reached his head a drill punctured his brain releasing a marching band inside his skull and he convulsed in the dust like a severed worm, the enemy towering over him. Flor jammed on the brakes catching a glimpse of the squirming epileptic on the ground. Her peach shaped face awash with concern peered down at him Zander who noticed a dimple in her chin pursing while he pushed the blade up until it hit her breastbone. Her blood puddinged in the dust when the enemy was silencing the souvenirs and stowing them in the trunk. Zander felt a pain in his ribs where Flor’s knee impacted as she collapsed but it wasn’t enough.

Three hundred and two miles later the enemy stopped to pick up a hitchhiker, a blonde Aussie girl on her world tour the cheap way. She wore a healthy tan like a badge. Blue jeans faded from washing, a Jimmy Hendrix t shirt and well worn Converse runners. She bounded into the passenger seat flinging a rucksack in the back and flashing a smile of thanks to Zander. He nodded as he swung the car back on the road. She was instantly comfortable, flicking on the radio and tapping out a rhythm on the dashboard with her long nails. The road was busy for a stretch. They passed strip shopping malls, churches with neon signs, golden arches, and motels as the sun became a tangerine bow on the horizon. Zander relaxed into the rippling music and her nasal voice. She was filing her nails with her feet up on the dashboard when the enemy pulled over on a road which made a scar through miles of sunflowers. As he grabbed her throat Zander made sure her hands came around him, her freshly hewn claws digging through his t shirt raking down his back. The searing pain was a boon, he eased back releasing his hands from her neck. She gurgled as her eyes rolled in her head. The enemy pushed her into the trunk.

At the next lit up spot on the road Zander pulled into an all night café pushing his back against the seat until he could feel the throbbing of his heart against the worn leather. He walked into an unremarkable café. Adequate lighting and expressionless décor accompanied by low country music. He went directly to the washroom passing a gum chewing waitress.

The Tonic

Posted: June 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

EXT. FARM- DAY
JOSEPH, a farmer in his 70’s squints at a midday sun which
bathes his acres of fields in gold. A hen moseys over. He
rests his walking stick against a stone wall and chases it
for a minute before booting it away in a flurry a laughter.
Reaches into his pocket for a full bottle of whiskey. Is
about to take a swig when a loud shout from behind freezes
him.

NIECE
JOSEPH! What are you doing?

He sheaths his bottle instantly as his young dumpy NIECE
waddles towards him in a hideously ancient frock. Ruddy
faced and stern, her curly hair blows around her face
incessantly. He picks up the stick and immediately hunches
into a wizened version of his former self. Looks around
innocently. She softens when she sees him. Puts an arm
around his shoulders. Leads him gently to the house. The hen
eyes him warily as he limps away. His niece babbles a list
of rules which fade into the background.

INT. KITCHEN- DAY
The walls bleed nicotine tar. The local paper lies open on
the obituaries; Joseph reads them and puts a tick beside
names he knows. A single weak bulb with no shades dangles
from the ceiling. Dust clings to every surface. The niece
paces the lino floor wringing her hands. The doorbell rings.
She straighten herself up and tries to tidy Joseph, spits on
her hand to dampen his cowlick and sticks it to his
forehead, he swats her away.

JOSEPH
Leave me be!

She opens the back door with him a few steps behind.
The niece steps back. MARY enters; a voluptuous black middle
aged woman. Joseph recoils, eyes wide with surprise.

JOSEPH
Jesus!

MARY
Mary.

NIECE
Joseph.
(CONTINUED)

CONTINUED: 2.
Joseph’s eyes twinkle and he tentatively holds out a hand.
Mary shakes it vigorously as the niece slips out the back
door.

MARY
Now Mr Doyle, your niece tells me
you need a bit of help around here
so I’ll be here from 9 to 5
weekdays. I do everything a wife
does.She thinks about this then wags a finger.

MARY
Well not everything!

She brays a laugh tucking his grandad shirt into his baggy
trousers.

INT. BATHROOM
Mustard plastic bathroom suite, grimy; adorned with cobwebs
and mould. Joseph in the bath scrubbing vigorously, singing
to himself.
Joseph stands in front of the mirror, threadbare yellow
towel around his waist, wrenches open the cabinet, pushes
past years of faded labels to find a half full bottle of
aftershave, applies it liberally, face, underarms, under the
towel and winces with the sting.

JOSEPH
Good lord!

He hops on the spot. From a stool in the corner he takes his
Sunday best and dresses himself and pats his hair down.
Looks in the mirror, pauses and pulls the tail of his shirt
from his trousers.

INT. KITCHEN- DAY
Joseph stands at the door in fervent anticipation, repats
his hair and pulls at his shirt tail, walks sprightly over
to get his stick and goes back to the door. The key jangles
in the lock and he grins. Mary barrels through the doorway.
She grabs him and tucks his shirt in yanking his trousers up
brusquely. Joseph looks on bemused.

MARY
Now Mr Doyle, we’re going to be
making some changes around here.
(CONTINUED)

CONTINUED: 3.
Joseph gulps.
MARY
Smoking. Drinking.
Joseph visibly wilts.

MARY
They’re fine. But this hair is a
disaster. She touches a lock of his bedraggled hair and pushes it
back.
Joseph’s face lights up. Mary rummages through the presses and finds nothing worth
eating except a tin of spam and spaghetti hoops.
She tuttuts loudly. She’s muttering to herself and flings his coat
at him. He’s befuddled.

JOSEPH
Are we off out?
MARY
We’re going shopping.
Joseph makes for his stick. Mary throws the stick in the corner.

INT. PUB – DAY
Dusty floorboards, smoke marks on ceiling, flock wallpaper,
brass foot rail, wood panelling, brewery merchandise. An
elderly COUPLE ignore each other. The clock ticks. Mary and
Joseph enter. Suddenly the clock stops ticking. The couple
do a double take, looking Mary up and down. The man’s mouth
falls open. His wife abruptly pushes it closed. The BARMAN
hits the clock a whack. It begins to tick again.
Joseph approaches the bar smiling widely. He is suddenly
yanked back by Mary who nods to the other door that
proclaims “groceries” above it. His smile disappears
instantly. He chats to the barman as she enters the shop.
The elderly SHOPKEEPER sits on a stool behind the counter
reading the racing page, he peers over his glasses with
contempt as Mary approaches.

MARY
Good morning, can I have a loaf of
bread and a pint of milk please/
(CONTINUED)

CONTINUED: 4.
He sighs and dismisses her with a wave. Joseph enters.

SHOPKEEPER (SLOWLY)
/Look, I don’t understand a damn
word you’re saying.

JOSEPH
Seamus, have you lost your hearing?
I’ve only one good ear and I caught
everything.
He slaps a shopping list on the counter.

JOSEPH
You know where to find us.
Joseph takes Mary by the elbow and leads her into the bar.

INT. KITCHEN- DAY
Joseph loaded up with bags of groceries standing at the
presses standing behind Mary who is bent over putting things
away, Joseph looking on hypnotically. He takes a step
towards her but she stands up quickly almost bowling him
over.

JOSEPH
My god that’s a fine piece of
stuff.
Mary turns around, glancing down at her ass.

JOSEPH
That ham hock.
He takes a ham from the bag and holds it up. Mary puts it in
the fridge. She finishes packing away the things and puts on
her coat.

JOSEPH
You’ll stay for a cup of tea.
Mary sees the desperation in his face.
MARY
A quick one.
Mary sits down and waits, Joseph gets up to put on the
kettle, roots in the presses for teabags, stands for a
second to get his bearings. Mary smirks. He opens and closes
cupboards attempting to search discreetly for the teapot. He
gets a mug for himself and takes out a china cup for her.
They share a moment.

5.
EXT. FARM – EARLY EVENING
Bedding plants in boxes, hanging baskets ready and a freshly
dug flower bed. Mary plants flowers and Joseph waters
liberally. He looks younger and more energised and sports a
new haircut. Mary sticks her hand in the ground gashing it
deeply on a piece of glass. She gasps and tries to hide the
fact she’s hurt. Joseph rushes over. He grabs her hand, she
pulls it back. He takes out a handkerchief and dabs the
blood gently. She is touched by his concern. Their eyes
meet. He is about to speak when her mobile rings.

MARY
Ah, sorry, I have to take this.

Joseph picks up the watering can again. Mary hangs up and
comes over to Joseph

JOSEPH
Mary, I…

MARY
I have to go away for a while.
He scuffs a stone with his shoe.

JOSEPH
You’ll be back?
Mary doesn’t look up.

MARY
I have to go.
Joseph nods and Mary walks away.

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT
Joseph is hunched in the twilight sitting beside the unlit
range looking out.
He gets up and lights the fire.
Goes to the sink to do the washing up, his hands are covered
in suds, he drops the china cup and it shatters.
He tries to pick up the pieces dropping to his hands and
knees, he stays there holding a piece of the cup.

6.
EXT. FARM- DAY
A dishevelled Joseph stands in the yard looking down the
lane into the distance. The hanging baskets and flower bed
are neglected; the hen pecks their remains. He pulls a still
full whiskey from his pocket.

NIECE [O.C]
Joseph! Will you come in out of the
cold.
He stuffs the bottle back in his pocket. He sighs loudly and
slowly, rubs his eyes, turns back towards the house and
shuffles to it using his stick.

INT. KITCHEN- DAY
Joseph nods off in his armchair; jumps with a start as the
hoover growls into life under his feet wielded by the niece
who buzzes around the room.
JOSEPH
Would you ever just leave me alone!
She stamps her foot on the hoover turning it off.
NIECE
Don’t you take that tone with me
Joseph Doyle and all I do for you.
Do you think I enjoy coming over
here being a skivvy for you?
JOSEPH
I never asked you to come over
here; I’m perfectly capable of
looking after myself.
NIECE
You never complained when you had
that woman here, and she wasn’t
worth tuppence. Look at the cut of
the place.
Joseph stands up to his full height.
JOSEPH
That woman has a name. Mary. and
she was more to me than…
He turn his back on her. She storms out. He steadies
himself, takes the bottle from his pocket, is about to open
it then growls and throws it on the sofa. He puts his head
in his hands.

7.
EXT. FARM- DAY
Joseph is bent down pulling at weeds in the flower patch,
mumbling obscenities. A nettle stings his hands and he pulls
it back. He shakes it and it is gently enfolded in a pair of
woman’s hands. He looks up to see Mary smiling broadly.
JOSEPH
Mary.
MARY
What happened to our garden?
Mary wipes the dirt off his slacks, then tries to kiss him
on the cheek. He sticks out his hand for an awkward
handshake, looking at his feet.
JOSEPH
Are you staying around?
MARY
If you need me I can stay.
Joseph hesitates and kicks at the nettles. He doesn’t look
up.
JOSEPH
I do. I do need you.

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT
The room is bright and tidy. Joseph is neatly dressed, hair
combed, dapper. He is ticking off the deaths. Starts
laughing.

JOSEPH
Higgins hung on to the bitter end.
I thought he’d never go. Sure they
had the hole dug weeks ago.
Mary howls a laugh. She comes up behind him and pours a good
helping of whiskey into a glass, then one for herself. She
sits down next to him. They are both comfortable in each
other’s company.
JOSEPH
Removal’s at seven. If we get down
early the good stuff will still be
there.
Joseph drains his glass and stands up in a flap. He grabs
her coat and helps her into it. Mary rolls her eyes and
buttons up, she tucks in the flap of his shirt.
(CONTINUED)

CONTINUED: 8.
MARY
Just an hour then.
Joseph rubs his hands in glee. He opens the door and offers
the crook of his arm, she links him down the path.

END

A short script

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Screenplays, Uncategorized

COWBOY JAKE

INT. NURSING HOME – NIGHT
JAKE, seventies, lies in bed, he smiles as he watches a
Western in his bedroom. MAURICE, a male nurse in his early
twenties enters. Without even asking he turns off the TV, the light and
leaves. Jake waits a moment then gets up stiffly from the
bed. He goes to the window, opens the curtains. In a field
yonder he stares at a horse in the moonlight.

INT. NURSING HOME – DAY
Jake opens his eyes as Maurice barges in, draws the
curtains, the room floods with light. He slaps a breakfast
tray on the bedside table, spilling the tea

MAURICE
Rise and shine old timer.
Maurice exits. Jake opens his wardrobe. Beside his slippers
a pair of cowboy boots poke out.

INT. NURSING HOME DAY
Jake stands at a double door on a corridor. He punches a
number into a keypad, pulls the door. Nothing gives.
Footsteps. Maurice grabs him by the arm to lead him away. A
pretty woman approaches the door. Jake stumbles and knocks a
jug from a nearby trolley, spilling it.
MAURICE
Christ Jake, not again, stay there,
Maurice rushes off. The woman pats him on the arm, Jake
gives her a little wink. Maurice returns with a cloth.
MAURICE (TO WOMAN)
Sorry about that, i’ll let you out.
He punches a number on the keypad. Jake cups his hand over
his mouth, coughs as he peers up.

INT. NURSING HOME – NIGHT
Jake lies in bed. The door opens. Maurice peeps in. The
light is already out. He waits a second, hears a low snore.
The door closes, a pair of cowboy boots peep out from under
the duvet.

EXT. FIELD – NIGHT
Jake in a dressing gown pats a horse under the stars.
Across the road at the nursing home a door opens, light
streams out. Maurice is standing in the doorway.
MAURICE
JAKE!
Jake strips off the dressing gown to reveal a full cowboy
outfit. He dons a stetson. He mounts the horse, tips his hat
and rides into the moonlight.

Afterthought

Posted: April 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Sit still we’ve something to tell ye” they said. “Ye’ll have a brother or sister”

The three of us wondered what it would mean for our bell bottomed teens till Thursday night Top of the Pops chased it out of minds.

Then she exploded and nothing was ever the same.

Allowed out for the first time, the disco was a haze of hormonal headbangers dandruff and sideways slow set glances to the huddle of giggly girls in a place where everyone knew more than I did. Awkwardly gormless and happily clueless I walked home. The car was pulling away with the Mam waving from the back.

The Da came in his face alight “A little girl, all perfect” . “Jaysis” said the brother. He didn’t even get a cross look. Right then the three of us knew things had changed.

A parcel arrived. From Canada, no less, and we stood around with open gobs as the Da cut the tape, his hands ashake. When she was kitted out in the lemon furry suit and tucked in the sleeping bag she rolled around like a day old chick. Mams’ laughter shook her so much she had to sit down.

Lovely small happy twinkly eyes pulling my eyelids open by the lashes on Christmas morning, knees on my chest. At speed she bursted doors, didn’t stop, landed on us in a rainbow flurry only to collapse and recharge her batteries to start all over again.

She gave us all ten years more and when the house had gone quiet she burst on the scene and made it bright with girlie madness of little ponies. There were tears in the hall because we were all big. I talked her down and we wandered the meadows by the river where the bream shoal.

The joy of their lives, she gave them ten more years of youth, stopped him smoking but it wasn’t enough. So sorry for her at the grave but she was a stronger fourteen than I was twenty eight. She minded us all but it grew her up. I call her kid still and carried her from Salthill to Shantalla when she was dead weight asleep.

She walked down the aisle with a teary Mam who handed her over trusting him to be worthy of care for the bundle which had Catherine-wheeled through our house when we were all older.

She pours quiet coffee now; the girlie glint still speckles her eyes. The calm oasis dissolves when her two boys bound in to bowl us over and pull us back to the childhood muppet madness where the only austerity is a time out and a walk in the meadows is a jungle safari.

The Curious Carp

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

The deep dark water of the secret lake did not ripple despite a sharp cool breeze from the surrounding mountains. This was due to the densely packed high trees of the aged forest surrounding the lakes horseshoe shape. The lake took its black brown colour from the boggy earth it nestled in and the countless layers of decomposing leaves and branches accumulated around its banks. The strong scent of pine mingled with the abundant fragrant wild honeysuckle flourishing in the rich margin between the trees and the waterline.

At first light a heavy mist rose to blur the boundaries between soil and water and trees and sky. To a human glance the place would appear lifeless but no human eye had ever spied this deep. The stilly silence was broken by the harsh cackle of a waterhen protecting her nest from the clumsy meanderings of a young vole.

Beneath the black glassy surface the curious carp had just rejoined his group. As normal at this time of the day they were patrolling the centre of the lake from end to end. It was a duty the shoal shared between those responsible enough and the carp and his three friends had just been adjudged worthy of such trust. Their solemn role was to patrol the centre of the lake end to end three times between dawn and dusk to ensure the maintenance of order for all inhabitants.

The carp spotted the large mirror scales and solid yellow underbellies of his group as he rose toward them. He was proud of the three large mirror scales which identified him as a mirror carp and made him different from his common carp neighbours. Deeper down he had passed a tench family snuffling through the rich silt for their morning feast of larvae. Much darker than himself with furiously orange eyes they sent thousands of tiny bubbles fizzing all the way to the surface as they dined. They were a solitary but harmless lot and preferred not to mix with others of the lake community. The curious carp always made it his business to bid them good morning anyway and in return got a flick of a powerful black tail from the largest of the diners.

Further along their route they came across the teeming roach family who loved to rush through the weeds in the shallows chasing each other and plucking tasty waterboatmen from the lily pads on the surface. Much smaller than the carp they were a shimmering silver and sported scarlet red fins and gills. Among them he noticed their close cousins the rudd who had a golden tinge and carried themselves with a more regal air. The curious carp thought they were friendly if a little dim. They spent a lot of time flitting around aimlessly having fun and sometimes attracted the wrong sort of attention.

Close to a long sunken tree they passed the ancient pike. The oldest inhabitant of the lake, fish lore had it that she had been here even before the lake. She was almost indistinguishable from the tree she rested under, barely moving, her yellow mottled spots on dark green scales making it easy to mistake him for another branch. The carp knew he could pass in safety due to his size but his smaller siblings might not be so lucky and no sane roach ever came this way.

Back in the centre of the lake about mid depth between surface and bottom the huge family of bream were flicking their fins without moving anywhere and as the curious carp passed he wondered what they did all day only to conclude they must be contemplative sorts. Occasionally he noticed a puff of mud from below as a sleepy eel poked his pointed nose out to see if anything tasty was passing. The only fish to take holidays he had heard stories of a fantastic resort leagues away. No one else ever left the lake and no one came but the eels were famously tight lipped about their travels. Just where the water deepened they met the perch crew, a crazy green crowd with striped flanks, much too small to bother carp but notorious for silly stunts. The carp patrol passed through them flicking them aside with disdain when they became bothersome.

This was the way of things in the lake community, everyone got along and food was plain but plentiful. The pike contented themselves with eating the old, the sick and the silly having learned the hard way that gorging themselves in a feeding frenzy led to slow starvation not long therafter. The perch mainly fought among themselves and sometimes ate small roach who were so numerous their shoal did not notice. Of course they ate their own sometimes, fish having no compunction about cannibalism. The rest of the lake families were content with the abundant menu the lake provided.

As the days blended into one another the small but curious carp became a large but curious carp. On occasion, as carp are wont to do, he would venture to the surface and skim along feeling the cool mountain air stream past his long dorsal fin. In mating season he would frolick in the shallows and shake the surrounding trees with his tremendous playful splashing. Now, as all fish know, fish don’t have ears. They might not have ears but they can feel sound or rather the vibrations that sounds make through the tiny tremors passing through the water. The curious carp noticed this mostly when forest mammals came to partake of the lakes sweet water, their hooves and snouts making little waves that all of the underwater families understood. One day a large old tree fell in the forest close to the lake and, while nobody heard, fish just knew.

One starry night just after sunset the carp crew were making their last patrol of the day before settling down to a muddy slumber when they felt a series of unusual tremors. There were large and heavy mammals moving in the forest close to the lakeside but their weight was not distributed as normal. The curious carp ventured to the surface taking refuge beneath an overhanging willow and spotted flashes of day among the trees. The tremors and flashes stopped suddenly and having waited for a time more the carp patrol rejoined the shoal. They reported this phenomenon to the elder carp who were incredulous and disbelieving.

At dawn the next morning the carp sensed something untoward as they began their patrol. A pungent sweet aroma pervaded the water and as they approached the lake centre it grew in strength. At this part the bed of the lake was coated with colours never before seen and there was a cloud of tasty smelling particles floating down from above. The tench and bream were mingling and milled around this banquet some of them sucking up pieces of food and blowing them out again testing the taste and texture. There seemed to be a general agreement that this was a wonderful tasty windfall from above and although the curious carp was also cautious by nature the temptation was strong. The bream were less cautious and began sucking up the food particles at random. Suddenly an adolescent bream began to struggle violently and thrash around among the shoal, a type of behaviour hitherto unknown in the lake. The others scattered and watched fearfully as the stricken bream disappeared slowly towards the surface.

An emergency summit of the elders of each family was hastily convened to discuss the disappearance. An immediate cordon was placed around the area in which the unfortunate bream had last been seen, at each corner a jack pike with instructions to prevent any incursions by whatever means necessary. Nonetheless the exotic scents still wafted through the lake and the fish could sense from the vibrations on the surface that further bounty was arriving regularly. After an interminable wait the curious carp and two comrades were summoned. Their instructions were to follow the food scents to their source and surreptitiously ascertain to where the bream had disappeared. They were to conceal themselves as much as possible and preferably carry out their duty after nightfall.

The curious carp had, since his promotion to patrol duty, been eager for an opportunity to prove his worth to the shoal and it was common knowledge, particularly in carp circles, that mirror carp possessed an ability to approach problems intellectually which some other species did not share. He believed it was for this reason that his group had been selected to solve the mystery and so set about his task with gusto. The sun was still high in the sky and the bright rays penetrated about halfway down to the muddy bed so there was still time to assess the situation with his friends and plan a course of action. They adjourned to their usual resting place deep below a dense thicket of lily pads in a corner of the lake which was less popular with others due to its unusually gravelly bed. This ensured the privacy they required to begin their deliberations.

Their approach was firstly to eliminate the usual reasons as to why a fish could go missing from the lake. It was not entirely unknown for fish, particularly smaller fish, to disappear without explanation. Of course, the pike and perch accounted for their fair share but this had long since been accepted as an necessary, if distasteful and uncomfortable, reality of lake life. The eels also would sometimes take a smaller sick or injured fish and again this was felt to be a small, if grim, price to pay for the services all three families rendered to the lake community. Their value in clearing the lake of the elderly at the end of their life was widely recognised as maintaining a healthy environment for all inhabitants. In fact, an elder carp on reaching the realisation that his time was imminent, would often make a graceful exit toward the sunken oak and find a dignified end in the razored jaws of the thankful pike. Another, less likely but not unheard of, cause of disappearance was to be taken by predatory birds if one stayed too long near the surface. The fish were aware of these creatures because, from time to time, one died and landed in the lake, making for a welcome alternative in the pikes diet. Attacks by such birds however were unusual and invariably resulted in the disappearance of either smaller roach, rudd or perch. The missing bream was much larger than any fish which had ever previously been lost to either fish or fowl.

Having eliminated all of the known reasons for the disappearance the carp began to analyse its circumstances. Firstly, there had been the large quantity of exotic sweet tasting foodstuffs and the accompanying succulent scents in the immediate vicinity. Secondly, the breams behaviour immediately prior to the incident had been to writhe and struggle in a violent rapture as if desperately trying to rid himself of some terrifying pain. It was as if some invisible force had taken hold of his very being and forced him upwards. None of the onlookers had thought to follow him as they had fled in all directions during the violent disruption. Thirdly, there had been the curious events of the previous moonlit night when strange vibrations had moved through the lake and daylight had appeared between the trees.

After due consideration the carp concluded that all of these events must be linked and that the only way to make sense of them was to spend the night watching the surface and activity around the banks. It was reasoned that the best place to start was close to where the light had been spotted the previous night. Fortunately the branches of the large overhanging willow almost touched the water and this provided sufficient cover to allow him quite close to the bank. His companions took up similar positions nearby.

While waiting the scent of the food harvest in the centre of the lake was almost overpowering as the immediate edict from the elders had been to abstain from all food until the disappearance was solved. This was logical given that the bream had been eating at the time but it was proving difficult for all especially those with the appetite of the carp. His natural sense and memory of skirmishes with jackpike in his younger days combined to keep the hunger at bay. He channelled his concentration to the current problem.

After a short time a hulking upright shadow appeared from between the trees carrying a shaft of light and approached three straight branches by the water. It stayed a short time and then moved back beyond the tree line. The carp felt vibrations as it left and settled in place until he was sure the creature had gone. Carp combine intellect with patience in equal measure so it was just before dawn when he decided to approach closer.

As he moved in he spotted the bream seemingly enclosed in a web of very fine weed. The bream appeared unharmed apart from being a little dazed. The carp nudged at the weed but was unable to dislodge it finding indeed that it was not weed but something much stronger and that the bream was entirely imprisoned in a long tube of the substance. The bream informed him that he had been sucking in a juicy morsel when suddenly he had felt a dull pain and sharp pressure in his mouth and he was dragged to the edge of the lake. He had struggled as much as possible by his own account, the carp was sceptical of this part of the story as bream were known in the lake for their lack of sustained fighting spirit. However despite the exaggeration of prowess the story rang true. The bream had been unceremoniously removed from the water by the giant creature and thought he would suffocate. Fortunately this ordeal was short and he had been quickly placed back in the lake but confined to this area by the impenetrable barrier.

Having failed to free the bream the carp reassured him he would return and decided to make his way back to the centre. Just then he noticed three almost invisible fibres coming from the ends of the straight branches. He nudged one of these gently and immediately felt a loud beeping, pounding vibrations and the giant arrived at the lakes edge quickly lifting one of the branches. A whizzing sensation followed and a large piece of food flew through the water and out to the waiting shadow.

The carp followed one of the other fibres to the centre of the lake, explaining his mission to the suspicious sentry jackpike on passing and on close inspection found it led straight to a particularly attractive looking and sweet smelling portion. This was among several other food particles so he flicked his tail violently in the area. The untethered food rose in the water before gently settling back down but the suspect piece did not move. To confirm his suspicions he nuzzled the piece of food along the bottom. In an instant he felt the same beeping and the food exploded to reveal a bright sharp thing which almost snagged his dorsal fin as it sped upwards.

The carp gathered his thoughts, consulted his companions and reported his findings to the elders. They agreed that as the new food source contained the risk that any fish could be subjected to the breams ordeal or worse then all fish would avoid these foods on pain of death.

It had been two days since the breams disappearance. The lakes inhabitants were confining themselves to their own diets despite the temptation.

Having caught only one small bream for forty eight hour fishing expedition the three anglers concluded this lake was barren. They released the bream unharmed and began the seven mile trek through the forest to their cars agreeing unanimously that they would stick to more charted waters in future.

After a short time the mystery foodstuffs disappeared into the mud and the story of the disappearing bream and the intrepid curious carp become part of the lakes legend. The curious carp himself continued to grow in length, breadth and girth and soon joined the large contingent of fish in the lake who were larger than any fish which had ever put a bend in an anglers rod.

Esme

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Esme was a pretty little thing, if a wan complexion, thin mousy hair and a skeletal frame were the measures. She worked in a local library and to the outside world seemed a harmless sort. To a great degree she was. She kept her head down and read volumes daily. She got the job after she turned eighteen when the local librarian deemed her bookish enough. It also was pertinent that he once, briefly, dated her mother, an experience which culminated in a fumbling coalition behind the modern classics section after the last bookworm had left for the evening. Although he could never recall anything near penetration the damnable woman had appeared again with news that he, a pillar of the local choral society, was unhappy to hear. In fact, it was several weeks before he sang a note again.

The months went by and the girl never approached him. When he finally got back to singing he caught a glimpse of her behind the columns at the end of the church. Sometimes, he would see her pause outside the library, feel his pulse quicken, but she would walk on. She never appeared pregnant. She didn’t make any demands of him. He began to rest easy and stopped thinking about it. Pretty soon he was back in full sonorous voice. He was singing to his hearts joy one Sunday morning, his baritone booming from the choir’s balcony when he saw a slight figure below him at the head of the church. Kneeling before the altar with one hand rocking a pram she received communion. She pushed the pram slowly back up the centre aisle of the church. She didn’t look up. The note stuck in his throat and he began to cough violently, so much so that the choir was silenced momentarily, until they recovered composure and launched merrily into O Come All Ye Faithful. The priest’s bushy eyebrows raised at this unseasonal rendering but it covered the noise of the librarian being carried out the rear entrance where they left him on the steps coughing as though his lungs were making a break for freedom.

As she wheeled the pram away she knew she had won. He never sang again. She was always in close proximity. The wheels of the pram made a squeaking sound like a mouse in a trap. He would never know but she put grit on the axle for this very effect. When he went walking he would hear the sound behind him and when he stopped and turned she would be there, but she would stop too.

When he was at work he would hear the pram wheels grinding before he saw her pass the window. He never had the courage to approach her. The librarian sat at home and tried to read, since the day in the church he had stopped going to choir practice and soon he didn’t sing again. Each evening he would hear the infernal noise at least three times before he slept, sometimes he would wake up during the night to it and draw back the net curtains to see her slight figure push the pram down the street. He began to take a drink before bed to calm his nerves and soon he was taking more than one drink. This made for a temporary improvement, until he awoke to hear the damned noise, jumped to the curtains and there was nothing on the street.

Months passed before he came up with a solution. He found out where she lived, a small bedsit in a converted city house, once grand, now the jewel in the crown of a landlord’s portfolio. The librarian went to the door and waited until it opened, squeezed past the tenant who was leaving, muttering something about visiting a friend and then he was in the hallway. There it stood in front of him. The pram was outside the third door along a hall covered with smoke stained wallpaper and floored with cracked lino. The place had a faint whiff of vomit. He crept to the pram. He stood away from it for a few seconds afraid to look in. He was shaken from his torpor by a noise from upstairs and he looked. The pram was empty. The door to the bedsit was open a crack. Silently he placed an envelope with half of his wages under the pillow, crept back down the hall and left.

Inside she sat with her two month old at her breast. The bedsit was bare except for a single bed, a table and one chair, and a two ringed cooker. She smiled as she pulled the pram into the room and greased the wheels.
“We can sleep now little one.” She said as she tucked the miniaturised version of herself into the pram.

The librarian also slept soundly that night and for the next five. Then the noise followed him again as he was on his way home from work. He didn’t even look around this time. He went straight into a bar and downed several whiskeys until he couldn’t see straight. He heard nothing that night although later he would wish he had. Instead he dreamt. He was in a hospital ward and a nurse rushed to him to congratulate him. Her smile beamed from ear to ear.
“You will have your hands full, a boy and a girl, two for the price of one.”
He walked through a ward of new mothers and new fathers. The mothers had that look of exuberant exhaustion while the fathers held babies as though they were rose petals. He came to a curtain and drew it back and there she was in a bed. She was asleep. He looked at her gaunt sleeping face and as he brushed a strand of hair from her brow her eyes opened. They burned red.
“Your runts are here.” She spat it at him through clenched teeth.
He walked around the bed to see two beautiful newborns, both asleep, a healthy pink on their cheeks.
“Take a good look.”
He put a bouquet of flowers beside her. She turned her back on the children and began snapping the heads off the flowers while he cooed over the babies. He was just about to pick one of them up when she pressed a button and a nurse appeared.
“Nurse, I’m tired, get this man to leave.”
The nurse ushered him out to an empty waiting room. He made his way to the car park and looking back he saw her shape in the second floor window. He turned and began to run back as she dangled a baby from each hand. His legs refused to work as though he was running in quicksand but he struggled and was almost there when they hit the pavement headfirst with the noise of cracking eggs. He looked up as she dove headlong from the window towards him.

The librarian woke up in a pool of sweat. The covers had been kicked from the bed and his head was thumping. As he splashed cold water on his face, the first rays of sun filtered through the bubbled glass on the bathroom window. He heard a familiar sound.

That evening he put all of his wages into an envelope and went to her house. The pram was expecting him in the corridor. As he placed his parcel under the pillow he felt something. He took an envelope away with him. At home his hands shook as he opened it. A lock of hair fell from it and into wisps on the floor. A photograph fell to the table. A beautiful healthy looking baby. He smiled and cried at the same time as he looked on it. He turned it over. A few lines written in a neat pernickety hand took his heart and shredded it.

This is your son. He died aged three days. There was not enough for two. Your daughter waits for your help every day. It’s been six days. She can’t wait forever.

From then on he pushed almost all he earned into an envelope each week and left it under the pram pillow. He did this long after a pram was no longer necessary. He moved into a small flat and sold his house. When it was time for her to go to school he increased what he put in the envelope. He never saw her mother again. Sometimes he stood outside the school and saw a small girl with a wan complexion and mousy hair stand apart from the others. She usually had books under her arm.

When it was nearly time for her to finish school he was making his weekly delivery and he found another note. By now his hair had turned to grey wisps which he slathered with spit from left to right over his bald pate on days when he could be bothered to do so. He had long since stopped caring for his appearance. His hands trembled as he opened the note in his shoebox flat. The writing was similar but not the same.

“Your daughter will need work. She is patient. She likes books. Her name is Esme”

The following week he included a note with his weekly payment. The door, as always, was open a sliver.

Vacancy for Library Assistant. Interview Monday 10am.

Esme had just turned eighteen and if anything was even more pale than her mother before her. At least she normally was. Her own mother was looking a bit peculiar for the last few months. She was propped on the single bed with a straw in her mouth. Her hands were skeletal and her cheekbones were visible through paper thin skin. The blanket that covered her seemed to hold her into the bed. Her breathing made the sound of rats in an attic.

“It’s alright mother, you sleep now, everything is going to be alright.”
She had waited for a long time for this. Her mother had only ever let her leave the bedsit to go to school and with a strict instruction that she talk to nobody. She had a weekly shopping list from which she couldn’t vary. When she came home she would sit. Whenever she asked her mother what they were doing she would say “We’re waiting.”

She never asked for what. Now as she pulled the door behind her, glad to leave the smell of death the other side of it, she pushed the bundle of money deep into the pocket of her gabardine overcoat, she realised what she was waiting for. She had waited for her mother to die and finally her waiting was over. It didn’t really matter that in the last few months she had sped up the process by cutting back on what her mother ate until the portions were not enough to sustain a sparrow, or that when she began to be too weak to get out of bed she would tuck her in even tighter so that her breath came in rasps and she would whisper in her ear.
“This will keep you warm mother.”
None of that mattered. What mattered was that they had waited and finally her wait was over.

She went to the interview that morning. She expected to meet the librarian and was prepared to impress him with her literary knowledge. She had even researched the filing systems of the great libraries. As it happened he was off sick that day, a regular Monday occurrence, so the interview was conducted by the junior librarian, an oversized young man with bifocal glasses which clung to the end of his nose. He mopped his brow constantly throughout the interview and didn’t ask her any questions she could not answer. She was offered the job on the spot. As she left she gave him her best smile and he blushed, patting a handkerchief across the folds of his neck. She remembered him from school, he was a few years ahead of her, but she knew the names he was called and that he stood by the bicycle shed with biscuits in his pocket while the others played football.

She took her stash of cash and found a neat little bedsit close to her work. In this way Esme began her new life. There was a comfortable single bed in her place, a table and a single chair and a two ring gas cooker. There were also books, lots of books. She loved to read. In particular she loved to read about science and sometimes she would entertain herself reading about crime.

In the library she rarely crossed paths with the librarian, he made a habit of avoiding all of the staff but in particular her. The only one who visited his office regularly was his junior assistant. Each day the fat young man brought coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. During her second week Esme was in the tiny canteen where he boiled water in a battered kettle, without speaking she began to help him, putting out the cup and saucer on the tray and wiping the spoon. He nodded his appreciation. She could see the sweat marks grow where his upper arms rubbed against his flabby breasts under his polyester shirt. This became a twice a day ritual. The only thing they ever talked about was books. He had an interest in ornithology or rather in reading about bird watching, because he never went and actually did it he just read about it. She sat there while he talked about birds he would never see and looked into his eyes. She learned from a very early age how to feign interest. For his part he was amazed that she wanted to listen and to spend time with him, it was the first time anyone of the opposite sex had ever actually listened to what he had to say.

Esme’s work contract had a six month probation clause. As these months went by she learned her job assiduously, and helped in the preparation of tea and coffee and generally spent her days among the aisles of books getting paid to do not very much. At the end of the six month contract she got a letter signed by the librarian himself confirming her status as a full time permanent employee of the library. This also turned out to be a watershed day for her on the home front. When she arrived at her bedsit and put her stash of books on her table she found a letter on the tawny carpet. She beamed as broadly as her face would allow when she read that she had been accepted as a prison visitor. After reading so much about crime and criminals she thrilled at the prospect of meeting one face to face even if it was only for one half hour one Saturday each month and even if it was because no one else would visit them.

The following week the librarian lifted his teacup to find a small lock of hair in the saucer. He looked at it for a long time and deep down in his heart in the place that nobody wants anyone else to know of, he knew it had started again. He looked out of his office window at the old bridge which spanned the black water of the river. The library teetered on the high bank of the river in the shadow of the bridge. Just below the bridge the current quickened as the river swirled its way to the weir wall built to control the flooding in the fields below the town. The librarian’s office was on the second floor. The local church was built in the image of a much greater church where the bridge kissed the riverbank. Many times the church had resounded to the rich deep voice of the librarian in full song. It was a long time since he had sung. He closed the blinds on his office and went home for the evening. From between the rows of modern romance Esme watched and waited.

She arrived at the gates of the prison at ten thirty. She knocked on the door which was part of a much larger gate. A sliding sound revealed a single eye shortly followed by unlocking of bolts. Once past this she was ushered along a walkway edged by fencing topped with razor wire by a warden wielding a baton. She glanced either side to see prisoners exercising, for all the world like magnified children in a schoolyard. She wondered how long the fat library assistant would last among these school kids. She was brought to a waiting room where she sat on a bench alongside four other women. Each of them looked a little bit desperate, she wondered did she look the same while knowing she didn‘t. This was the closest she had been to happy since she pulled the door on her mother in her wake. The only thing that broke the silence was the clicking of knitting needles one of the women had pulled along with a half finished scarf from her bag.
“It’s for him you know, I’m going to see if he likes it before I go any farther.” She announced to nobody in particular.
They were brought down a corridor at the end of which they had to go through a security check. They had to remove their coats and leave their bags and belongings outside. The scarf remained along with the needles in the care of a bored looking warder despite the shrill protestations of the knitter.

Esme was shown to a room with a long table in the centre and two chairs, one either side. She was told to sit by a warder who left the room. She thought she could sense derision in the man’s voice but forced herself to ignore it. A few minutes later he was led in, his hands cuffed and he was seated across from her, the warden left.
“Half an hour, if you want to leave earlier just rap on the door, and you…”
He pointed his baton at the prisoner.
“We’re watching from just outside.”
The prisoner nodded.

He was wearing an orange jumpsuit. She thought it looked vaguely ridiculous on such a small man and wondered where they got one to fit him. He was bald apart from tufts of hair which clung to the back and sides of his head like bush on a cliff. He sat on the chair and she had to look down to make eye contact with him. It was all she could do to conceal her disappointment. She had asked for a particular type of prisoner to visit and in her night time thoughts this was a long way from how she pictured the kind of man who had done what he was convicted of. His eyes were a little too close together and he focused a beady stare at her breasts. She was glad now she had worn the blouse which buttoned up to the neck. She knew the second he walked in she would not be opening the top few buttons as she had planned on the bus trip there. That is until he spoke.
“My My what have we here?”
His voice had a chocolate quality. She shifted in her seat as his gaze strayed from her breasts to her eyes but straight back again.
“Now why would a Sunday school teacher or a bookseller like yourself want to talk to little old me? Specially on a nice Saturday when you could be doing important things with your time.”
“Everybody needs a friend sometime.” She tried to keep the quaver from her voice.
He burst into laughter, a rich deep sound she thought strange from such a small body.
“A friend? Don’t think I’ve ever had me one of those before.”
“Just to talk.”
“What you want to talk about, what could you and me possibly talk about? You sure don’t want to hear about what I did or how I pass my days in here, so what is it that you’re looking for?”
Esme stared at him and opened the top button of her blouse.
“Maybe it’s not you who needs a friend but me.” She said
He sat back.
“Well how about that, a bookseller in need of a friend, well I never.”
She shook her head.
“Not a bookseller then but something close, librarian I bet.” He was staring straight at her now.
She nodded.
“Hah got it in one.” His smug smile showed tobacco stained teeth.
“Fifteen minutes.” The warder called from outside.
“So you bring me anything to help me be your friend?”
She shook her head.
“Well, guess I’m wasting my time here, Warder?”
Esme quickly put up her hands to silence him.
“What kind of thing would you like me to bring?”
“ I think I’ll leave it to a well read lady like yourself to figure that out for next time. I’m sure you can work out what kind of things I like, for now why don’t you just open another button or two there, I’d sure like to see some milky skin”
She did so.
For the next ten minutes they sat in near silence. He didn’t look at her face, he focussed his eyes on what he could see from her neck down and kept his hands under that table. She looked straight at him as his pupils slowly got larger, his breathing became frayed. His face contorted into a mask of rage and desire and just as he was on the brink she buttoned up quickly and moved her chair back.
“Warder”
She rapped on the door and left the prison smiling. He would certainly want her back and she looked forward to twenty eight days time. She didn’t think she would need to bring anything in to convince him to be her friend in future. She decided to write to him once a week, keeping it plain and innocent. She began to enjoy being a puppeteer. On her way home she passed a building site where she usually walked and as usual there were no catcalls for the skinny girl in the heavy wool coat but this time she didn’t care a jot.

A week later the librarian opened a new volume and tucked inside the dust cover he found a black and white photograph of a baby boy in a pram. His hands trembled as he turned it over. The inscription on the back read.
My brother. RIP
He worked late that night and kept himself going by sipping from a hip flask he kept buried in his desk. He wrote long notes of instruction to the library staff, detailed guidance on where things were kept and the right way to do things. He finished his work as the lights on the bridge overshadowing the library were going out while the dawn sun rose over the river. At that time of day everything was at peace. He opened the blinds so that newborn sunlight flooded into his office glinting off the water. His desk was clear. He sat in his well worn office chair and laid his head on the green leather inlay of the oak desk. It felt cool. He hummed a hymn he had not had the courage to sing in many years.

Esme prepared the teacup and saucer as was her wont the next morning at ten thirty am, leaving the library assistant to pant his way up the stairs to the librarian’s office. She waited at the bottom of the stairs. She heard the floorboards creak under his bulk and the hinges grind as the door swung open as always. Then she heard the tray and contents crash to the floor and looked up to see the fat man lumber to the top of the stairs.
“He..He..” he burst into tears before he could say more and she walked up the stairs and past him into the office.
The librarian had used an envelope scissors to gouge his wrists and being a neat man had placed a mat of newspapers on the desk and around his feet. The papers were a deep red and his calculations were almost if not quite correct. A small pool of blood rested on the wooden floor but, that apart, the office could be cleaned and ready for its new occupant within a few minutes. On a table in the corner there was a note. She looked at it prepared to dispose of it if necessary but found it was a thirty five page handwritten instruction booklet for his successor on the correct running of the library. He came to the door again as she stifled a laugh with her back to him.
She picked up the phone and called the police and a doctor.
The fat man was still in tears as she ushered him downstairs and gave him a cup of tea. She even patted his sweaty hand to console him, a gesture he would never forget.
A month later he was appointed head librarian and a further month passed before Esme was appointed library assistant. She brought him his tea daily and forced herself to be nice to him and to listen to his chatter about birds. They were married that Spring. Each month Esme continued her visits to the prison where she played puck with the emotions of the small man in the orange suit. She said nothing for the duration of each visit and he said little apart from an occasional grunt and groan. Esme never told her husband where she went each Saturday preferring instead to say she was visiting her mother’s grave, although she didn’t know where it was.

When Esme married the fat man she made very clear who was in charge. Up until that time he had lived with his parents and his mother had cooked for him, cleaned up after him and fed him. Esme now had someone to cook for her to clean up after her and to feed her. In return for these services she agreed to allow him to have sex once monthly. She insisted she lie on top as the bulk of him would be too much for her to bear and she never removed her blouse, keeping it firmly buttoned to the neck, she reserved this part of herself for her prisoner. Still the fat man knew no better and did not complain. When he once tried to he found himself waking to her standing over him with a poker red from the fire an inch from his left eye.

Two years passed this way and Esme had her world the way she wanted it. The monthly visits seemed too spread out, but for her much of the pleasure was in waiting. She knew she was waiting for something she just was not sure what. In the meantime she used the Fat Man for her entertainment. She enjoyed watching him squirm, delighted in thinking up ways to make him suffer. They had moved into a three bedroom house when they wed and he was allowed to have the small bedroom. She banned television, his favourite entertainment and gave him what he said he had always wanted. Before they married he told her he would be a happy man forever if only he had a room full of ornithology books, so as her wedding present to him she gave him exactly that and she made him spend every non working minute of his life there only letting him out when she had need of him.

She loved to see the look of discomfort on his face from the little things like forcing him to wear shoes a size too small or sinking a burning cigarette into the flesh in the crook of his arm while he slept and then ordering him to get her a drink when he awoke in fright. She liked to open fine slits in his skin with a razor and then to dress them, sometimes with a sprinkle of salt under the band aid. She told him all librarians got paper cuts and these were signs of how she felt about him so he should be glad. In truth the Fat Man was dead but he didn’t know it yet, only Esme knew when he would breathe his last and if she was anything she was patient.

A few months after their wedding she had told the Fat Man what she did the last Saturday of each month. Thereafter every Saturday night her eyes would glint and her mouth water while she described in detail what she did that day and how her prisoner had responded. A real man she said, as she ran the razor blade millimetre by millimetre along his arm easing it along until the skin barely broke. She didn’t like the messiness of blood so just did enough to let the air under the skin. When she allowed the Fat Man into the living room, the place where she sat and waited in her armchair he was forced to sit on a wooden chair. Except on the last Saturday of each month when she gave him the treat of use of the armchair while she went on her visit. She liked to sit him there and tell him what she was going to do with her prisoner when he was released.

One Friday in November she took the Fat Man’s wage packet as she always did and she bought herself some clothes, the kind of things she thought a mistress would wear. When she got home she told the Fat Man she was going to give her prisoner a special treat the following day as it was the third anniversary of her first visit to him. That chilly Saturday she made the Fat Man sit in the armchair and she went to her room. When she returned she was wearing her long black woollen coat but she looked taller to him. She thrilled in showing him the patent black stilletos with buckles smaller than teeth she had spent half of his wages on. “It’s for him, today we’re going all the way.”
It was the first time he ever saw her wear makeup. The crescent lipstick smudged around her pencil thin lips, black eye shadow gave her pale face a ghostly look. The Fat Man didn’t respond, didn’t move, he found it hard to do much of either these days, he took himself to work and sat in his office, then took himself back to this each day. The wood in his office floor would always have a dark spot just beside the desk drawer. The Fat Man was still heavy but could no longer be thought of as fat, his flesh hung loose in all the wrong places, it draped from his cheeks like worn out curtains.

Esme left the house with a spring in her step that Saturday. As she teetered past the building site she fancied she heard a wolf whistle and turned only to hear the wind howl through scaffolding on the deserted site. Even this didn’t stop her feeling that today was going to be special. She got to the prison early and stood in the waiting room while the others sat. She was unable to sit still in the meeting room, her coat buttoned to the neck while she waited for him to be led through.

The door opened and the warder was followed into the room by a hulking teenage boy with a tattoo of Jesus on his neck who strained the plastic chair as he slouched into it.
“Where is..” she began to ask but the warder was gone.
“What the fuck do you want you old bat?”
The boy glared at her from under a Neanderthal brow, she stood up and rapped on the door and left.
That night she took the Fat Man from his room, tied his hands and feet with cable ties. He blubbered as she doodled with her scalpel on his back but as always she found it relaxing. She drew blood initially and scolded him for this.

A week later she was passing the vacant building site when she thought she heard a whistle from the scaffolding. She peered through the plastic netting between the scaffold poles. It was the time of day when the sun has just set but it is not yet dark. A light mist was falling bringing the smell of cement dust into the air. She began to walk on until something landed at her feet thrown from above. She picked up the ball of paper and unravelled it.

Come on in Librarian, I need a friend.

She walked into the building site as darkness fell.

“Over here.” Her heart raced to hear his chocolate covered voice again.

She walked into a half built apartment. The only light was an orange glow from the street lights outside. She sensed him before she saw him. Then he was upon her. He had waited a long time for this. He didn’t know it, but so had she. He came at her from behind grabbing her hair with one hand until her neck jerked back, knocking the glasses from her face, the other fumbled with the giant buttons on her coat. It was only a split second until he tore at them like a rat in a trap. He gnawed on her neck as she took deep breaths of his tobacco breath. He ripped her coat open. She felt him stiffen against her arse as his left hand plunged under the coat and grabbled at her blouse. She stood there with her back to him and didn’t struggle. She moved her hips gently to increase his excitement. His breathing laboured as his fingers tried to force their way into her. She moved her feet apart to allow it, felt the damp warmth she had never felt with the Fat Man. His erection pushed against her, he released his hand from her hair allowing her to turn toward him, her blouse half open and his hand still in her pants, groping and pawing. As she turned she reached down to his trousers. She tugged at the zip but she saw in his eyes it was already too late. His look changed from excitement to shame as a damp patch appeared on his corduroy slacks. He looked down and tried to pull back but she pushed herself onto his fingers and said.
“It’s alright my love, we have lots of time.”
He stood there with his head down while she ground herself on his hand until she jolted still, pushed him away, quickly fixed her clothes and buttoned her coat. He leaned against the bare brick wall while she retrieved her glasses and fixed them on her face. Then she smiled at him and kissed him on the lips, linked his arm.
“Darling I have someone who’s just dying to meet you.”

Esme moved the prisoner into one of the rooms and from then on she used both men as she wished, for what she wished and whenever she wished. The prisoner was a man with unorthodox leanings and she never tried to curb this simply allowing him to go out to sate them and relishing hearing of them when he came back. Sometimes he brought souvenirs. They both forced the Fat Man to listen to the stories before making him watch while they had what Esme liked to refer to as “make up sex” to atone for the prisoner’s unfaithful ramblings.

It was during one of these sessions that her son was conceived.