Monday, 31 August 2009

The Measure Of A Man (Short Story)

“No Pops, you stay here !” “Go on in the clubhouse and rest up in your rocking chair. Coach, lend him your quilt !” Now they’re warnin’ the Bench Coach to watch himself as they all rise up off the bench, cos if it’s just him and me left at the end, I’ll shoot him up into space. Wiseacres. “And hey Big Daddy, don’t be goin’ and eatin’ all the chicken wings !” And then it starts, their dumbass chicken routine. Flapping their elbows and bumpin’ and borin’ into each other as they climb out the dugout. On the way to the slaughterhouse. To have their necks wrung. Bench Coach just fixes me with a look. I can guess what’s behind it. How in hell I’m sposed to give ‘em a heads up ? First they’d have to pull ‘em from out their asses. Same ways they don’t listen ta him. Don’t want to hold his ice chip gaze any longer, so I rise off the bench. He don’t shoot up into orbit. His chewing tobacco shoots to the floor though.

Rest of the time in the dugout, they give me a wide berth. Don’t want to be in range of me chatterin’ in their ear that they need to be figurin’ out the pitcher. Watch what stuff he’s got himself tonight. Not like I haven’t faced him a hundred times before. So I know what he’s gonna throw. I memorised him. Got him indexed in my mental book. Let these young pups write up their own books on pitchers if they ain’t gonna listen up. But they got no respect for me. For my advice. My veteran status. For my numbers put up season after season. They always razzin’ on me, cos in their eyes, the DH ain’t an everyday player. ‘Hundred and sixty two game season of sittin’ on his butt every half inning, why he gotta get a night off now and then as well ? How’s that work ?’ Wish I had tonight off, way this is shaping.

It ain‘t no rocking chair, I got a recliner in the clubhouse. I rest up, visualise and focus in before a game. That’s if they haven’t pranked it. If it were a rocking chair, it’d be nothing but a pile of sawdust by now from my termite teammates. My chair ain’t no privilege, any of them could do likewise. What bugs them is my earnings. Claim since I ain’t out on the field with a glove, I shouldn’t be pulling a full salary. Their calculations is wrong. Plain wrong. Like their attitude. Like their numbers. Maybe if they weren’t so hyper with their music, and their lame pranks, they’d have something left to give out on the field. I’m supposed to bat clean up, but the table’s never set for me to clean up. So you tell me how that’s supposed to work ? I’m left to clean up the mess you knuckleheads make by not gettin’ on base. And how comes my uniform is always covered in dirt, unlike you everydayers out there in the field ? Cos I play hard that’s why. Everyday hard. You want someone who ain’t an everyday player ? Try our Closer. But ain’t his fault he’s always sat there in the pen, like he’s taken root. His number lines rely on the rest of the team. So he’s flatlined right now. Sides, even if their thinking were true, I think my record in the game means I earned it. Not like them starting out now. Headlong into the big dollars while they’re still at college. Mega bucks down on the farm. Major League contracts signed in the Minor League. Prospects not numbers. That’s all they are. Let’s see them post some real numbers. Not some digits plucked from the perfumed air of college and then set down on scented paper. They already won the Lotto jis by being here.

Look around the ballpark. Numbers everywhere your eye falls. Championship year pennants. Giant shirt numbers retired to mark the greats. Ghostly numbers. Dead men’s numbers in some cases. 410 ft marking on the wall at center. The out-of-town game scores. Telephone numbers on the billboards. Live numbers. Money-chasing numbers. And I’m familiar with all of them. I’ve taken the trouble to tip my cap and honor them thru my eighteen seasons here. Clubhouse behind me is my home from home. But them there out in the field, they’re only passing thru. They’re only aware of their own numbers. How stats translate into their market value. That’s their sole concern. In this team game, everyone’s in it for themselves. Looking after their own numbers. Everything’s a would-be unassisted double play. And right now, the numbers are down. A team down on its luck. Down on its knees. Yet the payroll’s up. That don’t square. That just don’t tally in my book.

What the numbers tell me, what I know from numbers, is that jis one team can win the World Series. Only a certain number of the teams got a chance of making it into the shakeup for it even. Half are out of contention by the All-Star game. A handful like us are out of contention before the first pitch of the season. I knew that when I saw the roster. No shoots of recovery to be had in Spring Training. Can’t harvest much in a dustbowl of talent. Pretty clear we had no chance of winning bupkis, but still we gotta put nine guys out on the field, ten including me, night after night after night. To feed the dreams of the fans. They ain’t no fools. They know the score. Or they could just look over to the scoreboard and see it written in ten foot high numbers. Scoreboard don’t lie. This team is out for the count. Players only out for themselves. Just considering their own numbers. Look at some of the crazy plays they’re tryin’ to make out there. Impossible plays. Ridiculous plays. While the team nosedives around them. Cos they know this team don’t catch much TV coverage. Gonna get no market-wide exposure here. No scouting reports. Other teams’ Front Offices never even heard of them. So they try some bonehead circus catch to make their way on to a highlights reel. The only time they do get their uniforms dirty. The fans sense it. Attendance figures are down. They’re no dopes. They know their collective dreams are built on feet of clay. Or dirt in this case. We are false idols. Sacrificial lambs. The franchise throwing us players to the wolves. When I’ve bled for this team. Busted knees, shoulders and ankles. Busted hopes. Man, if only I’d got some say in a trade written into my contract. Gotten me some leverage, I woulda been outta here faster than a tape measure dinger ! But me and my agent, we lost that particular battle. The Owner, he don’t miss a trick. Tough negotiator. Different type of hardball. He must know I want out at the end of the season. That I’m going thru the motions. But no less than any of the other stiffs here. How’s any of us rotting down here going to help him make trades ? He may give me the evil eye, but what’s he delivered up by way of a team ? Nuttin’. But you can’t tell him that. Can’t tell him his job. But he knows it like I know it. This team is uncompetitive. And for some time to come yet. I’m way too far over the hill to be part of any rebuilding job. You can hold your head up high each time you step up to the plate. But in your heart, your corrosive heart that eats at your resolve, you know.

The Owner was down in the Clubhouse before game time. Why not, seeing he owns the joint ? But what gives him the right to open his mouth to deliver us the grand speech ? The big words. Motivating us ? That’s Coach’s job. Taking team meetings. So just makes Coach look like a punk. People asking themselves just who’s in charge down in the clubhouse anyway ? No way to run a ballclub. If the players think that the Coach is on the way out … Coach, he’s been tossed from tonight’s game already. For showing his passion. Displaying his fight. Revealing his strain. The Owner, he don’t know anything about the game. He may know money, but he never played the game. Well not above Little League anyways. Don’t wanna catch his eye. So I stay out the clubhouse. Even though I’m tempted to grab some chicken wings, just to play them when they come in off the field. Can’t chance it. Can’t risk running into the Owner. He’s sure to be pissed with our performance tonight. He’s gonna be on the prowl, looking to blame someone. That someone ain’t gonna be me. Not tonight. Got me my hit. A cheap one admittedly, a broken bat bloop. But a hit all the same. The fielding team didn’t hustle on the ball. Taking evasive action from the sheared bat. Played percentages, rather than risk throwing the ball away in what would have been a bang bang play. They knew I weren’t going to steal no bases. And they were even more confident that my teammates behind me weren’t going to advance me round to come home and score. No matter how ugly, it’s down in the scorecard. A hit is a hit is a hit. More than the rest of my team. 0-fers all of them. O-fers and loafers. Carryin’ on like they do. I done my bit. Maintained my numbers. Can’t afford to get into it with the Owner. Not this season. Could be my last. Certainly need it to be my last here. Don’t want to let on, not now, not til the offseason. My agent can deal with him. He’s a pitbull, he won’t be intimidated. I could affect going to the toilet and swing back by the food. A proper bang bang play. Damn, Physio’s got his eyes trained on me now. Everybody watching everybody else. Who’s gonna jump ship first ? Why don’t he go tend someone ? Treat the Closer in the pen. His arm must have seized up thru inactivity. Muscle wastage. We’re all wasting away one way and another. Go over to my cubbyhole and affect examining my wrist guard. My chicken wing as the guys call it.

My designated role to stay in the dugout. Rooting for my guys. Clapping and gettin’ into the heads of my teammates, like the oldest cheerleader in town. Tough call, when the atmosphere in here stinks. The stench of fear. Of careers going down the toilet. Even worse tonight than normal. That weren’t team spirit on display. They meant it with their elbows. Two of them in each other’s ribs over a missed sign from last night. Big card debts still outstanding too I shouldn’t wonder. Coach should have come down hard on that. Still festering. The name calling and accusations. Like rutting bucks. Twelve point bucks, with point twelve averages. Acting like street punks. Maneuvering for the leader of this team on the field, since Skip got traded away. Like it makes a difference in the long run. Other than maybe a percentage point or two in the contract. When you’ve been in the game as long as me, you learn just to let it go. Don’t bear grudges. I’m too old, Who needs it ? Don’t bother wasting your energies. They’ll break the rest of this team up soon enough. Rip it apart. I’m aiming to sit on the bench, out of the crossfire. That’s why I don’t bother coming back at them. That’s why I sit on my hands.

I got one more move in me. Fat signing on fee. Before I can swap this clubhouse for a more forgiving one on a golf course. But DH’s are hard to move on. Only of use in one of the two leagues straight off the bat. We only got a coupla tools to do the job apparently. That’s not what my numbers say. My agent will get me the move. He’s a pitbull. He don’t let up. Just give him something to work with. Give him the numbers on paper. Then he can draw up his own numbers. Work his brand of magic. Throw his curveballs and sliders into the negotiations. Deliver him the numbers. So he’s got something that holds up on paper. Don’t show them you’re on the slide. That the old bat doesn’t have quite the same pop in it. Sure the power numbers are down. But can’t get me no ribis if there’s no one on base in front of me can I ? My coach the agent. Get our stories straight. Our excuses. Some numbers lie don’t they ? They’re right misleading. You can see that. You gotta know how to read ‘em is all. But not the Won-Lost column for this team. Can’t effect that. So gotta bust my own numbers out. This has to be the year. Now or never. Sluggers go downhill very quickly. Just maintain the numbers for this one season and I’ll be okay. Doesn’t matter what my body has to say after that. Once the ink’s dry. The ink on the past numbers is long dry. Set in stone. Down in the records. Can’t take them away from me. That must count for something. But it’s always the next set they’re interested in. The numbers to come. For as long as you’re playing, there’ll be a set of numbers against the letters of your name. For as long as you’ve a number on your uniform. Even Coach has a number on his back. His past achievements a burden for him to carry now. Bet he wishes he was numberless. Two ways to get a number off your back. Feats that get your number retired and taken out of use. The upper deck dream when we all start out. When we first get assigned our number. Or get your shirt ripped off your back and canned, like Coach’s is aheading. No real place for lowly numbers. For humble dreams.

They’re coming back in now to bat. Stay out their way while they toss their gloves. I press my face to the chain-link. Lookin’ up into the press boxes. Ow, it hurts to look up there. Must be the dazzle of them sharpening their knives, catchin’ in the lights. Cos you know those buzzards will be all over us in the locker room again. Like a rash. Making themselves right at home where we live. Hands hooked over our locker doors so we can’t shut them and leave. Trapping us. Pinning us in their spotlight. Eyes always on the move. Never giving us their full attention. Always scoping. Scouting out a greater scoop. I don’t give nuttin’ away. 162 game season, ups and downs (mainly downs). But I keep it level. We all bin here before. Last night and tomorrow. Last season and maybe next, we’ll still be back there. God forbid. They don’t come my way no more. They know I’m an old hand. A DH who plays excellent defense. In the locker room at least. The cut-off man. A slugger content to bunt their off speed stuff away and try and beat out the throw. So to them, even my quotes are tired. Tired old quotes from a tired old player. Designated hitter, but never designated spokesman. Not team leader. This team without a leader. Since they traded the Skip. For more goddamn prospects. Headless chickens. Chickens with wrung necks. The Media chase the brash players. The ones who don’t hold back. Them that don’t watch their mouths. Those who don’t know any better. The ornery ones, who feel cheated by being with this organization. I could have told them from the get-go this team weren’t going nowhere. Not very loyal to the ballclub, but then who really is deep down ? We’re all looking to our next contract. The reporters know that. They sniff out them who’re frettin’ over their future prospects mired down in this clubhouse. It’s no great skill. It’s all round in the air. It’s in the steam from the showers. The atomized spray of the deodorants. The analgesic fumes we patch up our bodies with to go on playing. Instead of masking our fear, it’s broadcast from our very pores. Scratch’n’sniff venality. ‘I want outta here, tonight and forever’. You can’t leave the clubhouse if your locker door is still open. Team rule. The Press know that. They wedge their elbows inside the doors. Microphone pushed in our face. Press got us pressed in tight. Now no elbow room to be had. No space to catch your breath after our endeavors. We’re getting changed round them. We’re half-dressed and they’re fully clothed. We’re eating chicken wings as they talk. A strange intimacy. But beneath their bromide questions, they’re really asking us about our next contract. We’re talking about our day just done, when the journalist blindsides us. Right in the guts. They got their elbows in first. Their low blows. The angry ones slam their locker doors but the Pressmen jump their elbows clear. They got what they came for. Can’t strike back. Who can we lash out at, ‘cept each other ? Owner pays our salaries so he’s gold plated. Can’t feel anger with the fans. Number one rule. They can murder you and they do. But they also contribute to our wages. That’s what their money buys, if they can’t buy a winning team. They got a right they paid top dollar for, to holler for our blood. They vote with their feet. And their wallets. Gate receipts are down. Merchandise sales down. They don’t want to yell their allegiance. Not to this team. They come, they pay their money and then they have the right to slaughter us with no end. The Press love it. The Press lap it up. The Press interview the fans during a game. Get the fire from them that they see as lacking in the clubhouse. Put the fans in pinstripes. See how they get on. Put the goddamn Press in a uniform too.

What’s the score ? What’s the game position ? What does it matter ? One thing the retired number shirts up there don’t come provided with, is giant rally caps. I’m in the hole. Like this team. Like my career. Randy’s at the plate. Surefire what’s coming next. See it at BP. In the cage he’s swatting away at everything. Like the devil’s swarm’s taken the form of baseballs and comin’ after him. Not that Randy’s a religious man. None of ‘em are. No prayer meetings no more. Hardly any team meetings for that matter. Money is his god. Money is the god of them all. And stats the way into the Promised Land. Pay dirt Heaven. Paradise is a long ways off from this ballpark. We’ve such a poor conversion rate in our church of the on-base percentage. The sin of avarice. The congregation out in the bleachers is thinning out weekly. So concession sales are down on their numbers too. They’re demanding a miracle out there and we got no one to deliver. No wine to be had from gatorade. Our outfielders baptized in beer thrown from the stands. From aspersion to submersion. Keep your head down. We’re beyond saving. The boos start up.

See, what I tell you ? Three pitches, three swipes and an out before the announcer’s got his name out over the PA. The catcalls getting’ louder. Randy’s stuck at the plate looking down at his bat. As if that’s gonna clue him in. Even the Mascot’s shaking his outsized head. He’s got it tougher than the players even. Trying to boost us to this crowd. Man they’re baying for Randy’s blood. I told him a thousand times to take a few pitches. He’s finally steppin’ off now. Moreno’s already out by the batter’s box, having to hold up for Randy. So it’s part deliberate then. Lay down a marker. But it’s a bad play, cos he’s exposed himself to prolonged abuse from the crowd. God they’re murdering him out there. Now he’s feeling it for real. They got to him. C’mon man, don’t drag your heels. Head for the refuge of the dugout. The bat dragging along the ground behind him. Like a tail between his legs. The Devil got him good then. Less like idols, more persecuted saints with arrows sticking in our sides and our guts spilling out. What with our banged up bodies and pitchers hurling missiles at our heads. And the barbs of the crowd. Yeah okay we’re well paid martyrs, but we’re easy targets all the same. Lashed to the diamond. Warning track serves to protect us from unforgiving fans, more than an unforgiving concrete wall. Randy finally makes it off the field. I should ask and he oughta volunteer bout the pitcher now that there’s moisture in the air. But neither of us swap any darn thing. Just move the hell away from each other as fast as possible as I go on deck. Put as much distance between us, as I take up my stance and he puffs himself up to trash something in the dugout. Put on a show. Get the cameras tracking him. Highlighting his passion. Like the phoney even gives a damn. I swing the bat off my shoulders. The displaced air sings. I slay a thousand imaginary devils. They drop out the air and fall at my feet. I went yard on them. I’m going yard on all their tails.

Nobody on, what a surprise. Moreno will be gone, so I’ll get me a free go. Don’t matter really what I do. Got me my hit already. Two out, with what’s behind me we ain’t gonna build squat even if I get on. Maybe I’ll get my chicken wings when I get back. Get me a second hit on the night, a multi-hit game and I would have earned it. Battin’ for average now. Keepin’ those numbers up. No one can pull me up on that. Not any of those chumps who are all hitless. Not the Owner as I’d be the only one showing all his prospects, his stalled hopes, his long-shots who can’t even hit it off the infield, how it’s done. He couldn’t begrudge me some sustenance. Sure as hell none to be had from my teammates. I watch the pitcher as his arms reach back to hurl. Visualise tearing his wings off him and devouring them. Making his scrawny neck turn round to see my ball hurtling off into the night sky like a comet. Moreno didn’t last long. Swinging at the first pitch. Like all youth today, no patience. Didn’t give me no real time to warm up. To get the muscles firing. Here he comes now. Like he can’t vacate the field quick enough. Like it’s a punishment to go out there. It should be fun hombre. We are privileged to be doing something we love, for good pay ! He pauses only to glare at me as I get the weights off the bat. Shelling peas. Shucking devils.

I step out on to the field. The crowd stop booing. That’s something at least. They still recognise me for what I achieved over the years. The numbers I put up. Take note all those in the dugout. Not that they’re probably even watching. I’ve quieted a whole stadium. Me. All by stepping out. What the number on my back stands for. Not quite a hushed breath of expectation like in the past. But I’ll settle for it all the same. No, more than settle for it, I honor them. They’re the true lifeblood of this team. The ones who stick with us thru thick and thin. Thin and thin. Year after year. They don’t go off in search of a better deal. My feet scuff the dirt around the plate. Put my stamp on it. My imprint. This is my home. My home plate and I’m here to collect. Catcher’s fiddling with his mask. Superstition ? I don’t know, he’s new to me. Come over from the National League. Don’t be worrying about him. Look to yourself. I sweep the dirt with my foot some more. I’m the bull, the bat is my horns, ready to keep this matador with his deadly projectiles at bay. Ready to gouge his eyes out. To spear him in his chest and send him reeling back to the dugout. Done for the evening. His numbers all messed up. I hold out the bat, Samson’s jawbone cudgel, in my left hand. I raise it slowly, pinpointing for my landmark in the middle deck. To the left of the banner flapping in the breeze. A bulls’ eye target urging me to hit it bang on the money. A thousand bucks to my charity if I do the business. Only the banner’s been a bit neglected recently. All forlorn there, a corner rippling back in the breeze. Flapping so it’s covering up the center of the target. Folded in on itself. Hibernating in the high summer. Do the sponsors know ? Do they care ? Even sweet charity has given up on this ballclub. No, cut out that negative thinking. Okay, we’re aligned now. Nice and tight. Dead ahead straight. The bat don’t feel quite right to me though. Course it don’t, it’s a new one after old faithful got shattered last AB. They should still all feel the same though. Made for my requirements. Made to my specs. To deliver me up further numbers. Monster numbers. I draw it back behind my shoulder. It pulls funny thru the air. I swear bat quality ain’t like it used to be back when I was starting out. Craftmanship gone to hell with the rest of the game. Aw man, I’m down a strike already. I wasn’t focussed. All this chatter going thru my head. Catcher don’t have to bother himself. C’mon, lock in now. Fastball right ? Probably reckon I can’t catch up to it and he’ll toss me another one. I know this guy. Faced him so often. He won’t change a winning formula. Why should he ? I wish I could change a losing one. Maybe I just will in my own small way. With this next ball. I’m sitting dead red. Fastball. Gotta be. Two seam or four seam’s only question. I’m ready. Just think of those wings, those fine, fine wings. Wings stand up and take a bow ! Argh, he threw me offspeed. I was miles out in front. Rock, paper, scissors. His rock blunts my scissors. Man, he seems to have grown even taller since I faced him on his home mound last. Taller than three innings ago even. Damn he’s one lanky sonofabitch. Seems he’s got the lights working for him now. He must have moved across the mound. Only a coupla inches, a tiny change, but now his release is straight outta the lights. Can you believe that ? The ball’s on you before you can pick it up. The matador’s got his knives raised and is dazzling the light off them into this bull’s eyes. Our home park and it’s made for him. Maybe we ought to trade for him ? He’d never come to this bum team. Need to make an adjustment of my own then. Get my line of sight away from having to stare into the glare. A couple of inches to the right in the box ought to do it. Remember to compensate as regards the plate. Everything’s thrown out of whack. Screwed my mechanics. This guy’s got inside my head. No elbow room. Step out. Shake him clear. Evict this trespasser from our home park. Two strikes. Gotta protect that plate and work my way back in to the count. Count, more numbers. Everything measured and tabulated. The measure of success and failure. Not the score, that don’t matter. That’s a team thing. I’m talkin’ bout the measure of a man. My numbers. Versus the pitcher’s numbers. It’s a pitcher’s count right now, 0 and 2. But this pitcher don’t throw too much out of the zone. Use that to my advantage. Know he’s gonna give me a chance. Don’t let them in the bleachers feel they’ve been cheated by this AB. Don’t let them down. Get some wood on it. Something. Anything. Sacrifice another broken bat to do it. Keep fighting him off. Keep fighting. Stay alive. Make him toss some extra pitches. It’s forever about the numbers. His arm’s on the clock. Not just the speed gun giving readings. His pitching coach’s stood there with a ticker to count ‘em. Wear him out. Throw him the chair. Send him back to his dugout done for the night. His arm packed in ice. His tired old arm. My tired old shoulder. Bench Coach’s ice chip eyes. Give something to my team even if I don’t get a hit. Cover the plate. Goddamn, he threw high cheese and I couldn’t lay off it ! Crossed myself up with all this clutter. Damn ball started high and stayed high and I still chased it. Didn’t break at all. Cept broke my heart and 25,000 other hearts up in the stand. Catcalls not curtain calls. No chicken wings this innings. We’re dead and buried. For tonight and the season. They’ll break the team up before waivers. But they won’t be able to move me on so easy. All the teams still with something to play for, to fight for, they got themselves solid DH’s already. Each player with decent numbers, 1 thru 9. That’s why they’re up there. I’m screwed on that front for this season. Looks like my number’s finally up. For good. Maybe I can sneak me those wings during the Seventh Inning Stretch. God Bless America !

Friday, 28 August 2009

Two From Four From Six

Eider's favourite part of the day. The signal that her watching brief is almost at an end. That period when the first rays of light squeeze past the bouncer curtains barring entry to our private club and strobe the whole room. Lending a particular radiant sparkle to her own togs. All twelve of them.

Yet this morning she finds she is shorn of her housecoat. So the beams of light solely reveal her transparency. The hazy shadows under her hide. The splotches on her skin. She sees Down is still out for the count. "C'mon Down, shake a leg there". **Pah, dead to the world as usual. Still, that's the male of the species for you, useless lump.** She can't really do anything without his co-operation. He, she, such awkward distinctions. It's really quite tricky to tell which of them is which. Where she ends and he starts. Especially seeing as they share their constituent parts. There being no barrier keeping Eider's plumes separate from Down's on his side. Like conjoined Siamese twins. And since their stuffing comes from both ducks and drakes, that is not what confers on them their prescribed genders. For while they both play host to human sweat and saliva, only Down is the chosen beneficiary for the deposit of the male nocturnal emission. Eider, she is blessed to wallow in the fall out from face washes, moisturisers, mudpacks, aromatherapy oils and all manner of sundry powders and creams. She may be matted and caked, but he is encrusted head to toe. Dirty beast. That's how you can tell the difference.

Especially when the coverall is off. All of which makes Eider think that the missing housecoat might mean laundry day has come round again. Yet she isn't picking up any comforting vibrations of the washing machine. No telltale sympathetic swaying from either Wat or Erbed, in fact the pair are unusually still. "Good grief!" **I don't actually appear to be lying on top of Erbed. ** "Where the deuce-" **It seems as though I am slumped on the floor. Shagpile grazing my own feathery ticklers. This isn't right. This isn't right at all. And even with my ear pressed right to the ground, I can detect not the slightest thrum of a washing machine. I feel naked. Naked and exposed down here. I am going to get soiled and covered with dust something rotten.**

In normal circumstances, the rising dawn signals that she - they, have ushered through another peaceful night of sleep for their lodgers. Helped deliver them up safe, rested and restored for their day ahead. That optimal moment she spoke of, culminating in their tenants waking and bounding out of bed. Her Lady lifting Eider up in order to make her graceful exit; feet first on the floor, then knees whisk to the side, a swivel of her graceful posterior and she takes her leave. Down has to suffer more of a bulldozering, as his boarder barrels out of bed, punching Down up off him as if he were a boa constrictor with Sir gripped in his coils. Prior to anything else, such as wash, dress or attend to her own body in any manner, first Eider's Roomy is always careful to align both her and Down up carefully over Wat and Erbed. Smoothing out any ruffles in their material. "See that curtains? I am always properly aligned. No flies on me". In the normal course of events that is. Eider loved it when her Ladyship swept the flat of her hand across Eider's surface. Even if her gold band could rasp across her a touch harshly.

Yet not today. Eider's hunched on the floor, not flush on the bed. No prospect of any smoothing out of her wrinkles. For while it's difficult to get a good view from down there, the bedfellows seem already to have risen and shone. **Okay, I'm sick of having to figure this out all on my lonesome. ** "Get up Down! Move your keratin rump!". **It's no use. I'll have to revert to the tried and tested. If I can just get some displacement going here, then I can maybe angle a quill to give him a prod. Here we go, I've got some feathery motion going.**

"Arggh! Jesus Wept Eider! Keep your prickly tits to yourself will you?"

"Ruffled your feathers have I? Good, get a move on sharpish"

"Ruffled them? They've all sunk to my toes. I've got chronic pins and needles"

"Try taking a look around you. Lying on the floor might have something to do with it"

"What are we doing on the floor? Give us one of your massages will you?"

"No I will not! This is what we need to establish. How exactly we come to be on the floor"

"Maybe it got so hot, they didn't need our close embrace"

"They're not in bed you featherbrain! They're already up!"

"Keep your dander on. You'll stir Wat"

"That's precisely what I want to do you booby, We need a house meeting"

"House meeting? How can you have a house meeting when none of us have ever stepped beyond that door to know what else even constitutes this house? How do we know what it would tae to be quorate?"

"I know some things about life beyond the bedroom"

"Oh really and how's that then?"

"I get plenty of updates from Hoover when he drops by"

"Hoover! That electrified mop? Can never get a word in edgewise when he's in full flow, so god knows how you can possibly imagine you could hold a conversation"

"We've got rather a lot in common actually. He informed me that both he and us exist far beyond this particular bedroom actually?"

"Huh? I think I'd know about that if it were even half-way true"

"Oh no, it's true alright. Both he and us have entered the worldwide dictionary so as to stand for more than the things we are"

"Eh? Pea-brain hen, just what are you pee-wittering on about?"

"Well, not all domestic hoovers come from the Hoover factory. Same as not all eiderdowns are filled with duck feathers. But we're known universally whatever the cut of our jib"

"You're more of a sucker than he is and that's saying something ducky. How worldly wise can he be, when his horizons extend to the walls of his cubbyhole under the stairs pressing in on him? Now if you don't mind-"

"Too late. Look!"

The twin comforters both slowly brought their bingo wings together to lever their gaze upwards. Though they were witness to this ritual every single day, - other than when the incumbents upped sticks and went away on holiday - still Eider and Down honoured each occasion with rapt observance. To them, it seemed like the dawning of conscious thought. There in front of them, starting inside the foot of the bed, a water bubble hiccupped itself into existence. It slowly started rising through the depths with all the languid poise of a ballerina. "Look, Wat's morning glory has started" murmured Down agog. Next a duet of bubbles started their ascent. Gaily gambolling around one another, until they reached about half way up and split off at accelerated rates. Now a whole fountain of bubbles shot upwards, as if it were the very breath of life itself. In fact, Wat was merely yawning. His drool seeding this burst of activity creating a leg-kicking chorus-line. As he flexed his watery sinews, the liquid lapped at the sides of the damming skin, and forcibly bouncing back again, collided with their fellow rebuffed swell, engendering a wave motion. Finally Wat capped the choreography with a watery belch, as his bubbles kissed those emanating from Erbed's side of the bed. Considerably fewer in number.

"Pssst... Pssst. Hey Wat!" hissed Down

"Pssst? Pssst! What the heck! Wat's sprung a leak?"

"Chillax aquaboy-"

"Chill? I've come over in a hot flush. Cos I'm leaking here. My lifeblood eking out"

"Don't be so shallow Wat. Down was trying to get your attention"

"Can't feel any pressure drop..."

"Pull yourself together Wat"

"How do you suggest I do that? I'm full of water"

"And for gods'sakes, get Erbed up will you? We need to brainstorm"

"Eider and me are bringing the brains to the table. You just whip up a storm perhaps"

"Leave her be. She's knackered"

"From what?"

"You know how it is Eider-"

"No Eider doesn't know how it is. She's assailed by just the same chemical warfare from the female lodger as Erbed. Only, she doesn't just take it lying down and use it as an excuse to lounge around all day"

"No, and thanks Down by the way. It positively revives me. Makes me feel like a guinea hen"

"Guinea hen? No doll, you're selling yourself far too short. You look like a million pounds!"

"Love a duck! Thought I was the one who ladled things on thick. Very touching. You two cluck like an old married couple. Well, me and Erbed roll with different strokes to you two"



"What is it that they say Wat, 'Jealousy is the green eyed monster'?"

"Green you say? Reckon that's more likely to be the mildew infesting you currently. You should put some clothes on and cover that up. It's unsightly. Proper putting me off my morning gargle that is"

"You want to see the flora growing inside your fetid main"

"Aha! Caught you out. I'm not full of water, but a germ-free gel"

"How can you call yourself a waterbed then?"

"I was just going to ask the very same question Eider"

"Telepathy Down. We're on the same wavelength you and I"

"I think me and Erbed have the advantage over you on that one. Besides, that accusation's certainly a rich coming from you two, whatever Hoover says. Seeing as you're not even composed of real duck down"

"Come again?"

"What's that? What do you mean?"

"Yeah Wat, what are you on about?"

"Oh don't come on all hurt with me. You know it in your marrow. Would you would if you had any. You're not hand plucked from ducks at all. You're synthetic. Made in a factory"

"Says who?

"Where's your proof?"

"Pillow talk"

"Eh? Pillow talk? Erbed never says a bleeding word all strung out like she is"

"Not us. The Lodgers"

"They haven't got any pillows. Stuffed with feathers, real or otherwise"

"Precisely. So when they whisper their sweet nothings to one another, it's usually pressed straight against mine or Erbed's membrane. You remember that sneezing bout? No course, you wouldn't, before your time. Well, the reason you pair are here at all, is that madame was new to this room. This house probably. Moved into his bed and began by sneezing her head off. Snot and mucus flying everywhere. Me, Erbed, Du and Vet, your predecessors. And of course, your overclothes get splattered in the stuff. Same ones you're wearing now, oh no, I see they must be in the wash. Anyway, floozy-woozy suggests it might be she's allergic to the duck feathers, so next shopping trip they return all lovey-dovey, with you the new delivery and Du and Vet are out on their ear"

"Do you believe him? Or is he just spouting off again?"

"I don't rightly know what to think. All this time I thought...."

"See Erbed, not quite cocks of the walk now are they? Had the stuffing taken right out of them"

A lone bubble appeared on the meniscus on Erbed's side of the bed. It started a slow, counterclockwise circuit of the perimeter of the gel. Two watery, and innumerable synthetic feathered tipped eyes, followed it on its arthritic progress. None dared exhale, until the bead limped across the threshold of where it started, then flattened itself out and allowed itself to drift wherever the gentle waves took it like an oil slick.

"Alright Erbed, there's no need to rub their faces in it. No, they know full well it's a triumphal lap of victory..."

The eiderdown failed to rise to the bait. All twisted, half-in and half-out of their thoughts, their bingo wings closed in making a shroud over themselves. If they were whispering conspiratorially, the vault was well-sealed and Wat could make out no words. Even with the sun beating down through the limply hanging curtains, the shadows inside their beings were uncannily still. They looked more like a winding sheet for a corpse.

"Look, I'm sorry about the mildew crack okay? And I realise that there are probably more sympathetic ways of breaking the news about your origins..."

Erbed did a slow roll like a dolphin caught in a tuna net, only one that had been fed barbiturates. Even the liquid barely felt like responding with its customary galumphing displacement. The gel felt silted up. Wat bowed his head in shame and blew bubbles directly at the level of his chin, if he'd had one. It looked like he was sporting a frothy beard in mid air.

"We've really torn it now" Wat burbled into the spume.

"Why so blue around the gills you two?" squawked Eider flapping her bingo wings.

"Yeah, shut your cakehole you pair of fish faces!" hooted Down.

"Cheesy feet" retorted Wat with relish, lifting his head to reveal a bulbous smile.

"They're not our feet are they? They're our lords' and masters'"

"Just hark at the three of us, now we all sound like an old married couple. You're canoodling on the floor, I haven't got a leak and we've been given the rest of the day off earlier than normal. All's right in the world". Wat's insides did a backwards flop as all the water gushed up towards the head of the bed. If he'd been possessed of hands, or pillows even, he'd be putting them contentedly behind his head.

"Now that you come to mention it Wat, I'm feeling a bit moist at the nether regions"

"Moist, what do you mean moist?"

"Something sticky. And it has been spreading ever so slowly, but I've only just cottoned on to it"

"Shut up. You're trying to wind me up. To get back for Erbed"

"No, straight up Wat. I can feel it too"

"Oh right featherlite! Maybe last night's condom wasn't discarded with the usual care. Maybe you're skinny dipping in some sloppy seconds"

"No, we know what a condom feels like. We only have to look at you to remind ourselves! There's no membrane in sight. Just moisture"

"Give over! I'm telling you two, I can't feel any tear in my skin. I check myself constantly in line with the manufacturer's advice"

"You think you've got problems, but you don't appreciate, if you've sprung a leak and we're in the floodplain, we're in big trouble. Every minute we're on top of you, we're a pinhead away from disaster. or hadn't you noticed how they only take our housecoat for a wash and not us?"

"C'mon Eider, let's try and inch ourselves away from Drowning Incorporated"

"I'm not leaking. We are not leaking! Look, look. I'm going to stay absolutely still for a while and you will see the water level does not change"

"Could be a slow leak"

"It isn't any slow- What is it Erbed my darling? Don't tug at me like that. What? Oh. My. God!"

"What? What's the matter?"

"Erbed says now that you come to mention it, when she rolled over just now, she noticed she's got a small rivulet down her side, trailing off all the way down to the floor"

"We're doomed"

"Pull yourselves together men. If it's on Erbed's side, how can we be getting drenched? Unless it's pooling underneath the pair of you and your weight is pressing it out both sides"

"No, I'm dry underneath. Not a drop"

"This stain... it's not just the darkness of being sodden... it's coloured. What colour is your gel Wat?"

"How am I supposed to know? It's inside me, all sorts of refractions through my skin play distort it"

"Will you just stop slopping around all over the place? You're going to make things worse"

"It's not me, it's Erbed. She's trying to get shot of the sticky gloup. You're right, that colour's definitely got tone to it. Huh? Erbed reckons you know what it is Eider"

"What does she mean? What are you implying Erbed? I know what it is?"

"It's red you fool. You know damn well what it is"

"Now you wait just a minute Erb-"

"Let her have her say Eider-"

"Shut your beak Down, I want to hear exactly what I'm accused of here"

"Don't be ridiculous Eider. It hasn't come from any of us, so we're all safe in that regard. But it is something you and I are acquainted with. Just the two of us I mean"

"You mean... The Countess has miscounted her days and forgotten to put the towel in? I mean we get the odd leak, but can she have gushed this much for the want of one night?"

"Oh time of the month. Thank god that's all it is!"

"Yeah, we can all breathe easier now eh Wat?"

"It's still pooling. I think something bad has happened here"

"Of course it has. We're going to have to face our induction into being dry cleaned"

"I don't mean any such trifle. Smell it"

"Pardon me?"

"Put your nose to it and smell it"

"That's disgusting. No man's going to do that now is he?"

"Why Erbed? What are you saying?"

"This blood smells, less brewed. Less fermented than what we're used to"


"So I don't believe it comes from the normal hearth place. This strikes me as more, I don't know how to put it. Wat, make yourself useful for once. What are your impressions telling you?"

"You're asking a man what his impressions of menstrual blood are?"

"No, but our bodies are a record of the last movements of our hosts. We are slaves to their weight, through our displacement. It leaves its record in the ridges and contours of our skin. Me, I don't even register it anymore, but Wat, he likes to preen in the wardrobe mirror and show off the contortions of others for his pathetic kicks"

"Hey Erbed, speak for yourself perhaps"

"And the human runes reveal...?

"Well, not much, almost like he wasn't on top of me hardly at all. But yours, there's a massive great depression at the side of the bed where the blood is. Like, like..."

"Like he was lying on top of her doubling the force on you?"

"But it runs downwards like a cleft"

"Like something was being dragged across me?"

"Or someone?"

"Hells Bells, or someone, yes!"

"And you just slept through all this did you Erbed? This dragging. This chafing across your membrane, you brainless-"

"Look, this is no time for a lovers' tiff you two"

"No, I think that moment has been and passed for today. Don't you?"

"The end of a beautiful relationship"

"What those two? Sir Cum Transferance and Mademoiselle Diaphragmeter-"

"No us you fool"

"Us? What you and Eider 'us', or the quartet of us here and now?"

"Think about it Wat. Two humans in a bed, only one leaves intact and under their own steam. No eye witnesses"

"There's us?"

"Oh yes, how are they going to make us give our evidence?"

"I've seen the late night TV shows he used to watch. They'll be after interrogating the blood"

"Get it off me. Work the quills at it Down. Work their bloody points"

"You're wasting your time. They can still tell. Still, they'll just take a scrape off you. Me and Erbed, we're right royally stuffed. One pinprick and we're dead ducks. Hung out to dry. Torn to shreds. Christ, we lasted all this time between the clumsy clawings and tearings of those two maniacs, but we won't last two minutes beneath the precision feel of the experts with their scalpels"

"Oh right, sure. Course me and Eider can just return to a normal life. Everyone's going to want a second-hand eiderdown. especially one that's played host to a murder"

"You'd be surprised. You might get a museum gig"

"Let me cut you!"


"What are you saying Eider?"

We'll cut them and then throw ourselves on them. We'll all four of us go together"

How are you going to pierce us? We're made of specially treated, hard wearing material"

"They managed it didn't they? All this blood is testament to that. Maybe the weapon is still around. Everyone have a look"

"Can't see anything"

"Me neither"

"There's just got to be? Come on Erbed, get a sweat on. Put your back into it"

"You know the scary thing? You two are full of down, me and Wat are full of liquid much like they are, yet I don't think they did use anything on one another. Except themselves"

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Climate Camp

The fact that the Police have refused to rule out "kettling" coralling/containment and the possible use of blared music to soothe the savage breast or some such is not too far removed from practices condemned as heinous when adopted by torturers.

Remember the blasting of music as Psyops to force General Noriega to surrender when he'd walled himself up in the Vatican's Embassy after the Americans had deemed him no longer a political asset? The official line was that the music was blasted out to prevent the gathered media from eavesdropping on the delicate negotiations proceeding inside the building. But why then opt for the likes of Guns N Roses "Welcome To The Jungle" and Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" to an opera lover like Noriega (and professed hater of Rock & Roll). If they wanted to soothe his mood and make him more amenable, some nice Puccini aria, or even some panpipes beloved of homeopathy suites would have done the trick surely? No, they were trying to screw with his mind.

Scroll forward to Abu Ghraib 'interrogations'. The theme music from "Barney" (inane toddler TV show) and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" played on endless loop as part of the breaking down of the prisoner's mental state. Psychological torture plain and simple.

And now it lingers in the background as a possible tactic against Climate Camp.

My question is are the artists so employed happy to allow their music to be utilised in such a way? Is there any way for them to prevent it happening and thus show solidarity with those being tortured. If they have no power to prevent it, can they at least sting the military/Police for performance rights money? You know Metallica will for a start off... You could feasibly argue that within the confines of a prison in Iraq, such a case for public broadcast would be hard to cinch. But out in the open at Greenwich Park? With hundreds of thousands of witnesses outside the camp, also having their ears assailed? Pretty public to my ears.

So Climate Campers, if the authorities do choose to blast your eardrums to try and make your occupation a little less tolerable, be sure to keep a log of every track played and the time and frequency and send off to the Performing Rights Society to ensure the Cops have a large bill on top of the overtime claims. Then it might force them to rethink their approach.

Have a glass of carrot juice on me.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Time Off

His lowliness descended upon me today. Offered to take both girls off my hands, down to the park and then up into town for a meal. After biting back my instinctual veto, and almost choking on the blood welling up from my impaled tongue, I nodded assent, which he in his razor sharp keenness, took as dumbfoundedness on my part. After shoeing up and shooing out the girls, with swollen, muffled yelps, I shut the door on them and braced my back against it, before any of our strung quartet could have a change of heart. I tracked the report of their receding progress, until I could register no further clamour.

I relinquished my station at the door and walked into the lounge. Paused and listened very intently for the silence. But all I encountered was ear-popping voided space. I shook my head trying to clear the muzziness, but it just pounded back on the inside of my cranium like an aggrieved neighbour. I glimpsed the sunlight dappling in through the nets and tried to bask in it. Shut my eyes and imagined I was a sundial. But the only horology was the thumping of blood being pushed though my temples, as I drew the staunch lids tightly over their charges. Close my eyes and make a wish. Or a potential migraine.

The very conjuration of this period of free time beyond all expectation, had obviously expended my desire quotient. The stopper was most firmly back in the bottle. The jobsworth net curtains diffused any and all sensation of heat and light away from my face. I could always ruffle them with a prolonged scrub in the washing machine. I reopened my eyes and felt wooly. My neck was cricked with the alien angle of projection up towards the sun. Its sinew was unfamiliar with the extrinsic function of an easel; rather its tendency tilted a grooved stanchion for eyes scanning surface peril at floor level. The careful quotidian plotting of trine for mother and two daughters, had been eclipsed. Disoriented, I had to flop backwards into an (the lone) armchair for support, banging the back of my knee on the arm as I did so. My proprioception sensors were underwhelmed. Misfiring into the evanescence of unreciprocated sonar. Gagging on the white noise of insensibility. They, me, we were on our own. Thrown back upon one another. Naked and exposed. In a vacuum, spawned by the sudden displacement of all other matter in my solar system. I just didn’t know where to put myself.

Moonwalked into the kitchen, to make myself a coffee to ground me. Dedicated half the morning to watching the kettle boil. I chanced my gaze upwards again, as I circled my locked neck in petition for a pardon. A dark tangle of dust-laden cobweb clouded my vision. Gently swaying in the kettle’s steam convection, flaunting itself on my dance ceiling, now that it had finally caught my eye and cut in. I swivelled round looking for something with a long handle, when I checked myself. I was not going to squander my precious remission on housework. Be it precipitated directly in the wake of children currently on day release. Or indirectly by the neglect their duty of care propagates everywhere else around the house. After all, today was to be a lady’s excuse-me, not a mother’s ruin.

The kettle ceased its adhãn and I was about to pour the scourging liquid into my ceramic mug of oblation, when I noticed the spider herself had also heeded the call. I didn’t doubt that she had only come to check on the integrity of her web. In a momentary reversion to my former self, I silently applauded that she had been able to distinguish the steam’s gentle tug on the silken fibres, from that of light-winged prey. For, I used to marvel at all things arachnid. Not being one of those women sent into a fit of the screaming abdabs by the slightest suggestion of furry, eight-legged, creepy-crawling. (After all, the four pairs of smooth limbs of Amy and regressing Suzanne slithering around, readily renders me prostrate). No, I maintain a sense of proportion. I’ve never regarded them as stealth bombers waiting to spring SAS-like from silk parachutes and storm any female embassy. Pound for pound, and though the spider has a fine battery of tricks and talents, I always believed I could make my reach advantage count. Besides, I used to delight in that whole silky death thing. Meditated too, on the zen-like patience of the spider just sitting there, unattended in its antechamber, waiting. Maybe tugging a strand like a punkahwallah, just enough to entice some addict of motion. And how I used to revel in the delicious thought, of the sometime grisly upshot of spiderly mating. A true and worthy illustration of vagina dentata.

No, I was proud that sister spider here, has elected my kitchen to be her killing field. It was far from an intimation of dirt and decay. More one of nourishment and life. A cockroach, now that would presage breakdown and ruin. But spidey sweeps my kitchen clear of insects, just as I’d enlist a cat if ever a rodent invaded the parlour. We’re allies here in a war of modest sterility. Sticking our callused digits in dykes, to hold back each sullying surge. A sorority of sanitary homemaking. Spidey saw there was no food for her and scuttled back beneath her parapet; the breastwork of a rent in my brickwork, a job needing a man, in this want of men. So now sister sister too was deserting me. Clearly she had only padded down to see if my vibrations afforded her any prospect of mealtime. Just as my daughters might. Cupboard love, when I’m Old Mother Hubbard. And my doors only swing open one way. The kettle had cooled its hackles during my abstracted contemplation. I didn’t fancy undertaking the whole rigmarole again. Of the steam drawing her back out. Time to leave her alone. In peace. Like I hanker after.

What to do with this free time ? Something uniquely for me. I was without a single aspiration. Just how to fill a hole darn it ! So I retired to bed. The privilege of a lie down with no prospect of interruption. Except from the prowling dreams that lapped at my unguarded imagination. I woke up glazed behind gauze. My mind had posited a restorative repose, but it had been shellacked. Whether by prickings of dreams, or its own internal audit as to how much deeper the salvage operation, after eight plus years of deprivation, needed to go. A root and branch overhaul. Root and branch. It immediately fired in its invoice and withdrew any further credit terms.

I could not open my eyes they were so beaten. In the abeyance, I could smell the aroma of my own mucus. This made me queasy and I countervailed by scratching my arm. Hard. I could feel the chalky dryness of the skin. Not only the epidermis, but the dessication of the corium beneath. Root and branch. It was as if I had been buried alive, stewing in the necrosis fermenting through me. Still I could not ramraid open my eyes. Is this all there is ? An endless hibernation ? After the kids grow up and skedaddle out of my life ? Having pithed me, deseeded me and scraped out all my marrow. Until there’s nothing left. Except consigning myself to my hand-crafted coffin...

My eyes bolt open, my trunk swings from the bed in one taut flow. I hear the report of the girls even before the door chimes. Saved from further morbidity by the bell. And henceforth slump once again into damnation. I try to envision the make up effect I’d be after, if I still pandered to cosmetics. The look of a confident, independent woman, who has just serenely engaged in a most delectable morning. Rather than the look of Euripides’ Hecabe, yoked amid the shattered wreckage of Troy. I’ll just have to use my facial muscles to feign the effect. Appears they too have stagnated without recent employment, since, on opening the front door my children burst into sobs. As he is smiling beatifically, I can only assume that it’s more likely to be the scary clown face they’re confronted with, than anything he’s wreaked upon them.

Shockworker Daddy had evidently put in a good shift. The girls were exhausted and put up no resistance to retiring early to bed. I resumed my journal, to put the counter-case. I was at a bit of a low ebb this morning. Caught at a vulnerable moment. First time without the children. Bit of a loose end. Time to sally forth, rather than be an Aunt Sally. This had better be good !

Er, um ...