Last Quarter

The fish swims with its wooden fins nailed to the wall, a static body, brushed with white paint. A woman sits on a balcony. She watches the chai latte moon spill milk out onto the ocean.

‘God damn it,’ she whispers.

The woman pivots a wine glass in her fingers, squinting as her hand ceases up. Her wet hair feels cold on her neck. She swirls the wine again, all too aggressively, and it spills from the top of the glass. Cars glide down the road, in the distance, twinkling like slow-moving comets.

‘Fourth of September?’ she whispers. ‘Mm, fourth of September.’

She nods her head slightly, sighing. Of course she missed the deadline. She always does. She peers through her wine glass at the seaside town. It’s skewed and foggy. To the right of the headland, a ship crawls along the ocean.

‘A caterpillar with one hundred golden boots,’ she says, smiling at herself.

Maybe she’ll write that one down. The doorbell shrieks.

17641990

***

When the man steps into the apartment she directs him to the dining room. The man studies the two chairs and settles for the Cherry Wood. He plays with a tassel on the table-throw.

‘Would you like a glass of wine, sir,’ she asks, winking.

‘No, a tea would be better.’

She gives a slight nod and a small smile.

‘Ok,’ she says.

In the kitchen, steam drifts from an orange teacup. The woman snaps five squares of chocolate from a Dairy Milk bar.

‘Ouch,’ she says, scraping cold chocolate from under her fingernails.

Glancing at the orange cup, she notices the tea’s dark shade. She wonders if it is bitter. She quickly lifts the teabag from the cup and drops it into the sink. Liquid escapes from the white mesh like a punctured soup dumpling. There are eight cold teabags sitting, slumped, by the drain.

The man is rubbing at his forehead when she walks in. His scalp is smooth and glossy.

‘I must be home by seven-thirty,’ he says.

‘But, you only just got here,’ the woman says, placing the tea down with quivering hands.

‘I would like to spend more time with you, but, I’m a Manager. I have work to do tonight. People depend on me. ’

The woman sighs, placing her hands on her hips.

‘I have to do work tonight as well,’ she says.

‘Yeah?’ the man says.

‘I’m a writer,’ she says, proudly. ‘I enter competitions to win money.’

‘How interesting,’ he says.

The woman smiles weakly, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear.

‘Stay the whole hour, at least?’ she says, fluttering her eyelashes.

The man ignores her, cradling his teacup in large, weathered hands. He lifts the cup to his nose and breathes in the steam. He brings it to his lips. She feels her stomach sink.

‘No!’ she says.

The man looks at her with wide, husky-blue eyes, the teacup frozen at his lips.

‘What? Did you poison this?’ he asks.

‘Yes.’

She rubs her fingers down her chin and laughs.

‘No, it’s just too hot to drink.’

He nods sternly, inspecting his Rolex, before standing abruptly.

‘Where are you going?’ the woman asks, panicked. ‘Please don’t leave. I need you.’

The man unclips his name badge and places it gently on the table. He grabs at a lace on his medallion captoe Balmoral and loosens his tie.

‘It’s 6:30pm,’ he says. ‘We must make the most of our time together.’


She hates the feeling of lying in bed in only a chemise. The doona is rough against her skin.

‘Why do you see men?’ the man asks, rubbing at his bare chest with glazed eyes. ‘At your age?’

‘I just do.’

The man nods before stepping out of bed. He stands by the mirror, twisting his shirt into position.

‘Don’t you have a family? A son? A husband?’ he asks, smoothing out his tie. ‘Why do you live at the beach? Property is expensive here.’

‘I like it here.’

The man runs his fingers against the top of his head as he smirks.

‘You’re running from something aren’t you?’ he says, staring at the woman’s mirrored reflection.

The man turns to the door and raises his voice as he walks from the room. She follows.

‘You know how the moon on the horizon is an optical illusion…?’ he says. ‘It seems bigger and better because you think it’s far away?’

When the man reaches the dining room, he turns to face her, pinning his name badge onto his dress shirt. David Kerning.

‘It’s the same old moon,’ he says, staring at the woman intensely. ‘It’s no bigger and no better. It’s not actually far away.’

The woman shrugs.

‘My money?’ she asks.

He pulls an envelope from his pocket and passes it to her.

‘There’s 75 dollars. As agreed.’

She opens the envelope, thumbing through the notes. She nods.

‘Let yourself out when you’re ready. If you’d like to see me again, you know where to book me.’

The woman turns and walks down the hall. She swings her hips, smiling when the headland comes into view. She hears the door close. A tiny click. She sits on the balcony pivoting a wine glass in her hand. In the other hand, she holds a lead pencil and scribbles in her notebook. When the woman’s hand begins to cramp she raises the wine bottle to her lips. She sucks in the fruity liquid and watches the cars glide down the road in the distance. At 10pm, she walks back down the hall and stuffs the empty teacup in a cupboard. In the shower, she rubs Argan oil into her hair and listens carefully for the 10.30 doorbell.

 

Carmel Purcell

 

At 11pm and then 12

Malice in Manhattan

The waiter walks past me in a hurry so I click my heels under the table and sigh loudly. He notices and he stops in his tracks. It annoys me a little that he hasn’t yet noticed my almost empty drink. When I first walked in here he couldn’t keep his eyes off me.

“Another one, ma’am?” he asks and I nod, yes. I still have my second drink and I swirl it around in my glass as the waiter leans over and takes my first one. His sleeve pulls back a bit as he stretches over the table, and his Rolex watch glints at me. I notice it’s 11pm, and I don’t have to be anywhere until 12. But I don’t mind wasting my time in a bar like this. It’s fancy but I notice a few cracks in the paint, some dodgy craftsmanship on the woodwork on the bar. There’s a door slightly ajar behind the stage, and there’s a man with glasses going over paperwork. There’s a frown on his face and a pen behind his ear.

Apart from the little irregularities, I will admit that this bar has charm. The chairs are all red velvet. They match the piano player’s fedora. I’m surprised the piano fit through the wooden front door. Perhaps the piano has always been here? Maybe this place has always been a type of jazz bar. It’s situated down a side alley off a main street that’s lined with sleeping households. This is the only place open in this suburb, and the kind of place to bring people of all sorts in at 11pm.

There are a few well dressed men sitting at a round table, each on their 5th scotch or whisky. A man and a woman sit opposite each other at a small table with a bottle of wine between them. I’ve been watching them for a while, and I’ve deduced that it’s a first date as they don’t really look each other in the eyes, and the girl has a very nervous laugh.

There’s a few more men sitting around the tables and at the bar. I don’t believe tonight is this Bar’s busiest, so a blonde woman wearing a red dress, alone at 11pm, really stands out.

The waiter brings me over another glass.

“Thank you.” I say and smile.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he says, leaning on my table.

“Yes actually there is,” I say leaning forward, “Could you tell me what the time is?”

The waiter stands up suddenly, “Oh, sure of course.” He pulls his left sleeve. “It’s 11.05.”

“Thank you.” I say, leaning back into my chair and taking a sip of my drink. The waiter walks back to the bar.

From the corner of my eye I notice someone staring at me. I subtly look to my side and see one man from the circle table hunched over his drink. He’s probably too drunk to realise how much he is staring at me, but hopefully sober enough to remember me, especially as I subtly lean down to scratch my knee. While doing this my dress pulls up and reveals the 6-inch revolver tucked neatly into my garter belt. I don’t look back at the man. I stare into the fireplace in front of me. The man doesn’t get up or move, but he will remember.

The waiter walks behind me again. I grab his left arm.

“Another drink, please?” I say, not breaking eye contact.

“Of course, ma’am,” he says with a cute smile. “I’ll bring it right over.”

My wig starts to itch and I think this will be my last drink. My plan was to arrive here at 11pm, and leave at 12. An hour would be enough time to make an impression on the staff and hopefully some locals. They would notice an out-of-towner anyway, but I added the get-up to cover myself. And have a little fun as well, of course.

Soon I’ll get up and leave, smile a thank you to the waiter and walk out into the cold night. It’ll be dark at the end of the street where a street lamp is broken, and the number 8 is faded into the front door. His window is open. I was told it would be, anyway. Climbing into his bedroom will be the easy part. Finding a place to carefully hide my heels so that they can still be discovered by the detectives will be a little more tricky. But my main aim is to be as swift as possible as I twist the silencer on my gun. From experience, I know silencers aren’t extremely quiet, but that’s the scene I’m aiming for. Someone next door will notice. Perhaps they will notice a blonde with a red dress walking briskly down the empty street, alone at 12pm.

It will be a quick, clean shot to the head, and a quick, clean exit out the rear door. A train to the next city with my outfit trashed in the bathroom bin. My money will be waiting for me back home. Quick. Clean. Easy.

After a few more drinks the time ticks over to 11:45. I gulp down my glass and get up to leave. Putting on my coat I lean down to write a fake number on a napkin for the waiter, just another red herring for the night. I look up to see if he notices me leaving. His eyes again aren’t on me but instead on the bar and around the floor. I quickly leave before the he realises I’ve stolen his watch.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

Poetry

Molly parked her walker up under the window of the dayroom and took the last place at the table. The poet was sitting on one of the long sides; he’d set up plates of cream biscuits down the centre as if this was a kitchen table and it was going to be some chatty morning. Molly tried to pull her chair in so she could reach the complimentary paper.

First thing, before mention of the biscuits, they went round the table listing favourite poets. Keats, Browning, Wordsworth, a nod to Shakespeare and even God with the Psalms. As the latecomer, the visiting poet – whose name she couldn’t recall – came to Molly last. She said she liked Sylvia Plath. Not that she’d read anything beyond the sensational newspaper reports at the time, she just wanted to be different; she’d never been one to conform and wasn’t about to start. The poet nodded sagely.

‘Wasn’t she the one who killed herself?’ asked Arthur, the only male resident to turn up to the poetry workshop.

sylvia plath

The woman beside Molly leaned over and whispered for her alone: ‘that’s where poetry gets you.’ She smelled of Yardley lavender talc. Molly recognised her as she breathed her in, and was instantly glad Patience was here. She reached into her low slung cleavage to fetch out her glasses – that way she could see what was going on too.

‘So you are all fond of a poem with a rhyme, Plath fans excepted,’ said the poet with a tiny bit of acid in his voice. ‘Do you want to see if you can write something without rhyme?’ The enthusiasm was not returned unconditionally. The idea of a three line form poem seemed okay though. ‘None of us are likely to die before we finish,’ murmured Patience. Molly couldn’t help sticking her glasses back on her nose and glancing across at Joyce just to make sure. Joyce’s chin was resting on her chest and her baldness was exposed: a naval gazing slump.

Molly was still muttering out strict syllable patterns for her haiku about a muddy pond when Patience shoved her own bit of poetry-paper over for her to see.

Blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah

Molly put her hand over the paper and started a reply, feeling like she was at school again, sharing secrets with a girlfriend, living in the light of her smiles and approval.

Ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha

Patience gurgled and spluttered and sprayed a bit of spit and Molly lost sight of her as her own eyes crinkled into slits.

‘Would you like to share your poems?’ the poet asked. Molly opened her eyes to see him looking straight at her. The poor thing, what disappointments he must have had to end up doing poetry in an Aged Care Hostel.

‘No, it’s a bit personal,’ Patience interrupted boldly. She reached over and patted Molly’s goanna-skin hand. Molly felt electricity shoot up her arm. The hostel’s nylon carpet was a bugger for static. And she’d been in love with Patience from the moment her son admitted her. She missed Nancy every day – who wouldn’t after forty-three years together – but Nancy was dead and Patience lived in a room in the same corridor.

‘A love poem next,’ announced the poet. ‘Maybe we can extend ourselves to ten lines.’

Molly didn’t hear the instructions; she was composing a love letter she’d never send. She knew every metaphor she could come up with was a cliché because love was a cliché no matter the age. A nipple still stood up like a rose bud, tides still rose too, and a storm wave still crashed through secret caverns.

The room went silent around her except for the scratch of pens negotiating their way across paper and Joyce’s soft snoring. Molly did try to put some of her thoughts down but they were always one step ahead of her arthritic joints. Arthur was quicker. He read out an ode to a woman who was ‘the prettiest rose in the garden’ and ‘the twinkliest star in the sky.’ He wasn’t the only one in the workshop to tear up as he read, though his face remained a continent of dry creek beds and no tears fell. They all needed a break and an orange cream. A trolley of teacups chattered in. Patience poured more electricity into Molly as she touched her.

‘I was thinking about all those years at boarding school,’ Patience confessed. The left side of Patience’s face sagged a little even when she smiled. A stroke was not always as gentle a thing as the movement of Patience’s hand down Molly’s arm.

‘It is like school,’ agreed Molly, hoping to recapture the collusive intimacy of their haiku laughter.

‘I had a thing with one of the girls in the dorm.’ Patience stopped. Picked up Molly’s hand. Stroked the loose skin on the back into gullies before travelling the length of her index finger. ‘I always wondered if it counted and whether it meant I was a virgin on my wedding night. Can I get you a cup of tea? Two sugars isn’t it?’

 

Jane Downing

 

The Leak

Sun-Through-Hole-In-Roof-of-Engine-Shed-at-Bahnbetriebswerk-Pankow-Heinersdorf

There was a leak in my ceiling. The ceiling paint chipped where the water pooled and the drops dripped heavy and glistening, straight into my bathtub. At least I wouldn’t need a bucket. The drops were consistent; I counted about 10 seconds between each. I was standing in the bathroom doorway brushing my teeth when I first noticed it. Every drop echoed in the porcelain bath and through the hallway.

I’ve lived in this house for four months, but every room already has a broken fixture or fault. The stove broke on the first day. The keys got stuck in both locks on the second. The next week, the tap handles in the kitchen broke and the week after that one of the floorboards snapped beneath my feet. In all instances, the real estate agent took their sweet time to act on the issues. That’s what you get for hurriedly signing the lease for an old Queenslander house for too-good-to-be-true weekly rent. But it was close to work and was as far away from my ex as possible.

I was having a rough year. And to top it all off, I hadn’t sold any of my pictures since I moved in. I just had nothing new and people just weren’t interested in my old stuff anymore. The house was bad luck and I blamed everything on the real estate.

I stared at the leak a bit more while chewing on a piece of toast. I would have stared at it all day if didn’t have to go to work. Staring at my ceiling didn’t seem like a good enough excuse to take the day off.

When I drove to work I couldn’t help but think about the leak. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I had lived in an apartment on the bottom floor. Someone could have left a tap on too long, or a pipe could have burst. But I lived in a house. Sure, an old crappy house but there was no reasonable explanation for it. There was nothing above me but a roof and the sky.

I discussed the leak on my break. A few people came to a conclusion, that it was just left over from a previous rainstorm and had matured in my ceiling, slowly rotting the timber and curling the paint.

“Are you sure?” I asked them.

“Yeah,” said one co-worker, “it happened to my brother not so long ago. He just let it drip out – didn’t even need to call a plumber.”

“So I’ll just have to wait it out then?”

“I guess.”

When I drove home, I couldn’t help but notice the blue sky. It was an interesting contrast to the brown fields and crinkling forests. It hadn’t rained in this town for months. It flooded around the same time I moved in and my paintings stopped selling. Maybe I was cursed.

I stood in my bathroom doorway again, counting the drops. It was now 8 seconds between each, and the drips were no longer a hollow sound on the porcelain bath. The drips slapped into a pool of water that had grown while I was away. The plug was out of the bath (I don’t even think I had a plug) so there would have been blockages in the pipes as well. But with only 8 seconds between each drop I wasn’t too worried. It took only a day to fill a quarter of the bath. I could wait till tomorrow to find a plumber.

But just my luck when I woke up in the morning the leak had increased – now 5 seconds between each. And the bath, well, it was the first time I had ever seen it full. And the water was clear, beautifully crystal clear. If it had been manifesting in my ceiling I would have expected it to be dirty and full of rot. What sort of leak was this?

I rang the agent as I watched the drops splat into the bath. They put me on hold for five minutes. Then there was a cheery hello.

“Yes hello,” I said boldly, “I would like to get a plumber over my place as soon as possible please.”

“No problems at all, which house are you from?” said the too-cheery voice and I was a bit insulted that they didn’t already know me by now. A plumber was organised anyway and would be at my place between 11am and 1pm tomorrow.

The plumber arrived at 1:15pm and we both stood in the doorway of my bathroom, staring at the leak.

“That’s damn clear water.” He said.

“Damn clear.” I said. “Can you fix it?”

“The easiest thing to do is it just let it leak out.”

“How long will that take?”

“Depends on the size of water in the ceiling.”

“Ok.” I said and just stood around while the plumber fixed the blocked pipes in the bath.

“Really shouldn’t take longer than a week.”

A week?” I said, shocked that I would have to endure drips and splats echoing though the hallway and in my dreams for a week.

“Don’t stress yourself over it.” The plumber said and left. I think he stole my pen.

That night I drowned in my dreams and the next morning I woke up in a sweat. Maybe the plumber was right; maybe I’m just going insane. I got up and walked to the bathroom. Strangely, the pipes were clogged up again, and the bath was full. 2 seconds between each drip now. And the ceiling was almost curved a little… like it was only just now heaving under the weight of the water. And the bathroom floor wasn’t any better. I stepped on one tile and the whole floor creaked like it was screaming from my touch. This wasn’t good. But I had an idea, and I grabbed my camera. This was the first bit of inspiration I’d had all year.

I waited for about an hour before the water in the ceiling finally broke through. It poured into my bathroom like a waterfall. The pressure from the water buckled the floor and the room crashed in on itself. The mirror smashed and the walls cracked and split. A palm tree fell in through the window. There was now a hole in the ceiling was the leak had been, and the sun was shining through.

I took a picture. I took a few. The rest of the house was still sturdy, but maybe not for long. Maybe I would sell the picture, and earn thousands. I would definitely get some sort of insurance pay out. But, either way, I’d have to call the agent and inform them of the situation. I hoped they would remember me by now.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

Pennsylvania

“I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.”

David Lynch

philadelphia

I’ve lived in this city far too long. Philadelphia is full of filthy streets and fatties. Being the home of the cheese-steak hasn’t done the people any favours. Sometimes it’s warm and muggy and pigeons lie around lethargically and your butter always softens real quick for your afternoon ham sandwich. But then, winter rolls in with spikes on its boots and cuts your cheek with a blade of ice and cuts and cuts and keeps cutting until your socks bite your toes and your skin is as flaky as careless shredding on a block of blue cheese.

And here I stand at the table with my family. Philadelphia born and bred. I’ve never put one foot into Ohio or Virginia or Maryland or Delaware. I would have made it to Arizona in October if Mom hadn’t wrapped a tight leash around the family credit card.

‘Sit,’ Dad barks at me, as if I’m our neighbour’s Presa Canario, Princess.

Poor Princess. Every Monday, I watch the yellow sunlight drift through the glass and illuminate the bristles on the legs of the Hacklemesh Weavers clustered in the corner of my room. When I hear the padlock click, I open my bed-side drawer and pull a box from the plastic wrap of the Tic Tac multi-pack. Every Monday, I watch Buck mow the grass. I sit by the window, slamming the orange box down at the perfect angle on the edge of the window sill. I place a Tic Tac in my mouth and soften it and chew it and swallow, throw one in the air, catch it on my tongue and soften it and chew it and swallow. Then I cross my fingers.

‘I said sit.’

The beauty of a collapsible cage is that it is collapsible. Every Monday, I place the last Tic Tac on the sill in the hope that one day Princess will break through the metal bars and eat Buck while he’s scratching his filthy redneck scalp. I imagine I’ll walk down and offer his girlfriend Tiffany a cigarette and offer her a Tic Tac and give Princess a scratch behind the ear. Tit for tat for a tiny morsel of entertainment in a city sucked dry by dope and derision.

‘Jacob sit, now. Next to your sister,’ says Dad.

‘Father, relax. I’ll sit,’ I say.

I lean forward towards the table snacks. The box of See’s candies feels cool in my hands. I pull it towards me and it rattles softly like a maraca. Everyone stares sharply as I pop a bubble in the wrap.

‘Not necessary,’ says Mom, shaking her head.

As Gram rambles, I pick up the brown paper from the box and sniff the nutty, Easter-like scent. I take a bite and assess the centre. The caramel is beige as bitter tea. It’s chewy. Gram finishes her speech about the Blanket Society. Now she’ll ask me about life at the burger store and history and examinations and guitar and friends and probably, girls.

‘I don’t swing that way, Gram,’ I’ll remind her, again.

Again and again and again and again. When Gram was my age she wasn’t into computers or cell phones or video games or telly but rather tennis and the pictures and young men and picnics and picnics with young men. Young men, Jacob, you and young men? No I don’t think that’s right, my dear.

I stare at the gold pendulum swinging left and right ever so slowly above Gram’s head. I study the clock’s face. It pokes a thin black tongue at me. I’ve never noticed the scratch next to Roman numeral seven.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings.

I hope the clock doesn’t unhinge and peel itself from the wallpaper.

‘Ding dong, ding dong,’ it sings again.

I hope it doesn’t drop from the wall and fall onto Gram’s head and make her stop yapping like a Chihuahua in a tiny crochet jacket. The wallpaper really is ugly. It looks like frothy Cool-Aid. Mom had puffed out her chest at every wallpaper store in the city back when they were renovating and looked more than deflated fumbling at registers and stuffing rolls of old stock into the back of her grey Ford Escort.

‘Aint that right, Jacob?’ says Dad, nostrils flaring.

‘Huh? Ah yep, Dad,’ I say.

Roman numeral three looks like a little cage.

‘Jacob has a friend called Jess,’ says Dad, making twitching rabbit ears with his sausage fingers. ‘She’s here all the time.’

I try to roll my eyes as far into my head as I can without detaching an eye-string.

‘Is it cherry pie for dessert, Mom?’ I ask.

Mom plays with her necklace.

‘Jess is lovely,’ continues Dad. ‘She’s sophomore at Jacob’s school and I’ve heard she’s top of her volleyball team.’

‘Dad, shut up,’ I say, looking out the window.

A maple brushes its fingers against the glass. A distant tree sags under the weight of a thousand red ants. Ants, scuttling and smothering. I imagine a leaf snapping off in fall and floating in the warm breeze and floating down the street, past the main drag of stores and past the power station and all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where a current could carry it to somewhere distant like Israel or Italy or India. Escape this hell-hole little leaf, while you can. Have a say in your own damn life, while you can. I’ve said many, many, many unkind things about Philadelphia, and I meant every one.

 

Carmel Purcell

The Cringe welcomes Carmel Purcell, the newest addition to our writing team. Look forward to a variety of articles and short fiction from Carmel in the coming months.

 

Sir P Speaks: Bon Voyage

Lovely Sir Partridge,

What countries should I visit and why? I ask because though you think your self-published travel books don’t have a fan base, there are those of us who can’t get enough of such titles as Confessions of a Naughty Travel Writer and The Gormley Archipelago: Islands I Have Been To.

In fact, I would like to become a travel writer too. How do I do it?

Also, are you available as a travelling companion?

Yours (always)

Titania Trumpet-Sock

vintage travel 10

Dear T

You’re right of course. I am a superb travel writer and it’s shocking that this has gone unnoticed by the countless publishers I’ve sent my manuscripts to.

No, I will not travel with you because I find your name disturbing and I sense in you a certain fanaticism. I imagine that were we to meet you would remain in a state of catatonic adoration, staring at me for hours with eyes the size of mad saucers.

Still, here’s some advice. I have always ensured I visit countries in clumps and that they have some kind of connection with one another. This imbues one’s journey with meaning, however spurious. For instance, in my book An Eye for an I, all of the countries I visited began with the letter ‘I’ and had vengeance as a national characteristic, namely: Iceland (Viking sagas); Italy (mafia payback); India (Hindu-Muslim tensions etc); Ireland (the Troubles); and so on. Brilliant when you think about it.

Likewise, in my book The Monosyllabic Empire, I spent a fortune visiting the five countries in the world with only one syllable (France, Guam, Greece, Laos and Chad). It turns out that they have little in common beyond this charming quirk of pronunciation.

Becoming a travel writer is quite easy as long as you have little wish to be read. I can only write against the market rather than for it and I have no regrets. All travel books are feats of colossal self-indulgence masquerading as acts of generosity. I have no truck with such hypocrisy. I prefer to nail my colours to the mast. Hence my true masterpieces include Travels with my Tract: Getting Caught Short in the World’s Most Inconvenient Places, and An Aladdin’s Cave: A Voyage into the Treasure House that is the Gormley Mind.

Here’s an excerpt from the latter:

Stone Town, Zanzibar, 14 October 2011

At 7.13am, woke up from fevered dream in which I was on a speeding train crowded with people, one of whom had decided to bring eight Irish wolfhounds. The man released the hounds and suddenly I was under desperate attack. To save myself I somehow managed to hurl most of them to their death through an open door.

At our destination, the dogs’ owner summoned the police and pressed charges. I was led away by a constable who, I noticed in shock and disgust, was none other than myself.

Constable Gormley realised the dog-killing charges wouldn’t stick so as we passed a pub, he asked the owner for advice on how to frame me. ‘Get him on trafficking prescription drugs’ was the publican’s cheery response. Then I woke up.

Spent the rest of the day thinking about why I find coins so fascinating, regretting that I haven’t joined the Navy, wishing gladiators were still an entertainment option, and wondering why life seems so hard when most of the time it really isn’t.

I also favour the 18th century tradition of putting as much in the title as possible. Of all my 34 books, my favourite is: A Long and Dreary Sojourn in Slippers across the Shetland Islands, Taking in Such Unremarkable but Absurdly-Named Villages as Grutness, Drong and Clab, in Near-Horizontal Sleet while Regretting that I’d Ended what was (in Retrospect) a Promising Relationship with a Young Lady who would have made an Excellent Travelling Companion and Mender of Broken Hire Cars.

I hope this helps.

Yours

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

A Family Of Wolves

My family is loud. They’re the ones you hear howling across the restaurant, spilling drinks and laughing at their own jokes. They’re the ones who growl in movie theatres, and feel the need to yell during phone calls. No emotions are held back in my family. If you are upset you explain why and crying is done in waves, not ripples.

My mother is the loudest of them all. Her laugh can be heard through oceans, her voice strong, not shrill. But by some strange fate I was born an introvert into this family. My heart grew in a box, and my voice slid through my throat like a rusty piece of wire. In large crowds I would shake and stammer while my feet sunk into the dirt.

When I was young with a stutter my mother was my guide. She would finish my struggling sentences with a confident string of elegant words. She wouldn’t consider herself a poet yet in my young eyes she was.

But shame crawled under my skin when I was forced to speak on my own. I was not one to pull words together quickly, and when I struggled I could see people’s eyes glaze over. Most of the time my silence and short sentences were mistaken for idiocy.

I still have rust in my stomach. I still can’t howl. Where did this weak blood come from?

My dad is not the loudest of the pack, but when he talks, people listen. He knew mum couldn’t be my poet forever, but he didn’t want me to learn to howl the way she had learned.

So dad told me a story.

When he was growing up he saw a man get stabbed outside a coffee house in broad daylight. Dad was 15 and had never ridden his bike so fast home in his life. But he said that still wasn’t as bad as what my mum had been through.

Your mother wasn’t always loud, dad said, she wasn’t always a poet. Her voice, too, was once confined by vines, and other voices had choked her own words in her throat.

Animal-Black-Wolf-Extinct-Pennsylvania-AnimalsDad said while mum never saw a man brandish a knife, she knew a man that was similar in character. At the time she had called the relationship complicated, like oil and water. She loved to preserve peaches and cherries and artichoke hearts in mason jars, but she hadn’t known how to preserve herself. She would tiptoe over eggshells to be the Rose for this man, but this man only offered up thorns. My mum was lost in a pit of despair and false love but it was not my father who pulled her out of it. Dad said there was only one other in our family who had smelt the oncoming storm. She was the only one who had intervened.

I used to hide at the very end of tables at big family gatherings. But there was another who hid at the other end. My grandma was always under a shadow. My proud Welsh grandpa would always growl a comment on everything in the conversation. My grandma would just nod and sit in silence. I didn’t know that she had a howling bone in her at all.

But my grandma snapped when she saw the bruises on my mums face. So my grandma began to hunt at dusk, stalking the man through the back streets and searching for weaknesses in his house of thorns. She spent many nights creeping in her familiar shadows. She was the one of the best, dad said.

One night with a full moon above her head, my grandma crept out of her shadows. The man was limping home and smelt all bloody and bitter. Although my grandma’s howl was quiet, she was efficient in snapping bones, slashing tendons, and tearing flesh. She torched the house of thorns and growled at my grandpa until they moved across the country.

Even though my mother was safe, she still had thorns in her. It took a long time for her to heal. But my grandma never let her forget that she was a wolf and that she should howl like one.

Your blood’s not weak, my dad said. You can howl loudly or you can howl quietly, but you always have the choice. He said, don’t ever forget you’re a wolf too.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

The Cringe welcomes writer Ashlee Poeppmann to the team! Look for more of Ashlee’s short fiction in the coming months.

Sir P Speaks: Public enemies number one

Dear Sir Partridge

Why are cyclists the way they are? Why are they so scrawny? Lycra seems like a miracle material if you dislike chafing but why can’t it have a proper use? I mean, cyclists aren’t exactly criminals (or are they?) but can’t something be done? Perhaps you should write a book on this urgent issue.

Yours
Nogbert Frump

vintage-cyclist

Hello Nogbert

Firstly, let me congratulate you for making so little effort to disguise the fact that you’re actually me. As a pathological narcissist, it’s a constant relief that since starting this valuable column I have thus far not had to offer advice to anyone but myself.

As it happens I am indeed tempted to write a novel that deals with cycling and the danger it poses. It would be a dystopian vision of life beyond peak oil when bicycles are the only form of transport, and even they are at a premium. Only the rich can afford them and so find it relatively easy to escape the zombies. Fortunately, there emerges from the pedestrian under-herd a visionary quasi-superhero called Partridge Man who leads a successful rebellion against the cyclist overlords. But then here’s the twist, see – he and his fellow non-cycling humans avoid the zombies need to outrun the zombies. How do they do this? Why, cycling of course. Quickly Partridge Man and his minions are scooting about on their Malvern Stars as smugly and vigorously as the very people they overthrew. How ironic! How original! And an original plot requires an original title. Animal Velodrome?

Anyway, the point is that the above plot raises one of the key problems with hating cyclists: that on paper at least cycling is a wonderful thing – it’s good for you (until you fall off) and it’s good for the environment (yawn). So any serious attempt to ban cycling has to find some way to skirt these issues.

The reason it is necessary to take such a harsh line at all is the deep ideological divide that separates cyclists from normal people. This is most evident on so-called shared walkway/cycle-paths, which provide cyclists with countless opportunities to close in on their stealth vehicles of death, whip past you with half an inch to spare and abuse you roundly for using your legs in a manner inconsistent with their world view.

So, the only way for sanity to prevail is for one to yield to the other. This can be achieved through a grand exercise in reverse psychology. Things need to be made mandatory. In effect, a system needs to be introduced in which anyone who does not embrace cycling and all it represents would be purged. All forms of non-cycling transport, including walking, would be banned. Wearing any clothing apart from lycra bib-and-brace onesies with Goretex over-panties would see you straight up against the wall. Dissent along the lines of ‘Christ, my bum and quadriceps are sore’ or ‘Why do these bloody things keep getting punctures?’ or ‘I have nicely developed calf muscles but the rest of me is emaciated’ will result in you being sent to a re-education camp in Coober Pedy.

It is only when we experience the true horror of a state in which the tedious good sense of cycling is taken to its logical extreme that the scales will fall from the eyes of all but the most ardent admirer of that two-wheeled instrument of torture and woe.

And what obese quasi-superhero would lead the people as they rise up against the state and restore civilisation to the utopia it is today? Well, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir P Speaks: That vain stab at immortality

Dear Sir Partridge

My husband and I have 10 children. Should we have another one so we can field a complete cricket team? Or should we get a pet? If so, which species and breed? Seven of my children want a border collie; two want a cheetah; one wants a meerkat to feed to the cheetah.

Yours in desporation (desperation and adoration)

Beatrice S

vintage family

It’s funny you should mention this, Beatrice, because of late my legion devotees have been hounding me to breed (usually with them). “Do it for the sake of humanity!” they wail. But I refuse. Here’s why: my cleaning lady told me she once walked into her bathroom to find her two-year-old ‘cleaning’ his teeth with the toilet brush. She took this incident in her stride; I have entirely failed to do so.

Yes, having children passes the baton of your title and/or surname to another generation in the great spiralling relay race our DNA makes us run. But in exchange there is much to be endured. One analogy is that children are hugely demanding, wildly expensive pets it takes years to house train. Another is that they are helpless, fickle, merciless, deranged masters who are as unwilling to pay you as they are unable.

Kiddy-winks are diametrically opposite to how they should be. These are the phases a child, in an ideal world, would pass through:

  • 0–12 months: lounging about in their cot, sleeping more or less constantly and making charming gurgling sounds when required
  • 1–5 years: impeccably behaved, self-vaccinating creatures of delight who excel in all sporting and quasi-academic endeavours, putting all your friends’ kids to shame
  • 6–12: perfectly capable of managing your tax and other financial affairs, mixing you a decent cocktail, and capable of and inclined to cook and clean without any expectation of payment
  • 13–18: never surly, sullen or in any way inclined to interact with the wrong type of boy/girl or express any interest in becoming an actor, dancer, poet, artist, writer etc.

There is also a need to interrogate your ancestry and ask yourself what it really has to offer. I am the eldest of the Gormley mass spawning and neither I nor my six siblings are terrific advertisements for passing on our genome. They are all in varying degrees deranged, profligate and perverted:

  • Pemmican – buffoon, male palm-reader, thinks he’s a hipster
  • Petunia – the brains of the outfit but a bit dry and tiresome, truth be told
  • Puddock – amateur mortician and professional taxidermist (or possibly the other way round), Internet troll and general shit
  • Plenitude – psychopath and femme fatale (sorry, Plenny dear, but it’s true)
  • Prunella – lady drunkard; cockatiel-fancier; psoriasis-sufferer
  • Picaroon – diminutive gigolo and all-round Queenslander

So, my dear, ditch the Beatrice XI idea and opt for a pet. Forget the border collie though. Offer your kids either a stick insect or an orang-utan. If they plump for the former, your troubles are over. If they select the latter, don’t be dismayed. These excellent apes are fantastic animal companions for two reasons: a) they make cheap, if mediocre, butlers, and b) when the time comes, their pelts make exceptional throw rugs.

Luv-dubs,

Gormley

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Sir P Speaks: For he is a gentleman

duel

 

Dear Sir P

I feel unaccomplished. I can’t hold a tune, wield a sword, ride a horse or speak a foreign tongue. I have also occasionally behaved like a bounder and/or a cad. Do I have the right to call myself a gentleman? What is a gentleman, for God’s sake? Also, what is the difference between a bounder and a cad, and which am I?

Am I in fact a true man in any sense? The notion of ‘manhood’ has become extremely confused of late.

Also, I’ve been challenged to a duel. Will you be my second?

Finally, is it inappropriate for a grown man to build models of WWII battleships?

Oh, and what is your favourite country?

Affectionately,

Fuddbut Tromso

 

Dear Fuddbut

As it happens, a number of people have stridently insisted I write a guide to becoming a gentleman. They believe that it would be for the good of the country, that young men are so ill-defined nowadays, and the world at large so wayward and pre-apocalyptic, that what’s really needed is a manual to help an individual forge a robust identity that will survive anything.

I’ve always refused. You can’t teach such things; you can only throw quotes at the problem. So here’s one: the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in the late 18th century that “a king may make a nobleman, but he cannot make a gentleman”.

Sadly, I am living proof of this.

Similarly, a treatise called ‘A Discourse Concerning the Character of a Gentleman’ by ‘A Person of Quality’ in 1716 explains, “The Appellation of the Gentleman (says the Tatler) should never be affix’d to a Man’s Circumstances, but to his Behaviour in them”.

So if by any chance you have a pipe, I invite you to stick the above in it and light up. In my mind, to be a gent it is simply necessary to bear those notions in mind, not speak with your mouth full and to be willing and able to rattle off at least three Gilbert & Sullivan songs, whether sober, squiffy or hammered out of your mind.

In days of yore, being a gent was much more demanding. In 1528, one Count Baldassare Castiglione published The Book of the Courtier, a how-to guide for the original Renaissance man. Among an array of accomplishments, Castiglione encouraged sprezzatura – a certain effortless composure or nonchalance. The sort of thing, frankly, that only an Italian can pull off convincingly. And I suspect, young Fuddbut, that you are not an Italian.

Because I have a dictionary and you clearly don’t, I will now explain the difference between a bounder and a cad. Both are morally reprehensible anti-gents, but a bounder is distinguished by being something of a social climber to boot. I, for one, am a cad. As for which one you are, old son, only a good hard look in the mirror will tell you that.

So where does this leave your manhood, or indeed that of any adult male? Life for the modern man is indeed emasculating but then we can take comfort in the fact that this is true for women too. Judith Lucy is doing a good job of explaining this in her ABC TV show, as has Annabel Crabb in her book The Wife Drought, which my parlour maid told me all about while completing my nightly bed turndown service. Harking back to some non-existent golden age when men bestrode the world safe in their shining armour of self-knowledge is the distraction of a fool. You must fashion your own sense of who you are from true self-knowledge, Fuddbut. Anything else is just another kind of identity fraud …

As for your duel, no, I will not be your second, though I encourage you to get one. He or she needs to make sure your interests are well served and that your opponent doesn’t cheat. More importantly, they’re honour-bound to step in should your nerve fail you. As I suspect it will. But I do admire your willingness to take part. Though duels to the death are rare nowadays it is still sometimes necessary to defend your honour with cold steel or hot lead. There are however two things to bear in mind:

  1. You might lose and end up dead or badly injured
  2. You might win and end up badly jailed

Not that I particularly want you to survive. I suspect your DNA lacks the necessary robustness to warrant being passed on. Though your fondness for building model warships is a redeeming feature. After all, a three-foot-long replica of the Bismarck graces my own hallway. It took Chivers, my manservant, two months to build. Time well spent.

I have two favourite countries. One is Burkina Faso because its capital city rejoices in the splendid name Ouagadougou. The other is Iceland because, quite genuinely, their roads authority has a pro-elf policy, which means that no highway is built across an area thought to be inhabited by elves, trolls or any other supernatural beings. Superb.

Farewell,

Gormley

 

 Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.