Job Roulette…

Reno, Nevada 1977…

Wanted

At Big Tony’s Casino
Roulette Ball
Smooth-runner
Evenings/weekends​
775 – 8887​

I noted the ad and later made the call…

…“Why’d you leave your last job?” Big Tony asked.

I couldn’t tell him I’d hightailed and spun out of Vegas, a wanted ball, three years back. Caught jumping in the roulette wheel’s red when punters had bet on it—for my own gain and to screw my employers. Thereafter, I kept low and kept busy in boys’ marble bags. No life for a soul such as I, being traded in the schools like a slave. And for sweets! Flicked in and out of sandy playground holes more times than I can mention. With the heat down, I absconded again to try my luck in Reno, roll straight, make legit dollars, hole up with the golf balls in the windmill at the local pitch and putt.

“I, I wanted to travel” I replied, “see the world…” swapping my ‘bag of marbles’ story for a yarn of mixing with golden baubles, modelling for orreries, and being the prime piece in a millionaire’s solitaire game.”

“Some life,” said Tony, as he gauged my physique in millimetres with calipers. “Some stats too, 22, 22, 22 and 22. Whichever way I measure you, you’ll roll with the best. Now then,” he leaned in close, “tough question: Can you be bought?” He was poker-faced. Did he want me true? Or corrupt?

“No sir, I can’t. I’ll do a fair shift’s work for honest pay. All I want’s a stress-free life, find and make Miss Ball into a Mrs. Ball, and settle down.”

“Good, good…lastly,” he said, “Got steel? If you get what I mean…a hard core?”

“I, I don’t get what you mean?” I said.

“This job has pedigree,” said Tony, “integrity. A ball you may be, but your predecessors were swords. Swords upon shields. Greek warriors’d spin them and bet where they’d end up pointing. Swords had the first roulette jobs; you’ll be continuing the line.”

“Below this enamel exterior,” I informed, “is a steel sphere of fine bearing, shiny and honed to the micron.” He was bought—I was pig iron to my core.

Cometh today, cometh the casino. The croupier picks me up.

I remember the routine; the wheel’s nudged and revolves away from me. I’m launched at speed by wrist flick into the ball track with wall-of-death-like momentum where, after slowing, I traverse the camber and dodge (all dizzy) the frets. Met next and bumped about by the chromed ribs of the numbers—I see where serendipity’s taking me.

Black 23 for some lucky punter.

But no. What’s this? Some invisible force; pulling at me, hurting, tight, binding. Changing where I’ll naturally fall.

Damn. Red 17 has me magnetically caged. The punters are tutting.

So this is how my first shift goes. And I suspect the next one too…ad…infini…

Honest work…huh? I’m a prisoner in “Big Tony’s Bent Casino”.

What goes around comes around.

House

always

wins.​

Three, Two, One…Woo…

“Damn gears,” he groaned, eyeing the gradient’s rise. He should’ve had the Mini 1000 in first, but there he was at the hill’s foot, his own foot planted firmly on the pedal, and engine labouring in third. Wipers were on intermittent, smearing the drizzle that smattered the windscreen. Waterboys on radio; he drifted with the song…out to sea: Wished he was a fisherman, abound by wind and wave, being tumbled about his trawler. No sign of land to any quarter. His head too full with fishes and nets to pull to care for his memories. No ceiling neither for his claustrophobia, save for clouds that split ‘for the starry sky above’. The tune took him in. Young Michael craved a special fish, a girl fish, a mermaid in his arms. Woo, he sang.

Down to second gear. Another wipe from the wipers. Less moaning from the gearbox as the gradient flattens to be the crest. Radio sings to you, Michael, and you hear it thus: as you slow out there, you speed in here. Way, way too fast. You should be the brakeman, on this charging, creaking, frenzied train. Cannoning across the country; windows streaked by rain. Waking all the sleepers with whistles, clunks, and burning coal. Field and town a-blur as you pierce the night’s soul. Don’t you wish you had a girl, Michael? That passenger girl in first class, a maiden in your arms? Woo, you sing.

Down to the Mini’s lowest, whining, gear. “Damn wrong choice again,” I leave the hill’s brow, the drizzle, and eye the gradient’s fall to the glimmering matrix city below. “Ho hum,” the radio crackles with interference, but splits to reveal the third verse. I sing, I sing for me: come the morrow, comes the freedom from the shackles that have held me fast; loosened enough for me to slip through, they’ll clank no more and tumble away, at last. And on that destined morrow, I’ll be a passenger on that steam train, I’ll be a merman in that sea. The new light in my life will be you in my arms. It’ll be one, two. I’ll be one to thee. And thee’ll be one to me. Woo, I’ll sing.

The Bottle Top and the Bin…

Thirteen storeys high, but no time to be superstitious. I’m with mates, our av. age um, fifteen. The ‘um’s’ there because I’m recalling and relaying this story thirty years (and then some) on. We’re drinking beer in Jim Stewart’s parents’ flat; they’re absent, and we’re taking advantage of a warm place, for once, to illicitly ply ourselves with the amber nectar. We’re all cracking open six-packs, bought from Aldi with our pocket-money, only a few pfennigs per bottle too, cold beer in the cold war cost nowt. A five Deutschmarks allowance, in the time when Aldi was only known in Germany, was enough for a full-on alcoholic’s upkeep.

Back in the flat, some are breaking beer bottle tops off with lighters, one’s using his teeth. The more refined, which includes me, are using a utensil whose sole purpose is that job: namely a beer bottle opener to prise clear, to bend off, the lids from our gottles of gear. I’m being careful not to distort mine too much during their removal, wanting to preserve the ‘disc’ shape.

Because we’ve made a game that I want to excel at: that of flicking the tops from the vantage point of Jim Stewart’s parents’ flat’s balcony and watching them descend like baby flying saucers to the ground many, many metres below. I have a knack for this, keeping mine airborne longer, I can sometimes get the tops to get ‘flight’—saucer stylee—if I flick them away in a manner that requires me to contort my wrist and hand like I’m about to click my fingers. Bottle top wedged between pressured up index finger and thumb.

And release.

Attempt three sees a lid spin out with ’super spin’. Out into the high and wide world with a fleeting freedom. As its rotation slows though, and gravity gets a grip, it starts to descend. In an ever tighter spiral it corkscrews down and near disappears with distance. If we concentrate enough and track it, we can see where it lands.

And we can’t believe where it did. The lid has, against all odds, posted itself into a litter bin—way down at the entrance to the tower block. Not an open top bin, no, one with but a slit as wide as a hand cut into its side, in which to post one’s litter. Chances of that?

To take a double take, sees me leave the flat and grab the lift to the ground floor. There by the main door, the bin. There inside—proof positive of the Golden Lid of Fluke.

Yea Though…

I walk.

I’m walking. Beings; they come alongside and match my stride. They talk, they’re talking. No. Not talking—they preach. They’re preaching to me as we head towards the light. And while I’m drawn, all moth-like—their attention, even in the light of this light, is on me entirely. Peck, they’re pecking my ear…
“We’re no theists, but realists. Turn away,” they say. No. Not say—whisper, with persuasive words and such intimate reason, “Turn, turn around.”

A reluctance, born from the strength of my new faith’s preference, has me opt for that aforesaid sweet luminescence—all silent and aglow with a beckoning that’s—ahh—yes, this spontaneous belief; it’s all-beguiling. Instant is the trusssst in its offer of paradise.

This man’s not for converting.

But, what’s this? Incoming…the preachers, it seems, have assistance. [_____________] ← that space allows me to brace. Zapped from above and below I am; white, bright, revelatory shots: one in the pate, another in the nates; a double-jolt from a super-charged forked bolt. Each rides up my nerves to find and recombine with the other. Their manifestation darts around within and overwhelms.

Damn.

It felt so natural too, the return of blind desire. To be only a fleeting resurrection of my care-for-nothing character. It’s unfair—for the sake of sociableness there grew inside a need to please: to give, to help, to shield; it’s hounded me the second half and since of my three score and ten. That dogged dog of a conscience is back following the shortest excursion, collar unclipped from its new-fangled lightning leash and now running loose—adopted pet and agent this time, I suspect, of those preachers. Aye, they encourage its yapping, and goad it with treats and whistles unheard to shepherd me from my intent. Paradise on hold, or paradise lost? I must oblige, cede, take heed.

I turn.

Been beleaguered of late, what with melancholic matters of the terminal variety and Destiny’s last date: an uphill walk, not far—a fentanyl fueled liaison with the light. Bringing it all together—a permanent easement of ailments—you know, a one way ticket out of the breach.

But.

To see then the stage my U-turn has presented, quite steals my already breathless mind away: a landscape, a valley panorama, with the right amount of lush, all overlaid with an equal measure of cirrus-streaked sky. I’m above it all—like in life; neither aloft nor aloof. No, I was the detached type, with the good fortune of a high eye and a steep nose—that was only once broken. My shadow I see, is a swathe-wide straight line, that dims the ground from feet to far, far out. Perspective plays its hand at the extremity—its digits smudging and pinching all detail to miniature—making crude the models of the vale’s villages.

If I’m to draw any details from such a vista I’d be relying on luck. To sharpen my focus, to take such a feature as texture would consume an energy I do not possess—or a younger eye. Sapped of precious time and vigour for such endeavour, pitching the vision with the familiar requires concentration—I wish I could bust these cataracts out—demist the distance.

Cue the luck, a preacher draws a brass telescope from a hessian sack. “Courtesy of Bob Hooke,” he says and hands it to me. I put it to my good eye and scope the horizon. Boo to the unsteadiness of this elder’s hand; the image pans loosely from my jitters and I cannot get a fix. The steadying hand of a preacher chimes in—he’s in tune with me and aligns my aim.

There I am, in a cradle, rocking on a precipice that demarks my life from a calmly-viewed pre-natal darkness. A baby—unable to howl, puke or mewl for the bronchial cough that rasps its respiration. That cradle in a clouded room now, with mother and her six, smoking teen-to-twenties siblings. Anger at post-nativity naivety, yet solace in the mystery of a sickly life being solved.

A nudge downward of the telescope (thank you preacher), sweeps my sight over the land of a growing child, and trails with more a measure of joy than travail. To stop to pause at the second age—the subject, of me of course, innocent until that day. A pure product of the parent. Till the arrival of the brother and the contamination of schooling. Reluctant, recalcitrant, resisting change and feigning ailments. Look at my wide eyes and mooning grin the day I realise the value of lies—slotting in so well with the early need to please—the self.

Another nudge by a preacher and another half a league nearward. Through this valley of life rides my mortal dread. I’m the young man, awash with hormone, a pard’s complexion and a lusting for the female: Jessica, Annabel, Phillipa and yes—Sue—a beautiful Southern belle with matching accent.

Nudge. Up through the valley I scope myself at 27; a bank-rolled-by-loan black sports car strapped to my arse—hands on the wheel—the consumerist’s show off grin and a right foot eager for the accelerator. That moment was all mine, and I thought I was the one. A certain beauty in such delusion. I weep in the eye that sees this, and switch the telescope to the other.

Half a league nearward with a paunch that’s swelling outwards, taken by me, the man, from the spouse who bore, and lain in line the next infants. The beard’s appeared with the aspiration of being a bard, and an early yoke over that steep nose where hang the lenses for reading. Full now with wisdom, yet a wondering where, and how, and why it all fits in—and so a leaning to faith.

To the last but one league nearward. Sunny garden, wine at 11 and free-time tan. Orange and silver man, pruning roses, morning glories—fading glories, meditating, venom-less curses with some forgiveness for the years in the consumerist’s prison—it paid for the pension. Enjoying visits from the grown infants’ latest line of infants—the happiest time. I weep in this eye too, but keep the scope fixed—not wanting away from the vision…

…to which a preacher nudges one last league nearward. I’m rocking in a free chair with a tartan comfort blanket over knee, nothing they can do for me. ‘Sans all’ as Shakespeare said—save for a mercy kick from the big ‘C’. A flight of stairs away a floor to ceiling window that appeared to forever hold in frame an image of the post-life abyss—the identical twin of the pre-natal rendering; to be viewed with a terrible shiver. It was thereafter a ‘dark-dispelling’ sunrise in that window blessed me. It held the promise of a better place, and the courage to leave my chair—a miracle—and I walked its way.

There ends my eventful history.

Then the preachers. I don’t know whether to curse or kiss them; they reveal what shone behind me, that promise of timeless bliss, was an imagined light, a concocted-by-mind divinity that chimed with my own, now lost, religion—a crutch to whack and oust the fear of the end of (my) days. While each and every pan nearward was a toe-over-heel step rearward.

I hand back the telescope, and back-handedly thank them for the memories—falling, at last, over the edge to the quieting of the yapping dog.

Excerpt from Whited Sepulchre…

Let me bring you in; it’s been a hard day.

Through battle lines, barriers, walls, a hall, corridors and doors. To the insular protection. To the quiet of a thick-bricked room. To shut-in anonymity. To the comfort and warmth of mattress, and—soon to be bloodied—linen. To be overwhelmed into unconsciousness, and to the absence of thought.

To the process:

Sluice gates shut, your adrenal glands go dormant, your pulse decelerates and your veins pull parity to your blood pressure. Near all autonomic systems de-stress, dial themselves down, and strive for routine so as to free up the fixers.

Breathing: steadies enough to hold a sigh.

Muscles: from an eternity of being taut, loosen their grip on your tendons—which ease their own tension on your bones.

Your lacerations: edges tending towards pink and freshly scab-capped, clot more so, and be mucosal neath their new roofs. Protein-rich fluids and histamines flood and gloop and marinate the damaged fibres. Macrophages—all-consuming beasts, first on scene, plentiful and active in the mire, pre-cursors to their brethren: the ‘cytes’ for the sites. They scurry, they scavenge, eating red, dead, cells and any dirt borne invaders they chance on. Purging for the places’ salvation, oozing chemicals—elixirs to your tissues that infuse these potions and compel themselves to react.

Fibroblasts spawn—granular and rice-like—they themselves motivated to string out collagen factories, that further string out a webbing for your wounds.

Yes, the wounds—your wounds—they’re darned while you sleep…

Death Valley…

I step from the car and the heat is cast over me like the molten load from a crucible. “Two minutes,” I shout, “gotta pee.” The tarmac is doing its bit too, radiating its energy upwards; it’s sticky to walk on. There’s a seam of bitumen around a road repair; with the toe of my right deck shoe I smear it—serving some need to leave a mark. The sun’s persistence is a forehead stinger, sheesh it’s sweltering. Fore and aft there’s a haze that’s as illusive as any I’ve seen—many an oasis out there I’ll wager. If this weren’t Arizona I figure there’d be coconuts and camels too. I cannot ponder nor play; my bladder’s needs are pressing and there’s a place, a couple of hours up this road, I need to be.

Given my description above you’d be right in thinking the stage here is empty to each horizon. It is. Save for my travelling buddy in the car over there. Oh, and another character, arms raised, who’s planted in the more immediate landscape. ‘Cactus Jack’ I’ll call him. I’ve never seen a live specimen out in the open and up close before. He’s tanned a deep green with thorns that have a menace I want to address; In my urgency I scurry over and unzip to pee. “You’ll probably enjoy this, won’t you eh Jack?” I say. “A good ol’ drink for you—courtesy of my relief and some minerals to boot!” I’m a bully as, for all ten foot of him, Cactus Jack can’t react.

Eyes shut, I’m in mid-flow, at one with the release—when a faint rustle…or was it a rattle? turns my ear. Peering through but a slit in my left eye, I scan the sand that’s busy soaking up my urine. A rattler with its camouflage being hosed away hisses. Its form and anger become ever clearer with the rinsing of the grains that had once covered it. They say the rattle is a warning to keep away—well tell that to this snake of a snake. It has already coiled and sprung at me. Through the thin armour of my sock two fangs have pierced—I’ve been branded by a tuning fork plucked fresh from the sun. Scrunch goes my face into the tightest grimace, clench goes jaw, crack goes that tooth I was going to get looked at. Not that I want to linger here…yes I do want to linger. I want to rewind a smidge, step outside the self a mo, wax on a bit, and assertively set the scene for you—sat there in your comfort, and impress more deeply the pain I experienced—a trouble shared and all that.

Aye, as the narreditor let me take these moments and play them frame by frame: with a bullet-time pan around, you’ll see a man paying, in slo-mo, for his sin of pissing on a cactus and its lower floor resident-cum bodyguard. For a close shot there’s the peeled back scaly lips of the snake whose gums expose two fangs a-glistening, which through their finest capillary centres, sock and skin, do inject their sacks of venom. Meanwhile by midriff (the man’s midriff), two digits—forefinger and thumb—on a tinkling member do squeeze. There’s pressure enough to stem any remaining flow, and cause him the most unfortunate sensation of thrombosis. A wider shot gives a body doubled over, and a countenance that’d have its owner compete in, and win, an “impersonate a prune” competition. Once fangs are unplucked and time’s tempo is returned to its usual pace, you’ll see him hopping. He hops on his only working leg, unclenches jaw, spits tooth fragment, and howls like a harpy that’s had it’s baby stolen. The fifth bounce in this sequence has him land heel-first on the snake’s rattle; glad of the revenge he’s exacted; but regretful that he’s pissed it off even further when its second strike double-punctures a similar spot on his other ankle.

And…cut.

I fall backwards while the snake slithers off, fearing the boulder I’ve just landed on will be used to bash its little brain in. It needn’t worry, my only concern is me, well more than me I ponder, as my adrenaline gifts me a bit of space through the excruciation. My travelling buddy has seen none of this, he wouldn’t have on account of being blind since the age of three. He’s heard me howling, and is calling my name with reluctant concern, and out of fear. He won’t leave the car to find me—he knows his limitations. He’ll shout and shout some more till he gets someone’s attention. I bite tight again, raise my fly, and draw deep breaths through the grimace that bares freshly ground and much more rounded teeth than those which have just stabbed me. A reluctant ventriloquist with a frozen mandible, I spittle-blurt “Over here Dave—been bitten—a fuckin’ rattleshnake!—I’m shherious—think I’m gonna die.”

So, on elbows and forearms I haul myself towards him; the wake of shifted sand leaves the place resembling a crime scene. A detective, I think, wouldn’t struggle to reconstruct events. I don’t care for this observation though, I’ve now made it to the tarmac, my this hotplate stings—sheesh, I want away from here. Dave consoles me with words, and when he senses I’m near enough he leans his big wrestler of a body out of the car and hoists me up over the sill, the seat, and in. Upside down of course, I shuffle and wriggle what parts of me I can to return my world to its correct orientation. Steering wheel in front of me, seatbelt on, engine’s still running, good, a sigh of relief, feet on pedals. Feet on pedals. FEET! Damn, no amount of concentration will lend them any dexterity—I get all defeatist. “No use Dave, can’t drive, legs are screwed.”

I fumble and find my mobile; two bars on the battery, no bars on the signal. The fuel gauge on the car shows a single notch’s worth before we’re in the red. We could wait here, air-con on, engine ticking over, hazards blinking and hope for rescue. I’m already sweating and fretting in a quarter-paralysed, agony infested, body. I know panic will consume me too if we let this continue. The venom and its weird effects are on a slow creep north up my legs. I’ll say it again—I want out of here, I’ve fought  lots of pointless fights, one more won’t hurt. Well it will, but  I’m not the type to sit and let a situation like this take me.

My pal’s look of worry now includes a trembly lower lip. I fake optimism, “Dave, Dave!” Then clap my hands once to get his attention. “This is the plan…” He looks as afraid as I feel.

“Don’t make me drive Ray, please,” he says. “I know you’re gonna make me drive.”

“It’ll be alright.” I’m lying. “Shufty over this way, sit yourself here on the centre console.” He does as asked, “okay, now squeeze both your feet into my footwell. Got it? Good. Feel about down there; right foot goes on right pedal; that means GO, left foot on left; that means STOP. Right?”

“Err, got it, right go, left stop.” He knows we have no choice. Pain distracts me once more; my lower limbs are numb on the outside, yet burning on the inside—the battle to stay rational is insane. I give myself over to another grimace, before steeling myself for just a shred of control.

“One more thing, aargh, they’re not sshhwitches thoshe pedalsh. Be gradual when you’re pressh…pressing. Get a feel for them now. NOW, c’mon Dave, get with the URGENCY. Don’t worry we’re not in gear. That’s it, down as far they’ll go, memorise it. You’ll need no more than half of that. Unless I yell stop. If I do so then stamp on the left with all your effort.”

He looks lost. “You’re confusing me—left and right and stop and go and half and all!” The numbness has reached my hips so I ignore him, slip the gearstick into drive and grab the wheel. We’re nudged into being a driving team as the car breaks away at idle speed.

The highway is ours, a road-sign tells me it’s 40 miles to Flagstaff. I calculate we’ll be an hour on this lesser travelled, but gratefully smooth ‘Old Indian Route’. All I have to do is nudge the wheel to keep us on course. “I know I said push the pedal only halfway Dave, but give it a bit more, be gradual and easy like.” The needle on the speedometer arcs to 60. For a moment, a fraction of a moment, I consider the task to be an easy matter. Straight road, zero traffic—dare I have a little hope? On cue comes the leveller: I’m rib deep now in numbness, it’s creeping up me like quicksand. I’m queasy, dewy with sweat and forcing myself to breathe. “A bit more—speed up.” The needle arcs to 80.

Flagstaff only 12 Miles, we’re on a well-travelled route now, having negotiated a loose and lucky off-road right turn. We’ve been steady a while at nearly 100 on this bearing. Dave’s instructions are from hereon obsolete, the pedal is on the metal; a terrifying prospect at any other time but the need to hurtle outranks the risk. My plight’s mollified by the added concentration of pointing us—streaking like a missile, in the right direction—distracted from all but the task. Had I sensed though that my phone had buzzed when it picked up a signal earlier, we’d be stopped now, awaiting anti-venom by way of an air ambulance. As it is, we’re drowned in the drama of speed; hopes hanging on this last hurrah, It’ll be just minutes before we’re presented with civilisation. Being so consumed with this mission, oblivious to Dave’s safety and…

…I spot a change to our situation. With Herculean strength I summon my voice: “Dave!” My shout comes out as a whisper. Or does it come out at all? Glints of sunshine have emerged from where they shouldn’t. The shimmering haze ahead, way off at the road’s pinch point, is offering up something man-made—a man-made angel please! Into focus: a chrome grill, a vertical chrome exhaust pipe, a split glass windscreen. This is the stuff of interstate heavy haulage; an 18 wheeled semi-truck I’d say (if I could), is bolted on the back of its advancing façade. A juggernaut that hogs the entire highway. With the exertion involved in a scream I mumble

“Dave…stop!”

“Stop what?”

“Stop the f…”

“Oh the car.”

Thank the imaginary gods for his pin-sharp hearing. Dave overdoes the braking, panics and overdoes it some more. The uneven strength of the pads on disks has us in a wheel-locked veer, a strung-out screech across the centre-line. Compounding our misfortune Dave’s unseatbelted self flies full body from console to dashboard. He’s slumped, we’ve stopped. Stopped dead in the oncoming traffic lane. Our mercy is passed across to the the mind of approaching truck driver. On goes the horn with its obligatory blare and a free demo of the doppler effect. On go the brakes too. “God help me,” I mouth before I abandon atheism and do what’s easiest of all: close my eyes. That ever-growing glint of the doom that looms is curtained to black, and I join Dave—jealous that his dark world has the bonus of unconsciousness.

I wish I had shutters for my ears too, whatever they’d be called. Geez, what an aggressive noise weight-laden truck wheels make when dragged, locked by air brakes, over sticky tarmac. And by contrast, how puny and effete did our car sound when screeching to its halt? Ahh, the indignity of being trumped by a more hardcore calamity. I cast my mind away to the solace of some recent memories and enjoy their fragmented narrative.

Yeah, I brought Dave out here. I wanted to give my mate a good holiday and some meaning to his existence. A young man cooped up in his home, with a kitten-like clinginess to comfort zones, and of course: his full blindness. His handicap has so far damned him to little company beyond me and his close family. It was only nine days ago I suggested we remedy this, “Burgers Dave, desert sunshine on your skin and—” I tickled his ribs, “The Girls of Golden Gulch!”

That’s how I sold it to him: to sample comforts beyond the familiar, to feel the love and skills of a good woman, and the euphoria thereafter. So I maxed my credit card to make it happen. He’s never had any luck at all—ever. A fair face I’d say, and a strapping body; His eyes though, they’re greyed over, and scarred, they move about of their own accord too. A particularly cruel childhood illness holds account for that. And particular cruelties come out of people when they see the disfigurement. A shame; he’s a great soul. I’ve tried to matchmake for him back home, but girls of all stripes just can’t get past the disability. He’s—

The screeching has stopped. I open my eyes. Dave is neatly folded over, and cradling, the dashboard. Past him, and through glass, there’s a baseball-capped trucker stood eclipsing the chrome grill of the juggernaut that near snookered us, a thousand pieces, into the desert. He’s remonstrating in our general direction. I can’t make out if he’s focussing his anger on me, Dave, or the car. Nor can I shout back the direness of our predicament—too weak. So I look at him and make a wish for telepathy. Beneath his cap he sports glasses—some vision at least—so thick they shrink his eyes to two miniatures. His red chequered shirt is sleeveless and reveals hefty, but out of shape muscles. One arm I spot, is more brown than the other.

“Help us.” I mouth.

“What?!” He squints through his dense lenses, then leans forward in an attempt to fathom why both Dave and I share the same side of the car. What a picture; two men, one behind the other—a face asleep, and a face whose pain I figure he takes to resemble pleasure. With a conclusion warped to fit a prejudice, he shouts through a snarl “You deserve it!”. Eyes closed—I’ve no strength for anything, especially exasperation.

The clunk of a heavy door, revving of a diesel engine, then the biggest air brakes hiss, releasing his rig to negotiate around us and on its journey. One eye open. There he is, alongside and 5ft above us—all lofty and judgemental. That overweight arm flopped over the sill of his window looking like a fat cat on a fireplace.

“Fucking faggots!” he yells. The fucking bigot.

His are neither the last, nor the exact words I wished to hear as I shuffled my coil, but unless Dave miraculously wakes, then I suspect that they’re going to be. The venom’s effects have spread to my neck now. My breathing is not my own doing, it’s slow and intermittent.

Let me take the reigns, the story telling has been passed across to me. I’m Dave in case you are wondering—the blind guy that snake-bitten Ray there prattled on about while he faded from us. He’s motionless; I can’t get a word from him. This hearing I have, which is superbly acute, has picked up that he’s breathing at least. I have to admit though I’m scared sh—, scared witless that my best friend may die. By contrast my condition, in the sense of wellness, is way better; even so I do have the largest bump on my forehead, a free belter of a headache, the sweats, and a severe case of anxiety. I’ll mention that I’ve got a hangover style thirst too. Prognosis then, for the pair of us: somewhat iffy.

With me being, as you know, handicapped and incommunicado, I’m very reluctant to get out of this car. It’s powered up I’ve just discovered, in gear and moving by itself now I’ve dislodged my foot from the brake—thankfully only slowly. By the sound of the trundle I figure we’re running over the baked, crusty skin, of the desert. Either side of suffering that recent knockout, this nervousness has sapped my strength. I’m usually a panicker but I don’t think I’ve quite come round; glad actually that my grogginess is proving to be a natural beta blocker.

To gather thoughts and consider the options from hereon. Well they hold small promise. I could stretch a foot back over and press the brake pedal, maybe fumble in dying Ray’s pocket—I’m sure he’d love that—and fetch his mobile phone, or I could just slip into the comfort and lure of the passenger seat and give over to the sleep this grogginess is inviting. Fear not, I shan’t get out and walk the desert, I’d be a fool; buzzards’d have have my dried eyeballs as hors d’oeuvres the moment I drop. Hmmm, they’ll serve a greater purpose than their current ones at least. About the incommunicado: Ray’s mobile phone, it’s one of those flush-faced smart ones; no tactile feedback so its useless to me.

So it’s the sit here option—and I’m glad of it. Rest in this passenger seat. Yes, to blindly go…

Only I know we’re not straying by way of a straight line, there’s this warmth that wipes over my face every minute or so—I have an acute sense of touch and I’ll bet my life it’s the sun. The car is running in large circles on the desert floor I conclude. Or ‘wonkily winding’ could be a more apt way to phrase it. Upshot is: it’ll see us loop out and be lost to the landscape I’m sure. But I’m going to wait events out, be convected in this soup of self-pity, guilt, grief and grogginess. I suppose I have time to tell you why we’re out here—the purpose of our journey.

We’d won in Vegas, Ray had been presumptuous of my nature and treated me to one of the Girls of Golden Gulch. Oh how I protested. Mandy was her name, she was a showgirl if I’m to be lyrical…

…she had a side business that swelled her purse…

…with the Mandy experience passed, what was in Vegas for me? The hustle, the drowning cacophony of themed slot machines with their whoops, gurgles and their nudges? Exactly—no chance. A sweeter sound was the random jingle of winnings cascading into collection trays—all too rare. The atmosphere was proving overwhelming; the third night I broke and suggested we give the gambling a miss and…

…Ray didn’t need asking twice, he was equally bored and suggested we give the remainder of our stay there a miss and head out adventuring. To my great surprise we were up a couple of hundred dollars, even after Mandy’s ‘extra’ fee. So we hired this Chrysler—Road Trip! Road Trip! was our sober chant. To the Big Crater, to the Hoover Dam and to the Grand Canyon. Sure only half of us would be seeing the sights, but you can’t underestimate the pleasure I take in witnessing the differing ambiences. I’d be mighty proud as well to have such stamps in my life’s passport. Ray, for his inner complexity, connected well with me. Did I just switch to past tense? Ray for his complexity connects well with me, I must keep the faith that he’ll make it through this ordeal. The length and strength of our friendship enables him to read me well, he protects me from my clumsy self, from others’ taunts, and is a ‘dab hand’ at explaining surroundings whenever we stray from my comfort zones.

Smooth! The car’s running over something smooth. I’ve been keeping a measure and I’m convinced the circle destiny is prescribing us now contains tarmac. Rumble over gravel, a bump, cool on face, warm on face, rumble over gravel, brief flash of cool on face then smooth. I can confirm it. Every 40 seconds the cycle repeats. There’s solace in this; someone will be along soon. I’m tired, going to have a nap in the knowledge it won’t be long now.

I’m Penny by the way; don’t be thinking I’m a girl. Penny is the moniker lain upon me for my manner back in Vegas. A local boy who walked ‘The Strip’ see, nipping in and out of casinos—polystyrene cup in hand. Had the look of a penny arcade gambler… and that’s the look I wanted. Never played the machines see, just appeared to. No, my way was just to scan and scour the cash trays, you know, at the bottom of the bandits. Given enough of them, I always turned up a dime or a nickel—or two. So why didn’t they call me Nick, or Dime? Well if I’m to explain see, I’d be keeping my findings and not spending them, being thrifty. And so it should come to ya, ‘Penny Pincher’—been called this so long, sure I’ve forgotten my birth name. Anyways, I’m here out in the desert most days pinching rocks off Mama Earth. Nah, legal really; county folks have given me a permit since I asked nice and handed over 200 bucks. A worthwhile investment, see the casinos and the arcades, they banned me and all my disguises! I thriftily see out my time searching the desert floor for stones of a particular make. This’ll pull us back to nickels—stick with me. See the stones me, my trusted detector and my tool here are trowelling up are nickel-iron. Stones from the sky. Nice to meteor! Made from stars they are. I get a better buzz from a find nowadays than from any one-armed bandit I did in them days. Mind ya, if the weather’s bad, I get back in there and fill my cup.

Anyways, to here and now, my find today is a mighty strange one: a white Chrysler Neon—driver’s passed out. Auto’s butted up against a cactus, looks like the slowest crash ever. No damage. No, wait, the driver’s worse than passed out—his skin is all ‘rashy’ and his legs, eurgh, swollen up like big purple wieners. Man, this guy needs help. But I got my compulsion see, still an hour’s sun left for me to hunt rocks. Rocks rawk, yeah, compulsion yeah. Compulsion to them is strong in this one. Lost most of my buddies ‘cause of it. Besides, passenger door’s open, maybe someone’s nearby—yeah, that’s it, someone will be coming back to sort stuff out. Only they won’t will they, will they Penny? That’s my inner voice by the way, pulls me from the brink of badness, tells me to find rather than steal, to help more than hurt. Shrink says I have to listen to it. I’ll help then—I’ll give up my hour, maybe I’ll be offered up some pennies. Ha, pennies for Penny’s troubles once he’s mended.

Okay, I’ve shoved driver to passenger seat (not a pretty sight, skin of his leg grazed gearshifter as I yanked him across, tore easy). Damn, won’t start. Needle’s on less than no gas, shoot. Ah his phone, one bar signal and one bar for battery, here goes:

“Hi, 911 person, this is Penny. I know, I know, I AM a guy but my story is this…

…anyways, what am I like jibber-jabbering, I got a nearly dead man here on highway. Dunno number, the big one into Flagstaff, nearest point to Gunter’s Ravine. Better get yourselves over and fetch him, fast, got legs as fat as hippos now. Bitten I guess—by a Diamondback. I’d bring him in but auto’s out of gas. Hey, if you send the chopper out can I ride it home? It’s only 8 miles or so, if you could offer up a seat, you know, for saving this guy, I’d sure appreciate the gesture.”

I’ll take it from here, Dave, or ‘Dave Anew’, at least in I’m some part, the most part, of Dave I believe. ‘I believe’ is a very apt phrase now as where I’m reporting from can only be the afterlife. I couldn’t continue in the car; when I awoke it had bumped into something. I kept the engine on for the air-con which ran the fuel down to vapours. The car then heated up, Ray’s breathing stopped, started, then stopped again—then started—unlike the engine: that just stopped altogether.

Being hot, thirsty, wretched and helpless, forced me to gamble one last time. I welched with my resolve and decided on walking to the road which I was sure was nearby. And yes, saying you’re sure when professing a gamble is the stuff of folly. ’Sure’ was right in one sense, because I sure was wrong. I was lost within minutes, distressed for a few thereafter. Then I put the sun to my face and walked for many more, hoping to chance across a town or something—anything that contained people. Ray had repeatedly advised, in life, to ‘Pick a path and stick to it’. So now I was. The town I hoped to chance on was a ravine. I tumbled into it.

I’m a…wish I could say a living, breathing example of someone who’s ‘hit every branch’ on the way down to something. I’ve got to report though that a rock to my head has knocked the breathing part from that statement. I’m free food for the buzzards and coyotes. Eyes have gone already—those hors d’oeuvres I mentioned—picked out, pecked up and sucked up in a snap. The four-legged scavengers though have yet to get to gnaw the marrow from my bones. But, it’s a kind of blessing that they will. Whoever shall find me will be presented with a bleached out skellybob. I’ve been told that a decaying body is a less agreeable thing to observe—it certainly is to smell. By the grace of some divinity I have sight, and if this miracle allows, I plan to cast my new vision over every picture possible—agreeable or not. My spirit now soars and I’m energised in a way I never have been. Nearby is my first ever view of a red-beaked buzzard, freshly fed, it’s enjoying the thermals. And in the distance the chatter of a chopper accompanies a switch from silhouette to detail—an air ambulance.

I stay a while, glimpsing, glancing, scoping from up here, doing eye stuff and reacquainting myself with this newfound faculty. Taking in the vibrance of the blue sky, the thinnest wisps of cloud from below; the speckled green sand, the crevices and crags from above—fitting them all to the basic images stored in so dunkel a vault since my infancy. Then to trace the symbols ‘Bell 407’ emblazoned and sharp on the helicopter’s side. The euphoria of being able to see again, vanquished pain, feeling safe; If I’d known my afterlife had such benefits, I’d have leapt from a high building the day after going blind. Just think of that, the world’s youngest suicidester! The warmth here, the setting sun is way more comfortable than it’s midday incarnation. There’s warmth too in knowing Ray is being rescued. Yes, he’s made it. In my spirit form I share the sky with him as he’s being air-lifted away, I catch his face behind an oxygen mask—he winked at me, I’m convinced.

Thank you for bringing me here Ray.

Fiction…

Skthrack upon meine eyes; the night-sky lights up but retains its billowed menace. Above Pennington marshes those clouds in those milliseconds reveal the sharpest silver filaments—I ignore the spectacle and carry on listening to the buds in my ears where the lyric “he saved every one of us” resonates tightly with the memory of its mother song; thus blotting out the thunder rumble. I drop my gaze from what lies beyond the kitchen window and stare down at the pan that cradles a rapidly heating concoction of fats and spice. The oils are at the point of imbalance, you know in that quiet moment after sizzle, just before the jump-scare of ignition. Caution James Caution, I step away only a pace after dialling down the burner only a notch and decide my poppadom is ready to be frisbeed in. Splash.

Kitchen window has me again; this time a translucid reflection confirms the strange decision to don a trench coat while cooking—psst there’s no underwear beneath its silken lining either.

The poppadom’s cooked, coat’s fallen open, the lyrics in my buds are at “we only have fourteen hours to save the earth

You Die, I Call Your Stuff…

A cardboard box containing his effects; I rifle through. I’m sure I’m holding a ration tin; hefty and still full. It’s vintage WWII if I dare put any detail to my assumption. ‘Property of’ it reads on one side, the words attempting to protrude through the heavy green paint that covers them. Property of what? I flip it over to read the rest but the old man’s stirring gives me a start. So I slot the box quickly into my knapsack and feel a belated buzz from the thievery.
He’s supposed to be dead, damn him—an hour now since his pulse has been zero. I didn’t kill him; no, natural causes took this cantankerous old fool. If anything I prolonged his life; doing my duty in the face of his verbal abuse. My nursing skills are much appreciated in this low-paid industry you know. As such, I always pay myself a little bonus when folk such as these pass to the other side. They’ve no use for their knick knacks and the relatives who cast their elders here are so undeserving.

Ahh, it was but one of those last gasps. I sigh myself and it sounds uncannily the same as that which I’ve just heard. Corpses have a life of their own you know, and lots of gas! Yes, I thumb his neck, his pulse is still zero. Anyway, the gravel on the drive that leads to this building is being crunched under tyres; the doctor has arrived. A death certificate will be issued, my old nemesis will be wheeled out all flat like and neath the blanket of dignity. And I’ll be off home, my shift’s over. I’m going to let my curiosity get the better of me mind before I turn in. I’ll open the tin by way of its shiny button, heck if the insides are worthy, I’ll stay up late and list them for sale online.

“We’ve got a dead nurse spread over the apartment walls,” the police sergeant informs his inspector as he proffers a see through evidence bag. “Tin coleslaw in here, shrapnel to use the right word. I’ve done some of your work for you sir; look—pieced this together.” He thrusts the bag closer to the inspector who moves away a little and pulls his reading glasses from widow’s peak to bridge of nose. A squint reveals:  ‘Braithwaite Landmines, Property of the Ministry of Defence’.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

Plot seem familiar? Well yes, it did for me too and I wrote this in the complete belief I was being original. I unearthed the seed of the subliminal plant four weeks after writing this.

The Sparkler…

And thus you did ignite

Ahh you glitz of fizzy light
Sizzling in so short a life
more than shimmer, more than glimmer, more than glitter…

Erupting pleasance to the eye

You dazzle fly so bright
Spitting sparks into the night
By side, by red of bonfire, neath fireworks’ spangled flights…

Obstructing the passers by

You stark prickle of white
Scintillating needle knife
with o’s, with eights, with infinities…

Conducting no orchestra but the eye

Oh you ember of failing light
Fizzling from so short a life
Dropped to grass, to mud, then trodden…

And thus you were stamped from sight

 

 

 

 

 

But not forgotten

The Dragonfly in the Conservatory…

An unwitting entry to the conservatory for a creature so short on thought that it traps itself within. Imprisoned by an inability to trace its wingbeats back through the slim white door from which it arrived. To roughly observe: I see it little changed from its carboniferous era ancestors; a striking curiosity, the size of a small bird—a living anachronism. There’s a bassy buzz about its thorax that announces its presence quite overtly; one that alerts and lures another carnivore, Kitty (the household predator), from a summer afternoon slumber. A twitch of a whisker, a brain stirred by instinct. One eye, then two. Two vertically slit eyes—open wide—attuned and topped with a crown of black triangular hoods that reflexively track the dragonfly’s careens and caroms. Each sharp change of direction for the insect, a recovery from mandible-first whacks into the glass walls and ceilings of the sunlit jail.

I envisage this marvel of nature’s straying will see it die sooner than it should. Let nature take its course says one percent of me. I crush the cockroach of a notion with a no and the weight of the other ninety nine percent of me. What awaits?—Death by impact and fall and consequent consumption by scavenging cat? Or capture by swiping claw, death and consequent consumption by hunting cat? The outlook from the point of those rounded, compound eyes, is grim. But I shall save the beast; I’ll save its being and its outlook.

Nature’s course gets a cocked snook, I get the cat and eject it from the conservatory. It eyes me, miffed, from behind a glass pane. My attention turns to the dragonfly and to a how to. A how to take such a delicate thing in order to release it? One snap of wing or antenna will confine it to ground to starve but too effete an attempt will spook it into head-butting the glass more frantically. No way to usher it out, it can’t conceive that solids can be transparent. No, I need a net. But no net, I have no net.

A flimsier than flimsy plastic bag, sat upon the washer homes pegs of many colours, offering itself as the impromptu tool of choice. I tip out the pegs and strengthen the edges of the bag by rolling them over themselves. Aloft I hold it and after dragonfly I go.

Some clambering over conservatory furniture, footholds askew and body in the awkwardest of stances—I make my catch. Deft but with utmost delicacy the dragonfly is enclosed in the thinnest of sail-white a shell. I bring myself and my captive out through the slim door to a more comfortable setting. No buzz; the critter’s settled and most likely believing it has been eaten. ‘Not so bad’ I imagine it would report to itself if it were able.

Peeling away the edges of the bag to put the light from the clear blue above on to this, the greenest (yes, so green there’s fluorescence in its viridescence) of curios reveals to me the beauty in its oddity. I’d stare and marvel at its strangeness a day and more were I not fearing this moment is fleeting. The dragonfly’s will is its own now; if it would care to beat those wings and take off.

If it had the inkling.

A few seconds more I’m afforded the privilege of its presence. Vivid in this day’s solar splendour I see sharp blacks now amongst those greens. Missed and unseen the first time for their stealthy containment of the stranger stronger colour; but with attention the lines that frame its paintwork take their stage and intrigue me as artwork—angled by Cubists and put down I dare say by a single bristled brush dipped in the most exquisite back end of a squid’s bottom! I need a camera, to capture this that I’m seeing and this that I’m setting free. But no time, I have no time. The wings (of four) both aft and fore touch the ground once and then rise through their range; the auto-pilot inside that big-eyed, bug-eyed vessel is running flight checks.

I fumble for my camera-phone but as quick-fingered as I am I can’t pull any focus on the scene and so with a snook as cocked as the snook before; the being lifts off and takes its green to be enveloped in the blue above. Big dot, small dot, smaller dot.

Gone.

Still, with no still to show for the experience I am prompted to document this to prompt the memory next time I visit—and so I have.

 

___________________________________________________________

Cutting to June 2016 the conservatory’s gone now, demolished in the name of progress. A big brick extension of more practicality sits in its place. This is why I write.