Wednesday, April 26, 2006
“Because I’ve got a little bit of heart, you know, I turn away when them kinda things happen. But it happens and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Then he’d light a cigarette, blow out the smoke and stare at the floor and you’d know what he was thinking. One day his name would come up and he’d have to do one.
“Otherwise it’ll be me with a hole in my face.”
That’s the way it was. You couldn’t remain a foot-soldier for ever, you either had to move up into the inner ring or they’d make you take a fall and spend a long time in prison to protect one of the higher-ups. And if you refused you’d get blown away and somebody else would go to jail.
Static Boy, with the smooth skin, high cheek bones and oriental eyes, loved his knives and his brothers. Both were necessities. He didn’t talk, he spat, spat out words like a Mach-10 on short burst.
What about the kid?
“Yeah, always knew him. We grew up knowing each other.”
And why did he die?
“Because his name come up. It’s easy to get blowed. He did something that doubled back on his people. Maybe it was meant, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe didn’t even know what he’d done, I don’t know. Anyway it happened. He’s gone and that’s it. Tomorrow it could be me, or you. They killed him, shot him in his mouth and his throat.”
Static has a little bit of heart. Sure, he never killed anyone, not yet. But he’s stabbed people and cut them.
“Never shot anyone, not at close range. I don’t mind fcking somebody up but I won’t blow them in the mouth. My other bruvs have, obviously, but I ain’t, cos I’ve got a little bit of heart. One day I’ll have to though, I guess. Otherwise it’ll be me with a hole in my face. I turn my head when I see them things happen. It happens and there’s nothing you or anybody can do about it.”
He left school at 14.
“My father was a junkie, fcking low-life, robbed banks and went inside when I was 12. I never saw the lovely life – nine to five, kids, settle down – only the grime. Yeah man that’s what we call this life, the grime. And this all there is. I’m on the run, lived in fifteen places just like this in as many months.
“This is it."
It's like a bunker in a battle zone. There is a bed, a busted suitcase full of clothes, rubbish on the floor, a small black and white television, the remains of a pizza. No carpet on the floor and no furniture except a broken up old foam rubber sofa with no upholstery.
This is where they do everything, count the money, sell the drugs, stash the guns.
They are an affiliation of gangs, Muslim converts, fanning out beyond London. They hold up banks and post offices, deal in guns and tax drug dealers.
Things used to be different. You could hook up with a crew and get out any time you liked.
That was all over.
It was this Muslim thing, it was for life. That was what it was all about. It was their way to keep a hold of you. You couldn’t just come in and leave the next day like you could before.
Things used to be loose, as long as you were cool and didn’t go mouthing off to the police or bad friends.
“Now you either get wasted or step up to the hard core – if they want you.”
There was only one other way. He’d heard about a couple of the guys who’d done it like this:
“You do a certain amount of murders. You know, sensitive deals, things no-one else wants to do. Then you can get out on the last one and you got respect. Maybe they set you up with something nice, like a little club or something, or a cab stand. You’re home free.”
But you had to do the first one, let them know you were up for it, that you’d do anything, kill anyone: women, kids, whatever. Whoever they needed to blow for whatever reason.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
The sun rose. There was the sound of humans waking in other rooms: coughing, a shout, the slamming of a door, hurried foot-fall in deeply carpeted corridors. He walked to the writing desk by the window and sat down, shivering in the morning chill. His fingers began to slowly work the keyboard of his lap-top.
There were people inside him, people from the labyrinth. They were walking around in his head, talking, existing in his blood. As he typed he felt their presence in his fingertips like a prospect of the cold.
One, who’s name was Victim, was a sexual con artist. She played the long game and lost. She was an amateur, an opportunist.
Her possessions were laid out on a table in plastic bags: a packet of menthol cigarettes, Kleenex, a purse containing crumpled banknotes and some change, a match book from the Regent Palace Hotel, a disposable lighter, an old tube ticket, house keys, a broken watch.
Her dress looked new and expensive, as did the shoes: bright red court shoes with real leather uppers, ankle straps and high heels.
It was early evening, the evening of the night she died. She got out of the car in Holland Park, entered the restaurant on the man’s arm – the new dress, the shoes – smiling. He waited for the lights to change, waiting for his life to change. The shoes, the bright red court shoes – who wears shoes like those today? – with high heels, slender ankles in them: how can she walk on those? And the dress, such a dress. Never saw a dress like that before. Smiling, laughing – what do they have to laugh about? Desire, courtship, love, a wedding, a life? It can’t be her.
He parked the car in a side street and walked in the rain to find a payphone.
There was no answer.
No. She must be there; it can’t be her in a dress like that, those shoes and the laughter and the smiles. She must be asleep.
The phone kept ringing.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
“You believe in God, Gerry?” No reply. “You believe in God?”
“I don’t even believe in Sunday!” he shouted from the bedroom.
Alice had a flash picture of Little Bo Beep.
He stroked the back of her neck. She smelt cigarettes on his breath.
“Listen to them,” he whispered. Her spine tingled. “I mean just listen to that shit, all that cheap redemption crap. They’re all dead, like Sunday. The other lot too.” He was talking about the Bengalis. “Kneeling shoeless with their heads bowed towards Mecca.”
He walked to the window and shouted across the courtyard at Alamandera Mansions: “Fifteen Quid on the Hashasheen’s nose and lose the lot. Like I did yesterday. That’s Mecca for you.”
She pulled away and went to pour the tea.
“I wish you wouldn’t gamble, Gerry. We needed that money,” she said. There was a possibility of tears in her voice.
“There are those who kneel and there are those who deal,” he replied, rummaging in the fridge. “Anyway you can go out and get some more, can’t you? A bit later, maybe.” She layed a cup of tea in front of him on the worktop.
“You got any cigs, I’m out?"
“On the floor by the bed. Get me one too.”
He took two cigarettes from the packet, lit them and put the packet in his pocket. From her shoe, half hidden beneath the bed, he took two twenty pound notes and put those also into his pocket.
He passed her one of the cigarettes, took a long drag on the other and let the smoke sigh out.
“They’re out there Alice. They’re out there all right, waiting, keeping order in the courtyards and the squares, hustling for the muezzins, just as sure as those Jesus freaks can't hold a tune with their dead beat tambourines and bashed up trumpets.”
“What’s one of them, Gerry?”
“A mue… whatever you call it.”
He smiled, swallowed a piece of dry toast and swigged a mouthful of tea: “Come here.”
He led her out to the hallway and the front door. “You see that? You know what that is? I’ll tell you. Before you came here, before the Bengalis arrived, these flats were mostly let to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They had… it was part of their religion – this voodoo, if you like – these little containers attached to their doorposts with small parchments inside inscribed with religious texts. Supposed to scare off evil spirits or something. Anyway, along came the Bengalis. They formed themselves into gangs and started roaming the estates at night, nicking all these little cases from the doors. They took them to their bosses, the muezzins, who broke them open, took out the parchments and made mezzuzah soup out of them, which they sold to the Christians from their corner shops. The soup put a hex on them and they all lost their faith and got drunk. The Jews got rich and moved to Golders Green, and the Bengalis took over the east end. Ethnic and religious cleansing by voodoo, got it?"
“You’re full of shit, Gerry.”
He laughed and left her standing in the hallway. She went back into her kitchen. Leaning across the draining board to fill the kettle again, she knocked a dirty glass with her elbow. It fell to the floor, shattering on impact.
Outside the sun had almost completely disappeared and soon it rained, rained all day. And the courtyards and walkways were quiet. She watched television, ate toast and drank tea.
Someone had seen her down Roman Road market with the bruises on her face. They told her sister.
“One day he’s going to kill her!"
She came round to the flat to find out what was going on.
“I’m worried about my sister, Gerry.”
But Gerry wouldn’t let her past the door.
“The house is infested with fleas,” he told her, “you know, since the dog ran off. Best stay away. Alice is fine, fell over that’s all.” Then back indoors with the smile again and the running of fingers through her hair, softly stroking on the nape of her neck.
“I could kill you Alice, if I wanted to, and no one would care.
Five dream people laughing in the early evening. Brandies and coke and sitting by the window at a table facing the bar. Alice in the doorway wearing the Ativan veil. Toni’s plunging neckline in the big bevelled mirror behind the bar. She wore a gold crucifix low hanging on a braided chain, which caught a spark on Gerry’s sovereign ring and relayed it back to the sleeper in her ear, completing a triangle. She fingered the chain as she spoke, smiling, rubbing her arm from time to time – a small insect bite there.
Strawberry Fields Forever and nothing forever no more. And the song kept revolving and repeating, like a carnival carousel, contradictions whispering in a thousand undervoices, sneering and squinting at Alice through the smoke and the mist like tacky coloured bulbs at a funfair. Everything deafened and blinded her: the bar buzz, the children screaming outside in the street, the devious pleasures and the false securities bubbling up through the brandy and the whisky and the vodka and the rum and the beer.
STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER…
And the song ended and the last notes echoed. Alice and the Ativan veil still in the doorway searching through the clamour for him…
And sometimes my head just spins, my mind is a city, a totalitarian state, an autarky whose economy depends on the currency of human secrets.
Then she found him and he heard the words and the secret was a secret no more.
"I don't want this," cried a torn voice that moments before had been loud and confident and laughing, before it sank and a blowsy jeer shaped shout loomed up in its place. "It's the same every time. Weak, lousy bastard!"
Then the torn voice groaning back to the surface. A twisted, ragged moan and the door slamming shut. Footsteps disappearing and the jeer shape shouting:
“Hey Gerry, don’t linger in the moonlight too long, there’s a hangdog moon out there tonight!”
“Moondog! It’s called a moondog, when the clouds are over it that way.”
Leaning across the bar drooling over that slut, speaking his soft words to her. She couldn’t make out the words. So she poured some more vodka into her glass and emptied it then repeated the whole thing like Strawberry Fields Forever but she couldn’t taste it. The music boomed through the wall from the living room. The drink tasted of nothing and she couldn’t make out the words, couldn’t hear those words he stole from her and gave to Toni. But she followed the shapes his mouth made in the big mirror, watched as the sleeper in her ear flashed, its ricochet sparking a corona on his ring as he swept back his hair from his forehead. Her back in that mirror.
That cow.Don’t linger in the fcking moonlight. The phrase echoed in her head and no one was there to answer. So she swallowed some more pills and fixed another drink.
It was his indifference that hurt her more than anything. It felt like dying. Imagine a fear so intense as to make the sufferer too scared to face it.
She had always been frightened, since she was a little girl. Way back then when she first let the fear into her life. Now she embraced it. It had a space inside her, as if it were breath to her.
She sat half up in the bed smoking, her broken hair hard and ruined from too much hairspray. It had mixed with her sweat and then solidified during the course of the night. She stared at the room, at the bottle on the floor by the bed and her discarded underwear. She reached out, hoisted up the bottle and drank. Then she lit a cigarette, going over and over in her head what she’d say if he came back, thinking from time to time that she might get up and have a bath.
The nuns used to say that a body always sleeps sounder when freshly scrubbed.
She rose and pulled on her pair of green cotton cut-offs with the broken belt loops and the torn pocket. Pulled up the zipper, cigarette dangling. The smoke curled up into the air and commingled with the dust. The zipper trapped her hair and stung her slightly. A notion of a song in the sunlight lightly brushed her breasts with its beam and made her think of softness, softness like a glow that is gently warming yet unsure in a cute kind of way, like a baby’s first smile: a baby like Gerry maybe, or a little Alice made of her trickle and his juice.
The photographs in an old National Geographic in Dr Leahy’s waiting room brought back something like memory to her. Leafing through its pages she recalled a child’s fingers and they became her own.
She posed in the mirror, head back swooning gently, brushing the hair back from her forehead, her eyes sinking back through teenage and misty, through the smiling lines, through the frost on the mirror, hair tingling at the middle of her back. She fingered her small, neat breasts with their brown nipples. The dark hair beneath her belly peeked out above the half fastened zipper.
When the bump gets bigger will she still be able to see that?
She sighed. Her breasts sighed, like the African women from the magazines, now trapped forever behind her eyes, spent, sucked dry and desperate. Disqualified from life. Hopelessly drowning in mezuzah soup.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Heeeeeere's Jonny! A guest post
As his writer my job could have been easy; I could have just let the scripts write themselves out of my perceptions of him, write his real character large, like they did with Hancock. He should have been his own material. But he didn't want it that way. I hated him for it, for what his search for "a new kind of comedy" did to me.
Enmity: there's just no reasoning about it. If tragedy is the comic in slow motion then comedy is adversity speeded up. You can make comedy out of any human situation. Take any abomination: the holocaust, war, cancer. If you write out the solidity, the fear, the hate, if you distort the shadow you can make it funny. The public will laugh at the serious or the tragic if you invite them to; all you have to do is take away the fear.
But it's in the hands of the writer, not the comedian. Tommy took the comic too seriously, he became a freak, made himself ridiculous. The public laughs at the contrast between the body and the shadow, at the difference between the comedian's (or his writer's) invented self and his biological and psychological reality as it is perceived within the context of the character it has been encouraged (Duped?) into accepting. When he starts, as Tommy did, to play himself too closely, the comedy disappears.
I don't think I ever liked comedians. It wasn't just Fatboy; I never met a comic that I liked. It's not that I have no respect for what they do, quite the opposite. It's really a kind of jealousy. You see, at one point, a long long time ago, I wanted to perform comedy myself. But I was no good. I tried and I couldn't do it. I'm just not funny. Give me the funniest, most brilliantly conceived and universally hillarious material and I'll die with it. I'm just not funny. You see, I don't want people to laugh at me or their short comings through me; as a performer I wanted them to laugh at themselves directly, and that doesn't work. There has to be clowns. I couldn't be a clown so I became a comedy writer.
Those were the worst years of my life. Writing comedy is art-killing, soul destroying labour. If a bad comedian does your stuff it bombs. He dies and you die with him. On the other hand, a good comedian makes the audience believe that the material is his own, he makes it seem effortless, natural, spontaneous, fully formed and immediate: the public is totally unaware that anyone else is involved, that what they're experiencing is part of a process. A good writer, furthermore, conspires in the illusion, he writes himself out of the world.
Sifting through the pieces of conversation he could make immediate sense of, leaving aside the misty for future analysis, he reduced the kid down to a "chill dude wear a pork pie hat image, reflecting the street history of his cultural stereotype": in reality a closely shaven head with a hood, a long black leather coat and a penchant for knives.
She was at the centre of his life, his one sure thing. He called her Aunt Ruth but he didn't know whose sister she was. He just went there when he'd had too much of the cold air on his face, when he became too conscious of his own ricochet, when he didn't have a good enough reason not to go there.
The room she kept empty just for him. He had his own key and she called him Luke and he didn't show that he minded answering to a cross worshiper's name. She was always pleased to see him, any time, day or night, and she never asked questions she didn't know he would want to answer; she was sensitive to the secrets of youth, embodied complicity, it was her gift to him, a space in her life which was his. And there was nothing she expected in return but his company every now and then, a few words over sweet coffee or a glass of white rum, the gentle violence that warmed her when his young breath commingled in her front room with her old treasures.
The night will always find them out. There are no secrets she cannot know. Those caches they all keep hidden in the folds of their flesh, under the bed clothes, nestled snugly in with the unmentionable odours and the unpublished skin, belong to her entirely, and if you gain her trust she may let you share her knowledge of them.
The kid told him about the loose floor board in his secret room, beneath the sheepskin rug, high up on an undiscovered level of Alamandera Mansions.
Monday, April 10, 2006
The car reeked of palm oil, hand lotion, something he couldn't quite place. The smell brought back the sick feeling that had started with his non existent breakfast, with the early morning hangover realisation that he was back in London against his will. He put it to the back of his mind. Sure, he didn't want to be here, but he felt he was close to some kind of truth. He had to find it, possess it, write it down, study it, pull it out of shape, stretch it, write it again until it fitted. That was the science: you started with a secret then you worried it until it became true. If the truth was there you found it in the end. Like finding the punchline to a joke.
Holloway Road. Upper Street. The Angel. Old Street undergound. Some back streets. Blank faces in doorways. Shuttered-up shop fronts. Bagel bakeries. Curry houses...
Back into traffic, turning into Whitechapel Road. Past the Blind Beggar, the Mosque on the right. History. A funeral cortege through Bethnal Green. It wasn't a good day; a day full of rain and guys waiting for money nobody could afford. There used to be a cinema on that vacant lot - Scarface. Al Pacino, romance memories, movie gangsters, fantasies in the dark on summer afternoons collapsing into reality like flowers on a bamboo blade. Celluloid bite-back.
He got out of the car outside Stepney Green underground. London is a city of stations.
Stepney Green. The Ocean Estate. Decay is everywhere. It's the air you breathe. Everything stinks. The Ocean begins on the eastern corner of the intersection of the Mile End Road and White Horse Lane. A wall of Phantom grey concrete blocks ten levels high, with windows so small you can't make them out, don't realise there are windows there at all until you cross the street. Latticed metal fencing protects the street from them. It's rusting: fifty years of keeping the dogs off the highway.
Jon Hilltown's father used to talk about the dogs, in the early hours when everything was still; in the monochrome moments, when there were no jokes left, when the only important thing was to keep life running away from the east end, from the past, from poverty, from crime. That was his motivation: not to be like the dogs. And he never quite lived up to it. The dogs could conceptualise. The dogs were instinctive. The dogs were responsive. The dogs were reactionary. He too was all those things and he felt what the dogs felt: comfort and warmth, pain and hunger, cold and fear...
He knew the night and the early mornings and he knew the city, never forgot its secrets, its unmentionable odours and its unpublished skin. Sometimes, years later, as he relaxed by the pool or gazed from the patio out across the bay, he imagined he could hear the dogs thinking.
Late Night Walker
Soft rain on the shoulders of her jacket shimmered amber in the streetlight.
Just for a few seconds the distance separating them diminished.
He saw her face up close and sharp as if they were together in the same room with no glass mediating.
Her eyes met his and there was a feeling of oneness between them.
For a half breath of time he knew her, really knew her, and his consciousness of her knowledge of him was so intense that he felt naked.
Friday, April 07, 2006
When he's born (series one, episode two) the midwife, a twenty-eight year old gay word puzzle enthusiast from Ohio, threatens to assassinate his mother. When he sees the kid he just falls apart; it's like he takes it personally, you know? Like little Tommy has rained on his parade and it's the mother's fault.
"How could you do this?" he pleads. "I mean, how?" He tosses his face mask and surgical gloves to the floor with a theatrical flourish. "I mean, at some point during the last nine months... well, you must have had some idea. Surely you couldn't have carried that around and not known, suspected even...? Couldn't you have done the decent thing?"
The mother, a giant hoverfly, passes out. Her wings collapse, creating a huge draught, which blows the anaesthetist off his feet and scatters instruments, swabs, wipes, anything that isn't tied down, all over the room.
"Ho hum," sighs the midwife. "You chase a horse and you catch a dog. Story of my life."
Tommy plays all the parts, it's Fatboy world: every character in every show looks like some version of Tommy.
That first script earned Jonny Hilltown, as he was then, a personal assistant called Dragona Hartley. Dragona believed in absolutes and, like Tommy, she liked to generalize...
Gangsters use the word "f..." more than any other, with the possible exceptions of "money" and "no". Gangsters in the main don't have what you might call a good command of the English language (the same can be said of comedians).
"You know why?" asked Fatboy. "I'll tell you why," breathing cigar smoke and garlic all over Jonny's new wool suit. "It's because they're all spiritual Italians and Greeks. Ok, some of them really are Italians and Greeks. But the ones that ain't, actually are, in that spiritual sense. You get me? It's that cultural thing about body language that the spiritual Italians and the spiritual Greeks share with the Italians from Italy and the Greeks from Greece: the hand gestures and stuff. It's the same with accountants: spiritually they're all Jewish." Then his eyes narrowed, his head tilted to one side and he looked Hilltown square in the face:
"You want to know something about writers? I'll tell you about writers. All writers drink in the afternoon. Did you know that? All writers are spiritual drunks - even the ones that don't drink."
Why he doesn't write comedy anymore
It was cold. The whole room was cold and everything he touched increased it. He poured himself a drink. The glass was cold. The blood in his fingers froze as he clasped it. He really shouldn't. He knew the warmth of alcohol was artificial, a dead heat. But he knocked it back regardless and poured himself another. He needed the inflamation.
How much would it take? How many glasses? If he could drink twenty lifetimes in one day and produce enough heat to finish this would he be happy? Would he. He'd die happy, a funny laughing, happy drunk.
Maurice called it his inner ear. Jonny stretched his and tried to listen but there was nothing laughing in there; just a vacant hum, an inactive drone like the buzz of a dead radio channel, empty space waiting for the pop of time.
Time runs in grooves. Little furrows with smooth, steeply sloping banks that you can't climb. And it makes a faint popping sound on the hour as it runs out on you, like a soap bubble bursting in your ear.
He had a dream that one day he'd have time, time to do all the things he'd never had time to do before. But he woke up to the realisation that what he really meant by "having time" was "owning time", controlling it, having time to increase time and bend, expand or shrink it to his own ends.
"Imagine, Fatboy, if time was dust. You could spend a whole year in a room just letting it collect and on New Year's eve you could gather up all that dust into a great pyramid and snort it up like cocaine through a rolled up bank note or a tube of typing paper. It'd be like experiencing the whole of that year in one blinding, thirty second rush, a gargantuan high, three hundred sixty five days in a shot glass. Or you could batch it up into one minute doses - five hundred twenty-five thousand and six hundred hits, enough for twenty lifetimes, twenty lives out of one year of heat, and the real thing too - nothing artificial there, that's the real thing. Dust heat."
If time was dust you could have it all, all the time in the world. You could live forever. You'd be the king of time.
The terror: it dragged him back to the lines at the top of his screen. He felt all the coldness of the room, the streets, the world, concentrate in the pit of his stomach like a small, hard, freezing, fist-sized ball of dread. He imagined flakes of ice forming over his eyes. What if it wasn't time he lacked? What if the lack of heat wasn't the real problem? What if he had all the time in the world and the most efficient heating system in the universe and he sat in his room for eternity and nothing happened? No more sketches or skits. No more jokes. No more ironic elbow nudges. What if his screen remained for all time bereft of strange but amusingly contextualised and cunningly placed lexical choices?
Tens of millions of sheets of yellowing, rotting, horribly disintegrating typing paper fluttered and flounced behind his eyes in a hellish breeze, each one horribly blank. He heard the sound of hollow laughter.
Once terror gets its hooks into a writer working to a deadline he might as well shoot himself. He becomes possessed by a total disbelief in his ability, skill, talent, call it what you will. He can tell himself he's a professional and that there's no such thing as writers' block but he'll never be convinced. He refills his glass: he has to. There are no choices anymore. He must generate the heat any way he can before the cold takes over completely, before the ice expands. Janitors and bailiffs have broken into writers' apartments to collect unpaid rent only to find blocks of solid ice slumped over broken and frosted-over keyboards.
That's what terror does. That's the way he gets you. He creeps up the back of your throat and into your mouth, finds his way under your tongue where the soft membrane is and snatches it up with his talons, bites into it and paralyses you. You have to drown him, it's the only way, or freeze to death and never write again. So you drink. That's when the guilt kicks in.
Maurice never drank. In twenty years not a mouthful passed his lips while he was working.
"You can't write good stuff you can't stay sober," he told his son. He spoke like that: omitting conjunctions. You could never quite pin down the true sense of what he was saying; the resultant ambiguities were the source of his humour.
Jonny took a large swallow from the bottle. "I can't write good stuff (and) I can't stay sober," he thought.
But he had to write something, anything, anything to obliterate that white obscenity, to cover that loathsome nakedness. With his eyes crunched shut he moved his fingers across the keys. Soon he was pressing then punching mindlessly, shivering with cold, fear and guilt, lack of time and onrush of alcoholic meltdown.
"Take my father - please!"
What did he know? He was dead; an old, dead, cornball one-liner reshuffler. The world was different now. Comedy was different, Jonny Hilltown was different. Everything was different now. His chest was bursting, huge breaths increasing body heat. He was writing. He didn't know what he was writing or what the words meant or if they meant anything at all or even if they were in fact actual words or just bunches of random characters and he really didn't give a damn. His head was full of the clatter of the keys, faster and faster, echoing, fading and increasing, letters tripping and tumbling onto the screen laughing and squealing and chattering like kids out of school. Qwerty and the Black and White Miracle Show.
There was a cigarette unlit between his lips; indentations of teeth on the filter. He went to the window. Through the glass he could see nothing at first but the dark. Then, briefly, as it passed beneath a street light, a figure: a girl late night walking. His eyes tried to follow her but once she passed through the light she became just a shadow, elongating and flattening out, expanding and contracting in the glare of a passing headlight like a reflection in a deviant mirror. In seconds she was gone and Hilltown wondered what her name was. Why was she out at this hour on such a cold night? Was she cheating on her husband? Was she a prostitute? And did he imagine it or had she looked up for a split second? Had she smiled at him?
Late night people have defects. They're all up to no good. That's what he wanted to write about: faults, imperfections; and he wanted to tell stories in shadow, in fairground mirror reflection, all the fear washed out, the ugliness and the deformity of sin draped in ridiculous washes of colour.
He read aloud the few lines at the top of the screen: "Fatboy's in a smart restaurant..." The characters danced on the page as he slurred the passage over and over again.
Tommy "Fatboy" Devine, the comeback kid. No other comic in the business was more terrified of new material and yet his insistence on "total originality" from his writers was pathological. For a comedian, telling a new joke or performing a virgin routine is like sky diving: he never knows if the parachute is going to open. Fatboy, now, well he didn't simply want to dive out of a plane; he wanted to leap from the moon, on television, in a "totally original" one man show after five years in the weeds.
Jonny Hilltown opened a clean screen and sat there for a while just staring at it. Nothing happened. The bottle on his desk was as empty as the screen and he wished he hadn't started drinking. Maybe he should get some more. A few glasses and a packet of Pro Plus, he could work through to midday. He could call the local cab-stand and get them to send a car over to the 24/7 in Kilburn. But he didn't. He was already falling asleep, picking up the phone in a dream, saying hello to a sleepy voice on the other end. Then the phone disappeared and he fell deeper. His room became a smart restaurant and he was Fatboy Devine in black tie, tux. The waiter waited. The insect finished her cocktail.
"OK," he said, "I'll have the gaspacho, leaks vinaigrette with shrimp, marinated zucchini, the orange mousse, a bottle of Cotes du Rhone '68..." her wings buzzed and her pearls rattled "...and you'd better bring me a plateful of shit for my fly."
Thursday, March 23, 2006
"Then there will be bells and sirens and car horns," thought Julian Devine. "Telephones in millions of homes will bleep, lips will be kissed and resolutions made. Silver and gold-necked bottles will be opened with great flourish if little expertise and the good people will be full, awash and delirious with hope."
He clicked off the light and locked up the office before taking his customary walk around the public area to check the troughs. The machines were arranged like strange standing stones in two circles, one inside the other, their consuls facing outwards. When the players were in it was like a prison exercise yard or a mobile ID parade. All the subjects were suspects and all the suspects were guilty.
There was a pound coin in the Oklahoma Showdown; a blue infant's teething ring on top of the Glory Ride Express; the coin slot of the Caribbean Cop Fighter was glued up with chewing gum. On the floor, amidst the cigarette butts and the discarded cash bags, spent matches and candy wrappers, he found a packet. It had been make-shifted from a glossy magazine page.
Four hours. The buzz beginning. In Scotland now they would all be waiting, all the ghosts. And soon the hugging and the kissing and the singing, the Lord Provost's speech in the city square, the pipers and the dancers in their plaids and soft black, silver buckled shoes....
His father woke him and helped him dress in his Christmas cowboy outfit: the waistcoat, the chaps, two silver pistols in holsters, a large handkerchief for a bandana and a warm coat on top. His mother singing along to Johnny Ray on the radio - The Little Cloud That Cried - as she busied herself with secrets. Tenement days. He recalled the cold, and the security of beer on his father's breath.
But it was a magic night. The air was frosty and crisp and the streetlamps glistened amber as they swung softly in the city crosswinds. The sound of clicking heels and excited chatter echoed all around. Outside the bars and cafes men and women were gathering, readying themselves for the procession to the centre. The men wore cardboard hats; their hip pockets bulged. And the women were tipsy and giggling, teetering on stiletto heels, their short dresses displaying lacy underskirts and sometimes a hint of bare thigh.
And then they reached the Square.
A huge Mississippi riverboat, its bridge decorated with coloured lights, had docked in front of the Town Hall. And a Dixieland jazz band played on the Town Hall steps. He had never seen so many people. All dressed fancy as movie vampires, Italian waiters, Hollywood gangsters, riverboat gamblers and gunslingers, plainswomen in Gingham and sunhoods... and everywhere the sound, like a great deafening roar, of HAPPY NEW YEAR.