One Shoe Stanley

I’m Roland.

I sit in the lounge downstairs and watch the TV, mostly. It’s been the same thing on for the last 3 days. Just a chessboard picture of test-card squares and a constant high pitched squeal. I don’t know what it means.

​I ran out of my special drink last night, and now I don’t feel very well. The TV keeps looking at me, I can see someone in there in the squares and the moving dots and they keep looking at me. They know who I am, and they know where to find me, but they can’t get to me because, well, they’re inside a TV, aren’t they? I covered it over with an old towel I took from the bathroom. There are some old bookshelves in the lounge, so I turned my back on the covered-up TV and I looked through the books for a little while. They were old cookbooks, and a few were encyclopaedias. They smelled like old news.

I found a picture of Mum on the desk right next to the bookshelves. She was on holiday, at the seaside. There I am, holding a crab up to the camera while she holds my ice-cream for me. She’s dropped hers, and you can tell by the look she gives to the camera. Uncle David took that picture, a long time ago.

I’ve got a lot of uncles.

They ‘re always coming round with little presents for Mum. When they come she gives me that look, the one that means I have to go and watch the telly in the living room and play the reading game. The reading game is when you have to put your fingers in your ears and pretend there’s no sound coming from the telly. You win if you can work out what they’re saying all the way through. I always win that game. I remember once I needed to pick my nose and when I took my finger out of my ear I heard Mum shouting at uncle Brian. She said he was a two-bob. She sounded mad, so I put my finger back in my ear. She gave me two big cookies when she came back in.

Mum should be back by now.

She went shopping the day the telly went off. She always goes shopping after an uncle comes. I was watching One-Shoe Stanley when she went. He’s a little old man with one magic shoe that grants any wish you want. They don’t show you if there’s a genie in the shoe, but I bet there is one. Stanley goes on adventures on the Tumbling Downs. They’re big, like fields as far as you can see, and a big mountain in the distance. There are little towns, and Stanley visits them all. He uses his magic shoe to help the people that live there, and they all love him for it.

​I had a look in the kitchen for something to eat. There wasn’t much there. I found a boiled egg and a carrot in the fridge, but I’ve eaten those now. There was some milk on the kitchen table but it smelled. Mum told me, never drink milk that smells. I had some water instead. I wondered what One-Shoe Stanley would do if he was here. I even took my shoe off and rubbed it, but it didn’t work, because there isn’t a genie in it, so I got my cap gun so I could be John Wayne instead.

​I shot six baddies. They kept looking in through the glass in the front door and I kept on shooting them from my fort under the hallway table. One of them banged on the window and put his hand through the cat flap, but I stamped on his hand and hurt him and he went away.

​I have to be John Wayne all the time now. I have to keep the bad guys away from my fort, but i’m very hungry and I keep falling sort-of asleep. I wish I had a genie like One-Shoe Stanley, then I could just wish everything back to normal like he does. I could even give Mum that ice-cream she dropped in the photo. ​

There’s a big metal bucket under the stairs, and I strapped it over my head so I wouldn’t get shot. I got my cap gun and tied it on some string by the handle and put the string around my shoulder so I wouldn’t drop it on the ground, and sat in my fort for ages and ages, waiting for there to be less bad guys. There were lots yesterday and even more the day before, but hardly any today. I’ve got a little bag as well, made out of an oranges bag, and I put some pants and socks in it just in case. I have to find a genie. The door is locked and I can’t really reach the handle, so I got a stool from the kitchen and stood on that to reach it.

​I have to go outside.

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Duplex (freewrite)

A thought pulses across a sparkling void.

Above the flat panels of rusty metal, particles of light began to dance. The movement became more numerous, more complex, along with the rising wail of long-dormant power cells hidden behind the orange-brown metal walls.

The lights took on pearlescense, beginning to coalesce. At first, just a sketch. An approximation of form. Steadily the lines grew bolder, until at last the scaffold was complete – the lights became fewer and fewer, seeping into and joining the structure, until the room was once more in darkness.

The silence lasted a second, maybe two, before the whirring gears hidden in the wall shrieked into life and bit into their rusted cogs. Part of the wall opposite the light-machine peeled aside, revealing two bio-suited technicians. Between them they wheeled a gurney into the room, their radios crackling with conversation.

“Structure-A5 is complete.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this.”

Between them, the two men detached the scaffold and lay it down on the gurney, in preparation for its journey through Inbound Processing .

“Which room is it, Grant?”

Grant read the scaffold’s destination from an electronic clipboard, and gave a low whistle between his teeth.

“Disembarcation C5. No expense spared with this one, eh?”
“Yeah, and it’s a red tag. We’d better hurry up and get it to De-Flensing, come on.”

The technicians hurriedly wheeled the gurney out of the hulking metal room, into the dim, clanking corridors. Thick trunked cables ran along the bare metal walls, each carrying unimaginable power wherever it might be needed. The sound of the technicians’ steps bounced from the cross-hatched metal floor, reflecting down the corridor and into the darkness beyond. The heat was almost unbearable this close to the Disembarcation suites.

The arrival of the scaffold within the confines of the De-Flensing chamber triggered a thousand dormant systems within the walls of the apparently blank and featureless room. The scaffold was checked and cross-checked. A mistake here could be, at the very least, hazardous to the reputation of the Company. At the far end of the room sat a metal cube, perhaps a meter across on each side. Grant approached the cube carefully and deactivated the security locks. Its metal walls began to sink into the floor, sliding out of sight while leaving their contents behind.

There now stood a cube of pinkish jellylike substance, not quite fully opaque. Grant slid aside the port covers on the nearest wall, and hooked up a feed pipe from the scaffold to the jellycube. Once this was done and the powerlevels began to rise, the two technicians beat a hasty retreat, sealing the entrance behind them.

As the system approached full charge, the feed pipe activated. The jellycube began to pull and tear, before yielding in large chunks. At the other end, the pinkish jelly sprayed haphazardly onto the scaffold, which was turned slowly. The spray gradually lessened, as more and more of the jelly held to the structure, suggesting finally a coherent shape. The feed nozzle changed shape very slightly, and with incredible rapidity, as it sculpted the form onto the bare skeleton.

The dull roar of the machines was soon drowned out by a series of wrenching moans. The shape on the gurney split across a narrow part, and it started to scream.

Outside the chamber, the two technicians waited.

“I fucking hate this bit.”

“Well, look at it this way, at least it doesn’t know what it is,” Grant shrugged.

“I don’t understand why they don’t arrive all at once, you know?”

“Come on Leigh. You know it isn’t like that. Technically they don’t ‘arrive’ at all do they?”

Leigh nodded silently, trying to ignore the wailing flesh developing in the sealed chamber. He remembered when the Doppler Transport System was first introduced. Ostensibly for military and research purposes, the prospect of interstellar tourism had proven too tempting to resist. The principle was simple – the mental processes – engrams – are stored as data and transmitted over the FTL-Net. The traveller’s body is destroyed, then reconstituted at the destination from biomaterials. From there it’s simply a matter of restoring engrammatic data to the new body, and the original traveller goes about their business.

Except the process was not always successful. Sometimes the agonizing memories of reconstruction remained, and the traveller would be traumatized. There was also the possibility that the engrammatic data might become corrupted. There were usually funerals in this case. The new individual created by these errors would usually undergo minor cosmetic surgery to avoid offence. There had even been occasions when old, ‘dead’ individuals resurfaced by chance, thanks to slight transmission errors.

The new arrival continued to wail and gurgle from within the Re-Flensing suite. The process was now in the final stages. Soon the vessel would be complete and its engrams could be re-implanted. Rebellious flesh would be brought back under control.

“Right, Leigh, are you ready?” Grant gathered up the harness and tether and gripped the door handle in anticipation. Leigh nodded, swallowed the lump in his throat, and suddenly the two men were in the room, attempting to subdue to the hooting flesh. It struggled against them, flailing against the harness with thick, mindless ululations – a blank slate waiting for a mind.

It took the combined strength of the two men to strap it to the gurney and wheel it to the Arrivals Lounge, and the waiting family.

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Notches

Hello brown-eyes.
Raise a corner of that pretty mouth.
Raise a glass to the corner
of that pretty mouth.

Hello blue-eyes,
brush of errant lock curling
from beaded flushing forehead
to that pretty mouth.

Hello green-eyes,
blue-blown bitter brow uptilted,
trembling a cigarette
to that pretty mouth.

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Bones

A dog said hello to me today-
I replied with best manners,
although I find the canine tongue
tough to approximate.

He said he wanted bones.
I said i’d get them.

Returning bearing armfuls
of marrow, shattered ivory
ripped from tusky ribcages
and stunned livestock

I came to see red fur on red
fender, and I carried him away.

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Untitled character sketch

The kitchen door was ajar. Light seeped through the gap and laid in a pencil-beam across the dark hallway. Leonard only had a small flat, with no upstairs that didn’t belong to someone else. The short, artfully clinical hallway had three low doorways, and opened onto a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen-cum-living space. Leonard threw the kitchen door open, and made a straight path to the freezer. He nodded sagely to the empty room; vodka is the most amazing liquid when below zero. It ebbs and throbs in the bottle like a silken gel.

Like a thin layer of civilization, covering a gaping, bottomless trap.

Of the four bottles he’d picked up last week, only these dregs remained. He’d sold the car three months ago. Didn’t get much for it, what with all the dents and knocks, but you know. He ruminated, turning the bottle around and around at eye level, watching the half-inch of clear liquid roll around the inside, clinging slightly to the glass. It was enough.

He necked it quickly. Warmth spread across his face and neck; that first flush was magic. He loved just smacking his numbed lips, rubbing a palm across the unfeeling skin on his face. That stage seemed to take longer and longer to arrive, but when it did it was like slipping into a pair of comfortable pyjamas.

There was a small, plasticy table in the corner of the kitchen, next to the fridge and surrounded by several slightly undersized chairs, also plasticy. Leonard dragged one across the linoleum, flopping onto it, arms and elbows across the table. He rested his face on the backs of his hands. He’d often found himself waking up here in a similar position, although he could never quite tell exactly when his head sank to touch the cracked surface. The next thing he knew he’d be peeling a cheek from the tabletop.

Leonard sat for a while at the table, thinking about where it all went wrong. Not for himself personally; he knew full well how that had come to pass. For everyone. For this whole sorry mess that everyone was suddenly in. Money by the barrowful – nothing to spend it on, mind. The debt mountain had finally come on top, hadn’t it? Something vague, about crop failures and economic disaster or something like that. To tell the truth, he’d been pretty steaming drunk for most of the time.

But now there was no more vodka. Probably none in the whole country.

What a shit-hole this place is.

Leonard eventually managed to convince himself to get up and take stock. He pulled his head up from the table quickly, and nearly screamed. Somehow a slimy, discarded fork had managed to stick his hair to the table during the night. He rushed to the hallway mirror to find that the fork was still attached to a huge hank of hair that had somehow wrapped around it like candyfloss on a stick. After yanking at it a few times, there was a quiet tearing sound and the fork at last came away. Leonard threw it to the floor and looked at himself in the mirror.

Sweaty, rumpled, creased.

He smoothed at the front of his shirt and then had to wipe his hands on his trousers to get rid of the greasy residue. Not perfect, but not too bad. A pair of misshapen black loafers sat balefully at the foot of the mirror like hollowed out sea-cucumbers. They were at least ten years old, covered in old stains. Beer, shit, cider, mud, vodka, sick. Better than fucking boot polish, Leonard mused, feeding them his swollen feet. Turning to the front door, he rediscovered the discarded hairy fork on the floor, and kicked it back towards the kitchen with a scowl.

“Fucking Bolognese.”

The roads were empty. The house was fully out of sight. There were a few burned out cars here and there but most of them looked like they’d just been parked. The windows on most of the suburban semis were intact, and all the doors were locked. He knew because he’d tested most of them. The occupants were, judging by the variety of exotic plants in their front gardens, far too well-heeled to make a fuss. They’d calmly locked their doors, with every intention of returning from wherever it was they went. As if they were going on a holiday.

Leonard took shelter from the beating sun by crawling under a canopy of unidentifiable greenery in one of the front gardens. The smell stuck at the back of his throat and made his eyes water. There was a watery pink patch on his sock – bleeding from the popped blisters. Privet stood sentry on either side of the garden. There was a smeared, puffy plastic slide, visible through the hedge on the neighbouring side. Its shadow curled luxuriously across the lawn, merging into complicated swirls and clefs.

Eventually, the sun dipped and the music faded into oblique blobs. The sun was a slice of lemon dumped onto a sky made of red bar napkin, getting ready to vanish out of sight, and he needed a drink.

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Mind the Gap

Russet pipes and rustflower phantom
brushes, still here –
Swiped footprints on sooty tiles.
Dark enamel pipework, shrouded
After still years
Measured out in lack of use.

A whistle blows.

everywheretheroartherushoffeetandshoesthensilence.

This place was untouched
By lunching masses citybound
Oblivious; tiny little mouse
Sitting watching, little snipe,
I saw him underneath a pipe
Scrabbling some filth in vain.

A whistle blows.

everywheretheroartherushoffeetandshoesthensilence.

Still untouched, and must have been
For years, unexamined
By hands but those tiny pink
Claws, forever raking at the tiles,
Jawclenching scratch
Of steel wheels on the line.

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Incirrina

She is an octopus,
waving tentacles; an uncertain body
whose blind eyes are river water
reflecting smoke and grey sky,

whose muscle pumps
red amber green, her juices
busy and intermingled
around the glassy centre.

Never tiring, she shines
all day and night until the break
of next; her blood might thin
but never stop its journey.

She is transit and destination,
epithelial indifference, little thought
of class, or the trade her designs
have sought to build upon.

Sometimes I reach her choking heart
(though not without expenditure);
but always, home will be the skirts
of this cruel and thoughtless creature.

Posted in Poetry | 24 Comments