tutti fruttttti

Dialogue 6 — Khotin

It’s probably too late to call. I put the receiver back in its cradle. From the next room the TV light flickers, I get up and the chair creaks. The baby starts to cry but I can’t face dealing with it.

I walk back into the room with the television. There are thin dotted lines blurring the screen, fuzzy colours reflect on the shiny mahogany floor. A female news reporter with a large bob mouths silent words, a headline ticks across the screen, another recycling accident happened today.

Jane is sat at the back in one of the seats the visitors usually take, her lumpy body melting into the hard plastic like yoghurt on a spoon. She’s got the remote and is pressing it against her top lip. I can’t see in this light but it looks like she’s licking the buttons. I want to check if any of the fluff and gunk that coats the rubber has got into her teeth but I don’t. The baby is still crying.

sunshine splatterstream moonrock brokengreen.

There’s a tap at the window. A crow is on the other side waving at me, smiling, his teeth are round and yellow. I raise my hand back and return his wave. He looks at me with tiny black eyes and I realise he was waving at Jane. I put my hand down so I don’t look like an idiot.

The baby won’t stop crying.

man on the moon

Bombscare — Touts

“SO WEIRD!”

Natasha practically shouted in my ear. Classic Tash – she loved to exaggerate her response to everything, ramp up the enthusiasm levels and really affirm everything she was told. It developed during her ‘my-parents-are-divorced’ phase; she’d come in to school pumped for registration, the ubiquitous American Beauty rip-off art projects suddenly became ‘inspirational’, and the canteen sticky rice and brown beef sludge was like her last frickin’ meal. These things ALL sucked, so I figured she was used to pepping up her mom when dad was out banging the chubby girl from the pizza place on Greenberg Ave, and eventually it just filtered into being part of her personality. After twelve years it still bugged me, but it was often cute as heck so I always let it slide.

“I mean it’s like he’s waving RIGHT AT YOU?!”

The man she was talking about wasn’t real. And there was no way he was waving at me. But she was right, it did look like he was. He had popped up in the middle of my macbook desktop four days ago; it was the autumn mountain range one, white-capped grey stone peppered with brown and dark green bushes that blended into yellow orange red flame fir trees, reflected in a glass mirror lake.

“How SPOOKY!!” Tash yelled.

“Alright Tash reign it in – I’m only showing you because I wanted to show someone before it went away again, and Miller isn’t picking up his cell.”

“No but seriously – that is FREAKY! How are you doing it?”

“I’m not!”

I sensed her fold her arms over my shoulder.

“Seriously!”

“Well… what did you do?”

“Nothing, I swear. I just booted it up the other day and then suddenly there was this tiny guy in the picture.”

“Did you google it?”

I held back the eye roll. She was a sweetheart but at times she could be a dumb blonde.

“Yes, Tash, it’s 2018. I googled it straight away but I can’t find anything. Here, look -” I pull up Google – “there’s nothing. See? I only found results on troubleshooting frozen desktops and shit.”

“Did you change it?”

“No – well not before – but I swapped it to a different one, and – here, let me show you -”

I went into System Preferences and changed the background to another of the pre-selected desktops – a close up of the moon surface. As soon as it changed I tapped the bottom left crater.

“WHAT! How is he in that one too?”

“Right? And – look -” I point my finger at the crater and with my other hand switch back to the mountain range. The man is back in the trees, almost an inch to the right of the crater.

“Oh my GOD he MOVES??”

“Yeah… and Tash, I swear it isn’t me – like, it’s not a trick, I just have a tiny man stuck in my laptop.”

I switch to a safari backdrop. The man was now in the far right, peering through the tall grass and reeds. I hadn’t actually clicked on this one before; it was light and airy, removing the shadows that obscured his features in the others. You could now tell he was wearing a black tracksuit top, zipped up to his neck. He looked thin – his face was particularly hollow and gaunt. He had a short black fringe and a spiky black moustache; the inky blacks made his skin look even more pale. His limbs seemed gangly and weird – something gleaned on the wrist of his waving hand – a watch?

Tash didn’t say anything. There was an awkward pause for a few seconds. I turned around and she was staring out the window.

“Well?”

“What do you mean ‘well?’ – I’m not an IT expert, maybe you got a virus or something.”

She seemed distracted, her tone was flat. Her body language had shifted; her arms were folded tightly across her chest, her legs were angled toward the door and her shoulders were hunched forward.

“No, I checked – no virus. But Tash I haven’t told you the weirdest thing yet.”

She looked back at me. Her face was kinda pale and her eyes were kinda wide. Her chest was rising and falling faster than before. She looked scared.

“OK – so don’t call me crazy – but, like – I swear he’s getting closer to the screen.”

Tash’s eyes widened.

c’est l’été

Fred Nicolas — C’est la Vie

It’s different when the sun is shining. Everything feels easier – unfinished tasks seem finished, looming deadlines are blown away, smiling takes less effort and laughter pours out of people like sweat. Plans for the evening unravel and evolve and expand and collapse, but who needs plans when it’s a London summer (city in the sunner). You can walk across Blackfriars bridge and even cyclists don’t seem like pricks. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a mist and the streets smell of beer – just avoid the central line.

There’s no point looking good if there’s no-one around to appreciate it; people don’t wear tuxedos to have breakfast above the kitchen sink. There’s no point to a summer evening if you’re going to spend it indoors. And that’s exactly what our lucky couple have planned. Not even just indoors, but actually underground, in the basement of a Japanese restaurant near Saint Pauls, a time warp complete with faux-geishas and wall hanging scriptures and china saké cups and tiny booths to mask yakuza deals. Bowls of broth are carried on wicker trays and chopsticks arrive pre-split, halogen bulbs are masked behind crinkled paper sheathes.

She’s wearing a floral playsuit (navy burgundy pink violet blue) and the flowers make her breasts look full. He’s wearing a racing green shirt with a button down collar and chinos with cuffs rolled up like sleeves. They’ve both spent some time adding volume to their hair. He enters first and holds the door open for her – it’s glass framed in black metal with elliptical handles – to appear gentlemanly but mostly to avoid engaging with the maître d(‘hotel). A tiny Japanese woman hurries to a pine altar to take their name. The staircase swallows them whole.

Opposite the restaurant is a pub called The Viaduct Tavern. It’s an old fashioned pub with watercolours on the walls and unknown bitters on tap, in this heat the fat red lipstick doors have been pinned open and punters fill the mouth like teeth. A sweaty businessman in a thick suit struggles to weave through the crowd on the pavement and sends an empty pint glass flying into the road, a cyclist swerves to avoid it but the black cab is too late, glass crunches under rubber like treacle, thick shards splinter into the grooves of the tyre searching for a way to slit it open, the cabbie drives on oblivious and pint glass gravel rolls down the road. Gingerbreadcrumbs.

Distracted, I didn’t notice the chewing gum and stepped right in it. Brilliant.

A desk of bricks.

Mr. Tillman — Father John Misty

Steven had no real idea what he was doing here and he was starting to think that the impatient blinking of the cursor was taunting him. His situation was exacerbated by the cacophony of keystrokes that surrounded him; dull thuds of young men venting their aggression on their keyboards, click clacking rat-tat-tats of old women’s manicured fingernails. It was as if the sound was getting louder, the taunt of the cursor punctuating each increase in volume, the white empty space of his desktop emitting a high pitched hum; he was drowning under the noise of shuffling feet and murmuring voices and glugging water coolers and droning fans.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

His phone rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

It rang again. His phone never rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

He was a back office worker. Nobody had his phone number. He didn’t even know what his number was.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

Steven finally snapped out of the maelstrom of office boredom and reached out for the handset. It was an old phone, made of cheap charcoal plastic complete with fat number buttons, a faded blue display bordered by thin buttons that Steven had never figured out how to use, and light-up flashing glass boxes for each line. Line 1 flashed at twice the rate of the frequency of the rings. He picked up the receiver and the light fixed on.

“Hello?”

These were the first words he had spoken since greeting the security guard upon his arrival to the office at 8.25am that morning and his voice was thick and croaky.

“Mr Tillman, Good morning, my name is -”

Static interfered with the line for a few seconds. Steven was about to speak when the voice returned.

“- you’ll forgive the intrusion I’m sure. I thought it best to reach you right away given the circumstances.”

“Sorry – the line dropped out there. What did you say your name was? What circumstances?”

“Yes it’s a bad connection here I’m afraid. We are quite remote so the service is pretty unreliable. As I was saying, my name is Doctor -”

Static. Three, Two, One.

“-we tried you at home but managed to find this number in her next of kin information.”

“Doctor? Are you from a hospital?”

“Oh my it is bad today isn’t it? Not exactly Mr Tillman – we specialise in ongoing care for our residents, making them comfortable. Unfortunately there’s not much even hospitals can do for those that end up here.”

“And where is that?”

“As I said, -”

Static. The longest one yet, must have been five seconds this time. Steven was stammering politely into the receiver when the voice returned.

“-you are listed as her next of kin in her entry file. She was brought to us almost five years ago now and, to be honest, we were all amazed she made it through the first week the state she was in, but now here we are. So we thought you should know.”

“Sorry – doctor – the line keeps on cutting out. Who are you calling about? I don’t know anyone in…well, wherever you are. Where are you calling from?”

“Mr Tillman I’m afraid it’s not that simple to explain. Think of us less as a where, more of a-”

Thankfully this pause was brief.

“-as I said, it’s a bit complicated to explain over the phone. I think it’s best if you came in to see her yourself before we have to begin the next steps.”

Steven racked his brains. Even though the line was poor it was obvious this was a doctor calling from a hospice or similar facility, to inform him of the death of a female patient. This woman had spent five years in their care and when she arrived, in a poor condition, had listed him as her next of kin. Five years ago he was twenty-two and living in Clapham with his university housemates; the most traumatic thing that happened to him in that period was when he got barred from Inferno’s for being caught with a gram of coke in the gents’. He really had no idea what this doctor was calling about, and was sure it must have been a wrong number, only with the freak coincidence of having the right surname.

“Mr Tillman? Are you still there?”

“Yes – sorry. It’s a bad line. I’m afraid I don’t know who you are talking about. I really think you must have got the wrong number. I’m very sorry, but really, I really don’t know how I can help.”

“Oh. Oh I do apologise. This is Steven Tillman?”

First name too – can’t be.

“Well yes, but I think you must have logged the numbers incorrectly or something, because I don’t know a-”

The man on the other end hung up.

ghost story by numbers

Ayelle — Actor

ten twelve trees blow in the wind

night crawls across the sky

Samuel’s hair was jostled by the breeze. It was October and the wind was punctuated by pin pricks of moisture that made his eyes sting. He had been walking through the field for almost an hour and was still yet to find the gate, even though he had followed the instructions to the letter; “Pass through the trees next to the river, walk for a mile with the bushes on your right, when you reach the third oak tree walk left into the field until you reach a silver gate.” He was starting to wonder if he was going mad.

It was only two days prior that he encountered the mysterious visitor who had shared these directions. His mum had gone to work early, as she did every Tuesday, and his dad had only got home an hour ago so was fast asleep in bed. Samuel was sat on the kitchen counter in his underwear, black china tiles carving red indents into the fleshy underside of his pale thighs, when there was a short rat-tat-tat on the front door. Assuming it to be either the newspaper boy, the milkman, or some other delivery typical of village England life, Samuel went to open the door.

He had opened it to find a tall man in a black track suit. Tall was not the correct word to describe him, as the crown of his balding head reached only Samuel’s chin, however his physical features were elongated so that he appeared long and thin. His arm was still held aloft at shoulder height, the bony knuckle curled into a pointed fist, fresh from rat-tat-tatting. When the man had seen Samuel stood on the doorstep, dressed in loose fitting boxers and a thin white vest, his lips had spiked into his gaunt cheeks in a smile. The small black pupils in his yellow eyes had briefly bulged and a pointy tongue moistened his lips.

Samuel struggled to remember how their conversation had gone. The man had started by claiming to need directions, playing the part of an out-of-towner who had got lost on the way to the church for a christening (had he said that? Samuel recalled a church ceremony but now he thought harder he didn’t ever remember the man using the word ‘christening’), before going on to bring up the story of Agatha.

The story of Agatha was a local ghost story. Legend had it that Agatha, a fierce young woman, had discovered her husband en flagrante with the reverend’s daughter. Consumed by vengeance she had sealed the room they were in and set fire to the house, before marching to the church and committing some unspeakable acts. Depending on who was telling the story, this ranged from vandalism of the church and its contents, to the seduction and murder of the reverend, but typically ended in the sudden death of Agatha within the church grounds, where her spirit still roamed to this day. The truth was, in fact, a run of the mill ‘woman scorned’ story, exaggerated by village gossip with just enough salacious details to make it familiar to locals as the story of Agatha. Rather than burn the adulterers alive, the real Agatha of 1782 had instead burned her husband’s wheat harvest, and during the following Sunday sermon she had publicly castigated the reverend for having raised a Godless wretch of a daughter, before taking her own life several weeks later. It was a testament to the lazy imagination and poor writing of the locals that this story was still told today.

The fact that his door guest had heard of the story, but did not know where to find the church, did not strike Samuel as odd straightaway. He’d obliged in local tradition by filling in the blanks in the narrative, adding his own teenage colour when describing Agatha’s revenge, then had given directions to the church, even stepping out of the porch to point out the nearby turning. The man had thanked him and seemed about to leave before turning back and fixing Samuel with a curious stare. His lips had once again curled into a pointed smile before he said:

“Do you want to know how your brother died?”

broom closet

Big Black — The Model

I want your money / That’s / What I want

The lobby was grand. Black columns decorated with gold leaf trim grew out of a white marble floor, my suitcase wheels made almost no noise, gliding along behind me as I approached the desk.

A short Asian woman greeted me. One of those rich places where the staff don’t smile. It’s more honest that way I guess.

“Good morning sir. Here to check in?”

“Yes, I have a reservation under Greene.”

“Just a moment please sir.”

She tapped some keys on her keyboard, the small black machine next to her whirred into life and a white keycard slid out.

“Have you stayed with us before sir?”

This suit I had on must be working. If she had seen me in my clothes from yesterday she wouldn’t have needed to ask that question.

“No, I have not.” I flashed a shark smile.

“Very well, you are in room 427. It is on the fourth floor, the elevator is just to your right,” she motioned to the black elevator doors behind one of the columns. “This is your keycard,” she tapped the white plastic card, her eyes were hazel and soft. “You will need to swipe it to use the elevator and then again to access your room. Please do not lose it as there is a fifteen dollar charge for replacements, which will be added to your bill at the end of your stay. Breakfast will be served in the restaurant” – another point, this time to the glass doors to the right of the reception desk – “between six and nine thirty tomorrow morning. The bar closes at eleven pm, however the front desk will be staffed all night should you require anything else.” She did not smile at me. She was being rude. It was sexy.

“Thank you” – a glance at her chest, small pert breasts framed in an oversized bra cup, red text on a white plastic gold framed name badge – “Elaine.” My eyes stayed on her chest and I felt my leer being returned with a blush. Women – so fucking predictable.

TThhEe PPaARRtTYY

The Wedding Present — My Favourite Dress

When Steven looked in the mirror he did not like what he saw. An old, balding, fat man with sad eyes looked back at him, struggling to maintain eye contact, guiltily shuffling his pale feet, wiry black hair creeping out from the elastic rim of his socks. How the fuck did it come to this?

Steven ran a hand through his fading hair. The cut on the back of his index finger was pink where he’d scratched yesterday’s scab before it was ready; no blood but sore to touch. The juice from the lemon he had sliced earlier had burned like acid and he’d struggled to keep in a grimace in front of the guests.

Tiny creases criss-crossed across his shirt on his stomach forming a combover for his belly, a middle aged Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. The waistband of his underpants had rolled down to his hips from where he had been sitting down, folded down by the folds of his fat stomach, thankfully tucked below his felt trousers.

His drink was on the edge of the bathtub, sweating cold drops down the grooves of the glass onto the porcelain surface. Beads of perspiration dribbled down his forehead, slipping across his brow like a cattlegrid, the second line was racing to catch up with him. He inhaled through his nostrils and smelled the alpine scent of toilet bleach over the crystals of cocaine in his nose hair.

A knock at the door. A giggle. A man’s voice. A thud into the wall.

The couple looking for a room to have sex in moved on after trying the door handle and Steven splashed cold water onto his face. A drop stuck to his left eyebrow. He looked at his watch. Five minutes left of 2017.

strawberries

Fire — Dream Wife

 

Every Tuesday Alice changed her commute. She did this because she was worried that travelling the exact same journey everyday created a risk of identity fraud. She still threw away bank statements, credit card bills and payslips in the same recycling bag, but had decided that strange figures plotting her journey to work and home was the greater risk, and so every Tuesday she would change at Stockwell and hop on the Northern line. It added fifteen minutes to her journey time and even though every week she would arrive to the nine AM sales meeting out of breath and sweaty, she considered it time well spent. She had not yet considered the fact that this attempt to break routine had now become a routine, and as with all routines, after a few months she forgot why she was doing it at all.

On one of these Tuesdays a man was eating strawberries straight from the punnet in the seat next to her. He struggled to make his five-a-day recommended dietary requirement on the other six days of the week, and overcompensated by cramming a whopping ten portions of fruit into Tuesdays. His usual choice of morning-commute fruit – white grapes – was sold out in his local supermarket, and so he had panic purchased the strawberries. They were not in season, firm to chew and overly tart. As the train juddered to a halt at Oval he dropped one of the half eaten tips which bounced off his thigh and onto Alice’s. The juicy red flesh left a small thumbnail size blotch on her white jeans; the stain was not visible on his own black suit trousers.

Ordinarily this sort of event would not have riled Alice. She was clumsy and would often spend an afternoon with a blouse stained from that day’s lunch, or perhaps from even earlier in the day (she was a drink spiller, too); at a recent house party her friends had jokingly given her a glass of red wine served in a child’s plastic sippy cup, a joke they had all laughed at, but were then glad about when she accidentally kicked this across the cream carpet floor. Alice herself had shared the laughter and subsequent relief. No, on an ordinary day Alice would have let this slide – she would have accepted the apology with a ‘don’t worry about it’, or ‘these things happen’. However, today was not an ordinary day. Today was a Tuesday.

The man did not apologise, and instead delicately picked the strawberry tip off its resting place on Alice’s thigh. He was hopeful that the stain would go unnoticed until he got up and left the tube at Bank, off to spend a day committing worse deeds in his job as an assistant hedgefund portfolio manager, and he would forget about it as soon as he had thrown the empty punnet in a bin outside the station. His own designer suit was unscathed and he was every bit the stereotype of his job – he even had that grease-wax swept back hair typical of an eighties yuppie or comic book villain – so ruining the appearance of an inconsequential bit of skirt would not trouble him.

On Monday nights Alice listened to The Guilty Feminist podcast. She would do this in the kitchen, while cooking dinner for her boyfriend, through her female-voiced virtual assistant powered smart speaker. The irony was lost on her.

Dinner for Two

The Cure — Pitcures Of You

The kitchen was filled with the aroma of potatoes. The pan had boiled over and frothy glutinous water ran down its sides onto the hob, where it hissed and evaporated, leaving a brown teardrop burn mark. The cubes of potato jostled for space as the orange blue flame rolled underneath, bubbles formed and burst through the surface, they were nearly ready.

Jean sighed as she entered and saw the state of the kitchen. Alex was a sloppy cook, which had been endearing at first but lately had grown tiring, and she was irked at the prospect of cleaning up his mess. In addition to the overflowing potatoes were cardboard sleeves and plastic wrapping abandoned on worktops, and a large purple smear that had dropped onto the floor and then been stepped in. Alex was standing with his back to the overflowing pan and cooking detritus, hastily chopping vegetables. The knife THUMPED against the wooden chopping board with each slice. He cooked with the delicacy of a boxing glove.

“Do you need me to do anything?”

She bartered the usual platitude knowing what his response would be. He called it backseat cooking, she called it damage control.

“No, go and sit down babe, it’s almost done.”

The tone in his voice conveyed more threat than he had intended, but it served its purpose and Jean returned to the living room.

Tonight was not a special occasion, but Alex insisted on cooking an expensive rump of lamb with mashed potatoes, roast broccoli and carrots. Jean’s portion would come dry whereas his would be lavished with redcurrant gravy that had come in a plastic sack, wrapped into a metal container that had contained the chunk of lamb. The fact it was metal meant that he had paid almost a third more than the plastic packaged meat, and almost double what it would have cost him at the local butcher, but he paid happily for the image of prestige.

After thoroughly slicing the carrots and broccoli, Alex threw them into a pan and drizzled them with olive oil, salt and pepper. These were hastily thrown into the oven. He did not check that the meat was cooking.

“Alexa, set a timer for twenty-five minutes.”

The black tube that housed their voice assistant briefly muted the audio that was playing – Robert Smith’s dulcet tones were not missed – and announced a timer was set for twenty five minutes. Alex washed his hands, went to the fridge and poured himself a glass of white wine. Yes, red wine was traditional with red meat, but it gave him heartburn and there were no snooty waiting staff here to judge his choice. He left the potatoes boiling, also without checking, and went to join Jean in the living room.

Dinner for One

Sleater Kinney — No Cities To Love

The fish was cooked to perfection. Large chunks of soft flesh fell apart on my fork, salty capers and silky smooth vermouth soaking through the fillet resting atop a seabed of tender greens. I raised the fork and admired it for a split second, wondering the lengths the chef had gone to, the miles the fish had travelled from the coast, the effort of the fishermen on this fine catch; I put it in my mouth. No need to chew it was so tender. The flavours slid over my tongue and around my teeth and lips and gums and down my throat. Exquisite.

I was having dinner alone in The Coq d’Argent, awaiting for my next target to be sent through. I didn’t usually treat myself to any downtime, let alone in such an opulent setting, but it was my birthday. My table was on the terrace and the sun had just dipped below the skyscrapers of the city, the diaspora of shapes and sizes of the buildings and the shadows they cast briefly reminded me of a cemetery. I probably think about death too much.

The skyline was visible through the leaves of honeysuckle, (or some other wall-crawling garden plant) and the shrubbery framed the glass and concrete of the city in a border of lazy contrast. The terrace contained roughly twenty small tables and was peppered with pot plants that varied from orchids to fir trees to topiary, complete with a babbling brook that ran like a moat on the outskirts atop a redbrick wall. It was jarring, like eating dinner in a garden centre, and I did not care for the half-hearted attempt to distract from the urbanity of London.

I was not the only solitary diner in this terrace and I felt a strange kinship to my companion. She was wearing a white dress with a high neckline and an oval slit across her breasts; sleeveless and plain, it looked to be made of silk or a similarly luxurious material. Her skin was a deep tan, her arms were lithe and her figure was slender but firm. A long, thin neck grew out of her dress but was halted by a sharp jawline and pointed chin. Her face was beautiful, full red lips, deep cheekbones, fluttering eyelashes, but her hair fell unnaturally over the left side of her face and obscured one of her azure blue eyes. I would later discover she brushed it this way to hide the scarring down her left cheek and mask her missing ear. She did not look old but she did not appear young, her face showed signs of worldliness only afforded to a woman of a certain age but I could not tell you what age that was. She was wearing a modicum of make-up – black mascara and black eyeliner was all she needed – and her hair flowed freely around her shoulders. Save for the strands that draped diagonally across her brow it did not look like it had been brushed. This relative lack of care for her appearance was in contrast to every other diner in this restaurant and heightened her air of worldliness. Worldliness is the wrong word, in fact. Confidence is better.