Saturday, 14 June 2014

S is for ...

P   R   E   V   I   O   U   S   L   Y      I    N 
S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S

Up there, on the television altar, a reporter stood by the bank of a canal.  She spoke to the world, announcing the breaking news.  A new born, murdered in its home.  Numbers and letters written all over it.
“This isn’t murder, this is marketing.” 
The sun’s retreat behind tower blocks seemed an age ago, its absence freeing Spiderfingers from the dry humid walls of the evening, the friction in the air quite palpable.  Amoral thinking patterns drove his behaviour, warped his mood and bludgeoned the demerits of dusk’s tampering.  His conviction remained the same, and yet, his hand rummaged his pocket, groping for the diary, determined to force the past under his eyes.  I will remain true to my character, he thought, flicking for a paragraph powerful enough to keep his night-self from going too far in its mission.
Broken, bleeding, he sprawled, flat like road kill, one cheek nuzzling the filthy London kerb as if it were some malformed, milk-less teat.  He’d become a phantom, pinned to the pavement, the smear of a memory, an echo cloaked in a red jacket, untameable lightning-coloured dreads spiralling out from his bloody scalp.  The motivation to use the journal completely drained from him.  He slipped the bent and ripped binding back into his jacket for some other more valuable time, a sure moment chugging his way. 
 “Can you hear me? Rumple? Are you ok?” Someone checked for breathing.  He obliged, pushing out his chest rhythmically, letting his ribs fall and rise, fall and rise.  Inhale.  Exhale.  In.  Out.  He opened his eyes a little and saw the blurred shape of a shadow kneeling beside him.  The shadow had eyes.
He reckoned his sudden face-palm looked good, not because of his acting ability, but due to his exploitation of a latent fear of blindness.  His hand grew bored of his features, floundering to the ground around him till he gripped the jagged puzzle pieces of glass at his right elbow.  Crumpled wire frames, crushed beneath some bastard’s boot.  No matter though, he thought, finding a slight humor in his foolishness, wearing glasses being an abstract activity, best filed under the label ‘residual’.  His peripheral vision noted a fickle, uncaring audience.  He would have delighted in the explanation of his unique physiology, but all people weren’t people.  Not to him.  They were a school of departing extras.  Gods forbid any of them possess the temerity to break away from their A to B.  No one wants to stop and help a wounded stranger, he thought.  Not like this old guy here: he still gives a shit.  An old fellow stopped to set his briefcase down, wide eyes peering over Steph’s shoulder, asking how he could help.  But Spiderfingers heard Steph shoo him away spouting lies, pure falsehood on her behalf: “Poor Mr Rumple,” she touched his filthy Superman top and weathered trench coat, “He’s fallen on tough times.  No need for police.  We’re fine – we’re like family – thank you.” 

The air conditioning filtered throughout the car, the artificial breeze whooshing round his face, slinking up his nostrils, filling abandoned lungs.  Stripes of gold and green neon flared through the windows as the vehicle travelled expensively and silently through the gathering darkness.  In the front seats, Steph and some man fretted and murmured, parried and debated, because there was police involvement to consider.  This man has to be Milo, he thought.  He wants to let the authorities step in, but Steph, she’s been praying for this kind of drama.  Her muse’s life, his twenty-four hour stage-play requires further viewing.  You don’t want the police to take me away just yet, do you Steph? He thought.
You want more stories.  As a matter of fact, you need them.  I didn’t kill her Steph.  The only Jehovah’s Witness I’ve ever killed died in the wild confines of my imagination.  Get me? If I killed her, dontcha think a passing policeman might have cuffed me by now? I mean, it’s not like my red, yellow, and blues’ are hard to miss, are they? He wanted to tell her to have a little faith, but he fought the compulsion.  How much stronger would she be if she figured that out herself? Strong enough, he thought, strong enough to save a god.  When Nat appeared on the passenger seat next to him, he closed his eyes, ignoring the vision’s insistence to ‘put him back in the story.’
“Go on, Spider.” Nat’s mouth lolled revealing lost teeth, blood dribbling into the hole in his chest, “Tell your priestess all about me.” More drool poured from his lips, the life force dripping downward, feeding a wound the size of his head.  The exposed ribs protruded at odd angles.  They mimicked a giant set of inhuman jaws guzzling on blood.  Nat’s not here, decided Spiderfingers, closing his eyes, forcing a distant macabre truth out of mind.
The scene changed on him, like non-linear experimental theatre.  Two men dragging the vagabond along a caramel-coloured floor.  He could smell Milo’s aftershave, but the other guy? He smelled of cheap soap and cigarettes.  The uniform, the name badge, and the radio at his hip marked him out as a night watchman.  Another moment of blackness, and they were shooting straight up in a glass elevator, listening to Bach straining through concealed speakers.  Milo and Clive – the sentinel – they propped Spiderfingers against the rear wall of the lift.  He watched Steph as the fingers of her left hand worried at the hem of her skirts.  He slyly observed her study of him, capturing his entirety with a keen observer’s eye, taking mental notes: the colour of his boots; the congealed blood on his forehead; his expression.  He imagined her guess his age.  Probably in constant reassessment of the estimate, he reckoned.
She believes age to be a clue to character.  Writers.  Every tragedy is a story; we’re all just material to them.  The story in his head cut again.  The next time he opened his eyes, he came face to face with Milo, a tall man, even when sitting down.  A big man, a good few inches over six foot, not fat exactly, more like a WWE wrestler gone to seed.  His hair was completely white.  Old man hair.  What’s with that ridiculous handlebar moustache? Spiderfingers stretched out, languishing in a black swivel chair whilst Milo sat behind his desk.  Steph paced the thick brown carpet between them all.  Clive the security guard was notable only by his absence. 
“Drink?” Steph offered.
“It’s only water I’m afraid,” Milo, shrugged apologetically.  Steph nodded as she glided out the door. “Sorry about your evening, lad.” Spiderfingers affected a false smile.  He noted Milo’s milky blue eyes flit between his slovenliness to the phone in his giant hands and back again. “Nasty business out there.” 
“I’ll survive.” Spiderfingers offered a wry smile, numbers and letters piercing his forethought.  Silence until, “You’re Steph’s dad, then?” Milo’s moustache dropped and his lips chewed over the question while his white eyebrows registered shock and resentment, the furrowing hair crawling across his aged face.  Electrified caterpillars.  Spiderfingers didn’t try to hide his grin.
“Everything alright?” Steph returned, handing Spiderfingers a glass of water withdrawing to Milo’s side of the room. “What happened, Rumple? Did you see who did it?” He shook his head gulping down the water.  Then, turning to face the window, he gazed out over London with a practiced portrayal of stoic wistfulness.  The light of the room offered him a reflection of Milo and Steph behind him:
“You read the papers? Horrible stuff about Baby Abigail, eh?”
“Shocking, son, shocking.” The Walrus agreed, shaking his jowls in righteous indignation whilst he laid his phone to rest upon his desk.  He locked his giant hands into a church steeple as he leant into the conversation with morbid glee. “D’you think they did it?”
“Their own daughter? How should I know?”
“Well, y’know … ” Milo’s eyes flashed. “You are a god, aren’t you?” For a brief moment, the room filled with statuettes. “Oh yes,” Milo continued, “Steph’s been telling me all about your little Russian Doll stories.  I must say, they are rather ... challenging?”
Steph squirmed in the corner whilst the homeless man’s failing X-Ray vision revealed reddening cheeks beneath her niqab.
“So Rumple,” she squeaked, “what happens after ‘Invisible?’ What did Spiderfingers say to the Jehovah’s witness?” Spiderfingers shrugged and ran his thumbs over the wet glass in his hands.
“I don’t know, what did the Spiderfingers say to the Jehovah’s Witness?”
“No seriously, tell me.  I’d really like to know.”
“Can’t we all just get pissed?” he announced, winking at Milo, shaking the empty tumbler.
“As I said old chap, there’s only water.”
“How about you give me a tenner if I’m right about the half bottle of Jack Daniels in the second drawer of the table?” Milo raised an eyebrow whilst Spiderfingers nodded, carrying on, “Actually I’ll settle for just a drink.  I’ll forego the money.  Might even show you how to do that magic trick later, if you’re lucky?” Milo smiled, nodded, fished a full bottle of Jack Daniels from the drawer and turned to Steph:
“Come on, help me fetch some glasses.” The caterpillar above his left eye hunching its back, “For our guest the magician.” They shuffled out the room.  Only takes one person to fetch two glasses, thought Spiderfingers.  He scratched the S on his chest grinning.  These are the moments the hero is allowed to feel smug, he thought.  Also the moments where he must remain on point, for these are the small victories – mere skirmishes leading toward the bigger battles of his lone war.  Music filtered through his head:  A track from the nineteen eighty nine Batman film.  He almost didn’t register Steph and Milo’s return, the pull of nostalgia being so strong, so powerful.  The bombastic score drew him fully into the teenage years of John Clay.  Such music.  A character in itself, a belligerent all-seeing eye, able to locate downtrodden heroes and remind them of their duty to … Focus, he told himself.  Get lost in John’s past some other day – first – the plan …
“How about you tell the story, eh Steph?” He said, “Tell us the tale that follows Invisible.” Steph clawed instinctively at her black fabrics as he noticed her eyes widen.  She couldn’t possibly tell a story (she said whilst digging in her bag for her notebook). She wouldn’t know where to begin, she insisted, as her hand leafed through pages, resting on the perfect spot.  Without further prompting, she began:
“The bible – being the weightiest of brochures – fails to mention the reality of the resort it advertises.  The one place we would all like to go, but only if we’re good and do not disobey.  Oh, Heaven! It exists, but it is empty.” When she finished telling a story she thought she’d created, Steph smiled like a proud cook.  But this meal wasn’t hers.
There were no words to describe the relief he felt when Milo passed out.  The old walrus had tried the protective-knight-in-shining-armour role, ‘til the masquerade was just too heavy for him to carry.  Probably convinced himself that Steph will be fine with me – the weirdo tramp guy – that it’s alright to nap.  It’s just Steph and me now, he realised. The poor woman in black, chattering about unsympathetic characters when really, she is a walking wound.  Going on years unhealed.  Hating her face, that crooked birth defect underneath her mask.  Soon she’ll feel justified in drawing up a long list of Hollywood actresses to lead in her biopic.
... All the while he buried the pleading in his head.  Vicky’s woe wasn’t allowed to exist.  Not in his world, not anymore.  There isn’t even a V, he thought, in my alphabet there is only the letter S, and S is for survival. 

N   E   X   T      T   I   M   E      I    N
S   P   I   D   E   R   F   I   N   G   E   R   S
Unluckily, this drunk had taken the wrong bus home, and now she’d become lost in North London with no one to blame but herself.
...So she takes a short cut down an ill-lit underpass. 

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