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THE SPARKLERS’ REUNION

14 Jul

5. THE SLEEPING DRUMMER…

Seven pairs of eyes stared at me. It might have been eight, but Crin’s were permanently shut, as if he was enjoying an eternal nap.

Where shall we bury him?” half-echoed Jed. “We can’t go and bury him willy nilly! Didn’t you hear what was said, about his partner? Angela? Mother of his two sons? Surely she must have a say? They’ve been together just about for ever, and she’s going to be heart-broken. And you suggest that we just dispose of his body as if it was so much rubbish?”

Somebody had better go and ask her, then,” I replied, defensively.

You always were a tosser, Josh,” growled Scabby, “hiding behind the pretty lyrics of your minute catalogue of sweetness and light! Of course somebody had better tell her that the love of her life’s been shot by a twelfth century outlaw and his bow and arrow!”

It was the last thing I meant…” began the older of the two Robin Hoods. “After all, you shouldn’t by rights have been here! We booked the site for the week, to get our outdoor shots out of the way. And I’ll be wanting that arrow back,” he pointed to Crin’s chest, “we need to shoot it landing quivering in the ground near the tree where I’m to be buried, and it had better be the same arrow or someone’s bound to notice. You know how picky they can be on the Internet.”

You’re a tosser too,” growled Scabby.

This is getting us nowhere,” put in June, “I’ve got a shooting schedule to worry about, and there’s no mention in it of deckchairs or corpses. Not until Robin breathes his last, that is, and there’s still no deckchairs.”

I’ve been practising that,” gasped Simon, holding his chest and spluttering half-convincingly. “I die well,” he added, “everyone says so.”

So what are your plans?” asked Joanie of then film crew. “Are you going to bury your hero when he passes into the great beyond? Are you going to dig a hole, a deep hole, near the quivering arrow, and inter him in it?”

June nodded seriously. “But maybe not so deep,” she agreed.

It’s a solution,” pointed out Joanie, frowning. “We’ve got a dead body and you’re digging a hole…”

Hold on a minute!” interrupted Jed, “he was our friend! Not some piece of meat to be disposed of the easiest possible way!”

If he was I’d resurrect Max,” I growled irreverently.

Look,” said June, patiently, “we haven’t got for ever, and we’ve got to do something. We either report the incident to the police and let the law take over or we bury him before he starts decomposing, and that won’t be too long in this heat.”

I don’t see why it can’t be reported in the proper way,” I said, “the man’s dead so it won’t matter one hoot to him whether he’s an illegal immigrant or not. He’ll still be buried or cremated like anyone else, story over.”

It’ll cause all sorts of ructions,” growled Scabby, frowning at me as if I was stupid, which I probably am. “It might even cause an international incident! They’ll have to find out what country he belongs to…”

He’s been here for the best part of his whole life!” I said as vehemently as I could, “surely that’s enough to mean something.”

I’ve a feeling he was Ukrainian,” murmured Jed, “or something like that. I don’t think he was even certain himself. Anyway, someone back in wherever he came from might want him back. People can be like that when it comes to claiming dead drummers.”

He’s starting to decay already,” I muttered, “there wouldn’t be much left of him after a major international wrangle!”

They’d keep him in a fridge,” Scabby said firmly, “don’t you know anything?”

I decided to minimise my input into the debate. It seemed that I knew very little, and what I did know from watching Midsomer Murders was hovering on that bit of my brain where important things get lost, like national insurance numbers and the square root of four.

We’ll fetch Angela,” decided Jed, quite deliberately. “I’ll go because I live quite a bit closer and it won’t take me long. You come with me, Scabby because you can drive and I can prepare her for the bad news on the phone.”

Don’t text, though,” I put in, disobeying my own instincts.

Jed gave me his superior look, the one he wore when he was looking down his nose playing the recorder, and said he wouldn’t dream of being so stupid.

I knew he would, if he was anything like me. I’m quite capable of dreaming of being stupid, even when I’m not asleep.

Don’t be long, darling,” almost whimpered Joanie, who had always struck me as using Scabby as an extra garment that should never, at any cost, be taken off or she’d be naked. And what woman of a certain age (let’s face it, we were all in our late sixties) wants to be seen naked by anyone at all? Or man of that same certain age, come to think of it. Not me, anyway.

While we’re gone, you, Josh, can make it look as if he’s drifted off to sleep and might wake up any moment, just in case someone comes along and to make it easier for Angela,” instructed Scabby, smiling warmly and tenderly at Joanie.

I nodded.

How can you make a dead man look less dead, I asked myself. How can you make it look as if he’s only asleep? It would be akin to chopping a cauliflower into florets and making it look whole again. And there was no way Crin was ever going to look like he’s about to wake up and stretch and sigh and say he’s had a good nap and doesn’t he feel better. But I nodded. Of course I did.

I’ll take the arrow out,” I mumbled.

Good idea,” said Jed, shaking his head when he looked at me.

Then they climbed into Scabby’s van and slowly drove off leaving Joanie and me to take charge of whatever might need being taken charge of.

I’ll take the arrow out of the poor sod’s chest,” said Robin Hood Junior, “at least he’ll look a great deal less dead without it sticking out like a signpost pointing at his heart and saying it’s stopped beating.”

No,” put in Robin Hood Senior, “that’ll be my job. I put it there, so I’ll take it out.”

Don’t squabble about it,” remonstrated Joanie, “the situation’s tragic enough without having two medieval do-gooders quarrelling over an arrow.”

All right,” sniffed Junior, aka Mark, “but be careful. It’s the only arrow we’ve got.”

Maybe I should change his tee-shirt,” I mumbled, dreading the whole idea of so much as touching the dead flesh of our late drummer. “That blood stain’s quite a give-away,” I added, “and suggesting he spilled some raspberry juice down his front wouldn’t convince anyone.”

It might work for me,” murmured Joanie, “have you any idea how heavy Crin was? It’ll take all of us to lift him up, and then who’s going to have hands free enough to drag his old tee-shirt off him?”

I find it hard enough dressing myself,” I agreed, hoping that someone would come along with an alternative to undressing the corpse.

I know,” suggested Joanie, “I’ve got a copy of Woman’s Own somewhere in our camper-van. We could put that on him as if he was reading it and then he just dropped off to sleep and it slipped from his hands. That might work.”

Only your camper-van’s half way to Crin’s woman’s,” I murmured.

Then we’ll find a more manly publication in Jed’s,” she said, determined that her solution was the right one. “He might have a technical magazine that he would be expected to have been dipping into.”

And that was it.

The arrow was extracted by the senior Robin Hood, carefully and with him taking great care to keep it on one piece, and then a glossy magazine, open and covering every trace of blood, was skilfully placed on his chest, announcing to any passer-by curious enough to look that he was studying Lesbo Babes in Leather when he was awake

© Peter Rogerson 13.06.18

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THE SPARKLERS’ REUNION

7 Jul

4. WHAT TO DO WITH A CORPSE

When Jed said, so quietly a passing mouse ignored him and the skies remained the same shade of blue despite the implications of his words, that Crin had been an illegal immigrant, things started happening in my head that would have driven a saint berserk.

What, I thought, is the idiot wittering on about? Of course Crin isn’t an illegal immigrant because I’ve known him all my life and now he’s lolling in that deckchair, cold and dead and with an arrow sticking out of his chest, he just can’t be because illegal immigrants don’t look like that.

Of course he isn’t,” said Joanie, confirming my own suspicions, “he’s been our friend since the sixties.”

And drummer,” I added for her, “we mustn’t forget he was our drummer.”

There was me using the past tense about him already. His flesh can’t have cooled much and he had become a was instead of an is.

I’m afraid he is,” replied Jed, “he told me to keep quiet about it when he told me years ago, but he came over from somewhere in Eastern Europe when he was a kid and there was trouble with communists in his homeland and people being murdered for no good reason He was brought by his parents, and when he was in his teens and wanted to join us in The Sparklers his parents went back because they were afraid of the British authorities finally finding out about their illegal status and anyway things were better in their homeland, and he wouldn’t go. They tried to make him, but he ran away. Then he joined us and we had a brief career as a wannabe folk group before we saw sense and got proper jobs.”

My brain was settling, and I sniffed. I remembered stuff. He’d wanted to keep on drumming when I applied for jobs in offices and seemed quite peeved when the rest of us started to move on in our lives.

So he’s a crook,” said Robin Hood harshly.

He’s the sweetest, nicest and most honest man you’d ever hope to meet,” protested Joanie, “I mean was,” she added.

There are too many illegal immigrants ruining our country,” hissed the geriatric outlaw, “it’s in all the papers.”

Most of them are refugees fleeing for their lives, and as far as I’m concerned they’re welcome on my doorstep any time,” said Scabby harshly. “There’s not one of us who knows what it’s like, so don’t let’s get all holier than thou, shall we?”

Granddad, shut up,” hissed June, then “what are you going to do about it? Are you going to report it to the police, which I suppose is what you ought to do?”

And get us all in trouble for harbouring him?” asked Jed.

We can’t be in trouble if we had no idea,” protested Scabby.

Ignorance is no excuse,” muttered Robin Hood darkly.

And at that moment the space-time continuum did another wobble and nearly took my sanity with it when another Robin Hood appeared from behind the crumbling walls of the old castle.

This one, though, was younger. And disgustingly handsome in the kind of way that makes women want to melt into his arms and men dissolve into puddles of jealousy. And he was curious.

What on Earth’s going on?” he asked.

This is the young Robin,” said June, “he’s my brother, Mark. He’ll know what to do. He’s studying law.”

Anyone going to tell me what’s going on?” demanded yet another new voice. It was getting to be confusing and probably just as well that Crin was no longer in the land of the living or he would have contributed even more sounds to the already overburdened air.

I pinched myself really hard for thinking that.

Ouch!” I said.

What?” asked a startled Joanie.

Nothing. I just pinched myself,” I confessed.

Robin Hood shot our good friend Crin,” explained Scabby in his best minimalist voice. “We’re trying to work out whether to report it to the police or deal with it without bothering them. After all, it was an accident.”

Of course you report it,” said Mark, shocked that anyone should think differently, “he’s dead and the deaths of everyone have to be reported. It’s up to the police to work out whether it was accidental or not.”

You mean…” stammered the original Robin Hood, “they might think I shot him on purpose? They might think I’m a murderer?”

They won’t think anything of the sort, Simon,” soothed the second camerawoman.

I’ve seen programmes on the telly, Jilly,” moaned Robin Hood, the one apparently called Simon in the real world. “They’re a law unto themselves, are the police. I’ve watched Morse. I know how they think.”

They’re not that clever, granddad,” said June soothingly.

I think we should bury him and forget about it,” I said, out of the blue, without even thinking about it first. That sort of thing can happen any time, random thoughts swirling around in my head and crashing together to make a brand new thought that just has to seep into the world via my mouth and words.

Bury him?” asked Joanie, shocked, “without a proper funeral or anything like that?”

We can say things as we bury him,” encouraged Scabby agreeably. “That would get over the problem of him being illegal.”

I could film it,” enthused Jilly, “it’s no fun being second camerawoman with nothing really vital to contribute. But a funeral, maybe a rustic one with songs of love and gentle hopes being sung, and maybe a harpist…”

I’ve got my guitar,” I said, suddenly being carried away by her need for recognition.

Yes, a guitar,” she sighed, “I love the sound of a guitar being strummed…”

I don’t strum….” I murmured, “I pick.”

But what happens when he gets to be discovered?” demanded Robin Hood senior. “It happens, you know. A fox comes by and smells something tasty and starts to dig it up. Then two schoolboys playing truant the very next day chase a football past it and one of them trips over an exposed bony hand and the other one screams and bursts into tears… then the pathologist comes along in his white or blue suit and lifts a hair off the decomposing remains and says we’ve only got to find the owner of this DNA and we’ve got the killer…”

Then we bury him deep,” said Jed, nodding slowly. “So deep no fox will ever find him. Six feet deep. After all, that’s how deep they bury folk in graveyards, and foxes don’t have fun and games in places like that.”

I wasn’t thinking of fun and games,” protested Robin Hood, “I was thinking of hungry beasts of the wild, desperate for a decent meal.”

So we bury him,” said Jed slowly, “but where?”

In the woods behind the old ruins,” suggested Mark, the younger Robin Hood, indicating the crumbling castle walls. “We could make a decent fist of burying him in the ancient woods and it could be really romantic if one of his friends made tearful comments to the strains of a weeping guitar as he’s gently laid to rest.”

And there’s no trouble for anyone,” concluded Simon, Robin Hood’s elderly incarnation. “And, because he doesn’t exist in the country nobody’s going to be looking for him.”

Except his partner,” suggested Jed.

And his kids,” added Joanie, “they’re bound to look for him. His kids, they’re grown up now, of course, but they think the world of him.”

I suppose it was the rough start he had in life that made him into a particular good and loving father,” added Scabby.

So … he was married?” asked June.

Jed shook his head. “No, it was nothing as simple as that. He was a non-person, and he had to live his life in secret. Away from officialdom. No birth certificate, no papers of any sort. But he had a partner and kids, only nobody knew officially that he was anything to do with them. They thought he was a lodger.”

I groaned.

This was getting to be too damned complicated and I’d only known about Crin’s status for half an hour. What would it be like tomorrow or next week or next year? Would it drive me round the bend until I started dribbling?

Where shall we bury him,” I asked, avoiding too many thoughts about the future.

© Peter Rogerson 12.06.18

THE SPARKLERS’ REUNION

5 Jul

3. ONE BIG PROBLEM

It was a good thing that Jed’s camper-van was between me and whatever disaster had befallen Crin because I can’t stand the sight or the smell of death. I even shudder at the sight of blood. Yes, I know we’re all mortal and the grim reaper will claim each and every one of us before time is up, but I don’t want to be reminded of it just yet.

So, “He can’t be!” I spluttered, pausing and letting Scabbie and Joanie overtake me.

He bloody is!” exploded Jed, “come and see if you don’t believe me!”

I did believe him when I saw how white his face had become and how his gnarled walking-stick shook in his grasp. That alone was a reminder that our fantasy folky group wasn’t as young as it had been way back. Walking sticks. But we’d probably sound as good as we ever had. At least, that was the hope.

Then, when we’d rounded his camper-van, he pointed at a deck chair.

It was an old fashioned deck chair, with a wooden frame and striped cloth forming the seat and back, one of a pair that were arranged neatly facing the crumbling castle and the sun.

And lying in it, as if he was asleep and about to snore, was Crin, bald now, and yellowing where he’d shaved his bushy beard off. And like an obscene gesture to the gods he had an arrow sticking out of his chest. Just like that. A patch of blood was staining his sixties vest and beginning to make a trail downwards, following the rules of gravity.

No drummer, then,” I murmured as if what he did in The Sparklers was in any way important because he was a man who minutes ago had been alive and vibrant and was now an ex-man, deceased, his soul (if he had one – he had never believed in such things but there’s more to reality than one man’s beliefs) drifting off into the great beyond where souls might go, if there is such a place.

Don’t be so bloody insensitive!” hissed Joanie, “the poor man’s dead!”

We’d best get the police,” said Jed, still shaking and still white.

Who shot him, though?” I asked, knowing that none of us knew the answer but asking the question anyway.

Not me,” muttered Jed, knowing it was either him or an unknown person.

And that unknown person appeared round a crumbled wall of the cruel castle, hobbling and fighting for breath.

He was a bit old for Robin Hood, in fact more than a bit, but he was dressed like him and suddenly I was suffused by a suggestion that somehow we’d found our way to a chink in the space-time continuum and somehow been presented with a bit of the distant past. Only the castle was still crumbled like it wouldn’t have been in the distant past and Robin Hood was followed by a woman in sexy modern dress.

A youngish woman.

Possibly the most delightful and enduringly beautiful youngish woman I had ever seen. And those eyes…

What’s going on and why are you here?” she demanded harshly, almost shattering the illusion of female perfection, “I’ve booked the site until Sunday!”

Sunday. The original odd day. Number one.

What site?” asked Jed, more for a sound bite to crackle in the air than because he was at all bothered with what site she meant. After all: there was only one site … a castle so ruined that nobody was particularly interesting in either restoring or preserving it. There were loads of other castles around, and just about all of them were in better condition than this one. Much better condition.

This site!” she protested.

And you didn’t think of putting a sign up saying strangers who don’t want to be shot should keep away?” asked Scabbie, on top form because he had Joanie holding his hand and squeezing his fingers with unbelievable gentility.

Then Robin Hood noticed Crin. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing at Crin.

That’s Crin,” said Scabbie with more than a hint of vitriol in the two words.

He’s a drummer,” I added.

And a friend, which is more to the point,” hissed Joanie.

My mate,” added Jed in order to establish his own relationship with the object in the deck chair.

And he’s got an arrow sticking in him,” concluded Scabbie.

We need the police,” said Joanie, firmly, “because a man is dead and I know for a fact that he didn’t want to be dead. In fact, dead’s the last thing he wanted to be. The very, very last.”

It is for all of us,” said the beautiful woman with eyes that I could swim in if I was a spirit of something or other and able to swim in lovely eyes.

We should have put a notice up,” said the woman to Robin Hood.

That’s hardly my part in the fiasco!” protested the geriatric outlaw. “All I had to do was fire an arrow through what’s left of that window over there, retrieve it and then shoot is into the trunk of a tree, thus marking the place I want to be buried. You see, I’m dying.”

I’m sorry, but Crin beat you to it,” put in Joanie, a little harshly, I thought.

It’s a film we’re making,” said the woman, “excuse me, but I’m June. I’m the director.”

At last! I’d come face to face with a film director! Someone who, at this eleventh hour of my life, might decide to promote me to being a romantic hero surrounded by even more romantic heroines, all of which want a part of my own personal action.

But where was the rest of the cast? Where the engineers? Where the complex piles of scenery? Where the army of assistant directors? And best boys? Where were they, and what’s a best boy anyway?

June could see the questions forming and reforming in my brain and she decided to help me. “It’s for the Internet,” she said, “and we’re just using mobile phones. Two of them, to cover all angles.”

And now you’ve got a dead body,” almost snarled Scabbie who could be, if the mood took him quite crabby. That’s probably how he got his nick-name.

I wonder…” began June, “could we rewrite the scene? Put, what did you say his name was, in it?”

Crin,” I put in, helpfully.

No you bloody can’t!” almost exploded Scabby, and Joanie squeezed his fingers so affectionately he almost burst out of his trousers.

We can’t have the police involved,” whispered Robin Hood. “I’ve only been out for a couple of months…”

Out?” raged Scabbie, “Out of jail? And allowed to handle a vicious weapon like a bow and arrows?”

No. Not jail. I’m gay, that kind of out,” he blubbered.

What’s that got to do with the police?”

It used to be illegal, when I was a nipper,” crumbled Robin Hood. Yes, he was that old.

Oh, don’t be a pansy, granddad!” screeched June, “for goodness sake, the man’s dead!”

There’s a real reason why we can’t involve the police,” said Jed flatly, and we all turned to him for enlightenment. Was he going to tell us something we didn’t know, something that would, in the very saying of it, put everything right?

It’s Crin,” said Jed quietly, “he’s an illegal immigrant and he doesn’t really exist, and that’s one big problem…”

© Peter Rogerson 11.06.18

THE SPARKLER’S REUNION

2 Jul

2. THE RUINED CASTLE

It’ll be just like the old times,” grinned Joanie as we rattled along in a camper-van that stretched the imagination when you thought there would soon be three mature adults sleeping in it.

That was one thing I wasn’t looking forward to: sleeping in a crowd, and I was pretty sure that three in this van would constitute one hell of a crowd. Especially when two of them were married and still, after too many decades for it to ring true, all lovey-dovey most of the time.

It was Joanie who helped me out.

We brought a tent for you,” she said, “in case three’s a crowd. A nice little tent, it is, one we’ve had for years. You’ll like it. You’ll be all cosy on your own, and who knows? You might pull if there are any unattached ladies anywhere near!”

At my age? I ask you! Though when you think about it, it doesn’t take much to switch the mental clock back and be young in the mind again. Them all things are possible!

It was time for me to lie again. “I thought of bringing a tent myself,” I said, “but kind of let the thought drift away to where thoughts sometimes go…”

You’ll be okay in this,” grinned Joanie, “the kids played in it when they were in their teens…”

Scabby and Joan had twins, one set, and that had been enough for them to shelve their original plan, of having enough kids to form a pop group when they were old enough. They had left it at a duo, and in their turn that duo had settled down with their respective wives (when they found them) and become sensible citizens. So that ended their dreams of a musical dynasty with them at the head. But then, all dreams must fade….

Me? I’d had no such highfaluting ideas. There had been Penny, I’d met her and married her not long after the Sparklers decided they were never going to have any hits and I got a job in the council offices instead of enjoying world-wide fame and riches, and then she’d gone into teaching after three years at college as a mature student, and subsequently fallen in love with someone else, divorced me and that had been that as far as my love-life was concerned, if you forget the odd brief encounter on my way to old age and decay.

Now I was going to live in a tent. I groaned.

It was Joanie who’d had the idea for a reunion. She’d been the main vocalist because, and I hate to remember this, but she’d had the voice of an angel and could twist a fellow’s heart with any syllable you cared to mention. We all wrote the odd song and the original idea was that I could play the a bit of lead guitar in between verses, and sing. But her voice was what it was and even I had to admit she made our little group. So she was singer-in-chief and I just plinked and plonked with my guitar.

We hadn’t been at all bad, but there were hundreds of similar groups who weren’t that bad either, and we had nothing special enough to raise our heads above the crowds. So we were never noticed.

Anyway, here we were on our way to a reunion and it promised to be quite an experience because I hadn’t played a note in years, and I doubt the others had either (Jed a wizard with a recorder, Crin on a variety of drums when he could get his hands on them and Scabby on rhythm with Joanie helping out rattling a tambourine).

It was a Tuesday. That made it an odd day in my mind, to start with, but it did give us time to remind ourselves of what we had done in our long-haired youth and try to regain some of what may or may not have been bordering on brilliance.

Had a text from Jed,” said Scabbie, “weather looks ace, sun shining, castle’s atmospheric. Not much, bit it sets the scene.”

I love you,” Joanie told him, and I groaned.

When are you going to grow up?” I asked, “we’re old timers now and you’re not supposed to be on cloud nine still, but throttling each other!”

If I decide to throttle him it won’t be his neck I’m squeezing…” grinned Joanie, and I groaned again.

We’ll be there soon,” put in Scabbie, changing the subject. “The other two reckon they’ve got a van just like this one. Two vans and a tent. Quite sixties!”

We were young then, and more flexible,” I told him, “and the van seemed bigger than this one.”

The same size exactly, mate,” said Scabbie, “same model and just about the same year! It took me an age to find this on Ebay. Then they wanted an arm and a leg for it.”

So how did we manage?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder at the cramped conditions behind us.

Goodness knows,” sighed Joanie, “and you had that lass with you, what was her name?”

Crikey, I’d forgotten her!” And I had. It was before Penny and hadn’t lasted for long. What had her name been? I couldn’t remember.

Scabbie could.

Josie,” he told me, “Josie Cartwright. Brunette, brown eyes, lovely face, very white teeth, quiet and shy!”

Ah, Josie,” I sighed, “I remember. I wonder what happened to her? I could have, you know…”

But you were too innocent back then?” laughed Scabbie. “I remember you, always the gentleman, that’s why your songs were the best. Because you were respectful to the ladies!”

She died,” said Joanie, frowning.

That put a downer on my heart, and the forest of Gloom’s breeze started blowing through my cerebellum again.

Cancer,” she added. “A couple of years ago now.”

I’m sorry,” I managed to sigh. And the sod of it was I was genuinely sorry. I hadn’t loved her, hell, I’d forgotten her name, but I hadn’t forgotten the her behind her name. And the honest truth is there had been moments over the years when she had somehow crawled into the vaults of my memory and teased me into thinking of this or that little thing about her.

Josie Cartwright. Deceased. So very, very sad. The last time I’d seen her she’d been twenty and alive. Very alive.

I might have loved her,” I sighed.

But you didn’t,” said Scabbie.

And he was right. Sadly. It takes time to love someone and I hadn’t given it enough of that.

The Castle, when we got there, was no more or no less ruined than it had been all those years ago when we’d been there and serenading a large group of Japanese tourists. There was an atmosphere about the place, the kind of atmosphere that was probably built up of layer upon layer of history. It was deep and sombre, melancholy even, evoking as it did mental images of a long time ago and savage battles on the very grass that Jed and Crin’s camper-van was parked on as we approached it.

I’d felt it before, and I felt it now.

It was as if something dire, something truly sickening, might happen any time. It even smelt that way. The air from a long history, whirling around, twisting one time with another, like a deadly fog.

Jed tried to run with his walking stick towards us, his face twisted.

It’s Crin!” he shouted, “he’s been killed, and he’s bloody dead!”

© Peter Rogerson 10.06.18

THE SPARKLER’S REUNION

29 Jun

1. A RUDE AWAKENING

It was a genuinely odd day. Sunday, being the first day of the week, being number one, is an odd day, as is Tuesday and Thursday for obvious reasons, and this was a Tuesday. I was only just about aware of that!

It didn’t matter that it was a Tuesday nor that it was odd. It just strikes me, recalling the events of that day, that it ought to have been odd because those events were odd.

Take the knock on the door early in the morning when I was still roaming the forests of Gloom with Max, my faithful and sadly long deceased best friend. The knock was peremptory and I mistook it for thunder because the forests of Gloom were ready for a good old storm, and Max was being fidgety in only the way a nervous dog can be anxious.

But Max died years ago which made his presence by my side rather disturbing, and to compound my understanding of the Universe the forest of Gloom morphed win a wibbly-wobbly way into a book case/wardrobe combination, and the knock was still peremptory.

Then the knock moved.

It left the front door and moved to what identified itself as my bedroom window when I opened my eyes properly.

Are you there, Josh?” called a voice.

I suppose it was calling for me because Josh is my name and I was there.

I guess so,” I replied, grumpy because my wander through the forest of Gloom had been disturbed before it had really got going.

Then open the bloody door,” demanded the voice.

I wouldn’t have opened the door, but it dawned on me that I recognised the voice as belonging to an old best friend Scabby Bumpstead from our youthful years, and he had promised to do something or other and I couldn’t quite remember what either the something or the other was. Not for the moment, anyway.

But I went to open the door.

I’d forgotten in that hazy few moments that I tend to sleep naked and when I opened the door Scabby spluttered and said, “cover yourself up, man, you’ve got a hard-on and I’ve got the missus with me…”

It was the forest of Gloom,” I explained, “and we were looking for a castle, so that explains my dress code.”

Scabby pushed past me into my porch, followed by Joanie, his wife of too many years for them to still be as sloppy lovey-dovey as they were.

That’s nice,” she giggled as she past me.

I wanted to ask what was but didn’t want to hear the answer, so I kept schtum. Nobody wants to think his wedding tackle is merely nice.

You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?” grated Scabby. “I made you promise you wouldn’t forget, and you’ve forgotten.”

I must have. But that was the last thing I wanted to admit to. I’m not as young as I was and my memory sort of fades and comes and goes at random.

Of course not!” I protested, and added a disastrous lie, “it’s too important to be forgotten.”

But I had, forgotten that is, and I was entering a dark place where an ancient fear was knocking at something stubborn inside my head.

Then why aren’t you ready?” he demanded.

It’s just too bad,” put in Joanie, giggling as I tried to pull a pair of boxers over myself and managed to get them on back to front.

What is?” I asked her, more for the time it would give me to remember what I had obviously forgotten than because I wanted her to elucidate. But the air of the forest of Gloom was still blowing through my cobwebs and that was all I was interested in. For the moment, that is.

There’s Scab and me ready and you’re still dreaming,” she said, almost spitefully, because how did she know what was going on in my head? Crikey, not even I know that for most of the time.

I had a rotten night,” I lied, “awake half the time and screaming the other half.”

Screaming?” asked Joanie, a treble warble of sarcasm at the edges of the word as she stretched it out a beat too far.

Nightmares,” I lied again, confirming my inability to tell the truth even to friends.

It’ll be something special, anyway” grinned Scabby, “have you got your instrument ready, nightmares or no nightmares?”

What do you mean, no nightmares?” I demanded. “Are you calling me some kind of liar?”

There’s only one kind of liar, Josh, and you’re it,” said Joanie, “now get that guitar of yours, put your pants on the right way round, get dressed and come along! It’s a long road to the Castle, and we’ve only got today to get there!”

The mention of guitar sorted my memory out in a mighty tching-tchang of recollection. Of course. The reunion.

Once upon a time Scabbie with Joanie, and me and a couple of other fellows had been The Sparklers, a folksy combo that back in the sixties sang songs about love and protest to small crowds wherever we could find them. And Scabby had decided we were to have a reunion at the site of our greatest triumph, where not only had we received rapturous applause from an unbelievable almost one hundred fans but had also been expected to perform an encore.

I say fans, but really it was a random group of Japanese tourists who had been there at the same time as The Sparklers by a kind of international coincidence and who had been particularly fond of folksy English melodies. And we had a choice of clever tunes by the two or three. Maybe even by the four on a good day.

The reunion!” I spluttered, getting my boxers on the right way round and contriving to push both of my legs in the same leg of my shorts. It was shorts weather. It usually is for me. Not that I’m in love with my legs or expect anyone else to admire them, but I do have a fetish for comfort.

Now you’ve got it,” murmured Scabby. “Jed and Crin messaged me. They’re there already, say the place is more atmospheric than it ever was and should make a good backdrop to Our Green and Sleeping World. I hope you remember that one. After all, it was one of yours!”

As if I’d forget! Yet when I ran the lyrics through my head it seemed I had forgotten all but the first verse. But it shouldn’t take too long to get it back together again.

Maybe my face is built up of alphabetical images because Joanie read my mind and shook her head.

You can only remember the first verse,” she sighed.

It’s all there,” I promised her. I was telling more lies than a politician on speed, but it was early and the air of the forest of Gloom still blew gently through my mind. And Max was barking. Still. I glanced out of the window to where I’d buried him years ago, and shook my head.

It’s odd how long an old fellow can live and breathe after he’s died,” I whispered.

Then get a move on, twerp,” jostled Scabby. “I got hold of a camper-van just like the one we had back then! The five of us sleeping in that is going to be just like the good old days!”

Who died?” asked Joanie.

Max died. Max, of course,” I breathed as I pushed into the kitchen. “I don’t half sodding miss the old fellow! Coffee and off,” I told them. “I need my caffeine fix first, but it won’t take long.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 09.06.18

BEELZEBUB HAS A DEVIL PUT ASIDE FOR ME

24 Jun

10. DIVORCE PLANS

Bernie Walpole didn’t understand.

Sometimes the words that entered his head didn’t seem to mean a single thing, like that woman, allegedly his wife, mentioning divorce in the same sentence as naming Tony. Toady Tony, the lad he’d known and disliked in one way or another for all of his life

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters… The tune, amplified by confusion, rattled round his brain until nothing really mattered.

Nothing at all, but he didn’t mind.

Goodbye everybody, I’ve really got to go, gotta leave you all behind and face the truth … face the truth…

And that’s what he was doing. Reflecting on the years and wondering what in the name of goodness he’d done with them.

And face the truth…

That there was never anything there.

Not the least smidgen of affection or love or even friendship… not even way back on that wedding day of ours…

He saw, with his mind’s eye, his bride.

Next to him was his best man, Toady Templeman standing looking bored like he often did when he wasn’t the centre of attention. Then there was Pauline with a veil covering that pretty face of hers, and it was pretty. And the registrar, a hook-nosed harridan if ever there was one, fierce like tigers are fierce, pronouncing them man and wife in a voice that didn’t hold much in the way of comfort or promise.

No church. She’d got her way there and his mum had been heart-broken, or so she had said, all of her hopes and dreams shattered by that simple decision, but upsetting Pauline when it was the most important day of her life (her words) was a no-no. So no church. No vicar pontificating about holiness, no choir singing some incomprehensible pastoral piece of virtuous anthemic nonsense, just the quiet dignity of a civic hall and a harridan with a nose you couldn’t take your eyes off.

And,

You’ve got snot on your nose, she hissed.

Not a subtle hint, maybe one finger gesticulation that he’d interpret as an indication that she’d noticed something on his nose that really ought not be there would have been better, but a hiss loud enough for the nose and the guests to hear, even those at the back.

And that was the start of his wedded bliss.

He wiped his nose as furtively as he could with a casual flick of one finger.

The other side, she almost screeched, and

let me go, let me go, Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me echoed round his brain.

You’ve still got snot on your nose! I want to start this again. I want you to wipe your nose and get rid of all that snot one and for all and start this wedding ceremony again! I can’t marry someone with snot hanging from his nose like willow catkins…

Suddenly, in that austere room, he knew what he wanted, and he wanted it more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life before, and he’d wanted some mighty important things over the years. But this time he wanted a hole to enter up in the floor beneath his feet, a hole that would take him to the very centre of the Earth where he could surely get out of range of all this embarrassment, because that’s what Pauline had turned his wedding into.

And as that hole appeared, that wonderful, cavernous hole ready for him to take the smallest step and plunge into it, Bernie Walpole woke up. As easy as that, and the waking prevented him from sliding endlessly down a black chute that led to Beelzebub’s domain.

At first Pauline didn’t notice that his eyes had suddenly opened. Her focus was more on his nose than on his eyes, and as she stared she noticed something.

You’ve got snot on your nose,” she hissed and,

I don’t give a damn,” he croaked.

Nurse!” she shrieked, “nurse, come quickly!”

And nurse Annette Bell rushed in, and he saw her for the first time, the one with the naughty suggestions on the brink of her angel voice, and she wasn’t the slim, sylph like goddess she might have been, the haloed and spiritual owner of a voice from Heaven. No, she was better than that, much better.

She was a human woman on the brink of retirement and with the merest suggestion of flaws in the way she edged her slightly overweight and well-breasted body into the side ward where Bernie Walpole lay.

He’s opened his eyes!” shrieked Pauline, “is he dead? He spoke, but is he dead!”

Doctor!” called Nurse Annette as she pushed her bouffant hair back through the door and bellowed.

Then she edged past Pauline and stood gazing at her patient.

My goodness,” she purred, “so that’s what your eyes look like…”

What is it, nurse,” asked a frenetic doctor, young and ambitious, as he joined what was becoming a throng in the side ward.

He’s come round, doctor,” said the nurse quietly.

And about time too!” grinned the doctor, and he held three fingers up. “Mr Walpole, can you see these fingers of mine? How many have I got?”

Five, but you’re holding three up,” croaked Bernie.

Well done, my man, well done!” beamed the doctor.

Can I go now?” asked Pauline, confused, though why she should be when her husband was awake at that time of the day.

To Toady?” asked Bernie, still croaking.

He’s called Tony and he’s been kind enough to bring me to visit you every day,” murmured Pauline, blushing because there were two other people privy to what must surely be a private conversation because it involved things like lives lived together and apart at the same time and the start and the end of a marriage, all the things that she looked on as being intensely private.

We’re getting divorced,” said Bernie. “It’s something everyone should think of doing if the world starts going awry for them. Can I get up? I want to find that Toady bloke and congratulate him on a job well done.”

Not yet,” the doctor said positively, “if you try you’ll probably fall down, and that might have painful consequences we don’t even want to think of.”

You’ll have to learn, step by step, Mr Walpole,” said Nurse Bell. “I’ll be around to teach you, though I’m off on my holidays the day after tomorrow…”

Bernie felt crestfallen. “So soon?” he asked, “with your better half?” he added.

Not on your nellie!” she exclaimed, “Whatever next!”

Then will you do one thing for me?” he asked.

If I can…”

Give me one more of your special bed baths before you go, and we’ll think about what we’re going to do when you come back…”

What we’re going to do?”

Yes, nurse. We got to know each other quite well whilst I was asleep, and I thought it might be nice to get to know each other better… After all, my wife told me we’re getting divorced, so I’ve got no ties… no ties at all. And maybe Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me…”

THE END

© Peter Rogerson 03.05.18

BEELZEBUB HAS A DEVIL PUT ASIDE FOR ME

15 Jun

9 . WEDDING PLANS

   Now, Mr Walpole, Doctor says he can’t think of one good reason why you couldn’t wake up today, and it would be good for me to hear the sound of your voice before I’m off on my holidays,” whispered the nurse, close to his ear and with a teasing cadence to her voice. He loved the sound of that voice and the hidden suggestion of something intensely private in her words

I would if I knew how, I’d wake up just to see youbut if I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters … nothing really matters…

I can tell that you know what’s going on, you naughty boy,” she breathed, “when I wash that little bit of you … you know what I mean, I can tell… but it’s time for you to wake up and go out and see the world again. The accident was weeks ago now and as far as we can tell you’re mostly mended… ah, here’s your wife, she can talk some sense into you even if I can’t, but,” and here the whisper became even quieter, more like a breath of moist air than words, but he heard them anyway, “don’t tell her about the bed baths, let’s keep them as our little secret…”

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters…

Good morning, nurse, how is the patient today?” That was Pauline’s voice, he’d got to recognise Pauline’s voice from his hospital bed and the way it smelt of baking bread, furniture polish, and, of course burning toast. And today there was something else there, in the fragrance of her words…

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters… because nothing really matters…

Tony brought me again today,” confided Pauline, “I’m seeing quite a lot of Tony since his lovely wife passed away. I told you about that, didn’t I, the way Gladys went so suddenly, a warning to us all that time isn’t always on our side, and they always said she was the most beautiful of us all back in the youth club days when we danced and smooched secretly when the lights went dim, there was you and me and Tony and Gladys and all the other teenagers…”

And before another thought could dim the lights in his head he saw that youth club, the bored-looking man on the small stage at one end with his records and barely adequate record player, and the way his eyes were glued to the swirling skirts. They were something, were those swirling skirts with the white petticoats flashing like beckoning lights, and the whiter teeth smiling and laughing, and the girls sometimes giggling their promsies.

It was easy to make them giggle.

I just saw your knickers, Pauline…

And the giggle followed by I wouldn’t mind catching a gander at your undies, Bernie, white are they, and smelling of carbolic?”

Then a real rocker was played, one that took all your breath to keep up with the rhythm of it, and arms flailed along with legs, people gasped, some at the fringes were puffing of their cigarettes, smoking was allowed back then, and

that was cool, Bernie, that was real cool…

and

fancy a stroll outside for a breath of fresh air, Pauline?

And

Come on then, but you can keep your hands to yourself…

Of course he would! What kind of boy did she think he was? He was responsible now, had his “A” levels safely in the bag and was off to an apprenticeship come September, and boys about to do that weren’t going to act like kids, were they?

I didn’t mean it, about keeping your hands to yourself, Bernie, you can hold mine if you like, it’s nice holding hands, don’t you think?

But he hadn’t been thinking of hands, had he? Pauline was wearing a low cut dress with a full skirt and his imagination was roaming everywhere, when

Hiya guys! That was Tony’s voice, the boy he’d once called Toady and still did sometimes. Glad and I have decided it’s time to get wed, the two of us, time for me to make an honest woman of her! And before you ask, it’s not because she’s pregnant because she’s not!

Wed? Tony and Gladys? That brought it all home to him. Tony and he were the same age, give or take, and Tony had wedding plans.

We might, soon, if we feel like it… That was Pauline. His Pauline! And they’d never so much as thought about it, about the future in so many words. True, she’d sometimes had a wistful look on her face and asked him how many kids he was going to have when he got married. Not when they got married, that was, but when he got married as if he might one day find a wife somewhere out in the world, and marry her like young men do, and set up a home with her, and go out to the shops to buy nappies…

Might we? That was him giving voice to his confusion…

We’ve thought about it, continued Pauline, we’ve decided we might have two kids, one of each if we’re lucky, and when Bernie’s apprenticeship is over we’ll buy a house on that new estate they’re building on Parson’s fields…

Then it was Toady’s turn to contribute. Yes, that was it: he most definitely was a toady.

You look a bit flabbergasted, mate! But Glad and I (he always called her Glad when her name was Gladys, and that annoyed Bernie) are going to tie the knot in the summer… and we’ll go to Bournemouth for our honeymoon. We’ve decided on that one! Bournemouth and plenty of how’s your father for a whole week!

And then he had to put his own dirty great size nines into it.

Pauline and me, he said, have got plans for a big church do at Saint David’s, and a reception for our mates in the social club. Then we’ll take a trip to France, we thought, it can be nice in France, and have vino and loads of bed! For the honeymoon, that is…

Then Toady and Gladys wandered off, hand in hand. Yes, hand in bloody hand as if they owned the Universe, which they probably thought they did, and Pauline turned to him.

Is that right, Bernie? Are we getting married?

Might as well… And he shrugged casually as if it didn’t really mean much at all.

But we never talked about it, we never said anything, not about a church, Saint David’s, because I’m not getting married in any church, Bernie, churches are places for praying and if you pray you’ve got to believe there’s someone to pray to and I don’t!

That was the first time he got any idea that the fragments of faith the lurked inside his head, the bits he’d learned at Sunday School, the parts that had always been the fabric of his world, were not shared by Pauline.

But… Where had this come from?

There’s not but about it, Bernie, no church and that’s flat. If you want to get married to me, that is…

What would mother say? And David? His brother was getting to be old enough and courting too, and he knew his mother dreamed of floating dresses and whiter-then-white veils and all the paraphernalia of a church wedding, fancy hats, cooing and shedding happy tears and a man of God beaming down on them…

But we’ll have the kids, Bernie, we’ll certainly have the kids if that’s what you want

And the memory went where all his memories went. And Pauline was there, staring at him though he couldn’t see the stare, but if he had been able to he would have got a notion that something big was afoot.

When you wake up, Bernie, when you come round and are back to your old self, I’ll want a special present from you, and I hope you won’t mind … I’ll want a divorce because, well, you might have guessed, Tony and I want to get wed while we’re still young enough to enjoy each other, and you and I haven’t hit it off much lately

Still young enough? You haven’t been young enough for years beyond count! But never mind, if that’s what you want, if that’s what you really, really want… If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters…

© Peter Rogerson 02.05.18