He fakes juvenile indifference.
‘I don’t give a toss,’ roars the Beast. ‘I don’t give a toss about your grubby little penal seminary. Little here the operative word.’
‘Ho ho. My ribs are splitting.’
‘Don’t tempt me.’
Not an inch will he not trust the Beast not to be grabbing a butcher’s at the blue grapes and banana below. Archie is having none of it. Left hand cradles the James family fruit basket and right hand rakes a stray sock from the floor.
Cruelly his arm jerks of its own accord <—> empowered with a residue of bad electricity <—> and his hand cups the sock with the consummate conviction of a crumpled vine leaf <—>
She has him trapped. Trapped in a stuffy bedroom. Bare and butt-naked no way will he risk a run for freedom. She fills the frock. Fills the crack of the door. Fills his heart with bollock-loss-a-phobia like the great beast Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades. Bravely he chances an arm — ‘Don’t you think I’ve enough on my plate without you banging on —’
‘Banging on! I am not banging on, thank you very much! And that’s enough foul language in my house for one day. You stay out all night with your fancy woman, Archibald Hornblower James. Hell can freeze over before I’ll come buggering and pick up the pieces.’
‘Fancy woman? Have you gone stark Maggie mad? God give me strength! You can’t resist sticking the boot in. Kick a man when he’s down. Why don’t you.’
‘Man? You call yourself a man? Don’t make me laugh. Mouse more like. Do I look like a fool? I was not born yesterday.’
Archie shivers worsterer than a newborn lamb <—> Jerks wildly <—> Tethers teeth to tongue. Ducks to spot long-johns lurking under the bed though how the hell they had gotten so bogeyed and yellow and blotchy he hasn’t the darndest idea: ‘I’d like to see how you’d cope with a factory of nutters. I grind my knuckles to the bone to put a roof over your head and this is the thanks I get. A large slice of your nag pie. Now if you don’t mind I need a bath.’
‘Yes I do mind! I mind very much!’ Wings on hips. Immutable. A river of stank fish filling every corner of the mind’s pie crust. ‘You think you can stay out all night with your fancy woman and swan back here whenever you like. She’s welcome to you. I wash my hands of you.’
‘For crying out loud! I have been in the thick of it defending the likes of you from what the likes of two hundred horny men would do to you given half a chance.’
‘I should be so lucky.’
‘What’s that mother of yours been saying? Stirring the pot with her broomstick I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘You leave my mother out of this. I don’t know why you can’t be man enough to let me have it straight. You’ve stashed a floozie in a sticky hole. A strumpet you picked up in some backstreet dive. Well she’s welcome to you.’
‘Struth! I don’t know why I bother.’
‘The only person you bother about is yourself.’
‘Don’t you ever give it a rest? The only time you’re happy is when you’re having a go at me. I am not your whipping boy. Find some other mug.’
‘Mug?’ hurrumphs the Beast, breakdancing the battle-scarred carpet, puffball cheeks boiling beetroot. ‘I’m the mug for putting up with the likes of you. I should have listened to my mother. She said you were no good.’
He has to get out <—> Can’t breathe <—> So very hot and stuffy he swears the ovens in Hell are stoked solely for his private salvation <—> To cook the cockles of his heart and toast his blackened toes <—> A red devil rakes the ashes of his stomach with a five-prong trident <—> Peptic ulcer joins the cacophony roaring <—> In pain and anguish soul gyrates <—> The raw agony of pumping poison <—> Rancid rivers run rotten from limpet brows <—> He has to get out <—> Can’t breathe <—>
‘If you can’t even be bothered to ring your poor wife to tell her you’re not face down in the gutter then that proves it. My best haddock pie wasted ...’
News frankly he is not dying to hear.
‘... The cat sent yours to the dog ...’
The hellish spectre of haddock pie haunts the senses, sweeping a storm-tide of nausea to swell the stomach and flush the pipes and organs of the carcass <—>
<—> Flailing arms and sweat, knees pumping the Ziegfeld Follies, Archie breaks for freedom across the shag-pile rug, bull-charging the Beast and into the passageway, parading a show, a sorry spectacle, but onward he stumbles tongue dangling, reaching and clutching the knob, shifting a rack of bones with surprising speed, and the rising tide of bile and bits and bad humours surging with piston power and oh mercy mercy penetraling the bathroom, slamming the door, bending over the hole and heaving by a whisker for the wave of vomit to flush with force round the rim of the sink <—>
Blurghch! Blur! Ho-boy!
Bug-eye Archie opens to a watery pink <—> hssnnssh! <—> Clears those tubes that tend to get clogged <—> Studies the Hughie Green bespattering the porcelain, picking the webbing of mucus that clings to the fingers as thick as frogspawn <—>
Sweet is the water that falls from the tap and so is soothed Archie’s soul — even as Life reflects flecks of false hope in the sink of Hell.
Never again will he slew so low, never again dredge the depths, never again parade a soul for the delight of the sporting gods.
Oh how singly the promises pledged with our own souls are pulled as slight as faeries’ wings — too easily they windward fly.
To the lip of the apron of the mind plays a vision. Dangled by a string from Heaven. Proof of a living God. A bottle of whisky golden and glorious stashed in the washbasket but the night before.
With tender loving care.
Oh how wonderful the world! Oh how radiant the sun that shines! Oh joy illimited!
Yellow nettled hands trawl for the treasure inside.
Is this some kind of a sick joke? My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Mock-empty. Not a bloody drop. Damnations. Thank you very much.
Archie hangs a head intent on wallowing a pool of self-pity.
Sunken to a dose of hard labour this cruel cruel world! A private prison reserved for the dummy-end of God’s children doubly wicked from a past Life. Abandoned without a friend. A curse of Hell. A dumbbell for the sport of the gods.
For when sorrows come they come not single spits
Let’s say tomorrow you day sinks with the downturn of devilled prunes. Before lunch your luck plunges through the backside of a black hole when you’re nobbled for a crime you didn’t commit, booted into court and before you can say boo to a jolly goose the crusty old duffer of a judge has flushed you down the bog for fifteen years. A wrinkly Screw in a fetching uniform of blue invites you into the bowels of the Earth, and you feel for the first time <—> if penal virgin you vie <—> the vesicant sting of steel on your wrists <—> Ears numb from the rain of curses, hunger, fear <—> such pressing matters are grist compared to the tornado of sickness that tumbles swelling from the mill of your stomach <—>
All-consuming sickness corrodes your guts with the force of sulphuric acid <—> Contaminates the cells <—> A foul and pestilent conflagration of vapours invades the vaults of the mind <—> Down step by step a rogue and peasant slave <—>
Your soul now the epicentre of your universe threatens spontaneous combustion yet will smoulder for weeks on end <—> Your soul entombed in the pit of your stomach (explaining the foetid feeling of schizophrenia you carry) corroded, expunged from existence, but you can proffer no succour <—>
We know no cure for a sick sick soul that bleeds <—>
A brilliant facet of our carbon lifeform for while enduring a flambé of the soul we clasp crystal clear to the world in focus and store like diamonds the sounds and sensations that aface us on all sides to be recalled long after with flawless and sparkling clarity.
A key jangling in a metal lock is a terrible Whitney on the ears and sets the nerves on edge <—> The white brick walls of this echo chamber rebound every discordant sound <—> Your heart beats as fast as doh-ray-me <—> Throat as dry as a vulture’s private parts <—> Welcome to the heady London aroma of human pooh <—> Working glands pump their potions into your bloodstream <—> Handcuffed to a high-minded companion you sniff and mole the tunnels of this legal labyrinth to a low-slung hole <—> Not of a design for prime-time screening but well sound-proofed and set to keep out those tricky winter chills <—>
Walls four. Table one. Bench one.
The hammer to your house as the thick metal door closes for the first time <—> SHOOOMB! <—> horrors to the bone <—> You are alone. In a box-room of brick and stone and past tenants have with foresight emblazoned the walls in a freeflowing style to welcome you.
You flop and read the writing on the wall.
The roll-up roll-up new boy is assured a windfall of boner-fide offers of kinky sex. To claim jackpot, simply ring number left by artist of modern bent: behold a mural, a bonanza, of flexible bits.