Backseat Meeting (or Fate)

Backseat Meeting (or Fate)

They met on the backseat of a bus in Southampton.

The bus slowed down and he stuck his head out into a chilly October wind. The city lights, now mere dusk-flickers of all-hope-is-gone, were fading fast, chomped up by the air-polluted, airbrushed teeth of a tampon ad teenaged model on the side of the bus with her hands between photo-shopped legs; they protruded from under her Marilyn Monroe skirt like chopsticks held between the fingers of a Scottish shipyard worker.

The driver pulled a lever and the doors shhhhhed open, sighing for the fucked-up diesel engine to gurgle a sputter-burp.

She got on, lifting high over her neck the tattered collar of a her jacket and her paid-for ticket, but bus drivers on this side of town don’t take kindly to passengers; he pulled away before she sat down, and she stumbled down the aisle towards him.

The emphysema-engine coughed itself back to life.

The letters of the EMERGENCY WINDOW sticker were flashing slower now, in tune with her uneven balance-now! footsteps; in tune with the dribs and drabs of oncoming traffic lights that shot out like phantom spider webs through the back window-grime and covered the fumes crawling through the cracks in the glass like phantom fingers inviting her to sit down next to him.

When the bus crossed the wrong side of the tracks into that part at the edge of town where the dark side of midnight changes the meaning of a simple favour to you’d better do what I say, boy, or you’re well and truly fucked, the faded smile of the tampon ad teenage model lit up when he offered to share his cup of instant noodles, and she her dreams.

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Boy

Boy

In the amber-smog flicker of the streetlamp

raindrops stick

molten copper ticks

and gnaw away at the wrists

of the wrought iron railings.

Boy stares down through corroded metal steps,

takes a breath

of midnight mass crystal meth,

parts his hair with his fingers,

and spits into summer’s face.

Down below a cat hisses in a dumpster,

rats scamper,

and a trash can orchestra

churns out a trashy rhythm

to the tune of traffic jams.

A shiver as Boy feels street corners looming—

one more fix,

then, on legs like tinder sticks,

down the spiral staircase

to where chanceful delights await.

Midnight Gardener

Midnight Gardener

That feeling of being watched crept over his back; it sizzled like fresh moon dust over morning dew, and a smell of guilt — burned vanilla and hair-honey — tickled his nostrils.

He sneezed, and licked the gob of mud-snot that covered his mouth. Eyes still watery, he looked up from the hole in the ground and spotted Jenny Jones standing on the front porch, lantern in hand.

He ducked between the flowers, stifled a yelp of laughter, and held his breath, for a cliché question carry-whispered itself over Jenny’s lips; of course there was no-one out there— Christ Almighty! Did she really think he would answer?

Here he was, risking his life by dragging a dead body over the neighbours’ lawn, digging a midnight hole in the flower bed where the blue of the paraffin flame waltzed with the rose buds — such a fantastic dance of death.

Jenny had one last, urgent glance over her shoulder; she shut the door and caught her night gown in the slam! He wagged his tail, scratched away at the swarm of fleas behind his ear and placed the pigeon in its grave.

Amsterdam Angie

Rain.

Angie’s high.

The glass pipe sits shattered in the bathtub,

the back of her head cracked

on a pink bathroom tile.

District lights shine scarlet

through frosted glass windows,

poison needle tips in the nervous hands

of a surgeon who injects

last life images into her eyes;

the right one drooped,

eyelids batting

to the beat of Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’,

Angie goes under the foam.

Love You Long Time, Bangkok

Love you long time II

Love You Long Time, Bangkok

Dusk. City dusk. Skyscrapers and exhaust fumes absorb the day’s last rays. The skyline vanished a long time ago and dragged away with it the urbanites’ eagerness for the start of tomorrow.

You see a bearded man on a street corner. He’s holding out a rose with a broken stem. His cardboard shorts are soiled and his T-shirt is nothing but rags hanging off skin and bone. He’s wearing mismatched flip-flops, one lime green (too big), the other pink—it’s hard to say, but it looks like there’s a Hello Kitty print on the rubber sole under his heel. His feet are caked in city filth, and open sores populate his legs like parasitic colonies strategically planning to suck him dry.

The man’s standing on his toes in the middle of the pavement searching for someone in the crowds, who are on their way home. They are dressed up in smart clothes: business suits, silk ties, polished leather shoes, and leather handbags; they own the latest gadgets: smart phones, watches, and weird little flat squares they run their fingers over like they’re stroking their pets.

He’s in distress, like a mother who’s lost her child in a crowded market. No-one notices. They talk to themselves and stroke their pets.

He spots her in the crowd and his face is dawn personified. You don’t see the lice in his hair and you don’t see the angry red of ringworm on the side of his neck. You see his bright eyes, flickering with delight as if the reflection of candle flames in the sheen of marble flooring. You don’t see his missing front teeth, and you look past the bottom lip, chapped and bitten bloody. All you see is joy, a smile as wide as the Chao Phraya River.

You see a tall, blond woman. She’s also dressed up in the latest fashion, a knee-high blue dress that fits like a kimono, fastened at the front with six oversized black buttons. She’s wearing black stockings and a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti high heels. She carries her Celine multicoloured envelope handbag over her shoulder with such style it looks like she’s forgotten about it.

Their eyes meet in that space where nothing but first love exists. Words don’t exist in this time and space; they’re invisible for the time being. Reading between the lines is temporarily erased.

Bangkok holds out her hand, palm up. Her skin is smooth, fingers elegant.

He limps toward her and presses the rose against the glass where the display window dreams rush hour traffic scenes and only the mannequin’s glass eyes comprehend his love for her, secret messages conveyed in the glimmer of neon light flashes.

 

words by Ramon Ramirez

art by Craig Hopson

An Interview with Peter McKinley

TARGET

An Interview with Peter McKinley

Sarah Fields: Good evening and welcome to Interviews. I trust you had a relaxing seven-day break from my rambles. Tonight, a tragic story. Tonight, a man who will be running in the Assassination Game. Please put your hands together for Peter McKinley!

SF (gets up and shakes hands): So good to have you on the show, Peter. Apologies for the short notice and thank you so much for coming.

Peter McKinley (mumbles): Thanks a lot for the invitation.

SF (places iPad in her lap, takes a breath, and looks up): Peter, how are you doing?

PM (sits forward and looks down at his shoes): I take it day by day, Sarah. You know, when the Guild didn’t announce any names to go on the Run last week, and when Michael Oboe confirmed that on your show, I thought I got away with it.

SF (accusatory): You didn’t, did you?

PM (annoyed, pulls up right shirt sleeve to reveal electronic monitor): No, Sara. No, I didn’t. I’m under house arrest, which is not too bad because I spend the last few days with my family.

SF (looks at audience): Excuse me for saying so, but that GPS thingy matches your yellow socks.

PM (sarcastic): Why thank you.

SF: Do you know who you’re running from, Peter?

PM: Maggie O.

SF: Oh, dear.

PM (swallows): You don’t seem to have much hope for me, Sarah.

SF: Well, Maggie O is one of the finest assassins out there, Peter.

PM: She has her weaknesses. I’ve done my homework.

SF: And she hers?

PM: I wouldn’t expect anything less. But I will say this: I have twenty-four hours to keep her from killing me, and if I can pull it off, I’ll be a free man.

SF: You do realise that no-one’s ever accomplished that.

PM: As I’ve mentioned, I’ve done my homework. But there’s always a first time for everything, Sarah.

SF (looks impressed and into the wrong camera): You’re right. Now tell us what happened, Peter. Why exactly do you find yourself in this … predicament?

PM: I appreciate your choice of words, Sarah, but let’s be honest, it’s more of a life-threatening situation.

SF: True. True.

PM: You know, when Nopolka first started bumping into the furniture, I knew something was not quite right. Well, we all knew, but Kaspian and Nadildo were the ones who confirmed my suspicion when they told me Napolka used glue instead of jam on their peanut butter sandwiches.

SF (confused, scratches her head with her pen): So, if I understand you correctly, Napolka is your wife, right? I thought her name was Sandy.

PM: Sandy is her nickname.

SF: And your children’s names are Kaspian and Na…Na…

PM (serious face): Dildo

SF (puts hand over mouth, eyes are watering, looks down at iPad): Ri … right.

PM (straight-faced): My children’s names are Kaspian and Nadildo. Is anything the matter, Sarah?

SF (reaches for bottled water with tears in her eyes): Okay. Something … in my … throat. Apologies. Please … ahem … continue.

PM: Well, after the glue-sandwich incident, I was going to take her to the hospital for a check-up after work. I picked up the kids from school at five, and when we got home we found her unconscious on the floor. She’d fallen down the stairs and broken her hip.

SF: Ouch.

PM: Yes. Ouch. In three places.

SF (takes another sip of water, then, poker-faced): Why only then? I mean, weren’t there any other indications before the glue-sandwiches. And why did her eyesight deteriorate so fast?

PM: To answer your first question, there were other signs before the glue-sandwiches, but they seemed like honest mistakes at the time. For example, I’d ask her to pass me the salt, and she’d pass me the pepper; I ask for the house keys, she hands me the car keys. You see what I’m getting at.

SF: I do.

PM: So, Npolka’s eyesight. Sheesh. It’s pretty gross. Are you sure you want to hear it?

SF: Of course. We กน live in a society where nothing freaks us out anymore.

PM: That’s a huge generalisation. Maybe it’s just you who has that mindset, Sarah.

SF: Possibly.  

PM: Well, there was an incident before the glue-sandwiches when she lost control of the car and ended up in an old fishpond. Of course we didn’t know it was a direct result of her eyesight because she was driving through a storm and the road was slippery. Fortunately ER arrived on the scene before she drowned. See, the car was sort of stuck on its side in the shallow end of the pond and slowly sinking as its weight caused the mud to shift underneath.

SF: That’s horrible.

PM: Well, it turns out that the fish in the pond were infected with a deadly parasitic isopod.

SF: Gross.

PM: Listen to this: the male parasite enters through the gills of the fish and then change their sex—

SF: Ooh. Maggie O will love this little fact.

PM: Could you please not interrupt me?

SF (sarcastic, eyes wide, looks at audience): Apologies. How unprofessional of me.

PM: Right. So, after these little fuckers turn female, they crawl out and attach themselves on the tongue of the fish. They suck out the blood until the tongue falls of, act as the tongue, and then steal the food.

SF (looking pale): Jesus. Christ.

PM: Wait, it gets better.

SF: God. No.

PM (excited): Oh, yes. So, Napolka swallowed some of the water containing the larvae, right? These parasites are amazing. Instead of going for her tongue—how they know a human being will simply remove them and then seek medical attention, I don’t know—they entered her bloodstream and made a nest behind her eyes. There they munched on her central retinal artery and optic nerves.

SF (hesitant to take a sip of water): I don’t … Peter … I don’t know what to say.

PM: Don’t say anything, Sarah. It gets even better.

SF (pale, begging): Please, no more.

PM (on the edge of his seat): So, instead of growing into isopods, these bastards … morphed into worms small enough to enter her retinal arteries. They mated in my wife’s eyes.

SF: (retching, mouth open): Fuuuuuck.

PM (sighs): You can say that again.

SF (whispers): Fuuuuuck

PM: So, the doctor tells me there’s nothing they can do for her, at which point I decide to take matters in my own hands.

SF (a slow shake of the head): And this is why you’re running from Maggie O?

PM: Yep. I took out my wife’s eyes with a spoon and dripped acid into her empty sockets to stop the pain.

SF (bursts into tears): No, no, no.

PM: I thought you said we live in a society where nothing freaks us out anymore.

SF (sniffs, regains composure, deep breath): Thank you for your time, Peter.

PM (gets up and salutes): No, no, Sarah, thank you. Oh, and one more thing. They also convicted me of releasing the worms into one of those water bottling plant reservoirs. You might want to get to a hospital as soon as possible. You have a good evening now, Sarah.

WEB WEAVER

words by Ramon Ramirez

art by Craig Hopson