Never Walk The Same Road Twice

GOAT SKULL

Never walk the same road twice, Dadda used to say, always with a stutter and a bit of spittle on the chin; one hand waving a short, crooked finger, the other hand clutching a bottle of gin.

Taking a big swig (our Dadda could make spirits gloonk), his eyes widened and his cheeks would glow in hellfire oranges and reds in the fading light of the paraffin lantern’s show.

They’ll learn your every move. Never walk the same road twice.

Sound advice, but only in theory, of course, for I had not a clue who they were – who exactly to be on the lookout for – and, from our neck of the woods led only one road to school, the sheriff’s office, and the grocery-cum-liquor store.

Dadda had ‘moods’, and he was quite adamant that my little sister and I (Both apples of your mother’s eyes!) follow his orders, because his mind was ‘shaped’ and functioned like those of the military kind.

At the break of dawn, (Look, the moon’s still snoozing!) after a thorough inspection
of our uniforms and patched little knapsacks, (Only three boiled eggs and last night’s chicken bones!) we saluted and started our march, armed to the teeth with sticks and stones.

Not allowed to travel the conventional way, Lucille and I, hand-in-hand, would start our ‘stroll’ at the edge of the forest, where the eucalyptus stands tall and towers over
the black swamp that stank of decay.

We marked each path, using Mama’s old ribbons on tree trunks and bushes; we were on our guard not to cross paths, so we named them all, from Sugar Cube Lane to Sunset Boulevard.

When the trees changed colour and the leaves came down in delicate feather-falls, our ‘roads’ became muddled—we were confused; pretty soon we were strolling on Sunset Sugar Lanes and Boulevard Street Cubes.

Every time we strayed, they would come up behind us.

Lucille spotted one first, a goat-headed creature in a flowing white dress, on hands and knees, darting from tree to tree.

GOAT HEADS

Three times I was hit in the back, each time with the same range weapon, a fist-sized white stone, covered in peculiar scribbles and characters, black, and also blotches of tree gum and peacock feathers.

Our morning march soon turned into a morning mission, for Lucille was petrified;
most days Dadda and I had to
(‘restrain!’)
get her dressed for school, sometimes inside-out, sometimes back-to-front.

At the start of winter, the creatures seemed to have grown in numbers; we spotted them regularly through the branches, reflections in cracked mirrors, some with deer skulls and big old antlers, others with god-knows-what-fur, and on some occasions, even a few dressed in shiny black leather.

I plugged Lucille’s ears with mud, grass and, leaves so that she wouldn’t hear their haunting breaths, their hooves over broken branches and twigs that went off
like a thousand little explosions in my head.

On the first day of spring I came down for inspection, but Lucille wasn’t there; Dadda sat by the window looking awfully lonely in his rocking chair, his bottle was empty and his eyes moist with tears.

You’ve walked the same road twice and now they’ve taken my daughter; my dear little Lucille is gone, she’s disappeared.

You can imagine my distress. During the last few weeks of snow I had carried her to school, for she refused to walk where they go, she couldn’t even bother; and although she ‘forgot’ how to speak, and she seemed to have shrunk, she held onto me like I was our mother.

Insomnia embraced me with spiky white arms, feeding me phlegm, overwhelming my daydreams with all of its usual charm, helping me plan my final revenge, pulling me through each day closer to them.

After inspection one morning, the sun was already hot, I sprinted away to get a head start, but stopped at Mulberry Road. I hadn’t gone too far. Making a left at Wolf’s Paw Street, I circled back home, only to find that I wasn’t alone:

Dadda emerged from a door in the floor, dressed in Mamma’s bra and her favourite silk night gown. Even the deer’s skull on his head seemed to frown.

I gloonked his spirit with the empty gin bottle, getting in a kick, and also a throttle; four times I cut him, one for each season, and oh! what a feeling when Lucille jumped down from where I’d hidden her in the ceiling.

Imagine the look on Dadda’s face when she ‘kissed’ him on the jaw with his military-style binoculars. His face wore an expression of shock and awe.

‘Listen to me, Dadda, because I’ll only say it once: never come between a brother and his sister—and one more thing: never walk the same road twice,’ she said in a paraffin lamp whisper.

words by Ramon Ramirez

art and photography by Craig Hopson

The Man with the Mermaid Tattoo

INKSHOT

The Man with the Mermaid Tattoo

He can feel gravity’s pull
tonight
deep in his heart
a graveyard echoes:
Not much to live for
now the kids are gone,
wife hooking somewhere in the city streets.
He pours a double vodka,
mixes it with the pulpy bits
in the bottom of a grape juice carton;
stirs it with a plastic Chinese take-out chopstick.

“No need to drink from a cup.”

The syringe is cracked;
the ashtray full;
the scabs over the mermaid’s nipples
on his forearm itch.
He leans forward,
kisses her full on the mouth:

“Never have your eyes looked so alive, my love.”

When the rat poison burns his blood,
he clears his throat, and coughs up bile;
he straightens his tie
because he’s got style.

Superstitions

Ghost in the Machine

Superstitions

I – On Strolls in the City Streets

Only step on light-coloured paving slabs;
there are gaping voids under the darker ones
filled with a twisted-mustard fog made up of cut-off hands, heads, and genitals
that grope, suck and squirt foul-smelling, luminous goo all over you
as you go deeper into the abyss;
your screams will fall on deaf ears, and your voice will drown you;
your voice will be your downfall.

II – On Sleep and Pillows:

Never sleep with a gun under your pillow;
someone you love might annoy you in the slightest – and vice versa –
nightmares are so much more frightening when they become reality.
You will bawl your eyes out
(your cries won’t be heard if you swallow a bullet first, of course),
and cleaning the corners, where witness spiders sneer, is a bitch.

Never sleep with a book under your pillow;
you might wake up thinking What a beautiful day,
not knowing that you’ve been sucked into one of the author’s stories –
leaked from his pen, though not inked;
the fleeting thought of a madman
who dreams about writing a bestseller on family murders.
You will scrub, scrub, scrub.

III – On Superstitions:

Avoid reading silly poetry about superstitions;
the words might be those of a madman who writes with a cheap ballpoint pen,
the ink spilled all over the page on purpose.

words and photography by Ramon Ramirez

A Letter to Sweetie Pie

Dear Sweetie Pie,

I’m writing this letter to you by candlelight. The weather’s frightening this time of year. The wind blew off two roof sheets last night, and one of the trees further down the street fell over onto the power lines which caused a power cut. They say it will take days to repair. You always liked candlelight.

As you’re aware, this is our fourth anniversary; and as usual, I’m having my only cup of coffee for the year tonight. There are only two sachets left. Ha! I remember it like yesterday when we argued about which brand of coffee to buy. I wanted Mocca roasted coffee beans, but you said then we’ll have to buy a percolator.  And we laughed about how strange a word percolator is, and I asked why is it spelled p-e-r-c-o and not p-e-r-c-u?—and you answered why isn’t ‘enough’ spelled e-n-u- double-f? Of course I got the message and shut up, and we bought the three-in-one Nescafé sachets you wanted.

Speaking of which, the former of CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, said in an interview the other day that water is not a human right. Can you believe that? He reckons water should be privatized. What’s next, I wonder. Will Pepsico privatize our farts and thoughts as well? Probably. I don’t think I’m going to drink this cup of Nescafé now. I still think we should’ve bought the percolator and some Mocca coffee beans, but you never know, Pepsico or Nestlé might own that too.

Hm. What else is in the news? Obama looks shattered. Isn’t it strange how quickly ‘world leaders’ age. Thatcher, Mitterand, Reagan, Bush and Busher, Blair, Mandela, you name ‘em. I’m inclined to think it’s stress that brings on old age faster than it should. Perhaps it’s the stress of guilt and greed and corruption and not being able to live with yourself because you know you’re coward and a puppet and an absolute cock who’s responsible for lining the pockets of the big boys and for the death of millions. The only one who doesn’t age is Putin. I don’t think he’s human.

But I’m not writing to you to go off on one; I’m writing to say goodbye. This is my last letter, like this is the last cup of Nescafé three-in-one I’ll make. I’m going for a walk—a very long walk. I bought a tent (no, not made by Pepsico or Nestlé {is the one company owned by the other?}), and some camping gear as well. I had to sell the Datsun to buy all of this stuff—apologies. The sleeping bag alone cost a bloody fortune.

I’ve had enough of this old world. It’s making me old, and my beard is turning the colour of Obama’s hair. My pubes, too!

Enuff!

Rest in peace, Sweetie Pie. When I return—I don’t know when—I will come and visit and place a daisy on your grave. I just hope they don’t fill in the quarry while I’m away.

Love,

XXX

FUCK LIFEwords by Ramon Ramirez

art by Craig Hopson

 

I Slept with Insomnia

I Slept with Insomnia

Insomnia came knocking on my door at half-past three.

The Angel of Death had long passed out,

fishnets tight around her throat,

a dirty needle dangling from just below the knee;

the Tooth Fairy was trading milk teeth for booze

on the corner of Fear and Doubt

with a nervous gentleman who had a head like a goat.

Insomnia knocked three times, and let herself in,

her tatty robes behind her like torn leather strips,

scraping over cold tiles, over my skin;

sweet lullabies oozed over her chapped lips

in a voice as old as dry weather,

a storm of emotions conjured, a concoction

of cold blood clots, sour grapes, and bad trips.

Insomnia stayed the night stretched out on my bed,

told me to write something nice about her,

or the curve of her armpits instead;

I can’t, I said, they’re dread-locked with fur;

I crawled in next to her, put my head on her breast.

A sigh of satisfaction moistened her lips:

There, there, deary, let’s take a rest.

Mrs Jones’ New Eye

Mrs Jones’ New Eye

Mrs Jones was alone in aisle thirteen. She held up a bottle of mayonnaise into the light. There wasn’t a price tag on the bottle, but she could tell that the mayo was of the superior kind. It was pearly white, not as yellow (and definitely not as sweet) as the mayo they serve at the sandwich shop down the road. This mayo was also probably pricier.

Like all things good. I bet it’s French, and fuck me, can the French cook, she thought.

Her good eye followed her stumpy index finger in search for the price tag that was lost somewhere in between all the other plastic casings on the canned food aisle shelves. Her glass eye reflected in the sheen of the French flag blue mayo bottle cap. The convenient store lighting was giving off a glow of ignorance.

Thinking that the price might have blended in with the bar code, she focused on the back of the bottle. Nothing. The bar code bars danced and blurred and curved; they were taking on a life of their own and causing a migraine, pushing up from inside her sinuses. She sniffed.

The doctor said that I’d have some problems with depth perception at first. Maybe I should have sent Clarissa out tonight instead, she thought.

The bar code numbers moved like the waves of the angry ocean outside.

Mrs Jones’ dentures felt loose, and Clarissa’s eleven o’clock morning scones with apricot jam and cream had left a sour taste in her mouth.

“Missus Jones?”

She almost dropped the mayo. With two hands she pulled the glass bottle in between her heavy bosom and let out a sigh.

Lokesh Singh scratched the back of his neck, almost completely taking off the scab over his mole the barber clipped with his razor. Mrs Jones and Lokesh stared at each other for a few seconds. The buzz of the diary fridge was threatening to take over the conversation.

“Yes,” she said and lifted her chin.

“Is everything okay?” he asked in a thick Punjabi accent.

“Fine. Just … browsing,” she whispered, and then cleared her throat.

Lokesh was going to do the right thing and ask how she’d been coping after the fire, but thought better of it when he saw her fidgeting with the purple paisley scarf covering the scars over her neck and cheek. He only managed a ‘How are-’, but it came out like a Mick Jagger rock ‘n’ roll howl. The rest of the words were caught in his throat.

“Ahem … I’m at the counter if you’ll be needing any help,” he mumbled and walked past her, trying not to look into her glass eye. He heard it was completely see-through. “At the counter. If you need me,” he said again, and then blinked, pretending an insect had flown into his eye.

“Very well, then. Thank you, Lokesh,” Mrs Jones replied, making it clear that the little Indian fellow with an excuse for a mustache and an unfortunate birth growth on the back of his neck was now ready to return to what he called a stable job.

Halfway down the aisle he turned back and saw that she was still eying him. Lokesh lowered his head and scratched his neck again, this time taking off the whole mole.
The back of his white Happy Mart – Shopping is a Joy t-shirt turned burgundy where the blood seeped into the fibres.

“Ahfuggitmaan,” he said, shaking his head and making a left into the restrooms, instead of making a right to his usual post behind the counter.

As soon as the sound of his rubber soles over the sterile tiles faded, Mrs Jones looked back down at the bottle of mayonnaise in her hand. She wasn’t sure if her glass eye had moved, but a sudden feeling of acceptance reigned supreme; the eye didn’t feel cold and unpleasant anymore.

This is my eye now, and a damn fine glass eye, thank you very much.

She focused on the label again, and everything came into focus. The first letter was a K, but the overhead light on the diamond-like label design made it impossible to see the next letter.

The glass eye sent a message to Command Centre:

(‘Is it an O?’)

((‘Copy that. Negative.’))

(Damnit!) the glass eye wanted to shout.

“Goddamnit!” Mrs Jones shouted. “Lokesh! Get over here! How much is this *droning fridge sound* French mayonnaise?”

“Give me five, Missus Jones! I be having me a … situation here,” Lokesh shouted back.

(‘Is it an E?’) asked the glass eye.

((‘Copy that. Nope. Negative,’)) said the voice in Command Centre.

(‘It has to be a consonant, then,’) the glass eye guessed, (‘L?’)

((‘Nope. Sorry, times up,’)) said Command Centre.

(‘For the love of God,’) the glass eye hissed at the neurons. It made a 360 in Mrs Jones’ socket, just to piss Command Centre off.

Walking down the aisle, Lokesh was holding almost a whole roll of toilet paper over his wound. “Yes, Missus Jones?”

“This bottle of mayonnaise. How much is it?” Mrs. Jones asked in her most polite voice, but with an undercurrent of annoyance. She had to get out of Happy Mart.

“Twenty-eight ninety-five.” Lokesh flinched.

“That’s what I thought.”

The police arrived twenty minutes too late, and the medics (after Forensics had taken photographs) had quite a struggle removing the piece of glass-come-bottle cap from Lokesh Singh’s throat.

 *

Rocking in her chair in front of the fire, Mrs Jones put her reading glasses next to one of Clarissa’s steak and kidney pies. She picked up the newspaper and started doing the daily crossword on her lap.

Hangmanhangmanhangman, she wrote, squeezing the letters into each tiny little square, every now and again piercing the newspaper and stabbing herself in the leg with the ballpoint pen she’d taken from next to the cash register on her way out of the supermarket.

 

The End

 

A Letter to Mikiko

MIKIKO ONE

A Letter to Mikiko

Dear Mikiko,

There’s a hint of anticipation in the air when a cold breeze cuts through the dry leaves and faded pink petals of the Bougainvillea, paving the way for first light to chomp its way through, like fire-breathing caterpillars, of what’s left of the gnarled branches.

Unusual weather for this time of year, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I guess the remote control’s battery’s flat. I pressed the button when I started writing this letter and the garage door’s only creaking open behind me now, a big old wooden veil revealing the faces of my wife and children I drank away. I’m not sure if they’re smiling or if they pity me because I can’t remember their faces. I only see their mouths and it’s like I’m wasted again, like in the old days, I’m examining the corners of their mouths through a magnifying glass as if studying Mona Lisa’s smile from different angles in order to determine if it’s scornful or sensual.

The car’s gone, too. The oil stain’s still there, though. I’ve tried everything, bleach, acid, you-name-it.

A stain’s a stain’s a stain.

I still get sick when I think about booze, Mikiko. The doctor’s advised me to start eating pitless prunes. It helps for the nausea, he said. He was right. He didn’t mention that it also ‘helps’ the digestive system.  The only problem’s that they’re imported and I can’t afford them anymore. I mentioned this to the friendly cashier at the Seven-Eleven around the corner where I used to buy my vodka. She said I should try dried Japanese plums. I don’t know what they’re laced with, some sherbety powder that tastes like lime. Tell you what, once you get used to them, they’re addictive. They’re much cheaper, too, and a pack almost lasts me three weeks.

See, that’s where I got your name, Mikiko. Your address is written on the wrappers (why they wrap the plums, I don’t know—they come in a sealed plastic bag, anyway. Rats, perhaps? Rats and ants get in everywhere. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this, by the way).

These words may be hard to read, not because there’s some hidden message or anything (I’m a straight-to-the-point kind of person, and I hope you can respect that), but because I’ve crumpled this letter into a little ball and taped seven plastic Mikiko Pitless Plums wrappers around it and thrown it into the middle of the road.

What with the wind this time of year and all, I’m sure it’ll reach you. Do you promise to write as soon it does?

I’d better get inside, Mikiko. The breeze has really picked up now and the Bougainvillea looks like an out-of-place reclining Buddha resting on its side with only a broken elbow as support, neither breathing nor giving thought to such trivial matters as eternal love.

Yours,

XXX

MIKIKO THREE

art by Craig Hopson

words by Ramon Ramirez