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

A Game of Cricket in the Bombay Slums of My Head

SIX IN BOMBAY
Stepping out to watch the rain,
refrain
from screaming, an angry schoolboy
holding up a cricket bat
at an approaching storm,
slipping,
rolling
down the garbage hill –
let the heads roll,
let them roll on down this way –
I need the practice, anyway,
I’ve got four arms;
thunder it my way
down the cement pitch,
red stains on my clothes,
my skin is blue
you know my weakness;
bring it on
and don’t slip on your follow-through.
Under the floodlights,
our protective gear
paper-thin,
our wickets made of tin;
cans stacked
like midnight stupas
enlightened:
Tendulkar
is half-god.

Pub Religion

DRUNK RAINBOWS

His brow grows thoughtful at my question –
vexed, even,
if you take into consideration his high forehead,
now crumpled like the pages of a shithouse magazine.
Tasting the venom on his tongue –
forked, no doubt –
he mulls over a response by biting down on his bottom lip.
He downs his drink and belch-orders another whiskey and lime.

The bartender’s eyes flash brass-belled pleas,
Go home already, lads!
but there’s no way in the deepest pits of hell I’m heading home,
not before the man with the magazine frown responds.

A heavy-set barmaid senses trouble;
she’s wiping away –
authoritative strokes –
the impregnated smell of cigarette butts
and stale ale from empty tables.
The front door jerks open –
the wind, thin,
yet strong enough to breathe life into the dying embers,
smoking to light the fireplace with devilish fire tongues.

The silhouette of a man appears the entrance –
axe in hand –
shower curtains of rain behind a set of shoulders so broad,
he could be a walking brick shithouse
wearing stained magazine pages for clothes.

He shuts the door.
The windows rattle.

A raven,
nestled in the neck folds of the giant’s leather coat,
cocks its under the man’s long, matted locks;
the bird registers its new surroundings
with a flash of intelligence
in the black marble of its whip-smart eyes
before grooming its weather-greased feathers.

My drinking partner breaks the ice
by choking on a cube;
spewin’ and spillin’ the rest of his beverage
down the front of his shirt,
over the cherry wood counter.

His face is pale,
his lips the colour of dead maggots;
no need for him to reply to my query;
the answer I’m looking for walks toward us,
growing larger with each echo of his heavy boots,
hand crafted,
the finest crocodile leather money can buy,
shining like the silver of his whiskey flask
reflected in the raven’s eyes:

Bacchus is alive.

words by Ramon Ramirez

art by Craig Hopson

Cardboard Nightmares

GRIZZLY TIMES

Cardboard Nightmares

Looming in the shadows just before dawn
(when the buildings look bigger than they seem),
a boy rubs his eyes and forces a yawn –
it’s hard living a life built on cardboard dreams.

For some, like him, it’s difficult to cope;
no mother or father to look up to,
the only way out is a life of dope –
another day high, another day through.

Hanging in the shadows just after dusk
(when the buildings are monstrous beasts),
the smell of gun oil and leathery musk;
a man in a deer pelt is waiting to feast:

‘One kidney for dinner,
one to be sold,
and a little face mask,
just ‘cause it’s cold.’

 

art by Craig Hopson

words by Ramon Ramirez

Bamboo Girl

Bamboo Girl

Ecstasy rips through my being,
an alien cocoon
liquefied by cold waves of euphoria
washes over me
when I hear her footsteps.

Her feet sink into the Persian in the hallway.

The stray cats outside announce her arrival,
paw-tracing secret shadow-messages,
violent black strokes
that halves the moon, and it bleeds.

I start to hyperventilate and sit up.
The stairs creak.

Her bamboo leaf green silk kimono
slips,
slithers,
green mambas
over her ankles and knees.

Seeping through the keyhole, a single breath
silver-fresh air,
a husky ‘Konbanwa’.

The doorknob rattles open;
her hair
incense smoke slow dancing
in abandoned forest shrines.

Shiny slits for eyes illuminate the room;
a century-second passes,
mountain mist flows
over her breasts and hips
like fantastic waterfalls.

She opens her legs.
I smell her forest.

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