Cold Blooded Moon
Jason poured himself another glass of Burgundy and tried to flush Jenna from his thoughts. The bloated, red moon glared at him from the claret coloured sky as he headed towards oblivion like dirty dishwater down a plughole.
And then, the sea of sleep enfolded him.
Dark dreams and worse memories lapped at the shore of his slumber until he awoke, drowning in crimson. Slices of sunlight cut through the blinds and slashed across his eyes, stinging like a knife blade.
Outside, seagulls screeched and cackled through the roaring wind as Jason closed his eyes and dissolved back into the night, resolving to never again drink red wine in bed.
The Man From Esperanto
So, you’re in Warsaw’s Esperanto district hiding from an obscenely large, bullet-headed man wielding a baseball bat. In a pizza oven.
And, to paraphrase the singer David Byrne, you might ask yourself –how the fuck did I get here?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once described London as being a ‘great cesspool into which the flotsam and jetsam of life are inevitably drawn’ and the same might reasonably be said of the world of TEFL teaching. A Teacher Of English as a Foreign Language can usually be described as either flotsam – perhaps a fresh faced young thing taking a break from University – or jetsam – the middle aged man with the inevitable drinking problem and enough skeletons in his closet to keep a palaeontologist happy for months.
And, I’ll make no bones about it, I fit rather snugly into the latter category.
Hence, me, three months earlier, hungover, in the back of a deodorant soaked taxi as it hurtled – like the Starship Enterprise on Warp Factor nine- down Warsaw’s John Paul 2nd Avenue, through the constellation of neon signs that marked out the sex shops, 24 hour pubs and kebab shops.
‘When the Pope died the whole street was lined with candles in tribute ,’ said the taxi driver, looking almost tearful.
‘Uh huh,’ I replied, as I fought back the acrid bile that burned my throat.
Before I’d come to Warsaw, I’d heard stories about ‘The Night Drivers’-amphetamine pumped young men who, each midnight, tied fishing wire around their necks, and the cars brakes, and then raced from one end of the city to the next. When I saw the cut marks on the taxi driver’s neck and his red, red eyes. I didn’t exactly have the Colgate ring of confidence.
I was relieved, then, when, minutes later, we pulled up outside The Palace of Culture and Science, Joe Stalin’s unwanted Neoclassical gift to the people of Warsaw.
I fished a handful of notes from my pocket and stuffed them into the driver’s hand before running to the toilets to puke.
‘Out with the old, in with the new,’ said a well-spoken, sandblasted voice from the next cubicle. ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us a looking at it through the bottom of a rather nice glass of gin and tonic, eh?’
‘The thing is, some people absolutely loath the place,’ said Sean Bradley, gesturing around The Palace’s Kafe Kulturalna. ‘The locals call it the Russian Wedding Cake. And, indeed, that’s what it looks like; a wedding cake plonked in the middle of the road.’ Sean was a drunk, dapper, nicotine stained example of jetsam who supplemented his teaching by chess hustling. He was one of the few expats who actually liked his chosen country of exile since most just complained about everything being so – foreign. Me? It was as good a place as any.
‘It’s an old song isn’t it?’ said Konrad AKA flotsam, a shiny, happy Canadian of Polish extraction, in Warsaw to find his roots. Aided and abetted by his family’s money, of course.
‘I’m sure it is. Someone left a cake out in the road,’ he sang.
I really wasn’t too sure if he was joking or not. Konrad was either as bright as a two watt bulb or a major piss taker. I just ignored him and took in the Kafe’s interior before we invariably passed the pint of no return.
I met her on a Monday and although my heart didn’t exactly stand still it certainly skipped a beat or two. Tall and with long black hair she flew into the bar like a murder of crows, swathed in scarves and wearing a long black raincoat which flapped in the breeze behind her.
‘Ding dong,’ I said a la Leslie Phillips.
‘Oh. That’s Daria. Better watch out for her,’ said Sean. ‘She’s married to Bronek Malinowski. You know him?’
I shook my head.
‘The second-hand clothes Baron,’ said Konrad.
‘Who and what?’ I said.
‘He’s a low level gangster who has Poles collect donated clothes left outside charity shops overnight in, say, London or Dublin and ship them back to Poland to sell. You can get some damn good schmutter, actually,’ said Sean, pointing to the Hugo Boss label in his jacket.
‘The only crime is getting caught,’ I said, shrugging.
‘Yes, but if a butterfly beats its wings in the forest a one handed man claps and a tree falls down.’ said Konrad.
I ignored him and tried to catch Daria’s eye. ‘No, really, she’s trouble,’ said Sean.
I walked over. ‘Would you like a drink?’ I said.
She turned and tried to focus on me, as if she were looking at a magic eye painting. She shook her head. ‘Best not,’ she said, with a fake sounding transatlantic accent. ‘I should hit the sack. I’ve hit the bottle enough for one night.’ Standing close, she looked me up and down, like was deciding on whether or not to buy a second-hand car.
‘You’ll do,’ she said dragging me out of the bar by my tie.
Someone or other once remarked that the reason that something became a cliché was because it was true. Certainly, getting caught in bed with a married woman by her musclebound husband was a cliché straight out of ‘Confessions Of A Plummer’s Mate.’ Unfortunately for me, however, it was also true.
The brainwave of escaping into to the kitchens of a nearby pizza restaurant and hiding in one of the ovens was, I would imagine, a one off. But in retrospect, originality, it probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.
So, the oven door slams and you’re sure you can smell gas and now you might reasonably ask yourself – how the fuck do I get out of here? And the probable answer is – you don’t.
Right In The Kisser
The old camera had been in a box for decades, the pictures never developed, and now with the prints in his hand his blood ran cold from looking at the images that came from it.
The photo – showing it’s all too familiar cast of characters – was a blast from Quentin’s past that was positively seismic.
Looking at the photo, it was like being in Dallas again. The motorcade was an uncoiled python creeping down the boulevard. The rich kid with the 5000 watt smile was waiving to the great unwashed like a Roman Emperor or a Messiah. His wife stood beside him and there was Quentin – crouched over on a grassy knoll, a high powered rifle in his hands.
Quentin’s arthritic hand shook as he stuffed the photo in a file with the others; the hypocritical hippy rock star outside the hotel in New York; the spoilt blond princess being hounded by a pack of baying paparazzi in France. They were all his work.
He’d hoped to retire and leave it all to the bad dreams but today he needed to do one last job.
This time it was personal.
Quentin slowly walked into the bedroom, the rifle behind his back.
‘Darling. It’s time for your shot,’ he said.
Life’s A Gas
Nicky Marshall was a mousy man with mousy hair –so mousy, in fact, he was repeatedly banned from the local pet shop for fear of perturbing the cats. He had barely been scuffed by the wear and tear of life – living each soporific day shielded from the world, not unlike John Travolta in the ‘Boy In the Plastic Bubble’ – until, one chilly Autumn, as the cloak of night draped itself over the city, and the moon bit into the sky like a fang, Nicky had one of those moments that are usually described as pivotal
He’d been driving back from a stamp collectors convention, feeling very pleased with himself about the talk that he’d given, entitled ‘Philately Will Get You Somewhere,’ when he saw a woman hitchhiking beneath a blinking street lamp. Her silhouette appeared and disappeared like warm breath on a cold window pane. To Nicky- who was so unlucky in love that he was thinking of becoming a professional card sharp – she was like a long limbed drink of water calling out to a thirsty man.
He opened the door; she seemed to ooze into the car like mercury. She was the whitest thing he’s ever seen.
’My name’s Nicky,’ he said. ‘I’m a palaeontologist. I’ll make no bones about it! What’s your name?’
’Nikki,’ she said.
’And what do you do?’ he said.
’I eat people,’
Nicky was coming into the city centre and as he hurtled through the constellation of neon signs and streetlamps, he started to feel weak and cold.
‘I eat souls,’ said the woman. ‘Those that have wasted their life. Failed to live and taste its fruit.’
Nicky was feeling weaker and colder. And he heard a sound, a shrill high pitched thing that chilled him more and more. She was singing
He felt his life draining away and there was nothing he could do unless…
Struggling, he accelerated the car, driving at full until he crashed into shop window.
The adrenalin rush was greater than anything he’s ever felt before and the woman’s singing seemed to fade, the car getting warmer until everything faded to black.
There was the sound of a woman’s voice. Nicky opened his eyes and his heart did a Buddy Rich drum roll when he saw a woman in white next to his bed.
‘So, you’re awake, Mr Marshall,’ said the nurse. ‘You’ve had a nasty accident and a bit of a shock so take it easy for …’
Nicky almost leapt from the bed and dressed in seconds.
’I’ve had enough of taking it easy,’ he said. ‘I’m off to the pub for a triple brandy and then … I’m going to Morocco. It’s good to be alive!’
As Nicky rushed into the street, still high on life, he didn’t notice the double decker bus that ended his last rapturous moments on earth.
All yarns © Paul D. Brazill.