Friday, August 24, 2012

Straight Up

Here's another short piece. This time it's the start of something longer.

Straight Up by Steve Dempsey

I shove past the woman with the push-chair and cross the road, my road.

“I've got a kiddy here, you fuck,” she screams after me. Yes, you do have a kiddy there, you worthless piece of human flotsam, and another on the way by the look of your distended poorly faked Versace hoodie. And I see from the shrivelled roll-up between the nicotine-stained fingers and the bottle of White Lightning in the plastic bag hanging from the handlebars, that you are passing on the misery to the next generation. You stand there caterwauling, with your faded Girl Power t-shirt, helpless, pointless and useless to me.

A brown BMW tries to cut in front of me but I keep going. The driver rolls down his window to complain but I point to my ear-buds and he throws his hands up in disgust. The car behind him sounds its horn impatiently. I'm not listening to any music. I just wear these so I can ignore people. The miserable, the angry, the whiny with their boo-hoo-hoo, the powerless. They don't mean anything. They gave up any power for a vapid life, settling for the easy road of mediocrity. I haven't. I took my chance, I own this place.

And here's something more to my liking, a woman well into her seventies getting on to the bus. She heaves at her tartan shopping trolley as youngsters crowd past her.

“Would you like a hand with that?” I ask.

“That would be lovely. You are such a nice young man,” she responds. Her mistake, she never asked my price. I never do anything for free. It's one of the rules. I take two years of her life. Not from her future life, those years will be arid, devoid of the spark that interests me. No, I take 1953 and 1954. The Coronation and Hilary on top of Everest certainly, but there's more meat to those bones. Frankie Laine at the Palladium in '54 when the old woman, Dora, was 19. Screaming with all the other girls and then a quick fumble in Argyll Street on the way back to the tube with Gerald, just about to go off on his National Service. They necked all the way back to Parsons Green but Dora got cold feet and went home giddy, heart pounding, juices flowing for Gerald, but still a nice girl. Oh yes, plenty for me to use.

I get to Starbucks and grab a seat in the window, opposite Amanda. She doesn't look up from her Financial Times.

“I saw what you did there,” she says, not liking it one little bit.

“Man's gotta eat,” I say, “We don't all get our buzz from misprints in the newspapers. The FT? Isn't that a little dry for you? I thought the Grauniad was more your cup of typos.”

“Bloody spell checkers. It used to be so easy but even the Guardian has upped its game. Thank heavens for the grocer's apostrophe. It'll be a sad day when that becomes good grammar.” A tall macchiato appears on the table in front of me.

“Ah, thanks SĹ‚oneczko!” I beam at the barista, who waves and retreats behind the coffee bar.

“When did you learn Polish?” asks Amanda. She folds up the paper and drops it onto the pile on the floor.

“You have to know how to talk to people. I've never paid for anything in here.”

Amanda pulls a face, “Fuck off. Do you think I do?”

It sounds as if she's about to get serious so before we have all three baristas jumping through hoops and balancing blueberry muffins on their noses, I say, “Of course not. Now, can we get down to business?”

I take a sip of my coffee and sit back. Amanda is rather old school. She has a sense of decency that stems from her strict Jamaican schooling. She got sent back there for her junior years and then came back to the UK for university. Or at least that was the plan, but somewhere along the way she picked up this eye for details. When she finds a mistake--it has to be accidental, she can't just scrawl out bad spellings on any old piece of paper--she can take that, correct it and apply it to something else. Her bank account for example. So she's never short of a bob or two; it's real Armani for Amanda.

Today she's slumming it a bit with me in Lordship Lane. This is my territory, East Dulwich, hers is Dulwich Village. Of course any suburb of London calling itself a village is nice, in a not-much-change-out-of-two-million-quid­-for-a-small-house kind of way. It's not that East Dulwich isn't fine too. It poshed itself up no end in the last property boom when the Yuppies were all looking for the next Islington or Clapham. But it's still only got one generation of slap and won't be invited to any of the swanky parties yet.

So down to business. We have a boundary dispute. Between galderes, that's Anglo-Saxon for singers, callers or enchanters, home turf is a serious matter. You have to have it clear of other influences for the galdor, that's a spell, to work properly. We can do minor things anywhere but the for the bigger stuff, you need clear space between you and the next guy. You might think the post code areas in London are rather random but they're not. There's exactly one of us in each of them. I'm SE22 and Amanda is SE21. SE24, Herne Hill, is this black dog thing that we tend to avoid. Brixton, SE9 is a tree. I'm not going to do the whole list. You get the idea. The trouble is, every now and then the bloody government or the local authority moves the borders and it can serious mess with a galdere's head when he or she is busy with a galdor. Amanda must have something big on at the moment or she wouldn't be bothering with me, so I can probably make some capital out of this.

“So you remember that time, when I totally pulled your arse out of the fire?” she says, so then again perhaps it's not my lucky day after all.

“Er, no.” I reply, because I truly don't remember it at all.

“I thought this might happen, so I had you write this.”

She hands me a piece of paper, written in my handwriting and signed by me. It simply says, “Amanda saved you. You owe her one.” There is nothing on the back. The paper does not smell funny, nor does it appear to have been changed. I have a close look because Amanda's not so trustworthy when it comes to writing, but it seems kosher.

“And you're not going to tell me what this is about?”


“Why's that?”

“Can't say.”

I think about this for a while, have some more coffee.

“Fuck it,” I say, “What do you want me to do?”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Abandoned, False

Here's a story which wasn't accepted for publication. It's rather disjointed, purposefully, but probably too much, and the schtick is very creative writing class. But hey, I enjoyed the process, if not the outcome.

Abandoned, False by Steve Dempsey
The Doppler effect is the change in length of a wave for an observer moving relative to its source; it shortens and increases in pitch as the source approaches, lengthens as the wave recedes.

Christian leans back from the window and coughs into his handkerchief; on the platform, Mathilde his wife of thirteen years is quietly drying her eyes as the governess leads the quiet children away.

That the Vienna Academy should have sided with the vindictive Petzval, in spite of the evidence, is beyond Doppler's comprehension; he coughs again and fights for breath, blood spots on his chin.

As the train passes through Carinthian meadows scattered with early snows, the ringing cowbells rise and fall in pitch, a constant reminder of the failure of Doppler's appeal to the Academy.

Back in Vienna, Mathilde tells the boys that they must pray for their father's good health to return whilst Thilde, the eldest child, diligently practises her scales on the piano.

The train approaches Venice, puffing across the recently built railway viaduct, over the grey waters of the lagoon and past the abandoned island of San Seconda to St Luca.

As Christian disembarks all the bells of all the churches in the city ring in a great mocking cacophony of sound; he nearly gets back on the train.

The porter unloads Christian's two trunks from the train and they are transferred to a gondola which soon moves off into the traffic on the Grand Canal.

It is a grey morning but women hang out washing on poles, gondoliers sing and call to each other: Venice is alive and awash with sound.

Now off the main canal and into smaller and smaller waterways, the slap of the wake against the buildings echoes as if in a cavern.

Doppler sits under the felze, his winter coat drawn close, exhausted by the days of constant travel, the rocking of the boat no comfort.

Out again in the broad canal, a river of gold in the evening sunlight, Christian imagines he is being ferried up to heaven.

As the night draws in, they pull past the Piazza San Marco and along side his hotel on the Riva degli Schiavoni

Servants are summoned and between them they carry the exhausted Doppler up the steps, into the hotel and to his bed.

Some days later Christian is sitting up in bed writing a long letter, lit by a shaft of pale sunlight.

Mathilde, you must go see Unger, he is on my side, and I must know who still supports me.”

I will continue the work, the mathematics is correct so experimental proof is just a matter of time”

He blots the ink and all the small spots of blood which have appeared on the paper.

Christian looks at the letter then adds, “Love, always, to you and to our dear children.”

He dates it Christmas Eighteen Fifty Two and gives it to the servant to post.

When the letter arrives in Vienna, Mathilde, scared, immediately boards a train to Venice.

Christian's health has declined over the winter; he has not worked since Advent.

His face, always narrow, is now gaunt; a deep shock to Mathilde.

She nurses and strives to distract him from his recent disappointments.

Christian will only talk about the Academia and their pigheadedness.

He sees himself on trial, over and over again.

Mathilde gently cradles his head in her arms.

My brave man, my love,” she says.

He bows his head and smiles.

He is calmer now, accepting.

The academy passes judgement.

Opinion is unanimous.

Abandoned, False.”

Saved, True”

Christian eyes open.

Everything is obvious now.

Christian is free at last.

His spirit expands, encompassing the room.

It swells out of the hotel window.

The canals, the boats, the people all succumb.

Nothing of this earth can hold it back now.

It shoots out over the lagoon and across the viaduct.

The entire Austrian Empire now belongs to Christian, the Academy too.

Petty quarrels, human preoccupations mean nothing to Christian now; he is everything.

The unconfined spirit is an ever deepening base note, far beyond human perception.

It joins with the sound of the universe, echoing back and forth in time.

It is there in every endeavour, a truth proven by experiment, for ever and ever.