Friday, October 31, 2008


From the archives of the Hallmark Greeting Card Company, finally released under the Freedom Of Information Act: here is a rejected internal from Hallmark's short-lived and controversial Ultra-Specifics Card Range:

Dearest Pugface, grown-up now
But it seems only weeks
Though time is a burden
Like your neck and your cheeks

Thursday, October 30, 2008


And so when the clock came she wasn't ready and all she heard was voices from the front porch hidden from her by a thick glass door so what they said sounded like megaphone instructions from a sports day across the river where the water carried tone perfectly but not details of what the sounds were and so even though she was expecting the clock she wasn't quite sure it really was the clock and she had been attacked in her own home before nearly ten years before certainly but it was a fear that never really left her so it caused some deep-held confusion to bubble up or burst or do whatever it had to do to appear suddenly clearly in such a real way before her that the men may as well have been holding her down right then forcing a sock into her mouth and telling her to shut the fuck up shut the fuck up over and over even when she was quiet so quiet not even letting out the sob that hacked at her throat and that was the biggest injustice or true unfairness that they did not even have any goddamn rules any sense of fairness even though she did just as they asked and it is this fear that causes her body to freeze now even though the two men on her porch are just here to deliver a grandfather clock from an antiques shop she had bought two days before and they really were very nice men because she had spoken to them when she bought the clock and they offered to deliver it even thought they did not usually deliver and perhaps they did this because she did not have a car or maybe it was because she really loved the clock so much that she had to buy it even though she knew she had no way to get it to her house and that was real love or a real need or whatever you really want to call it because she was willing to own it even though she knew she would never see it again.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Some time ago, although not so long ago that things looked very different to the way they are now, there lived a family and, in particular, a young boy in the family, whose name is not important to the story, but if you should want to give him a name, why not something memorable, like Agar or Gaboo. These were not the sort of names people really ever had, despite what you might think, but if it helps you to place some "perspective" on this story, then go right ahead and assume that the world in which the boy lived contained swords or stone wheels or spacecraft.

Nonetheless, Agar (which is what we shall call him as there have been no objections nor better suggestions thus far) was an inquisitive boy, and was forever seeking answers to questions that no one had ever really expected there to be answers for. This made him something of a distraction to others, as he was forever seeking counsel on such matters as the whereabouts of his knees when he stood up, or where bats went during the day or crows at night. Indeed, Agar was seen—in the eyes of many who encountered him—as something of a nuisance.

While some of his questions could be brushed off with vague pseudo-science or folksy homilies, one particular question of Agar's vexed—above all others—all who were asked it. It concerned, quite simply, the act of life, something in which all the inhabitants of Agar's town immersed themselves in quite without worrying about its component details. What is life? Agar would ask, his little face scrunched almost into a question mark (an aspect of Agar's physiognomy that most people found particularly irksome: that someone could facially manifest punctuation was almost more offensive than the question itself).

What is life? The more people Agar asked, the more vague and diluted the answer got. When he had exhausted the intellectual capacity of his own (admittedly mentally exhausted) family, he moved on to neighbours, to elders, to prominent members of the community. None could provide an answer. When, after even the leader of the town—a charismatic woman had assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the borough on the back of a campaign that stressed her proven and hard-earned "innate genius"—failed to provide Agar with even a semblance of an answer (the best she could manage was a sort of glottal groan that those around could only approximate as the word "hair", which they were sure wasn't right), a fund was announced to enable Agar to travel to the far side of the country where there dwelt a wise old man, whose wisdom, while only anecdotal, was at least sufficiently geographically removed to enable the townsfolk a well-earned rest from Agar's annoying, scrunched-up face and all his whiny questions.

Before the day was up, the funds were raised, and it was agreed that Agar should begin his journey without fail. He left with the good wishes of all those in the town, and reminded that if he wanted to stop anywhere along the way, well, why not? There was nothing like taking a few days (weeks, months) to idle along and enjoy the scenery. And so Agar left, with a bright flame of curiosity burning deep in his belly, determined to reach the wise man and solve the mystery that had driven him forward at the core of his life for so long. But what were these mysteries when the greatest question—life—remained unsolved? He strode off with a solid purpose and an enviable speed.

And what of Agar, and the wise man? Did they ever meet? Did they discover the meaning of life? Well, that–as they say—is the question.

Nearly three months passed, and no one in the village heard tell of any news from Agar or the wise old man. Life in the town had become quieter, certainly, since Agar's departure, and people no longer stayed home in the afternoons for fear of running into him. Whole families strode out confidently in the late summer sun, letting their heads relax, with nothing but a warm breeze to fill them. The leader of the town took to jogging, waving at all the contented faces she passed and soon the main street was full of flowers, tended to by simple folk with simple dreams. Everyone smiled. After a year, Agar was almost forgotten. Only his family had the occasional moment where they would sense some small part of the world had shifted out of place. But they had, by this time, formed a dance troupe, so they were usually too busy to start thinking.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


He has no friends, really. Just people who keep him occupied. He describes himself as hedonistic, because it sounds clever, and it means he gets away with almost anything. He’s not strictly handsome, but striking: in the way a good haircut can frame an oddly-shaped face.

He’s stacked against a bar, an outside bar that clings to the edge of an inside wall. Those around him listen. Like he’s a cash machine, like they need their symptoms of withdrawal. Like they have the privilege of his presence. He’s drunk, shape-shifting drunk. Soft and friendly, warm blood. His opinions are salutations to better times, a glimpse into the life he says he’s had. The well-cut jacket, the black shirt.

You only have to own a few things, he says out loud, but they’d better look damn good. He’s got a theory, you see, that you only ever have to hint. Imagination does the rest. Other peoples’, and your own.

He’s got a thick ring on his little finger, and a story hanging off it in flypaper strips. It’s about a night in a foreign city: a throbbing marketplace, spices and smells, a pair of charcoal eyes. Heat like a king-hit, mosquito nets and midnight sweat. Dawn with coffee and a salt-boiled balcony. Then the wistful look drains from his face, like his memories have returned to a bottom drawer. But he’s drawn them in, and they’re hooked, and they buy him another drink.

Every sentence is a new beginning: a seam of words from a sewing machine mouth. He knows what sounds impressive. When he leans forward, he shows his scars. Mistimed shiny lines: skin worms in the dim light. There’s a patch of razor burn on his throat that could be a vampire bite. But he’s a man with canines. To rip apart the meat.

He sees the one he wants tonight. She’s alone. She’s cruelly beautiful. She’s the only one looking nowhere near him. Sitting by herself at the end of the bar, head turned aside. He wonders how her body folds up. He wonders where her creases are. He wonders how to break her stony skin. Because this is desire. Always wanting more. Not the light, but from where the light begins. Because he sees the chance for another conquest. He sees the chance to take another piece of the world.

And he moves his eyes like a soft sound. Like a wet tear, cutting through nothing. He moves his shark circles, his luscious ellipses. He moves them past her body. He drinks her in; he feasts her hinted shapes and shadows.

She sees him now, and she moves her feline eyes. To rip apart the meat. His urge grows with her gaze, and he feels the swelling of his blood. In his eyes, in his groin. Unusual, this lack of control. This desperation. This weak-willed beggar who’s breaking his ribs.

She turns away, and he begins to falter. He loses his focus: a speck of mascara on her cheekbone. He’s stumbling, as she moves the skin below her dress. As her inner layer shifts away. As she gets up from her seat. He can sense he’s missed his chance. It’s nothing, but it’s everything, like losing a memory. A moment of promise gone to waste. And no one will ever know, but her. She is his fault line of frailty.

So he turns back to the bar, back to the open slates of more receptive strangers. He leans in close to their open faces, and he starts to tell a story of decadence and scar tissue.

But he knows now. She knows now. That he lives, he breathes, he exists. Underneath all of this, he still shivers in the cold. In his head, like everyone else’s, is the distant rumble of death. A fear of the unseen. She knows he is ferociously fallible.

He stares at the light sheen of liquid coating the bar, at the wet patch of foam around his elbow. He tracks his head for far-flung memories. Exotic, syringe-sharp.

He should find her, somewhere out in the night. He should let her know he doesn’t care. But he doesn’t. He takes a drink from an anxious hand, and moves himself closer to the warm fire of false familiarity. He opens his mouth. They wait.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


With the narrow-in narrow-out of vision and splendid conversation, I keep myself regularly upright, much as a ship with swaying ballast combats the vagaries of the open ocean. Slow-dancing down a taxi-line, slow-grinding to the shoulders and hips of a dancing body-mass. Smiling out into the banished night. No stars above me. A list of my planets: Earth, Neon, Fluro, Halogen, Filament.

Friday, October 24, 2008


The rivulets raced each other down the outside of the window. They went smoothly over their well-traced paths, gathering other drops on their descent: recruiting troops for gravity’s march. If it had been dusty, like it used to be, rain would be a welcome novelty. Like it used to be: dust caked like a skin, water tapping like a sculptor’s hammer. Dry earth stripped, old layers left surprised and raw.

But no more. This whole town was a living thing, too fluid for bones, too transient for identity. The rain came, and no revelations came with it, just the smooth flow of one thing to another. She let her focus relax, and she saw the rain on the glass, then her own face. It was something she knew too well. Features that slid into background noise. Her well of feelings.

A bowl of old soup lay untouched on her bedside cabinet. The unstable atmosphere had lent pockmarks to its surface, clotting it into something volcanic. She had meant to empty it, but it had remained, like an old and stubborn thought. Her legs felt chalky under her nightdress; when she moved them together they sniffed like corduroy. All around her, this desiccative cold.

She longed for the mosquito-heat of long ago, spiralling like smoke, reaching under clothes to tickle your skin and sweat. Heat that was bright and joyous, the celebration of an endless season.
She licked her lips, and pressed her forehead to the window. The glass gave in with a small bump. She closed her eyes, and the water on the shore came to her, the shore that washed beneath her window. Her thoughts were rippled tide foam. Something would change, she thought. Something must.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Taisun Smith was reading a book, his head wedged up on a pillow, light swaying out from a long thin lamp above his bed. He blew a slow puff of air from his mouth, as he was wont to do in times of frustration. His eyes strained with the words; they seemed nothing more than a black-and-white steeplechase. He tried to make sense from the shapes—the sticks and bowls and dots thrown together—but he couldn't. He let his gaze fall through the lines of print, sightline dropping like a pinball through the gaps, jostling and rolling until it clattered to a halt at the foot of the page, resting on the 2 printed in the bottom right hand corner. He stared at the fine weave of the paper, imagining the tiny patchwork of fibres that held it together. He looked over at his wall clock. Three minutes thirty—this was how long the book had retained his interest. A new record. He closed the book with a familiar snap, a noise that echoed like a laser off his bare white walls.

Taisun Smith lived in an accommodation complex known to the outside world as Ivory Towers Apartments. When the outside world first hears the name, it immediately conjures up visions of sleek, modern studios, filled to the polished rafters with genuine intelligentsia, imagines deep discussions on rooftops with vodka martinis, polished glass surfaces and private gyms. When the outside world finally does lay eyes on Ivory Towers Apartments, however, its premonitions are brutally shattered. The premonitions are so brutally shattered, in fact, that they never really recover; they end up in a dusty bar somewhere shouting at their shoes, wondering where it all went wrong.

Ivory Towers Apartments failed to live up to its name in a myriad of ways. The colour of the building, far from being ivory, had taken up residence somewhere between misty grey and mouse vomit (the latter being a hue with which residents were inevitably acquainted). There were no Towers to speak of either, just a large, oblong brick building that seemed to have a very strained relationship with the terms gravity and mortar. Right at the zenith of this architectural anomaly, Taisun Smith had made his home. Apartment 103.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



I left the cabin at sunrise on March 19, 1878, never to return (except half an hour later, after I discovered I had forgotten my hat). I walked some ten miles to the train station, whereupon I boarded a steam engine to New York. Of course, train travel in those days was not the luxury it is today. I shared a cabin with no less than 30 other men, and we were provided with only three chairs.

We all agreed to play a game of poker to settle the matter of who would get the seats. We used our neckties as gambling chips, a decision that roused consternation among some players (a tie-less neck, of course, was thought to represent skulduggery among the lower classes). Luckily, one thing the train service wasn’t short on was cards, and the 40 packs that were provided to each of us as we boarded serviced our needs more than adequately.

As we began to play, I realised that I had never played poker in my life. I began to struggle against the 30 others, who I was sure had all played the game before. Just as I was about to curse my isolated upbringing, a young brown-skinned man of about my age, sitting next to me, reached over and turned my cards up the right way.

“Thank you sir,” I told him. “How very kind of you to help a novice such as myself.”

“Not a problem,” said the man in a peculiar Irish-African accent of a sort I had not heard before. “Glad to help out a fellow who looks down on his luck.”

I must admit I may have looked a little more roguish than the other men in the cabin, owing to the fact that I was wearing my father’s best suit, which had accompanied my father through the bear attack that had so tragically taken his life.

The young man introduced himself to me, and I to him, then him to I and me to him. His name, as far as I could tell from him telling me, was Patrick Ollinger. Unfortunately for Patrick and I, the poker game was won by three finely dressed gentlemen of approximately the same age and fine-dressedness as Patrick and I weren’t.

We wandered the train for half an hour or so, looking for an empty carriage, eventually settling on the luggage compartment at the end of the train. I sat on a paisley carpetbag, while Patrick chose a large wooden trunk, covered with velvet.

“Patrick,” I asked him. “Why are you going to New York of all places?”

“I’m going to stay with my aunt,” he said. “My parents can’t afford to look after me, now that they’ve bought another house.”

“How many houses do they own?”


“No wonder they can’t afford you.”

Patrick explained that he was travelling to New York to stay with his grandmother, who currently only had one house. I told him the story of my life so far, up until the point that I had told him about my life so far. Patrick kindly invited me to stay with him in New York, as accommodation was one eventuality I hadn’t prepared for.

The train arrived at Central Station by the next evening, during which time Patrick and I had become firm friends. We were standing some minutes on the platform before we realised we had in fact taken our temporary seating with us. Having no luggage of our own, we agreed to hold on to the carpetbag and the trunk until such time as the owners came to claim them and we couldn’t hide them quickly enough.

Neither of us had had anything to eat since leaving Vancouver, so we made our way to a cafeteria opposite and diagonally across and along a little bit then around the corner and up the road from the station. The menu contained many strange foods we had never heard of. Unperturbed, I ordered myself a serving of Slack Jacks and Patrick a Flappy Jim.

“Where does your Grandmother live?” I asked.

Patrick reached into his overcoat and pulled out a smaller overcoat. Inside was a slip of paper with the address on it.

“17th and 24th Street,” he said.

“I thought she only had one house,” I said. “Surely she can’t live on two streets?”

Before Patrick got a chance to answer, our food arrived.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Uncovered only recently, inside a small suitcase at the bottom of a lake, in a private seal sanctuary in Holland, is the unpublished memoir of writer, explorer and bon vivant E.H. Scholes. The news of this manuscript's appearance—a manuscript long thought lost or destoryed—has both excited and aggravated dormant dust allergies amongst senior literary critics. At the behest of the estate of H.E. Scholes (now a subsidiary of Munch n' Scurry Food Solutions Pty Ltd), excerpts from the manuscript are to be published here intermittently, under the expert guidance of editor C.M. Currie, who has painstakingly translated the entire text both into French and back out again. No one is really sure why. Here, then, is the first installment.

+ + +


It all began in 1864, in a small log cabin in the wintry valleys of Vancouver, Canada. I was born into a small but loyal family consisting of—at various stages—my mother and father, and identical twin siblings, differing only in age, appearance and often gender. My brother and sister were hailed as quite a medical miracle, considered the only twins ever to be born 4 years apart. What was even more incredible was that I was born in these intervening 4 years. My Mother always considered this “a small blessing in between a great miracle”.

I was named Harold Erdwin Scholes Grosvenor, but this was changed to Harold Erdwin Scholes-Grosvenor when my Great Aunt Maurice presented me with a hyphen as a christening gift. The hyphen was subsequently removed, however, when it was discovered that it was infected with a tropical disease that eventually spread to the Grosvenor. Along with removing my surname, it was thought best that my Christian names should be abbreviated to prevent further infection. I was known after this as H.E. Scholes.

My Father, E.H. Scholes, was also the victim of hyphen sickness as a young child. In fact, the only male member in the history our family not afflicted by the debilitating disease was my great cousin John Louis Scholes Grosvenor, who was affectionately known as “J.L.”.

Even though I struggled with hyphen sickness in my young life, it was soon recognised that I was already far smarter than other boys half my age. I had an early affinity for numbers and was delighted when my father presented me with a complex wooden abacus he had crafted me for my third birthday. I would sit for hours—counting the three pine nuts that my father had strung masterly between two other pine nuts—lost in the mathematical wonder. My father’s carpentry skills did not end with counting tools, however. He had built our original cabin with his bare hands, before, on my mother’s advice, switching to wooden logs. When my mother was pregnant with Yves, my older brother, my father built a fireplace to keep her warm. Unfortunately, his revolutionary design failed to incorporate a chimney. Or, for that matter, a place for the fire to sit. After the flames had died down, my parents built a new house, and it has remained standing (albeit leaning slightly to the left) ever since.

It was 1873, and I was nine, when I first picked up a pen. It felt nice in my hand, and I used it to gut fish caught in the lake near our cabin before my mother suggested I use it to write. Of course, in those days, pens were very much in their infancy. The one I used took three hours to warm up, and could only be used for five minutes at a time before it overheated. Being an academic child, it would often take me five minutes to think up what I would write once the pen had warmed up. As a result, my early pieces consisted mainly of single words. Among my favourite initial works was a piece I entitled Tree. Here it is, for the first time in print, unabridged and in its entirety.

“Tree” by H.E. Scholes, March 19, 1873


I showed this poem to my father one fine spring morning. He began to read it as I played in the snow and by mid-afternoon, when he had finished it, he called me over.

“Young man,” said my father. “This is a work of pure genius.”

I must admit, it was the first time in my life I had entertained thoughts of my own incredible intellectual and artistic capabilities—I had spoken of them often enough, but it was the first time I had thought of them. My father, recognising my talents, immediately bought me three more pens, so that I could write at a rate quadruple that of my previous efforts. This produced some of my finest early poems, such as “That Tree Over There”, “It’s A Fine Morning” and my famous unfinished work, “There’s Snow On My”. Not many people know this, but another poem of this period, “Abacus Oh Abacus Mine” was made into a stage play by Eugene O’Neill, some years later, to limited critical acclaim.

Sadly, in 1879, just as my writing talents were beginning to blossom, my father passed away after a painful battle with cancer and a wild bear. I took it as I sign I should move on.

Monday, October 20, 2008


1. Mulberry Blues
2. (Got Them) Mulberry Blues
3. Down on Mulberry Farm
4. Red Fingers, Black Heart
5. That Ain't No Gooseberry Sir!
6. Mulberry Blues (Radio Edit)
7. (Can't Get No) Himalayan Mulberries
8. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Mulberry
9. 'Taint Nobody's Business If I Eat A Silkworm
10. Papa's Other Mulberry Tree

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The sand was winter tight, so dry it crackled. Jack pushed his boot through it, and the grains rolled away like old breadcrumbs. He wedged the crab tub between his stomach and the old freezer and with his free arm opened the lid. He hoisted the tub into the freezer and cringed as it banged against the side. He imagined the crabs bumping against one another. He closed the freezer lid. His fingers struggled with the shiny bronze padlock. It was like trying to do up a trouser button with only one hand.

Eventually, he heard the metallic click, and let the lock chain go. It hit the side of the freezer, making a sound like one of those West Indian drums. Jack had known a Jamaican who played them once—he had hammered tiny dints in two mixing bowls from the kitchen and played them with sticks. The sound sweet but powerful. Restrained, that was the word. The Jamaican had been allowed to keep the bowls, and he would play them some nights when the curfew lapsed. The echoes had sweetened the harsh walls, given voice to a silent despair that sometimes overtook you too easily.

Jack breathed the free air. Although it had been years, he still remembered to take his blessings. A pair of butcher birds chortled together down behind the fence. The breeze had picked up again. The mistletoe—those strange waterfalls high in the weeping gums—whistled and rushed in the wind. Tarden stood for a moment before wandering back around the side of the house. He wondered if he should change out of shorts to go down to the dam later on. It would be getting pretty cold down by the water.

Jack had caught by far the best catch of the morning. It was a daily ritual: the crabbers meeting in the main street to compare hauls. Even the blokes from the trawlers sometimes turned up, with their shiny utes and monogrammed polo shirts. They were doing just enough, that was what Jack thought. Just enough to keep the buyers happy. As far as they were concerned, winter was a dead time of year. The truth was, winter just meant you had to work harder—it didn’t mean you could slack off.

Jack had proudly shown his morning catch. Healthy, big, strong crabs. He could feel the other crabbers’ envy like the heat from a hot road. Jack's haul would fetch a good price, but it was about more than that—it was about pride. When they huddled up at the tea van, or down the pub, and the stories started pouring out about this catch or that—the ridiculous tales of survival, courage and stamina—Jack could hold his head high, above it all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Helen returned home one day with an impossibly cute fire engine red scoop-framed Malvern Star with thick white mudguards and a glitter-encrusted chain cover. She wheeled it nonchalantly through the lounge room and into the backyard. She had deliberately waited—it was obvious—until Antiques Roadshow had come on to wheel the bike through. That way, there was no way anyone could miss it. And of course, all heads turned. She had taped an old footy card (St Vinnie's, 10 for 20 cents) to the frame so it clicked against the spokes; the thick unshaven face of a 70s league player strobed with a leering grin. And Karin cracked first, squealing with delight at the bike, only seconds before Helen disappeared down the back steps. Helen turned her head and flashed a grin that said, I know, I know.

They congregated soon, in the backyard, at the traditional broken picnic table. Helen was there, reading Perec, the gorgeous, gleaming bike leant casually against the back fence. Val came out with two bottles of cider. Tell me where you got it, she said, and you get to drink. Helen smiled, pushing back her reading glasses. Secret Society of Pimped Rides, she said cryptically. Val kicked a half buried tennis ball with her bare foot and it rolled limply towards Helen's seat. And there's more where that came from, said Val, if you don't fess up. The first pink stripes of summer louvered out above them. The fizz of Bulmer's, the gentle smell of evening grass.

Friday, October 17, 2008


When he was rejected from the police force, the first thing Chance did was go out and run straight into someone's fist. Some big, pug-faced Englishman, half-drowned in watery lager, swaying at the bar with a certain colonial certainty, wet-lipped and ever-ready for confrontation. Chance charged straight at the Englishman's barrel chest, setting him back on his heels and covering them both with beer. The Englishman swung instantly, as Chance hoped he would, connecting two pig-knuckles right into the soft pillow of Chance's left eye.

Chance fell to the floor, although he still had his balance, and let the Englishman land his Adidas-clad easy blows. Stomach, shoulder, thigh, stomach. He welcomed the pain, let it wash him away from his normal worried thoughts. Enjoyed it so much that he returned the next night, limping, peering through the rid-tinged slits of his eyes, throwing his body—punctured lung flapping inside him—into another Englishman, another spray of beer, another wave-set of fearless, pure pain.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Hand over hand. That’s the way it had always been. Small increments producing the greatest results. Jack leant his weight back, feet bracing against the rocks. His feet held firm on the slimy surface, as they always did. The foreshore flapped some way behind him, the day’s tide building. He knew other crabbers came out after him, ghosting across the sand, bodies wrapped thickly in layers, minds of efficiency and profit. But he was here before them all, hauling up the pots, ancient traps that no one else used now. The brass latches, polished and gleaming, the muck and the mire and the tell-tale shadows in between. The joy of the morning’s first catch, feeling the weight as the pots heaved onto the rocks, guessing and knowing what he had caught.

The first pot had to be a fiver, a good weight too. The seawater streamed over Jack’s ankles as he unlatched the lid. He threw away some weed, some nippers clinging to the bars. He splashed some water on the rest—five crabs, like he had known, healthy morning- fellows with shells like umber iron. He picked the top crab up with his starfish grip and it fought like a horse’s heart. This one had struggled and won, thought Tarden. They always came to him, the strong ones, the ones with golden mercury in their veins, the turbid-water spinners, the muscled sand-movers, the lithe underwater poets. No one else knew how to catch them.

Three more pots came up, and then the sun: a grey egg poaching in the white morning sky. Sunrises in winter were nothing but one blank piece of paper placed before another. Not that Jack minded much. His eyes strayed only to the sea, to the dam and the creeks. Less light was all there was; he didn’t feel the cold. Of course, the other crabbers started later each day in winter, complaining about the weather, spending more time drinking. Their bones hadn’t moved as much as Jack’s, not by a long way.

He waded the four pots back with him to the shore. His yellow four-wheel drive stood nearby, with tubs of chilled water waiting in the back. He opened up the car and placed the crabs—nineteen in all—in their new plastic homes, sealing the lids shut. He took a bottle of water and sat in the driver’s seat, squinting his eyes against the glowing glare. The gentle tapping started, as the crabs began to test their new surroundings. They never grew frantic—never—and this was what Tarden liked. They were accepting creatures. He never really liked to think about their future. He caught them as a profession and a passion, and hated knowing they would end up dead.

He studied the tip of his index finger. He noticed that the side of it, near the square edge of his fingernail, was translucent. It was the same with the sea, as he looked out onto it. The tops of the waves could well have been invisible, were it not for the colour beneath.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


We shuffle down together, our feet bathed in chiffon tape. Down white hallways and into white corners. You have your hand around my shoulder, but it seems to have no weight. I ask you if it's all going well so far, and you nod your head. That smile, lifting up your cheeks, like all that matters in the world, and whatever's beyond it, is my concern. Whatsoever is beyond it, you say, correcting me gently.

Grammar is strange here, I say.

Maybe just old fashioned, you reply.

And what's all this, I ask, waving my hands around my head.

You mean the atmosphere? Mostly nitrogen.

No, I say. This music.

Ah, that's Beethoven. Fifth Symphony. A great work.

Beethoven ended up here?

Most Hindus do.

I'm about to speak, when I realise I don't have to. I laugh, and you dip your hat to me. Because you have a hat, all of a sudden. And so do I.

Very nice, I say.

And you reply, That's nothing, really. Not in the scheme of things.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


They attacked the windows first, because they were devilish smart. One of them had a diamond ring, shrieking a circle against the glass before another smashed his hand through, protected from cuts by a thick lace handkerchief. We had enough fuel left to burn through the first few of them, but not much beyond that. Relentless, they had become.


I looked one in the eye today. That was all it took. A chance collision of vision, and he was after me. I felt his hands in my sides before I had even taken my first step. Sharp, malnourished fingers, all that directionless energy, funneled up against me. In emerging rain, I was beaten, unremittingly and lyrically, only given reprieve as a rainbow appeared mercifully in the sky. I turned over on the concrete, my bruised body already swelling, filling.


Television, now, was a blank friend. Radio only spoken rhythms, cadences that lodged behind your eyes, straining like crowbars. Even the sky was awash with their damn balloons. Newspapers defaced, cut up and left to die. Government awash with the meek reconfigurations of policy. They have given in without a word. Crushed with easy, empty threats.


I am the last one left, or so it seems. Now the people I knew—the brave souls I fought with—are standing on street corners, reading from hand-bound booklets. I spend my time in the sewers, the last point of prosaic salvation. But I am never safe. Every moment of every day, I expect to hear those first lines echo at my shoulder, the fatal stanza to bring me down.

Monday, October 13, 2008


While I watched you die, I thought a little of afternoon tea.

It used to be okay, back then, when you'd let me run the floss deep down between my teeth, bringing out painless blood, so I could squirt it out from between my teeth like a nearly-beaten boxer. When you'd let me hold my hands against the toaster until they buzzed and nearly stuck.

Until that time you made me hold my breath, in the black-blue shallows of the deep end, where I passed out and floated to the top like a jellyfish. When you made me inhale the water, that chlorine-sodden poison, so the life guard had to thump it out of me with his fists. When you made me poke the purple bruises on my chest while I slept.

You made me spit and swear at my own parents while they drove me to another clinic. You hid yourself when they looked, then re-appeared when they turned their backs. You made me wriggle and fidget as they fed me into the machine that showed them my brain. You were everywhere and nowhere, all at once.

I watched you disappear, fading back through the sky-blue smoke. I thought of my next meal, eating it blissfully alone. As my eyes grew heavy, grinding down like rocks, all I felt was my own weight, perfectly balanced.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Out the window, the sun was an orange afterthought. Tim sat in a blue plastic chair, swinging his legs in air-conditioned silence. Malcolm leant against the wall, watching the door handle, daring it to turn. He felt time in a slow leak.

She came in by herself, in normal clothes, with a serene, normal expression. Malcolm knew she could never look out of place. The only thing that betrayed her was her right hand, constantly trying to remove a cigarette from an invisible pack. The bones in her wrist stuck out strangely, odd creatures in shallow skin graves. She looked at Tim, and his languid boredom quickly tensed, the tip of his swinging shoe striking the polished floor with a violent squeak, his body slumping still. She just stared back placidly, as if this happened to her every day.

Normally when Tim was anxious or confused he would look to Malcolm, opening his obtuse eyes, pleading for explanation or rescue. But this time he simply stared back, mouth tight as if stifling a yawn. Malcolm could understand Tim being apprehensive, even scared, by what was going on, but her—surely she felt something.

But then he thought that perhaps she had no natural instincts left. Perhaps all that stood behind her vacant face were vacant thoughts: manufactured reflexes, a refined idea of who she should be. For the first time, Malcom felt a soft throb of guilt. It echoed through his head.
Gin watched his mother, and she watched him. It was a two way mirror. All they saw were their own reflections.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


It’s when I’m flying over the trees that I notice something is wrong. The bunched-up leaves, from this angle, look like broccoli buds, and I begin get a sense in the back of my head that this day is not ending exactly right. Trees shouldn’t look like broccoli—not exactly like broccoli, in every way, the way these trees do. I imagine for a moment I’ve been shrunk to the size of a fly, and what I think are trees actually are broccoli, and in the end I fly straight into someone’s mouth, thinking it’s an interesting cave.

I tell this to my mother when I get home, and she chuckles, in a way mothers really shouldn’t.

Seems to me you’re getting restless, she says.

I don’t feel restless, I say. Life’s good.

Now you sound like you’re in an advert.

I don’t like the way my mother says advert. I don’t like the fact she doesn’t use whole words, that she abbreviates her language out of its meaning.

Have you thought about the Level III job, she asks.



Yes and nothing.

That night, I access files on broccoli, and on the formation of leaves, and cross-reference perspective shrinking, but when I click on Search and Define, I find out that perspective shrinking doesn’t exist in the files, or maybe I’m using the wrong search term. There certainly isn’t anything that explains all three things together.

I take the public shuttle the next day, which travels below the trees. When I get to work, I ask Roger, my cubicle-mate, whether he has ever felt like he had been shrunk. Roger keeps typing with one hand as he talks.

Like when you’re dreaming? he asks. That sort of thing?

No, I say. I was awake. I felt like I was smaller, but hadn’t realised it yet.

Sounds like a dream.

Roger often tells me he could do his job in his sleep, and I don’t doubt that he’s tried.

I think it might be something wrong with my head, I say. My diet’s not that great.

Roger makes a sound like squeaky toy, and we say no more about it. But for the rest of the day, I can’t help but feel like something’s cracked apart deep in my life.

I try to concentrate on the job at hand, in the way Roger never does. I’m writing a list of directions:


I add templates. A black and white picture of Mrs Parnell made to look like a 1940s generic Asian face. Faded yellow picture of Pad Thai. Non-specific hieroglyphs. I press Send.

I do this, and 34 excruciatingly similar jobs, and then I close down my workstation. Most of the others have gone home. Roger’s gel-filled wrist support hardly has an indentation in it. I look down at mine, and it looks like a mountain range. The only other person in the office is Mrs Parnell, and she is only staying late because she’s expecting a call from a different time zone.

It’s just gone nine in the morning their time, she informs me. She is still dressed as a fisherman’s wife from an afternoon photo shoot for freeze-dried Finnish Salmon.

Best of luck, I tell her, because I know the call will inform her she’s been shortlisted for another advertising award.

Thank you, she says, then furrows her brow (that kindly brow-furrow from cans of Mrs McGerrity’s Authentic Hebridean CheeseWhip).

Why are you here so late, Jonathan?

I had some extra work to finish.

We say our Goodnights, and I swipecard my way out of the building. When I am finally out on the street, I sigh deeply into the night air. The sky is still only just dark enough.

When I know I am approaching the broccoli trees, I consider closing my eyes, just to be safe. But then I remember news files I’ve seen of bodies sprawled on the ground, limbs collected in mangled piles, solemn newsbars running beneath. IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT, was the ensuing campaign slogan. Besides, I’ve left it late enough so that I can only see the outlines of the trees. I fly away from the city with what I hope is an air of indifference. I tell myself I am just another apathetic commuter winging his way home. I leave the last vestiges of city behind me, and enter the green girdle of the government forests. The trees are below me now, but I manage to focus on the horizon beyond—a curiously starless night with a wedge of moon gaping above. It begins to feel like the end of any other working day, where trees are trees. But as I leave this thought behind, another enters my head. What if I am not outside the mouth, but within it? What if the starless sky is a stomach, and the moon is the dull light from closing lips?

My head constricts like burning paper. I begin to lose sense of my body. Every breath becomes a step closer to this new reality. I have lost my old paranoia only because I’ve found a new one. Suddenly, the trees are very close.

My mother wakes me up with a sharp click of her fingers.

Rise and shine.

By all rights, it should take a moment for me to realise where I am, but it doesn’t. I am in our living room on our yellow couch that looks like a wet Golden Retriever. My mother clicks her fingers again, a look of brusque impatience on her face. She thinks she’s a wartime nurse and I’m a reluctant soldier who doesn’t know the best medicine is good common sense.

Where am I, I ask, because I’ve always wanted to say this.

You’re at home, says my mother, placing the back of her hand against my forehead. You flew in very late last night and missed the house, but luckily I was out on a walk.

I know this means she was up waiting for me to come home, like she always does when I work late. I feel a pang of gratitude. Thank you, I say.

Nonsense, she replies, because this is what Wartime Nurses say to soppy, doe-eyed Corporals.

She gets up and I hear her filling the kettle.

I had that feeling again, I say over the back of the couch. Except this time it wasn’t broccoli, the sky was a giant mouth I was trapped inside.

Don’t be ridiculous, says my mother. You’re just working too hard. I just don’t think that job suits you.

My mother comes back into the room with two cups of tea and a packet of digestive biscuits. Beneath the biscuits is an employment application form. The title, partially obscured by a cup handle, reads EXCAVATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER (LEVEL III).

I sigh, as loudly as a person can before it becomes a groan.

My mother, sudden poker player, doesn’t say a thing. She calmly sips her tea.

I like my job.

My mother nods, like she understands. She says, I just think there’s more to life than writing phoney foreign instruction manuals all day.

I nod, like I understand. At least I get ten hours of daylight.

Whew, Level Three, says Roger, rubbing his chin. That’s pretty sweet pay, you know.

I know, but it’s underground.

So what?

So I’ve got thirty kilometres of rock hanging above my head.

Roger rubs his chin again. I have just told him of my mother’s latest attempts at subterfuge.

Still, maybe it’s meant to be, he says. Have you dreamt much about railway crossings recently? Cobbled roads, that sort of thing?

I look at him.

Classic dream signs, he says. Means you should embrace change.

But I don’t want to embrace change. I’m happy where I am.

You don’t look happy.


Roger reaches behind his computer monitor and pulls out a half-empty packet of salted beer nuts. Mrs Parnell’s crumpled face stares back at me, disguised as a young Brazilian girl happily harvesting cashews.

The last couple of days you’ve looked like your mind is elsewhere. Have your dreams contained anything broken, especially bones or teeth?

No, I say, far too quickly. Nothing like that.

I look over at the skirting board lining our cubicle. Carpet lint becomes plaque. Roger’s keyboard becomes tastebuds.

I have to get back to work, I say, and swivel my chair back to my desk. I begin furiously typing English instructions for a Kuwaiti DVD player, but when I finish, all the words are spelled correctly. I grind my fingers into my eyes. All I can hear is Roger’s mouth, fracturing nuts.

I leave work early, taking a shuttle. After three stops, two young schoolboys wander into my carriage, groaning beneath monstrous glossy green backpacks. They don’t look any older than eight, and their schoolbags seem twice their size. They are ants, hauling eucalyptus leaves. I turn away, fixing my gaze on the landscape flashing past out the window. All the buildings seem the same. They are the identical legs of suited workers, waiting in a line by the road for a miraculous taxi. The shuttle enters a tunnel, disappearing into the darkness. My carriage makes complaining noises, digestion growls, as it trundles underground towards the station. This is when—I think—I scream.

My mother calls me. She tells me she likes my beard.

I feel it sort of fits, I say.

I watch my mother shift her weight on the Labrador couch. When are you coming home, she says.

When I’m ready.

When will that be?

When I’m ready.

Come home, Jonathan. This is crazy. You can’t live in a subway all your life.

Call me Jonah.

I smile as she puts her hand to her mouth. My mother is still coming to terms with Terra Firma Me, and the new humour this entails.

She says, People from work were asking about you, Jonathan. Your friend from the cubicle. And that lovely Italian woman from the pasta sauce advert. I mean … advertisement.

She corrects herself, and a small part of me melts. I say, I thought this was what you wanted me to do.

She says, I wanted you to take that Level III job, not do this. She gestures out to me from my tiny, battered LCD screen, from my square view of her, and our warm living room. Her hands mean to suggest the drab tiled walls around me, the shudder of midnight freights, the single garbage unit overflowing on my platform like a rotten fountain.

But I’m happy, I tell her. I’m safe.

What about sunlight, she says. What about nature?

I take a piece of broccoli from the bowl in my lap, and wave it in front of my screen. I’m living well, I say. This is fresh.

I watch a tear make its way down my mother’s cheek. She says, That’s a leaf, Jonathan. You’re eating leaves.

I’m about to say, It’s all part of perspective, Mum, but then a subway shuttle thunders past and the Videoscreen goes black.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Kittens play meanderingly with string, but no one has any idea where the string comes from. We sit in a circle, and no one has yet used the word séance. Ouija fingers shiver. Hair hangs down in prescient ways; I try to read the old hag’s features like tealeaves. She uses the darkness, of course, to her advantage: shadows falling with mathematical precision. When her eyes do roll back, when her limbs shake and a low moan comes right out from the base of her throat, I feel unnerved, in that deep part of me that is still raw with imagination. The hag starts to speak, and it's a voice none of us know, that none of us have ever imagined hearing. Somewhere, up above, the light fittings shake.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Nothing is as sad as that which has been usurped. Today I find my old wallet, hidden beneath a pile of newspapers. Even removed from its purpose, even deflated and empty, my old wallet in an object so familiar as to stir unprovoked memories. Its shape has taken on the shape of my body, my hands; a moulded history of every transaction, every payment, every losing and finding.

I pick it up and the wallet flips open, easily, without my even thinking. I explore its every flap and fold and pocket, looking, perhaps, for a scrap of my past I had forgotten to remove. I used to quietly enjoy cleaning out my wallet, taking pleasure in the thought delay of an unfamiliar business card, or a scrawled paper note. All these people I had met long ago, all these places I no longer remembered, carried so close to me for so long. That other set of memories.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Adam sleeps. Head buried deep in a warm-smelling pillow. His feet will cramp up in the cold night, but he doesn’t have a name for that yet. He makes sure his big toes overlap the others, or he won’t feel it coming, and he’ll wake up with feet like claws, and he’ll cry with the pressured pain until he passes out or the muscle talons release. He is too young to brace his toes against the walls of his crib and bend them until the spasms relax, feet coming back through the stages of constriction, tendons bubbling and unwinding just under the skin. He knows, though, the afterwards tingle of his muscles buzzing. Some sparse reward.

His father tucks him in tightly, tighter each time, afraid his son will scream again tonight. Adam’s feet are strapped down with blankets, pointing straight, so his ankles hurt with strain. This just makes it come more quickly.

His mother has grown tired of waking and carrying Adam through the darkened house, where he beats his flailing legs against her bruised ribs until he is empty; a sack of silent exhaustion.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Old Harris Burton burst into the bar, letting in a swag of sea wind and the soul-chatter of pounding surf. He had red, startled eyes and a mouth of such unusual sorrow nearly all of us put down our glasses and turned around on our stools. Old Harris Burton shook the rime of hoarfrost from his overcoat—that innate fisherman's reflex—but made no other clue to move.

Tarner Willis placed a big arm on the Guinness tap. Need a drink, there, Harris?

Harris dropped to his knees with a deep thud, and the effect was so startling that some of us let out a breath, wasting precious warmth.

Harris, Tarner said, eventually, what is it?

Harris looked him in the eyes with a clear, compressed gaze

I caught him, said Harris with a grim leaden voice. I finally caught him. Old Salty.

Old Salty?

That's right m'boy. Old Salty himself. And didn't he put up a good fight what's more!
Harris shook his head back and laughed.

A different silence settled on the bar. Slowly, measuredly, Tarner leaned his weight against the counter and said, Can't be Old Salty, there, Harris.

Harris looked up. What's that?

Tarner ran his tongue across his lips. The rest of us avoided his eye like rotten sou'wester. Thing is, said Tarner, Old Salty got caught last year. Those big sleek types from up the coast, with their radar and harpoons and that.

Harris's face cracked. What?

You remember, said Tarner. They had it strung up by the harbour, tentacles all spread out for the photos.

Then what ... Harris struggled for words ... what did I catch? He opened the palm of his right hand. In it was a small cassette, the black audiotape protruding slightly from where the spools had loosened.

Let's have a look, said Tarner, coming out from behind the bar. He prised the cassette from Harris's hand, looked at it, let out a low whistle. Well I'll be, he said, shaking his head. That is quite a catch.

What is it?
said someone.

You tell 'em said Tarnter, handing the tape back to Harris.

Harris held the cassette up to his face, squinting. Billy Joel, he said, The Stranger.

And that was the day we all agreed that a decent set of adult contemporary pop songs was better than a giant squid any day of the week.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Wolverine or Washing Machine?
What a simple premise. What a potentially exciting result! Two teams play off against each other in this potentially thrilling, potentially tedious game of chance. Join us, as each afternoon we ask the question: ""Wolverine or Washing Machine?"

Uncle Jimmy's Tickle Junction
A fast-paced, super fun game show for kids! Beloved children's television host Uncle Jimmy returns after an enforced holiday in The Philippines to guide each week's contestants through seven exciting, awkwardly cramped levels of fun, where contestants must find 20 hidden "fun tubes" in order to proceed to The Tickle Junction and play on for extra points! Shown every Tuesday afternoon, contingent on certain super-cool court orders.

Are You Smarter Than James Spader?
Think you know more than a Hollywood star best known for his roles in Tuff Turf and Alien Hunter? Well, now's your chance to find out! Three hotly contested rounds will be more than enough to see if you measure up against the star narrator of The Discovery Channel's China Revealed.

Wheel of Random Chance Followed By Literacy and Problem Solving Related Questions
Join in the fun of everyone's favourite none-too-taxing game show. Watch a wheel with random dollar values, prizes, and disincentives spin around from the propulsion made by the arms and shoulder sockets of one of three different players! If they choose to, each player may attempt to solve a partially obscured phrase or idiom, which is slowly revealed as they guess which hidden letters are likely to appear! Watch out also for Celebrity Wheel of Random Chance Followed By Literacy and Problem Solving Related Questions!

The gently surreal smash of the summer! No prizes, no contestants, no set, just one near-incoherent hobo and a static camera!

Repulsion Island
Take six hideously ugly couples, add one sexy, sun-drenched archipelago, and what do you get? A sizzling hot, grotesquely repugnant reality experience! Will the disgusting couples stay together, or will the sensual surrounds tempt them to stray elsewhere? The most tantilisingly naughty, hideously sickening hour of television you'll see all week!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Cramp My Style
Ted Danson returns to network television as Jim Cramp, the feisty, rambunctious owner of a local television station. Will Cramp be able to juggle the pressures of a small business, the demands of his TV stars, and the surprise return of his ex-wife? Only with a whole lot of laughs, Cramp-style!

Fuel to the Fire
He's a gruff, veteran firefighter. She's a tender, caring pyromaniac. How will they make it work?

Elbow Room
Ted Danson returns to cable television as Jim Elbow, the feisty, rambunctious owner of a local restaurant. Will Elbow be able to juggle the pressures of a small business, the demands of his chefs, and the surprise return of his ex-wife? Only with a whole lot of laughs, Elbow-style!

Going Dutch
David Spade returns, with a goatee or something. Laughs ensue.

Mint Condition
Ted Danson returns to pay-per-view television as Jim Mint, owner of a local pawn shop. Will Mint be able to juggle the pressures of small business, the demands of his customers, and the surprise return of his ex-wife? Only with a whole lot of laughs, Mint-style!

Knock on Wood
Cindy Wood is thirty-something, unlucky in love, and forever trying to find her place in the world. Despite many humourous episodes, she just can't quite make relationships, work, and play all fit together! How will she ever make it work? Knock on Wood is the funniest descent into depression and self-harm you'll see this summer!

I Rest My Case!
How do you run a law firm and still look after your recently-discovered alien brother? Simple—combine the two! From the makers of Alien Law comes an hilarious new extraterrestrial courtroom comedy, with rib-tickling performances from Ted Danson and David Spade.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Allen Key
Detective Rick Allen is a brash, no-nonsense cop with a heart that might just be burnished gold. When his long-time partner, Harry Ingolf, suffers a mental breakdown two days before retirement, Allen must quit the force to look after Harry, who once saved his life. Allen becomes the "key" not only to Harry's survival, but to unlocking a police conspiracy that might just go all way to the top.

Jude the Obscure
Jude McGraw is a brash, no-nonsense rodeo-rider at the top of his game. After ten years of supremacy, a new season sees Jude suddenly cast aside in the wake of brash newcomer Harry Gifford, whose "West Coast" riding style takes the sport by storm. Henceforth, when a tragic accident befalls Harry, it is Jude who is blamed. Jude must fight to clear his name, and win back the love of his bull.

Dressler's Syndrome
Jack Dressler is a rookie street cop, assigned, on his first day, to patrol the brash, uncomprimising neighbourhood of Lower East Heights, where he accidentally gains paranormal powers after a run-in with a no-nonsense tarot reader. Dressler is forced to reassess his life, weighing up the relative security of a career in the police force with the sexy, dirty world of using paranormal powers to either solve crimes or break into banks.

Monkey Wrench
Donny Wrench is a brash, uncomprimising journalist whose only purpose in life is to get the story. As the chief features editor of a daily metro, he has a habit of putting noses out of joint. After yet another embarrassing Wrench expose, City Hall decides to take action, passing a law that legally binds Wrench to a "working partner" for the duration of his career. Wrench's "partner" is Gobo, a wise-crackin', crack-addicted marmoset.

Achilles' Tendon
Achilles Rameriz is a brash, sexy neurosurgeon, whose unconventional hairstyle proves confronting to not just his employers, but often his patients. Achilles' emotional journey to societal acceptance is a rocky path, but ultimately a life-changing journey for not just his employers, but also his patients.

Broca's Area
John Broca is a high-flying corporate lawyer who never loses a case. Only one problem—he's a dog! With crippling emotional issues!

Bowie Knife
In the take-no-prisoners world of professional accounting, there's no room for mavericks. Someone forgot to tell Jim Bowie. Despite regularly stepping outside the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, Bowie always gets results. He also owns some knives.

McBurney's Point
Jack McBurney, is a brash, no-nonsense judge, whose uncomprimising, take-no-prisoners attitude, is at odds to everyone he meets. In the filthy, provocative, slutty world of maritime law, McBurney has no peer. One day away from retirement, McBurney receives a lovely bottle of Château Margaux from a respected Senator he once aquitted of sexual misconduct while aboard international waters. McBurney calls the Senator and thanks him. They talk for a while, and then McBurney takes an early lunch.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Baa baa
Black Sheep. Have you any
For I am an elephant.

Incy-Wincy Spider went
Down came the rain and
washed poor Incy
Out came the sunshine
and an Elephant came
through the
And drowned that spider.

Little Jack Horner sat
in the
Eating his Christmas pie.
He stuck
his thumb
And pulled out
An Elephant
And said,
"I didn't realise quite how big
this pie was when
I bought it, nor that it would
cause me to lose
my signet ring. My
brother gave me that ring.
Just before
he died."

Old King Cole was
a merry old
And a merry old soul
was he.
He called for
pipe, and he called
for his bowl.
And before long, he saw elephants
In pink and purple lines.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


The line was so long, Frank joined it just from some ingrained sense of participation. It was like one minute he was watching the line—which seemed to snake all the way around two blocks—and the next minute he was in it, with three people already behind him. No one seemed to be complaining. Every few minutes, just as Frank had the feeling that maybe he shouldn't be in the line, the person in front of him would shuffle forward a few steps, and a small spark of curiosity would keep Frank's mind from wandering too far. Besides, it was a nice day, fair weather, gentle breeze—why shouldn't he be standing in line. And it wasn't as if the line was full of undesirables. There were many people in suits and smart blouses, many with headphones, tapping away a rhythm with a finger on their hip. If they were happy to wait, why couldn't Frank? When the hunger came, when he looked up and saw that the light had faded from the sky, Frank just shrugged, shuffled forward, waited.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


That summer, I travelled to Czechoslovakia to chase down catguts. I’d read that the best, the most vibrant violin strings were made from the intestines of animals that were sick and ill-fed in life. You got tough, I discovered, after you died. I arrived in Plzeň, a city I knew only from the beer, and, perhaps inevitably, the weight of a bright blue sky led me to a dark, stained-glass pub.

Word had already got around, I suppose, that I was in search of the perfect string. For those who still bothered to look at CD covers, or huddled around the right corners of tiny clubs at certain times of the night, my face may have been familiar. It was the hair, usually. I had already shaken off a documentary crew in Prague. They’d caught me coming out of a hotel and bolted from their seats like Christmas shoppers. They’d been following a TV chef around Europe and needed fresh angles. I’d had to slide over the bonnet of a car to lose them.

And now, here I was, one leg up at the bar, pushing back steins of a local fruity beer, waiting out for leftovers from farm animals crafted up by the arthritic hands of a fallen master. Life was bloody good.