Friday, 22 July 2011

The Stash. A Short Story

So Tony Morris, who covers the North, comes back from his paper mill visit the other day and straight away my ears prick up, because not even double glazing can muffle that whistle of his. Not even solid rock can. So I look up and he's winking like a carnival queen, swaggering towards me with this glossy bundle under his arm. Average seller, Tony, and a cocky sod at the best of times. I'm adding up VAT receipts and the number five keeps sticking, which means there's more till-roll in the bin than street bunting at a Royal wedding, so I'm not in the best of moods.

Anyway, he snakes around the door with this daft tippy-toe style that makes him look like Elmer Fudd and flops a stack of magazines onto my table. "Couple of over-runs for you boss," he winks, and I look at him and say "Is there something wrong with your eye?"

Without dropping the smug expression he nods at the literature knocking January's expense receipts out of alphabetical order and grins: "Pristine." Then taps his nose. "It's not what you know."

You don't do that in a tidy workplace, come in and plonk stuff everywhere like some heathen. But that was Tony, buttering me up in his own clumsy way. I couldn't begin to imagine how many paperclips had leaked through the hole where your computer leads are meant to go, that you always lose the little plastic disc for that covers it up. The whole tub had gone over.

"Just be bloody careful."

His undaunted look of lechery led mine to the boob-laden covers of the magazines. 'Jazz mags' we called them back in the day and, from what I could see they hadn't changed a lot in theme or content. Among such sobriquets as 'Double D Housewives' and 'Barely Legal Babes' were a few familiar ones from my era: 'Escort' and 'Fiesta'. That was the thing about porn back then, it was more refined, somehow; more innocent. Single word titles with 'step inside' attributes. Not spelling it out like common trollops.

"Christ, are they still going?" I said, becoming wistful despite myself.

As we leafed through them, leering like schoolboys, it rose up, large as life. The spotty spectre of furtive youth. Transport to that adolescent era of Clearasil, mood swings and spontaneous erections. Flagship aroma of council-cut grass and the estate where I lived shimmering boldly into view, like a mirage. Fields, carved with quicklime, into football pitches. Maisonettes rising into the murky sky; flares and white dog shit. A candlewick bedspread flapping on a neighbours line. My older mate pointing at the streak of ecru across its middle and sniggering, 'Bet it's spunk'.

There was a truck stop nearby. Greasy smell of oil on hot tarmac. Hempy whiff of ropes lashing tarpaulins down. DERV they called it then, not diesel, but it would still make rainbows in puddles that dogs allegedly drank from and were driven mad by. Anyway - if, on one long, boring day of those endless summer school holidays, with nothing to do (as my friend Peter Johnson famously put it) except 'watch Hong Kong Phooey and have loads of wanks'; if, on one of those particular days you were apt to scour the low suburban hedges, you would find, not only Blackbird's nests (they were ten a penny - it was the commonest egg in anyone's collection) but a trove of filth that truck drivers sometimes left behind.

Of course, I couldn't make any such connection back then, at fourteen. Couldn't know that it was truckers who were responsible, same as I couldn't know that Peter Johnson was a double phallic name. Incidentally, I think it was Peter Johnson who bet it was spunk, rather than aggressive bleaching on Mrs. Weatherby's bedsheet, and Pete's dad was a truck driver. It all made a kind of cosmic sense.

Anyway, there they were, hidden in the bushes: well-thumbed scraps of Knave, Penthouse and Mayfair, christened by bird shit and crinkled where dogs had cocked their legs. Titles that were modest and arty, like erm,  Razzle, with its penchant for amateur-style photography and messy burger shots and Hustler, with added penetration. All fairly bewildering to the unschooled eye, but for me, this tattered, incomplete outdoor library of filth was the closest to sex education I would ever come, because my dad was neither a truck driver nor had a suspiciously thick mattress.

Gazing now at the shiny folios on my office desk launched me squarely into flashback; the day I found an immaculate stack of them, tucked away near a priveted ginnel on Briar Hill. Three things were perfect about the occasion. One, they had clearly not long since been deposited by Long-Distance Stan, who could now presumably dispense missionary relief to Domestic Doreen with a clear conscience. Two, they were (apart from the odd stuck page) remarkably complete. Three, it was the drought summer of seventy-six. They were bone dry. Actually, thinking about it, there was fourth: I was on my own that day, no sharesies.

It was like stumbling onto a Necronomicon of Fanny, a shady hinterworld of come-hither looks and grown-up desires, populated by ladies called "Vanessa, from Cirencester" with their own Private Idaho growing down there like some kind of testament to topiary. I coveted them jealously, poring in secret, over each photo-spread, each tacky cartoon, each softcore Betamax production review with Maria Shriver or Sylvia Kristel. But the letters, especially the ubiquitous Reader's Letter - 'I am not normally inclined to write to this sort of publication, being a tireless servant of the Women's Institute, but felt I had to confide about a recent experience while supervising an over-60s fell walk...' These were the final piece of the puzzle, the words that defined the images. It was a Rosetta Stone of awakening, here, in my sweaty palms, in plain English, laid bare. This was it, what our parents did when we were tucked up in bed at night, listening to the muffled alien cries, rhythmic headboard percussion and gentle sough of plaster coming away from the walls.

The 'He fucked me like a badger in heat' style typified by the 'grittier' mags got a bit old after a while so I gravitated toward the more upmarket confession, such as might be found between the covers of Playboy or Club. Here was a classier style of prose, with proper spelling and even punctuation. Also, there were words in these that I had never come across before, so I knew I was on the right track.

Two things took some serious hammer that summer, and the second was my dictionary. Once, when mum asked what the heck I was looking up this time, I abstractly said "Cunnilingus". Fortunately, she didn't know what it meant either and went back to ironing 'wunda-web' onto the turn-ups of my school trousers. Slowly though, bit by bit, I deciphered all this arcane terminology and proceeded to sell it to wide-eyed schoolboys, behind the bike sheds and huddled around the worn 'D' of the five-a-side pitch. An explanation of Clitoris was worth ten pence or half a Curly Wurly. In my reverie, I wondered how many of them, like me, felt short-changed by the 'glorious pink nubbin' they had come to envision when they finally found one. Perhaps some of them still haven't. Likewise labia and vulva, although there was almost a riot the day Cuckoo Simmonds found all three referenced openly in a standard biology textbook. "Ahh, yes - but," I protested madly at the hostile crowd, "where does it say 'Doggy style' eh? Where are the 'shuddering orgasms? The 'looping strings of pearly jizz'?"

Currency of a bygone era.
At that point the daydream ends and I'm back to my deskbound self. Two truths strike me with the existential force of epiphany. One: how tame these once-revered publications now seem in the context of the internet, where everything is done to everybody else at once, usually with a harnessed animal or two in tow. If you went to an orgy these days, you'd need a kilo of duracells, a daypass for World of Leather, and a horse box.

Tony looks at me and says, "You okay, boss, need owt else?"

"Nah," I say, feeling an obscure, heartfelt pang for Vanessa, of Cirencester, if only to give her a comb and tell her to tidy herself up. I'm not his boss, just a lowly clerk, it's all part of the process. What he's after.

The wink returns. "Enjoy, then. Err, you will get that expenses cheque to me before Tuesday. Tough month see?"

"I know," I say sharply, and the second thing dies on my tongue, because I suddenly recognise that if it was true I wouldn't be sitting here on a lumbar cushion, with paper cuts, using a stolen adding machine. If I say what I believe it will just add to all the sadness in the world I seem to have failed to move on from. If I say it aloud he will know that too, and it'll embarrass us both that he'll have to pretend it's true, and between the awkward silence and the inevitable tit joke, I'll see the pity in his eyes. So I wait for the inevitable tit joke and whisper it at the same time his Gucci watch clinks against the closing door.

"I used to be twice the salesman you are."

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Spiders Can Shit Off

My cousin is picking them off a web-ridden paddling pool in the shed, prior to loading said pool into his car. Not little ones mind, massive fuck-off ones with Hulk Hogan legs.

No. Just. No

"There you go, little buddy," he says as it scuttles up his arm and he plucks it off, laying it considerately on my car windscreen. I'm hanging onto my gorge while pretending to be cool, knowing I've helped him carry it, and that there are strands of gossamer all over my hands and face and that the chances of one of those hessian-backed gorgons not being about my person somewhere are practically nil. My skin is quite literally crawling, and I leave him rescuing more on the driveway and stumble ashen-faced into the kitchen, spitting drily and doing that panicky thing where you look over each shoulder in turn and brush repetitively with your hands wherever you can't see.

As I make him a coffee, my cover is blown. There's a hairy tickle on my neck, as the fugitive departs the well of my collar-bone, where he has been harbouring as an illicit arachnid passenger, now seeking the safety of higher ground, via my neck and blanched cheek.

"YEEEEARRRRRRCHH!" I scream. I say scream, it was more a sort of ululating death-cry, such as popularised by the film 'Zulu'. There aren't really enough caps or vowels on my keyboard to do it full justice.

Even in that emotional state though, and with the barest nod toward masculinity, I resolve not to jab blindly, but to try and pluck it off in that same casual way, but my hand refuses to soften and it squishes between my thumb and forefinger. Squishes! Oh, don't make me describe that feeling of bristly succulence as it's lifeblood vents on the webbing between thumb and finger, leaving a dark ichor glistening dully there, under the kitchen spotlights. The poor chap falls to the linoleum, fatally crippled, and I'm scrubbing my hands in the washing-up bowl like the Lord High Emperor of OCD.

"What was that?" he says, tramping in moments later with his spider hands and gossamer face.

"Oh nowt," I say, palpitating shallowly with an outstretched mug of cappuccino and kicking its twisted corpse under the table. "Kids, probably. Upstairs. Tch."