Writing challenge: The Week of Tearing Up
Submission deadline: December 5, 2012
Voting deadline: December 12, 2012
Using "The Week of Tearing Up" as a title, write a story not exceeding 2,500 words and containing at least some dialogue.
Anyone is welcome to submit. Just insert your story as a comment below.
Anyone is welcome to vote. Just reply to your favorite entry and write "VOTE" in the comment text. Don't vote for your own entry.
Please, only constructive criticism; no bashing or venting.
Submissions: The Week of Tearing Up
The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
For fifty quid, though - I couldn't really argue.
It cost me double that for a seat on the flight for him, plus a tense couple of hours at passport control convincing them he was my deformed younger brother. Luckily, the guy who sold me the chimp was also able to sort me out with a fake passport for him, so we got there in the end.
Once I'd found a flat in Prague, I tried putting my new chimp to good use. I figured he could potter about doing the household chores while I was out at work. He took to the task admirably, but often took a dump in the kitchen sink, always after he'd disinfected it.
I thought he could also peel my grapes for me, but he couldn't manage it. Bananas, naturally, oranges, possibly, grapefruits, with some degree of success, but grapes he just turned to mush.
This lead to another bright idea. I went out and bought a large tin bathtub. The chimp - Brian, I called him - would mash up grapes in it, and we'd get into the homemade wine racket.
Soon after, he developed a dependency on alcohol, and I'd come home to find he'd drank the cupboards dry, and found a bottle of vodka stashed in the toilet cistern.
When I went down to the local Hospoda one evening, the barman angrily demanded 400kc from the tab Brian had been unable to pay the day before.
Our brief spell as Organ Grinder and monkey ended in an ugly scene when Brian lunged for my throat. I later found out that Brian's previous Organ Grinder would come home drunk at night and expose himself to Brian in the pantry, and the sight of me grinding my organ on Charles Bridge dug up some repressed memories.
Things took a brief upswing when I bought some plutonium rods from a dodgy guy in a Zizkov pub. After weeks of trial and error, I discovered that by exposing the retina to radiation, filtered through Bohemian crystal, one acquired X-Ray vision for a limited period of time.
I would stalk the Herna Bars of the city, whispering in fractured Czech to the desperate fruit machines addicts: "Five seconds, no more, no less. Any less, you won't see anything. Any more, you'll burn your eyes out."
And they would slip me 500kc note and slink off to the bathroom to take a hit from my magical device. A few moments later they would return, wide-eyed like they couldn't comprehend what they were seeing, finish their beer with difficulty, then clear out the jackpot on the fruit machine. Then they'd slip me another five hundred, and I'd move on to the next bar. A few nights a week of this provided me a very comfortable lifestyle...
The rainbow quickly passed. Brian developed a taste for tailored waistcoats, and took to wearing a monocle. Alarm bells should have rung - there's always trouble when you see a monkey wearing a waistcoat.
He got sneaky - sneakier than usual. One day when we went shopping, he'd taken an impression of the front door key in a bar of soap, and got a copy made. When I tried taking it off him, he went for my arms.
Obviously, I'd heard fully grown chimps can tear a man's arms off, so I unhappily let him keep it.
I lost control of him. Before, I could discourage him from stumbling home drunk by refusing to let him in the flat until he'd sobered up. With his new key, he could come and go as he pleased.
So I found myself sitting up until the early hours of the morning, waiting for Brian to come home. After a night on the tiles - he'd added a top hat to his attire by now - he'd raised a leathery hand to me in greeting, then climb into his cot and crash out.
He'd started using the toilet, but also had a rather large collection of porno mags he kept in a rack by the bath. Sometimes I'd wait for half an hour for him to come out.
Brian had also learned Czech, and would sit around in cafes reading Hrabal and Hasek in the original. I once saw him in Montmartre, reading Havel, and he barely acknowledged me. I didn't know him anymore. He'd started doing something on the side, and had more cash than usual.
By this stage, the Herna Bars were getting wise to my game, and the X-Ray eyes scam was drying up. So I decided to ask him if he'd mind paying the rent. He simply said, "Mluvit rukama.", and locked himself in the bathroom with a brown paper bag he'd just brought in.
I started fearing for Brian's sanity when I broke into his room one day. I'd got a job testing safety nets for the Prague & District State Circus because the X-Ray thing was becoming a dangerous game, and Brian had taken up a bar job to make ends meet. By this stage, he was paying three-quarters of the rent. The work was horrible, he said, but the tips were good.
I took the day off sick and was feeling sorry for myself. The previous day, the holes in the safety net I was testing were too big, and my head went straight through and hit the floor.
Bored mooching around at home, I decided to break into Brian's room to borrow some smut, and was stunned by what I found.
Brian had replaced his cot with a large round water-bed. Beneath the black satin sheets lay a beautiful blonde, obviously shagged out. There was an enormous fish tank along one wall, and in it was a man swimming in full scuba gear.
Against another wall was an iron maiden. When I opened it, I discovered Brian had replaced all the spikes with comedy chattering teeth. Then there was the throne of goat skulls by the window, facing out across the rooftops of Prague.
The sick decadence of it all took me aback, and I knocked on the fish tank and the scuba diver swam to the surface.
"What are you doing in there?" I asked him.
"Your brother pays me 200kc an hour, just to swim about. The social life's shit, but every Saturday night I get to go two's up on that blonde bird with him."
"Well, it's a job I suppose. What does he do with that iron maiden over there?"
"He puts cabbages in it," the scuba diver explained, swinging his leg over the side of the tank and perching there, "Comes out perfectly chopped every time."
"You've tasted it?"
"Best cabbage I ever ate." The scuba diver shrugged.
"What's the throne for?"
With this, the scuba diver grew fearful. "That's the bad part. He sits in there when he's talking to the Pope, or Bono, if the Pope's not in. They're plotting a day when the sun burns black and the dead will rise as their slaves, the gutters will run full with the blood of the heretics, and your brother will ride across the skies in a chariot drawn by ravens, and everybody will kneel before Him!"
I thumped my fist into my palm, "Then he must be stopped!"
"Yes...sorry, I've got to go, my shift's up and I'm teaching at six."
The scuba diver jumped down and flip-flapped across the room. He paused in the doorway. "Your Brother will be back soon, so I'd get out of here if I were you, pretty sharp-ish."
The scuba diver went out through the door and I stood, contemplating what to do with the monster I'd created.
It began like any other day, as it often does. I got up at seven-thirty, shat, showered and shaved, then climbed over the crates of cabbages Brian stored in the kitchen to make myself some breakfast. Red cabbages were in season, and Brian's homemade sauerkraut was spectacular. He infused it with Slivovice and Charlie, and connoisseurs would pay 700kc a jar.
Breakfast over, I grabbed my keys and my crash helmet and headed out. As I opened the door, a young courier with dreadlocks greeted me.
"Special delivery," he announced, "Forty black candles, forty blood-red candles. For a Mr Brian Eelzebub."
"A Mr B.Eelzebub."
"Ah, that'll be my chimp. First door on the right. Look, I'm late, you'll have to let yourself out."
I jogged down the stairs and in the lobby two delivery men confronted me, one thin, one fat, both wearing bowler hats with their overalls. They were lugging a huge crate up the stairs.
"Excuse me, sir." The portly one said, fiddling with his tie in an unctuous manner. "Special delivery for a Mr B. May."
"Who?" I frowned.
"A Mr Brian May, sir."
"Oh yes," I said, recalling that Brian had listened to a lot of Queen lately, "That'll be my brother, third floor."
I tried to move on, but the portly one stopped me, still fluttering his tie. I looked at the skinny one, who took off his bowler hat and scratched his head with a big gormless grin on his face.
"Sorry, Sir, but I'll need a signature."
I accepted the docket he proffered me and scribbled on it hastily, "What am I signing for?"
"Sacrificial altar, sir."
The skinny one took out a cigarette, perched it between his lips, and flicked his thumb out of a clenched fist. His thumb ignited and he lit the fag with the flame.
"Why do you guys look familiar?" I asked.
"Well, Sir." The chubby one replied, grinning obnoxiously and rolling the words round with a Deep South accent, "your brother paid us an extra 1200kc to deliver it dressed as Laurel and Hardy."
"I see," I said, confused, "But wasn't it a piano, not a sacrificial altar?"
Ollie's smile disappeared, and his eyes clouded over. "You didn't see the banned version, did you, Sir?"
I was half an hour late for work, but it didn't matter anyway. The circus was a in a state of utter pandemonium. The plate spinner had been through all the crockery. The pin head ran past me, wearing a tiny balaclava fashioned from an egg cosy. The clown was drinking vodka straight from his squirty flower. There was a sign hanging on the door of the ministry of jokes, reading: "Knock Knock? Fuck off, we're closed!"
I stopped the bearded lady, who was discombobulated. "What happened here?"
"Oh, it's terrible." He replied, combobulating himself. "Someone left the helium on over night, and the big top went up like a zeppelin! It got sucked into the engine of a passenger plane, and it went down in the Vltava! Everyone was lost."
So the circus was finished, washed up, a three-ring act with no big top, and pending a court case for negligence. Which was just my luck, considering I'd just shelled out 800kc the day before for a second-hand crash helmet.
I needed a beer, but only had five crowns, a couple of buttons and a dead moth in my pocket. But I did still have my X-Ray specs in my rucksack.
One of the parrots from the circus gave me a lift down to the Metro on his tricycle, and I took the yellow line all the way out to Zlicin, the one place in Prague the Herna Bars didn't want my head on a stake, and found a bar.
"Five seconds, no more, no less. Any less, and you won't see anything. Any more, and you'll burn your eyes out."
With this knowledge, the desperado slinked out to the toilets, and I ordered myself a beer and a Becherovka with the 500kc he'd just handed me.
I'd barely got through the head of the beer when there was an agonized scream from the toilets. The Herna Bar denizen staggered out, gurgling, blood running down his cheeks. There was only smoldering white mush where his eyes once were. He smashed into a fruit machine, leaving a bloody smear, collapsed to the floor, and his head ignited. The barman rushed round and stamped him out.
I finished my beer and got out of there sharpish, knowing my career as the purveyor of X-Ray vision to bums in Herna Bars was over.
I got back to the flat about seven. There were flashing lights, photographers, police cars, ambulances, a lifeguard, a forest ranger, and people running around screaming. I forced my way through the crowd to the cordon, and saw, among a pool of shattered glass and blood, something about the size of a football covered in a grey blanket. A wisp of blonde hair escaped from beneath it.
I grabbed a young officer by the arm. His face was ashen. "What happened here?"
"A terrible tragedy, sir. This girl has been decapitated, from the neck down, and thrown from a third floor window."
I looked up, and saw the window of Brian's bedroom window smashed. A cancerous yellow cloud swirled above the building, pulsing with sickly lightning.
The end was nigh. I had to do something.
"What a terrible tragedy." I agreed with the cop, then, rubbing my stomach, "Sorry, had a dodgy Chinese last night. I need to get up to my apartment, sharpish."
Despite his distress, he sympathised and let me through the cordon. There was a score for me to settle.
The apartment was dark. Evil purveyed every corner, every niche, every half-empty sauerkraut jar. The heating had been left on. Something truly pernicious awaited me.
The planks of the parquet floor curled up in the heat, like arthritic fingers. Cockroaches swarmed up through the gaps in the wasted wood, and rats, ants, insects, in a filthy melee, yet squeaked and writhed and withered and died and poured juices over the frazzled floor. The walls were scorched. Black and blood-red candles were everywhere, but gave off no light, indeed, seemed to draw in light, and everything suffocated in the absence of light.
I moved forward with dread, crunching across shells and carapaces and cremated rat bodies. The door to Brian's room, buckled, warped, glass melted like in a toe-ragged bus shelter, stood open. There was light in the room, and it allowed me to inspect the hellish scene.
Brian sat on the bed, without waistcoat, monocle, or top hat. He hunched forward, a length of rubber hose cinched around his bicep. He was carefully injecting a luminous green fluid into a bulging vein.
He was completely hairless, skin the colour of singed cotton. He finished his shot and arched backward, as if in agony, so far back that his head hit the water mattress and sent a tidal wave through it.
The skin on chest, arms and legs went taught, then split, as muscles expanded, bones brutally lengthened, things that don't normally happen to a chimp happened.
Beside him on the bed were two of my dodgy plutonium rods, and I instantly understood. The radiation caused Brian's mutation, and it was my fault. Through my foolishness, dodgy dealing and half-arsed approach to life, I'd set into motion a change of events that would turn Brian into an Anti-Christ, and here I was show-downing with the end of the world.
I wondered how everyone else on the planet would feel if they knew that I was the only chance they had of survival. I hoped they'd be rooting for me, but I suspected they'd turn off their radio and get pissed instead.
Brian looked at me, and something happened. The infernal fire in his eyes dimmed for a second, and he looked at me just as he did when he was a helpless, sexually abused chimp in a nappy, when I gave him his first grape to peel and he didn't know what to do with it.
Then two enormous fingers in the shape of horns erupted from his skull and reached for the ceiling. Brian collapsed, unconscious. Then I looked around at the rest of the scene. The iron maiden stood open, and the chattering teeth had decayed and fallen out. Brian's sauerkraut enterprise was over.
The sacrificial altar was set up by the foot of the bed, and the freshly decapitated body of the blonde, decapitated from the neck down, hung by her ankles above it. Blood dripped from the gaping stump onto the marble altarpiece. And something was happening, the marble pulsed and glowed, burped and stretched, something was growing out of the marble.
The scuba diver was dead, too. The fish tank he was paid 200kc an hour plus perks to swim in, was boiling, and his flesh had boiled off his bones and jubbled around on the surface. His skeleton floated in his wetsuit, vacant eye sockets staring imploringly at me through a rapidly melting eye mask.
And while I took all this in, one of the delivery men dressed as Laurel & Hardy came up behind me and hit me over the head with a frying pan.
I awoke on the roof of our apartment block, laying in a hammock slung between two enormous purple penises. All I could smell was burning spunk, which ebbed out of the two giant cocks like they were into the vinegar strokes.
It was a beautiful dawn, and it took me a couple of moments to realize what was wrong with it.
It was in negative. The sky was bright, the color of an expiring soul, an extinguishing match, a laughter dying in the throat.
And the sun was burning so blackly in this pestilent sky that it hurt my eyes to look at it.
Brian stood on the sill of the roof, staring rapt at this void of a sun that had come to glory Him. He was tall and thin now, perhaps over seven feet tall, and all recognizable monkeyness or humanness had dripped off him.
All that was left was a nerve-raw, hell-singed frame that could tear a hole in the world and drink the silence that rushed in, who could walk on sand and the sand would turn to glass beneath his feet.
The fingers that were horns had extended into arms, and they reached to the sky as if waiting to receive manna from Hell.
Waiting just off the sill of the roof was a flock of crows. They flew on the spot, straining at slender chains attaching them to a chariot fashioned out of goat cartilage.
"Brian," I slurred, still groggy after being knocked out in such a slapstick fashion, "You've got to stop this, mate."
He turned to me with such fury, and his eyes burned like volcanoes in retrograde, because in his infernal, infinite rage, he wanted to suck the fire in through his eyes and fuel the fury.
That's when I had a little moment of inspiration. On a picnic table by my hammock, between the two thrusting dicks, was a bowl of fruit, next to a klobasa and a bottle of Gambrinus. I plucked a grape and tossed it at him.
This worked out pretty well. He was clueless as a chimp at handling a grape, and having mutated to Satan only emphasized his ineptitude at fruit preparation. He juggled it around with his elongated claws unable to get hold of it.
In the split second this gave me, I had chance to grab my X-Ray specs from the rucksack that lay underneath my hammock like a deus ex machina. I bounded across the roof, and jammed the spectacles over his eyes, then wrenched him round to face the bottomless sun we'd created.
His back arched again, so violently I thought he would do a backflip. The crows suddenly felt the heat of the flames and burst into a cloud of ash.
The the imploding black sun knocked me on my back. When I regained consciousness, there was a hot yellow sun burning in a blue sky, and two delivery men dressed as Laurel & Hardy were tarring the roof and making a bad job of it.
Next to me sat a small chimp in a nappy, wondering whether to shit or scratch its arse.
All I can gather from all this was by giving the satanic Brian X-Ray vision, he saw through the black sun, all the way through to the other side and the opposite, and given the beautiful day we were now enjoying on Prague's rooftops, even the Prince of Darkness had to reconsider his angle on life.
Not everything returned to normal after that. The two throbbing cocks turned into two big pulsating pussies, and I almost got sucked in because one of them thought I was an averagely sized dick.
After that first new dawn, the first after Armaggedon, it clouded over and rained ash and cinders for three days solid. The ash brought the same hush to Prague as snow, and I walked along in my winter coat, collar up to the ash-fall, adjusting my step to the esoteric tilt of her streets.
It was time to go home. People were gradually reappearing on the streets, and I managed to find an open internet café and book a flight. After all that, I still had 100kc in my pocket, enough for a final beer and klobasa on Wenceslas Square, then back to England, never to let Prague darken my mind evermore.
Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
Re: Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
"I later found out that Brian's previous Organ Grinder would come home drunk at night and expose himself to Brian in the pantry" - How did you find that out?
- Why didn't you use the plutonium device yourself to clean out the machines? Seems the more intelligent thing to do, since you'd get a lot more money winning the lottery yourself than selling the device's use to others. And it's not as if by loaning it out you're keeping your identity secret because they know you anyway after a while.
"one of the delivery men dressed as Laurel & Hardy came up behind me and hit me over the head with a frying pan" - how do you know it's him if he came up behind you?
"they reached to the sky as if waiting to receive manna from Hell" - generally if you're reaching for the heavens you're supplicating the heavens for something, not hell, so this read wrong to me. Maybe have him swinging his arms up from below as if he's calling demons to rise from the ground or something
"fashioned out of goat cartilage" - How can he tell it's goat cartilage as opposed to cartilage from humans or any other species?
All in all it's an intriguing tale with a certainly unexpected ending! I think my favorite part was the scuba divers nonchalant speech about "They're plotting a day when the sun burns black and the dead will rise as their slaves, the gutters will run full with the blood of the heretics, and your brother will ride across the skies in a chariot drawn by ravens, and everybody will kneel..."
Re: Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
Now I have a dilemma. I wrote this story one afternoon in a Prague bar seven years ago, and almost immediately forgot it. I dusted it off again earlier this year, and everyone who has read it so far seems to have a positive reaction to it. I toyed with the idea of tidying it up, but reading it again after so long, I felt the rough edges & inconsistencies added to the story's character.
Now I realise people enjoy this story, I'd like to try getting it out to a wider audience. So do I tidy it up? I'd really like to hear anyone else's opinion on this, because I'm not sure which way to go...
Re: Re: Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
Re: Re: Re: Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The Demon Chimp of Prague, or, Pan Troglodyte Diablo
The Week of Tearing Up
I've been with this family for over 8 years now, ever since I was removed from my second family after being used as an ashtray by people. This followed my first family, where I was beaten and locked in a dark room for what seemed like days at a time for the smallest transgression.
But I have to leave them in a few days, and I really don't want to go. Life sucks, this sucks. I'm so unhappy right now it's all I can do not to cry.
We went to the park today. I've always loved the park. When I was first brought here I was too young to really appreciate it, but I know I always got excited when I heard the word 'park'.
I used to love playing with the ducks when I was little, but a few years ago the pond was filled in and flats were built where it used to be, all in the name of progress apparently.
Well in my opinion progress sucks. I really don't want to leave my family behind. I think I may be officially depressed.
When I first came here I found it so hard to trust these people. I was certain that the abuse I had grown so used to would start again at any moment and that no matter what I did I knew it would be wrong and I'd be punished.
But over time I came to realise that not every family has the same dynamic as the first two I was with. Some families actually use love and affection as their main basis as opposed to hatred and bullying.
It took me over a year to work this out, and during that time I lashed out at my family so many times I lost count, even though they never did anything wrong. At the time I felt I was defending myself, and maybe I was.
My main thought process at the time was "don't get too close and attached", because I knew that sooner or later these people would stop being nice to me and would start lashing out and blaming me for everything anyway, so surely it was better to just get the transition period out of the way.
But they always treated me with such a calm attitude, even when I was really badly behaved. I grew to learn that there are ways to punish bad behaviour without violence, and these are much more effective.
Before I even realised it, all I wanted more than anything else was to show my new family that I was worthy of the attention and love they were showing me.
Now I have to leave them, and that hurts. Sometimes I wonder if they can hear my stifled cries at night.
We went to the beach today, the whole family. I've always loved the beach, almost as much as the park, although not quite as much as we never came here enough for me to really get to know each nook and cranny of the place like I do the park.
But still, we came enough for me to get used to playing in the surf and then lounging on the sand and relaxing at the end of a fun filled day. I'm going to miss this place the most I think, even though it isn't the place I've visited the most in my time here.
Perhaps because it isn't the place I've visited the most in fact, as I think I'm going to regret the times I could have come here and didn't much more than I could ever have imagined at the time.
As we drove away I couldn't help looking back with a tear in my eye.
I heard my mother and father, or at least what I consider my mother and father, talking about me today. They were talking about how they're going to cope when I'm gone and how long they think they should wait before taking someone else like me in.
My mother was crying, and my dad sounded pretty hoarse too. I don't know if I'm happy or sad that it seems like they're going to miss me so much when I'm gone.
Part of me is happy because it means that they clearly love me as much as I always thought they did, meaning that this whole thing wasn't an act. But the other part of me wishes they were like my other families right now, vile people who weren't even remotely upset when I left, as I really don't want to be the source of my families sadness.
Today is my last day here, and I've spent most of it in the garden, just lounging around and being generally depressed. I can see the family looking at me when they think my attention is distracted by something shiny elsewhere, and I've heard crying come from the house at least twice today.
It's all I can do to keep my own wits about me right now, as I'm just as broken up about leaving as they are. Maybe more so. After all, they still get to have their nice house in a great neighbourhood once I'm gone.
Me? I have no idea what comes next.
I'm feeling tired now so I go and lie down by the pool (YES! My family has their own pool, a scene of endless fun when I was younger). But now I'm tired, so I just lie there and go to sleep.
I don't even hear it when they start calling my name. I'm dead to the world by then.
"Is he dead?"
"Do you think we can bury him before the kids wake up? Maybe tell them he ran away in the night?"
"I'll put him in the car and take him out of town somewhere. That way the kids won't see the mound in the garden and work it out, although they're not idiots and they know he was sick."
Re: The Week of Tearing Up
Re: Re: The Week of Tearing Up
You are so lucky you're a man - you couldn't handle the things women deal with :-P
Re: The Week of Tearing Up
Here are my notes:
"it's all I can do not to cry" - Having read the end, this read wrong to me because dogs don't cry tears - they howl and whine. I just think there might be a better word than 'cry' that would fit for a dog but not give anything away.
"there are ways to punish bad behaviour without violence, and these are much more effective" - what ways?
The Week of Tearing Up
“That’s some nasty pre-wedding jitters, Alice.”
“Stop looking in my toilet, Janie.” I yanked off some toilet paper, wiping the nastiness off my chin, and tried communicating with my stomach. Any more pre-wedding nerves about to come spewing out?
“Alice, it’s green.”
“Yes, well, I drank peppermint liqueur last night.”
“It’s toxic green.”
“It was a lot of liqueur.” I glanced up from worshipping the vomit god. Janie had half turned from where she’d been fixing her hair by the bathroom sink, her hands frozen mid-scrunch in her brown curls, her piquant face gray.
“You really don’t want to marry him, do you.”
I pushed myself up and flushed the toilet, the lingering stench of puke accompanying me. Nudging Janie aside, I peered into the bathroom mirror. Uncombed blond hair, straight as straw – nothing new there – and nice eyes, I’d been told. Blue-green, and a pert – what the…? How did bits of puke get all over my face? Tell me, please, how! It’s not a freaking mist. My mouth isn’t a spray bottle. It didn’t come out of any other orifices. And yet – oh, no, please, no. Even my hair was suspiciously wet.
“I need a shower.”
“You need to answer me, Alice.”
I ignored her as I stripped off my pajamas, kicked them into the corner (oops, overshot, right into the cat litter) and turned the water on as hot as I could take it. Janie stalked me, hovering just beyond the frog and lily pad shower curtain, her shadow forbidding and disapproving. Shadow hands planted on shadow hips and unseen feet tap-tapped impatiently.
“Answer me, Alice.”
I groaned. “Of course I want to marry him. He’s drop-dead gorgeous.”
The foot tap-tapped even faster; the arms gesticulated wildly. “And? What else? Is he smart? Good in bed?”
I winced. He was passable. There were stirrings in me now and then. I pasted a bright smile on my face, gushing, “Fantastic in bed.”
“Oh, stuff it, Alice!” growled the chronically dissatisfied shadow, “Go tell your big fat lie to someone who isn’t your best friend and who hasn’t just seen possibly the most grotesque vomit I will ever see. The guy is controlling. He won’t even let your parents come to your wedding, for heaven’s sake!”
“They’ll be at the reception,” I informed the indignant silhouette defensively. “I reserved a table for them in the next section. They’ll see me through gaps in the latticework.”
Exasperated, puppet-show arms flung upward. “Fine! Fine. I’ve done here. You’ve made your bed, girl. Now lie in it.”
Ooh, I wish she hadn’t used those exact words.
Don’t worry, I told myself, the stirrings will get better in time.
A palm-slapping-head moment. Why hadn’t I thought of them? Mom and Dad could’ve sequestered themselves there, I thought as I walked down the red-carpeted aisle on the arm of – what was his name again? One of Brandon’s friends.
Since Brandon couldn’t stand my family, he’d forbidden them to come to our wedding and reception and had assigned a friend of his to escort me down the aisle. That friend’s sweaty palm was currently patting my hand and making moist, slapping noises.
Please stop doing that, I implored him inwardly; it brought to mind the dying fish flopping against the bottom of my father’s boat when he’d taken me fishing once. Slap, smack, slap smack. Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought of that ill-fated aquatic victim.
I didn’t want to think of doomed fish while walking down the aisle at my wedding.
I looked at Brandon.
That was better. My heart started racing. My breath hitched in my throat. My body said I had way too many yards of useless white fabric on it.
Then I was standing beside him, and What’s-His-Name with the doomed-fish-slappers in place of hands faded into the background.
I stared at Brandon, hardly hearing a word of the entire ceremony. My body kept insisting it did not need this much material on.
This was the curse of the never-fully-sated. Always left wanting more.
I started gravitating toward Brandon.
Wedding night, I chanted in my head. Magical, mystical wedding night, come to me.
The church doors slammed open.
“This wedding can’t go on!”
Everyone spun around. A tiny missile of a woman charged through the door, hurtled down the aisle, skidded to a halt just in front of me and Brandon, and jabbed one tiny finger at him.
“You! You have to marry me! I’m pregnant!”
I burst into tears.
Brandon and his clan left with the little pregnant missile while I sniffled on the red-carpeted steps up to the altar. Janie’s ten-minute listing of all his faults had cheered me despite the priest trying to eject me from his premises, mumbling something about the next couple mistaking the tear spots on the floor for somebody’s bladder problem.
A ruckus from the confessionals stopped the priest mid-reprimand. There was scuffling, cursing, then three breathless figures tumbled out of the confessional closest to the front.
“Wanker!” Dad exclaimed, climbing to his feet and brushing down his pant legs. Mom and Simon followed suit. “Sorry, priest,” Dad amended. “Not you. That adulterer.”
“Alice!” Mom came toward me, arms spread wide.
I did a fair imitation of a missile myself: I launched myself into her embrace.
The tears flowed again.
“Look, Alice, you puked green stuff on your wedding day. Girls who are happy just don’t do that kind of thing. You didn’t want to marry the bloke. Why are you bawling again?”
I’d puked today, too, thinking of the non-wedding. All I wanted was to stare at the ceiling with the occasional tear leaking out, but Janie had bullied me into getting up and dragged me out shopping – we were currently sitting in the food court with half-eaten Chinese cuisine – and I was leaking in public in a very obvious and vociferous way.
My phone rang, sparing me Janie’s Spanish Inquisition.
“Alice,” Mom’s voice crackled over the line. “Are you sitting down?”
“Yes, Mom. Why?”
“Remember I told you your grandmother couldn’t come to the reception because she had a hot Bingo date?”
“Yeah.” The Chicken Kung Pao – though looking nasty moments before – increased vastly in appeal when weighed against hearing details of grandma’s love life.
“Well, I lied,” Mom continued. “Alice, she’s dead.”
“What?” The fork stilled, suspended halfway to my mouth. A Kung Pao chicken piece committed suicide, splattering on the tiled floor of the food court.
“I didn’t want to blacken your wedding day, so I gave her a temporary love life. I didn’t know it was going to be a useless day anyway, or else I wouldn’t have bothered. Really – bingo and a hot date, Alice? I’m surprised you believed me. Anyway, the funeral’s this Wednesday, 9am, Tinkerdam’s Funeral Home.”
“What, Mom, how can you do this to me?” I wailed, but the line went dead. I froze. “Mom? Mom?”
She’d hung up on me!
I called her back.
I pulled the phone away from my ear and gawped at it. Not even my mother wanted to listen to my bawling.
I looked up, expecting Janie to be gone, too, but she only looked at me in a way that made the tears come even harder.
The next morning I puked just thinking of the day before. Grandma dead. She’d been a scary woman but I’d loved her. She could shake me out of my moods with a single prosaic, crude generality on life.
I thought of her a lot that Tuesday. But nothing else. In fact why am I even bothering describing it? Nothing happened. I puked. I cried. And it’s a worthless day anyway. I mean, did anything good ever happen on a Tuesday? That’s naturally excepting those weird people in Prague who do that Tuesday Toast thingey. But what’s the deal with that? Those people are just freaks. Pick a non-loser day next time, folks!
But then again, I feel a bit freakish myself. Maybe one day I’ll try it.
But not this Tuesday. This Tuesday was just puke and tears.
Grandma’s funeral. I woke up thinking about it and felt like puking. Crawling out of bed, I wove across the floor in sleep-induced intoxication, staggered into the bathroom, and stared at myself in the mirror. I did puke then. I nearly decided to stay home, but hey, what better funeral guest than one resembling a corpse in the ultimate show of empathy?
I donned a knee-length black dress, black tights and black medium-high heels. The ensemble made me look frightening; I should have worn it to my wedding, added some black lipstick and heavy black eyeliner; maybe then what’s-his-face would’ve thought twice about ditching the Goth for the pregnant missile. A man never knows what secret powers a Goth has. Mwahahahaha!
The funeral looked as funerals do. Pews. Black carpet. A coffin on a raised dais. People in black. People hunched over mourning. People there for the food at the reception. People peeping into the coffin to ogle the dead lady.
“Alice, I’m so sorry.”
“Mom!” I turned to a veiled figure dressed all in black. “You hung up on me!”
“Phone died, dear. I called you back after I switched cells but couldn’t get through.”
Um…yeah, that’s because I went all self-pity on myself and turned my phone off. Her arms went around me and I melted for a moment. She pulled back and her black-gloved hands framed my face.
“Go pay your respects, Alice.”
Did that mean go look inside the coffin?
A gentle nudge toward the dais told me it did.
How was eyeballing poor departed Grandma showing her respect?
And yet I went.
Someone had put garish red lipstick on her. In fond remembrance of the hot bingo date that wasn’t, I thought ghoulishly.
Someone else had tucked an old black-and-white picture of her, her husband and her children under the fingers clasped over her stomach.
Tears welled up. I’d lost my grandma and my man in the same week.
“Oh, stop being such a baby, Alice.”
I leapt straight up in the air and twisted to see who’d spoken.
“You heard me.”
It couldn’t be.
My head whipped back to Grandma. Her eyes were open and that garish scarlet-lipsticked mouth was curled into her customary ‘You suck’ sneer.
I pressed a hand to my heart. “You’re not dead!”
“What do you think I’m lying in a coffin for, girl? For kicks? Of course I’m dead!”
“Keep your mouth shut or people are going to think you’re talking to a corpse.”
“You just said you are a corpse.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” that lipsticked mouth griped.
“I think I’m going mad,” I talked over her. “Actually I’m sure this isn’t at all unusual. I’ve seen something similar in a movie, where a corpse starts talking–”
“What?” Grandma screeched, scooting backward and sitting up. “Are you calling me a cliché? A cliché talking dead grandma?”
“Is there a point to this torture?” I cut off her tirade.
“Is there a…” She looked about to go off again, but visibly reined herself in. “Yes, in fact there is.” She shoved the picture into my hands. “Tear it up.”
“Rip it to pieces.”
“DO IT, ALICE!” Her red lipsticked mouth yelled right in my face. “DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”
Nothing says terrifying like your wild-eyed, snarling, blood-red-lipped dead grandma screaming in your face. I started tearing the picture up in something nearing a petrified fit of insanity.
“Alice! Alice, WHAT are you doing?”
My mom dragged me away from the coffin, where my grandma was once again resting at peace with scraps of a torn up family photograph sprinkled all over her.
I still had one shred clutched in my hand, a scrap of photograph showing someone’s eye, really freaky looking. I turned it over: ‘baby M’ was scrawled in ink on the back of it. ‘Baby Marlene’ it had probably read. My mom’s name.
I suddenly felt horribly ashamed. Was I going mad?
No! I wasn’t going to cry again.
Thursday doesn’t even deserve a sentence but it’s getting one anyway, and a few fragments to boot.
Puke. Tears. Self-pity.
About sums it up.
Janie came over Friday morning during my daily puke.
“Alice,” she called from the other side of the bathroom door, “please tell me that’s not still the peppermint liqueur.”
“Same thing it’s been every day this week. I’m sick with grief.” I threw open the door and staggered out.
Janie got her first good look at my face and shook her head. “Grief is an abusive husband, Alice; you need to chuck him.”
I snorted and collapsed on my bed while Janie sat down at my desk and rummaged idly through my things, plucking out the photo scrap from Grandma’s funeral. “Baby M?” she read.
“Yeah, what kind of loser am I when my grandmother rises from her coffin to call me a baby?”
Janie reflected a few moments, then said, “Alice, I don’t think that’s what she was saying.” She stood up abruptly. “Come on.”
An hour later we were back in my bathroom looking at a white plastic stick with two stripes on it.
“I’m pregnant?” I squawked.
Janie nodded, grinning from ear to ear. “Certainly looks like it, hun. And I have something to tell that Brandon of yours.”
“No, Janie, wait!”
She was already gone.
A huge bouquet of flowers arrived from Brandon around midmorning, with an envelope containing a two page letter explaining that, having been engaged to him first and also pregnant, I had a greater claim on him than ‘Poppy’ did and if I’d take him back he’d be the happiest man alive.
I could read between the lines.
Poppy was a hard taskmaster, wasn’t she? I remembered that imperious finger jabbed straight at him. You! You have to marry me!
I imagined that all day long. You! You have to obey! You! You have to grovel! You! You have to crawl!
Of course I was the better of two evils.
Sorry, Brandon. Maybe you’ll get smarter in your next life.
Coolly and methodically, I ripped the letter to pieces – at least it started off cool and methodical. It soon descended into a fury of manic tearing and hurling the shredded bits into the air.
Wow, I thought as the pieces settled around me. That felt good. Awesome, in fact.
I looked at the flowers.
If they had been roses, I wouldn’t have done it, but as it was there were no thorns to stop me, and so I tore the flowers up too, tossing them into the air and laughing as the shredded petals and leaves rained down around me.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
My cliché talking dead grandma can vouch for that.
Re: The Week of Tearing Up
The Week of Tearing Up
Real gold. If I had known that and that the value of the contents far outweighed the delicate, shiny wrapper, I might have hesitated before embarking on this journey. But I was young and reckless and tore away the precious metal with a careless flourish. Even as my nails had penetrated the sealed chamber within, a waft of sweet coconut perfume had escaped to fill the room, and now as I laid bare the second layer of wrapping, oiled silk clinging to an unknown centre, it reached out to me with a thousand complex fragrances.
I gasped, stopped for a moment, unused to such powerful experiences, but in a moment I was drawn back in to the task at hand, now nervous fingers pealing away the glistening silk. Spreading it out on the bed of gold, I uncovered the beautiful, moist, white-flecked centre. Damp clumps of excess shredded coconut fell away as I lifted the bite-sized ball in awe, my rough, unworthy lips parting in anticipation, and dog that I was, I popped it in in a single mouthful.
Immediately, my world changed. Coconut splendour pulsed out from the majestic snowball, filling every cavity of my mouth with craving. But I was strong, savouring the moment, not biting yet, but letting the essence of the sweetmeat pervade my being. My eyes closed, pushing away the distractions of the outer world, allowing me to linger in my observation of the tender excitement growing within me. At last I could hold on no longer. Teeth crunching through the myriad of carefully crafted layers, I released the beast within to ravish the morsel I had been blessed with. I was not prepared for what came next.
Rocking gently back and forth, I moaned as the Kiss took control of my body, filling me with a sweetness unbearable, yet unresistible, as liquid sugars oozed from between crunchy wafers and white chocolates – four different at least – swam among exotic desert island flavourings. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the world of chocolates compared with that moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Raffaello, but those dry, flaky balls paled in comparison to this archetype of coconut chocolates. I was unworthy, but every bite released a thousand tender caresses, each informing me there was none more deserving than I, causing me to tear up. The angels wept and I with them, shiny drops of happiness streaking down my cheeks.
I swallowed the last morsel and breathing heavily, looked up at my partner, trying to take in what she had just given me. She was smiling.
And then we spent the rest of the week eating chocolates just like that one.