Sunday, 9 August 2015

Curtains | A modern girl in a band story with soundtrack

Copyright Ngaire Ruth



Prologue: I know women artists have much more to offer than just being angry, but sadly there is still a lot to shout about. I know that promoting is a thankless task particularly when it comes to regular little nights with unknown bands. During my 30 years writing for the music press women musicians have had a difficult time being taken seriously by a team at a venue, or by the other musicians. If this seems old fashioned to you - lucky you. Tell me about it. I want to write a journalistic piece about it. I always plug a good independent promoter in a review  - for example Tobi Blackman. 

NGAIRE RUTH'S SHORT STORY STASH IS MY ART. I don't have to check facts or be fair, certainly not balanced. It is FICTION. If I am not creative, I eat my toes. 

It’s curtains for him.

It’s curtains for her.

She would really prefer a blind, the colour of aubergine, to go with her bedroom walls but she wouldn’t know how to put it up.

Candi, pink hair (she doesn't help herself), perfect eyebrows and a snarl, is sitting in bed watching Laura Kidd (She Makes War) and Tanya Donelly (Belly, Throwing Muses) performing "Slow Dog", a Belly track, on You Tube. Three plays in a row now, ignoring the smelly empty juice carton, plate of half-eaten toast and the fact that she is still hungry.





She knows she should practise her drumming but it’s difficult when you live in a flat with paper-thin walls and neighbours who bang on them more loudly than you’re banging on the bass drum. She isn’t even the official tenant – drawing attention to herself would get too many people into trouble. But how is she ever going to become amazing if she doesn’t practice? It’s exasperating.

When she gets overwhelmed with lack of solutions, Candi gives it up to the universe and has a nap and on waking she automatically seems to know exactly what to do. This is a brilliant skill but she cannot do this at work proper, or when in company – situations which are often overwhelming for Candi.

The name doesn’t help: Candi are you sweet? Candi can I lick you? Candy is good to suck!

She makes a mental note: use these for songs.

************************************************************************
Candi is awake now and working on setting up a drum kit with books and empty, cleaned condiment jars. It is not only solution one, it is becoming art. The choice of books becomes a crucial part of the process very quickly, which in turn means that the building of the little drum kit is going very slowly.

She’s A Rebel, Gillian G. Gaar, a fuck off big book because an anthology of women artists was decades overdue at the time of writing (1992). It is good for a base drum pile but also needs to be at the bottom because it is a gross pink.

Next, Women, Sex and Rock’N’Roll In Their Own Words by Liz Evans, it digs deep and so needs to be part of the base drum with She’s A Rebel. At the top of the bass drum pile: Madonna Like An Icon, by Lucy O’Brien. It is a thick book with a beautiful cover, black and white, Madonna in her maiden, confident phase, and makes a deep thwack. Women Make Noise, edited by Julia Downes – cymbal - the cover is bright yellow with black and white images on the front that are inspiring to Candi (The Slits, Pussy Riot, Lilian Levesque from Trash Kit).

************************************************************************


All art is a journey. Candi stops and plays Skinny Girl Diet. OMG I love SGD types Candi on her Facebook Status. This is the best thing they have done to date.







Now pleased with her drum kit in terms of context but only with the thwack sound of the Madonna book – she decides it’s still sufficient for working on skills: co ordination, timing.

Her favourite drummers right now are Caz Hellbent (Desperate Journalist) and Jennifer Denitto (The WI), although in The WI sometimes Melissa plays drums, who inspires Candi too because what ever role she plays in any band you can guarantee her absolute joy, skill and commitment. Those are the qualities she admires in her heroines and heroes.

Candi is committed. She’s working on the joy and skill element.

She plays Th' Hysterical Injury. She loves how Annie uses her voice in "Visions Of Trees", an old one but never stale. It makes her feel joyful, determined. The song reminds her it's OK to go off the path and into the woods. And Annie and Tom, drummer, are total feminists, humanists to the bone.









*************************************************************************

Solution 2 is ready to go: use my stupid name for angry songs.

***************************************************************************

Candi Facetimes Jo.

“Let me hear the first one!” she squeals .

Love you Jo. Everyone creative needs a friend like Jo.

Candi spits the lyrics like a spoken word piece, so Jo can find a rhythm a beat.

“Wow,” she says. “We are gonna become Bikini Kill”

“Really? You say that likes it’s a bad thing. I heard no squee? It may have been the way I said it?"

“It's amazing” says Joe hastily. “Better than I could do.”

“Better than you could do but not brilliant?"

"Brilliant!"

"Did you get the lyrics?"

"Of course!"

"I'm saying all the shit things people say to me because of my name! I'm holding a mirror up to the bastards."

"You could always change your name, that’s proactive,” perks up Jo.

Quiet

"I think it's very powerful," reassures Jo. "You can talk about how the songs are in the feminist tradition of reclaiming - that's a good point of interest. Well done!"

It's the "Well done!" which truly pisses Candi off. She puts the phone down and circles the room, heavy paces, big sighs.

“I can’t wait to hear the rest tonight,” says Jo,

“What was that?” says Candi, picking up the phone and putting it to her ear. Jo repeats.

“Oh piss off,” snaps Candi, disconnecting Jo and throwing the phone at the sofa.

************************************************************************


When Jo puts the phone down she realises that she wants to say to Candi that she is a bully and that sometimes her behaviour towards her feels like emotional abuse; silencing her voice, belittling her opinion. She seems to think she is the only one equipped to be a feminist, which is of course is ridiculous.



She rings Mike for reassurance and to make sure he got the message that the band is turning up at his place to rehearse tonight.

"She's a pain," agrees Mike. "If it wasn't for her great songwriting skills she wouldn't even be in the band. She's a shit drummer."

**********************************************************************
Candi realises that she is a bully and a bitch for not respecting Jo’s opinion. Feminists need to agree to disagree for the common cause. No diversity = boring = insipid popular music, nowhere fashion. It’s a well know equation and leaves the powerful canons ruling the roost in the art and media world.

She decides to ring Mike and tell him all about it, for reassurance. His phone is busy.

****************************************************************************

All art is a journey. Candi draws a great big spider diagram on her flipchart paper and works quickly to The Ethical Debating Society's Cover Up

It occurs to her she should apologise to Jo. Ring her in a minute she thinks, and continues with the diagram.

*****************************************************************************


“Hey,” says the boy.

“Hey,” says Candi back.

“Good sound check.”

“Thanks, shame about the sound engineer."

"Tony? What do you mean?"

"He completely ignored what we said. Treated us like idiots!”

"Oh he's alright, you've just got to have a bit of a joke with him, get him on side."

"Well he only talked to Mike, our bass player, so that would have been impossible."

"He was totally on the ball for our soundcheck. He definitely knows his stuff. Did you hear it?"

"Sorry, no, we went to get something to eat."

“Just as well or you would have peaked too soon,” he gloats.

Ew. She thinks and moves on despite boy’s outer cuteness.

“Excuse me, gotta find my mates.”

“You an all girl band then?”

“What does that mean? That one day we’ll grow up and become women and leave all this silliness behind us?”

“Ay?”


“Doesn’t matter,” she sighs.

“Right,” he says, wishing he’d never tried to make conversation with the hot girl.

****************************************************************************

The hardcore largely male audience love Candi’s songs with choruses that go: Let me suck it! Can I lick it? You’re so sweet baby. They sing along with raised fists and crazed faces, and absolutely no irony.

Candi and Jo (guitarist) share a stare. It says: Shit.

“Holy fuck!” mouths Jo to Mikey, bass.

Mike grins with amused expression. “Milk it,” he mouths back.

Boy in audience spits at Jo.

“What do you ya think this is 1976!” screams Jo.

Next comes a half full plastic cup of lager.

Jo picks it up and throws it back.

“Rayyyy,” the audience shout.

The sound engineer remains snoozing at the desk. He should never of had that joint.

“Show us yer tits,” they shout.

“I’ll suck, you blow,” shouts a fat bastard.

Jo gives him a V sign.

“Rayyyy,” the audience shout.

The boys mosh hard and shout loud. More plastic cups. More lager dregs. More V signs from Jo.

“Dirty cows!”

Lesbians!” (It's the boy from the band that talked to Candi.)

"I hope so!" shouts Candi. Jo growls at the audience.

“Rayyyy,” they shout.

Candi - suddenly filled with an enormous strength and purpose - leaps over the drum kit and throws herself into the moshpit. People need to die and it needs to be today. Jo and Mike, open mouthed, know not what to do.

Jo is thinking that Candi is a total idiot. Mike is thinking: fucking brilliant, best gig of my life. We're gonna be famous.

“You fuckers!” screams Candi lashing out with her fists and feet as she crowd surfs.

Boys grab at her crotch, her breasts. Her pants are up her arse crack. Jo throws down her guitar, grabs Candi’s outreached hand and tries to haul her back to the stage. Candi hears her dress rip, people start to grab bits of the material to take some kind of momento. Candi lands back on stage, tattered and bruised, even more indignant.

“Rayyyyy” the crowd shout in unison.

And Mike is still slapping that old bass, doing a little dance. He looks at Candi, ready to give her the signal, waiting for her to get comfy again at the drum kit.

“What the fuck Mike?” gestures Candi.

Joe hits a chord.

“I’m gonna tell on you,” roars Candy.

No one else in the band has heard that song before but they just jam along. The audience is so loud and the sound system so awful, it hardly matters.

**************************************************************************

“Great gig!” enthuses Mike. “I reckon we’ll get a review out of that.”

Jo, who is packing up her guitar, ignores him. Snaps goes the case as she secures the clasps.

Candi sits, stooped forward, elbows on thighs, arms dangling, a drumstick still in each hand. She does not have to ignore anyone because she is not there. She is in a far off galaxy; a place she goes in the event of an emergency, when it's impossible to actually nap.

The promoter comes in: great gig I reckon you’ll get a review out of that.

“Thanks,” says Mike.

“The songs are a great angle,” continues the promoter.

Jo kicks Candi, gives her a look.

Candi, back in the room.

“Angle?” she quips.

“It was brilliant what you did there girlie,” he says to her.

“Candi,” she flatly corrects him.

“Your punters are pigs,” says Jo.

“That’s rock and roll,” says the promoter man.

“Is it?” say the girls in unison.

They are ready to leave. There is no way they’re staying in that place another minute.

Mike is comfortable.

"Is there anyone out there we should be talking to," says Mike, putting his now packed bass under the bench seats. "Send in the girls," he jokes not daring to glance in Jo's or Candi's direction.

“Yeah, good one, says promoter man. Taking a big sniff and checking his nose for bogies with grubby fingers.”

"I know you are joking Mike," says Jo.

Mike reddens. Fumbles.

"Yeah, but it would be a good idea to go out there, have a drink, watch the headline act, be seen," he says.

"Did you actually understand what was going on out there?" asks Jo.

"You haven't even asked me if I'm alright?" says Candi.

"I can see you're alright," retorts Mike.

"Really," mumbles Candi, low, fuming.

"You didn't even help me," says Jo.

Mike stays silent.

Promoter man: If he'd helped you he would have got his head kicked in.

Girls raise eyebrows. Candi rubs her head. There is a massive black and blue bruise forming.

Promoter man, hand in pockets, checking his cock is still there (it's so small): You've got to play the game. Get out there."

Mike is shaking his head in agreement. “All in hand,” he lies.

“Bloody good idea having two girls in your band. And that song writing ... genius mate,” says the promoter, patting him on the back as he heads out the door back into the noisy venue.

“Thanks,” says Mike, without glancing once at the girls.

"Invisible," says Jo to Candi flatly. Candi nods.

“Your fucking house drum kit is shit,” shouts Candi after him.

*****************************************************************************

It’s curtains for Mike.

"Mike is not representing feminists," says Jo. "He was out of order there."

"He's a slug not a man," quips Candi.

Mike's gotta go," they say in unison, then look at each other and laugh.

Candi and Jo are walking down the High Street on their way to the overground. It's busy here, a mix of takeaways and restaurant's smells, grubby Internet cafes and cab offices, shiny estate agents.

"Where will we rehearse?" asks practical Jo.

"We'll put the word out. Put notices up. We'll practise at mine, without the electric.

"I'm gonna learn the bass and we'll look for a new drummer."

"Woman drummer?"

"It doesn't matter as long as they get it. As long as they're a team player."

"And they can actually play," reminds Jo.

"Not necessarily," laughs Candi. "More important that they're a feminist and want to be the best drummer ever."

They laugh. Give each other kisses on the cheek.

"You have to be nice."

"I know."

"Yes, it's easy to say but are you going to actually do it?"

"Yes," affirms Candi.

"But are you gonna do it?"

"Yes!" she puts her arm into Jo's. "Yes. Definitely."

"Even on the days when you've got a period and all the bills have come in and someones been mean to you at work and a boy was a pig on the bus and told you you had nice tits."

"Yes! Even when you say stupid things and make assumptions..."

"Candi," warns Jo.

"Yes! For fucks sake!" bawls Candi. "Er.... sorry."

"Sorry for everything?"

"Well, no, I'm not sorry for my amazing songwriting skills or my most excellent version of a vegetarian lasagne and for telling Mike it was curtains for him, or that promoter he was a prat."

*****************************************************************************













Sunday, 26 July 2015

DAVE | And those fucking hippies

copyright Ngaire Ruth

Dave? You awake?

“No.”

“Yes you are. Come on, it’s time to Salute the Sun.”

“Kiss my arse,” mumbles Dave, turning to nestle back under the covers.

Jez gives up on his spiritual leader and leaves.

Dave waits. Listens. He hears Jez make a start on the morning ritual. He sneaks out of his warm little hole to peek out of the teepee. And there it is, the beautiful bent arse of Miss Hooley, the secretary on her enlightenment trip.

He creeps across the rugged floor, quietly stoking the fire so as not to be heard and adding a ready kettle of water on to the three-clover tripod, and climbs back into his cosy haven of sleeping bag, pillows, cushions and quilts and they-were-dead-anyway animals skins; where he can comfortably observe Miss Hooley’s well proportioned behind and perfectly toned body through the crack of the outside world he has left in the teepee canvas. It takes five minutes for the kettle to boil.

****** 
Dave had charmed his way into hiring out this piece of classic English landscape from a local farmer for a foolishly cheap price and a proviso of no generators, no electronic music, and leaving the land exactly as he found it. If the farmer could keep his temporary paying visitors a secret he would still be able to claim subsidy for the un-used land.

He hired the teepee’s out for a song, although not literally, but because he convinced the teepee company that his nice middle class customers would want to buy their own after the experience. He usually found hippy businessmen were the most ambitious.

The place actually looked inviting, fire pit, wooden mushrooms and logs to sit on, canvas benders for sweat lodges and an enormous hot tub under the stars. The teepees were lavishly decorated in sheepskins and rugs, cushions and beanbags, each had its own wood burner inside, which was the most expensive outlay in the end and why Dave’s own teepee didn’t have one. That pissed him off.

In the meantime, customers came via the Internet, through the key words he listed for his site like: holistic retreat, inner self, spiritual, community and health. The landscape’s mythical history and calling himself a Shamen added the authenticity.

The clients were exactly the type Dave expected: a middle-aged pair, the jolly and open Winnie and shy and suspicious Eva; 32 year old keen Trevor; Terry, skinny, one of those greasy 40+ year old guys in denim with a taste for teenage rock, long, limp thin hair and a big heart, still trying to make sense of why people were so dismissive of him, and Miss Sally Hooley, 26, broken heart, looking for an edge on the world. Bless her ass, thought Dave, and Jez, the guy who made the Wiccan and wire sculptures, was also a gift. He stayed to run a woodwork class and seemed both very gullible and entirely capable. He hadn’t even paid him for the sculptures yet.

Only one didn’t fit in: Megan, strong legs, firm stare, lots of lines on the palm of her hands, probably hundreds of years of age, old witch.

****** 
Jez was back.

“Hey,” said Dave. “Just in time to make the tea an'all.”

Jez said nothing.

“You did a great job there,” Dave continues, pouring the tea himself and passing one to Jez. “Next time, don’t say 'I am covering for Dave', say 'I am running the sessions today. Welcome'. If you say you are the leader, people will be led.”

Jez raises his eyebrows.

“They respect you,” Dave says, slurping on his tea. “You’re a natural.”

Jez blushes, shrugs his shoulders: “It’s quite fun actually. They’re nice people.”

“Right,” says Dave, uninterested.

“Can you delegate breakfast chores while I meditate on what our actions for today should be?” (This meant smoke a roll up, have a shit.)

“Sure,” says Jez. 

In truth Jez liked being with the customers more than he liked being in Dave’s company anyway. He had never met women like Meg, Winnie and Eva before. You didn’t make it to that age on his old estate, and if you did you stayed indoors. Dave, on the other hand, gave him the creeps. Jez had come out of his raving years, permanently bug eyed and with a knack for seeing colours around people, which he’d kept quiet, until meeting Eva and Winnie, who were fascinated about everything, and telling Meg, who said they were energy auras. Funny thing, Dave didn’t have one. He was like a ghost or a vampire whose reflection you would never see in a mirror.

****** 

When Dave finally ventures out of the teepee the campfire is burning and water is collected. Everyone is stretched and serene, washed and fed. The sun is out.

“Good morning,” says Dave with enthusiasm, opening out his arms, “Please sit in a circle with me,” he gestures.

They sit in order, as always. Dave shakes them out of their natural order, as always. Eva and Winnie are separated, Dave puts Trevor to his left and Miss Hooley to his right.

“How do you feel today Sally?” he asks, once all have sat comfortably and quietly for a minute.

“Fantastic. Looking forward to my day. I don’t care what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram or if my boss has emailed.”

“I woke up and remembered I was here in this beautiful, place,” says Trevor “That was a good feeling.”

“Yeah, it’s cool” agrees Terry.

“And you Eva?” asks Dave.

“Oh wonderful. I love it here. Don’t you Winnie?”

“It would be even lovelier in a 5 Star hotel,” she replies, half jokingly.

He doesn’t ask Meg or Jez. He puts his hands in the prayer position and embarks into a monologue of nonsense which sounds very profound, along the lines of being open to what you need, not open to what you want. It had been something that a girlfriend had written in a birthday card for him once, and it had stuck though sadly not the girlfriend who had always been too good for him, rungs above him on the emotional ladder.

Next, everyone got into pairs and had to share their story. The idea was each would tell the other’s rendition on return to the circle. Bashful glances were exchanged to check they were getting it right. It was entertaining hearing Terry relate Jez’s early experiences on E, as a young football hooligan or Miss prim and proper Hooley talking about Meg’s many liaisons in amongst the hedgerows on rambling tours to distant Sacred Sights. Jez feels the need to interject:
“I wasn't saying if you like football you’re a violent fucker,” he chimes. “I’m just saying we lived for a fight, and got into fights with other people who lived for a fight. E changed all that.”

“I’ve never tried it,” chirps up Winnie.

“I don’t want to,” says Eva.

“You girls would be safe with me,” insists Jez.

“I imagine I get pretty high when I do the church flowers, all that pollen and bright colours,” perks up Winnie.

“Oh Winnie, bless you,” laughs Meg, “There is more truth to what you say than these folk realise.” Then she winked.

“I was organic long before it was trendy," says Winnie, as if a confirmation of her spiritual connection to flora and fauna.

“The most spiritual experiences come from simple connections,” blabs Dave.

******

Dave decides that Winnie and Meg will lead a walk through the woods on a mission to collect seeds and cuttings of wild flowers and forage for a dinner to remember. Jez was to collect fresh meat from the farmer, which the farmer was happy to share at a marked up price.

“So you will teach us what to forage for?” asks Sally of Dave.

“No,” says Dave, shaking his head, a sigh like she’s an idiot. “I want you people to follow your instincts, listen to the forest spirits and then bring the bunches back here to sort through and discuss with me. And take these for the nettles,” he says, throwing some Liddell gardening gloves at Sally. “Pick a lot because it is delicious cooked like spinach.”

“Right,” says Sally, unsure.

“I am going to forage for magic mushrooms,” said Dave, standing up and stretching. “It is Shamens work but I will share with you all,” he beams.

Meg frowns, says nothing.

Jez grins. “I’ll look after you girls,” he says to Eva and Winnie, locking into Winnie’s arm.

“And I want you to bring back a stone each,” says Dave. “Don’t think about it too much, just when it seems right.”

They nod reverentially. Dave thinks: I’m fucking good at this, continues.

“The session with the stones will be for a ritual later in which we forgive ourselves.”

He thinks to himself: a bit too far? 

****** 

And so it is that Dave manages to send them all off for the afternoon for the third day in a row, so he can be left alone with his needle. He crawls back to his cave and injects heroin into the backs of his knees and crashes out for the day. Before wafting off, he thinks: this is a cushy lifestyle for a junkie.

By dusk there is a happy, hungry camp, an aromatic pile of yarrow, mint, meadow sweet, vervain, lemon balm, feverfew, wild thyme, wood sorrel, dandelion leaves, nasturtium. Sally is attending to a pan of nettles, simmering in garlic and butter. The girls, as Jez calls Eva and Winnie, are making a salad, using the wild herbs according to Meg’s explanations and instructions. Terry’s listening absorbed: everything Meg says is so bloody useful. A pork shoulder is sizzling on a Jez-made spit, and Trev is following instructions, mashing up pine nuts and sesame seeds. They clam up a bit when Dave arrives, which annoys Jez.

The night ends all by itself with no one announcing anything but everything about the closing camp ticking into place, each other to their own role and yet a team, doing what the other doesn’t, thanking those that did. Dave waited for everyone else to do everything.

****** 

In the night Dave is woken by the click of a lighter. It’s Jackee.

Jackee is a boy, a big fuck off London boy with a pretty face and a mean glint in his eye.

Dave sits up slowly. Resting on one bent arm he says: Jackee don’t kill me.

“Why not?”

“Because I’ve got your money or I’m getting it. I’m raking it in mate, honestly.”

“So you’re off the gear?”

“Yeah, course,” he says showing his untouched arms.

“You burnt the fucking house down with me in it you bastard. You fucking ripped me off you punk.”

“No. I knew you’d be alright. You’re the pretty one aren’t you Jackee? You always surf it.”

“How the fuck do I surf loosing ten grand of someone else’s money Dave?” says Jackee. “Fuck you,” he spits, kicking hot ash in Dave’s face.

“Jesus mate, easy!”

“They think I did it, you idiot bastard,” he growls, waving a knife in Dave’s face and lunging at him. Then he falls heavily on top of him. Thud. Rearing behind is Meg’s ruddy-cheeked face, the digging shovel in her hand.

“I’m not surprised,” she says.

“Fuck, did you kill him?” says Dave.

They both heave him over and feel for a pulse. None. Blood pours out from the back of his head.

“I guess I did,” says Meg, unalarmed. “He was going to kill you. Fancy making people angry enough to kill you.”

“The guys a mad man,” blabbers Dave. “Reckons I stole his money, did you hear that? I’ve never seen him before in my life! Where did he come from?!”
“I heard everything,” says Meg, throwing down the shovel. “More to the point I know everything.”

“Was my name the give away," says Dave, trying to make light of a ridiculously dire situation. "Look, no one needs to know,”  he stammers, hands shaking.

“I knew you were bluffing,” says Meg. “You don’t get magic mushrooms, or any mushrooms for that matter, in the summer.”

“I…” he starts. Meg holds up her hand to stop him.

“But I’ve got to say, you’ve probably done more for these people than a professional fruitcake. Those poor things have had to do everything for themselves. That’s proper witching that is.”

“You what?” says Dave.

“Need a fix do you?”

“I,” stutters Dave, ashamed.

“Well if I help you, you can forget all that,” says Meg. “If you can’t give up out here in this crazy, enchanted green you might as well ask me to hit you over the head with the shovel now.”

“I can’t get methadone, I’m officially dead.”

“We’ll trip you out on henbane, just the right amount.”

“Shit.”

“I’ll ween you off it in three months.”

“What? Impossible,” he says.

“Yes probably,” she says, “But that’s my only offer, now let’s get this awful man buried in the compost pit. And you’re going to be the one to jump in amongst all the shit and a dig a deep hole for him.”

“Shit,” he says again.

“Yes, dear, you are literally going to be in big shit, which is better than being in a big shit.”

Dave was dumbfounded, not because he had just recently escaped death or seen his old friend murdered right in front of him, he was the fucker Meg thought, but that this old woman had killed someone without blinking; had dealt with his addiction and deceit without a wince and was now dragging a dead body out of the teepee and telling him to shift his lazy arse and grab that shovel.

****** 

The next morning Meg is waiting by the campfire, bread in the earth oven ready to go, homemade jam made from the fresh wild strawberries that she collected on the long walk she took after burying the boys. There was no way she was going to collaborate with a mean, screwed up person like Dave.

“Oh dearie me no,” she says aloud to herself, adding some more wood to the fire.

In fact, once Dave had dug the grave and placed the pretty one in it he put the shovel down and his hands on his hips and exclaimed to Meg: “You’re an amazing woman.”

“Wild witches never get the blues dear,” she said, and picked up the shovel and whacked him hard over the head with it, tipping him gently with a pointed finger conveniently into the fresh grave.

Jez appears and everyone is so pleased to see him. Jez feels good about the day. Meg takes him to one side and explains that Dave left in the night and instructed her to tell Jez to take over, permanently, with his blessings.

“He’s too lazy to go anywhere,” says Jez, unsure.

“Yes. He needed a new adventure. That’s what he said. He knew he could trust you.”

Then she reminded him that Dave did not believe in possessions or profit. His mission had been accomplished.  

“All this stuff,” says Jez.

“It’s yours dear. Sell it, keep it but use it to continue on doing your art, and finish this week. We’ll be a team.”

“Even Terry?”

“Definitely Terry,” says Meg. “It’s essential.”

****** 

Before summer turns to autumn, Meg takes a ramble to the old site out of curiosity. It looks the same as every other field except that there is a beautiful wild herb garden, where the compost pit used to be, and red poppies everywhere.


“That’s funny,” thinks Meg to herself, a small embarrassed, giggle escaping, “Poppies don’t normally like a well-fertilised soil.”

******

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Susan | Don't throw stones in wooden houses




Copyright Ngaire Ruth

“Will you get that muddy dog out of the house!”

“Don’t you dare,” I say, lunging at the tearaway hound before she can slap the poor old thing on its bony arse.

“She’s too old to live on the street. I’m gonna find her owner.”

With bravado I usher the dear dog out through the back door, so that the wood and wire mesh of the inner insect door makes a horrendous snap, crash and shudder on closing. 


I love that sound. I love all the sounds in the big old wooden house that is ground level at the front, on stilts at the back. With socks on you can slide from one end of the hallway to the other in a single whoosh. 

I collect stray cats and dogs and build rockeries for lizards. I also have an imaginary horse in the old stable at the end of garden. It’s in my nature.

Seems like all my new crew of waifs and strays are confined to the outside veranda and toilet for the moment then. Currently: one dog, two frogs and three cats, but the cats only seem to be homeless around dinnertime. To be honest, I’m not yet doing anything about looking for the dog’s owner, but I am only eight. I call her Susan because I call all my dogs Susan, girls or boys, family pets or strays.

****

I play ball in the garden with Susan. Soon my Dad will be home from work and we’ll take her for a walk; we’ll stop and talk to other dogs and owners and see if we can’t trace Susan’s real family. I can hear noises in the shed from the garden next door. I think it is Robyn and her brother Larkin.

"Come on Susan, let’s go and see Monty,” I announce. (The imaginary horse.)

There is giggling in the shed.

Robyn is my friend Karen’s older sister. There is a fence between our houses with about a metre’s space on either side of the fence, so her bedroom window is about two metres from mine. When we arrived at the house in Adelaide's dusty suburbs (Australia) I ran barefoot on to the lawn only to discover that it was a sharp, tough blade of grass, and it cut my feet. That was my warning. 


Karen shares a room with Robyn. We pass notes to each other via a tin tied to string. Sometimes Robyn infiltrates them and writes horrid things like “Suck his dick!” or “Get yer tits out!”

I think Robyn is bad to the bone. Like a dog with a bone I can’t help picking at it, even though she scares me – the older brother, Larkin even more.

I lean over the fence.

“Is that you Karen?” I say, knowing full well it isn’t.

“No. So piss off, mad girl!” is the reply.

“Where’s Karen?” I ask, “I want to show her something.”

The door opens and Robyn pokes her head out. Smoke billows out from the door.

“Are you smoking?” I ask.

“What do you want Miss Goody Pants?” she says.

“Where’s Karen?” I boldly ask.

“None of your business,” says Robyn. “I think you should stay well away from my little sister.”

I duck down from behind the fence, hiding my tears.

“Good. Fuck off!” says the voices, Larkin joining in.

The shed door slams shut.

****

That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried that we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears. 


My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks.

“Er, no. I do this all the time,” I thought, but remembering I am eight say: "Br'er Fox was after me!”

She gives me a hug and pops me back into bed.

****

The next day Karen comes over and asks my step-mum if I can come to play.

“No. She has Sunday school,” I hear her say, “But she can come around after lunch and play for a bit before evening church.”

As we leave for church Karen waves at me from her front room window and I wave back, reluctantly. I want to be her friend but I never want to go to her house again. Not ever. No one has actually asked me if I’d like to go around to play after lunch, so no one knows that.

I am pissed off. In Sunday school I ask the teacher what the word “fuck” means.

“We are not here to learn bad words,” she says. “We are here to learn about the love of Jesus.”

Then we all sing a round of This Little Light Of Mine.

“Why do I hear grown ups using the word fuck. What does it mean?” I persist.

“Not all have been saved.” she snaps.

“I even hear children at school saying fuck.” I remark with innocence, yet expression.

“Shall we have another verse children?” she offers, brittle as bone, the bone I keep biting at. “This time: Everywhere I Go.

Once the new verse begins she turns to me and whispers, with frothy spittle escaping from clenched teeth: “Some children say bad words because they are evil children without god in their hearts.”

She is not as scary as Robyn and Larkin. I am in a learning zone where curiosity reigns because there is the word school in Sunday school. So I am just surprised. I am sure the hymn goes: Jesus loves all the little children, all the children of the world?

The verse is over and I ask if we can sing, “Jesus loves all the little children, all the children of the world, even evil ones.”

I am the first child to have detention for Sunday school.

****
I am still not clear on the word fuck but my suspicions that Robyn and Larkin are evil grow ever stronger. Since the grown ups seem to be busy picking on god’s creatures and little children, it’s up to me to do something about it.

This means I need evidence, which in turn means I have a purpose for braving Karen’s house. We are in her room.

“Are you scared about starting your periods?” I ask her.

“No. I don’t think about it. It’s a long way off,” she sighs. “Robyn has periods and they make her boobs big and she smells.”

“Ugh, does she?”

“Smelly as pooh,” encourages Karen, knowing my fear and loathing for Robyn.

“Smelly as pooh and wee.” I say, with emphasis on the and.

Robyn enters the room. We are horrified.

“It’s my room too.” she says with a glare and with that jumps on her bed and stretches out. Her presence is menacing.

She looks up.

“Well don’t worry about me,” she taunts. “You two little love birds just carry on.”

“I must be going,” I say. “I’ve got church.”

“What again,” says Karen. “Twice in one day?”

“Good thing too you little weirdo,” spits Robyn.

I want to cry.

“Robyn! I’m telling mum,” says Karen, and makes her exit and I quickly follow for fear of being killed.

“Oh, get lost,” mumbles Robyn, making herself comfortable.

****
That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried that we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears.

My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks.

I say: I’ve wee’d in my jarmies and on my shoes. (I am only eight after all.)

She gives me a hug, cleans me up, gets fresh pyjamas and pops me back into bed.

****

Karen asks me to come over to play after tea.

“We’re gonna play karaoke. My mum will be there so Robyn and Larkin can’t be horrible to us. My uncle is coming over as well. Dad says he’s a famous politician.”

And so it is that I sing along to “Puppet On A String”, “Knock Three Times” with Australian’s Labour Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

They make jokes about me being quite the little show off for a girl from a family of Liberals. I don’t understand.

Robyn and Larkin are allowed a snippet of wine and beer, respectively. Karen and I get ice cream. All the grown ups are smoking. The more they drink the more they smoke and the louder they get.

“Makes you want one,” Robyn says to Larkin.

“Come into my room,” whispers Karen to me. “I’ve got some evidence for you.”

Karen and I go into her room. She lifts up Robyn’s pink flannelette cover and pulls out a red beauty case. She opens it.

“Here,” she says, throwing a packet of cigarettes at me. “This is where she keeps them.”

I let out a gasp. I don’t know what to do. If I take them Robyn will know and she and Larkin will murder us, which will hurt a lot in the build up. If I don’t take them I have no evidence. I freeze. Karen takes the packet back and returns it to the case. Snaps the lid shut, puts in back in its place.

I follow her back to the family room, now vacated by the grown ups, and then through to the extension at the back of the house. It turns out to be Larkin’s bedroom. It smells. I have never experienced the aroma of a teenage boy’s dirty socks and pants, sweaty shoes, messy sheets, the floor an obstacle of various sports bags in which scientific experiments seem to be happening with old bananas, forgotten boiled sweets and dirty tee shirts. The walls are covered in pictures of footballers and girls in bikinis on surfboards. Instantly I am repulsed and want to run.

“I think that one looks like Robyn, don't you?” Larkin says to me.

I am frozen with fear. He has never spoken to me directly before.

“I’m better looking than that you sod,” Robyn squeals and jumps on his back, wrapping her legs and arms around him and licking his neck, like a dog, at which point he throws himself onto the bed, Robyn attached.

“Ow,” she says, “You bugger,"shaking him off and shifting position so that she is sitting on top of him now.

“Wow. Look at those boobies,” says Larkin. “Rubbing them with his nail-bitten hands.”

Robyn is laughing.

“I hear you’re gonna tell on us at school for smoking?” says Robyn, throwing her head back, riding Larkin, as I do my imaginary horse.

“Well, no, I haven’t,” I stutter. “Grown-ups do it,” I splutter.

Larkin turns and look straight at me: Well we thought if you’re gonna squeal than you should have something really good to tell.

And Robyn grins. The smile is my evidence that she is totally evil. I have heard that the devil often wins.

Karen leaves: “She’s wasn’t gonna tell,” she says. And in that moment I realise that I am going to die. My friend has betrayed me.

“Wanna see a boy’s willie when it’s big?” Robyn asks me, stroking her brother’s leg.

“Mmmmm,” he groans, “Get it out. Suck it,” he shouts, laughing so much he can barely get the words out.

“Suck that dick!” shouts Robyn, continuing the mean game.

“Get yer tits out!” shouts Larkin.

I don't want to see a boy's willie and certainly not a big one. Death is suddenly preferable. I am sick. Raspberry ripple ice cream everywhere on the grubby carpet, splattered on the sport’s bags, dirty socks and half-read magazines.

Their mum comes to the doorway.

“Stop fighting you two,” she bawls.

“We’re not,” they exclaim, unravelling themselves from each other.

Then she sees the sick.

****

That night I don’t send Karen a note via our tin. Instead, I count the number of mosquitoes my lizard-friend, sitting on the windowsill, eats. I try to ignore the clunk clunk ting of the tin against the window frame as Karen tries to get my attention. Eventually I drift off to sleep and I get a fever through the heat of the night and the hurt of the day. I dream of my only Christmas in England, a snowy white (1963). I dream of my mother – she is lost and calling me – and I go look for her. I am worried we will all have to live in the outside toilet with the rest of the waifs and strays when I find her, but still I follow the calls. It’s in my nature.

In the dead of night I wake up in the wardrobe, door closed, sitting on sharp shoe buckles, head and face draped in my Sunday best, now crinkled and soaked with tears. 


My step-mum wakes with the commotion and comes to my aid.

“Did you have a nightmare love?” she asks. I nod. She gives me a hug.

“How about Susan sleeping in your bed tonight?” she suggests. And for the first time ever, I give her a hug.

“I just miss my mummy,” I say to her truthfully.

“I know love" she says” no more, no less.

Then we go get Susan from her bed in the open-doored outside toilet on the veranda. Her claws trip trop on the wooden floor in the hallway and after a small amount of time convincing her that she's allowed on the bed, she happily snuggles into my open arms. I don't know who is more pleased with themselves, she or me. I sing Susan to sleep to a made up song that goes: Everywhere I go, Susan will come too, to the tune of This Little Light Of Mine. And I promise her that I will never ever go next door again. 






Saturday, 6 June 2015

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Copyright Ngaire Ruth

This is a love story. There is no romance.
At the end play: The Fall "How I Wrote Elastic Man" 

SHE’s crouched forward, concentrating on her breathing and focus, waiting for the signal.

She can hear their voices and footsteps now, as they turn into the alley, ever closer. One boy has a local accent, dragging out every vowel, missing the letter at the end, the other, snap, snap, snap. Who would wanna be his friend? He keeps taking a breathe halfway through a sentence.

“Give it me. Watch it. Where can we?” Pause. “…Smoke it?”

****
It takes Meesh a long time to walk up the stairs to the 4th floor and Sall’s flat because she wishes to go unnoticed. There’s no lift, two flats to a floor, each door opposite the other.

It takes Sall a long time to answer the door which adds to Meesh’s fear of “being observed unknowingly by god knows who”. It’s not that the elderly woman finds it difficult to get to the door quickly but there are a lot of locks and chains to negotiate before she can open it.

“Alright Meesh,” she sings.

“Yeah. You?”

“Huh,” she tuts.

And without being told Meesh makes her way down the long hallway to the orange and tan kitchen on the left, at the end of it.

Meesh sits down on the one chair and Sall comes in behind her, straight to the cooker, stirs a saucepan on the hob.

“Chicken stew,” she announces proudly. “Left over from yesterday’s roast chicken.”

“I’ve gotta make Charmane's tea yet,” says Meesh.

“Take some of this for ‘er.”

“Yeah alright. I’ve already peeled the veg,” Meesh replies, remembering the last time she took home Sall’s second day stew the whole family had food poisoning.

“So you haven’t got the time for a quick Bloody Mary then?”

Meesh's eye’s light up. Sall’s BM’s are exceptional: it’s the dash of lime, the generous pinch of Tabasco, the sprig of mint, torn off from the kitchen window box.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

As part of the ritual Meesh shuffles out to the hallway, across to the front room (Hi to Toya watching TV), and out the balcony door. Sits on the chair nearest the wall; Sall needs to be near the door, always in and out. Meesh texts her daughter: Sall’s just made me a drink. Won’t be long.

“What’s the funny smell?”

“Grease. I’ve had to grease the pipes and all the bits ‘ere,” she points out, leaning dangerously over the balcony. “He’s been trying to get in. Banging on the door all night until the neighbours call the police. Now he’s trying this way.”

Poor Sal. That son of hers just won’t leave be. Says wicked, mean things about her then begs for money, then beats her. “Surely he’s too heavy to climb up a plastic drainpipe?” Meesh encourages.

“It ain’t plastic and he’s a skinny bastard,” retorts Sall.

Quiet.

Sall makes sure Meesh is comfortable and has had all the latest details of recent plantings and re-pottings explained and then she goes off, to come back with a book in her hand. She gives it to her, moves the clean laundry piled up on kitchen chair and shuffles off back out the door in to the flat with it.

Daughter texts smiley reply. :) 

“I presume you’re gonna light a fag?” throws back Sall, as she stumbles, arms full with crisp, white sheets and equally crisp, white towels, “I don’t want these stinking.” (I see Sall is still using bleach.) She can’t actually see her feet, negotiating the step over the steel doorframe she needs to make from memory.

Sall has lived here all her life. Everybody on the estate loves to have a good old bitch about her, but they bloody make sure they whisper because some time soon they will probably need Sall’s help. Meesh is not from the estate. She thinks the most revolutionary thing about Sall is how she's maintained a very shiny black fringe with the rest of her hair, blonde, in the same style for thirty years. 

The book says in gold lettering Comprehensive Diagnostic Manual of Medical and Psychological Terms. It is pretending to be leather, but of course lacks the depth of colour, sheen or texture which makes boring brown so acceptable. It says: I’m important but I’m bluffing. Careful here it will be important to Sall.

Meesh does indeed light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

She jumps up and leans over the balcony to flick her ash.

“Where you puttin’ that ash?” snaps Sall, returned.

“Obviously,” Meesh sarcs, gesturing with her hand to the ground far below.

Together they stand, leaning over the balcony: suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

"Don't let Toya see me," whispers Sall.

“Are you gonna sit for a minute now?” says Meesh, ignoring her. 

“Oh, yeah. I want to ask you about that?” she says, head nodding towards the book. “You know I can’t read properly don’t you?”

She didn’t. It seemed odd because she knew for a fact that Sall nicked books. She stole them from the secondary school in which she was a cleaner. The other people she cleaned for – intellectuals in Georgian houses – appeared to Sall quite hopeless, being unable or unwilling to sort out their own dirty messes or clutter, and it bemused her that they were happier and more successful than she, despite these huge flaws in their character. That is lack of cleanliness according to Sall.

Another thing, they all have vast quantities of books, on shelves, which go with the dust and the clutter scenario. If you ever see fit to move one single little book though, it’s noticed. A boundary Sall has tested, initially in her quest to steal as many books as possible.

Sall’s logic says that it’s the lack of dust and books in her life which perhaps are the only things stopping her rise to a great success and fulfilment. And so she sets to rectifying this by stealing as many books as possible (from people and places she considers are superior to her) and begins to educate her-self and everybody else, of course. And just like magic, the dust gathers as she sits, absorbed.

Education is an evangelical thing for Sall. One week: the water cycle is explained in full to everybody who calls.  She makes sketches for you while explaining. The next week: Alice in Wonderland, inventing a great game: just open it, read the first sentence you see on the page and take that as your quote of the day.   

What does this mean? She says, frantically sifting through pages to find the spot, marked with constant opening, stroking he pages flat. "It’s a bit harder to understand than them children’s books I’ve got."

“Is there something wrong with you Sall?”

“Well, I didn’t think so but now I wonder,” she says, pointing nervously at the part she wanted me to read. Am I the person Johnny says I am?

Page 68
Sexual deviant: bisexual

“Why do you want me to read this tosh?” declares Meesh, exasperated.

“It’s medical innit?” replies Sall. “So I can get it fixed?”

“It’s these blokes that need fixing Sall!” Meesh snorts. “It’s a bunch of blokes with too much spare time. And it’s a very, very old book Sall.”

Sal knew in her heart it was wrong but it was in a book, written by someone cleverer than her, in a place of learning for other people who are cleverer than her – it must be right. And this was why everything bad happens to her.

****

She hopes that they don’t decide to sneak a quick smoke behind the three large green refuse bins she is hiding behind. It’s a good spot because there are no CCTV cameras here.

Light a fag, swig a drink, suck, blow, sip, swallow. Lovely.

Screams above from a distant balcony on the estate, a bored gang of overdramatic pre-teens, but she doesn’t budge – although it’s enough to stop the “smoke stop” as the boys swerve and continue on down the alley, kicking up beer cans and shuffling dirt on the rough concrete with the toes of their slick trainers.

She tries to stay dead quiet and dead still, otherwise the empty plastic bag she is holding open, with both hands, will crackle and she’ll be found and dead first. She thinks: last chance to throw it now and let it float quietly to the concrete. Maybe slip a hand inside the sky blue roller skating socks that I love, for the kitchen knife?

She forces herself to loosen her clenched teeth, open her mouth, and breathe: short, quiet and controlled. Wait.

She can see their backs now, just, one has his hoody up. (Damn those things.) The other has a smart polo shirt on, chinos and boat shoes. Shame she’s going to have to kill the better-looking one first.

Now they are a few paces ahead. She creeps up behind them and jumps out in time to slip the bag neatly over pretty boy’s head and firmly grip his neck. She twists the handles tightly, like a wrench, but has not expected the full force of a young, healthy body reacting against such a shock, or indeed the prospect of death. She hasn’t figured on having to hold the weight of the boy by the head either, skinny bastard, she had thought is not a heavy bastard. She hadn't figured on his punching power either – at a mechanical, rhythmic speed on any part of her body he finds in the panic - or the sound his neck makes, as his muscles clench and rip in repulsion.

The second boy lunges forward at the girl and grabs her clenched, whitening fists, which only serves to help take the weight, ensuring that the two of them are holding on to the bag very securely indeed. There they stand, hoody boy bawling, tears and snot and spit and clinging to his mate’s neck, trying to keep him on his feet but at the same time helping to kill him. Girl, fixed stare, too-late-to-back-out-now, kicking out at boy two, so that the dying teen finally sinks to the ground, his neck, surely broken by now as it’s tugged this way and that, but no.

And it’s the sound of dying boy’s exaggerated breathing, the little pit in the plastic bag going in and out where his mouth should be, accompanied by the sound of flapping white plastic, which makes both of the teenagers stop, in the end, mouth’s gaping, panting madly. 

They let pretty boy Johnny drop with a thud to the ground, the other boy skidding as he tries to get his balance.

“You’re …fucking crazy!” he bawls and makes a dash for it, only to struggle since his fashionable trousers are now around his knees. He wipes his mouth, pulls his trousers up and turns to look at the girl once more, and then runs.

The girl removes Sall’s yellow washing up gloves and turns them inside out, then tucks them in to her jean’s pocket. She checks around on the ground, in case anything circumspect that can be traced back to her has come loose in the struggle: all her clothing intact, bangles, bells on her ears, ring in her nose and on her fingers, all there, keys, coins (she’d counted them earlier), phone, Oyster card, all there. The only thing she is leaving behind is the plastic bag on the boy’s head. She was sure it wouldn’t be any danger to passing ducks or other wildlife, unlike the boy. She ambles on, never once looking down or back.

****
Sall: Meesh forgot to take the chicken stew I put by for her!

Toya: “Yeah, I can see,” she says knowingly, raised eyebrows, as she negotiates a difficult manoeuvre through the kitchen door, with the washing machine crammed behind it, dinner dishes balanced in both hands, and over to the sink.  

Sall, at sink: Have you seen the washing up gloves?

Toya: No - putting down the dishes, cracking noise of china on steel, rattle.

“Careful,” grumps Sall. “Where are my bleeding gloves?”

Toya: How do I know?

Sall: Well they ain’t here.

Toya: And I haven’t got them.

Sal: Someone’s nicked them then.

Toya: What would anybody want with a pair of dirty, old washing up gloves?


****