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Talk, Talk by Edward Mc Whinney | Word Riot
Short Stories

January 15, 2016      

Talk, Talk by Edward Mc Whinney

We left at dusk. As usual, the one suitcase. Diego was waiting at the back entrance. We drove through the suburbs onto the motorway. It was 158 kilometres to the next city. He spoke non-stop. I turned up the radio, spun the dial through all night Jazz and Talk, Talk Radio, the motorway swallowed the miles, then as the city loomed before us, only fifty kilometres away, Diego decided to take a shortcut through the mountains. I see his bald head and grey beard, leather jacket and dark glasses. As we climbed into the hills a storm broke and the windscreen wipers brushed black streaks of water to and fro. Forks of lightning lit up the road. For a second it was like daylight. Diego drove in a kind of panic. A fox jumped out of a ditch and skidded on the road, blinded by the headlights, a look of terror before lunging back the way it had come.

The road narrowed. The kilometres expanded. The mountains were above somewhere, the sea below. We made it over a mountain pass with forked lightning our guide. The car began to stutter and jump as soon as we began the descent. We skidded into a village and looked around for the lights of an Inn or hostelry. A dull yellow sign announced a dirty hotel. The people were strange. It was ten o’clock. They agreed to feed us. The waitress had a tight dress and enormous breasts. She wore glasses. We have home-made hamburgers, she said. Good, said Diego, first, two beers, please. The waitress pulled up the hem of her skirt to reveal, beefy white thighs, in scary contrast to the shins which resembled matchsticks as they say. She moved with a confident swagger. We swallowed the beers and ordered two more. Diego got twenty non-filtered cigarettes from a machine. She brought us greasy ground beef steak with bread. We sledged two carafes of local red to wash it down. Badly needed. Then we had coffee and brandy before being shown to our rooms. The room was shabby. There was a ridge down the centre of the mattress to wed with the ridge of the spine, fragile railway of time. The waitress went in next door with Diego. The springs of that bed were loose, but with the exhaustion and the alcohol I soon lost consciousness, maybe my snoring an antidote to the shrieks of the girl and the whining of the springs. I had a dream which brought me right back to the beginning, just before the first time I went on the run. I lost my job and we were so poor that we did not know what to do. She went off everyday looking for work. I hid out in a back room of my mother’s house, reading and watching films. The real world was inside the tube, as inaccessible as walking into the mirror. I did some callisthenic exercises every hour or so. My mother cooked and baked. A neighbour with a big nose called and said; You better get a job. I entered an industrial landscape, factories of hooting whistles and steaming chimneys, in black and white. When the light came up in the window I hit the giant lever of the alarm clock in the shape of the Leader’s Head. I felt the aches and pains as I shaved. The acidic taste of orange juice, the burnt toast scraped and buttered, a cup of tea left on the draining board. In the building, there was an octopus in a tank whose changing colours predicted the forecast and a salamander as back up. Soon you’re sick in the head. Solutions become less obvious. What can be done, hormones, pheromones and a bog full of chemicals and the daily round of notifications; motor tax, eye test, moon tax, brain scan, a blind pullet for dinner or a sliver of pig’s intestine.

With sunlight the stink of the bordello and of the village itself rose up to greet us. Diego was fresh and bounced around swearing at everything. We were thirty kilometres from the city. As we drove a mountain wind singed the tamarind trees. At first, not so much poverty in the suburbs but then, the inevitable slums near the railway station and weird drifters in the squares waiting for nothing.

Diego came with me to see the new flat. I said he didn’t have to, thanking him for the drive. I said he better get on his way and this time stick to the motorway. He didn’t move. He edged into the elevator muttering something about seeing the deal through. The lift took us up to the fourth floor. The student teacher, had been reading classic French literature. I saw the books on the table. First, said the student teacher, I must explain that the water heater is dripping but don’t let this disturb you because it is so slow it takes three weeks to fill a bucket. You could go on your holidays. There was a telephone attached to the wall, a direct link to the universe, said the student-teacher. Just pick it up and dial. But seriously, he said, what we have here, is a little artist’s studio with a fine view, the best view in all of the town. Then he went quiet like a fellow out of classical French literature. When I looked at the view, all I could see was the bus station.

My first day in the city, I had a book tucked in my pocket as I walked around. I sat down for a time to read in the shadow of a statue of a sabre wielding hero.

A rat was placed in a cylinder of water, I read. It swam around for a minute, realised it couldn’t get out and died of cardiac arrest. They put a ladder in for the next rat and it climbed out.

Under the trees near the park was a market of junky clothes. A woman with blurred features stood on a balcony thinking of being an actress, a model, a dentist’s receptionist, I don’t know. She was thinking of something in a foreign language.

I took a bus out to the beach. There were sunny hills and white terraces. There were pleasure boats and restaurants. There were palm trees and the sun beating down. I laugh at the sight of a mother running along the beach after her child trying to make him put his hat on. I stepped into a bar called The Octopussy.

The next story I read was a variation of the last, just that the rhythm was a little different. The stranger arrives, the stranger describes his frugal abode, his loneliness, the stranger reads and scribbles non-stop always the effort to explore the dark labyrinth that leads to the central secret of life. What a balls. The stranger goes out about the town. There is much anguish and he feels like he is in a dream. There is no-one to hear his stifled groans and wake him. The stranger sits on a bench with his book. Across the way a little playground. There were horses and rockets and a timber hippopotamus on a spring. An Italian lady in a wine coloured dress asked for directions to the Museum. Up the steps there by the bust of the spaceman. A brass band composed of male and female musicians, left out for the day, paraded up and down, all shapes and sizes.

I went into the church or maybe it was a Cathedral. The interior was dark, of course, after the sun, as I sat in the back most pew near a rack of smoking candles from which issued a pungent stench of burning wax. An ancient man started talking by a postcard stand and then took a seat beside me in the back pew though the church was unpopulated. He continued the conversation with himself as he tapped his bunch of postcards together inside a brown paper bag, to get them in line. I said three Hail Mary’s and two Our Fathers as in the old times after confession.

A little bar on the corner where I went to joke about the weather, the football and current affairs, joke most of the time that is, for whenever things get serious, the chances are fisticuffs. It’s beautiful there. The lights are low, like candlelight, the jukebox plays low, the billiard balls click softly, and fisticuffs are rare. From my compadres I learnt the fundamentals of the language and one or two tricks such as the best way through is to create a smokescreen of inventions and lies. The black porter flows easy and the keg is near the dispenser.

The calendar on the desk had a rectangular window made of red plastic for moving on to the next date. Voices on the stairwell, come and go. On the weekend the beat of techno from the penthouse apartment.

From the student teacher I inherited two goldfish in a bowl. I had no idea what to do with them, though flushing them down the toilet seemed the best suggestion. I stood above, looking down as they nibbled at bubbles on the surface. It seemed very far down and their little puddle seemed very deep.

At that moment the door buzzer sounded, a short, sharp rasp. I didn’t stir, remained as I was looking down into the goldfish bowl. The door buzzer sounded again, a nastier rasp than before, a mite more sustained. It was a heavy, electric whirring, but still I did not stir, though my muscles tightened. The police maybe.

I crept to the door and looked through the spy glass. A man’s head loomed up and some way behind on the landing, a woman. It was that funny American couple from the penthouse apartment that I’d run into once or twice in a bar on the beach, Todd and his wife, Shelly. I slipped the security chain off and opened the door.

Hello, said Todd, as they stepped in. We were beginning to think that you were out. Shelly said nothing but had a good look around. Todd’s voice struck me as cynical and callous. He touched the book I had been reading. The book fell to the floor. Shelly picked it up. Sorry, said Todd, I have a bad back. I didn’t ask him anything but stared beyond his shoulder at a building I had not noticed before. A white, block of flats with tall chimneys that trembled in the wind. Small lives, never seen were symbolised by tokens such as a sun dial embedded in a ceramic starfish, on the wall of a terrace or a national flag flying from a window.

Todd’s wife, Shelly, was a big girl with horse like teeth. She wore loose, imitation leopard skin leotards and jacket, a treasure chest of jewellery swinging from her limbs. A stench of perfume drove off smells of cooking and other aromatic odours. Her movements were languid, expression flickering from curiosity to indifference.

Todd looked out the window and said that a man on the second floor was dying of a terminal disease. He sits in the bus station all day.

Todd’s mobile rang. He placed his hand over his mouth as he spoke into it. He turned and took a walk into the hallway. When he returned he asked Shelley if she had a pen as he wished to write something down. She produced a fancy, silver pen from her Gucci handbag. It’s a Sheaffer, she said before aiming it at Todd like a gun.

Todd hung up.

The reason we called, said Todd was to invite you for a drink to The Octopussy. We have a little proposition that might interest you? I accepted the invitation without delay, hoping it would hasten their departure.

The gulls gathered on the perspex roof of the bus station. There was the neighbour with the terminal disease sitting on a bench in a departure bay. He looks withdrawn and dejected while alone but if anyone addresses him his face lights up with a smile. A boy asked him for a light. Two men in black suits and white shirt collars paused and one handed him a Gideon Bible. A lady with a white Pomeranian dog asked him for directions. Two policemen paused to say hello.

He sits there every day watching the people coming and going. Everyone from that part of town will pass him by at some point, as well as any amount of strangers. Maybe he was waiting to get the courage to board a bus, fly far away to meet his maker elsewhere? The longer I looked at him, the more I was convinced of this final conflict within his breast. He dozes off and then perhaps he dreams not of the slow death coming for him but of the sudden death that almost claimed him many years ago during the civil war. He was snapped out of his reverie as a bus pulled forward with a toot upon departure.

That afternoon into evening the sea was steamy. In The Octopussy the conversation ranged from Twitter and You Tube to designer swimsuits. The fig trees swayed in a humid breeze. The early moon full of cheese held high, sailing at fifty thousand knots an hour, if you want to believe it.

Only the pure of heart ever see a salamander, said Todd. I’m sure Shelly sees them all the time. I nearly stepped on one in Santa Maria but maybe it was a lizard. What’s the difference between a mule and a donkey and between sepia and squid? He pulled out his phone to engage Google.

He snapped the phone away and looked at me. Come to think of it, you don’t say much do you?

I’m listening, I said. Earlier, you mentioned something about a proposition.

This brought a smile to Todd’s face.

I like a man who gets to the point, he said. He leaned closer with a wink at Shelly who was all ears now.

We have a swinger’s club in our gaff on the weekends, it’s up and running for some time. The thing is last weekend it was decided that we needed an injection of new blood, include some horny bachelors and unattached young maidens.

Well, what do you say?

I’ll have to think about it, I said. Let me get back to you.

Todd scribbled his number on a slip of paper.

Don’t think too long about it man, it’s harmless fun.

In the morning, I took the car from the garage, the medallion to St. Peter the Fisherman on the dashboard. I backed out onto the street. I turned and braked. The soft brakes needed to be pumped. I got out of town onto the motorway and the sky turned black. It looked like night as the deluge began. Four lanes of traffic. I drove for an hour listening to the radio, switching the channels. Music and Talk Talk. There’s a Chinese whisper which says that a chicken won’t get struck by lightning because of his feathers. Well, I’m tinkled pink. Tinkled, did you say tinkled? It’s tickled, dear, tickled pink, not tinkled. Are you sure? Music, symphonic, orchestral, wild orgies of sound waves. Spin dial, more Talk, Talk. Many cases of refugees that need protection, spin, children who do not have relatives and we should do something, spin, everyone looked at me and they all knew my story. They looked at the envelope in my hand and every single one of them knew the address without even reading it. A snippet of jazz, sax, trombone, a little hip hop. Cut through a faint voice behind crinkling static, the will and the means to maintain, then loud, mindless pop, dial roll to Talky, Talk. He steadied himself by growing cucumbers. He visited favourite trees and wrote their biographies. A lilting melodious blues number, a voice to break your heart. Talk, Talky, Talk. Once in Candlestick Park, the man beside me roared like a bullhorn. The echo of that voice rang out now again all of a sudden, right there inside my head, I don’t know what sparked it. I just don’t know. I hit the dial. The roar of the engine, the tyres on the hard shoulder.

I got back off the motorway, parked in the garage. Up in the elevator from the filthy concrete. I put the security chain on the door and my jacket on a hook.

I pulled a kitchen chair to the window, turned it the wrong way around and leaning on the back rest looked down into the bus station. The man with the terminal disease was not to be seen. I lit up a cigar and took a look at that white building with the sun dial in the shape of a star fish and a national flag flying from a window and then again down at the bus station, technicoloured and garish, a brightly lit toy town, the enamel paint on buses shining as from a child’s story book. Soon it began to rain again as only it can rain on this town. The deluge drummed against the perspex roof of the bus station and streamed off the canopies. The man with the terminal disease emerged from the interior and slowly walked down to his usual bench in a departure bay and sat there looking at a queue of people boarding a bus to a city hundreds of kilometres away, looking on as if trying to decide whether to join them or not.

About the author:

Edward Mc Whinney lives in Cork, Ireland. He has had stories published in Cyphers and Barcelona Ink and online, most recently at Word Riot, Juked, Spilling Ink, and Contrary Magazine, where there is an index of his work. An interview appeared in The Committee Room in June 2012.

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