[Sunday, March 18, 2007][Andrew Gallix] FORTY TIDDLY WINKS (2002)
He found it difficult to get up of a morning because he found it difficult to wake up of a morning. The waking-up problem lay in the fact that he did not want to.
Some people cannot go to sleep for fear of passing away in their slumber. Not him, though. Unconsciousness was a state he positively aspired to, and often contrived to reach -- through artificial means -- whenever nature wouldn't take its course which, truth be told, was more often than not these days. Others can just doze off as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Not Tim, though. He needed knocking out flat by dint of drinking himself into a stupor. Otherwise, he was condemned to toss and turn till dawn at the thought of Time's winged chariot hurrying near: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you're dead. Instinctively, Tim would tune into the hypnotic ticking of his wristwatch on the bedside table. Like a clock in a crocodile, it grew closer by the minute with the implacable inevitability of tragedy until the din became truly deafening. Now, he just knocks back another stiff one and waits for the effect to kick in. The clockodial starts melting, Dali-stylee. The ticking gradually fades into a tiny, tinny background backbeat. Soon it is drowned out by Pomme's sonorous snoring. Forty tiddly winks.
Tim is back in the general science class wearing his old school uniform. He cannot see himself wearing it, but a dormant sensation of itchy acrylic chafing skinny white-boy skin is rudely awakened. A remembered forgotten land of man-made fabrics.
That morning after, he emerged more dead than alive from his customary semi-coma. A Caterpillar boot had been moonstomping on his face -- for ever. Nothing else could account for the excruciating pain. Straight away, Tim spotted the tell-tale stigmata: skull resonating like a flushing toilet bowl, snail's trail of saliva smeared across right cheek, dried-up mucus encrusting limp upper lip having seeped nightly from cavernous nostrils. To think that these were the very same orifices in which the breath of life had been breathed thirty-three years earlier! It really did not bear thinking about. Really.
Behold the tiny tots sitting two by two behind dinky desks, all chubby chops and tuck-shop tums, bless 'em.
As a dog returneth to its vomit, so he looked back and noticed a saline snowfall of dandruff liberally sprinkled all over the black pillowcase. He was petrified. God knows how much of his mortal coil ended up in the hoover on a weekly basis -- it was a slow shuffling off. Dust bunnies thou art, Tim, and unto dust bunnies shalt thou return along with every creepy-crawly that creepeth and crawleth upon the earth. He yawned: a putrid, piscine stench issued forth from the cesspool of his mouth, as if he had spent the night snogging a siren in the snot-green sea. Or something.
In pursuit of a good blushing, Miss Ramsay wags an incarnadined digit at some dumpling demon cherub. A few vigorous wags are enough to finger-paint him the colour of her nail varnish. Having achieved the desired chromatic merger, she surveys row upon row of wonky ties and concertinaed tights and sees that it is good. Oh, of course, there are socks to pull up, crinkly smirks to wipe off, curly-wurly minds to straighten out and what-not. But she can tell by the smarmy look on their collective face that Nobody Else has forgotten to bring his/her apple as specified, quite audibly and in plain English, on Thursday last at nine o' clock sharp. To drive the point home, hadn't she chalked the instructions up there on the blackboard for all to see? The writing was on the wall, for Christ's sake! In fancy curlicue letters.
And it came to pass that Tim came to piss. Fishing Moby Dick out of his Calvins was a daily battle, a classic struggle between Man and Beast, the outcome of which seemed most uncertain, considering. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou toil in the toilets.
'A-pples,' she hisses as she click-clicks past Adam, sh-shaking her head from side to side and tut-tutting for added effect, 'The lesson of the day is: a-pples.' (She has a good mind to expel him, cast him into the wilderness.)
After faffing around his nether-nether regions, Tim gave in to what was, by any standard, a formidable, and indeed enviable, gravity-defying pull. A skyscraping tumescence and no mistake. Oh yes, it was at times like this -- when up was the only way -- that you grasped the true meaning of transcendence. Casting all remnants of dignity to the wind, he dropped his kecks around his ankles, and braced himself for the daunting challenge that still lay ahead. They were both bollock naked, the man and his manhood, and were not ashamed.
'Don't let me catch anybody eating during the lesson,' she roars, 'or that body will have hell to pay.' Miss Ramsay paces the classroom, handing out the odd pre-emptive clip round the proverbial earhole.
He stepped back, psyching himself up, mentally gauging distances like a top athlete, stood on tiptoe, took aim and... shshshit. There she blows! A sudden spurt of steamy, spumy liquid came pissing down onto the lid which Pomme -- silly moo that she was -- would insist on using as a lavatorial fig leaf. Tim tensed his pubococcygeus to stop the flow by way of a damage-limitation exercise. Still effing and blinding, he micturated in the sink, mopped up the spillage with wads of pink toilet paper, was out of there like a flush in the pan.
Miss Ramsay's is the mother of all fuck-off apples. Genetically modified by a Dr Frankenstein multinational to the specifications of gangsta Eurotwats, it squats obscenely on the daddy desk, complete in its ur-ness, replete in its rotundity, surfing on surfeit. And it puts the fear of God in the tiny tots, who, for some reason, are now hitting puberty. "All right! Welcome to the New World Order, kids. I'm Uncle Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, you'd better believe it baby." Thus speaks the golden Uberapfel in a global twang that tails off into apple-pie American.
Somehow, Tim stumbled into the kitchen, morning glory at half-mast dripping all over the shop. Upon thy belly shalt thou go. His mind was void and without form. His joints felt well rusty, a Tin Woodman in dire need of lubrication. Like some right divvynity, he fumbled for the switch (fiat lux!) and went to pick a mug from the tree in the midst of the IKEA table. It was a toss-up between James Joyce and Gromit. Predictably enough, given his habitual matutinal regression, he plumped for the reassuring cosiness of the latter.
The apples are drawn, quartered, dissected and analysed right down to the very last pip. Mission accomplished, class dismissed. They can stuff their freckly faces now, for all she cares.
After feeding the dog a pyramid-shaped PG Tip, Tim stood before the work surface, scratching his balls, contemplating yesterday's dirty dishes dotted with miniature bow ties, waiting for the boil to kettle. Over to the right, the leftover soup, primordial-looking in its present enforced-gazpacho incarnation. Click: Tea for Tim. He chose to pour in the milk first although he didn't make a religion of it. In these small matters, as in others, Tim liked to exercise his free-will.
Shifting all her weight on one cheek, Eve dislodges her wayward panties by plucking the elastic like a harp string -- smack! In so doing, she bares her gleaming pearlies. Tim can smell her fragrant bubblegum breath, passion-fruit flavoured. He will write an ode to that west wind with his Magnetic Poetry Kit as soon as he gets a fridge of his own. Eve's wide-open mouth is moist and warm. Tim's wily willy will worm itself willy-nilly into the moist warmth of Eve's yumyum mouth. Her glossed lips quiver over the polished surface of the apple. She dribbles a little, giggles a lot and finally puts it down.
Tim was out of joints. Paranoia was slowly setting in. He switched on the radio to catch the news before the news caught him, and felt relieved when he relived the expected sense of deja entendu. As always, Today sounded like yesterday or the day before. Different but the same in a same-difference kind of way. Two female critics were discussing a cutting-edge novel which was causing some sort of sensation. If you hadn't heard of E-Den, it was like, Hello-o, where have you been for the past seven days? basically. 'It's very gritty.' 'Well, he spares us no details, if that's what you mean.' 'It's very nitty gritty.' As per usual, the reception was crispy-bacon crackly, but simply hearing James Naughtie's voice in between sonorous slurps microwaved the cockles of his little heart.
Row upon row of crisp, unblemished apples looking sorry for themselves. The word 'pristine' springs to mind. It's all sinking in like a body falling down its own precipice. The tree, the not-eating thereof. Tim's classmates, their placid, bovine features. His head spins. His heart pounds. It's like that wrinkled old lady who lives in a shoe or a cupboard or something down the road, you know, the one with the facial hair. Well, she wasn't always hunched over that walking stick of hers you know. In fact, she was very much like Eve once upon a time, and Eve will be very much like her sooner or later. You know it's true, of course you do, on a rational level you do, but not deep down you don't. Deep down you know nothing. This is huge, this is, this is where Mark P meets Socrates. Tim looks round the classroom. 'Nothing,' he wants to scream, 'we don't know nothing,' but the words remain stuck in his throat. Pause. They don't know they don't know, do they? He knows. He alone. He. Alone. Panic.
Apparently, scientists were flocking in droves to Azerbaijan where hundredsomethings still rear their sheep on a daily basis. The BBC correspondent introduced an elderly couple who could actually remember the Bolshevik revolution. Professor Gordon Bennett claimed that they may have some 'genetic predisposition' to living awfully-long lives. The locals who were interviewed reckoned that Nature was an essential part of the equation: simple healthy lifestyles, clean air and smoothies. Then it was the turn of someone else, a young lady whose voice had a very prickly quality which suggested the kind of angular looks a Vorticist would have killed for. She pointed out that even the sheep live longer in that neck of the woods. One of them could actually recall being buggered by Bulgakov, and a bloody good shag it was too, allegedly. 'The question, at the end of the day, isn't so much why these good people and their hospitable sheep enjoy exceptionally-long life-spans,' Mr Bennett concluded, 'but why they should die at all.' Tim winked at the mad professor in the battered transistor radio. He was a bit of a winker was old Tim.
Scattergun impact of killer cha-cha heels marching towards the window: stocky stoccado, scatty scattato, click click click. Well Stacked of Stockwell looks up with heaving bosom, erect nipples standing to attention beneath tight lab coat. A plane flutters by like a butterfly high above the playground tree.
One cuppa, of course, was grossly inadequate, especially after getting trolleyed in such a reckless fashion. He needed three or four at best of times to feel halfway awake, which is as awake as he would probably ever feel now. What he knew -- he alone, for some inexplicable reason -- was simply too much to bear. As a result, Tim no longer rose from the half-dead: he went through life like a somnambulist on a treadmill. This is how he found himself in the bathless bathroom, face to face with a vaguely-familiar figure he couldn't quite place.
Juicy fruit hang heavy from the branches of the playground tree. Dewy drops glisten metaphysically on the juicy fruit that hang heavy from the branches of the playground tree. Eve wants to climb up the well-hung playground tree. Eve wants to dip the tip of her tongue in the saccharine stickiness of the angel come. 'Look, the apples are crying,' says pig-tailed Natasha to pig-faced Saffron. Both, by the way, are ovulating wildly.
Rooted to the suppurating spot, downright rotting upright, Tim grinned ever so painfully at the imperfect stranger who was likewise wreathed in smiles, pushing up daisies. In times past, he would probably have squinted disdainfully at the random combination of atoms through a lorgnette. Instead, he unscrewed his plastic optics, slicing them in half, and dipped a rigid digit deep into the tear-filled, gouged-out sockets. Left, then right. Putting the lenses in orbit brought about a bout of briny blinking, seeing as they clung on to his forefinger for dear life. They looked like circular, ocular shellfish, but felt like spiky sea urchins. A strange thought occured to him at this juncture. Was the Sandman trying to scupper his cuppa by kicking the beach in his face? Or what?
Miss Ramsay is still gazing up into heaven, marmalade head tilted right back. 'Sod this for a skylark,' she whispers under her breath.
No sooner had his eyes stopped their stroboscopic lashing than high resolution replaced the impressionistic blur. Picture a Monet with the fog left out. Tim could now recognize the crow's feet which had been gaining ground at an alarming rate since John Major's general election victory and the release of Suede's first single. A river of rivulets branched out symmetrically on either side of his once sacred temples, producing a groovy, deltoid-etching effect. His complexion bore a striking resemblance to a soundly-slapped bare bottom, or a ruddy red-pencil drawing by one of the lesser masters. He stood staring at this receding hair- and life-line as if it were some grizzly road accident. 'I'm the chosen one,' he said by way of introduction, 'can'tcha fuckin see?'
Dappled-shadow camouflage war-dances upon Miss Ramsay's folicular waterfall; it's a jolly kind of jig. 'Mark my words' -- she warns jabbing the air with a menstruous fingernail -- 'the day cometh that shall burn as an oven.'
There was a handy timing device on Tim's electric toothbrush. You got two minutes flat of serious rotation before a little green light came on indicating that your time was up. Like the green jelly baby at pedestrian crossings telling you when to walk, he often reflected. Sometimes, he was caught with his pants down which made him come over all ubi sunt and carpe diem, unnecessarily so in the eyes of his young wife. Accidents will happen. Today, however, it was like waiting for the second coming. Tim was strongly put in mind of those times when he would pump away at his snoring sleeping beauty way into the small hours, way beyond the call of marital duty. With baking-soda toothpaste dribbling down the hairs of his chinny-chin-chin, he drew back the plastic curtain and glanced at the waterproof fish clock hanging from the shower head. Jeeeesus Christ!
She notices four shadowy figures beyond the plane, silhouetted against the sun of righteousness. Four ghostly figures beyond the pale, skimming candy-floss clouds on foot-propelled micro-scooters.
'If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean,' said Tim to the yellow plastic duckling in the chipped polka dot soap dish. He repeated his plea over and over again like a monotonous dirge on a loop until the yellow plastic duckling told him, in no uncertain terms, to cleanse first that which is within. 'Yeah, right,' he said, 'but after such knowledge, what forgiveness, eh?' Tim often ended up mourning absolution during his morning ablution.
Miss Ramsay's serpentine locks start coiling and recoiling in anticipation of a summery execution.
He stepped gingerly into the bedroom, a sodden towel wrapped round his waist, mumbling something about the duck being a quack. Pomme's black stockings lay legless on the rugged rug. He quickly averted his eyes so as not to reawaken The Beast at this crucial stage in his grooming routine. The urge to stick his tongue down her throat got the better of him in the bitter end. After all, he reasoned, it could be the very last time. As he closed the front door behind him, reeking of Escape by Calvin Klein, Tim felt that there was something odd about the apple logo on his old PowerBook Duo 210. He could have sworn that the bitten-off chunk on the right-hand side was missing. Surely it couldn't have grown back. No time to check.
An apple falls in slo-mo from the playground tree: Tim sees its reflection in the apple of her eye.
The pit bull in the flat opposite started howling as it did almost every bloody morning. They called it Inky Pit because a) it was as black as sin and because b) its howl was the first thing they had heard upon moving into their studio apartment two years earlier. Its real name was Cerberus. It was a he, no doubt about that. He lived at number sixty-six. They called it the six shop. Each time he walked by, Tim felt like adding the third, missing six with a chunky black marker pen: six, six, six. All he ever found at the bottom of his briefcase, though, was this tiny stump of a pencil that had almost been sharpened into non-existence.
Glass, shattered, damage, collateral, moans, despair, guts, gore, everywhere, everywhere. It's a nightmare. 'C'est rien, cheri. T'as encore fait un cauchemar. Allez, rendors toi': Pomme's soothing tones. She wanks him back to sleep. It isn't the most professional of wanks, but it certainly does the trick.
A babel of babble buzzed round Tim's head. Whenever he could reasonably expect his descent to start grinding to a halt, another flight of steps appeared out of nowhere and the ground floor receded again. The staircase was winding him up as it wound down. He would never get to the bottom, it was symbolic, they knew he understood symbolism, they were fucking with his brain, that's what they were doing, they wanted him to jump, they did, over the banister and into the bottomless pit. Core instability. Dizziness. The World Trade Center cannot hold.
Next thing he knows, Pomme is trying to wake him up. She is less successful in this endeavour than in the previous one. She is also far less soothing: 'Allez, debout, tu vas etre en retard si ca continue. C'est toujours la meme chose, fais chier à la fin.' Sitting up in bed looking utterly pissed off, she watches him emerge more dead than alive from his customary semi-coma.
The night before, it came to pass that Tim dreamed The Dream. Tim dreamed The Dream the night before it came to pass.
He crossed the cobbled courtyard and opened the heavy blue door with the panting lion's head poking its tongue out at passers-by on the other side. Rattling his car keys in his khakis, he walked towards the battered old banger, a Cinquecento straight out of the quattrocento that bore more than a passing resemblance to Noddy's autoymobile. Thing is, it wasn't there anymore. The car to the keys had vanished as if erased by some postmodern cartoonist alter deus. Tim stood in the vacant space left by his car like an invisible scar. He was on the horns of a devilish dilemma. If he did not call Pomme on the mobile straight away, well, frankly, his life just would not be worth living. If he did call her, however, she would tell him to go to the police station. He would then have to explain why that was simply out of the question and she, of course, wouldn't understand. He would be convincing: Oh, for fuck's sake, woman, what kind of fucking fuckwit would nick our fucking car in a street full of fucking Mercs and BMfuckingWs? But she would be unconvinced. He would be moving: the prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, and Tim would tell her his Dream all over again. But she would be unmoved. He would be argumentative; she would pick an argument. He would remain calm; she would drum her nails on the table. He would be gentle; she would threaten him with the spatula or, worse still, the chopping board.
Tim walked down the street to the metro station, trying to work out how late he would be for his second lecture on Milton. As he pontificated on auto-pilot, he recalled that vain, inglorious paper he had published in Etudes Anglaises at the beginning of his academic career. The thrust of his argument was that Adam and Eve, or rather Eve and Adam, were in effect committing suicide when they partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. It had made quite a stir in the English Department at the time. He'd even got a few extra-marital fucks out of it. Little did he know, of course, that, contrary to popular belief, Adam and Eve, or rather Eve and Adam, had never eaten of the tree at all. He still did not know why today, why was beside the point, the tree may have been fruitless for all he knew. Back then, though, he had no idea that their eyes were never opened, and that they were never as gods, knowing good and evil. If all this ran counter to received wisdom, it was simply because no wisom had been received in the first place.
Tim was walking up the street from the metro station when, lo and behold, he spotted his car in the very same spot where he had parked it the day before. Inside, there was a letter which, loosely translated, went something like this : We needed wheels, it was an emergency, a matter of life and death, we're really, really sorry and all, please accept these two tickets to the opera in compensation, ta very much. Pomme, who believed in noble bandits and absolutely adored the opera ('J'a-dore l'opéra'), thought it was a very romantic story. She whooped. She squealed. She even cried. She cried some more when she found out that the flat had been burgled in their absence.
Tim went straight for the bottle. This time, they were just poking and prying, trying to find out if he had any proof. It was only the beginning. They would not leave him alone. They were closing in on him. After all, he had stumbled upon the greatest genocide in the history of humanity. The genocide of humanity itself.
[Wednesday, November 15, 2006][Andrew Gallix] HALF-HEARTED CONFESSIONS OF A GELIGNITE DOLLY-BIRD (2006) I was feeling homesick for the event while it was happening - Douglas Coupland, Generation X
Daintily, a faun-like figure stole across the cluttered room, pirouetting over the bottles and ashtrays that littered the splattered floorboards. She was the first to notice, having been awakened by a muffled squishy sound as of manifold foreskins peeled back in unison. Fanny sat up and fumbled for her cigarettes which she dimly recalled leaving beside a dog-eared magazine. She pouted outrageously, mimicking Nina Hagen on the glossy cover, but feeling more like Mme Pompidou gone feral. Not that anyone could see her, of course, nor she anyone. Except when she sparked up and caught a glimpse of the other partygoers who had crashed on the rugs. The expensive Persian rugs with their expansive mindfuck designs: it was all coming back now.
Guy Debord in hot pursuit of a statuesque demi-mondaine modelling a lampshade hat. That fucking twat, with his sweater knotted around his neck, whose inanities were still audible above the UK Subs. Astrid surrounded by livid creatures of indeterminate gender lapping up the dark glamour of a voluptuous runaway terrorist. The lead singer with a pretentious Parisian band reclining on a Moroccan pouffe drinking champagne from a shiny boot of leather. An amazon (with a blonde beehive and the blank expression of a blow-up doll) fellating an oversize banana in some dark (dank?) corner. Jacques Lacan doing the twist to Martha and The Muffins: rather tentatively at first, then letting rip. Some obscure artist (with an impressive pompadour and an unresolved mother fixation) showing off his collection of individually-numbered potato prints. A boy who looked like a girl almost kissing a girl who looked like a boy before recoiling in sheer horror. Astrid astride an up-and-coming Post-Structuralist who kept neighing and bucking bronco-fashion. Malcolm McLaren describing his new film project as Blake Edwards meets Russ Meyer...
...At some point, there had been a blackout. Matches were struck, candles were lit, she could remember that distinctly. Probing eyes, disembodied, unblinking and bloodshot, trained on her, boring through. Bleeding gashes in the cloak of night. Writhing couples, vertical, horizontal or higgledy-piggledy, their serpentine hips suddenly illuminated like quattrocento manuscripts. A torch flashed into the deepest recess. Astrid, bent over a Formica table, Jackie O hairdo in disarray, retro ski pants concertinaed around her ankles, emitting unmistakably teutonic grunts while a rolly-polly Pataphysician with a twirly moustache bobbed up and down behind her in slo-mo. Wall-to-wall hip young gunslingers, no worse looking than Johnny Thunders, every one a Sex Pistol. Pointillist ponces in pointy shoes atomised under the strobe light: lithe, lank youths, all floppy fringes and flailing arms, moonstomping to the B52s like there was no tomorrow, although tomorrow was today.
Today was tomorrow when Fanny's angelic features were bathed in gold, her halo melting like fondue cheese, and sparkling fruit carved in dewdrops dangled lasciviously from chandeliers like overripe testes. How could she ever forget what it was like?
He had pounced out of nowhere and pinned her by the arms to the soft furnishings, his breath as fresh as a lungful of menthol, his greedy fingers foraging deep and she had put up a feeble show of resistance like a heroine in some cheap novel and the only time he ever smiled was when he slapped her and it only made her wetter still and she was confused because her mum was a feminist and Buggles were on the stereo and she closed her eyes as soul surrendered to body and the world melted all around.
"You can only take so much beauty," he said blowing a plume of smoke at the plaster putti on the ceiling, "before you hit the bottle". Up close, he looked even more like Paul Simonon. Same fragile strength. Same studied abandon. A panther in a tonic suit. A pugilist cherub after a few rounds.
Later on that night, Fanny pictured him whizzing by at the speed of light on his shiny Lambretta, pork-pie hat cockily at half-cock, skinny tie flailing the air, high on hormones, bent on being. He was just wind in her hair now. A dot in the distance, merging with the background, at one with the cosmos. Pure life force. ...Just wind in her hair. ...She closed her eyes, but the world did not melt like it had the first time. How could she ever forget what it was like? What it was like would never be forgotten, but what it was like was not what it was.
Yet her head still pounded to yesterday's pogobeat. Someone said: Nobody has ever been this young, whereupon Astrid and her fawning retinue had repaired to a dodgy sheesha bar near Le Rose Bonbon. In the metro, they mingled with the vanguard of the rush hour. Overground, daylight was competing with sodium. Several other revellers had woken up to the dinky farting sound of the faun darting around. As their eyes adjusted to the semi-obscurity, it transpired that he had been dipped, stark naked, in silver greasepaint. It also dawned on them that he was stealing everything his slender frame could carry. They all looked on, entranced, as if he were a cross between Vaslav Nijinsky and Arsene Lupin. A smattering of applause accompanied his final exit while tears rolled down Fanny's eyes. In that instant, she sensed she had lost something she had never found.
Her heart still pounds to the Burundi rhythms of yesteryear.
[Wednesday, June 28, 2006][Andrew Gallix] THE CLOCKODIAL (2000) Embowered wooing of the womb: jellied ire entombed in the quagmire of desire. Icky, sticky time bomb ticking away within the womb. Already ticking away, Time within the wombomb; icky, dickory dock. The tempestuous breaking of waters, like all hell let loose, and the throbbing of the plucked umbilical cord. Let loose in Hell to the thrumming, humdrumming humbilical chord: another gurgling baby wreathed in smiles, pushing up daisies. Already pushing up daisies.
[Thursday, March 16, 2006][Andrew Gallix] SWEET FANNY ADAMS (1999-2003) Granted, it could have been an airport, say, or any other point of departure for that matter, not necessarily a railway station. Then again, I wouldn't want you to go thinking that his choice had been totally arbitrary, although he was, admittedly, no stranger to acts of random behaviour. It didn't have to be an overcrowded railway station, but it sort of made sense somehow.
It's like this: your train is due to leave any minute now. You look up from your book or paper -- if you are reading, that is, but I think we can safely assume that you, mon semblable, mon frere, are reading at least one or the other, possibly even both, one after the other, or, better still, simultaneously. You check the time on your wristwatch, the kind that they advertise in The Economist and suchlike publications, something Swiss or German with knobs on (the more, the merrier) which exudes manly sophistication. Just as the Red Sea parted for Moses, the door slides open, blissfully pneumatic, to reveal a stunning Mary Poppins -- stacked, stockinged, sorted -- in a comely knicker-skimming skirt: entrancing entrance. Being the proud possessor of a Y chromosome, your eyes make a beeline for her A-line, zooming in on silken thighs, NordicTrack-toned. While she fafs about with her umbrella (which will be left behind, of course, accidentally-on purpose like), you are at leisure to divide her putative weight in kilograms by her hypothetical height in metres squared, thus reaching the satisfactory conclusion that the young woman's Body Mass Index slots into the ideal 18 to 20 range. Stocky stoccado, scatty scattato, she click-clicks her way towards the only vacant space (which just so happens to be facing you) aloft a pair of chichi cha-cha heels, whereupon her petulant posterior takes a pew. As she crosses her endless legs with a hushed swish whoosh, the bright young thong hitches up her skirt a notch, pinching the flimsy fabric on either side of broad hips between manicured thumb and forefinger. At this juncture -- when you are about to abandon wife and children, sail the seven seas or commit genocide because men cannot help acting on impulse -- you notice that those are tear- and not rain-drops irrigating her tanned, yet still unblemished, features. Ever the gentleman, or simply embarrassed, you interrupt your ornithological study and peer out of the window which, being in dire need of a good clean, forces you to squint in the most unsightly fashion. Now is when it happens. For a few split nanoseconds, another train pulling into the station tricks you into believing that your train is pulling out.
Adam Horton -- 33, caucasian, 5'6'', underendowed, thinning on top -- viewed this sensation as a perfect metaphor of his stumbling through life like a sleepwalker on a treadmill, a pet hamster on a wheel, or a commuter on the Circle Line. Hence the choice of a railway station over any other point of departure. But which one? Paris offered un embarras de choix.
Gare de l'Est was a definite no-no for some obscure reason. Gare d'Austerlitz was likewise ruled out: Adam, you see, had a passion for Waterloo Station. Watching the workers munching their lunch-break baps at the bottom of the up escalator, eyes cast skirtwards all the while, never failed to microwave the cockles of his little heart. Since childhood, he had conceived of Austerlitz as a sort of counter- or even anti-Waterloo; it was enemy territory. This still left Gare de Lyon, built in the grandiose style -- probably the most pleasing, aesthetically. Gare St Lazare, caught between the red-light district and the posh department stores, scored a few brownie points. Proust's lycee was close by, as well as the Opera Garnier (a fine example of architectural eclecticism) and, more importantly, Marks & Sparks with its large lingerie section where Adam often indulged in a little lingering among the petticoats and suspender belts. There was also Gare Montparnasse, where the muses hung out, free and easy, serpentine locks flailing the air. They rode around like BMX bandits astride expensive Dutch bicycles sporting a saucy look on their freckly faces and precious little else. The area never failed to remind him of the time when he micturated on the tomb of Jean-Paul Sartre after burying his late goldfish (Botty, short for Botticelli) in the shadow of Baudelaire's corpse. Such fond memories.
In the end, however, he had plumped for Gare du Nord which houses the Eurostar terminal. Adam's grasp of French had greatly improved over the past twelve months, but he was looking for a lady who spoke the old mother tongue. Besides, the word 'terminal' had a certain ring to it, the finality of a full stop.
The air hung heavy with Chaucerian expletives; dropped aitches were strewn about his feet. Here and there, love thugs sprouting Hoxton Fins were reading redtops from back to front. The odd diamond geezer was getting twatted while his missus flaunted the latest erogenous zones. In the distance, a posse of blue-rinsed senior citizens could be seen giving a spirited rendition of the hokey-cokey. A good vibe was being had by all. If I should die, Adam muttered, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign railway station that is forever In-ger-land. And there she was.
Sweet Fanny Adams.
Sweet Fanny Adams and no mistake.
Although he had never actually seen her before, he recognised her at once, and once he had recognised her, he realised he would never see her again. After all, not being there was what she was all about; it was the essence of her being, her being Fanny Adams and all that.
As he walked towards the bench where she was sitting pretty, Adam missed her already. Missed her bad.
'How do you do?'
'How do I do what? The imperfect stranger looked up from her slim, calf-bound volume and flashed him a baking-soda smile, all cocky like.
Their eyes met, pairing off at first sight. The earth moved, orbiting at half a kilometre per second around her celestial globes -- a couple of scalloped cupfuls with peek-a-boo trimmings -- in what can only be described as a new Copernican revolution. For the first time since Mrs Horton's belaboured parturition, when he was eventually sprung off into the world, Adam didn't feel at the wrong place at the wrong time: he was back in the bountiful bosom of Mummy Nature. As if to celebrate this return to the much-maligned Ptolemaic system, a gaggle of gurgling putti glided overhead to the strains of syrupy muzak and departing trains. All in all, it was an auspicious overture, fraught with the promise of premise.
'Adam,' said Adam, extending his right arm.
'Margherita,' said Margherita, giving it a hearty shake.
Still reeling from that initial, blinding smile -- let alone the handshake -- he struggled to regain his composure. 'Have you read The Leaning Tower of Pizzas by N.E. Tchans?'
'Is that the one which ends with an epic battle between gangs of pre-pubescent herberts bouncing around on orange space-hoppers?'
'No, but I read a review at the time.'
'Well, it's all about this Mr Soft Scoop bloke, right, who comes from Italy and settles down in South London where he falls in love with a girl called Margherita.' She was fiddling with her umbrella, a faraway look on her face. 'Like you, like.'
'Oh, I see, yes. Sorry, I was miles away.'
'I know: that's the attraction,' he sighed sotto voce, before getting a grip on himself. 'Anyway, you should check it out some time -- if you're into lolloping lollipop ladies, lesbians from Lisbon, the romance of ice-cream vans, that kind of thing.'
'Sounds right up my street.'
'I see it as a contemporary footnote to Dante.'
'Talking of contemporary feet, mine are killing me.'
'Dying on our footnotes are we? One footnote in the grave, eh? How long have you got left?'
'Long enough to grab a bite to eat -- or so says my chiropodist.'
'I think there's an Italian just round the corner that might tickle your fancy.'
'Sounds great. I feel like a pizza.'
'I'm not surprised, love, with a name like that.'
Adam caught a fleeting glimpse of the dark, gaping twilight zone between Margherita's parted thighs as she uncrossed her legs to get up. That topsy-turvy Bermuda Triangle twixt skirt and stocking exerted a gravitational pull of such magnitude that he was sucked in, there and then, never to re-emerge. He picked up her bulky suitcase, l'air de rien, but in his mind's X-ray eye he could see her neatly-packed unmentionables. He was big on smalls was old Adam Horton.
'It's a burden I feel I've been carrying all my life.' He turned to face her, fair and square. 'This may sound potty, but you are the hollowness inside. At last, I have found my sense of loss.'
'I'm flattered,' she said in Estuarine undertones, blushing a little. Her dimpled cheeks resembled two squashed cherry tomatoes, only bigger. 'I always like to be of assistance to strangers.'
'After you,' said Adam, bowing theatrically and showing the way with her suitcase like a truncheon-toting gendarme stopping the traffic for pedestrians. He couldn't help noticing the shaft of light that fell on Margherita's top bottom -- proof positive that the sun shone out of her behind -- before leaving the station, hot on her high heels.
They repaired to a Greekish spoon which Margherita praised on account of its 'atmosphere'. 'Looks great,' she gushed, surveying the menu in the window, 'I feel like a cocktail'.
'I'm not surprised, love, with a name like that.'
The walls were festooned with fairy lights, garlands of garlic and pictures of Asma Assad, the Syrian President's glamorous spouse. The waiters were all male to a man. It soon transpired profusely that none of them were actually Italian, having been born and bred -- through no fault of their own -- on the wrong side of Thessaloniki. ('Oh, that's a shame, isn't it?' cooed Margherita, detaching each word as if she were dismembering some winged insect.) The chef, a diminutive Algerian with an endearing paunch, had a Saddam Hussein mustache going on and a nice line in knock-knock jokes. The toilets were typically Turkish. Having taken in the scenery, Adam proceeded to pour out his heart and a couple of cheap, albeit cheerless, bottles of Sidi Brahim. Whining and dining, in medias res.
'We are all post-Denis de Rougemont.'
'Couldn't agwee maw,' said Marwghewita, making a mental note never again to shpeak wiv her mouf full. Frankly, she didn't have a clue what he was going on about.
'We are the first generation to know full well that love doesn't last, and yet we cling to the ideal like shit to a protective blanket.'
She turned up her already-retrousse nose. How more retrousse can it get? he wondered.
'Maybe it's just me. The whole thing's very Oedipal, I know.' Adam cringed at his attempt to laugh it off.
'I could spank you, free of charge, if you think that might help.'
'I'd rather not if it's all the same with you,' he replied rather primly, his flushed face a slapped-arse crimson, 'but thanks for the offer. Might even take you up on it some other time. Except...' Adam paused for effect, 'there won't be another time.' He sighed, baleful, into his bowlful of miniature bow-ties, topped up their glasses and cleared his throat. 'Love stories are like fairy tales...'
'Aren't they just,' she interrupted, a trifle too eager.
'...in that we know the end from the start. Only it's not and they lived happily ever after, is it?'
Tears welled up in her belladonna eyes.
'You know, someone should really write a different kind of love story for the new millenium. It would start with the foregone conclusion and work its way back towards the unknown: how it all started in the first place.'
'Will you write this new-fangled love story?'
'I'm writing the first pages even as we speak -- with your assistance, of course.'
'I like to be of assistance.' She smiled a wet smile.
'Shall we call it a day then?'
'Call it what you like: your book, your call. ... So that's it then is it?
'Yes. In our beginning is our end.'
'We're obviously going nowhere slowly.'
Margherita seemed in a hell of a hurry all of a sudden, even her nose was running. Where is it running to? he wondered. To by-corners Byzantine, I'll be bound, and wondrous Wherevers, to the end of the earth, at the end of its tether. Then he shrugged -- to himself and at it all -- because it didn't really matter anymore, it really didn't. Whatever: yeah, right.
It was raining when Margherita stepped out of the restaurant. Adam watched her amber umbrella disappear from view, a Belisha beacon of hope on a dimmer switch. He scribbled a few words on the paper tablecloth. D'elle, il ne reste que ses tagliatelles.
The door slides open -- which is where you came in. You assess her golden-delicious breasts as if you were picking apples on a market stall. You think that a man should never trust a woman who offers him an apple, let alone two. You think that this woman's tits are perfectly identical, for Christ's sake. Like bookends.
[Andrew Gallix] "SWEET FANNY ADAMS": PUBLICATION HISTORY Written in: I wrote this story in London during the summer of 1999, and made a few changes to it the following year. The longer version (first published in 2005 under the title "Sweet Fanny Adams Reloaded") was written in Paris in September 2003.
Paper publications: Fresh! Literary Magazine 3 (March-July 2000): 19-22 Prozac Nation 12 (Winter 2000-2001): 38-42 Two Girls Review 2 (spring 2001, never published): 18-22 Litro: Original Fiction for the Underground 12 (7 July 2006)
Electronic publications: 17 December 1999: Progress (Canada, no longer online) 23 December 1999: The Story Exchange (USA, no longer online) 1 January 2000: Stirring (USA) 7 January 2000: Fresh! Online Literary Magazine (USA) 10 January 2000: 3:AM Magazine (USA. This was before I became involved with 3:AM. The zine was then called 3AM Publishing: the Last E-Zine of Generation X) 1 February 2000: Spark-Online (Canada) 7 February 2000: Edible Society (UK, story no longer online) February 2000: Con-text-ure (USA, no longer online) 1 March 2000: Bardo Burner (UK, no longer online) 2 March 2000: Pulp Fiction (USA) 11 March 2000: Forbidden Panda (USA, no longer online) 11 March 2000: ApparentDepth (USA, no longer online) 20 April 2000: Galaxy eZine (USA) 2 May 2000: The Absinthe Literary Review (USA, see also here) 5 July 2000 : 1st part published in Locust Electronic Magazine 9 (Italy) September 2000: The Melic Review 10 (USA) September 2000: Conversely (USA, different version published under the title "Imperfect Stranger") November 2000: 2nd part published in Locust Magazine 10 (Italy) 29 January 2001: Milk Magazine (USA) 1 March 2001: Jack Magazine 3 (USA) 13 September 2001: Parisiana (France) 2002: Exquisite Corpse 11 (spring/summer 2002) 11 October 2005: The Beat (UK, this is the latest version which was published under the title "Sweet Fanny Adams Reloaded") 20 March 2006: Scarecrowissue 42 (UK, "Sweet Fanny Adams Reloaded" version) 7 July 2006: LITRO (UK, "Sweet Fanny Adams Reloaded" version)
Prizes: Winner of the author.co.uk competition 2000 for Best Short Story Honourable mention in the Great Beginnings Contest (2000)
Posted on the Internet: 27 November 1999: Crash Media Server (Balzac Nation section) 5 December 1999: Zoetrope All Story (Online submissions) 11 February 2000: Nerve.com 1 February 2001: ABCtales.com
[Sunday, March 12, 2006][Andrew Gallix] REVIEWS, CRITICISM, EDITING & STUFF Reviews & Criticism: "Dark Young Things" published under the title "Rebel With a Literary Cause". Guardian Books Blog (2 May 2007).
A review of David Caron's Aids in French Culture: Social Ills, Literary Cures (University of Wisconsin Press, 2001) in Hyde Park Review of Books 1 (winter 2002)
"Et in Suburbia Ego: Hanif Kureishi's Semi-Detached Storeys." The Buddha of Suburbia. Paris: Ellipses, 1997. 148-164
"Pour une litterature irrefutable: Joe Orton et De la tete aux pieds." Theatre / Public 123 (May-June 1995): 65-70
Quotes used as blurbs: Short review of Kimberly Nichols' Mad Anatomy (Del Sol Press, 2003): "Kimberly Nichols carves a razor-sharp crescent out of a plucked pregnant moon to adorn a dirty martini. Barefoot dances around cactus-skeleton plots like some snake-hipped offspring of Rimbaud and Huck Finn. Skinny dips in the swamp blues of tormented souls or in the tropical storm of conflicting emotions. Like all good American authors, Kim shows us the spiritual rooted in the elemental. Like all great American authors, she shows us that there is another America" (2003)
On the Enfant Terrible (aka Matthew Coleman): "The Enfant Terrible is a latter-day Divine Marquis for the hipster Offbeat Generation. A ballsy Ronald Firbank with knobs on and a broad grin on his bewhiskered chops. He is the bastard offspring of Valmont and Sid James; the missing link between libertinage and the saucy seaside postcard. Think Philosophy in the Bedroom shot by the Carry On team -- with the dodgy philosophy tossed over the end of the pier. Think priapic prose and textual harassment. All hail the Lord of the Unbuttoned Flies!" (2006)
On Tony O'Neill's Seizure Wet Dreams (Social Disease, 2006): "In Seizure Wet Dreams, Tony O'Neill shoots up and scores again. And again. And again... Imagine Bukowski rutting with Burroughs on the wrong side of the track marks. The author has plunged headlong into the darkest underbelly of Tinseltown and lived to tell the tale. The vein-digging, gang-banging, trick-turning, stomach-churning tale he tells -- shot through with the whitest flashes of poetry -- will leave track marks on your soul. For real" (2006)
On the dust jacket of the Alma Books edition of Tom McCarthy's Remainder: "A masterpiece waiting to happen -- again and again and again" (2006)
On Two Tall Tales and a Short Novel by Heidi James, Kay Sexton and Lucy Fry (Apis Books): "Lycanthropy in Margate? Reading The Mesmerist's Daughter is like being bound in candy floss by Little Red Riding Hood. In this incestuous furry tale, Heidi James rips out the toffee apple of discord at the heart of all childhood nightmares with the daintiest of stilettos. A nursery rhyme without reason from the Angela Carter of the Offbeat Generation. Mesmerising" (2007).
Editing: In 2006, I edited HP Tinker's collection of short stories, The Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity and Lee Rourke's Everyday both published by Social Disease
Authors who have thanked me in their books for some reason or other: Benderson, Bruce. Autobiographie erotique. Paris: Rivages, 2004. 372 Berger, George. The Story of Crass. London: Omnibus Press, 2006. 295
Pictures: Some of my New Orleans pictures formed the centrespread of Wild Strawberries 3 (June 2005): 28-29
[Tuesday, February 07, 2006][Andrew Gallix] THIRTY TWO FEET PER SECOND (2001) My love has just left the flat, never to return. I can still smell the scent of her perfume in the room. I can hear her receding footsteps in the corridor.
When I was a kid, there were two different ways to go home, both equidistant. Every day, me and my sister would split up outside the school gates and see who would get there first.
As I open the window I think of the future that could have been, of the children we will never have. Every day they will split up outside the school gates and see who gets home first. We will hear their footsteps coming up the garden path.
Standing on the windowsill, I watch her winding down the six flights of stairs, carrying her blue suitcase. There are two ways to go home, both equidistant, but mine's the quickest. Last one's a sissy!
(Picture: Portrait of the Piss Artist Wearing a Straw Hat by my little sister, Sarah Jessop, circa 1990.)