Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Saracen

The sun torched the red clay earth as the traveller arrived, walking the old goat trail from the south. The children playing in the hills that surround the pueblo blanco were the first to spot him. As with all the villagers, the children were insular by nature, and so chose not approach the man. Instead, they hurried back to the main square to forewarn the adults.
By the time that the stranger reached the edge of the village, a welcome committee had formed; scythes, swords and whatever they could improvise as a weapon in their hands. Their unblinking eyes followed his faltering gait until he reached their perimeter, and could proceed no further.
In the centre of the crowd stood the priest - a tall imposing figure, now somewhat sallow and stooped with old age, he stood out as the figurehead of the group.
‘Where goest thou, saracen?’
The man, swarthy-skinned, barefoot and dressed in rags, kept his head down. The priest waited patiently for an answer. When it was clear that no answer was forthcoming, he directed his parish to herd the traveller to the church doors. The villagers encircled the man. A sharp poke in his back from a broom-handle was sufficient to reanimate him, and together they began the walk to the plaza mayor. Once there, the old priest stood directly in front of the traveller, looked into his eyes, then without a word, turned his back on him and entered the cool air of the church alone. The villagers shuffled on their feet, unsure what to do without instruction from their leader, but the man understood: he limped through the church doors, and took a seat next to the priest at the front of the chapel.
‘This is a Christian land, traveller - a land in which other religions are not tolerated. Do you understand me? Can you speak Spanish?’
The man faced forward, his eyes drawn to the effulgent monstrance above the altar. Suddenly, he replied: ‘Padre, forgive me my sins.’
Taken aback by the man’s faultless accent, the Priest raised his villous brow: ‘You wish to confess?’
At this, the man rose to his feet, and began shuffling towards the altar. As he did, the rest of the villagers (who had so far remained at the door of the church) surged forwards, to make their scrutiny known. The priest tamed them with a limp hand, half-raised, and they came to a stop.
‘Tell me your sins my child.’
The man slowly made his way around the altar, then reached above his head to take hold of the monstrance - a jagged shining sunburst of gold and glass. Still, the priest remained seated. In the centre-bubble of the vessel, a splinter of wood was suspended. The man held this to his eye.
‘An original splinter,’ the priest explained, ‘from the crucifix of Our Lord’
The stranger could contain his rage no longer: ‘FALSEHOODS! Duplicity! Dogma! This institution is crooked, and you make trade in the gullibility of your community! This I know. This I KNOW!’ Raising the monstrance above his head, the man continued, ‘Your precious relics are empty promises! I can only…’
Suddenly the man stopped. His whole face contorted as his mouth opened, and his chin seemed to sink back into his neck. He held up his free hand to cover his expression, and in a voice suffocated by his restricted respiration he explained, ‘I’m going to sneeze.’
He looked away from the priest and waved his hand, to indicate that his spectatorship was inhibiting the sneeze from arriving. The priest though, was unable to shift his gaze from this now convulsing, wildly gesticulating figure. Violently, the sneeze exploded from the man’s face in a great ‘KZIAUW!’
The man, subdued by his ejaculation, looked guiltily back up at the priest, who by now was smiling beatifically upon his subject.
‘Bless you,’ he said.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Early experiments in jet propulsion - the results

So the cans exploded. Well, I guess we knew that would happen. Hoped it would happen maybe. Even a ten year old knows the inherent dangers of playing with aerosols and bonfires. But wow! You should have seen it go. I mean, I’m not advising that anyone should try this at home (for obvious reasons), but it was really something.
Sally and I had been friends for a couple of years. She was (and still is) a little older than me, so you could say that it was a kind of mentor/protégé relationship that we had. She was a tomboy - hair cut short in a bowl, gingham shirts and flared jeans. Last I heard she had shacked up with an Indonesian man, and was fast squeezing out puppies in a suburban yawn somewhere. Life sucks in the very best of us.
We’d taken to hanging out by an old slag heap, Sally and me. We’d do the usual kid stuff - build ramps, race go-carts, torture Barbie dolls. Anyway, I can’t remember who had the original idea. In fact, now I think about it, they were two separate ideas that occurred at the same time, so maybe we’re both to blame. The first idea was: we could make this toy jeep go faster if we attached an aerosol to the back of it, and lit it on fire. The second tangentially related idea was: let’s build a bonfire.
You can see where this is going. And I guess that this is the part of the story where we need to introduce my kid brother, Drew. When you’re ten years old, you don’t want to hang out with a four-year-old. But on those long summer days, we would be bundled out of the house together, and Drew would just follow me around. He never spoke a word. I mean, he wasn’t an elective mute or anything. Just shy I guess. So Sally and I began the walk to the slag heap as usual, with me carrying a can of Sure deodorant, an Action Man jeep and a roll of parcel tape, Sally with a tin of Silvikrin hairspray and a box of matches, and Drew just silently tailing behind like a dog on wheels.
Our attempts at rocket-science failed. We couldn’t get the tape to hold down the nozzle for a continuous spray. Even Sally was too nervous to actually hold the can and light it. So we gave up on our propulsion system and set to work building a fire, using whatever we could find lying around. Once we got a fire burning, that’s when Sally started waving around the canisters, dancing around the fire and laughing like a madwoman. It was pretty funny.
We taped the two aerosols to the back of the jeep, and then Sally pushed the jeep pretty fast into the fire. It was a perfect punt: the jeep parked itself directly in the middle of the flames. There was a pause of a few seconds and then a deafening CRA-CRACK as both cans exploded. There was a flash of light, and bits of debris flew out of the fire all around us. We covered our heads in our hands, Sally and I, and as the dust settled, I looked up at Sally with a stupid grin.
Then, suddenly, the smile dropped from my face.
‘Where’s Drew?’
The smoke above the fire leaned to accommodate our view, and there on the other side was Drew. Embedded in his cheek was a triangular shard of metal, curled like a lazy Dorito. A single line of blood ran from the shrapnel down his face and onto his shirt.
We both ran over to him, and he just looked at us – too stunned to cry. Sally squatted down to Drew’s height and slowly reached her hand up to his face. As she did, the clouds opened above us, and a magical unicorn flew down from the sky. As the unicorn landed, she enveloped the three of us in her golden wings, and for a moment, everything was calm. Just for that second, there were no pretences, and we could all be exactly who we were, and we were comforted and happy. Everything was going to be OK.

Just for the record – this is not the way that Drew ends the story. When Drew tells this tale (and he does – often) he points to the scar on his cheek and, in a really melodramatic way he says:
‘And if this had been just an inch higher…’
And he just hangs it there, and looks at me accusingly.
Never even mentions the fucking unicorn.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

A hole that cannot be filled

There’s a KrispyKreme donut store a block from my apartment. It’s a part of my morning routine that I pick up a paper then make my way to KrispyKreme for a coffee and a donut. It’s not classy, I know, but the coffee is actually pretty good, and it’s cheaper than Starbucks. So anyway, the other morning (about a month ago) I’m sitting in my usual seat, slurping my way through my usual latte, minding my own business. As I finish the coffee, I pick up the napkin to wipe my mouth. As I do, I notice something written in blue pen on the napkin. I unfold it and sure enough, scrawled on there is the message ‘Yum! KrispyKreme donuts – now also available in Styrofoam flavour.’
‘That’s weird,’ I think. But, y’know, Vancouver is full of weird people, so I think no more about it. About four days later, the same thing: I finish my donut, pick up the napkin and notice the blue ink. Again, I open up the napkin, and there inside is the message ‘You look amazing today! Beige is absolutely your colour.’
Now, this is odd, because this time the message did seem directed at me. When I look down to check what I’m wearing, sure enough I’ve teamed up a pair of light-brown cargo pants with a tan t-shirt. It did look kind of beige, and kind of wrong. But who the hell is watching me, and then writing messages in napkins for me to read? It made me feel kind of paranoid, if you want to know the truth.
So now I’m at the stage where every morning, I’m still making my way to KrispyKreme, but I’m flicking through the napkins in advance of picking one up, and I’m eyeing everyone in the store suspiciously – the counter staff, the people eating in there – everyone. I could just go somewhere else for my coffee, I know, but to be honest, I’m kind of hoping that it’ll happen again. For three weeks, nothing. Then this morning, I’m sat there just finishing the dregs of my coffee, when I realise I haven’t pre-screened my napkin. I open up the tissue-paper and there inside is the most bespoke message yet. Inside the napkin, I swear to God, it says ‘The emptiness you feel inside since she left you is permanent. This is a hole that cannot be filled with donuts.’
Right? So I’m thinking ‘Fuck!’ I’m looking frantically around the store and I see a young guy over by the counter, and the guy parts the pile of fresh napkins in the middle, slips another napkin in there, and then turns to leave. As he walks out of the door, he glances over in my direction, but sees that I’m still watching him, so switches his gaze, and pushes his way out of the store. So now I’m faced with a dilemma. I’m convinced that this is the guy, but what do I do? My instinct is to go after him, but if I catch him, what then?
Before I know what I’ve done I’m up out of my seat, and out the door in pursuit. I see him there, walking down 72nd. For a while, I just stay behind him, taking it all in, wondering what I’m going to say. He’s a young white guy, tall with a gangly gait and messy hair. As he walks, he’s coughing and sniffing. He seems completely oblivious to me following him. As he gets to the corner of 72nd and 116th Street I shout ‘Hey!’ at him and he turns round.
‘Are you messing with me? You think that’s funny? Leaving stupid little messages for me? Grow up!’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about man. Maybe you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.’
I try to measure his reaction, but he does seem kind of genuine. He looks confused, and a little hurt. He makes this move where he reverses away from me, then slowly turns down 116th St. glancing behind him and wiping his nose as he goes.
So I’m thinking ‘Damn!’ That was probably the guy, but what can I do? He says he didn’t do it, and I don’t really have any proof that he did. So I turn back around, and start making my way to the bus-stop to get to work. Only when I’m actually on the bus does it occur to me: As I saw the guy walk away, he threw a tissue (or it could have been a napkin) on the floor. And I’m thinking ‘It’s another message,’ then, ‘No, no, it’s probably nothing. But it could be another message…’
In the end, I have to find out. I get off the bus, and walk the four blocks back to where I left him. I’m scouring the sidewalk, trying to find this goddam piece of tissue paper, which is probably nothing, and which is making me late for work. Eventually, I see a KrispyKreme napkin blowing in the breeze by a garage door. I run over and snatch it, hesitating before I open it, imagining that it’s going to contain some perfect pearl of wisdom that will answer everything.
In fact, it contains a pearl of the guy’s snot. He just blew his nose on it. But the weird thing is, I don’t just drop it immediately, I stare at it, and for the longest time, I imagine that the green streaks form a picture: A perfect likeness of your face. And I think ‘It’s another clue!’

Thursday, 6 May 2010


Dear Raymond Chandler:

I would like to personally thank you for the work that you have put in to our screenplay ‘Strangers on a train’. I have made a number of annotations on the enclosed draft which I would be grateful if you would consider. In particular, you appear to have made a number of plot changes which I would consider important to the original story.
I value your involvement in our movie, and I hope to hear from you with a revised script by end September.

Alfred J. Hitchcock



Listen - you can take it or leave it. I’m tired of this shit. There’s only so much that I can do with the raw material. If you really want to know – I’m not crazy about the story. The whole premise is implausible. In order for a story to work – even a dumb murder story – the situation needs to be based in the Real. Also, I don’t buy the Bruno character.
How about this for a story instead: Two strangers meet on a train, fall in love. Years pass by in alternating waves of happiness and misery. The daily drudge is shown in all its detail - they get up in the morning, they eat toast, they go to work, they come home. After forty years NOTHING HAPPENS. She dies. Then he dies. So it goes.

You know what? Ask Dashiell Hammett instead. He’d love it.



Dear Raymond Chandler:

Your services will no longer be required on the screenplay of ‘Strangers on a train’.

Marion Price
Secretary of Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, INC