A Glove Enters the Spider’s Lair
By Alan McCormick.
My night-time ramble is all whizz and the day-glo stamped ones are doing their stuff; my temples soft as ocean sponge. Then I see it. A glove, its tapered black fingers limp on the road like an amputated hand washed up from Idi Amin’s crocodile river. Not quite the normal article. I bend down to pick it up, examine and sniff within — damp in there, sweaty, a leathery
feral smell — feline, definitely female. I try my fingers inside and imagine her slim hand — long ivory fingers, bruise-yellow in the clench-creases — their dark reptilian casing discarded. Snake shed skin. Hand in a hand, fitted her like a glove I’m deducing. But rest assured, I’ll fight, challenge anyone and slap them with her glove if they come too near; then drop
the self-same casually into the ring beside their booted foot so that the duel can commence in accordance with rules of honour: ‘the glove is mine, it belongs to me, let no man rend it from my grip.’ Victory will be mine and I’ll search the far corners of the earth for my pale lady’s hand that once wore the glove, and thence make her my own.
Thence? Wrong word surely? Wrong time, wrong place.
‘Oi, are you moving or what?’
The glove is flapping at the end of my fingers, a puppet of a black crow, a Nazi coal-encrusted eagle bearing latent desire for flight.
‘I’m talking to you. Get out of the bloody road!’
I’m young Billy Casper, got Kes straining at the end of my fingers: ‘soddin sod off will ya?’
But it’s raining in Soho, that Shane MacGowan song slurring in my ears, a hum of a black cab waiting behind me. I’m on a pelican crossing, zebra striped. A zebra I can understand, a pelican, well, I’m not so sure. I hear the cab door slam. Boot feet marching. I’m a frenzy of fear and partial bravery. I hold the glove tight and clench my knuckles into a fist; Queensberry rules. But before I can say anything a fleshy punch lands on my brain: a dampening of the currents flowing within and a softening of my vision — blurry, foggy, then dark. Back onto the road and out cold.
Then I feel myself shake, and I’m slowly rising up to a lamppost headfirst. I spy a woman’s foot below, size nine at least; my head draped onto her broad bloused back. Then swimming into black once more and I hear myself snore and wake and snore again.
And when I do wake, it’s a dull morning wake. My head’s wet and it pounds and bangs with devilish sounds. My vest is stuck to the sheet and there’s blood on the pillow, my throat full of damson dread – bile congealed at its back in one pitiless globule. I
want a good clear out, my brain bomb-ticking, hell’s bongos setting a furious pace inside. I see it then – the glove, its putrid leather smell fills my nostrils and I peel it off the pillow. And then a podgy set of be-jewelled fingers: the Queen Mother’s? Liberace’s? But that voice, ‘quite a night you had’, brassy and bassy, feminine in tone, masculine in pitch. He’s big for a woman though. I try to remove the scales from my eyes, part the curtains. She has a man’s jaw and hair
on the back of her hands. She offers me one:
‘The name’s Georgette, long for. . ’
‘George,’ and in that way I finish her sentence.
I take the offered hand and shake. Some grip. I look around the room. Purple walls, plastic flowers, beaded chains in the doorway. A tart’s Soho shag-pile, and, yes, one of those too – bearded and creamy and coiling into my toes. Music is playing, German wartime stuff – Lili Marlene? I’m not sure. I feel a little unfamiliar below though – kitted out in George Formby boxers; his teethy smile at my open flap. I’m worried, trying to remember visual clues to any uninvited flesh wrestling. ‘Don’t worry, you’re not exactly my type,’ he says. ‘In any case you were out for the count, all night through.’
‘What am I doing here?’
‘I’ll fill you in, in a moment. Right now I think you need some tea. Green okay?’
Green? I look at the glove. It seems to want to tell me something. Three fingers held up: three words. A rolling of the wrist: film. A finger perpendicular to the raised middle one: first word, begins with T.
He comes in: ‘Tea and Sympathy, a very obscure film,’ and tuts, ‘you’re still out of it,’ then returns back into the kitchen. He calls from there: ‘make yourself at home, there’s a kimono or a dressing gown. Slip on whichever takes your fancy.’ The former is satin red with a fierce looking dragon on its back. I play safe and choose the plain towel gown.
He comes back in. ‘Good choice, it suits you,’ he says. Only now he looks completely different: a male nurse’s tunic, no hint of makeup, and no camp. ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ he says. He bends down close with the cup of tea so I can see his face clearly. ‘The Villa 1999? Ring any bells?’ There are bells ringing, but not the type he means.
And then I remember. George was a nurse on my last attempt at de-tox. We used to chat over a coffee and a cigarette. He was an ally, more than a nurse. He’d bring me in books. I remember one in particular – the Kiss of the Spider Woman – I spy its spine on the bookshelf now. The de-tox unit was known as ‘The Villa’. The Villa was in a world of its own and meant being up river without a paddle. I see the sea-blue tattoo on his forearm as he upturns his teacup into his mouth. Yes it’s that obvious: George was really my port and anchor back then, when we, the wilder patients, used to like to idle in the grounds sporting our flannelette dressing gowns. Technically off the hard stuff, we’d lie in bushes and share spliffs bought from the porters.
The Villa lay on the edge of parkland, shared and dominated by a huge Victorian Asylum. We were separate: short stayers, and a different class of the deranged. I used to like to pop over there and have a shufty. It resembled an old forgotten city – its own dairy and postal system, and a set of semi derelict stables with rooms bundled full of clothes. One stacked high with Oxfam type shoes garnered from a bygone age: old men’s leather soles cracked and bent, uppers worn and laceless. It used to put me in mind of the belongings secreted and stored from the Jews as they entered a concentration camp – piled high and kept as grizzly evidence. And in a way it was a kind of concentration camp. You’d see the imprisoned, drugged up sleep-walkers only let out from time to time: shuffling along the inner roads, searching out fag butts, their pale veined faces and languid drowsy voices.
I remember a Wednesday afternoon, and a visit and treatment there arranged by dear George. The cold press of a surgical trolley along my back, my arse making its way out of a tunic split, hairy cheeks doing their chilly dance. The drugs, administered via a needle on the back of my hand, a welcome balm. I felt cobwebs descend like gauze onto my eyelids: ‘buzz buzz, nurse, must fly.’ A right handed rubber was proffered – the taste of sour durex, pulled over eight firm fingers, pushing against my wilful, contorting tongue. I bit on hard sponge, and felt saltpetre and bonfire singe my temples. Electric, convulsive fire: an arc of pure white light cutting through my head. Knife lightning. Afterwards, I indulged a mindless slumber; my swollen, bruised tongue lolling out of my mouth like a tranquillised big cat’s.
Now I see the glove back on my pillow – black and leather, familiar, waving from the past its hello to the present. I’m confused. George notices: ‘are you okay, John?
‘I remember who you are’
‘Progress. Do you remember last night, perhaps?’
‘I found a glove.’
‘Forget the glove for now. I found you; that’s the point: sprawled in the middle of the road. The people in the pub opposite said you’d been babbling at the sky and having a go at passers-by for hours. When I picked you up you told me you’d been punched, and yes you did have a glove in case you’re still wondering. You were wearing it on your right hand and kept pressing it into your face. I think, in fact I’m sure, that you’d just hurt yourself.’
‘No, no there was a taxi, someone got out of it and laid me out.’
‘Are you sure of that? Think what you’re saying. There was no taxi, John,’
‘My name’s not John.’
He looks at me quizzically before carrying on: ‘don’t you think it’s time you came off this crap?’
‘Easy for you to say.’ That phrase. I used it at one of the sessions George had convened back at the Villa. Those daily get-togethers for the sickly-stupid to air their secrets – ‘my daddy was an alcoholic,’ ‘my mummy hit me with a belt strap’ – that kind of profundity, you know. George was a calming influence all right, ended the session on an up-beat note without fail – high enough in tempo to provoke me into wanting to get really bombed. I think I disappointed him; he had vision, some kind of hope for me.
‘You’re off on one, aren’t you? I’m losing you again,’ he says. It’s true, I am off on one and the glove is Peter Lorre’s: some horror film about a killer’s amputated hand, transplanted and laying waste to a foggy city of luckless, lonely victims.
‘I never liked the film, George,’ I say. But George is gone. Evaporated. Mist hangs in the ether and I’m alone in my flat. I look at my reflection glaring back from the mirror. I have on my dressing gown. The Smiths are on the radio – that song ‘Hand in Glove’ – no German rabble rousing anymore. I have a flashback: a gloved fist coming down from the night sky and landing on my face. I can feel the bruises right now. Too much reality Sweet Jesus; I need something to bring me down with a softer landing. A cushion of Valium and red wine would be the preferred prescription.
A siren homing in on a shop’s alarm bell comes closer and I peep through the nets to look down on a drizzly Brixton street below. Soho is miles north and I’ve not made it up there in months.
I take a book down from the bookshelf. You know the one. The spider web on the cover is like the net gauze that spreads itself across my window. The book falls open and I let my eyes drop between the lines of words, and what I see is white noise, a reflection in shadows, sugar-melt between rows of tombstone letters.
I use the glove so I don’t burn myself. The spoon takes some heating, the yellow-brown sizzling over the steel rim.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Alan McCormick recently completed his story collection, Dogsbodies, with the assistance of an Arts Council Writer’s Award. His story, ‘Real Mummy’, won the 2004 Middlesex University Press Literary Prize. Other stories have been published in the Bridport Prize Winners’ anthology (2004), Matter 4, and most recently on Tales of the Decongested and pulp.net. He is currently writing a collection of weird stories for children, and a longer work based on a series of interlinking journeys on suburban, carpeted stairs and nineteen sixties ocean liners.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 21st, 2007.