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Balzac of the Badlands

By Steve Finbow.


Some writer somewhere wrote something about never opening a book with the weather. And that’s true if you live where I live. I mean, what would be the point? If I’d looked out of the window at the start of this story, I could have told you about the overcast sky heavy with the threat of rain. I look out of the window now and it’s sunny with a mild breeze. And by the time you read this, it could be a nuclear winter or a globally warmed perpetual summer. But, hold on, you’ll be looking out of your window or your hole in the wall or your gap in the yurk, so god knows what the weather’s going to be like where you are. Anyway, when I woke up and looked out of the window, the sky was light pink and watery blue. And the sun was up there somewhere, inevitably.

Look. Over there. Across the street. Gobbets of birds strung out on telephone wires, flossed from the sky, particulate, like so many pieces of rotten meat. The birds have started to evolve into memory. Some days you don’t see any. They’ve been replaced by sweet wrappers, Styrofoam cartons, crisp packets. But then, where you live, you might not even know what birds are. What birds were.

OK, let’s kick off with my name. I have the unlikely moniker of Balthazar Zachariah. Yeah. When you get off the floor and put your socks back on, I’ll tell you again – Balthazar Zachariah. The Balthazar comes from my mother’s obsession with Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. My younger sister’s name is Clea. Thank fuck there aren’t any more of us – I mean, would you want to be called Mountolive? What about the Zachariah? Well, my mother’s name is Justine and her original surname was Case. See? You can’t blame her for wanting a name that wasn’t going to prompt an outbreak of neighbourly mirth or bring on the telephonic guffaws of sarcastic call-centre zombies. During the early seventies, she was into psychedelia, the Kaballah, Herman Hesse, and Westerns, hence a by-deed-poll Zachariah. I’ve looked up the film – from which she stole the title that became our new name – on the IMDb and it does look kind of interesting but Blockbuster doesn’t stock it. By the way, I’ve never read the Durrell. I’ve taken it on holiday three times. There are copies – immaculate, unstained, unthumbed – in Lanzarote, Orlando, and Phuket. So Balthazar Zachariah. Balzac: coined by some nameless, pretentious sixth-former. It stuck. It’s still here. To tell you the truth, I like it. And, yes, of course some other comedians morphed it into Balls Ache and Ball Sack – but that’s another story.

Enough about my tag. Let’s get this show on the road. We’ve established it’s morning, the weather’s fine, my name is what it is, and I’m hungry as hell and in bad need of a piss. Follow me across the hall into the bathroom and close the door behind you.

Ah, hold on. On second thoughts, let’s skip the bathroom. I think I remember throwing up in there last night – I made it into the room, then lost all co-ordination, never one for orienteering – but I did manage a good yomp. A few months back, I could have left it for my cleaner. Filipino, she was. Still is, as far as I know. I interviewed about twenty potential Mrs. Mops until I found Kalaaya. The home-service industry gives you a good idea as to the state of immigration in London – I’ve had Irish cleaners, Bangladeshi, Australian, Polish, Romanian, and Brazilian. Kalaaya was probably the best of the lot – devastating with Dyson, scrupulous with spic, scintillating with span. Had to let her go, though. The Mermaid – my once, sometime, and present partner – popped by when Kalaaya was buffing my toaster. In the pub a week after Kalaaya started working for me, The Mermaid had asked what Kalaaya looked like and I think I described her as a cross between Barbara Bush and Ho Chi Minh – or a frumpy Imelda Marcos. So, when The Mermaid claps her peepers on this tiny beauty, I’m told to give Kalaaya her marching orders before I get mine. I couldn’t just sack her – so to speak – so I thought I’d get her a cushy little job working for people who had real money. I called in a couple of favours and within an hour (and the Dyson as a going-away gift) found her a job with the Eaves brothers, who, no doubt, you’ll hear more about later. I’ve got a thing about Jonathan Eaves – not that sort of thing, no, although I’m not sure Jonathan wouldn’t mind if I did – it’s a jealousy-come-stiletto-in-the-gut thing – while I was away on my travels a few years back, he made his move on The Mermaid – splashed out, flashed the cash, went all posh with the dosh – turned her peepers for a few months, just for a few months mind, she soon saw through him. Anyway, suffice to say, the Eaveses wish to be to the crime world what the Tudors were to establishing England as a world force. Enough of that – no way do I have the stomach to look at let alone clean up that mess. The bathroom, that is, not London crime. I’ll fill you in later in more detail about Jonathan and Martin Eaves. And on our travels, remind me to buy some bleach – preferably lemon-scented. Let’s go to the kitchen instead.

Hold on a sec. I’ve tried to piss in the sink before – can’t reach, on tiptoes and I’m likely to piss down my leg. Da-da, dum-dum, da-dum, da da. Yeah, that’ll do. A milk carton. Slip the lad out of me Jockeys and we’re off. Dum-da-dee. Phew. Lager, a touch of vodka and Diet Coke, maybe a kebab, definitely onions. Hold on, there can’t be more than a pint. Shit. Hold it in. Pour some down the sink. Ah, that’s better. Shake it. Ah! Dribbled some down my leg. Never mind. Pour carton contents down sink. Splash a bit of hot water. Dump carton in overflowing bin. Job done. JD. Right, where’s my blood-sugar tester? Here it is. Bit mouldy from being in my wash bag. Ow! 8.5. Not bad considering last night. Pen in fridge. 20mg. Needle a bit blunt. Can’t be arsed to change it. Mind the pubes. Some nice bruises there, Balzac. Ow! Ow! I put the pen back in the fridge.

A paragraph entitled: My Fridge and its Contents.


Steve Finbow’s novel Balzac of the Badlands is published by Future Fiction London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, October 2nd, 2009.