Silly Cunt (but never on the Archers)
By Alan McCormick.
Amidst the throng of a south London high street, he was mouthing the ‘c’ word at a speeding, music-blasting white van in a silent form of Tourettes. He had so much anger. People congregated at bus stops appalled him. Old ladies and young women smoking disgusted, children running and shouting irritated, whilst men in white vans horrified and nauseated in equal measure. His mouthing of the obscenity was cartoonly graphic and had not gone unnoticed. Soon there was the sound of screeching brakes and the slamming of a door. He did not hear; he was admiring the waitress at the local café and her elegant way of scooping away the debris from a table while showing the subtlest hint of tanned Ukranian cleavage.
‘Did you mouth cunt at me, cunt.’
It was the first he knew of it, and the voice was terrifyingly loud, the face terrifyingly red. He had long harboured a theory that tackling white Neanderthal trash would be far scarier than happening on a stereotypical black mugger or a knife-wielding Slovenian. And here was a chance to put his theory to a test, but being a depressive kind of coward he sought to pretend it wasn’t really happening. He ignored the man, which aggravated things a little.
‘I’m talking to you, cunt.’
Out loud that word was ugly. The man uttering it was ugly. It was undeniably an ugly situation. He sought the ‘off’ switch.
When the first punch landed in his face he was transported back to Diddy David Hamilton – the near forgotten radio voice of middle England – saying ‘that’s all folks’ in the irritatingly, folksy sign off from his programme that he’d hated as a child.
Alan Freeman interrupted to commentate the next punch in a loud baritone as if reception was being scrambled intermittently from an old wireless; an unfriendly trip down memory lane amongst the mediocre and slyly familiar. Not how he wanted to see the outing of his light. He had thought more of a John Peel (RIP) at his Memorial making a joshing joke at his expense, or Michael Buerk’s voice starving and shaky on the news when reporting his fatal injuries.
Soon he was being dragged onto the road for a final public kicking. The man wore hush puppies and that, and the intervention of a local old lady (that he’s always maligned in his mind), probably saved his life.
To rescue his sensibilities from the Jeremy Clarkson of his day, the Hairy Cornflake himself, Dave Lee Travis, he let darkness descend. Plummeting down the labyrinth of stairs in a cold warehouse, and then out and about traversing the arc of final sunlight around the globe, he arrived in a state of quietened slumber. Pain seeped into his body like rain water into limestone but his mind, his rushing argumentative mind, was for once silenced. In a coma he would have the chance to re-value his life. Re-invention no longer an option, he would be forced to face himself in withering sober reflection. The white van man had unwittingly punched into him an elixir of revelation, and now would be his opportunity to decide what to do with this disclosure, to stay being a cunt or become something else all together.
When he would wake briefly a week later he would hear only the treacle salivation of every household’s favourite son, Simon Master Bates, now consigned to smooth classical radio, telling his life story to a maudlin soundtrack of seventies mushy songs; the worst being Leo Sayer’s ‘I won’t let the show go on.’ Of the violence he would remember nothing; the bruises on his face and arms he would rationalise as marks of a fateful accident in the street. But when he woke and thought these things he was also a changed man.
In fact as he lies still and prone on his hospital bed, he is not even a man. He is a damp field mouse being tracked by a jackbooted farmyard cat; his mission to cross the yard and reach the grass without being ripped in two. Again and again he attempts to cross and again and again the cat’s jaws clench his torso, its hunter’s teeth guillotining him in two. He cannot scream, he cannot move: he can only fall back asleep and repeat the nightmare, time after time.
When he isn’t a mouse he is a badger being chased into its hole by a pack of blood-muzzled frenzied hounds, then gassed, and out into the glare of searchlights to be hit with spade before being ripped apart by the angry canine mob.
At worse the white van man who hit him becomes a twenty foot alligator who open his jaws like a giant knobbly dagger of a handbag.
From the ward radio tuned on 2, 10CC’s ‘I’m not in love’ scampers around his mind and across his lips. The ambiguities of 10CC’s lyrics confuse him now as much as when he heard it the first time.
One of the nurses, a new Mauritian male one, leans across him and sings along to it playing on the radio. Is the singer bluffing when he says he’s ‘not in love’ because he really is in love and he wants to avoid being hurt, or is he actually being honest and he’s not in love at all? The nurse tugs low down, then squeezes; the catheter tightening and snaking to his will.
The nurse is joined by SRN, Jen. ‘I told the snake to get out and to never come back,’ she says.
‘Good for you, girl; he sounds like a bastard!’
If he could muster any energy to respond he might nod in agreement with them.
But the male nurse is a reptile too: ‘We’re not all like that though,’ he whispers.
And his fingers brush Jen’s leg.
All he can do by way of intervention is to roll over and pull his own snake free: Niagara falls and their dirty honeymoon never sees the light of day.
In the evening from the nurse’s station he can faintly hear the Manchester DJ’s Radcliffe and Maconie – new types for big bold Radio 2, still twitterers and warblers but with better music to play: ‘Mister Morrissey lived at number 22, their first single got to 22, and he first met guitarist, Marr, in a pub in Salford, also 22.’ ‘Funny pub that; didn’t the barman keep a stuffed dog behind the bar?’ ‘Jack Russell.’ ‘Not the wicketkeeper, surely?’ ‘No, but the landlord may have been a wippet keeper.’
‘Mine’s a pint,’ he says.
‘Cockfosters or Wifebeater?’
‘Pint of largesse if you’d be so kind.’
‘Hello, Paul.’ It’s an uncommonly nice voice, a soft female voice. ‘Are you with us today?’ No hint of chiding; it is as if she really wants him to wake up and join her. But the intensive physiotherapy in the rehab centre often leaves him so tired that he can barely lift the lids of his eyes, let alone respond verbally. His pinkies twitch under the blanket; the best he can muster.
Sarah bends over in her cool white physio’s uniform; slim long legs and she cranes close, the hint of apple soap, and whispers ‘bye then’, and the little hairs on his left ear collect themselves along the rim and wave back. That’s was what he imagines anyway. He’d like to be able to tell her that this is the kind of nonsense he visualizes these days: benign drivel possibly brought on by the mass of drugs he is forced to ingest. But in his mind, it’s a relaxed state influenced almost completely by her presence. She touches his arm – her cool long fingers – God, he just wants them to brush all over his skin before she strolls away. Not forgetting to turn on the radio before she leaves the room.
Radio 3 as per usual, the therapeutic station in these parts: the theme of the sea, some Debussy and then Mahler’s Fifth; melancholic music but so beautiful to lose yourself in; to drift away. Christ, he could almost cry when the boat horn cuts through the fog of strings and he imagines, perhaps through a memory of the Adagietto Movement’s use in the film of Death in Venice, St Marks’ grand faded buildings emerging into view as he approaches from the grey expanse of sea. He is for a moment in a topsy-turvy gondola, the infeebled Gustav von Aschenbach feverishly fantasising about his Tadzio, but the aquline Polish boy is replaced satisfyingly in his mind by the physiotherapist, Sarah, so that if his thoughts are feverish for a moment they’re also gently erotic and friendly. He wants to kiss her on the soft down of her cheeks rather than (as if he could) undress her. To take his time … and the blanket draped across his lap dampens in the rough, the sea chucking up, his heart beating in time with the waves punching against the boat. And this time he is able to press the buzzer in time to call for help. A grey cardboard bowl on a wheeled in commode; water music, and a release of a kind.
Later, in the garden at home, a checked blanket over his knees, Radio 4 voices mutter away from the kitchen, a middle class morphine, dulling the pain of his body and mind.
A large dog fox approaches him across the lawn, slinky and raddled at the same time, his jaw purple bruised and collapsing at its edges to show two yellow canine teeth, sharp and dagger like.
The fox is first to speak: ‘You should never have used the C word, Paul, it doesn’t suit you or your disposition.’
‘Never used it, I mouthed it.’
‘Semantics, Paul, you deserved your kicking.’
‘You’re not a fox at all are you?’
‘I am and I can bite.’
The dog fox jumps at Paul with a scream and an open mouth. Paul is waiting for him and falls back in his chair so the fox jumps over him and then into the kitchen.
Paul manages to crawl over to close the kitchen door. The fox is furious and slavers and snarls at the window making mucky sticky kiss marks against the pane.
The Archers is beginning on the radio, its prosaic rural theme tune having the familiar effect of making Paul feel tired and finished. For once he is glad to be outside with the wild beast and the banal drama left to compete inside.
‘Turn it over!’ shouts Paul menacingly to the fox and the fox does as he’s told and Paul is out and about and on the street again.
He sees and hears the man in the white van speeding towards him, music throbbing from its sides and pounding from its floor.
‘Hi Paul, how you doing?’
‘The music, it’s familiar. What is it?’
‘Bow Wow Wow!’
‘On your Woofer?’
‘Go Wild in the Country, Paul.’
‘Where snakes in the grass are absolutely free?’
‘You got it.’
‘Roy Orbison, thank you.’
‘Capital Gold, that’s your prescription from now on.’
‘You’re a musical doctor.’
‘I’m Doctor Feelgood.’
‘And I’m Paul.’
‘Of course you fucking are, you silly cunt.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan McCormick’s stories have appeared in many places, including the Bridport Anthology, Matter, Aesthetica and Litro, and on the net at dogmatika, DeadDrunkDublin, nthposition and Pulp.net. Dogsbodies and Scumsters, a collection of Alan’s stories and Jonny Voss‘ illustrations, is available now on Roast Books.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 27th, 2012.