Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Cat Lady

A scent of Jasmin rose from the old lady in the ancient coat. On the conveyor belt beside her lay a packet of carved ham, milk, and four deluxe tins of cat food. With expert hands the teller scanned her items and said, “Ten ninety seven, please.”

The ten Euro note trembled in her fingers, as she stared into the depths of her empty purse. She began pushing the ham away when I slid a single coin to the teller. I saw shame in her face as she hurried away. There goes a woman who loves her cat more than life.

I  came across a community called 101, so this story is for them. exactly 101 words long.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Tubby Tommy

If there's one thing I've learned from years of standing behind this bar its that the more stupid a person is, the more convinced they are of the brilliance of their words. Only the wise are filled with doubt. I know this was said by someone very famous, I just don't know who.

Another thing that I am convinced of is that stupidity and cruelty go hand-in-hand. As proof of this theory, I'd like to tell you about Tubby Tommy.

The other night, a few blowhards had gathered at the end of the counter, trading stories. As the tide of bullshit flowed from them I pretend to listen, and polish a few glasses. Sometimes you have to be a bit forgiving of crassness, it is a pub after all.

As the night drew on, the tales got taller as pint after pint vanished. About an hour before closing-time the door swung open and Tommy entered the bar. Tommy is a lovely chap, it's true, he's about as tall as he is wide, but that hardly justifies calling him, "Tubby Tommy," which is just what one meat-head at the end of the bar shouted.

"Well if its not, Tubby Tommy himself. Come over here and grab a stool, lad," said the biggest of the guys, sharing a nasty wink with his buddies.  I can tell you, my hackles began to rise, but these fellas had been filling the till all night so I bit down on my tongue and moved a little closer to keep an eye on the group. Tommy smiled in his innocent way and wobbled over to join them. Tommy is a famous face about town, he works for the council, keeping the place tidy by sweeping the roads. Rain or shine, he'd push his cart around the town diligently taking care of his business while sharing a friendly smile with anyone he passed. Tommy isn't about to appear on "Mastermind" any time soon, but that only put's him on par with the men he was joining at the end of the bar. It was clear they thought differently. I served Tommy up his usual pint of Harp and as he sucked the foam over the lip of the glass. The guy who had given the nasty wink asked Tommy if he was going to vote, yes or no, on the upcoming referendum. The referendum the man was referring to was on being the first country in the world to allow same sex marriage.

"I haven't decided yet," said Tommy, putting down his glass and licking his lips.

"Ah, Jesus, Tubby, it's either yes or no, how hard can it be?" sneered the big ape, making all the chimps join in with jeers of there own.  Tommy just smiled, the ridicule going completely over his head.

"It's a lot to think about," said Tommy.

"It's easy, Tubby, should they allow gay people get married, or not."

Tommy smiled and said, "When you put it like that, yes."

"So you don't believe in God, so?"

A worried look passed over Tommy's face and he said, "Of course I do, I go to mass every Sunday."

"If you vote yes, Tommy, the priest will throw you out of the church and you'll go to hell when you die," said the guy, sharing a sly wink with me. I felt like pulling that eyeball out of its socket.

"They wouldn't do that," sputtered Tommy.

"Oh yes they would. It's in the rules, Tubby."

"I'd better vote no, in that case. Mammy would never stop crying if I got thrown out of the church, she'd be shamed."

"So that means your a Homophobic, Tommy, they will put your name in the papers," sneered the guy finishing the last of his drink and slamming the glass on the counter.

"I am not," said Tommy, sheepishly clearly having no idea what a homophobic was, but not liking the sound of it.

"Not what Tubby?"

"What ever you said," said Tommy.

"A homophobe, Tubby. A gay hater, if you vote no, that's what you will be," teased the group. Taking it in turn to call Tommy different names. I'd had enough so I swiped up their glasses. "Enough now," I said, in a way that made it clear they were about to cross a line.

"Yea, fair enough," said the leader of the group, getting off his stool and walking toward the door followed obediently by his shuffling disciples. When they were gone, I turned to Tommy and said. "Don't mind them Tommy, you vote what every way you want."

"It's still a lot to think about," said Tommy seriously, sipping his drink while I cleaned up the rest of the bar. I was mobbing the floor behind the counter when something made me stop and ask, "Why did you let them call you Tubby?"

"Them lads?" asked Tommy, pointing towards the door.

"Yea, them and all the rest," I said, leaning on the mop.

Tommy laughed and slapped his belly for emphasis when he said,"I'd rather have a keg than a six pack."

"Don't you mind, it then?"

"Na," said Tommy, finishing his pint. "Them kind of guys just feel bad about themselves. That's why they say those things, it make themselves feel better I think. It's a bit sad really."

Tommy wobbled to the door throwing a cheery wave over his shoulder. "Night so Squid, I think I'll vote yes, just don't tell Father Tom," he said, and with a shy giggle Tommy vanished into the night. I was stunned by the pearl of wisdom I had just heard and from Tommy no less. Perhaps he might appear on Mastermind after all, if they have a category called seeing the world as it is.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Reality Bites

Day 24 in the Big Brother House, 8.35am.

After successfully completing the circus challenge last night, Big Brother is awarding the remaining housemates a celebration basket of beer, wine, and snacks, to be delivered later in the day. Zoe, Shane, Clare and Ann are sleeping. The only housemate up, is Kit, who is doing sit-ups in the living area. 

Kit concentrated on getting through the last of his hundred sit-ups. It was hard to believe he’d only been inside this place for four weeks; it felt like four years. All around him, the house was silent, except for barely audible whir of focusing camera lenses, as they followed his movements. He bunched his well-chiselled stomach muscles one more time, and wondered, how many women out there were ogling him? Thousands? Tens of thousands? All gagging for a taste of the Kittster, while he was forced to remain blue balled, and captive.

It was a hell of a price to pay, all so he could be famous. He thought he would have been fine, going without sex, but by day ten, he was gagging for a bit. He couldn't even indulge in a little, "five finger shuffle", for God sake. He'd tried to knock out a sneaky one under the duvet, but every time the material rustled, he imagined his mother watching, live, on high definition TV. Let's just say, things withered. 

It didn't help having Zoe, and Clare, around. Zoe would look right at home rollerblading down Venice Beach, in a string bikini. And, she insisted on constantly doing yoga. That's enough temptation for anyone, but add in Clare, and the situation rose to volcanic temperatures. Clare was a lesbian, and her eyes devoured Zoe every minute of the day. Imagining the thoughts going through that girl’s mind was worse than a death by a thousand cuts. The frustration of it all.

Kit was a professional surfer, just not a very good one. His body was perfect; with shoulder-length blond hair and a posh English accent drove the girls wild, particularly Americans. He'd always wanted to be famous, to have all the trappings that went with it, he just lacked the skill to deserve it. God bless reality TV, which offered fame for the sake of fame. When he’d auditioned for the Big Brother, he didn’t think he had a real shot of being chosen. But when the producers announced he was one of the fourteen housemates, it had been a dream come true. How things have changed.

Now, he hated the plush walls that surrounded him, and the sexy female voice of Big Brother. He hated the stupid games they made them play for the amusement of the mindless masses, and he hated the boredom. He wished he could paddle out into a rising Atlantic swell, until he could see nothing but ocean, wave, and sky.

He strained through one last sit-up and collapsed backward. He was getting soft. He heard a camera move as it focused on him. He felt the waterproof microphone tickle his sweat-soaked skin, and reminded himself; one week to go. He got to his feet, and towelled off, before going to brew some coffee.

The smell of roasted Java, wafting through the house, soon roused the rest of the gang. So began another day, of doing nothing, talking shit, and waiting for the public to vote one of them out.

Day 24 in the Big Brother House, 10.20pm.

Big Brother's sexy voice reverberated through the house. "The diary room is now, open."

Zoe dashed to the flashing door, giggling like a schoolgirl, and Clare was quick to follow. When the girls returned, they carried between them a weighty looking case, decorated like a pirate’s treasure chest. When they flipped it open, there was a feast of alcoholic delights, and salt-laden snacks. The party that followed went on well into the night, and finished with all of the housemates in the hot-tub, roaring drunk.

Day 25 in the Big Brother House, 11.54am

Shane was the first to wake from his vodka induced coma. The communal dorm smelled of beer farts and Ann was snoring noisily. He struggled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom. He peed, then washed, and decided to wake Kit.

"Kit," he said, shaking a duvet covered shoulder. "Kit, come on man. It’s time to get up."

"Fuck off," he said, but the words were muffled by the duvet. Shane persisted until Kit finally admitted defeat and threw back the covers. 

"Alright, I'm up, I'm up," he said, groggily.

"I bet that party made the front page of the Mirror," said Shane, with a grin. 
Kit rested an arm over his eyes and tried to put the pieces of last night together. He remembered touching Zoe's boob in the hot-tub, and she didn't seem to mind one bit. Later, the two of them had ended up in his bed but then the shit hit the fan. Clare went nuclear, and tried to drag Zoe out of bed. Zoe told Clare to, "get a life," which resulted in shouting, and Clare storming off in tears. Zoe followed Clare, (the stupid cow), and Ann followed both of them, relishing the role of peacemaker. When all the girls came back, they quickly ended up in their own beds, while he was left with a raging hard-on, and nothing to do with it.

He swung his feet out of bed and reassured himself quietly, "One more week."

The house looked like it had been burgled. Furniture was upended, bottles were strewn everywhere, and in the corner was a small puddle of puke that nobody was going to take responsibility for. He needed coffee before tackling that lot. What difference would another half hour make? After all, they were hardly expecting visitors.

Day 25 in the Big Brother House, 3.34pm.

All the housemates are congregated in the sitting area, relaxing after the party clean-up.

"Guy's, did you notice that?" asked Ann.

"Notice what?" said a grumpy Clare.

"That camera hasn't moved in an hour," she said, pointing to a unit mounted above one of the many one-way mirrors dotted around the house.

"Rubbish, you just didn't see it, is all," said Clare, burying her head under a pile of cushions, her hangover was still in full roar.

"I'm telling you; it hasn't moved!" Ann insisted.

With nothing else to do, everyone watched the camera, and after fifteen minutes, Kit had to concede, it hadn't moved. 

"Perhaps it's broken," he said.

"It could be," agreed Zoe. "But then, why hasn't that one moved either?" she asked, indicating a different camera, one in the far corner of the room. One by one, the housemates got to their feet and started walking around. Any other time, this would have caused every camera in the place to spring into whirring motion. Today, nothing happened. Not one camera moved.

"That's bloody weird," said Clare, coming back from the garden. "It's the same outside."

"I think I should report it to Big Brother," said Ann, always the golden girl. She jogged to the diary room door and pressed the button. It flashed and kept on flashing, but the door didn't open. After a few minutes, she began to call out to Big Brother.

"Big Brother, there's something wrong with the cameras," she said, to the roof, as if she were talking to God. "Big Brother, can you hear me?"  This went on for quite some time, while all the rest of the them sat on the sofa, and watched. At no point did any of the cameras move, nor did Big Brother decide to answer Ann’s bleating.

Day 26 in the Big Brother House, 5.07pm

Shane came back into the kitchen, after trying the diary door for the hundredth time.

"Any change?" asked Kit.

"Still locked," he said, dumping the last of the coffee into his mug. They'd received no fresh supplies since the alcohol chest and things were starting to run out. Clare had used the last of the bread, and no sign of the, "pantry fairies."

"There is no way this could be a challenge; could it?" he asked, looking to the older man for leadership. Shane might be five years older than Kit, but he was just as lost.

"It could be, I guess, but it's a fairly extreme measure, don't you think?" he said, sipping his coffee.

"Those knob-heads would sell their grannies, for a good rating. They'd think nothing of starving us, or scaring the crap out of us!" said Kit, staring at one of the one-way mirrors.

"I guess it is an interesting experiment," he mused, but Kit exploded.

"Fucking Experiment is right! They think we’re rats in a maze, but we’re not. You know what they’re doing? They’re playing with our lives is what!" he ranted, knowing he was letting the frustration of captivity overwhelm him, but it felt so good.

"Ah come on, it's hardly that bad. We only ran out of bread this morning; we're not exactly starving."

"No, not yet, but how far will those wankers go?" he shouted.

The girls had been in the garden, chatting, but the sound of raised voices got them back into the house.

"What's happening," asked Zoe, simultaneously excited and anxious.

"Bloody nothing!" said Kit, storming out of the kitchen and into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Day 27 in the Big Brother House, 11.34pm.

Zoe, Ann, Clare and Shane are on the couch, watching Kit trying to force open the diary room door, with an egg turner.

"You're wasting your time," said Clare, rubbing her GI-Jane haircut.

"But at least I’m doing something. What have you done?" he asked, throwing the spatula across the room, hitting one of the one-way mirrors and cracking the glass.

"I haven't panicked, that's what I've done," she said, her tone superior, as she lay back like King Tut. She draped her arm across the back of the couch, and if she moved it forward an inch, it would also be draped around Zoe's neck.

"I'm not panicking, I'm bloody starving!" he growled, throwing himself into one of the bean-bags.

"It’s bound to be a game. Big Brother will call an end to it soon," added Ann, her voice full of trust and innocence. He looked across at her and couldn’t believe she was being sincere. Nobody was that goody-goody.

"And what if they don't? When will we start to act for yourselves? Can't you see that something is wrong here? This is not the way the show should be going. If nothing else, why haven't two of us been evicted? Tell me that?"

The problem was, none of them had an answer to his question, not even himself.

Day 28 in the Big Brother House, 9.45am.

Zoe and Kit are sitting in the garden, Ann is in the bathroom, while Clare and Shane are cooking the last of the housemate’s rice, for breakfast.

"Can you smell that?" asked Kit.

"It smells like smoke, but more disgusting?" said Zoe.

"Yea, have you ever smelled anything like that before?"

"No," she said, watching him get to his feet. It was like burnt hair and rubber. He looked into the sky, shielding his eyes with his hands.

"I think I can see something over there,” he said, pointing at the south wall of the compound. They walked across the yard and when they reached the wall, he linked his hands into a stirrup and hunkered down.

"I'll give you a boost," he said. "See if you can grab the top of the wall." Zoe put her foot in his hands and he hoisted her up. She came up a long way short. He wasn’t bet yet. “Wait here,” he said, and dashed away. A few minutes later he returned, with Shane, and the couch. They tipped it on its end so it formed a ramp of sorts. They helped Zoe clamber up and this time when she jumped, she managed to wrap her fingers around the top of the wall.

Kit and Shane cheered, but Zoe screamed.

She crashed to the ground, blood flying everywhere. Her fingers were sliced open in several places. As they hurried inside to bandage Zoe’s cuts, the smell grew stronger. Kit couldn’t help wonder had the wire been put there to keep other out, or them in?

Day 29 in the Big Brother House, 11.35pm

All of the housemates are gathered in the living-area.

Throughout the day, the stinking black smoke had grown thicker and thicker. While Ann continued to plead with Big Brother, the rest of us sat in the hot-tub and watched the sky grow blacker. Kit felt like Nero, fiddling while London burned.

 "What do you think they're burning? he asked, laying his head back in the luxurious bubbling water.

"Could be rubbish, I guess," said Clare. "But whatever it is, it stinks."

"I'd love a burger," said Zoe. The seeming random comment, not so random at all. The thought of food was now all consuming. They’d passed from hungry to starving days ago.

"Burger King or McD?" asked Clare, continuing to torture us all.

"Burger King, of course. Double Whopper! Heaven!" cried Shane, sinking below the water in mock ecstasy.

Inside the house, Ann's voice rose to a ferocious level. "FUCK YOU, BIG BROTHER!" followed by the sound of smashing the glass. As one, they sprang from the tub and raced toward the house. They found Ann, in front of a smashed one-way mirror, holding a chair in her hands.

They were shocked into stillness. Nobody believed Ann would be the one to break the golden rule; thou shall not escape. Kit moved forward, picking his way through the shattered glass littering the floor. He poked his head inside the tiny room behind the shattered mirror. There was an upturned chair, dozens of pieces of paper, and an unattended TV camera. On the back wall, a black door beckoned him, like a gateway to salvation. He climbed inside and took the doorknob. The handle turned, but the door was locked. He rattled it and pulled with all his might. It wouldn’t budge. He turned around and saw the hangered faces of his housemates, framed in broken glass. It would have made a great horror movie poster. After so long of doing nothing, it was completely disheartening to have breached the barriers of Big Brother's world, only to be stopped in their tracks by a simple door.

Ann dropped the chair and began to wail uncontrollably. It made everyone jump.

"I'm sorry Big Brother, it was an accident. It was an accident!" she screamed, sinking to her knees.

"Stop it, Ann," said Clare, taking her in her arms.

"NO! NO! NO! I shouldn't have done it!" she screamed. Clare lead her away from the broken glass and lay her on the couch. The others simply wandered away. Kit was about to climb out of the room when he spotted a crumpled newspaper under the upturned chair. He picked it up and the headline hit him like a hammer blow.

"Guy's, I think you should look at this," he said, shakily climbing back into the house. He held up the paper with the headline facing them.

"DOOMSDAY!" it declared. The lead picture was of a body lying in a doorway. A plague! While they had been locked up in here, it had swept planet, killing millions. The story detailed; civil unrest, the fall of governments, marshal law, and mass cremations. They read the story a dozen times. Trying to digest it all. What about their friends, their families? Kit looked back into the camera room. It was obvious the crew had abandoned them and left them locked inside. The question was, had they saved them, or doomed them? What lay beyond the door? Salvation, or destruction?