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 all still 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 had 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 every movement. Kit bunched his well-chiselled stomach muscles one more time, and wondered, how many women out there were ogling him, at that very moment. 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, for being 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 it all, on high definition live TV. Let's just say, things withered.  It didn't help having Zoe and Clare around him, all the time. Zoe would look right at home rollerblading down Venice Beach, in a string bikini. And, she insisted on constantly doing yoga in front of everyone. That's enough temptation for any one man, but you still had to add, Clare, into the mix. A steaming hot lesbian, who devoured Zoe with her eyes, every minute of the day. It was worse than death by a thousand cuts, to Kit.

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, that drove the girls wild. He'd always wanted fame, and 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 Kit had auditioned for the Big Brother show, he'd been sure they wouldn't take him. When the producers announced he was one of the fourteen housemates, Kit had been over the moon. 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. Most of all, 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.

Kit strained through one last sit-up and collapsed back onto the ground. He was getting soft. He heard a camera move into focus on him, as he lay there, he felt the waterproof microphone nestle on his sweat-soaked skin and reminded himself, for the thousandth time, there was only one more week to go. Kit got to his feet and towelled himself off a little, before moving into the open plan kitchen and brewing a pot of strong coffee. The smell of roasted Java beans, 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 pirates treasure chest. When they flipped open the lid, it 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 room smelled heavily of beer farts, while Ann snored lustily. He struggled out of bed and staggered to the bathroom. When he had peed, and washed, he decided he couldn't face the clean up alone, so he decided to wake Kit.

"Kit," Shane said, shaking a duvet covered shoulder. "Kit, come on man, its time to get up." Shane heard a muffled "Fuck off," come from somewhere deep in the bed, but he persisted until Kit finally admitted defeat and threw back the covers. 
"Alright, I'm up, I'm up," Kit said, groggily.
"I bet that party made the front page of the Mirror," said Shane, with a grin. 
Kit rested his hand over his eyes and tried to put the pieces of last night together. He remembered touching Zoe's boob under the water in the hot-tub, and she didn't seem to mind one bit. Later, she had somehow ended up in Kits single bed, along with Kit. That was when 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 had followed both of them, relishing her roll as the peacemaker. When all the girls came back, they quickly ended up in their own beds, while Kit was left alone, with a raging hard-on, and nothing to do with it. Kit threw his duvet back and swung his feet out of bed. "One more week," he said quietly, away from the microphone hanging around his neck. 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 taking responsibility for. The coffee had to be brewed before a thing was moved, after all, they were hardly expecting visitors. Only after a second cup, did the tidy-up begin?

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 at all, 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 back into a pile of cushions.
"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," said Kit, in his clipped accent.
"It could be," said Zoe. "But then why hasn't that one moved either?" she asked, indicating a different camera, on 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 of the cameras moved, anywhere in the house.

"That's bloody weird," said Clare, coming back from the garden. "It's the same out there."
"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 Big Brother Eye. The eye flashed and kept on flashing, but the door didn't open. After a few minutes, Ann 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 housemates sat on the sofa, and watched. At no point did any of the cameras move, or did Big Brother decide to respond to the bleating Ann.

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," said Shane, dumping the last of the coffee into his mug. They'd had no supplies delivered since the alcohol chest, two days ago, and they were starting to run out of things. Clare had used the last of the bread that morning, and the "pantry fairies" hadn't been to replace things, as they normally would do.
"Do you think this is some challenge or a test?" asked Kit, 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?" pondered Shane, taking a sip of the 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," mused Shane, but when Kit exploded, it knocked him back on his heals.
"Fucking Experiment! They are playing with our lives, for fuck sake!"
"Ah come on Kit, it's hardly that. We only ran out of bread this morning; we're not exactly starving."
"NO, not yet, but how far will those fuckers go," shouted Kit.

The girls had been in the garden, chatting, but the sound of raised voices got them running into the house.
"What's happening," asked Zoe, simultaneously excited and scared. 
"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 am doing something, what have you done?" asked Kit, throwing the spatula across the room, hitting one of the one-way mirrors, cracking the glass a little.
"I haven't panicked, that's what I've done," said Clare, her tone superior as she lay back like King Tut. She draped her arm across the back of the couch, and Zoe's neck.
"I'm not bloody panicking, I'm bloody starving!" cried Kit, throwing himself into one of the bean-bags.
"It bound to be a game, Big Brother will call an end to it at any moment," said Ann, in a voice full of trust. She reminded Kit of a ten-year-old girl, seconds from getting into the back of a van, for a handful of jellybeans.
"And what if they don't? When will we start to act for yourselves? Can't you see that something has gone horribly wrong! This is not the way the show should be if nothing else, why haven't two of us been evicted? Tell me that?"
The problem was none of them had an answer to Kit's question.

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 housemates rice, for breakfast.

"Can you smell that?" asked Kit.
"Smoke?" said Zoe.
"Yea, have you ever smelled anything like that before?"
"No," she said, watching Kit get to his feet. The air was filled, with the faint stench of burning hair, or it could have been rubber.  Kit searched the sky for the source of the smell, shielding his eyes with his hands. "I think it's coming from over here, come-on," he said, pointing at the south wall of the compound. At the base of the wall, Kit linked his fingers together, as if he were going to help Zoe mount a horse. "I'll give you a boost," he said. "See if you can grab the top of the wall, we have to know what's going on." Zoe put her foot in Kits hands and counted to three. When she jumped, Kit tried to boost her as high as he could, but she stopped three feet short of the top. They tried twice more, but it was a futile exercise. Kit's eyes were ablaze with passion, as he told Zoe to wait where she was, and he dashed into the Big Brother house. A few minutes later, he and Shane came staggering out of the house, carrying the couch between them. Kit dropped his end near the base of the wall, then Shane tipped his end up until it leaned against the wall. They helped Zoe clamber onto the top of the Jerry-rigged platform. This time when she jumped, she managed to wrap her fingers around the edge of the wall. Kit and Shane cheered with rapture until Zoe's scream came. It was blood-curdling. Zoe fell backwards, landing heavily on the flat of her back. Her fingers were sliced open in several places, where razor wire had pierced her skin. There was no escape over that, but they all could tell, the smell was growing stronger. Outside the walls, something was terribly wrong.

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 to open the diary room door, the rest of the group sat in the hot-tub, watching the ever blackening sky. Kit felt very much like Nero, helplessly watching, while London burned.
 "What do you think they're burning? Kit asked as he reclined in the luxurious bubbling water. "It might be paper or rubbish, I guess," said Clare. "Whatever it is, it stinks." "I'd love a burger," said Zoe. The thoughts of food had been growing stronger every day; now they were all consuming.
"Burger King or McD?" asked Clare.
"Burger King, of course. Double Whopper! Heaven!" cried Shane, sinking below the water in mock ecstasy.
 From 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, Clare, Zoe, Kit, and Shane, sprang out of the tub and raced toward the house.
 They found Ann, panting, in front of a smashed one-way mirror, holding a steel stool in her hands. All the other housemates were shocked into stillness. How strange it was, that Ann had been the one, to break the gospel of Big Brother, "Thou shall not escape". It was Kit that moved first. He picked his way, carefully, across the shattered glass that littered the floor, and poked his head inside the tiny dark room behind the shattered mirror. Inside, there was an upturned plastic chair, dozens of pieces of scribbled paper, and an unattended TV camera. On the back wall, a black painted door beckoned to him, like a gateway to salvation. Kit climbed over the edge of the broken window and grabbed the silver doorknob. The handle turned, but the door remained locked. Kit rattled the door, then grabbed the knob double-handed, pulling for all his might. The shattered glass framed the shocked faces of the other housemates, as they watched Kit battle with the stout door, and loose. When Kit was exhausted, he turned away from the door. 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.

When Ann dropped the steel chair to the ground 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!" screamed Ann. The rest of the housemates gathered around Ann and tried to take her back to the couch. Kit gave up on the black door and turned back toward the smashed window. In the corner of the room, he spotted a crumpled copy of a newspaper. As the other three housemates shepherded Ann back to the safety of the living area, Kit picked up the first newspaper he had seen in a month. The headline hit him in the head like a hammer blow, but it didn't stop him reading the rest of the story. When he had digested the words on the crumpled paper, Kit climbed back through the shattered mirror, into his crazy wonderland.

"Guy's I think you should look at this," said Kit, in a shaky voice. He held out the paper with the headline facing them.

"Doomsday is TODAY," read the headline, with a picture of a body lying in a doorway, beneath. The story made no bones of the fact that a plague was sweeping the planet, killing every person in its path. The government had been trying to deal with the growing number of bodies, with mass cremations. After reading the story five times, Kit turned his eyes to the door, behind the smashed glass. It was obvious that the crew had abandoned them, locked inside the fortress of Big Brother,  but the question was, had they saved them, or doomed them. What lay beyond the door? Was it salvation or their destruction?