Saturday, 28 November 2009

Dungeons and Dragons

This week's sentence was taken from Émile Zola's laugh-a-minute 'Germinal'.

It was:
"So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?"

Dungeons and Dragons

Having decapitated her muffin, Janie extracted the juiciest-looking blueberry, popped it between immaculately glossed lips and treated Marcia to her most wicked smile.
"So, you fancy going over the road for a bit of looting and pillage?"
Marcia glanced at the crowd outside.
"D'you know, I rather think I do."
"Excellent! Though they open in five so we'll have to rush coffee."
She applied the coup de grâce with the usual twist, elongating the 'i' of his name into a sneer:
"Because Brian didn't see fit to get us here early."
She graced him with a condescending nod and a nasty, tight little smile. He knew better than to argue.
"Yes, dear." and returned his attention to the Guardian Review.
"And do get your nose out of that paper, darling."
Brian looked up, startled.
"Eh? What?" and suddenly noticed the near riot outside.
"What in Heaven's name is going on out there?"
"Shoe sale, darling. It's why we needed to be early today. Don’t you remember?"
"God, Janie, does he ever listen to a word you're saying?"
"Not knowingly, do you darling?"
"Er, yes dear. Could you not at least wait until the crowds have died down? It looks awfully unpleasant."
Marcia enunciated her words slowly, as if to a child.
"It's a S H O E – S A L E, Brian. Manolos? Jimmy Choos? The crowds won't die down until the place is stripped bare."
"Well, if it's alright with you two I'll just stay here and finish the paper while you do whatever it is you need to do."
"Oh, no, darling. You're coming, too!"
"Yes, Brian. We need you to carry our swag."
"Be our native bearer."
Their laughter scraped fingernails down the blackboard of his soul.
"Yes, dear."
"Besides, you're always lingering in here with your bloody paper; it's almost as if you'd rather mope about alone than enjoy the pleasure of our company."
"Yes, Brian! How could you?"
"Honestly, darling. What could you possibly find in here that's more scintillating than our repartée?"
Marcia cackled and leaned forward.
"You know, Janie: I think your Brian might be having some kind of sordid liaison with that floozy, Vampirella."
She nodded toward the counter where a sullen, disinterested goth girl gave the coffee machines a desultory wipe.
Janie almost shrieked with laughter.
"Marcia, that's just too delicious!"
Then, glancing across the street, "Sharpen your elbows, Missy, they're about to open.
Brian! Pay the floozy, then hurry and catch up. We're going in!"

Up at the counter Brian paid the goth girl.
"Girls' night out tonight?" she asked and he nodded.
"They're off to see some appalling musical full of ghastly z-list soap stars."
"See you at The Dungeon at eight then. Miss Whippy will be waiting."
She handed him his change and Brian bit back a yelp as she pinched the palm of his hand hard between her sharp, gloss black nails.
When he turned and followed the rioting mob of elbowing, kicking and scratching women into the shoe store, he was smiling.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Passing Through

This week’s sentence was taken from ‘American Notes’ by Charles Dickens.

The sentence was:
"He had ordered 'wheat-bread and chicken fixings,' in preference to 'corn-bread and common doings'."

Passing Through

New Providence. Just a wide spot on a dirt road. 'Jo-Beth's Family Diner. No Dogs. No Coloreds.' was a lean-to tar-paper shed hanging off the side of a clapboard wreck that looked for all the world like a tornado had simply dumped it there in disgust.

Mackinson parked up and stared for a while, as if he half-expected it to sprout legs and walk off, eventually reaching the conclusion that he was hungry and this was the only diner he'd seen in the past fifty miles.
He ducked under the lintel and let his eyes adjust to the gloom.

"Halp Yew?"
A scrawny woman in a faded shift dress and the filthiest apron he had ever seen stood with one hand on the kitchen doorjamb and hefted her weight from hip to hip.
Mackinson faked southern-polite: "Ma'am, I'm kinda hungry. Any chance of something to eat?"
The woman pointed with her chin.
A child's blackboard that had seen better days leaned on a shelf behind the counter. Chalked between peeling paint was the menu.
It was brief.
He had ordered 'wheat-bread and chicken fixings,' in preference to 'corn-bread and common doings'. There were no other options except the single word, "Koffee."
Klan town.
The woman disappeared into the kitchen and Mackinson amused himself in a vain quest to find a chair or table with four legs the same length.
He found one close enough and sat.
Looking up he saw her leaning in the doorway watching him. Something spattered in a pan behind her.
"Y'ain't local." She drawled.
"Can't say that I'm local to anywhere, ma'am."
"Name's Jo-Beth."
Mackinson nodded and smiled.
She was gone for a few moments. Clatter and sizzle from the back as she dished up.
“Smells good." He lied.

The food was passable. There were recognisable traces of chicken. His coffee was as bitter and raw-boned as the woman. He liked it.

Jo-Beth watched him eat. She took off the apron and let her hair fall loose from her barrettes. Streaks of grey in the brown. He guessed around forty-five. For all his first impressions she looked pretty good in the available light.
"Passin' through?"
Mackinson nodded as he ate.
"Coulda guessed. Ain't nobody ever stays."
She sighed.
"Don't blame 'em, neither. New Providence? Ha!"
Her voice suddenly sad. Resentful, like a pouty child.
"Godforsaken flyblown hole. What's to stay fer, anyways?"
He swallowed and grinned. "Well the food's pretty good."
Her laughter seemed to take her by surprise, like she hadn't laughed for a long time and had forgotten what it was like. It subsided only gradually and left her cheeks flushed.
She smiled. It suited her. He told her so.
Finishing his coffee, Mackinson slowly stood and reached for his wallet.
Flustered now. Fiddling with her hair. Suddenly shy.
"Mac." She paused, uncertain. "I …"
He walked over to her, touched her arm and felt her tremble.
His voice soft.
Her voice a cracked whisper.
"Stay a while."

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Call Me Matron

This week’s sentence was taken from Gustave Flaubert's 'Madame Bovary'.

The sentence was:
‘They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards.’

Call Me Matron

Wilkins' urgent whisper stopped the conversation dead.
They heard in the passage the sharp noise of a wooden leg on the boards.
Inside the silenced dorm, each boy cowered under his blankets as the door creaked open and the dreaded torch swept over them, their huddled forms demonstrating a dozen desperate theories on how to appear fast asleep when actually wide awake and in a sweating panic.

After several suspenseful seconds the urge to giggle had formed a palpable fug above the beds but the tension could only be released once the door closed and the tapping had receded back down the passage, and - after the predictable listening pause - finally descended the stair.
The mass exhalation of breath brought a veritable riot of relieved chortles, suppressed snorts and the inevitable donkey-like guffaw from Toad.

It was common currency throughout the school that Matron had lost her leg in a whaling accident. Mistaken for a man, she had been impressed into the crew of the whaler 'Fantod', whereupon, in the depths of the Antarctic with her ankle caught in a coiled rope, a harpoon had catapulted her precipitately into the gaping maw of a monster sperm whale, from the carcass of which the remains of said severed limb had been recovered many hours later but in no fit state to be reunited with its host.

Her wound cauterised with hot pitch the fearsome monopod had subsequently engaged in a torrid affair with the ship's surgeon, the unfortunate consequence of which manifested itself upon return to Nantucket and forced a further career change - society frowning as it did upon such inopportune issue - a tragic tale that found the child in an orphanage and the mother washing up against the shores of this august edifice as a Matron far fiercer than the whale which had taken her leg.

No-one within living memory had dared transgress the ogress' rule, as a result of which no boy had any idea what punishments she might mete out.
"Keelhauling." posited one, "Forty lashes with the cat" another, but nary a volunteer could be found to venture on that perilous journey of discovery.

Even the professorial staff - to the most senior - deferred to Matron, more from terror than respect, and since her arrival many decades previously no copy of Melville's classic could be found within a ten mile radius of the gates, notwithstanding the Headmaster's private soubriquet for her of "the Great White".

Even Matron herself had on occasion gone so far as to encourage the stories with the mischievous display of small items of scrimshaw by her window.
Speculation waxed and waned with the annual influx of new boys but the tale had become so firmly entrenched in folklore that none dared question it, indeed since her eventual passing the legend of the distaff Ahab, the harpoon, the wooden leg and the sperm whale have been written into the school's official history.

The truth, however, was far, far stranger …

Monday, 9 November 2009

Breaking Point

This week's sentence was take from Dickens' 'A Tale Of Two Cities'.

The sentence was:
"Through the rusted bars, tastes, rather than glimpses, were caught of the jumbled neighbourhood; and nothing within range, nearer or lower than the summits of the two-great towers of Notre-Dame, had any promise on it of healthy life or wholesome aspirations."

Breaking Point

A short stroll from the Cathedral, beneath the spreading chestnuts that line the ornate façade of the Hotel Dieu brings you, dear reader, to the forbidding iron gates of the Paris police headquarters, behind the bars of which you might find, on this particular day, two pathetic figures pitifully weeping and hunched over as if attempting to escape the weight of the world bearing down on them.
Through the rusted bars, tastes, rather than glimpses, were caught of the jumbled neighbourhood; and nothing within range, nearer or lower than the summits of the two-great towers of Notre-Dame, had any promise on it of healthy life or wholesome aspirations.
Far above our forlorn pair the sun shone in a clear blue sky but their eyes were blinded by an inner reek and fog that sucked all colour and warmth from their surroundings and all joy from their hearts, leaving their very souls blackened and desecrated.
Day after dreadful day, their unrelenting ordeal had ground them unmercifully well beyond the breaking point of any sane man until now, bereft of hope they waited grimly for death's release.
Their torturer smiled with sickening self-satisfaction eliciting another wail of grief from the first of his helpless victims.
"God, make it stop!"
His companion slowly shook his bowed head.
"God? God has abandoned us, my old friend."
He paused and winced in pain.
"No God would ever allow such tortures to exist outside Hell, and I regret to say that I believe we are still in the land of the living."
"Barely, though. And not for much longer if this goes on."
"The thought that God could allow such foulness within sight of His house beggars belief. But perhaps if we were to renounce our belief in God we could renounce Hell as well and so escape."
"And what then? Oblivion?"
His companion paused and sighed heavily; tears coursed down his haggard face.
"Oblivion. Blesséd oblivion. How I yearn for its embrace. Anything to stop this unspeakable torment."
He leaned against the old stone wall, deriving scant comfort from its cold, hard surface.
Squinting across at his friend he attempted a last desperate smile, though it seemed to the other that he saw only the rictus grin of a long-dead corpse.
"We could always kill ourselves."
"Hmm. Tempting; though I know that I, for one, no longer have the strength. Perhaps we could kill one another?"
"Or kill HIM!"
A dry chuckle escaped their throats.
"Ah, but if we kill him another will only take his place. Face it, my old friend, this torture will continue until we are dead and - if there is indeed such a cruel thing as God - for all eternity."

But perhaps there is a God, for at that very moment the busker put down his guitar and an ecstatic rush of colour, light, life and hope returned to the two policemen at the gate.

"If he comes back again tomorrow I'm gonna throw that fucker in the Seine."

The busker was just behind the middle of the three people on the right of the photo.
Believe me when I say he was just as bad as the two policemen described him.
What a pity that those folk who have to work in the square and have such a beautiful sight to look at are forced to suffer such appalling noise.