PERMANENT TEMPORARY ARRANGEMENT
Just below eye level from the dirty road, sat in the arse end of Georgian decline, Shirley and Boom are eating their breakfast. Boom is a noisy eater and particularly so at 7.15am. The only time the basement flat hosted natural light was this hour of the day and Boom, not thinking anything just watched the light catch Shirley's ‘Luscious Lavender’ hair. Illuminating the net curtains behind her Shirley felt its warm touch on the back of her neck as she stared back at Boom. The window faced out into the wilderness of weeds that was the back yard they shared with the rest of the building's dwellers. However nobody ever ventured into it, for fear of giant rodents or dead bodies. Just above their heads a makeshift clothesline hung over their table from which fresh laundry was plucked, every radiator had clothing draped over it or stuffed into its sides. And so, although dark and gloomy their flat always had that reassuring smell of fabric softener.
Shirley stared at the tattoo on Boom’s arm as it lifted dripping spoon fulls of cereal into the chomping hole in his face. Starting at the tip of her perfectly pointed toe, Shirley's eyes followed the outline up around her shapely leg, swooping out and around her hip, then dramatically meandering in for her narrow waist, then up and over her pert boob, to the back of her neck then all over her wild thick mane, before stopping at her face. Her, big, green eyes. Her mouth a little bow of perfectness. Her nose a case study in female nose perfection. Shirley compared her own features with that of the tattoo’s before continuing again down the other side of the drawing. She had to do this five times before she could reengage with whatever she was doing, which in this instance was eating a slice of toast. She had already spent most of the night doing this tattoo stare with the dead weight of John’s arm slung around her.
With a mouthful of granola in his gob Boom’s early morning drawl asked, ‘You okay? you look rough this morning.’ Hearing him but only on her fourth circuit of the tattoo, Shirley rushed the fifth before looking up at him with a rattled ‘What!?’ 'Yeah I’m fine, what are you on about?' snapping back at him while biting into the pale yellowed slice of soggy buttered toast. 'Well you’re just staring pretty intensely at my tattoo, I’ve caught you a few times now’ stated Boom. Totally denying Boom his observation Shirley dismissed him ‘Nope, just tired.’ Before looking up at him and asking ‘Do you think I have a big nose?’ ‘Ah come on it’s too early for this your nose is grand, so is your hair, so are your legs, you’re perfect’ Boom replied wearily. ‘Bollocks’ replied Shirley, grabbing a pair of knickers from the line above them, getting up from the table and making her way to the bathroom, which was three steps away from the table. In the mirror Shirley looked at her profile staring back at her as it began to steam up. Significant enough to trace in the condensation, Shirley mapped her nose. She had a big nose, no doubt about it. Boom was a liar, a kind liar though.
Both ready to go their separate ways for the day Shirley and Boom stood out on the street, filling now with the swelling tide of morning rush. Breathing each other in, they hugged before parting and going to spend the day loathing in their respective bullshit jobs. Shirley had recently joined a small digital marketing agency as a temp receptionist while Boom had spent the last three months subjected to the mental torture of telesales for an animal shelter charity. Watching Boom mount his bike, Shirley admired how it accentuated his lovely long limbs giving him a certain manly elegance. As he waved her goodbye Shirley's eyes were fixed on the tattoo just below the roll of his shirt cuff and thought Bitch. ‘What?’ asked Boom looking a little surprised. ‘Did you just call me bitch?’ Shirley backtracked ‘Yeah I called you bitch, Boom’ taking fake offence. ‘I said Bye so Bye Bye’ said Shirley as she smiled, waved and walked in the opposite direction to the bus stop. 'Fucking tattoo' she said to herself as she attempted to kick an empty yogurt pot, missing it as it tumbled on by in the wind. Taking a deep inhalation, she held her breath at the sight of the fermenting garbage bags that had been there for a couple of weeks now. Tagless they were dumped and left to decompose right there on the pavement beside the bus stop. One was busted, opened by the manic beak stabbing of a garbage junkie seagull gang. Empty pasta sauce jars, the molding furry heels of sliced pan, shriveled rotten veg at the stage it was difficult to know what it used to be, lay strewn across the cracked patch of concrete path. Six minutes she’d have to endure this for, six stinking minutes until the 37 would come busting down the street full of sleepy headed workers.
Scooping her onto the bus the doors closed violently behind her, it was easy to see the bus man was not a morning person either as he ripped the ticket out of the machine and flicked it at her, while at the same time managing to jut the nose of the bus out into the red tailed traffic beast, its toxic breath seeping from hundreds of exhaust pipes, digesting the souls of the commuters snug in its guts. To her relief she managed to get a window seat upstairs. Using the bus ticket she neatly wiped the condensation off the window in a circular motion and looked out through this improvised porthole. The streets bounced by, as the bronco bus galloped through town, branches of trees scraped the windows and at the lights empathetic people looked in at her from passing buses with that knowingness in their sunken eyes. Who said nothing lasts forever? she began to consider. Because these days she felt like she had been condemned to this routine for eternity. She fantasized about staying on the bus and looking out the window all day, but surely the angry bus man would take full pleasure in throwing her off, she would not give him the satisfaction, anyway she had to go to work, she needed the money.
‘Good morning Wankers’ Shirley said to herself with a tight grimace for a smile as she greeted her co workers coming in the door. 'So have you given it any more thought? we're casting Monday' inquired Jonny one of the creatives. 'Nope' replied Shirley. Looking a little offended, Jonny rolled his eyes and made his way to his desk. 'definitely fancies me' thought Shirley as she turned on her computer and began removing her supplies from her bag for the day ahead. Palmers lip balm, Sugar free gum, hand cream, her mole skin and of course her phone with Candy Crush level 54 ready to while away the boredom. Since turning down a whopping hundred euro to appear in a brand film for a biscuit with which she shared the same colour of hair as, 'Pretty in Pink', they had gone very cold on her and she was sure that this temporary contract would be going terminal pretty soon. As much as it made her cringe, Shirley had fitted the brief all right, ‘female, 18-24, cool look,’ they had already snooped that she had quite a following on instagram and coupled with her image Shirley was gold to a marketing agency that considered her a gateway to ravenous digital natives who they could sell biscuits to. Her reluctance to cash in on her image came as a surprise and was noted as being a bit ‘uppety’ and managed to offend, the creatives who’s idea it was, Jonny was persistent and wouldn't give over. He was in his 30's but seemed younger which was creepy. When asked Shirley expressed quite clearly that selling her image for a biscuit was insulting and at that price even more so and returned with a defiant ‘Lucious Lavander’ hair the following day. She was getting sick of everything being hijacked for being cool. If everything is cool then it’s not fucking cool, everything seemed to have some brand attaching itself to it, youth it would seem was now a complete commodity. Shirley was not for sale.
Removing a sugar free gum from her mouth and replacing it with another, Shirley was an avid gum chewer, addicted to those first juicy chews before the gum turns tough and tasteless, she could easily get through five packs a day. On the underside of her desk and over the course of her two weeks at the agency she had been creating a dot- to-dot 'Wankers' in rolled up pieces of gum. Currently finishing the E Shirley really wanted to get the R and S completed before she was relieved of her position. She amused herself, imagining someone discovering it sometime, this primitive reaction on office furniture, this chewing gum braille. It would probably be the janitor though, he would definitely get its sentiment. Rono was pretty sound, on her first day Shirley mistook him for the creative director, his jeans, converse and crew neck sweater seemed to give him the appearance of one. Rono thought it funny and told her 'Nope I'm a Janitor not a Wanker'. He was in his fifties and played banjo with a trad band and was a bright light in the colon of business.
Part Two -
What are you up to now? Inquired Shirley to an eye rolling Rolo who had a large piece of plywood under his arm. 'They're making a desk' said Rolo. 'They're making a desk, oh of course they are' replied Shirley with a sarky dismissive wave of her hand. 'Very busy people you know' said Rolo with a wink as he maneuvered his way through the big class doors of GANG DIGITAL.
Two men sit at the opposite ends of a park bench, a little dog is lying between them.
Man 1. Claude? His name is Claude? hey Claude, man is he cute.
Man 2. No Cloud, his name is ClouD.
Man 1.Claude's a really cool name for a dog.
Man 2.No man, Cloud. You know the things in the sky?
Man 1.Oh Cloud, yeah that's what I thought you said, ah now I get it.
Man 2.Yeah he's white and fluffy... like a cloud
Man 1.What is he anyway?
Man 2.He's a Bichon Frise
Man 1.Looks more like a Claude to me.
- At the Bottom of a bucket.
Before she had time to talk herself out of it, she put the toilet seat down, sat her back pack on it and emptied the contents of the bucket into it. Slowly mind you, so as not to draw too much attention and not all of it, she reasoned that of course it would look totally suspicious to come back with nothing. She guessed that maybe there was thirty, forty euro worth of change in her back pack which was weighing her down, but she could pull this off. Straightening her posture, she looked at herself in the mirror and washed the stink of loose change of her hands. 'I’m just creamin' off the top, just like the rest of the fuckers' she thought.
It was the homemade jam sandwich that she had for lunch that really got her going. Eating a soggy jam sandwich, in the park on her lonesome, even the birds in the pond turned their beaks up at it, accustomed as they are to fancy sandwiches from lunching office workers. She knew this to be true, because she used to be one, not a fancy sandwich but an office worker, a PA to be exact. A PA to, as it would turn out, a rather dubious bank manager, all too fond of the cream himself. More the clotted, double cream variety if you get the drift, hence her abrupt departure from her position and prolonged period of gainful unemployment. But that was then and this was now. Now, she took what she could get and her latest job, all be it voluntary was as a ‘Chugger’ even saying the word to herself made her eyes roll and her entire body wince. She hated people chugging buckets of change in her face and now, and now she was one. The poor kids in Sudan she had thought, it is terrible but really, what was thirty odd quid gonna do for them? she wanted a fancy burger and a beer, that’s all. She wanted to sit down, order it, take her time, savour it, watch the world go by and not feel guilty for spending the money for it and that is exactly what she was going to do.
Scooping out handfuls of cents from her back pack into the coin machine in Tesco's, the sound of them pouring in then falling away and being counted excited her as she imagined them being converted into tidy, light, clean notes. So far, her loot was at e27.11. Waiting for the last drop to be added she thought about which burger she'd have. The one with bacon and banana had intrigued her since strolling past the menu board a few days before, yip that's what she'd have that and a bottle of Duvel poured into a chilled glass with a big foamy head. And then Bingo! The receipt printed out, really slowly, her estimate of 30 - 40 euro was right as the total was 38.76 minus 12% of course for the coin machine people, whatever that was. She was shit at maths and these days it seemed that's all life was, adding and subtracting the little that she had. Making that last tenner last longer, getting more out of less, adding and subtracting, adding and subtracting, it reduced existence to daily equations, if I earn this, and buy this, this and this can I afford this, this, this and this? 'Take the 12% you fuckers' she thought as the woman at the counter gave her her e34.11. The 11 cent she put in the charity box, something for cancer, she didn't pay any attention. She was sick of change and had a banana bacon burger on her mind.
Copyright © 2014 VERSIFY ME and Joanne Mc Laughlin.
- While you were sleeping
His head, delicate as a dandelion, as if it had been turned inside out, the stereocilia of his ears picking up on every creek and moan of the house, the throbbing of his heart felt in his brain. The man could even hear the squeaking of the fibres in his pillow which he had punched a few times by now. A distant car alarm was whirring manically somewhere a few streets over and that dog, the dog that had managed to keep him awake since moving into the area a month earlier. Arf, Arf, Arf over and over and over, the constant baseline to this night time symphony of hearing hell. Waking dreams are fantasy and these nights the man fantasied about what he would do to that dog.
Getting out of the bed, he stood at the window trying to figure out where it was, this werewolf, hell dog. Calmly, he put on his jeans and made his way to the kitchen. Taking specially left, left overs of foil wrapped roast Chicken from the fridge the man stuffed a full packet of crushed headache tablets into the greasy breast and thigh. He was going to drug this barking dog. Stepping into the dark, chilly early summer morning the street was still and warmed by the low orange light of the lampposts. The man followed the barks through the narrow terraced maze of streets. Looking up at the darkened bedroom windows of the houses as he passed, envious that behind them people slept in their beds. He walked for maybe five minutes until he came to a back alley following the barks until stopping at a hunk of a garage door from behind which was the dog.
Sensing the man its bark turned to a growl and then a snapping bark which freaked the man out as he realised that perhaps this dog was more of the aggressive variety. None the less he was sick of it and driven by a blood shot desire that was beyond reasoning, he was going to kill the dog. When you’re not getting any sleep, sleep is all you want. Pulling back the big iron handle on the garage door he prepared himself for a snarling CUJO, all he had to do was throw the Chicken to it and run away, that was his plan. He’d done this a hundred times in his head from his bed. Pulling back the iron door as it let out a mighty rusty moan which, was sure to get attention, he didn’t care. Sure enough he could hear a chain lifting from the ground and there it was snarling at him, just a few steps from its sad face, as it pounced into the light from the alley. Its chain pulling it back, jerking at its neck the dog, yelped. The man prepared himself to throw the chicken then the dog just stopped and began to whimper, its brow bones sliding to the sides of its thin face. It could smell the chicken, the smell of roast chicken like heaven to a starving dogs nose. This skinny mangey looking thing, maybe one time it was an Alsatian considered the man. Stunned by the dogs deprived state he began to speak to it. 'There, there boy. Look at the state of you. Poor boy, poor boy' while stepping back and pulling the big door shut again. The man made his way back through the sleeping streets with the chicken in his pocket and as the dog began to bark once again, he wondered how people could sleep so soundly through it?
Copyright © 2014 VERSIFY ME and Joanne Mc Laughlin.
The car door clunks shut and a set of keys are rammed into the ignition. A motley assortment of key rings consisting of holiday souvenirs from Magaluf, Medjugorje and Toronto, a miniature golden disco ball, a foam dolphin and the names Genna and Tommy in pink and blue metallic respectively jangle and clash against each other. Sitting back in the driver’s seat Genna’s white Doc Martin boots rest on the pedals, her left boot pushes down on the clutch as her right boot begins to rev the engine. Her long powder blue falsies clutch onto the pink fury steering wheel, as she closes her eyes and takes deep inhalations in time with the car’s revving until they become slow and light. Shifting the gear stick into reverse she opens her eyes and says out loud to herself ‘Yeah Fuck yous’ over the Tiesto tune that she turns up on the car stereo. Checking herself in the mirror she tugs her long black ponytail tighter before dropping the handbrake and pulling out of her cul de sac. Leaving a trail of blue hued petrol fumes lingering on in the crisp March air as she drives off in the white Subaru Impreza. Usually at this time Genna would be setting off on her morning cruise which was a spontaneous route of bombing around her small town, but this morning she wasn’t in the mood. At 26 the convenience of co habitation with Mammy and Daddy was wearing thin and now they were demanding rent. Genna’s 188 euros a week was thinly stretched between weekly visits to ‘The Diva Den’ for new nails, a blow dry or colour, going to Liber8 which was now 15euro to get in, her phone bill which was mainly consumed by calling friends in Perth and Toronto during drunken nights out at Liberat8 which left her with just enough for petrol for the Impreza.
The roads around the estate lent themselves well to driving, allowing her to take sharp corners at great pace, accelerating over speed ramps and cruising along the main road between her estate and the one next which was a straight stretch of road surrounded on either side by an expanse of green grass punctuated by lonely bus stops, this was not a day for lapping though.
On the main street, a group of young uniformed school lads hanging outside the shop on their lunch break stare in unison following Genna as she drives past. ‘Genna’s motor is pure class’ remarks one of the lads, biting into a sausage roll and shaking his head in wonderment. Looking straight back at them Genna blasts the Impreza’s Hella Supertone Horn at them to which they cheer, waving their crisps and Fanta bottles in the air. Genna loved their reactions but was far too cool to show it so instead she rested her middle finger against the window while looking dead ahead with a smirk which made them love her more, ‘Genna’s a ride’ sighed one school boy as they watched her drive off out of sight.
Checking her phone there were now four missed calls from her ma and a text message which read ‘Sick of your shit Genna. Time to get your act together.’ Throwing her phone down on the passenger seat she was in need of some sympathy and knew where to get it. Making her way out of the town the sun was breaking through the cracks in the wall of cloud that filled the sky right down to the tops of the hedge trimmed winding country roads of dubious speed limits and hidden speed vans. Hard as it was to resist the desire to put the boot down she didn’t. The Impreza thundered through the silence sending grazing sheep sprinting across the fields and a few cows to life their heads, before finally pulling up outside a rural bungalow. Turning down the music Genna gives a sad face to her oldest friend Michaela who is standing between the closed curtains of her bedroom window looking bemused to see her oldest friend at this time of day.
Answering the door, Michaela’s pink hair, a candiflossed mess complimented the pink and blue clouds on her Pajamas welcomes Genna with ‘Jesus the face on you’ as she sulks on in past her. ‘Unreal, un-fuck-in real’ says Gemma as she makes her way to the kitchen. ‘Wha? what’s up with you, now?’ croaks Michaela still half asleep wiping the slept in make up from her eyes while switching the kettle on. Sitting on top of the table Genna blows smoke out of her lip glossed mouth while gesturing her electric cig at an imaginary person by the washing line outside, calmly reiterating that she is not doing what she doesn’t want to do. ‘I’m not doing it Michaela, I’m not, why should I?’
Michaela now well accustomed to Genna’s dilemmas looks away trying not to stir her up any further and pours the boiled water over the tea bags in the mugs. She had been listening to Genna’s ‘problems’ for years and decided there and then that perhaps now was the time to give it to her straight. ‘Maybe... maybe you should, I mean you’re always sayin’ you’re skint like? Without pause or hesitation Genna slams down her hand, leaps off the table storming out of the kitchen in a rage ‘ah God sake you too, you too, what would yous know about it like?’ shouts Genna while heading for the front door and pulling it closed behind her. Through the frosted glass Michaela watches the abstract Impreza reverse up onto the garden as it roars off out of sight before going back to her bed. As she drove off Genna could see that she had flattened the whole bed of Michaela’s Ma’s daffodils in her rear view mirror and let out an almighty scream.
The day still hadn’t decided what to do with itself as a sun shower of watery hail blew down from the hills and across the bog. Turning the heater on she was cocooned from its cold and with her music blasting she had company, Beyonce would never let her down. Before long she was out on the flat lands between towns where turf is cut and sheep roam free. Fidgeting with her pink seat belt pad, as comfortable as it was, was now adding pressure to her full bladder. Moving around in her seat Genna found a spot to pull in and leaped out of the car. On her honkers and leaning one hand on the fat bumper she watched the stream of pee spark off the gravelly soil as it snaked away from her, its steam rising in the cold air. This was possibly the longest pee she had ever taken she thought to herself, her thighs beginning to strain, as she tried not to get any on her tights or denim shorts. ‘Come on, come on, hurry up’ she pleaded all too aware that she was still quite close to the road and could give a passing driver quite the view.
Zipping her shorts and standing up Genna felt relieved and decided to head back to the town, she could do with a bag of chips to cheer herself up, she thought. Pulling the door handle to get back in she kicked the door with a ‘Ah come on, no way!’ her eyes filling up as she began to cry. The sophisticated locking system of the Impreza had locked her out after 30 seconds. Holding her hands up to the window to see through the domineering sky that reflected in it she peered in and could see her keys in the ignition and her phone on the passenger seat flashing away with angry messages.
Sitting on the car bonnet she blew plumes of smoke out of her mouth as she watched the giant clouds move across the sky like a fleet of warring ships. The silence made her feel deaf and a little mad so she began to hum to make sure she could still hear and started to weigh up her options. Not a single car had passed in the now 35 minutes that she’d been pulled up. If she walked back to the town it would take her an hour but this wasn’t really an option she was not leaving the Impreza out here on its own. Pulling up her hood Genna decided she would wait, somebody was bound to pass soon.
It wasn’t long before the cold had her walking around the car and pacing back and forth to stay warm before huddling down with her back against the right front wheel to shelter from the wind. Resting her head in the crease of her arm, her breath heated in the fibers of her hoodie gave her some warmth.
‘You’re a right state’ Genna looked up and could see Tommy standing over her in his working boots, jeans and navy sweatshirt as he made his way to sit down beside her. Turning her head to look at him she asked ‘Tommy what am I going to do? They want me to sell her, how can I sell her? She’s you and me?’. Looking dead ahead Tommy replied softly ‘Genna it’s time to move on’ ‘I should of went with you Tommy’ interjected Genna full of regret. ‘Genna you would’ve hated it, too much hard work, you’d have been a shit waitress let’s face it’ said Tommy with a reassuring laugh. ‘Yeah well I should have went over with you’ said Genna. ‘Genna you couldn’t have stopped it happening, Jesus, sure everyone thought we would have died together in the Impreza,’ ‘Yeah, how romantic’ agreed Genna smiling at him. ‘Genna it’s been three years now, sell her, take the money and go to OZ, sure half the town’s there, go to the sunshine and enjoy yourself, before you get stuck here like everybody else’ advised Tommy. ‘Yeah well we should’ve went there in the first place’ snapped Genna. ‘Well we didn’t, I went to Toronto and you stayed’ ‘Yeah you went to Toronto and died’ snapped Genna. ‘I’m going now and I won’t be back, you have to start looking after yourself’ said Tommy as he got up and walked away. ‘Tommy don’t go’ whimpered Genna as she began to cry.
Breaking up the expanse of growing black, a strip of grey light sat on the horizon of the bog. Standing up and looking out over it she could hear the distant grumble of a car before seeing its headlights in the distance moving in her direction at pace. Wiping the tears from her face and fixing her hair she stood out on the side of the road and waved her arms above her head, asking the car to stop. And it did.
As the car came closer Genna could see that it was a fairly pedestrian Volkswagen Passat. The passenger door opened. ‘Are you alright there love?’ asked a middle-aged women leaning across from the drivers seat. ‘Yeah I locked myself out of the car, my keys are in there and me phone’ explained Genna walking towards the car. ‘You must be freezing get in’ said the woman. Looking around the woman’s car Genna couldn’t help but think how drab it was with all its dark grey plastic as she wriggled about on the beaded seat cover. ‘Where do you need to go?’ asked the woman. ‘I need to get to Donnelly’s garage in the town, they’ll be able to pop the lock.’ said Genna watching the road ahead lit up by the headlights of the car. ‘What were you doing away out here anyway?’ asked the woman puzzled by the sight of such a townie in the bog. ‘I was just taking my car for a last cruise before I sell her’ said Genna before asking the woman if she minded putting the heat on.
Copyright © 2014 VERSIFY ME and Joanne Mc Laughlin.
When in Shanghai I met local people who had chosen the most interesting English names for themselves. Names like Star, Happy, Fanny and Zero. Living in and around Fǎ Zūjiè everyday I came across some really cool characters, like the fruit sellers in our Lane way, the elderly morning dancers and staid bird keepers of Fuxing Park, all the speedy smoking taxi drivers and of course the crab sellers it wasn't long or hard to start imagining stories.
As well as all this, this story is inspired by the reputation that Shanghai women have as being the toughest women in the world, demanding and domineering, the bosses of Shanghai.
Here we go....
- Fanny's Crabs
Almost touching it Fanny moved closer to the mirror and peered deep into the lash on her face. About an inch long and half an inch wide neatly placed on her left cheekbone this was a good one and the last one she thought. It was dry now so stitches wouldn’t be any use, it would probably scar. Under the bare bulb light that hung precariously from the low ceiling just inches above her short frizzy hair Fanny just shook her head disappointed that she didn’t hit her back twice as hard. But there’s always next time she thought. The water from the tap was cold making her hands stiffer and their redness rawer as she dabbed around the wound, which was now beginning to bruise. The bar of soap between her hands as dried out as her scar cracked and almost finished reluctantly produced some foam, its aroma long gone. A cold air snaked around her legs coming in from the door it was December out there in the lane way now just a dimly lit passage way far from the hustle and bustle of warmer months in Spring and Summer, then a pulsing artery carrying tourists and local shoppers hurriedly through the side streets of Shanghai. This year she didn’t have a back up plan and it was beginning to look more and more likely that she and Zero were heading for splitsville. The fights where less frequent as Zero wasn’t home much these days she seemed to have lost interest all together it wouldn’t be long before she’d tell her to leave too.
Zero was a real hard ass Shanghai lady she was the boss. Short and stumpy she held her ground well with a territorial air that had served her well in her trade and added to her intimidating presence. Her hands two little clubs tough and scared from years of gutting fish and hauling loads of crabs from the docks. Zero had been in the crab trade since she was a little girl working her way up over the years till eventually managing most of the crab sellers in the area. They met on a deadly hot July evening 5 years before, just off the bus from a factory town in the south, Fanny was staying with a friend, who brought her to an intense card game, a game that Zero was presiding. Fanny wasn’t the first of Zero’s affairs and now Fanny was certain now that she wouldn’t be the last either.
Zero’s then husband a taxi man a decent sort worked day and night to bring his earnings home to her. Every night after going through his pockets she’d count his takings in front of him three times divide by four and give him a forth. She had promised him a child and explained that she was saving half of the cash for this offspring but really this cash was feeding the pot at the weekly card games that she had been playing with the street sellers of Wulumuqi since she was a little girl. He too had been on the receiving end of Zero's raging temper about which she triumphantly told Fanny about when he was out at work. 'Stupid Pig' they’d say as they swigged on Whisky from the bottle in his bed. And when he finally caught them they beat him up and threw him out. Too ashamed to tell anyone the last they heard he packed his bags and headed back to the hometown that he’d left as a young boy. Fanny saw a similar fate ahead and filled with dread, she had depended on her for so much and in a regretful way had fallen in love with her and was already beginning to make excuses for her latest attack. After all she didn’t sell any crabs that day. A bucket full of dead and smelling crabs is a sad sight. Yeah she deserved it she thought. Fanny wasn’t bringing home the dosh and as far as Zero was concerned that was a punishable offence.
After a nightmare night turning over in the bed onto her cut, Fanny sighed in recognition that for a week now she had woken up alone. Outside the street raged with traffic its sound stretching for miles, the limp golden light of winter morning filtered in through the smoggy sky, harsh against the silvery bark of the now naked trees that lined the street. A few dead leaves remained, shivered in the bite of the wind, making Fanny feel even colder. As she set up her stall at the end of Laneway 7, she wondered why didn’t all dead leaves fall, as she watched the ones still clinging on rattle in the cold air. In the bucket the moving mass of crabs squirmed each trying to scale its plastic walls all 320 arms and legs. Sitting on her plastic stool and placing the bucket between her legs she imagined she was a fierce sea eagle jabbing her right hand into the bucket and pulling a crab straight out greeting it with a ‘Good Morning Sir’. Speed was crucial for two reasons crabs can give you a nasty pinch if your hand is slow and secondly the water was freezing.
Flipping the crab on its back into the palm of her left hand with her right hand she began to fold its legs inwards. Its segmented exoskeleton perfect to fold Fanny bound them tightly as she went with thin blue rope until reaching the front claws. These were always tricky and gave the most resistance, even in a totally captive state and prepped for dinner the crab never gave up, its slimy armour protecting the delicious delicate meat inside. Even with its last pincer tapped shut and being folded inward the crab fought. Fanny prided herself on how neat a job she did and how quick she could do it arranging these crab bundles into neat little stacks. Usually she’d have a few customers straight away and could be sold out by 1pm but of recent people were too distracted by the desire to get in doors to the heat to be bothered about her crabs. Her regulars didn’t seem to be around much which bothered her as they’d been her customers for five years now and suddenly they were no where to be seen. Fanny felt her gut twinge as her face throbbed from the evening before. But her heart was sorer as she looked at her phone again for a message, a missed call an email something but there was nothing from Zero.
'Good Morning Mr. Chen' delighted to see one of her customers and happy to have a distraction standing up and extending her hand, he looked up at Fanny as if a stranger and shuffled on with a little dismissive wave. Mr. Chen? She questioned after him her voice lifting in confusion as to why he didn’t speak to her. Watching him walk away into the street that she knew so well settled now after the morning rush she felt an affection for it this was her little patch in the mega metropolis, her village, but this was a village run by Zero this was her turf, it was only Fanny’s home because she allowed it. A slow sadness moved through her relaxing the stiffness of her cold muscles into a heavy slump as she began to wonder what was the point she knew that today would be like all the rest of recent she wouldn’t sell a single crab. Lighting a cigarette between her index finger and thumb she imagined Zero's disgusted face, dead crabs in the bin and touched her face she thought of her mother and how far away she was. Turning to her stall her sign lay on the ground blown over by the cruel December wind, her little stool childlike, her bound crabs laid out and her bucket that was it that was her life. Standing over it and sucking on her cigg, a claw clamped onto the side of the bucket and then another ‘You little bugger’ she thought but instead of pushing the crab back in she watched it. Next the right legs crawled over the edge the crab seemed to be forcing its weight trying to tip itself over the edge. Looking at it Fanny didn’t move she didn’t want to frighten it or cause a vibration that could tip the balance in favour of the bucket. The crab hung there for minutes not moving just hanging on and then it dropped out with one arm holding on as the rest of its body hung closer to the ground and then it let go. Fanny began to laugh as the crab teetered away down the lane way she could almost hear its heart racing. How happy that crab must be she thought but the city’s no place for an edible sea faring creature. Running after it and picking it up its legs moving franticly for the ground below she placed it back in the bucket. Taking the lid Fanny securely fastened it and began to smile to herself. With the bucket in her arms she looked again at the street and started back to the apartment she unchained her scooter fastened the bucket to the back with her blue rope put in her ear phones selected her favourite song Jail House Rock 1 2 122 12 122 she sang to herself the only English she knew as she drove out onto the road.
Weaving through the traffic and looking dead ahead she made her way out of Fǎ Zūjiè for the first time since she’d arrived. The city opened up to her and rose above her leaving the Paltane trees, chicken stands, card games, crabs and heart ache she made her way to the Huangpu River. Speeding over motorways and rooftops. In millions of windows dried millions of socks, sweaters trousers, bras and pants of people just like her. Up on the elevated motorway, the city looked empty save the traffic on the roads the sky now a clear blue void of space.
Looking over the river to the futuristic looking Pudong she remembered she had come for these buildings drawn to their lights, their ambition, their height and structure so proud they made anything seem possible. Giant container ships sped by and she thought about where they had come from and where they were going in wonder at how something as ugly as a container ship could move so gracefully. All around her tourists took their picture with Pudong in the distance, each one the same as the last, over enthusiastic smiles with this architectural celebrity. Giddy young couples in their wedding garb braved freezing smiles their occasion made glamorous by this iconic backdrop, looked into the cameras of bossy wedding photographers. Sitting down Fanny took the lid off the bucket and took a long look at the crabs each bound but still alive. Reaching for her penknife, feeling an urgency she cut the thin rope off each one quickly while taking care not to damage them. Once done Fanny stood up and leaned over the railing facing into the dark depths below her before tipping the bucket over and watching the crabs pour back into the mighty river.
Copyright © 2014 VERSIFY ME and Joanne Mc Laughlin.