by Max Watt
A foetus torn asunder and a screaming single mother with the
bloodied thing in the pram and the mother is carrying a bottle of Tsingtao. It
looks like Karen, Steve's newly-dead wife. There's no moonlight coming through
the skylight to light up this image. This half-formed idea, it seems, is stuck
in my head. These things, they need to come alive. To be pushed out like
newborns. And it just isn't happening tonight. It's 5:18. Gotta be awake in a
few short hours. I look up at the skylight holding the paintbrush with a
thickening shield of numbness surrounding me. Oh, Karen. You had such sparkless
eyes even as you died. And I needed to see something in you. Because I watched
as you slowly destroyed yourself and all the while you had nothing to say about
it. You were empty on the surface and I needed to dig to your core. To drain
your blood and look into your dying eyes and discover what I already knew. You
were drinking yourself to death day in day out without a cause.
black haze starts to cloud my brain and I put the brush down and take three
tablets and wash them down with gin. My eyes are frantic and desperate as I
wish for anything to happen.
Maggots. It's crawling with them. Hooting and howling.
Disrespectful football fanatics, most of them. I stop at the door wondering
again how it came to be this way. It was meant to be a quiet place full of
tasteful connoisseurs of beer and other things just like in The Riddled Fox but
that's the battle I fought for and unaccountably lost over the years. It fills
me with a murderous feeling, seeing my dream in its current state. Sometimes
it's not so bad but today it seems to be overpowering me.
fight my way through the scumbags and go into the back. Open the office. Is
this the right key? Never completely sure. There are so many keys. In I go and
I sit alone feeling defeated. That'll be the rage. Turns inwards if it's not
used. What Dr Atkinson tells me and Jordan Bell my writer buddy before him. I
don't talk to Jordan anymore. He's gone. And in lieu of him I talk to Dr
Atkinson. But how am I to use my emotions well when I'm stuck in this hole all
day? Sit forwards. Peer into the desk-mirror. Fat defeated face. Stupid ginger
moustache getting out of kilter again and no will to shave. Circles around my
eyes. Because I knew it was gonna be a bad day the second I woke up. The
shiftlessness was back as if a light was flipped during my sleep. And the tick,
tick, tick of the clock was grating at me. I was up all night with that blank
canvas but that's bound to change with a day such as this.
knock. I sit for a while and then it knocks again. I turn and open up the door.
Marvin,¨ Lucas Craig smiles and his braces glint at me.
me here, Lucas is not a young lad with braces. He's thirty-three and he's in
here everyday complaining about nonsense.
Lucas,¨ I say patiently.
thought I'd tell ya,¨ he says, ¨Justin left the cardboard in a right state last
night. Clocked out before I could ask him to sort it. But I sorted it.¨
I've been here ten seconds. At least let me settle in, please. ¨
¨Yeah, I know. But I had to say. Seems
the conditions are bad. Cos Justin's meant to be a team leader, and I don't get
why he's making mistakes like that.¨
¨Yes. Justin becoming a team leader,
terrifying though it is, is something we have to live with. Comprende?¨
Something catches my eye. A card on my
table. I pick it up and see the good wishes of its nature. My name's scrawled
inside there along with Justin's, Lucas', Katya's, and a few others. All the best
for the coming year, it says
in shaky biro. I pick it up and say, ¨Who's this from then?¨
the desk mirror I see Lucas scratch his nose and shake his head in that
irritating way that he does when you ask him simple questions. ¨None other than
Cunty Karen, of course.¨
I muse. ¨The one with the red coat and the, err...¨
so that's why the Pinot is collecting
Lucas says, ¨Said she was gonna be here with Steve for all the matches, but
Steve's not seen 'er. Barely even mentioned 'er. Weird.¨
man,¨ I spit.
gets louder as time ticks on. No go for me. I stay in the office and do the
admin. Or at least, let the scum believe that while they're pouring the pints.
The picture on my desk is turned down so it can't hurt me. My mother, she got
sick years back when I was building this place and she ate up a lot of my time.
Time I could have spent building this place into something. Time I could have
spent with artists like myself. Back then it was just what I had to do but
reflecting casts a dark shadow on the perception of my former self.
cloudy feeling again. Frantically I turn over a printout - some kind of
breakdown to do with my revenue—and start scribbling on the back of this
printout. Nothing. All that creative juice is still locked away. Sometimes it
pours from me like draft ales but now I'm stagnant and when I'm stagnant I
self-destruct. Jordan used to advise me on that. He used to say that painting
was an important part of me and to not indulge in it would cause internal
chaos. He was right. Two years have passed since the last proper splurge. Two
years is too long to keep insanity at bay. Dr Atkinson too advised me not to
let it fester. Must do something.
knock. Lucas again.
mert. Steve's at the bar. Wants to see you.¨
for fuck's sake,¨ I throw the pencil down. ¨What is it?¨
him I'll be out in a second.¨
walks away and I close the door.
say that the name breeds the person and that is definitely the case with Steve.
Old simple bastard. What the kids call a chav but he's grown up. Well, gotten
older, let's leave it at that. He's a shady degenerate and wears a hat to hide
his greying head and usually comes to the bar not one second later than our
license allows us to sell alcohol. He rants about the same shit every day.
Scrambled eggs not yellow enough. It's the third time this week now.
come out and he's there, leaning half on the bar half on the walking stick he
apparently made himself. I'll bet you he just bought the thing and lies about
it. There's no spark in his eye. No thought or interesting insight. There's no
way he could create something like that, even if it is just a stick.
looks to one side and then to the other in that shady way he does, as if we're
about to do a drug deal and says, ¨Dis'pointing, Gelman.¨
blood boils when he uses my surname. Like he knows me so well. The scumbag
hasn't earned the right. He should be calling me sir. All these invertebrates
apologies,¨ I say like the nodding yessiring sack of filth I've become.
day a come ere n aye av the same prollems. Yad think yad fix em, wouldn ya?¨
got an unintelligible voice. His tongue like a slug fighting its way out of a
vagina it fell into. I shape my face into a picture of concern and poke it at
him and nodding in agreement.
bin to a lotta restraunts in ma day n never once ave ay ad the same prollems
you tasteless scoundrel, it's a pub. Secondly, may I suggest that you go back
to one of them? ¨Completely understand. Many apologies. Can we replace the meal
beyond that now. A know ow these places are run, an a know ow cat'rin works. An
it aint like this. Ya dont treat ya regs like this.¨
of course. May I apologise? We'll replace the meal.¨
aint good enough, Gelman. Last week the lass with the black hair said the same
thing. Ya sound like a buncha robots ya do. If I ever....¨
on he goes. I look left and right. Nobody's paying any attention. I cut him
off. ¨Steve, as an extended apology...May I offer you drinks on the house for
stops, looks at me,¨The day?¨
I'm smiling but I don't let it surface. I can't ever let it surface. I feel my confidence
returning. It builds to the point where it almost spills over.
the day, my friend. On the down low, you understand? Of course, I'll inform the
staff of the situation.¨
looks at me suspiciously. But there's a glint in his eye. I've got him.
to say no,¨ he says.
shall it be done.¨
orders a Carling. When I built this place, we were meant to serve the finest
things. No middle of the road, vanilla commodities. Good ales. For real
connoisseurs of things like myself. How I allowed myself to let this happen is
something I don't understand anymore. I fetch Steve's drink and as I do so
Lucas asks me what occurred and I say, ¨It's all sorted. Steve's put a bunch of
drinks behind the bar. When he comes for them, give them to him, please. Tell
the others,¨ and Lucas is so stupid he believes me.
I've been meaning for some time to paint a picture of this place
in all its normality like how many artists throughout history have portrayed
commonplace things and in such beauty and elegance. Years ago, when I first
started building this place, I thought that such a painting would be one of
many great creations and colours. But everything is beige here. Even at this
very moment I see nothing but sparkless biological cul de sacs littering my
home. And I weep for this race I am trapped in. This beige Hell.
too much. Emptiness is a lot. I turn and race back to the office slamming the
door shut behind me. Look at the paper here and still there is nothing. I put
my arms on the desk and my head on my arms and stay that way for a long while.
After a time, two hours, two minutes, who knows, I take three of my tablets and
wash them down with my secret bottle of whiskey and look at the CCTV.
Match is over. Most of the scum have cleared out. Katya, my proverbial
lieutenant, comes into the office and notices me.
¨Marvin, you don't
¨Katya. I'm not.¨
She has a face full
of concern. I like
Katya. She's a few years junior to me but knows her stuff. Like myself,
distances herself from the hoi polloi, but somehow manages to maintain better
than I do. Probably because she has no dreams.
¨Why don't you go
home, Marvin? I'll take
care of the admin. Place is a bloody mess too, but the team are on it.¨
¨Yes, yes. That sounds
Katya looks on. ¨Get
yourself off. Take
I get my stuff and
walk outta there.
Through the pub and over to Steve's table. The sack of shit is still here, as I
knew he would be. Though his mates have dispersed. Is it your dead wife that's
keeping you here, sir? Or do you not have the capacity for grief?
tempted to branch out?¨ I say, sitting next to him.
what, lad?¨ Steve says, staring at me with a look I've seen a million times
from the Hoi polloi. Used to think it was contempt but as I've grown older I've
come to realise you gotta be smart for contempt. It's just an empty stare. No
calculation behind that at all. His drunk glaze.
feel like branchin' out?¨ I repeat. ¨Same old lager, different day? Never wanna
¨Well, if it ain't broke don't fix
¨All has the same effect, eh?¨
¨As long as we make it to be pissed,
who gives a shit. That's the
common view, isn't it?¨
¨It's the quantities that counts,
like,¨ he looks at the table.
¨The quantities. You'd certainly
notice though, no? If your favourite drink was suddenly not available, right? I
mean, one minute it's there the next it's gone? I'm not saying it's the same,
but if say, I had a friend, then I didn't, I'd notice, at least for a time.¨
He just looks at me confused. I'm
unsurprised because I'm talking garbage. But it doesn't matter what I say or
what he says.
¨So, I've not seen Karen around
He turns on me, ¨That's nowt to do wi
you or anyone.¨
¨Absolutely. But, where's she got to?¨
¨The fuck should I know? Copped off
with some loser, I'll bet. Fucking cunt.¨
¨I'll be going now. You stay safe.¨
Off I go. Out the door. Another shift
another quid and a half. And across the road to the Riddled Fox where I can see
the window of my own pub from my usual seat. Nice in here. Humble. Fewer people
to deal with. Lovely and quiet. I go to the bar.
here ale, how dark is it?
dark, sir, is that one, says the gentleman behind the bar.
Edinburgh. I tell ya, they're comin strong nowadays they are, with their dark
ales. May I try it? I say. You seem to know what you're saying. Unlike my lot.
And that lighter one on the end too? That'll do. Hmmm. Not bad. Not really my
mood today, though. Let's try this. That's the one. I underestimate the lighter
numbers sometimes. Cool taste. But with taste, not like lager.
gentleman nods and smiles, says, “Anyone with taste would say the same, sir.”
many do though, I tell him. The world is riddled with pedestrian types. Those
who settle for the mediocre, those who sit around and agree things are good and
reject people who differ. The norm is a committee. Once they've agreed that
certain things are what they are there's nothing you can do to convince them
otherwise, not because they're stupid. Not because they don't have the
capacity, but because they simply don't care enough.
gentleman smiles, I agree wholeheartedly, sir.
Marvin Gelman sitting in the corner
and sipping this ale. Savouring each mouthful. And keeping your head, sir. Last
orders are at midnight at my pub. I watch out the window And there's Steve at
twelve-thirty. Limping out the front door. Poor bastard. Up I get. Out the
front. Slow walk to my car. Climb on in. Wait a while longer then drive down
the road. Dead quiet on a Wednesday in this depressing town. Never any action.
I always wanted to leave but never could. Mum getting ill like she did. Stole
so many years of my life.
Driving past the old bastard and
stopping ahead of him. Reaching and pushing the back passenger door open for
him and calling out, Hey, Steve, hey. Lemme give you a lift. C'mon.
squints his eyes, staring at me, confused.
gonna walk home in this Baltic temperature? C'mon, my friend. Lemme help you.
approaches me. Lift? he says.
me of the time I helped Brian out, and of course Karen before him. It's good to
help people who need it, and who needs it more than the lowest thinkers on the
ask you one more time. What's your favourite drink?
dribbles, groans, What the fuck do ya mean?
my pub. Off the top of your head. What's your favourite drink? I place the
knife at his neck. Quickly Steve, you
don't have much time.
That's a lager, not a drink.
dig into the skin. Steve wails, straining against the cable ties and leads. You
cunt. I swear to fuckin' God you cunt, I'll do ya once I get outta
here. Jus' stop.
me, Steve, even when in searing agony you're brainless. I fear
my instincts are correct.
There is no integrity out there.
looks at me, out of breath, confused and angry, What the fuck are ya on about
you chosen Dark Side of the Moose, third from the left on the second T bar, I
might've been surprised. It's
a complicated taste, that one. Had you gone on to explain in depth how
and why you like it, and your opinion showed some credence, even if I agreed
with you or not, I'd have
been proven wrong, wouldn't I? Don't worry, old man. It won't hurt
go to the bench and select a sharper tool. One that can really drain a man's
To the mess before
me I say, Come
now Steve, I have several more questions for you. Something, Steve, I look
deeply into his eyes. Please, anything. Give me something.
can't seem to think.
moon tonight. Beautiful. Now sip more Rioja and brush over this bit again. Real
gentle. Real careful. This substance is fragile. Fit to spill. But just be
precarious about it and...yes. There we are. Really ties the image together.
This one has an abstract look to it. Dare I say, an authentic one. It looks
like and has the texture of the inner workings of a human heart. See how the
darker openings there also look like tears. And inside of it a football logo
torn apart in four segments. Hung drawn and quartered. And a sea of what can be
interpreted as broken glass. And red. So much thick, red. It's such a beautiful
colour and there are so many fleshy shades of it. A warmth overwhelms me when I
look at it. But it only lasts a moment.
Max Watt is
a militant writer and connoisseur of dark literary fiction, as well as a
musician and journalist. He was previously published in two editions of The 13 Anthology
(2013, 2015). Dedicating
his time to creativity in all its forms from poetry, to short fiction, to
creating terrible noise in various musical projects, he is fascinated by the
morbid, the minimal, and the obscure.