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September Showcase

A selection of work by Kulwant Randhawa

As, it is currently September I was reminded of this section in my first novel, which I am currently writing with the working title “My Own Ghost story” (I hope to change it, when a better title comes up.   I have enclosed the following extract for your interest:

***********

You know, I’m sat here today – Wednesday, September 19th 2018 reading that free newspaper / rag called Metro available all around London and there’s a headline on page 8 that’s too silly for words. It’s guaranteed to grab your attention – to get you to read an article that occupies less than a quarter of a page.

The idea of a secret romance grabs my attention, as it would most people, and I read the article. It seems a load of nonsense about a pair of Muslim parents who found out their daughter was having an illicit relationship with a guy from outside their community and went around to see him in order to sort it out; to sort him out. They did this by telling the fella, and I quote, that ‘they were dangerous because they were Muslims.’ 

I could imagine reading this out to Alya when we were alone in the refectory at Highsmith. I would snort in derision and she would look at me with that half-smile and say: 

“But we are … We so are.”

“You’re … what?

“Dark and Dangerous … and full of injustice. A black flag with the minimum of white – we’re born and die with a sword in our hand.”

That phrase came to haunt me in my waking hours and in my dreams.

I dreamt that Alya was on that beach. All dressed in black – from head to foot. With a long blade that curved in the bare sunlight. A curved sword in her hand. Drawing something unintelligible in the pale sand. A series of curves and squiggles in the pale sand. It looked Arabic even when viewed upside down.

“Have you heard of Jihad?” she would ask me.

“Vaguely.” I said. “Isn’t it a personal struggle.” 

“It can be. But much more fun if we make it world-wide – she smiled at me. A personal grievance writ large.”

And here’s the worst part of the dream. It changes in the ways dreams are wont to. From the merely unsettling to something much darker – to something much more real.

Suddenly we’re standing on top one of a very tall building. There’s a virtually identical building in the middle distance. I can see the Empire State Building in the far distance – in all its art deco glory, glinting in the morning light. This building is so familiar – after all, it’s from where King Kong went tumbling to his death. The familiarity of this building tells me where I am. This must be New York. Now I can see the island of Manhattan, the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty enshrouded on a morning mist that’s lifting.

I am on the top of one of the World Trade Centre towers. Wasn’t this where Hitchcock sneaked in too film a scene with Jimmy Stewart for the movie Vertigo? I’m not too sure – maybe, maybe not.  But one has to admire the cool, calculated sneakiness of Hitchcock – his overwhelming desire to get What he wants, When he wants, makes me feel uncomfortable. What will people do to get what they want? To justify what they want.

Just knowing this fills me with unease – with actual vertigo. I know how much I Want. I am very high up and it’s a very long way down to solid ground. For a moment the very building seems to slip and slide – to turn over like my stomach. And I haven’t even really looked down yet.

Gosh! I’m so high up. It looks like I can almost see the rim of the earth curve away from me. As if the whole scene is seen / photographed through a fish-eye lense. When I am so far away from the fishes in New York harbour. I can’t even see the people on the ground – just insubstantial shapes and the vague movement of vehicles making their way through the narrow confines of the city.

I wonder if this this is the way God sees us – vague, insubstantial shapes that he can obliterate at will. Ant-like creatures scuttling around in our own teeming ant-hill.

But it’s a lovely autumn morning; clear and bright. And getting clearer and brighter with each moment. The air is cool and calm way up here. But there’s always that growing sense of unease that’s always prevalent in these kinds of dreams. 

There’s an airplane that looks like a toy plane banking towards us. Like a toy plane that someone’s just thrown into the air. It’s a jet liner – the sunlight glancing off it’s large metal frame. Growing larger and larger in my view.

There’s something scary about jet liners. How big and heavy and substantial they look – how can something that big and heavy stay up in the air? I just know that Newtonian mechanics would have a problem with it.

And what about all those people on board? Tens or hundreds of people huddled up in that pressurised tin can. Being held up by … what? By fuck all – that’s what.

And it’s coming towards us – growing bigger and bigger with each moment. Until it seems to take over and become the whole scene in front of us. I step back. 

 At the last moment, it – the plane turns – it just misses us, glides serenely past and slams into the neighbouring twin tower.

There’s a fiery bloom of igniting aviation fuel and a jagged hole in the building opposite. The tower we’re on judders in sympathy but remains tall and resolute. For a moment there is no sound. I look at Alya in concern and she looks just as resolute scratching a jagged hole with the tip of her sword. A look of grimm death on her face.

Ignoring my cries – as if I am miles away. Out of earshot.

There are news helicopters in the air now covering the story. Calling it a terrible, terrible accident. The ugly big hole in the twin building opposite is smoking calmly.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse. I can hear another set of engines revving and straining and there is another airliner on the horizon. Where the fuck did that one come from? This one is coming straight for this building and at the last moment turns to tear a gaping hole through my reality. Through the building’s reality. There’s the same fireball – but this one is a lengthening cigar-shaped missile that disintegrates everything. Even the scream in my throat.

I awake on the floor, tangled in my sheets; trying to make sense of it all. I cannot. 

Because you know what makes this nightmare scarier than most – I first had this dream in September 1987 – a full 14 years before 9-11.

***********

I WAS THERE … THE REAL NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET

 by Kanthé

Oh boy. This is a strange one. If you’re reading this – you should know it’s been a 100 years since I died. I bet you’ve all got flying cars by now. I left this transcript with a solicitor’s firm that I have done good business with in the past; with the sole stipulation – only to be opened 100 years after my death.

The event that I am talking about happened in the 1960s in the USA. Me, my brother and one other was hired by the Sicilians for a job. My brother and the other guy are long dead. It’s just me left now to tell the tale – and maybe that’s the way it should be.

It was just one day’s work for which we were handsomely rewarded. We flew into Texas via Miami and landed on a small private airstrip. It was a gorgeous, late autumn morning in November – although it had been raining earlier.

We travelled to the site in a white Chevy Impala with dirty windows. It was quite tough getting there on time – there were so many people; waving flags and banners and shit. Not all of them nice! God … even then there was a feeling that something heavy was gonna go down. Anyway, we got to the site – a railway yard; toured around for a bit and then parked up by the picket fence. The uniforms we were given were good – quite authentic. My brother made his way up to the Dal-Tex building and the other guy stationed himself down by the underpass.

I always use a Mauser 7.65 – you can’t beat German engineering. Poor Alek, with his 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano – the Italians were shit at tooling – those bastard things always kept on jamming. Anyway, Alek couldn’t hit a Mack truck at 50 paces with that thing!

You know I met Alek once before; that Bannister and Ferrie too. Bannister used to be in the FBI and said he was there when they got that low-life John Dillinger. Well, I know someone else who’s as Dead as Dillinger now. The guy that I clipped was bigger than some two-bit hood. Anyway, Bannister was nothin’ more than a racist nut-job. Ferrie too – always lookin’ like some weirdo with his toupee and fake eyebrows. He said he was working on a cure for cancer … can you believe that shit? Anyway, it was at one of those illegal training camps they organised for the Cubans near the Louisiana Keys.

The site we chose was perfect. A turkey shoot someone said. Triangulation of fire – that was the key. But let it be known – the kill-shot was mine. All mine.

So was the boot-print on the fender, the cigarette stubs by the picket fence while we waited. Then it was a slow squeeze of the trigger, a red halo and it’s all over. Within 10 minutes we were out of the city and away. Out to Ontario, over to Paris then Marseilles and then home.

The waiting was the worst. Waiting for the target car as it came down Main Street, turned right onto Houston and then that dog-leg turn into Elm Street. That was when the real nightmare started. I still dream about it now.

There was a guy to the front and left of me filming the whole thing on his cine camera. Years later, it was bought up by Time magazine and it became the most expensive home movie in history. Can you fuckin believe that shit?

Many people may ask – why did I do it?  People lookin’ dumb; dumb-founded.

At the time – I was young; I quite enjoyed the silent notoriety.

I even quite liked the guy, actually. He was smart, intelligent, charismatic; classy wife too. But you know, I used to reason … a job is a job is a job … you have to be professional about these things. A soldier remains a soldier. Plus, I was the best and I took a pride in my work. I did not lose any sleep … not at the time.

That Oliver Stone son-of-a-bitch even made a movie about it. I remember going to see it with my son and my grandson. Of course, he never mentioned me in the film … Pinko Bastard! Ha! Ha!  I remember he threw some accusations around – but like the Beard would say … ‘close but no cigar!’ Ha! Ha!

Of course, I was itching to say something then. Can you imagine watching that and wanting to say: “It was me, God damn it!  This was back in the 90’s. But of course, I couldn’t!  I would have been dead – so would my son, my grandson – every member of my family.

I want it on record that I wasn’t responsible for his brother’s death or that black guy at that motel. Both very amateur – in my professional opinion. Nowadays – every Tom, Dick and Harriet is at it. No professional pride anymore. Everyone’s just after a quick buck.

But what about Alek? I hear you ask.

Alek was an agent, you know. What we call a Red Cut-Out, you know – a flaming big red jam-pot, put out there by the Agency to see what kinda pinko / commie degenerate flies gathered around that piece of shit! And plenty did, believe me.

That photo of him in his backyard with the gun, the rifle and the newspaper … ‘HUNTER OF FACISTS … Ha! Ha! Ha!’he wrote on the back. He always liked a joke did Alek!

A long time afterwards, when I knew better, I went to Arlington Cemetery; to pay my respects, I guess. I’ve killed a lot of people in my time, on and off the battlefield … and I’ve never really thought twice. It was just what soldiers did. He was the only one I regret … now.

When you’re young, death feels pretty inconsequential – part of a soldier’s life, I guess. As you get older, it feels different. As I looked at that eternal flame … I thought life’s not eternal. It can be snatched away, blown away by a kid in a man’s body … thinkin it’s just another job.

I think that’s when things started turnin shitty – for me; and for America too.  Goodbye the swingin 60’s and welcome to a hard, new reality – shaped like a golden bullet; and it’s been shootin through America – through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the new millennia.

There’s no retirement plan for a hired gun. You’re always watchin your back – or payin someone else to. The money soon runs out. Towards the end, I got diagnosed with bone cancer. It feels like something foreign eating away at you. Being Catholic, I thought it was God’s Judgement eating away at me. Amends have to be made, you know; before it’s Too Late.

This document is an attempt at Atonement.

Let it be understood – I was (just) the trigger. The blood (his blood) is on my hands … it’s taken this long to accept the guilt (and not shrug it off as ‘just another job’).

But the brains of the operation are still out there. The organisations are still out there … weaving their black arts – doing their black operations.

NOTE – I can’t give you specific names. Everybody operates on a ‘needs to know basis’. But I can leave you with the clues and code names that will lead you to the source … and believe me, it goes right to the top.

Firstly, look to a place called Red Bird Airfield – two journeys from and to that site in November.

My personal handler was known as Hard Hat and I was Badge Man. I think there is a super enhanced photograph of the two of us together at the picket fence the moment I fired – my face obscured by the muzzle flash.

The liaisons between us – the blue collars, and them – the white collars, was someone known as Grey Bishop. I’ve a feeling that this is a 2 Man – I don’t know, I’ve never met either. Only heard it mentioned once and that was over the phone.

Col. Fletcher Prouty’s Mr. X sounds right about the government putting out the FAKE NEWS (see Mr Trump … it was the government that started all this FAKE NEWS bullshit! Ha! Ha!) and Cyril Wecht was right about the sabotaged autopsy.

That just leaves those with most to gain – politically and financially. Follow the Red Bird connection and the Red Birdseeds. That Texan polecat was quick to plonk himself on the throne. Standing there taking the Oath of Office, next to the ex-First Lady wearing her husband’s blood and brains over her nice pink suit.

It was a bloody disgrace – I can see that now.

The tragedies that that family suffered: older brother dead, younger brother assassinated. Then his own son, bearing his name, dies in an air-crash. A whole political dynasty crashed and burned … WOW!

That just leaves me … and my regrets.

I can’t excuse myself from that tragedy – I was very much involved and I am ashamed.

*********** THE END ***********

© Kanthé 2017

Bibi

My grand-mother could sew.

Boy she could sew – even when she hit 100 and beyond;

Sat on her bed with the summer streaming in

She would pick a stitch, unpick a stitch.

Not even using her glasses sometimes

To thread a needle – a flash of light in her withered hands.

I would sit and watch her at her hobby; 

Cussing her husband, my grand-father – her hubby;

So quiet laid out beside her,

Snoring softly the evening song.

Her moaning and deriding his fallow behaviour,

Her fingers pressing and preening the cloth

of her underclothing;

Always a remark about someone or other;

Always keeping busy at whatever kept her busy,

A busybody that had a view on anything – on everything that was going on.

She could cuss you clean, could my grand-mother.

A busy little bee, my little bibi;

I feel empty now she’s gone.

A shrunken husk of a once proud woman

Stitching and unstitching her memories as a fine garment,

Fine and bright is all we have

Now that her day is done.

© Kanthé 2015

Koestler Bronze Award for Poetry 2016

Gucci’s Handbag

Angelika walked smoothly down the stone steps off Oxford Street, through the darkened passage-way, and around the corner. The black Gucci handbag tight within her grasp.

It felt so solid and real – the leather so fine and smooth, the gold and jewelled inlays so polished. It smelt like what it was; expensive. As she looked at it she knew – it was so her. She could imagine herself parading it, along with that little black two-piece Chanel suit she had seen earlier, on some Milan cat-walk. The photographer’s flash bulbs going off like champagne corks and the crowd going wild. And throughout it all, Angelika smiling – her jewels a-smiling – dead-pan, just like Kim Kardashian. Her grey-green eyes smiling in the gloom.

She opened the bag and the first thing she noticed was the faint, not unpleasant smell – something like the odour of burnt metal and grease. The first thing she discovered inside was the mobile phone – a black i-phone 6 with a cracked screen.

Angelika remembered the woman using it; nervous, agitated as she paced the marble floor of the upmarket store alone. She remembered her dropping it on the cold, hard floor – the hard, cold crack it made. She pressed the single button on the front of the phone and the picture of a small girl with a chest-nut coloured plaits and a missing front tooth beamed back at her; along with the band display requesting her to enter in a pass-code of four digits. Four digits she didn’t have.

What had caused the woman to drop the phone? Was it the tall, stocky older man that joined her from the Soft Furnishings section?

He looked as morose as his dark expensive suit, as the woman started remonstrating with him again. Angelika remembered them coming through the revolving doors of the House of Fraser like that – the woman still trying to make the man listen; he still trying to ignore her pleas. They had separated in the lobby and were now back together again but nothing had changed. There was a white handkerchief clutched in the woman’s long, pale fingers – she noted.

Angelika pulled out a fine, silk gentlemen’s handkerchief in white. There were a few splotches of maroon staining it that caused her grey-green eyes to flicker then grow wide, then oval and finally perplexed as she brought out the next two items.

There was a tube of scarlet lipstick – WOW! A really top brand; something that Kate Moss would use; and a tube of non-descript concealer that you could buy anywhere. She remembered the woman re-applying the red lipstick but not the concealer which was nearly empty.

That first time – when the woman came onto the marble foyer in a fine sable fur and large sunglasses – she looked like some 1940’s movie star. But a full-length fur coat during a summer heavy with July?

Something was wrong. Angelika was sure of it.

The next two items: a travel pack of Annadin and a packet of ultra slim-line cigarettes – a French brand she had never heard of. The woman had been smoking when she came in but had put it out in the tall art deco ashtray by the entrance. At one point she had put her fine manicured fingers to her temple, her head bowed; her shoulder-length, dark auburn hair a curtain. Maybe it was migraine after all – the pack was half empty.

The woman looked stressed, standing there alone. Presently there were footsteps and a man entered from the left; it was the same one that had left her there earlier. She rushed towards him.

Angelika presumed that he was the woman’s husband – although he looked at least ten years older. The man looked rich and privileged – but mean with it; you know the kind that would feed their pedigree Shiatsu the finest, most succulent cuts of beef – but would also kick it when things weren’t going his way. The kind that would be missing a fine, silk handkerchief from the breast pocket of his fine black suit.

The couple had been arguing – but discreetly, as they moved through the ladies clothing section. His grip tight on her arm – through the lush sable fur towards Angelika they moved. His heavy face pressed close to hers – there was urgent whispering which Angelika couldn’t make out. A trace of spittle on his urgent, fleshy lips – the woman’s lips a little red and swollen; the make-up a little blotchy and shadowy around them.

His fingers, strong and thick – gripped the woman’s delicate, pale narrow chin; tilting it up so that she could not avoid his heated, east European gaze. Nor the hot little words he hissed at her.

Angelika knew all about Domestics – had heard plenty of them in her line of work. Raised voices behind closed doors, escalating into shouts, swearing – from both sides; breaking furniture and the invisible shoves and slaps. She just turned up the volume on her i-pod and carried on with her hoovering.

She thought that the rich would have a civilised means for sorting out their marital problems; but No – it was the same old shitty mess – just in designer clothes. The psychologist’s mantra was that talking helps – but they’re wrong – talking doesn’t help, not really. More often than not – it pours petrol on the flames; to leave the couple watching what they have built go up in smoke. A funeral pyre, indeed.

When he had finished making his point, the man walked off towards the Gents section while the woman stared after him. She looked a little shocked; maybe a little dumbfounded, would be more accurate. Rather like Ilsa Lund – the way she had looked on that nocturnal air-strip in Casablanca. A little overwhelmed at the turn of events, but still a little hopeful – maybe. His finger marks as pink bruises around her chin and jaw. She touched them as if they were something new. Angelika didn’t want to watch anymore but she found that she could not look away. It was like a car crash happening before her very eyes.

The next item was a fine hand stitched purse in tan leather and Angelika’s feline eyes lit up. It was not to last however, for the purse contained only a few notes and a handful of coins. A grand total of £17.56p in cash – £17.56! Angelika couldn’t believe it – and even though there was a platinum American Express card in there – it was out of date; long expired. Angelika was in shock. She thought the woman was loaded – but Angelika, a humble zero hours contractor – had more cash on her than the woman – who had stood there like a Venus in Furs. Actually, shock was an understatement.

There was a travel pass in the bag with the woman’s face looking wan and tired as in any passport photo. A photograph where the woman actually looked her age; not the manicured, Bo-toxed to an inch of your life, visage displayed in the department store. Angelika tried not to judge but it was hard not to.

The only thing that warmed her – defrosted a little of the chill that she felt towards the woman, was another photograph. It was an earlier photo of the young girl on the phone pic. This time she was a toddler – with the same chestnut coloured hair as a mop-top. And the woman smiling – the first time (the only time) Angelika had seen it on the face of the woman. Mother and child together in each other’s arms – happy.

Finally the woman followed the man – he was in the Gents section of the open plan store, looking at the silk ties. Angelika tried to maintain a close but safe distance. The couple said a few words quietly and he took the woman’s arm and was about to say something else, when he caught Angelika drop her gaze. Instead, he used his grip to guide the woman out of the side entrance to level B of the multi-storey carpark adjoining the store. There was a flinty look in the eyes of the woman as her gaze briefly met Angelika’s as she was led out of the store by the man. A clash of colours as the woman’s dark chocolate gaze met Angelika’s grey-green.

Angelika was intrigued. Slowly she edged closer to the side of the entrance and peered around. She saw the couple at a wine-coloured Bentley in the second reserved parking bay – saw them getting inside. There were a lot of distractions going on inside Angelika’s head – mainly about the state of the couple’s relationship; but Angelika was also a very level-headed girl.

Eyes on the Prize … Eyes on the Prize … Eyes on the Prize’ she kept repeating to herself as her little fists clenched. Refusing to believe that such a prize could drive off at any moment – out of her life.

The other distractions happening on level B of the multi-storey, was what appeared to be a maintenance crew, working on the advertisement light display boxes on the far end of the floor. Consequently, there were numerous banging noises and light flashes in the area. Then there was the almost constant squeal of tyres and brakes as cars negotiated the tight turns; and the way the bright July sunshine bounced off the moving vehicles into her feline eyes. Angelika was bombarded with so many thoughts, feelings, desires and sensory input – she felt overwhelmed for a moment.

That’s how she appeared to the young mother and child who walked past her out of the store. The child’s expression was blank and yet curious – the mother looked at her suspiciously. Suddenly Angelika felt self-conscious. Even though her dirty blonde hair was in the latest style and her stacked heels were worn by all the girls on TOWIE – she suddenly felt cheap – as if she didn’t fit in; as if she never would.

Suddenly there was a sharp crack and a flash of light and someone in the maintenance crew swore and a pair of connected fluorescent tubes went over onto the dirty concrete floor. The spell was broken.

Angelika hurried back into the store and back to the ladies’ section looking for something else to catch her eye. Presently the woman returned – the sunlight flashing through the revolving doors, flashing across her aged features, making her blink. Angelika was surprised when she saw her and the Gucci handbag; maybe not so surprised after all, and the young girl went back to tailing her first love.

The woman looked even more confused and agitated than she had been before. The moment of steel in her gaze disappearing as quickly as Angelika’s self-doubt. She tried to hide it of course – looking through the racks of even more fancy and expensive furs. But in a distracted manner – looking at her i-phone – as if expecting it to ring; but it didn’t. So she put it away in her bag; that gorgeous thing – the finest thing to come out of the House of Gucci.

The woman selected a coat and held it against herself, the Gucci bag loose in her other hand; but it was No Good. She needed a mirror that was full-length. Slowly Angelika moved forward, as if in a dream – as if she was on the Serengeti – in the tall grass. Until she was almost within touching distance. That was when the woman put down the bag, to try on the new fur – moving over to the floor-standing mirror a few yards away. Angelika looked around.

There was no one in the vicinity – not even the floor staff. This was it. Angelika moved in and picked up the bag in one smooth move and then she was off. Down towards the perfume counter and the set of revolving doors on the other side of the store. She didn’t look at anyone and walked as if the bag and she were made for each other – which of course, they were.

She never looked back. The few metres down Oxford Street was the worst. That’s when she expected the heavy hand of a store detective, or even worse – a policeman, to fall on her shoulder. Her narrow, fake tanned shoulders almost hunched in anticipation as the crowds surged around her like foam and swallowed her up in her smart summer clothes.

Angelika felt no guilt; almost no guilt. She normally took what she wanted. Especially from those that had too much: from shops, from people. It funded her desire for better clothes – maybe even a bit of Bling; something her basic job could never provide. She was just supplementing her meagre income – the government should be proud.

She had taken control; not like the woman – at the receiving end of the man. But the woman had looked vulnerable when she came back from the multi-storey. A little lost; alone. The girl actually felt a little sorry for the woman she left behind in the House of Fraser. Angelika knew that she could never live like that.

She turned off Oxford Street, down the row of steps, through the darkened passage-way and around the corner. The useless items from the Gucci bag scattered all over the dirty, litter-strewn ground.

Angelika reached down in the black Gucci bag for the final item – hoping against hope that it was something worth having. It was. It was probably the most significant item that the woman possessed – the only item that could bring about lasting change.

It was a neat little revolver with a pearl-handled grip that slid effortlessly into Angelika’s dainty slim hand. The barrel still warm, the chamber empty and the smell of burnt grease and metal still there – pervading her delicate Polish nostrils.

“Wow. Maybe she took control after all.” Angelika breathed as she stroked the new object of her affection and the black Gucci handbag slipped from her grasp into the gutter below.

… And somewhere in the House of Fraser, the woman smiled once more.

*********** THE END ***********

© Kanthé 2015

A Day and a Night in the Life of …

I wake up between silk sheets imported directly from China. 

Today I am in a bed that once belonged to King Henry VIII – there’s heavy embroidery all around. On the wall opposite there’s a black and white picture of Howard Hughes. He looks very dapper in his pinstripe suit; tall and dark – standing in front of one of his planes with Katherine Hepburn on his arm. In another photo he’s with Ava Gardner – looking as if he’s about to buy up the whole wide world.

I step onto cold marble tiles and walk towards the huge picture window. It’s a view over the west face of my estate. Acres and acres of it – a forest in the far distance marks it’s boundary.

There are footsteps behind me and I turn. An old man, dignified and sober with years of service etched on his face brings me camomile tea in the finest china money can buy. He tells me that I have a meeting in the city. He can see that I don’t really want to go – but he says that I should; it might be important.

I look at the picture of Howard Hughes again: a rich successful man, a man who owned an airline and a film studio and dated movie stars. The old man behind me tells me not to be too much like Howard Hughes … he tells me to remember how he ended up. I have an image of knotted, curved talons, endless wet wipes and jars of dirty, fetid urine – all in a row; the life of an obsessive reclusive. I agree to go to the meeting.

I’m at the meeting – I’m bored. The Board of ten men and two women – all in smart, neat business suits discuss Expansion, Future Projects, Cost-Flow Analysis, Market Share … I am thoroughly bored in my Saville Row suit, my Van-Heuson hand-stitched shirt and silk tie. I move my restless feet in the finest Italian shoes – so polished and neat. It’s all very comfortable, reassuringly expensive and utterly, utterly beyond me.

Now I’m having lunch at a very exclusive restaurant with a girl with the most delicate, porcelain skin ever – my mind is elsewhere. She takes a sip of the Chateau de Rothschild and reminds me that she is a supermodel and that she is late. I smile but I am not impressed. I don’t touch the Beluga caviar.

The girl climbs into the Ferrari F60 America with me. The car’s worth $4.8 million dollars (only ten ever produced – only this one in this particular colour) and a moment later I am gunning the supercar through the lunchtime city traffic. I drop her off at the Gucci fashion show – the show she wants me to attend; but I tell her I’m too busy … doing nothing. 

Another girl walks past dressed in black and my head is turned. She looks familiar. She looks at me quizzically and then at the supermodel and shakes her head in a disappointed manner. She calls herself Selina and I offer her a lift while the supermodel looks on furiously. Selina says she doesn’t like the car. I tell her it’s OK – I have a better one at home. She smiles and walks away.

By mid-afternoon I’m back home, looking at my collection of cars. I walk through a massive hall where a Dali, a Hopper and a Carravaggio are on display against the deep ochre wood panelling. I think it’s the first time I have seen them.

I’m standing in front of a huge marble fireplace, my face glowing from the roaring flames. Above the mantelpiece is my favourite painting. It shows a man and a woman dressed for going out. He’s in a smart overcoat, she is in a fine evening dress with pearls. A small boy with dark hair and even darker eyes stands between them. I feel I should know them but they all look like strangers now.

I am alone.

I am in my work clothes now – driving to work; what I call the night-shift. The car that I’m driving is not as roomy as my daytime car – but it’s much more powerful and with much better toys.

I’m standing on a roof-top high up, looking across a city that never sleeps. There’s a light pointing straight up behind me. An older man – looking older than his years, stands there beside it. His face – half-in and half-out of shadow. His face is friendly but it doesn’t crack a smile. A smile would be too much for this city.

He’s a man who’s done his duty and it’s turning him grey. His moustache is grey; his raincoat is grey. He’s lean and of average height. There’s something very south London about his face – a mild cunning with the steel to fight back when necessary; to grub in the shitty underbelly when needs be. A man to remain stoic in the face of whatever onslaught … a man that can also let go; someone who knows the difference between the two. He knows why I come out here – but then he too is gone.

There’s a full moon – its sickly glare brings out the lunatics. One steps out of the shadows and stares at me. A long white face – angular; and impossibly green hair. He smiles, he grins, he cackles – there’s just too many teeth for such a narrow face. He tells me that me and him are the same – two faces on the same coin? We’re NOT. He says that it would only take one small push for me to become him … One Mad Day. I disagree and he’s gone.

The softest footsteps behind me. I turn – it’s Selina in her work clothes. I’m impressed but I don’t show it – never show it. She says she likes me like this – all dark and brooding; all tooled up and full of muscle. Her red lipstick glistens in the moonlight. I’m tempted – but she wears a mask.

“So do you.” she says, naming me and walking away.

I’m alone again; with the city.

I know the darkness and the darkness knows me. I’ve been to the bottom of the well.

 My name is Batman … she calls me Bruce Wayne.

*********** THE END ***********

© Kanthé 2017

Ashfield Short Story Prize Winner

Article : EXCESSIVE FLASHPOINTS by Kanthé

EXCESSIVE FLASHPOINTS – An Inside Portrait of Ian Curtis and Joy Division

In the house of the hanged man … what do you see?

If you stand on the threshold of 77 Barton Street and look inside the slight Victorian terraced house, you will see a small triangular room to the left of the stairs. This was called ‘the blue room’ and was Ian Curtis’s private space – his writing place. This is where he wrote the lyrics, the lyrical poetry that became the voice of Joy Division. To the right of the stairs is the rest of the house – this was his wife Debbie’s place and later, her and her infant daughter’s place.

The house exists on a bend in the road. This means that 77 Barton Street is actually bent in two and the window of the blue room – Ian Curtis’s view, actually faces a different direction to that of his wife and daughter. An isolated view – maybe this is symbolic; maybe this is real.

Ian Curtis was not your average young man. The working class lad that dropped out of grammar school – he essentially taught himself. His reading matter was well beyond anything that his friends, colleagues, band-mates were reading; witness: Nietzsche, Herman Hesse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Rimbaud, Poe to Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard (CrashHigh-RiseThe Atrocity Exhibition). So, amidst the dystopian fiction, deeply philosophical works; combined with an interest in art (Andy Warhol, Dada and Surrealism). It was a proper education.

Like most teenagers, he couldn’t imagine himself at thirty. I know when I was that young, I felt the same way. It seemed an impossible age away. Now I’m over fifty and I can’t imagine being that young again. If Ian Curtis was alive today, he wouldn’t be a musician – I think he would be a fine, fine writer.

But when you’re in your teens – it’s music that grabs you first. It’s much more real – much more visceral, more immediate and ‘in yer face’ – as they say in modern parlance. And so it was when the Sex Pistols turned up to gig in Manchester – not just once, but twice in the summer of 1977. I know there was the glam and pop of Bowie and Bolan before this, but it was actually the Sex Pistols that showed the inhabitants of Manchester that anyone could get up on stage and perform … anyone. All you needed was three chords and determination.

So it was that Stiff Kittens was born … which then transformed into Warsaw and then finally Joy Division – a band that was already walking away from the dying embers of Punk to carve out their own identity. Joy Division have been described as ‘an original of the species that was to become Goth’ by no other than Bono of U2 (themselves a fledgling punk band around this time); but there was no dark eye-liner and dressing all-in-black that the genre seemed to define with Joy Division – they walked their own path.

It’s hard to define their sound. The music is certainly serious, you could call it heavy rock but it’s not metal. There’s more to it than that – but then certain songs like Twenty Four Hours do rock out in the traditional rock sense. It is the vocal and subject matter that is different; there is also a pace, a build-up and a coming down that is not present in other rock songs. It’s their sensibility which sets them apart from other bands. Charles Shaar Murray described their sound as ‘awful things carved out of black marble’ – but like marble, there are patterns of pale beauty and melody laced throughout.

The name Joy Division was taken from a book – a lurid piece of holocaust fiction entitled House of Dolls by Ka – Tznetik (a pseudonym for Yehiel Feiner). It was written in the form of a diary and told about the section of a Nazi concentration camp where young women were forced into sexual slavery – not the Labour Division – but the Joy Division. By the time the group selected the name in 1978, this sensationalist memoir had sold millions. Joy Division’s guitarist Bernard Sumner had been given a paperback copy.

Since they were essentially a ‘rock band’, Sumner’s guitar sound was very important. It tended to give a discordant edge to a lot of Joy Division’s music. At other times, it’s tone was chiming or performing a perfect counter-point melody, as in Decades. Everyone in Joy Division was a multi-instrumentalist which helped the band enormously.

Stephen Morris – the last member to join the band, is a talented drummer. He has a precise – even militaristic style, that suits the music and was evident even then. It goes well with his greatest ambition: that is to drum as well and as accurately as any drum-machine.

Peter Hook’s bass-lines are the emotional pulse of Joy Division. It was an inspired move to bring them to the front and centre-stage of the music. It’s what sets their music apart from everyone else’s. Hook wrestles the sounds out of his bass like a rock-star; stiff-legged and bent over his instrument – not quietly strumming along in the background as most bassists do. 

Something needs to be said at this stage about Ian Curtis’s voice. It’s deep, sonorous – almost a baritone; and it carries a depth, a weight missing from all his peers. It absolutely suits his lyrics – the two compliment each other perfectly. The weight of the voice gives the lyrics – about alienation, guilt, isolation and despair – a solidity, a maturity – a grandeur that a lesser voice would never be able to reach. Voice and words inter-lock beautifully – giving both an authenticity – something borne of experience rather than just imagined.

The two people most responsible for the ‘look’ of Joy Division is designer Peter Saville and the photographer Anton Corbijn. Peter Saville’s cool, austere graphical style made each Joy Division record sleeve a collector’s item. Whereas Anton Corbijn’s stark black and white photography of the band lead him to not only direct the music video of Atmospherewhen it was re-released, but also to direct the movie of Ian Curtis’s life with Joy Division in the film Control.

Curtis was a closed-in person. What he projected on the outside was different from his internal climate. Curtis found it hard to reconcile his role as a husband and as a father with his role as the lead in a rock band. It certainly caused friction between him and his wife and there were people around the band that wanted this distance to be maintained. They didn’t want the lead of a rock band to be seen with a heavily pregnant wife – what sort of image would that send out? A family man is certainly not ‘rock and roll’. I think this disconnect is the growing chasm that his wife was talking about in the title of her first book on Curtis Touching from a Distance – a title taken from the song lyric for Transmission.

Like a lot of people, Ian was a rage of inconsistencies. He went into things that he later wanted to back out of. In the song Passover, he sings – ‘back out of my duties when all’s said and done, I know that I’ll lose every-time.’ He wanted something – when he got it, he didn’t want it anymore. This kind of fruitless behavior can leave many a person feeling unfulfilled. As ready consumers in an empty, increasingly materialistic society – we are all destined to remain unsatisfied.

As writers, we sometimes write about what we’re drawn to – maybe this is where the alienation and guilt and despair come in. Maybe, as his wife suggests – Ian Curtis was, what we nowadays call bi-polar. Maybe it’s what’s all around us in our personal sphere – or maybe, even in the wider environment.

Someone once said of Ian Curtis: ‘he could see the madness in our area’. Maybe they were right. After all, this was late 70’s Manchester – with it’s dark satanic mills standing empty and alone. Sometimes this city has a dour, grey pessimism which forms the very weather plus a history that produced a society dispossessed and broken … and of course, left behind. The ‘winter of discontent’ in 1979 also hit this post-industrial town and produced a general feeling of malcontent and despair – that things were going wrong and this feeling leached into the very music and lyrics that the band were producing. Joy Division could not have come from anywhere other than Manchester.

Like Curtis, Manchester is a closed-in taciturn city. It’s inhabitants are not prone to talk about their feelings. So a certain isolation is there already. Combine that with the air of desperation that is already present … just below the surface – a historical malcontent. Joy Division were the only band that were able to express that feeling, make it coherent and whole for the rest of the world.

By 1980 everything was coming to a head. The diagnosis of his epilepsy had occurred while his wife Debbie was pregnant with his child. Then there was his intrinsically, introspective nature. His imploding marriage – partially caused by his growing relationship with Annik Honoré – the girl he met while on tour in Europe, was becoming white hot. I believe, the disintegrating relationship with his wife, and the song Love Will Tear Us Apart about a relationship fracturing, are more than just coincidence.

All writers essentially write about themselves; and the stuff that’s going on around us often bleeds into our work. It’s what makes our work individual and of the time and place. Curtis was no different.

And sometimes we’re actively drawn to what destroys us. A love triangle where no one wants to ‘break the chain’ as Stevie Nicks eloquently puts it in Fleetwood Mac’s awesome The Chain – (itself a testament to relationships crumbling) from the Rumours album – describes the situation perfectly.

With his epilepsy getting worse – very probably exacerbated with the late nights, flashing lights and alcohol and drugs of a life ‘on the road’. Everything was getting worse, coming to a head – and the warning signs were being ignored.

As he sings in Twenty-Four Hours (a song written in his final year 1980) – ‘excessive flashpoints, beyond all reach’ says it all. I think this was a description of his mental state at this time with his epilepsy firing off in his head, the medication – maybe even making him feel worse, and his relationships crumbling and the prospect of a tour to the USA coming up adding further pressure – those ‘excessive flashpoints’ were firing faster and faster. And they were putting him beyond our reach … beyond anyone’s reach, if true be told.

Like most people, on the outside it was a smile and ‘sure, I’m coping’ when it was clear inside that he was not. There was only one way this was going to go. Something desperate had to give. It’s always the weakest link in the chain that goes … and so it was with Ian Curtis.

On the evening of 17th May 1980 Ian Curtis wanted to be on his own. He had already moved out of the family home on Barton Street. However, he wanted to watch the noted German film director Werner Herzog’s movie Strosek that was playing on TV that night. Rather than subject his parents to a foreign language film, he decided to go back to Barton Street – knowing that the house would be empty. The film is about a newly released prisoner in Germany with mental health problems, who becomes a European émigré to the USA. Once there, he becomes so alienated by a foreign American culture that he succumbs to suicide.

The next morning Deborah Curtis found her husband’s hanged body in the kitchen. There was a glass of whisky and a cigarette on the coffee table and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on the turntable.

Tony Wilson, the TV presenter and director of Factory Records – Joy Divison’s record company, described the final scene of the movie and the demise of his friend and artist:

There’s a dead man in the cable car and the chicken’s still dancing.”

And in the run-off grooves of Joy Division’s final album ‘Still’ is scratched the legend:

The chicken’s still dancing.”

*********** THE END ***********

© Kanthé 2017

THE WRITTEN WORD

A blank sheet of paper has length and width

But no depth, no weight.

But once you write upon it

It grows heavy – it’s density increases;

With thoughts, ideas

Stories, opinions –

With a sheer poetry

That astonishes – overwhelms me at times.

That scratches on a piece of paper

can mean so much.

That words can be … so black and white;

That they can be as light as a feather

Or as dark as sin.

Words – so funny and sad

And utterly terrifying and thought-provoking

All at the same time.

Words can create you; destroy you.

Maybe re-create you, animate you

To drown you – 

In a sea of thoughts.

© Kanthé 2015

Koestler Silver Award for Poetry 2016

THE FIRST AND LAST VALENTINE

You never told me –

The distance from your desk

To the office door

was so much fear and embarrassment

Over 50 yards in love.

A dozen long-stemmed roses shiverin’ in my hand –

in an office open-planned

A sea of faces behind each stall;

Grinnin’, smirkin – tryin’ to supress a smile

That the student and the girl from Housing

Could be so reconciled –

The sheer innocence of your smile

as you looked up from your work.

I’d a dozen long-stemmed roses then

Now my flowers lie wilted, broken in your bin;

We’re both sitting at separate tables now

Eating on our own.

What went wrong? … Who can say?

Love – like teeth – decays with age

Soft feelings, calcify like bone.

A hard, embittered self-protection

A closing down – rather than an opening up.

When we kissed and played – the first time;

When we stayed out for a night and a day – 

we felt like Gods – invincible.

Now it just seems like too much effort to say anything; anything at all.

Too many wounds – too many unspoken rules

Too many things left unsaid.

They say that Love is a Battlefield – 

I feel like a soldier mortally wounded – shot through the heart

In the trenches of a failing marriage

Watchin’ myself ebb slowly away.

And yet

and yet …

and yet …

Although I am older and not much wiser now

I still think back to those days …

Thinkin’ back to when we were so fresh, refreshed and played upon

Our thoughts – borne aloft like paper planes.

Although I look at you from winter now – I see

You’re rose petals on virgin snow

Your hair as dark as midnight wings

Copper high-lighted – in a sunset of burnished gold;

Your eyes glint like studded stars

Your words spoke soft upon my days

Your touch feels like summer to an aged man

Hope springs like resting autumn boughs

… you’re always in my thoughts.

For J.

© Kanthé 14-2-2018

MOM

Put out the stars

Unplug the sun

My mom was the moon

And I – her wayward son.

She was the heavens

That long distance fall from grace

That I fell from –

My mother was the moon

Cool and serene and shone upon;

Me – in the dark, alone now

I feel abandoned.

There’s a photograph of my mother

All up in black and white

A lady, a great beauty – regal

A picture my dad keeps inside his heart.

Mother – please forgive me

I’ve wronged so many people

I don’t know how to make it work

To get forgiveness in other people

Those bonds that are meant to bind us

Don’t seem to be there anymore.

Her fingers – cool in the summer against my brow

Warm in winter –

kept warmer by her love;

My hand in her hand – no need for gloves

A sharp look to prevent my wrong-doing

Re-assurance – with a soft touch.

That was my mom.

Mum … Mom … Mother

That’s the name and face

A child gives to God.

A mother is everything.

My mom was that – and more

And now she’s gone.

There’s nothing that isn’t cold.

I wonder through shallow days

However many left on earth

I start to cry reading a letter about her

I feel tears in the middle of work.

I know that nothing lasts forever

Our bodies return to earth

Our spirits up in the ether there –

Somewhere.

My mom – looking down

At her wayward boy – lookin’ up;

A connection that cannot be broken 

The zephyr that caresses my forehead 

Has all the air of a mother’s touch.

© Kanthé 2017/2018 

ECLIPSED

Approaching St. Peter’s Square, Wolverhampton

The last year, the last century

British Summer Time.

Sunlight flashing off walls, windows

And the terrazzo square in many shades of brown.

Fresh air – fresh people in short sleeves – office clothes

Flowing hair and bright clothes and bright eyes.

I’m on the university side, coming around St. Peter’s church

On that elevated section

A crystal blue sky.

Then it happens –

Everybody looks to the heavens, shading their eyes

With sunglasses and those silly cardboard cut-outs

With dark lenses pointed at the sun.

It has begun.

The very air changes – grows cool – almost cold.

The light dims in a near clear sky

I’m seeing the same scene – St Peter’s square – as if through parchment

A twilight in the middle of day.

I gasp – the hairs on my fore-arm stand up

The colour of the light changes

Grows grey, dark grey – a greeny-grey.

I can’t help it – I look up

At the welcoming sky.

The moon glides in front of the dumb sun

I very nearly cover my eyes

But I don’t;

These cheap sunglasses should be enough.

A black disc in front of a valiant sun

For a moment – a valiant moon that can face down a star

For that moment – when they’re the same size.

They call it a totality.

There is complete silence.

The twittering of birds – frozen

The world is frozen within a moment 

Everyone looking at a blazing sky

A corona of light like a halo

Around a dark countenance

To produce a lunar twilight.

A diamond ring – a celestial marriage brings

Forth a ring of diamonds

As sunlight breaks over the mountainous imperfections

Around the edges of the lunar landscape.

Sunlight returns – twilight evaporates.

The birds return to their mating calls

The people to their everyday gripes.

But I have changed.

I feel eclipsed.

By this most natural of things

This almost religious feeling

How the astronomy of things works like clockwork

Above the very chaotic nature of our lives.

© Kanthé 2017 

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