Miss Glitz prodded the perfectly sealed egg yolk with a crust of toast and watched the yellow viscous fluid run into the beans she'd pushed to the side of her plate. Across from her, Jessica's chest gave a death clack. Pipe muck. Miss Glitz looked at her friend concernedly. She was short and plumpish, despite her liberal drug use, pretty, in a damaged sort of way, dressed in a silver fleece jacket and tracksuit pants. The orange hair didn't help, and her muddy brown eyes imparted the defatigation of having seen and experienced too much. Cracked fingernails, nail varnish stripping from them, darting in and out of a blistered mouth, parting full lips, scabby and garishly lipsticked. Her face was testimony to the corruption of promise, sullied flesh draped over the skull like a sheet, immobile, almost heroic in its unpretentious stoicism, the cheek muscles were a remaining flicker of humanity, twitching now and then, crimping the beleaguered countenance. Miss Glitz shuddered. Moisturise. Tea Tree oil for minor blemishes. Exfoliate. Eat healthy. Fruit and vegetables. Stick to hash and booze. Cut out the junk. Miss Glitz checked out her reflection in the mirror on the far wall. White crop top, Porn Star written on it in glittery silver letters. Suede jacket, a good one, rhinestone cowboy. Combat trousers and trainers. The preliminaries over, she braced herself for an unqualified personal critique of her physical appearance. Tall and angular frame. Hair was dark, in a bob. She had a bare scraping of make-up on and the face was alright. She stared hard, her stomach tight at the prospect of discovering a wrinkle. She felt she looked slightly better than the drudge next door. Most of the men she met felt she looked like a depraved starlet. Miss Glitz wiped the tomato off her plate with her second slice of toast and ate it greedily. She'd gotten skinny and anxious after an amphetamine binge and had spent the last few days coming down with a diet of hash, white rum and bitter lemon, feeling better she was feeding a violent appetite. Her late Father once told her she could eat for England. Maybe that why her Stepfather tried to shove his cock down her throat one night. He was drunk, her Mother said, as if that made things okay. And here she was. Miss Glitz and Jessica came here often, at least when they were reasonably straight. It was fairly clean, the tiny Greek who ran it was unobtrusive, you got a full fried breakfast cheaply and a refill if you ordered coffee. They were seated opposite each other at a blue Formica table coated with congealed tomato ketchup, between them an ashtray, a plate adorned by an half eaten egg and a constellation of cold baked beans, a bloody and greasy knife and fork, and Jessica's untouched cup of heavily sugared black coffee. Miss Glitz washed down the crust with the dregs of a can of diet cola. She crumpled the can in her hand and threw it in the plastic wastebin a few yards away. She considered ordering a bacon sandwich; almost skeletal, but the pounds piled back on quick. She lit a cigarette and drank Jessica's lukewarm coffee. They had met posing for ponytail soft porn pics in which they wore gymslips and pouted listlessly. The glossy stills were used for a video relaunch of a seventies sex comedy titled Keeping It Up All Day. The film was padded out with some tame lesbian footage culled from an obscure French exploitationeer, presumably what someone found lying around. They were both on the cover of Schoolgirl Blues with another girl and billed as Miss Glitz, Jessica and Regine Darbo. They kept their stage names as a joke. They only met the sullen redhead billed as Regine Darbo that time and she didn't say much. Jessica uttered something inaudible and the eyes rolled full circle in their sockets. In a raspy voice that contradicted her youth, she restarted the conversation that a bout of retching had abruptly halted earlier. The cessation allowed Miss Glitz to finish her breakfast unmolested by flying spittle.
"He's a creep. Don't let him do your portfolio. He got me turned onto hamburger shoots. And the harder the shots the stronger the, well, need. When I got stroppy he roughed me up. Made me blow him. He held me tight down there till he came. It tasted of strawberries. I should have bit it off but I knew he'd have killed me."
"There's so many pigs out the way," said Miss Glitz, a tabloid ghost in the making.
"I really need to stick a pin in the best smack. I get so confused. Some sell it cheaper but other's sell it dearer but it's smoother." Her hands jerked in her lap.
"I'm going to shine, I know it," beamed Miss Glitz. Immediately memories surfaced of Jessica, after her home video debut, weepy and shaken. She felt overwhelmed by the recollection and censured herself for her insensitivity. Jessica, shakily lighting a cigarette, didn't seem much bothered.
Kamera. We see through the eyes of a hand-held video camera. Jessica bound in the foetal position. An old man opens her cunt wide and inserts the barrel of a revolver in it.
"It all happens in here," smirks the old man, shoving the barrel in and out vigorously. Shot of Jessica, mascara running down her face.
"She loves it really."
Cut to the old man, stubbing out a Woodbine on her left buttock.
"I wish my chest would clear. I keep coughing up this green stuff," said Jessica.
"I've met this guy called Dave. He's nice, doesn't think with his prick. Going to line me up an acting gig up there. The nurturing type but with an edge."
"He's taking me to a party tonight," said Miss Glitz.
The unit was a windowless concrete bunker, one of a set of five, stranded on the outskirts of an industrial estate, at the end of a seemingly limitless road. Container lorries and transit vans, their exhausts coughing bitterly like an asthmatic expectorating sputum, as if to bring attention to the prepotence of their fettered engines, were the most dutiful of the urban oxen that habitually patrolled the macadam stretch. The units were in the shadow of a derelict warehouse, another mausoleum erected by the free market. Disembowelled forklift trucks eroded by the rain and sleet common to the winters, littered the forecourt of the building. Parked at oblique angles, the asymmetry of the pines so still evoked a tableau of pastoral creatures preserved in lava, volcanic ash fluttering around their ears and surrounded by debris. The windows of the warehouse had been smashed, inside the sightless holes plastic sheeting rustled like wrung tea towels on a clothesline. At the rear, wooden palettes were stacked high against a brick wall, on the top of which were shards of glass set in cement. A wreath of barbed wire lay on the jagged punctuation. Behind the wall was a rural uproar, a dense entanglement of brambles, nettles and hedges, an explosion of weeds and grass. The whole forsaken block was sharply delineated in the contexture of the smoky yellow sky. Beneath it, at the bottom of the muddy embankment where the units, of identical design and proportions, planted like unmarked remembrance stones, they had gathered. The end unit solely harboured the corporeal; beyond the door consisting of metal panels, firmly bolted, embers were covertly poked. Things to be eaten and drunk. Bringing in the milk. Interior: the unit was roughly the size of a garage capable of accommodating two vehicles; fluorescent bulbs illuminate it, they were the lengths of a thighbone. The boundaries were absolute and bereft of décor. Minimal contents, an armchair and couch face each other, between them a moulting leopard skin rug. Slowly relinquishing its emetic peroxide colour, the acrylic rag analogous to gauze ripped from a pustule. A wicker trunk with a cuprous latch was pushed up to the wall directly opposite the rectangular entrance. Situated approximately ten yards to the left of the trunk was a supermarket meat freezer, a crippled serpent, the plugless flex, coiled before it. The freezer emanated the fragrance of atrophied poultry, which blended well with the reliquary atmosphere, though the communion drunk here was strictly formaldehyde. Barrington was seated on the couch. Hair strawy and of a monkish cut, Barrington was blessed with a cleft palette and idiot saucers for eyes. When he spoke his words were pronounced amidst geysers of saliva and it was not uncommon for the individual meeting him for the first time to conclude he reserved a private language for discourse. His leathery features, oily, weathered and immutably perplexed, perfectly complimented his oral handicap, granting him a bathetic quality he disingenuously traded on. His hand clutched a testicle, every now and then, making it rock hard and ready for a needle. The penis was modest and unresponsive. Rustling in the folds of brown corduroy trousers, fabric like discount paper hankies.
"….they've got a thing about walking in circles…." said Little, branding the weightier testicle of a desiccated pair. Getting up off his haunches, Little admired the posy chain of scorch marks dotting the perineum. A toothless mouth without a tongue expressed outrage. Dragging on the cigarette, Little encircled the old man. Producing a feathery speckled egg from his pocket, Little cracked it over the buttocks freshly engraved with the cross. The yolk ran into the deep crack and Little, in the dispassionate manner of a baker preparing a pastry for the oven, massaged it into the dark knot of the anus and the withered cheeks. Amused, Barrington's upper lip curled, dispelling his saturnine air, then it went; he looked quizzical, a child originally amused by yet ultimately disappointed with a festive present. The old man, knees dug into the tawny pelt, tried to drag his soiled vest to the point of his navel. A palm lain flat on the rug, the stray arm moved jerkily and lacked co-ordination, as if it were suffering a localised fit independent of the body.
"Don't worry, its all a ride to avalon," said Little, throwing the crushed eggshell at the shapeless figure on the couch, precipitating a gurgled complaint. Wiping his greasy fingers on the crotch of his jeans, Little said, "I'm sorry. You can watch the autopsy video later."
Barrington winked, to infer a knowingness that was totally without substance. My eternal footman, thought Little, crouching to yank on the dangling genitalia. The head turned on its axis and tilted upwards. Knuckles had closed one eye; the companion was milky and clouded, pupil an ink spot, its gaze infinite and supremely benign. Barrington spoke, drool in the corners of his grimace. Wet in a shelter. Ignoring him Little clutched hold of a fleshless arm and lifted the old man to his stocking feet. Black cotton socks, reaching the patellas, built in support. Little herded the old man to the freezer. The essay in decrepitude accepted the outsize framed spectacles with the fissured lenses and put them on fussily. Little opened the lid of the freezer, pop of a rumbled vacuum, and helped the old man climb into his casket. Eyelid firmly shut, the old man, displaying a surprising dexterity in his unyielding confines, slipped the spectacles off and folded them on his sparrow chest as a confection of pulverised dentures was sprinkled upon him. Little slammed the lid down and hauled his bottom onto it. He playfully crossed and uncrossed his legs and through scuffed Perspex watched the old man inhale fruitlessly. All that effort, in the pursuit of what? Travelling hastily, no fixed address. Barrington asked a question.
"Oh…not far to go…all done and dusted by then."
They listened to the dull thuds become less frequent.
Here he was, meek as a lamb. Something had capitulated within him. He had forfeited the rage and antipathy that fuelled him; deprived of these tangible assets he was nothing. Why now? Like the woman had said, years ago, one day you ask yourself, is this it, and your inner voice replies yeah and neither the heart or brain can contradict it with any great certainty, and you resign yourself to the waiting room. Is this what his life had shrunk to, a succession of messy come shots? I am Watkins and I am Legion, he thought. I have burned the soles of a faggot's feet with lighter fluid, fucked a girl's arsehole out with an unlubricated cucumber, ramming it in to the hilt and pulling out what resembled flesh coloured tubing. Turner in the background, impassively capturing it all on a video camera. I have whipped women, hit women, strangled them to the point of…
He'd charred nipples with cigarettes, shoved dead rodents up snatches that looked like pernicious leers. And he was a honey. He was easily satisfied. A little pain, that much was all. Not wholesale mutilation and madness that reduced bones to dust, burst internal organs. He merely desired the facial exposition, that giddying mixture of bewilderment and panic which acknowledged there was a subtext to the arrangement that had not been anticipated, that the possibilities of the situation were boundless and arbitrary, and that he, David Watkins, was in exclusive jurisdiction of the scene's climax. That was all. He wasn't like the others, the crack addled former systems analyst who loved eating freshly made faeces, the fat fuck father of three who got twelve year olds to guzzle him on his way home from his job as a line manager at the carpet warehouse. Or any of them, trolling the streets where the indigence and delirium reeked of erotic adventure, all of them furtive scrabblers; some had their props close at hand: knives, clubs, dildoes, amyl nitrate poppers, uppers and downers. Well, there was his fall, but it had been pure and divine. Cruising in a Nissan Cherry, loaded on vodka and isolation, the need to touch and hear someone, anyone, overwhelming him, feeling like an emotional drag act, feminised and breakable, the bitch sobbing, the queer tears. The heap of shit he'd wired swerving in and out of the lane, running through a red light and clipping an old fruit in the process. He'd picked her up and offered her thirty pounds to strip naked and let him stroke and cuddle her, no sucking or fucking. She wore the uniform of heels, micro skirt and crop top, brutal haircut crowning a face austere and scarred underneath a sleet of lurid cosmetics. She took him to a room and there were two of them waiting with baseball bats. It was a month before he was back on the streets, and he stalked the usual patches on foot. Smoking endlessly and swigging cheap whisky he watched the girls, lurking under and around bus shelters, lampposts and handily parked cars, comfortable in the darkness, the spite and hunger paralysing him. Then he got the Nissan out of Harry's lock up. He was finger fucking a girl roughly while reaching for the claw hammer tucked under the front seat when the officer ripped open the door. He'd rushed a red again and his hot plates were duly registered. Watkins was away for a not insubstantial length of time. Then, out, reinventing himself as a film maker, an artist of the transgressive whose spiritual home was the VHS format, embarking on a constantly updated chronicle of agony and humiliation, grainy cameos of those who have lost sight of the sky. Onto this, the latest star he was grooming, Miss Glitz, pretty with discreetly applied make up in a plain white T-shirt and black leggings. She gave Watkins a cursory tour; he tried his best to appear interested. The communal lounge, a musty smelling room gloomily lit, scrawny kid on a ratty couch smoking a toothpick roll up and listlessly absorbing a cookery programme on the TV with the crackling sound. Into the poky kitchen. Refrigerator, door ajar, a peep of a carton of soured cream. Packet of cereal on the worktop. Miss Glitz assured him that hers was one of the few rooms that were en suite so at least he was spared that indignity. He followed her up the stairs, clutching the bannister rail shakily. The place exuded a stale aroma, slightly permeated by an odour evocative of hashish and curry powder.
"What floor?" said Watkins.
"The third, the top one," said Miss Glitz. Watkins mumbled something to himself. Voices carried, stoned laughter, a spent altercation. They walked along a short unlit corridor, Watkins' legs uncertain.
"Here we are."
The room was brightly decorated and Watkins was briefly cheered as he walked out of the twilight. It was of narrow width and had a high ceiling. Bed neatly made up; white linen sheets and pastel coloured quilt and pillow covers that smelled pleasantly of fabric softener. Dresser with a portable TV on a stand screwed to the wall above it. On the ringed surface of the dresser was a pile of glossy tabloid magazines, a couple of cups, chipped saucer and a kettle. Dirty streaked windowpane, the autumn sun glaring through it, barred on the outside, the kind of pad they dragged charcoal bodies out of. Green door slightly open at the far side of the room, coyly allowing glimpses of the pristine lavatory bowl.
"It's a nice place," said Watkins, standing uneasily as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Well, it's inexpensive and tidy, though I made a special effort knowing you were coming. Some times it's a bit of a tip but I got paid the other day."
"What are they like in the other flats?"
"Mostly overseas students, okay, sometimes a bit noisy, especially the weekend, but that's only to be expected. There's a smackhead on the second floor, he's a nice bloke but you have to keep an eye on him, he's the sort who'd nick anything not nailed down."
Watkins was convinced his edginess was perceptible.
"You've no video."
"No. I watch TV in the afternoon and go out at nights. If I stop in I read magazines, or watch TV downstairs and have a few joints. It's better than sitting up here on my own."
Watkins nodded grimly.
"Aren't you hot in your overcoat."
Watkins took it off awkwardly and folded it. He dropped it on the blue Axminster.
"Want a drink?"
"Yeah," said Watkins. She pulled out a bottle of white rum and twisted the cap off. Miss Glitz swigged tentatively and shuddered.
"It's good stuff once it kicks in. Keeping it down's the main thing."
Watkins accepted the bottle and felt like weeping in relief. It scorched his throat, loosened his shoulders.
"You got any cigarettes?"
He threw her the packet.
"Is anything wrong?" said Miss Glitz.
"No," said Watkins, "I had some hash earlier and it's made me paranoid."
"Sit next to me."
They drank and smoked, handing the bottle to each other in silence, tapping their ash into the white saucer. For every mouthful of the gut rot spirit Miss Glitz imbibed, Watkins had three.
"I make these films and I hurt them…I'm strictly no drugs on set…I mean, what's the point if you dilute the pain," murmured Watkins incoherently. He dry retched and looked at Miss Glitz sharply and turned away, his eyes full of yearning.
"I don't know why I'm telling you this…I like you…I like you a lot…"
The slurred words suggested that Watkins had been equipped with set of ill fitting dentures. For every mouthful of the emetic spirit imbibed, Watkins had three.
"One old bitch, I said to her, has it healed up…"
"Would you hurt me?"
"You're a good kid. I'd drug you first."
"You think I've got talent."
"Dye your hair and you could be another Harlow."
"Old quality gash, some other age."
"Why do you hurt them?"
"The trick's in the seeing. You have to treat it all as meat, they're just flesh and bone commodities. but you've got to make sure they're paid up front and in full…no freebies..it's a proper gig," said Watkins, oddly righteous. She listened to the stupefied delivery, born of shrunken masculinity and alcoholic torpor, and studied his adipose, belligerent countenance. He had the pitiable, self-preening egotism of the psycho talker, that was real, but he seem choked in a smog of ineffable melancholia that suggested the scenarios he verbalised had been enacted internally with a degree of success. There was a palpable abjectness about his intonation and movement that posited him uncertainly in the realm of the deranged fantasist. Miss Glitz stroked his knee.
He recoiled from her, out of manifest fear rather than physical revulsion. She found it a turn on; it was a soothing change from the majority of guys who were creepy and pushy and distinctly unambiguous in their desire to fuck or abuse her.
"Do you want to lie down," said Miss Glitz.
"I'm not… built where it matters…I got to piss."
He dragged himself upright and swayed. Outside the sun was receding and the slowly darkening sky was relegating them to the shadows. Miss Glitz was frightened by how drunk he really was. His hangdog expression and shabby posture, along with his plaintive speech, communicated the impression to Miss Glitz that though the alcohol undoubtedly affected him he displayed an unusually high tolerance. She had seen people hospitalised for less. Now, as she watched the portly figure in red shirt and blue jeans aim feeble punches at the flickering silhouette dancing on the wall, she was disquieted at the extent of how she had misapprehended the situation. In retrospect maybe the entire performance had been subtly depreciative.
"Why does it always come…to that…"
The crotch of Watkins' pants was sodden.
"Oh…I'm wet," bawled Watkins. He kicked open the bathroom door and flicked the switch, drowning himself in orange light. Miss Glitz finished the bottle while he fucked around unbuttoning his trousers and it hit home and now it was she who was dreaming when awake. Watkins was over the lavatory bowl, palms flat against the cold white tiles, displaying the alertness of a narcoleptic, pissing like he was trying to atomise the shame of his externalised agony. Miss Glitz followed him into the bathroom, a sink, toilet bowl and shower stall in a glorified cubicle. He could not feel her breath on his shoulder but he knew she was there and now she was pressing herself against him, he felt asphyxiated and trapped, reciting the Lord's prayer hoarsely, he dreaded the abatement of his urinal emission. The steam dissipated and he was all dry. There wasn't even a window he could launch himself out of.
"Please, be gentle," said Watkins.
"Let me see you…"
She spun him around and checked out his cock; the size and consistency of a chipolata, halfway erect. It wasn't gnarled or bent or anything.
"Let me suck your balls."
"No," croaked Watkins, ineffectually swatting at the busily tunnelling head. Down there, it stank of ripe cheese, tasted salty. The scrotal sac in her mouth reminded her of the skin on a chicken leg. Watkins was weeping freely now.
"Come to bed."
Underneath the quilt, Miss Glitz shoved a tit in Watkins' mouth.
"Will you take me away," whispered Miss Glitz as he suckled happily.
"Rocks to make you feel like a princess, smack for the sweet journey…"
"You say funny things," said Miss Glitz, toying with his thick greasy hair.
"You want to go to a party?"
The crunch of gravel heralded the arrival of the client. Browsing through an angling periodical, Little snapped, "Well get it, you gibbering fuck."
Eyes dewy, Barrington's chin rested upon his sternum. Swallowing his distaste, Little addressed the crepuscular refugee in a tone of conciliation, "Alan, me and my temper. You stay put." He dropped the magazine and approached the metal door. It was struck from the outside and reverberated sonically. Little unbolted the door and pulled the door sideways on its castors, letting it run into the foam buffer at the end of the rail guard, allowing what the night bequeathed into the unit. The procedure was repeated in reverse. All in. The client was elegantly dressed, doused in cologne, and his fingernails were beautifully manicured. The complexion was steamed and cleansed, with suppleness unique to the monied.
"Wallet," said Little. The client handed him a roll of notes bound in rubber bands. Little nodded. Barrington took off his shirt and, as an afterthought, voiced an inner musing. It sounded like a verbal translation of the purging flush of a water closet. The client appeared puzzled.
"Up the apples and pears," said Little, and now the other understood. Barrington snorted and the client obediently followed him to the freezer. The lid was raised.
"That's…exquisite," said the client breathlessly.
"Leave him to it."
Barrington turned and headed back. The client brought himself smoothly to orgasm through the pleats of his expensively tailored trousers. Gratified, the client bent over and kissed the corpse's forehead.
"I wish you'd bottle it," said the client.
"Get here," said Little. The client lay horizontally on the leopard skin rug.
The client removed his clothes and shoes unhesitatingly. However, he blanched at his socks and wedding band.
"Good enough," said Little, gathering the suit and white shirt in his arms. Barrington collected the rest: gold cufflinks, silk tie, handsomely polished brogues and starched blue underpants. Luckily for Barrington, the inside leg had absorbed the plurality of the discharged wad.
"Impersonate a teapot," Little barked at the client, who gladly made limp a wrist and arched a limb. Little and Barrington spread out the possessions on the grey concrete floor. A slight pause: articulated lorry bellowing on the endless road. Coiling the belt around his fist, Barrington appropriated the vanquished semblance of a worker on a factory production line, the drone who rams giblets up chicken rectums.
"Would you run your little fingers along my eyebrows?" requested the client politely.
"A gent," said Little flatly, writing his name in urine on the jacket.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, vaguely courting the possibility of reclaiming a clear perception, Watkins distinguished the sallow, hunched conductor watching from the front of the carriage. He was leant against one of the yellow poles that flanked the doors, hands thrust into the pockets of an armless brown padded jacket, rheumy eyes in a crumpled face lingering on Watkins, and when he suspected his earnest study had been discerned, looking downwards solemnly. Watkins bunched his fist and punched his thigh, connecting meatily, wanting to feel something, anything. So the amassed defeats had led him here, on the last train out of a provincial town that clouded the mind, fogged the soul. He had never made it past the gate in time; and now, as he stumbled towards the fourth decade, veiled in adolescent nihilism and lacking the intellect or spiritual fortitude to ward off psychic suicide, he was trying to reconcile himself to the barren knowledge that now he never would. The emotional resonance of the transgressive acts he had committed, in the gauche attempt to hold together his fragmented selves, was a profound sense of self-betrayal. He was closing up, scared of further moral anarchy, incessantly consolidating with the glib acceptance of everything being lost and the concomitant vapidness. Who to hate? The neurotic vampire, her reign of deterministic terrorism? One of those drab twats, so denuded of intelligence and maturity they impose their dissatisfaction on whoever they are exchanging transfusions with. Was that wretched creature to blame for this drear product?
No, it wasn't.
He blamed them all, hated himself. The throbbing in his thigh had roused him. Watkins glugged scotch, capped it, and put the bottle in the white carrier bag with the can of bitter and chicken tikka sandwich inside. Heatrburn creased him. The wizened shit, ticket machine slung kinkily across his skinny hips, his scalp adorned by a pubic effusion which passed muster as a decomposed afro, shuffled towards him.
"Put that cig out."
Watkins retreated from the burst sausage of a finger admonishing him.
"You want to look out for yourself, you'll end up on the track. Mind the doors when you're getting off in this state," said the conductor, his sententious demeanour suggesting to Watkins that he too was resigned to an existence devoid of any prospect of reinvention. There didn't seem to be much hope of transmutation in that countenance of an excremental shade. Rather campily the conductor tuned his head to signify disdain and returned to his solitary vigil near the fire extinguisher in a grimy plastic case. Oh, ruminated Watkins wistfully, for the glory days surreptitiously courting the kids from the children's home, they'd do anything for little money and with a certain pride and gusto, just to piss off the small army of bemused social workers and stricken relatives disseminated in their wake.
"Fucking crombie," Watkins heard the conductor mutter. He stood upright and staggered to the toilet, the door swinging on its hinges. Inside, he jammed the lock, peered at the turbid stool at the base of the lavatory bowl. The sight inspired him to vomit, and, as the seizure racking his corpulent physiognomy discontinued, he forced the handle. The faecal matter and ejected stomach content were swept round the u-bend along with an irresistible rush of water accompanied by a gurgle worthy of a deathbed valediction. Drawing in air greedily, Watkins cloaked his hand in the sleeve of his overcoat and wiped his mouth, tipped the toilet seat downwards, curiously reluctant, given his disorientation, to touch the congealed urine and semen that adorned the squashed circle of black plastic in a drizzly pattern. The lid clattered loudly on contact with the rim of the bowl and Watkins fell backwards, landing arse first into the sink, his prodigious buttocks wedged, the steel taps jabbing into the base of his back on both sides of his spine. Watkins rallied valiantly. Heaving his bulk forward, cursing and struggling for breath, Watkins shimmied his way out of the paper-clogged sink, the undrained dishwater soaking the tail of his coat. He was suddenly aware of how tiny the confines of the toilet had grown while his mind had been occupied elsewhere. He felt entrapped, in a perpendicular coffin, right this moment, he thought, they are sealing me up, consigning me to that most terrible, an eternity alone with self. That prick of a conductor, who practically ushered him in here, those eyes, damn those fucking eyes. The cracked mirror drew him. A hick, shat out into a sickly procession of internecine associations and feuds, with all the usual fun of concealed incest amongst the general aura of dysfunction, the fucking meat he had to use.
For the dolly.
The porcine reflection in the mirror, who was that? Pains in his chest, tension shot across his brow, it was closer, he was being hurried towards it, his face dissolving, Watkins felt the remnants of his puerile identity turn to ashes and scatter. On the ward. A pustular adolescent, obese, the legacy of a predilection for junk food and sedatives, stretch marks on his fleshy hinds like bloodworms languishing in a stagnant pool, and the rest of them. Some were old, a couple were young (he was the baby), most were in-between. Fucked by what, the suspects of professional apocalypse or marital emasculation? No, they simply preferred it here. When they could go they never went. Him? He'd cut a strip of skin from his chest, thought it would change his luck. All well fed, washed and shaved, their smiles red and wide in calico death masks. On the wicker mats which covered the matching bedside cabinets, bottles of pills, glasses of water. They sat, the worst of them, in creaky wooden chairs in the dayroom, propped up on starched feather pillows, inflatable blue plastic rings for those who were allergic. The flickering picture on the television screen, county cricket playing to an audience of somnambulists. Watching, the nurses, who were nothing more than aggrandised bouncers, in their coats and uniforms of a distinctly homo-erotic cut, watching those disengaged in private inquiry, ready to quell any stirrings with tranquillisers and fists. His cock on a cutting board, the knife in his hand, desperate to rid himself of need, the ache that would never be satiated. It was half-erect at the launch of his ambition, at the point it came into focus it had shrunk to pre-empt his lunge. Even as he strove to castrate himself, Watkins' penis sought the annihilation of self. He resigned himself to failure when it had completely inverted into his balls and snuck up his anus. No. It was Turner. It was him. At the last house. Turner, heavyset, dour and indifferent, his dark hair buzz cut and flashing the occasional sneer, with the camcorder set to record.
"Are you alright?"
The croak dragged him back; he felt himself illuminated, a carcass in an abattoir, strip lighting, hung above a knee high sea of entrails. We're all spat into tissues, shot into the upholstery; this is the way we speak.
"I'm alright," said Watkins. He opened the door and walked to the seat with the carrier bag on it, the conductor having slipped past him hurriedly to escape the stench he had acquired in the toilet. He took a bite out of the sandwich and twisted the ring pull on the can of beer. He thinks of Turner, at the last house, one of Harry's safe ones. It was next to an abandoned timberyard, within walking distance of the station. A green pick up truck stood forlornly on the dusty ground covered with rusty chainsaw blades and mounds of coiled shavings, across which the light summer wind blew fine clouds of sawdust, obtusely guarding an eroded workbench. The office was a concrete box, the ripped out door and windowpane shielded by corrugated iron sheets, coated with suppurated red paint, a symptom of industrial psoriasis.
That day, the ferocious heat of the midday had cooled…as the sensory impressions of that late afternoon returned to him, he felt a certain serenity, yet then he had been down in the depths, bubbling in hate. He had felt lucky. (They broke into houses and used them like toilets). Under Turner's eyes he realised he had succumbed to the dwarf within, that he was all played out. (A catherine wheel fizzing in a puddle of sludge). In a number of anonymous rooms beneath a joblot of low watt bulbs. (Anyone out there?) The shit we get up to…the net curtains… in this blackest of isles…it all happens away from the streets now, the irrationality is contained, all of us eager to grab a crumb of the freedom on offer…you could desecrate someone rather cheaply these days…so desperate for the emotional or financial…they'd let you roast them with an oxyacetylene torch and then solicit in a cracked voice for you to visit at the same time the following week…See You Next Wednesday…cash, of course. If you had the hard stuff, even better. They created their own penury, threw off any security, to assert their independence they saw nothing in submitting to degradation, the little bitches, his money helped them…
That which bubbled. In the depths.
They would come for him, slithering on their stumps, clambering over their hacked off limbs…licentious grubs…a face came to him during the night, the hour of the wolf, the lip torn from the jawbone, hanging like a bloody dish cloth…they'd take him for keeps soon, the other side of the rainbow. The mouths, set in grim rictuses, Pogo the Clown big teeth, pieces of chalk peering over purple lips, the mouths so wide and cavernous Watkins' feared it would swallow him whole…neon flickers, jazzy music in the background, tacked on as an afterthought. Watkins was overcome by a feeling of desolation; the narrowness of his scope had led inevitably to the abrogation of self. If only he had had something to kick against, a drab job, office or warehouse, it didn't matter, it'd claimed you…it may have left him less dispossessed and pray to the abstract…domestic stultification...that was another…it could be recast, the transgressive as a recreational peccadillo for the discerning palate. A vicious pederast for the duration of an hour, financed by the overdraft earmarked for car repairs and general maintenance. In missing chunks of time easily explained…all those stolen acts…all that young snatch…their abasement and ennui…hurt and tired grumbling…the iniquities of a poor centralised transport system. The trickle of blood from the anus…scarlet tears, accreting in the plait of the labia…skin split by the caress of a zippo lighter. (We are at the British Legion, where the elderly diabetics drank stewed tea). His ejaculations, lovingly freeze framed, a child throwing a tablespoonful of mayonnaise into the lap of a wailing sibling...the petulant resilience of his unillusioned justification. Is there a more ridiculous, contemptible and horribly fascinating sight than a ravaged male displaying a juvenile streak? Pressing countless ticket stubs into grubby palms…on roads and tracks…always on his way to nowhere in particular…
Mind the gap!
The disembodied voices intoning preternaturally…the roll call of towns, where the long vacated congregated, those loathe to remember and who wished to forget.
This journey will terminate at…
Cunts like chopped liver. Cunts like spoiled meats. Cunts like raw hamburger.
He'd done voiceovers. That's how he got broke in. His sidekick was a pleasant spinster who did needlepoint. They dunked biscuits and sipped Earl Grey in-between
the simulated grunts and exhortations, tittering as they read the scripts he had prepared himself into a microphone.
Come on, move your arse, let's have a bit of action.
(On her knees, she hoists her buttocks wearily into the air. He penetrates her without finesse).
Please be nice to me Jimmy, I'm nice to you.
(She pushes back derisorily).
That's better, I can feel your juices flowing now.
(To and fro they go).
(A growl of ecstasy or an outbreak of dyspepsia?).
If I go any faster sparks'll start flying!
Watkins in room…the girl on the floor…she is lying on a grimy pallet…splinters digging into her…lips grossly distended…Turner is hunched above her pointing the camera…Watkins is screaming at Turner…this is his stage, he craves and deserves respect…before others' had rode shotgun…they'd made him feel ever so lavish. A thin ray of sun shone through the gap in the plywood boards, falling on a pile of clothes ensconced in a mouldy armchair…a strip of plastic sheeting…Watkins grabbed at the rodent scurrying under the skirting and cursed as a tool for the denouement eluded him.
At it hard with the cucumber.
When Turner smashed the videotape it engendered more genuine surprise than the prolonged session of his fancy dress sadism had elicited…Turner scooped the girl into his arms and wrapped a blanket around her and backed out of the room…his eyes shimmering and focused on Watkins…21st Century Fashions had rendered Watkins obsolete…in the company of Lake and Heidnik, his spiritual peers, he was nothing…corpses shovelled into limestone pits, in Rwanda you piled heads and arms till they touched the sky…the train halted. Watkins shuffled meekly onto the platform. In the adjoining carriage the conductor was slapping a drunk conscious. It had been said to him once that pain added layers to a person, and he wondered if a sojourn in a death camp would have delivered him a more fully rounded soul. Misery had made him shallow; he took shortcuts. Lighting a cigarette, he looked at the arrivals and departures screen. His train was due soon. It had been delayed, a signal fault had occurred at one of the stations. He would make his connection.
"Jeeves," said Watkins.
"Steve," corrected Little. "An erstwhile bingo caller who can't string a sentence together. Don't sulk."
Barrington spoke. Miss Glitz looked consternated. She was next to Watkins on the couch.
"Two and six, was she worth it," elucidated Little, "Last week, Alan got three hundred for shitting in a bucket."
He reminded Miss Glitz of the fledgling she found in the gutter when she was at infant school. His face was freckled and he had red hair shaved to the ferocious cranium; the face was a skull. The layer of skin and subcutaneous tissue cloaking the gory mechanics was so pale and insubstantial it was on the verge of transparency, this, coupled with an innate stillness, eschewing the most insignificant tic, the least gratuitous gesture, made it eminently supposable he had sprung from a fresh plot that morning. He projected a terse and cynically dismissive front, which engendered the suspicion in Miss Glitz that it was there to buttress a hidden vulnerability, a weakness further obscured by wry detachment. Little was in the armchair, his valet, of ventriloquial tendencies, head like a frazzled turd, was perched on the rest. There was silence; the conversation, a spattering of ellipses and rhetoric, had been awkward at best. Watkins was subdued. He seemed intimidated by Little, not physically; the baby vertebrate was compact and lean but hardly imposing. Secrets, thought Miss Glitz, the appendices of our increasingly naked existences, probably enough there to cow someone, held hostage by the accumulated small print. Watkins murmured. No one reacted. She stared at Little again; the tomb rendered him fascinating. Hooked sharp nose, sturdy enough to rip off a bottletop. Blurred green eyes. This was awful. It was left to her to fill in the blanks. Her earlier embarrassment on being introduced had subsequently been filtered through profound boredom, arriving at an asphyxiating sense of stasis.
"Where do you come from," blurted Miss Glitz.
"A haunted house of a town. Shut down, boarded up. Life is reduced to a series of queues outside the post office. Now Watkins…a culture of poverty, or is it that the wrong way round."
"The council should cut a deal with Zyklon B," said Watkins. He grinned at Miss Glitz but there wasn't much there.
"What you doing here," said Miss Glitz.
"The same old stuff in the same old way."
"Little," chided Watkins. Deploring his own facetiousness, Little straightened his bat.
"We cleared out a load of magazines…videos…amongst the merchandise…they're out there now, hopefully finding their target markets. One night we had a drive and, well, we abducted someone, for jolly, a going away thing. We beat him up a bit, shoved a dildo up his arse. He enjoyed it. Barrington was soldering his thrupenny nudger and this bloke couldn't get enough of it. Paid in full and referrals. Said he was a restaurant critic."
"So you decided to stay on?"
"Certainly. This isn't chump change. We're servicing the irredeemably bourgeois. You know what they're like when they pretend to be outlaws. A yawn, but never the less."
"Breeches down for half a crown," said Little. The exchanges were having a soporific effect on Miss Glitz, she felt abstracted, reduced to staring at the wet patch on the concrete between the couch and armchair. Aside from them and the furniture, there was only a wicker basket. There was a wet patch near that too. While elsewhere, she'd missed something, the talk was now bellicose and personalised.
"I like people who recognise their disposability," said Watkins.
"You don't Watkins. Self actualisation through staggered payments."
"There's plenty waiting to step over us," said Watkins.
"Oh piss off," said Little, chagrined at the sustained application of the flannel. Little noticed the girl was marginalised.
"You want to watch him, love. The problem is, Watkins takes it all too seriously. It's all grand guignol. No harm in it, but takes a piece of you."
"Thanks," said Watkins. "I know someone they sliced his tongue and he still didn't shut up."
"Don't we all," said Little.
"You ever had Alan here rim you, Matty."
Disregarding the remark Little strode insouciantly to the wicker basket, flipped the latch and began rummaging in it. He almost fell in; returned cradling a tiny video camera. He removed the black lens cap and beckoned Miss Glitz.
Miss Glitz was by his side.
"How would you feel, the other side?"
Her dainty painted mouth broke into a sweetly demure smile.
"I don't know," said Miss Glitz, not attempting to disguise her blushes.
"Like this," said Little. She fixed Watkins in her viewfinder. His shriek expired quickly.
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