an extract from a new novel "Darkest Kiss"
Now while I have been speaking at length about Ben, I hope my readers have not forgotten the shadowy, smoky figure of The Dragon, forever making her presence felt or smelt. Day in, day out, she sat supping of our generosity, eating the soft slush sugars of her copious cups of tea, stopping the natural flow of conversation ( a womanly dam to the last), repeating her repetitiously repeated repetitions, reiterating the solid teekness of poor, ol’ Ben, insulting everyone and anyone, informing Bob that if he stood sideways a dog might mistake him for a lamp-post (at which we all fell about cackling with laughter, except Bob).
“You’re not going to sit there and take that comment like a man, are you?” I asked, pulling a grin back as it threatened to envelop my ears.
“It’s all very well and right for you,” replied Bob sourly, “but I don’t find it funny at all, at all, to think of a dog lifting a leg over me.”
At this one, we virtually fell all over one another, cackling merrily in unison like happy harpies mating with Sabbath witches, and of course The Dragon laughed more than all of us – momentarily, that is, after which she collapsed coughing and screeching her disturbed throat and chest into a phlegmy bucket of swill magnitudes. She resembled a cosmic motion that got all of us uneasy. Bob, the victim of our insensitive mirth, sat looking at us, especially at her, thinking his thoughts while we still imagined the dog urinating on an underweight lamp-post called Bob.
The Dragon was always in our presence and came between the bright sun and the earth as the eclipse does but on one hell of a regular basis. She entered, she darkened, and she sometimes lightened (except for Bob) those masculine moments which we could have made all our own. When she did retire it was always because of her monstrous congestion.
One lunch-hour I met her in the corridor outside her flat. “Come in,” she said. “I’m just having a cup of tea.”
Unable to think of a suitable excuse, I followed her in but only after she had succeeded in pushing her front-door open – with difficulty. It jammed on whatever was at its foot. We proceeded down ragged, ashy, carpeted steps. We entered a kitchen, infested with cascading plants every one of which seemed in the final stages of withering collapse. “I sometimes forget to water these,” she informed me, brushing aside the brown, sear leaves that broke off immediately and fell slowly and spirally in twisting brown deaths through multiply-tainted and –tainting air.
I noticed ash-trays, unemptied for months, if not years, with yellow butt-ends, like blind, yellow eyes, dead-staring from peppers of grey. Against the far wall of the sitting-room stood a large, unclean tank, full of long, green weeds and tropical fish ready to croak. Which were weeds, which fish? Only the tainted smell of the dead and dying air, cloudy with dust, could answer. And I found myself thinking about The Dragon and her life in this Fierce Rakers’ flat that surrounded me like strange night, a sponge of grey darkness overwhelming it all, iced with her boasts, her vaunts and her big-headed strutting…that loneliness for her was preferable to companionship and the warmth of convivial relationships, her oppressive rightness, unreflective action, ouched splinters and fragments of ash-crowned taint. Practising abuse, flush in the field of action, nothing mattered to The Dragon except her single mindedness. Yes, I found myself thinking that her existence was a depleted failure and bloodless of heart in this poor place of ashes and taints.
But she wasn’t lonely!
How many failures and flaws will it take to make a soul like the Pikehassle’s reflective and mournful? Possessed of her own aggression and abuse as if, losing these, she, her world and everything about her would fragment and come to ashes and taints, fragments of ash-crowned taints. Practising abuse, flush in the field of action, nothing mattered to The Dragon except her single mindedness. Yes, I found myself thinking — her existence is nothing other than a depleted failure and bloodless heart in this place of ashes and taints, drug-fuelled Pikehassle without thought for thought.
“Well, John,” said Mrs. Pikehassle, pleasantly enough, “I’m glad you’re settled into the job so well.
“So am I,” I responded as cheerily as her.
She handed me a desperately dark-looking cup of tea. The tea seemed to be fairly annihilating the quaveringly white sides of its cup, so much so that I wondered whether the vessel would burst its china-confines in a desperado-attempt to climb up and out of its pitiful predicament. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort occurred. The cup was either too brave or too nasty to attempt its escape, and I found myself facing the most unpleasant brownness man has ever faced.
“With thanks,” I said, eyeing the death-draught and smiling tragically. I was expected to drink IT!
“I won’t have one myself,” said Pikehassle, raising my suspicion-levels beyond sanity’s ken. Paranoia sloshed my dim brain-shores. “I’ve already had two,” she explained, her voice proud and resilient at the survival of the two-deed! To enjoy the scene she took a seat opposite me, bestowing gratuitous grins about my person and looking me up and down and middle with such evident pleasure that anyone might have been excused for imagining I had just presented her with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and was still in the act of grovelling ceremoniously and un- in front of her, cocking a dimple-knee on the cold and unswept dust-floor of her flat.
The predicament now faced me – that cup of tea! Scenes from my past began flashing before my eyes, and sweat broke out on me. I noticed that most of the scenes had some formidable figure in them who resembled Mrs. Pikehassle. This was strange. I had only met her recently. However, the more I saw my boss in the scenes playing out before my eyes, the more I realised her cup of tea was preferable. Or was it? I decided it was but I could “accidentally” spill the brown swill on the floor where it would do little or no damage. I glanced at the standing teapot, hoping there was no tea left in it, but to my dismay imagined I saw a slight movement there, indicating to me and my anxiety that it might well contain more of the rough brew and herbivorous leaves. If a second cup should come my way after spilling the first? I could upset the second, too, but I thought it might crack the floor and pour through on to the resident or residents' heads in the flat beneath. They might be eating or whatever. The tea and flooring might hit them, their brussel sprouts and mash, and then what?
Ridiculous thoughts like these left me no peace whatsoever, and glancing at The Dragon I saw her looking eagerly at me like a psychopathic scientist experimenting with poison on a victim who had no choice. The dilemma had to be resolved. I had to risk drinking her tea! Recalling Shakespeare and his,
“……This great world
Shall so wear out to nought…”
and melodramatically imagining my final kicking of the bucket, fear, apprehension and mistrust looking on and holding their collective breath, I sipped. Yes, it was vicious, and it was descending vile and vicious. I swallowed or turkey-gulped it down. I pushed the empty cup on to the table and I really believe that cup sighed a sigh of relief now that the tea was out of it and into and attacking another vessel. Me. I wanted to belch and did so but turned the noise into a sort of pleasurable gasp and an exuding of wind as after a fine meal. “Thank you,” I said, “delightful, quite delightful!” and I think I even managed a semi-bow from somewhere above the midriff.
“Oh, would you…?”
“Oh, no, no, no, quite enough.”
“Are you sure?”
I listened to her for five minutes more, then politely excused myself, got out on to the landing and headed for the (delicious) tea-room. When I entered, Ben greeted me with a big grin. Had he been spying? Did he know where I’d been? I mentioned nothing to him. It would all have been grist for the mill.
“Want a cup of tea, mate?” he said.