The role of god is a maddening twenty four hour experience complete with overtime and few rewards. A job where there is no clocking out, no in house psychiatric care and no chance of early retirement. When the thing in the big chair loses the plot, whose job is it to save the world?
evening became morning, as the final chords to badly sung lyrics died upon the
new dawn, he left Samson to his napping. He had to meet ‘Object Girl’ for
‘opening night’. She better have that
Play-Doh, he thought taking a glimpse at his snoring friend.
all about who you know, Sammy, how the poor bastards see you.”
It wasn’t Stephanie’s best story. She
knew that as she faced her class reading Why is Wigloo? She
didn’t need her unknowingly existential fairy-tale to be dazzling, not when her
classmates were as rapt as Miss Williams. Children, barely fidgeting,
quietly captivated, none of them noticing Stephanie’s facial deformity.
This was heaven for the nine year old storyteller. Heaven, until:
It’s here!” Margery Tent jumped up waving her phone in the air, “They want
me! They want me!” She leapt up and down causing her chair to fly
backward. Stephanie balked in horror as her whole class span their
primary school heads to investigate the commotion at the back of the classroom.
Never mind Stephanie’s story about an errant space monkey; her sister’s text
was better than a little girl’s fiction. Margery Tent: the new face of the
Wally Wizard Chocolate Bar.
me!” One of the long beam fluorescent lights flickered.
there,” shouted Stephanie, “that light’s about to go out.” She pointed at the
ceiling like a teenage fan would pick out a passing Justin Bieber, but the
light was a common place utility, not an over the shoulder celebrity
spotting. Kids crowded round the table of Stephanie’s twin, abandoning
the less popular Tent girl at the front of the class. Making her feel
invisible. Miss Williams asked Margery to read her text to the class
whilst Stephanie held on to her exercise book tightly, the sheets quivering. I’m
not going to cry. I’m going to cry at home. I’m going to hold it
till I get home. She pulled the pages to her blushing face reading
the words she’d written, her mind drifting elsewhere, or rather, whilst her
mind attempted to drift elsewhere. She heard the fizz
and crackle surround her, the other strobe lights now popping. Poor
little Stephanie, she couldn’t help but release copious tears, a flood of
droplets rolling down the crooked nose her twin didn’t share. Into her
mouth they rolled, sadness drivelling between her convulsive lips,
embarrassment forever correlating with the taste of salt. The light
bulbs burst with gasp inducing bangs, a quick-fire display of dramatic
lightening caused all the kids to scream, craning to the ceiling as a rich,
savoury flavour ruled her mouth. The final light bulb blew apart.
A crack of
thunder boldly knocked her out of her dream. The time on her bedside
clock was five twenty six and another fork of lightning knifed the gap between
the curtains, illuminating her bedside clock, pushing the realisation
home. Steph was an adult; she had stopped being nine for nearly twenty
outfox reality by a cunning retreat to the gloom of her duvet. There was
no morning in that hideaway, her secret land devoid of duty and reason.
No school to work at, no tempestuous weather to battle against on her
dark mid-January march to a bus stop. Work had been outlawed there, that
secret jurisdiction under the bed-covers. Unfortunately, the boom and
bang of the weather murdered any fantasies of a ten minute snooze and Steph
found herself kicking her snug little valley of denial to death.
hopped, silencing her alarm in the same forceful, fluid movement. The
hibernation of the Christmas season is indeed over, thought Steph as
more blazes of nature’s fire spat down, dissolving her slight remembrances of
the dream. Off she stomped – to the bathroom – her swirl of school duties
swam into the nooks and crannies vacated by the reverie. Kids
didn’t have mobiles in the eighties, she thought, as her toothbrush
aggressively brushed away, plans for her first class creeping in.
inaccurate dream.” She paused. Her nightmare had at least
spared her how that day really went. She gurgled on
some mouthwash attempting to blot out the motion sickness feeling she
experienced when picturing Mum and Dad. Did they have
to? Really? How cold were her parent’s hearts to end her
heavenly moment, to turn off her limelight in the one venue where the gulf between
herself and Margery wasn’t so vast. The unexpected arrival of mum
and dad. Two parents beaming through the announcement of the good looking
Tent sibling. Finally, Margery had achieved more than the odd appearance
on telly, for she’d begun her ascent into the stratosphere of media. Margery
Tent: the face of everyone’s favourite sugary snack. Wally Wizard
her face idly, wondering how high Margery’s child modelling career would have flown
if she’d survived the accident at sea. She wondered so long her wash
flannel reddened the skin around her mess of a nose. She didn’t question
her reflection’s gradual translucency; she kept rubbing the purple material
against her cheeks and nostrils, convinced that the face in the mirror would
only return once all the dirt had gone. When the droplets of blood kissed
the porcelain, she stopped, dried her face, and rolled out the prayer
mat. The only thoughts inside her head were that of Allah and whether she
ought to wear the navy blue or black niqab …
… A bolt of
lightning and a thunder boom and Steph’s eyes opened.
She was in
She shot out
from the covering of the sleeping bag, office surroundings confirming she’d had
a dream within a dream, for she was far and away from her home in Tufnell
Park. She sat motionless for a minute, acclimatising to yet another
reality. Milo’s office at the heart of London’s Camden Town. “So,
no choice for me then,” Steph said to herself, busying her body into religious
clothing, “Woman in black it is.”
On Camden Town’s Pratt Street there stood a
bus enclosure, and it was crowded. Each early morning commuter trained
their eyes down the road, faces too close for comfort, anxious expressions all
round as they searched the distance for their delayed bus, for the heavy sheets
of rain hit so hard, that water sprayed those unlucky enough to be on the
outside of the huddle.
miserable sniffling and shuffling of others had to be blocked out
totally. To achieve this act of self-delusion, some of the would-be passengers
stared through the steam of their breath, peering absentmindedly at the
kaleidoscopic advertising placards hoisted just beyond consumerism’s windows.
Others glared into newspapers; their attention utterly devout to a political scandal, an American high
school massacre, a reality TV upset and yet another senseless murder on the
backstreets of the city. Tabloids
depicted scenes of inhumanity, the terrible reportage branding fingers in
horrible black ink. The paper owners remained famished, hands busily
leafing through the horror for supplementary hits of awfulness. Others
still, they investigated sights untouched by the ruthlessness of the natural
shower, re-watching more secretive, preferable, more colourful visions.
Auld Lang Syne still ringing in their ears as coughs and muttered
expletives rode the beat of near distant road works. To compound Monday’s
bad weather start, the ungodly odour of a newcomer descended upon them
Monday!” sang the tramp’s voice as he strummed his old and battered acoustic, “Have
a happy Monday!” His music battled the aggressive gales, but the
Styrofoam cup strung to the neck of his guitar wouldn’t fill to the top
today. For weeks, not long after the New Year, the songster had put on a
good show, and from across the street his carefree guitar-playing provided
some distraction (surely there had to be a better place to beg?). But
now, this unfortunate street musician, this regular player on the road had
broken a non-verbal rule of roadside entertainment. He performed too
close. Sadly, like the once glorious rouge of his long jacket, the
vagabonds charm swiftly flaked away, each surge of unpredictable wind stealing
the rusty copper and black material of his overcoat. Comparable to
floating cinders. The hobo’s rusty brown dreads waved to and fro in the
stormy hardship, thick strands complementing his rhythmic recital. One by
one, the commuters began their exodus. They preferred to forgo the safety
of the overhang for the ten minute journey to the next shelter.
happy Monday!” His joyous voice betrayed an education so refined that he
operated from within an aura of harmlessness. Only one person remained to
hear him sing. “Haaaaaapy Monday!” Out of the folds of her Muslim
blackness, a hand dropped some loose change into his muddied paper cup.
Without missing a beat the man of indeterminate age used his strumming hand to
salute the woman in the black Niqab. “Happy Monday. Happy, happy, happy
Monday to you!” He sat down next to the woman in black, his guitar laid
to rest upon the slosh and muck of the pavement. The grimy nylon of the
instruments three remaining strings mere inches away from battered apple red
boots. He could tell she hadn’t judged the state of his poorly kept
eye-wear. He beamed, adjusting his damaged specs, hoping that the pain in
his life didn’t communicate too forcefully through his way of being. Now
was not the time to scare altruistic people away. His latest role
demanded the poise and self-assuredness of a Master of Ceremony, much like a
young deity, overly comprehensive in his conversation, so as to render the
replies of others redundant. I am a
seasoned magician, he thought, my volunteer may as well be a
...Yeah, exactly, I AM NOT my lack of
accommodation. You’re so right. Do you know how many homeless
people can claim they’ve been through higher education?
Oh Miss! You certainly know where flattery will get you. This
street orator thanks you for the decency. Oh Jesus, Would you look at
that? It looks like you’re stuck here.
I know, I know. You’d catch a cold before you caught a double
decker in this rain. Bloody London transport.
Believe me Miss, there is no way you’d find me walking London through
this spill, best to stay put. It’s like God Himself is crying.
You kneel five times a day and all that? See, that’s where I’d
fail Allah. And don’t ask me what I believe. I orate fantasy
fiction. I’d only make something up. A cantankerous God with
fire for hair – whatever comes to mind. So, I’m storyteller-me and you
Steph? Of course. It’s a lovely name. Nice to meet ya
Yeah, loads. I wrote a lot of Babushka Doll stuff actually.
Come again? You mean, you’ve never heard of Babushka
Doll Lit? That’s like saying you’ve never heard of Nirvana! We’d
better do something about that then. Babushka Doll Literature: more of a
game than a series of stories. You ask me the right question at the end
of this tale, you unsheathe another story. That simple really. Right then, I call this one Bradley the Boy
Wonder, and it goes a little something like this:
There was once this kid Steph, a kid who had
a ‘gift’. A pretty unique offering, if you ask me, or anyone, provided
you got them drunk enough to admit the, er, certain advantages. A rather
unusual gesture then, from the deities of karmic biology. This kid could
fold himself in half.
lesser versions of this urban myth, where filthier imaginations have filled in
plot holes and whatnot, you’ve probably heard that four of Bradley’s ribs hadn’t
developed properly, or that his lower spine lacked two vertebrae. But
that’s all complete bull-crap. Bradley was raised by his single mum who,
apart from being a filthy rich Californian, had a penchant for extreme Venksai
-Yoga. She’d been teaching her boy Lotus Spreads and Frog Stretches ever
since age three. So, for the purposes of our story, we’ve got to switch
to present tense, to give the whole thing this illusion of immediacy.
Makes it more exciting, y’know?
mother – poor woman – she skips innocently outta their tidy piece of
Californian beach front, hops gaily into the SUV and just sits for a moment,
smiling. She’s heading off to her next book signing, and she couldn’t be
more content. Finally, she pulls out the drive on a full tank of gas.
She’s blissfully unaware of her little wonder running upstairs to his
room. She has no idea that he’s using his ‘gift from Venksai’ in an
erotic fashion, bent double and over on the bed, jacking his head up and
down. Like some kind of human oil pump. What d’ya call em? Geysers?
Or is that the hot pool things in Iceland? Doesn’t matter, you get the
picture. Bradley’s scared of the noise, the hormonal moaning gushing from
inside his throat, so full of himself. He doesn’t wanna alarm old lady
Doughty next door, even though next door is a whole house away. So the
kid’s playing a Best of The Doors album, loud.
lighting his own fire, so to speak. He’s sucking away to Sixties pop. And then ... He becomes inflamed with a wild
idea: he could get much higher. When he manages to slide himself
in-between the gap of old oak wardrobe and the far wall of his room, when he
gets to thinking of Jim Morrison taking it from behind, getting concrete hard,
thirteen year old Bradley is in his own very private heaven. Until he
had it worse,” says the back specialist. Her brown fingers interlock with
Bradley’s in the back of the whirring, blaring ambulance. Bradley’s
looking up at her, and he’s all bunched up ‘coz stretching out? Well, it
hurts him real bad.
His mum? Her
back’s against the far end of the swerving racing vehicle. She’s furthest
away from her son. To see this scene you’d no doubt be thinking “you
heartless old troll.” You’d be wrong though, ‘coz really, Ms Robinson
is listening to the old medic driving up front. He’s describing Bradley’s
unfortunate condition down the radio.
whole life could be completely fucked up,” says Bradley, lying on the
stretcher. All rolled up in agony’s cocoon.
have had it worse,” repeats the specialist. She looks through her
red-rimmed glasses right across at Bradley’s only parent, who has this really
fake-everything’s-gonna-be-just-fine-smile on her no-make-up tanned face.
No vegan diet, no rigorous yoga routine, no karma-saturated world view
could prepare Theresa for this. Theresa Robinson, she’s never heard
her son swear before, and Bradley, he’s dancing pirouettes over the old cuss-word
boundaries his single mum’d laid down so many years ago.
“Shit ... I
might have fucking back problems. How could my situation be any - ow! –
motherfucking worse? God.” The hideous waaaahwowowowowowowaaaaa ambulance siren
screams on. Teresa’s lithe, muscular, forty-one-year-old body is bent far
forward and her head is in her hands. For a long moment, her mind flips
back thirteen and a bit years to the commune. She’s visualising that
circle of people, the ones who, like her, had run out of options. All
those people choosing spiritual totems to ward off ‘negative thought patterns’.
Sitting there, heavily pregnant and recently and drastically separated from the
man who most definitely wasn’t her child’s father, Theresa Robinson decides
that she was right to keep the baby. But that isn’t what they teach her
here. Her spiritual conviction is being tested by ‘the source.’ If
Augustus loved her he’d be at the Tibetan retreat, by her side, her shaking
hands in his. A monk will later show her how yoga will stop the
shaking. Much later, but not quite near the now, after her shaking is no
longer the engine that drives her, Theresa will keep stretching herself away
from the night that changed everything. Tears stream through the cracks
in her palms whilst Bradley watches the specialist unstrap her seat-belt and
move out from her chair. Blocking his eye-line to his weeping mother, the
specialist, this short Afro-American with the large red earrings, begins a
subtle game of misdirection.
you a story,” she says, finger to cheek. The sky-blue fingernail tap-taps
against her dark skin. The hideous wail of the ambulance forces her to
lean in close. Her story is a secret
between herself and Bradley. A narrative rendered invisible to his
mother, hidden under the thick and unrelenting slam of siren. Cherry-bomb
lips part and shut. But then, she’s not really even a woman, and I can
tell you for sure, as sure as you can see all the hail pounding the pavement
out here Steph, the specialists’ name, her real name? It really, really isn’t
Doctor Jane Faye.
Thank you, Steph, but I’m a weak speaker. I’m only as good as the
audience is willing I’m afraid.
Heh, thanks. But that would mean I have some kind of future in
stand up and believe me I tried that. I really tried that.
It was run of the mill, observational humour. I thought I was a
genius. I wore this ol’ Superman T-shirt, red boots, yellow belt and red
jacket. All to say “Look at me. I’m different.” Even bleached part
of my hair yellow for added exclamation. Here look, some of it’s still
But I was young and a lot less stinky then. I hadn’t hit rock
bottom, let alone gathered the focus to relate my loss of dignity to the
plights of the Everyman. So anyway, Steph, tell me about the story, did
ya like it? You got any questions for me?
Now THAT is interesting. Aside from the idiots who don’t realise
it’s a beginning, crying that they don’t get it – that it has no ending –
mostly I get your bronze medallists who yelp, ‘Who was Jane Faye? WHO WAS JANE
FAYE?’ Now, don’t get me wrong, I respect their politeness, them listening to
me and all that. God knows, me being all smelly and vagabond is a great
excuse to walk away; sometimes in mid conversation too. Hailstorm or not,
the next bus stop, it’s only ten minutes’ walk. But you’re quite the curious
No, and thankfully you’re not the kind of audience member that fishes
for the distractions, the wild lyrical graffiti I’ve sprayed all over the real
story. Listeners like that get a bronze medal from me, I smile at
them. Like this. And I move on. They never see my face again.
Y’know, I had you pegged as a silver. Someone who asks the right
question in the wrong way. Like: ‘What happened next?’, or ‘I’ve never
heard of a Babushka Doll story before. Why’s it called that?' And
for them, standing on their podium, inches lower than yours, I’d smile.
Like this. But they’d hear no more stories from me. Still being
silver, I’d give 'em something. You know what a Matryoshka doll is,
right? Y’know, a Babushka doll? It’s a Russian nesting doll, those sets
of painted wooden figures. And one fits inside the other, until you reach
the smallest in the centre.
That’s the ones, yeah. They have themes; the Russian royal
family; superheroes; Pokemon; the Spice Girls. Anything. Doesn’t
take a genius to figure out how a Russian Doll story might go, and that each
layer is held together by a common theme. Though you can be forgiven for
not knowing the golden rule: if the listener asks a single and particular
question correctly, the narrator is obliged to tell the story within the story,
Yup, that’s right Steph, unlike your common riddle, I seek questions,
not answers. Let’s answer your question, shall we, Steph? Ahhh ...
Steph. Wonderful golden-question-asking Steph ...
“What story did Jane Faye tell Bradley?”
A gold medal for you. Been years since I’ve handed one out.
Your question Steph, it grants you a narrative unsheathing. Look!
Inside! Why, it’s Jane Faye’s story of course, all gleaming and in need
of a narrator. Which would be me, Spiderfingers. But wait,
look! It’s your bus. I suppose this is ‘To Be Continued’, eh?
Spi-der-fin-gers. But I fancy a change. Next time you see me, call me Rumple
N E X T T I M E I N S P I D E R F I N G E R S
Behind you, Bradley, passers-by shout for the police. The wheel of an upturned wheelchair spins slowly and silence descends. What happens now, after all that chaos?