Thursday, 3 December 2020

The Hotspots of Doha

 

The Hotspots of Doha

 

 

Another weekend comes

closing thumbed book

on five days past of

tears laughter

work strife

the everyday 

of every life

should we seize the chance

glam up you and me

call Trudie Karen Debbie

seek out hotspots of Doha

drink cocktails and dance

 

 

or shall we spend

the evening at ours

pass slow sensual hours

sip a little chilled wine

slip on a few records

listen to beating sounds

of hearts on hearts on hearts

make poetry together

so I'll write one line

and you'll make us rhyme

take our sweet time

holding out, holding out

until we glad surrender

hitting the soft spot

with hot secret sighs?



Mirrors

 

Mirrors

 

 

And they come to her and sigh:

Fear naught if within dreams you hide,

for Angels will wash over you in tides,

bearing secret words in sweetest slumber,

leave kissing spells you will remember.

And she did reply:

Yes, come to me in love's disguises

on the day that Angel rises.

 

 

Am I yet awake or dreaming still?

Swept down four salt serpent rivers:

if awake, then why does this place

stream pale buccaneer sails in shivers?

 

Pellucid hail storms, in never melting heaps,

mass congealed into mountains, rich black

grim frowning, in their own shadows drowning

deep all who dare think to look back

 

lost in ploughed wondering. Roaming mazes

deep furrowed by tunnelling hope,

behind and forward circle dangling loops

of fang-tangled noosing rope.

 

Friendly Angel, light my way:

my upraised voice summons you from shade

to guide my still born pen in letters round,

so we still may compost these pages.

 

Monstrous, placed by blame on pedestal high,

sport wings of knives to blood-let pink flesh sky.

She comes, she comes, she comes.

 


I come, I come, see how fast I come,

in blazing bullets from gatling guns,

red in halo brighter than this dying sun.

 

What is your will? To bend me again?

To learn me your language, loan me your pain?

Kiss my wanton hand, sour sweet lost refrain?

 


Peace. Stand back. Approach not so near.

 

Where am I and where this place?

I’ll kiss blossom-blue tears from your face

there freefalling in jagged parkour, trace

those pedlar tracks back to spring’s source.

Arch-Angel, false half-light taints your eyes,

a black daub streak does divide your look,

sad strokes, made by lost boy’s charcoal fingers,

mixed within cheap tin lids of market stall

water-coloured penny dreadful paint-boxes

bought with his Grandmother’s love.

Her never shaken trust and devotion

so great, it does suck-out all venom.

Walls of fire such as these here burning,

her sweet rivers will quench with yearning.

    

                                                            

Seek not to know your heart; no further go,

if this home needs must be, so dwell below,

I’ll give you seeds of time to plough and grow.

 


Your fallow fields of sand-blasted winter

my mind three times in three now splinter:

under conjured pallid moon that warms us not

sowing perished seeds that sprout and rot

 

to form ammonias: shroud what lies beyond,

woolly blanket us as in partial Angel song

saccharine soft. Yet how could it not be?

Well so, part this veil, now try to see

 

with eyes, blinded by limelight stages,

utterances cued from cursed pages

of foolish verse half-drunk composed,

bleat of lamb’s tears and thorned rose

 

in beats already beaten. Knocked out

by hacks, every stress a vulgar shout,

every plaintive wailing cry of ‘betrayed, betrayed’

to a yawning immured audience plays

 

worn out its weary meter. Listen, as a needle skip

backforms us, see statues mossed, dust shouldered

brushed mould that cascades, overtopping Angel Falls:

I hear your torrential voice, it calls, it calls, it calls.

 

Frantic crochet hooks; busy knitting needles,

drop one, pearl one, stitch that sampler, aniseed

rocks given, kept in the bottom of wet silk knicker

camphor closet, where fires burn thicker:

cloves, scent pressed onto howling toothache,

the stink of singeing man-flesh on burning wicker,

Angel, closer come, but never think I will shudder.

 


My body a silvered glass for you at last to see

ripped wings, you once stripped to set me free,

dream whispered reasons we think to never flee.

 


Angel, in truth, you have killed me.

 


Who gave birth to himself might see hell’s a fable,

has no need of parents; life or death sits well able

beside twelve, all one times nine by three at table.

 


Then, Angel, you will surely marry me?

Where the place, where the priest,

where the wedding guest, delayed from feast

by hooked beckoning finger?

Seize my many coloured coat, pull me higher,

wash me under crow-hooded crooked spire,

whose long-twisted finger does stab the heart

through and through. Stick pin us to table,

as butterflies to static translucent gauze

enmeshed. Still born and anaesthetised;

with permission black-signed in sin’s ink

as our festering pustules begin to stink.

Now, pass to me rings, your sealed vow

crimson kissed with lips of raindrop tears.

For, when in passed futures I need it now,

I will pray with frozen words somehow,

I will wipe the fevers from my brow,

I will raise oaths; curses from below,

salt crusted lips will torment love’s bough.

 

You and I will be always together,

mirrored in imperfect symmetry

where planets will align: Jove, Mars, Pluto,

grown in saturnine rings of perfection, slow,

our salt souls ground by pepper mills

then fly cast by The Fisherman,

scattered onto briny ocean surface still

in mirror. I now can shiny see, Angel,

you did overreach, my soul glass-splintered

into silver pieces three. 

 


More potent agency lies than you can reason:

spells in kissed ice pierce hot desert seasons,

misjudged by peril’s slight muttered treason.

 


This stiffening albatross placed about my neck

to pendant hang, might appal the devil himself.

As I begin to die, so you begin to live.

Grinding engines can never bring back

what was taken away, they will not

wipe bloody witness from our hands.

Shrieks that echo across black winter-lands,

part of us in three takes blind issue kindly.

You dare to bring me here? Show me again

and again? Where salt-parched wetlands

spread petalled rose, wide then wider yet

sticky fingers touch my lips, taste fingers

of cinnamon swamp, sweet, but it lingers.

Dive in and drink with lotus eaters, it wipes

like Lethe’s aniseed magnets across tape,

but bass remains, plucked and plucking.

Deleted; hard drives return truths to light

virus overwrites megaliths of memory bites.

 

My stiff rash hand rigid in trembling scabs

pulls sore flesh, stroked by your oar hands.

Let us set out for shore, rowlocks chaffing

wood grinds metal, shredding all rose petals

churned before us in carpets of bloody flake

left washed in tossed recollection’s wake.

 

Put into port before oncoming storm,

where we both might see how we were born.

Rest us in dreams by this burning lake,

to sup hot coals, slug bitter heartache.

 


Like cuckoos will we disturb dove’s nest,

seek out those hearts who hate us best,

yield to strong drugged sleep yet never rest.

 


Unfriendly Angel, avast you, retreat,

stand back: shake shadows’ ages.

Your still born pen belayed in letters round,

it may yet compost these pages

 

found in ploughed slumber. Abandon maze,

abandon boat, wander through in fallow hope,

a door wide open, from within which plays

more than enough tangled noosing rope.

 

Sink sharp storm’s teeth into flutter-throat,

build crystal hail-hearts into mountains cruel,

rivers of blazing fire surround like moats

those grinning faces who beckon fools.

 

Am I yet awake or dreaming still?

Eased towards secluded hearth and home,

if awake, then why does this place

hang with halyards shamed in groans?

 


Fear naught and dream alone in bed,

when Angels grind words into dread,

bear secret words in sweet regret,

leave kissing spells she must forget.

Yes, they come to her in love's disguises

on the day that Angel rises.





Friday, 13 November 2020

Nailed

 

Nailed

 

 

Never stop dreaming, blow soft on embers,

dream with me and we will remember

those promises we both have spoken

and how some spells cannot be broken.



Veil yourselves with darkest night,

cloak yourselves in stinging spite,

show no fear, shed no tears,

raise shields of hide; shoulder spears.

Stand fast before all tempests fouling,

resist all shock-eyed potent growling:

come false shapes, come sly guises,

for tonight, my friends, Angel rises.

 

You are never far from my heart,

hearing cries of ‘why down there?’

If I could reply, I’d say, how high?

From here, blocking out world

shrieking frenzied rage, 

shatter hand with storms and plague,

splintered thrice-fold in horror screaming

here lies an apt place to start dreaming.

 

And as you began to die,

he began to live. Paths crossed

under blind unfeeling stars,

You held each other once, maybe twice:

battleships rising;

setting different courses

following separate trails together entirely:

yours predetermined, lashed and bound

for thunderblack bleak midwinter solstice

and is it fair to swop blonde wig for hair

You might have sung,

among pews long

on faithful catchers of canker catechisms 

as we both,

be-spelled in crystal moment,

watch him grab a football

to kick goal for Amen.

 

He grew tall, strong

and you’re long gone my dear friend.

Sobbing as pallid they palled

your coffin, cold shouldered it,

some words: I couldn’t be bothered.

 

Those tears, well,

they were real enough,

drawn with pails deep

in driven nails;

nights of shattered sleep,

dreams so heavy

they drown us in pillows

rot us wretched;

root out weeping willows.

 

Angel kisses for we two,

for there were many present

soaking, soaking up the air,

vapours of silver truth lies

inside flick-book quickmirrors.

That decade nails us

to imperfect symmetry,

you looking back at my looking forward

in ticking minutes still,

stylus scratching centrifugal holes,

spinning plates on fastened wheels,

bold flight, racing fast upon treadmills diverse,

paint on future canvas the pasts rehearsed.

 


We will be free of them, we can be free,

if only you will dream with me,

stand scarred upon these Cornish cliffs

with force of iron to seal the rift.



Steel tooth cogs that grind and grind,

steal our bones and steal our minds,

make breadcrumbs out of our intent,

feast hooded rooks ‘til hunger’s spent.

This time we face them with iron glint,

with hearts of oak, with mouths of flint,

fatal traps we spring our own devising,

when the chill sun sets on Angel rising.




Friday, 30 October 2020

The Smoke Sculptors of Doha

 

The Smoke Sculptors of Doha

 

 

‘Am I not gorgeous, then?’ Stressing I with a scowl,

grabs my box of tipped Sobraines. Preferring pink

then torching it; kisses smoke rings to impress me.

After one or two nimbus missteps, we count three,

then one and one follows another; she raises drink

sending might’ve been winks or else something foul


in her cornflowers. We watch centres hold then fold,

crushed by currents stronger; artificial cyclones cool

these delicate constructs; smoke rippled confessions

scatter quickly amongst wreaths, to fade and lessen.

Not enough, for fingers lacking rings are for old fools

it seems; she shoves both together, squeezing bold,


forms an overripe stilton scoop of freckled cleavage,

all fragrantly powdered liver spots, a tease of nipple,

not a patch on the mistress I’d left behind to be here

with you now, dear, but I’ll smile, be your sightseer,

answer a morse flash of panties and thigh. ‘Crippled

is what we are,’ she brazen cries, stroking silky edge,


blowing another downs another, bullfrog or bulldog,

something lurid like that, but I’m not touching shots

because I can’t stand head in the morning; and those

battered onion rings do repeat on her in smoke frozen

kisses from home. Together alone and sculpting knots

from air - she wonders what we do here; monologues


made for two. Lost traces scattered over desert sand

blow us both one by one smoke rings across the land.



Friday, 23 October 2020

Apple

 

Apple

 

 

If you were an apple, I’d be tempted to take

a bite. More than just one, offered in your own

outstretched palms up, to catch the sun ripe

in burning, some enchanted late summer eve.

Together, beneath shades of cool, forgiving

bower, stretch in sheltered heaven’s harbour,

shower all apples, wind-falling we lie tasted

cradle me to you in warm long hours wasted.

Those holes you wear weep, they speak tales

of driven nails and how love shall not prevail,

waltz three four in masks so strong, conceal

from you but not us - how storms, how hail,

how currents strong will drive all ocean spray

to shock with grinding teeth battlement rocks

once proud: envious watch all ticking clocks

stand still. On Cornish cliffs pass me your scar

and I will wear it, my love, upon ruffed shirt.

To brave all your tempests will I make it mine

like apples you cast before me, set me chasing

love’s arrows, in heartbeat and pulses racing,

crusader in only your name, make me kneel

to dub shoulders with your tempered sword,

we both will come together under sworn words.

Crisp on my watering tongue, tart apple strong

singing songs in juice that bind our love long.







Thursday, 22 October 2020

#9 Life

#9 Life

 

 

The Metro station serving Al Sadd has four exits for each point of the compass. Even in the midday heat, each can easily be reached in seconds with a quick walking pace.

 The gravelly wasteland - all concrete, bits of brick, gritty stone and sand, always sand: fine, powdery and with malicious power to imprint deep on sandalled feet - stretches iron board flat between these four points so that each can be seen from the other without strong spectacle.

 And they resemble desert tents. Scalloped golden shells on top of glass fronted, automatic doors that lead to escalators, descending into cool, dark, air-conditioned depths and mazes of underground automated walkways.

 Tunnels link each of the four tents to one another, criss-crossing underground, a hidden city in themselves, full of shuttered nooks and shadowed alcoves that serve no obvious purpose. Therefore, due to the proximity of the four portals, a casual visitor might wonder what the point of the complex is?

 You might ask just what hides in those shadowy depths? What is it that needs such complete concealment from the over-city? Surely there must be more to it than just a way to cross the C Ring, a near-motorway separating Al Sadd from Bin Mahmoud?

Perhaps the virus lurks there.

 

Such thoughts were often far from Wendy’s mind as she picked her way unevenly towards the northernmost of these. She rarely used the Metro since the outbreak and, even before, she had mostly left it for the Filipinos to make their way to the shops they served in or the apartments they cleaned. Here were some now, cheerfully chattering in soft, song like voices, sitting upon the sandstone steps outside the entrance, smoking.

They were always smoking. Especially the men, she noted with an inner tone of disapproval. Damned unhealthy – healthy body, healthy mind, that’s what she preached, preacher man.

Those men. What had they to be so cheerful about? See that one? He was already developing a slightly plump belly, noticeable as they approached middle age. Those bright colours he was wearing only made it more pronounced, didn’t it? And the way he was looking at the two girls – night slips of girls – posing coquettishly for a selfie by the Metro sign as though they were bloody tourists. It quite made her gall freeze in revulsion.

But she reminded herself that such thoughts might be racist; unfitting for a teacher, so squashed them almost as soon as they had scuttled across her synapses...but then, like cockroaches they revivified, making a bid for freedom, so:

Why weren’t they usefully employed, instead of wasting time flirting? And there’s more, like some of us have important things to do, we can’t chain smoke to titilize brainworkers, can we?

That contemplated, she paused at the steps and squatted down at an safe distance from the colourful mop-topped malingerers who, observing her thin, spiny frame and sheet-metal grey hair, smiled in welcome before rising to greet one of their friends who passed through the station doors – a medical assistant, still wearing her mask and face shield. So, there were a few cheers and much grinning all round.

Wendy sat. It took a little effort due to her back ache, but she placed her satchel beside her, then looked left and right. The early morning sun beat her beige head, dumpling chest and humpback spine like the stick from that fairy story.

What was it called, now? ‘Stick?’ Was that it? The one where the troll says ‘Stick, beat!”

Was it a troll or a fairy? Could’ve been either.

Anyway, Wendy pursed her lips as if she was going to kiss a person, but instead made that immediately recognizable sound that all the world over uses to call cats. “mwuhizz, mwuhizz,” followed by the rapid clicking of the tongue.

And the thing is, cats almost always recognise it. They either trot towards it, stiff tailed and smiling, or scatter for shadows in silent explosion.

Wendy repeated the incantation, clapped her hands and ignored looks she was getting from her distanced companions. Sure enough, after a while, there was movement from within shade and a reasonably smart ginger and white cat emerged, stretching its legs the way they do, and padded quickly towards where she was sitting.

In the evening, and through the night, the cat made itself a home within the vast labyrinth of tunnels of the Metro complex, eluding the security staff with cunning although, in truth, it was more than welcome to hide there. During the day it was to be found sunning itself, stretched out along one of the sandstone walls, perfectly content.

The cat, obviously a stray but friendly anyway, brushed herself against Wendy’s thigh and, in turn, Wendy scratched the scrawny fur between its ears. Not so vigorously as to get anything underneath her nails – because she would feel that in her mind for hours afterwards – but enough to convey affection.

The cat mewed. It was a high pitched and attractive sound.

Wendy’s eyes softened and her face relaxed. This was a daily ritual for her. Whilst she knew the cat was often fussed over by Metro users who would bring tiny handfuls of dried food and even water poured carefully into the ripped bottoms of plastic bottles to form tiny bowls, she liked to fancy that it had a special connection to her alone and she sometimes considered adopting it.

But it would claw at the furnishings in her apartment, so it really was out of the question. Shame.

If the cat had expected something to eat or drink, it was to be disappointed. Still it seemed satisfied enough. But as Wendy rose to continue her day, it batted her leg with its paw. The tiniest of movements, but enough to draw a pinprick of blood.

Wendy scarcely thought about it as she opened the door of the Uber.

And who knows what cats think?

 

 

 

At about the same time as Wendy’s Uber roared off in the direction of school, a turquoise flashed blue bus had welcomed on board passengers bound for the very same destination – a modern concrete semi-circular school, at a drive of half an hour.

Now these teachers, being a mostly young bunch, had bundled into the door and flipped into seats like tossed pancakes. Following them had been a dull sprinkle of mask wearing, middle aged and over riders; easily distinguished by their studied social distancing, lack of communication and uniform looks of disapproval and contempt. These ones were either too mean to buy a car or too new to have made friends with the many of a similar age who already had them.

The young ones either didn’t care or couldn’t drive yet.

In fact, it was a good study in social psychology for any passing practician.

The bus was an almost perfect practical demonstration of stratification: divided, as it was, by an invisible partition. At the back the young ones, barely out of school themselves, were hooting with laughter, screaming, shouting and completely unmasked. Whereas at the front, facing forward and sporting facial protection with grim determination, the old ones ignored them completely. And if they did catch each the other’s eyes, would nod mutely and raise a hopeless eyebrow or two.

Later, each party would bitch about the other, comfortably united in their disdain. In this way, relationships were formed and as months passed, the older ones would lessen in presence and further in distance by lessons learned.

But, as it was today, there at the epicentre of the backseat cacophony, the rock at the ripples’ centre, a tall curly haired Irish boy was holding court. He was surrounded by several smaller, wispy bearded males, who secretly hated his tufty blonde hairstyle, shaven face and confident strut, but relied upon him for any table leavings.

The majority of his audience were female, however, and none had lived beyond the age of 22 yet.

They had been almost literally sucked out of the doors of numerous Dublin or Belfast centres of further education and blown onto planes bound for Kata to teach primary aged kids how to read, write and count to ten.

Peter O’ Sullivan was different, however, which made all the difference; gave him cachet. Perhaps 28, he was upstairs in secondary, dealing with some of the older students. ‘Big School,’ he called it openly, to tease the younger ones and because he knew it pissed his boss off.

Even now, he was broadcasting live to the bus and to any other vehicles on the eight lane expressway foolish enough to be in the vicinity, reliving the weekend. This had been no more or less drunken than the three or four previous ones, since that fateful day they had all tumbled off the plane to replace the previous year’s crop.

Negotiating the weekend’s story was one complex and vast labyrinth of false starts, blind alleys and dead ends. Thrown into this dark pit were stories of rugby set pieces, necking shooters, chasing pints of beer, fumbling with flimsy dresses and trousering cheap offers of lust. Oh, these were the tales of derring-do indeed, by a crew of cut and thrust buccaneers set adrift, their umbilical hawsers cut in twain.

“You shall reap what you sow,” Peter was screaming, to howls of approval, as he neared the end, “aye, that was a good crack, that was a good crack.”

As the noise subsided, the girl opposite to him and within kissing distance – for he was kneeling on the seat and facing to the rear as though it were a stage – reddened beautifully, having thought of a good riposte which she was sure would catch Peter’s attention.

As we so often do, she waited for a moment, choked back the word as if slightly unsure, but then blurted it out: “Aye well, you’ll be calling it that now, Peter, for sure.”

Catching the gist, the audience screamed again, and Peter, liking her pluck, gave her a wink. She reddened still further but the point was made and Peter pushed home his advantage, “aye well, you’ll be catching me wanting, Anne Marie, so you take care, now.”

And the bus, half in silence, half in noise arced gracefully around the cloverleaf as it sped towards the waiting school gates, listening to the never-ending, unfolding tales of drunkenness and cruelty in the best Ray Davies style.

The noise from the rear subdued as it entered the huge iron gates because it signalled the end of the weekend. The elderly teachers picked their way off, showing their cell phones with the ‘Green for Good’ track and trace screen to the security on watch. They entered the cool depths whilst the young ones were caught short.

Nursing the most terrible hangovers, clutching giant bottles of iced water which they constantly sipped like babes at the teat, they fumbled confusedly within Michael Kors handbags in the realisation that no phone meant no entry.

It’s like that, sometimes, isn’t it? And the pounding, aching heads only slows down the thinking.

 

 

 

Wendy had arrived ahead of them. She was now sitting at her desk underneath the blowing air conditioner, the door of her small office open as usual. She shivered as the air swirled around her slender body, dancing with her thin blouse. Wendy scratched at her leg and then, checking to see no one was looking, worried at the rash to her left shoulder where her bra was callously reddening her skin.

Now she was sifting through the weekend’s G Mails and they were mostly a dull read. Four complaints that started ‘Mister, my son is in the wrong set for English, put him in top set’, which she deleted after reading the first sentence; weekly bulletin (delete), memo from health and safety (delete) and a promotion from Kata Airways.

This one she read more closely. It promised free flights for ‘World Teacher Day’, but only if she was out of bed at four in the morning. She wouldn’t be (delete).

And then one G Mail particularly caught her attention, and she stifled a cry.

Instinctively, Wendy glanced at the cover list to see which of her young, hungover slackers hadn’t made it in. Where would she have to do extra teaching? No. He was in. The bloody fool. She cackled and almost clicked her heels together.

As she put a mask on, her mouth twisted halfway between a smile of contempt and a scowl of irritation.

Quickly scrubbing that off with invisible Kleenex, for she, as head of department, always had to project an empathy she seldom felt towards the young ones, Wendy rose and left her office. “We were all young once,” she muttered to nobody and in a voice that betrayed the fact she didn’t believe it herself. She had never been young. Of that, she was sure.

It was a quarter past seven, Sunday morning, first day of the school week and the wide bleaches were empty. A smattering of children queued outside classroom doors, but the virus had persuaded most parents to keep their youngsters at home in their mansions for online lessons. “Which the Filipino nanny will probably do with the camera switched off,” snapped Wendy’s inner voice, harshly.

That one nearly came out. Be careful.

Wendy shivered again. Her head always ached on a Sunday due to the stress she felt being so far away from Kensington, but today it was slightly worse than usual. Why? Well, she was pretty certain it was due to have being woken up at one o clock that morning by a screaming horde of drunks flying into the Apartment block.

There had been a particularly vociferous cry, loud, Irish, and it had screamed ‘There’s the crack! There’s the crack!” over and over for about twenty minutes. Wendy had an idea of the owner of that voice and it was his classroom she was heading for.

“Peter,” she purred, “How are you this morning?”

Peter looked up at somebody who, if he scrunched his mind up for a while, resembled his mother. He always had a little trouble remembering these things, for sure, but as he didn’t like his mother anyway, the remembrance skimmed away like a stone across oceans of pirate ships, hitting the surface maybe thrice before plunging like a cannon ball.

“Oh, I’m fine,” he shouted, from his desk.

Shouted, because when hangovers bite hard, the voice and body language always overcompensate in a manic way when called upon, before lapsing later into sullen, thudding defeat.

“You don’t look fine, Peter. Your eyes look bloodshot and your skin looks a bit waxy. I hope you did not overindulge yourself this weekend?”

“Aye, well there’s no law against that,” replied Peter, loudly again.

“Well, there is here, as a matter of fact. They don’t look too kindly upon vomiting in the street at one o clock in the morning and screaming ‘it’s a crack, it’s a crack’, Wendy pointed out, “notwithstanding the ten o clock curfew the school has imposed upon the building.”

“Oh, that bollocks,” snapped Peter, the fa├žade slipping, and then, regretting it, adding, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I had a quiet weekend, sure.”

“No? Well, never mind, Peter, that’s not why I’m here. Did you receive a text?”

“A text? I don’t remember.”

“Look at your phone,” Wendy advised. She watched as he scroffled through his bag. There was the large bottle of water, a spare tie, but no phone. She wondered how he’d got past security. Some sort of subterfuge, no doubt.

“I can’t find my phone,” spluttered Peter, his face reddening, “I can’t remember what I did with it. I’ve not seen it all morning, you know.” He took a sip from the bottle. Well, two or three long gulps. He was feeling hot.

“I don’t doubt it,” replied Wendy, coolly, “it was found in the road outside the apartments early this morning. In some vomit.”

“Vermit? What’s that?”

“Vomit. Vomit.”

 “Eh? What do you mean?” said Peter, confused.

“Vomit. Don’t you have a degree in English?”

“Not really. I have one in general education, bits of this and that. It’s a cracker.”

“Vomit. Sick. Puke. In the street. Your phone was in it.”

 Peter’s face unfurled in realisation. “Ah! Vomit! I thought you said vermin.”

“Don’t be silly, Peter. Why would I say vermin?” snapped Wendy, thinking of one or two reasons almost immediately, then repeating slowly, “your phone was found in the street in vomit.”

“Ah, that’ll explain it. No harm done. I’ll collect it tonight and run it under the tap. That’s a relief.”

“Hmm,” muttered Wendy. She tried really hard and her face looked sympathetic. “It’ll be sent to you because I doubt you’ll be able to pick it up. You won’t have the time.”

“Why the hell not?”

“I’m afraid, Peter, that you are off to stay a hotel. I imagine you will be there for quite a while. You see, I…” Wendy paused for a beat, “…received an email this morning. The same text you would have received had you not mislaid your…ah…phone.”

“What would that be, then? What hotel?”

“You have the virus, Peter. You came into contact with it during your quiet weekend.”

“Oh, shit,” groaned Peter, “you mean…that virus?”

“Quite so. What other virus is there? You must go to The Principal’s office, straight away.”

 

 

 


Principal Putney hefted his large frame in the fake leather armchair, behind his desk and looked in his lunchbox with irritation. “Maureen! Maureen! Are you responsible for this Tupperwared abomination?” he screamed from within, his voice carrying and echoing across the mausoleum that had once been reception.

Maureen poked her nose around the corner of the door. She was, of course, wearing a mask, however the nose peeped impertinently from the top due to mask slippage. “Can I help you, Principal?”

“I would like to know…very much like to know…which twat shook up my luncheon box so that the eggs have become mixed with this lamb shank juice in a quite revolting fashion?

Maureen shook her head, “I asked Mohammed to fetch it for you, sir.”

“Mohammed, eh? Did you also ask him to dance a fandango on the way here too?”

“Certainly not.”

“I wouldn’t mind, but that carnal crocodile Mrs Putney ladled in an overgenerous portion of sauce and it has congealed to my par-fried egg. It looks like diarrhoea, for Christ’s sake!”

 “Principal, please. There are parents present.”

“Are there? Where? I can’t see any of them. Are they hiding under your skirts or have they, at last, discovered the secret of invisibility that has hitherto eluded our greatest minds?”

“Well, there aren’t any present at the moment,” admitted Maureen, in a reasonable tone, “but I’m sure one will turn up before long.”

“I doubt that, I doubt that very much indeed, Mrs Maureen. This school is empty of them and empty of their odious offspring. The only people who turn up here on a regular basis are expensive bloody teachers with little to do except bloody talk to bloody cameras as though they were presenting Blue bloody Peter. Bastards.”

Behind the mask, Maureen cleared her throat with a slight cough, as we do – well perhaps not so loudly these days in case it causes alarm – and signalled towards the foyer. “Blue Peter? No, no, not blue Peter, Peter O’Sullivan.”

“Who?”

“You know, Peter,” she stressed wriggling her eyebrows because any movement of the mouth was obscured. “Peter.”

“Peter? Has he come to fart on my shanked egg?” Then, Putney glanced at his phone. “Oh, that Peter. One of those drunk small ones. Well, he’s not coming in here, Maureen. Tell him to piss off. Bloody time wasters.”

“He’s got the virus.”

“Has he?”

“Yes. I think he infected the whole bus.”

“What? Even the old ones? That’ll teach them not to own cars, the cretins.”

Putney reluctantly rose from his desk and his portly frame waddled to the door, avoiding Maureen at under a safe social distance, but avoiding her nevertheless. “Where’s this wretched boy, Peter?”

Upon hearing his name, Peter rose to his feet. He had, of course, seen the Principal before on a couple of occasions, hobbling around the vast, empty building, but had no particular respect or fear of him. He treated him as he would anybody else who was older than him. Whatever was said would be of absolutely no relevance. Like Morrissey might have sang, he’d: ‘have nothing to say about my life’, except Peter had never heard of Morrissey, or if he had, he’d forgotten him by now.

No matter. He was probably right because Principal Putney simply scowled at him, spat and told him to piss right off.

“I was told you would be wanting to see me on account of I have the virus, Principal?” replied Peter. Even if he had heard him, Peter was unconcerned and stretched out his hand. He had been taught that was the way to greet older people. Or he thought he had. By now it was instinct rather than a conscious decision.

Putney ignored the gesture.

No, he didn’t ignore it but looked with revulsion. “Have you even washed that hand?”

“Aye, I recall doing that very thing yesterday. Or maybe today.”

“Are you simple?” Shaking his head, Putney wondered why every year they employed this plane load, only to send them back ten months later. Why, if he was in charge of the recruitment, if he was, well things would be very different. “No. Don’t come any closer. You think I want to catch it?”

“Well, now, if you lost a few pounds, you’d have nothing to fear, would you? It’s only a wee sniffle for most of us.”

“You arrogant, young puppy. It’s off to Hotel Quarantina for you, boy.”

“Is it now? What will that be like, then?” Peter looked at him with clear blue eyes then snorted to retrieve a trickle that was dribbling out like a fine stream from his nose. What he couldn’t retract, he wiped with his shirt cuff.

“Piss off there and find out.”

And when later, the rest of the bus turned up, he repeated those very same words, then retreated back to his office where he spent the rest of the afternoon moodily poking at a congealed lamb shank with a biro, before hurling it at the wall. “At least that solves the issue of the payroll.”

 

 

 

For Wendy, the day that had started so promisingly was getting worse.

After sending Peter flying downstairs in a blur, then watching many other teachers pack their desks and leave, some with smiles, others with scowls, she had returned to her office.

But after removing her mask, she shivered again and scratched at the sore on her leg, wondering how it came to be there. It was throbbing in time to her head like a lump-hammer into concrete sending shards of pain into her eyes which watered as she scrolled the text downwards on the screen in front of her.

Throbbing.

Throbbing like Derek’s…no, she pushed that image away from her in panic. It had not happened. It did not happen. It would not happen again, if it ever had. Oh, my, that bra strap is so tight; her skin flared in rashers of shame.

Rash. Oh, so rash.

Wendy coughed. A strong cough that caused her lungs to rasp against her throat like sandpaper. Her heart flipped around like a deck of cards in the hands of a sharp and the office was dancing; flecks of light bouncing like the reflections of a glitterball.

Steadying herself, she looked up as the Deputy Principal approached her office door. Collected and with the physique of a tennis player, Anita stood outside the glass fronted space, clipboard in one hand, phone in the other. “Wendy, my dear, how are you feeling? Did you have a relaxing weekend?”

Wendy coughed again. “Very quiet,” she managed, getting it together, “nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Good, good,” replied Anita, with a bright smile, looking at her clipboard again, “and we are in a mess now. Yes, my dear, a mess, what with Derek and all our teachers, the virus…”

“Derek?” snapped Wendy, ignoring her aching head as her bowels did a little somersault. “What do you mean? I have nothing to do with Derek. Derek is gay. Everybody knows he’s gay.”

“Bi, surely? He told me that once, I believe…oh, I’m sure he always is careful, but he is such a terror, isn’t he, for someone of…advanced years? Well, I hope he is careful. One should always take…precautions.” Anita’s mild, breezy gaze stiffened into something approaching a brisk wind billowing her sails, “my dear, what is that on your leg?”

“A rash.”

“It looks quite unsightly. How has it spread like that?”

“I haven’t a clue, Anita, I only noticed it this morning. How can I help you?”

“Oh yes, ah, well, with 34 teachers now in quarantine, I wondered if you could teach their…my dear, perhaps you should wear tights?”

“Tights always give me a rash.” snapped Wendy.

“Maybe that explains it. I heard Derek has a penchant for wearing them on his head.”

“What?”

“Yes. On the top, with both legs hanging over his ears whilst he hops around the bedroom naked like a bunny, calling himself Mr Flopperdop.”

Wendy lost her temper at this ludicrous image and it blurted out before she could stop it, like hitting a toothpaste tube with a truncheon: “Well he certainly didn’t use my tights on Friday, if that’s what you mean.”

Anita’s clipboard fell from her chest and hung limply from her left hand as Wendy’s face reddened. “You were with him on Friday?”

“Yes. Well, for a bit.”

“You were with him for a bit? A bit of what?” Anita gasped, taking it all in. She dropped the board where she stood and began tapping her phone in time to the clang it made as it hit the hard floor. “Did you enjoy intimate relations, Wendy?”

“I have never enjoyed intimate relations.” Which wasn’t quite a lie given the amount of effort it had taken to stiffen his resolve. Quite revolting. She would never drink Campari again.

Even as the words left her lips, though, she coughed again and this time there were real spasms.

“My dear, you have the virus.”

The office wheeled around her head like a spinning top upon hearing these words. “I can’t,” she gasped, “I refuse. I’m a grown up, I’m a grown up.” And seeing herself see herself in a dream, gas hissed through the keyhole as she struggled towards the bed, upon which was an opened suitcase; towering above her skyscrapers which melted, melded in cross fades until she stopped struggling and collapsed.

And Anita might have said something like welcome. Welcome to your home from home.

 

 


Diary of O’Sullivan

 

This being the true and actual thoughts of a lost boy far away from his home which he made among the green and rolling emerald forest hills and sparkling blue seas upon the event of his dying a painful death from the virus which was undeserved and uncalled for and also in the desert amongst those other rats who abandoned him.


Day One

The name is O’Sullivan. Peter O’Sullivan.

I got the virus and I’m dying for it – that being the virus. In bravery will I be trying to write these words to the future from the past. The pen is my master. It’s my true promise to write each day and track the progress of the virus through my body and I’ll leave this great work to mudical science.

 

Day One - Suppository

Today I wrote the introduction that you just read if you’re reading this. I found most of the words in an online bog. I left him a comment. I think it said: ‘I’m burrowing these words, bye’. I told the bog person that I’ll promise to be writing each day and leave this great work to mudical science. And that today I was writing the introduction based on ‘your bog’.

 

Day Two

I have tracked the virus to my left foot. It smells very bad and has left its mark. A sniffle today. I made a mess all over my sheets. And my pyjamas. I didn’t have my hanky. Ma would do that and say to use it if I finished my snack. I have made a new fiend. He’s the man from the bog. He’s asking me to RETURN the words when I’ve finished with them. That’s a good crack. He wrote ‘RETURN’ using all capital letters. I think I’ll start to do that to HIM.

I have decided to write a poem to commiserate my great work for medical Science and here is the fist line which is mainly mine.

‘On a lone desert virus highway.’

 

Day Three

It is now in my right foot, which is now as bad as my left foot and the smell is worse. I woke this morning to find both my feet had got caught in a pizza box. This virus is thirsty work. I asked the guard for some Guinness. He said ‘none sir at Hotel Quarantina’. Due to his bad English and Arabic accent I didn’t understand him. So would you not. They should speak batter in this country and louder. He was a Muslim.

I can no longer leave comments on my fiend’s bog. The bog is blocked.

‘cool virus in my hair’

 

Day Four

Today is the fourth day in Hotel Quarantina as shown from the date.

‘warm smell of a virus’

 

Day Five

Today I misremembered that I am dying. I tracked the virus to my head. There are spots all over it. They look different from the usual ones that Ma told me not to squeeze. One is very big and I thought I should. I asked Abdul for more pizza. I shied him the spots but he put his mask on and pointed to my door and shook his finger at me.

This is a Muslim custom.

‘virus into the air’

 

Day Six

I tracked the virus to my eyebrows. I plucked at them There was blood.  I told Abdul he’s my brother. This is also a Muslim thing to do. As he can’t speak Irish I’m speaking Muslim to him. ‘Hallas’ and ‘Yallah and ’Chub’. These are words he shouts at me a lot when I go into the corridor and now I’m shouting them back.

There was no pizza today. Hungry and I must be close to death now.

‘up ahead was a virus’

 

Day Seven

On my floor of Hotel Quarantino there are lots of other dying people. They are also into virus tracking. You can hear them moaning and wailing. It keeps you awake, the feckers. I saw some sick in the corridor too. So when Abdul was somewhere else I knocked on a few doors to ask why the sick was still there.

I found that lots of them are from my school and get the same bus as me.

‘saw a shimmering virus’

 

Day Eight

I am dying for sure. I tracked the virus to my brain. Last night I had visions of people on the bus pointing at sick and they were laughing and wailing ‘it’s the crack, it’s the crack’ over and over again.

I woke up with a terrible mess in my pyjamas. I was sweating and my sheets were sticking to my lad. It was throbbing like it would burst.

‘my head felt heavy and my virus grew dim’

 

Day Ten

I missed day 9. This is because I hid in Anne Marie’s room on the floor beneath my floor. I didn’t want Abdul to see me even if he is my brother. Me and Anne Marie are both dying, so we got to riding, and she asked me to stop the night. I saw a few of the others doing the same. It was a good crack. Some old people told us to ‘shut the feck up with your moaning and wailing’. They’re dying too but nobody cares that we are.

I was pleased to get out of Anne Marie’s room due to her telling me ‘to be careful to pull it out’ every time. She’s got some gob on her, that one.

‘I had to stay for the night with a virus’

 

Day Eleven

I am close to death. I tracked the virus to my lad. The spots on it are worse and my nose is still leaking onto my pillow and I soiled my bed. The smell was fecking terrible. I told Abdul to take out the sheets but he refused. I had to put them out of the window. Later I saw some mudical experts in the street pointing at them and shouting.

I hope the mudical experts will add ‘soiled sheets’ to their encyclopaedia. With a picture of me next to them. I think

I will be dead tomorrow for sure.

‘not plenty of room at the Hotel Quarantina’

 

Day Twelve

I saw them taking an old woman out to the ambulance. This woman looked pretty dead and she was in a right state, writhing all over the carpet. Feel too weak to write now. I have tracked the virus to my right wrist. It cannot hold the pen.

Very sticky.

‘it’s a fecking shite, bollocks, fecking feckering place full of feckers like Abdul, the bollocks, with no fecking crack and a virus and that’s fecking that.’

 

Day Thirteen

I found another online bog to help me write my final words: ‘Oh, cruel world that has such feckers in it’.

 

 


The Eulogy of Wendy Darling

To be read during the funeral…

 

My dear friends and all of you also gathered here today.

This is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to set down on paper. I thought it best if I wrote this; you cannot trust a priest, can you? You read such awful things.

Is it raining? Strangely, that is the first thing that occurs to me, because it seldom rains out here in the desert. If it is, I hope you remembered to pack your mackintoshes and the priest remembered to put a plastic flimsy around this eulogy. If that is not beyond him and he has time between his other unsavoury activities.

On the other hand, your standing around my grave in the rain is a pleasing image because it will hide the tears or lack thereof. Forgive me if I have a sniffle and a catch in my throat.

I suppose, thinking about it now, I could have recorded this using Zoom. But the thought of my words from the grave at the grave truly terrifies me. Also, I wonder if a parish priest has the necessary tech and, if he did, could he be trusted to use it? These days, you cannot trust a priest not to fiddle about and I do not want to be misinterpreted or, indeed, fiddled about with.

I did not make a fortune, and the only fame I can expect is linked to this aforementioned bad fortune. Whatever is left, after transporting my body to England, you can divide amongst yourselves or donate to the Crematorium. As you pass the bag amongst yourselves to collect the offertory, keep a close eye on the priest. I have heard it said that they will go with false bottoms.

Mine is a life of unfulfilled potential, it’s true. But I bear no bitterness as I go into the flame. I might have been a Brown Owl, but my sister Mavis was before me, always. She chose the trodden path, I chose a different direction. Hers led her straight into the clutches of Reverend Roger Rowbottoms.

I complained bitterly, but she never did, and I often wonder how their marriage fared. We lost touch soon afterwards. If Mavis finds her way here upon hearing of my tragic demise, I bear her no malice. All is forgiven.

I contemplated taking the orders and a life in the nunnery. ‘Hie thee to a nunnery’ as someone once said. But one reads such terrible things. Those nuns are all at it, aren’t they? In any case, I saw a film about nuns once and it gave me nightmares. It was all running around mountains, singing and escaping from Nazis. Also, I wasn’t seventeen going on eighteen by then.

I went into teaching and hereby lies the beginning of the end. One has such terrible colleagues.  Most of them want to take you out, in the hope of a quick grope. Or just grope you anyway without even taking you out.

I thought I would make Headteacher soon but was pipped to the post by Myrtle who’d take her bra off and let her nickers down for anyone, especially Doctor Pottle. If Myrtle finds her way here upon hearing of my tragic demise, I bear her no malice. All is forgiven. Hope the marriage worked out just fine.

Also there’s always a priest hanging around the gates, isn’t there? Waving a cross and demanding access that he may convert one or two stray sheep, while addressing the faithful. I didn’t like the look of them at all, I can tell you. I reported them straight away to OFSTED.

It was my sheer bad luck that Hashtag Me Too hadn’t been thought of then; I found myself in the desert, but it wasn’t all bad. There was a cat I was fond of, and pretty soon I was made up to Head of Department when the other one, Mary, had to go off sick with expecting a baby thanks to Professor Pommelsnatch.

Still this tale has a tragic ending, as you, my dear friends and others standing here in the rain (probably) know only to well. Made worse by the unwanted attentions of Derek Pumfrey who gave me the virus after three or four stiff Camparis down the throat. But Derek, if you made your way to be here today, I bear you no malice. Also you might want to chat to the priest later.

All I have left to say to you is this. I tried to live the life of a grown up. I tried to be responsible. Avoid temptation. Look after the pennies. And my reward? Well, my reward is this.

I hope you are partial to Quavers. Enjoy the snacks I have provided at some expense, and, if you feel able, raise a glass to one who loved herself not wisely but too well.

Goodbye forever.

Wendy.

 

 


The funeral was a quiet one and, it being the desert, the grave was fittingly shallow.

At the centre of the four Metro station exits, serving Al Sadd so well for each point of the compass, a small entourage began to gather quietly under the midday sun, for each is within walking distance of the other and the paths cross above just as well as below.

People quietly exited from each one, forming a train, then gathered around a small, female medical assistant. All were masked, one or two looked sad.

In her hands, the Filipino nurse held a small cardboard shoebox. This she laid, without ceremony, into the grave.

Now, the gathered began to throw minute handfuls of dried cat food, dark like soil, and, as it hit the box, it made hollow pitter-patters, like drops of rain falling onto cracked mud.

“He was a good cat,” said one.

“She. She was a good cat.”

“They say it is passed by animals.”

“Poor cat. All those months hiding so well in the Metro tunnels and, all the time, it was out here.”

One or two of the Filipinos knelt and gently pushed the small amount of grit, sand and gravel on top of the small shoebox. That done, they all stood back and contemplated the little patch of slumbering earth.

“She must have thought it was safe.”

And with that said, they began to drift away, in ones and twos, back towards their continuing lives.

Because who knows what cats think?