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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Sex Change: FTMT Short Story No 6



The sex change

It was George Varosi’s old grandmother who had first told him the story; she was part Russian, part Polish and enjoyed playing on her age and ethnically mixed background. She told tales and read palms and made predictions and George had always been a little scared of her. As a shy seven year old and all ears he’d picked up comments from uncles and older cousins about grandma’s powers and mystical ability and how she had been given a gift as a young girl somewhere, sometime in the East. She was full of stories, some funny, some scary, some beyond any categories other than disturbing and easily misunderstood and George as the youngest grandchild was a captive audience for her. George found old people made him uncomfortable, they were the source of unpleasant smells, odd squeaky voices both for speaking and singing, they ate strange food and their manners were often suspect. Other younger adults would complain to them about these things but the old people, especially grandmother took no notice. Also she always seemed to be wearing too many clothes and too much jewellery and he wasn’t quite sure what shape she really was as her bulky clothes distorted her frame to make her look almost cartoonish.

The lines on her face were deep, like they’d been carved, “how?” thought George, “how do old people get like this?” He stared at her lines and lips and hanging flesh on her neck, “surely this won’t happen to me when I grow old?”
Grandmother was staying with the family for a week and then was going back to Poland to stay with her younger brother. George sensed that the adults were pleased that soon she was going and that her disturbance of family life would cease. Her screechy voice was always demanding just the right kind of tea or biscuit, or for someone to find her spectacles or to adjust the heating or close a curtain. It seemed to George that unless they were asleep, like babies, old people only wanted attention and fussing and things done for them. “What purpose do they really serve?” he thought. Grandma, had she been asked the question (which was unlikely as she would not have taken kindly to it’s asking) would have said that it was to provide wisdom and guidance to the family. To be told things, hold things together and give council using a lifetime of experience in absorbed tales and (in her case) the use of her gift.

And so it was that on the last night of her stay Grandma, a little the worse for some cherry brandy had decided to tell George a bedtime story and settle him for the night. As was her way she held both his hands tightly throughout the story telling and stared hypnotically into his eyes ensuring his full attention was given. George would have gladly fallen asleep without the story; it was already nearly nine and all day he had been outside playing with his cousin Sasha and the children from the house next door. He had eaten his supper and had been given a hot bath, mainly to clean and soften the scuffs and scrapes on his knees and elbows from the day’s play. Sleep was a welcome refuge and didn’t seem so far away until Grandma started her storytelling.

“Tonight’s story is about a boy called Moshi who lived on a farm in Siberia”, she began, ” One day an old lady arrived in the farmyard with a she-goat she was pulling along with a piece of string. “Little boy” said the old lady, “Little boy, please bring me some water and a fresh carrot for my she-goat!” “I can bring you water old lady, but my family is poor and I have no carrot for your she-goat” replied Moshi. Without waiting to hear her response Moshi ran to the water pump and brought back a jug of clear cool water for the old lady. “Where is the carrot?” said the old lady. “My family is poor,” repeated Moshi, “ I have no carrot for your she-goat”. The old lady drank the water and looked at Moshi. “You say you have not carrots but I know better, a curse on you!” Now Moshi did not know that the old woman was a witch and that her curse was very powerful. “Old lady I do not lie, my family is poor and there are no carrots for your she-goat”. At that moment his father came back from the fields pushing a wheelbarrow full of carrots. Purple and red with rage the old lady cursed him again “Liar! You shall be worth no more than a she-goat to your family little boy!” and went of on her way, the goat following and gnawing on the string.

Moshi’s father found him crying, ”What is wrong my son?” Moshi explained and his father, suspecting she was witch ran down the road after her and killed her with his axe. Her body fell to the ground and quickly turned to a green smoke that rose high into the sky and disappeared, a sure sign that she was a witch. Moshi’s father returned, with the witch’s goat and told Moshi not to worry, the witch was dead. However that night whilst Moshi slept something strange and unbelievable happened. Moshi had been very tired that night and upset by the witch’s words and subsequent events, but sleep had not come easy, and when it did a strange dream came to Moshi. He dreamt he was the witch’s she-goat, tied with a string and following in her footsteps. He woke in the middle of the night fearful and in a sweat thinking he was a she-goat. He looked at his arms and legs in the grey dark and saw that he was still human; relieved he fell back asleep and did not wake again till morning.

The next morning Moshi woke later than usual a seemingly distant call from his mother rousing him. He jumped up from bed and shook his head. Suddenly he was hit by a mop of dark hair slapping him in the face. To his astonishment it was his own long dark hair, Moshi felt afraid and queasy, something was very wrong. He was suddenly aware of his body, his shape and his smell. He ran to the looking glass in the corner of the room and peered at his naked reflection, except it was not his reflection. The eyes were the same, but the mouth and nose smaller; the chin was rounder, the skin softer, and the hair long, thick and luxurious. He felt odd, he looked like a girl, and he stared and saw he was a girl. He screamed and cried and moments later his mother rushed into the room. “It was the witch!” yelled Moshi, “she said I would shall be worth no more than a she-goat to my family, and look at me!” Moshi’s mother cradled the weeping boy’s head in her lap, stroked the long hair and quietly and calmly accepted what the witch had done. “Moshi” she said, “You’re father has killed the witch, so the curse cannot be undone, you are a girl now, be happy, your life has been spared and will continue, and you are worth much more to us than any she-goat”. Moshi however was inconsolable and wanted only revenge and to discover the means to undo the witch’s curse.”

It was at this point that George, tense and absorbed by the story of Moshi but none the less exhausted fell into a fitful and disturbed sleep. Grandma continued the story for a few moments unaware that George was asleep then as she noticed him sleeping, touched his brow, kissed his clasped fingers and said a few words in her native Russian tongue. The dialect was old and unknown to anyone else in the family. “Brodzki smazakov nigi petictia!” she said and turned out the bedside lamp and left the room.

Despite his tiredness George did not sleep well, he tossed and turned and the story of Moshi and his transformation caught and dug into his young mind like a poisoned thorn. Three times that night George awoke from his sleep, in a sweat crying for his mother. Of course she came quickly, calmed him as best she could and watched him fall back to sleep each time. In the morning Grandma was leaving and George felt very happy now there would be no more bedtime stories from Grandma, especially the one about poor Moshi. As Grandma was leaving for her taxi and train, she appeared to be orchestrating her own farewell ceremony and early in it’s running order she collared George, kissing him unpleasantly and assuring him he’d hear the conclusion of Moshi’s story on her next visit. George disliked intensely the prospect of either event and hid under the stairs for the remainder of the afternoon. Grandma worked her way round all the family in the next hour or so eventually leaving only a few minutes late with much waving and many hidden sighs of relief.

For a few weeks after Grandma’s visit George was fine. It was summer, it was long and hot, he played out and had picnics and each night he slept soundly and felt refreshed every sunny summer morning. It was only when an unexpected late night phone call disturbed the peace of the household that things began to go wrong. George was awakened by his father’s voice out on the landing, he heard the words “This evening at eight, in her brother’s cottage, most likely her heart but we’ll know later in the day!” Grandma was dead, in Poland.
His parents were away for four days attending the funeral during which time he stayed with the neighbours and had a lot of fun, it was like a small-unplanned holiday, and he liked looking out of their windows and seeing his own empty house. When his parents returned they brought home a case full of Grandma’s belongings and artefacts, “To sort out,” said dad. In due course the items were sorted, some were given away to other relatives, some boxed and put away in the loft and some seemed to make their way onto shelves and into corners of the house. One item in particular caught George’s eye, a white porcelain goat a few inches tall that had found a home on the dresser by the front door. George couldn’t help but notice that round it’s neck was an old and dirty piece of string. It was the goat from the Moshi story he felt sure and he didn’t like it.

That night George did not sleep well, mother was up with him four times with his bad dreams and ended up scolding him for disturbing her sleep so much. She was sure he wasn’t ill, only being silly and a nuisance she told him so as her patience was wearing thinner and thinner. George knew different, every time he tried to sleep Grandma’s story of Moshi came back, worthless Moshi, cursed and turned into a girl and now with Grandma dead he’d never know the true ending. And so it was that George’s sleep pattern completely disintegrated, his insomnia worsened and an anxiety grew in him based on Moshi’s tale and the she-goat. He worried that he’d fall into so deep a sleep that somehow he’d lose control of his own life and turn into a girl, just like Moshi. He tried to explain to both parents and told them what he knew of the story, neither recognised it and despite him blaming Grandma, thought he was making the whole thing up. Father did however remove the porcelain goat from the hall and hid it; thinking that to do so might appease George, but it’s removal didn’t seem to help. So George’s curse continued and for the next ten years a proper sleep was only an occasional pleasure and relief as the strange and pathological fear of deep sleep and a magic change of sex haunted him.

Despite this his school and subsequent college work was of a high standard. He had friends and socialised and was to all intents a well-balanced individual. It was only when alone in the dead of night that Moshi’s curse haunted and crippled him with that irrational fear. Over the years his parents had attacked the problem on his behalf, counselling, therapy, pills had all been arranged or tried, but the fear would not shift and deep sleep was a precious commodity George seldom sampled. The curse haunted George as a dream of his alter ego, now called Barbara came and went. He saw her, he was she, near or far, and she would talk to him, scold or mock him, love him and anger him depending on her mood. As he grew, she grew, puberty saw Barbara develop and turn, sometimes thin and distant as a shunned friend, sometimes loud and vibrant as a wet dream, hot or cold she remained a constant threat in his distant unconscious.

So the time came for George to leave home and attend university the University of Durham. It had accepted him and he gladly took up the offer. His parents had purchased a small flat near the town centre, helped him move in and left him to begin the big adventure of university life alone. Fresher’s week was of course a riot of cheap drinking, parties and invitations and various escapades that the mischievous George relished. With his friends he partied into the night, learned the meaning of the term hangover, chased girls, was chased by the local thugs, consumed junk food and carry outs, redecorated his flat with charity shop trash and generally had a good time. Sleep when it came was swift and unexpected and often in unconventional places, for once he felt he had left Moshi, Barbara and all the baggage of home and family life far behind.

George’s new girl friend was called Marsha, she came from Epping Forrest and they made love on their second date. George felt he was falling in love and lust but was wary of Marsha’s apparent experience with boys and men and the cumulative effect of the girls with whom she was sharing a flat. They seemed to George like student “Charlie’s Angels” on speed, feisty and adventurous in the extreme, meaning extreme for Durham and Epping Forrest and George. Somehow the relationship lasted past fresher’s week and well into term. Not only was the regular sex great (well any sex was good) but also they talked and laughed and drank and had a lot of fun together and George was free and happy in way he hadn’t ever felt before. Sleeping with Marsha, at weekends, was deep and dreamy and always exhausted by the sex he had become oblivious of the haunting of Moshi and felt a strange and adult peace upon him. Marsha was really pretty and dressed well too, George was proud to be out with her and every move and look she made seemed to come with a heavy sexual charge.

Things were going well until close to time for the Christmas break George, after staying back late in the main library caught Marsha and Derek, her sociology lecturer in the blacked out and abandoned reception area. George had heard a distant disembodied groan and unthinkingly peered over the counter and looked into the reception hatch and saw Marsha giving Derek an enthusiastic blowjob. George had automatically called her name and without even stopping the act she squinted round and tossed her hair back only to give George a wave of acknowledgement with her redundant right hand as if to say “see you later”. Her mouth remained full and silent throughout as she concentrated on her task – Derek’s eyes looked glazed and crossed and he said nothing more. George did not take this revelation well and naturally became angry and stormed from the building; firstly he wanted to kill Derek, then Marsha, and then himself. None of these things was within his capability so he went down to the student’s union and got very drunk for what seemed very little money. The remainder of the evening was a blank, he avoided Marsha as best he could, she was at a party anyway, and eventually crashed at the flat of a new found friend spending the night under the kitchen table clutching an empty Bacardi bottle. It was there that despite the potential thermo-nuclear protection the tabletop offered the curse of Moshi returned to torment him.

He woke confused, hung-over and checking himself for the faintest sign of Moshi’s unfortunate experience visiting him. She-goats and horny girls seemed to be in orbit around his head and the unfaithful Marsha was prancing naked amongst them followed by that smooth bastard Derek. He felt he was sliding on a very slippery slope and there was no wise council anywhere to be found. The other (unknown) occupants of this strange flat were still unconscious so George headed back to his own place, the bitter hurt of Marsha’s act splitting his head more than the lager and Bacardi mix he had imbibed the previous evening and Moshi’s story acting as a disturbing backdrop to the remains of the passion play. The rest of the weekend was not good, Marsha laughed at his naivety down the phone in a solitary call and his flatmates remained devoid of compassion, most were more concerned that the Man Utd score had gone against expectations and that the 80’s Disco in the Centre had been cancelled due to a double booking for that particular Saturday night.

George was now highly disturbed, Marsha had cut him adrift sexually and emotionally, love was dead and replaced with a ticking and tickling love-hatred for himself and Marsha that was impossible to handle. Again he got drunk, again he got lost, met and offended strangers, avoided a fist fight or two and through only his natural ability to survive found himself alone and desolate, lost in his own flat at three in the morning. He stumbled into bed overcome by more anger, alcohol and abandonment and fell comatosed into the waiting arms of the dreamtime Moshi. Mohsi was real now, a real and dangerous girl, the embodiment of the witch’s curse. Black veins of blood seemed to pump and thump within Moshi, her dark eyes and hair were brilliant, shining and intense, she reached out for him with a strength that left him weak and choking in his sleep, calling him into the curse as a partner and fellow victim, as slave and experiment that only the dead witch and her curse could ever dismember and reassemble. Farmyards, goats, witches and Moshi in his various forms danced inside his head on some out of tune merry go round until an almighty bang occurred followed by a deep blanket of darkness.

George woke and immediately knew that it was Sunday morning, light splattered across the room through the curtains his mother had chosen, the traffic noise was minimal, the other flats, normally the source of musical or vocal sounds were quiet. “Yes!” thought George “Sunday, I can recover today, I will recover today!” The positive tone of his own internal voice momentarily eclipsed the headache he was almost become aware of, too much to drink, too little sleep, but at least at home and safe. He was in bed and naked, yes it was Sunday but he felt something was wrong and it was a big something and not just the headache. A new pain had hit him, straight and deep in his gut, it was fear, realisation and coupled with a novel excitement. George knew he didn’t feel right, firstly there was a smell in his nostrils that was odd, and his frame felt light, his head felt extra cosy and his groin had a new itchy feeling residing in it. He also felt a tightness in his chest and nipples and a dry and almost pre-panic feeling way back in his throat. His imagination recognised the moment, familiar as if from somewhere else and recognised, his conscious mind took a few seconds longer to catch up. When it did he jumped and saw himself in the mirror wardrobe door opposite, he was a girl like Moshi.

George stared at himself, that person, familiar and strange as a personal reflection is was gone. It’s replacement was recognisable but opposite and distorted, like in hall of mirrors or a bad dream come to life, old George had gone and some one new was there, all wrong but untouchable by any power George could summon. George’s body, his new softer face, his hair was long and completely feminine and soft. He was now someone else altogether and all George could do was stare at this new body shape with its extraordinary features. He coughed, the cough was in a far higher register, his voice was gone, replaced with a girls “God!” The staring lasted fully ten minutes and was only removed by the strongest hot flush George had ever felt, drowning and washing over him like a giant wave, so powerful he simply fainted and fell to the floor in an unexpectedly ladylike swoon. He lay still for a few moments more, trembling and anxious but also sure of two things, he knew exactly what had happened and why it had. The curse he had tried so hard to avoid, grow out of, hide from and forget had in his weakness some how caught up with him and completely obliterated his former self. The curse was over and at the same time had also begun.

The flushing passed and despite the chill of the bedroom George got up and sat down naked on the bed, still staring at his reflection in the mirror. Face, hair, breasts, hips, genitals, legs, feet and even hands, all were different, he felt as if his brain was swimming in a sea of new hormones and priorities as the smoother and smaller hands began to explore the breasts and the groin areas. The touching was revelationary and electric, shocking and comforting, mysterious and strangely familiar, like arriving home after a very long holiday. “My name is and always will be Barbara!” said the reflection; George was wrestling, trying hard not to hear her. He thought he was pretty and slim, the hair was thick, long and healthy, he touched it and stared at it’s colour, the breasts felt heavy and nicely sensitive but even more acutely he felt a warm moistness down below that was exciting and calling out for further investigation. For a moment he thought of Marsha and their love making and what was now missing from him, then he though how he’d come to her and touched her and how now he was now feeling something of what she must have felt. The thoughts passed on as a rainbow of different sensual pleasures came up and over and George lay back on the bed, nestled quietly under the duvet and explored this new female form that was Barbara.

Twenty minutes later Barbara wanted to go out, Barbara wanted to do a whole lot of things and George felt squeezed and exhausted like a lemon in a juice extractor as he felt himself give way. Barbara overcame him, Barbara’s mind was fuzzing over his, and he felt it. He imagined he was struggling just as Moshi must have before, trying not to drown in it all though still he was in here only as a lodger. He could hear Barbara’s thoughts, but they were also his and jumbled, not what he wanted, but not things he could disagree with either. She wanted a shower, shampoo, make up and underwear, her hair fixed, she needed girl’s clothes and girl’s things and there was nothing in the flat. Barbara had a quick shower, towelled herself and brushed her hair out. George stared still at the mirror, watched himself preen and pout as Barbara, his old towel tight round her damp body, curved and well shaped and splendid. She pulled on his jeans, no pants and dragged on a sweatshirt, no bra. She stepped into his large trainers, tied her hair back in a ponytail with a rubber band and set out for the outside world for the first time. Ten steps down the stairs she turned around, headed back in for his wallet and rucksack and strode out again, there was work to be done. She strode out down the street, a peculiar sight, a slim young girl in baggy jeans and top with trainers three sizes too big headed for the nearest Sunday morning supermarket. She was out and on a mission.

“Moshi however was inconsolable and wanted only revenge and to discover the means to undo the witch’s curse.” George could hear again his Grandma’s final words to him from the story she had never quite finished telling. “So what had happened to Moshi, what about the curse, it’s undoing, the witch? How had Grandma heard the story?” George had asked these questions before and done research but nothing helpful had ever emerged, the story was lost, now it was all far too late, here he was, as Barbara out on her first shopping expedition and George somewhere between peace and panic and the story and any clue to guide him to a recovery was as remote as ever.

Barbara shopped with razor sharp feminine instincts, as if this trip had been rehearsed in George’s subconscious a hundred times before and was now being played out for real. It was a big new Tesco, about 500 yards from the flat and it sold most everything. Barbara bought chocolate, crisps, white wine, cheap make-up and shampoo of all kinds, creams and oils, lingerie, cheap strappy high heels, hair brushes and bands, a flimsy red dress and a floaty low cut black dress, jeans and tops and more towels. Trying on the clothes was a highly unusual experience for George; Barbara picked what she wanted from the rail, taking two sizes of each item and skipped into the cubicle quickly locking the door. She stripped out of George’s jeans and still without any underwear tried the dresses, jeans and tops on. George couldn’t believe it was him reflected in the large mirror as the show began. First of all messing with the mechanics of backwards zips and buttons and skimpy tops was odd, and though Barbara seemed clumsy and inexperienced she soon managed to try everything, pose a little and make her selections. Shoes were very strange, George was happy that she only slipped them on for sizing and didn’t try to walk, and looking elegant in heels was going to be a new challenge for both. Aisle after aisle was covered as things new, feminine and unusual to George were picked up, sampled, discarded or chosen. The cart was full by the time she reached the check out; the items counted out and paid for (over £200) with George’s Switch card. The signature she gave, G B Varosi matched his perfectly, and why shouldn’t it? She wheeled the reloaded cart out to the taxi rank, hopped in the first one to arrive and was driven the short distance back to the flat. Barbara’s voice told the driver where to go, Barbara looked and smiled a smile of deep satisfaction into Barbara’s eyes in the car’s rear view mirror, Barbara’s fingers handed over the fiver for the fare. The taxi driver was totally unaware of the significance of the journey or the peculiar conflicts that were running riot within the head of his pretty young passenger.

The driver helped Barbara back upstairs with the bags; she smiled again and thanked him, wheeled quickly round, bags swinging, turned into the flat and closed and firmly locked the door. It was at this point that George felt he had completely lost control, the part of him that was Barbara took full command, George felt as if he had been thrown into a deep well from which there was no climbing out, he was a distant spectator now in this modified mutated life that had once been his.

Barbara showered again, moisturised, creamed, plucked, brushed and combed. She wrapped herself in new fresh towels, drank wine and ate chocolate and continually inspected and checked herself in the various mirrors throughout the flat. Then she sat down on the couch and still wrapped in towels began her full make up ritual. She placed her new vanity mirror on the coffee table, took out the various pencils and pastels she had bought and began to apply them carefully, testing colours on her wrist and then wiping them off with a tissue. George looked on and could hardly believe what was happening. The colours and shades, the smudging and blending and adding of lines, the thick mascara clinging to long lashes and the soft sensual lipsticks picking out a new mouth shape made her features almost explode. Her eyes became darker, underlined, defined and sexier, her lips seemed huge, inviting and glossy, all framed by her long and flowing hair now shining like something from a shampoo commercial.

She did her nails, tried a few colours, filed and boarded their shapes and then, arms extended painted them a deep pink (toes to match of course).“This is real” George though, “far too real”. Next she put on the underwear, white pants first as the towels were dropped and discarded, tight and smooth but light and soft, then a white bra cupped over breasts, lifting and forming, the straps tight on her shoulders and stretching across her back. More time was spent admiring in the mirror, more adjusting, making faces, checking and rechecking until the look was right and a level of comfort achieved. Then the dress, first the red, then the black, then the red and then the black all with more pulling and smoothing until it felt right. Finally the shoes, the hardest part, she sat on the couch, inched them on and did up the straps before standing and setting sail on the 3” heels. Progress was not so good, balance and practice were going to have to be learned and her new exaggerated height and centre of gravity were difficult to master. For half a hour she paced, sat down, stood up, bent over, slid and squirmed as her calves and ankles pivoted on the heels all the time meeting her own gaze in the mirror on each passing.

George marvelled at the new levels of sensuality he was experiencing as Barbara, the feel of the dress against his thighs, the hair touching his neck and shoulders, the smells and textures and new wild possibilities of make up. Then on the downside there was the pain of those shoes, the walking in heels, the tight bra rubbing his nipples and under his breasts and the constant wetness and hunger down in those little panties. The fear of exposure and female physical weakness, the awkward complexity of sitting down in a dress elegantly and the comparative lightness of these clothes that left him feeling undressed and vulnerable but still excited by all the extra feeling. Then the threat of a man seeing him, looking at him, or showing admiration or hunger or maybe even just entering the space he stood in.

The first bottle of wine had been consumed by now and the time was nearly three in the afternoon, what to do next? Whatever was on Barbara’s agenda he wondered, not simply staying indoors and playing with different lipstick colours, there had to be more. Barbara wanted more wine so uncorked another white, scratching a nail with the corkscrew, “damn!” she said and poured and drank a glass without any pause. She sat back down on the couch, a mellow drunk feeling overcoming her, more wine and chocolate, kick of the shoes, curl up the legs inside the dress, cuddle into the cushions. The room was warm now, the couch cosy, a lot of refurbishment and fitting out of a life and body had occurred in a very short time and she fell asleep as Barbara for the first time.

Barbara and George slept but George woke up first, eyes sticky with the make up, throat dry and the new tight underwear squeezing in key places. It was six in the evening, he was still a girl, none of it was dreamt or a fantasy flight and there was a mild shared headache rumbling inside as a reminder. Funnily the space inside this female head seemed bigger and darker than before and George felt as if he was lying awake in one corner and Barbara was asleep in another, far apart like odd bedfellows not touching on a queen sized mattress slowly spinning. George decided not to move, he didn’t want to wake Barbara. He would stay still on the couch and gather his thoughts while all was quiet. No brushing or colouring or hair teasing or practicing walking styles, no activity just staying and thinking, what to do. He could see the reflection in the TV screen, a young woman curled up on the couch, long hair messy, reflected window glare breaking up the image, black dress, neat firm breasts, v-cut neck revealing that cleavage and surrounded by cushions. At that moment he felt relaxed, this was it, this was life, a child’s scary tale finally come true, a she goat in a folk tale, poor Moshi miserable and in pain but accepted by his mother, a blessing or a curse? Some kind of family destiny? What had Grandma wanted for him? Why that particular unfinished story on that night and why now, after the years of fear and sleepless struggles had it come to this? Why did he feel this relaxation wash across him? Had he simply given way to the inevitable? A deep stillness seemed to fall upon him, he did not move or think, for right now, he just was.

It was a few moments before he realised then that he was alone, Barbara was gone; she had left with no word or trace, her duty complete. His head was empty, the other voice silent, consumed by the inner darkness, dead and not hidden or gagged, simply gone. George was alone inside his own head, in control, in command as any single living breathing person on a corkscrew path in a twisted world where rules are made and broken and no one questions. He was truly alone now and from somewhere he had been given the name Barbara.

People fear spontaneity, people fear the sudden shift and changes of state, like unplanned revolutions burning torch lit through the streets, journeys that begin in the middle of the night when they should begin in the brightest day, the loss of control and that great black diving and falling into the unknown future. So much to lose we think, so many precious things that have sparkled and attracted in the past but fade as you try to touch and hold onto them now. Now is the hardest place to live, the past is however you want it to be, as good or as bad, the future is your dream, as big and bright as you like. Now is the place where axes fall but trees still grow, words wash away and ideas spring up like fountains, stories end and new ventures start.

Barbara got up from the couch and crossed the room on tiptoe as if sneaking from the room, the destination was the toilet and in a final act of acceptance of her female form she pulled down her pants and took her first pee sitting down. She washed, checked her face in the bathroom mirror then returned to the couch, brushing her hair one more time and deciding she would go out tonight if only for the hell of it. She climbed back into those shoes and then realised there was a new set of problems. It was cold and it was a December night and she had no coat to go with her dress or shoes and there certainly was nothing in George’s wardrobe worthy of salvage, she knew that for sure. “Being a girl is a lot more complicated than…”

Just then the front door entry phone buzzed like an alarm clock breaking into an early morning snooze. Startled she picked up the handset and an unexpected voice sizzled through the distorting little speaker, “Hi! It’s me, Marsha, I have to see you and we have to talk!” Not even thinking Barbara answered quickly “Come up!” and pressed the button unlocking the door. Glancing down she saw again and was shocked by her pink varnished toenails peeking out under the straps of her shoes and the sensation of the hem of her dress brushing against her smooth legs. “God, what can I say?” She felt an excited wobble in her ankles like a whiplash, the weakness travelled up her legs and seemed to go straight for her midriff hammering at it like a hollow drum, then down between her legs fluid as an electric shock now setting of alarm bells in her panties and a zapping back up to her breasts suddenly making them tender and beginning to pump a sweet new feeling into them. She was salivating and the remains of the afternoon’s perfumes and cosmetic aromas danced back up into her nostrils from inside her dress, her hands fell heavily onto her thighs and pressed them firmly through the dress fabric, her legs moved apart slightly. Suddenly Marsha was there on the other side of the door knocking gently. Feebly Barbara opened the door and the two girls faced each other and stared one another up and down. “Hello M..M..Marsha!” Barbara stammered now realising the strangest of truths: your sex may change but that doesn’t mean you can change your sexuality.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Alcoholic Lawyer: FTMT short story No5



Alcoholic lawyer

John awoke in the doorway of his flat, he looked at the scratched watch face and saw in the early morning blur that it was 6:25. His throat was dry, his head was sore, he was damp and sweaty and still in yesterday’s shirt and business suit, though the tie had been discarded somewhere en-route. Last night and what may have happened was a blank, as it generally was most nights, and that was how he liked it. He felt for his wallet, it was there, the quick check of its contents revealed less money than he remembered but it was always this way, money gone, headache or pain from somewhere and a vacant mind. Blank and sanitised, keep the short term memory away, reality would dawn quickly enough when he returned to his desk and papers a little after nine.

He never ate breakfast, some instant coffee, a shower, a clean set of clothes and a bundle of dirty ones to be handed into the cleaners and he was back on track. He expected the headache to lift at about 9:30, probably as he was about to meet his first legal client. Elevenses would see him dip into the initial bottle of vodka for the day, the one he’d picked up along with his Glasgow Herald at the Spar. Jane his secretary faithfully guided him through the mail, stabbing at letters with a Loch Lomond paper knife, making piles, sorting and compiling folders and suggesting possible replies or actions. He would argue weakly and then sort through the piles in accordance with her guidance in between seeing clients. Jane sat outside his office typing and parrying phone calls maintaining a thin and pressured smile. Her hair was highlighted and in a French Roll, her spectacle frames were black and heavy, her make up light but applied with artistic purpose and her cardigan and skirt were tight and fitted almost to the point of a polite fetishism. Occasionally she would think back to when John had first joined the firm and how she’d fallen in love with him on that first day seventeen years ago. It was a dull pain she had become accustomed to and secretly enjoyed.

She was twenty then, had already been married criminally young to a carpet and soft furnishings salesman and was already bored and unhappy, she’d longed for a child, it had never come, the marriage fizzled out and now somehow, after numerous false starts and misadventures she was still here at the same desk and office working for him. John’s legal secretary, still loving him and hating him and still with her aching breasts fighting a losing battle to escape from the clutches of that smothering tight cardigan to rub warmly against his bare chest. Sex with him had never happened, he noticed her she knew, but the measure of his feelings was a dark secret he hid well, his problem drinking was not. These thoughts made her sweat and her mouth dry and she needed to pull her mind away from them and distract herself with more work. Work piled up and she was happy, she corrected his mistakes and slips, checked his voicemail and smoothed out his sometimes abrasive language and occasionally substituted a weaker standard letter if she felt he had misjudged a case. John of course had no idea she was working for him continually and so faithfully controlling things in the background

At lunchtime John strode out the office sharp at one, already fuelled up he said cheerio to Jane and headed for the Queen’s Head fifty yards down the road. Jane ate a sandwich at her desk and wondered if she should nip out to Boots for that bottle of conditioner and some hair spray or stay put. There was city drizzle spattered on the window as she looked out and through the glass into some where beyond. Somewhere else, even another office or shop where she might be, away from this daily grind and this slow pleasurable torture. She stayed at her desk and read a magazine, fiddled with her nails and phoned an old friend for a quick chat. The conversation wound round weather and weekends crunching eventually into relationships. “It’s just so difficult to meet people these days, there are so many nut cases around and I’ve never been a club or society person”. The concerned friend on the other ended spoke for a while in agreement then Jane continued. “He’s out again for his lunchtime top up, he just drives himself down and away, I should never have let it happen, never”. Jane listened unimpressed as her friend told her (for the ninetieth time) not to blame herself and to move on. “I just wish” began Jane, and then stopped herself and returned the conversation to a safer tack, dry-cleaning and bus times were the next topics.

John came back in, lilac faced and smoky smelling at about two-thirty, he was cheery “Nice lunch Janey?” he sang out as without eye contact he entered his office closing the door firmly behind him. Jane sorted and bundled more papers, then rose and knocked on his door, went in and dropped them in the middle of John’s desk. “You need to sign these, check those and read through these and advise,” she said tartly. “Nice work Janey!” John didn’t look up. Jane suddenly felt a surge of anger and frustration in her middle. “He didn’t even, can’t even look straight at me the bastard”, she thought, “he’s a pig, a drunk, ignorant pig”. John lazily lifted half an eyelid and wondered why Jane was still standing in front of his desk, saying nothing and staring down at him. “Ahem”, John cleared his throat, “are you alright Janey?” There was a slight blur right now at the edge of his vision and Jane was framed by it, slightly reminding him of Bottecelli’s Venus, that was if her hair had been down and her glasses and clothes removed and her pose different. He smiled “You can tell me, work can wait”.

Jane suddenly picked up the plastic out-tray on the corner of the desk, spilled the papers from it and hit John flatly over the head with it. “You don’t care!” she screamed, “you drunk useless bastard!” John spun backwards on the axis of his chair, clasped his hands over his head and fell sideways from the chair and onto the floor. The blur that was his vision was momentarily worse with the shock and the sharp pain of the tray attack, then quickly better than normal as he adjusted to a new perspective gazing along the office floor looking under the desk and at the radiator on the far away wall. He heard his own voice moan “oh Jane, oh Jane, what’s so wrong?” He could see her heels under the desk, she was rocking slightly on her ankles and more papers were dropping onto the floor. He was expecting another blow, maybe his PC or a book or some other missile would fly down at him from the other side of the desk, and so he remained low and concentrated on her ankles.

Jane was shocked and silenced following the outburst and was rapidly trying to think of what to say or do next. Part of her was already in denial as she imagined saying, “it slipped, it wasn’t me, it was your drunken fault” and other forms of nonsense. She swayed thinking and trembling in what was she knew to be a pivotal moment, she though she might pee herself, she though she should run and be sick, or go sobbing and lock herself in the ladies, she could feel her hair working loose with the effort of the blow. Her knees (with a mind of their own it appeared) gave way and caved in first. The angry tears in her eyes were now half way down her cheeks as she collapsed in a controlled and almost engineered motion onto her knees and onto her side and found herself staring under the desk at John as they unconsciously mirrored body positions.

John was smirking now and holding his head with one hand, Jane’s glasses were squint on her face, she straightened them and feebly smiled back at her boss, though in this odd face-to-face position and from these angles the roles were currently insignificant anyway. So a fresh, odd angled conversation began, “I take it you’ve no further plans to hit me” began John. “No” said Jane “though that does depend on how you behave and how you treat me”. “Understood!” John barked “and will there be anything else?” Jane sucked in a fresh breath enjoying the eye-to-eye concentration and the line of questioning. “I could give you a list” said Jane “but now is not the time nor the place, so you’ll get it in good time”. Jane felt relieved at providing the hint of other things to come, “I hope your head is ok”. She began to giggle in an unfamiliar unofficial way that John considered almost musical and found hypnotizing. “I don’t think I’ve seen you so happy” he said and began creeping across the carpet towards her.

He could smell her now, he was breathing her in and out, she was still giggling quietly and all he wanted to do now was touch her and clinch her as tightly as he could. When the contact came and the two, still on the carpet collided and oozed together her giggling stopped abruptly and they found each other’s open mouths, ramming lips together. It was a long kiss, he tasted her lipstick and breath for the first time and it was all nicely familiar and smooth and comfortable. She tasted his rough mouth, a pub smell and a tinge of illness, hunger and disappointment but it’s overwhelming maleness and power was like a strong drug she had to have. Hands and fingers suddenly were everywhere as their lips remained fastened and they rolled together across the carpet, pelvises and knees caps rubbing each other like hot machine parts. Her skirt began to ride up and his hand slapped onto her thigh and held it as they both burned with the warmth that told them that even there on the office carpet so much was still to happen.

“BRINNNG! BRINNNG!” The effect of the ringing phone was like that of John’s bedroom alarm clock crashing through his drunken sleep bidding him to return to the real and painful world from the other world of dreamy numbness. As it’s demanding ring continued above them from the desk and filled the room, they sat up slowly and looked at each other, neither answered it as they were still holding onto each another. As it stopped ringing they drew back from one another letting the embrace and the moment slip. They looked into and at each other, she was drunk now and he was sober, she was dishevelled and he was injured, both were being born into a fresh start and clumsy break from their pasts, unsure what to do as such times are unscripted and unrehearsed. She was the first to stand, happy and confused. Happy that the truth was out and that her heart was burning again and confused at not knowing what or where the next step in things might be.

He sat cross-legged for a few seconds as if to make a staged distinction between lying down and standing up and then stood up alongside her. She enjoyed seeing again that beside him she was small and that despite years of serious drinking he still appeared to be in decent and potent shape. Only the mottled patterns of his complexion and greasy hair suggested the deeper problems and she believed, as all good loving partners do, that her influence and continued presence with him would change his self-destructive behaviour. They touched fingertips and he brushed a hand across her buttocks while she was straightening her skirt and picking up the escaping strands of hair from the back of her head. She pushed her feet into her shoes as he watched, visually drilling through her from toe to head scanning her back into his memory. ”I’m not sorry I hit you” she began, quickly he stopped her, butting in with “I suppose you had to get my attention some way, and that certainly worked”. He was now picking and toying with her hair strands, gently with the touch and ease of a man who had just lost the friendship of the demon riding on his back. Then as if assuming his former role returned to behind the desk, restored the seat and sat down gesturing to Jane to do the same from her side. He pulled open his bottom desk drawer and from it produced a half empty vodka bottle. He waved it in front of her for a moment and then slammed it down upright in the middle of the desk, like a drunken Irish priest at the end of a wake.

“This” he began pointing at the bottle, “Is my lover and friend, it’s there for me and never let’s me down, works every time, cures every ache, hurt and pain”. Of course it’s also wreaked havoc with my life and health, destroyed relationships and grounded my career and finances for the foreseeable future, but it remains and this is what you are up against if you have any feelings for me!” Jane was staring at the bottle as if it was her worst enemy, she continued to stare after John had stopped speaking and then silently stood up, backed away from the chair and left the room closing the door behind her. The door clicked shut and John looked at the bottle standing making a ring on an official letter in the middle of his desk. He unscrewed the top and poured a three-finger measure into his dirty coffee cup. He tossed the bottle cap into the bin; sure that this bottle was not going to require resealing this time around. The vodka in the cup clouded with the coffee remains and John watched the patterns swirl and form across the surface of the liquid. He held himself back from drinking and watched the door handle move from the other side as Jane turned it, came in and sat down facing him once again.

She was clutching a large brown leather handbag and quickly produced from it a half-empty vodka bottle. With all the dramatic skill she could summon and an almost comic flourish with her hands plonked it onto the desk next to the other. “This!” she began pointing at the bottle, “Is my lover and friend, it’s there for me and never let’s me down, works every..” at this point she broke away as a large sob began to form in her throat temporarily striking her dumb. Her eyes filled and more tears came as she wobbled and tipped forward losing her composure completely. The two bottles sat together on the desk, different brands and shaped bottles containing slightly different amounts of poison and pleasure, but both coming with the common bond of dependence. ”I would never have known” John whispered across the desk, “ you’ve always been so, so perfect”. Jane had still to regain the power of speech and was trembling more than before, angry with him and herself for their blindness and their self induced slavery and weakness.

The held each other for a long time, she was crying, he was trying to, wishing he could but knowing the hugging and holding was a genuine and healing experience for both. At four o’clock John made a few quick phone calls, desks and files were hastily tidied and together they locked up and left the office. The staff in the outer office stared as the pair, seldom seen together left for the day now side by side. Once on the street they automatically fell into holding hands and oblivious of how the grey drizzle had turned to a full downpour walked in the wet to the taxi rank. They only noticed the rain pelting against the taxi windscreen as the wipers beat a scratchy acid jazz rhythm across the glass and the driver moaned into the gloom. Wisely they had decided to go to Jane’s flat, further out of town but in better order and warmer. She had been building this nest in a mixture of hope and despair for longer than she cared to remember and now its time had come. Once out of the car, up the steps and in the door they pulled their coats off and hung them on the stand next to the radiator. Jane turned round to John looked up at him and gestured towards the buttons on her cardigan, “can you get these for me please?” she whispered.

They stumbled and fumbled together and then sailed as if steered by a hungover yacht crew erratically into the bedroom. Continuous mouth contact was required to cement the still forming and stretching relationship, laughing and talking was difficult but occurred between gulps for air and explanations as they fell onto her bed. John felt beads of sweat on his brow and a thumping in his chest; he pulled at the remains of her clothes exposing her nakedness on the bedcover and adjusted to seeing her for the first time. He was trying to take it all in, this sensory overload, this thick feeling of power and fulfilment and the desire to plough straight into her. Meanwhile she had pulled off his shirt and was quickly unbuckling his belt as if speed-typing a letter before slamming her hands down the inside of his trousers and pulling at his bottom. They slid under the sheets and kissed more, felt more, consumed their shared electricity and touched more. Then at the peak of her excitement John rolled over and away from her like some beached sea lion as they fell apart ending with him sitting up in bed as she pulled tightly on the duvet shaken by the emergency stop.

Years of alcohol abuse and stress had done more damage than either realised. In what should have been the moment of connection and consummation it appeared that John had lost all of the sexual power ever in him. The physics of sex are complex and the male system once weakened by toxins and neglect may struggle to perform at critical times and so it was that John found himself with a cruel new problem to deal with. Jane’s first reaction was anger, passions had built up in her and now this golden time was spoiled by his unexpected failure, she still wanted him, she wanted him to hold her and take her and it all hurt like hell. It was another rejection, another slap in the face like those before with her first husband and the other part time lovers she had known and lost. Words are seldom chosen carefully at these times and she made her feelings clear to her visibly shrinking and suffering partner.

John couldn’t find the correct technical language to explain but begged her for time and a chance to recover. The stress of all this was winding up the time bomb within both of them that required a drink for its fuel, and then another and then much more. Under the covers their naked bodies creaked together, both dreamed of his sudden arousal and the coupling that would occur, so they simply tried to relax with each another and chat. This was a new and unexpected situation for both find themselves in and there was a lot to try to say and explain. Relax they did but nothing more was going to happen and only a bitter need for vodka grew. After an hour of talking and stroking they got up and dressed, their backs toward each other. “I never signed any pledge,” said John, “Nor me” said Jane. She brushed her hair quickly and fixed her face, he looked out of the window as if studying the passing traffic. He turned round and saw how good she looked and thought how addictive her smile now was to him, how he had to see it and be the one to make her smile. He wished he didn’t burn so for a drink and he wished that she didn’t either but it was the master and they were the slaves. Other passions had suffered so much neglect for so long and were well educated in their place in the pecking order of physical needs, so John and Jane went down to the pub.

Jane started with a white wine and a double vodka and coke; John had a double whisky and a pint of best. He smoked six cigarettes one after the other listening to Jane’s potted life story accompanied by an extra drink for them both. His story took three cigarettes, another pint and a double, while she had a bottle of the house white. Their common drunken bond was an unexpected bonus and discovery, a shared secret world of blurred vision and elastic time. It was like stepping into a delicious and spongy parallel universe where life could be lived with little pricking of the conscious or tedious explanation. It was a comfortable state that like some misty Brig o’ Doon lasted for about an hour on any given evening. Of course this perfect place was a complete illusion because the more you drink the more the seesaw tips until it overbalances and new and stranger more dangerous world opens up as the cosy one is eclipsed. By nine that evening the full eclipse had happened, though both remained upright, speech clear and coordination almost normal, but inside each one’s head a mad merry go round was racing out of control.

Somehow, at some unknown place in the drinking and talking they discovered each other again like refugees crossing an unclear border, and the left the pub and whoever’s company they had been in. The journey back to Jane’s flat appeared to take a lot less time than the other way. They seemed to crash into the front door, then the inner door, then the bedroom door and then onto the bed. Clothes fell from them and their touching and holding together was refreshingly cold and clean after the smoke and heat and noise of the bar. A wave of relaxation washed over John, a wave of forgiveness and acceptance washed over Jane and the intoxication of a deep love replaced the cheap intoxication of booze. Their bodies were exhausted already and their senses in orbit but they knew their need of one another. Tensions gone they made love desperately and fully and slept on together like animals hiding from hunters. This was the special time, bedded down in an addictive lifestyle, the formula was confused, the mix was chaos but in the highs and lows of the time spent apart they were now finally close to one another and at rest.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"I will fly a helicopter!": FTMT short story No4



“I will fly a helicopter!”

The Be-useful Transport Company of Coatbridge was run by Brian and Elizabeth Maybury. They’d operated the small transport and delivery company for over 6 years, survived the difficult first year, the rocky third, the barren fourth and the booming fifth that had seen their resolve and resources stretched to the limit. Now in year six it was back to survival and struggle. Their fleet of white vans that criss-crossed the central belt of Scotland had reduced from 10 to 6, margins were tight, traffic was getting worse, customers more demanding and the drivers were complaining. It was a hard and volatile business to be in.
Brian often wondered why they had started at all, what made them ever think going it alone was a good idea and when he looked at the returns he would certainly now say that they were not in it for the money.

Their gritty determination kept them going, customers came first and long hours and long schedules meant that they always delivered on time (well almost). Brian and Elizabeth were proud of this and gained a good deal of satisfaction from the fact that they really did put the customer first and that their regulars did seem to appreciate this.

“The red doesn’t seem right on me,” Elizabeth said watching herself go by in the hall mirror. “The black will be better, I’m going back up to change!” “Fine” replied Brian, “remember we’re meeting the Willoby’s at 7:30, and the taxi’s due now!” “OK OK, I’ll be five minutes!”

Friday night and a mixture of business and pleasure beckoned for the Maybury’s. Dining out with a client and his wife, one they had known for a number of years. This wasn’t a regular thing but Elizabeth enjoyed these evenings and Brian knew it was always useful for the greater good. It would be pleasant and maybe there would be the sniff of a new connection, a service or a needy customer somewhere in the supply chain. He was always anxious not to miss an opportunity or to hear gossip or hard facts about a client or competitor.

The taxi arrived on time, Elizabeth clip-clopping downstairs, now in a black trouser suit and shiny black boots with high-heels. Brian admired her to himself as he locked the house door behind them and headed for the taxi’s open door. The Willoby’s had chosen an Indian restaurant in town and the Maybury’s duly arrived, the couples meeting up in the bar to enjoy a drink before the hot and heavy-duty requirements of consuming an Indian meal. The Willoby’s were an odd looking couple, both middle aged, she (Grace) was taller than he (Simon) by a good four inches, physically straight and thin and reptilian in a patterned dress complete with straight and thin hair, beady blue eyes and pencilled lips. She chattered, hissed and fiddled with her earrings and looked so much like a snake that it seemed consuming even one of the list of starters on the menu would feed her for a week. Simon was crew cut ginger, rounder than long, redder than pale and was wearing an almost orange Italian leather jacket and light-blue polo shirt, eating would not be his problem. Elizabeth couldn’t help thinking he looked so much like a can of Irn-Bru. The snake woman and the can man, like a circus freak show double bill. They were however nice people, though Elizabeth was oddly conscious of being out with a couple that didn’t quite look right. What people might think was always important, even strangers or waiters or taxi drivers, she wanted them to have a positive image of her and Brian and the company they kept. She and Brian were solidly normal; proportioned correctly for a pair, both dark and matching, no irregular or excessive features and in the years before minor flabby and stretchy things had started to happen they had been a fine looking couple. Even now she did think they scrubbed up well and always knew how to dress appropriately for their ages, looks and their social engagements. “Making the best of ourselves is what we do best,” She said to herself.

The Willoby’s had galloped of and set the conversational pace by talking about holidays, as couples unfamiliar with each other often do when seeking a common vein of experiences. They nodded familiarly at each other as tales of Mediterranean ports and excursions; cruise companies and cabin types were reeled off as if from a script. So the Mayburys allowed the Willobys to hold the tone and content, letting “Grace the snake” brag a little and “Simon the can” punctuate her sentences with jokes and corrections. “It was the Tuesday-night meal, it was Naples, I told the captain, it was more expensive than that, I never did!” The Maybury’s felt smugly in control and a little superior as the Willobys dripped and droned on, holidays, followed by local schools then of course the price of houses. Half way through the exciting tale of their en-suite’s renovation the waiter arrived to take them all through for the meal.

As expected “Grace the snake” seemed to have no real appetite for anything other than trivial conversation, she toyed with her food like a bored cobra at high noon. “Simon the can” certainly could eat, still correcting Grace between mouthfuls of Madras and swigs of that peculiar type of lager all Curry Houses serve. Brian was of course waiting on the opportunity to talk business, as was Elizabeth, though Grace’s travellers tales and home improvement yarns proved a constant distraction and a poisonous hypnotic force that hung over the meal table. Eventually as the disappointing desert was about to arrive Simon began talking about GHL (Glasgow Handling Ltd), a competitor of Be-useful who had recently picked up a rather lucrative airport contract. “Three new vans and drivers, they are going for all the South-side business, double runs, flexibility, been offering us a lot of little extras to use them” Beamed Simon. “Bloody cowboys!” retorted Brian, “they’ll let you down when you need them most, I know all about them. Their drivers don’t care either, ex mini cab men or jailbirds”. GHL’s ways of working had always riled Brian, though most of what he said and thought was unsubstantiated.

“In fact” added Simon “ They’re going to be branching out into air-cargo, West Coast Hebrides, Northern Ireland and oil field equipment on the North East, I hear they’ve got a partner in helicopter work. Maybe even medical to, organs and spare parts, you know the kind of thing, could be very useful to us as well with our customer base”. Brian sucked on the sweet and sour sorbet that was filling his mouth. Elizabeth picking up the conversation on her radar despite extreme interference from shower doors and driveway paving and joined in “Yes we’re thinking along those lines also, air transport is the way forward for all express handling, Brian’s done a lot of research and we’ve linked up with some of the better providers”. Brian knew at this point the lie that Elizabeth was spinning had gone too far and was searching for a reverse gear. Of course the Willobys were now all ears eager to hear how competitive Be-useful might be and Elizabeth only could dig herself deeper.

For no obvious reason she blurted out “Of course we have our own helicopter now that Brian has his license”. The Willobys stared at Brian in amazement, “you’re a dark horse!” Smirked Simon, “ Aren’t you a bit old?” accused Grace. Brian, full stomach and bladder, hot and cold mouth stared questioningly at Elizabeth hoping she would pull him up out of this, Elizabeth only added to it. “Tell them about it all Brian! I’m so proud of how well he did in all the training!” she added as an aside. Brian knew his chapatti was charred so simply went for it, “ Been a few months but yes I’ve managed to pass out”. He was trying not to sound like a commando or Top Gun pilot. “Eh, Jet Ranger, that’s what I’ve been flying, 200 hours now, eh out of Prestwick”. He was desperate to change the subject now as his knowledge of helicopters was paper thin and he sensed that Simon would pounce with some simple question that he wouldn’t have a clue about. There was however no in depth technical questions just a simple demand. “Well Brian,” began Simon “I think you owe us a flight and the benefit of some of the connections you’ve got in the trade!” Brian summoned up his most confident front and simply agreed, “Sure, I’ll give you a call later in the week”.

Coffee and few frozen glances between Brian and Elizabeth followed. Grace had retreated now following the helicopter revelation, as competition was pointless, she was impressed and Simon was pissed. Brian had lost any sense of what to say next, angry but proud that he’d been accepted by the present company as a fictional helicopter pilot and terminally worried at how on earth he could make progress into next week’s arrangement. He has mumbled fairly well though vaguely about flying over Arran based on his only real helicopter flight (a Christmas present) and was desperately dredging up memories in order to maintain his cover. It fell to Elizabeth to lead the final stabs at conversation as she scaled the heights of multiple Mercedes van mileages coupled with moaning about margins and then down to murky depths with Mediterranean waters and the times and ways resorts cleaned their beaches. Everyone seemed relieved when the final brandies had gone and the waiter announced that their taxis had arrived. Both couples vanished into the night in different directions. Simon being robustly chastised by the python woman for getting so drunk so quickly, whist in a reverse manoeuvre Brian blew his top at a tearful Elizabeth over the fabricated helicopter story. Needless to say Brian and Elizabeth’s argument and embarrassment proved to be the longest runner. Simon had it relatively easy waking up sober and sorry the next day to find Grace already out on a shopping expedition and with the empty house to himself.

So Brian and Elizabeth’s row followed the regular five star pattern as it burned into the night, it became more complex with added frustrations and topics being thrown in from both sides. Clearly Elizabeth was in the wrong for making up the helicopter story but in a twist Brian now found himself apologising for not ever being a pilot and somehow lacking the drive and ambition to ever try it out. Like game of ping-pong being played with teaspoons, few if any points were scored until they became bored and exasperated with one another. Around 2AM both gave up the ghost and fell into a restless pair of sleeps with upset tummies, churning minds and threats to their marriages hanging on them and haunting them.

Brian was up first, down onto the PC and researching flying helicopters. He wasn’t even sure why he was doing it as he reasoned that the sensible thing was to phone Simon, apologise, say that Elizabeth was drunk (or something) and then avoid him for a while. It may be that Simon’s firm would look elsewhere for a carrier and well that would be that, hard times, hard knocks, Elizabeth’s fault but they’d recover. By the time that Elizabeth had risen and joined him still upset and cross with herself, he’d uncovered the secrets, complications and worst of all costs of learning to fly. Having absorbed some of the consequences all the more worrying was that he had realised that he harboured a deep-seated, life long ambition to fly. The Christmas present flight a few years ago had been a bit of a joke, rubbing salt into the mid life crisis wound everybody thought had healed by now. Flying and helicopters were back in his life with a vengeance.

Elizabeth saw this all as a punishment for her, she’d made a silly mistake, failed to correct it and now her husband was becoming obsessed with the subject. She had lost control and had no idea what to do. At first she simply put her foot down and forbad him to do anything to do with flying, but his candle was alight now and he was determined to take this new passion all the way. More websites were accessed, a PC simulator was purchased and a number of phone calls made. He also needed a convincing story to use to stall Simon.

“God bless the weather,” said Brian, as a heavy fog descended on Glasgow and the Clyde coast. It was only Monday but the forecasters were saying the conditions might last as long as a week, maybe more. Brian gave Simon a call on Monday afternoon; firstly hoping that Simon, being drunk at the time had forgotten the helicopter story, then ready to use the fog as an excuse. Naturally Simon had forgotten nothing (Grace had filled in a number of gaps for him) but understood the fog story and being too busy with other matters to chat the whole flight and the business contact conversation was dropped.

All that week Brian found it hard to focus on the transport work, he was forever falling into daydreams, helicopter picnics, views and aerial photographs, clubs and socialising and more vaguely the air cargo business. At night he did two to three hours on the simulator, at first he had been clumsy and crashes were common but now he felt he was close to getting the touch. “Ten hours and I’m this far on” he thought as an unexpected cross wind pushed his virtual machine over the edge of an oil platform, “bugger!”

The fog had also meant he’d avoided contacting any clubs or instructors as he bided time and tried to evaluate his options. Simon would expect something, what would it be though, how could he stall him until……? Fate then again stepped in as it had done with the fog. It was Thursday; the helicopter fight was temporarily parked so Elizabeth and Brian had a cosy evening meal together and a couple of bottles of wine. Tragically and marvellously Brian, whilst returning from a trip the wheelie bin by the back door, slightly drunk and giddy fell over the cat. His not so soft landing place was the concrete step and the result was a broken wrist. This was confirmed two hours later following a taxi ride to the casualty ward. The pain was very real, but a strange and smug pleasure now went with it. As far as Simon and Grace were concerned he was a pilot, a helicopter pilot and but for the plaster running from his knuckles to his elbow he was a disabled one. This injury and the subsequent physiotherapy might mean he couldn’t pilot anything for months, “what a stroke of luck” he thought.

Simon and Grace visited early the next week, unexpectedly. They brought a bottle of wine and some golf magazines for the invalid. Grace was anxious to hear when he might be fit again, looking at his plastered arm as if it was some heroic war wound gained as a pilot on some dangerous mission. Brian was of course still in some discomfort and the plaster and his inability to drive a car was a source of constant irritation, he grumbled a lot during their short stay. In an odd way he held them and Elizabeth responsible for the injury and began moaning to them about the opportunities to fly helicopters that he was missing. Trips, plans, survey and delivery work he’d hoped to participate in, all a complete fabrication and helping only to under pin the lie. Elizabeth was annoyed by his behaviour, she regretted her original slip more and more and now found herself biting her lip constantly.

After Simon and Grace had gone and they were in bed, Brian accidentally hit Elizabeth on the head with his plaster. He was reaching over to the bedside cabinet to set the alarm clock and thoughtlessly swung his arm over her at the same time, as she was about to switch off her reading light. It was a sharp and unrestrained blow that connected with her skull but completely unintentional. It made Elizabeth dizzy and nauseous for a while; there was some minor bleeding and a bruise. The nausea lasted all weekend and she was complaining of headaches and giddiness well into the next week. It was on the next Saturday morning that she was found dead in her Lexus in the local Tesco car park by the man who collected the shopping trolleys. She was slumped over two carrier bags she’d placed on the front passenger seat, half a dozen rolls were squashed and three eggs were crushed within the carrier bag onto which most of her weight had fallen. The trolley attendant told the police that Chicago’s “If you leave me now” was playing on the car stereo when he had opened the door and first realised she was dead. He had always been a fan of theirs and that track was a particular favourite of his, he owned it on vinyl, tape and CD.

A brain haemorrhage they said, most likely brought on by the blow from the plaster a few days before and aggravated by an undetected blood condition. Elizabeth was cremated three days later, the service being well attended by the local business community and many members of the road haulage trade. At the buffet afterwards nearly everybody commented how tasty the fajita wraps were, how good a cremation it had been and that the house red had that had been served was so good. Elizabeth would have enjoyed it very much. Brian had the plaster removed a week later; he was struck by seeing Elizabeth’s signature on the plaster only a moment before the plaster nurse cut it away from his arm and placed it into the bin. The plaster and bandage remnants were tossed away as Brian rubbed and scratched at his extra hairy arm and thought how light and cool it now felt. The next day he put the business up for sale.

Simon’s firm bought the Be-useful Transport Company after three other potential purchasers declined. It was, said Simon “a supply chain based piece of rationalisation that would help drive down their distribution costs ”; he was summing up the whole transaction and trying to put it all in a proper context. Brian bought a villa in Marbella built by Taylor Woodrow with the proceeds and after a few weeks of acclimatisation signed on for a pilot’s training course at the El Paso school of flying. He sat by his pool in the evening sipping the local wine and munching cold chicken legs, he’d be listening to 80’s CDs and sending text messages on his mobile as the sun set slowly behind the hills. Later in the summer “Grace the snake” joined him, apparently Simon was busy enough now not to care.