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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Cure for Baldness: FTMT Short Story No 11


A cure for baldness, impotence and short term memory loss.

Roger was afraid of getting old. He was 42, chubby, sporting a 50% comb over that he hoped maximised his thinning hair, inexperienced with women and forgetful of little things. “Things are not going my way, never my way!” he would say to himself. To make matters worse he was a librarian. A librarian in a provincial little library that was half forgotten and under funded. He would also say things like “The library is the last bastion of literary independence for the common man, it is his storehouse of holy public wisdom.” The holy, holistic and wholly were rather blurred in Roger’s thinking. The trouble was nobody ever really listened to Roger or took him particularly seriously and despite his thoughts on the importance of libraries he knew deep down he was insignificant. “My lifelong insignificance is my curse,” he would also say. Despite these strong and haunting feelings Roger loved his library and was committed to running it to the highest standards possible and he did, albeit within a limited budget, idea famine and funding restrictions.

Roger regularly forgot small things, keys, what to get at the shops, where things were, and the TV programme he’d meant to tape. He found this very irritating. His comb over also irritated him. It was something that he’d not planned or expected to have, it had just developed in the last ten tears as morning by morning he had pushed and engineered his hair to cover thin spots. The maintenance work had become more complex and required more time each day. Often a stiff breeze blowing outside his front door, passing traffic or his arch enemy; rain, negated his hard work. Rain was the merciless tormentor of his comb over, any sudden attack, whether fine rain, drizzle or chunky spots would quickly render it lank and limp and allow the revelation that was his baldhead to shine out to the world like a beacon.

Impotence wasn’t a word he liked either but sadly and (Roger thought) mainly due to lack of use or exercise his manhood seemed to have lost anything but the slightest interest in sexual stimulation. That was very annoying. The feeling of toting an unloaded gun, an empty pistol and holding a leadless pencil ground into him. The last time that Roger had used his own name in a verbal sense was a distant twenty something memory. Sometimes Roger felt almost unalive like a clock not ticking and in this state as deeply alone as a librarian can be, the silent clicking, whispering, bar coding, page thudding world of libraries. “If there was a club for misfits,” thought Roger,” I’d join and they’d ask me to leave the moment I opened my mouth or the moment they clapped eyes on me”.

Today was Friday and it had been a particularly bad day so far, early morning rain combined with a blustery wind, sandwiches forgotten and alone on the kitchen work top and Janice at the library, in a shorter skirt than usual, alighting the shelf steps just in front of him, bending over and reaching at the top of the steps to stretch and pick a book. Apart from his concerns at the poor kinetics of the situation and the safety implications Roger felt little stirring of any kind as he reminded her not to over reach at the top of steps. At lunch break he supped coffee and looked over the top of his glasses at the ruined world and landscape his life seemed be crawling across. “This isn’t getting better, this is it, downhill all the way..”

It seemed to Roger that as this point his life suddenly began to run on automatic pilot. An automatic Kamikaze pilot. Other hands took over the controls and Roger found himself leaving O’Brian’s and not heading back towards the library. Alarmingly he was headed to the bus depot and step by step onto the path or into the sanctuary of some bus. Roger liked buses and right now, being on a bus would help he thought. He was aware of his mobile phone in his hand, he was aware of switching it off, he was aware of dropping it into a litter bin as he strode toward a large cream and red coach bearing the destination “Newcastle via Port Patrick and Berwick upon Tweed” on it’s forward notice. Roger stepped onto the bus and paid a fare whispered to the driver. “Newcastle”. The big diesel was throbbing as he walked between the seats and plonked himself down on a seat directly above the rear wheel arch. “Contact with the road, contact with the machine, any contact is better than no contact” he said to himself. The bus doors swooshed closed and the coach reversed from its stand and into its journey. The time was 1405 and already he would be being missed by the rest of the staff. The thought was almost sexually stimulating, well almost.

About 15 minutes into the journey, stretching back into the seat Roger fell asleep. He awoke as his head banged the window glass as the bus jolted into the bus station at Berwick upon Tweed. “Five minutes!” called the driver, the drivers were changing here and Roger shook himself and headed of the bus to take a leak and buy a cup of coffee. In the coffee shop he was served by a Chinese girl, one of her eyes was blue the other yellow, Roger triad not to stare. The coffee was good however and he nursed the warm carton all the way down the A1 until the bus ground to a halt in the early evening air of Newcastle. “Newcastle upon Tyne” thought Roger, “a city, a party city, a working city, a city in which to lose yourself.” The bus passed over one iron bridge over a river, then another and then another. Then a great concrete and iron bridge and then a silver, concrete and iron bridge. Two great palm trees formed an arch of triumphal proportions as they entered the bus station.

Roger now free from bus and the woozy intoxication of bus travel headed for a pub. Anyone would do, any warm and busy pub, so when he stumbled upon the “Wheat & Barley” with its bitter wood and fully dim lighted d├ęcor it fully met his expectations. Oblivious to the bustling clientele he marched up to the bar and ordered a pint of lager and a whisky, paid the barmaid and with the normal amount of difficulty perched himself on a vacant bar stool and stared at his own ugly and unsatisfying reflection in a distant bar mirror. Then mirror threw back a face that did not seem to be his, expressions that were foreign, backlight that was hostile and a cheap and torn glimmer of barroom comfort that was no comfort at all. He stared into the mirror, he drank, he ordered more, he ordered a pork pie, he smeared it with HP Sauce, he stared, and he bought more lager.

The bar now began to get hazy at the edges and the music and distant conversations circulating around his head became distorted and abstract as he struggled to pick out some detail from the drums and chatter. Over in a corner a man with a straw hat was playing a banjo and tapping out a rhythm with his foot, we began to sing. The words were not English but the music was. Time and its tracking were alluding him as he supped another pint. It was at this point he became aware of someone looking directly, pointedly and threateningly at him. She was two stools away but her gaze was focused on this slightly dishevelled, lost little man drinking beer and staring at reflections and clients in a random and dislocated fashion.

“Hello pet, my name is Rosie!” Roger allowed his gaze to shift from the reflection and onto Rosie. Rosie was very blurry around the edges as far as Roger could see. She was dark, dark hair pulled up in a ponytail, dark eyes, dark (black) dress, pearls, red lips, and darker Geordie voice. She was holding a red wine glass that was half full, the sides stained with wine refills and droplets. Rosie was talking again. “You a Jock? My ex-husband came from Clydebank, he was in the Navy, Five years in Helensburgh and then two in Plymouth, submarines, bloody submarines and sardines.” “You alright pet?” “You’ve had a few beers and I don’t recognise you, down here on business? Down for the weekend?” Rosie was persistent, annoying and to Roger patently ignorant but slowly gnawing into his befuddled consciousness. “Rosie”, said Roger, “What’ll you have?” “Red wine, a gin & tonic and a packet of pork scratchings!”

Roger ordered a series of drinks. He thought he heard these odd but sage-like words emerge in between tales from a Laundromat, giant palm trees falling on old age pensioners, the local Aldi and the beekeeper’s social club’s annual concert and revue “The measurement of time is the measurement of the expansion of existence!” said Rosie (or so Roger thought) as she sipped her third gin. “By God!” said Roger, ”there is no conversation that is barren or fallen, the vital spoken word has a value beyond the understanding of the common man and yet so much just slips away unaccounted for!” Roger fell from his stool at this point. The banjo music suddenly seemed to be clearer and louder than ever. On the journey to the bar room floor his head connected firstly with the counter, then the bar rail, then a falling glass, then a fellow customers elbow and finally the tiled and polished floor of the bar. It was at this point that a large amount of blood emerged from a 3” laceration on his head and he slipped into a warm and unfamiliar world of injured, drunken unconsciousness.

Roger awoke on a trolley in the A&E, his head bandaged, neck and back sore and with the delicate touch of Rosie patting the back of his hand. A Chinese nurse with black hair, white skin like Michael Jackson and a yellow eye and a green eye stood over the trolley he lay on, she was stroking his head and humming a tune. Roger closed his eyes and then she was gone. “You’ll be fine pet!” She whispered in a gentle but persuasive voice, ”I’ll take you home, the taxi’s on its way!” Roger was aware of sliding into the back seat of a silver Toyota and speeding through blurred and double visioned streets past Kebab shops, street corner gatherings, all night Spars and neon club signs shaped like guitars before arriving at a grey, roughcast house probably somewhere in Wallsend. Roger, as if led by the nose, left the cab without thinking of his movements and lurched through a brown doorway and into a brightly lit, smokey smelling hallway. Family pictures, prints of an odd origin and silver frames covered the walls. He sat down awkwardly on an MFI telephone stool and looked at the telephone, it was shaped like a cow attached to a milking machine, and now he once again fell asleep. The healing sleep seemed to last no time. There was a cosy disturbance and now everything changed and he was upstairs, the journey to that place being vague and now almost a slow motion, paced event. Rosie was close to him, very close, they were in bed, Rosie was beside him in bed and he felt a strange sweat on his forehead (under the slowly slipping bandage) and drips in the small of his back. He was aware of the taste of his breath mingled with the taste of hers; they were kissing in a wet and uncontrolled way. The sweat weakened him but also empowered and energised him. He was aware of Rosie’s voice “Easy, easy, this is easy, relax pet, I’ll not hurt you!”

Roger felt suddenly like he was swimming in the deep end of a cold pool, the bottom was lost, not touching, no safety, no place for toes to hit the bottom, only the blunt red and silver instrument that is human risk, a new pure and strange feeling that was wrapping and consuming him with its vigour and intensity and the source was the vague, warm and indistinct shape that was Rosie, somewhere in his orbit but also in a drunk and other worldly distance. Suddenly they came together in a violent electrical moment that was a jolt to both of them. Rosie seemed to spontaneously combust like a lit match as Roger fell into her flesh and arms and powered into a deep chasm of newly unleashed freedom and expression. Time tripped them up and allowed them to fall headlong into an intoxicating and strange dimension flavoured with unexpected tingles and sensations, though Rosie as if for the purposes of references made controlling and comforting comments as Roger streamed and steamed on this unfamiliar path. His bandage was discarded and dried blood and sweat mixed all across the bed and its covers.

When Roger awoke it was Saturday. Rosie was downstairs making tea and bacon rolls. “You best have something before you go, it’s half past nine!” she yelled up the stairwell, “Get your arse down here now!” Roger blinked and wondered about his memory, was it intact? How was his hair? What had happened last night? He stumbled into pants, trousers and shirts and emerged from the hallway into Rosie’s tangerine kitchen to be handed a mug of tea and a roll dripping grease and more brown sauce from its edges. “For guys like you, overnighters, I usually charge £100!” Rosie said without looking up from the sink “but as you did hurt yourself I’ll give you a discount!” Roger looked at the lady, she was at least 50, wearing a blue misshapen housecoat, smoking a Benson and Hedges, scruffily dyed hair, pale lips and pasty complexion doing dishes. In her eyes however was a wonderful, warm, almost golden sparkle that time, a thousand men, a thousand disappointments and fistfuls of grubby banknotes and drunken nights could not diminish. The sparkle was priceless and Roger knew he had loved her and had lost her in a brisk, blurred and life-changing twelve-hour period. “Aye, right, is there a cash line nearby?”

Roger walked through the scheme to the money machine in the nearby Coop; he withdrew £100 and bought a Daily Mirror, some Polo Mints and a bunch of chrysanthemums. He carried them back to Rosie’s and despite a few minor navigational problems on the return journey placed the flowers and money on the kitchen table. “I’ll just see myself out!” he cried upstairs. Rosie was in the bathroom and from the steam and spray called back, “Fine pet, safe journey, take care!”

Roger walked a long way that Saturday morning, through pale and unfamiliar streets, past graffiti coated shops, and open air swimming pool, houses with SKY dishes and monoblock parking spaces, wasteland and very obese people, across some more Tyne bridge or others, past cafes, stalls, a camel market and offices to the bus station with all its sounds, bustle and inbred inconvenience. His head was hurting a little more now from last night’s injury, the numbing affect of alcohol and experience had worn of and life had an edge to it.” Edinburgh via Madagascar and Berwick upon Tweed” read Roger, it’ll be here at 1125 and leave at 1130 said what appeared a clear and friendly sign. “I’ve time for a donut and coffee,” he thought. “That may help this ache.” He touched his wound with the palm of his right hand pushing on the lump and stitched scab under the bandage. Unfortunately he palmed the top of his head a little too hard and inadvertently pushed it right from of his shoulders. It rolled back a little and still looking very surprised but glazed about the eyes hit the bus station paving and bounced across towards a group of old ladies. Meanwhile Roger’s body, lost without its head’s guidance lurched, tripped forward and fell onto a bench. An issue of blood and fluid followed, much to the disgust of some youths heading out to St. James’ Park for the hockey. The old ladies quickly stepped back from the head as it came to a standstill in between a straw basket, a full Winn-Dixie carrier and black vinyl shopping bag. Roger’s face was still and frozen, eyes open but blank and the nasty cut of the previous night, exposed now by the loosened bandage looked none to clever.

At that point the young man from the Information Kiosk stepped forward shaking his head and touching his chin, “Bloody Norah, that’s the third one of these this week!”

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