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Year Five: A Poetic Reunification

Father’s emancipation brought a new energy to him, but did not completely rid him of the harm that hard labour had inflicted. Once free of his shackles, he committed dutifully to parole conditions that insisted he remain within yelling distance of Scotland Yard. Each morning he was required to wake at 7am and scream “WHITLOCK SMACKER, REPORTING HIMSELF PRESENT” at his loudest available volume, and then list any illegal or perversely sexual thoughts he’d been having in the same manner. Whilst this placed a strain on the relationship he shared with his Thai landlords and their beautiful, wheelchair-bound daughter, Father could see a welcoming light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel. He restarted his life as a member of a Formula One pit crew, specialising in the front left tyre and his immediately evident aptitude meant that only after a few short months, he was in line for promotion to ‘man with a can who catches all the spilt petrol’. I was happy for my father’s rehabilitation into society, but It would be a lengthy period of time until our paths crossed in any meaningful way.

As for myself, with parental guardianship returned from a legal standpoint, I had finally begun formal education and found myself enrolled in an East London school amongst peers of considerably-lower social class. ‘Saint Adjutor’s Comprehensive College of Excellence’ was a public swimming school that had recently exposed itself to the financial opportunities made available by the introduction of offering standardised state-required curriculum. Due to constraining post-war budgeting, only one mountable room was available to an institute that catered to four hundred children – and that was assigned as a staff room for St Adjutor’s three resident teachers – so all junior school courses were taken in the shallow end, with senior electives hosted further down for those who could comfortably tread water for seven consecutive hours. Lunch was taken in the dressing rooms but was strongly advised against due to the potential for cramping back in the water. This didn’t stop the slightly more affluent among us to procure pear drops on tuck shop days and deal them as currency in the afternoon classes when the water was at its warmest. By the end of each month, the boiled sweets in our pockets had dissolved enough to add a gelatinous viscosity to the water which meant we were able to doggy-paddle toward the deep end and gawk at the floating corpses of the less athletic senior students who’d not quite made it all the way through their two o’clock home economics study.

Boarding at Saint Adjutor’s was out of the question for anyone not in the possession of a houseboat, so with the financial assistance of my dear friend James Ferdinand Bamdi III, I leased the second story of a multinational pharmaceutical factory in the far-Eastern burroughs of the city. I suggested to Bambi that I might simply borrow a flume and live upon the school’s waters, but he insisted upon granting me a proper residence and despite being a four hour walk from school, the factory ticked all other boxes. It was a spacious and well furnished living arrangement but there was many a time when I felt quite alone in the sixty-thousand square-foot space and it seemed that all the throw rugs in the world could not fill the void.

Father’s imprisonment had hampered my life somewhat, but I felt an incredible surge of optimism throughout my days at Saint Adjutor’s. The positivity was locked firmly into place one Spring morning when the factory-ran-forge foreman – a satisfactory man, George Poorman – presented me with my mail. Amongst the normal bills and brochures and postcards from Preston the cocker-poodle, there lay a particularly well presented envelope bearing a return address of a place in Lincolnshire. I opened it to receive the most beautiful lettering and spectacular prose; all of it wonderfully familiar.

Dearest Baggy

My heart wishes with all its strength that you are well. My head knows that you have found stable perch somewhere in this tumultuous world.

I must first of all seek to absolve you of the wretched guilt that you are no doubt plagued by, following the unforgiving conditions upon which we parted ways at Beeston. Know that I cling to no feelings for you other than the utmost adoration and that I wholly understand what drew you to depart for safety. You will always have my friendship, no matter what.

I write to you, having been informed of your recent liberty, courtesy of our mutual counsel, Spider. He remains in fine health and would like you to know how dearly he misses the sound of rusting metal clashing against your pearl-like teeth.

I would have you know that I now reside in Lincoln, beneath the shadows of her mighty castle. It is a beautiful city. In a fortnight’s time, I shall be presenting my poetic works as part of an arts competition, to take place before the altar of Lincoln Cathedral, and I would dearly request, were it possible, for my good friend Baggy Smacker to be in attendance. I understand that this notice is short, but were you to attend as my most special guest, it would mean the world to me.

Yours always,

Joseph Darkfire

I warmed inside to the news of Joseph’s wellness and I considered his commitment to poetry a personal treasure. Immediately, I made preparations to travel to Lincoln and support my wonderful friend’s venture toward fame and greatness.

“George Poorman, the forge foreman!” I ejaculated down a flight of stairs, “Heed a carriage for dawn. I am to ride to Lincoln on the morrow!”

The foreman told me to fuck off and issued a timely reminder that he was not under my employ, so I dashed to the nearest telephone box and made my arrangements.

Within a week, I stood at the foot of Steep Hill in the historic city of Lincoln, full of pride. A day and a half later, I stood at the apex of it, full of sweat. The ascent had been a perilous journey, a non-stop weave between the endless avalanche of tumbling, drunken holiday-makers, who would roar passed at break-neck speed in a cloud of Roman factoids and replica versions of the Magna Carta. I narrowly avoided death at the hands of a gruesome vagabond following a misunderstanding regarding her asking if I was “wanting to see a naughty red imp”. It was only as my hands reached around her neck, did I see the ‘Lincoln Tourism’ logo upon her lapel.

My progress halted slightly at a midway point of the ascent, in a liquorice shop owned by a mystical and sensual enchantress. A name tag near her suggested that her name was Catherine Wheels and she was priced at two shillings per pound, which seemed a reasonable price for the time. I was immediately drawn by her deeply-etched facial features, her shining, obsidian-black hair and her well-proportioned, lightly-salted all-sorts. 

“Sweet root?” she proffered suggestively.

“No thank you, I’m five years old.”

“So many of my customers are.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself, you filthy slut.”

She brought clarification to her offer with a wave of her hand, toward her displays of confectionary.

“You have many stories within you, young man. I can tell.”

“I feel that you might be correct.”

“May I tell your fortune?”

I was intrigued. Catherine led me into a conservatory in which row upon row of glycyrrhiza glabra grew in terracotta plantings. The air was thick with a leafy, aniseed odour. Within the centre of the room was a table and two chairs. Upon the table was a book entitled “Disappointing the Children: A History of Liquorice in Great Britain”. Ms Wheels cleared it aside and sat me down.

“Are you familiar with the spiritual art of tarocchi?” She asked.

“Ah yes, a wonderful Italian form of energy-burning gymnastic dance!” I daringly bluffed.

Once she had finished correcting and mocking me, Catherine laid four cards before me.

“They say that through tarocchi, you can see the future of any man.”

“Who says that?”

“It’s there on the packaging, next to the choking warning.”

Catherine turned the first card. I gasped as I looked upon the face of Death himself.

“Fret not, young stranger. The image of Death in the world of tarocchi is not to be feared. It is a sign of great change, of new adventure. Death is to be embraced. Is not each golden dawn subsequent to the decay of yesterday’s sun?”

Catherine turned the second card. It was Death again. I gasped once more.

“What did I just tell you? This is simply to say that your future is generously speckled with all manner of journey. The tarocchi realm wishes for you to know of the incredible life you have begun to live.”

Catherine turned the third card. It was another Death card, but this had a photograph of my face glued to it, with a message in dried blood in the bottom. I had only a second to glimpse the words ‘No, seriously’ before Catherine hurriedly shuffled the cards back into their packet.

“I mean this is all just nonsense anyway so there’s no point in dwelling on it.”

She immediately ushered me out of the conservatory and pushed me out of her store, onto the cobblestones of Steep Hill. I turned to demand answers, but she had already managed to lock the front door and had hung a ‘For Sale’ sign in the window. I resigned my protest and reengaged my climb.

Upon the forecourt of the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral, I was reunited with my beautiful friend Joseph Darkfire. He was crouched upon the church steps, writing into a notebook. I approached and announced his name.

“My Joseph. All the angels this structure seeks to worship could not provide as welcome a sight as you writing upon these tiles.”

Joseph looked up from his writing, his eyes twinkling with happiness.

“Those angels know only their perfect heaven. They are robbed of the joy of a return to bliss, from the desert.”

We continued to exchange convoluted, homoerotic verse until our phrasing had reached a point of total amibiguity, after which we embraced and committed to a circumnavigation of the tremendous catherdral.

“They tell a story of a mischievous imp, here in Lincoln.”

“I know of it. I almost murdered a blind, eighty-year-old volunteer due to a miscommunication of it.”

“How dreadful.”

“Her carer advised that she has before seen worse harm and would be fine.”

“It is said, in legend, that there were two such imps sent to the North of England by Lucifer himself, and that they were to cause havoc. They came upon this house of worship and they attempted to destroy it. But their power, driven by evil, was less of that than the power managed by good. They managed to destroy furnishings and assault a bishop, but they could not destroy what this building stood for; the strivance for good. And in response to their hate-wrought dealings, God sent forth an angel who commanded the imps to stop. One imp obeyed and cowered. The other remained belligerent. And so the angel condemned the tragic imp to stone and offered refuge for the imp who accepted his request to cease his chaos. They say when the wind howls here in Lincoln, it is the sound of the surviving imp who seeks the redemption of his companion.”

Joseph stopped walking and turned to me.

“What part of this story do you feel you would play, if you must choose a role?”

I thought for a moment.

“The bishop, probably. Amongst proceedings but inconsequential.”

Joseph chuckled.

“I think that you would play the redeemed Imp.”

“A charming proposal. And you?” I asked.

“Of course, the angel.”

We held a smile between us for a short second, before resuming our amble around the great edifice and passed a group of jealous, insecure masons who were graffiting the exterior walls with sky-blue spray-paint to make them appear smaller.

The competition itself was to be hosted within the cathedral’s vast nave, which the event designer had planned to adorn in Lincolnshire’s county flower, the majestically-purple viola riviniana; or ‘common dog-violet’. However, due to a spelling-error, the pews were instead crowded with several dozen worryingly-aggressive cross-bred pitbulls, whose constant barking and growling reverberated through God’s House and immediately lowered local property prices. As the hounds began urinating and shitting and biting children, an angel blinked into existence and turned two of them to marble-bookends. The remaining canine collective appeared to get the idea and ceased their disturbances, while the angel explained to the human attendance that he’d be around for at least three hours due to fair-work stipulations in his contract, and checked to see if anyone wanted to “part a red-wine sea” with him at the pub. Approximately half the congregation dispersed and the remainder of us settled in for the impending artistic exhibition.

To coincide with the Mayor of Lincoln’s shortly-upcoming ninetieth birthday, the key stimulus that drove the theme of this year’s poetry contest was “Impending Death, Any Moment Now”, so the air grew thickly macabre in little time. The entrants were, for the most part, unworthy of committing to memory although a confused, elderly lady named Clementine Moorehouse acquired moderate applause with her entry.

I, Clementine Norma Moorehouse of 49 Dacombe Drive, Kettlethorpe, 

Of the County of Lincolnshire, 

Hereby bequeath the following life annuities namely,

To my daughter, Tash Besto Moorehouse, ten pounds,

To my grandson, Lancelot Sophia Rolleston-Moorehouse, ten pounds,

To my son, “Weedy” Trent Moorehouse, seven pounds,

To my loyal dog, Brian Adams, ten pounds,

To my dearest friend, Gruesome Julia, four pounds,

To Sir John “Horn-dog” Rolleston, minus eighty-two pounds,

And to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors,

I leave chapters nine-to-eleven of the black diary,

That I keep beneath a panel in my sock drawer,

And I trust its contents should assure that the above listed annuities are maintained indefinitely,

Call my bluff, I fucking dare you,

I’ve made copies.

After murmuring approval from the gathered crowd, Mrs Whitehouse approached the audience and had them witness, sign and date the bottom of the page to legally ratify proceedings. Her lawyer zipped about the nave in a flurry of non-disclosure agreements and before long, it was Joseph’s turn to take the stage.

My dear friend look utterly resplendent in a new navy blue frock coat, atop a white t-shirt cunningly emblazoned with the words “Got My Kink On In Lincoln” to appeal to local favour. He approached the podium with six well-rehearsed strides, and upon realising he was still half-a-dozen yards from the required position, brilliantly improvised another five. Even the pit-bulls appeared impressed.

Joseph Darkfire cleared his throat and let beauty pour from his mouth-hole.

What faint recall for the monument of life,

That one true novel, chaptered by sepia tones,

An existence of endless instance that dwindles,

To a package of pulses, backlit dimly,

Images drawn from poor memory,

Which are then dipped in tea to make them look older,

And are now blurred, and wet,

And smelling a little bit like old tea.

A million smells, tastes, sounds, feelings and visions,

Whittled down to the dozen,

The joyous balanced by the mournful,

The angry countered by the calm,

And quite occasionally, the odd one without explanation,

Like the name of the cat of a member of the shadow ministry.

Biggsy, I believe.

Yet how am I besieged by the fear,

All that I am and will become,

Will be nought but slides in a show,

Fragments of memory between lost chasms of time,

Like a full drunken night of unmentionable leisure in the company of Dear Inebriation.

For each moment I meet and each recollection I acquire,

I submit two old,

And struggle to remember hymn lyrics,

And all the different types of cheese.

Curse this decay of my thoughts, my mind,

When they cruelly disintegrate,

Leaving me spinning, 

Quilted in confusion and misted remembrance,

This small brain can’t contend with large conditions,

Yet nothing can stop his work,

So as product pours in, refuse must pour out,

All one can hope for is that,

With one’s age grows one’s talent,

And one’s handwriting gets smaller,

And one’s filing becomes better organised,

And one perhaps hires a secretary,

So I could remember where I left my keys,

And die dignified,

Knowing my wife’s name.

Thank you.

The applause was enormous. I led the cheers with tears dripping off my cheeks. Female members of the audience had passed out due to the emotional taxation. Men were hurling bouquets of howling terriers toward the stage area. The admiration was palpable. You could easily have palped it.

Joseph bowed and basked in the wonderful reception. The smile on his face was as broad as the breadth of the cathedral’s transept. It was hardly hyperbolic to suggest that this was the greatest moment of his life to date.

Sadly, the praise was interrupted by a boisterous entrance, as a heavy-set man in regal attire crashed through the door along with a wine-flavoured gust.

“Your patience for my long abode!” The man slurred. “My affairs have made you wait!”

He managed to stumble successfully upon a pew, and, with great focus, summoned the balance to remain there.

“My judgement is forthcoming. Who’s first?”

Confusion swirled. Joseph had made his way down from the podium, and toward it did a man approach; the final entrant. Upon arrival he announced himself, in a thick Scottish accent, as Andrew McGonagall. From his waistcoat pocket, he withdrew a folded piece of paper and after clumsily unfolding it, he committed to recital.

I had a friend,

His name was Ned,

His life did end,

And now he’s dead.

There was little reaction from an audience unsure of whether the man had actually finished, and so McGonagall simply shrugged and headed toward his seat.

The gentleman who’d entered moments before suddenly awoke from the small nap he had fallen into. He belched and looked around to ask if there was anyone else due to recite their work.

“No? Right, well then. I pronounce that jock the winner. I’m off if you don’t mind. Jophiel’s shout. Cheerio.” he said, before promptly exiting.

In the ensuing lavish ceremony, Andrew McGonagall received a princely fortune of fifty-thousand pounds in prize money plus a five-book publishing contract and a novelty, cock-shaped fountain pen. As well as earning the title of Poet Laureate of the County of Lincolnshire, he was sent upon an expense-paid world tour of over fifty countries, during which he would acquire all the fame and venereal disease that a man of the age could hope for.

As a token of his participation, Joseph Darkfire received his own novelty cock-shaped fountain pen, a result he would privately tell me was especially irritating because he already had one.

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