Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Girl Like a Doric Column (1997)

A simple absurdist fable that I just sat down and wrote one day without any prior thought. It was published in my collection THE SMELL OF TELESCOPES in the year 2000. A sequel-of-sorts called 'The Great Me' was published in my collection ORPHEUS ON THE UNDERGROUND in 2015.

1....”Excuse me, is your girlfriend feeling unwell?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“Stop me if it’s none of my business, but she seems to have a... It appears that her... I mean to say...”
“Dribble it out man. What’s wrong with her?”
“Her head is made from blue marble.”
“What? Nonsense! Wait a moment, so it is. Somebody must have stolen the original and substituted this lifelike replica. Who would do a thing like that? Why didn’t I notice anything?”
“Gangs of pickfaces roam the subways. They target a victim and make a replica head from whatever materials they feel comfortable with. Heads which are already loose can be swapped in seconds. I bet your girlfriend had a heavy skull on a slender neck?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t particularly valuable.”
“To the right people it might be...”
“That sounds rather ominous. Please explain.”
“The gangs export them to China. I read about it in the paper. Huge demand for heads over there. They use them for ornamental purposes. It’s just not safe to take a lady out.”
“Good job I didn’t like her very much. But I promised her father to get her home in one piece before midnight.”
“Will he notice that her head isn’t real?”
“Absolutely. He’s obsessed with details. Besides, she sings for him in the parlour after supper. It’s a family tradition. I’d better confess and face the music, or lack of it.”
“Rather you than me. What will he do?”
“I shudder to think. He’s very protective. He works in the foundry. Perhaps he’ll boil my ankles over a red-hot girder. Why do relationships always have to be so complicated?”
“I asked myself the same question when my wife left me. The ceiling was falling down and she was fed up with getting plaster in her hair, so she just walked out. Packed a suitcase and went, without saying goodbye. She was run over by a steamroller.”
“That’s life, I guess. But what shall I do?”
“Maybe I can help. I’m used to dealing with vengeful fathers. It’ll cost you, though. I’m not a charity.”
“I’m willing to pay. What’s the price?”
“The girl. I collect females like her.”
“I’m not sure. She might not want to go with you. She’s very choosy with her affections. You are bald and ugly.”
“With a blue marble head how will she tell the difference? Come on, it’s either that or facing the father alone. If you’re worried about how I’ll treat her, put your mind at rest.”
“Well I’d like to know. It’s only natural.”
“Of course. She will be assisting my religious studies. I’m turning my house into a temple. It’s a sacred task I have lined up, nothing odd. Think of her as a foundation of spirituality.”
“I can’t argue with that. Let’s shake hands on the deal.”
“That’s more like it. You won’t regret this. I’m a professional and always guarantee my work. Wait and see. I bet if you have trouble with a father in the future you’ll seek me out.”
“I don’t intend losing another girlfriend’s head!”
“I think you’ll find most women have loose ones these days. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and meet a divorcee. They tend to use glue. But nothing is really secure on the subway any more.”
“The next stop is mine. You’d better follow.”
“The stop belongs to the railway, but I know what you mean. Shall I take your girlfriend’s arm to help her down?”
“She’s not yours yet. Come on, let’s jump off here.”
“We’re right behind you... Not that way, dear... You have a complex and exquisite network of veins, like a map of an antediluvian city ruled by intelligent reptiles... Mind the gap...”

2....”Well that was a cheap trick to play on me!”
“Not at all. I fulfilled my side of the bargain. You have little to fear from that father now. A successful mission.”
“You replaced his head with a mahogany one!”
“Some people are never satisfied. I’m a pickface, but I work alone. You should have realised that when I talked so knowledgeably about China and the export market. But I’m only able to carve heads from hardwood. A marble head is quite beyond my ability.”
“Do you make a habit of this? How many commuters have you deceived? I ought to inform the transport police.”
“Don’t be churlish. Just give me your girl.”
“I guess you deserve her. But I feel nervous. Why do business-deals always have to be so complicated?”
“I often ask myself that question when I’m sitting at home, burning incense to the deity who lives in my broom-cupboard. He lurks behind the buckets and refuses to come out.”
“Heavens! I thought dry-rot was bad enough. What sort of god is he? Does he answer prayers or hurl lightning?”
“Neither, I’m afraid. I think he might be one of the Old Ones, left behind during the last ice-age. At night he plays the washboard with his gnarled fingers. I’m sure this music is what made the ceiling fall down. He lives on spiders and detergent.”
“Sounds like Baby Jesus to me. Is he swaddled?”
“No, completely naked. When my temple to him is finished, I believe he’ll be more approachable. I’ve chosen the Dorian style of architecture for his sanctum, because it represents the last period when the Old Ones openly interacted with humanity.”
“And the girl is a sacrifice to him?”
“Oh dear, no. I need her to hold the roof up. I’ve got a dozen with blue marble heads lining the lounge. When there’s enough of them to take the weight, I’ll knock the walls down.”
“Hey presto! An instant temple!”
“That’s the idea. He’s far too small a god to digest a whole female in one go. For sacrifices I rely on my wife.”
“I thought you said she left you?”
“She did. But I rushed out after the steamroller and peeled her off the asphalt in a single flapping sheet. I rolled her up under my arm and stored her in the downstairs toilet.”
“You sentimental old fool. How touching!”
“Whenever he gets frisky and starts playing his damned washboard, I tear off a required length and feed it to him on a pole. My wife doubles up as a blanket on cold nights. I think I prefer her after the accident. But she’s getting shorter every month.”
“This is my stop. I’ll take my leave of you here. But I’ve got some bad news, I’m afraid. I’m also a pickface.”
“I should have known! You have fingers like chisels.”
“I specialise in brass heads. I made a switch when you looked away. Now you shan’t finish your temple.”
“You swapped her blue marble head for a brass one? That’s breach of contract. Give it back this instant!”
“You misunderstand. I can’t blame you, considering what your brains have to sit in. It’s your head I picked.”
“So you have! That’s really brassed me off. You’d better return it. How will I ever enter an ironmonger’s without losing face? You’ve ruined me. Come back here for a good polishing!”
“Sorry, I have to deliver a parcel to China. But look on the bright side. You’ll be able to fry mushrooms on your cheeks. Haven’t you wanted to do that for years? It’s not all doom.”
“What will my god say? He’ll be absolutely livid.”
“But mine will be enraptured. I’ve also got a broom-cupboard with a resident deity. He’s the last of the Older Ones, who are much older than the Old Ones. Apart from the Oldest Ones they’re the oldest Ones of all. He plays the spoons all evening. I suppose diabolism and skiffle must be connected somewhere along the line.”
“It’s not fair! I’m a widower!”
“So am I. My wife was a steamroller. She blamed herself for rolling over a pedestrian and committed suicide.”
“But what about my temple? It was so ambitious.”
“I’ve decided to adopt your idea for my house. Perhaps it will keep my god away from his blasted spoons. He’s bigger than yours so I’ll have to build a larger temple. He’ll need a higher roof and girls just aren’t tall enough. Let me think it over.”

3....”Excuse me, is your boyfriend feeling unwell?”
“I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
“Stop me if it’s none of my business, but he seems to have a... It appears that his... I mean to say...”

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