Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chapter Eight [Another fragment]

A small bored child had come to the end of her colouring-in book and was staring blankly out the café window. “Look, mummy!” she exclaimed. “A manhole cover rolling along the street!”

The mother refused to be distracted from her conversation with a friend. “I’ve told you before; pay no attention to the street performers – it just encourages them. They’re always coming up with new gimmicks. It’s only an invisible unicyclist.”

The child continued to watch the cover as it followed the tramlines, rolling around the corner and out of sight. Now a lean figure in old-fashioned clothes was emerging from the manhole, with some difficulty, like a butterfly escaping from its chrysalis. The process involved a great deal of folding and unfolding of arms and legs, like someone showing off all the blades on his Swiss Army knife; it is hard to believe that he had only two each of elbows and knees.

“Mummy!” called the child, tugging at her mother’s sleeve. “Now there is a magician appearing from nowhere!” But the owner of the sleeve was no more interested this time. “There will be an invisible rabbit, pulling him from an invisible top-hat,” she explained, before turning back to her latté. “These buskers really are so predictable.”

The tall figure had straightened out at last, with popping and snapping complaints from his knees, and was gazing critically at his reflection in a bookshop window, using a black handkerchief to whisk away particles of soil from his clothes. “That did not go very well, Mr Knuckles,” he said, in a voice so thick and oily that it might have been boiled up from whale blubber.

His companion was shorter and broader, as if he had grown up inside a barrel being fed through the bung-hole, and it was hard to believe that he had fitted through the manhole at all. “Not to worry, Mr Kneebone,” he replied, in a voice that might have sounded more consoling if it had not been as harsh and abrasive as a cockatoo trying to speak Czech. “We do not know the meaning of failure, do we?” He was wrestling with a folding spade, trying to return it to its collapsed state, but the spade refused to cooperate. Every time he flexed one of its components inward, another component would spring back out in an unexpected direction.

“ ‘Failure’? Is that an infectious disease of horses characterised by a recurring eruption of blisters around the fetlocks?”

“I don’t think so, Mr Kneebone.”

“Is it a variety of air-pump for re-inflating road-killed possums?” Kneebone licked the fingertips of one black-gloved hand and used them to peel the contact lenses from his eyes, placing them in a small silver case in the other hand (the handkerchief disappearing somewhere up his sleeve).

“That doesn’t sound right either.” The shorter speaker abandoned his inconclusive contest with the spade and flung it over his shoulder as a way of having the last word. It whirred halfway across the street, spinning like a helicopter blade, and hovered there in the air for a few seconds. Only the child noticed it; she thought of showing it to her mother but didn’t want to hear that it belonged to an invisible juggler.

“Then you are right, Mr Knuckles – we do not know the meaning of failure,” the tall speaker conceded. He chose a new pair of contacts from the case, inserted them, and turned back to the window to admire the effect. Both lenses were milky white, but one was purple around the edge, with the digit
4 in the centre, while the other had a green outer circle and 14 as its central number, lending his face a partial resemblance to a billiard table. Satisfied, Kneebone passed the silver case to his colleague. Meanwhile the spinning spade lost speed and dropped slowly out of the air until it landed gently on one of the pavement tables outside the coffee bar.

Knuckles refused to be rushed. He twirled his moustache into corkscrew curls as he mulled over the contents of the case. “That T-shirt guy is a tricky one,” he remarked.

“Only a man with something to hide would wear a mask,” said Kneebone, thinking aloud; the words rose to the surface as slowly and glutinously as bubbles in boiling porridge.
“Was it a mask or N’Bro’s own face?” Knuckles wondered.

“Even worse!” complained Kneebone. “Why would a man wear a mask exactly like his own face, unless he was trying to hide the fact that he had something to hide?”

Knuckles made up his mind at last and concealed his eyeballs behind contacts which showed simplified human outlines against a black background: a standing figure in red for the left eye, and a striding figure in green for the right. It was his turn now to check his appearance. He was facing a section of tiled wall rather than the bookshop window, but the absence of any reflection did not discourage him. “Next time we see him, I will see if it comes off,” he promised.

“I deplore the thought of violence, Mr Knuckles.” Kneebone dabbed with his handkerchief at imaginary tear-drops and tried to sound regretful, though his voice was more like the distress cries of turkeys drowning in treacle.

“Violence? He dropped us into a cellar!” Knuckles closed his eyes in alternation, creating the effect of Berlin pedestrian-crossing signals. The wrinkles in his face as he winked were horrible to behold, as if a crumpled-up brown-paper bag suddenly grinned at you.

“That was just business. We would have done just the same to him.” (Knuckles nodded). “Before we visit N’Bro for another interview, we need new disguises.”

“Something more colourful this time! Black does not suit me. Hey baby,” Knuckles called out, catching sight of a woman at a pavement table across the road. “You can whiten my sepulchre any day!” Kneebone struck him over the head with his top-hat. The woman simply ignored him and sliced a chocolate brownie into smaller and smaller pieces with the folding spade that she had mistaken for a cake-knife when it turned up on the table.

“Another expense for our clients,” said Kneebone. “No matter. The short and inglorious partnership of Knuckles and Kneebone, Pollinctors, is hereby dissolved. Long live our new partnership – ”

Then the inner-city tram came rattling and squealing along its rails down the middle of the street, and stopped to let the two sinister figures board its rear platform. The child could not hear what they said to the conductor about the trivial question of their tram fare. All she could see was the sight of the conductor sliding suddenly down to lie bleeding slightly on the pavement, while the tram picked up speed again. She decided not to mention these events to her mother, who was in the process of ordering another latté bowl. She made up her mind to be a magician when she grew up, and have a glamorous assistant; and if the job involved sawing people in two, that would be OK.


Jennifer said...


Another Kiwi said...

Yes, it is good writing

Anonymous said...

I'd like to agree. There's a certain eager mania in your writing that draws me in even when the subject matter isn't normally my style. Plus, any time I have to look up a new word (Pollinctor!) I'm a happy camper.

mikey said...

I can't wait 'til we get to the part where we meet Thighbone, with all his Phalangist minions and Mastoid, his hyper-intelligent pet/mascot Weta...

El Snacktator said...

AK- isn't it about time for another poem??

ckc (not kc) said...

I think I'm going to call you Mervyn

Another Kiwi said...

AK- isn't it about time for another poem??
Just put one up last week El Snacko.

El Snacktator said...

Yes, but well... that was last week.

mikey said...

poem demands seem kind of cheap
I mean c'mon now boyz, do I gotta weep?
What will it take to make you get that
I didn't want to wear your rice hat

I only try to say
the kind of truth they hate today
I wasn't meaning to offend
But what is it you want me to comprehend?

I drank from the cup you offered man
I sat lonely and helpless on the can
You think you don't get what it costs
To explain the world without referencing "Lost".

The world isn't helping us to find
A way through the thicket, like we're blind
I went a long way to tell you what I learned on the bus
But it was mostly a sad commentary on us....

Another Kiwi said...

Who needs my scribbles anyway. Mikey's got it covered.

Smut Clyde said...

I think I'm going to call you Mervyn

Mr Peake could not possibly be an influence.