Words with JAM BIGGER Short Story Competition 2013
1st PRIZE WINNER (2500 word category)
Here is the story of my cure. Excuse me if I rush through it. Speed is of the essence. Is the essence. My blood runs thin, half-crazy with it. Yeah. And here’s hoping I won’t upset your delicates. Come along now.
So, I had always thought I was evil. Doesn’t matter why. I confessed this little problem to some learned physician who protested: No, no, no! That is of course a delusion!
I told him I’d have to take his word for it.
Here is The Word, said the doc. And he gave me this glossy booklet. “4 Steps to Emotional Wellbeing”. Read this, and attend weekly sessions here. He gave me a map and drew a cross on it. Go there.
I went there. You bet I did.
There were nine plastic chairs, arranged in the inevitable ‘horseshoe’. Sitting on them were three tracksuited junkies, five obese agoraphobics, and me. A woman called Judith stood at the gap in the horseshoe and said “The first thing to remember is: treat yourself as you would treat your best friend.”
One of the obese agoraphobics told Judith “I haven’t got any friends”. The other agoraphobics looked sympathetic. The junkies looked nonplussed.
The session lasted for one hour and a half, and at the end we all went in peace to love and serve the glossy booklet.
The glossy booklet said: STEP ONE: LOOKING AFTER YOURSELF. Step 1.1: Get connected!
The ad I put in the Times (Gay, natch) read, “Young male photographer seeks models, male, for portraits, DISCREET, call 07745361742”, and the first caller was a guy called Peter.
Peter sounded like a juicy piece of trade – fresh out of Woodhill, and immediately inclined to call me “Bruv”. I decided that I’d call Peter ‘Bad Pete’ when I told people about him.
Bad Pete stood on my doorstep, covered in tattoos – including the word “THUG”, still swollen livid, embossed across the forehead, backwards, having been done, I guess, in a mirror, so that it actually read “GUHT” – and I saw that I really did have a rough piece on my hands.
My mother was a bitch and a snob. So I happen to have a smashing telephone manner. Pete must have presumed me to be of good stock, because on arrival he presented me with a box of Ferrero Rocher – Pete had been inside since the late ‘Eighties and considered Ferrero Rocher to be the height of sophistication. “Got you these,” he said, brusquely, jamming the box at me.
Now, I’ll admit straight off that I’m not a photographer. That should be a given, I’d have thought. We’re all grown-ups here. The fact is I don’t care for that Grinder crowd. I’m old-fashioned. Fireworks and Gershwin. It’s tough being a romantic in this age. You need to have some kind of a shtick. Something to reel in the real men. Photography is my ruse. Get your own.
I don’t even have a camera. Pete stripped and grinned, swinging his long schlong round like a fleshly Catherine-wheel. “Showtime, Bruv”.
The glossy booklet said: Step 1.2: Get active! I did.
Step 1.3: Accept compliments! Everything in the glossy booklet was followed by an exclamation mark for some reason! When all was unsaid and done, we shook hands, manfully, having completed the transaction to the kind of mutual satisfaction you’d expect. Pete came and went, as planned, but he came back, which was rather against protocol in such an arrangement. Someone had a pash for me.
Well, I figured it might be good for my self-esteem to get lots of blowjobs. Judith was hot for self-esteem.
Judith was quite something. She claimed to have “a real passion for helping people”. She also claimed, in our second session, to have “a special box, where I put things which make me happy”. I looked around the horseshoe to see how many other people were laughing. Nobody else was: obviously, I was the immature member of the group and there was nothing even remotely funny about Judith’s box. “I’m going to show you,” she continued, “what’s in my box.” At that she produced from her desk a cardboard box, which was decorated with wrapping-paper and filled with chocolates, photographs of puppies, etc. “When I’m feeling down, and I’m by myself, I get my box out and it always cheers me up no end.”
That’s what she said.
Judith declared that perhaps everyone ought to keep such a box, and asked us for suggestions on what we might put into our boxes. Brian – one of the obese agoraphobics – declared that he didn’t know, causing Judith to ask, “Isn’t there anything you enjoy doing when you’re alone, Brian?”
I prayed: say it, Brian! Just say it! Brian said “I do like watching ‘Emmerdale’” – which is far more embarrassing, I think, than masturbation.
When Judith asked me to score, on a scale of one to ten, how important my independence was to me, and I insisted it was impossible to quantify, Judith simply repeated the request, but more slowly than before: “If one means not im-port-ant, and ten means very im-port-ant...” There was no winning with Judith.
STEP TWO: LIKING YOURSELF. Step 2.1: Accept yourself! The blowjobs were good for my self-esteem. I accepted that readily. But Pete soon made clear his intention to up the ante. I’d never taken it up the ante before. But, then, I’d never previously had my self-esteem to consider.
Step 2.2: Act confidently! My doorbell seldom rang. When it did, it was either Pete or Valerie. Valerie was ninety years old and lived in the flat upstairs. She was my stalwart companion to lunchtime recitals at the town hall. One day the bell rang as Pete and I were making mischief with a cucumber. “That’ll be Valerie,” I said.
Affairs had recently taken a turn for the disconcerting, as it happened, when Valerie called, since Pete had just put the cucumber in question... well, where I’d asked him to put it, irrefutably, but rather too much so. Neither of us could get any purchase on the naughty fruit and I feared becoming one of those anecdotes told by off-duty nurses who’ve had too much to drink. (The best I heard was about a guy who arrived sheepishly at A&E with a dull hum droning from his abdomen – turned out he’d experimented with a vibrator belonging to his wife, who was away on holiday, and the thing had buzzed merrily out of reach and worked itself halfway up his innards. The removal of the vibrator required surgery and the patient was in a fix at the prospect of explaining to his wife, upon her imminent return, how he’d landed in hospital with a big, fresh scar on his belly. “Leave it to me,” winked the helpful narrating nurse, who intercepted the homecoming wife before she reached her spouse’s bed, and solemnly told her: “I’m afraid your husband has had to have his appendix removed, madam.” The puzzled woman replied: “What – again?”).
I left the cucumber where it was, put on a dressing-gown, and answered the door. “Hello, Valerie!”
“Hello, darling! Sorry to interrupt, but I simply must tell you this joke I just heard...”
The joke turned out to be that old guff about Stravinsky writing his ballets on a record-length wall, and it was nervousness, more than the joke, which provoked in me a mighty spasm of laughter. Well, whatever the cause, the effect was a loosening, at extremely short notice, of my sphincter. All of an I’ll-be-buggered sudden, the cucumber schlurped very noisily from its former resting-place, bumped on the floorboards, and rolled slowly towards Valerie’s feet.
“I say,” she said. “A cucumber!”
“Yes,” I conceded. “A cucumber.”
“Where did it come from?”
“It has fallen,” I admitted, “from my dressing-gown.”
“I – I was about to make tzatziki when you called.”
“Tzatziki! How exotic!”
“Yes, but I’m afraid I have to dash, Valerie. I have, um – a – ”
“Oh! A gentleman caller?”
Step 2.3: Smile! I smiled.
STEP THREE: BEING WITH OTHERS. Step 3.1: Make an effort! In our third session, Judith again asked me to score, on a scale of one to ten, how important my independence was to me. “Ten!” I said.
“Oh!” said Judith. “Very important!”
I think I made her come.
Step 3.2: Have healthy relationships. Know when to walk away from a relationship that is not working and is hurting you! Getting sucked off to Bartók was beginning to have a most irritating effect upon Pete’s cultural orientation. “Put that ‘Magnificent Mandolin’ on, Bruv,” he’d say, dropping his off-white y-fronts. And then he’d saunter naked around the flat, confident that Bartók had composed a ballet about a small guitar. What was more, his drawers were from the dark ages.
It was when the interior design criticisms started coming in that I knew I’d knocked off too many of Bad Pete’s rough edges. “This place looks gash,” he said, gazing around and loudly sniffing. “You wanna put some fucking pictures up, Bruv.”
“I certainly do not.”
“Yeah, man: it’s boring like this. I’ll buy you some art for Christmas.”
“Please don’t do that, for Christ’s sake.”
“You can get some nice pictures in charity shops.”
“Yeah. Cheap, too. Why’s your printer in its box?”
“It’s broken,” I said. “I need to take it back to the shop.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s meant to print and it won’t. It’s broken.”
“Bollocks. I’ll fix it.”
“No, you won’t. Leave it. I don’t want to see it anymore.”
Pete ignored me and set about pulling the printer from its box, plugging it in and attempting to get it going. When wires and plugs and cardboard had been strewn all over the floor, he declared “This thing’s really fucked. I can’t fix it, Bruv.”
I told him to get out. Really, what else could I do?
Pete strolled slowly over the carpet, put his chest against mine, and whispered into my face “Make me”.
Step 3.3: Be assertive. So I broke his neck. Yep. Snapped it most assertively, Judith. Stick that up your tailpipe and gape it.
It was kind of an accident. I felt like I had to do something, so I utilised an old trick I was taught in a beer-garden by an acid-head called Merlin. He said his name was Merlin. The trick was this:
In a jam, one can temporarily incapacitate one’s opponent, before he has a chance to make his attack, by laying one’s left hand gently on his right shoulder in an attitude of diplomacy, beginning to say something soothing – e.g. “Listen, Pete: I’m sorry I lost my temper, but...” – and then one hacks one’s right hand ferociously into the opponent’s Adam’s apple. In theory, the opponent fights to regain his breath while one ushers him quickly out of the door and locks it. But when my hand connected with Pete’s throat, there was a loud crunching sound, like a carrot snapping, and Pete flung himself backwards, frantically wheezing.
It took him ten minutes to die, during which time I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It was embarrassing – like when someone chokes on their food in a restaurant and you don’t really want to get involved. I smoked a cigarette and consulted the glossy booklet.
STEP FOUR: MANAGING DIFFICULT DAYS. Step 4.1: Notice your early warning signs! Ever had a cadaver in your flat? It’s no joke, pet, I’ll tell you. The drawbacks of the scenario were immediately obvious. Formerly a great fan of the human body, I now had to acknowledge what a wretched proposition it was: to all intents and purposes, a sack of shit, blood, offal, bones and meat, and a heavy sack at that. And not only was it filled with such unsavoury contents as these, it was filled right to the brim, and riddled with incredibly unsound orifices, which were not just prone to leakage, but designed for it. Immediately, Bad Pete began to discharge his contents. First, he urinated all over the sofa onto which he had collapsed in his last moments. The Bartók faux pas had certainly tested my patience, but this was the limit.
Step 4.2: Find the best solution and put it into practice – if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could have been successful! Thank the Lord for am-ph-ph-ph-ph-phetamine. I sucked up a BIG rail and GOT ON WITH IT. I dragged Pete into the bathroom, plonked him in the bath, and undressed him. After filling the bath with warm water, I cut every major artery I could find on Pete’s inky body and left him to drain while I cleaned the sofa and made a plan.
I advised myself as I would have advised a friend – a dear, darling friend whose loss I could not have borne. Cheers, Judith.
Step 4.3: Break problems into small, manageable chunks! The arms and legs I removed with carving-knife and hacksaw, cut into quarters, basted with olive oil, and roasted. Though he was of the opinion that art was for pansies, my father did teach me how to draw pigeons, geese, ducks etc.: first, make a savage incision up the gusset of the creature, tearing apart the whole rectal-genital set-up; then cut off the head, severing the oesophagus as far down the neck as possible; lastly, take a handful of bowel by its business end, and pull. With a spot of good fortune, all the offal gushes out in a slithering bundle, though sometimes you have to put your hand inside and feel out any reticent rags of lung-tissue. Pesky blighters.
I made a big pan of tripe, and plenty of liver, lung, heart, kidney and sweetmeat pâté. A decent blender is essential. The flesh I carefully trimmed from the torso, cut into steaks, and fried. I dismantled the ribcage and spine, breaking up the bones and vertebrae until I had what looked, at a glance, like a pile of stripped chicken legs and pigs’ trotters. Yum.
The head presented the biggest challenge to my culinary skills. Yet more pâté was made from the brains, eyeballs and the mass of general tubing I found inside the skull. Pete’s classic ex-con hairstyle of no hair (or style) made the job of skinning him relatively straightforward. I salted the skin and crisped it up in the oven until it looked far more appetising on a baking-try than it ever had on Pete. Running out of speed, and with no time left for subtlety, I smashed the skull to pieces with a claw-hammer.
It took plenty of those compostable caddy-liners to wrap up the deal, and many trips round the block, depositing bags of Pete into my neighbours’ food-waste bins. The bin-men will think we’ve had some rare old gastro-parties round here.
And now it’s over and the bathroom is clean. The recycling lorry is trundling by my window, and I’m alone once more.
But you’ve got my number now, haven’t you?