These are my musings and observations on my daily life, loves and the laughter that are all a part of my experience of living now in the shires of England.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Short Story - Barbie Dolls by Marjorie H Morgan

Barbie Dolls

It was the screech of his red Alfa Romeo that got the immediate attention of the young people hanging out of the rounded windows at the back of the four-storey house that overlooked the car park. Turning into a space he aggressively revved then braked sharply. Jumping out of the gleaming car he clicked the alarm and lock over his shoulder as he walked away without a backward glance. He had been for an interview two weeks earlier and this was his first day as a worker. He was keen to impress and the heavy gold chains around his neck and left wrist completed the vision of  a man with his finger regulating the pulse of street-wise fashion. This was the entrance he had planned. To be noticed and remembered.
He wanted his spot.
He was twenty minutes early and that was step one in his scheme.


He bounced up the seven concrete steps with his jewellery clinking as he rose.
‘Hi. Finbar here. I start today.’ As he leaned forwards and spoke into the entry-phone located behind the metal grill secured tenuously onto the door post his words were swallowed and transported away. Finbar knew he was being watched so he controlled his face and waited for a response.
‘Come in.’ The words still startled him even with his expectation of a reply. His preparation had been in vain.
‘Come up to the first floor and go to the office where you had your interview.’ The woman’s voice sounded sleepy and like she objected to being disturbed at that moment. But she obviously expected him.
The heavy door was released from somewhere in the bowels of the big building. It had changed. It was a former Victorian school house where boys from the best families in society would arrive spruced up in starched collars and knee-high trousers, they were invariably punctual and eager to learn about the great advances in the world in preparation for their place in the mechanism; they were filled with confidence. The door now opened on a young doubtful, unsettled and ignorant group. Finbar was here to change some of that.

He pushed the heavy door and entered.
As he took his sleek steps forward the door banged and jumped back into place. The heavy metal magnets met and resounded with a bugle reveille as the lock re-linked at his back.

‘Look,’ several eyes turned to look at him as he passed the open lounge door on his way to the manager’s office. The huge broken door leaned unevenly on its remaining two good bottom hinges. Several layers of paint had been kicked loose in many different spots. The lives of past occupants peeled away in cracks of time alongside the fading colours.
‘He must be the new staff they mentioned in the meeting yesterday.’
‘Are you new?’ a shrill voice called after him.
‘He’s got those jeans that I like … and a nice bum!’
‘God, he’s fit! I want him as my key-worker. D’you get me!?’

Finbar turned and smiled behind him as the girls laughed and ran back through the tall dark corridors. It was the middle of summer, but the security required closed doors. They were all locked in together.

‘Come in,’ the voice from behind the closed door beckoned him.
He paused and realigned his thoughts, he was about to enter his new world of opportunity and he needed to continue with the good impression he had instigated just over a month ago.
‘Let the real act begin,’ he smiled to himself and walked into the office.

Finbar reached across the desk and gripped the outstretched hand offered to him. Circling the desk he positioned himself by the window his back erect against the metal grill. The lower half of the sash window was slightly open and a cool breeze blew his loose lime T-shirt around his body. He was comfortable. They were both seated now; looking intently at each other.

‘Welcome to Dovecote,’ Adrienne smiled warmly.
‘It’s good to have you on board at last. Now,’ as she walked the few steps to the filing cabinet just to the left of where Finbar was seated he took the opportunity to look absorb the batiks and abstract art placed strategically around the compact space, they infused a sense of warmth and contentment into the air; there were even three plants flourishing on the corner shelf above the cabinet, ‘these are your first tasks. If you go through this induction pack and come back to me with any questions … is that OK?’
‘Yeah, fine,’ he eagerly responded clutching the thick buff folder with his name scrawled on the front. They were obviously prepared for him. Or so they thought.
‘Come with me and I’ll show you to the office that you’ll share with the other staff. Oh yes, Ash will sort you out with a keycard and give you the all essential tour of the building. OK? Right, here we are. Ash will come and get you in about an hour. Like I said, any questions and you know where I am.’
Finbar sat in the quiet of the office and looked at all the posters shouting messages from the walls. Everybody had something to say and to offer. He was no exception.

After the first week Finbar did not see much of Adrienne except at the staff meetings, but he always conjured a warm smile in her direction whenever their paths crossed.
He knew he had to put in some hard work at first. So he did. Good reports were made from staff and residents. Finbar was popular with everybody. Soon he was comfortable and well into the second stage of his plan.

In Dovecote the forsaken fragments of families were commingled together in an uncomfortable compound. There were no anchors to humanity in the minds of the injured ones. They reverted to the savagery of their childhood.

‘Can I have Finbar as my key-worker?’ Shellie stopped Colin outside of the main office.
‘What’s wrong with you current key-worker? Who is it anyway?’ Colin knew he should not have even started the conversation on that note, but it was too late. It was the sudden assault of the girl’s odour that had jarred him. He knew that some of the young people were reluctant to wash themselves but Shellie was like a rabid dog with a total fear of water. And Colin knew that even under her natural musty smell there was the scent of recent sex on her. He tried to hide his disgust as he forced his mind back to the blue folders lining the office wall: ‘equal opportunities,’ he thought.
‘It’s that stupid cow Bev-er-ley!’
‘Shellie, you know I can’t have you talking about staff like that. If you have a problem with your key-worker you need to take it to Adrienne, you know that. But I thought that you and Beverley were getting on well, and maybe you need a woman to talk to you about certain issues, d’you know what I mean?’
‘Sorry, but she is a stupid cow! And you can put me on a warning if you like, but I don’t want her anymore. I want Finbar. He’s nice. He talks to me proper like and, and, yeah, and, he listens to me and, and, stuff like that, so I think I’m getting on better with him that with her.’
Shellie leaned on the door jamb blocking his exit. Colin forced his gaze beyond her spot infested face the broadness of which was shrouded by dank stringy hair.  She had obviously not washed her face that morning and her teeth had not been acquainted with a tooth brush for a few weeks at least. Colin struggled to control his gag reflex as he focused on the three stained and damaged chairs that were stacked opposite the office doorway. Consciously he made a mental note to move them to the cellar later.

Shellie shifted slightly as she supported herself on one leg and picked at a scab on the other. Colin swallowed hard and quietly as he looked away from her. He tried intently to maintain eye contact for the first thirty seconds but that had meant having to smell her pungent aroma and all before a strong coffee. He knew it was impossible to go by all the rules of conduct this morning. And the hangover was not helping his concentration. He breathed deeply before forcing a cough and covering his mouth as he turned back to face her.
‘OK, Shellie. I’m just on my way to court so I’ll leave a message in the book and we’ll talk about it at the next staff meeting. OK?’
‘You gotta change me from her… she’s awful. She reminds me of my gran! I won’t see her again! I mean it.’
‘Look, I can’t do anything right now. I’ll bring it up tomorrow. Right?’
‘Not really, but guess that’s better than nutthin.’
‘And Shellie,’ Colin called after her as she stomped away, ‘remember we have proper office opening hours for these kinds of request, make sure you stick to them.’ He was talking to himself. Shellie was laughing with Rochelle as they rounded the corner.
‘No running!’ He knew he was shouting to himself. But it released some of the frustration. Why did he feel so odd? He quickly arrested his thoughts and gathered his papers together. No time for personal reflection and anyway, court was beckoning and he could not afford to be late again. He hadn’t had time to ring the court clerk to check which magistrates were sitting this morning so he was going in blind. Bryan was there for the third time this month on another charge of shop-lifting and Colin knew that Bryan’s mother had refused to attend again, mainly because her new husband had told her to stop losing her time on ‘that waste of space’; so she only sent money to Bryan, without her husband’s knowledge, and focused on their new baby son.

‘Not now Joe…’ Colin put his hand up to ward off another request as he swiped his card in the exit  block and pulled open the heavy front door. Together the heat and sun tackle him and made his head bang even faster.
‘You lot never help! What the fuc…’
‘How many times do I have to tell you about your language, eh? Look, don’t bother swearing when you’re talking to me because it won’t help at all, and, before you start again, no, hold on, hear me out Joe…Joe, listen, I’ve another appointment, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I promise.’
‘But this is important, that cunt you moved in to room 4 has stolen my giro! I need my money!’
‘Look Joe,’ Colin’s eyes flew nervously to his wrist, ‘look, there’s another staff member somewhere in the building, go and see them. I’ve gotta go now. Sorry.’
As the door started to close between them Joe stuck his foot in the gap and shouted ‘Yeah, you bastard, I always knew none of you cared about me. Just like them. You’re all the same. I’m gonna trash my room now, you’ll see! You lot never do anything you say you will…but I will! I’ll get my social worker on to you!’
Cheers and laughter fell from the top bedroom windows. He had an audience.
Joe felt empowered into action.
‘Yeah, it’s time, it’s my time,’ he murmured to himself.
The door rang as its metal plates bedded together.
‘I’ll speak with you when I get back Joe; I promise,’ tiredly Colin spoke across his shoulder as he grasped the papers under his arm and broke into a trot towards the town centre.

 ‘How can I help?’ Finbar appeared suddenly and stopped Joe from running up the three flights of stairs pumped by anger and adrenaline.
‘How can I help?’ his voice was a kind whisper that caused Joe to frown as though reducing the light fighting to get into his eyes would increase his hearing.
Finbar never spoke slowly and only rarely spoke loudly. His laughter was the loudest thing to emit from his body. When he laughed it seemed rude not to join in.

In the moment that he had turned from the door Joe experienced years of beautiful and feverish import. His future was safe, his past was blank, his now was a rainbow. He was spinning in an unexpected whirlwind. Joe registered that his eyes stung. He shook his head, but could not feel any movement as his brain combined with the rainbow shawl behind his eyes. He tried to wake himself up but knew he wasn’t sleeping. Dread discovered him cowering inside himself. He felt too much had happened and he didn’t remember anything.

The moment, the long moment; it survives no longer than small seconds in standard clock time. Even after the moment had disappeared Joe knew instinctively it would haunt him for longer than time endured. As he was released from the moment he only knew one thing: he felt empty. A sense of complete isolation reached out for him in his newly naked state. He was not a reader but images built from ancient script filled his imagination as he visualised being in a desert with a crashed Airco DH-2 biplane as his only sense of other humanity ever existing.
It was so hot, so bright, so maliciously silent.

‘Get off me!’ Joe shouted suddenly as he felt Finbar’s fingers resting on his shoulder bones. It seemed like a calming touch but felt cold and made Joe anxious.
Joe retreated into the blue wall and hit his spine against the fire alarm box.
‘You staff are all the same,’ despite trying to sound angry Joe found that he was starting to cry, he was remembering how as a boy his mother appeared at his side at the slightest whimper. Now she was gone to him. And only he knew where. She was the only person to reach out to him, ‘get off me!’ he screamed again.
‘Look mate, I’m not doing anything, I just asked what could I do to help.’ Finbar took a step backwards and smiled, ‘I only wanted to see if there was any way I could help you, that’s all.’
‘Yeah, right! I don’t believe you, any of you! You’re only here for the money, just like the rest of them, you don’t give a damn about us…’ the tears refused to stop and Joe used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose in one zigzag movement across his face.
‘Well,’ Finbar smiled again, this time the sun caught the diamond in his gold tooth on the left hand side of his mouth and he chuckled, ‘I only asked you know. But, hey, guess what mate? You’re lucky. This is not a one time only offer. Come and see me when you’ve calmed down and we’ll talk about sorting this mess out…OK?’
As Joe edged along the wall his gaze was locked by Finbar’s one green and one blue eyes; when his ankle throbbed Joe knew he had reached the bottom step, he turned his head aggressively to break the hold of Finbar’s look and ran up the stairs taking the steps in twos and threes. When he reached his room he fell on the sweaty bed and was glad that he could still think straight enough to lock the door.  He was panting and hyperventilating, no thought rescued him from his fear. His shoulder started to ache, and as he rubbed it he winced. He couldn’t remember the last time somebody touched him except when he was fighting. Turning his stereo up he cried some more and ignored the banging on the door.

The number of evictions reduced over the next few months. That positive fact brought no joy. The group of young people settled but Adrienne was uncomfortable. She sat in her first floor office and felt the mood rock through the bricks. But all was still. Ferociously quiet. Then thunderclaps of emotions. There were the usual arguments but all anger seemed stunted. Rage was intense for hours then nothing. Absolutely nothing for days and weeks. Perfect siege.

The silence inside is as heavy as the stones of the building.

The house had changed in character. No identity was available for the change. The pressure was vicious. Adrienne was emotionally drained. Her social life dissipated as the furrows in her brow deepened concerning the Dove’s occupants.

The air was raw. Nobody was prepared. There was nothing to prepare for. Yet, something had to happen. Again. The status quo had gone. The state of purgatory had descended, all was in place for the next event. Something must be done to regain the familiar. All the signposts to normal behaviour had been stolen by stealth.
There was no way for Adrienne to compensate for the change; it was intangible.  Adrienne became eclipsed in her own kingdom. Each morning she approached the building with an uncomfortable burning dread and as the day wore onwards she was relieved to leave. The knot in her back grew and moved through her stomach and rolled around her entire vessel. For the first time in six years she called in sick although she was unable to identify any illness. Nothing inside of her was wrong and yet everything was wrong. Her single day off turned into three days but she had to go back because there was no peace away from Dovecote despite her pursuit of it through moon and sun. She had dreamed that in the quiet of her home the discomfort would all disappear and life would return to the known past. But the uneasiness did not reside solely in the structure and space of Dovecote, it had seeped into her being.

Time began to mock her. It flew when she was absent and stuttered as though fettered with concrete leg-braces when she sat in her office. She was miserable in any place.
She no longer believed in herself.
Two of her plants began to get brown leaves no matter how she fed them or relocated them nearer the light. The third plant, a thick bunch of aloe vera roots, that had flourished for four years, just died over one weekend. The roots went soft and limp. There was no remedy. It had finished its life.

It all felt sudden. Like the change had occurred without warning but there are no accidents. All events meet at a designated time and the reactions follow rules passed down through the lightening conductors of time. Dovecote had its visible and invisible sides and both prepared for each moment. The results were as expected.

The staff team were bewildered and relieved. There was no shape to the atmosphere in Dovecote. Pensively Adrienne suggested a joint staff and resident day. She still felt a sense of responsibility but could not measure her reaction. There was solitude in the building while it was filled with occupants. The unnatural equanimity was monstrous. Discovery of the difference was important but not to be achieved. The change remained hidden and elusive. It lurked in the dark corridors and touched them all. Locked in Dovecote together. There was no sanctuary from the uneasiness in the building. It refused to be named. Like a sudden sandstorm the carefully arranged customs of the organisation disappeared into the distance. Nothing was said. Nothing was remembered. Hope fluttered past the tall windows and the usual social reserve dictated that all true misery was ignored. They all knew but with tight lips and round unseeing eyes they smiled blankly. Blank smiles from blank faces. Then, without warning, someone’s face would emerge from the mask and disclose all their wretchedness.

The days were constantly more painful than the nights. The unconscious questioning persisted between them all. As they waited the tension became tangible. Suspicions rose like meerkats on a sandy ridge. The close connection between Colin and Adrienne cracked. There was no explanation and no surprise. It was just no more. There were heightened senses and dulled responses in each room. The indifference had not yet set in. They still, in those brief windows of truth, exhibited a whole gamut of emotions. This was the last stage before petrifaction, they knew without knowing how they knew. While their flesh remained sallow they threw furtive glances around and in response they recognised that there is always more to a person than they originally thought. The surprises continued.

Shellie got her wish. Finbar was allocated as her key-worker and she suddenly started to wash herself. Even Colin had to smile with satisfaction at this result. She still smelt bad but there was a veneer of cleanliness about her. Eye contact lasted for minutes at a time now.

Weekends usually dictated trouble in Dovecote and Bryan chose Saturday as his day. His day to change his life. He chose to die. On his birthday. He climbed out of his window onto the scaffolding that looked over the car park and the path from the park to the main shopping centre. It was the shouting of a group of late night drinkers that brought Bryan’s situation to the attention of the other residents and staff. He had been out there on his own for an hour and ten minutes when the remnants of the recently stolen bottle of whisky slipped from his hand and sang as it exploded on the ground below. The handful of dust dispersed by its impact spelled fear.

Adrienne was called. She was in a club not far from Dovecote so she walked swiftly towards the building giving herself the opportunity to wear off the effects of the two drinks she had already consumed. It was her night off, she was trying to relax and forget, but this was an emergency. The door to his room was broken down and Adrienne picked her way to the open window. It was all in vain. Bryan refused to see her. He refused to talk to anyone.
‘Just piss off and leave me alone,’ he shouted across his shoulder. The people in the car park, eating their kebabs and chips, urged him to jump.
‘Need some ketchup on this burger mate, do us a favour and hurry up and jump!’ The words wafted past his ears. He sat with his legs dangling over the wooden planks and stared into his abyss. One arm was casually flung over the cold metal support and his head leant forward on to it until he lost all feeling in his fingers. Jagged rocks covered in cream silk reached up for him - they looked like sharks teeth. Bryan took a swig from the nearly empty bottle of cider and threw the remaining pills into his mouth. This was his moment. He closed his eyes and struggled into an upright position to the cheers and cries of the small crowd below.

‘There is another way, a better way,’ Finbar pressed Bryan’s arm as he led him back through the window.

Finbar did more and less. He sized up the situation and measured the temperature as it changed. He was intimate with the rapture of silence and rainbows. He knew his potential and was working to achieve it. He had passion for his goals.

Also known as Shark.

It was his bold imagination that took him from stacking shelves in the supermarket on the twilight shift to collecting gold and hearts. His plan was confirmed after months of research following the smell of sadness through the dark spotted streets. People’s homes were constantly appearing from inside bags and cardboard boxes. The need seeping around his feet. He sopped it up in his heart and fed on it daily.
He grew fat on knowledge.

The young were the best and the worst. They were alone together.

Finbar was alone. He recognised damaged goods.
He looked in the mirror daily and remembered. The kiss of a scar sat under his left eye and trailed down towards his ear. It had been between shifts that Frankie had told him how to leave the dross behind. Frankie worked nights and drove a new BMW. Frankie had girls after him constantly. He wanted what Frankie had. 

‘Look, Fin,’ Frankie casually blew a long thin line of smoke out of his narrow lips, ‘look… it’s like this. Right? This is the real deal spar - without a plan, well, it’s like this, you’re lost; just lost man. Everyone needs a plan.’ They didn’t talk much before or after that night but Finbar never forgot those words. Three weeks of sleepless days later he knew what he wanted to do. So he reached back into his history and grabbed some resolve. His weakness became his strength. He wanted what Frankie had, but he wanted more.

It was forbidden. A taboo. Finbar was aroused. Desire inhabited every fibre and conscious moment. He would succeed. There was no other choice.

It was greed that got him the scar, but the warning mark did not deter him now. Each morning as he counted his gains he said to himself, ‘Look at me now, Tony, look at me now!’

The lost ones felt it even before they could name it. They were drawn to his need. They recognised the link in him. Even covered with gold and latest street gear Finbar still stank of the desperation that had first drawn him to Tony’s cafĂ© on Branton Street. The smooth laughter had died in Tony’s throat after he slashed out at Finbar eight months after they met. That was Tony’s final laugh.

Dovecote House. A sanctuary and an asylum. But under the surface the currents were too strong for Adrienne, Colin and the others to rise. Discarded lives were brought together under one roof. All from different homes and hells. Their diversities were as stark as the number and length of hairs on each body. But with Finbar they found that missing core: solidarity and unity. Firstly it came as whiteness, then the rainbows, and finally in whatever form he decided was right to keep the barbs in. Each man, a different plan.

‘How do you feel now Joe?’ the words just penetrated Joe’s mind as the golden cloud lifted him.
‘Safe…I feel safe.’
‘Told you it would work out alright, didn’t I?’ reassurance seeped into Joe’s closing mind.
‘Yeah, I believe you now… but, but… what about the rest?’
‘What rest? What d’you mean?’
‘The serious stuff, you know…’ Joe started to drift, his body was a light heaviness, ‘you know what I mean Fin, the love stuff, you said … you said it would come… you said it felt warm … you …’
‘You can’t have it all Joe, you can’t have it all…. Not even with the best plans…’ Finbar whispered as he watched Joe sleep and suck his thumb.

He was the winning shepherd of a bewildered flock. He used his passion and power for his own good. As people they meant less than nothing to him - the little doves. Their lives were dispensable. They were not known, just counted. For him, or against him: simple maths. His empire was growing as his spare room showed. Each one, ten, or hundred gained represented by a doll. Each stolen Barbie doll a key to a soul. This was his glory. Finbar knew he was more vital to the lost ones than the women who gave birth to each of them. He resolved their previous bereavements and furnished them with a new history.  He was everything and had the answer to everything.

‘I am compelled to act,’ Finbar shouts at himself in the floor to ceiling mirror. The whole room is visible. He expects no surprises. He has Argus eyes.
His dreams are not secret here. His face reveals his dreams; his desire is clear as it is rapidly altered by the face of his youth, the face of his childhood, the face of his past. Finbar is still. He stares at his selves revealed in his eyes. He sees his own future in his open dream face.
‘What else was there for us? We had no option!’ The anguish fades as his voice reduces to its characteristic level but the speed does not alter, the words fly out and saliva freckles his reflection, ‘the pressure makes it impossible, the pressure makes it impossible…’

‘I can do what I like,’ Finbar confirms the fact to himself but his self-assurance feels void. The taste of his reign brings doubt. But he will never reveal his fear. He continues to fight his own misery with his dreams.

A genius? A leader? A devil? A god?
An actor?

Also known as Shark and Barbie.

He has his spot.

© Marjorie H Morgan 2012

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