Poem Coupon. Micro-fiction in Blink Ink

Poem Coupon

A poet goes grocery shopping at his local supermarket.  When it’s time to pay he takes from his wallet a poem coupon that entitles him, it says underneath the poem, to a discount and extra Nectar points, and hands it to the checkout man.

The man passes the poem over the thin red beam that shines through the checkout’s glass panel.

‘Sorry,’ he says.  ‘It doesn’t scan’.

This micro-fiction piece was published 08.06.14 in a pamphlet by Blink Ink, purveyors of ‘succinct fiction’, in hard copy only. Note: Nectar is a customer loyalty card scheme in the UK.

Flash fiction: L’Amant vert

L’Amant vert

We were in the bar of the business-colonial hotel in the bombed-out city. It was nearly Christmas.  A noisy group of men in suits was eating food from a long buffet table at one end, drinking beer and bragging competitively.

The barmaid had a nasty bruise on her neck.  When I ordered our drinks I asked her what had caused it.  ‘Kids’, she said (‘Keeds’).  She said she was from Georgia.

X and I sat at a table at the less raucous end of the room. The chairs were faux-leather, intended to look impressive.  A flat-screen tv on the wall near our rosewood-veneer table was tuned to Sky news but with the sound muted.  Disasters scrolled in an endless loop across the foot of the screen.  We drank our pints.

‘I was thinking of doing a story about a lovelorn green parrot, like ‘The French Connection’ without the drugs’, I said. ‘Or the cops. Or New York.’

‘Sounds ok’.

‘Yeah, I’ve been reading Jean Lemaire de Belges.  He wrote this thing called ‘Epîtres de l’amant vert’.

‘So the green parrot writes letters’…

‘Kind of.  Jean Lemaire was this poet-rhetorician at the court of Margaret of Austria, the Duchess of Savoy.  Early sixteenth century. He wrote the poems when she left on a visit to her homeland in Germany.  It was his symbolic way of conveying his grief at being separated from her, and to demonstrate his grateful dependence on her patronage’.

‘So he wrote this as if he were a parrot? Did she buy it?’

‘Nobody knows, but the parrot certainly did.  He got eaten by a dog.  Before that he announced he’ll commit suicide because of fin amour, his unrequited passion for his first duchess’.

‘This parrot fancies the duchess Margaret?’

‘No, really, it kind of works.’

‘How does he manage to compose epistles when he’s dead?’

‘It’s fanciful, true. In the second part he writes about his post-mortem visit to a kind of avian champs Elysées.  And the colour green is a late medieval emblem of erotic passion, hope and so on.’

‘But he’s a green parrot’.

‘Exactly.  Even more important, he’s not of noble birth, so his love is doubly doomed; even the devouring dog is of more exalted parentage.  And when the duchess is widowed, the parrot expresses a desire to be transformed into the mourning plumage of a crow or raven’.

‘Sycophant. Are you suggesting this is an allegory?’

‘Yes.  The court poet lives in a constant state of uncertainty: will he fall out of favour?  By portraying himself as a hopelessly inept lover he intends to ingratiate himself with his fickle patron with a combination of wit and pathos.’

‘Usually works’.

‘This parrot is a polymath.  He can talk in four languages.  He can communicate with humans: a rara avis.  Runs rings round the Maltese Falcon.  He does a Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and writes an election de son sepulchre’.

‘Pound took that line from an ode by Ronsard’.

‘Hence the French connection. Bit tenuous, perhaps.’

‘I’m not sure anyone will want to read about a late medieval lovesick multilingual Belgian parrot’, said X, turning to lip-read the football news on Sky.

Hiroshige (1797-1858): Green parrot on a branch with flowers (c. 1828-32). Wikimedia Commons image from Brooklyn Museum

Hiroshige (1797-1858): Green parrot on a branch with flowers (c. 1828-32). Wikimedia Commons image from Brooklyn Museum

Nighthawks: a piece of flash fiction

This 450-word piece was published on 22 June last year for Flash Fiction Day on the official website, FlashFlood. It’s called ‘Nighthawks’. I like doing these sort of ‘talking heads’ dialogues; the flash fiction mode seems to lend itself to that form. Hope you like it.

Chordeiles Henryi: common nighthawk

Chordeiles Henryi: common nighthawk

Zinna comes to bed wearing a gumshield.

‘What the hell is that?’ I ask.

‘It’s my teeth-whitener’, says Zinna.  ‘It’s to whiten my teeth.  I got it at the dentist this morning.’

‘But your teeth are perfectly white’.

‘No, they’re…ivory.  I want them to be pearly white.’

‘You won’t start glowing in the dark will you?’

‘No, of course not.  It’s a very subtle process.  Clinically proven, said James.’

‘You won’t turn out like what’s his name in ‘Friends’, you know, Ross?’

‘Nothing like that.  It’s all tested scientifically.  It takes out the stains and, well, whitens the teeth to a perfect smile.’

‘That’s against nature,’ I say.  ‘Nature makes our teeth the colour they should be.  It’s like, I don’t know, black people whitening their skin.  Michael Jackson.’

‘Don’t be melodramatic.’

‘I’m not.  You’re Jacksoning your teeth.’

‘No, I’m not’, says Zinna.

‘You’re doing a tooth-job.’

‘Now you’re being insulting.’

‘Do you have to wear that gumshield all night?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’ll be like sleeping with a prop forward.’

‘What’s a prop forward?’

‘Do you have a sponsor’s name on the shield?’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Is this what all those syringes are about in the fridge?’ I ask.

‘Yes.  They’re all part of the whitening process.  I have to squirt the solution on before I wear the gumshield.’

‘I thought you’d become like a junkie or something.’

‘There aren’t any needles.  Just the syringes.  And the fluids taste disgusting.  Like fish spit.’

‘That’s what threw me.  You keep the needles someplace else, don’t you?  I may be wrong; I’m not up on drug culture.’

‘It’s nothing to do with drugs,’ says Zinna, turning off her bedside light.  ‘As you well know.’

‘Do I?’

‘Of course you do’.  She turns abruptly away from me.  ‘You just don’t like it that I went ahead and paid for this process without consulting you.’

I adopt a tone of mortified innocence: ‘You don’t have to consult me.’

‘I know.  That’s why I went ahead and did it.’

‘You might at least have mentioned it, though.’

Zinna turns over to face me again.  ‘What?’

‘The teeth.  The nuclear fission on your teeth.’

‘Don’t exaggerate.  It’s a natural, toxin-free procedure.’

‘What if you get cancer from the fallout?’

‘Ridiculous.’  She turns over, away from me again.

‘Sex is out of the question now, I suppose?’ I ask.

‘Was it ever in the question?’

‘It’s not very attractive.  The gumshield.’

‘It will be.  Bit like a teenager’s brace.’

‘Who’d snog a teenage brace-wearer?’

‘You did.’

‘You weren’t wearing a brace.’

‘I wasn’t referring to me.’

‘How could you know that about me?’

‘You have no idea how much I know’, she says.

Getting It

This is Pointless

GETTING IT

‘He won’t be there.’

‘I’m still going.’

‘There’s no point: he won’t be there.’

‘You can’t know that.’

‘Are you calling me a liar?’

‘I’m just saying I’m going.  You can’t stop me.’

‘You always do this.  You’re wilful.’

‘Wilful?  Because I’m true to my convictions?’

‘That’s just your definition.’

‘You take my words and apply a tourniquet to them.  The blood supply is cut off and they just die.’

‘That’s simply a bloated metaphor.  A smokescreen.’

‘I see.  I use bloated metaphor.  What did you just do?’

‘That was an apt analogy.  To highlight the truth status of my point.  Besides: a tourniquet (and I don’t concede that’s what I do to your words) saves the threatened limb.’

‘You know that wasn’t my point in the metaphor.’

‘You had no point.’

‘And you say I’m wilful?’

‘Don’t be petty – it’s unbecoming.’

‘I’m still going.’

‘You don’t get it, do you?’

‘That’s what he says.’

‘Maybe you should listen to him, then.’

‘Listen to yourself.  You’re like one of those Escher pictures – apparently logical, but doomed to be impossible.  You’re a two-way mirror.’

‘Now you’re babbling.’

‘You can’t stand the truth.’

‘I can’t stand nonsense.’

‘My truth: your nonsense.’

‘I can’t stand this.  I’m going.’

‘He won’t be there.’

Flash fiction: Bear

FLASH MOB 2013

The International Flash Fiction Day Competition

Entry requirements are that a story of fewer than 300 words be submitted to one’s website by June 10.  Here’s my offering.  It’s called Bear.

I was high up on Brindle Ridge checking traps when an animal accosted me.  I think it was a bear.  Back in the Lodge, Pamela arranged blue flowers in a terracotta pot.  Gazed out of the window up towards the Ridge.

Should I cut off its paw?  Return to find a stump-wrist granny in her gory bed?  Handless Pamela?

Pamela plumps the pillows, avoids the predatory attentions of her first cousin, Edgar, who lives in the cellar.  She is deft in her movements, comely.

The bear regards me.  Grunts.  I finger the handle of my David Bowie.  Wind blows the bear’s fur, makes my eyes water.  More bears emerge from the forest.  Some of them wear vintage clothing like American pioneers.  Or that’s how it seems to me.

Pamela sends Edgar to the supermarket to buy Flying Goose chilli sauce.  Every dish responds to a kick of heat.

Pamela rearranges the hydrangeas.

I have never cared for hydrangeas.  Of the family Saxifrage, stone-breakers; medieval herbalists believed they could dissolve kidney stones – this remedy’s efficacy is unproven.

In the mountains, the bears have reached a Ridge consensus: Ursus Max.

Bears give their name to Arthur, Artemis.  Also berserkers.  Bait them.  Bear with them.

Having left the supermarket with his exotic purchase, Edgar watches a fat, squat, wheezing Bill Sykes dog greet the bus girl as she reaches the shelter in front of the shack.  Her mother holds its leash, its bow-legged stance and wagging rat-tail saying: ‘I kill things for fun’, but it’s a family pet?  Grunts, can’t bark.

When they get on the bus their buggy blocks the gangway.

Child in the buggy is comatose, head back, could be dead.

 

282 words (incl. title)

Football: a piece of flash fiction

‘Football and the Reading Classes’ is a collection (now out of print) of essays by Greg ‘Stan’ Bowles composed over a number of years and originally published in various peer-reviewed journals on his subject of study: football as an index of connectedness, the term he famously coined to signify those members of the intelligentsia who were truly in tune with both popular culture, typified by media reporting on Premier League football (where, for example ‘Match of the Day’ producers have started using lurid tabloid-style punning headlines superimposed on images of players, and crude caricatures, with pop music accompaniment, when introducing the next match on the programme), but who were also at the cutting edge (a cliché he shunned in his own work) of high culture, unashamedly elitist, highbrow and academically rigorous.

You could not, in Stan’s view, be properly considered sage if you were not well-versed in critical theory as well as possessed of an encyclopaedic knowledge of the assist rates and goal averages of the Premier League strikers, or did not hold strong opinions on the (de)merits of the foreign oligarchs who now ran, to his dismay, all the top clubs.

Stan kept a database of all the written texts by mass-media football reporters, and updated every week his corpus of transcripts of all the broadcast media commentators.  These he subjected to sociolinguistic analysis, the synthesis of which he published in his blog; the cream of these became his published academic articles.

One of his most successful essays (judging by Google hits) he’d developed from an undergraduate dissertation years earlier, in which he assessed the linguistic characteristics of five successive football commentaries on the Liverpool-Man Utd game broadcast on Radio 5 Live and ‘Match of the Day’ over five seasons, with particular attention to metapragmatic markers and metaphors from the lexical field of warfare.

His tone in such pieces was academically lofty and objective; he never condescended to the football fan, player or reporter, and was therefore flattered when he was quoted by Gaby Logan on the Saturday early-evening football results programme on BBC 1.  As she introduced a full-time report on a top match, she made reference to his paper ‘Moneyball: statistics and the decline of the Premier League’s football empire’; it was a theme he’d revisited several times since, paying particular attention to the transfer policies of Liverpool FC.

He had been an indifferent player himself.  Stan’s proudest moment came during a five-a-side match when he’d received the ball directly from his goalie, his back to the opposition goal, spun as he allowed the ball to bounce off the side wall, and hit a looping, rasping shot with his wrong foot – the left – that flew into the net unseen by the custodian.

This feat was never repeated in any subsequent game.  But he liked to tell anyone who’d listen that he had invented the now fashionable practice of playing right-footed players on the left wing, and vice versa.

Stan did not have many friends; he was unmarried, and sometimes wondered if he might be missing something in life.  He was considering acquiring a cat, which he would call Rooney…