Now I wouldn’t like to short change you, and we’ve actually had only 99 stories (The Cowboy Summer straddled two postings!), so here is a very recent short:

 

 

No Shit Like That

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

My son works over the other side of the world. We have calls a couple of times a week. He works in a home, like the one I’m in, only better. They have mountains outside their windows in the distance with snow on them and sunshine on the grass nearer to. And there are boats moored out on a bay in the other direction. My son says one day, when things pick up he’ll get me out there on compassionate grounds. I say sure thing.

I say what’ve you been up to and he tells me another story about his Mr Lewis. Mr Lewis is an old guy. Like you papa, my son says and he grins. I remind him that I’m not that old yet. Lewis must be five years older than I am if he’s a day. My son doesn’t believe a word he says.

My son says he’s losing his marbles. Not my son. He says Lewis is losing his marbles. I say, he’s lost ‘em, telling you all that shit. Then I ask him to tell me the latest.

Mr Lewis is a talker. I’m not a talker. Ok, I’m a talker like this, but I’m not a talker the way Lewis is.  Lewis keeps on telling these stories about the past. I tell him, my son I mean. Making up stories about the past is not the same as telling stories about the past. Besides, I say, the past is bullshit. I tell him, Henry Ford said that. Who the fuck’s Henry Ford, he asks? I can’t tell him that.

He says, my son I mean. He says, Lewis told me yesterday he can remember flying to places just for a holiday. What do you think of that, papa? I say, the man’s lost his marbles. That’s what I say. I say people would have to be made of money to fly places just for a holiday. Besides, who’d want to do a thing like that?

That’s not all Lewis has been telling him. He’s told him about when there were cars all over the place and everybody had one or even two, and there were passenger ships that sailed around the world with hundreds and thousands of people on board, and all that stuff you see in old movies. I tell him, my son I mean. I tell him. You don’t want to believe everything you see on a screen. I tell him you can make anything look believable with the right computer programme. He’s told him, Lewis I mean. He’s told my son about when you could buy food from all over the world, and other stuff we don’t use these days. He’s told my son, that Lewis, all about fancy clothes we used to wear when we went outside and how we dressed to look cool in special places. He’s told him about walking down city streets that were so busy you had push in between the other people, especially if they were coming in the opposite direction.

He tells my son, this Lewis, that once upon a time people didn’t have to wear no protective clothing. They didn’t even have to wear a face mask. I tell him, my son I mean. I tell him that stories that begin with once upon a time are always a load of shit, and that they have endings where people live happily ever after. I say, no-one lives happily ever after. I say, you remind your Mr Lewis about that.

I tell him, my son I mean. I tell him, your man Lewis is a lid banging in the wind. I tell him the man is seriously deluded. I tell him, it was never anything like that. I say, how old is this guy? He says, he’s about the same age as you, papa.

I tell him, my son I mean. I tell him, it was never anything like that. I tell him, that sort of stuff is just crazy. It would break your heart, I tell myself, if you let people think that half of what Lewis told you was true. It would break your heart, I tell myself, to think we had thrown all that away.

He says, aw, papa, I know that. But ain’t it great? Ain’t it imaginative?

Sure, I say. Your Mr Lewis has a great imagination. It’s a from a sick mind, but it’s a great imagination.

He tells him. This Lewis tells my son, about how we used to be able to go to places called restaurants and sit around the same table and eat a meal together, and actually share the food. I tell him, my son I mean. You don’t want to go listening to shit like that.

If he tells him, that Lewis I mean. If he tells my son about how we used to be able to hug each other, and shake hands with our friends,; if he tells him about lovers and shit like that, I’m gonna fly over there, compassionate grounds or not, and I’m going to smack him in the mouth, that Lewis, I mean, and tell him, don’t you ever again give my son no shit like that.

 

I might publish The Boccaccio Project as a paperback later in the summer, but for now that’s me done. Thanks for reading; many thanks for commenting, for liking, sharing and re-tweeting. There are several collections of short stories by Brindley Hallam Dennis and various collections of essays by Mike Smith available online.

Moon over Waiheki and BHD

Go carefully among we English, and whatever you’ve survived, remember to look both ways before crossing your Rubicons.

 

I couldn’t let a hundred go without giving Kowalski a shout…This one hasn’t been published, but I did read it at a Keswick Theatre By The Lake performance after Storm Desmond a few years back….

 

[To err is human, to forgive, divine. To get it off your chest? That’s Kowalski!]

 

Kowalski And The Cursing Stone

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

So, we’s made it ta ya boyder city. That’s the wan they calls Carlisle. I says, they’s gotta be sumpin’ interestin’ around here, Joe. He says, we’s gonna see the coysin’ stone. I says, what the hell is that? He says, it’s a stone with a coyse written on it. He says, what the hell else is it gonna be, Kowalski, with a name like that?

I says, whadda they want a stone with a coyse written on it for? He says, Kowalski, they doan want it. I says, whadda ya mean they doan wan’ it? He says, which bit doan ya get, Kowalski. He says, I’m tellin’ ya they doan wan’ the coysin’ stone, but they got it. I says, so why doan they get rid of it? He says, Kowalski, they paid a lotta money for it. That’s why the doan get rid of it. Well that sure shut me up.

I says, so where the hell is it? I says, I doan see no coysin’ stone. He says, a course ya doan see it. They done hidden it away down some subway. He says, that’s where we’s goin’. And while we’s walkin’ he gives me the info on the coyse. Now this is a long coyse. It ain’t no itty bit two liner. It ain’t even no half pager. This is wan really heavy coyse. This is several pages a pure poetry. This was done by ya bishop ya see. He was an educated man, an’ he dint wanna leave no loopholes in his coysin. This is a shotgun full a buckshot kinda coyse. This is the kinda coyse covers all ya possibilities. This is ya kinda coyse ya gonna get ya got some obsesional kinda guy makin’ it. I’m thinkin’ I’m beginning ta like the idea.

So when we gets down the subway, there it is. It’s made outta a stone, which I guess I was expectin’ and its got this writin’ written all over it, in chiselin’. I’m thinkin’ they oughta get the schoolkids ta loyn this. They could say it every day, like doin’ allegiance ta ya flag, but more sense, ya know what I mean? I’m feelin’ the heart woym to this stone. I’m feelin’ the heart woym ta this coyse. Then we notice this guy, with the big camera on his shoulder. He says, whadda ya think a the stone, grandad? Grandad! I ask ya!  I says, I likes it. He says, ya do, eh? I says, sure I do. He says, whadda ya think of the coyse? I says, I likes that too? He says, folks round here think it brought ‘em a lotta bad luck. I says, they do? He says, they sure do. He says, that’s why they done put it down here in the subway. I says, well I think theys wrong. I says, my guess, they put this stone up in the city square, and get the schoolkids recitin’ it every mornin’ round about nine, they’d do a whole lot better that theys bin doin. He says, ya do? I says, a course I do. I says, you bring this baby out paperweight size, you kin put my name down for the first wan off’n the assembly line. He says, ya wanna say that ta the camera. He says, I gotta slot for ya on the evenin’ noos. I says, sure I do, and that’s what I does.

Now I’m still up fer ya foyst paperweight version, but that coysin’ stone, it’s a tricky sorta varmint. I done finished my piece ta camera, and we’s walkin’ away, I notices, all the time I bin talkin’, I got my flies undone.

 

 

Don’t let go… There’s still one more to come… Also. I still have available copies of That’s What Ya Get! Kowalski’s Assertions which contains (just) 40+ Kowalski rants!

 

I wrote this during lockdown between hearing rumour that vigilantes in Caldbeck were identifying and harassing ‘outsiders’, and going there to collect my next lot of medications from the surgery….in the meantime, there’s another piece by Me on The Blue Nib about the Arthur Miller short story that preceded his screenplay of the same name (The Misfits)

 

The Vigilantes in Woodley

 

You can’t punish a whole village for the actions of a few fools and hotheads. That was what Bill said, but by the time he said it things had already progressed too far.

It was the actions of the whole village, Mal said, and he’d given it a lot of thought. Or rather, he explained, the inactions. It was the inaction of the neighbours, and the fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters and cousins of the men involved. Look what happened in Germany, he said.

It was mostly men, as far as you could tell, beneath the hoods, and face masks and bulky gilets; the rigger gloves and overalls; the heavy boots.

They’d set up what, for want of better words, you might call a checkpoint. They’d set up three. One at each entrance to the village. Mal had been stopped on his way to the Doctor’s surgery, on what you might call the main road in.

You can’t go any further, the man had said.

What!

Even beneath the mask Mal could sense the man grinning.

Unless you have essential business in the village, the man added.

Mal took his hands off the wheel and showed them palms up, a gesture of surrender.

Now I’m with you, he said. Absolutely.

The masked man relaxed, his shoulder dropping discernibly.

I think that’s very wise, Mal said. He put a hand back on the wheel and reached for the gear stick, gunned the engine. Your man will have to move aside, he said.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, the masked man said. You haven’t told me what your business is.

Mal looked surprised.

Why would I do that? It’s my business, not yours.

You don’t understand, friend, the man said. Nobody’s going in unless we let them.

That maybe so, pal, Mal said, but my business is nothing to do with you and it is essential, so if you just get him to shift the tractor I’ll be on my way.

I decide whether or not it’s essential, the man said.

And who are you?

You don’t need to know that.

Mal knew who it was beneath the mask. He knew who it was on the tractor in front of the car with its hay bale spike pointing at him. They knew who he was. They were in the local pub quiz team. He’d bought them pints. They’d bought him pints. But he didn’t call them by name. When a man covers his face it’s because he knows what he’s doing is unacceptable and that names won’t matter again until the final reckoning. Mal smiled up at him.

Can I see your Warrant Card?

The man had turned his head, a glint of earring beside the elastic of his face mask, glanced at the one on the tractor before answering.

What?

I said, can I see your Warrant Card?

Don’t fuck with me, pal. Nobody comes into the village who doesn’t belong.

There were a few more exchanges, The car number plate – take anything you fucking like – was recorded. And then as Mal reversed off at high speed slewing the car around at the first gateway, his voice tailing off, he shouted, my granddad fought the fascists in World War Two, and the man with his face covered showed his bowstring fingers.

 

People are under pressure, Bill said, but he spoke unconvincingly, besides, he’d already climbed into the cab of the digger and fired up the engine. Dogley is the next village to Woodley. Everybody in Dogley was registered at the Woodley surgery. Most of them used the village shop and petrol station too. Neither would remain open if they didn’t. The pub was at the T junction in the centre.

It’s no use holding the low ground, Mal said. He’d been in the Forces. The man who holds the high ground dominates the battlefield. Bill winced at language like that, but he could see the truth in it.

Mal had his own construction company. It irritated him to think of all those men and all that equipment lying idle.

They were at the top of the hill that ran up out of Woodley, about five yards off the bigger road that crossed it. They should have put their road block here, Mal said, and he laughed. Fuckers! He’d already marked on their OS map the sites of the other ditches.

There was a satisfying symmetry, Mal thought, to the idea of those bastards sitting behind their poxy barricades of farm trailers and tractors, blissfully unaware of the fact that a more permanent barrier would be in place all the way around them within hours, well, a day at most. God, he wished he could be there the first time one of them saw it. He wondered if you could take out telephone lines without explosives.

An ambulance came along the main road. It was signalling to make the turn. Bill paused the digger mid scoop.

Keep going, Mal said. I’ll deal with this. He strode out beyond the Road Closed sign to meet the vehicle.

 

This story was a prize-winner, published ‘through gritted teeth’ apparently. It appears in Talking To Owls, of which I have some copies available.

The Ballad of Matty Lonnin

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

 

 

Joan Wainright looked good for her age, in her widder’s weeds, and that bright twist o’ silk around her neck like someone had just cut her throat. She warn’t his widder of course, not in’t technical sense o’ t’word, but then marriages is made in heaven they ses. It’s only t’weddings as is arranged local. T’owd feller on opposite side a’t’grave, wi’ mutton done up as lamb on ‘is arm, that were real mister Wainright. Billy Wainright. Married her for t’farm, but that’s another story.

Bloke in the turban? Now he war in it right at the start, though not many in’t Stirkebeck graveyard remembered that. T’graveyard were at back of stone church mid-way twixt Stirkebeck itself and junction wi’t main road. Village weren’t nae more than a dozen houses clustered round Stirkebeck Inn.

La’al Indjun feller had fetched up theer nigh on thirty years back, with his old leather suitcase full of scarves and joss sticks. That’s weer thee wants tae be Mustapha, lad had said who drapt him aff at rode end. Course it were nowhere near where he wanted to be. I think he was having a joke with me, he told Matty Lonnin later, when they stood outside the inn together. Aye, that wad be it, mebbe.

Thee’s allus an incomer in these parts tha knaws, if’n thee wasnae born an’ bred in’t parish. Next village us far enough away, ne’er mind next county. Next country? Aye, that were right off t’radar. La’al Indjun feller were frae Leeds, and that’s all t’way to bloody Yorkshire. Matty must’ve bin wrang side o’ fifty back then, and most folks took him fer a local. But he weren’t tha knaws. Bred he might ha’ bin, but born i warn’t. Teks wan tae know wan mebbe, when it comes dahn to Yorkshire men. Tho’ Matty had t’auld twang on ‘im, good as any o’t’others in Stirkebeck.

Inn fell quiet when that la’al feller walked in with his suitcase, just like in t’movies, when batwing doors swing open and t’bad guys stroll in. He weren’t no bad guy tho’, but just one o’ God’s children, lost, like t’rest of us. Brian at bar should ev knawn better. I’ve heerd that man defend gypsies to people who knew nae better than tae call ‘em thieves, but he were cowt on t’blind side that day.

We doan’t want your sort in ‘ere, he said, and whole room heard ‘im. La’al feller was stopped in his tracks half way te t’bar, like a rabbit cowt in headlamps of a neet. He were embarrassed more than angered I reckon, embarrassed aye, that wad a’ bin it.

Matty Lonnin was sittin’ at his usual place, just af’n the fire, wi’ Billy and a couple o’ t’other yans, sippin’ a pint a’ Cumberland Ale. La’al Indjun feller turned to go, and mebbe, but I doan’t knaw fer sure, but mebbe their eyes met. Summat it was anyrode called Matty to stand up.

What sort wad that be Brian, he said into silence of room.

Brian, t’landlord, ducked his head a little, like a man dodgin’ a slow punch. Tha knaws Matty. Then he leaned a little forrard ower t’bar and said almost as a whisper, tho’ ivryone theer heard it clear as breaking crystal. He’s a nigger, Matty.

Then Matty Lonnin, without lookin’ down, found the rim of his glass with one finger and tipped it, slow as a felled tree’s topplin’, beer and all, down onto t’able top.

Bloody hell, Matty, Billy Wainright said, jumpin’ back out a’t’way with t’other fellers.

So am I Brian. Matty said. So am I.

Then he walked round table, and took Indian feller by t’arm, said summat like, there’ll be a better place to drink in than this down t’road, and out he went with him. He niver set foot in that pub agin for a decade.

T’warn’t a decade later, but a few days, when Joan Wainright cowt him on street. She had grey eyes, calm as lake water on a still day, Joan Wainright. I heard what you did, Matty, she said. I’m proud of you. Aye, well, he said. Mebbe t’was a mistake, I’m thinking, seein’ as it’s a two mile walk to pub at lane end.

Joan Wainright smiled. That were no mistake Matty Lonnin and you know it. Then she looked past him, as if in t’ t’future, or t’past. Thee knaws as well as I do about mistakes. Aye, well. He said again, and he fumbled in his pocket an’ browt out a little pad o’ bright red cloth. Indian feller gave me this, he said. No use to me tha knaws. He passed it ower. It were a scarf. Persian silk, he said it were. Aye, and he said a good deed wad nat be forgot, but Matty didn’t tell her that.

Billy Wainright had nowt good to say for him. Wastin’ that beer were bad enough, but stickin’ up fer t’incomer were wuss. Folks like him, Matty, he said, leaning close and speaking quiet, they’re all right in theer way, but nat one of us sithee. Locals should stick together, even if Brian were a bit ower top. Matty said, but I weren’t born in’t village either Billy, had thee forgotten that?

Well, he hadn’t knawn. That were truth on it. Billy Wainright hadn’t knawn. He’d just assumed, and he went away wonderin’ what there was, about Matty Lonnin, that made him different, and that he’d missed all those years.

Landlord moved on eventually, and second night new boy was in Matty Lonnin walked in through t‘public bar door. Billy Wainright were up at bar, sat next to a woman who must a’ borr’ed her dowter’s skirt. Up round her thighs it was, and them bulgin’ out ower t’bar stool, and Billy’s free hand creepin’ under t’hem. Matty walked about half way to t’bar and said.

Dost serve niggers in here these days? That fettled ‘em sharp. Whole bloody room went silent, just like t’neet all those years afore. New landlord were young. Wiry old man with grey hair and eyes blazing like coals in the middle of his floor, sayin’ what he’d said, took him by surprise, but then he remembered hisself.

We’ll not have language like that in here sir!

Glad to hear it, Matty said, and his face relaxed into a smile. Billy Wainright said. Get him a pint son, Cumberland Ale. He’s been a long time comin’ for it. Then he said to Matty. They’re all bloody incomers now.

Matty Lonnin went back to his chair by the fire, but that warn’t the end o’ the story. Foot and Mouth year was comin’ and when it did it hit Stirkebeck hard, took out the farms either side. Only Joan Wainright’s farm it spared, and she shut the gate, padlocked it. Old Billy warn’t for that. Compensation would’ve suited him. So they had words, and he went, and the padlock went back on behind him.

So the landlord told Matty, quiet in his ear one night, while Billy sat with his free hand up the skirt of his mutton done up as lamb on the bar stools in the Stirkebeck Inn. Has she now? Matty said. He finished his pint and took a walk up through the village. Evening sun was splashed on the stone walls. Shadders were comin’ out to play. Birds were singing, unnaturally loud it seemed, but that were because there was nowt else to make a noise much by that time.

Joan Wainright! Matty Lonnin called up from the gate. I’m comin’ in! He called three times afore she came out, but when she come she was wearin’ that bit o’ red silk, and he knew, no matter what was said, what outcome wad be.

Don’t you be making a fool of yourself Matty Lonnin, Joan Wainright said, standing half way down the drive towards him. I’m comin’ in woman. She leaned forrards a little. What ef’n you’ve a got it Matty Lonnin? She said, almost in a whisper.

Well there was an old washing up bowl full of disinfectant down by that gate, an’ Matty just bent down and picked it up and upended it ower his head, just like he’d tipped that beer glass ower all those years afore.

Joan Wainright gave a shriek, and then a little laugh. You daft old bugger, she said, then quietly again, you’ll not be able to leave you know, if you come through that gate. Well Matty Lonnin didn’t come through, but he went up and ower it like a young tup ower a dyke, and he didn’t come out neither, not while disease was about, nor ever after, save for goin’ down the pub, an’ taking Joan Wainright into town and places; not until the day they took him to Stirkebeck graveyard.

 

 

This tale has a life story…butchered and published without my knowledge, rejected by an editor I greatly respect, and then included in HISSAC’s ‘Winners’ anthology. A ‘Marmite’ tale, perhaps?

 

The Turkey Cock

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

The taxi rank was tucked against the wall downhill from the station. Two women laden with shopping bags were climbing into the last taxi. Manx loitered awkwardly on the pavement, waiting for the next one to pull up. A little man with bird bright eyes followed him down and stood beside him.

You must be a clever bloke, the little man said, pointing to Manx’s briefcase, and staring into his eyes.

Not especially, Manx said, feeling uncomfortable.

Oh, I’m sure you are, the little man said, still staring and stepping closer. I bet you’re very clever indeed.

I’m just average, Manx said, smiling.

No, no, the little man insisted. I’m sure you’re very, very clever. Why would you need one of those otherwise?

I might have my sandwiches in it, Manx said.

You see! You are clever. That’s a very clever thing to say, in a situation like this. Why I bet you’re clever enough to talk your way out of anything. He was standing so close now that Manx could smell the beer on his breath.

I don’t know about that.

Now, me, I’m sure you’d think I was a stupid man, wouldn’t you?

I’m sure you’re not stupid.

Are you now? Are you really?

Manx said nothing more, but that was not enough. It had gone beyond the point of saying nothing.

I think that’s what you think I am, the little man said, stepping up so close that he and Manx were almost touching. You think I’m stupid.

I think you’re a bully, Manx said.

What?

I said, I think you’re a bully. The little man took a pace back. I think you like to bully people with briefcases, because you think they’ll let you.

You what?

I think you enjoy it.

The little man almost stopped, but he could not.

Who the fuck do you think you are?

No one important, Manx said, turning towards the next taxi, which had just pulled up beside them.

Don’t fuckin’ turn your back on me, the little man shouted, and he made a grab for Manx’s sleeve.

 

And Manx dropped the briefcase, and pulled away, and grasped the little man by his wrist, and twisted it, so that the little man’s arm was locked out straight; and Manx swung him round, and almost instinctively, for the first time since he’d done Judo as a kid, he swept his right foot round in a curve, like some fancy dance move, and took the little man’s legs from beneath him; and as the little man fell, he turned him, using the twisted arm, which he now held firmly in both hands, as a lever.

And the little man landed face down on the pavement with his arm pulled taut and vertical behind him, and with Manx’s foot pressed against his ribs.

And Manx knew for the first time in his life the wild joy of having another living thing entirely within his power, and the little man said, I’ll fucking kill you, you bastard.

 

And Manx twisted the arm, putting the weight of his body behind it, and the little man screamed, and Manx felt something give, inside the little man’s shoulder, and it reminded him of something but he could not remember what.

And Manx said, that’s not what I want to hear, and the little man’s eye, because the side of his face was pressed hard against the pavement, looked up at him like a bird’s.

And Manx said, I want you to say, please don’t hurt me, but the little man said, fuck you Jack.

 

And Manx pressed down with his foot and felt something brittle crack, and he pulled harder against the arm, and he could feel the little man’s muscles tearing.

And the little man screamed and shouted please don’t hurt me, but Manx said, it’s gone beyond that now, and the little man’s eye filled with tears and there was the sudden sour smell of faeces

And Manx said, you’ve shit yourself, but don’t be embarrassed, because that often happens in situations like this, and the little man screamed more desperately than before.

 

Then the taxi driver, who’d witnessed it all, and had got out of his cab, which might in other circumstances have been a foolish thing to do, said, you’ve done enough, mate, don’t you think?

And Manx looked at him, and knew he was right; but then he remembered what it was that twisting the arm had reminded him of, and he also remembered running away from a bully when he was at school, and he gripped the arm tighter and twisted it as hard as he could, and he felt it come away, just like the turkey leg had at Christmas, and the man on the ground stopped screaming, and heaved a great sigh, as if he really did regret everything, and Manx thought to himself, that however clever he was, he wasn’t clever enough to talk himself out of this one.

 

Not written from memory, this was performed twice by Liars League London (the readings online I believe) and was included in their ‘top ten’ list of stories from their first ten years! I’ve never put together a collection though, in which it would fit.

 

Hecho a mano

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

Call me Mano. The two most popular cigar sizes are Churchill and Panatella. Churchills are long and fat. Panatellas are long and thin. If we’re talking about cigars you can say we’re dealing with length and girth. Length is measured in inches. Tell someone you’re offering them two hundred and thirty millimetres and they’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. Tell them you’ve got nine inches, and tears will fill their eyes. They’ll smile too. Girth is measured by ring gauge, calibrated in one sixty fourths of an inch.   That’s what it’s all about. Let’s get down to basics. Girth gives you intensity of experience. Length gives you duration.

If we’re talking about Henry, it’s not quite so simple.

In cigars you can only have long and fat, long and thin, short and fat, or short and thin. Long and fat gives you a great deal of satisfaction for a long time. Short and thin doesn’t give you much, and doesn’t give it for long. Your classic Panatella, long and thin, is anything from five and a half inches to seven inches, with a ring gauge of between twenty five and forty. Your classic Churchill is a seven forty seven. That’s seven inches long, and with a ring gauge of forty seven. Paint a row of windows down the sides, and stick on a couple of wings, and you’ve got your airliner. Of course, they wouldn’t smoke so well like that.

Short and thin, minutos you might call ‘em. We’re not even going to bother talking about. Short and fat, that’s another matter. Your Robusto now, that’s anything from four inches to five, any longer and you’re edging into corona country, and we don’t want to go there, and with a ring gauge of forty five and upwards, usually around fifty, sometimes sixty and more.

 

Now Henry was a sort of Robusto. He had the shortest dick you’ve ever seen. Four inches at full measure. It was so small he couldn’t pee out of his trousers even with an erection. Of course he couldn’t pee with an erection anyway, not properly. Henry’s dick was so short it kept him home nights, doing slow hand jobs over centre spreads, and I mean spreads, in soft porn magazines. He kept it well out of sight of the other guys, which was easy enough, even in the rows of urinals in the college toilets. He kept it out of sight of the girls too, except the night Hilary and he got drunk after lectures. Then, in a moment of maudlin desperation he let her see what had caused him to become such a shrinking violet. Holy shit! Hilary said, as under the steady scrutiny of her big round eyes, it filled and swelled like one of those expanding indoor fireworks. You haven’t seen one? They’re like a small cock, but they just get bigger and bigger. Henry’s short penis had a ring gauge of around sixty six.

Bloody Hell, Henry, Hilary said. Sorry about all those Haitches. If I was making this up I’d have avoided that sort of aspiration. She reached down and gave it a squeeze, or at least tried to. Henry’s short dick had a heart of oak. It was like trying to squeeze a traditional beer pull.

Oo. Henry said.

Hilary pulled back the foreskin and eyed the slit eyed end of it. It winked slowly at her from its glistening round face. Does it work? She asked.

Oo oo. Henry said. Hilary hiked up her skirt and settled herself on the end. Jesus Henry, you could hoist sacks on this. She said.

 

The best robustos, as with all other cigars, are those that have been hand rolled. Not just hand finished, though that is nice too, but totalamente a mano is what you should look for. And make sure it has a long filler. If you want it to draw properly that’s what you need. A good cigar, as someone once pointed out, is a smoke. You want a smooth wrapper. Look out for a silky surface, deeply veined. You want it well hung, carefully handled, without creases, tears, or chips.  They come in a range of colours, from the pale claro Connecticut, to the rich dark maduro from the Caribbean. A Cuban will always cost you more, but a Nicaraguan will have a hint of spicy sweetness that will make you come back for more. Don’t despise your Honduran either. They can be as full bodied as any.

 

Hilary had never seen such a short fat dick. Neither had her friends. She thought they just had to see it. They crowded round to get a closer look. Jenny and Ginny jostled for a seat on his chest.

Oo oo, Henry said.

Go on, Hilary said. Touch it.

It’ll have to be one at a time, Brenda said, reaching down. Then, Wow! That is hard.

See, Hilary said. I told you.

I bet this makes it longer, Ginny said, leaning forward to lick the end.

Nope, just fatter.

Oo, Henry said.

Try this, Jenny said, pushing her sister aside. Thuction, she said, speaking with her mouth full, which isn’t very lady like.

Oooo, Henry said.

Try tickling his balls. Carol suggested. That might do it.

We don’t want to make him come, not yet.

Does it come?

Oodles, Hilary said.

Oo, oo. Henry said.

Tickle them anyway, Jenny said. It makes them wriggle.

Oo, oo. Henry said, wriggling.

 

 

Lighting up is important. Don’t bother with that old fashioned running a naked flame along the length. That comes from the days when cigars had an oily coating to help preserve them. That was what you were burning off. They don’t do that anymore, so neither should you. Just take the cigar gently in one hand and hold it steady. Firstly you have to make a hole in the cap. That’s the blunt, rounded end, the end you are going to put in your mouth. Use a cigar cutter. Biting is vulgar. Using a penknife is just plain silly. Slip the blunt end just inside the hole in the cigar cutter, and slide. Neat as a guillotine. You want a clean cut. The fewer fragments the better. The less debris, the nicer it will feel in the mouth. This is about the senses after all. You may want to remove the band. Personally I like the band. Think of it as a garter. It’s nice to remove a garter, but it’s nice to look at it too. You can remove a garter after you’ve looked at it, but you can’t look at it after you’ve removed it; not in the same way.

 

Something’s happening, Ginny said. Jenny leaned back. Henry’s short fat dick stuck up, glistening wetly.

Oo, Henry said.

Here, let me, Carol said. She reached out and grasped it. It needs a good pulling. She worked the foreskin vigorously.

It’s not getting any longer, Jenny said.

Oo. Henry said, then Ooo,Oo,Oo.

The girls crowded round. Ginny leaned forward off Henry’s chest. He looked up between her legs.

Oo. O. O. O.

Whoops! Carol said, speeding up. Game over I think.

Look out.

Get a tissue.

Let me see, Hilary said, pushing in from the back.

Get three tissues, Ginny said.

 

There’s no point in lighting up a Churchill, or a Panatella if you haven’t got the time to smoke it all the way down. It’s just a waste. Having to leave off half way through is so frustrating. Oh I know, you say, you can always come back to it later: blow out the stale air and start again. But do you? Hasn’t the mood changed by then?

That’s the beauty of a Robusto. You can have a quick, but powerful fix, and if there’s time left over, you can have another. You can even have one have one, dear ladies, while you’re waiting for Henry to recover.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely getting gate fever!

 

The Dog Walker

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

I’ll call him Mr Smith. That’s as good a name as any, though it’s not his real name. It’s not, in fact, a name I ever heard him referred to by.

He was always difficult to get hold of. He never, as far as I could tell, carried a mobile phone, which I suppose, in the circumstances, made sense. I only met him face to face on one occasion, and that was when we had our initial consultation, about me becoming one of his clients. Considering how difficult he was to contact, how secretive he seemed to be, I was at first surprised that he could get any clients, but of course, I hadn’t been thinking it through properly.

It was Sammy down at the pub, to whom I moaned about the pressures of modern life, who first put me in touch with Mr Smith. Sammy, it turned out, was already on his books. Sammy probably isn’t his real name, but it’s what I call him, and he seems happy with that. It’s probably best if I don’t reveal the name that Sammy knows me by. Nor the one that I use with Mr Smith.

You need the services of our Mr Jones, Sammy said, and he added, the Dog Walker.

Really? I said.

I’d been telling him about how irritated I was with our domestic arrangements. Even the fridge was pissing me off. You couldn’t even open the door without its onboard computer nudging the kitchen light control panel and the smart curtains in the living room and saying, in digital of course, the equivalent of, ay up, he’s looking for food again. And if I took something out it would already be working out how soon it would need to be added to the next grocery list.

Algorithms! I said, as if it were a term of abuse.

Sammy understood perfectly.

And this thing, I said. I call it Harry.

Sammy laughed at that.

Harry’s always watching me, listening, waiting to see what I’m going to do next, I said. It remembers everywhere I’ve been, and when. If I leave it at home, the wife makes a fuss. I’ve got to take it everywhere I go.

Sammy pulled a sympathetic face. Then he suggested Mr Smith, though that wasn’t the name he used.

I just want to be able to go out on my own, without it tagging along, you know?

Sammy drew out a small paper notebook and scribbled in it using a stub of pencil. He tore out the page and passed it over. It had a phone number written on it.

I’ll tap it into my phone, I said.

No, he said. Don’t do that. Use the number, but not on your own phone, then destroy the note. Mr Jones will ring you straight back.

 

So, Mr Smith said, you’ve been speaking to Henry. He meant Sammy. I started to explain, but he cut me short. Meet me, he said, and he rapped out place, time, date.

How will I know you? I asked. I was thinking a rolled newspaper, or a flower in his lapel, or a limp. There you go! A limp what? You have to take the chances when they come.

He said, I’m a dog walker, and that was it.

He had four dogs on entangled leads, and looked uncomfortable. There was a Borsoi, I think, and some sort of terrier; a Labrador – the seagull of the canine world – and one that looked like a mongrel mutt. You could see he didn’t like them. You could hear them, the dogs and him, yapping and growling at each other half a mile off.

Sit! He roared, and, like me, they looked surprised and did. I was already seated, on the particular bench he’d mentioned. It had been donated on behalf of someone called Macdonald, who, presumably, had bought the farm.

He explained his terms and conditions, and how they would be applied. He isn’t cheap. But he is flexible, and has a team of young assistants who do the actual business. They would pick it up on the allocated days, keep it for the allocated length of time, return it when and where agreed, and take the money.

How will I know where it’s been? I asked.

It’ll know, he said. That’s all that matters. Then he grinned and added, except that it won’t know where you’ve been if anybody asks it.

And that mattered more.

Since then Mr Smith and his associates have taken it out every other Wednesday. They pick it up at the station from which I usually commute, and they bring it back nine hours later to the platform on the other side of the tracks. The wife thinks we’ve been at work all day.

I’m negotiating at present, for it to be looked after overnight, the week after next. Obviously, the calls that come in are diverted to voice mail, and I read any texts on my walk home from the station.

 

A.E.Coppard wrote that he got into trouble for revealing he liked his own poems….I like this story. I think it has within it what Hemingway called ‘one true sentence’ – a validating inclusion. Of course, I may be entirely deluded.

 

The Next Step

By Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

Her husband said, he looked old and tired. He lowered the newspaper, peering over it. Didn’t you think so?

His wife didn’t need to ask who. She had thought so too. Neither of them had said anything at the time. She lifted a glass from the dish-washer. Perhaps, she said. She didn’t want to get drawn into a conversation about Merritt and how old he looked. He’s getting on, she said.

We all are, her husband said, and added, mind, he’s ten years ahead of me, nearly. Twelve, no thirteen ahead of you.

It was true, she reminded herself, though Merritt had never looked his age. She remembered her father telling her years ago how old age wasn’t a slope that you slid down, but a series of terraces that you stepped off one at a time. They can be years wide, he’d said, and then you hit another one and down you go. The glass sparkled, and as she held it up she could see in it the reflection of the bright window, and the dark shape of the newspaper.

Something lost each time, her father had mused, and then, more doubtfully he’d said, something gained.

Perhaps he’ll come back up, she said, half to herself, but her husband had gone back to his sports page anyway. They were so fragile, the long-stemmed glasses.

Things change, she told herself, over time. Of their own accord. There might still be time, she thought, even if he didn’t come back up.

 

 

This glimpse into a future was shortlisted in a Strands competition in the Spring of 2020

 

All Things Being

 

The Travel Agent’s website simply wouldn’t take my booking. I kept on getting the notification ‘Destination Unavailable’, yet there it was, quite clearly showing on the website.

And it kept prompting me to book a ‘Virtual Holiday’. I know that’s the default setting, but I wanted to actually go there. I wanted a ‘face-to-face’ experience.  Eventually I lost my temper, and told it, no! I don’t want a fucking Virtual Holiday. Then I got a foul language warning.

A couple of days later two figures showed up at the prime airlock. They were wearing uniform masks. They wanted to know if I was the person who had tried to book a ‘Corporeal Transference’ -that’s what they call it these days- and they named the place I’d wanted to go to. I said, yes, and one of them said, that’s a very unusual request these days.

I said, it’s an option on the website.

Even so, the first one said, and then both of them stood there looking at me. Then the other one said, we’d better come in, and without me doing anything the prime airlock opened itself, and they came in.

Neither of them took off their mask, which I found quite threatening, because an Englishman’s home is his castle, as they say. Homes these days aren’t made for three figures to be in all at the same time, unless it’s emergency services lifting somebody out. They say that’s because they’re designed to get us used to what homes will be like when we’re all living among the stars. Anyway, we stood there, cramped, looking at each other, and logically, nobody needs more space than that.

So, one of them – they’re hard to tell apart these days – one of them said eventually, why were you trying to a book a trip to, and named the place again.

Because I wanted to go there, I told them, and they looked at each other. Then the other one pulled out a screen and keyed it, and showed it to me. There was text all over it.

You’ve been there before, they said.

I was born there, I told them.

Then the other one said, we know that.

I said, well, I’d like to see the old place again.

You can see it all on screen, one of them said. You can see it all in detail, with sound. You can see it at any point in time over the last quarter of a century.

I said, it’s not the same, and the other one said, it’s almost the same.

Not if you were born there, I said.

They looked at each other again, and then one of them took off their uniform mask, to put me at ease, I guess.

I said, what is it? What’s wrong?

They said, look, it isn’t against the law, but you really don’t want to go back there.

I said, I do.

They said, no. You’re mistaken, and they tucked the screen away again.

Then they looked at each other some more, and the second one took off their mask too. Even then I couldn’t tell them apart.

I said, there’s something you’re not telling me.

Then one of them pulled out another screen, but didn’t show it to me.

The place has changed since you were there last, they said.

I can see that, I said, on the website. I smiled, to put them at ease, I guess, and added, but I’d just like to walk around and look at places, and remember what they used to be like.

They looked at each other again, and the one holding the screen showed it briefly to the other.

Why don’t you sit down, the other one said, and make yourself at home.

I am at home, I said.

Comfortable, the other one said. Make yourself comfortable.

It’s okay, I said. I’m happy standing.

Sometimes, the one with the screen said, it’s better to leave our memories intact.

Because things can change so much, the other one added, that we would never be able to remember how they’d been before.

After we’d seen what they’ve become, the other one said.

Knowledge is a powerful thing, the one with the screen said, and they held it up, but not for me to look at.

I said, what?

A dangerous thing, the other one added.

It brings responsibilities, the one with the screen said, and they turned it towards me, but there was no image on it, just a blank, black void.

Are you ready for that? the other one asked.

I sat down, but I didn’t feel especially comfortable.

Then the one that wasn’t holding the screen pulled out a little gismo, and read me the Official Secrets Act and got me to sign with a thumb print. Then they nodded to the one with the screen, who activated the image on it.

 

And after they’d gone I thought about how they had been able to override the airlock door, and I wondered if they could do that with the ventilator too, and whether or not they were monitoring all the messages that were coming in, or that I was sending out, and could delete them even, and wipe the memory. And I knew there were teams that came, when necessary, to clean out homes like this, and disinfect them, and make them as good as new for the next tenant.

And there was, it’s true, nothing I could do about the old place where I’d grown up, whatever it had become, and that in this place, whatever you might think about it, I had everything I would ever need and could go on living as long as I lived, without any problems to speak of, all things being equal.

And so I went back on the website and booked a Virtual Holiday.

 

 

This flash fiction length piece appears in Doubtful Outcomes and was short-listed in a Strands Competition.

 

Finished

by Brindley Hallam Dennis

 

She said, Tell me a story.

What sort of story, I wondered. It wasn’t as if we knew each other that well. I glanced through the tiny window that looked out towards the harbour. Imperfect glass distorted the view. Seagulls blew like snatched chip papers across the sky. Cottages like that must have been hell to live in, especially if you had a big family. It had been done up nicely though. It was cosy; just the place for a weekend away. I handed her the coffee cup.

What sort of story? I asked. She shrugged.

I don’t know, she said. Helpful, I thought. I took a deep breath, and thought, maybe if I just start talking a story will come. But what if it’s the wrong story? Is there ever a wrong story, I asked myself. From the teller’s perspective, I mean. Who knows what people want to hear? And even if you do know, is it your job to tell them?

I said, he walked past her in the street and they caught each other’s eye. He thought she had a nice smile. He wondered what she thought about him. It was later in the day that he saw her in the coffee shop. She was sitting on her own at a small round table set for two. She recognised him, he could tell, and she smiled again. He might have gone over right then and introduced himself, but instead he seated himself at another small table at the far side of the room.

He couldn’t stop himself from glancing across though, and each time he did so he saw that she was glancing back. It was at the queue to pay that they ended up standing next to each other, waiting while a party of four haggled over how, or whether they should split their bill.

They’re busy today, she said. Yes, he replied, and I suppose we didn’t help. She frowned. Taking up two tables, he said.

We do seem to keep on bumping into each other, she said.

 

I paused then, wondering what might come next. Do they have names? She asked, cupping her hands around the coffee cup.

Not yet, I said. Do they need them?

Well, she said.

I wondered what she meant. I mean, names are so, well, specific, aren’t they? I’d read somewhere that even when authors choose the names for their characters randomly, from a phone book or something, the characters take on personalities that are somehow relevant to the names they’ve been given.

Do they get off with each other, she asked.

Eventually, I said, I think.

Don’t you know?

Well, I said, it’s not a matter of knowing, so much as not having decided.

Really? she said, and she put down the coffee cup and put her hand on my arm and looked at me intently.

Really, I said.

But the fact was, I did know. I’d known in a shadowy sort of way right from the start. Knowing was like a dim light showing through a fog, and I knew that whatever the story turned out to be it would end up at that light, where it would be revealed that, no, they didn’t really ever get off with each other.

Like us, she said. And then, perhaps because I frowned involuntarily, she added, getting off.

Of course, we hadn’t actually got off ourselves, not technically; not in the way you mean, if you mean what I would mean when I use that expression. And I could feel the story turning within me, pulling me towards that dim light.

Like us, I said, and I glanced out of the window again. The air was grey and the cobbled road that ran along the harbour edge was slick with recent rain, and the light was beginning to go.

What’s wrong? She asked.

Nothing, I said. I said, stories come to their endings unexpectedly sometimes.

Aren’t those the best? She said.

Perhaps not for the people in them, I replied. And I thought, of course, the people in stories don’t really exist, do they?

You don’t have to finish this story, she said.

I wondered if perhaps I already had.