Missus Grotesque


Missus Grotesque has skin so see-through that broken blue spiders lie visible at her temples. The effort to form even uncertain words revives their legs in pulsing flexes and they believe her to be trying DVD pilates again, such is the stress on their limbs. In fact, Missus Grotesque has gone to buy some candleholders.

She has made it through the obstacle course of dining tables, kitchen tops and couple-strewn sofas and now she slows to a stop as she sees them lined ahead of her in polished battalions. This has never been her job, to be making these decisions. She hadn’t put it on the list for Jean and now her chest pulls in rotting elastic band stretches, twisting and knotting into a hard and shifting ball. The tearing, bloody strips loop and fasten over and again as she tries to make sense of what she should do.

There are the shiny and matte kind. Then some are bright and some are neutral and others are patterned. There are big ones and there are small ones and some have quirky designs and some are sharp and others are curvy. And she has always been a classic kind of a lady she thinks, but she can’t be sure. Perhaps she is, but wouldn’t Mister Grotesque say that he is a modern kind of a man? So perhaps something black; wouldn’t that be very modern and wouldn’t he say it was minimalist? Yes, he’d say it was a bold candleholder and a very bold choice. The mesh of elastic tears into long and writhing eels in a shallow pool. Sunlight breaks the darkness fast and the eels relax into spaghetti and Missus Grotesque is dizzy and must sit down. A minute passes and in the next Missus Grotesque notices that she’s sat at a mahogany bureau. She imagines writing letters with a fountain pen, from Victorian India, for Kipling. She’d sign off with a ‘Yours. Alice’.
On the way home her shopping bag holds two of a sleek type. These candleholders are brave; they know their own mind. They will stand there in the centre of the table, in the middle of all the dining guests and they’ll be a talking point for the room. Someone will end three or four conversations with a loud, “I just have to ask -“. Forks will drop, breath will be held. “Which one of you chose such excellent centre-pieces as these candleholders?” Missus Grotesque will say that it was, in fact, herself that went to the shops and chose them. Mister Grotesque will look across the table at her with pride and tell the room, “Her excellent decision-making is one of the many reasons I married her”.
They are all downstairs. Missus Grotesque is in her powder room. They’re waiting and she should already be seated but there’s no ball of panic, no bullying inanimates. The mirror in front of her reflects her as she is and she was right: she is a classic kind of a lady. She smiles for her rouge and then smiles for practise. Then finally a real smile, remembering the alarm she had felt in the shop. She sprays some perfume and stands. Her shoes feel secure under her feet and she feels that she is strong.
Missus Grotesque opens the door to the dining room. “Oh and here she is!”, Mister Grotesque rises to introduce her. She holds the handle for support and waits, made entirely of pumping heart. “She who bought some very fine candleholders. But who forgot the candles!”

Chapter 4


Again, night. Benjie lay where he was left, at the side of the road. The light from the lamppost reached him and warmed his side. One pair of shoes passed and made their way somewhere, quickly. Benjie lay alone. His smell had grown to rage then left to explore as the day cooled. He was a mangled clump of grey and congealed blood, a perfect nature morte, a talking-point in an art exhibition. A nearby bush shifted and rustled, then was still. A few minutes later the heads of three grey squirrels appeared above the foliage, swung left, right and forward in unison and their bodies promptly followed, taking quick, careful steps through the leaves. Hazelnuts were clasped to their bellies as a last respect and their eyes glittered in the light of the lamp. They stopped in front of the bird, placed the nuts on the ground and began to speak. “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”, one of them started sombrely, snout to the sky, at once holy and reverent. “ Not the place, nor the time, Samuel”, the squirrel next to him cut in, shaking his head. “And you’re not of the religious persuasion”. Affronted, Samuel turned to him and replied, “But what art thee saying? How could thee doubt it? And if I ain’t, well, Theodore, what life in the world don’t need prayer?” Then, an answer of the darkest blue, perhaps the satin-ripple fall of a figure’s cloak and for five long moments they could not see. Instead, their blindness gave their ears the power to evoke Westminster, to hear Big Ben chime midnight. The great bell swung, heavy, under a spell and between each deep gong the three squirrels fumbled for the gasp of their breaths, the only other sounds they could hear. Each gong pronounced them alive and Benjie dead. Then, just as suddenly, everything was as it was. Only, by degrees, the temperature began to rise. Not that the squirrels had noticed yet. “What the bleedinell ‘appened, there?” Theodore recalled seeing Samuel’s expression before. It was when they thought they were going to be caught, in the last robbery. The fear had started in his foot paws which were rooted to the ground on tip-toes. His knees had wobbled and his hips had followed, shaking up to a face that sweated with the concentration of staying alive. His shoulders and his arms had held a trembling trophy of bananas in the air above his head. He appeared as though doing some form of complex Latin dance. The monkeys of London Zoo had torn and “a-a-a-a-ah”ed overhead, enraged. Samuel and Theodore sold the bunch to some rich and greedy pigs for twice the going rate to make up for it all, over at the city farm in Vauxhall. But Samuel’s face relaxed into its habitual amused order. “I’d have asked Maxwell but e’d be no help” he said, regarding the third squirrel lovingly. “Dumb pet.”