Friday, June 24, 2011

Revenge at a Party

He hovered at the back of the room. Nervous. Not afraid- not anymore. He’d been at too many of these events to worry that he’d be next- watched as the father had laughed and snapped his brothers back and forth, before inflating them, strictly to the limits of what was advised on the packet.

They’d grown to immense sizes before the father had twisted their necks and hung them with string about the room; a collection of medieval gibbets.

The festivities had barely begun when a skinny kid took advantage of the way the larger kids were drooling over the snack table, and slipped a drawing pin into one of his kin. The tension had been unbearable, but, as always, there came the predictable BAM and the delighted shrieks of children as they coughed up chunks of cake onto the carpet.

The balloon wept a little- tears of moisture which dripped inside his translucent body.

The children had stormed off to play computer games, ignoring the magician who had been hired for the occasion. The man, dressed in his scuffed suit had consoled himself by folding what seemed to be strange relatives of the balloon’s into wonderful shapes- an amusing dog with a floppy nose, a man on a bicycle.

Knowing that his time was short, he decided immediately to get his revenge. Using a breeze, he drifted over to the magician, and settled near his ear. He puffed himself up, and began to whisper- a thin high voice that seemed as gentle as a leak.

The magician was good at keeping a straight face, and he didn’t let on, but the balloon could tell he was pleased.

The children returned, pushing each other and laughing. One was crying because his toy gun had been broken, but he’d been using it to shoot down some of the balloons bobbing, hanged, near the ceiling, so the balloon felt little sympathy.

The father came into the room, and the magician called him over, spoke to him quietly. Daddy nodded and laughed, amused at the tricks the magician was suggesting.

The magician didn’t say a word, but simply drew a gloved hand across his own face, and the children stopped talking. They sat as if he’d actually asked them to do so, still and patient.

The gloved hand gestured to the father- who pretended to be surprised, and mugged for the mother, who was taking pictures. Me? Ha Ha!

The balloon drifted nearer the open window, and wrapped the end of his string around something.

The magician suddenly grabbed the father and pulled his arm. The arm seemed to stretch. The father laughed uncertainly, and then squeaked as his arm was stretched a little more. The kids roared with laughter. Still more his arm was stretched until it was almost double its usual length. The father’s face was frozen- a huge grin stuck there, but a frown creasing his brow.

The magician tore at the father’s other arm, quickly doubling its length too. The father’s face seemed to bloat, then- he pursed up his lips and squealed as if in pain.

The legs followed rapidly, and he was left lying misshapen on the floor. The magician waved at the children. One or two of them had started to cry. He picked up the father as if he was weightless, and pretended to blow in his ear. As he did so, he tied the flexible limbs in a pretzel shape, and moved towards the door. The mother stood frozen, tea cups rattling on her tray.

The door opened, and, with a magnificent gesture, the magician hurled the father into the breeze. He bobbed twice, and lifted into the sky, quickly topping the house, and then the trees.

The balloon had nudged the window open, and leapt onto the currents of the wind, and was swept after the father.

A few moments, and the lighter balloon had caught up. Angling the end of his string carefully, he swung it into the father. The pin tied in the end glistened in the sunlight.

He managed to snag the father’s nose, and a hole appeared. Not enough for a huge blast, but there was a gushing sound, the flatulent burp of air escaping.

As if rocket powered, the father shot into the air, looped twice, and came to rest, flattened and deflated on the garden path.

The balloon nodded in the breeze, waved his string at the departing coattails of the magician, and headed towards the sun, feeling both the warmth of its heat, and the satisfaction of justice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Find an Answer to Everything

Why do you stand there, staring in your fridge? Nothing has changed since the last time you looked. That same foil-wrapped package is staring you down, next to the yoghurt carton with the eternally smudged sell-by date. You bought them, you should know.

There’s the half onion, the desiccating remnants of a proper meal, cooked two.. three weeks ago. It’s almost smiling at you, but its grin doesn’t match that of the orange, looking almost red as it flushes in the cold. See? No surprises. The juice looks at you hopefully, but is rejected in favour of the cheap wine, over and over.

Don’t move the margarine. There’s something ominous in the back there. It’s the Tupperware package that time forgot. Open that box only if you feel the need to release the spores of a million green molds. Heck, some of those can kill a grown man. Biohazard.

There’s the cheese and milk- all anyone really needs to get by, really. Sidekicks.

Why do you sit there, staring at the Google home page? Wondering if it’s going to transform into something other than what it is? Everything has changed since the last time you looked, but it’s curiously predictable.

Want a job? Need to find out more about that slight inflammation on your wrist? Want to track down that old girlfriend/colleague/schoolmate? They’re all there, somewhere. Need to explore a country or a school of thought, track down a good joke for a presentation? They’re all in there too.

You get answers from Google. Answers leading to questions and then still more answers. A mirror held up to a mirror, it sends a cascading flight of answers which help you to explore every possible thought you could have.

A fridge? Doesn’t change, unless you count those mad empty-stomach forays to the supermarket when you buy a host of groceries which begin to spoil as they get folded into your shopping trolley. It may be full or nearly empty, but it’s more or less the same.

Which is more life-stopping? An answer that comes as you feed in keywords into a machine, or an epiphany that shivers through your spinal cord as your unfocused eyes bore into that smooth ice sculpture in the back of the fridge?

Answers. Depends on how you look for them, I guess.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Cow

Back when canvases and art supplies were expensive, even some of the guys now termed “Old Masters” were in the habit of picking up paintings one way or another- perhaps from a dead relative with a collection of ugly still-lifes of fruit, or a neighbour who had just needed to swap something for a meal- and used these as the backgrounds to new paintings.

Rather than compromise the surface underneath, a new artwork would be smeared on with sable brushes and paint-stained thumbs, until the un-blank canvas would come alive with a vision made real.

Sometimes it would happen in reverse- a struggling painter would hand over a painting he’d never quite convinced himself was worth hanging onto in exchange for some gin, or wine, or a place to sleep when the wine was all gone. And the new owner would pass the painting on until it fell into the hands of an eager artist needing somewhere to splash his paintworld.

And so it would continue, until centuries after the artist had slipped into either obscurity or comfortable retirement, and an art enthusiast would, by virtue of the painting’s age alone, decide to have it restored. Maybe he needed to inflate his insurance, or impress a relative who was drawing up a will.

The art restorer would bring the old painting to life, attempting to recreate the vibrant colours and moody shadows of the original. A slip of his fingers, or perhaps a keen eye which spent so much time staring at a surface would reveal that there was an another artwork underneath. The excitement which this could prompt was palpable- what if an undiscovered masterpiece lay beneath?

Difficult decisions had to be made: Sacrifice the new in favour of the old, when in fact, the older painting may be nothing at all, or simply carry on adding as much value as he could to a rather plain, but antique artwork.

Just a thought, really.

Do we scrape away at the new to get to the old, suspecting that there’s value in the past? Surely we’d have to scrape right down to a time of innocence again- when all the layers of hurt, learning and struggle had been pared away, and we were once again children?

And, having scraped away, would there be nothing left of value anyway?

Or, do we look at what we are at face value, take a deep breath, and take up a newer, brighter palette, and bravely add an entirely new dimension on top of a flawed substrate?

Or, more confusingly, do all the layers of each period of our lives all add up to the uppermost layer, and will attempting to remove them destroy the integrity of what we are?

I’ll go with a combination. Not forget the past, which is full of lessons and value, but never settle for the last layer. There’s always a new angle, fresh idea or creative movement. Use what has gone before to inform the future. Yesterday’s masterpieces are tomorrow's strangely shaped cows, in the world of art.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It Could Happen To You

It was an ordinary garden wall, set back from the house across a sometimes neat lawn, and behind a strip of dirt that held the remnants of failed attempts at gardening. Cuttings and seeds and even whole bushes had been dug into the soil there, in spring and then in summer, but the light was wrong. Roses had lost their blooms to the sun and their leaves to aphids, and vegetables had served as a restaurant for pests of every kind. All that remained was an angry-looking spiky bush that flowered spitefully every two or three years, for a week or two, before shedding its costume and retreating as if crouched to pounce on anyone who ventured too close. There were some succulents concealing the dry sand, but they’d grown there by mistake.

The wall had a few scars- lifted in places by tree roots that had long since withered- patches of baldness where a soccer ball had blasted off flakes of paint, and the dark bruises of mildew where the sun hadn’t penetrated the shadows.

It had been climbed on by children, who jumped off it screaming, as if it was the prow of a sinking ship. Once, a burglar had vaulted it in a single leap, but he’d already been to the neighbour’s house and wasn’t looking for anything more.

The smoke of barbecues had drifted over it during long lazy evenings, carrying the thick scent of grilling meat to the saliva glands of people out in their own gardens.

And in summer, the steady bleat of the sprinkler had turned the bottom half of the wall a rusty orange, the tannin in the ground water from the borehole adding an aged tint which seemed quite apt.

In the cracks and seams of the wall the ants hurried in their endless rush-hour streams, stepping urgently around each other, and occasionally ganging up on caterpillars and spiders which had paused too long.

The arcs left by snails after the rains shimmered gently in the cooler mornings, and attracted the birds who gathered on the top to dip their beaks at each other. A sugar-bird had been a regular for a while, but the garden held little to keep it, instead, the starlings and pigeons bullied each other for airspace.

A tortoiseshell cat was in the habit of weaving a daintily menacing path across the wall in the way cats have, sometimes pausing with one paw raised as if distracted by some furry creature, but then shimmied away to find a quiet place to sleep.

And down there, hidden in the slight tunnel at the foot of the wall hid the snake. It was still and barely visible, and lay inhaling the dry air through brittle nostrils. It lay, waiting, knowing that it needn’t search in the way other creatures must for food, but that just by waiting, motionless, the meals would come. Any day now, the prey would come.