ENTENTE PEU CORDIALE

Both Eden and I are francophiles, so it being my turn to write the opening, I risked dropping in a tiny bit of French. (The prompt certainly encouraged it.) This is the 11th in our 800 series. If you’re new to it, you’ll find details here. I hope you like it.

Prompt: “Eloïse was my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin.”
Parts 1 and 3 and title: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden

 

Entente Peu Cordiale

Eloïse was my half-sister, but everyone thought she was my cousin. Not sure why. Mind you, she encouraged it. She wanted to be mysterious or something. Because of her name, I think. You see, our mum, Estelle, was French. We had different dads, both called Bernard. Mine was from Manchester but when he and mum got divorced, she married a French Bernard and his name was pronounced the French way. So when they had a daughter – Eloïse – she was all French.
My name’s Derek, so I’ve got no choice. I suppose I could pretend it was Dirk or something, but I still couldn’t do all the exotic stuff that Eloïse manages. She looked up her name and the only things she found were about some nun way back in the 12th century who wrote sexy stuff but also philosophy stuff, even though women didn’t do that in those days. According to our Eloïse, the stuff the history Eloïse wrote started feminism. Of course, they didn’t call it that back then, but our Eloïse seemed to think it was a pretty big deal. Anyway, none of this was a problem until she started seeing this bloke called Denis with one ‘n’.

+++

It was Tuesday, the one day of the week I got home early enough to shower and nap before dinner. Ten minutes of hard scrubbing with clay soap removed the stench of the shop, clearing my nostrils to enjoy Mum’s home cooking. Tuesday was liver and onions night—my favourite.
When I stepped out of the shower, an unfamiliar voice made me pause. Male, boisterous. Then I heard Eloïse.
“Bro, I want you to meet someone,” she shouted from the bottom of the steps.
Shit. I was looking forward to the nap.
I opened the door. “I’ll be ten minutes.”
By the time I made my way downstairs, I’d already had enough of the stranger. Who was he, and why was he so damn loud?
“Hi,” I said as I entered the kitchen. Mum was standing over the stove, Eloïse and the man seated around the table. Sis stood up; he didn’t.
“This is Denis, my new beau.” She introduced him with a sweep of her hand like showing off a new car.
“You’re the big brother. I gotta be careful!” He stuck out his hand while still seated.
I made up my mind right there I didn’t like him.

+++

++++A gratuitous but beautiful French image.++++

I’m not usually like that. I’m pretty easy-going with most of the guys. Some of them are prats, but I put up with them. But this guy… good-looking, wearing French gear, the sort none of the rest of us could get away with, French name… and yet this weird twang to his booming voice. Too bloody American altogether!
But I saw this sort of anxiety on Eloïse’s face as she looked at me. It was a familiar expression. She’d seen and heard how I’d ‘greeted’ previous boy-friends. I put on a deliberate grin, shook the guy’s hand and said, “Dennis. Good to meet you.”
To his credit, he didn’t correct my pronunciation, but Eloïse noticed. So did Mum.
”Petit salaud,” she said. ”Tu sais bien que c’est Denis.”
”Not in Scotland,” I said.
But even as I spoke the words I wondered what the hell had got into me. I hadn’t dared give Mum any cheek since I was a kid. What the hell was I doing?
Dennis, the bastard, was smiling all over his bloody French face.
”It’s cool, Madame Martin”, he said, the first bit pure American, the second undisguised Daniel Auteuil. ”He’s just protecting sa cousine.”

+++

Eloïse blushed and sat down.
I also took a seat. “Look, Dennis, watch your step, okay? Eloïse has already told you I’m her brother, so don’t confuse the matter further.” My response immediately wiped the smug look off his face. He stood up, and I pushed back my chair too. Luckily for me, I was at least two inches taller than him.
The tension in the room thickened.
Finally, he said, “Look, Derek. I’m sorry. Can we start over … please?”
Eloïse’s eyes pleaded with me. When I nodded, Denis gave me a friendly punch in the arm. After we both sat down again, Mum brought beer to the table.
“I’m sorry too … Denis. Long day at work.”
“No worries, mate. I can come on strong at times.”
Mum opened the fridge, and Eloïse got up to help her.
“You staying for dinner, Denis?” I asked. “Liver and onions night, I’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
This time, it was Mum who spoke, “No liver and onions, dear. Denis is vegan, and Eloïse bought a non-dairy, meatless lasagna for us.” She looked at me sheepishly.
I knew there was a reason I wasn’t going to like this guy.

FIN

As usual, comments, suggestions, critiques are all welcome.

Game over

Halloween has never been a favourite celebration for me. I’ve never really bothered to find out what particular event or ceremony it was celebrating, but it obviously has attractions for story tellers. So, as another posting just to make a change from the sequence of collaborations with Eden Baylee, I’m offering something I wrote recently. I don’t think I’ve ever written a Halloween thing before and I’ve no idea where this one came from. I just hope you like it. It’s called ‘Game Over’.

Photo by Luke on Pixnio

The favourite time of year for Jake, Harry and Paula had always been late October and the approach of Halloween. When they were kids, it was the usual trick or treat extortion racket they loved, but they were past that stage now. They’d started being more aware of it as a time when the dead woke, souls wandered, a threshold between the dull, everyday world of school and the places where shadows congealed and impulses crawled up out of the subconscious to tear apart any lasting niceness. That’s what reading does for you.

Jake and Paula were just into their teens; Harry’s birthday wasn’t until December. All three lived in the same street. She was a vampire freak, had read everything from the original Dracula to the Twilight series and most things in between. Jake had a black Labrador called Nero and, being a huge fan of werewolves, often imagined himself becoming Nero and stalking the night-time streets of their small provincial town, howling and looking for people to bite. Everything about Harry betrayed the fact that his reading focused mainly on zombies. His clothes were always black or dark grey and, at the slightest excuse, he’d stretch out his arms and stagger along moaning.

As kids they’d set themselves Halloween challenges which got progressively harder but that had stopped two years back, when Harry’s father had to drive him to the hospital to get a wound on his wrist stitched up. It had been caused when the fangs Paula was wearing had failed to penetrate the skin of his neck, so they’d agreed that the only answer was for Nero to bite him. He’d put his arm between Nero’s jaws and Jake had pushed the jaws together until the teeth drew blood. The wound was made worse by the fact that Nero resented the way he was being abused, pulled away, and tore the flesh.  The incident also meant that Harry was grounded the following year so the challenges just sort of stopped.

This year, as they sat by the fire they’d made down by the river, the sweet smell of cannabis hanging in the night air, Harry was remembering past challenges and trying to recall the excitements they’d brought, but they all seemed tame and, according to Paula, childish.

‘Halloween’s about something else,’ she said.

‘Like what?’ said Harry.

‘Dunno. Changes, things being … let out, freed.’

‘What, like graves opening and that?’

‘Yeah that, but … other things. I dunno. What d’you think, Jake?’

‘Dunno,’ said Jake. ‘But I know what you mean. It’s not about masks and dressing up.’

He believed what he was saying but he didn’t want to admit that the wolf inside him hadn’t died. Its hunger was stronger, had been for some time. Stronger, but different too.

They fell silent, staring into the fire, imagining things in the shadows around them, out of reach things, shapes of their fears, made more real by the joints they’d been sharing. By nine o’clock, they’d finished their third and were engaged in pretty serious debate about whose turn it was to roll the fourth.

‘I know,’ said Harry, lounging back against a tree. ‘We’ll do rock, paper, scissors.’

‘Grow up,’ said Paula. ‘That’s a kids’ game. We need something else.’

‘Like what?’ said Harry.

Paula looked at him, her fingers playing with a lock of her hair, her teeth biting gently at her lower lip.

‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Something just for us, something like…’

She stopped as she searched for a solution, her little finger now stroking the place on her lip that she’d been biting. The others waited.

‘Well?’ said Harry.

‘Roll that joint while I think,’ said Paula.

And, forgetting to protest that he’d been conned into it, Harry reached obediently for the skins.

Paula began to nod her head.

‘We’ll do knife, blood, cloak,’ she said at last.

Jake and Harry looked at each other and shrugged.

‘It’s a vamp thing,’ said Paula. ‘Knife causes blood, blood soaks cloak, cloak wraps around knife.’

‘How about alive, dead, zombie?’ said Harry.

‘Eh? How would that work?’

‘Well, a zombie’s living but it’s dead, too, so it sort of wins.’

Paula and Jake started giggling. As usual, the joints had made everything funnier. They’d also made coherent thought very difficult.

‘But how d’you get to be a zombie?’ said Jake.

‘Well, you die, but you sort of don’t.’

‘But how do you die? You don’t just get run over by a bus, or fall off a roof. You have to get bitten.’

‘Yeah,’ said Paula. ‘By a vamp or a werewolf – so they both beat zombies.’

‘Zombies are losers,’ said Jake.

Paula was looking at him, laughing with him. She shifted closer, leaned her shoulder against his. He turned and felt a tiny jolt as he looked at her face. Her eyelids were half-closed, their lashes dark. The flickering of the fire was reflected on her wet lips.

‘But what about when there’s only two of them left?’ she asked. ‘The vamp and the werewolf, who wins then?’.

Jake swallowed the saliva which had pooled on his tongue.

‘Werewolf,’ he said, but without conviction. ‘It’s an animal, no control.’

‘Yeah,’ said Paula. ‘Savage, a beast. But what if it sees the vamp, leaps and there’s nothing there. Just a bat, fluttering about.’

She raised her fingers to mimic the fluttering. Jake looked at them, followed the line of her arm down to her shoulder and breast. And found no words to answer her with.

Harry was licking the skins to seal up the mix of tobacco and weed.

‘Anyway, don’t matter,’ he said. ‘I’ve done it now.’

He took a stick from the fire, lit the joint and dragged deeply on it.

‘What we gonna do then?’ he asked.

Paula and Jake were looking at one another, vampires and bats, wolves and the moon galloping between them, blood beginning to pound to a different, more immediate beat. The world slowed down, they took an age to bring their faces closer to one another, their lips parted and they began to kiss.

‘Aw fuck,’ said Harry.

Sheep led by donkeys

When I wrote my final blog for the excellent Authors Electric website, I was so sad and angry at the prevailing headlines relating the appalling inhumanity, cynicism, failures, and uncaring responses of those in power to devastating news on all fronts, public and private, that I set aside my usual aim, which is to try to counter bad news with some sort of light relief. The prevailing mayhem was too comprehensive, however, and was then compounded by the details of the ordeal undergone by Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving policeman. There was also the fact that, since he abducted, raped and murdered her, at least 81 more women in the UK have been killed and the suspects are all men, and new statistics reveal that only 2% of reported rapes in the UK end in a prosecution.

And, since then, little has changed, so I’m reposting it here, not with any hope or belief of anyone doing anything about it, but in a sort of despair that we’re at such a low ebb and still tolerate the criminal uselessness of our ‘leaders’. The fact that fellow humans – people apparently like us – are capable of such callous, mindless cruelty and the official response to it seems so uncaring is very hard to absorb and yet it’s a ‘truth’ (albeit one which makes no sense). Even while deploring it, an easy, convenient way of accommodating it would be to characterise its unnatural extremes and comprehensive meaninglessness as absurd because, in the overall context of human interactions nothing about such acts can be said to ‘mean’ anything. But taking that route is, in most respects, akin to semi-sanitising it. Such things are way beyond absurd. In fact, we don’t have an adjective strong enough to express their inhumanity, their distance from any form of acceptable, ‘meaningful’ conduct.

Faced with the inexplicable, the senselessness, the apparent arbitrariness of things, Camus identified absurdity as a potential source of despair but, more importantly according to him, the very fact that we recognise it offers us an opportunity to take action against it, fight it, resist its ubiquity. I’m a huge admirer of his but I think he got this one wrong. Absurdity isn’t just a concept, it’s a reality, a fact beyond our understanding, and it renews and manifests itself constantly in different ways. It’s not a phenomenon one can ‘conquer’ or ‘overcome’. It questions the fundamentals of who we are, of what everything is. It’s an appalling inevitability.

Nothing compares with the specific horrors inflicted on Sarah Everard, but the collective cynicism of those currently at the head of UK society, their carelessness of the damage caused by their decisions (or lack of), their wilful insistence on their way being the only correct one is, at the public level, making absurdity the norm. Their values (a totally inappropriate word in the circumstances) relate in no way to those whose lives they’re destroying. And it goes further. The people who elected them must know (or, at the very least, suspect) that their leaders are lying and yet it seems that most of them may intend to vote the same way. They see these people playing political games, manipulating statistics, and their support makes them complicit in the lies and deceits. The recently revealed Pandora Papers have opened up another aspect of the destructive cynicism of power. At private and public levels we’re in a new Dark Age and there are definitely more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.