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Tyronehster
 
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No Strings Attached

10 May 2014, 05:30

He was about four foot tall and used to sit on my lap; in fact, the only time he came alive was when he sat on my lap! And before you accuse me of being a pervert, I'm talking here about a ventriloquist's dummy. We had an act that went back four years and he stole the limelight, but I didn't mind; I made the money. Wither and Spoon, that was us and a finer duo couldn't be found South of the equator.

There were actually people who thought of him as a real person and I couldn't really blame them, he was very, very real. Sometimes, I even thought of him as my child or, maybe my little brother. Women thought he was gorgeous and, to use an Americanism, a babe magnet. But who was I to complain?

I was sitting at the bar after my show, having a drink, relaxing and half-watching the next show, when I heard a voice behind me. I twisted on my seat to look into the most gorgeous face I'd ever seen. Liquid brown eyes, light brown hair, round face and a pert little nose to set off this visual poetry.

This, I might add, was perched on top of five foot three of exquisitely formed body. I sighed theatrically; life could be soooo good!

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘did you say something?’

She smiled prettily. We..ell..I mean, how else could she smile? ‘I said, that puppet of yours is very realistic,’ she said.

‘He's not a puppet,’ I said, ‘and don't ever let him hear you call him one. He's actually my bastard son, a fact that he's not even aware of, which is why I keep him hidden away; so he won't find out.’ She laughed at that, not a titter or a giggle, but a full-blooded laugh! And it really wasn't very funny. Still, when you're on a roll, order pickles and garnish.

‘He's very cute,’ she said, eyes all shining from the light behind the bar, or so science would have you believe. ‘The banter between the two of you is so spontaneous that it seems real, like you're really fighting.’

‘We really are fighting,’ I said. ‘He's a rude little man; terrible manners. He never, ever lets me finish a sentence and worst of all, he's funnier than me.’ I gave her my sad, haunted, self-pitying look. ‘Do you wonder that I hate the little bugger so?’

She laughed delightedly and I just sat back and watched; it was such a pleasure to watch. ‘I tried putting him up for adoption, but the adoptive parents hired a private detective to trace me and give him back to me. You can see my problem, can't you? I can't get a proper job with a bastard son to look after; I'm too young to haunt houses and too old to be a child prostitute and I'm stuck with an ill-mannered lout of a son, so I might as well make use of his talents. At least he doesn't eat a lot.’

By this time she was laughing fit to bust a gut, so I sat back and watched her. All the right parts jiggled as she giggled; in unison, yet. This looked as if it was going to be a good night. She stopped laughing and looked at me askance from under her hair and that set us both off! I laughed until my ribs ached, don't ask me why, and it really felt good! After many stops and starts, we finally calmed down enough to be coherent again.

‘Why don't you join me?’ I asked.

‘Is it safe?’ she gasped, dissolving in a fit of giggles again.

‘Enough!’ I said, holding out my hand, traffic cop style. ‘Enough, enough, enough!’ I drew a deep breath, ‘Let's get serious,’ I said, giving her my best serious look, which set her off again. When she finally calmed down, I said, ‘What would you like to drink?’

‘Campari and soda, please. And I'd better go to the loo before there's big trouble!’ She got up off her stool and glided to the toilet; I mean literally glided. She had the most incredible walk I've ever seen.

I ordered our drinks and the barman leaned over, ‘You really struck it lucky tonight!’

‘Yeah, I suppose I did, Rick.’

I think now is a good time to describe myself. When people are being nice, they say I'm pleasantly ugly. At other times, they leave out the pleasantly. I'm about five foot seven, but have the body of a man of six feet two; the legs end at the knees. Not that I don't have feet, just that my legs are short.

My ears, while not quite in the same league as Dumbo, are nevertheless the envy of lesser elephants. My nose is short and sharply turned up and all of this is crowned by an unruly carrot-coloured thatch. Want to know how ugly I really am? People say I have beautiful eyes. How's that for an insult?

Now you can see why Rick said I struck it lucky.

In spite of all the aforementioned, I still managed to pull quite a few birds, to use a colloquialism. Maybe it was the puppet; maybe it was because I was funny; maybe it was who knows? Who cares, anyway? Not I.

She came back from the bathroom and slid up onto the barstool next to me. She waggled her fingers, ‘I'm back,’ she said, brightly. Nobody would ever say her eyes were her best feature. She was one of the most perfect packages it was possible to imagine.

I cocked an eyebrow. ‘So I see!’ I said, in my smarmiest dirty old man voice.

‘Don't start me off again!’ she pleaded, ‘I nearly had an accident just now!’

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I'll behave, What's your name?’

‘Carol,’ she said, ‘and I already know yours.’

‘Do you really?’ I asked, facetiously. ‘Wither, is it?’

She laughed again, ‘No, of course not! I'm not stupid, you know!’ She glared at me and punched my arm. ‘It's Alan.’

I was stunned. ‘How did you know?’ I asked, genuinely puzzled.

‘The barman told me,’ she replied, simply.

The barman! She had taken the trouble to ask Rick for my name even before she'd spoken to me. I was even more stunned now. I had the presence of mind not to gasp in astonishment, but only just.

This was, of course, good news. No, I lie. It was super, duper news! In fact, it was the best news that was ever newsed out. The very bestest of the bestest.

I, of course, acted nonchalant. I wonder; is chalant the opposite of nonchalant? ‘You asked Rick.’

‘Rick? Oh, you mean the barman. Yes, I asked Rick.’ She frowned, ‘Why, is there something wrong with that?’

I sighed heavily, rolling my eyes theatrically. ‘How could you do that?’ I said. ‘Now I'm going to have to swear you to secrecy.’

She looked uncertain then. ‘About what?’ she asked.

‘You'll have to do exactly as I say!’ I said, in a doom-laden voice. ‘Exactly.’

She giggled, ‘Okay! What do you want me to do?’ Just like that.

‘Stand up,’ I said. She slid off the stool.

‘Take my hand,’ I added. She took my hand. Oh, boy! This was not a hand. This was the hand that launched a thousand wanks! Smooth as silk but strong as steel. Oh my, oh, my.

‘Now twirl around three times cockwise..I mean clockwise!’ She twirled around and her skirt lifted, revealing her legs. Did I say she had delightful legs? Well, if I didn't, I'm rectifying that now. She had delightful legs. I was pretty much smitten, I can tell you. ‘Now, come and sit on my lap’

She gave me a cynical lift of the eyebrow. ‘Maybe another time.’

I narrowed my eyes. ‘Do you want the curse of the dreaded bastard, son of superbastard, to fall on you and make you unfruitful? That your womb dries up and bats inhabit your cervix?’ I paused for breath before continuing. ‘All this and more shall befall you, even unto the seventh generation, unless you sit on my lap and stroke my nether regions.’

She cocked an eyebrow and smiled sardonically. I don't know how she did that, I don't even think she eats sardons. ‘Mmm!’ she said, ‘I'll just have to take my chances, won't I? The same way you are.’

I laughed, ‘Touché!’ I leaned my forehead against hers. ‘Now, tell me all about your sweet, wonderful self.’ And she did, at length.

She was Carol Brewer, nice name that, and was in advertising. She was in credit control for one of the leading agencies, whose name escapes me now, and loved her work. She was twenty-seven and free as a bird. That made me sit up and take notice, I can tell you.

‘And what about you?’ she said. ‘I know nothing about you except your name and then only your Christian name. Tell me about yourself.’

‘There's not actually much to tell. My name is Alan McCulloch and I'm a ventriloquist of sorts and I make a fair living at what I do.’ I looked at her quizzically, ‘Anything else I can add?’

She gave a little laugh, ‘Yes, silly! You've told me nothing!’

I held up my hands in surrender, ‘The gig is up. You've caught me with my pants down, metaphorically speaking. Of course, if you'd caught me with my pants literally down…’ I paused here and gave her my slyest, most lascivious look, and burst into song:

  ‘I'd run around here with my bum stuck out

   and my willy would follow you, never you doubt!’

She erupted in peals of laughter then, slapping ineffectually at my arm. ‘Oh, I can see I'm going to get no sense out of you tonight!’ she gasped. She got up off her stool and took my hand. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘let's dance.’

And we did. Some fast, some slow, some distant, some cheek-to-cheek. And I got to know quite a bit of her, if you get my meaning.

Now, if you were paying attention earlier, you would have noticed that I'm not really built for dancing; ergo, I don't dance much and when I do, I don't enjoy it.

This was different.

I really enjoyed the dancing; not only the slow, close-up stuff, but the more frenetic stuff as well. Love was in the air.

Later, I offered to drive her home, but she had her car there, so I offered to follow her home, hoping she'd keep me. Okay, I know it's not original, but I tried.

She allowed me to follow her home.

She stayed in one of those so-called cluster homes: a collection of minute flats is what it was. And I mean minute. The kind estate agents refer to as 'cosy'. If you took a cat and swung him by the tail, I'd report you to the SPCA for cruelty to animals, you dirty bastard.

But if you took a piece of string about the same length as a cat and swung it around inside her flat, it would smack into all the walls. That's how small it was. However, if you were paying attention, you'd remember that she wasn't  very big, so it was perfect for her.

Now, I didn't follow her home in order to describe her place to you; I followed her home in order to get lucky. Fat chance of that! This was no one night stand; no groping, no heavy petting and no sex. No passionate kissing, even!

 And yet, I was happier than I'd ever been. I was walking on clouds! This could get serious, if that was what she wanted. It definitely was what I wanted. I didn't so much drive back to the theatre, as float. I felt like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire in one of those silly movies; I wanted to burst into song!

*****************

When I was young, in the years before microwaves, my mother used to take her meat out of the freezer and put it on top of the fridge to defrost. Silly, I know, but she used to do it.

One day, one of the neighbourhood cats got into the house and got hold of the meat. My brother and I chased him around the house, don't ask me why. What were we going to do if we caught him, eat the meat? Anyway, we chased him and I had the good luck to corner him. Have you ever cornered a cat? Let me tell you what happens when you corner a cat.

A cat has, I'm reliably informed, four legs, each of which is equipped with five claws. I am here to tell you that this is totally untrue. A cat has at least fourteen legs, each with fourteen claws. At least, that's what it felt like to me.

The cat launched itself at me, meat forgotten, all hundred and ninety-two claws extended.

You've heard the expression, fur flying? Well, this was fur and claws and teeth and skin (mine) and sweat and blood (also mine). You would never believe how much fur and stuff flies when an enraged cat gets stuck into you. Opening the dressing room door reminded me of that time.

‘What fucking time is this to get back, you asshole?!’ Spoon flew at me in a rage, his little four foot frame bristling with anger. ‘I've been sitting here worrying myself sick and where have you been? Fucking drinking and womanising again, you bastard!’ He kicked at me with his little wooden feet and punched me with his little wooden fists and, although he was small, it stung like hell!

I smacked him and he landed on the floor with a pathetic clatter. ‘Are you crazy?’ I said, ‘do you want to give the game away?’ I shook my head, ‘You really don't use your brains, do you? If people find out you're alive, bang goes the show! Have you thought about that, you little shit?!’

I looked at him lying there in a pathetic little heap and felt a sudden surge of pity for him. I bent down to pick him up and he fastened his little wooden teeth in my hand.

‘You little bastard!’ I shouted and threw him onto his box in the corner, where he lay, glowering at me. ‘You really are absolutely crazy, you know that?’ I said.

He glared at me. ‘Fuck you!’ he spat out.

I got up and went over to him. ‘I can see I'm going to get no sense out of you tonight,’ I said, taking him and putting him into his travelling case. I closed the case and locked it, in spite of his muffled shouts and eventual apologies. He'd already gone a long way to ruining the evening, I wasn't going to allow him to ruin it completely.

I believe now is a good time to clarify the little scene you were just witness to. There is an explanation and however bizarre you might find it, it's the truth.

From the age of ten, when I'd first seen my uncle Murray perform his ventriloquism act, I was totally hooked on showbiz. There was just something about the applause, the lights, the laughter, I don't know what. There was some indefinable something which made showbiz irresistible to me.

So what did I do? I stole one of my sister's dolls and started practising. And practising. And practising. And discovered that I had no talent. Or let me rephrase that; everyone else knew I had no talent. I thought it was the lousy dolls I had. So what I did was, buy a new doll, one with a hole in its back and little levers and things. It still wasn't good enough.

As a result, I never really settled down to a career of any sort and drifted from job to job, absolutely certain that I was made for showbiz. Showbiz didn't agree. I went from agent to agent, undeterred, certain of my talent and knowing that one day the right agent would see me and I'd be made.

Then my uncle Murray died and left me his doll: Spoon.

Now let me tell you this; Spoon was wonderfully constructed. He'd been meticulously built and seemed to have LIFE. I knew now that I was finally going to make it. The one obstacle that had been standing in my way had been removed. I was going to kick butt, serious butt!

The agents didn't seem to agree. Nothing changed, a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y nothing! The agents were as blinkered as ever, no eye for talent.

Now this is where it gets soooo weird!

One day, after another failed audition, I'd come home and stomped around in a foul temper and thrown Spoon into a corner, vowing then and there to give up showbiz forever, when I heard this voice and thought I'd lost my marbles. ‘Hey! Watch where you throw a guy; that hurts!’

I looked around a bit wildly, what the hell was going on here? I knew what it was; one of my idiot friends or my idiot brother was trying to pull a joke on me. ‘Okay,’ I said wearily, ‘you can come out now, whoever you are.’ And Spoon got up and walked over to me! I can tell you, it's a good thing I have a strong heart.

‘I suppose the gig is up, hey?’ he said and it really looked as if he was talking. Whoever had rigged this up had gone to enormous effort. ‘Hey dummy! It's me!’ Spoon was pulling on my trouser leg. It was beginning to dawn on me; he was real! He was alive, really alive! My legs collapsed under me and I fell into a chair.

He climbed up onto my lap and wiggled himself into position. ‘This really is me,’ he said. ‘No-one set you up, I really am alive, I really can speak and walk and everything. And, if you don't mind my saying so, you really need me.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, feeling more than just a trifle offended.

‘Do you see any agents beating down your door to offer you work? No? Well, it's time you got your act together. Here, put your hand in my back,’ he said. I dazedly put my hand into his back and grabbed hold of the levers. ‘Hey! Watch where you put your hand, dummy! What are you, some kind of a pervert?!’

And so started my training. I learned from him that my uncle had been just as bad as me, but that Spoon had rescued him, the same way he was going to rescue me and put me on the road to stardom. And he did.

My star rose as we worked together and I started demanding and receiving more money for my performances. I was actually beginning to make money, real money and I was in demand. But there was a price. Spoon was extremely demanding of my time and he was insanely jealous; and it was getting worse. And worse.

Witness the incident in the dressing room. Weird, right?

****************

There was no show the following evening, so I called Carol, hoping to get her to go out to dinner with me. It was my lucky day; she said yes. Of course, it was Monday, so there was very little chance she'd have a date, but I still considered myself lucky.

Now you may have concluded from what I've said up to now that I was rather fond of her. Well, you would be wrong. I was rather fond of the ground she walked on; I was totally besotted with her!

When she opened the door to me, she was dressed: unfortunately.

But what she was dressed in! A short, thank goodness, flared black skirt and a white blouse, just a hint of bra showing. Was it love? I don't know, but it was lust at first sight.

‘Hello, you're early!’ she said, brightly and, my knees nearly buckled here, stood up and kissed me on the lips. I stood there, dumbstruck, as she took me by the hand and said, ‘Well, don't just stand there, come in.’

She closed the door behind me and said, ‘Can I get you something to drink while I finish up?’

‘Finish what?’ I finally managed, ‘you're perfect as you are!’

She gave me a dazzling smile, ‘You really know how to flatter a lady, don't you?’

She made me feel like a schoolboy! ‘It's not flattery, I mean it!’ I blurted out.

She laughed then, ‘Okay. But I still have to finish my hair and make-up. Tell you what, why don't you look in the fridge and see what you want to drink, okay?’ I nodded yes and she glided off to the bedroom to finish her finishing. I went off to the fridge to get something to drink and try and regain my composure.

I opened the full-sized fridge which dwarfed the miniature kitchen and looked inside. Diet Coke, Diet Sprite and Amstel. Oh, well, Amstel it would have to be! I poured my drink and went back through to the lounge.

I browsed through the books in her bookcase and found myself being really impressed with more than just her looks; there was a bright intellect behind those perfect features. I've always thought that you can tell a lot about a person by their taste in reading. She had such a range of books; biographies, non-fiction, fiction, classics, pulp, Rebecca de Mornay, for God's sake!

 She came in while I was squatted on the floor, head on one side, reading the titles of the books. ‘Well, I'm ready if you are!’ she said brightly. I just shook my head; stunned.

‘Wow!’ I said softly.

She curtsied, ‘I'm glad you approve.’

I stood up, knees creaking as they straightened. ‘I'm sorry,’ I said, ‘I'm acting like a country boy in the big city; like I've never seen a woman before.’ I held out my arm, ‘Shall we hither? Whatever that means?’

She laughed and took my arm, ‘By all means, let's hither.’

We went out to the car, where I opened the door and held it open for her. She raised an eyebrow, a sort of visual, 'Hmm!', if you know what I mean, and got into the car. I closed the door behind her and half-ran around the car and was rewarded with a glimpse of creamy white cleavage as she leaned across to open my door. Did I say wow? Well, it's worth repeating.

I put the key in the ignition and started the car. ‘Well, madame,’ I said, ‘where to?’

‘What did you have in mind?’ she said.

And I couldn't resist it. I gave her the leer and my dirty old man laugh. That broke the ice like the Vostok, I can tell you. She emitted a peal of giggles and slapped my arm, then hugged the self-same arm! ‘Oh, Alan!’ she said, then,  ‘I'm hungry. Let's go get something to eat.’

‘Anyplace special?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she said, ‘you choose.’

‘Do you like pasta?’ I asked.

‘Mmmm! Lo-ove it,’ she purred.

She did things to me that no woman had ever done before and did them without too much effort either. ‘Right,’ I said, ‘I know just the place.’

Now I must admit here, in case you hadn't guessed yet, I was pretty much smitten. The problem was, I was smitten to the degree that I lost my sense of humour, because I was scared of offending her. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

On top of this little problem, was the problem with Spoon gnawing away at the back of my mind. If I said I was a sparkling conversationalist, I'd be being less than absolutely honest and that would never do. No, no, no, noo!

I may be repeating myself here, but Carol was more than just beautiful, she was bright as well, so she very quickly picked up that I was not my usual, sparkling self. Maybe the fact that I was toying with my food; maybe the fact that she did all the talking; maybe she stubbed her toe on my lower lip a couple of times; maybe all of the above.

She reached across the table to touch my hand. ‘Alan? What's wrong?’ I looked into that beautiful, concerned face and, without really meaning to, poured my heart out to her. Ba-a-ad move! She pulled her hand away.

‘If that's your idea of a joke, it's not very funny; and if it's not….’ she shook her head.

‘It's no joke,’ I said, miserably. ‘I wish it were.’

‘I think you'd better take me home,’ she said.

‘But you haven't finished your food!’ I protested.

‘I'm not hungry,’ she said, pushing her plate away and getting up. I just sat there, watching her, not knowing what to say. Me and my big mouth! I felt a sudden wave of despair sweep over me.

 ‘Well,’ she said, ‘am I expected to walk home?’

 I jumped up, ‘No, of course not!’ I said and the waiter came hurrying over.

‘Is everything alright?’ he asked, obviously concerned we were going to skip without paying.

‘Yes,’ I said, feeling quite sorry for him, ‘it's fine. Can you bring us the bill, please?’ He scurried off and we stood there in uncomfortable silence, waiting for him to get back.

The drive to her house was completed in silence and when we arrived there, she didn't give me a chance to open the door for her, but was out of the car and at her front door in a flash. I jumped out and ran after her.

‘Carol!’ I cried plaintively, ‘please give me a chance to explain!’ She stopped and looked at me in total silence; but she didn't open the door and she didn't go inside; she waited.

‘Carol, I know this is weird, but the worst of all is, it's true!’ She was shaking her head again. I rushed to speak before she could turn me down. ‘Carol, really, I'm only going to ask you one favour. Will you do me one favour?’

‘It depends entirely on what that favour is,’ she said, stiffly.

‘Come to the theatre tomorrow night and come backstage after the show. I'll leave the door open a crack, so you can see for yourself, okay?’ I was desperate now, clutching at straws. ‘Please say you'll come!’

‘I'm not making any promises,’ she said. ‘If you see me, fine, if you don't, that's also fine.’ She opened the door then and turned to go inside. ‘Goodnight,’ she said, over her shoulder and softly closed the door behind her. I stood there like an idiot for what must have been five minutes, before turning around and getting into my car.

Fool! What did I think I was achieving by telling her about Spoon? I felt like kicking myself. I started the car and drove off, praying that she'd be there tomorrow night.

***************

The next night the show lacked sparkle, although the audience didn't seem to think so; they were lapping it up. My mind wasn't on the show and Spoon picked it up; there were no flies on him.

My eyes roamed over the audience and picked out Carol on the fringes. I have never in my life been so happy to see someone, I can tell you. At least now she could see that I wasn't dilly!

 After the show, I took Spoon back to the dressing room, but for once didn't close the door fully, leaving it open just a crack. I put Spoon down on his box and, for a moment anyway, he looked exactly like what he was: a lifeless doll. Lifeless he may have seemed, but for the eyes; they were blazing with suppressed anger! I told you his temper was getting worse.

He moved his head then, ever so slowly, checking to see that we were alone, then got off his box and stalked over to me. He stood there, just looking at me, his little frame bristling with anger. I looked at him in silence, waiting for the inevitable explosion. I wasn't disappointed.

‘What the fuck is your problem, dickhead? Did you shit your brains out last night, or did you fuck them out with that whore you've been seeing?!’ He was screeching hysterically now. ‘Here I am, busting my balls to put on a decent show and what are you doing? Dreaming about pussy, that's what. Would you like to try and tell me how we're going to get people to keep coming and paying for the privilege if you keep fucking up!? I'm getting sick and tired of your shit, you hear me?’

I tried not to look at the door, hoping that Carol was there, seeing as well as hearing the filth and vitriol spewing from those ugly, evil little lips. He was really into his stride now, going at it hammer and tongs and I marvelled that I was seeing him as he was for the first time.

For years I'd been happy to make the money and feed him the accolades, but I was fed up now. It was bad enough being crapped on by a dummy, but I was saddled with a quite amusing paradox. Amusing to other people, that is.

How to break up with a dummy.

It's easy for you to laugh, you're not in my shoes. He was running out of steam now and looked at me with those mean little eyes. ‘Well, what have you got to say for yourself? Cat got your tongue? Or pussy got your tongue?’

‘Have you quite finished?’ I asked, ‘or have you got some more filth to spew out of that filthy little mouth?’

He jumped at me, fists swinging. ‘You bastard!’ he screamed, ‘You were happy to take the money and the limelight and then leave me in the dressing room for hour after hour while you were out boozing and screwing your brains out!’ He glared his hatred at me. ‘That's your motto. Isn't it? If it moves, screw it, but I'm the one with an ugly mouth?!’

‘Yes, I was happy to put up with your shit, but no more!’ I shook my head in disgust, at much at myself as at him. ‘You're a nasty, twisted piece of filth and I'm not prepared to take any more shit from you!’

‘You're not prepared to put up with my shit! You're not prepared to put up with my shit!? Fuck you! I'd like to see where you'd be without me!’ He snorted derisively, ‘The most pathetic thing I've ever seen in my life was your pathetic attempts at humour before you knew I was alive and you won't put up with my shit?!’ He turned his back on me and went to his corner and clambered onto his box. He turned around to face me again and laughed. ‘This is going to be really funny,’ he said, ‘you trying to do a show without me!’

I threw back my head and laughed, ‘I'd like to see you do a show without a lap to sit on; that would really be something! I can get another dummy and work on my patter, but you can do shit without me’ I turned away from him and opened the door. ‘Carol! Come in here and meet my erstwhile partner.’

Spoon sat on his box, head lolling, completely lifeless. ‘Did you see that?’ I asked, quite unnecessarily as it turned out. Her face was ashen!

‘I wasn't sure whether or not to come this evening,’ she said in a small voice, ‘in fact, I'm still not sure it was the right decision, but at least I know you're not lying. Or mad,’ she added, shaking her head as if in denial.

‘He is fucking mad!’ Spoon screamed. ‘Isn't it enough he's screwing your ass off, he's fucking your brains out as well!?’

Carol looked at me pleadingly. ‘Can we please get out of here?’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘let's get out of here.’ I took her hand and we went out, locking the door on that horrid little monster.

She was silent all the way out to the car; she seemed to be in a state of shock, not wanting to say anything lest it betrayed her insanity. I opened the door for her and she slid into the car with a soft little 'thank you'. I got behind the wheel and turned to her.

‘Well, what do you think?’ I asked. She just shook her head. ‘Aren't you going to say anything?’ I persisted.

‘What's to say?’ she said, becoming suddenly animated. ‘I feel as if I'm going mad! How can I admit I've seen something like that and claim to be sane?’ She suddenly shuddered and hugged herself. ‘This is like one of those 'B' horror movies.’

I laughed at that. ‘Hardly 'B' grade, Carol, give me credit for more than that!’

She looked at me as I'd gone mad. ‘How can you laugh at a time like this?!’ She shook her head, ‘Maybe you are mad, after all!’

I took her arms and turned her toward me, ‘No, Carol, I'm not mad, I'm just used to it. When it first happened, I thought I was going mad; stark, staring bonkers!’ I kissed her softly. ‘Now, where would you like to go?’

‘I think I'd like to go home; we've got plenty to talk about.’ She put on her seat-belt and sat back, ‘Shall we go?’ Things were looking up again.

The drive to her home was completed in near silence, both of us wrapped up in our thoughts. I think I was the happier of the two, I can tell you. I was thinking I was back in with a chance and she was thinking that she was mad. And no, I'm not a mind reader, she told me so.

I pulled into the parking bay behind her place and went around to open her door. She just sat there, seat-belt still on, not even looking at me. Eventually, she looked up then, seeming to realise where she was, appeared to come to with a start and undid her seat-belt. She swung those gorgeous legs out of the car and stood up, swaying slightly, then she rummaged in her bag and took out her keys and went up the steps to her front door.

‘Come on in,’ she said, as she opened the door. I followed her inside and closed the door behind me. ‘Get yourself a drink so long, I'm going to freshen up,’ she said.

Now don't think I've got sex on the brain just because that's a line I've heard in countless movies and it always means the same thing. My hopes were up again, and in a major way this time. And my hopes were dashed. Freshen up was, to her, a nice way of saying 'go to the toilet'.

‘Did you get yourself something to drink?’ she asked as she came back into the lounge.

‘No,’ I said, hiding my disappointment, ‘I was waiting for you.’

‘Oh!’ She looked inordinately pleased at that. ‘Okay, what will you have?’

‘I'll have a beer, thanks, whatever you've got in the fridge.’

‘Righto!’ she said, and trotted off into the kitchen. I meanwhile sat back and surveyed the situation. I was, by this time, more than mildly infatuated with her and she was, by all appearances, prepared to give me the benefit of any remaining doubt. Now I could actually give some serious thought to tackling the problem of Spoon. And problem it surely was.

She came back into the lounge with the drinks, on a tray, yet! Talk about prim and proper. And my beer already poured. I jumped to my feet to help her with the tray and she smiled at me in that spine-melting way that she had. Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness!

We sat down with our drinks and she half-turned towards me and pulled her feet up, tucking them under her; I don't know how women do that. She sipped her drink and looked at me over the rim of her glass. Did she have any idea what she was doing to me?

‘Well,’ she finally said, ‘it seems I owe you an apology, doesn't it?’

‘Apology accepted,’ I said magnanimously and realise what a pompous ass I sounded. She laughed!

‘Oh, you are such an idiot!’ she said, then ruffled my hair. Now that calls for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. My hair, if you remember, is the colour and texture of copper wire.

I smiled at her in adolescent adoration, at a total loss for words. She liked me; she really liked me! Then came the smacker-o-blurdy that absolutely floored me!

‘What are we going to do about your problem with Spoon?’ she said. Did you catch that?! WE!?

I couldn't believe what I was hearing, so I did what comes naturally.

‘What do you mean 'we', white eyes?’ I responded in my best Tonto voice, which cracked her up. She grabbed my arm and hugged just my arm and I took hold of her arms and kissed her. Not brotherly, or cousinly, or unclely or fatherly, but passionately. And she responded. It would not be an inaccuracy to say we traded spit, it just wouldn't be romantic; and this was romantic.

So I won't say it.

I well remember my very first kiss. The girl was a good two years older than me and when you're sixteen, that's mature woman stuff. She was the school lay, but I was smitten after she kissed me. I felt faint, I couldn't breathe, I didn't want to breathe.

This was like that, but better.

When finally we drew apart, she looked at me with smoky eyes, then grabbed me and kissed me again, if anything, even more passionately. I moved my hand onto her breast and she left it for a moment before taking it off. But she didn't break off the kiss.

After a while we broke off for a short cease-fire and I sat there and looked at her, stroking her hair and cupping her face in my hand. I couldn't possibly put into words how I felt about her. And I'd only known her two days. Scary.

We had our drinks and made small talk and love talk, talk with which I will not bore you, but talk which was like oxygen to me. Then we resumed the conflict, but still the no-man’s land could not be breached. I could see I'd have to fight a war of attrition.

And fight it I would.

Eventually I broke off the fight, having run out of hard feelings, and we settled down to talk about what was suddenly our problem. She asked me to go through the entire story again, from top to bottom.

So I did.

And she listened without interrupting once.

She shook her head when I finished. ‘If I hadn't been there and seen it for myself, I'd still be calling you a nutter!’ She shook her head again, ‘Wow!’

‘Yes, it is rather weird, isn't it?’ I said. ‘Problem is, he's my livelihood; I can't get by without him.’

‘Yes you can!’ she said, vehemently. ‘Maybe not as well, but you'll get by just fine.’

Get by. That phrase, which was anathema to me, seemed to be fine by her. I've discovered down the years that women are, for the most part, happy to get by. How to explain that without putting her down. Oh boy. I chose the coward's way. Compromise.

‘You're right,’ I said, ‘I'll get by just fine. I'll find another dummy and start practising with it and I'll soon be up to speed.’ Strangely, I was starting to be convinced myself and was starting to get excited about starting again. Of course, I was conveniently forgetting how bad I really was.

Her eyes were shining now. ‘Yes, you can!’ she said, excitedly, ‘you'll see, you'll soon be doing so well without that little monster that you'll forget you ever needed him.’

I suddenly felt completely deflated and Carol sensed this. ‘What's wrong?’ she asked.

‘I just realised that I still have a problem, even if I get rid of Spoon.’ I said, disconsolately.

‘What problem is that?’ asked Carol.

‘What to do with Spoon.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Carol, ‘just get rid of him!’

‘What do you mean, “just get rid of him”?’ I asked, horrified. Don't forget, to me he was a living creature. A monster, but my monster.

‘Wood burns, doesn't it?’ she said. Sweet, precious Carol was coldly contemplating murder!

‘Carol!’ I cried out in anguish, ‘he's alive! You can't just go around murdering people because you don't like them!’

She took my hands in hers and kissed them. ‘Darling Alan,’ she said, ‘you really are so sweet and precious. After what I saw this evening I can't think of him as anything other than a malicious little demonic creature.’ She smiled now, ‘I forget that you've been together with him for four years now, you must have some feelings for him.’

My heart just melted and ran out between my ribs. She really understood, she wasn't just saying things to please me, she really understood. ‘Oh, Carol. I love you!’ I blurted out, before I could stop myself.

‘Shh, don't let's rush things,’ she said, in a soothing voice. ‘Let's take things one step at a time. Okay?’

‘Okay,’ I said, chastened. She leaned forward and kissed me.

‘We still have a problem that needs to be solved,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘we do.’ I drew a deep breath, ‘Any suggestions?’

We talked into the small hours and still came up with no solution. What I did come up with was a lot of new ways to try and get into her pants. Still no solution. It was after one when I finally left her, my willy throbbing as hard as my heart and my head aching with trying to think up a solution. It would come; hopefully before I did.

************

I got home and just fell into bed, asleep almost before I hit the mattress, I was that bushed. I slept like a baby for all of two hours, when I woke up with a start. What was the matter? Why had I woken up?

Spoon!

He was still in the dressing room! He was going to be livid! I got dressed as fast as I could, stumbling and falling while trying to put on my trousers, but eventually dressing well enough to go out.

I reversed out of the driveway far too fast and nearly collided with a lamppost on the other side of the street. I cursed loud and furiously as the car stalled. Why did this sort of thing always happen when I was in a hurry?

I started the car again and sped off down the street, tyres squealing. Thank God it was so late, there was no-one around. The lack of traffic meant that I made good time down to the theatre, but there was a little problem that hadn't occurred to me in my mad rush to get down there. The place was in total darkness except for the hoardings.

I parked the car and went off looking for a night watchman, but couldn't find one. Dammit! I was sure there was meant to be security. I hugged myself as I walked around the darkened building. It was bitterly cold and the wind seemed to howl around the darkened building with spiteful force.

I went back to my car and sat there for a while. What was I going to do? Spoon was all alone in that dark, cold building. Listen to me, worrying like this about a dummy!

After sitting there a while, I started the car and slowly drove off. Should I call Carol? Was it worth waking her over something so stupid? I gnawed my lip as I thought over the problem. No! I wasn't going to burden her with more of this crap.

I parked the car in the garage and went slowly into the house. I was really worried, as stupid as that might seem. Damn! How could I have been so bloody stupid? I made myself a drink, thinking that at least a drink would help me sleep.

Yeah, right!

All it did was make me morose; and the more I drank, the morose I became. I put on the TV, but all I could find was CNN and BBC. Oh, and shopping network. Whoopee. And a hundred channels pouring out the same vapid dross they did every night.

Eventually, I fell asleep, the glass still clutched in my hand. And that was the position I was in when I awoke. Oh boy.

Now, I've never been down a mine when poison gas starts leaking in, so what I tell you now will have to be treated as hearsay, but I felt like a miner trapped in a tunnel when there's a poison gas leak. I mean the hangover made me feel that way. Then I looked at my watch- nine-o-clock!- and felt the same kind of urgency that a coal-miner must feel under those conditions. Oh. Did I forget to say coal-miner?

I jumped to my feet and nearly lost my balance. Oh, Lord! What was I going to do?

I went into the bathroom and, as cold as it was, put the shower on cold and got in. I rather imagine the electric chair must feel something like that. But it woke me up! I towelled myself dry and went shivering through to the kitchen. It was late, but I had to have a cup of coffee!

I finished my coffee and went out to the car. I'd parked right over against the wall. Damn! Now I'd have to slide across the passenger seat to get in! How the hell had I done that? I got in on the passenger side and slid over the handbrake into the driver's seat. I started the car and slowly and carefully reversed out of the garage. And then sat and waited for what seemed like an hour to get out into the traffic.

Eventually, I got into the traffic flow and headed towards the theatre. There was no rushing towards the theatre now! The traffic was crawling along. In this city they have such a wonderful way of making the traffic flow. Roadworks, and lots of them. Every second street had a section dug up, making it impossible to drive at anything over a snail's pace.

Sometime late that afternoon, or that's what it felt like, I got to the theatre. I went into the underground parking and ran to the lifts. The lifts were off doing something else for someone else, so I took the stairs. And, once upstairs, sprinted to my dressing room. The door was open.

And Spoon was gone.

I ran off down the passage, looking for the cleaning staff. Around the bend in the passage, I found an elderly lady busy unlocking one of the dressing rooms. I grabbed her arm. ‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘did you clean room number seventeen?’

She pulled her arm free and gave me a haughty look. ‘Who you?’ she asked.

‘Alan McCulloch,’ I said,’ that's my dressing room.’

‘Oh,’ she said and looked at me at some length before continuing. ‘Yes, I clean that room for you. Why you ask?’

‘My dummy's gone missing!’ I half-shouted. ‘Did you see him?’

‘You think I steal that thing for you?’ she replied angrily, ‘You don't talk to me like that if I'm white!’

‘No, no, no!’ I assured her, ‘I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just asking.’

She seemed mollified. ‘Oh,’ she said, nodding and nodding, ‘oh,’ again. ‘No, when I'm come here, that door is stand open, like that, but is nothing for that room.’ She held up a bunch of keys. ‘See? I got keys for all this rooms, but that one, I don't need it, because why? Is standing open.’ nodding again, as if in confirmation.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘who else has keys to these rooms?’

‘The man for security, the manager and the people for clean.’ She stopped, as if in thought. She nodded again ‘Yes, is only that one,’ she said finally and with finality.

‘Okay, thanks,’ I said, and went off in search of the manager. I hunted high and low for him without any success. Eventually, I managed to obtain his cell number and called him on his cell phone. And he answered. At least one thing was going right.

‘Mike, Alan here. I've got a major problem,’ I said.

‘I'm very well, and thank you for asking,’ he replied, ‘and what can I do for you?’

‘Sorry, Mike,’ I said, ‘but I'm worried sick. Spoon has disappeared out of my dressing room and the cleaning lady says the room was open when she came to clean it. Did you by any chance open my dressing room?’

‘No, I didn't. No reason to. Are you sure you didn't take him home with you?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I'm quite sure. I didn't go straight home last night; I had a date, and I forgot to fetch him on my way home from my date.’

‘Sorry, old son,’ he said, ‘I don't seem to be of any help, do I?’

‘No, no, it's alright,’ I said. ‘I'll just look for him; I'm sure he'll turn up. Cheers,’ I said, and hung up. The trouble was, I was quite sure he wouldn't turn up! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? They should try scorning Spoon sometime! I picked up the phone again and called my agent.

‘Harold?’ I said, when he answered the phone, ‘Alan here. I've got a major problem; Spoon's disappeared.’ There was silence on the other side of the phone. ‘Are you there?’ I asked.

‘I'm here,’ he said, ‘But why are you calling me?’

‘What do you mean, why am I calling you? Who else should I call? You're my agent, for God's sake!’ I was getting really steamed now. ‘You're happy to take ten percent of everything I earn, so now it's time for you to start earning some of that money.’

‘Do I find you gigs?’ he asked.

‘Yes, you do,’ I replied.

‘Are they well-paying gigs?’ he continued.

‘Yes, they are, but what's the point of this conversation? I'm trying to find my dummy and you're giving me shit?!’ I was beginning to shout now. ‘Four years and I've been a model client, but the first time I have a problem, you're too busy to help me!’

‘Alan, you've been a pain in the ass, that's what you've been. Model client!’ he snorted. ‘You still haven't answered me; what do you want me to do?’

I took a deep breath to calm myself. Finally, I spoke. ‘I need you to call theatre management and find a replacement for me for tonight and maybe tomorrow night.’

‘Okay, where are you?’ he asked, so reasonably. I felt a proper fool. I gave him the number at the theatre and he promised to call me back. I decided to give Carol a call, but then realised that I didn't know her work number and worse, didn't even know where she worked!

He called back after about an hour.

‘Alan? I've found someone; you've got two days, okay?’

‘Thanks, Harold,’ I said, ‘and sorry about just now.’

‘Ah, don't worry about it! It never happened.’ Harold was not big on apologies; giving or receiving them. ‘I'll see you at the theatre tonight. Bye for now,’ and hung up.

There was nothing for it; I went home. And moped around the place. Spoon may have been a horrid little creature, but I felt for him what I imagine a mother would feel for a particularly loathsome child. I was worried sick about him. What if I hadn't locked the door and he'd gone off and got himself hurt? Or killed?!

I wracked my brains, trying to think of where it was that Carol worked, but couldn't for the life of me remember. I even tried calling a few agencies, but no luck. Have you any idea of the number of agencies in this benighted city?

Six-o-clock finally came, after about four days, and I called Carol at home. No reply. I gave it fifteen minutes and tried again. No reply. I gave it half an hour and tried again.

‘Four-seven-six-two-one-two-three?’ she answered, in those wonderful, dulcet tones.

 ‘Carol, it's me!’ I said, ‘I need to see you immediately! Spoon's disappeared!’

‘Oh, that's wonderful!’ she said.

‘No, it's not! I'm worried sick about him; I've searched all over, but I don't know where to find him.’ I was near to tears now that I had a sympathetic audience.

‘Alan, calm down,’ she said, soothingly. ‘Tell you what,’ she said, ‘it's already nearly seven, and I still have to get changed and bathed, so why don't I meet you at the theatre at about eight-thirty, okay?’

I gave in with the worst possible grace. I wanted to go over there right now!

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘see you later. Bye,’ and put down the receiver. I groaned and massaged my face. I was at a total loss; what was I going to do?

I went through to the bathroom and showered and shaved, not that it would make much difference to my appearance. But at least I'd be clean.

I looked at my watch; still half-an-hour to go. Moider, dat's what it was. Even when I'm in the deepest despair, I make these stupid jokes; to myself, yet. Like now. I wandered around the house like a lost soul in a cemetery. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.

I looked at the time on the decoder and watched it the way a cat watches a bird; intently. Oh, it moved so slowly. I have seen crippled snails, snails with thorns in their one gigantic (for them) foot, move faster than the clock on my decoder. And the one in my kitchen. And the one on my wrist.

Einstein was right about the theory of relativity. You know the one where sitting with a beautiful girl for one hour seems like a minute, but if you sit on a hot-plate for a minute, it seems like an hour? He was right. I just don't think he knew how right he was.

Eight-o-clock finally came, and I went out to my car and, moving as slowly as I could, got the car out of the garage and went down to the theatre. I may not have been performing that night, but I still had my parking bay. I looked at the dashboard clock as I pulled in. Twenty-five past eight.

I locked the door and made my way upstairs. The first show was still on; maybe I could catch the tail end of it. I was still approaching the entrance to the theatre when I heard the audience laughing. And were they laughing! I felt just the slightest twinge of jealousy. But that soon passed.

I walked into the theatre and thought to myself, I know that voice: and I know that voice. I knew both voices extremely well. I walked into the theatre proper and my suspicions were confirmed.

The one voice was undoubtedly Spoon's; and the other voice was equally undoubtedly Carol's and he was assuredly undoubtedly sitting on her lap and the audience was equally assuredly undoubtedly lapping it up.

I mean, she looked a lot better than me!

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