Save the Date!

Save the Date!

Announcing the Wedding of John Aspell Jr to Mary Therese Lansley-Hamptonburg

Dear Friend,

You are cordially invited to attend the joyous union of my beautiful daughter Mary Therese Lansley-Hamptonburg and John Aspell Jr on April the 19th 2015 at 2.15 pm. Black tie only (of course!)

As you all know this day has been a long time coming, to say the least! John and Mary were first an item at University, for three wonderful weeks, and although fate led them in different directions then, it was only to bring them back together years later, in the luxurious retreat that John owns and where Mary has occasionally stayed. (and where celebrity residents have included such stars as Pete Doherty, Lindsey Lohn, and Amy Winehouse!)

I’ll have to be honest with you and say that, within the family, we weren’t entirely sure at first that John’s responsible asset management and Mary’s bohemian artist lifestyle would gel, but boy are we happy they did! John is truly the tether to my daughter’s balloon, keeping her firmly on the ground, no matter how hard she might try to float away!

Those of you who know this charming couple best will of course remember how supportive John was during a tough time in Mary’s life; over Christmas she was the victim of a terrible crime, her penthouse looted of every item of value and all her accounts plundered. Poor Mary was reduced to sleeping on a mattress, hardly eating, and all the while too proud to tell her mama and papa what had happened to her! I shudder to think what might have become of her if not for the sensible presence of John, who gladly put her up in his convalescence resort while he refurbished her home. It warms my heart to think of her so well cared for, especially as she has such terrible luck with this sort of thing. My husband sometimes reminds me of the number of times we’ve needed to replace our little girls television or laptop, although I do have to remind him of the number of valuable items that have gone missing from our humble abode over the years! What a world!

But now our Mary has a shining knight to guard over her, and she cries with anticipation for the Big Day! Almost around the clock! I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been a little emotional myself over the last week, the suddenness of it all being quite, quite overwhelming. But, ask John and Mary, and you’ll sense the urgency of the desire to marry; that’s their word urgent and I think it’s beautiful in these days of long engagements.

So, we’ll see you on April 19th, please RSVP. The couple have asked that instead of gifts, donations be made to the charity Action on Addiction.

Sincerely,

Mother of the Bride

Juggernaut

2:35 am

Hedge mazes don’t ever occur naturally- on this at least, we can agree. And a good thing too. What kind of creator god would be implied by a world featuring self-forming labyrinths? What sorts of religious worship would have developed around a Yaweh that made no efforts to hide his intention to mislead and waylay the human animal? And how would my own atheism have been challenged by such compelling evidence of intelligent design? Would atheism even be a legitimate stance in such a world? I briefly imagine Richard Dawkins indicating the looping course of the recurrent laryngeal nerve on a blackboard as clear evidence of evolution, and an archbishop shrugging in response. “But what about the mazes?”

Goddam, goddam, goddam, what was I just thinking? I’ve lost my thread, my… I’ve lost it. What about the mazes?

11 pm

‘…so we’ll head back to Jake’s cos he lives closest, that’s cool with you Jake right, I don’t want to like fffp assume, you know, I don’t want to just assume that we can, fffp that we can go back to yours but it’s just that your place is closest and fffp we’ve gotta get a bottle of water or something, we’ve just gotta, because this fffp is fffp giving me cotton mouth like a bitch fffp fffp and speaking of which I’m totally hogging it sorry, just fffp one more fffp there you go, shit I shouldn’t be smoking, I’m so dry, my mouth has that feeling like, like it’s so dry, and I don’t know I don’t think it’s even doing anything anyway, but anyway, plan, we were making a plan, we’ll head back to Jake’s place if that’s still cool Jake, and we’ll get some water and- is that a police car, guys hold up, seriously though, is it a… no, ha, it’s just a cab, shit I thought, well anyway, water, you know it’s annoying because when we were at Jake’s place earlier I thought “I’d better get some water if we’re gonna be smoking” and I grabbed, oh thanks, fffp, I grabbed an empty bottle and fffp  I went to the bathroom before we left cos I wasn’t sure how long we’d be out here and fffp and I took the bottle with me and fffp I was gonna fill it up from the tap, you know cos I almost always keep a bottle of water right here in my rucksack and… Oh shit. Ha ha, you guys won’t believe this.

9 pm

How are you doing?

Alright. Are your palms sweating?

Your palms are sweating?

Yours aren’t?

No.

Mine are a little bit actually. I hadn’t noticed.

I’m starting to feel a bit twitchy though.

Yeah.

Yeah, hella fucking twitchy.

You ok?

Yeah fine, just a bit like… I always get like this. Anxious.

But you have done it before?

Yeah, both us had some last summer.

It was about this time of year wasn’t it?

Pretty much yeah.

I don’t remember much about that night.

I’ve seen some photos.

Yeah. Fucking facebook.

We’re not going to get like that tonight though?

Have you not done it before?

Not exactly.

We’ll be fine if we don’t drink too much.

Best not to drink at all.

Ah.

You’ve already been drinking?

I had a few with dinner. Will that…

Shouldn’t make too much difference.

I’d stop now though.

Ok. I actually brought some beers with me though. You want one?

What do you reckon?

One won’t hurt.

Waiting for the man

I used to buy my pot from an enterprising teenager called Ian. I suppose any self-employed teenager is enterprising really, but Ian was different to the other teenaged dope-slingers I patronised, in that he cleverly tried to franchise me. After a few months of meeting him in a parking lot between the nice side of town and his side of town he came to understand that, unless I was a particularly high-functioning drug addict, I must be supplying a small group of friends and acquaintances. I’m sure this is the norm everywhere; every group of pot smoking friends includes at least one person who knows what number to call, what password to use, which parking lot to wait in. For my group of friends that person was me, and so once or twice a week I’d receive a few of calls, I’d make a few of calls, and I’d head across town to meet some guy, usually Ian, and buy everyone’s pot. I would often arrive home after one of these jaunts to find my extended friendship group in my living room, waiting for me to distribute wrapped presents like an unseasonal Santa Claus.

‘Ho ho ho. For you Jasper, an effective sedative for your chronic back pain. For Nathan, a temporary escape from a life you didn’t choose. For Sarah, the only means by which you can sleep! Ho ho ho, merry Wednesday!’

Over three years of concentrated activity I estimate that I walked back and forth from that parking lot two hundred times- about one hundred and fifty miles- carrying a kilo and a half of Cannabis. When another dealer I used, a guy from school called Tom, ditched his moped for a used Fiat Punto, my flatmate and I did the maths and realised that between us we’d paid for the upgrade.

None of this made me any money of course. Aside from the occasional courtesy joint it scored me, my wanderings were strictly pro bono and it was this fact that Ian picked up on when he attempted to make me an outlet for his brand.

‘All you’d have to do is what you’re doing already,’ he’d tell me, seemingly reasonable, ‘only, you’d be making money out of it.’

When I asked him how this was possible I felt like the wide eyed patsy you see in infomercials on late night TV.

“Gee sir,” some hopeless schlub says to a pastel suited presenter with shockingly white teeth, “I’ve heard of people earning good money, working from home while they sleep, but I don’t know how it works”.

“Well,” says the presenter, adjusting his mask which slipped momentarily to reveal the poisonous lizard beneath, “all you need is a cellphone and a pragmatic attitude to your colon”.

I wasn’t earning great money in my legitimate job back then, so the idea of becoming a freelance drug dealer on the side held some appeal. I was working at a local supermarket, where I held the illustrious title of ‘Chief Dressing Agent’. This mostly involved putting toys and sweets at child-eye height so they’d bug their parents to buy them, or hiding the toilet paper at the back of the store so you have to walk past every other product before you can buy it. We put smaller tiles on the floor in the meat section so the clacking of the wheels of your trolley seems faster and you slow down. That fresh bread smell near the bakery? Are they baking bread all day or did some clever person bottle the smell so we could pump it out? I was sent on biannual training days where, after the name tags and the ice-breaker questions, we had to declare how often we completely changed the layout of our store.

‘Disorient them,’ we were told, ‘spin them round until the only thing they can remember is the word “buy”.’

 The deceptions were manifold.

All of which is to say, there was no moral component to my descision making process at the time. I figured that if it was permissable for me to double the price of selected items and then half them the following week in order to honestly advertise them as ‘half price’, then selling pot to those that wanted it was, at worst, morally grey.

I don’t know what Ian does these days. If this was a dramatic story, he’d have worked to the top of a cocaine empire by now, and if there was going to be a moral he’d be dead or in jail. Probably it’s neither. Probably he quit when the clientele in that small town got too much younger than him. At least one dealer I knew went to University, leaving the business in the hands of his younger brother. Another put her profits towards a little coffee place where you can get a free latte if you intimate darkly what you know about her past.

I didn’t start selling pot on Ian’s behalf, because I didn’t like the hours or the idea of having a quota. It was a hobby that I didn’t particularly want to monetise, and I’m glad I kept it that way. I was strictly pro bono.

No Tarantino

‘Fifty quid? Really?’

‘Best price around.’

‘You sure about that pal?’

‘Do I look like a man who suffers from uncertainty?’ Detch leaned a half step towards the ratty little man addressing him, shadowing the guy with his own quarter-back physique. ‘Do I seem unsure of myself?’

The rat-man seemed to have some sort of twitch about the left eye, which Detch liked to think he himself was causing.

‘No,’ he said , looking each way up the dark street as he spoke. ‘You seem to know what you’re about.’ 

‘So I don’t strike you as somebody who forgets the price of what he’s selling?’

‘No man, of course…’

‘Do you see any potatoes here? Any organically grown, winter garden essentials? Do you see a fuckin’ courgette?’

‘I… what?

‘I just want to make sure you haven’t confused me with the vegetable stand at your yuppie-fuckin farmer’s market.’

‘No man, I… c’mon dude…’

‘So you don’t think I’m likely to haggle?’

‘Oh. No, I guess not.’

‘You guess not? Bitch, this ain’t twenty questions, and you don’t get any guesses. I asked you if you’re at a farmer’s market, and if we’re gonna negotiate a price. Do either of those scenarios seem very likely to you at this juncture?’

Rat-man shrank into himself a little. ‘No.’

‘Then it’s fifty quid in my hand, or walk the fuck away from my block.’

A fumbled wallet materialized and the rat-man counted the notes into Detch’s hand. A figure emerged from the shadows behind Detch and passed a small bag of powder to the rat-man. Deal done, he scurried away with a muttered ‘thanks’ and the dark figure in the shadows chuckled.

‘Detch- question. When did you last watch a Tarantino movie?’

Detch turned around to face his partner and grinned. ‘Movie marathon last night with Amy. That obvious?’

‘You’re speaking like you swallowed half a dictionary and you using the F word as punctuation. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.’

‘I like it. I think it makes me sound real.’

‘If anything it makes you sound fictional. I don’t know what kind of dope-slingers Tarantino hangs out with, but the real ones don’t jive-talk everyone they meet.’

‘Well I do.’ Detch banged a fist against his chest. ‘It’s life imitating art.’

Detch heard his partner’s laughter from the shadows.

‘You really want to imitate the characters in those movies? It never ends well.’ A match flared briefly, underlighting Jasper’s face as he lit a cigarette. ‘And I don’t want to get shot, or tortured, or raped by hillbillies, or any of the weird shit that goes on in Tarantino’s underworld.’

‘Me neither mate.’ There was a pause, and Detch rubbed his cold hands together, watching out for police or punters. ‘But you hear stuff sometimes.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. You know, messed up stuff happens in this city man, movie stuff. I heard this one thing… doesn’t matter. Point is, it happens.’

Jasper leaned fractionally from the darkness, only his face visible.

‘Doesn’t matter? Now you’ve got to tell me.’

Detch shifted his weight from one foot to another, and ran a hand over his shaved head.

‘Alright, I’ll tell you a story, but it ain’t my fault if you lose sleep over this.’

Jasper laughed. ‘Let’s see.’

‘Ok. It was August- you know, the riots were going on, the whole city was out looting?’

Jasper grinned and pulled an expensive mobile phone out of his pocket. ‘Yeah, I remember that.’

‘Well there’s this guy I knew, a friend of Amy’s, low-life little shit really, called Dean. So he hears what’s going down, figures he’ll see what he can get. He heads over to Portland Street, where they’ve got all those electrical goods stores, there’s a JVC, and an Argos, erm, a Currys on the corner I think…’

‘It’s a Comet.’

‘Yeah, whatever, so he goes down that way, and that was one of the worst areas. Like, a bunch of the stores are already on fire, and a couple of cars, but the fire engines can’t make it into the city, so they’re burning away- but mainly people aren’t freaking out, except the people in the burning buildings, and it’s more like a carnival atmosphere you know? There’s not even that much violence at first cos’ most of the gangs are working together to haul as much shit out of the shops as they can. So Dean just lights up a joint right there on the street cos’, like, why the hell not, and he wanders into Argos, where the crowds have pulled up the metal shutters, and he starts browsing. And he’s doing that for a while, not even in a hurry cos’ the cops are nowhere to be seen, and he eventually decides that designer watches are his best bet, cos’ they’re small and worth good money. So, Dean’s got a rucksack with him, and he starts stuffing in a whole bunch of watches, when this guy walks up to him.’

‘Dean?’  Dean turns, seeing someone he knows but can’t quite place.

‘Erm, hi buddy. How goes it?’

They shake hands and the new guy takes a look in Dean’s bag.

‘Damn man, nice haul. And you brought a rucksack, holy shit you’re prepared huh?’

They both laugh, and Dean asks the guy if he’s got hold of anything good. 

‘Oh man, a whole load of stuff, seriously like five TV’s alone man, flatscreen beauts.’

‘Shit, are you hiding this stuff at your house? What are even gonna do with five TV’s?’

There’s an explosion outside and Dean ducks, covering his head with his arms, watches spilling out across the floor. The nameless friend is laughing as he drags Dean back up off the ground. ‘Don’t worry about it man, after the first hour you get used to the explosions.’

Wide-eyed, Dean blinks, tries to focus on the guy’s face.

‘You cool? Dean, you’re alright man, just breathe yeah?’

Unable to hear clearly through the ringing in his ears, Dean is nonetheless consoled, glad that he has a friend here.

‘You wanna get out of here, Dean? Maybe stash the loot somewhere?’ Dean nods and is led through the store by his elbow. They climb through the smashed window and, once outside, breathing evening-cool, petrol fumed air, his head feels a little clearer. He looks up into the concerned face of his anonymous friend.

‘What’s your name?’

The friend barks a laugh. ‘I’m Jez. From school yeah? You hit your head or something?’

‘I’m fine. Where shall we go?’

‘Wanna see how I got rid of all the stuff I grabbed tonight?’

Dean does want to see, and they’re moving fast through the streets, almost jogging, as Jez explains his scheme.

‘So there’s these guys, and they don’t want to get their hands dirty or something, so they’re not out tonight. But if you take them what you’ve got, it’s cash in hand.’

Dean likes the sound of this. He’s been having some trouble recently, and he knows he’s made some dumb mistakes; a little money in his pocket could only be a good thing, might be enough enough to make amends with his mother, and he doesn’t really have a plan for selling fifty or sixty watches. He follows Jez, who he still can’t really place, through the city and away from the riot zones.

‘It’s down here,’ Jez is saying, as the two of them turn down a blind alley. At the far end is a garage, just a regular single car garage set off the street. When they reach it, Jez taps lightly on the metal door, and the whole thing reverberates like a gong.

‘Yeah?’ The voice on the other side is deep, neutral.

‘It’s Jez- I’ve got one hot to trot.’

The two boys back away from the door as it opens slowly upwards and outwards, harsh halogen light casting long shadows behind them. They are ushered in and the door closes quietly behind them. Jez is immediately at the desk in the middle of the floor, speaking in hushed tones to an ashen forty-something who’s casually studying diamond bracelets, price tags still attached. Dean takes a moment to eye up the stacked televisions, stereos, electric razors, ipods, something for everyone, and carefully avoids making eye contact with the looming troll who guards the entrance.

Jez seems to have concluded whatever business he had with the man at the desk and is waving Dean over. Taking the rucksack from him, he empties the watches out.

‘Well?’ he says.

The man picks up a watch, stares intently at its face.

‘Time.’ His voice is hollow.

‘Yep. That’s what watches are for,’ says Dean, grinning at Jez. Jez doesn’t look at him.

‘Time. That’s what you’ve brought me. Not watches, which are the physical manifestation of time, time incarnate. People think that watches are just an observational tool, a measurement of time as it passes, but without measurement, without observation, is there any movement of time at all? How could we tell?’

His level stare brings a few beads of prespiration to Dean’s forehead.

‘No, watches don’t display time, they measure and create time, the accumulation of it or, as you might see it, its escape from you.’ He makes a small gesture and the door troll is at Dean’s back, locking his arms in a crushing embrace around his torso.

‘I hope you enjoyed the bit you were given, friend.’

Jez was already looking away, always looking away, but he is bending over the table now, stooping to collect the money for the watches, for his time.

Dean’s legs thrash impotently and knock aside some premium Japanese electronic goods, before he is thrown into an adjoining room, a very different room with a a wrong smell about it. The troll is entering too, and closing the door behind them.

‘Can I get a couple of grams lads?’

Detch flinched slightly; he didn’t see the punter approach, and his surprise manifested in the squeaky pitch of his voice.

‘What?’

The punter was leather bound, relaxed, but a slight frown passed over his face.

‘I hope I haven’t misread the situation but…’

‘…No,’

‘Look, can I just…’

‘…But you want some gear right? Sure, sorry, I was chatting away, erm…Two grams?’

Detch collected the cash and Jasper leaned out of the shadows, slipping two bags into the punters breast pocket. ‘Thanks very much boys,’ he said over his shoulder as he left.

‘Any time,’ said Detch.

They watched him disappear around the corner.

‘What’s the name of that smooth-talking Pulp Fiction character you like so much?’ asked Jasper.

‘Shut up.’

‘Vincent something, wasn’t it? Vincent Vegas?’

‘Vega. Vincent Vega.’

‘Well Vincent, I thought that was a very sharp exchange.’

‘Shut up man.’

‘Life imitating art,’ murmured Jasper, leaning back into the shadows. ‘Or are you taking your cues from the “yuppie-fuckin farmers market” now?’

Detch was silent.

‘You gonna finish your story then? I think you were getting to the bit I would lose sleep over.’  Silence. ‘Or are you gonna sulk?’

‘Ain’t sulking.’

‘Ok.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Cool. I am glad.’

‘Good.’

‘Good.’

Jasper’s expensive mobile phone buzzed and he flipped it open.

‘We’re nearly done; Jamal and Nathan will be here in five minutes to take over. Got plans for this evening?’

‘Probably gonna go to Amy’s. She said she might cook. You?’

‘Takeaway and some TV I guess. It’s a Monday.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah.’