[FICTION] The Terrible Forgiveness of Michael Shale

It was a sunny day at the start of April, a month little-appreciated, when Michael Shale set out to have a day of forgiveness.

It had come to him late the night before, as he was taking receipt of a boot to the head from a gentleman who held strong views on Michael’s conduct and antecedents, that the holding of grudges caused a great quantity of strife in his neighbourhood. Big Sal and Galway Jimmy had, for example, vowed to slit each other’s throats over some tit-for-tat dispute all had forgotten the roots of, and while the rumpus promised to be entertaining it would doubtless draw the attentions of the short and easily-distracted arm of the law.

Whom, Michael thought in a flash of spring inspiration as he pressed a two-cent steak to his bruised face, really held the medal as first-place professional grudge-holders.

Michael was forced to postpone his Christian act as the rigours of the previous night, and Reggie Johnson, with whom he had shared many of these rigours and who was indeed best described as rigorous in all things (especially sharing), demanded his full attention.

When at last his duties to Reggie and the demands of the flesh, both pleasant and otherwise, had been discharged, Michael set about his plan to lead by example.

He left his basement room and ascended the steps with his hat almost tipped enough to hide his swollen face, and the moment his shoes touched the sidewalk, why, there was his first opportunity!

For here was Joe Jefferson, who’d stiffed him a dime last week, all haloed in the dusty light of a fine spring morning.

God moves in mysterious ways, thought Michael, much-satisfied, and he doffed his hat to Joe Jefferson and cried, “Joe! You rascal! Last week you stiffed me a dime!”

Now Joe Jefferson startled, for Michael Shale was a fine body of a man and despite his sour luck the night before and his Saturday night rouge habit, he was known to have a right hook that could swiftly introduce a fellow to the floor.

And when Joe Jefferson startled, two gossipy young things who leaned on the stairs leading up to the second floor rooms startled too.

“Yeah I did,” said Joe Jefferson, who was noted as a man whose chief route out of any hole he found himself in was to dig further, “What of it?”

“What of it?” cried Michael, as he began his walk through Harlem, “Why, I forgive you, Joe Jefferson, that’s what of it! And by God when I find the man who put the boot to my face last night, I shall forgive him too.”

Joe Jefferson received this blessing with a scowl and said to the gossipy young things at the stoop, “That kick to the head turned that fairy’s brain all right.”

But Michael Shale went on his way, ready to forgive.

***

At the General Store at the corner, where boys like to hang around and pinch and poke and shove each other (and sometimes Michael), he came across Father Abraham.

Father Abraham had a newspaper under his arm and his usual string bag of canned ham on his arm and a big broad-brimmed hat, and he was engaged in telling young Herbie Mitchell why it was unChristian to kick cats. He was unhampered by the absence of any direct repudiation of such behaviour in the scriptures, for neither he nor his unwilling audience had read them much.

“Shale,” said Father Abraham, who did not like to call a man ‘Mister’ unless he felt the fellow deserved it, “What are you about at this hour? Have you no job to go to?”

“Why Father, my work is in the evenings, over at Forty-Second Street,” said Michael, almost forgetting his original mission, “as so many of your parishioners know, coming to our theater for their Sunday instead of to your Church!”

The boys outside the General Store laughed and snickered, and none laughed harder than Herbie Mitchell, to see Father Abraham – Father Cans-of-Ham, they called him – given lip by a fairy, and a Negro, no less!

Father Abraham himself said a quite ungodly word.

“As to what I’m about,” said Michael, recalling his purpose, “On Tuesday you called me a layabout n*gger.”

“That I did, for that’s what you are,” Father Abraham said, drawing himself up like a man who is ready for a blow to the jaw, and who means to weather it with dignity. “And I see in the shade of your hat that a less kindly man than I gave you a much-deserved thrashing, you, you loitering degenerate!”

The boys outside the General Stores tittered and gasped, for Father Abraham being a man of whiter hue had turned a lobsterish red in his righteousness!

“Indeed I’ve had a rough night,” said Michael, removing his hat in belated greeting, “And indeed I am seeking the perpetrator. But I’m no layabout, Father, and first I must address these ill words you have used upon me.”

“And just what do you propose to do?” Father Abraham asked in a far littler voice than before, for Michael was near a foot taller than he and the word of the Lord has historically failed to prevent many a martyr from meeting his maker at the hands of more muscular men.

“To forgive you, of course,” said Michael, replacing his hat, and his smile was bright in the morning sun. “It is the Christian thing.”

“So it is,” said Father Abraham with not much conviction and watering eyes. “So it is.”

And Michael Shale went on his way, leaving Father Abraham to let out a large breath, and Herbie Mitchell to say, “Some slap that fairy’s had, to make him talk that way!”

***

At the Subway Station, where three Italian fairies called Miss Pell, Miss Give, and Miss Take – or Angelo, Antonio, and Giovanni Cesare Claudio Pietro to their Mammas – liked to meet men who liked to meet fairies, Michael Shale stopped to buy a newspaper.

“Why Michael Shale,” said the newspaper boy, “you got yourself a real shiner right there.”

“Indeed I do,” said Michael, for indeed he did.

“Indeed she do,” sang Miss Pell, who had missed the whole fight that night and disliked it.

“Oh don’t she just,” trilled Miss Give, who’d missed the start, and was confused.

“And what a night,” called Miss Take, who’d seen the whole thing and loved it. “Hey Miss Shale, are you all right?”

“I got my mind made up,” said Michael, who did not like to be called Miss Shale when it was not a Saturday night, “to find the boot that kicked me.”

“Oooh,” said the fairies, and “oh,” said the newspaper boy, and “Get outta the goddamn road ya degenerates!” said the meat wagon man trying to pass them on a busy street.

“What’ll you do?” asked the newspaper boy.

“Yes, what’ll you do?” asked the Misses Pell, Give, and Take.

“Will you move you black behind?” cried the meat wagon man, whose sausages were starting to spoil.

“Forgive him” said Michael, serene as the sunshine, “it’s the Christian thing.”

“I’m Jewish,” said the newspaper boy.

“Even so,” said Michael Shale.

“I heard it was Leggy Tom,” said Miss Pell, who heard a lot of rumours.

“I think it was Fat Bob,” said Miss Give, and pinched her.

“It was Greasy Ray,” screeched Miss Take, making half the street stare, “what are you, goddamn blind, Miss Give? You was there.”

“Much obliged,” said Michael, and he raised his hat. “Take care now, ladies.”

“Now who does she think she’s fooling with all this ‘forgive’,” sighed Miss Pell, but Michael Shale went on his way, and the meat wagon man took his spoiling sausages on his, too.

***

When Michael Shale got to the City College, where all the smart girls walked fast in their calf-length skirts, he saw Maimie Reed, who just last month threatened to write Michael’s Momma back home and tell her what life he was leading.

Maimie Reed tossed her head – her hair was set and carefully kept and her hat by the way almost covered it all – and said, “Hello Michael, I see you took a beating. Did it set you to rights?”

“It’ll take more than a bruise to kick the fairy out of me,” said Michael Shale, and he lifted his hat so that she could see what a fine bruise it was. “Miss Reed, you have been bearing tales.”

Miss Reed hoisted her books, which had long titles in French and in Latin and in Math, which was harder, and she said, “Not yet, but if you don’t mend your ways, Michael Shale, I’ll write to my Auntie and you’ll catch H-E-L-L.”

“Now Maimie, that isn’t nice,” said Michael, and he put on his hat again. “But I forgive you.”

Maimie gave a great snort and she said, “You’ll get worse than a bruise one day soon.”

“Well perhaps,” said Michael, “but at present I’m away to find Greasy Ray and talk to him about this one he’s given to me.”

“Now don’t you go starting fights,” Maimie sighed, for she knew her cousin was a lost cause. “If you get yourself arrested again you’ll break your Momma’s heart.”

“Who said anything about fights?” cried Michael, already on the move, “I only mean to forgive him.”

“And if I believe that, I’ll believe anything,” said Maimie Reed to herself, and she hitched up her books, which were sliding.

But Michael Shale went on his way with a song in his heart and a sunbeam on his hat, ready to forgive.

***

He found Greasy Ray where Greasy Ray was always to be found; hanging around the Childs on Forty-Second Street like a bad stink, his feet on a seat and so much Brillantine in his hair that he looked like a motor oil spill.

Word travels faster than a man on foot, Michael Shale saw, for a waiter he knew in ways of which Father Abraham did not approve raised up his thin eyebrows and said, “I hear you’re in the forgiveness business now, Miss Shale.”

“That I am,” said Michael, for that he was. And he took off his hat. “And I’ve a man in mind.”

“I’ll tell him,” said the waiter, with a smile that meant no good, for he loved a cat-fight as much as his manager hated them, though he was never in them himself. “He’s been waiting on you while I’ve been waiting on him, if you know what I mean.”

Greasy Ray was awash with sweat and his fingers drilled out a syncopation on the table top like the finest beat-man in the Cotton Club, for he’d heard Michael Shale “forgave” Joe Jefferson and he did not believe it; and he’d heard Michael Shale “forgave” Father Abraham, and he did not believe it; and he hadn’t heard that Michael Shale also forgave his cousin Maimie Reed – for she was not the kind of girl who knew the likes of Greasy Ray – but had he heard he’d have hardly believed it either.

It is fair to say that hasty-hoofed heavily-pomaded young man with the harsh opinions on Michael Shale’s conduct was now sorely rattled.

“Shale!” he cried, leaping to his feet as Michael came to his table. “What’s all this – what brings you – that is, I say – what do you want?”

Holding his hat in his hands, Michael said, “Oh, since you ask, Ray, I’d like an apology for some things you said last night.”

All the faces in the Childs on Forty-Second Street this fine spring afternoon were turned on Greasy Ray like a handful of scrubbed spotlights on a Broadway soloist, and Greasy Ray’s courage – never of much size – gave out, and Greasy Ray’s pride – somewhat larger, but manageable – got swallowed under their gaze.

“It’s yours!” cried Ray, too fast, and hot about the cheeks.

“And for messing up my hair,” said Michael, severely.

“Sure! I’m sorry,” said Ray, clearly. He’d lost track of his hands, and so wrapped them around each other like a pastor, to keep them safe from getting lost again.

“And bruising my eye,” said Michael, pointing to it.

“Right! I shouldna!” sang Ray, in a real fever of contrition.

“Very good,” said Michael, content. “Then I forgive you.”

Greasy Ray squinted, which did little to improve him. The waiter with the thin eyebrows squinted, but he didn’t need improving. The horde at Childs on Forty-Second Street squinted, and held their breath, for they were past improvement.

“Eh?” said Ray, ready to flinch. “That’s all?”

“That’s all?” complained the waiter, who’d been hoping for a fight.

“That’s all?” sighed the disappointed customers, who’d heard stories about this Childs. Most of them were true – but they happened at night.

“Sure,” said Michael, with a great big smile. “For now.”

“Listen, pal, if you’re going to slug me one, get it over with, all right,” trembled Ray in testy tremolo, braced for a swing.

Michael leaned close and raised his hand, until he cast a deep shadow over the greasy little white man, and he tapped Greasy Ray tenderly on the cheek with no more than the breath of a feather.

“No,” he said, as sunny as the day, “I shall not.”

And Michael Shale left the Childs on Forty-Second Street well-satisfied, ready to take all the rest of April in his real long stride (as only a fairy can).

THE END


The author has, as may be apparent, been combining period research on 1920s Manhattan (prices, some slang, and locations may be assumed to be therefore at least vaguely accurate) with idly reading  Vile Bodies as part of his recuperation from surgery. 

Tips may be left here if you enjoyed the story.

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[Publishing] Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press

Alright yes I promise I shall, at some point, make blog posts when I’m not saying “I wrote something, buy it,” but I’ve been (altogether now) busy. Busy trying to fit work, frantic book research, belly dancing classes (no, really), bodybuilding (again, yes, really), beginners’ Turkish lessons (why), and occasional social life (ukulele singalong down a shaft in Rotherhithe, attempts to gain personal low-earth orbit via a swing at the Tate Modern, etc) around each other.

Fortunately then this particular book was handled by professionals as opposed to solely by me.

Poisons come in all shapes and sizes, often resting in that murky, gray area between too much and too little, between right and wrong. Some poisons help; some poisons hurt. Some do both in the proper doses. But one thing is certain—whether good or evil, figurative or literal, fact or fiction—we can’t escape its potent charm. Throughout this anthology, poison takes many forms, both literal and metaphorical, in a wide variety of genres and styles. And they’re all yours to enjoy. So go ahead. Pick your poison.

Featuring: George BrewingtonJason RubisLawrence SalaniDiane ArrelleKatie ShermanLeigh StathamNichole CelauroMichael Harris CohenDerek Des Anges (Meeeeee), Leslie EntsmingerChristine EskilsonTom HowardCara FoxSharon Frame GayCharlie HughesAaron Max JensenKevin LankesFrank OretoCary G OsborneColleen Quinn, and Angela Raper.

Pick Your Poison is published by Owl Hollow Press and available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook.

Continue reading “[Publishing] Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press”

A companion, not a sequel

I released this a little while ago but what with one thing (repeated terrorism) and another (general election) and another (massive fire in my city), my job-that-pays-the-rent of “reading all the national newspapers” has been rather all-consuming and my time off has been filled with trying to forget all about it, so this post is late.

A while back I published an odd little short story called The Renaka Device, a post-Revolutionary fantasy story about propaganda and truth. I also have novel I’m currently editing which is, in the main, about the mutability of memory, gaslighting, and truth.

Since the latter isn’t ready yet, I ended up writing another short story set in the same post-Revolutionary fantasy land as The Renaka Device, about the different sizes of commitment, the expendability of the individual, and fanaticism, and how the latter can be picked up and used by whoever wants to, not just one position in the political spectrum.


Available on Amazon Kindle UK (and also on most other Amazon regional sites).

Twenty years after the Revolution, the journalist Shukach Istynyya is permitted to speak with the Revolutionary Republic’s number one enemy, in a once-in-a-lifetime interview. “It might be any man within the cell that I am brought to face, but the Party is honest, and the Party is just, and the man in the cell is called Lubach Zahradnik, and he is The Traitor.”

Future announcements regarding more short stories are on their way but have to been reined in for the time being! Thank you for reading.

New short story: The Renaka Device

Exclusively on Amazon Kindle, on every Amazon Kindle site (I will link to UK | US but trust me: every site), a short story rather unlike any of my others in content and in style, The Renaka Device is fairly strongly-influenced by Ray Bradbury, I think.

My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.

I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for you; feel free to pick up your copy (UK | US); Text-to-speech is available on this book for anyone who has difficulty reading from screens or is simply too busy to read but can listen.


Currently I’m plugging away at another sci-fi short story, The Grandmother Virus (which is giving me a headache, I won’t lie); other short fiction of mine you can treat yourself to in the meantime includes: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates (a rollerderby fable), Vessel 151-B (classic sci-fic take on the Pygmalion story), and Saint Grimbald’s Men (bodyhorror bildungsroman. Possibly).

Stay tuned this November for regular updates on how awful it is trying to pull an entire manuscript out of your face in one sitting.

Other, Better Authors

Regular readers are tired of me hectoring them to buy my books and fund my decadent lifestyle choices like “being able to afford to get to my job” and “paying the electricity bill”. Irregular readers are confused as to why I’m not shouting about Huel at this precise moment.

In the fullness of time I’m going to come back and beat you all over the head with the imminence of The Next Big One, explain how I have gone from a banana-hating, coffee-eschewing meat addicted sandwich-lover to a cold-brew-hefting, banana-craving, bread-avoiding pescatarian hipster scumbag (actually that one’s pretty straightforward: turns out testosterone changes your tastes and body chemistry. Also, willpower and working nightshift. Hoo boy do you need to be able to stomach a lot of coffee).

But for now I want to draw attention to m’colleague and global opposite, Wayne Ree. Pronounced “Ray”, because fuck you, and also because there’s an acute accent over the second e that my keyboard wants no part of.

Wayne, a founding member of the aptly-named Global Beards, is a versatile and imaginative writer who I feel just isn’t getting the love he deserves. The man has written Yellow Princess: Attack of the Dinosharksbut also quieter, more adult and introspective pieces in Tales from a Tiny Room, and partnered up with the explosively excellent Anna AB on the ferocious collection Prompt – snappy, dangerous short fiction. Also, he’s bought me whisky at least once so that pretty much makes him a Good People.

So you should buy his stories, because they’re varied and exciting and because, if you’re very lucky and flatter him enough, he may one day let you touch The Beard. Maybe.

Grotesque self-pimping!

Hello! I just got an email from my lovely editors at New Smut Project letting me know the anthology I’m featured in (as Melissa Snowdon) got a really nice review from Adriana Ravenlust at Of Sex and Love! And in fact got singled out for attention (okay, okay, she singles most of the stories out for attention because it’s a great anthology full of inventive fiction and such but let me have my moment).

Which I hope stands as further encouragement to, if you haven’t already, grab yourself a copy of Between the Shores and enjoy; and/or pick up Heart, Body, Soul which I didn’t write anything for but which does feature a story by a friend of mine.

Book Bragging!

A break from Inadvertent Design Week, which will continue with Productsu (shut up) and Origami Travel Clothing, to let you all know:

Between the Shores, an anthology in which my story Vine is featured (under the nom-de-smut “Melissa Snowdon”), and which is live on the Kindle Store, is also in the top 100 Books & eBooks for the tag “Bisexual”

Why not buy a copy, and help it to stay there? If you prefer your book in paper form, the publishers have put a discount code on the Createspace edition for you:

You can also tell your fans about a special Createspace discount code we’ve created: 5MQV88KN will take $2 off each book.

I’ll leave the final word on this with the publishers again:

The anthology is now available as an ebook and paperback at many websites, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. A complete list of retailers is available on our blog.

Between the Shores Pre Order!

 

Between the shores is an erotica anthology in which my short story Vine (under my nom de Naughty Stories, Melissa Snowdon) is featured, a long with a roaring collection of other BDSM erotica which, unlike 50 Shades of Grey, is heavy on consent. The negotiated kind, not the coerced kind.

For the technicalities I’m going to leave you with the publishers:

Between The Shores

available from:

Soon, Smashwords will distribute the ebook files to other retailers like Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Scribd. Be sure to check our Buy Page for the most up-to-date purchasing options!

Our Createspace paperback version will be released on our official publication date of March 23.

(Please note the current word and page count refer to placeholder files: the actual anthologies will be over 100,000 words each. Also, the file formats available on All Romance Ebooks will include .epub, .mobi, and .html as well as .pdf.)

Obviously this is terribly exciting and you should run, not walk, to preorder this magnificent thing.

[Fiction] Charming

Ping had never been to a roof-top bar before. She’d been meaning to, in the same way she’d been meaning to book a holiday somewhere and not just spend all her holiday time either sleeping or doing everything she had hadn’t time to while she was at work, but hadn’t got past the intention.

Then the money-off deal came up in her inbox like a sign from the universe, just as she’d started the four-day weekend, and when she emailed Mu he hadn’t immediately responded with sorry, but and instead said I think I can do it this time.

So she stood on a rooftop in Hoxton and wondered why she’d thought being two floors up would make the oppressive heat and chemical mugginess disappear, and thought, a little sadly, about how you get the picture of “roof-top bar” confused with “images of James Bond suaveness and elegance everywhere” and forget that all your friends are hipsters and the Queen of Hoxton is in Hoxton, and that hipsters like industrial earnestness and not beautiful glass sculptures.

Ping cradled an icy glass of Rekoderlig in her hands and tried to pretend to herself that it was a very cosmopolitan and sophisticated cocktail favoured by the fabulously wealthy, and that she was in Dubai, and that the Queen of Hoxton had installed an air-conditioning unit on the roof.

A woman with blonde hair in generous waves and plastic glasses frames with no glass in them approached Ping directly. With a sudden stab of panic Ping worried if she’d somehow stolen her spot, or her drink, or was about to be mistaken for someone else. She cast about vaguely for some sort of life-line, but no one met her eye.

“Are you Ping?” the woman asked, from about six feet away. She gestured at Ping with the neck of her own drink – a Corona – and accompanied the question with an irritated puff of air apparently intended to get her hair off her forehead.

As there were maybe three other people on the roof who weren’t white, and one of them was a man, and all of them were black, Ping thought this question was slightly unnecessary, but she nodded cautiously. Maybe she’d left something downstairs.

“Oh, your brother said could I tell you, he’s run into some friends downstairs,” the woman said, with a cartoonish, letterbox grimace, “and he’ll be up soon. Between you and me,” she said, shielding her mouth with the back of her hand as if she was imparting state secrets, “I don’t think it’s going to be ‘soon’.” She raised her eyebrows for a moment, and when Ping didn’t react, she added, “Also I don’t know why they’d want to stay down there anyhow, it’s dark and warm.”

The blonde woman held the top of her loose dress away from her skin to illustrate, pinching it between finger and thumb. She put her head on one side, and huffed out another puff of hair-dislodging air.

“Thanks,” Ping said, belatedly.

For a moment they both stood in silence. The blonde didn’t appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere – she just stared abstractedly past Ping’s head at the buildings to the West, into the beginnings of the setting sun, and Ping took the opportunity to examine her shoes, which were metallic orange sandals with little leather wing shapes cut out over the ankle bones. They looked dumb.

The blonde woman turned her attention back to Ping with an exaggerated little dancer’s jerk, the kind people did when they wanted to make it clear they were now giving you their full attention. Ping experimented in her head with the idea of telling this woman that she didn’t want her full attention, or even a sliver of it, but as usual what came out of her mouth was blindingly awkward small-talk as her fingers tightened on the condensation of the Rekoderlig glass, and the ice began to melt.

“So how do you know Mu?”

The blonde lifted a hank of her hair away from her nape and fanned underneath it, the Corona dangling against her back, gripped in the curl of two fingers. “I don’t. I know Leah –“ she rolled her eyes at something absent, “—who isn’t even here like she was meant to be, and Leah knows Stella and Gavin and I guess Stella and Gavin know your brother – Mu, was it? – God, excuse me, I’m not normally this gross, I just can’t deal with close heat at all.” She let go of her hair, spread one hand and the bottle in a gesture of exasperation, raised her face to heavens, and said, “Why didn’t I get ice?”

Ping thought, I’m not offering you mine just so you can turn it down.

“Anyway,” said the blonde, “I don’t really know anyone I’m here with and I was starting to get bored, literally all they were talking about was this stupid Flickr-scraping app—“

“Futographr,” Ping blurted.

“That’s the one,” she said, pointing her lower two fingers and her Corona at Ping, before taking a swig.

A man in a lumberjack shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a colouring-book of tattoos on his forearms passed between them as if they weren’t having a conversation at all – which Ping felt they weren’t, not exactly – and by the time he’d squeezed on by to the bucket of ice and cans that was standing in for another bar, she could see Mu’s hair poking around the door to the roof.

Ping waved.

The blonde wandered away.

Mu said, “Oh thank God you’re here, I’ve just been trapped downstairs listening to Iain’s blow-by-blow account of how spiritually enriching it is to go and stare at poor people in Laos.” He held his hand over his eyes and peered into the sun. “Hey,” he added, “this is nice, this was a good idea.”

Ping looked at the last fragments of melted ice in her drink and said, “Yeah. Feels like you’re not in London at all,” without a single molecule of sincerity.

 

“How was last night?” John asked, stepping back from the hot water-tap but leaving his mug beside it as if to guard the queue from interlopers.

Ping puffed upwards into her fringe to unstick it from her forehead, both hands on her coffee cup. “Warm,” she said. “Who thinks it’s a good idea to have a roof terrace with no shade?”

“Aw, c’mon,” John laughed, pushing his cup under the hot-water tap. “The whole point of a roof-terrace is to enjoy the three minutes of sun we get a year.”

Ping pinched her t-shirt away from her breast-bone as if she was airing out curtains, and said, “Sun, yes, sweat, no.”

John said, “I have this idea for a cold-tub on the roof of one of those pubs. You just climb in a bucket of ice cubs and sit in it for as long as you can take.”

“Now that,” Ping said, whispering past the back of her hand, “sounds like a recipe for all kinds of problems with your – you know.”

 

At work drinks she found herself standing by John, who elaborated on his ice tank idea and even threatened to demonstrate with a glass of ice-cubes. “At least a cold drink,” he amended, when Ping made a face. “Strawberry cider, right?”

Ping shook her head, surprised. “Corona.”

“You normally have strawberry cider,” John said, with a level of certainty Ping found somewhat irritating.

She lifted the hair off the nape of her neck and fanned impatiently at the skin below, trying to speed up the process of recovering from a day in a sweaty office with only one working desk fan.

“No I don’t,” she said. “That’s a children’s drink.”

Ping grimaced, her mouth wide like a letterbox, and John shrugged and collected up a few more orders on the way to the bar. The pub was air-conditioned, and dark, and almost everyone else from the department had stepped outside to enjoy the evening sun.

“Ping,” John called, from the bar, and she turned with a jerky little dancer’s turn to give him her attention. “Are you sure it was Corona you wanted?”

She rolled her eyes to the dusty ceiling, and mouthed a silent prayer for strength. “Yes.”

 

“Nice shoes,” said a fat woman on the escalator, as Ping flopped on the handrail. There was a whole crocodile of neon tourists blocking both sides of the moving stairs, and ignoring, loudly and Frenchly, the repeated passive-aggressive coughing, tutting, and tannoy announcements regarding standing on the right that were aimed at them.

“Thanks,” said Ping, looking down at the sandals with their cut-out wing silhouette in the orange metallic leather. “I got them on the internet.”

 

John went home to his flatmates, two of whom were cats, and slumped into the groove on the sofa specifically worn for him, a one-cushion gap away from the groove in the sofa specifically worn for Peter, who was half-asleep in front of Total Wipeout in the evening heat.

“It’s like Satan’s arsehole out there,” Peter mumbled, unsticking his arm from the faux-leather cushions to reach for the remote. His eyes widened. “Why am I watching this?”

“Why are you watching this?” John asked, holding his shirt away from his chest to stop it sticking.

“Girl in the pink leotard thing is quite fit,” Peter suggested, changing the channel.

John rolled his eyes, and sank back into the sofa. “You saw two seconds of red hair.”

“Sometimes that’s all you need,” Peter countered, putting his feet on top of John’s discarded bag. “You look weird.”

“Thanks,” John muttered, blowing hair off his forehead. “You look like you’re being slow-roasted in your own sweat.”

Peter levered himself slowly off the sofa, with accompanying winces and twitches as his skin let go the fabric. “Drink?”

“Corona,” John said, vaguely watching the ident on the TV screen. It was new, and featured a group of women with prosthetic legs engaged in some sort of dance with huge fluttering banners. Peter stopped in the doorway to the kitchen.

Corona?” he repeated.

“Yeah?”

“Why would we have—“ Peter cut himself off, shrugged, and returned a moment later with a bottle of Heineken.

 

“You’re being unusually camp,” Bevis said, half-way through the next morning, when John was telling him about the latest deployment on the system and when it was due. “What’s that – that thing where you’re pretending to whisper to someone. Have you been watching Drag Race?”

John was momentarily bewildered by this; he searched the ceiling for some kind of cue as to what the hell Bevis was objecting to, and decided to ignore it altogether.

It wasn’t, after all, as if he’d done anything out of the ordinary.

 

Peter leaned over the bar and blew upwards into his own fringe. “Have you considered getting air-conditioning in here?”

The barmaid shrugged. “Chris has ‘considered’ it an unnecessary expense,” she said, bitterly, “because he doesn’t come in here unless he’s shitfaced himself. I’ll tell him the clientele are complaining, maybe that’ll do something.” She watched Peter hold his t-shirt away from his chest as if trying to keep it from contaminating his nipples, and said, “the usual?”

“Yeah.” Peter sighed. He wondered if there was somewhere online that did men’s sandals with wing cut-outs. He’d never had a pair of sandals before, but the weather was grim, and the idea of wearing flip-flops somehow didn’t appeal.

“Guinness, then,” the barmaid said.

“Corona,” Peter corrected, lifting his ponytail off the nap of his neck and fanning underneath.

“I thought you said the usual?”

“That is the usual,” Peter said.


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