Anthroposophy is a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe. Anthroposophists are those who experience, as an essential need of life, certain questions on the nature of the human being and the universe, just as one experiences hunger and thirst.
My mind is a hostage, bound and gagged, twisting and kicking against inexorable fist of truth. Steiner says that every lie is a murder.
The townhouse that Malik, the bailiff and I occupied on Templar Row, was an old three-story Victorian, the tall body of the building an ancient aristocrat gone to seed, the neglected garden, a pair of well-worn slippers. It was a place of welcome for polite spongers like the French, who, tout naturellement, knew how to make good use of the facilities; the ancient roll-top bath, the shabby but functional kitchen, the well worn sofas and the old mattresses that despite years of abuse, somehow remained comfortable.
Much of the time, Malik and I remained in ghostly silence in our rooms, but when the endless chatter filled the hallway and the stairs I ventured out to knock on his door. Malik pushed past me onto the landing, snapping his bedroom door shut. He was as possessive of his privacy as I was, but he needn’t have worried. I’d already spotted the strange implements of torture, the metal chains and iron fetters.
La famille was downstairs in the kitchen, the two teenage Goths and their young French mamans. The boys wore black stove-pipe pants, sullen eyes and an air of carefully crafted cynicism. Their mothers on the other hand were sickeningly cheerful. The kitchen stank with their cheeses, beurre and and apples, their endless cups of coffee and sweet little amber-coloured cakes. Malik, whose ears were continually poised for the merest hint of invasion had been brooding in his suite, sulking, and cutting himself with his knife. I had been sitting in my room wondering what it must be like to inhabit their skin.
‘What do you want?’ Asked Malik, annoyed by my presence.
‘The French,’ I reminded him. ‘We have to get rid of them.’
I too wanted them gone. They were disturbing the peace, and I had long resigned myself to a peaceful virtual existence in this old stone album of time lost and forgotten. It suited me well, the scarred wood, the creaking staircases, the cracked window panes, and the kitchen
floor that no matter how often the bailiff mopped it, always
managed to look greasy and stained.
On the whole, we three were content, but being such differing personalities, we bickered like cats. Once a month, we held a meeting, (the bailiff’s idea) to restore order. That month there was a serious problem at hand. The French. Ever since they’d arrived, Malik had been desperate to get rid of them.
When we entered the kitchen for the meeting, the bailiff threw us a hostile glare. He considered Malik a waste of space, and he disliked me on principle. Not alone was I a girl who dressed as a boy, who drank red wine till it came out of my ears, but I didn’t give a fig for his supposed ‘authority’. I plonked my bottle of wine on the table, grabbed a chair, and prepared for the usual boring vomit. As per, the bailiff was wearing his old army fatigues for the event. Whenever he ‘chaired’ one of his so-called ‘meetings’, his pallor was the colour of putty. This time, he hacked up a glob of blood, spitting it onto a large greyish hanky especially ordained for this ritual. On the table in front, he shuffled a set of notes written in tight doctor’s script, and these he presented with a solemn air, as though he were handling a delicate mission for the Ministry of Defence. I took a long swig from the bottle. What a joke.
‘Malik and I have made a decision.’
Malik and I. How cosy.
‘These constant intrusions on our privacy have become intolerable, and we‘ve decided not to tolerate them.’
He was getting on my nerves, acting as if he was the only one with half a brain. I knocked back another skinful. ‘Sounds like a load of tautology to me.’
He gave me an ugly look. ‘There’s no need to be so rude Paddy.’
‘Sorry Sarge. Carry on.’
He calls me Paddy cause I’m Irish, and I call him Sarge, cause he’s a dickhead.
Malik had that weird ‘skull and bones’ look he gets now and then, his pupils were dilated to fuck, and his eyes were as black as coal. They shone like the river Liffey at midnight. ‘I‘m sick of them. They act as if I don‘t exist. Who the hell do they think they are? I want them out, now.’
I sat with my head in my knuckles. I’d heard it all before. The French tormented Malik; he was obsessed with them; it was becoming a bore. ‘Malik, in the words of the great John McIntyre, you can’t be serious, I mean how are we supposed to get rid of them? Your uncle would throw a fit if we kicked them out.’
‘Ways and means Paddy, ways and means,’ said the bailiff, narrowing his eyes in the manner of George W Bush, trying to look smart.
Try as I might I couldn’t prevent the sarcasm that leaked out. ‘Yeah? How? Write them a letter?’
The bailiff shot me another dirty look and repeated himself. He had a habit of doing that lately. ‘I’ve worked out a strategy, it’s not fool proof, but it’s the best we have, and it means everyone has to cooperate, and I mean everyone, Paddy. Myself, Malik, and you, working together as a team.’
His eyes glistened with sentiment at his own brilliant democracy. I could just see him as a rookie soldier, sticking bullets into innocents.
Malik nodded his head in agreement and put a match to his last crumpled roll up. ‘Yeah, that’s right, we’re gonna launch an attack.’
“Launch an attack”. There were no prizes for guessing who’d dreamed up that little phrase. It had naked aggression stamped all over it. Noxious blue fumes of tobacco mushroomed out causing me to cough. Malik knew about my allergy to cigarette smoke, and he blew a jet full in my direction. Not a good sign.
‘Cool,’ I said in a strangulated voice, ‘but the question is how?’
The bailiff looked at me like I was an idiot. ‘Simple enough. We give ‘em fair warning but if they wake up and smell the coffee, then, what can I say.’
Malik’s hand shook; he flicked his cigarette compulsively. Ash dropped everywhere. A bit landed on the bailiff’s khaki shorts and sat there like an incinerated worm. Malik’s attention was elsewhere; he was back to savaging the French women’s appearance, scrutinising their clothes and making sarcastic remarks about ’Paris fashion a la flea market.’ His ridiculous obsession was wearing me out. I couldn’t understand the fuss. Sooner or later they’d be packing their bags and scribbling mercy buckets on a crappy note then scuttling off to whatever black hole they’d crawled out of. It wasn’t the first time we’d been invaded, and it wasn’t gonna be the last. All I wanted was to return my room and read Steiner.
Malik’s thirst for blood was disturbing. ‘A bunch of blood-sucking vipers, on their cheap French vacation! How dare they invade my space, acting as if they own the place.’
He eyed them through the cracked window pane. ‘It’s not on. If there’s any justice in this world, a nice hoody will come along and rob them of their passports and Euros.’
‘Just the Euros, not the passports, they need those to get home to their country,’ the bailiff reminded him.
He and Malik chuckled like co-conspirators. Malik was such a turncoat. One day he was your best pal and the next he was buttering up to the bailiff and stabbing you in the back. It made me angry watching him.
He started going on again about how fed up he was living in England. My hangover was worse; suddenly, I’d had enough. ‘Oh for fuck sake why don’t you sling your hook back to where you came from then? Huh? We’d all be better off not listening to your bitching and moaning. Sadly, there’s no chance of that happening is there? Face it pal, you’re stuck here, whether you like it or not. So stop your whinging you sorry bastard!’
The bailiff smirked, I’d said what he wanted to say but hadn’t the nerve. Sneaky git, I thought, making sure he was on the right side of Malik.
Malik stood up and leaned across the table, wagging his long bony finger right in my face. ‘Bitch! What do you know! You’re nothing but a sad lush with your wet drunkard’s nose in your bottle!’
The bailiff scraped his chair backwards and howled with laughter at my expense.
I faced Malik. ‘Yeah, that’s right Malik, and you’re Peter Pan I suppose. You go back to Fairyland then mate. Go on, get on your big fairy plane and fly off home to the fairies!’
The bailiff – hypocrite – held his palms up. ‘Guys guys! Whoah there, calm down, let’s not get ourselves too excited. We came together for a meeting, let’s try to co-operate with one another for a change, huh?’
Malik and I sat down again, Malik never taking his pharaohs-curse eyes from mine. I stared right back at him to show him I didn’t give a damn and that his Egyptian bullshit didn‘t scare me in the least.
‘Get on with it then, we haven’t got all day and all night,’ I said to the bailiff.
The bailiff had an irritatingly smug look on his meaty chops. He loved it when Malik and I fought each other; it made him feel superior to the both of us. I watched him rearranging his notes to start over. He was in his element acting the part of our commanding officer. Why did we allow him? Was it because he thought we needed him and we weren’t too sure that we didn‘t?
‘Okay, to put it in military terms, the situation so far is that the enemy has spread itself across our territory like a nasty rash. Agreed?’
‘Yeah yeah, fair enough. Go on.’
He went on about the French; how they were scum. I wanted to wind him up but said nothing. ‘So, he concluded, ‘long story short, do we want to dispose of the enemy or not?’
Of course we did, that’s why we were at the bloody meeting. I wiped my nose and took another slug of wine.
Malik stubbed his cigarette a fraction of an inch from the fussy little fingers of the bailiff, splayed out like the milky legs of an arthritic spider. He had his ‘bothered?’ look. ‘At the end of the day, it makes no odds to me mate, I’m going back to live with my uncle in Dubai,’ Said Malik.
The bailiff was crestfallen. He didn’t yet know Malik as well as I did. Malik’s obsessions were short and intense, and his mood-swings were as unpredictable as snow in summer.
‘I thought you said you wanted to get rid of them?’
‘Aach! Who cares,’ said Malik.
The bailiff sighed and shook his head from side to side. He reminded me of a hippo on one of those African wildlife programmes; I half expected drips of brown river water to go flying across the room.
Malik made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm, and his black Pashmina opened out in front, like the wing of a gigantic bat. ‘The Arabs, my friend, could buy up the whole shitty continent of Europe if they wanted to, blast it to hell and back. We’re talking power and cash, hard, hard cash. In Dubai, I have everything. Food, beer, drugs, sex; it’s all there. We’re talking people with influence, not the downtrodden arse-licking monarchist morons you get here.’
The bailiff rose from his seat in anger. Malik had touched a nerve. ‘Don’t mention our Queen with that filthy mouth of yours.’
Malik grinned evilly. There was nothing he enjoyed more than winding people up, people like the bailiff. ‘Who said anything about the Queen? I’ve never even met the lady!’
The bailiff was clenching and unclenching his fists.
‘She’s a lovely old bird, isn’t she Paddy?’ Malik said.
The bailiff gave me a menacing look.
‘Er, yeah. She likes animals so she can’t be all bad. Plus, she’s got a sense of humour. She gave birth to Charles.’
‘True. Plus, she’s a true Democrat, sharing her regal piss every day. Makes you feel part of the family doesn’t it?’ Said Malik
The bailiff looked at Malik in horror and disgust, then at me.
‘We drink it in our tea through the tap water,’ I explained.
The bailiff looked as if he was on the verge of punching our lights out. I didn’t’ care. Malik and I were on a proper footing again, and now it was the bailiff’s turn to be the odd one out. It was that way between us. One minute we were best of friends then bitter enemies. There was no telling from moment to moment who would fall out with who. I felt relieved that Malik and I had placed our differences behind us for now. At the end of the day, it was in my interest to stay cool with him, that is if I wanted to keep a roof over my head. A word to his uncle and I might find myself out on the street again. We three were tied together symbiotically. Malik needed me as much as I needed him, and as I said, both of us imagined we needed the bailiff. It was all going good, until Malik started his unbearable bragging again, going on about his amazing life as an escort in Dubai. Listening to him talk, I felt like a worse loser than ever.
Someone needs to pop his balloon, I thought, it may as well be me. ‘So name them then Malik, these clients of yours.’
Malik hesitated. ‘Sorry, no can do.’
‘Confidentiality. Suffice to say they are powerful people. Celebrities, politicians, media types. You name it.’
‘Ah right. Let’s see now, you told us this a million times. You get top Arabian dollar for keeping those wrinkly-dicks and cobwebby-fannies happy and satisfied, and for – what was it now?’
The bailiff snickered through his nose.
‘Oh yeah, your ‘discretion’. I said. ‘Whereas one phone call to the daily trumpet, or whatever, and you were set up for life. Janey Mac, what a fricken smooth operator you are. Change the subject Malik, you’re a broken record.’
Malik’s jaw dropped. No one had put it to him so succinctly before. He leapt out of his chair, knocking it backwards, and tearing a clump out of his long black hair in angry frustration. Molten venom poured forth from Malik’s mouth as he unleashed Arabic curses at me, one or two of which I understood. He’d taught me them to me in exchange for ‘pog muh hone,’ Gaelic for ‘kiss my ass,’ and the only bit of the Irish lingo that I remembered from misspent school days.
My hand hovered around the neck of my wine bottle, wouldn’t take long to crack it open but why waste good juice? ‘Fuck you, Malik! At least, I’m not in the habit of stapling my dick to my balls!’
The bailiff roared with laughter. Malik drew a knife out from under his shawl. He waved it in front of our faces, karate style, his eyes flashing. The bailiff scraped his chair back and puffed his chest out. It was time to put his military training to proper use.
He chose bravado. ‘Put it away Malik you big fucken pansy!’
Malik lunged forward with the knife, aiming straight for the heart of the bailiff. At that moment, the kitchen door clicked open and mild voices were speaking in French about how cold it had become in the garden. The two mothers and their boys entered the kitchen carrying their empty plates and left-over meat from their barbecue.
It took a few moments for my tongue to register what was going on and to shake off the glue that made it stick to my gums. At last, I found the means to speak. ‘Malik, we’re sorry man, we didn‘t intend … look we’re all feeling pretty raw and emotional right now. Hand on heart, I for one have nothing but the deepest respect for you man, and I’m sure Sarge feels the same way, don’t you Sarge?’
Malik’s anger evaporated. He put the blade on the table and took a deep trembling breath. He was back to being super cool. ‘Fuck you both, and fuck the French.’
The bailiff snatched at the knife, but Malik was too quick for him. He slapped the bailiff’s hand away, and the blade went clattering to the floor. We glanced over at the French, but they were oblivious.
I felt amazed. ‘They never hear a thing, it’s like we don’t exist for them.’
Malik picked the weapon up off the floor. He tucked it under his shawl and wandered out to the garden to calm down. The bailiff chewed his nails and spat them out. He glared at Malik, who was sitting in the garden. ‘He’s a loose cannon. Something needs to be done.’
I knew he was upset at what had happened, but I sensed he was much more worried about the fact that Malik had chosen his guts to stick his blade into, and not mine. That said a lot.
There was a political shift in there somewhere, and I wasn’t gonna let the bailiff stay ignorant of that fact. ‘A word in your shell-like Sarge?’
‘If you must.’
‘You saw how Malik changed back then?’
‘I’ll spell it out. He went from being on the verge of sticking his blade in your gut to putting it away and walking off. I’d say that was a transformation wouldn’t you?’
I wanted him to know that if it weren’t for my skilful diplomacy, he’d be nothing but inedible toast. ‘That was a close shave back there, luckily I intervened, just in the nick of time.’
He jerked his head at the French over by the sink. ‘It was that lot coming in that stopped him in his tracks.’
‘Malik didn’t give a shit about them. He was gonna mince you up like steak tartare, good and proper. French or no French!’
When Malik returned, the bailiff acted as though nothing happened between them. ‘Right then, boys and girls. Shall we continue where we left off?’
‘The long and the short of it is we don’t want intruders, and we’re gonna give this lot a run for their money and a going away present they won’t forget.’
‘Just one thing,’ I told him.
The bailiff looked at me like I was shit on his shoe.
‘What’s that, Paddy?’
‘Well, let’s face it, you, you’re buggered with Aids. Malik is a needle freak, and I’m an alcoholic, and as you can see, too skinny and small for my age, which, by the way, is nineteen, not twelve.’
‘Your point being?’
‘I’ll spell it out for you. That lot are disgustingly healthy and vibrant, and we three are kaput, so how are we supposed to get the better of them? Huh?’
‘I’m just as fit as those cunts,’ said the bailiff, very bitterly I thought.’
‘Get real,’ said Malik. You’re like a turd that someone forgot to flush down the pan.’
It was my turn to laugh and laugh I did. I laughed until the tears rolled. I remembered what Steiner had said once.
“This third corpse, the astral husk, gradually dissolves, and it is important that it should have dissolved completely before a man returns ….”
The bailiff said nothing. He hung his head, loosened the collar of his khaki shirt and continued; a dog with a bone. ‘Be that as it may, I’m not the sort to sit around on my delicates with my head stuck in a bottle all day, right?’
He cut a meaningful glance in my direction. ‘Besides, I’ve been doing my homework.’
He’d done his homework alright. He proceeded with a rundown of our dodgy existences. He’d found out what ‘skills’ and ‘talents’ and ‘abilities’ Malik and I had gained while wrecking our lives. It was true we’d messed up, but the bastard rubbed our noses in it.
I felt it was time I unpacked the prime beef I had on him. I’d been saving it for a rainy day but now was an opportune moment. ‘Tell us how you wound up being a bailiff then Sarge? Take a dim view of homicide in the armed forces do they?’
I had to hand it to him; the bailiff didn’t blink an eye.
‘I never laid a hand on her.’
‘Don’t know where you got your information from Paddy but I can tell you one thing right, it was a pack of lies. Let’s just say there were people what were jealous of my promotion, so they said things, foul rotten things. Vipers! It was an injustice. I loved that woman more than my mother.’
Tears of self-pity squelched out through the bailiff’s red eyelashes.
Malik got agitated. ‘Stop it! Stop this stupid talk! Tell us what the plan is. I’m tired of looking at those French morons.’
The bailiff pulled his grey hanky out and blew his nose with finality. He gave me a malignant stare and resumed his habitual air. He began outlining the plan and giving us our allotted tasks. The French were back in the garden chatting away unawares, oblivious to our plotting. I watched them and felt an annoying prick of sympathy. Why did we want to get rid of them so badly? Yeah true, their relentless Brady Bunch antics were nerve grating, they needed a good dose of dysfunction as an antidote, but what harm were they doing?
Overhead, grey clouds were forming, and on a rooftop opposite a crow was poking at something unseen, a smaller bird perhaps. Along the perimeter of that roof, the guttering was breaking away, and there was a slate or two missing. The whole city reminded me of a grand old dowager, falling to pieces but trying to keep up appearances. The bailiff was yapping excitedly; I tuned back in. He was trying to impress Malik, going on about ‘advanced military techniques’ he’d learned while in the army. It sounded like crap.
‘Oh for crying out loud let’s get on with it,’ I said.
We got down to business. Malik was on operation break-in, so he used his knife to loosen the bolts and the hinges from the back door and the shelving above the sink, where the condiments and jars were. I was on operation arson, so I fiddled with the cooker, adjusting a knob here, a pipe there. The bailiff was supposed to use his advanced technique to co-ordinate the whole thing and cause a mini-explosion. He made a show of breathing and closing his eyelids. They fluttered like trapped moths. Then he put his thumb and forefingers together. Malik and I grew tired of waiting, so we grabbed hands. Malik’s fingers were icy cold but with electric intensity. We heard a large thud and thump as jars came crashing down and salt, sugar, rice and flour rushed in all directions. As the shelving collapsed, the women leapt backwards in shock as green rheumy olives rolled along the floor, and unruly grains of rice snuck into their open-toed sandals.
The two boys came hurtling in from the garden in fright. ‘Ce qui s’est produit?’
They fussed over the fixtures on the wall. They checked every angle and discussed the event ad infinitum; how strange, it was certainly okay earlier, n’est c’est pas? Yes, it was, tight as a ship before, now suddenly loose, how bizarre.
The mother tried to make light of it. Oh well, it can sometimes be like that. It’s an old house, remember grand papa’s house? Yes, I remember well, and the windows got stuck every spring. So funny, grandpapa trying to open them with a screwdriver, cursing and swearing under his breath.
Next, the kitchen door broke away from its hinges, a parody of its former self. The family clung to one another. The whole kitchen was turning against them. The bailiff clapped his hands in glee.
Malik and I were still bound together like magnet to steel. The force of the energy made our hair stand on end. Next it was the cooker. It sprang to life; every ring firing up at once. The women held each other in petrifaction, while the boys swung into action, twisting and turning the knobs.
One of them burned his thumb. ‘Aie!!’
The flames grew higher, and then there was a loud bang, and they sputtered and died, followed by a noxious smell of gas. The French chattered like frightened lemurs. What should we do? Ring the police? What if the house blows up? We can’t stay; it’s not safe. Shouldn’t we inform Monsieur? Non non! Definitely not! He might demand compensation for damage, but we’re not to blame. We’ll leave a note when we go.
The bailiff opened his eyes and admired what he thought was his handiwork. ‘It’s the thumb and forefinger that does it,’ he said, admiring his hands. ‘Aids the concentration, I learned it in Iraq, works every time.’
‘Your fingernails need cutting,’ I told him. ‘They’re disgusting. And there’s a rotten smell of gas. Don’t you not think you should do something, Sarge? It might lead to an major explosion?’
The bailiff blinked twice. ‘Fucked if I know, aren’t you the one who sets fire to things? Surely you know how to turn the gas off and on?’
He was getting his own back for earlier, by bringing up my murky past.
‘Don’t look at me,’ I told him, ‘Malik and I just loosened the screws, you did the work with your ‘elevated technique.’
‘Yeah, turn it off before it blows, big time!’ Said Malik.
‘Forget ‘yeah but’. Turn it off you tosser!’
‘I can’t. I’m still getting the hang of this stuff. It’s more powerful than I thought.’
‘Lousy furniture grabber!’ screeched Malik with his serpent tongue. ‘I should have known better than to trust you with a plan!’
The bailiff’s meaty face is a picture. ‘Bereft’ is too pretty a word, but it’s in around that vicinity. I had the feeling he might cry, which would have been excruciating, so I intervened. ‘Wait, I think the smell is an after effect.’
‘It’s an illusion.’
The bailiff stared at the cooker, and then at me, then at Malik, then at his hands, turning them around and around in amazement. ‘Shit, I’m even better than I thought.’
Malik lit the remaining fragment of his tobacco. The pale smoke did nothing to cloak his venom. He wasn’t finished with the bailiff yet. ‘Illusion or no illusion, if my uncle’s house goes up, on your head be it.’
His words had no effect. ‘Trust me, I’ve practiced that technique over and over, but I never expected it to work so well,’ Said the bailiff, glowing with pride.
‘Ssshh,’ I said. ‘Listen.’
The family appeared to be making a decision. We eavesdropped on their conversation. They were off to stay at a cheap bed and breakfast around the corner; rats leaving the sinking ship.
‘They’re leaving!’ Malik and I jumped up and hugged one another with glee; anyone would think we‘d scored the winning goal in the World Cup.
Part Two – The Family Strike Back
The family are busy packing their chattels, not forgetting brushes, soap, towels, passports, guidebooks, muttering to one another while they stuff, zip and wrap their belongings into suitcase and bag. Something not right; odd happenings, strange house; and did you notice how cold tout d’un coup? We’ve had one trauma; we don’t need another.
I’m sitting on the bare steps in the hall waiting for them to leave so I can get back to Steiner. The bailiff is leaning against the doorpost ogling the women.
He sneers as they unfold and refold the garments before packing them away into their pink plastic suitcases. ‘The blonde’s got a nice arse. As for the other, there’s more meat on a lentil.’
Malik is gazing with admiration at the two Goths. They work feverishly in that wired up hormonal way of teenagers, jamming underwear, tee shirts and socks into their backpacks. I can see how beautiful they appear to him at this moment, bathed in the last lozenge of daylight and soaked in the slender beauty of youth.
One of them is waving a tabloid newspaper in the air. ‘Shall I keep this Maman?’
‘As a souvenir?’
La Famille is ready to depart; they conduct a quick inventory of their belongings. Passports? Oui. Money? Oui. Tickets? Oui. Towels, soap, sandals, trainers, cameras and phones? Bon, allez!
With a bored expression, Malik rescues the discarded newspaper and reads the headlines. His face turns pale.
I’m struck with a sense of foreboding. ‘What’s it say?’
Malik doesn’t answer. The pages slide from his fingers and float onto the cool stone tiles of the hall.
The family hesitate. One by one they replace their bags in the hallway.
‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’
Jacques nods his head.
The bailiff – letch – is doing up his flies, he’s been pleasuring himself for the past fuck knows how long. He glances over at the family, surreptitiously. ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t they leaving?’
I pick the newspaper up from the floor.
‘What are you reading? What does it say?’ The bailiff asks, snatching the paper from my hands.
The pictures flick in and of my brain like bullets. The mangled hire car, the helpless rescue team, the photographs of the two ‘pretty housewives’ and their ‘young teenage sons making their way back to France from a holiday in London’. The paper said there was a another; a driver; and a body that could not be recognised, at first. I look up. The family are creeping back along the hallway toward the stairs.
Malik screams at them from the back of the hall. ‘Where do you think you’re going you lot! Fous les camps et morte!’
One of the boys, the one they call ’Pierre’ turns around in an attitude of listening. ‘Did you hear that Maman?’
His mother peers at Malik, as though seeing him for the first time.
Malik coughs violently, his body jack-knifes. The bailiff throws him around like a rag doll, breaking Steiner’s immutable law of non-aggression. He lays into Malik with relish, a punishment for the slights and put-downs of earlier. I shiver, thinking it will be my turn next. With a smooth fat hand, the bailiff slices Malik across the face, once, twice, three times in slow, heavy progression, the dreary tempo of dull logic. ‘Tell … the … fucken … truth!’
Malik is cackling like a banshee; his back propped against the wall; his head a broken wing; his hair a shaggy veil. At last, he points a finger in my direction. ‘Not me! Her!! Now leave me Alone!!’
The bailiff drops him like a hot coal. Malik slithers along the wall landing in a messy heap at the bailiff’s boots.
The boy, the one they call Pierre, ascends the staircase slowly. ‘We are not alone here Maman.’
His mother approaches me on deft feet. I am amazed by the shimmy of her hips, something I hadn’t noticed before. Her voice, when she speaks is huskier than before. ‘Yes, we appear to have visitors, very unpleasant ones at that, but we’ll get rid of them soon, I promise.’
As the last ribbons of light leave the sky, we three spirits are cast into shadow; silhouetted in the stained glass panel above the door.
This story forms part of a collection of short stories by Alice F Wickham
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