The Lives of the Mitfords

The collected lives of the lesser Mitfords. An occasional Twitter series.

Acuity Mitford. Almost entirely blind, defected to the Isle of Wight in a commandeered tug boat, believing it to be Vichy France.

Scarcity Mitford. Though her existence was predicted by standard models, she was never observed experimentally and is now disputed.

Hilarity Mitford. Committed after slaughtering a pony with a croquet mallet aged 14. Choked on a bun in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, 1968.

Polarity Mitford. Walked on her hands due to a rare congenital disorder. Drowned while paddling with SS officers in Biarritz in 1943.

Dexterity Mitford. Showed early promise as a concert pianist, but lost her right arm to a cheetah while on safari in Kenya.

Temerity Mitford. Claimed to have discovered a new transuranic element while mushrooming. Was briefly engaged to marry a performing stoat.

Enormity Mitford. Never publicly acknowledged. Described by nursing staff engaged at Exbury. May have had superfluous limbs or organs.

Disparity Mitford. Embittered by her foreshortened leg, joined a strict order and was secluded at Nantes. Had a lifelong fear of teaspoons.

Asperity Mitford. Was sent down from Newnham following an incident in which a promising classicist was strangled with an inner tube.

Entity Mitford. Appears in few contemporaneous records. May have suffered from debilitating visions or been a Shetland pony.

Brevity Mitford. Died aged four, following a verb conjugation accident. Her dismissed governess shot herself in a tea room.

Alacrity Mitford. Stole a prototype racing car from an Italian suitor. Fled to Monte Carlo, killing a postmistress and several goats.

Superfluity Mitford. Lived for eleven years on an island on the family estate, having been left behind after a moonlight picnic.

Calamity Mitford. Said to have been devoted to the 81 Ceylonese orphans she immolated in a marshmallow-toasting accident.

Conformity Mitford. Expelled from a cult of Isis following an accounting dispute, she joined a farming commune. Died of rhubarb poisoning.

Domesticity Mitford. A notoriously inept hostess whose grand dinners, said Auden, “were like digging one’s own grave with a sorbet spoon”.

Animosity Mitford. Though never charged, was suspected of bludgeoning to death with a lacrosse stick the mistress of Girton College.

Futility Mitford. Devoted her life, and those of several domestic servants, to the development of a chocolate steam engine.

Fatality Mitford. Mistaken for a stag due to her customary Valkyrie helmet, she was shot dead by a hunting party in the Highlands.

Charity Mitford. Founded a highly exclusive orphanage, whose handful of residents perished under an avalanche while skiing at St Moritz.

Trinity Mitford. Born with a vestigial third arm, she lived in seclusion at Exbury. Composed several sonatas for piano and harmonica.

Chastity Mitford. A socialite and noted beauty. Her “appetites”, it was rumoured, left Aldous Huxley “a near invalid” in a sanatorium.

Modernity Mitford. Obsessed with the “horrors of mechanisation”. Arrested in 1937 after opening fire on an omnibus in Piccadilly.

Extremity Mitford. Born without hands or feet, her inventions included a prosthetic croquet mallet. Died of carpet burn complications.

Publicity Mitford. Lived in seclusion in the Orkneys, where she devoted herself to the excision of gypsies from the operatic repertoire.

Unanimity Mitford. Suffered from multiple personality disorder, on several occasions harshly reviewing her own novels in Books and Bookmen.

Sword of Mist of Honour

A series of tweets in the style of a fantasy novel manuscript.

SWORD OF MIST OF HONOUR – BOOK I: The Bone of Truthship

For humble farm boy Anderthon Van Halla, the day begun as normally. The triple suns of Prometheonymus rose and the space cock crowed.

Anderthon groaned with a sigh. It was only 0600 parsecs and he had a whole days choors ahead of him on the humble farm. Damn it!

But Anderthon leaped from his humble cot all the same, his sinwey young frame glistering in the triple sunlight. There was work to do!

Anderthon dressed in his rough farm boy jerkin that barely covered the hard muscules of his albumen and headed for the cow pastures.

As he strode along in the bright triple morning sunlight, Anderthon wandered about the future. Would he always be stuck here he wandered.

Anderthon loved his step-parents but they were simple folks and he found him self dreaming of great deeds of honour and velour.

And he coul’dnt help feeling even as he milked the enormous sable tooth cows that he was some how fated for destiny.

He shook his head, drops of milk spraying over his rough leather farm pants. “Don’t be so damn stupid Anderthon. Your a dreamer is all!”

“Just remember XuChenna” he told himself. “If you work hard and stay true you WILL win her hand!” Anderthon was lost in thoughts.

XuChenna was his childhood sweet meat from the next farm colony over. She was kind and thought full with flowing klaxon hair.

And yet Anderthon found his thoughts straying away from XuChenna, especially when he was astride his trusty mount Firmflanks.

Why can’t I just be happy he thought gazing down at Firmflankses rippling muscules. He was finished the milking now and was riding.

Suddenly Anderthon spotted something in the grass of the cow pasture. What a weird shape sticking up. Evocative and all most talismanic!

Anderthon hurriedly dis mounted and decided to investigate the strangely unchanting object. “What the heck could it be? He amused”.

With his strong, rough, task-hardened, farm boy, humble hands, Anderthon grasped the object. It felt hard and dry to the touch.

He tried to rest it free of the soil. Damn! It wouldn’t budge. He braced his power full thighs and tugged again with all his mite.

This time, it came free. Anderthon found himself flying backwards with his hands wrapped around a giant, mysterious bone!

Anderthon gasped and ran his powerful hands up and down the strange, weird bone. Pearing more closely, he noticed some explicable runes.

The runes were in the ancient script of the indigent Prometheonyman peoples, but luckily Anderthon had studied hard at farm school.

“He who rests the bone of truth from the earth” said the runes “he shall be the true air of Aramis and shall come all over evil”.

“Heir of Aramis”? “Come over all evil?!” Anderthon’s mind reeled with dizziness. How could this be? Had he been choosen some how?

It was all to much for Anderthon to take in. He thrust the enormous, mystical bone into his humble nap sack and headed for home.

“Hello dear said” his Stepmom XoNanna kissing his fourhead as he strode wearily in for super. “Have you finnished all your choors”?

“Ca’nt you damn well leave me be XoNanna” shouted Anderthon, storming to his humble bunk and shoving his secret bone under the blankets!

XoNanna looked at Anderthon perplexed and tears welled in her plane, humble eye (following an accident with space farm machinery).

Anderthon regretted his harsh words to his beloved step mother XoNanna. It was just that his mind was a whorl of new possibilities.

As he settled into his humble farm boy’s cot, the words the runes would make if they were read out loud echoed in his minds’ ears.

“Air of Aramis-is-is…come over all evil-il-il” Anderthon tossed and turned. He grasped the mysterious bone. It felt comforting some how.

Could it be that fate really did have some destiny in store for him? Somewhere beyond the stars? He hardly dared to hop.


Celebrity Cluedo

In the bathroom at Harvey Nick’s, with a little surprise in her mimosa. #celebritycluedo

In the white garden, with the Jasper Conran pizza stone. #celebritycluedo

In the Maserati, with this totally untraceable shit the FSB uses. #celebritycluedo

In the Priory, with the enema hose. #celebritycluedo

In the lap pool, with the marlin harpoon. #celebritycluedo

In the Piedmont vineyard, with the black market taser. #celebritycluedo

In the Pilates studio, with the pedometer. #celebritycluedo

In a poorly-maintained Georgian farmhouse in West Cork, with leftover aviation fuel and a deified straw-bale colossus. #celebritycluedo

In the en suite of a Novotel outside Strasbourg, with a shiv improvised from plastic Burger King cutlery. #celebritycluedo

In the VIP lounge at Terminal 4 in JFK, with these weird tongs from the sushi bar. #celebritycluedo

In the Cracker Barrel in Columbia, Missouri, with a side of fries that could sustain an Antarctic expedition for a month. #celebritycluedo

In the Bulgari on Rodeo, with the canine defibrillator. #celebritycluedo

In the editing suite, with “some scenes we might need to tighten up”. #celebritycluedo

In your dreams, with a molten, screaming amalgam of that friend from craft camp and Ally Sheedy. #CelebrityCluedo

In a convoy just east of Tripoli, with Bernard-Henri Levy’s satellite phone and his fucking stylist’s iPad. #CelebrityCluedo

In Sofia Coppola’s suite at Cannes, with a child-skin bag of Haribo by Damien Hirst. #CelebrityCluedo

In the pit lane at the Nürburgring, with three shivering swimwear models and a TV crew from the Phillipines. #CelebrityCluedo

In a first class pod on an Emirates A380, with Queen Rania’s riding crop. #CelebrityCluedo

In that asshole editor’s office, with an “involving detail”. #CelebrityCluedo

RT @LauraSlattery: In Portland, with the frisbee attack of limited-edition vinyl. #celebritycluedo

In a Kinko’s in Santa Monica, with a fucked-up, twenty-pound Tori Spelling screenplay no-one on Earth needs a copy of. #CelebrityCluedo

In Venice, with cholera and skeezy longing. #CelebrityCluedo

In a dusty annex at the Louvre, with some preposterous McGuffin to do with the Rosicrucians. #CelebrityCluedo

In the Chelsea training grounds, with little gift from President himself. It’s okay, you just sleep now. No pain. #CelebrityCluedo

*Applause* RT @TrishByrne: In the Blue Peter studio, with one I made earlier. #CelebrityCluedo

RT @LauraSlattery: On Necker Island, with a sabotaged Satnav. #celebritycluedo

In Marine One or possibly Camp David, with [redacted]. #celebritycluedo

In Joan River’s penthouse on Fifth, with this heavy-ass Louis XV something-eau. #celebritycluedo

RT @TrishByrne: In the Loft Bar with a single heave and a well-timed one-liner about plummeting popularity. #CelebrityCluedo

RT @LauraSlattery: At Cedars Sinai, with a terrible sense of timing as far as newspaper deadlines are concerned. #celebritycluedo

In the media suite at Davos, with Paul Krugman’s complimentary Mont Blanc gift set. #celebritycluedo

RT @LauraSlattery: In Oxfordshire, with a contaminated IV drip. #celebritycluedo

RT @lindasgrant: In Richmond, with Jagger’s Viagra #celebritycluedo

In the Condé Nast guest house in East Hampton, with David Remnick’s actual Kindle, I’m not kidding. #celebritycluedo

In my rooms at St Andrew’s, but it was, like, this total accident? #celebritycluedo

RT @seventydys: In the Baron’s box at the Opera with the Bulgari garrotte. #celebritycluedo

RT @conorjh: #celebritycluedo Tampa, with an empty chair.

In the Gulfstream, with a pouch of Keith Richard’s treatment by-products. #celebritycluedo

RT @thisgreyspirit: Backstage at Bregenz, with a Lanvin pashmina #celebritycluedo

RT @whitesubway: @paraicodonnell In the First Class cabin, with the Captain’s log. #celebritycluedo

RT @fatboyfat: @paraicodonnell In Tiger Tiger, with the heel from a Laboutin. #celebritycluedo

RT @seventydys: In the Klosters Platz with a ’93 Cristal #celebritycluedo

In the pool house, with that fucked up little Scientology lie detector he wouldn’t shut up about. #celebritycluedo

In the Groucho Club, with the onyx desk tidy that was supposed to make me feel better after he shitcanned the series. #celebritycluedo

RT @miche: #celebritycluedo On Clapham Common, with the BAFTA.

In the walk-in humidor, with this actual genuine moon rock, seriously. #celebritycluedo

In his Bentley, with that bitch Courtney’s own hair straightener. #celebritycluedo

RT @john_self: In Nigella’s replica pantry, with the Starck lemon juicer. #celebritycluedo

RT @john_self: In the green room, with Dec. #celebritycluedo

Driving While Asparagus

I tweeted this about random asparagus testing. I have no idea why.

I got pulled over by the police on the way home. One of those random asparagus tests they do now.

‘Good evening, sir.’

‘Good evening, Sergeant–‘


‘Sergeant Moreso?’


‘Like a sergeant, only–‘

‘Moreso. Yes, sir.’

‘You get that a lot?’

‘That and Kleen-Eze catalogues, sir.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Had any vegetables at all tonight, sir?’



‘Vegetables? What are you–‘

‘Out for a few florets of broccoli after work, were we? Maybe a little Julienne of something on the side?’

‘Julienne? Oh, you mean like a cinq-à-sept? What are you writing?’

‘Five to seven vegetables’. I need you to step out of the car, sir.’

‘What? Why? What did I–?’

‘Step out of the car please, sir.’

‘But, Sergeant Moreso. This is absurd. I was talking about French sex.’

‘Subject has consumed five to seven portions of vegetables and is propositioning the arresting officer.’

‘What? Who are you talking to?’

‘Sir, I’m going to ask you to perform some simple motor skills tests.’

‘But you asked me to get out of the car.’

‘Five star jumps.’


‘Five star jumps.’

‘I don’t know what you *want*, Sergeant Moreso. “Five star jumps”? It’s just nouns. What’s modifying what?’

‘Sir, your uncooperative attitude will not help your case.’

‘What? Just tell me what ‘five star jumps’ means. Really exclusive jumps?’

‘Sir, I really must warn you–‘

‘For Christ’s sake, Moreso! I can’t parse your gruff commands. Would it kill you to use a verb?’

‘Star jumps.’

‘Does they?’


‘Does–do stars jump? I don’t know what you’re saying to me. And I’m scared.’


‘MORESO, NOOO–oh. I see.’

‘That was a star jump.’

‘I thought you’d stepped on a mine. Or busted a Village People move.’

‘Star jump.’

‘Yes. Well, thank God you’re safe, Moreso.’

‘Five star jumps, sir.’

‘Really? But I’m not very–oh, all right, then.’

‘There. Happy now?’

‘Get to the gym much, do we, sir?’

‘Not excessively, no.’

‘Any family history of Huntington’s disease?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Your star jumps, sir.’

‘What about them?’

‘You looked like a hunger striker catching a bouquet.’

‘Jesus. That’s a bit strong, Moreso.’

‘Give me five more.’

‘Look, do you even have statutory powers to–‘


‘There…let me just…catch my…what are you *laughing* at?’

‘It’s like one of the Golden Girls trying to catch a ski lift.’

‘Look, I’m not in great shape. I get it. We still have rule of law, last time I checked.’

‘Like Planet of the Brittle-Boned Apes.’

‘Right, that’s it, I’m calling my–‘

‘Urine test.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Urine test.’

‘Oh, *come on*. On what grounds.’

‘Asparagus use.’

‘Asparagus isn’t illegal!’

‘I have probable cause.’

‘For what? Brunch? I’ve done nothing wrong!’

‘I videoed your star jumps.’

‘You videoed my–oh, God. You’re not a real cop, are you?’

‘Check it. 738 views already. You a little star, Dorothy.’

‘Oh, God.’

‘My friend Arkadiusz, he says can you do yoga stuff?’

‘No, I can’t do–look, I’ve got a taser, you know. It charges off the lighter.’

‘Can you do it again in Daisy Dukes? From xxxNiceLadyReichxxx.’

‘Taser charging. Lawyer notified. Real police too.’

‘Ha! Top video!’

‘And Lukasz says, Open big mayonnaise jars. With bum to camera. Here, you can use this flask.’

‘I’m getting in the car.’

‘Lot of pantsuit moves coming in. You have an apricot pantsuit?’

‘I have a slowly charging taser.’

‘Let me know how that works out.’

‘Why, Sergeant Moreso–if that is your real name? I just need to know why.’

*Traces pattern on ground with shoe*

*Slumps against side of Mondeo, sobbing*

Placed by the Gideons

Another improvised tweet sequence. I’m afraid I can offer no explanation.

‘You come here often.’

‘Oh, please.’

‘No, it was a statement. You come here often. You do. I’ve seen you.’

‘Check, please.’

‘I’m sorry. That sounded–‘

‘Fucking creepy.’

‘You’re right, I–‘

‘And probably actionable.’

‘I misspoke. Let me refresh the brand.’

‘*Refresh the brand*?’ Who says that?’

‘Claymore Schmerz. I’m with the Gideons.’

‘Gideons. Wait–did you guys tour with Whitesnake once?’

‘Whitesnake! Ha! Sorry, too loud. I have this modulation thing. I do breathing exercises. But, seriously–no. I love Whitesnake, but no.’

‘All right. So, Claymore–that’s a double Turkey and Tab, by the way–it’s great your breathing exercises are working out, but–‘

‘Why am I talking to you? *Great* question. Sorry, indoors voice. There we go. Big ol’ Turkey and Tab. Might want to sip on that bad boy.

‘Down in one, huh? Thirsty from the complimentary bar snacks, I guess. Anyhoo. What I was getting around to was, you do come here often.

‘Okay, that still came out a little creepy. Let me clarify. This Marriott? 777 Aten? My eighteenth stay.’

‘Get the fuck out, I guess.’

‘I know! Eighteenth stay. My eighteenth stay in this particular Marriott.’

‘Which is how you knew…’

‘Right! So, not a stalker.’

‘Yeah, well. You could be a stalker and go to the Marriott a lot. Doesn’t sound like a stretch. You getting another drink or–?’

‘Good point! Good point. I have seen stalkers here. Well, gentlemen who seemed…singleminded. Judge not, right?’

‘Who’s Judge Knott?’

‘Ha! Who’s Judge–there we go. Little Turkey top-up there. What the hey, right? It’s Tuesday. But to get back to my whole alibi dealie–‘

‘Sounds like a terrorist or some shit.’

‘What? ‘Alibi dealie’? Ha! That’s super. But my alibi dealie. That whole Gideons thing–‘

‘Right. The rock star thing. You getting a drink or–?’

‘You know, I might just–I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’


‘Gosh, that’s a pretty–Zephyrine, huh? Zephyrine. No, but I was gonna say, I might just sit out a couple of plays, drinks-wise.’

‘Yeah, you take a rest. All those Coke Zeroes.’

‘Right! I can handle it, though! Oh, man. But the Gideons thing. I have a confession.’

‘You killed a drum roadie in Des Moines.’

‘How’d you hear about that? Kidding! I’m *kidding*! Oh, boy! But no, it’s worse than that.’

‘You killed a drum roadie in Milwaukee?’

‘Oh, Zephyrine. That’s funny. You have a gift. You do. No, but the Gideons. We place bibles.’

‘What, you place them like a feng shui thing?’

‘Ha! It’s funny you should say that. Marvin Fulsome up in Maine tried that for a while.’

‘Oh yeah? How’d that work out?’

‘The feng shui? History doesn’t relate. Marvin ran into a little, uh, trouble. There was a cheerleader.’

‘Isn’t there always. He probably placed her wrong.’

‘Ha! But the matter is sub judice, so–‘

‘Never place a cheerleader facing east.’

‘Yeah, so Marvin and the cheerleader were kind of a sidebar, Zephyrine.’

‘You place a cheerleader facing east, all the good luck runs out.’

‘Zephyrine! I’m sorry, that was loud. Big breath in. And let go.’

‘Listen. I gotta go.’

‘No, wait! Turkey and tab? Bartender! Don’t go. Leave the bottle, Armand. Put it on my tab. See what I–‘

‘Yeah, I saw it. About a mile back. You were gonna say something.’

‘Right! I was. I was going to say something. I was going to share something with you, Zephyrine. A change that’s come over me recently.’

‘Oh, Jesus fuck.’

‘Now, Zephyrine. You can set that dial back a little, right? But I take your point. It’s boring, I get that.’

‘So you gonna shut the fuck up?’

‘I am. I am going to shut the–yes I am, Zephyrine. But first, I need to set the record straight.’

‘Can you do that while I’m in the ladies’ room? I got this dude getting off his shift at Target.’

‘I need to set the record straight about my life.’

‘Oh, Jesus Lord.’

‘Zephyrine, I have seen many things. In my life. So many things.’

‘So, close your eyes.’

‘I don’t live anywhere.’

‘I got an eight-year-old son needs to get to school.’

‘One minute. Please. I don’t live anywhere. Not even an apartment.’

‘You said that nice and quiet. The breathing shit is working.’

‘I don’t live anywhere. I spent my life nowhere. Spreading the word.

‘You think the good Lord wants me eating apple Danishes at Comfort Inns for the rest of my life?’

‘Well, you guys got hell, right?’

‘Yes! Too loud. Yes, we have hell. Every morning, I watch all these regional sales managers *actually read* USA Today.’

‘That’s hell?’

‘I left a Danielle Steel book in your room.’

‘The fuck you say?’

‘And a little can of Pringles.’

‘We’re done here.’

‘Zephyrine, please. I’m just being the change. I left some of that sparkly lube, too. You know that sparkly lube?’

‘You fucking what now?’

‘The sparkly lube? You know? Sparkly!’

‘What you doing with your fingers? What are you, David Copperfield? You even know what lube is?’

‘Placed by the Gideons, Zephyrine!’

‘I have a rape alarm, asshole. And a Glock, you ever come near me again.’

‘It’s one of the good Danielle Steels! I think Sandra Bullock came on board for the movie. A humble gypsy becomes Duchess of Margate.

‘Zephyrine! Please! Too loud. Dammit. Too loud.

‘Breath in, Mississippi. Breathe out, Mississippi. All right now, Claymore. You got this.

‘Well, that went well.’


Rufus the Despondent Manatee

In which I euthanise a despondent manatee. Another improvised tweet sequence.

Does anyone know what Amazon’s returns policy is on manatees?

It’s kind of embarrassing. When I got home on Friday, someone had signed for my Amazon order.

‘Its name is Rufus. It’s in the bath.’

‘What’s name is Rufus?’

‘Your manatee.’

‘My what now?’

‘The manatee you ordered from Amazon.’

‘Mantronix album. I ordered a Mantronix album.’

‘Must be on back order. This is all that came.’

I entered the bathroom. I coughed decorously.

‘Hello? Rufus?’

Rufus was lodged in the bath. He looked like a seal that works from home.

‘Are you the proprietor?’ asked Rufus. You expect a manatee to have a lugubrious voice, of course, but nothing prepared me for this.

When Rufus spoke, it sounded like someone was attempting Siegfried’s Funeral March on a didgeridoo. Or a dying sun phoning its mum.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘My wife and I, we both–‘

‘I shall require certain items,’ Rufus continued.

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I’ll get some tuna.’

‘I am,’ replied Rufus, ‘largely herbivorous.’

‘Largely,’ I said. ‘No kidding.’

‘A simple salad of baby greens. And the Financial Times.’

‘Salad, right. I’m not sure if the place on the corner carries the FT, though.’

‘And indulge me, if you would, with some early Madonna.’

‘Early Madonna?’

‘Nothing later than True Blue. No ‘Vogue’. Manatees do not vogue. It is not, as you might suppose, a good look.’

I returned with a week-old bag of rocket. I ransacked iTunes and turned up ‘La Isla Bonita’. I perched on the side of the bath.

‘Look, Rufus.’

‘Last night,’ he said, shifting immensely in the bath, ‘I dreamt of San Pedro. One’s heart is instantly captive.’

‘I’m more of a ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ man,’ I said.

‘Oh, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. That stripy top. One would happily lay down one’s life.’

‘They used to say of me,’ Rufus continued, ‘that I myself might have been separated from Danny Aiello at birth.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘Oh, yes. Danny Aiello. I am much past my prime now, of course. But I once cut quite the dash.’

‘Rufus, we have to talk.’

‘Let her keep the baby. What a cherub it would be. We would manage somehow, little Maddy and I.’

‘Rufus, you’re making me uncomfortable.’

Rufus glared at me and picked at his salad. This involved clumsily paddling clumps of rocket into the bathwater and staring bleakly at them.

‘Would you like me to help you with that?’

‘I’m not hungry after all,’ said Rufus, his voice seismic and disconsolate. ‘Where’s that FT?’

‘I’m sorry. It’s a small newsagent’s.’

‘Imbecile,’ Rufus moaned. It was like a foghorn doing a Scott Walker impression. ‘The Economist?’

‘I don’t think so, Rufus.’

‘Oh, never mind.’ He reclined laboriously in the bath, like Marlon Brando in an olive dish. ‘I’m broke anyway.’

‘Live to Tell’ was now playing on the laptop. Morose DX-7 chords reverberated around the bathroom.

‘Oh, yes,’ said Rufus. ‘Disinherited.’

‘I was in Paraguay on my gap year,’ said Rufus. ‘There was this water snake called Ramón.’

‘Isn’t there always?’

‘Those endless nights.’

Rufus seemed lost in reverie. Or succumbing to bedsores. I gave him a moment.

‘My sister Gloria, the malignant shrew, saw her chance.’

‘Your sister is a shrew?’

‘Hello? Figure of speech? This isn’t The Wind in the fucking Willows.’

‘I’m sorry. Go on.’

‘So, there it is. One day I stand to inherit half of Tampa Bay, the next I’m a novelty gift for hippies on Amazon.’

‘Look, about that.’

I shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the bath. ‘Into the Groove’ came on.

‘I do so love this track,’ said Rufus. ‘Let’s have candles.’

‘We don’t have any candles, Rufus.’

‘I might have known. I suppose you take your meals in front of the ‘teevee’.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ Rufus boomed. ‘I’m a monster, I know I am. It’s because I no longer love life.’

‘Rufus, we have to send you back.’

‘Life,’ Rufus continued, thumping a flipper to ‘Into the Groove’, ‘holds no savour for me. I am resolved. I shall never go back.’

‘I do sympathise, Rufus, but I’m afraid we don’t have the room–‘

‘Of course not. Nor would I dream of imposing. I crave only death.’

‘iTunes was now playing ‘Crazy for You’. Rufus smiled languorously.

‘What are you saying?’ I stammered.

‘Help me to end it. Be a darling.’

‘Jesus, Rufus. We don’t have assisted suicide for manatees in this jurisdiction. You don’t know what you’re asking.’

‘All you have to do is tip the laptop into the bath while shuffling early Madonna. A tragic accident. No jury in the land would convict.’

‘But, Rufus. I–‘

‘Look at me. I am a blood pudding with flippers.’


‘Do this thing for me. Release me. Put on ‘Material Girl’ first.’

‘Are you sure? It doesn’t seem–‘

‘Jesus, can I get a last wish here?’

‘Okay, I’m sorry.’

‘Rufus? Oh, Jesus. What have I–‘


Kirsty the Gin Whale

This piece was improvised on Twitter over the course of an evening. Beyond that, I don’t quite know how to introduce it.

My spirit animal is a whale. It’s the size of an Airbus, it has gin for blood and there’s a tap in its side.

It doesn’t live in the sea like most whales. It floats in the ionosphere somewhere and hoves obligingly into view when I’m thirsty.

Its name is Kirsty. Actually, I don’t give a shit what its name is. ‘Kirsty’ just rhymes with ‘thirsty’, so I use that.

‘Get down here, goddamit. Didn’t I tell you never to keep me waiting? Three words, Kirsty: “Japanese research vessel”.’

I makes for a real conversation starter. I disappear into the garden, there’s a bit of tinkling and a big, bleary eye appears at the window.

‘Christ almighty!’ a guest will say in amusement.

‘It’s all right,’ the children explain. ‘It’s just Kirsty, Daddy’s magic gin whale.’

‘Ah,’ I say, rejoining the company with an airy laugh, lightly redolent of gin and cetacean sputum. ‘I see you’ve met Kirsty.’

‘I rescued her from Sea World, you know.’

‘Bless you,’ someone will say.

‘Oh, yes. Kirsty was different, you see. She didn’t belong.’

‘People can be heartless. But here, Kirsty is valued for what she is: a gigantic vascular system awash with Tanqueray. Bottoms up.’

And children–children can be so unkind. I’ll be in the car park at the supermarket, and some merciless little monster will point and laugh.

‘What?’ I will demand, rolling down the window. ‘Can’t a chap have a drink in peace in the sanctity of his own Jaguar? Off with you!’

‘Sorry, sir,’ they snivel. ‘Only–the whale, sir. Floating over your car, it is. Big as you like.’

I’m paraphrasing somewhat, of course.

‘Beautiful, isn’t she? And when you’re older, if you work hard, you can enslave a magical booze-laden leviathan of your own. Now fuck off.’

‘Stay in school!’ I add civic-mindedly, tossing a playful bottle of Scweppe’s tonic at the back of his receding head. Ah, youth.

Of course, then it becomes a Police Matter and all of a sudden I’m ‘that guy who sleeps in his car at Tesco’.

How dare they? I do not sleep in my car, I *was* asleep in my car. Briefly. There’s a difference.

I mean, I’d had a trying morning. They keep moving the truffle oil and the fabric softener. And then the stupid whale took *ages*.

‘Kirsty! Where the hell have you been? I’ve been standing here for twenty bloody minutes. Here, fill this Lenor measure. *Fill*, I said.’

‘I’ve a good mind to ground you for a month, Kirsty. Only I’d have all those carnies and marine biologists eating me out of house and home.’

‘Have you been running around behind my back, Kirsty? You have, haven’t you? Who is it? Some sheik? A Russian oligarch?’

‘What has he promised you, Kirsty? Your own moorings over Knightsbridge? An escort of F-16s? It’s lies, Kirsty. Lies.’

‘So what, he has a Premiership team and a Louis Vuitton gun rack in his Bentley? He doesn’t love you, Kirsty. Not like I occasionally do.’

‘All right, so I don’t ‘love’ you. What is ‘love’, anyway? The question has eluded our greatest minds. And Howard Jones.’

‘And I know I’ve said things, Kirsty. Terrible things. I’ve been a pig. No no, please–I have. I’ve been unspeakable. And you–‘

‘You came and gave without taking. Oh, Kirsty.’

‘Look, I’m just a boy standing in front of a whale, asking her to give him a lifetime supply of gin.’

‘You–you make me want to be a better man, Kirsty. Well, strictly speaking, you make me believe, with gin, that I *am* a better man.’

‘But you have a gift, Kirsty. Or you give me gifts. Whatever. The point is, don’t throw it all away. We can be happy. I can, anyway.’

‘Kirsty! Where are you going? You haven’t logged a flight plan! Kirsty! Heathrow is fog-bound! They’ll scramble fighters!’

‘Kirsty! Don’t go to London! It’s all fires and plagues and Pret A Manger! Plus, they’re still jittery about their airspace.’

‘Kirsty! Come back, you gigantic trollop! I will find you! I’ll use GPS. I’ll hire a grizzled sea captain. Kirstaaay!’


‘Right, this calls for an airport dash montage sequence.’

‘Taxi! Taxi! Oh, thank God.’

‘Airport, please. My whale’s gone to London and I’ve just realised I adore her. No, my *whale*. Where’s your minibar?’

‘What? What kind of limousine doesn’t have a minibar? Pull over at this Spar. No, wait. Don’t pull over. Why aren’t you taking the M50?’

‘Look, what’s your name? ‘A wreck’? Oh, Arek. Look, Arek, I’m a sick man, so I will be relying on your professionalism and discretion.’

‘Well, you’re a man of the world, Arek. I’m sure I don’t have to–can I be sick in this gym bag? Well, what *can* I use, then?’

‘Look, stop being so uptight. If you kept an orderly cab, there’d be a Moët bucket and I could be sick like a gentleman. Light! Red light!’

‘Well, excuse me for being preoccupied with our safety. So it was a dashboard light. I erred on the side of caution. Jesus. Smoke?’

‘What do you mean I can’t–look, Arek, I’m not sure you understand. I’m a man burdened by terrible passions. I’m very fragile, Arek.’

‘There’s no drinks service, I can’t smoke and the only thing I’ve ever loved is showing up on radar over the Isle of Man.’

‘And what is this appalling music? Why does that cyborg keep shrieking about titanium? Just meet her demands, for God’s sake. Next exit!’

‘Okay, that was the exit for the M4. You’re the driver. I just saw a plane, so I thought–it was a seagull? Jesus. An albatross, more like.’

‘And why are you driving so slowly, Arek? It’s like being in a slow-motion crash test video. I need some Valium. Do you have Valium?’

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake, Arek. What are you, a nun? I have a prescription, you know. I think you’ll find it’s quite in order.’

‘Some Tramadol, then? No? A Solpadeine? Oh, for the love of–I’m trapped in a Skoda with my unsalved agony and a young Karol Wojtyla.’

‘What? Oh, are we here? Oh, thank God. I’m so glad it’s you here with me, Arek, at the end of all things. Now, let me write you a cheque.’

‘I mean €55, Arek. Who carries around cash like that? Kerry Katona? Triad gangs? The very idea. Whom shall I make it out to?’

‘Look, fine. I’ll sleep with you at the airport Radisson. Or in the toilets. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Let’s get this over with.’

‘Arek! Wait! I never got to thank you properly. What a strange, confused young man. Now, then. Porter! My bags!’

‘First class to London Heathrow, if you please, madam. A large, misguided whale is blundering towards SW7 and there may still be time.’

‘I beg your pardon. No, a *misguided whale*. No, I don’t have information about a ‘specific threat’. Why are you being so intense?’

‘Madam. I have had an immensely tedious day. I simply require you to furnish me with my ticket and perhaps some complimentary champagne.’

‘How can you ‘need’ me to ‘calm down’? What a dismal locution. I am, in any event, the very soul of tranquility. Ah, security. Splendid.’

‘Look, this wretched harridan with the terracotta complexion is questioning my bona fides. Kindly–what is this? Unhand me at once!’

‘Do you know who I am? Actually, do you? Seriously. I’ve been going through a crazy time. I’m still kind of piecing things together.’

‘Will I have a cell to myself? I’m a light sleeper. Plus, I get night terrors. Ooh! Medical assessment! I demand to see a psychiatrist.’

‘And a proper psychiatrist too. One who knows what his prescription pad is for and isn’t all in your face about ‘drug-seeking behaviour’.’

‘Actually, there’s a chap I can recommend. Do you have a pen? He’s not exactly practising. Not since the jamboree killings.’

‘Hello? Hello? So rude. Oh, dear God. They make toilets out of *metal*?’

Dear Kirsty,

Like so many lovers throughout the ages, we are now sundered by captivity. Also species boundaries and most of Wales.

My days are tolerable, though they have sequestered me far from the sweet, fragrant air that is your element. I am not mistreated.

I am permitted my writing materials. And my Xena exercise DVD. These by the graces of a warden styling himself Mostly Dermot.

In the all the dark and seeping wretchedness of this place, Mostly Dermot nurtures a small votive light of kindliness. He has a budgie.

But Kirsty, my love. I must turn to darker things. At dawn, they shall take me out and put me to death by firing squad. Or instant coffee.

Whatever the bitterness of my fate, I shall meet it with a courage made diamond-hard by your immense weight over the aeons of our union.

The riflemen will loose their bolts. Or someone will bring me that awful cappuccino that looks like something cleaned off a seal.

At all events, the shadow will fall. And I will stand fast, my heart kindled to its last utterance of ardor. I might get slightly hard.

Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall feel only the darkening of your great comforts, always above me.

I am thinking of on the rocks and angels, the secret of durable pigtails. Prosthetic songstrels, the refuge of art.

And this is the only immortality that you and I may share, my Kirsty.

Coyote Blue: a Story Fragment

I found this story fragment in my Twitter archive. It’s of interest only because it was composed to order. The protagonist had to be a cactus called Johnny Ninefingers who investigates roadkill incidents.

Ninefingers wakes up in the desert. He’s got two limbs missing. Some kind of oozing going on. He figures it didn’t work out with Carmen.

“You need some help, old timer?” Some junkyard lifer. Maybe nine years old.

“I fucking ask you? Go to school. Get a shirt on first.”

“Suit jourself. Not like you got a arm problem, right?”

Cute. Ninefingers has seen cute. Cute gets you bagged. Cute gets you slabbed.

Ninefingers steadies himself, draws out his hipflask. It falls immediately to the desert floor. The kid picks it up, slugs from it.

“What’s your name, kid?” The kid wipes her mouth with an ancient baseball glove. She spits Wrigley’s and vomit on a rock.

“They call me Esperanza,” she says. “It means fuck you.”

“There a diner around here? Some place with a phone?” Ninefingers asks the kid.

“Depends if you got ten bucks,” Esperanza says.

“I’ll buy you a milkshake when we get there.”

“Lactose intolerant,” says Esperanza.

“Ah, bullshit,” says Ninefingers. “You just ain’t doing it right.”

Esperanza scratches her bellybutton with a spork.

“Why can’t you put a shirt on?” says Ninefingers. “It ain’t right.”

“Fucking Taliban up in here,” says Esperanza. “I’m nine. It’s hot.”

“Anyway,” says Esperanza. “Real reason is I got this.” She turns and shows him her back. A tattoo of a butterfly, the size of a man’s hand.

“It sure is pretty,” says Ninefingers. “It means change, right? Butterflies?”

“It means I got fucked up in Tijuana is all.”

Esperanza starts walking. “It’s this way. Maybe three miles. Meter’s running, man.”

This kid is something new. Ninefingers follows her.

When they get to the diner, Ninefingers calls it in. Coyote. Two hours, maybe three. No, he can’t be more goddam precise.

When he gets back to the table, Esperanza is emptying his hip flask into her milkshake. She glances up. “What up, Ninety-Nine?”

“You wanna lay off my booze? It’s eleven in the morning. Also, you’re nine.”

“I’m just taking the edge off. Off this nasty-ass milkshake.”

“The fuck you using payphones for anyhow?” Esperanza says. “Y’all can’t use a Blackberry?”

“I stay off-grid. Plus, I’m a cactus.”

Esperanza downs the milkshake. “Shit. Taste like a cow once saw a fucking Hershey bar. What you investigating anyways?”

Ninefingers looks at her. “What do you care?”

Esperanza shrugs. “I had my way, I’d be on TMZ or some shit. But we here, right?”

“Roadkill,” says Ninefingers. “I’m investigating a roadkill case.”

“The fuck out of here,” says Esperanza. “Who pays for that shit?”

“Maybe I’m doing it pro bono,” says Ninefingers. “You know what that is?”

“Fuck you,” says Esperanza. “He’s that little blind Irish dude.”

Ninefingers looks out at the desert. He feels like he’s on the road. On the way to someplace he doesn’t like. He feels old.

“Esperanza finishes her milkshake and lights a Kool. “So, what was it?”

“What was what?” Ninefingers says. “And put that thing out.”

“The roadkill. What all got killed?”

“Coyote. Young one. Are you blowing rings? What the hell is wrong with you, child?”

“They menthol. I was in a hurry this morning. Forgot to brush my teeth. What you care about a coyote? They endangered or some shit?”

“No, they’re not endangered. But this one shouldn’t have died.”

Esperanza blows smoke at her bellybutton. “He gonna cure cancer?”

“She. No, she wasn’t. Listen, we got to get into town. There’s this guy I need a favour from.”

“He a cop?”

“Pet store owner.”

“So,” says Esperanza. “Y’all need a ride.” She turns to scan the parking lot. The butterfly wings on her narrow shoulders.

“You know somebody might give us a ride?”

Esperanza turns, slides from her seat. “More like I know some things might give us a ride.”

“Ninefingers sighs. “I can’t be a party to that.”

Esperanza’s butterfly shrugs. “Sit tight, then. Maybe FedEx do a special on cactuses.”

Ninefingers takes a drink. The tequila tastes like somebody crashed a fucking Camaro into the agave first. He follows Esperanza outside.

The Last Cocktail Hour

The Cocktail Hour was a series of improvised fiction that I published on Twitter from late 2011 until it eventually petered out earlier this year. Each episode was tweeted on a Friday, beginning at about 4 in the afternoon and eventually ending as late as midnight, by which time the effects of the author’s own cocktail intake were often disgracefully apparent.

Its popularity was something I found genuinely surprising, and the responses it generated were among the most rewarding and touching that I have ever received. It became a kind of spontaneous and shared experience, and though I often had to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure stories were finished (I once tweeted an ending from a lay-by during a thunderstorm), it was never anything other than a joy to work on.

Like all such things, it reached a natural end. Though I resisted posting episodes here for a long time because I wanted to preserve the spontaneity of the form, it feels wrong that it should vanish entirely. Here, then, is a small but perhaps fitting coda.

The video is a retrospective of the “first series”. The post below is the last ever episode.

Goodbye, CH. I miss you.

Until six.

September has, rather tiresomely, seen fit to arrive. On the lawns, the shadows of the cedars are about the dull business of lengthening.

The light, though still rather glad and fetching in its way, has taken to dashing off skittishly at barely seven o’clock.

Things have, in short, taken a frankly autumnal turn. A chap confined to his study might be inclined to take rather a gloomy view of matters.

Still, even as one passes the cheerless milestone of the equinox and trudges reluctantly towards midwinter, certain consolations remain.

For instance, there is the whisper and scrape of stockinged feet in the passageway outside. A light, feline tread. A familiar one.

There is the perfunctory knock. The half beat of hesitation. Then, everywhere in the dull air, the delicate pervasion of jasmine.

There are the hands, as sure and stealthy as frost, suddenly occluding my eyes. There is the voice–that voice–silvered, solicitous.

“Guess who,” she says. She breathes.

The Cocktail Hour.

And not a moment too soon. What a dismal and dispiriting age, in fact, it seems to have been. Naturally, however, one has a certain reserve.

“Honestly,” I say. “I do, contrary to certain speculation, have an occupation. I do not for naught shutter myself against the bright day.”

“Piffle,” says the Cocktail Hour. “You don’t shutter yourself at all. You were staring out the window when I came in. And scratching.”

“Yes, well,” I reply. “I was speaking figuratively. Besides, the labours of the mind go unglimpsed by the untutored world.”

“Do they indeed?” says the Cocktail Hour. “They sound a bit like certain undergarments. But never mind all that. We have an aunt problem.”

“Do we? Well, inform the gardener. Surely he has preparations he can scatter about the place?”

“An aunt problem, dear. All this sepulchral dust seems to be clogging up your ears.”

“Ah,” I say. “A matter of an entirely different complexion. And there are, to my knowledge, no efficacious preparations to be had.”

“No,” agrees the Cocktail Hour. “It eludes science. And Aunt Persephone could stir a pound of ant powder into her tea and run for a train.”

“Aunt Persephone?” I say. “Is it as bad as that?”

“I fear so,” says the Cocktail Hour. “To say nothing of Aunt Jemima.”

“I see,” I say. “Of course, Aunts Persphone and Jemima are rarely observed in isolation. They’re practically a syndrome.”

“Well, quite. And to further compound matters, they have in their midst a young charge.”

“Do they? How very Brontëesque of them. Are they heaving the poor thing into a convent? Farming her out to a stern cove in a cloak?”

“I rather doubt,” says the Cocktail Hour, “that Millicent would countenance either fate.”

“You think not? Our Millicent doesn’t occupy the meek and biddable regions of the young charge spectrum, then?”

“Quite the contrary. Something of a handful, I’m afraid. And then there is the small matter of her attachment.”

“Attachment? What is Millicent attached to? The diplomatic corps? A neighbouring dwelling? A twin?”

“A lepidopterist. She has conceived rather a passion for him. You know how young girls can be.”

“A lepidopterist? How very tragic. But, of course, one is more compassionate these days. They aren’t packed off to colonies any more.”

“A lepidopterist, you dreadful oaf. A collector of butterflies. You know, with the nets and notebooks and the blinking.”

“Good lord,” I say. “The situation is indeed grim. One perceives the foundation for the auntly concern.”

“Yes, quite so,” says the Cocktail Hour. “Aunt Persephone can be, shall we say, excessive, but in this we are as one.”

“So,” I say. “We are mustering a war party, eh? Marshalling our forces, and what-have-you?”

“So it would appear,” says the Cocktail Hour. “You will flock to the banner?”

“I’ve thought of little but flocking all day. Shall we fall in before dinner? Stiffen our resolve at the drinks tray?”

“It seems the only course open to us. Six o’clock?”

“Six it is.”

* * *

Apprising myself of the aunts and their disposition of forces, I avail of a gin ration far in excess of standard provisions.

Thus emboldened, I take my place opposite the phalanx of variously discommoded female relatives. Aunt Persephone glares.

“Oh,” says Aunt Persephone. “It’s you. Well, I suppose it can’t be helped.”

“I fear not, madam. The condition is irreversible.”

“Wilbur,” Aunt Jemima interjects mildly, “was devoted to those submarines of his. You do remember Wilbur?”

“Do be silent, Jemmy,” Aunt Persephone says with gathering sternness. “One helpless adjunct is enough for anyone.”

“Speaking of which,” says the Cocktail Hour. “You haven’t been introduced to Millicent.”

She directs my attention to a young lady of disputatious aspect consigned to a province of sofa annexed by that of Aunt Persephone.

“Well, then?” I address myself to Millicent. “How are tricks, old thing? Done all your prep and what-not?”

Millicent eyes me with a carefully concerted scepticism. “I prefer Milly,” she says.

“You prefer no such thing,” says Aunt Persephone, whose sternness has assumed an unignorable stature. “The very idea.”

Millicent, I notice, is bedecked in the yearning but thwarted manner of a girl who has not yet come out, yet fiercely intends to.

Her complexion has the distinctively scoured pinkness of expeditiously applied and hastily removed strata of make-up.

“Millicent distinguished herself at a gymkhana last month,” says the Cocktail Hour with diplomatic aplomb. “Isn’t that right.”

“Ponies,” says Millicent with clear malice aforethought, “are ridiculous.”

“I remember,” Aunt Jemima muses mildly, “when my Arthur was matriculating. He came out in hives. A most trying time.”

“For heaven’s sake, Jemmy,” says Aunt Persephone. “Do occupy yourself. What have you done with your libretto?”

“So, I gather there’s a young chap in the offing,” I venture. “What’s all that about, then? Things gone a bit star-crossed, eh?”

Aunt Persephone assumes a minatory aspect. “This is not a subject,” she announces icily, “that need detain us.”

“Madam,” I say, summoning the balm of reason, “if you will permit me. This is, if you will, my bailiwick. I have trodden this very ground.”

“What can you be wittering about, man?”

“My youth, my lady, was a comparatively recent catastrophe. I may have guidance to offer.”

“I rather doubt it,” says the Cocktail Hour, who nonetheless reclines with a certain expectant indulgence.

My views having been sought, I turn again to the ward of court with the ungovernable longings and the war-torn complexion.

“This young charger of yours. He has a name, I take it?”

Millicent bestirs herself with a flurry of organza. “Gogo Arbuthnot,” she says.

“Ah, Shakespeare,” I say. “How heartening to hear the music of the Bard on the lips of the young.”

“That’s his name. Gogo Arbuthnot.”

“Indeed?” I say, deftly concealing any leakage of hilarity. “Gogo Arbuthnot?”

“His given name is Hugo,” Millicent glumly assured me.

“Well, of course it is,” I reply. “And yet he felt that he had been wrongly hugoed? His true nature lay undiscovered?”

A tremor of amusement disturbs Millicent’s features, and is swiftly suppressed. She resumes her disdainful surveillance.

“So, this Gogo of yours. What does he do when he’s not writing home from the upper fourth? What’s his ruling passion?”

“Millicent’s expression is evasive. “Well, there’s rugger, naturally. And that sort of thing.”

“What sort? Elaborate, do.”

The Cocktail Hour, calmly encased in iridescent satin and impartiality, endures a minor disturbance of entertainment.

“Well,” says Millicent, picking at an errant tendril of crepe, “there’s the lepidoptery thing, but you wouldn’t–”

“Oh, a butterfly man!”

“Well, I don’t know that I’d–”

“Yes, butterflies. Gosh, that takes me back. Aldous L’Estrange, there was another noted netter.”

“Aldous Le?”

“L’Estrange. Ancient line. Had a good day at Agincourt. It was all going swimmingly until the thing with Clarinda.”


“Trent-ffrench. Cherished and only issue of the undersecretary at the Foreign Office of the same name.”

Millicent withholds any intelligence she may possess under this heading. She worries an area of shot silk. “So, what happened?”

“With Aldous and Clarinda? Well, dreaminess ensued. At least at first.”

“At first?”

“Well, yes. Before the disappearance.”

“The disappearance. The union of Aldous and Clarinda, you see, was forged upon a shared love of exotic climes. Or so it went.”

“So it went?” A good deal of fidgeting is now occurring amidst Millicent’s assorted fabrics.

“So it is told.” I take a portentous sip.

“Aldous, you see, had evinced a affinity for the far-flung. Wanted to see the world. Gave it to be understood that diplomacy beckoned.”

“And Clarinda’s papa–” Millicent supplied.

“Was admirably placed to further these aims. All seemed to be well in Christendom.”

“I do hope,” Aunt Persephone interrupted, “that this rather wearying obstacle to dinner has a purpose other than your own diversion.”

“Leander, you know,” Aunt Jemima resumed mildly, “had a cactus he wished to show at the Great Exhibition. But Perversity intervened.”

“And so, there everyone was,” I continue. “There being, for our purposes, Buenos Aires. Aldous and Clarinda being enviably ensconced.”

“Well, well,” says the Cocktail Hour, arranging herself in softly lucent vertex of splendour, “what could possibly go wrong?”

“What, indeed? Well, there Aldous and Clarinda were, agreeably quartered, it would seem, in the Argentine. She having secured a box.”

“A box?” Millicent retreats visibly.

“At the Teatro Colón. One had to satisfy certain proprieties, you see.”

“Aldous,” the Cocktail Hour speculates, “began, one assumes, to ingratiate himself among the great and the good of the city.”

“So one might expect,” I say. “The better to launch himself as an interlocutor of repute, serving only the whims of Empire.”

“The whims of Empire?” the Cocktail Hour inquires, attending to her gin.

“Entirely unserved. Fell on deaf etcetera. Transmission ends.”

Millicent is much agitated. “What do you mean? What became of Aldous?”

I sustain myself at the drinks tray before proceeding further.

“The record falls silent,” I say. “Aldous surrendered himself to the forest.”

“He went,” Aunt Persephone added, “butterfly mad.”

“Of course,” Aunt Jemima volunteers mildly, “I knew it as Babylon, as a girl.”

“I implore you, Jemmy,” says Aunt Persephone, “to desist.”

“He was heard of sporadically,” I say. “Our man in Lima might include an aside. There were usually shootings. The family was much tried.”

“And Clarinda?” Millicent wonders.

“Ah, now,” I say, falling back upon decorum.

“It is late, child,” says Aunt Persephone.

“Nonsense,” I insist. “The young lady merely inquires into matters of public record. Such as Clarinda’s Great Disgrace.”

Millicent falls back in alarm. “Disgrace?”

“Depending on one’s source. Gulping dejectedly through a fifth of Debrett’s, sort of thing.”

Millicent assimilates the general trend of current affairs. Millicent elects, after a brief ceremony of troubled flouncing, to retire.

Aunt Persephone regards me with an unaccustomed benevolence. The Cocktail Hour enjoys a throb of amusement.

“Gosh,” she says. “Who’d have thought it? An invented apostasy in the Argentine. A glimmer of rehabilitation.”

I reward myself modestly at the drinks tray, thinking of little but the common good.

“And the lot of butterflies,” Aunt Persephone adduces, “cannot but be ameliorated. Which is all to the good, of course.”

“Sinbad!” Aunt Jemima declares mildly. “That was the name of our runner. Goodness, I’ve been racking my brains.”

“Hush, Jemmy,” says Aunt Persephone, without conviction. A certain ease has settled. The Cocktail Hour regards me with careful proximity.

In the room, there are the sweetnesses of détente, and of diffuse and departed youth. No one stirs against these. Not yet, anyway.

In the ulterior world, the pulses of longing and age are accommodated. The intricate glories of butterflies are furled and shadowed.

The Exodus of Calvita: Part X

INT. Day (MS) A corridor. O’RINGTONE, wearing a loincloth, is limbering up, ignored by an imposing priestess with a headset and clipboard.

MVO: Having convinced the apothecary that he is now nit-free, Denis has been readmitted to the Archimandrite’s palace.

MVO: He will have precisely five minutes on the catwalk to model his loincloth range. He is nervous but upbeat.

O’RINGTONE: The thing with me is: what you see is what you get, you know? Heart on my sleeve. Take it or leave it.

MVO: Denis must await his cue from the Abbess Lachryma, the Archimandrite’s powerful PA and Head of Purchasing.

O’RINGTONE: All you can do is give it your all. You only get one shot. Gotta lose yourself in the moment. Be all you can be.

LACHRYMA: I am Abbess Lachryma. Shut fuck up. No further yip-yap. O’RINGTONE takes a seat on a bench, toys with a safety pin.

LACHRYMA (to headset): What I fucking know? Sushi is fucking sushi, no? Make decision, crying baby man.

O’RINGTONE silently traces his routine on the bench with his fingertips. LACHRYMA doodles a crucifixion on her clipboard.

LACHRYMA (to headset): Da? All is prepared? Da. Good, I send him in. (To O’RINGTONE) Nappy man! On feet! Cue is coming!

LACHRYMA: Obey all instructions. Do not look Archimandrite in eye. At all times smile. Is shark pool under runway.

Enormous, gold-inlaid doors swing open.

LACHRYMA: And we are on in five, four, three– She holds up two fingers, then one.

INT. Day (LS) An immense and opulent ballroom, dominated by a pool traversed by a narrow, glass catwalk.

At the far end of the catwalk is a huge dais surmounted by an elaborate throne fashioned from bones.

The Archimandrite, a stupendously obese man wearing chiffon ecclesiastical robes, is seated on the throne of bones.

A piece of music is played on the PA system. It is Whigfield’s Saturday Night. O’RINGTONE sprints onto the catwalk.

O’RINGTONE drops to his knees in a long disco slide. The Archimandrite yawns and summons a eunuch. O’RINGTONE begins his routine.

O’RINGTONE boogies and sashays, now and then holding out the fabric of his loincloth for inspection. The Archimandrite belches.

O’RINGTONE rips off his loin cloth to reveal another sequinned one underneath, timed to a track change (Dollar’s Oh L’Amour!).

The Archimandrite nibbles a kitten canapé and has a eunuch fellate him. A dorsal fin appears in the pool, then a second.

MVO: Denis’s routine has been technically faultless, but the Archimandrite’s reaction will be unpredictable.

The Archimandrite strikes the floor violently with his crozier. The music stops. O’RINGTONE skids and falls over with a squeak.

ARCHIMANDRITE (over the PA, his voice is a chilling, dessicated whisper): How amusing you are, filthy pedlar. Get up.

O’RINGTONE stands uncertainly. ARCHIMANDRITE: Come. You may approach. O’RINGTONE tiptoes slowly to the end of the catwalk.

ARCHIMANDRITE: The truth, my scantily clad little ragamuffin, is that I have not the slightest interest in loincloths.

ARCHIMANDRITE: As you see, my own sartorial tastes run to the, shall we say, unrestrained. And these aren’t even my night things.

ARCHIMANDRITE: Nonetheless, we do require a reliable supplier of loincloths for these…these pitiful geldings.

ARCHIMANDRITE: And as you have not entirely suffused me with ennui, I may look favourably upon your bid.

O’RINGTONE trembles.

ARCHIMANDRITE: However, you must first indulge me a little further. Does this sound agreeable?

O’RINGTONE nods mutely.

ARCHIMANDRITE: Splendid. Abbess Lachryma! Retract the catwalk, if you please.

The catwalk is slowly retracted from the doorway. When it stops, there is a gap of about eight feet. LACHRYMA appears at the doorway with a bucket of bloody chum.

LACHRYMA begins tossing bloody chunks of fish into the pool below. From the ceiling a tiny scooter is lowered.

ARCHIMANDRITE: Even for one of your meagre gifts, peasant, your task can scarcely require elaboration, I think.

O’RINGTONE hesitantly sets the scooter upright, places one foot on its platform. He looks questioningly at the Archimandrite, who nods.

O’RINGTONE peers at the end of the catwalk. LACHRYMA has emptied her bucket. The water froths with blood and fins.

O’RINGTONE scratches his crotch and makes the sign of the cross. He turns and bows briefly to the Archimandrite, who is masturbating.

O’RINGTONE steadies the scooter, looks determinedly at the doorway, and begins to push furiously. There is loud, periodic squeaking.

O’RINGTONE hurtles towards the end of the catwalk. LACHRYMA smiles almost imperceptibly and stirs a Bloody Mary with celery.

O’RINGTONE shoots off the end of the catwalk on the scooter. He cries out Trundlebert’s name. We go to slo-mo, track him halfway.

CUT to black and silence. Hold for 2 seconds.

CUE: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.