Friday, July 10, 2009


This is a sequel to Billy Belly.

Ertz was one bogie short of a nose. Deirdre knew Ertz at an impressionable age: two young fools: I should know, since, though older, I was one, too. Looking back on the whole thing, we three were inseparable at school. Whilst now, I don't know where they've gone. They may as well never have been. No forwarding points, no keepsakes, in fact increasingly next to no remembrances at all.

Still, in life, there are many ways to skin a story, many means to make a memory. I should fill in a few dos and don'ts of something done during our life together back in the old days, when days were old with natural vintage and not new and tawdry as days tend to be these days. I then may be able to string up a tale to hang Ertz and Deirde from. Bring them back as souls, if not bodies. Jug them a juice to by-pass death with. An existence far more tangible than anything real life ever gave them.

So, where shall I start? Too early and they'd still be silent cry-babies with only mothers to give them a bellyful. I was lot older, or slightly older since a difference of four years is as nothing now. Perhaps that was why I was less impressionable. Less of a fool, if still a fool. No, where the beginning lies is somewhere in the middle - them ten years old and me fourteen, ten years ago.

Much must be taken for granted, including the past that came before the past at which I start reconstituting the truth behind the memories and the past which is still the past by being before the perspective of the present. With that said, if clumsily, let me begin in my own way with Ertz - which, if beginnings are anything to go by, is the second beginning I've tried to make. And let me be more economical with my flair. Less slick with my sack of sayings. Ertz was simply an untamed kid at ten years old. One brain short of a mind. One loose nose short of a head. Known only by his second name, because nobody knew his first one, except perhaps his mother and she wasn't letting on. I expect she had second thoughts about the one she'd christened him with. Ertz was Ertz: the best description I can muster, until the shapeless slabs are slotted back together again to form childhood's crazy-paving. Which brings me to Deirdre - a girl with pig-tails and a tongue that ran away with itself. Her frocks were skimpy, knees knobbly and a heart bigger than her whole body put together again. The way I now describe her makes me think I was in love with her: the first passage-point of self-discovery, a stepping-stone in this my rite of the past. But to treat of my own character would be dangerous. The hardest feat of imagination is that of imagining the imaginer. Suffice to say that I was the ring-leader. The kind who invented games. Made up monsters for delicious delights of fright.

Hide-and-seek was our forte. How better to encapsulate a day in the life than to seek out such hidden moments? It was a hot day. I guess I must remember it well to have chosen this day. Ertz was late. The heat was shining less off the sky than the grass, with the first hints of dusk blurring the sunlit hills and rolling swards. And, indeed, I remember it better than well. I'm there now. Deirdre and I were practising hide-and-seek, while we awaited Ertz's arrival. The fact that we both crouched behind some trees did not seem to make mock of our rehearsal, lacking a seeker as we did. Nor did us hiding together seem as daft as it does now. Perhaps we had an ulterior motive. Or perhaps at least I did.

"Ertz is late," I said. See how well I remember it?

"Yes, so's Billy Belly late," she replied, lightly mentioning one of my invented monsters. Whether he was a vampire or a werewolf didn't seem to matter. He was probably neither. Or a mummy or ghoul. Or perhaps he was all these things. Whatever the case, Billy Belly waddled with a paunch that weighed more than the rest of his body, making his sackcloth flesh to crumple around his feet.

"Billy Belly is never late. He'll be early. It's just not his time to come. It's never his time to come. That's why he's always early."

I haughtily shrugged my shoulders as if I'd told a joke in the guise of a sacred truth. Or vice versa. Who knows? Who cares? I looked around at the disused golf course which served as this flashpoint for our childhood destinies. Mostly overgrown, where the semi-rough had become full-fledged - with a solitary ragged flag on its pole cocktailing a slimeful hole. The bunkers were still evident because their curved scars of sand failed to grow anything; they did not even cover themselves with dream's tidal seasons of soundless sea. Indeed, divots and dunes of landscape undulated towards the leaning grandstand of corroded girders that had been (to my mind) the ancient tessellated launch-ramps for space-rockets, but were really the cantilevered structures that had been erected for an international Open Golf Contest, one which I knew had never taken place because of the Great Recession. Peppering this our runnelled territory were the tiny dimpled white eggpods that aliens had laid in order to hatch out of them. An adventure playground, one with more misadventure to its credit than otherwise. It was our Heaven - and our Hell.

Ertz had still not arrived when the sun cast the grandstand in greater sloping lengths across the thighhigh greens, like black cancers (if my rather childish simile will here suffice).

"There are things that live in the old golf-holes," I said to Deirdre, continuing an earlier theme of mine.

"What things?" asked Deirdre mock-innocently, already knowing my usual answer. But the day wasn't a usual day, because, however usual it may have been, it became unusual by being the day I was to choose to remember - today.

"Men's thingies," I answered, "that have escaped their bodies. They're their wormholes."

Her face was a picture of picturing. I laughed at the strange thoughts I had released from their traps, like a pack of hounds running a fox to its earth. There was silence as we heard the footsteps of Ertz. Or footsteps belonging to whom we thought was Ertz. But the paces were heavier, shamblier, paddier, sluggier...

"Billy Belly?" whispered Deirdre in mock horror.

I shook my head knowing that Billy Belly was purely an invention, just like the vampires, werewolves and zombies with which I peopled other people. If "peopled" was the right word. But, really, I shook my head for my own benefit, not wishing to prolong the fantasy which, for one single moment, I believed had come back to haunt me with more than just a ghost of itself. So it was an unusual day all the time, despite today trying to describe a typical day of our childhood, when the fears didn't get out of hand. So why choose a day when they did get out of hand? Not the best way to construct the past, a slippery, darting-off, fork-tongued sort of past.

The sweet run of the fairways, the confident surrendering of the ball to the wind and to the whining weaves of weather, the awkward straggly fringes of grass where golfballs liked to hide, the choice of club, the caddie's unswervable servitude, the steep deep bunkers, the heady feel of the green up the putter's stem, the ball's tantalising swirl around the lip of the cup and its satisfying plop to the pit of the sunken drain. I could sense, if not scent, the rich tapestry of life left in the air around us, as I peered from our hiding-place to discover Ertz's whereabouts and, hopefully, Billy Belly's nowhere - only to see a plus-foured gent tugging dead birdies, if not eagles, from the tufts and tussocks with a long iron.

"Who is it?" asked Deirdre who dared not follow my gaze with hers.

"I don't know. It must be Ertz."

Surely it was Ertz or as near to being Ertz as it didn't matter. After all, I would have chosen a day to describe with Ertz in it, wouldn't I, if I wanted Ertz in it. He was an essential part of the threesome since, without him, we'd be only me and one other - and we'd only have each of us to bear witness. Her word against mine. My word against hers. We needed a third party to form the angles of perspective - like past, present and future. Why choose that day if Ertz wasn't to be there?

"Is it Billy Belly?"

"Don't be silly, Deirdre. Didn't I say? Billy Belly never comes."

"Unless he's early, you said."

I stared at my watch, as if that was the answer I could give ... until my head came up at the sound of something small but heavy swishing through the overgrowth, falling at my feet.

"It's his ball," said Deirdre, with surprising nonchalance.

"But no-one's played golf here for years and years," I replied, matching her nonchalance with words I remember rehearsing more years in the future than those I then consigned to the past.

By now the darkness had only reflected daylight between it and complete impenetrability. The figure, as it approached our hiding-place was not plus-foured after all - his calves looked tightly bandaged with somebody's creamy pink skin whilst the rest of him was swaddled baggily in somebody else's black skin. He wielded a driver that had a scooping blade which he employed to trawl the whiplash weeds in search of his loose white cannon. Hindsight fills in the details - only his face escaping terror's regeneration, except for the fact he had no profile worthy of a nose, a mouth fenced off with wood-veined teeth that waggled in complete vertical revolutions (rather like the door to our childhood den in the forest) and eyes that burned with the emptiness of Hell's twin pits (one of which some call Heaven). If he had a belly to speak of, then best not spoken of.

Deirdre screeched, providing doubt with certainty. He whoever-it-was flailed aside the dangling feelers of of our leafy hangar - and plucked us both by the neck's scruff from our ill-powered auras of invisibility.

"What have we here then?" His voice was gruffness laced with syrup. Recession incarnate.

"Only us," I said, meaning it.

Deirdre was silent, sounds having fled though the ears rather than risk the mouth. His eyes were suddenly for her only. I was a mere bit part. She the star in the black backdrop of his eyes. His middle belatedly bellied out like the phantom beginnings of child-bearing as he pawed at Deirde's clothes ready to suck her juices from wherever they happened to flow most easily.

Ertz would tell this story better than me. That's because he wasn't there; because the truth was stranger than any story even Ertz could concoct, and far less believable; because, as the truth unfolds, I begin to believe it less myself.

In the end, I've done little to retrace our paths through that crazy-golf called childhood - whilst inadvertently giving credence, and perhaps substance, to something worse than the worst in the worst of all possible worlds. Deirdre and Ertz eventually went somewhere else, I guess, making our land, perhaps paradoxically, smaller by the art of absence. Only the adventure playground of mismemory is left me. And I simply surrender words to the winds of time - each shot further from the hole: a long nose short of a double-bogie, given the sense of it. Or a belly full of stale drink and only frayed ancient eye-sockets to see with.

(published ‘Violent Spectres’ 1995)

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