‘Your vagina’s massive. There: I’ve said it.’
Paul had said the Unspeakable. He had finally
allowed his mouth to give birth to the words
his mind had aborted over and over again. He
cut the umbilical cord:
‘It’s just too big.’
Paul and his wife were sitting at the dinner
table waiting for their son to return from the
shop at the end of the road. He had just
popped out to get some cola but had been
gone for over an hour.
‘Maybe your dick’s too small,’ said Jen to her
husband as she prodded her cold mashed
potato with a knife. ‘What’s keeping Trevor?’
Paul was surprised. He thought the
Unspeakable would elicit more of a reaction,
but a flippant comment about the size of his
penis was the all that would ever be said on
the matter again by either of them. Paul’s
words were stillborn.
‘I wasn’t even that bothered about having
cola,’ said Jen.
Paul’s full name was Paul Lowe, which often
got misheard as Polo.
‘Maybe he got run over.’
‘But you don’t have to cross any roads to get
to the shop.
‘Maybe a car mounted the pavement.’
When people got his name wrong it made him
angry. Anyone who thought his name was Mr.
Polo lost his respect for failing to differentiate
themselves from the hundreds of other idiots
who had made the same mistake.
‘Shall we just eat?’ asked Jen. ‘We’ve been
sitting here since one o’clock.’
‘We were just discussing our sex life.’
Paul thought he had opened up an enormous
can of worms, an eat-that of epic proportions,
so potatoes were small fry to him now. He
was expecting to tuck into home-baked truths
and hot topics but instead got a cold bangers-
and-mash ready meal. The void left by their
son’s mysteriously long absence had forced
the couple to trade niggly remarks as they
watched the steam escaping from their
dinners, commenting on all sorts of long-
running annoyances as if they were before a
marriage counsellor. Soon the steam was
gone and nothing but niggles remained in the
‘I need to reheat this,’ announced Jen,
spitting a mouthful of mash back onto the
‘You’re not meant to reheat stuff, are you?
Isn’t that how you get food poisoning?’
‘It’s fine. Do you want me to pop yours in the
‘No,’ said Paul. ‘I won’t risk it.’
As Jen stood up with her plate, there was a
sound of fluttering wings at the open window
which turned both their heads. A pigeon
dressed in a high visibility vest had flown in
and come to a noisy rest on the table next to
a copy of the Radio Times. It looked like a
miniature feathered policeman on account of
its jacket, which was bright yellow with black
and white checks. It pecked angrily at the
face of Lilly Allen on the magazine’s cover as
if expressing disapproval.
Paul let a ‘what’ and a ‘the’ dribble from his
mouth, but the ‘fuck’ remained inside,
drenched in saliva. After a moment of panic,
he eyed a note wrapped around the pigeon’s
leg which suggested itself as the only way to
make sense of this intrusion.
‘It’s got something wrapped around its leg...’
‘It’s probably a message,’ said Jen. ‘You
should read it.’
Despite feelings of fear and disgust, Paul
grabbed the pigeon to hold it still with one
hand while removing the note with another.
The bird was unexpectedly compliant.
‘What does it say?’
‘Give me a chance to read it!’
The pigeon looked around the room,
surveying the family photos and IKEA
furniture. The air that blew in through the
window was refreshingly cool.
‘Er, it says that Trevor’s been arrested.’
‘What?’ shouted Jen.
‘Yeah, he was arrested for vandalising some
traffic lights. Now he’s in a police cell,
although it doesn’t say where.’
Jen put her plate down on the table, and then
herself on a chair.
‘But why would he smash up traffic lights
when he was meant to buy cola?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Paul Lowe.
Wid wiped the goo from his mouth and got to
‘Now can I have my drugs?’ he asked the
‘Herceptin, wasn’t it?’
The doctor wrote out a prescription while
humming 'Telegram Sam.' He was feeling
very relaxed, so it took much longer than
normal. At one point he paused and stared at
the light reflected off the silver fountain pen
and thought about angels.
‘There you go.’
‘Thanks,’ said Wid dejectedly.
Wid wiggled his jaw and walked out of the
room, folding the prescription in half several
times. With an ache in his heart and a lump in
his throat, he made his way home.
A FEW DAYS EARLIER...
‘I need to have a word with you, Trevor.’
‘It’s about those, er… magazines in your
‘You know…the sexy ones.’
Paul was embarrassed bringing the topic up,
but he knew it had to be done. It was like a
meaty belch that refused to stay Down Under.
‘Your mum was cleaning and found them
tucked behind your chest-of-drawers.’
‘Oh,’ said Trevor.
The noses of both father and son were tickled
by the smell of meat booking a one-way trip
from Brisbane to London.
‘Yes, your mother was quite shocked to see
those magazines, so she made a bonfire in
the garden and threw them on it. She came in
crying and smelling of smoke.’
Trevor thought about all the beautiful bodies
going up in flames.
‘Would I be right in thinking that these
magazines contained pictures of nude ladies?’
‘In that case, I’m going to have to be bold
and ask you to do something for me that you
may find difficult, but I’d like you to consider
The meaty burp was ordering Martinis from
the air hostess’ trolley and telling the person
next to it about how long it had been since it
last went on holiday.
‘Do you think you can do this for me?’
‘I don’t know what it is yet, Dad.’
‘Oh yeah. Could you…get me some?’
The belch touched down at Gatwick Airport,
gathered its luggage from the overhead
compartments and made its way through
customs. It was looking forward greatly to
meeting the Lowes.
‘Could you get me one of these magazines?
Just one, for now. They show women totally
naked, right? Nothing left to the imagination?
Well, I’d like to see what all the fuss is about.
Don’t tell Mum. And I’ll pay you back,
obviously. They’re not that expensive, are
they? I’ll give you the money at the end of
the month. What do you say?’
Suddenly there was a knock at the door and
Trevor Lowe, who was glad of the distraction,
went to answer it. He opened the door to
nothing but an unpleasant smell.
Wid was a silly old man, so silly he once
bought a pocket calculator thinking it was a
mobile phone. That once was yesterday;
today he was in the shop trying to get a
‘They are clearly labelled as calculators.’
‘I know that. I just have a lot on my mind,’
The sales assistant looked at the adding
device like it was a potential bomb.
‘Would you like a refund or do you want to
Wid remembered the moment he punched his
friend’s number into the calculator and held it
to his ear, repeating the word “hello” a dozen
times. Remembering that moment made him
feel like an absolute idiot.
‘A refund would be easier.’
‘I’ll just need your credit card then,’ said the
sales assistant. ‘Do you know what a credit
card looks like?’
As he rolled up his sleeve to rifle through his
bag, the eyes of the assistant fell upon the old
man’s arm and widened. The sight of a
severely cut and scratched arm alarmed him.
‘Woah! Someone’s into self-harm!’
‘Oh, this?’ said Wid, running his fingers over
the wounds. ‘This is from my pigeons.’ I let
them walk around on my arm and their claws
dig into me.’
‘Phew, I thought you were ill or something.
‘Ill? No...well, yes, I am actually, but not in
‘Breast cancer, if you must know.’
‘Breast cancer? Are you a transsexual?’
The blood rushed to Wid’s cheeks.
‘We can get it too,’ he said.
‘Who can? Transsexuals?’
‘Well, sorry to hear that.’
‘To hear I’m a man?’
‘No, to hear you’ve got cancer.’
‘Oh,’ said Wid, awkwardness abseiling down
He had been feeling very low of late, the
cancer weighing down on his mood like an
anchor-shaped tumour. Just recently it had
been really tough to keep his head above
water, and people like the sales assistant
throwing crap down at him like a dirty seagull
didn’t help. All Wid really wanted, but hadn’t
had since the death of his wife five years ago,
was a big hug from someone who loved him.
The nearest thing to that now was the
occasional sexual favour he performed for his
doctor, which was a million miles away, truth
Wid thought back to the time when he first
understood that something was horribly
wrong. He had been aware that his right
breast was suddenly much larger than the left
one but didn’t think it could be down to
anything as drastic as cancer. The moment of
realisation came when, out walking one day,
a group of children began pointing and
laughing at him, causing him to look down at
his t-shirt to see it stained with blood from his
‘Will you have to have your tits removed?’
asked the assistant.
‘First of all,’ said Wid, ‘it’s only in one tit. And
secondly, they’re not called tits. I’m a man!’
The assistant handed Wid his card and also
offered, by way of a free gift, an offended
‘All right, moobs, then.’
‘They are called breasts! That’s why it’s called
breast cancer, for God’s sake!’
‘I’m not a granddad,’ said Wid loudly,
attracting the attention of several other
customers. ‘I’m not even anybody’s dad. I’m
nothing. Nothing but a sad, old breast cancer
Tears were forming in his eyes.
He put his credit card in his pocket and rushed
out of the shop. The old man moved quickly
for someone of his age, weaving in and out of
shoppers, darting through doorways and
eventually returning to his car.
As he sat down inside his vehicle, the door
firmly closed, Wid allowed himself to feel
miserable; however, being in the protective
bubble of his car, he actually felt insulated
from the hurtful world and the tears he
expected to flow didn’t materialise. He
wanted to stay there forever because it
meant he was safe from sales assistants and
doctors and children. The hum of other
engines felt comforting.
When Wid arrived back at home, he was
greeted by Dorothy, his assistant.
‘Hello, Wid. Nice day?’
‘I’d rather not talk about it.’
‘Oh dear. Sorry to hear that...er, I’m also
sorry about the police pigeon.’
‘What about the police pigeon?’ asked Wid,
Dorothy was about as attractive as a badger
wrapped in a dirty shower curtain, but what
she lacked in attractiveness she more than
made up for in natural charm, so it was hard
not to love her.
‘It escaped, I’m afraid.’
‘It’s the fault of the topless lady. I had to see
to her, to get her out of the cage, and when I
opened the door the police pigeon flew away.’
‘There was a topless woman in the cage?’
‘Yes. Oh, I fear I’m not making much sense.
She was on the newspaper, the newspaper
lining the cage. I didn’t want the birds looking
at a pair of giant breasts all night and day, so
I tried to change it for a page with just words.
It turned out to be one about a murder, but I
figured they can’t read so it was still an
improvement. Did I do the right thing?’
‘It doesn’t really matter,’ said Wid between
the pages of a sigh.
‘The police pigeon had a note on its leg, but I
hadn’t told it where to go yet, which means it
could be anywhere now with its important
message about an arrest.’
Dorothy would tell pigeons where to go by
whispering directions in a half-pigeon/half-
human language. It was for her skills as a
pigeon whisperer that Wid had originally hired
‘It really doesn’t matter, Dorothy. We all
make mistakes. I bought a calculator thinking
it was a mobile phone.’
‘Oh you silly thing,’ said Wid’s assistant,
walking over to him. ‘You look sad.’
Dorothy gave him a hug that squeezed five
years of loneliness into the shape of a
healthy, happy heart.
A FEW DAYS EARLIER...
‘How do you spell the letter e?’
‘The letter e,’ said Paul. ‘I’m writing a letter
to the hospital. They wrote to me saying I
wasted their time going to A&E about a lump
on my testicle; I’m replying to say they spelt
my name wrong. They left out the e in Lowe.
Can you believe it?’
‘Tsk,’ said Jen.
‘So? How do you spell it?’
Jen put down her puzzle book.
‘You don’t spell it. It’s just e,’ she stated.
‘But that doesn’t look right. Isn’t it “ee” or
“eahy” or something?’
‘Why do you have to counter everything I
‘You’re doing it now, Jen!’
‘Look, if I said I counter everything you say I
would be contradicting myself...don’t you get
it? It would be a paradox, like saying
“everything I say is a lie”. I have to counter
you now because you said I do it.’
This is how their arguments started. A tiny
detail, sometimes as small as a single letter
of the alphabet, would be enough to set the
disagreement in motion. It would usually lead
to Paul and Jen shouting about paradoxes and
truth values until something got smashed;
then would come tears, apologies and a failed
attempt at passionate make-up sex.
Paul thought that now might be a good time
to speak the Unspeakable. He was feeling
angry enough to put an oversized vagina out
there, but he knew it was something he could
never take back so decided against it,
electing instead to take the route of pure
logic, or pedantry, as some might call it.
‘You could just tell the truth and say you
almost always counter everything I say,’ he
‘But that’s not the truth.’
‘What about the other day when I said
“squeamish” is an onomatopoeic word and
you instantly disagreed?’ You didn’t even stop
to think about it. You instantly countered me.’
‘Because,’ said Jen, ‘it’s obviously not
onomatopoeic. “Squeamish” isn’t a sound!’
‘But it’s a sound someone who’s feeling
squeamish might make.’ He repeated the
word slowly, as if it were an extra large shirt
and his tongue was ironing out the wrinkles.
‘Only because it’s the word for the thing in
question, Paul, you idiot!’
‘Insulting me now, are you? Run out of
“clever” things to say? Insult me again and I’ll
come over there and rip your puzzle book up!’
‘I wish you did have cancer of the balls, you
Paul got up and rushed over to the table
where Jen was sitting and snatched her book
away. He was intent on ripping every last
crossword and Sudoku grid into random
squares and turning all the spot-the-
difference pictures into puzzles, but the
thickness of the book got the better of him.
He struggled in vain to transform the book
into bits, eventually giving up on the third
attempt by throwing it against the wall and
letting out a meaningless word.
Pigeons. Dozens of pigeons. Each feathered
creature was an important piece in the
complete picture of Wid’s life. They all had
names and roles assigned to them: Quest
delivered jokes, Yoko delivered birth and
death announcements, India delivered love
letters, and Darwin was the missing police
messenger. Wid loved them all dearly.
He had started out with snakes but that
messenger service never really took off, so to
‘So how do we get Darwin back?’ asked
‘Posters,’ Wid replied confidently. ‘Yes, we’ll
make some have-you-seen-this-pigeon
posters and put them around town. Someone
must have seen him.’
‘But we don’t have any photos of Darwin.’
‘Well,’ said Wid, ‘just use a picture of any old
pigeon – they all look the same.’
‘Miaow-gnash, snarl-bite-miaow, lick-grrr-
lick, gulp-miaow, purrrrrrr,’ said Paul’s cat.
A FEW DAYS EARLIER...
‘Your grandma wants to hear some more of
that bassy stuff, Trevor.’
Trevor had only just got up and demands
were being made of him. It was three in the
afternoon; he was tired and hung over.
‘She loved that Jackie Trent CD you burnt for
her,’ Paul said. ‘Particularly the wobbly track
at the end.’
‘Oh yeah, I put a dubstep track on by
accident. I couldn’t be bothered to burn
‘Well, your grandma loves it and wants to
‘OK,’ said Trevor, running a hand through his
curls. ‘I’ll do a compilation of some dirty
bassline stuff. Are you sure she likes dubstep?’
‘Yep. I just had to listen to her ranting and
raving about it on the phone. The bass makes
her false teeth vibrate, apparently.’
Trevor poured himself a bowl of cereals.
‘Did you have a good time last night?’ asked
‘Not bad actually. I met this girl...’
‘Oh, while your mum’s not around,’
interrupted Paul. ‘I wondered if there’s any
news about the magazines?’
‘Um, no.’ Trevor concentrated so hard on the
bowl of cereals he looked like a super-villain.
He poured the milk like a death ray.
Each rice pop was a James Bond and it was
now Trevor’s task to destroy them mouthful
‘No. I’ll pick them up next time I go to the
shop,’ he muttered.
‘You do that, son. Oh, and why have you got
glitter on your face? You look like a
‘It was this girl I kissed last night. She was
wearing glitter and I got it all over me. I tried
washing it off, but it won’t go.’
‘Why women do things like that I will never
know,’ said Paul.
‘Anyway, I met this girl and she said she’s a
firm believer in bad luck. Apparently she spilt
some salt and failed to throw a little over her
shoulder, and the next thing she knows she’s
walking in her father, who is a doctor and a
married man, having sex with one of his
‘Salt, eh?’ said Paul, rubbing his chin.
‘She’s convinced the two things are
connected, that Satan’s trying to get her dad
struck off the medical register by possessing
him and making him have extra-marital
coition. All because of salt! I told her it’s just
superstition, but she wouldn’t accept it. I let it
go because she’s pretty.’
‘This just goes to show I was right not to
smash that mirror.’
Paul Lowe was a failed actor. He refused to
smash a mirror as part of a film role, which
led to an argument with the director and a
premature end to his acting career.
‘It’s a load of old nonsense. It’s got more to
do with the availability of medicines than with
witchcraft. You know you have to jump
through hoops to get things like cancer drugs
these days. Doctors can get away with
anything. Literally anything.’
‘Imagine what might have happened if I
smashed that mirror, son. Yes, I might have
been offered more lead roles and be rich and
famous now instead of selling sponges door-
to-door for a living, but I’d have the threat of
Satanic possession hanging over me and one
day your mother would walk in on me having
sex with a goat or something.’
At the mental image of his father fucking an
animal, Trevor went back to sending 007s
into the jaws of death.
‘When did you say you could get those
‘Next time I go to the shop,’ said the Evil
‘I want to be mummified.’
‘Now what would that achieve, Wid?’ asked
Dorothy, who was chewing a pencil.
‘Raise awareness of male breast cancer?’
‘Would it though?’
‘Yes. The bandages symbolise the breast
cancer, which is traditionally thought of as
feminine, hence the mummy-fication of the
body. It all fits perfectly. Obviously I wouldn’t
be embalmed or have organs removed or
anything—just be wrapped in bandages.’
‘Is that really the best way of raising
awareness? What about a marathon?’
‘I’m too old for that.’
Dorothy continued gnawing the pencil.
‘All we need is toilet roll,’ said Wid. ‘Lots of it.’
‘Then I’ll go to Downing Street or something.’
Dorothy was just seconds away from her
tongue touching lead when the telephone
rang. She got up and answered it, moving
across the room like a flimsy old button lifted
by the wind.
‘Why do ghosts only inhabit towns?’ said the
voice at the other end. ‘We always say a
deserted place is like a ghost town—why not
like a ghost village or ghost city?’
‘Is this a prank call?’ asked Dorothy.
There was a moment’s silence, and then:
‘I know where your pigeon is.’
As night began to fall on the Lowes’ house, so
too did an unexpected atmosphere of calm.
Paul and Jen weren’t sitting around like
legless chickens fretting over the fate of their
son; they cut down the weeds of concern with
a brutal 'hey-ho'.
‘So where do you think Trev’s being held?’
‘Who cares? The little bugger can look after
himself if he thinks it’s clever to go round
vandalising traffic lights. We’ve got better
things to do than worry about him.’
‘Should we try to return the pigeon to
‘We’ll be the next to get arrested if we return
that thing. The cat’s ripped it to shreds. You
think turning up at a police station with a
dead animal is going to do anyone any good?
Maybe there’s a law protecting messenger
pigeons, like with the Queen’s swans. I’ll put
it in the dustbin to be safe.’
The atmosphere of calm allowed the couple to
communicate without one another’s words
being misconstrued as criticisms or insults. It
fitted small propellers to the words so they
could travel freely through the air, at their
own pace, and land exactly in the parts of the
brain they were destined for. A 'thank you'
which may previously have been interpreted
as sarcastic made a comfortable landing in
between pleasure and tenderness. Landing
strips were lined with flowers, and as the
number of incoming flights increased so too
did the number of word-planes trailing
banners of kisses.
All in all, things were looking up for Paul and
Jen. Spending their first night together in
several years without Trevor in the house did
their love life the world of good. They were
free to scream each other’s name and
conduct a symphony of bed springs all night
long, and they did just that.
‘Happy now?’ asked Wid.
‘Yes, thanks,’ replied the doctor, handing his
patient a tissue to wipe the goo from his
mouth. ‘Herceptin, wasn’t it?’
The doctor was so relaxed his body felt like
an echo of itself sitting at a desk. He
completely forgot about writing out the
prescription as he listened to himself echoing
into infinity. Eventually he returned to the
matter at hand and wrote the script of Wid’s
The doctor handed over the prescription like a
magician releasing a dove from his sleeve. It
flew over to Wid and sat in his hand, cooing
‘Anything else?’ asked the doc.
‘I hope not.’
Wid gave the wad of cash in his inside pocket
a few pats. He was not used to carrying such
large quantities around with him, so felt
‘I’ll be off,’ he said. ‘I have an important
transaction to make.’
As the old man closed the door, the doctor
picked up the phone and began dialling.
‘Hello, old friend,’ he said with a smile. ‘Fancy
a night out? Remember that band called Hot
Mint? They play glam rock with Satanic
undertones? Well, they’re in town for the next
couple of days. How about it? You remember
the song that goes “walkin’ down the street /
try to understand / glitter on my face / porno
in my hand”? They’ll be playing that. Let’s get
glammed up and fucked up, yeah? Great. See
you later, then.’
There was a rumour circulating that anyone
who was seen in or around a Hot Mint gig with
glitter on their face and a porno in their hand
would be granted backstage access, with
permission to help themselves to all the drugs
and groupies that went along with it. Not that
the doctor needed any of that—he already
had unlimited access to sex and drugs at
‘Fuuuuuuuuck, that is good coke,’ said Trevor.
Stephen Moles has been published by Pif Magazine,
Matchbook, United Press, Censored Poets and The Edge.
He has also written for the stage and screen and doubles
up as a media analyst. He lives in London.