fiction, poetry & more

I KNOW WHERE YOUR PIGEON IS

by Stephen Moles

1.

‘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 air.

‘I need to reheat this,’ announced Jen, spitting a mouthful of mash back onto the plate.

‘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 microwave?’

‘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.

2.

Wid wiped the goo from his mouth and got to his feet.

‘Now can I have my drugs?’ he asked the doctor.

‘Herceptin, wasn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

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.

3.

A FEW DAYS EARLIER…

‘I need to have a word with you, Trevor.’

‘Yes Dad?’

‘It’s about those, er… magazines in your room.’

‘Which magazines?’

‘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?’

‘Yes, Dad.’

‘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 anyway.’

‘OK.’

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.

‘Sorry?’

‘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?’

‘Um…’

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.

4.

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 refund.

‘They are clearly labelled as calculators.’

‘I know that. I just have a lot on my mind,’ said Wid.

The sales assistant looked at the adding device like it was a potential bomb.

‘Would you like a refund or do you want to return it?’

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?’

‘Yes.’

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 that way.’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘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?’

‘No, men!’

‘Well, sorry to hear that.’

‘To hear I’m a man?’

‘No, to hear you’ve got cancer.’

‘Oh,’ said Wid, awkwardness abseiling down his voice.

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 be told.

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 nipple.

‘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 expression.

‘All right, moobs, then.’

‘They are called breasts! That’s why it’s called breast cancer, for God’s sake!’

‘OK, Granddad.’

‘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 patient.’

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, concerned.

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.’

‘Escaped?’

‘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 her.

‘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.

5.

A FEW DAYS EARLIER…

‘How do you spell the letter e?’

‘Hmm?’

‘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?’

‘No.’

‘Why do you have to counter everything I say, Jen?’

‘I don’t.’

‘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 sneered.

‘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 sexual retard.’

‘Right!’

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.

‘Fnarggh!’

6.

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 speak.

‘So how do we get Darwin back?’ asked Dorothy.

‘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.’

‘OK.’

7.

‘Miaow-gnash, snarl-bite-miaow, lick-grrr- lick, gulp-miaow, purrrrrrr,’ said Paul’s cat.

8.

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 another one.’

‘Well, your grandma loves it and wants to hear more.’

‘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 Paul.

‘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.

‘Nothing?’

Each rice pop was a James Bond and it was now Trevor’s task to destroy them mouthful by 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 homosexual.’

‘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 patients.’

‘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 magazines again?’

‘Next time I go to the shop,’ said the Evil One, sighing.

9.

‘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 what?’

‘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.

‘Hello?’

‘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.’

10.

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 someone?’

‘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.

11.

‘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?’

‘Uh-huh.’

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 survival.

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 medical instructions.

‘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 rather nervous.

‘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 work.

12.

‘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.