Authors: Adam Maxwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories, #Fiction - General, #Short Stories (single author), #Short Stories & Fiction Anthologies
Happiness is a Warm Gun
wasn’t sure if I had dug the grave deep enough. After all, he was tall as me. But here, under the willow tree he loved so much seemed a fitting place to bury him. He would have wanted it this way.
I mean, there is very little I am sure of in this life but following the literal advice of the same man who had once claimed to be a Walrus was not the beginning of an adventure I may someday relate to my grandchildren. Even as I pressed that ‘Start’ button on the microwave I should have known it would end in disaster.
And so here I was, with the weeping willow’s sharp branches stinging the top of my head, jabbing into me as I continued digging. It was more tiring than I would have expected but felt somehow satisfying as the spade sliced clinically into the soft earth of my garden.
I had only set the microwave to cook for four minutes but even that was three minutes and sixteen seconds too long. It felt right, at the time, to test the theory, to see if John Lennon meant it literally or metaphorically. Now the words rang hollow in my ears.
I had watched from the other side of the kitchen as the microwave sprung to life, the turntable inside rotating the pistol and the familiar hum of convenience cookery. Perhaps I should have taken out the bullets. With a whirr the machine rotated its deadly dish, animated but unaware of the potential implications of nuking this 9mm entrée.
After fifteen seconds I retreated to the hallway, poking my head around the door just enough to see what would happen. I giggled under my breath as the adrenalin began to trickle into my system.
Thirty seconds and the sparks were flying inside the viewing window.
Forty seconds and Paul, my Irish Wolfhound, sprinted down the hall, into the kitchen and skidded to a halt on the polished floor looking at me and panting heavily. I leaped forward to grab him but, all of a sudden:
bang, bang, shoot, shoot
Paul was indeed dead.
Shooting Jelly With a Shotgun
w! Shit! I think a bee stung my ear!’
‘Fucking hell, Charlie. Your ear’s bleeding!’
‘What? Oh my God!’
Charlie passed out before I reached him. As I approached his crumpled body I could see the widening crimson patch seeping through the fibre of his t-shirt. I gagged, I admit it. I doubled over, my hands grabbing my knees and my eyes closed. An icy sweat climbed up my back and as I opened my eyes I could see a chunk of Charlie’s ear lying a couple of feet away.
Becoming a victim of a stray nail from a careless carpenter’s nail gun changed Charlie. The realisation that if the nail had been two inches to the left he could have lost an eye, or worse. He had been working as a bricklayer on a couple of contracts with me, and would never wear a hard-hat, instead preferring his own brand of lax sloppiness. Now he slept in the fucking thing. Losing half an ear will do strange things to a man.
A few weeks later we had a job laying foundations. Me and Charlie were on a break and without any warning, he was catapulted backwards across the site in a puff of masonry dust.
For a moment I just stared at the space he had just occupied. There were little specs of dust floating downwards. It was then my mind began processing the accompanying noise.
It had sounded like someone shooting a jelly with a shotgun and then a split second later a sledgehammer hitting a porcelain toilet.
Everyone knows that bones break when they’re hit too hard, they’re weak under extreme pressure and can splinter and break as easily as twigs.
Bones, however, are not dead wood. Every cell in your body is constantly being replaced by new living tissue and your bones are no different. At the hospital later that day I was surprised when the Doctor told me that the pelvis is made up of three bones that grow together as people age; the ilium, ischium and pubis. On each side of the pelvis there is a hollow cup, the acetabulum which serves as a socket for the hip joints.
I turned to look behind me. Charlie lay, a concrete block embedded between his splayed legs, separating his ilium from his ischium and his pubis from his acetabulum. The Doctors later told me his hips had both been pushed out of socket as his pelvis shattered.
It got worse.
His poor mangled pelvis had absorbed the majority of the blow and had cracked just like the breaking porcelain toilet sound which had echoed around the building site. It troubled me all the way to the hospital when I found out what the other sound was.
It is a fairly well known fact in most circles that if a man is kicked between the legs then the results will be pain, shock, confusion and sometimes even nausea. Kick hard enough and you can tag vomiting and an inability to walk to the list. The blood vessels which supply the testicles through the hole in the middle of the pelvis will burst and begin to bleed internally into the scrotum.
If, for arguments sake, a large concrete block swings loose and strikes you between the legs Doctors, will tell you that a testicular rupture may occur. This is when the testicle is compressed against the pubic bone with such force that the testicle is crushed against the bone and as Charlie lay there, passed out and vomiting I could feel my hairs standing on end. It was like on some spiritual level his balls were calling out to mine.
The Doctors will tell you this. What they won’t tell you is that it sounds like shooting jelly with a shotgun.
Jim Morrison’s Leg
stole Oscar Wilde’s cock you know?’ said Jamie.
‘No you didn’t,’ I said. ‘You just told me you’d never done this before.’
‘I haven’t. But you know that massive statue of an angel?’
My shoulders ached as the spade pushed into the ground once more. It only took a month of working in the Pere Lachaise to get this far. Paris’ most famous cemetery, the resting place of such luminaries as Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde had eagerly taken me on. In fact such an impression had been made I felt confident my employers would forgive the minor indiscretion currently being perpetrated. I put down the spade as I reached softer soil, took off my cap, wiped the sweat from my brow and tossed the useless garment onto the tombstone of the grave I was digging up.
‘Please tell me that you didn’t reduce one of history’s finest literary minds to the level of a nob gag…’ I trailed off, knowing only too well where this conversation was going.
‘That’s right! I got in here, chiseled it off and two days later I sold it on eBay.’ Jamie took another swig from the bottle of wine that seemed to permanently reside in his overall pocket.
The Pere Lachaise stretched out around us like an orchestra, the arrondissements cutting through the pit with great sweeps separating the violinist from the cellist and the famous from the infamous.
‘Shut up and keep digging,’ I launched the shovel into the earth and with a crack that echoed in the purple night I struck a rock. The handle sheared, leaving it half in my hand and half wedged into the ground, jutting out like some sort of warning to passing vampires.
Jamie started laughing.
‘For God’s sake shut up. I’m going to have to go and get another one now.’
‘At this time of night?’
‘Yes. At this time of night. Listen, I’ll go to the gatehouse and grab one from the gardener’s supplies. I’m sure I’ve got the keys in my bag.’
Hauling myself out of the pit we had created, the loose soil around the edges crumbling back down and making more work for us, I stared for a moment at Jamie down there as he continued digging before scrabbling in my holdall. ‘Keep at it, I’ll be back as soon as I can.’
Walking away, the sound of Jamie whistling some tuneless dirge he had picked up in the café down the street when we met earlier grated. The notes hung in the air like my breath. Staring too long at middle-C, I stumbled forward, tripping on something hard underfoot. The world rushed towards me but I reached out and stopped myself at the last moment. With a clatter the contents of my top pocket spilled onto the ground.
I got up, reached forward and scooped the decrepit old harmonica into my cold hand. I remembered it had been silver once but the corroded turd that squatted in my palm was nothing more than a tarnished reminder of my father’s wasted life. My father; the dreamer, the failed musician, the man who had tried out for The Doors but had been told in no uncertain terms by Jim Morrison himself that he was next to useless. I had taken it from my father’s house the day of his funeral.
The door to the gatehouse was typical of everything about the Pere Lachaise, it was grandiose whilst managing somehow to look ramshackle. I turned the key and the familiar grinding of the gears I had heard every morning since starting work here rang out. I tried to slip inside, hiding behind my shadow but the door had other ideas, crying out into the night, it’s ancient wood creaking with resentment.
It was surprisingly cold inside, my feet crunched across the flagstones as I moved swiftly through the building. It didn’t take me long to locate a new spade but as I was about to make my way back downstairs a noise stopped me in my tracks.
The door downstairs, the one I had carefully locked behind me was screeching again, the rusted hinges echoing throughout the gatehouse. I stood, panting like a winded saxophonist, staring at the light that had blinked into life from downstairs. It couldn’t be Jamie, he didn’t have a key.
My ears burned hot as the blood rushed to them and turned the footsteps that echoed from downstairs into a pounding drum in my head. I had to hide. They couldn’t find me. Not now. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
I moved quickly and silently as the footsteps downstairs were joined by a man’s voice. It was definitely getting louder, moving upstairs towards me. A second later and I was in the tool cupboard, hastily pulling the door closed behind me and trying not to knock over the spades and hoes inside.
My breath had quickened its tempo, moving to staccato, the vapour more obvious in the moonlit room. I pushed myself further back into the cupboard, clutching the harmonica hard in my hand. The door to the room swung open and the light flicked on as the walls of my hiding place began to close in.
‘Of course I’ll help you,’ Jamie had said at the top of his voice.
‘Please shhhhh,’ I gestured to all the other people in the café.
‘They’re all fucking French - no-one understands a word we’re saying. Do you?’ he stood up and addressed the café as a whole, squinting at the sun dancing in through the bay windows. ‘Does anyone here speak English?’
One or two hands went up, some words were muttered and then a more were tentatively pushed into the air. After a few seconds the café wasn’t visible for raised hands.
‘Ah. Okay then let’s go. So what was it that you wanted to tell me that was so secret anyway?’
Jamie may have been lacking a lot of traits but dependability certainly wasn’t one of them and it was this I was relying on for the task ahead.
‘You see Jamie,’ I said as the door of the café shut behind us.
‘They’ve always been the same if you ask me,’ he interrupted.
‘There’s this thing I’ve been thinking about doing.’
‘All eating their fucking croissants and being so bloody aloof.’
‘I think it’s the only way I can start to move forward as a musician.’
‘Music? Don’t talk to me about music - all they bloody listen to is that sodding Edith Piaf…’
‘Well not just as a musician as a person as well.’
‘I tell you what Dan if I ever get the chance I’m gonna take a piss on that woman’s grave.’
‘I’m sure that will help,’ I snapped. ‘Now listen I need your help.’
And so I told him. I mean I glossed over some of it. Made it sound like the sort of student prank we used to play but for the most part I told him the truth. How I wanted to go to the Pere Lachaise and pay the late Jim Morrison a visit. How I wanted to take his femur and have it made into a trumpet.
‘You are a good trumpet player,’ Jamie nodded in agreement.
‘It’s a Tibetan thing. Apparently their sound is so deep it has a resonance you just can’t imagine.’
‘I can imagine.’
‘No, it’s not just that.’
There was a pause and we looked at each other for a moment.
‘It’s your Dad isn’t it?’
‘Anything to get one over on these Frenchies mate,’ he said.
‘Jamie, you’ve lived here for eight years and your fiancée is French. Please shut up.’
Back in the incendiary void of the cupboard things weren’t going quite so well. We didn’t have a contingency plan for getting caught.
‘Yeah, I told you,’ said Gerry, one of my co-workers. ‘I’ve just got to find my house keys and then I’ll pick you up.’
Footsteps clattered by, circling the room, with Gerry occasionally pausing to rummage in a bag or box. I tried to crane my neck, to see if the light that was breaking in illuminated any keys around me.
‘No sweetie, I really mean it. Of course I’m not with another woman, that’s ridiculous.’
It was only a matter of seconds before he would be discovered. If only I hadn’t hidden in the cupboard. At least then I could have got away with pretending I had fallen asleep.