The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.
As instructed by his Mam, Morgan still wore a vest. And, in spite of the macho posturing, he wasn’t much of a drinker either. Almost a closet teetotaller, in fact. Certain traumatic family events during his early adolescence had ensured that he stopped short at the odd half. But that particular Friday was different. Even though it had taken self-induced redundancy – sounding off about pussy-power wasn’t so clever, not with a new female boss, not when he knew somebody had to go and he, being last in was likely to be first out – and the shock of finding himself virtually unemployable to force his hand, the ensuing despair had turned his thoughts towards an alternative lifestyle. Looking at things positively, that is.
Five-thirty meant goodbye to the grinding monotony of Eden Hall Bank Plc. It was back-to-the-land time. In mornings to come, Morgan would till the good earth, he would sow and he would reap and he would shovel. And every afternoon, having mopped the honest sweat from his brow, he would write. Shades of Piers the Ploughman – not that he’d read whatever nonsense Will Langland had scrawled, but the peasant’s birthplace was not so very far from his own home in the Welsh Marches. Tomorrow, or the next day, at any rate after the weekend…next week at the very latest, Morgan planned to start work on a novel, on a series of novels, novels worthy of this – only slightly tarnished – second decade of the new millennium. Fantasy, probably; writing that required full creative flow and a minimum of research.
As with all those who’ve failed at absolutely everything else in life they’ve put their hand to, Morgan was sure he had it in him.
This new beginning necessitated some sort of celebration, hence the prolonged liquid lunch in the Slag and Lexis. He’d had way too much, no doubt about it, and mixed grape and grain with manic abandon. Some of the too much was because Rosie hadn’t put in an appearance. Still sulking, he supposed. Therefore whatever happened was down to her.
By mid-afternoon he was having trouble staying awake. It was warm inside the bank, too warm after being hermetically sealed at close of business. Morgan fought weakly…and lost. His eyelids flickered. His jaw dropped. His brain fuzzed over. Sleep snatched him, sucking him backwards into that fearfully familiar, darkly-red and grotesque site where all sense of identity was obliterated.
Only the slam of the photocopier lid saved him. Morgan woke a picosecond before his forehead hit the keyboard, jerked upright, adrenalin gibbering, to see Pam glaring blue murder, tightening her lips just to let him know that she’d noticed, while continuing to copy abusive letters – to pathetic miscreants a few measly pounds overdrawn – at a rate of knots. Morgan automatically slipped into subordinate mode: pretending that he’d simply been rescuing a paper clip from between B and G, before realising that it no longer mattered. There was nothing else she could report him for. Nothing any bugger could do to him. He didn’t even require a reference. If it hadn’t been for the farewell do after work he needn’t have bothered returning this afternoon.
Tipping back his chair, Morgan flung out his arms and legs in a great big no-holds-barred me-Tarzan stretch, burped, and yawned flip-top wide: “AayayaaayO!” dotting the monitor with a fine spray of saliva. He watched entranced as each of the hundreds of globules caught the light, winking and glistening diamond bubbles, miniature rainbow prisms, trembling, distorting, shrinking…gone. The moment passed unshared. It didn’t matter. Taking off his spectacles, he thoughtfully blew and polished. Only a true creative artist could appreciate beauty in spit. Such profundity was wasted here. Morgan jumped. He could have sworn the ground trembled.
“Move,” Pam snarled, finding her way blocked, “if you please. Dozy idiot. Some of us still have work to do.”
Morgan tipped the chair upright again, but slowly, as if he’d thought of it, watching her from the corner of his eye, wary as the fat hag blundered past. He might have been a leper the way Pam looked down her nose at him. Why, he couldn’t imagine. There was nothing wrong with his appearance, he was just a bloke, but there were certain conventions women were supposed to adhere to. Rules made for their own good. Not to mention public decency. Pam had reached the age of the Invisibles: the women men’s eyes slewed away from in the street because they were no longer even hard-up shaggable. Couldn’t blame her for wanting to disguise it, he supposed, but she could have tried a bit harder. Lipstick skewed, a feeble attempt at a cupid’s bow fraying at the pillar box edges, orange Polyfilla caked and cracking, white concealer smears lodging in the wrung-out-dishcloth hollows beneath her eyes, hiding nothing – where was the finesse? He could have done better himself. And that hair. All crisp and crinkled, dead, like frosted winter bracken, or a manky old back-door coconut coir mat. See fur like that on a dog, you’d rush it to the vet, have it cured, or put down before the RSPCA came for you. Morgan winced. Disgusting.
Women, you know, they melt by candlelight, they spoil, melt, twist, ooze…
The end of tapers is a horrible sight, the end of ladies too.
Thank you, Paul Céline, couldn’t have put it better myself. Yes, females kicked the bucket twice. First when their looks went. Second, as standard. In between stretched living-death. Given the choice, women would probably welcome voluntary euthanasia once they were past their best – ageing population crises instantly solved. Still, five minutes philosophising was enough for any man.
Morgan closed his eyes and paid a brief, uplifting return visit to the silicone delights of last week’s Stud About Town.
He yawned again. It must be knocking-off time. Dud battery in his watch, but he was man enough not to need the clock. Imagination provided a faint stick-along-railings sound as his nails scraped from Adam’s apple up to lower lip: K-K-k-k-k-k-rrrrrrr, and back, rrrrrrrr-k-k-k-K-K-K-K through a quarter centimetre of thick black stubble, still growing, and as dense and dark as enchanted forest. It was the bane of his life, shaving. An Aegean task. Still, there were minor advantages – it was definitely almost five now – he could tell from the nail-grate factor.
So why hadn’t Rosie turned up?
Probably because she didn’t want to look too eager. What other reason could there possibly be? You had to ignore all the drop-dead-Pig stuff. That was simply her hormones squawking.
Watch it. Pam was on the move again. Gentleman that he was, Morgan shunted the chair a little nearer his desk. The old bat needed all the space she could get. Let’s face it, she was bloody huge. Size twenty? Twenty-four? Thirty? She was at least twice the size of decency anyway, with the thighs and arse of a rhino. Imagine her naked. He shuddered. Imagine—
No. Never. Not even under a plain brown wrapper.
No – just NO.
What was she for? All in all, Pam was about as far removed from desire as it was possible to go. Which was funny-peculiar if you thought about it, because her whole body was weighted with its own fertility, like some primitive statue he’d once seen photographs of, all boobs and bum and belly. There was something aggressive about non-sexy full-on femaleness which made him unbearably uncomfortable. He moved again, angling himself out of reach. Maybe all that flesh had a life of its own, capable of reaching out blubbery pseudopodia to grab and enfold, to suck back into that red tunnel, to re-absorb into that dark death-in-life empty space. The Goddess of Willendorf. Yes, that’s the one, a tiny limestone carving, swollen with fecundity. Repulsive, terrifying: twenty thousand years old, alive and well-ish and working less than twenty feet away. Man evolved, but old crones stayed the same forever – hags and harridans, viragos and shrews, stramullions, battleaxes, termagants, nags. No wonder men had been driven to organise witch hunts. One or another had been making his life hell on earth since he was knee-high to a—
Who? Mam’s sister for one: his Auntie Mererid. Morgan was only three or thereabouts that Boxing Day when the mis-nicknamed Merry took the horsewhip to Dai for allegedly looking through the keyhole while she was undressing. As if he’d have wanted to. Straight up and straight down, that was Merry, not a bit of a curve anywhere, and a nice black moustache, too. Chased him all round the house, she did, shrieking: “Don’t you ever ever ever peep at me again, you pervert, you Sodom, you Gomorrah, you debaucher. Diafol! Diawl! Cythraul! Mochyn! You…you…tomcat, you!” I mean, you have to laugh. Dai did. He fell over, doubled-up, still laughing. That only made it a thousand times worse.
Imagine poor little Morgan lapping it all up at a safe distance. For ever afterwards he kept his eyes on the floor if he had to speak to Auntie Merry. Keep watching and you’ll observe that he still can’t bring himself to look directly at any woman who’s the least bit outspoken. A sideways squint is the best our Chosen One can manage.
Then there was that teacher at his Primary School, Mrs Dutton, a proper tartar. She liked to rap infants’ knuckles with a yard-long ruler for speaking anything but the Queen’s English, even went so far as to campaign for bringing back the old WELSH NOT boards – odd behaviour for a woman with a Welsh-speaking granny. Her ruler not only came into play for the slightest suggestion of a double-l word, but also for any hint of profanity, for whispering, scratching, nose-picking, asking to ‘be excused’, gazing longingly through the window – more or less any excuse would do, come to think of it. Being additionally afflicted with a truly filthy mind she always made sure boys and girls stayed apart in the breaks, and gave Morgan what-for plus public humiliation every time she caught him sneaking through to play in the girls’ playground.
Mind you, she wasn’t a patch on Headmistress Lestrainge. Now she deserved medals. By then, even in real stagnant backwaters like the Marches plenty of women were determinedly making sure girls got a decent education, but she went one better. Virginia Lestrainge couldn’t be bothered with boys at all. While her girls tussled with logarithms, boys were sent out to chop wood or dig the school garden. According to Miss, males had inferior brains – bigger, denser. Boys should be raised for a life of manual labour. And reproductive purposes – for those that way inclined.
Then came puberty and Felicity Smith, the village postmistress. She was a one-off and no mistake. Gave herself airs as keeper of the only Post Office and so-say convenience store in a fifteen-mile radius. Widow Smith was a busy woman; in addition to steaming open letters and appropriating interesting-looking parcels, she sold any amount of groceries, newspapers, tobacco, animal feed, paraffin, and primed birch brooms. But it was her lavish display of confectionary that drew in the youngsters – sherbet dabs, liquorice wheels, pokers, and pipes with red hundreds-and-thousands on the bowls, gaudy rice-paper flying saucers, gobstoppers, Love Hearts stamped kiss-me-quick and be mine, sweet cigarettes, pear-drops, rhubarb-and-custard, aniseed balls, blackjacks, refreshers….
Having baited her come-into-my-parlour candy-web, Felicity Spider-Smith lurked behind the post office grille waiting for lone boys to fondle. If any victim dared complain, she’d threaten to call the police and accuse him of shoplifting. It worked, nine times out of ten. Not with Morgan though. He told his Mam, and didn’t she give him what for – he was black and blue by the time she finished. You’d have thought it was him that had been up to no good.
But it was Polly Grafton that really put the fear of God into Morgan. She set him back a good ten years. He still has nightmares about Polly. Now, let’s be clear about something: strong women don’t produce Pigs. No, weak men do that for themselves.
“Sorry to see you go, Morgan,” said Jack, smoothing back his pale ginger hair. “We’ve had some laughs. Here, this’ll make the party go with a swing, guaranteed.” With a theatrical flourish, he produced a small bottle containing bright green liquid, the colour midway between Chartreuse and Crème de Menthe, but with a partially dissolved something skulking in its depths.
“What is it?” The bottle was unlabelled and as Morgan tilted it, the lurking something danced crazy spirals before settling, bottom-heavy as two mating toads.
“Oh, bit of this, bit of that, mostly industrial alcohol. The wife’s got a cousin who works in a lab. Hundred per cent proof, he said. Slop quarter of an inch in each glass – that’ll be us sorted.”
Morgan hesitated. It wasn’t just the beaten-into-the-bone Puritan streak. He’d never got on that well with Jack. Had there been any laughs? There was something distinctly alien about the little fellow, even setting aside his periodic – possibly connected to the lunar cycle – anguished preoccupation with the emotional turmoil of the FTSE index. Jack’s eyes were the no-colour of rain clouds. His thick white skin resembled a marble mask, while his mouth was reminiscent of a down-turned beak. There was something about his vaguely pointy ears, too – creepy. Even his voice had a sepulchral echo. “I don’t think—”
“Ah, go on.” Jack slopped an inch of the green liquid into Morgan’s coffee mug. “A taste won’t hurt.”
“You reckon?” Morgan peered dubiously into the mug’s caffeine-stained depths. A curious chemical reaction seemed to be taking place. Impossible things were happening. The green liquid glooped and erupted a couple of times, then began spiralling widdershins.
“Try it.” Jack levered Morgan’s elbow up so that the cold rim brushed his lips.
He took one cautious sip. “Is that aniseed?” Morgan wondered aloud. “A touch of angelica, perhaps?” The taste was vaguely familiar, but out of place. The smell could almost be catnip. He sipped again, and – O sweet Jesus – pow-thwap-bang-alleluia stars, moons, planets spinning into infinity, and an electric juddering of the spine followed by red-hot claws inching inside his skull, trowelling under the cerebellum to tweak his pineal. And then, everything suddenly crystal clear as his full memory was restored. He was a Man among the Men, invincible, mighty, a seven-foot-tall, undefeated warrior. One of the Keltoi, madly fond of war, high spirited and quick to battle, but otherwise straightforward and not of evil character…their strength depends upon their bodies. Morgan remembered how eagerly he sprinted into battle, stark naked and fearsomely tattooed, with some thick paste stiffening his hair to a limed white crest….
The vision faded. Morgan surfaced, momentarily confused. He shook his head and snatched the bottle, pouring himself a more generous measure.
“Careful,” said Jack, not moving an inch to stop him. “That’s almost half the bottle. Too much could pickle your brain.”
“No need to worry about me.” Morgan squared his shoulders. He was a Man among Men, and yet he’d been dismissed, insulted. Why was he allowing this humiliation to go unpunished? Someone must pay. The trouble was – no figure of authority here to challenge. Big Bitch Boss Kurswell was away at a conference. Her sidekick, the deputy manager, had been immobilised with this afternoon in mind, crouched in his suburban water closet no doubt, voiding the entire bar of vintage Ex-lax that they’d thoughtfully microwaved into his mid-morning hot chocolate.
Morgan swirled his mug but this time the green liquid remained obstinately motionless. He gulped it down anyway, and waited impatiently for the fireworks heralding the return of his alter ego. Nothing happened beyond a slight fizz that might have been a damp squib smouldering, or a partially extinguished Roman candle, an emasculated rocket.
Let’s return to Polly Grafton.
In the late seventies, some damn fool Londoner drove his red E-type Jag through the village at ninety-five, killing two sheep outright and maiming a prize Friesian – it was a clapped-out milker with the staggers, but there was the insurance to think of – without even touching the brakes. So impressed was Morgan with this abandoned behaviour, coupled with the deliberate flouting of both law and agricultural custom, that he swore on his mother’s testicles – no mandatory sex education in primary schools and he wasn’t privy to playground information exchange – that he would buy one exactly like it the minute he became a man.
The evil twins who’d sold their E-type to Morgan must have seen him coming. It was a bargain, they said, cash sale only. What a load of junk: two insurance write-offs welded together and given a quick respray; clapped-out engine and half a ton of sawdust packed into the gearbox. Ten days later it died as Morgan was making his way home for the weekend to show his Mam that he’d made it in the world. Heavens above, was he in a stew with lorry after lorry thundering by, splattering the shiny red paint with mud and him rushing forward every time to polish it off.
Finally the garage pick-up arrived and a filthy-dirty, shaven-headed, multi-pierced and nose-ringed mechanic in soot-black overalls climbed out. By then it was rush hour and there was so much traffic noise they were forced to communicate by means of sign language. One gesture bordering on the obscene instructed him to release the bonnet, another signalled start it up then, you plonker through the window. Nothing beyond an ominous clunk, far worse than the hobs of hell hammering that made him stop in the first place. The mechanic heaved a sump-oil-saturated backside onto the passenger seat.
“We’re going to fucking well have to take the old lady in.”
And Morgan nearly passed out because the mechanic was…was female.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” he pleaded, swallowing his pride.
“No. Bastard engine’s fucking well seized-up.”
What did a girl know? “Can’t we get a second opinion?”
She’d got his number. “A fucking bloke, you mean? Well, I got two lads working for me but they’re only fucking apprentices. Think they’ll tell you any fucking different?”
“Bloody right, no, and we’ll fucking well have to come back with a fucking low-loader because your front offside fucking wheel-bearing’s gone and all by the look of it. Right, no good hanging about here – my lads are out on a call. I’ll give you a fucking lift into fucking town if you like. You’d better fucking well lock her up.”
“Oh.” Things got no better. Morgan nearly passed out when he scrambled into her cab. He tried not to look at the many, many pictures of men’s private appendages Polly had pinned up there. It wasn’t decent. It wasn’t right. It was an insult to humanity. Pictures of tits and bums and whatever more one could get hold of, were fine – as long as no women were around to spoil the pleasure of looking at them – but this was utterly disgusting. The woman was depraved. As if to underline the fact, she had a pair of handcuffs clipped to the dashboard.
“’Course,” she said, single-handedly rolling a fag, “you know what they say about these fucking old red fucking E-types?”
Morgan kept his eyes fixed on his hands. “No.”
“Bloody fucking phallic symbols, ain’t they? Look at the fucking shape.”
“Yeh, it’s nothing but a fucking great big extended fucking big dick engine fucking well sticking out in front of you.”
“Oh.” “Thing is, you got it and you don’t know what to do with it.” Polly laughed like a drain. “Don’t even know how to look after her. No lubricant. That’s probably why she fucking well ain’t a goer. No lubrication. Ha-ha-ha. You didn’t even fucking well notice. You need some lessons in body maintenance, you do.” She reached over and squeezed his thigh with her slippery black hand. “What you doing tonight then?”
Eliza Granville embarked on a legal career before abandoning it in favour of a Bohemian lifestyle. After coming to her senses some years later, she returned to university – BA & MA University of Plymouth, PhD Aberystwyth University – and began writing in earnest. Her stories can be found in UK, US, and SA magazines, and in anthologies. Of several novels published, the most recent are her Holocaust novel Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press). Granville has long been interested in myths, legends, fairy-tales, and in her writing has combined these tropes with her close study of the post-Enlightenment feminist struggle – all these facets euphorically alive in Curing the Pig.