The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.
But now it was time to party.
Morgan produced the own-brand sparkling wine and a column of plastic cups, shook the first bottle, untwisted the wire, looked up, and grinned. Above him reared the bank’s logo, a massive copy of a medieval French tapestry fragment featuring a gaunt Adam dwarfed by a spectacularly well-cushioned Eve, plus apple tree and leering serpent. Taking careful aim, squinting with concentration, Morgan shook again. The cork exploded, rocketing up to hit Eve square on her fig-leaved fanny. He cheered and plonk foamed floor-wards in a great bubbling ejaculation, much of it missing the waiting cups.
“Oh, look,” Morgan watched, mesmerised, as the damp patch on the apple-green carpet spread into the shape of a darker green, savagely bitten apple. “Thass funny.”
“Bloody hell, Jones,” Nigel rounded the desk at a rate of knots, jowls all a-quiver, in search of cleaning materials. “Trust you to finish here by making a mess.”
“Soon dry.” Morgan continued to pour. Nigel was a bloody old woman. All he needed was the flowery pinafore and marigolds.
“What’s this, Taffy?” Chris took a cup, knocked back the contents, and grimaced. He peered at the label. “Tastes like Alka Seltzer.” Nigel elbowed him out of the way.
“Leave the pouring to me, Jones. Can’t hold your drink, can you?” And left, right, left, right, all the cups were shuffled into lines, desk mopped, the remaining wine shared out with mathematical precision, the wet patch on the carpet scuffed into submission. “There we are then. That’s better. That’s nice. So, well, hmmm, cheers, Jones.”
“Here’s to your future. Farming, I uh think you said.”
“Is that sheep farming?” Chris smirked. “You won’t be lonely then.”
“Mixed,” said Morgan. “We have cows, too. Bloody good job, too – already got used to them, working here.” Grabbing a cup in each hand, he drained the first, spluttered, coughed, choked, stretched his mouth wide and spewed out his tongue, near-enough-almost-but-not-quite sobered. “Jeeez, Chris is right, for once. Either that or the cheating buggers have sold us cats’ piss.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to go for the cheapest?” demanded Nigel. “Didn’t I? I did. Buy something nice, I said. You only get what you uh pay for in this life.”
Morgan didn’t reply, having discovered that the wine was improved by drinking it straight from the bottle.
“Plenty there,” said Chris. “Stop talking and get it down you. You’ll see. The taste will make no odds after the first half dozen.” He looked over his shoulder. “Come on, girls – join us in a farewell drink for Morgan.”
Nigel handed plastic cups around. “Yes, let’s raise our uh cups in a nice toast to Jones’ uh—”
“Redundancy?” suggested Pam. “In every sense.”
Morgan ignored her. He knew without a shadow of doubt that she was the one who’d run tittle-tattling to Bigger Bitch. Free Country – for a bit longer, anyway – and he’d been entitled to his opinion. It was a well-known fact that women couldn’t hack responsibility without a man or two supporting them. That’s what was going on here. BB was just token pussy. They’d see. Sooner or later they’d both get their come-uppance. He was distracted from wildly inventive improvisations on themes by de Sade as the bank’s relative talent homed purposefully in on the smell of a free drink. Both were well under thirty, and single, so still trying hard to please, obviously. None of the others were worth looking at.
“Just a little,” Linda insisted, hitching an arm full of papers up under her arm. “I don’t want to get stopped driving home.”
“Cute arse,” mumbled Morgan, weighing imaginary watermelons. There was nothing to stop him speaking his mind now. “What? What?”
“Kindly keep your eyes off my behind and your comments to yourself.”
“Can’t help it if your arse sticks out, can I?” Morgan lurched forward. “Proper arse. Woman’s arse. Can’t miss it.”
“I’m warning you—”
“Now Jones, be nice,” chirruped Nigel. “This is your leaving do, after all, and—”
“—you wouldn’t want it to be remembered as anything but happy and cheerful. Ah, Zoe, there you are – half a glass for you, too?”
“Full one for me, two if you like, I’m not driving anywhere.” Zoe giggled. She wiggled and wriggled. She yanked her Wonderbra straps up and the micro-skirt down. Morgan moved to within inches of her cleavage. His hands pawed the air.
Zoe elbowed him in the gut. “Watch it.”
“How about a goodbye snog?” suggested Morgan, optimistically reaching for a substantial thigh.
“Get your hands off me, you silly Welsh git.”
“Tut-tut. Racist,” chided Nigel.
“Leave her alone, Morgan Jones.” Linda was looking nasty now – sisterhood rearing its ugly whatever. Her fist was small but studded with bloody great solid silver rings.
“Aw, come on.”
“Touch either of us again,” she hissed, shedding the vacuous blonde mask, “and you’ll regret it, unless you want to sing Land of Your Fathers two octaves higher. I’m brown belt Judo.”
“So throw me on the floor, both of you. I don’t mind. I’m man enough. I’ve handled more. The others won’t look.”
“Ugh. Get lost, creep.”
Morgan scratched his head, puzzled. What the hell was the matter with them? Look at Zoe. All that flesh exposed. This was only a come-on. She wanted it. She was gagging for it. Oistric (was that a real word?) law. Whatever. Everyone knew no meant—
“And here’s to your best-selling book,” piped up Nigel. “Don’t forget the nice signed copy for me and the wife.”
Pam sniffed. “Book? You? About what?”
“Shit-shovelling,” suggested Chris. “That’s the thing with farming as I understand it, especially dairy farming. The whole focus is on the rear end. Always write about what you know. Isn’t that what they say?”
“Tee-hee, snort, tee-hee.”
Pam sniffed again. “Well?”
“Women,” said Morgan, making up his mind. “It’s going to be about women.”
“Oh,” said Pam. “That sort of sad and lonely fantasy. Well, I for one will drink to your departure with pleasure.” She raised a cup, sniffed suspiciously, swallowed, and smiled. “Good riddance, Jones.”
“It’s Jones-Jones, actually.”
“What an absolutely idiotic name.”
“Want me to open another?” asked Nigel, striving to keep some sort of peace.
“No. Me.” Morgan snatched the bottle. “I’m going to score one hit on each booby before I go.” His eyes misted. High above, Eve trembled and started frantically hunting round for more fig leaves but – silly ignorant cow – it was an apple tree. Pop! Right on target, and so was the next: a double bull’s eye. He sniggered. Chris sniggered. Jack sniggered. Even Old Lady Nigel managed a lame grin.
“How very childish you all are.” Pam dropped her cup into a bin and went back to taking barely suppressed rage out on the photocopier. Thrust. Slam. Lift. Thrust. Slam. Morgan winced and drained the bottle. The way she was carrying on, it could have been the Guillotine. Odds on with her it wouldn’t be heads that went flying though.
“Better try again,” said Morgan. “This time I’ll get one slap-bang on her fucking female ever-yapping ever-criticising ever-complaining gob.”
Nigel recoiled. “Steady on, Morgan. Be nice. The rest of us have to go on working here after you’ve gone and gone. And don’t go ruining the wall. That thing cost a fortune.”
“Never get another chance.” Morgan fumbled with the last bottle. He looked up and the logo shifted and danced, receded and sprang back. Eve’s fists were now clenched and she was glaring down at him in a way that was unsettlingly reminiscent of his Mam. He’d always hated that look. It usually preceded some hefty kitchen utensil being used as an offensive weapon. The cork hit home with a satisfying thunk. “Damn – missed. Hit her bloody knee.”
“Speech,” demanded Chris. The girls applauded.
“I…uh…uh…” Morgan stuttered, his mind suddenly blank.
“Here,” whispered Jack, and passed him the hundred per cent bottle. It was warm. Inside, the remaining liquid tossed and tumbled, apparently of its own volition. The colour had changed to the dark grey-blue of a stormy sea, but Morgan could still make out a not quite solid something skulking in the murky deposit beneath all the activity. He took a very small sip and cleared his throat.
“I just want to say that uh—” Throwing caution to the winds, he swallowed the rest of the liquid in two long gulps, nearly retching as the great glob of gelatinous matter undulated from tongue to tonsils and shouldered its way down his pharynx. Suddenly inspiration struck like a cricket ball. Demonic joy bubbled up at the beautiful simplicity of the idea. He’d have his revenge. Mud always stuck. The words burst out in one long stream of breath. “I-just-want-to-make-it-clear-that-the reason-I-am-leaving-today-is-purely-because-of…” he paused for effect, “sexual-harassment.”
“Ah, get away with you,” sniggered Chris. “Whoever would stoop to—”
Morgan straightened his face. “Who do you think? It was our lady manager, Ms Kurswell, who else?”
“Rubbish!” snapped Pam. “Wash your mouth out with carbolic, you filthy pig, you poisonous worm.”
“No! Really? That’s not nice. It would be a terrible abuse of power.” Nigel produced a little tic at the side of his mouth whenever he was stressed, and twitched his nose at the same time, giving him all the appeal of a balding rabbit. “Not nice. Not nice at all. I can hardly believe it.”
“It’s true.” Morgan attempted to look embarrassed. “She targeted me from day one, simply would not leave me alone. Hands all over me. Promising the earth. Threats too. It was either in the sack, or get it. Well, you know the rest.”
“Why didn’t you say something before?” Nigel’s face was now as white as Pam’s was scarlet.
“Because he’s just made it up, that’s why,” she snapped, “the filthy liar.”
Morgan felt moved to elaborate. “I can prove it. That last time she called me into her office she got on her knees begging and pleading.” He lowered his voice. “She locked the door and stripped off.” His head was spinning. Pin-prick explosions were interfering with his vision. Each word was difficult to enunciate and felt as if travelling to his mouth from a distant galaxy. He lurched towards a triple Zoe.
“You’re woman. Look at her chest. Spare nipples. Six of them. Never seen so much hair neither. All up,” he made loose gestures at the stomach area, “and down. You look. Not human. Woman’s an alien.”
“Never mind that nonsense. I still don’t understand why you kept the other to yourself all this time,” persisted Nigel. “I mean, why leave it till now when it’s too late to do anything about it?”
“Why, indeed?” Silence thick as fog wrapped itself around the room. Stuck fast, turned to stone, Morgan still felt his brain turn in its grave. She was supposed to be somewhere else, and yet there Ms Kurswell stood, cart-horse nostrils flaring, all six (trans-sexual, he suspected) foot of her, looking like a Private Eye advert for Hormones Direct: Powerful female hormones to promote development of feminine breasts and reduce facial and body hair. Send £250 now. And every female in the room moving over to, quite literally, take her side. “Step into my office, Mr. Jones-Jones – if you would be so kind.”
He trembled. His knees buckled. And that whatever-it-was stopped dead halfway down his oesophagus with a panic attack about future prospects, coiled its way into an about turn, and started frantically clawing its way up to the tiny circle of light way above which was Morgan’s mouth hanging wide open. No stopping it. No stopping it. Up, up, up – and splooosh! Out. Everybody got some.
What happened then? Well, she told Morgan where to get off good and proper. Really nasty mouth on her, as it turned out, and she used long words, too, many of which he had to look up later. Not that you can blame her. I mean, once it was said they’d always be looking and wondering. Has she really, and if so, how many? And do they work same as the others? And what happens if—
Witch’s marks, they used to be called, those extra nipples. More common than you’d think. Mind you, when it came to witch-hunts, freckles, flea-bites, all your down there nooks and folds and crannies, anything would do. Anything will always do. And didn’t they enjoy looking for them. Wicca. Wick. Wicked. Witch. Anyway, enough of that – we’ll be weeping into our gins in a minute.
She laid into him, yes. She lost it. Really let rip. “Jones-Jones – you are a museum piece, a museum piece.” But the rest of what she said was as near a curse as damn it. Hissing like a snake, she was, eyes staring, teeth bared. Not a pretty sight, but she wasn’t bothered. Didn’t like women, did he? Not powerful women. No, because he wasn’t man enough. He was a Pig, a pathetic misogynist, a feeble product of the sick patriarchal system, half a person, a psychic cripple. It would serve him and the rest of his ilk right if they landed up in a place where women had all the power. See how it felt. And so on and so on and so on. She didn’t like being publicly insulted, and he was going to pay.
Another job? Fat chance.
Publication? Forget it.
Bit of peace? You’ve got to be joking.
Absolutely nothing would go right for him from that day forward, nothing, nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, until he was good and sorry for the things he’d said. And she didn’t mean lip service. She meant from the bottom-of-his-heart sorry. Begone! Be gone. Time for the Banishing Ritual.
ATOH VE GEDULAH LE OLAHM VE GEBURAH AMEN MALKUTH YOD-HEH-VAU-HEH
In the East, Raphael:
Salve Raphael cuius spiritus est aura e montibus orta et vestis aurata sicus solis lumina.
In the West, Gabriel:
Salve Gabriel cuius nomine tremunt nymphae subter undas ludentes.
In the South, Michael:
Salve Michael, quanto splendidior quam ignes sempiterni est tua majestas.
In the North, Uriel:
Salve Uriel, nam tellus et omnia viva regno tuo pergaudent. About me flames the pentagram and in the column stands the six-rayed star ATOH VE GEDULAH LE OLAHM VE GEBURAH AMEN MALKUTH
All the rest is better kept secret. That was telling the silly bugger.
This little pig went to market, This little pig liked to roam, This little pig ate roast beef, This little pig had none, But this little pig went weeek-weeek-weeek – I must find my way home. —Traditional Let’s away to the garden, says this Pig, What to do there? asks that Pig, To look for my mother, says this Pig, What to do with her? asks that Pig, We’ll see, says this Pig. —Traditional-ish Some men there are love not a gaping Pig. —Francis Bacon, Merchant of Venice, 4, i
The past, including the humiliating events of yesterday afternoon, was over. But it didn’t end with Big Bitch’s filthy, threatening, totally unfeminine invective. The cleaners had pounced as he sidled out, eager to give him an earful about scraping up green and purple pot noodle vomit not being part of their Job Description, and his landlady had thrown out most of his clothes, claiming she thought he’d already left and why were they screwed up on the floor in mouldering heaps, dirty pig, if he wanted them, anyway. There. Let it go. The future was all that interested Morgan.
His head was bursting with ideas. He rather thought his first novel’s plot should centre upon women: bondage, perhaps, or enslavement. And set in a far-off galaxy where women so outnumbered men that they were totally expendable.
Men would buy it.
A pity Rosie hadn’t been around. He’d tried phoning. Several times. Her flatmate promised to pass on his message. He sent numerous texts. No reply. God only knew what was up now. First she blew hot, and then she blew cold. He couldn’t do anything right, whatever line he spun. What did the silly bint want him to say? Why’d there have to be all this emotional stuff before getting down to business? Forget it. Women were all the same. She’d come running the second he hit the Best Seller lists.
In the meantime, it was important to devise a work schedule – a few therapeutic hours helping around the farm, followed by several hours of concentration on his prose. Ten thousand words a day seemed do-able. Even allowing for editing this meant an output of twelve novels a year. Of course, a little time should be spent enjoying the peace of his surroundings and drawing on the natural beauty of the place for background. Drifts of primroses and white violets beneath the hedges in spring, the orchard awash with daffodils, the woods with bluebells, wild roses and honeysuckle on the June hedges, blackberries up the Goggin – ah, yes.
The dream started dissolving as soon as Morgan turned off the Rhayader road and plunged into the cauldron valley where his home village had been dozing away the centuries for centuries. It was raining…as usual. Not proper rain, but a whinging, grizzling, mizzling kind of drizzle which probably hadn’t stopped since he left. Streams of water trickled from every wood and field to swell the roadside ditches. The stunted trees were covered with blackish moss. If trees had possessed noses, theirs would be running. His spirits plummeted. Everything dripped melancholy hopelessness here, whereas a hundred yards up the road there’d been a pleasant autumnal snap to the weather.
Nudging his exhausted mini into the broken-glass slalom of a lay-by, Morgan squinted through the laconic sweep of the wipers, remembering too late why he’d put so much energy into getting away. It was like looking at his childhood through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything that had made him what he wasn’t lay within a circle small enough to be covered by a ten pence piece at the bottom of this claustrophobic, womb-like valley.
Sometime in the far distant past, the villagers had decided to relocate themselves – a bit – and the family farm lay within a loop of flinty walls against the east facing slopes, between the new and old settlements. High up on the hillside Morgan could make out his father, Dai Jones-Jones, twelve years past his three score and ten, gnarled and twisted as an ancient willow, plodding hunch-backed in the cream-coloured wake of a hundred or so draggled ewes, accompanied by Aries and Hwrydd, the over-worked rams. A black-and-whitish comma slunk after them – Mercher, the collie, sick to the eye teeth of sheep, and of having his undercarriage permanently stiffened by blood-red Radnor clay.
Above their heads, a narrow track wound up further to a grassy plateau with a small stone circle, the Dancing Stones – dancing being a euphemism, according to the vicar, for what really went on there. And, higher still, blackened castle ruins jutted from a partially collapsed Norman motte like so many rotten fangs. Weaving through them lay a thin weft of mist, a cobweb dragon’s tail tightening round the corduroy-striped acres of a regimented erstwhile Forestry Commission plantation.
Straight down, as the shot crow drops, crouched the farmhouse, a sprawling great place, old as could be, and built of bruised-purple sandstone. Family legend insisted this had once been the castle gatehouse since Porth, roughly translated, could be stretched to mean gate or gateway. There was supposed to be a secret passage from the cellar to the castle dungeons. Possibly the flow was the other way since the farmhouse’s building materials were undoubtedly pilfered from the abandoned castle to upgrade a squalid timber frame hovel that had stood on the site since Adam turned rib donor. Primitive cruck beams were clearly visible on the yard side of the house. On the other hand, hints of past splendour remained. The back staircase was curved and beautifully constructed from smooth-faced granite blocks. Several windows had stone mullions, and the chimneys were wide enough to smoke an elephant. One of the doorways in the cellar had an impressive ogee arch—
A fun place for an archaeologist on a research grant, otherwise, who cared? Did history feed anything? Did it clean out the fowl house? No. Morgan grimaced – clear evidence that he was getting back into the local way of thinking, that stray line of thought. Now that he was here, mere yards away, committed, this homecoming felt like a terrible mistake.
But there was no going back. So he went on.
Morgan drove into the yard, executing a perfect twenty-eight point turn before attempting to reverse through the barn doors. It was shadowy inside, a dense cavern full of fusty three-year-old hay. Quiet, too. The twenty-foot-high walls of hay bales muted every sound of the outside world. He crawled from behind the steering wheel and hopped around attempting to straighten his cramped limbs.
All ancient farm buildings of Wales and the Marches, like the houses, have their own Brownies, the Bwbachod, to look after things. They like everything nice and peaceful, and can get quite nasty if disturbed. But maybe it was just the stamping that made a long forgotten egg roll from a hidden nest and place itself under his foot, to explode at the first suggestion of pressure, splattering his jeans to knee height. At any rate, the sulphurous stench catapulted him out into the open air, and into sheer bedlam.
Autumn had arrived, time of mellow fruitfulness and ruthless slaughter. Morgan clamped his hands over his ears as the entire animal kingdom registered its terror of imminent violent death. From the orchard, his Mam’s doomed geese hissed and screamed cag magu – bad meat, tough old gooseflesh – hoping it would save them from the axe. They’d escaped Michaelmas, but December wasn’t too far off. And turkeys – dozens of them – gargling fervent hymns of praise to the Anti-Christ, may he come soon, and deliver us from Christmas. Never mind the worry-gabble of a shed full of moulting gone-off-lay pullets, in addition to the scrawny pot-cockerels hoarsely yodelling for mercy. Somewhere, behind the farm buildings, Venus the ever-hungry sow joined in, straining from impassioned bass to desperate mezzo-soprano. So much for rural peace and quiet.
And as for healthy fresh countryside air – that was another myth. Morgan breathed in a lungful of the usual farm smells, silage, stagnant water, ammonia, diesel, fermenting windfalls, festering afterbirths, cow shit, pig shit, hen shit, goose shit, dog shit and, worse than anything in the known universe, cat shit. Above it all wafted the gagging sweet vinegar stink of Mam’s eternal chutney-making.
He crept cautiously across the yard, keeping close to the granary wall in order to peer through the kitchen window and gauge her mood. Twenty-six baleful amber eyes immediately swivelled in his direction. All thirteen of his mother’s breeding Persians – the entire coven – were at home, beaming hate at him from prime positions by the Aga, draped along dresser shelves, perched on window ledges, or ensconced in the most comfortable chairs. The feeling was mutual. Morgan bared his teeth. Mam herself was flapping about her kingdom, mincing and chopping, muttering, and stirring her cauldron. A dormant nervous twitch surfaced as Morgan tried to focus on her face.
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.