by J. W. Wood

Before the contract came through, Ken McKenzie’s life was the same as it ever was: pretending to read Schopenhauer and Swedenborg, drinking tea, and wondering when his money would run out. Also, he loved scrolling through social media on his phone: lately, Ken’s self-image as a poet-philosopher vagabond was being eroded by his addiction to “SoMe”, as hipsters called it.  

It didn’t matter who was posting: Ken loved social media almost as much as he loved being on disability without being disabled. Take this tweet by Ken’s pal Donald Crawford, part-time Business Communications tutor at some MBA factory in South-West England: “Absolutely disgusted. Forty-seven years old, MSc in psychology, PhD in Creative Writing. No pension, no savings. I’d have been better as a plumber #nointellectualsallowed.” 

This was nonsense. Don inherited his mother’s holiday home in France twenty years ago. He’d also enjoyed a succession of pensionable interim lecturing jobs. His best move, though, was to impregnate a student from a wealthy family. The family set them up in a comfortable three-bedroomed semi with a cleaner and everything. Happy days – though you wouldn’t know it from Don’s Twitter feed. 

Saturday afternoons would find Ken outside a pub, a pint before him and cigarette in the ashtray as he pimped the free WiFi, developing his tweeter’s thumb. This post from Paul, an estate agent mate, made Ken want to pull out a metaphorical cat o’ nine tails: “Just sold to clients who couldn’t be happier. Then steak and red wine with my darlings #bliss #family.” 

The truth? Paul dreamed of being a radio presenter and considered estate agency an affront to his talent. Paul’s wife was about to leave him, she was so sick of him whining about his dreams.  

Not long after that, Ken cracked. It was a tweet from some folk band that set him off.


Weissweg, the band in question, played mid-week gigs in pubs. You know: audiences applauding tune-ups, gnatspiss beer and sour white wine. But their breathless tweeting suggested they thought they were Beyoncé: Delighted to announce our first-ever #nationaltour in support of our #newsingle, The Wyld Rose Is Sown.

Their website revealed this “national tour” consisted of three local pubs that hosted the aforementioned mid-week amateur nights. Ken piled in:  

@Weisswegtheband no’ bad mate. Three local boozers. Is @Coldplay or @CalvinHarrisofficial supporting? See ya doon the dole! X

Weissweg banned him. But being banned just encouraged Ken to greater things.


After he’d been banned by the band, as it were, Ken began bursting bubbles in earnest. The more he trashed people, the worse (or better) things got. His follower numbers rose – modestly at first, from 48 bots and trolls to a whopping 247 curated, winnowed-out followers.  

He started with an easy target: politicians. But bubble-bursting them was an overcrowded market. Newspaper comment sections also proved good sport since they were echo-chambers for students, the terminally angry, and the retired / bored. But Ken wanted juicier prey. People who might actually care if he exposed their vanity. 

He didn’t have to look far: middle-managers boasting of fake he-man exploits on the weekends; stressed female executives asserting earth-mother status via photos of cranberry-apricot muffins; has-been sportsmen claiming fellowship with today’s stars. He went after the lot and spared none. For all he got blocked, he picked up more followers. His 247 followers soon swelled to 3,223. A week later, he was up to 6,391 thanks to a few more spats.


A month later Ken was measuring his followers in five figures, his numbers popping like a firecracker on coke. Then he got a phone call.  

Ken feared it was the police wanting him for a benefits scam that ended a year ago when he realised the presumed-dead target of his identity theft operation was still alive. But it wasn’t the police. Instead it was one Ayesha Kirschbaum, who said she worked for the “Social Media Alliance” in California. 

She had a proposal for Ken – and wanted to “hop on a Zoom call” to discuss it.


The next day, Ken found himself outside a pub before opening time. This last happened when he’d collapsed in a beer garden the summer before to be woken by the rising sun, stale beer on his tongue and a burned-out cigarette in his fingers. 

He needed to steal the pub WiFi for his Zoom call. He booted up his ancient computer, a process that took so long Ken wanted to boot its pixelated arse. Minutes later, Ken found himself peering into a home office on the other side of the world. A youngish woman with a dark ponytail stared out of his cracked laptop screen. She wore a red roll-neck sweater and a chunky necklace. In the top right corner, he saw two equally youngish men sporting glasses, white shirts and dark pastel ties.  

“Ken? Ken McKenzie?” 

“Yup, ’tis I! Ayesha? What can I do you for?” Ken wanted a smoke. But it took him four attempts to get his laptop lid to stay open before he could roll up. 

“Ken? You still there?” 

“Aye man! Still here,” Ken shouted, hands deftly flicking together a rollie. 

“Cool! OK, so I am Ayesha, and this is Mike and Neil. We represent the Social Media Alliance—”

Ken smirked.  

“Are ye’s calling to take me down?” 

“Oh no, not at all!” Ayesha protested.  

Ken looked across the pub garden, its discarded glasses and assorted rubbish. The morning sun struggled to cut the chill Scottish air.   

“My colleague Mike Nesbitt has a proposal to put to you. Over to you, Mike!” 

Mike’s image slid forward. Ken drew hard on his roll-up, blowing smoke into Mike’s preppy physiognomy from seven thousand miles away. 

“Hey Ken! Good to meet you!” 

Ken waved, smiling at the absurdity of speaking to a bunch of yuppies in sunny California from a nut-bustingly cold Scottish beer garden. 

“Awright big man?” 

“So Ken, we’ve noticed your recent popularity on Twitter…” 

“Aye mate. Popular like Pol Pot, eh? Just seein’ how many fowk I can piss off at once, hen?” 

Mike smiled a thin-lipped smile. “Ken, you may know a lot of social media platforms are struggling these days…” 

“Struggling? I’m no’ surprised mate. Struggling how? Doon tae their last ten billion?” 

Ken blew more smoke at the screen, then tossed his still-burning fag end on the concrete. The sun crept over the chimney tops.  

“Social media is in a battle for engagement. That means we need people to start posting more, following more, liking more.” 

“Right, mate. But it’s all shite. That’s why I’m trying to take people down, eh?” 

“We know. But that’s why you’re popular. You’re the UK’s rising social media star and in the European top ten growers.” 

“Naw, mate, eh? Well, there you are. My ma’ll be proud at last!” 

Ken spluttered and a little spittle hit his screen. He reached for his tobacco pouch as the third figure slid into view. This guy looked like a carbon copy of Mike Nesbitt, only with more grey hair, a bright yellow tie and different glasses.  

“Ken, this is Neil Lafferty. I’m Legal Counsel at the Social Media Foundation. We want to offer you a job.” 

“A job as what? Tormenter in chief?” 

“More or less, yes. We are prepared to pay you a quarter of a million dollars a year, starting immediately, to continue abusing celebrities, politicians, journalists, and the general public. Within the grounds of certain…legal constraints, of course.” 

“Constraints? Like no slander or libel, that sort of thing?” 

Neil Lafferty nodded. Mike Nesbitt chimed in. 

“Essentially, we want to pay you for being you. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” 

Now it was Ayesha’s turn to pile on the charm. She drew a little closer to her camera and Ken noticed her perfect teeth. 

“It’s money for nothing, Ken!” 

“Is it now?” Ken readied his next cigarette. He sparked up with his Space Alien Zippo. “I’m a philosopher to trade. And I’ll tell ye this: there’s no such thing as money for nothing. No’ unless you’re me. See, I’ve already got funds.” 

Ken chose not to tell them said funds came from his fake disabled status. Alongside a bit of casual glass-collecting in pubs if he was short that week. 

“We’re prepared to negotiate,” Ayesha countered. “What’s essential is that you understand what you bring to the table. We want your capacity to re-excite people in social media. That’s what our advertisers are jonesing for.” 

She paused, looking to her left as if her colleagues were with her, not sat in spare bedrooms across San Francisco like battery hens blinking and wobbling after being released.  

“Look Ken, let’s cut the bullshit. People are getting tired of social and we need to get them back. Who knew, but you’re making it happen. Don’t see this as a job. Just see it as encouragement, that’s all.” 

“Hmmmm….” Ken sipped his coffee. “I’ll need to speak to my agent.” 

“You have an agent?” 

“Naw. But it felt good saying that.”  

The three talking heads laughed in that hollow way some people do. Ken sipped his coffee.  

“Listen, boys and girls. You get me that contract and I’ll think about it, awright?” 

“Sounds good, Ken. Give me your email and I’ll send it right away. If you decide to join us, please print and sign.” 

“Sweet. But I cannae afford the post tae America, I’ll tell you that for free.” 

They told Ken it was no problem: all expenses would be paid. A courier would come and pick up the contract when he was ready.


That’s how Ken found himself with a contract in front of him in his council flat, the figure of $250,000, plus a signing bonus of $10,000, burning a hole in his mind. Would he sign? Not to do so would be insanity. Riches and salvation, just for being himself.  

And yet his models, his Masters, all those Philosophers whose works he opened and pretended to read, would not have approved. Bowing before the corporate beast.  

Ken decided he’d have a smoke and think about it. He rolled up and stuck the fag in his mouth. Then he fished out his lighter and flicked at it. The flame flashed up from his Space Alien Zippo, the familiar smell of sparking flint and kerosene filling the air in his tiny kitchen. 

He looked down at the contract and around himself at the cramped confines of his flat, the traces of damp on the walls. The couple next door started another row, so loud the football poster above his kitchen table started shaking. He picked up the contract with his free hand, the burning lighter in the other. Then he lit his cigarette. As he inhaled his first draw, he slowly moved the pages of the contract toward the lighter’s bright yellow flame….

J. W. Wood is the author of five books of poems and a novel, all published in the UK, and the satire ‘By Any Other Name’, forthcoming from Terror House Publishing in the US later in 2023. His work has appeared in The Poetry ReviewLondon MagazineTLS, etc. and has been shortlisted or nominated for several awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Bridport Prize. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, he is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. Visit his website for further information.

Crunch Time for the Pheasant

by J. W. Wood

Martin Hugginson was an ordinary man who dreamed of the extraordinary. Everything about him was average: his looks, his height, the condition of his hypothalamus – in fact, the size and condition of every organ. Including that one.

Unusually for someone so ambitious, he was also a nice boy. You know – get a job, get married, have children. Make his parents proud and have a nice life.After he graduated from the University of Coventry with a lower second-class degree in psychology (“very creditable,” his tutor said) he began to cast about for a career.

A few months of botched applications and failed interviews followed. Then he spotted an advertisement for a Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

“That’ll do me,” Martin thought.


The National Statistics Office (NSO) was housed in one of those 1960s blocks which always seem to be located near a station. Wherever you live in the world, you’ve seen one like it: grey, filthy, rectangular windows and a flat roof. The kind of place that, when you pass in a train, you wonder who or what dwells within its walls. Somewhere that looks more like a filing cabinet than a place of work.


I should have told you Martin got the job, but you probably guessed. After all, Junior Data Assistant at the National Statistics Office hardly sets your hair on fire, does it? A lower second in psychology from Coventry University was more than enough to perform what was needed.

Martin’s job consisted of handling data enquiries from the public and government departments. He had twenty days holiday on top of public holidays, a final salary pension and £22,000 per year – much less than other graduates. But Martin didn’t care. It was a start.


The NSO’s Nuneaton site hid a secret. At its heart there lay a grass quadrangle. Perhaps the architects imagined an oasis for those crunching numbers inside; a place to have lunch or chat to colleagues. Maybe even contemplate boredom-related self-harm.

It was almost always deserted given the amount of rain pouring down nine months of the year. There were four sodden wooden park benches facing each other, one on each side; two waste bins for lunchers to put sandwich wrappers in, and a one-legged pheasant.

No one knew how the pheasant got there, or why it didn’t fly away. Sometimes staff spotted it venturing up to the roof, where it would squawk and cackle. But it never flew away. It probably fed on any worm unfortunate enough to poke its head through the grass, or on scraps of sandwich tossed to it by employees. Maybe someone was secretly feeding it drugs, which explained why it never left. Its feathers were dark red and it had yellow eyes. It compensated for its ambulatory disability by being the loudest bird Martin had ever heard in his life.


Martin’s boss welcomed him on his first day with a nondescript handshake and a brief grin. Paul Harfrow was two years away from statutory retirement and had worked in this building for thirty-four years. He’d long ago settled here, and it had settled into him, weighed down by a Herculean gut that preceded him everywhere.

“This is your desk,” he told Martin, pointing at a dark plastic-looking table, eight feet long and four feet wide with an old-fashioned computer on it. “We’ll look at what you’ll be doing later.”


Martin was given a week to read through the induction manual, make sure he knew where things were on the server, and hide in the toilets when he couldn’t take being at his desk any more. He undertook these non-tasks in a giant enclosure under strip lights, then went home and ate sausages or beans with potatoes – mashed, boiled, fried. Sometimes he ate a curry.

Back in the office, the nearest employee to him was twenty yards away. He was called Trevor. Trevor was bald on top with long, unkempt grey hair that stuck out and ran down his neck. He was quite old, about the same age as Paul Harfrow. Martin had noticed Trevor dozing off after lunch. He smelled of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

After a week of surfing the internet and listening to pheasant squawks, Martin started wondering if this was the right job for him. But then, that Friday morning, he met Fenella Clarke. And someone gave him something to do – at last.


Fenella Clarke was a slash of scarlet on the used cellophane of the National Statistics Office. She worked as Executive Assistant to Tom Taylor, the top dog in this place. They looked like a couple out of an office furniture ad: Taylor, a trim man in his late fifties with dark charcoal suits, a white shirt, and blue tie; Fenella in a pencil skirt and two-inch heels. She had a long wavy perm, deep crimson lipstick, and big glasses with thin frames. She was young, like Martin.

Martin found her unbearably sexy. So much so that when Tom Taylor came to his desk that Friday morning to greet him as the new recruit, he looked down and away. Even though Fenella did no more than stand behind her boss holding a tablet computer. But when you’re twenty-two and your hormones are on fire, that’s enough.


“Settling in all right, are we, er, Martin? Did Paul give you enough to do?”

Martin could tell by the way Taylor looked at him he was expected to bullshit. So he did: “Oh yes, thank you, Mr. Taylor.”

The two men shook hands perfunctorily. Tom Taylor smelled of soap – a reassuring smell.

“Good. Well, there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”

“Certainly, Mr. Taylor – just name it.”

The pheasant crowed in the quadrangle down below.

“Bloody bird. Still, you’ll get used to it,” said Taylor with the kind of quick smile that suggested he never had. “Now look. The Department of Health has asked for a multi-variant analysis of health outcomes for all children born between 2000 and 2015 split out by region and gender, parental income, and marital status. I know it’s a lot to ask, but Fenella here will give you a hand, all right?”

Martin said it was fine by him. In particular, working with Fenella was especially fine.

“Very good. Oh – and I need to see something by four PM today, OK?”

Martin nodded like a marionette on speed, and Taylor was gone. Fenella Clarke waited until her boss was out of earshot then sat down in Martin’s seat.

“Right. Let’s call the people at Health and find out what they want.”

“Well, I imagine it’s to do with policy.”


Fenella stared at him as if he’d just declared a belief in virgin births via extra-terrestrial c-section. “Or maybe they’re battling a journo and want to kill the story. Let’s see, shall we?”

And with that, her manicured nails reached for the phone on Martin’s desk.

“Simon Tickley, please,” she demanded.

“Tickley here.”

The voice boomed out from Martin’s speakerphone. A voice used to ordering expensive wines in central London restaurants. Martin imagined pink-cuffed shirts, silk ties, and double-breasted suits kept buttoned up to hide a not-so-incipient beer gut.

“Simon? It’s Fenella Clarke from NSO Nuneaton. I wanted clarification on your request.”

“Fenella! How are you?”

Martin pictured Tickley’s tongue out on a stalk, his leer echoing down the phone.

“Fine, thanks, Simon.”

Either Fenella was playing it very cool or she had no interest in him. Martin suspected the latter. “We have a new colleague – Martin Hugginson. He’s going to assist me with your requests. So: do you really want multi-variant blah blah bollocks, or what’s your problem?”

A cough at the other end. The pheasant crowed. Martin wanted to kill it, even though he’d not been in the job a week.

“Fenella, my dear. You know me too well.” Tickley chuckled. “Gordon Bells on The Times – No-Balls Bells – uncovered our plans to offer healthcare vouchers to single mothers. He’s got a hair up his arse because his wife left him and he’s going to do a piece about single-father families being neglected. I need ammo for a rebuttal.”

“I see.” Fenella paused and looked at Martin like he was a particularly bland sheet of wallpaper. “Something that proves that the Southeast is full of lone daddies selflessly parenting on their own, right?”

“Right. And ask your wallah – oh sorry, Martin. Martin, if you could please prepare the full analysis to make it look proper, that would be great.”

They said their goodbyes, then Fenella pressed the OFF button. She turned to Martin, her brown eyes sparkling. Martin felt his heart beat faster. Then she said, “Do you know how to do a full-stack interrogation in SQL?”

Martin shook his head. The pheasant crowed. Inwardly, he swore he’d murder it after lunch.


That night, Martin was eating a ready-meal curry straight out of its plastic container. He’d failed to murder the pheasant. But he had given Simon Tickley what he wanted. He’d also microwaved his meal-for-one curry for the requisite three minutes, but botched the removal of the cellophane covering such that it slopped among the sauce. He watched the TV news and navigated this mixture of cellophane and chicken Madras with a plastic fork.

The health minister came on. Martin watched him deny that healthcare vouchers were prejudicial towards single-parent families headed by men. He heard the Minister talk about protecting lone fathers, who – the Minister acknowledged – did a great job, constituting as many as ten percent of all fathers in certain regions.

However, that was complete nonsense. Martin and Fenella had invented the number for Simon Tickley via a statistical dump so large and impenetrable no one would read it. Least of all Simon Tickley, a policy man who didn’t read at the best of times, and remained untroubled by reflection of any kind. Why waste time thinking when the fate of a nation rested on your expanding paunch? The ten percent statistic did serve one purpose, though: it launched Martin’s career at the NSO.


Martin became adept at creating statistical reports that proved nothing. Fish stocks that weren’t real. Bogus plastic card manufacturing plants somewhere near Hexham, Northumberland. Meanwhile his relationship with Fenella remained at best cool and professional; glacial might be a better word.

Perhaps his biggest thrill came from hearing the numbers he’d invented being used in newspapers, TV, and radio. OK, he didn’t invent them: rather, he drew conclusions the evidence didn’t necessarily warrant because he knew that’s what those asking the questions wanted to hear.


One day, Martin plucked up the courage to ask Fenella out for lunch on the pretence of staking out the pheasant. She accepted his invitation, even though his sexual confidence was less than zero after a three-year on-off relationship at uni with a woman who was out of his league and knew it. In other words, he’d been used – and was understandably wary. Not a good look to a young lady like Fenella.


“We could throw a net over it then sit on it or something. Or feed it poison seed. Or put it to sleep and drive it to Norfolk. That’s kind of like dying,” Martin mused as he sat with Fenella in the quadrangle, munching on a fish paste sandwich while trying not to think about what was in the paste.

“Martin! That’s shocking! How could you be so heartless to a poor, defenceless bird?”

Fenella tossed the last crust of her sandwich onto the grass and the pheasant hopped over on its one good leg to peck at the scrap of bread.

“Don’t do that! You’re feeding the beast!” Martin protested.

“Aren’t we all, Martin? Aren’t we all?” Fenella paused then asked, “I wonder how he stands up with just one good leg?”

Martin wondered whether he knew anything about the size of a male pheasant’s wedding tackle. When he realised he didn’t, he muttered something about resting on his tail feathers. It was clear by this stage that his attempt to manifest an air of manly hunter-gathererness had failed. Fenella stood up, wiped the crumbs from her packet of crisps off her dark skirt and tossed her empty Diet Coke can in the bin with a decisive thunk.

“Come on. We’ve got those data tables for Lincolnshire’s potato production to take care of.”

Unable to resist such arcadian overtures, Martin screwed up his sandwich-wrapper and threw it at the bin, but missed. When he went to pick up the wrapper, he thought he saw the pheasant’s yellow eyes laughing as it hopped around on its one good leg.


Though he didn’t know it, Martin’s stock was rising in what might be termed the corridors of power. Those corridors were in fact a warren of offices infested with mildly overweight younger men and, sadly, fewer women. The men had impressive yet useless degrees from grand universities but couldn’t have nailed two bits of wood together if their lives depended on it. Anyway, Martin’s name was increasingly being spoken of in said corridors.

“Get Hugginson on it,” went the cry.

Martin accompanied Fenella to the annual conference of government statisticians in London. This year, the title was ‘From Repository to Policy: Helping Ministers take evidence-based action’. The word “repository” made Martin think of the word “suppository” – but then, he was still only twenty-two.


At the conference, Martin clapped loudly after Fenella’s presentation and she noticed him doing so. He also met Simon Tickley in the flesh: Simon was as well-dressed and overweight as Martin imagined. Tickley was also going bald, and would soon reveal aggravated indigestion caused by the over-consumption of caffeine and alcohol. In other words, he farted a lot.

In his conversation with Tickley, Martin used terms he didn’t know the meaning of, such as “Pearson’s R” and “Student’s T”, in an effort to impress. It worked – mainly because impressing Simon Tickley, a man of Olympian stupidity, was not difficult.

During the conference dinner that evening, Martin sat next to Fenella while the Head of the Cabinet Office droned her way through a speech. They ate Chicken Maryland made with used engine-oil, or so it seemed, and drank a lot of low-quality wine. After dinner the entire conference headed for the bar at once.

Martin tagged along behind Fenella. As it turned out this was a good move. After about an hour, Fenella was visibly drunk and asked Martin to help her get back to her room.


Once in her room, Fenella wasted no time on preliminaries. Under the auspices of a goodnight kiss, she stuck her tongue in Martin’s mouth. After a brief moment of astonishment, he responded, and before they knew where they were, as the tabloid press would say, Martin lay on Fenella’s hotel-room bed with Fenella on top of him.

During proceedings he tried everything he could not to reach the top of his asymptotic curve. He thought about potato production in Lincolnshire, the number of public toilets in Cumbria, renewable energy installations off the Pentland Firth. He even thought about the pheasant in the office quadrangle, though this nearly softened his powers of analytical penetration to a catastrophic degree.

As a result of these thoughts and the amount of alcohol they had consumed, Martin managed to sustain his input until Fenella was satisfied with the results. After that she rolled over and fell asleep. Seconds later Martin was also asleep.


When Martin awoke, he wondered if life could get any better. His new job was going well, he had just slept with the girl of his (recent) dreams, and it seemed as if the world lay before him like an open mollusc. Only not one that was open because it was dead.

Of course, the pheasant in the office could disappear, which would improve matters further. When he got back to the office, he no longer noticed the pheasant, though he could, admittedly, still hear it croaking.

As to Martin’s self-interrogation whether life could improve further, it was about to – at least from his point of view. But perhaps not from the perspective of the British state, its taxpayers and civil servants.


You see, Martin began to gain power. And power, as we all know, is the greatest narcotic – or hallucinogen. For instance, Simon Tickley invited him to a shooting weekend. This consisted of people dressing up in clothes from the nineteenth century and blasting away at defenceless ducks and geese who died in agony from their gunshot wounds. Martin had never wanted to kill anything and the sight of dying birds made him feel sick. Especially if they weren’t that bastard pheasant.

He went anyway because he’d been invited and thought it might be good for his career – a word he’d recently learned to attach to sitting in an office and doing what he was told to do when told to do it for eight hours each weekday. He also remembered the other meaning of the word “career” – to run around wildly and with no apparent purpose.

That Christmas, Simon Tickley sent him an expensive bottle of brandy from an upmarket store in London as a gift. He didn’t mention that he’d put it on expenses – effectively, the taxpayer gifted Martin the brandy.

As Martin’s power in government grew, so he became aware of his ability to affect change. One time he decided taxing condoms would be a great idea because he didn’t like using them. So he fed the opposition parties bogus statistics about the need for better family planning. He built an argument from evidence stating that funds for this should come from the user base for family planning. The government caved in, and the world’s first “Pay as you Come” legislation was born.

However much his power grew, he had still done nothing about the pheasant. He celebrated his first work anniversary over lunch in Nuneaton’s most exclusive eatery. Fenella gazed at him across the table, her passion for him at its fullest flower. Amid such happiness, he remembered the pheasant back at the office and frowned.

As he perfected his own life, so the pheasant’s existence became more of an affront. Soon the very idea that this bird would have the temerity to squawk and shit where he worked was offensive to him, and he swore he would remove it, come what may.


Shortly after this first anniversary lunch with his inamorata, Martin experienced his finest hour. After no small amount of crafty planning and inventing numbers, Martin succeeded in bringing the UK’s first publicly funded Rock History Museum to Nuneaton, rather than London or Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle or Glasgow or Belfast or anywhere else. He did this by supplying dodgy numbers to policy-makers too lazy or bored to check them. He also befriended an MP who liked rock music and the sound of his own voice and made sure he was properly briefed.

However, the rock-music-loving MP died suddenly. He passed away true to his policy objectives, since his heart attack occurred in a hotel room, in the presence of a forty-six-year-old stripper, an ounce of cocaine, a bottle of VSOP cognac and a carton of cigarettes.

His long-suffering wife was said by the media to be “devastated”.

After that MP’s passing, Martin’s life nosedived. An independent candidate was elected to replace the rock-loving people’s representative and this candidate was not just independent in name: she also possessed moral fibre, profound intelligence and a commitment to the truth. Her name was Stella Maryton and she was a single mother who believed in the free distribution of condoms. She had short hair and her enemies spread ugly rumours about her private life. Nobody liked her very much because she was honest.

Her many positive qualities meant that when she took over, she soon discovered Martin’s bogus statistical evidence relating to the Rock Museum. After some further digging, she also uncovered Martin’s fairy tale fish stocks, Hexham’s ahistorical plastic card factory, and the filching of public funds for everything from VSOP cognac to condoms, hotels, and restaurants.


Meanwhile, Martin closed in on the pheasant. Not with a gun or knife or some poison food. Nor even by sticking a hungry fox or gun dog in the quadrangle where it lived. No, Martin was using the deadliest weapon he knew – the power of statistics to confuse and bamboozle.

However, Martin hadn’t reckoned with Stella Maryton, the advent of her anti-statistics bill, her powers of forensic research, or her capacity for networking. During the first few months of her tenure, Stella had browbeaten everyone from the Cabinet Secretary to the media (off the record) about how the misuse of statistics was turning the UK into a banana republic. She used the term “fantasy island”, which made lots of influential people scared, because they liked to imagine both they and the country they ran mattered.


Based on statistical evidence, Martin constructed an argument for the legitimacy of denying existence to certain forms of wildlife (that is, killing them) on the basis of fundamental human rights such as air, water and food. Naturally this was tricky, since many would say that the wildlife had just as many rights to these things as humans.

However, by perverting a few numbers about guinea fowl as carriers of various nasty human pathogens, and armed with several examples of bat-to-human transmission from China which many have found useful in recent years, Martin prepared to declare numerical war on his avian adversary.


Stella Maryton introduced a private member’s bill criminalising the use of inaccurate data to influence public policy. This was an excellent idea, since those in public life had been deluding innocent people with fake numbers for more than 3,000 years.

She gave lots of abstract and high moral arguments in favour of the bill. The kind of arguments with which everyone in public life likes to agree. Misleading stats, she argued, were divisive (true), anti-diverse (possibly, though she never explained why), racist and sexist and other things (see previous bracketed description).

The MPs loved her bill almost as much as they loved to be seen on the side of moral right. So it was passed unanimously, with just one or two old MPs who represented constituencies nobody could place on a map dissenting. The new laws were associated with a long prison term and disbarment from public life for offenders. To the MPs voting for the bill, this was the modern equivalent of being hung, drawn and quartered and having your head stuck on a pike then paraded through central London.


After weeks of careful plotting, Martin had the pheasant in the sights of his public policy blunderbuss. He identified some of the more venal MPs who might be persuaded to advance his anti-pheasant cause in the House of Commons in exchange for some public title – you know, those mystical letters after people’s names that sound good even if you don’t know what they mean.

He fed those MPs lots of statistics and charts with bullet points on them. He used terms from data science, broken up into small units so the MPs could read them out loud even if they’d had too good a lunch in a restaurant they could never afford thanks to some billionaire who wanted the government to stop taxing him.

Then Martin sat back and waited. But he was to be disappointed – majorly so.


The police came for Martin when he was on the phone to Simon Tickley trying to get the Department of Health to declare stray birds a health risk. They hauled him out of his chair and shoved him over his desk and tied his hands behind his back in handcuffs. Then they read him his rights and marched him off to prison in full view of Trevor the dozing non-entity and his soon-to-be-former girlfriend Fenella Clarke, who pretended not to know Martin even though her cheeks were now as red as her lipstick.

As Martin was escorted from reception by the police, he turned around and looked through the glass to the quadrangle. The pheasant was flapping around like a demented puppet. And this time he was certain: those caws, cackles, and squawks through the glass were the sounds of that deformed bird laughing at him.

J. W. Wood is the author of five books of poems and a novel, all published in the UK, and the satire ‘By Any Other Name’, forthcoming from Terror House Publishing in the US later in 2023. His work has appeared in The Poetry Review, London Magazine, TLS, etc. and has been shortlisted or nominated for several awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Bridport Prize. A dual citizen of the UK and Canada, he is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. You can find out more at his website.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 10

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

“Give it a rest, can’t you?” snarled Morgan, his eyes scanning the green for a large stone to dash the creature’s brains in. He didn’t feel right. His stomach hurt. They’d been scuttling between shadows for ever and Loki’s obsessive chant, entirely lactic in nature and pitched somewhere around middle C was curdling his temper. Besides, he was sure they’d passed this mossed-over apology for aresidence at least twenty minutes ago.

Loki came to a standstill. “I can’t. It’s the only thing keeping me going. Caerphilly, Orkney, Caboc, Isle of Mull, Crowdie, Dunlop—”

Morgan ground his teeth. “How much further is it?”

“Dunno. Hey! Hey!” A sharp little elbow jabbed Morgan’s knee. “France! I could go back to France. Back to France, I said. That’s the real land of milk and honey, you know. They’ve got at least one cheese for every single day of your year. Cabécou de Rocamadour, Bleu de causses, Le Fougerus, Crottin de Chavignol, Murol, Vacherin Haut-Doubs – I’m more sophisticated than what you thought, ain’t I? Le Fium’Orbo, Pithiviers au foin, Aisy Cendré, Bougnon, Frinault, Fromage Corse, Nantais – Oh, hang on, I think we turn right at this tree. Or is it left? No, it’s right. Right, I said, right. What’s the matter with you, not knowing your right from your elbow? Tomme de Savoie, Abbaye de Belloc, Livarot, Gris de Lille yes, I’m right. It was definitely left. We’re nearly there. La Taupinière, Figue—”


“No, of course I haven’t finished. I’m an expert in my field. An expert, I tell you. I can keep going for hours – Mâconnais, Maroilles, Ardi-Gasna, Dauphin – Why do you ask?”

Morgan smiled, having spied a dead branch, half-hidden in the grass, nice and heavy, just the thing. “Because if you don’t stop right now, I’ll fucking do you in.” Loki took him literally, stopped dead, and began to water the shrubbery.

“That’s it, find your own way.”

Morgan dropped the branch. His guide lowered his voice. They continued.

Ossau-iraty-brebis Pyrénées, Cantal, Bûchette d’Anjou, Pavé d’Auge, Péardon, Camembert, Arômes au Gène de Marc, Chaource, Gaperon, Baguette Laonnaise, Banon, Roquefort, Oh Queen of cheeses, Laguiole, Langres, Laruns, Petit-Suisse, Chabichou du poitou, Brie, Mimolette Française, Selles-sur-Cher, Raclette, Brocciu, Tomme de Romans, Valançay, Beaufort, Morbier, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fleur du Maquis, Sancerre—

Morgan sighed.

“You don’t have to walk next to me, listening,” Loki pointed out. “Skip on for a bit. Pont l’Evêque, Tamie, Salers, Comté, Fourme d’Ambert, Bleu de Haut Jurat, Soumaintrain, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Reblochon, Vignotte, Rollot, Bleu de Laqueille, Tomme d’Abondance, Neufchâtel, Cîteaux, Rigotte, Pérail, Boulette d’avesnes—–”

“Oh, God.”

“He won’t help you. Not here. Carré de l’Est, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Chevrotin des Aravis, Coulommiers, Dreux à la feuille, Saint-marcellin – at least I’m not repeating myself – Poivre d’Ane, Epoisses de Bourgogne, Grataron d’Arèches, Olivet Bleu, Olivet Cendré, Palet de Babligny, Picodon de l’Ardèche, Saint-nectaire – Oh, bliss, bliss, bliss—”

Several dozen obscure French cheeses later, Morgan happened upon Rowan and Hermaze and was awarded a brotherly hug.

“Welcome home, brother, such as it is. Glad you managed to escape.”

Hermaze shuddered. “That cathel’th no plathe for a man. It’th full of nymphomaniakth and fanthy boys. Warned you, didn’t we?”

Neither seemed pleased to see his companion. Rowan, in particular, began twitching with antipathy. “What are you hanging around with this little bastard for?”

“Bathtard,” echoed Hermaze. “Thtinkth of pith, too.”

“I needed a guide. Sorry.”

Nökkelost,” sang Loki, with blithe indifference, calling to mind the cheesy delights of Scandinavia, “and Gammelost, Pråstost, Danbo, Samsø, Gjetost, Jarlsberg, Maribo, Herrgårdsost, Våsterbottenost, Hushållsost, Mesost, Esrom, Havarti—”

“Filthy curd addict,” scowled Rowan. “He makes make me sick.”

“Bad enough you coming back where you’re not wanted,” declared Elverin, emerging to shake his dusters, “without bringing Puck to cause even more trouble.”

“Puck – he said his name was Loki, or was it Cupid?”

“Puck,” snapped Rowan. “He’s bloody Puck.”

Hermaze barred the door. “Well, don’t think you’re coming in here, becauth you’re not, you thpying little turncoat runt, you filthy agent of matriarchy.”

Puck smirked. “Juustoleipä, Ilves, Tutunmaa.”

“He’ll have to come in, unfortunately,” muttered Rowan. “We can’t stand out here letting the world and her husband overhear all our business.”

The atmosphere downstairs was subdued. After exchanging stories, a large pot of herb tea was brewed and the entire company sat around peering disconsolately into their mugs.

“Sorry,” Morgan said for the fiftieth time. “I had nowhere else to turn.”

Cuajada,” mumbled the connoisseur formerly known as Loki, “Queso Ibores, Cabrales, Diazabal, Mahon, Castellano, Burgos, Roncal, San Simon, Queso del Tietar, Amrano, Manchego, Mato, Penamellera, Picos de Europa, Queso majorero, Queso de Murcia, Afuega’l Pitu.”

“See how the mighty are fallen,” said Backus with a deep sigh. He glared at the youngsters perched under the window stabbing at their tapestry frames. “Let this be a lesson to you all. See what happens when you put Self first. This ugly thing started out as Eros, a godlet with the divine task of bringing together Twin Souls, and finished up as the Trickster, resorting to pathetic scatological pranks just to get noticed.”

“I’ve decided on Pwwcha now, if you don’t mind. Pwwcha, I said. At least the Welsh still remember me. My name’s changed because I learned how to adapt, to go where I was still believed in. As for history, bug off. I stuck it out longer than you did.”

“He’s nothing but a great big spoiled baby.” Backus’ lip curled. “That’s why he’s so keen on milk products.”

“It’s neoteny, actually,” countered Puck. “And that’s a recognised condition, ain’t it? Halloumi, Caciocavallo, Mascarpone, Asiago, Pressata, Canestrato Pugliese, Mozzarella di Bufala, Crescenza, Fiore sardo, Bra, Raschera, Fontina.”

Backus sniffed. “You think you’re so clever, but all you’re reciting is a catalogue of coagulated rancid body fluids.”

“You can talk, toxin-monger, you can talk. At least I never dabbled in ethanol. No wonder your memory’s gone. No wonder, I say. Nothing wrong with mine though, and I can still remember you in your alter ego. Hey, boys – does the name Dionysus mean anything to you? Dionysis, I said. He invented the hangover. What a gift. Yes, and what about that donkey, Backus? A jenny, wasn’t it? I heard tales…. You don’t want to hear about that, do you? It’s always the same with the converted, ain’t it? Like people preaching clean air immediately they give up smoking.”

“What’s he on about, Sernunnos?” demanded Backus, looking uncomfortable. “This Dionysus, what’s he got to do with me?”

Sernunnos averted his eyes and shook his head. “No good going into all that again. Don’t worry. It’s been programmed out of you. You wouldn’t believe me if I explained. Now, what are we going to do for our Hertha-friend here?”

“Look,” said Morgan, “just tell me how to activate the stone circle and I’ll be on my way.”

“Dionysus, Dionysus,” mumbled Backus. “I’m getting some very nasty flashbacks here, very nasty.”

Puck sniggered. “And so you should. Toma, Ubriaco, Canestrato Pugliese – no, I said that last one already.” He nudged Morgan. “No good you thinking along those lines, squire, you won’t get nowhere near the portal. Nowhere near, I tell you. They’ve put a twenty-eight hour watch on the place. We’re going to have to find another way – and pretty damn quick, too. There’s a house-to-house search scheduled for tonight, immediately after moon-up. It’s top secret. Casciotta di Urbino, Castelmagno, Montasio, Murazzano – I’m not repeating myself, am I?”

“I told you he was a spy,” snarled Rowan. “How else would he know that?”

“Goddess, how can you stand him?” yelled Hyacinth, flinging down his sewing. “Let me kill the gut-headed little bugger.”

Puck immediately retaliated by unbuttoning his front and creating an impressively large lake around himself. “Robiola di Roccaverano,” he chanted, his whine now overlaid with a patina of truculence. “Touch me and I’ll flood this hovel. Flood it, I say. And I’ll call the Mothers, see if I don’t. Taleggio, Ragusano, Stracchino.”

“Bathtard traitor.”

“I am not.” Puck shrugged. “Am not, I say. How could I be? I never gave a damn about any side, anywhere, at any time, and on any of the planes. I’m neutral. Impartial. Ambisexual. I always was. Always was, I say, right from the beginning. What was it to me whether the darts hit home or not? I never stuck to the rules, anyway. To start with the arrows were made of gold. Everything was sweetness and light and love. Where was the fun in that? Boring. I caught Vulcan on an off-day and persuaded him to make me some lead-tipped ones. That added base lust to the equation. Lust, I said. Then I ran up a few wooden ones myself and invented love’s down-side – marriage. A leaden arrow in one throbbing heart, gold one in the other, blackthorn splinter in a third – now that was potentially interesting. As for this damn silly them and they and all the rest of us gender nonsense, I couldn’t give a flying fuck how it turns out. And – let’s be clear – the only reason I agreed to help this great Morgan lump was because he promised to take me to Hertha for a pig-out – Ricotta, Pecorino Romano, Pecorino Sardo, Grana Padano, Casciotta di Urbino.” He paused. “You might as well help him, because if he goes, you’ll get rid of me as well. Toscano, Provolone, Scamorza, Quartirolo Lombardo—”

Backus threw up his hands. “If they’ve put a guard on the circle, that’s it, we don’t stand a chance.” His face contorted. “You know, I’ve got this very nasty picture of somebody being torn limb from limb.”

“Indigestion,” Sernunnos said hastily, “probably.”

“There must be another way out,” pleaded Morgan. “What about this Lilith and Eve business? Apparently I have to get permission off one to see the other to ask permission to leave.”

Rowan sniggered. “Not that it helps much, but tradition has it they’re one and the same and that Lilith started calling herself Eve after she had her makeover. Apparently, it was during her hunter gathering phase. It didn’t last long.”

“Where can I find her?”

“Well,” Sernunnos began. “No, no, forget it. It’s just a human story.”

“What? Tell me.”

“According to legend, long ago, in the Golden Age, the Great Mother Goddess lived amongst us. Then something happened. We offended Her. Or something. Nobody remembers. Anyway, She left us and went back to Her celestial home in the sky. The only way to reach Her is by climbing to the top of the Great Tower and calling Her name. Unfortunately, the tower has no door, but the story promises that whoever can find a way in and succeed in making their way up the staircase will be granted his heart’s desire. Of course, as I say, it’s only a human story.”

However hard they searched, none of them could find the smallest crack in the stonework, not even the ridge of an old doorway plastered over. Already the sun was edging down towards the east. If it had been a halfway decent tale then the outline of an ancient entrance would have been revealed by the descending shadows. Or some clue: runes, perhaps, an ancient riddle, or a raddled old jackdaw on the point of expiry flapping down to impart vital information. But it wasn’t that sort of story and there was nothing.

The small crowd had already started to yawn and disperse when a familiar rumpus started up in the distance. Morgan winced and began throwing himself against the wall. Maybe it was his imagination, sparked by desire to save his shoulder, but he thought he could make out a faint echo in the east-north-east sector.

“Rowan, it’s hollow just here. Bring me a sledgehammer or something. Quick – before that damned pig brings Mum’s Army running.”

Too late, a hideously swollen Venus had homed in on Morgan and was bearing down on him, slavering with adoration. This was the man who had given her both soul cake and freedom. This was her brother, her hero, her friend.

“That’s no pig,” bawled Puck, above Venus’ express-train shriek of recognition. “That’s no pig, I say. I remember pigs. Mean little bleeders with bristles, pigs. They lived on acorns.”

“That’s inbreeding for you,” Morgan assured him. “And nurture, and getting away with it. It leads to bigger and better forms of Piggishness.” He flattened his body against the stonework and watched in dismay as time went out of sync. His eyes misted over. Venus floated silently forwards in soft-focus slow motion, as did Di and her muscle-bound cohorts.

“Move!” shrieked Puck, kicking his shin. “Move, I say.”

Morgan was instantly plunged back into a nightmare world of pounding feet and rising dust cloud. Of sow bark and bitching imprecation. Of glistening snout and gaping chops. Of flailing arms, and stout legs working like pistons. Of threats, and promises, threats of promises, and promises of threats. There was no escape. This time they were both destined to meet their various ends. Self-preservation maliciously held its breath until the very last possible moment, and then injected a massive dose of adrenalin into his bloodstream. Galvanised into action, Morgan leapt to one side a fraction of a second before Venus slammed straight through his shadow and into the wall, dislodging stones and a great section of wattle and daub panelling. Her head remained jammed in the hole. Beyond, he made out a narrow stone staircase curving away into pitch black oblivion. In that same instance he became aware of hands reaching out for him and took a running jump over Piggy’s gigot, chump chop, fillet, loin, neck end and blade into dark and dubious safety. High above, a tiny speck of light appeared and disappeared. The tower was so narrow that his outstretched elbows grazed the sides. Up he went, as fast as he dared, spurred on not only by the desire to evade recapture but also to escape from the remonstrative bubbles of saliva floating up from Puck’s blow-hole vomitory. Each had the name of a further variety of cheese trapped inside it, released as the bubbles burst against the dripping stone walls.

Remedou. Friesekaas. Quark. Appenzeller. Emmental. Friburgeois. Bergkäse. Raclette. Gruyere. Royalp-Tilsiter. Saanen. Limburger. Mondseer. Sapsago. Butterkäse. Sbrinz. Tête-de-Moine. Serra da Estrela. Vacherin Mont d’Or. São Jorge. Boerenkaas. Commissiekaas. Edam. Gouda. Leyden. Leerdammer. Maasdam. Bruder Basil. Oschtjepka. Sirene. Mandur. Burduf Brinza. Siraz. Liptauer. Abertam. Katschkawalj. Balaton. Lajta. Bryndza. Liptoi. Oszczpek. Podhalanskiiiiiiii.”

As the patriarchs tell it, Eve was responsible for bringing death, sin and sorrow into the world. But she was the second wife. It is said that, Lilith, the first, was even worse. Yahweh created Adam and Lilith together, but he used clay for Adam and – retrospectively, we must suppose – filthy and impure sediments of the earth to produce Lilith. Thus, she turned out self-centred, demonic, and totally evil. And that is what happens, it’s said, when women have the presumption to claim equality with men.

Well, he couldn’t go back. He had to go on. And on and on he went, sometimes not climbing at all, but hauling himself horizontally, knee to elbow in something approaching a foetal crouch, along the snake’s-gut of a passage, sometimes hurtling arse over tip – downwards, maybe, or not. But, in spite of such apparent evidence to the contrary, Morgan guessed he must still be making spiral progress upwards by the way the tiny patches of light before and behind appeared and disappeared by turns as he shuffled towards probable annihilation at the gates of the Celestial Abode, Eden, Paradise, the Queendom of the Blest.

It was slow work, much like clawing his way out of a treacle well. And as he continued, he remembered many things. And the things Morgan remembered were too painful to remember, so he tried to forget them, but they would not be forgotten. He started to sniffle, but was forced to stop by the need to listen.

The ‘Song of the Cheese’ had long since ceased, only to be replaced by something worse – a faint click and skitter of claw against stone, distant, but rapidly gaining on him. Rats terrified him, dead or alive, even in the Welsh – Llygoden ffrengig – literal translation, French mice, which didn’t help a whisker, whatever political nose-thumbing was implicated. The farm had been overrun with them in the early days of Caradoc and Rhonwen’s reign, great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats, grave old plodders, gay young friskers. Poison had been laid, but not all of the corpses removed. Fifty years later, mummified remains were still being discovered under floorboards and along attic beams, teeth grinning malevolence from tight, leathery masks, fine thick whippy tails a trifle dusty, but otherwise untouched by time. No one dared lay a finger on them, though Dai had dislodged one or two with a very long pole.

Morgan glanced over his shoulder. Life had afforded him no protection against rats. Not a sausage. If his literary bent had been encouraged he could have tried rhyming them to death, as did the satirist Seanchan Torpest when they ate his dinner—

Rats have sharp snouts

Yet are poor fighters

whereupon ten fell dead on the spot. But that was in the seventh century, and in Ireland. Weeping with self-pity, Morgan continued to climb.

Each step was now a massive block of stone, the riser measuring between two and three feet. Behind him, the noises had grown into explosive snorts and snuffles which ricocheted along the walls to overtake him. Persuaded that the pursuing rodents were distant relatives of the Porth rats, intent on belated revenge, he put on a burst of speed, rapidly hauling himself upwards, gibbering with terror.

The temperature plummeted. A thin wind began to grizzle around his ears, blocking out every other sound. Snowflakes started to fall, gently at first, riding the wind, and then whirling into a ferocious blizzard which brought him to a standstill. Something nudged the back of his ankles. He yelped, turned, kicked, and began inching backwards again, not daring to look at whatever it was. His reaching hands discovered an alcove in the wall. Stepping into it, he tied knots in his sheet and swung it across the opening to deter his assailants while he waited for the snow to clear. It took its time. When it finally thinned, he saw the steps continued on upwards for, at most, seven, then stopped abruptly in mid-air. No sign of Rattus rattus, but Adam was here had been scrawled on the wall. Behind him was another passage, dank and dark, and smelling of that very offensive toadstool, Phallus impudicus, the stinkhorn – either that, or a very dead something or other. The floor here was of puddled clay; the roof vaulted by massive, interlacing roots.

At the end of the passage was a small hole fringed with greenery.

He crawled out onto a grassy plain dotted with small blue flowers. A single, scab-barked old tree trunk, several hours round, stretched up into the massed clouds. Few leaves were visible from below, but clearly this tree bore fruit. The ground beneath it was knee-deep in cores at various stages of decay; more continued to drop at his feet as he stood staring upwards. The air was tainted by a smell as nastily sweet as belched scrumpy.

“Thanks for waiting,” snarled Mercher. Morgan jumped.

“How did you get here?”

“Since I’ve been bawling your name for the last half hour, I won’t demean either of us by answering that. Call it misplaced canine loyalty, but I thought you could do with the support. Ignored me, didn’t you? And finally, you kicked me in the teeth. Charming.”

“I thought you were—” Maybe that would be better left unsaid. Morgan looked at the iron steps hammered into the trunk. He looked at Mercher. “We need to go up. I suppose I’ll have to carry you.”

How does a mere man address the mother of all living? Morgan softly called out: “Ma’am?” After a while he tried: “Highness,” then: “Your Ladyship?” No answer was forthcoming. In the meantime, he’d never seen such clouds. To one side of the stout branches reared fair weather clouds, massive broccoli-headed mountain ranges, to the other, a mackerel sky, with spectacularly elongated shapes drifting against an azure backdrop, threatened imminent sea-change. In the centre, and feeding both possibilities, a shifting, trembling mass of pure white new cloud boiled over the edge of an invisible milk pan.

It was a breathtaking display of the awesome beauty of nature, ruined for ever by the gradual emergence of the night hag: first a leprous foot with long yellow toenails curling upwards, then ankles with crimped folds of flakily elephantine hide, a shapeless varicose-roped calf, a horribly droop-fleshed thigh, a massive triple-chinned arse, and finally the whole – an unspeakably disgusting crone shaped like a collapsing blancmange, as loathsome naked as he’d always suspected old women must be, a sight for making the eyes sore, for making the flesh creep, desire wilt, joie de vivre flee – with pendulous breasts swinging against a deeply-pleated stomach flap which mercifully concealed her pudenda, and liver-spot-dappled skin cankerous as the tree bark itself. If this was Eve then no wonder the human race was, for the most part, barely presentable never mind beautiful. If it was the Lilith depicted in the painted ceiling, then age hadn’t improved her.

“Bit low in the undercarriage,” snickered Mercher, fighting off his master’s restraining grasp in order to sink up to the neck in cloud.

Morgan shuddered. One thing was sure: he’d get no change here. The old hag was clearly senile judging by the way she was chain-eating unripe knobs of green fruit from the branches above and about her. The perfected technique suggested she’d been at it for a very long time. Not that this pastime appeared pleasurable. At each reach and pluck, a small moan left her lips, as if chronic repetitive strain injury had set in. And as she bit into the flesh her jowls quivered, her mouth puckered a sloes-in-vinegar grimace.

“Excuse me, Your Majesty.”

“Ugh?” She screwed up rheumy eyes. “I know that voice. Is that you, Adam?”

“Er, no, my name’s Morgan.” Venturing closer he saw the ancient matriarch was propped along a cleft branch surrounded by about a hundred greyish cats, all staring, and frantically scratching in unison.

The ghastly vision coyly drew a few wisps of water vapour round her flesh. “I knew you’d come creeping back to your Lilith sooner or later,” she mumbled through a mouthful of pale green crunch.

“Thing is, I’m here to beg a favour. I want—”

“If it’s about having a dog, the answer’s still no.”

“It’s not about dogs, it’s—”

“No dogs in here. And that also applies to the orangutan, the skelluidan, the mammoth, and the farocles. The answer to all or any of them is still No.”

“If you could just stop and listen to what I have to say—”

Lilith stopped. “Stop, I can’t stop. I’m far too busy.”

“It would only take a minute.”

“Stop, indeed – when I can’t keep up as it is. I have to do all this single-handed you know. No help whatsoever. You want to know why I’m doing it, is that it? Well, this is the Tree of Knowledge. Eating the fruit thereof was what started the downward slide. A bloody silly experiment, if you ask me. Knowledge brings unhappiness. Quote, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, unquote. And ignorance is bliss. Ergo the world can only be happy without knowledge, so if I dispose of every last apple from the tree—”


“Nobody will have to learn anything ever again, teachers will become extinct—”


“And Mankind be a lot happier.”


She stopped mid-chomp for the second time in a fair few millennia. A chunk of unripe fruit fell from her mouth as she cupped a hand to her ear. “Eh? What’s that?”

“The fruit – they’re pears. This is a pear tree.”

“Not apples?”

Morgan shook his head, hoping blame wouldn’t attach to the messenger. Lilith’s eyes bulged. She spat vigorously, broke off a twig, and began cleaning remnants of pear flesh from between her teeth.

“That vile, misbegotten, forked-tongue, lying worm-cast. Right back at the beginning you said he wasn’t to be trusted. I should have listened to you then.”

“I’m not Adam.”

“When I think of the aeons I’ve wasted forcing down those revolting green knobs. They never ripen, you know, it never got any better, and all for what? For nothing, that’s what. LUCIFER.”

Something rustled in the leaves. The clouds began to take on colour as the serpent slithered indolently towards them, winding itself widdershins round a series of branches: hyacinth beds, rainbows, sunlight through stained glass windows. As it finally emerged from the shadows, Morgan felt his jaw drop. There look, the Bible was wrong again. Nothing subtle about the creature. Each scale was painted differently, and he’d never seen colours of such intensity – some he had no names for. He stood transfixed, overcome by a sense of being surrounded by other colours he couldn’t see, sounds he couldn’t hear, of forever seeing as real what was unreal, of never knowing what really—

“Snap out of it,” yelled Lilith. “Ignore him and his mind games. Colour’s all in the retinal photo-receptors. He’s black and white, the same as everything else.”

“Forgive me,” murmured Lucifer. “I picked the wrong toadstool. From your quick lurch towards the outreaches of philosophical enlightenment I imagined we were dealing with psilocybe. Never mind. So, what can I do for you?” He hung poised between them, his scarlet – or perhaps the illusion of scarlet – tongue flickering with interest from a face that was one minute all lizard and the next of remarkable androgynous beauty. “Well?”

“Lucifer, I’ll get straight to the point. Adam tells me that these,” she pushed a half-eaten embryo fruit into his face, “are not apples as you told me they were. He says they are pears.”

The serpent’s expression changed to one of bewilderment. “I told you that? Are you sure it was me? I don’t remember specifically telling you they were apples.”

“I said to you: Is this the apple tree, Lucifer? Are those the apples? You said they were. What could be plainer than that?”

“No, I said it looked like the apple tree,” said Lucifer carefully. “You decided that it was. Then you asked if those were apples. I said that if it was the apple tree, then logically those must be the apples. Sound reasoning, I think you’ll agree?” He wound himself closer. “However, now that you come to mention it, they do indeed look like pears.”

The reptilian head swung towards Morgan. “How kind of you to draw it to our attention, whatever your name is.”

“Cut the crap, Lucifer,” snapped Lilith. “We both know it was deliberate. Don’t know when to stop do you, chaos-monger? Perhaps your mind’s finally going, since you can’t even remember my help-meet’s name.”

“I’m not Adam.”

“He says he’s not Adam.”

“Who else could he be? He’s here. He’s hairy. He’s got a dog, too. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Mothers see everything.”

“You’re not my—”

“I’m everybody’s mother, you silly git. I was the first. I created myself from nothing. I cloned myself a silly sister for company. Then the daft bint produced you. I warned her not to play around with her genes, but she would do it. Trying to produce a creature wise as serpents and harmless as doves; all she got was a scrap of serpent tail where it could only cause harm and a nasty tendency to violence. Still, between us we devised ways of making the best of things and got to quite like it in the end. Until you lot got ideas above your station and tried playing us off against each other.” Lilith cackled. “Then I re-absorbed her – or ate her. I can’t remember which.”

There was a short silence. Lucifer gave a discreet cough.

Lilith looked abashed. “All right, it was all me. Cloning came later. I just wanted to know what being subordinate felt like. But I’m still the Mother of All. Satisfied? Obviously not – I can see from your face that’s not what you’ve been told. So which version are they peddling at the moment, a sky father giving birth from his mouth, arse, thigh, or rib? Or are we back to the mind?”

“Still on the rib,” tittered Lucifer. “Though there is a school of thought—”

“And you can put a sock in it.” Lilith scowled at the top three inch layer of Mercher visible above the cloud. “Chancing it a bit, weren’t you, Adam, bringing a forbidden creature back with you?”

“He’s not Adam. He’s fallen through from the Other Place, where women are still supposed to smile, shave their legs, and keep shtum. He’s got himself trapped, so he’s come up here with his creature hoping you’ll send him back.”

“That’s out of the question. He stays.”

“What about the dog?” demanded Morgan. “It stinks. It’s got fleas.”

Mercher rolled despairing eyes. “I’ve got fleas? Have you looked at those cats? They’re overrun – dripping vermin. At least I can draw breath between bites. Even as I speak, ten thousand of their buggers are packing up and preparing to migrate to my fur, solely for economic reasons.” Morgan affected not to hear.

“It’s vile. Even licks its own testicles—”

“And occasionally recycles pre-digested food. I know all that. Dogs don’t change. But what’s that beside our happiness?” After several decidedly inelegant efforts, Lilith managed to haul herself to her feet. “I forgive you everything – the missionary position, the blood-sucking stories, and the babby-napping slanders. I forgive your fuelling of centuries of hard-breathing incubus and succubus fantasies, even the bellybutton fetish. Oh, Adam, after all these long ages, how can you want to leave again? We’ve got so much lost time to make up for. Come here.”

She flung open her arms. A shower of scurf, cores and pips, some germinated, fell from innumerable nooks and crannies in unmentionable and best unimagined places. Morgan backed hurriedly away.

“I’m NOT Adam.”

The serpent smirked. “He’s not Adam.”

Lilith smacked its head. “You think I don’t know that? He’s young. He’s relatively healthy. He’ll do.” Brightening considerably, shedding centuries with each step, she began waddling through the sea of cloud. “Let’s be at him.”

“You’re the Great Mother!” Morgan shrieked. “You can’t carry on like that.”

“It sounds as if you haven’t read the unexpurgated versions of your own mythology. Love them and leave them – that’s always been the Great Goddess’ motto. Actually, it was a bit more down to earth than that, but who’s standing in judgement? You’ll do for starters.”

“Sod that.” Morgan searched with his feet for the first metal rung.

Strangely, it was a lot quicker clambering down than climbing up. So quick, in fact, that there was no time to devise a plan. Setting aside any thought that his presence might not be wanted there, would he be able to find his way back to the Men’s Refuge?

The moon had risen. It was already waning, but still huge and silver. Dead or alive, Venus had gone from the base of the tower, but signs of a struggle remained. Noxious slurry was splattered on the wall. Most of the ground was churned up and the flowers had fled from every shrub in the vicinity, but worse that this – much, much worse – was the sight of a trail of cores leading away into the distance. Somehow, Lilith had got here first. Slowly, carefully, he edged round the shattered wall.

“Got you!” hissed Di.

Harmony soon fled from the hall of the Mothers. “For the love of Lilith send him back,” one-and-all howled. “And send that bloody animal back with him. I’m covered with flea bites.”

“No good blaming the dog,” Morgan insisted. “It’s her cats that are the problem. Look at them scratching.” Not that it proved anything. Everyone was at it.

“Not possible,” Kerridwins growled, twitching and slapping. “Fleas went out with Adam.” She coughed politely in an attempt to draw Lilith’s attention back to the matter in hand, but the Great Mother Returned was too busy with her first square meal in a very long time, and with observing the rapid revitalisation of the body sacred. Kerridwins looked round at the assembled women. “Right, what’s it to be – out through the Portal, or into cold storage?”

“I really think –” began Thorns, to a chorus of sighs, groans, and head-shakings. “Look, he’s an idiot and a troublemaker and he doesn’t know his place, but that’s mainly because of the rogue chromosome. If he’d had the benefit of our therapy it wouldn’t be such a problem. However, he’s still a sentient being – albeit a low-level one – and it seems unfair not to give him the choice.”

Kerridwins grinned. “All right, my dear. You’ve got a kind heart, but we do still have his education to consider. He came here for a reason. Well, Git? Which would you prefer, a corrective spell in our museum, or uh going back?”

Morgan hesitated. The choice seemed straightforward, but he didn’t like the look in her eyes one little bit. “Back to the Welsh Marches?” he asked. “You mean going back to Mam’s and Dad’s farm?”

She nodded. “If that’s what you want. But just remember, Git, and this is very important, call on us three times asking to return and you stay forever.”

Morgan stared down into the massive cauldron, troubled by the thin sheen of ice crusting its milky waters. A few women, summoned to raise the temperature, blew torrid breaths across the surface.

“In you go,” commanded a smirking Kerridwins.

“What’s this?” Morgan hung back. Something was wrong. Why wasn’t Thorns here as an independent witness? “This isn’t the Portal. Why aren’t you sending me back the way I came?”

“Oh, this is better. That stone circle’s for the hoi polloi. This is the literary route. Rebirth via the cauldron means you get inspiration, knowledge, and – hopefully – illumination. Or perhaps you’ve changed your mind and decided to stay?”

“No, no, fine, whatever you say.” It could have been worse. After all, she could have sent him back through the partially cleft Presents, and hadn’t he suffered enough? Taking a deep breath, Morgan stepped into the cauldron. It was far deeper than he’d expected, right up to his chest before he reached the centre, but contrary to expectation the water was pleasantly warm. He tried to relax.

“Down you go,” purred Kerridwins, pushing him right under.

It was so dark in the kitchen that it took his eyes several minutes to adjust. At first the lack of light led Morgan to believe it was night, but he soon realised that the windows had been boarded over. Here and there, sunlight fingered through knotholes in the crudely cut planks. Apparently, things had not gone well in his absence. Plaster was falling off the walls, leaving exposed the centuries-old wattle panels. The floor was ankle-deep in filth. Several scrawny hens were conducting archaeological surveys in the corners. A pheasant, two ravens, several rabbits and what looked like a Pekinese dog bled from the beams. And where was Mam’s pride-and-joy dresser?

Some bloody squatters must have moved in. Jesus Christ, Morgan thought, it hadn’t taken them long to turn the place into a grade one shit-hole. Good job they were out or he’d have taught them a lesson that wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry. But why hadn’t anyone stopped them? Surely even Pritchard-idle-Evans could have lifted a hand to phone the police. Violent eviction was called for. And an insurance claim to boot. This wasn’t the joyful homecoming he’d visualised.

Stumbling outside into the inevitable drizzle, he found the yard empty of stock. As he looked around, the hair on the back of his neck lifted. Orchard and garden were wastelands, armpit-high in weeds. The roofs of most outbuildings had caved in. His mini was a rusted hulk under an avalanche of partially composted hay. The enclosing wall was down. The gates were gone. Across the road, all that was left of Pritchard-Evans’ cottage was a grassed-over tump surrounded by blackened roof tiles. This hadn’t happened yesterday – nor in a year of yesterdays. When was he?

Morgan stopped dead, remembering Kerridwins’ self-satisfied expression, her words of warning. The evil bitch – this was all a game to her. She’d let him think he was getting what he wanted, but that was just part of the entertainment.

May we three All-Wise offer a word of advice at this point? The thing about wishes is that they very often do come true, but you have to be meticulously specific about what you’re asking for. Those whom the Goddess wishes to drive mad are first granted their heart’s desire. Wish in haste, repent at leisure. There’s a Welsh Marches Once Upon a Time warning tale, The Fairy Follower, which makes this perfectly clear. Some young know-it-all, mad with lust, brain-addled by love, too impatient to follow the scrimping, saving, wait until you can afford it, route to marriage prescribed by his elders and betters, called on the Fair Family, the Tylwyth teg, for help. Clear water was set for them. A meal of fine white bread and matured cheese prepared. One of the Other duly appeared, cleared the board, and agreed to grant the fool’s wishes. He got his riches all right, and marriage, but not, alas, to the object of his desire. His beloved dwindled and died. Instead, he found himself saddled with a cantankerous old money-bags widow who made his life living hell.

Now Morgan realised why Thorns hadn’t been there to see him off. Being the only one with a modicum of decency, she wouldn’t have stood for it. God damn it, now he’d have to go and eat humble pie; beg to be dispatched to his own time.

How to get back, that was the thing? Stone circle, he supposed. Muttering under his breath, Morgan trudged towards the hillside. Perhaps when he’d knocked a few heads together and made it clear that he wasn’t a bloke to be messed with, he could negotiate a proper return and persuade Thorns to accompany him.

“How do?”

Morgan jumped. What now? Seven foot square of Wild Man of the Hills blocking his path, that’s what, and each massive paw clutching a leather bucket slopping water over his filthy bare feet. Wild Man possessed a purple nose, wildly bloodshot eyes, and hair that had never in its long life met a comb.

“How do?” WM repeated, eyeing Morgan’s knotted sheet ensemble with childlike curiosity. He himself was dressed in some sort of cobbled together rawhide. “Be thee a friend from up country?”

Morgan gave a vague nod. “Yes, a friend.” The fellow looked harmless enough, in spite of his bulk and the scary backwoods get-up. Still, what the hell, it was his business if he wanted to take bloke-ism to the extreme. “You don’t happen to know the date, do you?”

“Ah.” Down went the buckets. Up came the hands. A few minutes of hair-tugging and scalp scratching galvanised the single brain cell into action. “’Tis Manday.”

“And the year?”

“’Tis All Zouls. Ah.” There was a short pause. Vaguely conscious that he hadn’t provided an entirely satisfactory answer, WM added: “Lew will know. Him will be here directly. He be bringing whome the bacon. I got to get on.”

Morgan watched him shamble into the house before resuming his resentful journey across meadow wrenched from Nature by his forefathers and now reclaimed by gorse and bracken, and the tall dead spikes of snawp. A path had been beaten to the stream, the lowest part of which was dug out to provide a muddy pool deep enough for the dipping of buckets. There was no sign of any attempt at farming, arable or otherwise. Mam would never have stood for this state of affairs. Things had certainly changed.

Suddenly terrified that the circle might have been destroyed, or simply ceased to exist, he began to run up the hill. He could see the stones, was in minutes of reaching them, when a hullabaloo from the castle ruins stopped him in his tracks. Screams, howls, yells, the beating of drums, and one final screech of triumph was followed by a profound silence. Minutes later, half a dozen more wild men streamed down the bank carrying a naked corpse. As they came closer he saw it was a large gilt.

“Is that Venus? Have you finished off poor old Venus?”

“Naw,” said the red-headed bloke. “This here pig is Marpessa. Every afternoon us catches she and every night us eats she, and next day she be alive again and us catches she again and eats she, and next day—”

“Yes,” Morgan put in hurriedly, “I get the picture. Big, isn’t she? Eat all of her, do you?”

“Ah. Every last bit of her, for us must. That’s the way of it. It’s we eat she or she eats we, see? Sometimes her comes little and sometimes her comes big and sometimes her be a she and sometimes her be an he and sometimes her be near and sometimes her be far and we has to go miles and miles and miles and miles to catch she.”

“Ah,” chorused the others, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

“Plenty to go round,” suggested he of the orange hair, introducing himself as Mighty Lew. “And while we’re waiting you can help we beat the bounds.”

Morgan glanced nervously at the standing stones. Half an hour wouldn’t hurt, he decided. After all, the stones weren’t likely to run away, and he couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten.

They trooped into the squalid kitchen which was now full of acrid smoke. Two enormous man-sized saucepans simmered on the battered Aga. The pig was heaved onto the greasy table. Without further ado, Lew seized an axe, climbed up and began unsystematically chopping the carcass into manageable segments. It was a messy and desperate business which excited the hens to the limits of their endurance. Apart from flying bone splinters, an escaping squirm or two of intestine, the eyes – which the WM pocketed on the sly – and any blood which couldn’t be caught, every other last bit went into the pans: head, tail, trotters, bristly skin, lackadaisically cleaned chitterlings, and various other mangled organs from which Morgan averted his eyes. Hunger fled.

“Right,” Lew dipped his hands in the less full saucepan to clean them, “now for the boundaries.”

Morgan followed the gang out to the semi-derelict building which had once been the granary. Here, a considerable quantity of crudely made bows, spears and cudgels hung from nails, and the old feed bins were full of large stones. Each of the men selected a favourite weapon and filled his leather bottle with a pungent liquid attempting secondary fermentation in a lard-covered barrel by the door. Something gleamed yellow from the cobwebbed window. It was Dai’s chainsaw, guaranteed for life on account of its foreign ancestry and excessive price. The blade was corroded, but a little fuel remained and Morgan was sure it could still inflict telling damage in any hand-to-hand conflict. He shouldered it, accepting at the same time some of the pungent liquid, trying to ignore the container’s close resemblance to an inflated pig’s bladder.

Mighty Lew and his followers set off up the valley road, now little more than a dirt track overlaid in places with scabs of blistered tarmac. Looking back, Morgan could see that the farmhouse was the only remaining dwelling in the valley. There was no sign of the church. Even the pub had disappeared. “Where are we going, exactly?”

Lew paused at the crest of the hill. “Us ain’t got much of a patch. They English bitches nabbed most of the good land.” Facing west, he pointed to a line of trees marching along the top of the valley, and east, to what looked like an artificially constructed ridge, a miniature echo of Offa’s Dyke. “This here is about it, east to west. Us goes north till us hits the Heavingjobby Chapter, and south until us gets to the Berlinjobby one.”

“What – you walk right round it every day?”

“And the rest.” Lew looked at him amazed. “Ain’t you done it before? Blokes up where you come from must be doing it, too. Every chapter do do it. It’s the only way to keep them out, ain’t it?”

“Uh,” said Morgan. The others all stared at him. Everyone knew that. Their eyes narrowed suspiciously. Then, enlightenment dawned on Mighty Lew’s face. He grinned and clapped Morgan on the back.

“Ah, ’tis about porkicide, ain’t it? That right, ain’t it – you ain’t made a kill yet? No need to be ashamed, lad. We all been there.”

“Ah?” chorused the others, “Ah?” and, Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?”

“And that’s why you been sent to us, ain’t it – to sort out this Pig business and see if us old hands can make a proper provider of you.” Lew turned to the others. “Take him out tomorrow, won’t us lads? Make sure him gets his pig?”

“Ah,” enthused the others, with nods, and gap-toothed grins, “Ah,” and, Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

“But for today, us’ll let he be an honorary bloke.”

“Ah,” the others agreed, “Ah,” and, Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah,” and, “Ah.”

They continued towards the boundary. Morgan saw that a large stake had been hammered into the ground a few feet from the road. When he was near enough to see that it was a totem pole covered with carved symbols indicating, with their ever optimistic upwards thrust, the male gender, the leather bottles were unstoppered, heads were thrown back, and a stream of greenish-yellow liquor was aimed at the back of the throat. Morgan felt obliged to follow suit…and choked. Never, in his entire life, had he encountered anything so foul. It was worse than the pondweed tea, far worse than senna pods, and worse even than Mam’s experimental health brews. It was about on a par with something pretty bad, though greener and murkier, lingering at the edge of his memory.

“’Tis a bit different from your recipe, I dare say.” Lew visibly swelled with pride, assuming that the pained expression on Morgan’s face was awe. “’Tis pork and dandelion champagne with wild barley – does the trick right enough.” And with that the whole troupe took turns, one after the other, at peeing copiously along the boundaries.

Getting a Billy goat to pee along the boundaries of a smallholding, or attaching bits of rag soaked in its urine or, even better, its rutting spray, to hedges or barbed wire fences, is a time-honoured method of keeping out foxes. In the Marches, and on into rural Wales, it is assumed that human male urine is a reasonable substitute. Women have always found such practices repellent. In this context, using dandelions was a fairly sensible idea. Leontodon taraxacum, dent-de-leon, pis-en-lit, wet-the-bed, pishamoolag, pissimire, is an extremely effective diuretic. The throughput achieved on this particular occasion was remarkable.

Piss a-bed, Piss a-bed, 
Barley butt,
Your bladder’s so heavy
You can’t get up.

“Have another drink,” suggested Lew, aiming high. “Gotta be done, for ’tis the only way to keep the bitches out.”

“How far away are they?” Morgan felt obliged to keep the conversation going, if only to mask his inability to contribute fully to the proceedings. Lew sniffed, and shook, and laced up.

“Five miles that-a way,” he jerked his head towards Wales, “less there,” with a nod at England. “Used to be that all the white witches lived in Wales, and all the black ones in England, but you know women. Can’t keep nothing cut and dried.”

Having emptied the first bottle, Lew had reached the amiable stage of intoxication. Morgan quickly substituted his hardly touched one and gauged it pretty safe to ask a few more questions.

“How did it all come about, Lew? Women with their own nation states for God’s sake? I mean, men and women, didn’t we all used to live together?”

Lew frowned. “Don’t they teach you no history up there? Where did you say you come from? Clun way, was it?”

“Near there,” agreed Morgan, tipping up the empty bottle.

“Well, wherever it bist, them shoulda told you.” Lew also took another long swig. He grinned. “Look, yours be empty. Here, get some of mine down you.” He watched. “That’s right, that’s the way. Now – how it came about was the mothers, see, them got the upper hand and tried to phase males out. When it come to choosing whether they’d have boy or girl sprogs, they all started choosing wenches. Supposed to be, what were it they said? Oh-ah, females were less trouble and higher achievers and more likely to look after them in their old age.” He sniggered. “They soon changed their minds when the Disaster come and they lost all their technowatsit.”

“Disaster,” echoed Morgan. “Technowatsit.”

“Advantage wiped out in an instant. Us all had to go back to the old ways.”

“Old ways.”

“Too late now – we ain’t budging. Not after the way we was treated. Thing you gotta unnerstand, Morg, is we got the magic chromosome and them bizzoms, they ain’t having it. No danger.”

“Chromosome,” said Morgan. “Not having it. But doesn’t that mean the end of human life?”

“Ah. That’s right, Morg. You got it in one. Hold on a few years, us can have every bit of land, far as Marpessa can roam. They bitches won’t be bothering we no more. Serve them right, and all.”

“But men won’t survive, either—”

“Have another drink,” insisted Lew, brushing logic aside. “And help we finish watering they boundaries.”

Morgan’s brain fogged over. At the same time, compassion stirred somewhere behind his pectorals. Men had it tough. What a waste of life this was, this endless downing of copious quantities of alcohol for the express purpose of producing copious quantities of urine. Women again: truly they were at the bottom of all the misery of the world. God damn it, why shouldn’t blokes live peacefully on their own, minding their simple business, without this constant pissing around for personal freedom?

“I’ve got a better idea,” he announced. “The Marches has been lumbered with holding England and Wales apart for far too long. Let’s cut ourselves free forever. Float out to sea. Become an independent testosterone island republic.”

“Ow we going to do that then, Morg?” Lew’s tone was kindly, but patronising.

“Ah?” came the chorus, “Ah?” and, Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?” and, “Ah?”

Morgan grinned. With a flourish, he started up the chainsaw. His audience hastily retreated, howling profanities. The blade bit and began gouging a deep channel through the red Hereford-Radnor clay. Lew nonchalantly swaggered back and straddled the trench.

“Missed a bit!” he yelled.

“What?” Morgan’s leg paid the price of his inattention. The blade chose that precise moment to strike a stone and bounce spitefully back, completely severing his left foot at the ankle. He looked at it, sitting there, expressionless, abstracted, detached. Reality kicked in. In so far as that was practically possible.

Oh, shit. It hurt. It was time to go. “I WANT TO COME BACK!”

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 Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press).

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 9

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

The visible universe could lie on a membrane floating within a higher-dimensional space. The extra dimensions would help unify the forces of nature and could contain parallel universes.

—Savas Dimopoulos

listen: there’s a hell

of a good universe next door; let’s go

—e. e. cummings

Psychics have long suspected the existence of one or more parallel universes, and have often speculated that there may be doorways or portals in certain areas that allow entities to travel into our dimension and vice versa.

—J. Magonia, Worlds Unseen, 1999

What with his legs getting tangled up in the voluminous folds of the rather stylish rose-pink cloak thing he’d been lent to cover his shameful half-nakedness, Morgan was initially down more than he was up. Fashion of any sort being a covert hobbling device, what else did he expect? Away from the houses it became easier. At least there was less to bump into. But he still had difficulty in keeping up with his companions: better night vision on their part, perhaps, or maybe they were used to being perpetually in the dark about everything.

Then the moon heaved itself above the hilltop. Even the Man in the Moon had suffered a sex change: head thrown back, eyes closed, her mouth gaping in unrestrained orgasmic fervour. The countryside was now bathed in murky, cabbage-water light and Morgan no longer needed his hand held, as it were.

They’d reached the pond. The stone circle was already in sight, only furlongs away. With the exception of the two boys carrying Sernunnos, the rest of his companions dropped daintily onto their stomachs and began squirming up the bank. Morgan floundered after them, hampered by the cloak, which for decency’s sake he’d promised not to take off, and which trailed behind him like the draggled wings of a wounded fruit bat.

He was almost there, almost home. The minute he got back, Mam or no Mam, he’d have a quick wash and brush up, spray on half a pint of Brut, iron the front and cuffs of a shirt and coax the mini into Hereford. Tonight, it would be enough just to walk the streets, through the crowds, among his own kind, observing all the relatively normal people of that fair city as they tried to pull or to pick a fight. He could have a curry or a burger or something bizarre in the Church Street meat-free zone. He’d admire the phallic qualities of the church steeples – even the one down by Tesco which used to have the pronounced kink. Maybe he’d even slip a grateful quid or two into the cathedral begging box.

For the first time in hours, Morgan managed a smile.

Seconds later both daydream and stealthy silence were shattered by a burst of yelping, screaming, squealing and barking from above. Morgan froze as six or seven men stampeded past, uttering wild howls of disbelief, fleeing the pale bulk of an enormously distended Venus, squealing protestations of friendship.

“Lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place lub you all lub this lubbly lubbly place.”

Close at her trotters bounded Mercher, nipping, yipping, yapping, swerving, doubling back and egging-on; mostly joining in for the sheer bloody hell of it after hanging around for several hours, bored witless, with nothing to do or smell, ever since managing to lose the kids.

Sernunnos verbally rounded everyone up and calmed them down. “The fat one’s a swine,” he assured them, “and the hairy one’s a hound. Hundreds of thousands on them live on Hertha. They’re harmless – most of the time.”

“Can we get on with this, please?” begged Morgan, hearing distant voices.

“Bugger,” squeaked Rowan, pointing downhill. “It’s too late.”

Several large figures loped effortlessly up the hillside towards them. Morgan gulped at the nightmare size of these Amazons on steroids, bogey-woman emasculators, and strong-arm feminists. No wonder the small crowd melted into the darkness. He dumped the cloak and decided to make a run for it. Not a chance. A determined flying tackle, with the applied optional extras of nail-digging and hair-pulling, and he was done for. One sat on him, adding injury to insult: fourteen stone if she was an ounce and all muscle.

“Hello, what’ve we got here then?” she enquired, in a voice which gave him the willies, being just about tenor, dipping to C on the bass stave, but definitely female for all that. He could tell by the size of her backside, for a start. And she was busily smoothing the crumples out of her fatigues.

“It’s a man,” replied her thick friend.

“Of course it’s man, dipstick. Who else would be out here breaking curfew and causing trouble at this time of night?”

“No, I mean a MAN not a man, a Man-man – a real low-down bastard scum MAN from Hertha. Feel his legs. They’re all hairy and big as tree trunks. And just you feel here and here and here.” Two pairs of hands did a quick running inventory of all the not-sat-on bits.

“Gerrorf me, you fat cows,” wheezed Morgan. “You’re breaking my back. Get your hands off my legs, you dirty depraved bitches. Leave me alone.”

“Watch your mouth, cock. That’s no way for a man to talk. Proper unmasculine, that is. You know what happens to men what try and behave like women. They grow boobs and muscles then their bits shrivel up. Is that what you want? Hertha, you say? Yeh, I think you’re right. He’s bloody hairy all over.”

“Hirsute – that’s the word. Feel under this armpit. You could plait that.”

“Or bead it. Roll him over. Let’s have a proper look. Ooooh, I say. Yes, we’re in luck. Watch those little fists though, bless him.”

“We have to take him down, unfortunately. Still, while we’re here we’d better see if he’s he got everything he’s supposed to have, ten fingers, ten toes and whatnot, just to write in our report.”

“Has this one got a navel?”

“What are you hiding down there, darling? Turn over properly. Let’s have a feel. Big boy, aren’t you? Don’t be shy.”

“He’s got a navel. See – in that little nest there.”

Morgan slapped the air. “Get your filthy paws off me, woman. What gives you the right to lay hands on me? Stop that. How dare you?”

“Oh, bless.”

“Calm down, dear. Calm down.”

“Help me!” Morgan screamed into the night. “Where are you, you bleeding pack of cowards? What happened to solidarity?”

Not that they’d all managed to escape. When Morgan finally emerged from the mini-scrum, the first thing he saw was Rowan, and then Mosaic, both hunched up and pretending to be past anything. Rowan’s eyes were out of focus. Held by the scruff, he was attempting to blow bubbles with a minute amount of saliva and twitching uncontrollably.

“Please, ma’am, can I go, ma’am?” Mosaic clutched his genitals, dancing from foot to foot as he darted anxious glances at the nearest bush, his face creased with the apparent agony of an over-full bladder.

“Aw, get out of it! Call yourself men?”

“Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. Really sorry, ma’am.” Both scuttled off into the darkness without a glance in Morgan’s direction.

So much for Brotherhood: he’d really hoped – but now he had something worse to worry about.

“Nobody would know,” insisted the second voice. “We really should check it all works.”

“Not worth the risk. We’ll have him later. Don’t worry: they soon tire of them. A seven-night from now he’ll probably be on the rota anyway.”

“Spoil sport.”

“You know the score – it’s about his mind, not his body. It’s about how he sees things, not what you see in him.”

Well-mauled, trouserless, and humiliated to the nth degree, Morgan was deposited on a marble floor like some awkward, over-sized package. For a moment he lay still, winded and trying to get his bearings. Women twattled on like starlings somewhere in the background, but he’d been left alone, suggesting a confident belief that escape was impossible. Because the large room or hall or chamber or whatnot was perfectly round, with wide passages leading off the quarters, there wasn’t even a corner to hide in. Above him arched a vast painted ceiling, prototype of Michelangelo’s puny effort, depicting the The First Judgement, featuring a dejected Adam being banished from an Eden looking remarkably like the landscape outside, by a strapping female with inadequate clothes and a great crest of moon-silver hair. There were cats everywhere. And flowers…or butterflies. Even the artist didn’t seem too sure. But all the uncouth animals – dogs, pigs, apes, blowflies, et al – were being kicked out two-by-two with Adam.

Footsteps approached, two lots – an out-of-time quick-march double act and a stop-and-start shuffle – and from different directions. The shuffler, being closer, arrived first: a pair of well-worn tartan slippers slid to a standstill inches from his head. Morgan shifted uncomfortably, picking up a certain smell that he associated with school changing rooms. After everything else that had been endured, he could do without athlete’s foot of the left earhole. A tall bloke, unmistakably human, with a false orange moustache and a matching wig, both slightly askew, bent over him.

“You all right, old chap?”

Morgan clutched at his tweedy turn-ups. “I want to go home. For God’s sake, get me out of here.”

“No can do, I’m afraid. Buck up. Not the end of the world, you know. We Brits went through worse in the war. Anything else I can assist you with?”

Raising a feeble hand, Morgan pointed at the ceiling. “Who’s she?”

“That’s Lilith, dear boy. First wife of Adam, don’t you know. Woman kicked him out. She wouldn’t shave her legs and couldn’t stand the dogs scratching.” The arrival of two pairs of hefty boots signalled the return of his captors and the fellow hastily disentangled Morgan’s fingers. “Ah, time for the off, I fear. Be seeing you.”

“Wait!” screeched Morgan, clawing at the tiles.

“Up you get, darling.” The fractionally smaller of his captors yanked him to his feet. Morgan looked about in vain for Mr Tartan Slippers. He seemed to have vanished off the face of the wherever it was they were stranded.

“That bloke I was talking to. Who was he?”

“That’s Lucan.”

“What, Lord Lucan?”

“How should I fucking know? He’s just a figment. We call him Useless Lucan. Every time he comes, he disappears.”

“Here, darling,” said the other harridan, going ferociously maternal on him. “Let’s get you tidied up.” Pulling a large rag from one pocket of her combats, she spat copiously on a corner and began rubbing the mud from his face and knees. And undoing every one of the jacket buttons he’d so carefully done up. Not so much tidying, as arranging the goods to better advantage.

The room began to fill up with big old women, most of whom should have been well past what they so obviously had in mind, all dressed up to the nines and obviously living in ignorance of the significance of the words mutton and lamb in juxtaposition. They smirked. They simpered. They giggled. They peered and they prodded. They pulled back his jacket lapels to look at his chest. They salivated. And coyly batted cats’ fur false eyelashes. It was all an act. Every bit of power was in their hands. He hated the lot of them.

“How cute. It’ll wash up nicely.”

“He’d look lovely in blush pink. I simply adore the contrast between barbarian savagery and gentle masculine shades.”

“Lemon yellow, I feel.”

“Do you think we could get his hair to grow long?”

“Slim him down a bit?”

“Or fatten him up?”

“Are you sure he isn’t meant to look like that?”

“What – a bit of rough, you mean? Could be.”

“Where did you find him, Diana?”

“Wandering about on the plain in the dark,” said Di, readjusting Morgan’s boxers, the legs of which had been tweaked up and down once too often. “We don’t know what he was up to. It’s probably another accidental – we’ve had quite a few oddities coming through recently. Fall-ins are getting more frequent now that the fabric’s being weakened by all the playing around with radio waves in Hertha – Goddess help us if it rips apart – we’d be overrun.” She looked at him dubiously. “He could have been sent, I suppose.”

“Where are you from?” demanded the nastier one, giving him a shake.

“The Marches.”

“Marches? Never heard of it.We haven’t got anybody there, have we?”

“Where is it?” A meringue blob in apricot took Morgan by the arms and enunciated, kindly and very slowly, “Where-is-Mar-Ches, dear?”

“Be-tween-Wales-and-Eng-land, you ignorant, bloated old—”

“That’s enough,” snapped Di, smacking his legs. “Nice boys don’t talk back. Have some respect for your betters.”

“Well, if he wasn’t sent and you just found him, who’s going to have him?”

“It’s my turn,” insisted a quadruple-sized vision in green.

“It’s jolly well not. You had the one that fell through from the Bermuda Triangle.”

“He doesn’t count, Nepenthe. That idiot was no good to anyone. He didn’t know whether he was fact or fiction.”

“It was better than nothing, my dear Grrrrmaine. I’ve had nothing exotic since the Mary Celeste.”


“Did he say something?”

“Nothing important. You learn to ignore their noises.”


“Shh, sweetie, this is woman talk.”


“Tut tut. Excitable, isn’t he? Touch of hysteria, perhaps?”

“Time of the month, I expect. Listen, darling, you just concentrate on keeping your hormones under control. We’ll decide what’s best for you.”

“But the poor fellow’s got rights, too,” murmured the smallest and youngest of the newcomers. Not bad-looking either, Morgan thought, slim, by comparison with the rest, and with a faint golden sheen to her hair and skin. She reminded him of someone. He wondered if she was of mixed origin. If so, she might have remnants of proper womanly feelings like compassion and knowing her place, together with an inbuilt directive to boost and nurture the bruised male ego. She might take pity and help him escape. He tried smiling.

Instead of responding, she patted his head. “Poor ignorant creature – perhaps we should see what he’d prefer to—”

“We’ll have none of your equality nonsense tonight, Thorns, thank you very much. This is supposed to be a party.”

“She’s young. She’ll learn. Still getting used to her Regen.”


“That’ll do, Thorns. Goddess’ sake, leave off the psychology, just for one night. Don’t you ever get tired of being so wishy-washy unfeminine?”


“Now, now, Thorns, let’s not spoil tonight over a man. You know they’re never worth it.”

Thorns nodded. “You’re right, Nep. He’s not worth falling out over.”

“Rosie—” pleaded Morgan. Everyone gasped. Thorns looked affronted. He had a sense of déjà vu as her eyes flashed, the smile tightened into a snarl, her fists bunched menacingly. He took a step backwards. She came after him.

What did you call me? Do I look like a man?”

Di slapped him. “How dare you address a lady in that way? Keep your foul mouth shut. Now apologise.”

More bodies crowded into the space by the minute, most were carthorse-sized women towering over the few human – the latter carefully avoiding meeting Morgan’s eyes. He took advantage of the crush by backing slowly towards the least busy passage. Di firmly brought him back.

“Look, sweetie, I’ve had enough of this silliness. Behave. You came of your own free will.”

“I damn well didn’t.”

“Well, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, you did, so here you’ll stay for seven years and a day at the very least. That’s the law. When on Mars do as the Martians do. Get used to the idea, chum. Why all the fuss? Look around. Lots of other Hertha-men here. They’re all happy enough. See the one in the bright green? He’s Thomas the Rhymer, our resident poet, been here for aeons. He plays the lute, too. And the black-skinned twins: stunning, aren’t they? Romulus and Remus – none of us can tell the difference, but we don’t have to. They come as a pair. There’ll be plenty of company for you when you’re not working.”

“Working at what?”

“Silly boy.” Di laughed and patted his bum. “Not another word.” Morgan opened his mouth to argue and her benign expression instantly changed to a lethal I-mean-it Mam-type glare.

“I’ve just had a wonderful idea,” said Grrrrmaine. “Why don’t we give him to Kerridwins as an extra birthday present? He’s Welsh—”

“I’m not.”

“And you know what a thing she’s got about Celts.”

Everyone beamed at her. “Brilliant! You have such wonderful ideas, Grrrrmaine.”

“Oh, go on,” Grrrrmaine nonchalantly re-pinned her wild green hair, “not really. I’m simply pragmatic – and philosophically flexible. You know how generous Kerridwins is, though. Struth – we’ll probably all get early regeneration.”

“That’s a thought. And you have so many.”

“We ought to dress him up like a Celt.”

“Don’t they go round like this normally?”

“Something on the legs, I think.”

“What – like greaves? That would be a shame.”

“And I think there’d be loads of white clay in the hair.”

“Ugh. No, leave him au naturel. Let’s gift-wrap him.”

Morgan flinched as someone produced several yards of a diaphanous pink fabric. A dozen hefty women advanced on him.

“Quick, she’s coming.”

“Bugger that,” said Morgan, bunching his fists “Hands off. I’m not being wrapped up like a thing.

“Don’t you enjoy giving pleasure?” asked Di. “Goddess, what sort of man are you? Hold his arms, Pickup.” The nastier one stood on his toes and effortlessly clamped his arms to his sides. “Great. Now, we’ll simply twist this round here, and through there, between these, and over there. That’ll do.”

The crowd parted and through it sailed a massive woman. Morgan’s eye widened with horror. Even through the gauzy material he recognised her. It was that woman – BB, big as a bus, all done up like a Christmas tree. And if it wasn’t her, it was her even uglier sister. The more he struggled, the tighter Pickup and Di twisted the fabric. His squawks of protest were drowned by a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’growled in voices artificially lowered to somewhere near bass to match the importance of the occasion.

The wraps came off.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have. Oh, bless! Just what I’ve always wanted.”

For God’s sake, it was even her voice.

“Where’s he from? Where are you from, cutie-pie?”

“Down under,” said Grrrrmaine. “Oh, you mean him? An outpost called Wales.”


“Oh, Grrrrmaine, you always produce the right answers, right on cue. Wales is my absolute favourite. And what’s your name, sweetheart?” Kerridwins gave Morgan’s arm a playful little slap which left a row of rapidly purpling wheals. “Come on now. Out with it.”

“Morgan Llew—”

“Morgan? Isn’t that a girl’s name? Bless. Never mind. We’ll find you a more appropriate one. Welsh, hum. Daffodil might be nice – Oh, got one, have we? Violet? No. Daisy? Tulip? No. King-cup? Not really. Something tall and green perhaps. Hemp? Reed? Leek? How about Hemlock? What’s that in the Welsh? Tegid? Cegid? Cegit? Git for short. Yes, Git it shall be. That’s nice. I simply love everything Celtic. We’re going to get along just fine. You can do bookkeeping, can’t you, Git? I’m sure you can. You shall be my secretary.”


She bent towards him and whispered: “It’s just a euphemism, dear.”

“Don’t care what it is, the answer’s no.

“Now you know you don’t mean that.” Kerridwins chucked him playfully under the chin. “Everyone knows that when a man says no he means yes, oh, yes yes ye s– yes, please. It’s in his nature. He just can’t help himself.”

“I said NO and I meant bloody NO.”

“Oh, go on with you.” She turned to Di. “Show the dear little fellow to my suite. He needs cleaning up a bit. He’ll soon settle down when he’s been given the drink. You will, won’t you, dear?”

“Not a chance. Let go of me, you ugly bitches. Leave me alone.”

“No need to be coy, dear.”

“If I’m supposed to be employed by you,” he bawled, “this constitutes gross sexual harassment in the workplace.”

“No such thing,” Kerridwins calmly assured him, throwing open a hitherto concealed door. “This is exactly what you hoped would happen. Silly boy, you know you wouldn’t have come here dressed like that if you didn’t.”

It’s often said that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t put a pudding into a gatepost – or a gatepost into a pudding for that matter. Of course you can. At least you can when it’s sexual imagery. Next morning there was her majesty flitting around a room that was nearly all bed looking pretty smug and him black as a thundercloud still with his socks on.

“Oh,” Kerridwins purred, “don’t worry about it, my little kitten. You’ll improve, I dare say. And don’t forget we’ve got seven whole years to get it right. Well, can’t hang around all day reassuring you. Fragile male ego, or not, we women have important work to do. Tidy up a bit, there’s a good blossom. Pick up my clothes. Make the bed.”

“Fuck that. Where are my clothes?” Morgan demanded, in a voice several shades more petulant than he would have liked. He was a MAN. How dare she expect him to perform on cue, when she fancied a bit. Men didn’t solely exist for providing sexual gratification for the opposite – or adjoining, abutting, vicinal, conterminous, near enough, real or imagined – gender. As for doing domestic work, was he some sort of slave? This wasn’t on. It really wasn’t. What sort of a world was this?

“Now, Git, as I’ve told you a hundred times, drink your tonic and you can have some nice new clothes and go outside for a little walk round. Here you are. Two big mouthfuls that’s all. Be a brave boy.” He lashed out, trying to knock the goblet over but she was too quick for him. A single drop spilled onto the crumpled bedclothes. It sizzled. At that Kerridwins went all mean and nasty. “Get it down you before I come back, buster, or else.”

Tears of frustration blurred his vision. “Hŵr,” he yelled at the closed door. “Butain, gwrach, buwch, gast.”Thus he exhausted all the approaching rude words he knew in the Welsh.

“Oh, Git,” she said, reopening the door, “I do love it when you talk dirty Celtic. Try and remember some more.”

Cachu hwch.”

Kerridwins smiled. She lingered.

Morgan swallowed hard and decided to verbally prostitute himself. “Why would a beautiful woman like you want to keep me prisoner?”

“Oh, my sweet little Git, when are you going to realise that I’m doing this for your own good. You know what I want from you. Not much, is it? In return I offer protection – from the other women, some of whom are quite dangerously predatory, my dear – and enormous privilege. Only within the secure framework of matriarchy can a real man like you develop his full potential.”

“If you really cared,” sighed Morgan, fluttering his eyelashes and quoting verbatim from a women’s magazine he’d just happened to glance through last time he went to the dentist’s, “you’d set me free. Free to follow my heart and live my life. Free to come back to your loving embrace of my own accord.”

“Right,” Kerridwins looked slightly taken aback. “It isn’t as simple as that though, my little pleasure craft. Even if I’d let you, no human can leave A-noon before time without Lilith’s say so.”

“Then let me see her.”

“Lilith hasn’t been back for a while. All requests have to go through Eve.”

“Then I demand to see her.”

The mood changed abruptly. “Demand? Demand? You can’t. She’s away. Eve hasn’t been here in living memory. And that’s a long time let me tell you, because we’ve mastered regeneration. Play your cards right, sweetie, and you too can live forever.”

“I’d rather rot in chains. I’d rather from my nose unto my chin have the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in. I’d rather—”

“That’s enough of that. Get that tonic down you. Pick up the goblet. Do as you’re told right now. That’s better. I’ll talk to you again when it’s taken affec— when you’re feeling better.” Bang.

Morgan sniffed the stuff. There was an overpowering smell of honey, so far so good, he quite liked mead. But this particular sample looked a bit green about the gills, all murky and moithered, with a faint odour of valerian, which is a pretty enough flower used in love philtres from time immemorial. Cats like it. Rats, too: forget the piping, a pocketful of valerian was the key to the Pied Piper’s success. Maybe it also contained mandrake. Kerridwins was keen on all things Welsh and lover’s mandrake figured in Celtic magic. Gwyn eu fyd y pridd, y gwreiddyn a’r noson hon. Women with all eternity at their disposal wouldn’t be put off by the lengthy rituals of exhumation, naming, reburial, and re-exhumation of its man-shaped root.But there was also the little matter of the fag-burn-sized hole in the bedding where that drop spilled. Morgan poked his finger through it.

“Ninety-nine per cent unmoderated testosterone,” he conjectured, “plus two dollops of Viagra, a pinch of Spanish fly and a little something to scrape the memory clean for good measure. Better than leg irons. I’ve got to get out of here effing quick.”

Humming the best bits from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Morgan launched himself feet first from the window, discovering in the process an eternal truth: it’s always much further down to solid ground than expected. Although the flapping of his voluminous improvised toga slowed him down, he still landed badly, right in the middle of a bed of highly perfumed raspberry-pink flowers which immediately sprang away and clung to the walls. The leaves trembled. Their sharp red talons hooked into both sheet and skin. Morgan rolled away, moaning as quietly as possible, onto grass which was too green to be normal, and as tightly curled as pubic hair springs. Luckily the courtyard was empty with the exception of Thomas the Rhymer, who was sauntering backwards and forwards scribbling erotic verse with a bright purple quill. Morgan limped up to him.

“Thomas Learmont, I presume?”

His greeting was acknowledged with a stiff bow and a supercilious flare of the nostrils. “Thomas of Ercildoune at your service.”

“Tom, do us a favour. Tell me how to find Sernunnos.”


“I’m trying to get back through the whatsit, the portal. One of their old geezers, this Sernunnos, knows how to work it.”

“Sorry, chum, don’t know and don’t want to know.” Thomas sighed. “You know the trouble with female genitalia is that nothing rhymes.”

“Why don’t you come back with me? Being trapped here must be terrible for you, for any decent man.”

“Go back to Earth?” Thomas’s eyeballs, already somewhat protuberant, bulged dangerously. He had no eyelashes, Morgan noticed, nor eyebrows. He’d noticed the phenomenon before, in certain medieval paintings. “No chance. Not with a father who expects me to farm for a living. Overseeing shit shovelling on some miserable Scottish estate isn’t my idea of the good life. I like nature – in its place, in a poem, or through a window. But who wants a career concentrating on every aspect of a cow’s rear end? Would you?”

Morgan shook his head. The argument seemed familiar. “But how can you stand it here with females in charge? It isn’t natural.”

Thomas bridled, which was a fine sight. And, peering closely, Morgan observed that the poet had plucked his hairline to make his forehead look more impressive. “As a matter of fact, I can’t go back until Good Friday and Shrove Tuesday change place. Anyway, I like things the way they are. I’m kept pretty busy, what with one thing and the other. My art is appreciated here. And well rewarded. Everyone reads me. In fact they memorise me. And set my work to music. What more could a creative writer ask for? I suggest you go back inside like a good fellow, have a stiff drink, and leave well alone.”

“And I suggest you, Sire Lief-to-lyve-in-leccherye, take a long running jump up your own backside.”

Take a long running jump / Up my own backside.” Thomas gave this due consideration. “Doesn’t really scan, does it? Is that what passes for poetry where you come from? Are you really sure you want to go back?”


“Hang on. Since you’re in the trade, or at least on the peripheral edge, can you think of a word to rhyme with labium majus?”

Morgan thought about it. Not finding a satisfactory answer, he contented himself with muttering, “You poor sad bastard,” and flounced away. The sight of the black-skinned twins, pounding the path in leopard-skin tracksuits and keeping fit with perfectly choreographed movements, stopped him. They also stopped. To examine Morgan’s sneer.

“Who are you staring at?”

“Who are you staring at?”

“Call yourself men? Look at you.”

“Look at you. At least we’re not wearing our beds.”

“Look at you. At least we’re not wearing our beds.”

“How can you stand it, being ordered around by women?”

By then they’d got their act together and answered in unison, running on the spot. “Leave off making waves, honky. We don’t want to go back. We’re onto a good thing here.”

“All right, don’t go back, take over. It’s only natural for men to rule. You could be in charge here – kings, emperors.”

Romulus and Remus looked at each other and smirked. “Hey, brother, you want to be king?” enquired Remus. “You want women all over you every minute of the day and night?”

“You want to be Emperor and live in ten-star luxury?” Romulus grinned. “You want everything you want even before you’ve thought of it?”

They gave each other ten. “Yeh, we do.”

Thomas sniggered.

“And you could have all that,” said Morgan encouragingly, “if you put women back in their rightful place and restore the natural order.”

“Don’t you get it?” asked the twins. “We have it already, man.”

As Morgan opened his mouth to deliver a sermon on selling, birthright, and messes of potage, one of the side doors opened. Two women emerged carrying trays of seedlings. One was chewing daintily on a yellow butterflower’s wing. Nobody said another word. Their eyes slewed guiltily away. Thomas strolled off, casually pacing between the flowerbeds and muttering to himself while cleaning his ear with the tickly end of the quill. The twins got up speed. Morgan slunk towards the nearest exit.

The street beyond resembled the back alley of a Turkish market. It was hot, dusty and dirty. It was also totally lacking in technology. One might be deliberately indulging in the primitive, as with the most expensive foreign holidays, for there’s nothing as good as a brush with galloping dysentery to make you feel you’ve had a good break, nothing like viewing real poverty at close range to make you feel warm and secure and glad to be home.

There were traders everywhere, pushing through the crowds selling everything from kittens to pastries to handicrafts to netted pots of the flying flowers. Weather-beaten old geezers squatted on the narrow pavements selling fruit and vegetables to house-husbands keen to haggle about prices. From the point of view of the female elite, it was a good system: everything directed towards lengthily servicing their needs; everyone kept so busy beavering away earning a crust they had no time to discover what idle hands and tongues could be capable of.

Clearly the women had no sense of fair play. It appeared that for the most part, men were expected to run homes in addition to engaging in low paid employment.

A few predatory women browsed, fingering lengths of homespun cloth, assessing art objects, desultorily chatting as they sized up the talent. Their eyes drifted in his direction. Conscious that he stood a good head and shoulders above the rest, Morgan opted for making himself scarce and dived down a squalid side street which opened out into an even more squalid square. This was clearly the economy pack end of the city. Rough wasn’t the word for it. Twenty or so ramshackle stalls leaned against each other, selling stuff that fell off the back of the day before yesterday’s handcart. Pushers offered phials of antidotes against the commonest aphrodisiacs. Small time traders hawked jars of one-hundred-and-one per cent guaranteed wrinkling cream, almost genuine syphilis certificates, fairly convincing stick-on boils, rampant halitosis gums, and sore-tattoo kits. The advantage of being in this area was that nobody looked closely at anybody else.

Morgan was just working up to ask for directions out of the city when a low rumbling began. His first thought was of an earthquake…or the local equivalent. Brasmatia, perhaps, like the three-day ambitious slide forward of Herefordshire’s Marcle Hill in 1575. A wave of homesickness washed over him. Then he realised that instead of running for their lives, all the traders were furiously packing away their wares and dismantling stalls.

“The fucking pig’s back.”


“Not a-bloody-gain.”

“Third time today—”

“Why in Goddess’ name can’t they get rid of it? Call themselves women—”

“I notice none of them offers to help clear up afterwards.”

“Never changes, does it? Dirty mindless jobs are men’s work – always were, and always will be.”

“Need some men in charge, Peony. They’d soon sort things out.”

“Right on, Hollyhock, but that will be the day.”

The rumbling rapidly grew louder. Another sound rose, a siren, a signal, a two-minute warning, a desperate ululation that contained within it the voiced race memories of millions of stuck pigs cut off in their prime.

And if pigs have had it rough, sows have had it even rougher. Grilled uterus of sterile sow was a delicacy in imperial Rome, soaked in brine, rolled in bran, served in a hot wine sauce. But this was as nothing besides a patrician dish of sows’ vulvas and teats. Pliny was of the opinion that those of sows who’d absorbed their first litter had the better flavour; others preferred the taste of virgin organs. Pigs were always valued – in first-century Gaul a piglet fetched five denearii, five times more than a litre of wine – but this business of porkers being held sacred doesn’t ring true. Jupiter might have been suckled by a sow, but that never stopped anyone enjoying a bacon butty.

Venus was almost upon him before Morgan realised that the bark and wail of despair was prompted by loneliness and not fear of the butcher’s knife.

“My brother, O my brother, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Shit. If it took one to know one, then she’d smell him out. She’d betray him. I’m not your brother, he wanted to scream, whatever they say, Morgan Jones-Jones is not a Pig. Nil suidae. Or mochyn.Not even a porcelet, thank you very much. Instead, he took one look at the massive dust cloud proceeding the thunder of trotters, flipped the acre of sheet over his arm and ran like hell from the mayhem and uproar, the screaming and cursing, the shattering of earthenware, splintering of wood, the oink and squeal of Venus denied, ending up bent double and breathless in a dingy courtyard hard up against an abandoned toadstool house. It was a collapsing Coprinus comatus – Shaggy Inkcap, Lawyer’s Wig – covered with creepers and almost strangled by encroaching trees. Black ink oozed from the deliquescing gills, outlining the rounded cobbles, the patches of viridescent moss.

Morgan sank gratefully onto the doorstep and closed his eyes. Birds sang. A few neglected flowers vibrated their wings. It was nice. It was peaceful. Somewhere nearby a particularly pleasant sound could be heard – the splashing cadences of some water feature, an artificial brook tumbling over rock perhaps, or a weathered nymphet pouring water from her lichen-stained urn. Feeling a sudden desire to drink, to splash his face, to cleanse himself of the veneer of terror, Morgan padded eagerly towards the shadowed corner from whence the sound emerged.

There was no fountain. No spring. No water feature.

Instead Morgan discovered a small gargoyle having a slash against the wall. His jaw dropped. He’d thought himself immune to the grotesque, but this creature, elf, imp, goblin, or whatever,was something else again, more really truly Other than any of these other truly Others. The face was older than Neanderthal nightmare, warped and twisted, resembling a frying mass of soft cod roes, a pickled walnut, or a section of coiled and convoluted intestine compressed in a jar of formaldehyde, even cervelle de canut – a cheese dish from Lyons known as silk-worker’s brains, but that’s another story. Morgan finally decided the creatures physog looked like its own head turned brain-side out – with cursory finger-modelling to provide an approximation of humanoid features. The nose was an off-centre spike, its mouth a lipless purse, and the ears were huge afterthoughts, bigger than its hands, flapping bat wings with tips so long they’d been looped up over its scarlet jelly-bag hat and tied together in a lopsided knot. It – he – was wearing an oversize emerald green Babygro, damp, stained, and fastened from crutch to Adam’s apple, with at least fifty unmanageably tiny buttons. The sudden appearance of Morgan made the creature jump like Hertha. His aim, already bad, was directed against himself.

“Leave me be. Leave me be. Bug off. I ain’t doing nothing wrong,” the bwca whined, hurriedly doing himself up and making a complete dog’s dinner of it. “Ain’t you a stud? What are you doing spying on me, hey, hey?”

“Who are you?”

“Who am I? Who am I? I’m Cupid, you silly ignorant sod.” He kicked Morgan’s leg with a dripping foot. “Bug off. I ain’t done nothing.”

“Cupid, my arse.” Morgan grabbed the creature by the scruff and lifted him up so that they were face-to-approximation-of-face. He sighed. Life was full of disappointments, but anything less like Arthur Mee’s depiction of the god of love, son of Venus, as a pretty, naked boy with wings and a quiver full of arrows, he had yet to see. “Where’s your wings then, you ugly little weasel?”

“Loki, then. I’m Loki, all right? I got to go. I got to go. Put me down. You’d better, or else I’ll be pissing all over you.” Dropped from shoulder height, the homunculus bounced twice – “Aw! Aw!” – before scuttling back to the wall to resume urinating. “Can’t help it, can I? No, I can’t. Not my fault I don’t hold water. What do you want anyway?”

“Have you any idea where I can find Sernunnos?”

Loki darted a sly glance in his direction. “I might have. I might have. Depends who it is doing the asking.”

Morgan hurriedly stepped back, avoiding the foaming spring tide, and explained his predicament as succinctly as possible. “So, can you help?”

“Maybe I could. Maybe I could if you made it worth my while. If you made it worth my while, I said. You got any cheese on you? Any cheese? I could murder a sliver of Cheddar.”

“Sorry, not a crumb. Now, can you take me to Sernunnos?”

“Or cream? A thimble of milk? Skim would do. You’ve no idea what it’s like, three hundred years without a sniff of Stilton. I still get the cravings. I still get the cravings, I tell you, and withdrawal symptoms. Don’t gawk at me like that. All right for you lot living in a land of milk and rennet, curds and whey, and junket. See, while you weirdos go for fungus – fungus, I say – all your mouldy-grape and rotting-grain brews, I get – used to get – my highs off dairy products. So, like I said, it depends.”

“Depends on what?” Morgan watched in disgust as the buttoning-up process began again.

“On you agreeing to take me back with you, of course.”

“You wouldn’t like it. Things have changed. There’s hardly any countryside left, for a start. Traffic everywhere, and low flying jets all summer. What with the noise, pollution, swine fever, foot and mouth disease—”

“Fuck you, then. Fuck you, I say. I’m off.” Loki glared, arms akimbo, and started to disappear from the feet upwards. The grey-matter face hung on the air for a few seconds longer than the rest, pia mater quivering, the two halves of frontal lobe executing a restricted jig as they bulged up and down on each side of the longitudinal fissure.

When he’d finally gone, Morgan stopped retching and took stock. Bad move. He should have said yes. Greed was the strongest motivating force that existed. And he could have fanned the creature’s dormant addiction with talk of Welsh rarebit. Who else would he find to risk his neck for what could be shovelled down it? Too late now – or was it? A stench of dried ammonia lingered. Small ripples were spreading out from the puddle as a splatter of yellowish raindrops disturbed its surface.

“All right,” Morgan conceded, “when I go, you go. Is that a deal?” Why not? Who cared? Back home, the undersized monstrosity could soon be knocked on the head.

Loki slowly reappeared, his approximation of a grin first. “Promise there’ll be Cheshire and Wensleydale, Blue Vinny, Coquetdale, Derby, and Sage Derby.”

“Plus Hereford Hop,” Morgan attempted to look pleasant. “Now which way do we go?” Sensing a slight hesitation, he added a few other cheese names gleaned from the supermarket deli counter. “And as much Lancashire, Red Leicester, Coverdale, Curworthy, Single Gloucester and – uh, uh, what else? Oh, and Double Gloucester as you can eat.”

“Down here.” Loki scuttled behind the toadstool and pushed through a gap in the hedge. Masses of flowers flew off in all directions. Several thorns felt moved to attack. Morgan fought back and emerged from the foliage to be confronted by endless rows of membranous egg-shaped houses, arranged in a neat grid, reminding him of Mam’s egg trays. “Straight on till we come to the double-yolker,” said the little monster, “then sharp right, sharp right, I say. Stilton, Stilton, yum-yum, I love Stilton. Come on. Come on, I say, what you waiting for? Dorset Drum, Shropshire Blue, Denhay, Yorkshire Blue—”

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 Gretel and the Dark (Hamish Hamilton) and Once Upon a Time in Paris (CentreHouse Press).

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 8

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

When seven long years had come and fled;
When grief was calm, and hope was dead;
When scarce was remember’d Kilmeny’s name,
Late, late in a gloamin’ Kilmeny came hame!

For Kilmeny had been, she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew.
—Kilmeny, James Hogg, 1770–1835

This bed was damned hard. How was a bloke supposed to get a decent night’s sleep with bare springs poking into his stomach like witch’s fingers? Trouble was, Mam didn’t agree with new-fangled ideas like replacing mattresses more than twice per lifetime. According to Mam-wisdom, those properly exhausted by the day’s labours could nod off anywhere, ergo, if you couldn’t sleep, better get your lazy backside outside and do more strenuous work. Men’s work. Cleaning out the cesspit, for example, or surreptitiously chopping down a neighbour’s trees and hauling home the firewood, or slaughtering that damned pig. Morgan sighed, for thus it has always been. Even so, he couldn’t remember ever being this uncomfortable before.

Morgan opened his eyes a temporary crack, only to be dazzled by the unbearably bright morning light. Thank God for eyelids. Hang on. Grass? Mud? A small turd-coloured worm and its small worm-coloured turd, a green and black ladybird – surely that meant he was out, not in. Moreover, he must have been lying outside all night, which just showed how much people really cared about his well-being. Levering his torso upright with his elbows, Morgan bum-shuffled backwards until he was supported by the nearest stone column.

The light was still too intense. Oh, oh, oh, his head – never would he touch alcohol again. And what appalling nightmares he’d endured. Something must be seriously wrong with him to dream up such lumpish and overbearing females…unless this was a cross creative artists must bear, their sleeping minds delving into the grossest outreaches of their imaginations for inspiration. Very likely, he decided, though it hadn’t figured in any of the Making a Million Dollars From Your Writing guides he’d studied.

Morgan risked opening his eyes again and this time discovered something very troubling. If it was morning – and it must be because the light was getting stronger by the minute, the sky bluer, the shadows longer and pointier – what was the sun doing rising in the west over darkest Wales? Everyone knew that the sun rose in the east, over darkest Essex. It always had, unless Herodotus was to be taken seriously. Pluto was the only place where it came up in the west. And Pluto was miles away. Good God, global warming wasn’t after all a cynical ploy to instil fear in the masses and make certain self-satisfied billionaire blackguards even wealthier! The ice caps must have melted, flipping the planet over in the night – except that it couldn’t have, otherwise he would have fallen off.

Properly awake now, Morgan observed that the countryside looked all wrong. There was no cloud and rain veil, for a start. No glowering winter sky. No wet black road unzipping the opposite hill. Everything was terribly, terribly green, not to mention wild and lush. Where were the scuffed-stone walls? The thick swathes of stock-proof blackthorn? Blackthorn is vital. And not just for its stock-containing properties. Thorny, pleasant-to-your-face rose for England, aggressive thistle prick for Scotland, flaccid leek for Wales, and deceptively harmless-looking bog shamrock for the other place, fair enough…yet for the British Isles as a whole nothing is more admirably suited to be an emblem of the indigenous temperament than Prunus spinosa.Blackthorn’s not much to look at but has a nasty temperament: rip you to pieces as soon as give you the time of day. Never mind all that extraneous information. He’d use it somewhere, sooner or later. But where were the sagging fences composed of rusty barbed wire and sheets of corrugated iron, with bits of brass bedstead shoved in for good measure? As far as Morgan could see, the slope down to the stream was in the right place, but there was no sign of the farm, the church, or the castle ruins? No trace of the whole damned village for that matter.

And what about the ubiquitous hill maggots, for Christ’s sake? What sort of Welsh Marches landscape has no sheep? Where had everyone gone? Admittedly, there were some funny buggers living round here – spoon whittlers, hop-pillow makers, tax dodgers, benefit fraudsters, craft potters, small-scale dope farmers, and a hell of a lot of keeping it all in the family – but even if the SAS had bombed in from Hereford to do a practice ethical cleanse overnight, and remove all signs of habitation to boot, there would still be sheep. They were what had convinced the Welsh to embrace Christianity on the grounds that the Old Testament was a damn good sheep-farming manual.

Anyway, the SAS wouldn’t have been up for restoring the stone circle. Someone had. Each column stood completely upright, shining in the sun, either freshly sand-blasted, or newly quarried. Morgan trembled. What it boiled down to was that this wasn’t Home. He stared at the alien landscape for a very long time. Nothing moved. It was watching, though. The feeling was exactly like being watched by Mam’s third eye, the one in the back of her head.


Slowly it dawned on him that something else was lacking, an absence infinitely worse. Where were the comforting phallic symbols of the British landscape, the gloriously male monotheist church spires, the chimneys, tall or squat, ridged or hooded, the battalions of pine trees, pillar boxes, BT poles – all those things necessary for the reassurance and sympathetic uplift of the fragile male ego? Phallic significance could be read into anything, everything, everywhere, if you put your mind to it. Not here though, apart from this sticky-uppy stone circle, and being a circle in itself lessened the uppy-significance of the stones. Morgan shuddered. The contours of these hills were such that they all looked like well-rounded bellies and bums and cellulite-dimpled thighs. The landscape vibrated with unrestrained fertility. Even the trees and bushes, and there were plenty of them where there shouldn’t be, for normally sheep nipped off anything that had the audacity to flourish a leafy one-finger salute above ground, were lollipop-rounds – like the paintings of toddlers or overpaid New York naïve painters – every last one weighted down by an over-abundance of bulbous fruit.

Morgan sat. And he stared. He pondered. And he sat some more.

Sheela-na-gig. The name just popped into his head. Why, he didn’t know and not knowing made him even more uneasy. There’s a carving of that gloriously immodest lady on the church at Kilpeck, not so many miles up the road, between Pontrilas and Hereford. Ten-year-old Morgan almost died of shame when he was dragged there for a Sunday afternoon picnic – Mam’s idea of a picnic that was, reduced-price currant buns, carrot sticks and hard-boiled eggs – as a treat during the school holidays.

“Don’t say I don’t take you nowhere, Morgan Jones-Jones.”

At least it made a change from Borth, which was where the family took their one-day annual holiday. There’s a place: Mam Heaven.

“Don’t walk on the sand dunes and mind the marram grass. Oh, look, a shell. I do believe it’s a razor – and another. Pick them all up. Yes, every last one. It will save me buying grit for the hen’s gizzards. And since we’re here, fill these half dozen carrier bags with seaweed for the asparagus bed. Go on. Nobody’s taking any notice of you. Oh, those sea-pinks are pretty. Thrift, it says on the sign: a lovely name. Keep watch while I borrow one for the garden. I just so happen to have a trowel in my bag.”

Nothing else memorable at Borth, unless you counted vicious Welsh seagulls and great big transparent jellyfish dotted about the beach like giant snot globs. Some years a solitary ice-cream van limped over the horizon but Mam was too mean to shell out for a cornet, claiming she didn’t like the look of the vendor.

“Don’t know where his hands have been.”

Getting back to Sheela-na-gig, the woman has no shame at all. No knickers either, the brazen hussy. Go and see for yourself. There she is, crouched on the side of Kilpeck church, not just showing everything she was born with but holding it all apart to make sure everyone gets a proper eyeful – and pulling a nasty face as well. It’s said she’s the fertility aspect of the Great Mother Goddess so what can you expect? Poor Morgan, not expecting to be confronted with anything of the sort, and praying, as he’d never prayed before, to any old god that would listen, that his Mam wouldn’t put on her glasses for a better look, wanted to jump inside a grave and bring the stone down to hide him. In the meantime, crowds of people milled around, complete loonies, being Oh-so-civilised, gawping and muttering, ‘Oh I see’ and ‘how very interesting and ‘gosh, look at that, Pagan and Christian co-existing’, as if nothing was wrong.

Earth and Other, Other and Earth, that’s why Morgan was following this train of thought. He didn’t yet know it because, his head being in the state it was, he’d forgotten the date. We three, the All-knowing, the All-wise know. What that small corbel of the Goddess so flagrantly displays – her vulva, not to put too fine a point on it and use the C-word – is also carved into that archetypal symbol, the vagina-shaped Vesica Piscis. This is the feminine principle of generation from which spring all other geometric forms, the triangles, squares and ‘golden mean’ rectangles that abound in sacred architecture.

Got the picture? No? Fish bladders! Stick with us. This could be important. Imagine an oval formed by two intersecting equal circles. Yes? Well, there you have egg and womb and entrance, representing equilibrium between equal forces, the interpenetration of heaven and earth, of spirit and matter, life and death. It’s a shape extensively used in the Christian church, especially as a frame for the Virgin Mary and Jesus in stained glass windows, though the symbol predates Christianity and the age of Pisces. It was used by the ancient Egyptians in construction of the pyramids, and can be found at some of the megalithic sites. In short, it’s the symbol of creation – and not the imaginary creation of that old man with the white beard and pointy Jupiter finger either. More to the point, it is mankind’s gateway to this world and therefore, inevitably, to – the Other.

Morgan quickly moved on from contemplation of the sacred profane to mindless repetition of The Ancient Mariner, the memorising of which – at the age of fourteen – had not, as expected, increased his pulling power. “It is an ancient Mariner and he stoppeth one of three by thy long grey beard and glittering eye now wherefore stopp’st thou me the Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide and I am next of kin the guests are met the feast is set may’st hear the merry din he holds him with his skinny hand there was a ship quoth he hold off unhand me grey-beard loon eftsoons his hand dropt he holds him with his glittering eye—”

He was interrupted by the arrival of Mercher, who turned up dragging its chain, looking as bad as it smelled while attempting to whistle insouciance through its canines. The dog had nothing much to say for itself today, which mattered not since Morgan wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Mercher sniffed suspiciously at the stones, scraped disconsolately at a bank, then burst into full-blooded baying as Venus erupted from the earth like newly planted daffodil bulbs after an autumn downpour, a land-locked parody of Botticelli, without the shell, or the modesty, but with the haunches. Not that body image concerned Venus – one quick sniff of the fruity air and off she thundered. Few pigs reach the Elysian Fields other than through a bacon factory and rashering severely diminishes the appetite. Moments later she could be seen hurtling up the opposite side of the valley, galloping from tree to tree as she cleared fallen fruit with all the delicacy of a giant vacuum cleaner.

Morgan inspected the hole through which Venus had arrived. He could just about remember falling. As everything seemed to be operating back to front, perhaps today it was possible to fall upwards, in which case he could easily climb back down again. He lowered himself into the pit and began scooping out loose soil with his bare hands. Mercher joined him, panting heavily and trailing strings of drool as it enthusiastically scraped earth from one side of the pit to the other, and as often as not into Morgan’s face.

“Get away from me you stupid fucking animal. Do you call that helping? And did anyone ever tell you how bad you stink?”

Mercher drew back his gums. “That’s rich, coming from you, after the last few days, begging your pardon.”

“At least I never stank of sheep.” Morgan shuddered. “Ugh. Disgusting dead lanolin smell.”

“Not surprising. I’m a sheepdog. I’m Welsh. If there had been any decent entire bitches within a thirty-mile radius I’d smell of them. And before we discuss your personal and if I may say so somewhat solitary and cerebrally-fuelled habits, we’d better get out of here. This hole is starting to heal over.”

They scrambled out. Within minutes the displaced earth had been sucked back into the wound, shuffled down, and new grass was sprouting. Mercher thoughtfully provided a shot of nitrogen. Soon it was hard to see the faintest scar of Venus rising.

“That’s it then,” said Morgan. “I give up. None of this is real. The only thing to do is wait for whatever it is to wear off. I’m going to have a kip.”

Loosening the baler twine, he stretched out on the grass and waited. From time to time he attempted a few breathing exercises to stave off panic. In one-two-three. Hold one-two-three. Out one-two-three. Gasp. Hyperventilate. Fat chance of sleeping though – he was too terrified of what might be around the next corner or under his feet. So he just waited, his eyes flicking here there everywhere. Mercher departed, leaving seventy per cent of his reek behind. The sun clawed its way up the sky. And still nothing else moved.

The temperature rose sharply. It couldn’t be November, thought Morgan. Even a late Indian summer never gets so hot. At this point Coleridge kicked in again and he began to worry about dehydration. Shielding his eyes, he peered into the distance, following the course of the invisible stream downwards, and right at the bottom of the hill, more-or-less where the farmhouse should have been, he made out a nice round little pool.

Another ten minutes and forty-seven unpunctuated lines passed before Morgan risked leaving his sanctuary for a quick drink. Since there was still no one to be seen, he decided on a swim. Off came the baggy old apology for a suit, the detachable starched collar, the cobble-elbowed shirt, the vest, the Union Jack boxers and, last of all naturally, the socks. In he jumped. Tepid bliss. So much so that he turned to positive thinking: either he was still asleep – in which case better be careful he didn’t drown in the bath – or he’d wandered into the wrong valley during the night. It was easy to confuse one with the next. How green was my valley? As green as several hundred other such geographical features, Morgan suspected. As for the standing stones, the Marches were full of the damn things, so many that people hauled them out with JCBs on the sly and used them as gate-uprights, scratching posts for cattle, beer-garden ornaments, even base plates to replace rotten thousand-year-old oak timbers in unsuspected early medieval halls posing as barns. There were at least three other stone circles in the farm’s vicinity. Give it another few minutes and he’d get his kit back on and sort the situation out. As soon, that was, as he’d finished experimenting with the use of a continuous stream of excess gas as a buoyancy aid. But another odd noise, something between snorting and choking alerted him. It wasn’t the dog. Nor was it Venus. He bobbed down, hands clasped round his genitals in the classic man-disturbed-without-trousers pose.

But where were his trousers? Half a dozen hunched pirouettes on the pond bottom, squinting into the sun, established that all the clothes he’d flung down on the bank had vanished. Only the boxers, and his socks – one toe-less khaki and one heel-less black – lingered right at the water’s edge, soaked through from the waves he’d been creating. Not that it mattered, since he put them on underwater, in a heart-warming display of modesty. When Morgan finally emerged, splashing and cursing blue murder, he made out his trousers ripped in half, flapping like death-ship flags from the topmost branches of the nearest tree, with his shoes nearby, suspended like weights on the length of pink baler twine. His effing and blinding was answered by a running chorus of snorting and sniggering, jeering and hooting from whatever bastard creatures had put them up there.

The minute Morgan clapped eyes on them, all hope fled.

There were four perched up in that tree watching him. One thing was certain, humanoid they might be – one of them was wearing his jacket – but they definitely weren’t human. They were as alien as the landscape. Nothing rounded about them though, quite the opposite. They were skinny and spindly, excessively long-limbedand long fingered. Every feature was pointed, ears, eyes, chins, even their mouths were almost perfect V’s. But it was their pallor that did it: pale as the living dead bar a faint purplish blush to cheeks and lips. And with eyes the no-colour of February rain. They were as fragile-looking as dandelion clocks. And the hair, great crests of it – silver, moon-shadow, with just the very tips tinted a different hue for each of them, bright blue, violet, saffron, pink, so that as their heads moved the ends rippled in spectacularly coloured waves, exactly like the coat of Mam’s chinchilla Persian when she had a mind to stalk grasshoppers. Fourteen, or thereabout, Morgan put them at, a nasty age as far as he could remember, obsessed with self and with self-loathing, and preoccupied with the first stirrings of the acne-hormonal crazies. He steeled himself for another quick look. It wasn’t his imagination. Apart from the hair colour they were indistinguishable. Carbon copy clothes, too. Baggy Mao Zedong suits in very pastel shades. The one with the violet-tinted hair stood up on a branch and began a fair imitation of an outraged orangutan, hooting and beating his chest, scraping at his armpits, jumping up and down.

Morgan walked away, hoping the kid would miss his footing. Now was the time to go back to the stone circle and crank up some optimism. He might have missed something, some hole or door or entrance or cave or aperture or shaft or qanat or burrow or tunnel mouth. If it was there, he’d find it. Or, God willing, stumble upon a perfectly reasonable explanation. He might, for example, have blundered into a film shoot. He could still be dreaming. The sharp sting of a hail of unripe fruit on his back put paid to the latter. Little bastards.

Mercher reappeared the instant Morgan set foot inside the circle. The dog did a quick round of all the stones, smelling the base of each before cocking its leg and turning the space into home territory in its own inimitable way. “Weird place, this. Nose doesn’t work properly. I want out of here.”

“Fine. Me too. Got any ideas?”

“Ask them.”

“Ask them?”

“Anubis, was that reflected soundwaves, or just indecision? Ask them.” Mercher crouched, gaze fixed on the middle distance, craning its neck first one way then the other. “Bugger me – fleas are biting hard in and out today.” Thus began a full-scale emergency scratch, followed by a violent ear-shaking, drool-whirling, chain-rattling session, before frantically scrubbing its behind along the grass for about twenty feet, yipping and whining with discomfort. For an unexpected encore, the dog sat down and licked its own testicles.

The aliens watched from behind the stone columns in silence. They were the perfect audience. Only when Mercher collapsed, performance over, exhausted nose between exhausted front paws, did the nudging, pushing and whispering start.

Finally, Blue-hair yelled: “Hey mister, is that a dog?”

“Don’t be daft,” sneered Yellow-hair. “It can’t be a dog. Everyone knows dogs aren’t real.”

“Well it sure as Hertha ain’t a cat.”

“It is a dog,” Morgan assured them. “Belonging to me,” he added, hoping it wasn’t listening. Mercher raised one ear and exhaled, but said nothing. The boys ventured a careful few yards nearer.

“A dog? A dirty dog.”

“Really a dog? Wow!”

“Aw, smell that.”

“No dogs here?” enquired Morgan.

“Not one,” mumbled Mercher. “I checked.”

“You can’t have checked everywhere.

“Did so. Flat world. Came to the edge.”

“Dogs went out with Adam,” said Blue-hair. “They’re extinct. They were Man’s best friend, you see.”

“Everybody knows that,” smirked Yellow-hair.

“So you can’t be from round here, can you?” said Violet-hair. “Did you come through the Portal?” He tentatively laid one pale hand on a stone pillar.

“The what?”

“The Portal. It’s the old way through to the Otherworld.”

“This? The stone circle? A sort of gate, you mean?”

Violet-hair nodded. “Yeh – kind of.”

Yellow-hair snitched his nose. “Everyone knows that.”

“Ain’t much used anymore.” Violet-hair puffed out his chest, pleased to find some jerk who knew even less about things than he did. He lowered his voice. “Leads to a bad place called Hertha where people sell their grannies.”

“The Underworld,” added Blue-hair.

“Terrer,” squeaked Pink-hair, not to be outdone.

“I got lost and ended up here by mistake. No offence but I need to get back right away.” Morgan attempted to sound relaxed about the problem, man to man. “We’re going to have to activate this thing. Can any of you guys help me out?” Violet-hair shook his head. It was quite impressive. But disappointing.

“Nah. You’d have to get a Mother to help you use the Portal. None of us know how. Boys aren’t taught science.”

“And girls are?”

“Yeah, but a girl wouldn’t help you. No chance.”

“Would your mother?”

“They might. Perhaps. If they were in a good mood.” He looked doubtful. “The thing is, not many people use the Portal these days. A whole lot came through many years ago. Not like you though. They were smaller, with,” Violet-hair stretched his eyes into flatter slants, “and sort of browner. But there was something wrong with them. They all died. The Mothers said there’d been tinkering with the building blocks of Nature in Hertha and all non-essential excursions there were cancelled for the foreseeable future. Not that we would have gone anyway. Only Mothers can do stuff like that.”

“I could take you with me,” Morgan offered, desperation overcoming good sense. He opened his mouth to make further, wilder and thoroughly unkeepable promises, but the sheer horror on Violet-hair’s face stopped him. “What’s up? Wouldn’t you like to see what uh Hertha’s like?”

“Boys don’t,” he said.

“Don’t like adventure?”

“Of course they don’t. It’s not masculine.”

“Everybody knows that,” chanted Yellow-hair. Morgan shot him a nasty look.

“Well,” he said, abandoning that line of attack, “better take me to your mother, then. I’ll ask her to get this contraption working. I’ve got to get back somehow.”

Violet-hair fidgeted. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Not many people come through anymore. None of them go back. They’ll want to keep you. The Mothers like playing with aliens.”

“And you’re really alien,” Blue-hair assured him, pointing to Morgan’s chest. “You’re all furry. Not like those brown ones. You’re more like the cats. And that dog.”

“Or the old human-tale apes,” observed Violet-hair. He looked thoughtful. “You might be the missing link.”

“All right,” said Morgan. Mustn’t yell. Mustn’t shout. Mustn’t seize the nearest heads and bang them together. Must keep calm at all costs. “So, your mothers probably won’t help me. Fine, then let’s go ask your fathers.”

They all looked at him and then looked at each other, before wrapping themselves in a mini-scrum. After a few minutes they emerged, cheeks a little more purple-flushed than before and not meeting his eyes.

“It’s dangerous,” announced Violet-hair, “and unmasculine. We’d be in real trouble if we were caught. But we’ll do it if you give us the dog.”

“Sod that for a game of shepherds,” snarled Mercher, preparing for the off. “I’m not going anywhere with those wankers.”

“Done.” Morgan had already dived on the chain. He wrapped it round his wrist.

“Shutup,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “How else are we going to get out of here? Go along with it for a bit. Be nice. Wag your arse. Lick and slobber. Entertain them. Do something disgusting. What do you mean like what? Just act natural; do the things you usually do. Snuffle at their genitals. Sample a few assorted turds. Pee against church doors. That’ll keep them quiet. Meet me back here in a couple of hours.”

“I don’t trust you. How do I know you won’t bugger off and leave me here?”

“Because I’m relying on you to keep the farm clear of cats. Look – we’ll go into partnership. I’ll buy a proper gun, maim them, and you can finish them off. We’ll market the fur.”

“And get me a couple of young bitches?”

“Yeh, yeh, whatever you want. All right, let’s go.” Morgan handed the chain to Violet-hair, who passed it on to Pink-hair. Mercher licked all round, grinning and wagging and making enthusiastic little let’s-go-play runs, almost pulling Pinkie over.

“Me and Hyacinth are taking you to the fathers,” said Violet-hair. “Crocus and Orchid are going to hide our dog where the Mothers won’t find it. You know what they’re like.”

“Don’t I just. Mothers!” Morgan had a sudden and inexplicable vision of death-mask bared teeth, tried to think, drew a blank, and left it at that. They started off down the hill in the direction of the pond. A long drawn-out wolf howl stopped them dead in their tracks. Already Mercher was playing up, grizzling and digging its heels in.

“What’s the hell’s the matter now?”

“Not spayed bitches?” howled Mercher. “I know what cheating bastards humans are. And no fobbing me off with dachshunds or Chihuahuas or any such abnormalities. Promise me?”

“I promise to let you choose your own bitches,” shouted Morgan. “Now can I go? Can we get on with it?” They continued down the slope. “Hyacinth, that’s an unusual name for a boy.”

“Suppose,” said Hyacinth.

“And what’s your friend’s name?” asked Morgan, nodding his head at Violet-hair.

“He’s called Lupin. What about you?”



“All boys are named after flowers. They’re nice masculine names. Pretty. Not like some of the poor old guys. Morgan’s not too bad, but imagine,” Lupin grimaced, “being called Sernunnos, or Hermaze.”

“We’ve got to be careful,” Hyacinth cautioned him. “We’ve got to keep out of the way of the Mothers and any rotten girls prowling around. Especially with you half-dressed like that.”

“Why?” asks Morgan, glancing down. He’d got his vest and jacket back, but no trousers, of course, and his dad’s old shirt hadn’t stood up to the rough handling either. He looked all right though – just a bloke who liked wearing shorts. “Is there something I should know?”

“Let’s hope you don’t find out. They’re all bad news. Mean. Cruel. And they’re bullies. Never let them get you on your own.”

“Never trust any of them, no matter how nice they seem,” piped up Lupin, sounding as if he was reciting a lesson, “they’re only after one thing as any father will tell you. All of them will interfere with you given half the chance. Let a bad Mother get her hands on you and you might never be heard of again.”

“Oh.” Morgan straightened his face. “I see. So where are you taking me exactly?”

“To see a really, really old bloke, to Sernunnos.” Not a leader, it turned out. Men didn’t have leaders. “Sernunnos is so old he was about when things were different and there’s just a chance he might remember how to use the Portal.”

By now they were trooping along the valley bottom, the boys getting more jumpy by the minute, speaking in whispers, keeping under cover, flitting from tree to tree, and encouraging Morgan to crouch lower so that he was hidden by the foliage. Soon the rampant greenery subsided into manicured parkland. Birds started to appear: small and every colour of the rainbow, moving in noisy flocks several hundred strong and reminiscent of starlings. There were butterflies, too, and flowering plants…or not. He wasn’t sure. The difference was blurred. As was his vision. Both seemed to move…or not. And hum, or vibrate…or maybe not.

Soon they reached the outskirts of a settlement, situated more or less where the old village had stood in the early eighteenth century, with dwellings of sorts dotted about in small arbours, hardly visible until you were right on top of them. This was real Green country. No roads, just grassy tracks. Not a vehicle in sight. The houses themselves were modelled on scaled-up Nature, especially the ones furthest out. Think exaggerated Roger Dean fantasies – cracked amethyst geodes, turned outside in; partially concealed caves with serpentine staircases; interconnected magpie nests or exotically contorted seed pods strung between trunks and approached by gossamer ladders. In addition, there were homes resembling extruded fungi – puff-balls, slender stalked chanterelles with linked walkways, even sulphur polypores piled up like pancakes. Nearer the centre of the settlement the dwelling places were standard dome shapes made out of some opaque material that gave slightly under pressure, a bit like the membrane of shell-less eggs– what Mam, against all the evidence, referred to as cockerel’s eggs. Yolk-less and useless, these must never be brought into the house, but tossed over it. No mean feat—

Morgan squawked as he was suddenly grabbed from behind and shuffled inside one of these cockerel-egg domes.

The first thing he focused on was the cat, a big skinny thing, Egyptian-looking, steel grey with a pure white diamond on its chest. Damn and blast it, he thought, everything else here arse-backwards yet there still has to be a bloody old flea-ridden moggie sitting on a chair. The cat stretched, snarled and dealt him an almighty swipe across his bare legs.

“Fuck you, human.” It stalked out, tail swishing.

“Bastet, Bastet.” Quick as a flash, an old geezer ran after it, wailing and carrying on, pleading with the creature to come back inside. Ignoring him, it arranged itself just out of reach and treated the world to a display of acrobatics incorporating thorough nether hygiene techniques. When they tired of watching that, the egg’s occupants gawped at Morgan.

“Who in Terrer’s this?”

While Lupin and Hyacinth gabbled out an edited version of ‘The Finding of the Hairy Stranger’, Morgan took the opportunity to size up what passed for grown men here. He sniggered to himself. These were puny little creatures, without exception, as stick-insect skinny as the boys. Not much taller, either. And talk about decrepit – all three were mangy and manky and battered, with boils, black teeth and broken nails. No fancy hair for them either: more like six-month toothbrushes – well chewed into the bargain. It was only when they introduced themselves that Morgan realised every last one was in drudge. The hideous scars and warts and boils were painted on. The only one really getting on a bit was Backus, still sorrowfully croaking, “Bastet O Bastet O Bastet,” in the doorway.

As cats’ names go, Morgan supposed Bastet wasn’t too bad. Nothing worse than folks on their suburban doorsteps calling in their moggies with posh names –ZarAthUstra, ErAsmus, RimthURsar, ÆlUrus, TrismOgistUs, ColoQUINtida, MarAnA-a-atha, XanTHIppe, HypERMnEstrAH – all finally descending, in despair, to puss, puss, puss, accompanied by the downmarket rattle of spoon against plate. Even, in extremis, growls of: “Come here, you cooking fat.”

Backus himself was as wrinkled as a raisin, his skin dead-white marbled with purple thread veins, eyes much the same; the last pathetic stub of hair had faded to the colour of old retsina. “Sit down, lad,” he said, finally making a brave effort to pull himself together. “Nothing personal. My Bastet isn’t used to so much bare skin, that’s all. Speaking of which, we’d better get you covered up before someone sees you.”

One imperious hand was raised. Rowan – a stunted, russet-haired fellow – shed arthritic senility to scuttle off and rummage for a sheet which Morgan dutifully wrapped around his near-nakedness, while Hermaze quit drooling and mumbling to bring him a warm drink, a particularly nauseating herb tea.

“Now then,” said Backus, “young Lupin and Hyacinth here tell us you came through the Portal and need a bit of help getting back – and what they were doing up there when they were supposed to be finishing their tapestry assignments I’d like to know but we’ll go into that later. What we need to know is, did you come by accident or design? Were you mucking about with some ritual, or were you summoned?”

“No way was I trying. I don’t want to be here. I simply want to go home.”

“Yes, yes, we understand that. We want to help you, but what we can’t work out is whether you’re a straightforward fall-in or whether the Mothers had a hand in it. They keep quite a few Hertha-men up there. Guests, supposed to be – hanging around for centuries, some of them. Things have been quiet for a while, but we’ve heard rumours of to-ing and fro-ing again, so could be that a talent scout spotted you. Or,” Backus swallowed convulsively, “it may be punitive. You haven’t had a run-in with a Mother have you? Offered physical violence? Answered back? Taken her name in vain? Laughed out of turn? Raised your eyes to heaven? I hope not. I really hope not.”

Morgan’s bowels tied themselves in two half-hitches and a granny knot. “Tall, are they your Mothers? Big?”

Backus nodded. Hermaze nodded. The boys nodded. Rowan put one hand a good foot above his head and drew a hefty hourglass shape in the air surrounding himself.

“Might have.” Morgan’s colour drained out leaving him nearly as pale as the rest of them, barring the sickly overlay of green, as his mind conjured up an enraged Miz Kurswell. She was tall as him, easy. Broad in the beam, too. Front like a ship’s prow, and with Big Hair, white, but ever so tastefully pewter-rinsed. He’d upset her, could not for the life of him remember how – some trifling thing – yet was pretty sure the harridan was out to get him. “Are you telling me that w-w-w-w-women really are in charge here?”

Nobody spoke for a full minute which was an answer in itself. Then Rowan edged up to him, licking his lips nervously and leaning forward to stare into his eyes. Morgan moved as far back as his chair allowed.

“Why?” Rowan whispered. “Aren’t they where you come from then?”

“GOOD GOD NO,” bellowed Morgan, sweating a bit and pressing all thoughts of Mam as deep into his subconscious as he could reach.

“And it works all right?”

“Naturally.” Morgan turned crimson. “Women do as they’re told back home. They wait on us hand, foot, and phallus. Dozy bints by and large. Not a lot up top. Good for some things, mind – the three Ks, you know, and the other – but men run the show, men are in charge, men make the decisions, Oh, yes.”

“Just as I thought!” crowed Rowan, striking a heroic pose. “Not all laughing at me now, are you?”

“Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear-oh-dear-oh—” Old Backus began wandering backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, wringing his hands and taking on again. “Morgan, you poor lad, it’s clear to me that the Mothers have summoned you here for a reckoning. I know it. They won’t be satisfied till they get you up there.”

“Up where?”

“If you ask me…” chipped in Lupin.

“Nobody did,” said Backus snapping out of it pretty smartly. “You and Hyacinth would be better employed inventing some very good reason for not finishing your assignments. We had all this with your embroidered tray cloths, and the petits fours, AND the candle dipping. I haven’t forgotten.”

“We should storm that place,” Lupin shouted, after the obligatory adolescent two and a half minutes of silent sneering and mimicking. “Those prisoners might be from Hertha but they’re still men like us. You lot are always going on about brotherhood and masculism. We’ve got to act. There’s been too much jawing and not enough doing.”

“Right on,” agreed Rowan.

“You-ought-to-know-better-Rowan-what-an-example-to-set-don’t-be-so-silly-violence-never-solved-anything-besides—” Backus paused to suck in air. “Besides, it’s not in our nature. Civilisation relies on the gentle and loving self-sacrifice that masculinity epitomises to, well, to be civilisation. Change is needed, agreed, but we must use peaceful means – negotiation, compromise, diplomacy – lest we turn into what we oppose. Really, I don’t know what it is about this generation of boys. Quite, quite different from how we were at your age. Some of you are very unpleasantly aggressive. Tom-girls. Ugh. But this poor lad, this innocent—” He sighed. “Oh, what shall we do for poor Morgan? How can we help him? They’ll hunt him down sooner or later. Of course they will – their depraved appetites will see to that.”

“You’re jutht their type, I fear,” agreed Hermaze, with much sighing and head-shaking. “The perfect thtud. Ith the hair you thee,” he glanced down to where Morgan’s sprouting knee poked from beneath the sheet. “We’re all lacking in that department – or we depilate quick ath we can – tho they really go for it. In gender thtudith we call thingth like that la différenthe.”

Gender studies,” sneered Morgan. “Male. Female. That’s it. What’s to study?”

Backus shook his head. “You poor innocent.” Stifling a sob, he clasped Morgan’s shoulder. The rest of the group also homed-in, a soft cuddly close-up-as-you-can-get-without-meaning-something-else group buddy-hug, punctuated by little incoherent mumbles, a few tears and murmurs of all brothers under-the-skin solidarity.

“We’ll take you to Sernunnos. Do everything we can to get you home.”

“Remember, whatever happens, we’re here for you.”

“To comfort. Listen. Share recipes.”

“And uglification tips.”

“Bros in adversity. For ever and ever, Ourmen.

After ten minutes of silently flitting between dwellings, Morgan was ushered into a narrow cleft, barely wide enough for him to squeeze through, and guided, backwards, down a spiral stone staircase with steps so shallow it was hardly possible to get a toehold. Although the floor was ridged and rough, the cave at its base was more designer grotto than dwelling. Stalagmites and stalactites joined to form convenient room dividers. Icy water cascaded down a rockface, spilling through a series of pools fringed with ferns and what might have been striking bromeliads – as beloved by Mam – or nasty-looking, mightily segmented insects.

The largest space was unfurnished save for a massive adze-hewn table and some hefty stools. At one end of the table sat a hunched little figure, an older version of the other boys, painting for dear life. This one was as pale and angular as an albino daddy longlegs, with eyes pink-rimmed from inadequate light. His elf-locked hair was splotched a dozen different colours. So were his clothes. This was Mosaic, an underground artist, who threw aside his brushes and galloped to meet Morgan, throwing his spindly arms around him.

“Morgan, isn’t it? If only you knew how I’ve longed for this moment, Morgan. I’ve had these dreams, these visions of a wonderful place where men and women live together in perfect harmony. See? I’ve captured them in my paintings.”

Morgan looked at the images of angular buildings, tall skyscrapers of glass and steel, trees of a thousand sharp elbows, all neatly arranged flanking a grid of perfectly straight streets. And along them strolled tall, powerful, androgynous beings in dresses, politely conversing.

“Is this how Hertha looks?” demanded Mosaic. “Is it how I imagined it?”

Morgan hesitated. “Ye-es.” There were some lovely straight lines, not a curve anywhere, but men in drag? He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as the other’s silence demanded further artistic feedback. “The trees are nice.”

Thankfully, Sernunnos chose this moment to shuffle in, wearing pastel green camouflage and accompanied by Baal, a truly monstrous cat, sleek, black, tall at the shoulder as a Labrador, and with bright red eyes. Clearly this fellow ranked pretty high judging by the way everyone scurried round kowtowing and making sure he was comfortable. Candles were lit. More of the pondweed herb tea was brewed. A rough-and-ready armchair was dragged from an adjoining room and piled high with cushions. Morgan was allowed to approach only when Sernunnos was comfortably settled, blanket over his skinny legs.

Sernunnos really was old, far older than Backus. His hair had only the faintest sap-green tinge to the silver, and fell into two points, which curled forward, like ram’s horns. Bird bones pressed sharp and tight against the puckered parchment of his skin. His fingers were cramp-clawed talons. Nevertheless, his eyes were bright, and when he spoke Sernunnos still seemed to have most of his marbles.

“Well, the good news is,” he croaked, “that I know the dance sequence to open the Portal. I’ve used that route quite a few times myself – illegally, of course, and not for some time, but it’s like riding a uh a thingamajig a what’s its name – short-term memory’s the problem, I can remember Boudica and her shenanigans as if it were—”

“Opening the Portal?” prompted Morgan.

“Ah, yes, found out how by accident. Just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time and saw the Mothers sending a procuress through. What a sight – all done up like a Fairy King, with her muscles strapped down. They do it differently these days, I believe. Siloxane and—”

“Will you help me get out of here?”

“I’ll try, naturally. Dangerous, though. We have to wait until after dark. The Mothers seem to know about everything – eyes and ears everywhere. If they should catch us….” He drifted off for a moment, then brightened, and came back grinning. “Does anyone on Hertha remember me? They ought to, the fun and games we used to have with fertility rites. All sorts of things I was called: the Horned One, the Green man, god of the Other World. All of it complimentary, don’t you know. Popular, that was me – and not just with the ladies. Know why? Eh? Know why? Because it was yours truly who developed yeast. Yes, I gave Hertha men control over brewing beer. And in return, they presented me with the wheel. Not that I was allowed to develop it. No space being a flat world – couldn’t have people falling over the edge.” He sighed mightily. “Those were the days. Ah, those were the days. Mind you, last time I was there things seemed to have changed for the worse. There was some female in charge, calling herself a Virgin Queen. Couldn’t be doing with that sort of madness – too much like home – had to get out fast.”

“I see,” murmured Morgan, trying to keep his impatience under control. “Well, that’s all very interesting.”

“Yes,” agreed Sernunnos. “It is. But what I didn’t tell you was—” He frowned. “Where was I? Ah, yes. I’m in charge of landscapes and gardens here, you know – bit of a comedown, but there you go. Whereas my job used to be breeding new varieties of food plants, these days I’m reduced to supervising the donkey work. Anyway, after the yeast, I invented the potato. Had to work on it in secret. Marvellous vegetable, delicious – banned here, alas. Well, it’s addictive. I mean, have you ever heard of people going back to acorns and couch grass after eating spuds? No. But there’s more to it than that. Oh yes. It was my retake-over bid. Unfortunately, it failed. See, unless you have the antidote, it seriously stimulates the sex hormones – testosterone in men, oestrogen in women, makes men more aggressive, and women more passive. As such, it’s the perfect tool of government: leaves no trace, especially if you persuade them to eat the skins. I’ll never know how the Mothers found out but that’s another story. Couldn’t let it go to waste though. On my last visit, I gave a handful of tubers to some fellow – Rawley or Rally or such-like – in return for the loan of a fast horse to get to the nearest gate. Did the potato catch on? It did. Good. Good. So what’s Hertha like now?”

Morgan scratched his head. “Well, there have been lots of technological innovations.”

“Magic, yes. Go on. Tell me about the struggle for supremacy.”

“In a nutshell, there isn’t one. When it comes down to it,” declaimed Morgan, “men are still in charge, in spite of all the bleating for equality. We let women believe things are changing. We give considerable publicity to overt acts of suppression in other, supposedly more primitive, places. We allow a handful of carefully selected women to get top jobs – but then we make her one of us so that pretty soon she reacts like a man and despises the women who haven’t made it. Basically, apart from those few aforementioned, there are no institutions or areas of government where women have anything else but token roles, except in a supportive capacity. WE are the masters.”

“That’s definitely because of the potato.” Sernunnos nodded sagely, stroking the cat that lay with its eyes open a thin red crack. “All that power in exchange for a broken down nag. Go on.”

“The thing with women that you might have missed,” Morgan continued kindly, “is that you have to keep them busy. Reproduction is very handy. Make sure womankind knows that she isn’t fulfilled without progeny. Four or five sprogs, well spaced out, will keep a woman out of the running for up to twenty years, especially if money’s a bit tight. By then she’s knackered and grateful to stay home and put her feet up. Fashion is good, too. Keep a female focused on her looks. Make sure she knows how she should look to be a Real Woman – which, naturally, must be nothing like real women look. Slam it home. Then keep changing it. Too fat. Too thin. Too this. Too that. Then, by the time she’s lived long enough to be powerful she’s got her first wrinkle. Now she’s too old. Look through her. Pretend she’s invisible. Cue for a nervous breakdown. A lot of energy goes into image that might be severely disruptive if used elsewhere.”

“Thath all very well and good,” lisped Hermaze, “but it doethn’t help uth. I mean, obviouthly your women aren’t like ourth.”

“Hertha women sound completely feeble,” said the one with the pretty powder blue tips, who’d been so busy dusting the rock pools. “Call themselves women – they sound like mere shadows of Our Girls. I like a woman to be a woman. Big. Powerful. Protective. Lots of muscle. Strength of character. It makes me feel like a proper man.”

“You’re a proper namby-pamby,” sneered Morgan. “I’d be ashamed—”

Powder blue’s eyes widened. “You should be ashamed, standing there with your great hairy legs and dirty fingernails. Look at those horny toes. It’s abnormal. You’re nothing but a,” his face twisted with contempt, “a misogynist.”

“Leave it out, Elverin,” snapped Sernunnos. “You’ve never been to Hertha. You wouldn’t understand.”

I wouldn’t want to. A-noon’s quite good enough for me, thank you.”

“Look, most of us aren’t asking for that sort of supremacy,” said Mosaic. “All I want is equality.”

“Why not supremacy?” demanded Rowan. “We had it once.”

“That’s just myth,” insisted Elverin, “people tales.”

Sernunnos shook his head. “It’s the truth. I was there. Long time ago though.”

“I don’t believe you.” Elverin’s blue tips quivered. “It would be completely unnatural. Women were made superior. They were created in the image of God after all.”

“God’s male,” said Morgan outraged.

“Don’t be profane,” gasped Elverin. “How could a Creator be anything but female?”

“He just is. God the Father. Vicar told me.”

“And he’s male too, I suppose. What nonsense. I’m not listening to this sort of blasphemy. You’ll be telling me next there’s no such thing as Original Virgin Birth. Then we’ll be struck by lightning.” Elverin pinched his lips almost flat, which was quite a sight. “Don’t listen, any of you. Leave well alone. I’m all for a bit of liberalisation – letting us choose our own colour schemes and so on, but there’s such a thing as going too far. Bar a few minor niggles, we get along fine. The Mothers know what’s best for us.”

“Ith quite dark now,” whispered Hermaze. “We really ought to make a thtart.”

“And that’s another thing,” shrilled Elverin, “it isn’t right, this going behind their backs. If they’ve called this filthy Morgan creature, it’s probably for a very good reason. You shouldn’t – AW! He struck me. Did you see that? The filthy alien struck me.”

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 7

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

That’s the thing about people from the Welsh Marches, we All-Wise Three have observed, they’re neither one thing nor the other – and sometimes they’re both. Offa’s Dyke was supposed to keep the Welsh out, as were the Marcher Castles…or possibly to keep the English in. A case could be made for either and – again – the research possibilities are worth considering. Be that as it may, the end result was a skinny strip of forgotten land where time, if not standing still, at least dragged its hobnail-booted feet way behind the rest of the country until well past the middle of the twentieth century. Norman French words were still in general usage in the fifties: donnays for hands; toro for a bull; jasper for wasp; even ashyet for a plate. Yes, what it boils down to is a tucked-away bit of land between Saxons and Celts full of funny customers. Of course, for a real good chip-on-both-shoulders moan, being Welsh for the evening is the thing.

“Why wasn’t the M1 built in Wales, tell me that?”

“What did the English ever do for us? The dirty Saxon invaders stole our land, our water, the coal from our ancient forests. They tried to murder our language. They laughed at our women’s funny hats, our singing, and our love-spoon carving – and made filthy jokes about our natural affection for sheep.” And so on and so on.

But if it’s a question of handouts, they’ll switch back to being English pretty damn quick. Mam gave up being Welsh when the Prince of Wales didn’t answer her letters suggesting star-ratings for organic dung; right narked she was.

The Porth’s parlour was a gloomy place, even with lights on and a fire roaring half way up the chimney. Two black marble clocks quarrelled grimly about the time. Morbid religious pictures dwelling on the low points of Christianity lined the walls. A framed text embroidered by Mam in her younger days hung over the fireplace. THOU SHALT NOT, it stated. Needlecraft not being her thing, she’d left it at that.

Most of the mourners stood around nibbling daintily at bits of food. Pugh didn’t. He wolfed it down, same as always, but he had neither good manners nor shame, even going so far as to poke bits of meat down his trouser front for the ferrets. Everyone else had missed breakfast in anticipation of a really good feed. Already stomachs were rumbling nineteen to the dozen, but it was considered polite to decline second helpings until really pressed. Mrs PE understood this. She pressed. Those present then felt obliged to load their plates, achieving spectacular feats of engineering with sandwiches and salad and slices of this and that, but all the time with a resigned air, as if unwilling to give offence. All chutney, however, was left untouched. Everyone knew about Mam’s foraging – that Waterdrop Hemlock might have been meant for Dai, but she wasn’t one to let things go to waste and it could be in anything.

The vicar beamed love and light and sympathy at Morgan. “They were a fine, God-fearing couple, your parents.”

“You think?” Morgan flinched, still smarting from the sobering slaps by means of which Mrs PE had persuaded him to change his clothes. Damn frightening, the speed with which she’d divested him of that suit and forced him into an equally dated brown one. Gentle sex, my arse. And she hadn’t minded where her eyes went. Another drink might help. It was probably time he tried the elderflower wine. True, it smelled faintly of tom cat, but all the other bottles were in circulation. Morgan was hungry, but there wasn’t much left on the table that didn’t contain pig; from both his parents’ and Venus’ viewpoint, pork pie seemed singularly lacking in taste.

“And what is more, they stood by their wedding vows,” murmured the vicar, “a rare thing, these days.”

Morgan nodded vigorously. “As Mam said: Divorce, no, murder, yes.”

Those standing nearby coughed loudly in an attempt to drown his words. Except, that is, for the vicar’s wife, a cowed little church mouse, who’d been prevailed upon to try some blackberry wine and accepted because it so closely resembled Ribena. She giggled and giggled and would not stop until Owain bestowed on her a look entirely devoid of Christian forbearance.

He raised his voice. “They stood by them through richer and poorer, for better, for worse—”

“Worse,” echoed his wife, with feeling.

“Worse and buggering worse, was what Dad said.”

“Till death did them part,” added the vicar hastily.

Morgan opened his mouth. Reece shut it for him.

“Ah,” exhaled the mourners, nodding judiciously and averting their eyes from the scuffle by the sideboard, “till death did them part. Amen.”

Vicar having had his say, the eating and drinking could begin in earnest. Mrs PE discreetly removed the piddling little glasses and replaced them with the half pint tumblers previously concealed under a suitably black cloth. She took her duties as hostess very seriously, at the same time making sure her own glass was never empty. Noticing that the vicar’s wife had finished her wine, she gave her a refill, which speedily followed the first. Next time Mrs PE looked her way the poor love was sitting with her skirt ridden right up her legs, revealing glimpses of tattered underwear any respectable woman wouldn’t have worn for fear of a road accident. And she was patting Reece’s thigh. Vicar didn’t seem to have noticed, but Mrs Reece the Hill was watching them with intense interest, perhaps hoping they’d run off together so that she could burn the farm down for the insurance.

Those of the mourners finally replete began scouring their memories to find something good to say about the deceased. It took some doing. The pauses were long and ruminative.

“Dai was a good farmer.”


“He kept to the old ways.”

“Muck, you mean?” The vicar looked dubious. As far as he was concerned, some of the old ways were extremely suspect. May Day lechery, for instance – the maypole itself was lewd, though nobody else seemed to have noticed the fact. And some of the antics of Morris dancers left nothing to the imagination. And then there was Corn-showing and Crying the Mare, not to mention Scottering and Burning the Bush, which were both without doubt vestiges of pagan sun worship. He’d had to speak very strongly to a group of young people trying to revive these customs in the hope of commercial gain. Everyone ignored him. He’d had his five minutes. No good him going on about gods anyway, pagan or not. His God wasn’t up to much. All right for funerals, and weddings when the bride was six months gone, but if you wanted a real good god-fearing God get yourself over to the chapel. Now there was a God. He was terrifying.

Gradually, and possibly to annoy him, the conversation slid around to even older beliefs – ghouls and ghosts, vampires, and finally, the Twyleth Teg. The F-word was considered unlucky and rarely used. Besides, the local Fa*****s weren’t fragile little winged creatures with clothes fashioned out of flower petals but dangerously unpredictable creatures referred to as Pharisees or, and better, The Fair Family. Mrs Reece the Hill knew a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who had a second cousin thrice removed whose grandmother’s friend used to sell butter to the Fair Family at Carmarthen market. The Plant Rhys Dwfn she called them.

“Pale they were, with white skin and silvery hair. The same size as us, more or less, a bit taller, perhaps. Proud though. You had to mind your tongue. Say something untoward and the money would turn to dust in your hand.”

“Fairies,” sneered Morgan, breaking the taboo. He was too upset by discovering that every last one of the remaining sandwiches contained ham to notice the secret protective signs made by the majority of the mourners. What he really fancied was a nice bit of cheese, a hunk of Cheddar or Stilton. Caerphilly would do at a pinch, or even Double Gloucester. “There were plenty of fairies where I’ve just come from. They had special pubs for them, and a club, but the ugly ones hung round the gents’ on the off-chance.” He chewed mournfully on a vol-au-vent. Neither Chinese Bangles, Iron Maidens nor the Duke of Exeter’s daughter would have induced him to admit it, but his knowledge of fairy tales, watered-down myth, legend and history was better than most. Not by choice. Virtually the only books – apart from the Bible and gardening manuals – allowed into the house during his childhood had been a set of 1954 Arthur Mees Children’s Encyclopedias, bought at a sale for a pound, foxed and smelling of damp. Since these were allegedly educational, Sunday afternoon reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading of these had been de rigueur.

“Careful,” said Mrs Reece the Hill, keeping a close eye on the progress of the vicar’s wife’s hand, “you never know who’s listening.”

“He’s talking about poofters,” explained  Pritchard-Evans sagely, “queers.”

“Isn’t such an utterance classed as racist nowadays?” murmured the doctor.

“Abominations in the sight of God,” thundered Owain.

“There are some right queer things up in the mountains,” declared Pugh, who should have known.

“Ah, Pugh means the Llamhigyn y Dwr – those evil beings that pull men into the lakes and eat them alive. Like giant toads they are, but with wings and a tail.”

“Or the Gwyllion, living alongside the mountain goats.”


“And then there’s the Cipenapers, stealing babies.”

“Ah. Ah.”

“I’ve been buzzed by the Will o’ the Wisp,” said Pugh, caressing a twitching something in his trouser pocket, “more times than I can count.”

“Gnats,” snapped the vicar. “They’re nothing but gnats. Good Lord, the English have done away with this sort of idiotic superstition. While they move forward towards the mid-twenty-first century, certain of the Welsh and their neighbours are still looking longingly back at the seventeenth.”

There was a short pause as everyone tried to wring out the gist of what was probably intended as an insult.

“Our dear departed friend Dai had no time for the English or any other foreigners,” Griffiths finally murmured to nods of approval. Just now, this was a Good Thing, European subsidies being a thing of the past.

“He didn’t have much time for the Welsh either.”

“Ah. Ah. That’s right enough.”

“He was careful though.”


“Being careful never hurt nobody.”


“No?” Mrs Reece the Hill shot her husband a look of pure distilled venom.

“And she was an excellent housewife.”

“Indeed, she was. You could eat your dinner off Gwenffrewi’s floors.”

“Why would you want to?” asked Morgan, genuinely puzzled. “We had plates, same as everybody else.” He faltered before the Look directed at him by each of the women. “What?”

“Oh, and her wonderful garden—”

“Her wine —”

“Ah, her wine….” An expectant pause followed. Being the steadiest on his feet, it was left to Pritchard-Evans to go round with more bottles. His wife turned a funny puce colour. She sat down hurriedly, closed her eyes, and slowly slipped sideways, a shower of silver falling from between her knees. A bit like the girl in the Mother Holle story – except that in her case it had been precious jewels falling from her lips – and the other way round, too. Griffiths saw silver and leapt into action.

“Careful!” shouted Reece the Hill, struggling to break free of the vicar’s wife’s arms, hands, legs. “Don’t touch them. You never know where they’ve been.”

“Watch your mouth,” snarled Pritchard-Evans.

“Watch me!” yelled Pugh, who’d got hold of a demijohn of one of the newer wines, as yet un-bottled, and was demonstrating how he once drank a yard of ale in three minutes flat at Ludlow Fair. Purple liquid spurted from the corners of his mouth and trickled down his neck, creating runnels in the grime. His eyes were crossed, and he was panting by the time he’d finished. Seeing the state of him triggered Pritchard-Evans’ memory. He delicately brought the subject round to that afternoon in 1982 when the emergency services had been called to this very house.

“Took two coppers to break it up,” he cackled. “And one of them got a black eye doing it. Ah, the dear departed were a right pair of sinners.”

“What’s needed,” opined the doctor, who fancied himself an expert on matters of local history, “is a Sin-eater. He’d be passed bread and beer over the corpse, whereby in eating and drinking he took upon himself, ipso facto, all the sins of the defunct. He was given a pecuniary incentive in addition, naturally.”

“What sort of name is Ipsefactoo?”

“The Chinese will do anything for money.”

“Filthy pagan nonsense,” barked Owain, sin being his department.

“Nonsense,” murmured Cadwallader. “Look to your Bible, my good sir, Leviticus sixteen, verses twenty-one to twenty-two. You’ll find the Sin-eater’s origins there in the description of the scapegoat. The rite was supposed to ensure the soul of the departed might be delivered from purgatory.”

The vicar took a deep breath. “Sin,” he began.

Mrs PE had expected plenty of leftovers, enough to feed them all for a fortnight, but the table was bare. She was long past caring, so Morgan roamed the house in search of something, anything, to eat that hadn’t started life as a pig. He discovered vintage custard creams in a canister and wizened apples in what passed for the fruit bowl. There was a great deal of tinned cat food – in case the girls ever fancied slumming it – but the labels were cagey about what, if any, meat had been used. The fridge yielded one cold potato, two shrivelled marrows, half a tomato complete with fur coat, a few gnarled roots, possibly mandrake, wrapped in plastic film, and a bowl of reject eggs. Morgan brightened up. He couldn’t and wouldn’t cook much but he made a pretty mean omelette. Pity there was no cheese. Mushroom, he thought, and stumbled towards the door. At this time of year there should be plenty in the fields.

Outside, the clouds pressed down, biting blur-edged holes in hilltops, paring away the valley sides like a giant eraser. Morgan raised his eyes to his sheep wandering the slopes like lost souls, coughing and complaining, envying goats and their wickedness, and wondering what they’d ever done to deserve it all. A lazy wind came sloping down over the Black Hills and nipped at him through the threadbare suit, wailing all the while like the Cyhyraeth warning of impending disaster. Too late, for that, way too late. Except that he immediately lost the stitch holder keeping his trousers up. But, like father like son – there was plenty of baler twine hanging off nails around the yard. Pink, this time.

Morgan was right, as he should have been after the number of times Mam had forced him out at daybreak to hunt them down, the damp fields were densely peopled with fungi. All sorts – horse mushrooms, ceps, blewits, puffballs, fairy-ring champignons. Right at the edge of the coppice, under a stand of dripping birch trees, he discovered a few very attractive fox-and-white spotted ones. Perfect. He liked a bit of colour.

The gathering of which, we add quickly, being the All-wise Three, only goes to show how quickly common sense drains out on moving into the city. Enter Amanita Muscaria – a poisonous fungus widely used to illustrate children’s fairy-tale books – the caterpillar smoked his hookah on a particularly fine specimen in Alice in Wonderland. Otherwise known as Fly Agaric because of the medieval practice of crumbling the cap into bowls of milk to stupefy flies – or so they said – it is a five-star Timothy Leary hallucinogen used by the Sami people for centuries. So enthusiastic are these Laplanders that a uniquely gymnastic method of recycling is employed, that is to say, they stoop to drink their own piss. And where did the Sami pick up the habit? It was from their reindeer. True, cross our hearts and hope not to change gender. Reindeer go mad for the stuff; whole herds can be rounded up by scattering bits on the snow. It’s rumoured, though we never witnessed this for ourselves, that Vikings went berserk on the stuff.

Symptoms begin about half an hour after ingestion and include uncontrollable twitching, Olympic grade leaping and cavorting, stupor and visions. All of which brings into question the Father Christmas myth and the reindeers bounding across the sky. What exactly was in that first sack? But its use wasn’t limited to relieving the boredom of the frozen north. Dionysus’s Centaurs, Satyrs, and Maenads relied on ritual use of the fly-cap for erotic prowess – and that we were around to witness – plus the gift of prophecy, the suspension of time, and an enormous muscular strength which did Dionysus no good at all in the end.

And then there’s the Druid business. Being picky over food is hardly a British characteristic: quality generally takes second, third, a hundred and fourth, place to quantity. Full mouth, full belly, no questions asked as to its origins as long as it’s cheap, and there’s a pound or two of sugared something or other to follow, that’s the route to the British heart and its death wish. So why are Brits so unwilling to eat free fungi that their Continental counterparts relish? The answer has to be that fear of being poisoned is the last vestige of a deeply ingrained tradition that certain toadstools contain such magical properties that they can only be consumed under the direct control of the Druids themselves.

A brief soliloquy follows, mostly to while away the time waiting for Morgan’s toadstool omelette to take effect, but also because we like the sound of our own voices. Skip it, if you must.

Millennium in, millennium out, priests of most religions come up with a new sacrament, some substance which acts as a catalyst for renewed perception, which is supposed to conduct power, but in reality retains it. Religion is awareness, you see, and awareness is to strive for balance. For Christians the sacrament is wine, supposedly to soften the mind because of the tendency to cold fish emotions and over-intellectualism. That of Zen was tea, which allegedly sharpens the thinking processes amongst introspective people too much concerned with feeling.

But what now – the quest for self-knowledge doesn’t stop just because nobody will accept a Great-I-Am religious leader. In a culture so immersed in objective facts as the present, so addicted to reason, so estranged from the experiencing self, what else but psychedelics can hope to crack the shell? Maybe the taking of drugs isn’t just mindless escape. Perhaps it is the courage of desperation, a flight back into inner reality in an effort to rediscover an inner balance; a search for the tacit knowledge and experience beneath the explicit veneer; a bid to make intellect the instrument of the feelings, rather than the master; a first dip of the toe into vertical, far ranging, non-consecutive sacred time, even while the physical self is being bombarded with the chaos and limited vision of profane time with its even more limited cause-and-effect vision.

If things fall apart, then the centre cannot hold. The Akashic records are there to be read. Kali Yuga dies by its own materialistic hand. And perhaps at some level our randomly Chosen One knew what he was doing.

Morgan wasn’t happy. Not because of the walls, floors and ceiling bulging in, out, out, in, up and down to get him, not even when they tried improvisations. It was hearing the damn cats’ thoughts, all of which concerned him. None were complimentary. Cats have no idea of linear time, thus they were able to rake through details of both his past and future incarnations for dirt-dishing – pigeon shit scraper-up in a Mesopotamian temple, centipede in Babylon, rent boy in ancient Rome, bubonic rat in medieval London, catamite to the entire Hell Fire Club, short-lived lugworm in York, April 3rd–12th 1843, rent boy again in twenty-second-century Lunar City Three, mutant sperm donor in twenty-third-century Newer New York, space influenza bacterium in the year—

“Shut the fuck up.”

“Dog bullock,” spat the Blue Colourpoint, encouraging her friends to join in.


“Septic fur ball.”


Tucked away at the back of the fireplace cupboard was Dai’s old 12-bore, untouched since Mam had used it to such effect in the 1992 fiasco. Now covered in dust, its barrel somewhat bent, the faithful friend was still willing to have a go. Morgan raised it and took aim. The window shattered. A light bulb exploded. Water began to seep from a winged water pipe. Pickled onions burst from a crock like malt-brown ping-pong balls. The cats scarpered. Warming to the idea of bloody mayhem, Morgan took ten league leaps after them – twice round the yard, in and out of the tumbledown buildings, over under over the tractor, up the granary steps, and down again to tunnel through the hay bales. Fuck, fuckety-fuck.

“And me. And me,” whinged Mercher.

“Shut up, dog. I’m listening for cats. Puss-puss-puss, here sweetie, come out, come out wherever you are.”

All he could hear was giggling. After a great deal of heart and pocket searching the Boardman family had decided that going ahead with the fancy dress Halloween party was actually a mark of respect for their poor dead neighbours. Life must go on. And on and bloody on – nobody had known that better than Mr and Mrs Jones-Jones. Since they practically lived next door – in rural terms – many of the young guests must pass the Porth Farm gate. Usually they ran like hell, in spite of it being hammered into their skulls by ignorant adults that there were no such things as witches. Now that she was dead, they made no bones about stopping to stare at Morgan the Murderer.

Morgan tried to stare back. The vision in first one eye, then the other, blurred and danced, forcing him to turn his head this way and that like a demented pigeon. By now he was at the twitch stage. Muscles were contracting at random, here, there and wherever, jerking him around so much that, looking at his suit, you’d think the Kilkenny cats were trapped inside fighting to get out. For a good five minutes he attempted to make sense of whatever it was he was seeing. Most of the kids had limited themselves to variations on the sheet with eye-holes theme. Or crêpe paper witches. But one dedicated parent had produced an ET. Not to be outdone, a neighbour had forced her gangling ten-year-old to become an American Werewolf in Ludlow, something that would come back to haunt her and the West Mercia Constabulary in the years to come. There was also a pumpkin, plus a fistful of fairies, elves, goblins and what have you. The idle remainder had made do with face paints: pink and green and blue, or tiger stripes and running sores, augmented with plastic tridents, spiders, bats, pointed ears, fangs, bulbous or hooked noses. Crowd of ugly buggers, he finally decided. It couldn’t be helped.

“Here, kitty, kitty—”

Being felines, and thus sly, deceitful and self-serving, they’d taken advantage of his attention being focused elsewhere to streak out of the yard. Morgan lost interest in his audience just in time to see the entire coven making for the hillside. Vaulting the stile, his feet barely touching ground, he bounded and cavorted after them. Killing the cats was a point of honour. Cat-hating was hereditary. Dai had been a committed cat-hater but had stopped at cutting off tails. Even then he hadn’t accepted responsibility, claiming an accident with the mangel-wurzel chopper. His son would do better. His son would finish this once and for all.

A flash of topaz eyes led him into the stone circle. It was silent here, barring the groans and whimpers of the castle ghosts who were on their annual parole. The clouds moved aside as the moon rose, full of itself, trying to shed light on the proceedings. And the dog arrived, trailing several yards of rusty chain.

“Mercher, that’s my name. Fast as the wind. Moggie bone cruncher. Cat-flesh masher.”

The cats blew raspberries and shouted insults concerning the canine habit of re-cycling their own and others’ pre-digested food.

“Aaaaawooooooh,” howled Mercher. “Let’s get the bastards.”

Cats, dog, and man circumnavigated the stone circle in a wildly erratic dance at high speed. Not only were the cats skilled at ducking, weaving, and doubling back on themselves, but it was difficult to run and gauge what allowance to make for the damaged shotgun barrel at the same time. Mercher took charge of the situation and began yelling sheepdog commands at Morgan in an attempt to round up and dispatch with teeth and stock. Disaster struck when Venus arrived, circling widdershins, an unlucky decision as she met the whole lot of them head-on. Her affectionate nudge sent Morgan slipping and sliding across the damp grass towards the tallest of the stone pillars which, luckily, was not at all damaged by the impact.

A great black void opened in the hillside beneath Morgan’s feet. He felt himself falling, falling, falling, and crying for his mam all the way.

Phorcus, or Orcus, was the son of Ceto and Nereus, a marine deity who was a shape-shifter. His name became a synonym for the Underworld, for Hades. Porcus:Pig. Orc was ‘young pig’ in Pictish and Old Irish, hence Orkney, Islands of Young Pigs. Perhaps.

Anyway, Orcus-Phorcus sired the Gorgons and he sired us, amongst many others. Or so it is said. (Who really knows? The child is Mother of the man – leave it at that for now.)

The Three Fates, the Phorcides, Morai, Parcae, Graiae, the Triple Brigids, the Three Blessed Ladies of Britain, the Three Mothers, the Weird Sisters – we prefer the All-Wise Three but, call us what you will, we hold the power of life, existence, and death. Even the gods bow to our decrees. Our decisions are final. We are the Goddesses of Destiny…and though fragments of the Whole we intend to see balance restored.

Complete and utter blackness.

No moon. No stars. Nothing.

Not even the usual Mam-come-quick-there’s-a-UFO-over-the-slag-heap lights from Canadian or whoever’s military jets practising low-flying on speed. Quiet, too. Except for the beat of a distant heart?

When the hell was he?

Morgan swam about for a bit sucking his thumb and moaning to himself about the lump on his head. After a while he noticed a very dim red glow pulsating in the bottom right hand corner. There was music as well. Vintage Pink Floyd. And if the dam breaks…many years…and if there is no room upon…hill…and if your head explodes with dark forebo…see you on the dark side of the moon. The red glow intensified. After some violent kicking and thrashing, he found himself being sucked towards it, backside first, via a narrow downward sloping tunnel, the walls of which were soft and spongy and a bit too moist for comfort. What was more, they expanded and contracted in waves, shunting him along with a peristaltic motion reminiscent of caterpillars scrambling over hot gravel. He was breech-delivered onto the beaten earth floor of what looked like a fair size bar, decorated with stone slabs and gardening utensils, scythes and sickles mostly, though there were a few bill hooks, pick-thanks, even a teethed hewk.

The cadaverous barman – wearing a hooded arrangement of ex-army surplus blankets against the intense heat – was applying a strickle to a particularly large scythe propped against the beer pumps. Every few minutes he spat on the gleaming blade. It sizzled. Morgan took out his thumb.

“I’ll have a beer, please.”

“Eat. Drink. Be Merry. For tomorrow you DIE.”

“Oh. Half of Nuremburg then.”

The barman laid down the strickle, shoved his hands up inside the loose sleeves of his designer tepee, and bowed low enough for Morgan to see that he had no irises.

“No, I said: ‘Eat. Drink. Be Merry. For tomorrow you DIE.’ Right?”

“OK. OK.” Morgan’s eyes flicked nervously round the walls. This was a grim place and a half all right. Even for North Wales on a Sunday morning. Which, from the atmosphere, was where he imagined he’d ended up. More like a cave than a bar, really – Aha – stuck in a cave between two churches with the matins bell ringing? Where else but Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandyssiloigogogoch? Though he couldn’t remember the journey. Or the churches. And there was no bell, come to think of it. As for eating, no sign of a menu anywhere. No bottles on the shelves either. And what the hell were gravestones doing decorating interior walls? Sideways on, some of them, too.

Here lies my wife, here let her lie;

Now she’s at rest, and so am I.

To say the least, it was an unusual take on the themed pub.

“I said,”began the barman. “Oh, what’s the use?” Clicking his tongue with annoyance he reached beneath the counter and brought up a massive sand-glass, which squatted top-heavy, huffing and puffing, and clenching its buttocks until a sharp slap forced it to rethink its anal-retentive stance. Pale grey powder, more like ashes than sand, started to flow.

“I’m not very well,” declared Morgan, “And furthermore, I’m not here. This is only a dream. I’ll wake up soon.”

“All is illusion,” agreed the barman, tapping his bare phalanges on the wood. He raised his voice and declaimed – in the style of Andrew Motion, but with attitude and the advantage of a natural echo chamber: “Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.”

“Good voice,” lied Morgan, taking his fingers out of his ears. Mine host snorted.

“Last orders, please. Two minutes fifty-five seconds. Two minutes fifty. Forty-five. Forty. Come on, come on – Thirty. Twenty-five. We rely on the catering side to make our living, you know. No profit in alcohol.”

“OK. Fine. What have you got to eat?”

“Broad beans and pomegranate seeds.”

“How about just a snack?”

“Certainly, sir. Pomegranate seeds and broad beans.”

“No chips? How about a bag of crisps? Peanuts? Suppose I’d better take some of that other stuff then, if that’s what it takes to get a drink.”

“For one?” Grimacing with disappointment, the barman jerked his head towards a candlelit alcove in the wall. “Take a pew. I’ll bring it over.”

Clearly he should have used the definite article. There was just one empty seat and that was at the back of an alcove already occupied by three putrid old bags, two of them busy with their handicrafts. The third was asleep. A grubby child of about seven sat in the dirt, playing Jack-stones with an eyeball and a handful of very small vertebrae. One of the women was using a spinning wheel to produce thick rainbow-coloured thread from thin air while her even uglier companion made do with distaff and spindle. Both threads joined to coil across the bony knees of the third, whose seagull claws lay in her lap clamped round a pair of gardening shears. Ignoring everyone else, the child abandoned its game – her game, lack of undergarments soon cleared up that particular confusion – and began rolling around drooling and coughing out guttural recriminations to herself.

Ha’penny short of a shilling, Morgan thought. Dippy. Not a lot up top. Simple. Low on coal when they baked her. Put in with the cake and taken out with the pastry. An innocent. A natural. Two bricks short of a load. A tile loose. Screw missing.

“There you’re mistaken, Morgan Llewelyn Padrig Arthur Caradoc Jones-Jones,” quoth she of the spinning wheel. “The child is one of us. But we had already forgiven you. Your error is due to a simple misunderstanding of life, death, the universe, everything, and our purpose is to re-educate you. You see before you the Three Fates…”

“You sing?”

“Oh har har har har har, you hear that?” cackled distaff and spindle. “Har-har-har-har-har-har, he thinks we’re off har-har Albion’s Got Talent.”

“Whatever that might be. As you know, I watch very little TV. Mostly documentaries. Granted, I might have caught a glimpse of it while waiting for the news though. Yes. Three Fates. Like the Three Decrees. Ha ha. Very funny. No. We four are more correctly known as the All-Wise Three as in rulers of destiny, chum.”

“But, if you’re four, how can you be…?”

“Quiet, please. Only ask questions when you’re given an answer. The All-Wise Three, I said. Four of us, yes. Think in terms of Past, Presents and Future, if you will. Now, introductions. My sister here with the florid complexion and bitten nails is ClothO. Obviously I’m Lachesis. Together we constitute the Presents. Our youngest and oldest sister is Atropos. Not very attractive names, I admit. A trifle outdated. We’re thinking of inventing new ones.”

Morgan scratched his head. This wasn’t how Arthur Mee had told it. He looked anxiously towards the bar. Where the hell was that drink? How in Hades had he ended up in such a hell-hole?

ClothO smirked. “We summoned you. We picked you. You’re going to be the twenty-first-century hero, laddie. We decided…aw! What was that for?”

Lachesis stopped pinching her leg. “That hurt me as much as you. Don’t forget what we agreed – third person narrative.”

“You might have called the kid something a bit pleasanter,” persisted Morgan.

“Didn’t I say you understood nothing? The child and the old woman are two and the same person. Try equating past with future. The future is both the unknown and the very well-known at one and the same time. You lot all know where you’re heading. The past is also unknown territory, since you learned nothing from it. It’s all a big spiral with the points furthest away in what you call Time coiling round and lying right next to each other. Young and old. See?”


“Oh, dear. Same old problem. It isn’t real, you know, Time. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. Time isn’t constant. Which lasts longer, an orgasm or a flea bite? No answer? Of course not. While you’re experiencing Time, you’re outside it. No? All right, how about Rip Van Winkle’s little adventure in the Kaatskill Mountains? All he did was play a game of ninepins and when he came back the next morning twenty years had been swallowed up. Versions of that story all over the world. Lots from your neck of the woods about dancing in fairy rings. Time can’t be turned into a quantitative science, however expensive your wristwatch is. Everybody’s pretending. Can’t you just accept it as a human construct?”


“Grub up.” The barman slouched across and banged down a litre glass of warm beer and a chipped white plate with a handful of withered beans, a wrinkle of seaweed, and seven pomegranate seeds which had seen better days.

“Good God. Is that dinner? How much?”

“Thirty-nine pounds fifty. Service non compris. On the house if you clear the plate.”

“Taking the piss a bit,” Morgan muttered at the departing back, keeping his voice down in view of the experimental sweeps being made with the razor-edged scythe. “Forty pounds, give or take. For this muck.”

“Muck! Muck, he says,” yelled ClothO. “Beans – tonight of all nights. Some people would give their eye tooth. Ask that Perseus bloke. Tell him. Tell him. Well, if you won’t, I will. And give him a knuckle sandwich to boot. I’ve kept quiet for long enough. No good trying to stop me. It ain’t just you spinning this story. Hallowe’en ain’t it, you big daft sawney. And what’s Hallowe’en when it’s at home? The meeting of Earth, Otherworld, and Here-in-Between, that’s all. Beans, you big gawby – and you’re not as good-looking as we were led to believe, no, not by a long chalk, nor as well-built neither – are worth their weight in gold for keeping off ghosts. There ain’t a ghost on Earth or Other that’ll stick around if you spit beans at it. I learned that in ancient Rome. Mind you, they said the same about witches but that bit ain’t true. I know that for a fact. Witches used to ride to their Sabbaths on bean stalks. No need now. They use those little motorised boxes that run everybody off the pavement. You know, with the all-weather hoods. Don’t believe me? Take a good look inside the next one what swerves towards you pretending the steering’s up the creek or they’re gaga. If they’re genuine ancient crones you’ll see them laughing their thermal longjohns off in there, listening to Iron Maiden while rolling a joint, casting on knitting spells with a score card pinned to the intarsia knee-cover. Only ten for an old bat. Twelve if they’re hobbled to a Zimmer. Twenty for a girl with four inch spike heels. Another five if she shows her knickers when she falls plus ten if she wasn’t wearing any twenty-five for a mother struggling with a pram plus a bonus of five for each additional snot-nosed brat thirty for blokes out on the piss fifty for a traffic warden or a ponced-up businessman cause a prang or pile-up proceed immediately to GO and collect $200 are you listening to me? Anyhow you got to eat them. The Beans. There’s all sorts of nasties around tonight. Besides he won’t let you out till you do. Well, he might. If we let him. After he’s done some scything practice.”

“All right, I’ll eat the bloody things.” Morgan put one leathery bean on his tongue, gagged, and immediately transferred it to his cheek, holding it there with saliva and will power. The rest he palmed, shoving them deep into his pocket.

ClothO nudged him. “We saw.”

“You mustn’t take too much notice of her,” said Lachesis. “She’s full of superstition and wind. Magpie brain, you see, full of squirming bits and pieces of maggot information. I’m the one with the education. I knew Pythagoras and he wouldn’t eat beans. Not on any account. Nor his followers. It was taboo.”

“Only because they made them fart.”

“How vulgar. It was taboo. You know why? If you eat beans, you eat your parents’ heads. Yes. It’s true. Ghosts live in beans. You can tell by the way the flowers grow up round the stalk, in a spiral, portending resurrection. Por-tend-ing. Giving warning of. Foreshadowing. Cretin. The spiral symbol is antediluvian. That I do know. Sumerian shrines were flanked by spiral posts. Your people had their spiral castles and dances. When the Romans threw beans at ghosts they were being helpful: it was so that they could reincarnate.”

Morgan choked. “So if I meet Mam and Dai tonight….”

“Prepare to be A-maze-d.”

“Finished? Now, are you going to tell him about the pomegranate seeds, or not? What, no warning? Not even a mention of Persephone? She’s a relative of ours on the Greek side. And her Queen of the…. No, all right. And there was me thinking we were obliged to.”

Lachesis leaned over and fixed Morgan with a hideously bloodshot eye. “Eat up, there’s a good fellow. He gets so nasty when people don’t finish what he puts in front of them. Thinks catering’s one of the creative arts. Never could take rejection.”

“Wait a minute,” Morgan mumbled round his thumb. “This Persephone.” He shunted the seeds from one side of the plate to the other, playing for time. “Her name rings a bell. Tell me about her.”

“Persephone? See the barman – well, in a way she’s his wife. If you like. Sort of. Golden sickle though, instead of a common or garden bill hook. Says it’s for harvesting, but I can remember when she had a very nasty little castrato fixation. Will that do you? No? OK. She’s Ceres, she’s Demeter, Alphito, Danaë, Io, Cardea, and Kerridwen. She is the Barley Goddess and you’ve just drunk her. She’s the White Cow, the White Mare, and the White Sow. She’s the mother of Jupiter, the White Goddess of Death, and also the White Lady of Inspiration that you came home to find.”

“Anything else?”

“You trying to be funny? All right. According to Graves, Persephone ate seven pomegranate seeds and that er yes. That’s all. Everything clear?

“As pig swill. Look, the beans were bad enough. I can’t stomach the seeds.”

“Eat them,” leered ClothO. “Go on. Just one, then. You can manage one, big boy like you.”

“Even for just one I’ll need another drink.”

“I wouldn’t bother my little love. When my other half here said you’d just drunk her – her being herself down there – she left out the last word. You’ve just drunk her urine was what she meant. They shove anything in beer. Unless you’re in Germany. They got their priorities sorted out years ago. Issue of Law there. Water hops yeast barley. That’s it. Anything else and you’re done for. If nothing else, they always win on penalties. Like I said, anywhere else beer can mean anything. Stick to spirits is my advice.”

As if to prove some sort of point, Atropos minor rose from her rolling around, legs crossed and with her hand clutched between them.

“Not on our feet again,” snarled ClothO.

Atropos minor mewed and glucked a protest. Snatching up Morgan’s glass, she peed into it. Her aim was not good, but the noises stopped. One final and impressive fart later, she wiped her hands on a corner of filthy garment and settled down by Atropos major’s feet to fall asleep, snorting and gulping like a dormant hedgehog.

“That’s the future for you,” sniggered ClothO.

Morgan looked askance at his smeary, clouded glass. Something was moving in the greenish-amber depths. It reminded him of something. What? And where the fuck was this anyway? How did he get here? He focused on the walls, the tombstones, the sickles, his plate, as if seeing them properly for the first time. He sensed himself teetering on the razor-edged dividing line between the commonly held illusion of reality and reality itself. It was unfortunate that ClothO chose that moment to yank up their skirt and scratch their crotch. Morgan’s jaw dropped halfway down his chest.

“What you gawping at?” she snapped, “Surely you’ve seen the carvings at Catal Hüyük.”

“You’ve got no refinement whatsoever, have you, ClothO?” snapped Lachesis. “It was a mistake, attempted mitosis. Right from the beginning I knew it was a mistake. All right for pond weed, for spirogyra, but for a superbly complex creature like myself – Damn Loki to high Heaven for suggesting it.” She glared at Morgan. “You know, people are funny about the Presents – plenty of philosophical arguments about the Now – but unless they’re TEFL teachers they don’t like thinking about splitting the Present. And yet it has to be done. There just isn’t enough time in a day anymore. I like to introduce the subject gradually. She couldn’t give a damn. That’s her all over. Present Very Simple, you see, whereas I’m nearer Present Perfect. Sitting down, with full skirts and so on, it usually takes a while for people to realise. But not if some gnarled old hand is fidgeting about under our knicker elastic.”

Morgan gulped. “But you’re….”

“Siamese twins? No. Not exactly. They’re identical twins physically conjoined at birth. We, on the other hand, are the Present partially divided. A retrospective action. Think of it like Continuous Present, shall we say, boring, and Narrative Present, which can be anything you like. Come on now, you claim to be a writer. Is that correct? Hard to say when it’s a question of sharing your arse. I think so, though. Only it doesn’t quite work yet, so it doesn’t really matter. Our roles overlap still. But then, we’re only divided from the waist up. For the present. Makes things very difficult. Of course, all four of us were One to start with. In the Beginning there was only the sacred Now.”

The penny dropped. He was dead. All the lonely things his hands had done had finally landed him up in Mam’s Other Place. Hell for him threatened to be an eternity of geriatric female putrescence. Well, he’d prefer honest to goodness flames.

“How do I get out of this bloody mad house?” he bellowed, leaping to his feet, every limb and appendage twitching and jerking in self-antipathy. Ibotonic acid, Muscimol, alcohol, and distilled essence of Waterdrop Hemlock, all on the circulatory rampage. (What did you think she did with it? Sooner or later, Mam had reasoned, Dai was sure to get his filthy paws on some. It was part of a Plan involving several hefty life insurance policies.) One flailing arm sent the glass of…liquid…flying. Not a nice lapful for either Present. Both the plate of seeds and an ashtray full of perfectly salvageable dog-ends ended up in the Sabre Tooth Whatsit droppings. Chairs toppled. The table thudded into the wall which gave to accommodate it with a hiss of escaping gas and a cloud of pale spores.

“Oh, shit!” ClothO and Lachesis grabbed at the spun thread. “That’s it. Now we’re in trouble. Get on with it or the whole bloody world’ll come to a standstill.”

A trapdoor began to open, like an eye, right in the middle of the floor. The temperature plummeted. Atropos major stirred. The scissor hand started to flex. She muttered in her sleep.

Morgan opted for abuse and self-harming. “Fucking load of lunatics,” he screeched, his voice wobbling on the outer limits of falsetto. “No. No. Just bloody No. It’s not real. Only a dream.” He smacked himself in the face. Hard. “Old woman and the kid the same person. Two hags sharing the same cunt.” Slap. Slap. Slap. “Ugghhhh.” Smack. “Wake up! Wake up!” Quick headbutt to the wall. “Wake up, Morgan Jones-Jones, you stupid bastard.” He stumbled around, jigging and shaking – “Mind the thread!” bawled Lachesis – making things worse by the minute. Tombstones fell like playing cards. All the hardware rattling and crashing in sympathy. That damned music seeping through the perforated walls. See you on the dark side of. And Time Gentleman Please Himself started plodding forward, swinging his scythe along the ground as the hole widened. Flames licked the edges. Feeling his backside burning, Morgan swayed towards Atropos. Already she was chundering on her old gums, rediscovering last week’s breakfast.

“Another minute and he’ll have had her awake,” hissed Lachesis. “Do something. It might be years before we get another hundredth monkey.”

ClothO grinned. One big fat arm slammed him into the wall. Can a spindle be classed as an offensive weapon within the meaning of the Act? Yes, probably, if it’s pointing at your genitals. A fist the size of a Bath Chap put an abrupt stop to his capering.

“Don’t whatever you do wake her up my lad. It’ll be curtains for you otherwise, see, she’s the one what’s got the shears. You want to go? You want to go? Then eat the pomegranate seeds. Not my fault they’re all over the floor. I can’t help what they’ve been in neither. Pick them up. Sooner you get yourself outside them sooner we can all have a bit of peace. Eat the buggers. Gawd Awmighty, must I use brute force? Open your mouth. Never mind n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-ing, you don’t breathe until you do. That’s it. Now swallow. SWALLOW. Worse than giving worming pills to a blummin cat. It’s for your own good. You and the rest of your ilk. You Pigs gotta learn. Think I like doing this? Think I like your spitandribble all over my fingers? That’s it. Done. Don’t know what the fuss was all about. Haven’t seen such a carry-on since your mam made you drink senna pod tea on Saturday nights.”

“Quick!” screamed Lachesis. “Pick him up. Give him here. For it to work, the present has to be dissected. There won’t be time otherwise. He’s got to pass between us…quick, shove him through our shoulders.”

One gnarled hand grabbed his hair. Another pushed his rib cage up towards the shuddering ceiling. A third yanked at his waistband. The last seized his ankles and gave an almighty heave, which sent him flying past their gaping mouths and bloodshot eyes, back into the kermes-tinted blackness.

“There we are. Go on. Bugger off. Thirsty work that, and mine’s a double.”

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 6

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

What happened now Mam was gone? Without that huge and slippery post over which he had for so long vainly tried to throw his tiny mooring rope he was adrift in a venomous sea. Without the forever-shifting barbed wall there was no longer even the faintest hope of finding somewhere to safely place his back. Morgan wrapped his arms round himself as a convulsive shiver ran down his body. Then he noticed every cat crouching and staring as if he were a particularly tasty strain of mouse.

“Go to hell.” Picking up his mug, he hurled it at the nearest, a monstrous blue-cream with baleful eyes, and felt like crying when it hit the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces.

“I’ll have a look-see if the doctor’s come,” muttered Pritchard-Evans, scratching his head with both hands as he slid round the door. “Back directly.”

Lying toe-rag: it was twenty minutes if it was a day. Pritchard-Evans was off to phone round the news. He couldn’t contain himself for another second. It didn’t take his cronies long to come running either. Talk about vultures gathering. Nothing happened so often in that village they would have fought running battles with the world’s paparazzi for a hint of local scandal – and won.

Naturally, Mrs Pritchard-Evans was first over the finishing line.

Morgan winced, as he has always winced – and known he shouldn’t. But, still. Not a pretty sight at any time, that woman, big and pale and greasy. Mrs PE possessed a face as round and lumpy as an old-fashioned suet pudding boiled in a bag inside the copper along with the washing, eyes like withered currants and a chapel-prim little worm-in-the-rosebud mouth sucked in where she’d had all her teeth out for reasons of economy. Her looks after herself as they say round there, which meant she drank and guzzled on the sly, the usual quiet, private, doomed attempt to fill a vacuum inside, to smother frustrated intelligence and quieten the loss of hope. Speed and excitement had mottled her doughy cheeks with madder blotches. The currants gleamed. Pink rubber gloves flapped like displaced gills from the poacher’s pockets of her outsize-plus green tabard.

Mrs PE slowed to a waddle as she crossed the yard, pausing to rearrange her expression. She had three vices: one, stuffing herself silly; two, compulsive vacuuming; and three, being chronically light-fingered. Which is why she was doubly excited, things being as they were. Morgan, poor lad, being an orphan and a bachelor, therefore totally useless, would need someone to do for him. And his Mam had no end of nice little bits and pieces.

In all fairness it has to be said that there was another side to Mrs PE. She’d tried to mother Morgan on and off for years. When she could get away with it, that is, since shows of affection had been put a stop to very early on. Having no inclination in that direction herself, Mam always viewed any touchy-feely stuff as incipient perversion. Banished to the side lines, Mrs PE limited herself to looking after a few basics – secretly hanging a bag containing seven woodlice round his neck to ease his teething pains; drawing out thorns with a sloughed adder skin; rubbing his persistent warts with a scrap of stolen beef, which was then buried in a mole hill. And, in his troubled teenage years, there’d only been her to warn the lad about the Gwragedd Annwn, the naughty Welsh water maidens of pond and lake, reservoirs even, who weren’t backwards in coming forward, and always on the lookout for a human cywely, that is to say, a handy bedfellow.

Now, at last, Mrs PE was in her element.

“My poor lamb,” she crooned, clasping Morgan to her bosom. “And to think I saw this coming. All the signs were there, but what can we do, what can we do? Year in, year out, your mammy would bring in hawthorn blossom for her wine, no matter what. And eat blackberries after Michaelmas even though the Old ’Un had flown over them. This year we’ve had apple trees blooming after the fruit set, broad beans with black leaves, and corpse candles in the churchyard. And I dropped a loaf getting it out of the oven last Thursday week. Worst of all, didn’t I dream of weddings? Dreams always work contrariwise. Dear, dear. God do move in mysterious ways.”

Released, Morgan noisily sucked in air. Mrs PE whipped off the tea towels. It didn’t take her long to wipe the grin off Dai’s face, but Mam’s expression was already set fast so she covered her up again, and finished by tidying round a bit – no need for all this mess, whatever.

“Afternoon.” Spurred on by both private and professional curiosity, Griffiths the Antique would have beaten Mrs PE to first place if he hadn’t stopped to investigate a skip outside a cottage some fool from Birmingham was time-warping back into the eighteenth century. Even so, his Volvo bounced into the yard, chassis skimming the concrete, the protruding mahogany sideboard festooned with warning Sainsbury’s bags, mere minutes after Mrs PE’s arrival.

He was another big one. Size isn’t such a problem tucked away in the back of beyond. There’s precious little else to do in the countryside but grow food, process food, fill your face or something else’s, and deal with the remains, but he was disgusting with it. His waistcoats and trousers were perpetually ripped and stained. He always had a fat Havana cigar stuck in his mouth though it was never lighted. He didn’t smoke. Griffiths the Antique sucked on it hard, as on a cow’s black teat, until his dummy disintegrated, at which point, Pugh the Ferrets usually rescued the thing and mixed it in with his Golden Virginia. The village kids called Griffiths Mr Toad. You could see why. There was an unpleasantly green tinge to his skin, and curious knobbly protuberances covered his forehead above a letterbox mouth so wide it ended either side of his cheekbones. He was a man who knew everybody’s business and all the contents of all the houses. Nobody ever worked out how. The minute the quarterly bills were overdue, he’d start making offers for bits and pieces out of the blue, things that had been packed away in attics for years, things people had forgotten their grandmothers had forgotten. He lusted after Mam’s collection of Spode chamber pots and the Victorian decoupage screen in the back bedroom. After a grunt and shuffle of commiseration, Griffiths shot upstairs claiming he needed to use the lavatory.

Pugh the Ferrets hadn’t needed telling. He turned up anyway, but he was always skulking about listening at corners disguised in his army surplus camouflage. By the look of him, it was time he took a needle to those holes. Not a good idea to keep ferrets in trouser pockets, especially not when the fabric is worn down to the warp. On the other hand, it was always worth watching his expression change when the nasty little rodents chewed through the lining and ran up and down his legs nipping at things it didn’t bear thinking about.

And if he wasn’t enough, the next arrival was a double dose of misery – Reece the Hill dogged by his missus. They say times are hard for sheep farmers. He should have hired himself out. With a face like a wet week on Llandudno pier out of season, Reece the Hill would have been an asset to any pro-farming campaign aimed at the conscience vitals; one look at him and this prosperous, perennially under-taxed nation would be convinced massive subsidies were necessary. His wife never let him out of her sight. There was a very good reason for this. Ten years ago Reece’s granny left him several thousand pounds but he refused to spend a farthing. Starve-Crow-Farm they call his place. It hasn’t even got an inside loo, though it did have the benefit of running water, straight off the mountain. Frogs came down out of the taps every spring – in one piece sometimes.

Hereford farmers live rich, they say, but Radnor farmers, being misers, die rich. As he didn’t hold with banks, a great deal of Mrs Reece the Hill’s time was spent looking for the hidden cash in order to leave him.

None of those present liked – or trusted – each other. Backwards and forwards they traipsed, poking their noses into what didn’t concern them, watching the competition for gleanings like hawks, brewing more tea, and deliberately getting in the way while waiting for Dr Cadwallader to turn up and officially pronounce the dead, dead. Morgan sat back and let them get on with it.

Cadwallader must have been knocking eighty but was still practising. Nobody within a twenty-mile radius would dream of consulting anyone else, no matter what strings of letters they trailed. He was an apiarist in his spare time, you could smell him coming, honey and wax and Dettol. And hear him too, because he hummed most of the time, Mozart and Beethoven when he was in the mood, but mainly the Beatles.

Bee-keeping was the secret of his success. No honey was ever wasted on bread and butter; little on sore throats. Every last comb-scraping went into making mead, most of which he distilled. Illegal? Of course, and all the better for that. Strong? It could blow your head off. The good doctor swore it cured everything from depression to infertility and, applied locally, piles, gonorrhoea, and brewer’s droop. He had several favourite quotations, including Virgil, Next I come to the manna, the heavenly gift of honey – which explained why several score of red-neck Marches’ farmers had heard of The Georgics – and the Atharvaveda, O Asvins, lord of brightness, anoint me with the honey of the bee, that I may speak forceful speech among men – which encouraged greater consumption than was good for them by both henpecked husbands and put-upon wives prior to their regular Friday night brawls over the housekeeping money. His surgery was usually packed because he treated animals as well, undercutting the vet.

When he finally arrived, the doctor didn’t so much walk in as lurch from doorpost to table. There was nothing unusual about his condition for most of his days were spent in a pale amber haze. Nobody complained. That was how it always had been – and it worked, more or less. His examination was, to say the least, perfunctory. Hum, let’s take a look hum tasting much sweeter than wine dead, they were dead, time of death hum hum eight days a week, cause – they were old hum hearts only last for so long and the sooner the undertaker could get to work on Mam’s face the better hum with diamonds, yeh.

By now Morgan was repeating his eviction notice, but without bothering to get the words in any particular order. Pritchard-Evans discovered a half bottle of Gordon’s gin tucked behind his telephone table. He never did work out where it came from, but passed it on to Morgan, partly out of kindness, but mostly for entertainment value, while Mrs PE bit her tongue and tried to look on it as an investment.

“You got someone to sit with you tonight, Morgan lad?” enquired Cadwallader.

“I’ll take care of him.” Mrs Pritchard-Evans got her stout self between the doctor and Morgan’s vacant gape in a flash. There’d never be a better opportunity for a really good look round. “Co-op’s on the way to collect the,” she nodded towards the table, “diseased.”

“Good. Good. I’ll leave him some sedatives, enough for a couple of days.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Terrible blow for the poor fellow, losing both parents in one day, phone me if there’s anything hum hum.” As he left, Cadwallader closed Morgan’s hand round a bottle of his golden elixir. “You get yourself a good night’s sleep if you can, my boy. Hum-mmm hard day’s night. Things will look better in the hum.”

Morgan had the decency to wait for Mrs PE to firmly show everyone out before downing the lot, gin, all the sedatives, plus the mead liqueur, in quick succession. For a short while his head felt like a soft-boiled egg being scalped with rusty pliers. After that, and for a few moments before oblivion kicked in, he felt much, much better.

’Twas an evening in November –
As far as I remember –
I was strolling down the street with drunken pride,
But my legs were all a-flutter,
And I landed in the gutter,
Where a pig came up and lay down by my side.
I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I best not utter,
When a woman passing by did quietly say,
‘You can tell a man that boozes,
By the company he chooses’ –
And at that the pig got up and walked away.

The tricks of old Circe deter us from wine,
Though we honour a Boar, we won’t make ourselves swine.
—British Magazine, 1761

“It’s all very well putting out plenty of tasty food,” grumbled Mrs Pritchard-Evans, “but what are we going to offer people to drink? There’s not a drop in the house. You can’t give them tea. What’ll it look like? Someone’s going to have to do something. There’s still time to pop along and get a few bottles of tonic wine from Lewis the Chemist.”

“I’m not buying any alcohol,” said Morgan, clutching his waistband to stop Dai’s trousers falling round his ankles. Perhaps making do with his dad’s old black suit was a mistake. The thing was forty years out of date if it was a day, and made to fit a bloke who’d been a different shape entirely. Four inches too big round the waist looked daft enough, but when it came to the moth-holed jacket only shallow breaths combined with deep and abiding religious faith could keep the buttons fastened. There were moth chrysalides in the pockets, too. And Dai had cut off most of the fly buttons just to rile Mam.

“Not a drop,” Morgan repeated. He himself was now strictly teetotal. This time he meant it. His head still felt a bit strange, but at least he could think clearly again. Intoxicants were exactly what the word said: toxic. Poison, in other words. The glorification of alcohol by the media was a government plot to keep the masses down. It was part of a gigantic international conspiracy. While people were either busy drinking, drunk, or recovering from being drunk, they weren’t doing whatever it was the ruling classes didn’t want them doing. He wasn’t having any part in it. “The cellar’s stuffed full of Mam’s homemade booze. They’ll have to make do with that.”

She sniffed. “Except that you’ve been looking for the key for two whole days now.”

“We’ll break the door down as soon as I find a safety pin to hold up these trousers.” Morgan rummaged in Mam’s sewing-box, bringing up cards of seventy-year-old horn buttons, corset bones, a coral teething ring, and twists of darning wool. There were no safety pins. He made do with a slightly rusty stitch holder. His fingers continued to inch downwards, guided by instinct or buried memories. Right at the bottom, under a tangle of knicker elastic, they closed on a gigantic black iron key, which he waved triumphantly under Mrs PE’s nose. “Patience rewarded.”

For several decades, Mam made wine with the same enthusiasm that she’d brought to chutney. Anything free that would add flavour and body to sugar, yeast and water had gone head first into the fermenting bucket, whortleberries, blackberries, parsnip tops, peapods, hips, haws, and flower petals. But whereas she sold the bulk of her chutney, every last drop of wine had been laid away – gallon upon gallon of it. Row upon row of recycled bottles lined the cellar walls, the contents years old, maturing beyond reason. She never touched a drop, simply liking the look of them, and understood from women’s magazines that having a wine cellar gave one a certain cachet. In addition, it sent Dai demented with longing. He’d last found the key in 1992, and drunk himself paralytic. Mam gave him the hiding of his life when he finally stumbled out, but he’d reckoned it well worth it.

Now it was Morgan’s turn. He felt his way down the unlit cellar steps and tried the key. The door swung creakily open.

Mrs PE trudged slowly after him, a muted clunking accompanying her movements as she stared dubiously into the gloom. Reasoning that as she couldn’t see Morgan he couldn’t see her, she carefully examined the base of the mustard pot she was polishing and, satisfied by the hallmark, sent it to join the other silver concealed about her person. The cats slunk along the walls, keeping an eye on her and counting spoons, but Mrs PE snapped her tea-towel at them and went back to the spread, reckoning she’d done the lad proud for the funeral. The Jones-Jones might have lived like niggards but they were getting a right splendid send-off to be remembered by. Not just the sandwiches, but a good innings of cold cuts and chutney, and a massive raised pork pie, as well as tiddling little vol-au-vents and sausage rolls and other insubstantial social necessities. The soul cakes – to her great-grandmother’s recipe – and proper bara brith – from the 1958 Gas Board recipe book – provided the coup de grace. She sighed with satisfaction when Morgan emerged from the cellar bearing two dozen bottles of assorted cowslip, elderflower, blackberry, gooseberry, and damson.

After an inexplicable moment of panic, the sight of so many gleaming bottles had caused him to rethink his abstention. There was enough wine down there for at least twenty years. A small glass now and then couldn’t hurt. Moderation was the answer. Never more than a couple of bottles a day. He opened some damson to let it breathe, reasoned that he’d better test the stuff, and filled a tumbler.

“Will you try some, Mrs Pritchard-Evans?”

“Careful,” warned Mrs PE remembering Dai, his ranting and his rolling eyes, and the ambulance siren screaming up the valley road after Mam had finished with him. For the time being she limited even her hardened self to a thimbleful. “This stuff’s strong. You don’t want to let yourself down in the church.”

“Oh, come on – it’s only fruit wine.” Self-preservation ensured that Morgan’s conscious memory of that time was hazy. In retrospect, Dai had spoken of it wistfully: an all too brief visit to Faerie, leaving the miseries of everyday existence behind. The first sip was thick and fruity, quite sweet, with intense purple prose overtones. Perfectly acceptable, he thought, for country bumpkins. He gulped down what was left, and reeled as liquid fire scalded his throat, melting his tonsils, paralysing his vocal cords.

In a vain attempt to save face he stumbled away to the quiet of Mam’s cubby-hole of an office. He still hadn’t managed to get her desk open. Now it seemed simpler just to yank the front off each of the drawers. This proved highly satisfactory. An old biscuit tin labelled egg-and-veg money was stuffed full of fivers. From what he could make out the farm accounts were in good order, too. One thing was certain – Mam would have made sure the money stayed in the family. Therefore he was probably quite comfortably off, free to devote his days to creativity, and to Rosie, with any luck. Thanks, Mam. Morgan lapsed into a happy daydream with Rosie kneeling – scantily clad, hair tousled, eyes languid – at his feet, smiling sweetly as he counted banknotes into her little hand. The image couldn’t be sustained for more than thirty seconds. Rosie’s eyes flashed. Smile became snarl. Both hands bunched into fists. He hurriedly snapped out of it.

A sudden thought occurred to him. Someone else deserved a vote of thanks. Yes, and he’d ignored her for three days now, even allowed Pritchard-bandy-Evans to feed her along with everything else. Morgan made up his mind to liberate Venus. Henceforth, she’d have the freedom of the farm and dine on the best of everything.

After extensively testing the bottles of cowslip and blackberry, and reappraising the damson under Mrs PE’s mildly disapproving eye, he staggered outside clutching a couple of soul cakes rejected for having sixty per cent burns. Cold, damp air smacked him in the face, but failed to sober him up completely. In front of the sty he slipped and dropped to his knees in a pool of slurry trickling slowly from the pen. One pink-rimmed eye watched him through a chink in the door. A deep and mournful groan suggested that no food had passed snout since the accident. Morgan held out the cakes and an eager mouth almost took his arm into the bargain. Hardly able to tear his eyes from the enormous, chomping teeth, he hung over the gate entertaining confused thoughts about the Venus de Milo.

Certainly the sow deserved her freedom, but it would probably be safer to take the edge of her appetite first. All he could find was a swede, a sack of layers’ mash, plus some frozen tripe, undoubtedly meant for Mercher, in the garage freezer. It was no time to get fussy. After tipping the lot over the sty wall, he strained back the bolt before pulling the gate ajar from a safe distance with a hay rake, then hurriedly retreated, walking backwards, slipping and sliding, splattering himself up to the waist with combined farmyard ordure as he tried to convince himself that he’d done The Right Thing.

Priddeu Annwm: The Spoils of Hell.

Câd Goddeu, the Battle of the Trees, was one of the three frivolous battles of Britain, occasioned by a dog, a white roebuck, and a lapwing, all guardians of secrets, stolen from Annwn – the Celtic Underworld – by Amaethon ap Dôn. He and his brother, Gwydion ap Dôn, fought Arawn, ruler of the Underworld, with sword and riddle to ensure that these creatures remained on the Earth. Gwydion’s last foray into Annwn resulted in another theft, and thus were the sacred swine of Pryderi brought to humankind. Strange, we think, that pryderi is translated as concern, anxiety, to worry or fret.

The church was packed with long faces, all much practised. Everyone for miles around knew that what Doctor Cadwallader had written on the death certificate wasn’t the whole story. Any minute now the cast of Pigs in Blue might turn up in force and most of those present yearned to appear in an episode.

“Thing is, look you, did the son do it?”

“What a thing to say.”

“Not unknown, knocking off parents. Remember those two boys, in Jersey was it? Or Ayrshire – somewhere to do with cows. They did their mam and dad in for the money. The pair of sinners got caught in the end, though. And put away so they couldn’t do it again.”


“Well, the Jones-Joneses must have had money.”

“All farmers are rich, whatever they say.”

“Anyway he looks like a bad ’un.”


“I always thought there was something funny about him.”

“Ah. Ah.”

“He was an accident. The missus was getting on a bit when she had him. They’re always a bit you know when they’re born in the hot flushes.”


“And what a day to choose for the funeral – Nos galangaeaf. Halloween.”

“It shouldn’t be allowed.”


“Will you look at the state of him – he’s two sheets to the wind.”

“Ah. Three parts chemist all right.”




Wedi meddwi. Drunk as a Lord.”

“That’s guilt, that is. He done them both in. No doubt about it.”


Cadwallader kindly palmed Morgan another bottle of his best as he shuffled into the church and, with bowed head, stumbled pew to pew down the aisle. The congregation fanned at the air as he passed, assuming that the appalling smell was a baked-bean-induced rhech from the row in front. When Morgan showed signs of making for the choir stalls, Mrs PE – his keeper – gave him a discreet shove, toppling him sideways. Morgan slumped gratefully, fortifying himself under cover of one of Dai’s big check hankies. Mam’s brew and the doctor’s didn’t mix. The hammering in his head grew steadily worse. His stomach was rebelling, too; during the service he burped and hiccupped a running refrain. Thankfully, he made no effort to sing, though he did smother a laugh when the vicar started eulogising.

The whole congregation waited with bated breath to hear how Emrys Owain could possibly dress up the Jones-Jones’ life for the occasion. It was common knowledge that throughout their marriage they’d fought like cat and dog, using the most terrible language at full volume. They never went to church after the christening. For years he’d played the part of a dirty old man to get her goat and she was a husband beater who landed him in hospital once, though she’d managed to hush it up. Dai claimed his wife repeatedly attempted to poison him and there’d probably been some truth in the accusation for more than once she’d been seen gathering young heads of Waterdrop Hemlock by the brook under the light of a full moon. Mrs Jones-Jones – deceased – had been mean as dirt, never gave a penny to charity. Indeed and to goodness she’d even haggled about prices at the Mothers’ Union jumble sales when buying second-hand clothes for them both. Worse, she’d rigged her scales, habitually cheating on weight, as well as short-changing.

“Dai and Gwenffrewi were of the old school,” Owain began, “living simply, not given to extravagance and ostentation—”

Morgan’s snort of derision was cut short by a painful jab in the ribs from Mrs Pritchard-Evans. He subsided. It was all unreal, as if watching a DVD run by him on >FF. Nothing made sense. And he didn’t believe it was happening anyway.

Arglwydd, trugarha wrthym,” intoned the vicar.“Lord, have mercy on us.”

“Too right,” replied Morgan. Raising his dad’s handkerchief he partook of the doctor’s mead. Church, flowers, twin coffins, the unctuous voice, all faded from his consciousness. He slid to his knees. And there he stayed.

Owain chose to turn a blind eye, assuming against all the odds that the bereaved was overcome by grief, as he did when Morgan arrived at the graveside, half-supported, half-dragged by Reece the Hill and Pugh the Ferrets. It was raining, of course. But that did nothing to disguise the overpowering pig slurry stink emanating from Morgan’s clothing. Even Pugh was wrinkling his nose a bit, and he hadn’t washed for several years. With the exception of Owain, the entire funeral party shuffled en masse to the opposite side of the grave. Reece tried to join them but seconds later Morgan was facedown, peering into the dark cavern of the infinite hereafter.

“It’s a double,” he croaked. “You can’t put them in a double.”

“Shut your trap.” Reece and Pugh kindly frogmarched Morgan behind a convenient sepulchre where they punched him into a reasonable state of sobriety.

“Close in death, as they were in life,” droned Owain.

Dishevelled, and with his nose bleeding, Morgan loudly objected to his parents being buried together. “BUT THEY HATED EACH OTHER.”

“We all hate each other, lad,” Reece’s lugubrious tone echoed his expression. “See, men and women were created to hate each other.” The sounds of agreement and approval of this sentiment came from a worryingly large proportion of the mourners.

“Ah. Ah.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”

The coffins were lowered. One of the trouser ferrets chose that moment to escape from a pocket and run down Pugh’s leg. And up again, forcing him to let go of Morgan. Bending forward over the gaping grave, Pugh began to slap at his crotch.

“Come up out of there, you biting bastard.”

“There’s disgusting,” whispered Mrs Reece the Hill.

“No respect,” muttered Miss Price the Arty-Crafty Shop.

Ffured!” screamed Pugh, by way of explanation.

“Ferret yourself!” retorted Mrs Reece the Hill, who was sensitive about her appearance. She turned on her husband who was now single-handedly trying to keep Morgan upright. “Call yourself a man? Are you going to stand there doing nothing while he calls me names?”

“Shhh,” hissed Mrs Pritchard-Evans.

“Shhh yourself, you fat nosy-parker.” Mrs Reece the Hill marched round the grave and prodded her husband. “Didn’t you hear me being insulted?”

“Quiet, woman,” barked Cadwallader.

The penny finally dropped. Reece glared. “Watch your mouth. You can’t talk to my missus like that, doctor or no doctor.”

“Shhh,” hissed his wife and Mrs Pritchard-Evans in unison.

Reece, totally flummoxed, was obliged to scratch his scalp violently as he attempted to make sense of this turnaround, momentarily letting go of Morgan, who toppled slowly over the edge to lie spread-eagled on top of Mam’s coffin splattering it with maudlin alligator tears and breaking his glasses into the bargain. It didn’t matter about the specs. He’d never needed them. He’d only got a pair because Mam was into screwing every last thing out of the National Health Service, it being English. Not that she was Welsh – unless she felt like it.

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 5

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

Rosie had laughed long and hard when Morgan claimed he worshipped his mother. In those days, he was trying to impress her with every bit of ammunition at his disposal, including posing as New Man with Hero tendencies, never realising that she was a psychology student and listening hard. It didn’t take much to work out that he was terrified of his Mam. With reason, though, with reason. What a battle-axe, vixen, tyrant, dictator,termagant! In short, a Mam to be proud of.Even with her human shish kebab failings, Boudica had nothing on her. Mam gave her men hell if they stepped out of line. She was probably the sort of good wife the ducking stool in Leominster museum, twenty miles or so up the road, had been invented for. Women in those days kept their lips buttoned in public. Anything else was cured by submergence in the river Lugg.

Maybe things would have been different if Morgan had been a daughter, but things being as they were, the only living creatures Mam cared about were the cats. Her girls. She worshipped them. They tolerated her. A natural born skinflint, she and Dai practically existed on fresh air whilst those hoity-toity felines lived off the fat of the land – smoked salmon, freshly-landed trout, buttered chicken livers, even caviar on selling a litter of purebred kittens. Only female cats were tolerated however. There were quite a few cat traps about the place for filthy marauding toms. And if she caught any it was off to the vet with them, to be done. Never mind asking the owners first.

Not that she didn’t keep her own gelding iron handy. She threatened Dai with it once a week, just to be on the safe side. Morgan, too, especially if she caught him with the wrong look on his face watching under-clad girls on television, and once when he dared smuggle in a Playboy comic. O my God, the carry-on then. She even threatened him with it through his bedroom door one night when the bed was creaking and she suspected solitary goings-on. How she kept two strapping big chaps like that under control is a mystery to be celebrated. Mam had only reached five foot one in her prime and she’d been shrinking earthwards ever since.

There were strict house rules. Only certain chairs could be utilised. All nose blowing had to take place outside. Nails were to be cut on Saturday evenings and at no other time. There was a strict ration of two sheets of hard lavatory paper a day. Best of all, Mam had painted a red mark on the bath. Run tepid water above the line and there was the devil to pay. It wasn’t just that though. To keep proper order, she was forced to chide them day in, day out. Sit up. Stand straight. Have you washed that neck? Call that combing your hair? You look as if you’ve been pulled through a hedge backwards. We’ll have none of your backchat here, thank you. Have you got nits? No? Then stop scratching. You’re not going out looking like that are you? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. Have you been today? Stop sniffing. Put your hand in front when you cough. Stop yawning. Sit straight. Don’t let me catch you raising your eyes to heaven when I offer my opinion. How dare you grin behind your hand when I talk to you?

She was frightening enough when she ranted about Hell – keep on doing that and you’ll end up in the Other Place. Ah, the Other Place. You know where I mean. But she put the fear of God Almighty into young Morgan by claiming that she listened to him talking in his sleep.

Old habits don’t die. They hibernate. Given the right conditions they’ll speedily reassert themselves. Let Slimmer of the Year loose in a chocolate factory and, given time, the Fat Woman compressed inside will reach out and grab with both hands no matter what. And as of old, Man of the World Morgan, six foot three in his toeless socks, built like a brick shithouse, sidled timidly through the back door, after spending a full five minutes wiping his shoes on the succession of dirt-trap mats. By now the cats were all busily washing their behinds, an unsubtle feline insult; the only satisfactory riposte being a furtive kick up the arse, later, when he caught them unawares.

Mam was still muttering over the range. She’d seen him all right, but pretended to jump violently, clutching at her allegedly palpitating heart, the minute he spoke. In spite of the roaring Aga, and curdled steam hanging like tropical cloud, the atmosphere in the kitchen was frosty. If his spirits had plummeted before, they were flat-lining now. Fat chance of any welcome here – nevertheless he approached his mother with theatrical cheerfulness.

“How are you, Mam?” He tentatively offered slightly wilted flowers, even attempted to kiss her cheek, something he was usually only required to do in appreciation of meagre birthday and Christmas gifts. “You’re looking well.”

“Ah.” One bony elbow jerked up to halt his progress. “What are you doing here?” She sniffed suspiciously. “What’s that bad egg smell? What’s that all over your trousers? When was the last time they got an iron over them? Are those blackheads on your nose? That shirt collar looks a bit grey. And whoever cut your hair?”

His tongue turned to lead. Fifteen years disappeared in as many seconds, reducing him to an over-sized gangling adolescent, shifting from foot to foot, a young rooster perched precariously on a barn roof hoping for a full-bloodied crow but only managing a squawk. Nervously clearing his throat, he tackled the first question.

“Didn’t you get my letter?” Morgan haltingly explained, again, about his redundancy.

Mam wasn’t listening. He could tell by the way she rummaged for a pot-lick to scrape dollops of some noxious-looking compound from one pan to another, screwing up her face as she tasted, adding pinches of this and sprinkles of that, lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, pursing her lips when she achieved dubious perfection.

“Fingers in the till, was it?” she shrilled, with her back towards him.

“No, Mam – of course not.” Sweat gathered to trickle down his ribs and vertebrae like icy digits fingering keyboards. His mouth was dry. Desperate to be seen as a good boy, he tried shifting blame onto the new boss. This proved a mistake. With her deep, abiding suspicion of all men, in all places, and at all times, Mam immediately took the side of Ms Kurswell, poor soul, only trying to get on in the world, and what a world. Another thought occurred to her. Not original, but it set off a train of accusations that had worn well over the years.

“You bin trying it on? Interfering with her?” A slight pause followed as she searched for the current term and triumphantly produced it. “Sexual arrasserment, that’s it. I’ll give you not keeping your paws to yourself.” She turned on him, giving him the special Mother Look, arms akimbo, lips sucked in, her eyes narrowed to mean little predatory slits. “Men! They’re all filthy animals, dirty beasts with one-track minds, only after we-all-know-what and bone idle, too. Women do most of the work in this world. Men would sit on their backsides doing bugger all day and night if we let them.”

Morgan sighed. He looked at the dipping, heaving flagstone floor. He studied the pot-bellied chimneybreast with its manky fox brush, the horse brasses on their cracked leather harness, and row upon row of red and blue rosettes celebrating cow, sheep, and cat perfection. Finally, he glanced up at the two great oak beams straddling the ceiling and remembered thinking how like splendidly spread thighs they were. Bringing to mind that fevered teenage imagery made his lips twitch and Mam noticed.

“Oh, yes, my lad, you can raise your eyes to heaven. You can smirk. I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face in a minute, just see if I don’t. Let me tell you this, the world wouldn’t be in half the mess it is if women had the running of it.”

“God help us,” muttered Morgan, but not quietly enough. Mam’s deafness was selective. Straining up on tip-bunion she clouted him. He reeled. Amazing what a punch a four-foot-eleven midget could pack.

The cats, still lavishing attention on their nether ends, stopped dead. Twitching thirteen tails in disapproval, they measured the mood change through their upward-pointing aerial hind legs and scrammed. Mam advanced, flipping a tea-towel and gibbering highly personal insults. Trying to sneak an occasional word in edgeways, Goliath slowly retreated to his accustomed chimney corner followed by a skilfully wielded wooden spoon. Glasses off, head down, the intervening years might as well have been a figment of his imagination. He’d been here so many times before. Welcome home, Morgan. Your role’s endured; nothing’s changed.

By now, Mam had worked herself up good and proper. She’d never needed much of an excuse. With her, PMT set in early, finished late, reared its harridan head mid-cycle, paused for a real mad go at the Change, then started again full time, with the pre- changed to post- as it were. Already her cheeks were blotched purple. Spittle flecked her lips. Her eyes glared. A flurry of blows descended on Morgan’s head and back. When the spoon splintered in despair, she grabbed a cast iron skillet and brought that down on his shoulders. The handle was greasy: the pan slipped through her fingers and cracked clean in half against the hearth.

“Now look what you’ve been and gone and made me do!”

“Sorry, Mam,” Morgan heard himself whimper.

It wasn’t enough. Not by a long way. Her eyes ranged along the work surface, assessing the offensive weapon potential of the remaining kitchen utensils. Morgan began edging towards the door. Start now, and he could be in Dover by midnight. Get on the first ferry to anywhere. Keep going. Damned if he’d ever come back.

Two sharp raps on the kitchen window stopped them both in their tracks. A monstrously distorted hobgoblin face materialised, winking and leering as it pressed hard against the steamed-up glass. But for its earthy brownness and the ingrained dirt in the landscape of cross-hatched wrinkles it might have been one of the most hideous of the stone gargoyles, flapped down on leathery wings from its perch above the church gutters. The creature gestured vigorously at something behind itself, grinning horribly to reveal jagged stumps of tobacco-brown teeth. Mam ignored the vision. To achieve this to full effect she had to stamp, fists clenched, to the other end of the kitchen. Morgan straightened cautiously, grateful for the diversion.

“Dad’s trying to tell you something.”

“Don’t take any notice of the senile old fool.” Mam seemed to have decided in favour of the steak tenderiser. Staring meaningfully at her over-sized, cuckoo-laid son, she paused, weighing it in her hand. Morgan’s eyes flicked, Wimbledon fashion, between her and the bizarre performance by his father, who’d made for the midden in front of the cowshed. With dung-laden cattle bedding up past his knees, Dai executed a brief jig, checking that plenty of muck adhered to his boots. Apparently satisfied, he unzipped his moleskins, unbuttoned his longjohns, and pulled out a yard of shirt tail before catching hold of the clay-encrusted Mercher. Dai disappeared from view as he made for the back door. A minute later he stamped heavily through the scullery and into the kitchen, his face a beatifically innocent mask, puffing and blowing and dragging his feet so that a thick trail of filthy straw was deposited on Mam’s spotless floor. She spun round, a whirling dervish of apoplectic fury howling a two-minute warning while Dai quickly yanked forward the stiff-legged, resisting dog – tail between its legs, whining in protest – and positioned the wretched animal in front of his body.

“Get outside with them boots, you dirty bugger.” Mam’s fists became wiry claws twisting an imaginary neck.

“I only—” Dai beamed, a cock-eyed, gap-toothed, elderly baby anxious to please.

“You done that deliberate. Take that daft grin off your face. Do your clothes up decent, you senile old bugger or I’ll have you put away. And take that stinking animal out with you. You know I don’t allow dogs in my house. Go on. Get out. Out. Out. OUT.”

Dai didn’t move. Mam’s eyes bulged dangerously. She lunged at her husband with the meat tenderiser while Morgan continued to skulk in his corner. The dog howled and bared its teeth, cringing and spotting the floor with urine as it frantically pulled towards the scullery. Dai held tight to collar and a handful of mud-caked ruff as Mam took a run at him, smartly sidestepping at the last moment while muttering something unintelligible.

“What was that?”

“I said: Oh, well, if you don’t want to know—”

“Don’t want to know what?”

“Thing is—” Dai made a great production of wiping his nose on a relatively clean patch of shirt tail. The noise that issued from Mam’s throat was nearer a growl than anything. She hopped up on a chair, raised the meat tenderiser and held it poised six inches from his skull. “All right, woman, all right. I was only trying to tell you that my Venus has pushed her gate open again. Don’t know how she works it out.” He nodded at Morgan. “Welcome home, son, such as it is. Real intelligent, pigs are. Folk don’t give them credit for half—”

“Where is it?” Mam hissed, between clenched teeth.

She.” Dai’s tone was reproachful. “Venus was named after the goddess. Pigs were worshipped in the old days. Jupiter was suckled by a sow. I got that out of a little book from the church bring-and-buy sale. Aw, get off me, woman. Hold your horses. I was just coming to it, wasn’t I? She must have opened it with her snout.” Dai’s arm came up to field off a second blow. Mercher seized his chance, rolling his eyes he skidded across the floor, nosed open the door and made for the comparative safety of the skeletal wooden barrel which was all he’d ever known by way of a kennel. “All right, let me alone – Venus has been and got in the garden.”

With a bloodcurdling shriek, Mam rocketed outside in her slippers and pinny. Dai’s grin widened. He brushed himself down, tucked himself in, zipped up, discarded the gormless expression, and assumed a look of near malevolent determination. Morgan might as well not have been there. He watched in fear and trembling of what would happen next as his father happily tap-danced off a bit more muck, spreading it around and kicking some underneath the dresser where the smell would stand a chance of developing its full potential.

That done, Dai pottered round the kitchen, sampling this and that, anything forbidden: a handful of raisins, a spoonful of brown sugar, another of strawberry jam, two hooked fingers full from the bottom of the beef dripping jar, a packet of special reserve chocolate digestives, one raw onion, half a pound of cheese, and the last slice of pork pie which he wrapped in a cabbage leaf. He hawked and spat thoughtfully into the chutney pan, giving the contents a good stir. His son’s presence was only acknowledged when Dai flicked a single nervous glance towards the door on unearthing Mam’s plump purse from the dishcloth drawer. Then he grinned conspiratorially as he emptied the entire contents into the cheese and onion pocket.

“Bit of beer money, that’s all. Well, well, well, back at last, son. Knew you’d see sense in the end. England’s no place for a man – full of whores and Nancy-boys. Warned you, didn’t I?”

“No, Dad.”

“Ah, well.” Dai noisily shifted the catarrh further up his nasal passages. “Better grab yourself some bait, son. We’ll get nought but tongue pie for the rest of the day. Venus is going through your Mam’s garden like a dingle bat. Might as well go and watch the fun.”

Fingering his rapidly swelling bruises, Morgan followed his father out into the yard where the seasonal dirge continued, rising and falling, breaking like waves against the farmhouse walls. Humming a snatch of The Dambusters, Dai paused to secure Mercher by means of a chain fastened to the iron hoops of the disintegrating barrel. Half a dozen cats jeered from the stone jetties of the disused dovecot. A thin wind had risen, lifting and slamming back the corrugated tin roofs of the sheds like slow handclaps, out of time. Lacking buttons, Dai tied up his jacket with a strand of turquoise baler twine. The rain had given up for a while and, in spite of the cold, a few rays of sunshine now broke from behind the clouds, illuminating the scene and giving it a swollen, peasant quality worthy of Bruegel.

Most flowers were useless fripperies in Mam’s eyes. Could you eat them? You could not. No point to them then, unless, that is, they were foreign, unpronounceable and enviable. She had no use for logic. While the front garden was best described as a conservation area – butterflies and goldfinches thrive on thistles and nettles – for God-only-knew how many years, the kitchen garden had been her shrine, her act of supreme creativity, her place of perfect order. Never a weed was allowed to raise its head more than a centimetre above the thickly manured soil. Once, long ago, Dai had been permitted entry to turn over the neglected hard clay. Since that day, no feet but hers had trodden the cinder paths. All winter, every winter, she brooded over catalogues, pondering the choicest varieties, the heaviest yielders, and the best way to extend the growing season. One of Morgan’s earliest memories was of getting slapped around the legs with a rolled-up copy of Sutton’s Seeds. Little from the cornucopia ever reached the family table. On the principle that serving up petits pois, lolla rossa, or indeed anything of top quality to her menfolk was tantamount to casting pearls before swine, most produce was sold at the farm gate. The family got by on misshapes, mutations, and outside leaves, plus anything free gleaned from the countryside. Including such delicacies as hop tips, which weren’t bad, and young fern curls, which resembled nothing so much as furry green caterpillars and induced spectacular vomiting.

One of the worst periods Morgan could remember was when Mam worked through a 1917 book, a jumble-sale acquisition, entitled The Wild Foods of Great Britain: Where to Find Them and How to Cook Them.Born from the food scarcity of the First World War, this tiny volume provided her with recipes for cooking everything from badgers (smoking their hams over birchwood fires) to young rats (stuffed with sweet herbs and breadcrumbs), grasshoppers (thighs only, fried in butter), butterfly larvae (incorporated intoomelettes), and every variety of snot-ridden garden mollusc (soup: twenty-four slugs produced a pint).

The experiments seemed to go on forever. In the end Morgan got so thin that the school nurse sent a letter home. But it was the time involved in hunting down these epicurean bargains that finished it for Mam – her garden started to suffer – coupled with the misogynist flavour of the text. Under the index entry ‘Cooks, female’ she discovered the following statement: ‘The reason why female cooks are such conspicuous failures is they are not capable of giving adequate attention to the business of cooking.’ That was it – into the fire for L. C. R. Cameron – back to brush-pollinating melons for her.

In a rare moment of attempted male bonding, Dai and Morgan once tried to work out her income from the well-stocked acre. Clearly, her activities were lucrative. In a land inhabited by farming folk intent on raising kale, potatoes, mangel-wurzels, and bigger and better strains of leek, her band of loyal customers were apparently prepared to pay whatever inflated price Mam demanded for her aggressively organic produce. Now Morgan trembled and gnawed his nails to see the garden full of Rhode Island Reds gratefully scuffling up the loam, accompanied by a ton of mud-spattered, contentedly grunting prize sow using its broad snout to ridge and furrow.

Mam grabbed an armful of pea sticks and screamed profanities while flailing the sow’s back in a vain attempt to get it off the strawberry patch. Dai thoughtfully peeled the onion and made himself a sandwich with two chocolate digestives and the cheese. He took alternative bites.

Suddenly the pea sticks stung. Venus took off at high speed with an outraged squeal, sprinting down the rows, nipping off whole lettuce heads as she went. At the first crunch of cinders under trotter she about-turned, grumbling and lowering the massive, bristly chins for a defiant charge through the Brussels sprouts. Mam was close behind whacking the large pink rear with the flat of a spade. Hens scattered. Feathers flew. The dog was up on its hind legs, yipping and choking as it yanked on the chain, desperate with excitement. As the screams, squeals, clucks, moans, yelps and curses rose to a cacophonic climax, Dai collapsed against the open gate, helpless with laughter until, his bladder no longer what it had been, he retired briefly to water the rhubarb.

“Goddess, see,” he managed to wheeze out, after a few false starts.

“What?” Morgan stared, appalled. What had he come back to? How the hell was he ever going to get the peace needed to produce his masterpieces in this loony bin?

“Venus. That’s Gwener, in the Welsh. Aphrodite. Read all about her in the Reader’s Digest, like I said. See, before all this lovey-dovey twaddle them Romans saddled her with, she was goddess of kitchen gardens.”


“So she’s doing Mam an honour really.”

“I doubt she’ll see it that way,” Morgan shouted above the steadily rising din. “Aren’t you going to do anything, Dad?”

“Well,” Dai pushed back his greasy cap and scratched his head, “could let Mercher have a go. Don’t suppose it’d do much good, mind. He’s bad enough with the sheep. Past it, see. About as much good as a sundial in a cellar really.”

He clapped his hands over his ears at a particularly high-pitched scream. Venus had discovered the asparagus bed, the high altar of the garden. Conscious of her antecedents she sought out the precious ten-year-old crowns that were her due, enthusiastically rooting them up like truffles, nipping off the coarse fern stalks, and savouring the succulent morsels with a series of appreciative snorts despite the rain of blows being delivered to her broad backside.

“Do something,” shrieked Mam, galloping towards them. Dai cheered. In retaliation, his wife did what she’d been threatening to do for years. Picking up a mattock she took an almighty swing at Dai’s head with the handle. There was a nasty dull thud.

“Bugger hell,” said Dai, turning towards Morgan. “The old bitch has finally finished me off.” He keeled over in slow motion, still grinning as he fell. Right on cue, Mercher began to howl.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” Morgan stood rooted to the spot. Nobody would believe his tiny Mam did that. He’d be blamed. They’d call it patricide – the ultimate crime. It was that woman, that Kurswell cow. She was a witch. Her curse was working.

“Don’t just stand there gawking, you idiot,” screeched the Widow Mam, not sparing her husband a second glance. “Help me get this filthy lump of pig-sty beef out of my garden.”


“NOW.” Seizing hold of the sow’s tail, she began to pull. Venus shot forward, straight across the parsnips and through the blackened stick-bean vines, dragging her tormentor after her. Mam doggedly hung on, alternately cursing Morgan and calling on God and all His angels to help her because her fool of a son wouldn’t.

It started to rain again. To pour – in fact, now it was the sky’s turn to open its bladder and let rip. Within minutes the yard was awash. Even Mercher was silenced and stood, head down, wet and skinny as a giant rat.

The spell broke. Morgan was galvanised into action. Letting out something approaching a war whoop, he sprinted after the battling pair. Venus glanced back at the sound, observed two opponents and realised that desperate measures were called for. With a nightmare shattering of glass, she charged in one closed end of the greenhouse and out through the other. Mam was suddenly silent. Time stood still. Then a hen started shrieking as if an especially large egg was pulling its insides out. Seconds later, the pig reappeared, ambling down the path between the blackcurrant bushes, slowly ingesting the wildly protesting, and still very much alive, fowl.

By moving his head a fraction, Morgan could see his Mam wedged across the greenhouse door. Never, in his entire life, could he remember her being quiet for so long. She was dead. He knew. He could feel it. Any minute now the world would end. They had come to the time when Celtic oaths became redundant. Today the sky would fall.

He went on staring. The rain went on pissing down.

Some time later, the yard gate creaked open. In through the gap edged Pritchard-Evans the Limp, a wall-eyed, stunted, bow-legged apology for a Welshman, a neighbour that nobody in their right mind needed, looking for something for nothing, clutching a handle-less willow basket and a handful of very small change.

“How do, Morgan, lad? Good to see you back. Have the missus got any cracked eggs today?” He was almost on top of Dai before he saw him. Then he stopped dead, his disparately focused eyes sizing up the situation. “Oh, good Lord, what they been up to now?”

Morgan opened his mouth and closed it again. He gestured helplessly towards the flowery hump of Mam’s pinny. Pritchard-Evans darted here and there, feeling in vain for pulses, and then skedaddled inside to call the doctor, temporarily forgetting the alleged walking difficulties that had kept him in benefits for the last fifteen years. When he returned the corners of his mouth were neatly turned down, but his hands gave him away, rubbing themselves together with suppressed glee. What a carry-on. Something told him he’d be drinking free for months on this story in the DeLacey Arms.

Pritchard-Evans glanced at Morgan, then at the two corpses. “We can’t leave them lying there, boyo. You know pigs. They’ll eat anything.”

He was right. Venus was already tentatively snuffling over the one brown tartan slipper that still encased Mam’s foot. Between them they carried Mam and Dai into the farmhouse, laying them side by side on the kitchen table with the harvest festival of chutney ingredients massed around their feet.

“Dear, dear.” Pritchard-Evans shook his head and attempted to straighten out Dai’s demented grin. It proved impossible. With an apologetic shrug, he covered the old man’s face with a clean tea towel. After a moment’s reflection he decided to repeat the process with Mam and her Gorgon bared teeth. “Some tea, I think.” It arrived strong and black, with six sugars and medicinal brandy instead of milk. The result was cool but stimulating. Pritchard-Evans patted Morgan’s shoulders. “There’s a thing to come home to. What happened here, boyo? You want to talk about it?”

“No.” Morgan took a deep gulp from the heavily chipped Pink Panther mug that had been his from the age of seven, when Mam had ‘rescued’ it from someone else’s dustbin. “No. But please get those bloody moggies out of here.”

“I’ll have a try, boyo, but they’re a law unto themselves, cats.”

One by one the cats had slunk back, prowling the floor and hissing, yowling unease, lashing their tails and sharpening vengeful claws on the table legs. Pritchard-Evans was worse than useless, hobbling round shouting: “Shoo! Shoo!” and waving his arms. A ferociously black member of the tribe jumped up to lie against Mam’s still warm body. Morgan felt nausea rise like stagnant canal water washing against lock gates. He calmed himself with more tea: half and half this time, then reversed the pouring order, opting for mostly brandy with a splash of tea. The shock slowly wore off.

He felt numb. Empty. No sadness yet. No grief. Not even a twinge of self-pity. Picturing Mam holding on to the pig’s tail brought bubbles of hysteria rising to fill the vacuum. Morgan quashed them, terrified of the consequences of laughter in this makeshift mortuary and, to keep them at bay, worked on his hatred of all things feline. Narrowing his eyes he outstared each of the cats in turn. It was his turn to perform a banishing ritual.

“You can all sod off. This is my house now and buggered if I’m feeding a gang of cats.” Plenty of rodents round the yard, flocks of crows…and small helpless creatures in the woods and fields. Let them try living off the land for a change. It only took a fortnight for a domestic cat to turn feral. They wouldn’t look so aristocratic with matted fur and empty bellies. Pinned to the back of the pantry door Morgan discovered a sheet of paper listing the pampered creatures’ dietary preferences. He tore it down.

“Listen to me Hemwinkle Haborym Llsiau’r Drindod, Hemwinkle Haborym Gwyddfid, Hamwinkle Haborymed Pleun Eira, Hemwinkle Haborym Blodeuyn, Hemwinkle Haborym Llygad y dydd, Hemwrinkle Haborym Lili’r dyffrynnoedd, Hemswinkle Harborym Cenhinen Bedr, Hemwinkle Haborym Rhosyn, Hemwinkle Haborym Cariad, Hemtwinkle Haborym Croeso haf, Hemmedwinkle Haborym Eirinen wianog, Hemwinkle bastard Haborhymn Blodyn cigliw, Hemwanker bloody Haborym Cannwyll llygad, otherwise all known as Cat. Or Mog. Or Squashed-Turd-face. I hereby give you notice to quit. Avant thee foul fiends. I banish you from this place.” Morgan giggled and sat down with a thump.

The cats yawned.

Morgan closed his eyes for a minute and a faint whisper seemed to run round the walls. Mam’s voice, in one of her better moods, reciting a favourite poem:

Hemlock, juice of aconite,
Poplar leaves and roots bind tight.
Watercress and add to oil
Baby’s fat and let it boil.
Bat’s blood, belladonna too
Will kill off all who bother you.

“What? What?” He woke from a wild brief dream in which his Mam was laying-out herself and Dai on the front lawn along with the bodies of all the cats, Venus, and several of the villagers who had crossed his mother and met with sudden and inexplicable deaths. Confronted by Mam’s muddy slipper and lisle-stocking encased foot alongside Dai’s filthy wellington boots, all pointing skywards to the great hereafter, he pinched himself hard, convinced he was still in a shallower level of dream state. The pinch made him yelp. Shit, this was real.

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.

Intrigues and Machinations: Conclave by Robert Harris

Review by Jon Elsby

Assessing Robert Harris’s1 Conclave is not only a question of style. Also singled out are the quality of the dialogue, the architecture of the narrative, the balance between different sections, the sharpness of the characterization, the economy and precision of the descriptive writing, the ability unerringly to choose the telling concrete detail, and the sheer readability of Harris’s prose – the sense that the narrative practically reads itself without requiring any indulgence from the reader.

Conclave concerns a convocation of cardinals to elect a new pope on the death of an incumbent who clearly resembles Pope Francis.2 Historical persons – Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI – are interwoven into a narrative whose fictional characters, in the words of the now customary (and legally obligatory, even if disingenuous) disclaimer, bear no intentional resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead. The central characters are the papabili: namely, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Jacopo Lomeli, an urbane papal diplomat and canon lawyer; the Secretary of State, Cardinal Aldo Bellini, an aloof, austere intellectual and liberal theologian; the Nigerian Cardinal Major Penitentiary, Joshua Adeyemi, whose robust views on homosexuality appall the liberals but delight his fellow Africans; the suavely photogenic French Canadian Cardinal Joseph Tremblay, the Camerlengo or Chamberlain; the ultra-traditionalist Cardinal Goffredo Tedesco,3 a wily ecclesiastical politician and a perpetual thorn in the side of the late Holy Father; and Cardinal Vincent Benítez, the Filipino Archbishop of Baghdad, whom the late Pope had elevated to the cardinalate in pectore.

Lomeli himself has no ambition to be Pope, but one by one the other candidates fall by the wayside. Bellini shows himself to be lacking in moral courage. It transpires that Adeyemi as a young man had fathered a child out of wedlock by a girl who was probably underage at the time. Tremblay is exposed as a blackmailer whom the late Pope, in one of his last acts, had dismissed from all his offices for gross misconduct. Tedesco overplays his hand and alienates the moderates whose support he needed to secure the necessary number of votes. Lomeli’s election seems inevitable. But, in another twist, it is Benítez who is elected, to Lomeli’s mingled relief and disappointment. His election is succeeded by a final revelation which it would spoil the reader’s enjoyment of the novel to disclose.

The plot is, of course, implausible, as the somewhat contrived and convoluted plots of thrillers are apt to be. Conclave was published to mixed reviews, and several reviewers criticized the less credible aspects of the story. But they missed the point, which is not that such a concatenation of events is at all probable, but that it is (just about) possible. They also missed the skill with which Harris recreates the atmosphere of the Vatican, with its characteristic juxtaposition of splendid opulence and spartan austerity, and the distinctive tone of communications between senior clergy, which is compounded in equal parts of urbanity, indirectness, candour, self-restraint, articulacy, courtesy, precision, and intellectual clarity. It is a tone perhaps best summed up in the Greek word, parrhesia – a term derived from classical philosophy, but hardly heard outside the Church nowadays. It means to speak frankly, but to ask forgiveness for so speaking.

Harris perfectly captures the pervasive climate of secrecy and intrigue which many Vatican observers have noted. Scandal is to be avoided at all costs. In some ways, this is laudable, especially in an age of such vulgarity as ours, with its insatiable appetite for the lurid details of any salacious goings-on. But it also causes as many problems as it solves or avoids. The scandal of clerical sex abuse, which has done such serious reputational damage to the Church since it first broke in 2002, would have been far less traumatic had it not been for the misguided attempts to cover it up, shield the perpetrators, silence the victims, preserve the appearance of decorum, and protect the Church’s good name. Even today, after almost two decades of appalling revelations, there is scant evidence of the kind of rigorous self-examination and profound cultural change in the Church that are needed in order (1) to address the fallout from the scandal, and (2) to ensure that it never happens again.

Harris also conveys the sheer impossibility of the papacy’s demands – the scale of the job; the weight of responsibility; the unreasonable expectations placed upon the incumbent; the relentless scrutiny, the investigative endeavours, and (often) malicious intentions of the media; the physical and mental stamina required; the intellectual qualities; the extensive knowledge of history, theology, philosophy, canon law, politics, current affairs, and diplomacy; the personal holiness, and the other pastoral and spiritual attributes…and the list could go on. The Pope is expected to be without sin, no matter how often popes reiterate that no one is sinless. Moreover, that expectation is by no means confined to Catholics, for many non-Catholics would also condemn a pope whose sins had been uncovered. Most of the popes have been old men, some very old. None has been young. For how much longer can we expect septuagenarians and octogenarians to shoulder the insupportable burdens and impossible demands of this job?4 Surely, ordinary human decency necessitates a more collegial approach to the governance of the Church of the future – this fast-expanding, global Church with around 1.3 billion members worldwide. The burdens and responsibilities of the papal office will have to be dispersed and shared, and Church governance will have to be more transparent. The Church will also have to find meaningful roles – i.e. roles which involve the bearing of administrative responsibility and the exercise of executive power – for the laity, especially for women. It is no longer acceptable for all the power to be concentrated in the hands of the clergy, let alone in the hands of one man. The popes of the future will probably be more like prime ministers – primus inter pares – than absolute monarchs.

None of this is explicitly stated in Conclave; but, first, there is little doubt that Harris’s sympathies in the theological and ecclesiological controversies currently raging between liberal-progressives and conservative-traditionalists in the Church lie with the former; and, second, the clear implication of his account of the tortuous process of electing a new pontiff (and the extremely slender – some would say, manifestly insufficient – grounds on which some candidates are eliminated from the election), is that what is now demanded of a papabile is unrealistic, and it can only be a matter of time before a pope is elected who is subsequently found to have a skeleton in his closet.

Harris hints that at the heart of the present dysfunction in the Church is the prevailing attitude among the clergy to women. He quotes as follows from Pope John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul:

‘As for women, and everything to do with them, never a word; never; it was as if there were no women in the world. This absolute silence, even between close friends, about everything to do with women was one of the most profound and lasting lessons of my early years in the priesthood.’

This [adds Harris] was the core of the hard mental discipline that had enabled Lomeli to remain celibate for more than sixty years. Don’t even think about them! The mere idea of going next door and talking man to man with Adeyemi about a woman was a concept that lay entirely outside the dean’s closed intellectual system.

Harris does not pose the obvious questions, but they insistently obtrude themselves nonetheless. Is this healthy? Is it normal? Is this how a priest should live – by forcing himself to ignore the existence of half the human race? Is this conducive to growth to sexual and psychological maturity? Does the discipline of celibacy result (in some cases) in a malformation of ordinary human sexuality, and, if so, does this explain why so many among the senior clergy were apparently less able to empathize with the victims of clerical sex abuse than with the perpetrators? And does it also explain why they display a certain tone-deafness to the needs of women in the Church?

Conclave shows that serious issues can still be raised in works of popular fiction. This would not have seemed an unfamiliar idea to the Victorians – or, for that matter, to the Edwardians and Georgians. If it has become strange to us, that is because of the comparatively recent emergence of new forms of popular literature – e.g. airport fiction, beach reading, ladlit, and chicklit – which combine poverty of language, triviality of subject, and vacuity of thought to a degree one hopes will be unsurpassable. It is good to be reminded that not all writers and publishers have given up even trying to produce intelligent popular fiction, and that the term is not yet an oxymoron.


1It is worth mentioning that Harris is not himself a Catholic. However, he writes with considerable insight about the Catholic Church and the clergy, and his tone is unfailingly respectful. It is sad that this is so uncommon today as to deserve special mention.

2In a prefatory note, Harris says that, ‘despite certain superficial resemblances’, the late Holy Father depicted in Conclave is not meant to be a portrait of the current pope. This should be taken with a pinch of salt. The resemblances are more than superficial, and are too numerous to be coincidental. For example, Harris’s late pope is a reformer who has alienated traditionalists in the Church and has aroused much determined opposition in the Curia and in the college of cardinals. He is dealing with scandals in the Church, but is handicapped by feeling surrounded by enemies with no one he can trust (cf. Pope Francis Among the Wolves by Marco Politi). And he lives in the simple Casa Santa Marta in preference to the luxurious papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.

3Is his name accidental (Tedesco = German) or is this meant to be a reference to Ratzinger/Benedict? However, while the fictional Tedesco shares some of Ratzinger/Benedict’s views, he does not appear to possess the Emeritus Pope’s formidable intellectual qualities, theological expertise, or gentlemanly manners.

4The demands of the papacy have been enormously magnified by the relentless, unceasing scrutiny of the modern mass media – not only their focus on what the Pope says and does in the present, but also their determination to ransack his past for any indiscretions, errors, or missteps. And the worse they are, the better, as far as the media are concerned.

Jon Elsby is the author of numerous books on aspects of Roman Catholicism, and is a specialist in opera, on which subject he has written a wide-ranging survey of operatic tenors, titled Heroes and Lovers.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 4

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.”

“It’s Jones-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—”

“It’s Jones-Jones.”

“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—”

“It’s Jones-Jones.”

“—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.”

Someone giggled.

“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.


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

About me flames the pentagram
and in the column stands the six-rayed star


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. 

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. 

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 3

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 2

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

Not everyone agreed about the name – or about the man.

Few minds are open to us. It’s another curse of the Age. Only three we managed to contact, but three is enough, three is a good number, it is our number. Three is harmonious stability bringing forth conscious movement, Zeno’s point from which to move the earth, the fiery tripod projecting the ‘I’ towards its destiny. Of these three, one was dead but lingering, the next sunk deep in her sorrows, pivoting on the liminal, alive but contemplating death through the bottom of her half-empty glass, the third still living, but mostly in the shadows of the past.

Death had turned the first bitter. Her teeth rattled in her empty skull. She plucked at her shroud.

“Morgan? Who’s he, when he’s at home? No, I never knew any Morgan. Why should I care anyway? Who got my money, that’s what I want to know – who got my bits of jewellery? All these years and never so much as a flower on my grave by way of thank you. I never knew any Morgan. Too busy hanging on to what I’d got to bother with other folks, wasn’t I? Too busy scrimping and saving, too busy working my fingers to the bone – look at the state of them now. So, do I know a Morgan? No, well, not unless you mean that gawby from The Porth. He’ll be no good to you. No money there. And he’s thick as two short plank-ends. Leave me be. Who got my money, that’s what I want to know – who got my bits of jewellery?”

Life was doing much the same for the second.

“Black Morgan was a bloodthirsty pirate, wasn’t he? Yeh, yeh, only joking, I know who you mean. Doesn’t come home much, but I’ve seen him about. He’s a bloke, what more is there to say? Take it from me, men only come home when they want something, or when there’s nowhere else left to go.”

The last lived with her blind tabby, some moulting poultry and an assortment of mute ghosts in a tumbledown shack, off a back-lane, down a track, through a gate and across a field. Her social life comprised Holy Communion at Easter – too dark to hobble that far come Christmas, too cold – a weekly shop at the Co-op, and the library on alternate Fridays. Since most of the voices she heard were inside her head anyway, she wasn’t averse to listening to three new invisible friends, even when we talked over each other – that’s the way of it, you see, past, present, future always overlap.

“Who? Oh, him. You’ve got to feel sorry for him,” she said, “in a way.”


“That name for a start. Well, I mean to say – Morgan isn’t the half of it.

Go on.

“It’s Morgan Llewelyn Padrig Arthur Caradoc Jones-Jones to be precise. What a mouthful – enough to gag on. Where’s the space on Income Support forms for that kind of malarkey? It was only tagged on to pacify the in-laws at the poor little rinnock’s christening.”


“It’s what we round here calls the smallest pig of the litter.”


“But of course, as things turned out, he was the only one.”

And the christening?

“That’s a story in itself, the christening. Wasn’t invited, was I? But yours truly went anyhow – wouldn’t have missed it for nothing. Like something out of one of them old fairy tales, it was. See, old Caradoc Jones, his paternal grandfather, had insisted it was a girl’s name, Morgan. Colour of beetroot he’d gone; spluttering and gulping and turning on the water works. Totally confused, I tell you. Poor old ffŵl was probably thinking of Morgan le Fay. Of course, they didn’t get stuck in Homes at the first sign of a dribble in those days. And Morgan’s mam, Gwenffrewi Jones née Jones, made everything worse by standing there smirking. All in black she was, from head to toe. At a christening! At her own son’s christening! There’s scandalous. Anyhow, the vicar assured Caradoc that Morgan was indeed a male name, the first element being mor, the sea, and so on and so on – which is perhaps why he grew up such a gallomping great wet. Talking of wet, Caradoc worked himself up into such a tub-thumping passion he lost all control and peed himself, didn’t he? Whereupon Gwenffrewi up and accused him of being the anti-Christ, deliberately spraying his unholy water towards the baby’s head, dirty old man. Budr pig. Filthy mochyn. Which was a lie, except Gwenffrewi was always right, even when she was wrong. No, no, let’s say that proper like – she was right especially when she was wrong. Still, it was a good excuse to smack Caradoc round the chops, something she’d wanted to do ever since taking the gamble and marrying Dai, his gawby gawk of a son, seventeen years before. It was a gamble that had paid off, mind you. Gwenffrewi wore the trousers all right. Yes, indeed. Rosemary, sage and parsley flourishes in her garden, don’t it? And we all know what that means. Lord and Master of all she surveys, that’s Gwenffrewi.

“Anyway, Caradoc’s wife, that’s Rhonwen – Gwenffrewi’s mother-in-law as was – didn’t take kindly to another woman stealing her battering rights. No, indeed, so Rhonwen upped and set about her with that mildewed old umbrella she always carried, even during droughts and heatwaves – cost three shillings and eleven pence ha’penny in proper money, she said, and plenty of wear left in it – wielding it like a shillelagh and screeching that it was Gwenffrewi what was the agent of Satan, a witch, no better than she should be, and that a babby born on the Change never came to no good. ‘He’ll probably grow up a Mongrel,’ her said, ‘look at his funny eyes, poor little crink.’”


She sucked in air. “Crink? Oh, that’s what we round here call the runt of the farrow.”


“‘Yes,’ her said, ‘and look at her, all in black, dressed in mourning because she’d set her heart on a girl. And that weren’t natural. Dirty bitch.’ At rock bottom it was more about the farm than Morgan’s mam though. See, when Dai and Gwenffrewi finally tied the knot, tradition was that the old couple give up the farm to go and live in a crap bungalow in the village. Well, it was a prefab, let’s make no bones about it. Anyhow, Gwenffrewi kicked her good and hard. Not to be outdone, Rhonwen spat acid at her. She missed, though, by miles. ‘Oooooo!’ the congregation gasped – every last one of them, even that heathen chapel lot, seeing spittle dripping off the font. ‘Ooooooo!’ ‘Indeed and to goodness, look at that!’ ‘There’s wicked!’

“Of course, Gwenffrewi being Gwenffrewi, she spat back…and she never missed nothing. Then the band started to tune up, first old Caradoc – what a carry-on, jumping up and down in his own puddle, shouting what passes for Welsh obscenities. They’ve never got the hang of swearing, the Welsh. It’s a musical language, all right, but for a good curse they have to dirty their tongues with Anglo-Saxon every time. Rhonwen mopped her cheek with a bit of torn-up sheet and started grizzling. Dai fumed and twitched, but quietly, though. Keeping out of it, or trying. No doubt fixing his mind on the long drink he’d promised himself when the ordeal was over.

“Just picture it – the church, the choir, Fumbler Meredith at his organ, all the pious aunts, up from Cardiff for the day with offerings of welsh cakes and laver bread, quivering and quavering platitudes. And finally Morgan parting his toothless gums, letting out a wail which set the few natural teeth left in the congregation – whipped them out rather than fill them in the sixties, the dentists I mean – on chalk-skreek-on-blackboard silver-paper-hidden-in-melted-chocolate edge. ‘Sounded just like the Gwrach y Rhibyn,’ said Rhonwen later, when she’d calmed down and got herself outside a few large port-and-lemons. ‘Mark my words there’s been some funny business going on there. Her and her cats and her blummin toadstool gathering and sep-ar-ate beds so I hear tell—’

“Any rate, the noise got so bad that the rest of the Welsh Jones, the English Jones, and the Jones-Jones congregation felt compelled to take sides. Seeing as this was the Marches it turned into the usual racist brawl: Welsh-English against English-Welsh, with knobs on. ‘Dirty Saxon pigs.’ ‘Stinking Welsh sheep shaggers.’ So nothing new there.

“In the end Vicar sorted it out by knocking a few heads together, and threatening to rub Caradoc’s nose in it. To hex-communicate, throw in the stocks and burn at the stake, to bring down hell fire, or lightning and that big pointy finger, all of the before-said but not in any particular order. And he tacked on those additional names, his, the choirmaster’s, the verger’s, as well as Caradoc for his tad-cu. You know who the Caradoc was I suppose? No? And you the educated ones! Well, well. Anyway, all this was just to assure the poor little scunny he was called upon to receive into the Church of his superior gender. Or so he said. Gwryw. Male. That was the important thing. Yes, indeed.”


“That’s what we round here call a rabbit – or a tiddling little pig. A bad start in life – maybe, but what can you do? That was nearly thirty years ago. Listen, things didn’t get much better before they got a whole lot worse. He had a strange childhood, that Morgan. The things I could tell you. His Mam kept him in girl’s clothes till he was seven, long hair and all. ‘Tydi hi’n ddel?’ they sniggered at school, ‘ain’t her pretty.’ It was a wonder he didn’t end up wired backwards, if you catch my drift. And another thing—”

She was still talking, long after we left.

And what of Morgan now, we ask ourselves?

Well, yes, that’s probably why our silver pin was drawn to him. A Pig, a fledgling Pig. A perfect specimen for the task, we feel. Publicly Morgan’s over-compensating for those challenging early years on a grand scale. Sisters, you know the type: full of himself, aggressively, swaggeringly, embarrassingly male, farting and belching and repeating the punch-lines of filthy jokes; advertising his allegedly high testosterone levels. A sad case. A latter-day would-be Priapus. But in spite of being big and hairy – black foam at collar and cuffs, werewolf tangles on his fingers, and we could lay bets he’s got one of those hearthrug backs, too – it didn’t take much probing to find the chinks in the armour. Morgan Jones-Jones is too chicken to play rugby for a start, or any other hide-threatening sport for that matter, and as for romance, zilch, though he almost believes his own lies on that subject. As far as we can ascertain, most of evenings are spent alone with a DVD.

And he still wears a vest: too frightened of his mam not to. Deep-seated fear of the Mother is often the bottom line in all matters relating to the Pig. Not that we’re blaming her. In a man’s world gain what power you can where you can and when you can. A mam has to do what a mam has to do.

And Caradoc – of course we knew. We might have come down in the world, but we remember most of what matters. First century British king, wasn’t he? An Essex boy, son of Cymbeline, founder of Colchester, though apparently few people still hold that against him. In 43 AD Caradoc organised resistance to the Roman invasion and the onslaught of patriarchy-proper. It was futile, of course. When they’d finished beating the shit out of him, and changed his name to Caractacus for purposes of declension, he fled to Wales. A sad and sunless end. Still, at least he tried.

The earliest known depiction of a pig was probably executed some 40,000 years ago by the cave painters of Altamira, south of present-day Santander, in NE Spain. The Pig, the Boar, is caught in the act of leaping to the attack. He is on the way to being erect. The fore-feet have left the ground. Such paintings were thought to bestow magical powers, both propitiating the victim and giving hunters influence over the hunted.

And so it is.

The hunt closes.

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.

Curing the Pig, by Eliza Granville

Episode 1

The Quixotesque misadventures of unreconstructed Marcher Morgan Jones-Jones, who has probably not heard of the suffragettes let alone second- and third-wave feminists.

From the beginning the stories spun around the affairs of woman, man, and pig have been singularly ravelled. And how could it be otherwise when the threads of their genetic make-up are so similar? How could it not be when pigs’ comic faces are human masks redrawn? When – so we are advised – the flesh of pig and long-pig has an identical taste? When your skin, like theirs, is subject to sunburn? When human hands plunder pig carcasses for xenotransplants? Evolutionists now speculate that a pre-Jurassic pig may have been the ultimate human ancestor, but this is old news: pig and man have always gone together like…eggs and bacon, like Neanderthalism and swinishness.

In those far off days when the Goddess Creatrix was revered, the pig was sacred to the moon, perhaps because it waxed rotund so quickly and its colour varied between white, muted reds and black. Pigs fed on corpse flesh, but rootled in the soil with their crescent-shaped tusks encouraging the earth to bring forth prolific new growth. Hence, pigs symbolised death-and-regeneration, two states inseparably linked and where life always triumphed. Death’s mournful victory over life corresponded with the arrival of sky gods and their eternal war games. Now only the death-wielding aspect of the ravening pig was retained. Echoes of its former role lingered in the belief that ferocious boar effigies offered the ultimate protection in the thick of battle, and in the champions’ pig, feasted on every evening but restored whole by morning.

The Goddess retreated. She bides her time. Gradually, those incoming gods gave way to one jealous Father God. Now he, too, is found wanting: Absence of the sacred feminine has resulted in extreme danger for this planet and all its sentient beings. There is an urgent need for return to the life-reverencing world view of earlier days. Balance must be restored – and quickly.

What of the Pig? The Pig is the anti-hero.

Let us play.

‘Women hold up half the sky.’ Chinese proverb

Man is not the measure of that which is human, men and women are. Men are not the centre of the world, but men and women are. The challenge before humankind is to transcend the oppositional framework of its culture and combine in balance both the masculine and the feminine for in that union will be formed something far greater than the sum of the parts; in that union lies the possibility of regeneration and life.

He who denies the need or the possibility, whether in speech or silently in the secret places of his heart, is the prodigal Pig. He is a coward, the pig reviled. To him accrue all the denigratory terms hitherto heaped upon the pig for his will, or his lack of will, spells death.

The Pig must be cured.

Let us play.

Pig: a thick-skinned and bristly omnivorous ungulate who believes in his own superiority and acts accordingly; a bore (sic) whose ravenous appetite for power might yet prove the undoing of him.

‘The Common Boar is, of all other domestic quadrupeds, the most filthy and impure. Its form is clumsy and disgusting and its appetite gluttonous and excessive.’ Thomas Bewick, 1755–1828

‘The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar / That spoiled your summer fields and fruitful vines’ Francis Bacon, Richard III, 1592

‘The Swine was uncleane, because he parteth the hoofe, but cheweth not the cudde; and of their flesh they might not eate, nor touch their carkasse &cc…. God would admonish the Jewes by this figure, and still we may learne by it, to be no Swine, no Hogges, no fylthie myrie creatures, wallowing in sinne and uncleannesse, withought regard and feeling, loving the earth, and looking ever on the earth and rooting in it all the day, and feeding the bellie with all greedinesse…. A knife therefore to the Hogge, that we may have Puddings.Ben Jonson, Bartholemew Fair, 1614

‘Being inflamed with venereal rage, he so fretteth upright the bristles of his neck, that you would take them to be the sharp fins of Dolphins; then champeth he with his mouth, grateth and gnasheth his teeth one against another, and breathing forth his boyling spirit, not only at his eys, but at his foaming white mouth, he desireth nothing but copulation, and if his female endure him quietly, then doth She satisfie his lust, and kill all his anger; but if she refuse, then doth he either constrain her against her will or else layeth her dead upon the earth.Edward Topsell, The History of Foure-Footed Beasts, 1658

‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?’ Jeremiah, 13:23

Piglets can be appealing. Hogs will disguise their true selves with all manner of winsome phrases. Sisters, make no mistake: Boars have never been properly domesticated. The Pigs are always with us.

Let us pray.

Mythologically, Pigs got around….

The infant Zeus was suckled by a sow, which may explain some of his subsequent antics. He was a nasty bit of work. Only a laughably Piggish imagination could dream up a story about retrospectively creating Woman as a punishment for Prometheus, when all he’d done was borrow a box of matches.

Then there was that business with Circe, Queen of Sarmatia, a much-maligned soul – a little lonely perhaps, maybe not as careful as she should have been with her dinner invitations – who found herself surrounded by a swinish horde of hangers-on.

‘No more was seen the human form divine; / Head, face, and members, bristle into swine.’ Homer, The Odyssey, book 10, c. 700 BC

Circe was kindness itself to Odysseus, in spite of his onion breath. He was a Pig, too. Back to his wife he went – they always do – leaving her with three children.

From time immemorial the rooting Pig has appointed himself both arbiter and executioner in the matter of what is proper in human relationships. Swine fever, hog-choleric, was first caused by Pig bile reaching boiling point at the sight of a woman canoodling with a younger man.

It couldn’t be tolerated. The balance of power might be disturbed.

Adonis was tasty, and Aphrodite, though beautiful, was old enough to be his great-grandmother, but in matters of love she was used to getting her own way.

Unfortunately an old bore (sic) found the age difference unacceptable and gored him to death, slashing into his groin with its tusk.

‘’Tis true, ’tis true, thus was Adonis slain: / He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear, / Who did not whet his teeth at him again, / But by a kiss thought to persuade him there; / And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine / Sheath’d unaware the tusk in his soft groin.’ Francis Bacon, 1593

Cybele’s consort, Attis, was despatched in much the same way – a particularly spiteful end. Even the goddess Ishtar hardly had time to get to know young Tammuz before the raging boar appeared on the scene. Seth was a Pig, too: look what he did to Osiris the minute Isis turned away to suckle her infant.

And who knows what really happened to Persephone? Eubulus told Demeter that her daughter had fallen into a great crack in the earth, but he was a swineherd, and the voracious appetites of Swine are well documented. Demeter must have had her suspicions though: every October, thousands of live pigs were thrown into chasms writhing with snakes. It wasn’t just for fertility reasons that the decomposed remains of the previous sacrifice were brought up and spread on the land. Not when little cakes in the shape of male organs were handed around at the ceremony. No, it was intended as an example to the rest.

It never worked. It never does:

‘Thee can’t educate pork.’ Old Herefordshire proverb

‘Ah, you can pook and you can shove / But a Sussex pig he wun’t be druv.’ Motto of the pigs of Sussex

No. Change has to come from within.

Let us play.

Woman was made in the image of the Great Mother Goddess. Man was a hastily bodged afterthought, created to provide diversion and do the heavy work. The Pig is the Devil’s own and bears his mark. Pigs have attempted to build Hell on earth for the last four thousand years. They have succeeded in erecting a semi-Hell known as patriarchy. This structure is condemned and overdue for demolition.

For those with a stomach strong enough, a simple test will quickly ascertain whether the specimen in hand is man or Pig. Remove his shoes, and yes, disagreeable as it is, the socks – that characteristic odour is the only protection the Devil afforded him. In the feet of a true pig there is a small hole, whereby the legions of devils enter when the pig attains its full Hoggishness. Around it are six minute rings which appear to be burned into the skin; these are the marks left by the Devil’s burning claws as he slips into what is, by then, a fully-fledged Swine. These stigmata of shame may be partially obliterated by exceptionally thick skin.

The most abrasive pumice, the harshest chemicals, cannot remove these marks. Again, the change has to come from within.

On the island of Koshima, as part of a 1950s research project, Japanese monkeys, Macaca fuscata, were fed sweet potatoes tipped onto the sand. One monkey, apparently disliking the gritty texture, started washing the potatoes in a nearby stream. Within a few years a great many of the young monkeys, and a few adults, let us say a total of 99 monkeys, had adopted this social innovation. Critical mass was reached one morning when the hundredth monkey followed suit. By that evening almost every monkey on the island was washing its sweet potatoes before eating them. What was more surprising was that colonies of monkeys on other islands and on the mainland at Takasakiyama, without having had contact with the original group, also began washing their potatoes.

It worked for monkeys. It works with consumers.

Who is to say that it won’t work for Pigs?

The core of chauvinism resides in the head, but its cure must involve the heart. Yeah verily, the head brimmeth over with wild fears and skewed reasoning; the heart has become like unto a black and wizened apple. Thanks be to Pandora, Earth Goddess, All-giver, for snapping shut the lid of the box that simpleton Epimetheus fumbled undone. But for her, there would be no hope.

How to begin this search for the hundredth Pig? In excess of six billion people swarm over the planet’s face. Half of them are male. Outed, or not, of that three billion a fair proportion are Pigs.

Earth, as much a living being as each and every one of her creatures, has seven major chakras – power points, organs of her subtle anatomy – corresponding to geographical sites on her great body. Her base chakra is located in Mount Shasta, California; the generative chakra by Lake Titicaca, which is (mostly) in Peru; that of the solar plexus around Ayers Rock. But it is old Albion that both cradles and breaks her heart chakra. And while the planet’s throat chakra quivers its swan song at the Mount of Olives, and the crown chakra endlessly meditates upon its dreams in Tibet’s Mount Kailas, it is also in tiny Britain that her brow chakra, her third eye, is located.

Heart and head, heart and eye, our hundredth Pig shall be from Britain, then.

And shall we let him be youngish…and not bad-looking?

Ach!Sister, at your age, why should it matter? Here’s the map. Let’s tie on the blindfolds. Now, take up the silver pin.

Time to prey.

Hunting The Elusive Feral Boar

We offer free range, fair-chase hunting the old fashioned way with or without hounds with an experienced guide. We provide the hunting dogs and the guide. We hunt both private and public game lands. There are NO fenced in animals. We will be hunting over in-heat scents using sow urine to bring in the big boars. We bait with corn and home brew.

All weapons are permitted (high caliber rifles, muzzleloaders, shotguns, archery, spears, knives, etc.). There are some restrictions on handguns (has to be over .25 caliber with a barrel length of at least 5 1/2 inches or more) and crossbows. Spear and knife hunting is permitted only at your own risk.

Are you up to the challenge?

—Promotional material: Wild Side Cherokee Boar Hunting, Tennessee

Pig notwithstanding, we’ll give our British specimen the benefit of a head start. Thirty years should be enough. It usually is, though to three immortals like us it’s less than the blink of an eye.

‘Little Shon ap Morgan, / Gentleman of Wales, / Came riding on a nanny goat,

A-selling of pigs’ tails.’

A good name – Morgan – with its hint of things-past bubbling below conscious memory: of the Fata Morgana; of Morpheus, god of dreams; of Mordred, the bad boy of Arthurian legend; together with a lingering taste of Morrigan, Celtic goddess of war, agent of change. Yes, a good name. We were on the right track.

In Celtic myth, Morgan Mywnoawr had a magic chariot, one of the great lost treasures of Britain. Among the other treasures were: Dyrnwyn, the sword of Rhydderch; Amen, the cauldron of Ceridwen; Cwm Annwn, Arwan’s hell hounds; the drinking horn of Gwigawd – which offered whatever liquid refreshment the heart desired; the whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud; the stone of Gwyddon – on which could be read all the arts and sciences of the world; Luned, the ring of invisibility; the knife of Llawfrodded Farchawg, capable of carving twenty-four portions of meat at once; the chessboard of Gwenddolen, which relieved the monotony of the game by playing itself, as did the harp of Teirtu; the cloak of Tegau Eurvon, which could only be worn by chaste women (whatever they are and wherever they may be); and a throne, the Stone of Scone, not lost at all, but only temporarily displaced. But Morgan Mywnoawr’s chariot would take him anywhere he wanted to go….

So be it, my weird sisters: spin the yarn, stretch the warp, set the heddles, and wind the many-coloured weft threads upon the shuttle.

This one will be the guiding hand. Let her be the one who tells of things and places that were and never were and may yet never be. And that one, in her own time, will tie up all the ends and finish it. Together we will weave the fable of the Pig who changed the world.

First, let us pry…

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.

The philosophy of Iris Murdoch

by Jon Elsby

During her lifetime, Iris Murdoch was probably better known – and more highly esteemed – as a novelist than as a philosopher. Privately, Isaiah Berlin once called her ‘a lady not noted for the clarity of her ideas’.’ Yet she taught philosophy at St Anne’s College, Oxford for several years, and, since her death, her reputation as a moral philosopher has steadily grown while her standing as a novelist has (unfairly, in my view) somewhat declined.

Some twenty years ago, I read, with great enjoyment and no little excitement, most of Iris Murdoch’s novels and, with more muted feelings, the better part of her published writings on philosophy. Having done so, I concluded that I had learned everything I could from her and, rather reluctantly (for one never parts readily from old friends), sold my copies of all her works to a second-hand bookseller.

Murdoch shared the belief of most of her philosophical contemporaries (1) that the idea of a personal God is no longer tenable, and (2) that God is irrelevant to morality. Both of these beliefs are treated by many modern philosophers as self-evident: so much so that, in most contemporary philosophical discourse, they are simply assumed without any discussion, argument, evidence, or proof. This seems rather high-handed, given that there are approximately 2.4 billion Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (which adds up to some fifty-seven per cent of the global population), for whom a personal God is not only a tenable idea but a reality; and all monotheists would concur that their deepest moral insights and convictions are derived from their conception of God. It would seem, therefore, that modern trends in analytical philosophy run counter to the common sense of rather more than half the human race. This does not seem in any way to inhibit the confidence with which most analytic philosophers hold and propound their beliefs. What that shows, it seems to me, is that, even where highly intelligent people are concerned, communities of the like-minded tend to reinforce existing prejudices and discourage the expression of any contrary views. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on the facts of the case. If the prejudices are benign and the contrary views malignant, then to reinforce the former and discourage the latter may be justified. If, however, the prejudices are dangerous errors, and the contrary views are necessary to their correction, then the opposite is the case.

It seems to me that Murdoch’s views on religion are deeply confused – and somewhat confusing. She expresses approval of the way religion ‘is detaching itself from supernatural dogma’, but fails to ask what remains of religion when this process of detachment is complete. She wishes to defend ‘the sovereignty of good’ and the reality of a transcendent dimension, but denies the existence of any transcendent source of goodness. It is not at all clear what ‘the Good’ means, or why, in the absence of God, it should be accorded a transcendent status. She claims that ‘as moral beings we are immersed in a reality that transcends us and that moral progress consists in awareness of this reality and submission to its purposes’, but she does not explain how a non-personal transcendent reality can have ‘purposes’ of any kind, let alone purposes to which we are morally obliged to submit.

It is surely not unreasonable to ask where Murdoch’s philosophy leaves God. The answers she offers are incoherent. She wishes to affirm the transcendent reality of the Good while detaching it from the idea of God – i.e. from a, or rather the, transcendent source of goodness. She wants morals without any foundation in metaphysics. She wishes to endow ‘the Good’ – the central concept of her moral philosophy – with ‘all of the characteristics traditionally associated with God’, but without positing any Divine Being: the divine attributes are left, as it were, suspended in mid-air, unattached to anything that might conceivably have such properties. In articulating her moral philosophy, she uses words such as ‘good’ and ‘virtuous’’as if their meaning were patently clear, which, in the absence of any religious framework, it certainly is not. She wishes to defend ‘an adult religion’, but a defence which consists in robbing the concept of religion of some of its defining characteristics – in fact, of all that distinguishes it from moral philosophy – is no defence at all.

Murdoch has been called a ‘Godless theologian’ but the term is a self-contradiction. Atheology is not some dynamic new form of theology, but its negation. Theology means literally ‘talk about God’. If the concept of God is evacuated of all meaning, if it is no more than a name without a referent, then there is nothing to talk about. And, in the absence of God, theology is meaningless – it becomes, quite literally, nonsense.

If, as Murdoch herself acknowledged, religion and morality are inextricably tied, then we should do well to desist from attempts to sunder those ties. The twentieth century graphically showed what becomes of such attempts. The totalitarian politics of the Nazis and the communists, the absurdist experiments of the Dadaists, the liberal humanism of the Bloomsbury Group, Sartrean existentialism, nihilistic hedonism, and the counter-culture of the 1960s, were all, in their different ways, responses to the Nietzschean proclamation that God is dead.1 They were endeavours to fashion a purely human world – a Godless world, in which absolutely free and autonomous human beings would create their own moral reality through their consciously willed choices. Iris Murdoch (who, as a student at Oxford, had briefly joined the Communist Party) was a part of that period; and her atheistic moral philosophy, notwithstanding its fundamental incoherence, is one of the more admirable and humane responses to the exigencies of the time. She deserves our gratitude for maintaining, however incoherently, against the prevailing trends of her time, the continuing vitality, relevance, and necessity of metaphysics to the enterprise of philosophy.

If philosophers wish to move beyond the ethical dilemmas arising from a moral philosophy which tries (unsuccessfully) to have things both ways – to affirm the reality of a transcendent dimension without acknowledging the logically necessary Being who alone can be the source of such transcendence – they should resume the ancient dialogue with theology. Here, some analytic philosophers will demur, saying that philosophy is concerned with the natural realm, not the supernatural, and therefore it cannot admit the claims of revelation, which are essential to religion. But to argue thus is to beg the question, not to answer it. The proper subject of philosophy is the whole of reality. If reality includes supernatural beings, then such beings must form part of the subject matter of a true philosophy. The only sense in which supernatural beings are excluded from philosophy and made the proper subjects of revealed religion, is that philosophy concerns itself only with the aspects of supernatural beings that can be known through the exercise of natural reason. Anything beyond what natural reason can discover belongs to revealed religion, which is the subject of theology.

Finally, moral philosophers should remember the words of George Washington in his farewell address of September 1796—

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of a peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

The history of the last hundred and twenty years is one long demonstration of the wisdom of those words. They deserve to be carefully pondered. The post-Nietzschean – and, more particularly, the post-war – generation of philosophers assumed too readily that the concept of God had been wholly discredited. It should have occurred to them that a concept which has formed the cornerstone of every great human civilization, and which has given rise to so many of the world’s religious and philosophical systems, its artistic masterpieces, its concept of law, its sense of the necessity of order, and its theories of government, would not be likely to disappear merely because, in certain parts of the world, it had temporarily ceased to be fashionable.


1The word ‘proclamation’ is here used advisedly. The death of God was not a proposition for which Nietzsche adduced any rational arguments. It was merely an assertion, violently made and vigorously insisted upon – but one for which no evidence was offered.

Jon Elsby’s spiritual and intellectual journey has been from Protestantism to atheism, and finally to Catholicism, an evolution he has traced in his memoir Wrestling With the Angel: A Convert’s Tale, published in paperback by CentreHouse Press. His most recent book, also published by CentreHouse Press, is Seeing is Believing, which develops themes touched on in his memoir, but with greater focus on the relations between faith and culture, an issue addressed by several American apologists, though very few on the UK side of the Atlantic have taken it up. Seeing is Believing is available on Amazon Kindle.


Harry Greenberg Reflects on a First Creative Project From His Early Teens

I have restored the family heirloom. It was handed down and went with the family wherever they went.

Some of them said, ‘For God’s sake, leave it behind, lose it in transit; who wants it? Who needs it?’

But it was never lost and never left behind. You might say it had a charmed life, though not all the family would agree. ‘Not even the dead ones,’ Aunty Minnie said. Grandfather Moishe, for starters, he would have been glad to see the back of it. The thought of it – if you have thoughts where he is now – would make him twist in his winding sheet. That, apparently, is what he was buried in, under terrible circumstances, talked about only in whispers, when I wasn’t there. If truly he was in his winding sheet, members of the family looked for him in vain. They said as they clustered, ‘That’s not him, never. Not in a million Yom Kippurs. Look at the nose, and the ears. Nothing like him.’

Anyway, there it was, the heirloom, hanging on the walls of different houses, sometimes exiled to the attic or the cellar in the hope that it might be forgotten or just disappear, then taken back again, dusted off and re-hung. It was sometimes placed in the front room where it couldn’t be ignored, but was usually consigned to one of the minor rooms, a guest bedroom or the study (where no one studied), a place half full of boxes, unread newspapers – all those things a family no longer requires but hopes to find a use for some day, and refuses to throw away or give to charity.

‘Give to charity!’ Aunt Minnie screamed. ‘We, we are charity! Give away what one day, God forbid, we might ourselves be in need of?’

Not that I judge. She wasn’t mean. It’s just that her past experience had denuded her of generosity.

You might say the heirloom was a kind of family history, though from time to time a family needs to forget, put aside, relegate, repress, exile its history. There are times when a history is like a bad smell. You can take only so much of it, before you have to leave the room.

There is, alternatively, another view: that when a nation, or a person even, forgets or refuses to remember its / his / her history, it / he / she goes on making the same mistakes. So is it with families. Individuals within a family, also. It could be that our family couldn’t make up its mind and that’s why the painting was sometimes in the dining room and at other times in the attic.

My Aunt Sadie, who was the only one in a family of fourteen to go for analysis, had strong views on remembering and forgetting. Dr Gruber, the analyst, who told her he had studied under Freud, but didn’t say where or when, also told her that we must all come to understand our past, in particular our personal past – if we are not be controlled by it and go on repeating our mistakes to the day we died. And even afterwards, God forbid, because some believed that death is not the end. You could come back as a stone, a vegetable, a flower. She said she would prefer a flower, a red rose, but not too sickly perfumed would be fine by her.

‘We shall have to see,’ said Dr Gruber. ‘It’s early days.’ That’s what Aunt Sadie said he said, anyway. But now I come to think of it she had lots of tales about what Dr Gruber, the analyst – as she always called him – had said or done. And as I now appreciate, recollections of patients are not always reliable. I won’t go so far as to say they tell lies or are schnorrers with the truth, but some go in for a fiction or two. Could be the practitioners are also a little guilty of shuffling the cards, but then what do I know?

Anyway, I didn’t mean to make such a diversion. It’s just that when I look back on those semi-halcyon days and wonder what was going on I think I must have been trying to understand something that drove me to look deep into the heirloom. For what purpose, who knows?

The painting was in a frame with scrolls and the kind of moulding you see usually on a ceiling, painted gold over a dry pasty stuff where it had broken away. It was discoloured from over- and even under-exposure. The layers of varnish I had to remove, you wouldn’t believe. In some places it looked as if generations of cats had stealthily pawed their tracks across it on their way to somewhere more interesting. There were cuts, where the glue hadn’t taken, curling at the edges like small wounds that hadn’t healed properly. Were they wounds collected on its travels and travails, inflicted by careless removals men, or premeditated stabbings by incognito (family?) assassins? The frame was ornate enough in its infinite scrolling but had been scored and chipped so that in places the plaster showed through. In others the gilt had tarnished to a curious brown.

Sometimes it was displayed in a good position where the light might fall in all the right places and show its best features to advantage. At others it got tucked away in the gloomiest possible position as if it reminded the family of something they preferred to forget, or at least not be reminded of too often – as I have mentioned above.

It was difficult to get the restoration started. I had permission from some members of the family. Others said yes, go ahead, but don’t tell anyone we said so. Yet others couldn’t or refused to make up their minds.

Aunt Sadie screwed up her lips into a purse with tight strings. ‘What you want to do that? It’s nice as it is. Let sleeping hyenas lie. Keep them far hence. Don’t dig up what’s best left interred. Who knows what lies hidden beneath those layers of varnish, what secrets are ensconced, what vast futility, what futile history? You willing to take responsibility for what you find? Not me, boychik. Count me out.’

Once she got going no one could hold a candle.

So I said to myself if you want to wait for permission from everyone you’ll wait a lifetime. By which time I might be in the heirloom myself and wish to take up a different position. So I counted my savings and took them in a bag to ‘Plinsky’s and Shpengler, Restorers and Investigations’.

‘You done this kind of work before?’ Mr Plinsky wanted to know.

‘You got experience?’ inquired Mr Shpengler.

‘I’ll learn as I go along,’ I told them.

‘What are you, a smart Shmuele?’ said Plinsky.

‘What’ll you do when you hang the skeletons in the closet out to dry?’ Shpengler demanded. ‘When in the interstices of the past you find something you least expect? What was thought to have been swept under the carpet? Screwed behind the skirting board? Taken in a plastic bag to a remote part of Hackney Marshes only to return limping next day? And bedraggled. Worse for wear.’

‘You can say that again,’ said Plinsky.

‘Worse for wear,’ said Shpengler.

‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘you have your agenda and I have mine. Give me the tools and I’ll finish the job.’

‘Agenda?’ Plinsky wanted to know.

‘Tools?’ inquired Shpengler.

I shrugged my shoulders. ‘You’re not the only investigators and restorers,’ I said. ‘I’ll go somewhere else.’

‘Hoity-toity,’ smiled Shpengler.

‘What vaulting ambition,’ remarked Plinsky.

In the end they gave me the information I required and wished me well, pointing out that their demurring was solely in my best interest.

‘It’s in your best interest,’ said Shpengler.

‘I second that, nihil obstat,’ agreed Plinsky.

When I got home I went straight to my room. Who should I encounter on the stairs but Auntie Estelle. She comes to call sometimes. She has a weak bladder and has to make frequent micturation visits. There’s only one toilet in the whole house. When Auntie Estelle visits no one else gets a look in.

‘What you got in that parcel?’ she wanted to know. ‘It smells,’ she sniffed, ‘suspicious.’

I might have been discovered in my endeavours had she not been on her way to relieve herself. By the time she had performed I was already in my room with the notice do not disturb: homework in progress, on the door.

I undid the string, opened the cardboard box and spread the contents on the bed. Anyone who knows anything about restoring knows how important it is to do the restoring yourself. There is some satisfaction to be had from taking a picture with the patina of many years from hanging in the cellar or resting on a joist in the attic: awash with coal dust and covered in small but virulent spores the flies leave behind. And giving it a good clean. By yourself.

You could leave it with the restorer who holds it at arm’s length and nods sagely and asks you to return in ten days. When you do, there it is. As good as new. Almost. What was brown has become yellow. A black cloak has been whisked away to reveal one of cerulean blue. Yellowing grass at high summer restored to the green of spring.

But to do it yourself, to bend over a canvas, discharge a pipette full of whatever it is and dab away until whatever lies beneath is exposed – it is as good as, perhaps better than delicately removing the ultimate intimate garments of someone you never expected to be able to see under her muddy mackintosh. An experience denied to me for several years but one for which restoration more than adequately prepared me. And compensated, you might say.

If Dr Gruber was alive today, and for all I know he may well be, he would like my comparison quite a lot. He would say I have hit the nail on the head. But in a different language of course.

I won’t bore you with details of what I mixed and how applied and how stood back to scrutinise and how inspected under a magnifying glass. If you want such technical instruction you know where to go, though I doubt you will find the premises occupied by Shpengler and Plinsky. Time being what it is, they are both probably restoring and investigating themselves and each other in premises far removed.

The instructions on the bottle advised me to spread thinly with a soft brush and wait until the shine had removed itself. It was a little more complex but I simplify for those of you who are uninterested in the technical side of things. If this account of restoration is read by anyone I imagine it will be by those who are more interested in the aesthetics of discovering rather than a chemical analysis.

So there I was, applying whatever it was to the heirloom, which I had rescued from the cellar and carried to my room during one of our interminable family funerals. My father was one of eleven children, my Aunty Minnie one of nine. Funerals were always occurring in those days due to the rifeness of various illnesses that had permeated Hackney and attacked mainly Jewish people (Aunt Estelle would have us believe). There I was, with the heirloom, waiting for it to stop being shiny.

But how did I get the heirloom from the cellar to my bedroom without being apprehended? Let me explain.

I had invented a phobia about cemeteries, about which I had been helped by my cousin Isher’s real phobia for playgrounds. Or so he said. Whatever it was he had, it enabled him to stay in the classroom and out of the playground where all sorts of pogroms took place daily. And as he explained, if it wasn’t a pogrom they would come at you with elbows, and strong boots fixed to even stronger legs for the most effective bruising and breaking of bones. So, it was better to forgo the pleasures of fresh air and exercise and have a phobia. That way, please God, you didn’t have to run away or live to fight another day.

‘Listen,’ Isher explained to me, ‘I’m fixed on accountancy, what do I want with elbows and kickings? While they’re out there with their pogroms I’m inside in the warm, adding, subtracting and above all multiplying as our only begetter suggested. And I’ve got this diagnosis to prove it.’ And he used to show anyone who looked a note which said ‘Please excuse Isher on account of fobia’. Now and again some of the kids got him to show them the note and then snatched it from him and tore it up. He would turn away with a little smile and say, ‘You think I can’t get plenty from where that came from? My uncle on my father’s side is in sikiatry.’ That was how he told it anyway.

So all I had to do was glean from him a few symptoms and rearrange them for cemeteries. All of which meant that when you accounted for the time preparing for a funeral, and the time it took to visit the cemetery, and what you did while at the cemetery, and add to that the recovery period on returning from the funeral, it could be two or three days before anyone noticed where I was or where I had been.

Now I had to smooth away the residue with a lint-free cloth a little area at a time. It soon became apparent, after several brushings and time spent waiting for whatever it was to dry that it was a portrait of several persons. I counted fourteen in all. Seven standing, seven sitting.

Of these I recognised three immediately from photographs I had seen in family albums. One was of an uncle who had eloped from his wife with someone else’s, a long time ago, in a shtetl long since erased from memory and geography. My grandmother had explained—

‘Such a turmoil, such a shtoonk you wouldn’t believe,’ Bube said. It turned out she was only half-Jewish and not on the mother’s side either. Although they didn’t know much about chromosomes and genetics in those faraway times, which gave the women an advantage. The men too probably. There’s also another explanation which I won’t bother you with.

Nah, why not? Why shouldn’t you be bothered? What happened was: a long time ago in a place a long way away some soldiers came to do their duty, and while they were doing it, or perhaps afterwards, they forced the women against their will. About nine months later, when the babies came mewling and screaming into the world, who was to tell which came from a soldier and which didn’t? Another theory is: it’s not such a big deal who the father is anyway, because he only has to do it, but the mother, she has to be with the baby while it’s in the womb and then for a long while afterwards.

So she is the major influence you might say. And if she herself is one hundred per cent kosher, all is well. I could be wrong about this but if I am I am sure there are enough of you smart Alexis out there to put me to rights.

Then there was another uncle, or might have been a cousin, who was supposed to be a prison warder in a prison where he lived. He left early in the morning and returned late at night. Bube explained how it all transpired. Whatever his crime had been, he was sentenced to hard labour, but accommodation was wanting and he came to an arrangement. He would report for his duties during the day but would sleep beneath his own roof. He was a very strong man and broke twice as many stones as other prisoners, and for this the authorities gave him payment. In this way he could provide for his family, not as well as before but sufficient to the day.

Until one Pesach when he celebrated the flight from Egypt with a little more wine than usual and was incapacitated for several days. During which time several warders came looking for him in their immediately recognisable uniforms. I asked Bube why he had had to go to prison in the first place.

‘You don’t want to know,’ she said.

‘But I do, I do,’ I assured her.

‘You don’t want to know,’ she insisted.

‘But I—’

We could have gone on like that for a long time. Had she not pointed out another long lost departed relative, Helga Siperbaum. Beautiful she was, in satin and lace, not fat, not thin, but nicely in between; such teeth she could have demolished a half-chicken in next to no time; and the bosoms on her I didn’t see anything like until I first saw Silvana Mangano. About her more later.

‘Helga Siperbaum,’ Bube sighed shaking her head.

Among other things she was a lady in a house of ill-fame. I was pretty sure I knew what that was but I wanted to hear Bube say it.

‘You don’t want to know,’ was all she said, and hastily closed the album.

I asked the question: ‘Are there, were there any good or famous people among our family ancestors? Rabbis, scholars, escape artistes, violin performers?’

Bube thought for a moment. ‘Not on our side of the family,’ she said. And then she leaned forward and took a large piece of my cheek between her finger and thumb. Perhaps you will be such a one, and laughed: heh, heh, heh.

Back in the heirloom there were at least five others who were trying to be included, but had only succeeded in inserting a half head, a shoulder, an arm, a foot or a few fingers. Of those already in the painting, some of them showed obvious irritation with those who were trying also to be. Those already seated clearly had no intention of giving up their seat. Those who were standing stood as if on board a ship and ready to repel any contraband boarders.

On the left a burly, bald-headed man with side whiskers had raised a fist to deter a young man in a waistcoat of cabala symbolism and white trousers with a thick dark vertical stripe. On the other side, another gentlemen advanced in years (I’ll spare you a description, which would impede the narrative flow), seemed anxious to persuade a young woman who was trying to enter the portrait, to sit on his knee, restrained as she was by someone outside the frame. Since there was no one sitting in front of him and he was so much larger than she, she could have been accommodated with little or no fuss or inconvenience to anyone.

But what struck me as remarkable about the portrait was that it could have been a photograph, taken at a time when there were real members of the family, or friends even, who were desperate to be included but found themselves repelled. Yet it was not a photograph. It was a painting.

As I was preparing for a final sweep with my lint-free cloth a thought occurred to me. What if the painter had intended to confuse the onlooker by presenting the painting as if it were a photograph? I had heard of paintings being photographed but had never seen a painting that aspired to the condition of photography. If there were such a thing could this be an early example of its kind? Might this be one of the first of its kind? And what if it was older than I supposed, painted before photography was invented?

I was pondering this possibility when the house suddenly filled with people and I could hear my mother shouting up the stairs that it had been such a splendid funeral, sad and uplifting at the same time, how the Rabbi had given such a moving eulogy and had discovered many traits of beatitude in the deceased that the family had overlooked and hardly suspected were there. And was I coming down to partake of the funereal bake meats? I hurriedly collected my brushes, my lint-free cloths, screwed tops to bottles and put everything including the heirloom beneath the bed and joined them downstairs.

I shook hands briefly with Uncle Avraham whose cousin had just been interred. His sniffing I took to be an expression of grief.

‘This boy smells of turpentine,’ he shouted. ‘Is he going to burn down the family home? Heh, heh, heh? You don’t believe, smell my hand,’ and he offered his hand to all and sundry.

No one stepped forward but my mother came up to me and gracefully inhaled. ‘You do have a curious odour about you,’ she said.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘It’s the new soap Aunt Rebekah brought back from the foreign parts.’

This was an aunt who suffered from a washing obsession. She took a bath each morning and paid a particular attention to different parts of her body. I forget quite how it went but something like head and neck on Mondays, knees on Tuesdays, elbows on Thursdays and there were other days or parts of days spoken about only in whispers. Aunt Rebekah was also a mighty traveller and covered great distances in pursuit of cleanliness. No spa was unknown to her; no thermae free from her inquisitions. She returned from these visits with gifts for everyone: soaps, shampoos, lotions and cleansing creams, made from curious herbs, essences that only Dame Nature knew the secret of. Combinations of leaf and petal whose intricate melding was known only to tribes obscured by lianas and curiously shaped leaves in the remote Amazonian jungle, or to those who lived in a permafrost somewhere in the taiga.

All of her gifts had a peculiar smell. One I remember fondly was a wax to relieve wrinkles, made from camel fat. When you washed with her soaps or anointed with her lotions you could decimate living rooms and find places in the theatre and cinema without booking.

And that is how I escaped further interrogation that day.

I had an arrangement with my parents that I would tidy my room and that they would be able to inspect it once weekly, a check on the requisite degree of order, and that I didn’t have any poster depictions of semi- or demi-naked ladies to give me, God forbid, lascivious thoughts or hardness of the musculature where it shouldn’t be, promptings that might lead to uncontrollable emissions. This my father had explained when he came uninvited and unannounced into my room one day and observed a representation of Silvana Mangano, in a film I was too young to see, called Bitter something. In my picture of her on the wall her buttocks were looking to escape from the very short shorts she was hardly wearing and her bosoms from her blouse likewise.

I knew the boy whose father stuck up the posters outside the picture house and had paid dearly for it, three sets of cards of famous footballers. Not that I cared about footballers: all that rushing about, you ran from one end of the field to the other and as soon as you got there they kicked the ball back again – who needs it? But then again you have to collect something, so why not footballers?

Also these posters were what the son of the poster sticker said were at a premium and his father had to collect another set on account of the mysterious disappearance of the first set, which his farshtinkener son had sold at triple prices and which reappeared on the walls of many bedrooms of young boys all over.

So my father comes in and takes one look, a long look I noticed, to appraise the various felicities and then stands back and goes nearer and then goes to the side, first one side and then the other. Then he gets serious.

‘A boy of your age must not have such a depiction of such a woman,’ he said. ‘It could give you ideas above your station.’

I stared at Silvana long and hard for what I knew would be almost the last time. Or not quite, for I had another smaller version under my pillow. At night she sometimes got unfolded and lay by my side. When she did this I always wore a sock. In case of an uncontrollable emission. My mother was one of those who before washing sheets searched them for signs of incipient manhood. For some reason when you are of a certain age such things are to be ashamed of.

‘And so,’ my father said, ‘she will have to go.’

Sometimes he snatched posters or photographs from my wall, and screwed or tore them up: exemplars of excess, political impropriety, anti-Semitism. I once had a photograph of T.S. Eliot about whom I knew very little apart from a poem about Macavity the mystery cat.

‘Get that anti-Semite off my wall,’ my father cried.

‘It’s my wall,’ I protested.

‘I don’t care whose wall,’ he shouted. ‘I won’t have him in the house.’

‘What’s anti-Semitic about cats?’ I wanted to know.

‘Don’t argue with me,’ my father shouted, ‘my decision is final.’

It never occurred to me that my father was different from any other father. He was all I knew as far as fathers went. This is why I have grown up as far as I have without too many psychological peculiarities. None of which I would tell you about anyway. Even if I knew what they were.

And so he removed Silvana, but carefully I noticed, and folded her carefully too. I sat on my pillow in case he decided to look there.

But, I didn’t mean to go into all this detail. All I wanted to say was that I kept my room tidy so there was not much chance of anyone coming in and discovering what I was doing with the family heirloom. I get carried away sometimes.

That year there were three more funerals, all around September and October. Which is also the time of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, a very solemn day when you go to the synagogue all day and not a morsel passes your lips. Even your spit you’re not supposed to swallow, I was told.

I remember my mother saying, ‘Three funerals and two High Holy Days, we’ll end up religious maniacs!’

‘Not if I can help it,’ my father said grimly.

So, what with the funerals and my not being expected to stay and pray all day I had a goodly time with the heirloom. Which was coming on apace. In fact by staying up at night and rising early in the morning I had completed the restoration by the evening before Atonement Day.

On that evening you eat as much as possible to tide you over the following day. Except me, and, I suspected, others. Not everyone went to shul for the all-day service. Some of them came back to the house and you could hear eating noises sometimes and come across an aunt or an uncle, a cousin with jaws going like a beaver’s.

If you saw them they would leave the room where they were very quickly as if they had something very important to do.

Once I was wasting as much time as possible in Victoria Park before going back to the synagogue for even more praying. There I saw Auntie Rachel eating something alongside the boating lake. I went up behind her and made such a loud boo! she nearly jumped out of her dress, one with sequins. You could see she wasn’t very pleased. She stared at me and then at the sandwich in her hand and then she threw it as hard as she could into the lake. Ducks appeared from all points in a flurry of wings.

‘I’m feeding the animals,’ she said. ‘What’re you doing?’

By the time they all returned in the evening the restored heirloom was hanging on the wall above the mantelpiece. It replaced a sketch made of Grandfather Herschel by an artist on the pier at some place of watering. It was always an object of disagreement. Did he look like that or not? Look how the ears stick out, and the nose, how could such an anti-Semitic likeness be tolerated! A vote was taken. Eight for, eight against. Grandfather Herschel voted for himself and the picture hung above the mantelpiece from that day on.

I had even cleaned the frame and put the restoration in it.

Everybody was so busy filling the emptiness or in some cases the not-so-emptiness occasioned by the Great Fast that none of them seemed to notice the restored heirloom had replaced the ears and nose of Grandfather Herschel. And couldn’t have noticed the big piece of missing plaster behind the heirloom where I had knocked in the first nail.

I was proud of my work and the excitement was increased because I was not sure how long the nail would hold up the picture.

The first to notice was my mother who had been staring at it absentmindedly as she sipped her borscht. The spoon fell from her hand as she pointed and cried, ‘Where did that come from! Who put that there!’

The rest of the family did different things. One put a hand to a mouth. Another pressed both palms to the ears. Another forced a fist to a mouth so that she shouldn’t scream. Yet another pointed, convulsed in mirth. A fifth shook his head slowly from side to side. A sixth whispered into the ear of the seventh who nodded with vigour. And so it went on: the pulling of faces, the protuberance of eyes, the wringing of hands. Some got up to inspect, to view from the front, and the side.

‘I never seen it like this. You seen it like this?’

‘Who’s the one in the middle of the back row?’

‘The picture I remember there was only six, from where come the others!’

‘Are you sure it’s the right one, could be a falsification?’

‘Look at him on the end of the front row. Look at the bulge in the trousers.’

‘Bulge, what bulge?’

‘I thought it was destroyed.’

‘Consigned to obloquy.’

‘Never to see the light again.’

‘It just goes to—’

‘You never can tell.’

And then a cry, an ululation more like, from my mother: ‘Who did this! Who has dared to perpetrate such a…such a—’

She was so convincing I thought she was pretending and I stepped forward to give a simpering bow, bending the back and extending the left hand to the side as they did in the old-fashioned films I sometimes went to with Auntie Minnie in the Mile End Road picture house.

When alone in my room, with only a few spoons of borscht and dumpling, I soon realised she wasn’t pretending.

But I wasn’t there for long. In my absence a family meeting had taken place. I had been voted to return by nine to six. Auntie Minnie came to fetch me.

‘Of the six who voted against you,’ she said, ‘four are on your side but they didn’t want to upset your mother.’ She patted me on the head. ‘You know something,’ she said, ‘I think your father voted for you.’

In the end it all turned out sunbeams, as they say. My father poured a glass of wine and requested the others to do likewise. He rose to his feet and extended his glass to the portrait.

‘How can we reject,’ he said, ‘our forebears? Forebears you can’t chose, you come into the world and there they are already. With all their intransigencies, solecisms and I wot not what. Show me a family that does not have its fair share of golems and gonifs, schmucks and shmendriks.’ He stared around and almost everybody nodded. ‘To go with successes in the realms of business, academia, music and what-have-you. Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ he concluded. He raised his glass. ‘Next year in the Catskills.’ All the glasses were raised, including mine, in which there were granted a few teaspoons of wine.

‘Next year in the Catskills!’

I will not take up much more of your precious time to explain how I was feted and how my mother was eventually reconciled to her son the restorer, if not of the family fortunes. Or how I was called on to explain and demonstrate the ins and outs of my craft.

‘Craft?’ Uncle Moishe the presser objected. ‘It’s an art.’ Not all of us glimpsed this subtle distinction, but how could we disagree?

They brought me pictures from far and wide and such was the pressure for restoration that I had to develop a phobia to varnish that would, as far as they could know, last well into my teens.

I went to pay Shpengler and Plinsky a visit.

‘How did it go?’ they asked in unison.

‘I knew you had it in you,’ said Shpengler.

‘In my mind there was never any doubt,’ Plinsky agreed.

They paid a visit to make an inspection. They smiled and nodded at the picture and at each other. They agreed I had felicitously stumbled across one or two techniques that were not widely known beyond the purlieu of the profession. And would my parents consider a period of apprenticeship after which, and of course for a reduced fee, I might emerge as one of the Worshipful Masters of Restoration?

‘It would be the chance of lifetime,’ observed Plinsky.

‘Not to be sneezed at,’ added Shpengler.

‘Perhaps when he has recovered from his phobias,’ my mother said thoughtfully.

But I never did take advantage of their kind offer, despite a promise, a hint that they might leave their premises to me.

No. For even then, young as I was, I had plans of my own. What I would do I did not know. Who I was I had yet to find out. But such deeds I would perform, such discoveries I would make that would determine a place for me in a canvas of much larger proportions than the one I had restored in those far-off days. And who knows how many I might appear in, in which I would be the only occupant?

Thus are our dreams established and become a canvas towards which we stride and in which we sit or stand until the varnish of time deposits its patina on us. Heh, heh, heh.

Harry Greenberg was a counsellor to victims of torture, and spent many of his latter years writing and publishing stories, articles and witty asides on Jewish life and upbringing. His Letters to Kafka is published by CentreHouse Press and is available here at Amazon Kindle and on most other ebook platforms. There are plans to publish more from Harry’s backlist.

Personal Tragedies in Rodrigo Hasbún’s Los afectos

by Kathryn A. Kopple

In 2015, the Bolivian writer Rodrigo Hasbún published Los afectos (Affections), a slim volume loosely based on the Ertl family, a clan foisted on the reader with precious little introduction. “The day papa returned from Nanga Parbat (with some heart-rending images, of a beauty that wasn’t human), he told us while we ate dinner that mountain climbing had become too technical and what mattered was being lost, that he wouldn’t climb anymore.” His wife and daughters take in their papa’s words, careful not to interrupt, as he sermonizes about communing with nature. These speeches – the reader learns – go on uninterrupted for lengthy periods and, finally, culminate in a bruised vision of the world that, in a fine turn of phrase, can only be healed by seeking out those places “where God is untroubled by our ingratitude and sordidness”. A lofty sentiment and one that is in lockstep with the character’s historical counterpart: the Nazi cinematographer and alpinist Hans Ertl – the same man who, throughout the 1930s and ’40s, fully earned his reputation as Hitler’s photographer. Hasbún, however, is not deeply invested in this aspect of Ertl’s story; he is drawn to the private life of the family man. Untethered by all but the most tenuous historical references, Ertl and every character in the book become protagonists in a private tragedy.

Throughout this tragedy, the intimacy of perspectives creates the feel of memoir, albeit one that is subject to fragmentation. Although Hasbún is best known as an acclaimed author, his scholarly work focuses on the interconnectedness between diary, biography and literature. He takes issue with the idea that diaries must be read as at face value, as testimonials, when their very existence opposes worldly interests and demands. The diarist writes for a reader of one, presumably herself without, as Hasbún contends, “deference to the literary institution or publishing world”. Diaries may enter the public domain but their purpose is other. They are reclusive, hermetic. It is as if there is no activity more solitary – or personal – than that of the diarist. Nor is it coincidental that Los afectos is a book imbued with solitude. Hans Ertl’s treks up mountains and through Amazon forest are journeys into the heart of solitude. He is the man who “leaves”. His wife, Aurelia, languishes in the imposed solitude caused by her husband’s absence. Each of his three daughters is a solitary creature unable to sustain familial ties and relationships. Solitude of this sort is profoundly Heideggerian, that is, inescapable.

In fact, the entire novel reads like a Heideggerian fable. The characters are cast into a strange, new world to live out their finitude with precious few inner resources. Severed from their German homeland because of Hans’s Nazi past, their identities are stripped away; they must begin from scratch in Bolivia. In the high-altitude, low-oxygen city of La Paz, time is as precious as air. Hans wastes no time between expeditions. He returns from filming in Nanga Parbat already determined to set off again in search of Paititi, the lost Inca city of gold. His two eldest daughters, Monika and Heidi, are intensely aware that the clock is ticking and they are growing older by the second. The youngest daughter, Trixi, spends a melancholy Christmas alone with her mother, Aurelia, who tells the nearly thirteen-year-old that life is longer than people imagine, and that at times it feels “interminable”. Trixi sees her mother as terribly lonely. She fails to understand how she has too much time on her hands. In her abject pronouncements, Aurelia echoes Heidegger’s assertion that it is through boredom our awareness of time is heightened. Boredom leads to gloominess but forces us to reflect upon the groundlessness of our existence. Aurelia smokes, drinks, and reminisces but, most importantly, she philosophizes. Sadly, it’s all downhill for her from there.

In contrast with Aurelia’s lassitude, the eldest daughter, Monika, suffers fits of anxiety. Heidi, who fears and resents her sister, describes these episodes as grotesque. “It was ugly to see her writhing about, I won’t deny it. It was shocking, horrible even, to the point that, the last time, we had to tie her up.” The episode passes and Heidi suspects that Monika’s outbursts serve an ulterior purpose: they are a means of holding her distracted parents’ attention. Her resentment of her sister intensifies when she learns that their father is taking Monika with him on his next expedition. Heidi demands to go. Her father agrees in a way that unnerves the girl. “As if he had predicted all of it, including the questions I was asking, a strange smile appeared on his face. My chest froze and I looked at my sister and she at me and at that moment neither of us knew what to say.” A limit has been reached. Words fail. There is no turning back for Heidi. Now, like her father, she is the one who leaves. She also falls in love with Rudi, one of Hans’s assistants. Most significantly, she becomes lost, psychically speaking, unable to remember the day or the reason for the journey. This stripping away of perspective, time, and purpose brings her closer to what Heidegger calls authenticity.

Authenticity, for Heidegger, refuses imitation, it can’t be contained in archetypes. Rather, it prefigures socialization as an ideal mode of being. Hans may be the paterfamilias of the Ertl clan but he is, above all things, a man who is true to himself. He becomes disillusioned with mountaineering because alpinists have become mere technicians. Averageness disgusts him. In contrast, he aspires to all things sublime. The rain forest is no less sublime than the glacier. Sublimity involves terror. It is awe-inspiring. Add to that a mythical Inca city of gold – buried in all that forest – and the quest promises certain glory. At one point, he heaps praise on Hiram Bingham, the man credited with discovering Machu Picchu, thus inserting himself in the tradition of great explorers. But then he has already proven his worth by filming the 1936 Olympics and being at Rommel’s side during the war. Hans also possesses a certain erotic magnetism. When Trixi asks her mother if she fell in love with him at first sight, she replies, “The second I saw him…. But I wasn’t the only one. I think everyone on the committee was a little in love with him.” And then, not least, his eye never fails him. Whatever he films turns to magic. Authenticity – the discovery of the ideal self – goes hand in hand with exceptionalism.

For Hans’s daughters, living with such a man is overwhelming. Their feelings for him cause rifts and divisions – an utter lack of peace reigns over the family. It’s apparent that Hans loves Monika the most, ostensibly because she tests him. Of all the ironies to be found in the novel, the fact that Monika will go on to become a left-wing revolutionary is the most poetic. (But then, Heidegger too was a revolutionary. He found academic philosophy guilty of all manner of sins, not the least of them complacency. There is an air of nihilistic joy that runs throughout his writing, a sense that once the old norms have been destroyed, philosophy will arise like a phoenix from the ashes. And no doubt, Heidegger thought of himself as that phoenix. It’s also true that he was a committed Nazi and antisemite.) In Los afectos, it is Monika who forces the issue of Hans’s Nazism. She accuses him of being a “lackey of the powerful, a disgusting fascist”. Her words open a great wound in him. After her assassination by the Bolivian military, the elderly Hans has a grave dug for her, literally forcing him once and for all to stare into the abyss.

When Los afectos first came out, it was marketed as a historical novel. From the disclaimer on the first page of the book to his assertions in numerous interviews, Hasbún is adamant that the book is historical only in the broadest sense of the term: as story. The story involves multiple points of view, lack of chronological cohesion, and a directness of expression that breaks down aesthetic distance. Instead of history, we are presented with instances that turn inward, personal, and reflective. Out of this assemblage of disparate voices, the question that arises is why history at all? Especially since Hasbún claims to use as little biographical detail as possible. The author seems to be pulled in by the unwritten aspects of the story – in what the historical record either suppressed or omitted. Nazism recedes into the background, almost imperceptible, as if opening a window to let in some fresh air.

In the essay “Fascinating Fascism”, Susan Sontag remarks that it may “seem ungrateful or rancorous to refuse to cut loose” the work of Nazi propagandists from their past. She takes issue with the rehabilitation of Leni Riefenstahl despite the cinematographer’s ongoing commitment to fascism. The same could be said of Hans Ertl. He never became disillusioned with Nazi Germany: it was post-war, democratic Germany that failed him. Moreover, during his self-imposed exile in Bolivia, he sought out the friendship of the notorious Klaus Barbie. Barbie is thought to have been involved in Monika’s assassination by Bolivian security forces in 1973. Given his friendship with Barbie – and, as mentioned in the novel, Ertl’s relationships with high-ranking members of the Bolivia military – he may have had more to do with his daughter’s death than the novel suggests. Whatever role he played (active or passive), Ertl never repudiated Nazism or his fascist associations. He would go on to write two memoirs, both of which are imbued with sentimental accounts of mountaineering and exploration. Both memoirs pay homage to the Germany of his youth.

However Hasbún adjusts the lens – the ever-shifting angles – it’s scarcely possible to insulate Los afectos – or any work of art – from its source material. The connection between old-world fascism and new-world exile is not severed but revised. Nazism may find itself reduced to mere figments, but even these have the power to mesmerize. The Argentine writer Manuel Puig, in his masterpiece El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman), explores the Nazi aesthetic, and how it catches us in a web of repulsion and attraction. The goddesses of Nazi cinema are no less beautiful because they are instruments of a brutal regime. They fascinate regardless. They provide an ideal of physical beauty and an antidote to the ugliness of existence. Fascism is predicated on a host of aesthetic values, among them the dictum that, without beauty, life is simply not worth living. Los afectos offers us a taste of such a life in the Ertl family saga. They are doomed and therefore beautiful. To paraphrase Heidegger, beauty is only as true as it is tragic.


All translations from the novel are mine unless otherwise cited. Regarding Hasbún’s critical investigations, please see Enea Zaramella, “Interview with Rodrigo Hasbún” in The White Review,, accessed 22 August 2021. A thorough discussion of the fascist aesthetic of Hans Ertl’s memoirs can be found in Caroline Schaumann’s “Memories of Cold in the Heat of the Tropics: Hans Ertl’s ‘Meine Wilden Dreißiger Jahre’” in Colloquia Germanica, vol. 43, no. 1/2, 2010, pp. 97–112, JSTOR,, accessed 22 August 2021. Susan Sontag’s essay “Fascinating Fascism” may be found at UC Santa Barbara, , accessed 22 August 2021. Los afectos has been translated into English under the title Affections by Sophie Hughes.

Kathryn A. Kopple holds a doctorate in Latin American literature (NYU). Her focus is the surrealist poetry of the Rio de la Plata. She has also published original poetry and prose in multiple venues, including The Threepenny Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms. She has published two novels – Little Velásquez and The Leaving Year – set in Spain. Kathryn also hosts the literary blog The Leaving Year.

Out and About in the Fourth Estate With Steven Gilfillan

Critical Alert

I have it on the best authority, Borak Yesenin’s in fact, that there was one presence ghosting through Felicity Brick’s news report that only he and a handful of others were able to recognise. Felicity as we know is multilingual – French and Italian added to her English – though that doesn’t necessarily indicate her intended destination, via Heathrow, when she found her holiday abruptly cancelled. More emphatic than that, she instead reported on that latest UK threat.

I’ve watched the footage myself, as doubtless had all my friends on the team. What they don’t know (and I do) is the truth behind that frail old babushka who totters in and out of shot behind Felicity, who with usual professional aplomb is telling us how ghostly has become the world’s busiest airport.

Borak, would-be Tory member for a constituency professional etiquette will not allow me to name, was following that fine example set by a previous leader. How so, and how do I know this? Well, I had the good luck to be home at a relatively early eleven p.m., or rather sitting on a padded stool in his recently opened wine bar, the place a society magnet for all things new and metropolitan. On just this wrong side of an English autumn, finer judges than Borak (and I too pressed the case) had urged him not to christen this latest of all his establishments In Luglio, the epithet he used all the same. I think I’ve already reported on that – all that champagne foam and the racket of party blowers everywhere.

So what was this fine example, I asked, a youthful prime minister past had set, and the stocky Borak Yesenin had followed? He insisted I finish my tomato juice and try a little harder with his wine and spirits list. ‘You journalists, eh! Noble association with la bottiglia….’

‘No, Borak. Just another tomato juice. And do I get my story?’ His eyes looked distinctly tired and his face was blanched, but he wasn’t offended. He told me how that morning he had cycled to the gym. The cab he’d hired to follow on behind was piled on its back seat with his training gear, a towel, soaps and sprays, the various gels he used for the shower, and a brightly coloured health drink, purportedly teeming with just those vitamins and minerals the body must replace after a vigorous workout.

‘So what went wrong?’ I asked. Frankly, plenty, and an indirect intervention of the Home Office – that government department described by some as ‘not fit for purpose’. The whole party machine is recklessly bent on the ruination of everyone’s winter vacation, if the frenetically busy Borak is to have his say. He would certainly like to, having taken a call on his cell phone just as he got to the gym, which also coincided with that moment of critical alert. His ma, that frail old babushka who bobbed in and out of shot as Felicity delivered the news, was travelling back to the old country on her annual pilgrimage, and needed her son to come to the rescue, with all flights suddenly cancelled.

‘Ah, Borak, I do get the picture. So what happened?’ Yesenin was too busy to effect the rescue himself, and so supplied the cabby with his cell phone and told him to drive out to Heathrow and bring his mother back to town. A plan that went well, until, on the cabby’s approach to Terminal 1, an over-zealous plodder peered in through the tinted windows and – with what he saw – immediately had the car impounded. I’m told the gym shoes weren’t even forensically examined, but were hived off to a remote and secret place, and subjected to a controlled explosion.

‘So no gym for you today,’ I quipped. Yesenin thought hard, determined to pour me a Scotch. Then, deadpan, that was one thing, he said, but he couldn’t think why that explosive fruit drink he’d taken the trouble to pack – a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals – could have been of such interest to those laboratory technicians the Home Office had also placed on critical alert.

Peter Cowlam has won the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction twice, most recently in 2018 for his novel New King Palmers, which is at the intersection of old, crumbling empires and new, digital agglomerates. His last published book, A Forgotten Poet, is available at Amazon Kindle. He is published in a wide range of print and online journals. Steven Gilfillan is his fictional spokesperson experienced in journalism and other forms of literary art.

The Lottery Gates

a short story by Peter Cowlam

If Peter Cowlam were a painter he would be Gustave Moreau. His story is a treasure chest of sparkling symbols. His writing reads like the libretto of an opera. The Lottery Gates is a mystical quest full of unexpected encounters and luscious vistas. The protagonist would like to be worthy of travelling through the Lottery Gates. This is a Hermetic story, a story Hermann Hesse would have enjoyed and understood.

1 The Transmutation

Si came down from the fields, where he’d been working, for the day was nearly departed. The sun had sunk towards the mountains, while the mingling hues of evening had faded in a wash of summer twilight. It was a pleasant, tranquil hour. As was his habit at this time, Si went home through his hamlet’s tiny communal gardens.

He came to the old path he had often used as a child, and with it meandered down where there were miniature trees, and a stream. Here, on every other evening, he had paused reflectively, jumped across, and re-joined the path in its climb through the hillside shrubs towards home. But Si, so long had it been his wish, turned to the left and began to follow the stream, east to west.

‘In good time, I shall have you see the Lottery Gates.’

The words echoed. They had been spoken by a greying old man of the roadside, who had told him that dreams were realties, realities dreams. The rest was all riddle, for cannot the trickling stream also become a mighty river, and the river reach the sea?

‘Make sure your vessel isn’t ill-equipped.’

Si hesitated, and glanced over his shoulder. On a crest he could see the wooden gate that opened onto the road to home. He wondered. Then he looked in the direction of the stream, as it drifted to greater distances before him – and he wondered again. The old man’s words still echoed, quietly.

The sun sank down behind the great mountain. The last of the daylight fled. Si decided to venture no farther.

The landowner’s son had also been out walking, and was making his way home. He stopped at the wooden gate and gazed into the gardens. Presently, he saw Si coming towards him. They had been friends.

‘Months pass by,’ he said, ‘and I see nothing of you. You no longer call.’

‘I am just too tired,’ said Si. ‘When the work is done, all I want to do is rest.’ So saying, he walked on past.

His one-time friend called after him, but he did not break his step.

Presently, Si returned to his tiny abode, where he made a simple supper. His neighbour was out back, smoking a short cigar, and staring at the heavens. The stars had begun to appear – there was promise of brilliance – as now he thought there were signs of less troubled times ahead.

Si would have welcomed the news but did not believe in starry portents. He was too much burdened by the encumbrances nearer to home to commit his destiny to remote unknowns. His preference was the Lottery Gates and the bower he’d heard of there, reputed to have the power to change the course of anyone’s life. Although he knew no one who had been there, many were adamant the gates were the one dependable opening into a better world. Si hope that one day he would find out for himself.

At supper he gave up thanks for the land’s bounty, and afterwards went out back and talked to his neighbour. Throughout their conversation there were thoughtful silences, supposedly a sign of good omen, though to Si the atmosphere was gloomy. He was unhappy. His disillusion permeated everything.

‘The heavens are propitious. I think you will not have to wait long for a change in fortune. You will have a place in the world.’

‘I am encouraged,’ said Si. ‘But I am not so certain as you of the stars, and the heavens. They are so vast, and the stars are numerous. I cannot see how they govern the affairs of mere mortals. I’d prefer to try my luck at the Lottery Gates.’

The other shook his head, and on this night they spoke no more of the stars.

Si set off for work the following morning before the sun had risen. As was usual, on his way to the fields he stopped when he met the greying old man sitting peaceably at the roadside.

‘What news,’ asked Si, ‘before I start my work?’

There was a pause while the old man considered. ‘I hear strange stories,’ he said, ‘from the landowner’s son. You have been seen in the gardens, following the stream towards the forbidden west.’

‘That is true. But I stray no farther than the bounds of the gardens, for the sun falls away and darkness prevents me.’

‘The landowner’s son speaks also of fading friendship. Yet it wasn’t so many years ago you played so well together.’

‘The landowner’s son grows idle in his wealth. I work all day and have no time to share in his pleasures.’ So saying, Si made to pass the old man, for already he was late.

‘There is no work for you in the fields today,’ the old man declared. ‘A walk in the gardens is better for your peace of mind.’

‘I appreciate your concern. But today is the same as any other. I am expected to toil in the landowner’s fields.’ Again, he made to pass the old man.

‘No, Si, today is not the same as any other. It is different. You do not have to toil in the fields.’

‘But how can this be?’

‘Go down to the gardens – your day is come – and follow the stream. From there you are on your own. I cannot foretell your future after that.’

Astonished and silenced, Si did as the old man suggested.

He entered the gardens and again walked among the miniature trees. At the stream, he stopped, and took account of his situation. The sun was rising above the hills in the east, in a golden flush behind him. There was a sparkle in the rushing stream ahead.

There were moments when the gardens petered out, and there were thorns, wildness, a profusion. The hazards increased once the stream had narrowed to the merest trickle. But he did not panic. He beat his way through the bushes, and patiently sought the stream whenever it disappeared beneath ground.

He walked on nervously, and chanced to look away to the wooden gate, where there were two figures, waving – the old man and the landowner’s son – who continued to wish him brave farewells. In reply, he bowed solemnly, then hurried on, until he could see them no longer.

Soon he relaxed his pace and was careful to note how the gardens gradually altered. Sometimes, it became difficult to follow the stream. There were moments when the gardens petered out, and there were thorns, wildness, a profusion. The hazards increased once the stream had narrowed to the merest trickle. But he did not panic. He beat his way through the bushes, and patiently sought the stream whenever it disappeared beneath ground. He persisted.

In due course he grew tired, and his patience wore thin. The journey had left his limbs with bruises, and the flesh of his face and arms was scratched. So daunting seemed the terrain ahead that he wished he’d remained in the fields, where he knew his work, and the routine. That yearning for what he knew grew more acute when the way ahead was more arduous, with swamps and quarries, dark, inhospitable woodland, a dustbowl, and finally a wilderness.

He was lost, and exhausted, and had little hope of finding the stream, which had vanished. Unwilling to go farther, he sat down, and buried his head in his hands. On daring to look up once more, his troubles and anguish did not diminish. The dilemma only worsened. The sky was dark. It seemed as if night had descended. There was little he could see of the strange world around him. He hoped his neighbour might be missing him, or his fellow-workers in the fields. Thoughts of home reminded him of the smell of tobacco out back, and his neighbour prophesying, gazing at the stars. That simple recollection relieved his distress, but that was only momentary.

The beasts of the wilderness had sensed his presence. As he listened, it seemed their moans and cries grew louder. Their footfalls too. He reasoned he must light a fire, but had no means. The truth was he had come to the wilderness ill-prepared in every way. He wondered that the greying old man had not advised him so.

He glanced back on his past, and found his judgements milder than before. That the landowner was wealthy, with possessions, money and power no longer disturbed him as much. It was true that he paid his labourers little – just enough to live – yet his was a life of worry. There were his fears of flood or drought. There was an ever present threat of harvest failure. To top all else he had constantly to adapt himself to the market price of grain. How odd it seemed now that Si had chosen to lose himself in hostile country as a solution to the injustices of home. He thought too of the landowner’s son, and again was less harsh in his judgement. He was lazy undoubtedly, spending his days riding or shooting or swimming, but soon enough he would take his father’s place. Then he too would worry endlessly over floods, droughts, harvest failures, the fluctuating market price of grain.

‘Yes,’ Si concluded, ‘I am here because I rebel, but what is rebellion if not an unanswered cry in the wilderness?’

The beasts around him pressed closer on Si as he plunged deeper in meditation. Somewhere the stream curled away through the darkness and undergrowth. And far away, behind the famous Lottery Gates, the keeper there was strolling in the gardens, enjoying the summer sun.

Now there emerged from the woodland behind Si the weirdest-looking man, boyish in physique but reptilian in overall appearance, who was quick to apologise for himself—

‘Do not be alarmed. I am a friend, not foe.’

Si, mesmerised by the depth and mellowness in the tone of the voice he heard, turned in its direction, but could see nothing. Only the vague mysterious shapes of the landscape he was in.

‘I am here.’

Si turned again and in the light of the lantern the other man bore saw how little prepared he had been for the part-boy, part-man, part-reptile. Nevertheless, he repressed a gasp of horror. The creature sat down some way apart from him, and explained that since the hour of his transmutation he had never again experienced the warmth of human kindness. Strangers had laughed, jeered, resorted to finger-pointing, had spoken in derision, and in the end had made him feel to be the monster they said he was.

‘Well, be at ease. I am Si.’

‘I – I have no name.’

‘Well I shall call you Lanternman. Lanternman, who has lit my path.’

‘I have not always looked so hideous. Once I enjoyed healthy manhood, as you.’

There was a tale to be told. And since the man without a name – or as Si called him, Lanternman – seemed familiar with the wilderness, Si listened patiently, even as the moans of the wild beasts echoed around them. Indeed, he ignored them, not noticing that by now these animal utterances were more akin to laughter, and had grown ever more so since the arrival of the nameless man with the lantern.

Years ago, in his youth, the man without a name lived in a country advanced in its civilisation, and prosperous. When his schooling was over, he set out to work in one of its famous cities, finding an abundance of merchants and traders there, who were known the world over.

Our lantern-bearer soon understood that there were people cleverer, in a peasant sort of way, than he was. He had to acknowledge that, in matters of trade, they had superior abilities. He made little progress, and in the course of fifteen years won only two promotions.

Even then, he might have been nameless, for most people never remembered him.

He was approaching middle-life when he had reason no longer to accept but to examine his failings. He had expected, as an older man might, that the young men and women newly initiated into the business world would regard him with politeness and respect. But they did not. As with everybody else, to them he remained a nobody. He was mystified, of course, but understood for the first time exactly what this feeling of inferiority meant. He requested, and was granted, an interview with his immediate superior.

‘I can spare you,’ he said, ‘five minutes.’

The unhappy subordinate shifted uneasily, and in overwhelming embarrassment could not muster the courage to speak. He was ashamed.

‘I haven’t got all day,’ his boss snapped at him.

‘Well, you see, the problem is—’

‘The problem is what, man? Spit it out.’

‘It’s that I’m, I’m – inferior. Incompetent.’ His face turned to such a crimson hue, and he squirmed so uncomfortably that the other was bound to agree.

‘Well, glad you’ve got it off your chest. It’s the first step to redemption. Now, may I suggest, we both get back to work. Time, as we say, is money.’

This did not seem to the Lanternman – who felt only more inferior – a satisfactory response. Instead of receiving help in steps towards his rehabilitation, he slid further into feelings of insecurity, a situation that couldn’t be allowed to go on. Eventually, as things were explained, there were places abroad where programmes and institutions had been set up to offer training to inferior, incompetent men of trade. He would have to save, and pay for a course.

‘We can only make the recommendation. We do not have the authority to send you.’

‘By whose authority can I go?’

‘Whatever institution accepts you. You could make appeals yourself.’

‘Oh no, no. I am too inferior for that.’

That, really, was his need for help, but happily a suitable course was found and he paid his application fee. After a few days he received forms and questionnaires to fill in, and was shown the box where he was expected to make his personal statement, headed in block capitals. He took no exception. Indeed the method suited him, for he, lowly and of no account, unable to voice his problems in the presence of great and clever men, felt much better doing so in writing, on an official form designed for that purpose.

Months went by, and the forms continued to reach him – until, one day, he received a letter. He was free to go, it told him. Sufficient assessment had been made, the verdict being he was now ready for his training. For the sake of economy, he must make his own arrangements for the journey. The letter was signed by one of the very greatest traders. That could be seen by the haste with which the signature had been scrawled.

Never having earned much money, he couldn’t afford any form of passage. He would either have to walk, or give up the idea. It was a question he debated with himself for an unexpectedly long time, and which he did not resolve entirely alone. He noticed his employers beginning to frown, and that the severity of those frowns increased the longer he remained. The situation became more and more uncomfortable, and reached the point where he felt compelled to throw over his old life. Even at the expense of a long walk.

On his journeys into foreign countries he followed the laws and customs every traveller must. He showed his papers at frontiers. He offered no resistance when uniformed officials searched his clothes and baggage. He explained to a thousand suspicious inquirers the object of his journey. Once he spent a night in jail while confirmation of his identity was sought.

…he stumbled on a much more exquisite garden than the one that had lured him in the first place. It had extensive lawns, terraces, a folly, lofty cypresses, little clear pools, and a bank of white, blue and purple agapanthus.

The whole venture tired him greatly, and to top all his flight was hampered by his limited grasp of geography. He had only the vaguest idea of the whereabouts of the country he was aiming for. Maps he had never learned to read, and so those that he carried were an enigma. It was therefore more by luck than judgement that he reached the town where his retraining was due. He rejoiced, but later despaired. The institution he’d applied to was nowhere to be found. None that he asked could direct him there. He was helpless.

He cheered a little when he chanced to find a small but delicately tended garden, open to the public. His heart swelled with simple pleasure when he strolled among its miniature trees, with summer sunlight dancing on the leaves. In a valley was a glittering stream. He put aside his cares for the moment, and happily sauntered in the sunshine, and followed the stream. But gradually, and too late to do anything about it, these carefree distractions melted into anguish. He was lost. Perhaps his journey would never end.

At length he came to a wilderness, where he wandered uncertainly. Then his fortunes changed again, when he stumbled on a much more exquisite garden than the one that had lured him in the first place. It had extensive lawns, terraces, a folly, lofty cypresses, little clear pools, and a bank of white, blue and purple agapanthus.

But, at the garden’s Lottery Gates, the keeper there did not share in the lightness of his mood. She had the burden of responsibility, and the strain told. She was feeling unwell, she said, and her patience wasn’t endless. It was unlikely that the mere troubles of a man should concern her in any way, for despite the levity in his step she saw that he was troubled. She asked rather off-handed why he had come. He approached nearer, but on reaching the gates, and peering through, could not see her. He must, he thought, have imagined the voice, but he did not turn away. He had hope in his heart, and he spoke—

‘I have come,’ he said, ‘to acquire competence and superiority.’

This the keeper already knew, for it was the aspiration of all men who consulted her. She asked him to say how he would use these acquisitions.

The traveller thought for a moment. Then it occurred to him that perhaps he had reached his destination after all, and that this was his training, and that to gain access he must answer preliminary questions. He hoped his answers were right.

‘Well,’ he began, ‘I would like to be skilled in matters of trade and commerce, able to make money for my employers, and have plenty of people beneath me I can order around. And of course, I must make money for myself, so that I don’t have to walk everywhere.’

The keeper was enraged. How could a man of such miserable ambition be so rash as to solicit her guidance? There and then she transmuted him, by what powers none could say, turning him into a man-child of reptilian aspect. Immediately he experienced twinges, but it was not until he peered into a pool in the gardens that he saw the full extent of the terrible changes that had taken place.

Now there was so much more to be lamented. Not only was he psychologically damaged, but now physically altered too. Why he had been punished in this way he could not fathom. In hopeless self-pity, he sat and wept and moaned at what tragedy had been wreaked on his weak inferior life. A more grotesque and graver lot could not have befallen any other man. But at least he still had his reason. If there was a power on earth able to inflict such morbid disfiguration, then the same power must be capable of unbinding that spell. He thought to visit the Lottery Gates again.

His inferiority was now at its most pronounced, but the desire to have his natural appearance restored was great. Trembling, he came to stand at the Lottery Gates a second time, hardly noticing that nearby and within easy reach was a lantern. It seemed unimportant. The all-knowing keeper had been waiting for his return. Her anger had subsided, and she prompted him, gently, to speak.

He said he had never wanted much: a little respect from others; reasonable subsistence in exchange for reasonable labour; an occasional sign from his superiors, whom he wished only to serve faithfully. His severest handicap, he explained, had always been his acute inferiority. In an attempt to overcome the problem, he had embarked on a long journey, in search of the kind of training that would help him overcome the worst of his life obstacles. Only by mistake had he come this way. He did not wish to be a nuisance, he added, but would be eternally grateful if his usual features were restored.

In her omniscience, of course, the keeper did not require these explanations. But she was touched.

‘What you are asking for,’ she said, ‘requires effort, determination.’

‘What must I do?’

She drew attention to the lantern, and told him to take it up. ‘The wilderness is dark. Travellers are infrequent. However few they might be I do not deny them a light and guide. Go into the wilderness, and seek out all those roaming in spirit. And bring them to me, safely. But before that, you must find the first gardener and return him to me.’

Si had listened to the tale in some consternation. The keeper, he now understood, was far from certain to dispense favours. He looked strangely at the lantern-bearer, and now wondered if it might be wiser to return home and resume his work in the fields, and forget about the Lottery Gates. The other seemed to know his thoughts. Speaking almost apologetically, he told Si that he had been at work for so long in the wilderness that he had forgotten the pathways out to the world. If Si wished to leave, he must find his own way. Worse than that, the wilderness itself was changing all the time, and he was unsure if he could even find the Lottery Gates again.

Si pondered greatly, for the decision was not easy. ‘It must all have something to do with this first gardener,’ he said. ‘I will help you find him.’ It was his intuition that that was the best first step in reaching the Lottery Gates and their keeper.

2 The Golden Rod

Si had been sleeping heavily when he at last stirred, his eyes heavy with slumber. His thoughts were clouded with passing dreams. The man of the lantern was raking the fire, who on seeing Si wake bent down and blew on the embers, and raised a flame. The air was cold and damp, and despite the fact that it was dawn, darkness prevailed.

‘We must set off and find the stream,’ the Lanternman said. ‘It will help in our search for the gardener.’

The wild beasts were uneasy. The air shuddered with their squeals, and the earth quivered under their groans. There was a rushing of undergrowth. But just as the Lanternman feared the wild beasts, the wild beasts feared him, and stood off, their eyes a smoulder in the undergrowth. It eased their journey once the two had damped their fire and set off into the darkness, under the pale light of the Lanternman’s lamp. At every turn they asked themselves which way should they go, until finally a tinkle and a little silver trickle showed them they had found the stream, whose course they followed. That, by its mysterious attraction, after what seemed days, brought them to the first completion in their quest. For here blocking their path was a wild, uncultivated man in blue overalls, to his right hand a wooden staff, in his pockets tools for the garden. He spoke, and was not so fearsome as he looked, a man who lived on locusts and wild honey.

‘You would be lost,’ he said. ‘In search, I would guess, of the Lottery Gates.’ For everyone who had come this way had only that in mind.

The Lanternman took the light from his lamp off his face, so that in the gloom of the wilderness his features wouldn’t be seen. ‘You are the first gardener,’ he said.

‘That I am. You are going to ask of me which way to go.’

‘That is correct,’ said Si.

‘Sometimes,’ said the gardener, ‘I think that only this is reliable as a guide,’ and he held up his staff before plunging it into a tight bundle of undergrowth. Behold, the staff lit up – a golden rod. The green of the bush he had speared burnt as a light in the darkness.

‘A miracle,’ said the Lanternman. ‘Surely this will light our way to the Lottery Gates.’

‘It is not that simple.’ The gardener demonstrated, by pulling up the golden rod from the clump it had lit. Immediately the light in the bush went out, and the rod returned to its original form, a wooden staff.

‘How can this be?’ asked Si.

‘The staff was given me when I was set to work in the public gardens, which were by no means extensive. In fact they were so small my work was soon done and I got bored with little to do.’

He went on to say that he looked to the wilderness, and the possibility of extending the garden into it. He set out not too far in that direction, such that the beasts, birds, raptors, and the creeping things did not intimidate. His intention was to make of the wilderness a garden more exquisite than the one he had worked on to date: lawns cut to regular shapes, little stone pathways running between the flowerbeds, water features, follies and statuettes, a shady grotto. When on first discovering the magical properties of the staff he had been given, he felt sure he would meet his aims. But as both Si and the Lanternman saw, the golden rod was only fleeting in its gift, and so soon as he pulled it from the ground all the work he had done was undone. Scrub he had turned to earth returned to scrub. Seeds he had planted choked. Turf he had laid regrew as wild grass. The golden rod became a wooden staff.

‘However hard I worked, I could not make the smallest patch of wilderness into a garden.’

He went further into that wasteland, and now had to overcome his fear of the beasts and the creeping things. He lit his way at intervals by thrusting his staff into the undergrowth, sending out a golden light in all directions. Wherever he stopped to work, it was always the same – nothing he did had permanence. Then one day he saw in the distance the pale gold of what he took to be the Lottery Gates, for a greying old man at the roadside he had talked to on his way to and from work had mentioned them, and spoke of what was behind them, recounting his thoughts as one recounts a fable.

Said Si: ‘I have talked to that man myself.’

‘Not all his news was good,’ the gardener replied. ‘On other days he spoke of wars and terrible times ahead.’

‘I heard nothing of that,’ said Si.

In time the gardener was able to beat a path very near to the Lottery Gates, and in a sense of wonder surveyed all that lay behind them – trees tall and serene, turfs, terraces, water features he had hoped to build himself, a blaze of agapanthus, blue, purple, white, and sunshine pouring down on this spot alone. The whole place was filled with golden light, not unlike that of an autumn afternoon. How could this be, when everywhere in the surrounding wilderness was darkness?

‘I see how little I understand the world.’

He edged forward, hoping for an even closer look at what lay behind the gates. Was there someone there he could talk to? He thought so, on hearing a voice. Someone seemed to be asking why he had come, what it was he wanted.

‘The voice was so quiet, and so unlike any I had heard, that I imagined my senses deceived me, and that really there was no voice.’

The Lanternman thought of his own experience, and how the voice had treated him, but chose to say nothing to the gardener. He was sorry for his errors, for he did not know that he had found and lost his Paradise. He had seen serenity in the trees and wealth in abundance in the gardens, but still thought of those qualities – serenity and wealth – as the preserve of men of business: serenity in their pride, and wealth in the riches they amassed.

‘In my joy,’ said the gardener, ‘is also my frustration. For it is not possible for me to enter. The wall and the gates are too high. I was left gazing wistfully into the fountains.’

There the figurines depicted guardians of the water, the spring of all life, with one of the figures surmounting all others, blowing into a trumpet. So lifelike, the gardener said, he thought he could hear its fanfare. At this the Lanternman fell silent again, knowing how the gardener in the work he did had been granted the greater insight. The only things in his past life that had lifted his eyes were two white peacocks, strutting with such authority, and a goose – a lost goose – a forlorn creature their very opposite. Now, he had grown so tired of the wilderness, and bewildered in having so angered the keeper of the gates. It seemed there was nothing in the world for him, though he still had hopes that the power that had altered his looks so outlandishly would alter them back. He was acutely aware of his life as having passed in a procession of chaos and disaster, and of the futility of all humankind, and how lacking he was in rectifying all such waywardness. He was haunted by his errors and mistakes. And had forgotten that he alone of the three here – Si, the gardener, himself – had been chosen to carry the lantern.

‘Is it possible,’ asked Si, ‘that with the help of your staff we can beat a path through the nettles and thorns and reach the Lottery Gates?’

‘The wilderness is ever-changing,’ the gardener replied. ‘I doubt if I could find my way again. Unless, of course, by the light of your friend’s lantern….’

And lo! Another miracle occurred. Where the gardener struck his staff into stony soil, the golden rod lit up again, and pointed a path west. The Lanternman took up his light, and led the way, with the beasts and creeping things of the wilderness in sudden retreat, for all that was seen were their frightened, flashing eyes, as they backed away.

Still these were hard times for the Lanternman. With his light he toiled feverishly, leading the way. The gardener followed up immediately behind, and with his staff drove aside the undergrowth for Si, who brought up the rear. Much time they spent in this, but by slow, steady degrees the path they made through the densest waste brought them in hearing of the stream – a gentle tinkle. By now the Lanternman had torn his flesh in many places. The wounds had begun to bleed. But he rejoiced with what appeared to him sights and sounds of a clear spring morning, with its great crash of early light, a radiant flood bathing his being, and a chirrup of birds in the trees. Old fables had purveyed the groundless rumour that the stream flowed beneath the Lottery Gates. It was popular romance that in following its course lone souls of a melancholy nature had found their dreams. In folklore, there were tales of young heroes, who had battled on alone and found the elusive Lottery Gates. But to the Lanternman the truth was otherwise. Zealously as he strove, under the harshest conditions, the one lesson he had learned was the need for other people, of a like mind and different talents. Steadily, with the gardener’s staff and his own lamp, and with the friendship and sympathy Si had shown him, he had battled on, and in uncovering the stream had brought them in sight of the gates. They and their keeper were just to the north of west. The three of them turned in that direction.

In the darkness they began to hear music, vaguely so. Then a shaft of light poured through a tangle of branches ahead. The Lanternman held his lamp higher aloft, while the gardener struck with his staff with vigour. Then added to the music was a voice, and a song whose words were indistinct. Then suddenly there was light, a melodious light.

3 The Lottery Gates

Si, when he woke, admonished himself for sleeping, but could not have known just how tired he’d become. There were the embers of a fire, which the Lanternman had lit the night before, but the only signs of him and the gardener were the lamp and the staff, left on the ground. For no reason, Si recalled a dream, if imperfectly so, where an orchard hung with fruit was bathed in autumn sunshine. Stark in contrast, as he looked out, the wilderness pressed on him more oppressively than ever, with the distant Lottery Gates a pale reflection of the sight greeting him just hours before. He reproached himself again—

‘I have slept too long,’ he said. His goal was tantalisingly close, but fading from view, and that was not a good omen. He was filled with perplexity.

He damped down the fire the Lanternman had left, until only ashes remained. The beasts of the wilderness drew near, as now their eyes flashed with laughter, and not the predatory instinct Si was accustomed to. He glanced up in the direction of the Lottery Gates, where in a sudden blaze of gold a tall, stately man in a blue tunic passed through and approached. His hair was dark and glossy, his eyes bright, and his complexion clear. Where he stood in the glow of the gates, Si could make out, stitched into the lapel of his tunic, an ornamental torch, with an orange flame. His features were open, friendly, and his presence commanding. One gesture only saw the laughing beasts of the wilderness disperse and disappear.

‘Ashes gone cold,’ he said, looking down at the remains of last night’s fire. The stranger sat himself next to Si, and paused for thought. ‘I know how it is,’ he said. ‘Lost. Living not as you should. In a search, but of what?’

‘You read my thoughts.’

‘Not difficult. Affliction colours everything you do. Its debilitating effects can be crippling.’

‘How to become whole, that is the problem.’

‘Your wanderings have led you here, to the Lottery Gates.’

‘I have heard much about them. Entry cannot be easy.’

‘There are obstacles, yes. But transformations are possible – even from what it is that hurts us most.’

‘I hope you are right,’ said Si.

The stranger left him and returned through the gates, and strode in the greatest self-possession across the lawns, where he stopped to gaze into a clear, unruffled pool, and Narcissus-like beheld his new reflection.

Si, humbled, asked about his own passage through the gates. The stranger looked to the two objects Si’s departed friends had left him with – the staff and the lamp. ‘Which of these two would you choose?’

Si didn’t know.

‘Perhaps,’ said the other, ‘you bear gifts of your own.’

He approached the gates, where the keeper immediately wished to know of Si who had summoned him. He heard her voice only, and could not see to whom he was talking.

‘I had the help of two companions,’ he said.

‘That is not unusual.’

Si looked through the gates and saw the gardener, dressed in a blue tunic, at not too great a distance, vigorously turning clods of earth. Stitched into his lapel was an ornamental rose.

‘I know that man,’ said Si. ‘He was one of my companions, for the arduous journey.’

‘Is that so?’ said the keeper. ‘You know him by name?’

‘I do not.’

The gates parted, but when Si tried to pass through he found that he could not enter. There was too much resistance, of he knew not what. He walked back to the fire, which was now only ash and charred remains, and looked to the staff and the lamp. ‘Which must I choose?’ He picked up the staff, but immediately cast it down, which on striking the ground took the form of a serpent, which slithered away and uncoiled itself under the Lottery Gates. Next he picked up the lantern, and turned to the wilds and the darkness of the wilderness.

‘You have chosen,’ said the keeper.

Si understood. On a last look back through the gates he made out a goose and two white peacocks, but the gardener and the strange

The gardener had gone. He turned his lantern in such a way as to guide him through the wilderness, and knew he must return to the place he had come from, and walk among his people again. On whom, he’d be asked, should he shine that light? Si thought for a moment. He’d begin with the greying old man at the roadside, then turn to the landowner and his son, then to his neighbour, for whom all things were written in the stars, for quite possibly that was an error of judgement.

Peter Cowlam

Peter Cowlam is a poet and novelist. As a novelist, he has won the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction twice, most recently in 2018 for his novel New King Palmers, which is at the intersection of old, crumbling empires and new, digital agglomerates. The Quagga Prize is awarded for independently published works of fiction. Other work has appeared in En Bloc, The Battersea Review, The San Francisco Review of Books, The Blue Nib, The Galway Review, Easy Street, Literary Matters, Eunoia Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, The Liberal, and others.

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