Monday, 29 October 2012

BOFF2: Australian Blog Hop

To celebrate the launch of Best of Friday Flash Volume 2 (#BOFF2), the tiny Aussie contingent is doing a Blog Hop. I'm hosting Adam Byatt and his touching story Scar Tissue. If you hop over to S.G. Larner's site you can read my story The Iris Garden. You can order BOFF2 here.

Come along to the Facebook launch party!

Adam Byatt - Sydney, Australia

Scar Tissue 
Sitting at the dining room table she pushed back the long sleeves of her t-shirt, hoping to push back the voices. She heard the social ghosts whispering their gossip and mock concern behind cups of tea.
She’s a cutter.
A what?
She cuts herself. That’s why she wears long sleeves all the time.

Behind the Story
“Scar Tissue” is a biographical amalgam of the lives of a few people I know who suffer from mental illness in one form or another. In recent times I know of two families who have suffered the tragedy of losing their sons to mental illness.

In particular, a friend who went through a period of self-harm during a turbulent time in their life was the inspiration for this story. It is not based loosely on an actual event in this person's life but is also a work of fiction, a compilation of events and emotions I know people close to me have experienced in their battles with mental illness.

In the time of writing “Scar Tissue,” I wanted there to be a note of personal determination, a resurrection or rebirth, a sense of hope.

It remains one of my favourite pieces of writing because of who it was written for, what it is about, and the hope I see in each and every person. It's a testament to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

1 Corinthians 13:13
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

“Scar Tissue” was the first piece I wrote for #fridayflash. Prior to this I was using prompts from the old Write Anything [fiction]Friday site. It was a small, encouraging group of people and I was using it as a place for training and development.

The premise behind [fiction]Friday was to take the prompt and simply write, without editing, and post it to your blog and link it back to the [fiction]Friday page.

I was aware of the #fridayflash community and began to read and comment on the work of others. There are some fantastic writers out there and it felt a little daunting to consider putting my work out there.

“Scar Tissue” was the first piece I wrote with the focused precision to write, draft, edit and polish before submitting. It was a step out of where I felt safe, into a wider community of writers whose work I looked up to.

I kept contributing consistently for about 8 or 9 months as a means of developing and improving my writing. At the moment I am focusing on other longer projects, but I drop back in from time to time to post a new story and to read and comment.

There are some awesome writers out there producing great pieces of flash fiction. Go and check it out. Better still, buy the anthology and see for yourself.

Adam Byatt
Adam sifts through the ennui, minutiae and detritus of life and catalogues them as potential story ideas.  They are pretty much a pad of sticky notes on the fridge door. Occasionally he finds loose change.
He is an English teacher and occasional drummer with an interest in literary pursuits, rhythmic permutations, theological amplifications and comedic outbursts.

His work has appeared in Literary Mix Tapes’ anthologies, Nothing But Flowers and 89. He is currently working on his first novel, Post Marked: Pipers Reach, an epistolary serial with Jodi Cleghorn and a long list of ideas. He exists on twitter as @revhappiness and writes flash fiction and blogs at A Fullness In Brevity.

Australian Blog Hop participants:
Adam Byatt
Jodi Cleghorn
Jason Coggins
Timothy Collard

Friday, 5 October 2012

Two of Hearts

‘Shall we go to the airport for coffee?’

Many of our peers had already headed to the Gold Coast for schoolies. I, however, wasn’t one for lying paralytic in a pool of my own puke, and the prospect of getting laid didn’t do it for me either. I could have simply stayed in, had a nice meal with the family and turned in early, but the last day of school warranted some form of celebration. So I called Rex with my suggestion, which he excitedly accepted.

The international terminal at Brisbane Airport was a long way to go just for coffee, and an unconventional location at that, but it was such quirkiness that brought Rex and I together. We sat next to each other on our first day at high school in the early eighties, and by lunch we’d discovered a mutual appreciation of The Kenny Everett Video Show and Australia, You’re Standing In It. We often amused ourselves by re-enacting sketches from these and other TV shows. It was unmistakably juvenile but bloody funny, and in an often-intimidating environment of burgeoning testosterone and coltish machismo those were welcome, effervescent moments.

Other friends came and went like supporting actors in a stage play, but Rex remained the key protagonist in my high-school life. He had mesmeric blue eyes, pools of intensity and knowing that flickered with playful deviltry. Puberty dealt him a broad set of shoulders and sculpted jawline, and his thick mane of auburn hair would glisten in the sunlight. I didn’t fare so well: my face, beset with acne, was an oily page of Braille, and my mop of dark hair was governed by a recalcitrant cow’s lick. But Rex never held any of that against me.

We both studied Japanese. Rex demonstrated a linguistic prowess, wielding complex conjugations and sentence structures like an Olympic fencer a sword. Although my marks were above average I had to work hard at it, but Japanese was never a chore. I relished the differences to English, like the logographic script and liberal use of honorifics. Our textbook was peppered with exotic images like a monk ringing a temple bell on a misty morning or a gloved station attendant pushing commuters into a packed peak-hour train. Our favourite was of an ordinary-looking café with the dubious name Coffee & Peeping. It all fuelled a growing appetite for the language and culture, and I dreamt of visiting Japan one day.

Rex and I developed a predilection for Hi-NRG Europop, which proliferated in the charts. On the days we walked down to Central after school we’d take a detour to Dance Cellar on Edward Street. We adored sifting through the treasure trove of records and cassettes, fossicking for the latest twelve-inches. It served as a veritable education in a genre that was never cool at school. Rock ruled the airwaves and was the acceptable currency among men and boys, so it was wise not to be loquacious about drum machines and synths. Rex and I did wonder, though, if there weren’t more than a few closet hi-energists among our peers.

My parents had long hoped that my taste in music was a mere phase. On our way to The Shingle Inn for lunch one day, Mum and I walked past Dance Cellar as it blasted out Stacey Q’s Two of Hearts. I scrutinised her face for any hint of the euphoria I felt but she just scrunched up her nose, as if she’d inhaled something fetid. ‘Awful noise,’ she declared.

The night Rex and I drove out to the airport for coffee I’d told my parents we were off into town for a Japanese meal. I didn’t like lying to them, especially as it involved using their car, but something told me they wouldn’t get the airport idea. That their son listened to the likes of Wa Wa Nee was absurd enough.

Rex and I had never been abroad and only visited the international terminal on rare occasions to see family off and welcome them home. It was an underwhelming utilitarian structure reminiscent of an aircraft hangar. With no aerobridges, no travelators and no undercover car parking, it was probably the Best & Less of Australian airports.

Passengers were checking in for the last flight of the evening when Rex and I entered the terminal. We made a beeline for the café, ordered two coffees and grabbed a table facing the departures gate. People clutched their boarding passes, which Rex likened to the golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and we wished we were among the lucky few to be spirited through the gate and onto foreign delectations. 

‘Have you decided which Japanese subjects you’re doing yet?’ I asked. We’d both been offered places at the University of Queensland - Rex in a combined Law/Arts degree and I in an Arts degree - but were yet to enroll in select subjects. ‘Make sure you do JA125: Japanese Popular Culture - it sounds brilliant.’

Rex raised his coffee mug as if to hide behind it. Those blue eyes sparkled over the rim and I could tell he was smiling coyly.

‘Actually,’ he ventured, ‘I’ve decided to do Russian instead of Japanese.’

‘Russian?’ It came out a little too incredulously. ‘Why?’

Rex put down his coffee and looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘I don’t know, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. It’s such a sexy, brooding language. And I’d love to go to Leningrad.’

The Soviet Union was never on my radar, and I never twigged it was on Rex’s, but I had no doubt that he would master Russian with all the skill and flair of a Soviet gymnast.

‘Well then,’ I said after a protracted pause. ‘Leningrad for you and Japan for me. Now we just need to act on these things.’

We clinked mugs and watched more of the chosen few disappear through the departures gate.

The university engine whirred into life at the end of January. I hadn’t seen Rex since the airport; he spent most of the Christmas holidays down at Byron with his family. We met up at the Main Refectory for lunch on the first day of classes. He said little about his time at Byron, preferring to tell me all about the Russian lecture he’d just attended. His eyes dazzled with ebullience as he shared his initial observations of the language and of his classmates. He was less enthusiastic about the law lecture he’d attended earlier, in particular about the law students. ‘All Country Road and gold scrunchies,’ he sneered.

We saw each other for lunch every Monday at the refectory. But as the weeks progressed I became aware of a different dynamic between us. High school provided physical proximity and common denominators like Japanese, but now as our paths diverged it seemed we had less to talk about. Academic anecdotes sometimes bordered on the perfunctory, and even though we still talked animatedly about the popular-cultural, like Lisa Bonet’s controversial sex scene in Angel Heart or the release of the sublime Introspective by the Pet Shop Boys, awkward silences began to creep into our conversations.

Then one Monday, Rex didn’t turn up. When I called him that evening he made no apology. ‘Just went to Russian today,’ he said through a yawn. ‘Couldn’t face Torts.’

I invited him to come with me to Expo, which had recently opened with much fanfare on Southbank. ‘Oh please,’ he groaned down the phone. ‘Brisbane - River City, Expo City, World City.’

So I went alone.

Our first exams took place in June and results were published in The Courier Mail in July. Over thousands of breakfast tables people pored through the pages of grades enquiring into the fate of family, friends, neighbours and enemies. I was thrilled with my results and was thus spared any public embarrassment. Rex had predictably excelled at Russian, but his law grades reflected a festering disinterest in the subject. It was weird seeing results so low for someone so bright.

Soon after the new semester began I was invited to meet with the Head of Department. She informed me that I’d made the shortlist for a yearlong scholarship to a university in Osaka. The Japanese Embassy in Canberra would make the final decision and applicants would be notified in writing in December. I was jubilant, and all the way home I luxuriated in daydreams of campus life in Japan. 

Mum was watching TV when I arrived home. She was happy to hear my news, but I knew she wouldn’t be looking forward to the long absence were I to go. No one in the family had ever spent such time abroad. I felt a pang of guilt as she went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I lived in such a supportive nest, yet I desperately wanted to fly.

‘I saw Rex at Shoppingtown this morning,’ she shouted from the kitchen.

‘Really?’ Our Monday lunches had petered out and I hadn’t heard from him in a while. ‘What did he have to say?’

‘I didn’t speak to him. I must say he looked very scruffy. And the girl he was with didn’t look much better.’

I often wondered about Rex’s uni friends. I never asked and he never told, so I hadn’t a clue if this girl was simply a friend or something more. I’d never seen Rex as a sexual being, but only because we never spoke of sex. Weren’t teenage buddies supposed to talk about fucking ad infinitum? As the credits rolled on Days of Our Lives, I acknowledged for the first time the dysfunctional nature of our friendship. To hear of this scruffy-looking girl opened a sluice of emotions I’d been harbouring. I was jealous of his fraternising and resented that he rarely called me.

One September afternoon I found myself thinking about Rex, remembering our more halcyon times. I called him on impulse, just to hear his voice.

‘Hi, it’s me.’

‘Oh my God!’ he gushed. ‘Have you been watching the Olympics?’

The Seoul games were taking place and Rex said he’d been eschewing lectures in favour of watching the diving. I could tell he was keen to get back to the live coverage of the Men’s 10m Platform.

‘Well listen,’ I said. ‘Let’s do a refectory lunch once it’s all over.’

‘Cool, ok,’ he replied breezily.


The line went dead in my ear. I put the phone down, sat quietly for a minute, then went out to uni.


An air of calm had descended upon campus in the wake of the bustle and mania of November exams. I’d just returned a book to the Undergrad Library and was cutting across the Great Court towards the bus stop when I paused. Fancying a cool drink, I about-turned and headed for the Main Refectory, hoping it hadn’t yet closed for the holidays.

A small gathering of students were eating food around one of the outside tables, so I was in luck. I purchased a chocolate Breaka and found a table set back from the group. They were a grungy amalgam of flannel, flea market, piercings and hair dye. One of them was staring at me with an unsettling Mona-Lisa smile. He had a shaved head and looked gaunt, like a skull with stubble, then I realised it was Rex. I froze for a second, and found myself contriving a convivial smile. He didn’t take his eyes off me as I walked over and perched on the end of the bench next to him. 

‘Hey,’ I said. ‘Enjoy the rest of the Olympics?’

‘Brilliant,’ he replied indifferently. His blue eyes were drained of their magic.

The girl next to Rex wore a flowing purple dress and black boots, and was arguing for the imperativeness of radical student groups. I wondered if she was the girl Mum saw at Shoppingtown. Rex took one of her cigarettes and lit it.

‘So what you up to?’ I asked him.

He took a long drag and exhaled over my head. ‘We’ve just picked up our marked Russian assignments.’

‘Exams go ok?’

‘The Russians ones, yeah. Didn’t bother turning up for the law ones. Yourself?’

‘Yeah, pretty well, I think. Oh, I’m on the shortlist for a scholarship to Japan, too ’

Rex nodded and, forsaking any introductions, turned his attention back to the group. Talk turned to the possible eviction of independent radio station 4ZZZ from their on-campus premises by the right-wing student union executive. The vernacular was alien to me, words like fascist and subversive. Rex interjected confidently with informed opinions as I watched on in awkward silence.

‘Bunch of cunts,’ spat the girl in purple. ‘They’re asking for trouble if they try to shut it down.’

Rex extinguished his cigarette. ‘Cunt,’ he purred, as if promoting fabric softener on a TV ad, ‘which comes from the Latin cunnus meaning cunt.’

Everyone laughed. It was the first time since school I’d witnessed Rex interact in a group context and it wasn’t surprising that he had endeared himself to a new set of friends. There was no jealousy or anger as I sat there watching him engage the table.

‘Listen,’ I said quietly, tapping Rex on the shoulder. ‘I’m going to head off. I’m pretty tired, actually.’

He mustered a feeble smile. ‘Cool, ok.’

I stood up, smiled politely and said goodbye to his friends. The girl in purple considered me for the first time with a sagacious glance, and I had the disconcerting realisation she knew exactly who I was and everything about me. Walking away swiftly, I hoped a letter from the Japanese Embassy would come soon.

One morning in December I awoke late to find that Mum had gone to the shops and left a letter on the floor outside my bedroom door. I picked it up and a wave of prickly heat coursed through me as I scanned my name and address. This was it; after all this time it came down to this moment. I sat on the bed, took out the crisp folded sheet and began reading.


I’m sitting in the airport café. Would you believe at the very table we shared a year ago? I’ve just said goodbye to a friend who’s moving overseas. It made me think about you, about me. About us. So I decided to document my thoughts. To you. I could make it quick and succinct but I respect you more than that. And if I wrote an epistle I’d risk not achieving any coherency. So I’m going to leave it to spontaneity and see what evolves.

I think you hit the nail on the head the other week at the refectory with your parting words: “I’m pretty tired, actually.” We’ve both been guilty of keeping up the pretence of friendship and you’ll agree it’s been undignified and draining. I can’t actually pinpoint the moment of stagnation, but I can recall some conversations where we both struggled, when the rot had well and truly set in. I think of the things that made us laugh once, the things we had in common. But Mel & Kim is hardly solid bedrock on which to build a meaningful friendship, is it?

I know my inconsideration pissed you off, like the way I never called you. I’m crap when it comes to instigating phone calls - I’m accused of that often. Subconsciously, though, perhaps I was hoping you’d take the hint. Actions, or inactions, speak louder than words, don’t they say?

I’ve just seen there’s a flight to Japan in a few hours. You’ll get that scholarship, you know. I can picture you at the departures gate, waving goodbye to the family, your eyes brimming with excitement at the prospect of the adventure ahead. Or are you running from something?

Anyway, while you’re still here I realise we’re bound to run into each other. It’s inevitable in an international backwater like Brisbane. But at least we’ll be able to look each other in the eye and know where we stand for a change. So let’s just leave it at that. I’m tired of the charade now. I know you are too, and that deep down you wish you’d had the guts to end it sooner. “We just need to act on these things,” you said to me across this table, do you remember? Your advice. My action. Into words.



The letter from the Japanese Embassy arrived a few days after Rex’s with the news that I’d won the scholarship and was to leave for Osaka in a month. It was hard not to dwell on Rex’s letter in the time leading up to my departure. I reread his missive countless times, digesting the nuances and reading between the lines. My initial relief was tempered by a gnawing sensation of cowardice and shame; it was a kick in the guts to hear I didn’t actually have any. I dreaded running into him before I left and fortunately it never happened. We needed this time apart, and for the time being there was nothing more to say to each other. The paradox, though, was that I really missed him.

On a sultry evening in January my parents and I left for Brisbane Airport. Mum kept looking at her watch anxiously each time we stopped at traffic lights, but I assured her there was plenty of time. At one point I thought I saw her wipe away a tear. As we turned onto Kingsford Smith Drive I looked behind at the twinkling lights of the city. The beacons on the Mt Coot-tha transmitter towers winked at me in the distance, and I clutched my ticket and passport a little tighter. Rick Astley’s new song Take Me to Your Heart came on the radio.

‘Could you turn that up, please?’

Mum shot me a withering look, then obliged. It made me smile. Rex, like Rick Astley, was more than a mere phase.

© Timothy Collard 2012

Thursday, 27 September 2012

'Two of Hearts' published on gay-ebooks

Gay-ebooks has just published its latest anthology 'Hold On, I'm Coming'. It includes my short story 'Two of Hearts'.

click here - it's a free download

Friday, 21 September 2012

Best of Friday Flash Vol II - pre-order

I've had my first short story published in the upcoming 'Best Of Friday Flash Vol II'. Very happy! Look out for 'The Iris Garden'.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Two Little Boys

I don’t think I’d ever heard a ghost story until I went to university in Japan. One evening, not long after I’d arrived in the country, there was a party in the Japanese girls’ dormitory. It went on all night, and when the beer and sake had run out, when the music had stopped, when the promise of dawn was on the trill of skylarks in the adjacent woodlands, I found myself sitting on the floor in candlelight with a few people. A couple of Japanese girls were regaling us with urban legends. ‘If children are out on the street after dark,’ one of them said with affected portent, ‘they might come across a woman wearing a surgical mask. The woman will ask the child, “Am I beautiful?” then pull away the mask to reveal that her mouth is slit from ear to ear.’ I appended the narrative with a jolting roar, prompting histrionic squeals from everyone. It was all unmistakably jokey.

But I went on to learn that specters lurked deep in the Japanese psyche.

Every Saturday I taught some English classes at the local municipal hall to earn a bit of extra cash. My last lesson of the day was to a dozen or so Japanese housewives. It was a mixed-ability conversation class and I let the women decide the topics for discussion. The subjects were light and uncontroversial, like foreign travel or film stars. I made a point of not speaking any Japanese to the ladies, insisting that only English be spoken during the lesson. It was surprising that some of them came back week after week as much of what I said went over their heads, but the hour-long session was always filled with laughter; it was more of a social event than a structured class.

One gloomy day in July, at the apogee of the rainy season, the ladies said they wanted to talk about Japanese festivals. There were myriad to choose from, like the Sapporo Snow Festival or the nationwide Doll Festival. I was aware that the next big festival to take place across the country was Obon in August, when families returned to their ancestral homes and visited the graves of their ancestors, but I was ignorant of the significance behind the occasion.  

‘Okay, so let’s start with Obon,’ I said. ‘Why do Japanese celebrate this?’

All the ladies turned to look at Mrs Kuroki, who sat impassively in the back row. They always deferred to Mrs Kuroki when more complex English was required. She was the oldest in the class and also the quietest. I could tell she was well respected by the others judging by the depth of their bows when they greeted her each week. Whenever she spoke or reacted, it was with measure and calculation. The others would laugh at my stupid jokes, but Mrs Kuroki would give up a dim smile. The women would write down new vocabulary, but Mrs Kuroki would scrutinise me as I spelled out the words. There was something vaguely minatory about her; whenever I caught her gaze it felt like she might just spring out of her chair and pounce on me like a mantis.

‘When a person dies,’ Mrs Kuroki began, ‘their spirit leaves the body and enters purgatory until funeral rites have been performed. Only then can they join their ancestors. These spirits then protect the family they have left behind, and return to Earth every August during Obon to receive thanks from the family.’

The women nodded in apparent comprehension.

I was feeling a little mischievous. ‘What about those who haven’t had a proper funeral?’ I asked the group. ‘Does their spirit not watch over and protect their family?’

The ladies turned again to Mrs Kuroki, who retained her composed mien.    

‘No,’ she said. ‘If the proper funeral rites haven’t been carried out, or if a person dies in sudden or violent circumstances, the spirit transforms into a ghost and can return to the physical world. It will forever haunt the Earth until the missing rituals are performed. Or until the emotional conflict tying it to our world is resolved.’

‘Do you all believe in ghosts?’ I asked.

The women nodded earnestly, some of them exchanging knowing glances. Mrs Kuroki regarded me like I was an oddity in a bric-a-brac shop. ‘It’s not a question of belief. We co-exist with spirits and ghosts - the benign and the tormented.’  

I’d never been one to get spooked by the supernatural; I actually laughed watching The Exorcist. There had to be a rational explanation for everything, from the stars in the sky to the unusual ripples and shadows you saw in those grainy photographs of Loch Ness. The notion of wraiths made no sense to me, and I left the English class that day smugly amused by the ladies’ genuine conviction in the unearthly.

Early one evening at the end of the summer holidays, the shrill of cicadas raging against the relentless heat, some mates and I made the journey down the hill from university to the local bar. We hadn’t seen each other for a while; some had been travelling in Asia, others had visited family back in the UK or Australia. I’d stayed on campus all summer, happy to earn some money from my teaching jobs.

It was a typically bibulous evening involving cheap beer and salty conversation. At some point, after much carousing, I teetered between mellow cognizance and fuddled haze. If I didn’t leave soon, my friends would have to carry me back up the hill. I couldn’t be dealing with their protestations when I made to leave, so I slipped away through the side door. 

The night was still and clammy. I staggered up the hill, the humidity almost palpable as I breathed in laden air. Approaching the top, the university came into view around a bend. The contours of the campus buildings conjoined to form a looming silhouette, like a slumbering giant.

My room was on the fourth floor of the foreign students’ dormitory. I cursed at the ‘out of order’ sign on the lift. The internal staircase was avoided by most in the name of laziness, and I only used it on rare occasions like this. I gripped the handrail and began the sluggish climb, my footsteps echoing up the cool concrete well.

As I turned to mount the penultimate flight I saw something that slapped me out of inebriety. The dim lighting caused me to squint hard at the sight before me, to fathom it. Up ahead, on the landing between the third and fourth floors, were two small boys squatting on their haunches side by side, arms resting on their upper legs and heads bent forward, dressed in what looked to be an elementary-school uniform of navy-blue shorts, knee-length socks and black shoes. They both wore yellow caps, which hid their faces.

Donai shitenno?’ I surprised myself by asking after them in the local dialect, which I’d never spoken before. They remained motionless. I walked the few steps up to the landing and was about to bend down to touch one of them on the arm when I realised my footfalls hadn’t echoed, as if I’d stepped on cotton wool. The air in the stairwell was all at once close and stale, and the crouching little boys, oddly reminiscent of medieval gargoyles, oozed a hint of menace.  

I sidled past them and turned to climb the last flight of steps. Immediately I lurched forward as two small bodies leapt onto my back, clutching my shoulders, little legs scrambling for grip so as to hoist themselves further up onto me. I grasped the handrail with both hands, spinning around to face the landing as I went down hard on the steps. The beings were instantly gone from my back, and the landing, where the schoolboys had been moments before, was empty. I snapped my head around to see nothing but the few remaining steps leading up to the fourth floor. The stab of pain from where I had landed on my coccyx was almost numbed by a surging wave of panic that pricked my skin like a thousand hot needles.

I got to my feet with the falter of a newborn fawn and turned to hurry up the stairs. The bodies sprang onto my back again like jumping spiders, but this time their feet found a grip. They boosted themselves up and locked their cold little limbs around my neck. Something giggled in my ear, the carefree giggle of a content child. I spun around and at once the presences vanished from my back, but the landing remained mockingly bare. My throat burned where their arms had crushed my windpipe and a throbbing pulse screamed in my head.

Slowly I edged up the stairs backwards, my eyes rooted to the vacant landing. With each step I gripped the handrail hard, steadying myself for another ambush, but nothing happened. Once on the fourth floor I reversed out into the dormitory corridor, and the landing disappeared from view.

But I didn’t dare turn around.

I continued walking trance-like backwards, fixing my gaze straight ahead, until I arrived at my room. Once inside, with the door locked and lights on, I shuffled back towards to the bed, reaching behind until I felt the soft welcoming futon. It was cool to the touch as I lowered myself gently onto the cushioned fabric. The sun was already up when I drifted into a troubled sleep.

© Timothy Collard 2012

Friday, 28 October 2011

La Cage

Digby felt smug gazing across the tableau of Paris from the terrace of L’Institut du monde arabe. He exuded the smarmy content of a foreign resident, linguistically at ease in daily discourse, derisive of his transient counterparts with their superficial regards of the city, and enriched by a compendium of local knowledge afforded only to a denizen, like the existence of this terrace and tearoom nine floors up, in the heart of town, free to access and thankfully, for now, absent from any guidebooks.

He hadn’t appreciated the view two years back when a pretty but vacuous civil servant from the Ministère de la Défense invited him here for tea. She had quickly bored him, so he took her to a nearby hotel where he was able to extract the necessary information after a couple of libidinous hours. He promised to call her, which of course he never did.

Carrie was pretty too, but he knew not to cross that line. Each month she informed him of the time and place. He would hand over the flash drive and she would leave, often without a word spoken between them. There was nothing to link the rendezvous points: a bookshop in the Marais, the bric-a-brac of Clignancourt markets, once even Modigliani’s grave at Père Lachaise. And today, this terrace at the Arab World Institute.

Digby leaned on the railing as he waited for Carrie. He scrutinized the exposed skeleton of colored ducts on the Centre Pompidou and a carved angel atop Notre Dame before savoring a cluster of bronzed sunbathers on the cobbled embankment of Île Saint-Louis.

A man appeared by his side suddenly, facing him.

‘Carrie can’t be with us today, Mr Digby.’

He couldn’t place the accent. ‘I’m sorry, I –’

‘The flash drive, please.’ The stranger smiled genially.

Digby squared up to him. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said, veiling unbidden alarm with incredulity.

The stranger sighed and a flash of discountenance flickered across smoky eyes. ‘You live at 1408 Avenue Daumesnil; your wife is a part-time kindergarten teacher in Nogent-sur-Marne and your two children attend a prestigious school across town in the 16th; after your wife – Madeleine, isn’t it? – goes to bed you have a predilection for spying on your nubile young neighbor across the street.’

Digby was in a daze and the stranger’s smile turned dark and hollow.

‘Who the hell are you?’

‘I am your contact from now on, Mr Digby. You’ll know it’s me when I call. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and all will be fine.’ He extended an open hand. ‘The flash drive, please. And don’t do anything foolish.’

Digby fumbled in his breast pocket for the object and thrust it into the expectant palm.

Merci. Bonne journée à vous.’ The stranger strode off whistling the chorus of Big Yellow Taxi, leaving Digby alone on the terrace against the exquisite urban backdrop.

© Timothy Collard 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


It strikes me as I pause outside the metal door that the throbbing muted pulse of the beat beyond might just match my heart rate. Not that I’m nervous; I’ve been here often enough. Every time I pass the all-night drug store (and unwillingly inhale the hint of menace on the antibacterial breath it oozes onto the sidewalk as its sliding doors swallow and discharge customers), turn the corner and see the fluorescent sign winking at me at the end of the lane, I feel an excitement brew. Halfway along I hear the first indication of the night ahead, a soft and recurrent thump, a rhythmic invitation, and my stride falls into its metrical line with wanton ease. 

There are other places to go if I want to cut to the chase, arcane alfresco locations under the darkest of shadows and steamy indoor labyrinths, places where prescient encounters, sometimes wordless but always physically candid, satisfy a common need. But I enjoy a more involved ritual, one not so stripped, sensorial cocktails of beer and music, conviviality and camaraderie. Sometimes it yields a handsome payoff ending back in my apartment a few of blocks away, and sometimes I’m happy to leave just with tinnitus. Tonight, though, I’m angling for the former.

I push through the door and am greeted by the roar of music. Gyrating shapes on the dance floor fizz like champagne bubbles, and to the side clusters of punters engage in blithely conspiratorial banter. Along the far wall by the bar stands a line of men in stoic masculine poises, elbows on ledges and bottles firmly gripped. Full-length mirrors are positioned strategically on columns to facilitate furtive scanning as much as self-regard.

A couple of buddies beckon me to their little group by the dance floor. They embrace me and bellow the names of their friends, which are rendered unintelligible under the thunder of syncopated baselines. I clasp an invisible bottle and jerk it a few times in the gesture of swigging, and everyone politely declines. 

I make my way to the bar, acknowledging some other familiar faces en route, and order a Bud. The first gulp is cold and succoring. This is where I prefer to loiter, far enough away from the howling Bose speakers to allow the luxury of conversational interaction and positioned perfectly to afford a tasty prospect of the whole establishment.

I tell the barman to keep the change, and when I spin around I lock, as if inevitably, onto you, casually propped against a mirrored pillar, out from the dark recesses of the back wall and close enough to the dancers to be daubed in disco light. You take a sip of beer and graze languorously on the shifting shapes on the dance floor. A trimmed auburn goatee neatly frames a gentle and cushioned set of lips. Wiry tufts spring through the V of your open-neck shirt, and I trek further south, over your beaming chest and down into the ripe contours of your jeans.

I feel the onset of blush when I look up to discover you’ve clocked me, that moment when the surreptitious becomes the apparent. I wonder if places like this heighten our frequency and make us more alert to the searching, penetrating, predatory sizzle of a man’s gaze. I don’t dwell on the supernatural, but in moments like this, two pairs of eyes in mutual transfixion, loaded and cocked, telepathy seems utterly possible, with tacit actions and words and hopes and desires colliding in a supernova of startling clarity. 

You make the first move, sauntering over to me, smiling in shrewd collusion. A popular hi-NRG track announces a shift in tempo and more punters charge onto the dance floor, their rapturous limbs illuminated by kaleidoscopic swathes of light and occasionally punctured by the hectic staccato of strobe. They remind me of a shiver of sharks in an orgiastic feast.

‘You like this crap?’ you ask in a silky baritone timbre, flicking your handsome head in the direction of the dance floor.

I actually adore this particular slice of Europop - Searchin’, it’s called - and I suspect the glorious irony isn’t wasted on you. ‘Can’t stand it,’ I say with a coy moue. I want to add something but am deliciously spellbound by our new physical intimacy.

You put your half-finished Bud down onto the bar. I’ve a case of that in the fridge at home, I remember. ‘Then let’s get outta here,’ you say. ‘Buddy.’

© Timothy Collard 2011