A M O D E
R N NAR R A
T I V
I arrived at 4.16 for the date. A kind-hearted cougar had advised me that blue chequered shirts were a bad fashion move in 2009, so I substituted the blue for a striking mauve I had found in the Harrods free clothes bin, modelled on the Fiat 500. This was my debut at the Totem Pole of Love -- the world's only five-mile high, strictly vertical dating scene. I went in there under the pseudonym M.J. Crinkles, fearing news of my disastrous relationship with superstar novelist Lucy Biatch had molested the ether.
Aligned against the wall of one side of the skyscraper was a five-mile high stack of men, standing on each other's shoulders, while opposite them was a five-mile high stack of women, eye to eye with their random suitors for the night. When I turned up, the male totem pole was reaching its fourth mile, so the shirt change hadn't set me back too much. I took the lift inside the skyscraper, ascended to the one hundred and eighty-first floor, then stepped out the window onto the highest man's shoulders.
The girl's line had yet to reach its fourth mile. As I waited, I prayed for a redhead, a brunette, a blonde, or a brown-haired girl -- basically, any colour of hair, and preferably someone who looked a little like my sister, but not too close for it to be uncomfortable. As the giant overhead tap switched itself on, smiley starlet Molly Ringwald clambered onto the girl below's shoulders, momentarily losing her balance and threatening the stability of the female totem.
"Oh blow! Not Molly Ringwald! Oh, please don't let me get Molly flipping Ringwald!" I said (aloud).
The man below me was crossing his fingers and praying to Ganesh that Molly's alignment would be closer to me than to him. Molly was notorious on the dating circuit for luring suitors into her touring revue show either as dancers, stagehands or after-show male prostitutes. My cousins, having fallen for Molly's charms, found themselves huffing pleasure into the charming windflaps of cartwheeling ninnies and, even more humiliating, serving Horlicks to outré stage ants (stants).
Fortunately, Ringwald was taller than her on-screen persona by three metres, meaning the man above me was saddled with the hypnotising serpent rouge et monstre vert. The woman across from me, unfortunately, was a critic of unpublished novels, and had read the four books I had written as an adolescent.
"Oh, you've certainly some crimes to account for, Mr. Pussimuss!" she boomed. I looked upwards towards the giant overhead tap, hoping to find a deus ex machina in its forgiving faucet.
"I was young. I was unsexed. I resembled the inside of a scotch egg in the face department. I was tormented by visions of literary drought, of casting my wretched soul into the prairie dust of existence," I lied, thinking about the hours I had spent channelling the flabby buttocks of adolescence into histrionic trash for speccy virgins with eczema.
"Liar, Pussimuss! You abuser of words! You shoddy architect of passé surrealist hokum! Don't you come over all lost little boy on me," she said, waggling three fingers.
As she abused me again and again, quoting passages from my earliest works, explaining why I would never even become the grovelling manservant of Michael Morpurgo, a strange arousal jet-streamed my inner squishies. I fell lap-tongued in lurve with the duck-nosed, snub-bummed harlot of hate. Alas, the lurve was not reciprocated.
We climbed down off our respective totems, met at the bottom, then went for a cup of Trockenbeerenauslese (botrytized in the thighs of a trained flamingo) at the μεγαλο μπαρ off 45th and 780th and 4th Street on the Rue De Blahm. She spent the hour criticising each pigment of skin on my face, namedropping her experiences with the five elephant-headed Ganesh Heramba-Ganapati. Soon after we sojourned to my chalet.
Located in the largest cucumber shop in the _____ Prospekt, it was recommended to me by Timofy Ilyich, the man who replaces all street names in Russian classics with an underline. Since our meeting at the Caucus in 1780, we have been strangers, though I do follow his tweets and send him the occasional hyperlink to one of my articles about David Jason's meatiest bicep (he calls it Ridge, though it prefers Alan!!!!!!)
"Nigel, let's get down to business. You know you like it straight and hard, like a builder's euphemism. You know that novel you wrote about the artichoke working as a TV repair man in Goole?" she asked.
"I published it. Made a fortune. With the profits of your novel, I've purchased three quarters of Burkina Faso. Over there, I am known as the Urban Sponge -- a term of deep respect."
Of course! It made perfect sense! Those letters I had been getting from Ouagadougou, asking for Lucy Lechaim's autograph, nasal hair, toenail clippings -- they had confused my prose for her own!
"You're Lucy Lechaim, aren't you?"
"I can't believe you would toy with the Burkinabé like that. You know they have nothing to do but sit around all day and read the unpublished manuscripts of fictional British authors."
"I'm sorry, Nigel."
She proceeded with the ritual common to her tribe known as Jazz-Funk Expiation. With a blunt needle, she cut the outline of a saxophone into her left thigh, then a boogie-woogie piano into her calf. In a freeform Ornette Coleman style, she extemporised an apology in unsyncopated jazz-funk, making use of random tonal shifts, forming a redemptive eurhythmy in her wailing squeal-plonk sorry-sorry-sorry noise.
"Oh, I hu-hu-hurt a man ... man-man-man? by stealin' his boooooks. Books! Books! And I'm SOOORRRRYYY! Oh, man-man-man, I done hurta hurta hurta man, oh lawd, no!" she wailed. Blood sloshed from thighs, tears bled into bats, skin oh-no-ed blue. It was quite a sight.
With my chances of intercourse somewhat scuppered (her tribe rarely offered coitus as reparations for wrongdoings, unless with a Tesco chicken drumstick in the man's rear), I headed to Burkina Faso. This beautiful republic, located in the basement of an Ottawan pharmaceutical, has a rich literary history. In the 7th century, the leader of Batnum Books established the republic as a place for the finest experimental literature to graze -- a smug haven from the infected porridge of the UK mainstream.
Then, in 1879, the chairman of Radnam Mouse (a gazelle named Urk-Urk) invaded the country, laying siege to the millions of undiscovered genius novelists and establishing a Radnam Mouse protectorate for a whole century. The novelists were banished into the flat savannah, where they toiled in obscurity and were poached by savage poets. In the central belt, apemen were bred to test-read the latest mainstream UK fiction: slave editors sweating for meagre meals and puny shacks made from Kia-Ora straws.
A coup from five independent publishers followed in 1907, re-establishing the old haven, but by then, the country was impossible to control. Apemen raised on Radnam Mouse books formed mainstream tribes, hoarding the popular UK books and raising their brood on tacky fables and dated fairytales. Soon, the nation was at war -- the literary and mainstream factions refused to coexist peacefully, and the country sank into a reading inertia.
For several years, neither faction felt like reading at all, and instead of reading old mainstream work or writing trailblazing literary brilliance, the two factions agreed to foster unknown UK talent. Messengers were sent on ships to the UK, requesting unpublished novels to be distributed among the Burkinabé population, thus harmonising a nation so rabidly disillusioned with the written word.
Over a million struggling writers volunteered their work. The administration was so difficult for this unorganised nation of passionate readers, writers were asked to submit a synopsis of their work first, with an attached cover letter and contact address. This gave the Burkinabé time to organise the names of everyone and familiarise themselves with each novelist's writing style. For the literary trailblazers, reading the shoddy first drafts was a deeply unpleasant experience; but likewise, reading experimental work from UK wunderkinds was also a horrible strain for the mainstreamers.
During these reading periods, the bad drafts were circulated to the mainstream tribe, while the literary tribe were allocated the original genius. This process has since been in operation since the early 20th century, although the literary tribe has suffered from droughts: periods starved of original works worthy of their own prose talents.
I arrived to an unhealthy nation, with both groups struggling to meet their high reading demands. Standards of bad writing had slipped considerably since the early 1900s. A bad first draft back then was tantamount to a good ninth or tenth draft now, the standards of literacy having sunk into the whiffy stilettos of the Information Age.
My novels were being passed around the literary tribe for the eighth time, on a loop with the work of Wooflam Amis (Kingsley's second son) and Lucy Biatch's latest regurgitated ü:berpap. I cut through the stocky grasslands with my hatchet, happening upon the village of Sindou, where a pack of erudite gentlemen in straw suits were sipping port and poring over what looked like an excerpt from my angst-novel Don't Tread On Me.
"My my, what a dreadfully written rant this is! The writer is evidently suffering from a genius complex," one tribesman said, highlighting a paragraph he wished to hold up to ridicule.
"If this spate of terrible writing continues, we might not make it through the winter," another said.
My appalling first drafts were killing the literary tribes. These people had read the masterpiece Lucy Lechaim had passed off as her own, my Goole-based artichoke romp Stay, Sit, Bend. Now, reading my prose in its prehensile state was robbing them of the intellectual sustenance they had come to expect from me (via Lucy). There was only one solution -- Lucy Biatch.
She was in Kyoto establishing the Japanese headquarters of the Belch -- her international postmodern novel organisation. Across the globe, ciphers were sitting in stuffy offices hammering out the novel A Postmodern Belch in as many different ways as humanly possible. A version without vowels was a megahit on college campuses in Graubünden, while a version written by a malnourished racoon tethered to Liz Hurley was selling like shitcakes in Wetterhorn.
I telephoned her while she was shouting two Japanese words at her unpaid Kyoto team. "沈黙、奴隷 ! Yeah, what is it?"
"Lucy? Hi, it's Nigel here. Listen, I'm in a rather Nigelian imbroglio, and I require your Lucian pliers to extricate me from my difficulty, and I hope you will volunteer yourself to do so, as Shakespeare says, honorificabilitudinitatibus," I began.
"Cram the mouth-muff, snotpants. Whatdoyouwant?"
"Ha-ha-ha-ha. Classic Lucy. Yes, I need you to help me liberate the population of Burkina Faso from the worst literary drought since the 19th century. Are you available to assist me?"
"Why would I want to? FucktheBurkinabéandfuckyoutoo."
"Wait wait wait! There's millions of skilled readers over here! That means more slave labour for the Belch, right?"
"I'll be on the next plane."
So I sold out their futures. I turned this once noble and thoughtful country into a nation of drones writing the same novel again and again in many different ways -- the jazz musicians of the postmodern literary movement (now sole property of Lucy Biatch). Well, in my opinion, it was better for them than dying a slow death reading Dan Brown's fourth, third, second or -- the horror, oh the almighty horror! -- first drafts.
Lucy arrived the next morning. Her goons (twelve-foot robots made from recycled copies of the Belch) booted me into the savannah. Apparently Lucy didn't want to see my "pugly wanky grotty retardifarous face" [sic] and wanted to get started building the skyscrapers so the Burkinabé could make her zillions. Soon, Burkina Faso would be the most prodigious postmodern fiction production line in the world, but that's Lucy's business, not mine.
While hacking through the savannah plains with my Meg White memorial hatchet, I happened upon a bedraggled nymphet tickling slivers of mucus from the nostrils of a snail. When she turned around, her smile jettisoned me skywards. Yes, into the air I flew, landing on a budgie who was a mate of the cougar who had given me the sartorial advice at the beginning of this story. Do you remember, oh princely reader?*
When I landed, I noticed it was Molly Ringwald. She had moved to the plains of Burkina Faso to cultivate her smile and avoid the press vultures constantly lauding her performance in Peter Greenaway's The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Her smile was about the length of an articulated lorry, perhaps with a cargo of twelve hundred sheep.
"Want to come to my hut fuckoffee?" she asked. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!
Since her breakthrough role in the film Swinging Shingles, Molly had taken the jejune route through Tinseltown -- huffing glue from a bag under James Caan's ladybumps, scraping the clumps of scum from skirting boards with a toothpick and serving them au gratin avec paysans, loups et chevilles. Her role in life was to --
"Break down the smile barriers, Crinkles. I want to grow a smile so ee-ee-ee-ee that Taiwanese foetuses can see me from the amniotic Centre Parc of their mothers' uteri. I want a grin so mwah-mwah-mwah that gay neutron bombs seeking to boom-boom hetero hey-hey-heys bellymelt into the tidy dirt and skiffle into the evermore," she said.
"Hang on ... something's not right here. No one except Lucy Biatch speaks that gibberish. She got to you, didn't she?" Molly's sheep-lorry smile gave way to a sheep-lorry frown.
"Oh, Crinkles! It was horrible! She made me read these awful books by this illiterate hack. ** Oh, his writing was hideous, Crinkles, hideous! I wanted to claw out my eyes after the fourth word."
"Who was the author?"
"George? Oh, well that's all right then. For a moment there, I -- "
"Then she showed me this guff by some carrot-cock called Nigel."***
Molly invited me to sleep inside her smile while the giant tap overhead sprinkled the night's urine upon our pates. Her tongue made a comfy little camperbed, though the hairballs constantly being grogged up disturbed my sleep. Her teeth provided a nightlight to protect me from the monsters and bogeymen, while her saliva kept me cool and hydrated.
This would have been perfect had she not mistaken me for a piece of cheese and swallowed me whole. I awoke inside Molly Ringwald's stomach staring at a mulch of lettuce and grass, dated 07/9/83. Molly had obviously been vomiting her lettuce and grass meals since the early eighties, giving her stomach enough room for a fully grown man to kick back and relax. Before making the inexorable diaspora to her bowels, I read a leaflet.
HARNESS THE POWER OF MOLLY RINGWALD'S STOMACH! EARN $$$$ WORKING FROM HER DIGESTIVE TRACT. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SIGN UP!
"Seems like a very sincere proposition," I said.
I dialled the number and a pleasant former rapist told me the documents for the gig would arrive the next day. Sure enough, eighteen hours later, the postman slotted my docs down Molly's throat, and I could begin. It was a Lucy Biatch DIY Postmodern Novel Kit. Two steps for making it big through mining the same concept ad nauseam and never having to burden yourself with originality, talent or scrupulous experience.
The first step was to begin with three characters. One naïve but loveable oaf, one ballcrunching bitch, one bland everyman. The last step was to fling them into a novel and let them squabble it out among each other. After that, the story writes itself. So I began.
The story opened in a Texan prison, where a former doughnut technician was being teased for his big nose.
"What a jolly large nose, Nompkins! No doubt the boys are going to find plenty to laugh about when we get into the showers," said Slashy McFace, the charming homicidal maniac of the piece.
It wasn't working. The scheme was obviously counterfeit, and I began writing a letter of complaint to their human resources department (a Ghanaian chimp with tuberculosis). Molly's stomach started filling with chocolates and milk, however, and before I could sign my name angrily, I was whooshed down into her bowels and forced out her rump back into the savannah.
"Oh Crinkles! I am so sorry about swallowing you! I guess I should get some rollbars put on my tongue or something. Listen, I think you'd better go. Don't tell Lucy I told you this, but she's put a contract on your head," Molly warned.
I took the contract from off my head and read it. In the most succinct way possible, it asked me to vacate Burkina Faso. What it in fact said was 'FUCKOUTFASONOW' which was understandable, if rather irksome for its absence of proper spacing.
So, that was it. I went back to Britain. Lucy was there to meet me at the airport with a legal notice. I had four minutes to sign over everything I had ever written to her, or she wouldn't let me fondle her bosoms. It was with some triumph that I signed over my literary legacy. Unfortunately, I had neglected to read the small print, which read:
NO BOSOM FONDLING GUARANTEED. IN FACT, NO BOSOM FONDLING WHATSOEVER. SORRY, CRINKLES.
M. J. Nicholls
* Can you hear the writer floundering? Oh, how his brain strains! P.S. Copies of this story are available afterwards in the foyer.
** Uh-oh. I know what's coming! Ha-ho-ha-ho.
*** Ah-ha-ha-ha-ho-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh my! That was brilliant. What a brave step forward for these stories.