Thursday, January 05, 2006

Chapter Seven

Was she hallucinating?


Alma took a deep breath, raising her hand to her forehead. She felt as if her entire body was being sucked into a burning oven.

Her vision was now blurred; under the midday sun all she could see was the fuzzy contour of Kevin’s face. Was she really looking at him? Was the intense heat getting to her? For what felt like a very long time (but was certainly no more than two or three seconds), rapid images ran through her brain – Mr. pyre’s thrilling performance on stage, his chest against her breasts as they devoured each other in his dressing room , the vivid look in his eyes as her house crumbled down in flames. A violent mix of passion and hatred flowed around her body.

It was then that she felt her wrist hitting his face hard, a movement so sudden it almost seemed to take place before her brain ever got a chance to command her arm into motion. She hit him right on his sore black eye. The punch drained the very last gasp of energy from her. They both fell to the ground.

‘I’ve always liked feisty women’, said Kevin

His James Bond humour did not impress Alma. ‘How dare you? How dare you?’ She was shouting now. ‘You stole from me; you destroyed my family and my home!’ She wanted to be tough, to show him right from wrong, to rearrange all her emotions and place them in the right order. No more of that trembling leg nonsense that comes with juvenile passion.

‘Come on Alma, show some precision when using the English language. If I recall things correctly, it was you who gave me your precious thing; I never took anything away from you. It was you who decided to break your family apart; I would never EVER consider separating a mother from her young child’. A bit of maternal guilt thrown in and I should regain some leverage on this, thought Kevin to himself. I can’t go wrong here.

Alma’s face was toughening up but could feel her chin giving in to a gentle tremble of the lower lip. She thought of Selwyn’s perfectly symmetrical dimples. The way his voice sounded when he said ‘mummy’.

‘Come on babes’. Kevin was now stretching his arm, getting his body closer to hers. ‘It’s just that… you know… the fire stuff… well it’s a long story… difficult childhood, obsessive compulsive father… used to work at a firework joint’. Come on, bring on the tears, you can do it Kev, good old boy, play the fucked up childhood card big time.

Alma’s eyes changed and betrayed her. She was now looking at him with a tame glimpse of pity, but mostly her brain was now rewired into being interested in his words. She did not feel like shouting any longer. She was in listening mode.

Nice work, Kev, nice work. You’re in with this one.

‘Alma, you were right on that betrayal stuff though. I should have told you more of that. The early years. Being woken up in the middle of the night and being dragged to the back garden so that my dad could show me his latest wizardry with pyre techniques. Anyway, you probably don’t want to hear this stuff, it’s probably too late now…’

‘I’m listening. Continue’. Alma consciously straightened up her face but the forgiving eyes gave it away. Somehow she was about to make sense of this last week of her life through Mr. Pyre’s little tale of childhood traumas.

‘Me and the old man… you know, we got on well, like a house on fire…’

Alma smiled. She actually stopped herself from giggling.

Oh boy, tears and laughter. Drama and humour. You excel, Kev. You truly do.

‘But the fire trickery was the only real bond he ever developed with me and…’

‘You love birds!’ Boris roaring voice broke off the silence of the dry landscape around them. Alma jumped of shock, she hadn’t seen him approaching. She instinctively drew herself closer to Kevin and he held her. They stood there together, looking exhausted and united in their weakness, facing a v-shaped Russian who did not have the slightest sign of any hangover.

Bloody hotel minbars, thought Alma. No value for money. This guy should still be sleeping that sickening cocktail off. Despite the extraordinary situation she was now in, all Alma could think of was of sharing this silly Boris story with Kevin. Boris, the vodka-pernod-onion-martini-vodka-onion breakfast guy. She really wanted to have mundane chatty conversations, she wanted to turn to Kevin and start her sentences with the line ‘you’re never going to believe what this guy did just this morning’. Instead, she had to face the whole issue of being stuck in the middle of nowhere in Portugal with a British pyromaniac and a Russian ganster. Still, she let a smile out as she retold the Boris story in her inner dialogue.

‘You feeling happy Alma? Want to smile? Come with me, we have lots to smile about. Let’s go inside”. There was something about Boris’s body language that was not quite right. Alma sensed it straight away, but that thought disappeared instantly when Kevin held her hand. They followed him into the house.


It took sometime before Alma’s vision readjusted to the darkness inside. The building was significantly cooler. The window shutters were closed; the only light in the room came from an old metallic desk lamp. At first all she could sense was the smell. A mix of cheap cigars and cigarettes. Then she saw the cloud of smoke hanging in mid air. In the corner of the living room three men of Borisian proportions played cards. They had to be Russian too, Alma thought, as she took stock of their square jaws, broad shoulders and muscular necks. Their torsos showed through tight whitish sleeveless vests; the arms were adorned with tattoos of weapons, impossible animals and Cyrillic characters. The men exchanged looks and downed one shot of vodka each. A bottle lay half empty in the table, the ashtrays piled with cigarette buts and half burnt cigars. She wondered where the round motherly Conceição was.

Boris made a gesture for them to sit down. Alma and Kevin took the double couch; Boris sat in front of them in the one man armchair. The seat gave him instant authority. He opened a brief case and proceeded to place three items on the coffee table.

Alma’s attention was now fixated on Boris movements. She stopped taking clues from bits and pieces lying around the living room. Had she looked more attentively she would have seen stacks of passports on the shelves, home-printed catalogues with dozens of photos of Slavic women, seven or eight heavy sets of keys and four guns.

On the coffee table laid Alma’s beautiful box, two British passports and a copy of THE SUN. ‘MANCHURIAN ARTS DEALER DEAD, KILLER ON THE LOOSE’, read the front page. Alma felt a shiver of fear running up her back and took her hand away from Kevin’s.

Boris reclined on the armchair and produced a roaring laugh. ‘Time to make decisions Alma. Which of these things is more precious to you?’

by Claudia, who has kindly written this while she is having FAR TOO MUCH FUN SKIING AND APRÈS SKIING WITH MR MCGREGOR IF YOU ASK ME
illustration by Natalie d'Arbeloff.


Blogger lucy pepper said...

bloody marvellous!

12:33 PM  
Blogger clô said...

I,ve just realized I wrote Manchurian when it should be mancunian :)

6:02 PM  
Blogger lucy pepper said...

ah HAH! i just thought you were bringing the triads into it!

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Wendy said...

Fantastic! Thoroughly enjoyed that. Whoo hoo..way to go.

9:26 PM  
Blogger cream said...

Mancunian Candidate, eh?

I really like your writing, Clo!
Are you a native Portuguese? If so, your English is amazing! If not, it's still amazing!

11:31 AM  
Blogger clô said...

yes, i am a nativo with aspirations to live in manchuria, obviously!

9:12 AM  
Blogger Dr. Rob said...

really nice illustration role on chap 8 im straining at the bit

11:15 AM  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

That was great, Clo, and to think you're writing in your 'second' language.

This story really is hotting up!

7:05 PM  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

Oh my goodness, just saw the and drama!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Clare said...

"You love birds!"

Brilliant! This is great. And I thought that before I discovered English wasn't your native language - I think it even more now.

Natalie's pic is ace, too.

Marvellous stuff.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Aunty Marianne said...

I can SMELL Pyre in that picture. And I don't like his smell AT ALL.


6:08 PM  
Blogger Sick Phanthom said...

This is a goldmine site-I never knew it existed, a group of writers that write constantly with pictures?
You got to check me out-how can I join?

4:23 AM  

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