Silicon Fiction

August 1, 2007


Filed under: Flash Fiction — Chris Neal @ 9:41 am

Helen’s corner was still her corner even though she’d had the lounge to herself for two years now. On the small mahogany table to the left of her chair and illuminated by the yellow glow from the wide-shaded standard lamp behind were her reading glasses, with frames of clear pale-pink-tinted plastic and large, round lenses. These rested on the historical romance novel she had almost finished. On the small wall shelf above the table stood a framed colour photograph of her with John and their new grandchild Justin. It had been taken in the hospital, a year before John’s death. He had been thrilled at becoming a grandfather and had doted on Justin during the first few months, until he was no longer able to recognise the baby. Next to this was a pile of opened correspondence — bills, letters, junk mail, catalogues — that Helen would deal with when she got around to it. On the carpet under the table, her craft bag contained the beginnings of the yellow cardigan she was knitting for Justin’s new brother or sister. She was half-watching a game show on the old fourteen-inch television set, which stood on a new-looking mahogany cabinet in the corner. On the shelf below was the video recorder and two blank tapes, still in their cellophane. The volume was always set lower now that she had the remote control. The red brick fireplace was John’s domain, so it had lain cold since his death, replaced in Helen’s world by a portable electric fan heater which was humming hot, dusty air at her slippered feet. One duty she had taken over from him was the winding of the clock: a large, heavy wooden clock with a round, cream-coloured face — a wedding present that had stood officially in the centre of the mantelpiece, marking the rhythm of their lives for the last forty-seven years. She had felt like a thief as she opened the small wooden box on the mantel and took out the key for the first time, but the prospect of this room without the constant reassurance from the low, stately tick-tock was unthinkable. The rest of the room lay unchanged and untouched: John’s armchair with it’s greasy stain where his oily hair used to rest now lacking purpose, the plain wooden fold-out table in the bay window with its small pile of newspapers and three straight-backed wooden chairs, the glass-fronted dark wood bookcase next to the hall door with its full set of encyclopaedias, unopened since they’d been pressured into buying them by a man at the door twelve years ago. All of it redundant, yet silently admonishing Helen to leave it be. Whenever her daughter came round with Justin, they would use the dining room, which now looked more like a playroom. The game show finished and a commercial offered loans for the over-50s. Helen’s tea had gone cold and her eyelids started to droop.


Black & White

Filed under: Flash Fiction — Chris Neal @ 8:26 am

I’d said I would come over to keep Jimmy company for Terry’s first solo appearance on The Tonight Show at ten o’clock. When I got there at eight it was obvious that Jimmy had been drinking for hours. He was wearing grey jogging bottoms and a white vest under a gold silk dressing gown, which was hanging off one shoulder not quite meeting in the middle. He looked like a bag of showbiz washing. I sat down on the sofa and he poured me a whisky (he had no ice) that it would take me all evening to drink. He flopped down in his chair like a child who’s just been told they can’t go to the party. As I dutifully listened to him ranting on, his eyes fixed on the TV screen, my own eyes took in the mementos around the room that reflected my relationship with the duo over the last fifteen years. Black & White had been performing since I was a schoolboy and were already national icons when we met, but I like to think their continued success into old age was thanks to my scripts. Maybe it was, at least in part, but the two had also got to a point where they were untouchable in peoples’ hearts; fans would still watch re-runs of their Christmas specials on TV no matter how good or bad the latest gags were. Their classic sketches were tattooed onto the nation’s funny bone.

There’s a vulgar opulence and sparkle in celebrities’ houses. Life is another stage from which they have to project themselves to get the attention they crave so desperately. The curtains covering Jimmy’s lounge window and hiding us from the world outside were redder and more velvety than yours or mine could ever be, his lampshades more theatrical, his doorknobs more golden. The collection of ornaments, awards, and the framed showbiz photos that covered the wall were all placed to invite fawning comments from visitors. Jimmy’s world was like a theatre: the public areas bright and glamorous, but backstage it was dark .

I came out of this reverie as Jimmy snorted and poured himself another whisky. The theme music for The Tonight Show had begun to play . The break-up had been messy, bitter, and inevitable. They’d been at each others’ throats for years, each claiming to be “carrying” the other. Yet despite their well-publicised mutual loathing, here was Jimmy, watching his ex-partner plugging his autobiography on a chat show. Terry White was chatting to the host about his book and the break-up, but he was no longer the long-suffering straight man the public knew and loved. He was like an inflatable model of himself with a slow puncture.

In last week’s Variety editorial, Black & White had been called The Siamese Twins: life together unnaturally and uniquely intertwined, life apart impossible.

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