July - The Blotter Magazine

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July - The Blotter Magazine

Beach beach beach! Laine Cunningham gives us a peek while Lara Falberg raves;Christopher Major’s high, Ally Motola’s plaint and A. J. Jackson’s heat.Marty’s Paper Cuts and The Dream Journal. Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it...T h e B l o t t e rMAGAZINEJULY 20071980Jeffrey y J. TurTurnageFREE IN ASHEVILLE, ATHENS, ATLANTA, BOISE, CHAPEL HILL, CHARLOTTE, DURHAM,HILLSBOROUGH, NEW YORK CITY, RALEIGH and WILMINGTONvisit www.blotterrag.com


The B l o t t e r“The Precious Dead”; an excerpt from the novel “Message Stick”by Laine CunninghamWhen a man dies in thedesert, he is completely alone. Atthirty-nine, Ian McCabe knew thissimple fact. He had spent most ofhis life working the demandingseasonal jobs that kept Australia’srural towns alive. He had seen aflat tire turn deadly, and knew thatbeauty and danger were the sistersthat bore the land.Ian was not a tall man buta shock of blond hair added inchesto his height. Quick blue eyes anda steady aim were useful in hiscareer as a kangaroo culler. Everynight the slim .22 found its targetbetween the shine of an animal’seyes. On cattle stations hundredsof kilometers wide, engine troubleand the bite of the brown snakeposed constant threats.Ian’s white Land Rover wasnearly twenty years old and it stillran like a lizard drinking—nonstopand practically unstoppable.In the rear a skillet, bedroll and acase of green beans were strappedonto narrow shelves. A bottle ofport nestled in its own paddedcompartment, and a few golf clubswere tied to the wall. Sleep, slurpand sport, he called the collection,everything a man could want inone mobile space.He eased the truck downwww.blotterrag.comthe track. The spur was rough,really a strip of earth scraped cleanof boulders, but it saved nearly halfan hour. Besides, the less traveled aroad was, the happier Ian felt.Cities, he knew, were for suckers.Why squeeze into a rabbit hutchwhen the outback was right nextdoor?This area, so close to theDavenport Ranges, was typical ofthe Northern Territory. Wideplains of twisted mulga treesreached southwest to Alice Springs.A network of creeks and rivers thatran only during the Wet sustainedgum trees taller than most buildings.Cockatoos raised their youngin the hollow trunks, and after arain lorikeets gorged on the nectarin the blossoms.Grass was sparse, edged outby the ubiquitous spinifex that cutflesh as cruelly as broken glass.Only the toughest creatures survivedand half-feral Brahma cattlewere the breed of choice. To arancher beleaguered by droughtand debt, every blade eaten bynative animals robbed them ofbeef. Roo shooters were alwayswelcome. And judging by the sun,Ian would arrive at the stationhouse in time for dinner.A flash of metal caught hiseye. Through binoculars, hewatched a red SUV beetle acrossthe property. The truck stayedbehind the ridges and moved slowlyenough to keep its dust cloudlow. The same stealth kept Ianfrom sight as he followed.Eventually the trespassersparked beside a hill topped by astone pinnacle. Ian stuffed theLand Rover under a mulga treeand watched as a pair of men hikedup the slope. The first, a sturdywhite fellow about thirty years old,clutched a rifle. His legs werebowed so severely he rocked as hemounted the boulders.The other man, anAborigine who might have been inhis sixties, moved steadily upward.He was wiry yet had the grace of apredator. The outback was filledwith men like them, drifters whofound the bush far removed fromthe law.At the top, the elder founda cleft in the rock. From this cachehe retrieved a board nearly as longas his arm. Ian had seen dancersperform with similar objects andknew they were supposed to bemagical. The cubby surrenderedperhaps a dozen other artifacts. Allwould fetch a small fortune on theblack market.While the older manworked steadily, the bowleggedbloke couldn’t keep a properwatch. First he rubbed his nosewith the back of his arm. Then headjusted his shorts. He scanned thelandscape, rifle at ready. Then heswatted a fly. Rubbed sweatthrough his hair. Tugged at hiscrotch. Abruptly he was alertagain, scowling while the gun grewhot in the sun.As they retreated, theAborigine erased his footprintswith a leafy branch. Ian let theSUV jangle out of sight beforepicking up the trail. They traveled


faster now and corkscrewed acrosstheir original path. When the spurintersected a paved road, dustytread marks headed toward theStuart Highway, the only pavednorth-south road through theTerritory. The pair could pick fromdozens of unmarked byways. Theartifacts would disappear.Ian pushed the Land Roverto its limit. Although the old truckhandled beautifully in the bush, itwas as sluggish as a fly in winter.The needle was still climbing whenIan saw the red SUV parked besidethe highway. If he pulled over, themen would surely notice when hefollowed them later.The Toyota, a new modelfree of dents or scrapes, faced theroad. The younger man smirkedand the lines around his mouthtwisted. Again Ian was struck bythe elder’s expression. Whitepipeclay severed his forehead andchin, and his face was a jigsaw ofviolence.“So you’ve seen me,” Ianmurmured, “and I’ve seen you.”He adjusted the rearview mirrorbut couldn’t make out the tagnumber.A roadhouse a quarterhouraway was a convenient placeto watch for the men but theynever appeared. It was possiblethey had turned east toward thecoast. More likely they had dodgedoff into the bush. As night coveredthe sky, Ian had plenty of time toconsider his next action.He didn’t need a fraction ofit. The kangaroos could wait.* * *Thousands of kilometersto the east, Gabriel Branch loadedthe last of his bags into the hatchback.At six feet tall, Gabe barelyfit behind the wheel even with theseat pushed all the way back. Butthe rear compartment was roomyenough to hold all his diving gear,and the hatch was easier to usethan a station wagon. He squeezedin and steered for the coastal highwayout of Townsville.The next few days wouldbe spent an hour or so south on theWhitsunday Islands. In the fortyfiveyears Gabe had lived inQueensland, he rarely traveledmore than a hundred kilometersinland. The neighbors never quiteunderstood why his vacations didn’ttake advantage of the expansivedesert at their back doors.They didn’t understandthe...complications of Gabe’s life.Oh, they knew about Aboriginalland rights issues that had consumedthe media for decades now,and had heard about the childrenadopted by white families in aneffort to assimilate the race. Butthey didn’t know what it was liketo be caught by those issues againsttheir will. Only a biracialAborigine who had been assimilatedat the age of three could tellthem that. And Gabe wasn’t talking.Nor was he interested indrawing attention. Black faceswere scarce in Australia, so hestuck close to the coastal cities thathosted international travelers in alltheir rainbow colors. He blendedin better there and no one askedmany questions about his background.Even if they had, theywould have been met with silence.Silence had kept his life onthe smooth, orderly track heworked so hard to create. Lastweek he had hit a bump—a bigbump—in his relationship with aJamaican woman. Chance hadn’tJuly 2007been in the country more than afew years. But she had some definiteideas about how much Gabeshould say about his experiencesand how loudly his voice shouldsound.They had fought about itmore of late. He supposed it wasthe same with all couples, as ifmoney or household chores orwork schedules were the cause oftheir problems instead of a symptom.Whatever the real reason,Gabe and Chance had split up lastweek. Ostensibly the separationwas temporary, just a little breathingand thinking room, but Gabeknew where that would lead.If Ian had been available,Gabe would have talked thingsover with him. In fifteen years offriendship, the men had seen eachother through a number ofbreakups. None had been as seriousas Chance, though, and Gabewished Ian would call. He alreadypage 5


The B l o t t e rmissed her rapid-fire commentaryand her odd machine-gun laugh.Before the split, Gabe had beenthinking of proposing. But couragein one person required courage inthe other. And that, he knew, wasthe real reason their separationwould be permanent.When Ian did call, Gabeheard only the clack of sugar caneas he sped past the farms.Land Rover and gunned theengine, all but honking to makesure they heard as he rattled towardthe ridge.The thieves took the hint.After the Toyota disappeared, Ianwalked into the gully to inspect thedamage. The coffins, each a cradlefor the precious dead, were linedup in the center. Tarps and coils ofrope had been left behind, alongwith cigarette butts and candywrappers. The urine drying on thecliff face was still sharp.Then Ian spotted the trucktucked under a ledge. It was thesame one he had seen leave, he wassure of it. The guano he hadnoticed days earlier was stillsmeared on the side window. Yetthe culvert had no other entranceexcept the one he had just walkedthrough.A bullet spun him off hisfeet. He heard nothing, not eventhe echo of the shot, as his shirtsoaked in a red tide. The blood wasbrilliant at first, like the eyes of themetallic starlings that congregatedaround his boyhood home. He sawthe Aborigine kneel beside himand his breath fled past his tongue.The man was older than hehad thought, much older, and carriedwith him the aura of ancientthings. He wore little more than astring belt, a pair of shorts, andE1113 1/2 Broad St bands on his arms and legs. TuftsDurham, NC 27705 of ant cockatoo face. On feathers his chest framed a swirl a radi-(919) 286-3732dots and circles, made hypnotic byof* * *Ian tracked the men fordays without coming within twentykilometers of the truck. Theoutback was so big and its populationso small, a little luck and a fewcalls let him keep tabs on thethieves as they passed through differentroadhouses. At a tourist sitecalled Devil’s Marbles, a vendorremembered the odd pair andpointed to a faint track headingwest.When he located theToyota, he parked some distanceaway and hiked in for a betterlook. Perhaps a dozen coffins hadbeen removed from crevices in awadi. The thieves were stealingbodies. Ian trotted back to theAltered ImageHair Designers, Inc.his breath, pulled Ian into a galaxyof red.He was terribly confused.He tried to separate the ringing inhis head from his memories. Theyran away, he thought. He had seenthem drive across the plateau thatdrained west of the escarpment,had watched them until they wereout of sight. The tire tracks he hadcrossed floated in his mind. Onlyone set of tracks, he realized. Thetruck had never left. How could hehave been so wrong?As if to offer comfort, theelder caressed Ian’s forehead. Theman’s hair, shot with gray, lookednutmeg. It was as if his great agehad worn the shine off the strandsand leached away the pigment. Hiseyes were luminous, though,beyond the touch of time. Ianthought of the dingoes that gazedinto his spotlight. The dogs alwayswaited, knowing he would leavethe kangaroo’s heart and liver andkidneys for their feast.Suddenly he understood.This man was a shaman. Ian hadbeen lured into the culvert just ashe had been tricked into speedingdown the highway. He smiled andreached up.“There, now,” the mansoothed, and flicked his bladeacross Ian’s throat.www.blotterrag.comCREATIVEMETALSMITHSDon H. Johnson | Kim Maitland117 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill919-967-2037 creativemetalsmiths.comClosed Mondays.


July 2007“Last night I dreamt I was a chicken”by Lara FalbergI must be a phenomenal actress. Ican’t believe the faith people instillin the gobbledegak I spew theirway, and then they pay me for thepleasure. I guess some people justdon’t have enough to do with theirmoney, and they don’t believe incharity. I share an office with ahypnotist. Who the hell knows ifhe can really do it. I don’t see himor his clients. We both get the rentbill in the middle of the month,and we both pay half. I have thespace from 8a.m. till 12:30p.m.,and he has it from 12:30p.m. till5p.m. Then Allen and Dari, thecouple who own the space, teachan art class every weekday eveningfrom 6 to 8. I have only met thehypnotist thrice. He had auburnmuttonchops, and a noticeable butnot unattractive gap between histeeth. I am always out by 12:25,and he’s always running late. I ama dream-analyst. It’s ridiculous.My training is in social work, and Ijust developed a schoolgirl interestin dreams, so I read a lot of books.I started analyzing my friends’dreams, and then they startedreferring people to me who wantedto give me money or chickens toanalyze their nighttime subconsciousthoughts. It’s better thanacquiring food stamps or freehousing for people that are not me.Do I sound selfish? I should,because I very much am. I didn’tgo into social work because I reallywanted to help people. It justseemed like an easier major thanengineering or even English. Ugh,all that reading and pretending tounderstand the layers of meaningand innuendo in novels writtentwo hundred years ago by peoplewho only knew the people in theirfamilies and the guy from whomthey bought apples. Anyway, I hadto pretend to be interested in reallyhelping people and empoweringthem to have better lives by being,maybe the first person ever, to reallybelieve in them, and take aninterest in their lives. Wow, thatactually sounds pretty self-servingif you think about it. People liketo help others so they can feel goodabout themselves. Okay, that wasdefinitely part of the allure as well.People love to hear they have a bigheart. This is different than anenlarged heart, although somepeople have both.Back to my career. So, I started outby meeting my clients at variouscoffee shops or at their homes. Istopped doing the home visits aftera woman left a note for me on thedoor telling me to let myself in.She had left a trail of tulip-petalsfor me, which I had disclosed weremy favorite flower when asked,leading to the bathtub. In the tubshe was laying in a very unnaturalposition, with one leg draping overthe tub and the other leg was suspendedin the air as she lovinglycarved a star into her leg. I not-socalmlyasked her what the *%#$she was doing, and she told me shekept dreaming of stars, so shewanted one permanently with her,but she didn’t want a tattoobecause they are too trendy. Thecoffee shops worked for a while,but then I had a client who keptrunning into people he knew andintroducing me as his girlfriend,sister, or even mother once. It wasalso a source of contention thathe’d make a big deal about havingmy favorite drink, chai latte withskim, waiting for me when Iarrived, then deducting it from myfee.I needed office space, since I wasseeing approximately seventeenclients a week. I saw an ad rentingspace in an artist studio directlyabove my favorite little coffeehang. It turns out the hypnotistfound our space the same way. Itwas the only way they advertised it,so not such a cute story. It wascheap, not filthy, and not so distractingthat I couldn’t focus onwhat people were telling me. Plus,right next door was a studio weretwo guys, big, sneering men whowere always looking at every otherman as if to say, “I know you arethinking or about to think or saysomething that I can somehowconstrue as an insult and I willpummel you, then stick my fingersup your nose and carry you aroundlike I’m casually holding my girl’spurse.” They practiced meditationand played gin. Every morning. Itwas comforting to know they werethere, and when either saw me,they would demote the sneer to aminor scowl and grunt somethingin the way of “Good MorningLass.” I think they were Scottish,not sure.One of my clients kept dreaming amonster resembling something outof a lagoon was chasing him. I onlysay that because I was just thinkingabout Scotland, but you get thegist. Then after he stops runningand hits one of those climbingwalls with the foot and hand-holdsthat look like large pieces ofBubble-Yum, he turns around andit’s a little girl holding a clove cigarettein one hand and a brownpage 7


The B l o t t e rleather pump with a broken heel inthe other. When he stops andlooks at her, she says to him in acharcoal voice, “You ain’t trying toleave me and them, are you Roy?”His name is Kevin. Obviously thisis about his mother, and the girl hemarried who is just like her and thedaughter she is pregnant withwhom Kevin fears will becomeanother yet, trashier version ofthem. Roy? We figured it’s his alterego whom he rejects yet can’tescape. He seems satisfied with thisexplanation, and is now trying tofigure out how to leave them allbehind, and use his uncommonskill of lighting a cigarette off hischest hair, flipping the cigarette inhis mouth, flipping it back outagain, putting out the fire on hischest with one beat of his left fist,then flipping the cigarette back inhis mouth and swallowing it. Isent him to a career counselor.So now it’s 11:33, and my clientwas a no-show, so I head down tothe coffee shop, something I rarelydo this early. I’m more of anevening caffeine-needer. I seeMutton Chops/Gap Tooth immediately.I suddenly become selfconsciousabout if my bra can beseen through my sheer white t-shirt. He’s not looking at me,which makes it hard for me tomake casual eye contact. So, Ibegin to sing a 10,000 Maniacssong under my breath, cause Ifancy myself a Natalie Merchantsound alike. He looks up, butlooks irritated with me for singing,but I don’t stop right away. Thenhe recognizes me, and because myperipheral vision is outstanding, Isee him acknowledge that heknows me, hesitate, and then optnot to speak. Dammit. I sit at thetable next to his. There, that’s it,that’s the only thing I’m going todo to make this easy. Why the helldo I care? Whatever. I pretend toread. Then he finally speaks to me.Oh, but it was so worth the anticipation.He says to me, “Shannon,you sometimes forget to lock thedoor, and I wish you would try toremember.” It was filled withinnuendo and double entendres.Well, he knows my name, so that’sa good thing. Wait, again, not surewww.blotterrag.comwhy I care all of the sudden? Thisman puts people into a receptivestate of semi-consciousness for aliving. He walks them thoughopen fields or into castles or pyramids.He tries to access recesses oftheir brains that are meant to beunder Level 12 security. He’s afreak for this, but I pretend tounderstand people’s dreams andget lucky and hit what they think isthe nail and make them feel allunderstood and that they’ve hadepiphanies and break-throughs,and I’m a fraud. So we are twofrauds who don’t really want towork for a living but just want tolive in make-believe places anddeal with semi-reality. He mightbe the one.So, I respond to his statement.“Vic, I apologize, I am bad aboutthat at my apartment too. I will bemore cognizant of it from now on.But, I have one question: Whydoes it matter if I lock the doorsince it is just a room with a loveseat, two chairs and small desk?There is nothing to steal, plus youcome in right after I leave.”“Shannon, in theory, that is true,but it is not our space and we don’town the things in that room, andit’s disrespectful to Allan and Dariif we don’t lock up.”“Okay Vic, I’m with you. It willnot happen again.”“Thank-you.”Now I didn’t know what to say. Ifelt scolded as if I had taken twocookies instead of one, when I hadbeen explicitly told only one. NowI was sure it looked like I was tryingout for a wet t-shirt contest.Now I thought maybe he and Iwould not fall in love..The DreamJournalreal dreams, real weirdPlease send excerpts from your owndream journals.. If nothing else, we’dlove to read them. We won’t publishyour whole name.mermaid@blotterrag.comi was watching “deal or no deal” onboard a cruise ship. it’s not clearwhether it was on TV or whether iwas in the audience. the contestantwas a middle-aged guy, not in greatshape. he was only wearing a pair ofnylon soccer shorts. i thought this wasbold, since he was kinda flabby andhairy. soon enough, after he wasjumping up and down, his respectablylarge johnson ended up falling out ofthe leg of his shorts. he was mortified.howie mandel laughed and laughed.then i went on a brief tour of thecruise ship, and it had some coolrecreational amenities. i was bummedout because i didn’t have my favoritesunglasses and had to make do with acheap pair that were hard to seethrough. i forget some of the thingsthat happened, but there was anotherfamily with me, and i had to kindabite my tongue to be nice to them.then i was back home in athens,pushing two boxes down the street.one was very heavy, and i had mailedit to myself from the cruise ship, but ihad no idea what was inside. it wassome sort of christmas present, eitherfor me or from me to a bunch of otherpeople, and i had forgotten. the otherbox was light and didn’t matter toomuch. i was worried that just pushingthem down the street was damagingthe bottom box, so soon enough itwas like i was driving the boxes like atruck.then, suddenly, the road was full ofsnakes and other reptiles. i wasamazed that there were so many, and itried not to run them over, but therewere some necessary casualties. it wasnow clear that the heavy box waspresents for other people and i had todeliver them, and the safety of thesnakes couldn’t be my primary concern.J. P. - Athens


The B l o t t e rpartment on the Blue Train, ultraswankexpress to Nice.Everyone who is Anyone in’28 takes the Blue Train; and nearlyeveryone is on board that night:Ruth, Derek, Mireille, Armand thebogus Comte – and the celebratedprivate detective Hercule Poirot, whobefriends Katherine over dinner in thediner. The next morning they arriveto a shocking discovery: Ruth hasbeen murdered, and the rubies arenowhere to be found!Much of Blue Train’s charmlies in its galloping naiveté. The portrayalof Riviera glitterati is Christietalking completely off the top of herhead. She was an ordinary middleclassgal from Torquay, so I doubtshe’d spent much time among theheights of wealth and title. I also suspectshe had little firsthand experienceof Eurotrash bogus-aristocrat gigolos,exotic predatory mistresses or hardassAmerican millionaires. (TheAmericans in her early books are ahoot. They all seem to be Wall Streettycoons with Old-New-York Dutchnames, but talk like, and sometimesare, rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ cowboys.Van Aldin uses the adjective “durned”in everyday conversation; and onhearing from Ruth about Derek’sadulterous adventures, “his face darkened[and] his mouth set grimly in theline which Wall Street knew so well.”)Van Aldin sends his very proper, veryBritish secretary Major Knighton toDerek with an offer: £100,000 for anuncontested divorce.“And in the event of my refusing hishandsome offer?” [Derek] asked, with acold, ironical politeness.Knighton made a deprecating gesture.“I can assure you, Mr. Kettering,” hesaid earnestly, “that it is with the utmostunwillingness that I came here with thismessage.”“That’s all right,” said Kettering. “Don’tdistress yourself; it’s not your fault. Nowthen – I asked you a question, will youanswer it?”Knighton also rose. He spoke morereluctantly than before. “In the event ofyour refusing this proposition,” he said,“Mr. van Aldin wished me to tell you inplain words that he proposes to breakwww.blotterrag.comyou. Just that.”Kettering raised his eyebrows, but heretained his light, amused manner.“Well, well!” he said. “I suppose he cando it. I certainly should not be able toput up much of a fight against America’sman of many millions. A hundredthousand! If you are going to bribe aman there is nothing like doing it thoroughly.Supposing I were to tell you thatfor two hundred thousand I’d do whathe wanted, what then?”“I would take your message back to Mr.Van Aldin,” said Knighton unemotionally.“Is that your answer?”“No,” said Derek; “funnily enough it isnot. You can go back to my father-inlawand tell him to take himself and hisbribes to hell. Is that clear?”“Perfectly,” said Knighton. He got up,hesitated, and then flushed. “I – youwill allow me to say, Mr. Kettering, thatI am glad you have answered as youhave.”This early Poirot is a piece ofwork too; almost a caricature of himself,with his vast pride and extravagantlyfractured syntax.“A thousand thanks for your hospitality,Mesdemoiselles,” he cried; “it has been amost charming luncheon. Ma foi, Ineeded it!” He swelled out his chest andthumped it. “I am now a lion – a giant.Ah, Mademoiselle Katherine, you havenot seen me as I can be. You have seenthe gentle, the calm Hercule Poirot; butthere is another Hercule Poirot. I gonow to bully, to threaten, to strike terrorinto the hearts of those who listen tome.” He looked at them in a self-satisfiedway, and they both appeared to beduly impressed, though Lenox was bitingher underlip, and the corners ofKatherine’s mouth had a suspicioustwitch.(Lenox, in case you werewondering, is Viscountess Tamplin’ssardonic teenage daughter.) Thesecharacters, mores and posturings allfeel pastiched out of the pre-WorldWar Edwardian pop culture Christiegrew up with: romantic novels, stagemelodramas and early silent films. (Ican see Erich von Stroheim directing,and Theda Bara as Mireille…)Christie is more sure-footedin scenes of ordinary people havingordinary conversations, like betweenLenox and Katherine.“Why did you come?” [Lenox] said atlast. “To us, I mean. We’re not yoursort.”“Oh, I am anxious to get into Society.”“Don’t be an ass,” said Lenox promptly,detecting the flicker of a smile. “Youknow what I mean well enough. Youare not a bit what I thought you wouldbe. I say, you have got some decentclothes.” She sighed. “Clothes are nogood to me. I was born awkward. It’s apity, because I love them.”“I love them too,” said Katherine, “butit has not been much use my loving themup to now. Do you think this is nice?”She and Lenox discussed several modelswith artistic fervour.“I like you,” Lenox said suddenly. “Icame up to warn you not to be taken inby Mother, but I think now that there isno need to do that. You are frightfullysincere and upright and all those queerthings, but you are not a fool. Oh hell!what is it now?”Lady Tamplin’s voice was calling plaintivelyfrom the hall: “Lenox, Derek hasrung up. He wants to come to dinnerto-night. Will it be all right? I mean,we haven’t got anything awkward, likequails, have we?”(Awkward, you ask? Well, ifyou’ve got six quails and a seventhguest turns up, somebody’ll have to goveg. or go without.)Another sign of that surefootednessis quietly funny charactersketching. Before leaving the village,Katherine goes to visit her late elderlylady’s elderly friend Miss Viner.“And you’re going up to London to havea good time? Don’t think you’ll get married,though, my dear, because youwon’t. You’re not the kind to attract themen. And, besides, you’re getting on.How old are you now?”“Thirty-three,” Katherine told her.“Well,” remarked Miss Viner doubtfully,“that’s not so very bad. You’ve lost yourfirst freshness, of course.”“I’m afraid so,” said Katherine, muchentertained.“But you’re a very nice girl,” said MissViner kindly. “And I’m sure there’s manya man might do worse than take you fora wife instead of one of these flibberti-


gibbets running about nowadays showingmore of their legs than the Creatorever intended them to.”Miss Viner’s remarks are prescient:Blue Train has a strongromance-novel angle, as in Who WillKatherine Choose: handsome Derekthe possible wife-murderer, orpainfully upright, hopelessly devotedMajor Knighton? Katherine in hernormalcy becomes the story’s touchstone,the reader’s stand-in, living outthe Cinderella fantasy of suddenimmense riches, and of being rapturedto the heights of wealth and fame butarriving with one’s old self intact.Here she’s buying her Londonwardrobe from a famed couturier:“[She] spoke with a certain naiveté. ‘Iwant, if I may, to put myself into yourhands. I have been very poor all mylife and know nothing about clothes,but now I have come into somemoney and want to look really welldressed.’”Poirot meanwhile is busychasing down the murderer (no, Iwon’t tell you who it is), whose captureallows Katherine to get her man(won’t tell you who he is either). As isoften the case in Christie’s mysteries,the murderer’s actions and persona asa murderer are so at odds with theircharacter as portrayed in the story thatthe whole murder plot takes on a hazeof not-quite-reality; unreal likeMireille’s temperaments or Armand’ssuavities or Van Aldin spooking WallStreet with a frown. But Katherinecomes through the dazzle of exoticsand eccentrics and melodrama withher head still on straight – and with afortune too.* * * * * *So the decades pass, like amovie cliché of pages turning in a railwaytimetable; and on an evening inthe late Fifties, Elspeth McGillicuddytakes the 4:50 out of Paddington tovisit a friend in the country. 1…she sat up and looked out of the windowat what she could see of the flyingcountryside. It was quite dark now, adreary misty December day – Christmaswas only five days ahead. London hadbeen dark and dreary; the country wasno less so, though occasionally renderedcheerful with its constant clusters oflights as the train flashed through townsand stations.About an hour out ofLondon, a local train running in thesame direction draws up alongside.At the moment when the two trains gavethe illusion of being stationary, a blindin one of the carriages flew up with asnap. Mrs. McGillicuddy looked intothe lighted first-class carriage that wasonly a few feet away.Then she drew her breath in with a gaspand half-rose to her feet.Standing with his back to the windowand to her was a man. His hands wereround the throat of a woman who facedhim, and he was slowly, remorselesslystrangling her.Luckily, Elspeth’s friend inthe country just happens to be MissJane Marple, Christie’s other bestknownsleuth. When the carcass isnot discovered anywhere, she deducesthat the murderer tossed it from thetrain at a remote spot, then returnedto collect and hide it. Research withtimetables, maps and directories leadsher to suspect Rutherford Hall, statelyhome of the Crackenthorpe family.And since she’s too old to be chasingdown murderous types herself, shecalls in an ally:Lucy Eyelesbarrow was thirty-two. Shehad taken a First in Mathematics atOxford, was acknowledged to have abrilliant mind and was confidentlyexpected to take up a distinguished academiccareer.But Lucy Eyelesbarrow, in addition toscholarly brilliance, had a core of goodsound common sense. She could not failto observe that a life of academic distinctionwas singularly ill rewarded. Shehad no desire whatever to teach and shetook pleasure in contacts with mindsmuch less brilliant than her own. Inshort, she had a taste for people, all sortsof people – and not the same people thewhole time. She also, quite frankly,liked money. To gain money one mustexploit shortage.Lucy Eyelesbarrow hit at once upon avery serious shortage – the shortage ofany kind of skilled domestic labour. Tothe amazement of her friends and fellow-scholars,Lucy Eyelesbarrow enteredJuly 2007the field of domestic labour.Her success was immediate and assured.By now, after a lapse of some years, shewas known all over the British Isles. Itwas quite customary for wives to say joyfullyto husbands, “It will be all right. Ican go with you to the States. I’ve gotLucy Eyelesbarrow!” The point of LucyEyelesbarrow was that once she cameinto a house, all worry, anxiety and hardwork went out of it. Lucy Eyelesbarrowdid everything, saw to everything,arranged everything. She was unbelievablycompetent in every conceivablesphere. She looked after elderly parents,accepted the care of young children,nursed the sickly, cooked divinely, got onwell with any old crusted servants theremight happen to be (there usuallyweren’t), was tactful with impossiblepeople, soothed habitual drunkards, waswonderful with dogs. Best of all shenever minded what she did. Shescrubbed the kitchen floor, dug in thegarden, cleaned up dog messes, and carriedcoals!Lucy lands a housekeeper jobat Rutherford Hall and meets theCrackenthorpe clan, heirs to a cookieand-canapéfortune. Luther the patriarchis what we’d nowadays call “highmaintenance”:bad-tempered, boastful,miserly and a hypochondriac.Daughter Emma is resigned, patientand never-married. Harold is a businessmanin London; Cedric a painteron Ibiza, Alfred a small-time shadyoperator in various disreputable locations.Brother Edmund was a fighterpilot who didn’t make it through theWar; sister Edith passed some yearsago, leaving husband Bryan Eastleyand son Alexander.Lucy in her spare time huntsfor the corpse, and soon finds it,reposing in a sarcophagus. ScotlandYard is called in; and by coincidencethe Inspector they send is an oldfriend of Miss Marple’s from previouscases. Meanwhile, variousCrackenthorpes have begun expiringdue to poison, while the rest discussthe question of Martine, the long-lostFrench war bride Edmund may ormay not have married, and who mayor may not have turned up again,either as the dead body or as a livepage 11


The B l o t t e rcontender for part of the family fortune.Miss Marple soon figures everythingout, and even tricks the murderer(no, I’m not telling) into a confession.Christie here is in her prime.The murder setup is clever, the paceand plotting competent. The charactersare still kind of archetypical:prickly patriarch, dutiful daughter,sons raffish, rebellious and respectable– but more fully drawn; they’re maybe2 ½ dimensional, and drawn fromeveryday English life rather thansilent-film melodrama. Miss Marple,a gentle, kind, shrewd little old lady,was always more credible as a characterthan Poirot, even after Christietoned him down in later books.There are even flashes of what, from adistance, could be seen as talent:[Harold] looked across at [his wife]. Shewas watching him. Just for a momentor two he wondered – he didn’t oftenwonder about Alice – exactly what shewas thinking. That mild gaze of herstold him nothing. Her eyes were likewindows in an empty house.There are still flashes ofnaiveté, though they too are toneddown. Harold is “a City gentlemanand a director of important companies,”whose firm’s office shows “prosperityand the acme of modern businesstaste.” It’s a false show: “therewere no rumours going around as yetabout his financial stability. All thesame, the crash couldn’t be delayedvery long.” Christie never tells uswhat exactly Harold and his companiesdo (finance? investments? propertymanagement? making windowblinds for British Rail trains?) or howthey got the financial shakes, becauseshe doesn’t know – andrealizes she doesn’t know –much about big business.(She once said “I don’t dominers talking in pubsbecause I don’t know whatminers talk about inpubs.)Lucy becomesthe book’s central character.(Miss Marple plays aconsultant role, sitting inher parlor and listening tothe information Lucybrings.) Like KatherineGrey, she’s a sensible, levelheadedperson.“I simply can’t make youout,” said CedricCrackenthorpe. He easedJuly & August * HUGE Group Show!September * Anna PodrisNov. & Dec. * 500 Under 50, Entire GalleryOpening / Receptions, First Fridays 7 - Midnight------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ---------------------------------------------------------------------107 W. Hargett Street, Raleigh; inside the Father & SonAntiques Building * Open 7 days a week and bya ppointment * 919 / 601 -3130www.myspace.com/KirkAdamwww.blotterrag.comhimself down on the decaying wall of along derelict pigsty and stared at Lucy.“What can’t you make out?”“What you’re doing here.”“I’m earning my living.”“As a skivvy?” He spoke disparagingly.“You’re out of date,” said Lucy. “Skivvy,indeed! I’m a Household Help, aProfessional Domestician, or an Answerto Prayer, mainly the latter.”“You can’t like all the things you do –cooking and making beds and whirringabout with a hoopla or whatever youcall it, and sinking your arms up to theelbows in greasy water.”Lucy laughed. “Not the details, perhaps,but cooking satisfies my creativeinstincts, and there’s something in methat really revels in cleaning up mess.”All the adult male Crackenthorpes hiton her – even old Luther, who assuresher there’s “lots of life in the old dogyet.” She doesn’t pick any of them,although Miss Marple hints at the endof the book that she will.That always bugged me a little:it implied that she’d be giving upher independent life and successful,profitable domestic-goddess racket. Ididn’t mind Katherine Grey gettinghitched, figuring she’d earned it in allthose dreary years as a poor-relationpaid companion; but I enjoyed Lucybecause she was smart and independentand thought up such a clevercareer scheme. (There was never anydoubt in my mind who’d play her in amovie version: Diana Rigg, in herAvengers / Mrs. Peel days.) I wonder ifthe creation of Lucy wasn’t a bit ofwishful thinking on Christie’s part.Her childhood home was fully staffedwith nanny, cook, gardener and avarying assortment of housemaids.Ruth Kettering and Mireille bothhave personal maids; Derek andHercule Poirot are each equipped withvalets; and Katherine has the followingconversation with Miss Vinerabout a housemaid:“…and tell Ellen she is not to have holesin her stockings when she waits atlunch.”“Is her name Ellen or Helen, MissViner? I thought –“Miss Viner closed her eyes. “I can soundmy h’s, dear, as well as anyone, but


Helen is not a suitable name for a servant.I don’t know what the mothers inthe lower classes are coming to nowadays.”But by 1956 when 4:50 waswritten, Christie was living with thesame sort of dilemma EmmaCrackenthorpe faced: trying to runlarge houses, designed for Edwardianera-sizedstaffs, in a postwar worldwhere willing, skilled, reliable servantswere rarer than snowballs in August,and had to be placated rather thaninstructed. Lucy goes to tell Emmaabout the freshly discovered body:“Can I speak to you a moment, MissCrackenthorpe?”Emma looked up, a shade of apprehensionon her face. The apprehension was,Lucy thought, purely domestic. In suchwords do useful household staffannounce their imminent departure…”Yes?”said Emma. “What is it?If you think there’s too much to do withthe boys here, I can help you and –“As in Blue Train, the murderer’sbehaviors as a character seem quiteunconnected from their doings as amurderer. For that matter, the survivingCrackenthorpes don’t show any ofthe psychological devastation onewould expect in people who’ve seentheir siblings nastily done in byarsenic. I think that just as Christiewas not an expert on Blue-Train-levelaristocrats, she likewise had no personalacquaintance with murder andits extended effects. (The “who” inher whodunits takes second place tothe “how” and “why”.) EverydayEnglish life is so much her strengththat the murder element can feel like abloodied intruder who’s blunderedinto a garden party, where everyone istoo polite and English to remark onhis incongruity. It’s no surprise thatChristie and Christie-esque mysteriesare sometimes called “the Cozyschool”.The two ladies had supper, discussing, asthey ate, various aspects of life as lived inthe village of St. Mary Mead. MissMarple commented on the general distrustof the new organist, related therecent scandal about the chemist’s wife,and touched on the hostility between theschoolmistress and the village institute.They then discussed Miss Marple’s andMrs. McGillicuddy’s gardens.“Paeonies,” said Miss Marple as she rosefrom table, “are most unaccountable.Either they do – or they don’t do. But ifthey do establish themselves, they arewith you for life, so to speak, and reallythe most beautiful varieties nowadays.”Yet at the end of 4:50 there is thisnotable passage: “’Everything he didwas bold and audacious and cruel andgreedy, and I am really very, verysorry,’ finished Miss Marple, lookingas fierce as a fluffy old lady can look,‘that they have abolished capital punishmentbecause I do feel that if thereis anyone who ought to hang, it’s [themurderer].’” (Who’d have thoughtthe old gal to have so much bloodlustin her?) Mysteries of the Christiecozyschool rarely go into the sordiddetails of trial and sentence. Themurderers just disappear from thestory after their arrest. There’s nomention of how the prisoner will betaken one morning to a tall buildingcalled the execution shed, given atranquilizer, fitted with a black hoodand a noose, and dropped through atrapdoor until the rope snaps theirneck, causing death by suffocation orshock or whatever it is. Instead, theclever detective and the nice manfrom Scotland Yard discreetly removethe bloodied figure, letting the gardenparty go on as if nothing untowardhad happened. But I think aboutthings like execution-sheds; and theirnon-mention leaves a dark psychicgap in the stories.I wonder what might have resulted ifChristie had set out to write a straightnovel with no mystery element, a sortof English Life Without Bloodshed.She had the material: family dynamics,village vignettes, a touch ofromance, servant situations; a fullrange of comfortable British archetypes,living in the England of thetimes: still a bit bruised from the War,muddling through as best it could in aworld where neither the pound northe Empire went as far as they oncedid. I think she had the chops to producequietly witty, observant lightsocial comedy, along the lines ofBarbara Pym’s novels. Perhaps a talewhere Katherine Grey, now ofmatronly years, hires LucyEyelesbarrow for a stint of housekeepery.They could trade domesticshoptalk about Katherine’s amateurpaid-companion days versus Lucy’sprofessional career. And noone wouldhave to be murdered: the Blue Trainand the 4:50 could whistle their separateways corpse-free.1 4:50 From Paddington has appearedat times under the dreadful Americannames Murder She Said and WhatMrs. McGillicuddy Saw! Silly Yankpublishers – those aren’t proper mysterytitles, they’re tabloid headlines.]July 2007page 13


The B l o t t e r“Turkey”Its cramped,walls so thinthe bangingand screamingreally carries;you can hearevery word.No matter,I usually justfloat aimlesslyfrom ‘fix’ to ‘fix’or curl and sleep‘til woken by withdrawal.I usually cope,but not with these,these pains aresomething else,something different.This timethe pusher’slanded me inthe shit......a midwife’s takenme in her arms.by Christopher Major“Happy Hour”Earlier in the dayhe hunted brontosauruson the town roundabout,studied the Turin Shroudon the mottled glassof a pub’s shithouse door.As the mushrooms waned,he fuelled viathe neon screamsof ‘2 for 1’ liquor shotswhile he searchedfor pussy.She lay awake,awaiting the scratchof a key andthe barrel locks rollthat turned her to sleep;so unaware that lifehad devalued sufficiently,‘breathing unaided’was now coined ‘good news.’“He”: an excerpt from “Two”by Allesandra MotolaA tryst of two begins at lastA violent convulsion – What, so fast?And to my DismayThere he layAwaiting some kind of reward for his actions.But he could tell from my reactionI was in no mood to playSo there he lay, flustered in such wayI couldn’t help but snickerAnd insulted by my lack of compassion, he couldn’t have left any quicker.www.blotterrag.com


July 2007We lived on applesYou with dark hair to coverYour smooth breastsBut thinking notAbout the restThe clouds opened andRevealed a hand andFrom the tips sweet dropsOn the waxen the leavesAnd then onto our hairAs is agreed upon weDid not travel farThere was nowhereTo go to get anythingIt was already hereAs we saw it was hereBut of what we sawThere were no animalsNor other humansBut we did not look for themThey were not missingThere was not a hair“First Dream”by A. J. JacksonAnd out of this placeCame others other placesWe saw them the sameThe trees and leavesAnd clouds out of oceansBut never again thoseColors in the skyIf you from me no proofThe air was thickWith whatSeemed like a breathIn the breezeIt blew your hairInto my eyesNo track or markOf us or anythingLay in the sandIf there were they wereBlown away instantly whenI opened my faceTo the windSome hair reachedMy mouthI knew not whoseAnd cut it with my teethAnd thenIt was overCONTRIBUTORSLaine Cunningham says that her novelsweave the tales and beliefs of different culturesand religions through modern stories.Her second novel, He Drinks Poison, sets thestory of an FBI agent tracking a serial killeragainst the backdrop of the Hindu epic“The Ramayana”. Plus, there’s some bodaciouskinky sex.Lara Falberg sends us these notes. Long,awfully funny notes about wanting to be anadvice columnist. We’ve explained to herthat this is a literary magazine, but thatdoesn’t faze her one bit. Faced with this,we’ll probably do the column. What can Isay?Marty Smith is the leader of the pack.Vroom.Christopher Major is trying to becomea psychiatric nurse and lives in Staffordshire,UK. His poems have appeared in manyonline ‘zines and journals as well as UKprint mags, including Outprints and PenninePlatform. And that’s shaken, not stirred.Allesandra Motola is a world traveler ofmixed Sicilian/Colombian heritage andstates that she is “not your typical suburbanite”.She also chides us not to think “thatjust because of my age I won’t have anythingto offer.”Yes, ma’am. I mean, no, ma’am.A. J. Jackson was born in OconeeCounty, Georgia, but feels at home inMontana and Idaho. Yet, for some reasonhe lives in Bogart, Georgia. All of this is tooconfusing. Just read the poems.page 15


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