Animal Life

Dimitri stands by the dead pool. “My brother was a painter. My brother was an artist, to be more precise. Yes. He did this huge painting of Chairman Mao in the socialist realist style. It was 2 meters high. He planned to present it to the local party boss, he had big plans. I was jealous. I had no particular talent then or so I believed. How times change Tooler. Looks at what I’ve done for you. Look at what you’ve become. I’m the real artist now.”

He’s walking around the shed, circling Tooler, Tooler high above him, hands hanging down. Prone, helpless, roped up on his cross.

“Let me touch those soft hands Tooler, so soft. 43 and never been kissed Tooler. Missing your mommy now? Mayo is so far away, just outside Tooler. So far away. Wake up Tooler. Wake up; we have a long night ahead. “

He sits down on a bench, beside rolled out tool belt. Chisels and such. Hacksaw. Useful.

“He invited the boss to visit our farm to give a lecture to the locals on the teachings of Mao in relation to peasant farming. He was going to surprise him with the painting after the speech. He’d hidden it in the small shed at the back of our huts and covered it in a beautiful silk drape, embroidered with peacocks. It had been my mothers. She’d passed away the year before. It had been her prized possession, the only flash of colour in her monochrome existence. She’d forgotten how to smile for what was there to smile about then? I never forget Tooler; I never forgot what they did in the name of the people. Never trust anyone Tooler who speaks for the people. Never trust anyone Tooler. A shorter epitaph, but true for all that.

My father had slaughtered a goat the day before. The apparatchik arrived, plump and bristling with self-importance. They fawned over him, my brother especially, No Sir Yes Sir Three Bags full sir, three bags full for the party and empty trousers for us. Empty bellies for us, empty minds. Afterwards he offered him the tour. He was reluctant, really did not want see any more of our hovel but he wouldn’t let it go. I wish he had. I guess.  We all followed, the little kids running behind. Finally he opened the shed, mumbled something obsequious and unveiled the portrait.

Nobody said anything for a long time. I’m not sure anyone actually said words at all. The portrait had been defiled. Mao was sporting the goat horns and where his magnificent crotch should have been, the seed store for a greater China, hung the severed genitals of our dinner. I’d splashed it liberally with blood also to complete the effect.

In my defence I was only 10 so did not realise fully what I had done but I had a dammed good idea Tooler, oh yes. The boss deflated slowly like the hiss of a slow puncture. He turned on his heels and marched out, pushing the kids into the dirt, kicking them out of the way like trash.

“My brother, pale and trembling, chased me and caught me and beat me so badly Tooler, so badly, but I treasured every kick, every punch because I had won. My father finished it off with another trashing. Later that evening I lay on the mat, still aching, still bleeding. The old man and the brother sat by the window, stony faced, watching, biting their lips. Waiting for what happened next.”

“Four of them arrived at sunset, four soldiers on bicycles. Silent and zealous. I thought they would arrest him. They lined us up outside and took him to the far wall, turned him around and shot him in the head. My brother. They did that for a goat’s bollocks Tooler. You have no idea here, no fucking idea. His blood sprayed all over the gable so when he fell   (like a sack of rice, the thud on the wet ground, louder than you would imagine it would be for a starving boy)  It left a silhouette on the wall. It’s the little things Tooler, the details. Well, you know that’s your business isn’t it. It left a silhouette on the wall. I ran then back up the fields into the hills before my …before what? ..Before I was next before my father caught me before I had to confront what I had done?”

“I headed for the Russian border. I ate grass, I ate rats but I survived. I am a survivor Tooler. Nobody can deny that. And what about you my naïve bog warrior? Are you a survivor?” He took his hands again. He traced the dried trails of blood from Tooler’s eyes, down his cheeks, along his Adams apple, down the sleeves of his shirt, along the cuffs and the backs of his hands.

Tooler is asleep or unconscious or worse. Dimitri hums gently, whispers a tune..hush little baby don’t ‘you cry..

“Jesus Few, you can’t leave her out there on her own….”

He hisses back at me…”I’ve had enough of this shit..I am not getting out of this car again until I am back in civilisation. I don’t give a flying fiddlers fuck…”

“OK. Let me out.”

“You’re mad, completely bats shit..”

“It’s batshit, now let me out.”

“You wouldn’t be so keen if you knew why she’s here…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind.”

He disables the central locking and I get out and follow Sarah down the road,  away from Knock. There’s a glimmer of light over the hills, is this longest night finally coming to an end?

“Hauld up where are you going?”

She turns on me. “Where the fuck am I going? I’m going away from there, that should be fucking obvious..are you some kind of an eejit?”

I let it lie. “It’s dangerous….”

“I know it is fucking dangerous…”

Few shouts “See you around losers..” out the window and he’s gone. What a fucking son of a bastard he is. We stop at a small cross roads.

“It’s this way.” A voice behind us makes us jump and we both turn to see a boy, maybe 10,   standing in front of us. “Follow me.”