“Twenty-Three” by Malcolm Sharps

This is the second chapter posted on our blog from Malcolm Sharps’s novel The Three Twins (read the first chapter, TV Giant Clam). The novel is absurdist in style but has a conventional storyline running through it of two actual twins and their friend, the unofficial third twin, who are rivals for just one girl. In this dream chapter the dialogue between twins innocent Kenny and toxically male Danny becomes distinctly surreal.   

TWENTY-THREE

By Malcolm Sharps

That meeting, the first since Kenny’s release from hospital, was a strange one for both twins. Kenny’s fleetingly triumphant, and finally disillusioning, illness had kept him in isolation from the world in general; but it allowed some relent in the pace of his outside involvements and it meant, in addition, a rare pacific period in his relations with his true twin Danny; the first time in a very long stretch that they did not want to garrotte each other or use some noxious derivative of a heavy metal to dispose of the other.

A strange period, indeed, disaster upon disaster, like life in an earthquake zone, never having the chance to recover from the previous shock wave before the ensuing one was upon him. Now the nemesis was abroad, a great looming colossus for which Kenny had no defence, certainly it was scant use trying to lose himself in his lemonade marketing work; the colossus would pursue him to the lemonade bottling factory also. It would pursue him wherever he chose. Nothing would exclude it. It only had to declare its name, a name which gave it powers of entry to all places of supposed sanctuary. No one hearing it could deny it. Its name was Love.

Danny’s questioning only served to make it clearer to Kenny that there was no escape. He preceded the colossus, making his own troubling intervention, questing and probing into his brother’s soul.

“So what’s so special about this one?”

“You know I’m not one for putting my emotions into words.”

“Then you should get some practice. What’s she like?”

What was she like? The question was so all-encompassing in its enormity and so reductively absurd. In answering, he found himself poised between exasperation and rhapsody.

“What is she like? What is she like? What is an orchid like?”

“It’s a big flower with bright petals that they put in a plastic box and charge the earth for.”

Kenny replied with a naivety it was impossible to suspect.

“Then she’s not an orchid.”

An acid smile squeezed its own way out of Danny’s face. He recognised the symptoms. Kenny was a man in love for the first time. An innocent. A sucker. A victim, the kid would be eaten alive. Danny felt he had a duty to put his brother straight on a few things.

“Look, in my view women are good for one thing only. Two if they can make a good Yorkshire pud. Let me tell you about the way things are.”

Danny was about to begin and stopped himself suddenly. He considered carefully what he was going to say. If they had been in the theatre a beam of light would have fallen on him in that instant to underline the consequence of his choice. He realised he wasn’t in the bar talking about his latest floozy now, these were his brother’s emotions he was dealing with. Kenny was a complex, sensitive being. Even if he did have terrible taste in shoes. He thought better of taking this hard line, and began again.

“The important thing is, has she got zing?”

Kenny answered with unexpected confidence.

“Oh, yes, she’s got zing.”

“Really?”

Danny’s tone betrayed a certain amount of disappointment at the reply. He’d have to catch his brother another way.

“Has she got ding, then?”

“That too.”

“And ping?”

“Oh, yes. Lots of ping.”

Danny was taken aback by the confidence of Kenny’s replies. Kenny was the kind to land himself with a dumpling in a brown cord skirt. This girl seemed to have quite a lot going for her. He was curious to know what kind of person she really was. He intended to work his way through all the possibilities until he had defined her exactly. He’d met them all. The girl hadn’t yet been created that he couldn’t put into a neat category or give a grade to. And he was tough on his grading.

“What about ring-a-ding-ding?”

Kenny’s transparent frankness became opaque.

“I’m not so sure about that. She’s many-sided, who knows what might be on one of her unseen facets?”

Danny felt he was getting a little closer to the girl now.

“But has she got ding-dong-ding?”

Now Kenny was frustrated with these ineffective efforts at communicating the uncommunicable. He couldn’t reply at all to this. His mouth was a straight line of passive resistance.

“Has she got…”

“The thing is, mere language hath not the delicate restraint to capture unharmed the subtleties of her case.”

“Eh?” Danny was brought up sharply by this. When all was said and done, she was only a woman, delicate restraint be blowed; it was time to get down to basics. The boy was still in ‘L’ plates where women were concerned. But Kenny had started to open up and was about to give full expression to his convictions. He spoke slowly, extending and developing his thoughts, using long pauses as if he were the solo voice and an unseen orchestra were punctuating his statements with a rhapsodic commentary. He enunciated with passion and control, touched with occasional moments of conscious irony and melancholic wisdom.

“She glides on a premise of unrefuted speculation.”

“Can she cook?”

“She negates the Curse of Adam and the Laws of Newton.”

“If you went on holiday with her, would she expect you to carry both suit cases?”

“Earth depresses and springs back where’er she treads. And Spring treads where’er she presses.”

“I mean, it might sound a bit personal, could she be trusted with the management of a joint bank account?”

“In matters of life’s secrets she instructs the summer night.”

“Is she going to be an asset to you in purely financial terms? Do you intend to declare her services in your tax return as your assistant, say, or private secretary?”

“In the matrix of her ‘isness’ past, present and future blur and subject becomes action, the now is the recalled memory of her tomorrow.”

Danny felt that he was beginning to see the girl a little better finally but her face was still obscured from his view. And she was sounding just a bit toothy and lispy.

“Is she a looker? I mean, not a paper bag over the head job, I hope? No offence. It’s quite a personal matter, brother. Attraction. And no real business of mine. Each to his own. Forget I asked.”

Danny hid his hands ingenuously in his pockets and was improvising a silent whistle. Kenny treated the question as the appropriate cue for his main cadenza. The words came like a remembered model essay answer, he was already prepared.

“Her hair bursts forth like the abundance of a wholesome granary after seasons of measured rainfall and plentiful sunshine, she is the safe return on wisely invested capital, with a trust fund of youth, and a reserve for old age. In her eyes are accounted resourcefulness, caution, perception, decisiveness, novelty, intrigue, thoughtfulness, audacity, compromise and jollity. Her mouth frames pronouncements of justice and trustworthy opinion. In the birdsong of her voice the hornet’s buzz is banished. When she raises her hand it is to arrange disorderly flounces and smooth rough linens.”

Danny was beginning to sense the kind of girl Kenny had chosen for himself. There was a name for the type if he could just get access to her file. In women, uniqueness was always a tempting illusion brought about by a lack of sufficient direct experience.

“She sounds quite a girl. I hope she hasn’t been spoilt. You know what a lot of these daddy’s girls types are like. You’ll be a servant to her for life.”

“She is my Queen Fortuna as I am her Returned Adventurer, privateer from her farthest-flung Protectorate loaded with booty for her court.”

“Maybe none of these things seem so important to you in the beginning when everything looks fine and rosy. But if you bring around business colleagues for lunch will she spoil a deal for you by wearing a home-made smock and serving badly thawed-out profiteroles?”

“Our table will be a place of sufficiency and welcome. An island of celebration in an archipelago of muteness.”

“If, God forbid, you go bankrupt, is her name good enough for credit on a five year old Chrysler, is she a safe bet for low premium life insurance?”

“Her philosophy is a bright lamp of illumination. All thought is enhanced by subjection to her thinking.”

“When you need to sort out the final eight pieces of a five thousand piece puzzle of Windsor Castle will you find after hours searching the carpet she has put a bit for the door in instead of the top of a flagstaff? On your aching knees will you so easily find reconciliation in laughter to her little weaknesses?”

“She has an answer for all. For some, her vigour prizes open the shell of refusal. With others, the music of her charm defeats their sternness. Yet others are won over by a theatrical tear.”

“Is she the stainless steel and plastic or the rustic furniture type?”

“Neither.”

“Does she read Latin and French in the original or translation?”

“Both.”

“Does she fall asleep half-way through the Kurdish dissident film on the culture channel?”

“Always.”

“With the high and mighty does she exaggerate her humility and with the humble does she play the Duchess?”

“She swims naked in the pool of pure intentions and dries herself on the towel of general approval.”

Danny thought that he could imagine her now. The impression was solid enough to produce a police identikit. He could practically imagine the shade of nail varnish she favoured and her taste in autumn berets.

“Are you sure I haven’t met this girl before? Something sounds familiar.”

He could picture every brochure she was carrying in her fussy little mauve shoulder bag, one of those handmade ones in supple leather that perfectly imitates plastic. He only needed to ask two more questions and the dossier was complete.

“Is she older or younger than you?”

“Her regal provenance threads invisibly in and out of the weft of time.”

“Quite a bit older then. Is she already going out with someone?”

“She doesn’t wear a ring.”

“Perhaps she’s just afraid of losing it at work.”

“That’s possible.”

“Which suggests it’s a huge boulder of a thing.”

“That’s possible.”

“Which tells us she’s going out with some bugger with money to throw around.”

“That’s also possible.”

“Which means he’s going to want his money’s-worth.”

“That’s just as possible. But it doesn’t really matter. You see, whoever there is in her life is just keeping a place for me. She is mine. There isn’t any mistake. And when she realises the way I feel then I know who she’ll choose. I imagine I and the other chap will thank each other. I him for taking care of her for me while she was waiting and he me for taking her up to a higher level of being, one he wouldn’t be capable of. I’ve never felt this way about anybody before. Maybe no one has ever felt the way I feel about this woman. Have you ever come across a love like this one, twin brother, you who have so much more experience in these things than me?”

Danny was too amazed by the question to get his mouth to work its way around a scowl and only just managed to swallow his astonishment in order to speak.

“Just once or twice. What if the other fella turns out to be a real bruiser who’s not going to take kindly to someone grabbing hold of his Missis?”

Kenny had dismissed the possibility of serious opposition so completely from his mind, he wasn’t prepared to show too much concern now.

“As the saying goes, ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ and as the other saying goes, ‘the harder they come’.”

“Yes, we know, ‘the more noise they make’.”

“Brother. Please!”

“And the more complaints you get from the neighbours next morning.”

“Danny!”

Kenny wondered if it really had been worth it baring himself to the notoriously cynical Danny. What was the point? In the end he always said something to spoil things.

“Danny, this is a serious business.”

Danny frowned in mock sympathy then gave a somewhat rusty old chuckle whose spreading stain seemed to tarnish the whole atmosphere.

“I know. I’ve been there, Kenny. I’ve been there.”

Kenny would have liked to block his ears to the sound of Danny’s hoary chuckle but there was no way of escaping it, it seemed to grow and grow spreading out until it entirely enveloped him in its pall. Why had he spoken to Danny at all? He knew how he was. He wanted to blot out the whole incident and start again, but Danny’s chuckle persisted growing ever more rusty and disreputable.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been there, Kenny, ha-ha-ha-ha.”

“Danny, this is a serious business. Nothing at all to laugh about.”

“Kenny, I’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been there, Kenny… Kenny, Kenny, Kenny, keep the noise down, will you? You’ll wake up Mum.”

It was the same voice but somehow even more like Danny, sounding closer and louder in his ear now.

“Keep it down. You’ll wake up Mum, then none of us will get any sleep for the rest of the night. All this hot chocolate Mum’s been giving you before bed; don’t believe what the adverts tell you, it just brings on nightmares. You’ve been calling out, you kept saying it was a ‘serious business’. Who is Queen Fortuna? And what sort of business, anyway? What have you been dreaming about?”

2 Responses to “Twenty-Three” by Malcolm Sharps

  1. Steve O'Connor says:

    I read recently that George Saunders advised writers to, “write the story or book that only you could write.” You have certainly done that here, Malcolm, and the result is unique and highly entertaining. Shows a lot of zing and even more ring-a-ding!

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