Monday, 11 June 2012

A Time Capsule

They said he had the day off school, it was being fumigated. A shell-shaped nest of wasps was found above the sports hall, hanging above a basket-ball net and buzzing like a band saw. Apparently it wasn’t safe.

His mother was at work when they called, I was with a newspaper and a red pen. She could pick him up but then she had to get back to things and anyways it made sense for me to keep an eye on him and he was my son after all and I could spend some good time with him, the two of us boys. Us bucks. He had a letter from his teacher which I signed and we sat down together in the kitchen for an early lunch. I asked him what he wanted and he wanted bacon sandwiches so I put the frying pan on the flame and some bread in the toaster. Both of us liked it slightly toasted and with a big bottle of ketchup we ate them down quickly, the warm stretch of the crust down the throat and a hot gulp of coffee held for a second to savour. He with his milk like a priest at mass, so serious in expression, hands clasped, eyes focused.

They were starting a new project at school, something they should work on today and write up later in the classroom. A time capsule; a little box or tube with items and notes to be buried and dug up by future generations who would seemingly have great need for old tapes and books of stamps. He seemed pretty keen on it so I told him to go around the house looking for things he would like to bury. I attempted to look once more at the newspaper but it only made me feel depressed so I folded it away and set about washing the dirty plates and frying-pan, my hands soon wrinkled from the washing-up liquid, my arms submerged, vanished under the bubbles.

The suds clung beside my skin in a small patch and it seemed like a city, built quickly in the blink of an eye. Rapid developments stretching out from the centre like embryonic vines with only rows of freshly planted trees to guard the concrete intersections as they passed and swooped like migrating birds. I drove those roads, away from the new towers spanning the horizon, my bonnet pointed back to the centre, towards home and his hand suddenly pulling at my shirt, the fingertips felt through the material against the small of my back. Pointing at a delicate heap on the table behind he said he was ready. I told him that he had done that quickly, I’d only just finished washing up and again that look of seriousness, always so serious, a stout nod of the head and another tug of the shirt. The tip of the plug against my little finger and I let the water go down and away and out.

Collected on the table was a ball of string, a key, five small pebbles, a toy hippo, a tea-light candle, a tiny ceramic gnome and a ring. I told him that he couldn’t bury the ring and he asked why not and I told him just because, because it wasn’t his to bury and he went a little red and said he was sorry. I told him it was okay and picked up the ring, disproportionately heavy, placed swiftly in my trouser pocket. I understood the toy and I imagined the gnome was for similar reasons, for they were play-things that would not be missed, but I did not understand the need for the candle. With the patience of a saint he looked me in the eye and explained how it was reasonable to assume that the sun would become no more, and that the people who uncovered the time capsule would be in need of a source of light. I did not know how to respond to this so I patted his little head and asked about the string. For shoelaces was the answer.

I told him that he would need to write a note to go along with the items, and he scribbled away at the table while I went ahead and looked for something he could use as a container. Searching the high shelves above the oven I found an old cocktail mixer, the top half nowhere to be seen so I left it to collect dust undisturbed. Greater luck was to be found in the adjacent cupboard where a three-quarters-empty jar of peanut butter stood squat and golden. I unscrewed the lid and peered in at the rough and oily texture lain out like a martian landscape. There was still enough here for a sandwich, maybe two if stretched. Did he want a sandwich? No, and besides we were now out of bread so I used a spoon to scoop the contents into my mouth; him looking up at me from the writing with narrowed eyes and my mouth sticky around the gums. Washed and soaked for the label to be peeled off, we had ourselves a glass jar, the size big enough for the toy hippo with a squeeze. He said he was finished with his note, which was held in his hands like it was a baby sparrow. I asked if he wanted me to check his spelling to which he was at first unsure, but he eventually let me look and I saw that the note read well enough, the word TREASURE underlined several times in different colours of ink.

My garden was not big, but there was grass. I went to the tool-shed, the painted door cracked and it opened with a yearning ache as I stepped in to find something with which to dig. There was a shovel, but he said he wanted to make the hole himself so I looked for something smaller. After a quick search I found a trowel in an old plant-pot, its handle wooden and cold, the metal specked with brown dirt that crumbled in my hand like burnt wood. I passed it to him, standing in the doorway of the shed, his eyes wide and nervous of the shaded forms touching in the dark above my head. I told him that he might find a dinosaur-bone and he gripped the handle of the trowel as if he held a weapon, shoulders stiff beneath the school-jumper. I took a step forward out of the dark and he calmed, his eyes looking down at the trowel and his arm feeling its weight as he raised it and lowered it with the sunshine hanging above.    

He picked a patch of grass and set to work. I sat on a plastic chair near the wall of the house, cooler here than in the summer glare, my feet cut in half by the line between the shade and the sun, warm on my toes in their cushioned seats. His small form sat down on the earth, pushing the trowel downward and scooping up the dirt into a small pile. His jumper green like the grass around and I felt for a second sure that he had disappeared, down into the ground, so well did the colours blend. It may be that he would find something interesting in the garden, I remembered digging once as a young boy to plant apple seeds and finding some old China and a large nail. He may dig and find more. I thought again of a city, a motorway waiting beneath his trowel leading to where the buildings were taller and in greater density. There would be a big hole to find that, a cave in the middle of the green grass. I felt my stomach churn and tighten and in front of me lay the centre, quiet and still, a fortress of angles and I parked on the corner of an empty road and got out, ready to walk. The whole place was dark, lit only by a pinprick of light where the sun could enter, a thin beam cast ahead. I edged forward, following the maze of streets between the buildings, testing the route, my shoes hitting the pavement in a regular rhythm that echoed between the walls like a grandfather clock. Turning left and right, the shape of my home soon visible, him still there in his green jumper with the trowel in hand. If he had disappeared, I told myself, if he had disappeared I would have jumped down into the hole he had made to find him.

The heat had made me thirsty, and I told him I was going to get a drink and whether he would like anything. He turned to me from the lawn, his eyes tired and forehead wet. I beckoned for him to come over, saying that he could use a break and was he sure he didn’t want me to dig the hole for him? He came over, knees of his trousers grazed in brown and I said that he should go up to change out of his school-clothes and that by the time he came down I would have a glass of something ready. Him having run upstairs I was alone in the kitchen and set about finding two glasses and a big plastic bottle of orange squash which I poured into each. The sharp smell rising upwards I diluted the glasses with water from the tap and left them on the table surface. Looking out at the garden I could see the small hole, a gap in the grass, the trowel by its side. He bounded down and drank the squash, full once more with energy and little blue shorts beneath his belt. He thanked me, saying that he wanted to keep digging and I asked whether he had found a dinosaur bone and he shook his head with a serious weight once more saying no not yet. He went back outside and I watched him bend over the hole from behind the glass kitchen window, facing away from me, blue shorts against the green grass. With an almighty crack I pictured the ground of the lawn giving way entirely, his body sunk quick into the dark and the light of the sun falling through the opened hole down over the developing homes beneath, into a kitchen window where a woman stood next to a man, her hair lit like spring branches. All of a sudden he stood up with a jolt and called out for me loudly, my arteries kicking the blood down to my stomach I hurried out of the back door and straight on the grass to his side. I could not see any problem, no signs of an accident, only the trowel in his hand. What was the matter I asked, he had found a bomb he said.
At the bottom of the small hole the earth had stopped and part of a curved metallic object was to be found. The thing was clearly larger than the hole itself, and from this limited exposure it was impossible to make out exactly what it was. I looked at him, then down again to the hole. He said again that it was a bomb and I said it wasn’t but that I would get the shovel. He asked whether I could hear it ticking, I listened, but there was only birdcall from above. I walked swiftly to the shed, opened the cracked door once more, picked up the shovel, it felt solid in my hands; one on the handle one on the body and I held it from the hip like a machine-gun.  He with his trowel waiting for my return, I said it was certainly not a bomb but it would be good to see what it was, and I would dig around his pit. I set about pushing the head of the shovel into the ground, he watched for a few seconds before sitting down. I had surprised myself with the speed of my reaction and it felt good to throw the metal head downwards, a satisfying force in my arms. His eyes were fixed on me as I raised and lowered the shovel, scooping out the earth onto the pile he had already started. I had exposed a little more of the metal object, still hard to identify. He stood once more to look down curiously at the shape and then knelt with the trowel, his hands working the tool to lift the grassy soil.

Stories in newspapers about undetonated bombs forced their way into my mind’s eye, left from the war and buried for safety. His sleeves rolled up to the elbows I thought of a bomb falling onto the sprouting city-scape below, knocked out of its place in the lawn by the work of my shovel. Its descent seen from our vantage point here on the grass, a shell shape dropping into the dark, slow into the chasm until it disappeared from view. The angular side-streets below, squeezed between the glass faces of developing towers. Him older, beside the woman; her voice sounding out, warm in its tone and her hand in his. The bomb now hitting there, and all about was fire and wind, the buildings blown outwards, the streetlamps shot from pale amber to darkness and the concrete highways that stretched out all buckled and torn until they could bear it no more and crumbled to autumn leaves; a bright flower seen from the lawn that bloomed and faded until there was only quiet once more.

Wrapping my fingers around the object I lifted until my arms felt sore with effort. He stood there watching me, his gaze cold and distant. He looked once more solemn, no longer helping but waiting and watching, his expression closed. I strained and pulled, the sweat running down my neck and I suddenly felt foolish, a man at confession waiting for the judged. I heaved with the whole of my body and the object below me came loose with a low thud. Holding it aloft I could see that I had in my hands not a bomb but a metal sheet, curved and rusted beyond comprehension. It may have once been a bonnet or a barrel but I could not be sure, most likely scrap-metal dumped by a previous owner of the house. I let the metal sheet fall on the grass beside me and looked at him, waiting for the shrug I was instead met with open eyes and a widening smile, the first I had seen on his face that day. Following his gaze I saw that beneath the metal sheet was a number of other smaller piece of metal, and that amongst these was the skeleton of a small animal, I guessed a cat, crushed by the scrap. I looked at him and said that maybe he should go inside while I cleaned the mess and all he could do was reply with an excited pitch that rang out across the garden, dinosaur bones dinosaur bones dinosaur bones! 

He washed the remains of the cat, grabbed into an old plastic shopping bag while I moved the fragments of metal from the hole. There on the lawn with the peanut butter jar by my feet, I waited for his return to place it in the earth. I remembered the note he had written and the word TREASURE underlined and I looked at the face of the hippo pressed against the glass. Unscrewing the lid of the jar I quickly delved into my trouser pocket for the ring, a weight in my palm, and I let it drop down until it landed between the candle and a stone with a little clack. I placed the jar once more on the ground and continued to move the metal until I saw him walking once more out the kitchen door. I asked if he was ready and he said that he was, in his hand the skull of the cat like some sacred talisman. He placed the jar at the bottom of the pit and I asked if he wanted to say any words and he said that this was not a funeral and I responded that yes he was right but that it may be nice to say a few words nevertheless. He looked at the cat skull and down at the jar and said in a stately tone that he hoped they would enjoy the toys and that the candle would light their home and that the string would tie their shoes so that they would not fall down. I told him that it was a very good speech and he nodded, the two of us then filling the hole with shovel and trowel, heap upon heap, and I promised him biscuits when the job was done. 

Friday, 6 April 2012


 We three sat there in the kitchen with the tap running, the water reaching the rim of the blocked sink and the steady pool pouring onto the cold white tiles of the floor below our feet. The man had used a pile of newspapers to block the gaps around the door and the woman had sealed the edges of the windows with planks of wood. Morning sun was streaming through the glass, bringing with it the erratic chirrup of birds sat in the garden trees which came over us like stripped blankets of song. I had made each of us a cup of tea which felt hot against the skin of my shaking hand and, lifting it towards my lips, the warmth climbed upwards beyond my nostrils and forehead. A deep sip calmed me, followed by the comfortable knock of the mug returning to the table surface.
                The man eyed the woman with a keenness I had not seen in him for some time, his hand holding hers under the table. Her eyes with him, but the fire gone, so that she only curled her lip slightly towards the edges of her mouth, her vision fixed resolutely on the space behind his head. The tip of his thumb gently stroked the skin of her knuckles, red and raw; tender fingers affectionately massaging a closed palm, unwavering in their kind grip around her wrist.
                The water had risen to our ankles; a cold bite crawling upwards to our shins as the sun made its way unopposed high above the trees and the sound of birds continued to build against the glass of the window. A thought I saw a tear fall from the woman’s face, soundless in the growing pool, and a hot quiver shook my throat as I watched the man press his loving thumb into her hand, a sight soon obscured by the surface of the water. The pots and pans by the sink lost their grip and fitfully moved against each other, their clang and thud followed by a moan of the walls; a low arching sound that strained against the liquid weight climbing in waves. My hands slow to move. My tea spread into a dark cloud around my chest.
The man wanted to say something to her, his mouth jittered towards speech but kept from sound. Her eyes still locked beyond him, away from him, the water all around her neck and a look of fear as his head angled upwards, desperate to listen but only met with the sounds of birds. Her soft lips parted slightly above the coldness, my mouth resolutely closed as the water covered my face and I was met with the red hum of blood within my ears. Looking at the window I could see the trees against the blue sky, curled and elegant but imperceptible in their rolling forms away from the panicked beat resounding through my head, the man’s hand touching the woman’s for as long as he was able.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Two Buckets

You go to the market to get fish. There is a place that plays dub-reggae music, regardless of the weather or time of day. The men there recognise you by now and keep a few buckets of fins and bladders under one of the tables. You’ve been a good customer to them in the past, so these slops are free of charge although you occasionally offer a fiver which is generally accepted. One of the men knows you by name, his is James. When you walk to the stall James is bent over a frozen tray of cod, using his right hand to skim the excess water onto the street. He sees you and nods. His head is large and bald and the nod he gives you is slight, which you suspect is due to the weight of his skull. He motions for you to come towards him and you do so. It is early and you have not yet eaten any breakfast so the smell of fish makes the back of your throat tighten and your stomach ripple. James does not say a great deal but he does ask how you have been and you reply as you always do that you have been well. He nods again and looks at the two buckets under the table, which you take as a signal that he wants you to pick them up. You bend over and pick up the two buckets of wet slops, although James’ silence and the oddly slow manner in which you lift the buckets makes this transaction feel troublingly significant. You tell yourself that this is not the case and focus on straightening your back. You do not have five pounds on you today, and although James doesn’t ask for it you notice that he looks slightly forlorn and you are unable to decide whether this is due to you not offering him any money or is down to some other unrelated reason. Impulsively you ask him if everything is okay. He looks you in the eye, pauses, then quickly says that he has money troubles. You assume that he means the five pounds and apologise for not having any cash on you. You say you’ll bring five pounds with you tomorrow, but he says it isn’t the five pounds; in fact he owes a lot of money to his landlord and doesn’t know how he is going to pay it. This is the most James has ever said to you and you are surprisingly pleased with this; you feel accepted by this man who sells fish and you stand with two buckets of slops like a person who belongs completely in this situation. James continues to talk about his landlord, about how strict he is with payments and about how James shouldn’t have to pay him when he doesn’t come over in the winter when the pipes are all frozen and he can’t turn the shower on.  You ask whether there is anything you can do to help, which you do not really mean, but you ask it anyway. He doesn’t say anything for a few seconds, but eventually he looks at you and says that there isn’t anything you can do about it, and that he’ll have to get the money somehow. You wish him well and begin to walk back on the road towards your house.  

You walk away from the market behind a man in a black and red tracksuit walking a large, muscular dog attached to a chain leash. The hind legs of the dog stretch and quiver as it moves forwards and you remember reading in a magazine that some dogs lock their jaws when they bite and that the only possible way to get it to let go of you is to stick a finger up its bum. You suddenly notice the presence of James walking beside you. This causes you to stop and you ask whether you left anything at the market-place. He says that you didn’t, that he only came to help you carry the buckets back to your home. You have always carried the buckets on your own and although you may not be particularly strong you have always managed it without a problem. You say to James that you are alright with the buckets and he gestures towards the pavement which is wet with slop. You look towards the market and see that you have been spilling splashes of liquid for a while. Although you are not sure why James is helping you, you feel embarrassed enough to accept his offer and he grabs hold of one of the buckets by the handle. You both walk behind the man with his dog and you ask James what he knows about getting a dog to let go of you once it’s locked its jaws around your leg. He suggests punching it in the nose, which he says also works for sharks, and you tell him that apparently you have to stick a finger up its bum. James gives you an odd look and asks with great sincerity why you would ever do that.

You reach your house, which you rent with your wife, and place the bucket on the ground while you search the outer pocket of your jacket for your keys. You thank James for his help and make a joke about fish that he doesn’t laugh at. He has the forlorn look in his eyes again and you aren’t sure what to do so you invite him inside for a cup of tea which he eagerly accepts. You both enter and make your way to the kitchen. James asks whether he should take his shoes off and you hesitate but in the end say that he doesn’t need to. You boil a kettle while he stands looking at the magnetised letters on your fridge which spell out ‘BATMAM’. You tell him that you couldn’t find any ‘N’s and he nods. You pour the boiling water into the cups and ask him if he wants sugar, he says he does and you ask ‘milk?’ and he says ‘yes’. You hand him his cup of tea and he asks you if you are married. You tell him you are and he asks where your wife is. You tell him that your wife is out at work. He asks what you do for work and you are beginning to get annoyed with all these questions but you tell him that since you lost your job you’ve mostly been staying at home, working on things. Naturally he asks you what these things are and you tell him that you can show him but that he should finish his tea first. As you say this you notice that he has fashioned a letter ‘N’ from three letter ‘I’s.  James is happy that you have noticed and smiles openly for the first time that day.

You close the door to the basement behind you. You thank James for carrying the two buckets down the stairs and then flick the light-switch on to reveal a large tank of water. James takes this opportunity to tell you that it really means a lot to him that you’ve let him into your house, that he really needed something to take his mind off the problems with his landlord, and that he is very grateful for the tea you have given him. You tell him that it’s okay and turn to walk towards the large tank of water that rests in the middle of the room, the sides of which are made from sleek, dark-blue rubber. Standing next to the pool (the sides of it reach up to your chest) you use the palm of your right hand to gently slap the surface of the water. James is watching and he says that you have done a good job in making such a large tank, and although you causally thank him for the compliment you are secretly proud of what he has said. There is a dolphin on the opposite side of the tank and the slapping on the water causes it to slowly move towards your hand and nudge the tip of its nose against your index finger. It makes a noise somewhere between a squeak and a crack which James imitates and you gently pat its nose which causes it to make the noise once more which James again imitates. There is as raised platform next to one of the walls of the basement, and on the platform is an old brown sofa. You motion for James to sit on the sofa while you move towards one of the buckets of slops. You pick up a slimy piece of fin and keep it snuggly in the palm of your left hand while you move back to the tank and slap the surface of the water two times. At this signal the dolphin moves into the centre of the pool where it dives downwards so that only its tail is above the surface. With a practised effort it begins to shake its tail backwards and forwards, as if it is waving, which causes James to become suddenly animated and shriek with joy.  The dolphin swims towards the side of the tank and you drop the piece of fin into its open mouth. You clap your hands three times and the dolphin swims back into the centre of the water and this time it twirls around like a spinning top before coming back to the edge of the pool. You pick up another piece from the slop-bucket and slide it from your palm into the dolphin’s mouth. The dolphin cackles and James whoops and laughs and slaps his thigh. You clap loudly four times and the dolphin disappears beneath the surface of the water. Sweeping dramatically to the other side of the pool, you pull a piece of thin rope hanging from an overhead beam. As you do so a red hula-hoop descends towards the pool, like a plastic celestial halo. James is silent in anticipation although his breathing is heavy from all the excitement. With a sudden rush the dolphin breaches the water’s surface and flies upward through the air towards the red hula-hoop. It passes cleanly through the hoop and descents back into the water with a splash. For a split-second James is completely speechless, but then with a vital energy he stands and shouts ‘Yes’, over and over again. You are happy that the routine has impressed him, and as his shouts of ‘Yes’ become fainter, you are left with a glowing warmth and tell yourself that you made the right decision to train a dolphin. James wants to see more, but you tell him that the dolphin needs a break which he eventually accepts. He asks you whether you have anything to drink which catches you slightly off guard but you are still feeling happy with the performance and tell him that you have some beer in the fridge upstairs.

The lack of natural light in the basement makes it hard to tell what time it is, and your head is feeling heavy so you rest it on the back of the brown sofa. James is telling you about a long-term girlfriend who recently left him. He tells you that they used to share the flat and that they were very happy together and had bought all types of furniture, but now that he is alone he can’t afford the rent and he doesn’t know what to do with all the furniture. He tells you that you are very lucky to be married and that you should treasure your wife and never take a single day of your life together for granted. He says that it is a great thing to be in love and then he bends over and begins to cry. You feel a great surge of love for this man and you gently pat his large back and tell him not to worry and that it will all work out in the end. After a few seconds he raises his head and sniffs and says thank you. His eyes look sore and wet and his lips are coated in drool but you smile with genuine affection and place your hand on his shoulder. He finishes his beer in one large gulp and casually drops the empty can onto the floor with the others before reaching to the side of the sofa for a fresh one. You have also drunk quite a bit but are now feeling sleepy so you rest your head on the back of the sofa and stare at the tank of water.  You can see James’ face out of the corner of your vision and he is also looking at the tank but with that forlorn expression. You take it upon yourself to break the silence and begin to tell him about how you managed to train the dolphin after reading a book on the subject; about how it’s fascinating to learn about how, when broken in manageable steps, you can train a dolphin to do a very complex routine. James does not respond but continues to look dejectedly at the tank and raise the beer-can in his hand which is shaking slightly. Not knowing what else to do, you continue to talk about the process of training a dolphin and then say that maybe it is getting late and that maybe James should make his way back home or to the market stall. James says he saw a dolphin on a TV show once and in that show they had a child go into the water and then the dolphin went under the child and lifted the child before swimming around the edge of the pool.  You say that you have also seen that and James asks whether your dolphin can do it. You fumble for words but eventually say that you have never practised it with the dolphin and that the dolphin is unable to do such a thing without proper training. James grins and eagerly asks whether he can train the dolphin to do it now, which you say is definitely not a good idea and that you should both probably go upstairs. James is now standing and taking his t-shirt off, followed by his trousers and socks and underpants. You are surprised with the speed of this action and can now see his cock, which is gigantic and the head of it looks like a purple version of his skull. You ask him what he is doing but he has already run towards the tank and is gleefully scrambling over the rubber sides, causing water to spill onto the floor of the basement.  You stand and begin to run over to the tank to stop him, but you forget that you are on a platform and fall to a ground with a crash.

You pick yourself off the ground and feel a sharp hotness from your lower lip which is torn and bleeding down your chin and onto your clothes. You cup the lip with your left hand and feel that the cut isn’t too deep but it definitely hurts and makes it hard for you to shout clearly to James who is standing still at the inner edge of the pool. The dolphin is on the other side of the tank, staring intently at the naked man opposite it. You move to grab James’ shoulders and pull him back towards you but he sweeps your hands aside and tells you that he works with fish for a living. You tell him that dolphins are mammals but because your lip is cut the words come out slurred and elongated and sound more like ‘door frames and murmurs’. With his back to you he takes a step forwards and gently pats the water and makes a cooing sound. The dolphin remains where it is; its mouth slightly open like it has told a joke and is waiting for a reaction. Both of its small black eyes are fixed on James and you decide that you will never really know what animals think. James pats the water once again, but the dolphin continues to stare without sound or movement. James pats the water with a greater intensity, and when the dolphin still refuses to move his shoulders visibly sink.  You tell him that things will get better and that he should come out of the pool and that you will call him a taxi so he can get home okay. He must have understood what you said because he begins to shout about how he doesn’t want to go home. He shouts about how his landlord will be there waiting for him with a knife and how he will be living like a rat on the streets any day now. His body trembles and you see the strength of his shoulders fall apart. He quietly tells you that all he wants right now is to be like the child in that show who rode on a dolphin’s back. He moves forward in the water and the dolphin is now squeaking and splashing away from James towards the edges of the tank. You grab the side of the pool and try to pull yourself up but the rubber is slippery and it is hard to get a good grip. James now has both arms around the dolphin and is struggling to wrap his legs around its body. The noises the dolphin is making are guttural and piercing and occasionally muffled as its head is pushed into the water. You manage to climb the edge of the pool and throw yourself in but your clothes make it hard for you to move quickly and now James is punching the dolphin in the face. You reach his naked body and use both hands to pull him away from the squealing animal but his grip is tight and his skin is wet and you fall backwards. You try to hit him in the back of his bald head but all this does is make him weep and shake as his face is pressed tightly against the grey surface of the dolphin. You stare at this man as he desperately clings to a terrified sea-mammal and you feel your heart break. The dolphin’s tail is splashing so much water that it makes it hard to see anything, but you can see James’ back and you can see his spine snaking down towards his coccyx. You watch as the muscles of his buttocks stretch and quiver under his skin and before you know what you are doing you have forced an index finger inside his anus and are pushing with all the force you can muster. James lets out a loud wail but continues to hold onto the dolphin so you jab the finger roughly in and out; your elbow is slapping hard against the surface of the water which hurts slightly but you do not care and can only think of that repeated jabbing motion as your fingers push angrily and irrevocably forward. With a last, forceful drive you finally manage what you wanted and James releases the body of the dolphin which floats towards the walls of the tank. Both of your breathing is heavy and both of you are shaking, and you watch the ripples of the water become less and less present until the surface is completely still. Eventually James moves towards the edge of the tank before climbing onto the wet floor of the basement.  He quietly puts his clothes back on and says that he is sorry. You do not really know how to reply to this as your mind is spinning but you say that you have five pounds upstairs if he would like it. He says he doesn’t and instead walks over to the sofa.

You sit next to James and you look at the two buckets of slop and you decide that tomorrow you will throw the contents of the buckets into the toilet. Just as you come to this decision James passes you a can of beer and in complete silence you both watch the lifeless body of the dolphin drift from one side of the pool to the other.