Recent seasonal factors reminded me to put this story back up on the blog. Hope you enjoy it.
Vic Is Not Having A Good September
Vic stops for a Cadbury’s Boost. He had seven lagers earlier so it’s time he thought about food. There’s something about that layer of a Boost just under the chocolate, it’s this sort of caramel and biscuit mash. It’s beyond sweet. It makes your mouth ache. That’s the real stuff. That’s what Vic wants. He’s never really had much of a sweet tooth, but just recently he’s become obsessed. It could be to do with trauma. It could just be because Boosts are nice and Vic never realised. Sometimes he finds that even as he’s started eating, he’s thinking of what he’ll eat next. Vic used to be focused, but these days he’s more flighty. It’s the thoughts that do that. He realises he can’t be doing with the Boost after all, so he moves on.
It’s early afternoon. Got to keep moving, that’s the thing now for Vic. Onwards. Upwards. That way. Through a door. In the atrium of a library. Into a car. Push on. Maybe that’s why the hunger is there. Maybe the hunger is fuelling the movement and the movement creates the hunger. Is that what it is, wonders Vic – but the answer and eventually the question gets lost in lager. The aim with moving is to reach that point where everything peripheral blurs and your brain can only worry about what’s coming directly towards you. It’s a form of focus when that background buzz eventually goes away, it’s probably something motorcyclists understand, thinks Vic.
Vic is in a pub. The late Summer evening sun is weak in the sky and there’s a big smash of pink clouds. Be nice again tomorrow, Vic thinks. He’s at the back of the beer garden. Not hiding, but not advertising his presence. He drinks lager. He drinks lots of lager. He’s spent a lot of time quietly contemplating the meniscus of lager, how you can almost sense from the curvature of the top of the pint that the liquid would return to being droplets if given its freedom. Vic likes to drink a proper lager with the head all frothy and white but somehow his lager always seems flat. Why is the pint nearly always gone too? Cider tastes better, but it comes in those stupid bottles, whereas lager is in those welcoming pint glasses. So it’s lager; lager is the thing. Vic drinks lager. It’s good and it’s strong. Sometimes if you have lager you don’t even have to keep moving to get the thoughts gone.
This is his sixth lager in this pub. He’ll get kicked out soon. Moved on. Don’t want you or your sort around here. Vic gets angry when he hears that. What’s wrong with him? What’s my “sort” anyway? That’s usually when it gets violent. Vic doesn’t think of the violence, never has. It’s just a fact; something that happens. He doesn’t get scared, he couldn’t care if it’s the biggest bloke in the world, some total Jason with tattoos and stubbled head, or some flappy woman screaming at him – he’ll have a dig at any of them. To be fair he doesn’t usually start it and he often loses and is forced to tactically retreat, but he’s seen more than a few off over the years.
Look at that big pink fucking sky, Vic thinks – it’s the lager that’s thinking now – I’m going to get up there and fight that sky. What a stupid drunk thought. What a pointless fighty thought. Vic moves on and finds another pub.
It’s morning and Vic doesn’t know where he is. Don’t think he slept much, but he stopped moving for a bit and the thoughts weren’t at him. That’s perhaps the best Vic can hope for now. He’s wandering round this house wondering who it belongs to. Not many photos on the wall, it’s all art and cobwebs in the corners. Trying to remember how he got in. It was late, or early. Maybe it was days ago. He’s not going to wait around now he’s up anyway. All the doors are shut up, so eventually he tries the bathroom and finds he can get out of the big window. Then he’s off and away and suddenly starving. Vic used to be one of those who would have protein for breakfast – sensible meals, sensible portions, plenty of exercise – there didn’t use to be a scrap of fat on him. He’s not fat now, he just feels like he’s losing definition. He wonders sometimes if this will be what kills him. Not violence or illness, but a gradual Gaussian blurring until he stops being recognisably him. Keep going for now.
Vic is in a pub. He’s in the back room of some dim and bad jukebox pub that smells of bleach. There was this blue-purple light in one of the other rooms that gave him a banging headache, so he’s come back here. He’s got lager and the thoughts are going now. He watches them recede as the lager does what it should. He risks a look at her, she’s still bright in his memory. She was everything to Vic. He knew that she was bigger and more than him. Everyone knew she was out of his league, but it worked. Vic didn’t even mind the others. Well, not much. Vic didn’t have much education, a number of schools made it clear that they didn’t want him there, but in her he found his purpose. His family had always been on at him about getting a trade, but it was only when he was with her that he knew what he was meant to do. Yeah, well, it didn’t last. The home, the family, the everything – it didn’t last. Bigger and more. Bigger and more lager.
Wooooh, Vic is seriously flying now. It’s lunchtime and he’s twelve lagers in. Shit. Time and place are fractured. Maybe his leg as well. It certainly hurts. There was a lorry that nearly hit him and a central reservation. Something then a roundabout. He was on a big field and a blue slushy ice drink. There was an awful smell and coughing. This family wouldn’t let him share their picnic, what are they getting so fussy about? Did you lose your home? Who do you know that died recently? Stupid fucking picnic! Stupid fucking tablecloth! It’s a fucking council park, if you want tablecloths then fuck off to a field of wheat with your tablecloths and your crying kids. Did he fight the children? Yes. Both of them. Ha! Their little faces all red and puffy and shouting. He left. He noticed the family packing up their picnic stuff as he left the park. We’ll call that one a draw, thinks Vic. Lager!
It’s night and Vic is inside again. He doesn’t care where he is. It’s a room, like other rooms. Vic can’t sleep and there’s no lager here, so he has to sit with the thoughts. Some of the deaths come back to him. Friends. Family. Vic has known murder. He’s never murdered, but he’s known it. One time he saw the insides of – he pushes that thought away and hopes it won’t complete itself. Down and away. He can’t have lager and the terror of 4 a.m. sobriety is reaching out for him, so he has to have movement. Vic bumbles around the rooms. It feels so repetitive, like he’s banging his head against a wall, maybe that would help him sleep? He tries banging his forehead into the wall, but it doesn’t help. Sleep can’t find him, so the thoughts do.
Sunrise comes. Vic feels that it’s his last day. Can’t say why. Perhaps dying is a choice. Perhaps it’s simply an awareness that has come to him – a gift from the universe to allow him some perspective at the last. Vic decides to take the universe’s gift back and exchange it for lager. Vic finds lager. Three pubs in quick succession. Thrown out of the first two for violent behaviour. He leaves the third one because he wants to find a fourth. What sort of reason is that for leaving a pub? Stupid. Vic’s thoughts are all lager and death. He thinks of her. She was my Queen, is his thought. It was an honour to serve you. He drinks lager in her memory.
Vic looks out of the window and realises with a slow surprise that he’s not far from what was his home. It will be empty now, but he could stop by if he wanted after the pub. From the window he can see the trees he used to play in. The trees bulge outwards and suck inwards as his back is crushed. The air whooshes out of his trachea and sacs. Four of his legs snap as he is pressed against the window with a magazine. Vic hears a too loud splitting noise in his head. His thoughts goo out. His vision blurs and the last thing he sees is the magazine’s pressure pushing the pattern of his wing against the window. Vic is not having a good September.
This is a story I wrote because I’m trying to see the good in wasps. I’ve been stung twice this summer and I realised that it’s really no worse than a nettle sting, so all of the flapping and hysterical flicking I’ve been doing for years was rather silly. I hope that wasps will acknowledge this magnanimous artistic gesture and leave me alone the next time I’m eating a Calippo on the beach.
I trust that all good-hearted entomologists will forgive the poetic licence I’ve used in the story around the true nature of wasps. Perhaps most egregious is that adult wasps don’t actually eat solid foods – they use their mandibles to tear up prey which they then feed to the wasp larvae. The larvae then emit a sweet secretion which the adults eat.
That’s revolting isn’t it? Wasps really don’t help their PR cause with such grotesque behaviour.
I danced around that fact in the first paragraph by having Vic alight on a Boost but not actually eat it. I did however manage to edit the story in time to change my mistake that male wasps don’t have stingers, who knew? Certainly not me.
My thanks to Kate Feld, John Ossoway, Yolander Yeo and Emma Shanahan for early draft feedback and suggestions.
If you liked this story then I’d love it if you would share it but please no spoilers about the sting in the tale (unlol).