“How are you? I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”
“You look a bit shattered! How are you?”
“I’m OK but I’m leaking glue. It’s OK though, it’ll harden off soon and then I can sandpaper it down and retouch the paint and nobody will ever know.
It’s all Pinocchio’s fault, of course. It usually is. Don’t be taken in by that oh-so saccharine Disney cartoon. Pinocchio is not a simple innocent going about in a complex and wicked world. He is a consummate liar, cheat and fraud. He manages to kill his only friend, the so-called ‘voice of his conscience’ but happens to put the Blue Fairy under an obligation (just don’t ask, ok?) so all is forgiven and he gets to be human. Call that fair?
Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout. It’s just that sometimes the emotions just get out of control. Why? Of course, you wouldn’t know. Pinocchio is my little brother!
Why be surprised? You don’t think Gepetto managed to carve him without some practice first, do you? When the old woodcutter handed over the talking log to Gepetto the first thing he did was to cut it in half (despite the screams I might say) and then he tried out his technique on me. But I wasn’t good enough, oh no! All I was good for was to cast to one side whilst he got on with Pinocchio. And there I’d be to this day, turned to firewood probably, until the aspiring theatrical passed by, took one look and made me his partner. I was turned into a ventriloquist’s dummy!
Of course he wasn’t actually a very good ventriloquist, but because I could talk everybody thought it was him! And so from street performances we got bookings at flea-pit theatres, and then as we became better known, so the venues improved until we were high on the bill in the very best.
Which is when it started to go wrong. Corky, the human part of the act, started getting erratic – he actually wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart, but of course I couldn’t have that. I started, very gently, to control him like he was controlling me, but he reacted badly and it all fell apart. I might have been able to salvage the situation but my little brother turned up one performance, and I could see that added to his other ignoble characteristics he was insanely jealous of the success I’d made of my – well let’s say career since I didn’t have a ‘life’.
Jealous younger sibling; partner halfway to madness; convenient axe – well you do the maths! It’s taken me nearly a month to put myself together, and that would have been impossible if Pinocchio hadn’t decided to take me home to Gepetto’s workshop, where, of course, there was a hand pot of glue perpetually on the fire next to the wood-box where I had been cast. But this is the last! When this glue sets I shall be whole again and my dear little brother will be – vulnerable.
After all, how could a wooden puppet kill a human?”
Copyright © 2018 Alan F. Jesson
[For ‘Corky’ see Internet Movie Database – film Magic]
The night of the dreaded party had – inevitably – come round and Steven was struggling to tie his bow tie. Not for the first time he wondered why on earth he hadn’t found the time to buy a ready tied one. After all, it’d been five years since Amanda … well, since anyone had been here to tie it for him.
Many expletives later, the tie was tied in some approximation of a bow and he was now frantically applying what he understood to be referred to as ‘product’ onto his wayward hair. It had been a source of much amusement to Amanda when no-one, not even her much vaunted London hairdresser had been unable to handle the odd bits which insisted on flicking up in a curl in the most random of locations all over his head. That same hairdresser had insisted ‘product’ was the only possible solution. He’d initially agreed to us it just to please her, he hadn’t minded the wayward curls himself, but since … well, he’d accepted the validity of her argument that he didn’t have to look at his wild hair, whereas other people got no choice in the matter. Also, it was only on those rare occasions when he left the flat on social occasions that he had to bother – the clean environment of the lab meant it was a no-no during the working weekday.
His phone buzzed, announcing the prompt arrival of his Uber cab, so a final washing of hands to remove all that damn ‘product’ allowed Steven to pat his pockets to check for wallet and reading glasses, before heading to his big sister’s big birthday big bash. For the first hour it was pretty much as Steven had feared. He’d been greeted with the warmest of hugs by his sister Susan, before she was dragged off to old friends long not seen. Her husband had made the time for a friendly chat, before he too was dragged off in the same direction.
Susan’s world was very different to his. Her friends were loud, confident and well suited to the world of advertising, marketing and PR. Those he’d met before would always make the time for him, but he never felt entirely relaxed in their company and would excuse himself before long on some vague pretext. And so it was again, he’d been to the gents where he’d attempted – without much success – to tame a stray curl that had escaped the evening’s application of ‘product’. He’d realised such a trip might be necessary when Susan’s boss had been unable to pull her eyes away from the top of his head during their conversation. As Geraldine usually liked to maintain eye contact in the most disconcerting manner, it was a relief to have a reason to excuse himself.
On his way back to the ballroom, he spotted a small group on the balcony – smokers he realised – and wished fleetingly that he smoked, if simply for the relaxed companionship he observed they all seemed to share, even when all were previously strangers.
That was when he bumped into her – quite literally – although what she was doing here was a mystery to him. Surely Susan hadn’t invited her, not after what had happened. Susan was the only person Steven had spoken to about Amanda, the only person he’d told what had really happened, how he truly felt. To everyone else he’d simply said “it’s over” and firmly changed the subject. But there she was and, having bumped into her, he had no choice but to be civil.
“Erm, how are you Amanda?”
“I’m OK, but I’m leaking glue.”
And with that ridiculous statement, he was back. Right back in her thrall once more. As she backed carefully through the door to the ladies, she pleaded with him not to go anywhere whilst promising that she’d be right back. Waiting in the passageway, the memories flooded back. As he’d told Susan, Amanda had been the one to break the mould. Before her, Steven had dated exactly who’d you’d expect. Nice women, with girl-next-door looks, clever enough but with no serious ambitions career-wise. And they’d bored him. None had lasted much longer than a year, but each had made it to that point before manoevouring him to commit, at which point he’d had to admit to both himself and them, the lack of desire to take things further.
Just before he met Amanda, Susan had been quite sharp with him, pointing out that he was being unfair, unkind even, in allowing these ‘gels’ as she called them, to have expectations, when he knew the relationships would go nowhere. She’d even suggested he ‘see someone’ if he needed help to sort out what he really wanted. And that had stung him. A night or two later, when he’d drunk rather too much scotch and gone through the emotions from anger to self-pity, he realised she’d been right. He also came to the startling realisation that the reason he dated the same sort of woman was he never met anyone different in his normal circle. So he’d signed up to a dating site.
After the site algorithms had matched him with clones of his previous relationships, he decided to take a leap into the unknown and contacted a handful of women with whom he barely matched at all. All but one had completely ignored him. That one had been Amanda.
Steven always felt totally out of his comfort zone with her, but in the best of ways. Their first date had been a total disaster on paper. He’d knocked over the bottle of wine – red naturally – into her lap and she’d insisted he bought a bottle of white wine to pour over her dress so that it wouldn’t stain. Thinking she was joking, he’d laughted, only for her to frog march him up to the bar, after which she’d solemnly poured the white wine over the red. She swore it’d worked, but he’d noticed the dress in a dry cleaners bag the first night he’d stayed over. For it had been that kind of relationship. No rules followed. Amanda had laughed at him when he’d looked shocked, before checking that he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and judge her for it. He wasn’t and he hadn’t. The next two years had been the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.
Then one day, quite out of the blue, he came home to find her packing her bags. There had been tears – a lot of them – and on both sides, before he’d helped carry her things to the kerb. A phone call later and a man in a van had pulled up, hugged her close, then taken her and her things away. That was the last he’d seen of her. The odd person had tried to talk to him, saying they’d seen her, spoken to her, even in a couple of cases had messages for him from her. But he’d cut them all off firmly. He didn’t want to know why she’d chosen to leave him for someone else, it was enough to know that she had.
Until today that is. Today, he wanted to know why – very badly. So he waited.
Eventually she emerged – still sticky.
“I’ve a room here. Do you think we could go there so I can get out of this dress? Please Steven, don’t look at me like that. It seems my son thought it would be a grand joke to put a tube of glue in my pocket, and it’s everywhere. I just need to change so I can talk to you. I owe you an explanation.”
“That you do Amanda, but I’d rather wait in the lobby for you to change.”
“I’ll be as quick as I can Steven, please don’t give up on me. This stuff is … well, sticky and it might take a bit of getting off.”
Steven had decided to give her an hour and just as he was about to give up, she’d appeared, her hair still wet from the shower. After the waiter had delivered two cups of coffee, Steven looked Amanda in the eye.
“So. This explanation. Will it involve telling me about your son?”
“Marcus is only two and a half. I agreed to have him as Tim was dying.”
“… was my first love. We broke up before I met you. I’d known him since childhood. We’d grown up together, been friends in school, started dating when we were teenagers, applied to the same universities to be together. But when we started working, the cracks started to show. Tim was a homebody, not ambitious, and me … well, you know neither of those characteristics suits me.”
“That doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me …. nor why you decided to go.”
“No. It doesn’t, does it. The thing is I’d known Tim was ill from the first. From before we started dating. His Mum – who was more a mother to me than my own – she told me. She made me promise that if we did get together, we’d stay together until he died. And I broke my promise to her when we split. Tim tracked me down because she was dying too. It was her dying wish and … well, I knew I couldn’t deny her, even though I’d denied him. And how could I tell you that no matter how much I loved you, I was going to marry someone else, to have his child?”
Steven had given a sort of shrug – the only response he could come up with.
“One final question – what are you doing here?”
“I contacted Susan a couple of months ago.”
“She invited you?”
“No, she saw me off – several times. She’s still very angry – but I kept coming back until she agreed to hear me. She loves you Steven and she’s always been loyal to you, but when she took a phone call about the arrangements for this party, I decided to take a chance and gatecrash. If we didn’t bump into each other, I told myself I’d accept that fate didn’t mean us to be together. Do you still hate me? Can you ever forgive me?”
Staring into his empty coffee cup, Steven took a deep breath, allowing his racing thoughts to still and his feeling to become crystalise.
“I never hated you Amanda, I just never got past you. I think it’s rather apt that your son chose glue for his prank, because I’ve been stuck in the same place ever since you left. As for forgiveness, I don’t know … but I can better understand what you did. I am glad we had this chance to talk though. I don’t feel stuck any more, and I’m truly grateful for that.”
And with that Steven signalled the waiter to settle his bill, before rising to leave …
“Goodbye Amanda – I wish all the best to you and your son.”
© Debra Carey, 2018