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The Wizard Of Was. A Short Story By Steve Swindells

20 Jan

The Wizard Of Was


‘It was much more fun back in the eighties,’  said Josephine, swivelling-round on her bar stool and fixing Tom‘s eyes.  He tried to conceal his initial shock as she’d instantly engaged him with what appeared to be the spirit of potential intimacy. Or was it just his imagination?

‘I wouldn’t know,’ he responded, returning her intense gaze with an inquisitive smile:  ‘I was at school in Trinidad in those days,  my dad was working for an oil exploration company  So what are you referring to?’   ‘That’s a coincidence,’ said Josephine, or Juice as she was more commonly known, lighting a cigarette,  ‘half my family are from Trinidad, as-in my dad, but my mum is from Wales.

‘So why was it more fun?’ He asked.  ‘Well, clubs in the eighties were much more real, atmospheric and inspirational,’  she replied, ‘plus there was a lot of creative and entrepreneurial interaction between groups of artistic and visionary underground movers and shakers and they were genuinely supportive of each other in their networking.’  ‘Wow,’ said Tom, ‘it sounds like it was a heady experience, so how were you involved?’  ‘I promoted some of the best ones.’  She replied.  They clinked their lager bottles together.

They were at Marx,  a private members club catering to the trendy, bohemian, artistic demi-monde (as long as they could afford the annual fee) in London’s Bloomsbury.  Juice didn’t have to fork-out for a membership, however, as she was a successful recording artist who had cornered the market in the cool, soul-jazz market, following her success as a model.

She wished.

The more prosaic truth was that her gay, ex-husband Justin was the manager of Marx and they were still the best of friends, so she could hang-out there when she wanted to. And get free drinks if Justin was in a good mood.  ‘Now what about that Riad you were planning to buy in Marakesh?  Can I come and stay with you? I could drink Raki draped over a chaise lounge as the sun set over the courtyard, as the fountain tinkled and a string quartet played Debussy on the balcony.’  Juice had suggested to Justin.   ‘It rather depends on how my relationship with Saad develops’, replied Justin primly, ‘then he can be my business partner in the enterprise. I could let it out for a grand a week in the high season and Al Fresco* magazine could help me publicise it by doing a fashion shoot there.’

Juice was not so sure that Justin’s vision would come to fruition. Saad was hardly business-partner material.

Juice was not really single, nor was she not attached. For the past four years she’d had a part-time-boyfriend called Richard who was ten years her junior.  She lived alone in a tiny, top-floor, two bedroomed apartment behind The Virgin Megastore on London’s Oxford Street,  a convenient five-minute walk from Marx.  Richard, aged twenty-five and a swarthy white man, was a bit of an oddball.  He was intelligent and intuitive, yet abrasive and full of anger and possibly suffering from some sort of mental illness, and he’d also been sexually abused as a child by an uncle. A can of worms, on paper, but Juice and Richard had a magical sex-life.  He was of the opinion that she should ‘get a proper job’ instead of holding-out for stardom at the age of thirty-five.  He was wrong of course, as she was a very fine singer and an accomplished songwriter who had simply slipped through the net, having been misrepresented and ripped-off by various incompetent managers and agents over the years.  Richard came from a lower-middle-class family in Bristol who were keen on floral prints, swirly-patterned carpets, meat-and-two-veg, the Daily Shit newspaper (‘talk about Little England’, he snorted) and tacky variety shows although, in ninety-seven, more sophisticated tastes had helped to consign such TV dross to the dustbin of ‘Gold’ channels on cable TV.

He’d been an intelligent boy and a bit of a scientific genius, which had landed him a scholarship to an Oxford University. He didn’t look like a boffin, more like Blair Hole, the hunky, hollywood actor who’d made it big after his role as a hustler in the famously female-bonding film ‘Dorothy And Audrey’.  Juice and Richard were an unlikely couple who saw each other maybe once every two weeks for fabulous love-making sessions.  They made love like two dolphins swimming in a sensual sea, so how could it be just a physical thing?  Was Richard scared of her?

The night before, Juice had been writing a poem by candlelight, thinking about her detached relationship with Richard.  It was called Science And Art And The Head And The Heart.  She was sitting at the table-cum-arbor – which she’d built from wood that she’d found in the street – on the roof terrace which she’d created from scratch above her flat.  The smell of the night-jasmine around her and the sounds and lights of the city helped her creativity.  Her roof garden was overlooked by the offices of the magazine 24/7, where she worked as a personal assistant to the publisher.  Recently, the editor’s personal assistant (bitter, forties, over-the-hill) had reluctantly asked Juice – not that she was jealous, oh no  – if they could do a photo-session using her roof garden, featuring an up-and-coming chef and a supermodel who had opened a restaurant with him.  It had poured with rain, but Juice had found some tarpaulins in a skip in the street below which she’d quickly rigged above ‘the set’ on her roof, thereby saving the session. But they’d only paid her £100. Tight bastards!  They were taking the piss!

As she wrote, she was wondering when Richard would next get down to London from the lab in Edinburgh, where he was developing genetically-modified seed technology.  It was a hot, sultry night in early September;  an almost tropical, indian summer.  The Halle Bop comet looked like a neon-lit squid in the sky above her as she wrote and worked her way through a bottle of  very good St Emillion (she’d been given a whole case by some wine shippers who’d advertised in 24/7 following a rave review in the Cork section of the magazine).  Just one of the perks of working for the boss, she thought, sipping from her glass, smoking a spliff and observing the comet.  What did it all mean?  Was it the end of the world, or a new beginning?  What strange, magnetic energy was being released into the stratosphere that night and how might it affect her life and her relationships?  Then she chuckled, realising that the combination of wine, spliff and comet had made her spout hippy cliches to herself in… the windmills of her mind.

‘So what brings you to the dirty Marx?’  Asked Juice. Tom laughed and wondered if he sounded nervous.  ‘Oh, a friend who’s a member, who was wanting to talk business. I’ve recently got my degree in fashion.’  Tom bought her another beer as they sat at the bar, which was vaguely Art Deco, black and chrome.  He’d been invited to the club by Art Unicorn, who had once played drums with the successful,  seventies pop group Aviator,  but now ran a corporate-sponsorship company.  He’d left Tom’s name on the guest-list.  ‘Unfortunately, Mr Unicorn cannot be with us.  He’s suddenly been taken to hospital with a heart attack, I’m afraid.’  Justin had reported when Tom had shown-up at the club earlier that evening,  ‘but it’s only minor, I’m pleased to report. Why don’t you go and have a drink or two on the house anyway?’

Tom Sharkey was a twenty-four year designer who was already making waves in the industry and was now doing his masters degree at Central St Martins, London’s most famous school of fashion, whose alumni included just about all the big names in British couture and design.  He came from a huge, artistic, Catholic family from County Kildare in Ireland.  He checked Juice out as she went to use the toilet; she sensed he was watching.  Nice butt.  Nice taste in clothes – simple, chic-yet-understated, a mix of vintage and current. – cool, he thought.  Plus, she looked great for her age.  She’d told him earlier how she was proud of the fact that saying that she was thirty-five genuinely shocked people.  Hey – it was good for the self-esteem.  She looked at least ten years younger and was a beautiful, mixed-race woman with intelligence, style and class.  Plus, she swore like a trouper, would easily beat a barrister in a battle of intellectual wit and could definitely drink the boys under the table.  There was element of the amazonian about her.  She scared the fuck out of a lot of men, but fascinated many.  Plus, she was hot and she knew it.  She could entice beautiful men without even trying, she just snapped her invisible fingers.  Tom was up for it.

Plus, thought the angel on her shoulder, as she returned to the bar having ‘powdered her nose’,  if he had genuine talent, she could be his muse; wouldn’t that be perfect?

‘See, in the clubs in the eighties, ‘ said Juice, sitting back on the barstool,  by now a little high as well as tipsy, ‘people were much more friendly and creative, plus the music was great – a whole lot of soul with a whole lot of goals – and there was a temporary breakdown of barriers in Thatcher’s Britain.  A sort-of artistic rebellion against her utter lack of understanding of modern culture and the dreadful plague known as AIDS.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last.  We were soon back to conveyor-belt commerciality and pop-culture-without-irony.’  She stared into her vodka-chaser, rattled the ice in the glass, then gulped it down in one.  Tom followed her example, fearing that he might otherwise look wimpish.

‘So,’ he asked with a twinkle in his eye, lighting her Marlborough Light: ‘come here often?   The American accent was pretty good, but was it Bogart or Gable?  She came back at him quick as a flash:  ‘Yeah loads – they have rooms upstairs!’   Was it Monroe, or Mansfield?  Kind of a mixture.  They buckled-up laughing on their bar stools and  subtly touched each other’s legs.  ‘I live just down the road,’ said Juice smokily.  ‘Wanna come… there often?’  Tom was liking the way the night was going. ‘I would like to… come with you most definitely!’  He replied, then kissed her deeply. It felt really good, for all parties concerned.

‘See, look Halle Bop!’  Said Juice, pointing up at the sky and holding Tom’s arm with her other hand.  ‘It looks kind of magical,’ he said dreamily, ‘imagine it printed on silk!’  Suddenly, he had the inspiration for his final collection before hopefully, no, getting his masters degree.  She pulled a joint out of her pocket and lit it.  ‘I feel really easy with you,’ she said, squeezing his arm and looking him in the eye whilst taking a toke: ‘So what do you fashion-design then? ‘  ‘Womenswear,’ replied Tom as they walked past the University Of London buildings, dominated by a mini-Empire State-type building.  ‘Nice building.’  Said Tom, as she passed him the joint.  ‘Got any samples going? She asked in her smokiest voice, ‘oh, I’ve suddenly remembered something!’  Said Juice, putting her hand to her mouth, ‘my parents are back at my place.’  ‘I trust they’re not in your bed?’  Asked Tom.  ‘Well, yes, they are actually,’ replied Juice, laughing, ‘but don’t worry, I have a sort-of mini-chill second bedroom with a double, futon sofa-bed where we can relax.  I guess we’ll just have to be a bit…’ then she whispered, ‘quiet.’

‘That’s deliciously naughty.’  Said Tom, grabbing her waist and a dancing a vague tango with her as they passed the YMCA, twirling and dipping beneath the starry sky and its astral visitor to the earth’s atmosphere and looking each other in the eyes.

‘Shhh!’  Whispered Juice in an ironic, cod-little-girl voice, as they climbed the stairs to the top floor of her building, ‘mustn’t wake mummy and daddy!’  Tom grinned, enjoying the naughtiness.  She pulled a careful, we mustn’t wake them face as she put the key in the door.  They crept in on tiptoe in an exaggerated fashion, stifling giggles.  She motioned towards her mini-boudoir, which was decorated with her own abstract murals.  ‘Go in there!’  She whispered, ‘I’ll get us a drink.  Voddy okay?’   He nodded, pulling an exaggerated isn’t this dangerous face and sat on the faux-zebra-skin-covered sofa and admired her art work. She returned with vodka, tonic and glasses on a glass-topped, fifties tray.  ‘Isn’t this fun!’  She whispered, ‘fancy a toot? She asked’  ‘Now, that’s really naughty.’  he whispered back,  batting his eyelashes rapidly in an ironic fashion and fondling her left breast.  ‘Could you do nice things to both of them while I chop us out a line?’  She whispered breathily, then lent down towards the sixties coffee table, taking a credit card out of her Prada purse.

Milan. 2004.

Tom  – aka – typed-in a reply to a message he’d just posted on a dating site:  ‘I cant believe what a brilliant database Raydar is!’   It was 4am. He’d spotted the user name Milly Whizz whilst idly searching for a potential fuck – or just some contact with alien/human life –  after finding himself alone in his hotel room and online, following his triumphant show and after-party at Milan Fashion Week.  Her name had made him laugh and her profile had intrigued him so he’d sent her a message saying:  ‘I like the name and profile, I sense a human being. Any chance of a pic or two?’  There was no picture and precious few details in ‘Milly’s’ online profile, apart from a reference to card-reading and some brief quotes from Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Mark Twain and Maya Angelou.  Tom was flushed with the success of his show (the front row had boasted Naomi, Kate, Christy, Maddona and the owner of Alfresco* magazine, Brian Roue, amongst many others).  He was pleasantly drunk and somewhat coked-up – those Italians eh? – but he needed some virtual company that at least had the feel of spiritual depth, as the aftermath of the elation of recognition was something of a lonely comedown.  ‘Justin’ and ‘Milly’ were caught-up in something of a message frenzy and soon mutually decided to switch to RIM (Raydar Instant Messenger) so they could talk more intimately in real time.

Justin:  ‘So where are you and what do you do in life apart from quoting from great writers?’

Milly:  ‘I’m in Milan, I’ve been performing and modelling at one of the fashion shows. I’m a singer-songwriter.’

Justin:  ‘You’re joking.  I’m in Milan too.  That’s an incredible coincidence.  Where are you from?’

Milly:  I don’t believe it! Where are you staying? I live in London.’

Justin:  ‘Me too, in up-and-coming Lower Clapton.  I’m at the the La Scala.’

He was thinking that it was best not to divulge his identity just yet,  as you never knew what maniacs were online.  ‘Milly’ could be a male, mafia hit-man for all he knew.

Justin:  ‘I was involved in the production of a fashion show.’

Milly:  ‘Great – me too – I performed at Sebastian MacDonald’s.  It was awesome.  You won’t believe this, I’m at the La Scala too.’

Justin:  ‘Wow!  What is going on here? LOL.  Shame, I missed the show, I could have seen you in the flesh, but I was too busy getting ready for Tom’s show.’

Milly:  ‘Tom, what Tom Sharkey?  Omygod, I love his stuff.  I met him once… briefly. What was your role?’

Justin:  ‘Oh, just a general dogsbody, LOL.  When or where did you meet him?’

Milly:  ‘In ’97 at Marx.  We really hit it off, had great sex, then I never saw him again.


(c) 2009.  Steve Swindells. All rights reserved.

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