Nothing Lives Long

Nothing Lives Long

Short Fiction

Benny Carr

 

 

 

The old guard sit on benches at the back of the room rocking back and forth like warped old grandfather clocks as they neck pints of whiskey and blast off to distant planes. The young mohawks buck like wild horses on the dancefloor as the synth thumps, the guitar screams, and the machine-gun bassline makes mincemeat of the whole tribe. The singer emerges through the haze of smoke in a priest’s collar, blessing the crowd with a toilet brush as he growls:

There’s a hill lone and grey

In a land far away

In a country beyond the blue sea

I’m down the back with the veterans, watching the walls fall apart, as they crawl around the darkness and chaos of Tony’s Guitars.

Where beneath that fair sky

Went a man forth to die

For the world and for you and for me

My Maggie’s up pogoing with the youngsters, as crazy a filly as she ever was. She’s a rare thing. Her beauty is faded now from the hard living but she’s still my girl. We were the lost kids, running fuckin’ wild. We met in the mosh pit of a Boikot concert in the Eighties. We started necking and she bit off my earlobe. From that moment, covered in my own blood, I knew that she was my everything.

Ah, the good old nine—teen—eighties.

Ho ka hey wah na

Back then it was all about sex, drugs, rock and roll, fights with the cops, stealing cars, burning flags and tearing down the old Spain to make way for the new.

Ho ka hey wah na woh

Franco had just died, censorship was lifted, and Spain was shown the magic of punk rock.

Ho ka hey wah na

When I first heard The Pistols, The Stooges, Johnny Thunders… It was like my eyes were opened.

Ho ka hey wah na woh

Opened to the bland, bored existence of my folks and neighbours in my little seaside shithole of a hometown.

Ho ka hey wah na

I got out. Made it to the city. Found the punks and squats and formed a band known the country over.

Ho ka hey wah na woh

We were “The Delapidators”. And I was:

PAPAÍTO

But that was a long time ago.  Now the lifestyle’s on the way out. My hair’s more grey than brown and my teeth are more brown than white. This dank, dark punk dungeon, the mythical Tony’s Guitars, is the only refuge left for us in the once fierce Calvario zone. Back in the heyday, this neighbourhood was a haven for all the punks, delinquents, gays and outcasts of the city. DIY concerts, collectives reclaiming vacant buildings, free love but not in a fuckin’ hippy way. Nowadays, if you go upstairs and open the big black metal door out onto the street, the first thing you’ll see is a fuckin’ Starbucks. All the José Marías and the María Josés with their collars done up all the way, laughing down their phones on the way to the spa. We’re being gentrified, pacified, sterilised and neutralised.

But maybe the time’s come to admit defeat anyway; I’ve got the ticket to numb suburban bliss. You see, my father died the other day, we buried him this morning. He had been ill. Suffered three massive strokes, one of each type, and they laid him up in hospital and gave him no more than twenty-four hours to live. He was a self-made man, my old boy. Settled and sensible. As far from a punk or a mohawk as you could get. When Franco decided to make Spain a tourist destination for all the wealthy Krauts and Brits in the Sixties, my old dad took full advantage and opened a string of caravan parks in our seaside hometown. He was the self-styled:

CARAVAN KING

A “formidable businessman”, “well-respected in the community”. He “threw our little town open to the world”. Last I saw him, up in the hospital, his eyes, usually cold as iron, had softened. He wore the serenity of a man whacked off his bean on morphine.

—My son, he had said to me. You’ve returned. Oh, how long you’ve been gone.

The sun shone in the hospital room window as he continued:

—My only son, I am not long for this world. You’ve never listened to me, never taken my advice, but I pray you listen to me now, my boy. Trust in me, son. Trust in me, for once in your life. You must change your ways. You always had potential, lad. Brains to burn. That devil’s music never got you anywhere and it’s time you give up that savage life. You and Maggie could settle down, start a family. It’s not too late.

I never particularly cared for the man, but to be honest I’d been thinking that myself for a while. Maybe it’s time to leave the life behind.

—I want you to take over the caravan sites, son. You and Maggie can have the house and you’ll run the sites just like your poor, old dad.

But become the Caravan King? Run the sites like some stiff old José María? I don’t know…

He died the next day. Or maybe it was two days later, I don’t remember. At any rate, today we laid him down, in a narrow grave just six by three. Droves of townsfolk attended the burial under the naked August sun to solemnly sweat and shake hands with each other. The priest, panting like a cow, blessed the grave, said a few words and we all parted ways. I came straight here to Tony’s. The townsfolk returned home to await the next community death. I’ve been sitting here since, thinking and thinking… Could we give up the life?

Through the blackness, I see Tony in her shiny, shiny boots of leather talking to one of her regulars up at the bar. The little goblin man has his wide eyes squarely fixed on the floor as she whispers in his ear. She had been one of the founders of the scene here in the city. We all loved her like a mother. As I look at her now though, she’s thin as a rake, her once blonde hair now matted and grey; her face weathered and drawn from the drugs and the lack of sleep. Oh Tony, your red eyes once were blue. I see her little goblin skulk off into a back room, shivering with the red passion. Tony looks around her and coolly saunters in behind.

Maggie runs up to me, puts her hands on my lap, leans in as if she has something important to say and screams:

—Your father was an asshole anyway.

—I know, darling.

—Come up and dance and don’t be moping about back here with these old muppets.

The old guard still rock back and forth, each to their own tune, eyes glazed over.

—I’ll follow you up, sugar.

The band are playing ferociously, all spirit and energy. Unbounded fury pouring through the music. The singer screams and the crowd screams and the little goblin man screams from the other room.

Maggie tilts her head and looks at me. She tut-tuts as she pats my cheek.

—You’re a fuckin’ pensioner, she says before running back up to the dancefloor.

Hah! That’s my girl, I think as I watch her pushing all the young fellas around. She’s still got the rock and roll in her but the punk and dirt and drugs catch up with us all. We can’t live in my van forever. The walls of this place are falling apart and so are our friends. Tony’s not long for this life and maybe me and Maggie aren’t either. I can get out, I can take her out of here. We can live a settled life with the settled folk and settle for a nice seaside house and maybe a kid…

—Man, you look troubled.

I jump with fright as an old hand is laid on my shoulder.

—Papaíto, if it is wisdom you seek, you must seek… within.

It’s the old guard. I turn towards them and the calm intensity of their stare drowns out the music. Their mystic eyes bore into my soul. Their steady swaying, it’s… almost hypnotic.

A long, wooden pipe is extended towards me by two open hands.

—Wh-what’s in the pipe? I ask.

—Inhale deeply, little bear. Dance with the deer with silver antlers.

—OK… Is it weed?

They stare through me with vacant eyes.

—Ride home to the midnight sun.

—Stop speaking in fuckin’ riddles!

—All will pass, Papaíto…but the earth and the mountains.

—Ah, fuck this.

I grab the pipe and light it up as I take one last look at Maggie. I breathe it in deeply, deeply and the dark of the room begins to melt away. The music slows and stretches out like a yawn. The dark bursts open into vibrant colours of deep purple and neon green. The moshers’ arms wave trailing streams of energy through the air The walls, the dancers the band Create a kaleidoscopic stream of colour swirling down down down a Drain and I’m slipping Falling through Into an endless sky Over western plains and rivers, tears of blood rolling in the Smokestacks as I rise with the smoke Beholding the earth below A blaze of purple and neon green Beams of light emanate from me Shoot in every direction and Floating, floating in the stratosphere by the smirking face of the moon I feel a powerful presence an Eternal force closing in…

—My dearest brothers! We’ve found him! Found him at last!

—Found him at last!

—Found him at last!

I see floating in front of me an immense fire like molten metal. Burning with infernal energy, it breaks apart into three pieces. And each one moulds into a humanoid figure. And for each figure, three faces: one man, one cow, one goat. They’re winged and hooved. They glow like burning coal and flash back and forth like bolts of lightning.

—We’ve found him. The only son of the Caravan King!

—The only son!

—The only son!

I’m well-versed enough in hallucinogens to know when I’m tripping hard, and I know better than to try and fight it, so I say:

—And…*um*… whosoever may I ask, are you… who seek me?

—He sees us, oh brothers!

—He sees us!

—He sees us!

They flutter about me speaking in a wholesome falsetto, à la Alvin the fuckin’ Chipmunk.

—Oh worthy Caravan Prince, we have been searching for you all afternoon.

—All afternoon!

—Yes, all afternoon!

These things are pissin’ me off.

—Alright… enough of this “Caravan Prince” shit.

—Oh Caravan Prince, prithee, do not disdain. We come to help you. We are envoys from the planet Caravan. We come to tell you that you are one of us now, just as your father before you.

—One of us!

—One of us!

These things are so inoffensive it makes me sick.

—Here, wait a minute, you weirdos. I never said I’m taking the sites. I never said we’re gonna take the house.

—Teeheeheehee, they giggle. Don’t you see? We’re here to show you why you must, why you must take them, and renounce your old life.

One of them reaches out and grabs my hand as several dream-evoking, heavily clichéd harps sound all around us.

—Flyyyyyyyyy with uuuuuuuuuusssss into the paaaaaast! it says, and we fly, speeding back towards the earth. We plummet through the sky at lightspeed straight into Tony’s Guitars. We crash through the roof and fall onto the dancefloor.

—Here we are, oh Caravan Prince.

—Oh Caravan Prince.

—Oh Car…

Back in the pit. Something’s different though. The crowd’s bigger. The walls are less rotten. There’s more light. And cocaine… Wait a minute!

—Are we in the fucking 80s?!

—Teeheeheehee, my prince. Watch the stage.

And right there, to a small round of applause, I see myself from twenty years ago get up on stage. Fresh-faced with a two-foot blue mohawk slicked up to perfection. Lookin’ like a STALLION.

—We want to say a quick hello to all you scumbags out there, we’re The Delapidators and this one’s called “Let’s Smoke the Falange” one, two, three, four!

The guitars screech with interference as I begin to sing, eyes a glaze:

If you’re Falange, you love the Pope

But I hope you know the Pope’s a dope

Let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s

Smoke the Falange

I can see the entities sniggering at me out of the corner of my eye. Laughing into their hands.

You say you march for the glory of Spain

But if you see me, you’re in for some pain

Let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s, let’s

Smoke the Falange

Now they’re doubled over with laughter.

—What are you laughing at?! I shout, but I know right well. Christ, it’s been a while since I actually listened to any of our old songs…

The entities just keep watching the stage and laughing. When we start our next track, “Bite It, Bishop Gonzalez”, I’ve had enough.

—Take me away from here, little elf things. You’ve made your point.

—Teeheehee, oh Caravan Prince. Don’t you see? You were shite.

—Truly shite!

—Eminently shite!

—I SAID YOU MADE YOUR POINT! I shout. Take me away from here.

The entities flutter around me, looking at me with their cow heads. Eventually, the spokes-entity pipes up:

—Very well, fly with us.

And we soar again through the clouds. Fuckin’ hell. What a revelation. All these years I’m thinking we were doing something worthwhile, playing some decent music. Sticking it to the man. Turns out we were all just getting fucked up and posing. At least the crowd were having a good time, I suppose; lathered in whiskey and sweat.

We fly through the clouds and I see the moon with two giant hollow craters for eyes and a gaping chasm of oblivion for a mouth. There’s hordes of hooded figures below it on the earth, dragging it along behind them by great chains. And the moon is howling at them:

—I want results, godammitt! I want those papers in by Monday, you hear?! By Monday!!!

And those poor, downtrodden souls below just nod their heads and keep dragging him along. Yoked to the moon for all eternity.

—Teeheehee, here we are, oh Prince! proclaims one of the fairies. Let us descend!

Night turns to day as we descend on the caravan sites, the sand dunes and the beach. Kids are kicking footballs back and forth and scraping each other’s’ knees. Mothers and fathers are reclining on beach chairs with early afternoon beers open at their feet. The grass is green, the sky is blue, the bread’s white and the beachgoers are glistening… GLISTENING in blissful ignorance under the August sun.

—Papaíto, behold! The common man!

—The common man!

—The common man!

I look around once more at all the José Marías and the María Josés splayed out on the beach, dozing through their holidays as the kids kick each other and bawl.

—You loathe these people, oh dear prince.

—Yes, loathe!

—Oh bitter, callous prince!

Christ… They’re not wrong. These people bore me to death. Where’s the energy? Where’s the music? Where’s the fun? Working all their lives to buy a fuckin’ Mercedes… A nice, shiny new Mercedes…

—You’re damn right, you little goblins. These people are living just to die! They punch in and they punch out and they sleep and they eat and they make babies and they lie on the beach for a month in the summer and that’s all they fuckin’ do!

But they see right through me.

—Oh beloved contrarian prince! You have considered such a life more than once. You can fight it all you want but you know that punk rock is dead and that your lifestyle will lead you nowhere. Behold the Martínez García family!

And we see a young family on the beach playing a game of monopoly; tears of pride forming in Manuel’s eyes as little Manuela wisely invests in a hotel on the Castellana. They laugh and smile, smile and laugh. For every smile, a laugh. For every laugh, a pair of smiles.

As I watch them play, the spokes-entity whispers in my ear:

—Manuel has recently developed a cutting-edge new method of data acquisition management that has cut worker dormancy by point three per cent…

It leans in closer as it continues:

—With his bonus he bought a shiny new Mercedes. Now, let us consider your automobile and your family…

And we fly once more. To the beachfront where we see my old banger of a van, Maggie sitting out the side of it hawking toothpaste onto the tarmac. “Dead Moon Night” is blasting on the radio and Maggie’s singing along in between hawks:

—D for disaster, E for my… *HAWWWWWWWWK* *PHTOO* for my anger, D for my *HAWWWWWWWWK* *PHTOO*….

Oh my darling, brush your teeth and then sing. She looks so pathetic here. Greying, a little raggedy, visibly hungover. My poor little angel. I need to take you out of this life.

—Oh Prince of Mobile Homes! Don’t you see? Don’t you see the folly of this life?

—Don’t you see?

—Don’t you…

—For Chrissake, yes! I see! I scream. Maybe we could change. Maybe we could get out.

The spokes-being nods its head excitedly, its cow eyes boring through my soul.

—Yes, oh prince! Now we see. Now we see. But there is one last place we must journey. Let us fly!

And once again we fly through the stratosphere. Day turns back to night and we pass the fat moon as it laughs and mocks the cheerless hordes below:

—That’s why I’M the big fry and YOU’RE the small fry. Hahaha! PULL! Never stop pullin’!

We descend once more over my folks’ house. High on the hill overlooking my father’s vast caravan empire, the sand dunes, the beach and the wild Atlantic beyond. The lamps are trimmed and burning on the porch just like they used to. And I see myself sitting there. In a crown of fibreglass. Lined with gems of agate that shine like diamonds. High on a silk-upholstered throne of deep blue lapis. But I’m changed. I’m wearing an ironed shirt and I have a crew-cut, with the fringe neatly gelled to the side. I’m staring out over the sites with eyes as slick as polished steel. It’s undoubtedly me, but with a new air of unbridled power and authority. Christ, I look like a god. This is, without doubt, the new Caravan King.

—Behold our Lord!

—Our Lord!

—Our Lord!

And the Caravan King slowly raises his hand. He waves it coolly over his vast empire, his gaze still unshaking. And night turns to day. A velvet sun rises. And all the King’s subjects on the beach and the sites look to their king. And they dance. They dance for him. A merry little jig they dance. Until he raises his hand again and day turns back to night.

—Oh, don’t you see, Prince of Caravans? Don’t you see what you could become if you were to accept this mantle? Accept this mantle and renounce your rocking and rolling ways, oh brave prince.

—Repent!

-Give up your rock and roll!

And they’re right. Me and Maggie could have so much if we just leave the lifestyle behind. It’s on the way out anyway. Each year and every concert the mohawks are fewer. Each year Tony ages ten. She’s not long for this life. Maybe it’s time to get out. Join the droves of José Marías. Button my shirt all the way up to the top. Leave the hawks and join the doves. The placid, innocuous doves. On the other hand though… I fuckin’ love rock and roll.

—What must I do?! I scream. But the entities are already flying away.

—Farewell, oh Prince!

—Fare thee well!

—Fare thee well, oh Princey!

Their voices fade as the stars, the moon and the night sky evaporate away into the rising smoke of Tony’s Guitars. My eyes readjust and I see Maggie, still up pogoing with the mohawks to a rendition of our old track “I’d Rather Be a Punk than a Beach Gimp.” Tony has another goblin bound up in her web on the bar. The old guard still rock back and forth with eyes glazed over, their spirits in other worlds.

And the roof’s caving in. The ground shakes violently. The faces around me fall apart like melting wax. The old guard are now furiously rocking in unison. The floor is caving in under the boots of the moshers. We’re all dead. This is a tomb.

I run with all my might up the stairs and throw open the black metal door to the world and the dawn.

 

Sign Up for the Weekly Review

    Stalk us through the Mind-Farms of Social Media...

    Or Check Out These Links!