They’ll Always Be an England 0.3



Chance sat at the bar, squeezing down mouthfuls of Usher’s Best Bitter, looking out at his underground Eden. He sucked down the last sip, which was mostly malt-tinted spit. His stubbled cheeks wrinkled like prunes. He sat the molasses-colored can to the bar, a little bored. He placed a smoldering cigarette between his teeth from a ceramic ashtray and clamped down. The watch on his wrist read 19:45. He had time for another beer. He anxiously puffed smoke-filled air through his teeth and flagged down the barman.

“Another Usher’s?”

Chance grunted, his eyes still diverted from the bar. At the far wall were crude wooden stands waiting to be filled. They were made of roughly sanded, pimpled particle board and spray-painted white in sharp contrast to the black rolled cement walls. They looked like basement stairs disappearing into the far away dark. In no more than ten minutes bodies would begin to descend, and take their seats.

Their arrival would do little to excite Chance. A bunch of snappy beatniks, piss-drunk and hoping that with enough drugs and violence they could wake the next morning to a former glory. A bunch of sentimental twats. They’d bang on about Marx’s bullshit maxims, the Roman coliseum, Tennyson, wanking Samantha Fox’s tits and legalizing cocaine for profit as an industry of the Queen. A bunch of Bertie big bollocks.

Chance drank his beer and let it roll slowly across his tongue. It fizzled and stung like licorice saltwater; coated his throat like motor oil. England was fucking dead. Almost a century of perspective told him so. Empires rise and and empires fall. Shed a tear but move bloody well on. C’est la vie. He set the half-full beer down, disgusted. Even the beer tasted like shit anymore.

The single doorway to the den cracked, dribbling puddles of milky-white across the dimly lit bar from street lamps above. Chance watched as the doorway stayed empty. The faint stain of white slowly dried as the door inched shut. The door clicked softly as its lock tickled the frame, almost closed. Then the door broke wide open; metal smashed against metal as the hallow iron door hit a thick black rectangle no more than waist high. Grainy metal screams shivered across cement flesh.

Chance checked his watch: 19:50. Right on schedule.

The large, featureless rectangle – that Chance recognised as a facedown subwoofer – slowly crawled past the doorway inside, closely trailed by a smallish Asian woman. She had two hands on the back of the sub, and pushed forward in long, panfully slow steps, as if she were trying to scale a mountain. She used another two hands to pull a full Radio Flyer wagon in behind her. In the cart were six turntables, three crossfaders and countless effects peddles.

She had chin-length cropped hair, stained the color of carrots, except for her black roots. The sides of her hair spilled down her cheeks in odd red parabolas except for her bangs which were swept back and kept under a set of deepdish black headphones. She wore a wrinkled peach button-up, the top button undone. Around her slacked collar, loosely knotted, she kept a pink and white striped tie. Covering this was a cornflower blue tuxedo jacket that was two inches two short in the arms which exposed the peach cuffs underneath. Large hot pink cufflinks the shape of lips dangled loosely.  Her other nude arms snuck out of the jacket, propping it up in the back, giving her a strange butterfly-like silhouette. Tightly wrapped around her legs was a tiny slate mini skirt which allowed the eye to follow coconut flesh all the way down her legs. Her feet were posed like claw and ball inside cotton candy pink high heels.

She was his DJ. Chance had heard him call her ‘Thousand-Hand Scratch.’ He assumed – given her appearance – that was wordplay on the sumo technique Thousand Hand Slap. You learn all kinds of things in The War. With four arms, the girl lived up to the name.

She pushed the subs and dragged her gear to a small cranny to the right side of the cage, putting the vulgar metal box between her and Chance. She began to unpack.

Just a shade under 20:00, he strolled in.

Black Kerouac.

A lanky black man, hinting at ample definition. The whites of his eyes were hidden behind a dark halo of shadow from his tweed pageboy cap. All that showed were coppery pupils that sparkled like freshly shined coins. He wore a soft pink satin jacket on the back stitched in cursive were the words ‘The Pink Ladies.’ Underneath was a loose and faded Warhol banana t-shirt. From his waist to his ankles were traditional blue denim worn a little looser than the English rock-kids Chance was used to seeing. On his feet were unlaced shell toes.

Within the half-hour the cramped space saturated with bodies. The early crowd was different, but equally as loathsome, noted Chance. They weren’t the pseudo-intellectual children, siphoning daddy’s trust fund into a hash-fueled CCAD degree, lost in La-La-London. The early crowd was all blue collar, leashed and obedient. The lucky ones had jobs. They’d be up before the sun and home as it went down. They stunk of metallic bitterness and desperate, tangy sweat. Their muddy skin glistened like oil. They were here, not for entertainment, but freedom. In this little hole dug into the streets they existed not as an arm in an assembly line, a cog in the machine, but as people. Fists bursting seams of flesh, they could feel pain, cry out in anguish, bleed. If they couldn’t, at least they could drink themselves enough courage to amble back home and do it all again.

Chance passed the spaces in time filling his ashtray with spent cigarettes, obsessively checking his watch; 20:03, 20:11, 20:16. Finally at 20:28, someone had guzzled down enough bravery to step into the caged box.

He was a skeleton, bone white. Dusty auburn ringlets spilled down his protruded brow. Deep set green eyes shone dimly like forgotten jade baubles. His jaw was set crooked in his face; gaunt cheeks and a button chin were hidden behind red dalmatian spots of scruff. He stepped between the chain-link walls and peeled down to his jeans. His chest was covered in equal amounts of bruises purple, cuts pinks and burns grey as mahogany fuzz. Just above his navel was a faded black-ink portraiture of Daniel O’Connell with porridge brains dripping from his ears.

The little guy bounced up and down, crossed his legs, swung heavy fists on long, lithe pendulums in front of his chest and rolled his neck in gentle counterclockwise circles. He began to circle around the cage, more and more aggressively like an ape protecting pussy. In that duty he thought himself Billy Walker; a prized fighter. When his antics failed to raise ire in the crowd, it raised his.

“Eh, you needle-dicks, come take a gate off the end of my knob!” He thrust a handful of himself toward the assembled onlookers. His accent was drunk on Northern Ireland. When that didn’t work he sprayed the front row with gobs of spit through the diamond-pattern fence.

The bleacher groaned desperately; the seat rocked painfully on rusted nails as a massive weight was lifted off the end. A sternum wide and deep as beer kegs stood slowly up, swiping saliva from its shrunken head, eclipsed by massive hills of muscle. The remnants of what had once been a head was masked in heavy, hedge-like mutton chops of curly black fur. Between the gruff landscape grimaced fat purple lips revealing angry yellow fangs. The living pile of muscles rippled like rapids, holding massive bear paws in front of his chest, cracking them.

“Wrong move, lad,” he growled; slight mists sprinkled from his lips. The muscle grabbed fistful of the steel cage – warping the tender steel – and pulled back an entry way wide enough for his tank-like build.

The contrast between fighters was like white on black. The ornery little Irishman struggled to lift his nose above The Muscle’s belt buckle, which was a kindly shined a silver Union Jack. Arms double the size of his opponent’s legs. The Muscle towered over the Irishmen, bathing him shadow, he faded into blackness. Through it those greasy yellow fangs gleamed.

Shouts from the now tumultuous and bloodlust audience, and aloof, drunken murmurs from the bar confirmed the Irishman’s fate.

The Irishmen looked up, smirked, stood unimpressed.

Chance wasn’t ready to give up on the lanky streak of piss just yet.

Thin, pasty rose lips slid into a drunken smile. The Irishmen vaulted up at The Muscle, cracking loose cheek flesh with the side of his fist. The Muscle shirked as if cold from a mild wind, laughed curtly, pleased.

“My turn,” blustered The Muscle.

Balled together fists crashed between the Irishmen’s shoulder, splintering bone like cannonballs through wooden gunwales. The Irishmen collapsed to his knees, holding his pieces wearily together.

“Good…on ya…mate,” The Irishmen sucked in a painful gasp. His lungs burned and fractured bits of bone popped underneath his skin. “That’s a real wallop…yeah. But I got something a bit sweeter.”

“Right, well, have yourself a go,” The Muscle laughed. The audience joined in chorus.

The Irishman pulled himself weakly up the cage, stumbled dizzily into The Muscle; a warm pillow. He readied himself on two wobbly legs and fired his fists into his opponent; playing speedbag with his abdomen. Fists massive and heavy as wrecking balls thrashed the muscled facade yet the building would not fall.

The giant slab of muscle shook under the slight flecks on the surface of skin, amused. His head craned back; he howled into the air.

“Is that all the sweets you got, wee one?” He growled between two rows of bent, grinning fangs.

Strangely, the same smile reflected toward him, from the small man at his waist. Though, this smile was more desperate: Thin, pale lips cracked at the seams to make room for a mouthful of starved little teeth. Tiny island pupils drowned beneath the surface of the milky whites; from the depths fat, blood red tendrils surged manically, threatening to devour the eyes completely.

The Muscle had beaten his opponent, he had berated and embarrassed him for effect. He knew it, the crowd knew it; barking for him to finish it. Yet, the bleached grey bag of bones himself, didn’t seem to understand, smiling his broken clam-like smile, happy as one. If for a brief second, and one of the very few instances ever, neurons in The Muscle’s brain sparked. He paused. Something didn’t fit.

His brain activity promptly went slack, blotted away by a fierce burn inside his thighs. His sturdy muscles quaked, his knees wobbled. His skull rolled toward the pen floor; eyes fluttered and went black. He didn’t register the gnarled grin of the broomstick thin brawler clenched down on his groin before brain bounced across the newspaper and gravel stage.

The scrawny Irishmen weaseled himself to his feet. Crimson drool – soiled with blood that wasn’t his – rushed down his chin, which he spat out in clumsy little drops. He feebly raised a left arm in victory.

His opponent laid on his belly in his own blood; his body limp and his mind vacant.

“…I ain’t ever gonna lose–” The Irishmen’s crushed innards began to completely unravel. “To a sacklesss ninny from London.”

The Irishman collapsed.

Chance had seen enough, and apparently, so had Kerouac who hadn’t watched any of the fight. Chance knew this meant he had no interest in the winner. Kerouac was waiting on someone else.

Chance sparked another cigarette and reclined against the bar, lanky arms aloofy outstretched, head dangled backward. He puffled smoky waifs up toward the ceiling and waited to see who it was.

In stumbled Yardbird, sixty-five centiliters through a twelve year scotch. Little bubbles popped at the corner of his mouth and then retreated back in. Chance stirred from his nicotine reverie and glanced at his timepiece. It had been eleven minutes since the last fight. There were two men still in the cage balling up and tossing out the soiled newsapapers and caking blood that seeped through with bags of cat litter.

Chance watched Yardbird chuck the last hit of the scotch to the back of his skull and stumble deeper inward. He watched the drunk’s eyes glance around the den; he traced their motions.

Nothing, nothing, nothing…

“Shit.” Chance spat the fizzled dog-end from his lips. His eyes stopped across Black Kerouac.

He leapt off the stool, diving across the random ends sprawled along his way. He clawed at Yardbird’s arm but missed, tripping over a duct tape upholstered couch. He staggered upward and with a final lunge checked Yardbird against a wall and pinned him there, a heavy palm across the drunkard’s chest.

“You can’t do this, ‘bird.” He crashed his free hand across Yarbird’s cheek. “Smarten up. This one’ll batter you. He’s never even been hit.”

“A real tough guy, eh? Well, I’m as hard as they come. A real English scrapper.” Yardbird’s eyes rolled across the ceiling, ptiched to Chance’s chest before coming back to eye-level. “Listen, I know you’ve a horn for this one, but it’s bigger than you, Chancie-boy. Bigger than every-fucking-thing we have on this godforsaken planet. It’s not heavy, this American dark meat havin’ his way with the countrymen.”

Chance shook his head.

“Well, that’s just fit,” Yardbird scoffed. “Don’t you turn your back on us, neither. For Queen and Country, Chance. For Queen and Country. Don’t bleeding forget it.”

He ripped free of Chance’s grip and defiantly crossed through the chain link and chicken wire cage. Chane resigned, slumping to the nearby wall, his eyes loosely focused on the cage. Between blinks he watched Black Kerouac join Yardbird in the ring. Another blink. Yarbird dumped his heavy leather jacket with safety pin stitching. He flexed his shoulders, jiggling them back and forth. Chance blinked again. Kerouac stood almost motionless. His DJ behind him made the final sound checks and rolled the last of the speakers to the edge of the cage. A flurry of snapping fingers scratched through the tension.

Juggling snares bled distorted through speakers. Soft plodding bass jogged in behind. A cautious violin mused from a distance.

Yardbird put up his dukes.

Kerouac’s lips sucked down on the edge of his microphone.

Chance turned away.

A large kick drum busted into every wall and shook them.

“One, two, one, two.”

An invisible set of jabs crashed into Yardbird’s skull, the sounds dying under the soft ambience of snares. Blood exploded from under his eyes and he toppled. The bloodthirsty philosphers once again had their champion. Another fool on top of which to stack his throne.

The heavy door buzzed metallic as it closed behind Chance.

2 thoughts on “They’ll Always Be an England 0.3

  1. It’s hard not to be impressed with the way you write these pieces. I’m always in awe of the skill with which you paint your scenes but here, when you’re working with a character I know well, I think my admiration for your craft is at its zenith.

    Whilst sarcasm and brutality always seem to follow Chance around, it’s rare to have this level of nihilism in a story – you’ve really captured the portrait of a man who is still trying to make a difference in the world, still kicking against authority, despite the fact that he has long since been beat by the system. The new settings, the dynamic and varied cast and Chance’s own hollow sneers make this one of my favourite tales featuring the character.

    I salute you for what you’ve done here.

  2. Having just read all three installments of They’ll Always Be an England back-to-back-to-back, I was prepared to say that I’d read this series if it were just a verbal map of the London Underground, with you describing each dank room and newspaper-riddled dead-end in your vivid, lush style.

    But, then, you busted out the action. And, hot damn, was that first fight beautifully brutal. I was rooting for the little guy from the get, but I appreciate that you gave the musclebound fighter a fair shake…before ripping off his nuts. If it isn’t already, the first rule of brawling should definitely be “always aim for the groin.”

    The “invisible set of jabs” that felled Yardbird could be interpreted two ways. They could be actual punches, so swift they were invisible to the eye. Or, they could literally be verbal jabs — the “one, two, one, two” — that break Yardbird’s face. Either way, the outcome’s the same: a great, gruesome visual. “Blood exploded from under his eyes” — that’s gonna stick with me for a while.

    That and the image that accompanies this post. Christ, that’s haunting.


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