Butt Grinder Casserole

Attila stands on the steppes with his men. Blood seeps through arrow holes in their arms. Knife and stab wounds can be seen in their legs. There are sword cuts, blunt trauma, broken limbs, but they do not cry out, complain or even frown. They are dreaming of revenge because they know no other life. They want to fight. They are battle weary but fantasize about how they will stick it to their enemy. In the meantime, they use makeshift bandages and tourniquets, made out of rope, horse hair and old tough jerky.

Attila’s brother and right hand man, Bleda, by name and nature, is oozing blood from his upper arm. “We don’t need to nick our horses if we get thirsty, Attila. We have plenty of blood to drink.”

“You lose too much, plus we have yak milk to drink.” Attila took a slab of gruel, with the consistency of wet cement and plastered it onto Bleda’s arm.

“Your gruel is famous for being lumpy,” said Bleda, “and it makes a good blood stopper, but we should eat it. The men have groaning bellies.”

Attila shook his head. “No one can eat my gruel, no matter how hungry they are, so let’s put it to good use.” He plastered the porridge-like substance on the men’s wounds. It was cool on their skin and acted like a bandage to stop the bleeding.

“Maybe one day we will be able to eat our food instead of using it like this,” said Attila.

“I will eat it after the wound is clotted.” said Bleda. “Then it’s dual purpose.”

“No. We should eat something warm and nourishing.” said Attila.

“If we ride on, we will catch up.”

Attila shook his head again. “Our time will come for revenge. It is not now. Tonight, we eat and sleep.”

“What will we eat, if not this?” Bleda looked at the cement on his arm.

Attila spoke his horses name softly and it trotted over. He stroked its neck lovingly and peeled back the saddle to show a mares bladder of meat, onions and wild garlic that had been mashed and cooked there. A horse and rider could whip up a tasty stew this way, as a result of friction and warmth, on the long forays through the steppes.

“We have this.” he said, patting the bladder, “washed down with fermented yak milk.”

“It’s certainly a better dish than your gruel.” smiled his brother. “My stomach growls already.”

They made camp and shared the stew. “This would be good with bread.” said Attila.

“Those men we fought with yesterday,” said Attila, “their women make good bread.”

“We will have to make their women our women.”

“Or get their bread.”

“Or both.”

A few days later, the Huns, who hadn’t died of their wounds, set off again to conquer the neighbouring tribe with the decent bread. More ingredients for stew had been gathered and mashed under saddles in the long journey across the steppes. It was decided the gruel would be made only for medical purposes.

It was another bloody battle and both tribes had a stand off, lest they kill each other and cancel each other out. They camped again, a little away from each other, to think and plan their next move. A few more of Attila’s soldiers died that night.

Bleda lay awake, unable to sleep. “Hey, Atilla,” he whispered, in the dying light of the fire. “You awake?”

“I am now.” he grumbled.

“I can’t stop thinking about how those men smelled.”


“The men we fought. You must have smelled spices and herbs about them, quite delicious smelling spices.”

“So, you’re thinking about condiments Bleda, rather than the three men we lost tonight?”

“Yes, but, look on the bright side, there’s more food without them.”

“That’s not a typical Hun response.” mumbled Atilla, from under his horsehair blanket. “Our life isn’t about food Bleda. It’s about feeling the brisk cutting wind through our hair, being one with our horses on the desolate and unforgiving steppes. It’s about blood lust, the ruthless conquering of other tribes, forcing them to submit through sheer terror and might, and finally, through sweet surrender to our dominance and seamless immersion and integration, to our way of life. Then they become one of us.”

“I know, but…I was wondering… imagine what a bit of seasoning would do with your stew?”

Attila fell silent.

“Well?” said Bleda.

Attila pulled the blanket over his head.

The next day, after a breakfast of yoghurt and noodles, and another long ride through the sparse countryside, the men faced the opposing tribe, yet again. A long and senseless battle ensued. This time, both groups, retreated a few hundred yards from each other, in view of each others camps.

“Look at them.” said Bleda, as he bled out. “So far and yet so close.”

Attila narrowed his eyes at the tribe, sitting, lying and dying, just a little way off. His visibility was poor. A strong wind storm was building as dusk fell. “They’re tough but one more round and we’ll have them. We’ve twice as many men.”

“I’ll have a word with them and see how they’re feeling.”

Atilla looked at Bleda incredulously. “Feeling?”

“I mean, I’ll just see how they’re doing.”

Bleda took medical supplies, which consisted of a bowl of porridge. With some of the more able bodied men, Atilla made basic tents, beds and fire for cooking. Bleda returned as night settled in. “We had a vote and we’ve decided to cancel the next battle.”

Atilla blinked at his brother. “The other tribe is weakening. One more push and we’ve got them. We could blow them over right now. Just one more day.”

“We took a walloping Atilla. We lost horses…and men.”

Attila went to his horse and stroked it lovingly, then glanced at the enemy tribe. “Liked the way you said horses first. But the men are also important.”

“I agree. We should take a rest, then back to base.”

“We’ve travelled too far to give up now. I can’t understand your thinking Bleda. Those men are child’s play.” He thumbed at the wounded tribe ahead. “It’ll be like taking candy from a baby. How are we supposed to conquer the Jurchen next month like we planned, if we can’t take on half a dozen dying men?”

“The 19th.” said Bleda. “We need to put that on hold for a bit while your leg heals.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my leg.”

“It’s falling off your torso.”

“I can still fire an arrow.”

“Your arm’s broken too.”

Attila lifted his right arm. “I can use this…and my teeth.”

“Come on Attila, admit it, you’re a mess. We’ve decided that we will ask the other tribe to join us for dinner in our tents.”

Attila looked at Bleda incredulously.

“We’re going to have a cooking competition instead.”

“I’m a warrior, not a cook!” said Attila. “I leave cooking to the women.”

“You don’t understand, it’s becoming really manly to cook. Everybody’s doing it. Surely you have some good recipes under your belt Attila. What about your maggoty cheese and yak milk pudding?”

“I don’t do that any more.”

“If we had a little chat with them, they might give us tips on how to make our gruel taste and look better.”

“And lose our valuable medical supplies?”

“But think about your stew Attila, it has heaps of potential, with some nice fresh bread on the side and some herbs and spices, to season. It would go down a storm.”

Atilla put his hand up. “Enough! I won’t hear any more about food. I’ll run you through myself!”

“You wouldn’t…”

“One of these days Bleda…”

Atilla walked away.

“Where are you going?”

“To bed.”

“How about a nice warm glass of mares blood for a nightcap?”

“Have you been bleeding my horses again?”

“I may have nicked a vein.”

Attila raised an eyebrow.

“It was ages ago, an old wound, the horse is fine. The blood however, is most refreshing.”

“I must admit, I am a little thirsty.”

“One glass of refreshing mares blood coming up!”

Bleda fetched the glass of blood and gave it to Atilla, but not before he’d laced it with a heavy dose of a natural plant sedative he’d found in the wilds. Attila drank it in one gulp. He was out like a light before the drinking songs had broken out. While he slept like a baby, Bleda invited the opposing tribe to their camp.

The tribe gathered around the welcoming fire and swapped recipes and cooking methods through the night. They got into heated debates and discussions about whose food was cooked better or prepared well. They let Attila’s men taste their bread and eat their gruel. “This bread is fresh,” said Bleda, “and such a springy soft texture.” They dipped the bread in the gruel. There were approving noises all round. “This is delicious.” said Bleda. “What’s in it?”

“Rice, wheat, lentils, chickpeas…and a balance of herbs and spices.” said the leader.

After eating the bread and the gruel, Bleda let him and his men taste Attila’s famous stew. They nodded approvingly and licked the wooden platters clean. “This is amazing.” said the leader. “I would recommend some of our herbs and spices, to go with it, perhaps a pinch of horse sweat, but not too much, you don’t want to spoil the delicate flavour.”

The two tribes decided they would stop fighting each other, for the time being, and tomorrow they would have a cooking competition. As they talked, the night grew old and Attila slept on.

The next day, Attila woke with a thunderous headache. He put his hand on his head and groaned. “That must have been some mares blood I drank last night.” He stumbled to his feet and folded up his blanket. He could hear a commotion outside his tent and wondered if they’d started battling with the opposing tribe without him. He may have had a hangover to end them all, but he was sure some of his men would have attempted to wake him. He didn’t like to miss the start of a fight.

The noise made him feel delicate but he pulled open the flap of the tent. Instead of seeing men running each other through, and blood spurting this way and that, there were people sitting cross- legged on the grass, nursing makeshift bowls. They were lovingly stirring the contents of various delicious smelling concoctions with large wooden spoons. In another area, men were pinching aromatic herbs and spices between their fingers and sprinkling them over bowls of soup. In another, a group of men were kneading bread. It smelled wonderful. Attila rubbed his eyes, perhaps he was still asleep. He rubbed them again. No, he was awake alright.

“Ah, you’re awake!” said Bleda. “For a moment, I thought I’d given you too much.” He slapped Attila on the back with a floury hand. “Good job you can take your drink…and your downers. Come here, wait ’til you see this.”

I am still dreaming, thought Attila, as he walked with Bleda to the various cooking stations.

“Look at this gruel Atilla!Taste it. It’ll get rid of your hangover.”

Before he could protest, someone was spooning the glorious soup into his mouth. “What is it?” asked Attila between mouthfuls.

Bleda clapped his hands together and paused for dramatic effect. “It’s gruel!”

“It’s not my gruel.” said Attila.

Bleda dragged Attila away, to another cooking stall. “Now, have a taste of this. It melts in the mouth.”

Atilla took a bite of bread while everyone waited with baited breath. He was pulled away to two horse riders side by side, surrounded by a small crowd of people. “What’s going on?” he demanded.

“Inspect the horses ass.” said Bleda.

Atilla did so.

“No, higher up.” said Bleda. “Under the saddle.”

Atilla quickly peeled back the saddle of one of the horses.

“Here, side by side,” explained Bleda, “are the two competitors. Under that saddle is your famous stew and under the next one is the stew of the other contestant, the opposing tribe. We will get two riders to jump up and down on the horses to mash and cook the two stews. We will do this under clinical conditions. The cooking will take place over an allocated time, say an hour, for practical purposes, which will simulate the mix of friction and heat made on, say, an hours ride through the steppes. Then we will judge the stew and see which one is the best.”

Atilla looked up at the horse riders. “But I’m the only one who can make my stew!”

Bleda laughed. “Of course and if you feel up to it…”

Atilla didn’t need to be asked twice. His hangover was mostly gone, thanks to the delicious breakfast he’s just had. The horse rider got down and Attila took his rightful place on top of his beloved horse and stew cooker. “Let the games begin!” he yelled. Everyone cheered.

“Right, on your marks -get set-go!” said the adjudicator. The two warriors jumped up and down on their horses, mashing together meat and veg until it was reduced to a tasty stew.

The other tribes gruel won hands down, as did their bread. Atilla won in the stew section. A feast followed, with all the winning and even the losing dishes being consumed with great relish. Attila gave their awful gruel to the other tribe as medical supplies and also some of the wild garlic so they could make garlic bread for the first time. The other tribe allowed a choice selection of their finest herbs and spices to flavour Attila’s stew. They had a most delicious banquet. Mares blood and fermented yak milk was served and prizes were given to the winners at the end, entitled ‘The Best Of The Steppes’

Attila proudly stood, while the adjudicator placed a makeshift necklace round his neck. “This is to certify that Attila’s stew is the best in the land, certainly the best in the steppes.”

“Speech! Speech!” cried the men.

Attila cleared his throat. “Thank you. I would like to name my stew Butt Grinder Casserole.” Applause rang round the steppes. “I hope it’s a dish that is recognised for its cooking method, as much as its taste. And I would like people to think of me every time they eat Butt Grinder Casserole.”

The Whistler and The Inventor

The inventor had been commissioned to design and build a bridge, with some payment up front and the rest when he presented final blueprints. “Another commission to make another boring thing.” he said grumpily. As he worked away, a little girl entered his workshop. “Oh! It’s a toyshop!” she exclaimed excitedly.

He looked at her from over his glasses. “This most certainly is not a toyshop! What do you want?”

“I’m lost.”

“Where are your family?”

“If I knew that,” she said closing the door behind her and coming further into the room, “I wouldn’t be lost.”

He was about to tell her to leave him alone, when he realized it was actually quite refreshing that she wasn’t bowing and scraping, like most people, and most people knocked before they entered his workshop.

“I know where they went,” she said, “and if my assumptions are correct, they’ll be passing here to look for me.”

“Where did they go?” he asked, putting the blueprint on his desk. He knew he wasn’t going to get any work done for the moment.

“They went to market.”

“Can’t you go find them?” he snapped. He hated distractions and he didn’t like anyone coming into his workshop, unless they were learned men like himself and this was a very forward little girl.

“What I could do, is wait here until they pass by. Why expend energy chasing after them when I could sit here in this interesting room with you? Besides, my mother and father are the ones who should be frantically looking for me, not the other way round.”

The inventor peered at her again, then took off his glasses and rubbed at the space between his eyes. He decided he could add precocious to forward.

“You may stay, but please be quiet. I have work to do.”

“I’ll have to have the door open so that I can see my parents pass by.” The little girl opened the door and all the sounds of the street rushed in. He would never get any work done now. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“What are you working on?” she asked looking at the blueprint.

“A mobile bridge.”

“Whoever heard of a mobile bridge?”

“Exactly, which is why I’m inventing one.”

“That sounds fun. Can I look at the map?”

“It’s not a map. It’s a blueprint.”

“Blueprint, map, it’s all the same to me. What’s your name?”

“Leonardo.” He puffed out his chest. “Leonardo Da Vinci. You may have heard of me.”

“Oh, yes, I recognise you now. You’re the man who owns the donkey stall!”

“No, I do not! I’m known for my inventions and my painting.”

“Do you paint people’s houses?”

“No, I do not!”

“Leo Nerdo…that’s quite a long name to remember. May I call you Leo?” He nodded, exasperation rendering him mute. “I’m Caterina.” she said, looking around the workshop. She picked up something on his desk. “What’s this?”

“That’s a water powered gyroscopic compass. Please put it down, it’s a prototype.”

“And what’s this?” she cried excitedly, spinning a wooden contraption that hung from the ceiling. “That’s an aerial screw!” He got to his feet quickly and grabbed it to stop it rotating.

“And what’s this?” She picked up a drawing from the table. “A man with no clothes on and he’s got four arms and four legs?”

“That’s Vitruvian Man.” said the inventor. “Don’t smudge it!”

Caterina pointed to a painting on an easel. “And who is this lady?”

“That’s Mona Lisa.” He puffed himself out again. “Do you see her enigmatic smile?”

“Does she have wind? This place is messy Leo. Let me help you clean up.” Immediately, she began to recover a pile of scrolls from the floor.

“No, don’t do that!” he said in a panic. “I’ll never be able to find anything!”

She ignored him and put the scrolls behind the door. She found a brush and began to sweep the floor. As she swept, she whistled a tune. The inventor relaxed a little and found that he was able to work away as she whistled. He dipped his quill in the ink on his desk and began to write and draw. Eventually, Caterina stopped whistling and put the broom away.

“Why have you stopped whistling?” he asked.

“I thought I might be annoying you.”

“Not at all. Please continue. I can’t whistle and you do it very well. That’s a beautiful tune.”

“What? You can’t whistle?” she said. “I thought everyone could whistle.”

Leo returned his quill to the ink stand and looked at her. “But I can’t.”

She laughed. “It’s easy. I can teach you if you like.”

“Please do.”

She went to him. “Well, purse up your lips like this, no, like this, that’s better and push air out of them like this, no, you’re doing it wrong.”

For half an hour, the little girl tried to teach the inventor to whistle but it was no good. Presently, the little girls parents passed by the door. “My mother and father are here!” she cried out happily. “Goodbye Leo.” It was suddenly quiet and empty in the workshop. He tried to work but he was so distracted by the fact that he couldn’t whistle, that he stopped working on the blueprints for the bridge. He decided that if he couldn’t whistle, he would invent some kind of whistling aid, something that would enable him to whistle as tunefully as Caterina. Immediately, he began working on it.

Six weeks later, a man came with a final contract for Leonardo to sign, upon completion of the final plans for the bridge, but he’d been working on plans for something that would help him whistle. He’d modelled a head with eyes, nose and mouth that looked amazingly like him. When you pulled a lever at the side of the head, the lips pursed and a tuneful whistle came out. He sat looking at it now, while the man with the contract waited for him to sign. Leonardo picked up his quill, dipped it into the ink and paused. “I can’t sign this.” he said. “I haven’t finished the plans for the bridge.”

“Why not? You were meant to have them by the end of this week.”

“I’ve been working on something else instead.” he said. “It’s taken up all my time.”

The man looked at the whistling head. “Not that thing I hope.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Leonardo asked defensively.

“Look, I need you to sign this contract, the builders are waiting for instructions to build the bridge.”

“I don’t have it. It’s not ready.”

“Well, when will it be?”

“Another two months perhaps.”

“I can wait another week, not one day more.” The man left, taking the unsigned contract with him.

Leonardo sat there for a few minutes dumbfounded. He should have been working on the plans for the bridge – not the whistle. He didn’t care about the bridge, he just wanted to be able to whistle. A little girl could whistle and he couldn’t. It got to him, why, he didn’t know.

Just to make things worse, his whistle invention had come to nothing.

Just then, as if to taunt him further, he heard a beautiful whistling pass by his workshop. He ran to the door and flung it open, and there she was, skipping by, whistling, the same little girl from over a month ago. “Hello,” she said brightly. “How are you?” Caterina was with her mother this time and when the woman saw who it was, she bowed, stuttered and blushed to meet such a celebrated figure. “Oh, Signor De Vinci…I do apologise for my daughter’s familiarity.”

“Not at all.” said Leo. He looked down at the girl. “Do you have a moment Caterina? I was wondering if you could help me with something.” She nodded, let go of her mothers hand and stepped inside. The mother froze, too surprised to follow. Leonardo showed her the mannequin head, demonstrated it proudly and told her how he’d spent all his time doing that, when he should have been working on the bridge. Caterina smiled. “This is clever but you don’t need to whistle.”

“But I am Leonardo De Vinci and I should be able to whistle or invent a contraption to make me whistle. Plus you said it was easy.”

“Not for everyone. Some people just can’t. Accept it and be happy with the things you can do.”

Leonardo sighed. “You’re right. I was being conceited and vain…and not very modest. The only trouble is, I don’t have time to work on the plans for the bridge now. I’ll have to do about six weeks work in one week. I will lose my commission.”

“If I helped you, perhaps we could get it done in time.”

“You? But you’re just a little girl!”

Caterina raised an eyebrow. “Not so little.”

Leonardo shook his head. “I’m sorry, that was a conceited thing to say.”

“I’m very good at drawing.” she said. “And I’m good with numbers, perhaps I could help you with your blueprints?”

“And you can also whistle.” he said. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

“I could say the same thing to you.” she said.

Caterina helped Leonardo with his plans for the bridge, much to the delight of her mother, who brought him cakes and presents and many blushes. Caterina and Leo managed to cram six weeks into one. When the man came with the contract, Leo was able to sign it. He realized he didn’t need to whistle after all. He was Leonardo De Vinci, a genius, and he was going to start work on plans for another flying machine tomorrow. He said goodbye to Caterina, and as she walked away, he could hear her whistling a happy tune. He pursed his lips, blew and a whistle came out. She heard him and ran back into the workshop. “See! You can do it Leo? All you needed was to loosen up a bit and be little less serious.” She pointed to the painting of Mona Lisa, on the easel. “Be a bit more like her, but less windy.”

A Car Called Bastard

I can’t help thinking how nurses look so young these days, but that’s because I’m old. These girls are pretty but not as pretty as Moira. One of them reminds me of my daughter, the other belle of my life. She has the same baby blue eyes.

The nurses like this time of year when the garden turns to red and gold. They gather the falling fruit and put me by the window to watch the dancing leaves and the jack o lanterns.

Kids come to visit the other residents and remind me of my grandchildren, so full of life when they were alive. Everywhere I look there are memories, some of them happy, most of them painful beyond comprehension. I’m reminded, all the time, of everything that has happened. I have lost so much, so many loved ones, and all of them so young. And it’s all my fault. I don’t do much crying these days. They say you can be too sad to cry, but today, to my surprise, the tears are rolling.

These youngsters are all dressed up for Halloween and they tear round the garden playing tag and pretending to put curses on each other. I can’t wipe the tears that fall, the accident put a stop to that. Luckily, if a nurse comes by, she’ll think it’s just my rheumy eyes. I couldn’t bear for her to wipe them away. I still have some dignity left. I want to tell these kids that it’s not harmless fun, to put spells on people. I want to tell them to stop, it’s no fun at all, it’s anything but.

Witchcraft has run through my family right back to 1692, a number of my ancestors were burned as witches. My great grandmother taught me how to dowse and read palms and tarot. She had a whole shelf full of spell books. It kind of missed a generation with my grandmother but my mother was into it big time. She never owned a spell book in her life, never needed one, she’s always been a natural. If anyone upset her in some way, she would curse them in a blink of an eye. She was like Jesus cursing the fig tree. I saw her do it many times, people would become ill or suddenly have awful money or relationship troubles. Sometimes they would die unexpectedly. Sometimes it would be objects she would target, like buildings, and they would burn to the ground, become flooded, uninhabitable and eventually demolished. Sometimes it would take months, or even years to break a person or an object down, but when it happened, she would look at me proudly and say, ‘Do you see that son? I did that.’

There was one time when I was very young, she met a woman in authority, of a certain status. a doctor, lawyer, bank manager, something of that ilk. I don’t remember much of what went on but what impressed upon me, even at that young age, was how attractive, wealthy, sharply dressed and extremely competent the woman was. As we were walking out of the building, my mother was furious, her pride hurt over something or other. I couldn’t remember what had transpired back there but she said to me. ‘The next time you see that woman, she’ll be begging on the street, scrabbling in dustbins and having sex with strangers.’

Being so young, I didn’t comprehend the levity of what she said, but to my utter shock, five years later when I was walking down the street, there she was, that powerful confident woman, but now she was dazed, in dirty old clothes, her good looks and strong presence faded with the ravages of her ill fortune. She turned to my mother and begged for money. Mother turned to me, smiled and said, ‘Told you so. I cursed the bitch. I cursed her to hell.’ And with that, she gleefully tossed a coin to the woman, who scrambled for it hopelessly, before it rolled down a drain.

I had no doubt as to mother’s power. I never thought it was bad or good, it just was. I envied her, her weapon of revenge, a deadly weapon that need never be detected, a weapon for which there was no consequence, no reprimand. I experimented but I never seemed to have my mothers touch. I used to call it the Midas touch in reverse, everything she touched turned to shit.

I got into Hollywood easily with my mixture of rough charm and physical prowess. Moira was just the prettiest girl and she wasn’t even in the acting business. Well, she was in a sense, she was a make up artist. I wanted to get up at 4.30a.m so badly, if I knew it meant being in her chair, with her hands gently stroking my face.

It was ironic really, as a stuntman, I didn’t need much make up, but she would practice on me. Sometimes she dispensed with brushes, didn’t use them, and I would be in ecstasy as her fingers blended the foundation into my skin. When it came to Moira, I was as tongue tied as hell, and for some reason, I couldn’t even flirt half decently when it came to her, never mind asking for a date.

So many mornings she practised on me, when she was just starting out. And in return, I would let her onto the set to see the actors I was doing the stunts for. I was never going to be front of camera, I don’t have the face for it. But she should have been in front of it, with her face and her delicate touch, so feathery light and yet so purposeful, like she wanted to reach into my soul.

This is why I had to mess with him. If he’d have just left her alone, at that moment when I was about to ask her out, then everything would have been okay, because believe me, I was about to, at some point along the way. I had had enough make overs to last a lifetime. She thought she was practising her art but it was my heart she was practising on.

“So, how’s the stuntman business?” she asked as I slid into the make up chair one lunchtime to practice on me. She was like that. Half a sandwich would be sitting on the dressing table in front of me. I could see the bite taken out of it. I would see the imprint of her teeth, her mouth, and imagine those lips on mine.

“You’re very talkative today.” she said, pulling me out of my daydream. She wouldn’t have pulled me out of my night time ones quite so easily. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”

I felt her warm breath on my neck as she let out a little laugh. I shuddered slightly. The soft, sensual scent about her that day, hung like an elusive mist around us both.

“I like it when my actors keep still. They usually move around too much. It’s like they’ve got ants in their pants.”

Her emphasize on the word ‘actors’ was our little joke. I was her actor while I was in her chair and she was my actress when she came on set.

And I suppose that’s when it all started, on set. I would sneak her on sometimes, usually just within the boundaries, out of sight of the directors, who were strict about things like that, especially for wet-behind-the-ears make up apprentices. So I would sneak her on, way behind the cameras and the wooden partitions, and one time, I sneaked her on during one of his takes.

“Wow,” she said in awe. “He’s beautiful.”

I turned to her and she must have seen the anger in my eyes, for she said, quick as a flash, “Of course, he’s too much of a pretty boy for me.”

I grimaced. Oh, how sad, to be so pretty that she wouldn’t even consider him. How very unlucky for him. Just like the car crash that came after really. Unlucky. Isn’t bad luck sometimes called a curse? Am I, was I, the curse, and does the curse ever get to die?

Two weeks later, I went to sit in the chair and she was nowhere to be seen. Her make up, which was usually spread out on the counter, was gone. No brushes, no perfume, no her. It was much later that day, I finally saw her in the canteen. She was excited, different. She always had a twinkle in her eyes and a warm smile for me, but yeah, I couldn’t deny it, she was more sparkly than usual, bouncier.

“You’ll never guess what just happened?”


“Well, the powers that be have seen how I always give up my lunchtime for my art.”


“The Chief make up artist. She’s seen my work, been watching me, and apparently I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?”

She smiled and it lit up her whole face. “I’m going to do him!”

I stared at her. “Do him?”

“You know, pretty boy.”

“Oh.” Deflated wasn’t the word.

“Of course, he’s more than just that.” she said composing herself quickly. “He’s intelligent and such a good actor, deeply sensitive, plus, I’m not star struck. I’m professional now. It’s all about the make up, the make up comes first.”

She flounced off and I didn’t see her for several weeks, she had moved to a new dressing room.

After that, she was with him most of the time. I didn’t have to sneak her on set any more, she could come and go as she pleased, but she would always look at me, almost wistfully. Perhaps in some small way, she was missing our little get-togethers at the dressing room mirror. I certainly was but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Then a week or so later, she approached me. “He’s asked me out,” she said.


“You know who.”

“Pretty boy?”

She smiled a little but not much. “That’s right. What do you think I should do?”

“I thought you were already going out with him. You’re practically inseparable and drooling over him all the time.”

“We’re not going out…yet.”


She began to blush and twist her fingers nervously between her hands. “We’re not…an item.”

“Really?” I said, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice. “I thought he’d have well got his end away by now.”

I saw the hurt and shock reach her eyes, then just as quickly, I saw the anger flash in them. She turned on her heel and stormed off.

I first saw the car a couple of weeks after that and it took me over the edge. It was a Porsche 550 Spider. I wondered how many times he’d parked with her.

I began to realise that it simply wasn’t enough to flaunt it in my face, to take my girl, he had to dress up that Porsche a little bit more. He gave it tartan covered seats, got two red stripes daubed over the rear wheels. On the doors, hood and engine cover was the number 130. People used to come over and admire it. They would be in awe of it but to me, that car was a little bastard, just like its owner.

I started drinking in a local bar, nursing my hurts and chewing the cud. One night I went home and consulted the tarot, my mother had never needed stuff like that, but maybe I did. I discovered I was good at reading the cards. They told me unequivocally what I should do. If I didn’t do it, he would run away with the only girl I had ever loved. I had never followed in my mother’s footsteps, I wasn’t a serial curser like she was. The opportunity, or rather the drive had never come up before. I wasn’t like her, The Queen Of Curses, doing it to everything and everyone on a whim, but like her, my pride was hurt and my heart ached. Suddenly I had motivation.

When they were at the canteen one lunchtime, I went outside to take a look at it. I put my hand gently on the hood, just above a headlamp. I prayed to Lucifer that he would die in that car. I prayed for an accident. Then I went back to work.

The next day, I saw them together on set. She was touching up his make up. He had his arm around her waist. It was like I’d been punched in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe. I made some excuse about feeling sick and ran outside into the parking lot. And that’s when I saw it. ‘Little Bastard’ had been painted onto the car. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes, thinking it was some sort of wish fulfilment on my part, a crazy hallucination, so I ran my finger through the ‘B’.

It was still wet. What had possessed him? Was it me?

I stepped back from the car, shocked at the strength of my own curse.

I was to become a lot more surprised a few weeks later when I watching a ball game in my local bar and it was interrupted by a news bulletin. I nearly choked on my beer and one of the other bar flies had to thump me on the back to stop the coughing.

The first thing I did, after nearly choking to death was to find out if she was in the car too. I was so relieved to find out she wasn’t, that I cried like a baby. People thought I was crying for him, maybe I was.

She was upset for a time but I was a good shoulder to cry on. Months later, she told me that she’d always wanted me to ask her out. So I did, finally. We married quickly. We had a son, a daughter and three grandchildren. And she never suspected. How could she?

“How are you today?” A nurse has come over to give me a drink with a straw in it. Then she feeds me. I never answered her question. And when she asks again, I only need to nod or shake my head and she’ll understand me, on a basic level. I see pity in her face as I nod. She wrinkles her nose slightly at the smell and says, as casually as she can. “Oh, I think you might need a new diaper.”

Then she pulls the screen over and brings it around me.

Later, when I’m all changed and smelling fresh, my one and only living relative comes to visit, my only surviving child from the crash. She’s not been the same since the accident, obviously. It’s been five years now. She still has nightmares, still sees her siblings bloodied faces, lying crushed beneath her maimed children.

There were seven people in the car, me, my son, my wife, my daughter and her children, my three grandchildren on laps, no-one belted in. My daughter was the only survivor, besides me. I can’t stand the pain in her eyes. It goes so deep. She is still going to counselling, still cries herself to sleep at night. She was so vibrant, now she’s a shell of a woman, and there’s nothing I can do…except confess.

But what would I tell her exactly? That I was jealous of her mothers boyfriend and decided to put a curse on his car. That he died in that car, but she lived and we went on to have a happy life together. Would she believe the second part of it, that five years ago, I had bought a Porsche 550 Spider steering wheel from an antique car fare and installed it in the family car, unaware that it came from ‘Little Bastard’. Unaware, until it was too late. I guess I thought I was being clever, a reminder of my powers and what I’d got away with. I never thought it could be the same one, until now.

The car had been a right off. After they got me out, the whole thing went up in flames, leaving just a husk, and yet, not a mark on that old steering wheel.

As I look into the sad deadened eyes of my daughter who was once so happy, I truly do feel like confessing, I can’t bear living with the pain I’ve caused, but instantly, I feel a pain in my chest and a shortness of breath. My daughter calls for the nurse, then gets a doctor and the screen goes round me once more.

There’s a bit of poking and prodding and I don’t feel very much of it, then they put me to bed. Looks like I won’t be seeing the Halloween celebrations after all. The doctor came round again a bit later. “You’re doing just fine.” His grin was like a terrible grimace, stretching from ear to ear. “You’ve a heart like an ox and you’re a very healthy man despite your years. So, don’t you worry,” he promised, as he pulled the covers back over my paralysed body. “You’re going to live for a long time yet, a good long time.”

Diamond Is A Girl’s Best Friend

What am I doing in the newspaper today? Did I just make a new movie? Did I tell the world about my journal, about Bobby and Jack, about Chile and the Bay Of Pigs? People would never believe that I could be interested in those things and write them down. I wrote a whole lot of other stuff that had nothing to do with politics. There was a method in my madness and I’m good at pillow talk. It’s surprising what people will divulge when their guard is down. Maybe you didn’t think I would know a word like divulge. You thought I was dumb. Well, there are a lot of things you don’t know about me. I’m a fast learner and it’s surprising what you can learn between the sheets and then use against someone when the chips are down. That sounds mean and I’m not a mean person but I’m just fed up of being treated like a piece of meat.

So, that photograph, in the New York Times, blowing along the wet street right now, that’s me with my blonde curls, in my white dress covering my generous curves. I remember my curves and so do all the men. I remember that photograph being taken as if it was yesterday. It’s the one where I’m not wearing any underwear. My dress billows up around my thighs but I manage to keep it down with both hands. It’s a good job there wasn’t anybody hiding in the grate underneath. They’d have got an eyeful for sure. I used to be her, that woman in the photograph. A Hollywood starlet who became a huge star. It’s difficult to remember, it seems so far away.

I’m confused. I see my photograph in the newspaper but I also see my reflection in a large store window in down town New York and they don’t match, not even a bit. I’m not the woman in the photo any more. In fact, I’m not a women at all. I remember that sexy, vital, alive person that I was. Men would say those things about me. Sexy. Vital. Alive. Funny that, because sometimes, I couldn’t be more dead inside.

Strange, how they saw me. They thought I was actually what it said on the tin. And maybe I was, sometimes. Or maybe that was an act. Or maybe that was just a part of me, or none at all.

Now I am getting confused, because as I walk forward to the big glass front of the New York store, I see that I am very small against the huge window, a scruffy little thing. I feel small and vulnerable, like a child. It reminds me of when I was a child. A man, a lodger in my home, lured me into his room, did things to me and told me not to tell anyone, because nobody would believe me if I did.

I could even scream if I wanted to but I wouldn’t be heard, I wouldn’t be believed or heard.

But, despite this, I told my mom and she slapped me across the face and said I was a liar.

Well, all I can say is, that man was right. I wasn’t believed. He didn’t know her at all, yet, he was able to paint everyone with the same brush like that, and come up smiling. He was completely on the nail there, very sure of himself. But how did he know I wouldn’t be believed? How do men like that know?

After that, I developed a stutter. It never really went away but it was bad for a few years after that and particularly in my early teenage years. I was able to control more as I got older. I could make it go away most times, if I tried hard enough. I am an actress you know.

But when I get nervous or anxious, it comes back. I don’t have a voice now. I can’t seem to speak.

I’m right up to the glass and staring inside. A little girl is staring right back at me. She comes out of the store, stands and stares. She doesn’t look quite so little any more, she’s about eleven, twelve and has a calmness about her that I never had. That’s a comforting trait in another person, if you’ve never had it yourself.

Something tells me she’s a good person, not like Bobby or…Jack, or the others, not like all the other John’s who used me and left.

When I say John’s, I make it sound like I’m a prostitute or something. Ha. Why is that funny? I guess it’s not.

Well, I sort of…when I’ve been with men, I’ve always meant it, somehow, even when I didn’t.

The casting couches don’t count. I needed to get something back because there was no way out.

It was kinda weird, ‘cos I knew men. After all, a man had wanted me that way when I was eight. I was always wanted in that way, even when I didn’t want to be wanted. I was desirable to men from the onset, so, like I said, there was no way out, had never been a way out, no respite.

Wait! I remember now! I’m an icon. That’s what they call me. It was nice being an icon, sometimes. I needed the world to love me but I also wanted to love back. I wanted to be a mother so badly. A mother to a girl like that one standing outside the store. She’s looking at me in such a peculiar way. There’s a woman with her now and they’re talking and still looking at me. Now the woman walks towards a car, but the girl is still standing there, staring, for the longest time.

I think I’d have been a good mother. I wouldn’t have slapped my daughter if she’d have told me some man had done something to her. Children don’t tend to lie about stuff like that. I understand the shock and horror at first, but at some point, I’d have pulled myself together and sorted it somehow, to protect my daughter and make her feel safe. I’d try to make sure it never happened again. At the least, I’d know what not to do.

Looking back, I guess my mum couldn’t handle it. Unlike some moms I’ve heard of, who might enjoy the whole thing. My mom at least had the decency to go insane. In my mind, that gives her an out. Her insanity, her guilt, shows me she cares on some basic level. So that excuses her, and yes, I’d like to think I’d be a good mother. Or at least, know what not to do.

I also think I was a good friend. People said, I was just a dumb blonde. I hated playing all those dumb blonde parts. I could say you were dumb, or the person next to me is dumb but you don’t know what’s cooking inside. How dare people make assumptions about me. I’m a little hot headed. I might be a little crazy. I might be a little insecure now and again, but who isn’t?

I’m a quiet thoughtful kind of gal these days and empty vessels make the most sound. Isn’t that what they say? My last husband taught me how to hold still with myself, how to have a little healthy introspection. Playwrights know about things. But maybe I was a dumb blonde on occasion. Who doesn’t make mistakes?

I wasn’t stupid enough to know I wasn’t being used. And I was clever enough to know, my bust could get me places, straight on the road to Hollywood. I am also smart enough to know that my biggest mistake was to confide in my own mother. I guess you could say ‘she’ and ‘him’ helped make me who I am today…among others. There’s only two ways to go when you’ve been introduced to sex too early. You either go the closed legs way or the wide open legs way. No prizes for guessing which way I went.

Some people make a mockery of nature, they twist it and eat unripe fruit, but despite everything, I always thought sex was a beautiful thing. Early experience opens you up whether you want it to or not and whether you keep it to yourself or not. A door is opened, somewhere, never to be closed again.

The skull of a new born baby is soft, malleable. You can be modelled into any shape when the clay is still soft, then the shape stays.

I shiver now. I got wet when it rained earlier. That girl is coming over. She kneels beside me and talks in a soothing voice. Then she feel around my neck. “Thought so,” she says, “I’ve seen you around here for a day or two now. You don’t belong to anyone, do you?”

I tried to talk back but some kind of strangled something came out. She laughed and a hand came out to stroke my damp fur. “We need to get you dry.” she said. Then she turned and shouted to the woman standing by the car. “Mum, you were right! She doesn’t have a collar. Can you bring the blanket?” The woman immediately went round to open the trunk, took out a pink blanket and came towards us. I was gently rubbed down with the blanket, then the girl wrapped me up in it and carried me to the car.

I may smell of wet dog right now but I feel very special. Perhaps it was my birthday today and that’s why I was splashed on the centre page of the newspaper. Some sort of anniversary, but not of my life…of my death.

I wonder, who was it I talked to about reincarnation all those years ago? Was it Joe? Or Henry? Or Frank? Or maybe one of my girlfriends? It doesn’t matter who it was, but, if they could see me now…

Once we were in the car, the girl stroked me behind my ear and said thoughtfully, “I think I’ll call you Diamond. Would you like that?” Some strangulated sound came out again, but it’s okay, I’ll work on it, like I worked on my stutter.

Her eyes widened in delight and she cuddled me close. “I love you!” she said. Oh God. Why did I never hear that before? If a puppy could cry, I would right now. I seem unable to contain my joy any longer. My tongue comes out and licks the girls face.

One animal is much like another. We’re all slaves to the flesh. Dogs hump other dogs. Hollywood stars hump other Hollywood stars. I sure as hell ain’t blonde any more. I don’t have that white dress that blew up as I stood on that vent. I didn’t think that would go off in history and be one of those, what was I talking about before? Oh yes, icons. An iconic moment in history. That world that I needed to love me, a million people, could never give me what this person is giving me now. She is giving me hope…and something else. I’m surrounded, suddenly and finally, by love. I don’t care too much how I got here. I’m just glad I did.