who do you want to be?
where do you want to be?
<<It's a glorious design>> Margaret was showing a leaf of marigolds to a customer one morning. <<Sans pareil, yeah -- without parall'l. It's imported, you know.>>
<<It looks good>> said the customer, who was imported as well <<but unfortunately I've never been keen on floral.>> He skimmed through the display book passing every conceivable shade of magnolia, more abstract designs featuring diamonds and Buddhist karmic wheels. He shut the book. <<Anyway, I thought wallpaper was out of style now.>>
The shop was empty for a long time after that. In the middle of the afternoon, like a Grey Enigma striding in from the rain, the door opened and there appeared the wet overcoat and bowler hat of Mr Jones, the landlord.
He shook out his Kensington West umbrella over her Lambeth North floor and said sardonically: <<Disgusting weather.>>
<<You should have been here Monday>> Margaret tried. <<Glorious sunshine then.>>
Mr Jones stopped to look at a Rousseau wallprint which had been hanging there the last time he dropped in. He had a soft spot for Rousseau and needed a new print for his office -- but now was not the time for shows of weakness! Who knows, the wench might figure him an easy touch, and start taking advantage. So he said, briskly: <<Let's get straight down to business, shall we. You've fallen behind rent twice now in six weeks. I can't support you forever you know. It interrupts my cashflow no end when you make your payments late.>>
Margaret did what she always did in periods of high anxiety: she started polishing the nearest surface space. <<Oh Mr Jones, I'm so sorry, I've been trying dreadfully hard. It's been SO slow. It's doing my head in, believe me.>>
<<It hasn't been that easy for me either>> Mr Jones said. The Rousseau print caught his eye again; steady, old boy he thought, principle... <<Can't you cut back or something?>>
<<The takings have been down 30 per cent all year. I've tried everything to stop it.>>
Mr Jones shrugged his shoulders, figuring it would come to this. He had done enough to scare the little lady, he reasoned -- there was no point being too harsh. Anyway, she wasn't exactly the only tardy tenant at the moment. Recession had gripped Britain with a bulldog might, and businesses were going under all over the place. Mr Jones himself could be the next house to fall. He knew that if he turfed her out prematurely, he would only be left with an empty shop. One probably taken over by Romanian squattors before the week was out, and converted into a crackhouse! He said, in a softer tone of voice: <<All right, I'll give you another week. But this is the last time, I've got my creditors too. I can't be dealing with it.>> He stole one last look at the print, tilted his hat and left.
Sometime later someone haggled for the print. <<Oh go on>> Margaret sighed <<20 pounds. You can have it.>>
Leeroy tabled a pouch full of yaba5, the latest Thai wonder drug. The night developed a similar texture: equatorial and fast. Leeroy's hands blurred over the turntables, dipping occasionally into his record box or Jasmin's welcoming lap. He did some berserk MC'ing in the bedroom - <<Petal>> yanking her clothes off piece by piece <<the narcissus has strewn silver in the way of the bridal rose.>>
Just before dawn he came down on a joint and brushed his teeth. He caught his face in the mirror, something he best avoided on nights like these, was trapped for a time in his own reflection... all five and a half of them. He punched a crack in the glass and asked the DJ to put something happier on.
<<Do you need a hand there?>> Margaret asked.
<<I'm just looking>> the customer said. Which was, unfortunately, all customers ever did these days.
Three hours later Margaret peeled the Super Sale: Up to 25% Off sign from the front window and rubbed out the 25. She marked a sunnier 30 and hoped.
Margaret had spent much of her life chasing promotions. When she was 14 she dated Bud McIntyre because he was Californian and liked SkaterPunk. She married an entrepreneur during the BioTech boom of the 2010s. These days he invested most of his earnings in the slot machines at the local Hog and Sundry, and the only bioengineering he did was manipulating little shoots of marijuana in the solarium. Bud McIntyre was fashionably unfaithful and lost all street cred anyhow when the New Romantics revival began in 2016.
<<I'm sorry it's out of a Tesco can and all>> shoving a jacket potatoful of baked beans into his face. <<Since you've cut another 30 per cent off the budget.>>
Jim was already drunk. <<Let me run the shop tomorrow, love>> he said. <<I'll have us back in black by dole day.>>
<<Oh that's a laugh, that is. I wouldn't trust you with the bleeding till.>>
<<You know what your problem is>> Jim said opening a can of Kestrel super strength with his teeth. <<You've got no initiative. Discount sales! Christ, everyone has discount sales.>>
<<What do you want me to do? Give away a set of steak knives with every purchase? A bottle of wine or something?>>
<<It might help in these parts.>> He shovelled the beans into his mouth. <<But for Christ's sake don't moan tonight. We'll run a promotion. We'll get that rent dosh.>>
He was one quarter Jamaican and a quarter Irish. It used to be a good mix, at one time or another.
He even found himself dancing one dawn, that new yaba being a particularly potent and delirious mix. He trod on someone's toe, another black bloke, who shook him up by the jacket until he saw his eyes in full strobe. He apologised. <<Safe, man. Hey man, do you want a stone?>>
<<This is a ruff kut>> Leeroy said in the toilets. <<How do you make a crust, mate? This is ruff-kut bizness!>>
The other bloke unfurled a sheet of acid tabs, neat row on row of smily faces, dahlias and voodoo skulls. He smiled as well.
<<Oh yeah>> Leeroy said. <<I deal a bit myself, sometimes. The trade's well tight these days, but.>>
The other bloke inhaled, squinted his eyes as if in pain, and released a couple of coke smoke rings. <<I don't just deal it, see>> he said. <<I mix it.>>
Leeroy felt like one of those geezers you hear about who wake up spontaneously combusting in the middle of the night, and the beat from the dancefloor outside was sociopathic. <<Give us a kut in the bizness man. I'm flat out skint.>>
The other bloke refereed his trainers, considered a booyakka examination. <<Hey man, what was your favourite lesson at school?>> he said instead.
<<Chemistry>> Leeroy said.
The other bloke laughed and gave him a safe, man fist. <<What's wrong with economics?>>
A second potential customer, whom Margaret had been surveying with all the apprehension of an air traffic controller, grabbed a wind chime from display and dashed it dingly-dangly out the door. <<You rotten sod>> Margaret said, chasing him on to the street. He was white, under 16 and wearing a Fila jacket and cap. He weaved into a crowd and the dangling of his chimes lost her in the rain and the loitering car soundsystems.
The first customer was gone. Margaret tossed the whole 100 feet roll on to the floor and sobbed. She locked up, caught the Tube home with barely enough rationality to consider a bath.
<<Oh sweety>> Jim peered up from the bathroom sink. He was in a variation of that marital strainer when all you can do is say <<Darling, I can explain...>> except his involved a straw up his nose. Why aren't you at work
<<Get out>> Margaret said.
She cooked a vindaloo for dinner and wept the whole way through a Channel Four documentary on milk pasteurisation. She wept for 12 years of discount sales. She wept for the demise of Deep Purple.
Brushing her teeth she saw Jim's last line of speed and was about to flush it down the sink when, remembering her occasional amphetamine adventures with Bud, the energy and the ecstasy and the synthetic joy -- the escape. She snorted it up greedily and finished brushing her teeth.
She was up all night after that. She mopped the floor raw four times and scrubbed every window. When the alarm rang at six and the sounds of Voodoo trance wafted up from below, she had herself an idea.
<<I'm not chuffed about stacking Boots' shelves all my days>> she told Leeroy once. <<I'm going to make somet'ing of this life, brother. I'm getting me some culcha, see.>>
Which entailed a visit to the National Gallery. Jasmin spent 23 minutes studying an early Rubens. <<Come on love, it's shit>> Leeroy said. <<Gawking at these dead ponces ain't going to get you no office job you know.>>
He was ready to ditch her in the art nouveau section when they came upon a Henry Rousseau painting of a tiger in a jungle. <<Well, this is more like it>> Leeroy said. <<Something I can relate to.>> He was vaguely stoned but there was something else transporting in that painting, maybe the clarity of the brushstrokes... Leeroy was entranced. <<Fuck's sake>> he managed. <<It's right colourful, in'it?>>
He split up with Jasmin that night. He dropped in at the plant and dowsed 30 square feet of acid wysteria with the partner. They mixed records after that and talked about business.
"I met this strange old bird when I was dealing at the Hog and Sundry yesterday," Leeroy said. "Tough as an old shoe she was, and she wanted to know if I was selling LSD. Not that she wanted to buy -- but she wanted to find a partner. She had this novel new idea for distribution, one that would totally beat the cops."
Leeroy was also chuffed, and moved rapidly up the bad boy charts. He was practically an institution.. He wallpapered his bathroom with her now legendary Frangipani 5 one day and threw a party to celebrate it. He fused into a corner under the toilet bowl, high on orchid fumes and the crackling heat of the canopy. <<Onward march de Afrrrrican Naaaation!>> he cried. Four of five junglists were there with him licking their way to Kingstown or wherever. <<Brudders and sistas come tagedder!>>
A frangipani flower sprouted creepers which slowly wrapped around his chest. Ants thundered over the walls. Leeroy lapped another petal and sighed <<Brrrritain is the larrrrgest island of the Carrrrrribbean. Brudders and sistas come tagedder!>>
JUMP TO: SECTION CASSIUS CROON (c)opyright Crunch Millennia 1996-2003.
Interactive photographic map of the entire world!
Korean Sights -- The Sights of Korea
The World of Flowers
The Temples of Asia
FaceOff -- The Faces of Asia
Great Cities of the World
Vikings Horns -- The Warriors of Iceland
BlurStream -- Human Movement
Singapore -- January 2003
A Photo Diary of Every Day of My Life
Photo Diary -- October 24 2003
The 70s Never Died, It Just Smells That Way
Start a Holy War
CHAPTER 1, FINGER LICKIN' GOOD -- Secret Agent Cassius Croon is assigned to infiltrate a secret London drugrunning scam.
The Life of Pi