Just Before The Rain (number nine)

There’s a lot of queer talk in this town about the flood. A lot of people saw a man come down the delta, just before that fat cloud split like a doll’s head. He hadn’t been seen in this greasy part of town before.

“Jus’ last week”, they said. “He came to the city on a dirty old raft of oil barrels and waxy bitsa rope”, they said.

– A man gets on a sunken board to speak, but reads a soggy journal ’til his fingers be blackened badly –

He came to anoint his own head with the filthy oils and grime of the spits, to canonise himself with caution (dicing tuesdays with the backstreet abortionists, splitting open the Chinese ladies, the contortionists – man, oh, man – who littered the gutters with their muddy sequins, sequins and secretions, boy, all that was yours to take now that the carnival had moved on).

“Simple times, son” he sang to the grinders, watching with a careless gob of an eye at their monkey gristle arms. He whistled, once, and ‘bang!’ – the rain pissed down upon his head, ripping open the straw hats of stoppered schoolgirls, soaking the jackets of the toothpick chewers.

The river had been good to him, he thought, as he surveyed his parish. Its soupy deposits had dropped him into a land in need of a saint; that was for sure.

He picked up his shepherd’s crook and his dogs’ collar, and shoved his hands into his ripped sackcloth pockets, scrabbling against his skin for some copper, for a suggestion of change.

Head or tail?

‘bang!’

He muttered shitterns to the sodden alley cats that congregated around his bare feet, and tossed the penny into the stinking mass of decomposing cardboard that sat, obese and stratified, in the doorway of Giovanni’s. Shapes moved in the boxes, and what may have been an old, old emperor shuffled in the dirt, fingernails scraping the matter to fumble change into dusty pants. Paris couldn’t choose between the two – why should anyone else give a groove for an apple?

Somewhere, and old black man was singing river songs to a clanging piano. “Oh river, bring me back my home… Muddy water taking all I know…” Over and over. Somewhere, people were listening.

Man, it didn’t stop raining for a long, long time…

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About Benjamin Norris

Published writer of short stories, long stories, poems. Well received art critic and cultural commentator for Berlin magazines. Collaborator with operatic societies. Co-writer of fictional historic psycholinguistic journals. Lecturer of architecture and art history at a Budapest University. View all posts by Benjamin Norris

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