A Piece of Ass. Part 4. Mermaid.
Ginny’s Palace was between Rolls, a shop that sold huge sausage rolls, and a children’s ball pit. Over the years every single one of the balls had been stolen so now it was just a hole in the ground.
Parents still brought their children there to play and sat sitting on the edge, staring desolately into the distance as down below their offspring crawled amongst the gathered detritus; used condoms, sardine tins with sharp serrated edges, bits of seaweed, old rain-soaked editions of the town’s newspaper, The Cryer, with its stories of serial rapists, bus shelter closures, raffles and coupons.
Corey’s job was mainly to sit behind a bullet-proof square of plexiglass and hand out the change. Ginny didn’t like him to make up the 1ps and 2ps into towers of £1 of 50p. She said it looked more professional if he counted out the coins for each transaction and besides, the customers would stay longer that way.
Each night his fingers smelt of copper, tin and zinc and he had dreams in which slowly he turned into metal. Most of them were not nightmares though and he slept well.
He slept in the basement of the shop.
Enlisting the help of the fishermen, saying the one who cleared the most junk would get a free run on the Queen of Sheba for five minutes, Ginny had sorted it for him on his first evening there.
The Queen of Sheba was her latest slot machine. It had a life size plexiglass model of the Queen herself sitting atop of it, her ruby lips glistening and her bosom swelling.
Some of the fishermen claimed she was the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen and if they weren’t already married…
After dark Corey went out collecting; a box of discarded ship’s lightbulbs which he fashioned into a single lamp, a voluminous pair of Starsky and Hutch swimming shorts which he had fixed above his bed to form a piece of wall art, and many thousands of used condoms which he found littered across the beach.
These he attached to the ceiling. They looked beautiful, the way they caught the light and also the way they felt as their tips caressed his head as he made his way around the room.
So many babies who would never be. Thank goodness.
His most treasured possession though was the piece of Eli's ass.
He only had to lay his palms on the pickling jar that contained it to find what was rushing through Eli's mind.
That his father was disappointed with him for getting caught with his own dick out in the synagogue during his cousin Isaac’s circumcision ceremony. Who wouldn’t want to compare? That he had called the Rabbi a doofus and that when the Rabbi told him he had to clean the synagogue’s prize candlestick he had put it up his bum instead and that kinda hurt as his ass still hadn’t healed fully after having a chunk bit out of it.
That he secretly enjoyed reading Animal Farm when they did it as a set text in English. That he disguised himself as one of the school’s Quaker boys to go to the school library incognito. That he had secreted in his shorts then read 1984 and thought it even better than Animal Farm. That actually he was amazed by it; the words, the language, the story. That he read 1984 again and then hunted out other books.
Brave New World.
The Sirens of Titan.
That he cried when Beth died.
That he had got an A on an English assignment and then when Kurt had found out and called him a poofter he had lied and said he had copied it off fat Ronald.
That Kurt had said it was alright then. That he had laughed when Kurt first set fire to his assignment and then put it out with his piss.
That he cried about it in bed at night because he had been proud of that little assignment.
That he didn’t know where he fit in in the world although he also knew that it was easier to go through life just pretending that he did.
That life was one big fucking joke.
Every Tuesday, his day off, Corey went first to the Post Office and Refugee Reporting Centre where he posted 80% of his wages to his mother and father and then he would ring them from the same piss-filled phone box he had called Ginny from.
Monte CarloTM was a hoot he would say. The sights. The smells. They wouldn’t believe them!
Afterwards, tears of pain in his eyes, he would go to the town’s library or, if he was feeling particularly sad, The Aquarium, where he would stand with his nose pressed to the tanks as aquarium staff in wetsuits and aqua lungs mimicked the moments of a porpoise, a manatee, a killer whale.
He didn’t even mind the tanks with the smaller fish in.
These were represented by gel moulds the staff connected to their bodies with dental floss.
Transfixed, his heart beat in joy, as whole shoals of clownfish, cichlids, gouramis and tetras went by.
It was remarkable.
The only other member of staff at Ginny’s Palace was Mary although she liked to be called Mermaid. Each morning she swam out to the rocks and called out to the fishermen. She said that she was using her beauty to entice these sorry fools to their deaths but she wasn’t beautiful and all of the fishermen knew her anyway as they were amongst Ginny’s Palace’s best customers.
They came in after each day’s fishing and turned their hard earned £1 notes into 1ps and 2ps and gambled their futures on the luck of the slots.
They were always dreaming of that one big win that would rescue them from a life of fishing although as the biggest win to date had been £9.56, the article from The Cryer was framed and fixed proudly to the wall, Old Joe had used the money to buy his wife the hairdryer she had always wanted, who knew what they were really thinking?
But that was gambling for you.
It was an escape.
And in a penny arcade nobody got hurt.
Fortunes were neither lost nor made. And that is the best that can be said about anything.
When Mary, or rather, Mermaid was on duty she worked behind the plexiglass while Corey did front of house.
He swept cigarette butts from the floor, wiped fingerprints from off the front of the machines, and intervened when any customer should attempt any unauthorised rocking of the penny-drops.
Every two hours he would walk around with a tray around his neck from which he sold light refreshments. These Ginny made herself in the back room; tiny herring roll-mops, paper bags of glistening winkles along with a pin to extract them, and something of her own invention, seaweed wigs. Most of the men, she said, were bald, and in the advertisements she posted around the arcade she highlighted how a seaweed wig would heighten a man’s attractiveness to women. As sales were flagging she made Corey himself wear one despite his protestations that it made him look like a tool and he didn’t care for the smell of seaweed.
But he enjoyed working there. The only blot on his horizon was that he was sure Mermaid was plucking up the courage to ask him out on a date. She would drop hints about how they would be married one day and they would create other little people just like themselves. One night Ginny had become drunk on cheap gin and said that when she died the penny-arcade would go to them. Their whole lives could have been mapped out. He just needed to love her back.
But he didn’t.
How could he tell her he was in love with a piece of ass, or, and this is what he had come to understand, the boy it had once been attached to?
One night it all came to a head.
Raymond, owner of The Dancing Oyster, and father of the town’s only sextuplets, lost it as his last 1p failed to hit the jackpot on the Queen of Sheba and as Corey stepped in to intervene he got laid out flat on his back.
When he opened his eyes Mermaid was kneeling over him, a jar of pickled onions in one of her meaty hands.
They are good for shocks, she said and then she asked him if he would like to go to the cinema with him on Friday night.
What could he say? She had probably saved his life.
On the night in question he was so nervous he hadn’t even thought to check the time of the film and they had to go in halfway through.
Mermaid had cut the notice out of The Cryer and she read it to him in a stage whisper.
Backwards Steve, an inspirational story about a man who can only walk backwards. Four stars.
There had been a fire in the cinema the week before and as over 60% of the seats had been charred beyond seatage they had to stand. During the interval Dave, the owner of Dave’s Picture House, had walked along the aisles an electric fan in each hand attempting to disperse the residual smell of burning.
“Isn’t it romantic,” said Mermaid, squeezing his hand and despite himself he got an erection.
The plastic mac he always wore hadn’t been found behind a cistern in the cinema toilets as he told his mother.
He had got it in the cinema but it had been given to him by a policeman called John in return for sexual favours.
John’s brother was the projectionist and when the cinema was closed John used his spare set of keys to take Corey into the empty auditorium.
One day I’ll bring you to an actual film, John had used to say but he hadn’t.
He had once come to the school to give a talk on Stranger Danger and he had pretended he didn’t even know who Corey was and this was after he had chased Corey nude through the rows of seats a melting choc-ice between his buttocks.
After the film Corey and Mermaid walked along the front, past the lobster café, past the shop which only sold enormous sausage rolls, past the childrens’ ball pit full of rubbish. When they reached the pier they stopped.
The pier, in the last round of public funding, had been converted into light industrial units; a bottle top factory, a moped repair garage, a manufacturer of plastic gloves, none of which had proved a success and the units remained forlorn and empty, windows caved in, their walls daubed in graffiti, mostly huge dicks which the fishermen said they could see from over a mile out.
But what a fisherman said always had to be taken lightly.
The phrase, a fishy tale, didn’t come from nowhere.
Under a broken street light, empty chip papers blowing past their feet, Mermaid turned her face up towards Corey and said he could kiss her.
The policeman had not been a kisser.
The only person Corey had ever kissed had been Eli.
They had done it one night when Kurt was asleep, leaning across the open space between their bunks.
Eli had told him he wanted to practice for a girl he loved back home. His mouth had tasted of the oysters they had had for dinner. Eli was not a tooth cleaner and little bits of old mashed oyster had passed between their mouths.
It was funny how things could shine retrospectively.
Corey said it wasn’t Mermaid. It was him.
Then he had bitten the bullet.
He had started to use his mother’s toilet roll. That morning’s sheet had said, Be all the man you can be.
He wasn’t going to get anywhere by lying.
“I like boys,” he said to Mermaid and he felt like a weight had been lifted.
Mermaid took it better than he expected. She said nearly all Mermen were gay which is why they were a dying species and why so many Mermaids came up out of the sea. But she didn’t resent them for it. That was just how they were.
It was nature.
Corey and Mermaid sat up all night talking.
He told her of all the other lies in his life.
How he had run away from the Swiss Card Sharp Summer Camp and Academy after biting off a huge chunk of another boy’s ass, how he had this piece of ass preserved in fluid he stole from a dead baby, how he could read the ass, the most intimate details of its former owner, how he had lied to his parents about graduating, how he had told them he was working as a card sharp in Monte CarloTM and that he had said to them that he ate croissants for breakfast each morning, had an even tan and a French girlfriend called Tammy who he was going to marry.
“You’ve got to come clean,” said Mermaid. “A life built on lies is no life at all.”
Then she had marched him directly to the phone box.
He could hear the tears in his mother’s voice as soon as she answered.
“It’s EVAN’s,” she sobbed. “We’ve got to come up with all the back rent we owe or we’re out on the streets. He’s given us three weeks. What are we going to do? Can’t you steal some money from that casino of yours or something? You’ve got to do something.”
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