Articles & prose, poetry, reviews, interviews, comment, e-texts, news and views
|Famous Reporter # 34|
MARK O'FLYNNNEW USES FOR THE
PENGUIN BOOK OF SCIENCE FICTION
In these days of body piercings nothing under the sun is new. The mind will boggle, and why not? But in 1974, when we were teenagers, even a pierced ear on a fellow was a sign of rebellious masculinity. It was fearless bravado. New Guinea Highlands. Imperviousness to pain. It intimidated people. In my fawning attempts to curry favour and be accepted by the tough kids of my school, I invited them home. I brought them in when I knew my parents would be out. They drank my fathers cherry brandy, which had regularly been presented to him on fathers days, and smoked his wine-tipped cigars. Even after we had finished coughing we liked sucking the wine flavoured saliva out of the plastic tips. My father never noticed the missing brandy. I dont believe he ever opened the cupboard, and one fathers day he told me: I dont know why you people buy me this stuff. You know Ill never drink it. And into the cupboard it would go. I had become You people.
We smoked the stringy bits of bananas, rolled up in joints, and blew the smoke out my bedroom window. The music of Slade and Status Quo and Lobby Lloyd was popular, even though I never really liked them. It crackled from my crappy record player. It was the music of You people. We were all immune to the smell of a teenage boys room. We did not know the name of the Prime Minister of the day. We took things for granted. We were bored.
Gordon Forest, the protagonist of this recollection, accepted the dare to have his ear lobe pierced. It was one of those things. After all, Lobby Lloyd had his ear lobe pierced. Gordon wanted to look tough as well. He already was tough. We knew that, but he wanted the look, and a pierced ear lobe would certainly give it to him. Gordon was over six feet tall. He had a skinhead haircut with rats tails hanging down the back of his neck like Lobby Lloyd. Gordon didnt have to prove anything. He was the kid who once asked Mr Smallacombe, the Phys. Ed. teacher, if you were a smoker who happened to exercise and play sport and were pretty fit in general would that stop the cancer? Well, would it?
In my bedroom Spotty Hansen volunteered to do the job. I went out to the garage to look for a nail. I couldnt find one so I pinched a needle from my Mums sewing basket instead.
Gis summat ta baite doon on.
Gordon was Scottish. I should have mentioned that. Its an important detail because its true. No one mocked his accent. He was also over six feet tall. I went to fetch him a book. It was the Penguin Book of Science Fiction, 1968 out of my Dads bookshelf. Spotty heated up the needle with his cigarette lighter to sterilize it, but it just turned black with carbon. So I had to go and rinse it under some hot water. I also collected an ice cube from the freezer. This was pressed against Gordons ear for a while in the interests of anaesthesia, until it melted.
With an almighty effort Spotty shoved the needle through Gordons fleshy ear lobe. Gordons eyes opened wide and you could see the whites all around his irises, like an owl. We all looked on with interest. His teeth clamped down on the Penguin Book of Science Fiction. Spotty shoved. Gordon growled in his throat. An hysterical kind of growl. Spotty rested. His thumb hurt. He needed something to get some purchase on the needle. I went and found him a thimble. Then he tried again. Blood dribbled down the side of Gordons neck. I hoped he wouldnt drip any on my bed, but if he did I guess I could tell Mum on wash day that Id had a blood nose in my sleep. Shed fall for that.
It was like world championship wrestling. Finally the needle was forced through, and Gordons teeth were just about through the 284 pages of the book. It was a paperback. Everyone lay back, kind of open-mouthed and exhausted. The banana skins were wearing off. Then, when Spotty tried to extract the needle, the growl rose to a squeal in Gordons throat. He seemed to swell to the top of his six feet and flung Spotty from him like a doll. Lobby Lloyd jumped. He stared at each one of us one by one, eyes crazy, as if we werent really there. Gordon, with the book clenched in his jaws, let it fall, then strode from the room. To be fair he didnt run. I followed so as to make sure he didnt drip blood on the carpet down the hall.
Just then the front door opened and Mum came in with her shopping bags. She started to say hello, then stopped when she saw a six foot skinhead, a glistening sewing needle sticking through his ear, blood running down his face, barrelling down the hall towards her, stinking of - what was it - cherry brandy? She got out of his way.
Scuse me, I gut ta git hame.
Mum gave me a look that was not easy to decipher.
A few years later Gordon Forest was killed riding pillion on his own motor bike, which hit a telegraph pole around the corner from his own house. The bike was only going about twenty kilometres an hour. He wasnt wearing a helmet. He was one of the first people I knew who died. In fiction this would never work, but its true.
I kept the Penguin Book of Science Fiction with the corner nearly bitten off for many years. You could see Gordons teeth marks in it as clear as any dental mould. You couldnt even open it properly because the pages in the corner were so deeply compressed; there was even a freckle of brown blood on the space ship on the cover. A second hand book dealer would never understand. I had never even read all the stories. I dont know why I remember this so clearly. Even splinters make me woozy, better to repress them. And I wonder if Spotty Hansens recollection of this event matches mine, or even if it exists at all. It was in 1974. It is one of those small grains of memory that has lodged in some dark crevice of my mind and never really gone away. All those dark, riddled crevices. I am going to have to get over them now that my daughter has come home, sans sewing needle, with the first of her beautiful mutilations. Time to let the Penguin Book of Science Fiction go as a symbol of my conservative squeamishness. Time to grow up.