My father James (Jim) travelled from Australia to Papua New Guinea circa 1968. While George Jung was getting into cocaine on the West Coast of the U.S, the Vietnam war was still grinding on (my uncle Gerald was actually there), Elvis was cooking up his Comeback Special and the Wahine disaster happened in NZ, he was in the highlands working in his capacity as a mechanic. At the time Australia was heavily involved in administering the country as a protectorate-type situation and practical expertise was in high demand as it attempted to install infrastructure over a difficult terrain, amid an uncertain political and social situation.
Occupied for at least 50 000 years (and probably a great deal longer) by modern humans, PNG is home to some of the last extant tribes to suffer the dubious honour of contact with the world at large. My father told of meeting with peoples still unconvinced of the advantages of this largely unsolicited communion and determined to preserve traditions such as headhunting, cannibalism and apocalyptic intertribal warfare.
He spoke a few words of pidgin and toted a leaking Soviet snapshot camera around the mainland with him (complete with holes in the shutter curtain), documenting the annual singsing at Mt Hagen, a massive pan-tribal eisteddfod presumably designed to ease or at least oversee local tensions and offer an opportunity to assert prestige in a nonbloody manner. Today, though the same tensions prevail, the occasion seems to have devolved into a self-conscious photo op rather than the raw and sometimes chaotic expression it was in my father's day, with the cthonic splendour exhibited in these images no longer in evidence. Perhaps that is for the best. The heart sinks as I calculate the number of birds of paradise required to furnish the glamour depicted here.
These are some of the slides that were the result of Dad's forays into photography. Time, suboptimal processing and his shitty camera rendered many of them virtually indecipherable until we decided to haul out, inspect and restore the survivors. We're about halfway through the process now and will post more onsite as they become available. I wish he was here to see and discuss them but he succumbed to cancer a decade ago.
I'm incredibly grateful to be able to see the things he witnessed.
Though untrained and unencumbered by notions of political correctness, my father shared the intransigent suspicion of authority, appreciation of the absurd and fierce independence of the people he recorded. They reflect each other clearly through the lens.
* Part 2 Here * More Photoessays Here * More Selected Raving Here *
A jailed member of Russian punk band Pussy Riot has been hospitalised after going on a hunger strike to protest prison conditions, her husband said.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was admitted to the hospital at the prison where she is serving a two-year term for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Russia's main Orthodox Christian cathedral.
Her husband Pyotr Verzilov said the acting head of the prison had described his wife's condition as "horrible" but had given no further details.
He also said prison officials would not show him documents about her transfer to hospital or allow her lawyers to visit, Reuters reports.
The administration of the prison could not immediately be reached for comment, and prison service employees in the remote Mordovia region declined to comment.
The 23-year-old announced on Monday that she was starting a hunger strike to protest against "slave labour" at the prison camp where she is serving her sentence.
She said inmates were forced to work up to 17 hours a day, deprived of sleep and subjected to collective punishment and violence from senior inmates enforcing order.
(Via Radio NZ News)
Both the lovely R and I would like to express solidarity with Nadezhda and every other prisoner of conscience. Get well, stay strong, live to piss them off some more. Free Pussy Riot.
Mottled lilac shade lay on the balcony outside the studio, to which Edward carried the sofa, settling to scan the pages of his broadsheet. Green tea darkened in the bowl beside him, its new-mown scent rising with the steam. Bede and William brought the smell of horses, sweat and human blood into the house on their return; they entered the studio together in pale uniforms stained with mud and saddle dirt, barred helmets hanging from their arms.
“We won, but I think Sachiin’s throwing in the towel for the rest of the season.” Bede reported. William dumped his helmet on the ground and sat against the railing, leaning over his legs to light a cigarette. "I do think he was treated somewhat unfairly."
"Endured with quiet dignity, I'm sure." Edward muttered from behind his paper.
“Flagged three times for fucking nothing... some bullshit riding off and accidental hooking.” William hissed through the smoke. “What a fucking shower of bastards. I offered to blow them all in front of three hundred people, so it’s not like I could have backed out... ce sont des foutaises.”
Bede glanced at Edward then looked away into the studio, uncomfortably aware of his unblinking golden scrutiny.
"Kala'amātya, we are truly sorry about your car. We did put a new battery in and have it valeted..." he began, conscious that it was by no means the subject of the latter's considerations. "There is something I should have mentioned to you earlier...” Edward demanded an end to the prevarication with his stare. “I believe we’re being observed. By... I think by governmentals."
His host returned to scanning the property commentary. A trio of swallows chased one another into the studio, their shrill little cries echoing as they looped about the empty chamber.
“I told you he knew.” William snorted. He unstrapped his boots and kicked them off, freeing his long, clawed toes from the pinching leather and flexing them slowly. Edward poured himself another bowl of tea.
“How was Europe, Avi'ashān?” he asked, to which their guest shrugged.
“Enormously crowded... hideously so. I don’t think we’ll go to Italy again during the season. We ran into Mr Auberjonois in Herculaneum... he sends his amities... seems in preposterous health. Naples... horrible... stick your fingers in your ears and Venice is still worth looking at, though it smells more like a colostomy bag than il mare these days. And there is only so much you can take of being followed and prodded and breathed on." Bede related. "In all honesty Kala'amātya, if you can sit here knowing you’re being papped by a military industrial complex, I can only take my hat off to you."
Edward closed his broadsheet in order to remove the notional barrier it provided.
“The political situation?”
“Not the rosiest of pictures. The deceased do seem to have become attached to the idea that they should enjoy exclusive dominion, but I’m not sure coming between the Baillis and his sense of manifest destiny is something many are very enthusiastic about."
"Wow, you're shitting me." William droned.
"I have to concur, Sachiin. Are most demagogues not subdued in, if not by, the fullness of time? I think that while it may be uncomfortable, the majority are content to await the workings of karma.”
"While they still cherish the thought of personal impunity." Edward replied.
The sound of a car door slammed into its framing, then the hyphenated syllables of William's name came rolling over the roof toward them, Rachelle's customary exigence tempered by some new vein of constraint that kept her from physically consummating the intrusion; her object turned toward his brother.
"I discouraged her myself, since you are manifestly incapable." the latter assured him. On the grass by the edge of the swimming pool a blackbird seized the end of a worm and began to tear the luckless annelid from the earth. Bede leant over the railing, staring down at the breeze-troubled grass. “Where is Nyāti?” Edward demanded of him as the blackbird tipped back its head to gulp down the prize.
“Shopping somewhere, I believe.”
“She'll come here?”
“I'm not entirely sure." He seemed to have at last satisfied Edward’s obscure line of enquiry.
“Nyāti discovers retail therapy, accommodates your extramarital ventures and has no firm plans for either of you...” Without another word the latter rose from his seat and kicked his guest’s legs out from under him with such brutal swiftness that Bede found himself pinned to the floor of the balcony before he could utter a moment of protest. Producing a small, stout blade, Edward stabbed it into the back of his calf while William sprang to his feet, abandoning English in the heat of the moment; his brother replied in kind. “Speak, Avi'ashān, while you have the tongue for it.” He twisted the knife sideways.
Susan scowled as she negotiated the stairs, pausing to lean over the balustrade and assure herself that their visitor had remained in the porch as per her own insistence. At first she thought the unmistakable contention in the voices that echoed toward her responsible for their confusion, but as she approached the studio it became apparent that the barrier was linguistic. As her fingers closed on the door the argument ceased, replaced by a silence that she entered into warily. William and Bede stood with their backs to the railing, wearing some sort of sporting uniform and an expression of dour neutrality.
“Mr Lamb, there’s someone downstairs for you... it's um, Rachelle. Should I show her up?”
Her cheeks and a small stripe at the base of her throat were coloured by the pervading atmosphere. William's gaze fell to her mouth.
"Er... negative. Tell her... tell her I’m on a retreat and there’s a no-contact policy. I’m somewhere far, far away, polishing my shortcomings and I won’t be back for... two weeks. A month.”
“She knows you're here. Is that really what you want me to say?”
“It’s a story..." His face brightened again. "Think it needs some horny trolls?”
She regarded him unsparingly, having already been subjected to Rachelle’s unreasoned demands.
“Mr Lamb, I think it’s probably best if that comes from you.”
“Cristabel... I’ve just been kicked off my polo team... have a heart."
Susan folded her arms.
“William, it’s not that I mind telling her to go away, because I don't, and you're right, she really is a nutter... but I’d like to be able to say go away, rather than just try again.”
Her advice struck down his wistful appeal and he stood abashed, blinking as though in mazing sunlight while Edward rose from the obscurity of the sofa, his presence surprising Susan greatly; she started backward.
"I'll tell her you're here but you don't want to see her. Is that alright?" she proposed, scowling in her eagerness to conclude the matter. He smiled again, and brought his hands together in a gesture of gratitude, from which she turned in her impatience.
“Christabel...” he called after her. "Merci beaucoup."
He waited until she had descended the stairs before turning his cousin around and examining the blade still buried in his calf.
"What the fuck?" he demanded of them both.
“Never mind.” Bede murmured. Shaking his head, William set a foot against his flesh and whipped the handle backward, tossing it at his brother.
"B, if you're sitting on something, you'd better fucking whip it out now..."
“On that note, I think I’ll go. Guests and fish and three days, etc.” Bede sighed. William murmured in his dejection and kicked a fragment of roof tile from the balcony.
“Well, fuck off back to Venice, then. Don’t worry about us... looks like we’re just going to be sitting here getting swabbed by Black Op windowlickers." He pressed his hands to his face melodramatically. "And Ny's going to fuck you up when she finds out you’re playing away with Fred... so good luck.”
“I don’t want to push our luck with our old papers...” Bede ventured.
“He jacks off over anything in triplicate so passports shouldn't be a problem.” William declared of his brother with a bitter flourish. A distant thud was followed by a brittle, cacophonous crash from somewhere in the building and he murmured to himself, craning from the balcony then climbing up onto the sagging copper gutter from the balustrade. He used it to gain the roof, tiles sloughing away under his feet and skittering from the eaves as he strode toward the yawning hole that had opened over his rooms. It had strewn the boards beside his bed with plaster, shattered tiles and rotten timbers; in his absence Edward turned a brutal glance to Bede, as though he had not yet satisfied the knife.
"Sis'thle bai'in." he said, the farewell transformed into directive.
Bede left the balcony on a slight limp before William returned.
"Ever since I've been here I've been telling everyone... come round, don't be scared, I made him dump the chest freezers... but hey, keep stabbing random fucking people.” Receiving no response, he addressed a curse to the air around them. “At least you’re making Susan feel like family. She’s already wondering how you end up with three pints of blood in your laundry basket.”
“If she’s asking questions now, how do you propose to fuck her without incurring more?” Edward inquired.
"She's someone to talk to at three in the morning who’s not evil or crazy.”
His brother smiled ominously, revealing his pointed teeth while William struggled with his anger before it betrayed him further. The effort was in vain, and Edward expressed a low, sere sound as he walked into the studio.
“Now I’ll have to take her to dinner.”
“Just leave her alone... you’re the one dropping us in the forensic shit."
"If she found something it's because she was prying, so now she's on the table."
"For fuck's sake... she said to me once that she thinks someone's creeping round at night... the AIU are up there so it's probably them.”
“I don’t doubt she suffers a tangible sense of foreboding.” Edward replied. He stood before his largest canvas and inspected the cracks in the paint.
“Escape from bastard island, Kala'amātya... come toward the light. We have monogrammed robes over here too." Another tile fell inward from the perforated roof, clattering distantly onto his bedroom floor. "What we need around here is more eyes... if you’re away and I’m somewhere else, this place is just waiting to get tossed. Hire a guard or something.”
Murmuring to himself, William deplored each of the assembled works in turn, grimacing at the remorseless smears of magenta and cobalt, applied with a knife over both black and white grounds and cured like the crusting of a sun-dried wound by the passage of a blow torch.
“I know this is bearding for your dayjob, but someone's going to get that you kill people for money if they look at this shit long enough. I’d be digging deeper.” He stepped back from the largest canvas. “Add puce and call it ‘Opal’.”
“Call it whatever you like.”
“You could hit it with some agricultural de... decons... what is it? Deconstructivism? Recontextualize them. Staple chicken feet around the edges as emblems of your private pain, charge double.”
“Stop reading my subscriptions.”
“Eyeballs everywhere are screaming for you to rediscover naked women.”
“Get out of my studio.”
“Art’s just like, you know... alchemy these days, isn’t it?" William continued. "You get all this random crap together and tell people it’s really significant, et baise-moi... stupid fucking white men come five figures, right there in your hand. You don’t even have to stab them. That's fucking tight.” He sat down on the stack of punching bags arranged against the wall, took out his lighter and began flicking the wheel. “I will sub you a dozen top-shelf whores for a lunar month if you leave Lilian alone.” The sound of her name coincided with the terse rasp of the flint; he reverted once more to their native tongue. “She told you she doesn't do GFE, didn’t she? You don't know the first thing about her." If Edward had heard him, he gave no indication, and William shook his head, leaning back as he continued, taking small pleasure in the observations. "She’s got a habit... it's eased up at the moment, but when it’s on, she’s off the fucking reservation. Her regulars are hypersensitive... they will not like you getting her for free. Drug debt... she’s in holes all over town, and that’s before she’s squared up with the po-po. That fucking pimp Orb blew her cop money on jerk chicken and Haitian jailbait, so now she's a POI to every shady badge for fifty clicks, and if I'd brought that kind of heat through the door, you'd kick me to sleep.” He guided the tall flame in his hand to the end of the cigarette. “She’s a total, pathological liar... and if she has feelings, you’ll need a grinder and solvents to get to them. So while you might sound perfect for each other, what I’m trying to say is for the love of god, mahatma... leave her alone. As a favour to me. She doesn’t need you to fuck things up. That’s all taken care of.”
His own hectoring address bounced back to him from the bare walls as haunted echolalia, the words falling like wind-blown ash before a forest fire. William berated himself privately while his brother's disinterested gaze passed over him, seeking a piece of delinquent equipment.
"At least buy out Susan's contract. Rachelle's got a hard on for her and it's only a matter of time before she takes it to Opal."
He left Edward's indifference in the studio and returned to his rooms, kicking the ceiling rubble from the garments it had smothered. Bede had collected his few belongings and conducted himself to the driveway, awaiting the car he had already called, and William walked down alone to keep him company.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
B U Y T H E B O O K $3.99
If you're anything like me, by now you pretty much equate Ewan with gratuitous cinematic nudity. His jovial, pro-femme attitude toward getting his junk out at every opportunity is certainly endearing, if not always exactly the sort of thing you want an eyefull of on a quiet saturday afternoon... but I would never hold that against him. I don't always enjoy his performances and wish he would do more arthouse shit like Young Adam wherein he is induced/persuaded/required to act rather than grease along on the strength of that glassy-eyed suavité. Charm is not always our best friend.
We are of a similar vintage and the fact that he's still perfectly eff-able makes me feel like there's still hope for my own degenerating materia.
Would I? Hmmm. The speculation surrounding his private life leads me to suspect that Ewan may be something of a dirty boy, so yessss... I probably would.
Of everything I peruse on the various sites I visit, the illustrators impress the most. By a thousand miles.
So innovative, accomplished and so often unassuming. Do they know how wonderful they are? I hope so.
Nothing makes me want to give up words and go back to pictures more than gifted shit like this.
Looks like it'll be another lite-ish week, peeps, but hey, there's a back catalogue now so why not
figuratively finger some
* More independent makeup review Here * How about niche perfumes? *
The inability to sleep had seldom troubled Susan in her homeland, but the nights on the far side of the dividing ocean were a landscape she had not learned to negotiate, inspiring restive phases blotted only by determined perfunction. The house connived in this uncomfortable cycle with its isolation and embarrassment of domestic opportunities. She leant against the door to the garage, cursing the darkness and peering blindly through vehicles that crouched like hibernating megafauna and chests and packing crates that shifted as though malevolently sentient. With her clothes basket propped on her head she stumbled between them toward the laundry, where she groped along a shelf crowded with paint tins and oily, disused tools for her torch, standing it on the defunct mangle and beaming its ringed light toward the ceiling. Through the narrow little window and its frame of overgrown roses the garden lay, a nocturnal eden crowded with all the archetypal trees of earth, their branches hung with leaves of shining black and silver, motionless and silent but for the crickets that sang their washboard song in the grass beneath the sill.
Susan sorted the hump of clothing with her feet and muttered at William’s ability to work so quickly through his endless wardrobe. In the light spilt from the doorway she spotted garments bundled in plastic between the wall and Edward’s vehicle, and dragged them into the laundry, wrinkling her nose.
“You can wait.” she promised, stuffing her own clothes into the machine and fighting the antiquated dial. When it refused her, she entered into a similar battle with the dusty radio; reports of a serial killer on the other side of the country prompted her onward through the bandwidth, too late to avert an ambush by her own recollected dead. The grimacing lich of an overdosed friend, lying soaked in its own rancid sweat and the waxen-shiny faces of her parents in their matching caskets answered a summons she had never learned to predict, leaving her to plough back into her task, using a garden stake to stuff a heavy kilt stained with alcohol into a bucket of water. A livid prickling crossed her shoulders as she did so, an almost chemical reaction to something decanting through the glass behind her, the pane morphing from passive aperture into a black and staring eye; Susan was careful to keep her gaze from it, turning the taps beneath without looking up until the suggestion faded.
The black jersey she extracted from the bag of Edward’s clothing intensified her frown, something dark stiffening the fabric across the chest and upper third of its sleeves. Having plunged it into the tub Susan watched the water flush dull red around her wrists, liberating first the colour and then the dirty, curling smell of stale blood. Whipping her hands from it, she stood with them dripping alongside her, fishing out the garment with the stick when she had recovered. An inspection of the pile conducted with a sleeve pressed to her mouth revealed no other suspect garments but extinguished all further interest in the work, the impulse to decamp curtailed only by an intruding sound, a soft, peripheral rustle so faint that she had to remain completely still to hear it.
The night gazed in through the window once more, the crickets ceasing their rasping song at the foot of the wall outside. She closed her eyes. The almost heedful noise crept in again, little more than rustling until its whispering qualities grew too pronounced, becoming a hiss, which mounted slowly into a moaning snarl, then further, forming chewed and thickly garbled words in a voice like a saw blade dragged through dead wood. Fright flew at her; she lurched backward toward the yawning darkness of the garage, where the small door beside the vehicular entrance stood ajar, outlined in orange by the distant street lamp. Behind her, the scurling voice had fallen silent and through the half-greened glass the rose canes swayed faintly and settled.
She fled, groping through the cavernous blackness and bowling into unseen debris, leaving it scattered in her wake as she leapt up into the hallway, spinning around to clap the door shut and foisting the heavy bolt into the plate. As her breathing slowed discomfort told her of the key stamped into her palm by her fingers, and while she shook her hand the dull silver bar before her shifted in the light admitted by the front door panes, tilting briefly, then returning to the horizontal. Before she could question herself the handle moved again, the old spring grinding until it pointed almost at the floor, the orange eye of light inside the keyhole flickering blackly.
Susan scurried backward into the kitchen, dashing to the windows to drag the gingham curtains closed and wiping her hand over the switches on the wall. Her arms shook as she retreated into the corner beside the chrome-trimmed bulk of the refrigerator, where she stepped down onto a broom and knocked its handle into her back. Dropping her face into her hands, she swore again and forced herself to remain in the middle of the room until she could summon the courage to look again toward the hall door. Its handle sat in a passive neutrality that admonished her retreat; nothing further issued from the garage and she shook her head, standing with hands on hips until relief matured into a rueful skepticism and prompted her to cast about for a distraction. A glance toward the cupboards reminded her of the preserving jars in their forgotten compartments. They clinked together musically as she heaved the shallow box onto the counter, encountering the nettling smell of pickling spices and a sticky hint of christmas fruit.
Susan's eyes closed with the immersion of her arms into the sink between the glass that rolled beneath the perfumed suds. Rainbow-painted bubbles slid down the walls of each jar she set on the counter; it was on the curve of the last that she saw another collection of colours reflected.
"Fucking hell!" she cried, a wave of suds slopping onto the linoleum at the sight of the figure seated at the table, wearing striped pyjama pants. “Why don’t you make a bloody noise like a normal person?”
“You told me not to at three in the morning.” William reminded her, sipping from a bottle of vodka.
"Was that you out there just now?" His vacant expression replied in the negative. "There was someone in the garage..." Susan insisted, nodding toward it. He glanced about himself, twisting the handle from the broom and rolling it over his knuckles as he walked into the hall where she heard him unlock the door, shaking his head as he returned. “I'm going mad, then." she sighed. "What are you doing down here?”
“If I knew, I’d say. What're you doing?”
She frowned, tugging a tea towel from its hook and polishing the jars.
“Mystery jam.” she conceded, nodding to the bowl of velvet-black cane fruit she had pulled from the refrigerator. “They were in the garden. I wouldn’t do that...” she added as he put one in his mouth. “You've got to check them for grubs.” William ate another, examining the ingredients she had assembled; the bright scent of the lemon was a ballistic sensation in his nose as he squeezed its waxy skin. “Can’t sleep?”
“Can’t sleep, can’t stay awake... can’t lie down... don’t want to stand up.”
“Can I get you anything?”
He let his head roll sideways.
“Novacaine... don’t suppose you’ve got any on you... er... no. You’ve got blood, though... on you...”
She looked down at the stain left by the laundry water across her apron and dragged the garment over her head as though it were aflame. Her distress was made all the more poignant by her flannel nightgown and disordered hair, and it struck him that little more than two decades had passed since her induction to a world that he himself had barely begun to grasp. Her haunting youth prompted him to tug a little plastic bottle from his pocket and tip a handful of capsules down his throat; he drunk from the tap while she stared in an amended horror.
“William, if you’re going to do that, could you please go outside to die, because I don’t want to find your body in the house.”
“It’s only Demerol, and I'm not lactating... What’s that?” he asked; she turned, but looked back in time to see the lemon poised between his teeth. At her demand he returned it to her hand and stood, face brightened by her censure. “Mystery jam requires a lovely assistant.” he insisted, the peculiar euphony of the assurance prompting her to pull them both a fresh apron from the drawer.
“You have to check them for grubs.” she instructed, setting the fruit before him. He lifted the berries to his nose.
"Check them." He did so in a faineant manner, then noticed her look of inquiry.
"Hit me." he suggested.
"It's personal." she warned.
"I think I'm still wondering what you're doing here, exactly... in this house."
He inspected the berries between thumb and forefinger.
"Don't you like it?"
"The house? Yes, actually, when it's not giving me a heart attack. It reminds me of camping." Susan looked up to qualify the admission. "Primitive post-apocalyptic camping. But I asked you..."
"For what?" She nodded toward the cupboard before him. "Vanilla essence... little brown bottle.” The tiny vessel he handed her retained only a shallow fraction of its highly-flavoured tincture. “I just bought this!” she complained, her suspicion degrading the irreproachability of his pale features.
“It tastes pretty.” William confessed, sitting the lemon on his thumbnail and catapulting it toward his left hand, where it landed and sat, after a moment of correction, upon the tip of his index finger. She slapped a bag of sugar onto the counter.
"Waiting for what?"
"For my brother. To get better."
"I hope you brought a book to read or something." The lemon flew again between his hands; she smiled and glanced into the bowl of fruit. “Finish looking through those, then measure out... I think it’s the same weight of sugar...”
“Why are you roasting the glass?”
“Did you not do this at school?” The last word suffered unwittingly emphasis as she grabbed at the yellow fruit in mid-saltation. "You have to sterilize them. Stop doing that." she laughed while William flipped the lemon over her head, offering it to her with a smile and watching her attempt the feat herself. It rolled hopelessly from her fingertip; he found a carving knife and used the heavy blade to lop one end of the fruit into his hand. "How do you still have fingers?" she exclaimed, grinning as the alteration allowed her a moment of success. He shrugged.
"They grow back."
By the time she had finished loading the glass into the oven he had completed his chores and tipped the purple-staining fruit into the huge pot she had selected, adding the requisite water without instruction. Their flat, murky scent rose with the heat of the element; William pushed the measure of frost-white sugar toward her, unscrewed the cap from the essence bottle and held it poised over the glittering pyramid, eyes returning to her before tapping six caramel drops around its apex.
“What do you do with this?” he asked of the erstwhile lemon.
“That goes in too.” Susan caught his arm before he could drop it whole into the pot. “The juice. You’ll need a...” He halved it and both portions yielded their acidulating pulp from either of his fists. Standing to one side of the range, she nodded to his offer of the sugar; he watched the wine-dark liquor metamorphose into something far more alluring than the sum of its homely parts.
“But jam is... what’s the word? Épais… er, collant?”
“When it sticks to the back of the spoon, it’s ready.” The explanation did not satisfy him and he leant against the counter in an attitude of loose dubiety.
"Which words do you use?"
"How do you mean?"
“To make it change. What do you say?”
She shook her head at the sincerity of the inquiry.
“What, like... magic?" He frowned slightly at her grin. "It’s not the middle bloody ages... it's the heat. It does something to the pectin. You know... science?”
“Magic is a science.”
“Yes... I’m sure the Demerol fairies seem quite realistic at times, especially when they get together with the Absolut trolls.” she murmured dryly, to which he sucked in a sharp breath.
“Christabel... you’re critiquing my drug use like you give a damn.”
"Well, I don't really fancy dragging your enormous corpse all the way to the green waste bin. Does no one else say anything? Look... it's setting now. I need the jars out.” Her hands flew to her face when he stooped to lift the smoking vessels from the oven with his naked fingers and arranged them on the stainless steel; her horror caused him to glance up from the process, if not to abandon it. “Don't pour it yet, you’re supposed to wait five minutes or all the fruit floats to the top.”
William received the caveat with dismay and stood as though subject to some indictment against all movement; she followed his gaze as it travelled slowly from the pot to her face and back again, a process repeated three times before she relented. He apportioned the dark emulsion and screwed on the lids with no more concern for their temperature than he had previously evinced. The sight of him bending to stare, first at the completed preserves, then in hope of her endorsement renewed her smile.
“Now you wait for the lids to pop.”
Susan was reacquainted with the apron lying on the linoleum as she sat beside the window. He let himself down onto the table and lay before her on his side, elbow sliding as his hand took the weight of his head. She accepted a swig of his vodka while he looked back at her with the kind of unabashed absorption she could not have directed at any conscious object. Whether his opulent felinity was derived from the nature of his features or his confiding manner was something she could not decide; he nodded at the apron.
“What were you saying about cutting someone up and rolling in their blood? We’ll tell the cops it was an accident...”
“It’s from your brother’s clothes."
He shrugged one shoulder.
"I can't lie. He had it coming."
"I found them by the car and thought they wanted doing.” She sighed. “God... that is blood, isn’t it? I had my hands right in it.”
“It's his art... it's going through an emo splatter phase... he's not happy til everything looks like a Manson family baby shower. Wouldn't surprise me if he'd drained a fucking deer to get the texture right.” Being able to discount her worst suspicion proved attractive, and she nodded as she set her chin on her fists.
“Whatever it is, it’s in the laundry and it’s minging and I’m not paid enough to touch it. What’s got you out of bed at three in the morning?”
"Christabel, don't get me started..." he groaned, rolling onto his back. “It’s one of those things... you know, a Japanese movie thing. You can’t tell anyone because they’ll think you’re methylated or batshit, but every time you open the door and have another look it's worse... it's growing tentacles and coming after you and there's nothing you can do...”
"I don't know why you're worried about your English. It's perfectly alright."
"You think? Ed keeps telling me it's fucked..." His smile returned one to her own face.
"You were saying..."
“You go first.” he urged.
“How’s this for paranoia, then? I think someone’s hanging round the house at night... that's what I was freaking out about before. I was out there doing the washing, and I swear there was someone at the window... I heard this horrible voice, like... speaking in tongues...” The recollection trailed coldly over her skin. William rolled to sit at the edge of the table. “It was hideous. Like... a possessed person talking to themselves.”
"Okay..." he nodded. "We'll keep everything locked down from now on."
"Really? I was hoping you'd tell me I was a nutter." she confessed, to which he slid a hand under her forearm, demonstrating the tremor that had returned to it.
"That's not paranoia, cloudcheeks." She smiled at the endearment. "Always trust the flesh. But don't worry too fucking much... it's probably Rachelle."
"It's not your brother and that girl that's bothering you, is it? Who is she?"
"Are they together?"
"She's a whore."
"Oh... oh... um... so they're just..."
William shook his head gravely.
"C'est trop dur compliqué. Let's get back to you, Susan Ellen Christabel." he muttered, gazing down at her feet. "Look at the slippers... you could be anyone. How did you even get here? Are they wing'd rabbits?"
"I'm not telling you. It's stupid."
"Stupid is my special thing."
"Stupid and boring."
"Well I'm sitting here fapping to the thought of fucking jam lids popping so whatever else you've got for me is good."
"Oh god, alright... my mate's boyfriend had a maisonette in Hoxton, she was moving in and they needed flatmates. I went down the shops to get a toaster, and it had one of those stupid 'win a holiday' things on it... I don't usually bother, but everyone said yeah do it, so I did... and a month later I actually won a holiday. I brought my mate Jules... we got two weeks at the Peninsula and two grand spending." Susan laughed to herself. "Most of that went on the bloody minibar, and then it was time to go back, and I just... I didn't want to, so I stayed on. Jules was well pissed off. She went back in a strop and I haven't heard from her since."
"I au paired for a while in town, but that was fucking horrible... then I got bar work, and everyone told me you couldn't get anything decent without an agency, so... I got an agency."
"Shit, that's right... you're still with Opal..."
"Do you know her?"
“Yeah, I know that chupa hag... she’s Ed’s agent.”
“Anyway, I can’t afford a flat on my muppet wages, I’m paying off one bloody credit card with the other and I’m stuck with this stupid agency now, and I owe them fees... she keeps asking for my passport too, the dodgy cow.”
"Don't give her your papers, Christabel."
"I'm not that stupid. Just stupid enough to let her know I'm an overstayer."
"I'll talk to Ed about it. Hey..." he added, pushing the bottle toward her. "I did that thing with the phone... turning it off. It's fucking great."
"I'm very happy for you." she mused.
Susan watched him slide from the table again to inspect the jars. As he bent down a grotesque circumstance revealed itself in the form of a pearl-coloured scar, half an inch thick and wandering down under his dorsal tattoo, distorting it slightly as he bent over. Along the line the two halves of the black design had been reinstated carefully; the scar began on his left shoulder and descended beneath his singlet, surfacing in a broad loop on his hip. She raised a hand to her mouth, appalled.
“What happened to you?” The tactless nature of the question rang in her own ears. William turned back to her. "Sorry...” she sighed, embarrassed.
“Don't worry... it’s gross, I know.” he admitted.
“Were you... was it a car accident?" The notion gelled with certain other of her impressions and seemed suddenly, abashingly apposite.
“Er, no. An argument.” he replied. His gaze shifted in the glare of the florescent bar, and she noticed that he rarely blinked; William turned toward the cupboards as though for something in particular but his hands betrayed the aimless nature of his discomfort. Behind the curtains the darkness pressed its blank face to the window once more.
“That's so horrible... I don’t know you can just hack someone with a knife...”
“Well... there are different ways of looking at it.” He returned to the table and swung his legs from the edge. “I was thinking the other day, because it’s, you know... supposed to stop you getting dementia... and I thunked that violence isn’t really weird."
"Yes it is. It's hideous."
"But think of it like this... if you had to come up with five things you’d never do, under any circumstances... violence isn't one of them, is it?" he inquired of her. "Five things... I got to one and a half, and fell asleep, exhausted. You just have to be be... philosophical. Fuck commandments." William handed her a cigarette and lifted the bottle to his lips, voice echoing down into its empty space as he continued along the tangent. "I hate organized religion... I do sort of miss shame, though... it was quite funny sometimes... people getting all fucked up about stupid shit. But then you always get the ones who want to overdo everything and everyone starts jailing cats and coveting thy neighbour's homosexuals..."
She blinked slowly in the pall of weariness that had descended with the lulling influence of his voice.
"How can you miss shame?"
"I said..." Susan yawned into her hand. "How can you miss shame? You weren't even born." They both started as a lid popped loudly. Rubbing at an eye with one hand she yawned again into the other. “Don't say anything to your brother about the creeping... I don’t want to have to talk about night stalkers to someone who comes home covered in blood.” she confessed dourly, hauling herself from the chair. “Thanks for helping with the jam.”
"Who knew it was that easy to make fruit your bitch?" he smiled. "You alright, Christabel?"
She stood in the doorway and shrugged.
"I suppose so. Are you?"
He listened to her ascend the stairs and drank long after she was gone, thoughts descending from deep green and into black as he pushed back the curtains and stared out into the night. Nothing stirred without except an owl, clapping its beak at a roosting neighbour disturbed by the light from Susan’s window.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce
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Let me slap some lipstick on that pig and advise you not to put your face anywhere near members of this admittedly awesome family while they're at peak stank, which is a pretty short window. They're blowfly pollinated- that's all you need to know.
You don't have to be embarrassed about not knowing how to roast a chicken well. It's really not something you can learn overnight or from a single demonstration. It's a trial and error thing, heavily dependent on your raw materials and that fickle jade Chance. Maybe you've only had access to crappy dishcloth-tasting industrial cripple chickens up til now. We still have to hunt for a good bird in a country heaving with meat animals and the wide open spaces for raising them properly. A nice chicken is bloody expensive, too. At $25 NZ frozen, this chicken (pictured above and below) is a massive extravagance for us, representing our average meat budget for about two weeks. But you get what you pay for; it is a demonstrably superior bird, broad-beamed, fully formed, heavily-muscled. It looks like an animal instead of something extruded from a mold and that is always reassuring.
This is a medium sized chicken. I've found they all take around the same time to cook so don't freak about the kilos unless you have some weeny little pullet or hulking mutant on your hands. In that case, just go up or down 20 minutes on either end of the time scale. It's done when it's done.
Another thing you should know is that free-range birds are probably not going to be as 'tender' as you might expect after eating greasy tween chickens that were too fat to stand up, especially when frozen. FR birds can move around and have a life, and really, that's the only kind of animal we should ever be eating. (More about that in my responsible carnivore post.) But they are tastier, leaner, less pathological and much better karma, so we should just quit our whining and be grateful we have access to meat at all. We usually cook them 'wet' in a curry or sauce but, properly handled, they are still perfectly delicious on their lonesome.
Today we'll do a solo roast chicken with home made pan gravy. Nothing terribly exotic but a universal pleasure none the less.
WHAT YOU NEED
1 free range chicken
Good smoked paprika
Small head of spray-free garlic
Freshly ground pepper
Fresh rosemary sprig (you can substitute dried)
Fresh bay spring (ditto)
Jam (I use my own quince jelly and elderberry ink but anything mellow and fruity like apricot, cranberry or blackberry is perfect.)
Stock (we usually have our own stock made from the frames of our previous roast chickens but it's supermarket shiz today.)
Wine. Use whatever you like best, red or white. Cheap stuff is fine, but if you really wouldn't drink it from a glass, don't expect stellar results.
You'll also need the cooking oil of your choice; today we'll be using a half-half olive and rice oil mix, but you can throw in some fat left over from your last roast or butter.
Set your oven to around 180-200 degrees C, depending on the idiosyncracies of your particular range, and put one rack toward the bottom and another halfway up. Our oven is ancient with no fanbake option, so if you're going to get fancy like that you'll have to figure it out for yourself. Our conventionally-roasted chickens come out just fine.
Make sure you rinse the chicken thoroughly under cold water. Be particularly assiduous about rinsing and examining both the neck scrag and inside the carcass through the vent; sometimes suppliers provide you with giblets (usually the liver, neck, heart and gizzard) and these can be tucked away inside the cavity, where they go unnoticed until the plastic bag they're packed in starts oozing in a molten fashion from your chicken as you go to carve the little sucker. Suboptimal. Don't be afraid of giblets. They're not weird or gross; we all have them. They can be fried and used to make a superlative stock for the gravy; sadly, we have none to show you today.
Have a ferret around inside the cavity just to make sure there's nothing hiding in there. Stick your hand right in there. (Is it Friday night already? Lol, yes I stole that from The Usual Suspects). If you find your chicken is still a little stiff and frozen inside, run some cool or just-warm water into the cavity and let stand for five mins; if there's still detectably frozen flesh, you'll just have to thaw it for longer. Try to resist the temptation to microfuck it unless you're really running out of time. Wash your hands with soap after handling raw chicken and thoroughly wash down the taps, sink and benches.
(If you suspect you have a really elderly, stringy old chook on your hands, do not despair. There is a way to salvage that beast that hasn't failed me yet and I use it regularly with Christmas turkeys; subcutaneous basting. Cut yourself some four thin pats of cold butter. Take a tablespoon, turn it upside down and ease it under the skin of the breast, starting from the vent and then heading sideways over each drumstick. You'll see how this works once you've begun. Into this loosened, 'tented' skin, push the pats of butter until you've situated two over the breast and one each over the legs. They will melt as cooking proceeds.)
Dust the chicken with smoked paprika (not too much- it gets bitter if charred), freshly ground pepper and a good whack of salt to crisp the skin. Pour oil over the bird and the split onion. Note that I don't add green herbs at this stage; they'll just burn if you do, so wait til at least halfway through the cooking to put them in the pan. You can hide the herb of your choice or some garlic inside the chicken where it will subtly perfume the flesh.
I'm not sure if it makes perfect thermodynamic sense, but the water seems to prevent the bird from drying out too much; that may just be superstition on my part. I'm more convinced that a moist roast is dependent on the condition of the bird before it died and how it was treated post-mortem, but who the hell knows? Just don't add too much liquid or you'll get chicken soup. If you're really concerned about your own chicken-munting propensities, there is a way to cheat and cut the cooking time by about a third- cut the chicken all the way along the backbone with kitchen scissors and spread it out flat in the pan. Arranged this way it will cook thoroughly in about an hour but won't really look as pretty or traditional.
Mmokay, so put the dish on the lowest rack of the oven and let it cook at 180 degrees C for about ten minutes, then turn it down toward 160-150 C for around an hour and 15 mins for an unstuffed bird like this. Wait til some of the water has evaporated before basting from the dish or you'll just end up washing the seasonings off the skin.
Gravy time. Put the roasting dish on an element. Squeeze the garlic from the skins and squish it over the bottom of the pan along with the chicken fat/juices and the onion that you've mushed up with the fish slice. Not enough fat? Throw in a pat of butter. Scrape up all the caramelized goodness off the bottom of the pan but dispose of anything too black or burnt. Add a great heaped tablespoon of plain white flour, fresh herbs, pepper and salt to taste. This is the roux that will form the base of the sauce. Brown this up over a medium heat, stirring briskly. I never get lumpy gravy this way but if you're worried, yoink out the onions and return them to the mix later.
After about five minutes of this, pour in two or three cups of stock and stir again, turning the heat up to high. Add as much wine as you like, or not- it's not vital for a good gravy. Just keep the liquid moving and taste all the time, seasoning as you go. Next, drop in a big tablespoon of the jam or jelly. If you're not tasting an improvement, dump some more into the pan until you're getting that smooth, phat flavour, but don't overdo things or it'll end up like Snow White's bathwater. When you're happy with it, take it off the heat .
If it's a little dry, never mind; that's what gravy's for. And remember to always either chill or reheat chicken thoroughly. As you can see, it's completely feasible to get a nice chook on your plate at home, even if you're not too familiar with the process. We didn't use any colouring agents or boost settings in these pics, just natural light and flash; we think this looks pretty appetizing and can assure you that it was. If we can do it, so can you.
It'll probably be a light week, peeps- we're both busy whoring ourselves out to the Man
but anyway, check out the Best of the Blog page and/or buy the book.
Or you could roast a big-arse chicken and eat it for me since I'm on a fucking diet booo.
Stupid writer lard.
Are you gobsmacked? I know I am.