THE MERCY SEAT

This was not a meal to die for.

Here he was, in the land of haute cuisine, and all Mo could afford was a plat du fucking jour. Always the same wherever you went. An undercooked hunk of chicken in a pasty tomato sauce with veg the texture of chewed up gum. A ragged cup of coffee, tasting of wood and wire. Strawberry ice cream with a crumb of chocolate like a blackened tooth in a scarlet fog. Who’d miss these sinister dinner deals?

Café owner must’ve felt pity on him or something, because he laid down a complimentary bowl of soup. There’s a swirl in it, looks like Jesus or Allahu, depending on your mood.

He was never going to work them out, the French. Done trying to interpret their signs. Did you know the first thing that happens to a French baby after it’s born is to have a finger shoved up its anus? The first shit they ever take is black. Bottom kind. The sick breath at its hind.

How twisted do you have to be feeling to stick around for dessert? Mo knew the ever after, and there was no brûlée after Quran.

Mo paid up, waited for change. There’s no tip worth leaving that’d be of any use to these lost causes. His chariot awaits. It was far from gold but this would not be the last seat he ever sat on, of that Mo was nearly wholly sure. His filthy five clenched on the wheel, neither challenging nor resisting, the tan line round his wedding finger starved of what was once good.

Funny, thought Mo, out here when they say ‘mercy’, they mean thanks.

By God, they’d thank him for this.

An eye that can’t see or a tooth that chews on the lie? A foolish life without burdens or one of truths and consequences? Hated on earth or hailed in heaven? He was done with all this measuring of truth.

It’s a beautiful night on the Promenade des Anglais. The key turns, the engine roars, the wicked wheels spin. Deliver us thy blood of atonement.

Let history unfold.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Johnny Cash

SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL

Still haven’t wiped away your last tear, I see.

You see right, Tracy, The moon is as full and cherry-red as my heart once more, and here I am, rolling out paisley tears for another friend, like all I do is cry for friends.

You only see me when you hear the door slam. They don’t always leave me, my friends, you know. But they have to sometimes.

Shut up already, damn, Tracy sneers. Making out you feel as much pain for this one as you did for the last love you lost. Snivelling like he was your only friend.

And I think maybe you’re right Tracy. I can’t remember the last time I held his hand in the rain. But the thought of it did keep me warm inside. Like the man said. It isn’t love until it’s past.

Wipe away your foolish tears. He’s a whole lot better off than the fools he left here, says Tracy. I know he’s looking at me.

You don’t need to remind me good things never last, Tracy. That you always cry for love, never for pain.

But what is always without sometimes, Tracy? Haven’t you seen how the sun can be buried, even when it’s his time to shine?

Sometimes I feel. Sometimes I don’t.

Sometimes I wish it never snowed at all.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Prince/ Wendy Melvoin/ Lisa Coleman

SUEDEHEAD

Max woke from a night of uneasy dreams to find his head had metamorphosed into a giant root vegetable.

He’d really gone and done it this time.

‘Why do you comb hair?’ He thought he heard himself ask.

The face in the mirror would look bemused, if it weren’t a turnip.

He couldn’t think who might know, so he rang himself. Check the voice inside his head was still him. It was not.

Max started to spin, the chord of the telephone tying him up in silly knots.

‘You’re making this lard for me,’ complained the voice inside the rutabaga.

‘Sorry,’ Max tore himself away from the mirror and sneaked into his room. A cow slept noisily in the corner, cartons and cartons of milk and milk products all around her. Nothing to see here but dairy.

He sat down and began to draw. A handsome man, happy, looking fresh and ever so slick, not a trace of sickness. Next to the picture Max drew an arrow and scrawled: ‘Me. In my dream!’

‘Dear Me,’ he wrote, forcing a cough into a laugh. ‘Just one letter away from the truth.’

It was a good lie.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Steven Morrissey/Stephen Street

TRASH

She felt it the moment he landed on her. Foreign, full of forbidden fluids dripping all over, the scrunch of cellophane clung with the streak of a dirty powder rubbing her sides, his very touch making her feel unholy, unclean.

Think of the sweetness, she ordered herself, hoping not to fall apart.

‘Ironic, ain’t it, the clothes we wear?’ he said after shuffling into something nowhere close to comfortable. ‘Me in black, dressed like a flippin’ Jihadist, you all in white.’

‘It’s quite fitting actually,’ she snapped back. ‘In our culture, we wear white at funerals.’

‘Sure that’s not so you can look like one of them virgins for your fellas up there,’ he couldn’t help saying.

‘Rubbish,’ she reviewed, tightening up. The bagginess of this lot’s morals, now that was one thing she wouldn’t miss. She could smell the cheapness in him, the reek of tastelessness.

‘You ever wonder,’ he said, like it was a lazy day they’d wake up from soon.  ‘The words you heard in your mosque, the music I heard in them clubs, whether they meant anything?’

She did wonder. When you were in a nowhere town, in your nowhere place, you had to believe in something, that whatever answer may be blowing in the wind was more than the litter in the breeze.  Drown out the rot with dreams of sweetness.

‘It’s in everything we do,’ she said.

They both heard the grind of the wheels, the screams of the ones they feared, hated, or longed to be accepted by, suddenly so much like them, all thrown into a pile of soon to be nothingness.

‘I always thought we was different, you and me’ he sighed. ‘Guess we both got crazed in our own ways knowing we’d end up in the same dump, huh?’

He somehow felt a little less darker edging closer to her blushing whiteness, an unexpected togetherness at the end of it all, looked on by passing seagulls as just another kooky pair of no consequence, the lovers on the street who left it too late to share the times they had.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Bret Anderson, Richard Oakes

A CASE OF YOU

“If you want me I’ll be in the bar.”

All these years in the law business and that gag never got old.

“Can the defence and the prosecution approach the bench,” I sighed wearily, feeling like the black female Judge at the end of her tether I’d seen in every movie.

Who are you prosecuting?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“No,” the prosecutor said, sheepishly. “You.”

“And I take it that means you,” I turned to the defence attorney, already looking as lost as a star in the darkness, “are defending…”

“You.”

“Right,” I really needed that drink. “And where is the defendant?”

“Absent your honour, but the defence would like to call this woman we met,” the lawyer’s cheeks were two roses. “She has a mouth like my client. She knows her life and her deeds.”

“What the devil?”

The confusion spread across the courtroom like wine spilled in a bathtub. With no one in the docks, the sketch artist busied herself by doodling cartoon images of countries she had no desire to ever go to.

If the woman braying for blood was clutching at straws, the prosecution calling upon a lonely painter as witness was the last one.

“I live in a box of paints,” he announced.

“What is the charge here?” I thundered.

“Transfusion, your honour.”

I threw question marks at them, wishing they could be daggers.

“You intoxicated without permission.”

“Objection, your honour! This is a straightforward case of love touching mutually consenting souls.”

“You put wine in the veins instead of blood!”

“Surely you see this was a holy act. By an unsung goddess, perhaps…”

I came down hard on the bench like I was brandishing the warhammer of Zillyhoo. No one brings god into my courtroom.

It was at the bar that I saw you, in the blue TV screen light. There was nothing to judge, no one to blame. Only a feeling that poured out of every part of me, replaced by something so much sweeter.

And it knocked me off my feet.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff: Joni Mitchell

TRANSMISSION

He’s dancing weirdly again. Time travelling, I think. The way he connects with the sound you’d think it was a live radio broadcast, not the beat from a show that ended many years ago.

The curtains are drawn, the room dark grey, a scene for the blind or anyone frightened of the sun. None who dwell in the daylight can see in. This is a private journey, to which only I am privy.

It doesn’t help that he doesn’t always use words, convinced he can transmit ideas to me through knowing nods and jerking grunts, like some epileptic Jedi master. I’m always sure to gurgle in a way that says, ‘I get it’.

No language, just sound, that’s all we need to know, right?

He’s reliving the fine times he lived in the night, that much is clear to see, the destruction, the getting wasted years. From this distance, he can only recall the touching memories, forgetful of any wounds they left in their wake.

What I’m meant to get from this is that he would’ve gone on that way, happy in the same place, staying out the time. But then he misses a beat, puts a foot wrong, and suddenly he catches his reflection. Old, fat, all too aware the things he’s learned are no longer enough.

Dammit. I’ve transmitted my thoughts too well! See his face has darkened, his feet ground to a halt. The scene: still as a faded postcard of a dreary old northern town. No one wants to play when they’re transported to somewhere like that.

I offer up my brightest smile, my arms outstretched. Everything about me whoops, ‘and we could dance!’

‘Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.’

He obeys, of course, as dancers must.

 

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, Stephen Morris

HARVEST MOON

Talk about a Lesser God.

There’s Saturn lording it over all of agriculture, Isis giving the fertile land the horn, Indra kissing the sky to make it rain just right so that everything that grew on their green earth grew good enough to eat.

Then there was him. Xochipilli, god of maize.

‘Nice ears,’ the children of the other deities mocked, but he was too busy dreaming to get hurt.

She was Artemis, the lunar goddess, who he loved with all his heart, the one he danced away each and every night with.

‘In your dreams,’ the children taunted, and they were right.

Xochipilli preferred to watch her from afar, never daring to get even a little closer, lest he saw her shine in someone else’s eye. It was all too easy to picture her riding off into the moonlight with a worthier divinity. Like that Hindu god Soma, who—and this maddened and impressed Xochipilli in equal measures—knew how to get drunk by drinking the moon!

That summer, Limos plagued the land with a famine so catastrophic it made all crops fail, but for reasons known only to the elements, could not harm the maize. By the equinox, Xochipilli’s yield was the only thing keeping the deities fed. He was on the cover of Top Of The Crops. Demeter, the goddess of harvest, wondered if he was free for dinner.

‘Good cob,’ the children cheered.

He felt he should celebrate, and had barely hit the town when a figure came bursting out of nowhere and knocked him off his feet.

‘You know where the music’s playing?’

That voice. That grace. Artemis. He was beholding the sweet and heavenly Artemis!

‘C’mon, baby, where’s the party at?’ She howled. High as the rising moon, one too many moonshines.

Xochipilli could only stand there, frozen.

‘Hey, you’re the sweet potato guy, right?’

‘Maize,’ he managed a nervous mumble.

‘I know you!’ She giggled. ‘I think you’re a-maize-ing!’

‘That’s pretty corny,’ he punned back, intended.

‘Hey, you wanna go out and feel the night?’ she hiccupped. ‘Let’s go dancing in the light, woo!’

And with that, Artemis danced into a field, hurled into the corn and passed out sprawled across the sea of cobs. Like children sleeping, he thought.

Xochipilli did not know whether she would remember him when the sun came back to reign, or if he would ever get to see her dance again, but as he gently lifted her to dream the night away in the nook of her silken crescent, he knew only one thing.

He would always be in love with her.

For Priya Joi. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Neil Young