Rubber grinned as he fell through the air, watching the sky disappear, the top of the building get smaller, and the rush of wind thundering past his ears. His friends paused, wide mouthed, clutching their tequila shots from their boredom induced game they’d just invented entitled ‘Tequila Slammers on the Windowsill’. All three of them had licked the salt off their hands and then leaned back at the same time, downing their drinks, but only two of them had returned to the upright position ready to suck on their lemon slices.
His real name was Robert, which his mum had shortened to Robbie when he was a baby, then added the nickname that stuck after the sixth time he fell out of his baby seat and bounced. Rubber Robbie, the bouncy kid. Catchy. He’d fallen off numerous things as a child and bounced right onto his feet again. No tears. Just a giggle and off he went. As Rubber grew his childhood boinginess never left him. He’d fallen from trikes, bikes, swings, slides, walls, wardrobes, and many trees. He’d bounced off lino, carpet, grass, woodchip, concrete, asphalt, marble, rock, and even steel, and each time he’d bounced just like a tyre, or a spring, or a rubber band ball, and got up and walked away unharmed.
Once he fell from the top of a multi-storey car park after a particularly violent argument with his girlfriend and her, it turned out, not ex-boyfriend. The huge hairy man had pushed Rubber over the wall with his hammer like arms. He’d resembled a gurning gibbon, thought Rubber, just before he plummeted 200 feet towards the pavement, in complete calm silence. The man with the hammer like arms maintained his puzzled expression from the 20th story when Rubber got up, brushed the cigarette ends off his jeans, and walked off, turning to wave to his aggressor who couldn’t contemplate how to get to the ground as quickly as Rubber had in order to finish the job.
This is why, as Rubber fell from the window, he wasn’t too bothered about it. He’d bounce, as usual, get up, and walk away. He hadn’t noticed the black railings that led up to the steps and curled around to the door. Shiny and sparkling in their glossy paint. Tall, thin, each with a beautiful hand crafted split spike on top.
The pop was heard in the next town. The mess took the local council ages to clear up. Blood spatters were found for weeks afterwards and a reluctant council employee was despatched with scrubbing brush and paint. Mavis found Rubber’s little finger in her geraniums a week later, and left it out for the birds along with a few bacon rinds. She noticed how they seemed to have to chew on it quite vigorously before swallowing. Must be a bit rubbery, she thought.
“Got a fag mate?”
The chav sneered at my lack of charitable assent.
“Got 20p for the phone then?”
His eyes fill with the further unfairness of life. He jitters in his skin, hands firmly in his thin coat pockets. Agitation spurs him on.
“No need for that is there?” he barks at my stoic face.
Not to exacerbate the situation, and purely out of need, I produce a fully formed cigarette from my baccy pouch and light its delightful end. The excess smoke engulfs the Eastmoorlian creature and he splutters with pretend distress.
“All right, mate. No need to rub it in, innit.”
“You can’t rub smoke in,” I say, informatively.
His lack of words portrays his disbelief at this cold hearted fag bearer whose wanton malice makes his bitterness spurt fountains of bile within his Gregg’s filled stomach.
“Please mate, just one, eh?”
I pull another freshly rolled cig from my pocket and place it in his grubby hands.
“Make sure you breathe it in nice and deep,” I say, as I generously offer a flame to spark his desire. And he follows my instruction, nice and deep, into his squishy lungs, into his corrupted blood, into his body and soul.
I think he’s trying to thank me, but the melting flesh from his throat must be catching the words.
He coughs. Then hacks.
The red stuff falls from his mouth. He tries to speak, something to do with “What the f…” But he coughs again. The pool of bloody lung cajoles around his ragged trainers.
“Why don’t you take another drag?” I say.
I think he saw my satisfied smirk as I left, framed by the concrete pavement and chunks of his own innards.
She stood before him wearing nothing but the dagger shaped necklace she’d worn all through their first date. His eyes were wide with anticipation as he drank in her perfect body. All the right bits swayed as she walked towards him then pushed at his chest so his legs had to submit to the bed behind him. She brushed a strand of hair from her face and a finger made its way down her cheek bone to her lips, parting them slightly, enough to see her sparkling teeth just beyond. Her hand carried on to her necklace, her fingers coiled round it’s shaft. She gripped it. Hard. Then pulled. There was no ripping sound. There was no blood. Just an invisible zip that released her skin from her body, neck to belly button. It fell from her shoulders, peeled from her hips, her thighs, her legs. And she stepped out of her covering, dropping it in a jellied blob on the stained carpet, the sinewy bits that had held it there dripped from her skeleton. She ripped off her mask from the chin and stared at his trembling body.
“You wanted the naked truth, didn’t you?”
“And now on BeeBeeSee Onesie, it’s time for what you’ve all been waiting for, the Great British Microwave Meal Challenge!”
[Cue live feed]
[Cue too many seconds silence]
[Cue nasal VO]
“Check your wattage. Check your timings. And don’t forget to stir it half way through. Will it still be frozen in the middle? Grab your TV dinner and settle in on the sofa, it’s time for the Great British Microwave Meals Challenge!”
[Cue hurriedly written plonky theme tune, with pings and bings and unnecessary sharp beeps]
[Wide angled shot of cheap set, cheap lighting, and cheap presenters]
[Stand-by Cue: Ready to cut to presenters if John falls whilst doing manual sweeping shot]
“Welcome to another week of the Great British Microwave Meals Challenge!”
“Yes, welcome. I’m Mel Gribson, and this is Charlie Undertoe.”
“And what a show we’ve got this week!”
“We certainly have, Charlie. After last week’s soup challenge and the sad demise of Amanda who created way too much spillage for the judges, this week is sure to be a bit more taxing for our contestants.”
“Certainly is, Mel. Last week was a walk in the park compared to this week’s challenge. Let’s find out all about it, shall we?”
[Cue end of sentence smiles close up]
[Cue nasal VO]
“Well, Mel and Charlie, we’ve spiced this week’s challenge up a bit with one of the nation’s favourites: chicken tikka masala. A classic rich and creamy dish, full of flavour, which made its way to Britain in the 1950s during a wave of emigration from India. The use of bite sized pieces of chicken was at the request of an emperor around 5,000 years ago who didn’t like the thought of choking on bones and so ordered his chefs to cut the chicken off before cooking. The tikka masala sauce is said to have been added by a Bangladeshi chef in a small Indian restaurant in Glasgow after a complaint by a customer that the dish was too dry. The chef tossed a tin of tomato soup, some spices and a spoonful of yoghurt to solve the dryness, and the dish that we love today was born. Now one of our staple national dishes, we get through 18 tonnes of it every week! The evolution of the chicken tikka masala ends here on GBMM, but will our contestants do it justice?”
[SFX cue] PING!
“Oh that’s the question, Mike. Thanks for that.”
“I love chicken tikka masala, Mel.”
“Me too, Charlie. That structureless chicken and rubbery rice that only a microwave can make. Divine.”
“I’m dribbling as you speak, Mel.”
“Oh, I don’t need to know about that, Charlie.”
[Cue close up of the whites of Mel’s fearful eyes]
“It’s me. Yes! Now, our first contestant to take on this week’s challenge is Simon, our 20 year old student from Croydon.”
“Simon did well last week. His soup was delicious, wasn’t it Mel?”
“Oh yes. And with hardly any spillage.”
“Yes, his transference technique was quite impressive. Didn’t get any on the tray either. Quite professional.”
“But will he do as well this week, Charlie?”
“I don’t know, Mel. Let’s find out shall we?”
[Cut to live kitchen stream #1]
“So he’s reading the instructions carefully, Mel. A good idea to read them twice, I always think.”
“Yes, Charlie. And check you’re reading the correct wattage information.”
“Oh yes! Many have been caught out with that one.”
[Cut to Mel’s teeth (brightness setting #-1)
“Looks like he’s ready, Charlie. He’s taking the cardboard packaging off.”
“Where’s he going now?”
“I don’t know. Oh…listen. I thought I heard a draw opening. Yes…yes, I think that’s cutlery.”
“Getting a bit ahead of himself there!”
“No, look. It’s just a knife.”
“Ahh. Giving it a good stab. Great elbow action there from Simon.”
“He’s placing it in the centre of the microwave. Now, he struggled with this last week, didn’t he, Mel?”
“Yes, his centring was off, which can affect the resulting hotness.”
“That’s right. Looks like he’s corrected it this week. Good to see him paying attention to the judge’s comments.”
“Delia did lay into him a bit for that, so I’m not surprised he’s remembered this week. Hoping to counteract one of his few flaws from last week’s challenge.”
“He’s taking his time with the settings. Oh, this is looking promising, Mel.”
“What we’re looking for here is five and a half minutes with a good stir half way through. He has instructions for an 800 watt and a 900 watt, so hopefully he’ll pick the right one.”
“Dave’s mistake last week showed how disastrous that can be.”
[Cut to grinning idiot presenters]
“Indeed, Charlie. A different microwave each week makes it even harder for the contestants this year. They can’t rest on their heels, can they?”
“This microwave is 800 watt, but has Simon noticed?”
“He’s going for the dial, Mel! Turning it now.”
“Has he got the right time?”
“Er…can’t see while he’s stood in front. Hang on. Hang on. Aaaannnd, yes! Five and a half minutes. And the door’s shut. We’re off! This is a good start from our Simon.”
“It is, Charlie. I like the way he leans against the counter while the meal’s going round. Attentiveness like that will get you far.”
“As a student you’d hope he’s good at attentiveness. In class at least!”
“Haha! Yes, you would. Not sure about anywhere else though! He looks pretty hungry, the way he’s chewing on his nails like that.”
“Probably why he’s staying so close. Eagerness like that is good. Oooh, we’re getting to half way, Mel. Will he remember to stir?”
“Do you know, Charlie, I’m not sure. He hasn’t even got a spoon out, or a fork. In fact…yes…no…yes, I can confirm there is no cutlery in sight, except for that knife.”
“Let’s hope he won’t eat with that!”
[Cut to camera assistant Ben by mistake]
“Only ten seconds till stirring time, Charlie, and still no sign of movement from Simon. Seems more interested in that bit of dead cuticle.”
“Distraction. Gah! So easily it can happen. I think the soothing drone of the microwave doesn’t help. What do you think, Mel?”
“I think you could be right, Charlie. It is kind of meditative.”
[Cut to microwave]
“Oh no! He’s missed it! He’s missed his half way point. Coming up to five seconds over. Such a shame, Mel.”
“Such a shame. Ten seconds.”
“Is he ever going to realise? Huh!”
“This is getting serious. The longer he leaves it the worse the judge’s score.”
“Come on, Simon!”
“Oh, Charlie, 25 seconds over. This isn’t good.”
“Ah! Finally, he’s realised. Knocking that knife on the floor is careless.”
“Yes, very clumsy.”
“Oooh, he thwacked that door open didn’t he, Mel?”
“Almost explosive! This kind of thing could unsettle his concentration. He’s got to be careful here not to be too hasty.”
“Looks like that corner was hot, Mel. Yes, it obviously was, he’s blowing on his fingers. Sounds like he’s getting that much needed cutlery though.”
“Yeah. Crucial to the task.”
“I thought he was going to stir it with his finger for a minute!”
[Forget to cut to anything else]
“He’s managed to pull back the cellophane without ripping it. A skill particular to this task, and very well carried out.”
“I like his style here, Mel. He’s chopping into the still frozen chicken tikka in the middle, breaking up that sauce.”
“Yes, a sensible technique. Just hope he doesn’t break those 30 percent meat chicken breasts up too much with it.”
“That would ruin the aesthetics somewhat, yes.”
[Cut to Mel nodding distantly]
“Still, better to be cooked than aesthetically pleasing.”
“Very true, Mel. The judges will be looking for that above most other things.”
“Oh good, he’s stirring the rice too. An easy thing to forget with these more complex meals, Charlie.”
“You’re right there, Mel. I’ve done it a few times myself. Ha!”
“Of course you have. And a lovely re-covering there, pushing the edges into the warm plastic corners. Great touch.”
“So that’s on the go again now, Charlie.”
“Well, it has been very intense so far, don’t you think?”
“I agree. Very. The only thing that’s let him down is that slight over half way faux pas. But we’ve had good instruction reading, a good stabbing motion, and good stirring action from Simon. Only one more thing that can go wrong.”
“The stand for one minute.”
“What about getting it out, Mel?”
[Cut to dead director on studio floor]
“I meant, Mel – oh, you are terrible! – I meant the removal of that hot, hot, hot plastic container from the microwave itself.”
“I know, Charlie. Yes, there is a high possibility of scalding and dropping at that point, you’re right. Something to watch out for there.”
“Time’s nearly up! Let’s have an audience countdown!”
[Cue fake audience countdown]
[SFX cue] PING!
“You can see the steam as he opened the door there, Mel.”
“He’s having to waft it away a bit, so maybe that will remind him about being careful with removal.”
“Let’s hope so. Yes, he’s testing the plastic with his finger. The one that isn’t burned already. He’s found a cooler spot, and on the other side. He’s going to attempt the lift, Mel! He’s…!”
“Very beautifully done. Swift and decisive.”
“Astounding removal there.”
“Oh no! What’s he doing? Removing the cellophane before the wait one minute! The judges won’t like that will they, Charlie?”
“Well, you can understand the logic. It will cool to a manageable temperature quicker without the covering.”
“Yes, true. But still, it’s very unconventional. I’m not sure he’ll get away with it, you know.”
“He seems to be waiting though. He’s already got his plate ready. Cutlery’s on the side there.”
“Back to that cuticle again.”
“A good mental strategy maybe.”
“Possibly. If he snaps out of it in time for the end of the wait one minute period.”
“Only 15 seconds to go, Mel. I think Simon’s done really well with what was quite a taxing task, if I’m honest.”
“He has. I’m quite impressed overall.”
“Come on, Simon! Just this final hurdle now!”
“Yes! Exactly a minute. Look at that beautiful meal being tipped onto the plate. The sauce all runny, no frozen bits. Nice and hot.”
“You can see the steam coming off it still, which is a relief. I thought his early cellophane removal would have affected that more.”
“Yes, lucky there. And he’s even fluffing up the rice with his fork. Nice touch.”
“Nice touch indeed, Charlie. But what did our judges think?”
[Cut to dead judges]
[Cut back to presenters]
[Cut to empty audience seats]
[End of broadcast]
The screams of the small children played amongst the iron girders of the vast high ceiling. There was a closeness in the air. The pool was warmer than usual. Jake put it down to the official change in season. That time of year when businesses struggle to decide whether to turn their heating on or not, trying to cater for those that feel a chill easily and those who could quite happily live in an uninsulated barn on top of an exposed Yorkshire moor. Jake found it too warm. He was trying to decide if it was because of the temperature in the swimming pool or just because of the anticipation, but the attention to his bodily state was soon broken when the feet of the large woman with short grey hair appeared on the moist tiles at his eye level. She was here, at last. Ten minutes later than usual.
Her beautiful beach ball figure made its way towards the poolside. The stylised multicoloured flowers swayed against the ripples of her bulging skin. He caught the glistening sweat within the shortest grey hairs at the back of her neck as she turned, ready to descend backwards. Her bulbous knuckles gripped white around the handles. He noticed the succulent bunion which pushed against her mottled foot skin as it took the force of her substantial weight at the edge of the pool. Jake felt the shiver of delight. He took in her deep spidery veins and the cracked heels filled with small streams of dampness taken from the footbath on the way in. The lovely verruca water. He’d dip his finger in on the way out and taste its goodness. But for now those soggy toes with their rotting nails was all he could concentrate on as her yellowing heel hung just above the water. His body tensed. He was glad he’d worn his extra baggy swimming shorts this time.
The pool water lapped the wrinkled soles of her feet, catching a flap of dead skin desperate to leave its host, wavering like some silky sweet freshly sucked caramel breath on the waves. The intricate creases in her feet as she descended, the marshmallow ankles that sat sturdily atop the angelic peeling plinths. The left foot reached for the third rung beneath the water, followed carefully by the right, and they were gone.
Until next week, Jake sighed, and made his clammy way to the footbath.