Monthly Archives: April 2022

One’s a Barbie Girl

A limited-edition Barbie doll of the Queen has been created for her Platinum Jubilee…

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It was Happy Hour in the Pink Parka.

A group of younger Barbies were gathered on stools at the bar. Their Kens stood at far end of the room, a collection of Stepford boyfriends talking about golf handicaps.

The girls had arranged to meet – had got dolled-up to do so, in fact – to discuss the news story of the day.

“She has a tiara,” said Yoga Barbie, who had only one position, the Downward Dog, “and the Crown Jewels.”

“She has actual palaces,” said Bingewatch Barbie, who came with her own sofa, remote and giant bag of Quavers. “Nobody is going to want a Malibu Beach House if you can get Windsor Castle, complete with moat.”

“And she comes with pets,” said Instagram Barbie, taking a picture of the Quavers and uploading it. “She has corgis. They’re really cute.”

“They aren’t, they look like fudge-coloured Lego,” said Wheels, a Volkswagen Polo. This was Driverless Car Barbie – you didn’t get an actual doll, just a toy car.

They carried on with this light-hearted bitching, enjoying themselves, though every now and then they cast anxious glances at the one member of their of their group who hadn’t yet spoken.

Princess Barbie just sat, drinking morosely, staring into nothing.

“You ok, Babe?” asked Instagram Barbie.

A tear ran down Princess Barbie’s cheek, to the horror of the others.

“Don’t worry about her,” said Yoga Barbie, offering her a tissue. “People will still love you.”

Princess Barbie blew her nose, surprisingly loudly for someone with no discernible nostrils. Then she smiled weakly.

“You’re probably right,” she said, “and I know I shouldn’t mind. It’s just, I’ve always been the most popular-”

Bingewatch Barbie raised one non-existent eyebrow.

“Well, I have,” said Princess Barbie. “There’s no point in denying it. Young girls may say they prefer the career Barbies, and the sporty ones, but it’s me they really love, really want to be. I guess I just always thought of myself as the untitled queen. And now we have a real one.”

“Oh, stop moaning,” said a voice from behind the bar.

Princess Barbie started, spilling pink gin onto the counter. Behind that counter stood another Barbie. She wore a T-shirt with the name of the bar on it, and a tired expression. A wisp of hair had come loose from her bun and draped down one cheek. She had a tea-towel over her shoulder.

“Sorry,” said Princess Barbie, dabbing at the drink with her snot-soaked tissue. “I didn’t notice you there.”

“Well, I am here,” said Barmaid Barbie, snatching the tissue away and using the tea-towel instead. “And I have an opinion too, Princess, even if you have a better life than me.”

“I don’t have a better -”

“You own your own unicorn,” said Barmaid Barbie.

“True, but-”

“But nothing. Try walking a mile in my shoes, behind this counter. I can tell you it’s not easy, since I have the same ridiculous foot angle as you, and have to do it in high heels. You do think you are better than me, and most other Barbies. Why isn’t Cleaner Barbie one of your little gang, or Waitress Barbie? There are dozens of us that no-one cares about. Has anyone ever bought their daughter a Tesco Checkout Barbie, even after they were among the real heroes of the pandemic? I don’t think so. And now someone is more important than you. Well, welcome to my world.”

Throughout this speech Bingewatch Barbie had sat cross-legged on her sofa, staring entranced at the barmaid, spooning snacks into her mouth. Now she turned and grinned at Princess Barbie.

“Well, that’s put you back in your box,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Jump

A frog discovered in a bag of fresh mint in a fruit and veg shop in the north of England had survived a 6,000 km shipment from Ethiopia (Irish Times 09/04/22)…

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The fly hovered, buzzing gently, on the warm air above the Rift Valley.

Then suddenly it was gone, winked from existence like a snuffed candle by the lash-like flick of a long tongue.

Tadele lapped the fly into his mouth in a manoeuvre that involved curling his tongue like a party horn, closed his eyes and sat back contentedly on his tree branch, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the sigh of the gentle breeze and the low buzz of the fly.

Hang on, he thought, the fly is gone.

His eyes snapped open. The buzz wasn’t a buzz, it was a hiss. An Ethiopian Mountain Snake was slithering along the branch toward him. Tadele looked into its yellow eyes. Circle of life, they seemed to say and, though it had no shoulders, the snake seemed to shrug.

No way, though Tadele. Today is not my day to croak. He crouched back onto his hind legs, then leapt.

He landed in the soft undergrowth. He could hear the snake sliding swiftly down the tree like a slinky on a bat-pole and looked around for cover. He saw a bed of mint beside him, hopped to it, then turned himself green. Well, more green.

He held his breath as the snake searched for him. Eventually he heard it slither away. Tadele let out his breath.

Then his world turned upside down.

The whole clump of mint was wrenched from the soil and tossed onto the back of a truck. Tadele hit his head against the side wall, and fell unconscious. This was fortunate, as he was spared the terrors of the bumpy journey to a large factory, the ear-shattering flight in the cargo-hold of a plane, the soul-destroying atmosphere of a huge distribution warehouse.

It was unfortunate too, of course, as it meant that he missed several opportunities to escape.

He woke in confusion, in darkness, and in a plastic bag. He gasped in horror, and in that gasp inhaled the air of a tiny world that now contained nothing but mint.

The sharp freshness filled his lungs, his belly, the backs of his eyeballs. He felt as if he had been waterboarded with mouthwash.

The low rumbling and the constant bouncing told him that he was in some sort of vehicle. Eventually this slowed to a stop. A rectangle of light appeared above him, and his bag and several others were brought into a small shop. They were placed on a shelf, and he found himself alone. Now, he thought, to get out of –

His home was picked up and tossed into a small wire basket, which contained a bunch of bananas, a cucumber, a stick of celery and what appeared to be a grenade, but was in fact an avocado. The basket was carried to a counter, where his plastic bag was passed across a scanner, a process like being put through a body-scanner at an airport. In spite of himself, Tadele flinched.

“Hang on,” said a booming female voice. “Something moved in that bag.”

“No way,” said a man. “I keep this shop spotless.”

The bag was lifted. Tadele could see two huge faces peering in. He burrowed as deeply as he could into the mint.

“There,” said the woman. “It’s a frog!. It’s buried up to its thighs in the mint.”

Knee-deep, actually, thought Tadele, before he could stop himself.

“Oh,” said the man. “Er, will I take it out for you?”

“I’m not buying that,” snapped the woman, “but I recommend you take it out anyway. You’re not going to sell mint-and-a-frog in a bag, unless you can market it as a hipster ready-meal.”

The bag was pressed against the man’s brown shop-coat, and huge fingers tugged at the seal along the top. The bag opened, a great waft of mint escaped, and fresh air poured in.

Well, the fresh air of a fruit and vegetable shop, anyway.

Tadele’s lungs, now truly in mint condition, were assailed by the damp-earth smell of potatoes, the cat-pee odour of garlic, the yellow zing of lemons.

And onions.

Tadele’s huge eyes filled with water, but they were not the stinging tears of onion inhalation, but the joyous tears of delight. Never before had he known such sensation.

He leapt from the bag, hopped – no, practically bounced – across the shop, and out into the street.

He gleefully took in great gulps of town-life. He, who had known only the sweet aromas of trees and grasses, was enthralled by the gritty smells of diesel, of tarmac, even of last night’s drunken vomit.

He passed a chip-shop and deeply inhaled the glorious smell of batter and vinegar.

Then he arrived outside a coffee shop, and was filled with awe by the scent of the world’s most bitter-tasting yet best-smelling beverage.

He paused beside a wall, out of danger from incautious human feet, and looked around him. He felt truly alive. A new world had been opened to him.

Then a fly buzzed past. Tadele’s tongue whipped out, the fly was whipped in. Tadele smiled, though this made little difference to his facial expression.

I’m going to like it here, he thought.

 

 

 

Between the Light and the Dark

image from juiceman.com

He isn’t coming, Erin thought.

She had been there for an hour now, sipping at her drink, hope rising with every jangle of the bell above the door, hope falling at each entrant, some townsperson or other rushing in to get coffee or pastries, their breath preceding them like a man with a red flag warning of the approach of the phrase “man, that’s a cold one”.

Some had nodded to her in recognition but others, she thought, avoided her gaze, as if her situation was some sort of medusa virus that could be passed on by eye contact.

Erin tapped at the side of her cup with her blunt fingernail, then hid her hand quickly inside her coat. She had started biting her nails again, and was embarrassed by them.

She’d finish her drink, she decided, and go. There was no point in–

The bell tolled again, and this time it tolled for she.

He stood huge in the doorway, snowflakes speckled among the curls of his hair. He looked around, saw her, and beamed. She felt a burst of love for him, then one of rage.

He sat down opposite her. “Hello, Honey,” he said.

“You’re late,” she said angrily.

He shrugged. “It’s snowing,” he smiled, “and I didn’t come on a one-horse open sleigh. I came in a nine-year-old car that handles in snow like a drunk supermarket trolley.”

She was determined not to be charmed. “I thought you weren’t coming,” she burst out.

His smiled faded. “I’m sorry you thought that,” he said quietly. He waved to Anna, the owner. “I’m going to get a coffee,” he said to Erin. “Will you have another – what is that?”

Erin blushed. “Peanut butter hot chocolate,” she muttered.

His eyes widened. “Really?”

“It’s warming, and delicious,” she said, annoyed at how defensive she sounded. “But it does smell a tiny bit like socks, so I’ll stick.”

Anna arrived at the table, notepad open, as though two people might order too many things to be expected to remember. “Why, Greg,” she said. “Haven’t seen you in here in a while.”

“No,” said Greg. “I’ve been … away.”

He ordered coffee. Anna looked at Erin, who shook her head. The notepad flipped closed, and Anna walked away, smiling faintly.

“So,” said Greg, “she knows about the break-up.”

“Everyone knows about the break-up,” snapped Erin.

“I see,” said Greg. He sat in silence until his coffee arrived. Erin found that she was tapping at her cup again. She put her hand on the table, and noticed Greg looking at her nails.

“Is it really hard?” he asked, putting his big hand over hers. She was shocked at his stupidity, and wondered how she could possibly have loved this man. She pulled her hand free.

“What do you think?” she snarled. “I thought we had a great life. I thought I had a great life, then it all fell apart. Now I cry a lot” – she was furious with herself, but couldn’t stop – “and just keep wanting things to be the way they were before.”

“Oh Erin,” said Greg. “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Erin snorted, then panicked that she might have produced a burble of snot. She wiped quickly at her face. “Well, you did,” she said. “And don’t say that I’ll feel better after a while, like you did when you left, because this is after a while, and I don’t.”

She felt a flash of malicious satisfaction as she watched his face work out this sentence. Then she looked at him, really looked at him for the first time since he had come in. She saw that he was pale, not just mid-winter pale, but tired, unhappy pale. He looked old, for the first time ever. She felt a wave of sympathy, and was awed at the spectrum of emotions, between love and fury, between the light and the dark, that one human could simultaneously feel for another.

“It’s not easy for you either, is it?” she said softly.

He looked bleakly at her, and for a second she was terrified that he was going to cry. Then he fought his emotion, as he always did, and she was filled with illogical love and pride when the big, strong man – her big, strong man – managed a weak smile.

He reached out and put his hand on hers again. This time she let him.

She noticed him looking at the front of her coat. “Did you get my card?” he asked, hesitantly.

She smiled now, amused as always by his kryptonite, which was that he had never had sisters and so had no idea at what age girls are into what things. He had no idea, for example, that someone her age would rather die than be seen by anybody she knew wearing a big round badge that said ‘I’m 12 today’.

And she would never tell him that. She held her coat open, so that he could see the badge garishly red against her grey sweatshirt.

He smiled and squeezed her hand. “Happy birthday, Honey,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad,” she replied.