Arrgh eh carter please could you write some more about Adverse Camber? I liked this story very much.
Comment by Helen April 23, 2009 @ 7:59 am
Part I – Fish
‘Adverse Camber’ he mouthed into the mirror, mouthed a snarl, as he treated the thin line of his moustache. His moustache was a precision tool fuzz just above the lip. ‘We meet again.’ Of course the man’s name was Adverse Camber, a name which was now buried deep inside him so that it did not show. Cut him open and, like counting the rings of a tree, you could count his aliases by peeling away the skins until you reached Adverse Camber.
He was currently working under the name of ‘Root,’ supplying stock and also fish through less than correct avenues. He had some bones boiling away on the hob behind him in the small kitchenette of his one-flat. On the old wooden table was a rather strange laboratory.
Root had given up on hotels and now ran from damp flat to damp flat, renting from a succession of men with blood under their nails. They saw the blood under Root’s nails and gave him a fair deal. They would ask him his name and he would tell them, “Root, just Root.” And they knew that it would be pointless asking for further details.
He stopped trimming and came back to look at the fish on the table. The fish was empty and as such had no retail value. Its crispy skin was intact but had been used – gutted and grilled – there were some bones still attached. Its little jelly eyes were present as well as its loosely flapping jaw. Its serrated teeth like a grapefruit spoon. With a little work it would be as good as new and would be worth something.
Across the table lay an assortment of fillings and now Root picked up a spoon and got to work filling the fish up again. He had some out of date tins of tuna and mackerel which would give it a good fishy taste and he packed in some oats and stuffing mix to fill it out. Some sea salt and some sand too, and then he forced in a few leftover bones to make it more realistic. He gave it a heart, an old plum stone, still with some straggly bits of fleshy fruit on. And then anything else he thought would go. Nothing poisonous.
When the fish was sufficiently full, stuffed up like a lively swimming thing, Root took out his needle and some silvery thread and stitched along the underside of the fish where it had been gutted the first time. And then he moved on to the next one.
The morning passed in this way, Root with his sharp moustache bringing Frankenstein fish back to life again, helping them realise their potential to make more money, giving them some resale value. Each fish was thrown in a bag with several others, tied off and put in the freezer. Somehow they looked more realistic frozen.
The doorbell rang and Root too froze. No one knew he was here and what reason would they have to, or it could be the police who had every reason. Root was comfortable enough with his own fate that as soon as he reached the door he had no hesitation in opening it.
“Hello sir, let me ask you a question,” the young man began, and as he was not the police Root let him continue. “Would you like a faster way of communicating with your friends, your families, your colleagues, your clients?”
“What are you selling?”
“Well, I’m going door to door and I’m offering people the chance to enjoy something new, something-“
“Your very own e-mail account.” The young man looked like he was waiting for applause.
Root pulled his hand across his chin and his cheeks and felt the bristles. He seemed to do that for a long time. It seemed that the young man was an optimist, he still looked hopeful of making a sale.
“Do you,” said Root finally, “like fish?”
Part II – Cats
Root pushed the cat food down into the hollowed-out inside of the fake skull using the back of a spoon. It was surprising how much of it would fit inside.
The students carefully watched the strange man who had appeared at the door selling fish and then, a moment later, had been in their kitchen helping with the props for their homemade horror film. This strange man with blood under his nails. And none of them was going to be the first to ask him to leave.
“Fancy making a cup of tea?” asked Root, staring straight at one of the boys. He nodded and hurried to the kettle.
Root was enjoying himself, squishing in more and more cat food. Mashing it so violently it began to spray across the kitchen table. The fake cat skull was made of plastic and had been covered in fur, the students had done a good job.
It was getting late. “We’ve got to go to bed,” they told Root, hoping he would go away. “We-“
“Its fine,” said Root, putting down the fake cat’s head filled to over-brimming with cat food. “I’ll sleep in the car.” He rummaged in a plastic bag. “Let me give you these.”
And then he was handing a hand-bound book to each of them and telling them, “This is just an idea for a plot for your film, it doesn’t seem to have one at the moment.”
Root got comfy on the backseat of his car, making a pillow from bags of stock and a duvet from bags of ‘fish’. The students began to read the books, each of them wondering who this man was and what had happened to them since they opened the door to the fish salesman. The short story seemed to be about a door to door stock salesman named Adverse Camber – crook, amateur, thug, adventurer – with blood under his fingernails. They all slept hoping that Root would be gone by the morning.
He was not gone by the morning, but was awoken by his phone ringing and he answered sleepily, unaware that the caller was his wife. “Hello.”
“Adverse Camber!” she barked. “Well well. How’s your stock Adverse Camber?”
He rubbed his eyes open with one hand and held his phone in the other. “It’s on the rise,” he growled.
“Really? Really? Because that sounds like bull-fish to me Adverse Camber. The police have been looking for you again. It’s not looking good for you is it?”
Root stopped for a moment and pushed the bags of fish off his chest and sat up. He looked out of the window at the scruffy street outside and snarled, as he did every morning so that the day knew better than to cheat him. ‘Listen,’ he silently told the day, ‘watch it’.
“Is it?” his wife shouted again.
“I’m making a film.”
He was not expecting her to laugh. And once she did she wouldn’t stop laughing. Laughter was the last thing he heard as she slammed the phone down.
Root waited for the morning to mature before waking the students. “What do you think of the plot?” he asked, standing menacingly in their hallway.
The students looked at one another.
“Well?” Root demanded.
“It’s good,” said one. “Yes,” said another. “I don’t see where the cat’s head comes into it.”
The first Adverse Camber is still available to read at https://digestivepress.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/adverse-camber/.
In the lounge, introductions were being made. A chauffeur wearing pristine white gloves stood next to a Moustachioed Gentleman and gestured towards a gateau on the table. The Moustachioed Gent gazed at the gateau and the gateau gazed back at him. It made him feel about two inches tall, even though he was closer to seven foot. He had never seen a cake before that intimidated him the way this one did.
Its beauty was indescribable.
Feeling out of his depth, the Moustachioed Gent blushed and whispered in the chauffeur’s ear: “But that cake is far too good for me.” The chauffeur, who had recently quit driving in favour of presenting cakes had brought to his new profession all of the wisdom and grace he had learnt in the previous one. He straightened his gloves and replied: “Au contraire sir, can you not see how she is looking at you?”
The Moustachioed Gent thought for a moment and his blushing receded. That evening he had applied wax to his moustache so that it curled perfectly to his preferred mathematics and he had also applied wax to his leather shoes so that they shone like black holes on the ends of his legs. Certainly he had seen more shambolic men here with quite impressive cakes… though he had seen no cakes quite so impressive as the beauty which sat coyly on the table before him.
Finally he coughed, and then nodded to the chauffeur.
The chauffeur picked up the cake and carried it in his studied, stately manner whilst the Moustachioed Gent followed behind. Nerves began to flood his nervous nervous n-n-n-n-n- nervous system.
When they reached the room the chauffeur set the cake down gently on the table and then departed as silently as he could, like a valet driving across velvet. The Moustachioed Gent thought about taking his shoes off and then decided that would be rude, thought about switching the television on but stopped again for the same reason.
He walked slowly around the table until he had seen the cake from all sides. It was about six inches in diameter, small but perfectly formed. He had, of course, brought his own spoon and he now removed it from the left breast pocket of his suit and polished it with his sleeve. He drew the curtains, sat down at the table and switched off his narrative tracker system.
It was half an hour later when the Moustachioed Gent turned the system back on. He drew the curtains once more and then, leaving the room as he found it, left. He handed the key in at the desk and walked out into the night.
The air was cold and as he walked down the road he checked in his pocket to make sure his spoon was there. Yes, of course he had not forgotten it. He made a mental note to wash it when he got home.
It was absurd, he reflected, to feel as though he had been all alone in the room and absurd too that he felt such little guilt for what he had done. He had no worries about being found out, the service was discreet and his wife need never know. But what struck him as he walked through the cold night was how empty he felt. He began to wonder about the gorgeous cake: had it been too good for him?
And then the empty feeling became a dipping sensation and the thought crossed his mind that this was the pinnacle of his life, that nothing could ever be quite so good again.
When he got home he decided against washing the spoon. He was never going to wash that spoon again.