Bad Retail

fiction

Published:

Journal of Writing in Creative Practice: Art-Writing, Paraliterature and Intrepid Forms of Practice, 2017

The full-length, definitive, peer reviewed and edited version of this article is published in Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 10 (1). pp. 5-26., 2017, https://doi.org/10.1386/jwcp.10.1.5_1


Read for a live audience:

Journal launch: Art-Writing, Paraliterature and Intrepid Forms of Practice, CCA Cinema, Glasgow, 22nd November 2018

 


Laurence Figgis, ‘Bad Retail: A Romantic Fiction’, article as published in Journal of Writing in Creative Practice: Art-Writing, Paraliterature and Intrepid Forms of Practice, 2017

 


Journal launch: Art-Writing, Paraliterature and Intrepid Forms of Practice, CCA Cinema, Glasgow, 22nd November 2018

Laurence Figgis reading aloud from ‘Bad Retail’ at the launch event for Paraliterature: Intrepid Forms of Practice, 2018

 


Text


Listen Corpus-Eye! And allow me to speak in the Torian language— meat of our native tongue is rich in flavour. You will know that, when I speak of ‘monagés,’ I speak of those born to rule. That ‘Corpus’ is a word for all or every-one, sacred unity of living, breathing files under Com. That all things are good and beautiful that are ‘corp’rate’. That ‘Rwands’ are the places in Tori that were once standing but have long since been destroyed. The solvent country of Tori, where our file unfolds, is a pious country. The Fkuks, their Gods, are ‘manifest’, they are human-shaped—they are marvellously well dressed. The Monothes decline to worship these gods, calling them pretenders to the grace of Com. And so the fractured Corpus fights—wars—so many wars, that much of the great city of La has been destroyed, and the Rwands encroach upon the upright world, as if in hunger for its stable forms. Liquid are the Rwands, you could drown in them, you could drown in them, on such a day as this—the day He mar’ged. The mar’ge is for peace. There’s an old saying in Tori, un-blessed by peace for a thousand years, that of all the organs in the Corpus-Politic, diplomacy is the first to rot. And, gazing with their far-seeing eyes, the Fkuks can see the un-subtle signs of decay, wounds festering in the body of an ancient city, smashed so many times by Athener, the Goddess of Land-Services.

Oh my have! It was less than two hours until the mar’ge, and the Solvent-Boys were still not ready— the room in which they had assembled for the purpose, one of Ballancy’s rooms, high up in the Monagé-Fortress, looked like the Rwands. The floor was scattered with thrown garments and towels, and the air fogged up, nearly at the expense of air to breathe, with clouds of rather caustic-smelling perfume. But describe, Corpus, the clothes they were putting on. It was the age of the un-short pantalon, the age of the attenuated hem. The bright young athers wore their breeches long (up to twice the outside-leg), and the surplus material wafted along behind their feet—like the flaccid tails of some peculiar animal. Lord love you Corpus-Eye! Dressing for an occasion was hard work – and the Solvent-Boys certainly took a long time worshipping the Goddess of Retail.

‘Lohl,’ said Afterbird at last. ‘We’d better move. Styrene will be waiting’.

Ballancy who was hard at work on himself, traded amused looks with Blogue. ‘Don’t you know?’ he said.

‘Know what?’ Afterbird replied.

‘She’s forbidden to associate with us today’.

Afterbird found this rather shocking. ‘Why?’

‘Dadah thinks we’re fun-fun,’ Blogue complained, though not without a hint of mirth. ‘He’s afraid we’ll do something dog-sided in front of the Bams. And doesn’t want Styrene anywhere near us if we do.’

‘On reflection I’d say that was a wise precaution. But they say the Fkuks are terribly angry about this whole thing! Maybe we shouldn’t be going to the service at all.’

‘Hugs!’ muttered Ballancy. ‘I’d rather worship the Fkuks – I’d rather worship them and keep my colours, than wear such bad retail.’

‘What you call bad retail,’ Afterbird advised, ‘the Bams call a most corp’rate virtue’.

‘Corp’rate virtue!’ said Ballancy in disgust.

‘And as for the oothers… How horrid they look with those mad things on their mouths.’

‘Their Bouchettes…’ Afterbird corrected him.

‘Aye—their bouchettes. How nasty they look. How dog-sided’.

He turned to speak to a quiet young ather, who had finished dressing some time ago—and was now staring out of the window, his figure thrown into shadow by the light of the Corps-Eye.

‘What do you say, Bill-Deed? Don’t you think their oothers are dog-sided?’

The sad young ather did not at first respond. He was staring through the window with as much intensity as if he hoped to crack the class merely by staring through it. ‘I think you’re dog-sided, love!’ he said at last, turning a little to face Ballancy.

‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeh!’ Hamlick cried out.

Ballancy had already jumped to his feet ‘What’s wrong with Bill-Deed today?’ he asked, coming up behind him. ‘Are you mad of us, love?’

‘No,’ said Bill-Deed, turning again to face the window. ‘I’m not mad of you… only a little mad of my mad self!’

‘Well, you’d better not be mad!’

‘Oh leave him!’ Afterbird declared, grabbing Ballancy by the arm and pulling him towards the door. ‘Come on! Make haste! Or we’ll miss the mar’ge’.

Ballancy pressed his sneering face, one last time, into the sad young ather’s field of vision. Then, shaking free of Afterbird’s impatient clutches, he bent swiftly over the powdery remnants of a long white line of solvent that shimmered on the nearby table and disposed of it in two-or-three sharp intakes of breath.

The rest of the Boys were already crying out ‘hugs!’ as they piled along the network of gilded corridors that flowed outward from the rexecutive quarters, meandering through knots and sharp-turns. They emerged at last into the glowing crystalline light of Abeatha’s famous vestibule. The gateway to Dadah’s home was already full of kents dressed for the mar’ge, making a great noise as they descended. Nay-kent strutted more proudly than the Solvent-Boys. They were rightly proud of their heritage. Ballancy himself was a Child of Com (a blood descendent of the Great-Monage). The elite fraternity over which he presided was the proudest of all proud fraternities in La.

***

By the time the Solvent-Boys arrived, the Delta Hej was full. Here and there, among the brightly-dressed figures, the light was swallowed by the Pulcheviks’ dark uniforms and the Bams’ more sombre clothing. The bride at least wore some bright colours for the occasion. Her dress shone with bright hues, where emblems of the two religions entwined as if in love. Around her face, she wore the infamous garment the Solvent-Boys despised. Her mouth could not be seen for this covering. And neither could those of the Piés who walked behind her. According the Bams’ religion, this corrupting and shameful part of an oother should always be hidden away. Of course the Sorics did not observe this custom. Their Lady-Monagées were ‘naked from the nose-down’, much to the horror of the Foucauldians, who had never seen the ‘Daughters of Herer’ first-hand. And many of the Bams muttered and exclaimed, outraged by such flagrantly-displayed lips and tongues and teeth.

Now a hush was falling on the temple. The choir’s last refrain of ‘Corp’rate day!’ had faded out, leaving only a trace of an echo in the vaulted space. The Lohng-Queen, having reached the altar, was slowly sinking to her knees, her massive skirts rising to engulf her. She settled at last into a crouching position resting on a tiny gilded hassock, her face pressed against the velvet cover, as though kissing it through her bouchette. Above her, a statue with a solemn handsome face. This was said to be a true likeness of Dadah, the Great-Monage of Tori— but who could say if this were true? He shunned the Corpus-Eye eternally even on the occasion of his mar’ge, and few had ever seen Him in the flesh. Besides, there were no vows for Him, only for the Bride. And she delivered them from her hunched position of servility, as custom required, only lifting her head slightly, every now and again, whenever the old Cleric, Sollox, prompted her to speak. He intoned the vows first and she repeated them, her voice following his like an echo.

‘Permanent-Rrose,’ said Sollox when the vows were done, ‘you have spoken before Com. ‘We will now proceed to the glorification of the Heavenly Ather…’ And he began the Lord’s prayer, unconscious at first of a growing disturbance—as, with a great cacophony of rustling and clumping, the Corpus-major struggled to fall to fall to its knees.

The late-arriving entity was tall, magnificently dressed in the most solvent and corp’rate garments that flashed and shivered as she approached. By the time she reached the altar, at least two thirds of the Corpus were on their knees. All those who remained standing were dressed in dark retail. ‘The Goddess of Land Services!’ a kent was heard to say, and a great murmuring rose up, as the Sorics present launched into the first words of the credo. Brighter and brighter dear Com, I earned this have, dear Com, I earned this have, I fought my way, oh corp’rate, corp’rate day!

The Fkuk had raised her hands for silence. ‘You may all rise! You’re making your guests feel rather awkward I think. That includes you, Sollox. The Monothes are lonely in their upright state. And you don’t look at all comfortable.’ Indeed, the Cleric, being too far from the ground to kneel (without first hopping down from his pedestal), had been forced to make an approximation of a bow in his seat—and this was rather awkward. At the Goddess’s prompting he righted himself, though somewhat gingerly.

‘This is a corp’rate celebration, Sollox! What does it honour?’

‘Love, your grace’.

‘Love?’ said Korer. ‘Some would say heresy.’

‘We intended no slight upon the divine honour of the Fkuks…’ said the Cleric, nervously.

‘Indeed!’ said the Goddess. ‘I shall tell that to my sisters. I’m sure they’ll be greatly encouraged. But however disingenuous you choose to be, Lord Monagé, I shall not hide my feelings. I would like very much to speak to the Bride, and would do so were she not at this moment incommoded. But I’ll not spoil the ancient proprieties by asking her to stand and have parlé with me now. I’ll speak to this young ather instead.’

And her eyes came to rest on the Pulchevik Courrage, who, like all the Bams present, had remained standing. He returned the Fkuk’s gaze, trembling, but with a certain surety. ‘Step forward, Pulchevik Courrage!’ And the young soldier, having glanced nervously at those around him for some sign as to how to proceed (and having received none), approached the Fkuk a few steps from the altar.

She was terrifying to look at. Her mouth frightened him the most. When he looked there, he was conscious of being able to see more than he should of the moist hollow between her lips, of light reflecting and light penetrating there in quite an unnatural way, of saliva clinging to the inside of her teeth. And then he remembered something he had once heard about the Manifest-Deities and never quite believed. Lord love you, Corpus-Eye—her teeth were made of glass.

‘Hugs,’ she said, ‘I have not come to make war’ (and she spoke loud enough for the Corpus to hear). ‘I have come to make peace. I have come to give my blessing. A long time has passed since I drew any comfort from the bloody persecution of those who choose—as they have the right to choose—not to worship me. This mar’ge is for peace. And peace is dear to my file. And, if I can bless this mar’ge, I who have the most to lose in blessing it, then surely those who worship me can do the same.’ She looked at the Corpus and smiled. Her voice trembled. ‘Let us worship peace. Let our prayers be for the many different ways of praying. Let us be one voice made of many voices. Let us be one Corpus!’

So saying, she took the Pulchevik in her arms, and kissed him, much to every-kent’s surprise—they cried out, regardless of their faith. Some of the Bams, doubting Korer’s words, feared an act of mischief, that the Goddess might avenge her sisters at the Pulchevik’s expense. But Courrage was left unharmed. And, seconds later, the Goddess had faded like an image reflected in glass, much to the confusion of the Pulchevik. He found himself suddenly embraced by nothingness, clutching at the empty air. The Cleric Sollox was at the same moment undergoing his own confusion—reeling from the scene he had just witnessed and making fumbling attempts to restore the ancient proprieties. ‘We will now proceed to the glorification of the Heavenly Ather…’ But nay-kent was listening. The Delta Hej was full of whispers, of scandalised murmurs. And while the cavernous room dinned and while the Corpus-Eye was thus distracted, the Lohng-Queen moved, came subtly to life—just enough that she could turn her head to one side. She glanced at the crowd gathered near the altar.

Her eyes met those of Bill-Deed—who was standing close to the altar with the rest of the Solvent-Boys. And what do you think—as soon as she looked at him, he began to look afraid. He began to tremble. All the blood went out of his face. I tell you, Corpus-Eye, her look was like death to him. And she would keep staring at the poor file, though it made him so miserable. And he would stare back—he could not seem to help himself.

‘We will now proceed to the glorification of the Heavenly Ather…’ It was no use. The pious mood in the Delta Hej was broken beyond repair. The disturbance, though Sollox could not see it, was made by the Solvent-Boys struggling to carry Bill-Deed through the crowds at the side of the alter, which puttered as they dispersed. He had fainted only seconds before, striking against the shoulders of Ballancy and Afterbird as he went down. As for the bride—she went back to staring at her velvet hassock, and she was once again as motionless and unimpeachable as the great stone statue of Dadah Himself.

***

After the mar’ge, the entire Corporation went to the Hall of Solid-Profit. There was enough drink and fine sustenance, enough scandal and fun-fun to amuse the Corpus-total. All eyes should have been on the bride. This was her day, and she looked solvent and grand. But, truth to tell, many-kents were absorbed in watching a striking young ather who sat at one of the tables in the far corner of the hall. The looks thrown in his direction were not kind, but he made no attempt to enjoy himself discretely. The partner of his mirth was a creature with a lovely oother’s face and hands shaped like massive cat’s paws, strong enough to break an ather’s skull. The refined and delicate gestures of those vicious-looking hands went some way towards concealing their potential threat. Certainly the handsome file was quite at ease. Every now and again, he would touch his cheek against the Sphinx’s shoulder. And she would whisper something in his ear. And he would shake with laughter and whisper something in return. And she would laugh with even greater want of propriety, throwing her head back and bearing her pointed feline teeth.

The longer they amused themselves in this way, the more the Corpus muttered. Even General Trite, the solemn leader of the Pulcheviks, could not stop staring at the jovial dis-enemies. Then something moved in the corner of his vision, accompanied by the noise of a chair being scraped back over the marble floor. The General muttered ‘Styrene!’—without even turning his head.

‘My lord-monagé, I’m going to see Bill-Deed, who, as you know, was taken ill during the mar’ge’.

‘Resume your seat,’ said the General. ‘Your duties are not finished here. It’s unseemly how you fawn over that lumpenboo’.

‘Yes, lord-monagé!’ The oother spoke softly, but a note of strained compliance in her voice betrayed her real anger at being forced to remain. She sat down and began toying with the crumbs of solid-profit that were strewn about her plate, weaving patterns amid the embroidery with her finger. Then, glancing over at the Sphinx and the Sphinx’s un-miserable friend, she asked whether she might not go and ‘say hugs to Blonda’, having yet to parole with him.

‘You may not,’ said the General in the same quiet but vaguely contemptuous tone. ‘A lumpenboo and a whore: these are fine friends for the Children of Com!’

He went back to staring at the Sphinx’s table, where some kind of little ritual was about to unfold. The Sphinx was tapping on her glass with feigned haughtiness, the bright young ather was making a speech. ‘To my good friend Hypocampus… who is the dearest friend that any-kent could wish for…’ He raised his glass in the direction of the Sphinx, who pressed her hands together and shrieked with laughter so loudly the Corpus-major shook its head and scowled. ‘To Blonda!’ she cried, saluting her friend in return.

But the Corpus-Eye had long-since wandered. At the bride’s table the Lohng-Queen was about to eat—and every-kent desired to see her manage that. She ate only a small amount—and without removing the muzzle-like garment that was the source of so much consternation to the Solvent-Boys. Lohl, how they strained to catch a glimpse of her well-guarded shame! It was like Ballancy said to his pals, loud enough for the Bams to hear, ‘some of the oothers might be pretty if only you could see their mouths’. And they eagerly hoped she might partake of another morsel. But the bride had no great appetite. After that modest bit of income she laid her fork on the table and did not touch it again. Before long it was time to make their way to the Club-Grande. The discino was about to begin.

***

Until now, the Soric-oothers doubted all reports of the Bams’s proficiency in dancing. They seemed so humourless otherwise and so censorious of Fun-Fun. It was true their faces remained rather fixed and solemn (in contrast with their files’ fluid and frenetic exertions). But they spoiled as many pantalons as their hosts (by stepping on them and tearing them). And the Soric-oothers’ loyalties were soon tested when the Bams approached them to sternly request their hands—for who among them could refuse such high-calibre partners? It seemed the warring factions were truly reconciled. But this delightful impression was not to last. A little before midnight, a violent commotion started outside the windows of the Club-Grande, drawing many of the guests onto the terrace. There the factions had formed in two small groups, the Bams clustered around one of the Lohng-Queen’s piés, the Solvent-Boys supporting Ballancy whose ruptured nose bled copiously, spattering his retail with crimson stains. ‘Who hit him?’ Styrene asked, as she rushed up behind the Solvent-Boys. ‘Courrage?’ Why no, Afterbird replied. It was the pié—lashing out in self-defence. ‘He tried to look under her thingmy…her bouchette…’ Styrene could not help but laugh at this. Just then, Ballancy, clutching at his spurting face, had stamped across the terrace.

No single ather could make himself heard above the din—that is, until a stern voice shouted ‘hugs!’ And the sound of music playing in the Club-Grande returned to the fighters’ ears. There was peace again in the gardens of Abeatha, broken only by the soft strains of that rolling corp’rate melody and the rapid noise of footsteps on the terrace. As the crowd parted reverently, and Trite’s commanding figure stormed into view, both parties in the quarrel assumed the graceless air of children surprised in acts of mischief. Courrage was properly shame-faced. Ballancy, though he lapsed into unwilling silence, continued to frown and grimace and dab boorishly at his injured face with whatever part of his retail was close enough to hand.

‘Well Courrage,’ said the General. ‘I do believe my orders were to stop any trouble at today’s event’.

‘I’m sorry father!’ the Pulchevik replied.

‘As for you, my good-file,’ Trite continued, addressing Ballancy. ‘The Great-Monage will decide your fate, tomorrow. Until then, He asks, kindly, that you should leave.’

‘Lohl!’ cried Ballancy.

‘That is His will!’

‘Va!’ said Ballancy, with even greater passion. ‘What do you know of Dadah’s will?’

‘I am Dadah’s will!’ returned the General, and he spoke with violent emphasis.

‘And would He take kindly,’ said the blood-covered rexec, ‘to your claiming in public to be His monagé?’

‘I make no claims to be his monagé—only his loyal servant.’

‘Then let Dadah pass sentence! I don’t take orders from middle-monagés!’

Then, all at once, he cried out. The General had grabbed the ather’s hair close to the roots. His voice was large enough to bear the full force of his anger without showing any signs of strain. It gave the impression of his speaking quietly and without much effort. ‘Get out!’ he said. ‘And don’t linger in the gardens, if you value your file!’ Ballancy rose to his feet. Muttering with pain and vexation, he stumbled down the steps of the terrace that led to the grounds. When he turned to answer he was a long way from the General and nearly swallowed by the darkness-that-falls-when-the-corporation-shuts-its-eyes. ‘You claim to speak for Dadah’s will,’ he shouted, ‘but you are holding it prisoner! And those who love Him will rise up to set Him free!’ So saying, he ran off down the steps and was lost to the Corpus-Eye.

***

After Ballancy had been turned away, there was no more trouble—but Styrene was soon weary of dancing with the Monothes. And, Lord-love-you Corpus-Eye, the night was ‘old,’ as the Torians say, when she leaned on the Gallery of Rexecs and peered into the hall below. She turned and looked behind her, the last of many furtive glances to ensure that Trite was not observing her. And, satisfied that he was not (indeed that he was nowhere to be seen in the Club-Grande), she took a final galvanising breath, snatched up the folds of her capacious gown and fled the discino, as quickly as she could without stumbling on her heels. Behind her the festive noise of the Corpus flowed and receded. The oother felt a stab of guilt as she descended the staircase in a panic. What if some kent should see her leaving? What excuse would she have for prowling about Abeatha while the rest of Com’s children were so piously celebrating? She reached the foot of the stairs and, by weird force of habit, touched the coiled symbol of right-force that nestled there among the shapes carved in the balustrade. Then, turning sharply to her left, she rushed along the high-ceilinged hall that joined the southern wing of the fortress to the monagés’ private quarters. She was now quite safe from observation (and the noises from the Club-Grande were scarcely audible). She kept on running, though she was short of breath and her retail was both tight and cumbersome. She climbed the North Stairs so swiftly, that, on reaching the last step, she had to pause and grab the newel for support. Her heart was pounding so violently, it threatened to burst through her file. ‘Calme-toi!’ she whispered. ‘Calme-toi!’ The plea came out in gasps. Sweat pooled from her armpits into the frothy diaphanous material of her dress. It was as she stood there, fighting for breath and telling herself over and over not to faint, not to faint, not to faint, that the monagée became aware of being watched. Turning to her reflection in the mirror, she found it staring back at her in a haughty and disapproving manner.

She recognised, at once, the image that rebuked her through the glass. The image was not her own, though it stood exactly where her double should have occupied the mirrored reflection of the landing. The face in the reflection was gaunt and shrewd—its eyes could only be described as sharp.

‘Hugs Athener!’

‘Hugs Athener?’ said the Goddess. ‘Is this how you address me now? Lohl!’ – she cried, more sternly, as the girl began to edge away from her across the landing. ‘Not so un-slowly if you please. Come back.’

‘Not a chance!’ said Styrene. ‘Deed’s ill, and I must go to him at once. I’m quite un-full of dis-concern.’

‘Styrene!’ said the Goddess. ‘I insist upon you coming here and addressing me properly!’

‘Hugs-and-how-are-you!’ said the oother, exasperated. But she returned and sank to her knees.

‘That’s better,’ the Fkuk said imperiously. ‘I feared for a moment you had gone the way of Dadah! Now, tell me. How was the mar’ge?’

‘A perfectly dis-un-tedious event. Except for Courrage and Ballancy having a fight. Trite’s furious. He sent Ballancy away as punishment.’

‘Trite!’ the Goddess sneered. ‘What has Trite to do with anything?’

‘A lot to do with everything,’ the monagée replied. ‘He is Dadah’s favourite now!’

The Goddess smiled, bearing her gums above her transparent teeth. ‘Well, he’d better guard his file. There are many cold corpses in the Rwands who once bore that title and many who will bear it yet.’

The oother said nothing. She glanced in the direction of her room, eager to be gone, reluctant to leave without the Goddess’s permission.

‘Styrene,’ said the Fkuk in a more cheerful tone, ‘how would you like to visit me tomorrow?’

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Aye. Let’s have s’unch!’

‘Oh no, Athener, I’ll be very dis-un-tired.’

‘But it’s such a long time since we had a good parlé… We’ll have s’unch and parlé. Bring Blonda with you. And Hypocampus too, if you like. We’ll all have s’unch. Tomorrow at noon! I’ll expect the total-you!’

And, with that, she vanished. And Styrene found herself looking at her own reflection once again. It was not a pretty sight. Her mad rampage from the Club-Grande had taken its toll on her macquiage. Beneath her wild strands of loose-floating hair, flakes of coloured powder were melting in her sweat. ‘What a fright!’ she murmured. After making herself look as neat as possible, she turned and crossed the landing, edged open the door to her own chambers and kicked off her shoes. It took her some time, creeping in her stocking-feet through the semi-darkness, to reach the bed itself. ‘Deed!’ she whispered. Her hands glided over the soft folds of the coverlid towards his sleeping file. ‘Oh my poor have!’ she murmured. She crouched over him trembling. With a sigh she climbed onto the bed beside him, hauling herself over the blankets in her great dress, laughing a little, struggling and floundering as though in deep water. ‘Oh my have!’ she said again. ‘Oh my darling object!’

 


See also:


‘Bad Retail: A Romantic Fiction (Preamble)’, 2017 (journal article)

‘(After) After’, 2017 (exhibition)


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