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First and Fiftieth and other stories
"each [story] contains a strong, distinctive and powerful voice"
reviews
Published: 2002



My second collection of short stories comprises first person narratives spanning the globe from Rio de Janeiro to Los Angeles, Africa to Nepal, London to Siberia. men and women from teenagers to grandparents each speak in a distinctive voice and with intense emotion as love and sex, violence and humour, anger and pathos meet in a kaleidoscope of human tragedy and comedy.


With one exception, which becomes clear as the narrative progresses, the stories are arranged in chronological order of the narrator. The extracts below are all openings. Kitchen Table is the first in the collection, Foucault's Nightmare the fifth, Judy the ninth, Ten Million Years the tenth, First and Fiftieth the thirteenth.


Four of the stories became one-man/one-woman plays and are available as playscripts: Angel and Californian Lives (comprising Los Feliz, Ben and Joe's and Sunset).




Kitchen Table


Marie's the most beautiful girl in the world. Okay, that's an exaggeration. She'd never win a beauty contest - she doesn't wear
First and Fiftieth by Martin Foreman

Paradise Press, UK
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make-up and she doesn't look plastic - but she's the prettiest girl in class, perhaps the whole school. No, pretty's the wrong word - it's too little-girl. I don't know what the right word is. Good-looking sounds like a man. Attractive's too boring. Anyway, Marie's got thick black hair, dark eyes, round cheeks and beautiful lips. She looks wonderful, like a painting. Something pre-Raphaelite, Michael says. He should know; he's the art expert. I don't care what type she is. I just know she's the best thing that's ever happened to me.


I didn't use to think so. I used to think she was stuck-up, the way she sat at the back and didn't talk to anyone. Now I know she's just shy. No, reserved. She keeps herself to herself. She wants to respect you before she'll spend time with you and she needs to know who you are before she can respect you. So she doesn't talk to many people. But that doesn't mean she hasn't got any friends; she has, good ones. They're mostly older, in the sixth form. I get on okay with them.


Three months ago, I'd never spoken to Marie. It was Michael who said if I wanted a girlfriend I could do worse than someone like her or Jessica. That was after our big row. The one I caused by saying if I didn't find a girl to go out with soon, people might start thinking I was gay. Michael blew his top. I should have shut up, but I made it worse. I said there were enough gays in the family and it was a good thing we only had English together or everyone would be gossiping about the two of us. He didn't speak to me for three days afterwards. It was stupid. He's my best friend and the only person I really trust.


Anyway, I wanted a girlfriend, not some tart who just wanted sex. That's all some boys want, but not me. I mean, of course I'd like sex with any girl if I knew they couldn't get pregnant. But you can never be sure. You can't trust them if they say they're on the pill and you never know if the condom's going to break. You can't take the chance. So casual sex is out, no matter how tempting it is.



Foucault's Nightmare



I was so excited that I walked straight into my boss's office without knocking, the proof copies of the prospectus for the Mile High Club in my hot little hand. I was flushed, not because it was the middle of summer, nor the time of the month and not because an eighteen-year-old Denzel Washington with muscles had just shown me his hard copy at the printer's. No, what was sending the blood coursing through my body was the fact that the Mile High was my first big project and I was as excited as a twelve-year old who'd lost her virginity to the hunkiest member of the latest boy band.


Roger shot up in his seat and slammed shut the book he'd been reading, as redfaced as a boy interrupted at his favourite pastime. The History of Sexuality, Part I. I was not surprised he was embarrassed; instead of light reading, he should have been casting his eye over my final budget, checking each upright column for imperfections.


But like the alpha male he was, thirty-three, six feet one, first class degree, athletic, intelligent and founder and boss of Upthrust, a coming new enterprise in the heart of Soho, he leapt to his feet to take charge of the situation. "Tell me, Fanny," he asked, casually walking over to the window where he could look down at the summer buffet of bare, buffed bodies, "how familiar are you with Michel Foucault?"


"The name tickles a forgotten g-spot," I said, my eye temporarily drawn to his latest screensaver, a footballer with a dangling testicle dodging opponents as the caption bounced by: 'keep your eye on the ball.'


"French philosopher, wasn't he?" I went on. With a second in linguistics, not to mention naturally blond hair, self-supporting 36D Moet and Chandon and hips described by my personal bank assistant as the nemesis of SW1, I was, as ever, determined not to let Roger entirely dominate our intercourse.



Judy



No, the pain's not so bad, not today. Some days I can barely get out of bed. Every bone aches and my body's as stiff as a board. I lie here watching television and videos of Her films and tell the boys to make their own breakfast. If he's not in a hurry Valdemir brings me a cafezinho. At lunchtime, if I'm up to it, I boil myself some soup.


On a good day, though, I'm up with the lark. By the middle of the morning the house is clean and I'm washed and dressed. Nothing flashy. Plain colours. High neckline and knee length. And I never let anyone see me without make-up.


Women respect you for keeping up standards. Especially around here. They know how tough it is. Joanna next door, the one with three kids and the husband that drinks, she always compliments me. So does Betinha, the one with the small shop. She's had more than her share of life's troubles. One man shot by the police, another doing time and problems with her health. Won't say what, but you can tell it's serious. She understands what I've been through.


Men are a horse of a different colour, but at least they're polite. Now. There were comments from a couple of young hoodlums when I moved in. I warned them they were playing with fire, but that didn't stop them. Well, it wasn't long before the whole neighbourhood heard who had been visiting that whore Isabel down on the main road - not to mention a few details that I don't bring up in polite company.


How times have changed. Years ago they would have worshipped me. I had it all. Top billing at the Alaska. An apartment in Copacabana. Money in the bank. Friends in high places. Men at my feet. Now, look at me. Look around. Bare walls, bare floor, cupboard bare. All my friends have gone. It's enough to make you weep.



Ten Million Years



I have known and loved you for years, for centuries, for millennia. I have known and loved you since before knowledge and love, since before sight, before sound, before touch, before memory. I have known and loved you with every cell that has ever birthed and died in my body. I have known and loved you since you were me and we were one.


I first remember you as one among many who lazed in the shade of a thousand broad leaves or scampered from tree to tree in search of food, shelter or amusement. You were on the periphery of my vision, as I must have been at the edge of yours, no more than another broad-shouldered young male, posturing aggression or lazing in the sun, slowly and carefully picking nits from his own or another's hair. To you, I was the same, identifiable only through one unwitting habit or another, scratching a buttock when bored, yelping when a young child tried to steal my food. Unmated, we hovered around the pack, wary of our peers and afraid of our elders, day after day, year after year eating and drinking, excreting, copulating and waiting for a future that neither, none, of us could conceive.


At times we found ourselves confronting each other in anger or in play, and, when we did so, there would be the briefest of moments in which our eyes met and some incomprehensible message flashed between us, a message bearing promise of ineffable knowledge and pleasure, but a message so weak that it died at birth, suffocated by the overwhelming urge to prove ourselves, to strike and to dominate. At other times, in rare moments of silence and tranquillity, we were haunted by desires we could not identify, unrecognisable shadows in a fog of ignorance and inexperience. I would find myself watching you, your shoulders hunched, your eyes darting hither and thither, your hands worrying the thick peel of some fruit, and I would wonder who you were, why I was staring at you and what I wanted from you. And in the eyeblink it took me to leap up and scurry towards you, these thoughts, as vague as they were disturbing, would be swept aside by greed for the food you held and apprehension of the hostility with which you rose to confront me.


Generations lived and died, bodies lengthened and thickened, hair thinned, jaws receded and faces expressed deepening knowledge and emotions. Driven by curiosity, we left the safety and comfort of the known for a world whose brightness both invited and terrified. Infants clinging to mothers, youngsters playing nervously, adults emboldened by each others' cries, we stepped out into the vast emptiness of the plains. There, despite the protection of petulant parents and grudging cousins, pain and fear multiplied in the terrors that lurked around us, below the horizon, behind the hillock, beneath the water. Many died from the violence of teeth and claws or the surprise of floods and rockfalls; others faltered and fell from no cause that we could discern. When we could, we would stop to stare uncomprehending at their bodies lying still, would wail at their silent, blank faces, would cradle them in our arms, willing our warmth to keep them safe and comfortable until life returned.



First and Fiftieth



This is an old Yugoslavian recipe, taught me by a guy who used to ride out of Portland, Oregon. We crossed paths a couple of times, chewed the fat. I liked him. Quiet kind of guy, used to be a teacher. He'd settle down a couple of months, maybe more, then the itch would get him and he'd be off, heading down to Texas if it was winter, Maine if it was the fall. A few days there and he'd head back. Say he'd missed home. Good folks, he'd say. Couldn't see it, myself. Some good, some bad, same the world over.


If I can pour some of the water off of here, there's your dinner. What you don't want, leave. I'll fry up for breakfast.


Talking of home, guess this is mine. For now. Been here two months this time round. Bridge keeps me dry. A few bits of wood, cardboard, keeps out the cold. Got me a fireplace, chair. Not too far from the tracks. It's got so I can't sleep unless I hear the trains go by. Good thing is, it's off the bulls' jurisdiction. Sure they seen me. They know I ride the rails, but they ain't bothered me. Not like the bastards in Tampa. Damn near broke my arm down there.


Anyhow, I'm in no hurry. I got used to it here. People drop by. Sometimes you sit, watch the trains, the sunset, the rain. Sometimes you talk. Tell your story if you've a mind to. Trouble is, memory changes things. Things you want to forget. Things you want to remember that never happened. Happens to everybody. Gets so, nobody's story's true. Not yours, not mine. But it's all we got.




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