Welcome to Bentley’s world. It is a world of fascinating ambiguities and cheap home furniture. It’s a melody within a song that you can’t remember. It blends nicely with the colour blue.
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In fact, Bentley’s world exists entirely between his two ears.
As do you!
Bentley had awoken that morning with that insatiable urge to get up that happens so rarely it has been suggested that it does not exist at all. But it does happen and it did this morning. Bentley’s blue eyes opened immediately and fully for the first time in years (since Christmas 1978, as he recalls), eye-crust exploding in all directions. Bentley shoots upright, his messy brown hair going in some angles as yet unimagined.
Then he remembers the night before and can hear Star pottering about maliciously in the kitchen – and the reason for the spasm-awakening introduces itself to his conscious mind. He jumps out of bed, throws a t-shirt on, sucks in his gut and heads out of the bedroom with ill-advised haste. And there she is, about to leave. His star-girl.
Bentley was thirty years old, owner of a Vauxhall Astra, a dining table and two Cappuccino mugs. He also owned a number of socks of varying quality, some rudimentary underwear, and a bin-bag full of shirts and jumpers.
Never at any time in his life had he been so utterly, abjectly poor.
Never, of course, was the name of the dog. You may say dog but ‘mound of fetid swamp-stench housing a vocal box as large as a house – a vocal box specifically designed to create the loudest, most piercing of barks and remix it into a bhangra drum and bass techno punk fusion anthem before mixing it straight back into a big bark’ is more precise. Just a loud bark in a furry, smelly little body really. He should never have been. Ergo his name – Never. Not ergo. Bentley and Star had saved Never from certain death (in the form of an injection of something blue) and paid a fiver for him.
Star emanated beauty in ways not seen since Goddesses roamed the world. Okay, so she isn’t perfect – the eyes are too blue, the teeth ever so slightly uneven and she is only really blonde if you are very, very drunk – but to Bentley she was perfect. His star-girl. And she was moving out, taking Never with her. Forever.
Bentley has a theory about “Forever”. He has a theory on absolutely everything. Even if he hasn’t, he’ll make a slightly plausible one up. You never quite know if he’s telling the truth or if he’s metaphorically fallen down a hole on Fib road. Suffice to say the theory on “Forever” was going to be made-up but it would have featured Welsh Quadraphonic singers and a vast smelly room.
“Right,” she said, the finality of it making Bentley wish he’d actually got fully dressed. He could sense the impending statement before she’d actually thought it (three years ago after the funfair fiasco – don’t ask). “I want you gone when I return. I’m off to work.” She looked at him closely and said, in as devilish-a-voice as ever was heard, “And I fucking mean it, shitface.”
Bentley’s mind was shaken into something remotely faster than sluggish and infinitely quicker than stop. “But…” he whined. He hadn’t meant to whine. He cursed himself that Star-girl’s last memory of him would be of him wearing a t-shirt and some socks and whining. The door had slammed, and Bentley’s whine continued in the oppressive silence of the flat, settling in the corner and sharing mental space with the shouting and vomiting. Right now that whine was probably cosily wrapped up, smoking a cigar and looking down at Bentley stood in the middle of the room without any pants on.
But the day was about to get ever-so-slightly bad. Well, more-so then.
Postie is the man than delivers the post. It would almost be a misrepresentation were we to call him Baker, yet that is his name. Baker the postie. He is short and squirrelly and his name is ironic.
Although I have taken the time out to describe and personalise in very imprecise detail a non-contributing member of the cast of this book, you should all be aware he does not feature any further in the slightest. If this were a movie it would be good if postie were to be played by Charlton Heston.
And, lo, the mail drops on the mat seconds after Star’s emotive exit. A bewildered and slightly shocked Bentley lets out his gut and picks it up. In it, along with a pile of shiny-paper is a letter for him. This letter is with an expensive envelope. No window. Bentley last received a letter without a window when his application for the Dennis the Menace club was rejected on the basis of it having too much swearing.
The envelope was even watermarked. The name and address (they even spelt his surname correctly) was written in fountain pen. It had been written by someone infused with enough pedantry to write “Esq” after his name. This was a concern.
Bentley’s opinion of officialdom was ever so slightly low. He has a similar dislike of steam engines, and if faced with one in the street he could easily lose his rag and start screaming at the driver, demanding to know why, for the love of God WHY? He opened the letter.
Dearest Bentley, this is your mother. Your father died this afternoon. Cancer, as you know. Funeral is at Bishops Cemetery on Thursday at lunchtime. Try to dress appropriately. Mum.
Bentley had only really got on with his father. His mother was the sort of mother that would threaten to sell him to the gypsies if he ever did anything even vaguely wrong in her eyes. She wasn’t exactly tender and the word ‘nurture’ applied to her as ‘fridge’ does to a badger. But his dad was different. This would require some soul-seeking and mental divination on Bentley’s part.
He sat down on the couch, slightly disturbing a small corned beef sandwich and stared at the letter.
Dad – he thought, along with the seven memories he had of him. Bentley hadn’t seen Dad since that fateful day when Mother had found the pornographic magazines and had thrown him out portending that he was evil and a sinner and, should Bentley be ungracious enough to father children of his own, he would know why this was “…the fairest thing for the family”. Dad had handed him twenty quid as he was ushered out of the door in a spray of hail marys. A couple of years later he’d gone home to find out Dad was suffering from stomach cancer and had hung around for a couple of months before meeting Star and moving to London. He knew it was inevitable and he knew full well he should have been there at the end, but the high levels of guilt, grief and self-pity was one feeling he couldn’t get rid of. One act he would have to do that scared him more than the way that corned beef sandwich appeared to be edging towards him. He would have to wear the fucking suit.
The suit had been bought for Bentley by his aunt who had never met him. Possibly it had been styled by Massey Ferguson. It was a vague shade of brown and Bentley harboured such resentment and ill-feeling when wearing it that it could often offend a waiter without Bentley having to say a word. Well, offend him enough to ensure your main course has phlegm in it at the very least. The suit lived in a box in the attic and had done for all the good times in Bentley’s young, spring-heeled life. Its appearance usually predicted a chain of events that would leave Bentley in some way worse of than he is today.
While the less conscious parts of Bentleys mind were working on a potential battle-plan to cope with the suit, the rest of his more immediate concerns were that, in fact, his dad was dead.
Bentley needed to get dressed and find Cujo. He hated to weep alone….
Cujo lived along the same terraced street in North London that Bentley did. As he walked down the pavement and studiously avoided the take-away foam containers left to trip him up Bentley thought some more about his father. It was funny, he thought, that despite loving the old geezer to bits he could barely even picture him. The past is a distant land said a famous person. Or was it no man is an island? Anyway, the point being that Bentley stepped over the remains of someone’s discarded kebab and wondered just why he didn’t so much feel anything at all. Just a vague amorphous black space in Bentley’s shattered emotional mind.
“That’s shock, darling,” said a voice.
Bentley stopped in mid-pace. He hadn’t heard that voice in a long time.
“And that’s because you never needed me before today, lover” it said, humour poking at the edges and failing to land so much as a titter.
Bentley resumed walking and as he did he said,
“I do not believe you to be real, you are not real.”
The voice laughed and began to hum the cha-cha-cha. Bentley’s pace increased.
The Voice (as it preferred to be known) had always been hanging about when Bentley was a child. It offered advice of a colourful and quite frankly disgusting nature at the most appropriate or inappropriate moments, depending on its mood. Then some therapy would wash it from his mind. For some reason it was back.
Bentley was afraid to wonder too deeply into why a mental projection of his subconscious mind would choose to be gay. He was even more afraid of what it was doing talking to him anyway and why he could actually hear it.
“Go away,” he whispered. It changed from humming the Cha-cha-cha and began to fade away as a chuckle, until finally he heard the words “I will see you soon, stud.” Bentley grimaced as he approached Cujo’s front door. As he went to knock on the door he noticed something on the step. Bentley picked it up, using very little of his brain. It was a knife. Not a huge knife but a steak knife with a viciously serrated edge and an honours degree in “Menacing”. Then Bentley noticed the door was open slightly so, knife in hand, he poked his head in.
“Cujo?” he ventured. When an Englishman shouts it takes him three attempts to get up any sort of real volume. Mostly they just whisper loudly or shout softly, afraid to surprise or embarrass anyone in their immediate vicinity. Well, I say Englishmen, but possibly the Japanese too. It must be something about ex-empires.
“Cujo?” No response. Finally, “CUJO!”, which elicits the same puzzlingly silent response. Nothing. Bentley pushes the door and it swings open over several copies of the local advertiser and envelopes for putting camera film into. This, in itself is not strange, as Cujo is a peculiar bloke in every possible meaning of the word. Peculiar, not bloke…The state of Cujo’s flat has been described, even by estate agents, as a “Fucking Waste of My Time and Yours”. Cujo is to tidying up as Fidel Castro is to lounge furniture. If “Tidying” were a technological engineering advance, Cujo was an extremist fundamentalist luddite.
Bentley walked in and down the passageway to the “Living room”. This was so-called because Cujo “lived” here. Two doors down was the ‘Shit room’, according to Cujo’s lexicography. You do not want to know what happens in the ‘Breakers room’.
He knocked and went to open up the door when The Voice reappeared.
“You don’t want to be doing that, Benders”.
“Don’t call me Benders, you bastard,” he
whispered. The voice did the mental equivalent of feigned shock (hard to do, but rewarding, The Voice felt). The door swung open.
The sight that greeted Bentley was one that would rank in his memory somewhere near the top and significantly behind the time he once witnessed his parents involved in coitus and could hear the squelches. Pretty disgusting in all manifestations, I’m sure you will agree.
Cujo lay on the large red-leather sofa, a big battering-ram of a man with blond hair so white as to attract immediate membership offers from most right-wing anti-holocaust groups. Suffice to say Cujo did not get his name by being small, weedy and unable to beat up small collectives of drug-crazed maniacs. This man could have punched you in the face with a pec if he had the desire to, such was his physique.
Surprising it was, then, that Cujo was making choking noises and scrabbling at his neck with hands so beefy as to turn on cows.
“Told you,” said The Voice.
Cujo’s face was now the colour of a cherry and his eyes bulged out of his head. He croaked some moments before going still and silent and a figure rose from behind the sofa uncoiling the piano wire from a neck so large that…well, you get the idea.
The reason for the surprise came when Bentley dragged shocked eyes from the sight of his newly murdered best-friend to the figure behind the sofa. It was a woman. Not massive in the slightest. One might have called her a waif, although if you had done it to her face you would be leaving the room carrying your bollocks in a bag. Her hair, which was tied back in a severe bun, was red and her eyes were some kind of piercing blue. She was dressed head to foot in black. It were those arctic eyes that, at this moment, looked straight at Bentley. She smiled and somewhere inside Bentley work began in real earnestness that started his heart beating fast and adrenaline to course through his system.
As a psychological experiment one day Bentley had told Star that he thought she was getting fat. Just to see what would happen. It was that day he learned to listen to his instincts and began to understand the finer intricacies of fear and flight.
Bentley turned on his heels and ran.