M L Piggott
Some () of Peter Malarkey’s later deviancies probably stemmed from being brought up in Dublin by his grandmother, a squawking Octogenarian who insisted she'd been mentioned in Ulysses. Peter’s cursory checks (which usually ended up with him searching for dirty bits) had failed to yield the relevant passage.
Mammy Malarkey, resenting the manner in which Peter had been foisted upon her by her wayward son, made her displeasure apparent. She didn’t seem to care when he was beaten up by other boys in the street, or that he was so myopic he often walked into lamp-posts: in fact she’d laugh like a drain.
As Peter reached his teenage years he became ever more alienated by his sexuality. He realised he was drawn to much younger females, a source of genuine concern – for everyone else, at least. It rapidly became apparent he would be in serious trouble unless he took urgent action.
Failing his ordination affected Peter unduly, and so he found himself drawn to a more worthy ambition. Like the proverbial moth, Peter had always been drawn to the flame-thrower of fame (so much so that he had spent some time in secure accommodation). Every time he heard phone numbers given out on American cop shows, he’d ring up even though they always started 555. His appearance on Ireland’s version of the X-Factor had been a failure; he simply sat in a chair delivering a rambling incoherent monologue about Sartre, pausing occasionally to belch, scratch and fart, and came second.
Sadly, soon after this (a few minutes after, in fact) Peter was forced to leave Dublin after an episode of some unpleasantness involving the statue of Molly Malone which we needn’t mention here. Peter decided he would cross the water to England and write.
To celebrate his arrival in that heathen country, and so he wouldn’t be recognised, Peter grew a small, neat and yet somehow depressing beard – eventually. Not having the spare trillion pounds to live in even the worst part of London Peter was forced to take refuge in a dead-head Brighton squat in a Kemptown warzone where he felt about as welcome as Eugene Terrablanche leading a fox-hunt through Granita. ()
Bafflingly, rejection slips for Peter’s almighty opus (‘A Twist in the Tale’) came sluicing through the letterbox like, somehow, vindictive confetti. Word soon got round; one notoriously heartless agent wrote an imploring letter beseeching Peter not to send any material before he’d submitted a synopsis.
(Although Peter professed to be puzzled by this, I wasn’t, because I'd read some of it; 'A Twist in the Tale' appeared to consist of nothing other than a series of long, inappropriate metaphors, was about as funny as a burning burns unit, and any novel that ends ‘after all, I was only a cat’ doesn’t exactly encourage the Jackal himself to come bashing down your door.)
Peter took rejection badly. He felt the only reason his book had failed to ingratiate itself to a publisher’s heart was because it didn’t fall into any of the niches which seem to preoccupy the Booker judges and review sections so much. In his admittedly jaded eyes these included the sub-continental, ‘scent of lotus blossom’ genre; the surreal, ‘zebra with Munchausen’s trying to get a job’ genre; the William Trevor genre; too many novels where posh lady authors try to imagine the exotic poverties of their domestics; and the ‘I took ecstasy at a footie match’ phony-phonetic bullshit, wanked over by suburban kids and swooned over by publishers who hadn't heard of Burroughs and who wouldn't know a good writer if Peter kicked their fucking heads in!
It was this, rather than actually having anything to say (let alone the means, ability or drive to do so), that kept Peter at his untrustworthy type-writer in search of the perfect metaphor. Metaphors bothered Peter. Metaphors, like oil, coal and the humour of John Bishop, were a diminishingly limited resource. There were only so many ways to describe snow, for example, and that bastard Updike had stolen most of those. What Peter needed was a metaphor, but they don’t just swoop out of the sky: one must search high and low in the hope that just once, one might drop on your head.
Before he made a commotion as the next Barbara Taylor Bradford, Peter at least had the wherewithal to understand that he would need to find employment in order to pay the bills. If the English had little respect for published writers, they had even less for unpublished ones - of whom, pre-Kindle, () there were many. According to rumour there was a job he could do with his eyes closed, and take six months holidays a year. Peter liked the sound of that - who wouldn’t? - and became a teacher. With hindsight, he’d have been happier, safer and more productive working in the excess fares booth at Mile End tube station at midnight on a Saturday, or dabbling with self-immolation. ()
Teaching in England was something of a shock for a good Irishman like Peter. He’d expected English schools to be rigid places of learning, where between morning matins and bedtime cocoa teachers caned pert, cotton-covered bottoms for minor misdemeanours. He didn’t know much; but he knew his Larkin.
The school, on Brighton’s White Hawk estate, was a disappointment. Peter’s duties on his first day included dousing another teacher to whom some thug had applied a match; calling lifeguards to retrieve the headmaster’s car from the sea; and attempting to mark essays behind the cover of his desk while children took pot-shots from the roof. When he complained to the head of year he was told he was “lucky it was only an airgun.”
If his work life was depressing, Peter’s domestic situation was worse. Peter found Brighton (or “B right on” as local wags infuriatingly called it) bewildering. It seemed you had to be able to juggle, roll a joint and give birth simultaneously just to fit in. As none of these were among his skills Peter became something of a hermit at the squat - yet staying in had its own perils.
For all his many faults, Peter was at least clean of nature. When flushing the toilet, for instance, he always first plucked one square from the roll and put it over his fingers as protection against germs. Sadly, others in the squat were less fastidious; his cohabitees appeared to subsist entirely on meditation, political correctness and ketamine.
One night, tired of television (if, as Elvis Costello once remarked, “the ‘Late Review’ is wrestling for the middle classes”, what then was ‘Come Dine with Me’ – cage-fighting for the chatterati?) Peter was seeking momentary in his room with a newspaper cutting of Mariella Frostrup. Just as he decorated her pixilated cheek there was an urgent knock on the door. Peter stuffed the papier-mâché lump beneath his duvet and reached for his Bible, attempting to look composed.
It was Paula, one of his “bohemian” flatmates. She was young, pretty and, this evening, very drunk. Along with the rest of the house she'd just returned from an Abba tribute concert; she was fetchingly bedecked in a silver Lamé jjumpsuit with matching gold platform boots; her cheeks were painted blue and her hair was frankly a mess.
“Hi Peter,” she smiled shyly. “What you up to?”
“Oh, you know.” Peter waved his Bible. “Just reading the good book.”
“You’re always reading. You must be ever so clever.”
Not for the first time, Peter despaired of the English.
“Well, you know. I like escapism I suppose.”
Peter admonished himself for a statement he immediately recognised as sacrilegious. Paula appeared to be searching for a polite follow-up, but apparently unwilling to enter into any great debate on theology decided to cut to the chase.
“I really fancy you.” Peter could feel cold spunk dribbling down his leg and grimaced a strange smile. Paula hid her face in her hands a moment. Then: “Do you - fancy me?”
“I think you’re... very attractive,” said Peter truthfully; but he really wasn’t up to it. He was, to put it bluntly, spent. Paula came and sat on the bed, inadvertently squashing Mariella Frostrup- mâché against his sticky genitals.
“I really fancy you,” Paula repeated. “Do you fancy me?”
“As I said, I find you very attractive. A fair English rose swept along the cliffs. A - tiny butterfly in a world of cogs.” ()
Paula flicked her hair and gave what she believed was a winning smile. She leaned in: Peter pushed her roughly to the floor. Paula looked upset.
“Nothing personal,” smiled Peter, “but I’m training to become a priest.”
This wasn’t strictly true; at least, not any more. Since failing the entrance exam, Peter had decided he was destined for other things; he was searching for something, but wasn’t yet sure what it was.
Paula rushed off and he wondered if she'd finally been shamed by her own hussy-like behaviour, but then heard her vomit copiously and slam her door - without flushing.
Peter sighed. Would his life ever change?
Then he brightened: surely soon he'd hear good things about his sitcom?
BBC TV Centre.
Dear Mr Malarkey,
Having read your screenplay, “Jews in Space!”, I’m writing to inform you that you are a loathsome little prick.
I feel hopeful that you'll die young, unloved and unwanted, shrieking with pain and loneliness in a pool of your own blood and excrement.
My commissioning editor wanted to file charges, but I can’t even be bothered to provide you with the notoriety you so obviously crave.
You are sick, sick, SICK and should I or anyone else here at the BBC EVER hear from you again I will find you and fucking CUT OFF YOUR BALLS!!!
Sighing, Peter threw the letter - which appeared to be stained with blood - in the direction of the sack nailed to a wall serving as a bin. He hadn’t thought his screenplay (catchphrase: “I can smell gas, Manny!”) was THAT bad... perhaps the title had put them off. But if they’d only read it, they’d have realised the title was ironic. He had nothing against Jews, apart from the obvious.
Peter switched on the radio:
“Sports news, and Blackburn’s Sam Allardyce today denied allegations made in Panorama that he took a bung from Stephen Hawking to deliver a lecture on quantum mechanics to the Smithsonian Institute. Allardyce dismissed the claims as “balderdash and piffle”, saying he fully intended to honour his contract to give a series of lectures on kinetic molecular theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Back to our main news, and the government has defended its decision to outlaw Crouch End. According to a government minister the area is unfit for purpose and will be obliterated at midnight. Now over to Sophie for the weather...”
A terrible thought struck him between the frontal lobes and Peter switched off the set. Peter retrieved the letter from the bin and as he sat slumped and groaning at the itself groaning table (though for other reasons, such as pans of home-made hummus, cat mess, &c.), he re-read the cruel script editor’s surname: ‘Chapman’. Man! A known Yiddish attachment, along with Gold, Stein and Berg! Not content with murdering Jesus they had commandeered the entire Fourth Estate! Maybe she’d seen his good Irish Catholic name and had already contacted Mossad!
Peter felt he was becoming tense and decided to go for a walk. He often spent those rare waking hours he wasn’t being assaulted physically, morally and psychologically strolling on the South Downs far from this strange little city, with its Queen Ann front yard and Sally Ann backyard; just himself and his moribund thoughts. ()
From the house Peter walked inland along the Lewes Road, up a track above Falmer, where as usual students were indulging in cow-pushing, to the tops where he felt free. It almost seemed that even the Jews couldn’t get him here, although of course they were everywhere.
As he marched grimly Peter realised with a shock that he hadn’t taken confession since arriving from Ireland; but then, apart from incessant masturbation, he had little to confess. His cursory attempts at “dating” had been disappointing; even the contact ads in the local paper appeared to be written in hidden code. Women always asked for men who were “aware” – but aware of what?
Partly he was worried being seen going into a place of worship. It was well known the English were a heathen crowd who allowed priests to marry and so forth, and were also a bigoted bunch who despised Catholics. He had suffered enough racist abuse at the school as it was.
(Peter wasn’t to know that this had less to do with his accent - for these kids, Chichester was a distant and exotic land - and more to do with the fact he was a git.)
After a few melancholy hours trudging through cloudbursts of sleet, Peter found a small public house on the outskirts of Lewes. The pub was surprisingly packed, but despite the inclement weather the customers appeared to be in jovial spirits.
“Going to the bonfire?” one partygoer asked him jocundly.
“Might be,” said Peter, suspiciously. He had found the best way to fit in with the English was to be both unenthusiastic and morose; it was easy, once one got the hang of it.
It wasn’t hard to find the bonfire: Peter followed the crowd, many of them dressed in outlandish yellow and black jumpers so that they seemed like a swarm of giant drunken wasps.
Despite the size of the multitude everything seemed good-natured, much more laid-back than Brighton. Perhaps the English weren’t so bad after all. Nobody seemed to care much about his accent, or the fact he was Chosen.
In fine spirits Peter reached the bonfire. Finally he was beginning to feel at home. Perhaps he could move to this little place and get a transfer to the village school? Wearing a philanthropic smile for the first time in months, Peter looked up at the almighty fire with its effigy on top. The smile drained from his face.
Right on top of the bonfire, burning in the inferno as thousands cheered, were not just one but dozens of effigies of the Pope. HIS Pope! Peter shoved through the multitudes, and when the crowd thinned he ran - like the wind yet with the wind up it, somehow.
Still the crowds came upon him in their tidal waves of filth, their heathen finery taking on a sinister aspect now, all intent on burning his Pontiff! Sobbing desperately, Peter used his stout walking stick to hack viciously through the crowds, a couple of whom went so far as to tut inaudibly beneath their breath.
In desperation Peter left the road and trudged through heavy fields to the safety of his Downs. Unfortunately, there he became lost. The landscape grew bleaker and more forbidding, the wind and the rain picked up, and scudding clouds brought an early dusk; the very air seemed to thin as he climbed. ()
Finally, on an exposed hillside, Peter saw the so-called English Channel. Sobbing with relief he half-fell, half-hurtled down a steep embankment. All the excess alcohol he’d been forced to imbibe by the Devil himself somehow tripped him up and he landed in a bush.
Instantly, the gull was on him.
Peter had stumbled into the nest of a particularly vicious Herring Gull, colloquially known as a “white hawk”, which had made its nest away from the coast for a bit of peace and quiet in which to raise its only chick – only for Peter’s sturdy boot to reduce said offspring to feather and guts.
The gull flew at Peter, who ran as fast as he could, the bird beating its wings against his head, until he reached the road corseting England and flagged down a lift. As he sat in the back of a car filled with white boys with dreadlocks, and hardcore rave music filled his brain, he looked back to see the bird sitting on a bathing-hut, watching him intently.
Peter soon forgot about the bird, though he didn’t forget about the heathen Brits burning his Pope. A dark winter passed: of rejection slips, daily humiliation at the school, and perennial masturbation in which the theme of his various humiliations at the wicked hands of the filthy English featured not insignificantly.
The squat had become quite intolerable now, due to Paula’s insistence that he was a homosexual who made passes at her, and Peter needed somewhere else to escape (the Downs had lost their seductive qualities). There was a place beyond the marina where people gathered to take off their clothes. Peter had found the place months before on Google Earth, but it was too pixelated to offer much stimulus and there was nowhere nearby he could watch unmolested. So on the first fine spring morning (mid-June), with only a light wind off the channel and the sun fighting its perennial fight against the fog, Peter took his Bible to the nudist beach and stripped off his clothes.
As the morning heated up a fair amount of ladies of all ages appeared, stripped off, played badminton and went away again. Men were around too, of course, many like Peter covering their wobbly bits with newspapers and hats, but Peter ignored the filthy perverts.
It should be remarked upon that no serious mishap occurred.
Over the summer the strip became a regular routine for Peter, a place where he could shed his worries and frustrations and face God naked as a newborn. It was mostly sexual, to be sure; but there was also a puritanical side to it he liked, the cold wind shrinking his parts, the gooseflesh and frequent colds, the taste of Lemsip which he had somehow found room for among his myriad addictions.
One afternoon Peter was delighted to behold a family moving onto the beach. Among their number were two female humans of thirteen or fourteen years of age. As Peter watched from behind prescription sun-glasses, the girls threw buckets of water over each other and shrieked with merriment.
The parents had just gone for a swim when one began applying lotion to the other’s back. Peter hardened beneath his ancient raincoat. He looked round but apart from a sorry-looking jellyfish, the beach was practically empty. Peter liked jellyfish: they were about the only creatures to which he genuinely considered himself superior.
Still the girls’ parents splashed in the sea in a derisory attempt to enjoy themselves before getting back in an airless car and baking on a slip road for nine hours. This was too exceptional an opportunity to miss.
Hastily Peter groped beside him for his sun-cream, which he squirted on his engorged member. He was joylessly pumping away when there was a great flurry of feathers, the raucous screech of a bird, and an excruciating pain in his groin. The gull had severed the very tip of his penis, and now it hopped off as if making to fly away.
Despite his agony and the blood pumping onto the sand Peter knew that if the bird flew away, so would his manhood. Taking aim with the Bible he managed to hit the gull on the head. It lay, stunned, his knob-head in its beak. Peter extracted the mangled organ and rushed to the road-side, naked but for his raincoat, blood pouring from his crotch, moaning and wailing like a banshee.
Hailing a cab proved problematic.
Following a troubling dream involving a large aubergine Peter emerged from anaesthetic. The doctor - an Asian! - stood by his bedside with a frown on his face. As he imparted the sad news to Peter that they had been unable to re-append his appendage, as it were, and he would consequently have a somewhat shorter stature when lying down, Peter looked past him at the window. On the window squatted the great gull, watching him closely.
Peter recovered from his ordeal, and following reconstructive surgery his penis didn’t look much different; just shorter, on top of which he was circumcised. On the first morning of term Peter set off for school with his usual sack of books.
Immediately Peter emerged from the squat, the gull was upon him: it harried and dived and pecked at his extremities all the way to the bus stop, and even when he was safely aboard he observed it through the back window, flapping grimly behind.
When Peter reached the school he had to pass through the playground, and looked rather a sight as he ran to the teacher’s entrance, the bird squawking and shitting all over his jacket. When he left work that evening the gull followed him all the way home, and that night it sat on his window sill glowering at him with implacably beady eyes.
This palaver went on for some months: became something of a legend about the town. Children temporarily refrained from attacking him, as there was more fun to be had from watching him run. But just when Peter thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
Whitney lived in one of the less desirable tower blocks of White Hawk with her string-vested father, neurotic mother and countless siblings. Unlike most of her friends, Whitney was more interested in reading Jane Austen than wanking off boys. So far she’d managed to keep it quiet: her parents would only have worried. But when she got a new English teacher, with a soft, Irish accent and an air of vulnerability (particularly from the air), Whitney fell in love.
Unfortunately, Whitney was 14 and the teacher, Mister Malarkey, didn’t appear to notice her. He didn’t seem to notice anyone, really, or anything - apart from the enormous gull which waited for him each evening.
Whitney had an idea. She would deter the bird once and for all, and Mister Malarkey would whisk her away from all this: to a new life in a hot country where love was easy and books were free.
One afternoon, as Peter was dousing the flames on his desk and preparing to make the lonely run to the bus stop, he became aware of a pair of eyes on him (or rather, a second pair). He was by now quite used to the gull, sitting on his windowsill every time he opened the curtains: it was worse at school because all the curtains had long been incinerated.
However, this extra pair of eyes belonged to a young student named Something Brown. Peter had noticed the way she looked at him, and always looked away immediately, terrified; she was of that awkward age, when he was unclear whether to think “awww!” or “phwoar!”
Peter narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
“Brown, isn’t it? Can I help you?”
“It’s more a question of how I can help you, sir.”
Peter cleared his throat: this was too much like one of his fantasies for his current liking, and these fantasies always ended with his being castrated - again! - with cheese wire (or sometimes a rusty hacksaw) by some rapacious girl’s angry father. So he kept stacking two-hundred-year-old year old textbooks in the naive hope this would put out the fire. Whitney was not to be deterred.
“It’s about your - problem, sir.”
“My problem? What problem?” (- Other than my loneliness, my howling sexual frustration, my shortened member, my alcoholic tendencies, the futility of my search for some meaning in a meaningless cosmos -) “I don’t have a problem.”
Whitney advanced and Peter retreated behind his desk to sit on a tack. Whitney smiled knowingly: her blossoming breasts threatened to pop the buttons on her blouse.
“Oh, I think you know what I mean, sir.”
The plan was so simple, Peter couldn’t believe he’d never thought of it before. The thing was, being a teacher didn’t pay what you’d call good money – consequently, his old raincoat was the only one he had. Besides, it was always raining. He couldn’t understand why there was always such a water shortage in this godless country. What the feck did they do with it all? Soon, he concluded, they’d have to enforce hosepipe bans by patrolling in submarines.
After school, on Whitney’s advice, Peter left his jacket in the staff room. No-one ever left their coat in the staff room - anything unsecured was filched in nanoseconds. Then he and Whitney went to the empty classroom and waited.
Within minutes, one of the school toughs could be seen running away as fast as he could, Peter’s coat about his shoulders, the squawking, flapping gull about his head. Peter gave Whitney a hug, then stepped away. She smiled and moved closer. Peter gave in and kissed her: Whitney held his hand in a vice-like grip.
“Take me away from all this. Sir.”
They agreed to flee to Spain and write a book beneath the orange trees – a bit like that Nicci French, except with proper sentences, characters, and plausible plotlines. () The rest of term was a torment. The flap of the bird’s wings had been replaced, he wrote, by the flapping of his heart. He didn’t care Whitney was fourteen, he loved her, and they would flee like doomed lovers had fled the unenlightened masses since the dawn of time.
The ferry for Spain departed from Portsmouth Harbour. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen financial problems Peter didn’t have the money to go to Spain, so they were going to the Isle of Wight instead. He sort of hoped Whitney wouldn’t notice; after all she’d always skipped geography in favour of less highbrow activities.
Peter arrived early at the port, and at first didn’t recognise the creature that rose to him in the passenger bunker. Whitney wore a long dark dress, make-up and heels: she looked almost eighteen. Peter kissed her and they boarded the ship. Something was bothering him but he wasn't sure what.
Out on the Sound, a beery IT helpdesk’s stag-party began in earnest; a cabaret act wrecked musical numbers with endearing enthusiasm; the compère rattled off a series of gags seemingly inspired by The Turner Diaries. () It was only two quid a pint, and after six or eight swift ones, Peter began to enjoy himself. But every time he looked at the creature opposite, he felt he beheld a stranger. Peter was of course a virgin and quite terrified of women - especially adult women. And so he drank.
Finally, he could delay the inevitable no longer and led Whitney to their cabin. She unzipped her dress and stood before him in a crimson bodice and black lace stockings, looking for all the world like some French trollop. She glared at him, hands on hips, afraid and defiant: I am woman.
Peter smiled bashfully, stroked his depressing beard and looked around at the dismal environs.
“I don’t suppose... you brought your uniform?”
That trip to the Isle of Wight and back was the longest of Peter’s life. At every breath Whitney threatened to expose him as a child-molester, when in fact he hadn’t even touched her. The only way to keep her quiet was to ply her with Alco-pops. Peter drank deeply, and prayed, and contemplated throwing himself beneath the waves; but it was too cold.
They only had a few minutes in Ryde, just time to purchase gallons of expensive spirits, and then it was time to go ‘home’. To make matters worse, Peter had never been a good traveller, and somewhere in the Solent they hit Hurricane Horace. The storm meant that they had to drop anchor outside the safety of Portsmouth Harbour for the night. Whitney insisted on his sleeping on a blanket in the shower (“otherwise I’ll tell the purser”). Peter barfed rich dark vomit all through the small hours.
Finally the storm abated, the night was replaced by a pernicious and freezing fog, and they entered the relative calm of Portsmouth Harbour. Whitney would go home to a scolding, more affection than she could ever recall and eventually a BA in paedophilic studies - for which the tabloids would pursue her to the ends of the earth.
Peter stood out on the windy deck and glumly watched the execrable city advancing. The way he saw it, two different paths stretched out before him. One was to go to back to the squat, drink all this cheap alcohol, then disappear back to Ireland forever. The other was to go back to the squat, drink all this cheap alcohol, then hang himself in a copse. At this moment, option two had the edge.
Peter became aware of eyes upon him. For a chilling moment he was sure Whitney had informed the authorities, and he craned his neck over the side expecting black Marias on the quay, vigilantes with flaming torches, or if he was really unlucky, Nicky Campbell. Then that familiar feeling came upon him and he slowly turned his head.
A few inches away the gull sat on a railing, watching him like a hawk.
© Mark Liam Piggott
First published in Mark Piggott's anthology "Militant Factions" (2017).
 although not that many – alright – a very small proportion, t.b.h.
 When he was alive, obviously
 Also pre-unedited, pre-unread and unreadable, pre-narcissistic, million-word tracts in which approximately every single word was in the wrong place
 The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive
 Peter never would get his book published.
 Think James Joyce with the vocabulary of Ronan Keating
 Actually – it didn’t just seem to thin; it really did thin. I put this in just to highlight Peter’s psychological anxiety.
 And better dialogue.