Goth By Chance - Chapter Three, a short story by Richard A. Ridley. Date added: 2010-11-30. Times viewed: 10907.
- Please SEND FEEDBACK - Writers love hearing from you. You can view the Authors profile here
- Intro: Jimmy's world gets increasingly confusing and Gothic, but of course this is still just the beginning. The later chapters(6-12), which are set in a medieval castle, show Jimmy's state of confusion and fear. The novel is now available on Kindle, re-titled 'Wait Until You Die'.
As soon as I got back to the Vampyre premises the bandwagon began rolling again and went straight into top gear. We were busy in the hearse and the Transit, putting on a show and raking in the dough. Busy busy busy. The routine and the work took its toll on our sensibilities and we got on with the business of life; the business of Vampyre. I forgot about my mates and the Prince of Wales. I forgot about Alfie. I forgot about feeling abandoned or lost and I got on with being a vampire-waiter.
Gerald took Alfie’s position as the senior vampire-waiter, so I took Gerald’s place in the pecking order. And I began to take the newcomers around and ‘show them the ropes’. And I found myself smiling cheesily and saying things like ‘It’s a lot to take in all at once but you’ll soon find your feet’. And I found myself offering them one of my Disque Bleu before showing them the bijoux dressing room and the staff toilets, finally showing them the small outhouse we used for storing potatoes and onions and saying, ‘The potato and onion store is Hobson’s little hideaway’ and all that. No-one ever asked me about the man sleeping in the hearse though. Most of them either ignored him totally until I mentioned him, or realised instantly that he was made of fibre-glass.
The Vampyre show rolled through the calendar, Christmas and the New Year went by in a haze of busy parties and functions, the staff conveyor-belt churned them out in all shapes and sizes and nationalities. Probably the worst affected by the staff turnover was Alphonso, who never seemed to have enough kitchen assistants, and although the waiters mucked-in with the food preparation Alphonso wasn’t happy with the staff situation.
Alphonso was a fat man and there was no getting away from it. There was no thin man trying desperately to get out. There was no desire within him to be any slimmer. In another life he could have been an opera singer. He certainly had the build for it. He had jet black hair, thick and wavy and still without a trace of grey. He had a great big bushy moustache. He had the songs down to a tee, every word; perfect recall of libretto. Alphonso had almost everything in fact, that an opera singer needed in order to become rich, successful and famous. But he didn’t have the voice. It was loud all right, strong even, but it didn’t have a good tone. Cheery Dave, our driver, reckoned Alphonso sounded like Elvis Presley gargling with milkshake. But that didn’t stop him from trying. The first time I met him he told me that he’d auditioned for Opportunity Knocks.
‘They didn’t choose me though, and I’ve never really forgiven them for that’.
‘Oh come on Alphonso, I mean, I’m sure they didn’t do it out of spite or anything.’
‘Perhaps not Jimmy, but that rejection signalled the beginning of my decline. It could all have been so different if I’d been accepted onto that show.’
Alphonso told me that he’d once worked in some of the most expensive and famous hotels in the world. A master chef, and in his own eyes at least, a gifted vocal artiste.
‘I could have been a great tenor’ he moaned, ‘but in the end I lost everything, my job, my woman and my self-respect.’
While he was telling me all this we were preparing some kind of pastry dish. The kitchen was hot and stuffy with the ovens on full blast, and the radio was playing Marvin Gaye’s (I Heard it) Through the Grapevine. Alphonso opened a box of a dozen eggs, and then began cracking them against the side of a huge white plastic bowl which was half-filled with flour. Then he started telling me about Maria.
‘I wasn’t young when I met her, but I wasn’t as washed-up as you see me now.’ Crack. ‘I had a good job at a top London hotel and the auditions were coming up’ Crack. ‘I told Maria all about it and she was captivated. We made plans about what we would do when I was a recording artist, or perhaps an international star,’ Crack. ‘She told me she loved my voice and although she loved me too, she didn’t want to marry a chef. She was very, very pretty. Beautiful even. And I was very much in love.’
His sad, cow-like eyes stared at the floor in dismay.
‘I still am.’
He continued morosely cracking eggs on the side of the bowl of flour.
‘But when I wasn’t chosen to appear on the show she became very cool with me and I knew it was all over. A week later she left the hotel’s employment and went to Rome.’ Crack. ‘I heard through the grapevine that she married the manager of her new hotel. I found out that she’d loved him before.’ Crack. ‘Before me I mean’. There was a smile on his lips but his eyes were sad and watery.
‘She was very, very pretty. Beautiful even’.
He cracked another egg, firmer this time and with feeling, and if it’s at all possible to use the motion of cracking an egg as an expression of extreme angst, and with that same action produce empathy and poignancy, then Alphonso achieved it on that day.
‘My heart was broken!’ he wailed, as he cracked the last of the eggs on the side of the bowl and watched in symbolic gravity as the yellow and white liquid oozed down onto the snowy-white flour. ‘Broken just like these eggs’. He turned on the electric food mixer and put the bowl into place on the machine.
‘It still is!’
His wailing was now almost lost in the grinding and whining of the huge electric motor, his black, curly hair sticking out of the sides of his chefs’ hat like Tommy Cooper’s sticks out of his fez. I felt sorry for him of course, but I didn’t know what to say. So I just told him something my mum had once told me the last time I split up with a girl.
‘Perhaps someone else will come along someday. Someone better, someone more suitable for you. And you’ll be happier than you ever would have been with Maria’.
I thought that might help, but there was no helping Alphonso with words. A good gulp of claret was about the only thing that would calm him down. In the all the time I knew him he was a continuous bag of mood swings, only prevented from exploding into tragic fragments by venting his anger with raucous tantrums, or drowning his sorrows with claret.
Because he wasn’t front-of-house staff, Alphonso didn’t have to get all made-up or wear any sort of costume, not unless you call checked trousers and a great big white Pillsbury Doughboy hat, a costume. I suppose it is in a way. In any case, Alphonso didn’t have to look Gothic because none of the customers were ever likely to see him. Still, if he was dressed for it, he could probably have done decent impression of a vampiric character like Lestat from Interview with the Vampire. Although he was nothing like Lestat in temperament, he wasn’t bitter like Lestat. For all his blustering and loud curses, Alphonso was really quite a gentle soul. Tragic. But he put a brave face on things and when he was in high spirits he was a good man to be with. When Alphonso was on a high, the whole kitchen was buzzing like a hive of busy bees. He was like the queen bee at the centre of the hive. A big fat queen bee with a bushy black moustache and a Pillsbury doughboy hat.
Alphonso habitually went through phases which ranged from singing opera very badly, through to shouting and swearing at the top of his voice, to juggling with various foodstuffs such as bananas or chicken breasts; sometimes with disastrous consequences. I remember one time in particular when he splattered Henri with a couple of badly-timed tomatoes and which nearly got him fired. Although I think Gerald hit the nail on the head, ‘Henri hasn’t had to sack many of his staff mate, they tend to walk out of their own accord’. I couldn’t blame them. I often felt like walking out as well. There were times when I thought the whole place was an absolute madhouse but I knew I’d never walk out on Vampyre. I’d never walk out on Vampyre because that would mean walking out on Celine.
Celine managed the bar. She was probably the most sensible person on the entire company staff. She was also very attractive. Celine was slim and petite, with short black hair, a lilting Scots accent and eyes that seemed to change colour according to the light. In the clinical fluorescent light of the kitchen they seemed green like olives, but on a bright sunny afternoon in the courtyard they were deep blue like the Mediterranean sea. She told me that she’d started working for Vampyre during a ‘gap year’ from university. She’d just finished her B.A. and she wanted to get some money together so she could study for a Masters degree in cultural studies. She told me she’d only wanted the job for a few months but before she knew it two years had gone by and she still found herself working for Vampyre.
Celine had this way of talking to you as if she was really communicating rather than just going through the motions. She could come out with some old bullshit like ‘Have a nice day!’ and instead of thinking ‘Don’t give me that old clichéd rubbish’ you felt as if you actually would have a nice day. But beyond all that superficial crap she could see things for what they were, beyond initial appearances. Celine had some very interesting theories about culture and character construction, and sometimes we discussed the implications of certain sociological trends. When I say ‘discussed’ I mean she told me about sociological trends and I tried to nod in intelligent places and ask the odd question.
I hadn’t been with Vampyre very long when I had my first conversation with Celine. It was about seven P.M. I’d finished my kitchen duties and I was getting ready for the waiting shift. It’s funny really, how sometimes someone suddenly opens up to you and says something really insightful, something meaningful which gives you an idea about their philosophy of life. We were in the rabbit-hutch dressing room putting on our make-up and just off the cuff I said to Celine,
‘What d’you think of all this Gothic stuff generally, the popularity of the vampire myth and all that?’
And then she told me.
‘Well, it’s been linked by sociologists to a deep questioning of modern roles within society. Basically people aren’t happy with the lives they’re leading and are looking for some alternative, some fantasy of existence which is unattainable in a technological society based on materialism and capitalism.’
She stopped for a moment until I nodded intelligently.
‘With its promise of eternal life and supernatural powers the vampire myth offers an attractive and stark alternative to the actual existence of human beings which is, after all, finite and mortal.’
She paused for a few seconds and I nodded again.
‘However, I’m not so sure. I think that throughout the history of mankind, societies have embraced fantasy and role-play as a means of letting off emotional steam. I think it’s a sort of sociological pressure valve.’
I thought she’d just say something like ‘Yeah, stupid really, isn’t it?’ I should have known better. From that day onwards I decided that I’d read some books and magazine articles on social issues so that I could understand what she was saying, so that I could converse with her properly. I thought it would be worth a try. I wasn’t obsessed with her or anything, but I’d been trying to get a date with her almost since day one and I’d been getting absolutely nowhere. And as if I didn’t have enough to worry about with Celine, there was the added problem of Hobson.
Hobson was deranged rather than zany. He was basically a kitchen assistant who doubled as a waiter. I mean, if we were really under pressure. If Hobson had been born in California he would have been slap-bang in the firing line for the part of Norman Bates in the Hitchcock thriller Psycho. Only Hobson might have been a little too unnerving. I’d seen the occasional customer who’d put too much away and was hamming it up as a nosferatu, and some of them could be quite convincing, but Hobson was a guy who really walked the walk. He was living the dream. I suppose dreams were all he had left. Hobson was pushing fifty and he was slovenly. He had this habit of stuffing his cigarette box in his jacket pocket, tearing the stitching and the fabric a little more each time until it became so torn and frayed at the edges that it looked like a piece of the Bayeux tapestry. His shirt was never ironed and was hardly ever clean, his shoes were never shiny and he was nearly always late, and underarm deodorant – forget it.
There weren’t too many options open to a man like Hobson, but he worked surprisingly hard and I suppose that was the only reason Henri had kept him on. I was sure he had a sad story to tell but I doubted if anyone would ever get to hear it. He was deep and he was strange. Solitary. I wouldn’t have been totally surprised if he’d told me he actually was a vampire, real silver bullet dodger. Blood-drinking, immortality, the lot. Hobson went through these ridiculous phases of putting out sugar to attract flies, and then catching the flies and keeping them in a little cardboard box. I’d read Dracula and I knew that the lunatic, Renfield, was supposed to do all that fly-catching stuff. But this guy wasn’t pretending to be Renfield. I knew that for certain because once, during one of these stupid phases, I actually called him ‘Renfield’, and he looked at me as if it was me who was nuts.
‘What are you talking about Jimmy? What do you mean by calling me Renfield?’
I thought about it for a few seconds and then decided on the direct approach.
‘Well, you know, catching flies and keeping them in a box and all that. That’s what Renfield does in Dracula isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that the impression you’re trying to give?’
Hobson rummaged around in his shabby vampire costume and took out a small tin of lighter fluid and a cigarette lighter. He began chuckling as he poured the lighter fluid onto the box.
‘Yes, but Renfield doesn’t do this though, does he?’
Then he set light to the box with his cigarette lighter.
The veins in his head, clearly visible through his close-cropped hair, were all pumped up and the muscles in his neck looked like those of a thoroughbred horse after winning the Derby. If he’d actually had a top button still attached to his shirt it would probably have gone into orbit. His face was distorted with anger. He forced out his words between tightly-clenched, tea-stained teeth.
‘Renfield is a fictional character Jimmy. Just a fictional character. You’d do well to remember that fact.’
Hobson stamped out the dying flames with his unpolished shoes, snorted like a camel and then stormed off to peel the onions for the ‘Dracula’s Delight’, a dish that Alphonso had invented and which was basically broiled lamb with onions, tomatoes, potatoes and a few herbs and spices.
That was extreme behaviour even for Hobson, but he was obviously having a bad day because half an hour later he was having a shouting match with Alphonso about how the onions should have been prepared. Alphonso wanted them cut across the grain so that they formed rings, but Hobson had diced them. Alphonso was ranting and raving like a madman,
‘You’ve fucking mutilated them! I told you to cut the things into fucking ringlets you stupid bastard!’
‘You only told me to cut the onions. You didn’t say how you wanted them cut’.
‘I always have the onions in fucking ringlets for the fucking Dracula’s Delight. I only use diced onions for the fucking Poison Risotto. You should fucking-well know that by now you fucking idiot!’
Hobson produced that annoying smile of his and said simply,
‘Of course I know that the onions are cut into ringlets for the Dracula’s Delight.’
‘Well why didn’t you cut the fucking onions into fucking ringlets then?’
Hobson took off his apron and then he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, took out his packet of cigarettes, and slowly, enunciating every word with careful deliberation, he sneered.
‘Because you didn’t tell me we were making Dracula’s Delight’. He gave us his surliest grin, took a cigarette out of the packet and stuffed it into his grinning mouth.
At this point there was steam coming out of Alphono’s ears and his face had turned purple. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyes to the ceiling and if he had appealed to heaven and all the saints for the gift of patience, then his request had been denied. If, on the other hand, he had appealed to those same powers for a voice as loud as the foghorn on a Grimsby trawler, then his request had been granted in earnest.
‘Get the fuck out of my fucking kitchen you fucking idiot!’
Hobson calmly lit his cigarette, walked slowly out of the kitchen door and into the courtyard. I watched him from the kitchen window, fumbling with the lock on the potato and onion store, skulking off to gloat in his vegetable refuge. Alphonso was still seething, bubbling away like a pan of milk on full gas and making a big deal out of a small annoyance.
‘They’re ruined! I always make the onions a feature of the whole presentation. An artistic statement. The Dracula’s Delight is a disaster.’
I thought that was pushing it, the bit about the artistic statement I mean, but Alphonso was prone to a bit of melodrama when he was upset and I found that the best thing to do was just to humour him for a while. Soon I was winning the battle and Alphonso was beginning to calm down, obviously we didn’t have a spare two hours to cut more onions but I doubted whether it was all that important. I gave him the most soothing smile I could summon and said with all sincerity,
‘After all, it’s not the appearance that counts is it? Surely it’s the texture and the taste that really matters’.
Suddenly Alphonso erupted.
‘You fucking Philistine! Is there no-one else in this god-forsaken pisshole of a fucking kitchen who realises that the first bite is with the eye?’ He rested his elbows on one of the stainless-steel worktops and covered his face with his hands,
‘Philistines. I am surrounded by Philistines!’
I really don’t know why I bothered trying to console him; you just can’t win when you’re dealing with a temperamental chef. Believe me. Later on Gerald gave me some advice which I could have done with in the first place, ‘I’ve given up getting involved with these arguments Jimmy. In the end you’ll probably do the same mate. You can only go on flogging a dead horse for so long.’ I thought about what he said and I thought about Celine and I began thinking that maybe Gerald’s advice fitted both cases.
Later, out in the courtyard, I found Hobson in the process of making some sort of weird little sculpture.
‘What the hell is that monstrosity?’
‘This monstrosity as you call it, is a voodoo doll in the form of the great Alphonso Alonso, master chef and fat bastard.’
It looked like a wax and straw version of the Michelin Man so I suppose there was some sort of resemblance. Hobson had even used a bit of black shoelace for the moustache. Nice touch that.
‘Nobody calls me a ‘fucking idiot’ and gets away with it. Don’t forget that Jimmy. It may save your life one day’
‘Yeah, I’ll try my very best to remember that. Thanks for the advice’.
I don’t think he realised I was being sarcastic.
In the months that followed Hobson didn’t get any saner. And it was Hobson’s increasing madness and Henri’s inability to recognise it that caused all the problems. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen exactly what would happen but the three of us, Alphonso, Gerald and myself, could tell that Hobson was flipping his lid. Only Henri could deal with the problem because only Henri had the power to hire and fire, but Henri couldn’t see it coming because he was all wrapped up in his dreams and his ambitions. I don’t think Henri believed it after it happened. But for a while there was a lull in the craziness and the mad events, a respite in Hobson’s belligerent behaviour; a time when I thought that we’d all been wrong. Mistaken. That there was no apocalypse waiting just around the corner, no sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. The months passed by in a flurry of activity; of weariness tempered with the occasional highlight, like when we read our bank account statements.
The spring of ’87 turned to early summer and I remember one day at the beginning of May, when Alphonso was juggling with three large tomatoes whilst singing Summertime from ‘Porgy and Bess’, Celine was telephoning Trabb the general grocer about three crates of brown ale that had been delivered instead of the three crates of champagne she’d actually ordered, and Hobson was mumbling contentedly to himself whilst cutting chicken breasts into an at least recognisable impression of medallions. Alphonso suddenly stopped juggling and turned the radio on. It was playing Spandau Ballet’s Gold. And as I drudged away peeling and dicing potatoes I emerged from a daydream just long enough to think to myself, ‘Well, maybe things have settled down nicely’. And we were all O.K. for a while.
But of course it couldn’t last.
The full novel is now available on Kindle
- Use for below to send feedback to author - View the Authors profile here
- The following form will send feedback to the author about this short story, please enter your e-mail if you wish a reply (which is obviously at the authors own discretion)