A serial fantasy.
Marta leaned back against the wall, tilting back one high-heeled shoe, her elbow dug into the waist of her little crushed velvet dress, her hand holding a glass of bubbly. She shook the mane of her long black hair from her eyes, and gazed up at the chandeliers on the ceiling above her.
‘God, I need a ciggie!’ she said. ‘Is there nowhere in this house where anyone can have a smoke? They must have dozens of rooms.’
‘I could do with one too,’ said Steve, stood beside her, a pained smile on his gaunt face.
Mrs Marchant, the hostess of the Nelson Mandela anniversary gala, came gliding by in a floor length gown, and called out to the assembled guests.
‘There are broccoli and feta cheese canapes being served in the dining room,’ she declared. ‘And there are also honey and lettuce sandwiches. And there are an assortment of our finest low-alcohol parsnip and nettle wines.’
‘Yuk!’ Marta whispered, wrinkling her nose. ‘I want a bacon buttie.’
A smile of satisfaction suffused Mrs Marchant’s face as she finished listing the food available, and she turned to leave. Steve caught her arm.
‘Yes, Stephen. What may I do for you?’ she said.
‘My friend here would like a cigarette. Is there anywhere she can smoke one?’
Mrs Marchant stiffened and glared frostily at Marta. ‘I’m afraid there’s no smoking permitted anywhere in this house. If you really must engage in that filthy habit, you must do so in the garden. It’s out the door at the back down this corridor. If you go past the greenhouse and the orchard, you might find somewhere to smoke.’
Marta’s face flushed with anger as she spoke. ‘So why do you invite smokers at all, if you’re not going to give them houseroom?’ Marta snapped. ‘There must be dozens of people here dying for a smoke.’
‘I beg your pardon!!’ Mrs Marchant gasped, her eyes widening at Marta’s question.
‘I said: why invite smokers if you’re not going to make them welcome? Why not send out invitations with No Fucking Smokers on the bottom in copperplate writing?’
‘Stephen, do you know who this impertinent, foul-mouthed young lady is?’ Mrs Marchant asked primly, recovering her equilibrium. ‘I don’t remember inviting her.’
‘No Fucking Smokers or Alcoholics or Fat People,’ Marta continued, louder. ‘All in nice curly copperplate.writing along the bottom of your poncy invitations to your next frigging Nelson Mandela liberation dance…’
‘Mr James!’ Mr Marchant called loudly across the room. ‘Mr James. Please will you show this young lady out at once.’
‘I’ll show her out,’ said Stephen, taking Marta firmly by the arm, and guiding her along the corridor to the back door.
They stepped out of the rear door onto a flight of steps leading down into the spacious sunlit garden. In the distance they could see a greenhouse, partly obscured by trees, and a brick pathway leading towards it.
‘Do we have to go all that fucking distance?’ muttered Marta, who had been babbling to herself all the way out of the house. ‘Why can’t we just sit on the steps right here and light up a couple of sparklers.’
‘I don’t know why I bothered to come,’ she continued, her face flushed almost as red as as her scarlet lipstick. ‘I mean what’s the fucking point? What’s the point if you’re going to just end up standing outside?’
As they walked down the steps together, and stepped onto the path,.they heard the rear door creak shut, and footsteps behind them.
Marta looked back. ‘Hi, Vin!’ she called. ‘We’ve been thrown out! Now we’ve got to walk a mile if we want a smoke.’
‘I heard all that back there,’ said Vin. ‘And I liberated a couple of bottles on the way out.’ He held up two bottles.
‘I hope they’re not turnip wine or something,’ said Marta.
The three walked along together, passing the greenhouse and entering an orchard, with Marta muttering “Fuckity fuckity fuckity fuck” with every step she took on the soft ground, into which her high heels sank..
Eventually they came to a river, and Marta pulled out a packet of cigarettes from a tiny blue velvet handbag, and offered it around.
‘I suppose this is far enough for them,’ said Marta, glaring back at the distant house.
They wandered slowly along the path beside the water, looking for somewhere to sit. Eventually they came to a wide grassy area. There was a bench on the grass beside the path that continued along the river.
When they reached it, Marta collapsed onto it, kicked off her shoes, and lit another cigarette. Steve sat down beside her, and pulled out a tiny notepad computer from this knapsack, and fitted a couple of tiny speakers to it, and set it playing music.
‘It’s some sort of park,’ Vin said. ‘Or maybe a golf course.’
‘Who cares what it is?’ exclaimed Marta. ‘You go out hoping to have a good time, and you end up walking miles through gardens and forests and along rivers to the middle of nowhere.’
‘Do you know our friendly hostess?’ she asked, turning to Steve.
‘Yes, I’ve known her for years. She’s a family friend. She’s a pillar of the community. Always throwing bashes of one sort or other in support of worthy causes. Asian orphans. Boat people. Marxist exiles from Latin American dictatorships. That sort of thing.’
‘Welcoming one lot of people with open arms through the front door while bundling another lot of people out the back door,’ said Marta.
They sat thoughtfully gazing out across the river at the derelict mill opposite, in whose blank windows thin saplings grew. A few ducks circled slowly the water below it.
‘We’re not part of this society any more,’ said Marta eventually. ‘We’ve been expelled.’
‘If we’re not part of it any more,’ said Vin. ‘ Then we don’t have to obey its rules anymore either.’
‘We’ve become outsiders,’ said Marta. ‘We’ve become outlaws.’
‘So we make our own outlaw rules,’ Vin continued. ‘There are laws within laws. Rules within rules. People make their own house rules. Like Mrs Marchant back there. She has her own law in her own house: nobody can smoke. That’s not the law of the land. That’s her own law. And we respected it. That’s why we’re sitting out here now.’
‘And sitting out here on this park bench,’ he continued, ‘We’re the inhabitants of this park bench. And so we get to decide what the rules are on this little patch of ground around us.’
Vin got up and walked to the edge of the river, and picked up a few loose stones, and walked around the park bench placing them on the ground one by one.
‘See,’ he said. ‘Those are our boundary markers of our little country. Inside those stones, we make the rules. Outside them, somebody else makes the rules. Agreed?’
‘Agreed!’ cried Marta.
‘But we’re only here for a few hours,’ said Steve. ‘We’ll be gone soon.’
‘The people around these parts are only here for a little while too,’ said Vin, pointing towards the distant houses. ‘They also are gone soon. They go with God. If they can make rules, then so can we.’
‘And in this little country of ours, which extends from here to over there, smoking is permitted, yes?’
Steve and Marta laughed. ‘Yes,’ Marta giggled. ‘Smoking is permitted. And so is drinking. And dancing.’
‘And wherever we go, we take our little country with us,’ added Vin. ‘So if we move to the next park bench, we set up the same little country around that.’
‘Stevinmartaland, we can call it,’ said Marta. ‘And I’m its queen.’
‘Is it like on a beach, where people come and put down towels and windbreaks and sunshades, and that’s their patch?’ Steve asked.
‘Exactly like that,’ said Vin.
They sat together in the afternoon sun, gazing out across the river, talking and smoking and sipping their drinks.
‘Somebody’s coming,’ said Vin eventually, gesturing towards a distant figure walking along the path.
‘So what?’ said Marta. ‘It’s probably just somebody out for a walk.’
The figure gradually resolved itself into a man aged about fifty, with weather-beaten face, a dark blue uniform, and an armband which read, ‘Park Warden.’
‘No smoking in the park,’ he said as he came to a halt, pulling out a fat notebook. ‘Didn’t you read the sign at the gate?’
‘We didn’t come in through the gate,’ said Steve. ‘So we didn’t read it.’
‘That’s illegal entry to the park then,’ said the warden. ‘You’re supposed to come in through the front gate.’
He gazed at their bottles and glasses.
‘No drinking in the park either,’ he added.
‘Oh fuck,’ said Marta.
‘And no littering in the park,’ the warden continued, pointing at the bottles and cigarettes ends.
‘And no unauthorised music in the park.’ Steve’s notepad continued tinkling.
‘And, furthermore, the park is closed. It’s illegal to enter the park while it’s closed.’
The warden counted up the total. ‘That’s five offences. Each offence carries a hundred euro fine. Per person.’
‘Five hundred euros each!?’ screeched Marta, incredulously.
‘Excuse me, officer,’ said Vin quietly, lounging back on the bench. ‘But I must explain something to you. You see, your laws don’t apply on the patch of ground around this particular park bench. It’s marked out by those stones. See there, and there, just by your foot. This is our sovereign territory.’
‘And I’m its queen,’ added Marta, helpfully.
The park warden gazed stonily at Vin.
‘Your rules and regulations stop at that line of stones,’ Vin continued. ‘On this side of them, our rules apply. And our rules allow smoking, drinking, and music. Furthermore, I must warn you that if you step inside this circle of stones, it will be considered an act of aggression against a sovereign state.’
‘Absolutely,’ said Steve.
The park warden continued making notes on his notepad.
‘It’s an offence to argue with a legally appointed park attendant,’ he added. ‘That will be 600 euros each. Now, you will give me your names and addresses. I’ll need to see your ID.’
‘Fuck off!’ shrieked Marta. ‘Just fuck right off!’
The warden took a step towards them, over the line of stones.
And with a single fluid gesture, Vin drew out a small pistol from a small leather satchel, and fired a single shot into the chest of the advancing warden. The echo of the sharp report of the gun came back faintly from the mill on the far side of the river, where the ducks all took to the air and flew away through the trees.
A look of surprise and confusion came over the face of the warden. He staggered backwards, and fell into the river.
‘You frightened the ducks,’ said Marta to Vin, reproachfully, as ripples spread out across the river from the warden’s body, which had already begun to float slowly away..
Go to Chapter 2