By CARDINAL COX
As you come into town on the bus, you go over the railway bridge,
pass the bas-relief to Cthulhu, over the river bridge and bear
right pass the old police station. Now only open at odd times. On
this day I noticed that someone had spray painted the words
"Obey yourself" across the front.
The sun was shining, I was flush and there was a bounce in my
stride. My first target was to see Gordon, my Big Issue seller.
Well, I say mine, I'm sure he sold to other folk as well, he puts
the time in and occasionally taps me for a bit extra. Today he
had some scraggy kid with him. We chatted, he tried to cadge the
dosh for a coffee and I offered to get him one.
"Get a sarni for the kid?"
"Ok, pay day last week." And the kid and I wander off
to the market café. While I intend this to be a take-away, he
sits at a table and runs an eye over the menu. I sit opposite him.
"What 'cha do?"
"Work in an office, bit of writing now and then."
"Writer? Known a few of them since bloody Collodi."
"Not where, who. Carlo Collodi, took a shine to my story, he
"Never heard of him."
"Him, no. Me, 'course you have." He rolled up a sleeve
and showed me a mole, nodding towards it. "No, have a proper
So I did, and there were white, black and different brown rings
in it. "Bit like a, what's the word
"Knot," he filled in. Then, after first glancing round,
pulled up the shirt to show me his chest. But he had no navel. Or
nipples. "Gepetto never bothered to carve them."
"Gepetto. Carve them
"Yeah. He'd lost his wife and son in Garibaldi's war. Carved
me as a surrogate."
"Don't say it, please. That was at the start of the 1880s."
He looked at me hard. "You don't believe me."
"Hey, I've been a fictional character, had writer's base
stuff on me. People just think I've ripped off the author, but
you, you should be a real boy, got old, you know..."
"But varnished wood don't age, does it? Good as new, me.
Maybe not good. See," and here he opened the knapsack he had
with him, spilling the contents out, shuffling them away when the
waitress came with our order, except a book he hung onto. "I
got this. Translation of a Russian writer called Verkhovensky. I
don't agree with everything, you never should, but some of it."
"So," I sipped my diet Cola (ordered despite his
disapproving mutters about India), "what did you do after
About 1900 I was living rough in London, under a bush in
Kensington Gardens. Had a gang of street kids. That was when I
"Barrie, another writer who ripped me off. Then I went back
to the continent. 'Bout ten years later I'd got myself adopted in
Venice and was calling myself Tadzio. You know," he was
wistful for a moment, "the whole world's like the carnival.
Masks, secrets, illicit meetings, notes stuffed into pockets."
"Then," I prompted.
"More travel. After the First World War - won't tell you
about that - I was in Australia. Painted my hair your sort of
colour, so they sometimes called me 'Blue'. Big open country that.
Still they treated the natives shit like it would never be big
enough. Bloke I met there was called Bancks."
"Bancks. I heard things were moving in Germany, so I went
there. They were, all right, but in the wrong bleedin' direction."
"How did you do all this travelling, looking so young and
"Easy enough, if you know how. Easier for a child sometimes.
There have been dangerous times, but when they pull down your
pants, well, the fairy could only make me as real a boy as I'd
been carved. When they're distracted, I can do something with
this," offering me a glimpse of a flick knife. "Got it
off an American, back streets of Berlin, 1946."
"Yes, you said you were in Germany."
"Then, I was Oskar. While it was good, we helped Emil get
his money back from Grundeis. Ran errands for Sally Bowles. When
it went bad, hid as a mascot of a regiment. Did a little, tipped
a few people off, loosened wheel nuts, cut wires. Not enough. Not
"And after the war?"
He grinned and showed me a Freddy Krueger-style jumper. "Scotland.
Agent provocateur, trying to goad Walter into action. Never had a
dog like I was drawn, though. And I would have liked the whole
"After that?" Oh, I wanted to hear the next ridiculous
"Finally got to America. There they worship youth, all the
way back to Huckleberry Finn. Had fun in California. Remember the
kidnapping of Betty Kane?"
"Heir to Charles F. Kane, the dodgy publisher guy?"
"Got wars started, politicians elected, whole works way back
when. Well, when grand-daughter Betty was "enlisted" (he
even did the little finger, in quotes, thing), "well, I was
around the T.I.A. then."
I paid the bill and got ready to take the coffee back to Gordon.
"Look, I'd like to get some of this down."
"We'll see, if you're a writer though, you can make up the
missing bits," and so he disappeared out the door. Never saw
Next time I came into town though, the graffiti on the police
station read, "Cut your own strings".
© All work copyright of Cardinal Cox.