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DANIEL

Mrs. Michael couldn’t believe her eyes.

‘Get up,’ she said to her husband, ‘You’ve got to take a look at this.’

There, down below, lit by a savage silver moon, all alone in the clearing, Daniel was dancing. It was a crazy dance, a flurry of stamp and splash and thump, a brutal, earthy solo that whirled him round and round the lawn. The fat lady thought he was going to fall into the empty swimming pool at one moment, into the ruins of the kitchen the next.

‘Who is it?’ Michael murmured thickly.

‘It’s Daniel! Our Daniel!’ she laughed. ‘Incredible!’

Their employee was grunting now, pushing that breath from the pit of his gut in time to the dance. There would be a deep growl and one foot would thump into the waterlogged lawn sending out a fine spray of moisture in every direction, then there was another gasp of triumph as the next foot plunged down. Without warning he would break off and howl to the moon, an ancient whoop of command, then a chuckle and a different kind of dance, a little jig of glee.

Daniel looked rapidly all around him. Everything was different. He could see.

‘He’s got no clothes on. Look at him now!’ Mrs. Michael called.

‘Sweetheart, I’m tired,’ he said and rolled over in bed. ‘The last thing I want to see is Daniel’s dick. Tell me in the morning.’

His wife stayed there looking down, chuckling quietly as her least favorite employee acted completely out of character, dancing wildly, naked on the lawn. She slugged at the whisky and pulled a face as it tumbled toward that all too willing stomach, saw the lanterns lit in the guest bungalows as the crazy man’s antics woke the exhausted tourists. She didn’t care. They hadn’t been nearly as much fun tonight, she thought, very dull.

The house seemed strangely clean, emptied out of all those extraneous objects that made up her life in the sun. Mrs. Michael was too drunk to really care. The balcony swayed and groaned with her weight as she sat down heavily, with only the whisky bottle and glass for company.

*

Michael hid there in bed, breathing deeply, his thoughts turning over the events of the day. It hadn’t been one he wanted to repeat. A disaster from the moment he arrived at the resort right up till the spectacle of his wife’s genitalia luridly displayed for the guests. He couldn’t help laughing again at the spectacle of that grizzled old fanny gaping wide on the floor when he chair collapsed, the look on his wife’s face, even better the expressions of horror his mental camera had frozen on the faces of the assembled audience. This was his salvation, his sense of humour, got him through the thousand and one little humiliations that running a resort in the Pacific had pitted against his pride.

People are pigs, he mused, just fucking pigs. That was why, when the occasion arose, he raised the prices, then raised them again, squeezing every last cent out of the unfortunate visitors with a certain pleasure. Once they were here, they were in his clutches – nowhere else to stay, nowhere else to eat, no entertainment other than that provided by his good self. They were at the mercy of a hundred hidden charges, bitten from all sides by a swarm of costly insects, rolled and robbed blind as they stood, powerless to stop it. He enjoyed the daily explanations as they pored over their bill, the listing of the extras, their gasps of surprise, the irritation as they thrust their credit cards at him with an angry flourish knowing that only cash would get them off the island. He didn’t care about repeat trade. There never was any.

Fate delivered a windfall. Seven extra nights, seven extra dinners, seven extra breakfasts and, best of all, the contents of the bar. He spent some time making the calculations, enthusiastic at the prospect of all that angst in the morning.

Michael began to drift away, even the thought of his wife’s tongue darting in and out of his mouth earlier failed to keep him awake. The nightly swoon rolled in upon him, he felt the bed slide sideways and sweet sleep intervened. The last thing he heard was a single tiny burp as his wife sat there with her back to him, staring at the lunatic on the grass.

*

Michael stirred with a snort. Shit, shit, shit. The bloody Dogster. He’d forgotten all about him. Christ Almighty. He untangled himself from the sheet and sat up.

Two portly feet swung into view and headed for the floor, followed by their parent legs, his chubby knees resting there for a moment before the rest of Mr. Michael hove into view. A wall of pink and ginger emerged from the bed, stumbled, one foot trapped in the mosquito net, and clumped loudly on the floor. Mrs. Michael didn’t look round.

‘He’s still there. Look, he’s doing cartwheels. Amazing.’

Michael glanced down at Daniel briefly as he headed for the phone.

‘Ow!’ he said as one bare foot struck a nail poking out of the timber. ‘Shit!’ and resolved to watch where he was going in future. She detected the note of concern in his voice and turned as far as she could without effort to catch his eye. She failed so returned to her free show on the lawn. She was enjoying it enormously, wanted to applaud but didn’t want him to know she was watching. On the horns of sufficient dilemmas to keep her slouched low in her chair, overlapping it on every side, a vast cushion of fat supported by four spindly bamboo legs, watching the crazy man dance.

‘Shit, shit, shit.’

She turned to watch him as he reached for what clothes he could find. His cheeks were white, all the colour had drained out of them and there was a very serious look in his eyes.

‘Trouble?’ she inquired, but he knew she didn’t really care about the answer. The blankness of an island lifestyle was all over her face, smoothing out the creases, erasing interest, anticipation, concern. It was a bovine state of grace that eliminated most of the rest of the world. She didn’t ask him any more, just watched lazily as her red-headed man dressed. She was smiling at him, watching with a certain hunger as he walked around looking for his clothes.

‘See ya,’ he said as the wooden door banged on the latch and he walked off down the drive, ‘gotta rescue a lost dog!’

*

I’m in a hut. I don’t know how I got here. Somewhere outside there’s an almighty row going on, voices escalating in pitch till they spiral out of control, each one topped by the last, each adding another layer of grief. The noise is strange and familiar, the world language of war. At the end of these finely wrought barrages a single repeated word, hurled out over and over in increasing ferocity, echoed by many voices.

There, flickering by firelight in the clearing, are sixty men with painted faces and spears, slashes of ochre on their chests and arms, armlets of leaves, belts of twine holding a ragged collection of shorts and trousers at the ready. In front their leader stamps his anger on the ground, a rooster ballet of aggression, on either side his four brothers, generals in this angry, ersatz army – confused, dazed, delirious, completely out of it, stumbling around like lost remnants of the counter culture, trying desperately to get their show on the road.

‘Steven! Steven! Come back!’ the old man seemed to be sobbing.

More men from this village were stumbling in to the clearing, all taken obviously by surprise. There was more shouting. One stepped back to reveal the little boy digging one defiant toe into the dirt.

One brother would leap forward, shower someone on the opposing side with obscenities, stamp, wave spear and shield ferociously then melt back, circling again to throw a last piece of choice invective at the foe before retiring into the pack, his place taken by another one. Occasionally there was a double act, two of them shouting in turn, then a silence, punctuated only by the loud corporate breathing of anger and fear. The albino child was produced again, pushed to the front of the pack, his faced turned to the side to show the gash to his cheek.

The clouds fell away, the fumes cleared, the situation was exposed. He took stock, threw caution to the winds, dangled his namba in approximation of its required position and quit the hut. Dogster was hoping for a repeat of this afternoon’s ovation, hoping to turn confrontation to laughter, didn’t really know why he went out in between those warring parties, but somehow felt that if all this was something to do with him, then he, great white hunter, could stop it.

And stop it he did. All heads turned to watch this near-naked fool, namba akimbo, arms outstretched in benediction and surrender, wide open and exposed to whatever weirdness was going on. They looked at him intently, then, with not so much as a smile, turned as one to resume their fight.

*

‘Shit, shit, shit,’ hissed Michael as he gunned up the track, ‘shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.’

There’s a special blackness about night in the jungle; a rustling, crawling netherworld, breeding ground for wild magic. He didn’t like being in the Middle Kingdom at night. Anything could happen. He knew his place. Every inch of the island was territory. Michael took a breath. Headlights cut into the darkness, stabbing through glinting green, leaving a cloud of lava-red dust behind them.

Jeeesus, he’ll be pissed off, oh, shit, shit, shit…

*

Suddenly Daniel stopped dancing.

*

TO BE CONTINUED

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