WILSON FUCHS – a short story
Wilson Fuchs was suddenly turfed out of Ponsonby Vermin Club (PVC) after an extraordinary meeting of the Vermin Committee. Two days later, the authorities expelled him from the dismal craft annexe of the illustrious Grammar School at Mosser, though this time it was all done very properly in terms of his probationary and therefore temporary contract. In baffled retrospect, Fuchs was forced to recall that that was all the job security he’d ever possessed. So, when he finally got an exacting new post in the woodwork department of a crumbling tenement secondary down in Manchester’s Moss Side, he took home the densely-printed document and studied it minutely for a good two hours. This one emphatically was permanent, indeed they’d all but begged him to embrace the uniquely challenging post. Wilson Fuchs was just the man they needed. Six-foot-six, fierce, frank, immoderately psychopathic, and with a normal speaking voice which assumed the audience was dead as well as deaf. Just the man to quell a riot or a lynching, or to pick up four twelve-year-old Rastas by their dreadlocks and urge them to get on with their dictations on the spokeshave…or Fuchs would take them all apart.
“The-best-are-made-of-boxwood,” bawled Wilson Fuchs, once a year, every year in Moss Side. “Others-are-made-of-beech-or-ash.”
Fuchs dictated with his eyes shut, in a fractured but forceful rhythm which made him sound like an Irish crooner or an auctioneer. Winston Crombie, aged fifteen, had once succeeded in a flinging a piece of used and bloody Elastoplast right into that open mouth, but Fuchs had responded by getting him down on the varnished floor and pouring nearly twenty ccs of undiluted Quink past the struggling lips of Winston.
Fuchs was a most lucid teacher, he had a way of really putting things across. He put little Mingus across his knee and paddled his trousers with a thick piece of warped dowelling after Mingus had called him ‘a wall-eyed and hoss-faced big whooer’. He made the giant of 5R, Rat Twentyman, weep with hysterical fright, after assembling him for a mock crucifixion (two whopping planks of durable pitch pine) having threatened to turn into him a Messiah every week for the whole of 1982.
“I wouldn’t have done it, yer greet halfwit,” consoled Fuchs, squeezing the big boy gently, and lending him his bright red handkerchief. “But yer have to learn to stop mouthing off, and remember I’m the only legal boss in here.”
So it went. But Wilson Fuchs did not wish to reside in backstreet Manchester, Fuchs was a countryman born and raised. His widowed mother lived in Ponsonby on the North Lancashire coast, and Fuchs himself had a small terraced house half way between there and Mosser, Cumbria, down at Estuary Row. He lodged the weekdays in a noisy depressing bedsit in Whalley Range, but every weekend he was up there with his Lakeland Terriers, his guns and his snares and his boat, drinking his fill of one of the most beautiful estuaries in Britain. Number 3 Estuary Row looked out onto three solid miles of glittering, silver sand, curving around Blackdyke in the north, down to the nature reserve at the edge of Mosser Bridge. The nature reserve was famous for its unique maritime habitat – the favourite of natterjack toads. The rest of the heathland surrounding the reserve was fair game, it belonged to everyone and no one, and so Fuchs tore around blasting rabbits and foxes, he gave short shrift to the estuary’s populous vermin. Sometimes too he spotted members of the treacherous Vermin Club and would take ambiguous pot shots right behind their stooping forms. Of course, he was only firing into the air, or in the direction of the hills, but it had its notable effect.
Fuchs liked going out with Herbie Leacock who lived at Number 4, and invariably told embarrassed passers-by that this was his very best friend. Herbie accepted Fuchs’s ferocious generosity in the way of boat trips and loans of expensive tackle, but later told the same folk that really he couldn’t stand ‘Bela Lugosi’s big brother’. Herbie was a pallid, chubby shoe shop manager in Ponsonby, and his exophthalmic wife Madgie had an identical job across at Mosser. During the week, for a handsome sum, Madgie exercised and fed Fuchs’s Lakeland Terriers, which he kept in a small pen by the allotments, wrinkling up her pudgy small nose at the stench of their special sloppy feed. Herbie and Madgie were both over thirty, and had no family, but they owned a swaggering Airedale called Geoffrey, and they spoiled him like a favourite little son. Fuchs, frustrated through the week in Whalley Range, was always begging Leacock’s company at weekends to go out shooting or trawling the bay. Herbie usually accepted with a sigh of solemn condescension, but when he wasn’t in the mood virtually slammed the door in Wilson’s face. Fuchs would grow subdued, then stiff, then emotional, and then with a sudden confirmation of something from his distant past, would bawl to his girlfriend Sarah, standing some six inches away: “Herbie’s like everyone else in this bastard Row, Sarah Stern! No energy, no brains, no sense of humour, no consistency at all!”
It was surprising to learn that Fuchs had a steady girlfriend, and had once had a steady wife. Now forty-three, he’d been divorced since 1969, and had been with Sarah Stern since 1976. Sarah at thirty-seven was an assertive, attractive, self-contained mother of two teenage boys, both of them with sharp staring eyes. They were called William and Angus, and got on remarkably well with the mercurial craft teacher and lover of country sports. Divorced from a man who was a violent alcoholic with a roaring voice like Wilson’s, it was as if Sarah had kept the outward marks of her previous husband, but had found in Fuchs someone who, while odd, was not dangerous, while loud and vehement, was quite pliant underneath. Fuchs himself had been married at twenty-one to a factory hand called Wilma Fessick, a manically boisterous woman he had known since early boyhood. She had left him without notice one intensely sunny May morning and a week later he received a cheerful four-views postcard from Dorchester announcing she was happily settled with a pesticide salesman called Victor from Chaldon Herring. Fuchs had been devastated, half-suicidal, quite unhinged, even by his standards of aggressive defiance and sour disapprobation of a fickle world. It was then in 1968, that he started his habit of bawling at everyone and everything, just as if it had seriously occurred to him that perhaps his misunderstood complexities, the impenetrable contours of his misperceived self, needed to be broadcast as loudly as possible, all ambiguities to be resolved by the force of his lungs.
It transpired that Wilma Fuchs had hated her awful surname far more than Wilson had guessed. Anyone toiling in a Ponsonby button factory might have wearied of Hector the chargehand’s puerile little puns on an unfortunate handle (‘Wilma Fuchs and Wilson Fuchs. And that’s raither nice for both parties?’). In fact, Wilma had tried to get Wilson to change it by deed poll to Fox, to anglicise himself in name at least. Wilson’s father had been a Danish fisherman whose grandfather had been a German migrant to Denmark from Hamburg. Adolf Fuchs had married Cissie Wilson in 1938, after two years of courtship consequent on his monthly fishing trips over to Mosser from Esjberg. He married and settled with a local woman in Furness-Lancashire (now part of Cumbria) but unfortunately for him when war broke out, he was interned up near Bassenthwaite, Cumberland as a risky alien with a most worrying pair of names. No matter that he was Danish to the core, and knew far less German than English. Adolf’s justifiable sense of outrage rubbed off on his only child, who effectively had no father till 1945 when he was six. Penalised for nothing, imprisoned for a nonsense, a law abiding but pugnacious Danish fisherman could not help but transmit his anger and bewilderment to his growing English son. Fuchs who had loved his father to idolatry, would sooner have called himself Wilson Excrement, than Wilson Fox.
Sent on his way today by Leacock, Fuchs eventually decided to take Sarah out in his boat. Her two lads were idling happily on the sands on this blazing August afternoon, so he proposed that they leave them there while they sailed over to Blackdyke for a pint and a sandwich in the Old Barnacle,
Sarah was already in her bright yellow swimming costume, looking handsome and sensitive and shapely. Fuchs disappeared to return post-haste in some new and remarkably revelatory briefs, and at once she winced and remonstrated.
“Christ Almighty, Wilson Fuchs!”
“What yer on about, woman?” he chaffed her briskly, wincing absurdly as his bare toes felt the red hot pebbles.
“Those ridiculous trunks! Christ, the whole of North Lancs and South Cumbria can see everything you’ve got!”
Fuchs smirked and looked admiringly at his cumbrous genitals. “So what? It’s bloody 1982, not 1882. And anyway, what’s wrong with the yooman body? Nothing at all, as far as I can see.”
“It’s incredibly embarrassing…”
Fuchs offered her a ferociously contorted leer. “Yes, I see. Shifting the goalposts, or call it one law for the ladies and another for the lads! Typical of your mad bloody gender, Mrs Stern. Of course, it’s alright and dandy that your bits is bulging out all over like lumps of plaster of Paris. What I mean is a blind toad could see that’s your plump little backside jiggling away down below, not a pair of yeller melons kissing.”
Sarah crimsoned as two or three young couples energetically tuned in, piously fascinated by today’s outside broadcast from Estuary Row.
“Lower your stupid voice!” she hissed.
“Bah!” roared Fuchs, salivating and glowering at the leering audience which immediately turned away. “Prewdery! I’m not one for pretence, Sarah, you know that I don’t hide nothing if I can help it!”
Confessing which, he tiptoed down the burning sand with his gigantic manhood bouncing like the pouch of a Furness marsupial. Sarah followed on with her graceful, poiseful gait, her full and touching figure, and basking locals scratched their chins and wondered how it was that someone as gentle and quiet as Sarah was girlfriend to someone as shameless and uproarious, and well-nigh a lunatic in his extravagance.
Out in the little boat, half way between the shore and Blackdyke, Fuchs decided to take a cooling plunge. While Sarah lay and sunbathed, he leapt in noisily over the side. But soon irritated by the encumbrance of his trunks, he wriggled them off, cast them into the boat called Daisy May, and began bobbing up and down by its side like a bizarre little boy on a rubber tire. Sarah, peering out of the side of her sun-shaded eyes, observed his fat penis dancing and swaying in the warm breeze, semi-turgid and batonlike, a histrionic conductor agonising over a poignant passage of Dvorak. She sighed yet ultimately concluded they were too far out for any observer to distinguish specific parts of the Fuchs anatomy.
“I hope,” she murmured dozily, “no one can see your luscious behind from Haverigg prison, Wilse.”
“Well I hope they can,” answered Fuchs doughtily. “It might just give them a belly laugh, my moonin. You know,” he gasped with deadly seriousness, “even the Queen Mother has one, Sarah, even she goes to the toilet, and does her smelly business just like me and you.”
“I think you’re some kind of pervert,” Sarah responded, almost asleep in the blissful heatwave.
“No I’s not,” Fuchs retorted, blowing a mouthful of brine onto her lovely belly, so that she leapt up and took a vain lunge at his teasing form. “I’m not at all. I’m just honest as opposed to hypocritical. I’ve got an arse and a Charlie, and I’m proud of them! That’s my personal philosophy in a nutshell.”
But believe it or not, someone could see the philosopher’s buttocks. From his cottage, hidden by its high hedge and its position half way up the hill behind Estuary Row, Edmund de Sausmarez was staring at Fuchs’s gigantic posterior through his Zeiss binoculars. Amused, he refocused, then saw the good-looking woman lying there in her skimpy yellow bikini. He thought he vaguely recognised her, but could not remember where: whether at Ponsonby, Mosser, Lancaster or Preston. As for her companion, nude bathing, however discreet, always suggested the English middle classes, and there were few of those to be spotted in this part of the world. He could not place that bobbing, naked man, and certainly not from the rear.
Edmund de Sausmarez succeeded in supporting himself by running a wholefood and health food stall on the local markets, and had been living here in Spindrift Cottage for almost twelve months. Very early on he had discovered that his Cumbrian and Lancastrian patrons were only rarely what you might have termed indigenous locals. It was the undeniable truth that apart from a tiny handful of working class hypochondriacs, Edmund sold his wares to a classic assortment of e.g. art teachers and social studies lecturers, plus a copious stream of the young, pained and searching who went down regularly to stay at the nearby Advaita Vedanta hermitage and naturally spurned the changeless local diet of…hot pies.
De Sausmarez had lived all over the globe in his forty years, and had never been anywhere – even Athens and its tiropittas paled beside Furness-Cumbria and Lancashire – where they consumed quite so many pies. Even in the newsagents and sweetshops there was always a sign proclaiming We serve hot pie’s. On enquiry the pies turned out to contain either ‘beef’ or ‘pork’ never cheese. De Sausmarez had once read an authoritative New Scientist article on exactly what went into commercial pork pies. Apparently, the butcher took all the inedible, unsellable, horriblest bits of scraps, lights and offal, churned it all at fantastic speed in a huge electric mixer, injected it with commercially prepared ‘marrow gravy’, then stuffed the resultant poison into the pastry. Now and again in light-hearted manner, de Sausmarez had tried to disclose such unpalatable dietary truths to some attentive locals, those who stood politely bemused at his stall, looking hopefully to discover what it was all about, all this colourful hen feed.
One of these bemused had been Herbie Leacock at Ponsonby; another Madgie Leacock surveying de Sausmarez’s Thursday stall at Mosser. Herbie had lingered a good quarter of an hour, scrutinising all the charming little plastic packets with such labels as garam masala, savory, lemon grass, asafoetida printed on them in Edmund’s neat italic. He was entranced by the bright colours and the variations in seed, powder, pellet of all the herbs and spices. Herbie didn’t recognise them as spices, though, he seriously thought they were some kind of health food sweets. And so, in all good faith, he blushingly purchased a half ounce of turmeric, went and slouched in the nearby park and dipped into what he hoped would taste like the speckled sherbet of his remotely recollected childhood. He dipped, sucked, then spat it out amazed. Worse, in spitting with such violence he tipped his little yellow packet and the turmeric went all over his work suit and stained it, oh my Christ! for ever more. He had to tear back home in his Fiesta to get himself changed, swearing all the way at his treacherous curiosity. Leacock was hardly to know that turmeric is sometimes used as a fabric dye for religious purposes in a distant sub-continent. Madgie Leacock had likewise gazed in bafflement at all those big packets of bulgur, maize, besan, sunflower seeds etc. before coming to rest on an unlabelled jar of yoghurt-coated peanuts. They looked like small white gobstoppers, or the excrement of an exotic but sick animal, and she gazed at them frightenedly for minutes. When de Sausmarez, elegantly spruce in fawn cords, camel-coloured velvet shirt, dapper puce waistcoat and, amazingly, a white straw hat with a pink and white ribbon tied around it, had asked her kindly if she’d like to try one of them gratis, she had jumped, flushed and darted on hastily to buy herself a …hot pie.
It was partly Edmund’s left eye, an engaging poetic sort of cast to it, which had unnerved her, but his eccentric dress had certainly helped. Of course, market stall men are allowed their sartorial gimmicks, but there was something about the extreme gentleness of manner and the very posh accent which made him seem of quite a different planet. Moreover, to put it coyly, he didn’t exactly look like a ladies’ chap, though neither had anyone ever caught him holding hands with a man or mincingly queening or generally making a buffoon of himself, as northern provincial homosexuals were once classically expected to do as penance for their personalities.
Here he was then on his day off, the amiable posh pansy, standing alone in the acre grounds of Spindrift Cottage, gazing through his binoculars at the noisy children, the mongrel dogs, the couples, and the mysterious male arse. Edmund lived quite alone, about ten miles from the few friends he had locally, all of them employed in some capacity at the Vedanta hermitage at Hanging Strand. Simon Wallace, an ex-accountant from Chesham, who these days preferred to be called Narasimha Devadasa, had offered to get him a job as an assistant gardener, but Edmund was determined to keep his cottage and his independence, particularly of the emotional kind.
Today exceptionally the radio on his garden table was tuned to BBC Radio One, in line with de Sausmarez’s relentless addiction to self-torture. To elaborate, anyone watching him over any stretch of time in his cottage grounds, would have seen him rush to the blaring radio, when with a look of sorrow and dampened anger, he would switch it off for about three minutes of clenched teeth, dour grimacing, and carefully controlled intensity. After the three minutes was up, turning it back on, he would swiftly expel the tension in his breath, and in doing so snort a hint of inhibited disgust. After two or three of these debilitating mimes, the fascinated onlooker would probably have deduced that this ritual happened exclusively when Simon Bates announced that the band coming up was called incredibly Leyton Occident.
“Leyton Occident, yes. The outstanding band with the outstandingly naughty message. For a change I don’t want you to listen too carefully to the words of this one.”
Quite, grunted Edmund. The band’s name had been Timmy Badaines’s invention. A football fan with a taste for opaque puns, and an art college background, which meant that he knew a few big words like ‘occident’, it was Timmy who sang lead, played lead guitar, and was, within his own terms, remarkably talented. De Sausmarez heartily disliked pop music on the whole: whether gay, straight, funk, punk, soul, or any other of the mad, monosyllabic categories. Edmund liked only jazz and classical music. Timmy Badaines with his London working class background, had chaffed him lightly about all of that, and had often chuckled at his lover’s pretended affable tolerance of ‘homo rock’. The chaffing however had been sincerely affectionate, as it had been right up to the very last minute, when he’d finally averted his eyes to inform Edmund, no, he was not going to migrate up there to Spindrift Cottage. Leyton Occident had been signed up for a Scandinavian tour, so that no, the original plan of his permanently joining the other band he occasionally sang for up there in Manchester, was definitely shelved. Leyton Occident were destined to be very, very big, he predicted quietly, unboastfully. There was no real way of avoiding imminent, huge success, and he even looked a little frightened as he said the word huge.
“Meaning the end of you know what,” Edmund had sighed with a windblown expression, the cast in his eye waggling quite distressingly.
“Not at all, Ed,” said Timmy, kissing him very lightly. “How could it be like that? Love doesn’t die just like that, does it, like a little match gone out. I’ll still be up working regularly with musicians in Manchester. Inevitably. Where else could I stay but at Spendthrift Cottage?”
A Freudian slip which made Edmund weakly smile, because Timmy had frittered away money like no one else. And that was the very last he’d seen or heard of him, about twelve months ago. As predicted, Leyton Occident had broken through to massive superfatted stardom. Now, if ever Edmund timidly rang the Shepherd’s Bush flat it was either an ansafone resonating with Timmy’s jocular deadpan response, or an aggressive young man (without doubt his current lover) with a brusque and grating voice, one which immediately made Edmund yelp out that he’d got the wrong number.
De Sausmarez, impeccable dupe that he was, had let Timmy Badaines live off him for a full five years. Slaving away in a Chalk Farm jazz record shop like any uncomplaining pimp, he had made every penny of the income, while Timmy had endured his many frustrating apprentice years. Flagrantly but always gently and tenderly unfaithful, Timmy had pursued his self-advance to the limits, and then, when the time was propitious, left his gentle slave to his own devices. Since when not even a one-line postcard! As if old Ed de Sausmarez did not exist, and never had, just like Timmy’s fatuous past. As if all that unearned money had been his minimum legal/moral right. As if Timmy being some fifteen years his junior, old Ed should have demonstrated more sense, therefore naturally deserved his present stint of isolation. Here he was in the northern Eden then, living alone along the most paradisaical coastline, comparable with Kerry or Barra or the Sporades. Here we find him selling wholefoods in The Land of the Hot Pies. Simon/ Narasimha (Man Lion!) down at Hanging Strand would perhaps have moved in with a lure and a nudge, but Edmund decided patiently to preserve what slight durability was left of his fragile heart. Meanwhile with de Sausmarez attending at the wake once an hour, Leyton Occident would moan on mournfully, as if real tragedy were Timmy’s natural soulstuff. When Ed better than anyone knew that it was as shallow as the rock pools down at Blackdyke, and that was what had been his star attraction in the first place.
That same day, Fuchs was carrying aloft a string of fresh dabs as he and Sarah returned from Blackdyke. Gingerly they tiptoed back to Number 3, as the sand felt even hotter by mid-afternoon. In doing so they suddenly encountered Mr Buskerford of Number 5. Buskerford, a curt, round-shouldered but powerful man of about sixty, might have been allowed his cantankerous surliness on the grounds that his wife inside was presently terminally cancerous. However, Fuchs had known him all his life and could never remember a time when he hadn’t been the moody, resentful man of caprice.
“Mrs Buskerford was certainly a second mother to me,” he muttered with excessive mournfulness as they approached his neighbour. “When Mam was badly with nerves, and Dad was still interned up in the Lake District, I used to play all the time with Dennis, him who farms at Mosser Bridge. Now he’s another hopeless bastard, who won’t look me in the face, he’s as surly a get as his old misery guts Dad. They both get things in their heads, queer little obsessions, no bloody constancy, no bloody sense…”
As if to demonstrate his own admirably unselfish maturity, Fuchs boldly approached Joe Buskerford with a string of dabs.
“Something for you,” Fuchs bawled, thrusting out the smelly wide-eyed fish. “I thought the missus might be glad…might be glad of a bit of me fish.”
Buskerford stared at him incredulous. Disbelief aside, those obscenely tiny trunks gave him legitimate excuse for adopting a blankly unseeing expression, one emphatically concluding all further intimacy with Fuchs.
“No,” he said throatily but firmly. “She’s too ill for any damn fish. My wife can hardly take a boiled egg, never mind any bloody mackerel.”
Mackerel? He spoke as if it was Fuchs single-handedly had finished off her digestive tract. Then he stalked off, head bent, to his chickens and pigs at the far allotments. Fuchs flushed at the shameless coarseness of that refusal. Then he staggered off himself, muttering and smiting at the high grass behind the Row with his string of malodorous dabs. En route he almost collided with old Mrs Gorley of Number 2, a retired schoolmistress of eighty, who had recently lost her husband. Jane had married late at seventy, her husband a widower of seventy-five being the same man she’d rejected in 1925 in favour of a dependent, bedridden mother. Forty-five years on she’d had bold second thoughts and had taken a substantial risk. A fair twelve years of happiness had followed. Nothing was to prepare her however, inside or outside of wedlock, for the sight of Wilson Fuchs’s horribly lush gonads thumping towards her beneath his hideous black briefs.
“For you, Mrs Gorley,” he roared, pushing the dabs into her arms before she could refuse. “If you don’t want em, give em to Sammie Jack!” Then he snapped at her, pre-empting any argument. “Don’t tell me your little cat don’t like dabs, he’s a veggy-bloody-tarian?” He halted abruptly, as he saw how his angry speech was making her thoroughly frightened. “Pah, knackers, I got things on me chest! But you take the fish, Missus G, and you and Sammie Jack have yersels a nice dab supper…”
At length, inside his terraced house, he slumped into his favourite settee and waited there miserably for Sarah Stern.
“Pay no heed,” she urged him compassionately.
Fuchs snorted with bilious disgust. It wasn’t, he shouted, just Buskerford, it was damn near everyone on the putrid, rotting planet. Madgie Leacock moaning about the terrier feed; Herbie brutally slamming the door in his face today; Keller at the road end who barely spoke; even old Jane Gorley desperate to think up some excuse for turning down his fish.
“She’s just become a widow,” Sarah temporised. “And Mr Keller’s wife I think has breast cancer.”
“Cancer!” blistered Fuchs derisively.” Death eh? Listen Sarah, in my opinion the whole bloody Row’s all bloody hypochondriacs, all of them dyin to die! Don’t you see? You know what we need along this row of seaside cottages, don’t you? Some young uns who aren’t all bloody busy dyin! Plus,” he shot out hastily, as he saw her about to reprieve his nonsense,” my Dad died of it too, cancer of the spleen. It tore me bloody up.” He briefly sniffed and touched his brow before resuming his salivating flow. “But I didn’t go round bloody growlin and scowlin at folk. Plus, that still doesn’t explain why the two Leacocks are such inconsistent, wassaword summatorother twats.”
Sarah really couldn’t comment and fell silent. Privately she thought the couple next door were an extremely faithless pair of friends, like many more in this remote provincial corner. The kind who slyly crowed and prated, when marriages such as hers, however violent and hopeless, broke up. The other factor, of course, was that most people she knew sincerely thought that Fuchs needed some sort of chromosome reduction, or at least a course of horse tranquillisers from the veterinary at Mosser Bridge…
Summer drew to a poignant close, yet things for Fuchs did not improve. He applied for several teaching posts, all within twenty miles of Estuary Row, and many at far lower salaries. He did not gain a single interview. He was unaware that after leaving Mosser Grammar he’d been blacklisted from ever returning to the county, because six months earlier he had applied Moss Sideish self-defence in a fracas where a pupil had been mildly concussed. To be sure, Wilson Fuchs hadn’t wittingly concussed him. Insolent Karl Leatherbarrow had stumbled and fallen backwards to wallop his brains on a jackplane, as Fuchs had bowled down on him with a brandished fist and a waving chisel.
At Estuary Row, old Buskerford complained to him one weekend that his terriers made too much racket, and it was distressing his sick wife. This of course was classic invention, but Fuchs immediately moved the pen, as calm and contemptuous as he could be when he wished. Madgie Leacock was idly threatening to give up feeding them too, so he had to plead and finally increase her wages by fifty per cent. Then Mrs Keller died one grey August morning, and after that Keller stopped even looking at Wilson Fuchs, or anyone else noisy or brash or cheerful or strange. That same day the widow Mrs Gorley slipped and disastrously broke her ankle, on the two-mile shopping pilgrimage along the stones and sands to Ponsonby. At the weekend Sarah went in and chatted to her, while Wilson did his best to find a willing co-huntsman. Herbie had a bad head cold (ha ha!) this weekend, but Wilson Fuchs was not invited inside to cheer him up. So that day he stumbled off alone and defiant around the claypit, and amazingly, almost caught a fox. The Lakeland Terriers flushed it coming back over the field where the wild mushrooms were particularly copious and huge. That put Fuchs in a great fury of raw excitement. Unfortunately, without the speed of hounds, the terriers lost it quite near to Spindrift Cottage, whose latest occupant Wilson had so far never met. Still, returning down the hill, disappointed but exhilarated, Fuchs smiled at the shining eyes and smiles and bursting tongues of the little dog, all four, and wondered what sort of tyrant but Buskerford would not have loved them like his own. Their passionate, vigorous yapping was purest, if not celestial music. And the thrill of the chase, what a feeling, what a drug, what a taste of the call of the wild…!
That night in renewed spirits he proposed to Sarah Stern and for the forty-eighth time she refused. She swore that she was prepared to stay his girlfriend for ever, but never again would she marry. Fuchs turned as moody as a little boy and leaving their bedroom went and stayed in the spare one, next door to William and Angus. Tomorrow he was off back to Moss Side and his miserable tip at Whalley Range. To add to his desperation, outside a seedy bunch of motorbike enthusiasts had started tearing up and down in front of Estuary Row, singing and yelling and nastily blaspheming. The final straw in anyone’s estimation. Fuchs quickly lost his fabled patience. He flung open the bedroom window and roared at them all in great rage:
“Get the hell away from here, you vermin! There’s a very sick woman up the road. If that means anything to your disgraceful bloody kind.”
“Vermin?” a long-haired and helmeted man jeered back. “How can any bugger sleep with that orrible greet foghorn of thine?” And for good measure he gave Fuchs two upraised fingers, then farted and crazily guffawed.
That settled it. Fuchs stormed downstairs, his brain intoxicated with a brilliant vengeance. It was a full moon, and luckily for him he could easily see his target, the outlines of their bikes and their women and their studded jackets and their leers.
He flung open the downstairs parlour window, poked out his shotgun, then took casual aim. Not for a second did he worry about his marksmanship nor the possibility of manslaughter or worse. There was a great crack, and at once the back wheel of the cheeky youth’s bike was punctured, his imaginative figure of eight turning into a skiting slither into the sand.
The party wound up at once, but for a few screams and swearing, and the sound of a woman howling with shock. Fuchs raced elatedly upstairs to behold a terrified Sarah clutching at her heart. Fuchs laughed wild-eyed and proposed to her for the forty-ninth time, down on his knees with his shotgun pointing upwards as he did. Sarah Stern stamped back into her bed, and left him out there frozen on the landing where he stayed a full two hours in total darkness.
By contrast, on an exceptionally pleasant Friday morning, just before he drove off to Mosser market, de Sausmarez was to receive a cheerful postcard of the Queen on horseback, one which he noted had been posted from Shepherd’s Bush.
Up at Manchester this w/end to audition for new drummer. So I must of course pop over to see yr wee Spendthrift Cottage! Have to be back London by Sunday night but supposing I stay over yrs Saturday? I’ll be there mid afternoon I’d say in my new Porsche!! and will explain all, esp, the communication bizarrenesses! I often think about your Lancs or is it Cumbrian idyll with remorse, regret etc. I shall see you soon, senor! T
This extraordinary correspondence made de Sausmarez feel queasily elated, then downcast, then pained, then confused, then excited but inordinately anxious. He was stirred beyond measure at the thought of tenderly embracing an old lover, while queasily depressed at the imminence of changeless caprice. The language as ever gave itself away. ‘Bizarrenesses’? That was a breathtakingly insolent way of talking about absolute silence, unanswered letters, many mutedly desperate, if the young pretty bastard had bothered to read between the lines. And then this teasing mention of ‘regret’ on his card, the half-hearted juggling with Edmund’s hankering affection, all this subtle insinuation of anything might happen favourable to a permanent reunion! God, what baloney! Timmy would be back with ‘Boris’ down in Shepherd’s Bush by Sunday night, and nothing more would be heard for another year, if not ten. And yet the childish tormenting expectation and the hopelessly bitter impatience would not go away. It was a complete waste of effort trying to think about anything but Timmy, Timmy Badaines, for the next forty-eight hours.
Wilson Fuchs was similarly stirred. Madgie had rung him mid-week at Whalley Range for some advice about one of the terriers. It had a violent diarrhoea after guzzling some rabbit infected with myxomatosis. Fuchs bawled at her across the sixty miles, to indicate which local vet he favoured, and then to his surprise he found old Herbie chirping away at the other end with real affability and humour. Herbie, addled on Mateus Rose, was suddenly bored and wanted to talk to someone, even Bela Lugosi’s bastard brother. The two best friends soon grew warm at each other’s comradely chaff, and before they knew it had arranged a full day’s shooting on the Sunday. The Saturday was not in question as Herbie had to go to a cousin’s wedding at Garstang.
“As best man,” he mumbled, and added drily. “Because they couldn’t find anyone better. The devil’s advocate is what it comes to, Wilse.”
“Some poor fooker signing his ballocks away,” agreed misogynistic Fuchs. He forgot momentarily how Sarah Stern had rejected him fifty times to date. And then these two splendid rakes went on to bemoan Marriage, Domesticity, Domination, Womanly Nagging and the rest. Afterwards overheated Herbie peremptorily commanded Madgie to make him a second cup of tea, and to go and find his missing fishing socks…
Come Saturday, Fuchs repainted his boat and later cleaned his guns in preparation for the treat tomorrow. Then his contentment was temporarily shattered by the receipt of a franked and posted letter, which had come all the way from 5 Estuary Row. It was a formal request from Mr Buskerford for the annual ground rent of his allotment; all of fifty pence as it transpired. Joe Buskerford owned all of the Row’s gardens, by some complicated title deed going back to 1890, but always Fuchs, Jane Gorley, Keller etc. had paid the silly peppercorn rent by hand. Painfully suspicious in his bewilderment, after checking along the Row, Wilson discovered that all of them had received this ridiculous request by post.
“Good God!” gasped Jane Gorley to Sarah, after she’d come round to confer. “He must be in some frame of mind to send us these.”
“He’s a lunatic is what,” sneered Fuchs to Sarah, when she was back in Number 3. “To spend seventeen pence on each of his four letters. Sixty-eight pence to get back two bastard pounds! And look they’re posted from Ponsonby, the warped old get must have driven up there specially to post them. Listen, I’ll show him, Sarah, sick missus or not! Christ, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was him that gave Mrs Buskerford psychersomatick cancer with his stupid bloody attitude…”
Teacher Wilson soon educated that old misanthrope. He went up to Ponsonby and despatched a fifty pence postal order by a special delivery which absolutely guaranteed delivery on the next working day. This special delivery cost him eight pounds fifty pence, and Fuchs blithely wrote out his cheque for nine pounds (garden rent equivalent for the next eighteen years) absolutely delighted with the irony of what he was doing.
Meanwhile, de Sausmarez had given up his Saturday specifically to wait for the arrival of the international rock star. He might have earned about sixty pounds on his Lancaster stall of a busy Saturday morning, but no matter where a national celebrity was involved…
Fuchs meanwhile got out his guns and started whistling with a joyous anticipation. At the same time, Mrs Gorley, all but disabled inside Number 2, gazed at her bandaged ankle and waited for the visit of a cousin aged 92 from Barrow-in-Furness. She turned up three hours late, by which time Mrs Gorley was weeping, but her cousin who had cataracts did not see that. The young great-niece who had brought her assumed it was because of Jane’s recent bereavement; not that it was the reality of being old and quite alone and always waiting, waiting, waiting…
Edmund de Sausmarez also waited all afternoon for Timmy Badaines. It was a fine, warm, tranquil day. Despite which, he was almost white, quite sick with anticipation. He turned on his transistor out in the garden, and of course every hour or so Leyton Occident sang their latest truculent or doleful hit, and now, uniquely, Edmund did not race over to switch it off. Time passed with a leaden slowness. The clouds came out by about six, but Edmund hoped against all reason for the immediate arrival of his famous guest.
Meanwhile, Mr Buskerford watched his wife being violently sick for the eleventh time that day. A few doors down, Mr Keller played with his grandchild Wayne visiting from Preston, and every time Keller found himself laughing till he cried, he wished his wife were also here to do the same. Just up the road, Sarah looked at Wilson Fuchs bent over his shiny guns and felt a great tenderness at his boyish happiness. All he wanted, not a lot, was a close and loyal pal, and a teaching job in the coastal area that he idolised. And her slim and wavering hand in permanent wedlock…
De Sausmarez was sitting in the garden of Spindrift Cottage at nine o’ clock, just as dusk was turning to dark. It was cold by now, and there was even a speck of rain. The phone rang and his heart leapt. He raced to it, but it was a wrong number! He barked and nearly swore at the person responsible, and then apologised but too late. Then Leyton Occident came on the wireless for the twelfth time in four hours. De Sausmarez, like an actor in some dreary minimalist drama, resumed his mime of misery and motion, and switching it on and off. He hoped absurdly for an explanatory telegram, but vaguely believed such things no longer existed. These days there were only these Dataposts, Swiftairs, Express and so forth. Besides, half the town post offices in this stolid neck of the woods, were closed by Saturday lunchtime…
The next day Fuchs was up and battering on the door by eight. After an incredible delay, and the deafening barking of Geoffrey, Madgie eventually came out in her turquoise dressing gown. She was bleary-eyed, bulging with her exophthalmia, and as physically stirring, Fuchs thought to himself, as a day old slab of rations margarine.
“Where’s that beggar?” he boomed cheerfully, and Madgie jumped at that roar of his. She’d just been dreaming about an international shoe conference in Venice, of all places, not to speak of her illustrious promotional role in it.
“Out!” she snapped.
“Eh?” said Fuchs, in all smiling innocence. “Down his garden you mean?”
“No, out. Out out! I think he’s gone off shooting for the day. With Buskerford’s son, at Mosser Bridge.”
Fuchs’s mouth dropped open as they do only in films. He battered his great fist on Madgie’s window sill and Geoffrey snarled and whimpered with great fear.
“You what!” he yelled.
Madgie jumped again and frowned at Fuchs disdainfully.
“He promised to go out with me today!” Fuchs protested, and there were mirages of tears in his eyes. “He promised me over the phone! All day today, the pair of us! I spent the whole of damn yesterday cleanin his rotten bloody gun.”
Madgie shrugged. “I don’t know nothing.”
Fuchs glared at her tautology, and pointed vaguely all about him. “Nobody here knows nowt…and it makes me bastard bloody sick.”
Madgie bridled and actually bared her teeth. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nowt,” mumbled Fuchs, with great haste. He instantly remembered, as did she, that nobody but Madgie would consent to see to his orphaned dogs during the week.
That was the Sunday morning when weary and nauseous, de Sausmarez was lying insomniac in his handsome handcarved double bed. He felt awful as a connoisseur of awful feelings might be able to claim, yes, I have felt awfuller than anyone else in the world. The rock star had neither come nor cancelled his coming. No call, no card, no whistle, no telepathy, not even an inkling. Worse than that, Edmund knew he would be spending all day today waiting for the miracle of the eminent guest arriving even for a snatched hour of his whistle stop weekend.
Mrs Buskerford passed away finally that Sunday, about an hour after Fuchs vanished off alone with his terriers. He’d spent the morning pacing up and down the sitting room of Number 3, singing a paean of hate to an imaginary Herbie Leacock. Sarah was sitting in her favourite chair and listening with a grimace to Radio One. Every hour her boys’ favourite band Leyton Occident would come on and the two of them leapt up and down singing the quaintly obscene words they only just understood, and telling her what a wonderful singer was Timmy Badaines. Meanwhile ‘Uncle Wilson’ muttered away to Herbie, took him by the throat, cast him away, apostrophised his ‘best friend’, grilled him on the meaning of the superlative, asked him how his cousin would have felt if Herbie’d stood him up as best man yesterday, and so on. Sarah left him to his therapeutic jabbering, but sporadically urged him to go off hunting on his own.
Wilson finally took her advice. He opened up his car boot and ordered the four Lakeland Terriers to get inside. They scampered in and sat on their haunches, panting like four little mannikins or dwarfs, Fuchs’s funny-looking bairns. Swiftly he shut the boot on their grinning jaws. He was going to drive up to Mosser Bridge and set them on Herbie’s fat throat, along with gobshite Dennis Buskerford’s. Then he flung down his keys, swore, picked them up, reopened the boot and ordered his blinking children to leap out. Forswearing murder, he took them over to the claypit and the fields where the wild mushrooms were still as plentiful as in dreams. The terriers raced on, darting hither and thither, up and down the pit sides and the hillocks, sniffing victoriously and crazily, cocking their tiny ears every few minutes, their eyes as ecstatic and vigorous as six-year-old Fuchs’s the day the Home Office had let his Dad out of Cumberland internment.
After about two hours. the terriers flushed a fox…
“Fuck me!” bawled Fuchs, with vainglorious joy. The fox clearly shuddered at his horrible roar. “After him!” he ordered his whiskery companions, his steadfast pals. “It’ll be yon feller gave us the dummy last time. After him Jessie, Maisie, gwon lassies! Come on Sam, you owd slowarse! Go on man, get wallopin after the owd beast.”
The fox tore off up the hillside and dye-ken-Wilson-Fuchs raced after it with bursting lungs. The terriers scampered on, yapping and squawking, first a hundred yards, then a quarter of a mile behind, and with Fuchs about a hundred yards after that. This was a far cry from the sport of saddleback toffs, it was foot hunting as men with their rifles have been doing for centuries, helping out desperate farmers who have lost their lambs. Fuchs of course was no conservationist, he simply exulted in the chase. Without fleet hounds the race was almost hopeless, but a stroke of luck might trap the vermin somehow. Fuchs loved his dogs but loathed all foxes! Why did he loathe them? Because they were vermin. Vermin being vermin, fit only for extinction!
The fox took the same route as before, up in the direction of secluded Spindrift Cottage. Where it was almost three o’ clock, and on his lawn de Sausmarez was having a late and solitary lunch. He was so bruised and despondent he was almost prepared to ring up Narasimha Devadasa and ask him if he fancied a different Lancastrian ashrama. The rock star of course would not arrive now, and yet if by a mad miracle he were to drive like the wind and then drive back to London likewise, they could still enjoy a tender half hour together. Clutching at such childish nonsense, so Edmund kept hoping like every trampled heart since the beginning of time…
Suddenly he heard a distant clamour, the sound of woofing dogs approaching up the slope. Then the hoarse unpleasant cry of a man shouting furiously behind. Had superstar Timmy got six Borzois nowadays, he wondered in impossible dread and excitement. Warily he got to his feet, afraid as well as annoyed. Before he could move further, he saw to his astonishment a little fox run in through his open gate! It paused less than an instant to examine Edmund de Sausmarez, then bolted up the slope of his sprawling grounds to vanish into the distant spinney.
“Thank God!” he said with a great relief, and a huge tension seemed to evaporate inside him at once. “Thank Christ for that at any rate.”
He raced down to swiftly bolt and secure his gate. His heart was singing at the thought of the coming confrontation, but no matter. Then the terrier dogs all came yapping up in a demented rage, viciously commanding Edmund to let them through, leaping and slavering horribly outside his gate.
De Sausmarez scowled at the uproar, turned, and walked back to his lunch. He’d gone about ten yards when he heard someone impudently shuffling with the bolt. Timmy? Could it possibly be him at this eleventh hour?
He turned and saw a panting giant of a man, an outsize beetroot-faced monster about to enter his private grounds.
“What in hell d’ you think you’re doing?” de Sausmarez bawled in the purest of Fuchsian tones.
Bawled? Rage? It was a real miracle, just like the sight of that vivid, beautiful small fox, just like a film star or a fantasy. De Sausmarez had yelled aloud in righteous anger for the first time in thirty-five years! Nor could he quite believe the strength of his lungs, and the remarkable feeling of having made the nearby trees shudder with this unwonted emotional power.
“Let me through,” puffed Fuchs in a righteous tone. “We need to get after yon fox. They go like the wind and if we traipse round the long way, we’ll be pushed to click the blasted get.”
To Edmund’s amazement, the purple lunatic began to fiddle with the bolt once again, his dogs in chorus urging him on.
“Get the bloody hell out of here!” he roared. What’s more, Leyton Occident had just come on the radio again, and as Edmund trembled and stood his ground, he felt no particular urge to race across and lament that fickle superstar.
“I’m wanting to come in,” Fuchs insisted with an earnest pedantry. Though he was in fact rather baffled. It was not often anyone ever snarled or bawled back at Wilson Fuchs.
“You shall not, my friend!” shouted Edmund, stamping down swiftly to his gate. “Touch that bolt and let those dogs in, and I’ll call the police immediately. Do you hear me? Do you? I’ll have you in court just like that. Now get away back down that hill, do you hear?”
Fuchs conceded to his yelling opponent to the extent of resorting to emphatic discussion. And so much for a day out, he was also brooding dismally, for salvaging what was left of it. Instead here he was preparing to argue the laws of trespass with this very odd-looking toff who wore a most unusual kind of attire.
“Is it against your precious principles?” he sneered at his usual volume. “You don’t believe in killing poor little baba Reynard?”
De Sausmarez folded his arms, stuck out his chest, and shouted back. “Listen to me Mr…”
“Fuchs,” said Fuchs.
“What?” said Edmund with a start.
“Fuchs,” Fuchs insisted. “What’s wrong with being called Fuchs? Especially if your Dad was a Dane.”
“But I thought Fuchs was German,” Edmund murmured cautiously, thinking this really must be a full-blown lunatic after all.
“My great-grandfather was German,” Wilson explained with great bitterness. “They interned me father during World War Two, just because he had a German surname. But believe you me he was a Dane. He was as Danish as Danish can be.”
“But that up there is vermin,” continued Fuchs imploringly. “It’s fit for killing and that’s all, Mr…”
“De Sausmarez,” snapped Edmund.
Edmund smilelessly informed him that his grandfather had once farmed in the Channel Isles. Whereupon Fuchs rather overdid the affable reciprocity, and said. “And you were laughing at me and my fancy handle!”
“Well,” Edmund said coolly. “It’s just that your name in German means fox. So, I thought you were making some kind of joke, or being sarcastic.”
“Yes,” Fuchs agreed blankly. “That’s what it does mean in German. But I wouldn’t change it. Even my bloody wife left me because of it, but still I wouldn’t change my name to Fox. It would have denied all my Dad suffered through a lot of tyrannical damn twats at the War Office!”
Then he leaned over the Spindrift gate, and said with emotion. “You know how foxes kill chickens, Mr De Summery? They rip off their heads, like bottle tops! Sometimes just for pleasure, not just for hunger. They’re cruel heartless beasts are foxes. They are! They kill little lambs as well and make a right bloody mess of them. They’re vermin, sadists, bloodlovers themselves! They put us all to shame with their cruelty. You ask any genuine countryman, and he’ll tell you.”
De Sausmarez stared at him without expression. “My opinions about bloodsports are quite beside the point, Mr Fuchs. This is my land and that’s an end of it.”
Fuchs, bitterly certain that the fox was sauntering through Moss Side by now, leant dolefully on the gate, and then bellowed at his dogs to shush. He turned to Edmund and observed that the odd gentleman looked very tired, pale and unbelievably sad. A particularly raucous song came on the wireless just then, and the look of fatigue and sadness on the very sensitive face seemed to concentrate in that squint, and look in danger of instant expression. Fuchs was particularly alarmed at that, and so he attempted to smooth matters over with tact.
“Forgive me,” he said with deadly gravity. “I’m sorry if I got you het up with these dogs of mine. It was the heat of the chase, that was all.”
Edmund looked at Fuchs and noted that the apology was a bit mournful, a trifle theatrical. Not for a second did he realise that this was the same man whose buttocks had been on display out there in the estuary last month.
Fuchs again became dismally aware of his companionless Sunday. Desperate now to avert complete despair, he struck up a warm conversational tone. “Do you like pop music, Mr de Summery, that tune blaring on over there?”
“I loathe it!” said de Sausmarez with vehemence. “And particularly that appalling stuff on now.”
“Good man,” swore Fuchs enthusiastically. “I recognise that bit of rubbish myself, funnily enough. William and Angus think it’s beautiful of course, but they’re just a couple of brainless bairns.”
“Beautiful?” murmured Edmund elegiacally himself. “Oh, he certainly was that.”
“I like Emmy Lou Harris and Wally Whyton,” Fuchs complacently boomed. “Or anything where you can enjoy the words and clap your mitts and scream a bit. Sarah says the words on that record are filth, but it’s just meaningless nonsense to me, nothing else.”
De Sausmarez stared at this garrulous, artless giant, and realised that at least three quarters of the world knows less than nothing about the love of a man for another. Fuchs whistling casually, then lied, “I’d better be scooting. I’m off out with my mate. I…”
Edmund observed him with a little less disgust now that he was offering to depart.
“I…” Fuchs vacillated.
Fuchs burnt his boats and dived straight in. “How would you like to come out fishing in Daisy May?”
“There’s plaice out there is clustering round the Mosser shit pipe, and the taste, man, is just out of this world!”
“Now! Go on! Now would be ideal! Come on! Plaice are notorious bottom-grubbers, they like raw sewage better than owt. I know I can’t ask you out gunning, but surely you can bloody well fish! I mean hell, even bloody vicars fish!”
Edmund hesitated for just two seconds. His refusal when it came was very polite, a perfect gentleman’s in fact. A sensitive mannerly evasion which left Fuchs really touched and even more anxious to undo what distress he’d caused. Wilson Fuchs then made about ten different friendly offers, ranging from the immediate loan of his hedge trimmer, to a family meal this evening down at Number 3. Finally, he settled on a friendly drink they would have together in Mosser in the maddeningly nebulous future. Then, just as Edmund ran out of patience, Fuchs noticed Herbie Leacock’s car turning in down below into Estuary Row. And thought he might just be able to persuade him out into Daisy May tonight, if the weather did not break.
“My best friend,” Fuchs bawled as he tore off down the hill with his ecstatic little dogs. “Or at least the bugger thinks he is.”
(This uncollected and long-lost story first appeared in Spring 1993 in Panurge fiction magazine , when it was edited by David Almond, author of Skellig)
The next post will be on or before Saturday 4th July