Doctor Harold Majolica and the Student

September 4, 2012 at 7:31 pm (Doctor Majolica, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

My hands can reach a range of 17 semitones on a standard piano keyboard. This makes me an awful teacher, especially for children. Mrs Susumu had hired me to teach her daughter mostly as a charitable favour. We’d known each other for a few years now; I’d nursed the family cat more times than I could remember and her gratitude, along with her respect, somehow remained untarnished after the incident which threatened to revoke my licence.

Mrs Susumu had two children. Jeri the rebel, a bright boy given up long ago to a world of mud, k-nex and plastic pistols; then there was Mimi, a reserved, thoughtful child who was dull even for an eight year old. The pay was generous, and our first lesson a success. Mimi had a reasonable ear for a girl her age and already had some idea how to read treble clef. That opening lesson I reserved totally for gauging the girl’s confidence and understanding of the instrument. She knew a few scales and nursery rhymes. I’d guess that she would have done a little better in that initial lesson had she not been so nervous about me, such a large, bedraggled crow, perched next to her. But Mrs Susumu seemed pleased; she rang the next evening and assured me that Mimi was already excited about next week’s lesson.

Six days later Miss Mimi was running from the study bawling, face covered in hot tears and bubbling snot. She didn’t say what was wrong, she didn’t scream for her mother; she just ran wailing, utterly horrified. I stood in the doorway awkwardly. I wanted to comfort her but this shaggy mass of hands and feathers is the last thing she wants near her right now.

I had been taking her through the F major scale. She knew the notes, but kept trying to play it too fast and stumbled every single time. Half way through a particularly broken attempt I reached out for her wrist, indicating that she should pause. As my bony blue fingers touched her skin for the first time I felt an involuntary twitch. Her fingers left the keys and she looked at me. Blank, brown little eyes. So I showed her the scale once more, being sure to demonstrate how the slower rhythm helps the fingers find the correct keys. Mimi doesn’t listen. Mimi looks down at my spindly hands, dislocating and contracting alarmingly as they find every key in the two octave scale. As her face cracked from lip-nibbling discomfort to open, weeping horror I looked down at my own hands; they were almost translucent, and hideously contorted. Like the mutilated hands of a corpse which, with a sigh, I realised was just what they were. I knotted my fingers as I watched Mimi waddle from the room in tears.

I could hardly believe it, but Mrs Susumu wants me to come back. She suggests that we leave a week or two for her daughter to recover, but she wants to keep me in her employ. I’m flattered, but deeply embarrassed. I tell her no. I don’t think Mimi’s going to want to be in the same room as me again. More than ever I long for my own study in Furrington Wood, but plenty of the animals there would be more scared of me than Mimi was. With good reason too, for the most part – but that’s a story for another time.

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Doctor Harold Majolica and the Sideshow

August 30, 2012 at 11:09 am (circus, Doctor Majolica) (, , , , , )

All the lonely old bastards and freaks join a circus at some point. That would have been close to fact one hundred years ago, maybe even fifty. But today it seems unthinkable – a well educated bird from a clean, prosperous town was destined at one pivotal moment of misjudgement to adopt a gaggle of misanthropes and perverts as his family. For a short time, I am relieved to observe. I have a new job set up for me over in the next county west, but I don’t want to think about that yet. It’s not much more pleasant than my current employment, but I get to live in the one nest and the reek of failure is a little less Victorian in vintage.

I won’t miss many of them for long. It makes a change to be employed somewhere with other animals, but most of them are from more exotic places than I and we don’t have much to talk about. The lions boast tediously, the horses only seem interested in their costumes. Of the humans there were a few memorable characters. Develon the strongman has an acute lack of self esteem which I find endearing. One of the trapeze twins goes out of her way to be kind to me, the one with the slightly longer nose and crooked brow. I can never keep her name separate in my mind from that of her sour sister, her memory will fade quicker than I’d like. Richelle, Nadine, whoever you were; I am sorry. There is one who I feel will stay with me for long time – the unbelievable, the uncanny Garry “The Squawker” Davis. While working the drain on Gale Street as a Constricted Object Retrieval Specialist, I’d received my offer to join this circus from a greasy young lad, whose job I found later to be some strange merge between barker, stable boy and recruitment officer. He introduced me to the ensemble in the canteen as though I were the punch line to a joke they’d all been aching for. Nadine, or Richelle, (the shorter nosed twin) didn’t even bother to hide her giggles when I was introduced.

As laughter subsided I noticed a fellow hunched over his meal at the dining table. A scrawny middle aged man covered in irony grey fuzz, with the tiniest paunch resting on his bone-thin frame like some monstrous pregnant belly. He wore no shirt. His legs were like knotted pipe cleaners, his arms may once have been similar, but they had been separated from his torso a long time ago. Now his shoulders ended in a pair of lopsided grey wings, a little shorter than my own had been. They spasmed and flapped sluggishly. His fork rested between the toes of his left foot.

We became friends, partly because everyone acted as though it had to happen. I juggled, quite badly, but no one in the audience seemed to mind since they’d never seen a crow juggle before. Garry’s act was more sideshow. The wings gave him no talent or even visual intrigue being so grotesque and tiny. It was not enough for poor Garry to stand in the ring in the same way the bearded lady or three armed man could, their very presence giving enough gawp for any audience. Garry had to put on a show, his stage name “The Squawker” was part of a larger act. He pretended to be a simpleton with a country-gothic aesthetic, whose cursed bird appendages had given him a fixation with flight which his hilarious little bird wings only emphasised as futile. He’d lunge about the ring cooing and throwing himself off any structure he could climb arms-free. Part pratfall, part freak, part myth. He was quite popular.

Garry and I never shared a stage. I can’t fly any better than he can with these weighty hands. Besides, Garry never showed any interest in putting an act together ourselves and, despite the prods and hints of the rest of the cast, the Ringmaster seemed ambivalent. Next Thursday I start my new job. I’ll miss Garry, I’m sure of that – but I reckon I’ll be happier if I never see such a sharp and misshapen reminder of my own mistakes ever again. But my own mistake: that’s a story for another time.

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Doctor Harold Majolica and the Little Car

August 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm (Doctor Majolica) (, , , , )

There are worse things a bird could come to specialise in. I used to know a magpie who was hired by a fortune teller to stand in front of her stall and mutter ‘one for sorrow’ in the hope of attracting superstitious clients.  Ravens are continually rented for gothic weddings, its hard work perching on a woman’s shoulder for hours on end, especially if the dress is silk, which it almost always will be. The whole practise is ostentatious if you ask me; and discriminatory, they would never hire a crow like me. Don’t get me started on canaries, they have a rough deal. The fight is mostly over for the poor fellows now, but it still happens; the cages, the smoke. But that is not to say that things are all bad for us, I knew a white rook who got a major role in a BBC miniseries. Major for a bird, anyway

It could be much worse, but even so, my current job is demeaning. I’m a freelance Constricted Object Retrieval Specialist. It pays alright when there’s work, but it is hard to attract clients when you’re barely ten inches off the ground. What my job boils down to is retrieving objects from nooks and crannies which most human hands are unable to reach. It’s a hard service to pitch, especially when you’re an odd looking bird like me. Not many people are willing to part with their hard earned cash to retrieve debit cards and key rings from the grills along the pavement. And if they are interested, a few of them are put off by the sight of the long, skinny, bluish hands attached to the end of my wings. Sometimes it can work out; I’ve earned plenty before just by hanging around one drain. You only need a few clients to drop their keys and that’s you set for a couple of days. The only problem is that the client will sometimes realise that he or she is seven or eight times my size and can easily stride away while I’m trying to fly after them. I haven’t been able to fly more than a few feet at a time since I had the hands grafted, they weigh the wings down considerably, being made of dense, human bone; on top of that they severely alter the wing’s aerodynamics. It’s humiliating leaping and flapping along like a chicken, I usually just let them get away.

A little boy in dungarees approaches me one afternoon. He’s dropped his toy car down the drain in the park and he only has ten pence on him. I do it for free; I can’t take a kid’s money. I sort of want to, but I can’t. The drain in the playground was filthy, I hardly had to reach down, the car was elevated rotting leaves, animals and worse. There was a cluster of dead slugs almost touching the front wheels; I nearly shed a tear for that. I hand the boy his car and he toddles off shouting “Thanks Handy-bird”. I don’t know whether it’s the informality of his address or the cluster of little slugs, but I feel sentimental. I feel a great longing to return to my nest in Furrington wood, it was my practice, my study. I don’t think that I’ll be able to return for a long while yet. But that’s a story for another time.

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Doctor Harold Majolica and the Gloves

November 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Did you know that women’s tights are often modelled by men? Women think that their legs are slender and appealing. Any transvestite could tell you that. Next time you pick up a pair of 40 denier from M&S, check the box. If the photograph of the model is cut below the hips, chances are that’s a bloke in your stockings. And next time you pick up a pair of silk gloves with a pink taffeta trimming, take a look at the label. If the picture of the hands is cut sharply at the wrists, there’s a small chance that a crow modelling your gloves. That crow is almost certainly me.
They tell me that ladies would love my hands because the fingers and long and delicate and the wrist bone juts appealingly. It embarrasses me, they only became that way because I preserved them in the wrong solution. The jar I put my hands-to-be into was filled with a pickling fluid which gradually ate away at the fat and muscle beneath the skin of the hands I had so painstakingly prepared. By the time I was ready to operate the skin was stretched taught over little more the bones, the webs between the fingers almost an inch lower than they should have been, making them seem long and cumbersome. But they tell me that the ladies would love that.
The photographer’s assistant hands me a pair of silk gloves with a pink taffeta trimming. I pull the gloves on, taking care to cover the scars from the skin graft. Below the wrist I’ve been careful to pluck at least an inch of feathers. The skin beneath is so pale, almost blue; the assistant covers it with powder. And she calls me Doctor, just like they all used to. Of course I still have my doctorate, but since my licence has been revoked the title has become sour. It’s amazing what you can do with good wing dexterity and patience, but I wanted to turn pages and pinch scalpels. No one wants to visit a doctor without hands, not even the snails. Business boomed after I had them grafted, but they were so clumsy and almost numb. I could hardly pick up my stethoscope, but they still came. Most of the woodland creatures had never seen hands before, so they watched me fumble and bungle my way through everything in awe. My days were numbered, but that is a story for another time.

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