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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