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Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts

In 2021, Teodor Igbad of the Czech Republic was crowned World Rollerblading Champion. Little is known of this diminutive and foreign genius, but his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft are an example for rollerbladers everywhere.

In 2005, when Igbad was twelve, his father sold all the family’s worldly possessions to buy his only son the birthday gift of his dreams. Initially, Teodor’s progress was slow, and his father began to have second thoughts about the decision. However, in October 2006, he was rewarded when the boy learned to stand upright on the wheeled skates.

Igbad’s confidence began to grow, and by late 2007 he could be seen shuttling up and down the street outside their house in the suburbs of Prague. All the children in the neighbourhood would line the filthy pavements, beating sticks against the gutter and cheering as Igbad weaved along, wearing his favourite yellow bobble hat and blue skates.

Egged on by the crowd and with an eye to impressing local teen beauty Ivana Belzak, Teodor attempted his first stunt. It wasn’t a pre-planned affair, just a daring spur-of-the-moment lunge for greatness. Lying in the road was an empty tin of kidney beans on its side. Passing by to check out the situation, Teodor bladed up the road, made a complete turn and began his run-up. He built up a good head of speed, a Mexican wave of cheering urchins following him, and leapt ebulliently into the air.

A year later, after recovering from the broken collarbone and shattered knee, Teodor Igbad was ready to rollerblade again. Yet now, the streets were empty, and even Ivana didn’t emerge from her front door to watch him. This made him all the more determined. Day after day, he practised, leaping over chalk marks scribed on the road, until he was ready to re-attempt the can of beans stunt.

It was a bright warm day in May 2009 when Igbad began that run-up again, trying to banish the memory of failure from his mind, not daring to gaze into windows, to try and look past curtains, to wonder if anyone—especially his beloved Ivana—was watching him.

He cleared the tin by a full half-inch and punched the air in delight. Now he was ready for the big time.

Buoyed up, he coasted back to the site of his jump and cast the empty tin aside. Things were going to get serious. He bladed to the pavement and fetched his second obstacle, a spaghetti tin. He laid it on its side and powered off for his first run.

Igbad has always candidly admitted that his first attempt was aborted, his mind distracted at the last minute by the colourful writing on the can’s wrapper. But he was not to be beaten, and on his second attempt, he sailed majestically over with five-eighths of an inch to spare.

He was ecstatic. He was also level-headed and knew not to push himself, so he drew a line under that most splendid of days and went to bed, almost tearful with joy.

A fortnight later, with curtains undeniably twitching in the houses that lined what was fast becoming his arena, Igbad jumped the spaghetti tin with it standing upright. By the time evening came and his margin of clearance had bettered an inch, he was sure he saw Ivana Belzak’s face outlined behind her thin bedroom curtain.

By the following week, with an almost showy Igbad having graduated to two tins side-by-side, Ivana was out on the pavement, watching again, and the number of local children joining her grew day by day. It was late October when, after his first successful attempt to clear a hurdle two tins deep, he finally got up the courage to speak to his beloved. That night,  whilst still wearing rollerblades, the new local hero lost his virginity by the stagnant canal backwater.

By early 2011, with Ivana now a constant companion, Igbad progressed to increasingly impressive stunts. Quickly he’d mastered jumping diverse obstacles such as four spaghetti tins in a row, two bricks arranged in an inverted V, and a miner’s helmet. Kids were coming from nearby streets to watch, and even his parents had stopped beating him. Late in the year, he held a demonstration event, charging a small entrance fee, and used the proceeds to help buy a new pair of blades to replace his very worn blue set.

Everything snowballed from there. There was the odd injury, notably a broken finger when attempting to jump a line of pre-cooked chickens, but he was already the talk of the city and much of the country, too, signing autographs and resisting the temptation of groupies.

To celebrate his engagement to Ivana in October 2014, Teodor held a charity event, jumping, amongst other things; a Yamaha motorbike (upright), a disused lawnmower, a bus queue, a bus queue where the participants hadn’t been pre-warned, and the Minister of Finance. For the grand finale, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy before jumping over three women dressed as John Dory blanched in milk with a herb sauce and steamed asparagus.

Now famous across Europe, Igbad undertook a world tour to thousands of screaming fans. However, it was not without incident, nor controversy. In Milan, he grazed both palms after landing awkwardly following his signature jump over six men with red hair holding jars of honey. Far more notable was the now-infamous “Thames Incident”, which occurred during his spell in England.

Grandstanding, Igbad claimed on 11th June 2017 that he would jump the river Thames the following day. Crowds lined the London Embankments, their mood anxious but excited, waiting for the incredible stunt to play out before them. Igbad, however, occasionally prone to the odd practical joke, was talented but not insane. At 2 p.m., he proudly jumped the river a few miles from its source in England’s heartland, clearing the fifteen-inch stream with ease. The protestations of fair play were as loud as the cries of ‘foul’, but Igbad, although he left England knowing he could never play there again, retained his mantle.

From stunt jumping, he eased smoothly into competitive events, and his prize money rocketed. Ivana, his wife, was always by his side. In late 2019 he bought her a square mile of the Pacific Ocean just two hours from the Galapagos Islands and had it marked out with buoys in vermilion and chestnut, her two favourite colours. She knows she can go there whenever she wishes.

As new World Rollerblading Champion, Teodor Igbad hasn’t changed much. He’s still blonde and blue-eyed, loves his fans, wishes his parents would accept him and is always looking for a new challenge.

And he still carries that empty tin of beans wherever he goes.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”

Oswald - A Sunrise short story

Oswald – A Sunrise short story

The rain finished lashing the car as Beckman approached the outskirts of town.

That’ll save on the carwash for another week.

He looked around the black-on-black interior.

Maybe not on the vacuum, though.

A few minutes later, he eased the now-whiter Caddy into one of many free spaces on the lot of The Pegasus Corporation. Again he wondered why Mr Malvolio had chosen premises with such a surfeit of parking area. Seldom was there more than a handful of people on-site, and there wasn’t even anything like a quarterly staff meeting or annual shindig on the warehouse floor. Of course not—that would take up valuable time and money. The salesmen knew what they had to do—what other missives could be necessary?

He locked up and went inside the bland, boxy two-storey building. 

The comfortingly familiar tap-tap-ting of Miss Broomhead’s old typewriter floated into his ears as he walked up the single corridor leading to the bijou office suite.

I wonder if she actually prefers archaic technology or if Ol’ Stingy won’t spring for a new one for his dutiful PA?

‘Afternoon, Mr Spiers.’ Her hands paused in mid-air.

‘Hi, Miss Broomhead.’ Today, her beehive sported two hairpins tipped with enamel bees. He was never sure whether these occasional items were (1) included for comic value, (2) a function of kooky individuality, or (3) an indication of appalling fashion sense.

Of course, he could have asked her, but that would have meant asking her.

Conversations with Miss Broomhead were on a Business Level Only. He didn’t know why—they just were. There was no contractual clause nor previous faux-pas as a guideline. They merely hadn’t had a personal conversation during his entire tenure, so starting now would just have been odd.

The typing resumed—tap-tap overlaid with the chink of her two red bangles.

“Conversation” over.

He scanned down the line of dark wooden pigeonholes set on the opposite wall.

Hallwork, Yong, Quittle, Bludge, Rattertonhurst, Gusp, Zowl, Spiers…

…Gusp?

He leant in.

Where was Follic? Had Cad Follic’s pigeonhole been moved?

He checked all forty apertures.

No.

Had Cad Follic unexpectedly moved on to pastures new? Perhaps ones where the roster of employee benefits numbered in the positive integers?

‘Miss Broomhead?’

Hands paused. ‘Yes?’ A faint, querying smile on un-showy but precisely lipsticked lips.

‘Cad Follic no longer with us?’

‘No, Mr Spiers. He was attacked by a tiger the day before yesterday.’

Beckman blurted out an impromptu laugh at the stupidity of it.

Her brow furrowed. ‘I don’t think it’s amusing, Mr Spiers.’

He swallowed hard. ‘No. Er… that is… I mean.’ He pointlessly ran a hand through his hair. ‘Really? Wow.’

‘Yes. He was pitching to a business client. The man’s pet tiger took offence at Mr Follic for some reason, and… well… he’s no longer with us.’

No longer with us? Us=fired/quit, or us=six feet under?

Same outcome.

‘And Mr Gusp…?’

‘Is his replacement. He started yesterday.’

Beckman nodded robotically. ‘Uh-huh.’

She offered a querying look, and when he wasn’t forthcoming with anything tangible, she resumed punching ink onto paper.

Wow. Poor Cad.

Hang on?

Does that mean…?

He was above me in the Salesman of the Year rankings. Surely I’m up a place now? Surely. Mr Malvolio would never transfer Cad’s sales tally across to this new Gusp guy—it would be an unfair advantage, not to mention uncharacteristically generous of the old swine.

Wow.

Woo!

I’m up a place! Best year yet!

He restrained himself, just in time, from punching the air. Instead, he collected his paycheck advice from the pigeonhole and headed out to the car park.

An unfamiliar car had arrived, and exiting it was a new face. The face was barely five feet above the ground. The body was stocky, the hairline very receding. Beckman reckoned the guy was easily fifty.

This guy’ll be a pushover.

He slowed as they approached each other. ‘Gusp?’

The guy stopped and cocked his head. ‘Yeah?’

‘Spiers.’ Beckman jerked his head back towards the building. ‘You the new guy?’

‘Yeah.’ He offered a fat, taught hand. ‘Oswald Gusp. Taking over Cad’s territory.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Sorry old business.’

Beckman hung his head in sympathy while still not ready to accept the facts at face value.

Was Cad eaten? Mauled? Blinded? Had his Salesman Patter cranial lobe been gored? 

Either way, this was the competition now—or at least one of them. One of Pegasus’ forty road warriors.

I hope you know what you’re in for, Oswald.

Plus, note to self—Google “how to defeat an angry tiger”. Can’t be too careful out there.

‘So, uh, welcome, I guess. Where were you before?’

‘I was… uh… kinda in the delivery business. But the same package every time.’

That didn’t compute, so Beckman went with, ‘Sure, well, good luck.’

Oswald nodded. ‘Thanks, Spiers. See you around, maybe. Got to check in with… Walter, was it?’

‘Warehouse? Wilbur. Yeah.’

‘Yeah. Good. Gotta fill the old trunk, ready to pick up where Cad Follic left off.’

‘Absolutely. See you around.’

Oswald nodded curtly and ambled off, chunky legs moving awkwardly, like a triceratops.

Heading in the opposite direction, Beckman couldn’t help slowing as he passed Oswald’s car.

It was a burgundy Lincoln Continental, post-Moon landing, pre-Beckman birth. On a bad day, it might get parked across two different time zones. He peered inside. There was a booster cushion on the driver’s seat.

He watched the diminutive newbie disappear inside the building and eyed the acreage of Detroit iron.

Compensating for something, Oswald?

A couple of miles from his apartment, Beckman caught sight of the Caddy’s odo tick onto 99,996.

Not wanting to let the moment absentmindedly pass him by in the morning, he went around the block three times until the magic figure appeared, then rolled up to his apartment building and disembarked for a night in a familiar bed.

As he whipped up some food, fed Bogie the leopard gecko, and turned on the TV for background company, his mind ticked over what Oswald had said.

How could you deliver the same package many times?

If you were a pilot? A musician (at a stretch)? If your employer was really bad at matching orders to customers’ delivery addresses?

He set his ageing laptop on the table and Googled one-handed as he munched through pasta.

It didn’t take long to come up with results for Oswald Gusp.

His mouth fell open. His lower jaw might well have hit the tabletop with a comedic ‘Clang!’ 

He pushed the last of the dinner aside.

He absolutely, categorially, one-hundred-percent didn’t want to, but he pressed Play on the video anyway, curiouser than a cat with a death wish.

From the video’s thumbnail, he knew exactly what to expect and didn’t want to see it—or need to see it—but saw it anyway. And when he’d seen generally what he expected to see, he unaccountably didn’t stop, not even when he saw specificallysomething he thought he’d probably see. Yet, having seen it, he was caught like a rabbit in the headlights—watching, disbelieving, pondering, then repeating the sequence until it was blindingly clear that he wasn’t dreaming, hadn’t been told the wrong name, or Googled the wrong name, and that he’d actually done what he’d done and seen what he’d seen. More than that—his eye had not been drawn to Oswald’s less than statuesque height, nor his significant pate. Something much worse.

His mouth was still hanging open, now drier than the Atacama.

He filled it with beer, then slapped the lid of the laptop down and tried to expunge from his mind what he’d just found.

He’s just another colleague. Just another name on the roster, another position on the rankings. Merely a different Schmoe to compete with, and, hell, probably hardly bump into, ever.

All the same, that’s a VERY different line on the resumé.

Did Malvolio know about that? Had Miss Broomhead followed up the references?

He doubted it. Her ultra-conservative head had been remarkably un-exploded that afternoon.

He took a moment, gazed at the TV screen, tried to let its dance burrow into his mind and wipe out the afterimage of Oswald’s past career.

Eventually, the more palatable world of fiction subsumed the frighteningly real discovery of his new colleague’s previous métier, and the evening returned to some kind of normalcy. 

Even so, he did set an especially early alarm. 

The clock on the wall in Miss Broomhead’s ante-room ticked round to 07:30.

He never considered it her own space per se, rather the Styx through which one had to pass to enter the realm of Mr Malvolio. Seldom did anyone get called into the CEO’s office—Beckman had only seen it twice—and the only time anyone looked forward to it was when they thought they might have hit the jackpot of Salesman of the Year. Such a man would walk in a mere mortal and return as a god, never needing to work again. Certainly never again needing to encounter Oswald Gusp and his… startling secret.

He carefully (some might call it “furtively”) leafed through the items on Miss Broomhead’s desk. Quickly he found Oswald’s resumé in the OUT tray. Handling it as though the paper itself was soiled, he checked the Previous Employment section.

“Package Delivery Services” – 2004-2017

Well, you’re creative with job titles, Oswald buddy.

He carefully replaced the paper where he’d found it.

‘Hey, Beckman.’

He jumped three feet in the air—a feat which would have stunned his grade-school gym teacher. Beckman was no Bob Beamon.

He even simultaneously managed to turn towards the owner of the voice. Maybe the teacher had merely needed to switch his methods from encouragement to shock tactics?

‘Jeez, Wilbur! You wanna kill off a second employee within a week?’

Wilbur held up a hand. ‘Sorry, B. What gives? Why so early? Not like you.’

Beckman gestured at the desk. ‘Clearly, trying some industrial espionage before anyone arrives. Why you in so early? Not like you either, I might say.’

Wilbur held up the other hand. ‘Busted, okay?’

Beckman glanced up at Wilbur’s hat, which was almost always a baseball cap, and certainly different every day. Today’s legend was “INSERT HEAD HERE”, with an arrow pointing downwards.

Probably a wise choice for an unusually early start.

‘You were coming in here too?’

‘Yeah, but something different.’ Wilbur checked around. The office was still patently empty. ‘The new guy.’

‘Oswald? Me too.’

Wilbur’s hands dove into his pockets. ‘Oh. Well. Cool.’

‘Resumé?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why?’

‘Thought I recognised him.’

‘Recognised him?’ Beckman’s mind did cartwheels—many not pleasant.

‘Yeah.’

‘But I thought he was an….’ Beckman also checked around redundantly and lowered his voice, even more redundantly. ‘… “adult performer”.’

‘Oh. Yeah. Then it is him.’

Beckman’s face instinctively creased into distaste, which he quickly shook away. After all, it wasn’t a crime—neither to be a viewer nor a… participant. ‘You know him?’

‘Know? No. Know of? Yeah.’

‘You’ve seen….’ He tailed off deliberately, thrust his eyebrows up.

Wilbur pointed. ‘Then so have you.’

‘Only last night.’

‘Ah.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yeah. Guess I… misspent my youth elsewhere. That’s all.’

Wilbur nodded slowly. ‘Yeah.’

Silence blew through.

‘Is it on there?’ Wilbur nodded at the desk.

‘Yeah. “Package Delivery Services”.’

‘Ah. Right. So he’s not… ashamed or nothing. Not hiding it.’

‘He’d have trouble hiding….’ Then Beckman stopped, realising the word “it” could be misconstrued.

Too late. Wilbur, who could have construed it, didn’t.

‘Yeah,’ he chuckled. ‘Trouble hiding that.’ 

At which point Beckman was transported back twelve hours, and Oswald’s unconcealed secret flashed through his mind again.

Thanks, Wilbur. Trust you to be a jock about it.

Beckman sighed. Best not to be a holier-than-thou ass and try to rise above it. Wilbur was a good guy—the best thing to a friend he had at Pegasus. Besides, if you couldn’t laugh about something like this, what hope was there? It was probably the most exciting thing to happen at work since Paulson Foss had inexplicably told Mr Malvolio what he (and pretty much everyone else) thought about the guy and been fired on the spot. Foss was lucky—Malvolio could have simply let his pet Gila monster Bruno loose and washed his hands of any unfortunate poisonous bitings which might have transpired.

Beckman forced a chuckle. ‘Yeah. I think it’s safe to say Oswald isn’t built in proportion.’

‘Bet he gave loads of glowing references. All from people called Candy or Lolly, happy to confirm that he could deliver packages twenty-four-seven.’

‘He’s trying to cure headaches now—back then, he was more likely to give a girl one.’

Get your mind out of the gutter, Beckman Spiers. This is a co-worker.

His face fell. Creditably, Wilbur’s did too.

‘We all got secrets, B.’

Beckman nodded, even though he had an entirely skeleton-free closet. ‘You won’t tell I was….’ He pointed at the desk and around the office.

‘Course not. I mean, I was too. You know, just confirming it was him. Idle curiosity is all.’

Beckman nodded more vehemently. ‘Sure. Past is past. Like you say, we’ve all got something.’

‘What’s yours, B?’

‘Huh?’

‘Your little secret?’

‘Secret?’

‘Misdemeanour.’

‘Hmm?’

‘Little thing in the past. Slight untruth on the resumé.’ Wilbur leant in.

Beckman thought quickly. ‘Nothing. I got nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Nothing.’ He shrugged.

Wilbur narrowed his eyes, then smiled. ‘I reckoned so. Paragon of virtue, you, Beckman. You always said, I always knew.’

‘Certainly no… unmentioned previous… entertainment-related roles.’

‘No. Sure. Me either. Well, I mean, I did, but, you know.’

Beckman unavoidably recoiled slightly. ‘Entertainment-related? You?’

‘Sure. I used to mix with the ladies.’

Don’t get jealous now.

‘ “Mix”.’

‘Relax. I was a vision mixer on Miss World for ten years.’ Wilbur smiled knowingly at his wordplay.

‘That’s solid, Wilbur.’ He looked around. Go on—ask. ‘Did you, you know…?’

‘Get any?’

‘Yeah.’

‘No.’

‘Right.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman nodded at nothing in particular. ‘So, to work, I guess.’

Wilbur straightened his cap. ‘I guess.’

‘Yeah.’ The clock ticked. ‘About Oswald?’

Wilbur brightened with excessive interest. ‘Yeah?’

‘He starts at zero on the sales chart, right?’

‘Sure. This because it means you’re up one place now?’

‘No.’ Beckman coughed. ‘Well, yeah.’

‘You’ll do it, B. I have faith. Tenth year for you this year. Gotta mean something, right?’

‘Still, a ways to go. But, yeah, I guess seventh place is my best yet. Might be in with a shot.’

Wilbur smiled cruelly. ‘Oughta release a few more tigers, huh?’

‘Across the state, sure.’ Beckman replied with a false impish grin. He’d never knowingly cheat to win the prize. He was probably the only guy at Pegasus who wouldn’t bend the rules to get the annual gong-and-passport-to-retirement. He also knew Wilbur knew that too.

‘Wonder if they put the poor cat down.’

‘Hope so, for Oswald’s sake.’ He clicked his fingers in annoyance. ‘Shoot. If I’d known right away, I could have brown-nosed Malvolio into taking over Cad’s territory. Heck of a lot better patch than my tumbleweed breeding ground.’

Wilbur nodded. ‘What’re you gonna do, huh? Easy come easy go. At least no tigers out your way.’

‘Hope to hell not.’

‘Snakes, though.’

‘And more than twelve-inch ones.’ Beckman winked. ‘See you around, Wilbur.’

‘See you, B. Sell well.’

Beckman headed out to the Caddy, keen to put all thoughts of wildlife—desert-dwelling, garden-dwelling, or trouser-dwelling—out of his mind.

First order of business: coffee.

It was just after two in the afternoon, while Beckman was gallivanting through his fifth Coffee Planet serving of the day—trying to convince himself he’d be able to meet Oswald in the future without glancing downwards—when his cell rang.

‘Wilbur?’

‘Hey, B.’

‘This is unusual. What—we make a mistake?’

‘Huh? Oh, no—it’s him.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

‘So?’

‘So? Oh, yeah. He was just here.’

‘You didn’t say anything?’ Beckman interjected, suddenly horrified.

‘Say? That? No. No—he was just putting in a huge stock order. Need to get a semi-trailer loaded.’

‘Oswald? On his first day? A semi-trailer!’

Wilbur’s sigh veritably puffed through the speaker. ‘Yeah. Said he went back to the tiger guy. Cad never closed the sale. Guy was keen—maybe out of pity now. Anyway, he’s this hotshot—wanted to put the product on his employee benefit medical plan. Got a lot of employees. So—semi-trailer.’

‘Ah, snap.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman pushed his sigh down the mouthpiece. ‘Thanks for calling, Wilbur.’

‘Sure. Thought you should know.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Beckman?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Puts him back above you now.’

‘Already? Ah, snap,’ he breathed.

‘Sorry, B.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Sure.’

Beckman thumbed the End button. Drained his coffee.

Shook away the disappointment.

‘Easy come, easy go.’

Find out more about the “Sunrise Trilogy” here.

Six Sales AZ - A Sunrise short story

Six Sales, AZ. – A Sunrise short story

Five sales. In one day.

Pretty stellar if you work in a car dealership.

Not so hot if you hawk boxes out of your car at ten bucks a shot.

Still, all things are relative.

Beckman stood, gawping apparently mindlessly, with the words on the menu board nothing more than hieroglyphs before his eyes.

His mind hopped between his less-than-stellar work performance and the recent sight of a charred hulk of a building which should have been his latest Coffee Planet stop-off, but not even he liked beans roasted quite that dark.

So here he was, in a random café a block away, seeking alternate beverage arrangements.

Five is not great. But it’s better than zero, which is what you had two hours ago.

So—what to drink? What to drink, now that the de-facto rest stop is mostly ash in the atmosphere?

‘Can I help you, sir?’

He snapped from the impromptu reverie.

Her head was cocked to the side, no doubt curious as to why this gormless stranger was spending most of the afternoon selecting a simple beverage.

She barely shaded five feet, had long brown hair, and wasn’t wearing the employee-branded polo shirt. But he clocked her knapsack, her chirpy demeanour, and put two and two together—though he left it unsaid.

There was something else too.

She had buck teeth.

Beside a river somewhere, a gummy beaver was struggling with a chainsaw he’d had to buy from Home Depot. Poor little guy.

If she lived in a log cabin, it would be too funny. Luckily, he’d never find out. She was pretty enough, but (1) he liked his lips in their current un-mangled state, (2) his chat-up small talk was so rusty it would take ten gallons of WD-40 to loosen up, and (3) he’d only be in town for a couple more hours. The peripatetic life is no cradle for romance.

Plus, he was being cruel. He was hardly a matinee idol specimen—at least she had a distinguishing feature—he had none.

‘Just… picking something out.’

‘Try the coffee.’

He smiled. ‘You work here—you’re biased.’

There was a beat in which she wondered how he knew, and he got a self-satisfied glow from knowing, and knowing how he knew. It wasn’t rocket science: the emergence from the Staff door, the zipping up of the hoodie, the wave from the guy behind the counter.

Was she impressed? Did it matter?

You’ve got maybe ten years on her, buddy. It’s not cradle-snatching, but even so.

She shrugged. ‘Only part-time. And I’m not on commission. And I’m off today now, so I won’t get your tip.’

‘No—not coffee.’

Not here.

Her hand gestured over the wooden board above the counter ten feet away. Someone approached, surmised that Beckman wasn’t the beginning, end, or entirety of the queue, and passed by to make their order, in a commendably faster-than-glacial pace.

‘Mocha, tea, sodas….’ She flashed a querying eyebrow.

He wanted to make it plain that, as a thirty-seven-year-old man, he was very adept at Reading Stuff but didn’t want to come across as an ass.

‘Is that your hand?’ He indicated the faux chalk writing. That was a flat-out guess—his observation skills had limits.

‘Yeah. If only I’d used magic decision-chalk, though, huh?’ A toothy grin appeared—a white Stonehenge—but there was a twinkle in her eye too.

Bet she makes a packet in tips.

Probably shade your commission too, road warrior.

All while in the same spot.

So not your vibe.

Did I just use the word “vibe”? What am I—twenty?

‘Don’t let me keep you. You were heading out.’

She glanced at the wall clock. ‘Dale let me go five minutes early. So I guess I have room for one more.’ She jerked her head towards a table. ‘At least take the weight off while you’re not deciding.’

‘I guess.’

She followed him over to a square wooden table where they sat on adjacent sides. She hung her knapsack on the chair back; he did likewise with his trusty shoulder bag. It went everywhere with him—Linus’ blanket, minus the sucking.

Why is she volunteering to take time out from not being bored senseless by an older, thirsty, indecisive travelling salesman to risk the exact opposite?

Is this what they call “a spark”?

Need to get that WD-40 working on the ol’ Spotting The Signs muscle.

One thing at a time. Or probably one thing, period.

‘So—you not drink coffee?’

He glanced towards the window. ‘Only Coffee Planet, and I see they had a little accident.’

‘Fire is fire—it doesn’t judge.’

‘Crying shame.’

‘For some. Not for me.’

‘Ah—I get it now. You run this place. Happy to see the competition suffer.’ He smiled to show he was only partly joking.

‘Run? Ha! No, this is Dale’s place.’

‘All the same… business must have picked up.’

‘I guess. Why the third degree? So what if one of a faceless chain takes a hit? Capitalism sucks.’

There was a hint of vehemence in her tone, but he let it lie. He’d come in for a beverage, not an argument. Yet, he was no closer to the former.

‘You have a job,’ he pointed out.

‘Just until the other thing takes off.’

‘The other thing?’

‘I make jewellery.’

He’d noticed the earrings—a chain of delicate metallic spheres leading down to a small cup, like a string of coffee beans being dropped into a mug.

After The Teeth, it was the second thing he’d clocked. All the while, he was—on perpetual autopilot—keeping his senses tuned for any sign that she might be a potential customer.

Nothing yet, but, hell, five sales in two hours? He’d earned a break.

He nodded. ‘And you like coffee. Or you like modelling your wares for people who do.’

‘What can I say—Dale makes a great macchiato. So—how about it?’

He sighed.

Come clean?

‘The thing is….’ He stopped, hand hovering in mid-air, his mind absent of her name—because it hadn’t been established yet.

She caught his awkwardness. ‘Jolene. Yeah, like the song.’

He had an impish thought. ‘What song?’

Her eyes narrowed. The twinkle reappeared. ‘No, I’m not biting, Mister…?’

‘Beckman. No, not like anything. Not for a first name, anyhow.’

‘It’s a doozy, that’s for sure.’

‘Pair of conversation-starters, aren’t we?’

‘You know—it helps—chatting with customers and all. So—you not a coffee guy?’

He cracked a couple of knuckles. ‘I pretty much stick with Coffee Planet.’

She arched an eyebrow.

Wish I could do that. Just the one. It’s a great weapon. No, not a weapon. Tool.

‘Okay, so I’m loyal as hell.’ He fished in the inner pocket of his charcoal jacket. He pulled out a wad of CP-branded loyalty cards, held together with a rubber band which was into late middle-age and in need of being put out to pasture before it twanged into impromptu non-existence and decorated the surroundings with its captives.

Her other eyebrow arched.

Now that’s just showing off.

‘They oughta make you MVP,’ she suggested.

‘And this isn’t the whole nine yards. I got a box at home. I think I’m the loyalty department’s wet dream.’

‘You should do an interview. World Record or something.’

‘Somebody will have more.’ He carefully replaced the wad, now conscious of Ol’ Stretchy’s waning health. ‘Somebody duller than me.’

‘Dull? With a name like that? You’re just a guy who knows what he likes. Nothing wrong with that.’ She flashed a toothy, conciliatory smile. The coffee earrings danced, reminding him of his thirst.

He looked around for a server. She caught the drift, scanned the room and was less reticent in fluttering a hand at a maroon-shirted female. Quickly, with zero-hour upon him, Beckman rechecked the drinks menu.

The server arrived. ‘What can I get you, hon?’

Beckman lifted his hands from the table and clasped them together.

She angled her body towards him. She brought the tip of her pencil up to the order pad.

She wants that order from you. Whenever you’re ready.

Any time now.

You’ve had ages to choose.

It’s just a drink. Pick one.

Not coffee, obviously.

‘I’ll have….’

Good start.

He bit his lip. Rechecked the menu. Checked Jolene. Swallowed.

‘… a…’

‘The milkshake is delicious,’ Jolene piped up, simultaneously causing and saving his blushes, which vanished in a puff of quantum weirdness.

‘Yeah?’ he asked.

Milkshake? How long has it been?

You do like milkshakes. And this was by way of something different—the Beckman lame-ass celebration for the above-average end to another mediocre week.

What could go wrong? More to the point, could it get worse than the decade which has passed in the last ten seconds?

‘I will. I’ll have a vanilla milkshake.’

Woo hoo! Wow—you’ll be tying your own shoelaces next.

Maybe we did find your distinguishing feature after all—cataclysmic idiocy.

‘Great,’ the server replied, turning to Jolene. ‘You, hon?’

‘Just a latte, thanks, Emi.’

Emi set off to prepare two dairy-heavy beverages.

Apologise, style it out, or change the subject?

She beat him to the punch. ‘Did you never try Coffee Planet’s milkshakes?’

He shook his head. ‘Coffee all the way.’

‘You know, they’re getting rid of those cards. Gonna be pushing their app.’

‘Why?’

She shrugged. ‘Progress. Convenience.’

‘You guys have an app?’

‘Dale only got a cell last year. Let’s say it’s not likely soon.’

‘Well, you know where you are with cards.’

‘Bit of stickler, aren’t you, Beckman?’

‘Life on the road needs some touchstones.’

‘I figured that’s what you were. What are you selling?’

Is it that obvious what I do? Do I care?

He tugged his shoulder bag off the chair, opened the flap, withdrew a brown box and set it on the table.

Jolene peered at the anonymous cardboard cuboid. ‘Not coffee—or jewellery—that would be too funny, right?’ She smiled.

‘Pain relief.’

She nodded slowly. ‘Okay. For where?’

‘Headaches.’

‘And this is what you’re in town selling. Fancy box of pills?’

‘Yes—and no. No pills, and any town.’ He sighed. ‘Ideally where people actually buy.’

‘Is this what the Friday afternoon drowning-your-sorrows-in-unspecified-drinks is? I’d go straight to bourbon.’

‘Hell, it’s not that bad. Never is. Actually, this afternoon kinda rescue my visit. Five customers. Five living, breathing, hurting souls.’

‘Five? Why, what is it—like two hundred bucks?’

‘Ten bucks.’

She whistled softly. ‘Jeez, I make more than that in tips.’

‘Yeah, but you don’t get to travel the world, Jolene.’ He whipped out the pack of used loyalty cards, then winced at his maltreatment of Ol’ Stretchy. ‘You don’t get to down the filters, get the stamps, burn the gas, enjoy motel sheets, and—on a good day—have a milkshake with people like you.’

On cue, Emi arrived with their drinks, glanced in his direction, and scooted away.

Probably scared I’ll change my order after all that. Don’t blame her. I should have gone for water—hard to screw that up.

Jolene was unashamedly spectating as he cautiously picked up the glass and took a tentative sip.

‘I won’t take it personally if you gag,’ she said, displaying the entire piano keyboard.

You know, this is pretty fine.

‘You know, this is pretty fine.’

‘So, wallow away, Beckman.’

‘Actually, it was kind of a celebration.’

‘Five is good?’

‘It looked like zero here, so, yeah. I’m not graced with the greatest territory. Some towns are good—maybe a hundred a day. Some not so good. But I didn’t strike out—so that’s the plus.’

She raised her latte glass in a toast, and they chinked. ‘To… success.’

Strong word, but okay.

They drank.

Her brow knit. ‘So, without the fire, your celebration would have been just another Coffee Planet cup? Really?’

‘Like I said, it’s an anchor.’

‘An anchor is designed to prevent movement, and you’re a travelling salesman. What did I miss?’

He held her gaze as his mind churned over the question. 

Her pupils, he was almost certain, were grey-green. Eye colours were pretty easy for him to interpret. There were only a handful of standard colours, and he’d long ago matched their names to the specific shade of grey which inhabited his monochromatic world. In the pantone of real-life, for “normal” people, there were countless things he could only take best guess at. Anything which existed in a defined palette—like eye colour—was an area of certainty he held on to.

Like an anchor.

‘I never thought about it. Maybe having fixed things I can rely on—like the taste at Coffee Planet—takes away uncertainties I don’t need. Means I can put more time and energy into trying to find customers for this.’ He tapped the box. ‘So, why change from what works? Why try another coffee, maybe hate it, and have to go somewhere else to get my fix of body fuel? Time is money.’

‘So you’re not one for new experiences?’

Was there a hidden agenda in those words? Unlikely.

‘Every day is new—even the same coffee from the same store. It’s not Groundhog Day, you know?’

‘Depends where you draw the line, I guess.’

He smiled. ‘I’m trying your milkshake, aren’t I?’

‘Maybe this could be your new habit. We could be your new stop-off.’

‘Not unless you have branches state-wide.’

‘You get around, huh?’

He sipped his very-passable milkshake. ‘Hundreds of square miles of the ass-end of nowhere.’

‘To cure headaches.’

‘It’s better than a lot of shit people do.’

‘You go door-to-door?’

He shook his head. ‘Sit around. Watch people.’ He gestured around. ‘Cafés, malls, diners. Queues are good, medical centres. Anywhere people hang out, and I can spot them.’

‘Lot of killing time.’ She slugged her coffee. The large part of his body dedicated to caffeine processing gave a silent whimper.

‘Yeah. I could write a book. You know—if my life story was anything to write about.’

That amused her, and the twinkle in her eye appeared. A twinkle that might be seized upon by other guys. People like his objectionable colleague Tyler Screw-Anything Quittle.

‘Spot them how?’ she asked.

Should I open Pandora’s Box? Give away the secrets of my roaring success? What’s she gonna do, drop a cosy life in a small town for a lifetime on the road serving the Pegasus Corporation?

And what if she did? It’s a free country.

Except it would be someone else to run against in the Salesman of the Year competition.

The key word there is “man”. Mr Malvolio would never employ a mere woman. It’s unthinkable to the guy. Wow—I think we found another reason to despise the slave-driving SOB.

Anyway, where were we?

He took another sip. ‘Call me a student of the human condition. When people have headaches, all the signs are there.’

‘Then you wade in with the patter.’

He chuckled. ‘Patter is for peddlers. If I told you I’ve been doing this for eleven years and never had a single refund or complaint, you could see why the thing kinda sells itself.’

‘I wish my stuff did.’

‘Running your own business is brave, Jolene. I could never.’

She shrugged. ‘Well, I’ll see how it goes. If only people gave off vibes like they do for you. You know—clutching themselves in a way which means they’re desperate for artisanal metalware!’

‘You have a business plan?’

She shook her head. ‘My boyfriend gives me some ideas, but he’s not the type.’

‘Desk job?’

‘Fireman, here in town.’

Muscled Adonis with IQ shading three figures. Twice her size, probably.

Jeez—stereotype much?

Fireman, though? Should have got to Coffee Planet quicker, sunshine.

Well, if he ever needs the Jaws of Life, he doesn’t need to look far…

‘Wow. Good for him. You worry about him?’

‘Nah. He gets scrapes, but don’t we all?’

He subconsciously leant in slightly. ‘Headaches?’

She eased back by a similar amount, and her eyes creased. ‘You pitching to me, Beckman?’

He held up a hand. ‘Sorry. Force of habit.’

‘No. You know what? You seem like an honest guy, and yeah, Erik does get headaches, so I’ll wrap up your stellar day and take a box—okay?’

Six? Six!

Not quite ready for the annals of history, but it rescues a day of tumbleweeds in town.

He slid the box across. She dug into a pocket and pulled out an Alexander Hamilton.

‘Thanks, Jolene.’

‘Sure.’

‘When—not if—it works, spread the message and maybe I’ll come back and buy you more than a coffee.’

‘I’ll do that. Just not at Coffee Planet, okay?’

‘Are they rebuilding?’ he asked, trying to make it sound absentminded and failing.

‘Yeah. Worst luck.’

‘Room for everyone on this planet. From the road warriors to the… artisan metalworkers.’

‘I guess.’

‘What happened? Anyone hurt?’

‘No. One night. Place just went up—that’s the story.’

‘Last man out forgot to turn off the sandwich toaster, I guess.’

She looked away. ‘Yeah, probably.’

‘This isn’t so bad—as a change.’ He swirled the cream liquid in the glass. Noticed her earrings again. ‘You make nice stuff, Jolene. Much as I know about it.’

‘Thanks.’ She bit her lip, pensive for a moment. ‘Do you want any pieces?’

‘I’m happy with plain skin, thanks.’

‘I meant for your wife? Girlfriend?’

‘Not applicable.’ He avoided a desperate sigh.

‘Significant other?’

‘Significant mother is about the closest I’ve got.’

Jolene’s brow furrowed. ‘Significant how?’

‘She’s my mother. Isn’t that pretty significant? Take her away, and what have you got?’

‘A different mother with a less imaginative line in names for their kids?’ she suggested.

‘Kid, singular,’ he clarified. ‘You know, I never asked which of my parents cooked up my name.’

‘Would it matter?’

He reflected on two relationships, one merely distant, one metaphorically out near Jupiter. ‘No.’

But maybe I’ll ask mom next time we speak. Just for idle conversation. Which is about all we have anyway.

And this here was what—Kierkegaard, climate change, the meaning of life?

It was a sale, Beckman. Another town, end of another day, another week.

And, actually, a conversation not primarily about headaches, sport, or the weather. For once.

Thanks for the nudge, Jolene. You’re… okay. Maybe that fire was a blessing in disguise.  

He slugged his milkshake. Time was pressing.

A thought struck. ‘You ever ask Dale about putting a small display up with some of your pieces?’

‘Yeah. He wasn’t keen.’

‘Did you offer him commission?’

Her face lit. ‘You think he’d go for it?’

‘Is he an ass?’

She shook her head.

He shrugged. ‘So, a few bucks commission is a free lunch. It can’t hurt to ask.’

‘Thanks, Beckman.’

‘I wrote the book on commission-based business. Well, a pamphlet.’ He sipped the last of his drink. ‘Actually, on today’s sales, maybe a Post-It Note. The little ones.’

‘All the same….’

‘I wish you luck, okay? And thanks for keeping me company. Glad I hung around.’

She downed the coffee dregs. ‘I should be going too.’ She tapped the box. ‘Can’t say I’m not intrigued.’

‘Every day is an adventure.’

She stood, pulled her knapsack onto the table, put the box inside, and refastened it. ‘That’s right. Never know what you’re going to discover. See you around, Beckman.’

He flicked his hand in farewell. ‘Bye, Jolene.’

But his mind wasn’t on the departure. It was racing at the sight of the cloth badge sewn onto her bag.

The one which read, “Capitalism Sucks.”

Find out more about the “Sunrise Trilogy” here

banner-Jamie-Oliver

The Real Jamie Oliver

Jamie Oliver was born Margaret Ig in deepest revolutionary France some fortyfew years ago. His early years were spent living in a lake, where his parents had taken up residence to avoid the all-pervading strains of Charles Aznavour records.

At the age of five and barely out of nappies, his childhood was traumatised by the sudden arrest of his father on charges of making sexual overtures towards a pickled herring.

At the trial, his father, Ernest Ig, threw himself on the mercy of the court and asked for sixty-three other charges to be taken into account, including committing a lewd act with a hatstand, bathing in discarded film footage of Morris Dancing, and fathering Bonnie Langford whilst under the influence of low-fat yoghurt.

The jury of one man, one woman and ten hermaphrodites gleefully found him guilty, and he was shipped off to the “La Fondue” minimum security prison and retail ear-muff outlet. There, he was subjected to such diverse tortures as the authorities could muster; Chinese burns and towel-flicking were rife, and the enforced watching of the Police Academy films had the inmates cruelly subjugated.

However, the Ig family’s separation was happily short-lived when Ernest was rescued by son Margaret and far-from faithful wife Claudine in a daring lunchtime raid. Disguising themselves as freelance travel agents, they easily entered the facility and absconded with a struggling Ernest, who had been quite enjoying himself until then.

Following Claudine’s carefully-laid cunning plan, they ran like buggery to Calais, evading the pursuit of a crack hamster attack squad. There, a boat was waiting for them. Unfortunately, it was a police boat.

Fearless, they blasted their way through the line of Gendarmes using a particularly powerful aerosol can of that dreadful artificial whipped cream and leapt into another standby boat which Claudine had knitted only that morning.

Using Margaret as a paddle, they reached England in good time, beaching just south of Fort William. (Ernest has acquired his stout seamanship from his father, Slim, a Chinese waiter who had never set foot outside his Kentucky ranch.)

Sleeping on the move, the Ig family made their way on foot to the wilds of Bishops Stortford and broke into an abandoned caravan once allegedly used by Cardinal Wolsey. Exhausted from their journey, they slept.

When they woke, Margaret was twelve. Ernest decided they should change their names to avoid detection, and thus they became the Oliver family. Richard (nee Ernest) set about providing for the family in their new life and quickly found work pulling the legs off spiders. However, soon afterwards, the international market for spiders legs collapsed, and a tearful Richard was made redundant. Walking home after his last day at work, he was mobbed by wheelchair-bound tarantulas and chewed to death.

Distraught, Jamie joined a local technical college intending to learn a trade, and within a year, had built his first sparrow. This set his life’s course straight and true, and he vowed to be the best sparrowsmith in Hertfordshire, whatever it took.

Three weeks later, he fulfilled that dream. Overcome with emotion on hearing of her son’s achievement, Jane (nee Claudine) passed out in the kitchen while making eggs Benedict and hit her head on a protruding antelope.

After being tended in hospital for twelve long years, with Jamie at her bedside 24 hours a day, Jane finally recovered consciousness. Startled by unfamiliar surroundings, the first words to her loving son were, “Are Band Aid still Number One?” Tragically, she never found out. Jamie was busy dashing to the toilet to relieve twelve years of bladder discomfort, and by the time he returned to Jane’s bedside, the hospital had been closed down.

After so long in the employment wilderness, Jamie found it painfully challenging getting a job. That was until he was found unconscious in the gutter outside a Burger King restaurant. Having suffered the decimation of his staff that previous evening during a vicious bout of chutney tasting, the franchisee woke Jamie with a kick to the eyebrows and employed him there and then.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : “Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts and other stories”