Category Archives: Prose

Black Widow- part 2

Where were we? Oh yes, on that afternoon in summer 1990 in the attic room where dust swam upwards in the beam of sun, we had reached the point where Magliaro invoked the image of Papa’s sperm stumbling across Mamma’s fecund egg and collapsing across its threshold in a pathetic burst of grappa fumes and tall tales of marches across the desert.  Or so I have subsequently imagined it in the aftermath of the act: Mamma with her chin cupped in her hands, listening politely as she always does when she watches the TV news. Never mind that. Imagine if you will, the intricate machinery of Magliaro’s brain, a classical model of a type: the creative bully on the cusp of adolescence.  Even with all the techniques of modern science it is impossible to pinpoint the mechanism of a specific notion entering the head.  We say ‘Eureka’, from the Greek ‘I see.’  What Magliaro saw was an image of me dressed in Mamma’s underwear.  Where it came from, I don’t know.  Perhaps it was due to having passed, at the foot of the ladder to the attic, the open door of her and Papa’s bedroom, and perhaps also, the topmost drawer of the chest had been left open.  Then again, maybe he had concocted the plan a while ago and been storing it for this moment.  As I said, I don’t know. While I was guarded by the Marchettis, Magliaro and Minchia went to fetch the drawer. Back in the attic they threw it down onto the rug and began sifting through the contents.  There were cheap white knickers and bras which Mamma had bought in the musty shop on Via Roma that was run by a pale, blonde woman who wore sunglasses all year round.  Later, in one of my first experiments, I visited that shop, but ran away when the woman asked if she could help me.  Soon after, a new supermarket put her out of business, but in 1990 she was still riding the crest of a local lingerie duopoly, and it is a safe bet that of my four tormentors, at least two of them recognized the same range of skimpy garments worn by their own mothers or older sisters.  That didn’t stop them whooping and cackling, examining the inside of the material in close-up for signs of shame and ridicule.  They found a box of hygienic towels and started flinging them out the window one by one. What was I doing during this time?  In truth I can’t remember clearly.  I think I was sitting with my back to the wall, sobbing quietly.  At least one of the twins was standing over me, as they had been instructed not to let me escape.  But all I was thinking about was getting the ordeal over with – they would become bored eventually, surely – and then I could clear up so that Mamma wouldn’t know what had happened. Magliaro pulled my trousers down while the others prevented my struggling.  He tossed each of my shoes out the window, and then worked the material off each leg.  My tee shirt was easily dispatched.  When I was in only underpants, the Marchettis looked at him for confirmation that the operation was complete.  He shook his head.  Only when I was completely naked did he select a pair of knickers and a bra from the pile and lob them through the air at me.

‘Let’s see you look like your Mamma, Vantozzi.’


A friend who became an elementary school teacher told me recently that teachers worry more about the perpetrators than the victims of bullying.

‘Sure, it’s hell at the time if you’re on the receiving end, but most kids come out the other side.  The tragedies you hear about in the press are a tiny minority.’

‘Bullies don’t top usually top themselves either,’ I countered.

‘Yes, but the reason they act aggressively is most often due to an abusive or emotionally neglected home life.  That fucks them up for good, while kids who are bullied often go on to be successful creators and innovators.’

Was Magliaro’s father, the genial, camera-friendly sindaco, a secret tyrant and sodomiser of his sons?  Did the mother, aside from running her salon, ritually humiliate him in some unimaginable way? All things are possible. Yet if Magliaro was simply born with compassion absent, then that is truly a terrible thing, and genome researchers should start the search for a cruelty gene which could be spliced out of every newborn to make the world a better place.


They tore a map off the wall and scrawled ‘sucks for fifty lire’ across it in ugly capitals with one of the pens that I had for drawing cartoons.  Then they took me outside.

Why didn’t I call to Mamma as the gang took me downstairs and out the back door into the alley at the side of the house?


When she shouted from the kitchen I told her I was going out and I would be back for dinner.  I wanted to protect her from the shame of seeing her intimate garments mocked by the so-called friends of her son. Our house was on the town’s extreme periphery, just one stubbly field away from the great concrete tentacle of the autostrada.  The gang combined to shove me scrambling up its embankment.  At the top we climbed the barrier and passed into the shadow of a gigantic sign telling lorry drivers to take a break every three hours to refresh themselves.  How does a camionista refresh himself?  Chain-smoke in a service station forecourt?  Chat up the bored serving girl behind her selection of panini?  Stick a few coins in the fruit machine then wish he’d saved them for more cigarettes?  The only incentive here was a dusty layby. Nothing but a view across the stubble to our miserable town: the roof of the school just visible next to the spire of the church where I’d been baptized.  We didn’t even have our own motorway exit sign; we were just an offshoot on the road to Campobasso.

‘Ten minutes’, Magliaro said.  ‘If you stay on the roadside for ten minutes we’ll not beat you to a pulp… and we’ll not tell what happened at school.’

I dusted the grains of dirt from my bare legs and adjusted the bra where the central clasp was digging into my sternum. The rigid cups were more padded against me than I’d expected, even though there was nothing to fill them.  As a final act before propelling me out under the sign, Magliaro jerked the knickers up my ass and smacked my buttocks with the thin stick he’d been carrying.  I heard the jackal sniggers behind me until they were drowned out by the roar of the first lorry that thundered by on the road to Rome.



Black Widow- part one

Mine is a dangerous business. Some would call it sordid, but I argue that it’s a righteous one, and given the economic and moral climate of Italy today, it’s a career just as ‘of its time’ as anything in website design. Actually I have an online presence. I find that certain chatrooms can be a very good place to meet the kind of people I need to meet. But I still prefer the old-fashioned way. I’ve got various friends who can help to get me into the right sort of venues in Milan and Rome. I’ll not keep you guessing any longer. I’m in the entrapment and blackmail trade.

I lead politicians and other public figures to compromise themselves with me, unaware that video and photographic evidence is being gathered. At the end of it I tell them my secret, the thing that could bring them down, whereas if I was just a normal prostitute they could carry on regardless, perhaps even increasing their share of the vote. It’s a simple secret, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. The thing is I’m actually a man. You’re probably thinking now you should have known. There’s something a little, well, sculpted, about my face, isn’t there. Now you’ll be wanting to know about my physical apparatus, operations and so on. Well as it happens I have always had a feminine body. Slim, with narrow shoulders. But I did go to Thailand, and I did have some treatment. My chest was enhanced – and yes, I’m getting to it – down here I have the female parts, but – and this is the key – to put it crudely I still have a dick. How so? Well don’t worry about the details but I can tell you that it’s not so big and tape can do wonderful things. But that’s not what I want to tell you. You look like a curious person and I’m in the mood to talk about the past. I want to tell you a story. It begins, like many stories, one day…

…One day, desperate for popularity, I invited Magliaro’s gang up to my attic room. I was sure they would be impressed by the cobwebs draped like bunting between the beams, and the magic carpet Papa had won at cards from a Persian spice trader in the midst of the desert. I would show them the faded campaign maps pinned to the walls, and they would be so filled with awe they would immediately accept me. Magliaro smiled, idiotically, in response to Mamma’s greeting. She was mashing yams for one of her native dishes, and I felt a pang of embarrassment at the stares of the gang as they passed through the gloomy kitchen. Magliaro turned in the doorway and watched her pounding the boiled vegetable in a pestel, a movement that caused her buttocks to thrust out against the folds of her skirt. As we climbed the stairs he jabbed me painfully in the side.

‘Your mamma has a tight ass, Vantozzi.’

‘So does yours’, I said, not knowing whether it was a compliment or an insult.

The gang, consisting of ‘Minchia’ Squillaci and the Marchetti brothers, imitated Magliaro’s laughter like jackals competing to imitate the pack leader.

‘But she doesn’t offer hers to tramps for a lira a pump.’

At that age I was too young to understand that flesh could have a financial value. Mamma was valuable in so much as she cared for me; any other scale of measurement seemed impossible. So I let the laughter pass and led the little unit on, up the narrow staircase to my den of secrets.

‘So this Papa of yours was a big shot in the army?’

Magliaro was strolling around the perimeter of my attic, hands linked behind his back, an emperor inspecting some colonial protectorate. An ordinary bully would have contented himself with ripping the yellowed maps off the walls and trampling them underfoot, or scrunching them into balls and tossing them out the window into the dusty yard below. But Magliaro was more subtle than that. In class he rarely got into trouble, and most of the teachers considered him a mature and honourable character. He was the captain of the school football team. The fact that his father was the sindaco may have helped, and it would have done him no harm either that his mother cut the hair of most of the women in the village. But I can’t deny, there was something about his manner that was naturally impressive: a self-assurance in his bearing that marked him early on for a position of authority.

‘He fought in the second world war’, I said proudly.

‘That was quite a long time ago wasn’t it?’

I sensed that Magliaro was drawing me into some sort of trap which I was powerless to avoid.

‘It finished in 1945’, I said. ‘Forty five years ago.’

‘And how old are you now, Vantozzi?’


‘So when you were born he was already a pensioner.’

The logic was faulty but the accusation accurate.

‘The sperm that made you was senile,’ Minchia crowed.

Magliaro put his arm round my neck.

‘Only a black whore would take a dick as old as that,’ he said.

Later, as a teenager, I asked myself how much truth there had been in Magliaro’s jibe. I listened to Fabrizio de Andre sing Via del Campo, and wondered if Papa had been that lost old he-goat who slept with Mamma in a moment of lustful adventure then married her out of loneliness. Had I been created from a union between a prostitute and her client, from which Papa had emerged onto the street ten minutes later smoking a camel en-route to a grappa at the bar?

On a school trip to Genoa’s aquarium I slipped away to make a pilgrimage to that famous street. It was easy to imagine an old soldier doing odd bits of work at the docks, being drawn to the house where paradise is found on the first floor. And, walking down the narrow street between the peeling buildings that seemed alive like a coral reef, a fearful fourteen year old staring wide-eyed up at the shuttered windows, the thought entered my head that the same possibilities were open to me. What if I was to ask that scarred bottom-feeder selling roasted chestnuts where the brothel was, and then swim up a dark staircase to the room where girls with eyes the colour of the street awaited? And if I was to commit the act that Magliaro and the others so often talked about, emptying myself inside a strange woman to gain the all-important status of manhood? I panicked at what was possible and hurried back to join my classmates. Amazingly, I managed to find everyone clustered round the portholes of the shark tank. Prof Morelli even believed my story that I had lost them trying to get a better look at the suckers on the octopus.

It was half-true: running to catch up, I had seen a massive octopus clamped by its cups to the glass window. The sight was so alien that it made me feel normal again. Even to this day, octopi and squid have a tendency to occupy my dreams with their ink squirts and vast luminous eyes.


A message in a can

The body was floating face down, half on and half off a lump of driftwood. Wearing a kilt that rode up, exposing a buttock so pale it was almost translucent. Seagulls’ll be at that soon, I thought. Prometheus, like.

Daft eejit.

It had bobbed a bit further past the end of the jetty. Time to start working out what to do. That was when I saw it. A can, bobbing too. Half in and half out the water. Red T of Mr JVR Tennent emerging and submerging, but remaining upright, on an even keel. Had to be something left in to give it that stability. An idle thought in the circumstances, you’d reckon.

The swell was drawing them closer. Body and can, both tiny in suspense above the black depths. On the other side Fife, a few miles away and god knows how many billion gallons. The black waters full of history, back to the Reformation and beyond. The abbey on Inchcolm where you had to fight your way past the seagulls defending their nests – like Mona last time I’d tried to see the weans.

The fingers moved first. Twitching. I wondered if I’d imagined it, if it was just the waves manipulating them, like tendrils on the sea bottom. By this time can and man were just a metre apart. Collision course. Stable though it was, the can wouldnae survive.

An arm snaked out. Fingers trailing over the surface. Reaching, searching. The head lifted a fraction, just enough to make sure the hand found what it was after. Closed on it. Lifted. Careful to keep it upright, moving back to the owner. Now the head raised itself properly. Past me by this time so I couldnae see the face. Lifted the can to the lips and tilted it back. Cautiously at first, then further. Drank. And drank, until nothing was left.

The fingers tightened. Relaxed. The crushed can dropped into the water.

‘I’m coming to get you,’ I shouted.

No reaction.

‘I’m coming to get you.’ Louder this time.

With a last effort the hand waved me away.

‘Dinnae – worry – boot – me – ah’m – alright.’

And the head nuzzled back down, as if the driftwood was a goose-down pillow, plump and newly washed, perfect for sleeping on for the night.

Aloycious Kirby

Creation myth – part two

I cannot recall who saw the artist first. Maybe I followed a sudden widening of Lizzie’s eyes just after we emerged from our main passage beside the burn at the spot where it was deep enough to bathe. She looked right into my eyes but carried on painting as if nothing had happened.

‘Stay put’, I told Lizzie. We were both already stark and I swam the burn to the flat bank opposite, where the artist stood by an easel taller than herself. I had seen her before in the shop and the post-office and I knew from those few sightings that she was the only person in the village truly worth impressing. As I crawl-stroked a voice in my head whispered that the Passages were a rude and dirty project next to elegant painting on a canvas. Approaching the artist I knitted my brow and summoned to mind all the library books and radio programs I had absorbed in my life.

‘I have located a feral child. I believe she has been raised by dogs… or perhaps foxes. It appears she has made a system of pa – of tunnels, in the long grass.’

The artist put down her brush, I thought in response to me but then larger drops began falling from a sky that had turned dark and glowery without my notice. She had been painting merely the field and there was no sign of us on her canvas.

‘You had better get your dress on,’ she said, ‘and then you can tell me about your discoveries. And why not bring the feral child over too?’

I recrossed the burn to Lizzie who was still gawking, silent in the face of strangers, as it came naturally to her to behave. I stuffed her dress away among the stalks and we swam back, me holding my own garment out the water. The artist draped her shawl over Lizzie’s blotchy flesh while I borrowed her painty rag to dry myself.

‘It’s a short walk to my cottage. Would you like to come?’

As we walked I deplored aloud the society that had permitted Lizzie’s state to go unnoticed for so long. I described her diet of field mice and raw barley seeds, her total absence of shame, and the pitiful limitation of her language to grunts and snufflings.

‘I’m surprised she can walk on two legs,’ the artist commented.

When we arrived at the tiny cottage the rain was drumming down in jets, but we were sat on a magnificent sofa, dried again by a gas heater, and given hot milk and biscuits. The cottage was a single room heaving with paintings of familiar places, though none I saw revealed the truth about the Passages.

‘These are very good’, I said, at which the artist thanked me, but her next words piqued me a great deal. She said she drew more pleasure from the evident admiration of the feral child, ‘because that one is closer to nature, and so the better critic.’

It was teatime when a phonecall – I never knew who from – brought Ma to the door, at which point Lizzie regained the power of speech while I avoided the eye of the artist, and Ma delivered thanks through gritted teeth. When we got home I took a sound spanking for disgracing the family, and the following words were drilled into me:

‘It’s all very well tae prance like a savage when no one’s watching, bit do it before a painter and you can be fixed that way for life.’

And that was when I decided to become an artist myself.

Aloycious Kirby


Creation myth – part one

‘Do you reject Satan’, the minister asks in the traditional godmother ceremony, and I only paused a second before intoning, solemn as a bride, ‘I do’, no doubt to the relief of my best friend Sophie though she would never have let on as much. Naturally I neglected to mention the previous time I was assigned to surrogate welfare duties for a vulnerable charge, when the spirit of Auld Hornie overtook me to lasting effect.

The east coast in the sixties was a place where the de’il had not yet been assimilated with Mick Jagger, and most folk believed that rather than strutting about in too tight trewsers he still passed his days spreading crop fungus and curdling milk. You could summarise it as an uneasy relationship between modernity and ‘the auld ways’, a conflict roughly paralleled by that between incomers and local folk, with us decidedly the latter – my family, that is.

‘Git awa tak’ Lizzie oot tae play. Ye canna’ lay skulking indoors like a she-rat on a day like today’. So went Ma’s rant, forced out of her by my summer holiday morning malingering ‘neath the bedclothes. And I would moan and mutter but finally pull a dress over my sweaty body and walk straight out the door of the cottage, refusing the salty porridge I was offered. Lizzie like an eager dog scampered round about me, though I led the way of course – that hot summer always to the same place: the field behind the power station, where we built the Passages.

Aye, the Passages were our obsession. While Italian and French beefcakes bored under Mont Blanc, we – me as chief architect and engineer, Lizzie as general labour – were busy carving our own tunnels through the thickest, wildest growth this side of a Euro-feminist’s crevices. Tall, scratchy grasses, giant daisies, sticky willies and stray barley stalks all competing to thrust their way up; but where we willed we beat and trampled them all.

The Passages Zone was bordered on one side by the burn – across which a line of birch shielded it from the power station – and on the other the Gourlay barley field spreading itself like a wedding ring up the hill. We used sticks and our bodies to thrash out the paths, sometimes doing forward and backward rolls over and over on the same patch. I developed a technique to counter the stalks’ stubborn urge to poke back up: wet grass being less springy, you stripped, doused yourself in the burn and then did ‘the rolling pin’. The itch after was like hosting a picnic of fire ants and you had to plunge straight back in the cool burn – though even then the rashes stayed, worse on Lizzie than me it has to be said.

I need hardly tell you that no adults knew of the Passages, and even the low-flying jet pilots who could have spied us making them were too busy worrying about the red menace to slow down.

Aloycious Kirby


Voice of the force

Delightful. Charming. Abundantly splendid. The offer to contribute to these fine pages was all those things and more to a proud officer of the force dedicated to serving and protecting such a majestic barrio as that of… (cut the introductionary bullsh*t and get on with it, sic, ed.)

Very well.

Those of you who perambulate the lower Leith Walk vicinity (the part Rio deemed `too sexy to be twinned with`) may have noticed our recent campaign running under the moniker `No Knives Better Lives`. Our posters – appended to all good surfaces from lamp-posts to the insides of gas pipes – are in the style known as Faux-Ned-Deco and were designed by Leith College of Art graduate Shatim Quolhounc at a relatively modest cost to the public purse.

Sadly, after a rigorous consultation programme (carried out in the Tourmalet tavern) some of you have objected to one aspect of the poster`s design, to wit the featuring of I-pods, headphones and playstations as suggested alternatives to the lure of the blade. `Why carry such low expectations of the intellect of our nation`s youth,` came the collected cry of consternation – from somewhere near the stairs to the toilets. `Give them f%$**&% Dusty Evsky` followed the rejoinder, then `It`s Dostoy actually’, from a figure with a pronounced Fife twang who had spent the night holding forth at the bar on the progress of his book to anyone who would listen (and many who would not).

Let it not be said that I, Mathis Hamilton Colquhoun, P.G. Dip, Lothian and Borders CID, have ever failed to take into account the views of my constituents. The very next day – a Saturday – I paid for a short helicopter trip over the city, taking in views of the castle, the scenic pillars of the Forth Road and Rail Bridges and even the suggestive Fife coastline which delineates the horizon like a finely serrated implement. In the course of our return to the landing pad at RBS HQ I instructed the pilot to hover over `certain areas` of North Edinburgh while I emptied into the sky sacks containing copies of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I am trusting to the gods of posterity that these landed safely and were consumed by the individuals whom they will benefit most.

Turning to other matters, cyber-crime is an ever increasing concern for those of us at the sharp end of law enforcement, a fact best illustrated by an anecdote of my own locution.

Last Tuesday I happened to be in the Charlotte Street station doing some online research into the best sources of cheap piping (a personal project of which I will write at a later date) when I was assaulted in a vulgar fashion by one of these `viruses`. Fortunately I took swift and appropriate action to avoid the so-called Trojan Horse emptying its bowels into the wider community.

This action consisted of all officers present at the time being quarantined inside the station while I went out, clad in suitably protective clothing, to locate a volume of disinfectant liquid. Said liquid obtained, I returned to the locked station and ensured that all staff and their machines were passed through it back and forth until every trace of the virus had disappeared. Subsequent clean-up and replacement costs were said to be paltry in comparison to the financial and moral risk to the whole community had such drastic action not been taken.

Mathis Colquhoun can be contacted regarding talks to local schoolchildren and other after-dinner engagements.

Aloycious Kirby