Bobby Coral

first_imgFINE ARTS student Roberta “Bobby” Coral first saw the symbol on the wall of a Rad Cam toilet. It was alongside the tracks of a downward juddering bandwagon of homage to Pete Doherty. Drawn in aggressive pencil, it was a gaunt black triangle, its sides two-thirds up punctured with what could have been angel wings, or horns on a Viking helmet. Above it in jagged letters: HEADLESS. All the more striking was the dirty pearl of blank wall around it, six inches wide. It seemed the symbol was universally understood, among those who autographed toilets, to be sacrosanct.Bobby was eminently well-adjusted. If anything, that was her problem. It meant, as she knew, that she was rather supermarketbrand. Packaging like that of the market leader, only flimsier and in fewer colours. Hints of artificial sweeteners in that smile. But she did the job, with her shortcomings written plainly on the tin, and was not out to please an elite. So no ladders in her tights to lead you to snakes: the under-loved, the overindulged, the midnight quivers of a soul that needs always to be its own daydream. She was artless, no more, but no less. Not that she was wholly immune to itches for something more. She’d give herself an edge of walked through fire by charring her eyes with liner and mascara. Or stand in the Boots queue until it had tapered to only three deep, daring herself to go all the way with this blacking kit for her tresses currently reminiscent of weak tea.But that day, in the Rad Cam cubicle, she felt no such itch. So she refused to spook out, even if it was so weird that no one dared write near it (What if she did, right now? What would happen?). She restrained the same impulse on seeing the symbol again the following week, this time in chalk on Longwall Street, a little way down from the long-running “FREEDOM: NOT YET OUT ON DVD”.By her third encounter with it, her unease refused for a moment to get back in its kennel and howled clumsily through her veins instead. At The Sackler Library, a librarian whose stare at rest could disinfect a public toilet had told Bobby that ‘Aztec Premonitions of Modern Art’ was “naturally” on the shelf. Bobby searched for twenty minutes in vain. Then, at that point where it should have been according to its shelfmark, she noticed a tiny jaundiced tongue protruding from between two books. She prised them apart and pulled out a crumbling flake of card. There, drawn in ink that had purpled in antiquity like a bruise, was the Headless symbol. Paling, she took it downstairs to the librarian. “Book wasn’t there,” she told her. “But this was.” The librarian arranged her face into what she hoped was the highest madness antidote known to man. “So it was.”None of which prepared Bobby for the fourth time. Late for her tute with Dr Pynchette, she puffed up a blaze of rickety momentum across Pembroke, at last knocking on his door and flurrying in without waiting for his customary “Entertain me”. The curtains were drawn, drowsing the incoming sun so that it curled up at the feet of his bookshelves like an old cat lapping plaintively at dust. Amid this light someone was standing – but it wasn’t Dr Pynchette.Beside his desk, a woman upheld five feet, two inches of what they might tout as ‘Laura Ashley does Sexual Awakening’. She had her fingertips up on its oak, as though to takes its pulse. At Bobby’s entrance, she tightened with all the special force of a small woman and hissed: “Yes?” Bobby: “Dr Pynchette?” “He’s on leave. His students should have been told. Perhaps there hasn’t been time.” On leave? So abruptly? Bobby frowned: “Is it to do with the book he’s writing? Marginalia?”The woman edged around the desk and folded into its chair. She murmured, “I’m not sure what it’s to do with. As you can see, his phone was off the hook. I’m his sister.” It took a while for Bobby to process each of these sentences, like digits punched rapidly into a telephone. She moved forward into the smell of fried eggs that always hung over his desk like a builder’s daydream. The phone was still off the hook – his sister had touched nothing, as though this were his last fragile sandcastle.Bobby said, “He’s AWOL?” His sister flinched. “I,” she muttered darkly, “have three children, flowerbeds the dog waters and a suburban Jacuzzi of fellowship it sadly doesn’t. You know when I really wake up each morning? Raising the garage door. Shrieks like Bambi’s hit the blender and spits rust at me. That will always be so because I will never get round to fixing it. Yes, I have my frustrations too. Ray’s the only one who feels he can just disappear and come back if life rubs him the right way.”“He’s done this before?” His sister shrugged. “I was six the first time. We were in a Bristol supermarket: Ray, me, our mother. I leant closer to a fridge, my breath clouding the glass and his reflection. When it faded, he was gone. He’d followed the sound of a city seagull down the aisle and out the door. He called us later from a record shop to play some jazz down the line…”Bobby wasn’t listening. She was standing tremulously, having just had the breath whipped out from under her like a tablecloth in a show of tricks at a village fete. On a pad next to the phone, under the logo of the coffee-shop whose waitress he’d bullied it from and a feverish scrawl of ‘LOITERER’, was the Headless symbol.ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2005last_img

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