Strange Tales by Cunningham Thomson

EXTRACTS:  BANSHEE CHRISTMAS  |  150,000 YEN  |  Madame Le Boeuf Making Noises

Banshee Christmas extract

Gethsemane’s garden was particularly lush that summer because of regular and unseasonable rains. She was rather pleased with the geraniums from cuttings, the cosmos from seeds and the huge bending poppies that simply sprang up everywhere among the native trees and in the veggey patches. Her husband George did the grunt work of tilling the soil, putting in the stakes, pruning back wild branches, keeping the weeds under control and trimming the edges. He later admitted that it was mainly while weeding that he would recall the emotional messiness of that Christmas Eve. He said the weeding seemed to dredge it up but there was a positive side in that the same weeding's physical side helped to make calmer sense of it – he admitted that sometimes he had to pull at some weeds quite ferociously.

George was not given to self-revelation but not the grunting male either. He had been an inventor – small machines doing little garden jobs such as irrigation in a variety of ways for different plants. So he was not uninteresting, just careful when he spoke, and slowish with it. He would speak in full sentences which were balanced and often quite illuminating in sense if you cared to think. Generally with George he believed that it was better in than out and he would say it that way; amid the elegance he could be cheaply vulgar. He was stolid and dependable, occasionally given to insights into human nature but stated in a way that sounded as if he was all right but you weren’t. He had such an insight on Christmas Eve when Amelia, the artist, visited to do Qui Jong with his wife, Gethsemane in their huge and overgrown garden. It was summed up for him in The Wisdom of Solomon, the bit about leaving “tokens of our joyfulness in every place”. But that’s something for later.

Gethsemane and George had been together nearly 35 years. Her sister Marguerite often came to stay to see their Mother, Sandrine who lived with them. This Christmas she arrived a couple of days before and was enjoying the garden, the ambience, the ducks and the birdsong early in the morning, all very different from her city life, a nice change.

Marguerite and Gethsemane had a good sister relationship, getting on well in the face of small difficulties in the caring for their old Mother. Gethsemane did the bulk of the caring and administering of her Mother’s estate, also seeing to little shopping visits and various outings, not forgetting regular trips to the doctor, even the hospital. Marguerite said to George that this would be her fifteenth visit this year, some of which times had been for nearly a week.

Obviously, because of her living circumstances, she couldn’t do as much on-the-spot caring for Sandrine, but her efforts counted hugely in the caring stakes especially considering she gave up her weekends after a week’s stressful work for a big city council, then there was the getting to and from airports adding several hours to the trips.

Gethsemane enjoyed her sister’s visits, especially because she took considerable weight off her in terms of looking after their mother, and she enjoyed discussing the situation and her feelings about it with her.

Anyway, on this particular Xmas Eve morning, Amelia, the artist arrived all cheery and pleasant, ready for oriental exercising …


¥150,000 extract

An extract from a long short story about a martial arts practitioner’s loss of control in a Tokyo language school.

I started to feel quite odd, sweating up markedly around my heaving middle. The left side of my face started to twitch. Maybe it was Gordon's smug smile suggesting to me he hadn’t done anything wrong, that it was all my misjudgement. This awful possibility and my total disrespect for him combined to cause me to lose my legendary composure. Something snapped. I recall swaying from side to side. Weird moaning sounds seemed to emanate from me. Arms raised, breathing in slowly, arms out and down, breathing out sharply, legs solidly placed. “Ayeee!” I had been practising Seido karate for 30 years and I had a second-degree black belt; I was strong on the development of self-control!

A chair and its tiny desktop rattled across the room, causing seat and attachment to be rent asunder. Another well-placed kick embedded the curved prongs of the coat-stand into the wall. Sweeping sideways like a matador turning, my right leg swishing, I hit the bas-relief map of Japan way up in the north, the tip of the island of Hokkaido, just below the disputed islands of Sakhalin – a good high kick. In the middle of this virtuoso performance, Gordon said quietly and placatingly, “I can see that you’re upset. Something tells me that there can be no more fruitful discussion right now.”

Did I detect a smirk?

“Yeh, damn right!” I agreed, and later recalled ruefully that my voice resembled some twittering bird, rather shrill. I even started to move like a pigeon, my head poking forwards and backwards uncontrollably, but my peripheral vision took in the whiteboard. I let fly at it with a powerful jab of my right foot – it juddered on its moorings and buckled forward. I kicked again jack-hammering at both board and wall, made of flimsy soft-board. It occurred to me that to be careful because I could easily trap my foot in the shards of wall. I did not want to look silly at this moment of truth. The bonsai on the windowsill was a safer target than the wall; fifty years of miniature growth in a porcelain pot was laid to waste as I swept it aside with a mighty mawashi geri, a roundhouse kick, long-practised and admired by many, executed perfectly here with the instep delivering the killer blow. Both bonsai and its pot flew into the grill of the central heater just over Gordon’s head. Suddenly, he was off fleeing out the door, muttering about his class waiting for him and needing all his body parts in perfect working order to be able to teach – more likely just to prepare the video machine to show some episode of ‘The Simpsons’ for the hundredth time.

I stood stock still for a few minutes but for clenching and unclenching my fists as I regained my composure, repeating over and over my martial mantra: “Bushi, Do! Bushi, Do! Do! Do!” (Er, that's ‘Do’ as in ‘sparrow’ or ‘flamingo’ not as in ‘kangaroo’). I took out a gold-monogrammed handkerchief, mopped my brow and dabbed the thick damp folds of my muscular bull-like neck. Strangely, a wondrous calm descended upon me ….


Madame Le Boeuf making noises extract

One morning of summer heat in the South of France, I was having a quiet read in my study overlooking the terracotta tiled roof of the neighbour’s “cave”. Here Monsieur Le Boeuf kept his vineyard implements such as a tractor, a wagon, clippers, wires and other vine tending equipment. Suddenly in his house abutting the cave, Madame Le Boeuf started shouting:

<< Viens! Viens! ... Allez! allez! Oh, non, non ... Oopla! … Ooh lah, lah! ... Non, non, ne fais pas ca! ... Ooh lah,lah! C’est ca! C’est bon!>> – “Come on! No, no! Don’t do that! Oh, that’s it! That’s good!”

I couldn’t catch every word she was saying but it started to sound as if Monsieur had returned from the vines early to pleasure her before his <<déjeuner>>; then I realised from the yapping that she was playing with their new puppy, usually kept in the deep dark of the cave, but clearly allowed out to have fun and games with Madame, perhaps while hubby was out of the way.

My imagination ran riot – Madame Le Boeuf was quite a looker – and I got to thinking where the puppy must be nibbling or nuzzling, probably jumping up, pantingly clawing her legs, or wobblingly padding over her heaving bosom which was seldom encased in anything more than a T-shirt anytime I chanced to see her in the village or hanging out the washing on her tiny terrasse.

One day I went to ask her about something at her home in the next street, and there she was outside the door with the puppy enfolded to her scantily covered chest. She said to me: “You may pat it.” This was in French, of course, but no matter the language, the message was clear enough. I knew she meant the puppy, but then I wondered if she really also meant her <<poitrine>>. The heat and quantities of the excellent local rosé could make the sanest man’s imagination run riot. I was in a quandary, not wanting to refuse and appear ungrateful, but at the same time not wanting to be caught out enjoying stroking her puppy near her ample mammaries. But what if I had read the signal wrongly? <<Qui ne risque rien gagnant!>>

I ventured a polite pat on the puppy’s head. Sensing a foreign hand, the creature wriggled, ripping her shirt – a perfectly-shaped bulbous boob flopped out. I noted it was the same deep tan as the rest of her – no bikini white for Mme Le Beouf! Just as I was wondering what beach she went to and where she could lie on it starkers, she gave a powerful jerk of her tanned torso so that the clinging mutt was swivelled up over her shoulder, fortunately coming to rest on her neck. Then, typically French under the circumstances, she suggested we go inside where I might be able to stroke her pet more easily. I was saved from temptation and potentially embarrassing results when I heard hubby (nicknamed “Boomer” because of his huge voice) approaching about a kilometre away on his tractor: <<Ah, putang! Putang!>> I knew he was insulting his machine, but the irony of referring to his tractor as a prostitute was inescapable. I also knew that I had possibly escaped a fate worse than death – I couldn’t help but imagine what else Boomer could do with his electric vine clippers. I had seen him in action with the device strapped to his arm, a mere touch on a button and vine tendrils flew off – my various appendages twitched.

As I fled, I glimpsed Madame with her puppy firmly repositioned on her left breast, playing with a rather sizeable teat. I supposed it could have acquired a taste for the succulent knob of Cabernet-Zinfandel-pink, from the glimpse I caught, thinking she’s not the wife of an old viticulteur for nothing! Anyway, all credit to Madame under the pendulous circumstances because I could hear her simply saying: <<Oh, non, non, pas là! Ooo lah, lah!>> or “No, no, not there!” I was sure that overhearing her morning sessions with the puppy in future would never be quite the same.

The same day, about 6.00 p.m., the sun still high, everything warm, I was cycling to my garden among the vineyards, and on the way I saw Madame and Monsieur Le Boeuf in their little Citroen van returning to the village – they gave me a happy smile and a wave. Funny how the mind works but for the next hour all I could think was somewhere deep among the vines surrounding my garden there was a depression in the granular clay in the perfect shape of Madame’s equally perfect posterior.