Freddy was an ordinary lad. He went to school every day, did his homework as diligently as any of the bumfluff-lickers in his year and attended his karate classes three times a week, being very fond of the neck-chop. It could fell an elephant if one got in his way – crossways. This he knew for a fact.
One morning his sister, Raspberry, came down for breakfast with a queer, far-away look in her eye.
– Ma quick! I’ve turned into the Mona Lisa overnight in my sleep. Look!
– You don’t mean that mouldy auld oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci, do you?
– Yes, I do, the very one. Jaysus Ma, will you look up from your book at my beautiful face and my enigmatic smile!
– Janey Macken Street! You have turned into the Mona Lisa overnight in your sleep Raspberry. Holy God. It’s amazing and quite chilling how the eyes follow you around the room. You’re never staying up past ten o’clock on a school night ever again. I can promise you that for a start, Raspberry, you little pup.
– But Ma, this is a good thing. I’m a work of art now, for God’s sake. I elevate people’s minds to a higher plane of consciousness.
– Are you sure you didn’t eat too much cheese last night? It’s the last time I bring a ball of brie in to this house Raspberry. All my children are turning into works of art.
– Come on Ma, that’s putting a hundred legs on the situation with a pus-inflated head of Cashel green.
– Well, if your Da turns into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel overnight in his sleep, it’s gonna be you, Raspberry, who washes him off the bedroom ceiling. YOU! And you’ll re-paint it afterwards too with a black brush Sellotaped to the end of a long stick. Mark my words Raspberry.
– That’s ridiculous Ma.
– Actually, I think I saw a small rosy-cheeked cherub from the renaissance on your Da’s left cheek earlier this morning at breakfast trying to break loose from his face, now that you mention it, Raspberry. You little pup. You started all of this. I blame you!
– I’m going to be famous Ma, people will now adore me. I am divine. If you’ll only listen that is. Surely your Samuel Beckett book would agree?
– Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, that’s what it says in my book Raspberry. And it’s true enough in this house.
This is how all the trouble began and turned him into a right hunch-backed, fed-up Freddy indeed – and nearly ruined his famous neck-chop into the bargain.
Word got around fast, and when Freddy got home from school on that very first day, a knock came to the door. He was upstairs in his bedroom roar-ripping through his homework as fast as humanly possible, so he could jump into his dazzy-white karate suit, and practice his neck-chops in front of the full-length mirror.
It was his job to answer the door when he came home from school. His mother paid him a tidy amount of hard cash-in-hand each week and it was just enough to pay for his three karate classes.
– Ok, I’m coming. Stop twisting your knickers knotty!
Freddy threw his pencil down into his copybook and went to the door. It was three female art historians from the local gallery, next door to the chipper.
– Hello there young man. Is your sister Raspberry in? We heard she’s turned into the Mona Lisa and we’ve come over to interview her so we can write an essay on her for the art newspapers.
– Hold on a second, she’s in the living room right now listening to Indie music. I’ll just go and ask her.
Immediately, they got steamy red in the face when they heard this nugget of discombobulation.
– Indie music? said Jilly, the head of their vast abstract collection. That’s terrible. She must be saved straight away. Quick Jenny and Tracy, get your lute and flute out of your handbags right now, while I rummage in mine for my flute, and start playing – to save the Mona Lisa’s face from peeling right off! For it surely will, if subjected to Indie music’s course guitars and drums for much longer!
Freddy put the latch on the door and went in to the living room to his sister.
– Raspberry, there’s three female art historians outside looking for you. They want to write an essay on you for the art newspapers. Can’t you hear them at the door on their lute and two flutes?
Raspberry just turned the music up on her ipod.
– Tell them to get lost. It’s Monday for god’s sake. I’m closed Mondays – just like all art galleries in Ireland. Tell them that! Anyway, Rob is coming to see me soon, to ask me out. Tell them I’m busy washing me hair!
– Can’t you tell them yourself?
Raspberry looked stunned.
– No, it’s your job isn’t it? Ma pays you, doesn’t she! Just do it Karate-boy blue.
He sloped back out to the door and told them to come back tomorrow because Rob was coming today. The three art historians refused to budge and tried to crash-bang their way through the door anyway, playing their lute and two flutes even louder.
-We can’t let the Mona Lisa’s face peel off! We must save her with the soothing strains of the baroque!
However, before they could burst into the hallway and shower everyone with one of Johann Sebastian’s finest finger-benders, Freddy put his hand up into the air, and prepared to neck-chop the three of them out the door right there and then. He swished and swooshed them a few times. Then swished and swooshed them a few more. With that, they jumped back, admiring his excellent technique and all-immersive concentration, so that Freddy was able to duck inside and lock the door behind him in a kerboom-clickety-click sort of a sneaky manner. They opened the letterbox and peeped in after him with screaming blue eyes.
– Ah go on Freddy, please! We know Rob and what he’s like and if he’s coming to visit her he’ll surely try to kiss her on the lips. That’s even worse for an oil painting than Indie music. It’s sure to run, peel and god knows what!
They played their soothing lute and flute music through the letterbox in defiance. Freddy left them to it, unmoved.
What with this souped-up racket going on outside the house, it was taking him ages to do his homework which was leaving him with very little time to practice his world famous neck-chops. They’d all laugh at him on Wednesday in karate class now, when he’d surely execute a lazy neck-chop in front of the entire class – and all because of those art historians and their stupid essay.
Sounds of scuffling then rose up from outside and made him cock his ears downstairs. They were trying to get in the kitchen window. It had been left open he suddenly realised with a ping and a pong. He could hear their soothing lute and two flutes from his bedroom.
– Janey Macken Street!
Once again he had to fling his trusty pencil back into his homework copybook and rush downstairs.
He trotted through the kitchen and Raspberry, the Mona Lisa herself, didn’t even bat an eyelid for she was still bloody swaying her head up and down to her ipod Indie music as if in a trance. Jilly’s head was halfway inside the window at this stage. She saw Raspberry, the Mona Lisa, in the corner listening to her music and fell to her knees in supplication on the ground.
– She’s too beautiful! She’s too beautiful to look at without crying a river. Please Mona, listen to my lovely flute music instead of that evil Indie – your eyes will flake right off!
She took her pencil out, lay on the floor prostrate and tried to write her essay in that position, sucking the top for inspiration. Raspberry jumped up and stood on the armchair in terror when eventually she saw Jilly coming towards and at her brandishing her flute, then her pencil. Jenny and Tracy followed suit with their lutes, then likewise with their pencils.
– They’re trying to stab me with their sharp French pencils of the pastel! Is this a dream? A nightmare? Freddy you have to help me. Use your neck-chop.
– So now you decide you need my good old neck-chops, eh? What’s in it for me Raspberry?
– What do you mean what’s in it for you? Three art historians have burgled our house with sharp French pencils of the pastel and soothing instruments of the baroque. My eyes could flake off with all this stress, because I already feel my ears starting to peel as we speak. When Ma hears that you let three evil art historians into the house willy-nilly and sees my flaked-off ears in my hand then you won’t get your door answering money this week. That means no more karate classes neck-chop boy. No more karate!
– Alright. Alright. Bloody hell. I have to do everything around here these unhappy days. I can already feel a hump growing on my back as I speak.
– Moan more like. Come on! They’re attacking me Freddy. Use your neck-chop. Quick! For God’s sake.
– I’m only supposed to use my neck chop as a last-resort, Raspberry. It’s against the karate code.
– You weren’t saying that a few minutes ago. You nearly neck-chopped your own mother when she told you to do your homework.
– That’s a downright lie Raspberry.
– They’re brandishing their flutes and lute Freddy. Those French pencils of the pastel will scrape out my brains. Hurry up!
The art historians were quite determined despite the slicing threat of Freddy’s technically proficient neck-chops.
– Quick women, higher up your flutes and lute. Charge at her appassionato. Molto, molto appassionato!
– Freddy! Freddy! said Raspberry. Act now. I feel like eating my own legs. This calls for Indie’s finest hour. The Sundays from the 1980s. Here’s where the story ends. I have to go down. I’m sick in the legs. I’m sick in the head. I’m going down with the Sundays – in ecstasy. So long! Goodbye cruel world! It’s been good to know ya! Here’s where my story ends.
– Smell my fingers Raspberry. You’re delirious. Hysterical.
– Get off Freddy. I’m shoe gazing. I’m swaying. I’m having Indie epiphanies. Gulp. We’re all dead nowadays. Haven’t you heard? Dead! Have you seen the documentary?
– I stuck my fingers into a jar of instant coffee this morning. So smell them now, Raspberry. Wake up and smell my coffee-fingers!
– Listen to the soothing power of our lute and two flutes Miss Mona, said Jilly.
– My name is Raspberry!
– You are divine Miss Mona. Divine. You are a goddess incarnate. Have my complete and undying love. Look, I’ve squashed my undying love for you into my left fist and am willing to open my palm and blow it into your face. Just give me the word and I shall obey.
– We are not worthy! We are not worthy!
– They’re blowing their love for me into my face, Freddy. Whip out your neck-chop or else I’ll explode in your face like a hand-grenade.
Freddy licked the sweat-beads crawling slowly down his face and the salt gave him an idea-jolt of lightning in the head. He shook all over.
– I know what to do, Raspberry. Smile at them!
– This is no time for levity Freddy. We’re all going to die! What do you want me to do? Tell them a bloody joke?
– We’ve a lovely plinth in our art gallery that’s going spare with your name on it Miss Mona, said Tracy, head of their Constructivist & Suprematist section. Come with us, and we’ll cement you on top of it like a beautiful cherry and we’ll all worship at your feet for evermore.
-Yes, let us nail you up on the wall of the East Wing of our grandiloquent art gallery next door to the chipper with three rusty nails Miss Mona. One. Two. Three. Individually chosen for your head size. They won’t hurt a beauty like yourself, our undying love will protect you. Our undying love will make you immune to rusty-nail pain. Listen to my mighty lute Miss Mona. Listen and float out the window with me now. Come! Come! Come!
– Smile Raspberry – enigmatically, screamed Freddy. You’ve no choice. They’ll crucify you if you don’t – up onto their West Wing’s purple walls. You heard them. What else can you do? Play them the full jingle-jangily sounds of your favourite Smiths’ album at volume 10? Cop on. Will you? Smile at them. It’ll knock them bandy, Raspberry! BANDY! Come on!
– Come away with us Miss Mona. We’ll keep you safe and warm and give you all the respect that is your due for all eternity. I’ll personally see to it that you’re pickled in a giant tank of formaldehyde, Mona. You’ll live forever. A preserved shark for company. Hold that expression. We are not worthy. We are not worthy.
– Raspberry, please! Smile at them. It will knock them bandy!
With her earphones now swinging around her neck and leaking a most bodacious drum solo into the room, Raspberry smiled without thinking. The three art historians duly went into fits of palpitations. The conniptions.
We are not worthy Miss Mona! No! No! No! We are not worthy! Not! Not! Not!
With the three art historians startled and stunned on the ground, Freddy lifted his left hand up into the air in a blinding halo of light like it was, Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, and neck-chopped into the back of the nearby sofa. This sent the crimson cushions thereon sailing towards them like cannonballs.
His neck-chop was so powerful that all the cushions flew through the air and hit the art historians in the stomach one by one and consequently sent them flying in turn out the window and out past the front garden and out onto the pavement in front of the house and into a big artistic heap.
After a few minutes they picked themselves up and shook their fists.
– We’ll be back! Watch your windows carefully. We’ll be back!
Raspberry ran over to Freddy and kissed him.
-Thanks Freddy! You’ve certainly earned your door-answering money for this week! But make sure you don’t neck-chop Rob when you answer the door for him – he’s due any minute now. You sap.
Freddy hunched his shoulders and arched his back. He felt very tired indeed. It was thirsty work. He’d be lucky to get his homework finished at all at this stage. And he’d have no time to practice his neck-chops either – at all. This he knew. It was getting rusty as he spoke, he could already feel it squeaking in his pockets. And he was worried sick that his Da would turn into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel any minute now like his Ma had said. He had that queer, faraway look about him alright. It was only a two-bedroom house for god’s sake – sure where would they put the gangs of rosey-cheeked cherubs?
– Keep your ears peeled for Rob. Ok?
– Feck off.
– It’s your job to answer the door for your karate money isn’t it?
– Technically it is, but I’ve just saved your life Raspberry. Wake up and smell my coffee fingers again – why don’t you!
-The trauma I’ve gone through can only be rectified by the first Fall album. My face nearly flaked off for god’s sake Freddy! I deserve some me time. So watch the door for Rob, right?
– I might develop two humps on my back now with all this hassle. I’m also developing a gra and a right goo for ringing bells, in a big, black French Cathedral. This is not good Raspberry. Show me some mercy.
– You’re not Quasimodo, Freddy. You’re not turning into a character from a Gothic novel. No way. Get lost and watch the door for Rob. Right?
– I am so Quasimodo. I have suffered Raspberry. Suffered, big time. I need to lie down. I’ll just take a quick power-nap down on the sofa. I’ll keep one eye open on the door for Rob, don’t worry, Raspberry. I promise. I just need a lie down.
– No sleeping on the job, Freddy. I’ll tell Ma.
– Alright. Alright. Keep your hair on. I’m fed-up with everything anyway. I am turning into Quasimodo. Fact. Look at the two humps on my back ripping my new shirt. Very heavy. This is a very heavy situation indeed. If only you’d understand. I’ll be speaking French next Raspberry and going on strike. Mark my words. And it’ll be all your own fault – YOU! You’ll be nailed up on to their art gallery walls – beside their crappy Francis Bacons.
Freddy then took out a few sheets of blue paper from his pocket and ripped them into an assortment of shapes before sticking them to his face with his own spit.
– Raspberry look at me – I’m blue in the face with your ancient art – blue in the face! I need to draw a handlebar moustache on your upper lip. May I?’
– Get off and shut up while I’m trying to write a new song for Rob, will you?
– I don’t know why you still write songs on that guitar – because craft and technique went out with the Indians a long time ago. It isn’t creatively interesting any more. It’s not authentic. Especially in paintings. Which are so last century. It’s all installations and conceptual nowadays. In the clouds. The Mona Lisa is only fit for being nailed up on a gallery wall with rusty nails and being photographed by wealthy tourists. The art historians are right if you ask me anything. Sure who can afford to be a tourist in homeless Ireland these days anyway? It’s as if punk, the readymade or Stockhausen never happened.
His sister didn’t have time to reply because the front door belched an enormous ding-dong over everyone and consequently Freddy’s humps grew so fast that they scraped the emulsion off the sitting room’s ceiling. Or at least, he said they did. Rob was finally at the door – or should I say Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss was – because Rob had turned into it – and he was puckering himself up to get all sloppy-whoppy with Raspberry. Good grief.
For Freddy, life was very hard-knock indeed.
Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin. He has had fiction published in The Stinging Fly, RTÉ Ten and Headstuff.org. Recently he killed the Prime Minister of Ireland in fiction in the Welsh literary magazine, The Lonely Crowd, with a piece entitled, The Assassination of Enda Kenny (After Hilary Mantel). His novels, The Rise and Fall of Cinderella’s Left Testicle & How to be a Bicycle, have yet to find a publisher. He would also like to mention that Pat’s won the FAI cup in 2014 for the first time in 53 miserable years of not winning it.
5 Questions with Camillus John:
TD: Tell us a little about this story? Where did the idea come from?
CJ: Bizarrely enough, it’s actually based on fact. It all happened! Or at least something very likewise indeed. When I was younger my sister sobbed to me that her classmates at school were slagging her something rotten for looking like the Mona Lisa. I thought she was just being ridiculous – until she held a picture of Leonardo’s mouldy auld oil painting up next to her face. It was uncanny – she did look like the Mona Lisa! Not so much now as time has gone by, but back then the resemblance left me so gobsmacked that it stayed with me for years until eventually haunting me to write this particular story. And by the way, there’s no truth to that vicious rumour going around that there’s a gargantuan similarity between me and that sourpuss of a fed-up Freddy character in this story. I deny all crankiness your honour!
TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?
CJ: There’s too many writers to mention but if I have to mention just one, then it has to be Allen Ginsberg. For obvious reasons. However, current writers that I’m a dedicated follower of are George Saunders and Dave Lordan. On first reading Saunders about five or so years ago, I realized joyously that you can do absolutely anything you want to do in your writing – anything – so just go for it – and never look down. Ever. Dave Lordan is part of a countercultural movement of writers in Ireland at the moment somewhat akin to the Beat generation of writers in their day – except bigger, better, faster, longer, purpler. And based in Ireland. His Facebook feed is a force of nature and should be nominated for the Turner Prize for Modern Art. In fact, I nominate it for next year’s Turner’s Prize right here and now, even though I’m probably not allowed.
TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?
CJ: My favorite place to write is sitting in the middle of the sofa with pen and paper on lap looking over at my wife on the other side of the room studying hard. And smiling. Because she’s studying accountancy while I’m writing about mad-bastard lute-playing art historians trying to nail people up onto their art gallery walls and depressed neck-chopping fed-up Freddies turning into hunch-backed characters from Gothic novels. Sometimes life can be brilliant.
TD: Do you hand write your work or go directly to the keyboard?
CJ: Mostly I write by hand but lately I’ve been trying to type directly into my phone. It’s a slow process and some day I hope to have the patience to go faster.
TD: What book would you want to read on a desert island?
CJ: “How to get off a Desert Island.”