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PLEASURE AND PAYNE

By robertarmstrong6 All Rights Reserved ©

Horror / Thriller

A Little Mad

MISS BULSTRODE, looking more like a skinned rabbit than ever, was thoroughly ticked off, and determined to be furious by the time she reached the condemnable dump that mad Mindy Throsby called home.

Her ditzy, undisciplined designs for the school play, resulting in those so-called sets, were an unmitigated disaster. And since Ms Throsby

(no-talent artist)

had declined to reply to her two letters, three emails and half-dozen voicemails

(the greeting message had been different each time, the most recent and most bizarre one announcing: "You have reached Brick and Mindy’s Bridal Boutique. Leave a sweet-talkin’ message now and I’ll throw ya m’bouquet!")

asking her to revise her designs in some known style, preferably tempered with a strong dose of realism so that audience members might actually understand what they were looking at, Miss Bulstrode, as her last point of business before leaving for a three-month cruise, was going to explain this to the alleged artist in person.

Huffing a little as she started up the hill, the veins in her big pink ears starting to stand out like earthworms burrowing their way through a bowl of strawberry jelly, Miss Bulstrode reflected that discipline was what was lacking in people these days. Not just the young

(though they were bad enough)

but everyone, it seemed, had a ready-made cop-out standing by, some lame excuse that would permit them to evade responsibility for their irresponsible actions.

She could just imagine Master Frankie Wall’s excuse: “Sure I killed ’em. But I was angry. I’m not angry now. I’m sorry, OK - so ... what’s the big deal? Besides, I was an abused kid - Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow!”

The so-called abuse-excuse of the “lost generation” had been taken to the nth degree - they were a mob of spineless, whining wimps raised on TV violence and government handouts. Everything in their world was vague and free-floating

(as shapeless and formless as those damned abstractions dreamt up by thickhead Throsby)

with nothing defined or pinned down. No one was responsible; everyone was to blame.

It reminded her of the nightmarish true story of Kitty Genovese, the New Yorker who’d been attacked in front of her apartment building. She’d screamed and cried for help. Inside, everyone assumed everyone else had called the cops. But nobody had. Nobody wanted to get involved. And as a result, Kitty Genovese had died.

Miss Bulstrode ran a thumb around the damp collar of the man’s business shirt she wore. Her brown suit was sticking to her and this damned humidity made her feel like she was taking a sauna in Hell. If she’d smelt a whiff of sulphur, she wouldn’t have been surprised.

Up ahead, Mindy’s house came into view. Though through the overgrown bushes, it looked more like a great grey blob hanging in space, like a snowglobe filled with soot, or - worse - those amateurish, “atmospheric” backdrops of hers.

Miss Bulstrode snorted her contempt. Primary colours. Hard edges. Everything outlined, defined and clearly visible from the back row. That’s what was required. “When I paint flowers, they look like flowers,” Miss Bulstrode had announced thirty years ago to her art teacher, who had promptly failed her and bought her a Polaroid camera. Miss Bulstrode hadn’t been near an easel since. Nevertheless, she was fond of saying: “I may not know anything about art, but I know what I don’t like.”

And what she didn’t like was what she didn’t understand. “A brick wall can be rendered simply by painting a series of brown rectangles on a canvas flat. Bricks. Not some addle-brained, unfocused impression of bricks.”

Miss Bulstrode set one comfortable shoe down on the first of three steps leading up to Mindy’s porch and stopped. The sign on the door read:

MINDY THROSBY

Artiste to the Stars!

Miss Bulstrode swallowed. These so-called “creative types” were all a little mad. Just look at Judith Hudson - so lovely, so mixed-up. But Mindy seemed to have the madness without the talent. Van Gogh had died by his own hand, believing himself a failure. Whereas Mindy had the audacity not only to continue living, but to declare herself a success!

Miss Bulstrode shook her head, strode up to the front door and knocked.

Except for the wind softly hissing through the trees, she heard nothing.

Again, she rubbed her thumb around the back of her collar, enjoying the coolness of the breeze. She couldn’t wait to get home, shower and pack.

This time tomorrow, she would be at sea. Perhaps enjoying a glass of iced tea and some clever conversation. She certainly hoped so. No one was clever in conversation any more. All anyone talked about was money (never enough in the bank), their so-called careers (never enough hours in the day) and celebrity gossip (had this one really done such-and-such to that one?) , and while everyone talked and talked, no one, it seemed, was listening. Miss Bulstrode reflected that the world was really quite a sad and lonely place.

She knocked again.

Couldn’t the self-styled artiste come to grips with anything so practical as opening a door? Too busy staring at the world through rose-coloured---

“Hello?”

The vision in the doorway made Miss Bulstrode jump. Yet she couldn’t take her eyes off it.

Mindy Throsby, overweight, wrapped in a food-stained robe and sporting Cookie Monster slippers, looked like she hadn’t brushed her hair in days; her mouth was ringed with smears of chocolate (she was in fact still chewing) and on her blackhead-pitted nose was perched a pair of cardboard glasses, one cellophane lens red, one blue.

“Can I help you?” Her tone was imperious.

“You foolish, foolish woman,” said Miss Bulstrode.

“C’mon in, laughin’ girl - LTL‘s just startin’.”

LTL?” Miss Bulstrode repeated, following the ill-smelling Mindy inside.

In the dark living room, all the furniture had been pushed back against the walls.

“For dancing,” Mindy explained. “With Brick. What a hunk, huh? C’mon, Brick-baby - come to mama!” She lifted her arms as if embracing a partner, and started to dance about the room. “Look out!” she snapped at one point. “You’ll step on him! Step on Mink all you like. She’s a loser - so in denial about Valentine. But her day is coming, you mark my words.”

“Have you ... spoken to anyone?” asked Miss Bulstrode. Concern had replaced annoyance, which in turn was giving way to horror. “A doctor? A therapist?”

“A headshrinker?” Mindy, in mid-waltz-step, threw back her head and laughed. “Did you know that when Luke and Laura got married on General Hospital, millions stayed home from work to watch, and thousands sent actual presents? So before you launch into some lecture about where reality ends and illusion begins - take a look, lady.”

She tossed the 3-D glasses to Miss Bulstrode, who decided that the best way to get out of this was to humour the poor wretch. She put the glasses on.

“Look,” rasped Mindy, “there’s Brick. And if I can’t marry him, I’m certainly gonna dance at his wedding - and I do mean with the groom. Hey, what are you doin’ here in the middle of the day, anyway - givin’ yerself an early mark?” Mindy laughed, as if catching the head prefect in mid-misdemeanour. “Well, you sneaky ol’ cow!”

“For your information, Miss Throsby, I am here on official ... funny business,” said Miss Bulstrode dreamily. And then, like a sleepwalker, she lifted her arms and started to bounce and hop about the room.

My God, thought Mindy, she’s doing the Gypsy Tap! I haven’t seen that since high school.

Amusement gave way to revulsion, and finally to pity. “Mind if I cut in?” asked Mindy, tapping Miss Bulstrode on the shoulder.

Miss Bulstrode danced and danced.

“Okay sister, that’s enough.” Mindy stepped in front of Miss Bulstrode and yanked the glasses off her nose.

Miss Bulstrode grabbed her hand and bit it. “No!” she screamed. “Leave us alone! You and Mink - you’ve always been jealous - you’ve always been out to destroy our love---”

“Give me those!” Mindy wrenched the glasses out of Miss Bulstrode’s hand - or half of them.

Miss Bulstrode hung onto her half, slapping the blue lens over her left eye.

Mindy slapped the red lens over her right eye.

And the two of them danced and danced like women possessed, each with an unseen partner.

“I love you, Brick!” heaved Miss Bulstrode. “I swear I’ve never felt this way! I - I worship you!”

“Liar!” snarled Mindy. “Don’t listen, my love - until today, she’s never laid eyes on you---”

“Brick, please - she’s the liar! I have always loved you!”

“Back off, bitch!”

Miss Bulstrode slapped Mindy a blinding blow. Mindy, sprawling across the coffee table, kicked out, connected. Miss Bulstrode went down. Mindy dove on top of her. Together, they rolled toward the TV.

Brick had his back to them. He was getting away!

“Brick, I adore you!”

“Come back and marry mama!”

“He’s mine!”

“Since when are you the marryin’ kind?!”

Together, they sprang at their love object, clinging to him -

- as the electricity went off and Brick (Mindy on one arm, Miss Bulstrode on the other) disappeared back into the screen, taking his two wild women with him.

In the doorway, Mr Payne observed this phenomenon with twinkling eyes and a satisfied smile. Dangling from his left hand was the TV’s power cord.

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