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The Rubbish-Lady

Written by Iam Hanuman on Sunday the 30th of January 2011
In a town not very far from here where hail threatens and the wind is a bit choppy, there is a path which bisects the commons.  'Tis overgrown with chiff-chaff and that bothers no-one because it looks worn-in.  It looks crickety.  It gives the impression that the town is welcoming and indeed for the most part it is.  There is an antiques shop, a Victorian tea-room, an old windmill, a family butchers, a general store-cum-post office and there is a pond which is not too far from the aforementioned path.

This is a small town.  Population approx. 2001 and it is that 1 whom the 2000 call The Rubbish-Lady.  They do this not to her face, as that would be rude, crude, lewd dude and they may be sued.  Which is all most probably untrue.  And anyhow it would matter nowt as The Rubbish-Lady is almost completely deaf to prattle.  She hears rushing noises and high screeches.  She hears the peel of the church bells from up on the mount beyond the mill.  She hears the sound of the swans' belly-feathers as they alight upon the surface of the pond.  She hears the receipts squirt in spurts from the blood-dirty cash register of the butcher-man.  She hears the pain of the vicar's wife as he enters her after morning service every Sunday.  But she is deaf to chatter.  She is deaf to scandal-mongering.  She is deaf to the hiccupping rumour-mill.

So they could say what they liked, this bunch; this double millennia.  But they don't, to her.  They never would because that would be unpleasant.  It wouldn't be becoming of their little town which they have neatly coiffured around the edges to give that oh-so important hedge-appeal to approaching visitors from all the right B-roads.  It would be distasteful and down-right horrid, in the way that little matter with the Saturday boy from the antique shop was horrid.  That whole affair had almost erupted into a boil which would have been lanced by outside forces had their quick-thinking parish stores-man not scraped it with his own tools in the nick of time.  It had been nasty.  Nasty, terrible and awful.  That wasn't how this town was at all, so The Rubbish-Lady would never hear a word said against her.  She would never know her town-given name.  She would be treated with an omission of respect and a startling distance.  She would be avoided at all costs.  She would be served in the only establishment she ever entered - the general store-cum-post office - with swiftness and efficiency, all the better to quickly eject her from the town's thoughts.

"Oh Shit!” said the old woman to herself in hardly more than a whisper as she propelled her vast consignment of crap along the path.  "You bunch of fucking hypocrite twat-fudgers!”

A curtain shifted.  A till went 'Bing!'  A key fumbled into the door-lock of a car.  A bench-sitter choked on his sandwiches, but didn't die.

"Why don't you just munch your slovenly turds, you cranny-suckers?” muttered The Rubbish-Lady, as she chose her spot to set out her wares.

She pushed her Morrison's shopping trolley to a stop and hip-handed she arched her plump back producing a litany of cracks and crickles.  "Ahh that's fucking better!” she sighed.

The Rubbish-Lady took a good look around her at this town which had been her home for all of her 93 years.  She intended it to be for another 93 if she could just keep the mission going.  She peered into the trolley at the collection she had cranked out today to set upon the grass of the commons.  Let's see... an old Harry Bluff 78, a rubber torch wearing a red hat, a jar of unidentifiable items which may or may not be sweets, a 1913 Buffalo Nickel struck on a dime planchet...

Give her her due this old lady, at her advanced age, she kept these random articles carefully in her shopping cart.  They had not been carelessly thrown in by any means.  Coins were in cases, placed squarely, magazines were placed flatly with heavier flat objects on top of them.  She clearly valued the safety of her... well, shall we call it bric a brac now rather than crap, considering we've at least had a chance to glance?  Yes, lets.

A photograph of Roy Orbison wearing a Hooters T and nothing else, an upsetting hand iron, a large rawhide laced hat which appeared to be a massive dog chew... she was beginning to take out all manner of things and position them on the grass.

"You dick-shovelling gravel burglars, I've got your number,” she muttered.  "I know you're watching me.  I know you're spying.”  She laughed out loudly.  A duck quacked in response and started to swim to the other side of the pond.  "You know you need these things I have, but you're too snatching lilly-livered to come out here and get them, you Fat Charley concrete wanks.”

A section of map showing an area of Russia known as the Jewish Autonomous Region, assembly instructions for an Ikea item named Ramvik, a DVD with something terrible smeared across the plastic cover and something even more terrible lurking underneath in the actual picture... the presentation continued until The Rubbish-Lady emptied her trolley.  At this triumph she kicked the stolen supermarket property over and sat herself down on it's side.  She breathed heavy for a while.  There had been a lot of to and fro in setting out her pitch, and although she seemed strangely young for her age, her essence required a brief recharge.

And then.  Over in the butcher's there was a hard thwack noise and a sudden scream of pain.  Interesting.  The Rubbish-Lady could see frantic movement through the frontage and the cries continued.  She chuckled to herself, and in fact she was just drawing breath for a few more chuckles when a man in a blood-smeared apron burst out of the opened front door of the butcher's as if propelled from a cannon.  He ran across the road and made for the commons, vaguely in the direction of the old lady.  He was spouting nuances of gibberish amidst the horror.  As he neared she could see there was very fresh blood on his apron and a lot more than you would expect to see.  In fact if you did walk into a butcher's and saw that much blood on someone's apron, you would probably feel a sickness in your mind.  She had never ventured into that pit of death though.  Not once.  And what was this?  Little jets of red were fountaining forth from his left hand.  It looked like a bad special effect in a Monty Python movie.  There were semi-rhythmic spurts hitting him under his chin as he clutched at his injury.  His chest was beginning to look as though he had been mauled by a grizzler.  And still he came.

"Well, shit cement and stick up fence posts!” mumbled the old lady.  "He's heading right for me!”

The butcher's face was a mask of madness when he arrived in The Rubbish-Lady's vicinity.  He was jumping with one leg not really doing the job.  His injured hand was like a red glove and most of his clothing looked as though it had been attacked by an abstract expressionist artist with a fixation for crimson.  "Argh urgh argh garg!” he shouted.  A thick slop of blood landed on his cheek.  "Harg help help me!” he continued and started to waggle his head feverishly.

"Would... you... like... to... buy... something...?” said the lady, in a low and ever-so menacing sneer.

"Ach!?  Garg!  I - I - need help!” the butcher managed, before shock took him further into his foolish attempts at one-legged jumping.

The Rubbish-Lady gazed at this unexpected turn of events and smiled.  "I can help you.  In fact I can take away the entire problem... if you buy something.”  She smiled again and one of her teeth fell out.  No-one saw.

"I... oh god fugg garg...” he began coughing, slipped (presumably on his own blood) and fell onto his ample bottom with a thump.  He screamed in agony.

By now, a few front doors were opened, and a number of windows were being looked out of.  Fellow towns-people had heard this most unprecedented interruption to an afternoon's TV-watching and Bridge-playing.  Never had screams of this sort been heard for such an extended time period.  Investigation was required.

The Rubbish-Lady began walking along her line of miscellany and her eyes darted like two shrews looking for cover in the High Street.  They landed after a few seconds, in a manner more suited to a hawk than a shrew, on a large framed painting of Prime Minister David Cameron.  She bent down and picked it up, all the while listening to the butchers cry-sobs of pain and confusion.  Why had he headed for her?  Why had he not gone upstairs to the albeit empty flat where he lived?  Moreover why had he not gone next door to the general store-cum-post office?  He had almost certainly gone into a state of shock immediately after hacking off most of the fingers on his left hand, and had just flown out of the door.  Had he therefore made for the first person he saw on this quiet afternoon?  It was an event worth noting, and she would do that later when she returned home.  Nobody ever spoke to her apart from the very odd tourist who rode into town, usually on a motorbike, and it was only the more adventurous among them who bought from her.  She sold maybe a handful of things a year and made next to no money out of it, but that wasn't the point.  Only The Rubbish-Lady knew why she did what she did.  And right now she was walking back to Mr Bleedy the nasty butcher man with the lovely oil painting of Mr Cameron.

"I think perhaps... this?” she suggested holding the painting under the man's very red and sticky nose.  "Note its uniqueness.  Never seen one like it have you?  Captures the man, doesn't it?”

The butcher had managed to get himself arranged to a semi-normal seating position and had wedged his mangled hand under his right armpit.  The colour had gone out of what could be seen of his face.  He stared at the painting The Rubbish-Lady was showing him and his jaw began working, as if to speak.  Only gurgles and the word 'Garg' came out.

"Would... you... like... to... buy... it?” she said.  "Do... you... want... me... to... help...?”

"Wha?  I - I - gar,” said the butcher still gazing at the item being held out to him.  Some part of his brain was processing in a fairly routine and mundane fashion, however the survival hind-brain was kicking in too much to allow that other any decent amount of control.  He knew on some level that the picture was bizarre.  He also knew that this crazy woman who haunted their town wanted him to buy it, most probably for pennies, and maybe just maybe she was a witch who could heal him.  This was neither sensible not rational, and yet it was what he thought.  Strange as it may seem, he often thought about The Rubbish-Lady while he was preparing the carcasses in his back-room.  He wondered whether one day, when she died and they could all get a look at her house, whether they'd find all kinds of strange things in there, like animals hung up on wires all dried out and pots of tinctures and herbs and loads of books full of magic spells.  He never once imagined he'd be cradling a self-mutilated arm on the grass in front of her while she harassed him into buying a picture of some Tory Prime Minister apparently being attacked by a strange beast.

"You find it interesting, yes?” said The Rubbish-Lady.  "I'll take two florins for it.”  She laughed a most disagreeable laugh.  "Of course I am joking, my murdering friend.  I'll consider any offer.”

"I - I - I,” he managed.

"Oh dear, is that the best you'll go to?  Well I'll guess I'll take it, seeing as its your hour of need and everything.”  She put the painting down on the grass next to the unfortunate man, hoping that perhaps a little of his blood may end up on it.

"I'll give you a fiver, you witch!” the butcher blasted out in a completely unfiltered and wonderfully lucid outburst.

"Oh thank you thank you,” she replied, beginning to shuffle about in a graveyard imitation of a jig.  "I'll call by your till later on, you little shit-weasel, as I can see you've got your HAND full right now.”

"Now now please please help...” he began to loll from side to side, and his eyes rolled up into his head.

The Rubbish-Lady paid no mind to this and instead continued on talking.  "There is only one of these fucking paintings in existence, you know.  Used to hang in an establishment by the name of Grumpy's Café... Willesden, was it?  Burned down, I think.  What is interesting is that the animal which has Mr Cameron by the throat is an aardwolf, and you don't usually see those depicted in political portraiture.”

Some of those who had previously been watcher were actually now making their way across the commons.  They all looked fearful and were driven only by their civic duty to aid a chap in need.  Many considered that he was clearly already being helped by that nice Rubbish-Lady and so held back.  Those who did move forward, did so slowly.

While the tortoises were heading for their lettuce, they watched the scene playing out in front of them.  The Rubbish-Lady was reaching into her underskirts.  Her hand emerged with a nasty brown rag.  It looked brown, not of material colour, but of dirt.  She beckoned the butcher man and bade him hold out what looked like a seriously punished hand.  At first he wouldn't, but eventually he did.  Blood amazingly still pumped from where once there were fingers, and the old lady didn't seem in the slightest bit bothered that she was getting streaked in it.  She absently chucked the rag over his upraised hand remnant, and something very strange happened.  The townsfolk observing this couldn't believe it.  Years down the line, none of them would be able to agree on exactly what had taken place that cloud-covered afternoon, when hail was threatening and The Rubbish-Lady was out. 

I can tell you that what happened, happened quite quickly.  I can tell you that a lightning bolt came up out of the ground inches away from the beleaguered butcher.  I can easily inform you that the bolt of elemental was met with an even larger one from the dark clouds above.  I can let you know that the butcher fell backwards, the rag flew off his hand and The Rubbish-Lady vanished.

A few minutes later, when the haze had cleared, those brave souls who still walked to this centre stared across the smokey grass and saw the butcher standing there, blood-soaked from face to foot, an oil painting of a Prime Minister being ill-treated by an odd dog-like thing in his arms, his face a picture of pure child-like wonder, his hair partially gone and possibly a flame or two licking across his regions, and his hands - both of them - completely intact.

The Rubbish-Lady was nowhere to be seen.  Had she made a swift exit on foot?  Had her electrons been excited beyond bursting point in the massive electric jolt from the lightning?  No-one knew, and no-one cared.  No-one ever saw her again and that was just fine in this perfect little town.  That was just the way it should be.  They had their place back the way they liked it.  Just spick and span.

And no, her house was not full of arcane paraphernalia when it was searched by police from out of town.  It was almost too ordinary in fact, if there can be such a thing.  Not one item poked a suggestion towards her odd life of pushing shit here and there, peddling randomness to strangers for morsels.

As a final close, I'll tell you of the only truly odd thing which followed the extraordinary butcher incident.  It occurred when said butcher returned to his shop that night after a few pints of stout in the local inn.  He wasn't in anywhere near the kind of mood he needed to be in to clean up the mess made earlier when he had been so uncharacteristically careless with his very largest meat cleaver.  However, he couldn't help go and have a quick glance at the scene of the accident.  And when he did, he noticed that the block where he had severed three and a half of his own fingers offered forth a large piece of paper where his chopped off digits should be.

The butcher was aghast.  No-one had been in here.  His 'family' butchers actually had no living family.  He had fobbed the enquiring off with some cock and bull story about a rat he'd caught which had bit his hand.  It was so clearly a piece of nonsense that the townsfolk gladly accepted it with an idiot calmness, and they'd all moved on.  Here though... here, in his back-room, where none ever came, where he was the only living piece of flesh in residence, here was a hand-written note and here weren't his fingers.

This was of course lunacy, approaching mental illness - there could never have been any fingers on the chopping block because his hands were unharmed.  There had never been a slicing off with regards to any part of his body.  He should just go to bed, as there was nothing to worry about.  He was never going to find any fingers, was he?  Everything was fine.

But this note...?  This was real.  He held it up to the light and read the simple scrawl: Thanks for your fingers, bench fucker.  They'll come in handy.

The butcher had shivered afterwards, and dropped to the sawdusty floor burbling unclear sounds through acid tears, his only company his newly acquired portrait and some huge unidentifiable hunk of something which had once lived, loved and presumably enjoyed a nice sit down every now and then.  He hung his head low.

And that is where we leave him, and the little town - population approx. 2000.  Oh, and a big pile of junk in the middle of the commons that once belonged to The Rubbish-Lady.