Artwork by Kidman J. Williams

by Count Iain Blair

Marcel took another painkiller, gingerly lifted his coffee with his right hand to take a sip, and promptly poured most of it down the front of his new white linen shirt, dropping the mug in the process. 


He should have listened to the doctor. “You’ll have to wear this cast for six weeks. Do not try and use your right hand to do anything until it comes off. It needs time to heal properly.”

The mug had smashed to pieces on the tile floor, spraying the rest of the coffee everywhere, but mainly on his favorite new step-in sneakers and faded jeans.

Fuck! Fuck!

He should have listened to the flooring guy. Go with cork. Yes, it’s more expensive, but far more forgiving. Drop anything on tile and it breaks. Unless you have a lot of mats. He didn’t like mats but he really liked tile. He kicked the mug shards across the floor and cursed at them. This wouldn’t have happened if he’d gone with cork. And none of this would have happened if he hadn’t gone for a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard a few weeks ago. It’d been a long time since he’d last taken the walk down memory lane, but it immediately hit him just how much and how little the old neighborhood had changed. It still felt like a return to Dante’s Inferno, despite all the gentrification and influx of new money. There were the same tormented souls, slumped in front of shabby storefronts or wandering down the middle of streets shouting at the heavens. The same drug dealers down dark alleyways – just dealing new, far more deadly drugs. He stared up at a huge new glass and steel hotel and back at the sidewalk. He was walking on stars, but in the early evening sky above, the real stars were obliterated by neon signs and streetlights. At least it was comforting to walk over the same old friends. Mickey, Bugs, Donald, Woody, Snow White.

He walked over Mae West and thought again about her witty way with words. ‘I used to be Snow White till I drifted.’ Brilliant. Maybe her best line of all. She’d inspired one of his own western cartoons that starred Tex, a handsome but taciturn cowboy who preferred water to whisky, and Tox, short for Talks-a-lot, a talking and always thirsty horse that refused to drink water because hepreferred whisky. He was still wrestling with the scene in the latest show where they ride into town. Maybe it’d be funnier if, when they arrived at the saloon after the long, dusty cattle drive and Tex tried to tie Tox to the rail next to the horse trough, Tox told Tex, ‘Sure pardner, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make me drink that shit. I want whisky!’ And then later in the brothel scene when Tex hooks up with a particularly dim-witted whore, and later complains about her lack of decent conversation except when it turned to gardening, Tox could say, ‘Well Tex, as I’ve told you before, you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.’ Mae West would be proud of a line like that. He felt verypleased with himself as he repeated it and played out the scene a few more times in his mind. Now he was eager to head home andwork it into his next Tex and Tox cartoon. He turned around and picking up his pace walked quickly over Charlton Heston,Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery, and past Mickey and Minnie, and then Superman, The Joker, Spiderman and The Hulk who were all posing for selfies with tourists. 

WHACK!!!!! A sudden huge blow to his back knocked Marcel to the ground as he instinctively thrust out his right hand to save himself. There was the sickening sound of bones cracking as his hand made contact with the Walk of Fame, and then nothing.

When he came to a pumped-up green giant was kneeling beside him and staring at him intently. “Dude! You OK? That was quite a hit you took there.’

For a second Marcel felt as if he was in one of his own cartoons. Were those tweetie birds circling him? He was winded and light-headed from the blow. He tried to push himself up but his right hand felt as if he was being stabbed with dozens of red hot needles. The pain was excruciating.

“Don’t move,” said The Hulk. “Looks like you may have broken something.”

Something was dripping into his right eye. He blinked and lifted his left hand to touch it. It was blood.

“Just don’t move,” said The Hulk again. “You’ve cut your forehead too.”

Marcel could feel himself beginning to panic. He whimpered like a wounded animal as more sharp pains shot up his arm.

“What happened?” he finally got out.

“I didn’t see it all but…” said The Hulk.

“I did,” someone else cut in quickly, in a weird, high, squeaky voice. It was Mickey Mouse. “I think it was that mean guy Bip.”

“Who?” said Marcel, 

“Bip the mime,” explained Mickey. He’s a weird dude, man, always fighting with the tourists instead of fighting hurricane winds and all that shit. I didn’t, like, see everything, but it looked like he pushed you really hard in the back and then he ran off towards Grauman’s Chinese. Want me to call 911?”

Marcel’s head was pounding now too as he tried to make sense of it all. Bip? Who the fuck’s Bip? A street mime? Wasn’t Bip the alter ego of Marcel Marceau? The legendary French mimeMarcel Marceau was the reason why his performance-art-loving French-Welsh parents had christened him Marcel. It was a name he hated as a child, but it had grown on him as he got older, and by the time he’d started working in animation, the name Marcel Jones had acquired a nice ring to it. Better than Bip. But while he’d made peace with his name, he could never think of mimes and miming as anything other than really annoying. And now he’d been physically attacked by one. On purpose. Maybe because he’d poked fun at mimes in one of his earlier Tex and Tox cartoons. It could have been that bar scene where Tex and Tox were sitting at the bar, Tex nursing his water, Tox knocking back his whisky. 

“What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen?” Tox asked Tex. 

Tex thought for a while. “It’s gotta be that time in Pecos where that mime was pretending to play an accordion. What’s the point? You couldn’t hear if the tune was any good. I bet it wasn’t.”

Tox took another swig of whisky. “Think that’s stupid? I once saw a mime dressed in a brown paper suit pretending to rustle cattle. His suit rustled every time he threw his imaginary lasso. Another time I saw a mime miming a mime.”

Tox let that sink in. Tex screwed up his face and took a swig of water. “That’s a bit too meta for me,” he finally said.

“I never meta mime I didn’t want to kick as hard as I could,”Tox shot back. 

“Me too,” added Tex. “They’re just so irritating.” He took out his pearl-handled Colt and did a fancy twirl with it. “Maybe we should just shoot ‘em all and be done with it.”

“You shoot and I’ll kick ‘em when they’re down,” said Tox. 

“Deal,” said Tex.

The pair slammed their glasses down and high-fived – hand to hoof.

He’d got some hate mail for that one, but he hadn’t taken it seriously. Maybe he should have? Hadn’t one letter threatened him with some bodily harm? ‘Real violence – no miming, asshole’ it said.

And now here he was, two weeks later and still wearing an awkward cast on his right hand and sporting a scar on his right temple. Who knew that a minor cut to your forehead could bleed so profusely? It looked far more serious than it was, noted the emergency room doctor. A few stitches and he’d be fine, apart from a scar. But the concussion? That was potentially dangerous. “The human brain is not designed to bounce off a sidewalk,” the doctor intoned as he held up the CT scans. “That’s why we have skulls, to protect the brain. You’re very lucky that you didn’t crack your skull. But you do have a bad concussion and some residual loopy-gloop on the bippy boop ….”

Loopy-gloop on the bippy boop?? What the fuck was that? Was it some new medical condition? Marcel felt the room begin to spin again as the ground gave way beneath his feet and he tumbled down a black hole.

The nurses were efficient and kind while the doctor kept him in the hospital for a couple of days of ‘observation.’ That was the easy part. Being home again was hell. Even the heavy-duty painkillers he had to take every few hours only helped to a point. He couldn’t think straight, and even if he’d been able to, getting back to work was out of the question. He wouldn’t be able to draw and write again for a couple of months till all the bones had healed. In the meantime, completing even the simplest, most mundane task with his left hand took all his patience and concentration. Brushing his teeth? A messy business. Going to the bathroom? Even messier. And so time-consuming. Everything had to be planned out like some military exercise. As for anything that needed two hands –doing the dishes, playing his ukulele, tying shoelaces, driving – itwas all out of the question. And all the things he’d despised and dismissed before the accident as ‘old geezer stuff’ – Velcro,slippers, sneakers you could just step into (INVISIBLE SHOEHORN!! NO HANDS NEEDED!!) – he’d quickly come to love and enjoy.

Pity they hadn’t invented self-cleaning messes. He tried to sweep up the shards of the broken mug but with just one hand even using the broom wasn’t easy. Then he bent down and slowly began to mop up the coffee with paper towels. Even completing that simple task was exhausting and seemed to take hours to complete. He wished he was ambidextrous, but that wouldn’t solve all the problems of dealing with all the daily chores that needed two good hands. But at least he’d be able to draw again. Right now, he couldn’t even draw the curtains.  

He smiled grimly at his little joke, but then his mood darkened again. He probably wouldn’t be able to get back to work for another month or so, and he’d miss a major deadline for the next Tex and Tox cartoon. His agent had said ‘Don’t worry, they understand the situation,’ but he knew better. He was in showbiz –or rather, showBUSINESS, with the accent very much on business. The show? The art? Not so much. He worked for a sausage factory, and if you couldn’t make the sausages on time, they’d quickly find another supplier.

Godammit! That fucking mime!! His head was pounding and he felt a red tide of anger rise up again. He needed some fresh air. He sat down in the chair by the kitchen window, cranked open the window and stared through the screen at the big picture window on the third floor of the next-door apartment building. It was quite a bit bigger than his own window, and over the years he’d come to think of it as like some constantly changing zoo or aquarium exhibit. New tenants would swim into view for a year or two only to suddenly be replaced by others. Most of the time, the changes were mundane and if he was busy working on a project he barely noticed the changing of the guard and the new faces. But he’d had plenty of time recently to observe the latest comings and goings. Gone was the slim and pretty young dancer who was forever practicing moves in front of a tall mirror, replaced by a heavily tattooed young dude with a man-bun who seemed to be out most of the time. Probably a bar-tender, he guessed, or a physical trainer. He looked fit and powerful. Yes, a physical trainer. 

Marcel felt he was pretty good at guessing a tenant’s profession. It’d become a relaxing game to play when he needed a break from work. But right now he needed a break from his break. Another little grim joke that almost made him smile. He reached across the kitchen table, pulled over his laptop, and began playing Sudoko. He loved the mathematical perfection of the grids. The numbers were either right or wrong. No gray areas. No messy outcomes. 

He quickly settled into the familiar rhythm and was already on his third game when a movement in the window across the way caught his eye. He stared at the figure in disbelief. It was a man, dressed in a black-and-white striped T-shirt and black pants, and wearing white-face with blood-red lips, topped off with a black beret.

Was it a chimera? No, he quickly decided. It was a fucking mime. Who was staring straight at him.

As he stared back, the mime started a routine. He mimed lifting a cup to his mouth, and then anger and annoyance as the imaginary liquid spilled down his T-shirt and he dropped the imaginary cup. Then he grabbed an imaginary broom and mimed sweeping up the imaginary mess below.

WTF!!! The fucker had been spying on him. Marcel felt violated and furious. As he sat there seething, the man cheekily stared back at him, held up his index finger as if to say, ‘Watch this! The show’s not over!’ and began the whole routine over again, but in a far more exaggerated manner. He ended the performance with a mocking bow, and then blew Marcel a kiss.

Marcel jumped up, ran to the bedroom, yanked open the bedside table drawer and pulled out his pearl-handled Colt. He checked to make sure it was loaded. It was. He’d teach the jerk a lesson.

“Where you goin’ with that, pardner?” Startled, he turned around. It was that know-it-all Tox, lounging on the lounger in the dim light. 

“None of your damn business,” he snapped as he hurried out the door.

He got back to the kitchen, holding the Colt in his left hand so it was hidden behind his back. There was no sign of the mime. Had he imagined the whole thing? He sat down heavily, put the pistol on the table and stared at the window opposite. Right on cue the mime reappeared, climbing an imaginary ladder before finding himself trapped in an imaginary box. He finished the routine by staring straight at Marcel and giving him the finger. A real finger. Then he mouthed ‘Go fuck yourself,’ slowly and exaggeratedly, as if talking to a child.

The child in Marcel exploded. He picked up the gun and aimed it at the bottom right corner of the window, away from the mime. A warning shot should put an end to this shit. He realized his left hand was a bit shaky and he tried to steady it with his useless right hand as he pulled the trigger. The shot smashed through the top left corner of the window leaving a jagged hole in the glass and a perfect small circle in the screen of his own window. 

The mime, seemingly unconcerned by the gunshot, began picking imaginary shards of glass off his clothes. Or were they real shards? Then he stared insolently back at Marcel and unmistakably mouthed ‘Fuckin’ loser! Can’t even shoot straight!’

Oh yeah? Marcel aimed a bit closer to the mime and let off another round. The mime mimed dodging the bullet as the whole window disintegrated. He aimed closer still and squeezed the trigger. The mime bent the other way and then sneered at him as he flipped Marcel the bird again.

OK, let’s see you dodge this one, you smarmy fucker! Marcel aimed straight at the mime and pulled the trigger. The mime,looking stricken, clutched at his chest and fell backwards out of sight. 

Marcel stared across the way at the ruined window. He could hear a distant drum beating a very fast tattoo that got louder and louder. It was his own heart beating faster and faster. What had he done? He’d killed a man!

He dropped the Colt and slumped into the chair just as the mime reappeared as if nothing had happened. The mime flicked some imaginary lint off his shoulder and began fighting a hurricane-force wind as he mouthed ‘Still can’t shoot straight! What a fuckin’ loser!!’

It was the last straw. Marcel reached down to get his pistol when a familiar hand grabbed his wrist tightly and stopped him. 

“What’s the matter with you?” said Tex. 

Marcel looked up at him. “What do you mean?” he asked the cowboy.

“What world are you living in? Everyone knows you can’t kill him that way. He’s a mime, for God’s sake. You have to use one of these. Here.’ Tex showed him a long steel tube, took the Colt, and screwed the silencer onto the gun. 

“There you go,” he said as he handed Marcel the pistol. “You’re all set now, pardner.”

Marcel took the gun, pointed it at the mime and pulled the trigger. The mime clutched his heart, fell backwards with a look of surprise on his face, and disappeared from view. 

Marcel waited and waited as the shadows began creeping up the kitchen wall and the room darkened, but this time the mime never reappeared.

The only problem now was he’d have to fix the screen. And replace the glass.


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