Typical Soup and Toes: Four Stories
Mark McLaren

5 Lessons in Absolutely Free

1. Grow Your Own Phantom Limbs.
There’s not so much difference between pins in the garden and the sparkle of a dead man. Take his hand and wave at the telly, shake a leg and hop under the stars. Did he ever smell like horses? I mean, back in the old days when not so much was so unreal. Over and over and all. It’s just much more useless.

2. Oh Mighty List Maker.
Draw up your arms and suck in the hairs. Sounds should not taste of fire. Beware of the toilet. Stand on the review section and pray for two stars. Look ahead. The first question you may be asked is: How’d you do it? You must NEVER give away the recipe. Learn how to spell “adjustments.” Don’t budge for liars, especially if they flutter. It may be a fit, is my experience.

3. Love in the Incinerator.
It says here that most thirty-five-year-old men are only trustworthy from the elbows down. I am reading this: “Looking for personal growth and power exchange.” Light more fuses by maintaining eye contact. Did that Short Guide to Writing Your Will ever arrive?

4. What to Expect from Death.
For sex workers, it is never too early to start plans for your uninvestigated death. But who will look after the diseases? I will donate, divide, and salute when you are gone. I can see them dropping the charges like that.

5. What If Your Dog?
Not all dogs raise a leg. It’s also true that not all Germans live in Munich. You know what I’m saying. There’s a small twist of science to get through here, before we come to the boink and pig-sticking. Have a peek for yourself. The diagram next to Abraham shows you how to tell for sure. Logging in won’t help. All loans look suspect now. You and your family need to be safe. Guesswork and hatred is the only way to be sure. Avoid all libraries.


Many Darrens in One Munich

Watch these boys roll up their sleeves like gentlemen. The arms fill up with cheap, red wine. They kneel and choke down our tepid soup. Inflexible with panic and in five crystal clear formats, you can hear them breaking all gods’ laws in one weekend: banal coughs, the spit-swallow, the hard hair ball. The smell of their bones cindering in our spin cycle and the trouble we took to make the small print unsquintable will all make sense ends, by Frank and me. And Darrens were no different.

I had my arms around a belt, tight inside his dreams as we pounded the ocean looking for broken teeth. The funny thing was, after a while they really seemed to enjoy it. They were as stiff and sharp as credit cards as Frank and me gave them a nice taste of what it’s all about. We started by choking the brother and folding him over some soup. Then Frank cracked open all the really bad ideas.

It’s an awesome feeling to drive your homework down Darren’s throat and check his reaction. Sometimes it’s shock, sometimes it’s butterflies, but rarely is it pleasure. Darren is brand new, unsuspecting, and about to get filled. Although he wasn’t ready to get his backbone popped, he gets a clout, a poke and is lifted up towards God for the first time in his life. You can see by the look on his face that he has no idea what he got himself into. I turn my attention to stomping his dreams into a cold, soft soup. I unload all those jaw-breakers into the ocean and make Darren swallow the sums with his broken teeth.

I know I have said it before and I have no problem saying it again, these two go by the name of Darren and they are pretty new to the scene, so we took them in for a little soup and softening. They weren’t laughing after we explained. Anyway, me and Frank just plugged and plugged at their cobwebs and little dreams. Their names were Darren (the blond) and Darren (the other one). Neither of them had ever drowned before, they were both curious. And what they didn’t know we made them eat. Time and again you can pick at the skin of a dream and watch the scabs form brown. The boys’ eyes open wide as the small print spills out of their gums. A helpless situation spelt out in pus and legalese.

I love the shocked look on Darren’s face when I grab his soup or pull his ideas hard . . . very hard. He looks at me as if he wants to say “Holy shit, are you nuts?” He wants to say this, but alas his tongue is dancing in my pocket next to these waxy crayons. Me and my Frank smack loose teeth right into the sky, like accountants at the driving range. We took turns pounding away, pulling their skin into purple flowers and spitting right home, there into the flames just to get some action going. The Darrens couldn’t even taste tomorrow.

I’ll say it: I prefer Darrens to any other, and I love the natural type best. Dead is fine but Deceased is my thing. Me and Frank slipped on the soup and broken teeth. I was beginning to wonder if time would tell . . . the funny thing was, these two Darrens kept retching up dreams one after the other, I have no doubt in mind this was staged. When I asked Darren to eat all Frank’s crayons, he wasn’t so into it, but after a while we shot them all into the sky and fed them to a huge animal, just to make sure they wouldn’t ever forget this or that afternoon.

Darren is from a place called. And we all know about people from there. Not too bright and inconsistent with their soups. Darren is no different. When we started, he was always blabbing something about “please . . . sopp in gesichten, I very like.” Well, it took like five minutes till we like had a clue what he was talking about. Frank snapped his dreams in two and made him swallow all of my ideas. I’m starting to like Germany.


Next Week’s a Bit Hit and Miss

“Never Give Anything Away for Free.” That’s not advice, it’s the last sign you can see before you enter the men’s block. I have a problem though: the ghosts enjoy head just as much as the guards, but how will they ever pay me back? Only the lucky ones get to squirm around the governor’s glasses. Rewards may come later. Makes me wonder about the Dharma and its repayment schemes. Next week is a beauty contest. Last year I came 3rd. Now numbers 1 and 2 are dead, and my hair is so long. Wish me lucky. Grandma should be visiting soon, though I hope she only brings powder and no boyfriend. He creeps me, knows too many Queen lyrics. Today I would rather do nothing than fight with the rats. No one can pluck and shave when they are this hungry. During the day I’ll dream a lot, wondering what will happen after my execution. Will I make a good ghost? Write to me soon.

* * *

Loosen up. It’s only standardised housing and long lines of waiting. And what’s the difference, whether it’s by thumb or claw? One thing is certain, I’m swollen with credit and it’s difficult to stand. On any podiums. Tape and start and tape again. Who will remember your strangled smile? I’ve tried to shave, but it keeps growing back. It’s a thick kilo of mystique, like seven hats incontinent. Seven built bridges across the river, they’ll fall like thieves into an inky soup. I have never been a fan of slippery machines, legs spinning. Think of all the cigarettes investigated with a shoe. Cracked lips will all add up one day. You will deliver and someone else will pick up and not know why. Collecting slowness, just wait.


Step Ladder

Although this road goes all the way to Wonderland, it also runs from Wonderland to here.

Everyone agrees that when good advice comes, it’s usually in the shape of a forest. The larger the bird, the slower the flap. Pinewood. Don’t look. Don’t twist. Concentrate on the woman who fell on her head, now resting on someone else’s bag. There’s a trick to staying neat. They all know not to help until help comes. Into the gutter because of song, becoming both swallower and swallowee.

If they could just keep talking and talking it would fill up the world. Topsy, don’t listen to the gossip in the trees. (I’m missing the part where she rids herself of the torturous beings. After her execution she comes back to haunt the circus and kill Edison’s son) The crowd could be swapped for a dialogue with ghosts; circulated by the ones who fed her cigarettes. No, those people are dead.

Look at your clothes, the broken door and ledge. Take a step on the bottom rung. It penetrates. Light will slip from heaven. Speak out from the fire, not of secrets or experience. There isn’t any living creature who can prevent my song. On high is on head, another hand is right here by the throne. We are ready with the firmament, broken into three wide lines. She who sees, shall not be saved. The interrogator stands as fissure and well. Tearing the world into a thousand strips.


I wish the stories had turned out different. These snippets of news, advice, and warnings should really have been expanded into dozens of separate ideas, but the padding never arrived, they stayed closed, unresponsive to plots or characters. The initial ideas curled up like frightened insects when I tried to revise. For example, the fact that you can really grow your own phantom limbs makes a back story redundant. All this reduction makes me worry. I think poetry tends to swallow all the air in the room, so I have tried to open a window in these stories. I wrote for my speaking voice. This comes from working in radio, where texts should sound spoken not read. These stories are phrases that have become stuck, they irritate me, they seem to glue my head together. Like now, I’m trying to explain myself but I’m being looped by the words “Shout At A Dog That Doesn’t Speak English.” There could be something in that. I mean, would you “Sit” even if you’re used to hearing “Ga Zitten”? I hope so.

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