London Short Fiction: Mark

By Londonist Last edited 37 months ago
London Short Fiction: Mark

pram

Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This time, a struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.

Mark

His life, until now, has been a tangled stream of successes, failures and inevitabilities; a prodigal son, born into a semi-wealthy family; the kind of family that somewhat resentfully deems itself upper middle-class. The kind of family in which the mother resignedly allows herself to slip into the role of ‘wife and mother’, tentatively slipping off the job title she possessed during the haze of her twenties; the kind of family in which the father talks ambiguously of work, the pressures of which keep him confined in the office until late; the kind of father that has two mobile phones. This family is a cliché.

An only child, content with his own company and familiar with lonely walks through autumn leaves. This is Mark. When Mark was ten, he was already a teenager; during his A-Levels, he was thinking of mortgages. Allow Mark to be your protagonist. Try to let Mark take on the role you so desperately want him to fulfill.

This was Charlie Marsh’s life. For seven evenings and one afternoon every week, Charlie became Mark, “a cruel and dangerously compelling character, that manipulates and captivates his audience” (London Evening Newspaper). After seventy-five performances (seventy-six after that evening), Charlie was able to seamlessly and silently recite the narrative that accompanied the opening scene and, leaving behind his concealed position in the wings, take up his station in the centre of the stage.

“I am not likeable.” Mark recites, a deliberate veneer of menace apparent on his pale face. “I’m not an endearing protagonist. I fulfill a role, just like you; just like the owner of the shop around the corner; just like the cabbie that drove you to that interview that time. Everyone has a place and everyone has a role — the ‘goodies’, the ‘baddies’ and those oh-so tragic victims that we love to pity. I am not a victim. I like to hurt people.

Smiling inwardly at the audience’s unease, Mark continued. “I like to hurt people because I can. I have a desire to cause pain. I have hurt over seventy people, killed one hundred and been punished for none of these crimes. I am, what your police like to call, a ‘seasoned and cold-blooded killer’.

Tonight’s audience, just like the seventy-five that preceded it, shuffled uncomfortably in their seats, unpleasantly tantalised by this façade of danger. Mark slipped silently from the stage.

In the wings, Mark was lost and life was breathed once again into Charlie Marsh. Poor Charlie Marsh. Not a “prodigal son” and certainly not “born into a semi-wealthy family”, Charlie had spent the autumn of his twenties scouring the free papers for acting roles.

“We don’t have anything suitable at the moment, I’m afraid.”

Countless times, Charlie had sighed as he hung up his phone, disheartened and with the unpleasant recollection of his diminishing bank balance now, even more prominent.

This morning, Charlie had looked in the small, rectangular mirror over the sink in his white and functional bathroom.

“Describe yourself in three words” had been one of the questions directed at poor Charlie as he tussled with composure during his thirteenth phone interview.
Charlie studied his pale reflection; his dark, loosely curled hair; his angular and not-without-charm cheekbones. Then, with another sigh, the lines embedding themselves defiantly in his forehead, the yellow stains gradually bleeding across his front teeth (an unpleasant reminder of his failed resolution to “quit for good this year”).

“Describe yourself in three words.” Charlie repeated aloud. “Nothing-to-lose” and, with a brazen two-fingers-up at The Resolution, he lit a cigarette and slammed the door.

*

“I always miss the applause,” Charlie whispered to no one in particular. From his concealed position in the wings, Charlie could feel the audience’s gratification and approval as the play’s denouement determined Mark’s downfall and the victory of Mr. Good Guy. With Mark off-stage, supposedly defeated, Mr. Good Guy stood, angelic under a beam of white light, announcing the “triumph of good over evil” and applauding the police’s “success and courage in these dark times”.

“I always miss the applause,” Charlie repeated. With this morning’s nicotine now barely impacting his blood stream, he slipped away. Once again, unnoticed; once again, poor Charlie Marsh.

*

His newly awakened senses noticed the lady and the pram as he crossed Henrietta Street. The lady, young, heeled and business-like, had her back turned (just for a minute, honestly) away from the pram and was busying herself with the cash machine’s illuminated key pad. Charlie, once again unnoticed in the shadows, shuffled past, his camel duffle coat defending his thin frame against the November night.

“Oh Jesus, my baby!” A scream lit up the darkened street. Pedestrians stopped their commute, couples unlinked their hands, Henrietta Street watched as baby and pram rolled rebelliously into the road. Of course, a cab was coming, speeding probably. Illuminated and predatory, the cab drew closer, the navy pram all but invisible to its poor, heedless driver. The lady, presumably rendered immobile by terror, or grief, probably both, continued to scream, painfully and piercingly from the pavement.

“Hang on!” A voice called and a man doubled back, sprinting, from his statutory position just a little further along the pavement. Our Hero, attempting what none of the frozen onlookers deemed possible, pounced fearlessly into the path of the (still–ignorant-to-the-imminent-hazard) taxi, grappled with the pram and scooped up the baby, emerging breathlessly to the sound of gratitude (from the mother) and applause (from the mesmerized crowd).

“Oh my goodness, I can’t thank you enough!” The mother exclaims as the mystified baby is returned to her outstretched arms. “At least tell me your name?”

“Mark. My name is Mark.”

As he walked away, the stunned audience thought they heard the whispers of the sound of the sentence “I always miss the applause”.


Copyright, Olivia Hutchings, 2014. Image by Charbel Akhras, via the Londonist Flickr pool.


We’re still after your stories based on London at Night, which you should send to fiction@londonist.com. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.

Previously in this series

London at Night

Christmas in London

Summertime

London razed

Transport tales

Future/History

  • Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
  • Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
  • Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.

Horror/Thriller

Fantasy

  • The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
  • The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.

Relationships/sex

  • Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
  • A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
  • Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
  • Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
  • The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
  • St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
  • First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
  • Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
  • NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.

Other tales

Last Updated 04 January 2015