A LONG TAIL   by DF Lewis


            Lanky Brig eventually killed himself by choking on his prayer-beads.

            His initial ploy was to string them round his fingers, entwining the beads so that his knuckles became a street-fighter’s weapon.  Having realised that any amount of pummelling of his own head would be the least efficient method, he eventually unravelled his bunch of fives, but only to wrap the knobbled nuggetted lace around his neck in two or three love-biting loops.  Then, having failed to tug the throttle-tourniquet, there being little strength left in his arms, Brig resorted to dangling a throat-tantaliser via his tusk-beaded mouth, gagging upon the hard pellets.

            They found Brig in the morning.  Sarah was the first to scream, raging at her own loss rather than sorrowing at his.  Muriel, Sarah’s sister, told her to sit down while she called the Authorities.  One shiny black bead sat upon Brig’s lower lip like a last word frozen in time. 

            “Words are solid things, after all – verbal icons,” said  Maurice, who was the one pretentiously to voice the poetry of the affair.  Prayer-beads, indeed, were not a normal ingredient in the recent plague of suicides that had beset this part of the country.  Maurice was, in truth, on the official side-lines of the very Authorities that Muriel had called to the scene of the “crime”.  Yet, being one of Brig’s friends, he was also involved in much of the private aftermath.  He had chosen the doctor who had carefully withdrawn the “necklace” from inside the throat, glistening at its top reaches with dead saliva and temporarily causing greeny bubbles to play at the dead man’s nostrils in a quirk of air pockets. 

            Naturally, the doctor had by now written up the notes for the Coroner.  Current conditions entailed a six month waiting-list before Brig could be safely interred.  Maurice had tried to hurry things on, but even he failed at the last hurdle, despite being one of the very few people privy to all the wider surrounding circumstances, even to those that were irrelevant.  As in all cases of unlawful suicide, there were loose-ends that were never tied up.  Sarah missed Brig a lot.  A rough man, yes, but one not without his charms.

            Months later, Maurice actually spoke of the single black worry-bead on Brig’s lower lip.  He suspected Brig had left it there on purpose to allow an easier purchase for anyone less experienced than a doctor to wheedle free the whole length of threaded beads.  Even so, Brig’s tall insides were tangled upon the lower strands, a single tassel bearing a tiny crucifix tied like a hook on a fishing-line.  Indeed, parts of Brig’s body that nobody had seen before were left uninterred.  Maurice, being able to pull strings with the Authorities, had salvaged for Sarah bits and bobs of Brig in a jam jar, as keepsakes: to put on her dressing-table until, at least, she had another boy friend.

            There was one particular lower bead which was embedded in Brig’s jellified vessels like a pearl in an oyster: a dark grainy gallstone-like item, smooth to the look.  Sarah told her sister Muriel that she saw it not as a prayer-bead any longer, but a memorial mascot: enlaced with feathery shreds of Brig’s upper heart-valves, gently wavering in the jar of brine like tattered angel-fish wings.  Muriel smiled, humouring Sarah, but cursing Maurice under her breath for ever trawling this muck in the first place.  She advised Sarah to find another boy friend forthwith and let the past be swallowed by its own intrinsic murkiness.  But Sarah had loved Brig, if only in hindsight.  Albeit a rough diamond, his charms would win her over for ever and ever.

            Suicides soon ceased to be all the rage.  The country settled into a more perfunctory existence.  People endured boredom, sorrow, morbidity and pain with a degree of equanimity.  Brig indeed marked a watershed in the fashionable self-destructive trends of the teen-and-twenty brigade.  There had been no possible reason for his death, of course, other than sheer bravado and the praise of posterity.  He had tried every other means: even cutting his wrists until the blood stopped of its own accord.  He just needed the bait: the final tug on his heart that Sarah had not been able to provide.  Muriel married Maurice and probably lived happily ever after, the Authorities having given blessing to their tying the knot.

            Sarah often simpers in front of her dressing-table mirror, drawing lipstick patterns on the glass: then, worrying and teasing her hair into swatches.  Blood that the tagged tampons can’t plug tinges the bath-water: beads of sweat jellifying on her breasts in the cold steam.  Yet, dying is sadly never to be that simple again: not worth a prayer of a chance.  Sarah is not even able, at the last resort, to block her throat with these words that tell the tall tale of Brig’s choking charms.  That’s because she has swallowed them whole – hook, line and sinker.




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