Ken Barlow stared lovingly into my eyes, the meringues he’d so forcefully demanded forgotten upon his plate as he struggled to give voice to the feelings he felt surging within himself. I smiled tolerantly, adjusting my massive glasses and taking his knobbled hand in mine.
“Things change, Ken… people change,” I started, not knowing how to go on. I wasn’t the Deirdre he remembered – I was Mrs. Rachid, hard-nosed ex-con and social horsefly, grown powerful but jaded on the curdled blood of my adversaries. Ken juddered as grief shook him, then fanned out his crest (as was his wont when threatened), rose up on his hind legs and vomited my erstwhile Boxercise instructor across my profiteroles.
‘Ken - please!” I wailed, “What will they say in the Rovers?” as the Bernie Inn dissolved around me and I awoke – still trapped in the vast, billowing net of a trawler, as nude as one of the prawns Dream Ken had been rather noisily enjoying moments before.
Ah, I reflected sombrely, still here.
I had utterly lost track of time since my forced enmeshing – how long had I languished, entwined and peevish? At least a fortnight, I reasoned, going by the encrustations that had proliferated around and about my metallic nether limbs.
I had been swept up from my aimless drift, along with a huge array of similarly miffed sea-life, in the midst of a terrible bout of self-loathing and a capella showtunes. Delirious with hunger and fatigue (and booze), and mid-performance of a cracking, desperately shrieked version of ‘Hello Dolly’, I became enrolled in what my venerable forebear and Grandfather used to call ‘Fish Limbo’.
Ah, he had some fascinating concepts percolating away in that syphilis-rotted skull of his! Before his excruciating and shameful demise at the hands of his long suffering, malnourished and enforced-transvestisismed farmhands he would bounce me on his knee - furtively whispering his deranged imaginings into my infant ear as fast as his mangled tongue could sibilate, before he was inevitably tased and forced back into ‘Grandad’s Hole’. Fish limbo indeed! What a marvellous old fellow.
But now I discerned my stringy aquatic Wandsworth ascending towards an indistinct and filthy light – it seemed any moment I would be returning to the surface I had not glimpsed for months. As we billowed upwards it struck me how little of my project had come to even the slightest fruition and how much work still awaited me back at my fleshy lodgings – a disgusting, foul-smelling alcove running with the interior elixirs obligatory to the sound maintenance of the ocular equipment of the Greenland shark; a place probably even now serving as a flophouse for the most delinquent and reprobationary elements of the plankton community. But it was mine, and I longed for its hideous environs.
Furious with myself for having sauced my way hundreds of miles off-course, boozed my abode into debauched squatterhood, quaffed my intended research into nudie triviality and turbo-Jaegerbombed my designs on the Royal Academy into a farce worthy of my second cousin eleven times removed, Nigel - that buffoon – I bit down with all my strength on a couple of my fine ivory fingers and let the tears cascade from my stupid, libation-fixated eyes. Bugger.
But enough. The light overhead intensified into a refracted storm of coruscating mirrors as we surged toward it, and I sensed the surface was imminent. Suddenly remembering my profound nudity I realised I, along with several thousand halibut, would momentarily be face to face with that most judgemental of all the land mammals, the trawlerman.
With a confused howl my bedraggled and be-winkled noggin broke the surface and I took my first breath of air in over eighteen months. A banshee wind was ripping across the yellow-black waves of an ominous and baleful sea; a sky stuffed with unfallen snow flashed veins of smothered sunlight, and the encrusted rear of an industrial trawler loomed before me, screeching with effort as it rolled in its catch.
Hooded figures were moving on deck, gesturing and calling to each other with hoarse and ragged throats -
‘Líta, líta á nakta gamla fisk! Fljótt, Sven, fá instagram!’
My jaw set in a downturned gurn of pure terror. My spine curled in an automatic learned response and each of my extremities shrivelled to a petrified wrinkle. Oh, sweet, heavenly moonwalking Jesus! Oh, dear, merciful Tezcatlipoca! It seemed I was experiencing my last moments of freedom before becoming the prisoner of a people my family has rightly feared for generation upon terror-struck generation of cringing dread and apprehension.
‘Dear lord’, I whispered to myself.