Thursday, 31 March 2011

Never Trust A Rabbit by Jeremy Dyson

The non-performing member of the League of Gentlemen, Jeremy Dyson’s collections of short stories are dark, quirky morality tales dabbling in the supernatural and bizarre. Even the title of his first collection is gloriously obscure, coming from a Hungarian proverb that warns us “Never trust a rabbit. They may look like a child’s toy but they eat your crops.”

In the brilliantly creepy A Visit From Val Koran, Jason Feddy is a middle aged bar owner in Mdina on the island of Malta. He doesn’t make much money and seems to live a quiet, if lonely life, pining after his long dead girlfriend Miranda. However, his peace is rudely disturbed by news that someone has dropped by looking for him which gives Feddy a nasty attack of the heebie-jeebies.

Deciding to look his best for the meeting with a man who he describes as his executioner, he visits the barber for a shave and a quick trim:

“Ah, Mr Feddy, A pleasant surprise.” Shiloh the barber put down his broom and went to shake Feddy’s hand. “A drink for you, sir.” He reached behind a pile of pomade jars and brilliantine tins, producing a labelless bottle of what was presumably whisky.” “I won’t if you don’t mind.” “Oh yes you will.” He was already filling a teacup. “I hear you have had a visitor.”

In a town with no secrets and nowhere to hide, there is no avoiding his meeting with Koran, who appears at Feddy’s bar later that day. The barman provides the drinks, then leaves them alone together:

Aldi came out with a bottle of brandy, two large glasses and a small porcelain jug of water. He stole a quick look at Koran before scurrying back inside.

A former colleague of Feddy’s when he was a lecturer at university back in the late 1960s, Koran was Miranda’s lover before Feddy stole her from him. A practitioner of dark arts and black masses, Koran hasn’t seen Feddy since he kissed Miranda goodbye thirty years before. Four week’s later, Miranda had died, covered in a rash spreading from the spot where Koran had placed his lips, and Feddy went on the run, ending up in Malta. Still, it seems that Koran just wants to invite Feddy to join him in a visit to the catacombs in Rabat the next day. Even so, his departure leaves Feddy worried further still:

He poured himself more brandy. When he returned the bottle to the tray he noticed that his hand was shaking.

In the catacombs Koran makes Feddy drink a potion he has concocted, telling him that it is a curse. Feddy is now incapable of nostalgia, all his memories are perfect recollections of events and the narrative that he has built up around his life, and his lost love, is gone forever. He never really loved Miranda, he had stolen her from Koran simply because he could.

The following day Feddy sat outside the bar, cradling a glass of brandy... he knew these memories were the truth. He knew he had constructed something else around them, a structure he had built and built over many years. That structure had now had its foundations removed. It had collapsed silently around Feddy leaving him exposed and cold. He drained the glass and called for Aldi to fill it once more. Perhaps later he would go for a walk. Perhaps he would visit the catacombs and stare at the bones. It was going to be a long afternoon and an even longer night.

It looks like he’s going to need that drink...

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