#Fridayflash Origami Flamingos

This relates to a previous flash Close Encounters with Goldfish.

That’s the trouble with origami flamingos, they crumple under duress. Exotic-pathetic. I needed something with a little more resilience, like the steel ties you put inside hardening concrete.

‘Pipe cleaners’ said my nephew Gary.

‘Good idea’ I said, thinking somehow of Dali’s elephants. There was the same sense of melancholy, loneliness. I wasn’t the sort of man who jollied things along.

We were working on a 3-d nature project. I was substituting myself for his Dad, my  brother Barry. I was a bit of a pipe cleaner then…

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I said by way of inane conversation.

‘Harry Potter’  said Gary, pleased. ‘NOT Voldemort – but’, he mumbled, ‘you’re not really supposed to say his name’. The same way we’re not to mention his Dad who did a runner.

‘Why flamingos?’ I almost continued but then I realised, slap on my thigh, I should keep my mouth shut.

‘Stopped yourself short’ my wife Christine would have said and no bad thing. I have a big mouth sometimes, I admit it, but sometimes what comes out of my mouth isn’t big, it’s petty. I blame the wiring – I’m a left-handed geek with a penchant for spatial relations and a neurotic eye for detail. Imperfection irks me. ‘You didn’t have to point it out’ Christine often says. She’s my PR face saving agent, saves me from digging myself in deep by digging me in the ribs at social occasions.

Phoenicopterus is the genus for anyone interested. And my nephew was. He had the same kind of forensic intensity as my father and that’s putting a hell of a genetic load on his eight year old shoulders. My father was an obsessive collector of facts and artefacts, Guinness Books of Records, stamps and Spielburg film memorabilia. By the time I was born he had done a conversion and moved all his stuff up there. I knew him throughout my childhood as the Man in the Attic. He spent his evenings cataloguing, cross referencing, archiving, noting the gaps in his collections and when, in recent years Barry  introduced him to Ebay, we never saw him.

When he died we thought it was of disgruntlement. He had lost a table quiz that night. My mother told us afterwards that they discovered a twisted gut. She didn’t seemed surprised. She asked me to help her apply for that telly programme where they come to your house and help you sell your collectibles for cash. Her application was accepted and she played the soulful widow on the BBC. She cleared him out that way.

Gary and I figure out how to get the flamingos to stand. This origami thing goes way back.

One time Barry and I made paper boats and sailed them in a race on the long ponds of a country house that had opened its doors to the public. My mother, conservatively diligent had convinced my father to bring us for the open space and the fresh air.

Barry’s boat tied itself up in pond weed and sank slowly, sodden while mine chugged on but then he produced another that stayed intact and sailed absolutely true and – with a little help from a stick – crossed the finish line first. He won a packet of crisps which in those days was worth the bother.

There were large goldfish in the long ponds and Barry was thrilled with them. So much bigger than the ordinary, he conjured up possiblilities of ecto-algae-plasm that had accelerated their growth. Later a heron landed in the water, enthralled the crowd. But when he plucked a goldfish from the water and soared, Barry roared.

He cried all the way home. We thought it was still because of the fish but I found out later that he’d lost his crisps. Fish, crisps, its easy to confuse in the middle of a tantrum. And he had them. He was much older than me but I overhead somebody say once that when I arrived it took the shine off him and made him cantankerous. In the nights his nightmares displayed heron flamingo confusion. Or perhaps they didn’t, he developed a love of flamingos that his son seemed to have inherited. More genetic load bearing.

Speaking of load bearing, when I grew up I became an architect, Barry became a magician. We were both illusionists. He created objects where they weren’t there before, I created space and light. My builders sawed through partition timbers. He sawed a woman in half. Gary wanted to be sawn in half but Barry said there wasn’t enough of him. So Barry and Gary’s mother Pauline left him intact with me when they ditched him for the high life.

Pauline became Barry’s assistant. Their love was so intense and exclusive that she would be torn in half by him if that was what he wanted. She was no Debbie McGee. She was lumbering, gothic, her eyes disappeared into folds of flesh. He transformed her: with his magic wand, with love, with a massive loan, gastric band and cosmetic surgery. It was remarkable really. They also removed Gary like an appendage, said he’d be better with us.

We got a postcard from the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Barry had hit the big time with his magic show. My elevations weren’t comparable. In recessionary times work was thin on the ground. I undercut the competition for kitchen extensions and planning applications. In the postcard Barry and Pauline said that they spent their day floating on the lilos in the hotel pool. Looking at young Gary I wished they would sink like Barry’s paper boat. This time Christine allowed me the gripe- out of earshot of Gary –  and even added a few choice words of her own. When it came to children Christine was a Rottweiler of an advocate, despite the gentleness of those green eyes, her soft bosomy look.

I don’t know if I ever told you this but when Barry was young my father accidently killed his goldfish and lied about it. My mother said Barry was never the same after.

Gary and I get the flamingos to stand. I have to say they look terrific. Gary’s happy, he grins at me, his proper father figure. I turn the page and find instructions for origami goldfish. If Barry had been here we could have all made them together.

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16 comments

  1. I love the gentle currents of this as motifs come in with a gentle rippling tide, wash over you and out, before returning later on in the piece. As finely wrought as Watson & Crick’s original 3-D scultptural model of DNA.

    The stuff about the father in the attic is something I recognise well and that the Mother ‘cleared him out the way” with a glorified yard sale was perfect.

    Marc

  2. ‘Harry Potter’ said Gary, pleased. ‘NOT Voldemort – but’, he mumbled, ‘you’re not really supposed to say his name’. The same way we’re not to mention his Dad who did a runner. – Brilliant.
    ‘When he died we thought it was of disgruntlement.’ – nearly wet myself reading this!!! Heehee. Your characters tend to die in fab ways. A universe in your head filled w/people killed off so wonderfully. This para is great, its just so great. You’re a magic architect with the words – Speaking of load bearing, when I grew up I became an architect, Barry became a magician. We were both illusionists. He created objects where they weren’t there before, I created space and light. My builders sawed through partition timbers. He sawed a woman in half. Gary wanted to be sawn in half but Barry said there wasn’t enough of him. So Barry and Gary’s mother Pauline left him intact with me when they ditched him for the high life.’ I really like the way it links to the sad goldfish flash, too.

  3. Alison, I absolutely love the way you put words together, like you pluck them out of thin air and magically know they can work – together. This sentence made me snort: “Gary wanted to be sawn in half but Barry said there wasn’t enough of him.”
    Wonderful story!

  4. John, I agree with you, that is a really good line, really uses the language well to twist its meaning around.

    Loved this Alison, especially the Man in the Attic. He reminds me a lot of my grandpa who had a watchmaking workshop and basically lived in it; we hardly ever saw him.

    Go you 🙂

  5. You had me at ‘origami.’

    One way you know a good writer is how they engage a reader, make the reader ‘live’ in the sentences, seeing themselves or some aspect of themselves reflected there (or wanting to be reflected there).

    “I’m a left-handed geek with a penchant for spatial relations and a neurotic eye for detail. Imperfection irks me.”

    Nearly fell out of my chair on that line.

    This is a perfect little story and I can see where you thought you were heading for a ‘proper one’ – this isn’t a flash, it IS a proper short story, or a chapter of a longer work (see how I hint at that all the time?). Your language, the uncommon way you create a sentence without pretense, just what we need to know, all the hints and bits and pieces – you know how to pin your reader to the wall, as it were.

    “That’s the trouble with origami flamingos, they crumple under duress.”

    The whole story in the first line, the anticipation of melancholy and the details about the father, the details of the flamingo, “I overhead somebody say once that when I arrived it took the shine off him and made him cantankerous.” – a sentence to carry so much information, tells a whole history.

    A tale of two brothers – one missing, irresponsible, successful, the difficult one – and the one who makes the difference.

    If I didn’t relate so closely to it myself, I’d say it was just good fiction. You are an exceptional writer, Alison. ‘Well done’ is for steak orders. You’re brilliant. Thanks for another great story.

    1. I have a confession to make and have been allowed to make it by my 9 year old son. It was from him that I got the phrase ‘origami flamingos’. He likes to make up stories too and began telling us about ‘origami phoenixes which were a bad idea because the paper went up into flames’. Brilliant. See the genetic load there! I couldn’t steal his fab idea so I went with the flamingos instead. And I made a once off trip to Las Vegas years ago and can’t get the fab surrealism out of my mind. In my comic novel, the spaceman and the housewife end up there and find talking flamingos going down the street. We have these themes don’t we that stick with us….

      Thanks for the compliments everyone, this one was a close call in getting done at all, as usual the feedback makes me glad I did.

      1. a very interesting point about recurring themes in our writing – like artists’ motifs. Most definitely we do possess them , whether we are conscious of them or not. Mind you, what a Freudian analyst would say about them…

  6. I really enjoyed this, Alison, even more so when I read your latest comment. You have a very clever way of describing things that so many people can relate to.

    Well done yet again!

  7. It was wonderful to be able to sit with your MC and listen to him talk about his family. This piece has a very natural flow to it, which carries the reader along.

    While he certainly has his problems with how his brother has treated his child, there is still warmth in his memories of Barry and how, were he there, all three of them could have created the flamingos.

    And I love the idea that his dad died from disgruntlement from losing an auction. The sad humor in this piece leavened it nicely.

    Well done.

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