Talkin’ Squirrel Blues Prologue

Talkin' Squirrel Blues

Teddy Bear Bites Moses… Bear Unhurt

She’s chopping my vegetables, she’s cooking my meat.
I can’t even stand on my own three feet.
I’ve burnt my fingers on her body heat!
Protect me from the Edgy Woman Blues.

Edgy Woman Blues
Fingers Flaherty

“You’re not even listening to me, Moses!” Natalie threw the small Oxford souvenir teddy bear at the inert figure on the sofa. “I’d get more attention from this bear.”

“Hmmmm?” Moses McNamara was not one of life’s great multi-taskers. In fact, a single task was often beyond his abilities. For now, his attention was more or less riveted to the newspaper obituary he was reading. Nothing, not even a flying teddy bear flung by a fraught girlfriend, would distract him. However, he realised that he was still expected to make some token contribution to the conversation. “Um… sure… eh?”

Fingers Flaherty
Singer, songwriter, outlaw
1938–2012
Fingers Flaherty’s drunken death last night in a car crash will come as a shock to his few fans. And yet, for him to die inebriated behind the wheel of a smashed Ford was disappointingly predictable. A predictable shock. Flaherty’s death, like everything else about him, is a contradiction. As he said in his 1963 debut album, Fingers on the Blues: “Ashes to ashes, sand to sand/Both sides of the coin in my own hand.”
Flaherty’s life was a contradiction of his own making. When I last interviewed him, he still claimed to be devoted to his integrity. We both knew he would do anything for a few more seconds of fame. In his constant quest for commercial success, he tried on one ludicrous mask after another. He completely lost his way in the process. “I’m not always sure which part of me is hiding,” he said in a 1986 interview. “I can’t remember if this is the real me or if I’m in disguise.”

“What the hell am I doing here?” Natalie sadly shook her head and then gathered her energy for the full verbal assault. “You’ve changed, Moses. I hardly recognise you anymore. We’re in the land where teardrops fall now. It used to be so much fun. Jesus, the last time we had a really good laugh together was at Wino Wally’s funeral! Six months ago! You’re nothing more than a moody, selfish twenty-five-year-old adolescent. With all the personality of sour –”

“Can’t you turn down the volume?” Moses just about managed to switch from one task to the other. “I’m trying to read the bastarding paper.”

“You care more about Fingers bastarding Flaherty than you do about me!”

Although Moses wouldn’t admit it, Natalie was right. This time, anyway. The death of Fingers Flaherty, his shabby idol, pushed all other matters out of his field of vision.

In all his years as a blues singer, Fingers never got to eat the commercial cake. He’d nibbled it once in 1964 when his comic ballad “Backseat Blues” became a minor hit. It was a love song, of sorts: “I don’t want to be cured, sugar, I won’t swallow your pill/If your sweet love don’t kill me, sugar, then your bitter hatred will.”
His Mississippi Money Blues album had sold well on the back of that single. He seemed to find a welcoming audience among the acid-stoned university students of the time. “None of this is real to me,” he once told The Irish Chord. “I feel like I’m making the whole bloody thing up as I go along. Every song tells a story. And none of the stories are true. Are they?”

“Tony from Accounts is always giving me the eye.” Natalie decided to attack from another angle. “And he’s real fit too. At least he notices me! To think I’ve been giving him the brush-off because of you. I look back and wonder if I’ve been tripping this last two years.”

“Why is there a teddy bear on my lap?”

“The bear gets more attention than I do!”

“Sure. Whatever.”

For the most of the 1960s, Fingers was a respected blues singer. In his songs, he told of his quest for the ideal woman. His career, however, was a quest for an audience. He ploughed a solitary furrow and managed to appeal to just enough people to be able to stay on the road.
In the 1970s, his tiny audience outgrew him. Fingers desperately tried to appeal to the market, any market. “I’m yours for a dollar, babe,” he begged in “Hollow Whorehouse Blues”.

“All the girls at work tell me I’d get a better catch for a few euros down at the pet shop. Or the graveyard.”

“Suppose so… Any chance of you staying quiet until I’ve read this article?”

“If you’re not going on about that dead blues singer, you’re whinging about this performance appraisal you have coming up next month. You need help, Moses.”

“I need help getting some peace and quiet.”

In the mid-1980s, Fingers had a tiny renaissance. Ballybaboon Butter used one of his songs, “Spread Your Love On Me”, in an advertising campaign. His battered voice croaked across the national airwaves every evening for about two months.
His record company desperately patched together a compilation album in an attempt to rekindle interest. Maybe fifty people got interested. Fingers disappeared as suddenly as he had reappeared. His comeback album, A Blanket of Blues, failed to rekindle enough interest. He continued to play tiny halls and pubs all over the country, but fewer and fewer people seemed to care. At one show, he got into a fight with members of the audience and ended up in hospital.

“Look, Moses, I think it’s best if we take a break for a while, before we kill each other. I think we just need to get off this train and see where exactly we are.”

“What are you looking for a train for? You going somewhere?”

“I don’t know where I’m going with you anymore.”

“I think there’s a timetable in that drawer over there. Hidden in with all the other shit I dump in there.”

“Goodbye, Moses!”

Last night, Fingers drove his battered Ford into a street lamp. He had just finished a gig in Cork and celebrated by polishing off a bottle of whiskey.
Earlier that evening, he sang his “Bloodshot Blues”: “There’s a strange thin man knock knockin’ at my door/Pass me that bottle quick, I don’t wanna be sober no more.”
For once, it seemed that he could see exactly where the tracks were leading.

Moses glanced up when he heard the front door slam.

He looked down at the Oxford teddy bear.

“Do you know where she’s gone to?”

She’s stabbing my chest with her bedroom eyes.
She throws everything at me, even her lies.
She nibbles my ear and chews me down to size.
Protect me from the Edgy Woman Blues.

Edgy Woman Blues
Fingers Flaherty

Moses tried to put Natalie out of his mind as he sat down for his performance review.

His light-brown hair was styled into an executive cut and his clean-shaven face radiated inner energy. He wore a blue “power suit”, stretched by taut muscles. The office sparkled in the reflection of his polished shoes.

Moses’s voice rang out as he explained his achievements to his boss, Coconut Fred. He’d never sounded so confident in his life. This was a winner’s voice. A voice that trampled over self-doubt and threw indecision in the ditch.

Coconut Fred listened to that voice, rapt. At thirty-nine, Fred had played the corporate game for fifteen years. By now, he’d become jaded by the office dramas and pointless politics. Today, however, he nodded in eager agreement with Moses, smiling at the clever witticisms.

When Moses stopped talking, Fred cleared his throat.

“That’s very impressive, Moses… Gosh, I’m almost lost for words. Ha ha ha.”

“I try my best, Mr Hearty,” Moses said with a corporate smile. “Though I am sure that I can do even better.”

“Yes, I’m sure you can continue to impress us. The spark that has got me this far, I can see it in you too. If we had more people like you, this company could march through any recession and still blow away the stock market’s expectations. Now, if you don’t mind, there are just a few questions I’d like to ask you. Let’s start with this one, then.” Fred picked up a card from his desk and smiled. “What can you tell me about the economic policies of King Richard II?”

Moses stared at Fred.

King Richard II? What the hell has he got to do with anything?

But Moses suddenly remembered that King Richard II was a vital part of the review. He’d simply forgotten to do his homework. His heart began beating frantically as he realised that it was now too late. Beads of warm sweat trickled down the back of his neck.

“I… well… I think it’s… em… like, you know… I don’t know… I’m sorry.”

Fred’s face darkened dramatically. Without warning, he threw a coconut at Moses.

Moses yelped as the coconut smashed into his stomach.

“We’ll try another question before I decide whether to fire you.” Fred’s voice quivered with menace. “Identify some of the distinctive cinematic devices used in early Elvis Presley films.”

“I’m sorry, Mr Hearty.” All the self-confidence had evaporated out of Moses’s voice. He could almost see the steam escaping from his mouth. “I… I…”

Panic surged through him, making his chest heave in raw gasps. His armpits were soaking. His neat haircut uncombed itself into a dishevelled bird’s nest.

“Are you stupid, you pathetic little prick?” Fred roared, flinging another coconut at him. “I devour useless bastards like you for breakfast!”

The coconut struck Moses on the forehead. Blinding pain erupted inside his head. The room spun around violently.

“Here’s an easy one for you! Explain why Natalie left you, McNamara.”

Moses’s clothes began to disintegrate. When he tried to speak, he bit his tongue. He looked up at Fred in shivering despair, blood drooling down his chin.

“Don’t you know anything?” Fred launched another coconut. “Why did she leave you?”

“What are you talking about?” Moses began weeping as the coconut struck his knee. “She only went out to get the papers.”

The last of his clothes collapsed to the floor in a puff of blue dust. He shivered there, naked, clutching his stinging knee. Shattered bone crumbled beneath the flesh. He looked up at Fred, through blood-soaked eyes.

Oh shit!

Fred had changed.

Completely.

Fred had turned into a large teddy bear. A savage teddy bear in a brown suit. The stench of the teddy bear’s breath hit Moses like a wet towel.

The teddy bear clenched a coconut in its hand.

“Please,” Moses begged, “I’ll tweet the best marketing copy in history.”

The teddy bear flung the coconut.

Moses woke up with a bolt. The bedside clock said 4.15 am. It took him ten minutes to calm down after the nightmare. Eventually, he slipped back to shivering sleep.

And then he dreamt about Natalie… again.

The clock is striking thirteen, she must be back in town,
Wearing her razor-blade stockings and barb-wire gown,
Stabbing the teddy bear, cuddling the clown.
Protect me from the Edgy Woman Blues.

Edgy Woman Blues
Fingers Flaherty

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