Graham Rae


Jimmy Anonymous wandered idly into the storytailor’s shop in Cockburn Street one sunny Saturday afternoon, thinking unshaped storythoughts as he did so. His trained monkey Porno Savini stretched and strained at his leash, eager to be off causing mayhem on the streets of Falkirk. Jimmy barely noticed his diminutive simian pal’s restlessness. He had other things on his mind.

He was going to get a story fitted.

A bell on the door jangled as Jimmy closed it behind him. The noise spooked Porno Savini and he let out an excited chitter, loping round in circles as big as his restraint would allow him. Jimmy looked down at the crazy Capuchin and frowned.

‘Shut it Porno Savini. Ah’ve got things tae dae.’

Porno Savini went quiet, starting to lick at some sugarfree chewing gum he’d gotten on one of his paws earlier as they’d walked up the High Street. Juiceless Fruit, the choice for an over-sweet generation. Porno Savini was in luck. The morsel hadn’t been chewed too much and still had a bit of its flavour left.

He was in monkey heaven.

Jimmy’s eyes gradually adjusted to the dim shop lighting. Shapes swam and settled before his vision, and he could discern a selection of story materials adorning the walls around him, waiting to be woven into tales by a master storytailor.

And Walter Kailyard, the shop’s proprietor, was indeed that master. He had been trading for eighty years and had established himself as one of the top storytailors in the world. His customers had won countless awards for stories hewn from his raw materials, and his wordwares had been paraded on literary fashion catwalks from Glasgow to Milan.

Only yesterday Jimmy had seen television footage of a storymodel in New York wearing a Kailyard tale, strutting icily through an electric flashbulb storm. The storytailor’s sparkling literary gems radiated their brilliance round the globe, an everchanging rainbow kaleidoscope of perfectly constructed sayings and sentences and stanzas. It was at that moment that Jimmy had decided that he had to have a Kailyard, or at least get a few literary pointers from the old man.

He hoped he could afford the price he would have to pay. Methods of payment to the storytailor were vague, to say the least. Jimmy had heard hushed tales of how Kailyard had turned down some of the world’s top writers when they had come to him, scornful of the money they threw around like confetti. Having started countless literary trends, Kailyard could afford to pick-and-choose. He operated some random substance-over-style system of story assignment, and would make stories for the poorest of people if he liked what they were trying to do, and the way he thought the material would hang on them. If you had a good frame for his work there was a fair chance you could be in.

In short, it was some sort of utopian retro socialist ideal that Jimmy didn’t really pretend to understand in this day and age, but if it meant that an unemployed layabout like him could get a Kailyard then he was all for it. Good fiction was difficult to afford on a giro, that was for sure, and he’d always loved good fiction. He’d actually taken to reading science books now, the fictional output of the current crop of writers bored him so much. He hadn’t come across anything that’d stimulated him in a long time, actually made him think for a change.

Jimmy looked at the materials hanging round the shop, all the unwoven cybertartan tales. He could see vague embryonic stories shifting and shimmering and shivering under the story materials, tiny poem foetuses kicking in utero, gestating baby books feeding on umbilical cords of new ideas, slumbering brainbairns waiting to be born in fictional form. Quicksilver wordshoals swimming through the materials in search of context scattered under the weight of his gaze, clotting and dissolving to the rhythm of his every thought.

Jimmy conceived of something nonsensical which sounded vaguely important – chaos theory architecture – and immediately the phrase took root in the fertile womb of one of the story materials, starting to expand rapidly into a sentence, then a paragraph, and then–
–it collapsed into a nonsensical wordjumble as Porno Savini pulled excitedly at Jimmy’s leg and distracted his attention from the hypnotic lure of literary creation. He dragged himself back to the shop with difficulty, shaking his head and letting out a low whistle as he did so. The story materials in here certainly had an alluring sirensong. Back to the job in hand. He looked down at Porno Savini.

‘Whit is it Porno? Whit’s wrong?’

Porno was gibbering and slobbering and pointing excitedly at one of the nothing-coloured story materials on the opposite wall to the one Jimmy had been looking at. Jimmy looked up. There was nothing there, but he realized that his companion had probably been seeing a story of his own forming under his primate stare. Jimmy chuckled to himself. He wondered what Porno’s story had been about. Bananas and females, no doubt. Jimmy shrugged.

‘Sorry monkeyboy, it’s away, nae luck. Ah bet it wis guid though.’

Porno Savini bounced up and down on his rear paws, as if in agreement. A simian classic lost forever. The world just wasn’t fair to lesser-evolved species.

‘Kin ah help ye young man?’

Jimmy’s head jerked up at the sound of a voice from in front of him. Walter Kailyard stood a few feet away behind the counter, having come from a room through the back of the shop. He was a small, wrinkled man, wearing one of his own creations as a waistcoat. The material flexed and fluxed as Jimmy looked at it and he realized that no two people looking on the garment would ever see the same design in it; what the onlooker saw was purely a subjective personal thing, tempered by age and life experience and intelligence and open-mindedness.

Or lack thereof.

Kailyard was holding a sheaf of papers in the gnarled fingers of his right hand, and Jimmy couldn’t help but feel a surge of adrenaline surge through him. Here he was actually standing talking to the man who had made some of his favourite short stories and novels from his prescience period possible. And he was holding some hot-off-the-press literary copy too, probably some bestseller or other for somebody important. Jimmy was dying to know what the piece was, and whom it was for. Then he checked himself mentally. The fanboy mentality came from his early years of reading and looking up to published writers, youthful inexperience and unwarranted hero-worship showing their ugly and embarrassing heads.

Well, no longer. Jimmy couldn’t care less what anybody else was doing, he just wanted a story of his own, to be a wordjunkie mainlining on pure uncut storygear, a doonward DNA spiral intae genetic linguistics predisposition, cistronomatopoeia, advance word fae the phenotypewriter swimmin ragin burnin against nucleotide riptides…

Jimmy registered a look of concern on the old man’s face and realized he had been drifting out in innerspace somewhere again. It was looking at the old man’s material on the wall that had done that to him. The old man certainly was a master storytailor, if just looking at his raw materials could trigger so many ideas, albeit nonsensical ones; scientific semantics. The young man recognized the thought patterns as ones that he’d been bandying about in his brain, but the materials had merely absorbed and amplified them.

‘See onythin ye like?’ The old man gave Jimmy a wry smile. He knew the score, that the brainburned youngster standing there had been sampling some of his wares. He knew the lost literary look only too well.

‘Aye, well… mibbe… ah’m no too shair jist yit…ah seen…something…’

Jimmy replied hesitantly, still feeling the psychic aftershocks of the mental earthquake he’d just undergone, the glimpse of a new nonexistent species of wordflesh. He felt a small sudden pang of fear at the power of the man he was talking to, a superstitious native meeting the witchdoctor for the first time. Fanboy, he chided himself again, bloody fanboy he’s jist carbon-based atoms like you are nuhin mair or less so git a bloody grip Jimmy keep it thegither screw the nut…

‘Aye, well, ah’ve got plenty ay new stock tae choose fi, some nice new stuff jist in the day, likes. Wis jist makin a new piece ootay it fir yin ay ma customers the noo, in fact. It’s guid stuff tae work wi. Very smooth, very modern, very fashionable. Or at least it will be, in a year or two whin ivirybudy catches uptae it. Mibbe in aboot 2020 or so.’

In spite of himself, Jimmy was intrigued. ‘Whit’s it cawed? Who’s it fir?’

‘It’s entitled Severin The Ties Thit Blind, bit ah cannae tell ye who it’s fir.’ Kailyard tapped his nose. ‘Trade secret. Got tae respect ma client’s right tae privacy.’

‘Aye, right, hmmm.’ Jimmy nodded slightly.
Kailyard put the sheaf of papers down on the counter, face-down so that Jimmy couldn’t sneak a peek.

‘Whit wir ye looking fir specifically? Poem? Short story? Novel?’ Her looked Jimmy up-and-down, a practiced, professional glance that told him anything he would need to know about kitting the young man out. He frowned. ‘Ah dinnae ken if ye’ve got the frame fir a nuvel the noo, it widnae hing well on ye, thir’s no enough life experience tae make a guid job ootay it.’

‘Whit dae ye mean, no enough life experience? Ah’m nearly nineteen ye ken! Ah could tell ye a think or two, lit me tell ye!’

The storytailor snorted in amusement. ‘Aye, nae doot, nae doot. Mibbe ye could explain the internet n computers n video games tae me, it’s getting difficult tae grasp some ay the ideas thit ah’ve got tae work wi these days, aw this technological rubbish. Mair n mair fowk jist goin on aboot less n less. Things ur getting diluted by stupidity rapidly. Ye kin see it in the difference in the quality ay the ideas ah’ve got tae work wi. Ah wouldnae huv touched some ay the new stuff wi a stick a few year ago, bit ah huv tae work wi the best ah kin git, so ah’m forced to make concessions in quality.’

‘Whit dae ye mean make concessions in quality? Yer stuff wins awards aw the time.’

‘Aye, that’s true son, that’s true, bit it gits easier n easier tae be the best in the field whin naebudy really seems tae appreciate true craftsmanship onymair. Ah work day n night tae try n make somethin built tae last. N whit dae the punters want? Books like fast fid: quick n easy n instantly firgettable. Ah’ve startit a couple ay literary trends jist tae see if the reading public wid go fir thum, jist curious likes. N oh aye, they wolfed it right doon. Things jist arenae like they wur in ma day. Ah’ve bin thinking aboot shuttin up shop recently. It’s jist getting too depressin.’

‘Acht, it’s no is bad is that, ye dinnae want tae get too elitist aboot it.’

Kailyard looked at Jimmy as if he was some kind of alien lifeform.

‘How no? Whit’s wrong wi takin pride in yer work n wantin it appreciated, eh laddie? Yer only eighteen, ye’ll understand whit ah’m talking aboot whin yir aulder.’

‘Ah’m nearly nineteen ah telt ye!’

‘Aye, well, that makes aw the difference then.’

Jimmy was getting annoyed. Whatever he’d been expecting of the storytailor, it wasn’t some whining-faced old bugger complaining about the youth of today. Typical pensioner rubbish. He was probably just jealous of Jimmy’s youth. And being nearly nineteen really did make a difference, dammit! He knew the score, oh aye, nobody could tell him anything.

‘Ah kin see whaur yer comin fae wi some ay the stuff yer goin on about, ah dinnae like much modern fiction masel, wid rather read a science book thin read panderin rubbish. Ah’m sick ay it aw. Which is why ah’m here.’

‘Ye think ye’ve got it in ye tae carry off a Kailyard, son? Ah kin see a short story or two in ye the noo, nuthin mair yit. Bit jist gie it time. Come back in a few year, n if ah’m still here we kin hae anither talk.’

An edge of irritation crept into Jimmy’s voice.

‘Ah dinnae want tae come back in a few year, ah’m wantin somethin right-bloody-noo!’

Kailyard raised his hands in a placatory gesture. ‘Easy laddie, easy, ye cannae come intae ma shop n talk tae me like that. Typical teenager, eywis wantin ivirythin right there n then n sulkin if they dinnae git it. Ye gie me ony mair grief n ah’ll pit ye oot the door soon is lookit ye.’

‘Ah’m sorry, ah didnae mean tae snap it ye. It’s jist thit…ah git frustratit sometimes n…ah jist…ah’m really sorry. I didnae mean tae offend ye.’

The old man’s demeanour softened towards his impatient would-be customer.

‘Look, you tell me whit yer wantin in a story n ah’ll tell ye whit ah think, whither ah kin work wi ye or no, whither or no ye’ve got interesting enough ideas fir yin ay ma works.’

‘Right.’ Suddenly, Jimmy became intensely self-conscious. His voice wavered. He stopped, cleared his throat and then started talking again. ‘Loud music. Guid sex, loads ay guid sex. Musical bone implants. New words. Burndancin. Cool haircuts n claze. Mad video games wi big hings thit ye stick intae yer brain tae see mad stuff. N ah want Porno Savini tae be the hero.’

The old man, who had been nodding and listening intently to what Jimmy had been saying, looked confused.

‘Porno Savini? Who or whit the hell is a Porno Savini?’

Jimmy pointed down to the attentive monkey at his feet.

‘He’s Porno Savini. Ae, Porno Savini. Tell the man.’

Porno Savini let out a feeble confused screech, still disorientated by the monkey business he had been engrossed in when looking at the storymaterial. Kailyard shook his head in disbelief.

‘Ye want me tae make a bloody chimpanzee the main character in a story? Whit in the hell fir?’

Jimmy shrugged.

‘Why the hell no? Kin ye think ay onythin better like? N the wee man’s no a chimpanzee, he’s a Capuchin. Chimps ur apes, n apes dinnae hae tails. Ah want him in ma story. He’s ma best pal.’

The storytailor looked for a glimmer of humour in Jimmy’s face, but found none. He was serious. Then something dawned on Kailyard and he slowly smiled.

‘Ah see. Thjs is a kinnay ‘gie enuff monkeys enuff typewriters’ kinnay thing, ae?’

Jimmy shook his head.

‘Nut. That’s reading too much intae it. N that’s been done afore, onyway. Ah wid’ve thought ye wid’ve come up wi somethin better thin that! It’s jist a silly wee story aboot a bionic monkey wi an artificial leg thit fights crime in the future, ah’m shair a man ay yir experience could handle it easy enough.’

‘Ah could, bit ah dinnae want tae. It’s yin ay the stupidest ideas ah’ve ivir heard in ma life n ah’ve heard some bloody stupit yins, believe you me.’

Jimmy scowled.

‘Stupit tae you mibbe, bit no tae me. Yer ower the hill, jist huvnae got the vision onymair tae see a guid thing whin it’s right in front ay ye.’

‘Is that right? Listen laddie, take yer bloody monkey n yer bloody stupit idea n git tae – HOI! GIMME THAT BACK YE WEE CHIMP BUGGER YE!’

Kailyard screamed at Porno Savini, who had jumped up and grabbed the sheaf of papers the storytailor had been working on. Before either man could do anything the Capuchin had torn the papers to shreds, tearing into them with sharp teeth. The story vacated its bowels in its death throes, verbal diarrhoea pouring screamed dialogue onto the floor. It haemmorhaged emotional truths from a huge gash in its storycore; half-realised minor characters melted into shapeless skeletal puddles of ink on the pages. Then it lost the plot and the trauma was all over, almost as quickly as it had begun.

Jimmy looked up and saw his own shock mirrored on the old man’s features. He had to stifle an urge to laugh, though. There was something poetic in what had just happened.

‘Ah telt ye he wisnae a chimp. He’s a Capuchin. There is a difference.’

Kailyard was going purple with rage. He clenched and unclenched his fists, looking like a man who meant to hit something.

‘Take yer bloody chi- take yer bloody Capuchin n git the hell ootay ma shop afore ah really lose ma temper ya wee…see if that hudnae jist been a first draft ye’d huv been payin fir that story fir the rest ay yer bloody life! Aw that work lost!’

‘Dis this mean that ye willnae dae a story fir me then?’ Jimmy smiled sweetly.

‘Get oot laddie, afore ah…afore…get oot! Oot! OOOOOTTT!!’

‘Awright, ah kin take a subtle hint. Come on Porno Savini, let’s take oor trade elsewhere. We ken whaur wir no wanted.’

Jimmy grabbed Porno Savini’s leash, pulling him away from the storycorpse and out the front door.


The door closing cut off the old man’s enraged cry.

Jimmy and Porno Savini walked slowly along Falkirk High Street, Jimmy deep in thought.

‘Well Porno Savini, it looks like we’ll no be getting a Kailyard the day, eh? Here, whit’s that ye’ve got there? Gimme that, gimme it.’

Jimmy reached down and opened Porno Savini’s left paw, in which he had something tightly clutched. It was a small piece of paper. Jimmy opened it up and looked at the deceased storysmear on it. He chuckled.

‘Looks like ah might’ve spoke a bit too soon, eh? Come on, let’s go git ye fed n watered.’

Jimmy tucked the fragment into his pocket as he and his faithful monkey pal happily skanked hand-in-paw past the squinting smears of sunburned streetglass.

© Graham Rae 2009