Monday, 30 May 2016

The Rum Puch Show

Next time you’re at the seaside….
Damn and blast it! They’re supposed to applaud and react to me, not sit in silence as if the very devil himself held their tongues! What do I have to do to get a reaction? Strip down and dance naked in front if them, waving my damned genitals in front of their damned faces?”
It was the same after every performance. It was the rant because no one said anything from start to finish; it was complete silence. It was the same blank faces; a different crowd each night but the same cold eyes.
And Randlaf Puch, the great entertainer, couldn’t understand it.
Perhaps you’re ahead of your time?” Cautiously ventured Jude. “I don’t think people are necessarily ready for the Amazing Rum Puch Show. Don’t take it so seriously, love.” She never understood, thought Randlaf, even after all this time she still didn’t understand him.
Randlaf met Jude two years previous when he visited the forest of St Leonard. He’d just introduced a new character into his growing array of puppets. This one was of a dragon and it was an awesome beast. Essentially a hand puppet, it was painted in vivid green with great fire-red eyes. It had a moveable mouth that snapped up and down with a vicious CRACK! and Randlaf was right proud of it. He wanted to show it off to the fair people of St Leonard because having recently conquered such a beast they would surely have appreciated its majesty, but nothing happened. No one showed the slightest bit of appreciation, not even a flicker in their eyes. Well.. One person did.
Jude was the first person to really show any understanding as to what Randlaf was trying to do and on that fated day she was the only person who applauded. Everybody else was far too bemused, dazed or just plain bored to join in. Audience participation? Hah! That was a laugh.
I don’t know what it is, it’s the same wherever I go.” He replied, almost ignoring Jude’s last remark. “I’ve been from one end of this damned country t’other , and all I get is…. Well, I mean, I’m not doing anything wrong, am I? All I want them to do is get involved, get them shouting back at me! It’s the great Rum Puch Show! What more do they want?” Randlaf knew that audience participation was the only way to go, the only way to do things. “It’s the only way to do it! You’ve got to involve the audience or else where else are you?”
Jude knew what was going to happen next. It was just like one of his stupid puppet shows. He would go for the rum bottle and she would try to talk him out of it. He would then strike her, swearing and cursing her name; ranting in the same shrill, tinny voice that he used on stage. Then he would collapse in a heap on the floor and, sobbing at her feet, beg Jude to forgive him. After every performance it was the same show: The same two characters dancing along to an unknown puppeteer.
Why couldn’t she just leave him? Walk out the door, never to see him again; leave him to his sorry excuse for a show… No, she knew the reason why. There was one very good reason why she couldn’t leave him, but now was not the right time to tell him.
I can’t stay here tonight.” He suddenly said, the words so unexpected. Jude reeled as if she had been hit in the face by a large wooden club.
What did you say?” She could scarcely believe what she had just heard.
I’m sorry, I just need time to think…” Randlaf stumbled. “My next show is tomorrow and I was going to Northeye; it’s near Normans Bay. I just need time to get my act together… I’ll be back within a week… You understand, Jude…”
Randlaf walked to the door; the same door he had only just walked through barely an hour before. He still had his performers make up on and the silly clay nose. He still wore his coat-of-many-pockets which held his menagerie of magic tricks –which so failed to impress the children.
He hadn’t been in the house long and now he was leaving. He picked up his “impossible box”, where he kept all his little puppets and then he was gone. Just like that.
Jude was alone again, alone with her thoughts and fears. The house seemed to echo with the sounds of long dead children; none of them hers. Squeals of delight, of whispers and promises and if only, if only. Maybe she should have told him, would that have made a difference? Would that have made him stay?
She had kept it from him for weeks, trying to pick the right moment. But the ‘right’ moment never came. He was always too tightly wound up with his damnable puppets. He treated them as if they actually existed! As if he gave birth to them himself! They weren’t just fabric and sawdust to him, they were flesh and blood! How would he react if something else came between him and his fantasy?
I’m with child.” Jude said, the tears drowning her voice, making the words sound like a confession of guilt. Isn’t that what they both wanted? She tried it again with more conviction, “I’m with child..” The words came so easily now that he was gone.

It was easier now that he had gone, Randlaf thought. Things were clearer. It was her, Jude, that didn’t understand, after all. The wife… the little woman.. Jude… She was always the one who said ‘Maybe you’re ahead of your time.’ or; ‘they’re just not ready for your kind of humour.” Or the best one: “They just don’t understand where you’re coming from.”
No, she was the one who didn’t understand. She was the one who held him back, insisted that after every tour he come back to see her, spend time with her. It hadn’t always been like that; she’d been supportive at the start, always listening to his ideas and even acting as a makeshift audience. Why, with a whole audience of Jude’s he would have been one of the greatest entertainers the world had ever seen!
But when the courtship was over and there was no reason to put on an act any more things started to go down hill. Routine, drab and dull routine and drab and dull Jude. He had a life as “The Magnificent Rum Puch!” and she knew that when she married him, so why did she still insist that he should change? He just couldn’t understand it.
It was just as well she wasn’t the only one –there were others that knew how to please him as well as she, if not better! In fact, if memory served him, there was someone who understood; someone who knew how to please a crowd, that lived not so far away from here.
Hello boys and girls.” Randlaf said under his breath as he approached her cottage. “This is my girlfriend. She’s called Pretty Polly, but shhhhhhh –don’t tell Jude because she doesn’t know…” Hmm, there was a chance for a new character there, he thought. It needs a bit of development –maybe Polly herself could input a few ideas –no harm in asking. He’d often put his hand up her sleeve anyways – that’s the way to do it. A little bit of audience participation goes a long way!

With the next day there was indeed a new character: possibly the most beautiful puppet that Randlaf had ever seen. He’d taken several hours to get the shape of Polly engraved in his mind, then another hour to actually carve the piece, but it was time well spent. Not as good as the real thing, but good enough.
Hello boys and girls.” Randlaf squeeked. “Are you pleased to see me?” The audience was dumbfounded as usual, but this time Randlaf didn’t care, he was on too much of a high. This was the first time that the world would see his new puppet, Pretty Polly. “Would you like to see my new girlfriend?” Puch shouted, his voice maniacally high now. This was a trick he learnt when he was young, when he got really angry his voice would shatter into a shrill screech. It frightened the little kids now, but that didn’t matter.
Jude always wondered how he was able to project his voice and emotions into the lifeless puppets. Easy, he told her, they’re not lifeless, they’re real. Jude always took this as a joke.
Her name’s Pretty Polly –isn’t she nice, boys and girls?”
On stage the puppet of Puch whirled around trying to find her, but to no avail. “Have you seen her, boys and girls?” Puch squeeled. “If you have then shout out ‘she’s behind you!’ Shall we try it on for size now, children?”
Silence. In the distance Randlaf could hear two children playing by a small well. A cockerel mistimed the morning and let out a noise that put Randlaf to shame. But the audience was still, sheer silence. Randlaf carried on regardless, eager to show off his new acquisition. He placed his shaking right hand into her hole, making sure his fingers were in the right places to move her arms –as he had done the previous night- and he whispered sweet nothings into her ear.
Then she was up on stage, parading about behind Puch, who was blissfully unaware of what was happening –as was the audience. Even the Bottler, who Randlaf had paid ten minutes earlier was unsure what to do. Randlaf managed to kick the Bottler from where he was standing underneath the ramshackle tent, prompting his lines.
She’s behind you, Rum Puch! She’s behind you!” The Bottler was now full of vigour trying to rub his behind where he’d been kicked. He used his left hand so he wouldn’t inadvertently kill the flies that Randlaf had placed in his right hand minutes before. (For every fly that was dead, Randlaf would deduct one coin from his pay; it was proof that the Bottler had not been dipping into the afternoons takings.)
Rum Puch turned round and squeeled in excitement. “There you are, my dear.” He exclaimed and bobbed up and down. “Say hello to the boys and girls.”
Hello boys and girls.” Bipped Polly. Randlaf found it hard to mimic the female voice and tried to make it different to his version of Judes.
Oooh, but you mustn’t tell Jude anything, boys and girls. You mustn’t tell Jude about Pretty Polly because Jude is with child! She’s just given birth to a little baby boy. Would you like to see the little baby boy? Off you go, Pretty Polly, go fetch the baby.” Polly disappeared so Randlaf could change puppets to Jude and the baby. This was the part of the show that both Puch and Randlaf enjoyed the most.
Jude popped up from the back of the stage carrying the little baby puppet.
Now, Rum Puch, you will look after the baby, won’t you, Rum Puch?” Jude nagged. “I don’t want anything to happen to him when I’m gone. I’ll leave him in your hands.” The puppet of Jude handed the little wooden baby to Puch and turned to the audience. “Now, boys and girls, if anything happens to the baby I want you to give me a shout. Shout out as loud as you can and I’ll come running.”
With that the little puppet of Jude disappeared leaving Puch quivering with excitement. Puch placed the baby on the edge of the makeshift stage and disappeared briefly. When he returned he had a wicked looking stick which he stuck underneath the baby's mis-shapen chin. “Stroke the baby.” He squeeked. “Stroke the baby! HIT the baby! HIT the Baby!!” slam went the stick on the stage, slam went the stick on the baby knocking it off the stage. “That’s the way to do it!! That’s the way to do it!!” Puch was now completely out of control, dancing a maniacal jig on the stage, waving the stick haphazardly, “Kill the baby! Kill the baby!!” But the baby was no longer there, it had fallen, plummeted to its wooden death like all the others had. The children were crying, some of the younger ones screaming for their mummies. Randlaf was overjoyed at the reaction of the crowd.
Months passed, the tour had finally finished. Puch had been put back into the Impossible Box to consummate his wooden passions with Pretty Polly and Randlaf wanted to do the same with his Polly, but felt that he needed to see Jude.
That ‘week” had turned into months and he felt a little guilty about leaving her alone. Now that the touring season was over Randlaf felt better disposed to her and could almost cope with spending time with her now that there was nothing else to do. Polly wasn’t that far away if things went too bad and it wasn’t that long before he could start touring again. He could spend the time thinking up new scenarios, new story lines and even new characters! There was the baby to make new again, but that would only take a few minutes at the most!
Randlaf walked into a house full of screaming; a high pitched, shrill wail that, like the Cockerel before, put Puch’s voice to shame. Randlaf backed out of the door, checked that he’d returned to the right cottage and walked back inside. The noise was still prevalent and he wondered what had happened. The screaming sounded like… a.. child!
Jude?!” Randlaf shouted, in competition with the wailing. “JUDE!”
In here, Randlaf, dearest.” Came the reply. “I’m in the nursery.” Nursery? He thought… Nursery? He couldn’t remember a nursery in the cottage before. He followed the screaming to what used to be the spare bedroom and there, in front of him by the window, was Jude standing by a crudely fashioned crib. She was rocking it making cooing sounds to the bundle of noise that lie within.
Whose baby is that?” Randlaf asked when he’d managed to find his voice.
Why, it’s yours, silly.” Jude replied, smiling up at him proudly. Randlaf couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His? How could it be his? She must be lying, she spent enough time on her own after all… He was determined to get the truth from her.
Who’s baby is it?” He demanded, bounding over to her. He thrust his hands round her neck and started to squeeze.
Yours… “She choked, “..ours..”
It can’t be… I don’t believe you.” He replied, squeezing tighter.
Randlaf..” Jude choked. “I couldn’t tell you before…. You wouldn’t listen…. I thought.. the baby…. Would bring us together… but without you.. I don’t want to live..” Jude was so close to passing out and had resided herself to death when Randlaf let her go. She fell to the floor, gasping; retching for breath. Randlaf just stood there, staring at the baby. His eyes darted back to her before focusing back on the child, his child. Finally he turned back to Jude and picked her up, held her closely. When he stood back he was smiling, a wooden rictus that reminded her of that fiend Puch.

Weeks passed and Jude was finally persuaded to leave the baby in Randlafs care. She loved him, that was never in doubt, she just didn’t trust him to take care of the baby. He beat her so who was to say that he wouldn’t do the same to the baby? It took days of placation, soft words and softer promises and eventually Jude agreed. She was going shopping in the village and would leave the baby with Randlaf.
That’s the way to do it!” Randlaf had replied, giddy with excitement at the prospect of looking after his only son. When Jude had left, Randlaf introduced the baby to the cast of the Rum Puch Show, making sure to leave Puch to last.
This is Polly.. Pretty Polly.” Randlaf explained, perching the baby on his knee as he showed each puppet to him. “You don’t know about her, and neither does Jude –and that’s the way it’s going to be. Now, this…” He continued, “ Jude. Not your mummy, but my Jude –she’s better behaved than your mummy. Jude thinks that I’m going to stop seeing Pretty Polly because of you.. but you see, I’m not.. I’m NOT!” Randlaf got out of the chair, still keeping the baby in his hands and whirled around like a dervish. When he had swung around enough times he placed the still giggling baby in the crib and said, “Would you like to see the dragon?” He nodded. “Yes, of course you would. Everyone likes to see the dragon!” Randlaf dived into his Impossible Box to find the dragon.
A couple of frantic seconds later and the dragon had miraculously swallowed Randlaf’s arm, its mouth cracking, head swishing emitting the best roar that Randlaf could muster. Like the many children before, the baby burst into tears and screamed. Randlaf didn’t know what to do; He had sworn to Jude that he wouldn’t do anything to upset the child and yet here it was crying. What, oh what was he to do?
And then it dawned on him, Puch would know what to do! Randlaf shook off the dragon glove puppet and proceeded to place Puch lovingly on his left hand.
Hello, what’s going on here then?” Puch asked in Randlafs best squeaky voice. “Aaaah! A baby! A Baby!! – oh, do a dance of joy!” And Randlaf did, a perfect jig of joy, a macabre dance that only puppets can muster.
What are we going to do with the baby, Mr Puch?” Randlaf asked. “It’s crying and we can’t let the baby cry for it will wake up the rest of the puppets!” Puch shook his head.
We can’t have that, Mr Randlaf.” Puch replied.
What can we do then, Mr Puch?”
Why don’t we.. stroke the baby? Stroke the baby…”And Puch did that; his little hands guided by Randlafs fingers stroked the baby under its mis-shapen chin. The baby stopped crying for a second, looking at the funny figure of Puch and giggled. “Hit the baby! Hit the baby!” Shouted Puch, and suddenly Randlafs other hand whipped round stopping Puch’s maniacal dance from reaching its crescendo. The baby started to cry again, louder this time.
No Puch! We can’t hit the baby.” Randlaf cooed. “For who would clean up the mess?”
What shall we do then, Mr Randlaf?”
Why don’t we see if we can learn the baby to walk, Mr Puch?”

Jude returned an hour later, fully laden with shopping. The house was quiet, no screaming baby.. no baby sounds at all.
Randlaf?” Jude shouted. “Baby? Mummies home.” No reply. Putting the shopping down, Jude walked upstairs to where the nursery was, keeping an ever open ear for any sound. Opening the nursery door she immediately noticed that the window had been covered by one of the bedsheets, and the room was in semi-darkness. The crib was silent and still and in the chair next to it sat the huddled form of Randlaf.
What’s going on?” Jude asked, now fearing for her baby’s safety. Everything was so still and silent… “Randlaf, what’s wrong? Why is everything so quiet?”
Shhh… the baby is sleeping.” The voice was so hushed, little more than a breath, that it frightened Jude even more. It sounded like it was coming from the chair, but she couldn’t be sure.
Where is the baby?” She insisted, her voice betraying her fears.
Outside.” Randlaf whispered. “It wanted to go for a walk. When it walked enough it fell asleep.” Jude ran over to the window and ripped aside the sheet. Daylight streamed through the room. Below, nothing more than a dash of ochre on gravel, lie the baby, like one of Randlaf.s disposed puppets.
It wasn’t me.” Randlaf whispered. “It was Puch's idea.” Jude whirled round, anger and revulsion coursing through every pour of her body.
She screamed as she faced her worst nightmare. A full size mannequin of Randlaf sat in the chair facing her, dressed in HIS clothes and wearing HIS maniacal grin and make up. She ran up to it and shook it, screaming at the object of her every hurt and pain.
Behind you, sweetie.” Randlaf shouted, his voice little more than a squeal. As Jude whirled round she caught sight of him running at her, wearing Puchs costume; running at her with a huge wooden club. She never saw the blow that killed her, never heard his shrill cries of “That’s the way to do it! THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!”

Next time you’re down by the seaside and you see a brightly coloured tent with a couple of whirling puppets chasing round in it, spare a thought for the bottler. Take a care to look into his left hand and count the flies, and if you’re feeling very charitable please spare him a penny. But next time you laugh at the dance of the puppets and clap your hands at the devilment, try to remember poor Jude… and what became of Puch's attempts at learning the baby to walk.

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