I’ve been too crazy busy preparing Grand Guignol for the Adelaide Fringe this week, so I haven’t got a new story. Instead, I’ve got an old one, from the first version of the Grand Guignol stage show. It’s a poem that I wrote for a fundraising gala, where everyone had to contribute something connected to a different ‘day’ of Christmas. I got assigned ‘Five Golden Rings’. I’ve cut it from the stage show because it’s not funny enough, and a bit embarrassingly twee.
T’were the night before Christmas, the old man had died,
Clutching his sheet to his chest.
And the vultures who’d circled to be by his side
Now pecked at his massive bequest.
The family sat for the wake and the meal
And to finally farewell their pater
And inspected the silver, to use or to steal,
Or to use then come back and steal later
There were murmurs the patriarch died in a manner
Suspicious, unnatural, and icky
Each person there had the wishes and means
And the whole clan excelled at being ‘snicky’.
(At this point, there was a gag about how crap my rhyming scheme was, to rhyme icky with sneaky.)
There were Billy and Gilly, the sourdust Twins,
Now working as real estate agents
They’d surveyed the grounds with ill-disguised grins
And chewed on their lips with impatience
It was said that they’d once bought a derelict slum
And hanged squatters from the escarpments.
They then did it up, charged a sizeable sum
For tours of the ‘haunted apartments’.
Their sister Roberta, a chemist and snake
Who sidelined in poisons, pro rata
Today she was helping to cater the wake
Tho no one dared try the frittata.
Their brother, Pengelly, the oldest of five
And a widower five times or more <br.He’d made his great fortune from that of his wives
As each of them died ‘premature’.
Then last of all, Tim, the babe of the clan,
A dullard, a mouse and a weak ‘un.
The meekest of sheep, he was barely a man,
And worse, it was whispered, a vegan.
And at the head, at his old high backed chair,
An empty place held for their da.
With his solid gold monogrammed phone by his plate,
Alongside his favourite cigar.
The Sourdusts surveyed the room with a glare,
While they toyed with their butter and meat.
Except for poor Tim who toyed with his lettuce.
The only thing there he could eat.
And as each Sourdust lifted his fork or his spoon
To taste the feast made for the mourners
A blood curdling shriek tore right through the room
And richochéd off of the cornice
Ah, just the phone! Father’s gold-plated phone,
Whose ringtone he’d picked for a wheeze.
The butler, he answered, then quickly hung up.
“No voice”, he said, “just a soft breeze”.
So once again each gripped a spoon or a fork
Of jellied eels, barley and mullets
A gluttonous display of roast turkey and pork
Just inches away from their gullets
But Pengelly stood up, tapped his fork to a glass
And announced in a rich baritone
“That ring make me think … I’ve a thing to discuss
As his siblings all stifled a groan.
“I know that we’ve not been the closest of kin
But it’s time we thought of our bequeather”
But before he could finish, or even begin,
A second loud scream split the ether.
Pengelly stomped up to the phone, snatched it up
And heard naught but soft crumpled sigh
Like the rattling air that they call a death moan
Pushed out from your lungs as you die.
“Is that father?” He asked with a crack in his voice
And tinged with a dollop of guilt.
He hung up, and with shuddery hands, sat back down
As ring number three built, and built.
A querulous squeak came out of Roberta
And Gilly and Billy looked pale.
“Has he come back to judge us? Avenging his murder?”
They asked, in a terrified wail.
Then a fourth and a fifth call rattled their wills
And confessions erupted like geysers.
“I poisoned his milk!” “I weakened his pills”
“At night I filed down his incisors”
Again … a bit desperate. But it rhymes.
All but Tim, who sat watching this unfolding ballad,
And lacking a tragic admission
Confessed to being unhappy with salad
And worried about his nutrition,
Then Gillian picked up the roast carving knife
And swung it around with a yell.
“Don’t you see? Because we ne’er loved him in life
He’ll drag us all with him to Hell!”
“It’s a ghost! A phantom! A boojum! A spook!
And he’ll claim his revenge if he’s able!”
And in madness, she plunged her knife into the cook
And spilled his guts, right on the table.
Chaos ensued, as each family member
Scrabbled to arms, or to cutlery
To stab, slice or grate, cut, spoon or dismember
The nearest ranged brother or butler … y.
Til all Sourdusts lay all crumpled and torn
In a gruesome and sodden display.
Except for the vegan, whose lack of red meat
Left him too weak to join in the fray.
The only survivor, Tim picked up his things,
And slipped out from the carnage beguiled.
He’d just realised the source of those five golden rings:
The phone in his pants pocket-dialled.