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Harpo Speaks

              Carruthers had half a face. He actually had a whole face, but the bottom half was so magnificently beautiful – perfectly dimpled chin with just a hint of stubble, lean lips curling to reveal straight, white teeth, and skin so creamy you could dip strawberries in it – that everybody just forgot what the top half looked like. His forehead (probably quite charming too, if left to its own devices) faded from memory, his nose lost in the glow of that breathtaking zero-point-five of a visage. Not that it bothered Carruthers especially. He just enjoyed being admired.
              And admired he was. He was the only man I ever knew to get seedy remarks thrown his way by builders, and Carruthers would wave back at them, generously offering a smile.
              How I longed for him to smile at me. Sometimes I thought I loved him more than any of his other admirers. I even knew what colour of his eyes were because, to me, he was more than just a beautiful half of a face. I saw the whole head. But I was like a kid sister to him, so I was left to languish, only dreaming of Carruthers-shaped caresses. Such glories, I think, were never intended for the likes of me, or anyone else, for that matter. He existed on a plane above mere mortals. Nobody could deserve him.
              Then Carruthers disappeared, and someone like Carruthers couldn’t just disappear and be completely forgotten. He was too important for that. Suddenly a whole network, his fanbase I suppose, was thrown in disarray, alarmed by the absence of their (or if I’m honest, our) idol.

              Before he vanished, Carruthers had needed somewhere to stay for a while, so I was sleeping on my sister’s couch. Sometimes I would return home and sit patiently on the kitchen counter, waiting for him to rise. The mornings didn’t diminish him; his morning breath only amplified my adoration. I would offer him tea, or we would go outside and keep watch over the city. We were voyeurs of office workers, observing their escape from sterile cubicles into the spring air. The breeze was sharp and hurt their delicate skin, but they were feeling, feeling anything, and that was what mattered. We would give them names and families and personality flaws and shiny cars to make up for how they never saw their families and how their personality flaws made them repugnant. Everyone likes a nice car, Carruthers would tell me. He might have just been talking to himself, but I would nod and smile anyway.
              (Christ, I was a dope with him.)

              But that morning he didn’t rise. My flat was not itself; there was a broken bottle by the sink, and the spilt milk on the floor had hardened. The apartment was cold because the window had been left open for who knows how long. The answering machine was full of missed calls. Gingerly I played them back, and they were all tinged with desperation:
              Carruthers, I’ve been waiting here for an hour. Where are you?
              Are you coming tonight? I haven’t heard back from you.
              Your mobile’s turned off. Everything okay?

              I recognised the voices, all people who had loved Carruthers, just like me. And Carruthers had left them all.
              I sat down, anxious thoughts coursing through my mind. I blamed myself for not being there, but I had spent the past week nursing my mother’s broken ankle (excuses, excuses). It had been an arduous time for me without Carruthers. I missed how he opened my eyes to the city, telling maybe-true stories about why this hobo was wearing a suit and how that lawyer had track marks up her arm. On my own, I had to face up to the emptiness of my existence. In his presence, I could at least pretend I was someone people wanted to know. But now Carruthers was gone. Something had happened. He wouldn’t have just run away. Carruthers lived on our adoration, he couldn’t bear to give that up, he wouldn’t leave us all. Something had happened to him.
              I rubbed my sweaty palms on the sofa, and felt wool against my skin. Pulling a jumper from beneath a cushion, I suddenly knew where to find the answers.

              Because, you see, Leo had loved Carruthers too. Maybe more than anyone, even me. He certainly hated Carruthers more. Leo had never been simply a devoted follower like the rest of us, and I thought for a while that Carruthers loved him back. I was probably wrong. Regardless, when they broke up, we all chose to stick with Carruthers, severing our ties with Leo.
              He was waiting for me with a friend in the coffee shop, dressed in yellow as usual. He looked exactly the same as when I last saw him, all bones and thick glasses. I approached cautiously, unsure of the reception I would receive. We exchanged polite greetings as I sat down, nervously chewing the inside of my cheeks. I watched Leo’s hands, the creases at the corners of his eyes. Any hint of remorse or fear, I would notice. I had to, for Carruthers’ sake. I smiled at Leo. He didn’t smile back. Was that an admission of guilt, or did he simply not like me? Both were possible. It was very hard to think of an opening line. In my mind, I made a note to read more Raymond Chandler.
              “Who’s the little guy?” I asked finally, nodding to the familiar-looking figure in the curly wig sitting on the third chair.
              “Oh, that’s Harpo Marx. I let him hang around with me sometimes.”
              Harpo nodded amiably and honked a horn at me.
              “He doesn’t talk much,” Leo added.
              “Good for him…” I said, feeling uneasy. Harpo waggled his eyebrows and made a dumbshow of admiration. It was charming, sure, but I was never comfortable with that kind of thing.
              “So what do you want to know?” Leo asked, shaking brown sugar into his coffee. The smell wafted over the table and pinched my nostrils. I never could stand coffee. Carruthers always told me I couldn’t be a city girl without coffee, a fact that always shamed me.
              There was a pause. I smiled again. I said the word ‘well’ and then stopped. In truth, I just didn’t know how to broach the subject. Things had ended badly between Leo and Carruthers, and perhaps it was too soon to mention his name. I tried playing innocent.
              “What do you mean, ‘what do I want to know’? What’s wrong with a friend coming to see a friend?” It even sounded lame in my head.
              His eyes narrowed. “Listen, Myra, I’ve had about twenty phone calls from everyone and their mum worrying about him. I don’t think you’re any different. I only agreed to meet because I wanted a coffee anyway. And I want you to know what I think of you, face to face.”
              Harpo tipped his top hat over his eyes and tried to disappear into the background. I felt sorry for the guy. Suddenly I didn’t want to be here either. I watched Leo drum his fingers on the fake marble tabletop. God I hate these tables. The thought occurred to me with sudden aggression. I hate the tables and the uncomfortable chairs, and the teeny tiny espresso cups. I just hate the whole place. The whole world.
              “Okay, Leo, I give up. Call me a bitch, call me whatever, get it out of the way then tell me what you know.”
              “You’re a bitch. And I don’t know anything.”
              “Then you’re a rat.”
              His mouth dropped open. “How am I the rat?”
              “I know you were with him. You left your jumper on the sofa.” I let that linger in the air for melodramatic aplomb. “And I wouldn’t mind so much,” I added, “except it took me two months to knit it for you. Do you know how hard it is to outline a unicorn in yellow wool? It’s pretty hard, let me tell you.” Leo requested I knit him a jumper after Carruthers announced that I was an expert craftsperson. To save my dignity, I was forced to learn at speed. Carruthers liked that kind of joke the most, although I found it difficult to laugh along.
              “So what if I did see him?” he said finally, “I thought there was nothing wrong with ‘a friend seeing a friend’.” There was an edge in his voice.
              I softened as his cheeks flushed and he stared into his cup. It was the same expression he’d worn for weeks after he and Carruthers had finished, not that I’d had much contact with him then. I chewed my lip. I had treated Leo so badly. Really rotten.
              “I just want to find him,” I said quietly.
              Leo stared out of the window for a moment. “Fine,” he said softly, “he called and wanted to see me, so I put on my best clothes and went over. I thought…” He trailed off, smiling bitterly to himself. “I thought he wanted me back.” He couldn’t meet my gaze. It was only then I began to realise how much Carruthers had hurt Leo. Carruthers had never let on. Did he even care? I watched carefully as Leo tried to compose himself. “He only wanted to borrow money. Like always. He said you were out of town so he needed me. I was there maybe ten minutes. I don’t know where he’s gone, or why. Happy now?”
              I lowered my head, trying to hide the tears in my eyes. Carruthers had been a bastard, there was no doubt about it, but I cared for him, and I was so certain that Leo would have the answers. Now I was really worried. If Leo wasn’t involved, who was?
              When I looked up again, Leo was staring back at me. I was never any good at hiding my feelings. His face relaxed into a look of sympathy, probably the same patronising look I had been giving him for the past few minutes. “Okay, listen. How about I help you out? We could swing by a few of his old hangouts, ask around. I’m sure he’s just…I’m sure he’s somewhere. Nothing to get upset over.”
              I felt my blood bubble with guilt. Leo was the nicest guy you’re ever likely to meet, and I had dropped him at Carruthers’ request, just like everybody else. This was probably how Nazism happened. And now he was helping me again, after all that.
              “Sure, Leo, I’d appreciate that,” I said, but just for a moment, I caught myself wondering why I was bothering to look for Carruthers at all.

              We drifted into the city streets, Harpo tripping merrily behind us. I saw the office workers pass but didn’t pay any attention to them. My mind was clouded with thoughts of Carruthers, but not my usual affectionate dreaming. I was worried about him, but now upset by his behaviour. I was his friend so it was acceptable to exploit my affection, but abusing Leo’s good will was deplorable, even by Carruthers’ standards. I felt my chest tighten. I was determined to admonish him when I found him, but I knew one smile, one seductive sentence, and I would forgive him everything. My devotion was monstrous.
              “We could go to see Stevie, I suppose,” Leo said, rousing me from brooding thoughts. “I’m sure he’ll help us if he can. He’s full of good intentions.”
              The people who knew Stevie would understand the sarcasm in Leo’s voice. Stevie knew practically everything but how willingly he would offer the information was another matter. He jealously guarded Carruthers from unworthy eyes, as though he wanted to keep him pinned in a glass case like a rare butterfly. Hardly able to hide the reluctance in my voice, I questioned how useful Stevie would be.
              Leo sighed. “I know what Stevie’s like, but he’s definitely had contact with Carruthers recently. He was the one who got him my phone number. We don’t have much of a choice. It should be fine as long as we keep him sweet, try not to antagonise him.”
              As we advanced towards Stevie’s place, the wind became frenzied, cutting through the narrow streets like a whip. Harpo’s hat was repeatedly blown off his head and danced deep into the labyrinth of concrete ahead. He clambered over us and scampered towards his elusive prize. Every time he replaced it atop his wig, the wind would lift it again and send it soaring further from his grasp. His theatrics led us to an old apartment building, russet bricks radiating among the industrial greys that surrounded it.
              “Stevie’s place,” Leo said as we climbed the steps and rang the bell, Harpo holding his hat tightly over his ears with both hands.
              Stevie announced on the intercom that he would be meeting us downstairs rather than buzzing us in, ‘just to be sure’. He answered the door with a skittish look up and down the alley before letting us in. Stevie wasn’t how I remembered him. He seemed smaller and more nervous. He wore an old suit, stained by food and lazy living, and he kept scratching at a blotchy rash on his neck. He ignored our attempts at small talk and ushered us up flights of stairs towards the top of the building, where mould crept with determination up the walls, as though chasing the sunlight that peeked through Venetian blinds.
              He swung open the living room door with pride. The room had no windows and was poorly lit by a lamp with a stained glass shade, sending colours spiralling across the wallpaper. Every free space was filled with TVs with cracked screens, figurines of chipped porcelain, and wine bottles from every restaurant in the city, some with the stumps of candles remaining. Harpo immediately leapt in, examining the little statues and shaking the wine bottles, presumably hoping for a full one.
              “Stuart not here?” Leo asked politely, stepping inside, “I thought he always stayed in. He says it’s a sin that he has to leave the house at all.”
              Stevie snorted in disgust. “Not anymore, he’s out with Molly. And don’t even get me started on Molly. Do you know she thinks Nixon was misunderstood? Nixon! Turns out that she hasn’t a clue what Watergate was all about. Stupid girl.”
              It felt like the tirade was pouring from his lips was exploding in the atmosphere around us. Frightened to interrupt for fear of offending him, I looked at Leo, and he shook his head. We didn’t really want to waste time on this. Stevie’s mind was built for tirades, and once he began, it was hard to break his focus. Leo coughed loudly, to divert Stevie from his vitriol. “Yes, well,” he began, talking over him, “the thing is, we’re looking for someone.”
              Stevie looked solemnly at the worn rug and picked at the stains on his cuff. “Nobody ever comes just to say hello anymore.”
              “Have you seen Carruthers?”
              “Not for ages. I haven’t seen anyone for ages.”
              Leo exhaled loudly through his teeth, his face twitching with frustration. “He’s gone missing,” he explained, hoping to provoke a reaction. Stevie stared at him with cold bravado.
              “Good,” he said.
              He turned and noticed Harpo’s antics behind him, stuffing his coat full of Stevie’s meagre treasures. He slapped Harpo’s hands away from the figurines. “Could you please keep that idiot away from my stuff?” he cried, grabbing a statue that was sticking out from Harpo’s pockets.
              “He’s just messing around,” Leo said, “he’ll give them back”.
              “Well, I don’t like it,” said Stevie, glowering. Harpo shrugged and emptied his coat, before honking his horn loudly into Stevie’s ear. Stevie raised one skinny hand with menace, causing Harpo to burst into a mime of mocking laughter.
              I tried to make conversation before any real violence broke out. “Isn’t it a bit late to celebrate Christmas?” I asked, pointing at the shabby-looking fir tree propped in the corner.
              “That’s not a Christmas tree, it’s an ornamental evergreen display,” Stevie replied wearily.
              “But it’s got fairy lights and little decorations on it,” I said.
              “You just don’t understand anything about art,” he said, before turning back to Leo. “Listen, I don’t want to think about Carruthers. He said he’d take me out for my birthday, and he never turned up. Stuart said he saw him at that dance discotheque place he used to go to. Apparently he’s been going all the time these days, not that I’ve ever been invited. Anyway, what’s going on between you two? He was looking for you last week. I thought you hated him. I thought you hated her too,” he added, nodding at me, “but I suppose no one tells me anything these days.”
              Leo glanced at me. “I don’t hate her,” he said quietly. I looked towards Leo with a shy smile, but his face was creased with sadness, not affection. “Anyway,” he said, “we’d better go.”
              Stevie’s suddenly distraught expression surprised me. “Don’t you want to stay for a drink? Coffee? Anything?”
              Leo’s hand was already on the door handle. “Sorry, we’ve got stuff to do. Thanks for your help, Stevie.”
              “You’re welcome,” Stevie said. There was a hollowness in his voice that rang through the thin walls of the room. Mean as he seemed, Stevie didn’t want to be left alone in the city any more than I did.

              We sat morosely on a bench, watching pigeons scouring the ground for food. I counted the toes on their feet, looking for the battle-scarred freaks among them.
              Leo sniffed. “I don’t know why he lives like that. It’s horrible.”
              I concentrated on the pigeons. One scuttled into my eyeline, balding with one toe on its left foot. I imagined it to be an ancient warrior, deformed by combat but still filled with a dignified strength. I was wrong. It walked too slowly to reach food before the others spotted it, and instead limped unfed around the square. I wondered if it was worth surviving like that.
              “Stuart says he’s wanted to move out for ages, but doesn’t want to leave Stevie alone there. He’s not been well. Besides, they’re basically the only ones in the building, apart from a few old women on the ground floor.” Leo continued.
              “Stevie’s a tool,” I said quietly, not really meaning it.
              “I know he’s hard to deal with, but he’s just lonely. Everyone he knows has moved on, off finding new friends, or else they’re living in the suburbs with their families. Starting new lives. And he’s practically the only one left. It’s not good, being so lonely. It sort of drives you crazy.”
              Leo was looking at me, but I couldn’t meet his eye. I watched the shadows fade as the sun went behind the clouds, and chewed my thumb. I didn’t want to imagine anybody living in that dump, waiting around for Carruthers to call them. Not Stevie, and certainly not Leo. I felt ill.
              “I don’t know what to say, Leo,” I admitted.
              He glared at me. “I’m not reaching out to you. I don’t need your sympathy.” His sudden aggression upset me. I tried to hide my quavering voice.
              “Well, why are you being so nice to me? Trying to teach me a lesson?”
              Harpo stood beside us, noisily eating a sausage he had swiped from a hotdog vendor. I felt my anger subside as the rage faded from Leo’s eyes. He stared at his feet.
              “It’s frightening when he suddenly disappears from your life, isn’t it? Remember, I know what it’s like. Everyone loves him.” He paused for a moment, watching me. “No, it’s more than that. Everyone needs him. He makes it easier to survive the world. I felt like that for a while. But then he left and I had to face up to all the horrors of real life, alone. And it wasn’t easy. I don’t want anyone going through that. He just doesn’t know what he does to people.”
              I shuddered. Every reminder of Leo’s good nature made my head throb painfully, especially when being nice was making him miserable. I didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories for him. I hadn’t meant for anything really, I just wanted to find Carruthers, but I still wasn’t sure why. The more I learned about Carruthers’ behaviour, the worse I felt. It was shame, I think. To love somebody so much, but know that they were poisonous. I had thought Carruthers infallible in his beauty. The truth was hard to bear. I think it was harder because it was so believable. I didn’t doubt Leo’s words for a second, and I knew Stevie’s desperation was no performance. They weren’t trying to incriminate Carruthers. They didn’t need to. That was just how it was.
              Having lapsed into silence, we watched Harpo inch closer to a man selling balloons. He waved at us, then honked his horn behind the balloon seller. The man turned, startled by the noise, as Harpo pulled a pair of scissors from his coat and cut the strings he held in his hand. Dozens of balloons went spiralling into the air, catching the sunlight as they floated higher and higher above the tower blocks, making a break for the blue sky above.
              Not that Harpo had time to admire his handiwork, as he was busy being throttled by the balloon seller. We grabbed him and ran for our lives, bursting through the crowded streets. My head thumped with exhaustion, empty except for the look on the vendor’s face and the sight of the balloons escaping into the air.
              But adrenaline faded, my breathing calmed, and we stood in the streets again. My mind was laced with bitter thoughts, anger at Carruthers’ cruelty, or maybe frustration at myself for being blindly devoted to him. I trailed my fingers along the rough brick walls as my eyes bristled with tears, trying to let the burning sensation distract me.

              We made our way towards the bar Stevie had mentioned, but my heart was barely in it. Leo led us down a side street where graffiti streaked the walls and the buildings seemed to close in on top of us. Harpo trailed behind, reading the tags. I knew he was practically illiterate, coming from the slums of New York in the 1900s, but at least he was trying. I found it increasingly difficult to watch him, with the mercurial energy of his pantomime tinged with melancholy.
              Noticing my curious looks towards Harpo, Leo explained. “He seems really down. I suppose I would be too. All his brothers are dead, unless they’re following some other schmuck around town. I don’t have the heart to tell him to get lost. I don’t think he has anywhere else to go. And it’s nice to have someone who’s always going to be there, when everyone else leaves you.” He peeked at the figure behind us. “Besides, Harpo always was my favourite, even if hardly anyone else liked him.”
              I looked back to Harpo again. He honked his horn, giving me a huge smile.
              Leo stopped under a large neon sign, announcing Danse Electrobop! bar and discotheque. I said the name aloud, for Harpo’s benefit. It seemed exactly the kind of establishment that appealed to Carruthers, its classless surroundings ensuring that he was the centre of attention.
              Leo stared at the sign for a long time. “He comes here all the time,” he said quietly, “the staff know him, they’ll be able to tell us something.”
              We pushed open the door, and the smoke burned my eyes. It was decorated with fake plastic trees and prints of dumpy nudes in unusual positions. It looked, as I had expected, like some kind of 1980s crack den. The barman glanced away from the mirror behind the bar long enough to notice and then ignore us.
              I led the way towards him, my feet sticking to the carpet as we walked. Leo trailed behind while Harpo scampered off, excited by the self-service salad bar. Within seconds he was decorating his top hat with lettuce leaves. The whiff of fake tan and sambuca was overpowering, and left me wishing for the stench of the coffeehouse. “Hey there,” I said quietly. The barman, distracted from grooming his reflection, wandered over to us, still fiddling with his hair.
              “Get him out of there,” he said, pointing over at Harpo.
              “He’s not doing any harm,” Leo said.
              “We’re trying to run a nice place here, we don’t need his sort bothering our clients,” the barman growled, gesturing at the empty room.
              “We just want to ask something,” I pleaded.
              I looked to Leo, desperate for him to take control, but he was too distant, staring into the dark corners of the room. “Well,” I began, “do you know somebody called Carruthers? Tall, very charismatic. Half a face?”
              The barman’s eyes flashed with recognition. “Oh yeah, cool guy, nice shirts. Haven’t seen him in a while, but I’ve been away. Travelling. India. Finding myself.” He spoke with a smug curl of the lip, as though his exploits would impress me. I didn’t find him any more spiritual than when I first noticed his ‘Kiss me quick (arrow pointing to crotch)’ t-shirt.
              “Is there anyone who has been working recently?” Leo asked, paying attention.
              The barman nodded towards a door. “Ask Gary in the pool room.”
              Leo turned pale, and he hesitated, chewing his lip. “Is there anyone else we can talk to?”
              The barman raised his hands dismissively. “Look, buddy, he’s been covering all my shifts. If Carruthers has been in this week, he’d know.”
              Leo stared anxiously at the door. “I’ll go, if you want,” I offered, confused. He shook his head and marched off.
              I sat on a barstool and picked at the holes where the velvet had rubbed away. Harpo, tired of vegetarian distractions, skipped over to join me.
              The barman watched him carefully. “Hey, you look just like one of those Marx brothers. Wasn’t a big fan of them, myself…except for Groucho. He was real funny. And that, uh, Chico fella. Neat, cool stuff. And – Zeppo, was it? - he could really sing. But the rest of them…” he shrugged with a grimace of distaste. “Not for me.”
              Harpo shrunk behind me and I felt a pang of pity. I wanted to admonish the bartender, but I didn’t have the words. People like him throw their opinions about and don’t care how they affect others. He didn’t even notice how he had made Harpo feel. He reminded me of Carruthers.
              I remembered how brutal Carruthers could be, making me the punchline to his jokes, or remarking cruelly on my appearance. Sometimes he didn’t even know he was doing it. I thought of nights on my sister’s sofa, where I couldn’t delude myself into thinking he made me special. Instead I lay waiting for dreams to envelop me and let me forget my meaningless existence. And I always forgave him because I thought I needed him. I was furious at myself. I hadn’t seen him for days and still I let Carruthers cast shadows over my life.

              I heard doors slam and Leo appeared beside us, simmering with rage. “Let’s go,” he said, charging out without waiting for us to follow. I hurried after him, avoiding the barman’s eye. Harpo trotted behind, struggling to keep up.
              “So what did that Gary guy say?” I asked tentatively, trying to catch up with Leo as he stormed down the alley.
He turned, scowling at us. “Carruthers came in Tuesday night after my visit. Practically bought the whole bar, then they kicked him out drunk. There’s your answer.”
              He began to walk away. I called after him weakly. “What’s wrong?”
              His face softened as he saw the concern on our faces. “Look, it’s just that…Gary’s the reason Carruthers and I broke up. They were sleeping together.”
              “I know,” I said, suddenly remembering. Carruthers had told everybody about it. It hadn’t seemed important. I felt dizzy with the endless list of regrets streaming into my memory. I had been as bad as Carruthers.
              Leo sighed and leant against a rain-soaked wall. “Seeing Gary again…having him remind me who he was, like I’d forget…They’re memories I’d rather not drag up again.”
              I nodded. I wasn’t angry anymore, just exhausted. The thought of Carruthers and the effect he had on me was frightening. I didn’t want to be his adoring follower. I didn’t idolise him anymore.
              “I’m so sorry, Leo. I’m sorry for dragging you into this. When I think of all the pain he caused…it’s not fair. We’re good people. We’re not terrific, but we’re okay. We don’t deserve to crack up like Stevie, our lives shouldn’t depend on his approval -”
              “My life doesn’t depend on his approval,” Leo interrupted, sounding offended.
              I looked at him. “Then why did you go when he called? And when he asked you for money, you gave it to him, didn’t you?” Leo cast his eyes to the ground, ashamed. “I would have done the same,” I added quietly. We sat in silence, watching Harpo trace his finger along the graffiti on the wall, following the contours of letters and shapes.
              Leo coughed softly. “It’ll be dark soon.”
              “It’s okay,” I said, “I don’t want to find him anymore. All he ever did was drink and ask for money, and make me feel like nothing. Life is better without Carruthers.”
              I had raised my voice, making the last statement sound like a question. I needed an answer. “Yeah,” he said, “it is.” He didn’t mean it but he had to say something.
              We separated under a streetlight, its beam casting an orange glow across the pavement. I drifted home, feeling light and airy. It was strangely cathartic, letting go of Carruthers. I had always thought of him as my anchor, but now that weight had been cast off. It was like I was floating alone, with nothing to connect me the city below. From my apartment window, I gazed out over the tower blocks. The city looked more unfamiliar than ever before, and all the better for it. I knew one day I would learn its stories again. I would learn them for myself.

              They pulled his body out of the water on a Tuesday, his beautiful half-a-face ravaged by a murky grave. An accident, the paper said, drunk falls into canal. No photographs, no sensationalism, no suspicion of foul play. It was on page eleven. Something more important was the headline. Carruthers would have hated it. He felt destined to go out in a blaze of glory, but I suppose in the end, nobody gets to choose.
              I sat on my sofa with Leo and Harpo, not mentioning his name. I tried not to care about his fate, but old habits take time to die away. Harpo pasted a smile on his face as he swapped hats with Leo, occasionally speaking to us in a real Noo Yawk accent. I laughed at his stunts but wondered what the stage the funeral was at. Eulogies, sycophantic in their heartache? Disinterested blessings from the vicar as the coffin was lowered into the grave? The fanclub throwing roses and lilies, tears streaking their faces? They would mourn for eternity, always the lovers that Carruthers left behind.
              But we, we would be ourselves.
This is my submission from my creative writing class next week. My main worry is that it doesn't work if you know nothing about the Marx brothers.

It's meant to be about how huge personalities diminish those who follow them around, and how this is a Bad Thing. Yeah.

Additionally, I go a bit overboard with the paranthesiseses.

(Harpo was always my favourite.)

26th April, 2007: Finally updated the final version of "Harpo Speaks". It's longer. Much longer. The old version is my scraps, for those who miss it.
Add a Comment:
ShovelDuct Featured By Owner May 14, 2007
I love the overall tone, simply beautiful, becuase that's what people say when they don't know what kind of beautiful it really is.

I wish I had a Harpo to follow me around. Or vice versa. Yeah, probably that second one.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner May 17, 2007
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it. I'd like to have a Harpo around too, but he'd be getting into a lot of trouble, I'm not sure if I could handle so much excitement...
chrisallan Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2007   Writer
i liked the fish based metaphors, and i like the strange reality you're living in here,

i like to be distracted and surprised by the text i'm reading, some of the humour you've injected into this almost caught me off guard

you've employed Harpo in much the same way Kurkov used the penguin

i like this and i'd be interested to know what mark you got
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2007
Thank you very much. I'm especially flattered by the Kurkov comparison. Certainly not a conscious influence, but in retrospect I had just finished the book when I began this.

I got 80 for it, which was very nice and very unexpected.

Thank you for taking the time to read it. I appreciate it.
fedtowolves Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2006  Professional Digital Artist
Fantastic work! I love the Marx brothers, I really enjoyed how you have him in here. The story itself is wonderful. :)
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2006
Awww, thank you very much. It needs a lot of tidying up, but thank you.
fedtowolves Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2006  Professional Digital Artist
You're very welcome. :)
JoEnAnna Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2006
that is all so amazing. I know you've already submitted it into your class, but one thing i would look at is the title is 'harpo speaks', and then you don't make a big deal out of it at the end when he does speak.

Other than that, its brilliant, as always. you totally rock.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2006
Awww, you're so very sweet. I'm in class tomorrow, and honestly, I'm terrified. Once I get the new draft written, I'll post it. But that's not going to help me in class. They really hated "Arthur Nobody" as a title. Hmmm. This needs some thinking.

I think I need a hat dedicated solely to thinking. I'll call it Brian. That hat, that is.

This is making no sense. But thank you, dear.
JoEnAnna Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2006
:giggle: Good luck with Brian, and with your stories. I like Arthur Nobody as a title.. ah well, personal preferences...
ZurielAlighieri Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2006
Nothing particularly bad stood out about this piece. I usually notice redundant words, and there were none to note. It sparked mild curiosity, but didn't drag me in by my hair like some of your others.

Don't let your writing class ruin you; in my book, if you piss off the professor it means you have managed to textify an original voice. Meh. Seems like having to do something can ruin its taste, thus hatred of my job is a blessing because I won't be forced to do something I actually like and begin to loathe it.

And screw the parenthesis comments - I didn't even notice they were there. (Yes, I started a sentence with 'and.')

I plan to sit one weekend with hot Christmas tea and read all your stories that I haven't already. I do believe your writing is getting better. I started with your DD and went skipping back and this is the impression I got.

It's always refreshing to discover there are brilliant minds out there who see through all the layers of crap.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2007
I'm sorry for neglecting your comment for so long, I don't know how I managed to miss it.

I know what you mean about the writing class. As it was, it was quite helpful (my teacher actually really liked this piece, since he turned out to be a big Marx brothers fan). I think I'm lucky in that I'm too stubborn to change my writing style, because I write mainly to entertain myself. Obviously, the work I submit to be graded is drafted to appeal more to whoever marks it, but that's just a cynical attempt not to fail the module. How I write for assessment is not how I plan to write forever.

Hatred of my job is a blessing too, in its way. I've written a pile of anti-clothes shop short stories. Take the inspiration where you can get it, I guess.

Your words are so kind, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment.
entropicalia Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2006
The opening lines are incredible.

My complaints:

"not that it’s actually relevant to this story" - remove that. It's completely obstructive.

"you could dip strawberries in it" this one only because of the pronoun. One of the rules I write by is to never, ever use the word 'you' outside of dialogue. It breaks that fourth wall, it's distracting, it's sophomoric.

"which is hard when you’re in black and white and everything else is in colour." again employing that word 'you.' I understand you need to make the point that he is monochromatic, but find another way to word it. A difficult task when confined to black and white. or something.

"There were just too many fish metaphors, so I refused to indulge in them anymore." - again, unnecessary and distracting. I really, really disliked this line, especially after enjoying those fish metaphors so much. You're degrading your reader somewhat by saying this.

"Leo was the nicest guy you’re ever likely to meet" again with the 'you.'

"As the cliché goes, it was like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders, except now I was floating into the ether" the caveat you've included here, saying 'this is a cliche' before you spit out a cliche, it doesn't negate the fact that it's a cliche. Avoid them, don't use them. Ever. The point of being a writer is to find new way to say things.

"My feet hardly touched the ground." Another cliche, rapid fire.

Now, what I loved:

"He went green at the gills." If you invented this line, it's fucking fantastic. Fucking. Fantastic. If not [wondering if it's another cliche, just one I haven't heard], take it out.

There's something amazingly fresh about the entire thing. The idea is original - to me, anyway - but beyond that, just your style, your voice. It's classic, it's glaringly contemporary, it's loud, it's human. There are moments when it's too human, too opinionated, but I'm told I have that problem occasionally as well. Overall, wonderful work.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2007
I just found this comment. Shame on me for ignoring it when you put so much effort into it. I've rewritten the piece (it's in my scraps) and a lot of your complaints were touched upon. The cliches are gone (I hope anyway) at least.

"Green at the gills" IS another fish-based metaphor, but that was part of the joke. The 'degrading the reader' you mentioned is unintentional. I try to use in my writing a lot of reflexivity (I'm sure you know what it is, so I won't explain). I really enjoy self-referential work, writers who draw attention to the artifice of writing (the likes of Dave Eggers and Lawrence Sterne etc), and while it isn't to everyone's tastes, I love it, having grown bored with the more traditional prose techniques (I blame it on studying English; before I started writing, I'd stopped reading for pleasure because it felt like there was never anything new.). I don't think it's degrading the reader per se, it's a stylistic technique - even making fun of my own writing. If I had cut the metaphor line, the preceding sentance would just be pointless and really badly written. Together, they were my attempt at reflexive humour, one that I like, but ultimately didn't fit into Harpo Speaks. It's bound to reappear in a later piece. Reduce, reuse and recycle, and all that.

Thank you so much for commenting!
SlideBeneathTheCity Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2006
I don't know anything much about the Marx brothers, so I don't know what I'm missing. But I love Harpo following them around the city. He makes it, but I'm not sure what kind of weird reality lets this happen...

What twobeforesunrise said about the parentheses. Drop the brackets and keep the words. Most of them are related to the scene, not unrelated, which is what you'd use brackets for.

But I've got negative criticism and it goes like this: it's long and there are big sections of "we did that, we did this" with only a few bits of character opinion or description or real life things happening. I don't know if it would be better shoving loads of that into the story - it would make it really long or otherwise knock out a whole bunch of settings or events - but it would read better, I think. Apart from that...super duper. Everything I read makes me want to write again, gah. But I've been awake since 9pm yesterday finishing a draft of a 6k word report, so I'm going to bed.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2006
I'm really glad to hear you say that, that was my biggest worry writing it. Of course, I now have to insist that you watch "Duck Soup" at some point. It's silly-wonderful.

You know my difficulties when it comes to narrative, and I think this piece shows it more than anything. A lot of the prose is my usual indulgent offhand remarks and afterthoughts, which, while fun in a character piece, really hinder something as narrative led as this. I appreciate the critique, I'm off to give it a quick redraft.

Thanks, and sweet dreams!
twobefore-sunrise Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2006   Writer
dude. DUDE. i am reduced to muttering slang to my teary-eyed self. i was supposed to study physics, but then i said to myself, why not browse Devart? and i stumbled upon this brilliance. i think the story and the concept is just fantastic. just a few technical things...

i think that generally, this is good, but there are moments that are a bit too wordy. i don't know if you want this to run perfectly like a story, but it could always be a bit like prose. for instance, some of the things in parentheses don't really need to be in there - parentheses are only needed as an afterthought. almost all thoughts are important in prose. i think at one point, you accidentally say "plain" instead of "plane", but who knows, you might want it that way. and ps, pronouns are over rated.

oh, and pps: Harpo was my favorite, too.
MacDoherty Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2006
Thank you so much. I know I have a lot of work to do on it before I submit it in class (tomorrow, eep), so thanks for the critique too.

There is some serious editing that needs to be done. I wanted it to sound more like a dramatic monologue, and I had decided that Myra would be one of those people who just gabble on and on and on, but there's a difference between stylistic and just plain difficult to read. You're right on the plane/plain thing, and yeah, I'm going cross-eyed myself with all the "he"s in there.

I appreciate it.
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