The Entertainer

By Gavin Turner

‘Pssssst’

‘Pssssst’

Rusty Pinkerton peered between the lowered trouser legs of his outdated suit trousers from his porcelain perch in the cubicle. He was hovering slightly. There was a crack in the plastic seat which had the ability to pinch if you were not careful.

‘Psssst, I’m here’

Rusty saw nothing immediately in the broken tiles of the toilet floor, until, almost blending with the cracked adhesive beneath he observed the medium sized cockroach, motionless. There was something about its tilted head that made the situation slightly tense, and weird.

‘How was the show’?? the cockroach rasped at him. This time, the tinny vocality almost made him jump. He remembered the toilet seat and thankfully managed to stay still this time. Rusty put his hands through the remaining curls on his visible scalp and whispered ‘terrible’. It was uttered half to himself really. The pre-show vodkas the seemingly obvious reason he had just started to converse with a cockroach.

‘Thought so – I heard your squeaky dad jokes from my corner, he seemed to indicate with a flourish of his antennae. Then after you had told the joke, I heard, well, nothing’, he sniggered slightly.

‘I can’t do this anymore, seven years of trying and trying. People just don’t find this stuff funny anymore, maybe they never did, it’s hopeless.

‘They never did, smirked the cockroach. You lack the skill to share the joke in the right way…. I could teach you. If you wish?’ The cockroach let the last ‘S’ rattle around for a second.

‘Could you? Rusty heard himself say.

‘Yes, of course I would ask very little in return, very little indeed’ the cockroach wiggled slightly.

‘Why are you talking like that it’s so creepy?’ Rusty winced. He had never been overly keen on insects. This one seemed to have a personality flaw.

‘It adds to the drama, Cockroach twitched, don’t you like a little drama?’

Rusty shrugged ‘I’d like to finish what I came in here for without a cockroach watching me’

‘Oh, I’d ask very little in return, just a place to be safe, I could make you very successful, I mean – you do look funny don’t you, if only you had the right words?’

Rusty put his head in his hands. How much worse could this get? A cockroach was telling him that he looked funny. It was probably one of the funniest things Rusty Pinkerton had ever been witness to. He wasn’t even on stage for anyone to hear it.

‘So, the cockroach prodded again – do we have a deal?’

‘How come you aren’t going sssssss? Rusty said.

‘Ooooh it comes and goes you know’ the cockroach hissed back’

‘Yes, you have a deal – where were you thinking?’

‘Your jacket pocket’. The cockroach seemed to narrow his eyes. It could have been grinning, but it was hard to tell.

‘No chance – people would see you on stage’.

‘No – I would keep very quiet and still – I would simply look like a stain on your jacket, I would blend right in, besides that would just be where I will live. To help you on stage, I might need to get a little… closer’. The cockroach did the eye narrowing thing again.

How close? Rusty was sure he had only thought this, but the cockroach answered anyway.

‘I may need to whisper in your ear’, the cockroach half sang. I would be very delicate, you would hardly know I was there, but you will need to hear me so I can give you your lines’. It felt like he added the last elongated ‘S’ for effect

‘I see, and how do I know this will work?’ He couldn’t help but be curious. He was desperate. Both he and the cockroach knew it.

‘Yes, I have helped many acts over the years, do you remember Georgio?’

‘The talking spaniel? That was you?’ Rusty was pretty impressed, this was a high calibre act, at least by his own standards.

‘Yes, taught him all he knows, but there was inevitably a falling out of sorts, and of course once I taught him language he became a consummate liar’.

‘Yes I think I read about that’ Rusty half remembered the headlines, the scandal. AS disgusted as he was by the prospect, he wanted in.

‘It wasn’t true’ the cockroach muttered.

‘’What wasn’t true?

‘Anything, anything he said’. The cockroach did a sly little side shuffle. He was becoming impatient.

‘OK, so what now?’

‘Lets go…home? Cautiously, the cockroach sidled across the filthy floor. It tentatively navigated the broken tiles and onto Rusty’s shoe. Rusty watched, fascinated. Following the seam of the trouser leg it eventually sat itself in the top pocket of his jacket as planned. He had tried hard not to shudder as he felt the spindly legs on his bare skin. He glanced down to see the back end of his new accomplice disappear into his jacket pocket. Leaving the cubicle he returned to the dressing room where he found a miserly fee waiting for him. Rusty Pink shoved open the fire escape door of the Chuckle Bucket and sloped his shoulders into the Lancashire drizzle.

The first night was over. Despite his initial reservations, he needn’t have been so worried. As it turns out, this cockroach was hilarious. Rusty was elated. It felt as if he was truly alive for the first time, like a rebirth. It is true that once you have become desensitised to something there is a real sense of liberation that follows. Since the first meeting in the bathroom cubicle Rusty  had become more or less used to waking up to cockroach in his hair, curled up asleep in the crook of his arm or lying flat, bellow down, right above his heart. The fees increased, as did the fame. Rusty was on the up.

 Sometime later, cockroach suggested casually that maybe it would be better if he were to sit in Rusty’s ear all the time. That way he could hide behind the curtain of curly hair and could not be heard whispering to Rusty all the time. Of course, Rusty agreed, success of this kind could be like a drug. What else is there to want but more. Television came calling, his own chat show. Rusty was prime time, except…it wasn’t really Rusty who was the star. He was like that silly green duck puppet from the 1980’s. He was the dummy in the duo. He knew enough of the material now to maybe just, steal it. He decided he had to call time on this partnership. Only he did not feel as strong as he had done. The years of tours, shows and after parties had begun to take their toll. He seriously wondered if he could leave all of this behind. In all honesty, without cockroach, what was he?

Unfortunately, cockroach was the experienced partner here. He really held all the cards in his mandibles. The discussions and pleadings became arguments that quickly escalated. Cockroach refused to leave his ear. No matter how hard Rusty tried this resistant beast was immoveable. If he dug his finger in to scoop him out, he was bitten. He even tried tweezers and once, after several vodkas, a steel skewer. Cockroach just climbed further and further inside the more he was irked. He stubbornly dug himself into his foxhole and would not budge. All the while he whispered, ridiculed, and bullied Rusty into submission.

‘If you try to take me out, I will die, he would say, and you will die on stage for the rest of your miserable career, let me live here, I can make you a legend, let me live’. Rusty knew he needed this life; he needed the roach. He needed.

The constant chattering eventually took its toll. Rusty had to sleep, it seemed cockroach did not. Rusty would wake in a daze from confused dreams and hear cockroach singing show tunes to himself in the early hours. The tunes were familiar, but the words were needles and scarring.  He knew in the end it would break him and he would have to give in. He let the hissing and wailing wash over him like a tide. The dummy and the star were reborn together.

Rusty had held the limelight firmly in his hand, for a time at least. Inevitably, fashions changed in humour as they do in all things. More significantly though, cockroach had noticed the body begin to fail. It was slower to respond than before. The timing was off. The once thumping pulse had begun to weaken. The brain, in many ways had been his since the very beginning. Now, cockroach sensed a darker sickness creep in. He knew a parasite when he saw one.  From his crevice he had found ways to infiltrate and keep the other parasite at bay. By tapping into the matter in the skull, he shaped the squishy grey plasticine over and over till there was nothing of the original shape left. Cockroach was Rusty. Now Rusty’s shell was dying and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

When the time inevitably came, he slipped sadly and unnoticed from his comfortable home. He felt the cold fingers of loneliness stroke his smooth shell at night. He needed.

It took him time, but he found his way back to the theatre. The place of all his beginnings.  He listened intently to the crowd, in search of the next death under the lights, and the next host.

END

Note from the Author

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