Corn Relish


I was sat with him, him being my father, in the Cine Gaumont, watching The Living Daylights, when he grabbed my hand and pulled me up the aisle, mid-picture, making for the swing-doors and the street as election flyers fluttered through the evening air.

Back at our tiny flat in the Barrio Norte, I watched him rifling through the utensil drawer, lording it over our next-door neighbour who shouted obscenities through the fibreboard kitchen wall.

After a glass of milk and a handful of macadamia nuts we ran back into the Buenos Aires night, a blade stuffed down his black leather jacket with the cross stitched green dragon on the back that once, age four and a half, I had tried to unpick with a knitting needle and a pair of bevel edged scissors.

We stopped for a hot dog, at the silver-plated stand by the Casa Rosada with the picture of Ronald Reagan on the back wall stuffing his face with a foot-long showboat.

My father ordered the same and asked, “Hey, what’s this crunchy shit they’ve sprinkled on top of it?”

“Corn relish.”

“Corn relish? What the fuck is corn relish?”

Finished, but still hungry, we made our way down to the Chacarita burial grounds where the moonlight glints off the filing cabinet tombs of our nation’s dearly departed and cursed a group of those squeaky arsed part-time delinquents who were kicking the living shit out of a life-sized Eva Duarte doll, as we cut our loose-limbed, mad-eyed path along 9 de Julio Avenue, with the ragged descamisados, who were hauling their weathered wares down to the swap meets at the Pares La Plaza.

Frank Brown, the popular English clown, was there to meet us at the cemetery gates, all made up in the garb of his trade, a frilly white shirt with the multi-coloured pom-poms sowed onto the front and his hair lacquered back into a kind of pompadour.

And who was that with him? Vito Dumas. What a dumb-ass. The first man to navigate his way around the Southern Seas single-handed.

“Navigate this!” And my daddy shot him a Corte de manga.

“Juan Peron, Juan Peron, Juan Peron,” my father thumbed through the directory for the directions to the tomb, and off like a shot, we clambered over the tomb-tops, dead flower heads bursting and wilting in a flash as our trouser pleats caught the petals broadside on.

And then we saw the man himself, a marble frieze in sculpted stone, cow-towing to the Virgin and a host of her heavenly angels. We started to cup at the soil with our bare hands. “Knock, knock,” my father shouted as the dirt piled up beside him. “Knock-y bleedin’ knock!”

Ray Milland’s spirit sauntered past, tuxedoed, lowball glass in hand, sloshed of course, muttering something about tennis, “and how dare Pat Cash wear knee length shorts at Flushing Meadows,” and what the hell was Ray Milland doing in Argentina anyhow? “Playing tennis in dungarees,” he spluttered.

“Piss off Ray,” my father said, and he disappeared into a puff of smoke and glitter.

After an hour or so our muddy fingers struck the coffin top, Argentine sun-lady atop the casket winking and looking like the advertising mascot for a particularly bad brand of orange concentrate.

Gun shots sounded, pursuing security guards, frothing at the mouth, their ceremonial tam o’ shanter bobbles bobbling about on their heads as they ran towards us. My father pulled me downwards and we clambered for coffin cover coffin-side, suavely though, like the floppy haired English bastard in that Living Daylights film at the Cine Gaumont.

“Hang on, d-d-d-d-don’t shoot,” my father shouted, “I’m Timothy Dalton!”

When he flung open the coffin there was a tingling in the air, a kind of half arsed tingling, like the mystical forces of the Earth had conspired to create a moment, simply for the sake of it, because he was a former head of state after all yada-yada-yada.

To be honest I was surprised he was really in there, Generalissimo himself, Captain Courageous, looking like a pickled walnut in a naval uniform as a few apple-cider spiders scurried across his potpourri strewn forehead.

“Good-a-Evening, Mr President, you look just like you used to on the television,” my father said, finding himself making a difference, bullets ricocheting off the lead lined casket-top.

He told me to look away and it was about then that he started hacking. Yeah, it must have been about, then.

That year, on my birthday, my father bought me a little red steam train that worked its way across the living room floor, back and forth, chug-a-lugging, from the chaise longue to the fire place grate and back again, vapour pouring out of its metal spout. A little boy’s dream with its steam, that little steam train. It must have been that birthday that Juan Peron’s hands appeared propped up on top of our kitchen fridge, flipping the bird, green middle fingers pointing up to God in heaven. Yeah, the steam train birthday, it must have been then.

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