Hollywood by canoe

By Katy Darby

Rain kept them grounded in the jungle throughout July. The landscape liquified into rivers the same red-brown colour as the soil. An incessant needlepoint pinned the planes against the inundated landscape like butterfly specimens. The DC10 that Magne had flown solo from Taiwan, at low altitude across the South Pacific, hounded by the garbled radio transmissions of foreign air traffic control, was gathering rust at the end of a broad, dirt runway. The airstrip was covered with an overlapping quilt of mismatched tarpaulins; different tones of green and blue, weighted down with rocks. A backlog of expectant passengers, mostly refugees from the capital, were camped in squalor among their rotting possessions.


Next to a makeshift fuel depot, Udall waved aside a heavy bundle of cash, held out to him by a man in a torn, mud-covered suit.


“Please, I have the money.”


“American Dollar?”


The man looked downcast.


Udall flicked through the wad of notes then handed it back.


“This currency is worthless. Where can I spend it? No foreign bank will take it. You leave here one way: By canoe.”


The man stared back blankly.


“Do you see the tall trees?”


Udall waved a pointed finger along the nearby ridge where a procession of slender, upright trunks breached the jungle canopy like the masts of tall ships.


“They are Pyriserra. You chop one down. It is a hard, light wood. It will take you three days to cut through the trunk with an axe. A chainsaw is no good. You bring it back here intact. We will cut it to fit inside the plane. One tree per family. No more than a group of six. You carve your initials into the trunk near the base. What is your name?”






“Hugo, the tree is your ticket. If you have, then we will fly you across the border when the weather changes.”


The man dumbly held out the same bundle of notes. This time Udall slapped his hand away.


“This money is shit. The wood makes furniture for Hollywood stars. This is what you must do to provide for your family.”


Eight Months later, a quartet of professional furniture movers manoeuvred a wooden dresser into the boudoir of the actress, Margaret Kees. She sat in front of it on a matching chair, guiding her fingers sensually over the gradual rising and falling swells in the wood, as if they were the muscular arms of a lover. Abruptly the spell was broken.


“What this?”


She pointed with annoyance to the interior corner of one of the drawers.


Arlen aligned the beam of a pen torch to the direction of her finger. His lips pursed in concentration.


“A natural flaw in the wood. It adds to the uniqueness of the piece.”


“It’s a carved initial. Clearly that’s a letter H. What do you think, Sam?”


Sam ambled across the room, his broad shoulders pushing against his suit jacket.


“It looks like someone’s initial.”


Kees proffered the interior designer a haughty, stiffly-raised palm.


“Take it back. Bring me one that hasn’t been graffitied.”


She turned to her assistant.


“Sam, I’m going out. Keep an eye on them. I don’t want to see my panties for sale online.”


Three hours later the dresser was marooned at the top of a staircase. Sam stared at his watch, hoping that he would get home in time to put his daughter to bed. In the corridor, Arlen was ranting into his phone, demanding “no more marked wood.”


Biography: Mark Sadler lives in Southend-on-Sea in England. His writing has been performed by Liars’ League in London and has appeared most recently on The London Magazine website and also on the Kaleidoscope Healthcare website as part of the Writing the Future summer reading anthology.

Katy Darby is the author of the novel The Unpierced Heart (Penguin) and co-founder and director of Liars’ League (www.liarsleague.com), the award-winning, internationally franchised live fiction event where actors read brand new short stories every other month. Their next event is Trick & Treat, a selection of uncanny tales for Hallowe’en, on Tuesday 9th October at The Phoenix, Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PP.. 


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