Pab was the third reader at Story Shop 2015, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.

His appearance was on Mon 17th August 2015 at 4 pm in the Spiegeltent. Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.

Pab Roberts has been writing for approximately 30 years, mostly for performance and journalism. He has written loads of short fiction and poetry and is currently working on a novel provisionally titled Los Perdidos. You can follow him on Twitter at @PabComedy

You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
 

 

Café non Leche
a short story by Pab Roberts

She had found a job in a café within a day of arriving. She had no proper documents but then there has never been much of a problem for pretty girls; their smiles, however false, sending steam through the hearts of officials. Men are helpless before beauty. And it was there she had met Bob.

Bob or ‘Bobby’ to some, was a nuanced man. Some said his name was ‘Robert’, some that it was ‘Roberto’, and it was small details like this that allowed him to work both sides of the counter equally well; profiting in the margins. His skin was tanned but it was perpetually sunny down here, didn’t make him latino. His Spanish was excellent but so was his English. He had no office that anyone knew of nor never claimed to be qualified at law, at accountancy, at business, yet he always wore the sharpest suits and drove around in a sports car. No-one dared say he was a mobster. Anyways, surely mobsters were all up north where the Italians were? Bob seemed too nice for all that anyhow, he’d rather chat than threaten. Every guy was a pal, every woman a lady to be treated with respect. That’s what had grabbed Taranta first about him.

Dusty one afternoon, scraping-out the ashtrays and washing-up the plates from the lunchtime crowd. The boss had gone to a meeting, she was all alone. But when she turned there he was, smoking at the counter, leafing through a broadsheet. ‘Sorry, I did not see you come in’, she was wary, as all attractive urchins must be. He smiled up at her, ‘Don’t mind me,’ he said. ‘You’re tidying-up and I’m enjoying this paper here. There’s no rush, you take your time.’ And he turned away again to read. There, right there. No-one had ever turned away from Taranta since she was eleven. No man had ever failed to drink her with his eyes. Except her brothers and her uncles – they had formed a moving palisade around her, when they could. This man was different – and he didn’t come across as queer. This man was interesting.

Once her task was done she’d taken his order, made it fresh for him and set it down in front of him. The day was silent otherwise, she’d only worked there a week but still it seemed unusual that no-one else was dropping-in for coffees or to use the ‘phone.

‘More coffee, señor?’ ‘Please, and don’t call me ‘señor’, it makes me feel kinda old when everyone else knows me as ‘Bob’.’

‘Señor Bob’, she smiled. He smiled back, a broad smile open to all comers and steady to the hilt.

‘You’re sad,’ said señor Bob. ‘No, no. please don’t take anything by what I said – I’m not here offering to ‘comfort’ you, though I can see that a woman like you might expect nothing more coming from a base hombre such as I. I merely state an obvious fact. Here are you, a young lady far from home. Probably you know no-one in the city except that some of you have an island you’re in common exile from, and you don’t know how life is gonna turn out.’ She nodded.

‘Well,’ he smiled his smallest smile yet, it was conspiratory and genuine. ‘Worry no more, mi teranta, Bob is all things to all people. Tell me what you came here for.’ As he saw her eyes dart around the faded walls he corrected himself, ‘not here; America. Tell me what one thing you’d like and I will do my best.’ She looked at him for what seemed an afternoon, till she was sure he didn’t want her body. His eyes met hers with a cool friendliness that was so welcome right now. She nodded and reached for her pad and pencil.

She scrawled one word only on it and pushed it across to him. He looked, nodded once, tore off the sheet and got up to go. As he put a couple of dollars on the counter, one for the food, one for her, he said, ‘fear not, mi taranta, one day this will all make sense.’ He tipped his hat and exited the premises.

As customers started once more to trickle-in for coffee and taglio and milkshakes she picked-up the pad and got back to work. There, beneath the night-blue carbon copy sheet, was the shadow of the word she had written. ‘Familia’.

(c) Pab Roberts, 2015

 

Dr M’Kolo
a short story by Pab Roberts

Ever since Dr M’kolo had done that thing with maths that had astonished everyone and proved that wave and line functions were interchangeable in every situation bar none, science had lost its way somewhat. No longer could people say for certain that Darwinian evolution trumped Divine intervention. No longer could astronomy measure the distances between the stars any better than a four year old. No longer could we be certain that if we mixed two chemicals together we would reap the same results every time. This had been going on for some time now and people had begun to dabble.

Backstreet alchemists were springing up in places that would have seemed most unlikely before. The old Byre theatre in St Andrews had closed as a theatre – the final nail in the coffin was that people now realised reality was far stranger than fiction – and reopened as a laboratory for weird and wonderful experiments with matter. Old Pumpkernel, the new owner, explained to any who asked that the building’s thick old walls and huge barn doors were perfect for the ins and outs, and bangs, of his trade. It wasn’t a trade he tried to hide, as men had done in days gone by, alchemy was the perfect expression of the possibilities brought by the new uncertainty Dr M’kolo had wrought.

My allotment opened off Abbey Court, not far from Pumpkernel’s newly renovated workshop and I met him one day early on as he was helping a Parcel Force truck reverse out of a narrow three point turn. The back left wheel had gotten stuck in a pothole and between us and the driver, and two or three of Pumpkernel’s sweetly brown roll-ups, we eased it out in no less than ten minutes. Relieved of the awkwardness we usually feel upon introducing ourselves to strangers in the street, he invited me in for coffee – partly, I suspect, to use my extra hands to carry-in the boxes he had just had delivered.

What I found inside astonished me. The theatre bar was as far as I had ever gotten in the olden days, theatre being a bit too esoteric an art-form for me to appreciate but they did do a good range of ale. Pumpkernel had gone the whole hog. Where once the bar had been was an olive green anodized zinc village green-sized pond, dark and wet and steaming almost imperceptibly. The rafters were hung with hooks dangling leathern bottles and massive iron stirring ladles. The glass panes throughout were soot-stained and I imagined for an instant that they were like human eyes closed against the wonders they had seen, lest they implode and see no more.

Pumpkernel poured me some coffee from the Kona machine on the old box-office counter and offered me a plate containing Hobnobs and Quality Street toffees. I declined the plate but thanked him for the coffee. He showed me around, explaining that the great steaming pool in the old bar was absorbing any malefactory elements within the plumes of gas that he created. I nodded, not quite sure what to say, Formula 1 and roof tiling being more my areas of expertise. The main theatre itself he was using as a foundry and mechanics workshop, there being much new equipment he said he was inventing as he went along. Glass-blowing was mainly done outside the main doors on cool Summer’s nights when the wind was from the East. The main event though, he maintained, was upstairs, in the loft.

I had followed this strange wizened man thus far, I was hardly likely to cease now. Besides, I reckoned I liked his manner. He might be odd, but these were odd times and odd was hardly a word that could be used now – I had heard on the radio that a boy in Samarkand had dreamt-up a dragon and that it now existed; all things being as possible and all former beliefs being abandoned. But where would it all end? At the top of the stairs I found where it all began.

Pumkernel asked me, politely, if I wouldn’t mind finishing my coffee – he hated waste and didn’t like spills – and leaving the cup on the small magazine table by the door. Once done he typed a code into the door-lock and bade me enter the room within. There were displays on the wall explaining biological transmutations and nuclear transmutations and cupellation. There was a picture of Pumpkernel when he was a lad of twenty-some with wild blond hair and a gown with a hood. There was a map on the floor in pure white vellum twenty feet by twenty feet. I knew it was a map because I could see where we stood on it. And yet nothing was drawn on the vellum bar a compass in many dimensions. And yet I could see not only where we stood on it but where everything in the town stood. And more than that where everything in the country, the world, the universe stood. For on that seemingly blank stretch of calf-hide the history of the multiverse was somehow exposed to my mind. I was seeing as God sees and I was God.

He cackled and popped another toffee in his mouth. ‘You see?’ He said to me. ‘You see what we all are and have never known before? Dr M’kolo has done a very great thing in setting us free, he has. Now I want you to step out onto the map and become at one with the wonders of a Nature that has always existed and yet which, at the same time, has never and cannot exist. Please, take off your shoes.’

I took off my shoes and stepped into the map. I would now ask you to do the same. Wherever you are, whatever your current views. Step into the map and know what M’kolo knew and Pumpkernel knew and what I now know.

Now, would you like to finish your drinks first? I don’t know what would happen if we had a spill.

(c) Pab Roberts, 2015