Read by Steve Wedd
The group of singers needed practice. Charles always went flat. Edward forgot the words. And then there was Basil. Poor Basil.
All six of them stopped at the corner, shuffling and rubbing their arms to keep warm. The grey sky above London threatened snow. David set up the sandwich board which read 'Acapella Joy!' in red and green letters. They lined up on the curb: Chris, Gustav, and Edward in the back, being taller (though no less ugly) than Charles and Basil. David stood before them and counted out the rhythm, his hands waving in the air.
At the edge of his vision, David saw the frowns of the Christmas shoppers. He set his mouth firm and continued conducting. A few people stopped, arms full of packages, jaws open as they were wont to do, taking it in like a car crash.
Okay, they were bad. David would admit it. But some people would overreact to the point of rudeness. Like the mother who took up her child and ran screaming down the street for the police. There was no call for that. At least, no need to rush for the coppers. They would arrive soon enough.
They finished 'Deck the Halls' and the small crowd gave a mock cheer and laughed. The audience stayed put, thinking it was a comedy act, thinking it couldn't get worse. Which of course, it would.
Half-way through 'Silent Night', Chris lost his nerve. Never failed. His big nose began twitching like a spider had crawled up it. He stuttered, getting out of sync with the others.
"A-a-a, all is c-c-c-c-c-cuh-cuh-cuh-cuh-calm."
The crowd started laughing. He shook with each syllable, a feedback loop of shame and fear in the face of the vicious listeners. They were near a pub. The drunks sent word to get everyone out to see the spectacle. They poured out of the door, pint glasses in hand.
David smiled to himself. They might get through their set. The rowdy ones seemed to appreciate their act more than kind, polite spectators.
"Dashing through the snow! On a one-horse open sleigh!" they sang.
"Shit! Shitty-shit. Fuck!" Gustav yelled, unable to contain his Tourette's any longer.
The drunks roared. The profanities got worse and worse. When they finished, David thanked the crowd and passed around his top hat. He could see a shop owner talking on her mobile, looking brassed off. The constables would be on their way.
"Now, David?" Basil asked. The skin of his face was shiny from the skin graft. "Now?"
David shook his deformed head. "Sorry Basil. We gotta clear off. Maybe the next one."
The take wasn't bad, almost £10, a couple of bar coasters, a condom, and half a roll of Trebor mints. David picked up the sandwich board and the group shuffled away.
They broke for lunch, eating outside: warm fish and chips wrapped in newspaper; cold cans of hard cider. They relieved themselves in an alley that smelled of rotten food. David proposed a few more stops near pubs before the big one.
People stared at the singers as they made their way along. Each man was flawed, broken. Edward had a club foot, Charles a cleft palate. David's head was misshapen from Proteus Syndrome. They carried their pain without and within. Few moments in their life brought joy. While tough on each to call attention to themselves, the Christmas carolling provided a tiny bit of satisfaction.
At each performance, the minstrels got an adequate take from the crowd. Each time David put Basil off. It was half past four when they arrived outside Harrods.
David passed around a flask. Liquid courage, Edward called it. They assembled, disheveled, jackets open, ties askew. David counted off again.
The crowd was surly, not many stopping, hurrying around the singers with malevolent glares. People made comments, rude, intended to be heard. David gritted his teeth, recalling the scene from last year. They'd have to wrap it up fast. The atmosphere was getting ugly. They began "We Three Kings". David cut them off after one verse.
"Okay, Basil," David said, putting cotton-wool in his ears. The others did the same.
Basil centred himself, breathing deeply. A couple of punks, their spiked Mohawks dyed purple, stood waiting, arms crossed, with snarling grins. Basil began, starting soft, but quickly rising in volume.
People stopped in their tracks all the way down the street. The punks had their hands on their ears. Children started to cry.
"Graaaaaatia pleee – eee –eee – ee naaaa!"
Panic set in, people moving and shoving, trying to get away. The mums and kids, having visited Santa's Grotto, emerged from Harrods into an aural nightmare. Charles, Edward, Gustav, and Chris moved into the crowd, taking advantage of the confusion.
"Mariiiiiiia, graaaaatia plee – eee – eee- ee naaaaa!"
A taxi with its windows down rammed into a lorry, the driver clawing at his head. Traffic stalled. People writhed on the ground, screaming.
The singers played the sympathetic role, calling for doctors. They eased the stricken to the ground, or helped them down with an elbow or a knee. They relieved men of their wallets and dipped into handbags with quick fingers.
David reached down to one of the punks, who was bleeding from his ears. He had his wallet on a chain which went up his shirt. David pulled hard, ripping out the nipple ring.
"Thanks mate," David said.
He motioned Basil to quit. The six of them moved off, melting into the crowd. Sirens sounded, ambulances and police on their way. Each singer went off in a different direction, planning to regroup later. All except Basil, who tagged along with David.
"That was a good one, wasn't it David?" Basil asked. "It sounded pretty good, yeah?"
"Beautiful Basil," David said, taking the cotton-wool out of his ears. "Just beautiful."
Sour Notes was read by Steve Wedd at the Liars' League Santa & Satan event on Tuesday 11 December, 2007.
Todd Wheeler is a writer of speculative fiction. When not writing, he stays busy being a stay-at-home dad, which is just as satisfying as being a writer and pays about the same. Additional information is available at his website: https://todd-wheeler.com
Steve Wedd is a veteran of Liars' League. As an actor he works largely in the corporate and voice fields, finding sweet release for some of his pent-up urges in cultural oases such as the Liars' League events.