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Author: Colin Watts

The Man Himself

Williamson Square, Liverpool. First Tuesday of the month. Haircut day. I’d got myself a trendy sort of wind-swept look, so popped into the Famous Old Porterhouse to christen it with a swift half. One thing led to another and there I was sitting chatting to Joseph Williamson himself. The Mole of Mason Street. The man who built the tunnels. Still there, most of them; some used as dumping grounds; some used by railways; some open to the public; many still closed off.

Large as life. Weskit and plus fours. Stove-pipe hat. Walking cane. Churchwarden pipe, packed with his own firm’s best shag. Sipping a pint of stout. “It always seemed so simple to me,” he said. “All those brave men back from the Napoleonic Wars and nothing down for them. They looked so forlorn, their very humanity stripped from them. I just had to give them back a little dignity, pay them a few shillings to help feed their families.” He pointed at his pipe. “This stuff paid for it; rock, pick and shovel.

“The tunnels were the bread and butter, but a man needs a little jam, doesn’t he, in this short life? So we built a few houses, a church or two; to hell and high water with the cost. The house in Everton was my favourite. We’d sneaked it up to fifteen storeys, straight as a die, before the City Fathers stepped in—boring old farts that they were. Given a bit more time, we could have raised that little beauty right up to heaven and taken our tea with the Master Builder himself.”

He gave a little sigh and got up to leave. “Like your hair,” he said. “Can you bend it like the man himself?” Then he was gone.

Flash Fiction by Colin Watts
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True Wisdom

New Year’s Day, 3:00 a.m. Raw cold. Walking home through Sefton park, hope and despair wrestling in my head. A light flickers in the Victorian palm-house. But it’s been derelict for years. And where are the statues? Their plinths are bare. I squeeze through a gap in the perimeter fence, peer through the rusting skeleton. Eight men sit around a long table. Copious drinking. Heated argument. Waving of arms. Faces florid in lamp-light. A waft of old ale, good wine, cheap brandy. Then the shock. Here they are. The statues. Taking time off from guarding the bananas, orchids and the great palm that once soared to the top of the dome.

Along one side the explorers; charting and claiming the world: James Cook; Prince Henry the Navigator; Christopher Columbus; Gerardus Mercator. Along the other, the scientists; staying at home, planting, studying, classifying: Andre le Notre; John Parkinson; Carl Linnaeus. At the head of the table the Joker; the one who sailed big, studied small, thought both: Charles Darwin.

The point at issue is the gaining of true wisdom. The explorers claim that one must travel widely to expand the mind. The gardeners argue that wisdom is best achieved through the study of small things. Darwin stands and picks up a pamphlet. “Let William Blake,” he says, “hold sway.” He reads:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

“A mind looking inward,” he says, “will learn neither from its own back yard, nor the whole world; whereas one that looks out will gain wisdom from either or both.” There is a hush; then argument erupts once more. I walk into a new year, inclining my head toward hope.

Flash Fiction by Colin Watts
Picture: valves by Caetano Candal under CC BY 2.0
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