Anthrax Annie

Anthrax Annie? Yeah, I knew her: she was one half of an item with Pathogen Pete. Oh, she and Pete go way back.

Anthrax sang on the pub circuit, originally backed by Malignant Pustule; then by Cattle Spore; latterly by Bovine Bacillus. Annie was Pete's squeeze and each fulfilled in the other a heavy need. Annie was ample. Ample? She occupied double the space of a regular dame, and that wasn't her force field or charisma. No, Annie was large and Pete liked his women big -- he adored her bulk. Others were less complimentary:

'How does she dress?'

'Like a pint of custard in a balloon.'

'Anything else?'

'Yeah: whale's tits, frizzy hair, goat's breath, massive gob. Smiles from ear to ear -- couple of hundred teeth, all over the gaff.'

'What did she do before she went professional?'

'Worked for a fast-food outfit asking people if they wanted to meg it.'

'Meg it...?'

'Yeah -- meg it.'

Some of her songs? Yeah: I Adore Your Spore was an early hit. If You're Dicking Around You're Dicing with Death is still hummed in these parts. Pete's favourite? Gob!! reached number thirty-three in the charts. And -- wow! -- did Annie have a gob on her. Unusually for a fat person she had a big mouth, outdoing Cherie Blair with glee. Although the Prime Minister's wife appears to have more than thirty-two teeth we have no reason to suppose that her dentition exceeds the norm. So, what are we saying -- Annie was the exception that tested the rule? No. She broke the bleedin' scales. Speaking of which: if you wanted to weigh her you couldn't have stood her on a machine in Woolworth's or Boots -- she'd have totalled it. No, you would have needed a maritime echo-sounding device, a kind of radar, to determine her mass. Big Annie, Pathogen Pete: a partnership made in paradise.

Annie always wore black, in all its different shades. She thrilled Pete with her carbon tops, raven socks and slate shoes; excited audiences with her sable belts, ebony leggings and sooty boots; tantalised critics with her charcoal scarves, sloe nail varnish and crow eyeliner; and when she strutted her stuff on stage Pete was in heaven.

Even now people still speak with trepidation, and secret awe, about her time at the fast-food joint, Trash Burger, where, whatever you ordered, you were challenged:

'Jwanna meggit?'

Nobody disagreed with Annie, they always megged it. Megged it? Yeah, for an extra thirty pee you got double the FrenchFrize and a KingSize drink. The branch of Trash Burger in which Annie worked took double the takings of an equivalent outlet. When she proposed leaving to take up singing full time the manager begged her to stay. After she'd been gone a fortnight he topped himself: threw himself into his own deep-fat fryer.

Another of her hits which Pete liked was the ballad Are You Standing There All Night or do You Wanna Fool Around? Annie got through musicians like other girls got through tights, apart from her drummer, Steve the Skin. Steve lived in his own world and if you didn't know better you would have said that he existed on baked beans and curries. Annie and he owed a fierce loyalty to each other. They'd once had a thing going but as soon as Pete hit the scene her heart exploded. Steve was relieved to stand down and get some sleep nights. Steve and Annie were the founding members of Malignant Pustule; formed the core of Cattle Spore; both now took almost equal billing in Bovine Bacillus.

Annie had a couple of party pieces. No one had ever seen them performed but the stories (and you never repeated them within earshot of Pete) told of two skills -- one concerning lighted cigarettes and the other involving walnuts, and a particular part of Annie's anatomy. Only ever spoken of in revered whispers.

But enough of Beauty; how about the Beast...? I once stood next to Pete -- Pathogen Pete -- as he perched over the urinal; a Trashburger in one hand, a Posafone in the other, he said:

'How can I shake the drips from my prong and spark a cancer-stick with both hands full?'

I said: 'Wait till I've shaken myself, Pete, and I'll hold your phone for you.'

'Yeah. You're not touching my burger with those paws.'

Because Pete was very particular about his food and drink. I'll give you a for instance: when he went to a pub where he wasn't known they'd better look out. He'd ask for a pint of lager for himself and a lemonade for his pash. That's right: Annie never touched booze -- allergic (yeah!) to it. And woe betide the staff if they said, 'Is that with ice and lemon?', because the plot was always the same. It went like this:

'A pint of lager, and a lemonade for the lady, please.'

'Is that with ice and lemon?'

Pete pulls the barman forward by the scruff of his shirt with his left hand, he fists his right then lets him have it, straight on the nose. The bartender staggers backwards, hits his head on the optics and, like a wild ball in a bowling alley, scatters the bottled beers as he falls to the floor. The place goes quiet; everybody's stunned. The barperson pulls himself up then does something theatrical that you usually only see in films: he draws a hand across his face and holds it out to inspect the blood. As he looks in disbelief, Pete says:

'Is that with pain and sorrow?'

Because Pete's passionate about service. Reckons that if you're paying for ice and lemon you'd better have it. Then what he does, he re-educates the barkeeper. He says:

'Never, ever, EVER say "that". Whenever you ask me a question, friend, never use the word that, cos I think you're talking about my woman, and my woman is not a that. She's a she. Viddy?'

The bar-server usually says, 'Viddy.' Pete then goes:'What we're going to do is take it again. I'll come in, stroll up to the counter and say, "Pint of lager, and a lemonade for the lady." And you'll say, "Certainly, sir. Would you like ice and lemon in the lemonade?" And I'll say, "You bet your sweet ass."

Pete was as thin as a ship's cook and favoured the Marlon Brando look -- or at least a soiled singlet. No matter what size denim jeans Annie bought for him they always looked too big for him particularly around the waist and he hadn't the bum to support them. But what he lacked in girth he made up for in height.

Passion? Oh, yeah: legendary. Couldn't leave each other alone. Pete liked Annie on top; Annie liked Annie on top; her weight caused a problem but they overcame this by using a harness strapped to her; from the truss four ropes passed over pulleys secured to the ceiling of their passion parlour; Pete and Annie held two ends each and this facilitated the meshing of their pelvic thrusts. No one saw the device until after the tragedy; when we came to look over their place, afterwards, we saw the tackle screwed to the joists.

No, but as I say, most of what I've told you happened before; things went quiet after. When you first knew them you thought, This couple is larger than life; but after a while you were seduced into their world and started to treat their extremes as the norm; and it wasn't until they were no longer there that you realised you'd been in the presence of...I nearly said greatness. Is that too big a word?

It happened like this. Once too often Pete hit a publican on the nose; he was picked up by the fuzz but from then on the story becomes hazy. Except that when he entered the police station he was alive; when he came out he no longer was. Now, I'm not pointing any fingers and I'm not making up any stories, either. All I'm saying is this: Pete was a straight guy. OK, he had his faults -- hell, don't we all -- and one of those was hitting rude bar staff, but he was a good guy at heart. Never hurt a flea.

On this particular day the police came to the pub to collect Annie. She knew.

'Is there some place we can go, Miss Anthrax?'

She knew; they knew; the audience knew. She said:

'You're here to tell me he's dead.'

'Is there somewhere we can go, Annie?'

'If you've come to tell me that old yarn you can tell me I'm all washed-up.'

They found her with a bottle of vodka, empty. It was a double funeral and Annie's casket had to be specially made: rival firms outbid each other to construct it. You couldn't bury such a couple: they had to be given to the fire; and so they were. Played at the service was one of Annie's songs: Life's a Bitch, Death's a Release.

No, they still talk about them both around here but it's more a repeated story than a memory. Some people doubt whether they truly existed, youngsters especially are sceptical. Steve's still around, drumming; he's got up a new group -- Retrovirus. Pete and Annie's flat was emptied (the ceiling made good), redecorated and sold.

Occasionally you'll come across her forty-fives in the second-hand stores; and sometimes groups of people in pubs south of the Thames will talk about big Annie and skinny Pete, and the more they drink the more they'll remember. Oh, thanks, mine's a lager.

Anthrax Annie? Oh, I knew her. She was one half of a partnership with Pathogen Pete -- I'm talking a long time ago, now -- and once, as we peed, Pete asked me to hold his phone for him. Also Annie kissed me, just there, on the cheek. See that spot?

Mm? Could you make that a pint -- and ask them to put in some ice, please? Ta. Oh, yeah, Anthrax Annie -- hurry back, the stories are endless.

About the author:

Born Dundee, Scotland 1949. Trained as an actor and worked in the theatre. Has also worked in retailing and financial services. Stories and articles have appeared (or are forthcoming) in SmokeLong Quarterly, BuzzWords, Peninsular, Countryside Tales, Scribble. He lives and works in Brighton, England.