Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The End

If you're reading this post you're probably visiting from another site I'm linked to, or perhaps you've stumbled upon this site via a search query.

Whatever. Please use your back button. This site is dead. This is the last post (cue trumpet).

purplesimon out...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Rest In Peace

An explanation is required, so there can be no one that doesn't know the whats, wheres and whys of this decision. Or the what's, where's and why's. Either or.

It's been two years now. Just over, I think, by a couple of weeks. In that time, there have been almost 270 posts on this blog. Not all of those were stories; when I first started this blog, I didn't know what to post and it took me a long time to get around to posting stories only. But I took that decision and since then have posted fairly regularly.

I like writing, but things change. They have to, to keep life fresh and invigorating.

I've made the decision not to post any more fiction to this blog. Ever. I'm actually taking a sabbatical from writing. How long I can't say - I don't know myself.

It's why the last story finished so bizarrely; it's why I have been quiet on the blog front for some time.

So. I'm done.

I'd like to thank those of you who have linked to me over the two years this blog has been up. Your links will remain. Thanks to those who commented and for being a source of inspiration. I will continue to visit as many of you as I can and enjoy the words that you put up for people like me to read.

purplesimon out...

Photos From The Attic - The End

Part One of this story can be found here.

Those last days seemed to take for ever to be done with, discarded like a cotton ball on a teenage girl's floor. Three long days that stretched out like a thousand-yard stare; they were almost unbearable. I tried to sleep for as much of it as I could, but the times I was awake I could nothing but think. Think about him, the one I'd got around to dubbing 'The Silent One'.

He who had no voice, or if he did he maintained absolute control over its use. I'd not heard much more than the odd grunt, guttural, as if he could make no noise with his vocal chords. Like Jennie Evans from school after she'd returned, having spent seven weeks in hospital: four for the burns to her throat caused by drinking bleach from a lemonade bottle in some old man's shed on the allotments, another three learning how to make sounds with what was left of her tongue. I recalled a newspaper article from a few years back: Jennie was dead, took her own life. Reckoned on the old man touching her. Four girls and two boys came forward. For once I'd read something of truth in the local paper. I don't know what stunned me more.

Maybe that's how The Silent One came to be without voice? Was he another victim? It was doubtful, but I still shuddered at the thought, at what my mind could do left to its own devices. As I stared at those cracks in the ceiling I began to make patterns, to find threads amongst the chaos spreading from the epicentre. And I could find them, just as I can find patterns in what's been happening to me.

Wherever I want to go, he's there. It's like he's watching me, or controlling me. It was enough to send shivers down my spine. The photo, still intact but looking much worse for the journey I'd taken it on, was on the nightstand by my hospital bed and I had taken to looking at is, talking to it, asking Gramps for help. But they all stared back at me, their mouths no longer able to tell the story, the tale of the photos from the attic.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Seven

Part One of this story can be found here.

I've often heard the phrase 'felt like I was hit by a truck' but let me tell you, when referring to anything other than actually being hit by a truck, try using something else to describe how you felt. I had to learn the hard way that only being hit by a truck actually feels like it.

I learned there are some things you forget from when you're a kid. My mistake was forgetting my Green Cross Code: look left, look right, look left again. Listen and cross when it is clear. You see, the part that they left out of my lesson way back when was this: when you're close enough to smell the thing you've been searching for the past few weeks, don't just rush out into the road without looking both ways.

Foley had been within an arm's length. I mean, I was about to touch him, he was looking at me as I called his name and then, bam, nothing, blackness. The pain came later.

There's no telling what came immediately after I was hit. Doctors say I was lucky the vehicle wasn't travelling too fast, that there was an ambulance at the scene, countless medical staff available to tend to me on account of the senior citizens' home. I don't feel lucky. I feel cheated.

All the time I lie here, a drip in my arm, catheter in place, plaster covering a good proportion of my body, wires for this, for that and who knows what else, I feel cheated. All of this keeping me alive, all of this mending what was broken. The miracles of modern science. All this and no one can tell me what happened in that jungle, what my Gramps saw. There's no one left to ask now.

The police, they came. Two officers. We went through the routine. They knew I wasn't going to do a runner; even if I did, they suspected I wouldn't get far. That remark drew a chuckle from the younger policeman that even my glare couldn't suppress. If I'd been in his shoes I would've done the same, which is what made me despise him more. I could do nothing about it. Once they'd ascertained I had nothing to do with Foley's death, they weren't all the interested. Except my mute driver. Did I know where he was? What did he look like? Licence plate details? I gave them what I could. I might have neglected to mention any other person, but I was still in shock to find out that Foley had dropped dead there and then on the lawn out front, his heart stopping as the fire truck mowed me down.

My last chance gone in a clutch of the chest, in an agonising cry. My last chance disappearing into bulging eyes and reddened face. It was all I could think about as I stared at the flaking paint on the ceiling of the ward, as I studied the web of cracks spreading from each corner. I had no visitors, no flowers or cards, I only had a photograph, the same one I'd retrieved all those weeks ago from the attic. Only now it had my blood on it. Only now it showed ghosts.

I even hated myself for a moment, believing that I'd caused his death, that I only had myself to blame for his heart attack. All ifs and buts. Truth was, so the police said, he was practically ready to go, he'd had a scare only the night before. He was a dead man shuffling, they said. I wanted to smile at their jokes, but they didn't know what was at stake and I didn't want them fishing about, trying to pick clues from the debris of "just another road traffic accident". I didn't want them getting in my way.

I was lucky that I'd been comatose for most of my time in hospital. My casts were due off in a matter of days. I'd be out again within a week - they needed the beds for those with decent medical insurance. I could recuperate at home, they said. Physiotherapy once a week. I'd be as right as rain, as good as new.

In the days that followed the police visit, I began to plan things again. I knew that he would be about somewhere, that we were in some way inexplicably linked. He might not have a voice, but he could still be made to give me answers I sought.

This story is continued here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Six

Part One of this story can be found here.

It hadn't occurred to me that they wouldn't let me see him. Once I'd admitted that I wasn't a blood relative it wasn't going to be a case of copying the nightclub queue technique, to go outside, change my jersey, put on a pair of sunnies and try my luck again, this time with a better back-story. It was during an intense flood of anger that the futility of my situation finally dawned on me.

I unclenched my fists, smiled, made placatory comments. I turned away, waving my hands to show the fast-approaching security guards that I was leaving, that I didn't need to be escorted. I turned back towards reception. All eyes were on me, arms folded across chests, mouths held tightly shut. Behind the receptionist's head was a sign.

Rooms 1 - 52. Even.

I let the door bang shut as I left. I'd have to be convincing if I were to get away with what I had planned.

No one was outside waiting, the car that had carried me here off on an excursion with its silent driver. I guess he hadn't considered the problems I'd encountered either: the reluctance of the staff to let me in to see Foley. I kicked at the ground, turning again to see if I was still in the receptionist's headlights; I was, so I kicked the ground again and stalked off towards the street.

Once I knew I couldn't be spotted from the reception area, I scuttled around the back of a large rhododendron bush, it's purple flowers scattering a confetti as I pushed past. I was around the side of the home, a wing stretching outwards in front of me and upwards two storeys.

I took the letter from my pocket, looked closely at the address. There it was: number 16. Foley's room number. I reckoned on it being on the ground floor, possibly the first storey. Whichever it was, I knew I could find a way to see him, to question him; to interrogate. He was the last link and I wasn't going to let things slip away from me now that I was close to finding out some real answers.

All I needed to do was find an open window.

I strolled as casually as I could around the side of the building, the rough of the brick rubbing against my arm as I slid around the corner. I held my breath, waiting for what I thought was the inevitable shout, the "hey, what you doing" voice that would make me run, flee being the only response my body could be relied upon to make in such a situation. But it didn't come and I was able to get some more air into my burning lungs. I stifled a cough and crouched down low, taking small steps forward, bobbing my head up occasionally to see if a room was empty, or if not, whether it held captive a drooling old person, the drugs keeping them pliable but not lucid. Some of the windows had bars stretching vertically, preventing me from accessing the building; only when I found staff rooms were the bars removed and that wasn't a room in which I was willing to try my luck at getting in: a sure-fire trip to the police station heralded such a wanton move.

I had to face facts: I wasn't going to break in.

Once I'd completed the circuit and knew for sure that Foley was beyond my reach, I sighed heavily. I walked away from the home, walked away from knowing what had happened in that jungle, what had made my Gramps the way he was; only one person knew what he had gone through, what he had witnessed and that person was guarded almost as heavily as a President. Or a dictator. I was at a loss, my head hanging down, forehead creased, arms limp at my side.

It was useless; it was time to go home.

And then I heard it, a faint sound at first but becoming louder. It was the distinctive sound of a fire alarm. Somehow, someone had made the impossible come true: the senior citizen's home was being evacuated.

The alarm was soon mixed with the sirens of the local fire brigade. All the patients were out on the lawn; many spaced out on their narcotic cocktails, others lying in beds, IV drips attached to their arms, dark bruises showing against translucent skin. Death-in-waiting, collected together.

I didn't know which one was Foley, whether he was drugged out of his mind or one of those patients able to walk, aided by sticks and zimmers. I scanned the faces from over the road, trying not to catch the eye of the nurses, in case the receptionist recognised me from earlier and made good on her threat to call the cops.

Then, as the fire engines congregated in front of the home, my luck continued to be good. A lone voice spoke out: Hey Foley, you been smoking in your room again?

I looked up. There, with a cigarette clamped in brown, nicotine stained fingers was the person I'd travelled to see. Foley. He was alive after all and only metres away.

All I had to do now was think of a way to approach him without drawing attention to myself. And that's when my luck started to wane.

This story is continued here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Five

Part One of this story can be found here.

I don't know how far I'd run, but I guessed at a mile or so. There'd been no one on Main Street when I'd fled Johnson's place. It had been deserted, eerie, quiet. I hadn't taken time to look about for long, my legs pumping in time to the pounding of my heart. Even when I felt the burn in my muscles I kept on running, wanting to get away from the dead body, wanting to escape what I'd found, even though the letter was still clamped in my fist. It was the words that were haunting me.

It can't be forgotten, even now that Carter's dead. That boy is out there somewhere and I think he's hunting us down. Come on Johnson, admit it and we can all move on.

Admit it, man; do us all a favour and let's finish it once and for all.

Spilling around my head, dancing through my mind; the words said so much yet so little.

I was leaning over being sick into some bushes when I heard the gentle thrum of the engine, idling on the highway. I knew it was him, my lift. He'd found me. I wiped the string of vomit that dangled from my lower lip with the back of my hand, spitting acid taste and bile on to the grassy verge. Then I turned around, stuffing the letter into my back pocket, not wanting it to become a topic of discussion.

He was sitting in the car, staring straight ahead, waiting patiently.

I'd not given the driver any further thought for some hours, dealing with Johnson had consumed me, but now I came to consider what motive he had for driving me about, what was in it for him. It can't simply have been a coincidence he was 'going my way' and it wasn't fate that brought us together. Something wasn't quite right, was off-kilter and it nagged as I scrunched the gravel beneath my feet and started off towards the car still wiping my hand across my lips, trying to remove all trace of the bile flavour from my mouth. But, I needed to get to Foley's and with my best estimate putting the drive at four hours, I didn't have a choice.

Someone had something to admit to. I wanted to be there when they spilled their guts.


The landscape changed as we approached Fellingdale, a small community left isolated when the railroad had been usurped by the six-lane highway that encirlced the capital, fed by arterial roads that spread out through the rest of the country. A sense of urbanisation was creeping in: small, local shops began to appear; litter blew in the light breeze caused by the cars whizzing past or trucks clattering along; dogs ran loose, frayed string cutting into their necks leaving me wondering what they'd been running from in the first place. The sign greeting visitors might as well have said

"You're now entering a poor neighbourhood. Please drive away quickly, do not leave your possessions for one single minute. Trust no one. Now, fuck off. Consider yourself told".

Kids hung about on the street corners, dressed in shorts and dirty t-shirts, some barefoot. I didn't think that this could exist in today's society, such a forgotten community, a desperate and unloved neighbourhood breeding crime, hatred and disillusionment. Once, this had been a thriving enterprise, actually making the local maps in upper case: FELLINGDALE, a stop-off for salesmen, a centre for commerce, a growth town. Everything changed with the building of the ring road. It had occurred almost twenty years ago; Fellingdale had never recovered from that decision to construct the road and the downward slide didn't appear to be halting – despite the few shops, there was no evidence of chainstores removing the 'To Let' signs that adorned every third store.

Snobbily, I thought that this might well be the neighbourhood that my 'chauffeur' – that's what I'd laughingly started to address him as, yet there was not one peep out of him – would have grown up in, perhaps even aspired to live in. I guessed he wasn't fussy about those kinda things; just one look at him and you wanted to give him some change. Although he didn't smell of rotting cabbage, and he drove a car, every other part of him screamed homeless. Tattered shirt, ripped jeans, unruly hair in sharp curls that spattered off in different directions, as if Pollock had styled it. I didn't like how he made me feel about him, the sense of being better.

And, he was so damn quiet it was beginning to unnerve me again, a proper chill down my spine. I started to grind my teeth, look out the window at the pre-fab buildings, the bright shop fronts and the small groups of locals milling about in the midday sun.

I was pulled back to reality when we turned off. Within a few miles things changed. Suburban sprawl, but decidedly richer. Houses getting bigger; lawns neatly trimmed, set off with flowerbeds and sprinklers; "SLOW! CHILDREN PLAYING" signs announcing each new tree-lined avenue. And then we began to slow. Foley had done good, I thought.

But then I saw the sign: Welcome to The Fellingdale Home for Senior Citizens.

Gripping the letter in my clenched fist, I got out of the car, wanting to get away from this man who didn't speak, but at the same time apprehensive of what I might find and of what Foley might tell me.

I hoped that this time I wasn't too late.

This story is continued here

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Four

Part One of this story can be found here.

I found the cups. They were so full of mould it was impossible to wash away no matter how many times I placed them under the brown water spraying out of only one working tap. There didn't appear to be any glasses; perhaps he drank straight from the bottle, necking it in short glugs? Not that I wanted a drink. Would've been a bad thing to do.

The whiskey in the bottle was almost gone, empty. There were several empty ones lying in the sink, broken shards with their sheen of fine malted whiskey long since evaporated. There was a local liquor wholesaler's box in the next cupboard. I took a full bottle of the single malt out, left the half empty one standing, guarding the cupboard.

It took me a minute to work it out, for the penny to fall down into a darkened chasm, ears bent to hear any faint splash, wishing it to be bottomless but actually hearing it finally drop after a disappointing ten seconds. I got up. He was still warm, but his chest definitely wasn't going to move again this lifetime. I poured him a glass, left it in his hand; amber-gold splashes on his trousers, mixing with his urine, faeces, as bowel and bladder broke their levees. I picked the photo from his hand, nails already turning white as the blood drained to the lowest point of gravity. Fingers flick, eyes close. A last wheeze of breath, stale with an odour of alcohol and lima beans. Poor fuck: what a life.

I looked about the room. He had to have kept in touch with the others and there was a chance they might go the same way as old Johnson here before me. He'd given me something - there was another, not in the photo and not taking it. Where'd he gone? What'd happened? I surveyed the room, but it revealed that Johnson had lived sparse, hand-to-mouth no doubt, on the social security or maybe a war pension; maybe what he could beg, borrow or steal. I didn't have time to reminisce about a man I didn't know well enough before he'd gone and kicked his bucket from here to the fucking Arctic Circle. Selfish old cunt, the thought coming from nowhere.

I had to leave the place, get out before anyone noticed the old mad had been visited by someone, before word got out that there was a stranger in town. After all, my lift had been suspiciously knowledgeable about my exact destination. I hadn't said a word, as usual, but I hadn't needed to. It was then that I spied the tin under his seat. A rusted, battered and dented biscuit tin, the lid held fast with tape and string. Reaching it meant I had got the full force of Johnson's bowel movements and bladder issues, several times the tin just slipping from my grasp so that by the time I'd finally clamped my fingers tightly around it my head was almost touching Johnson's dick. I gagged but managed to resist the urge to vomit and retrieve the tin.

I pulled at the string, its toughness cutting into my hands leaving thin, bloodless welts that stung as my sweat ran into them. I ignored it, using my teeth to bite through the string. I could hear shuffling from the box; I believed it contained letters and I thought they might say something about my Gramps, about this secret. Finally, after scrabbling for a further minute with the dirty tape, glued on with dirt that had been gathering on the adhesive over several years, the box was open, the contents spilled messily over the floor as I searched them for recent post marks.

I found one. Sent only weeks before. It was from Foley. I figured he was on the right, although I had to accept that he could've been one of the others in the photo, it was difficult to know. My hands trembled as I fumbled with the envelope, suddenly tearing it open when I realised I didn't need to be polite anymore, the dead not being up on the latest etiquette themselves.

It had his address, printed across the top of a letter. He was living upstate, back in the home of his youth. I scanned the neat words, looking for clues to questions, ideas, I didn't know what. And then I saw it, written in his shaky blue and white script, the answer I was looking for: someone who knew what happened. Someone else.


This story is continued here

Friday, September 01, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Three

Part One of this story can be found here.

Every time we stopped to rest we could hear them, the crack of a branch as it was pushed aside with a hand, the snap of a twig as it gave beneath the weight of a body moving forward; no matter their stealth, we knew they were there. They'd been following us for hours, perhaps drawn by the snuffling sobs of Carter, the youngest in our small band of soldiers. It had taken several hard slaps to his face to get his crying to a low volume. Perhaps they'd heard his wailing; it's not everyday you see a colleague lose their head to a sniper, is it? Perhaps they'd spotted us as we moved out, withdrawing into the shadows offered by the jungle foliage. It could just as easily have been the thwack created by the flailing hands of Smith as he swatted flies, moths, gnats and mosquitoes (he pretended to know the difference, even though we all flapped our hands at any flying insect in case it came at us with a taste for blood). It's not as if we could simply tramp over and ask them: why are you following us?

We were their enemy. They were ours.

I remember it clearly. It often plays in my head at night, the flash as they released the flares, the onerous thump of trees being smacked by machine gun fire; I recall the clicking sound as the leaves were stripped, even above our shouts of panic and the slap of our feet on the muddy ground. Blindly we ran, trying to dodge unseen foe, unseen weapons. From which direction they were coming I do not know to this day, we could have been running towards them at one point such was the fear we all felt. I suffer today, still, from the effects of the acrid smoke; it burned the lining of my lungs, but the army said it wasn't negligent. How can that be? They sent us in there; yes, we were doing our duty, but no one told us it would lead to certain death for so many of us, of them.

The day had started as a typical innocuous day for us new servicemen. We'd been deployed away from the front, to get acclimatised, to learn the ropes. We thought we'd be safe, that we'd be back in the arms of our respective families in no time at all. Three weeks and the closest we'd got to being injured was playing football or burning under the hot Oriental sun. That was all to change after breakfast.

The four of us sat together, a small team of local lads - we'd known each other at school, even though there was a five-year gap between Carter and myself. We were looking out for each other, watching backs and hoping those same people we covered were doing the same for us. You had to stick together, no one wanted to be left alone, to be left out. That's how we came to be hiding out in the jungle, how we came to be under fire. Of course, knowing what I know now, well, it gives things a new perspective. Hindsight is a bitch like that.

I was scraping the last of the egg yolk on my plate, a yellow pond through which I dredged a slice of white bread, the texture of cardboard. It needed yolk to make it palatable, thatÂ’s the army for you. Lieutenant Campson came in, pointed at us, directly. There could be no getting out of it, the first operation. A hush descended on the mess tent; I couldn't manage that last piece of bread, probably would've choked me. That hindsight: might have been best to choke to death than go through what we all went through. Listen lad, it wasn't easy, even for the veteran soldiers, but for us newies it were fucking horrible. Pardon me language.

I'm sorry lad, I'm feeling tired now. I need to rest. It's my lungs, I think I mentioned.

Make yourself useful and get in that kitchen, make yourself a drink. There's a bottle of whiskey in the cupboard above the sink, bring that back with you. And give me that photo again, let me look just once more. Now, let me rest a little; I'll not be able to sleep, not with those screams haunting me, not now you've made me think about it just when I thought it was starting to fade.

This story is continued here

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Two

Part One of this story can be found here.

I travel light, just a rucksack with a change of clothes and a few personal belongings. I don't need much; out on the road I can pick up lifts in cars; thumb out, watching as the red tail lights brighten in the nanosecond they caught my intention, the car's back end fish-tailing slightly as the driver brakes harder than necessary. I never hurry, just keep the same pace and then I'll be level with the driver - they ask the same questions: where you going? What's your name? How long you been waiting for a lift? I say nothing, beyond my final destination. They usually counter with something about 'quiet one' and 'suit yourself'.

I slump. I've got things to think about: the tape; the photo, now worn at the edges where a hundred fingers have toyed with it, turning it in greasy palms and rough skin; how I'm going to get to the bottom of my Grandad's story. There has to be answers, things he took to his grave. I just need to figure them out, which is difficult with the whining of this nasally prick sat next to me. I can't forgive him the notion that he's driving me across the country. I need to get out.

Drop me here, I say.

A glance. He sees I am telling, not asking. Sometimes you got to be direct.

There is a crunch as my boots meet the gravel that lines the side of the highway. I nod at the driver and he moves off, giving me the finger as soon as he's put his foot on the gas. I ignore him and walk, thumb out awaiting the next lift. I'm waiting for the right person to pick me up, someone that will let me be, or someone that talks non-stop but asks no questions of me. I'm not in a talkative mood. I take the photo from my shirt pocket and study it as I trudge on through the stumps of grey grass that punctuate the gravel every ten feet or so. The sky melts into the horizon, shimmering as the heat of the day reaches its hottest point, the tarmac bubbling slightly, tyre tracks faintly visible on the highway.

I stop, take the rucksack from my back, no longer a human snail; digging inside I retrieve the bottle of water, slightly warm from my body heat and drink before my thirst makes itself known. I'm immersed in the drink and the photo, so much that I don't hear the car until it's pulled up alongside me and the driver leans out, offering me the vacant seat. They only gesture, not voice. My kind of lift. I get in, silent also, place my rucksack on the back seat, the photo on the dashboard. The door closes by itself as my new chauffeur hits the gas, a slight hint of smoke off the back wheels. I don't even look at him; somehow I know he's heading towards Johnson's town: Johnson is the second person from the left, his arm held slack against my Grandad's shoulder, his teeth yellowed from smoking. I don't know if he's alive, if he's mentally stable. He was the only survivor, aside from my Gramps, and I calculate that he's in his eighties, maybe his nineties. He's old, that much I can guess at, surmise.

The next thing I know it's dark and there is rain streaming down the windshield. I am alone. Panicking, I look about me - my rucksack is still nestled in the back; it looks untouched. The photo is still there, but attached is one of those sticky notes. I peel it off and read:

We arrived, I couldn't wake you. Person you looking for lives here, number 30 Main Street. I leave in three days if you want a lift to the coast.

No name, no sign of anyone. All I know is I'm somehow at my destination, that I am on Main Street.

I grab my rucksack, open the car door and step out on to the waterlogged road, my boots slurping in the inch of mud. I begin to walk towards Johnson's house; it's easy to find, the only one on the block that's in need of a paint, that looks like an old person's abode. Dilapidated, gate broken, weeds that tower over my head; some of the windows have been broken by stones, possibly by the local kids, and have been boarded up by amateur hands. The door is falling apart, as rotten as Hitler's heart. I almost daren't knock, in case it falls into matchwood, into jagged splinters that might dig into my hands, may draw blood.

I have no need. From inside comes a voice, thick with drink, or drugs, a voice that seems to know who I am, why I'm here and knows that I'm looking for the answers that have eluded me for many years. It is a voice that has promise - the promise that I will find out what happened out there, what happened to my Gramps, what made him withdraw.


This story is continued here

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part One

C'mon Grandad, the tape's running.

Yep yeah, okay. How does you know that things is recording? How can you tell, like, it's a comp-pooter and there ain't know tape inside it? What if I be telling you all this and then you suddenly discover that this comp-pooter things ain't doing what you thinking it was?

Trust me, Gramps, it's taking down every word. Once you’ve done it I can play it back to you, so you know for sure it's doing its job. Now, tell me more about this photo I found in the attic, please.

Yep yeah, okay. Are you really sure?

Look, let me rewind it, then you...

C'mon Grandad, the tape's running.

Yep yeah, okay. How does you know that things is recording? How can you tell, like, it's a comp-pooter and there ain't know tape inside it? What if I be telling you all this and then you suddenly discover that this comp-pooter things ain't doing what you thinking it was?

Trust me, Gramps, it’s taking down ever...

There, are you happy now, Gramps?

Yep yeah, okay. I believe you. I think. Well, let me see now, give us here that photo, boy, and I’ll be telling you about that time. A dark time it was.

Why was it dark, Grandad?

Yep yeah, okay. Let me tell this story, son. You want to get them there good marks in your school class, don't ya? I see that head a-nodding, but I want to hear you say it to me Billy.

Yes, Gramps, I want to do well at school.

Hmmm. Good to hear that, Billy, good to hear that. Now, back to that photo. Yep yeah, okay, I recall that day clear as a bell. That there is Jack Marriott, him’s Johnson, I forget his first name; the one on the far right we called Skipper, on account of his father being in the Merchant Navy and that there is me. A lot younger then, yep yeah, sure was. I can't remember who took that shot, but I can place it.

I was twenty-three, just turned it, when I was called up. Serve my country – something you won't have to do lad, something you don't want to have to go through. Made me the man I am today.

In what way?

Yep yeah, okay, don't be in-rupting me now! Where was I? Yep yeah, okay, I recall where we were hiding out when this was taken. It's difficult to make out, but this is the back of a jeep, the green camo-flarge cloth acting like a second skin, a barry-er 'tween us and the...

Looking back now, I wonder how he survived, what he must have been through. Mother always said that if you could look her father in the eye you’d never recover from the horrors reflected in them. I used to avoid looking, pushing my eyes to the floor when he engaged me. I keep rewinding the tape, listening to the way he started every sentence with a "Yep yeah, okay", how he spoke in his own distinct way. His choices for the pronunciation of words – comp-pooter, for example – made him sound like a Slavic immigrant or a child. I think he used it as a hiding place, to give an impression of his "lame-brainedness" (mother’s term) or "stupidity" (his step-wife's term; affectionate I'm sure) so that he wouldn't have to relive those sickening shocking experiences, be asked about them. Yep yeah, okay: protective, defensive; collusion between my Grandad and his brain, a safety feature of his human psyche. He never trusted again. Let down once, didn’t want to be burned again, to be scarred, let down and failed. It's all there in his speech, relayed all those years ago for my school project.

Yep yeah, okay – my Grandfather's safety net.

... the back of a jeep, the green camo-flarge cloth acting like a second skin, a barry-er 'tween us and the enemy. We felt protected by it, even though we knew that it could be compromide, that it wasn’t going to stop the dark hand of death from laying them bony fingers on our shoulders, should time come. Yep yeah, okay. Which it did, later. This photo, taken just before, moments it was. I'm suprised it's endourred, given the force we experients; the shaking, the battering of stones against our skulls and dirt showering us from all directions. That's why I’m deaf in he...

I think of him at that moment, animated by his memories. I was fourteen when I made that tape. It's as if it were yesterday; the bees lazily bumbling past my ears as we sat by the flower-beds, their humming like static on the recording. I was using my old computer, some kind of grey, faceless box, which to my Gramps was like something out of a science fiction novel; to me it's dated, old media – clunky and heavy like the caresses of an young, unskilled boy upon a woman's breast. There had to be more going on behind those eyes I avoided than anyone knew, there simply has to be.

I look at the photograph from the attic, stare at it intently, yet I still cannot plumb the depths of my Grandad's thoughts, to see what he saw. To me it's four smiling men, huddled together, displaying a camaraderie that isn’t forced. There is genuine love captured here. It's the same love that you can pick up on as Grandad's voice overflows from the tinny speakers of my portable player. What I don't know is how it came to be that only two of them returned from the war. They were meant to be away from the front, just learning the ropes.

I know that, had the tape survived the past years and not been damaged by rain, the slightly acidic water pouring through a hole in the roof tiles – thankfully not spoiling the faint photographs contained within a cardboard box stored only feet away from the deluge – then we might have known more. Perhaps.

What I struggle with most is that I can't remember anything he told me that day. Not one single word of it.

This story is continued here

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lights, Camera, Action

Steve is telling us his story.

He's quiet spoken, his manner, pensive.
Lines crease his forehead as he thinks, as he articulates exactly what happened, how he ended up sitting at the side of the road, the four heads of his family splattered like watermelons back at his home while he rocked back and forth, whimpering like a puppy, tears streaming down his face.

He says he has no recollection of events, no ideas how he came to be sitting on the overpass, how he came to have four pints of blood splashed on this clothes, yet no discernible wounds; some sort of amnesia, we get to thinking, perhaps selective on account of the trauma.

It's not unheard of. People blot stuff out, erase it from the mind when it becomes too much to handle, too difficult to store for long periods of time; it's volatile, inflammable.

Steve is being capricious. The Doc says he's had a bang on the head, even though he can't find any puncture wounds, no bruising. Even the Doc admits he's not seen anything like it in almost 30 years of work. Never. It's unprecedented. So the Doc says.

I find myself almost hypnotised by Steve's drawl, the way he hangs on certain vowels. I watch as his mouth twists, the left-hand side lifting, streaking lines across his face. His eyes are darting, occasionally stopping like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Usually when we show him the photos. He stops, works stuck in his throat, choking him like chicken bones. No one goes to help. We all watch, transfixed. He turns red, raspberry, beetroot, blackberry. A slap brings him out of it, the mark of my hand tattooed on his cheek, a slime of blood smeared from lip to ear. He continues his story, the same as before:


I have to believe him.

I stand, the orange plastic chair tacked to the backs of my knees scraping its metal legs against the concrete floor as I straighten up. We've all had enough, especially Steve. Our eyes lock; his pleading, mine judging. It's stalemate. I leave the room, I need air.

I re-enter. Steve is telling us his story. His manner is quiet, pensive. His voice, ditto. I look about for a chair: take the plastic, orange-coloured monstrosity, scarred with a million cigarette burns, spillages of coffee, of unknown fluids. I look at Steve as I place the four spindles of metal on the floor, teeth gritted as the scraping plugs the flow of words mumbling, tumbling from Steve's mouth. I nod. Steve carries on, telling us his story.

I look about. Paint peeling, blue shards undulating in the breeze of the desk-top fan that sits on the Formica table in front of me, the barrier that separates me from Steve. I can hear him. Donotknowdonotknow. A keening whisper, a sound that will haunt me. I have to believe him. He says he has no recollection. It's not unheard of.

I write down the events as they currently stand, throwing paper in front of the fan so it blows into Steve's face. He stops, shock painting his face, powdering it white, ghost-like. It's a technique, to wake them, to shock them.

Them = person + guilt.

Hands dug deep into my faded 501s, shirt tails flapping as the fan oscillates towards me. I stare. I know of people who blot things out, erase them; they are too much to contemplate, to replay like the Super 8 cine films of our youth. They can't be stored for long periods of time; they're volatile, thrashing about, verbally. It's the trauma; it has a medical name just so the courts can apportion blame, costs, damages.

I stand, quickly. The chair scrapes on the floor. Steve winces. I wink at him, tell him it's time for a cup of tea, for a break; it's a chance for him to remember, to recall, to reminisce.

I leave the room. I need air.

I can hear Steve, telling us his story, but now his voice is muffled by the chipboard door, its surface littered with the scars of so many confessions and a good deal of frustration. I need air.

I re-enter. Steve is silent. No one is asking him questions. All eyes are on the tape recorder, the old, battered tape recorder; it had been mine, when I was growing up, when I wanted to be a singer and I recorded myself tunelessly bawling out the hits of the Jackson 5. I wanted to be black. If I'd known what I know now, I'd have written to Michael - hey, Mikey, wanna change colour now? And gender?

I wipe these thoughts from my head. Concentrate, I say to myself; over-and-over: mantra number one. I reach over towards Steve, see his eyes flinch, his head involuntarily jerk backwards, as if I were about to hurt him. It's a sign; the first. He is remembering. Wrist flicks, tape turns. Recording, the red light indicates. I pick up a piece of the paper on which the events are documented. I look for another sign that he remembers.

I can hear Steve telling us his real story. His confession is coming out like a bullied schoolboy who's decided it's better to come clean than to be beaten for being different: I know he's holding something back. I stare, he stops. It's a technique, to wake them, to shock them. The red light is on, it's a focus.

I stand. Steve is shouting now, wanting to unburden himself of his crimes, telling us how he shot his wife, his kids. He shows remorse, wants to right the wrong. I tell him I don't believe him, that he doesn't look like the kind of man that could pull off such a crime, wouldn't be able to squeeze his pinky around the cold steel of the gun's butt, his index finger curled like a cat around feet feeling the trigger, feeling the tightness.

You are nothing,
I say.

He starts to cry again, head buried in his hands. I see the red light on the tape recorder, that little LED shining, the colour of the blood oozing from Steve's family in the photographs.

I need air.

I can hear Steve telling us his story, wailing his confession through the concrete walls, through the steel door, through the vacuum of his nightmare. I bring to mind Steve's features, the way the skin pleats on his forehead when I show him the photos, the four heads of his family, their blood sprayed like graffiti on a billboard, bathing him in a scarlet rain. He shakes when I tell him how he was found rocking back and forth, whimpering like a child locked in the dark and dust beneath the stairs or chased by an imaginary monster from under the bed. How there were hot, stinging tears caressing his face, bringing a blush to his cheeks.

I pull open the door, the strength of my entry stopping Steve's tears, the only sound is his snot being snuffled back into his sinuses every few beats of his heart. His eyes, wet, as expectant as a mother with her swollen belly cupped in her arms, they stare at me, hopeful.

I'm sorry Steve
I say
You've not made it this time. Please can you leave the set now.

Thank you
He replies
Calm now, the acting over.
Thank you for the opportunity.

I call him back.
Get your teeth fixed.

I shout.

I need air.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where There's A Will

I was asked to write a short story by Raynwomaan that relates to a letter of the alphabet. She kindly chose the letter for me, here. Just in case you’re like me and can’t work it out, it’s the ‘W. Anyway, below is my effort. It’s a children’s story. Sort of.

William waited, watching for any movement on the road. He knew it would take a while for them to arrive and he thought, wistfully, about the time he’d last clapped eyes on his sister, Winifred.

As he waited it felt as if there was some magic that was making the clock hands go widdershins, it had been so long since his sister had been in his life. Sometimes it felt like a world away. He stood up, his excess body weight forcing him to waddle his way to the kitchen, his many chins wobbling every which way. He needed a cup of tea, something to calm him down. While he admitted that he was looking forward to seeing Winifred, something made his heart flutter, as if there was a weakening of sorts happening inside his chest.

The kettle whistled as it came to the boil and William lifted it gingerly, the handle feeling white hot against his clammy skin. Why was he feeling so weird?

The hours passed by and Winifred had yet to appear, to come knocking at the door, and William realised he missed the familiar whack of her hand as it connected with the wood. He decided something must have happened to his sister on her way to his home, something that, when he let his mind wander brought fear winging its way to his heart.

“I can’t just sit around here, waiting,” William said to himself. “I can’t wonder any longer about what might have occurred on the way here. I’m off to find out, I’m off to wander the surrounding area to find my sister.

And so, William left his home for the first time in, well, in weeks.

Once he was outside, William discovered that changes had come about since his last venture into the big wide world . A wall of spiky thorns had sprung up and created an impenetrable forest that William felt sure he’d never get through. And perhaps he wouldn’t have, had the wizard not suddenly appeared beside him, whispering in his ear.

We will never know what the wizard spoke into William’s ear that day, but whatever it was it seemed to galvanise his spirit. People still talk about what happened that day in reverential tones.

They talked in hushed voices about how William had picked up a sword and begun to hack his way through the forest of thorns as if in a frenzy. Later, stories emerged that Winifred, William’s sister was being held captive in her home by an evil witch and the wizard had been the bearer of the news. It was this information that had made William whisk himself off through the thorny forest at great speed. No one else had been able to hack their way through, which just goes to prove: where there’s a Will there’s a way .


Monday, June 26, 2006

The Easiest Things To Do, The Hardest Things To Say

Dear A,
The worst thing you can do, so they say, is start a letter with a cliché, but I have to: by the time you read this it'll be too late to stop the series of events that'll end with you walking into the kitchen, reaching across the smooth granite surface and removing the large carving knife from the walnut block. Will your hand tremble?

By now, you'll have concluded that it's my handwriting; the doctor's scrawl that no amount of detention could ever turn into an elegant, flowing script. Perhaps you'll nick the side of your hand with the knife? Maybe, right now, you're rinsing it under a tap - cold, of course - or sucking hard with your mouth to stem the flood of curses and blood? Even if you hadn't cut yourself, would you have lain the envelope on the solid oak table, simultaneously drawing a sharp breath that cuts not your hand but deep into your heart?

It's all questions, the answers to which I'll never be privy.

However, I can't ponder. There are things I need to get done, things I need to get written.

How I'm feeling, it's not something I can sweat out, cough up; it's innate, like the ability to suck air into lungs, to throw punches.

I think my mother saw it too. Like her, you'd always known it was there, buried somewhere beneath the brash - yet, brittle - skin of my personality. Once, a long time ago now, you'd said, "What, I wonder, is it? What is shrouded by that melancholic cloud?" Do you remember my reply? I do. The exact phrasing, the measure. What struck me was that my mother had said the same thing to me, as a child.

I was only nine. An insignificance, I thought, with my lazy eye, my cow's lick that made the hair on my head go punk, ten years too early. I didn't know that neither of you were reinforcing that notion. I'd been too young to understand. Even twenty years later I hadn't learned the lesson, I couldn't accept.

Of course, acceptance has never been my strong point. I've resolved to change that.

This letter is the beginning.

With love

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Memory

The air around the meadow was sickly, as is the taste of chocolate frosting or the sentiments of old ladies. Flies hung in groups, their intimidation techniques more of an annoyance; bees bumbled from flower to flower. I was running across the field, through the knee-length grass that whipped around my shins, leaving thin red streaks where the blood had come to see who was knocking on the skin of my legs.

I’d been running away. So many years ago it had occurred, but it all felt as if it had happened yesterday. I hadn’t run for such a long time, it felt like a dream every time I recalled it. Now my legs, stained by blue lumps, mottled by scabs and scars, were useless.

I’d long ago ceased to tie my shoelaces, skipping the ritual and pulling on trainers when I left the house. Sometimes I simply left my feet to the elements or pulled thick socks over the twisted stumps of flesh I laughingly called toes. The same stumps that had propelled me through the strips of grass, past the yellow-headed dandelions, their manes of colour thick and stark against the greens; past the congregating flies, the blood-starved gnats and mosquitoes.

Sitting in front of the large mirror that sucked up a good proportion of wall space in the hallway, the back of the chair stabbing at the bruises from yesterday’s physiotherapy treatment, I noticed the changes in my face, how I’d grown into my features. Waves of dry skin lapped around a beach of neck; lips drooping to greet them at the shore; a bulbous nose that looks on in disdain of things beneath it. Dark spots litter my skin and hair sprouts from almost every orifice while simultaneously receding from the top of my head. It’s a face I would have been scared of, would have run from, back in the halcyon days of youth. It’s a face I cannot bear to look at now, one I am not familiar with despite having carried it around with me for almost 70 years.

It’s a face that remembers the meadow, the running, the breathlessness. It displays the marks of that day, cutting deeper than a surgeon’s scalpel, a robber’s knife. I wonder who else has seen these characteristics, these features I have carried since my youth. Perhaps, no one. They are my secret alone.

The day had begun with violent thunderstorms, rain fizzed on the tarmac and the thunder growled its way across the clouded, darkened sky, a malevolent roar that caused the birds to fall silent, animals to cower in fear. I was sat at my bedroom window, watching the cows in the field opposite sit under the shelter of the majestic oak trees that stood to attention along the left-hand side of the field. The trees shivered in the wind, trembling, like soldiers awaiting orders to march to the front lines. The streets were deserted, no one willing to risk a soaking, even though the air was hot and stifling; people had prayed for rain, willed it to come to break up the humid summer days that were becoming more familiar every year – my mother confessed that she harked back to the times when England seemed to be forever under a dark cloud, but I was unsure whether she meant the weather or any number of government ministers, including the current batch of incompetent fools.

The storm has passed quickly, leaving behind the smell of damp grass and a secondary pleasant odour, as if someone, somehow, had distilled the refreshing scents of summer. I wasted no time in jumping from my window sill perch and getting outside, failing to heed to call of my mother to “put on some boots and a coat in case it rains again”.

I headed straight for the meadow.

I strode through the wet grass, caring little as my trouser legs became sodden, heavy, cumbersome. Within minutes I had reached the largest tree in the wood, its circumference too much for my arms to reach around. I leaned back against its rough bark and rummaged through my pockets for my penknife. I liked to leave my mark, like a dog pisses against a bush every twenty feet or so. It was one of “the foibles”, as my mother liked to refer to it; upon catching me digging my knife into a wooden desk at school, the headmaster had refuted that definition, choosing instead to label me, vandal.

Soon, I tired of carving out my initials and walked on to the centre of the wood, where the trees encircled a patch of mossy grass. Laying back in the copse I could see the clouds scattered through blue sky, forever changing; occasionally the vision was enhanced by a swirl of birds or a drifting leaf spiralling towards the ground. I closed my eyes as the sun peeped over me, a golden, burning spy. I felt a shadow cross my face, imagined the clouds had returned. And then I felt another kind of heat, the type that comes with breath.

I opened my eyes quickly and saw a face above me. I startled and made to scream. A hand clamped around my mouth, its roughened, calloused skin impervious to the biting of my teeth. I struggled under the weight of the person, a blur in the periphery of my vision. A heard a voice, but not the words. All I wanted was freedom. At any cost.

It was only when the hand pressed against my face slackened that I remembered my penknife. Recalled that it was in my hand, had been grasped in my fist as I flailed beneath the stranger’s grip. I could feel the warm liquid running down my hand, tickling my elbow and pooling in the pit of my arm. I pulled it away and fought to find my footing as I attempted to stand, the circle of blue sky spinning above me.

A glance down, a body sprawled. The sun suddenly hot against my back, my shoulders. I felt the back of my throat constrict as I ran. I felt the sickness rise up, a sickly sweet taste, a tang of guilt, of fear. I ran for the meadow, for safety.

I ran and I didn’t stop until I got home.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dog Day

The children circled Ben, riding their bikes at all angles around him. Each time, when a kamikaze child appeared to be heading straight towards him, Ben changed direction. All about him were stumps of high-rise flats, washing flapping in the wind like an injured bird at the side of the road, like Ma Brewster's hands when she'd been caught shoplifting at the local supermarket. There were no escape routes and the children's laughter was mocking in its hilarity, the percussive coughs of an older boy puffing on a cigarette providing its back beat.

Ben went for a gap, but behind him, unseen, was a pair of boots, waiting for the precise moment when the target would be in range. Contact made, a squelch of flesh as the muscles compacted; bones cracking, one conceding completely, now a sharp stick poking incessantly at his side. Breath rasped. A small cough spattered the concrete path with blood.

Ben turned, teeth bared, ready for the fight that must surely now begin in earnest. The hunter and hunted could yet change places. Some boys backed away as Ben snarled, threatening to leap forwards at any moment; others came closer, moving in for the kill. Ben decided to make a last stand, launching himself at the smallest of boys and locking on to his wrist with his teeth. Howls, screams and shouts pierced the air.

The kicks rained down hard, but Ben kept on with his bite. He flinched at each kick, but slowly they were beginning to come to a stop. He let go, running for the larger gap that had opened up in the melée, a few final stragglers pushing their feet into his side, making the shard of bone stab at the skin of his Ben's chest. He dared a look over his shoulder as he ran, but there was no fight left now in the youngsters, bending as they were to tend to their own stricken and wounded. The young child was weeping, calling for his mother through waves of tears and snot. Adults had congregated now, shouting and pointing, many beginning to fumble with mobile phones to call the authorities. Ben kept running until he came to the small park at the edge of the housing estate.

Under a large oak tree Ben lay, breathing hard against the pain of his broken rib. He could taste the blood of the small boy on his tongue and throat, mixing with his own where he'd bitten his lip and coughed up the damage to his lung. He whimpered, wanting his own mother to be there; she was long gone, separated from him within weeks of his birth. It had only been a matter of time before he was abandoned again, left to roam the streets, to eat his meals from bins. That time was 16 years.

A long time passed before Ben felt strong enough to move. His side still hurt when he ran, but it was more of an irritation now. He limped along the road, popping sideways looks, just in case someone was looking for him or, worse still, the kids had regrouped. As he walked, the housing estate shrank in the distance. Ben began to feel hungry as he trotted along. He snuffled against bins, the front gardens of the houses surrounding him, but to no avail. He would have to starve tonight, he knew. It was like his sixth sense, his intuitive side that he'd learned after being on the streets so long. He no longer spoke to anyone, preferring to converse in howls, grunts and barks. He had discovered, often the hard way, that people didn't mind dogs raiding their bins, eating waste or shitting in their gardens; they couldn't handle it being a teenage boy. So, he had decided that the best way to stay alive was to behave like a common dog, a cur.

All had been fine, his disguise had lasted him a good six months, until that morning. Until they had set upon him like savages, calling him names, pissing on his back. They had chased him, throwing sticks at him, whatever they had to hand, until they had cornered him on the estate. He'd been lucky to get out alive. For the first time since he'd been kicked out of home, Ben was scared.

At every movement, every murmur from a window, a shop, Ben found himself jump in panic. He avoided the lights, avoided any contact with people. His rib itched where it pressed against his skin and he was finding it harder to breathe with each step. He wanted rest, to be left alone, to find some food; to be sheltered, part of a community, part of a family.

To be loved. That, more than anything else.

Sticks and Stones

It began with the stones.

He'd been startled, thinking it was hailstones peppering the windows. Rising to look at the sudden change in the weather, he'd had to duck as a brick, its slow arc belying its velocity, sailed through the pane, showering him with a spray of glass; his face a scarlet mask from the cuts criss-crossing his now shock-white features.

Herded under the table, Donald and his cats, shielded from the downpour of stones, of rotting sticks of wood, of hatred. Mewling, all of them. Gouges, scratches and ruts marked the table-top, bore witness to Donald's horror, told the story from above, from a different perspective. Sods of wet earth clattered through the gaping holes in the windows and then, silence. Shortly after come shouts, laughter - a malevolent cackle, like static electricity, giving him a further shock; someone had purposely done this.

Someone was out to get him.

During the ensuing interview at the police station - where they barely listened to him - the Desk Sergeant nodded, scratched his head, ummed and ah-ed in the right places, but his disinterest was obvious. He scraped his pen across the paper, like a toddler doodling with a crayon, the words indistinguishable from each other. Donald Preston, that was the only word that he could make out clearly; it was a name the Desk Sergeant knew, for he'd written it down only weeks before, except then, he'd taken the time to write down his words carefully on the charge sheet.

Two hours later, Donald was back in his home, the windows covered with a hardboard skin - to protect from the elements, the glazing company had said. It had taken less than ten minutes after the glazing company's red van had turned the corner for the local youths to spray their tags, to add their feelings to those shared by his neighbours. They couldn't spell it properly, but to anyone with an ounce of phonetic skills it was clear:


Paint brushes in hand, pots settled like dogs around his feet, Donald was outside staring hard at the word sprayed with what looked to be a delicate hand. Swift back and forth movements saw it covered with the whitewash. He knew that, come morning, the first shafts of sunlight would illuminate another version of the accusation, but still he ploughed on. Several times he thought about vandalising his own windows, painting his own venomous message in broad strokes, but instead got on with the job of wiping out the misspelled missive. This was the only way he could clear his name. Donald couldn't even raise a chuckle at the irony of his situation. He could barely raise the enthusiasm to continue, let alone any joy that may have been secreted in the depths of his body. Donald was broken.

Someone was out to get him.

It had begun with those stones, the shouts and cries; where would it end?

Stepping through over the tiled threshold, Donald was unprepared for the sight that greeted him. Pots thumped against the floor, a dull ring as they found contact with the antique tiles; brushes nipped at his feet, spilling tears of white over the hem of his left trouser leg, his shoes. What greeted Donald was a further shock to his fragile system.

They'd been the only things holding him together, they were his seams, his buttons and braces. There'd been no need, surely? What had his cats ever done? What kind of person would take a defenceless animal and commit such atrocities? Donald knew it was his neighbours, his neighbourhood. He pushed past the corpses of his cats, hanging by their tails, throats slit, notes pinned to each still-warm body threatening him, goading him.

Someone was out to get him.

By morning, the lifeless cats had attracted flies, maggots spilling onto the floor, squirming amongst the sticky mix of paint and blood. Footprints tainted the smooth surface of the liquids; a paintbrush, hardening slowly in the strip of sunlight that sneaked around the door frame, lay discarded, forgotten. An attempt had been made to break open the front door, but suddenly abandoned. The window panes created from the glazier's store of hardboard were blackened with soot, charred by small fires set at the corner of each frame that had failed to take once the initial fuel had been burned off. Further graffiti stained the brickwork. The area was silent, the birds' chirruping occasionally disturbing the air, punctuating the air every so often. There was no movement in the house and no one came investigating.

The stories had been told so often that no one could recall where it had started, how it had snowballed, got out of control; no one could remember who had cast that first stone. Mothers publicly scolded those that had been part of the witch hunt; privately spattering the memory of their neighbour with bitter remarks, unsubstantiated rumours and claims. It was always someone else's child, someone else's sick and twisted mind. It was safer that way. A mechanism, employed to cast shadows over the incidents. A way of pushing it back to the dark corners, those areas of the human mind that are sheltered by layers of cobwebs. Only one thing proved a common theme to each tale told, the single statement that could almost have been used as an epitaph:

Someone was out to get him.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Asking For Help

The crowds of central London, slithering past me, hurrying in the wet as if they too flow: like the water from a burst pipe that is no more than two feet from me. I stand back, let them pass me by and then I am stranded, an ox-bow lake of skin and bone. It’s an effort not to howl.

I want to be candy, wrapped up; to be wanted, to elicit excitement, to crackle in the pocket, to jangle with the loose change. I want to be the warmth of chips held in newspaper, blackening fingers with the print; I want to be more than just the person standing here, sheltering from the downpour of tourists, homeless beggars, clipboard-clad kids and blue-rinse wielding grandmothers. There must be more to being alive than this.

Isn’t there?

Listen. I don’t want to shout above the cacophony of voices, cars, diesel engines, so come in close: I’m drowning in smog; I feel like I’m a wound that needs to be sutured. Can you understand? My life is flooding away from me, running down the streets, naked and vulnerable.

All I’m doing is asking for some help here.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


On the table there’s a coffee stain that won’t be rubbed away. It has attracted a modicum of dust, pinning it down to the table as if it were a photograph, a butterfly. Or a map to be pored over. When I leave the windows open it attracts the neighbourhood flies – possibly even some from out-of-town – and they suckle at the stain. I swat at them, open cupboards, pull out cloths and potions. Still it won’t be removed, no matter how hard I rub, what cleaning fluids I use. It always remains.

Idly, I stroke my cat, Henry. A ginger tom, I found him scavenging behind the bins at the back of our block of apartments. He followed me home and I didn’t have the heart to kick him out. I went around the local area, looking out for posters saying: LOST. GINGER. CAT. I saw none. That was over a year ago; we’re both too settled now that even if his ‘real’ owners knocked at my door Henry wouldn’t leave. I like to kid myself that this is the case.

Sometimes I wonder if Henry thinks the same as me. Sometimes.

Henry keeps the fly population down in the apartment. His paws a swat team. He casts me glances that suggest if I were to rid my table of the coffee stain then I would need to find another way to bring in the flies. When I stare at his eyes I list all the things that could bring in the flies, all those that he could be thinking about:

  • Left-over cat food

  • No changing his litter tray

  • Dragging the corpse of a dead animal – or person – into the apartment

  • Shitting in the corner.

I do none of these things, of course. Henry regards my failure with narrowed eyes and mewling mouth. He tastes me with his roughened tongue, sneezes, licks my skin again. It reminds me of when mother used to towel me dry after hauling me out of the bath. It reminds me of the days when I was carefree, young, innocent. It seems so long ago now.

I’m too tired to rub at the stain anymore. It’ll still be there tomorrow, attracting more dust, attracting more flies, attracting Henry.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Visitor

There was a sharp knock at the door. Julie jumped. She placed her cup carefully on the coaster - sat in the middle of the coffee table, in amongst the magazines and torn envelopes - and strode towards the door.

Usually, she would check the spy hole, but a second knock caused her to forget her security procedures. London was not the place the media made it out to be. It was safe, she thought. It was safe.

Luckily, the chain was still on from the night before. This gave Julie time to react as the first blow from an unseen assailant's shoulder crashed against the door. The shock had caused Julie to stumble back, catching the back of her legs on the coffee table. She fell, hard. Her cup sloshed coffee over the papers on the table. It would stain, but that would be the least of her problems.

The door didn't last long, wood splinters cascaded across the polished floor of the apartment.

It was safe, London, that was Julie's mantra as a shadow fell across the room. She had no time to scream before a hand pressed across her mouth.

When she woke two hours later, Ray had his arm curled around her midriff. She moved away from him, rubbing at her wrists where the ropes had cut a little too deep. She liked this fantasy. Playing it out again and again never bored her and Ray was always up for the brutal decadence of the scenario. He had never once said no to her requests.

She looked back at him sprawled on the bed, the covers just keeping him decent. She smiled, remembering the first time she had picked him up in the bar down town. He had always been pliant. For her. Julie wondered if he had always been this way or if the show was for her alone. She mused on the point as she moved to make tea.

The kitchen was its usual mess of dirty cups, plates overflowing with tea bags, mouldy food. The sink had long disappeared beneath the grime of city living. Julie never threw anything away. Julie never cleaned. She found a cup, flicked on the kettle and wiped away the green scum around the cup's lip with a tissue. Some remained, but she took no notice. As long as nothing was floating, Julie would drink from anything. Ray didn't seem to mind. Julie certainly didn't.

She heard him stir in his sleep, peeped her head around the door frame to see if he wanted a coffee. But he was still fast asleep, a faint wheeze audible as his breath left his body, just before his lungs sucked up another gulp of air. For once, she let him sleep.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Awaiting the Return

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, stared out the steamy windows of the café at the milling crowds. Clouds spiralled, letting through small stems of sunlight to touch lucky individuals. Her coffee sat on the steel table-top untouched. A paperback book, its cover pushed back behind the spine, lay next to it. This, too, remained untouched. Louise watched, awaiting the return of Brian.

They'd been married; they still were, albeit only on paper. They hadn't lived together for over a year now, not since Louise had left. He was stoic: that peculiar stiff upper lip the British man was so fond of could easily be Brian's dictionary definition. Louise was more reflective. She was fond of telling people - anyone who would listen to her without yawning - that she was a car, Brian the hub cap. They'd become separated, Brian spinning off in ever decreasing circles, settling, finally, atop the verge. She had continued on her journey, even though many of their shared friends always felt she wasn't quite 'whole'. On this occasion, Louise had replaced the hub cap. Somewhere, Brian was lying at the side of the road, undiscovered.

She thought about Brian, about what had gone before, what had happened since. At times she felt like a stranger. She recalled their first time together in bed; the details were blurry now but one particular event stuck fast in the mud of her memories: Brian pushing the splayed fingers of his gnarled hand through the silky strands of her auburn hair; she'd yet to tell him that it was out of a bottle despite their twelve years' of marriage. She hadn't known that Brian had never had the heart to tell her that he'd discovered her secret - she hid the bottle and discarded packages behind the bath panel - within three weeks of their relationship moving from coy, stolen looks across the college cafeteria to full penetration.

A single thought struck her now, as she sat on her non-descript metal chair in the small café: no-one counts their fingers or toes - it's accepted that they have the correct number of digits, just as it's accepted that a man of a certain age will stray, will renew his interest in fucking. Not sex; not lovemaking; not pleasure: release. Had it been that way, Louise could have understood, accepted. But, she had strayed, become the predator. Her interest had not been renewed, though - it had been uncovered. At the time, what had made her relish the feeling was the knowledge that it had been Brian who had squirreled her passion away, like a dark family secret.

Louise wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, stared out through the mist of her tears. She lifted her cup, drank the cold coffee in one gulp, gathered up her book and stuffed it into a leather bag with the broken zip. The chair scraped against the floor as she stood up; heads turned for a second to look up at the distracting noise, as if the café's customers were suddenly acutely aware that they were sharing space with other people. Louise didn't return the gazes. She left the premises, leaving the door slightly ajar. Several people tutted as a chill wind whipped in through the gap; one woman went to shut it, but was prevented from doing so by a middle-aged man who was stepping over the threshold. He wore a name badge.

It said Brian in a neatly spaced white font.

I've been tagged once more

Ian lay in the long grass, his eyes scanning the battlefield spread out below. He let his breath become shallow, so as not to attract the attention of the his family's enemies, the marauding armies that had stained the earth with the blood of Ian's relatives.

But, it was too late. He felt his shirt seized by a strong hand, hauling him to his feet in one swift movement.

"Come with me." That's all the voice said, preferring to remain silent as it's owner frogmarched Ian towards the battle tents. Once inside the cool atmosphere of the main tent, Ian was seated at a desk, a piece of paper in front of him. A pen was thrust into his hand, the paper turned over.

"We need to know everything about you, so that you and your family may be crushed by our forces," the mysterious voice instructed. Even though it would bring about his demise, Ian didn't hesitate in answering the questions laid out before him.

I have a combination of British accents, ranging from the South London twang to the Dorset farmer. These have come about through living in a variety of UK regions over the past 33 years.

Booze of choice?
Asahi beer.

Chore I hate?
Vacuuming, that's why I employ a cleaner.

Dog or Cat?
Cat. Dogs require walking and I'm inherently lazy.

Essential Electronics?
Lights. Everything else I could learn to live without.

Favourite perfume/cologne?
Anything by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Gold or Silver?
White Gold (that's what my wedding ring is made of). If it wasn't so expensive, it would have been platinum. It's the only jewellery I wear.

Albury, Surrey.

I used to dabble in sleep deprivation techniques and other mad things like that. Since I gave up (read: got a proper job) I have managed to sleep for at least 5 hours a night, although I'd prefer to sleep for 10.

Job Title?
Creative copywriter


Living Arrangement?
Married (recently). Live in two-bedroom house with wife and cat.

Most Admired Trait?
The ability to know someone for almost every possible need. Also, people love that I can spark conversation with anyone, whether I know them or not.

Number of Sexual Partners?
Just one now, but I've had about 14 in total.

Overnight Hospital Stays?
None since I was seven. I used to spend quite a bit of time in hospital to correct eye problems.

Not being liked.

Anything by Oscar Wilde.

It's the root of all evil. I try to live my life in the way that upsets as few people as possible.

Older brother.

Time I wake up?
Without fail, I always wake up 5 hours after I went to sleep, regardless of what time that was. This morning that meant 5am. I didn't get out of bed until 7am.

Unusual talent/skill?
None I know of.

Vegetable I refuse to eat?
I'm a vegetarian, but I still hate courgettes and marrows.

Worst Habit?

None. Never. Ever.

Yummy foods I make?
As a trained baker and chef I can create anything. However, my bread has won international prizes, so I guess that would be it.

Zodiac sign?

As soon as Ian finished writing a knife was pressed to his throat.

His shallow grave was never discovered.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Life Rears Up Like A Frightened Horse

These are some poems from one of my collections. I present these for you:

Sometimes You Look So Beautiful

it scares me
hounds me in my
night robes of conscience
impregnates my thoughts
contorts the reality.

sometimes you look so beautiful
it pleases me
but still that scare
is on the loose
slipped the noose
hanging from the tallest
spire of inside

always I am scared.

Crowd Pleaser

I walk cobbled stones and
broken backs of paving slabs.

Feet scuff the concrete
catch heels

I attempt to appear nonchalant
but my fluster stands bold
like mosquito bites.

I await the applause.

People walk on by
the crumpled flesh on the floor.

I abhor the sensitivity of robots: if you won't clap at least concern.

Under The Thumb

THEY say
when YOU die
the soul drifts into another world
where no PAIN exists;
no WAR is undertaken;
no CRIME is ever committed.

The Lonely Walk

the road
a conveyor belt travelling backwards
faster than I am walking forwards
car drivers sound their horns pass on by the lonely walker.

the sun beats down
on sweating face
necklace beating against chest
in time with feet
body leaching fluid: too much for t-shirt to drink

road just winds on
in the distance
conveyor belt
feeding faster
the lonely walk
is far from over
the agony of it all just weighs down the besieged.

Rising To The Bottom

Drinking tea with talk-show hosts:
Nutrasweet smiles
watching their weight.
Shaving around glossy moustaches.
Dripping with gold, jewels and bimbos.
Sloshing a Scotch
in the drink
with a chink: the ice,
no slice.

I feel out of place
and wonder how I managed to arrive
from dingy to sickly-
sweet the personality,
sickening the life-
styled out of fashion.

But who cares when
everybody is living
in the medieval torture
of the 21st Century?

I Pretend I Am Dreaming

faces staring
at blank face
with smile
that don't
i pretend I am dreaming/
i pretend I am dreaming/
i pretend/
it's all a charade/
it's all a pain in my chest/
the mundane tears
playing cards
choosing names
making jokes
no one laughs anymore/
no one laughs when you're a piece
from a different jigsaw/
you don't remember
now you are happy
i can't forget
i feel the cancer spread/
i'm losing weight/
today i counted seven ribs
holding my grief/
i think i'll shave... in the early morning
just to get around
the words others speak/
hunched on the floor
i'm just a bore
for everyone to ignore
or ridicule/
i lose my temper
when i shouldn't/
it's time to move
but bed is like a
grave i use at night/
i pretend i am dreaming...

Tagged, once again

I've been tagged by Raynwomaan and this story is my fifteen things you didn’t know about my sex life (hey, I don't set the questions). So, for once, this is not (quite) fiction.

The Prime Minister looked over the pieces of paper scattered haphazardly over his leather-bound desk and groaned. One day in the job and this is what it came down to: pushing paper. He wasn't making the major decision he thought he would be nor was he meeting with the leaders of the world, people he'd aspired to meet since he'd first took an interest in politics aged 14. All he was doing was pushing paper.

Oh well, he thought, I might as well make a start. He pulled up the first piece within reach and started to read it. After a second or two, he started to read it again from the beginning. This wasn't the usual ministerial rubbish about budgets and warfare or the proletariat uprising that was (forever) imminent in the country. This was something completely different; personal - in actual fact it was extremely person as it dealt with the Prime Minister's sexual activity.

"It can't hurt to fill it in," he said out loud, plucking a gold pen from the inside pocket of his hand-stitched wool jacket.

It hadn't taken long for the Prime Minister to fill in the questionnaire. He felt good, something had been achieved. The first day in the job and he had already answered questions about being on the job. It wasn't quite what the public thought he should be doing, but if that Cluntin could get his dick sucked in the Round Office then he, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, could take time out to do some light-hearted questionnaire.

As he sat back and reflected on his success (albeit on something he would not want broadcast to the nation) a knock came at the door. He called out and the door opened. A flunky - the Prime Minister tried in vain to recall his name - pushed through the door and took a sharp intake of breath.

"Why, Prime Minister, what are you doing amongst all that paperwork? No, no, no, this simply won't do!" he exclaimed.

"What do you mean?" asked the Prime Minister. "Don't I do paperwork?"

"Of course not!" The flunky was almost incredulous in his tone. "You sign things, sir, meet world leaders, etc, etc. You have a huge team of civil servants that'll take care of all this," he indicated with a sweep of his hand.

"Oh," said the Prime Minister, crestfallen. Suddenly, his minor achievement seemed immaterial.

The flinky gathered up the papers and stuffed them into a folder, which he then held between his arm and body. The Prime Minister almost expected him to salute, but he didn't. Instead, he simply turned on his heel and was out the door.

Several seconds passed until the Prime Minister realised his questionnaire was amongst the papers now stuffed into a folder, carried under the arm of a flunky who's name he didn't know.


The next morning, it soon became clear that he'd been set up. The questionnaire had been planted, specifically to give the Daily Snail a scoop. They printed up his answers in bold. He groaned again. Prime Minister's questions would be Hell personified. They would ridicule him endlessly. He'd never live it down.

The telephone rang. Another groan was emitted from the Prime Minister's mouth. He didn't really want to answer it, but he couldn't hide away, take a day off. No duvet days for world leaders. A tinge of regret passed over his mind, but the ringing phone brought him back to reality.

"Prime Minister, this is the Queen. I must say, I read your interview twice. I'm most impressed by your candid nature. I never liked the God-loving one; he also had a fondness for war and idiots with plans to take over the world. I much prefer you. Toodle-pip."

Before he could say anything else, the Queen had hung up. Cradling the phone in his hand, the Prime Minister sat back in his chair and glowed. Now, he welcomed Prime Minister's questions.

Lifting the Daily Snail off his desk, he read through the Q&A session once more, a satisfied look on his face.


Q&A with the Prime Minister

How old were you when you lost your virginity? Who was it to? Describe the event.

I was 14 and it was to the daughter of the man I worked for at weekends for extra money. It was a disaster, as these things generally are. Second time was better if not longer.

What is the strangest place you've had sex?
In a woodland, on a pathway. I was 18 years old at the time.

Who would you consider 'switching teams' for?
As a Prime Minister, do you think I'd switch teams? Of course, back in the old school days...

Do you prefer to give or receive?
Give, as long as I get to receive sooner rather than later.

One night stands - what the protocol? Stay the night or get the Hell outta there?
Never had one. Really.

Favourite body part/parts of the opposite sex?
Eyes. That alone can make the difference. Not what they look like but what they show.

Quickie or long and slow?
Depends on a number of variables that I can't go in to here. Suffice to say, whichever is most suited to the time and place.

Noisy or quiet?

Ideal amount of sex per week?
At least three times. Preferably more, definitely not less. Right now in my life that is. Ask me again when I'm eighty - do they ask an ex-PM about sex?

What's your number one sexual turn-off?

Number one arousal trigger
That 'look' - you all know the one I mean!

What constitutes bad sex?
Any that requires cash payment.

Celebrity you'd most like to shag right now?
None - I don't love any of them.

Define sexy?
Well, it's not George Bush in spandex, let me tell you! I suggest you try a dictionary.

Remember the best sex you've had - what made it special?
Knowing I'd never forget it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Case Solved

"All I can hear is oohs and aahs, Unc."

"That's coz they're fucking each other, you stupid twat. That's why we're 'ere. We need evidence, don't we? Sometimes I wonder what the fuck it is that you're doing 'ere. Gimme those headphones. Muppet.

Julian duly handed over the headphones, his bottom lip quivering slightly. He didn't like upsetting his Uncle Freddie this much, but he hated it when he shouted at him. He hated being cooped up in the back of a van even less, unfortunately it was all part of the job: private detective.

Uncle Freddie was listening intently; Julian wondered what he could be listening to, as all he'd heard was the grunts of what Uncle Freddie termed as 'dirty sex'. The thought made Julian's cock harden with blood. He sat down to disguise it, praying it would go away. Julian didn't know a lot about sex. What he did know was that he wanted to try it.

"Ssssssshhhhhhhhhh!" Uncle Freddie loved to make that sound, even if there was no noise whatsoever. "Right, get the fucking camera, they're oblivious to anyfing and we needs the shots. C'mon, you fucking twat. NOW!"

Julian jumped, his head connected with the metal roof of the van, sending out a dull clang. He was about to let out a cuss, but Julian bit his tongue as he recalled the last time he'd sworn in Uncle Freddie's company. His eye had been swollen for a week. He twisted about, looking everywhere for the camera. He spied it under the front seat and reached forward to collect it. Uncle Freddie was tutting and shaking his head. Julian grabbed the camera as Uncle Freddie swung open the rear door of the van and helpfully pushed him out into the night.

Ladder's on the fucking roof," Uncle Freddie said as he slammed the door shut.

Julian pulled the ladder down, trying hard to make as little sound as possible. The door to the van opened again.

"Don't fergit to take the fucking cap off the lens, awright?" And then Uncle Freddie was gone again.

Julian began to move off towards the imposing Victorian house in front of him. As he moved away he could hear Uncle Freddie talking to himself, a squelching sound of wet flesh coming from the van. Julian didn't really want to take the photos, but he knew from experience that interrupting Uncle Freddie while he was "taking notes" in the van was a bad thing to do. His eye had taken two weeks and he'd needed stitches in his lips. Uncle Freddie had also warned him not to mention that his trousers had fallen down, else Julian might find he went to hospital for a lot longer.

He struggled across the lawn, the ladder in one hand and the camera slung over his shoulder. It was moonlight and it cast a silver sheen across the landscaped gardens. There were many shadows across the front of the house and Julian moved towards them. He placed the ladder against the house and carefully increased its length until it sat just beneath the window sill. Julian tested his weight on the bottom rung.

Confident that the ladder would take his weight, Julian began to climb. His palms sweated as he climbed. Would he get to see real sex? Would he see a naked woman, breasts and everything? Julian hoped so. He wished that Uncle Freddie would let him get them developed, then he could look at the photos before he handed them over. He might even be able to steal one, although Uncle Freddie would probably go ballistic and kill Julian. He'd get copies made instead.

As he climbed up, Julian noticed that the window was open a fraction. He could hear the moans of pleasure clearly as he made his way up the ladder. His palms got really sweaty and he had to stop to dry them on his jeans. Wow, he thought, no one will believe this at school. His hands were shaking as he pulled the lens cap off the camera. It was already set, ready to shoot; so was Julian.

He was crouching close to the top of the ladder, poised. Using his legs, he pushed himself over the window sill and looked through the viewfinder. Julian was transfixed for a number of seconds. He could see a man and a woman on a bed. He was on top. They seemed to be hurting each other. Julian wasn't sure what was happening - it certainly didn't look nice to him. His eyes glazed over a little as the woman moved her arm and he saw her breast clearly, her nipple glistening with the man's spit. Oh my God, Julian said to himself, this is my dream come true.

He took the camera and began to take photos of the couple. Even though he hadn't liked what he'd seen, Julian found himself excited by the images he was shooting. A thought flashed through his head: now I know what Uncle Freddie is doing! He smiled, taking some last shots before deciding he'd had enough.

Just as he was putting the lens cover back on, the woman turned her head towards Julian. She saw him and screamed. Julian looked up, straight into the face of the couple.

"Fucking Hell, it's Aunt Gloria," he said

Julian heard the thump from the van as the roof connected with Uncle Freddie's head.


Adam and I lay on our backs in the long grass behind the farm sheds. It's hot, summer has come at last after the seemingly never-ending April rains and we're taking advantage of it. The morning has been spent running around, chasing the chickens and geese, until father shouted at us, threatening to put us to work turning manure. We'd careered around some more, meandering our way back to the farmhouse for refreshments; greeted by mother, scolding the grass stains on our knees and trying her level best to keep us in the cool of the kitchen so we could help her with chores. Gulping lemonade and throwing water on our red faces we retreated as fast as we could back out into the sun. We'd been too exhausted to keep running and had flopped down in the shady grass.

I point out a dog shape in the clouds and we spend another hour making as many shapes out of the clouds as we can. It's one of our favourite games. We also like hide and seek or climbing the hay bales. Father counsels us not to climb there, as he knows of deaths past where children have been caught in an avalanche of hay; at best limbs get broken, disabilities inflicted. We ignore him, of course. Adam says we'd never be stupid enough to get caught dying in a hay bale storm. Even so, I haven't actually been out to the barn this year. Neither has Adam. Coincidence.

Adam is my cousin. He's a little older than me, but only by two years. He's just left school, no qualifications. Doesn't need any to take over his father's business, he says. We've played on our farm since we were small (knee-high to a grasshopper, as Uncle Derek says). Adam is probably one of my best friends. I trust him. I glance a sideways look as Adam points out yet another shape in the sky. I see his arm pressed against his head, his profile half in shadow. I see the slight crookedness to his nose, the fullness of his lips and the indentation in his chin from the time he fell against the stone steps aged five. His scars give him gravitas, in my eyes. (I learned the word, gravitas, in Ms Gearson's English class yesterday and I've wanted to use it since then.)

A fly settles on the end of his nose and he flicks at it with his left hand, brushing against my hip as he does so. I feel a tingle through my skin, my breath shallow. The fly passes off to bother something else. I shade my eyes from the sun and look carefully at Adam. His chest rises and falls as he speaks, as each breath provides the life before me. I see the tanned skin of his chest; a few blond hairs dot the landscape down to his sternum, a further light fuzz disappearing under his shirt. I lick my lips, mouth suddenly dry.

Adam looks up at me, his face a question. I look away, feel myself blush. The quizzical look remains on Adam's face. I shove him and jump to my feet, giggles emitting from my throat. He lies back but I am ready to run, ready to be chased. I want Adam to chase me, to grapple with me, pin me to the ground. I want his sturdy legs to constrict, in a pincer movement; I want his hands to grasp my wrists and push them above my head. I want to be blinded by the sun and have his face provide some shade. I want to feel his lips graze against mine.

But he doesn't move. Adam continues to lay there, still. His breathing calm now. I realise he's asleep. I collapse next to him, lay my head on his chest and curl up with his arm across me. I wonder what shape we make for the birds to look down upon as I drift into unconsciousness.


I watched Katherine swing back and forth in the park, Michael's strong arms making her fly higher with each push, her shriek causing the birds to rise as a flock, a black cloud of wings. A warm feeling passed through my body, a consequence of the love I felt for them both: my husband and my baby.

I pulled the scarf tighter around my neck to stop the winter wind chilling my chest, the hat already slumped on my head like an insolent child on a chair in a dentist's reception area. The snow had melted and the sun was reaching its arms to the ground, but the bare limbs of the trees made it clear that Spring was still a distant mirage. Katherine shrieked again as the swing's chains went momentarily slack - her body weight pulling it back down to earth. Stop, she said. Michael let the swing slow. He waved at me. I returned his wave.

There were other children on the roundabout - the merry-go-round as we used to call in. Years ago, I played here. The swings were different, there were no locks on the gates; dog shit was everywhere, we watched our step; now bins are scattered about, signs implore dog owners to clear up mess these pets make. The park is populated by people carrying plastic bags and pulling faces as they bend forward, walking towards bins with arms held away from the body, hands waving in front of noses or fingers holding nostrils closed.

Of course, the trees are bigger, higher - some fell in the great storms of '87 and there are gaps now in the perimeter. Little else has changed over the past 15 years. Goal posts have been erected, wood chips placed under the children's swings and the dismantling of the climbing frame. Not much else.

I watch Katherine climb steps, sit down at the top of the slide. I see Michael at the end of the slide, waiting to catch her. Katherine's skirt billows as she begins her descent. She shrieks again and the birds lift off and answer her squawk. She is having fun, even in the cold. I like to see her happy. I know she'll be sad one day.

One day, when Mummy isn't here.

Michael tells me not to be morbid, not to think about after the event. I can't. It's all I can think about. Should we tell her, should we wait until the inevitable happens? This is what amounts for our time together: discussions about burial, about wills, about epitaphs, about hymns.

I answer: I want to be cremated, my ashes scattered in the park, this park. I don't want epitaphs, I don't want hymns. I don't want a solemn occasion. It's not me. It's not fair on those that are left. Michael sighs. I can sense the tears almost cresting his lower lids. I know he thinks it's selfish, but I didn't ask for this to happen.

He'll leave me alone on the subject for a day or two and then the questions start again.

I watch Katherine as she mounts the slide for one more go. Michael turns and waves. I return his wave. I hope he can't see me crying from where he stands. I don't want him to see me crying.