Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Work In Progress

I used to be successful, y’know. Once. Back in the day. Long time-go now, mostly forgotten; mostly buried under years of alcohol and drug-fugs. Buried deep they are, but not so deep that they don’t come calling, come hassling me, teasing me with promises. But I don’t go digging, no. Not me. Just sometimes they come at me like zombies, clawing at the fragile, earthy topsoil of my memories, arms out-stretched, limbs twisted or missing. They don’t want me ‘membering those other days, the suck-cesspit of life I once took a part in. Nor does I.
I puddling outside the train station, awaiting the daily tide of commuters to ebb and flow past, my shaking hands ready to greet those that don’t want shaking hands. Don’t touch me, they shout, hands holding ‘chiefs over noses, breathing dirt-clotted air in and insults out. My polystyrene cup, toothmarked and chipped, sits between my knees, a couple of coins jostling for space; they get no new friends today; they had no new friends yesterday. I’m not grumbling but stomach is. No successful today, like once I was. Back in the day.
All just memories now. Distant as second cousins.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Carrion – Part 1

The rain scudded across the city as Martin sat at his desk, the glow of the screen illuminating him in a ghostly white light that made his already pallid skin translucent. His fingers tracked across the keyboard, tapping out sentence after sentence, pausing occasionally to stab a nail-bitten fingertip at the Return key. After ten minutes’ frantic typing, Martin sucked in a huge breath, his chest puffing out like that of a prizefighter who has suddenly realised his opponent is bigger and stronger than he’d been led to believe, and he reached over to click his mouse, to send the email he’d been crafting the past hour.
“Touch that mouse and you’ll regret it,” a voice said, its command stopping Martin’s hand as it hovered above his mouse, a trembling finger poised to push down. “Don’t do it Glover, we’ll slice you in half from here before you’ve even finished the thought it thr…”
The voice was interrupted by a cackle of laughter. “Too late for that, Scott, that thought took place a long time ago, way before you considered me a threat. The email has already gone. You’re too late. I was just about to delete it.” Martin began to turn in his chair, to face the interruption. As he did so, he used his elbow to click the mouse, an almost indiscernible ‘tick’ as it did his bidding, sending the email out into the ether.
Suddenly, a bright sweep of light sped towards Martin, slicing his prone body across his torso, blood squirting in an arc of red, splashing as it met walls and floor. Moments later, four bodies were leaning over Martin’s quivering form; he was still alive. Just. His laboured breathing a sign that soon, his life would be ending.
“Why Martin? Why? It could have all been so different. Now, well, now you’ll know the suffering you’ve brought on so many others by your recent actions.” A smile flickered across Martin’s face, but his eyes betrayed his fear. He tried to spit at his assailants but the wound in his chest burbled blood as his lungs tried to expel the air. “Sorry Martin, did you have something to say? I didn’t quite catch that remark.”
When he said nothing, Scott raised one hand. It was the sign that they could begin feasting – and they did. Four hungry, sucking mouths pulling at the fleshy edges the lesion on Martin’s chest.

You have one message. Message one, Tuesday 21st April at 9.40pm.
“Hey Martin, you there? Pick up if you are. It’s Scott. Okay, ten seconds says you’re not, so call me when you get this. I’ve discovered something and we need to move fast. Cheers buddy.” Beep.

You have one message. Message one, Tuesday 21st April at 10.05pm.
“Help, fucking help me. Maaaaarrrrr…” Beep.

There is no time left, it’s happening. It’s gone beyond the concept of what we thought they had in mind; it’s taking things too far now. Run. Hide. Do whatever you can to save yourselves. Take weapons, you’ll need them some time later. Speak to no one. Trust? Not even yourself. This email is the last communication; we are being monitored and believe there is little time left. Hope to see some – or all – of you at the designated meeting place. You’ll be informed where that is in the usual way. Best, Martin.

First days, they’re always boring. Time spent in queues, writing my name on a list for subjects I won’t take, meeting people whom I don’t want to meet again. And for what? To be seen to fit in. Well, it’s not for me. All I need to know is: where’s the bar and what time does it open?
It’s weird to find myself here; happened because it was pissing with rain, like someone was spraying the world with a pressure hose, and I wanted to escape a drenching. Ducked into this hall, handed a clipboard and pen and led to a chair. A few ticks later and I’m accepted on a course. Some minor college, this place; a musty smell emanating from the cream-coloured walls and green-tiled floor, as if no one had opened the building up to the outside world for centuries. I’d just left a series of dead-end jobs and wanted to re-educate. This was an opportunity and I took it by the hand and practically raped it in the bushes, so glad was I at not having to trawl the cards in the Job Centre for some God-forsaken existence cleaning bogs, picking up litter, kissing the ass of some idiot in a suit. Besides, I’d already been there more than once and wasn’t up for another visit.
Around me, milling about like bees in a hive, were the other students. Mostly spotty kids, a few tasty female specimens I’d like to acquaint myself with later, but no one that seemed to on my wavelength. A tap on my shoulder and I spun around, prepared to get weighty with whomever was behind me; I didn’t like being tapped by anyone. Stood in front of me was a wiry young man, blond hair gelled to a series of peaks and light stubble across his chin. He was about my height, but I reckoned I could take him in a fight if it came to it.
“Reckon you could ‘ave me in a scrap then do ya?”
I was taken by surprise that he been able to read my thoughts so well. I said nothing, stared at him while trying not to give too much away in my face. It was too late for that I was about to discover.
“Rethinking are we? Well, while you’re standing there wondering let’s get a fucking drink, I’m parched.”
This was my introduction to Scott.

To Be Continued

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Evening That Changed Everything

It had been a long day, one of those punishing schedules that crushes the spirit, drains your mental faculties until the only speech you’re able to emit sounds like an unintelligible foreigner trying to teach you the Theory of Relativity.
Just one of those days.
The sun was dripping into the horizon, traffic was light on the streets but the bars and restaurants were full of people starting their weekends early. I wanted to hit the sack, get my head down and recover.
I climbed the 15 steps to my apartment, key in the lock. Then I noticed it, the paper pushed under my door. It said in a hurried scrawl:

“Listen to your answer machine.”

I got into my apartment, let the door swing shut with a thud, the lock clicking back into place. I held the paper in my hand, trying to place the writing – whose hand was responsible. I thought of many people – the kid who hangs around outside and says hello to anyone that comes in or goes out the apartment block; the deaf old lady from number 6; the grocery store manager. It didn’t look like any of them.

What intrigued me most was the suggestion of listening to my answer machine. I glanced over, the red light was flashing. I didn’t know who or what was waiting for me on the magnetic tape spooled to catch callers’ messages, details, needs and wants. I pressed play. A female voice crackled through. She said:

“1) Post rules before you give your facts
2) List 8 random facts about yourself
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged
then the facts.”

I tried to ignore it. Days and days I left it, not looking at the note (even though I’d taped it to the refrigerator) and I wiped the message from my machine. But each day, on returning to my apartment, the same message was always waiting for me, a new note pushed under my door.

I took to hiding out in my room, listening for the shrill ring of the phone, the sound of footsteps on the parquet flooring, but there was nothing.
Still the notes arrived. And if I ventured outside, I’d always come back to another message, as if someone was watching me, waiting until I left the apartment before calling.
If I hung about outside my own door, trying to catch the phone ringing, it never happened. Still there would be a message for me, the red light blinking an announcement. So, in the hope that these will stop once I follow the instructions, here are eight things about me.

One: I lost my hair at age 22. Early. I was still at University, finishing my finals. Previously, I’d had hair I could sit on, then nipple-length dreadlocks. So, I began to shave it, with a disposable razor, so that only skin would be visible. I grew a small beard so my face wouldn’t look so circular. That was 1995.

Two: I have suffered from an eating disorder for about 10 years. I have it under some sort of control and I self-medicate, mainly because doctors assume it’s about thinking I look fat. It’s not. It’s as far from that as it could be.

Three: I like an occasional smoke of the herb. Enough said.

Four: I love fashion and have, in the past, spent huge sums of money on clothing, shoes and bags. This has led to people questioning my sexuality. Idiots.

Five: I have been arrested once in my entire life: about six weeks ago, I stepped off the train and someone walked into me. I held up my hands in an apologetic way and he said, “Oh, you’re one of those.” Upon asking what “one of those” was, he preceded to abuse me with homophobic statements. I phoned the police, they arrested me. Go figure. The case was dropped after reviewing CCTV evidence.

Six: All the stories I write have an element of the truth within them; either a personal experience or one that has been related to me through a friend or a newspaper article. This one has eight truths and they are easier to spot.

Seven: I once spent two months of my life living in a tree as part of a road protest. It’s not recommended, but we did save some trees and sites of scientific interest. For my sins I appeared in several documentaries and one Coldcut music video. I also attended several public demonstrations, most notably the Criminal Justice Bill and the Poll Tax demonstrations. I was probably classed as a rioter, even though I never broke anything.

Eight: I don’t know eight people that I can link to who would have the time (or inclination) to do this.

I only hope and pray that this will be the end of the messages, the notes under my door, the intrusion into my life. Please, I beg you. Stop.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Didn't Say Goodbye

“Ow, Mum!” She says it, matted hair sticking out in all directions, but we both know it doesn’t hurt, that the struggle and complaining is a game, a suspension of reality. So I scold, “Shut it, you’re going to have it brushed,” and I rip the brush through the hair, but the speed and vigour create static electricity and her hair floats up in ethereal peaks. “Ow!” she says and we laugh nervously, so fragile the fa├žade, the roles reversed.
We settle down to watch the tail-end of a daytime TV show, where members of the public share their stories, often extreme and outlandish. “You couldn’t make it up,” she says. The caption reads like a tabloid headline: I had your baby but gave it away because you’re my brother!
Sometimes we try and think up a subject more fantastic, but rarely do we manage it; our lives not worth the attention of a baying studio audience and so we have nothing from which to construct our fake – yet infinitely more exciting – lives.
Next, the news.

What to eat? The decisions can take up hours of our time as we swap the names of the dishes we’d like to have served to us, the food piled high on gleaming silver platters and carried by tall, bronzed hunks, our family, that Robbie Williams (but before he had those tattoo-things). She says. And I agree. My head nodding, my Adam’s apple mirroring the movement as I swallow my grief. So we order: pizza topped with king prawns, no Parma ham and oyster mushrooms; apple pie and clotted cream; shepherd’s pie; cod and chips with mushy peas. But it’s tomato soup. Again. While it heats on the stove I pop upstairs to grab a fresh towel to use as a bib. She’d hate to get a stain on her new nightdress.

Every other day I move the pictures around so she has something different to look at. Now and again, we’ve talking about moving the sofa that has been commandeered as her bed, but I can’t shift it on my own. Not that she’s able to move without a wheelchair. So it’s pictures for now. Today I bought a new one. It depicts a summer meadow. As I show it to her she coughs. “Ooh, I like the poppies speckled through the grass,” she says. They smudge under her finger as she points at them. “Yes,” I reply.

Occasionally, I have to lock myself in the bathroom – it’s the room furthest from her bed. It’s the only place I can go where I can’t hear the wheeze, the burble of fluid. It’s a place where she can’t hear me shed tears. “I’ve got something in my eye,” I’d say, hoping to deflect attention away from my reddened eyes. She always replies the same: your eyeball. She probably picked that up from my Dad, so typical it is of his wit.

We’ve exhausted all the photos. Each one marked a hundred times with greasy fingerprints where we’d spent the afternoon eating hot buttered toast. They stop suddenly about a month back, as if history no longer wanted to take notice of our small part of the universe, had deemed it too distressing to collate and file, to archive in some dim, airless basement of the mind. The day blonde hair turned to brown synthetic fibres. No one likes a photo that doesn’t make them look good.

“Death is coming,” she says late one afternoon. Startled, I look about me trying to see the black cloak and sharpened scythe. “I wonder what presents you’ll get this year?” Only then do I realise I must’ve misheard and she was talking about Christmas, only a few months away now. And so, like the meals we imagined we discuss our ultimate gift lists; neither of us says we want her to live, to see another new year, even though it’s top of the list. Our reverie is interrupted by the sullen beep of her monitor. It’s time to change her morphine drip.

I greet my father at the door with a grimace. We do not share proper conversation, both of us waltzing around the subject, afraid to upset the balance, to break the protective bubble of silence. We exchange grunts, noises, a clap of hand on the shoulder. Somehow it doesn’t feel like a break for me, that I’m being relieved of a duty that was placed on me at my birth, but it is. A break for both of us, me and my mother.
I close my eyes as the whistle of the kettle screeches on until the gas underneath it is turned off, and I picture my father’s shaking hands as he lifts it up to fill his cup. Sure enough, I see him reach for the tea towel to mop up the spilled water. I turn the TV on, flicking through the channels they receive on the dust-coated remote control, sticky with years of sweat and dirt, the numbers and button functions faded or missing. There is only news. I switch it off. There’s already enough unhappiness in the air, I don’t need to see the suffering of others, even if it’s caused by my government in my name.

The pears rot on the tree this year. The weeds have crept to knee-high in just a few weeks. But I don’t let on. I don’t want to spoil happy memories. She may have lost many things but I’ll do whatever I can to protect her from more unnecessary suffering. We time the gardeners’ visit to the hour each week she spends at her consultant’s clinic, but for the past month they have declined to earn what they have termed in their letter as “the paltry sum of eight pounds” and the postcard in the corner shop’s and newsagent’s windows have yet to elicit any response. Perhaps the winter will be harsh this year and nature will respect my mother’s hard work over 20 years; I know already that nature has respect for nothing and no one, the God she spent her life worshipping even less. Once this week I’ve taken a large knife outside, indiscriminately hacking away at the plant life around me, releasing the anger. It helps me cope.

But today I come inside, there is no kettle, there is only silence. And I know the wheezing has stopped, know that it won’t start again. Images rush past my eyes, the taste of metal in my mouth and I’m off running. The chance to say goodbye has gone, passed away. And so I keep running long after the burning in my chest forces me to vomit, long after the pain in my side increases to the point where I think it can’t get any worse, up until I collapse exhausted.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Early Morning Walk

Turn left at the junction into Mulberry Gardens, a small development of starter homes built in the 1980s to house the commuters flooding into the area hoping to catch the coat tails of the financial boom encapsulating the nearby city. You’ll see the quaint, neat lawns, some levelled with concrete to provide a hard-stand for the car, even though the road sees little traffic thanks to its no-through-road status. The numbers run even on the left, 2-8, and odd on your right, numbers 1-9. There is a piece of wasteland, grown over with brambles and nettles where you may presume house number ten should have been, but it’s not. Perhaps the developer ran short of money; perhaps there is simply not enough room for another dwelling, who knows? It’s something to ponder while you locate the small path that runs between numbers six and eight. The sun is about to make itself known, beyond, over the hills. It’s time to hurry.

Find the oak tree. From here you can climb up through the larger lower branches and get an unobstructed view of the cul-de-sac. But there’s no moment to pause here. Listen carefully and you may catch the drifting clang of the alarm clock before it’s silenced by a hand, or pillow. There is a light in the upstairs window of number three, visible through a crack in the curtains where yesterday they were hastily tugged together to shut out the night. And, in a blink, the light is extinguished. Watch as it travels down the stairs and into the back of the house, because this is where the kitchen is to be found with its stainless steel kettle, crumb-coated toaster and the worktop stained with rings of tea from dirty mugs, spilled wine and the years of frantic food preparation while hosting amateur dinner parties.

The light travels to the front of the house again. As it’s scattered through the rippled glass panels in the UPVC door, you notice the empty milk bottles, a folded piece of paper conveying the cancelling of the daily delivery, or perhaps holding a cheque for payment of the monthly account, rolled into the top of one of the bottles awaiting the arrival of the milkman. An archaic tradition, one seen rarely anywhere but rural locations such as here in Mulberry Gardens, where the distance to the local supermarket makes even the high price of milk in glass bottles worth paying for. And then, in the flick of a switch, the light is swallowed by the eerie half-dark of dawn breaking.

Watch as a figure emerges. They turn right, coming towards you. The foliage of the great oak, and height of your perch, hides you even as the sun makes its first forays over the distant tree-lined horizon. Still you hold your breath as they pass, a smudge of black beneath you. It’s time to drop down and follow before you lose sight of them in the dark.

The soft, dew-dipped grass masks the clump of boots as we watch the figure move down the footpath towards the faint sparkle of the city, some half hour away by road. Brush past the creeping fingers of ivy that cascade like a swarm of locusts down the pitted brick wall and then you’ll be at the twisting lane that runs to the farm, its high banks sprouting thin tree trunks and hard chalk flints to catch careless drivers or distracted cyclists. And that’s when you hear it, the hoot of the train as it wriggles through the valley on its wheeled belly, so faint, like the smell of jasmine on the breeze as you pass the stile on the boundary of the fields.

Step across the wooden plank and down and in an instant long wet stems of grass shroud everything below your knees, the colour of your trousers darkening where the fabric’s weave draws in the moisture as you walk. There are large, drunken bees already out to harvest the pollen, buzzing amongst the half-opened blooms that are dotted along the hedgerows and across the grass of the fields. Solitary trees stand guard, acting as nature’s scarecrows; just as ineffective as the bundle of rags and straw flopping like a fish out of water when the wind whips unmercifully over the rutted earth, crucified on scaffold poles like some hideous parody of Christ. And there it is again, nearer this time, the same aching sound of wounded cattle too exhausted to fight against the mud that is claiming them, the train mooing out to warn early morning drivers and passengers that it is coming and to clear the crossings and prepare for arrivals and departures. It’s time to quicken our stride.

At the end of the field lies a gate leading to a tight, narrow path, the grass balding in the centre to show earth smoothed by the feet of humans and dogs. But you will ignore this and instead duck under the barbed wire to follow the figure ahead of us. The sun is up enough now that we can see it’s a woman. She is not hurrying, but she has purpose to her walk. She is dressed in a light coat and dress, her white shoes looking like rabbits’ tails bobbing in the grass. She has not noticed you and there is something in her posture to suggest she wouldn’t stop nor hurry if she knew you were there, behind her, stalking. It’s only now that you notice the rumble, the clack of the tracks as the train approaches.

The undergrowth is getting dense and more of your clothes are wet now, but you know they’ll dry quickly once the sun pulls itself up above the surrounding hills, its rays breaking through the splatter of clouds that are skipping across the sky, burning away the moisture to leave a hot and humid day. But then without warning you’re clear of the trees, the fields and the snagging thorns and stinging nettles. There is no time to react. There is the train. Loud, black, engineered metal stampeding on the rails. It’s deafening, but still a single sound can be picked out, like a flattened note in a blues scale. It’s the sound that makes you look up.

Only then do you realise it’s you who has spoken. One word. Jump. By that time it’s too late to save yourself.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Unresolved (A Draft)

It was at the supermarket that Nathan first met Jon. He was Nathan’s manager. Squat body with bandy legs and chest hair that seemed to grow to his chin. No front teeth. Lost them to a lamppost that jumped him late one night. Bloodied his nose. He let Nathan look at the small white shards of tooth that poked from his swollen gums. Nathan recalled Jon’s meaty hands on his shoulders as he tilted his head back away from him; if Nathan hadn’t known him well he might have thought Jon had done it so he didn’t have to smell the stale cigarettes and last night’s beer on his breath.
Afterwards Jon had given Nathan a dressing down for wearing black shoes with his brown uniform. He made sure Nathan knew the difference between being friend and being boss.

On Saturday nights, once the supermarket had closed, a group of workers from the supermarket all piled to the pub, a shallow building looming over the graves in the local cemetery, it’s yellow lights throwing a malevolent glow across the tombstone-lined paths. Occasionally, someone – usually Jon – would run ahead and hide, jump out with banshee shouts to scare us. Once, he confessed to Nathan, pressing up uncomfortably against him at the bar, that he’d made a girl piss her pants doing that trick. Nathan excused himself and took his drink over to the flashing lights of the fruit machine, his free hand tapping the shrapnel in his trouser pocket.
Even though he wasn’t legally allowed to drink by two or so years, someone always slipped a double shot of vodka into Nathan’s cola. Often it was Jon buying the drinks, his gappy mouth and damaged gums grimacing as he called Nathan’s name.
Sundays, Nathan would have to sleep late to get rid of the dull ache in his head. Jon would like to ask how debilitated Nathan had been on Sundays. It’s not as if Nathan had to get to church, it was something he could handle.
Jon told him it was part of growing up. Like losing your teeth.

They huddled, like pensioners caught in a crosswind. The hubbub of the public house played out ahead of them. Apart from Nathan, there were six others; Nathan didn’t know all their names and he couldn’t recall them ever asking for his. Somehow they’d congregated, flotsam caught by a stray, snagging branch. Nathan was nursing a pint, surreptitiously slurping the bitter ale one of the others had seen fit to buy him.
Bryan was one of those whose name Nathan did know. Bryan worked in the Dairy section at the supermarket. He nodded at Nathan. It was the extent of every conversation they had ever had since Nathan had started at the supermarket with a Thursday afternoon, three-til-eight shift.
Bryan loved magic, the art of it. He reached towards Nathan, eyes winking. Then, sitting back, he nodded to the table in front of Nathan. There was a set of tarot cards, the pack decorated with detailed paintings of mythical beasts and topless women. Nathan scooped them up with his right hand, just as Bryan had taught him. Nathan showed his right hand. Empty. Grinning, he showed his left hand, palm up. Empty, too. Bryan smiled, gulped at a lager top in a knobbly pint glass with a handle. His eyes never left Nathan’s hands, watching closely as Nathan reached into his jacket, producing the cards with a theatrical flourish. Bryan stood. He promised to get Nathan a “proper drink” as he weaved his way towards the crowded bar.
Nathan pulled a card from the pack. Tonight, he would be Justice. Tomorrow he would find out how to do a reading. First, he had a pint to finish and a story that fat Tony was telling to listen to.

Ugly as fuck she was, but an arse to die for. Buffed her from behind, she… Nathan switched off, knowing that Tony was embellishing almost every word of this story with a double helping of bullshit, topped off with a cherry the size of London. Everyone knew Fat Tony liked men. Everyone except Tony; he wouldn’t admit it - even to himself - thinking that other people saw him as a hard man, a likeable nutcase who wouldn’t want to get down to the dirty business of licking a puckering, shit-flavoured hole. His two convictions, the whole sorry saga of being caught on his knees, another man’s cock in his mouth, in a foul-smelling public toilet, broadcast in the local paper. That’s why he was known as Fat Tony, so no one had to mention his real name in public, lest someone who didn’t know him by sight wanted to vent some pent up rant about homosexuality. Nathan distrusted anyone that didn’t like Fat Tony; that he was gay didn’t matter. Not like it did to Nathan’s father.
Fat Tony was once welcome at Nathan’s house. That was before Nathan’s father had learned that Fat Tony’s real name was Gordon Franklin. Bum bandit, turd burglar, cocksucking queer, poof, homo. A tirade directed at Nathan, as if it were an accusation made of him. He never told Fat Tony why he wasn’t welcome anymore; something passed between them in a quick glance that somehow prevented Fat Tony from asking and Nathan from explaining. Two years had passed them by since then. A little longer than the last time Nathan had seen his parents. The last time they’d seen him.
The clunk of a full pint of lager being placed in front of him brought Nathan out of his daydream. Drink up, someone said, we should get going soon. Nathan gulped, the lights of the pub swirling and dancing through the amber liquid as it cascaded down his throat.

They were running from the police. No headlights. Scarf at the wheel of the coach. They’re buffeted like tourists on the underground at 8am. Trees screech their branches against the windows. Scarf says he needs the lights on. He flicks his finger and the cones of bright lights come on in time to illuminate the tree with which the coach is about to collide. Scarf wrenches the wheel to the right but it’s too late.
The coach stops and all they can hear are a distant owl hooting and the tinkling rain of broken glass. I guess we’re camping here for the night, says Scarf. Voices laugh, a way for people to announce they’re okay. Nathan joins in.

Over the next three hours they set a fire and wait for the rest of the group to join them. They sing songs. At some point, Nathan walks away from the celebrations, winding his way through the trees. He can see lights in the distance, knowing before he’s even close enough to verify that they belong to his parents’ house. His home. He wonders what they are doing right now: mother, watching Eastenders, father asleep in his chair. Predictable, even though Nathan hasn’t seen or spoken to them for almost two years. This is the closest he’s been for a long time; possibly since the day his mother pushed his bloody, squawking mess into this world.

Just because something blows you away it doesn't make you a lightweight. That's what Nathan told himself as he faced Bryan across the blackened grass that only hours before had held the flames of the campfire. There were words coming at him, head-on; spittle following, fists clenched and ready to come at him too. So Nathan shouted his thoughts, momentarily confusing Bryan and a crease to cut his angry face in two.
Nathan shut his eyes, expecting the punch, waiting for the feel of sweaty flesh and bony knuckles to split his skin, spill his blood. There was nothing, although he could hear Bryan’s laboured breathing, the stale breath making his stomach knot and churn, so he knew something was about to happen.
Squinting, Nathan opened one eye. Bryan was no longer in front of him, he was off to one side, hands limp at his side. Taking his place in front of Nathan was Katie. Just as he was about to speak, she cut him short with a slap. The sting, the redness that was more than embarrassment, the shock of it, all combined in one huge emotional burst and with a quick turn Nathan was running full pelt from the camp. Words rang after him: Don’t. Come. Back. Her voice.
Again, Nathan found himself the outcast.

Leaning back against the gnarled trunk of an oak tree, its leaves whispering peacefully in the weak breeze winding through the woods, Nathan thought back to the day his grandfather had passed away. How, walking back towards home, the clouds had grown sullen, frowning as the news sank in. There on the corner, leaning like a council labourer against the bowing dry-stone wall, was Mrs Kirkbride.
Homely; a word Nathan thought was surely invented to describe Mrs Kirkbride – Gertie to her very close friends (and half the village behind her back, she being the gossipmongers’ choice for their daily tittle-tattle and rounds of spitefulness they liked to advertise as ‘Coffee Mornings’). Closely permed hair nestled under a grubby cloth cap; pinprick eyes cushioned by crinkled skin, so small Fat Tony called them “piss holes in the snow”; a smile that showed no teeth – because, even though you couldn’t tell, Mrs Kirkbride didn’t have any and found dentures uncomfortable. The worst thing – and at that precise moment, a nightmare Nathan was about to endure – was the way she greeted any child in the village.
As Mrs Kirkbride held Nathan in an embrace tighter than a wrestler’s leotard he could feel her nipple pressed against his forehead like a bully’s finger, accusing. Right there and then he knew he’d made the right decision. He definitely needed to get out, get away, escape, to run from something so big he couldn’t face it. The thing that had led him to people like Bryan, Katie, Fat Tony and the rest of the travellers. He'd had enough of the small town mentality, the pain of growing up in this goldfish bowl. It was time for adventure.
Some adventure it had turned out to be. So far.
For Nathan, it was only just beginning.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Next Path (Extended)

Just because something blows you away it doesn't make you a lightweight. That's what Nathan told himself as he faced Bryan across the blackened grass that only hours before had held the flames of the campfire. There were words coming at him, head-on; spittle following, fists clenched and ready to come at him too. So Nathan shouted his thoughts, momentarily confusing Bryan and a crease to cut his angry face in two.
Nathan shut his eyes, expecting the punch, waiting for the feel of sweaty flesh and bony knuckles to split his skin, spill his blood. There was nothing, although he could hear Bryan’s laboured breathing, the stale breath making his stomach knot and churn, so he knew something was about to happen.
Squinting, Nathan opened one eye. Bryan was no longer in front of him, he was off to one side, hands limp at his side. Taking his place in front of Nathan was Katie. Just as he was about to speak, she cut him short with a slap. The sting, the redness that was more than embarrassment, the shock of it, all combined in one huge emotional burst and with a quick turn Nathan was running full pelt from the camp. Words rang after him: Don’t. Come. Back. Her voice.
Again, Nathan found himself the outcast.

Leaning back against the gnarled trunk of an oak tree, its leaves whispering peacefully in the weak breeze winding through the woods, Nathan thought back to the day his grandfather had passed away. How, walking back towards home, the clouds had grown sullen, frowning as the news sank in. There on the corner, leaning like a council labourer against the bowing dry-stone wall, was Mrs Kirkbride.
Homely; a word Nathan thought was surely invented to describe Mrs Kirkbride – Gertie to her very close friends (and half the village behind her back, she being the gossipmongers’ choice for their daily tittle-tattle and rounds of spitefulness they liked to advertise as ‘Coffee Mornings’). Closely permed hair nestled under a grubby cloth cap; pinprick eyes cushioned by crinkled skin, so small Fat Tony called them “piss holes in the snow”; a smile that showed no teeth – because, even though you couldn’t tell, Mrs Kirkbride didn’t have any and found dentures uncomfortable. The worst thing – and at that precise moment, a nightmare Nathan was about to endure – was the way she greeted any child in the village.
As Mrs Kirkbride held Nathan in an embrace tighter than a wrestler’s leotard he could feel her nipple pressed against his forehead like a bully’s finger, accusing. Right there and then he’d made a decision. He needed to get out, get away, escape, to run from something so big he couldn’t face it. The thing that had led him to people like Bryan, Katie, Fat Tony and the rest of the travellers. He'd had enough of the small town mentality, the pain of growing up in this goldfish bowl. It was time for adventure.
Some adventure it had turned out to be. So far.
For Nathan, it was only just beginning.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Next Path

Just because something blows you away it doesn't make you a lightweight. That's what Nathan told himself as he faced Bryan across the blackened grass that only hours before had held the flames of the campfire. There were words coming at him, head-on; spittle following, fists clenched and ready to come at him too. So Nathan shouted his thoughts, momentarily confusing Bryan and a crease to cut his angry face in two.
Nathan shut his eyes, expecting the punch, waiting for the feel of sweaty flesh and bony knuckles to split his skin, spill his blood. There was nothing, although he could hear Bryan’s laboured breathing, the stale breath making his stomach knot and churn, so he knew something was about to happen.
Squinting, Nathan opened one eye. Bryan was no longer in front of him, he was off to one side, hands limp at his side. Taking his place in front of Nathan was Katie. Just as he was about to speak, she cut him short with a slap. The sting, the redness that was more than embarrassment, the shock of it, all combined in one huge emotional burst and with a quick turn Nathan was running full pelt from the camp. Words rang after him: Don’t. Come. Back. Her voice.
Again, Nathan found himself the outcast.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Little Something Revisited

It was at the supermarket that Nathan first met Jon. He was Nathan’s manager. Squat body with bandy legs and chest hair that seemed to grow to his chin. No front teeth. Lost them to a lamppost that jumped him late one night. Bloodied his nose. He let Nathan look at the small white shards of tooth that poked from his swollen gums. Nathan recalled Jon’s meaty hands on his shoulders as he tilted his head back away from him; if Nathan hadn’t known him well he might have thought Jon had done it so he didn’t have to smell the stale cigarettes and last night’s beer on his breath.
Afterwards Jon had given Nathan a dressing down for wearing black shoes with his brown uniform. He made sure Nathan knew the difference between being friend and being boss.

On Saturday nights, once the supermarket had closed, a group of workers from the supermarket all piled to the pub, a shallow building looming over the graves in the local cemetery, it’s yellow lights throwing a malevolent glow across the tombstone-lined paths. Occasionally, someone – usually Jon – would run ahead and hide, jump out with banshee shouts to scare us. Once, he confessed to Nathan, pressing up uncomfortably against him at the bar, that he’d made a girl piss her pants doing that trick. Nathan excused himself and took his drink over to the flashing lights of the fruit machine, his free hand tapping the shrapnel in his trouser pocket.
Even though he wasn’t legally allowed to drink by two or so years, someone always slipped a double shot of vodka into Nathan’s cola. Often it was Jon buying the drinks, his gappy mouth and damaged gums grimacing as he called Nathan’s name.
Sundays, Nathan would have to sleep late to get rid of the dull ache in his head. Jon would like to ask how debilitated Nathan had been on Sundays. It’s not as if Nathan had to get to church, it was something he could handle.
Jon told him it was part of growing up. Like losing your teeth.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Excerpt

They huddled, like pensioners caught in a crosswind. The hubbub of the public house played out ahead of them. Apart from Nathan, there were six others; Nathan didn’t know all their names and he couldn’t recall them ever asking for his. Somehow they’d congregated, flotsam caught by a stray, snagging branch. Nathan was nursing a pint, surreptitiously slurping the bitter ale one of the others had seen fit to buy him.
Alec was one of those whose name Nathan did know. Alec worked in the Dairy section at the supermarket. He nodded at Nathan. It was the extent of every conversation they had ever had since Nathan had started at the supermarket with a Thursday afternoon, three-til-eight shift.
Alec loved magic, the art of it. He reached towards Nathan, eyes winking. Then, sitting back, he nodded to the table in front of Nathan. There was a set of tarot cards, the pack decorated with detailed paintings of mythical beasts and topless women. Nathan scooped them up with his right hand, just as Alec had taught him. Nathan showed his right hand. Empty. Grinning, he showed his left hand, palm up. Empty, too. Alec smiled, gulped at a lager top in a knobbly pint glass with a handle. His eyes never left Nathan’s hands, watching closely as Nathan reached into his jacket, producing the cards with a theatrical flourish. Alec stood. He promised to get Nathan a “proper drink” as he weaved his way towards the crowded bar.
Nathan pulled a card from the pack. Tonight, he would be Justice. Tomorrow he would find out how to do a reading. First, he had a pint to finish and a story that fat Tony was telling to listen to.

They’re running from the police. No headlights. Scarf is at the wheel of the coach. They’re buffeted like tourists on the underground at 8am. Trees screech their branches against the windows. Scarf says he needs the lights on. He flicks his finger and the cones of bright lights come on in time to illuminate the tree with which the coach is about to collide. Scarf wrenches the wheel to the right but it’s too late.
The coach stops and all they can hear are a distant owl hooting and the tinkling rain of broken glass. I guess we’re camping here for the night, says Scarf. Voices laugh, a way for people to announce they’re okay. Nathan joins in.

Over the next three hours they set a fire and wait for the rest of the group to join them. They sing songs. At some point, Nathan walks away from the celebrations, winding his way through the trees. He can see lights in the distance, knowing before he’s even close enough to verify that they belong to his parents’ house. His home. He wonders what they are doing right now: mother, watching Eastenders, father asleep in his chair. Predictable, even though Nathan hasn’t seen or spoken to them for almost two years. This is the closest he’s been for a long time; possibly since the day his mother pushed his bloody, squawking mess into this world.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Little Something

It was at the supermarket that I first met Jon. He was my manager. Squat body with bandy legs and chest hair that seemed to grow to his chin. No front teeth. Lost them to a lamppost that jumped him late one night. Bloodied his nose. He let me look at the small white shards of tooth that poked from his swollen gums. I remember his meaty hands on my shoulders as he tilted his head back away from me; if I hadn’t known him I might have thought he’d done it so I didn’t have to smell the stale cigarettes and last night’s beer on his breath.
Afterwards he’d given me a dressing down for wearing black shoes with my brown uniform. He made sure I knew the difference between being friend and boss.

On Saturday nights, once the supermarket had closed, we all piled to the pub, a shallow building looming over the graves in the local cemetery, it’s yellow lights throwing a malevolent glow across the tombstone-lined paths. On occasions someone – usually Jon – would run ahead and hide, jump out with banshee shouts to scare us. Once, he confessed to me, pressing up uncomfortably against me at the bar, that he’d made a girl piss her pants once doing that trick. I excused myself and took my drink over to the flashing lights of the fruit machine, my free hand tapping the shrapnel in my trouser pocket.
Even though I wasn’t legally allowed to drink by two or so years, someone always slipped a double shot of vodka into my cola. Often it was Jon buying the drinks, his gappy mouth and damaged gums grimacing as he called my name.
On Sundays I’d have to sleep late to get rid of the dull ache in my head. Jon would like to ask how debilitated I’d been on Sundays. It’s not as if I had to get to church, it was something I could handle.
Jon told me it was part of growing up. Like losing your teeth.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gone

But I will be back.

What follows is an intense period of activity involving a short holiday and a house move. Yes, a house move.

I should be back online sometime in early May. I will try to update then.

In the meantime, either pick a link or look back on some earlier work.

purplesimon out...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Beginnings

I wake to garlands of rubbish around my throat; faded crisp packets, sweet wrappers; torn plastic bags, blue but transparent; scuffed plastic bottles, their rims smeared with fetid gunk. I lay, prone, amongst this, as if I’ve been tipped from a rotting bag of household waste. And in a way, I have been.
My clothes are soiled and stained. I wake to another day.
I run a grimy finger along split gums and broken teeth, a gift from the fighting days. Extricate myself from beneath rain-soaked bushes as if I were strawberry milkshake flowing through a straw: one fluid movement. A shadow cast of reminiscence falls across my mind. My favourite flavour, smell: strawberries.
Looking up at the decaying teeth of 60’s architecture. Waking up to a sky that’s always crying, to a population unforgiving; to a place that’s always dark, even before it stumbles into a back alley, before it's sodomised and brutalised by society’s effluent: the homeless, the pimps, the silent killers.
I am the walker. I am the watcher. I document it all. I am invisible, but I am omnipresent.
Not that you’d ever want to meet me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Standing With Ghosts

I stand in the footsteps of ghosts.
The hands of the clock are still;
Weight waiting to be lifted. As I am
To the next floor, where I’ll be greeted

By giggles and the tinkling of piano
Keys. To shouts of “Snap”.
The cries of brothers, the sweat of father
Eyes casting glances for silence.

As all heads bow, give thanks to the Lord
The ghosts engulfed with steam
From bowls of hot fare, that sit beneath
Folded hands, knuckles shown.

And then only chairs, tables set out for games
For lunch. For families no longer.
Only their possessions not possessed.
Their steps an echo of my own.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Rebirth

Good day to the visitors of this blog.

At the top of the page it mentions a grand reopening in 2007. It's not specific about the date and that's why, so far, this will be the only post for January.

It's unlikely there will be more soon. I make no apologies for that. I have my work and it's all-consuming at the moment. Blogs don't pay the bills. Not for me, anyway.

However, I am attending a Poetry Society workshop in late February and I would think this would be a good time to start again. I have some ideas on what to do with this blog, but I will share them with you at a later date. In the meantime, I encourage you to have a look at the list of worthy sites to the right of this page. There you will find much to entertain you.

purplesimon out...