As a child I liked nothing better than stumbling across a prone sheep on a fell-side, its torso bloated with gas and its pecked eyes somewhere high in the sky in the beak of a bird; or finding a flattened rabbit on the road side with its entrails stretched out behind it like a vapour trail.
These creatures didn’t disgust me. Quite the opposite in fact - they intrigued me the way their insides were laid bare, like the secrets of life had been unlocked and made public. Intestines, organs, blood; all were part of a puzzle that had been reversed, dismantled, demystified.
If they remained intact – a rarity - it was always the eyes that affected me the most, for the eyes are the window into a living being; and the moment in which they had died seemed to be captured in that bleak black stare, whether it was the sheep that had fallen down a crag in the night, the baby bird cast out from the nest or the hedgehog that had met its death beneath the crush of a Dunlop tyre at dawn.
Those eyes stared down through time and in each was the flash of a headlight, the panic of uncertainty, a look of surprise, the horror of nature’s violence, the disappointment at the unfairness of it all.
In those dead animals all the secrets of the world seemed to exist and the mystery of life unravelled.
The message of death as the last word in democracy - the immoveable full-stop - was conveyed and it said in a voice unequivocally loud and clear: no-one can beat me.
today was mad i woke up with a sore throat all morning swallowing testing my throat still sore swallow swallow sore swallow swallow i went to the ladies prison in ashford to see this client swayleside its called they keep rose west there no one is allowed to talk to her you get in trouble if you do she waddles around eating chocolate and you're not allowed to even make eye-contact with her if you're new she's the fat child-killing madonna v.i.p bitches! anyway this client was totally bananas dangerous an alcoholic who had an argument with her boyfriend over a bottle of cider so she took a bread knife to him sliced him up that's the basic facts she says it was self-defence it's the solicitors job to try and make that look feasible it was revenge is what it was no one should have treated me the way he did she says the law says that if she wanted to get away from the beatings from this guy she should have ran away not gone into the kitchen when he'd passed out drunk in his chair not pulled out a knife to scratch him with as she says scratch him?
i'm looking at the photos taken at the scene deep wounds in his arms, his hands and face this is the end of a long line of abuse from men all her life ruined she hates them she has an extensive previous for all sorts and i read it to her she doesn't like authority she has assaulted two no three policemen i like that about her i think we are face to face across the table and she repeats every single thing you say even the mistakes so if you say 'you will see your solicitor i mean your barrister at court on tuesday' she will say 'you will see your solicitor i mean your barrister at court on tuesday?' her voice rising shes enjoying something its not a traditional horror-movie evil that she possesses its more like like this anger inside that flashes you have to blink and refocus sometimes because looking into her face is like staring into blackness a stare and a smile a hole she is the feeling of vertigo in the room she is inducing the panic i got so scared that i almost said to her -listen i'm really really scared but i couldn't because it's not professional and also i was scared that if i did that then something really terrible would happen i held it down if i'd said that and she'd laughed i dont know what would have happened i felt trapped so i say to her do you remember that night -i don't remember anything the night you took a knife to him -i did it in self defence, i was scared for my life why didn't you run away? -cos i love him it's not normal to stab someone you love - he was going to kill me-you weren't there no i wasn't there i stare at her body it's not nice they dress in mottled tracksuits inside rotten pyjamas she was pregnant at the time she had twins in her belly it says here i asked her what happened to them they are burying them tomorrow she says they died in my womb i had to deliver them dead she says it as if to say it's all your fault and in a way it is i think i'm very sorry i say i'm very sorry she says i read her the police statements from that evening she was arrested this police officer says that when they turned up you were naked -when they turned up i was naked? she's smiling its funny she's on side now and the walls were covered in blood? -the walls were covered in blood? ha ha ha ha ha o god is that true? i ask and our eyes meet we are communicating something i don't want to communicate we both laugh and laugh everything reverberates her eyes and mouth and teeth and something really horrible flashes across the table and i realised that given the chance she would kill me i didn't think that she had a knife it wasn't about the possiblilty of the situation but it was enough that she would do it that given half a chance she would stab the shit out of me i nearly left that tiny holding cell the ugly walls and shitty table not that i could leave without summoning a screw banging on the window i held it together she went back to repeating everything i was saying and turning it into a question as if i was relaying to her information she had never heard she made me write things down its her way of gaining control then she folds it up and puts it in her pocket like she has taken something from you she should not be just sentenced like a normal person which is what they are doing she needs to be locked away she will kill someone i felt certain of it today she will start drinking again her mother was an alcoholic it's been handed down and they want to treat her like a normal person she's fit to plead they say what the fuck does that mean? fit to plead? its not something for you to worry about she does not know what's going on she keeps asking who i am i dont know i say.
Leave behind the clambering spires, broad traitor river full of eels and bicycles some black surrealist arabesque. The mountains - a flat naïve painting, the skies - a kinetoscope in motion.
Leave behind the burn and the dream of the drink in the blood, the common madness, the building sites we hid within, the bridge under which we sang, the lake at the madhouse, the train tracks.
Leave behind the ghost trajectories of lost relationships, memories of when we were the corner boys and the attic drinkers drunk on rooftops beneath hanging comets and the same mad stars, where fortified with firewater, we played at revolutionaries in the clothes of our fathers, fenian musketeers. The nights we were invincible.
And I’ve carved my fuckin’ heart and soul into the white of that gable wall that roars to the world in stone we are/ we were/ we could have been free.
I was in between jobs, living in a council flat that had no central heating. Above me dwelt a small-time drug dealer, known locally as Tony Balony. Pearl’s café was just around the corner and it was warm and cosy and Pearl was dead. The café hadn’t been re-decorated in decades. It was done up like a little Parisian bistro, dark and cosy, red and white checked table cloths, stucco walls, wooden beams, candles in wine bottles, etc. The only nod to modernity was an asteroids gaming machine, hidden away in one corner, and in comparative terms an antique itself. Pearl’s daughter, Ava ran the mystery café single-handed. She was in her mid fifties and still a looker, but back in the day she’d been a heartbreaker, just like Pearl. I don’t think the café made any money, but a dead husband’s life insurance took care of that side of things. Ava had it easy. The café didn’t open on Mondays, Thursdays or Sundays, and usually I was the only customer. Well, it was cold inside my flat.
There were photos of Billy Fury all over the walls. Billy Fury was Ava’s teenage idol and often his fifties brand of rock and roll could be heard on the sound system, Halfway to Paradise, Maybe Tomorrow, Collette, Last Night was Made For love, Jealousy.
Ava thought I was a genius. I’d sit in my corner of the bistro writing, or pretending to write, but really just daydreaming. Ava would stand behind me and try to read what I’d written, but I always covered the writing with my hand. This made Ava laugh. Then she’d tussle my wavy hair and say,
‘You’re ganna make it Joe boy, one day, just mark my words!’
I marked the words and secretly hoped it was true.
Once, when drunk, I wrote a poem on one of Pearl’s Café’s red napkins entitled, ‘I Would Have Given You All of My Heart.’ When Ava discovered the act of vandalism, she let out a little shriek. It was beautiful she said. Then she had the napkin framed and hung it on the wall underneath a poster of Billy Fury in his 1950’s heyday. Tony Balony rarely came to Pearl’s, but one day he did. He burst in like this,
‘I can’t fucking believe it!’ He cried.
I was playing Asteroids, but was so shocked by Tony Balony’s sudden appearance I let all the meteors bust my spaceship into fragments.
Ava stopped pretending to look busy, ‘What’s up Tone?’
Tony slumped into a chair and gave us the low down. His dog had been run over and killed. Hit and run. His dog was a handsome Rhodesian ridgeback called Harold. Tony Balony was in bits and it brought a lump to my throat.
Tony stayed in Pearl’s café all that night, drinking cans of Stella and weeping. He loved that dog and vowed to get revenge on the culprit. Ava comforted Tony by making love to him in the kitchen. I can’t prove this, as I drank too many wife beaters and passed out underneath one of the tables. But I reckoned they did because Tony was a ladies man.
Anyway, neither of us was lucky with our pets. At that time I had a cat called Stupid, who couldn’t walk or jump properly. She had a problem balancing and kept falling off things and breaking her legs. After the fourth break the vet gave me the low down. Another fall, he warned, and she would have to be put down. I didn’t like the sound of that and afterwards only let Stupid out on a lead, where I could keep an eye her. Still, despite all her problems Stupid was a magic cat because she could speak. No one else thought she could speak, but I knew she could. I’d ask her a question and she would meow in reply. The mews sounded like words.
The days went by like strange dreams. I frequented Pearl’s café whenever it was open with Stupid in tow, talking all the way. I was working on a novel, it was a tragic love story, and the bistro helped the writing. Did I tell you that Ava smoked like a chimney? Three packs a day, consulate. Her skin was wrinkled and she coughed a great deal, ‘There’ll be the death of me,’ she’d say, as she sparked up another.
‘You should cut-down Aves,’ I’d say.
Sometimes Ava would talk about the past. She’d once been a modette. She showed me photos of her gang of friends. They were sharp dressers and very serious about everything. All the details were correct, Italian mopeds, expensive clothes, scarce 45’s. Her first husband was a mod. They met in school, teenage sweethearts, the first and only time she’d been in love. It was love at first sight. He died of a brain tumour, at 33 years of age. When they lowered his coffin into the grave Ava swore she would never marry again.
Sometimes Ava would tell me this, ‘Life’s not fair, Joe boy, it’s all a load of bollocks. If anyone tells you any different, they’re liars. There is no god and there is no heaven, you mark my words.’
I think it was the way she said them, but I’ve always remembered those words.
One day I went to Pearl’s café and found it shut. I peered inside, the tables and chairs were covered in white dust sheets, and someone had taken my poem from off the wall. When I found it shut the next day I intuitively knew something was wrong. I found out later that Ava was in the hospital. I visited with flowers, chocolates, and a little framed photo of Billy Fury. Ava cried when I was there, but I never. I felt the tears coming and successfully fought them back. Ava had the big C.
Outside the hospital I broke down. I couldn’t help it. Some children saw me and began staring and pointing, but I didn’t care, and to top it all Stupid past away a few weeks later. I found her lying on the living room carpet with her tongue lolling out and her eyes wide open. The light of life had vanished from her blue eyes forever. I buried her in the communal garden, underneath a weeping willow tree, and marked her grave with a tiny wooden cross. Not long afterwards I left the country. As far as I know Pearl’s café is still shut and Tony Balony is in prison.
It’s happening more and more these days, Baby, that thing I told you about, and I don’t know what to do anymore. I get in my car and I drive, and sometimes I barely know where I am or how I got there because I am so deep and thwarted in my head, just thinking. Sometimes I drive at night on the interstate and go into weird dirty truckstops where I don’t know anybody, where nobody knows nobody, and I sip black coffee and stare at the filthy greasy magazines spangled with fingerprints from God knows what pervert or lunatic or outright felon. I sit there and try not to catch eyes with the creepy truckers scarfing burgers or just sitting there smoking. I just don’t know what to do anymore, Baby, but sometimes I do this and it helps a little, but not really.
Visit me, Baby. I think you are the only one on this earth who knows me now, and sometimes I think you know me better than I even know myself. But there is so much space between us, all those dinky stupid towns full of hateful little people, so much distance to swallow before we can sit down and talk like we used to talk every night in the old yellow kitchen, playing backgammon and drinking tea. Those were happier times, weren’t they, Baby? Now those days are lost.
Let me tell you something awful. I keep having this dream about worms in my head. It’s such a horrible thing to think about, to contemplate I mean, especially first thing in the morning, that I wonder if I am not losing my mind a little. I have this dream, this nightmare, over and over, where my brain is a ball of squirming grey worms. What can it possibly mean, Baby? Am I losing my mind?
If this lasts much longer, this goddamn bus ride, I will scream in my chair. (I am writing you from the bus because I had a little accident with the car.) It’s not so much being on the bus that I mind. I can manage all right on a bus, even one chock full of creeps and crazies like this one, but there is a man who keeps TURNING AROUND! He has hard yellowy eyes like a snake. I mustn’t look at him.
Ah, Baby! What a world we inhabit!
I wonder if you remember something. The last time I saw you, after you met Izzy and everything changed and you went away, you told me something I will never forget if I live to be a hundred. Do you remember what that was? You were wearing your blue dress with the little hearts on the hem, and your hair was cut short and we were drinking mint tea in the back kitchen, and I was crying about something, probably about your going away because what else would I be crying about, and you took my hand, as gentle as the morning, and you said – Wherever you are, Petal, I am there too, and wherever I am, you are there with me, always and forever.
Are you here with me now, Baby, on this bus? Are you sitting here beside me? How I wish that were true.
What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I have done terrible things, things I would rather not speak about, and of course I am ashamed. I have done things in order to forget who I am – and to hurt people, to punish them. I cannot tell you what, though. Not like this, with this man who keeps turning around. Like he knows what I am thinking. I mustn’t look at him, reading me with his snake eyes. Maybe he isn’t even really there. Maybe he is just a nightmare clown, or a worm in my head. Last week I watched a circus magician change a fat man from the audience into a watermelon, slice him into wedges – and then we ate him! God, I wish I knew how to do that. I’d turn this creep into a chocolate bunny and bite his fat head off. Or maybe into an egg which I could chuck out the window and smash on the road.
What do you think, Baby? Is this it? Is this all there is? Life?
I’ve decided I will tell you everything. I will give you the truth of what I am doing here, riding on this bus. There is something growing inside me, Baby. Something foul and dangerous. They have pictures of it at the hospital, though I refused to look when they tried showing me. Doctor Pradesh says he can cut it out, no problem, but what I want to know, what I NEED to know is - how did it get inside me in the first place? Was it something I did wrong? Am I now being punished? Or maybe it was always a part of me, this thing, something that has traveled with me from the very beginning, from the womb? Perhaps I forgot to nurture it and now it’s dying. Dying and growing inside of me. A past failure of some sort.
There. That’s it. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you. But if I can’t tell you, Baby, then who can I tell? You are the only one who knows me.
As I look out the window, the telephone poles are flying by with such speed, and I wonder whose voices are zipping through those lines. Maybe your voice is among them, passing through one of those wires so close to me. Call me, Baby. How I would love to hear your voice again. Years have gone by. I have no telephone, of course, but there is normally a telephone in hospital rooms – though I don’t know if you are allowed to take calls on them from the outside. After the growth is cut out of me and I am all right again you could call the Esso station on Piedmont and maybe get whoever is working at that time to run across the road. They know me over there and sometimes they let me use their telephone.
I might as well tell you that I am more frightened now than I have ever been in my life. The doctor and his team are going to cut me open on a table and God only knows the outcome of that – and where will I go if it all goes wrong?
I guess I can’t help connecting everything together, Baby. Everyone is so far away now and in my loneliness at night I have done unspeakable things, and there are the dreams of the worms in my head and there is this great big dead worm growing somewhere inside me – and this shriveled-up little worm of a man who keeps turning around! (He is looking at me now, Baby! I can feel his eyes dancing around on my face. I just looked up and he smiled right at me. His teeth are black. I mustn’t look at him again.)
The telephone poles are whooshing past my window and the wires sag so low, it seems to me – the weight of all those voices zipping through. What are they saying to one another? What sadnesses and joys are they communicating?
We are almost there now, so I had better finish up. We just passed the old car wash at the edge of town, the one with the big plastic ice cream cone on top. Abandoned now, of course.
I will be incapacitated for quite some time, Baby. I know it’s not possible for you to visit, but please save a little of yourself for me and send it on, send it on in words. I need your gentle words, your affectionate voice. I need your kind approval. Yes, Baby, you are always here with me. Your soft eyes and languorous hair shadow my every thought - but only in silence.
So call me, Baby. If you can’t reach me at my hospital room, give me a try please over at the Esso station. As I said before, they know me over there. Just mention my name.
Orange a fiery ball of sun against the purple mash of a threatening sky Orange the inside of flames consuming wood and flesh and lives Orange the color of a Corvette sports car that my girlfriend crashed Orange the smell of rotten fruit and dead bodies we hoped might come back Rhymes are for kids who compare kisses with an angel's breath Orange is the fire that warm blue leathered cold hands or mix ashes with death
Orange is gold glinting in the sun, it’s weight is more than a night of fun Orange is the Hollywood flash from a gun – a gun for play, doesn’t kill no one Orange is the defoliant coquettishly called “Agent Orange” Killed leaf and tree and human being, from a sky where death should never be born
Orange is a savior – wafer thin, 40 Milligrams, so I’m not sick no more Orange is ten dollars if you know where to score A methadone tablet, might keep me off the street Orange is a junkie’s sweet, Christmas treat Orange tablet, then all the urges are slight Won’t go out on a tare tonight Won’t maybe lie and won’t maybe steal Orange is the color that keeps a dope fiend from being fiend real.
The tablet is harmony on a street where harmony is absurd It’s got me calmed down – just this paper and these rhyming words. Oh I’m not a poet, at least maybe not yet But tonight I ain’t dangerous, without my spike, I’m toying with this pen.
I did, didn’t I? I forgot until just now, until reading about Persephone and the pomegranate, but I gave you the pomegranate juice. Standing there in that room, sea salty, feet on the piles of clothes that wrapped up your body when I couldn’t. Seagulls swooped and cackled outside of the window. You slept. You slept with the urgency of youth that demanded it from you. I slept less. I slept just enough so I could wake rested and look at you, sleeping, for hours, and I loved you then with a silent instinct. When I could look no more, I slipped from your bed and dressed quickly and haphazardly; I stole your keys from on the bedside table and went down the three flights of stairs that led to the outside world. I let myself out of the front door, took a left up the hill, then a right to the corner shop. The wind was behind me, urging me on.
I loaded up my Sunday morning shopping basket with the tell-tale signs of good sex on the Saturday night. There was milk, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, a Sunday newspaper, crusty white bread, real butter and fresh fruit juice; pomegranate juice. I knew the spell I wanted to cast, the spell that you would return to me or me to you, forever. I checked my watch, a little after 12pm, so I added a bottle of over-priced rosé wine which made the shopkeeper smile. As you were sleeping, I loitered outside the shop and smoked a cigarette before I walked back down the hill, facing off the wind.
It had been my friend at Christmas couple of months earlier who had alerted me to the pomegranate. She’d bought me a present of a maroon velvet top, a pair of maroon socks spangled with silver threads, and to complete the trio she’d bought me a pomegranate. Research on the internet as to what to do with the pomegranate had led me to discover the story of Persephone. I wanted to feed it to you, my lover. I knew that you would be the one to leave me and I would do anything to prolong our connection.
Now, in the land of ice and snow, I wonder. I feel you strongly, although we were never here together. My first night I dream of you; my second night I hear your voice. Tonight, whilst reading a bedtime story to myself, it talks of Persephone and the pomegranate and I suddenly remember the careless, casual spell I cast. I wish those seeds had never taken root. I thought that it would bind you to me in the love of those early, heady, passionate days; but instead I am haunted by a lost, dead love that never leaves me. Be careful of the spells that bind.
Meg said she can’t remember the last time I touched her but I can, I know exactly, it’s right here on the photograph – 10:03:2008 01:47. It was just this morning, about six hours ago. 01:47 hours, give or take a minute or two to allow for taking the picture. See, living proof; I had to’ve touched her to make her look like that. Meg’s brain never remembers me touching her but I think her skin does. The skin is made of the same embryonic tissue as the brain apparently, which implies an intelligence doesn’t it, an ability to remember. My skin remembers everything, from decades ago: the hot fat, the first degree burns, the pain that lived in the left side of my body for years.
Meg’s brain doesn’t remember me touching her because of the drink. She’s an alcoholic, though Meg won’t admit it. She says she just likes gin, the taste of it, the way it puts her to bed every night and tucks her in. Nothing is soft enough until she has a drink. Meg drinks to take the edge off life, the corners. Still wakes up black and blue with a hangover every morning. I don’t mind her drinking. I definitely don’t discourage it. In fact I quite like it. She’s one of those quiet drunks, you know, someone who goes into themselves the more they drink. Actually, I need her to drink. I need her gin dreams, those holes in her sleep she falls into, just as much as she does. I need them because that’s when I feel closest to her. Basically Meg is a problem that solves herself in the morning when the booze wears off.
Meg believes that we can’t live without touch, it’s a basic human need like air or food or water. I’m not sure about that. Lying in the burns unit, seven years old with half my skin burnt off, I thought I’d die if anyone touched me. I kind of know what she means though, about the need to touch. When I look at my hands, I can see touches inside them, memories of how her body felt and fantasies of how it will feel the next time. But they stay in my hands untouched until Meg drowns her last drink and passes out on the bed again. Only then will I let myself steal her skin.
I like it best when I’m on the edge of touching of her, that moment beside the bed looking down at the clotted skin on her bottom and thighs, the silence of her pale hair on the pillow. In that moment I can feel every molecule of gas in the air around my hands. And that’s when I understand just how big the need to touch can be, how much room this need takes up inside us. At first it was enough, just stroking her skin, seeing it change colour when I pressed it. My hands were like thieves looting her body while she was out. But then it started to irritate me how lifeless she looked just lying there, pressing her shadow into the mattress. So I started posing her, putting her in different shapes. I even bought a bigger bed so I’d have more room to move her about. It wasn’t so I could sleep further away from her; Meg was wrong about that. She looked amazing, so amazing I started taking photographs of her, whole albums full. Meg never lets me take her picture normally. She hates photographs, won’t have them in the flat. She says they’re only ever about lies and death but I love my pictures of Meg; they keep me going till the next time I can touch her.
She seems somehow bigger in her sleep when I pose her. It’s like there’s more of her. Usually Meg sleeps curled up, almost disappearing into herself. Like now; she’s on the other side of the bed, this adult foetus with its back to me. Her cold shoulder is freezing the bed into a sheet of ice. She’s fast asleep. I envy her that, I envy her oblivion. I asked her once, where do you go when you sleep and she said, to the gone place. I can’t remember the last time I slept. Sleep just falls through me then out again; it never stays long enough. It’s like I’m an uncomfortable place to be. Meg says I don’t sleep with her, I sleep with insomnia. She makes it sound like an accusation, like I’m making a choice. But she’s right, I do sleep with insomnia, every night I sleep with it.
She’s starting to stir. It’s like seeing her dig herself up from her grave, watching Meg emerge from sleep. She wakes in this field of herself then staggers off in the direction her body’s auto-pilot tells her is the bathroom. She’s sitting up now, clutching her head, hair so shiny with grease it seems to emit its own light. A groan escapes her lips. She swings her legs over the side of the bed and reaches for her robe. It feels odd seeing her move without me doing it for her, moving without me putting her limbs where they need to go. We say nothing and this is the way of things for us now after six years. We set out on this relationship together but somehow never quite got there.
She heads for the bathroom, her feet on the wooden floor heavy, laboured. It’s like every bit of her is treading on them, you know, the way your whole body is involved when you tread water. And there is a loneliness in the way she moves that hurts my eyes. I look at the ceiling, waiting for the sound of running water and Meg splashing her face. I imagine her looking in the mirror above the sink, confronting her hangover, the grey towelling dressing gown with its snags and stains giving her the usual dressing down.
From under the pillow, I pull out the picture of Meg I took last night. In it her arms are spread wide, her whole body open and inviting. I stroke her belly with the tip of my finger, noting the contrast between the raw mottled skin on the back of my hand and the smooth paleness of hers. A loud banging noise. I scramble out of bed, pulling the rugby shirt down over my jogging pants and head for the bathroom. It’s Meg. She’s banging on the window at something in the street, banging with both fists, shouting, her breath misting the glass - why don’t you just piss off. Go on, piss off! I stand on tip toes and, over her shoulder, five floors down, there’s a couple kissing, oblivious.
Fucking Gordon Brown! The ten per cent cut has hit, and the temps are swapping rants about it as we hand in our timesheets.
‘Can’t believe it,’ one guy moans. He’s about six foot, leather jacket, not attractive. ‘It’s like you’re penalised for getting up in the morning.’
‘It would help if the agency didn’t take a third of our salaries as commission.’ I say this loudly enough for the consultant behind the desk to hear me. She’s a fat whore with a Daypower ID slung around a pastel shirt. ‘I should have gone into –‘
‘Well, Becks, if you’re not satisfied, you know where the door is,’ she tells me.
‘Don’t you ever interrupt me.’ I fix her with an aggressive gaze and hold it until her eyes drop to the timesheet pile. I then swish grandly through the exit.
Dining at the Tiger Lounge, I reflect that the agency holds all the cards. I never thought I’d go back to temping, but the latest restructuring swept my job away.
Walking down to Oxford Road, I consider the pulling prospects. What I tend to do, in these days of the credit crunch, is to chat up solvent-looking men in bars, give them a false name and rob them blind. You set your mobile alarm for eight and then just take their wallets. I figure it’s a reasonable price for giving these dullards an evening of fun.
The arches of New Wakefield Street cover a clutch of mosher pubs (I suppose one calls them ‘emo pubs,’ now) that spill out onto rows of smoky picnic tables in the shade. My temp colleagues are at the Space roof garden, specifically constructed to get around the smoking ban.
I buy a round: essential if you’re a lady, because it shows the guys that you can drink and are not to be fucked with. We drink a bitter toast to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and bitch about work until the sun goes down. This is essentially a student/scenester bar and I feel self-conscious in my tailored skirt and office boots. You have to dress like this at work, even as a temp – again, it’s an assertion of strength – but I’m out of place here. My legs are drawing male stares and I’m not yet drunk enough to enjoy them.
The temp girls are reasonably intelligent and can take a drink. The guys have been sizing me up for the whole six weeks of our assignment (Alex, in particular, seems to think he’s god’s gift) but they’re all clueless, bitter tossers living in houseshares and wondering why they’re not Pete Doherty; no use to me, either fiscal or sexual.
Sean says, ‘You know the Daypower people are having a do tonight?’
‘Where is it?’
Sean is about twenty-three, reads Orwell during lunch. ‘Up in Tribeca,’ he says, faltering a bit now I’ve put him on the spot. ‘Engagement party or something. I just thought, wouldn’t that be the funniest thing, crashing a Daypower work’s party.’
‘I think it’s got potential.’ The boy struggles to hide his delight at my compliment. ‘I’ve never met a recruitment consultant off duty.’
‘I never met an attractive one,’ Julie says, ‘which is weird, cause most career women are really sexy, like you, Becka Quayle.’
Appreciative laughter from the men. ‘You flatter an old bird,’ I tell her. ‘But let’s do it!’
In Tribeca it’s the others who feel out of place as it’s a smart casual bar. Indeed, Alex is turned away for wearing Converse. This is a good development; he’s an irritating, lecherous drunk, and I relish his stricken look as I sail past him.
Sean hands me my glass of white and he can’t meet my eye. Is this night as prospectless as I had thought? Mind, shy kids like Sean can be a bit intense and you never know what they’re hiding. I want to do him a favour but I don’t want to get murdered for it.
Jules grabs me. ‘There they are!’
Sure enough, the Daypower consultants are sitting at a large booth at the far end of the bar. They are not too pleased to see their clients, but there’s not much they can do; should have booked a private room, recruitment scum. I install our group at the adjacent table.
‘I apologise for the intrusion,’ I tell the fat bitch from reception, ‘but we heard that one of your staff is now engaged, and I felt we should pay our respects. So who’s the lucky lady?’
‘Oh, it’s Sophie, here… Sophe, this is Rebecca Quayle.’
She indicates a weasel-faced tart in a bad shirt, who flashes a high-street ring. Sophie’s sitting next to some florid loser wearing Ben Sherman. I offer my congratulations.
Reception Whore turns back to me. ‘And have you found Mr Right yet, Rebecca?’
Her tone insinuates that she knows I’m twenty-seven and still single. That’s recruitment consultants for ya: they act like upmarket professional women but as soon as an opportunity to get foaled comes along, they take it; and that’s them playing at careers over.
I tell her I’ve been engaged a couple of times.
‘And did it not work out?’ the breeder asks me.
‘The first guy blackmailed me into carrying his child, and the second guy tried to kill me.’ A swig of wine. ‘After that, I found a new appreciation for the single life.’
Their awkwardness does not last, because the Daypower people are completely unused to drink and are soon falling all over the place. It’s nearing midnight and time to pull, so I home in on a flush-looking suit in his thirties.
High earner or not, he’s soon under my spell. I have a dim awareness of people coupling and grouping off, and ask him if he’d like to head somewhere quieter.
‘Sure, I’m in Chorlton…’ His pupils have dilated a little, as male eyes sometimes do when boning is on the cards. ‘Let’s get a cab.’
My mind dances with possibilities. This guy is quite high up in Daypower and there’s a potential blackmail operation here. Draw out his kinky fantasies, take some photos… well, there could be more than the two hundred in his wallet: there could be enough to get me back down to London.
Heading for the door, we run into a group of professional males entering for a late drink. My Daypower conquest recognises one of them. ‘Greg! How goes it?’
He’s obviously keen to show off the fine woman on his arm, and indeed his friend is staring right at me – but not in jealous desire but angry recognition.
‘You!’ he shouts, and yes, I recognise this guy too; from a bar on Deansgate Locks and then letting myself out of the Hacienda flats before the next dawn, having redistributed some of his wealth my way.
‘Have we met, darling?’ I ask him.
‘You bitch! Give me my money!’
Now, I can talk my way out of most difficult situations, but it’s getting late and I really have had too much to drink. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,’ I tell him in my sweetest voice, and then dive onto Canal Street.
My boots are good for jogging, but there are simply too many people around to make a quick exit. Pushing past a drag queen on stilts, the press of the crowd against my chest, and thoughts of consequence rush in: how am I going to explain this on Monday morning? Greg knew me as Diane Kinsella, but the Daypower guy will put him straight… oh, fucking hell, how I hate recruitment consultants … my pure and beautiful hate… it’s all Gordon Brown’s fault… fucking Gordon Brown!
I finally see an opening, only to feel a male hand on my shoulder. ‘Rebecca!’
Fuck, I’m caught… I wheel round, and it’s Sean.
‘Jesus, Rebecca! Are you okay?’
‘Yeah, fine…’ I’m breathing hard. ‘Just… there was a guy in that bar I didn’t want to see.’
‘Right.’ He nods with exaggerated sincerity. ‘You looked like you were going to hit me!’
He is a sweet lad. I’ve taken a few cherries in my time, and in my experience once you get past the initial repression, these quiet kids can bang all night.
‘Listen.’ I feel for his hand. ‘Do you fancy a late drink with me? There’s a bottle of red at my place.’
Judging by the colour in his cheeks, this isn’t a frequent proposition for him. ‘Ah, sure…’
‘But no funny business, mind!’ I wag a chiding finger, laughing inwardly as his face implodes.
The rank at Piccadilly is quiet. As the taxi takes off, I get a sense that things will work out. I smile at him, and he smiles back.
The thought occurs that little Sean, dear boy that he is, won’t be of much financial benefit to me. Still, gliding back to Whalley Range, I reflect that there is more to life than money.
yeah i was there cleethorpes winter gardens spring bank holiday nineteen seventy five there was me dave wake colla ossie dek all that lot while the squares were at tiffanys ballroom supping tetley bitter from chunky pint mugs formation dancing to tiger feet we were flying on chalkies backdropping frontdropping spinning and flipping to changing of the guard by queenie buckingham and the big ben chimes right on brother august same year when the squares were sitting in their bedrooms toking red leb appreciating tarkus through padded leather headphones we were at stoke torch for the allnighter sweat soaked beer towels intravenous sulph pulling stunts to your love comes on [like a bengal tiger] by elbert and the vines keep on keepin on i had the original on tall story bought it off longsight lennie for thirty quid he was a face back then that was seventy five imagine what it would be worth now i sold it so i could make the wigan weekender easter seventy six when the squares were sewing lufc patches onto their wrangler jackets and humming the theme to van der valk i was smashed on barbs tumbling off the balcony onto the dancefloor half way through scoob mcgoos second set you gotta come down if you wanna get high i perked up on powder shagged this bird from stafford round the bins out back the sweet sound of burke hare and the rabbit catchers ringing down the alley baby's slippin away kat was her name on the train ride home i got knifed by rastas good memories great times keep the faith .
My friend Max got himself a bad name over that business with the pig and nearly got run out of town. It was a tragic set of circumstances, a very sad affair; at least that’s what somebody said.
The trouble had started during the summer, when Max became convinced that he was being haunted by his father’s ghost. It had appeared to him on a moonlit parapet, screaming blue murder and rattling some chains, only to fade with the morning mist like a dream. I think that’s how the story goes; Max made a song and dance about it at the time. Afterwards his behaviour had grown increasingly strange. The most unpleasant sign of this was the pig’s head that he began carrying around with him. It was one of the most repulsive things that I’ve ever seen: it had marbles for eyes and skin painted gold, a red ribbon tied in a bow through the snout. Max took the wretched thing with him everywhere that he went. Apparently his father’s ghost had taken up residence within. He said that it talked to him, long into the night, ranting and raving, crazed, bent on revenge. Inevitably, things went from bad to worse; the pig, it seemed, did not feel the need for discretion in these exchanges. And Max, of course, could not help but reply.
At first he only talked to the pig when he thought no one else was around, surreptitious asides and tight-lipped remarks, but after a while he gave up any reserve. In the street, on the bus, it was a horrible sight; passers-by couldn’t move far enough away.
The whole disgraceful episode lasted for just over a month. By coincidence, I’d bumped into Max on the day that he first got the pig’s head. At the time he’d stuffed it into a little plastic bag which was too small for the pig’s head; you could see the snout all squashed up inside the plastic, the ears poking out from the top. It had been raining that day, too, and the rain had run down the pig’s ears into the head, rinsing out the dried blood from the skull. The blood had then leaked out the bottom of the bag, leaving a trail zigzagging back down the road.
It was the first time I’d seen Max for some weeks. He didn’t mention the pig’s head. Frankly, he didn’t look well. “Going on a date, Max?’ I asked, and pointed at the bag.
He didn’t answer. I don’t think he understood. He just stared at me, twitching, with pigs’ blood dripping on his shoes. It looked to me like he was trying to ignore something; I’m pretty sure that it was the pig. I could hear him muttering to himself as he walked away. After that, I’d see him around every so often, but mostly I tried to keep out of his way.
The next time I spoke to him he’d grown a beard.
“I’ve grown a beard,” he said.
The pig’s head was tucked under his arm. It wasn’t looking too good; the paint had begun to peel.
‘I’ve grown a beard,” he said again.
“Yes,” I replied. “It goes with the pig.”
“Yes,” he said.
There was a pause. He stared intently at my neck. I noticed that he was only wearing the one shoe.
“How was the date?” I asked him.
There was another pause.
“Yes,” he said, clearly struggling not to scream.
I left him to it.
The next day I found him down by the canal, beating the pig’s head against a wall. He was soaking wet and covered in mud, screaming loudly, half-deranged.
“Jesus, Max,” I said. “Give it a rest. People will think you’re insane.”
“Garrgghhh!!!!” he cried, tugging at his hair. “You should hear the dirty things that he says.”
He waved the battered lump of pig in my direction; it was a very sorry sight. One of the marble eyes popped out and rolled down a drain. The snout was now crooked and black.
“That’s your dad, Max,” I said. “Don’t treat him like that. Think of all the good times instead.”
Max sobbed loudly. Compassion got the better of me. I took the pig’s head from him and put it in a bin. After that, we went for a walk. I took Max for a ride on the Ferris wheel that had just come to town. As we looked down over the streets and houses, I pointed out the flats where he lived. This seemed to calm his nerves a little and he appeared much happier than I’d seen him in weeks.
It would be nice to think it ended like that, but he just went back later and got his dad from the bin.
The canals of upper Clapton are mustard smelling trenches of blink-and-you-miss-it spasm splatters of colour amidst tar dark pathways. Bushes bristle with broken bottle leaves, mottle cast in a sullen, diesel pallor. Warrens snake under daisy field enclosures, as rabbits jump up into patchworks of butterfly pastures in green shield stamp grasslands. Silence only broken by the magnetic hum of telegraph wires slung from giant cranes, barbing and scratching the clouds in criss-cross lines: steely map gradients for a slate grey sky.
A mugger's paradise – yellow raven's eyes peep through black balaclava pillbox heads, bronchial and hoarse against the damp thin wool – lone men lurking in barbwire crevices, torsos immersed in the marshy reed vines, aqualungs of bile and blood coursing from their veins. Punctuating a walk along the bank are police notices with fish and chip paper headlines – uptight black letters stuck like calcified felt on crude yellow metal boards – milestone millstones chronicling acts of predatory violence.
Barges rest up along the River Lea decorated in Nepalese colours – mud reds, indigo and ochre. A local pub by a redbrick council estate spills people out into the early summer evening. Misplaced pudding-faced walkers, urban and ashen skinned, clutch their pints and look out to wide savannahs of wire sharp grass that grow beyond the swamp reeds of a still distant marshland. Chewing the crisp packet fat over memories of long distanced walks: exaggerated escapes from concrete chokey and unlikely fishing exploits and tips swapped and passed on: 'put Perrier in this canal and you could oxygenate the dead.'
Fish rise like aquiline Christs from sunken tramways set beneath the fine silt bed. As if on cue, a salmon with a display of temper cruises by, belly up, rung free from its cellophane tomb wrap (courtesy of the local Tesco Superstore) – a smile of slash gut, a grinning fish coyote, its scaly skin shimmering silver and purples amongst the petrol whirl-wash of slow moving water.
You're as likely to see a discarded shopping trolley or a deserted desert boot as any living being float upon this surface; but there are lovers here. Lone couples circle in the fringes, promenading the mud banks. Held close on one side by the claustrophobic, crumbling outskirts of the city and on the other by fields of secret kisses calling, blush tinged in the spreading sunset – the promised melt of soft lips joined. They walk in twos like swooning Bobbies on the beat; their fingers interweaved behind their backs. Dusk is their time to take the air, now momentarily sweet, before the sun floats down to disappear and the evening draws in and closes out the light.
Swans form couples too, but one swims alone. Tony, named after a long necked former defender of these parts, Tony Adams. He moves with a ferocious, glandular reputation to live up to. Encased in a brick-hard armour of snow pelt, he hisses like a tomcat if you get too close.
Down river on the bank, the famous Dalston Heron poses on his stilt-like old man's legs. He is as still as night and cranes his telescopic neck, his calm shape shifting in the shadows, his presence benign and balanced, somehow comforting.
A group of red-faces nestled together on picnic tables jab their frosty tongues and shout out the odds. And from there comes a small boy, escaping his drunken mother's shackles, emerging between heavy adult legs and rubbing at his eyes. He moves towards the heron, which stands quietly by a wall, its feathers blurring in the breeze. The boy reaches out with his hands and the heron lays his long, red bill gently on the boy's shoulder. And they find a space, air cuddled in between, and slowly rock: a melancholic waltz. From the aggravated throng splinters a shard of angular spite: 'Sean, where the fuck are you?'
Bobbing close by, like a small balsa wood boat, is a protective coot who blows his tiny soul trumpet through a Burger King straw – Zoot the Coot, whose shrill call-melody seems to rest on the woman's pitch each time she cries out. 'Sean!'; blast of coot; 'Fucking hell, Sean!'; more blast of coot; and so on until the boy and the heron are suddenly gone, and all is quiet again.
In a park, a small red vixen, slim and secure, slinks into the bushes where her family waits. The moon's now a yellow friend, passing shadows and light between the clouds, as the late night rolls softly on the velvety, ebbing sheen of the canal. And there, high on the grass, are the boy and the heron – suddenly lit, finding out safe places to hide and spotlights of moon dust to play and emerge into. The heron is watchful, standing proud, as the boy runs down a slope, his arms flapping through the air.
sundays were vicious liquor stores were closed mornings melted into noon sweat with no wake-up the air hurt on Sundays it whipped me inside my shirt collar carved a skinny size S in the back of my neck
today is sunday 20 years and a day later the air’s cut from velvet speaks as soft as a friend
in loving kindness a clean day unfolds
wooden spoon stirs cinnamon into raisin apple oatmeal poured into china royal blue fish yellow flowers sit by the window near bamboo plants and rose quartz healing hearts
coriander cools a hot bath new striped towels for me i am the guest in my house Coltrane thanks the universe would the sun rise the same way without his supreme love
it’s sunday a walking meditation coffee is hot and nothing hurts i’m a 3 o’clock kid without training wheels i fly through dark streets looking for spaldeens on rooftops if i keep looking up everything stays clean
It goes like this. The black room fills to the brim with warm air. And there is mom, squeezed to the edge of the mattress with her slim mouth slightly open and always anticipating, some infant tantrum. Mom never got over the postmortem stall that having a child engenders in a woman’s sleep patterns. She was and is, perpetually awake. Not a scream tonight though. Tonight you wake up and the balmy room is bursting with crimson light that melts to the sheets already warm and musky from Dad’s sweat.
She leaps from her back to her ass, and you are already there in her thin arms. Her mouth is moving and the red light is all over her face. It is all you can see. Then Dad on his feet from the bed to the window. Then we’re out to the kitchen, the hall, the driveway.
The source of the blaze as I came to find, had to do with the man next door. A gnarly old asshole -I’ve rarely heard him referred to as anything else-named Ron. He was too slovenly to be brutish and too boring to be any sort of personality. He did, however, poses his own talents as even I at my age had become aware.
There are those with a true sympathy for aged things and their past. And for them, the tears and slog that are carried in the smell of old things-especially of the deviant sort - give an unmistakable air of beauty. Then there are the walking sleaze who eat and sleep and play in pools of the world’s most stinking waste. Never mind sentimentality. A true cache for them and a fire hazard for the rest.
That Ron belonged to the latter is something I say without the slightest apprehension. He was a tireless collector of anything and everything worthless and depraved in humanity. He stuffed it in all corners from the top of his three story bungalow, through to the kitchen and into that moist green basement…back up the stairs, and through to the long back lot.
And oh what treasures! From the top there was war memorabilia of all sorts, old grenades and helmets and swords next to boxes of filthy comics, junk mail, and bottles of booze. Damp old records, weapons both functional and not, video tapes, radar detectors, radios, and surveillance devices that could only have been found in the back of some radio shack brochure.
Splashed throughout the stink was an array of pornography which his son and daughter and I took in like the dirty little sponges that we were, to say nothing of the daytime sexual acts that he forced upon his little wife despite any passerby with ears.
The house held the stench of a mouthful of rotting teeth. A giant cavity in the belly of the West Side.
But the real wonderland was in the back lot. See it strewn with dozens of battered cars, tire irons, engines, lawnmowers, all wading through the Cleveland air for no thing in the world save for children dancing over the lawnmower engines, or making combat with broken bits of steal, and whipping each other with old timing belts and rubber hoses. Just rust and iron and rust and steel and big pools of oil oil oil. We road our training wheels through rainbow pools of it and raced to the tops of El Caminos and old semi cabs. The whole lot withered and flaked and would certainly have outlasted us all were it not for the Ron’s plan to torch the bastard.
For him, there must have glimmered the hope that burning up this trash heap could afford him enough in an insurance settlement to fund years more of this bloated masturbation, securing a dismal enough caricature for his children to either detest or mimic and no betweens.
So he torched my wonderland. And sent, my mother, my father, and myself into a panic.
The mechanism for justice need not be intentional or even immediately apparent.
I wonder what old Ronald would have thought of my smooth face in his daughter’s crouch as it had been so placed by her very own hand only a couple years following the great inferno.
What grace. Call it moral providence!?
Really though, I cannot claim the victory as I was too young to know what that older girl was doing with my head. She, telling me to get on my knees and hold out my mouth. She was bigger, older.
But again, no victory. The faint taste of urine is all I can really discern from the incident and that alone was no match for what was left of Ron’s backyard, my playground.
Charred as is was, life went on and we played with the blackened rust, toyed with each other’s genitals. The games kept always from the parents who no doubt lead more grotesque lives than we could have ever imagined….and not in the least at the time.
Christine was a Beautiful little punk girl. She had an apartment Down by Lake Osborne. A sugar daddy That took care of her bills.
He would pay her Late night visitations. I guess it got her by.
Christine was stunningly beautiful, And photogenic. No one ever told her that. I was the first. They only wanted to keep her down. Didn't want her to reach her potential.
Christine she loved being photographed, Feeling like a model. She would call me, ell me she made us a picnic lunch. We would walk down to Lake Osborne. I would take her picture, Put her on the cover of my zines.
She was so happy. It was the only time I saw her happy. We would sit down by the lake Eating peanut butter and jelly.
I grew to love Christine. We hung out all of the time. But I knew deep inside, She wasn't the kind of girl I wanted to love.
I wrote my first real serious Poem At the club Sadly watching her move on the dance floor With blank vacant eyes.
Finally I had to do it. I told her how I felt. I gave her the only copy of the Poem that existed. I told her she deserved much better Than this life that she lived.
She read the Poem and cried, Told me she loved me too. But love complicates her life. She had to move to New Orleans, She was leaving tomorrow. She had to do it alone. She said she would cherish the Poem, And promised to write.
Two years I never heard from her. It was a shock to see her one night down on Clematis. But Christine was different, Something had changed. She had a baby with her. A baby just under two years old.
She told me she regretted leaving me. I told her she never gave a fuck. She proceeded to pull the Poem And my old zines out of her bag. I was starting to see The world did not revolve around me and my ego.
She said she was going home tomorrow, She needed a place to crash tonight. So we drove to Denny's so she could eat. She explained she got knocked up by some skinhead. She was so ashamed she just had to leave. Her father gave her the money To relocate to New Orleans And start fresh again. She said she always loved me. Always thought about what could have been.
Christine and I shared one night. Nothing even happened. We just laid there and held each other. Her baby was climbing all over us. I didn't care about anything I just held her. That was as close to Christine as I would ever get.
The next morning I took her and her baby Back to Denny's for breakfast. Then to the bus station Where I held her for the last time.
I have done a lot of things I have been very ashamed of in my life like shit myself while passed out drunk, turned away from whorehouses; have my wallet stolen by salacious girls but this may very well top them all.
I am not a particularly friendly person I like to drink any free moment regardless of consequences and I generally prefer drinking alone. The last of my old friends once told me, “your like an old man you sit alone in the corner and drink gin and never say a word to anyone.”
This is what happened on one of those evenings.
I am drinking destructively trying to empty out the Bombay Sapphire bottle that sits behind a bar on a little glass shelf taunting me all lit up and whore light. I’ll get you, you little minx. I believe I drank most of it but things got hazy. I do remember a women coming over and talking to me and she asked me who I was here with.
“I was supposed to meet my Dad but I guess he never showed up.”
I looked down and dashed the straw around through my drink.
“Well should you call him make sure everything is alright?”
“No, its sort of weird I have not seen my father since I was eight years old. The other day I was walking in the city and there he was and he begged me to talk for him for just a moment and I relented. He told me how bad he has felt abandoning me for all these years and that he did not know how to get in contact with me and he wanted to hire a detective to find out where I was but that he was not sure that I would speak to him and maybe now after all these years he thought maybe it would be best if he left me alone for my own sake but he always wondered.”
The woman was taking back. She really looked misty eyed and she put her hand on my shoulder and said she was so sorry. She bought a round and asked if I wanted company and I said in my best pathetic voice, “yeah that would be nice.” I must admit that was a great story and I actually thought that up before to use at an airport bar, which I did, but I will have to give you a rain check for that story.
She sits down and we start talking and her voice is a little weird like strained as if she smoked but I have heard that before in my own family so I let it go. We are draining drinks and she refused to let me pay for anything this is the first time this has ever happened to me so I was excited. When the tab came she paid it and excused herself and went to the ladies room. Jesus I am going out every night with this story I thought.
The women said I was obviously to drunk to drive and that I could come crash at her house besides she said she had more alcohol. We walked to her house in the gay district of Philadelphia and she poured us a couple of slow gin fizzes. We hung out and talked about shit no one ever remembers and then there was that awkward pause and we kissed. A girl who is willing to pay my bar tab and know make out with me I was contemplating marriage. Things got hot and heavy and the next thing I knew she was unzippering my zipper and going down on me. I had a lot to drink so I could barely get aroused she was down their for quite awhile.
Finally after some movement we decided to move into the bedroom. We’re fooling around and I lower my hand it feels weird down there but it was dark and I figured maybe she hadn’t shaved honestly I was not highly experienced in these situations. I grew up with Irish catholic girls who had stay at home mothers. The unspoken word was a girlfriend would sleep with you after you put in like a year. I could not hang around for a year so I lived on scraps like a raccoon. Then it happened one of those moments that no matter how drunk you are something happens that instantly returns you sober.
“Let me go into the bathroom and get my lube.”
“Yeah I thought it felt a little dry.”
“You know they can do wonders with operations nowadays but that is one thing they can not really figure out.”
She was up and in the bathroom with the light on shedding some light into the room. “What do you mean operation? Like cesarean or labiaplasty?”
“Ha ha very funny like you do not know.”
My mind was going a thousand miles an hour. “What the fuck are you talking about?” I jumped up and headed to the light in the bathroom and then I saw with a mixture of horror and doubt what I feared the most.
“Honey, you knew don’t act like that.”
I lost my mind. “You’re a fucking dude!”
“No I am a…”
“No you’re a faggot.”
I was in the bathroom now with a clenched fist. She jumped back and threw the lubrication on the sink and turned around very confidentially, “What you're gonna hit me?” I swear I am not making up excuses everything was still processing in my head and I was still piecing things together when a slippery fist slid off my nose and hit under my right eye. I fell back against the bathroom door.
“What tough guy what are you gonna due? You fag hag!”
I was now getting taunted as I tried zippering my pants up and picked up my sneakers to run out of the house. Outside on the sidewalk I could not believe what had happened. Blood was pouring out of my nose and I was stunned. I could not process where I was or anything I just started walking with my shoes in hand down Pine Street. After several blocks I sat down unable to think clearly. I wanted to cry I wanted to throw up but I could do neither.
Years later whenever people ask me why do I drink so much I contemplate to tell this story but then I stick with my standard line, “because Jesus died for our sins and I just can’t handle that.” Surprisingly this story never came up and I never told anyone and after all this time- after all these years I finally wrote it down and hope my children never read this.
I have absolved myself of all guilt however. I was very, very drunk. I did not go down on her/him although I do not know if it makes it any gayer or not. I was not fully hard which could be attributed to the booze in all fairness but I am going with it was because I am not gay. I was never told and honestly could not really tell in my condition it was dark everywhere we were. Shit, I would have probably suspected she was a vampire first. Hindsight is always 20/20 and of course I see some signs, the voice, the hands were a little big but not nearly as large as mine. I was taller than her/him by six inches so its not like we were the same body wise. She went home with me after about two hours that is fast even by one-night stands at least for me. Most importantly the thing that should have tipped me off the most was the balls (I’m kidding).
I now believe that modern science can be an evil despicable thing in the wrong hands.
I spent three of the best years of my life fucked up with insanity... doing time in seclusion rooms, hospital hallways and smokers courtyards spitting, and pissing on putrid food which nursing staff brought me through hospital room trapdoors while at night I hallucinated the nightmares of the dripping blood I witnessed rushing over me while I showered...
Another meaningless walk to the grindstone. The same anxiety crawling up inside my stomach. My fourth soul destroying job.
This current job is behind a bar at a pub quite near my place in town.
In order to get into the till at work, each member of the bar staff has a till key (how twee), which clip onto your trousers and extends once pulled - so that you can key yourself into the till and make a transaction. Each person’s key has their name built into it, so that when you key into the till, your name pops up. This is so they can tell who did what transaction, who made what fuck up. Sometimes I use other people’s till keys: “ALEX”, “CHARLIE”, “BEV”. Mine comes up as “SPARE”.
My favourite thing to do when no punters are looking is pull the till-key this way and that, extending and looping it around my fingers. Yes, this is the most exciting part of my day.
“Another pint please, love”, comes the same cockney screech from our most regular local, Cliff. He has a pint of London Pride, but served in a John Smith’s glass, as he insists this gives him another few millimetres of ale. Honestly, who gives a shit?
I untangle my fingers from my till-key and smile, before fumbling for a pint glass.
It is 9pm, about the time when my boss’s and married couple Henry and Lucy, begin to drink the night away.
“It’s our night off”, they say, “we’ve just been working so hard – need a break. You understand, right, honey?”
I nod and smile again, desperate to kiss some managerial ass. It’s always their fucking night off.
“By the way,” Henry says, “What’s this I hear about you being in a band?” I blush. I have been in a small band for some time now but had avoided mentioning it at work to steer clear from the tedium of explaining something that would make me sound like a musical snob.
The reason I adored the band so much was because I was in love with singing, and always have been. Despite my lack of self confidence, I’d managed to hold myself together for quite a few gigs. In this band I felt foolish but wonderful.
Henry probes and questiones me until I spill my guts about every detail of the band; its members, our genre, who plays what, who our influences are (I don’t even know), when our next gig is, all that musical ‘blah blah’ that makes me feel like a child being asked about school by a distant aunt.
Then, he asks something that frankly, I couldn’t answer:
“And why are you in the band?”
“Well,” I say, “…well…the publicity is good so we get a lot of gigs.”
“Why are you in the band?” He asks again.
“I think…I think sometimes it’s nice to…”
“Why are you in the band?” a third time.
His wife, Lucy, looks at him and rolls her eyes.
“Don’t worry love”, she says, “He’s doing the whole ‘music industry’ question on you.” Henry used to be in the music business, managing bands and the like. I wish I’d known this before he’d given me the fucking third degree.
I slam down the pint I am pouring and run out of the back, not stopping until I reach the door to the pub’s kitchen. My hands are shaking and sweating and I feel a need to keep swallowing, as if when I don't, some awful combination of fear and the thoughts of my band will surge up through my throat and spew out through the gaps in my teeth.
It is here that I realise, in the back of this grotty pub, that even this band, even singing, is just another way of passing the time. Like biting your nails, foreplay, turning the clocks back, or keeping a diary. All these things just add up to nothing.
And if your stupid dream can’t satisfy you, can’t make you happy, then what the hell can?
I pull at my till key, reassuring myself by wrapping its string around my fingers a few times. I swallow one last gulp and walk back into the pub, smiling through the realisation.