Friday, 31 December 2010

The First Fucking Year

I’m the first one there. Big shock.
But for once it’s not him keeping me waiting.



“Alright mate. Uh, yeah, I’m just at Moorgate, just by the exit. I’m guessing you’re on your way, on the tube. Just gimmie a shout when you’re here”


“Alright mate, yeah I meant the Moorgate exit, obviously”


“Hey, I just went off to buy some cigarettes, In case you wondered why I wasn’t there. OK, so I hope you get here soon. The curtains go up pretty soon and it’s a bit of a walk away”


“Uhhh, yeah. Sorry. Yeah, just getting a bit. Just don’t wanna miss the start, since Ad got us the tickets and all... OK... Give me a call... Soon...”


“OK, look. I’m gonna go. Yeah. I’m gonna head up there. OK. Yeah. I’ve been waiting... I don’t know... Half an hour already and I don’t know when you’re gonna turn up but I really don’t wanna be late for this and I’m bored shitless so, yeah, I’m gonna go already. Yeah. I’m gonna go.
OK, hopefully see you there, I hope.


The wood pigeons sound the same.
Still sound the same.
As all the other times.
As all the other places.
As all the other years.
Again, with the wood pigeons.


“Why did he do it? Why would he do any of it”
Traffic noise.
A boiler.
The muted arguments of the family next door.
“That’s... stupid. Why did he do any of it? Why did he have that stupid tattoo? Because it was him. That’s all”
The sound of a CD player failing to load.
A flint wheel turning and igniting gas.
A phone ringing in another room. Again.

“He. You know. He went out feet first”
My dad said. Somehow this was meant to be consolation. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t now.

Sometimes I make up awful goodbye messages, a terribly written poem in the middle of a note he might have written, like he knew what was going to happen

I hope that somehow
You will find
The happiness in life
I was denied

But I realise that it was nothing to do with him and everything to do with me because I remember the sound of his laughter and I can’t remember mine.
And I think of tattoos, I think of grey hairs, I think of scarred knuckles and I think of lines on my forehead that will be there forever and how none of these things were there a year ago.

And one year later, what is left?



But muted. Just under, but under, still. Waiting for a moment, opportune or no. Waiting, just behind the necessity of basic function. Just waiting.

“Alright... mate?”
There were fresh flowers, from yesterday, maybe. But the grass was getting long.
“Were you a mate..?”
“Yeah. Yeah, Mash. We’ve met before”

Once when I was 20, at a moving-in party at my first house, Mash claimed my room as the coke room. No announcement or anything, just that was that and the people that knew, knew. I did not. I walked in for whatever, change of t-shirt I think. Would it surprise you to learn that I’m a clutz? I guess given the way I walked passed everyone, it was pretty obvious. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how these things are. Later, I came back with my mate John, I wanted to show him a record or something. Mash was still there in the same spot on my bed, racking up on a copy of the Richard D. James album. First pressing.
“Here” he said, handing me what looked like a small joint.
“Yeah. Cheers”
“It’s coke”
“Oh, right”
“You know, cos it’s your room and everything, I wanted to show you some thanks for letting me be here”
“Oh, right”
I took a big lug and passed it to John, who hung onto it, taking a series of small tokes.
“ Uh, mate, I, yeah, I only gave it to you because it’s your room, so, uh...”
“Oh, right”

“Met you a whole bunch”
“I’m sorry, I don’t...”
“I played with your band a few times”
“Uh, Rob?”
“Sorry, uh, mate, I’m a bit...”
“Don’t worry about it. We all are”

The whiskey still tastes the same.
Still tastes the same.
As all the other times.
As all the other places.
As all the other years.
Again, with the whiskey.

The lurid orange and black Mazda, facing an equally preened and cared-for Morris Minor 1000.
The tree with dozens of weighted plastic bags hanging from it.
The shop where I would buy tobacco, king sized rizla and snacks on the way to Stan’s house.
The bridge that the girl was pushed off of.

The muted, accusatory look of the young child who worked in the shop, outside, waiting for the car to be unloaded.
A middle aged man walking a dog, picking up shit in a plastic bag, spinning it round and throwing it into the tree, where it would hang. Stuck on the bare branches.



Sam chewed at his fingernails the way he was told that he should never do. He did it anyway, because he hated waiting and he hated waiting alone. And he hated the hours of 2-3 on a Monday and 11-12 on a Thursday, because he was never any good at maths and when he couldn’t work out the things that everyone else could work out, he would pinch himself under the table so no-one could see. He hated the maths block and wished they would fix the roof and get rid of the stupid ‘port-o-cabins’ and give them that bit of the playground back.

“Samuel!” was his full name and when said by his mother would freeze him instantly. But when said by a teacher was easier to ignore.

“Samuel!!!” was a muted noise from across the playground that didn’t intrude on his thoughts on the film about the aliens he watched last week that he wasn’t allowed to watch but Danny’s parents didn’t care.

“Samuel!!!!” had done something wrong. Again.

“Are you deaf as well as ugly? Didn’t you hear me shouting?”
“What are you doing here? Weren’t you listening this morning???”
“Maths has been cancelled- there’s a special assembly that Mr. Davis is leading in the hall! Get over there quickly!!! “
“Well, go on!”

Mr. Davis would take Sam’s class every Friday before lunch. He was a lot more fun than Mrs. Young and would tell them all stories. One of the stories was about a girl who was in a plane crash and she landed in South America in the jungle and had to survive in the jungle for weeks before she was found but she had a broken collar bone and it was all open and sticking out of her skin and she had to pick the maggots out. Mr. Davis would pronounce it ‘maggits’ and smile with glee as the children all made disgusted noises.

Mr. Davis had a thick, black beard and lived near Sam. Sam knew this because he would sometimes see him when walking home. He drove a small, white Bedford Rascal and would smile at Sam if he saw him.

Mr. Davis wasn’t smiling today.

He stood at the end of the main hall. Everyone was sat around for assembly. Except it wasn’t assembly. The projector was set up and there was a slide of a girls smiling face on the wall behind Mr. Davis. No one joked or laughed or giggled. Under the name of the girl it said 1979-1992.

Sam didn’t need to read the name of the girl. None of them did. They all knew who it was.
For the first time, Sam noticed the white hairs in Mr. Davis’ beard.

If I could see into the future, like I wanted to when I was a child, would I want to see myself pulling up the long grass of an unkempt grave? Throwing away dead flowers and smashed Martell miniature bottles?
Would I have seen myself forgetting his birthday until a few days too late?
Will I see myself one day realising that I’m far older than him. That people his eternal age will seem like children to me?

At break time, Martina ran the track. Everyone knew why.
Because she could move fast. Everyone said it. The students, the teachers, the school newsletter, the awards on her mantelpiece. The mouths of the parents seeing her in action, forming silent impressed expletives.

Girl could move. Fast.

She had started to run for the county and people were even talking about training and future careers. Martina didn’t want to think about that, she just didn’t want to end up like her older sister, saddled with a child at 16. As long as people were letting her do something she loved, she would be happy.

One of the most important things she learned was to never look behind her.
If only she had, she might have seen him coming before his hands were on her shoulders.

Martina could move. Fast. Everyone said so.

Sometimes it would just be mobile signals cutting out in the exact spot. Sometimes people said that they could hear that young girl running on the bridge. Someone even said they saw her running on the track she fell onto, trying to outrun a train that wasn’t there.

More people arrived. Ones I knew, who I knew would be there. Who I didn’t have to call.
Jim silently sat next to me and put his arm round my shoulders. More came. And more. And more. Blankets and food and drinks and ignoring the few other people in the cemetery and the graves around his. Laughing and eating and bitching about him and joking and taking turns filling the void that he had left in every conversation, with acerbic and loving comments.
“Look at that man over there. What is he, tending the graves or something?”
“Oh yeah”
“Shit, look at him. You ever seen Young Frankenstein?”
“Hahaha, shut up- I know! I know!”
“Where’s the fucking toilet?”
“There aint one”
“What you mean there aint one?”
“Think about it, Si, it’s not like people are rocking up here having picnics and drinking all the time like us bunch of degenerates”
“Shit, I might just have to go on his grave, you know. ‘Here you go, Stan, have some of this- I’ve missed you, mate!!!”
Laughing until we cried.

“I’ll have a double Brandy”
“Fucking hell, I forgot about you and your expensive tastes”
Stan shrugged and brushed imaginary dust off his imaginary lapel.

We sat in a booth of the old pub. Just secluded enough to give you the impression of privacy.
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I’m out late. She knows this. She knows this. She said it was fine. But then she’s waking me up and shouting at me cause her and all her friends are meeting up for this thing and I’ve got to be there because I’m never there. I’m always saying I’ll be there but I’m never there. And so she’s shouting at me and then I come along but because I’m a bit late she won’t talk to me. And then none of her friends will either. Look at me. I didn’t even have enough time to spit this morning. And she went!”

And so we watched.
The drinks.

“You know... I’m glad you turned up. I mean. I owe you a lot. I know. After all I’ve been saying. I know. But if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be together”
“I don’t know whether you should buy me a drink or punch me in the face”
“I’m serious”

Hours and drinks passed. With nothing but snacks to sustain us, we wobbled as we left. I floated. Behind his confidence and self-worth and investment in me. Straight into the fireworks shop.

“What we doing here?”
“Almost bonfire night, innit? This is my guy. Yes boss! How you doing?”
“Very good sir! How much you want to spend this year?”
“You can’t really spend less than £50, you want to do it proper”

Outside, we hugged and said goodbye. I floated home. That wasn’t one of the last times I saw him, but for some reason it always pops up.

Cheap fireworks and booze. Just as fitting a metaphor as any other, I suppose.

“Remember that time he bought all those fireworks? He spent loads of money on them and they wouldn’t work?”
I looked up at Alice.
“Ha! Yeah, they were shit!”
We both laughed.
“Come on then, kid. Coming back to ours for a cup of tea?”
“Yeah, ‘course”

Alice held her hand out to me and we walked out together.
The last to leave, she was waiting for me.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


“Swear down, pregnancy is popular now as silver rizla. All these wottless gyals. Get one of them three wheel prams, house off the council, pay your rent, don’t gotta do nuffing but squeeze a kid out”

A man walks on the tube with his two sons. They fold down the seats and start talking.
“We need to change at Elephant, dad” says the eldest of the two boys.
The dad looks up at the display.
“Yeah, alright, hold on. This. Train. Is. The. Southbound. Northern. Line. Service. For. Morden.”
He read of the words from the automated display one-by-one.
“Bank. Branch. The. Next. Station. Is. Moorgate. Please. Stand. Clear. Of. The. Closing. Doors.”
Yesterday I would have laughed at him. Maybe secretly, maybe under my breath, maybe out loud if I was with a friend. Instead I notice the smiles and looks on his boys faces. Pride and admiration.
Yesterday I would have laughed at him.
Instead, I draw my coat closer around me and gently feel my stomach through my side pocket.

Week 3

My hand shook as I put on the kettle. As it boiled, I hesitated for a moment, wondering if caffeine is okay. Then I held my head and laughed until I cried as it began to sink in how completely unprepared I am.
Phone in one hand, hospital letter in the other, my thumb rested on the green ‘call’ button. But I couldn’t bring myself to press it.

Week 4

“And how about smoking”
“I’ve... yeah. I’ve stopped...”
“I can’t stress how important it is that you continue to give up. You may find times over the next few months... I’m sure that you have managed to quit, but if you need any help keeping it up, please don’t hesitate to call us. You can see a nurse at your local GPs office, or call this number”
“That’s... Thanks... thank you”
“Ms. Balashova”
He caught me as I was desperately trying to leave. I just wanted information, not a judgement.
But I relented.
“You’re not the first young woman to find yourself in this... situation, you know? You’re in the best possible hands you could be in”

I don’t know whether he paused, or I just imagined it. Either way, I nodded, smiled and shut the door behind me.

Week 5

“I know, I know, I know what you think, mamma, but its fine. I can’t put my life on hold and it’s not like I’m...
I know but...
Shut up! Would you shut up! Look, it’s not like I’m drinking myself, I’m just serving...
But they...
That’s so...
LOOK! They can’t smoke in there! They can’t! There was a law passed three years ago! Don’t you remember? Don’t you even watch...
But I...
I won’t...
I won’t have to go outside... I won’t matter, mamma!
I’m not going to let you...
Of course I’m going to carry on. I’ve almost finished my second year, I’m not going to drop out now.
I know...
Look. LOOK! I’ll talk to Andrew this week.
He’s my tutor. I’ve told you about...
No he’s not the one who said I could get a 1st, he’s not my lecturer...
I’m going to look into deferring...
I know I don’t...
I slammed the phone down and my hand shook again, again. This time with rage.
I spent the next 45 minutes throwing up.

Christ, what I’d give for even just a rolling paper sticking to my chapped lips, tearing them apart. To bleed into the end of a cigarette, turning it red, brown. A shot of the worst whiskey I could buy, burning my throat, stripping off layers and tearing up my guts, anything to let me think I was anything more than a vessel, nurturing all of my mother’s ambitions that failed to materialise in me.

Week 6

I spoke to Andrew and we looked into me taking a year out. He said I could come back at another time, that he would talk to some people, see what the options were. That’s all I know about at the moment. Options. Choices that I have to make. Everyone nodding and holding my hand and smiling. Kind but meaningless gestures. Waiting for me to give them an answer. I don’t want support. I just want it to go away.
I just want this thing to go away.

Paul came round. He had an Argos catalogue with all of the corners turned down on pages about cots and prams. Fucking post-it notes sticking out everywhere. He’d spent ages researching, budgeting, comparing the top of the line items in comparison to what ‘he thought’ ‘we’ could afford.
“I’m gonna make this right for you. I’m gonna get a good job and take care of you and... you don’t have to worry about a thing. It’s all gonna be ok from here on out”
Then he looked me deeply in the eyes, put one hand on the small of my back and the other on my belly. I think this was the most romantic moment of his life, the moment where he thought he was becoming a man. I asked him to leave and he didn’t understand why. He just looked confused and didn’t move until I shouted at him.
I know he’s trying hard. God bless him, he’s trying so fucking hard.

But he’s such a dickhead.

Week 7

The gel was cold. The sonogram kind of hurt when he ran it over my stomach, but I don’t know if this was because I expected it to. I don’t know if it really did. Maybe I wanted it to. All I can think of is when I was 15 and I was drunk and fell and hit my head on a concrete post and they made me take a CT scan. In the scant moments of sobriety, the kind of sobriety that worry gives a drunk, I found myself thinking, knowing that I had fractured my skull and that blood was seeping into by brain or liquid was seeping out of it, but either way I would be dead if I closed my eyes. Then they asked me to close my eyes and I was sick inside the machine and they had to stop while they cleaned it up. And I remember the look on my mum’s face, complete disappointment in me being alive, and I started to feel sick again and I was so glad she wasn’t there with me today.

He doesn’t mention a gender and I’m glad. I don’t know if it’s too early and I don’t want to. Paul would be able to tell me. He’s read a lot of books on this, but I can’t face talking about it, let alone reading it.
I can’t start thinking about it other than as an ‘it’. I can’t let become a person. I can’t become attached.

Week 13

I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I don’t know why but I couldn’t do it.
Paul was talking about moving in together again and I couldn’t take it and I told him what I was thinking, but just because I wanted him to shut up. I didn’t want to hear what he thought or how he was going to support me in whatever decision I could make I just wanted him to shut up. And he did. He sat down. And after a few minutes he slowly spat out the words
“Oh... OK
Well, you know...
It’s your right... to choose...”

That’s as far as he could get. He left. I didn’t even ask him to. He just doesn’t understand. None of them do.

When I was 14 years old I saw a girl from my primary school on television. Teiga. She was African, I can’t remember from where. She was always a bitch to me but she had come to England as a refugee, so I always figured... She’d had it tough. Actually, that’s bullshit. I hated her, but I never said anything to her face. The show was about underage pregnancy. She now spoke with a think London accent and I was fucking glad I wasn’t her. I laughed when I saw her face because it was her that had fucked her life up, not me.

Last year I met up with another friend from school. Laura. She was my ‘best’ friend, back when that meant something. She told me about Helen, who she’d run into some months before. She was now married, worked in Bellingham in the offices of a pest control firm and had a kid who was coming up to eight years old. Eight fucking years old. That’s almost how old we were last time I saw that girl. She was always so bright. First to put her hands up, gold stars, good at sports. And there she was with a kid. And for the first time I can think of I was so glad I wasn’t her either.

Why didn’t they get those fucking things aborted and get on with their lives?
I didn’t know when I was 14, I didn’t know last year and I don’t know now.
But I’m just like them. Just like both of them.

Week 14

I’m getting fat.

Week 16

A few months ago I couldn’t spell amniotic. I thought it probably had a ‘y’.
(I could, I’m just being mean. But you get the point?)
All this gross medical stuff. I’m a chamber. I feel like their looking at me like a fragile walking test tube. The only interest is what’s inside me.

I was using his computer the other day. Paul’s. And I found some... pictures. Of her. His ex. Her. On his computer. She was lying down and she only had a bra on and she was holding herself open.
I couldn’t see her face, but I knew it was her.

This is who I have, who is going to ‘help me’ and ‘be a good father’. I laughed in his face when he said he would take a bullet for me. Under what exact circumstances this would be applicable, I don’t know.
I’m laughing twice as hard now.



Week 19

Hospital again. A check up. Waiting, the smell of bleach and not thinking about having a cigarette AT ALL. Those poor old bastards outside, sitting on a wall and discussing their operations or sport results or whatever the hell it is old men outside hospitals talk about.

There was a girl in the same waiting room. She had matted hair and looked in a daze, like she had been sleeping on a bench inside the hospital. It took me a while to realise she was my age. We had both done bar work at the same place. Different times, of course. The Rose and Crown. I tried talk to her about Ian, the manager, but I could tell the words weren’t going in. She was waiting for her boyfriend to wake up.
I bought her a coffee.

Week 22

I put my hand on my big stomach and I felt it move. I felt this thing. This ‘him’ move inside of me. I don’t know if I can do this, I really don’t. Hope can I support a child on bar wages, with university debts and a ‘boyfriend’ who is too stupid to realise when a condom is broken?
He’s wasn’t even... We don’t... I didn’t even like him that much...
I can’t be stuck with him because of this.

Week 24

He’s kicking a lot. I sleep with my hand resting on him and coo to him. I wouldn’t ever let anyone know that.

Week 29

I struggled on the bus today. An old man pushed me on by shoving my arse. I turned round, stared at him and almost popped him in the nose. Old fucking letch.
Funny to think that that was the only sexual attention I’ve had in months, since I found out. Everyone else views me as a porcelain Madonna.

I’m still going shopping, despite my mother’s protesting. No matter how much of a struggle it is, I’m not going to be waited on.

I was so tired that night, I finally let Paul come round and do the cooking for me. I still wouldn’t let him stay over, though.

This thing inside of me. I can look after it.
I can look after him.
This little boy.
I can give him a name.

Sunday, 31 October 2010



Light hitting the crystalline surface of the Arabian sea.




All of the clichéd blues used to sell tropical waters to backpackers and tourists of more disposable income, not bound for medical school or Israeli national service.

A cool breeze.

The slow sound of the sea.

Now as distant, as ill remembered as last night’s television.

A day, a week, a year for every hour sat cramped on the long haul, idly flicking through the small television in the back of the headrest. Awful films I’d gladly missed.

A travel chess set without an opponent.


Time for another. The same time every day, I was told. Make sure you don’t skip any. They didn’t say why. It could get bad if you do. They didn’t say how. They have the days of the week on them so it’s easier.
Another. I feel it slowly dissolving. And with it the gritted teeth and smiling and inappropriate happiness.
In the back of my old notebook. The number for the door still the same.
The magnetised lock buzzes open and I push against the weight of the reinforced door, dragging my bag up the four flights. I’m aware of the anxious feeling I have, but it’s as if I was been told about a story with which I could not fully empathise.
(no bits)

“Uh, yeah?”

Dim, suspicious eyes meet mine, head on. Low bass and the sickly sweet smell of over processed skunk, a world away from the hand-pressed charas I’d become used to.
...and the...


“Oh, hi. I uh. Oh, shit, didn’t she say?”
“Fuck, I’da thought she would have. This is awkward. I’m Al, I’m meant to be staying...”
I can feel him as he looks at me. I try not to flinch.
“Oh shit, right, right, right, yeah. You’re the dude, right? Right. Yeah, yeah, of course man, come in”
I lift the burden for what I hoped was the last time. I don’t grimace.
“So yeah, make yourself at home man, I guess the sofa’s yours for the next...”
I smile a silent thanks.
“You want a coffee?”

I say yes before I know what I’m doing.

“So, Sal’s, uh, at work at the moment I guess, but, you know, just crash out, whatever”
He brings over the coffee. Milk and sugar without asking.
“So, you, uh, you were away for a while, right? Where were you?”
I start to tell him. The précis. The guarded, rehearsed, truncated version. An overview. A few funny anecdotes about a different world. I don’t know if he knows. I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about...
The waves lap around my ears. My words get slower. The breeze again, and the warm feeling
of opium


I spend the first few minutes of my new day wondering where I am. I can’t tell where the dreaming stops, where the world started. A thick layer of film. Sweat. The empty feeling of unconscious ejaculation. The itch.

The flat was empty. I was lying flat. Someone had tucked me in, put a blanket over me. I stagger to my feet. Knock the cold coffee over. Then I just remember staring at my hands.

I’m trying to translate.
Added, or taken away?
Did I do this wrong?

What happens if I do this wrong?

What happens.

I scan through my old texts. From Sal. I only go back so far. I can’t go further. I can’t.

Of course you can stay. As long as you need. Stay strong xxx

When do you get in?

I can’t wait!!!

OK, I’m gonna be at work then. I can’t come out and meet you.

I’ll leave a key under the mat.

It’s OK. One of my flatmates will be in.

The front door is usually unlocked. If you have any problems, text me. I can’t answer the phone.

I’m sorry. I’m so busy.

I can’t wait to see you.

The first hot tap I have used for months gives way with a little work. Gingerly stripping, the clothes don’t want to come off and I feel like I’m flaying myself. The burns are starting to fade.
I am enveloped in a womb. The spray. I had forgotten what a good shower felt like. Even an average one. I had become used to a lukewarm spray, heated by the air. What felt like being urinated on by a tramp with prostate problems. I would always say. She would always laugh and then ask me how I knew.
She would always laugh.
Even when her eyes were glazed.


Clicking sound in my ears again. Every time I yawn. These things are making me yawn. A lot.

I unpack and repack my bag 3 times, before deciding to leave.

Did you see the keys? I left them on the side. Get a set cut and leave them out for me tonight x

Won’t you be back later?

No. Sorry. Can’t. Staying with a friend.


“Oh hey, man”
Steve stood in the kitchen with a fish slice in his hand, a little like he’d been caught doing something other than frying eggs. Bleary eyed, that sweet heavy smell again.
“How was your day?”
Another rush of serotonin, and I smile.
“Pretty good, thanks. I had a bit of a look around”
“You lived here, no? Before...”
“Uh, no. Me and Sal knew each other from uni, then she moved up here, and I...”
I look down and wipe my eye. Let the sting pass.
“Do you. Uh. Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Nah man. It’s fine by me, go for it”
Steve smiles at me and I can’t read it. Like a painting. Like a painting I don’t give a shit about.
“Oh, I got some keys cut, so I won’t have to keep bothering you about the front door”
“Ah, good idea, man. I mean, it was no bother, but thanks”
“It was actually Sal’s idea”

It was here. It was this point. I swear to god. The corners of his mouth. They moved like he knew something I didn’t. I swear to god.

“Put some music on, man. Whatever you like”
“Oh, thanks”
“I’d offer you dinner, but I haven’t got much in- I’m eating eggs and potato waffles!”
“Ha. No. No, man. It’s fine. I ate in town”
“You want some of this, then?”
Steve shoves a joint at me. I stare at it for a while, trying to connect the visual with past memories and a thought of what might happen.
“Go on, mate. It won’t bite!”
“Fuck it, go on”
It wasn’t long before I drifted again.

The dry feeling in my mouth. The jitter. Silent electricity. Everything momentarily jumps. I was in a room. I was in a white room with sloping walls and there was a knocking on the door and a train going by the window and it’s... gone. It’s all gone.

The shower retains all comfort and no novelty.
I make a cup of tea and smoke. And I stare at her door. Her locked door. Again.

Morning! Will you be in later?

Try afternoon! I’ll send you a message later. x

I look at my watch and realise it’s almost 2.
Don’t be late. Don’t be late. Fucking things.
Can’t be late.
For the ‘plane. For the doctors. For the train. Can’t be late.
But I am. I was.
I take one with my tea and light another cigarette. Wait for the rush again.
And I stare at her door.
I look at the screen, at the flashing cursor. At my name. At my date of birth. At the words CURRICULUM VITAE. I try and sum up a lifetime ago in easily digested sentences, but I just don’t care enough.
Instead I look through my texts again. Through the call list. I realise the only contact I’ve had with her has been through email or SMS. The last time we spoke was months ago, over a crackly line in an STD centre (ha ha) the middle of one god-forsaken city or another on the upper west coast . I was homesick and I needed to hear a friendly voice. I threw a load of cash down and paid for an hour and we talked. We talked about jobs, old friends, current romantic entanglements. She told me about... about her housemate. About how weird it had gotten.
He’d been living there a month and after a while, they’d started fucking. I groaned and slapped my head, making sure she could hear.
“I know, I know, I know” she had said.
“Jesus, you’re right. You’re always right. You’re my fucking moral compass”
“Well thank you”
“And you’re such a fucking dick about it”
We both laughed for RS50 as the old man fixed a computer in the other room and his wife swept and pottered and drank chai, silently, politely waiting for me to finish up so they could close for the evening.

After a couple of weeks it had gotten weird, she told me. So she cut it off. But he refused to move out, even though the contract was in her name. He liked the flat, liked the area and liked trying it on with her, still. He locked himself away a lot and she wouldn’t see him for days on end. And when they did, it would be manic screaming. She started crying, telling me how much she hated it, how she couldn’t get him to leave, how it was worse than any of her terrible relationships (of which there had been a few) and how she thought he’d hacked into her email and how she wished it would just end.
And then.
I remember.
The phone.

The old man shrugged and checked the line a few times. Tried it on a local call, which worked. Sometimes it does this with international calls, he said. Just have to wait for tomorrow, he said.
Goodnight bhaiya, I said.

I remembered this. And I stared at the computer screen.
But really, I was just staring at her locked door.

“Here ‘yar mate”
Steve hands me the joint.
“Good day?”
Steve smiles at me and I feel like shivering.
“Uh, yeah. Yeah. I handed my CV into a couple of places. Coffee shops, you know. Nothing I particularly want to do, but you know...”
“Oh, I know, don’t worry”
He smiles at me. I smile back and I feel sick inside. I pass him back the joint.
“So, uh, what is it that you do?”
“Oh, I’m just temping at the moment. I’m on the phones at PRS, calling people up, making sure they have their licences”
“Oh right”
“Heh, like you say, not exactly what I want to be doing”
He winks and slaps my arm and I gag a little.
I silently drift off again, except this time I don’t. I just play the best possum I’ve ever played. I hear him creep off, wait for the soft music to come on in his room and boot up the computer.
It was at least three weeks before I heard from her again. It was a brief missive apologising for her histrionics on the phone. It seemed detached, but ended with an ‘x’.
Then another three weeks to reply to my reply.
To my reply.
I replied with a joke. To cheer her up. One that only she would get.
“There’s a street/
With a shop/
In the shop it sells lots of chocolate...”
In her response, she didn’t even mention it. Just a three line email, ending with an ‘x’. And the next one. And the next. And the one after. They didn’t sound like her. Neither did the texts. None of them sounded like her and they all ended with an ‘x’.
I tried to sleep. I tried.

At some point I was running. On the beach. I was running after a woman who will not turn around for a fear that I will disappear. I ran and I ran and I ran and I came across a door and I reached out to open it and I could hear footsteps and the door opens and I realise that I’m in the real world once again and her door is open and I can see legs and they look like male legs leaving her room and I can’t see any women’s legs but everything is light and dark and a painful blur and I can’t keep my eyes open any more but I can hear the lock go. And I’m back on the beach again prying at a door.

And I wake up. And I know exactly what has happened. What he has done.

Can’t be late.
For the police. For her parents. Can’t be late.
11.45. And I wait to become rational again.

I get back in. Before he gets back. I make sure it’s before he gets back. I take a kitchen knife and a rolling pin and wait in the dark. I’ll find out what has happened. I’ll make him tell me. I know what has happened. But I’ll make him tell me.
I sit, smoking and staring at her door in the dark.
And I close my eyes.
I got up and forced the lock. It gave straight away. Behind her door was a blinding light, a warmth, a softness. It washes over the grit and the artificial joy and all the things that I can’t even begin to face and wraps me in a fantasy world that has been ripped away, that does not exist anymore. The soft white sand, the blue of the sea, the perfect sunset. A coconut in my hand. The note on the other side. “Dear Mum and Dad, the weather here is beautiful. I have made lots of friends
Of friends
Of friends


And.. and...
...the... people here are very friendly.
Miss you both, I wish you could be out here to see how wonderful this place is.
Call again soon.
Lots of love,
Al xxx”
Turn over again, back to the perfect scene.
A woman walks past.


I know her.


Her path cuts across me. For a moment, her hand lightly draws across mine. She looks me dead in the eye, black hair across her face. She says something. Her mouth moves, but I can’t hear it. There aren’t any words. She walks a few paces on and falls on to the sand. I keep walking. I try to stop. I try to stop but I can’t. I’m walking towards the door.


Towards the door.


My hand is out already,


before I get to it. It offers no resistance,


like I’m not really there, like it stopped existing.


And I’m in a room. I’m in a bedsit in a hot fishing town and I can hear the creaking of the Chinese nets outside the window and the low put put put of a rickshaw and I know exactly where I am


And the woman is there. She is there again and she’s lying on the bed


She is lying face down. There’s a broken pipe on the floor and a sweet smell in the air. Sandalwood incense and something else.


I reach out to her and I touch her shoulder

And she won’t. She doesn’t.


She reaches out to me.
“Al? Al!”
I can’t speak.
“Al. Did I wake you?”
I shake my head
“I’m so sorry, I’ve been so busy. I’ve wanted to see you, but there’s been absolutely no time. I’m so sorry I haven’t been here. I had to stay at my friends, near work...”
I get up, stagger to my feet and run my hands through my sopping hair.
I walk towards Sal and I hug her as tightly as I can.
“Shh. It’s OK. I’m here”
Even though I know she’s late, she gives me precious, silent minutes.
“I’ve... I’ve got to go now, but I’ll meet you after work. Come in, we’ll go for dinner or something, ok?”
“Look, sleep in my bed while I’m gone. Get off that sofa. I’ll... I’ll look after you. Take care, honey”
She kisses my cheek and then slowly, regretfully leaves. I open her door, lie down and close my eyes again.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Strangers on a Train, Ha Ha

The sharp smell of cigarette smoke in the air, so obnoxiously out of place on a tube carriage, hangs as the equally obnoxious laughter fades. The chatter of people excited by the vicarious thrill of close proximity to lawbreaking.

“Ha ha ha, I couldn’t believe it”
“Are you allowed to do that?”

A man who could be called Patrick or Connor or many other names but here will be called Michael, stares at the chip of a half-smoked cigarette. Picking up the free tabloid commuter rag, he straightens it out to the front page, crosses one leg over the other, strokes his beard and then lights the stub. The electricity of excited conversation starts again, all above Michael’s head, below his interest.

“Ha ha ha ha ha, look now HE’S at it”
“Have they changed the laws or something?”

Alex or Peter or Andy or another Michael but, for the purposes of this narrative, Ashley quickly changes the lens on his DSLR. He hurriedly sits next to a man wearing a black jacket and a scowl, standing on his foot and shoving his elbow off the rest. Ashley does not have time to apologise, he is too busy preparing to ‘document reality’. He focuses on Michael, but will not ask his name. When the photo sells for £400 (plus frame) it will be titled ‘Tramp Smoking on Tube’. He will debate with his agent over whether it should be ‘tramp’ or ‘homeless man’ before coming to a mutual decision that ‘tramp’ is more shocking.

Focus being much of the job, Ashley wears his ‘game face’ but inside is a child who has just assembled his first mechano set and is waiting to show his dad, or an 18 year old, knowing for the first time what they wanted to dedicate their life to after numerous years of attempts and false-starts.

Downtime by Ashley Simmons

I sit alone
Inside my head (yeah)
And think about you

Every word you said (yeah)
What else am I
Supposed to do?

Scratching at the walls and waiting
While you leave me hesitating
Wasting time while you’re debating
F------------------E/F-----D (ring out)
Whether to leave me blue


Michael sits smoking, reading the paper. When getting to the sports section, he elbows the man next to him and points to a story.

“What do you think of that then?”

The man, who could be called Chris or Steve or John or Tom but for the purposes of this fiction will have no name as he does not feature again, smiles and engages in conversation, knowing this will result in at least a passably amusing story to tell his friends. He calls him ‘mate’ to show that he does not have a problem with Michael’s homelessness, his thick accent, or his smoking on the tube. He does not remember the King’s Cross fire, in which 31 people died. He was 6 at the time and liked lego and football. Michael may or may not remember, but either way does not care. Circumstance, alcohol and an unbalanced economic system have rendered it so he cares about very little but himself, and even then barely at all. But it was not always the case:

Here is a rhyme
He would skip and sing
Before growing ashamed
To do such a thing

“There is a ghost which sings
Walloo, walloo, walloo
Inside a broken house
There is a bird which calls
Tralloo, tralloo, tralloo
While stretching out his wings
But if they were to meet
Halloo, halloo, halloo
In halls or in the street
Then who, wholloo, wholloo
Do you think
Would be afraid
Of who?”

He was no longer ashamed. That most adult of feeling had long since faded, replaced by greater shames, and those too in turn until there wasn’t anything left to be ashamed of. Michael could simply no longer remember much of his childhood.
Ashley stands up again, walking past the scowling man. He stands four feet away from Michael, holding his DSLR at chest height. It can also record video to an exceptionally high quality. This is why he’d bought that model. It cost almost £3,000 (tax deductible) and was proof to himself and his family, if any were needed, of his professionalism and dedication. He records Michael’s conversation, and more importantly, the holes in his shoes, the dirt under his fingernails and in his skin, and most importantly of all, the cigarette, which Michael smokes until the cherry reaches the filter. He then drops it on the floor and stubs it out, leaving a black smear. Ashley captures this too. Michael then returns to silently reading the paper, which holds little interest to Ashley. Instead, he sits opposite Lawrence and tells him what good footage he’s got.

For the first time Ashley notices the scowling man, despite standing on his foot and jostling him. But this is not why the man was scowling. Ashley notices the man sharing his disdainful gaze between the two parties, both Michael and himself. The man shakes his head and mutters what appear to be obscenities. Ashley, affronted, returns his stare before nodding upwards at Lawrence and pointing the man out. But the man seemed unperturbed.

This man had not always been so angry. Once he was a child, like we all were, and like some of us thought he was carefree for most of that time. He now looked back on his childhood with an unfairly weighted fondness, as do some of us. Life had subsequently been unkind to this man, as it is to all of us, and as it is to none of us as it is nothing more than a series of occurrences in four dimensions.

Let us say his parents died.
Let us say that he never got to say goodbye.
Let us say that he lost his money.
Let us say that he lost his wife.
Let us say that he lost his home.
Let us say that instead he kept them all, but could never accept that he was actually gay, or bisexual, or a woman born into a man’s body.
Let us say that it was nothing near this tragic and he just went through an ordinary, if unfulfilling life.

And so, cruel as I am, I make it that it is all, or one or none of these things, but just enough to bait his anger into dancing for your amusement.

Although agnostic, the man anthropomorphised existence just as much as anyone of any faith. ‘Fate’, ‘luck’ and ‘fairness’ were applied to random events. It was this and a biological predisposition towards serotonin deficiency which caused his bitterness. The man would never know how closely melanin and serotonin were related, and how much his northern European ancestry would hinder his enjoyment of life. He just thought the world was unfair.

But this is all a fiction. I could give this man a name, one of the most popular boys names of the early 1980s (as was mine) to help you, the reader, identify and push this fiction into the realm of pseudo-autobiography. But this is not autobiography, pseudo or otherwise. This man is not me.

His rage continues. Rage at the selfishness of Michael for smoking on the tube. Rage at Michael’s situation. Rage at Ashley’s exploitation of Michael and rage at himself for not saying a thing. But it is all a rage of my own invention.

And as selfish as these three men were, reader, there is none more selfish than I. Impressions of half-remembered faces, suitless puppets interacting at my behest. Their creation, exploitation and crimes of moral lack are all mine.

At Clapham Junction, the scowling man gets off. He leaves Ashley and Michael. Both are silent. Ashley no longer has any interest in Michael, and Michael, Michael has never had any to lose. The pictures are on the hard drive of the camera and Michael has no money for a hostel. The doors close. The weather turns cold. I stay on for two more stops.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010



“Do you mind if I sit here?

Is it dirty?

I can’t sit down, you see, I got these jeans on, I don’t want to get them dirty, see?

I was just over there, talking to those two girls over there, but they said they wanted to just talk to each other, didn’t want to talk to me. I think they wanted to talk about one of their mates. I hate that, some people just come out to bitch about their mates, don’t they? I hate that.

Some people are just rude, aint they? Always trying to get a rise out of you... Some people are always pushing you, like, ha ha ha. Like my neighbour. You know? She’s always banging on the walls. Whenever I’m in, I can hear her walking about, always banging on the walls. I just come out to get away from it, you know? I think she’s an agro-phobic. Emphasis on the ‘agro’! You know what I mean?

But this generation, they don’t know, do they? They don’t understand. The all speak that Jafaican. That’s what they call it.

Shadows. We used to call it shadows. The face you wear on top of your face. Yeah, that’s right. Persona, like you say"


Burnt out, between worlds, I just about know what country this is.

My head, and the slow implode dance,
impacted against the air.

Once again caught holding on as the scant light fuzzes and objects and shadows drift and stutter like an SSRI, becoming faces and moving objects that crawl into each other and death is but a missed thought away.

Sweet, silent promises are made to the universe on the agreement to belay my death for just one more evening, that I may be delivered into the morning and everything that I hold dear

A slow ten. Levels of reality stripped with each count .

The air melts and I see faces of people I have never met.

I am giant. Horrifically giant. My hands stretch across miles of a cold desert, which dwarfs my distended frame.

I travel at the speed of light and every atom disappears. Every woman I have ever loved decays in front of me.

An attempt, the worst horror I can imagine.


I do this, like many others, for the sobriety. Not the false sobriety of jobs and careers and functioning well and good and upstanding within society, the dishonest addiction to promotions, raises and the climbing of an invisible ladder. Houses and children. The willing servitude of faceless gods.


Every day after. Leafing through pockets to find receipts from bars you don’t remember the name of for drinks you don’t remember drinking. Pawing through remnants of someone else’s life, trying to decipher the lost evening with broken fingernails and blood stained hands. Half legible notes, half remembered images. A sincere look in an old pair of eyes as his hand tightens and the stale nicotine smell cuts through the last jukebox song still sting rattling around inside, making way for words I will never forget (pt. xxx). Most of them lost now, of course.

Every day after. The sun hitting every stupid, bitter comment, the rain drowning every sharp attempt at ‘humour’. The noises become louder, purer. A conversation between mother and child, hilarious, sweet. Ignorant phrases, comic. Traffic, dramatic. With shuffling steps, profundity is in everything. Crumbling walls and smashed windows and legs and hands and backs and eyes that don’t work anymore. Hammer blows. Empty houses. The babbling of men and women further gone, lost in their pursuit, as I am almost too. The colour of dying leaves, the murk of a duck pond. A piece of art that brings tears and horror as others amble by, ticking boxes.

Omniscience, lost on everyone but me.


Everything is rushing and I am so scared I feel sick and I think I might throw up and I can’t breathe and I can feel the thing inside of me I know it’s there I know it’s there I know it is but I can’t call the doctor because he will tell me what I already know it is and then I’ll have to decide if I can go on and who I’ll tell that I love and whether I’ll forgive people and whether they will forgive me I just have to scratch at myself every time I even begin to think about it it’s all that I can do to distract myself and I start to go hot on my neck and cold in my gut and the woman opposite keeps singing with her eyes closed she keeps singing and singing and I don’t know if she’s blind or brain damaged but she keeps singing and I can’t breathe and I’m getting hot and I just want her to stop I want her to stop I want her to stop I don’t want to die

I don’t want to die

“Just lie back, sir. Close your eyes if you like. It’ll be very quick. If you get a bit panicky you can press this button. But try not to if you can avoid it as we’ll just have to start the whole thing over again”

The assistant’s smile brings little solace. I lie back, close my eyes like a good boy and play dead soldiers. I’m 4, it’s the public baths and I’m playing dead soldiers.

The machine turns and I hold my breath.

I hold my breath ‘til it’s all over.

Like I did before.


A wood pigeon, two decades and three hundred miles away, outside my window.

The smell of dust and books under Apollo’s unbreakable glare.

Something underfoot, in different shoes.

Pype Hase.

The woodhouse.


A changing destination, all gone. Unobtainable.

A laugh from no one.

Falling, a skinned knee.

Hydraulic breaks.

And nothing.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Blue Fortuna

A broken plastic sword handle,
half sunk

“Look at the minnows in the weir. But it’s mostly pike”

Vietnamese wrappers, the ink not yet bleached away.
The weed we’d carried for half a mile,
wrapping itself around the front.

A weeping willow,
reflected in the water.

The yellow, vicious feet of fighting coots.
The cries as they charged.

Inane pleasantries from people we passed.
A pigeon showering under a broken pipe.

The silence of the grand union.

None of these things remind me of you.

The white flowers.
The alternating on-
on pattern of the bulbs in the electric chandelier.
The jarring organ notes.
The berobed cunts, silently blessing wine to a musical accompaniment
like a deservedly lost silent film.

The blue stained glass, which I am told:
“Could be the pale colour of her eyes”
Which I am told:
“You see, everyone’s life can be a short story or a poem”
Which I am told,
with a shrug of confident simplicity
by the man who will write such a thing
that we would have laughed at,
whilst shoving fingers down our throats.

Your mother’s insistence of your entry into the kingdom of heaven.

None of these things remind me of you.

A bottle of lambic from a filthy corner shop.
The cork, torn out with my teeth and spat across the road.
Swigging straight from the bottle in a display of Englishness
That impressed and amused us both.

The molten cheese from crepes that dripped down our hands and legs
As we fought time and the opening reels
And brought us disgusted looks
from the well-to-do
who would sit next to us

The silent hand gestures made by your friends
as they fought laughter
at the back of the church.

The woman at the Franprix who would never smile.

Two packs of blue Fortuna
from the tabac
at the end of l’hopital

Is there anything of hers that you want?

To gambol
in the fields
once more

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

From the Fringes of a Story

An old man looks past his reflection in the glass front of a betting shop. His afro, unkempt and retreating, his whitening beard, yellowed by tobacco smoke. The relentlessly good weather pays no mind to his three jumpers, and his layers pay no mind to the unforgiving rays of the sun. He tries repeatedly to light the stub of a fag with a broken lighter. The flint keeps sparking but the gas won’t catch. The flint keeps sparking. He ignores the punters coming and going from the shop and the pool of dried and liquid snot around the bottom of his nose.

In the road behind him a police van screams past as the traffic parts for it. He stops for a second to turn his head before carrying on attempting to light his cigarette. Muttering to himself, he walks on.


A blonde, topless man slumps against the barrier in the queue at a post office. It supports his entire upper-body weight. His arms hang loosely at right angles. He scans the queue, lightly licking his chapped lips. Two girls, barely 16, stand further back, melting in the heat. The plainer of the two explains her mathematical equation for the amount of time it should take for them to be served, based on the average time it was taking to deal with requests, the amount of people serving and the amount waiting. Her friend, less plain, more tarty, feigns what could at best be described as vague interest, whilst fanning her armpits with a Post Office leaflet about their home broadband service. The queue moves on, as does the blonde man, whose gaze does not leave the girl fanning herself. She notices and flicks her highlighted hair.

Two Police cars, a van and a fire engine all rush past, the sunlight reflected by the ladder dazzling anyone who bothered to look.


An old man sits in a plastic garden chair in the only operational lift at the north end of the Greenwich foot tunnel. Dressed in some kind of vaguely official uniform, this has been amended with his own jumper, given the unseasonal cold. Beside him sits a thermos of tea, a lunchbox and a radio, playing a world cup match at a hushed but audible volume. He reads a tattered copy of the Sunday Mirror, leafing through it idly for the fourth or fifth time that day. He nods at the young family, the 4-year-old, the toddler in a pram.

“Alright, mind how you go”

The family grin back at him and make their way out round the corner to the sunshine and the stretch of green at the bank of the Isle of Dogs. He gruffly greets two men pushing bikes. A Spanish woman gets on with a man and abruptly ends her conversation. “I’ll finish telling you downstairs” she says, avoiding the old man’s gaze. He presses one of three buttons, the doors close and the lift descends again.
The monitor in the corner of the lift, relaying the feed from the tunnel CCTV, shows a man in a long coat, holding himself awkwardly and dragging one leg. No one pays any attention to the screen.

The doors open to the cold acceptance, the unchanging light and temperature of the tunnel. The men on bikes leave, waiting until out of eye-shot to mount, despite signs to the contrary.
The man in the long coat shuffles towards the lift.

The man and Spanish woman leave. She immediately erupts into her story with a volume and tone reserved for tales of embarrassment and sexual adventure.
The man in the long coat waits for them to pass, propping himself against the wall as they do. He then lurches into the lift.

“Alright there?” Asks the old man? Hearing no reply, he shrugs and pushes the button. The lift once again reaches the surface. The man in the long coat shuffles out, saying nothing.

“Mind how you go”

As the doors begin to close again, the old man notices blood on the floor and reaches for his phone.


“See that? Drippin’? Up there?”
“I can see the steam”
“Yeah. Nah, nah. That’s the big pipe. The white one. The little one. Underneath”
“Oh aye”
“Is it dripping yet?”
“Alright, hang on... How ‘bout now?”
“Oh yeah, it’s just starting to drip”

The young woman pulls her head back inside the window and shrugs.

“Well, aint they ever complained?”
“The downstairs”
“Sue? No, not really. I mean, I don’t talk to her that much, though”
“Hmm. Hang one, I’ll have another... When I stick my head out, you run the hot tap”
“Yeah, look, there it goes. I don’t ‘spose she ever goes round there”
“Apart from to water her plants, no”
“Oh well. I’da thought she’d have complained”
“Cup of tea?”
“If it’s not too much trouble, miss, I’d love one”
“Two please, miss. Day off then?”
“Yeah. I work odd hours”
“Yeah, sometimes. Wednesday off is better than nothing”
“That’s quite common now, isn’t it? Working weekends?”
“I suppose so”
“Weekends off is a thing of the past nowadays”
“There you go”
“Tah, miss”
“So, is it dangerous?”
“For you, nah. It’s just... Oh hang on.
Yeah, hello.
I’m just over in... yeah that’s right.
Did you call?
No, no.
The outlet pipe, did we do it at this property?
Hang on.
Miss? What’s the postcode?”
“Oh, it’s uh, SW9 8LB...”
“Yeah, SW9 8LB.
No, it wasn’t us. It doesn’t look like...
And it should be looped back, yeah?
Yeah, thought so.
Alright, yeah you too"

“I’m sorry?”
“Elvis. My phone ring. I Got A Woman. Rare one that. You know, Ray Charles. You an Elvis fan? I spose you’re too young”
“Well, my dad used to listen to him. I like the Sun stuff. Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore”
“Yeah, he wrote Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins”
“Yeah, that’s right”
“Cousins, they were, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis”
“Oh yeah, that right?”
“Yeah, I believe so. Amazing, he was. Jerry Lee Lewis. People went off him though, after he married that 13 year old”
“Ha, yeah. That was definitely his cousin”
“Can I just open the back door?”
“Of course”
“Yeah. No. It’s gonna have to have some work done on it”

Somewhere outside there is a series of metallic popping noises, followed by shouting and the squeal of a loose fanbelt. The engine stalls. There is more shouting, more pops and then the sound of tires at speed on asphalt.

The pair look at each other for a fleeting moment. Neither says a thing.

“Uh, right then. Thanks for the tea”
“Oh, uh. No problem”
“I’ll let myself out”
“Sure, OK”
“Bye then”

Somewhere overhead a helicopter begins to circle.


A woman walks in circles on an underground platform. She mutters loudly to herself and for the benefit of others about nothing in particular, but with an intensity and obscenity that holds the attention of everyone within earshot. She settles on a bench, not lowering her volume.

“Come on train!” she screams at the automatic display, hanging on “1 min” for the past 3.

She plays with the ragged hem of her skirt before getting up again, dragging her oversized left shoe.

“Yeah? Yeah?” she screams to an unspecified, detested third party, somewhere down the entrance/exit tunnel.

“You wanna see what you look like, take a look at yourself! Don’t look so fucking good!”
A young woman rushes along the platform in tears. A man rushes after her, shouting, also with tears in his eyes. The train pulls into the station.

“Go on love!” screamed the woman with the orthopaedic shoe.
“Keep running! Don’t you take any of his shit!!”

The doors open. Her screams are muted by the weight of people, walking in with no real understanding of the situation. A few stop and look for a moment before carrying on. The people waiting have all boarded. The woman with the orthopaedic shoe walks in a slight circle again but does not get on. The train leaves and she is left alone on the platform, except for the man with tears in his eyes. His hand tenses to a fist and he turns round to her.


A young man staggers off a late bus. Still in his work clothes, he commands the easy swagger of someone growingly accustomed to long periods of post work drinking. He listens to an MP3 player, which has blocked out all sound. As his favourite songs come on, he sings along seemingly without realising. A dry noise from the back of his throat, half escaped. Malformed words and syllables, phonetic aping of lyrics he is unaccustomed to singing out loud. He starts to cross a main road in between two crossings, drunkenly getting as close to the traffic as possible without getting hit. It takes three attempts, as each time he has to retreat from the threat of being hit by a bus. Running impatiently, a speeding car narrowly misses him. The man isn’t quite sure if it swerved towards him, but doesn’t pay it much more mind. He cuts down a back alley towards his house. After stopping to urinate where he thinks is unseen, he continues with his swagger. It is only at the end of the alley that he notices the bright blue rhythmically cutting into the dark. Outside a corner shop, two policemen take notes. The front is taped up. A police van waits, its lights flashing. The front door of the shop is open. No one is inside. There is blood on the lino floor.

Two young women stop, momentarily before continuing their conversation, listing the faults of a mutual friend.

The young man stares with his mouth open. After some time, he walks on.


Monday, 31 May 2010

An Open Em Ringing through a Late-Period JCM800

Taken from the pages of End Of Times: Punk Rock and Anti-Culture, issue 19, Spring 2008

I first met Johnny-Boy through Tim, a quiet, introverted guitarist who carried a lot of anger and wouldn’t tell why he didn’t drink anymore. I think he had a crush on my girlfriend of the time.
As much as John liked to act like he was born with a gram up his nose and Jack and Coke in his veins, he had no more idea than I did. When I first met him, his persona, Johnny Clawhammer, was still half-formed and unnamed.

Tim and I met while training to be charity fundraisers, a job we would quickly share an equal hatred an inaptitude for. I was 18 and he was about 25. I lasted a week longer than him.
In breaks and gaps when we were meant to be developing our ‘spiel’ (marketing co-opted Yiddish), we would talk about music. punk rock, American 'indie', Leatherface, Nick Cave, Black Flag, Fugazi. He quickly let slip he was in a part formed band, looking for a bassist. Having been in many, many failed attempts at forming bands, I proffered my services, despite being a barely capable bass player.

I worked my way in with the as yet unnamed band and met the other two members- Allan and Johnny-Boy, two refugees from Canuckistan who would laugh and joke and chat about life in Alberta in a seeming bond that I would later find out to be nothing more than alcoholism on one of their parts and deep seeded animosity on the other.

Their set had already been written and I had the triple-pronged task of learning how to play the songs, learning how to play in a band and re-learning how to play the bass guitar without letting them know that I hadn’t picked it up in a couple of years. Not that ability was a major issue, as I would later find out.

Tim faded away into the ether of people you know and click with well and never see again once the moment passes, and Allan stayed, with his alcoholism, his fucked up relationship and his inability to do a fill that lasted anything less than 4 ¾ bars, throwing each and every song off.

My girlfriend, who I was sure that I would wed, also faded into the sad, grey fog labelled THE PAST, and I was left heartbroken in the way that all good teenage romances will leave you.
Johnny-Boy confided in me about how much he hated not only Allan, but all Canadians, and I drank, smoke, ate and snorted anything that would pass in front of me and confided in him about how little I felt about anything at all. Evenings were given up to beer, whiskey, weed, coke, pills and k. Lines were done off 12 inch sleeves and music was played and debated loud, much to the pain of Johnny-Boy’s long-suffering girlfriend. More importantly, every heartbroken, tear-stained word was listened to. Every one of them. And for that reason, I find it hard to hate Johnny-Boy, whatever happened later.

Clawhammer Barmizvah’s first gig (also me and Johnny’s first), like every one that followed, was marred by a lack of musicianship, tuning and basic time keeping, but with the additional interruption of a soundman who would keep stopping us every few seconds.

The Church, our local punk rock dive, had been goodly enough to put us on, opening an unspecific rock night, mostly through Johnny-Boy’s attempts at charming one of the barmaids. The low Monday turnout was, in hindsight, a blessing.

The nerves, the adrenaline, the fear. My head was light. I felt sick and my fingers tingled like I was having a stroke or I’d held a broken bottle of liquid acid and I was pretty sure that I’d completely forgotten how to play every one of our songs. We launched into our first number and the soundman came on stage.

Turn this up. Started the song again. Turn this down. Started the song again. It got to the point where we almost told him to fuck off, me and Johnny-Boy sharing looks of embarrassment and anger, before he informed us that our soundcheck was over and we needed to be back in half an hour.

We recounted the story to Suicide Sid, the gaunt, ghostly soundman of The Church, on one post gig evening lost to the bottle, but this was only met with slight acknowledgement, an movement of eyebrow or sound from the back of the throat punctuating his tales of touring with Pop Will Eat Itself and the consumption of an entire bag of monkey nuts, possibly the only solid food he had eaten in days.

We became the go-to band for The Church, any time they to fill space in at a gig. We played with all the touring punk bands, local indie groups, folk groups and electro outfits to a sea of bewildered stares, indifference, and on the days they ran a barbeque, chewing. A few months in Allan took his broken sticks, his lack of time keeping, his alcoholism, his fucked-up relationship and his miscarriage with him and I never saw him again.

So began a revolving door of drummers and the rise of Johnny-Boys public ego.
“Well, you know Sammy, we may be a goofy punk rock band, but I try and pepper my in-between-song-banter with Bill Hicks-ian humour. Remember that line about the audience looking like a dog that’s been shown a card trick? Yeah, that’s our crowd”

From then it was studded belts and swigging straight from the bottle and ‘I’ll fuck you and your friend’ and ‘what else you got’ and a world away from lending me a Chomsky book or the reassuring, brotherly hand on my shoulder.

We continued, the two original and consistent members. He christened me ‘Uptown’ when he found out I was born in the dreaded north of the city. It was a name I hated, but let stick.
There were incredible moments I’ll never forget. First time we played out of London, first (my only) tour around the UK, the two 7s and an EP we put out on Shit-Eatin-Grin (I’ve a box of these in my attic at home. Mail me if you want one)

Later, long after I’d finally left the band, I heard that they were still going, but the last drummer had copywritten the songs from under Johnny-Boy’s feet and strong-armed him out the band. I also heard that drummer’s wife had done time for running someone over.

“Man, if they want to sing about my fucking ex-girlfriends, then be my guest, you know?”
Running into him in a pub years and years later was a funny occurrence. I realised how far my life had moved on by this point.

Sometime in the intervening years, his girlfriend had left the country. No more having to suffer the indignity of his barely concealed infidelities, much of which he would confide in me with a surprising amount of humanity and guilt (in addition to the inevitable filth).
After he told me this, he looked at the floor, and a little bit of the Johnny-Boy I used to know returned for a second. Sober, afternoon and not hung over.
“C’mon, let me show you my pad”

We went back to his squat- me, Johnny-Boy and Alec, a friend who never knows when to shut up.

His place, a small apartment in a squatted complex, was just like the flat I remembered, except with the pleasant elements removed. Now just posters, 12”s, guitar strings and broken equipment. A 17-year-old’s dream.

Alec slumped on his bed without asking and Johnny-Boy tossed me a cheap CD.
“Here you go, my new demo”

His new band, The Loose Knots, stared out from the over-photocopied cover blankly. They stood in a row in front of a brick wall, just like the Ramones. I looked at the back.

“So what, you’re just on guitar now?”
“Yeah, thank god. Hey, you see this one here? That’s about dirty sex”
“Ha, oh right”

I showed the CD to Alec, who was fascinated by all the paraphernalia of Johnny-Boy’s punk rock lifestyle, unfamiliar as he was with this world. Posters, old tickets, patches and the like.

So me and Johnny-Boy shot the shit about people I hadn’t seen for years, that we knew from the scene back in the day. Patrick from The Alisons had a breakdown, moved to Australia, Davy from RATATAK collapsed on stage and died, Rotten Note were still going, except with a new drummer. Dear John, their singer, was the same as ever- very, very vegan. Johnny-Boy began to reminisce with me about drunkenly eating a box of chicken in front of him, stating it was the best I’d ever eaten and his face going redder and redder as he knew there was no point in arguing. We continued chatting, but this was interrupted by a drunken Alec shouting at Johnny-Boy.

“And then he..”
“his fists were...”
“And you could see he was about to...”
“JOHN!!! JOHN!!!”
Alec was pointing at the cover of the CD
“You got a double chin here, mate!”

I spoke to him once more, in another pub. I tried to impress a friend I was with by pointing out I used to be in a punk band with that guy. He wouldn’t believe me at all. I left the group I was with and had a chat with Johnny. He’d kept everything up except the rock ‘n’ roll, which had “died” when his last band broke up. He introduced me to Malc, a young protégé. He showed me a tattoo that Johnny had done on his arm. It looked like with a broken biro and a needle.
“nice” I lied. Me and Malc exchanged a nod, that was about it. Johnny talked to me as if he wasn’t there.

“How old are ya now?”
“Jesus! I remember when you turned 19. Well, none of us are getting any younger”
“Speak for yourself, mate”
He just looked at me slightly baffled. I don’t think he got the joke.

Last time I saw him he was rolling along the street with a guitar over his shoulder and his arms around two punk rock chippies. He was across the street. I didn’t bother to call out.

Johnny-Boy, you were an arsehole. You lived how you wanted to with no concession to others and you were my only friend when I needed one more than anything in the world, and for that I will always love you.


‘Uptown’ Sammy Clawhammer

Friday, 30 April 2010


Number one:
That Old Rat Lee Dawson

“Yids’ll do it this year”

The Black Elvis bit his bottom lip slightly and drew his eyes as narrow as one of the button holes on the fancy shirts he wore. Taking a moment, he caught the measure of Frank. The slumped shoulders, the thinning, greying hair, the furrowed brow, the chewed pen scanning over the newspaper page. Not a bad bloke. Nice even.

Nice, sure. Nice like a fed wolf.

“’Ere, Carl. I sez yids’ll do it this year. I got a feeling”

The Black Elvis poked his hat up skyward with his index finger before bringing his hands to rest in the familiar, comfortable place. Thumbs through the front two belt loops, wearing his belt from black to brown.

His jeans, though washed and pressed, had just begun to show their age. Fraying at the seams.
Never Levi.
Levi weren’t union and mamma worked the garment trade.

His lone star buckle glinted in the dull mid-day pub lighting, catching colours from the fruit machine. When he turned, it would reflect the fairy lights that boarded the mirror behind the spirit shelf, covered with currency from around the world.

500 rupees, 50 Gilders, 10 Dirhams, notes from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa. One dollar American, pried from the fingers of someone fool enough to talk back.

“I sez yids’ll do it this year. I got a feeling”
“You say that every year”
“I know. But this year I got a feeling”
“You say that every year too”
“I know, but this year...”

The Black Elvis knew better than to kick a sleeping dog, but the sky was heavy, the day was slow and the barrels were already changed.

“No one told you, Frank? You’re on the wrong side of the river to be a yid”
“You say that every year an all. Who’mI gonna follow? Hammers?”
The Black Elvis shrugged.
“Palace? Fuck off. Chelsea?”
“I’m only sayin’ is all”
“Amount of bloody gooners you get round here. How far are we from Highbury?”
The Black Elvis shrugged again.
“Only sayin’ is all, Frank”
“My granddad. From norf London, wernt’e”
Yet again Frank was looking for a fight where there wasn’t one. Frank did that a lot. The Black Elvis just shrugged again and Frank went back to his paper in silence.

The front door squeaked, letting in a sheet of light, car noise and natural atmosphere before creaking shut and sealing the microcosm again.

“Someone... Someone. Car parked outside, in ‘e. Some bloke. Look! He aint left enough space to get out. Look! Good luck getting out mate!”

John’s high pitched voice danced over the low hum of the Jaeger cooling machine that Jan had insisted would pay for itself within a couple of months. John pointed over his shoulder.


Frank slunk off his barstool and walked to the window. The two men peered over the painted flowers on the windowpane.

“That one, Frank”
“The Toyota?”
“The Toyota, look”
“Oh yeah, look. Have to be a good driver to get out of that without a scrape”
“Jan aint gonna be happy, is she? She likes to park there, don’t she, Carl?”

The Black Elvis looked up from polishing a pint glass. His eyes cut through the daytime gloom of the Star, meeting John’s eyes straight dead on.

“I said Jan’s not gonna be very happy about this, is she?”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“About this muppet- he’s not left enough space to get himself out”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“An’ his back wheel is all over Jan’s spot”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“The spot where she likes to park”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.

“The Toyota”

The Black Elvis continued to stare.


“No” Said The Black Elvis.

“No, I don’t ‘spose she will be”

The Black Elvis returned to cleaning the pint glass. John rubbed his hands on his chest in a downward motion, left after right after left, catching his wedding ring on one of the threads.

“It’s funny, knew someone would do something like that, I had a feeling”
“There’s a lot of that going around today” said The Black Elvis in a near whisper.
“How are you anyway, John?”
“Yeah, yeah, good, yeah, yeah”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, cheers Carl”
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll... I’ll... I’ll have a fosters cheers Carl”
“No problem”
“Cheers Carl”
“And how’s Anne?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, not bad, you know, yeah”
“Yeah yeah, alright she is, yeah”

The Black Elvis nodded and smiled without smiling any. John and Frank knew it was there.

“Excuse me?”
“Hernia. She’s got that hernia. Didn’t, didn’t know what it was. What it was, had a terrible pain in her stomach. Terrible pain, you know? She didn’t know what it was and we were ever so worried and she thought it might be women’s problems but then she went to the doctor and she said it was hernia. Might have been from when Sam was born even and just got worse. That’s what I think, but they don’t know”
“Sorry to hear that John”
“Thanks Carl”
“She gonna be alright though?”
“She should be alright”
The Black Elvis laid the full pint down on a beer matt in front of John and wiped the frothing head from the side with his beercloth.

“Cheers, Carl”
“£3, yeah?”
John handed over £3

“How’s the job hunting?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah... not really... not really too well actually Carl, thanks”
“No, I’m trying down the Job Centre but they aint got nothing for me. I mean, they tried sending me to a, wossit, a internet cafe down in bloody Croydon but then they took one look at me and sent me packing, you know, sent me packing. Too old, innI? Said I had to know about chart music. Chart music? I said. What, like the Pop charts? Top of the Pops? CDs? They said that Top of The Pops weren’t even going on the telly no more and that no one bought CDs and that it was all off of the internet now and mp3s and ipods and that. Urban, they said. I know about urban, urban is where I grew up, innit, but nah, they said. Urban means RnB and dance music and rapping, it doesn’t mean round here anymore, I don’t think”
“Ha! You, in an internet cafe?” Frank said, looking up from the sports pages.
“I know!”
“What do you know about the internet?”
“I know, that’s what I’m saying”
“Give you five minutes on there and you’d have lost all your money to some scam or something”
“I’m no good with computers”
“You’re no fucking good with much”
John looked at the floor, at the patterns, at anywhere but Frank.
“And you heard from Sam? From uni?” asked The Black Elvis, who found himself playing peacemaker almost as often as bartender.
“Nah... nah, not for a few days. Last I heard from her she’d dumped that, that, that, uh, Simon and was about to do some exams in, in, in...”

“OI OI!!!”

The door swung open and Lee walked in like a cocky knife through a shitty atmosphere.
“Yes, yes, yes gentlemen, how’s it going? Frank?”
Lee held out his hand. Frank obliged.
“Afternoon Lee”
“Alright Lee!”
“And Mr. Carl”
“Hello Lee”
“Very good to see you Gentlemen. Now, Carl, I would like A pint of Krony and a double whiskey on the side, something with a Glenn in the name should do it, and the same again for these fine lads, and of course whatever your having”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow and nodded, thinking he might have a Guinness.

“Bloody hell, Lee, you gone mental?”
“Much as I’m not inclined to agree with John or jeopardise a free drink... yeah, what’s this about? You knocked your granny off at last?”
“My boys, you’ve either got it or you don’t got it and I, my boys, have got it”
“Got what?”
“IT, my friend, IT”
“I heard you got it of that Shanice bird last week”
“Eye. Teeee.”
“And I heard she got it off that old rasta who sits by the bottle bank”
“Laugh it up and enjoy your drinks, boys”
“Go on then”
“Alright, I’ll give you a clue. What night was it last night?
“Yeah, Sunday”
“Fucking hell, I knew you boys were sharp but I didn’t realise I’d stumbled in on a MENSA meeting. No! Think about it, what was it last night? Only happens once a year?”
“Oscars, you uncultured twats! Oscar night, weren’t it? The red carpets, the glitz, the glamour, and for your old pal here, a tidy fucking win”
“Oh yeah, you get the Oscar for best original bullshit?”
“Better than that, my friend- 11 wins and 2,500 sheets for me”
“Fucking hell!”
“Just come from the bookies- JUST. FUCKING. LOOK. AT. THAT”

Lee threw the envelope, thick with oversized pink notes, down onto the bar.

“Think of all the wigs you could by with that, Carl- get yourself a new jumpsuit and some proper gold chains, eh- or a fucking holiday to Gracelands, see where they planted the old fat cunt, eh?”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow again and nodded slowly, letting the blasphemy pass.

“Or John, that’d help with your Sam’s uni bills, or a season ticket for you Frank, eh? Couple of years probably. Ha! Tell you what, lads- there’s a new sheriff in town and it aint the cunt in the cowboy hat. Yes sir, yes sir. No offence, Carl”

The Black Elvis’s eyes grew thin again as he watched the three men fix their gaze on the envelope. He could practically see them salivating.

This wasn’t good.
This wasn’t good at all.

“Go on then” said The Black Elvis. “Tell us your secret”
“No secret to tell, just backed the right winner, didn’t I? Avatar? It’ll get something, I thought- it’ll get something, but something technical. It’s long enough after the war, plus it weren’t that critical, you know, so it had to be Hurt Locker. Academy’ll be all over it I thought. Plus, woman director. Times changing, academy wants to show it’s moving on too. Push, too. Sapphire, whatever it’s called. But them taking all the ones they did? I just had a feeling. I just knew, somehow. There’s only so much you can learn, you know? I just sorta knew it. I tell you, I haven’t had a win like this since Return of the King! Cheers lads!”
Lee knocked back his double whiskey, put the envelope back in his jacket pocket and winked at John as he sauntered off to the toilets.

“I’m off for a shit”

Lee shoved his hand against the ‘s’ in ‘hombres’, opening the toilet door at a needlessly dramatic speed.

Frank went back to reading his paper. The Black Elvis could hear him breathing through his nose.

“Cor, did you see that packet? Frank? Frank? Did you see that packet?”

Frank said nothing.


The Black Elvis just nodded.

The three men said nothing, each contemplating that amount of disposable money.
Lee returned, whistling.

“Jesus, I don’t think today could get any better. There is nothing like a good shit when you’re in a good mood, is there boys?”

The three men said nothing.

“Alright, alright. It’s not like I did it out here. Awww, come on! You boys can be happy for me, can’t you?”

The three men said nothing.

“Ok, ok. I can see joy towards your fellow man might be in a little bit of short supply, but I don’t mind. I’m a decent man and I shall see you in the good times as you have seen me through bad. Carl! Same again four times, if you please!”

Lee threw a £50 note onto the bar.


The Black Elvis obliged, as was his occupation. He set the drinks down in front of the three men.

“Cheers Lee” said Frank, from the sports section.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah thanks Lee” said John, from the side of the bar.
“No worries, lads, but this is your last lot, yeah? I can’t be chucking all my winning at you alkis. Man’s gotta stand up on his own two feet sometimes, eh?”
“You what?”
“You know, man’s gotta stand up and be a man sometimes”
“Man’s gotta stand up... what in Christ’s name are you shitting on about, Lee? You got lucky”
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. Skill, mate. I knew, see?”
“But you also got lucky. You’re just the same old blagger you ever was, it just paid off this time”
“Alright old man, bitter? Can’t stand that I’m making something of myself?”
“Instead of being some sad old bastard sat on a bar stool”
“Supporting some team from the wrong side of town”
“Yes mate? Yes John?”
“I’ll show you the wrong side of town”

Frank stood up from his bar stool.

“You know you’re saying about standing up and all that?”
“Yes mate”

Lee turned to John, ignoring Franks attempt at aggression.

“Does that mean you can pay Frank back that money he leant you?”

Lee fell silent.

“Well, yeah, I mean...”
“Ha! Yes indeed! Good one, Jonathan! I seem to remember it was for your rent, no?”
“How much was it? £200?”

Lee sighed, took out the envelope and began counting out money

“It was... nah... nah, you know what? Too easy. Nah”
“You don’t want it now?”
Frank chewed the end of his pen.
“Here’s the thing. If I hadn’t lent you that money, you’da got kicked out I don’t suppose”
“Well that’s what you were saying to me. Almost crying, he was”
“Oi, I wasn’t...”
“And if you’da got kicked out, you wouldn’t have most likely been able to place that bet, I don’t suppose”
“Yeah, but...”
“So you could somehow think of that as a kind of investment”
“Now hang on...”
“All I’m saying is that I’d be within my rights to claim it as some kind of investment and therefore a proper return”
“Hold up...”
“All I’m saying is I’d be within my rights...”
“Nah mate, that’s a load of bollocks yeah...”
“See, I don’t know about that, cos it’s not just me. Thing is Lee, you’re always on the scab in here, aint you? Pint here, pint there, all adds up, don’t it? You add a couple of old John just the other week, I seem to recall. Him on the dole!”
“Yeah, he’s right, you know. That money was meant to go on a side of ham for a roast, but I let you have it cos you said you’d pay me back. I got in a lot of trouble for that”
“See? And Carl, how much does he owe you? Carl?”

The Black Elvis sighed. He didn’t much like taking sides in these kind of affairs as everyone’s opinion was the right one and everyone else was wrong. It wasn’t like religion or politics or something you only thought you had some involvement in (though he had seen some nasty rows over these), owed money was something that could quickly go vicious and wasn’t as easily forgiven. Mind you, Frank had a point, he was out too and his inclusion in the matter might bring around swift mediation.

The Black Elvis reached behind the bar to where he wished a shotgun was and dusted off the hardback rule-lined book entitled ‘TABS’.

The Black Elvis reached for his eyeglasses and rested them on the end of his nose. His hard worked finger traced over page after page of agreements, poor excuses and a soft heart on his part, until he found Lee, maybe the poorest excuse of the bunch.

The Black Elvis read and muttered to himself. Two of the three men looked at him in anticipation, hardly able to breathe. John had wandered off to play the fruity.
“Well, cut off is normally a ton but since I knew Lee’s old man, I cut him off at £150”

The Black Elvis closed the book and put his spectacles away.

“See that, £150. Off someone who knew your father. And John...”
“Yes mate?”
“About you, not to you mate... and John. His family roast ruined. Probably with his daughter home from uni. Know how often he sees her? You can’t put a price on that, now can you?”
“Aldi do a good deal on pork, I was gonna go there”
“Not the point John”
“Oh. Well, don’t forget Anton, too” called out John, over his shoulder.
“Hey?” Said Frank
“H..what?” Said Lee
“ ” Said The Black Elvis, as he silently watched the conversation continue.

John held the bells and pressed nudge.

“John? What was that about Anton?”
“Yeah. Yeah, John? What was that? About Anton?”
“Hey?” John looked around. The machine nagged at him and then made a depressed blooping sound as his hold ran out and his game was lost.
“Oh” said John
“Yeah John”
“Oh. Oh yeah. Anton, he came in the other day looking for you, Lee. I think it was about the ‘you-know-what’ you got on tick. Isn’t that right Carl?”
Carl raised an eyebrow.
“John! Jesus! Shut up!”
“Oh come on, it’s not like Carl doesn’t... I mean you know, don’t you?”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“About the...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“With the...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

“When Anton...”

The Black Elvis just stared.

John ran out of words.

The Black Elvis just stared.

His mouth ran dry.

The Black Elvis just stared.

John started to sweat. Little beads on his brow at first, then under his temple, then big bastard droplets like the ones that poured from the taps on the beer adverts. Slowly falling into an already full pint. Condensation running down its side. John tried to think of that beautiful icy beer and not the itching anxiety that cold clawed its way through his back. John knew he’d put his foot in something, but from the silence he couldn’t tell how bad it was. He just wanted someone to say something. Anything . Let him know just how bad it was so he could start apologising or making amends or something.







“What was that, John? Sorry, miles away”

The three men breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. Lee joined John by the fruity. Frank followed, folding his paper up, tucking it under his arm and taking his pint with him.

Lee leaned into John.
“So, John mate, what *exactly* did he say?”
“Oh, you know...”
“Cheers. That he wanted to talk to you”
“And how... how did he seem to you?”
“Typical isn’t it?” said Frank
“I’m trying to have a private conversation with my friend here, if you don’t mind...”
“No, no. Don’t mind me. I just think it’s a bit rich, is all. Here you are, trying to get something out of him without even paying him back first”
“Old man, would you just fuck off?”
“Alright, alright, get angry at me all you want, doesn’t mean I’m wrong though does it?”
“Fucking hell. How much was it, John? £5? £10?”
“Just think, that lovely meal they could have had”
“... £20. Score. Here you go John”
John looked up from the fruity.
“Hey? Wassat Lee? That for me?”
“Yes it’s for you, now just tell me about Anton”
“Here, Lee?”
“Aint you got any pounds? For the fruity”

Lee reached into his right front pocket and shoved a load of pound coins on the table next to John’s pint.

“OK? Now”
“Oh, well. I dunno. I guess he looked...”
“Kind of, i dunno really”
Frank laughed.
“Bit like himself really”

Frank laughed again. Lee slapped his forehead.

“What does that even mean? Was he happy? Angry?”
“I spose you might have called him agitated maybe. Yeah. A bit, wossit, agitated. Like he wanted to know where you were. Pretty urgent, like. But you know him, he never rushes about or anything like that. Mr. Cool. I mean, you could tell though”
“Oh fucking hell”
“Everything alright, Lee?”
“Yeah. No. Yeah. Fine. Yeah”
Lee stormed back to the bar and knocked his whiskey back.
“ ’nother please, Carl. Cheers”
The Black Elvis obliged, as was his vocation.
“Cheers” said Lee again.
“And again cheers Carl, thanks”

Once again, The Black Elvis obliged. The whiskey disappeared as quickly as he could fill the glass.

“Cheers Carl. One more and I’ll settle up”
“Yeah? You sure thats a good idea?”

Lee pointed at the table in front of his glass three times whilst knocking the rest of his pint back.

“You got troubles there, Lee?”
Lee said nothing.

“Now, you might find the answer with money. Maybe. One thing I do know is you won’t find it in this bottle, here”

The Black Elvis took the bottle down from in front of all that funny, exotic money once again. Suddenly, something occurred to him. After pouring, he put his foot up on the stool on the business side of the bar and leaned onto his raised leg. It was the position reserved for storytelling and educating.

“You know, Lee, way back in America in the 1800s, in the time of the great gold rush and so forth, many a man would sell up everything he owned to buy a pick, a pan and a dream of a fortune. Some knew what they were doing, knew the ways of the mountains and that art of prospecting, some had no idea and the dream broke far more men than it made. Ruined many, many lives, some of them smart and greedy alike. Sometimes there wasn’t much call for a distinction. Families too. Hit them the hardest, I’d wager. But when some knowledgeable old type knew where to mine, or some young fool struck lucky, they would take all that mountain had to give them until it ran dry. But after they had done, I’ll say it, raping the land, the good men, the men with a decent bone in them would try and undo what they had done. Take down the equipment, close up the mine and heal the wound they had left in the mountain. Pay respect and tribute to mother earth, who had treated them so well”

The Black Elvis took his foot down off the stool and put the bottle back on the shelf.
Lee took a moment to process the story, first recounting the narrative and then wondering if it had any relevance to his current situation. He did this all with a slightly lost look on his pus, aimed straight in the direction of The Black Elvis.

Lee drank his remaining drink and got up to leave.

“Uh... yeah, cheers Carl, yeah. Thanks. Uh, look, I’ll, you know, I’ll come by tomorrow and settle up with you tomorrow, OK? I’ve gotta run”

The Black Elvis raised an eyebrow and once again invested more faith in the young man than they both knew that he deserved.

“OK then, Lee”
“I will, I swear to you”

Lee patted himself down, shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and started towards the door, his hurry and swagger almost Chaplin-esque.

“Oi!” shouted Frank

Lee ignored it, continuing towards the door.


Frank walked in front of the door and held his hand out towards Lee’s chest.

“Hang on a minute”
“Hang on a minute”
“Fuck do you want?”
“You aint walking out of here, owing us all that much, with the money on you. You’re a nice bloke Lee, some of the time at least, but I can’t let you walk out not paying us”
“Yeah?” Lee swatted Frank’s hand out of the way.
“Fuck you gonna do about it?”

The Black Elvis watched as the two men eyeballed like back alley Toms and the pot that had been cooking the last hour or so began to boil over.

Frank brought his hand back up. Lee grabbed him at the wrist. John put another pound in the fruity.

Against his cantankerous nature, Frank wanted to ask Lee to stop, to reason with him, to make him see his point. But the time for talking was long over, so instead Frank punched him in the face. Lee went reeling, still holding onto Frank’s wrist and the two men fell to the ground. They both scrabbled on the pub carpet, Lee trying to make good his escape and Frank trying to stop him. Lee got to his feet and made his way towards the door, but Frank dived at him, pushing him over a table. Both men fell towards the window, which cracked, holding, but ruining the tulips that Jan had painted.

The two men staggered, huffing, dazed and cut, squaring up for another round of something neither of them wanted, waiting for the other to make a move. Blood and sweat ran down the cracks in Frank’s face, through the worries of cup finals, playoffs and the fleeting promise of victory and into his eyes. Lee’s muscles tensed and his heart pounded as he prepared for his latest gamble. John put another pound in the fruity.

Lee’s eyes flitted between frank and the door. He stood posed, ready like a cornered wildcat.
Frank’s gaze did not leave the young man and he readied himself for the next round.
John’s fingers hovered over ‘nudge’.

The Black Elvis’ hands landed on both the offending men’s collars. They both became compliant and he silently marched them towards the door.

Outside, The Black Elvis shoved them both against the half brick wall that fronted the pub. His eyes became thin and mean and he pointed at them each in turn. Tattered and torn, they both looked at the floor. There were no words that could be said, except the one they expected to hear.

“Barred” said The Black Elvis.

Somewhere in the background, they heard a procession of sirens. This was replaced by a whoop of joy and the repeated sound of metal clattering against plastic.

The Black Elvis walked back inside. Behind him, Frank dived for Lee’s inside pocket.

“Carl! Carl! Carl! Carl! Here, Carl! Look at this!”
The Black Elvis turned his attention towards John, trying to ignore the pain in the ass that was the broken window behind him.

“Yes John?”
John looked up at him, both his hands full of pound coins, as the fruit machine continued to pay out.
“Look, Carl! Look! It paid out a mint! Just look! All these months I been playing it and it finally worked”
The Black Elvis smiled.
“Well done, John. You deserve it. Good for you”

Out the corner of his eye he could see Lee holding a tattered envelope with a look of nauseous shock on his face. The air was thick with pink bank notes, taken up by the breeze.

“Good for you”