Sunday, 28 February 2010

Drag Foot Stumble

Year 2

At break time Mike ran the track. Lane number 3 was his favourite because it was the one he was running when he beat Jonathan. He also liked ‘It’, ‘British Bulldog’, ‘What’s the time Mr. Wolf?’ on the multicoloured ladder painted on the infants side of the playground and ‘fighting’, pretending to be heroic men from TV or of his own invention, based on men from the TV. But most of all he just liked running.

He could do maths OK and had stopped putting play-doh in his mouth after that time that Mrs Ellison had caught him and told him how disgusting it was and how he was too old to be doing it and was getting on better with English and could write almost half a page now before class finished without pinching his arm or tugging at his hair and crying. He liked making models of haunted houses out of cardboard with Joseph, his best friend in the whole world ever. He also liked his other friends, the ones in his gang, but they weren’t allowed to call it a gang, like Dennis who was in the year above but was their friend and who liked to protect them or Andy who had xmas on his hands and his feet or Kemal who was from Poland. Joseph was off this week because his granny lived in Scotland and she was sick and Dennis had moved up to the juniors and didn’t really hang around with them as much because they were infants.


Mike was crouched with one leg out and his hands forward on the ground like he saw Carl Lewis do. His heart sank like a stone and he stood up straight.

“Oi! What you doing?”

“Just gonna run” said Mike, staring at his battered Nicks and not even at the feet of Simon Addison. Simon Addison was the most famous kid in the school. He’d been on CBBC and not even on a gameshow where he got gunged. He was on Ghost Squad as Charlie and Raven Tower and said that he was going to be Kid Doolittle in Kid Doolittle which hadn’t even been made yet and was about a kid who solved crimes because he could talk to animals and they would help him because his mum was a scientist and his dad was a vet and he got a chemical on him but no one would believe him. Every Christmas he was at the centre of the choir and at every summer concert he was Michael Jackson and it didn’t even matter that every year he never wore the glove on the right hand because he could do the moonwalk and pull faces that made people laugh and would grab his willy just like Michael Jackson did. Simon had lots of friends and they all walked around together all the time. They were a proper gang.

“Unggh” said Simon, poking Mike in the chest. “You’re such a spastic. Why you running?”
“I just like running”
“Shut up. Unnngh. I just like running” he said, shoving his tongue behind his bottom lip and flailing his hand around in front of his face like his wrist was broken.
Simon and his friends were walking towards Mike. Mike backed away.
“My mum says that it’s not nice to do that” Mike said quietly as he stared at the floor at his own shoes and not even Simon’s shoes and walked backwards towards the wall.
“Because there are people who are really like that and they can’t help being like that and they have a hard time without...”

Mike had backed all the way up to the wall. He had nowhere else to go.

“Shut up! Why would I care what your mum says? Your sister tried to get into a 12 and my mum wouldn’t let her and next time she’s going to call your mum. This is a warning, yeah?”
Simon’s mum worked in the cinema and was also a member of the PTA. It was almost impossible to get into a film if you were too young. She knew everyone and would tell their parents.
Simon shoved Mike against the wall.
“Shut up” said Mike, quietly, still staring at his trainers.
“What?” said Simon
Mike didn’t say anything more
“What?” shouted Simon
“And I thought I told you to CUT YOUR HAIR!” Simon grabbed Mike’s hair and smacked his head against the brick wall. Mike fell to the floor and began to cry. Simon walked away with his gang, leaving him to weep.


A few days later, Simon approached him. Both boys were on their own, without their friends.
“What you doing?”
Mike stayed silent.
“My mum says that I have to say sorry to you. Sorry”
Simon held out his hand and looked away. Mike took his hand and shook it, just like he’d been shown to do by his dad. He tried to make it strong.

Simon looked at his shoes and kicked at the tarmac. Then a smile spread across his face.
“You like running, do you?”
“Are you fast?”
Mike shrugged.
“Faster than me?”
Mike shrugged again.
“I’ve got an idea”
Mike looked at him
“I run from this wall to the end of the playground and back and you time it, then you see if you can beat it. We’ll time it on my watch”

Simon’s watch had a stopwatch. It also had tetris and could tell you the time in Japan and could control the video player and make the teacher really confused and think there was a ghost or something. It was the best watch Mike had ever seen.

“OK” said Mike, with quiet confidence. Simon was famous but he was also fat.
Simon showed him how to work the stopwatch function like he was talking to a baby, but Mike didn’t mind much because he was used to it.

Simon reset the watch and took his place by the far wall.

“On your marks!” said Mike

“Get set!”

A small crowd had begun to form, as often happened with Simon at break time.


Simon could move fast for a boy of his size and bolted from the wall with a look of grim, angered determination. His jaw clenched along with his fists.
Past the ladder,
past the hopscotch,
past the frog,
the pig,
the spider
and slapping the car that was painted on the far wall. Everyone cheered him on. Mike pressed stop as soon as Simon got back to the first wall.
Simon approached him, huffing.

“How... how did I do?”
“53 seconds”

Simon paced around, waiting for his breath to return before walking towards Mike.
“Good luck yeah?” he said, lightly punching Mike’s arm.
Mike nodded and took his position
He stared forwards.

“On your marks!”

His eyes skimmed over the tarmac and he imagined himself flying.

“Get set”

He stared at the wall. Through the wall. Through the houses behind it.
He said a tiny prayer.


Mike was the wind.
He was the very wind itself.
His feet turned to air and he began to fly.
He took off from the earth.
He took off from the earth and flew through the air, above the ladder painted on the ground, fast and beautiful and unstoppable and towards the sun.
But something went wrong. The hopscotch grid was flying towards him and suddenly he was numb and in lots of pain at the same time. He couldn’t see from his left eye and he couldn’t breathe and the shock climbed through his bones and pulsed in his hip and everyone was laughing and he could just hear a ringing, but he felt the noise jumping out of him in spasticated jerks and through one eye, through a wall of tears could see Mr Lawrence’s feet running towards him.

Mike wiped his eye and turned his to see Simon Addison howling with laughter.

Year 8

Mike spread his homework over the floor in front of the telly and stared over his German textbook towards the children’s programs he held little interest in. He would conjugate every 5 minutes as he patiently waited for the succession of soaps and imported American science fiction dramas that would make up his evening. His mum walked in and stepped over him.

“Mike... honestly. Do you have to do your homework here?”
“Where else am I meant to do it?”
“You’ve got a desk! Why do you think we got you it?”
“It’s got all my models on it”
“Well, look. You shouldn’t be watching the telly at the same time, sitting on top of it like that. You’ll fall in. If you hurry up and finish, you can go round to Joe’s house. What’s the matter, don’t you wanna go round Joe’s?”

Mike shrugged. He really didn’t know. He stared at his German textbook.


His mum waved her hand dismissively at him.

“Ah well, suit yourself. I don’t know”

His mum walked out of the front room and left him to watch the Australian soap that had just started. About half an hour later she came back in with an ironing board. She set it up, facing the television and changed the channel.

“Hey! I was watching that”

This week ChronoMax was an olden times American president and had to sign a paper about the slaves or something.

“Well it’s not just about you, you know?”
She flicked up and down before resting on the news. Mike sighed but didn’t move.

Woher kommst du?
Wo wohnst du?
Ich wohne in...


The front door went. Mike’s ears pricked up and something shrank in his tummy to the sound of ruslting and keys being put away. The living room door opened.
“Hello love” said his mum
“Mmm. Hello” said his dad
“How was work then?”

His dad didn’t answer, but instead carried on leafing through the post, sorting into piles of bills, junk and personal/unknown (the latter of which would again be sorted by name).

“Martin? Martin? I asked you how work was. Martin?”
“WORK. I asked you how WORK was”
“What? Yes, yes. It was fine...”

Mike’s father paced around the living room, opening the bills and almost stepping on his son.

“Oh, erh, sorry Mike”

He stopped pacing and looked at the boy.

“You alright? How are you getting on?”

Mike grinned up at his dad. His dad’s face softened for a fleeting moment before dropping into a stony look again.

“Mike, what have I told you about not sitting in front of the telly when you do your homework?”

His dad gave him a look that made him feel five years old.

“Why... why are you letting him do this?”
“What? Why are you asking me?”
“Because he’s doing it right in front of you. You’re encouraging him.”
“Encouraging him? What the hell are talking about? I have so much stuff to do here, I can’t be watching over him all the time. He’s getting old enough...”

Wie alt bist du?“Well, if I could be around here more often...”

Wie alt bist du?“I don’t know, downstairs I think. Don’t bloody ask me. Where are you going?”

Wie alt bist du?His mother came back in clutching a ceramic owl, one of a pair. The side of its face was destroyed.

Wie alt bist du?“What was it fucking well doing there?”

Wie alt bist du?“I don’t know, I had to put something under it to fix it”

Wie alt bist du?


Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.Mike’s mum threw the owl at his dad.

Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.
It missed, smashing on the floor.

Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.His dad marched over to him mum.

Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.

She grabbed the iron and pulled back her arm, ready to hit him.

Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.Mike’s dad grabbed her wrist before she could make contact.

Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.

She started crying, desperately.

Ich bin zwolf Jahre alt.

Ich bin fünf Jahre alt.


Mike was quiet in the common room before registration the next morning. Everyone was talking about the episode of High Times that had been on that morning and how they wished their school could be like schools in America, where you could wear cool clothes and skateboard in the corridor and you didn’t have to wear uniforms and how they would bang Sandy Spitowski despite not knowing her real name or what banging really was. Mike had seen it too, and Mike fancied Sandy Spitowski. But Mike didn’t say much at all.
“Yo, Mike! YO!”
Scott hung back towards the end of the crowd, kicking, jeering and shuffling its way towards Mrs. Price’s English lesson.
“Yowwwwwwwwwww, mannnnnnnnn” he said in a deep American accent, holding out his fist. This made Mike laugh a little bit, and he nudged Scott but then quickly went back to staring at the floor in front of him as he walked.
“You alright, mate?”
Mike shrugged, still walking.
“What’s up?”
Mike shrugged again.
“Oh yeah, I got the new Powersquad comic. It’s alright, you know. I think since all those creators went and started UltraMax comix, they’re starting to get better because everyone likes the new ones. You know, they’re all gritty dark and stuff?”
“I’ll give you a read of it at lunch, yeah?”
Mike shrugged again.


Mike sat on the far table at lunch, away from most of his class. Scott sat next to him with a plate of chips, beans, sausages and pizza.
“Yowwwwwwwwwwww” he said again. Mike didn’t laugh this time. Scott got out the comic and passed it to Mike. Mike listlessly thumbed through it as Scott tucked in.
“You know...”
“When your...”
Mike looked up at Scott.
“I think my parents are getting a divorce”
Scott stopped eating and swallowed his mouthful.
“What happened?”
“They just keep shouting. Last night it was really bad. My mum almost hit my dad with an iron”
“What happened?”
“I don’t know. They were just arguing and he grabbed her hand but she looked like she was going to do it. She looked like she wanted to kill him”
Mike looked down at the comic again. The sound of the dining hall rose up again. The cheer, the laughter, the jeering and the brutality. The bitter stares from the lines of kids still queuing to come in, pushing, shoving, waiting for the roulette of pigeon shit to find today’s fated victim.
“Look man... it’s just. They’re funny, parents. They can be idiots sometimes, and your dad works really hard sometimes. I dunnno, they’re probably really stressed since your granddad got ill”
Mike shrugged.
“What... what was it like...”
“When my parents divorced? It was horrible. They were arguing all the time and they hated each other but now my mum has Rodger and when they meet up now they sometimes even smile at each other. It was really bad for a while, but it gets better”
Mike smiled a little. Then his face dropped.
“What what?”
“They can’t do that!”
Mike was pointing at the last page.
“I know!!!”
“The Golden Angel was killed by Mayhem AGES ago when they had to team up with Dizzolve in the X Zone. Ages ago. Like, a year or something. How the hell can they bring him back?”
“I reckon its nanotechnology”


“Yo, Scott”
Mike walked over to Scott, who was drinking a can of pop and talking to Robin.
“Alright Mike, how you doing?”
“Fancy a race?”
“Yeah, maybe”
“Tell you what... if you can beat me to the maths block and back, I’ll give you this mars”
“Why don’t you both give it to me now and save yourself the bother!”
“I don’t even know how you can run in those clig-clogs”
“What? These have got air in the soles, mate. AIR”
“Yeah, whatev-air”
“hurr hurr”

They both walked over to the small wall that faced the maths block and got ready in a standing position.


Scott’s size ten feet slapped firmly, then awkwardly, erratically against the playground. His feet slid and scuffed as he stumbled and fell forward. His arms flailed. His balanced fell away, as did his dignity as everyone near him began to laugh the crushing laugh of secondary school humiliation, stripping him of years. He took a moment as the pain sank through his hands and all the horrible things he ever thought about himself were suddenly true and travelled down his neck like ice, meeting the dull ache in his arms and legs. The burning shame seeped into his head and got hotter and hotter and didn’t go away even when the pain reduced to a sharp sting. The whole of the playground, the whole of the world stopped to laugh and jeer. Everyone except Mike.

Scott got up and breathed sharply through his teeth, waiting for the dizziness to stop. Mike stood with his foot still cocked at a right angle in Scott’s path, frozen in a look of slight shock. Scott marched up to him, tearing at the eyes and weeping through the tear in his knee, ignoring the pain.

“What the fuck, man?”
Mike said nothing.
“What the fuck?”
Mike said nothing.

Scott shoved Mike in his chest, pushing him over, and limped off, swearing and wiping the tears away from his eye in as masculine a way as he could manage. Mike sat on the playground floor as said nothing. As people laughed and howled he stared at his static shoes and imagined them moving.

Monday, 15 February 2010

“He said that he suffered from ‘fits’ and could not be left alone. He also claimed to be a music hall entertainer”

October 11th
Three days now and I’m starting to realise how cold this place can get. The days are still warm, but as soon as the sun falls… The wood is in no danger of running out, though. Neither is the whiskey.
October 14th
I was woken up at half four in the morning last night by one of the wooden window blinds. The catch doesn’t quite fit in the hole, pops out. I tried to sleep through it but it didn’t stop, so I got up and put it back in. Thankfully it held for the rest of the night. I’ll fix it today.
I started going through all my research again. Photos, photocopies, news stories, statements from the time, those I could find. I wish it wasn’t so long ago, so far away. That I’d begun this years ago, before I was born even. Talking to the old people, to Iris. It helped to get an impression, some idea, something to work with mood. But even that was things she remembered her mother saying. I hope I can do something with this.
Christ, what am I doing here?
October 19th
Went to the village again today, picked up some shopping. Food, booze, fags. I’ll try and make it all last longer this time. The woman in the shop. Joan? June? She is nice enough, very cheery, but I get the impression that she’s trying to work me out, work out what the hell I’m doing here beyond the information I’ve divulged. I told her I was looking after the house for a few months for a friend. That’s true enough, I suppose. Not even a lie of omission, really.
I switched to rollies again. It seems to fit the rustic setting. Plus the only straights they carry are shit and I really couldn’t face trying to get her to order in Reds. Trying to see if she had oyster sauce was tough enough. I might have to knock the East Asian cooking on the head for a little bit. I think my metropolitan ways make me stand out enough already.
October 21st
The photos I’ve placed everywhere, the courthouse and family descriptions in bold writing, the family tree of Edward, what family I could find of Mary (a “motherless child”), the old plans of Downmere Rd before it was concreted over. Her last words:
“Oh let me die”
They all sneer at me. Every time I try to look at them, they laugh at me. Every bastard movement of the second hand. The word count is the same every time I check it. For some reason I still haven’t developed the ability to increase it by meagre will.
I chopped wood for three hours and thought about nothing except what I was going to eat that evening. I cooked a stew on the fire and then drank until I fell asleep.

October 22nd
For the first time I realised how beautiful this place is. I went for a walk first thing this morning after breakfast and coffee. The words are so close by to the cottage. Maybe ten minutes walk away. This place is stunning. It hit me how long I’ve been starved of any kind of nature for the past year other than the trees and grass in the Victorian cemetery that she’s buried in. That Mary is buried in.
I wish I’d paid more attention as a child when my mother would take me around parks, identifying trees to me. I wish my prose was more lyrical so I could ‘extrapolate upon the verdant beauty’ of the forest without sounding like a third-rate romantic poet.
There’s a conker tree
There’s a birch
There’s an oak
There my knowledge runs out.
There’s a robin.
There’s a starling.
There’s a wood pigeon.
There I am at my grandparents, counting the pigeons in the trees outside the spare bedroom window.
Their calls all sound exactly the same.
I’m honestly amazed at all of these simple things. Living creatures not wrapped in concrete or living off of fag buts or chicken bones. The stars I can see at night. The sky being black and not some filthy grey-pink; the outside being dark. The smell of ozone and earth. I found a trail winding through the woods, running past a pond and over a slight hill. I’ll run this later in the week I think. Today I just strolled, taking it in.
Perhaps foolishly, I left my phone at home (the cottage). When I got back I noticed four missed calls from two people. Three from Sandra, checking up on how the book is coming along. The other number was one I didn’t know. Didn’t leave a message.
I managed to spend the rest of the day working on the book. Fleshing out the structure. The dichotomy present in the story is so strong I don’t feel the need to work against it. The class lines, the cheering inside the court at the acquittal, the ‘dark mood’ outside.
But what’s important here? Her murder? Their relationship? The fact he and his family had to flee because of the constant hounding by the press? Was that it? One of the first instances of what is seen as a 20th century phenomenon. The power of the print media. This could be far more interesting than I had first imagined. This could be something really big.
I could hardly sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I would think something new.

October 24th
The last two days have been among the most productive I can remember for a long time. Despite the connection being as slow as dial-up, I’ve been able to find a couple of articles from around the time, from just after the trial. Some totally unconnected, just for some kind of reference. It’s extraordinary. The language has changed a lot, but ultimately it reads like a tabloid before a ‘Big Brother’ eviction. The first case of trial-by-media? I now have no idea if it was him or not. The acquittal, the vitriolic response of the tabloids on one hand, the public reaction on the other.
Are the papers a worse factor in this than the murderer? Can I even begin to think that?
1st draft of 1st chapter done. Sending it off to Sandra now, if the connection can take it.
October 26th
Worked all day ‘til late. No run today. Had my dinner in the pub last night. Steak and Kidney. Read the paper over a pint of ale. Started chatting to a guy on the next table. Guy named Edward. Not an uncommon name I guess, but it stuck with me. Funny when you feel like life is throwing things at you. I was waiting for a profound moment whereby I realise that I’m talking to the ghost of Pool. I almost asked him if his wife was called Mary. Ha. We just talked about football, a little bit about politics without any real partisan distinctions. I stuck to my story. Looking after the house, self employed. He works at the library, sculpts in his spare time. We spoke a little about Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
(There my knowledge runs out)
I bought him a brandy before we both toddled off home. I even whistled on the way home like an extra in an old Ealing comedy.
The latch on the window went again at 4 or so. Even a slight breeze has that thing going. I hammered it in with my shoe and then gaffer taped it closed. I’ll fix it properly tomorrow.
October 27th
Sandra called today with feedback on the first chapter. My fucking phone could hardly get any signal, despite being not 20 minutes from a mast. Hills or something. I don’t know. Eventually managed to talk to her. She’s concerned with the direction its taking. She wants me to keep up the personal element, more on the “fevered romance” which leads to Edward murdering Mary. I voiced my opinion that there was at least some room for doubt. She told me to get my head out of my arse, that he was as guilty as O.J. and reminded me that “I’m not writing ‘The Wire’”. Great.
“People just aren’t going to get it. Think more about the hammer and less about the newspapers, O.K.?”
I have no idea why I didn’t call her a sick, cold hearted bitch, but I’m sure she’s had worse. I’m sure she’d consider it ‘part of the creative process’.
That was it. I tried working after that but couldn’t focus. I was so angry. I went for a run, but it didn’t help at all. I ended up drinking half a bottle of whiskey and listening to the Rolling Stones. I think I tried calling her back, but couldn’t get any signal from the cottage. Probably a good thing.
The latch went again I think? I swear I heard it again, banging in the middle of the night. I couldn’t move, though. When I got up in the morning it was still held in place with gaffer tape.

November 1st
I think my phone has pretty much died now. No big loss, I suppose. I was only using it to keep in contact with Sandra. Everything else was an annoyance. Ha. Well, she was an annoyance, but a necessary one. The ‘dongle’ still kind of works, so I at least have one foot in the 21st century.
I wrote for hours this morning but couldn’t face looking at any of it by the afternoon. I turned off my laptop and went for a walk.
I found myself at the stream that runs though the village. I walked along and ended up just a little way out of town. There I saw a tree. Just above it, three starlings were circling. They were slowly joined by two more, then three, then five. Around a dozen circled above this willow (there’s another tree I can name), with more and more joining. I sat down on an old wall that ran beside the river and rolled a cigarette and waited for whatever was going to happen next. Some subtle change in light or temperature, something I couldn’t tell, the thirty or forty starlings that had gathered above the tree began to descend. Twenty more appeared. Thirty. Forty. A hundred. Two, three, four hundred. Thousands of birds swept through the sky, jostling for space in the tree, eclipsing the setting sun, screaming at each other. Thousands of birds from miles around, all screaming, fighting for somewhere to sleep.
Oh god, the noise. All I saw when I looked at it was not some heart-warming example of cooperation and cohabitation in nature, but its stark selfishness and brutality.
Earlier today I saw the corpse of a starling chick on the pavement on the way to the railway station. It must have fallen out of one of the nests just under the guttering of a house. It was mostly skeletal. Some flesh, some feathers.
I drank myself to sleep again.
November 10th
I feel like this book is splitting in two. On one hand it’s a romance/murder story that rapidly veers between tawdry and passionate, and on the other it’s a indictment of both the class divide in south east (as was outer) London of the late 19th century and the development of ‘tabloid’ newspaper sensationalism ‘news celebrity’ culture. I don’t see why this can’t be both things, but they just won’t resolve themselves. They won’t sit together.
November 13th
“Think more about the hammer”
I can’t stop.

November 17th
I stared at the screen for 5 hours today, watching the smoke and the breath hang in front of my face, trying to tell the two apart. With every passing minute I realise more and more what a fucking fraud I am and how little I know of life. Sat in this room, over a hundred years later, wanting for nothing. How fucking dare I dramatise something so horrific. What right to I have to use the murder of this poor, poor girl to furnish my own home. To keep me in laptops and ipods and fags and booze and warmth. I’m just as much of a rich cunt raping that poor girl as that bastard Edward. I’m no better at all.
I could make a glass eye cry.
I woke up some at around four in the morning, my face on the descriptions of sightings of her ghost.
“Held out her hand”
“Looked straight in the eye”
“Dirty white dress”
“Blood from her face”
“Oh let me die”
“Oh let me die”
I don’t know how long I sat staring at those words. I think I managed to take myself to bed soon after that.
I’m not so sure.
November 18th
I’m paying for yesterday, making myself pay. I ran 5 miles this morning before breakfast and threw up twice. I almost passed out and had to sit on the side of the track in the forest for half an hour before my legs would stop shaking. I made some eggs when I got in, but could barely even look at them
I pressed undo and redo over and over again. A time-lapse of a day’s work disappearing and reappearing. 9.30. 5.30. 9.30. 5.30 At the ‘start of the day’ I was tempted to hit a random key and close it down. Make the whole fucking thing disappear.
I held my fist over the keyboard, but I couldn’t bring myself to bring it down.
I haven’t backed anything up for a week.
My head hurts.

November 19th
I saw her last night. Mary. I saw her. I swear.
I began drinking at 5 to stay warm. I tell myself. To stay warm.
The heat from the fire, the sound of the snapping of the wood.
A light bulb blew.
I couldn’t drink any more. I went to bed. Fully clothed.
Her face. The middle of the night. Her face in the dark.
As I was sleeping, I heard something. I opened my eyes and for a split second I saw her face in the dark.
I was probably just drunk.
November 20th
I woke up with a stinking hangover. I ate some bacon. I couldn’t face a run. I threw on some clothes and went into town for fags and a few things. The woman (Joan? June?) tried talking to me about a village fair next week or something. I nodded and smiled as best I could. I bought a local paper out of morbid interest.
Later I tried getting online. Dead. No signal at all. Unplugged the ‘dongle’, plugged it back in. Nothing.
The words on screen stared back at me as I tried to think of something, of anything. I tried a more ‘proactive’ approach. I tried writing something else, starting a story to take my mind off it. Nothing. I couldn’t find anything. I just stared, dead eyed. This is all I have. All I can write about. Some small mercy, some attempt to clear my head.
In lieu of my fourth cup of coffee, I opted for whiskey and tried to accept that the days lack of writing was probably over. I listened to the 13th Floor Elevators to cheer myself up. All I could think about was acid and mental illness, which didn’t help. Around seven in the evening things became sketchy. I remember smashing a glass, cutting my hand trying to pick the pieces up, trying to get online to check old emails from recent exes and look at pornography in a fit of self loathing and then… my laptop wouldn’t work?
I was awoken at about four or so in the morning. The window. Cover. I need to find out the name for that thing if I’m going to mention it so often. It came loose again. The loud bangs. It was so cold. I was in all my clothes but it was so cold and I was frightened. I couldn’t open my eyes. The very thought made me feel sick. I could feel the weight on the end of my bed. I could feel her sitting there, next to my legs. I could hear her breathing but I couldn’t open my eyes. I wouldn’t.
November 21st
I’m trying to piece together last night. I got up this morning to find my laptop broken. The screen cracked, not working. The casing in bits. Actually come apart. It must have been thrown with some force. I don’t remember this at all. Glass on the floor.
I got my typewriter out. I hadn’t even bothered to unpack this particular affectation since I’d been here and had insulted it every moment I carried it. A cumbersome totem, I never thought I’d actually be using it. This might be exactly what I need. Everything is still floating around my head. I can rewrite it; see how it compares to what I backed up. I packed the laptop away, just in case something can be salvaged.
I’m trying not to think about what happened last night. It felt so real. I could feel her sitting there.
I’m not going to drink tonight.

November 24th
I’m writing this from the train to London. I’m still unsure of what happened, what really happened. I feel cold, in shock. As if something inside me has frozen. I left. I took my typewriter and my clothes and left as quickly as I could.
A last stab at this thing. A multithread narrative. Mess about. Have fun. Doesn’t matter if it’s not used. The story, the events were set in stone. I tried writing it from various perspectives. As soon as I got stuck, try something else. Three days. Come back, try someone new. A reporter. A maid (one who carried the coffin). One of the parents. Edward, to try and understand what I could. And then Mary. I started writing about her. It just poured from me. I don’t think I’ve ever written with such force or emotion or… it was like I was channelling something. Channelling her. What facts I didn’t have, I made up. It didn’t matter. The only truth was the story itself.
And then, I stopped. My fingers where white, frozen. Tears were running down my cheeks, dripping onto the ink. I… I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t write.
Drinking straight from the bottle, I read my own words, ‘her’ words back to myself, out loud with an accusatory voice, dropping each page into the fire when I had finished, draining a glass with each one.
I’m sorry, I remember shouting, whilst weeping. I’m sorry.
I screamed, throwing the bottle against the wall. Whiskey soaked the wallpaper, blurring the print.
Bed. The window. Again. I was still awake this time. I knew she would be coming. I could hardly breathe in the cold. The fear. I held my eyes tightly shut, like a child receiving a present. Holding the tears in. A slight creak. The weight of her sitting there. Her breath. Mine. My fists were clenched into tight balls, my fingernails digging into my palms, almost breaking the skin. I tried not to breathe. I tried to disappear. I am 5 years old and there is a ghost in the room.
(There my breath runs out)
My eyes slowly opened. The pain of the sweat, the tears. The black flashing on black as the scant light fell into images.
And there, at the foot of my bed sat the ghost of Mary Coulson.
Pale, almost translucent, her matted hair framed her terrified face. Blood fell from her forehead, dripped over her ragged clothes. She looked ready to flinch at my slightest movement. I stared at her without any change in my expression, without any reaction. And I realised. She’s nothing but a frightened girl. Not even a woman. A girl. A child.
I held out my hands to her.
“I… I’m sorry”
She stretched her hands back to me.
“Oh, let me die” she mouthed.
I closed my eyes and she was gone.

I’m sorry, Mary. I’m so, so sorry.

Author’s note: The title of this story is taken from the article ‘The true story of Jane Clouson, by her cousin’ by John Hancock. The bulk of this story (or rather, the story-within-the-story) is based on that of Jane Clouson, who was brutally murdered in Kidbrook, South-East London and interred at Brockley cemetery; and Edmund Plook, who was accused and (somewhat contentiously) acquitted of her murder. He was subsequently hounded by the press and forced to change his identity. No one was ever convicted of the murder of Jane Clouson. Her ghost was reputedly sighted on a number of occasions over the next century.
Names and details have been changed both for the purposes of creative freedom and also a sense of decency to those actually involved, though her final words remain the same. Apologies for any offence caused, it was certainly not my intent.
Written with thanks to Sam Holloway.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Introduction | Outline

“An Outline”
A play in one act.

Written and performed by
Thomas Samuel Smith Druker (of Catford)

Dramatis personae: Tom- A man, also going by the nomme-de-internet of ‘strontiumtom’

Act One: “An Introduction”

TOM sits in a dimly-lit room. A light bulb hangs from the ceiling. Despite a meagre 40 watts, its deceptively penetrating glow is tempered by a golden coloured lampshade made of metallic carvings of leaves, the type of which was de-rigueur a few years previously. It was not of his purchase or to his taste, but remains only as a testament to a long-standing grudge between old friends. He sits at an old bureau in front of a window, of which he never looks out. The bureau, a 1950s replica of Victorian design is a pleasing fraud. It is also a metaphor. The glow of a laptop illuminates his face (for the purposes of dramatic tension and scene setting), highlighting a furrowed forehead, a constant look of anxious concern that belies his age.
He stares at a blank page.

Nothing happens.
TOM sits motionless.
The audience wait.
Nothing happens.
Nothing happens.
Nothing happens.
And still the audience wait.

SFX: The sound of a woman holding her breath. A cough. Someone shuffling in their seat. Popcorn.

Suddenly the lights dim, aside from a single beam, almost heartbreaking in its purity, picking out our weary protagonist.

TOM rises from his seat and addresses the audience.

“Hi, my name is Tom and I’m a writer. I’ve been writing for over two decades now but have yet to see fit to have something published outside of review work for various low-grade publications. Prose fiction has always been my first love (a cliché I am happy to rely on in this instance) and is a craft I have been attempting to refine for many years now.

I’ve decided to set up this blog as something of an experiment, in an attempt to:

A) Impose a level of discipline onto my writing habits by creating deadlines (in this case a short story/ piece of work each month)

2) Create a forum in which I can receive feedback/criticism

iii) Create a body of work outside writing for publication which will exist for free well as creating a lot more work for myself.

Please read and let me know what you think. All work on this blog is ©Tom Druker, aside from photos which are ©Ben Starkin, except where noted. Please contact me if you wish to repost anything.
bee oh are enn eff are oh doubleyou enn eye enn jee at googlemail dot com
Thank you”

TOM nods to the audience and leaves the stage, closing the laptop on his way out. The spotlight fades.