Saturday, 31 December 2011

Did I do OK?

An open street
In a vacuum
Near silent
A break in nothing
The eye of the hollow.


And here we were again, me and ****, staring in disbelief at the cold void that no amount of alcohol or self medication could begin to fill.  A place we hoped we’d never have to return to, let alone so soon.

“You know” he begins with a voice like a dry sob, turned down at each end.  Our second language.
“Hah.  I... You know I just keep wondering”
I don’t turn to him.
“I can’t help but wonder... who’s going to be next?”
We both let the question hang in the thick air of the mid-day pub.  An old man sits in the corner, muttering into a paper and occasionally hawking and chewing on the results.  We hardly notice him.
I slowly turn, and give him a smile that is nowhere near a smile, but I am thinking only one thing.

It’s not going to be me.


I am here to suffer through this all.
I will not be given any such release.
As much as I may think I want it.
As much as I pray that the same void consumes me whole.
It’s not going to be me.


The days just blur together.
Every one of them, not a day closer to death, but a day I didn’t die.
Another day I didn’t die.

And we drink.  And I drink.
Together.  Alone.  Both.
To try and feel happy.  To try and feel sad.  To break through the numbness.  To feel numb again.
Drink and drink and drink and drink and drink ‘til you are so full that its uncontrollably pissing out of your eyes, and you can tell the world that it worked and something happened and kid yourself that you feel a bit better, or at feel least something before your face goes numb and you do it all again.

Did I do good by you?

I’ve had enough.
I’ve just had enough.
None of you are even listening.
I feel like I’m shouting nothing.
Silent screams into an uncaring vacuum.

A soft hand on my shoulder.


Pick out a sentence.
Roll it around.
Pick out a sentence.
Did you like that one?
Roll it around.
Feel how your tongue moves.
As you say the words.

Did I?
Do it?

Purse your lips.
Narrowed eyes.

Ha ha.



Wasn’t that funny?

A soft hand on my shoulder and a tight hand round your throat.

The look.

The look.

Did I?
Do it?

Comical tears and sad, sad laughter.

Deconstructed scorn and abandoned judgements.

And a question I’ll never here the end of.

My right leg has gone cold, again.  Been happening a lot lately.  It feels wet.  Soaked.

I check it in a panic, but it’s dry, as ever.
It all feels wet, but it never is.

As the bottle sinks into the black and grey.
Did I?
Do it?
Stop it.

Did I do right by you?

Did I do ok?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Gone. Gone. Gone.

A Postcard:

Dear Mum

We’re having a great time in Fort Kochi!  This place is stunning. A few of the lasting hippies have set up cafes and whatnot and the fish here is incredible.  So fresh.  You should see the Chinese fishing nets on the sparkling Arabian sea.  You’d love to draw them.  Today I’m going into Ernakalum (the local city) to buy a guitar and see some films at a film festival.  Wanting to stay apart from my peers, I got a haircut the other day.  Quite a ritual.  The barbers here are light-years ahead of our own in the field of dealing with unsightly hair! Straight razors and flames! As ever, I survived.
I’ll probably call before you even get this, but I thought the picture was funny.  Remind you of anyone?
Lots of love


The first thing I could see was the ceiling fan.  Mock bamboo.  Plastic and faux wood.  I counted the holes.  I get up to 16 before I realised that the fan wasn’t moving.  Crawling out of bed I flipped the switch a couple of times.  I didn’t try the light switch in case it wasn’t the fuse.
“Hi, baby” I replied in a hushed voice.
“hmmm?  S’goin on?”
“Shh, it’s just the fan.  It’s out”
“Is it the power?”
“I think so.  I didn’t want to check the lights.  I didn’t want to wake you up”
“Aw! Yrr too sweet.  Come here”
In her half asleep slur she held open the blanket for me and I crawled into her waiting body.

We took a late breakfast in one of the many hippy cafes in a beautiful old back alley in Fort Cochin, up towards Jew street.  I drank coffee and ate fruit, she had a smoothie and was delighted once again with the Indian take on porridge.  This was a joy that never seemed to tire either of us.

“So what are you thinking for the day?”
“You always ask me that when you have a plan.  Just tell me what YOU’RE thinking”
We both smoked Scissors as the food went down.  I let her knight take one of the small black plastic pawns.
“Well, I was thinking of taking the ferry into Ernakalum, maybe buying a guitar.  There’s one that’s about RS1100.  Doesn’t look too bad.  Maybe seeing what’s on at the film festival”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.  Whaddaya say, girly?  Fancy joining me?”
“Uh, I don’t know...”
“How come?”
“I don’t know if I’m really in the mood.  Plus the last time I was there.  Ugh.  It’s the open sewers.  The smell mixed with roasting cardamoms and I thought I was going to be sick for a week”
I shrug, as if to say ‘your loss’
“You know how rough I was”
“Yeah.  You are looking a like drawn.  Maybe you should just chill here. So what you going to be doing instead? Ha.  Try and get me now”
“Oh, I don’t know.  I’ll find something.  Check”

But we both knew.

Aaron had been there a few months now.  Early thirties, it was his fourth or fifth time in India.  He would work the monsoon season back in New Zealand, doing night shifts, factory work, whatever, until he had enough money for a plane ticket back.  He told me he had stories about working in the sewers.  More than I ever wanted to hear.  He knew people all around India.  He’d spend a few weeks or months in different places, travelling around as and when he pleased, acting as an intermediary between tourists and dealers.  Tourists were often too scared to risk some foreign jail time (really, a bribe).  There was money to be made in the soft market of dabblers, made comfortable by his white face and charming accent.  Weed, charas, mushrooms, opium.  White drugs were harder to get, he said.  Luckily, we... I had no interest.
We bought our hash off him.  It was a lot better than the bush weed we’d been smoking before.  We had a tolla which wasn’t going down at all.  Seeds and stalks and bitter smoke.

She was always a bigger smoker than me.   That is in the whole time I’d known her.  Almost three months now, we’d been together.  From the first few days in, we fell into a relationship.  Something about it felt fated.  I guess it’s easy to be swept up in such notions when surrounded by such mysticism and exoticism.  But it was like we had known each other all our lives.  I knew she felt the same way too.  I was certain.
Most of the time I was never that fussed, I just went along with her.  And the more I became fascinated with the place, the less I was bothered.  I think she had started to become antsy and wanted more committed ‘Shaivites’ to hang with.  I wanted to see the country, not the inside of a hotel room or, god forbid, myself.


The heat was different on the mainland.  Unless stood right by the sea, it was like a wall.  Something so different about this place.  The Dust and the noise and, yes, the open sewers made Fort Kochin seem a million miles away.  The same thick Malayalam babble of a million different conversations.  Haggles, arguments, discussions, but with the pace and attitude of a city.  Still, a lot calmer than the bigger cities we’d been to, but after days of no pace at all, it was a baby satori.  I realised how much I’d been craving the heat and the mess of it all.
I bought the guitar, a ‘Givson’ Jazz-style acoustic, a few picks and a couple of packets of Indian strings.  Like fucking cheesewire.
I remember what a nice day I had.  I saw some Russian film at the festival, had one the best thalis I can still remember and almost put out of my mind what I thought may have been happening back on Kochi.

But it was only for so long.  I met a guy called Samuel, wandering around town.  He’d been in India a little while but was new to Ernakulum.  Here for the festival.  We went for a few beers- he tried the local coconut swill for a few rounds until I could see he could no longer face it.  Add enough Limca and you can fool yourself into thinking it’s a pleasant drink. I taught him the unparalleled joy of a cold bottle of Haywards 5000.  I think after we’d switched to the ‘whiskey’, we caught the adventurers bug and decided to catch the last ferry to Vypeen island.  I’d been there on a day out and was far too shitfaced to remember if there was any b and bs there.  I was pretty sure it was all temples and spots of natural beauty.  But I was also pretty sure there were ferries and I would be able to walk in a straight line.  As it stand, Vypeen is very developed and extends far beyond the small corner of it that I saw.  Not that that made much difference to the coming night.

We made our way to the jetty.  It took us five minutes of attempts to focus to realise the ferries had finished for the day.  The rest is just fragments.  Fractions of memories, like a half remembered dream.  I think we harassed and paid the one poor bastard we could find with a boat to sail us across.  Maybe my most shameful act of tourist prickishness and dick swaggering display of relative wealth.    We made it to the island in the pitch black.  We paid him well.  Roy, I think his westernised name was.  But that wasn't the point.

Here’s a list of moments and images that I remember.  It is the closest thing I have to a continuous narrative of that evening.
The lights in the near pitch black, reflecting off the lapping water.
The moon.  The size of the moon.
The stars.
The light of it all amid the darkness. 
The boat leaving and us running off into the night in glee.
Sand and gravel and rocks and the smell of the sea.
Disappearing, the closer in land we got.
Blurred, painted Malayalam road signs.
Sitting on a rock, lying back and drinking the paint stripper that passes for whiskey.
The slow realisation that the island was much, much, much smaller than Vypeen.
Laughing.  Howling with laughter as we realised we had no idea where we were, what island we were on.
Walking around, stumbling by torch light.
Smoking charas.
The fatigue of the day finally setting in.
Words becoming slower.
Arms becoming heavier.
Will becoming fainter.
And falling off the flat edge of the world.
Straight past

I opened my eyes to darkness.  I opened my eyes and tried to open them.  Again and again.  To darkness, to sweat, the choking dank, stagnant smell and the heavy echos of my own breathing.  I groped around my pockets for the packet of Scissors and tore one out, hoping the rough tobacco taste would send me upright.
In the quick sparks and flickering match light, I see the walls all around me.  Battered, ancient stone.  The sound echoing across dead water.

I lit another match to see the flame reflected in an unmoving, stinking pool.  Flecks of sickening green and the brackish smell of eternal decay.

To my left, what looks like stairs.

Through the choking stench of the cheap cigarettes, my own body and this empty mausoleum, I clambered up the stairs and into the blinding light of the day.  I looked around for Samuel but, couldn’t find him.  No sign of him at all. All I could see was a long gravel path, the ancient Shaivite temple that had been my shelter for the evening, and the lapis lazuli of the unending Arabian sea.

I looked for him, but I couldn’t find him or anyone anywhere.  No signs of life. 
I was lucky to attract the attention of a small fishing boat.  With what scant money I had left, I negotiated a lift.  Made it as far as Vypeen and caught the Kochi ferry with my pocket change.
It all seemed like a dream at the time, but the rest I remember clearly. 
The fresh smell of the fish.  So removed from the stink of a London fish market day, the foul Piscean stench that hung thick in the air, long after the stalls were cleared away.
The slow creak of the Chinese fishing nets.
The gentle babble of the fishermen, and of the sea.
The slowly waking island and the slowly rising heat.
The hush.
The silence.
The hotel owner waving.
The lack of key.
The door, open.
Open already.
Slowly opening.
The smell.
Incense and something else.
Not charas, not weed.
Something else.
The remnants of something that had filled the room.
Filled the room and blacked out the light.
The broken pipe on the floor.
Her hair.
And her shoulder.
And her cold skin.
Almost grey in the half light.
And the ceiling fan, just about on.
Chopping through nothing.

“You’ve done very well today.  I know that wasn’t easy”
“Thank you”
“Thank you”

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Public Service Announcement

Greetings, True Believers!

This week’s Bullpen Bulletin comes to you with both regret and excitement.

I have an unfortunate announcement of potentially pared production here at Frowning Towers.  Alas, ‘the man behind the curtain’ is concentrating on both that noble endeavour of finding gainful employment and some enthralling SUPER SECRET PROJECTS!!! * that truly take time to tether and top off.

Yet fear not, my four faithful fans!  The loyal lackeys here at Frowning Towers have assured me that although the always appreciated monthly missives may be abridged, they shall not be abated and alternative and exciting experimental entertainments shall be available very soon!

So expect all the thrills, spills, shocks and moribund misery you have come to enjoy, either here or in different forms!  

In the words of the bard himself, Isaac Asimov, “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I’d type a little faster”


Tom Druker

*Watch this space, True Believers

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Congratulations! You have now entered your thirty third year of being a

*F*U*C*K*I*N*G*  *S*C*U*M*D*O*G*

On this auspicious occasion you will be awarded the grand prize of a cactus shaped hangover and all the vomit stink and stale tobacco smoke you can eat in a year!
But why aren’t you grown up yet?  You know, when you’re 18 its fun, but in your 30s it’s just sad.  It’s a problem.  Problem?  If it was a problem it would be harder to do.
I got news for you, ‘Jackson’:
It’s never been fun.  Anyone who thought so was a fucking simpleton.  An amateur.
 This is a fucking coping mechanism, to soothe the sores of a hostile world that made the first move.  This is a war and my body is an acceptable casualty.

A little boy stops my train of movement and hollow justifications by standing straight in front of me.
“Is that a badge?” he says.
I look down.


Yes.  No.  No idea.

“Uh yeah.  Yeah, I spose it is”
“Can I have it?”
“Uh. No”
“Why not?”
 “It’s... Uh, It’s a present... from my dad.  He’d be upset if he found out”

For a moment I think the kid understands.  But instead he just flips his head back like a pez toy and shows me the gummy sweets he’s eating.  They kind of held their shape. Cola bottles, I think.
His mum, nanny, whatever, idles round the corner with a little tot of a girl and spies me, then him, then me again but this time worse.
“Funny kid.  You wanna watch out for this one, he’s gonna be a right little chancer”
She cuts her eyes at me and walks on with nothing but a sharp “ANTHONY”.  The little kid waves and runs off after her.  I watch them both walk away.

Cornetto.  Hot day.  Hangover.  Perfect.  For ten minutes I’m ten years old again. 
Happy birthday to me.
33, eh?  Wasn’t that when Christ died?  I have to ask ‘cos I’ve got no use for the church since father O’Shaunessy look a shine to my downstairs and I took a match to the place.  Borstal round 1.

Pint.  Birthday pint.  Montague it is.

One foot in the door and I can hear the fizz and almost taste it, washing away my hangover with a beautiful amber tide and pair of big luppers grab my collar, pulling at the buttons of my shirt and all I can hear is the wheeze of the bitter and fag ash breath leaving a film on my face.
“Where is he?” he’s shouting at me.  Big fella, face to match the size of his hands.  Short hair, nice coat.  Face to match the pavement.
“Where’s Corrie?”
I feign dumb which aint exactly hard for me, but he’s shaking and shouting and isn’t giving me time to answer before he’s shouting again and I’m not scared, but my leg starts going like I’m in the school play, the involuntary cunt.  “I aint seen him for a while” which is the truth, but the bit I miss out is the six months bird Malc’s doing in Brixton.  I ask him fuck is it to him, but my jaw’s already half hanging off and the concrete has turned all gloopy and by the time I know which way to look he’s already fucked off.

I stagger through the front door to see old John with a packet of frozen peas over one eye.  He gives me a stupid thumbs up which we both know is bullshit.  I slump on the floor in front of the bar and reach around for some fags and try and light one, but John’s half-hearted protests fade against the white noise and everything goes a bit spotty.

Once I thought I was having a heart attack.  For three years.  A slow time-lapsed coronary failure.  My chest was tight and I couldn’t breathe and my skin prickled and I felt like I was drifting sharply away on the rough edge of screaming nerves.  It turned out that my problem wasn’t a heart attack; it was just called ‘being alive’.

6 hours in A and E watching still drunk Somalians with head injuries try and fight each other later and I’m getting told what I already know.
Fractured jaw.
Happy birthday.
Here’s some elephant tranquilisers and all your meals through a straw.
Thank you very much.
Also, avoid alcohol at all costs.  Won’t go well with the diclaficlafucking whatever shit they’ve given me.
Happy fucking birthday.
Wouldn’t go well with the concussion either.
Happy birthday to me.

Would that I had dropped acid last night, at least that would explain why my eyeballs are behind my eyeballs.

While I’m on the long wait for the discharge, I try and put my mind on anything I can.  The fun old game of ‘what the fuck happened last night’ has become that much harder with my brain skipping every three seconds like a fucked CD.
We started in the Cheshire Cheese.  Me, Stevie and Malc.
Not Malc.
Where’s Malc? the Cheshire Cheese, and then...
Where’s Malc?
We had three in there, and then...
Where’s Malc? the Cheshire Cheese.
Where’s Malc?
And then...
Where’s Malc?
And then...
Where’s Malc?
You sure?
Six months.
And with good behaviour?

Trying not to stare at the shining brilliance of whiskey bottles in an offie window like a hungry baby at a tit, I shuffle along the Rye Lane with every aching muscle a dull whining noise at the back of my brain.  Wonderful, awful chemicals.

Nothing better to do than have a nose round Malc’s old yard.  Can’t drink.  Can’t talk. Can’t sit still.  Can’t do fuck all else but go for a walk.  Nowhere to go to.  So here I am.  Staring at his front door, with his name still on the bell.
With his name still on the bell.  Of the first floor flat.
My eyes are heavy and my hands are light when they undo the latch to the back garden and the sign of the first floor bathroom window being slightly ajar doesn’t strike me as good fortune, just something that was and was always going to be (such are the narratives that the heavily medicated use to make sense of the world).
One hand.  Two hands.  Left foot.  Right.  My weight and the groaning plastic pipe.  Stagnant water, months old, seeps into the open cuts on my hands and its kiwi fruit and toothpaste somewhere a few pages back, the words just visible through cheap paper.  The ghost of a description.  I pull and I’m watching someone else’s efforts, someone else’s chalk white hands and groaning red face and I’m prying the window open with shaking digits that just look funny to me.

A reverse birth into the house and I’m head-first on the toilet floor.
The lights don’t work, but the water’s still on.  Doesn’t look like the bathroom’s been used recently.  Hygine wasn’t one of Malc’s top priorities, but even some use would have washed the dust away.
Wasn’t just the bulb in the bathroom, the one in the hall had gone too, or they were all out.  I find my lighter in the end and I’m shuffling around cupboards trying not to burn my fingers or set the ironing board on fire.
I see the odd man out and flip the fuse up and the hall and the bathroom are alive.  Hmm.  Not cut off either.
Then it dawns on me, in a reverse of sane logic.  Maybe it’s not cut off because someone’s living here.  Fuck sakes, what am I doing?

Then I notice the stairs.  The banisters, the shadows on the wall, like prison bars I think for a second.  A light.  Upstairs.  Was it there all along?  Did it come on with the fuse? Or just after?
Against any sense, I find myself floating towards the source like a twat of a moth straight into a candle, rather than heading away like the rest of the animal kingdom.
Heading straight to the door, framed by a whiskey shine.
No signs of recent life.  A laptop charger on a desk.  Marks in the dust where a laptop used to be.  An a flyer for some night.  Looks like a goth club or something.

Exquisite Agony IV
Friday, 27th of May

Veronica  Written on the back, underlined three times.
Christ, looks a bit much, that does.

And then I’m thinking.  There aint many Veronica’s round here, specially not ones that run in Malcs crowd or would let him sniff around hers.

Hang on.
There was one girl, bit Chinese looking.  Thought she was called Viviane, but I can’t say I was ever really listening for her name.  Too many stories got in the way.  Heard she wields her cunt like a sword, that one.  Dan said she worked in some bondage place.  Couldn’t say either way.  I’ve got enough agonies in my life without nipple clamps.

Looks like I’ve got a date.   Better get tarted up, then.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Art History

In 1973 a plate crashes to the floor.  Spaghetti bolognaise covers the lino.  
A lurid shade of red.

“Margaret, would you like to come up to the front of the class now?  Show everyone what you’ve done today?”

“Oh, I...”

“It’s ok, everyone has to do it”

Margaret got down from her stool and detached the paper from the easel. 

“Well, I thought, the kids are all grown up and almost ready to leave the house, the youngest is.  The rest have gone, well Michael’s in his third year of medical school you see so he moves back in the summer, but Michelle’s expecting now and Darren has long since moved out, with his girlfriend, so he says anyway.  Do you have any? Oh, that’s nice, anyway now that they’re all gone and well, since I got made redundant I was given the option of retiring you see, and we thought with my pension and what Pete earns we can probably make do, only problem is I’ve never been much of a house keeper, well I mean I like to keep my house nice, but, you know, I’ve never been, what do they call it these days? OCDC? So I was thinking, well now I don’t know what to do with myself.  House is tidy, dogs fed and walked, what else is there?  So my daughter Michelle, the one who’s expecting, well she says that her friend’s dad, who’s a widower, bless him, I know, can you imagine?  Well she says that he takes these adult education classes, and here’s me thinking that there’s no way I’m going to go back to school, especially not at my age, I mean I don’t know what it was like for you but at my school I couldn’t wait to see the back of them and vicey versai, you know? But ‘no’, she says, ‘it’s not like that, you just pay for what you want and you do it yourself and this old fella, the one who’s a widower (bless him), he’s been doing these pottery courses and its really cheered him up, you know?’ So I think, well where’s the harm, so I ask her ‘where’s the harm’ ‘exactly’ she says. ‘Exactly’.  So I have a think and think, what would I like to do and, well, I’ve never been a good drawer, so life drawing sounds good, beginners class.  Drawing fruit, I thought.  Drawing fruit, she thought! Now I know, only fruits here are a few bananas, ha ha ha, or maybe...”

The woman mouthed him over there, and pointed to a man sat two tables behind Margaret.  She couldn’t understand why. Margaret gazed at her tuna and sweet corn sandwich.  No appetite pet?  No appetite.  Margaret continued to smile at the woman talking at her, whose name she had already forgotten, and looked around the canteen, wondering who all the other people were and what interesting conversations they were having.  But Margaret didn’t know if she’d be able to talk to them, even if she had the chance.
The clock hit half one and everyone shuffled back into the art room.

“I bet you couldn’t do that!”
“I could!  I learned how to spin three plates at once”
“I bet you couldn’t do it on your finger”
“I bet I could”
“Un uh”
“I bet you you couldn’t”
“Bet I could.  Bet you a million”
“Paula!  Margaret!  DINNER! NOW!!!”
“Yes mum”
“Yes Mrs. Halpen”

“Art class?”
“Yeah, they run them at the”
“How much his that going to cost?”
“..local adult education centre”
“Where’s that then?”
“It’s not that much at all.  It really isn’t.  Just round the corner.  I could walk”
“I don’t know.  It’s been pretty tight”
“Well, we’ve been talking about me looking for work again”
“You know... you know that might not be... the best idea”

“Now this moment.  This is one of the hardest parts of drawing.  The first line on a pristine piece of paper.  But it is also one of the most exciting.  I want you all to look at the giant stack of paper on the table over there.  If you’re still not convinced, go and take a look in the cupboard.  I want you to let go of your anxiety and make a mark on the page.  Just... go for it.  Close your eyes if you need to.  And don’t worry if it doesn’t work”
Margaret closed her eyes and though about all of the different things she would be able to draw.  Her mind raced.  People’s faces that stuck in her head.  People lost in conversation. The apple tree that hung over her fence from her neighbour’s back garden, the two pieces of chocolate, left on the pavement to melt in the mid-day heat.  The vegetable fat slowly seeping into the concrete while its form just about held.
She closed her eyes and made a mark.
That didn’t look very much like a thigh at all.

“You hear this?  Art history?”
“I said, do you hear what your daughter just said?”
“What’s she done this time? Why do you always call her ‘your daughter’ when she’s done something wrong?”
“Did you hear?”
“What? What?”
“She said she wants to go and study ‘art history’?”
“Drawing?  I didn’t think she was any good at drawing.  Don’t you remember what her teacher said?  Said she was awful, he did.  Don’t you remember?”
“It’s not drawing”
“I said it’s not drawing”
“What do you mean?  It’s not drawing but it’s called art?”
“It’s looking at paintings.  Three years spent looking at paintings and she wants us to pay for it”
“But you don’t have...”
“Of course we do!  We’ve worked long and hard to have enough money to send you to university, a chance we didn’t have, me and your mother”
“That’s right.  Why don’t you take a leaf out of your sister’s book?  Eh?”
“She said she wanted to study English. English!”
“But she realised she’d be shooting herself in the foot”
“Wouldn’t be able to get a job, would she?  She knew it”
 “But you didn’t ever ask her if she was happy being a legal secretary, did you?”
Margaret didn’t say anything else.  She caught that look in her mother’s eyes.

“I bet you can’t balance a whole tray on one finger”
“Bet I can”
“With a plate on it”
“And food”
“...yup.  Bet I can”

Bi-Annual Student Report
Year: 2
Subject: Art
Teacher:  Mr. Jenkinson

While Margaret displays a willingness and enthusiasm to learn, unfortunately in this instance it is not enough.  She displays such little natural aptitude for the tasks in hand that I would wonder if she were deliberately not trying, were it not for her obvious enthusiasm.  Aside from the occasional bout of chatting in class, which she is no less bound to than any of the other girls, she is an otherwise model student.  In most instances like this, I would say ‘must try harder’, but in this case trying is not the problem.

Margaret got down from her stool and detached the paper from the easel. 
Thumbing the corner, her palms went prickly.  A light sweat.  The air tasted bright.
A step
And with every
A step
Movement she
A step
Saw a full
A step
Plate falling
A step
To the
A step
“It’s ok.  Everyone’s starting out”

Margaret turned the paper around and all but closed her eyes, wishing she had never taken this fucking class and just stayed at home.
“It’s really nice, Margaret!  You’ve come so far in the past couple of weeks.  You’ve really caught something here, it’s very atmospheric.  We’ll make an artist out of you yet!”

Margaret sat down again and couldn’t help but blush.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mourning Dove

At night, the very air itself seemed to come alive.  It crackled with the energy of unknown noises, monsters and the magic of the dark.  Josh lay in his bed and thought about what could be out there, aside from the things he had memorised from the dog-eared animal book his mom had bought him three years previous. 

Crickets, rattlesnakes, owls, raccoons, rats and wolves.  Animals of the night.  Josh loved wolves.  He had a t-shirt with a wolf on it, in front of a mountain, howling at the moon.

Josh lay listening to the world outside his window.  He couldn’t have slept, even if he’d wanted to.

He once asked his granpa if they were from a wolf tribe.  His mom was in the room tidying away dishes.  His granpa didn’t really answer.  He shook his head a little, but just mostly stared out of the kitchen window.  His mom said they weren’t from any tribe and that Josh should help her with the dishes.  Josh did.

Josh’s granpa didn’t look like the Indians in books or on the T.V.  He wore suits every day and his hair short, cut once a week.  Josh had hair down to his ears and sometimes wore baggy t-shirts.  But Josh was sure his granpa was an Indian.  His skin was dark.  His nose was sharp.  His hair was black and sleek.

Josh’s hair was brown and his skin was pale, but his eyes were as dark as his granpa’s.

Josh lay in his bed in the summer heat, listening to the outside behind the whir of the room fan which did little to the air, so thick you could bite it.

Days before, an Indian ‘chief’ (as Ms. Halbard had called him) gave a talk at Josh’s school.  He looked more like the Indians you see on T.V. except he was wearing jeans and a shirt.  He told them about his tribe, the Potawatomi, the Pot-ah-what-oh-me, and he told them about their myths and legends.  Nanaboozhoo, nan-a-boo-zoo? was one. And the mourning dove was another.  More-ning-duv.
He told them if you hear a mourning dove on your roof first thing, someone in the house is going to die.  The Indian ‘chief’ smiled at them, his wide grin and white teeth captivating the crowd and setting them at ease.  Josh swore the ‘chief’ winked at him before he left.  Just him.  But he never told anyone.

Now Josh couldn’t sleep.  He was waiting.  But the lull of the fan cutting through the air, the noise of the night turning white, his eyes began to sink and he floated away into the black of the room.  He floated and swam in the cold, dark water that his consciousness sailed on, sinking, rising, flying in the black ether, drinking it all as it drank him.

But then he couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t fly and he was sinking as fast as a rock.  He tried to stop, any way that he could.  He kicked and punched and breathed the first breaths of a new life as the glass of water fell and his mother stirred in the next room.  Josh checked his crotch and smelled his hand to make sure it was just sweat, and then got up, picking the glass up from the floor. He threw an old t-shirt on the wet patch and hoped it would soak up before his mom saw it.

Josh took the glass through to the kitchen.  The bathroom was closer but his mom had told him never to drink from there.  He pushed at the cold tap.  It must have been his granpa who used it last.  It was bolted tight.  He always turned it off too hard, especially if he was getting water for his rye.  Josh tried to turn it until his knuckles went pale and the muscle behind his thumb cramped.  He went to the fridge and found a jug of water.  He filled the glass and returned to his room, drinking it all as soon as the door was closed.  The water was so cold that it hurt his teeth and the back of his throat.  It went straight to his gut and met the nervous warmth head on, making his fists clench and his toes curl.  He fell into his bed the wrong way round and sank.  The hands of the night took him again.

The first thing Josh heard as he peeled the sleep away was a cooing through the open window.  The cooing of a mourning dove through his roof.

He bolted down the stairs with excitement and dread and the same cold gut as the middle of the night.  His mom was cooking huevos rancheros and his granpa was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s granpa?”
“What do you mean?  Has he gone out somewhere?”
“No, have you seen him today?”
“No, I was about to call to him”
“But he’s normally up by now!”
Josh’s mom shrugged.
“Sleeping in, I guess”
“Mom, we need to go and wake him.  We need to see if he’s OK”
“What do you mean?  Let him rest up if he wants to.  God knows he’s earned it”
“No, mom, no!  We have to see if he’s OK”

Josh’s mom waved her hand dismissively at the boy, and that was most certainly the end of the conversation.  Josh stormed out of the kitchen in near tearful frustration and marched up to his granpa’s room.  He knocked hurriedly on the door but was met with the silence he was dreading.  He knocked again.  Longer.  Harder.
“Joshua!  Leave your granpa alone!”
Josh breathed the frustration through his nose, closed his eyes and counted to ten before quickly turning the handle.
“Joshua, I swear to god if you’ve gone in his room!  Why can’t you let him sleep?”
But Josh could see something his mother couldn’t.  He could see a lump in his granpa’s bed.  A person-sized lump that wasn’t moving.
“Joshua, don’t make me come up there!”
But he couldn’t stop.  He raced to the other side of the bed and, with a shaking hand, pulled back the sheet.
“What are you up to, Josh?”
Josh’s eyes darted between his granpa’s face and the empty bed.  His granpa’s face.  The empty bed.
His granpa stood in the doorway of his room with a towel around his waist.  His short, black, whitening hair glistened with water and his dark eyes met Josh’s.
“What are you doing, Josh?”
“I...  I thought...”
His granpa moved his head in slightly closer as he waited for an answer.
In the silence of them both waiting, Josh could hear the scrape of a metal spatula against an iron skillet. 
The scraping stopped.  And Josh ran.

Everyone knew that the ghosts were in the woods.  That’s where the Indian ghosts went, the ones whose graves were disturbed.  Everyone at school said it.  Chad had even found a ring. He said there was Indian treasure in the woods and he had found it at the bottom of a lake when he went exploring and now he couldn’t get it off his finger because it had bonded with him.  That's what he had said, anyway.  Chad never spoke to Josh, but Mr. Mackeson shouted at him in phys-ed and he told the teacher and now everyone knew that too.  Josh wanted to be brave as well, braver than Chad.  Chad was Scottish/German and had no damn right to that ring. So Josh couldn’t see the bottom, but he was going to be brave.  He stripped off to his underwear, leaving his clothes in a pile by the lake shore.  He put his first foot in and tried not to jump when the cold hit him. 

The water was so cold that it hurt his knees and made his back spasm.  It went straight to his gut and met the nervous warmth head on, making his fists clench and his toes curl. 

But he was going to be brave. The water was calm, not at all like the sea. Thinner, dirty and dark. Lifeless.  As he walked further, his feet began to disappear.  Then his ankles.  Then his knees.  Then his waist.  Then everything.  As he opened his eyes, all he could see was darkness.  He swam and he swam in any direction he could, drinking the blackness as it drank him.

The End.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Dry Throat and a Clenched Jaw

A postcard:

An empty wheelchair by a pond, next to a bench.  A man sits with a vacant expression.  His arms are at imperfect right angles to his body.  One on the back of the bench, the other on the rest by his side.  They hang placidly from flaccid wrists.  A mallard shuffles groggily in the sun, making intermittent attempts at furious action before quickly settling down each time.  A large goose sits in the shade and calmly surveys its public.  A woman cradles the man and herself, her hand on his stomach, her head on his chest, protecting him with a silent desperation.

“Before you start, Al, could I have a quick word with you?”
“Um.  Yes.  Yes, absolutely”
Matt arched an eyebrow but made sure not to turn his head.  He would save any comments for later.
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, I’m OK thanks.  I just had a coffee”
“Where from?  The place on the corner?”
“Yeah, yeah.  That one”
“It’s great, isn’t it?  They’re really nice in there” 
“Yeah.  Should I take a seat”
“This shouldn’t take long.  OK, well...  You’ve been here for, what?  About, three months, now?”
“About that?”
“And how do you feel that you’re getting on?”
“Pretty well, yeah.  I like it”
“Getting on with everyone here?”
“Yeah, actually.  It’s a nice working environment”
“Yeah?  No problems with anyone?  Members of staff?  Customers?”

A screaming child, unable to be calmed.  An angry face.  Someone told him we had a title.  This year’s Beano Annual.  That we’d put it aside.  No one did.  No note.  Not my shift.  I just started.  I didn’t know anything.  Doesn’t matter.  Of course he doesn’t want fucking Desperate Dan.  He likes the Beano.  He won’t stop screaming.  He won’t stop screaming.  And the man won’t stop shouting.  There’s a queue, but he doesn’t care.  The man won’t stop shouting.  He says you’re laughing.  It was just nerves.  But now he says you’re laughing.  Shallow breathing and a dry sweat and he just won’t leave. 

“No.  No, it’s all fine”
“Great, because I think you’re doing a really great job here and I wanted to ask you if you would consider staying on for a permanent position”
“I... Well, yeah, I mean.  Um”
“It’s OK, you don’t have to answer now.  Have a think about it and let me know sometime tomorrow”
“Sure.  Thanks”
“No problem.  Have a great shift”
“Thanks.  Thanks”

I left the back office.  I was later told that my hands were shaking.

“Holy shit, Al.  Looks worse than I thought.  Look like a ghost.  Was it about that guy from last week?”

I shut the door on the toilet, hung my head back and closed my eyes.  My forced work smile, my ‘game face’ instantly disappeared.  My face, my eyes felt sore.  I just let it hang.  The light of the energy saving bulb seared its way into my brain.  I let the light burn through the thin membrane, all that was shutting out the rest of the world. And all I could see was the face of a woman.




The specific detritus of the Sunday chor bazaar was something I was still getting used to walking through every week.  Smashed, rotten fruit, smeared along the pavement.  A single, heel-less ladies boot.  A case for a straight to video action film starring Cynthia Rothrock.  A Dreamcast controller.  A broken CD case.  Bits of other lives, already three times thrown out or stolen from people who no longer cared. Products not cool, bad or retro enough for the irony-set or of value enough for anyone else.  Plastic orphans.

But my, how it pales to the real chor bazaar.  Real haggling. Thick incense. Fresh spices. Live animals.  Woven and printed fabric acid flashbacks.  Sweet ,alien fruit.  Men begging with withered limbs.  Doped children, holding out their hands.


I’d be a fool to start thinking about that again.  So I DON’T.  Not YET.

“Pint after work, ey?”
“Ah, I dunno.  Yeah.  Maybe”
“GGGooo on”
“Man, I don’t know, I’ve got to get up, and...”
“Just one, go on”
“Ach, I don’t know.  I don’t really drink so much anymore.  I can‘t really”
“Ah, lightweight, eh?”
“No, it’s not that, it’s these...”
“Yeah you are”
“Fuck it, go on then...”
“My boy!”

A morning spent picking myself together again.  I can’t say ‘no’.  I won’t.  By the second pint I was slurring.  By the third I was staggering.  I should know better.  I do know.  “Cuts your alcohol tolerance in half” 
How many letters does he have after his name?  And how many do I have after mine?  Yet I know better, apparently.
Apparently there aren’t enough times throwing up rum and the unrecognisable remnants of the last meal I’d eaten some 14 hours ago can teach me this.
It’s OK.  Another pill.  I’m only taking half.  I can’t do it anymore.  Only half.  But it should still be enough.  A wave of clarity through the swirling, tobacco stinking horror.

Half a day.  Half a day for two weeks.  Then every other day.  For a week.  And then, back to nothing.  That’s the plan.

And I’m level again.

A postcard:

Wish you were here. I wish you were here.
The sun is attempting to shine through a heavy overcast sky.  The novel serenity of an English summer.  Moments of perfect weather, always spoiled sooner or later by a shower.  The gentle spell of pollen.  The thick smell of ozone.  Do you remember that?  Do they let you remember things like that?  What do you take with you and what do you leave behind?  Do you get to bring these with, or is it just the smell of incense and opium and death that hung over the room...

Life is constant and relentless and I’m scared that I will always need a cushion for it.  I’m scared of taking my armour off and I’m scared of putting it back on again.  You should have seen the look on your mother’s face.  I didn’t even mind that your dad tried to punch me and had to be held back by the officers.  I wanted him to do it.  I’m sorry.
I miss you.  I wish I’d known you longer.
I wish you were here.

“You got that book in?”
“Um.  Hello.”
“Oh yeah, hello.  You got that book in, yeah?  You know, the vampire one an that?”
“No, we don’t have any copies. You might want to check Waterstones”
“Oh, really?”
“Yeah, we sell out pretty quick.  Small place”
“Yep.  Really”
“Ah.  Right.  Ah.  OK, you got Fight Club in?”
“Yeah, I think we might have a copy”
“Under ‘F’ yeah?”
“No, it’s by Author’s surnames.  So... P. Palahniuk”
“Wicked.  Is it good, yeah?”
 “I haven’t read that one”
“But it’s good, yeah?”
“I don’t know”
“But is it as good as the film?”
“Sure.  Why not”
“Wicked.  Here, let me ask you something”
“I got this book yeah.  It’s a first edition.  Think it’ll be worth anything?”
“Well, what is it?”
“Harry Potter.  First one.  First edition”
“Um... well, I don’t really appraise books and we don’t buy them second hand, so I’m really not the best person to ask”  
“But, you know...”
“But, considering its one of the biggest selling books of all time.  Aside from the bible, might even be the biggest...”
“I wouldn’t say it was worth much, no”
“Oh... oh...  well, thanks for your help, yeah? It’s been very informative”
“You’re welcome...”
The ragged ‘customer’ left ‘Fight Club’ untouched as it was, sitting comfortably on the shelf and went outside to loudly recount his conversation with and equally ragged woman.
“Uh.  Danny.  Danny?”
“Sorry can’t here you”
“... checking on some stock”
“Uh, yeah, listen, I’ve just got to pop out for a second.  I just need to get some fresh air”
“Doesn’t come much fresher than American Spirit, ey?  Go on then, I’ll keep an eye on the till...”
“No, it’s not that, it’s... cheers”

I waited until the couple were well out of sight and smoked ‘til the butt, tugging at the corner of my threadbare cardigan with my free hand.  Another anxious habit I picked up along the way.  A couple of euro-crusties sat busking Beatles songs on the pavement across the street.  Terrible.  But they always drew a crowd.  One of them wore a top hat.  Both had dreadlocks.  A community support officer asked them if they have a licence and moved them on to a chorus of muted boos.  The crowd didn’t care, they were just happy to embrace a bit of safe, consequence free dissent.  They quickly departed.
This place is a circus sometimes.  A joke of itself.

I zapped and juddered.  Down to every other day.  This is just a preview.  A cold wave of muscle spasms through my back and arms, spread to and from my stomach.  ‘Brain zaps’, the internet said.  My vision blurred. It’s a split second electric shock without the pain, nausea without the sickness.  I’d love to think this was the worst drug experience I’ve ever been through.


A postcard:

A man sits on a bench.  His cardigan is worn, a hand-me-down from someone else’s dead grandfather.  He leafs through a broadsheet paper, indulging in spreading out and re-folding the main section, taking his time to read it cover to cover, chain smoking as he does.  He tuts and clucks over the obituaries, taking this tradition to a third or fourth generation.  Then he gets a pen out of his cardigan pocket and begins the quick crossword on the back of the small supplement, remembering how his family would all sit around and do it together.  After ten minutes he loses interest, twirling the pen in his fingers.  He produces a postcard from the other pocket and reads both sides, examining the picture, then staring and the blank side, then back to the picture.  Repeating.  He thumbs the corners and uses them to clean his nails.  He doodles on his hands.  Anything but write on the thing.
A nurse appears from behind the bench and softly puts her hand on his shoulder.  He smiles with a look of acknowledgement and lets her lead him back inside.

I see all these beautiful things.  All around me.  Everywhere.  People doing amazing things in amazing places.  Photos.  Beautiful buildings and sunsets and smiling face.  Documents of a happiness I know has nothing to do with me. They are so removed that it makes me want to weep.  
Weep in the abstract.
I tell him this and he’s talking about trying me out on something else, finding something that works.  He’s been saying a short spell somewhere might not be completely out of the question.

A postcard:

Dear Mum
Thank you for your letters.  I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you and I’m sorry about not wanting visitors. I made up that stuff about the doctors not letting me.  I think you knew that, but thank you for playing along. I’m feeling a bit better now and would like you to come and see me when you can. But please don’t let anyone know I’m here.
Lost of love,
(ha ha, just saw that typo)

“Come in.  Oh hi, Al.  Come in, take a seat”
“Can I get you a glass of water?”
“Yes.  No.  No, I’m fine”
“It’s no trouble”
“No, I’m fine.  Thank you”
“Please sit”
“So... Al.  Let’s have a little chat about how you feel you’re getting on”
“You’ve been here about... 6 months now”
“About that”
“And James.  He say’s you’re getting on really well.  You’ve been working hard and you’ve made a lot of progress”
“Well... I suppose”
“Now of course you can stay hear as long as you need to, but reviewing your progress I think it might be time that you start thinking about how long you’d like to stay here.  About when you’d feel ready to move on”

The flight home.  Dead eyed staring.  I felt like everyone knew.

“... so I guess all that’s left is... when can you start?”
“Fantastic!  Straight away!  Monday?  Monday!  Excellent!”
“Great- come in at 9 and we’ll start training”
“Thanks so much!  See you then!  Thank you!”
Smiling, I put down the phone, thinking I would treat myself to a beer, maybe a trip to the cinema. Maybe, maybe all the pieces were coming together again.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Collection of Rudimentary Notes On an Experiment Yet To Be Completed

Notes on a sunny day

A dream of the undead, feasted on by a maternal influence.  An anima, both monstrously caring and destroying. A blade that couldn’t cut.

The end of the world, Tomorrow, Here Today!

I was walking beside the graveyard back home.  The sky, the air was grey.  Heavy.  Mist and wood smoke hung on to the ground.  Bled out from the graves and the metal bars.  A woman walked in front of me.  A girl.  I couldn’t see her face.  I could hear a scream, a woman somewhere in the houses.  It seeped into the sound of children leaving school and whipped around me like the wind from the harsh blocking of estates.  A wind that wasn’t there.  The static, lifeless air of a waking dream.

Thick and distant.  Perfect timing.  The sun’s just gone. Bad luck, ha, ha, ha.  Thick and distant.  But coming.  Silent, screaming terror just on the edges of where ever I look, howling at the blossom hanging onto the near-bare branches.
Wordless ejaculations. 
None of this does it justice.
Variations of better thoughts, put into poor order.
Such as: He
Such as: He was
Such as: He was,
            he was,
            he was sat there with a face like old cigarettes and a fag butt brain soaked in piss and old bleach what vain attempts both feeble in effort and effect to clean up a gutter knowing in a well and good mind that it will be the same again in minutes count them backwards
free too won

SHHHHHH.  Dead you feel that didn’t you? Cock an ear.  Like silent electricity.  A shock that doesn’t hurt.  Your head moving too fast for the thing inside, see?  Remember when this was new, before it went all the way round and became new again?  Not such a shock this time

Physical (corporal)

Met you, what- halfway through your life?  At a guess.  Nothing born but bitter, stunted growths.  I’d like to call them children, for some flowery forced nostalgia, but I don’t think it works like that.  Crab apples.  Why not.  Used as baseballs, beaten with a bat we swore was an old police baton stained with a red mark we all swore was blood.  Malus sylvestris, right in the back of your head.
Gone.  Gone with the stained glass widow, punched through, leaving a hole, a huge scar and a piece of plastic foam board for years and years.  Gone with the dregs of bottles of cheap booze, worries of permanent virginity and fleeting musical and clothing trends.
Gone with the littered bones.  Goat and chicken and abandoned kitten.  Gone like the sense of dignity or care for other people’s opinions once held by the shirtless, wolf-haired pigeon-men of Ruskin Park.
Now, not even a hole to look into.
Funny how we are so prone as to add romance and humour when talking about objects, things and people which no longer exist.  Millions to be made, millions to be spent on such a thing.
But pick an object.  Just one.
An old pair of boots
A faded gig ticket, bleached by sunlight
An old biscuit box, merchandise for a cartoon no longer broadcast
Scars on knuckles that fit patterns on brickwork on wall that doesn't exist.
Old paperwork for things that you don’t even own any more.  Paralysed by a fear that if you throw it away, out goes every memory attached to it.  Or worse yet, hanging on to a bittersweet thought of something that at the time seemed to be so horrific. Silent electricity, back again.  Shock of the old, every few seconds like the distant memory of familiar things.


Citalopram should be used with caution in: the elderly, women who are pregnant, likely to become pregnant or who are breastfeeding children, patients with heart disease or epilepsy, those with poor liver or kidney function, previous or current mental diseases such as mania or psychoses, bleeding disorders (especially bleeding from the gut), increased pressure in the eye (known as narrow-angle glaucoma), or who are undergoing electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
It should not be used in: patients who are taking a drug called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) within 14 days or when taking pimozide (taken to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia), and during the manic phase in patients - such as those with bipolar disorder - who experience this mental symptom.
Warranty Requirements and Limitations:
Proof of Warranty - The customer must provide proof of purchase in order to obtain warranty service. The dated sales slip or copy thereof is the only acceptable proof of purchase.
The product must be purchased from a USA authorized dealerand have a valid serial number. 
Warranty valid only in the USA
Damage resulting from the following causes are excluded from the warranty set forth above:
Misuse, including damage occurring during shipment, damage caused by battery leakage, accident, fire, unauthorized repairs, tampering, cosmetic damage or other types of damage which are the result of improper handling or abuse.
The cleaning of controls or contacts due to exposure to dirty, dusty, or otherwise contaminated environment.
Damage resulting from modification.
Damage to units used for loan or rental.
He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His seventh and last cry, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”