Time Spent and Trampoline

He’d been watching the kids play across the street for a while before the police had showed up. He didn’t know what time it was exactly, but knew she’d be here soon. She always came round after her Thursday shift.

The sun had dipped slightly out of sight, but the chill of evening had not yet cloaked the estate. In the distance, he could still hear lads kick a football outside the chippy. Washing no longer flapped on lines, but had yet to be taken in. The pubs hadn’t turned out, so he knew he had a while before his father returned, red-faced and heavy with lager. 

Near where he sat on the front step, pressed into the damp lip of an discarded Tennent’s, were the spent ends of three cigs. He calculated that he must have been perched there for at least 20 minutes when he saw the blues silently flickering towards the end of the road. 

The kids – two boys – were playing on a trampoline that took up the entirety of the square front yard of number 43. As they leapt about, it’s metal framework skittered and giggled across the concrete, echoing against the parallel walls of the estate. Two coppers exited the car. A man and a woman.

‘Is ya mam home?’ He inquired, attempting to peer through the nets of the living room window.

‘Nar.’ The eldest chirped, still leaping. ‘Can a wear your helmet?’

‘No, son.’

As he watched them, he stubbed his fourth tab and pushed it, along with the rest of the ends, into the hole of the tin, hearing it rapidly extinguish with a soft hiss.

Finding no answer to their knocking, the coppers looked around the estate and clocked him sitting on the front step – asked if he knew where the homeowner might be. He shrugged and they nodded, disheartened but unsurprised, returning to their peering and speculation.

She turned up shortly afterwards and, like usual, he hadn’t heard her soft tread on the pavement until she was almost stood in front of him. She lifted off her supermarket tabard, folding it under her arm, and took her place beside him without a word. 

‘How was the shift?’ He asked, handing her a tab from the pack by his feet.

‘Ugh.’ She grunted. ‘Can’t you just hurry up and win the lottery so we can get out of here?’

A flicker of pleasure ran up his back. He smirked.

‘I’m working on it, like.’ He said, handing her a fresh tin.

‘Your dad back yet?’ She asked, knowing the answer.

‘Not yet.’

‘Still got a bit left to piss away this month then.’

‘Wey the heating’s gone again, so I’m assuming he’s not far off.’

She snorted and shook her head, before indicating with her cigarette, nodding at the squad car across the road.

‘Don’t know.’ He replied, shifting slightly sideways, to give her more space. ‘That’s the third time they’ve been this week.’ 

She took the gesture, moving closer to him. He could feel the warmth of her side pressing against his.

‘Poor bairns.’ She muttered, shaking her head. ‘Bet they haven’t had any tea.’

‘Aye. She won’t be back for a while yet.’ He shook his head.

‘There’ll be nowt in, an’ all.’

The small muscles of her arm flexed as she brushed lint from her skirt. From the corner of his eye, he saw her mouth twitch in a downturn, as she chewed her lip and stared. Neither spoke or moved for a few minutes, each watching the inconsequential evening unfold around them. The police officers sat in their car, which was still parked nearby. The kids played.

In the stillness between them, she let the rest of the cigarette burn down and go out.

Last week, when they were drunk and he had kissed her, he had cupped his fingers around her face. It had made him feel like there was something tiny in his hands. A bird’s wing, a dried leaf. He imagined telling her that, and let out an involuntary laugh, knowing how she’d clout him if he ever said as much.

‘What you laughing at?’ She grinned, turning her face towards him. He kept looking forward and batted the question away. She turned away slowly and he stole a quick look as she picked a bit of ash from her shoe.

He let the memory return, as he had so often since. He had kept his eyes open during the whole thing, as if he’d needed proof of what was happening. He had watched her blue veins blur behind the petal thinness of her eyelids until they too had opened again. He remembered the feeling. That she might ebb away suddenly, like vapour, or a wavering ember, evading his grasp. He remembered the feeling, and the fear. He wondered if she had thought about it too.

She said nothing, and he felt the silence heavily. He opened his mouth, half hoping words might come without his knowing. When they didn’t, she sunk her head against her chest and yawned. By the time she raised it, he still had not spoken, and the long cylinder of ash that had amassed by the end of her knuckles fell like grey snow onto the ground. It was starting to get dark.

‘Right, well. I’d best be off. Mam’ll worry I’ve run away with the circus.’ 

But she did not move. Her inaction froze him, as he watched her purse her lips to the side, and rest her hands on her knees.

‘Aye, fair. You working tomorrow?’ He choked, at long last.

He was pleading, in his way, pretending he wasn’t. Like a dog, sniffing for scraps, thankful for any morsel she might drop from the obscure and unseeable surface of her mind. 

She nodded, sighed, and, finally, she stood. He wanted to snatch her back down, to pull at her arms, clutch her fingers, to wrap his hands around her narrow shoulders and press her to him like body armour: a shield against the salvo of regret her fated exit would unleash. 

But he did no such thing. She rounded the corner as silently as she came, though, this time, with no such surprise to him, and he watched her go. It was then he would notice that the street was quiet, the children across the road had since gone indoors. Soon, his father would return, and he would be out of time. 

Dream Shark Secret

Dream

The other night I dreamt you came into my house and wouldn’t leave. At first, I didn’t mind – we were just sitting together in my kitchen – but as I neared the dregs of my second cup of tea, I started to wonder when you planned to go. When I woke, I considered the parallel universe where we now somehow coexist: your keys in my fruit bowl; your hands on my bath taps; your feet on my couch. And in the haze of my morning I wasn’t sure what it had meant or whether it had even been a dream at all, and half expected to see you pass by, step-less and slight, like a ghost on the landing.

Shark

Finally! A good one. Can’t remember who asked. Who knows how these things come up, just go with it fast. Which creature would you least like to be killed by? If you had to. If you just had to. Doesn’t matter why. We dipped into silence, underwater in thought, each seeking an answer in the fashion we’d wrought. The lot of us sat in a circle of green bottles and spent ends, barely friends in a debauched fairy’s ring – and, for a second, not saying a thing. Godzilla doesn’t count. Then one spoke out. A grizzly bear. Why? You could just run. From a bear? You’re fucking joking, son. A few others offered and we talked through the zoo. But I didn’t have to think – I already knew. How, being frozen in the deep, I’d die thinking of you, as it swam, torpedoed steel, and took what it wanted. It’s eyes gloss and haunted. I wondered if you’d feel it burst you apart. Turn your organs to mulch. Teeth through the heart. After a while, we spilled beer, and turned to something new, but I sat for a while, and thought of the blue, of the dark and of death, and of it, and of you. 

Secret

Later on, as I’m walking back to the station, I remembered when she used to do her lists. They started years back, before she started ditching mass, before she started pinching things – even before Nan. She would spend hours somewhere secret, because I never saw her do it, writing list after list of all the families we knew – our neighbours’ families, our teachers’ families, our friends, their mothers and fathers, families off the telly, their names, their ages, aunties, uncles, cousins – all the many ways in which they belonged to one another. All the families we had ever known, all but our own, hidden away in drawers and under mattresses for years. In that quiet house, I always found them, and when she didn’t think I was in, or if she didn’t think I could hear her, she would cry, and no one ever came. 

Carrying

It was like lugging a dead cow, and that was the way we would forever describe it. All four of us had heaved it, the great patterned reject: digging our fingers into the threadbare fabric of the arms and sweating, our faces red and determined. Two at each end, and another – less of a help –  trotting along near the middle. Every dozen yards or so, we’d stop, taking loud, open-mouthed breaths of chilled October air and grinning at one another, before tackling the next stint.

Shaun and Luke had calculated that it would take us about an hour to cart it from the layby outside Victoria Wines, where we’d found it, to Broan’s Field, behind Shaun’s house. 

‘An hour. How’d you work that out?’ Siobhan had scowled.  

‘Just worked it out like. Maths.’ Luke had shrugged.

‘You’re in red group for maths and your mam says you still can’t tell the time.’

‘Fuck off.’

Siobhan winked.

Continue reading “Carrying”

Stage Fright

Gunther did not remember much about his death. In fact, the moment had passed somewhat uneventfully and, had it not been for the audience’s few gasps of surprise and an ill-timed giggle, he might have thought he’d dreamt it up altogether. 

Emily had been sat in the second row, slightly left of centre stage – not that he’d been able to see his wife during much of the performance itself. The stage lamps had masked the audience from the players with a brilliantly intense void of white light. He had felt the glow draw conspicuous beads of sweat to his forehead almost the instant he had taken his first steps on stage, like the rapid onset of fever. It had felt like being in the presence of a dying star. 

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Teacups Are For Girls

CUPS-9

One time I seen Shaun’s dad in a dress. Well, that’s not true, Gary seen him. I just heard about it. But, another time, I did see him talking to Mr Walker who lives up May Road. Dad said never to go up May Road. That’s where all them sorts go. I’ve done nowt but walk past, cos’ of what Dad said about it, but I still seen him once talking to Mr Walker, and everyone knows about him.

Anyway, Gary said he went round Shaun’s last Monday to knock for him, and he weren’t in. And then his dad answered the door in a dress.

“It was blue and yellow,” he said, “with little frills on it, like me mam’s apron.”

Continue reading “Teacups Are For Girls”

Nightmare

Vocalion 4306 B LabelNightmare, by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W59FzOwYIs)

The sound is smoky and
close. The trudge comes:
a march through honey.

I can feel my rusty heart
align itself to the heavy
thunderous pulse, as

the scorched pitch of the
trumpets wheeze out their
melodies with dry throats.

From nowhere, a narrow
squealing clarinet pours up
and down the stave, like oil.

Your kind of jazz beats me
over the head and shoves its
fingers into my open throat.