something i wrote

hamlet.jpeg

we’re sitting in a draught. a table near the door is like having a threesome with a snowman. you’re trying to enjoy yourself, but something cold and unpleasant keeps interrupting.
he’s gone to the bathroom. normally, in this situation, i would get out my phone and pretend to be busy, texting a friend or tapping out an email. i laugh to myself; it is funny how so many smart phone games have you touch the screen in a way that mimics the action of texting so remarkably. perhaps the creators knew how it felt to be unemployed, lonely, and on a bad date.
this time, i resist the urge to level up and look around at my fellow diners. it is quiet tonight, the gentle hum of conversation mingles softly with the light jazz wheezing out of the overheads. it’s mostly couples, plus several larger groups. business meetings, i imagine, or parties, though nobody seems to be in much of a party spirit.
one group did clink their glasses a while ago, which gave us something to look at. i felt a surge of relief, which faded like a camera flash.

near the back wall, by the kitchen, a woman sits alone. she has hung her coat over her chair. she has long, dark hair and wears big round earrings, that nestle in her hair like goose eggs. she holds a wine glass in one hand, and a book in the other, open. she looks like hamlet with his skull.
a slight frown adorns her forehead, dark brows drawn studiously together as her eyes flicker over the pages. i wonder what writer has managed to string words together into such a combination that she prefers their company to that of a man. or a woman.
perhaps she’s married, i think. married to an older man, who tells her he is doing business abroad yet spends his months on sunny boats with girls and drinks and chest hair. maybe she knows. maybe she doesn’t care.

Advertisements

the stocking monster

stockings.jpeg

it is late, too late to still be awake. it is a school night, father said. i hope you will be asleep when i get home. i wonder why he thinks he can say that, and expect me to sleep. i cannot even close my eyes knowing that he is not here. somebody might get me.
i have been lying for hours now. the light from the street lamps makes patterns through the holes in my curtains, and it keeps me entertained. like clouds, but for the night time.
i have left the window open, and the autumn chill has snuck its way into the room with me. sometimes my toes escape under the end of my duvet and the cold tickles me, i yank my feet back under the duvet. they are safe there.
i imagine little green monsters scampering around on the carpet, hiding behind the legs of my desk and in between the books, behind photo frames, in boxes and baskets. maybe one of them has found a hiding place on top of the door frame, lying down and sucking in its little green tummy to make itself as flat as possible. when it hears me snore, it slides down the door frame and wriggles out into the corridor, tiny feet submerged in the heavy pile of the carpet. it flings itself onto its back and makes angels in the wool.
one of them might be better at climbing than the rest. it heaves itself up the curtain’s edge, and tiptoes along the rail, hopping over the wooden hoops like hurdles. it balances on one foot, and sticks a hand in the air, wiggling its fingers and rolling its eyes. on the ground, the others jump and clap in glee, cheering and shrieking as their friend wobbles along the polished wood.
the little monsters hear it too, when it comes.
their eyes widen, and they freeze – then scamper away, feet pattering into the quiet corners like frightened mice.
i pull back the curtain, just an inch. the car sits in the driveway now, with the driver’s door open. after a moment, i see my father’s hand, and my father’s hat. i hear the door slam, and watch him take his long strides around, boots crunching on the gravel like jaws munching on dry bones. my fingers shake, and i let the curtain fall against my cheek. my face is stiller than my hands.
i suppress my breathing, though it quickens like a racehorse and they cannot hear me anyway. there, he walks. he will open the passenger door, i think. he will reach out a hand and open that door, and someone will come out. some expensive shoes will touch our gravel and crush the bones along with him, fingers linked within his, breath hot and close, perfume ripe.
my father locks the car. i hear the click muffled through the thick glass. the passenger door stays closed, and he goes to bed alone. in my bitterness, somehow i am thankful that replacement and substitution still stand out of reach. yet she will come, very soon. perhaps if i leave a little note, the monsters will gnaw her legs and leave her, bloody stumps too out of shape for silver shoes and stockings.

the China cat

Venice-pencil-drawing.jpg

there is a porcelain jug on our mantlepiece. it is white with gold and copper, and it appeared last week. father moved the pottery house and the China cat to make space, then he gave them to me. they look out of place among my things. he did not tell me where he got it, but Ruth suspects it was a gift.
last month, he brought home a patterned rug. father put it in the study, but Ruth saw it and told me. the month before, a silver bell, and before that, a book about art. father does not need these things. they are useless, really.

i do not care much, but you see, i know the story of the China cat.

i know about Venice and the sunset and the melted ice cream, the smell of the roses and the midnight moon.

i know about the cobbled streets and late night cafes, the cheap coffee and the violinist.

i know about the dark brown dress and pink socks, the laughter on the bridge and the light in the windows.

i know about the footsteps and the songs, the spilt beer on the stones and the rainbow on the ceiling.

i do not know the story of the porcelain jug.

trevor’s turtles

Trevor sat, uncomfortable, in his armchair. The nurse had just left, thank goodness. That was enough prodding and prying for one day. He had almost cried earlier when she had to change him. I feel like a stupid baby, he thought. Thank God nobody can see me like this.

The TV blared at full volume, subtitles didn’t help. It was almost seven o’clock. He didn’t know what was on tonight. He’d stopped remembering months ago. Now, he just let it play, and if it wasn’t interesting, he would have a nap. There were a few shows he enjoyed. Nature documentaries were a particular favourite. Nature speaks for itself, he used to say. Sometimes he would switch the sound off, and just watch the blur of colour. It reminded him of the old days.

 

He woke up to the muffled sound of someone saying his name.

‘Trevor? Trevor! Wake up, my love. Wake up.’ He opened his eyes slowly, his vision blurred by the sticky residue that always accompanies a nap. He felt something cold and wet being rubbed over them, and his vision cleared. There was a woman standing there. She had blue uniform. She might have been the nurse from earlier, but Trevor couldn’t remember. They all looked the same after a while.

‘Trevor, my love. Did you drop off? You’ve got a visitor.’

Inside his mind, pictures of faces were swimming about, slightly out of focus. A visitor? Well, that could be one of several people. If it was that old grumpy doctor woman, he wasn’t interested. Last time she visited, he had a sore bottom for days. Maybe it was the man from the bookshop, who often popped by to see him. He used to bring books, but not anymore. Thinking of it now, it had been a long time since Mr Bookshop had been to visit. Could it be a family member? Oh, he hoped it was his grand-daughter, Tia. She was always such a delight, although she was getting a bit plump. Bless her, she still felt she was small enough to sit on his knee.

‘This is Miriam, Trevor,’ the woman was saying. ‘Do you remember Miriam?’

He could almost feel the weight of that little girl pressing down on his knee. He shook it off.

‘Oh, Trevor, you’re alright. Calm down a little,’ the nurse said. She knelt by him. ‘Do you remember Miriam?’

Miriam. The name floated slowly around his mind, trying to find a face to match. He couldn’t find anything. Was the lady at the supermarket called Miriam? He had visited so often he must remember.

‘Miriam is an old friend of yours, Trevor.’

He realised that there were two figures standing there. One in blue, the other in a darker colour. Was it a coat, or a dress?

‘Let’s put your glasses on, my love,’ the nurse said, and he felt the metal scratch the sides of his head as she put them on. He reached a hand up and adjusted them.

‘Oh, Trevor. Leave them, you’ll smudge the lens. Come on.’

The glasses made little difference. The last time he had seen an optician they thought that the prescription didn’t need changing.

The dark coat moved towards him. They were tall, with dark hair too. It was a little menacing, this dark figure approaching him. He drew back in his chair.

‘Come on, now.’ The nurse turned to the dark figure. ‘He’s a little slow in the evenings. You might not get much out of him.’

‘That’s alright.’

Wait. At the sound of her voice, the darkness inside Trevor’s head lit up. The dusty blur cleared, for just a second. Miri.

‘I’ll go and make us all a cup of tea, okay? You sit with him.’

‘Okay.’ There it was again. That voice.

She sat down. Through the thick lenses, he could see a face. She was taking off her coat. Underneath she wore something much lighter, maybe even white. The darkness removed, her face was clearer. It stood, an entity, a face, attached to it were people, connections, lives, animals, landscapes. Trevor stared into it.

‘Hello, Trevor,’ she said.

She was here. Miri was here, in this room, by this chair.

‘Do you remember me?’

Trevor gulped. Her eyes were just as they used to be, just as they always were when they worked. She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes as she looked into his.

‘You do remember me! I can see it in your eyes.’

 

‘Miri!’ Trevor hissed, crouched low. ‘Get over here!’

There was a shuffle in the bushes as Miri scrambled to him. ‘What is it?’ she whispered.

Trevor pointed across the rocks towards the beach. ‘Look, in the sand.’

‘Where?’

‘Straight ahead.’

In the white sand, there was something moving. The sand was trembling a little, shifting as something beneath it began pushing upwards. The grains of sand were falling, the dry sand tumbling quickly as the denser stuff loosened.

‘Oh, my…’ gasped Miri.

Something was emerging from the sand. Something small and black, tiny and vulnerable. It slowly, steadily, cautiously pushed its way up, the tiny young body testing out its strength.

‘A baby turtle,’ Trevor breathed.

And here they came. One by one, they emerged. Peering out into the sunlight, they crept out of their nest and onto the warm sand of the beach. Taking shaky steps, they shuffled out together, towards the sea.

As they watched, Trevor felt something brush his hand. Then, fingers touched. Miri’s delicate hand found his. Their fingers interlocked, tightly but comfortably.

The last of the evening sun was swallowed by the night. Streams of light caressed the beach for a final time, flitted over the rocks and gave the sea a glitter, before fading to a gentle darkness. Their hands remained together, warm and comforting. In that moment, everything was natural.

Then, Miri pulled away.

‘Go on, then!’ she said, fervently. ‘What are you waiting for?’

 

The nurse had returned with cups of tea.

‘Here we are,’ she said, bustling to find coasters. Trevor didn’t care. Why would you go to the trouble of ensuring that you didn’t make any rings when I can’t even see them?

‘There you are, Trevor… two sugars as always! I know you so well, don’t I?’

Trevor saw Miri nod politely at the nurse. ‘Thank you.’

‘Right, shall I leave you to it?’

‘Yes, thanks.’ Oh, Miri. You did always know what to say.

The living room door closed. Miri pulled her stool a little closer to Trevor’s arm chair.

‘How are you, Trev?’ she said, after a moment. ‘You look terrible.’

He forced his lips into a smile. It wasn’t that he did not want to smile, but that his muscles were so disjointed from his mind that it took every effort to summon enough energy that they would move as he wanted.

‘Don’t force yourself, Trev,’ said Miri, putting her hand gently on his knee. She gazed into his eyes. He tried to broadcast something from them, a message. A signal. I am okay, Miri. I am okay, I promise. I know I do not look okay but I am, because you are here.

She didn’t seem to notice, as she drew back after a moment and sipped her tea.

‘That is quite deliciously terrible tea,’ she sighed, putting the mug down again. She reached down beside her stool and picked up a small black handbag.

‘Well, I suppose there’s no use in keeping you waiting,’ she smiled, searching for something in the bag. Please, take your time, Trevor thought. Take as long as you want. I have all the time in the world now. Time is my enemy. I am only waiting for time to pass, enough time that my body no longer needs it.

He could hear the soft clatter as she rooted through her bag.

‘Where is it?’ Miri said to herself. Then, her face lit up. ‘Ah! Found it. Put it in the bloody side pocket, didn’t I?’

She pulled out something small and white.

‘Do you know what this is, Trev?’ she asked, holding the envelope in front of his face.

Trevor tilted his head as he forced his eyes to focus on it. It was a difficult task. All he could make out was a blurry off-white square, with a black smudge in the middle. An envelope, maybe? Or a postcard? It’s been an awful long time since I found any use in envelopes and postcards, Trevor thought to himself. I hope she’s not going to get me to try and read it. Some of the nurses do, God knows why. Do they think that their weak tea and sugary smiles will bring back my sight? Bring back my lust for life? Heaven knows what they’re teaching at these places.

‘This, Trevor,’ Miri continued. ‘Is something that I didn’t know was still in existence until last week.’

The white square danced in the blurry haze.

‘Do you remember those turtles hatching in Sri Lanka? Remember the beach at Kosgoda?’

He flicked through his bank of memories. Many had faded, some now in black and white. Some were now in darkness.

‘Remember how the two of us went in the evening, when everyone else was going out? We went and sat on that beach from four till almost midnight, watching those baby turtles hatch from the sand.’

Miri took something out of the envelope.

‘You took this photo, just as the light was fading.’

She held it up, close to his face. It was black and white. He could not see anymore than that.

‘I don’t know if you can see that, Trev, but it’s a bloody good photo. You’ve got the tiny babies scuttling across the sand to the sea, and the last of the sun coming through the clouds, reflecting off the sea. Nobody took good photos like that, back in those days.’

Miri put the photo in Trevor’s palm. She guided his fingers to close around it. ‘I thought it was lost. I knew you had taken some photos, but when it came to going over them, we couldn’t find them anywhere in your collection. Turns out, I’d accidentally put them with mine.’

Trevor felt the corners of the photo with his rough hands. It was smooth and soft, unaged.

‘I took it to my editor, last week. I hope you don’t mind, but you must realise how rare it is to find old photos like this. This one is almost forty years old now.’

His weary hands caressed the photo like it might melt. Miri, he thought. You are such a gift.

‘Trev, my editor wants to buy it for fifteen thousand pounds.’ The photo fell to the floor. Trevor lent forward in dismay.

‘He wants to buy your photo, Trevor. If you sold it, you could have money to give your family, money to pay for better care, whatever you want. Plus, you’d be making history. I know it’s a little late, Trev, but you’d bloody make your name alright. It would be a great story.’

For the first time, Trevor focused his aching eyes on Miri. She looked back, steady and calm, like a judge.

The photo didn’t matter to him anymore. Photos were supposed to take you back to old, happy memories, and those were not available to him these days. His old eyes could not even see it properly. What did it matter what they did with it?

He felt Miri’s warm fingers take his. Like on that beach. That beach in Malaysia.

Trevor gave a nod.

 

 

 

Grey Goose

The geese were a grey blur against the early evening sky. Without her glasses, Carrie couldn’t distinguish between them and the great water of the lake. They sat, a shapeless form on the surface. Their usual angry sounds seemed strangely calm tonight. The honking merged harmoniously with the twitter of the wildlife.

She lay against the grassy bank. The dampness of the morning hadn’t quite dried up, and she felt the moisture leak through onto her skin.

‘There’s a blanket in the car,’ her friend said. ‘Shall I get it?’

‘No,’ she replied. ‘I’m fine. It was warm at work.’

 

* * *

 

A metallic crash came from the back room. Tom stormed out, red faced.

‘Carrie!’ he bellowed.

‘Fuck,’ she muttered.

In the quiet of the back room, Tom’s scarlet face screamed. ‘Did you put the trays in properly? Because I sure as hell did. And I know it wasn’t Hannah.’

‘Yes, Tom.’

‘Really? Did you really?’ He came closer. ‘You know we have plenty of cameras out here. If you’re lying, I will know.’

‘I put them back.’

‘Properly? Did you put them back properly?’

‘Yes.’

Tom folded his arms and looked at her. ‘This is your last warning, Carrie. If it happens again, you’re out.’

She didn’t respond. Heard this shit before. Heard it in every form possible.

 

‘Shit, Tom’s not in a cheery mood, is he?’ Hannah laughed. She stood by the door, with a smile plastered on.

Carrie shrugged, plunging her hands back into the scalding water. The last pair of rubber gloves had holes in.

‘Got any plans for the weekend?’ Hannah said.

‘I’ve got a date, actually,’ Carrie replied over the gentle slosh of soapy water. Hannah gasped.

‘You lucky thing!’

She smiled. ‘I’m excited. Hopefully it’ll be good.’

‘So what’s he like?’

A cut in Carrie’s hand stung as the washing up liquid tickled in. She winced at the sharp pain.

‘Um…’

‘Have you met before?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They’re lovely.’

‘Oh, I’m so jealous,’ Hannah said with a sigh. ‘It’s been so long since I had a proper date. A date with a purpose. The amount of men I’ve slept with and never seen again is beginning to get embarrassing.’

The pain in Carrie’s hand wasn’t subsiding. ‘Hold on,’ she said, and escaped into the bathroom.

 

* * *

 

Big, grey geese. More were gathering now. They swept in from across the lake, their shadowy shapes bustling together. Cackles and squawks.

‘Fag?’ said the friend.

‘Please.’

The bitter taste flooded Carrie’s mouth. Soothing relief. Throat burning.

‘Have you tried menthol?’

‘Yeah. Not the real thing, though.’

‘I don’t mind it.’

They puffed in silence. The edges of the water crept up as the moon rose.

 

* * *

 

‘How was the date?’ Hannah exclaimed, from her doorway post.

Carrie held her breath as she emptied the dustpan into the bin. ‘Amazing.’

‘Wow, really? What happened?’

‘We just had a really great time. Going out again tomorrow.’

Hannah put her hands to her cheeks. ‘Oh, you lucky bitch. What I would do to have a bit of male attention.’

Carrie smiled. The bell jangled as a customer came in.

‘Hello, welcome to Shanty’s!’ Hannah warbled. ‘How are you today?’

‘I’m very well thanks,’ the customer replied.

Their conversation continued. Carrie listened from behind the big grey oven as she loaded it with a new batch of pastries. Her skin crawled as she felt Tom creep up behind her.

‘Hello, faggot,’ he hissed.

She ignored him. There was a smudge of dirt on the oven’s shiny surface. She breathed out, polishing it with the corner of her sleeve.

‘Pussy.’

The patch was shiny again. Maybe there were more smudges. Maybe I can find them if I search.

‘You like pussy, don’t you? Yeah, you do.’

‘Tom, please.’

‘Oh, is she butch? A fit little tom-boy, is she? Is that what you’re into? You’re in denial, you little whore. No man’s good enough for you. Is that it? You crazy feminist bitch.’

‘Tom -’

‘Outside. Now.’

 

* * *

 

‘How’s work going?’ The smoke followed the words like a carriage.

‘It’s okay.’

‘You don’t seem thrilled.’

‘I work in a fucking coffee shop. It’s hardly adrenaline fuelled.’

The friend looked at Carrie softly. ‘Sorry.’

Carrie lifted her legs in a stretch. ‘Not your fault.’

‘University is going well, by the way. Thanks for asking.’

She shut her eyes. Nothing but blackness. ‘What is it you study again?’ she asked out of courtesy.

‘History of Art. It’s really interesting, once you get past the fact that it means essentially nothing.’

‘I wish I’d studied.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’ The dirty breath was invisible in the fading light. The smell rang through, strong and sour.

‘At least you’re not in several thousands of pounds’ debt.’

‘There is that.’

 

* * *

 

The frozen brickwork scratched Carrie’s cheek as Tom’s hot hands held her. His unrelenting fingers gripped her hair. It was a cold day. There was a mist in the air. Tom’s heavy, frantic breathing mingled with the November chill.

The bricks shed their dust.

‘You dirty, alien slut,’ he shuddered against her.

 

* * *

 

‘I think I’m going to lose my job,’ Carrie said.

‘How can you know that?’

Carrie’s eyes were closed. She stubbed the glow of the cigarette into the wet grass.

‘Why?’

‘Because I slept with Tom.’

The slap echoed across the water, like a shot from a gun. There was flurry of wings as the sound startled the geese.

‘You did what?’

Carrie closed her eyes again. ‘I slept with Tom,’ she repeated. ‘You heard me. That hurt, by the way.’

Her friend stood up. ‘You know Tom is married?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’

Carrie gazed across the lake through her eyelashes.

‘He will probably tell his wife!’

‘I know.’

‘Are you not sorry?’

The white ash fell onto the grass as Carrie stood up slowly. Then she took a step down the bank.

‘Carrie?’

She didn’t look back.

‘Carrie, are you not sorry?’ the friend said again.

Carrie still did not speak. She lifted her pale hands to her hair, and released the elastic. It tumbled down her shoulders and obscured her eyes.

‘Seriously, Carrie? What were you thinking? Were you even thinking at all?’

The geese had settled down again. Their silhouettes made black outlines against the red of the evening sky.

Carrie reached into her pocket.

‘Carrie, you little home wrecker. You won’t get away with this. Did you think that you would? What was Tom thinking? Fuck, I swear he’s only been married for a few months. His poor wife -’

The click of a lighter cut her off.

‘Carrie, will you just put the fag away and answer me?’

Carrie peered through the dusk at the gaggle of geese. Were they cold, on this night?

‘Carrie, please. I can help you.’

The geese had gathered closer together.

‘Could you get my jacket from the car?’ Carrie asked, without turning around.

The friend sighed. ‘Sure.’

They departed. The soft grass squelched beneath the footsteps. Carrie listened as the car door opened.

She flicked the lighter. A bright flame shot into the darkness. It gave off little heat, but she felt it.

The car door slammed shut.

‘I’ve got it, Carrie -’

* * *

 

In the bathroom, Carrie cleaned herself. The throb of Tom still lingered, overriding the memories from last night and the hope for tomorrow. There was a knock at the door.

‘Carrie? Are you nearly done? I’m desperate,’ came Hannah’s lilt.

‘Two seconds,’ she called back in reply. The water in the toilet swirled, red and white.

 

* * *

 

The flames shot up in a wild strands of fury. An unfamiliar scream, the waves rushed over. Blackness, blackness, blackness.