I have completed a collection of short stories which is titled, ‘Soapsuds Island’. The characters and events contained within these stories are based in my home town of Acton, West London, and also feature The Red Lion and Pineapple pub. Some of these stories can be found below. I have also recently begun work on my new novel, ‘Mind the Gap’. I enjoy writing and hope you enjoy reading some of what I have managed to put together over the last year or so. Your support is very important to me and I am extremely grateful for your time and encouragement. Please share my stories and let others know about my work. Thank you.
Lee gets up from bed and disappears into the bathroom. I can hear the water pounding the plastic base of the bath and I wonder how he can act like nothing’s happened. How can he carry on like none of it matters? How can he eliminate the emotions? Or does he feel anything at all? And that’s the problem. I have no idea how he feels. What he thinks. What he’s going through. I have no way of knowing because he never talks about it. He never lets me in. He never tells me anything and just bottles it up until he explodes after he’s had too many drinks. But he’s not even drinking anymore. He’s permanently in control. It’s been three weeks now and he hasn’t changed. There’s been no indication as to whether or not any of this has affected him. Whether any of it matters. Whether he cares.
He re-enters the bedroom and begins to look through his wardrobe for his clothes. I did the laundry yesterday and know that a couple of his shirts are downstairs on the clothes rail, but I don’t say anything. I hear him open and close drawers and then leave the room again. I put my hand on my stomach and think about how things could have been. I think about what it might have been like. How it would feel to have a baby sleeping inside me. Feeling it grow day by day and knowing that the future was something to look forward to and embrace with greater enthusiasm and joy. Knowing that there was someone else to live for. Someone to love. Forever. Instead, that future was taken from me, and now my hand lies on nothing. I’m empty. Lonely and cold. Awful and horrid for my participation in the decision that was made. We spoke and agreed. It was amicable. Adult. Sensible. Only now, I regret every second of it. And I hate myself for my involvement. I hate myself for not saying ‘no’. For not expressing my desire to keep it. My baby. To keep my child and give my life to all that it might be. To care. Protect. Love. Unconditionally with no logic or reason. To be a mother. But it’s too late now. There’s nothing I can do. I played my part and now I have to live beside the death I caused. The absence of my baby a brutal reminder of my choice to live with greater ease. A burden of my will to kill and carry on. To go to work and eat and drink and rest and play and do the things I want, when I want, how I want, I want and want and want. Me me me. Now. On my own. The thing I want no more. The thing I truly want drifting in the sewers beneath. Never to know of all the things the earth and sky combine to give. Never to know of all the things we have. All the things we miss. Air. Trees. Flowers. Butterflies. Choice. Opportunity. Life. I took it all away. I took it. Me.
Lee comes back in the room and sits on the bed beside me. I pretend to be asleep and ignore him. ‘I’m going to work now.’ He says. I feel him stroke my hair and move a strand away from my face but I keep my eyes closed and try to ensure my breathing remains even. I smell his aftershave. Boss. The one I bought him at Christmas, just before we found out I was pregnant. I feel my insides spasm. He leans in. ‘I love you’, he whispers in my ear. I don’t respond. He sits there for another couple of seconds before getting up and walking away towards the door. I hear his footsteps descend the stairs down and exit out of our apartment. I hear the car start. I listen to him disappear. I open my eyes and follow the crease of the pillow where his weight had rested. I stare at the pillow and will it to offer me some of what he may have dreamt. I want to know. I need to know. But nothing happens. I remain facing his pillow and feel a tear escape my eyes as I wish to God I hadn’t let it come to this. I wish I had been stronger. I wish I had spoken to my sister or my mother or someone, anyone, who may have discouraged me from doing what I did. I wish I had not done it by myself. But that was what I wanted. And here I am. Alone.
I remain in bed for another half hour doing nothing and trying not to think, but it doesn’t work. I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking about almost every aspect of that which shall now never come to pass. Would our child be male or female? What would we it? Would it cry or sleep easy? What colour eyes would it have? What colour hair? How much would it weigh? How big would its finger’s be? Would it hold me tight? Would it ever let me go? Would it love me? And then I start crying. I can’t stop crying and I won’t. I don’t want to. I deserve this pain. My body rocks and I can’t breathe so I lift my knees to my chin and curl myself up as tight as I can. I try to squeeze and force the guilt and hate down into my stomach. Down into the empty pit where my baby should be. I will keep this horrid truth inside me. I will never let it go. I will remember. I will make myself remember. I will never let it leave. Ever.
I finally get out of bed and go to the bathroom. I sit down to wee and look at my flat stomach. I can see my ribs as I haven’t eaten properly since the visit to the clinic. I’m finding it hard to put food in my mouth and swallow when I know there’s no longer a little life inside me waiting to be fed. Waiting for me to fulfil my role and nurture and protect it. Lee’s told me that he’s worried. It’s about the only thing he’s told me. It should have made me feel better, knowing that he was there for me, looking after me, but it didn’t. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it. Everything just feels different. I get up and look in the mirror. There I am. I turn to my side and try to imagine what I might have looked like with a full and round stomach, but I can’t. I let my top fall down again and splash my face with water. It doesn’t make me feel any better so I walk out and into the kitchen. Lee has left my coffee in the mug as usual and I turn the kettle on and lean against the worktop and wait. Across the room I can see a photo of me and Lee in Toulouse from last summer when we went to visit a friend from university. Since then they’ve had a kid. A little girl. Clara. We were invited to the party but couldn’t make it because of work. We sent a card instead. I see the smile on our faces and it reminds me of how happy we were, but even though I can see it right there in front of me, even though I can reach out and touch it, I don’t remember the feeling. I can’t recall any of the joy. I remember laughing and joking and drinking wine by the river and being asked about our plans and marriage and kids, but beyond that, it’s lost to me. I look at Lee and feel a surge of guilt rise within. None of this is his fault. He didn’t force me to do it. He didn’t give me ultimatums or argue or proclaim and profess it was a necessary measure in our own survival. He didn’t do it. The only thing he tried to do was support me. Help me. Love me. All I’ve done is treat him badly. I can’t help it. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. I don’t feel better for it. And I can’t stand it, yet every time I try and control myself and make myself realise what I’m doing and how much it hurts him, it doesn’t make a difference, I still do it. I still shout at him. I still blame him. And yet he never responds. He never reacts. He never yells back. He never curses or cries. Nothing. He just tells me he loves me. More than anything. He loves me. Still. And I wish it was enough.
I make my coffee and sit down at the table. I’ve got another hour and a half before I need to be at work and I look down into my coffee. I took a week off just after the clinic and told them I was sick. I never explained and I wonder whether it would have made a difference. We never told anyone. Lee never told his family and neither did I. Nobody knows. We just kept it to ourselves in some hope that we’d get through it, that things would turn out okay. I really hope they do, but somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that they won’t. I can’t help but think that what we’ve done has cast a cloud so dark and vast above us, that nothing we do will ever make it go away. Nothing will save us. Not now. Every time I see him it reminds me of our unborn child. I see him as a father. Sitting in the chair beside the bed, holding our baby, singing songs to help his loved ones fall asleep. I see him with vomit on his shirt. His tie with spit and dribble. I see the joy on his face when he holds our child for the first time. I see him look at me. I see us, together, as a family. Only now these images burn away inside me. They scold my brain deep behind my eyes and torture me for all the wrong I’ve done. I don’t believe in God, but I feel his pain. I feel the hurt of a million mother’s grief. I feel their anger when they discover I killed my own. I feel their rage in prayers that question how and why. How could it be so? How could they be granted the miracle of life and opt for death instead? How could they do it? How? I have no answers. I have nothing.
I sit and think about the conversation. It’s clear in my mind as if it was yesterday. We both sat at this table and spoke for hours about what to do. I’ll never forget it. The most dreadful part of it all was that the decision, our decision, was a wish to sustain the life we had, a life we’ll never return to. It wasn’t about money. We both had good jobs, earned enough to support a child, and I was entitled to maternity leave, so we would have been okay. Instead, we chose not have our baby because we deemed ourselves ‘not ready.’ We were not yet ‘ready’ to give up our social lives and lose our time to crying and nappies and sleepless nights and endless concerns and questions. Why is it not eating? Why is it not feeding? Why is it crying? Why is it not sleeping? What does it want? What can I do? How can I be better? We were ‘not ready’. I sit and despise myself for believing this. I hate myself for letting the excuses win us over. Letting the friends and wine and parties and restaurants and good times take precedence over the child we could have had. And now, the real good times that could have come with the being of our baby, are gone forever. The good times of first smiles and first crawls and first steps and words and looks of love and recognition, were eradicated. It’s all gone. We were selfish. We killed our baby for nothing more than self-preservation, and now, sitting here trying to muster up the strength to get through another day, I know of real pain. I know how much it hurts. And despite the fact I’ve gone through sickness and witnessed family fade and wither away, I’s not the same. This was my family. My baby. Us. But it’s not. We decided against it, and now, I’ve never felt so lonely.
Slowly I wash the dishes and stare at the tiles in front of me. I think about all the people I’ve served in the pub and all the pain they’ve hidden. I think of all the times they’ve tried to make it better with a beer. I think about how, at first, I judged them. I remember specific individuals who repulsed me. I remember their stories and how they made me feel. I remember who I was. But now I see it differently. Now, I feel somehow included. What I used to see in their eyes alone now looks back at me. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve wanted to drink during my shifts. I’ve gazed at the bottles and wanted nothing more than to kill the voices in my head. I’ve wanted to lose myself to drink and forget about everything else. Forget about the guilt. Forget about the future that my baby will never have. Forget about the choice we made. Forget about it all. So many times I’ve just wanted to drink. Get drunk. Forget. Be free. But I haven’t. I haven’t done it. I haven’t poured the wine. I haven’t submerged myself in booze. I haven’t. I don’t know why. But I haven’t. My phone vibrates and I remove it from my pocket. It’s a text message. A message from Lee. ‘I LOVE YOU.’ Then I know. That’s why.
POTATOES AND PEAS
The alarm went off and I woke up.
I was tired and sleepy and slow.
I got up and drove to the kitchen.
I filled the kettle with water.
It was heavy and hard to hold.
I pushed the button and waited.
There was a cat in the garden.
I like cats and dogs.
They are soft and fluffy and nice.
I opened the fridge for the milk.
The cap was green and green is good.
I made my tea and sat at the table.
The mug was hot but I was careful.
I turned on the TV and watched.
Bob the Sponge was laughing.
He is silly and yellow and square.
Patrick is his friend and he is pink.
They are funny and say funny things.
I like Patrick and Bob and cartoons.
Claire came in and closed the door.
‘Hello.’ She said.
‘Hello.’ I said.
She put her bag on the chair.
‘How are you today James?’
‘Good.’ I nodded and smiled.
‘You forgot to put the milk back.’
‘Sorry.’ I said.
Claire put her gloves on.
She had a purple jumper.
I like purple.
‘How did you sleep?’
She looked pretty.
She washed my face.
The water was hot.
‘Are you okay?’
We went to the bathroom.
She washed under my arms.
The sponge was soft and yellow.
Yellow like Spongebob.
It tickled and I laughed.
‘What are your plans for today?’
‘Potatoes and peas.’
‘Is that for your dinner?’
I put a clean shirt on.
It smelt like flowers.
‘You’re welcome, but tomorrow, a proper bath.’
‘I don’t like baths.’
‘You need to James. You’ll feel better and clean.’
‘No buts. First thing tomorrow we’ll have a bath.’
‘If you have a bath then maybe I’ll bring you some cakes.’
‘I like cakes.’
‘Maybe I’ll bring the Mr Kipling ones, the Lemon Slices.’
‘Yeah, but only if you have a bath.’
‘Come on, do you promise?’
‘Great. Now have you washed your teeth?’
‘Let me see.’
‘They don’t look clean to me. Let’s wash them again.’
My mouth tasted of mint.
We went to the kitchen.
Claire wrote in her pad.
The pen was blue and Barclay’s.
Her hands were small.
‘I like your rings.’
‘Can I have one?’
‘I can’t James. My husband gave them to me.’
‘Sorry. But when you get a girlfriend you can give each other rings.’
‘Will you be my girlfriend?’
‘Will you marry me?’
‘I’m already married, James.’
‘I’m too old for you anyway.’
‘You are pretty and purple.’
‘Thank you. But you can find a nicer and younger girlfriend.’
‘Yeah. Maybe you can find one in Morrisons.’
‘Morrisons? How much?’
‘No, not like that. You can’t buy one. I mean, you might meet one in Morrisons.’
‘Yeah, you just have to keep looking.’
‘Yeah, like this.’
She made a funny face.
She was funny and I laughed.
‘Now, have you been to the toilet?’
‘Do you need to go?’
‘Do you want some help?’
Claire helped me pee.
The bathroom was cold.
‘You have to remember to ask John to close the windows at night.’
Claire closed the window.
I don’t like winter because it is cold.
I like Christmas and presents and Santa.
Everybody is kind and nice.
We went to the kitchen.
The kitchen was warm.
‘Are you going shopping straight away?’
‘Are you going to buy Christmas presents?’
‘Are you going to buy me one?’
‘I’m just joking. Don’t waste your money on me. Buy something nice for yourself.’
‘Yes. A nice jumper.’
‘Now, shall we put your jacket on?’
Claire helped me put my jacket on.
It is red and I like red.
Claire had big earrings.
They were purple too.
Purple like her jumper.
‘Did you remember to charge your wheelchair?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Okay, shall we check to make sure?’
‘We don’t want you to get stuck again do we?’
‘And what happens if you do get stuck?’
‘To call who?’
‘You or John or number in pocket.’
‘That’s right. Good.’
We went to the door.
Claire shouted. ‘James.’
I turned around and looked.
‘Did you forget something?’
‘Are you going to lock the door?’
I locked the door.
Claire smiled and I smiled too.
‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘Remember we’re having a bath tomorrow. Cakes and Kipling.’
‘But only if you have a bath.’
‘Have a good day. Oh, and make sure to watch out for any future girlfriends.’
The sun was bright.
The people smiled.
Morrisons used to be Safeway.
It used to be green and white.
Now it is yellow and black.
I like green and white and yellow.
I don’t like black.
Black is sad.
People were shopping.
I was shopping too.
There were a lot of ladies.
They all had rings.
I saw the potatoes.
I put two bags on my legs.
I drove to aisle 12 for the peas.
A girl ran out and I hit her with my chair.
I couldn’t stop and she started crying.
She was hurt and I was sorry.
‘Sorry’ I said.
She started crying and a lady came.
‘Wha’ da hell yoo doin’?’
The lady started shouting.
‘Wha d’yoo do?’
‘You all right Sharice?’
She pulled the girl.
‘You hit her?’
‘Watch where yoo’z goin’ innit.’
‘You got a problem man? You listenin’? I’m talkin’ t’yoo!’
She kept shouting and people were staring.
She got louder and I felt sad and bad and scared.
‘Wha’s wrong wiv yoo man?’
‘Yoo slow or sumfin’?’
A man came.
‘Calm down’, he said.
‘Shut up. Waz it gotta do wiv yoo blud?‘
‘It was an accident.’
‘He ran over Sharice, ya get me.’
‘Piss off. Manz wants a slap innit.’
‘Gettin all feisty and shit.’
’I don’t want any trouble.’
‘Good. Fuckin’ fool.’
The lady pulled the girl.
‘Come on Sharice.’
The girl was okay.
She smiled at me.
I smiled back.
‘You all right?’ The man asked.
‘Ignore her. You need help with anything?’
‘Fresh peas or canned peas.’
‘Peas in tin please.’
The man walked with me.
We found the peas.
They were in aisle 16.
Not aisle 12.
The peas had moved.
‘Fank you.’ I said.
‘No worries. Have a good day.’
I paid for my potatoes and peas.
I went to the Red Lion and Pineapple.
I had a Coke and sat in the garden.
The Coke was cold but the sun was hot.
I finished my Coke and went down the hill.
At home I watched a man make dinner.
He made spaghetti and bolognese.
My mum made spaghetti bolognese.
But she is dead and I can’t make it.
My mum was a nice cook.
She was my mum.
I loved her.
Daddy was nice too.
He liked horses and dogs.
He is gone now.
I miss my mum and dad.
I wish they would come back.
It was five o’clock.
John came in.
‘Hello.’ I said.
John was big and Polish.
He was big and nice and Polish.
‘Yoo hav goood daye?’
‘Yeah. I went shopping.’
‘Potatoes and Peas.’
‘Yoo layke potatoz and peez?’
‘We eet toogeder yess?’
‘Goood. Okaye. Beefor I kook, yoo need toylet?’
John put his gloves on.
He helped me go toilet.
I washed my hands.
He opened the window.
We went to the kitchen.
He talked and I listened.
His mother is old and Polish.
Her name is mamma Zosia.
She likes potatoes.
Potatoes and peas.
I like Polish John.
He is my friend.
I like Claire too.
She is my other friend.
They are both my friends.
I like them very much.
They make me happy.e mad
TESCO TOWNS AND HAND ME DOWNS
I open the cupboard and check how much food we’ve got left. Two tins of ravioli, three potatoes and seven tea bags. Mike’s trying to get the kids ready for school and I rinse the kettle out and try and get rid of all the lime scale by swirling the water around inside it. I pour the water out into the sink, fill it again and place it back down on the base and flick the switch. I can hear Lisa complaining about the stiffness of her shirt and how it grates the skin on her neck and wrists, but there’s not much we can do about it since the washing machine powder finished last week. I take the used tea bags out of the little bowl and place them in the mugs. As I pour the boiled water in I watch as it barely changes colour. I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to get any more tea out of these ones, but I take them out and leave them in the little bowl just in case. I put some bread in the toaster and wait. I can’t remember the last time I had a good cup of coffee. Any coffee. Everything is so expensive now, but I guess when you haven’t got any money everything is too expensive. Luckily Mike’s got an interview today and I’m going to the food bank to try and get some more supplies. This is the last time they’ll help us so I’m hoping they give us as much as possible, God knows we need it. Since Dad got laid off last year there’s no one left I can ask to help us out. I already owe my brother money, and now that he’s finding it harder to cope with their new kid, I’m expecting him to ask me for some of it back. But there’s nothing I can do, if Mike doesn’t get this job, I don’t know how we’re going to survive.
I pour the powdered milk into a couple of glasses and stir it out into the water. If someone had told me when I was younger that things would be this hard, I’d have doubted their honesty, but living like this, going through the same things every day with only hope to keep it all together, I guess they were right, and I wish to God they weren’t. Mike enters the kitchen with Lisa and Ben and they sit at the table so that we can eat what breakfast there is and try and pretend that things aren’t that bad. I hand the kids their milk and crackers and watch as they eat slowly whilst staring at the table. They don’t say anything. They don’t have to. I look at Mike and he tries to smile but I know he’s scared. He’s nervous about the interview and so I place his tea in front of him and move behind and rest my hands on his shoulders. I can feel the tension and I close my eyes and wish that somehow I could make things better for all of us. I wish that by some sudden luck we could get a break. That we could just have a couple of months without having to worry about our inability to provide. Mike took it the hardest. After he lost his job he tried to occupy his time by doing things around the house, and initially it was good for him and us. But as the money dried, so did the capability to decorate and improve. Soon he was hard pressed in his head and though he never told me, I know he felt like a failure. I tried to ease his pain with words and the few things I had to offer, but his distant stares continued to worry me. ‘How you feeling?’ I ask him.
‘Okay.’ He answers and sips at his tea.
‘You’ll be great. Come on, trust me.’ I can sense his doubt but am unsure how to silence it. ‘I’ve got a good feeling about this one. It’s perfect for you. They’d be crazy not to employ you.’
‘Just be confident and smile.’
‘As easy as that.’
‘No, it’s not, but you can do it. I have faith in you.’ I lean in and kiss him on his cheek. ‘I love you.’ He turns his head and looks up at me and for the first time this morning his stress slackens.
‘I love you too.’ His hand reaches down and squeezes mine. ‘We’ll be okay.’
‘I know.’ I kiss him again and stroke his face. ‘We’ll be fine.’
‘Right, are you kids ready to go?’ He asks and finishes his tea.
‘But I’m still eating.’ Ben says.
‘Well hurry up because Daddy has an important interview to get to.’ I say.
‘What kind’ve interview?’ Lisa asks.
‘A job interview.’
‘Really? That’s brill.’
‘Maybe. Now come on, we really do have to get moving.’ He gathers the used glasses and plates and places them beside the sink. ‘Do you have everything for school?’
‘Yeah.’ Both Ben and Lisa say answer in unison.
‘You got your homework and everything?’
‘Yeah.’ They smile at each other. I look at them and marvel at how fortunate we’ve been with both of them. Even though their lives have changed immeasurably over the last year or so, they’ve never complained. They’ve never thrown strops or had tantrums or screamed and shouted at us. They’re great kids. Perhaps they know more than me and Mike give them credit for, but hopefully things will get better soon. I know they will. They have to.
Mike and the kids are all lined up in the hallway and I hold on to Ivy as I kiss and wish them all a nice day. I hug and hold Mike tight. ‘You’ll be great. I promise.’
‘Thanks.’ He opens the door and Ben and Lisa begin to walk out into the front garden. ‘If I can, I’ll try and ring the house and let you know how it went.’
‘Say bye to mummy.’
‘Bye mummy.’ Bens says.
‘Bye mummy.’ Lisa repeats, and I watch them turn left and disappear behind the hedge. I stand in the doorway and close my eyes. I feel the breeze against my face and I stay there for a few seconds, breathing slowly and trying not to think about anything at all. Ivy pulls at my shirt and I open my eyes and go back inside the house. It’s quiet and I feel a little odd and uneasy. Normally I take the kids to school while Mike looks at the job ads in the papers before heading down the jobcentre, and so it’s strange to be in the house when it’s so empty. I guess as a parent you often seek out those seconds of stillness and calm, but without the little laughter and voices, it’s unsettling and strange. I don’t know how I’d cope without them now, and that’s what makes it worse. The disappointment that we’re not giving them the life we always wanted them to have. That we’re failing in the only thing we ever really cared about. That we’re bad parents and don’t deserve kids like them. I know we bathe and clothe and feed them and somehow still manage to keep this roof over their heads, but it’s not enough. I want to see them smile at the sight of a gift again. I want to see them bounce around with joyful anticipation of a trip to the fun fair or cinema or bowling or all the other days out we can’t afford anymore. I want to see them happy. That’s all I want. That’s all we ever wanted.
I finish washing the dishes and place Ivy in her little cot whilst I wash and get ready to go to the food bank. As much as I dislike going there, it has to be done, and I won’t let Mike go. I know how much it would affect him. I don’t care much for the reasons why these places have opened up around the country, I just know that without them thing’s would be that much harder. The Government will do whatever it wants and my priority is my kids. I try to save my voice for them. I push the pram out the door and lock it tight. It only takes a few minutes’ walk for Ivy to fall asleep and as I pass the others houses I can’t help but notice the little changes that have taken place over the summer. No. 57 has been repainted some sort of cream colour. It looks nice. No. 63 has an array of plants still flowering along its window sills and in ceramic pots on either side of the entrance. I think they’re citrus plants of some sort. Mini orange plants perhaps. No. 69 has had a new driveway put down and no. 71 has been boarded up. Probably squatters or fear of squatters. I reach the end of our road and turn left towards the high street. It’s still early and the roads are busy with people on their way to work and the pavements are packed with feet pressing on towards buses and trains and travel. I walk beside them and try and smile, but they don’t notice and I don’t blame them.
I finally get to the food bank and despite the early hour, there’s already a queue. I know that this is the only one in the area so it doesn’t surprise me. ‘Good morning.’ I say to the man in front. He turns and looks at me and Ivy.
‘It’s taken me two hours to get here.’ He says. ‘Walked all the way from Southall.’
‘Really?’ I don’t know what else to say. I check on Ivy and she’s still sleeping.
‘Haven’t got a damn thing in the cupboard.’
‘No, we’re pretty much out too.’
‘You don’t have a fag by any chance do you?’ He asks.
‘No, sorry, I don’t smoke.’
‘That’s all right.’ He looks at Ivy. ‘How old is she?’
‘She’s beautiful.’ He leans down and I smell a faint whiff of Alcohol on him.
‘Thank you.’ The queue moves slightly and we inch forward.
‘Did you have to come far?’ He asks.
‘No, not really. We live in Hanwell, so about forty minutes, I think.’
‘Did you walk?’
‘With the pram?’
‘No other option.’
‘Yeah, seems to be lack of ‘em right now.’ He bends down to pick up a cigarette butt from the ground and straightens it out with his fingers. ‘The bastards cut me off. Just like that. Took away all my benefits and now I got nothing. But they don’t care.’ He lights the cigarette, or what’s left of it. ‘What about you?’
‘Got kids to feed and no work…so…you know…’
‘Yeah. You do the best you can.’ The queue moves again and we edge closer to the door. ‘It’s a bloody disgrace.’
‘What is?’ I ask.
‘This.’ He points at all of us in the queue. ‘Us.’ Shaking his head his eyes drop the ground. ‘It’s not right. Like we’re in the third world.’
‘Yeah. But it’s something at least. I suppose. Don’t know what we’d do without it.’
‘No, you’re right.’ He looks past the person in front towards the entrance. ‘Doesn’t make it any better though.’
‘I’m just grateful for whatever they can give us.’
‘Yeah, but it shouldn’t be like this. We shouldn’t have to do this.’ He’s at the front of the queue and looks into the shop. ‘Do you want to go in front of me?’
‘No, thank you, it’s okay.’
‘Please. It’s okay. You got kids and I don’t. It’s all right. Honest.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Okay…thank you.’ I move in front of him and Ivy wakes up. She starts crying and the man bends down beside the pram and lets Ivy wrap her little hands around his finger.
‘What’s the matter, huh? It’s all right. No need to cry.’ He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his hand. Ivy stares at his closed fist. ‘What have we got here?’ He opens up his hand to reveal a set of keys. Ivy lets go of his finger and reaches out, but before he hands them over he fumbles and separates a sole key ring from the bunch. I watch as Ivy takes the key ring from his extended fingers. She smiles and begins to giggle at the shiny piece of plastic. The man smiles too and looks up at me. ‘She likes it.’
A voice from inside the shop calls out for me to enter. ‘Okay, give that back to the nice gentleman now.’
‘No. We can’t take it.’
‘Go ahead. Keep it. It’s just a key ring.’
‘My pleasure.’ He smiles at Ivy again. ‘I’ll see you in there.’
‘Okay.’ I begin to enter the shop and then pause for a moment. I turn to see him watching us. ‘Thanks.’ I say and he nods his head and looks back down to the ground.
Inside, the shelves are already almost empty. I slowly scan the labelled trays and reach in to pick out what I can. I managed to find some tea, sugar, a couple of cans of soup, some cans of tomatoes and beans and peas, some jars of sauce and jam, two bags of pasta and one of rice, a packet of biscuits and wafer chocolate bars. I reach for a carton of long life milk and at the back of the shelf I spot a small jar of own brand coffee granules. I can’t believe it. I pick it up and check the date. Still good. I place it in my box and look around. Already I’m thinking about what I can cook for Mike and the kids. I see their faces when I give them a chocolate for dessert and it makes me feel good. I pick up a couple of cup a soups and pot noodles and then two tins of canned fruit and a packet of jelly cubes. Finally I take some rice pudding, a Fray Bentos chicken and mushroom pie and a bag of potatoes. All in all it’s a successful visit and I feel immensely grateful that some people still care enough to donate and help us out, even if it isn’t the government. Last time they stuck a sign in the window to say that they were out of food and we waited around until a van appeared out of nowhere with a fresh donation of supplies. Someone up there still tries to give us a chance.
A young lady helps me bag up my items and I see the man walk into the shop. We smile at each other and he proceeds to look around. ‘I think I might have something for you.’ The girl says and looks under the counter. I keep packing the bags until she re-appears with a pack of washable nappies. ‘Here.’ She says and hands them to me.
‘Thank you.’ I say.
‘Do you have any washing powder or liquid or anything?’
‘Not really – but it’s okay – I can’t possibly’ – but before I can finish she pulls out a box of powder and puts them in a bag. I look at her and try to guess how old she is. The one thing I’ve learnt from all this and all the volunteers and their help is that kindness has no boundaries. ‘Thank you.’ She smiles and seems embarrassed.
‘You got everything?’ She asks.
‘Yes, I think so.’
‘Oh, wait.’ She disappears again and this time walks around the counter and bends down next to Livy. ‘Hello.’ She says and waves. ‘This is for you.’ From behind her back she reveals a tiny teddy bear. ‘Go on, take it.’ Ivy reaches out and pulls the teddy towards her. The girl smiles and strokes Ivy’s face. I see a glimpse of sadness in her eyes for a split second and then she shoots up and returns to her post behind the counter. I’m momentarily caught somewhere in between all this but I snap out of it and thank her once again. She tells me it’s nothing and it’s not her I should thank, but I do so once again and turn to leave. I see the man looking at the bottom of a tin and I say farewell and wish him luck. He offers me his best and we both say we hope to not have to meet again under these circumstances. For some reason I have a feeling we won’t. I don’t know why, but I sense a change of fortune. It might be nothing more than hope but I know that things will change. Eventually, they always do. I’ll wait for Mike and make him coffee. I’ll offer him a biscuit and listen to how his interview went. Then he’ll pick up the kids and I’ll cook dinner. Tonight I’ll make the pie and mash and beans and we’ll sit and eat together, like the family we are, rich or poor, forever.
YA GET ME
Mr Flanagan was doin ma fuckin head in goin on about God and sin an punishment an hell an all da uva fear da fuckin saviour shit. Do what I say shit. Fuckin foolish shit. So I start chattin to Shavonne about da party dis evenin. But he starts getting all crazy. Starts goin on about manners an respec and yoof and all da uva shit. So I just leave im to it an try find out what time da party’s gonna start. But he goes skyzo. Get’s all het up and shit. Calls me a nuisance. A distruption to da class. A waster. So I tell im to go fuck himself, ya get me. Fuck him. Who is he to be sayin dat shit about me. He don’t know me. He don’t know nuffin about me. He don’t know nuffin. Standin dere all fuckin high and mighty wiv his butterz attitude gettin all fuckin fresh and shit. Da manz a fuckin fool and he gets all trippy cause he finks he can dis a school kid. Fuck im. He da one dat needs to learn some manners innit. He da one wyv no respec. Fuckin bare rude. But he sends me out da class. Tells me to go and see my form tootor. Tells me to fink about shit. Fink about what I said. I told him I already fought about it. I told him I fought about it a lot. I told him enjoyed sayin it more dan I enjoyed finkin about it. I told him to fink about it. Brapp.
Anway, School finally fuckin finished and I shot out dem gates as soon as da fuckin bell went. Ain’t nuffin betta dan gettin out dem gates, specially when it’s da weekend, ya get me. Fuck dem tutors. Fuck dere lessons. Fuck dere oldskool shit and ancient fuckin batty fings. It’s all bullshit. S’ fuckin useless. True dat. Ain’t no good to no one. Not where I’m from. What da fuck I gonna do wiv some fuckin pyfagora’s feorem or some bullshit? It gonna help me at da fuckin checkout? ‘M I gonna stand dere addin ma potatoes an peas an chicken an fink, ah, dat’s five pound sixty. Boom. Na, I ain’t. I ain’t gonna use none dat shit. It’s fuckin whack. Na way. But history. Now history get me some ideas. History make me fink. History make me see fings dat mafs don’t. It’s different, ya understand. I don’t like no fuckin sums an’ shit, but wid history I get me some knowledge of fings an how dey used to be, an how fings z changed an why. For all a us. Everywhere. It’s all different. We all different, an Acton iz full a us. Like me. I different. I different from da bruva next to me or da sista ova dere. Like dem poles, innit. I different from dem Poles dat come over an eat dere kabanos an saukraut cabbage an shit. I don’t look nuffin’ like dem. But it don’t matta. We da same. We all da fuckin same. An I know dey been froo some rough shit, ya get me. Dey seen bare ruff shit. True dat. Hitler an his fuckin’ Nazi bredrins and Stalin an his shit. All dem fuckers. Like Mao. Dey all evil. But dey ain’t no different to all da uva fuckers dat still ere an all da uva shit dat still goes on. I read da papers. I see it. History an all dat’s happnin now da same fuckin fing, ya get me. Nuffin changes. Nuffin. Jus people an places. Same shit. Same shit all da fuckin time. Ain’t nuffin gonna make a difference. Nuffin. Cept dat stoopyd fuckin Flanagan an his dickshit lessons fink dere some better place. Fink dere’s some greater meanin an higher power an holy shit dat gonna help an cure us. Dat dere be some way to change and make it betta froo God an shit. So we gotta pray an apologise an den fank him for everyfin. Fank im an his family for all dey done an do. Fank im. Fank im for what? Fank im for ma dickhead dad who jus fuckin drinks all day? Fank im for all dem times I got jacked and buss up? Fank im for ma mum da’s dead? Fank him for ma sister dat say she ain’t neva cumin’ home? Fank him for dat shit? An den when I’m dun I gotta fank im for Saddam an Gadaffi an Kim Jong an Aferwerki an Bashir an dat fuckin Cameron cunt? Fank im for dem cunts? For real? Ya gotta be jokin, ya get me. I ain’t see no God in dat shit. I ain’t see no fuckin angels and saviours. I see hell on fuckin erf, blud. But I got a brain. I read ma books. I watch dem documentries an shit. I see da news. I educate. And I see uva fings, innit. I see it. But I don’t let no motherfucka know. Ain’t dere business, ya get me. Ain’t no mans business. It’s da way it is, innit. Da only way. I do what I do ta survive an you do what you do. We all do whateva shit we fink’ll make our lives betta now. Not in some future fuckin bullshit in da sky. But here. Now. An I don’t give a fuck how yoo do it. I don’t give a fuck. I don’t come up in yo crib and judge yoo. I don’t say my way’s betta. I don’t say nuffink, bruv, I just do ma fing and leave dem uva bitches be. Ya know what am sayin. It’s da troof. Gospel.
But da’s long ting head fuck shit so now I gonna chillax. I gonna go an have a joint wiv ma sister Michelle. She one ma friends. I mean propa friends. Like we propa tight an shit. We grew up togeva. Been in same nursery and primary skool an now in anuda fucked up skool. But she make it all okay. Cause we got each uva and no-one gonna take dat. Da’s it. We sisters. For eva. An now we gonna get mash up. Get high. We all got our ways to relax, an dis is ours, ya get me. Dis da way we chill out an fink bout nuffin an try an forget all dat shit dat gets you down. Happens, but you get on wyv it. Happens to everyone, innit. It’s always happenin. You jus gotta find ya means ta cotch an enjoy da shit you got. Fuck. Dere’s planty a fings dat’l’ make ya cry and shit. But da’s for pussies. Don’t do nuffin. Don’t help. Never does. So we put on some choones an smoke a bifta. Talk shit an have bare jokes. Fuck da Flanagans. Fuck dem other cunts. They all fuckin clowns. All a dem. Dey jus angry an shit cause dey forgot how ta have jokes. Dey all angry an shit cause dey stuck in some fucked up marriage or dey wanna be stuck in some fucked up marriage. But dey neva happy. Neva. An dey gotta let every uva fucka know it. Share it. Make em suffer too. Fuck em. Dey should puff on some weed. Get high. Den maybe dey’ll see God. And den he’ll tell em to shut da fuck up. Ha.
I breeze past some yutes an dey try and churpse me but I ain’t interested. I ain’t interested in none dat shit. Even if dey were older an had bare sterling I wouldn’t give a fuck. Tings have changed. I ain’t got time for dat shit no more. Not now. Dey jus messin an dats da way I treat it, so I flash dem my teef an bowl on. Dey’ll find der laydee. Unless dey’re batty. But den da’s up to dem, innit. I don’t give a fuck. Betta for me. I see Michelle cotchin by our bench and head over. ‘Hey girl, how’s it goin.’
‘S’ cool.’ We greet each uva. ‘Wha happened wyv Ms. Shemal?’ She arks me.
‘Nuffin’. She jus gave me a Saturday detention, innit.’
‘She gonna call your dad?’
She pulls da spliff from her pocket and smiles. ‘Le’s get high.’ She sparks up and takes a few tokes an I watch da glow a da cherry as it changes colour an get’s bigga an brighta. Da smell makes me feel betta. I fink about all dem fuckers dat smoked before us. All dem fuckers dat done shit an achieved sumfin. Made uva’s feel betta. Helped people like me. An despite da rest I know dat dere is dem uva betta bruvas and sistas dat make fings betta. Make de sadness lighter. Make us feel betta an fink bout shit. Make us act like we should, like people, wyv hearts an minds an care an love an shit. Dey dere. Dey just harder ta find, ya get me. But dey dere. Dey waitin. Trust me.
Michelle start’s hummin ‘Survivor’ an I can’t help but fink how fuckin wicked it is. How wicked she is. She’s ma girl. She always senses when I feelin shit. She knows. ‘Here.’ She passes me da spliff an I start tokin.
‘We goin dis party tonight den?’ She arks.
‘Yeah, I fink so.’
‘Aaron’s gonna be there.’
‘You gonna chat wyv im?’
I take a long toke and close ma eyes. ‘No.’
‘Don’t you fink yoo should?’
We finish da spliif and sit dere. I feel high but dis time it’s different. I can’t stop finkin, ya get me. I can’t switch off. I fink about what’s gonna happen. How fings is gonna change. I fink about Michelle goin uni and leavin. She gonna go study English Lit cause she wants’a be a writer, and she fuckin good at dat shit. She bare fuckin good. Trust me. She gonna bust dat shit up. But it’s up in Chester or sum shit and bare mileage from Acton. S’ far innit. It’s all good dough. She gonna get outta here. And dough it’s scary dat she gonna duss, I’m happy for her, innit. She gonna have a betta life. She gonna be fucked up wyv debt an shit, but she gonna be doin somefin. She gonna make a difference. And…more important dan all dat uva shit, she gonna be happy.
‘I gotta go.’ I say and get up.
‘So we gonna meet at eight?’
‘What you gonna wear?’
‘It don’t matter. You fine anyway.’
‘Im serious, girl. Aaron stoppyd if he don’t see it.’
‘Yeah, well. Fanks. You too girl.’
‘You know dat. See ya laterz den.’
We separate and I bowl back to ma estate. But I don’t wanna go back. I don’t wanna go home cause I know he’s gonna be dere. I know da fucker gonna be in an I don’t wanna see im. I don’t wanna look at im. He’s a fuckin’ pussy’ole, ya get me. He’s a propa fuckin fool. But I have to get outta dis fuckin skool shit, innit. I have ta get ma garms on an get maself fresh. Do ma hair and nails and duss back out. As quick as fuckin poss. Fuck ‘im.
Da lift’s still broke so I take da fuckin stairs an’ have ta step round dat fuckin smackhead dat live’s dere. He’s mash up an I step round him an make sure ta look out for any a his needles an shit. Fuckin sad. Ain’t no way ta live, ya get me. But no one dere to save ‘im. Not no Flanagan in dis fuckin crib. Neva. S’ fucked up. I get to ma floor an every step I take’s against ma every fuckin wish. Against everyfin. But it’s gonna be over soon. I just gotta keep remindin maself. Stay strong girl. Keep it tight. Finka about da bigga picture. Fink about da future.
I open da door an dere he is. Waitin. ‘Where you been?’ He says and knocks over de fuckin coat rack. I try to get past im but he just stands dere swayin like a fool.
‘Nowhere.’ I say and pick up da coats an rack.
‘Do you know what time it is?’
‘So where have you been?’
‘Nowhere, innit. Was jus comin’ home.’
‘For this long?’ He leans up on da wall cause he can’t fuckin stand straight.
‘It’s Friday, man. Wha’s wrong wiv you.’ I get froo da gap between his pissed up arse an da wall an head to da kitchen. I need a drink. I need ta get away from him an his rank up stink. Da man’s a bare disgrace, ya get me. Fuckin embarassin.
‘Don’t walk away from me, I’m talking to you.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I get me some Coke an close ma eyes as da coldness makes me feel good an helps ma dry mouf. But he bowls up behind me, innit, followin me, wantin somefin, always fuckin wantin somefin.
‘How was school?’ He arks.
‘Same, innit.’ I go to wash ma glass an see da man’s been sick in da fuckin sink again. ‘S fuckin mingin. Always da same shit. Every fuckin day.
‘Na, nufin.’ I turn da tap on an close ma eyes as I push ma finga around da plug ole. Da smell makes me wanna fuckin puke. You’d fink I’d be used ta it now. I pour some bleach down da drain an turn to see im starin at da bottle a whiskey he finks I can’t see. He’s so fuckin stoopyd.
‘Your school phoned.’ He comes up to ma face an starts swayin an shit, propa stoopyd like. An he stinks like dem mans on da street so I turn ma face away. ‘Told me you got detention.’
‘Yeah. And?’ I push past an try to get to ma room, innit, get away from im.
‘And? And?’ He follows me down da hall. ‘Come back here. I’m talking to you.’ Before I can open ma door he grips me by ma arm an flings me round, all aggressive an shit. So I stare at da motherfucka, ya get me. Fuck im. ‘What did you do this time?’
‘It ain’t nothing. Tell me.’
‘Why. Wha d’yoo care.’
‘I do care.’
‘Bullshit. You don’t care bout shit cept yo fuckin drink.’
‘That’s not true.’ He let’s go a ma arm. ‘I…’
‘What. You what?’
But he don’t say nuffin an jus stands dere like a fassy’ole. He’s all pissed up an shit. He’s fucked up. Mans always da fuckin same. Always. So I go in ma room an close ma door. But I sit on ma bed an straight away hear a can open in da kitchen. Fuck. Man, fuck dis shit. I can’t take it no more, ya get me. Fuckin all day every day. Cookin an makin food an shit an washin an cleanin an takin im ta hospital when he falls ova an breaks his fuckin arms an shit. Pickin im up an tryin ta carry im fuck to bed. Moppin up his piss. Fuck dat shit. Fuck all dat shit. I ain’t go da will no more. Ain’t got da strenf. Not for dat shit. I don’t care, ya understand. Not no more. I got uva fings on ma brain, ya get me. New fings. More important fings. Betta fings.
I start pickin out some a my garms when I hear da fucker come up ta ma door again. He don’t leve me alone, man. He don’t let me be. Man, fuck. ‘I’m…sorry.’ He says froo da door. But I don’t give a fuck, ya get me. He always fuckin sorry bout some shit. I pick out ma spesh D&G dress an try an get it on, but it don’t fit no more. I gettin’ too big. ‘…I’m…sorry…’ He says again. Fuck ‘im. I look at maself in da mirror. I gettin fat, innit, but it’s all right. I still look good. Still got ma lips and hips. Boom. He finally fucks off an I finish getttin ready. Even do I got ma shit on I take a few uva dresses an fings jus in case, innit. I’ll see what Michelle finks. When I look in da mirror again before dussin an I smile, damn girl, I look good, ya get me. I look fuckin good. Fuck all da uva shit, I fine. Know dat shit. When I open da door an walk back out into da hallway, I hear im cryin in da kitchen an mumblin about how much he cares an shit. It’s bullshit. So I try ta be quiet, innit, try an sneak da fuck out wivout im hearin. But he does. ‘Where you going?’ He arks an almost falls over as he gets up.
‘Out.’ I say an put on ma jacket.
‘What about dinner?’
‘Get some chips or somefin.’ I’m about to open da front door when he pulls me back.
‘You’re not going out.’
Now he’s all angry an shit. One minute deres tears an shit and da next he’s all vexed and fucked up. He’s a fuckin mess, ya get me, proper fucked up. ‘S da alcohol. Dat an whateva fuckin crazee shit’s inside his head. But I been froo it too. All a it. An now I had enough. I pull ma arm away. Fuck im. ‘Why not?’
‘Because I said so.’
‘You gonna stop me?’
‘Yes.’ He stumbles in front a da door an leans back on it. ‘What’s that?’ He points at ma bag an I see his eyes roll about in his fuckin head.
‘S ma bag, innit.’
‘What’s in it?’ He tries to take it off me but I move too quick. ‘What’s inside?’
‘Ma clothes an shit.’
‘What? What do you mean your clothes? Where are you going?’
‘I told you, blud, I’m going out, ya get me, out. Away.’
‘Stop talking like that.’
‘You know what.’
‘S da way I speak, shit.’
‘Stop talking like that.’
‘Man, fuck, get outta ma way.’ I try to move him but he’s a heavy fuck. He grabs me an we push and pull each uva about in da hallway. Da fucker’s crazy. ‘You well pissed, jus move.’ He grips me by ma collar an slams me against da fuckin wall. I drop ma bag and he holds me back as he picks it up. He opens it an looks inside.
‘What’s this?’ He arks.
‘What? Shut up.’ I grab ma bag back an try ta get past him again but he keeps grabbin an pullin me, fuckin up ma hair an dress an shit.
‘You leavin me?’
‘You talkin fraff
‘No I’m not. Tell me.’
‘You been in Red Lion an got all pissed an shit. You a fuckin mess.’
‘Stop it. How many times have I told you? How many times? Eh?’
‘Don’t fucking talk to me like that.’
‘Don’t you dare talk like that.’
He starts shakin me an shit an I stare straight at da fucker. He’s all cryin and dribblin an mumblin an shit. Trippin out. He’s fucked up. I mean propa fuckin crazy, ya understand. For real. I can’t remember da last time I saw him like dis. Cryin an shoutin at da same fuckin time. He’s propa lost it. Shit. He’s fuckin mental. An den I remember. I see it. I was like five or sumfin. It was when mum died. An den again a few years later when Jess left. But I was hurtin too, ya get me. I ain’t stopped fuckin hurtin. Ever. An now I jus wanna get out, ya understand. For good. ‘Talk like what, blud, like what? What?’
‘Who? Who da fuck you talkin about?’
‘Like them niggers at your school.’
‘What d’you say?’
‘I said shut up. You don’t know shit.’
‘You ain’t a nigger.’ He screams.
‘You bare fuckin racist.’
‘Ain’t no nigger in my house.’
‘You sure bout dat?’
‘No fuckin’ way.’
‘What about a nigger baby?’
He jus stands dere. I see his eyes. I see da hate. I see it all. Den I feel his fist on ma stomach. Once. Den twice more. Again and again. Da last one proper fuckin hard. I can’t see shit no more. Everyfin fucked up. I feel da blood in me eye. I crumple over on da ground. Fings started going hazy. I can’t see shit. My nose is fucked. Everyfin’s fucked. He spits and I feel it on ma face. Den da door slams. I hold my stomach. I hold it tight.
…I start blackin out…
…we’ll make it……
…you an me…
……………both a us……………..
………………we’ll make it………………
Nick got off the train at North Acton and walked towards the stairs carrying his red Fender Telecaster and bag of pedals and leads. He was tired from work and waited as the other passengers fought amongst each other to find their footing on the steps in order to ascend with an urgency he neither shared nor understood. He noted the absence of smiles and traces of kindness as he felt the vibrations of flesh rising in unison to a summit where nothing much existed bar some graffiti on the wall. Once the final individuals boarded the steps and clambered up before him, he held on tightly to the hand rail and took each step with caution. An older lady was struggling beside him and he tried to offer her a smile of encouragement, but she failed to appreciate the gesture and huffed and puffed for the remainder of the way on her own. He paused once he reached the top of the bridge and stared at the tracks as they disappeared into the distance.
Walking down the alley outside the station towards the practice studios, he couldn’t help but once again acknowledge his diminishing enthusiasm for the band and everything it no longer represented. Not long ago he would’ve met with the others on the way to rehearsal. They would’ve gone to the Red Lion and had a couple of pints and made their way down together, laughing and joking and eagerly awaiting the upcoming session. But over the past few months, things had changed. Cracks had begun to appear and the chasm was deeper than at first acknowledged or understood. Nick couldn’t understand how it all began and why, and yet, somehow, he knew it was from deep within each and every one of them. The subsequent journeys to the studio became increasingly more painful and it saddened him into parts long since deemed faded and forgotten. He was sure that everyone felt the same, but for some reason they continued turning up and practicing and pretending that things were okay, as though the effort and ritual would somehow wash away the reality of their expiring time together. None of them really wanted it to stop, not like this, and yet they knew it would, it was only a matter of time.
He turned onto School Road and was relieved to see that the others hadn’t yet arrived. Placing his guitar on the ground and removing his rucksack from his back, he sat on the wall and began to roll a cigarette. He watched as a large Van drove into the unit and a mass of Japanese kids got off and began to unload their equipment. They were all laughing and talking and disappearing in and out of the van and appeared to be enjoying each others company. He remembered when he and his friends first decided to start a band. There was something about that early enthusiasm and belief and spirit which made it all so special, so unique and wonderful, and he missed it. He remembered the practices in dingy cellars with all the cider and smoke and laughter and sweat. None of them could play their instruments particularly well but that didn’t matter. They didn’t give a shit. It was about something more. It was about identifying some common belief in how the world worked and continued to exist around them. The horrid reality of it all and the unfair nature in which it all repeated and ruptured further lives and dreams and angered ghosts of former fighters. It was all a fucking mess and they felt it. They felt it together and sought to make a change with their music. Make others realise they were not alone and encourage them to unite and force a shift in how the world was run. Hope. Anger. Unity and love. It was a common goal and one they felt could be achieved so long as they stayed together and never gave in, never forgot who they were and where they’d come from. It was fucking brilliant. Only as the years passed, they began to realise they were not in fact the same. Life dealt them different cards and the game was changed forever.
The Japanese kids finished unloading the van and Nick watched it drive off to park at the end of road. Others continued to appear ready for a fresh session as those from slots before began to leave together with a peace exclusive to their instrument and song. Few of them appeared displeased by their rehearsal and Nick wondered how he would feel in three hours time. Two girls passed him and giggled and he took his time appreciating their legs and the way their arses moved to a beat he couldn’t hear. One of them turned and smiled at him. He tried to return the favour but knew it was weak and shit and stupid. He threw the cigarette to the ground and she whispered something to her friend as they looked back again. Nick knew she was too beautiful. He knew she was something tangible that he would never be permitted to touch or taste or feel somewhere inside his flesh beneath the skin and bones. He longed to remember how it felt to be in love. To feel to some degree complete. To treat the birth of every day with something other than a sigh. To grin and show his teeth and mean it.
The girls turned the corner and were gone and he knew he’d never see them again. He felt both disappointed and relieved and looked down at his watch to notice it was twenty past nine. The session was meant to start in ten minutes and the others weren’t there yet, but as much as he knew it should’ve been a concern, he didn’t feel that way and failed to recognise any need to give it further thought. So he rolled another cigarette and remained still atop the wall. After several seconds engulfed by memories and their reflection, he looked up and noticed the lead singer form The Darkness. He sat there and watched as he stood outside smoking a cigarette whilst others passed him and continued on their way. Nick remembered when he was all over the television and headlining festivals and losing his hair and spending hundreds of thousands on cocaine and booze and rehab. The man had no doubt experienced something of what it must be like to be a successful musician, and yet, all he had left was the same rehearsal space and unknown songs and distant hopes and dreams. Nick couldn’t decide whether it would be better or worse to achieve and lose or never choose to walk at all. Looking at the man as he talked with his band mates, Nick realised he was no different from the Japanese kids and the two girls he’d never reach and the prostitutes above the studio and the fat guy behind the counter and the bloke sat alone smoking his fag and waiting. They were all the same. They were all waiting for something.
As he threw his cigarette down the gutter Nick looked up and noticed Graham approaching with a plastic bag full of beer. He nodded and instantly hoped there was a beer for him too.
‘How you doin’ Nick?’ Graham asked and held out his hand.
‘Not bad, not bad. You?’ Nick asked as they shook hands and greeted one another.
‘Yeah, all right. Feel like getting’ fucked though.’
‘You okay? Somethin’ happen at work?’ Nick asked.
‘Na, work’s fuckin’ work innit. Just can’t be arsed with it. Plus, gonna feel tired as shit tomorrow anyway so might as well get wrecked.’
‘Suppose.’ Nick considered going to the off licence but remembered he only had enough money to pay for the practice session. ‘You heard from the others?’
‘Na. They not here yet?’ Graham cracked open a can and took several large gulps.
‘Na.’ He couldn’t help but look at the beer as the condensation caressed the surface of the can.
‘You wann’a beer?’ Graham asked and held out the bag.
‘Yeah, cheers man.’ Nick took a can out and opened it carefully. ‘Did Simon say anything’ to you about the gig next week?’ Nick took a sip of the beer and sat back down on the wall.
‘Yeah, but I can’t remember what. Where is it again?’
‘I think it’s in Vauxhall somewhere.’
‘What the fuck are we giggin’ in Vauxhall for?’
Both of them sat on the wall drinking their beer without talking to one another and not caring to pretend like it mattered. Others continued to come and go yet Nick and Graham remained motionless bar their fingers which were busy with the task of rolling cigarettes.
‘I’m not sure I can be fucked with this anymore.’ Graham said.
‘What?’ Nick looked up at him.
‘I don’t know, man. This band stuff. I mean, we’re not getting’ anywhere, are we, really? I mean…we’re no closer to makin’ it than we were when we started.’
‘And it doesn’t really feel the same anymore either.’ Graham pulled two more cans out of the plastic bag and handed one over to Nick. ‘It’s shit.’
‘Yeah.’ Nick finished his can and opened the new one. ‘I know. It’s weird. I don’t know what’s happened.’
‘Nothing. That’s precisely the point. Nothing’s happened. And then we come to these practice sessions and everyone argues and then there’s a shit atmosphere and we play on and hope that it gets better, but it never does, it’s bollocks.
‘I don’t really see the point anymore.’
‘But we are good. We’re much better than we were.’
‘So what? No one else knows. No one else cares. And it’s not fun anymore, is it? ’
Nick lit his fag and took in a deep drag. ‘No.’ He looked into the can and felt an intense sadness filter through his veins as he realised that this was probably it. The end was right where he was sat. Not over there or behind the rubbish bins or under the car or beyond the corner on the left or somewhere else entirely, but right here, right now, today. ‘It just seems a shame, man. We got so many songs we haven’t even recorded yet.’
‘I know. But shit, I’m not sure we’d get through another recordin’ session. I agree that there’s a lots’ve material we’ll have no proof of and won’t be able to listen to in the future, but I just don’t see the point in pretendin’ like we’re all still mates and that things are all right. They’re not. It’s been shit for a while and I’m not sure I wanna drag it out anymore. Fuck it, man. We been doin’ this for six years now. We moved to London and shit. We’ve given it a go. We’ve tried. It was a lotta fuckin’ fun, but I don’t wanna lose that and replace it with the way things are now.’ He took a long drag on his cigarette and looked down at the palms of his hands. ‘I don’t know…maybe it’s just me.’ Graham took a strong pull on his can and turned his head to look at nothing in particular.
‘Na…I don’t think it is. I kinda feel the same. Things have just changed, I guess, and I suppose we have too.’
‘Yeah. It’s sad, but what can you do.’
Nick sat there and considered the options and what he thought they were. They could keep playing. They could keep practising and gigging and falling out and falling in and ignoring and admitting and cursing and crying and wishing, in the end, for something else. Something better. The truth was, he wasn’t sure it existed. He no longer believed that they would make it. He didn’t believe they had it anymore. Years ago they were fuckin’ close, they had the balls and energy and enthusiasm, but now, despite everything that happened and the value of each and every experience, both individual and collective, they were somehow beaten by it all. They’d survived lost lovers and fathers and mothers and faith and hope and harmony within inside and out, but now, they could not survive each other, and it pained Nick to admit that friendships would just as surely end with the fading notes who declared themselves deaf and dead inside. It was all set to be defined as memory and left to fade with all the things that swirled in circles high on up above. Stories to tell the children amid inevitable regret and questions and impossible reconciliations. A time no longer felt but remembered as something real and true and honest in all its past devotion and desire. No devil, just his song and sounds, now gone. Forever.
‘All right guys.’ Simon said and stood in front of Nick and Graham. They looked up and nodded their heads. ‘What’s the matter with you two? You look like someone just cum on your mum.’ They couldn’t help but smile and slowly rose to their feet.
‘We were just talkin’ about the band.’ Nick said.
‘Yeah.’ Graham agreed and finished his beer.
‘Oh yeah?’ Simon raised his eyebrows and turned to see where Jimmy was. They all followed his stare and saw Jimmy lock the van and set off towards them. Simon looked back at them. ‘What about?’
‘What’s going on. You know, the band and stuff.’ Graham said and picked up his own guitar. Jimmy joined the gathered men and they all exchanged handshakes and began walking towards the entrance of the studios.
‘Graham said they been talkin’ about the band.’ Simon told Jimmy.
‘And?’ Jimmy asked.
‘I dunno.’ He turned to Graham. ‘What you been talkin’ about?’
‘Well…’ Graham put his case down on the ground and took another drag of his cigarette. They were stood to the side of the doorway into the reception area. ‘We were just talkin’ about how it’s goin’ and what’s been happenin’.’
‘And?’ Jimmy asked.
‘And, well, it’s not the best is it.’
They all paused to consider the assessment.
‘I don’t know. How do you guys feel?’ Graham asked.
Simon and Jimmy shared a look and everything seemed to be confirmed in the distance between their eyes. ‘We’ve kinda been sayin’ the same stuff to be honest. We were just talkin’ about it last night actually.’
‘Talkin’ bout what?’ Nick asked.
‘The band. Us. We’ve all got other shit going on and with work and stuff it’s even harder, especially with how expensive London is and how much you actually have to work to just about get by. We were talkin’ about whether we even wanted to stay in London for much longer.’
‘You thinkin’ of movin’ back up north?’ Nick asked.
‘Maybe. It’s too expensive here.’ Jimmy said.
‘And this whole comin’ to London city and makin’ it is a load of shit. It doesn’t work like that and I think we all know that now.’ Simon added and finished rolling his cigarette. He looked at them all and lit his fag.
‘Yeah.’ Graham agreed. ‘But it’s about whether we wanna carry on. Whether it’s worth it.’
‘So what should we do? What about all our songs and shit. Should we try and get one last recording session in?’ Nick was hoping that this might at least be something they could do. One more LP. One more crack at history.
‘We’ll see.’ Simon said and they all looked at each other. ‘It would be good, but it depends on money and I know I can’t afford it at the minute.’ He blew smoke out into the air between them and watched it rise and disappear.
‘Me neither.’ Jimmy added as he left the group and entered the studios.
It was clear that another recording wouldn’t happen as any delay would simply erase what possibility might have once existed. They stood smoking and thinking and Jimmy came out of the reception area and announced that they were in room 12, but before anyone made a move to go and begin setting up, Simon pulled out a couple of joints from his pocket and they all sat down on the metal steps outside the practice rooms. He handed one to Graham and they both raised their lighters and began to puff and bring the glow to life. Nick sat there and wondered how many joints they’d smoked together over the years. He wondered how many stories and jokes and laughter they had shared, how many days and nights the music had held it all in place and gave a purpose to their places. But now, nothing remained but silence, and he took the joint and began to smoke as elements of their past began to filter through the clouds. ‘Do you remember when we had Peter Peter chid eater in the band?’ Nick asked.
‘Yeah.’ Jimmy said and smiled. ‘What a fuckin’nutter.’
‘I thought I saw him the other day in Ealing.’ Graham added. ‘I turned away and jumped on the closest bus. Ended up in bloody Southall.’ He took a long drag and passed the joint to Jimmy.
‘He was fucking mental, man.’ Jimmy said. ‘He’d close his eyes and that was it. He was gone. You couldn’t talk to him or anythin’. That was it. Completely zoned out. Fuckin’ crazy shit.’
‘Didn’t he end up living in that cellar?’ Simon asked.
‘Yeah.’ Nick answered. ‘He was fucking crazy, how the fuck did he wash and shit?’
‘HIT THE BEAT! THE BEAT! THE BEAT!’ Graham said in his best polish accent.
They started laughing. ‘YOU MUST HIT THE BEAT! THE BEAT MAN! THE BEAT!’
‘Yeah, what was that shit he used go on about the beat? What the fuck.’
‘HIT THE BEAT!’
‘He was fuckin’ funny. Funny and fucked up.’ Nick said and remembered it well despite the haze and hash.
‘What about that fat bird that you fucked Nick.’ Jimmy smiled.
‘What?’ Nick said and avoided any recollection. ‘I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.’
‘She was a fuckin’ heffer man. Absolutely mingin’.’
‘Bullshit. That wasn’t me.’ Nick handed the joint to Simon. ‘Anyway, you got anal leakage from that Goth bird.’
‘No – that was from the fuckin’ curry.’
‘It was. That damn Ramsey and his Rogan Josh.’
They fell to silence again and everything just hung in the air around them, and though they could sense it and almost feel it on their flesh, not one of them could be sure that this next move, the final one of their shared history, was an improvement on the past. And though Nick and the rest knew this time had been coming, there was a greater stretch yet to be delivered out beyond before them. So they all succumbed to ponderings on futures and films to be developed and families and friends and whether or not the music would follow and find them once again. Nick sat there and thought about his guitar and whether it would feel his fingers once this day was done. He wondered whether time would truly tell him something and if he would hear and understand. He couldn’t help but question whether they were doing the right thing. For six years they had been each other’s crutch and cruised among the notes knowing there was nothing else of equalled strength. For six years they stayed together and supported and offered strength and solidarity and something more than the world beyond the walls. But now, now this would be no more, whilst everything else survived and remained out there, doing something strange and new. He took a final drag of the joint and passed it on.
Nick began to think about their first rehearsal and their first gig and their first recording and their first review and his skin rippled with the hair that saluted each achievement. He remembered the mix of joy and fear and delight and disappointment. He remembered the nerves before the stage. He remembered the sweaty hands and fingers and faces in the crowd searching for something he hoped the music momentarily provided. He remembered the exhilaration from the success of a good set and the rush of knowing they fuckin’ rocked. He remembered laughing and joking and all the genuine fun and fulfilment. There were equal examples of failure and fuck ups, but he didn’t want to think about them, not now, not when their importance had been overplayed and referred to far too often. None of that was important anymore. There would be years to examine and deliberate, and age would make nothing clearer and bring only greater distance from the accuracy of facts, the most important of which, right now, was that he would miss it. He would miss it all. And as much as their current predicament was indeed tainted by the loss of faith and hope and fun, it was still there, for one more night, they would play again, together.
They got up and walked through the corridor towards their practice room. Each began to unpack their respective instruments and no one spoke or offered a noise other than the rustle of mood and mind. Nick removed his guitars from their cases and placed them next to the amp, then he placed his pedals on the ground and began to plug them in one by one, until the leads reached into the amp input and the guitar. He threw the strap over his shoulder and remained on his knees as he proceeded to tune the strings. Once the guitar was in tune, he looked at the others and noted their progress. He raised himself and sat on the amp and as he fell away he wondered what the fuck he’d do. For six years the band had been his future. For six years he believed they would get signed and acknowledged and that eventually they would be rewarded for their effort with affection and the promise of a firm and stable future. He wanted nothing else. He craved for the band to succeed if only to prove all those that doubted their ability wrong and foolish. He wanted them to make it. To prove there was a point to all their struggles. To stand as an example, to show that an alternative to the norm of flaccid work and bills and battered wits and will existed. He wanted them to show the world what could be achieved through unity and passion for creation and art in all its varied forms. But now, it seemed, the only thing they successfully created was a further fabrication; a failed escape and mere avoidance of the inevitable truth of a future which would resemble everything they despised. Welcome to the life of father mother son and lover and cement and cash and cracking plaster. You’re late. He didn’t know what he was going to do and it fucking scared him. There were no plans. There were no back up dreams and aspirations. There was no family left to fall back on and no hope of resurrection. This was the end and the future fucked before him. He closed his eyes and held the guitar tightly towards his flesh and every element of love contained within. This was it. It was here. All there was. The drums began to thump and with the rhythm came the lead guitar and a bass and a song and words of worlds apart from here. His fingers woke and he felt the life of their creation pass through him as everything disappeared but the smile and hidden tears as the songs gave praise to life and love and loss…and then there was nothing…nothing…but the music…nothing…but the Beat.