SUMMER 2013 email@example.com flavors.me/storiesfromsongs ISSN 2053-4396
INTRODUCTION Welcome to Stories From Songs, a zine inspired by the tale within the tune. It turns out that we were not the only ones who thought this project would be a good idea. We were overwhelmed by the support and smiles that we have received in bringing together all the stories into this zine. Using the premise of furthering the story, our contributers have followed the life of the protagonist after the final chords have ended, reflecting the feeling that the song insights. The stories are varied; subjects spanning a whole spectrum of emotions, events and styles that rightfully demonstrates the wealth of talented writers involved in this project. You can find a full list of all the songs that inspired the stories in this publication at our website as well as some recordings from the launch event itself. Read, listen and enjoy x Stories From Songs. Francesca Baker & Jamie Malcolm
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CONTENTS INTRODUCTION�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������3 Jacqueline Downs ALL THIS VIOLENCE AND MORE TO COME����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������6 Alex Morvaridi CLAMPDOWN�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������9 Emily Marchant TARO��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 11 Jade Moulds QUOTATION MARKS������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 12 Owen Townend THE LONG WHITE CAR������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 16 Sam Fentiman-Hall THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 18 Barry Fentiman-Hall THROUGH THE BARRICADES������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 21 Russell Barker INTO THE VALLEY������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 23 Jamie Woods JUST LIKE HONEY������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 25 Thom Barrett ELECTRIC LADYLAND��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 28 Phillip Jones CLOUDBUSTING��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 30 Rachel Goth TEASE ME����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 32 Kathleen Coyle IS IT STILL RAINING EVERYWHERE YOU ARE?�������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 33 Jade Emily Bradford THEY’RE JUST PHOTO’S AFTER ALL����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 36 4
Angela Huskisson A CANDLE IN THE WIND (THE STORY OF A PARALLEL UNIVERSE)������������������������������������� 37 Jamie Malcolm MARKED�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 39 Ashley Hickman BRAVADO������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 40 Drew Worthy MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 42 Francesca Baker WATERLOO SUNSET�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 44 Francesca Baker TOOTHPASTE KISSES����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 46 Louise Hume DIFFERENCE����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 47
Jacqueline Downs Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello ALL THIS VIOLENCE AND MORE TO COME There will be wars, and rumours of wars. ***** ‘Was it worth it, love?’ The voice, not entirely unkind, but with an edge, a definite edge, of dismissiveness, judgement, it’s hard to tell, is close to her ear. A hand takes hold of her wrist, with less care than you might hope for. There’s a pause; a slight intake of breath. Then the hand lets the wrist drop onto the blanket and there’s the hum of ink on paper; the clatter of clipboard on metal. ‘Let me know if you need anything won’t you?’ the voice continues, an uncharacteristic slice of spite slouching in. ‘If you can.’ She wants to reply to this voice but she can’t. Her lips won’t move without her whole face contracting, as though being stung by a thousand wasps. Her left eye opens. Closes. Opens again. This is new for her. She can’t usually wink with her left eye. Right-handed, right-eyed. But now she can. She wishes she could remember why. ***** ‘Dad, it’s here,’ he says. ‘Got a task for you son, have they?’ comes the reply, keeping it light, trying to keep it light, all the while his heart bends and shakes like a tree in a storm, the same expectation of being broken. ‘Yeah, looks like. Soon an’ all.’ ‘Well, you know what they say, son. Folks’ll have jobs. I’ll have a job. Your mam’ll get a new coat. Get our Tom his bike. Silver lining, Ben, silver lining.’ Keeping it light, but in his heart and his head, asking, is it worth it? ***** By the time she can open both of her eyes, the right one still sticky, there are two people at the bedside. Her mum, a combination of embarrassment and concern on her face; a policewoman, unexpectedly sympathetic expression. ‘How are you feeling?’ the policewoman asks. Her mouth still won’t move much, but she can let some words slide through her lips, into the antiseptic air. ‘Terrible.’ ‘Can you remember what happened?’ 6
‘She opened her bloody big gob is what happened. Folk round here don’t like that, don’t like someone opening their bloody big gob about stuff like this.’ The mum says this all the while holding her daughter’s hand, stroking it, concern sweeping over the embarrassment. She lifts a plastic beaker of lukewarm water to her daughter’s mouth. There’s a straw in it and she nearly takes an eye out. ‘Your one good eye,’ she laughs, as she settles the straw between the lips. Her daughter sucks half-heartedly. ‘Now, Katherine…,’ the policewoman continues. ‘Kate,’ the mum says. ‘Everyone knows her as Kate. ‘Kate,’ the policewoman says, her eyes flickering at the mother. ‘Can you remember what happened last night?’ ‘Was last night Sunday?’ Kate finally asks, slowly, each word stinging her broken lips like the sounds were made of salt. ***** ‘Great start to the week,’ Ben’s dad says as he takes his wife out of the kitchen. The plan is to walk her upstairs, tell her then. But they don’t get that far, and as Ben sits at the kitchen table holding the letter, he can hear his mum crying in the hallway. His dad is saying it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright. Tom comes in, having slid past the drama outside the kitchen. ‘What is it?’ he asks, all teenage suspicion and pouting lips. Ben looks at him. Wonders what to say, wonders if 15 is old enough to be told. Wonders if 21 is old enough to be telling. Holds up the letter. ‘What’s that?’ Tom asks, suspicion and pouting not abating. ‘That,’ Ben says, flipping the letter between his hands like it’s on fire, ‘is your new bike.’ He wonders how worse things can get. Last night with Kate, the friends who’d joined them at the recreation ground, the cider they’d bought in anticipation of jobs and rumours of jobs, the opinions, the disagreements. And now this. All this violence. All this anger. All this violence and more to come. ***** Sunday night but with nothing calling him on a Monday morning, it’s just like Friday or Saturday for Ben. He waits at the bus stop at the end of Kate’s street. Still doesn’t like going to call on her directly, doesn’t like her mum; thinks her mum doesn’t like him, which is only partly correct. She’s a bit late, or he’s a bit early, he’s not sure which because he doesn’t have a watch. There’s a wind whipping up crisp packets and chip wrappers, and he watches them dance in a frenzy, a blur of brown and green 7
and vinegar-sodden white. All the houses on the street look the same. All council-issued beige front doors, light enough to show every mark, every bit of mud scraped off shoes on the door’s jutting edge, every handprint where someone’s leaned against it making a point, every cigarette burn where someone’s stubbed their Embassy out with purpose but lack of care. At last Ben hears a door slam, sees Kate moving towards him. She’s wearing jeans, slightly baggy, with the red piping down the sides, and her hands are tucked into the side pockets of her bomber jacket. He’s seen all this before of course, on Kate’s older sister. But it looks better on Kate. She grins as she approaches him. They kiss, mouths smashing together like rocks. He never gets used to that first kiss. ‘I hope nothing ever happens to your mouth,’ he says. ‘I never want you to not be able to do that.’ He pulls one of her hands from the pocket that’s protecting it and they walk up the street, past more houses that look the same, more whirling rubbish, towards the recreation ground. It’s empty except for two kids who should be in bed, banging up and down on the see-saw. They take it in turns to cry out every time they hit the floor and every time they fly into the air. The cry is different depending on whether they are up or down. ‘Piss off kids,’ Ben calls out, not unkindly. ‘Woss it worth?’ one of them shouts back, not looking over. ‘Got any fags?’ Kate laughs. ‘You’re too young to smoke, and anyway we ain’t got any.’ She sits on one of the swings, while Ben walks over to the kids and says something she can’t hear in a voice too low to judge. Whatever his words, whatever his tone, it works, because the kids bump off the see-saw and scramble over the gritty concrete surface and out of the gate, forcing it even further off its hinge. ‘You’ve got a gift for communing with the young,’ Kate says, extending her legs and kicking her trainers against the earth as she swings herself higher. When she has worked herself high enough he does what he always does, runs underneath her, and again and again, while she laughs at his bravery and the fact that he thinks nothing can touch him. Nothing can touch them.
Alex Morvaridi The Clampdown by The Clash CLAMPDOWN
7am. Tom clicks the latch off the door with a slight touch. He slowly shuts the door behind him, careful not to wake his housemate from slumber. The sky is grey and the street is silent. As he descends the steps to the street he pulls his jacket on to counter the cold of the early autumn morning. It’s only a short walk to the bus stop and like every morning the short Caribbean woman is stood with resilience and a continuous sigh on her face. Both strangers have got on the same bus at the same time for almost two years, yet neither offers any kind of acknowledgement of familiarity. Not even a slight hint of a smile. The dreary colour of the pavement matches the sky as the bus slows to a halt and the two strangers embark in classic routine. Tom unconsciously allows the woman to get on first, he does this every day. He takes a window seat and rests a leftover morning paper on his lap. The headline reads: Royal Mail Workers To Get Free Shares In Planned Sale The very essence of this headline should anger a man of Tom’s position. A man who is on his way to his low paid office job, in which the few services that are still nationalised are in some ways the only thing he and many other still cling to. The privatisation of the Royal Mail would be once again daylight robbery, the culprits the rich elite, the victims the everyday people of Britain. Prices of this loyal service would rise but real wages wouldn’t, the profits filling the pockets of the few at the top. What’s more this Union opposed policy manipulates workers into accepting the change through the bribe of insignificant shares while the profitable shares are distributed amongst a small elite. This should anger Tom into some kind of collective audible protest, there should be an obvious channel for his anger. Yet Tom merely offers a sad sigh of familiar acceptance. Though he does not agree with the proposal he accepts that it is happening within a heartbeat. Thirty years ago such complacent easy acceptance would have been unheard of. For Tom’s generation acceptance has become far too familiar, far too easy, and far too acceptable. The bus pulls over. Tom shuffles off it with indifference. His working day will whisk his attention away from any politics that may have a detrimental affect on his life till he is too weary to remember. And even if his mind is refreshed of the futile attempt of the few trying to exploit the many, he would be anaesthetised by his lack of faith in the possibility of himself and others to evoke change. For there is now a sickness in society that has been nurtured by the political and economic elite. Cynicism. But Tom doesn’t realise that only the people have the cure for this sickness. Faith in the fellow man. Tom sits at his desk with a coffee and allows practised routine to take control propelling him into fulfilling his responsibilities. The thumping punch of his fingers firing data entry into the computer. He looks up to catch the eye of his quaintly pretty looking colleague Sarah. They exchange smiles and he feels that rush of excitement that you used to get when you were still in school. When you see that one girl in your class that makes it worth enduring the boring drone of the teacher. After a minute or so he rises to his feet and follows her through to the office kitchen. The kettle is already boiling by the 9
time he arrives. ‘Morning.’ He manages few words. ‘Is it though?! I mean really?! Have you seen the news today.’ She responds quite animated for a Monday morning and to Tom’s surprise. ‘I’m sorry, what’s up?’ ‘I just can’t believe they have the nerve to privatise one of the few services that still belongs to us. This government sickens me.’ ‘Oh right yeh that. I can’t believe it either, I mean who is going to see the long term profits of such a move? Not us or the workers but the people at the top.’ ‘Exactly. While the rest of us end up paying more for something we used to have a stake in.’ ‘Hmmm yeh. But there’s nothing we can do about it I guess. We just have to just suck it up again.’ ‘Like fuck we do. It’s only 10 in the morning and there are already proposed strikes in the pipeline and I’ve already joined a group on facebook for an organised march next week.’ ‘Really? Well that’s good I guess but it won’t make a difference, in the end they will still go ahead and do it.’ Sarah is frowning. It may be too early for a debate but its just too frustrating for her to hear someone speak with such pessimism. ‘Well fuck that. It’s that kind of attitude that they want. It’s people like you that allow acceptance to become the norm, being so pessimistic has allowed them to do so much over the past couple of years.’ Just as she finishes her rant the kettle has boiled. She swiftly pours herself a coffee and walks out frowning in frustration. Tom stands there embarrassed. He takes his place at his desk, two warm coffees sit in front of him as he heats up with embarrassment having taken such a passive stance. Logging in to facebook he swallows his pride and joins the group Sarah had mentioned. In this moment he finally realises it is inherently down to the individual to cure the sickness of cynicism and rediscover there is power in collective action to make a difference. Let fury have the hour, anger can be power, do you know that you can use it?
Emily Marchant Taro by Alt-J TARO Three white butterflies flickered over thistles, barbed wire and slack plastics domed like cataracts in the brown gravel. The clouds could not come lower. The wind turned them from blank faces to frowns then back again. By the railway yellow clumps of ragwort leered up at the glowering sky and the colours conspired together to say ‘storm’ – to breathe moisture into the armpits and onto the brow of the man who stood there and waited for the rain to come. In the rocking of his brain back and forth with the movement of his head, he heard the beat of the fairground where he had lived and worked as a child. In the roar of the trains that attacked and then slunk away, metal-tailed, he heard the music of the machines as though it was plucked by his fingers on sharp metal strings, bringing forth dark drops of blood. His hands were rough and there was not much left of his nails, from scrabbling in the gravel, using his fingers like chisels on the hard surface of the world, wearing himself down at the ends. But his movements were always soft as he laid out the cards time and again, where they would shine, tattered petals on the black curve of a scrap car’s bonnet, on the stones under the canal bridge or between the stalks on the siding. Soft, too, was his voice, as he spoke his own fortune, soft as a child’s, a voice made from low rolls of thunder and loaded with the threat and the wonder that the cards brought as they told a new story each time. And so came the rain, as he stood there, and the cards were the only warm, light centre of him as he was drenched heavy by the storm. They were wrapped and nestle and hidden at the heart of him. He thought of himself young, in the womb of his mother, whose face was a black hole that sucked in tortured hours of vain imagining; young, and hot in the group of shouting children who thronged the fairground because it was their home; young, and feeling the cold footstep of his father in the back of his throat, as the man came back to their tent that one last time, at the end of his tether, and found his oil-slick of a son reading his own fortune again, speaking feverishly to an empty tent with the tears of foreknowledge on his face.
Jade Moulds Samson by Regina Spektor QUOTATION MARKS A pair of quotation marks on a white expanse of cotton. We curl into each other on the bed sheets, duvet tangled around our feet. Without opening an eye, I can tell it is late afternoon. No light stings my eyes, no uncomfortable warmth moistens the small of my back. There is only a small breeze from the window and the happy knowledge that it is too late to do anything productive. I know that on his own, Sam won’t wake up for another half hour at least, so I concentrate on trying to wake him without making a noise. For a few minutes, I try to send him telepathic messages. Wake up. Wake up. I try a bribe. Wake up, and I won’t make jokes that your face looks like a pug when you sleep. Wake up, and I’ll make you breakfast. He doesn’t stir, so I try something else. One by one, I wiggle each of my toes, a skill I learnt when I was eleven. On the ninth toe, the foot that touches mine moves at least three millimetres. I wiggle the last toe. Nothing. I try to wiggle my calves. ‘Tickles.’ ‘What?’ ‘That tickles, stop it.’ ‘I’m not doing anything.’ ‘You’re jerking about like a loon.’ ‘I’m bored.’ He wraps his arm tighter around my waist and pulls me in. ‘How can you be bored with being asleep?’ ‘I’m not asleep. I’m lying here.’ ‘Jerking about.’ ‘Yes, jerking about.’ He sighs and then nuzzles his head into my hair. ‘Would you like to get up?’ ‘Soon.’ This is a fair compromise. I turn over to face him, to watch him while he dozes. Every man seems to 12
hate this but I think I would like it if somebody wanted to watch me while I slept. Sometimes I think Sam is watching me sleep and as soon as I realise I try to make my face look more attractive and then I worry that I’m pulling a stupid face, and then I open my eyes to make sure that I’m not and he’s always asleep and not actually watching me. I stroke his hips and he smiles. I wonder if he’s trying to pull a more attractive face. His eyes lazily open, his left first, then his right. ‘If you make me breakfast, we can get up.’ This too, is a fair compromise. I pad over and turn on the light switch. The cream walls turn yellow and the kitchen feels instantly warmer. A Cheerio becomes stuck to my foot and I stand on one leg, rubbing the sticky sole on my knee. Sam walks over to the kettle and prepares a cup of tea and a cup of coffee. He drinks his tea black because he is pretentious. I don’t drink tea because it tastes like muddy water, the residue of something rather than the thing itself. ‘Poached eggs?’ ‘Dee, I don’t know if you’ve forgotten, but you don’t know how to make poached eggs.’ ‘I can try.’ ‘Okay. If you want to try, that sounds good.’ I boil the water and put vinegar in, remembering somebody mentioning once that this is the right thing to do. The eggs come out well but they taste a little vinegary. Sam thanks me and goes to wash up our plates. The hot water hits the dishes, washing away the yolks in amber whorls. His pyjama bottoms are soft from too many washes and the pale blue makes his skin stand out, acorn-brown. By contrast, my skin looks more similar to the pale blue. We are opposites, his hair black and curly and mine a shade of red. He says it is the colour of wine but only when he’s drank too much of it. I love his hair. It hangs down his back and rests between his shoulder blades and it is rare I get to see it loose like this. I reach up to touch it and he turns round abruptly. ‘I want it gone.’ ‘The washing up? If you leave it on the side I’ll do it later.’ ‘Not the washing up, and no you wouldn’t. I want the hair gone. Will you cut it for me?’ My stomach clenches a little, and I’m surprised by the intensity of my desire to say, ‘No, keep it, keep it.’ Instead I say, ‘Why do you want your hair cut?’ ‘I’m sick of it.’ 13
‘All of it?’ ‘All of it.’ I squint my eyes and try to imagine him with a shorn head. ‘I won’t shave it to the skin, but I’ll cut it short. Is that okay?’ ‘Yeah, that’s okay.’ He kisses me. I’m not happy with the idea but he’s stubborn, and I’m easily persuaded. I go to get my scissors, comb and clippers. Once I have everything, I make him sit on a stool in the middle of the kitchen with a checked tea towel draped around his shoulders. The kitchen has become a little darker since we ate and it will soon be evening. On his own, surrounded by what seems like acres of linoleum, Sam suddenly seems small. I tie his hair into a tight ponytail at the base of his neck, and hold the dull scissors up. ‘Last chance.’ ‘I know. I need to do this.’ There’s a pause. I wait for him to explain, hovering over the ponytail. As he speaks, I slowly start cutting it off. ‘Well, you know I’ve arranged to meet my Dad for a drink? I haven’t told you much about my Dad before but it’s a big thing, this drink.’ I don’t say anything but instead place the hair I’ve cut on his lap. He looks at it, blinks, and carries on talking. I pick up my scissors again and begin cropping, taking off as much as I can to leave a couple of inches all over. ‘He left when I was about five. It wasn’t anything dramatic, he and my Mum just sort of fell out of love. Mum thought it was better if I didn’t see him. He travelled a lot. Mum said he was off in foreign countries, doing good things for people who needed it. I found out when I was a bit older that he was just a salesman. He travelled a lot, but just selling. I got birthday cards and occasionally, Christmas cards.’ ‘And you’re going to...’ My brows furrow. ‘Give him your hair?’ I comb the hair flat and begin trimming around his ears. For the first time I notice that they are pink and look like two tiny shells. I touch one lightly. I’ve never looked this closely at his ears before. ‘No, I’m not going to give him my hair. This will be the first time I’ve seen him in years. I want to look right.’ 14
I plug in the clippers and put on the longest guard. When I switch it on, the noise startles both of us. It sounds like it’s in pain and needs oiling, but I lost the oil long ago. I hold it to his hairline. ‘I mean, from his pictures, he looks... I want short hair. I want to look like an adult.’ I shave away, exposing his nape. It looks vulnerable and I hold back the temptation to press my lips to it. ‘I want to look like a man.’ He shuffles the stool round to face me. I go over the top of his head and then do the sides. When I am finished, he stands. His lips are pouting slightly; his eyes are large like a child’s. In that moment, I see him properly. I see him exposed. ‘I think you look like a man.’ ‘Thank you.’ …. We enter the bedroom. I unbutton my shirt and drop it to the floor and he takes off his pyjama bottoms. As we are getting into bed, I touch his shoulder. ‘I like your hair.’ He smiles and we curl back into our quotation marks.
Owen Townend The Ballad of Lucy Jordan written by Dr Hook and the Medicine THE LONG WHITE CAR This is a sorry case. I can’t kneel down, I can’t stand over, I can’t do anything. I’ve medicated her and laid her out on the gurney but now I have to keep to the side and just watch for further developments. I wouldn’t say I’m useless here, if she starts to suddenly writhe about I have the straps, the drugs, the training. Except she isn’t, she’s just laying there humming. She occasionally raises her knees but then she lowers them before it becomes a problem. I’d say that she’s thinking but doesn’t seem lucid. I’m no good with this kind of case. I’m not happy to restrain her like the other raving lunatics; she’s no harm to anything. I’ve met women before who seem lost; many, many women, the kind of women who strut around like aching swans. This woman aches but her pain isn’t pride. Her humming lilts in tired, half-remembered ways and the tune is gradually paring down between her lips. ‘What song is that?’ I say. She looks at me with droopy eyes. She brightens up and offers me a perfect curve of a smile, one she must have been practising for years now. I smile back. She is a very pretty woman. Blonde, big green eyes, petite. She’s regained some of the colour in her cheeks but I don’t think it’ll be enough. Every time I pass through the psychiatric ward of the hospital all I ever see are pale stretched faces. All I ever hear is discordant humming, unmistakably discordant not like the raspy sweetness of the songs she’s trying to sing. I think they’re nursery rhymes. I wonder what they told the husband, the kids. They probably never saw the signs or even properly heard this humming; it’s not in the nature of a traditional family to notice the mother wilting. That’s what I’ve found, what I’ve experienced growing up in suburban neighbourhoods like hers. And yet the only other time I had a mental case in this ambulance was in September 1962 and that guy was a madman. He was thrashing about when we found him, almost killed a few other members of his commune apparently. They loved him like a brother and yet he still went rabid. From the way he was growling I suppose he thought he was a mountain lion. Meanwhile this little lady here is perfectly still. I can’t even hear her humming anymore. Her skin has turned a whiter shade. She’s looking out of the window. I approach and stand over her. I kneel down. ‘Mrs Jordan.’ I say, ‘I want you to take deep breaths.’ 16
I can hear a flurry of words buzzing in her throat. ‘Mrs Jordan.’ She turns to me. ‘Paris.’ she sighs, adopting a crooked smile. It seems natural, less pretty more beautiful. I mirror it. ‘Of course.’ The back doors open and the ramp is pulled down. ‘Welcome to Paris.’ I say. The ambulance fills with white coats but I lead the way.
Sam Fentiman-Hall American Pie by Don McLean THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED She was called Tomsk. She sometimes thought it rather stupid to be named after a Womble, but most of the time she liked the name immensely. People couldn’t confuse her with anybody else and that was the way she liked it. (Not that she looked the slightest bit like the Cribbins-voiced inhabitant of Wimbledon Common, although she had, until recently, been a regular at the gym.) She lived in one bedroom in a down-at-heel house in Wood Green. She didn’t really like Wood Green, but it was cheap and better than the place she’d lived at just off the Holloway Road. Her room there had been pokey and noisy, if someone lit a fag in the hall you could smell it for days after. You couldn’t open the windows even in summer, because the smell and the noise from outside was just too intense. And he’d lived there. But she didn’t like remembering that. Here, in Wood Green, every day was the same. Get up, make breakfast in the messy shared kitchen, then eat it back in her room as she got ready for work. Work that wasn’t much fun; she was a shop assistant in a fabric store. The hours were long and to be honest they didn’t really have many customers, so it was really boring but it paid the bills, just. She tended to switch off as soon as she got there and her mind would be somewhere else as she cut cloth or counted out buttons. Then it was home, slip into leggings and a tassel top, eat something heated up from a can, watch telly, occasionally read, then go to bed. (She never played the flute that sat, quietly tucked away in its case, on top of the wardrobe.) Weekends passed similarly, without much intrigue. Tomsk didn’t have many friends. She was twentyseven. Everyone she knew had moved away from town, or got married, or she had argued with them and they were too embarrassed now to make it up. (She had always liked to describe herself as strong-willed and even good friends were intimidated sometimes, especially now.) Tomsk went out once in a while, there were still acquaintances and men she met and sometimes slept with, she was still (even with her long red dreads cropped off severely,) pretty in a pixie-like way. But no serious relationships yet, she wasn’t ready for that and wasn’t sure that she would ever be again. When she was younger she had been a bit of a hell-raiser, but now after a couple of pints, she felt tiddly and tired. Must be getting old, weary. Still, it made for a cheap night. Most of the time she just stayed in her room, reading or drawing little pictures. Usually though, she just sat by the window for hours on end, silently watching the cars go by. And she never listened to records anymore, even though she had a stack of LPs by the bed; music was just too all about him. Sometimes she started thinking about when it wasn’t like this. A time when things had mattered and she’d gone on marches against student loans and the Poll Tax. Nothing seemed to matter now, not since that day on Holloway Road. Everyone treated her differently and she couldn’t stand them for it. Be as nice and comforting as you like, but how the hell can you understand? Nobody can. A new job, new haircut, new house and new people can’t change anything, or make it better. 18
She went downstairs to get a drink of coke and her gaze wandered around the back garden. It was horribly overgrown. She noticed the man next door still had his bonfire going. Tomsk had thought that this was a smoke-free zone, but that bonfire had been going for the past three days. They were burning something big which was taking a long time. Occasionally an old man would come out and poke at the fire and sometimes put his head near it and blow at the embers, and the fire would flare up again, refreshed. A younger man, probably his son, thought Tomsk, also came out and stood looking at the fire, (sadly, she thought,) from time to time. I wonder where the old lady is, thought Tomsk suddenly. Hell’s bells, he’s done away with his wife and now he’s burning the body. Shit, what should I do? Take a picture? Phone the pigs? Oh shit, what if he sees me looking and comes for me too? She enjoyed the momentary sensation of goosebumps up and down her arms, then laughed. She came away from the kitchen window, took her drink off the crowded table top and went back to her room. Don’t be so ridiculous, she thought, sitting down in her armchair. But that smoke had been strangely meaty... She wished it wasn’t Saturday. She had nothing to do and she didn’t feel like doing anything anyway. Maybe later on she’d go to the payphone and see if anybody was into going out, she doubted they would be though. She didn’t keep in touch with many of the people she’d met on her Open Access course. She’d leave it for today. She almost thought about putting one of the records onto her old hi-fi, but just looking at the cover on the top of the pile; it was New Order; was too much to bear. He loved New Order. She watched the sky. The smoke from the wife-killer’s bonfire had crept up over the roof, to her side of the sky. It plumed upwards, smudging like dressmaker’s chalk on blue linen. A bird drifted past, carried on a thermal; a passenger jet carried people off from Heathrow to their holidays. Tomsk drifted off to sleep in the armchair with its gaudy patchwork cover. As usual she dreamt of a time not so very long ago when she had been happy, when she had loved living in the city, when she had loved living. Before it had all become meaningless. She dreamt of a man too; a man who was always in her dreams and hardly ever out of her thoughts, no matter how hard she tried to make him be. The dream always had the same ending. She was chasing him, a tall dark-haired, goateed man, with eyes like the sky. She never caught him. She held out her hands to him, but he was always just out of reach. In the dream her heart beat faster and faster, she had to stop him. She nearly had him, she had the corner of his oil paint-stained army surplus t-shirt in her grasp. There was a pounding from somewhere that she could hear in her head, she couldn’t breathe, she was crying. The man turned round and smiled, then he broke out of her grasp, waved to her and then she woke up, as always. In floods of tears, as always. She tried to light a cigarette, to calm herself down. She’d only started smoking a few months ago, because he did. Her hands shook as she held the lighter to her face. She couldn’t light it and swore. She tried again and again, but maybe the cigarette was wet, or maybe her hands were shaking just too much, because she couldn’t get the end to catch. She threw both the ciggie and the lighter against the wall in desperate frustration and started crying again. Her entire body was shaking now and she 19
thought she might have to have a suck on her inhaler, her throat was tightening. She scrabbled for the cigarette and tried again to light it, without success. ‘Why did you have to leave me?’ she screamed. ‘Why?’ Sobbing and pulling the cigarette to pieces. ‘I have nobody,’ she mumbled. His name was David. He had shared the house in Lanseer Road. He was an artist, he was good, everybody said so, and his pictures covered the walls of her room. He was going places. That he had chosen to go with her surprised her then, and surprised her now. They were so different and argued constantly; but the arguing was part of the fun, part of the package. He had lived his life and politics liberally, not wanting to step on anybody’s toes. Tomsk dragged him along to rallies and marches, but he was dragged willingly. He played the flute really well and taught Tomsk to play seven simple tunes. They shared the house just off the Holloway Road for a year and a half, even though it was damp and made her cough. She worked part-time, cash in hand, in a pub where her long dreadlocks and nose-ring didn’t matter, and when she wasn’t working he would draw her, laughing when she said she wasn’t well stacked enough to make much of a model. ‘Stacked enough for me,’ he’d say grinning, as he grabbed her. Everything in this room reminded her of David. It was a room that he’d never lived in, but was still his, filled with all his things. She looked around through the mist of tears and knew she’d have to get rid of his stuff if she was ever going to get over this. But she couldn’t; she couldn’t bear to finally say goodbye. His paintings, the t-shirt from Portugal that she slept in, the papier-mâché lampshade that he’d given her just after they met. It was hard but she knew it would all have to go. Go like he had, that evening months ago now, when he stepped out to cross Holloway Road on his way to the all-night garage for a packet of fags. Turning to wave goodbye to her, not seeing or being seen by the obviously drunk driver and speeding car that sent him flying into the central reservation and out of her life.
Barry Fentiman-Hall Through The Barricades by Spandau Ballet THROUGH THE BARRICADES Where is it? I know it’s been a long time but I grew up down here. So much has altered. All the names have changed. Of course I knew that Woolworths was a goner. Many’s the time I used to nick the pick‘n’mix from there. Such a long time ago now, but it’s a slightly more recent memory I need to revisit now. Mistry’s Chemist is still there, I know it was near there, the scene of much embarrassment at the time. ‘Really, Steve— it doesn’t matter, maybe we could just go and get a drink or something and catch up?’ ‘Oh, no, no, no, it was your idea to find this place. It’s bound to be here somewhere.’ ‘Hey, mate, can you tell me where Frobisher’s hairdressers has got to? It should be here but somehow we keep missing it.’ A slightly dishevelled chap in a cagoule and a Benny hat makes a puzzled, slightly constipated face before replying, ‘Ooh, you’ve got me there, guv... Rings a bell it does. ‘Ang on, I’ll ask these two lovely ladies ‘ere, two of me best customers they are, been around ‘ere forever.’ He gestures towards two pepper pot women queuing to get in the Post Office clutching magazines under their arms. ‘Less of your cheek, young Andy!’ (Young Andy is 50 if he’s a day.) ‘Where are you looking for, lovey?’ I mention the old hairdressers and one of them lights up like a candle and turns to her partner in crime to confer. Straight away she points at an old boarded up shell of a place across the street. There are trees growing from the guttering and brown steel over the windows. The old barber’s pole has gone. Nothing left that speaks of past glories. An old Rasta siting in the doorwell, hunkered up against the elements making a decent fist of the theme from Midnight Cowboy on his harmonica. Beside him sits a chipped china bowl with a few quid in it guarded by a runty Jack Russell terrier. Something stirs in my memory... ‘Look at the fakkin state of ‘im!’ interjects ‘young’ Andy. ‘Language, Andrew!’ shrieks one of the pots. 21
‘Well I ask yer,’ comes the retort. ‘E’s out ‘ere every bleedin’ day sat on ‘is arse playin’ the same tune expectin’ decent people to feed ‘im an ‘is bloody dog, ‘e should get a job!’ And with that Andy finishes his sandwich and reaches down into a bag by his feet and pulls out a bundle of magazines. ‘Well folks, can’t ‘ang about like ‘im, back to work... BIG ISSUE! ... BIG ISSUE!’ But, we’re no longer listening... ‘Come on, Jules, this is it, don’t you remember?’ ‘Well, now you come to mention it, but it’s all fastened up, even the alley down the side’s all covered in chicken wire and stuff.’ Then it hits me. I look the old busker in the eye for the first time. A black skull stares back at me, snow white dreads pulled into a filthy old tam. He’s well dressed in a shabby sort of way. Harris Tweed and a now crummy silk tie. ‘Mr Bishop! ... I didn’t recognise you, or the shop for that matter.’ ‘Well I remember you, boy. An’ her, too. How could I forget? Come t’ think of it, how could you?’ My eyes widen and Jules blushes nearly scarlet. ‘Come t’ finish what I din’t let ya, eh boy? Well I guess it can’t hurt none now, can it?’ He grins wide and leers with his eyes to the trussed up alley entrance and subtly nudges it with his foot. It opens just enough. And now we’re trotting hand in hand past rotting bins and clammy busted drainpipes. It’s all flooding back now. Twenty-four years nearly to the day. I can still feel Julie’s hand on my cheek and Fro’s boot up my arse. Her shame when he told her dad. Guess he’s atoned for that now. And the long years inbetween. Wonderful thing the internet. And here we are again and all those years fall away. Still so beautiful. Trembling we touch fingertips. ‘I...I don’t know what to say now.’ ‘You could try the same line as last time, you old smoothie.’ ‘OK, get ‘em off then!’
Russell Barker Broken Household Appliance National Forest by Grandaddy INTO THE VALLEY Grant and Kevin stood on the brow of the hill and surveyed the construction site below. The road was taking shape, snaking through the valley where they used to play as kids. The ugliness was shocking and all this just to avoid further damage to the centre of the village that they lived in. It seemed that someone had got their priorities twisted when they commissioned this one. The scratched and rusted old yellow JCBs craned their necks and removed another piece of childhood. The scraping sound was equivalent to nails down a blackboard, both literally and metaphorically Kevin thought back to when this used to be their playground. In the days when you could be let out to run free without the fear of every strange man being a paedophile. Pleasures were simple and required only a good imagination. Most of it was making use of what was there. A makeshift rope swing was rigged up in a tree, the brook that ran through the bottom of the woodland was ideal for paddling and there were all manner of things dumped here which were fun to use. Their first band had been formed down here, ideas thought out and songs written. After borrowing guitars and a mic, they found some rusty old oil drums for a makeshift drum kit, which did have the downside of leaving nasty stains on Grant’s mum’s carpet during practice. Back on the brow of the hill, Kevin was remembering the first time they came down here. His elder brother had brought him, partly to get him out of his mum’s hair, but also so he could impart this lovely secret to him. He’d passed on to him the beauty of the imagination too. All the items dumped in the valley could be used practically or for some crazy imaginary purposes. When they first went down there they found an old refrigerator, opened it up and out popped a frog. And then another and another. Water had pooled in through the broken door and attracted the frogs into the warm hiding place. Kevin had written this adventure up as his ‘What we did on our holidays’ project for school. The teacher has enjoyed the tale and that Kevin was communing with nature, but balked at his apparent over exaggeration of the number of frogs. This was the start of a mistrust of authority and people in general for Kevin. He had told his parents, but all they said was that he should respect his elders. To which Kevin had naturally asked ‘but what if they’re wrong?’ but was met with some bland, disinterested answer which didn’t address the question in the slightest. And from that day on Kevin would question everything, to the point of irritation with some people, but they were usually the people who didn’t have the answers. Kevin became so enchanted with the valley and woods he would take every opportunity to visit, even to the point of sneaking out one night and going down there. He noticed an oven had arrived since his last visit and wandered over to investigate. He opened the door and out flew a barn owl, the surprise knocking him backwards as the owl flew over his head. He righted himself in time to watch the owl swoop round and perform a circuit of the valley. The grace of the owl amazed him and led him eventually to his career as a bird of prey handler. Back on the ridge the lads discussed how to stop the construction, but realised that this was progress, such as it was, and they didn’t have much hope. However a token gesture wouldn’t go amiss, which is 23
how Kevin found him back there post pub heaving a brick through the window of the JCB. It felt like something and as the glass smashed and landed all over the seat, an inconvenience was better than nothing. The road would be made and all this beauty destroyed, but such was the way nowadays.
Jamie Woods Just Like Honey by The Jesus and Mary Chain JUST LIKE HONEY It’s March 21st, 1995. We’re walking up the biggest hill in Clyne Valley Country Park. It’s the nicest place we know in this ugly, lovely town. In my Darth Vader rucksack I’ve got provisions: a Drifter bar, a packet of Salt ’n’ Vinegar Discos, two bottles of Cherry Coke, one bottle of Mountain Dew, two packs of Superkings (for regular smoking), a pack of Lucky Strikes (for fancy smoking), a Sherbert Dip-Dab, a bunch of tapes, and all the lighters I could find. Wrapped up tight in cling-film, in a waterproof baggy, hidden in a tobacco tin, inside a sock, I’ve got an eighth of seriously good weed: green, not solid, just in case like. And: under my tongue, for the very first time, a small square of blotting paper with a picture of a circled star on it. A small square of blotting paper which we’re hoping has been soaked in a solution containing lysergic acid diethylamide (or LSD) and as such will give us each a long mellow buzz. We, that is Paul, Kiera and myself, we don’t actually know this for sure. This is just what we’ve been told by the guy we got it from, the purple-haired metaller with piercings and visible tattoos who works in Our Price. When we went round to buy the acid, he showed us how he’d been carefully keeping them in the fridge, in a little pill bottle with a child-proof cap, safe and hermetically sealed... Since I bought them back from Ams-ter-damm, see? You’ve gots to look after tabs, nice and cool, like, for longevity. ...casually gaining instant drug world credibility by place-name-dropping the motherland. I mean, he doesn’t need to impress us any more, he already works in Our Price, but he’s been to Amsterdam too.... I’m listening to my Walkman. It’s a proper Sony one. Got it for my 16th birthday. It’s beautiful. Shiny aluminium, big clunky old-school buttons, Dolby Noise Reduction, auto-reverse: best birthday present ever. Better than my old Sanyo one that chewed up tapes like bubblegum. I’ve got my hood up to protect my headphones from the constant drizzle of sea-salt rain and I’m listening to Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and I get funny looks from dog walkers and joggers and ramblers as I spit out the frenetic polemics of... TURN IT UP! BRING THE NOISE! ...into the shaded woodland, along the pathways. I’m high on anticipation at the moment, excited about getting my first hit, hoping with every slight wobble and head-rush that this isn’t it and that it will come and nervous of the bad trip that so many anecdotes are made of. Adrenaline and nicotine and fear combine, and I’m running up and down the lane, dodging the other park users and I’m rapping out loud to ‘Night of the Living Baseheads’: 25
LIKE COMATOSE WALKIN’ AROUND PLEASE DON’T CONFUSE THIS WITH THE SOUND I’M TALKING ABOUT BASS But I’m still not feeling it. I’m half-tempted to get the spliff out of its convoluted hiding place, but no, that can wait. Then ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ comes on and I’m at it again, oblivious to echo or bird song or disparaging remarks from ramblers. I GOT A LETTER FROM THE GOVERNMENT THE OTHER DAY I OPENED IT AND READ IT IT SAID THAT THEY WERE SUCKERS THEY WANTED ME FOR THE ARMY OR WHATEVER PICTURE ME GIVING A DAMN I SAID NEVER I press <PAUSE> on the Walkman. At least now I’m taking acid, I won’t be called-up, I can’t be called up, even if there was conscription. You know what these Tory bastards are like; there’ll soon be another Falklands, another Gulf War. My mate Adam, who was in the ATC and is signing up for service after his A-Levels, well he reckons they won’t let you in the army if you’ve done acid – Cos of the flashbacks, they can happen any minute. You can be standing there on duty and then BAM BAM BAM you’ve shot your whole squadron and shown the enemy exactly where you are. So, good, no army: result. I hate the fucking army, even more than I hate hippies. But I don’t want this to be a bad trip, and evil trip, a trip that frazzles and burns my brain. The stuff they tell us about in school. Maybe that’s why I’m not feeling it yet. Maybe it’s a bad one… I run back to where Paul and Keira are ambling along. How you guys feeling? Is this what it’s meant to be like? Is this how long it takes normally? Is it gonna be OK? Paul’s done it before. He’s done E as well, and coke. I’ve only done mushrooms and speed. He tells me to – Chill the fuck out, J. I nod. I go through the front section of my bag looking for some less angry music. Ooh, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychocandy. I put the cassette in, press <PLAY>, light a Superking and carry on walking. We’re going up, it’s getting steep now. The overhang of old trees is being left behind as we steadily climb, the sky is visible again, and the sun tries to shine through the clouds. It’s white in the sky, it’s brighter and I pull down the peak of my hat down to shade my eyes. Paul and Keira are quite far behind, looking for fungi in the grass. I’m picking berries from bushes, pulling leaves from trees and 26
picking up sticks and throwing them away and the sunshine, the sunshine finally breaks through and at the top of the hill… the whole of Swansea Bay is there, in front of me, everything is there, the concrete grey of the city and the blue-green of the sea are recoloured, are iridescent in the wet sunshine haze, the hospital, the university, the tower blocks and the town centre more alive than I’ve ever known them and the sea and the spray and MY GOD the sea is so... is so... it’s the Atlantic but it’s pacific and it’s beautiful, the beach and the trees bob as the sea lies still... and everything is beautiful and I rewind and listen to the first song, ‘Just Like Honey’, again and again and I sit there, on top of this hill, drinking over-fizzed cherry coke and smoking Lucky Strikes, and this is it, everything, this is everything. The buildings, the prongs of the city like soothing fingers melt into the sea and the sea floods the land, and it all merges and fades and spins into each other and Paul and Keira are a blur of hilltop fucking, and The Jesus and Mary Chain shimmer and ring around and around in my headphones, again and again and I sing Eating up the scum is the Hardest thing for me To do Just Like Honey Just Like Honey Just Like Honey Just Like Honey
Thom Barrett Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland) by Jimi Hendrix ELECTRIC LADYLAND Christopher was a different sort of child. While most boys of his age spent their time playing overly complicated and colourful card based games or raucously chasing one other with sticks Christopher devoted his time and energy to music. Let me be clear about this, Christopher played no instruments and his singing voice was the least interesting in the school choir. His talents in actually producing music were yet to be tested but he did have a phenomenal memory for it. While sitting alone in the playground, as he often did, he could close his eyes and fill his tiny head right up to the brim with music. Exact replicas of the harmonies and melodies he garnered from his parents’ radio would blossom and burst inside his head, which would bob gently from side to side as his fingers tapped out rhythms on the brown jumbo cord that covered his knees. The other children would fly around like a flock of starlings, passing jokes and tall tales, teasing and testing the fine art of flirting. Christopher had his imagined orchestras and he was quite content with them. Of an evening, with homework completed (or hidden) and dinner eaten, Christopher would sit in rapture by the radio, his face painted with a small smile and his hands folded neatly in his lap. His parents loved to see him in this state. Any worry there was to be had over his chosen devotion was far out-weighted by seeing the serenity it brought him and the fact that it did not seem to impede his academic progression. On weekends Christopher was allowed to wander into town with his pocket money. He would skip and meander his way towards a shop in the centre of town, a small, darkly lit and cluttered record shop. Here he would pick out a number of 7 inch singles, some by names he recognised, some by their attractive coverings. He would seclude himself within a listening both and go about memorising more tracks for his mental playlist. If a song particularly caught his attention or proved a little more difficult to commit to memory he would hand over a few coins and bring it home wrapped in brown paper but mostly he just listened and no-one at the shop seemed to mind all that much. One day Christopher sauntered into his Saturday afternoon haunt and began his selection process, this being half term week he had already visited the shop twice and to his disappointed he found he had finally exhausted their entire selections of 7’s. Face screwed in concentration and hands on hips Christopher cast his eyes around the shop. As usual it was bustling with quite customers, heads down, fingers dancing across racks of records. He had studied these movements carefully, the way the two forefingers of the right hand would walk across the top of the racks, flipping the disks forward one by one so as to efficiently peruse the collections. Christopher considered that his fingers had now walked the entire length of the singles selection and allowed himself a small amount of pride. He reasoned that such an accomplished browser should perhaps take a step away from the singles corner and into the wider world of the shop. Christopher usually enjoyed sole dominion over the ‘chart singles’ racks but now he held his head high and walked proudly towards the section marked ‘chart LP’s’. Half expecting rebuttal he sequestered himself between two somewhat taller and hairier customers with a firm but polite 28
‘Excuse me’ Christopher put his fingers to their familiar task and began the search for something new. It wasn’t long at all long before he found something that had an almost overwhelming quality of newness to it. At first Christopher thought the record cover must be completely blank as he could only see a black strip of cardboard from his vantage point. He pulled the LP out for a closer examination and let out a stifled noise of embarrassment. The cover was far from blank. From left to right and almost top to bottom the cover of the LP was filled with naked women. They lounged and stretched out in the nudity and all of their eyes stared straight towards Christopher. His mouth fell open slightly and his eyes became comically wide. Never before had he beheld such a vision, he mentally traced the curve of every breast, the point of every nipple. Now Christopher being a boy of 12 he quite naturally and almost instantaneous fell in love. Though quite honestly spoilt for choice, Christopher’s affections particularly fell on a lady on the bottom left of the LP. Her skin was beautifully ashen and smooth, her face framed with dusty blonde hair, eyes rimmed with dark make up, hands folded in front of her, in a not too dissimilar fashion to the position his own usually found themselves in. Drawing his eyes away from the woman for as little time as possible Christopher spied the title ‘Electric Ladyland’ printed on the bottom. He wondered what on Earth an electric ladyland might sound like and was about to hurry to find an unoccupied listening booth when he felt a hand upon his shoulder and a chill of dread run through his stomach. Towering above him was a moustachioed gentlemen in tweed, clutching a copy of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo ‘What are you doing with that?’ He asked gruffly, yanking the album from Christopher’s hands. Not being able to find a satisfactory answer Christopher took the tried and tested solution for 12 year old boys and ran away. And as he ran he smiled and laughed and skipped. As it transpired Christopher’s gift for memory was not limited to music, he found it quite straightforward to conjure up the electric ladyland and from that day he did so every time he played music in his head, all the time with sharp focus on his most favoured lady. It would be many years before Christopher actually discovered what an electric ladyland sounds like. It was not at all what he expected but he found he liked it even more than the sounds he had imagined. In point of fact the very same could be said of his experiences with women that were not printed onto cardboard.
Phillip Jones Cloudbusting by Kate Bush CLOUDBUSTING You’re making it rain in the workshop – Dad, you’re a genius. The little clouds in the rafters swap sparks and there’s a shoot-up-your-nose smell. You say That’s ozone, the smell of lightning, and I can feel the electricity between my fingers. I don’t think you know how beautiful it is– I can wave my arms around and make any shape I want, like we’re in a cloud spotter’s dream. You make the clouds swirl darker and faster around the light bulb sun until it’s a storm, and your hair is sticking up on end and lightning flashes in your specs. The house could blow up and you wouldn’t notice, you’re concentrating so hard. When the first drops fall on the dusty floor, we dance and laugh. You pick me up into the cool clouds, and in the light of the bulb it’s all white like heaven. It’s already past my bedtime, but it rains harder and harder until it’s like a tropical storm, so you let me stay up to see how long it lasts. At midnight, we come in to the house drenched and in trouble and smiling all over. I don’t think you can see how angry Mum is – there are so many water drops on your specs. Even though you tell her that cloudbusting works now, she stays quiet and is rough when she dries me with the towel. Then it’s clean teeth and straight to bed. I’m still smiling when I go to sleep. In the morning I get to stay at home – no school for me today. Water is dripping from the rafters and the clouds in the workshop are gone. I want to make more, but you say We’ve bigger work to do. You get out the welder and robot mask that protects your eyes. I hold the big tubes in place and I can feel the heat from here. The welder sounds like an angry bee in my ear. I’m not to look at the sparks, but I do, once. The electric bees dance behind my eyelids when I close them quick. We drive in the van to Top-of-The-World Hill. At the gate, I get out and open it, then we go off road all the way up, like we’re driving to the sun. The big tubes take so long to put up that we have a sit down and drink hot chocolate from the flask and eat a tomato each. You’ve smuggled us two Penguins. You like the jokes because you’re in an electric mood. I get to flick the switch to start the big tubes, and they rumble and rattle, and I put my fingers in my ears. When the clouds start to come out, I shout It’s working! but they’re stringy and straggly, not perfect like the workshop clouds. I must look worried because you say Give it time. It takes forever, but they clump together like bubbles in the bath. Was that thunder? Dad, was that thunder? I ask, but you don’t answer, as if too many words might blow it all away. And then, there’s a growl and a grumble that ends in a great clap, like it’s God’s hands. There’s stuff coming down, but it’s not rain. You frown, for a second, looking really hard, but then you start to laugh, like when Villa won the cup. It’s actually snowing, Dad! It’s snowing in June! You did it. When the men arrive in black cars, I run out to the workshop and warn you, exactly like you taught me to. You start smashing everything, tearing papers and plans, I can’t understand why. It breaks my heart, because I know there won’t be any more clouds, little or big. I run back inside. The men are banging on the door and they somehow know your name. When the door flies off the hinges, 30
Mum screams. The men lead you through the house and take you away, and you say Don’t worry, everything will be fine. But I am worrying, and I am crying, because one side of your specs are broken. Men in gasmasks take bits of the cloudbuster in bags, and it’s all jumbled up wrong. I tell them to be careful and that every part is important, but I don’t know if they’re listening because of their big blank owl-eyes. They take your books too – it’s stealing and they’re not allowed. Before I can stop them, Mum grabs me. We’re going to Grandma’s she says, but that’s stupid because we need to protect Dad’s stuff. She picks me up and throws me in the car like I’m little. I don’t remember the journey or arriving. I wake up in Dad’s old bed with all his Airfix models hanging from the ceiling above me. I hear talking from outside the room, but I’m more tired than I’ve ever been and can’t keep my eyes open. Mum doesn’t go to bed anymore and she looks creased and poorly. All she does is smoke and watch boring TV. I run to Top-of-The-World Hill and look at the big sky. Every time it rains, you’re here in my head. I think about where you are in the RAF base, but I can’t picture it from your letters. You say you’re helping the Government cloudbust now, and this way it’s good for everybody, but I know you hate the Government and they made you sad before. There’s lots you’re not saying and I wish I could talk to you properly. We might get to visit – maybe Christmas, maybe Easter. Then you can tell me the secrets of how to cloudbust and I’ll build our machine again without even Mum knowing. I’ll use it to strike lightning on the base and break you out so we can all live together again. I’m looking over the edge where the town is tiny, like I could step out and float over it all. The sun is coming out and I know that something big is going to happen. I don’t know when, but just saying it could even make it happen. I won’t forget you, Dad, not for a second. I shout it to you, I shout to Mum, I shout to the clouds, I shout to the sun, I shout to the town, I won’t forget you, Dad. A jet comes out of nowhere and zooms over my head. I can feel its growl in my belly. I’m so angry I shout at it too and I hope the pilot hears, and I think he does because he suddenly turns and streams back. I try and shoot him down with a giant machine gun in my mind, but it does nothing, and he flies so close above my head that he nearly knocks me over. He swoops around again and again. He’s playing, but I don’t think he can see how mad I am. There are tears running down my face because I want him to crash so much, to explode into a thousand pieces in a big ball of flames. His cockpit flashes in the sun and I can even see the man inside. He goes beside the hill this time, and when he zooms past I see him frozen like a photograph, waving at me. Jesus, I don’t know what to do, I don’t understand any of what is happening. I don’t want to live in this world where nothing makes sense. I run to the edge and I don’t stop running. I won’t forget you, Dad.
Rachel Goth Tease Me by Chaka Demus & Pliers TEASE ME It’s eleven o’clock on the Los Cristianos strip and we’re on our third bar. Jenny spots him first. He’s sitting alone. I invite him over. The lost puppy dog face works every time, I’m not alone for long. It’s Jenny’s turn to go to the bar. Anyway she’s better at getting served than me. Bartenders are magnetically attracted to her voluptuous frame. Rebecca sends Jenny to the bar to get rid of her. She’s not a bad looker when she’s not being eclipsed by her friend. His name is Jo, I think. He’s telling me something about football, maybe. It’s hard to hear anything above the banging beats. I give up attempting to lip read and nod instead, while I make a mental list of who I still need to buy presents for. Rebecca is enthralled by my recount of Playstation battles. She’s okay for a girl. It’s him that asks me to dance, that’s unusual. It’s usually Jenny’s bosom that gets all the attention. The alcohol is starting to kick in, the music hypnotic, Jo’s feet are tapping, I accept. We sway, each to a different rhythm, banging legs together. The DJ is playing Tease Me and Rebecca is obviously listening. She mouths the words at me, grinding her thighs against my legs. We move as one. Her boobs are like Iced Gems, small and perky. Enough for an aperitif as long as it’s not too long till dinner. Jenny is heading back from the bar straight towards us, pints and boobs jiggling in unison. I kiss Rebecca. The kiss comes as a surprise. I stand open mouthed, his tongue slapping around my teeth. His shoulders are broad, his skin tanned a light olive. I hadn’t noticed that before. I pat at the arse of his jeans. Jenny is getting close now, getting a real eyeful. I always go for the friend first, the jealousy drives them wild. Jenny trips, spilling lager down Jo’s t-shirt. That’s my cue, I slip my hand into his back pocket. Oh dear, now I’ll have to take my wet shirt off. Jealousy, gets them every time! The wallet feels bulky, hopefully it’s cash not condoms. I’ve still got a lot of presents to buy. Jenny whispers in his ear ‘gives us five minutes then meet us outside’. We make our exit. 32
Kathleen Coyle Jolene by The Weepies IS IT STILL RAINING EVERYWHERE YOU ARE? When the rain began to fall, Katy usually closed the curtains and curled up like an infant, shielded in its cot. But now as the grey skies opened in front of her, she felt herself pulled towards the window for the first time in six months. She watched the water making light tracks upon the glass, then as it gained momentum, followed the pattern of heavy clusters tapping out a rhythm across the village. She flexed her fingers and felt as though the rain was already thrumming on her skin. ‘we tried to go inside, but it would rain there too…’ came a distant lament from the voice of Steve Tannen, one half of The Weepies. Sweeping an invisible raindrop from her arm, Katy felt a familiar strength charging her body. She reached for the guitar in the corner of the room and swept the dust from either side of its neck. But she could feel the conflict of this action warning her; how preparing to play meant she was in danger of breaking the resolve to remain in the same, emotional state that loved Tommy. She sat in position and began to tune the strings while the memory unravelled. When Tommy asked her to come to the remote fishing village he was from on the West Coast of Scotland, the word ‘fishing’ hadn’t exactly sold the idea - she was used to dipping in and out of the pool of some resort. But her father planned holidays in the same way he strategized meal times: tailored to suit his working schedule, regardless of how his family wanted to live. Katy would listen to the insipid chatter spouting from the other lawyers’ sons, and began to think that the heat, having curled into a blistering sheet around her body, wasn’t such a great thing after all. In fact, she longed for rain. Then she had reached the age where her father couldn’t deny her a more prominent role in the decision making of her own life. As much as she had enjoyed the luxury of her father’s wealth, she needed something different. And it was when she attended university close to the country that she met people from all walks of life – from what she considered the real walks of life – that Tommy Irving started to fill that gap. The guitar was tuned and she began to strum the first melody using the images she remembered from that day at the harbour. Boats. Milky grey waves, bobbing them together. A single gust knocking wind chimes etched with the Chinese word for ‘happiness’, at the entrance to one vessel. ‘Urgh…’ she’d said, wrinkling her nose up as they approached the harbour. ‘And this is your idea of a romantic walk? I saw a flower shop on the main street, perhaps roses would’ve been a better option….’ Tommy raised his eyebrow. ‘Where do you think you get all that immaculately prepared seafood they 33
serve up in your fancy hotels?’ ‘Surely a few fish can’t make that stench…’ ‘Try a few thousand fish split between those lobster pots,’ he said gesturing, ‘and as for the remains slathered across some of the boat decks…,’ he continued, considering the assembly of possible culprits. A smile tugged at her lips. ‘Does it have to smell so awful?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, approaching her. Katy’s heart sped up. ‘Because if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to teach you all about’ – he paused to kiss her– ‘fish guts and all the entrails that have –’ ‘Yeugh, stop it!’ she laughed, pushing him away. The rain began to spit, lightly on her arm. ‘Or that holding their eye sockets is the only way you can cut down their –’ She slapped a hand over his mouth, continuing to wriggle out of his grasp. But he secured her in his embrace, and the way he was looking at her made her stop. She leaned in to kiss him, and felt the rainwater sliding their lips together. ‘We’d better take cover’ Katy said, breathlessly pulling away. ‘From this tropical weather?’ Tommy mused, holding a palm out to the sky. ‘Tropical?’ she repeated. ‘Close your eyes’ he said. She looked at him hesitantly. ‘Go on’ he said, smiling – now she had no choice. ‘Feel the sensation of the rain on your skin.’ She did feel it: tiny droplets spreading a cold sheet across her arms and legs. Her body tightened. ‘Try not to constrict your throat…’ Tommy said again. She relaxed the muscles in her throat and dared to open her nostrils. The mishmash of harbour smells flooded her mouth. She could taste the salt, as a memory crept into her consciousness. Her father was barking into his phone as they moved between hard, limestone buildings, in an effort to shrink away from the rain. Gradually the memory dissipated, and all that was left was the sound of boats, bobbing back and forth across her brain. Tommy’s hand grasped her shoulder, making her jump. She felt her top shift across her breasts. ‘The gulls are having a field day’ he said, sounding nervous. Katy looked at the watery landscape and saw the gulls swooping across the decks for scraps, seamlessly avoiding collisions as though part of some perfected, archaic routine. 34
She looked at the colours peeling from the boats and wondered how many sailors had graced these decks. The thought surprised her; it was as though the drone of city life let her thoughts reach a certain point, before some force pushed them back down again. Here, she could think more deeply. Here, she could feel. As they walked home through the park, the rain had settled into a light drizzle. ‘That’s the other thing I love about when it rains,’ Tommy said, sucking the air into his lungs. ‘You can really smell the earth.’ But this time, the pungent aroma left her feeling cold. She realised that every time she had visited her relatives at Mossgate Cemetery it had been a rainy afternoon. The wet grass would submit, misleadingly, under the weight of her shoes, while the smell of the damp soil seeped through her nostrils. She linked her fingers through his and held him tight. ‘We didn’t hide from it at all…no, we just let it fall’ Katy sang carefully, in time with the notes. The power of nature and memory had allowed her to retrace the song they made love to after walking in the rain. But it wasn’t just the memory of that day that had unfurled. The pixelated ‘WARNING: HEAVY RAIN’ from the weather report was still tattooed behind her eyelids. The fact that the force that had made Tommy feel most alive had driven him off the road as he made his way to her home in the city, only confirmed in her mind that he was a kind of merman, special and unsuited to the relentlessness of urban life. She closed her eyes and replaced the digitised road sign with a vision of technicolour boats. Strumming the final notes, she sang ‘All of these clouds will disappear…like we were never here. But I swear there was a time I thought that it would never stop, and now I only think about you if it’s raining or it’s not….’ Katy placed the guitar back in the corner, realising that the determination to succeed in her own life wouldn’t diminish the love she had for him. How could it? His presence was permanent. She walked to the other side of the room, and spun the baby mobile round. As the sun slipped through the window, the nautical shapes formed shadows around the cot. ‘Jolene’ she said, recounting the final line of the song without the help of the music. She leaned over and kissed the newborn’s rosy cheek. ‘Jolene…’ 35
Jade Emily Bradford Go With the Flow by Queens of the Stone Age THEY’RE JUST PHOTO’S AFTER ALL The only pictures I ever saw of her were naked. I hadn’t been interested. I was laying face down on your bed, my hands lazily brushing the carpet when a Polaroid found its way to my fingers, and then another. There were about four in total, all ugly, vulnerable pictures of her. She was nothing like me. Small, saggy breasts, a lifeless bob haircut, unstyled pubic hair. She looked happy. You talked about her freely as though she was just a friend I would never meet. I considered her an idiot. I assumed all women had a sixth sense for betrayal; it was as though she was never looking for the signs. Every time I returned it was as though I’d never left, the room always stained with my essence. The closest I got to meeting her was when she had finally left you, for the man next door no less. Such a cliché. I laughed when you told me. You were indignant, as though you’d somehow built up a right to be upset, over the past four years when your devotion was something you had fit in around the other women in your bed, other sub-relationships. She came into the house in the middle of the night. I jumped up afraid, you mumbled ‘she won’t come up, your boots are by the door’ and drifted back into a guiltless sleep. Predictably, you were less interesting to me once she was gone. You displayed vulnerability, jealousy. You became reliant on me. I was more comfortable when she was your main carer, subcontracting all the frivolous parts of the relationship to me. Afterwards, you clung to me late at night, trying to draw warmth out of a dying flame. The last time I saw you I searched for the Polaroids. They were still there, under your bed. I wondered why she hadn’t taken them when she moved. Perhaps she was ashamed, or perhaps they meant nothing at all to her. They looked different to me now. She was laughing, naked, free whilst I was trapped by your sleeping, whimpering body, flinching every time your breath landed on my neck. I dressed quickly, taking the photographs with me, stumbling like a child down the stairs. I left them on the table, for your consideration. I felt as though you might draw a conclusion from them. Perhaps you would think I was angry you didn’t love me after all these years, hurt that you were still holding on to these memories of her. I felt I owed you an explanation better than the truth, but I didn’t have one. I left hoping the photographs would tell the story, passing the guilt from me, to you.
Angela Huskisson Candle In The Wind by Elton John A CANDLE IN THE WIND (THE STORY OF A PARALLEL UNIVERSE) Marilyn Spencer changed her name years ago and it seems odd to be looking at it all now from so very far away. ‘Spence’ they’d called her in what she had renamed The Adoration Years. Her father, absent, had called her ‘his little princess’ and that had kind of stuck too. Princess in Trouble screamed the cheap tabloids; Princess on trial and then simply Princess Dead. ‘Lived her life like a fairytale,’ they cheeped romantically. ‘More like a f...... nightmare,’ said those who knew her. I suppose it all really got started when she married that upstart husband of hers, Henry ‘The Ape’ and he was pure Neanderthal. It’s strange how the human mind can look retrospectively with such fondness and that golden tinge which distorts its images with such clarity. Okay, so Spence was young, gawky, cute, nubile, naive and considerably dumb. Dumb until she opened that scarlet orifice of hers to its full capacity whereupon she displayed her well appointed crowns to perfection and spilled. Yes, she spilled the dirt like a river all over that ‘husband’ of hers while keeping her decorum well hidden behind those dark and grudgingly lowered eyelids. And the ghosts had clawed hungrily at the windows, begging to be allowed a point of entry. At the time of ‘that’ interview she’d applied the kohl with such artistic precision that she was more than well prepared for the tears which could become a waterfall which might convert to a torrent and where the whole damned lot would break, which of course they did in dark and sudden blackness. ‘You see, there’s more than one of us in this story,’ she’d replied to the gentle, probing, emotionally intelligent interviewer. Well Honey, get real because we already know that. Hello. And I don’t mean the magazine. I guess that’s when Henry knew it was time to tunnel for the exit and divorce was not on the cards this time. She was shovelling the shit like there were no tomorrows and if this continued he would never make President. It was time for her to go and anyway, he was itching to marry Seymour. She was the true love of his life; now all he had to do was get rid of Spence, but how? He spoke to a couple of guys in the know and there were a number of late night assignations. Together they went through the sordid details; a possible drug overdose? How about suicide? (well, she’d always been a bit unstable) An accident? But whatever it was it had to be totally and utterly untraceable. Henry couldn’t afford any stains on his character or anywhere else for that matter. ‘You just gotta do something about that missus of yours,’ quipped some guy from the senate. ‘Or you 37
young sir won’t stand a chance in the next round...’ And Henry’s already in his mid forties, so not that young in anyone’s books, but hell he wanted to wear the crown real bad. And wear it with Seymour by his side sans abdication. He’d have to bide his time, he’d have to wait it out; wait for Spence to make the moves and construct her own fatal trap, after all with the size of that mouth of hers she’d fall into it soon enough. Well, she loved to binge as much as she liked to talk and in your face with all those fancy clothes of hers acquired from every corner of the known planet. She loved to shop; London, New York, Chicago, Paris, Rome, San Fran and then she’d suddenly go and chuck it all up in some charity bin, just like that. She was a strange one alright but always managed to look ‘drop dead gorgeous’ or at least that’s how the paparazzi seemed to portray it all. She scrubbed up and sparkled for the press and my how she feted them, pouting and teasing and how they all lapped it up like gone off cream. And then there was that embarrassing little incident where that silly childlike voice of hers breathed out Happy Birthday straight after dinner and to all those people. It made Henry squirm to think about it now and how she’d called him ‘Mr President’, when he wasn’t. Being of an impatient nature, he allowed his temper to get the better of him, shouting obscenities at his advisors, reputedly throwing more than just words around when all he wanted was her gone and yesterday couldn’t have been soon enough. One of these advisors, unbeknown to her, accompanied Spence on ‘that’ Harrods trip and suggested the long, flowing and intricately beautiful Shantung silk scarf which apparently complimented her violet eyes. Pretty as a picture: claimed the press when she was seen dangling from the arm of a very well known foreign playboy who Henry ‘The Ape’ dubbed ‘Doughboy.’ Spence and Doughboy: Doughboy and Spence. Marriage? Typical Spence, typically stupid, over large mouth, too many teeth: grit for brains. Everyone remembers that final picture of her; everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. It was a pure Kennedy moment. That same scene played out over and over again as she left the hotel, trapped for a second in one of those revolving doors, dressed in virginal white. Proceeding gracefully towards her death, caught on CCTV with that long silk scarf, wound just a little too tightly around her pretty neck. We watched her climb into the convertible, all legs, high heels and swirling skirt which the breeze gently teased on cue. Then the self same silk scarf, wafting out behind her like an ensign, jamming firmly in the car tyres. Death by misadventure and killed by her own haute couture: a very public execution indeed. ‘Mm...’ mused Henry. ‘So like my poor Catherine before her. But then it’s not always a good idea for history or her story to repeat itself too often.’ And he smiled sagely as past and present reflected perfectly in his own peculiar universe.
Jamie Malcolm Marked by EMA MARKED We arrived at the premises unsure of what to expect. The information relayed to us by the control room was vaguer than usual. They only managed to obtain a delicate ‘he’s dead’ from the woman on the other side, then the call went silent. A search for the number lead us to a trendy apartment complex in SoMa right on the boarders of Chinatown. The door opened just as I began to consider a second knock. She was wearing a white dressing gown and her short blonde hair gleamed like a halo in the moonlight. She casually moved to one side and using the remaining energy in her body pointed towards the back of the apartment. Layers of previously unseen material from her gown unfurled to create a semi circular wing under her arm. We went inside with the ambulance team following close behind and found a male face down in the kitchen. A mixture of blood and red wine congealed around his head and a small mound of vomit rested where she had presumably been standing. Her rusty voice confirmed our first thoughts that he had been dead sometime, but she was unclear how long for. Stumbling backwards using the wall as balance we moved with her towards the bathroom. She had taken a bath after the incident occurred and I noticed her fingers were still wrinkly, a book had been partially warped from the heat and her cellphone battery had died. My report indicted that this process seemed like a ceremonial cleansing of this man and this very dark chapter from her life. She did recall with the first hint of a smile a twenty minute period laying there in which the late evening sun beamed through the window. It had perfectly aligned with her face drowning her in memories of childhood vacations in the forests of South Dakota. It was hard to fathom how a simple feeling like that had become foreign to her. She freely disclosed that their relationship had begun eight years ago, with the last three consisting of every cruel facet of domestic abuse towards her. This then lead to severe depression, drug use, anxiety attacks and self harm. A chance encounter with a person she hesitantly named had been part encouragement to finally resist on that evening. She had decided to run from the forthcoming attack and during the chase he slipped and his head collided with the edge of the kitchen counter. She recounted that the aim of her courage was unknown, but the fact that it culminated in his death was what he deserved. A moment of silence was broken with her repeating his final conniving words before she ran: ‘Don’t you know I would never hurt you, you are such a pretty thing’.
Ashley Hickman Bravado by Rush / The Big Wheel by Rush BRAVADO The ferocity of the waves rolling against the thick hull of the ship was enough to turn anyone’s blood cold. Dark, blue and thick, they looked more like ink than water, and had an air of being alive, almost human, as though the waves were the muscles of a great body hitting itself against an invader. She wondered how those early explorers and merchants would ever look at the mass of water and think it a good idea to set sail; how the fundamentally primitive response of fight or flight would not send them bounding in the opposite direction. And she wondered why she had chosen to take a ferry, rather than a plane. After all, this was her flight, so why make it a fight against the energies of the ocean? She had not crossed the channel in a ferry before. Perhaps it was the ability to see how far she was travelling, watching the shores and their great cliffs disintegrate behind her, giving her a sense of progress and a sense of relief – being able to see, physically, that she was getting away. And then there was the opposite side of the argument, literally. The approach to new land, a new world, a new life. Of course it was not new; this was the 21st century and she had crossed that channel and been to that part of the world. But it still felt like a pilgrimage, like an exploration. This was not just a holiday this time, it was for good. It’s not the first time that she has run away. And it’s not that she’s not a fighter. It’s that when she runs out of energy after a constant battle she flies. She flies and goes looking for something else, something new to believe in. But this time was different than the last. This time there had been nothing left to fight for. It had been an ongoing battle, one that she thought she had won; she came and she conquered, laid out her own fate and created her own paradise. But it was delusive, phantasmal, and insecure. Like a Lancaster against a York she battled for her kingdom, a seesaw clash for satisfaction, though she realised over time that the battle was not a corporeal one. It was not about staking her claim to the territory, settling herself in her land. It was imagined, it ran deep inside of her, an enemy she could not conqueror, an enemy that had followed her from her last kingdom. She grew to understand that maybe she was her own worst enemy. There was always a plan laid out – she worked out every detail, rehearsed them in her mind, in her dreams. But perhaps they were too complete, too comprehensive, too preposterous, too unattainable. Perhaps she had just rehearsed them all too much and that was the root of the problem. And then in a moment the darkness comes, spurred by disappointment. The darkness after the dream has ended. The darkness that comes when all light is violently shut out, depriving someone of their sense of bearing and security. And the darkness will not go away. And then there is nothing. And then she becomes a prisoner of the circumstances that she has created for herself, a prisoner of her own fate. No paradise, no love, no dreams, no more. And so the fight begins, however futile it is. And it goes on 40
and on as she tries to find the stability, the home, the elements, the love that makes her happy. And then nothing. And then there follows the flight. When there is nothing left to lose the world seems full of opportunities. And so she begins to map them out again, the new chances that she will have to take to find what she is looking for. A map of new dreams, in new places. Places that will not be so cruel. Though it is never really the place. It is the dreams, the fact that she flies to high, looking for something even higher, some sense of heaven that she can never obtain. And she knows that. She really does. But still, she will drift over the mountains, the oceans, the islands, the highways, the houses, always searching for new romances with a new place, and a new love for a new dream. And always she lands, broken-winged, a vicious bump back down into the dust. And so perhaps this is why she is on the water right now, thinking about the force of the water below. No fear of falling, her past fading behind her, following a steady stream, on her way to a new paradise, hoping for a new heaven, as the ferry brings her ever closer to the shores of a new world.
Drew Worthy by Paul Simon MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS He had made the cover of Time Magazine once. Not his picture mind, but still, Time Magazine. The show was in its third year then, already sailing up the ratings. It was Raquel breaking down live at the season’s end that really made it happen though. The neritic ingredients of damaged fame had proved to be irresistible. Her vulnerably ageing beauty, still striking but tiring around the edges. The kindness of his eyes, her spontaneous tears, the unthinking tenderness he displayed in handing her the pressed white handkerchief from his top pocket. Heavy elements combined to enthral a nation. The intimacy of that moment was somehow lacking in voyeurism. It might just have been the two of them sharing coffee in the quiet of his own home. In fact, it was more like just the 17.8 million of them sharing the stereoscopic space of America’s living room. It was all that anyone could talk about for the next three weeks. He had been at a party thrown by his agent the following night. One of those parties he had always despised. The memory of it lingered still, garishly bright, even after all those years. A gaudy loft apartment in the Upper-West Side teeming with bottom feeders and glad handers. Perspex smiles smeared with wine bought by the year and label. Windblown vol-au-vents tucked inside sweaty palms and meaty handshakes. Casual lines and fevered eyes. The heady realisation had crept over him unbidden during the evening; his was the name hovering on peoples lips. It was his face at the party’s dizzying heart, fingertips forever feathered his elbow, his stories were the ones unanimously met with rapturous laughter. It was not as though there hadn’t been competition. Chevy had been there, and Ferrigno too, but still, he was the one spinning in the centre of the storm. The woman from Time had pressed her card into his hand with a fevered intensity; ‘Call me’ was more edict than invitation. Somehow he had transformed overnight from being the guy who was a vehicle for the talent, to being the talent himself. It was a disquieting sensation. It was a sensation he had never adjusted to. Not then and not ten seasons later; standing in the sterile dock of a courtroom as he haemorrhaged money and dignity. It was a rarity back then to have such detail of forensic analysis in a divorce case. It meant extra lawyers, extra experts, extra reporting, extra shame and extra pain. In the end the pre-nup was worth no more than the paper it was written on. An unconscionable recipe of capacity and signatures and fingerprints. There was no relief, ancillary or otherwise, from the litigation of love or the lurid glare of judgment. His name was everywhere once more. He wondered - along with op-eds in The Post and The Times - as to how his glory could have tarnished so spectacularly, so irrevocably. He kept the cuttings hung above an empty desk, framed in mahogany alongside the fabled Time cover. Mythic mementos of a former life. He was left with enough to buy a small valley home of solitude with only the brooding spectre of Tamalpais for a neighbour. A place as far from the suffocating hauntings of Manhattan as he could find. Three years of eliding West Coast anonymity on local networks slid into a muted and permanent withdrawal from notoriety. Reclusion suited him though. Shedding the chimeral trappings of fame, he learned to live alone. Gliding through steady years of burnished amber with 42
Walden for company was enough. Anonymity wrapped around him like a blanket. Walking was breathing. Stillness was music and silence was song. Eventually, sometime towards the end, he burned even the letters. Walked deep into the trees one evening, clasping a thick string-wrapped bundle of ochre paper, a box of matches rattling his pocket with each deliberate step. Three hours from home he sat down in a clearing and struck up a small blaze. Fed it with epistles one by one. Years and words burned away, curling to golden filigree before dissolving to ash. The final letter- sealed with her fingerprint- he allowed himself to read one last time. It had been written two days before their engagement in Boston, a lifetime ago. He paused before committing it to the flames, watching the spectral ink of her words wither and return to dust. For a moment, the merest flicker of remembrance, dusted with pain, ghosted across his countenance and then faded in the flamesâ€™ dying shadow. Slowly he stood and resumed his measured stride back into the dusk of the black-pit town.
Francesca Baker Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks WATERLOO SUNSET Eight million people live in this city. I watch many of them, every day, buzzing around the train station, spilling out onto the streets, making their way to and from the river. So many seem to be sleepwalking, rather than living. They hazily move with purpose, unaware of anything around them. The only thing that unites them in feeling is the river. Whether a cast glance or a long and lingering gaze, it captures everyone. Once I saw a vision standing on the bridge, looking into the murky water. Beneath to heavy eyebrows her kohl lined eyes were like night skies, so thick and heavy that no stars could be seen. If we had ever met in person, as in face to face rather than me watching from my balcony, she would have looked straight past me. She seemed to be wearing my grandmotherâ€™s coat, or at least one remarkably like it. My eyes followed the buttons down to the hem, flapping in the breeze, folding upwards like the corner of a present tantalizingly uncurled. Her left knee was bruised, and I immediately wanted to administer care to her war wound. I noticed the bag hanging insouciantly off her right shoulder matched my scarf. I remember thinking how heavy the bag must have been. She leaned with such compensating pressure to the left that it canâ€™t have been good for her. I worried for her posture. I am her secret admirer. There is a couple that I only see on Friday evenings. At the end of every week he waits for her. In winter he is dressed in a dark brown coat, in summer he goes just with a shirt, and in the intervening seasons the coat is swung over his arms. I have named them Terry and Julie. Terryâ€™s hair had a slight ginger tinge, meaning that on warmer days his scalp was like the sunshine on a cloud. I am unsure as to whether they are conducting a relationship of love, or an ongoing and apparently unfruitful negotiation. I hate it when I see people kissing in public. Not genuine love and warmth, but when it is a display of affected affection, peacock love. Terry and Julie rarely kiss, but when they do, it seems real. Watching them every day, I have come to realise that, a bit like a Warhol spectrum, a person could be glorious technicolour or a faded negative, or somewhere in the middle, flashes of colour, which sometimes go out of the lines. On the river banks sit men and women I have come to recognise. For them Waterloo Bridge truly is home, cardboard boxes sheltering them, pennies chucked in a hat paying their salary, discarded sandwiches their sustenance. Although the hundreds of people who walk past the Big Issue sellers and bitten and decrepit homeless people form a majority, the one or two that acknowledge their existence lift spirits even of a lonely observer like me. There are always signs of nice people. When rain thunders down and strangers huddle under improvised umbrellas, or a gentlemen smiles at a sobbing girl and reminds her that genuine goodness still abounds. And the wonder that passes over tourist faces as they gaze into the Thames, the river entrancing them, is a gentle reminder of my luck. I take a gulp of tea from the stained cup as I rest my shoulders on the paint flecked window pane as I remember this. 44
The river rolls and rolls, always changing, but those buildings stand so sturdy. I think that is what I love about the city. It changes every day under a veneer of emotion and experience, and all of that builds upon something old and solid. In the distance I see the breeze rustle in the trees like it could not comfy. Through the branches waving in disarray I can see the fractured image of the tower blocks, the towels and washing on the balconies like someone had sneezed skittles over the ugly grey building. But close by is my river. Lazily, I donâ€™t want to meet any of these people. I look at them, and imagine life with them. But then they fade, little pixelated black dots against the background of the sun melting into the river, the grand buildings that have housed a hive of activity shadowing in front of them slowly succumbing to stillness, and I know that the vision is paradise.
Francesca Baker Toothpaste Kisses by The Maccabees TOOTHPASTE KISSES Wiping the toothpaste from my mouth with his index finger, he told me that he loved me. That was the first time I believed him.
Louise Hume Whats Difference Does it Make by The Smiths DIFFERENCE Brady kisses me so hard I almost lose my balance. I totter in my second-hand winkelpickers, feel the glass of the Superdrug doorway thud against my back as Brady’s hand slides around my waist and he shoves his mouth against mine. ‘Do you like this?’ he says, not attempting to keep his voice down, even though people are coming out of the pubs and walking down the precinct towards the bus station. ‘You taste of beer. Doesn’t he, Jackie? Doesn’t he taste of beer?’ My best friend, Jackie, at the other side of Brady, says ‘yes, you do. When you kiss us, you taste of John Smiths.’ ‘So?’ ‘Nothing. You just do.’ ‘Do you like me?’ I think Jackie would like to say yes. She falls in love every week, and Brady with his streaked hair pinched into spikes, his good shoes with the tassels on the front, and his smell of aftershave is her type. She’s not going to say yes, though. We’ve discussed all this. These are the traps boys set to find out how desperate you are, how easy. ‘Yes,’ she says anyway. ‘I don’t know whether I like you or not,’ I say. Brady laughs. The thing is, I like something, but I’m not sure that it’s Brady. I think it’s the kissing I like, the surprise of it, how it all happened without preamble. Because what I thought I knew about kissing is, you usually know when it’s going to happen, even if you pretend you don’t. There’s the short silence, isn’t there, where no one says anything but you don’t stop looking at each other? Then there’s the sort of slow movement forwards, the alignment of faces. With Brady there was none of this. There we were one minute walking down Westgate at closing time, hand in hand, the three of us, laughing and talking about what a dick Simon, the kid from Brady’s old class at school, now an apprentice plumber, looks in his Spandau Ballet ruffled shirt and eyeliner; how that kind of stuff looks OK on Duran Duran on Top of the Pops but is never going to work in Wakefield 47
bus station, and the next he just stopped and started kissing me, then Jackie, then me again, then Jackie again. I suppose we just gravitated towards the Superdrug doorway because it’s hard to stand up straight when you’re snogging two people at the same time in the middle of a pedestrian precinct. Something else I like is that until five minutes ago, Brady was just the older brother of a friend from school, a character so minor in my life, I’d’ve been hard pressed to remember his name. Before tonight the only thing Brady has ever said to me was ‘hey, whatsyerface, our Alison says your Nan’s at the door, and she wants to know whether you‘re going home for your tea.’ And now we’re hanging onto each other so tightly I can see the floppy bits of hair that the hairgel missed, feel his heart beating through his shirt, glimpse a tooth that’s just been filled whenever he opens his mouth. It’s exciting to think that in life, things can change this rapidly from good to bad, unknown to known, wrong to right; that, despite what everyone tells you, things don‘t have to be set in stone. Brady barged uninvited into our evening earlier. Jackie and I were settling into our usual alcove in the Black Swan, the half a lager and lime that was going to last us all night already getting warm in front of us, when we heard someone shout over. ‘Hey, whatsyerface, our Alison says you’re doing ’A’ levels.’ That’s when we looked up and saw the group of boys who’d left school the year before us at the bar, Brady in the middle like the leader of the pack, scrubbed up, glowing, ironed pleats in trousers, ready for Saturday night. ‘A’ Levels!’ He said again. It sounded like a sneer. Letting the side down, which, considering the school we’d all gone to, it was. ‘You her brother?’ I said because it had been a while since I’d seen Alison and his hair wasn’t streaked before. ‘You doing ‘A’ Levels as well?’ he shouted over to Jackie. ‘What are you, our careers advisor?’ I said. ‘I’m on the dole.’ Jackie blushed but I could tell she was thrilled that Brady had spoken to her. Usually people talk around or about her. She wears glasses that make her eyes look big and never comes out with what you expect. At school she was in the top stream with me, then she got less and less bothered, even though her dad’s a teacher and they live in a big house. ‘Me too,’ Brady said. He came over and pulled up a chair, sank into it, the seat back pushed up between his legs. ‘I’m on the dole as well.’ ‘Your Alison said you were working in a garage,’ I said. ‘Not now. Didn’t like it.’ Brady turned to me again. ‘Our Alison says you’re going to…’ He affected a TV announcer’s voice, ‘…university.’ 48
‘Might do,’ I said. I’d sent away for twenty-seven prospectuses and was thinking of nothing else, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Might as well confess to a bull that you’ve got a red rag. That’s what people in Wakefield do. They wheedle details out of you, squirrel them away, and pull them out later to use against you. As far as I know I’m the only one from my school to be applying to Uni. So unused they are to anyone staying on, my school isn’t even equipped with a sixth form. I have to catch a bus every day to go to college in town. ‘What you going to do at… university?’ Brady said. ‘Dunno,’ I said because ‘French and German’ felt so far away from Wakefield, I expected people on the surrounding tables to start ringing bells and shouting ‘unclean!’ ‘You should try the dole,’ was Brady’s verdict. ‘It’s a lot easier than university. Isn’t it, Jackie?’ ‘But then what?’ I said. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You can’t be on the dole forever.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘What about… I dunno…. money?’ Actually, money was the last of my reasons for going to university. Widening my career options was second last. For me, it was all about getting out of Wakefield. I’d figure out the rest when I got there. ‘And university’s going to give you money?’ Brady said. ‘Not at first, but then it will. When I get a job.’ ‘There aren’t any jobs,’ Brady said. ‘And there’s no money either.’ ‘Not round here there isn’t.’ ‘Well, I think you’re daft,’ Brady said. ‘When you could be signing your name on a bit of paper, and getting a cheque for free two days later.’ I decided to leave it at that. How was I to know he wasn’t right? Loads of people who’d left school with me were on the dole now. Three million unemployed. Who was I to argue with them? Besides, Simon, the boy who’d been in Brady’s class had just come in. He’d turned New Romantic, even though everyone else had stopped all that ages ago, and his frilly shirt was doing nothing for his burgeoning beer belly and the scar at the side of his nose. Brady kisses Jackie again. It’s a full-on, head back, eyes closed snog and she seems to sink from the 49
weight of it as if she’s buckling at the knees. He strokes her face while his other hand untucks my blouse, runs upwards, explores my bra strap. Then his mouth’s on mine again and I taste beer and Jackie’s strawberry lipgloss. I slide my hand up his back. It feels scratchy, like he’s got scales, but that’s just the shiny nylon of his shirt that I recognise as one of the ones they sell for two ninety-nine or five pounds for two on Wakefield Market. I wonder if he bought two and picture the second one on a hanger in his bedroom, ironed by his mum for next Saturday night. Brady gives a mysterious smile and his eyelids tremble in a way that reminds me of a butterfly landing on a flower. Like this he looks serene, gentle, almost properly handsome like a popstar or an actor. I like him now, I think. I like him when he does that. Then, from somewhere, there’s a burst of music. A car’s stopped at the bottom of the precinct and the driver’s window’s down. It’s a song I’ve heard on John Peel a few times. The Smiths, I think. I‘ve heard some of their songs before. ‘What Difference Does It Make’ this one’s called and, like the others, it’s almost feverishly fast, jangly with guitars and nerves, its lyrics delivered as a sneer, like a big two fingers up at the world. I’ve seen The Smiths on Top of the Pops and Morrissey, the singer, has a cold stare, an angular so-what posture. He looks like he’s come a long way from after-pub snogging in public places. The driver must have turned up the volume because suddenly there’s a POMP-POMP-POMP and the twitchy guitars and the restless beat of the song are soaring towards us in a big wave of sound. Some of the words seem to come detached and pierce the air like rockets. ’No more apologies,’ ‘sick and tired,‘ As an accompanying soundtrack for groping a friend’s brother in the Superdrug doorway on Wakefield precinct at closing time it’s not great. Its surly melody feels too knowing, too clever, too complicated. But the drumbeat, the tune, is insistent, hypnotic, muscular. It feels like it’s sucking out the air around us, taking on a life of its own. I imagine the soundwaves solidifying, taking on flesh, pounding up the precinct towards us, a slab of pure muscle, smashing the glass of the Superdrug window, knocking the bottles of hairspray and shampoo to the floor before taking its place next to us, squaring up, hands on hips. Then, suddenly, I know why it’s demanding my attention, why I’ve stopped kissing Brady to stand rapt, breathless, listening. ‘This song’s the future,’ I think. ‘My future. Away from here.’ The song’s not really about apologies and being sick and tired, about The Smiths or Morrissey. It’s about French and German, Paris, Berlin, Balzac, Goethe. It’s about escaping from Wakefield, going somewhere more knowing, clever, complicated. As the car drives off and the music fades, I feel a wrench, like the music has dug a hole inside me and left a space that can’t be filled here and now. In my arms, Brady and Jackie feel heavy. This has all been fun, I suppose, in a lame, Wakefield kind of way, but there’ll be other men, other kisses. Brady leans closer, whispers in my ear, ‘I like you. Can I see you again?’ He sniffs a bit as if he’s got cold even though I haven’t noticed him doing that earlier. ‘I mean it,’ he says. ‘Really. I’ve liked you for ages. What do you say?’ His hand is still on my back, fingers spread out on bare skin, eyes that I notice for the first time are dark blue, the colour of the sea at Scarborough and Bridlington. I say something about my Nan going mental if I don’t make the last bus. ‘Anyway, I’ll be seeing your Alison soon,’ I say. ‘I’ve still got her Cure LP.’ 50
The next time I see Brady is three days later. ‘Didn’t you go to school with his sister?’ my Nan says as we eat tea with the evening news on. There on the screen is Brady, laughing from a photograph, as the newsreader says that Brady Aaron Harrison, aged nineteen, was killed today in a traffic accident on the Leesds Road. ‘I just saw these headlights coming out of the fog,’ the owner of a nearby petrol station is saying. ‘They seemed to be on the wrong side of the road. When I heard a lorry coming round the bend, I knew the driver had no chance.’ I look at the photo that’s now filling the whole screen. Brady’s smiling and it must have been before his streaks were put in because his hair’s longer and mousy. I imagine the scratchy material of his shirt, his eyes fluttering like butterfly wings, his signing his name on the form in the dole office, getting a cheque for free two days later. ‘Yes,’ I tell my Nan. ‘I knew his sister.’ My Nan says something else, probably had I ever met him, the dead boy, or something, but I don’t hear properly because I’m feeling hands around my waist again, strong hands, pulling me, and I know that this time, it’s the future, the knowing, clever, complicated future that’s claiming me for good now, maybe forever, rushing me out of here, bundling me into its arms as if from the scene of a crime, making me escape.
Welcome to Stories From Songs, a little collection of stories that have been inspired by, written whilst listening to, explore the tale behi...