Crooked Magazine #1

Page 1

Crooked o n e

animal animal I wasn’t, then I was Lydia Allison


ZOE COOK MAGGOTS There’s a dead bird in the garden. Mike prods it with a stick and I scream when I see it moving. But Mike tells me to shut up, he says “Maggots”. He tells me that it gets really hot inside a dead body, which means that the maggots in the middle have to move to the edges. Mike laughs at me, which means I must look really scared. Mike always laughs at me when I’m scared. I’ve never seen him scared though. Not even when he was looking after me and made me stay up to watch a film called Saw. I didn’t like that film. But Mike just smiled and stole the pillow that I was using to cover my eyes. He called me a baby and I started crying and he just smiled. I remember that I’d never seen him smile like that before. Not even when Mum bought us special chocolates for Christmas. But then Mike shouted at Mum because she didn’t get him the trainers he wanted, which made her so sad that she hit him round the face. Mum told Mike that he was being ungrateful and that there are some children whose parents can’t even afford chocolate. I felt sorry for them but Mike just laughed in Mum’s face and said that those parents were all ‘druggies’. Then Mum ran upstairs and into her bedroom. I wanted to give her a hug but her door was locked and she wouldn’t let me in. So I got a Christmas cracker and my party hat and sat at the table to wait for Mum to come downstairs so we could eat. Mike wouldn’t sit with me because he said he was going out with his friends to have some fun. I waited for a long time but Mum still hadn’t come out of her room to cook Christmas dinner so I thought I should make a sandwich. I remember that I couldn’t make one because the bread was on the top shelf that Mum would never let me go near. So I just got a packet of Monster Munch and sat on our old dog’s bed to eat them because it was much comfier than mine. I would have liked to watch the TV because there are nice films on at Christmas time. I couldn’t though because some men came to our house the week before and took away the TV. Mum cried then and said that it was a ‘Merry fucking Christmas’. I wished she would stop being so sad. I wanted her to smile so I told her that I would call on my friend Mary because whenever I did her Dad would give me a little bag to take home to Mum. He said he could trust me not to look in it because I was a grown-up. I liked it when Mary’s dad would give me the bag because it always made Mum happy again. She would never tell me what was in the bag but I didn’t care because I was hoping that maybe she would go out with Mary’s Dad. I sometimes see them kissing through the crack in Mum’s bedroom door and Mum must like it because she always buys me nice things afterwards. Once she gave me five pounds and said I could buy whatever I wanted. She tried to give money to Mike as well but he threw it at her and said he knew where it had been. I didn’t know what he meant but I bought a big bag of sweets with my money. Mike told me that I didn’t need any more sweets that I was already a fat cow but Mum put her arm around me and told me not to listen and told me I was beautiful. She told me to eat all of my sweets up. So I did. A teacher at my old school once tried to talk to Mum because she thought I might be eating too many bad things and some of the other kids laughed at me for it. But it’s not Mum’s fault that she can’t cook and our oven is always breaking so we normally get our dinner from the chippy or the pizza place. Mum got very angry then and the head teacher asked us to leave. I had to change schools but I didn’t mind because I didn’t have many friends there and I do at my new school. I think it’s

because the kids at my old school were not like me. Their mums were always waiting by the gate at home time and they drove home in big cars. I had to get the bus home then because we lived so far away but my new school is only round the corner. Some of the mums used to look at me like they felt sorry for me because I got the bus on my own. But it wasn’t Mum’s fault that she could never pick me up because she preferred to work in the afternoons when Mike and me weren’t about. She said that way she could concentrate. I was very proud of her for working so hard. I told her I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She looked like she would cry when I said that. I was only saying it to be nice. Mike doesn’t want to be like Mum. He and Mum are screaming at each other right now. She’s very upset at him and keeps saying that he’s ruined his life. They keep mentioning a girl called Emily but I don’t know what she’s got to do with anything. I’m sick of Mum and Mike screaming at each other. Whenever they argue I sit in the empty bathtub with Pink Ted because I know that Mike will always play his horrible loud music in our room afterwards. It’s not Mum’s fault that Mike is so difficult, I think it’s because he hangs around with a big gang of horrible boys. They only come round when Mum is at the pub or at her one of her friend’s which I don’t like because if she was here then Mike’s friends would stop saying not very nice things to me. Mike never stops them. I think Lee is the worst. He came round once and Mike said he needed to go the offy and Lee did things that weren’t very nice. Mike didn’t come back with anything but he winked at Lee and then Lee gave him a pack of cigarettes.

JAMES KELLY UNTITLED NOVEL-IN-PROGRESS (Zach and his friend’s girlfriend – Eva – are getting drawn into a tryst. We join the story on the morning after the night before.) I tell Loaf Head that the roll tray and skins are in the T.V cabinet and throw myself on to the couch. ‘Get me a water while you’re up Loaf’ I tell him, ‘and some aspirin as well my head hasn’t stopped banging since I got up.’ A muffled ‘yeah man’ is what I think I hear Loaf head say back, which must be correct because a minute later he comes in carrying both the aspirin and the water. ‘Get Jeremy Kyle on will you’ Loaf says, ‘you can’t beat a wake and bake with Jeremy Kyle, there’s absolutely nothing better on God’s green earth’. He says the last part with a stupid smirk on his face, looking at me for some sort of validation of his joke. I ignore him. ‘So who was the lucky girl?’ Loaf Head asks. I panic for a second; I wasn’t prepared for the interrogation so soon. I lie still on the couch, pretending I’m asleep. I know Loaf Head knows I’m not asleep but I do it anyway, buying some time. ‘Are you deaf are you?’ he shouts. ‘Do you have to be so fucking loud? I’ve told you I’ve got a twat of a headache.’ ‘Well fucking answer me then, I’m intrigued here.’ For some reason, the first girl that pops in to my head is Yasmin despite the fact I haven’t even fucked her. ‘Yasmin who?’ ‘You know Yasmin, the one who had that Ket party before Christmas.’ Loaf Head looks puzzled. ‘The big house in Allerton, remember?’ ‘Ohhhh… Yassssmin! The one with the legs?’ ‘Yeah, her.’ ‘Isn’t she with Aaron Townsend?’ ‘I’m not sure.’ She is. When Loaf Head realises who it is, he bites his lip in what I’m guessing is sexual frustration. ‘What was it like? Tell me you wrapped those legs around your head. Please.’ He holds his breath.

‘To be honest, I can’t remember half of it. Those tablets were lethal.’ He exhales. ‘Oh you’re fucking useless, do you know that? Fucking useless. The only decent bird you’ve had back in weeks and you can’t remember it.’ His disappointment is probably because I didn’t give him a picture of what it’s actually like to fuck a girl. He hasn’t slept with Eva in over a month. ‘You need to calm down. What’s wrong, haven’t you been getting your end away or something? You’re like a pig on heat.’ His gullibility has given me confidence and washed away any sense of guilt I had. I feel in charge. ‘Of course I have’ he says, his eyes tailing off at the last second. I laugh, ‘Have you shite. Telling you about Yasmin was like telling a thirteen year old kid what a blowjob feels like. Your eyes nearly burst out of that Loaf of yours.’ I’m tormenting him and I know this is bothering him. He’s uncomfortable, even vulnerable now. ‘Are you in the dog house with Eva?’ He looks at me for a second and then begins to laugh. I decide to leave him alone. ‘Dad, are you really my brother?’ is the topic of this morning’s Jeremy Kyle show. Jeremy Kyle is sat on the front step, barking at a man who is adamant that his son is only his son and nothing else. ‘It’s gonna be heavy if these are brothers, you know’ Loaf Head says. ‘I know. Are you gonna be all day rolling that? I’ve got things to do.’ ‘Alright, alright, calm down.’ He fidgets with the joint for a couple of more seconds. ‘There, done.’ Still smirking, Loaf Head raises his hand to show me the joint. It’s faultless. ‘About time’ I say, giving his craftsmanship no recognition whatsoever. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know’ he says, still smirking. ‘Just shut up and spark it, it’s the DNA results… and stop smirking.’ ‘Alright dickhead, don’t be giving me grief because someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.’ I could shatter his world. Right here, right now. ‘I haven’t been to bed. I’ve been up all night fucking Eva.’ Loaf Head pulls back on the joint. ‘This is fucking decent weed you know, it’s off Kegsey. Super Silver Haze it’s called.’ He sits there smoking the weed. I don’t know whether he is ignoring me or didn’t hear me, but he sits there smoking, awaiting the DNA results.

‘And the DNA results shows that Mick is not Elliot’s brother OR father’ Jeremy Kyle announces. The audience are shocked. Loaf Head starts coughing violently, he’s trying to say something but can’t talk through the choke of the smoke. I sit there watching him cough his lungs up, a small part of me enjoying his struggle. ‘Fucking hell, what the fuck is Mick then?’ he asks, completely perplexed at Jeremy Kyle’s revelation. He passes me the joint. ‘There you go, three puff pass.’ In bed, ‘Cornerstone’ by the Arctic Monkeys is playing from my iPod speakers and I get a text through from Eva. ‘What are you doing later? Mum and Dad have gone away for the weekend…’ There’s not much that surprises me about the text other than I didn’t realise it’s Friday. I think about going over to Eva’s house and fucking her and then leaving. I think about this for a while before I realise that it would be impossible to simply fuck her and then leave, especially if she’s sober. I think about taking some of the weed Loaf Head left earlier to Eva’s, smoking it, tying her up and fucking her all night. She’d like that. ‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea’ I tell her. The text has barely sent before she replies asking why, but seems as I can’t think of a reason I tell her okay. She texts back, again almost immediately, ‘Cool. By the way, did you fuck me in the arse last night? It’s kinda sore.’ ‘Probably’ is my reply. I park my car about 40 yards away from Eva’s house, which is huge. It sits on Menlove Avenue facing the park and has an indoor swimming pool. I text her telling her I’m outside and she comes to the door wearing nothing but an oversized Arcade Fire t-shirt which I think is Loaf Head’s, and a pair of black French knickers. She winks at me before saying ‘Hiya stranger’ and already I’m dying to fuck her. I try to play it cool when I say hi, but it’s a task. ‘Shut the door behind you’ she says before walking through the hall to the kitchen, her arse bouncing gently under the t-shirt as she catwalks her way through the house. In the kitchen Eva plays ‘Little Wing’ by Hendrix and asks me what I’ve been up to. ‘Fuck all’ I tell her, ‘Loaf Head came over earlier.’ ‘Oh did he? He stopped by here too.’ ‘Did he have anything to say?’ I ask. ‘The usual, what happened last night, who did I see, who did I speak to, where did I go, how did I get home, what time did I get in. You know what he’s like.’ A silence. ‘What about you? What have you been doing?’ I ask. ‘Well I had the doctors early this morning didn’t I?’ she says. ‘Oh yeah, how did it go?’ ‘Fine thanks… so yeah then I went the gym, popped in to town for a few things then back here.’

‘Did you get anything nice?’ I ask, prompting her to look at me mischievously. ‘You’ll see later’ she says and for the first time in I don’t know how long, I get butterflies. ‘Do you want a beer?’ she asks. ‘Sure.’ ‘We’ve only got Peroni, is that okay?’ ‘Yeah that’s fine’ I tell her and she takes me to the living room. In the living room an old episode of The Hills plays out on the TV, which is easily fifty inches. Eva sits me down on the couch and stands over me, sipping on her bottle of Peroni. Mockingly, she puts her mouth around the bottle neck and brings her mouth down. I feel myself biting my lip and she starts to laugh. She takes my bottle out of my hand and puts both the bottles on the coffee table. ‘You’re naughty’ I say. Eva tells me to shush before opening her legs and sitting on top of me, running her hands down the sides of my face and then kissing me gently on the lips. I’m hard within seconds and I run my hands down her back and on to her perfect arse. She moves her lips to my neck and begins to kiss it avidly, sometimes biting me. She then unbuttons my shirt and starts kissing my chest. My cock is throbbing and she’s grinding on it while I’m stroking her pussy through her pants and I can feel how wet she is. She’s biting my nipple and I’m playing with her arsehole until she moves further down to my stomach and then to my belt, which she has no trouble unbuckling. Eva is no longer on top of me but on her knees at the bottom of the couch, holding my hard cock in front of her face. She starts licking my balls and then moves her tongue to the base of my cock, before slowly ascending to the tip. The torment is unbearable as she teases me with her tongue, so I grab her hair and force my cock into her mouth, pushing it as deep in to her throat as it can go. She gags but I keep her head there a few more seconds before I let go. She brings her head up and looks at me. Our eyes seem to meet for a lot longer than they actually do but she breaks the glare by spitting on my cock and then sucking it vigorously. I’ve set the mood. I stand up and take my clothes off then lie back down on the couch, this time sitting Eva on my face so I can eat her pussy while she sucks my dick. I’m fingering her arse and licking her pussy and I can feel her groans on my cock. I manage to get two fingers in her arse before she sits up so her pussy is planted firmly on my face. She begins to grind all over me, harder and harder until I throw her off before she breaks my nose. I stand up and throw her down on the couch, placing her on her back. I then bring my dick right up to her mouth, which she opens wide before I fuck her face. Her eyes are watering and her mascara has run down her cheeks and her mouth is covered with the juices of my cock and I pull her up by her hair and bend her over, fucking her pussy from behind while I stick my fingers up her arse. ‘Fuck me, Zach… oh fuck me harder, harder!’ she moans and I’m grunting as I pump her pussy fast and hard, now with three fingers up her arse. ‘Fuck me in the arse’ she begs, ‘please, Zach, put that big dick in my arse, please…’ I take my cock out of her pussy and thrust it in her arse, causing her to contort for a second, before I start fucking her relentlessly. She’s screaming loud and begging me not to stop, so I carry on fucking her, shoving my dick deeper and deeper into her arse. I pull out and sit down on the couch, my breathing heavy, and she sits on top of me, sliding my cock in to her gaping, wet pussy. She bounces hard

on and I’m slapping her arse, ‘Yes… yes… oh yes Zach!’ she moans and the bouncing turns in to grinding. ‘Give me that come, I want that come, give it to me… come in my arse.’ On her request I bend her over the couch again and ram my dick straight back into her arse. I’m fucking her like a madman and she’s screaming for my come ‘give me it… give me it in my arse’ and I keep fucking until I eventually explode in her arsehole. She lets out a long groan as I ejaculate and I notice an empty whisky glass on the coffee table. Grabbing the glass I tell her ‘push that come out now baby, squeeze it out’ and she’s pushing her arsehole wide open, eventually squeezing my load into the glass. ‘Now drink it, baby’ I tell her and she swallows the glass in one. I’m lying naked in Eva’s bed listening to the new Frank Ocean album, which is considerably better than the first, while Eva goes downstairs to collect the takeaway we ordered earlier. I think it’s Chinese but I’m not entirely sure. I hope it’s pizza. I grab the roll tray from the bedside cabinet and roll what’s left of the weed Loaf Head brought over this morning. I put the rest of the bag in a single spliff, hoping it will hit Eva hard enough that she falls asleep and I can get out of here. Eva comes back in the room with two large pizza boxes, my sense of relief a lot stronger than it should be. ‘I thought we ordered Chinese?’ I ask. ‘No, I wanted Chinese but you said pizza’ she replies, annoyed or not is hard to tell. ‘Well aren’t you kind.’ She looks at me, a look that warns me not to push my luck. ‘Shall we smoke this before or after the Margheritas, senorita?’ ‘After.’ This is good. I didn’t fancy eating on my own. ‘So are you gonna stay over then? I thought we could get another bag’ she says. This is not so good. If I hesitate she’ll think I only came for the sex, which I did. My mind goes blank, no sufficient excuses surface. I’m trapped. ‘And there was me thinking I was nothing but a booty call’ I say, a wry smile plastered across my face. ‘What makes you think you’re not?’ she says, placing the pizzas on the dressing table and sitting on the end of the bed, struggling to keep a straight face. I leap over the bed and jump on top of her, tickling her ribs and kissing her neck. She’s laughing and telling me to stop though I know she doesn’t want me to, but I stop anyway. The room falls silent for a moment when Eva stops laughing and ‘Pyramids’ finally finishes playing, and for that short moment everything feels right. Where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with, it all feels natural, like it’s meant to be. And this is what scares me. After I leave Eva’s, which is about 2:30am, I stop off at the McDonalds in Hunts Cross and order a double cheeseburger and a strawberry milkshake. In my car, Stevie Nicks cries ‘you’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you’ and I wind the window down and think of Eva. I eat the burger, toss the wrapper out the window and light a cigarette. As I’m sat in the car I can feel the warm summer night on my throat and I open the glove compartment and put on the wayfarers I find in there. I look in the mirror and it shows a boy, cigarette hanging from the left side of his mouth, hair unkempt, promise of a beard, eyes covered. The boy looks detached, deficient of any positivity, the wayfarers obstructing any insight into

his soul. The gaze is broken when my phone starts vibrating; it’s Al. ‘At Macca’s. Bring coke’ the message reads. Still feeling stoned from the joint I shared with Eva earlier, I head towards Macca’s house which is by the old Bridgefield, floating through the deserted streets like a lonely cloud floats the sky, not before stopping at Sam’s to pick up a couple of grams. I pull up outside Macca’s house, sniff two moderate keys of the coke, check my nose in the mirror noticing I am still wearing the wayfarers, and head in to the party. As I approach the front door a bitter taste arrives at the back of my throat, my heartbeat has shifted a gear, my brain has woken up. I tilt my neck either sides of my shoulders and enter the party, alive and ready. No sooner am I in the doorway Al has got his arm over my shoulder telling me it’s about fucking time I got here and that I best have the coke. He’s a mess, his jaw is on a hinge and his eyes are huge, I think his shirt has cigarette burns in. ‘Pull yourself together, you look fucked’ I say. ‘Why did you think I text you? Let me just do this and I’ll be fine’ he replies. He’s right. Once he has fed his hungry nose he’ll be right as rain. ‘Come on; let’s go to Macca’s bedroom’ he says. I follow Al up the stairs of Macca’s house and to Macca’s room. We go in, locking the door behind us and Al empties the gram on the desk, splitting the cocaine in to two lines. I empty out the rest of the other gram and like Al split the coke in to two lines, and we both do a line from each bag with a twenty pound note that Al has rolled up. ‘Who did you get it off?’ Al asks. ‘Sam,’ I reply. ‘The good stuff’ he says, smiling. I raise my eyebrows in agreement with Al, who tells me to get a drink and go downstairs and talk to Katy. I’m loitering in the kitchen with a bottle of Modelo, when two hands, hands that are gentle and smell like Aloe Vera, cover my eyes. ‘Guess who?’ the voice says in a disguised tone. Before I can even hazard a guess the hands remove themselves from my eyes and my shoulders are twisted around so I’m facing Katy. When she sees my face a smile bursts from her mouth and her eyes and she hugs me tightly and tells me she’s missed me and she’s glad that I came. In the kitchen, ‘Love Spreads’ by The Stone Roses plays and Katy is talking to me about the holiday she has just booked with her sister to Mexico and that maybe I could book on but I’d have to bring a friend, a friend who is more emotionally mature than Al or Loaf Head, so that her sister wouldn’t feel left out. I tell her that this is probably a bad idea and that it would be better for her and her sister if it was just the two of them, without any distractions. When I say this, the smile breaks out on her face again and she tells me that I’m so considerate and thoughtful and sometimes she thinks that she might love me.

The night flashes by like a movie montage, line after line, shot after shot. I fall into a taxi and before I know it, I’m lying in bed, alone, naked, crying, completely distracted by the sound of the hot summer rain. My iPod is in and playing a song… I’ve got to leave before I start to scream… someone’s locked the door and took the key… and I start to cry harder, and harder, and harder…

KATE GARRETT EXTRACTION The last time I bled it was winter. Now it’s spring and the bleeding won’t stop. He says it’s fine, that I’m just late. She says take her to the hospital. He says it’s nothing. They’re on the other side of the door. I’m curled on the floor next to the bath. It started when I puked up three packets of cheese and onion crisps. We were curled in the bed, but the pain came and I staggered out of the room. Clinging to the sink in the bathroom, shaking. What’s wrong with you? He said, you’re disgusting. Do I do these things to spite him? The pain responded in kind, like his voice kicked me between my legs and found its way inside. His voice was a rat, burrowing up. Then blood, blood like I’ve never seen. But he says every month it’s the same and this time it’s simply two months after it ought to have been. These things happen. Stop being a drama queen. I’m crumpled on the floor no more use than the balled up crisp packets in the bedroom bin. I’m half awake. We’re in a room. There’s a party, a masquerade. A masked stranger with a gun shoots him in the face. The bullet scrapes his cheek and lands in my side. I’m bleeding, but I stand, and go to him. He says I’ve been shot in the face. Look at my face! I’d rather die. Yes, his perfect face is grazed. You’ll have a scar, I say, reeling, the bullet between my ribs, warm blood leaking through my lips. He’s touching his cheek, staring at nothing. I say, look I’m bleeding too, and point to my left side. He says you’ll live! Look at my face! I say I might not make it. He says Stop making your problems worse than mine. My face . He starts to cry. One life saved, another ruined. I crawl to the toilet and pull myself up. Now the blood pours out in clotted streams. My flesh and blood. He doesn’t want me to think about that. It’s nothing. No need for any fuss.

Take her to the hospital. No, she’s fine. And I am fine, I try to say. Only blood, and something more. But only a bit of something. I’m only two months late.

Have some whiskey. Like I’ve had a tooth pulled. Think of it like having a tooth pulled. A tooth, a tiny dead weight, a redundant part of me. It’ll numb the pain. He puts his arms around me. It’s for the best, he says. Look now, look at my face. The blood, and the ache between my legs. I look up.

REBECCA CONWAY ACCIDENT The ring was in my pocket. I hoped she didn’t suspect. We collected our tickets from the box office: “Two for ice-skating please.” I heard Emma draw a large intake of breath. “It’s only a paper cut,” I said. “It’ll heal,” I said. She sucked the blood off and made a yucky face. There was a line right down the side of her left index finger, messing up the pattern of the swirls in her fingerprint. She put her gloves on. Her eyes looked like she’d forgotten already. There’s something about ice-skating that’s meant to be romantic isn’t there. You think you’re going to look like a figure skating champion, when in reality everyone is falling on their arse and those boots are buggering your feet up. Emma’s mouth was set in this hard grimace of concentration, which made me think she was sad, and that made me sad. I was terrible; faking a smile every time she looked over and hanging onto the bar so desperately my hands were numb and tingly. My heart was dancing around. I could feel the ring in my pocket. It was cold that day, and the sky was grey. We went through the whole rigmarole of going round and round and it just didn’t feel like fun anymore. I kept looking at other couples for something to do. Emma left me behind and pushed off the bar. I tried to follow. I panicked and the ice came up to meet my face. It was cold and made my skin feel raw. Emma came back and her mouth was in a little “O” shape, and that made me happy. She gave me a tissue and I wiped my nose because it felt funny, and the white was blotted with blood moving through all the tiny veins in the paper. “Pinch your nose and tilt your head,” she said. “It’ll heal,” she said. She took my hand and helped me off the barrier and things got better. Maybe I was too quick to judge this. I thought yes, this will go well. The ring was burning hot in my pocket. I looked at the other couples all bundled up in layers and held her hand a little tighter and stood a little taller. We weren’t so different. Her mouth looked better now, she looked happy. I made mine do the same. We started going fast, like the elite couple on the rink, and I guided her into the centre where not many people go because you’ve got to be quick. I held both her hands and I could see a dark red stain where her left index finger had seeped blood onto her glove. Then I got down on one knee and started to grin because I thought that would make her grin too. It didn’t. She just looked scared. I took out the ring and held her paper-cut hand. She was covering her mouth with her other hand and I took this as a good sign. She said “No” and I was angry because I hadn’t even got to the good bit yet and she was meant to wait with her answer. She just kept repeating no over and over and I started to hate her. I was squeezing her hand tight and people were looking at us strange and that made me even madder so I wrenched her hand, hard. She leant all the way forward and her legs came up from under her so it looked almost like flying. Everyone was going too fast past us. My boot toe was red. Her

glove had come off and her left index finger was red on the ice: it hadn’t healed. She was rolled on her back making this gargling sound and her mouth looked sad again. Her neck wouldn’t heal. It was all clean and straight like someone had made an incision with a razor blade. Then all the blood came out at once, spurts of it, and her blonde hair was crimson. Her neck was weeping. My bloodied nose had dried into a crust that cracked with my heavy breathing. No one was touching us, they were all shrieking, mothers covering children’s eyes. I slipped the ring onto her left hand and caressed her poor paper cut. Her eyes were going all wide and bugging out and it was making me feel weird, so I stopped looking at her face and just looked at my ring on her finger. Right where it was meant to be.

LAURA WAKE NOVEL: A MONSTER BY VIOLET (Violet has stolen her friend’s baby – Maria – and has fled from London to the Isle of Wight. Violet has been invited to a party by a man called Ricky who she met at a bar…) “I don’t know why you’re moaning, I just fed you.” She pushed the doorbell. Someone opened the door and then disappeared up a stairway. Violet followed the sound of thumping music. She pushed opened a door, and entered a thick cloud of weed smoke. The music was loud and bassy, some garage tune. The beat vibrated in her throat, and drowned out Maria, who had started to cry properly now. Violet bounced her up and down a bit, “I thought you liked loud music.” Two long, battered sofas lined the walls of the room. Each sofa held six or seven people. One sofa load was occupied with a bong, and the people on the other had a couple of joints on the go. It was murky, and difficult to see because of the smoke hanging in the air, and the windows which were blocked up with polystyrene painted silver. The people were dressed like skaters, with beanies pulled down low, and baggy torn jeans. No one looked up, they were either smoking or banging their heads, eyes closed, to the music. Slightly masked by the pungent smoke, there was another danker smell, like stagnant water mixed with eggs. Violet had smelled it before, but couldn’t place it. She noticed crowded shelves above the peoples’ heads. Apart from holding a huge pair of speakers, crooked piles of magazines, and tangles of electric cable, there were loads of big glass and plastic tanks. One of the tanks was huge, with a branch inside, and two iguanas with long, curly claws. Next to that was a stack of smaller plastic tanks. The first one was too misty to see inside, but in the second one up, two bent hairy legs were visible. Violet flinched, and held Maria tighter. She turned and saw that the shelves each side of the wall were full of creatures. Coiled snakes were pressed against the greasy looking glass, and although some of the tanks looked empty, she guessed the occupants were hiding. The smell was the smell of a reptile house. Violet could see light through the smokiness, and made out a doorway with people dancing and moving about in another room. She headed quickly towards the light, then tripped on something and almost dropped Maria. Violet looked down and saw a foot in a beaten-up trainer. “Nearly,” a voice giggled next to her, and she turned to see a man with fuzzy blonde dreadlocks and a Rasta hat, looking at her through puffed up eyes.

She ignored him and carried on to the next room. One of the people in there was the barmaid from the Bucket o’ Mussels. She was with three other girls, smoking cigarettes, dancing, and drinking the kind of fluorescent alcopops that Violet hated. The room was a kitchen with open sliding doors leading to a bare garden. There were children outside chasing each other around with plastic tennis rackets, and spades. The barmaid had obviously noticed Violet, but was ignoring her. There was a pack of cigarettes lying open on a worktop littered with plastic cups and cans, but Violet didn’t risk it in case they belonged to one of the girls. Maria was screaming, her tears dribbling down Violet’s neck. “Alright!” Violet said, “I’m just going to get a cigarette, and then we’ll go.” Four men appeared from the reptile corridor, one of them was Ricky. He was wearing salmon pink shorts and a polo shirt, and looked more animated than he had the previous night. She saw him recognise her. “Hey, you came…what’s your name again?” One of his friends nudged him, and they all laughed. Violet noticed they were talking too fast, their eyes darting round the room. One of them was chewing gum at about 100 miles an hour. “It’s Esther…yeah I thought I’d stop by and say happy birthday, see what parties are like on the Isle of Wight.” Ricky’s friends had joined Joanne and the other girls, and were jumping into each other, an elbow hit Joanne, and a spray of blue alcopop crossed the air. One of them ran back into the corridor shouting “Wankers!” as the music was changed to Happy Hardcore. Ricky held out a bottle of Carling to Violet, and motioned her outside. They sat down at a picnic table. Maria’s crying slowed down as she heard the noises of the children, and she started looking around. Ricky started rolling a cigarette, the rizla trembling in his twitchy fingers. “Do you want one?” he asked, and she reached for the tobacco. Violet tried to position Maria on her lap, but she kept wriggling, till Violet spilled the tobacco. She started again, and put the cigarette in her mouth quickly before Maria could grab it, then leaned forward for Ricky to light it. A small boy with chocolate round his face came running up. “Uncle Ricky, Uncle Ricky!” he shouted, breathless. “Can we have a water fight?” “Yeah, hose is over there.”

The boy ran back to the others who were still running round in a circle, and shouted, “He said yes, he said yes, he said YES!!” Ricky reached in his pocket and pulled out a small paper packet. “Fancy a line?” He opened it, and Violet noticed the powder’s dirty tint. A burst of giggles made her look round, and she saw the barmaid and her friends piling out of the kitchen. “No thanks, I prefer coke.” “Couldn’t get that out down here…vultures’d get it” He nodded towards the sliding door, and Violet laughed. Joanne the barmaid pushed between them, and sat down on Ricky’s knee, sliding an arm around his neck as he began chopping out thin lines on the table. “Ooh, you shouldn’t have!” Joanne said, and started rolling up a ten pound note. Ricky stood up, and let the other girls take his place. Violet watched Joanne snort the fattest line, and saw her eyes fill with tears as it burned the inside of her nose; she almost felt jealous. Ricky leaned close to Violet’s ear, “We’ll go upstairs in a minute, sort you out a line of the good stuff… Gotta treat the tourists nice.” Maria had stopped screaming and was sucking her fingers. Violet shifted her into the crook of her elbow, and flicked ash on the ground. Joanne and her friends came up and started fussing over Maria. The speed was making them chatty. “What’s her name?” a big, blonde girl asked. “Martine,” Violet said. “Ooh. Can I have a hold,” another one shrieked, “She’s so cute!” The girl was quite pretty, but her hair was scraped back tightly, and hardened with spray, giving her a mean look. “This is Carol,” Ricky said, “my little sister.” He pinched her on the back of the arm, and she slapped at him, but missed as he dodged sideways. “Fuck off Ricky,” Carol said, and turned back to Violet. She pointed to the boy with the dirty face, who was doing a wheelbarrow with a smaller girl. “Those are my two,” she said.

Violet needed a rest, and wanted to smoke a cigarette without struggling with Maria, so she passed her over to Carol. The other girls gathered round, including Joanne who started elaborately playing boo behind her hands. Ricky bent down, “You coming then?” “Hey,” she said to the group of girls, “are you alright with her for two minutes, I’m just going to the toilet.” Carol and the other girls were absorbed with Maria, but Joanne was staring after Ricky, who had disappeared through the sliding doors. As Violet followed him, Joanne gave her a hard look then turned away. Violet followed Ricky upstairs into a bathroom. The bath was stained, and the front panels were crooked as if they’d been taken off recently. The mould-spotted shower curtain sagged where its hooks had been torn out. Ricky started chopping out lines next to the sink. The bathroom smelled damp, like the reptile corridor, and Violet wondered if he gave the snakes baths in here. Ricky had cut four lines. He passed her a rolled up note, and Violet did two of them. They were lumpier than she would have liked and would probably make her nose bleed a bit, but as she sniffed she felt her head clear with the first little uplifting flutters, and knew that her and Maria’s first day on the Isle of Wight was going to be a good one. They would find somewhere to stay and could spend the rest of the day on the beach, maybe take Maria’s new books. Violet smiled, “Thanks,” she said. Ricky picked a little white rock out of his nose and licked it off. He moved towards Violet and pushed his fingers down the front of her jeans, pulling her towards him. Violet realised he was going to kiss her, and backed into the door. Because his hands were hooked into her jeans, he went with her, and she was pushed up against some hanging towels. “Gross,” she thought as his lips pressed against hers, and his tongue shoved its way into her mouth. He tasted of beer and chemicals. Violet kissed him back. She thought of the naff tattoos, and cringed as he pulled down her jeans. He fucked her against the door, while she held on round his neck. Violet was surprised how long he was able to hold her, before moving to the floor. He had sex in a hard, jerky sort of way, with his head to one side, and Violet noticed wiry muscles straining in his arms as he pushed into her. She wondered what they would look like speeded up, and she thought of Woody Woodpecker huh huh hu hah huh! Her head felt light, bubbly almost; something about the sordid bathroom made her feel relieved. He must have been eating speed all day, and Violet realised that this might go on for a long time. Someone banged on the door. “Come back later!” he shouted.

Violet heard voices and laughter outside the door, then more banging. Ricky stopped, and shouted, “Fuck off!” “Share the wealth,” a voice said from behind the door, and Violet wondered if they meant her or the cocaine. They started hammering the door. Ricky got off her and pulled up his shorts, “Fuck’s sake,” he said. Violet’s jeans were around one ankle, and she still had a boot on. was standing up by the bath. She dressed quickly, and Ricky opened in two of the guys Violet had seen in the kitchen. They grinned at headed for Ricky, who’d already got the wrap out, and was bent over

The other one the door and let her, and then the sink.

“One more here for you,” Ricky said to Violet. She paused by the door, then joined them at the sink, and did the small line he’d laid out for her. The two men were watching Ricky, waiting. “I’ll see you later,” she said. Ricky sniffed, “Stick around,” he said, “party’s only just started.” She shut the door behind her, and heard laughter and a cheer erupting inside. Violet went downstairs quickly. She didn’t think she’d been more than ten minutes, but her awareness of time felt warped by her quickening heartbeats. She wanted to get out of here, and go to the beach with Maria. When she reached the garden, Maria wasn’t there. The music was still thumping. The fresh air hit her, and she felt high and awake. She couldn’t see Carol or Joanne. There were two little girls left in the garden, sitting cross-legged in the mud. She listened for Maria’s cries, but could only hear the banging of the music. She ran into the reptile corridor. One sofa had emptied a bit, but the people with the bong were still passing it round, their heads lolling about, not keeping up with the music. Violet tried to shout over the music, “Hey, has anyone seen a baby?” A hippy girl wearing flowery dungarees looked up and gave her a stoned smile. Violet climbed up onto the other sofa, reached over the spider tanks and pulled some wires out of the back of the speakers. The music stopped. “Have any of you seen Ricky’s sister, she’s looking after my baby?” A fat man in huge torn jeans, pushed passed her and began reassembling the speakers.

“Who are you?” someone said, and the people with the bong started giggling. Violet bit her lip, and tried to think how long she’d been gone. It couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes. The girl in the dungarees tapped Violet’s arm, “Carol, and her friends just left…didn’t see a baby though.” Violet didn’t know whether to run out the front door, ask Ricky, or check the house. She needed to calm down. She remembered there was another room off the kitchen, and went there. She pushed open the door; there were about six people standing with their backs to her. Music was playing, something folky, and the people were muttering and giggling. She pushed through the crowd, and saw Maria sitting in the middle of the room. She was sitting up by herself. In a loose circle around her, a huge python was slowly circling. Violet felt her insides jolt, and froze. The snake was huge; at its fattest part, it was easily as wide as Violet. Three coils of snake circulated the baby. Maria wobbled, reaching for the moving patterns. There was a man sitting cross-legged on the floor near the python. “What the fuck are you doing?” Violet said. He looked up and Violet recognised the fuzzy dreadlock guy. “Hey,” he said, “chill out… it’s Ethel, man, she’s friendly.” Violet heard a burst of slow giggles behind her. “It’s a fucking snake!” she shouted. She lurched forwards, but someone grabbed her shoulders and held her back. Her shout startled Maria, who flinched, tipped over, then began a loud, racking cry. The dreadlock man continued, “Wait, just watch… your baby was laying on her a minute ago, Ethel gave her a ride round…I’ll put her back on.” “So fucking cool,” someone said. Violet felt a tightening in her brain. She looked for something to smash the snake’s head in with. In the far corner of the room she saw the couple from the boat, Paul was laughing, his arm around Charlotte. Charlotte was watching Violet through her fringe. Violet thought she saw Charlotte mouth, “Don’t.” Violet shuddered and pulled away from the person holding her shoulders. She stepped over the thick patterned skin, and grabbed Maria. Someone started to boo.

Violet held Maria tight and kicked the dreadlock guy as hard as she could under the chin. She heard a jangle of beads, as his head snapped backwards dislodging his hat. “You fucking freaks,” she said, and ran out through the corridor. She thought about pushing over the reptile tanks, but confused shouts were starting up behind her, so she opened the front door, and headed for the car park. Violet felt in her pockets for her car keys and opened the door. She put Maria in her car seat, not stopping to buckle it up, then ran round to her door. “Oi! Where do you think you’re going?” It was a girl’s voice. Violet pulled open the door. As she was getting in, her head was yanked backwards by her hair, and she saw a trainer kick the car door shut. Joanne hand. hair. Bucket

the barmaid was standing in front of her, she held a cigarette in her Violet looked behind, it was Ricky’s sister Carol who had her by the Two other girls were making their way across the car park from a table in the o’ Mussels beer garden.

Joanne took a drag on her cigarette, then said, “What were you doing with Ricky?” Violet listened for people coming up the street. They needed to get out of here quickly. “I said…What the FUCK were you doing with my boyfriend?” “He gave me a line,” Violet said. Carol pulled Violet’s ponytail, so she was facing the sky. “Grab her arms,” she said to one of the other girls. “He just gave me a line,” Violet repeated. “Shut up!” Joanne said, and pushed up against her, so her forehead was against Violet’s. Violet could feel the massive boobs pressing up against her, and started to smirk. She tried to stop the smile by biting her cheeks. “You’re a tourist,” Joanne said, “you shouldn’t take locals’ drugs.” Her face was so close to Violet’s that their noses touched as she spoke. Violet smelled the stink of blue WKD misting over her face. Joanne took a step backwards, and pulled on her cigarette. She flicked the ash off the end, and blew on it, then jammed it into Violet’s cheek.

Violet let out a scream, and tears spilled down her face. She couldn’t move as Carol had her arm round her neck and a firm grip on her ponytail. The pain seared through her face, and made something in her head lurch. Joanne threw the fag on the ground. “Now fuck off, and don’t come back here,” she said. “And sort your baby out,” Carol said, “she’s screaming the place down.” Violet felt Carol release her, and the girls filed back to their table, laughing. Violet got in the car, spun it round and accelerated out of Lake. In the rear view mirror, she saw people piling out of number 29 into the street.

SAM GRAINGER SOON I saw that you knew. That it’ll only get worse. There’s not enough to help. The last time, your unease was out there, exposed. He caught it. He flaked. There were shivers on his words. I drifted back, after he let go of my hand. You did most of the talking. I wouldn’t have known what to say. There were different shades of worry coloured on everyone else. Saying his name in whisper, barely below a breath, seemed to help them. Their fingers rested on drawn lips. There was nothing going on under the surface as he fell, or after, for me. He was on the concrete, limbs stiffened, palms grazed, and I only felt his embarrassment. That held me the most. That was the true pain. It punctured him more than the small stones that felt him drop. I let them worry for me. I held the part of him he wanted nothing of. The stick clapped when it went down with him. I picked it up when he wasn’t looking. We all went along. Heads up, eyes away, exhales. He didn’t speak much after. We spoke too much. He’ll fall again soon. It’ll be controlled, drawn out, on purple velvet. We won’t pick him up. Not then.

JAMES GIDDINGS THROWING STONES Here in the black he sits on a cut stump throwing rocks at a trunk, listening to the plunk-thud, the dull hit of stone on wood as he watches the bark split its veins and crumble loose like scabbed skin, the underneath smooth and new, something he’d like, something he’d hold onto like the cloth in his pocket, and he’ll run out of stones, not finding the ones he threw as they get lost in the tar night, and he’ll walk down the track where the trees cover his head and drop their leaves like money, and they’ll give him something that’s crisp, that’s green with life, the smell of a future, and he’ll keep it till it hardens to a crunch and crumbles in his hands, the green turned brown, the future trodden down and buried in the carpet, but now he throws his stones, enjoying the ache at the shoulder, listening to the bark breaking, the rustle of grass with each miss, the wind whistling in the trees, with the night cloaking him from where he has to be, where he’s expected to be, and tomorrow his dad will be there, sat on his bed, something in his hand.

OLIVIA PAD JIGSAW Why do jigsaws take so long to do? I could start one at the beginning of the day, bright and early, and I would still be sat here doing it by mid-afternoon. But I do love them, no matter how long they take. Well, there may be a million reasons why they take so long. Of course, it could depend on the person attempting the jigsaw. They may be a bit slow. I’m not. I don’t think I am. I could do a hundred jigsaws in one day, if I wanted to. I don’t think I’d have the time. I sometimes spend whole day doing jigsaws. There are just not enough hours in the day. I like the way the blocks come together to create a bigger picture. One by one, the picture gets bigger and clearer and alive. I pick my jigsaws carefully, they have to be colourful. They have to be big. I pick the colours out and lay the pieces in piles. The pieces have to be sorted by colour. It makes the puzzle easier to start. The colours sometimes remind me of other puzzles I’ve done and I get confused. I’ve done a lot of jigsaw puzzles. I blend in with the pieces, sometimes. I have a dress. It’s my favourite dress. It’s patterned with a lot of colours. The pieces fall onto my lap and it takes me a while to find them again. My dress merges into the colours of the pieces but I still wear it. I wear it when I do my jigsaws. I don’t care. It’s my favourite dress. I find the pieces in the end anyway. I do jigsaws even when the weather is nice outside. I sit inside because I don’t like the insects. They distract me. I once got stung by a wasp, the bastard. I remember it hurt for days. I don’t sit outside much anymore. I would choose a jigsaw puzzle over television. Television numbs the brain. Jigsaws excite and exercise the brain. The left side is logical. The right side is creative, intuitive. Jigsaws use both sides. They need both. That’s what I think, although I’m sure it can be proven too. I don’t need to prove anything. I’m happy with my puzzles. I don’t need anything when I have my jigsaws. I’ve never really thought about the word “jigsaw” but it’s quite funny isn’t it? Saying the word out loud is quite funny. It sounds like I’m talking another language. Two words together that look like they shouldn’t be. Jig. Saw. You don’t really do much “jigging” or “sawing” when doing a jigsaw puzzle, do you? The final result of a jigsaw is the best achievement. The picture is clear and it’s there and it’s made up of these tiny little pieces that have been fitted together. I get the best feeling when I’ve finished. It’s like there’s a box in my brain that’s been ticked. Checked off with a massive red tick.

KATE GARRETT THE DEVIL IN THE ROOM Rows of bunk beds line a room full of giggling girls. The twitchy, skinny one who couldn’t eat more than a pudding pop at supper sits still now. She’s curled up, waiting, torch in hand.

Read us your scary stories, says a voice from the mattress above. This will be the highlight of camp. Paperbacks stacked high beside her pillow, she picks one up, takes a breath, reads the opening line, her face a mask of flashlight shine. The other girls’ beds become tightrope wires; they perch, a murder of nervous crows in the moonlit cabin. And then – a silhouette, framed by a halo of light in the doorway:

STOP! You’ll bring the devil into the room! That’s heathen work! The twitchy girl’s voice is even: They’re not evil, she says, just ghost stories. They’re old too, like the stories in your ...

Don’t those people know Jesus? There’s no such thing as ghosts! The dead don’t rise until Judgement Day! The Lord’ll come back soon, and He only takes the good ones! The shadow is in the room. It is a lady with curly hair. Now put that book away. Let’s pray. The twitchy girl sighs. The other children fall silent. The campfire tales are forgotten, replaced by nightmares of torture and brimstone.

TOM COGHILL HER You loved her. You said you always had. From the very first time you saw her. Long brown hair, falling in curls down her back. Piercing blue eyes. Heels clip-clopping down the street. You knew she’d pass by the office soon. About half-five she usually did. It was the highlight of your day. You sprayed the table and wiped it, imagining it was her body, up and down the grain. Smooth and firm. Ah, there she is. You peep through the blind. Heels as usual, low ones, not high like those strippers in the clubs, more classy, sophisticated. And a respectable length on her skirt. Just above the knee. Leaving something to the imagination. Her white blouse was unbuttoned slightly, you could just make out from the window. Wow. You wished you could be a student in her class. You think she’d be kind, caring, helpful. If you’d had a teacher like that maybe you wouldn’t be where you are now. You might be fulfilling your potential. You aren’t stupid. You know that. Just not given the right opportunities in life. Yeah, that’s what it is. There she goes. Gone until Monday now. You flick on the vacuum. Friday afternoons are the worst. It’s Saturday night and you decide to drown your sorrows down at Taylor’s. You sit in the same spot by the bar as you have done for the last seven weeks and Rich comes over, “The usual?” You nod, wait, take the drink and spin around to watch people steadily filter through the door. People-watching, one of life’s most simple pleasures. Flashy groups of men with their chests thrown out and hair slicked back make small talk with the flashy groups of women with their saggy boobs half-out. You feel sorry for their bras. You notice the younger generation huddled in the corner, under-aged but equipped with an older brother or sister’s ID. Sly, children these days are so sly. You cast a lazy glance around the room once more. Couples, a football team, a work do. You are about to turn to Rich to order another drink, when your eyes fall on a group of young women you don’t recognise. You’ve never seen these women in here before and decide to ‘go and use the toilet’ for an excuse at a closer look. Just as you reach the toilet door you turn, no. Surely not. It’s her! Seven weeks of sitting in the same place, at the same bar and never before have you seen her in here. Your heart is pounding. Stomach doing little flips. It is her. And oh god, she’s looking right at you. Solid eye contact. You feel yourself blush, run into the toilet. Take a few deep breaths and have a piss. Splash some water on your face, look into the mirror and push your dark fringe to the side away from your eyes. You decide to purchase some of the cologne from the friendly, smiling black man in the toilets. He sees you eyeing up the sprays, beams and sings “No Armani, no punani”. You think this is a good option and drop a pound coin into his dish and take several squirts. You prepare yourself to steal another glance at the girls. You realise immediately why you have never seen the group and your girl here before. She is wearing a badge with “BIRTHDAY GIRL!” written across it in pink bubble writing. You smile, but she is not looking. You return to your seat, turn to Rich and indicate you’d like another drink. This goes down far too well. You order another. And another. You only have money for one more. Then, as if fate wanted you to meet, it’s the birthday girl’s round. She stands up, stumbling slightly, walks towards the bar. Right to where you’re sat. You can see her close-up now, front on, for the

first time. Your heart starts racing. You disapprove of how short her skirt is and how high her heels are. People will get the wrong idea! You’re not like those other girls! But you decide to let her off because it’s her birthday. She rests her elbow on the bar for support and looks up, waiting to be served by Rich. This is your once chance to speak to her. Don’t. Fuck. Up. “Hi,” is all you can manage. She turns, smiles, says, “Hi there”. You can’t believe your luck. The girl of your dreams. Right here. “Can I get you a drink?” you blurt out. You’ve never offered to buy a girl a drink before, you’ve barely ever spoken to a girl before, you’re going to get rejected and… “Oh really? That would great, thanks”. You frantically dive into your pocket, retrieve your wallet and search out the remaining fiver. Wave to Rich and point, “Whatever this young lady would like to drink please Rich.” She’ll be impressed you’re on first name terms with the barman. You relax slightly and attempt some more conversation. “So, it’s your birthday?” “Urr, yep,” she replies pointing at the badge. You laugh, embarrassed. She orders her drink, you pay. Then she orders her other drinks and she pays. You wish you could pay for all of them. But instead you look at the floor. She picks up the tray, turns to you, thanks you for the drink and walks back towards her friends. Gone. You blew it. And your last fiver. Congratulations. You wander back home. You can’t afford a cab so walking is your only option. You play through the scene with her, over and over again. You know you fucked up, but it was the best few minutes of your life. You decide you have to see her again. It wasn’t just a want anymore, it was a need. A necessity. You can’t stop thinking about her. Everything you see, everything you do relates back to her. You quit your job cleaning the offices down the road from the school. Instead to apply directly with the school. You’re rejected. Not enough experience. This doesn’t stop you. If you can’t officially work there, you’ll just have to unofficially. You enter the premises. Children have all left. It’s only half past four, you know she’d be walking past the offices at half past five, which gives you an hour. An hour that she will be on her own in her classroom so you can talk to her again. Even if it’s just for that one last time. You’re looking through the little glass windows in the doors. No, no, no. You can’t see her anywhere. You move the mop you took with you along the floor as an important-looking man walks past. Head down, you don’t want anyone to ask you any questions. Fortunately your disguise seems to have worked. He doesn’t even look twice. You peer through some more windows. Damn. Maybe she’s not in today. You arrive at the last classroom on the right, Class 30. Yes! There she is! The sunlight streams through the blind and falls on her face. You hold your breath for a moment. She’s perfect. You grasp the door knob, twist and open the door. She turns, startled. “Oh, sorry. I’m going in a minute, won’t be in your way,” she responds.

You beam at her. Shut the door behind you and move towards her. She looks uneasy, so you try to reassure her: “Hi, how are you?” She looks even more uncomfortable. “Urr, fine thanks.” She is hurriedly packing her papers into her bag. “You don’t recognise me?” you ask. She shakes her head. You remove your overalls. You’re wearing the same clothes as the night you met her in the bar. You think this will jog her memory. She looks scared. You move closer. Within touching distance. She backs away. You speak. “Don’t be afraid. I’ve missed you, I wanted to speak to you again.” She holds her bag between you both. “Who are you?” You don’t move back. “We met the other night, at Taylors. It was your birthday. I bought you a drink.” Your voice has begun to rise. You’re angered that she doesn’t remember you. “Oh did we? I’m sorry, I was really drunk.” Her voice is barely a whisper now. You are infuriated. This is not how it is meant to be. She should remember you. She should love you too. She strikes out. Her bag catches you just under your left eye. You’re dazed. You step back. She tries to run for the door. You reach out and grab her wrist. You pull her back towards you. She screams. You cover her mouth. She bites you. You hit her. You didn’t want to hit her. She’s lying on the table. You put her coat under her head.

BETHANY SERINO SHE She accumulates 42 years of bad luck within half an hour. The argument’s about songs and films and poetry and people that I don’t care about. And I don’t care about her. The next day I do my make-up in the extractor fan and go to the shop and come back to a fire in the kitchen. She's left the hob on. The fireman asks for her number. She tells me she wants to be 'successful' and goes to work and I sit and watch Jeremy Kyle in my exes t-shirt and she calls me, says she’s hurt her wrist having a thumb war. The hospital reminds me I will die and I tell her I want a baby. We go out and everyone I think I could fall in love with falls in love with her instead. I tell her ‘They all prefer you’ as she falls on to the floor of the taxi. She's lost one of her shoes. Then I realise they’re mine. She cuts out old lovers and friends from photographs and I pick their faces out the bin when she’s not looking. She realises and shouts and wakes next-door up. They paddle round in dressing gowns and he looks at me like I can do better. I lay on their sofa and count the cracks in the ceiling, analyse the pattern, come to the conclusion that the structure's weakness lies just above my head so if it would give way, it would give way over me. I dare a spider to climb in to my mouth when I’m asleep. I feel my arm under my head aching from the weight and let it carry on until I can’t feel it anymore. He comes downstairs, peels a condom off, makes a cup of tea and turns yesterday’s Jeremy Kyle on. I tell him the one in the white t-shirt is the dad and he looks at me like I can do better. He tells me there’s always a reacher and a settler in relationships, I tell him I’m neither and he doesn’t believe me. He gives me a pill and it takes me by my neck and slides me in to its back pocket. I wake up 7 hours later with a lump in my throat and I think it’s the spider. She tells me she wants her glutes to ‘pop’ and goes climbing and I sit and watch Loose Women in my exes t-shirt and she texts me, says she’s broken her leg. The hospital reminds me I will die and I tell her I want a baby. She says she wants to kill herself. Asks me how I’d do it. I say I would jump off a very high building. She says she’d stick a knife in her chest.

She throws up into a washing-up bowl. She tells me she can’t commit suicide in case she goes to hell. She misses the first time, on purpose. The policeman seems impressed that I’m not on the dole. He smiles at me. Like, I’m something. Her pleats are creased. ‘She is quite charismatic isn’t she?’ he says. ‘Yes’, I say. I watch him become another moth clambering at the flame. I tell him I hate everyone I know. Then I change it to ‘dislike’. ‘What about her then?’ She burns me alive and she puts me out and rubs my split-ends between her fingers and tells me I’m fine as I am. She dents the extractor fan with a thrown lamp and distorts me, snaps the arm off my turntable, sucks the arm of my sunglasses, chews it till it’s raw. She brushes her teeth till her gums bleed and spits red froth into the sink, writes haikus on the mirror with lipstick from poundland, slaps me, tells me it’s all my fault and I need to change. She knows how to shut me up. She knows how to pinch my hips when I’m asleep. And jab the spaces in-between my ribs. And bruise me, and whisper in my ear. Drinks my whisky, smokes my fags, pulls me by my jacket, puts her tongue in my belly button and makes my ancestors heave. Recites passages from revelations and laughs at me getting wet from underneath my own umbrella. Washes shampoo out my hair with a measuring jug when I’m ill. Eats the scabs off her knees and shouts in her sleep and points out faces in the artex on waking up. And she does not impress me. And I cower as she devours the last fire from the cricket in the corner. And I tell her she’s a goddess. And she falls on her face and splits her lip and I lick her clean and she doesn’t believe me. She doesn’t miss the second time. She gets it spot on.

JESS SANDERS FAT At ten years old I tell my mother I am too fat to go to John Oxby’s birthday party. I pull a blue striped summer dress over my tear-stained face and wriggle it in to place but that little bulge of stomach smirks at me through the fabric, still. At ten years old, I know I’m the worst thing a person can be in the world: I’m fat. At eleven and twelve and thirteen the boys at school tell me so. I pull on my white shirt and school trousers and wonder when it was that the world took my body from me and put in its place a misshapen stranger I didn’t invite. I’m a fun house freak stunted at still less than five foot and those boys, those boys they’re always kissing my friends with the same mouths that spit those big small words in my face. F A T. U G L Y. I read a magazine article about a woman who tried to cut off her own stomach with a kitchen knife and I think about how wonderful that would be while I’m pinching myself til my bitten off nails leave pleasing purple crescents on my pink skin. And for what? FOR SHAME. It’s such a shame! Isn’t it a shame? “It’s a shame about your weight, you could be really pretty.” “If you just lost a few pounds…” FOR. SHAME. I see the look in my mother’s eyes, “Do you think you should be eating that?” I am the embodiment of her own disappointments. “I don’t want you to end up like me.” “I only say it because I love you.”

I wonder why she can’t love me anyway. I wish she could have said it didn’t matter. That fat is an adjective, that no matter how many times a person pours it over you like hot tar it will never become a noun, it will never take you. FAT NEGATES NOTHING. You can be fat and clever, fat and funny, fat AND beautiful, fat AND passionate. FAT AND WONDERFUL. I no longer want those glossy magazine diet plans. All I have ever shed agonising over milkshakes, points, calories, special fucking k, is my self-esteem. And guess what? If I put my body in a bikini it will be a bikini body. If I want to ‘fit in to’ that little black dress I’ll buy the size that fits and if I want to be a ‘better me’ then I’ll work on my mind. I’ll work on my actions. I’ll work on my attitudes. I’ll work on LOVE. Don’t give me “If you’re unhappy only you can lose the weight” – lose your fucking problem, then maybe I’ll lose mine. I am not a number on a scale or a chart, a BMI, a magazine circle-of-shame rating out of ten. You cannot quantify the many desires of my body. You cannot reduce my being in to an algebraic problem I will spend my life trying to solve. I am not here for your approval. I am not here for your pleasure and amusement. I’m here for mine.

ABBIE NEELY ONE YEAR AND THREE MONTHS Shall we go home? I hear you say This place offers no sanctuary for us Just a couple of drunk kids in love. What started out as safe is inexplicably altered, from the lights reflecting the rain to the alcohol running thickly in our bodies. Laughter in abundance and the only screams, were that of thrills and shrill cries of ‘wait’ and ‘where are you going now?’ Youthful nights reeking of adventure and the numbers were plentiful, the companions tolerable, the weather still warm from the summer just gone. There was nothing to fear only things to conquer, stories to tell and plans to be made. Smoke-soaked crevices, the smell of fresh bud lay in our noses, the house old and crumbling but it’s all irrelevant because this place, it was undeniably our home. Then there are flutterings of hurt, a flickering of hate thoughts we didn’t know how to think. The flesh and bone that made us is dragging us down and the taste of something new blurs our vision. Breakages in the walls, in the lining of this place turn to cracks and empty spaces that only seem to be filled with someone else. A different face and the call for change It’s not safe here anymore, it’s dead we are strangers even to ourselves. Lust for the now is gone, it passes over unheard it steals itself away perhaps it’s time to move on.

JACK HUSON ENDOGENOUS MORPHINE I feel the initial hum as I try the PlayStation. It is my escape, a place where I feel most alive. Milk-stained skies clear along with my headache; I wonder who wants to play tonight? I hope Summer does, she’s my girlfriend you see. The PlayStation says so. I collect my keys and head out into the synthetic world, trying to remember my mission. The city ignites with the hallucinogenic street lamps. This city is afraid of me. I tumble down the alleys and backstreets like a hollow can being kicked and size up the monotonic population as I pass, each one with grief washed eyes and dish water hair as though their developer, their creator did not have the time to finish them. Drug addicts and Stella Artois world heavyweights prowl the corners, counting the pennies; the only real currency they know after feeding their habits. The PlayStation is beginning to lose its illusion of escapism so I try it again, adjust myself and focus in on the world within a world. My current objective is to meet Summer at Bar 53, I check the GPS on my phone for directions, set a marker and make my way to the strip; the Neon world of sewer rats and kingpins. The gutters are full of blood, the blood of politician filth and corrupt citizens rotting like the corpse of a starving child screaming out “Save me, save me”… “No” I whisper. I don’t have time to walk, I shouldn’t have to walk, I’m boss here, and this city is oblivious without my existence. I signal a cab over and catch my reflection in the window, slick my hair back and ask for Bar 53. Summer isn’t here yet so I order a whiskey and check my inventory for weapons and cash. The barmen scurry around, pissing skid-marks of the toilet bowl of life, pretending they like you but they’re as greedy as the rest of this city, a city that festers on chaos and characters with… She’s here; my girlfriend, she is what is referred to in some overly emoted spiritual circles as my soul mate. We’ve got a love like denim, a love that lasts. The red dress clings to her shape like a new born infant cradled by its mother, it follows her curves and posture like a shadow does its owner, flowing around her ankles to reveal the teasing shape of her foot in her heels, the blood races through my body. Comatose. Heads turn as she passes through and I feel the handle of a 9” titanium blade pulsating jealously. Summer Ho-Nus. A double barrel shot to the heart. Her father was a Japanese merchant sailor who docked with her mother, so to speak, before jumping ship, so to speak. “Hey” she started off the conversation sequence. a)

“Why are you late?”


“Hey, you look stunning tonight.”

“Yeah well I may as well make the most of it while I have the chance, you’ve worn that outfit the last three times we’ve seen each other.” a)

“So what?”

b) “I’m sorry, why don’t we go shopping tomorrow and pick out some new stuff? [MISSION] “So what?” she didn’t like that answer “So what? I’ll tell you what” she said, completing the eternal rule of three. “Actually, forget it, I’m glad you’ve started saving money for us, we’re gonna need a bigger place soon.” She has my appetite, my lust for something bigger, something bigger than this city. We’ll take away from here and move out in to the green. The air will purify the mind and there will be no need for PlayStation anymore, not when it’s just me and her. I long to roll over at dawn with the clouds and analyse her complexion in a highdefinition resolution that can only be experienced in the flesh, to join each perfect impurity like a childhood dot-to-dot, fresh face oil as ink on tightly woven linen with its unique subtleties: puffs around the eyes from a life of Maybelline lies, cracks on the cushioned red pavement to her heart and an unruly flicker of that Betty-Boop eyelash that warns ‘DO NOT DISTURB’. I surf her flexure with my nose, trace the sticky mire to the panty-leg where, past the frills and thrills, the tang heightens and stings like toxic pudding. PlayStation has shortened my attention span whilst increasing my impatience, one of the side-effects that was not explained to me before my purchase, yet I keep coming back for more. I no longer want to have to choose what to say, I want PlayStation to say it for me, to autopilot the boring parts of my life and fast-forward to the action, to the Al Pacino gun fights and car chases and the hard-core porn scenes where I don’t have to sit and watch. Have you ever felt like that? Like when you drive home from work sub-consciously and can’t quite remember the journey? That’s PlayStation; it cuts out mundanity and adds a pinch of reality. Ten-eighty high-definition and the conversation sequence begins: “So how have you been today?” “I was sick again this morning, but other than that, it’s been all too familiar.” “I guess you didn’t enjoy last night’s Moules?” “You know they’re my favourite, anyway, you’re not listening to what I’m saying…” “Well I thought they were delicious, slightly lacking on sauce but…” “You’re not listening to what I’m saying.” “Do you still feel sick?” “Oh God.”

“What?” “I love you…” “I love you Summer, you…” “How…” “…know that you’re my world…” “I’m fucking Matt. My manager.” Straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day. The world is watching me on the red carpet moment I never asked for. Bar 53 is crashing down around me as the walls become convex and I’m gasping for air, needing to escape this escapism. A parked and vacant family car is a sitting duck and my sleight of hand takes over; before I can think I’m behind the wheel, with her sat next to me. She wants to talk but it’s on silent right now, I catch her staring at me and screaming out of my peripherals but my body is focused on the road. “You should apply pressure so the pedal moves down about the width of a pound coin” my driving instructor once told me. Fuck that, I’ve always been a million dollar winner. PlayStation has lifted the restrictions of this five-seater people carrier with its opaque grey finish and baby-on-board sticker, like the “kick me’s” from high school. It’s now a Vin Diesel wet dream, 666BHP with pearlescent red licks. The road invites me on a head to head battle, winding and teasing but it’s just not good enough. Thrill seeking, the street lights become one constant beam, two lines out in front of me that touch in the distance like a perspective construction. It’s the lights that are really drawing my attention; I don’t see cars on the road anymore, just insignificant red dots that are mere obstacles in my way. She’s still screaming and crying, but she can’t get out, she made this choice, it was all down to her. I look across at her and watch the mascara meander its way to gravity while her eyes swell and for the first time since we set out, take their gaze off me and stare out of the front window. Momentarily they close and her lips mouth the words “forgive me.” The screen wipes and everything is black. Amidst the sirens and screams, I hear two men talking, I cannot move, I cannot see, I can only listen: “Two females: passenger pronounced dead on the scene, driver unconscious with high levels of ecstasy and alcohol in the blood system.” “Shit, was she dead before you got here?” “Yeah, and so was the child she was carrying.”

LYDIA ALLISON SHALLOW Heat your hand already pink, pulls water up my white thigh to break like tides - no waves while the tide changes as we shift our weight and the sink betrays sighs of smoke and this night and this might and I wonder how you feel to see a black hair crack my skin plain as porcelain my tortoise fingers find your scars in layers of water filmed with floating gold you look through in awe - my toothbrush with yours -

Before noticed sitting in the hot white room the blue twigs of vein on the back of my hand gone and a dark grey bloat instead and blood only where there wasn’t before blood at the foot of my bed when I get up blood hinting in the bathtub blood when I blow the soft rocks of ash along a sticky path on the floor blood that dots stones as I walk or dabs the ceilings when I fly - or maybe only jump – inside

Ugly you never called me artist you just made me one never called me slut you just made me one you never called me actor you just made me one animal animal I wasn’t, then I was

Pearls gold coats white something only there in half a right light the rings with hints of hair, lint, ash, and skin and how you said something that made me feel so much I thought I might be sick or cry or push a nail hard in my arm and drag along the valley of bone with painted fingers just to show we - unthinking crack oysters coat our bodies with the softness of nacre and scrape grey surface on everything else

DEAN LILLEYMAN WINTER GARDEN There was a time when you saw your life as a straight line: this flat avenue lined with tall trees, its cobbled walkway glinting from a low sun minutes after the soft rains have ceased. Alone, and happy to be so: this magnetic north arrowed perfect, and these concrete mathematics perfect, everything mapped out in tangentless easy. And then you took a left under a glass roof sheltering hothouse palms that will soon disintegrate, casting particles of green life and glass, this million million smithereens exploding out into an uncaptured sky, the sun some dark eye eclipsed, watching, as all birdsong stops in a moment’s tumble, a playground game faltering as a red ball hangs unfathomable in the peppered air, until, all you can see is her, and the seashell flecks in her eyes, and the ink drops that blot soft, her lips that part slow, imperceptible, beautiful, as the whole stage-set melts into the floor and a clock calls the time unseen as you fall into each other helpless - unmade the maps burning under your bare feet as she pulls away:

closer, please come closer,

and all you now know is this: the song of all history unmaking itself, recasting into thin shards that dance in the light of this new moon dancing over a midnight sea, the seen momentary, the unseen deeper than you will ever know, unless you listen not to the howls of the wind, that chair spinning out through a doorway flung wide, the shouted calls of retreat to the storm cellar because the known world must correct itself, reform into what it was before: safe, and predictable, and oh

come closer please, for I will remake the world for you, gathered from atoms and planets, shaped from the clay that yields, that if a god loved you as I, he would give, and all this on the thin strand of seven days, and on the first day I will give you me, and on the second I will give myself, and on the third I will give you the heavens, and on the fourth I will give you the birdsong, and on the fifth I will give you the slowing dusk, and on the sixth I will give you a garden of winter, mute and beautiful, held under a glass roof where cold sun bleeds warm, where I will kiss you, and hold you, and bathe you in the waters of Eden, and I will love you, I will love you, and on the seventh day you will finally know.