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Outskirts K atie Metcalfe

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Outskirts Š By Katie Metcalfe 2012 With Our Backs To The Rest of The World was first published in The Black Light Engine Room. Acknowledgments: This collection is dedicated to Thomas Hendry. With special thanks to Bob Beagrie, Phil Robinson and Nicola Metcalfe. Cover design and artwork by Phil Robinson.

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Like the lone wolf, on the outskirts of a town, we ought to look but turn away and move on.

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When You Have Gone Home................................................................6 Clean Sand.............................................................................................................7 Face To Face.........................................................................................................8 Video Shop.............................................................................................................9 Last Break ...........................................................................................................10 Why I Have One Breast...........................................................................11 13 Days of Summer.....................................................................................12 As Adults..............................................................................................................13 Carboot.................................................................................................................14 For My Grandchildren Who Can Read....................................15 When We Want Silence..........................................................................16 With Our Backs To The Rest of The World...........................17 Visiting Evelyn...............................................................................................18 You Find Them...............................................................................................19 Merusamun...................................................................................................... 20 Alpha....................................................................................................................... 21 Can’t Remember If We Used Tongues..................................... 22 Almost There................................................................................................... 23 Riding Home................................................................................................... 24 Scar........................................................................................................................... 25 The Back of His Head.............................................................................. 26 Beyond Help..................................................................................................... 27

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When You Have Gone I put the kettle on to make tea for two, but you got on the train a while ago, with a whisky headache. We couldn’t kiss, my mouth blistered from stress, weather and worry, so we gabbled in child language, until the doors were about to shut you out on the platform. I nap in the single bed we slept in, in the t-shirt you left on the floor. I touch your small, blue glasses case with the Specksavers cleaning cloth inside. I miss you and your warm skin, like a stone left to get hot under the sun. I still have the first Valentines card you gave me, propped on the bookcase next to the desk where I write every day. We watched a film last night with an actor in that you don’t like, but I do. Funny thing is, all I thought of was you. I did not see him, but watched you act in a very white wedding shirt and black socks.

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Clean Sand My boots are polished by a wave curling into itself. Salt and sand sneak into holes where the lace goes. Redcar, ancient fishing place by the red marsh, once occupied by Anglo Saxons, Robert de Brus, elk, deer and wild boar. I haven’t been on this sea front since I was old enough to get ice cream bought for me. We used to sit on an old blanket, eat Quavers and cold sausage rolls, before looking for stones and driftwood to take home and leave in the porch, with football boots, grass and Argos catalogues. I see the head of a grey seal, a windsurfer not quick enough. Husky puppies looks as out of place as Scott did in the Antarctic. Barnacle Geese overhead, flying from breeding grounds in Svalbard to the Solway and Scotland. The shop that sells lemon tops is closed, but an ice cream cone on a wall grows soggy. Sand is more sand than glass now, more sand than condoms, fag ends, coke bottles, broken tennis balls and dog shit. If I picked up a handful, I could let it fall through small slits in my fingers and it would leave nothing in my palm, but an itch.

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Face to Face My portrait is a sad clown smoking a cigarette. Dad said my face is only a face. If you look at it for long enough, you can see the colours of all the drinks he has in his cabinet. My teachers think I kick box. Friends have started to ask to see the trophies I tell them about. The ones that earn me the bruises. Bruises as blue as the berries growing on the bushes outside of school. I have pain inside and all over. I want to empty it, wipe it off. I want to throw this paint at the wall, cover the house instead of one small canvas. If I could, I’d paint my dad into the wall, hold him there until he dried. Then I’d talk to him, emptying myself, while eating crabsticks on the sofa and not putting my cup on a coaster. Then, I’d have a lot of space, my head wouldn’t feel like a reel of barb wire.

I’d be able to see inside, find the girl I lost when he started to mulch colours together years and years ago, before I was a sad clown smoking a cigarette.

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Video Shop Remember being just old enough to go to the video shop, alone. When you’re told, you nearly wet yourself. It’s more exciting than when a bee lands in your honey hoops and you have to scoop it out with a tea spoon, shuttle it outside and try to dry it with kitchen roll. To the park, alone, is one thing, but down the street, around and across the road to the shop, alone, is another. The trip is to get two tapes, one for the girls’ one for the boys’, while dodging glass from beer bottles, cracked pieces of wing mirrors, babies booties, dummies and empty black jack wrappers. Remember taking ages to decide which videos to get, looking at the more expensive, newer ones higher up, watching older kids breeze to the counter with a pile, picking notes out of their socks. Walking back, slowly as possible, you feel thrilled, energized, wound up. Tucked under your arm, in a Safeway carrier bag, two tapes you might be allowed to take back, alone, in a week.

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Last Break I lay the Double Texan Whopper, large fries, large coke on the pull out table on the passenger’s side of my car. I watch the bloke watching me through the windscreen of a Fiat Punto.

I’d made myself ready to ask you out. My heart heaved out of my mouth when the boss told me you’d been eliminated like a snowflake, and did I know anyone who could take your place.

He shifts in his seat, pretends to go through the CD collection stacked on the dashboard.

I wanted to take his bat like body out of his plush chair for two, and flip him over the counter into hot fat.

He looks as though he wants to cry. But I know what going through his mind.

The car hadn’t seen you coming but had left you scrunched and damaged on the kerb.

Sad fuck, eating his lunch alone in his car, With his crap little hat still on. Wonder what his kidneys are like Eating like that day in day out.

I when I want to un-write the past two days. You’re so famous in my memory.

I’m not shedding a tear until he’s gone. I’m not going to take one of those huge, inward breaths and shake until then.

They’ve gone now, that couple. She was messy, tired, agitated. He was too busy pretending not to watch me to help her.

I stuff my face fast with meat, bread and pickles. I pack my mouth with dry, hot, sharp fries let him ponder this dirty dining disaster.

Coke and fries and sleeping pills. Time is money is the moto we have around here. I’m three minutes before the end of my break.

If you’d have been serving tonight, even his lady friend would have been entranced, wondering why someone so beautiful as you was serving terrible food in Burger King.

With a smile as wide as the moon, I knock them back. By the time they expect to see me carrying empty wrappers in cold hands, salt caught in my stubble, sauce spotting my chin, waiting to give me a bollocking, I’ll be coming to meet you.

He isn’t to know your lifespan was like gold dust. A shift with you was but a breath. You were the only girl I knew who could look cute in a Burger King Uniform and hair net. I’d bought a new razor, new socks, new boxers, the aftershave you’d said you liked.

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Why I Have One Breast I was staying at a friend’s. It was cold and dark. It was Christmas. The radiators took their time warming up, so we made love like wild animals to keep the heat in. She had a new mattress for me to sleep on, and when I lay, face down, I felt it, like a tennis ball had been thrust under my skin and I’d been sewn back up again with lead thread. I felt it, hard and mean. The doctor had a kind face and soft hands. He told me about the tumour like we hadn’t already met. I pictured it, very aggressive, with teeth and eyes of fire. Mum never came downstairs without makeup on. I told her ‘no tears.’ She said this was the wrong way around, and can still memorise the date I was diagnosed. I went to appointments alone, put my own hair in the dustbin. They cut off my breast and left me scarred and stronger, like a warrior.

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13 Days of Summer You had him pulled out of you without telling me you were doing so. For a week afterwards, I had bloodied knuckles from cracking the house wall on my way to work. Every day, you eat toast, text friends I have never met, sell our baby’s toys on eBay, traditional Finish gifts my mother made. When I come home, you go out, not even touching my shoulder or holding my head for a kiss. You used to say my hair was sexy, my accent turned you on. Sex would be magnificent. You’ve turned sour, like a bad apple, haven’t said I love you in more months than I can remember. We still share the same bed, still smell of each other. I’m going home, to a summer celebration when the sun refuses to set for thirteen days. I will be with friends, burn bonfires. When I clock out today, I’ll cry for the last time, and remember my son.

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As Adults We walk to the woods we played in as children. We would pack little rucksacks with cheese sandwiches, crab apples, Quality Streets left over from Christmas, to last a day in the woody patch between the moor and the village. The big wood isn’t as big as it used to be, but we still have to look upwards to see the tops of the trees. Important things have happened here. Memories hang inside our hearts and heads like old, comfy coats. Someone else has tried to make a den, a rope swing and camp fire. I am jealous. We sense a presence, stand as still as we can. It’s as though deer are passing close, but we are invisible to them.

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Carboot Smell of bacon butties through a crack in the door. Radio Yorkshire blaring in the kitchen. In the living room, the TV talks to itself, about summer pudding and horse racing. Only three types of people are awake, when the clock’s hand slips past six on a Sunday. Grandparents, grandchildren, car boot sale stall holders, with warm jackets, umbrellas, margarine tub floats compact with cold coppers, tatt from the back of the garage tucked in Walkers Crisp multipack boxes. Dealers swoop early like vultures, down cluttered aisles, smelling of plastic and potatoes. Small sandals, small toes sink into dewy, short grass. White leather straps become stained a garish gobby green. We’re never early enough, need to inch past trestle tables, teetering with tower blocks of Goosebump books. Barbies and brass beagles, balance uncomfortably next to china dolls dying in plastic bags. Jewellery and makeup from Safeway with the barcode cut off. 1986 hi-top Nike’s, faded Batman Forever mugs, lampshades laced with spider webs, mowers muted with tufts of lawn. Midday sun beats on the back off my head. Hours hunting through heaps of history. Hands aren’t purple like Granddad’s from chock-full carrier bags. Fingers fumble with three times machine spun tissue in my trouser pocket. I’m free of junk, miserable as sin.

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For My Grandchildren Who Can Read I am no longer in the front row for life. I’ve got the cheaper ticket for a seat at the back, but can’t stand up to see even a little bit of the whole thing. That’s why I had the ‘tats’ done on Saturday. DO NOT RESUCCIATE black and fat on my bony, unattractive chest, and PTO on my flipside. The nice tattoo man didn’t bat an eyelid, and I didn’t wince, not once, while the gun stamped its mark on me. I don’t want to be held up when I want to see what’s beyond, when I’m ready to go. Death shouldn’t be a great achievement, that takes forever. I don’t want to come back to life eat everything mashed, make impossible demands, only to watch eyes roll, while they figure out how to tell me it can’t be done. I made this choice before you were even blips. Life wouldn’t be a miracle for me, if I came back after I’d died. So make sure people look, so I don’t.

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When We Want Silence We wear our dirty, ivory miniskirts like belts. Our Spice Girl shoes like moon boots. We smoke our fags like we’re eating the ripest, sweetest, sexiest figs, and believe everything the newspapers tell us is true. When we want a sort of silence, we go to the slice of a wood, become dwellers in the shadows of the old oaks. It smells of dog shit and wild garlic, the sun hardly gets a look in. We kick mushrooms over and regret it, rub our wrists with sap and sniff it, pretend we’re goddesses of the great green. We gabble on about guys we’re like to do it to, and guys we wouldn’t, even if the world depended on it, and how nice our bellies look since we started doing sit ups every now and then. Sometimes, we kiss. Our Jammie Wagon Wheels and Tango can aren’t enough to last, so we collapse at your Nanna’s kitchen table and drink pint glasses of Coca Cola to keep ourselves awake.

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With Our Backs To The Rest of The World You laugh behind your hands, so hard it’s as though you’re sucking your life lines in through your lips. I pick sand out from between my teeth. The Golden Delicious is banished off your Mum’s tartan rug. You said on the bus eating an apple on the beach was a bad idea. But I was still hungry baguettes filled with cheese slices and marg. You make art in the sand and don’t care if it falls down. You pile it back together with another heavy bucket. I watch you, so persistent yet patient. I can see your black bra through your white, skimpy vest top. Your shoulders are goose pimpled, hair lose and everywhere. So fucking beautiful. The sea is coming closer. But you want to stay. You’re not scared of the sea, you’d live in it if you could. But you pretend you are, so I show some tenderness, instead of acting shy and defensive, like I did when you mentioned you take pink pills, purple pills and blue pills. You didn’t want to tell me what you take them for. Not yet. You let me play with the thin gold chain around your neck. My fingers trace your collarbone, like vampires do in the old movies. You are suddenly everywhere, hot headed and lovely, twisting my arms. I softly bite your white skin. It’s cold and smells of mango and coconut. I don’t want to go to work but you’re ready. You shake your clothes, smack your hands, and we skulk back up the bank to the town.

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Visiting Evelyn Pateley Bridge lead mining village. I go to find where Nanna is, but find nowt to say whereabouts she’s laid. I call the council, who in the click of a PC switch, direct me to a spot of unconsecrated ground, where, head bowed, I sit awhile. Heart wobbling with recollection, I trudge to the Royal Oak. I was treated, forty years back, to a slap-up meal for my tenth, scampi and chips in a napkin layered basket. My best mate Janet had chicken and passed me The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, dated and signed in fountain pen scrawl. I dressed in my finest. Velvet chestnut skirt, alabaster shirt with fancy romantic frills, glittery, sexy sandals. Memories seep back of Nanna, soft and plump, smelling of vix vapour rub, filling her funny, small kitchen with her ample sized bottom and making toast over the fire. She’d have me go to Mr Ray’s paper shop for an ounce of chocolate éclairs and 10 Embassy Regal. We’d watch the wrestling in Harrogate Hall on her little black and white telly and the football. She’d laugh at Bobby Charlton with his comb over. I miss the little ladies scrumpled face, her uncomfortable suite with the wooden arms and being told not to go to the Milk Bar where the youths hung out.

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You Find Them He takes fifty pence for it, a steriliser goes for sixty, a tiny pair of sneakers for seventy. I hold the cornflower dress, dry as matches, against my body, while I walk, in slow motion, looking in boots of strangers’ cars, bargaining for pieces of their pasts. I can still smell the baby powder, see white patches on the lining. Today I saw God. He was young, wore an Adidas baseball cap, and drank coffee out of a steaming flask.

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Meresamun Hi-tech hospital scans, dive beneath your linen bandages, peek with state of the art computed tomography to peel away your story, reveal your shoulders. Through this creepy, close relationship, we determine precise indications, sex, age, attractiveness, diet, lifestyle. We may know you better than you knew yourself. Your teeth we’re worn down by stone ground flour from the bread you ate. You lived for Amun, acted as a singing priestess performing rituals at a Temple in Thebes, 800 years before Christ. Your dice number of death is still unknown, yet, we can determine your remaining organs, those almond shaped stones in the sockets of your eyes In 1991 you were fuzzy, a flicker of an eerie image. Now, we see subtitles about you, scan cross sections of your body, producing 1,000 times more data than in 1991. Your measurements are still beautiful.

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Alpha Old age snuck up on him, no warning call, no sudden bite. He thought he’d run with the pack forever, locating pray by chance encounter, following fresh scent trails, emptying his stomach to fight, his deeply descending ribcage expanding with each heavy, beautiful breath. But now his joints are aching, white hairs glow in the tip of his tail, fractured ribs rub sore, his paws are tired, his eyesight pooling into pitch. Yet, no sign of weakness in the alpha male. No sign of weakness. Not yet. Winter is on the horizon. Before long, snow will stamp its mark, quiet will come for a while. The alpha knows he will not live to see this. Out of the early morning mist, rising from the river like breath, the alpha pads from its banks, licking his wet chops. There is a howl to assemble the pack With no sign of weakness, he walks into the wind sheltered woods, heavy head high, triangular ears up, muzzle skywards, to the early stars. No sign of weakness. Not yet. Then he is gone, swallowed by the mouth of the forest.

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Can’t Remember If We Used Tongues A fox screams outside my window. You look panicked, like the first time you saw me with the scarf around my head. You said the history on my face had been wiped away, then covered your mouth. You thought if you turned I wouldn’t know you were crying, you would become invisible, things would be a bit better. Your wrist is purple and blue. I inherited my Granddad’s strong fingers. I wanted to break one of your ribs the other day, show you how tight I could hold you. You were determined to go through the ‘dying with cancer’ section of the Macmillan website. I broke my laptop, spat in your face. All I want to do is recall how we kissed the first time, and if we used tongues.

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Almost There You haven’t acknowledged it with words yet, but know it is coming and there is nothing you can do, but go and go smiling, like the loose ends have all been tied and you are ready. I have had time to practise my mood, but my head is filled with traffic, of places we haven’t been to, forests we haven’t fucked in. My fingers have been interlocked with yours for several hours. It is six o’clock. Dusk is settling. Things start to happen. It’s raining and it sounds lovely. Everyone is praying outside the door. I can hear them, like the hum of hundreds of bees. I want to say it’ll do no good, but, like arctic wolves, they need to cope with the cold, endure the wintery conditions to come.

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Riding Home The bike is a dead beat old thing, with a clunky, rusty chain, flat-ish tyres and shit brakes. I don’t want to lean like a racer. I’m too drunk, I’ll flip forward and fuck up my face. It’s cold. Your arms like dead weights around my waist. I’m not sure if you’ve fallen asleep. Then you laugh in my ear and it tickles. I need to breathe to stay straight. We wobble off and out of the corner of my eye, I’m distracted by Northern lights. The gods are having a game of catch with planets and their moons. A fox flits out of the bushes like a spirit, tail flicking it watches our painfully slow progress, it’s teeth on show like its turned its mouth inside out. It steps forward, paws making indents in the frost. I peddle like the clappers. You laugh like a manic, your breath spinning stories in the night air.

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Scar It was as though giants had come in and cried on her body, when the cancer caught up, then overtook and chucked hate and hurt back in her direction. Sweat ran like a river across her face, her chest. We all wanted to hold her at the same time, get really close, creep under the covers, make to nuzzle her ravaged ravine of a body. Dad made a rota, Blue-taked it to the smelly, half-empty fridge. We all spent hours crying into our knees, until we could hold her. then we’d take it in turns to be startled and silent, against her chest that used to be as soft as eiderdown, and smell of oranges and geranium. On the last day, she was wide eyed, on top of the covers, out of her protection. So fragile, like a leaf skeleton. When she stopped throwing light around the room with her eyes, I banged the bedroom window, broke the glass. I still have the scar in the shape of a wonky star on my throat. I touch it and remember her, in days when she marched us round markets, pinned our nativity costumes, cooked casseroles and kissed Dad until we all screamed at her to stop.

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The Back of His Head His head, shaped like the inside of a shell shines copper, in the early morning summer sun. It’s not all that hot yet, but already he’s down to his tiny trunks. I tell him not to get to close to the seagulls. They look as though they’d grab his small shoulders, carry him off over the pier, towards chunks of ships in the distance, until his little, white body disappeared completely between the slither of sea and sky. He chuckles, looks at me. They have a special relationship these squawking birds that pray on potato, and my little boy. He swings chips towards them, like he’s a conductor in a phantom orchestra. They nip them straight out of his hand without touching the thin skin. And he’s digging deep again into the cone. I’m sure they’ve started opening earlier for us, that chip shop on the corner, near the arcades and volcano simulator. I ask him to keep his waterproof jacket on in case they crap on his shoulders. They haven’t yet and I don’t think they will. When we first came, he told me to stop slapping at them, and that look in his eyes. I lift my cupped hands. Wind does the rest. Gulls descend into choppy, excited waves, happy to have him home.

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Beyond Help This time I made it. On top of the word for a few, magnificent moments.

There is nobody stopping to hold my hand while my body rapidly, agonizingly shuts down and stops.

I reassured mum I wouldn’t be alone, climbers are on every stage of the trail. Climbing down, after my third attempt up, it is the coldest night of the year. It’s so easy when you’re going home, when you’re exhausted and think it’s safe to let your guard down. Oxygen is running low. I’m struggling to stop swaying. I’m too hot. Taking off my gloves is not out of the question. I want to bury my feet in snow. I’ve never hated snow, but it is taunting me now, whispering in my ears like an evil spirit. I want to walk on my bare knees, fall into an angel position on the slope. I want a pot of tea and three, no four pieces of hot toast with butter and honey. There is rubbish next to me, frosted, faded chocolate bar wrappers. I can’t see the faces of people who pass, only the way they walk, the way I did when I was going up. Air is so thin and hard it hurts my lungs. I’m still breathing but my fingers are turning black. I drag myself under an overhang.

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Outskirts  

'Like the lone wolf, on the outskirts of a town, we ought to look but turn away and move on...'

Outskirts  

'Like the lone wolf, on the outskirts of a town, we ought to look but turn away and move on...'

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