Catherine Brookes Julie Burke Teresa Forrest Anne Goodwin Jonty Levine Debbie Moss Fiona Robertson Caroline Salzedo Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang Jeanette Helen Wilson
This collection of work was published in 2015 by Nottingham Writers’ Studio, 25 Hockley, Nottingham NG1 1FH www.nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk
Collection copyright Nottingham Writers’ Studio Copyright for individual articles rests with the authors
Nottingham Writers’ Studio gratefully acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England
Printed in Great Britain by Russell Press, Nottingham
INTRoDuCTIoN ...................................................................................................................5 A MAN IS SWINGING Anne Goodwin.............................................................................7 FouR PoEMS Julie Burke ..............................................................................................10 HuMAN-PoINT-oH Jonty Levine...................................................................................14 SELLING YouRSELF SHoRT Fiona Robertson ...............................................................17 THE PoET Teresa Forrest ..............................................................................................18 JE SuIS VÉGÉTARIENNE Catherine Brookes ..................................................................20 LoVER EARTH Catherine Brookes ................................................................................29 DoN’T Go NEAR THE WATER! Caroline Salzedo ........................................................30 GHoSTS IN THE BRoMLEY HouSE LIBRARY Debbie Moss ...........................................32 “NoTHING To MY NAME” Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang ..................................................34 LoRRY GIRL Jeanette Helen Wilson .............................................................................41
Welcome to the fifth issue of the NWS journal. In this issue, we decided to forgo a theme to give our authors’ imaginations free rein. The Studio strongly believes in the validity and importance of all types of stories and considers freedom of choice in subject and approach as being a fundamental element of the writing profession. The “open” theme garnered our highest ever number of submissions and we are more than pleased with the stories we selected. The stories here range from an examination of the trials of being a vegetarian in France to comparing one’s father with the Greek gods, from revealing one’s sexuality to a loved one to intense soul-searching if one should change the fundamental nature of humanity. From such an open theme and wide range of subjects, we were intrigued to see a recurring theme emerge anyway: people seeking to make sense of the world around them. Like the characters they feature, we hope these stories will open your minds, expand your hearts and help you, too, see the world diﬀerently. The NWS Journal Editorial Team
A MAN IS SWINGING Anne Goodwin
Leaving the path, I thread through the trees, ducking under branches to plant a trail of mini chocolate bars within the laps of gnarled roots. Dead leaves crunch underfoot and, way behind, the voices of Margot and the kids rise in gleeful terror of lions and tigers and bears. “Daddy!” I spread my arms but the boy doesn’t leap into them. It’s not me that’s drawn him, nor even the glister of chocolate wrapper poking through leaf mould. He stops, scratches his nose, scratches his backside for good measure. Initially, I make as little sense of it as he does. A liana connecting branch to forest floor, maybe, but this isn’t the rainforest. “Why’s that man swinging from the tree?” He isn’t swinging, but all that prevents it is the toecap of one trainer, and now me. “Get the kids back to the car!” I watch the mother-mask smooth the horror from Margot’s face as she takes their hands, tells them to look for the yellow-brick road and says there’s chocolate back at the car. I wonder if she knows that there isn’t. It seems too risky to try and cut him down on my own and, besides, who but a Boy Scout carries a penknife? I take the weight of the man’s legs so he doesn’t have to stay on his points like a ballerina. His trainers are pristine white, apart from the smear of mud on the left toecap. “Won’t be long now. My wife’s gone to call 999.” 7
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo In response, he gurgles, like some Mongolian throat singer. I guess he can’t talk with the rope pulling at his vocal chords. But he doesn’t struggle, doesn’t fight me. He must’ve wanted to be saved. I hug his legs tight to my chest. His jeans smell new. I think of my kids awakening in the night from a bad dream as I croon: “Help’s on its way.” I wonder who’ll get here first: the fire service to cut him down; the paramedics to revive him; the police? There’s a tingling of protest in my biceps, but this is nothing, I tell them, they’ve been through worse in the gym. The man croaks and splutters. I hold him steady, whispering soothing nonsense. I don’t know what else I can do. From this position, clutching his legs just above his knees, I can’t see much of the man beyond the rope around his neck. I doubt I’d recognise him if I saw him down the pub. How much time has passed? At this rate, I’m not so sure he’ll live to go down the pub. My arms are whining like the kids when not even the promise of a super-size chocolate bar will entice them to walk any farther. Couldn’t he have had the grace to go on a diet before bringing his noose to the woods? As for Margot, how long can one woman take to ring the emergency services, even with two little kids in tow? My own phone is in the breast pocket of my jacket, squashed between his legs and my heart. I realise I should have phoned before I grabbed him, that’s what Margot would have expected. I picture her sitting in the car, the kids disillusioned with The Wizard of oz already, wondering why I’m not back. Could I support the legs one-handed and make the call now? Physically, it might be possible, despite my aching arms, but my brain will not sanction my muscles to change course. I seem to have entered the world of the suicide, where passivity rules. once he jumped from the tree with the rope around his neck, he surrendered his will to the chance passing of a stranger. When I bore the weight of his legs, I 8
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo married my fate to his. That I did so with the understanding that we’d soon be rescued doesn’t change the fact that I chose him over my family. Dusk comes early to the woods. We can’t be more than twenty paces from the path, yet I haven’t heard another human voice in all this time I’ve been playing nursemaid to the suicide. Though the area is small, more a place for sedate family outings than for expeditions, and our home, with its cheer of children’s toys, is only a ten-minute drive away, I feel as if we’ve both been cast out. I think of Margot hurrying the kids along, little Archie demanding to know what that man was doing and Lulu stamping her foot and saying she wanted to stay with Daddy. Margot stumbling over tree roots while trying not to lose it with the kids while trying not to remember the day she found her sister. Margot inadvertently heading oﬀ in the opposite direction to the car park, lost in the woods as well as her own mind, even though it’s more like a municipal park than rainforest, even though it’s not exactly the back of beyond. Margot finally reaching the car, carrying Lulu who has somehow lost a shoe; Archie limping from a gash on his leg and wanting to be carried too. But Margot can’t get in the car because I’ve got the key. I can feel the lump of it, brushed up against my phone, between the suicide’s legs and my heart. I jog along the forest path towards the car park. In the distance, a siren, but I can’t tell if it’s fire, police or ambulance. I can hardly feel my arms as they swing by my sides. Behind me, in the woods, a man is swinging from a tree. Anne Goodwin loves fiction for the freedom to contradict and continually reinvent herself. She has published short stories and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, is published in 2015 by Inspired Quill. Her website is at: firstname.lastname@example.org and she tweets at @Annecdotist.
FOUR POEMS Julie Burke
Just Beautiful I’m not perfect, I’m meant to look this way. I have no need to plump or peel or pluck. I’ll never have a tan – not real, not spray, I won’t indulge in botox, nip or tuck… although my flesh won’t fit the way it did; my wayward hair’s not styled as such, just worn to hide my weary brow and drooping lids; my doughy belly screams of babies borne. I’ve earned the right to be the me I am… a life lived well will leave a legacy. I will not fabricate a worthless sham and what you get is more than what you see.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo
Crumpets (after reading “Tea” by Carol Ann Duﬀy) I love toasting crumpets: The succulent texture, bubbled by yeast and butter puddling around my warm teatime feast. And when I smell them… hot, crisp, I’m prickled by memories of this childhood treat; of long-handled fork and knuckle-singeing heat, and dark winter kitchens with coke in the scuttle and the open stove door breathing ash and warm soot onto a flag-stoned floor. Watchfully turning my crumpet… forearm aching, while the radiant embrace deliberately scorches its dough-pale face. Crumpets and tea. No need for jam, or honey, or cheese. I will eat my butter-drenched crumpets until I am replete.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERSâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; STuDIo
Thankful Villages They marched away, fresh, straight-laced and shiny black with spit and polish. We gloried in their going and sang their praises for doing that duty. When we gathered them home, muddied and bloodied, battered and torn, soles worn; some of them were tongue-tied, some couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t march at all. We raised our memorial not from stone but from prayers of joy and gratitude. We are the Thankful few: the boots we sent all returned.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo
Hero Heracles of the jammed jar lid, odysseus of the long-winded car trip, Daedalus of the paper aeroplane, Perseus of the Sports Day Parents’ Race, That’s you, Dad. Prometheus of the Bonfire Night barbecue, King Midas of the pocket money, orpheus soothing sibling squabbles, Jason chasing away monsters at bedtime; That’s you Dad, always you. Like Achilles you battled, noble to the end. Now I see your echo in my son’s eyes.
Julie Burke ran a balloon shop in Newcastle-uponTyne for six years before moving back to her native Nottingham. She's also served time as an au pair, English coach, toymaker, library assistant, biscuit inspector and sandwich vendor. She prefers writing poetry and recently had a little flurry of pieces published.
HUMAN-POINT-OH Jonty Levine
Everyone was saying this’d be the best thing to happen to humanity since opposable thumbs, or some other huge milestone. This ‘update’ was going to carry us to a new plane of existence. or possibly destroy us; we just didn’t know. I personally didn’t buy all the hype – “It’s just a point update,” I’d say when someone brought up the topic. Don’t get me wrong – it was a big deal. I can see why the news channels were covering it 24/7, despite there being nothing new to cover. of course people took to the internet to speculate. And I saw an interesting essay about how a benevolent god might have planned the update to remove all prejudice from our minds. But most every other comment seemed to be someone’s wishlist of the awesome superpowers they wish we all had. And yes, it was all of us. Seven billion people saw the progress bar at the exact same time, in the corners of their eyes, at 1% and counting. Alongside it were a few words telling them they would soon be updated to Version 1.1 of humanity. No one yet knew what this would do to us, or if there was any way to stop it. Some people actually committed suicide before it finished, reasoning that if they were to be changed into something not human, they’d rather die with their humanity intact. So yes, I can see why this was a big deal. It’s just... I wish it wasn’t. After three months, the progress bar reached 100%, and something happened that few of us expected. No one changed immediately, but in the corners of our eyes there appeared a new notification: Human Update 1.1. Hold your breath for 10 seconds to finish installation. 14
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo It was so simple: hold your breath for ten seconds. That was it. People were afraid to do it, and rightly so. But with seven billion of us all poised to undergo the same transformation, someone was bound to try it first. People curious to see what would happen, and those with nothing to lose, were among the first to change. Ten seconds without breathing, and they were bathed in a silvery light, and then... Luckily for us, the eﬀects were non-deadly. Those who’d been holding out for a biblical apocalypse were duly disappointed. In fact, the most immediately obvious change was the loss of all freckles as their skin turned to a marble-smooth complexion. over the next few hours, those who underwent the change lost all their bodily hair, except for on top of their heads. Conversely, bald people’s hair grew back. And hair that’d gone grey with age gained its colour once more. Many people compared it to the ‘various interface improvements and bug fixes’ of a typical software update. Losing their freckles, I suppose, was one of these socalled ‘interface improvements’. over the next few weeks, some of the subtler changes became apparent. Vulnerability to certain autoimmune diseases went away. Poison ivy ceased to have an eﬀect on them. And allergies to nuts went away entirely. one of the more interesting changes though was the need to sleep. People who’d undergone the update, or ‘human-point-ones’ as they are called, found they felt fully rested after three or four hours asleep, as opposed to the usual seven or eight hours for us ‘point-ohs’. And yes, I am still a point-oh. We still exist, thank you very much. I don’t need a reason for not ‘upgrading’, though I do have one. I like the freckles, okay? I also think some men look better with beards – there, I said it! I don’t want to change just because everyone else is. I think the update robs us of our diﬀerences. It’s well known that some subtle racial features are erased by the update, but none of the point-ones seem to care. And those people are now the vast majority. Within the first week, over 60% of the world population had changed into point-ones, and people like me are in an ever-dwindling minority. 15
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo It’s getting harder and harder to live normally without finishing the installation, becoming like one of them. People won’t let you rest! Since we’re supposed to all sleep for four hours a night now, we’re expected to spend the extra time working. Because apparently the thing to do when you free up four hours a day is to not enjoy any of it! There is this widely held belief that the update really did erase our prejudices. Most of this, however, is pure media spin. While it is true that racism is going out of fashion, and some old grudges have been set aside, the truth is that point-ones are more tolerant... towards each other. Yet they see nothing wrong with treating the point-ohs as an inferior species. “If you don’t like it, accept the update,” they always say. That’s not the only benefit, they say. It also increases your selfcontrol towards food. And it will improve your sex life, they say. Those point-ones think they’re so bloody perfect! Don’t think I haven’t considered taking the update myself. All I’d have to do is hold my breath for ten seconds. That’s the scary part. If I’m not careful, I could do it accidentally. Anyway, it’s become so much a matter of principle now. Not being able to go scuba diving is the least of my problems. Remaining a point-oh has its challenges, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I can avoid this update for as long as possible, preferably the rest of my life, then it might have been worth something. And after I’m gone, I hope they put me in a museum. Then future generations might gaze upon my grey hair and imperfect skin, and learn of a strange extinct species that once ruled the world: human-point-oh.
Jonty Levine hated writing stories as a child. His teaching assistants will attest to this! Then one day inspiration struck. It stayed with him, and eventually he made the bewildering decision to become an author, and write stories. Jonty has published his works online, in anthologies, on university Radio Nottingham, and is currently working on his first fulllength novel, Super Wimps.
SELLING YOURSELF SHORT Fiona Robertson My guess is That you’re trying to not be what you are So wonderfully, hysterically futile My guess is That you’re selling yourself short I know I did I kept my sights in check Punched well below my weight Procrastinated, dissembled And came up with a hundred excuses Believing that if I hid beneath the parapet I might escape the inescapable Trying not to be this Made me mad Not all-out bonkers insane But contained, constrained, numb Then the lying came to an abrupt halt There I was, totally exposed Deeply insecure, stumbling uncertainly Rendered utterly incapable of being anything other than this, here, now And inexplicably happy
Fiona Robertson began writing poetry in 2013. She also writes about self-inquiry, awakening, anxiety, and all the other thrills and spills of being human. Her first book will be published by Nonduality Press in the next few months. She’s lived in Nottingham since 1979. You can read more of her writings at www.whilstwalkingjack.blogspot.com and www.beyondourbeliefs.org
THE POET Teresa Forrest
In ragged coat, on rattling cart, the word-gatherer comes Ra-boh, Ra-boh, Ra-boh, he calls. out of houses people drift, drop words as dull as stones. His bony fingers pick through smut to find his hoard of glistening or soon to be… With eyes that shine like magpies’ lore, he polishes and gives me this: A cherry orchard Words ripen on fragile branch Stain pale lips harlot He bows; his coat-tails dance. He puts his knobbly fingers to his lips, hushes, come close, listen… If you are drab and groping for the light I alone can snatch you from the dark. Endowed with words and images so bright come press yourself against my rhythmic heart.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo
When words drop languid from your pouty mouth I’ll scoop them up and softly I’ll pursue the art of love and with most solemn vows I’ll give words wings but let them fly to you His laughter glitters in the air, he dances cha cha cha then bends and with a shivering sigh whispers morsels in my ear, that jangle down my spine. He breathes: I place a band upon your finger no beginning, no end for us but love splendid, love aurous in perpetuity we linger His hands make curlicues in air a final bow, a sweet goodbye, he sways his hips, he sways his hips, Farewell, farewell from trembling lips...
Teresa Forrest is originally from a small town in Northern Ireland. She did a degree in Sociology at Queen’s university, Belfast. She has had poems published in Poetry Nottingham, Iota and a littleknown poetry anthology, A Woman’s Place, and she won the 2014 DH Lawrence Heritage poetry competition.
JE SUIS VÉGÉTARIENNE Catherine Brookes
Paris had become a trap. Ellen was glad she would be breathing diﬀerent air today. She moved the raked dust of the formal garden with her plastic shoe and waited to be met. It was still early. The city was flushing the taste of the night before from the cobbles with gushes of water, as if with mouthwash. A sparrow hopped down from the box hedge and picked at the chicken bone which had dropped from some picnic. A Parisienne was walking towards her in court shoes, with collar turned up against an imaginary breeze, hair freshly cut. Ellen was idly seeking the unexpected in her appearance when she realised the woman was smiling. “Ellen?” she said. “Madame. Enchantée.” She had never met Magaly’s mother, but had agreed it would be best to travel south in the car, and Magaly would follow by train later. At the car, Madame swiftly brushed the formal dust from her shoes with a cloth from her glove compartment. In the passenger seat sat an older lady with a pair of Jackie onassis sunglasses and a white chignon. “Maman, or rather Grand-mère to you,” smiled Madame. They were four hours south of Paris when food once again became important. The Mesdames began an intricate comparison of suitable places to make their midday meal. They settled at last on a dusty house which reared up by the roadside without warning. Ellen followed them inside and settled herself at a table in the garden while the Mesdames went inside. 20
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo When they came back, the young boy of the house came also and set out fresh bread, red cloth napkins and sharp knives. They sat expectant, familiar at table, yet not having spoken much. “I hope you will like it. We have been coming here for many years. It is part of our holiday, almost,” said Madame and smiled. Ellen waited for the menu to appear so she could request her omelette fines herbes and green salad, but it did not arrive. When she became tired of watching smoke drift over the garden wall and began to hear a crescendo of spattering fat, hunger overcame her reserve. “Shall I find the waiter?” she oﬀered. “He will bring us the meal as soon as it is ready,” soothed Madame. “It sounds nearly done.” The waiter carried three large plates balanced along his arms. on each plate a haunch of lamb glistened. Grand-mère picked up her knife. Her eyes were shining. Madame crinkled her brow in admiration and made a gentle moan. They exchanged a look of complicit delight, like lovers. Ellen looked down at her plate. The lamb was laid over with crisp fat and oozed beneath, mingling juices with blood. Shavings of singed herbs, rosemary and sage were melded to the flesh. Madame struck cleanly down towards the bone. Swift as a surgeon, she sliced it, then swept a cutlass-stroke to slide the slices onto her plate. Grand-mère preferred to take her pleasures singly. one at a time, she cut a curve of meat, a bonne bouche, and fitted it to her mouth. She swabbed her mouth each time with a hunk of soft white bread, scratching her wet lips with the crust. Ellen could only watch. Surely Magaly had explained. Surely she had mentioned, in all the preparations and planning. But then, Magaly was like that. So careful with friendship one week, the next all cast aside for some family event which nothing could defile, leaving Ellen a stranger at the feast. Now they were not even aware of her distress. The fat of the lamb melted up its smell, curdling her stomach. She could feel it climbing into her hair, seeking out her mouth, smearing onto 21
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo her skin so she should carry the smell with her always, like smoke. Madame now took the bone in her hand. “Inside the bone is the sweetest part,” she said to Grand-mère, and seemed to press it with her red nails to squeeze out the very marrow. “But Ellen, you do not eat, you must be hungry and the grillade here is superb, not like in your Britain.” The women laughed. She must attempt an explanation. “I can’t eat this,” she started bravely. Madame stopped sucking the bone for a moment. “I would like an omelette; I’ll go and ask them.” She jumped to her feet as she finished her sentence and went to put her request to the kitchens. When she returned her meat had gone. on Madame’s plate there were now two sucked bones. The women sat back and appeared to doze behind their sunglasses, like lionesses in shade. The waiter brought the omelette with bad grace. Ellen ate, although her throat was dry from worry. They sat in the sun until Ellen feared she would burn. The Mesdames were silent and languorous until the unspoken hour came for leaving. It was late when they arrived at the villa. Ellen could feel the air thin as they pulled away from the coast towards the mountain perch. They carried all the boxes and bags in from the car, crunching across gravel, slipping across tiled floors. The night was the smell of crushed lavender, the sound of her sandals creaking on the wooden bedroom floors. When she lay to sleep the cicadas strumming in the bushes came into her dreams and were saying “Magaly will explain... Magaly will explain.” The sun was already up in the sky when she came down for breakfast. There was a place set for her at the table on the terrasse. She poured her coﬀee and warmed milk into the large bowl and drank deeply. She balanced her slice of bread and biscottes carefully on the napkin which served as a plate. For some time she was alone. Even in the shade the light found her eyes. She heard the car draw up and tried to count the feet which were crunching gravel. “Ellen,” said Magaly as she swept her up for a double kiss on each cheek. “Maman and Grand-mère came to meet me. They said you would 22
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo hardly eat anything yesterday, are you well? You know we eat constantly in this house.” Before Ellen could begin a delicate explanation, Maman was calling out, a flash of white cotton and bronze from the dark kitchen. “When you have eaten a little something and said hello, I would appreciate your help in preparing the lunch.” “See what I mean, here we have half an hour oﬀ between clearing up from one meal and preparing for the next.” Magaly was carefree, even at the school where they both worked. “It takes an hour from here to get to the nearest town, so Maman brought enough food for us to eat well for a few days while she picked me up from the station, what heaven. We could do with this after all those enfants terrible, n’est-ce pas?” Magaly showed her even white teeth as she smiled. Ellen and Magaly walked at first in the shade of the pines and then across the white of the chalk, raising dust from their fabric shoes. It was already hot. They soon lost the residual cool of the thick-walled house and followed a dry stream bed until they could look down. The winding road cut into the hillside scrub. The view was like a television picture with the sound turned down. “We must watch out for snakes” said Magaly cheerfully. “Maybe even scorpions,” she added enjoying the surprise on Ellen’s face. Ellen wondered if Magaly even liked her, and why she had been chosen as the companion for this mountain nest of French women. There was much besides words that she did not understand. She felt surrounded by predators, not among friends. “Rest and all will come right,” she told herself. Ellen helped Magaly set the table for their midday meal. She brought out cloths from the armoire. on the top shelf there was a silver bucket for cooling wine. Today they used things from the ordinary shelf although Maman and Grand-mère had been in the kitchen for three hours preparing the meal. Ellen took her place at the table. She was 23
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo facing away from the house. Beyond the table and the trellis rail, she could not see where the edge of the mountain fell away, just air. She felt that only smiling Magaly opposite kept her tethered to life at all. She wondered if she had sunstroke. Maman brought in the first dish. “oysters,” she said and set down a vast platter of glistening stones tressed with straggling weeds and lemon. “The lemon is for squeezing over. If they do not squirm you must not eat them, they are not good,” said Grand-mère as she reached for the stubby knife. Magaly and her mother smiled at each other and reached over to begin. Magaly cut the root of the tongue of the oyster, squeezed lemon over and closed her eyes. She savoured the saliva and salt rinsing the morsel as it silked the sides of her mouth and sloped down the channel of her tongue into her throat. The table was quiet while the women worshipped the oysters with their mouths. only later did they see Ellen had no shells on her plate, only breadcrumbs. “But Magaly explained,” said Maman. “She said you would not like too much meat, so I have prepared fish especially for you. Why do you not eat?” Ellen decided to make it clear. “Well it’s not quite that simple,” she started. There was a pause for conversation here, before the next course, so she took it. “I cannot eat any meat, none at all, and no fish either, and nothing made from either.” The Mesdames looked shocked. “Well what do you eat?” Ah, we shall have lots of chicken, maybe a guinea fowl.” For a moment they felt they had solved the riddle of Magaly’s friend. “No I’m afraid I can’t eat that either. I can’t eat anything that was alive.” “Well what about eggs, they could be alive?” “I can just about manage eggs, I am not a fanatic, you know.” “But why do you do this to yourself? How can you live in France? You will starve! Is it because you are ill in some way, with mal a l’estomac?” 24
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo “No, nothing like that.” Here they looked truly puzzled. “It is because I do not think it is good or healthy or...” here she searched for the right French word, “... kind to eat other animals.” It was at this point that it all became too much for them. It was as if they had discovered a dear friend had begun to see visions and wear rags. They all had to pretend somehow that it was understandable, and not disruptive for these strange events to recur thrice daily. Ellen explained she was not able to pick the vegetables out from the chicken stew and some cheese was found instead. Grand-mère poured some meat juices over her vegetables at supper because she wanted to be kind. Ellen had to ask for some more and felt like the last emperor, demanding unreasonable sacrifice from her staff. Alone at night, her stomach felt empty. He mind would not relax. She kept thinking of her mother. When she slept, mosquitoes sucked her blood. The next night they discovered that even onion soup was not vegetable enough: it was based on a good chicken stock. They looked together in the store cupboard for ideas. Even the tinned peas were cooked with little bits of bacon and lettuce, à mode Parisienne. Ellen took to cooking alongside the meals which drew them through their days. It was hard, waiting for the crucial points in the preparations of rich sauces, stirring casseroles, flying stingrays in black butter, in order to steam herself some leeks. She would sit at table with them and they would all try not to mind. Even if she were utterly normal in every other way, this one wilful piece of behaviour had undone their holiday, more than if she had slept with the postman. Friday came at last. M’sieur was arriving tonight and a special meal was made to honour him. Roquefort cheese glistened under anchovies, setting sail across the table in canapé boats. Mussels wept into the creamy shallots they swam in. Beef bled onto the grillade, sealing in its secret heart until release by crimson mouth. 25
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo All day, the preparations had kept the women scrubbing, debearding, marinating, macerating, sautéing their love in to dishes. Magaly and Ellen set the table from the special top shelf of the armoire. “Papa doesn’t have the chance to come down here for weekends very often. It’s so far from Paris and from restaurants,” she said slyly. “Maman tries to show him civilisation is where she is.” Ellen could feel a tension in the house, an adversarial edge between the women in their preparations to feed their man. Maman had worn similar clothes all week; elegant but quiet. Now she appeared with more the air of la Parisienne than before. The knot of scarf, the hair style, the shoes, all had walked by Ellen in the street many times this year. “Chic, Maman,” said Magaly. Grand-mère too had put on another dress. It was dark now. The baking day had been switched oﬀ. They sat waiting, flicking pistachios out of their shells with their tongues and soothing the salt wound with cassis. “At least you drink alcohol,” said Maman. Ellen felt that her trousers had become loose during the week of siege, as if her body had declined to digest. only one more weekend of the strange slow-motion struggle. Her hair had lightened from the sun and the skin on the backs of her hands had weathered as if they had spent a lifetime trimming sails. Magaly had the well-honed air of a tennis player, sleek and blonde. They were waiting, groomed and prancing, like horses in the paddock before the race. Headlights rounded the last curve of the hill. Magaly jumped up. The women swept through the salon, ready to greet Papa from his long drive. When M’sieur came through the caresses of his women at last, to sit politely on the terrasse with his aperitif and Ellen, he looked as if he belonged to the South. His eyes and skin were dark, his short-sleeved shirt open at the neck to show some animal hair beneath. “So you enjoy our country ways?” he enquired, “Although I hear my women have not been able to tempt you to eat enough.” He was also trying to be kind, but incomprehension is as cruel as target practice. 26
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo “À table tout le monde,” chirruped Grand-mère as she switched out artificial light to glaze the terrasse with candlelight. Ellen unrolled the cream napkin onto her lap, determined to play a part in the celebrations. The week of sun had gilded the women. The whites of their eyes shone as if under strobe lights. The points of their teeth curled smilingly from between their lips. Maman brought in a tray of exquisite mouthfuls. Ellen tried an olive, but found an anchovy stinging her tongue like an electric shock. She extricated the bony wire to the side of her plate and hoped to be unobserved. She took a marinated pepper, wholesome ripeness, red with the stalk put back like a hat. When her knife cut inside it met the juices of the breast of quail running in channels. Her fellows soaked the residues up to their mouths on bread sponges. Ellen quietly scraped the pepper away from the muscles of the tiny creature and perched swallows of fruit on the grandiose curve of her fork. Maman blushed when all said it was good. Ellen was swept along with the flickering light and the golden women with their pointed teeth. She longed for once to be a part of some grand celebration, not always on the outside. Her family had never sat down in all its constituent parts for a meal such as this. There was always someone missing or in trouble: her parents split into two straggling, makeshift households where life never stood still long enough to celebrate it all at once with ritual food. The table was quiet now that stomachs had been lined ready for the main course. Maman marched forward with a copper pan of flames which filled the centre of the white cloth with bubbling heat. Beefsteaks swam in the peppery cream ablaze with brandy. Papa made Ellen, the honoured guest, the gift of the tenderest slice. “For your appetite, ma petite,” he said kindly, “Taste it, taste it. Is it not good?” They all watched. She saw herself as if in a mirror. The knife, a special guest knife with a handle of horn, cut a slice almost for itself. The secret blood sacrificed by the tender flank touched the cream with pink as the knife drew through the last threads holding it away from 27
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo eating. The fork raised itself to her lips, a slice wetly stabbed on its tines. All she had to do was to open her mouth. The meat fell onto her tongue. She waited for a storm to break, her teeth to grow into fangs, the flowers to shriek her betrayal from the garden. Instead the cream lapped her tongue and her body took strength from the blood. Her teeth started to work, slowly chewing the mouthful down into its constituent elements. She wondered if she had grown horns, turned green. It had been ten years since she had vowed never to eat meat. She looked up to see if they were triumphant to have broken her into the world of flesh; but they were simply eating.
Catherine Haines has published scholarly articles and a textbook on student writing. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at NTu in 1999. Writing as Catherine Brookes, she has been longlisted by Mslexia and Good Housekeeping for two novels: Starling’s Bequest, about the taxidermist who exhibited the largest bull-elephant ever stuﬀed and Havana Honeymoon, about a course for would-be romantic writers and salsa dancers.
LOVER EARTH Catherine Brookes
I slice up my lover and donate her to the state. They hang her from the ceiling, coďŹ&#x192;ned in the vast core hall, witness to a hundred years of lovers. Lie in state my love, whose crust is ice, whose heart is fire. I will trace the tumbling secrets from her skin, fill notebooks with poems to her pitted face, tend algae blooming in her frozen core, measure time infinite in her foothills, build in my head a dream of her made whole, read lover earth to tell when is our now.
The British Geological Survey stores samples of rock from all surveys and exploration in British territories as a national resource. 29
DON’T GO NEAR THE WATER! Caroline Salzedo
I stand on the cliﬀ. The wind assails me, cool and cleansing. I lean into it, feeling the angle at which I can let go and it supports me. The sky arcs above me azure blue; the grass stretches around me in green billowing waves. I gaze towards the rippling sea, grey and opaque. Here on the Seven Sisters is my spiritual home. Here I can feel I am a goddess, a spirit whose energy emanates down into the earth from my feet: through all the rocks into the red-hot reservoirs at its centre; up into the universe from my outstretched hands, from the tips of my fingers, the top of my head to the invisible stars in their boundlessness; out from my whole body into the fresh sunshine, the vibrant air that covers the world. And inside there is a pulling, something buried deep like the molten liquid at the earth’s core, spurring me on. I walk towards the edge. I can feel the surges and pull of the tides. I can hear the boom of the waves drumming the base of the cliﬀ. A seagull vaults on the air currents in front of me. A taste of salt is in my mouth. Don’t go near the water! I hear the voice in my head, tiny and remote, warning me of the chalky edges crumbling away, the wind whipping me over… But I must go to the edge. It calls me. I am a goddess. I can leap out and rest like the seagull on the currents and spirals of the air. I can jump into a gust of wind and let it carry me away. 30
NoTTINGHAM WRITERSâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; STuDIo I can do anything â&#x20AC;&#x201C; all it takes is one leap, one step into the unknown. I am close now; the sea below looks white, foamy, wild. A restless beast like the one inside my breast. I am nearly all water. The sea is calling me home. Come to me darling. Dash your body, your brains and bones onto the earth that I caress, and free your waters: your blood, your saliva, your sweat, your lymph, your tears, your plasma. I can take it all and subsume it into this wonder of water. I can make you fully yourself, part of the whole, connected forever. Let your waters come back to me! Jump!
Caroline Salzedo is a Shiatsu practitioner and teacher, writer, wanderer and crone, who runs creative workshops incorporating movement and self-expression. A passion for writing is part of her spiritual practice, reflected in her pieces about body work, and the stories she writes, some based on her time in revolutionary Nicaragua in the 80s.
GHOSTS IN THE BROMLEY HOUSE LIBRARY Debbie Moss
Saturday, eight hours since glints of sunlight crossed a brass meridian A polished line in a small room on the first floor only lights flickering in the Market Square Seep in through small panes and shine on worn oak. Lawrence sails past shelves of sleeping poets Inky hands wrapped round a jar Modernity’s tongue spills out, smearing the glass. ‘The poetry inside,’ says Lawrence, nudging Byron treading the creaking twisted stairs. Byron whines and whispers to Lawrence, ‘New ways are only greatest for those already great.’ Sillitoe leans against the cracked window and coughs. He is listening to the Mouthy Poets Say Sum Thin in the Square. ‘Come you two, there’s something here for those like us who perhaps knew old ways can change and lives made better With words which must be spoken For young lives which have been broken.’ And the poets listened for hours To women witness the words’ power.
NoTTINGHAM WRITERSâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; STuDIo
When the mouths had left The poets drifted back to their shelves, and jammed new words until Four hours from solar noon, and for the sun to cross that brass But today is Sunday and only the ghosts will see it pass.
Debbie Moss has completed an MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham university. Before this she was a Geography Course Leader on the PGCE course at Keele university, after teaching for 23 years in schools in London and Nottingham. She completed a Fellowship in Holocaust Education with the Imperial War Museum in 2009 and used this work to inform her dissertation.
“NOTHING TO MY NAME” Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang
Robert Fay had not been back to China since 1989. At the time, he’d been desperate to return to Beijing to find out what had happened to her, but it would have been madness. He’d stayed until the end. It was what Ting Ting had wanted: never to give up. He had loved her, and so he too had stayed, until the night the soldiers came and the tanks rolled in. Now, a quarter of a century later, he finds himself at a reception in a Beijing hotel, a member of a delegation seeking to promote links with China. “Huanying guanlin!” The waitress in a red and black cheongsam welcomes him. “I am here with university Delegation,” he says in English. “I am a bit early.” He follows her over the miniature moon bridge into the restaurant and takes a seat in the bar area. She brings him a Qingdao beer. It tastes like that summer all those years ago, sweet of hope and blood, so that he is young and old at the same time. It’s July. He knows that outside it is steaming hot. He has been in one meeting after another ever since his arrival in Beijing and the only time he has felt a breath of air on his face was when he walked from the airport to the taxi. A Chinese violin, an erhu, plays Butterfly Lovers, soothing through the music loop. The sound conjures Ting Ting before him, her hair cropped short like a boy, sitting cross-legged in the midst of the litter 34
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo and stink in Tiananmen Square, playing this song on her erhu to encourage the other student protestors. She was a natural talent and wanted to go to London to study music. She had carried her little wooden erhu in its battered black box on her back all through that summer, playing Butterfly Lovers, The Internationale, and even picking up the melody from Cui Jian’s rock song Nothing to My Name, so others could sing along. It was the song on all their lips that long short summer. It is nearly noon. The carp meander around their artificial river, hiding under the half-moon bridge. At the far end of their indoor pool, water glides down a sheer glass waterfall against a painted backdrop of mountains and clouds. “Professor Fay,” the Dean of the Chinese university reaches out to take his hand. “Welcome to China! Come, please make yourself at home.” Another banquet ritual begins; hot towels, tea, nuts and pickles. The round centre of the table turns. “Kai dong!” The Dean raises his chopsticks. “Is this your first visit to China?” asks the young student next to him as she hooks a pancake and puts it on his plate. “Yes,” he says. It is easier not to say more. She is a student of business and economics, and part of the MBA exchange programme that his Vice-Chancellor has roped him into promoting. Her name is Vivian. She adds slices of Peking Duck, cucumber, spring onions and a dollop of sauce to his plate. “There’s lots to see in Beijing, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace.” Her English is clear and precise with a slight American accent. The sauce floods out of the end of his pancake, dripping onto the plate as he bites. “Actually, I was thinking of walking to Tiananmen Square after lunch.” It is on the tip of his tongue to say that Beijing has changed such 35
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo a lot since his student days and that he is bound to get lost, but he says nothing. “I can take you if you like? It’s not far.” The hotel doorman offers to get them a taxi but Vivian shakes her head, opening her Louis Vuitton handbag and offering Robert a fresh paper face mask as if she were giving a child a tissue to blow his nose. “China, pollution, very bad.” The mask muffles her voice as she adjusts it behind her ears. Her blue and black dress is too short and tight and her heels too high. Click-clacking at his side, she struggles to keep up. He feels sorry for her now. Poor girl! She is taking sightseeing a balding, recentlydivorced foreigner with a beer belly who is old enough to be her father, and who has been economical with the truth. He slows his pace. Even so, they are walking faster than the cars which are bumper to bumper on Chang’an Avenue. She is asking him about European law, his area of speciality, and he hears a part of him giving the usual answers. “The Eu was born out of the Second World War. Its powers derive from each member state.” She is a bright cookie. His nose begins to run and his eyes stream. He wishes he had accepted her oﬀer of a mask. There is not a bicycle in sight but in his mind there are seas of them, silent black tides of heads criss-crossing with trucks full of people waving red and white banners that flutter in the breeze. They pass lines of green and white tour buses. A Japanese group in yellow baseball caps and trainers power-walks past them. A tall policeman with a radio stops them at the security barrier. Expressionless as a waxwork, he peers into Vivian’s handbag, looks at Robert’s passport and her ID, and with white gloves wave them through the airport-style metal detector. Before Robert realises it, they are swallowed by the great expanse that is Tiannamen Square. He remembers it by its folk name, The 36
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo People’s Square. Today, the people in it are scattered flocks of pigeons. Everything is white, over-exposed like concrete snow, except it is July. A raucous voice like that of a Chinese Rod Steward echoes in his mind. He remembers a skinny young man with a guitar and a fringe that covers his eyes, singing in the spotlight centre stage. Behind him is the plaster statue of the Goddess of Democracy and behind that the portrait of Mao Zedong on the Tiananmen Gate. Wǒ céngjīng wèn gè bùxiū nǐ héshí gēn wǒ zǒu I have asked you endlessly when will you go with me? The opening lyrics hang in the air. But you always laugh at me, for having nothing to my name. Robert’s arm is around Ting Ting. Her shoulder are thin and sharp. He smells her sweat and that of thousands of others who were there that night in May 1989 at the pop concert in Tiananmen Square. I want to give you my dreams and my freedom, but you always laugh at me, for having nothing to my name. Ting Ting’s head rests on his shoulder. The notes of a flute fly like a lark high in the sky. They are all on their feet waving banners, singing the chorus. Oh! When will you go with me? 37
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo A clarinet slashes the heavens, screeches at the stars. The drums beat and everyone is clapping, stamping their feet and jigging an awkward reel. A generation that has never danced is learning how to rock and roll. The ground beneath my feet is moving, the water by my side is flowing. Oh! When will you go with me? Vivian has pulled her face mask down and is pointing out the landmarks: The Monument to the People’s Heroes, The Great Hall of the People. Her lips are moving, as if she is acting a silent film, for he does not hear the words. “Are you all right? Professor Fay?” He wipes his brow with his handkerchief. “Yes. I am fine,” he says in Chinese. Her face falls like a child who had been taken somewhere under false pretences. “I am sorry. I was here before; as a student in 1989.” Her eyes flit from left to right. She looks at the ground, at the Great Hall of the People and giggles uncomfortably. He insists on taking her to tea, and they are sitting on brown leather chairs in Starbucks. Her fork hovers over the top of her sponge cake topped with chocolate whirls. only now is she looking him again in the eye, cautiously, over the top of her coffee cup. He is talking Chinese, for that is the language of his memory. “It was my fault,” he says. “I stayed with Ting Ting and the Chinese students at the foot of Monument until the soldiers got to us. We all voted to leave in the early hours of the morning. Ting Ting wanted to stay but I told her that this time the army had not come back to play. We left in long lines, holding hands for safety in the dark, but ran into three tanks on Chang’an Avenue. They were firing tear gas and chasing 38
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo us. Do you know how fast a tank can drive?” Robert stabs his muffin with his fork. “A man next to me was trying to run away but he wasn’t quick enough. The tank ran him over. His legs were crushed so all the tendons hung loose like a jellyfish. It was then that I let go of Ting Ting’s hand. I shouted for her to run, but when I looked round she was nowhere to be seen. “I looked all over for her – in the hospitals that smelled of sweet over-ripe watermelons, in the alleys, and I even tried to go back into the Square, but they were shooting people in the back. In the dormitory at the university, her bedding roll was neatly folded from the morning before and her erhu was still hanging on the side of her bunk. For some reason she had not taken it with her that night. I waited there for two days without food, drinking cold tea from a thermos flask and eating watermelon seeds and rotten peaches, still hoping for news. All the other Chinese students quickly disappeared. They went home or into hiding. But she never came back. I had no way of contacting her family and so when one of my teachers came and insisted that I leave for the British Embassy for my own safety, I took her erhu with me. I have kept it with me in England all these years. Robert picks at the muffin. It looks to him now like a head that has had its front blown off with the brains are spilling out. “Eighteen months later, I got a fax from a friend who had fled to Paris. He had heard from her parents in Harbin. He told me that she was dead. Her body was never found.” He walks Vivian to the subway station and gives her his business card, telling her to come and see him in his oﬃce when she gets to England. She is about the same age as his daughter. They would get on. In his hotel room, Robert places a battered black box on the white bedspread and takes out Ting Ting’s erhu. The strings hang loose, for it has not been played for over a quarter of a century and he does not know how to tune it, but it is still polished to a shine. He lays his iPad 39
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo next to it, clicking on the link to Cui Jian’s song. It is the mellow, measured voice of the older man. Robert goes the window and looks down on the night. Far below the car headlights flit and float like fireflies. I tell you, I’ve waited a long time, I give you my final request, I want to take your hands, and then you’ll go with me. This time your hands are trembling, this time your tears are flowing. Could it be that you’re telling me, you love me with nothing to my name?
Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is the author of The Woman Who Lost China, published in 2013. Her poem, Oxford is a Port, won the 2014 Melbourne Poetry Festival and she was a runner up in the Woman and Home Short Story Competition. She has had work broadcast on BBC Radio and contributes to the literary journal Asian Cha. She is working on her next two novels, and is looking for an agent to represent her. www.rhiannonjenkinstsang.com
LORRY GIRL Jeanette Helen Wilson
I’m a lorry girl. I’m Meggie Phipps. Sometimes I forget which came first. Things get mixed up in my mind. Spam sarnies in cafés. Fag ends in cut glass on wonky-legged tables. A daily parade of lorry men. Cups of char on him. Then his hands on me. Sometimes, from A to B doesn’t seem long enough. Char’s barely down my gullet before he’s inside my skin. Polite, like. Saying ‘Thank you, miss,’ as if I’d got the choice. on the doss under his canvas, back of his lorry. I’ll be cleaning it later. For a few days maybe. Keep me in grub and fags. A bit warmer than outside. Even the skin of the not-so-nice ones is better than nothing. Strange skin, some other poor woman’s property. Space where he’s been feels empty, wet, cold. It’s honest graft. Honest as we get with nothing to keep us but the fear of the workhouse. Sooner be under a lorryman’s hands than a croaker being preached to. Dead while alive. Fed on gruel and morals as stuﬀy as chintz. Somehow I manage to still be Meggie Phipps. on the road. In the arms of strangers. There’s this one lorryman walks in to the Seafront Café at Scarborough. Head down, a right short arse. Not my usual. Shy, sort of. His daisy-roots all polished like he’s on his first day at school. 41
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo Clobber all done up to the nines, but wet as a dish-rag. I roll my eyes, nudge Betsy. ‘He’s a rum-un,’ she sighs, cigarette smoke puﬃng out of her painted mouth like a steam train. ‘I’ll have him,’ I say, uncrossing my legs and pulling my hair to one side. ‘You’re welcome,’ says Betsy. Her eyes are already leaping along the men in the queue. Bald ones, fat ones. Married, unmarried, you can always tell them apart. ones with reach-me-down boots, ones who’ve just taken the knock from their sweethearts at home. Want to take it out on someone less guilty. This one’s at the front of the queue now. Close up, his eyes are grey as roof-slates. His overcoat proper wool, its dampness hissing this close to the gas fire. ‘Wouldn’t mind a brew meself,’ I say, laying my hand on the arm of his overcoat. Doesn’t seem like he’s in it somehow. Can’t imagine he’s flesh and blood under all that get-up. Brass buttons and starched collar, only his neck and face out to the world. And ears that seem to have outgrown him. He holds his hand out to me. ‘Bill,’ he says. ‘It’s Miss Phipps to you,’ I say. ‘William is it?’ ‘Bill.’ ‘Thanks for the tea, William,’ I say, sauntering back to my table. Those observing might say it’s the men who picks up us girls. But it’s clear the other way round, ten times out of ten. We’re always on the move. Scarborough to Middlesbrough, Newcastle to Liverpool. Everywhere I go there’s diﬀerent girls. Diﬀerent men. But somehow wherever you go, it’s the same. The girls gauge the men. It’s like how you take your tea. Some can’t drink it without sugar. But for me, it’s too sickly with. You take the one you want. Get him to buy you a brew. Measure him up and down and across. Decide whether you can stomach him. He’ll fill your skin, and your stomach, for a few days. Maybe even a week. At the 42
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo end of it, you’ll drop oﬀ at some café somewhere and he’ll head home. You might cross paths again next week. or never again. Their faces don’t stay in your mind any longer than their fingerprints on your skin. You’ll get washed at the workhouse. De-loused if need be. They’ll stump you up some gruel. Some fortifying Bible talk. All that nonsense sends you oﬀ your onion. Bible talk is for those who can aﬀord it. Purity and sanctity are in my mind. My body can’t aﬀord it. I’ve got to graft my body the way a miner has to hack at the coal face. Don’t do the work, don’t get fed. The body’s surviving. The mind looks after itself. I’m a lorry girl first. Meggie Phipps next. This William, he goes all coy on me when he sits down at my table. Something’s boyish about him. He clanks his coins round in his pocket. ‘Got a few bob?’ I whisper across the table. ‘Had this job a fortnight,’ he says, a smile emerging around his mouth. ‘Not bad pay really.’ ‘Gets a bit lonely though, eh?’ I say. He gazes down at his hands. Nice long fingers, if a bit red with the chap. When he leaves, I get up as well. Don’t say anything. There’s no need. Wink at Betsy. Might see her again in Birkenhead or Grimsby. Might even get down to Bristol again one day. Watch the big ships and the slick mud banks of the river. ‘Clean it for a bob,’ I say. His face stiﬀens, the muscles pulling tight. Cute. I’ve shocked him. ‘Your lorry,’ I add, innocent-like but we both know the undertow. ‘How long’re you in this neck?’ ‘up here?’ he says. ‘Five days. up to Whitby. Across to Pickering. Back to Sheﬃeld Thursday.’ ‘Fine. I’ll come along if it’s a-right?’ He’s a quiet little thing. I see we’ll get along all right. He lights a cigarette despite the rain shifting our clothes and hair. Takes a puﬀ to get it going. Hands it to me. 43
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo We get in the front. He shows me how to operate the wipers. ‘Keeps the rain oﬀ,’ he says. ‘But it needs an extra pair of hands.’ ‘Lucky I’m here then in’t it?’ on the road, we’re gassing and smoking and getting on something famous. When he gets going he can be a cheeky bugger. I hold my own though. He asks me how I ended up on the road. ‘It’s a whole chain of links, all making up this glorious necklace that’s my life,’ I laugh. ‘Got parents?’ he asks. ‘Brothers and sisters?’ I don’t like to tell him I’d rather be under a stranger’s canvas than back in the Phipps’ fold again. I just shrug my shoulders. ‘I like life on the road. I’m free. New things, new people every day. All this sea and open land. And these automobiles. I’m getting into the modern world, in my own way.’ ‘I preferred the horses,’ he says, hanging his head. ‘They knew where they were going.’ Then, after a pause: ‘Can you read those?’ We come to a stop at the crossroads. His fingers clench tighter round the steerage. He’s silent as his breath. His eyes don’t even blink. I wonder for a minute if he’s touched. Then he moves again. Speaks. ‘I need Everley. Which way?’ ‘It’s left,’ I say, searching for his gaze that’s gone slam back down to his hands. ‘Left you say?’ his voice sounds far away. ‘A driver who can’t read...’ I say. ‘Well, that’s a new one on me. And believe me, not much is new these days.’ ‘You won’t tell?’ he says. ‘I’d get the push. Get me cards.’ ‘Who would I tell?’ I say, brushing his damp sleeve with my fingers. ‘So you’ll help me?’ ‘Got a girl back home, have you?’ ‘It’s not that I’m stupid. I just never... I was just never interested in books an’ that.’ ‘There’s no shame in it. It’s like anything. The practice gets you better.’ 44
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo When we get to Everley he does his delivery while I doss down on the front seat out of sight. Get some winks. Didn’t sleep a stretch last night with that other one. Glad to see the back of him this morning. Not a nasty piece. Just surly. Morals stiﬀ as a board. So’s afterwards, he couldn’t so much as look at me. As though it was me that’d done it. Some get their conscience cleaned out that way. Laundering themselves out in you makes them feel clean. All spruced and booted, shiny like a sixpence back into wifey’s purse. Feet under her table nice and sanctioned like that bit of paper they write marriages on. It gets dark these Decembers. Each one seems shorter, colder. I’ve had a run of four Decembers on the road now. Café tables, cheap char, contraband baccy, cold hands under my skirts, choppy sleep, stark mornings where nothing makes any sense. The first few thoughts of the day, where I let myself wonder how I got here. How now got to be like it is. Bill gets back in the cab. Drums his fingers on the steerage. ‘Got a light?’ I ask. ‘Got any grub?’ He nods. Leans over and flicks a match from right to left. It catches. Sparks. A brief flash of warmth and light. Cigarette ends become embers. ‘What’s your favourite?’ he asks, a smile emerging from the shadow of his mouth. ‘Fish n’ chips.’ ‘Come on.’ We drive in silence. The silences are my own. Darkness hugs me into it. I make shapes out of tree branches as they flash by: old men, witches, stags with antlers. Roads I’ve seen a hundred times before, in diﬀerent cabs with diﬀerent men. But every time I form diﬀerent shapes. We sit in the back of the lorry to eat. He feeds me chips one by one. He smiles when I smile. Anyone looking in on us might imagine we are lovers in love. Imagination is a sweet, silly thing. He’s more experienced than I give him credit for. Knows where to find my laces and stays. How to get around them and into them. There’s not much preamble before he’s in my skin, full, his face focused on the 45
NoTTINGHAM WRITERS’ STuDIo air above me. His breath quickens. It’s all I can do to stop laughing. He’s quick at least. A sweet boy really. I suppose he might look back on this in years to come and think I was a sweet girl. oh, she was a sweet girl that what’s-her-name, that girl who liked fish and chips and shed strands of hair all over my canvas who laughed at my tittle-tattle, who read road signs for me.
Jeanette Helen Wilson was born in Nottingham in 1976 and grew up in Beeston. She studied English and Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores university before going into the teaching profession. As well as being a member of NWS, she is a key member of the Notts Writing Group, and has just edited the group’s latest anthology of short stories, Mackerel Scales and Mares’ Tails.