Category Archives: Uncategorized

This Mediocre Life.

White blonde hair, red plump lips and a dress that swished and swayed around your knees. Killer calves. Round eyes and a button nose.

Perfection.

I was lost, watching you roll your shoulders to the music. Watching you mouth the words to a song I couldn’t even hear. The world had gone silent, everyone had disapered. Your beauty filled every corner of that tired old social club in the arse end of Hackney.

You saw me staring, I looked back down at my lap and fidgeted in my seat. I’d been caught. I thought about standing up and leaving out the back door before you accused me of being a pervert or some kind of peeping Tom.

As I was about to stand you sat next to me and asked, ‘is this the way to Amarillo?’ I said I wasn’t sure what or where it was you were looking for. I was about to offer you a London map that I carried in my pocket but you interrupted me with a laugh and a touch of my arm.

It felt like you’d set me on fire. Hot blood ran to my face and pumped my heart so hard I was sure you could hear it over the music.

“You’re funny.”

“Am I?” I said.

You sipped your drink, threw your head back and laughed again. I sat up straight, like I was taught to by my Gran. “Women don’t like men with hunches Harold.” She’d say.

“Relax,” you said. “It’s a party.” I let my shoulders drop slightly and my arms fell limp down my sides. You put your hand on my leg. My neck felt too fat for my top button and I couldn’t swallow. You tapped my leg three times and said: “Let’s dance.”

I tried to say no, I don’t dance. But you’d pulled me to my feet and were clicking and swishing and stepping in time to the music. I stepped from left to right, right to left. I didn’t dance. My feet didn’t understand music and beats and rhythm. I counted to 100. You must have seen the concentration on my face because you leant in and told me to smile. I forced a big toothy grin that no one would believe. There was no smile in my eyes, just panic and anxiety.

You’d dragged me outside when the song was over and the next one was kicking in. I was puppy on your leash. Unable to pull away.

“You smoke?”

“No,” I said.

“Mind if I do?”

“No.”

“So, how’d you know Shelia?” You put a cigarette between your painted red lips and lit it with a big orange flame.

“She’s my sister.”

“She didn’t tell me she had a brother.”

“I don’t live close. Out of sight, out of-“

“Yeah, I get it.” Like a dog with a bone you wouldn’t let the conversation stop. I was glad because I didn’t know what to say past ‘how are you’ and I thought we were over that point.

“I work with Shelia. Down at the Grand Hotel. We’re on reception together.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Worked together for a few months now. She never mentioned me?”

“We’re not close. I live far. In the country.”

“Come buy me a drink,” you said, stubbing your half smoked cigarette out on the wall and flicking it to the floor. I swallowed hard and loud, resisting the urge to pick up the butt and bin it. You pulled at my tie. “Come on. I want to hear all about Shelia’s mysterious brother.”

You ordered us both some kind of gin cocktail that I’d never heard of and told me I’d love it. I paid. £15.00. I never could get used to those city prices on a country wage.

We were worlds away.

You found us a table with four seats. I pulled out the chair to sit opposite but you patted the chair next to you.

“It’s too loud, I won’t hear you all the way over there.” I sat down and twirled the cocktail stick in my glass, knocking the ice cubes together, pushing the lime further down the glass. I dreaded drinking it, I hated Gin, it made me feel depressed.

“So,” you said. “Tell me about you.”

My mind went blank. Where did I start from? When I was born? It occurred to me then, I couldn’t remember the last time anyone asked me about me. I couldn’t remember anything about me.

“I’m Harold,” I said finally, crossing my arms.

“Hi Harold, I’m Jessica. Nice to meet you.” I put my hand out to shake yours as that felt like the right thing to do. You giggled, showing your brilliantly white, straight teeth and put your warm hand in mind.

We spoke for hours. Well you spoke. You told me about your travels to Mexico. Had I ever travelled you’d asked, I said does the train to London count. You laughed and moved on to your travels in America, back packing in Peru, parties in Thailand under the full moon. You were saving money from the hotel to go again, but to Europe this time. You said I should come.

That’s when I fell in love with you.

You were the other me. You were everything I wanted to be. But the whole time I was there with you, looking into your glassy brown eyes and the hair that kept falling across them, I was thinking about my train home. How good it would feel to shut out the party and be home. I tried to shake it off, enjoy being there, with you, learning about a life I couldn’t have.

After a four more Gin cocktails I was feeling heavy. You grabbed my hand that was limp on my lap and asked if I wanted to get out of here. I looked at my watch. It was 11pm, to get a full 8 hours sleep I had to be in bed asleep by 12. The hotel was 12 minutes walk. I told you I had to leave.

“Come on, Harold. Let’s live a little. You’ll sleep when you’re dead.” I thought about telling you that you sleep when you’re tired, or eventually you will in fact be dead. But, you were already up and putting on your long, mink coloured coat that enveloped your body perfectly.

That night was the best night of my life. I’ve lived 80 long years, and that was the best one of the lot.

We walked by the Thames, got a waffle from a stand that boasted a 2 star hygiene certificate, we got on a Rickshaw and we drank cheap wine from the bottle on tower bridge, watching the boats sail beneath us.

You leant your head on my shoulder and instinctively I put my arm around you, pulling you close. You said again that I should come visit Europe with you, see Paris. I hardly knew you. How could I travel Europe, leave my world and move into yours? I couldn’t see it working, so I said maybe, though I knew I meant no. All I wanted was to go with you.

We sat in an all-night café, you told me about Paris, Germany and Belguim. I listened, stiring 2 sugar cubes into my coffee. Three stirs left, four stirs right. But I kept forgetting the number of stirs because I was lost in your talk of Europe. When you couldn’t supress another yawn you said goodnight, kissing me firm on the lips. You were so warm. I wanted your face on my face forever.

You told me to ask Shelia for your number and we’d meet again next time I was in the city, or you’d come and try out country life. I knew I’d never ask Shelia. I knew that would be the last time I’d see you. I watched you leave in your long mink coat, buttoned to the top to keep the cold out.

Time passed, as it does, in days, weeks, months and years. I never called you. I went back to my life up in the north, drinking cheap pints, eating ready meals at 6.30pm and walking to the top of the hill  and back every morning.

Life was simple. I met Jane, a woman who lived down the road and we fell into something. She was plain too. She slotted perfectly into my life, so much that I hardly even noticed her. That was it for 50 years. She died and I still can’t notice that she is gone. Isn’t that terrible?

Did you see Paris? Did you travel the world? Or did you marry a Jane and get stuck in the wheel of mediocre life, or was that just me?

Some might be happy with the norm. The morning walk to the newspaper shop. The 10am coffee and two biscuits. The weekends in front of the telly. I thought I would be. But the whole time I’ve been looking for something else. Something more to set my blood on fire like you did that night we met.

Nothing has ever come close.

I’ve always had one eye open for it, but too afraid to investigate. Instead, I sit here, 80 years old, in a pair of slippers and a pipe at my lips, wondering how I’d look back at life now if I’d gone to Europe. If I’d let you drag me around on that leash forever.

Like they say, we only regret the things we didn’t do in the end. That age old cliché has never felt truer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I regret everything.

Everything, includes the following.

  1. Eating the third slice of double chocolate gateau at your leaving party and ruining my diet that I’d been doing so well at
  2. My rendition of my heart will go on after the fifth glass of wine in front of your work mates
  3. Cycling home and walking up with the pillow stuck with crusted blood to my face
  4. Leaving out the back door like I was guilty

We were walking into the pub together and you were telling me how excited you were to be starting a fresh. I said you were talking in clichés. I got us both a glass of wine. You said that you wanted to spread your wings and see the world. I told you enough with the clichés already, but you carried on. Queen of the “already been quoted thousands of times before”.

You chinked your glass with mine and smiled. Your cheekbones were prominent and your make up made your eyes big and wide. I thought you looked stunning, but I never said.

“I’ll miss you, you know that?” you said.

“Don’t go all soppy on me now.” I swallowed the burning lump in my throat and sipped my wine. People came through the door, loudly. Cheering your name and laughing. You got up, smiling and waving at everyone. Some older guy kissed you on the cheek and asked if you wanted a drink. You said yes and swished off to the bar in your swishy dress that clinged to your tiny waist and brushed against your long legs.

I sat staring into my glass of wine for a few more minutes until you called me over. You introduced me to people I didn’t know, people I didn’t care to know. You made me shake hands and smile at everyone while you kept people laughing and spoke all your favourite clichés.

“A new challenge is just what I need.”

“You’ll be great.” Some bitch with a bob said.

“I think it’s time to see some of the world, you know, spread my wings.” – ah ha. I thought. You’ve said that one already. Bad enough using the clichés, let alone repeating them in the same evening to the same ears.

I drank the rest of my wine. I ordered another and a side of vodka. You said that I should lay off the vodka, told everyone at the bar how I once stripped on a pool table after a bottle of the cheap stuff. Some young guy with dark hair and almond eyes laughed and said, “Bar man, make hers a double.”

The night went on. Your eyes got more glazed with each glass of wine. You danced. I sat down and watched. I spoke to the guy with the brown hair and the almond eyes, he brought me more vodka and we kissed. Did you know that? I kissed him to make you notice. To make you change your tracks on the dance floor and move your way to me and say, “hey, stop kissing him. You’re mine.” Then you’d take me home, you’d stay with me. But, you didn’t even look over. You had one hand in the air and was dancing to “We Will Rock You” by Queen.

I managed to brush off the guy with the almond eyes and the brown hair. He lost interest when I didn’t take my clothes off and dance on the pool table after the copious amounts of vodka he was buying me. He moved on to someone who looked ‘office hot’. The best of a bad bunch.

The karaoke came out. I was swaying on my feet by this point and was soon enough signing myself up to sing “my heart will go on.” People got out there lighters and swayed in front of me as I sang out of tune and out of time.

I went outside for fresh air and  a cigarette. I threw up in the ash tray. I had beer to get rid of that hot sick taste. It was like lava. Why did you make me have the curry before me went out?

You saw that I was in a slumped up state in the corner so you brought me a piece of chocolate gooey gateau.

“You having a good time?” You said. I nodded and began to inhale the cake. I couldn’t get it in fast enough. I spent weeks trying to resist the urge to eat my feelings.

“You’ll be okay, won’t you?”

“Me?” I said with my mouth full. Flecks of cake fell out and onto your dress. You brushed it off. “I’ll be fine. I was fine before, I’ll be fine now.”

“You will be. I know you will be. Anyway, we’ll stay in touch. You can come over and stay with me.”

“Ha! Bit far for my bank account to take me.”

“You can save.”

“Yeah.” I said. “I’m getting more cake.” You were left on your own for about 20 seconds but for those moments you lost your smile. Your mouth turned down and you looked like tears might start. I almost ran back to tell you to stay and that my heart was broken in a way that I didn’t know it could. But just as my adrenaline got started and my palms started sweating at the thought of telling you, someone came over and made you laugh. You were fine.

I ate two more slices of cake. I eat when I’m stressed. I eat when I’m sad and I eat when I’m scared. That was why I had three slices.

I left the party without saying goodbye to you because I was bad at goodbyes. I didn’t want to show you how much you leaving was hurting me. I knew that I’d end up in an uncontrollable crying fit that couldn’t be cured by cuddles. I needed an, “I love you.”

I rode home on my bike. I didn’t wear my helmet and I found ringing my bell hilarious. I was cackling through tears like some kind of mad, misunderstood witch.

I fell off. Hit my head on someone’s garden wall. There was so much blood, I had to take my top off to bandage up my wound. Heads bleed bad, you remember we found that out when you fell over drunk after New Year ’s Eve. We spent New Year ’s Day up A and E eating the contents of the vending machine and watching crap day time TV.

In the morning I sat up in bed and the pillow followed, stuck to my head with dried blood. I took my phone out of my handbag to see that I had missed calls and text messages from you. My hazy hangover made me slow, but all I could think of was that you were trying to tell me you had changed your mind. You loved me. You needed to stay with me. You weren’t going to go.

But that wasn’t the message I got.

You were angry and shouting down the phone. “I needed a goodbye from you, you coward. You selfish bitch.” You said I was the worst friend you’d had. You said I selfish loner who’d die alone. You loathed my introverted-ness, that you always claimed you loved.

Then then there was the screeching of brakes and a scream that still chills the marrow of my bones. That scream wakes me up every night in a cold sweat of regret.

The phone went dead.

I almost didn’t go to your funeral, but your words resounded in my mind. “I needed a goodbye from you.” I said goodbye and I cried into a bunch of tulips. I left them, and a piece of my heart that was fit to explode with love for you, by your grave side.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An update on civvy street – what is life like after prison

disgracedbanker

It’s been a little while since I posted last. My life has moved on, framed by experiences and educated by mistakes.

I believe that failure is the only education an entrepreneur gets – so you better listen to the teacher.

I moved away from writing on my prison experiences and commentary on the banking sector, as I wanted to make a life as far removed from the Sin City as possible. I try to communicate with old friends but am always wary that a bad choice in their own life will suck me under too. I’m a married man now, that girl who wrote to me every day, now holds my hand every night asleep. I had been out of prison a month or two and struggled to find work; so was blessed with some considerate family and friends to let me work on building sites, doing some labouring and…

View original post 551 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dan and Grace

DAN

I was feeling really low the morning I found out. I looked into my fag packet to see if I missed a bit of weed from last night. Jack sat down on the bench, next to me.

“Alright mate.” He passed me a fag, “you look like shit.”

“Cheers.”

“Where’s Craig?” He said.

“Dunno.”

“Ste?”

“Sold his phone.”

“Do you fancy a pint?”

“Only if you’re buying,” I said. ”I’m skint.”

“Well, Mum’s buying. Borrowed some money from the tin.”

“The Duke?”

The Duke was Stanhope Estates old pair of slippers, everyone loved it. You could go on your own and know there’d be someone to talk to, even if it was only the local homeless guy, Cow Boy Bill. I’d killed a few afternoons with that old bastard. The pub had everything you could need on a night out, pool table, Juke Box and a dealer in the toilet.

“You speak to Stace?” Jack said.

“All true mate.” Chewing gum stuck me and the 1970s carpet together.

“God, what you gunna do?”

“Get a job,” I said.

“Get a job! What with your qualifications?”

“Ste’s mum said she will get me in at the factory.”

“Packing boxes?”

“I gotta get something, can’t pay for a kid on Jobseekers.”

“Woah mate. Before you start dishing out money to that slag, check the kids yours.”

The barmaid ignored Jack tapping his tenner on the bar, she was texting. It was alright though because the more time she took the longer we could stare at her tits. They were begging to get out. She flicked her eyes behind her black rooted, blonde hair. “Yeah?” She said, chewing gum with her mouth open. She looked fierce, her eyes were too close together.

“You new?” Jack asked.

“Might be.”

“Fosters please, what you having Dan?”

“Same.” The new barmaid bent over to get two glasses. She had on those denim leggings which made girls arses look tip top. I turned to Jack who was ripping up a beer mat. “She promised it mine.”

“Come on mate, she’s had half of Banbury and the other half are women.”

“She’s had some of those too.”

“Exactly, get the test.” Jack said. “Cheers love. There you go.”

“Cheers. Baby or no baby, I got to get a job.”

“Can’t drink beer in the afternoon when you’ve a job mate.”

“Dads on my case, wants me to pay rent or move out.”

When I first told Dad about the baby he actually looked happy about it. He smiled like he had a coat hanger in his mouth. “Why are you smiling?” I said.

“You can get out of my hair now.”

“If you mean I can get a flat, I can’t.”

“You can, Sue’s boy got a right nice flat behind the chippy.”

“Yeah but me and Stace aren’t together. Can’t stand the girl.”

“Why’d you shag ‘er then?”

She had bleached blonde hair and blue eyes. She was a little too orange from fake tan but I dealt with it, we did it in the dark. Skinny waist and a pair of double D’s.  It was only a onetime thing. A drunken fumble at Darren’s twentieth birthday.  I didn’t want to stay with her for a whole list of reasons. One being that I knew what pregnancy would do to her body.  I didn’t want to get stuck with someone like Craig’s Mrs. She used to be a babe. Now she was left with corned beef thighs and scribbles all over her belly. I don’t think she knew there had been a change though. She still squeezed her muffin top into tiny jeans. No way was I going to get lumbered with that.

GRACE

Every Thursday I went to my mother’s for Book Club. We would drink tea from china cups and discuss the hidden meanings in Romeo and Juliette and other classics.  It was only a small book club. Jill, Pam, Sue and Leah as well as mum and I. We started it when my father died. Mother used to get lonely, that was why I moved back to town. Prior to my father’s death I worked in the City. Since his death my mother had aged dramatically and when she became unwell, I had no choice but to move back.

At the Book Club that day we were discussing the separation of the social classes in Victorian society and how it was presented in the literature of the time. Everyone presented some interesting theories about whether a class system exists today. The sessions were usually only two hours, however we often over ran into the early hours of evening.  I noticed my mother looking tired so I made sure that we finished on time, I didn’t like her to exhaust herself.

I prepared a light tea for the two of us while my mother sat at the dining table reading the novel we were set to discuss the in the following weeks.

“It’s really good you know,” she said. I laid her tea out in front of her.

“The book?”

“No, the Book Club. I manage to forget about your father for a whole afternoon and all it costs me is a pack of biscuits and the loan of my good china.” I remained silent. “You know what worries me though Grace, what happens when I can’t do it anymore.”

“You will always be able to do it, I help don’t I?”

“I know, that’s not what I mean Grace. I mean what happens when I’m too weak or the chemo has made me sick. What then?”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“What will I do, lay in bed and think of your father? Drive myself sicker with grief?”

“You know I’m here.”  After dinner I cleared up and changed her bed linen.

“Are you comfortable?” I said and patted her cushions. “Did you want another pillow?”

“No dear, you’ve done more than enough, go home now.”

“I’ll just make you a sandwich encase you get peckish later on.”

“You don’t want to be fussing around an old lady in the evenings. Have you not got any friends to be seeing?”

“Are you sure you will be okay.”

“Go home Grace.”

I took the short cut through Stanhope Estate with my doors locked, I had heard stories. I didn’t see him cross, my eyes were glazed over with tiredness.

DAN

One beer turned into one too many. I knew I’d get it in the neck from my dad. “Spending rent money on getting pissed. Blah, blah, blah.” I’d heard that speech so many times and still, it didn’t stop me. I knew I’d be out on my arse before long anyway. He gave me until I was 21 and I was getting close.

I’d been having a great time at the pub with Jack until Stacy’s hooker heeled mates came in. “Dan, you know it’s true right.” The tall one with the hook nose said.

“I know.” I said and tried to carry on my conversation with Jack.

“What you doing in ‘ere then?” Said another one, I ignored them.

“Shouldn’t you be spending money on nappies or somethin’?”

“Yeah Dan, you need to get your act together,” said Hook Nose. “No one fucks and chucks our girl.” I left when they started talking about what shits men are. Jack said he was staying out because he had seen someone who owed him money. Fine, I wanted to go home.

I was stumbling over to my street talking to myself.  I had my beer coat on so it didn’t really hurt when the car hit me. I threw up then it all went black. I’m not sure how long I was out for but when I woke up there was a lady crouching down next to me, wiping a hanky on my head.

“Oh thank heavens!” She said. She was pretty. That’s how I knew she came from off the Estate.  She had light blonde hair to her shoulders and it was tucked behind one ear. She bent over me I could see down her shirt. I reckoned she was a B cup.

“We need to get you to hospital, should I ring an ambulance?” She started dialling on her mobile.

“No.” I put my hand on her phone to stop her and she snatched it away. “I don’t need an ambulance.”

“You need stitches, you’re bleeding. Do you have any one to take you to hospital?”

“Just dad but he won’t.” She paused and took a deep breath.

“I’ll take you.” She put out her hand to help me up. I was still dizzy from the beer. She sat me in the passenger’s seat and even did up my belt. I could have done it myself but I liked the feel of her long fingers around my waist.  She didn’t talk much and sat rigid on her chair. I kept seeing her look at me out the corner of her eye.

“I’m not going to rob you,” I said.

“Keep the pressure on your head, I do not want blood on my seats.”

“Nice car this. Audi is it?”

“Yes.”

“TT is it?”

“Yes.”

“So you not from Stanhope, no hope?”

“No.”

“Jeeze. Not much of a conversationalist are you Darlin’.” She stiffened her arms on the steering wheel. “Sorry, didn’t mean to be rude.”

“I’m still in shock from running you over,” she said, finally.

“You only scratched me, I’ve had worse.”

“Worse?”

“Yeah, I had three guys on me once, kicked the shit out of me. What you did was nothing.”

“Do you want to call your mother?”

“Don’t have one.” She had nothing to say to that. I liked it when she spoke, she had a soft voice. “Well I’ve got one, somewhere. She had it off with Mr Sykes from the laundrette. They’ve done one up North.”

GRACE

When I first hit him I thought that maybe it was one of those tricks to get you out the car and then a whole gang of them rob you. I’d seen it on the News. So I stayed in the car for a few minutes until I started to panic that maybe I had killed him.  He was bleeding from the head, unconscious.  He woke up when I applied pressure to his head wound. The devil was on his breath, as my mum would say.

He was a young man, about twenty. He was sporting a little bit of stubble, he had panther black hair and thick dark eye lashes to match. I had heard about people from Stanhope, most of them jobless, living off taxes. I guessed this applied to him because he was drunk on a Thursday.

“What’s your name anyway?” He said

“Grace,”

“I’m Dan. Danny. Daniel, whatever.”

“I like Daniel.”

“Well I’m Daniel then.”

“Tell me if you feel dizzy or sick again.”

“Yes boss.” He scared me at first. His voice was too loud, too common. I winced every time he dropped a T. “So where is it you’re from?” He saw me hesitate. “I’m not going to come round and steal your pearls.”

“I live in Great Chart.”

“Well I guess you know where I’m from.”

“Stanhope?”

“Born and bred.” He turned in his seat. His stare pierced through me.

“Stop staring at me please,” I said.

“You’re worth staring at.”

“You’re distracting me.”

“With my good looks and charm?”

“No, because you are staring at me. It makes me feel uncomfortable.”

“Don’t get to distracted darlin’, wouldn’t want you knocking anybody else down. I can’t be sharing my hanky, or you neither.”

“How much did you have to drink?” I said ignoring his comment. “The doctor will ask you know.”

“Couple.”

“You smell like you have had more.”

“Drowning my sorrows.”

“Sorrows?”

“Don’t matter. You want to come in and watch me get stitched?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve got an early start.”

“What do you do anyway, you know for a job?”

“I’m a carer.”

“Not very caring, a hit and run is it?”

“Hit and run? I am taking you to the hospital.”

“I could press charges you know.”

“Are you blackmailing me?”

“Not blackmailing, not in a kill your cat and post it to you kind of way. Just want you to come in.”

“I think you’re big enough, you don’t need me to hold your hand.”

“It would be great though, if you would.” He said. “We could drink coffee, that bin juice stuff.”

“Sounds like my perfect evening,” I said.

“While we are in there we could see about getting that stick removed from your arse.” I looked at him with wide eyes and let out a little gasp.

“I do not have a stick up my arse, thank you very much.”

“You could just do with a good time I reckon. I could be the one to give it to you.”

“Bin juice coffee isn’t really my idea of a great time thanks.”

“Come over to the dark side for the night. I’ll look like I’ve won the lottery with a bird like you on my arm.” I felt bad for him, he appeared desperate not to be alone.

“Okay,” I said. “I will come in, only because it is my fault you here. And only on one condition.”

“Name your terms.”

“You don’t call me Bird.”

“Deal.” We pulled up outside the hospital. I caught a glimpse of my tired reflection in the rear view mirror, suitcases hung under my eyes and my hair needed a comb through.

“You get out,” I said. “I’ll see you inside.” I thought it would buy me some time to apply a little make up, not so much that he would notice just cover up the bags. I didn’t want him thinking that I was making an effort for him, of course I wasn’t.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Whisky will fix it.

She was old when she died, and that makes it right. Right? That’s what I kept telling myself. Old people die, it doesn’t matter how much you loved them, and how much you didn’t want them to it is just the way. I used to think that old people got really old, until eventually they shrunk back into babies and lived again. If only. Old people die. Fact. But that doesn’t make it easier, whatever anyone says.

My Nan, Hilary-Hilda Ramsbottom lived to be 75, which is fairly young for someone old. Everyone called her Hill and she was alright with that. I called her Prune, Hill, and sometimes Nan but she hated to be called Nan, Granma, Granny, anything that made her sound old. I don’t think she ever got the prune reference, you know. Wrinkled like a prune, or one of those dates that you get at Christmas.

She died on a Saturday. I don’t think it was right for people to die at the weekend. It was a strange Saturday because I knew she was ill and I knew she didn’t have long, however much she said she had years in her. The Friday before the Saturday I went to her granny flat and looked in as I always did. She was sitting in her chair, as usual, but she hadn’t done her hair and was still in her PJ’s.

“You’re here early love,” she said when I walked in. Her house was neat from when I’d been round the day before to clean. It still smelt of roast, she must have had the leftovers for lunch. Her hair looked like she had spent some time with her head in a candyfloss machine.

“What you looking at me like that for?”

“I’m not looking at you like anything,” I said.

“Oh shit,” she said. “I’ve not got my hair on.” She started to get up, but I gestured her to sit back down.

“Usual place? I’ll get it and put the tea on.”

“Whisky for me love, won’t you join?” And I did. We had a few, which was a nightmare because I had work early and serving people on reception boozey breath was frowned upon. I remember thinking that I should go home but I didn’t. I stayed all night and watched crap on TV until it was time for bed. That was my last night with her, and I wouldn’t change it. Not for anything.

The reading of the will went as could have been expected. Mum, in her tracky bottoms and hoodie. She had a cold she couldn’t shift, she wiped her nose on her sleeve. Her boyfriend Frank was in a pair of trackies too, but he’d ‘dressed them up’ with a pair of polished loafers. They were quite the match. Mum kept trying to finish the solicitor’s sentences; she kept guessing wrong. She had no shame though. She just nodded with him when he corrected her. Frank chewed loud. I tried to get him to spit the gum out before we went in there, in protest he squeezed the pack into his fat chops.

Mum wasn’t getting a penny. She flew off the handle. Saying something about being her only daughter, she should have it all… bla bla. We all knew Nan had money, money that no one spoke of and money that made mum drag herself out of franks club arms and round Hill’s house. Money mum thought was hers. She poked her long finger in my rib and put her face nose to nose with mine.

 “It’s your fault you bitch,” she was spitting at me as she spoke with smokey breath. I didn’t even flinch. “You made her do this. You’ve been planning it for years, you greedy cow. No wonder you spent so much time with that mad old bitch.” I bit my lip and clenched my fists.

I could see the solicitor calling security and I was glad. I didn’t need her in my face. Frank was behind her saying something about me being a money grabbing whore. I don’t know. Security took them away, mum was screaming and frank was slipping on his over polished shoes. I said my apologies to the solicitor, thanked him for his time and got up to leave.

“Sorry Miss Bennet, I haven’t actually finished yet.”

“Oh, there’s more?” I knew Nan had money but she told me I’d never have it, she wanted me to learn how to earn money.

“Please sit back down,” he said and ruffled the papers on his desk. “Now, your late grandmother would like to leave you in charge of Bagpuss.”

“The dog, of course.” What did she think I’d do with the dopy sod. Ever since she died he had been living at my house, eating out of my bin, and humping my yucca plant. I was glad to have him. He smelt like roast lamb and mint sauce.

When I got home that night I sat down in the chair I had taken from Hill’s house and tucked myself under one of her blankets. Bagpuss came and sat on my lap. Short stocky thing. Front legs noticeably shorter than his back ones. He had brown eyebrows and a brown nose. A white chest, to match three of his socks. He had he waggiest tail I’ve ever seen and the softest ears.

I poured myself a whisky, put the glass in the air. “Cheers Hill.” I chinned that and poured another. Booze goes down easier when there’s a reason to drink. I drank to her memory and didn’t even wince at the burn.

Things were getting a bit wobbly after the third or forth, or was it the sixth. Bagpuss had tired himself out humping the plant and had taken himself off to bed.

“I’m not watching this shit,” I froze. Like when you’re scared as a kid and think if you stay really still that everything will be alright. “Change it then.” Still frozen and feeling heavy from the drink I stayed put. “Katarina, are you not listening to me? I hate that orange man, change it.”

Eyes wide, frowning, I turned my head. There she was, staring forward moaning about how she hated reality TV and men in vests. She was the same, but how she was before she was ill. Neat short hair, sitting tall, crocheting. She looked at me with her grey eyes. I had the classic face, mouth open, eyes wide and frowning.

“What?” she said. “What you looking at me like that for? Why you shaking?”

“Hill?”

“How many of those you had love? Pour me one wont you.”

Nothing was right, nothing made sense. Only a week ago I’d heard the cannon go off at the crem to mark her death. I’d seen the curtains close on the coffin. I’d spread her ashes over my garden. I’d planted her roses.

“Those roses won’t grow, you’ve crowded them. Here, I’ll change it.” She got up and shuffled over to the remote, changed the channel and she was gone. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What I do since you left.

I’ve started writing shit poems. Ones full of clichés and rhyming couplets. They make me feel sick. They make me cry. What does it matter, I’m sick and sad anyway so might as well get something out of it, eh?

I spend my evenings thinking about how we danced the funky chicken at party’s way back then. How you told me I was too old for you, every day. I don’t think about the time you screamed at me in the street because I told you I wasn’t ready for fatherhood, or how you ignored me for a week because I reversed the car over the cat. A broken tail, I got it fixed.

I stroke your cardigan. That God awful one you called your house coat but still wore outside. I look at the smudge of nail varnish on the pocket- you never could wait for them to dry. But, the way I spend most of my day is by putting away your things, realising how sad and shit and dark it is without them, and taking it all back out. That’s what I do. I look at everything over and over, I feel it, I smell it. There’s this slipper, still got the indent of your foot in it but I can’t find the other. I spend so much time staring at that slipper, searching for its other half, do you know where it is?

Remember those stars that used to hang from the ceiling, you know the ones, I said that they’d be the first thing to go if you did. I get tangled up in them just like before. Sometimes I walk into them on purpose, curse you and the hanging stars and feel better for a second. I know, I hated them but now, now they are beautiful because they are so very you. I’m sentimental. I’m writing soppy poetry and crying at the news.

I don’t let the girls come to visit unless I’ve had enough notice. It’s a good afternoon’s work to get it all away again. If I come across the slipper it can take me two days, I get side tracked and frustrated and have to have a drink. If the girls caught me doing what I do they’ll think that I need to see someone. I think I do.

In the evenings sometimes I can’t get off the phone, people who never called call me weekly. To make me feel better? or to make themselves feel better? I’m not sure which.

I try to ask questions, let others do the talking so that I don’t have to admit my sorry old life to anyone who doesn’t really care, someone who is just calling to fill a spare bit of time. I’ve got all the questions to keep them busy talking, if I ever have to answer that dreaded question, “You been getting out?” I say, the park, I go on bike rides to get the paper, feed the ducks with stale bread and think about getting a dog. I tell them that every Tuesday and Saturday I go to the supermarket, there’s a quiz at the Nags Head on Wednesday.

Truth. Since you left, I’ve been out once. To the supermarket, that big one with roll back as their motto. There were so many kids in there, snotty and screaming, wearing no shoes. I liked the one we used to go in together but I thought I might break down in the bakery aisle. I’m not ready to face those cream puffs in the red and white cases just yet.

In the supermarket, I didn’t know what to buy. I brought rice and pasta along with back up ready meals, beer and vodka- you never let me have vodka. The rice was crunchy and the pasta fell apart. Good intensions but now I’m surviving on my back up, back log of ready meals. They’re salty and I don’t like it. On those dark nights, when I close the curtains and drink vodka on ice I have two of the meals. Too cowardly to do something drastic, I decide to let the salt take its toll on my heart.

The little one came round to visit and gave me a lecture about the salt- wearing her hair pinned, a pair of chinos and a shirt. My God, she could have been you 20 years back. She brought me a parsnip soup. It was thick and chunky and I didn’t know how to get rid of it without having to eat it. I blocked the sink and still haven’t had it fixed. I wash up in the bath until I can find where you kept the yellow pages, maybe they’re with your slipper, maybe your slipper is acting as a bookmark for something you needed in the yellow pages, do you remember?

When the little one came round, we talked about you, of course and we laughed at how you got drunk at Christmas and put the cheese board in the microwave and filled the tea pot up with coffee. The older one has been round too. She’s sad, of course and she misses you being but she needed to talk about her problems and I liked it. She always was a daddy’s girl. She’s fighting with Liam again and that was all she could talk about it and it was a nice change. Although, the whole time she was there, talking about Liam and how she was thinking about leaving him I was thinking about you. I tried not to, I needed a break from my thoughts but this one just crept in. I thought about that time when you said, “if it gets any worse I’m leaving.” I begged you to stay and you said I’d have to come round to it when the time comes. You gave me your wedding ring and promised I’d cope alone. I told you I couldn’t cook and you laughed and told me I’d survive on ready meals, but you said that I’d need to make sure I watch the salt. I gave you your ring back and we cuddled in front of the box.

When the older one said, “dad, are you listening?” I said yes and then she carried on telling me what he had been doing. I’ve never liked Liam and I told her. I told her she should be with someone who makes you laugh even when things are shit, when there’s no money in the bank and bills to pay. And she said, “So you want me to find someone like mum.”

I said, “if you find someone like your mum introduce me, I’m going spare, make sure she’s better looking than your mum though, want to trade up.” She got up, kissed me on the head and told me she had to go.

The phone rings on Tuesdays at 6, and Fridays at 5. Those are the days we agreed on you calling, the nurses wrote it in your diary and remind you an hour before. I watch the phone ring, imagine you sitting on the other end with your crochet blanket over your knees, shivering and bony and grey, surrounded by others just the same. I can’t pick up. I freeze. I cry.

You’re not who you were. You’re not the same person who used to paint her nails every night and pick up the fish and chips on a Friday, call me a tight bastard and laugh at my jokes. That’s not you anymore, you are not mine anymore. You belong to them now, and you’ve got to accept it. You told me that I had to let you leave if the time came and that I’d cope. I’m trying to; I’m trying so hard to move on.

I’ve got in the car a couple of times, got the map out of how to come and visit you. I never get as far as turning the key. I feel sick and my head hurts, I go lie down. I’m punishing myself because I know times a healer and if I see you all the pain that’s getting easier will just get hard again and I’m afraid of what I’ll do.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Test of a Good Woman

  I believe you shouldn’t judge a woman by the way she looks, smells, or wears her hair. Yeah, okay so all that is important- I’m not after a troll who smells like a trucker- but I think you can tell all you need to know about a woman by what she eats, how she eats. I’ve been on a lot of dates, and this isn’t me bragging clearly I’m no good at it after 34 long years of being single, but I’ve always had a keen eye for knowing what women are really like behind that first date smile. I cant tell from the moment I see them, but from the moment I see what they order.

Take Sue. Sue was a red haired, fiery woman in a tight dress and thick heels. I met Sue in a club and told her I’d take her out after a few Martinis. I liked the way she flicked her tongue round her straw and tried to catch it in her mouth. Sue smoothed her Lycra skirt to her bare thighs and sat, with her spine curved at the bottom, on the chair. Her necklace hung low, a locket, and if things went well at dinner I was planning on asking to see inside it. She circled her shoulders in time with the music and held the menu in both hands. The waiter came and she peered over the top of the menu, winked at me and said, “I’ll have the oysters.” Looking at me the whole time she ordered. I don’t have to spell it out, she knew what she wanted and I like that. I also like a woman who can order and order well. Oysters are good on any occasion, on your own on a Friday night even, and if what they say is true then even better with someone else. I ordered a light soup, simple and easy, a classic.

                Sue started off impressively and I really thought I might get to know what was in the locket, somewhere I hadn’t got in years. I froze to watch her take the fish, hoping that she didn’t fail at the first hurdle. Her thick eye lashes were spread like spider’s legs and her pupils round and dark between them, not looking away as she pulled the oyster closer to her lips. Her red, thick lips. She scooped under to loosen the flesh from the shell and sucked. The noise echoed through the entire room, shaking the pictures on the wall and I’m sure I heard a mirror crack. After what seemed like 20 minutes of slurping and staring she’d sucked it all in. Then she chewed. Sloppy, mouth open along with heavy breathing, worn out from shoulder dancing I guess. I looked down into my asparagus soup and weighed up the pros of drowning myself in it.

Hannah was sweet. I met her on the sea front; she worked on the ice cream parlour and served me a 2 scoop of rum and raison for the price of one. Maybe her mum had told her that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I picked her up in my duck egg mini. I always drive; I don’t cloud my judgement with drink. Concentrating on every mouthful they take requires a clear head. I got carried away once with a woman a few years back, ended up drinking a couple of bottles of wine with her. I thought she was the one. In the meal I must have missed crucial signs or just let them go because after the 2nd bottle she burped right in my face. From then on I’ve always driven. Hannah kept tucking her hair behind her ears, even when it was already there. She pursued her lips and looked up at me over the menu, but when I made eye contact she looked away and giggled. I ordered fizzy water on ice and she followed suit. When the waiter came Hannah gestured towards me to order first and said the dreaded words, “I’ll have what you’re having.” I ordered the hottest curry on the menu and watched her sweat and sniff with every mouthful.

Sharron, or Shaz as she liked to be called worked at the supermarket. She made me laugh when she came up behind me and said, “You going to pay for that you thieving bastard.” When I turned around she had her hand covering her mouth, as red as onions. “Oh, God, I thought you were someone else,” she said.  She put her arm around my wrist and begged me not to tell customer services that she’d called me a bastard. I agreed as long as she came on a date with me. She was a big girl with a pretty, sweet face. Thin red lips, big blue eyes and blonde hair shaped to her round face. At dinner she wore jeans, heels and a top which was floaty and forgiving. She ordered her own drink, a large Nantua Les Deux- a complex and buttery wine. I knew she had good taste.  Then she ordered the food, “I’ll have the avocado salad please. No sides thank you.” How could such a good wine order go with such a terrible food order. I must have paused mouth open for a moment or two because the waiter had to call me twice. “And for you, Sir?” he said. “Sir?” I ordered the Chicken in a soft cheese sauce, with a side of vegetables and new potatoes.

When the waiter packed up his note pad and left, she said: “It’s a gland problem, my weight. I eat light.” I laughed and said something vaguely sympathetic, “my sister suffers with that too”. Don’t get me wrong, I would have believed her if it hadn’t been that when I dropped my napkin I noticed two chocolate wrappers in her open bag, and what I had thought had been a mole on her face began to look more and more like Cadburys. I don’t date liars.

Jane. If I was one of those men who judge a woman by her name I wouldn’t have bothered with Jane. I’d known her years, we worked together, drank coffee together, filed stuff together, then I bumped into her in town and we got talking.

On our date she had her hair to her shoulders and flat to her head. She wore jeans and a white shirt with a pair of black boots. She ordered a white wine and she didn’t mind which- I think she chose the cheapest. Out of work and worried that I’d ask her to split the bill. She took her time over the menu, really analysed it as though it was important data and we were at a meeting. The conversation flowed well as we spoke about people who we used to know, where they were now, where we were now. The waiter came over, smartly dressed with a napkin tucked into his belt. She smiled at him and closed the menu in front of her. “Please may I have the chicken in a white wine sauce but without the sauce.” Her order was dry chicken and boiled potatoes with no butter. It was dry and plain. If I’d have judged her by her clothes or her name then I could have saved myself three hours of my life listening to the plainness of hers. She’d never even been on holiday and stopped after one glass of wine because of a fear of getting drunk.

Tina was a food critic, so I let her pick the place. She said she wanted to try out a new Thai restaurant uptown.  She sat straight like she was balancing books on her head, wearing a tight black dress to her knees, low cut at the back. Tina had short black hair and thin red lips painted with bright red. She inspected the cutlery and wiped it over with her napkin. When she eventually had cleaned everything on the table she opened to the wine. She curled her lip and flared her nostrils at the list. “Oh I guess we will have to have the Belondrade y Lrton, it’s the only half decent one on here.” When the young Spanish waiter came to tell us that they were out of Belondrade y Lurton Tina’s lips went even thinner. “What kind of establishment is this? Why don’t you just tell me what to have rather than me even look at the menu.” The waiter hung his head and apologised but she didn’t stop. “Oh stop with your sorry mams, please. I would have thought a place like this would have a proper waiter not some spotty teen saving for his first car. Please, bring me the manager.” Then I got an emergency phone call and dove out of the restaurant.

That was how I met Lucy. I bumped in to her as I was running out of the resturant, half expecting Tina to chase me with a well polished knife. 

“Watch it,” she said. Coffee all over her parker. I tried to rub her down but it meant touching her breast and she didn’t take well to that one.  “Where you going in such a rush?” she said.

“Bad date.”

“Did you throw a coffee over her too?”

I laughed, “Let me buy you a coffee, please to make up for this one.”

“You don’t hang about, straight back on the bandwagon, you get knocked down, you get right back up,” she said.

“Well you know, can’t hang about. At my age most the good ones are taken.” Hannah looked young under the street lamp in her 20’s I guessed. She had soft blonde hair, flowing over the hood of her coat. I could see her hot breath in the cold night and she was shivering a little.

                “Don’t want coffee though, I’m starving. You can buy me a burger instead.”

“Alright, know any good burger places?”

“All stop serving at 10, ‘cept that burger van.”

“Bit cold though, isn’t it.” I know it was forward, I rubbed her arms to try and warm her, it just felt like something I should do.

“It’s alright, there’s a wind shelter over there.”

 We ate burger and chips together on a bench. We sat close to each other to keep warm, our thighs touching. She got sauce on her face and didn’t get embarrassed about it, she wiped it away and we moved on. She chewed with her mouth closed, and covered her mouth when she laughed. She was a casual diner, cool and easy to please, she was herself. That was how I met Lucy.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized