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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.

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Visiting you.

Little, tiny fingers. I kissed them. I pushed them to my cheek. She was so familiar, so warm, so soft- but not fat. I think I would have cried if I wasn’t where I was. That moment there was so much energy between us that I don’t think there was enough left for the rest of the world. There’s only so much energy and at that point, we had it all.

“I kept track of you, you know. I kept all your letters, watched all the news about you, read all the papers. Just wanted to know you were getting on alright,” she said. “Sorry it’s taken so long, been hard, I mean, harder for you course but still, hard.” She was almost crying, you know all blurry eyed and red faced. I didn’t want to talk about the past, I wanted to forget it, talk about new stuff.

“Tell me about what you’ve been doing, you’ve got an hour and 40 minutes to tell me everything you’ve been doing in the last 6 years.” We sat forward in our seats, holding hands. She told me how she’d got it sorted. Living in London. Living with mates, having a laugh. Any men? No. Any Kids? No. Any chance? Yes, maybe. She was making me laugh again. She told me little stories about her mad nights out in London, like when her mate got so drunk and pissed herself laughing on the number 23 bus. She was working in a shop, said she liked it there. Didn’t pay much but it was a good laugh, she worked in a  bar in the evenings sometimes. Said that the dirty old pervs were always trying to take her on dates. She threw a pint over one man and slapped him round the face ‘cos he touched her leg. I told her about Daz, about how good he’s been and how nosey. Told her a couple of stories that I had. About how we make toasties in toastie bags. Told her how I’m doing an English course and learning how to string words together. She said she noticed that my spelling was good in my letter. Didn’t tell her I had Ben’s help on that one.

“Still see your dad?”

“Fuck my dad,” she said and I wished I hadn’t asked. I looked at the can of drink, the half eaten tart, anywhere but at her. “No, I don’t. No time for him now, he doesn’t try and when he does we just row. So no, why do you?” Didn’t like her tone on that. Knew I shouldn’t have brought him up.

“Course not,” I said. Needed to change the subject. “You reckon you’ll come again?”

“You want me to come again?”

“I don’t have to answer that.” I smoothed her face, she rubbed against it like a kitten. Ten minutes left. Gotta get ready to say goodbye. Didn’t know how to let her go. Just felt right her being slotted into my body. Like before when we were together and then she’d go I’d get that feeling like I’d left something on the bus. Me and Old Fruit used to do Puzzles and there was always one bit missing, I think I knew where she was.

She was coming back to see me when I was out, not long. She said she’d come up for my days out next month. She said that we’d eat out, go to the cinema and have a laugh like before. She’d be there I just had to let her know where and when.

“I can’t help with, you know, I can’t pay.”

“I never wanted your money James.” Times up. Goodbye, it’s been great. Now if you’d leave without tears and without fuss that’d be great. Step aside James, routine search, strip. That’s one way to ruin a visit. I wanted to go back to my room, think over those last two hours but instead I was standing bare ball-ed being patted down and prodded.

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Old Fruit, Extract.- Fiction Writing

“What d’you do?”

“I can’t talk now Fruit.” I put the phone back on the hook. Deep breaths to try and hold back all those tears that were just waiting, creating a tennis ball in my throat. My eyes were burning. All that stress was like ghonerheea for your eye balls. Burns when you cry.

Old fruit sorted it all bless her. Mum didn’t want to know. I saw Old Fruit once more before she died. It was when I’d been categorized and about a year and a half in to my sentence. I’d sorted her out a visit. Two hours on a Friday. Ste’s mum gave her and Ste a lift. She couldn’t come on her own you see. Too weak. She’d been diagnosed with cancer, but never told anyone. I only found out she got the cancer after knocked the whole living thing on the head. She was a little frame of bones with tissue paper skin sitting on that chair next to Ste. Ste said His mum had been going round there to see her and do some cleaning. He didn’t want to tell me but I made him, her house was a mess, she was a mess. He said the sofa was dented from where she slept and sat all day. His mum did all her cooking and washing. I’d really let her down.

I came through to where they were sat, she was smiling. Wet ,grey eyes, streaming.

“Come on Old Fruit,” I said. “Don’t cry. It’s alright, I’m alright.” Ste got her a tissue and us all a cup of tea. She sat staring at me for a while. She was different, slower and more vacant. If I had to make a bet there and then I would have bet that she was doped up. We had a bit of a conversation about Eastenders and Corrie and if I get to watch it in here.

When they called  10 minutes left Old Fruit jumped out of her thin skin. The guard who shouted it was right behind her. She looked fucking terrified, like it was a bomb or something. I just wanted to leave with them both. Go live with Old Fruit in her one bedroom house. Look after her and make sure it was all okay. When I said goodbye to Ste I stood up with him and left Fruit sitting.

“Take her to the doctors, something aint right with her.”

“Yeah, tomorrow, I’ll take her tomorrow.”

I sat next to Old Fruit and kissed her on the cheek.

“I miss you James,” she said and put a hand on my knee. “Just aint the same without you.”

“I know.”

“Why don’t you come back with us now then?”

“I can’t.” That was that. My Old Fruit going, going, gone. She didn’t tell anyone she was dying. . I reckon she gave up. She knew she wouldn’t be a able to keep going for another 7 years, she was 80 when I went inside. She couldn’t wait for me.  The next week I got the call saying she was dead. No dignity in death is there. She was at home, alone. Don’t know if she was in pain because she never told anyone. She was always just fine. Ste’s mum found her on her chair, eyes closed, mouth open – catching the flies. Ste was the one to ring and tell me. I just hung up, told Darren.

I didn’t cry when she died you know. I mean I wanted to sure but they just wouldn’t come. Darren told me it was alright to cry, didn’t bother him if I wanted to hug him even, but it bothered me. Like I said before, people don’t really care. And crying makes people feel like they have to. I sat all sad faced and angry for a week but there weren’t no tears. I didn’t cry at the funeral neither. People probably thought I was trying to be tough but it weren’t that, I just couldn’t and that’s okay, right?

Have you ever been to a crem before? Everyone kept saying how beautiful it was there, all I saw was dead trees a name plaques that needed a good shine. There was this cannon noise at the beginning, which was actually the end, it made me sweat, shiver and shake. Death gave me a fever. The coffin looked too big for her, she was only 4 ft nothing and there she was in a 8ft coffin. I wondered if they lined it with anything like padding so they’re comfy or Velcro so they stay in place, does it even matter?

The night before the funeral I dreampt about her, she sat up in the coffin and smiled at me.  I wished she’d have done that in real life, shouted “syke” and I’d go back inside knowing that I’ll see her when Im out.

At the funeral I was chained to an officer, Good man actually, officer Sanderson. Big bloke, bald head, doesn’t take shit. Everyone on the wing respects him because he’s fair, gets things done. I only went to the cremation bit, read out a poem. Officer Sanderson unchained me for that. Let me go up alone. Big risk he took there, but he knew I wouldn’t run. I didn’t cry. Took deep breaths when someone said how sorry they were for my loss. They should have been sorry for her loss, when she lost me. That was when it all turned to shit. All her mates should have been angry at me but they kept being too nice. I laid some Lilies on the coffin. It was cold that day, like really fucking cold. Not wet or windy, just icy. I kept thinking that she’d need a blanket and pillow, the coffin wouldn’t be warm enough. I just muttered “She’ll be cold.” And Officer Sanderson looked at me.

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