Benjamin Hewitt

ben

nerd glasses with tape

Ben is 24 and trying desperately to stop ripping off authors he likes such as Paul Auster, Chuck Palahniuk, Jon McGregor, J.G. Ballard and David Foster Wallace (if only). In early 2013 he graduated with an MA in Creative Writing and Publishing from Kingston University, and currently lives in the wonderful city of Birmingham, where he gains inspiration from abandoned factories, vegan food and the wisdom of the homeless folk he hangs out with on Sundays. Before he dies, he aspires to make enough money to buy a new chain for his bike, a DSLR camera, and several years supply of pet food for the lovely cat named Lucy who lives on his street.

ink blotch

PARKS AND OPEN SPACES

Something

The two of them stood on a glacier in Iceland, watching the Northern Lights flash and burn across the sky. Then Tim let go of her hand.

He said that it wasn’t as beautiful as he thought it would be.

‘It’s just like a planetarium,’ he went on to say. ‘Those places are cold too, just like this.’

She didn’t look at him. She wasn’t angry, just really, really sad. She shivered. He rolled a cigarette, and by the time he had smoked it, the show was over. They got back on the coach, and he fell asleep on her shoulder.

The first thing she did when she got back to England was to take Abbie to the playground in the middle of the estate. Walking through the estate was like returning to land. It was the same feeling she got as a teenager when she would swim in the sea in Brighton and be so scared of sinking. She wasn’t meant to be out there, in the sea, she thought. It was for fish, and crabs and huge whales. It wasn’t made for her.

But once she had her shoes back on and she was walking across the beach, she remembered feeling she could do anything, back here on the land, where she belonged.

This is the feeling she had now, in the playground, as she put her niece on the torn rubber seat of a rusty steel swing. It was the same torn rubber and the same rusty steel as every swing in every council park in England. The same weeds growing out of the same tarmac.

Tim was up in the flat smoking weed. He had started selling it on the estate, but the amount he sold only levelled out with what his own habit cost. She smoked sometimes too, but they both knew it was not good for him. He would get so scared and useless, but without it he was so anxious. She understood it was the better choice sometimes.

She would walk in after her shift at the fruit shop and he would be sitting by the computer in his underwear, eyes bright red, unable to speak or move, staring at nothing, falling deeper into himself and away from her.

Her dad had paid for the Iceland trip for her and Tim, as a brief apology for the twenty year absence from his daughter. She hadn’t heard from him since he came round to buy the tickets. He had hugged her for a whole minute, as if he liked the look of a father and daughter reuniting, as if it were on a cinema screen in some English Indie film like Billy Elliot. He didn’t say much, and then he left.

This is the story of a certain kind of person she seemed to attract so far in her life. They never said much, and then they left.

On the flight out to Iceland, her and Tim cuddled and made little statues out of empty food containers and salt packets. They tittered and poked one another after the air stewardess took them away. They made up stories about the people around them, and when everyone started to sleep they put coats over themselves and touched each other.

On the flight back Tim looked out the window. His foot shook nervously. He grimaced when the plane dipped and rose. She tried hard to make conversation with him. She tried so hard to make him laugh. But soon he closed his eyes and slept, first pretending, then for real.

In the playground she pushed Abbie absent-mindedly on the swing. Her niece half-sang a nursery rhyme. It could have been any of the ones they taught at nursery, they were all so similar. It sounded most like ‘Polly Put The Kettle On’.

It was starting to spit and they’d have to go in soon. She wondered how Abbie would change as she grew older. Or Tim. Or herself. It was all out of control.

It was almost raining now but Abbie wanted to go on the roundabout before they left. The roundabout got faster and faster. Abbie giggled adorably and swung her head back.

The curtains were closed in her sister’s flat when they got back. She had a spare key. Her sister was asleep on the sofa, an empty bottle of Frosty Jacks on the floor.

Abbie skipped into the kitchen area and started pushing a toy car across the white lino. The little girl sang again, clearer now: ‘Polly puts the kettle on…..we’ll all have tea…’

She kneeled down by the sofa and stroked her sister’s hair. Her sister opened her eyes and looked up to see who was there. Her sister’s face looked old. It was discoloured with big patches of red. She smiled at the person who had woken her, but didn’t say anything, only turned over and went back to sleep.

She left her sister to sleep and went over to the kitchen. She put the kettle on then sat with Abbie on the floor. She asked her what she wanted to eat. Abbie shrugged. Minutes went by. The kettle hissed and rain tapped on the windows trying to get in. ‘Suzey takes it off again…,’ her niece sang, ‘they’ve all gone away.’

black tree

Photo by Aleksei Drakos

SPLINTERS

Splinters

“You’re a writer Jenny…tell me a story to cheer me up.”

“Okay so there’s a rock, and underneath there are two woodlice and they start to fight.”

“More detail.”

“Okay. So one of them is like an old man woodlouse with a chapped shell, and the other is a young female with a strong armoured back. Their little legs are hairy and grey. Their disconnection from the world of other animals has taken its toll and they’ve become aggressive.

“They live in this dark muddy dystopia beneath a rock on the northern edge of a cliff in Wales. Their precarious existence has turned them against one another. They engage in combat, and it goes on for hours. Then…

“…?”

“Then midway through the fight they enter a period of intense evolution.”

“Shit.”

“Each woodlouse attempts to evolve one step above the other, competing for superiority. The male grows thumbs and attempts to gouge the other’s eyes out. The female responds by growing several hundred pairs of disposable eyes all over her body. They both grow beaks and peck at one another.

They begin walking upright. They develop basic language skills. They double in size every eight minutes.

“What are they saying to each other?”

“Just cussing. He called her a bitch. She called him an asshole.”

“Right.”

“Because they’re so big, the rock that was once their home now becomes a weapon. They find other rocks in the nearby area and try to smash the armour on each other’s backs. They grow even bigger. They uproot some trees and use them like staffs. An equal weapon is always easily found nearby though, so there is an impasse. They put down their weapons and develop a variation on Bruce Lee’s martial art Jeet Kune Do, but using every one of their legs.

“Their evolution speeds up. Their size exceeds their capability to absorb oxygen from the atmosphere. The female louse, whose brain is, at this point, slightly more evolved, dives first into the ground. The male’s brain quickly catches up and dives after her. They both dig deeper, frantically but slowly, as the layers of the earth become more dense.

“The closer they get to the centre of the earth, the more immune they become to heat. The protective layer around their bodies melts the area around them and they leave a hollow tunnel behind. The earth spills into the void from either side.

“By the time the two louse reach the centre of the earth, earthquakes have destroyed the entire top crust of the earth and everybody is dead, except us.

“Me, you, and all our friends.

“And the lice.”

“Yeah, and the lice. But they exist in the centre of the earth, forever clamped together. Because of the compression of gravity they are unable to grow any more, and unable to move. They just exist, fused together with their rival in an eternal molten hug.

“We survive for like, a week. There’s no water because the heat released by the large tunnel has heated the crust to like, seventy degrees centigrade.

“But for that one week, it’s just us and our friends, and even though we’re starving and dying of thirst and heat exhaustion, we know for a fact that there is nobody else in the world alive, and it’s the best week of our lives.”

black tree

Photo by Tomek Dzido

FLATLINE(S)

red and white

The black kid in the Oxfam charity shop is firing two toy machine guns into the air. Rat a tat tat. I watch the woman behind the counter talk to her friend. She looks at me over her friend’s shoulder. I can tell she is also concerned. She also sees how insane and ironic this scene is. In the window of the shop is a big picture of a child soldier as part of a campaign for free education somewhere in the African continent.

Everyone is dying but I don’t feel a thing.

My cat died two weeks ago, but it’s like the cat I saw on the table at the vets wasn’t mine, so weak and powerless, breathing so strangely, eyes half closed. There were bits of muck around his eyes and his nose was leaking cat snot everywhere. I haven’t been waking up with a meow or a cat’s paw to the side of the head. I know this is the case, but I don’t feel what that means yet, it’s just a change, just a different way to wake up.

I haven’t cried in a long time. It’s like there’s this idea of death and loss lingering around, but it never becomes a big deal, never significant enough to stop me functioning.

I found out that Li’l Chris hung himself this morning, and I laughed.

I read recently in The Guardian that BB King was dead. I love his music and almost cry when he sings, but as a person he’s just a sound on an MP3 track. I didn’t even think he was a person who could die, whose body could shut down and expire. I’ll miss his fingers, maybe. And his voice box.

I feel sick and my stomach hurts. I feel like i’m going to cry, but there are no thoughts attached to the urge, just a dry physical sensation in my throat.

Me and her used to come in here all the time. I used to come up behind her and put my arms around her waist while she looked at books in the art section. I would kiss her neck and nuzzle her cheeks and she would smile, and I never wanted to let her go.

The black kid’s dad is taking the guns off him and putting them back on the shelf. It is only at this point that I realise the plastic toy guns weren’t brought in by the kid. They are being sold by the shop itself. How fucking crazy.

I think of the cute, cool things she used to buy. Books on mushrooms and trees. Books on this amazing fantasy art that she could probably do herself if she had the time. All this comes to me in this environment, away from the room where we argued so viciously. For two days i’ve been depressed, sure, moping around, but mostly I have been confused. Disorientated. Bewildered. When you spend two years with somebody every day, the first full day without contact just seems bizarre more than anything. Like you’re in a parallel universe, where you are a human being, the same human being, but you have a constantly painful stomach ache and a dry throat, and you don’t have the ability to succeed in relations with other humans.

These new thoughts, these emotions that come to me in the Oxfam charity shop, I don’t like this. I much preferred listening to sad music and feeling empty, and unusual. ‘Confused’. ‘Disorientated’. I try to stop it. I look at the politics section to get some kind of idea of a bigger picture, one where interpersonal relationships don’t mean as much. It’s just not the case, though, is it.

I realise that the shared concern I thought I had with the Oxfam woman behind the counter is meaningless. In the glance we had shared I thought she, too, saw the political irony and insanity of Oxfam selling toy guns, of the black child and the campaign poster in the window. Maybe she felt guilty for putting the guns out for sale. I can’t read people’s looks. I don’t know what any of my interactions with other people mean, or why they happen. Does the Oxfam woman even want me here, in this shop? Am I taking too long?

My legs feel weak. Me and her would come in here then go for a coffee a few doors down and talk about everything and anything. I need to give her a huge hug and a smile and a kind word. All I want is the past to be frozen and go on indefinitely, for time never to move and things never to change. I know it won’t. It can’t. I feel dizzy. What are we moving forward into? It’s not the unknown that bothers me, it’s the fact that every day since I was born I should have known that I would never be in the same place with the same person, in the same moment in time, ever again.

I am stood by the Religion section, and right then I have the thought that all the blood might fall out of me through the holes in my body, gush out over the Oxfam Bookshop floor and ruin the carpet. My stomach might decide it’s had enough anxiety and fall right out through my ass.

I panic. I start to sweat. I’m in crisis. I think the woman behind the counter is looking at me, knowing that I shouldn’t be in a public place right now. Her friend is looking at me too. I should be at home, mourning. Mourning the loss of everything and everyone to death and break-up and the passing of time. She’s on to me. Oh god.

I fall into a book shelf. A few books on spirituality fall to floor, and I slip quietly down with them.

I try to get up but I can’t. Hopefully no-one will see. I curl up into a ball against the bookshelf, ready to disappear. The ball gets tighter and tighter. I pull my knees into my chest.

“Are you okay?”

The Oxfam woman has come over to me and the black kid is looking at me strangely. He is unarmed. The woman kneels down and puts an arm on my shoulder. I shake it off and groan.

I want to die but I won’t, and can’t. This floor is just fine, the bookshop is comforting, so many words from anguished and enlightened people towering over me. The girl i’ve spent the last two years of my life with is out there somewhere, and that is a good thing. She is still alive, still having little bits of happiness every day, a nice sandwich or a funny video or a fond memory that can’t be erased. This is a good thing, I tell myself. I groan again, louder. Want to let it all out. She’ll be happy. I’ll be happy, maybe. There are a lot of good YouTube videos to watch, it’s a big website. I hope she finds all the good ones. I hope we both do.

“Get a first aid kit,” the woman says to somebody else, then to me, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Yeah but what about all the people that black kid has been made to kill? What about all the black kids that our country has killed? Fucking hell…I groan louder again, this time more like a wail.

The black kid is looking at me like he realises all the bad he’s done, like he realises that he never wants to kill anybody ever again. It was never his fault, and he knows it now. They made him do it, and somebody else made them do it…The cycle is broken! Throw away your toy guns! Realise the finality of death and create a better world!

I’m going insane. I won’t. I can’t.

I’ll definitely regret this embarrassing display in the morning. The thought of having to wake up tomorrow is horrible. Maybe they’ll let me sleep here. I am unable to move, shaking,  balled up like a fetus about to be reincarnated as exactly the same human they were before.

Just then, I remember that my cat is dead.

“Can you stand up?” The Oxfam woman asks.

“I don’t fucking know…” I say. Yeah. But not just yet. Let me lie on the floor for a while.

black tree

Photo by Tomek Dzido

GARBAGE THEORY

Cans-Garbage-leaves

The Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha, aborted their half-reptilian baby after six months. The human-half belonged to one of the waiters at the Coach House in Chipping Norton.

The Camerons disappeared after it went public a month later in December 2015, apparently because of backlash from members of The Party, or Christian shame, or something.

I know for a fact that they are dead.

Soon after, in February 2016, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie (of York) both had abortions, more or less at the same time, also due to cross-breeding with humans. No evidence has surfaced yet, which is why I have to tell my story – while I can. There will definitely be others, whether we hear about it or not.

Then the trouble will start. The human race is fucked.

Here me out. Try to keep up.

***

Most Reptilians live under the earth’s surface, but some are selected to shape-shift into prominent world figures – Prime Ministers, Monarchs, Lords and Ladies, the richest 1% – and together they are creating a New World Order.

In the Reptilian species, cross-breeding with humans is punishable by death. When the baby is a ‘pure’ breed, Reptilians will lay eggs, behind closed doors. Kate Middleton’s pregnant belly was actually a giant egg in her womb. Two to three days after birth, the little lizard is able to shape-shift into a human baby.

The private doctor who performed the Camerons’ abortion covertly took scans of the cross-breed reptile and sold them for a high six-figure sum to the Daily Mail. He was fired, but collected himself a nice little retirement fund. A host of medical experts have confirmed the scans’ authenticity.

You can clearly see the scales on the babies back, the forked tongue arching out of its mouth, the reptile eyes.

David Icke has told me the Camerons would have avoided getting scans of the baby as it developed, and that only at around six months would they have realised there was no egg.

Me and millions of other Britains now know the truth. Soon I’ll disappear, and all the old staff from the Coach House in Chipping Norton, where I was a waitress, will be next. But the Sheeple must know.

***

Back in June 2015, the manager at the Coach House gathered all the front of house staff in a room, and told us that the Camerons would be arriving to eat in half an hour. He wanted us to put the fancy seat covers on their chairs, and the silver tableware out.

The busser was the first of our minimum wage, zero-hour contract entourage to suggest we give the Prime Minister some ‘Surplus Value’ with their meal.

I put their silver cutlery in a bucket and, squatting in the alley behind the kitchen, pissed on it after drinking a litre of water. I swilled it around and dried it off.

The three waiters ejaculated onto a cushion each, two minutes before they were placed on the chairs. Their semen was camouflaged perfectly against the milky white covers. They said they got the idea from watching Fight Club.

The Camerons didn’t notice, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. We assumed the semen had dried off by the time they sat down, and that the piss stench was overpowered by the smell from their lobster.

That night we swore between us that any and every member of the Chipping Norton Set, or anybody like them, would get the same service.

In September the Princesses came in, surrounded by various non-royal acquaintances. I thought of their smug benefit scrounging faces as I downed my litre of water. I don’t know what the waiters thought of when they pulled themselves off next to me.

Princess Beatrice complained to the manager about the wet seat covers, but nothing came of it.

The last people we did it to were Elisabeth Murdoch and Matthew Freud. This was in about November 2015, six months into Samantha Cameron’s pregnancy. We hadn’t figured out the connection yet.

Murdoch complained too, but this time the couple recognised that it was semen they had sat on. They spat in the face of the manager and stormed out. The police were called.

The restaurant got closed down the same week. We all got sent to equally miserable lives on the dole.

Murdoch must have warned the Camerons at this point, which contributed to the first abortion.

Right before it went public, one of the waiters, Alan, asked all the old front of house staff out for a drink. I thought it would be nice to see what everyone’s plans were after the closing, so I went. When we got to the bar, Alan looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

He told us his prediction for the Camerons’ pregnancy. He had bought me and the others tickets to an event the next day at Wembley stadium, where conspiracy theorist David Icke was giving a speech. In the end me and him were the only ones who went. The others thought he was crazy.

The waiter had been writing to Icke and we met with him afterwards. In a flurry of strange hand gestures and wide eyes, they both explained to me for two hours everything they thought I needed to know: how easily Reptilians can be impregnated by human sperm and how permeable their skin is, their strict laws and customs, their need for human blood to continue thriving. They discussed ways for us to avoid detection if we all had to go into hiding.

***

Since February 2016 I’ve been living in a hotel. Millions of people are believers now, and it’s growing. Everyone’s nervous. I haven’t heard from Alan, but Icke has been calling me a lot. His ramblings have only gotten more disjointed since we first talked at Wembley. I feel like I have to listen to everything he says, to protect myself.

I will run out of money in about two weeks and I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m still alive by then. Icke said I can live with him.

I’ve thought about killing myself, in some humane way that will be better than whatever the Reptilians will do to me, when they start to pick off the Coach House staff for impregnating their females.

Until now I didn’t understand how the Camerons could have been so stupid, to get found out. Icke tells me they did it intentionally, sacrificed themselves, so as to slowly reveal the Reptilians’ existence and allow them to more openly harvest our race for blood.

This hotel room is so dusty and oppressive.

Icke did a talk a few days ago that was broadcast on BBC1, primetime. He’s become something of a messiah. He was on the phone to me beforehand telling me about ‘garbage theory’, the idea that life on earth developed from waste products dumped here by aliens millions of years ago. It’s making me feel a bit better about things.

black tree

ALAN SUGARTITS

Ruined Polaroid 51

“And the stamp comes out of here, yes,” said Mr. Jones. “I get it.”

“That’s right.” Takumi pointed to the slot on the diagram. “It works like a Polaroid camera, only it prints your photo onto a stamp. Each stamp high-res, sixteen megapixels-,”

“You’ve said. Look, Tak-,”

“Dry within five minutes.” Takumi was trembling.

Mr. Jones looked around the dusty Rochester café, embarrassed.

“Kodak Stamp’d,” repeated Takumi. In his mind he was back in his study, rehearsing the pronunciation.

“I don’t believe that Royal Mail-,”

“Martin Calbury, is the man I spoke to.” Takumi’s anxious leg was now rattling the table. “The head of their Rights Department. All the ‘Polaroid’ stamps are fully useable, First and Second Class blank sheets would be purchased from the Post Office, or…and Polaroid, they don’t make the refills anymore. If you would just take a look at the documents…” Takumi lifted the brown folder from the table again and pushed it at Mr. Jones.

“I don’t have time,” said Mr. Jones. “You’ve told me everything.”

“There won’t be any copyright issues. I can get a patent. It’s a new brand. Kodak Stamp’d.”

“I know the name, Tak.”

Takumi paused and shook his head. “You know the Tenth Floor won’t take me seriously, if you’re not on board,” he said. “Kodak would have a one hundred percent market share.”

Mr. Jones tried to avoid looking at Takumi’s pleading face.

“I’ll be another quack inventor without you.”

“You’ll be another desperate bloke trying to keep his job at a bankrupt company,” corrected Mr. Jones.

“Is this a no?”

“No-one sends letters anymore, Tak.” Mr. Jones began to put on his coat. “Finish your coffee.”

“I send letters,” said Takumi.

The man at Royal Mail had said it was a great idea. It was both retro and cutting-edge. It would bring the whole world together, rejuvenate the values that people used to have. People would send letters, love letters, again, for Christ’s sake.

Takumi rose to his feet. “Mr. Jones!” He said loudly. Boldly. “You do not know what you are passing up! I demand that you at least have a look at the plans. This will save this company, this will bring-,”

“Takumi!” Mr. Jones stood up and towered over Takumi. “Please! Don’t embarrass yourself. I have a headache. We have to get back.” He rubbed his forehead. “This discussion is over.” He threw a ten pound note onto the table and walked toward the door.

Takumi’s audience was leaving, and they hadn’t heard him properly. The words in his folder they were almost poetry, the visions, the marketing plans, the advertisements he had planned, they were all fine-tuned. Takumi would not be ignored. He closed his eyes and gripped the folder hard so that his fingers turned white and the nail on his right hand made a terrible scratching sound on the cardboard.

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SUNRISE OVER THIERS

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It’s my third day volunteering in France, and nobody knows I’m stoned. I have a good, functional buzz. On each of the four screens in front of me is a different view of the Rue de Lyon in Thiers. Every hour of every day a volunteer sits in this stained fabric chair and watches the CCTV. Watches, makes notes, watches again for any sign of unusual movement or untidy emotion. My family are about 710 miles away in Thiers’ official ‘twin’, Bridgnorth. Both places are steep and have ‘hightown’ and a ‘lowtown’.

There are no other volunteers on shift, just the Supervisor in his tiny office at the back of this room, smoking a cigarette and doing paperwork. I’m here on Erasmus studying in Lyon, and am required to get a French job. I don’t understand who would volunteer to do this otherwise. For me, I get credits sitting on my ass in short shifts, in a town where I can smoke walking down the street beforehand.

The first shift was mind-numbing, but after a joint it’s alright. I’ve been getting a bit paranoid as of late, so i have to be doing something relaxing after i smoke. This is good, though I didn’t know there’d be a supervisor watching me.

Monitor 1, an uphill fork in the road, is quiet. There’s a mural of a musician with a large signature design on it. It looks like a photograph but could be a very good painting. I consider that a photograph is not a complete realisation of a scene, but more like a painting with light. I write all of this down in the notebook I have been given, leaning slightly forward to really emphasise to the Supervisor that I am making notes as instructed.

On monitor 2 a guy in a reflective jacket is opening some kind of red box fixed to a wall. Another man in the same jacket is nearby, fiddling with some equipment inside a van that says ‘Saur 24 hour’ on the side. This is the most suspicious looking thing I have seen so far. I make lots of notes.

When I look at Monitor 3 it’s as if my perception is engulfed by it. It is as if my viewing the outside world via the HD screen is enough in a postmodern sense for me to be there – as long as two of my senses are interacting, i am ‘there’. The shutters on the windows are beautiful – wooden and slightly lopsided.

A deaf-blind person only uses three senses. If physical matter and space matters less in this stage of meta-reality, then – I turn the page in my notebook loudly, to show that I have finished a page of notes already – then…

I lose my trail of thought and look back up. I’m wavering in and out of stoned, and find myself thinking too much about whether the Supervisor knows. I concentrate on positive thoughts -someday, i think, i will retire to France, and all day i will smoke weed and watch CCTV.

On monitor 4 a man in a sagging dark grey suit opens his shiny white car and steps inside. Despite his formality he wears a pair of white-soled fashionable trainers. Maybe he is the CEO of a company, and can get away with it, though his car model wouldn’t suggest it.

The colours of the buildings are incredible. In some parts the plaster has cracked to reveal the brick underneath, in others it looks like it has been drybrushed with a huge paintbrush.

I notice that each of the streets are populated with more cars than people, driving slowly back and forth or parked in the bays at the sides of the road. They each seem to have their own personalities and facial shapes. This one is red in the face. The way the windscreen is almost level with its headlights makes it seem swollen. It has little puffed up white eyes, set in smooth red skin.

These two cars have tiny eyes and small blocky bodies, like muscly children. They are parked opposite one another, one white and one blue-white, like half-brothers. I draw their positions in the notebook, looking over my shoulder to check the Supervisor isn’t watching.

I write ‘Saur 24 hour’, the company name from monitor 2, in the notebook, and stare at it for a while. On the screen the guy with the reflective jacket is still at the red box, tugging at a wire inside and shaking his head. He stands up and looks over to his colleague, and seems to shout something.

A van rolls slowly up the hill toward Hightown in monitor 5, a big bulky overweight character with a faded transfer on its side that might be an old tattoo on a lumbering old white man.

The ‘Saur 24 hour’ man’s colleague comes over and together they look intently into the box. I make a note of their every movement. I lean forward in my chair again, and consider that, technically speaking, there is not a 0% chance that they could be planting a bomb.

I tell myself it’s just the weed, but once this sudden uncontrolled thought is in my head, I cannot get it out. In my position the only person standing in the way of a successful terrorist attack is me. I tap my pen on the notebook and try to calm down. They are just workers from the electric board.

The Supervisor’s voice startles me. “Waterr?” he says. I turn my head and take it from him. “How is it going?”

“I am unsure about these two men,” I say, surprised by the sound of my own voice. It comes out strangely and i hope that i sound sober. “It seems very suspicious.”

The Supervisor leans toward the monitor then pulls back and laughs. “Yes! I wonder what they are doing,” he says, then walks away.

I am left, annoyed at the dismissal, unconvinced and anxious, unable to tear my eyes away from the two men and the red box. Just then one of them looks up and down the street. I know i have to do something, maybe let the Police Nationale know. This is a bad buzz. It’s not a good start to my retirement plan.

Either the Supervisor doesn’t take his job seriously, or he knows something I don’t. I look to the left so that he is in my peripheral vision, and i reckon i can see him looking at me. Maybe he knows I know. My chest hurts and i’m sweating. Chill out. Just a bad buzz.

I rub my face with my hands. My mouth is dry so I take a sip of the water. One of the red box men turns around and scratches his head, and for a whole second i see his eyes meet the camera.

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THE WEDDING

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Nicols + co. Guns. Rifles. Accessories. Eddie always wanted the Christian bookshop he works in to have big metal letters jutting out of it, just like this, but the manager can’t afford it. The Nicols factory must date back to World War II.

Next door to the long since abandoned factory is a stretch of four terraced houses, also boarded up. Eddie fingers the splinters around a hole about three feet wide in one of the boards. He peers inside.

He can feel God in this place.

One of these houses has to be perfect for the wedding. Until now he wasn’t sure. Wanted to run away. The picking of churches for the ceremony was destroying him. Even five minutes ago. But now this, only a mile or two from their flat.

He crawls through. A sharp jut of wood catches his white shirt and rips a small hole. His work trousers get covered in dirt.

The darkness inside is comforting. The floorboards on this half of the living room are all missing. A sofa has fallen into the hole. Its paisley design is half-visible behind dust and boot prints. Eddie hops onto it, then up to the floorboards at the back of the room. On the other side of the room he looks back to the twilit street, framed by the splinters of the entrance hole. Outside an old lady waits for her bus. She checks her watch.

In the solitude of the living room he can feel the family that used it as their space. In the darkness Eddie feels the same privacy the room would have given them. In the light breeze he breathes them in, all their cells and their memories.

In the dim light the damp plaster peels, some remnants of wallpaper curled at the base of the walls, in amongst used needles and spoons. He recognises the little black and blue boxes that clinics give out. It’ll be easy to clear this stuff out before the big day.

Eddie can feel a draft from beyond the door to his left, which has been wedged open with a brick.

This is where God lives. Not in the fucking bookshop, not in the idyllic cathedral where Alison wants to get married. It’s cold there too, and dusty, but tidy and ordered, not how God wanted it.

Alison was raised by her parents in the all-singing, all-dancing Christian fashion, something Eddie was jealous of when they first met. Gospel churches, soup kitchens, vicars shouting positive vibes through microphones.

Eddie’s parents had brought him up In Norwich in a strict fundamentalist household, mass every Sunday, choir practice, saying grace before he was even allowed to tuck into popcorn at the cinema, and worst of all, confession – one visit for each time they caught him sharing a joint or a bottle of whiskey with his friends.

Nowadays he finds his parents’ dusty medieval Christian aesthetic more honest than Alison’s. More honest too than the idiots who fill the bookshop buying CDs and downloading daily prayers to their iPhones. More honest than singing ‘O Happy Day’ when the world is fucked.

After all the begging for forgiveness as a teenager, he knows that the Holy Ghost – whether he likes it or not – will always be there to filter his perception of the world. Eddie is just glad that when he does see God, it’s always in all the wrong places, the places his parents would have hated.

This is where God lives. In front of him there is a fireplace, on the mantel a picture frame with nothing in it. There is a needles box next to it. He touches the frame.

There’s a stairwell on the wall to the right, but most of the steps are broken and he doesn’t trust his luck to try. Instead he squeezes through the door to his left.

This looks like a study. A spinning black leather chair sits in the centre, its fabric torn. There is rubble everywhere, and in the corner is a mattress. Someone must have slept here, made it their home. In the corner of the room is a box of children’s toys. Star Wars. Transformers. An old He-man figure. Some random blocks of lego. All coated in dirt and dust. At the bottom of the box is a pool of stagnant water. Against one wall is a desk, blank paper scattered everywhere.

An ambulance siren wails out on the street. Life goes, becomes trees and wind and rubble, buildings crumble, kills more, people move on, on and on.

Eddie goes through another door to the kitchen, where the roof is blown off. He looks up to try and see stars in the cloudy evening sky. This room is where the chill had been coming from. The counters are all ripped out. A rat scurries across the back wall.

Eddie climbs onto an old boiler, and grabs hold of the top of the wall. He hoists himself up and sits there on the ledge, looking out at the scene behind the house. There’s a tiny patch of garden, and a fence that backs onto a man-made canal basin used for drainage. In the distance are city lights. Some blinking on a crane, some on a buzzing aeroplane sailing across water-filled clouds. The big clock near the cathedral is all lit up. So much is happening in no time at all, like an ancient supernova.

This is where him and Alison will get married. This house right here, in the ashes of another family, ready to make their own. Saying their vows, looking down at a box of toys from another child, a child that they both used to be and can grow away from together. He lights a cigarette.

“Ha!” He shouts. “Wooo!”, overcome with happiness.

He finishes smoking and jumps down off the wall, ready to get back home, ready to tell Alison what he has found. All their months of searching for a good place, and this is it. He squeezes through into the study.

On the floor two men are sat with their backs to him. One of them with his sleeve rolled up, the other carefully putting tobacco a cigarette paper. Eddie freezes, his chest palpitating. One of them is sedated and looks up at Eddie, smiling. The other scans Eddie’s dim form.

“I’d have tidied up if I knew the property investors were coming over,” the man says, studying the hole in Eddie’s shirt. He rearranges the tobacco in his Rizla. The man is handsome, with large curly hair and thick rimmed glasses. The sedated man is dressed in a grey tracksuit, and laughs at his friend’s joke.

“Sorry, I didn’t know there was anyone in here,” says Eddie through a dry throat.

“S’alright. Got a light? Mine’s running out.”

“I don’t smoke.”

“No worries boss…Want to take a seat? The couch is a bit dusty.” He finishes rolling his cigarette then points to the huge hole in the floor near the entrance, where the sofa is sunk in. The sedated man quietly laughs again.

“I better be going,” says Eddie.

“Suit yourself,” says the man, and takes some time to fire up his cigarette with a dying lighter. He shakes it and rolls the flint again and again, until finally just enough flame comes out.

Eddie tries to move his feet but cannot. God is in everyone, he thinks. Every single person is God.

He looks toward the entrance hole on the other side of the room, saying nothing, doing nothing, watching the tobacco smoke curl upwards and distort the streetlight coming in from outside.

black tree

THE HEAVEN OF CANNIBALS

apple

You can only take 7 items. 17 to choose from. 3 elasticated luggage straps. First Aid Box. Guide to South American plant species. Work in your groups. You have 10 minutes. Nametags with the store brand at the top, pinned to everyone’s chest. Black sharpie names. Group interview. Trial shifts on Saturday for the lucky 5. Race to the finish.

You cannot remain where you are.

The aeroplane wreckage could catch fire.

It is 3 days to the edge of the Brazilian rainforest. A 1 litre bottle of the local alcoholic spirit. ‘Tina’: We could get drunk to calm us down. Assistant manager makes a note. ‘Fay’: Bribe the locals not to kill us. Chumi laughs.

Chumi is a bitch. Chumi has an anger problem. Chumi is bossy. 29. Acne and thin ankles like they’re going to break. Bangladeshi. Feeling too quiet compared to the other candidates. Fake laughs and looks at the task sheet. A pack of 25 anti-malaria tablets. Stomach pains. Hunger. Feels good. 2 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. Tired.

1 Apple iPhone phone with GPS. 2 boxes of chocolate chip cookies. A huge call-centre. Work your way up, Chumi. Manager in 10 years. Tread on their backs. Like stairs. Becky, Fay, etc.

The Assistant Manager looks at Chumi. Her cheekbones, hollow. Thin brown wrists like a copper pipe.

Peeling blue floral wallpaper in the interview room. Humid. Sweat and skin and steam from cheap complimentary coffee. 2 boxes of Chocolate chip cookies.

1 Flare gun with 1 flare. ‘Fay’: We should keep it as a weapon. ‘Yoanna’: Surely we need to just fire it. There could be a plane nearby. Chumi coughs. 1 swiss army knife. Send a message. Kill or be killed. ‘Fay’: We have the mobile phone for that. Yoanna leans forward, raises her voice: It probably doesn’t have any signal. ‘Fay’: Erm, GPS? ‘Yoanna’: Fay, is it? Listen-,

Nobody else talks for two minutes. Fighting talk only. The Assistant Manager makes lots of notes. Guardian article at breakfast. Chumi’s kitchen. 40 Bangladeshi women garment workers. Locked in a room. Toast, jam. Unventilated.  No toilets. No Water. No Food. Sweatpatches under Chumi’s pits. She needs a piss. Three hours punishment for being unproductive. ITGLWF enquiries being made.

A collection of paperback novels. A Tourist map of Brazil. A 3 metre square piece of opaque plastic sheeting. No water. No food. Chocolate chip cookies.

Time’s up. You’ll hear from us in the morning, we have your numbers.

Hate and smiles and fake goodbyes. Leave the building before the others. Turn left. Walk quickly. Heart beating. Confrontation. Competition.

Social anxiety overload. Face twitching like a hamster scratching itself.

The voice whispers in Chumi’s ear. Louder today, and suddenly all she can hear. She’s achieving something. Her bones ache. Her periods stopped this month. But.

The anxiety deafening, the compulsion too strong. Head to the corner shop. Pack of 10 superkings. Two big bars of dairy milk. 2 Peperamis. A packet of cheese and onion Walkers.

Get on the bus. Bottom deck. Back seats. Walk to the Central library. Unsteady feet. Big grey building. Concrete. Nineteen sixties Brutalist architecture. Take the escalator. Third floor. Find an empty booth. Nice. Secluded. Lay the food out.

Slap yourself. Panic. Put the food back in the black plastic bag. Head out to the bookshelves. Throw it all in the bin. Panic. Look around. Empty. Dig a Peperami back out. Shove it into your mouth. Panic.

Through the doors. Out to the library balcony. Lean over the edge. Vomit. Some hits the building’s sign. Some hits the ground. A dead wasp on the floor by her foot. Stomach pains. Take out a half-eaten apple. Put it back in the cling film. Back in the rucksack. Feeling dizzy. Feeling sick. Light a cigarette.

Security inside the building behind. Pointing toward her.

Look at the city. Try to calm down. Shiver. Smoke. Bones. Skin. Nihilist. The office block she’d just come from. Guy in a sleeping bag on a bench. Can of cider. Muddy face. Office blocks being built. Drilling. The Guardian offices. Rana Plaza. Bangladesh. 1100 dead. 76% women. Chumi’s distant Cousin Panchali. Sudden sadness. Nice girl. Childhood friends. Broken factory. Major cracks in the walls. Had to go in or lose their job.

Billboard for H & M. Woman in a black dress. Woman in a black balaclava. Molotovs. Tear gas. Dreamy.  Security staff eating lunch behind her.

Hates everyone. Doesn’t want the job. ‘Dad’: It will help you. Get out and about.

‘Chumi’ is just a creature that starves. Shits. Pukes. Shivers. That is all. She runs for miles a day on a few bites of apple. Compulsive sit-ups. Push-ups. 10 secret cigarettes. Dizzy. Feint.

Pick 7 items. 3 blankets from the plane. A box of matches from the hotel. Keep warm when you’re lost.

Someday she will disappear. Somewhere inside a mental unit. Gone. First her bones. Muscle. Blood. Skin. Gone. Something achieved. Something lost. 1 dead.

Dizzy. Feint. Rubs head. Door opens. Drops cigarette. Light head. Blacks out. Floats down. Balcony floor. Bangs elbow. Rips shirt. Hard concrete.

Blue sky. Fat clouds. Nineteen sixties Brutalist architecture. Cracks in the walls. Billions dying. Millions dead.

black tree

SINALTRAINAL v. COCA-COLA v. VELVETGODESS45

Leaf_Veins_by_CatherinetteRings

Selly Park makes me nervous. All parks make me nervous in the summer. Single mothers with thin adidas tracksuits on are like half-dead women with skulls for faces, pushing prams under twisted trees that threaten to swallow me whole. The footballers run around in little packs like pirates, drinking cheap alcohol and cackling. Their faces are grubby and I imagine their lips smiling at me, all sliced open and bloody from the edges of the rusty cans they swig from, all tetanus-filled and disgusting, winking and telling me to ‘cheer up’. The sun is clammy and oppressive and the midges around the trees are like tiny bats with no skin.

In the winter the park is more like a Jane Austen novel or a scene from The Nightmare Before Christmas – more like a romantic, gothic wonderland where I can relax on an empty swing-set or lay a tarpaulin on the wet grass and think.

Nevertheless I’m here, meeting a boy I’ve been speaking to for about a year on Tumblr. BlueBaeXVX shares my love of cybergoth and hand-poked tattoos, Broad City and Studio Ghibli films. Hopefully he’s real and not a paedophile or a murderer. Hopefully he’s the same person as his pictures.

I’m fifteen minutes early so I do a slow walk around the perimeter of the park. I don’t want to stand around in one place as I might look like an eccentric drug dealer, in my velvet jacket and New Rocks. I walk past some outdoor work-out equipment, and notice something shiny on the grass.

On closer inspection I see that it’s an iPhone 5. There’s nobody on this side of the park. I’m a whole field away from the single mothers and the footballers, from the tiny stupid humans on the playground equipment, squealing and crying. The iPhone doesn’t look damaged. I pick it up.

It’s on and has no pin code for some reason. I consider what I would want somebody to do if they found my phone in a park. I’d probably want them to call ‘home’ or ‘mum’, and tell them they have it, and offer to drop it somewhere and wait around, so that’s exactly what I decide to do.

I pause before I press the green ‘call’ button and think who the phone might belong to. What if this belongs to some upper middle class uni student SuperDry-wearing brat? This is a student area, so it probably does. I’m completely skint and my mum’s in debt. I could do with the couple hundred quid from CEx this would get me. What if it belongs to some dickhead marketing executive and it dropped out of his briefcase? What if it belongs to an undercover cop on his way back from the house of an anti-war activist he’s manipulating into a sexual relationship? Or a rapist who assaulted a woman in this exact spot and the phone fell from their pocket..?

I scratch my forearm and look around. In the middle of the park there’s a lesbian couple on a picnic blanket that I hadn’t notice before. They’re feeding each other what looks like Chilli Heatwave flavour Doritos out of a big red bag.

I hit the green button and call ‘home’. A man answers.

“Yeello?”

“Hey, erm…”

“Yes? Who is this?”

“I found a phone…this phone, in Selly Park. This was under ‘home’. It’s an iPhone.”

“Ah, fantastic! Congratulations!”

“I don’t…do you want me to wait here?”

The line goes dead. I look at the battery and it’s full.

There are cheers coming from the road.

A van has parked up on this side of the park, about 50 feet away from me on the road. Several people have rushed out of it with cameras and headphones in their hands. They’re coming towards me.

I start to back away. An attractive woman dressed by Topshop is holding a huge fluffy blue microphone and hurrying over to me, motioning me to come toward her. I shake my head. I can hear her saying something that is magnified over speakers somewhere.

“Congratulations! What’s your name?”

“Who the fuck-,”

“You’ve just won a trip for two to Italy,” she wails, “and an iPhone!” Celebration by Kool & The Gang starts playing out the back of the van. It’s all happening so fast.

My heart starts to go like a lawnmower and I sweat. The whole thing is hellish. It’s just me and about ten of them, cameras pointing at me, disgusting music playing, smiling amateur presenter in her big upwardly mobile moment. This is the worst possible thing that could have happened to me.

A fluttering from overhead draws near and I realise that a helicopter is approaching. I look up. It slows down and hovers. Gradually it gets lower and the sound gets louder, and louder.

“Piss off…” I say, and carry on backing away. They don’t hear me over the helicopter. The woman with the microphone is still smiling that stupid TV-friendly smile.

She’s wearing a t-shirt with a Coca-Cola logo on it. They all are. It’s an advertisement. They’re recording a fucking stunt-based advertisement for Coca-Cola.

“Piss off!” I shout it louder and she’s clearly heard me this time but she carries on smiling. I don’t know why I’m facing them. They’re only about 10 feet away. I turn and sprint away as fast as I can.

I look over my shoulder and see that they’re actually following me. All of them are jogging, the woman, the producers, the camera crew with their heavy six figure equipment and boom poles, all hopping over their cables that drag on the hot, hard ground.

Everyone in the park is staring at me. There’s no escape. I feel like throwing up. I try to make my feet move faster. If they don’t use this for an advertisement it’ll end up on a bloopers show, or YouTube. It’ll get a million views and I’ll kill myself.

I can imagine the upbeat music now, over the top of my panicked, crying face. A million hits on YouTube for Coca-Cola. A million views for paramilitary union-busting criminal empire fucking-Coca-fucking-Cola.

Then I spot BlueBaeXVX on the road I’m headed towards, and it feels like my heart stops, just like that.

BlueBaeXVX, standing there, shielding his eyes from the sun with his right hand, peering in my direction, looking puzzled. He’s not an old creepy man at all. He’s just as beautiful as in his pictures, shaved head and beard dyed purple. We were both real people after all. This isn’t some Catfish horror story and my heart literally stops.

Then I’m flying forward, face turning toward the ground. I realise I’ve tripped over a loose strap from my coat, and a second later I hit the ground and I do a somersault before my body crashes into the lesbian couple having their picnic. They yell and swear and I feel one of their heads slam into the ground under my ribs.

I finally come to a halt and my neck is in a lot of pain and my bare legs feel like they’re all cut up. I roll over to face them and babble apologies toward the tangle of blanket and human beings. One of the women is getting up and looking distraught between me, her injured lover, and the camera crew.

The woman with the microphone approaches. She’s still smiling, though her eyes are wide and uncertain. The camera crew is still rolling. They surround the scene as the giddy presenter hurries past the lesbian couple, and kneels down next to me.

She holds up a Coca-Cola bottle with ‘Maria’ written on it. She moves the microphone away from her mouth and holds a finger up to the camera crew. “Can we call you Maria for the advert?” she asks, and winks. “If not we can pause and you can go and choose a different bottle from the van.”

black shape

Sunrise Over Cappadocia

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I’m watching my niece’s primary school play and nobody knows i’m stoned. The one hundred and fifty costumed children in years 5 and 6 – who fill the stage, five rows of seats either side of it, and an area of the floor in front – are singing a pop-y musical number to re-introduce the play after the interval. Most of them are out of tune. The twenty rows of audience members clap along robotically.

The Year 6 teacher playing the piano stops, and the audience cheers. The children rearrange themselves.

One group of about 20 children – dressed as peasants – position themselves on the floor space and pretend to dig vegetables into the ground. They are wearing pieces of fabric that the hot year 3 teacher with a textiles degree made. On the stage maybe half as many children are stood behind a cardboard cut-out of a castle.  From the A4 folded programme i read that these are the various members of the feudal aristocracy that governed Cappadocia in the 6th century.

The idea of historical or artistic information being communicated through a school play initially seems pointless to me, then I consider that every professional stage team needs to have put on an amateur production first at some point, and to an audience as well, in order to progress. Everything is about progressing gradually in steps – in time, in skills, in space – and I wonder whether a lot of societal problems are caused by people trying to skip steps. Or are they caused by people rebelling against artificially created steps that should actually be ramps, or level plains…I reckon school plays romanticise acting as the vital, enviable career kids have always seen it as, despite it being, in general, not that important to the general operation and progression of society.

A Year 6 child who is meant to be Alexander the Great is now battling with another child who is meant to be from one or multiple non-specified Arabic countr(ies), according to the programme.

Nobody knows I’m stoned because I took a long walk around the reservoir next to the school during the interval. It doesn’t matter too much if I still smell. I’m not anybody’s parent so being found out wouldn’t be detrimental to the child’s reputation. It might make my niece’s peers think she’s cooler. I settle with this idea, and find myself almost hoping that I do get found out, and that it eventually has a positive impact on my niece’s early social life and potentially her confidence in later life.

I’m very, very aware right now that I’m not in Ancient Cappadocia. I’m actually watching children with limited intelligence dressed up as historical individuals that they never knew. I am aware that the children care primarily about whether they get to sit by their friends at the side of the stage, or whether they get enough stage-time. This awareness makes everything much more enjoyable for me. I like not being absorbed into the world of the play. Maybe it’s important to always be an objective individual looking at the scene as it is, in protons and neutrons. These are children acting on a stage, after having rehearsed this play because their curriculum recommends they put on a production to aid creative and team-based development. Right now on the floor space in front of the stage, those children are not an actual gang of kings siding with a non-Cappadocian country against the invading Roman army.

According to the programme Nicolas Cage said that he liked Cappadocia after acting in some film or other that used it for a location. I guess the producers saw the vast rockfaces and beautiful orange plains as a photogenic backdrop for explosions. Maybe they thought that a black motorbike might look good speeding down a barren hillside, if filmed at 10,000km from a helicopter.

The play is much shorter than I remember school plays being as a child. Maybe, in addition to things spatially seeming much larger when you are a child, time also seems stretched out. I wonder why. Maybe a child’s mind receives information at a slower pace and so time appears to go slower.

The Ottoman Empire are now marching across the stage, though the Empire is in fact the Year 5 class that my niece is in. I can see her there in the toga that my sister made. She’s on call tonight at the hospital, so i said i’d come. I hope she knows the things her mum has had to do to provide for her. She waves at me from the stage, as does another kid to their family member(s).  Some people in the audience laugh. I wave back at my niece and smile. I give her a thumbs up.

Behind the stage is a cartoonish NHS poster reminding children to eat five fruit and vegetables a day. I stare at it for a long time, thinking that it’s hard to believe any other place or time exists or existed, when i’ve grown up, like my niece, in English primary school assembly halls like this one. At the end of Homage to Catalonia Orwell talks about the ‘deep, deep sleep of England’, I always remember that.

The Year 6 teacher on the piano breaks into Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen, and everyone in the audience starts clapping rhythmically. The Ottoman Empire are chased off the stage by a hoard of children dressed as marathon runners. All the 150-odd children take their places and start jogging on the spot to represent the Runfire Cappadocia Ultramarathon that takes place there every year in the present day. This is the last scene. I check that my jacket with my bud in it is still under my chair, then look up and give another thumbs up to my niece, who I realise is looking at me and smiling.

black shape

EVERY PHOTOGRAPH (SEX OR CLASS WAR)

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I kick the leaves vaguely toward the wall of the alley, thinking that even if I go to college and become a writer (or if i start this band with Chris properly and we get really big) i’d probably still have to strip off for my Rolling Stone cover-story when it comes to it. I’ve got a big scar down my back because my dad spilt boiling water on me when I was six years old. I reckon this would mean for sure that the editorial team would want me to get my kit off – it would be 50% like a selling point for the childhood trauma being exclusively revealed by the magazine, and 50% a kind of public act that intrinsically overcomes said trauma in a sexually-empowering-because-my-body-is-still-up-for-wank-fodder-despite-it-being-flawed…kind of thing.

As I wait for Chris to show up, I’m kicking crackly dead brown leaves toward the wall of the alley, though it’s more of a scooping motion that i’m making with my foot. I slip my foot underneath a thick layer of them (like i’m grabbing a ‘footful’, I think to myself, then realise that’s not a good word for it as it’s more like the equivalent of putting them on the back of my hand), then I jerk my foot upwards. Half of the leaves flutter away and half stay on my trainer. I shake the remaining ones off and watch them fall to the ground. It’s not as satisfying as it could be, because I can’t scoop as many leaves as I would like to. My foot is only as big as it is, I guess. These are the kind of quirky things I will say in the Rolling Stone interview. Maybe i’ll tell them the anecdote about how me and Chris met, and segway into talking about how we became a musician power-couple. The interviewer will say something about Chris being a ‘very lucky man’ and they’ll print that I laughed at this, even though it will have been nervous laughter from feeling intimidated by the interviewer hitting on me alone in some hotel room where the interview is taking place.

I get scared sometimes that if me and Chris were put in a hotel room with no external stimulation or accompanying activities – like playing music together, or ironically watching TV, both things we enjoy – that we wouldn’t be together. It’s not like the sex is great. About a month ago I decided to talk to him about him being selfish in bed, and that it upset me that he must surely know he was getting more out of it than me but was fine with it (I made the mistake of saying ‘most men are fine with it,’ and that caused a storm…). Eventually I said that I wanted us to have a healthy relationship and so would educate him on how to pleasure a woman and have good, mutual sex. I said he could talk to me about things he wanted too (and I held back from pointing out it was pretty easy to make a guy cum. I did joke that on the few occasions he used to go near my clitoris, he seemed to think it was actually a button, and he didn’t laugh.)

After getting over the initial offence he (annoyingly) took, and after his ‘men have it hard’ speech, he seemed really grateful that I had opened up, and he was really eager (to become a master of sex in his words). I’ve realised since then that he’s not actually eager to make me happy, but wants an ego boost after this “blow to his masculinity”.

(Which is all very shit, to be honest, but there you go.) Fuck knows if we’ll stay together much longer. He’s too ashamed and emasculated, and probably needs someone fresh and uncritical once he’s done building up his sexual reportoire. We both have our own lives so it wouldn’t be too traumatic if we broke up. He’ll use his new-found skills elsewhere. The last few weeks since the talk he’s treated me a bit like a CPR doll for him to practice on. I can’t win. They need to teach this shit to boys in school when they teach them how to stretch a Johnny over their dicks.

(I hear a car horn from the street, and through the gate at the end of the alleyway I see someone slam their hands on someone else’s bonnet. It sounds tense and exciting. The air is really nice and it’s pretty warm, even for an autumn in San Francisco.)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Britney Spears, Jessica ALba, Janet Jackson, Buffy the fucking vamprire slayer, all in full-body photographs on the cover, all either half or fully nude. Barack Obama, Jay-Z, Robert Downey Junior, Johnny Depp and Don Draper, all in photographs of just their fucking heads (maybe their shoulders too, I don’t remember). With Cap’n Jack there was a tiny bit of chest poking out of his slightly un-buttoned shirt, but the shot barely went below the neckline (I guess it’s because he’s quite feminine). I can feel myself getting really pissed off and I kick a thick pile of leaves in frustration. It feels good. I hope I don’t end up ranting to Chris about it, when he gets here. He’ll get all patronising or say something stupid (I’ll get it all out via leaf-kicking before then).

I look up from the leaves toward the street because I think I see somebody entering through the alley gate, but it is just a woman who has stopped to get something out of her buggy. She reaches underneath it into a big pouch. She and the buggy are framed and dissected by the heavy metal gate. (If I had my camera with me i’d take a picture because it looks like a cool metaphor for motherhood as like a prison, or like, the female body as a prison maybe…I don’t know. Not everything is political or has meaning to be fair. I like the scene aesthetically. The concept is not very thought-out and i’m probably oversimplifying. People will take what they want though from the naturally occuring image that I capture with my camera. That’s why photography is the best kind of art. Constructed, obvious, preachy shit sucks.)

I haven’t had a kid, hopefully i never will. My vagina isn’t meant to stretch that wide (What a terrifying idea – who the fuck came up with it?).

I remember that raking leaves used to be quite satisying as a kid. Sweeping a driveway or cleaning a kitchen or shovelling snow are satisfying kinds of activities (I used to think this was a result of some middle class fascistic aesthetic that has been socialized into us, but then I saw an episode of Planet Earth, the nature show, that made me think differently. These Birds of Paradise were clearing up their display areas for mating, scrubbing branches and flinging bits of leaf away from where they would do their dance. It was super cute, and I thought they must have amazing sex with this sheer amount of foreplay that they do beforehand.)

(Chris is an hour and a half late. I have walked two blocks to his side of the neighbourhood because he said he was up late on his computer last night and is tired, and doesn’t want to walk to my block. We’re meeting in an alleyway because people on this block give us dirty looks. Supposedly it’s 2014 but a black woman and a white guy can still get teeth sucked at them. I ring his home phone and it goes to voicemail twice. He doesn’t have a mobile at the moment because he dropped it in a toilet.) Blah blah blah. So he’s not coming and it’s all fucked.

black shape

A FORGOTTEN COLOUR

o-USING-COMPUTER-IN-DARK-facebook

‎22‎:‎59

i want to lick you from your belly up to your neck‏

‎22‎:‎59

i have diorite on me…lalala…ignore…hot‏

dorito‏

row‏

you have frozen‏

have i frozen?‏

‎23‎:‎00

nooooo‏

– CALL, BUSY –

‎23‎:‎00

why you frozen‏

‎23‎:‎00

– CALL, BUSY –

‎23‎:‎00

– CALL –

‎23‎:‎00

– CALL, CONNECTED –

‎23‎:‎00

I miss your beautiful body‏

you are such high quality picture‏

‎23‎:‎00

it misses you‏

i am??‏

‎23‎:‎01

oh dear‏

‎23‎:‎01

changed my mind, I want to lick you from toes to neck instead‏

‎23‎:‎01

i wad yo to lick mr fro belly button to toes to head to belly‏

‎23‎:‎02

and I want to stop at your thigh and take forever kissing from your knee up and up and up‏

then I want to kiss right on your outer lips up and down, really gently, and stroke your belly‏

then stroke them with one finger until you get soaking wet‏

‎23‎:‎03

then I wanna kiss you really gently right in the middle to get my lips wet with your juices‏

and nuzzle you a bit with my nose‏

and slip my hands under your butt‏

wanna touch yourself….?‏

and ill tell you more‏

‎23‎:‎04

or is mother around‏

‎23‎:‎04

she is in bed‏

door is open‏

i will go stop intruding cat‏

maybe‏

‎23‎:‎04

k‏

no worries if not, I will tell you stories anyway‏

:)‏

‎23‎:‎05

i am getting into pants‏

‎23‎:‎05

:P‏

me too‏

‎23‎:‎06

1 sec‏

‎23‎:‎06

lighting!‏

:P‏

no lighting‏

‎23‎:‎06

where was I…‏

‎23‎:‎07

i am like shaky turned on‏

‎23‎:‎07

so with my hands… im stroking your belly….up to your chest, running a finger around your nipples‏

and with my face buried between your legs, i’m breathing heavy on you‏

‎23‎:‎08

and you’re stroking my hair, asking me to just do it‏

and when you’re soaking wet and can’t take it any more‏

I bury my face completely in you and lick from the bottom of your pussy all the way up to the top‏

and tickle you nice and softly on your bit‏

and give it a kiss‏

and with my spare hand I reach down and start stroking myself‏

‎23‎:‎09

and I can feel the end of me getting wet‏

and I use it to stroke myself soft and get myself rock hard‏

and my heads in you and you’re pushing it in really hard now‏

‎23‎:‎10

and i’m getting faster, my tongue going in a million directions‏

like a hurricane ;)‏

and i’m sucking on your bit‏

and I spit on my fingers and rub them around your nipples‏

and you grip my hands‏

and I grab myself‏

‎23‎:‎11

and stroke it faster and faster and I feel like coming everywhere‏

and all I wanna do is just fuck you‏

so I climb on top of you and kiss you from your lips‏

to your neck‏

to your beautiful chest‏

to your amazing stomach and all down your arms, all the time with one finger making sure you stay wet‏

and I slip two inside‏

to make sure you’re ready‏

‎23‎:‎12

and tickle you for a while, and your hands are on the back of my head‏

and I slip inside you‏

and kiss you hard‏

what were you gonna say?‏

‎23‎:‎12

i am so wet right now, look…‏

‎23‎:‎12

omg I want to taste that so badly‏

i love the way you taste it is the best thing in the world‏

‎23‎:‎13

omg‏

can u see me ok‏

‎23‎:‎13

kind of, it is dark‏

‎23‎:‎14

i am so hard for you right now‏

i want to be inside you so badly…. but at the same time i want you to ride my face… i cant decide‏

i wish i could do both at once‏

i wish there was a way to be inside you but also be licking your bit in a million different ways‏

and make you cum from both thing‏

s‏

‎23‎:‎15

at once‏

i want to lie you down and kiss your neck and hold you, and go so deep inside you‏

‎23‎:‎16

an i see your pussy, for a sec….‏

‎23‎:‎16

i don’t know how to aim mac‏

ummm….‏

‎23‎:‎16

that is ok‏

nooo‏

no worries‏

carry‏

on‏

:P‏

‎23‎:‎17

don’t wanna interrupt you‏

i wish i was in your mouth right now…‏

‎23‎:‎18

i feel o wet but want it to be your spit not mine‏

i want to rub myself over every inch of you‏

omg you’re amazing‏

‎23‎:‎19

i want to kiss every tiny bit of your beautiful self‏

kiss/llick/hump‏

omg yeah‏

‎23‎:‎19

webcam went‏

yours‏

you ae back‏

….‏

‎23‎:‎21

i will never see someone as hot as you in my whole life‏

i want to climb on top of you and touch myself, kneeling over you‏

and grab one of your boobs with one hand, running a wet finger around your nipple‏

and with the other reach back‏

and slip two fingers inside your pussy‏

‎23‎:‎22

and carress every bit of you inside‏

every wall‏

every millimetre of you inside, and ask you how each bit feels‏

and ill know exactly where you want to be touched‏

without you even having to say‏

‎23‎:‎22

im going to cum soon‏

‎23‎:‎23

and then i want to pull you up and on top of you‏

and down onto my face‏

and pull you tight against my tongue‏

and grab your ass‏

and make you grind against my tongue and stare into your eyes‏

and i’ll put my tongue as deep as i can into you‏

then put it out and flick it around so you can see‏

and you’ll reach back‏

‎23‎:‎24

and grab hold of me‏

and use your own juice to get me off‏

then ill turn you around and your face will land on me, and i’ll slip inside your mouth‏

while your pussy is still on mine‏

and youll pull me deep inside your mouth and i wont be able to stop groaning even with my whole face in your pussy‏

‎23‎:‎25

and i’ll grab your ass and make you grind on my face and i’ll make your face move facer on me‏

and ill thrust up and down fucking you‏

while you fuck my face too‏

and pull your body tight against mine‏

‎23‎:‎26

so i’ll completely inside your mouth at the back of your throat, and your pussy will be so hard down on my face i wont even be able to breathe‏

but ill feel so good‏

i wanna come inside you so badly‏

‎23‎:‎27

wanna fuck you from every angle‏

then come inside you and kiss you hard on the lips as i do‏

and i want us both to come at the same time‏

then i’ll go down and lick both our juices up‏

then kiss you so we can both taste eachother‏

‎23‎:‎28

then move up and run my penis over your lips‏

so you can taste every last drop of me‏

and i want to drink up every last drop of you afterwards‏

so that you’re completely dry‏

then talk dirty to you for half an hour until you’re wet again, then go inside again‏

and i want to do this fforever‏

‎23‎:‎29

either fucking you with my dick or my tongue‏

until you come and come and come‏

until it’s like we’re in some half dream state‏

where it’s just our bodies‏

coated in come and your juice‏

and sweat‏

rolling around our bed forever kissing eachother‏

and telling eachother we love one another‏

‎23‎:‎30

with fairy lights around us, illuminating us glistening, and us fucking ,faster and faster until we’re a blur‏

until i don’t know what it feels like to not be inside of you‏

to not have my dick deep inside you‏

to not have my face completely buried in your pussy‏

‎23‎:‎31

to not be looking up at your sexy form as you ride my face, fucking my face as hard as you can‏

pulling my hair‏

and pulling me hard against you‏

digging your nails into my head‏

and my neck‏

and bouncing up and down on my face‏

your ass bouncing against my neck‏

your bit slapping off my face until my cheeks go red and sore‏

and im groaning because of how good it feels‏

‎23‎:‎32

and il dripping bed, streams of your juice going from between my lips and your pussy‏

every time you go up‏

and when you go down i slam back into the bed‏

and you stay there, on top of me‏

not letting me breathe until you say so‏

and all the while i’m fapping so hard‏

just rubbing myself until i’m sore‏

‎23‎:‎33

so wet from your spit‏

because you’re reaching back and helping me‏

and then you come, so hard‏

then you scream and everyone for miles can hear‏

and you come for like a minute‏

‎23‎:‎33

i have left a wet patch‏

‎23‎:‎33

im so dizzy‏

where am i‏

‎23‎:‎34

whats happening‏

i need water‏

how was it‏

for you‏

black shape

COLIN

SPIDERWEB

*

Colin has no personal investment in the advertising agency that he work[ed] for, but for some bizarre reason he actually expected to succeed at his job, and other various miscellaneous things in his life, in spite of this initial – painfully preventable – motivational failure.

Colin is mostly gay and his partner is mostly gay, but they were introduced to one another by a mostly straight guy. Colin doesn’t get much time to think, but after some extremely brief consideration he believes this manner of introduction has always been at the root of his and his partner’s relationship problems.

Though, saying that, things weren’t the same ever since Colin’s partner did a paper for his PhD, on the Kinsey approach to sexuality, and they became mostly gay rather than one hundred percent-ers. They started to put a lot of otherwise-needed mental energy into browsing the Internet for women who looked like men and maybe vice versa sometimes, and eventually having uncomfortable sex with one another to androgynous porn that neither one of them was really that into.

The mostly straight guy who introduced them is no longer a mutual acquaintance of theirs, only Colin’s, which also seems weird to Colin but he never mentions this. Colin can’t have actually thought though, that a gay relationship could have been any more likely to succeed than a straight one. He can’t have projected that arguments and uncomfortable regretful sex weren’t ever going to happen.

The advertising agency that Colin work[ed] for made him redundant, as a direct result of his supreme, shocking lack of personal investment in them. He didn’t go to a single social, and had packed his bag every day by six PM. These were two of the primary points brought up by his line manager during the de-brief, who – embarrassingly for Colin – mentioned as a side-note that Colin should have counted himself lucky to have a job in such hard times.

This is actually something that had to be said to him, like it wasn’t blinding or obvious or whatever.

Outside Colin’s window at home right now – the window by the desk where he’s now looking for other jobs at three AM because he refuses to go on JSA – outside this window, there’s a cobweb all frosted and shit by the cold, and it’s pretty, and inside the house simultaneously it’s emotionally cold, so at least that’s a nice metaphor.

His partner is very well off financially, but they have an excellent agreement that they each pay half for everything, and this is set in stone, no matter what.

His partner is in bed upstairs and Colin is sat at the desk, not really reading the Universal Jobmatch webpage, confused suddenly by this moment of being alone at night. He realises in this confusion that he has no real sense of identity, mainly because it has been so long since he has been alone in a room, any room. His day has always been work, the train and his self-employed partner-filled house. No gaps.

Even on weekends he would wake up next to his partner and then go outside and there would always be people there because he lives in a big expensive block of flats in Brighton city centre.

In the room right now Colin actually nearly has an identity crisis breakdown or something of this sort, because at the age of thirty-five he still doesn’t know who he is, like that’s actually normal. A second later though he realises that it is more of a prolonged, deep, thoughtful moment, that could at any second either descend into a crisis or evolve into enlightening realisation. This is an exciting thing.

Colin thinks he actually has problems but he hasn’t read enough books to know what a problem is, and he definitely doesn’t know what physical hardship is. Mental health is a complete lie, it just does not exist, but Colin actually does not know this fact at the age of thirty five.

All things considered, they are okay, him and his partner, actually, in a very objective sense, from a very movie-like external-facing-in perspective. They are getting by. Colin has about two months left of savings to pay his half of the rent until he has to go on JSA. He probably won’t get housing benefit though with his partner’s income, but this is absolutely not a problem. He doesn’t think it’s strange that he and his partner each pay exactly half of the rent. It’s not really.

Colin always thought he would borrow money from his father in this situation, but his father is in prison and needs his money to buy things there, as if prison isn’t meant to be a punishment or whatever. Unfortunately for Colin, though fortunately for the taxpayer, his father is a bit of a loose cannon and cannot be controlled, so he doesn’t get any free privileges inside. His father actually thinks he has a mental health disorder, or that he is actually the victim of a poor socio-economic situation that Colin has managed to work his way out of.

Colin sometimes agrees with his father on this, but hopefully he is just humouring him. Luckily Colin will usually come back around and see the mistake in the deeply flawed logic that his father spat at him for years like bile or spit or oil or something. Luckily Colin will often realise that his rejection of the welfare state laziness that plagues everyone is a reason for celebration, and is at the root of his success, however small.

It is likely a good thing that he does not have much contact with his father any longer. At this desk in the middle of the night – during this prolonged, deep thoughtful moment, that could at any second descend into a crisis or evolve into enlightenment, as he already knows – this realisation about his father comes to him as a very filmic thought, which he knows that so many men of thirty-five will have had throughout the ages. Father issues are a very genuine human thing, and Colin is a human, and this feels good and exciting.

Outside the window a spider crawls into the centre of the frozen web, which seems amazing, especially as it is night and probably minus ten degrees outside. The spider unwillingly carries tiny pieces of frost on its round, hairy back.

There are always people and things and animals and whatever, that are in worse situations than you. This wonderful conclusion springs out of the deep, thoughtful moment he has been sharing with himself and with the room, like a jack in the box, as if tonight has built up to it.

Colin wonders now with a sly bite of his lip whether he might actually be able to celebrate tonight by going upstairs and initiating some life-affirming enlightened sex with his partner, and that this might solve their relationship problems, as if they were actually something that could actually be solved, as if his partner would want to touch him, as if they weren’t just doomed to failure from the second that the mostly straight guy or whatever introduced them.

*

Main Photo by:

http://thecookimonster.deviantart.com/

black shape

BRING ME MY SHOTGUN

road-pavement-1

*

The night after Nick is put on a one-way train from Waterloo, he is sitting on a bench outside Archway station. After two nights outside, he realises that the streetlights never go out, all night. Nearby is a bus shelter with few people inside.

He knows that soon he will have to find a way to eat, and to get some more clothes.

On one side of Nick is a teenage boy in a dirty white tracksuit and baseball cap. On the other side is a hunched-over old man with glazed eyes and a cock-eyed expression, who had been put on the train with Nick. They had both been asleep near to the Frankfurt market in Central London, and were moved north, with five others, by the Met.

Above their bench hangs a very bright Christmas light display made of hundreds of bulbs. Fairy lights drape from the branches of a nearby tree.

In his pocket Nick can feel a wallet, which is empty except for a picture of the girlfriend that kicked him out three days ago, and a mobile phone with no battery.

The old man next to Nick speaks in a loud, wheezing voice. “Have you got a lighter, boss?” he asks.

“No, sorry,” Nick says.

The old man nods. “Yeah, k, k.” He takes a drink from a black can of white cider. Flecks of it drip from his beard. Nick looks at him and thinks that he does not look quite alive.

There is a bright light on inside the nearby bus shelter. The space inside looks like a separate world, as if once the people step out onto the pavement or onto a bus, they will cease to exist.

A block of people spills out of a bus, moving through the shelter and onto the pavement in front of the bench. All of the people carry thick eco-friendly paper shopping bags. A little girl stares at Nick as she walks past him, swinging a red Selfridges bag with snowflakes on it. Her hat has cat ears on it, and on her woollen jumper there is a red-nosed reindeer.

“But, yeah…” the old man sat next to Nick says, as if he had been talking. His voice is hoarse. “…Kay she drops me off in a taxi the other day and they give me a cup of coffee in that café over there, but she’s in hospital now.”

A bus splashes through a puddle and in the water Nick sees reflected beads of light from Christmas lights that hang from between the two nearest lampposts.

A car beeps its horn at a man who is hurrying awkwardly across the road, talking to himself and carrying a canvas bag.

The old man continues, saying, “Kay, she ses ‘John, she says…”

The tracksuit boy on the other side of Nick turns to him. “Do you speak Arabic?” he asks in awkward English. “I’m from Morocco.”

Nick shakes his head.

“I want to play football,” the boy says.

“Cool.”

“Where I can play football?”

The man who has crossed the road sits with his canvas bag on the floor in front of the bench, still talking to himself. He has a long handsome face and a goatee, and Nick thinks that he looks a lot like a cartoon devil. The skin around the man’s small eyes has the appearance of crumpled paper.

The Moroccan boy kicks a McDonalds wrapper at the man, and it hits his canvas bag. “Goal!!” the boy shouts. He gets up. “Lucifer, you’re in goal,” he says.

“I’ve lived with dead mice,” Lucifer says, rocking and pointing in accusation at a spot on the pavement. “Curled up on the floor.”

A middle-aged commuter rushes toward the station, and almost trips over Lucifer. The commuter tuts and shakes his head angrily as he hurries away.

Lucifer pulls at his hair in what seems like mock despair, then his face becomes suddenly blank and sad, and his right eye winks madly. “I cannot stand up in my own home. I cannot stand on the floor once I have slept on it,” he says.

“He’s crazy,” says the Moroccan boy.

“You know boss…” says the old man on Nick’s other side, but doesn’t finish the sentence.

Nick looks up but cannot see the sky. The Christmas light display above him ripples in the breeze. These bulbs above his concrete bed, they will never turn off, all night.

“Why, why, why the skin on my arms?! Why this?” shouts Lucifer, looking over his shoulder at the road. He gets up and carries his canvas bag over to Nick. “Watch that, please, for me, will you?”

“Okay,” says Nick. The bag is empty. “What is it?”

“What is it,” says Lucifer.

“What?”

“I need you. You. To watch that. Please,” says Lucifer.

“Yeah,” says Nick.

“Yeah…” Lucifer walks up to the bus shelter, then comes back and sits down in the same place he was before.

“Can I help you with anything?” asks Nick. “Are you okay?”

“Are you okay?…Can I…” Lucifer’s eyebrows raise then furrow. His eyes are wide. “I’m a bum, this is my bed,” Lucifer says, pointing to the bench Nick is sat on. “I’ve been punched…kicked…”

“I’m sorry…” Nick says. “I didn’t-,”

“No, didn’t.” Lucifer tries to hide his face after he says this, but Nick can see him starting to cry.

A pair of male cops approach Lucifer. A second pair of female cops walk up to the bench, with their hands tucked into the pouches near their chests.

“Excuse me,” says one of the male cops to Lucifer. “You can’t sit here.”

“Could you put the can away?” one of the female cops says to the old man.

“Bring me my shotgun,” Lucifer says to one of the male cops.

“No space at the inn,” says the old man, and laughs before coughing up a stream of phlegm.

Lucifer looks up, nodding. “Bring me my shotgun,” he says. “Bring me!”

“Right, up you get,” says one of the male cops. “You can’t be saying things like that out here.” Him and his partner grab Lucifer by the arms and try to pull him up. Lucifer struggles and kicks his legs out frantically.

“He doesn’t know what he’s saying,” Nick says, standing up and looking over the shoulder of one of the female cops.

“Hold it,” she says.

“He’s just repeating stuff,” says Nick. “He probably heard it somewhere.”

“This is…coat hanger….I don’t…” says Lucifer.

“You three are going to have to move,” the other female cop says. She presses a button on the front her walkie talkie but it doesn’t seem to do what she wants it to.

“Leave him be, yeah? It’s not what it sounds like,” Nick says, as Lucifer is pushed face down into the pavement. “I think it’s the title of a story or something. He’s not being threatening…”

In the bus shelter people are staring. A lorry drives past, and in its headlights Nick sees that in the plexiglass somebody has written God knows you.

“He’s not…one second,” says the female cop, frowning at her walkie talkie and pressing the button again and again. Her partner leans in to take a look.

*

Main photo by Paul Goyette

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pgoyette/

black shape

SEND HER AWAY

Crumpled writing paper next to a typewriter

*

The literary agent fake-clears her throat. “‘The rain droplets on the windows,’” she reads, “‘filtered some dim light from a street lamp not too far away. The sound of the rain merged together into something like the slow splintering of wood.’” She puts her iPad down on the coffee-shop table and looks at her client.

He shrugs his shoulders.

“What would it be now, do we reckon?” she asks.

“This is ridiculous.”

“‘With the rain outside I cuddled up and…’” she waves her hands about, thinking, “…fucking…I dunno, ‘squeezed my sweetheart a bit tighter in my Armani shawl to keep us both warm.’” She shakes her head. “Ugh…”

He chooses his words carefully. “I can still write…”

He was supposed to be the newest Social Realist messiah.

“…and I don’t buy Armani.”

He had written stories about old homeless men with red beards and fat faces who he’d fought with for Big Issue space a long time ago.

“Not yet, you don’t.”

He had been asked to show the reader in the fewest words possible how a man like that would sit cross-legged and cold on the ledges near Victoria coach station, wishing everyone a happy new year on the thirty first of December whilst asking for change. He would have juxtaposed this with a young bride on her wedding day, chain smoking outside a weathered registry office, full of nerves and unexpected doubts.

“‘The patience it took for her to look at me for so long in the middle of the night,’” the literary agent reads, from the middle of her client’s new manuscript, “‘it gave me enough time to count every spot and line on her face’…what the fuck?”

“That’s still realism,” he says. “It’s…melancholy, beautiful-,”

“It’s fucking pillow-talk, and no-one wants to hear it.” She slams the manuscript down and closes her eyes. “We’re fucked, we really are.”

A year ago he was commissioned to write a novella about a Scottish woman with no teeth who froze to death while camping out on a wasteland in Dudley.

The literary agent sighs. “You used to say that you were tired of smiling when other people talked. You actually said that in a fucking interview, you know. What happened to the dreary guy I used to know?”

“I’m just more…I dunno.”

She rubs her forehead. “You’re what? You’re getting…married?”

His novel about his time as a street cleaner was covered in the Times Literary Supplement for two weeks running. George Monbiot from the Guardian said that he was an important voice in austerity-hit Britain, praising the ‘grey emotionality’ of a serialisation in which a neo-Nazi and Bangladeshi family who live next door to one another both subsist on four pounds a day.

“You’re no good now you have money,” she says. “You’re no good now you have love.”

Somewhere a creative writing lecturer is asking their students to read a short story where a dying fifty year old alcoholic tells a stranger about how he once shared a prison cell with Ted Bundy.

“The problem is that until recently, everyone thought you were still poor.”

“What do you expect me to do?”

She clears her throat. “‘After all the things I’d seen, she felt the roughness of my hands on her face and somehow she smiled’…”

“And?”

“The market doesn’t accept rags-to-riches anymore…Bill Gates giving his money away at his own discretion, A Streetcat Named Bob…Plan B…I dunno, Levi fucking Roots. It’s meaningless.”

“Levi Roots..?”

“No-one likes a sell-out. Your work is poverty, your work is sadness, your work is…despair.”

He was the counter-voice to the X Factor false Capitalist aspirations. Krishnan Guru-Murphy called him the ‘poster-boy for reality’. A video of him telling Jeremy Paxman there were ‘only so many spaces at the high table’ got two million views on YouTube. #Hightable is still trending on Twitter.

“I can make this new stuff political.”

“All the good influence you’ve had will be lost if you go through with this marriage. I’m telling you straight. If you carry on moving up, it’s over.”

“This is insane.”

“This is about your brand,” the literary agent says, “and not selling out is very big right now. Huge. Living alone and single in a dusty flat, staying true to the story.”

“Where do people think the royalties go?”

“Maybe you’re paying off old gambling debts. Always subservient. Always in debt.”

“I’ve never gambled.”

“You’ll write a story about it. Semi-fictional.” She flaps the new manuscript in his face. “They’ll shit on you for this. No-one wants to go onto your Wikipedia page and read that you’re engaged, that you’ve got this whole new wonderful life, that all of the other shit is behind you.”

“I am engaged. I am happy.”

His short story about a homeless Chinese woman who burned down an Apple store was published in eight different high-brow literary journals. Charlie Brooker said it was a ‘scathing critique of spatial dislocation in the information age’.

“Your work is important. You can change it all, you know…but you have to sacrifice certain things. I’ve spoken to your publisher. They agree with me on this.”

“I’ll self-publish,” he says.

“You need us, if you really want to reach the people. Imagine billboards with incendiary slogans on them advertising your books, spreading your ideas. TV adverts ripping the idea of TV adverts to shreds! This is powerful stuff.

He doesn’t say anything. He looks at the table and shakes his head.

She snatches the manuscript back up from the table. “‘In her blue eyes I could see the world,’” she reads. People in the café begin to stare. “‘In our love I could see some vague hope that if everyone could see the way she looked at me, there would be some way out of the double binds and the shackles and the misery that hold us all together in ignorance and apathy’…what the fuck were you thinking?”

black shape

STUCK IN TRAFFIC

surreal-photo-manipulation-1

*

You’re alone in a small, dark exhibition room at the Tate Modern, and on the wall opposite is a three minute film projected on loop.

INT. RANDALF’S HOUSE – DAY

An impoverished but tidy house in Victorian England. RANDALF paces back and forth in front of his wife MELISSA, who is seated.

RANDALF:

Our fifteen year old daughter is being knocked around by some guy twice her fucking age!

Melissa looks at the ground, fiddling with a silver necklace and looking troubled.

MELISSA:

We can’t…it’s hard…isn’t it?

RANDALF:

Hard! Bullshit! We go over and we sort it!

MELISSA:

We’ve told her…she’ll just do the opposite of what we say, and-,

RANDALF:

Bullshit! Bull. Shit!

You wonder if somebody else will want to sit where your bag is, as the exhibition room where the film is being shown is quite small and there is only one bench.

Randalf lifts Melissa from her chair and shakes her.

MELISSA:

Please….no!

RANDALF:

You’re not going to make me lose another child!

Melissa sobs.

RANDALF:

Stop snivelling! That’s your answer to everything!

Randalf strikes Melissa hard with the back of one hand.

The camera zooms out to reveal that this horrible encounter was not real, but was actually taking place on a stage in a modern theatre.

The next shot is of a large twenty-first century audience, watching what you now know is a play. You feel cheated that none of it was real.

The camera zooms onto two twenty-something men watching from the third row. The first is handsome and fashionably dressed. He wears a pair of thick-rimmed glasses with no lenses in them. The second wears an old tracksuit and has a poorly-kept moustache.

MAN 2:

It’s kind of…I dunno, it’s a bit obviously…

MAN 1:

(smugly)

Ironic? Yes, it is. Unfortunately.

MAN 2:

Maybe it’s like, it’s saying that in their generation it’s more accepted to hit your wife…so like, Randalf doesn’t think it’s the same thing as his daughter getting beaten up.

MAN 1:

I think it’s just a bad play.

The film cuts back to a medium shot of Randalf, smoking a cigarette on his front porch.

Some people walk into the dark exhibition room, some guy and his daughter. They stand in the doorway, bathed in the light from the hallway outside. There’s not much space left on the small bench where you’re sat, so they don’t sit down.

‘That’s like mummy,’ says the guy’s daughter.

The guys laughs, more amused than awkward. ‘Not anymore,’ he says.

The guy’s daughter doesn’t reply.

‘She’s quit smoking now, hasn’t she honey?’ says the guy.

The guy and his daughter leave the exhibition room, and you’re left feeling annoyed that they didn’t stay to appreciate the film. The film cuts to a slow-motion extreme close-up of Randalf blowing smoke from between cracked lips, then cuts back to the two men in the audience. Man 1, the fashionably dressed one, leans in toward Man 2, without taking his eyes off the film.

MAN 1:

It seems kinda shit that they present smoking as like, this tough guy’s thing to do, this age-old real-man lost age of masculinity…thing.

MAN 2:

Isn’t it that like, everyone used to smoke then?

MAN 1:

I doubt it.

The film cuts back to Melissa anxiously cleaning the house and sobbing.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

You think he’s meant to be like a tough guy? I hadn’t thought that.

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

Tough guys beat their wives.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

Are you being ironic?

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

(sighing)

Of course I am. I don’t think that.

You can hear the guy and his daughter talking outside the exhibition room.

In the film, the stage set has changed.

Randalf is banging on the door of his daughter’s house. The young daughter is hustling her older lover out of the back window.

Randalf starts to walk around to the back of the house.

RANDALF:

I’m coming, motherfucker!

The daughter opens the front door and chases her father.

DAUGHTER:

Daddy, no! Please! Oh god!

‘Daddy, can I put my drawings on the walls?’ you hear the guy’s daughter say outside.

The guy laughs and some people around them, maybe people they know, all go ‘aww!’ and laugh too.

‘Some day, yes, honey,’ says the guy to his daughter.

This back-and-forth between the guy and the daughter seems a bit farfetched or stereotypical, but this doesn’t surprise you, as nowadays things play out more and more like life imitating film imitating life. It’s like every guy you see is Colin Firth and every woman is Bridget Jones, and they’re all about to do something sensational that you won’t be there to witness.

MAN 2:

This is pretty tense.

MAN 1:

Yeah, it is.

It’s like you’re the only one left living inside of a Social Realist movie, and everyone else has moved onto Romantic Comedies.

Randalf sees his daughter’s lover, and sprints toward him. The lover runs away.

POV Randalf gaining on his target. Randalf pulls out a knife.

(Voiceover) RANDALF and (Voiceover) MAN 1:

Take that, cocksucker.

The guy and his daughter have gone somewhere else now, and you can only hear the hum of the projector and the violent commotion of Randalf’s attack. The conversation between the men in the audience is now just a voiceover. Their voices are comforting. It restores some of the ethereal feeling you had when you first sat down in this dark little space.

POV Randalf stabs his daughter’s lover repeatedly in the face. Blood and flesh flies everywhere.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

Nice.

You think that it’d be nice to genuinely believe nothing is real, like if you were a reptilian conspiracy theorist or a postmodernist academic or something, or if you were someone like this, like an amateur art critic in a small dark exhibition room.

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

I need to take a shit.

(Voiceover) MAN 1:

Now?

(Voiceover) MAN 2:

It hurts, man. Stand up so I can get past.

black shape

LOVING RAPUNZEL

Play_Park_at_night_by_goose77 (1)

*

There was the car park and the fields near the school, and then there was the tower.

At 7:30pm after the fields, Kev says goodbye to Corey at the entrance to the alley and walks down it into the park. It’s still light but a hundred yard in three Banditos ask him what phone he’s got, ask him for a fight. He walks quicker and dumps his school bag knowing it’s only math books and a packet of cigarettes, then sprints toward the other side.

He can hear them running now and shouting Long-Haired Prick, they’re shoutingCome Back I’ll fucking stab you. Kev jumps a fence into the garden next to his then scrambles over to knock, panting and shaking, on his back door.

When his mum opens he jumps out from behind the shed where he’s hiding and pushes past her to get inside.

Before the tower there was the car park. There was weed, cheap white cider, everyone finishing each other’s funny made-up stories about nothing, skating on the concrete blocks, giving out sweets and free hugs, making friends with the homeless men when they woke up, security being sometimes safe sometimes dickheads.

In the fields near the school there were no teachers at night. There was a small fire in a bin, wrestling in the long grass, making out.

His mum’s saying Are You okay, she’s saying What happened, she’s saying Again?and welling up. She’s in the kitchen making two cups of tea and stroking his hair as he explains that it’s not a big deal. She says It’s happened three times and Kev saysDon’t touch my hair then runs upstairs.

On Myspace Kev’s friend Davey whose parents are in the Socialist Workers Party tells Kev that Metalheads and Goths and whatever are kind of a Middle Class group, so it’s a class thing getting chased by Working Class Youths. Kev gets furious, punches his wall until the skin breaks then rants for two paragraphs with his knuckles bleeding. He says Me and my mum are fucking poor, he says We don’t chase people through parks. Kev leans back, dizzy, and sees Davey, post-revolution, lining Cradle of Filth fans against a wall.

On MSN Aaron sends out a link to Kev and their friends for a petition on the Downing Street website to widen the current Hate Crime definition, but Kev cringes where the authors write Alternative, they write Goths and Emos and Subculture, and all Kev can see is some dreary looking kid from a high school movie, some joke and some parody song. All he can see is some phase, but he’s seen his mate’s parents, seen a lot of different people in a lot of different places for his age, and he knows it’s not.

Three times is too many, so he comes back before 6pm and goes online.

Now there’s the tower, lined with Kerrang posters and smelling like cheap incense. Through the net curtains he can see the streetlights over the other side of the park. He can hear a dirt bike, and he can hear a police helicopter flying overhead.

In the tower there’s a computer screen and a Myspace profile with a constantly updated HTML code, an iTunes library filled with LimeWire downloads, a separate table next to his computer desk with a half-painted Warhammer 40,000 Eldar Army on it, a Dream Theatre poster over his bed, and near his feet is a signed Devil Driver LP and three Deftones CDs with the cases wrecked by a Turpentine spillage.

When Sophie Lancaster was murdered, Kev had gone to the car park and got drunk with his friends and they’d held him as he cried. The witnesses for the case said They were jumping up and down on her head, they said This Mosher has just been banged because she’s a Mosher. They’re saying to Kev This’ll be you.

Kev didn’t know Sophie Lancaster but it had been a few days after the first time Kev had been chased, down the hill near school, when they’d caught him and kicked the shit out of him and he’d come home with a bloody head and a broken rib.

His mum’s saying My baby, my baby, all this blood, she’s saying I’ll call an ambulance and Kev’s saying Shut up, he’s saying Stop over-reacting.

In the bathroom mirror his blonde hair is greasy and needs a wash. It trails over his big shoulders and he wonders why he doesn’t just shave it and give in.

On Myspace Davey says It’s not the same thing as Race, because you can change it. Kev is saying Why should I, he’s saying A Trannie could wear men’s clothes if you forced them to, saying I’m not just pretending to like Metal, you want to cut my fucking ears off?

On MSN Corey invites him out to see Converge but Kev knows he’ll have to walk back from the bus stop at 11pm. When he peels back the net curtains the sun is setting and there are four kids sitting on the grassy hill leading down to the dip in the middle of the park, where there’s a dirty stream and a small playground with a mother in an Adidas tracksuit with her pram.

Kev’s trying not to cry and typing to Davey on Myspace Kill Your Parents, lol, he’s typingYour Socialism looks a fucking lot. Different. To. Mine. He thinks again about the Hate Crime thing and between his fingertips he lifts the blonde locks off his shoulders and flicks them out of his face.

In the corner of his bedroom there’s a plastic tub with the hair trimmer in that he uses for his beard. Above his computer monitor there’s a sticker that says Machine Fucking Head, and on his hand in biro one of his friends has drawn a heart broken in two as part of some kind of joke they had going at lunch.

black shape

THE ANGRY BEAVER

engaged

*

It seems insane that there should be so much light for so long. At nine thirty PM the streetlight outside and the cool air would come through the vent function on the window, and it would wake her up so much more than this horrible new sensation of tepid sun beams and breeze-less daylight.

When logging in to the computer at her new workstation, she has to agree to a Terms Of Use that says her Internet use will be monitored by Severn Trent’s IT department. The night security office computer had been on a separate network, and at two AM on her break she used to watch porn for thirty minutes while she ate her mock meat sandwich, then she would head to the bathroom to masturbate before the second five hours began.

Her chair is about half the size of the one in the security office, and her fifteen stone body barely fits. She tries unsuccessfully to adjust her underwear. The tall, obnoxiously thin thirty-something woman on the desk immediately opposite watches her and grimaces.

The morning is a blur of copying numbers from pieces of paper into spreadsheets. At lunch the bathroom on her floor is packed full of other employees, and just outside the door are two peoples’ desks. There is no hope that she can masturbate in peace without having to be quiet, without having to hold her breath.

She leaves the building and buys a box of twelve Krispy Creme doughnuts from Tesco, then eats them much too fast in a quiet park surrounded by thick trees. In the disabled toilet at McDonalds she cries for thirty minutes while people knock incessantly on the door. On the way out she buys a large fries. Back at her desk her foot shakes and she resents everyone and everything for denying her relief.

Putting a nocturnal animal in a cage seems to her twice as cruel when it has to work and eat and function in the daytime. In the security office she would look through her semi-opaque reflection in the window, out at the hundreds of blinking houses like pieces of a difficult jigsaw resembling the cityscape. Her face would twist into expressions of her emotive and insane thoughts, the thousands of Mancunians too far away to see. The CBT meal plan her psychologist had put her on had been going well, and she had still been allowed to eat sugar and it had felt really good at those times, to be awake and thinking when everyone else was asleep and dreaming.

No-one had ever broken into the building, or into the water facility that she watched on the monitors. The idea of her being chosen as a security guard based on her size had seemed like a joke.

In the afternoon she sees a couple of people staring at her, and realises that her face has been morphing like the face of someone who has been talking to themself in their head. She panics and takes a jam doughnut into the bathroom, where she sits in a cubicle and tears bits off with her fingers, trying to savour it over the three minutes allowed for a toilet break. In the security bathroom, she had never felt the need to eat. The whole room, the cubicle and the line of sinks, the mirrors and the hand drier, had all seemed so relaxing to her. Her break activities at two AM had been a natural expression of this wet, watery hole in the building. On the back of the door there used to be an advert for an old Bon Jovi concert, and sometimes it had sped up her orgasm.

She forgets to lock the door to the cubicle and someone opens it, banging her knee. The tall woman from the desk opposite appears in the doorway. The woman looks startled and says

‘Oh…sorry,’

blushing.The woman stays in the doorway for a second too long, unable to move, disgusted at the doughnut and the person devouring it with the toilet cover down and trousers still up. As the woman turns away she explodes, lifting herself from the toilet and throwing the doughnut at the back of woman’s head. Jam and sugar splatter across the woman’s strawberry blonde hair. She spins her around and grabs the woman by the throat. She rams her back onto the white sinks and spits in her face. The woman’s eyes stare terrified at the sugar smeared around the mouth of her attacker, then at the huge hands around her throat.

The woman squirms out of the grip and runs to the bathroom door, bursting through it back onto the office floor. The sound of computers and keyboards is sucked into the silence of the bathroom for a moment, then the door shuts and there is only the sound of something dripping.

She looks at the jam on the mirror, and at the saliva on her hands. She returns to the toilet cubicle and sits down. She locks the door and a minute goes by before the bathroom door opens. She hears footsteps, and the echoey voice of her Supervisor asks

‘Hello? Is anybody in here?’

stern, and knowing. She tries not to breathe. Her Supervisor says

‘Could you come out please?’

On the back of the toilet door is an advertisement for the Severn Trent Pension Scheme. Under the words ‘Building your future, bit by bit,’ is a large picture of a beaver placing a piece of wood into a river with its mouth. The nocturnal animal seems to her some strange and convenient metaphor. The metaphor makes her feel a bit less alone, like all good metaphors do. Suddenly all she wants is to be naked and swimming in some dammed off pool. All she wants is to be submerged in a wet dream, touching herself in the security office bathroom. Her Supervisor says

‘Come. Now.’

ink blotch