Thursday, 1 May 2014

That's a wrap.

If you want to work through all the stories in the original order, go here.

Sunday, 30 December 2012


(Closedown - The Cure)

“I’m sorry,” the librarian said. “We’ve got to close. You know…” She shrugged, and he nodded. “Thank you for being here though. We thought it might be empty today.”

“It’s a crime,” he said, and she nodded.

“Two more minutes?”

“Go on then,” she said. “But then we really must.”

“Are you having a party, or something? The staff? Oh God, that sounds like I’m trying to invite myself, I’m not. Just wondered.”

“We couldn’t really face a party,” she said. “Be more of a wake. We’ll go round the corner for a quiet drink.” She paused. “You are welcome, if--”

He shook his head. “Thank you, that’s kind. But that wouldn’t be right. I’ll just have two more minutes, then…”

“OK,” she said.

“Are you fixed up? With another job.”

“Not yet,” she said brightly. “But sure it will be soon.”

“Bastards,” he said. “Apologies for my language.”

“Twats,” she said. “No apologies for mine.”

They laughed, and then he raised a hand in thanks, and walked back down the aisles. He had been coming here since he was a child. Back then it was every week, as an adult less so, more demands, less time to lose himself, but it was always there. When the closure was announced he had come along to a campaign meeting he saw advertised, angry but wary, not sure if it would be his sort of thing. He ended up one of the most committed members, writing letters, lobbying, threatening sit-ins, none of which made a blind bit of difference. We don’t want to do it, the people closing it down said, and he believed them. It’s this or helpers for the disabled. Or lollipop ladies or care visitors for the elderly. We don’t want to do any of it. But we have no choice. They have taken all the money away.

He’d spend the afternoon there, wandering the stacks, trailing his hand along the spines. He went to the children’s section, looked for some of his old favourites, sat and read a chapter or two. He remembered an sf book he’d read, something about intelligent talking Kodiak bears on some mining planet. He’d never seen it since, couldn’t remember title or author. He binged on children’s sf then, Heinlein and Norton. Back then, it was all magic. He never saw the flaws, just got transported, lost in the words.

It had been his world, this place, the old wooden shelves along the walls, rich and battered, the newer plastic shelves in the middle. The desk where they used to keep the boxes of library tickets with the little ones from your books inside, and the stamps he coveted so much, ker-chunk, slam of a hard cover, here you are love, see you next week.

When his mum and dad rowed, which was often, he lost himself in the stories. When he was bullied at school, which was more than it should ever have been, he lost himself in the stories. When he was happy, was less than it should ever have been, he still lost himself in the stories.

He turned around on his heel, looking for one last time. Then he breathed in deep, because the smell was as familiar as the sight of the place.

When he walked out, he waited across the road, tucking himself in behind a sign because he was worried the woman librarian would see him and think that he was waiting to follow her. They always got hit on by weirdos, the women who worked there, and they acquired the skill of dealing with them in the same way they did the men who came in and fell asleep, or took their shoes and socks off and picked at their toes.

It was dark, and the wind flung squally, spattery rain in his face. I will go home, when this is done, and I will write more stories, he thought. And I will leave them places where children can read them. I will buy secondhand books, and I will leave them in McDonalds and in cafes and arcades with a post-it note on saying read me, pass me on.

One by one, the lights went out, and he was back there again, a child, sitting at a wooden table reading Clarke’s story about the stars going out. Four people came out and stood on the steps. They paused there for a minute, and then the woman he had spoken to locked the door. They stopped again for a moment, like they were paying their respects, and then turned collars up and pulled down hats and marched off into the rain. He waited for just a moment, and then he walked the other way.

Thank you for watching and reading 52 Songs, 52 Stories throughout 2012. It's now time for us to say goodnight.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Beginning Of A Great Adventure

(Beginning Of A Great Adventure - Lou Reed)

The train rattled slowly into a tunnel, and Ross looked at the reflections of the other passengers in the window. They looked like people who had somewhere to go, or someone waiting for them when they got there who didn’t hate them. An exciting job, doing important things. Prospects. The sort of people who could go home without being scared that the bailiffs would be there waiting.

The attractive woman across the carriage seemed to stare right back at him. She must be looking at her window, Ross thought, at the reflections of me looking at her. I wonder if she can tell. Probably not. He looked away, all the same, down at the table, the tin of Pepsi Max, empty packet of crisps, crumpled copy of the Metro folded twice.

The train shuddered and shook out of the tunnel, and people started to stand, to pull coats down from racks and to stuff laptops back into bags. I wish I was anywhere else but going to this pointless, dull meeting, Ross thought. Anywhere else except home, that is. Credit card bills and recriminations. Frost in the air and the knowledge that they were done, had been done for a long time, but they were too weak to do anything about it. He cupped his face in his hands for a moment, and then there was a bang, a loud bang, like a firework going off, one of those massive ones that ends a display, only right next to them. Then people were screaming and luggage was crashing about, and Ross realised that the train was tilting, and he held on to the table and he held on to his armrest, and the woman from across the aisle fell past him and someone’s laptop bounced off his head and there were more bangs, and smoke, and then a terrible screaming that wasn’t people, but was the train.

It took him a long time to climb out, but he had to get a move on because the fire had really taken hold in the carriage along, and there were people behind him in his who were following him at one point, but seemed to stop. He thought of going back, but they were lost in the thick, black smoke, and he could hardly breathe as it was. He climbed through the tumbled, twisted train, and slid out of a window, climbed across the roof, and made it to the embankment.

A man in a suit lay a little way away from him, his arms and legs all arranged like he was trying to make a swastika. His eyes were open, and so was his mouth and it was full of blood.

I’ve survived, Ross thought. Me, of all people. But I’ve made it out. He thought of work, and he thought of home, and he turned back and looked at the fire raging out of the carriage beyond, destroying everything inside. Then he scrambled up the wet grass of the embankment, then down again into a field, and he walked away in a direction that would take him somewhere, even if he was not sure where that was. Anywhere would do. After a bit, he started to whistle.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Hell Is Round The Corner

(Hell Is Round The Corner - Tricky)

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, sang along to the song in his head. The learner car in front of him leapt forward a foot, stalled. Andrew smiled, lifted a hand to say no problem, in case the poor sod took a look in the rear view mirror. All been there once, Andrew thought. Traffic came across from the right again, so he relaxed, stole a quick look in the back of the car. The flowers looked fine, despite sitting round in his office for half the day. She would love them, and she would love them even more because there was no reason for them, other than the fact that they’d been together for nearly four years, and she still made him get shivers inside.

The learner finally made it out, and Andrew followed, keeping a distance, not crowding them. He knew that Sarah had a stuffy head from her cold, she’d texted him to say so, so he wasn’t taking her out that night. But he’d booked a table for the Friday, guessing she would be ok by then. She never let these things linger. When they got to the restaurant and were sat with a menu he knew she’d make that can-we-really-afford-this face, and that’s when he’d tell her about the promotion, and he’d watch what her face did next. He’d watch because he knew what the real meaning of it was for them.

The promotion was about more than just money: it meant that they weren’t reliant on two salaries to pay the bills, and that meant it wouldn’t matter if she took a couple of years off work, and that meant…

He turned off the main road, cutting through the side streets. She’d still be on her way back from work now, and if he moved it he would get home first, get home in time to run her a bath, pour her a glass of wine, make sure things were tidy. She wasn’t well, and did a lot, so it was his turn to look after her.

The winter sun was low and the clouds were edged with a fierce and beautiful orange, and Andrew laughed out loud in the car just because he wanted to. He indicated left, turned onto the , and then the boy ran out from between two parked cars and just had time to turn his head to look directly at Andrew before the car hit him, and he went up in the air and then crashed down on it and then bounced off it and then hit one of the parked cars and bounced off that and back onto the bonnet of Andrew’s car and then off and under the wheels just as it came to a stop with Andrew’s foot pressed so hard on the brake he’d later find out he had torn his Achilles, and Andrew’s hands gripping the steering wheel so tight it left red rings on his palm, and Andrew staring out of the window, seeing the boy’s face, and knowing that nothing would be quite the same again.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Daft Punk Are Playing At My House

(Daft Punk Are Playing At My House - LCD Soundsystem)

It was a stupid lie, and Danny knew it the moment that he said it. But by then it was too late to go back.

“At your house?” Carl said, in disbelief. “What do you mean they’re playing at your house?”

“I won a competition,” Danny said. “Did you not see it? Was in the paper. While back. Win the competition, and they come play at your house. Just a few songs. Just acoustic, like, nothing dramatic.”

“Nothing dramatic?” Jen said. “Nothing dramatic, he says, when Crooked Fog are playing at his house.”

“Can’t wait,” Carl said. “Going to be class.”

“Erm, I’m not sure if it just has to be me or not--”

“Am telling you now it isn’t,” Jen said. “No way am I missing this, and Ellie would kill me if she did, she’s fancied Ben the bass player for ages.”

“Mmm,” Daniel said. Jen had been going on and on about how they were her favourite band, and Carl knew lots more about them than he did so he had desperately searched for something that would trump him. What have I done, he thought. I’ll have to make up that they’re ill. That they cancelled. What’s the big deal, they’re just a local band, they’ve not made it big or anything, Mickey even went to our school.

“There,” Jen said. “Facebooked. Tweeted.”

“Mmm,” Danny said.

# # #

Every time he got up in the morning, he planned to tell everyone. But he couldn’t. He’d start, and then he’d lose his words. Besides, Jen couldn’t get enough of him. He knew it would only last until Friday, but he might as well enjoy it while he could. She was way out of his league anyway.

As it turned out, his mum and dad were out anyway, someone’s retirement do. His mum pecked him on the cheek, and said, “Don’t wreck the place.” His dad said “I’ve measured the Scotch.”

He drew all the curtains and lay on the floor. He would just pretend he wasn’t it, that no-one was in, and they would realise and all go away and then all hate him for the rest of forever. Perhaps he would think up an excuse: the band called early – they’d been booked in elsewhere, double-booked, they couldn’t get out of it, so they’d come to pick him up, take him with them, back-stage pass access all areas. Maybe that would do it.

The doorbell rang.

Danny sighed, and got up, like he knew he would. Went to answer the door like he knew he would. He could never not do things, which is how he’d ended up like this in the first place. He’d already seen the disgust in Jen’s eyes a thousand times in his imagination. Could it be much worse in real life? He knew it could.

“You must be Danny.”

“Mmm,” he said.

“I’m Mickey, this is Ben. Only the two of us, but it was a bit short notice. Wait, what am I saying, we got no notice at all. Just read that we were playing here tonight, us two had nothing on, thought it would be a laugh. Don’t suppose you’d know anything about that, would you?”

“Mmm,” Danny said. He stepped aside, followed them in, starting opening all the curtains.