Sunday, 25 November 2012


Twins – Gem Club

He’d always known that something was missing from his life, and when he was thirteen he found out why. It was Christmas, and all the adults were drunk, particularly his mum. Frank from down the road was moaning about all the things his children had done, and said how lucky Sal was to only have the one, and she said “It should have been two, did you not know about the twin?” and then her eyes moved around the room and she saw Damon there. Her hand went up to her mouth like she was going to be sick, and her eyes went very wide.

He ran out of the room, and ran out of the house, and hid in the garden but it was only a small surburban semi so his Auntie Pat found him in under thirty seconds, and she squatted down next to him beside the greenhouse and she held him while he sobbed, and she breathed rum and coke all over him.

The next day, his mum and dad sat down and had the talk with him, and they told him how it had been. The twin had died while they were being born. He asked if they had named it, and they said yes. Donna. He sat in his room that night, talking to his sister, but she didn’t talk back. Not then, not ever.

Damon talked to her though, all the time. She was his advisor, his sounding board, his confidante, all through his teenage years. When he did bad things he shouldn’t, he felt her disapproval, when he did good things that he shouldn’t he felt her wild excitement, when he was down he felt her consolation and patience. People said how impressive he was, how self-reliant, but that was because he didn’t ever really feel that he needed other people. He had her.

He made friends, but didn’t get as close to them as they wanted him to be. He got married, but it only lasted a few years because her habits annoyed him, and she didn’t really understand him, not like his sister did. Donna gave him good advice, and he found himself in a career that gave him the security that comes with money, the security to do what you like without caring. So he started doing things like booking a table for two in a restaurant, even though it was just him there, and it amused him and although other people asked, he never explained himself to them.

He’d been out for a meal one night, just him at a table set for two, and when he walked out into the darkness and the drizzle his mind was on something else, and although he had meant to hail a cab he walked in front of one instead.

When he resurfaced in the hospital the staff were concerned for him because he was now full of plates and bolts and wouldn’t ever walk the same again. But he didn’t show any shock, didn’t show any disappointment at the way his life had gone. He was very polite, and very kind to the staff, and they all talked about how amazing it was that he died twice in the street and once on the operating table, and yet now he smiled all the time. I’m pleased for him, a nurse said. He’s a lovely man, but hardly gets any visitors, but  he was telling me how happy he had been to see his sister.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Dead Part Of You

(The Dead Part Of You – American Music Club)

It could have been worse, he always used to say, grinning his gap-toothed grin and using his right hand to tighten the knot that kept his left arm bound to his body. I could have been trying to eat your brains, right now. He’d laugh, and the fingers on his left arm would wriggle and squirm, desperate for escape, so he’d give them a slap and they’d retreat to a sullen fist.

He never liked it if you called him lucky though, and he’d tell you that he wasn’t lucky, just fast, and he'd been fast twice. He’d not been fast enough when the dead thing lurched out of the trees and grabbed for him. He thought he had been, but he slipped in the mud and then it was on him. It sank its teeth into his arm, drawing blood, and then its head came up, hungry for what was inside his head, and that’s when he was really fast the first time.

Scrabbling for purchase in the mud, his hand touched rock and he grabbed it, and he swung it, very fast, very hard. “Hit dead centre,” he would always tell you. “Split it like a ripe melon.”

Then, when he had pushed the twitching body off him, he was very fast the second time. He ran to his car, pulled the baling wire from the back, and tied it tight around his upper arm, so tight it sank into his flesh. Rumour had it that might work, if you were fast. Other rumour had it that nothing would do other than chopping the arm off, but he knew he would bleed to death then anyway. He tied it so tight that the circulation was cut off, and his arm died its own limbly death, and then it came back. He was ready for it though, and used his own belt to tie it to his torso, and drove one-handed back to the town. After that, it was really just a case of living with it.

Sometimes, when he got really drunk, and we got really drunk, he’d untie his arm and chase you round the room with it, playing a grand game of chicken. It was fine if it slapped you, but you really didn’t want to let it catch you with a fingernail and draw blood. He tried to keep the nails trim, but it was hard with all that wriggling around it did. “Be fast,” he shouted at us, as he stumbled over tables and around chairs. “Don’t be lucky, be fast.”

Sunday, 11 November 2012


(Coward - Vic Chesnutt)

They climbed the stairs to the top deck of the bus, and the four people already up there looked out of the windows as if something really interesting was going on out there. A man sat at the back of the bus, and an elderly couple were a few seats in front of Carter.

 The two men who had got on looked about sixty but probably weren’t out of their thirties. Everything about them was thin and hard, and they looked like had been weathered, rather than aged.

You can tell, Carter thought. Everyone can. You can feel it. You can smell the tightly-wound threat of sudden violence like a stink of body odour. All the hairs on the back of his neck rose as the men walked towards him, and then they passed. He swallowed hard and wished he was the sort of person who wasn’t intimidated by men who made it their life’s work to be intimidating for no reason.

A loud belch came from the back of the bus, and the elderly woman turned her head, just a little, but it was enough for a what you looking at, and she turned back and stared ahead. A clunk, and Carter thought, what’s that, and then thought: kicking a seat.

“Gi’s a fag mate.”

“I don’t smoke.” Carter felt sorry for the man behind him, but not sorry that it wasn’t him.

“Gi’s a fag mate.”

“I don’t have any.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Why not?”

“I – I just don’t.”

“Fuck. You, oi, you.” Carter froze in horror. “You. You fucking ignoring me? You blanking me, you?”

Carter turned his head, but not so much he would have to look them in the eye.

“Sorry mate, don’t smoke.”

“Don’t fucking mate me you cunt, you’re not my mate.”

Carter nearly said sorry again, because he had spent his life saying sorry to people for things that they had done to him. The bus slowed, and the elderly couple hurried towards the stairs, looking down at their feet. Carter had the feeling that it wasn’t their stop. The bus stopped, and the doors hissed, and nobody else got on so the doors hissed closed again and it drove on.

“Lend us a quid.”

The man behind mumbled something.

“Cunt. You?”

“Not got any change,” Carter said. “Sorry.”

“Fucking funny that, how neither of you got any fucking change. You fucking lying to me?”

“We’ll take a fucking tenner then,” the other one said, and they both laughed. This is it, Carter thought, this is the moment where what I’ve always been scared of happens. I’ve lived my life not doing things because I’ve been scared. And it hasn’t done me any good.

“Ask again,” the voice said. “Lend us some fucking money.”

Carter surged out of his seat, pressing the bell as he went. He careered down the bus, expecting to hear feet coming after him, and he moved so quick he nearly fell down the stairs.

“Just missed the stop,” the driver said, but he pulled over to the side anyway. Carter stepped out, and then went cold with the thought that the two men would follow him off, and would be with him here, on this lonely street.

But they didn’t. The doors closed, and the bus pulled away. Carter looked up, and he saw the face of the man left on the top deck, looking back at him, his expression unreadable, his face a white moon behind dirty windows. Carter never forgot that moment, and never would have forgotten it, even if what happened next hadn’t ended up all over the front pages the next day.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Feathers and Down

(Feathers and Down - The Cardigans)

Niall kept having the same dream, over and over. It happened so often that he would wake up in his bed, and have to think for a moment before he could decide whether it was a memory or just a dream. Sometimes his mum would scold him in the morning and tell him to stop daydreaming, and he would get on and eat his Readybrek when he all wanted to do was tell her that he knew he could fly.

For a while, the dream was just the same. He was on the landing, at the top of the steep stairs that led straight down to the hall, with its black and white squared floor. The TV was on in the front room, and he could hear the quiet rumble of his dad’s voice. Niall stood at the top of the stairs, looking down. There were sixteen steps, he knew that off by heart. He took a breath, and then jumped forward, into the air, and then the air caught him, and he didn’t fall, like he did when he came off his scooter. The air caught him, and he floated down, down to the bottom of the stairs, riding the air like a feather. Then the ground met him softly, and he landed.

It all changed when he first saw the angel. The mass itself used to bore him, because he didn’t understand much of it, and didn’t like it when the people chanted things all together because they didn’t seem like separate people any more. They became one thing. They went to mass twice a week, sometimes more if there was a Holy Day of Obligation. He called it a hobbledey-gobbledey day, and his mum told him never to say that in front of the priest. The mass bored him, and the air was thick with incense and terrible powdery perfume from old ladies, so he spent his time looking at the pictures of the stations of the cross, at the stained glass, at the tortured figure hung on the giant cross, blood coming from hands and feet and side and forehead. The church rose up high over the altar, and one Good Friday he looked up there and saw the face of an angel, like an enormous plaque hung high on the wall. I don’t remember that, he thought, and then the angel moved its eyes and looked down at him, just at him. No-one else seemed to notice. The angel looked kind, but sad at the same time, as if it knew too many bad things. They looked at each other for a while, but then Niall looked around to check to see if anyone else was watching, and when he looked back the angel had gone.

That night, he had the dream again. It was different though, this time, because this time he understood how he floated down the stairs. When he jumped, the angel was there, and it held him softly, as light as you would hold a dandelion’s puffball, and it held him that way all the way down, only letting go when he was safe on the floor.

When he woke in the morning, Niall walked to the top of the stairs. The TV was on, and he could his dad’s voice rumbling quietly over the top of it. It was Saturday, so he had been allowed to sleep in. He took a breath, and felt the angel beside him. Saw the angel beside him. When he was older, he could not quite remember which. A soft golden light was filtering in through the window by the front door, and he could see dust, drifting slowly in the sun. He took another breath, and jumped. He hit the stairs about a third of the way down and then bounced, hit them again, banged his elbow on the door, and then he was lying at the bottom of the stairs on the cold tiles and he had winded himself and could not take a breath. His mum and dad were out in a second, fussing round him, while he opened his mouth and his eyes wide, terrified that he wouldn’t be able to breathe again.

But he did, after a few moments of panic.

When he could speak, he told his mum and dad that he had slipped on the top step, and fallen. Although he had a few bruises, he hadn’t broken anything. Something inside him never felt quite the same way again. Even when he was grown up, he could still remember everything about it. And sometimes he stood at the top of a flight of stairs, he would remember floating, floating.