Posted: October 5, 2015 in Prose
Even the street where you live isn’t necessarily safe. She turns the corner, and gets caught out by the usual cluster of tracksuits and stares slouching around by the steps of the off-license. She can’t turn around to go home a different way. That would be attracting extra attention. The only thing to do is carry on walking.
Her body tenses automatically, as if that scrunches her up small enough to slip by unnoticed, like a rat. She should stride by confidently. Give the impression that she’s on a whole other level to them, one so high up that their presence doesn’t even register, but she can’t. Instead, she settles for a glazed expression and focuses on the pavement a few feet ahead.
A distraction technique, to keep breathing and walking.
She passes three of them. Now four.
The last two – and she’s clear. Pace quickens in triumph: almost home, and acceptably human enough for them not to start on me.
One of them shouts “You’re FIT!” and – inevitably – they all laugh.
Her face crumples then hardens, and she carries on up the path. As if she didn’t hear it or like she didn’t care, or is too stupid to know that they’re taking the piss out of her.
What the fuck goes through their minds when they do that? What do they hope to gain? No, wait, scratch that – she knows what they hope to gain: a laugh from their mates. But why is it funny to them? They must know that she knows she’s conventionally unattractive. Therefore, they know that when they call her fit she’s aware that it actually means the opposite, that in fact they think she’s repulsive. So what they’re doing is deliberately reminding her that she’s repulsive.
Yeah, I get it…very funny.
Do they not realise that she stares at her teeth-brushing reflection most mornings and wants to repeatedly smash up the mirror with her fists then use the broken shards to tear that face apart? Do they think people like me enjoy looking like this? That we do it on purpose to disgust them and therefore are fair game for any cruelty they decide to subject us to? Do they even think?
Visibly drooping, she gets out her door key and lets herself into the house, still trying to justify their attitudes. Is it possible that the human species has again been split into several branches, distinguished by the amount of time spent engaged in thought? If you remove things like literature, scientific knowledge, thirst for knowledge in general and replace them with things like reality TV, substance abuse and sex, there isn’t much left to prompt intellectual stimulation. And, judging from conversations she’s overheard, there isn’t any desire to be prompted.
People she passes by in city centres tend to seem less complex than those she is close to, because she knows next to nothing about their natures, their backgrounds, things they enjoy and dislike, things that interest them etc. Making them seem like two-dimensional shadows. She sometimes wonders if a percentage of people actually are 2-D shadows, who think only 2-D materialistic thoughts and engage in 2-D activities with their 2-D shadow friends. Based on the things they spend their time doing, they can’t ever have wondered about subjects like existentialism or altruism, she decides. Otherwise they wouldn’t behave the way they do.
Having no money or guidance isn’t an excuse to take it out on the rest of the world. She understands that Western society views alcohol as the best way to escape depression and boredom and dissatisfaction. That kids learn coping strategies from the environments in which they’re raised, thus if their parents go straight for the booze when they get home from work, and if all social occasions centre around booze then naturally they’ll associate drinking with relaxation and socialising.
Why is it that some people – although they may use alcohol the same way and drink too much of it – realise how sad and pointless this culture is, while other people refuse to even examine it?
What does it say about their lives, she thinks, that we can’t enjoy ourselves without being under the influence of one mind-altering chemical or another? And why do some accept it as being a completely natural state of affairs, and get angry if you suggest otherwise?
It’s not like she’ll be joining MENSA any time soon, or like she’s a figurehead for exceptional intelligence. Upon entering the living room, she grabs an ashtray and lights up. Figures she’s proven this point. But at least I try. She’s exhaling smoke into the pages of ‘A Room with a View’ for crying out loud. Sure, it’s not the last word in high-brow reading, but it’ll fucking do for tonight. It’s sure as shit better than spending her life lurking on street corners, sucking down cheap vodka and having sex behind the off-license. She’d spent enough of her youth living that life. Winter nights after school with her mate Cheryl. Thirteen years old. They’d sit on the swings in the dark drinking cider and sharing a bag of chips.
What, does that make me a hypocrite?
But they never shouted abuse at the dog-walkers who crunched across the deserted gravel car park. They never trashed the little kids’ swings or chucked their greasy wrappers on the floor.
And I’m not still doing it, eight years later. That’s the crucial difference.


Posted: October 2, 2015 in Prose


They brought him the pizza. Eagerly, he flipped open the box while they hovered nearby, waiting to be thanked. Or not. He broke down crying.
“But – but there’s no pineapple!” he blubbered. “A pizza’s gotta have pineapple.”
One of the men was Italian, in his blood and in the kitchen. Fruit on a pizza just ain’t civilised, he thought. Grow up, thought the others. Some of us have work to be getting on with. They told him he could like it or lump it. He balled it up into a lump and threw it at the wall. Sulked for hours, just like a kid. Can’t I ever catch a break, he wondered.
The next morning, they led the blubberer down the corridor, fastened all the straps and injected him with eternal sleep. Halfway through his lunch break, the Italian remembered something.
Tomato is a fruit. Shit.

Flash Fiction: Outlaw

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Prose

“Will you take that thing down, please?”
She was irritable, nervous. These moods had become as much a part of everyday life as morning coffee. I turned from the window and the poster that she objected to. Crescent-shaped indents left in the Blu-tack by restless nails. “What’s up? Changed your mind about being an outlaw?”
“I’m trying to use my head,” she said. “Robin Hood never had a bumper sticker, did he?”
I grinned then abruptly switched it off. Mirth on a day like this was akin to carefree laughter in the middle of a funeral. “What happened to Robin Hood anyway? And don’t say ‘the two foxes got married’.”
A habitual distraction, perhaps something symptomatic buried in the cartoon reference. Raised on a Disney Diet, I’d say. Walt was the best parent we could have hoped for, eh? What about Fantasia, she’d ask, wrinkling her nose. Every parent’s allowed a mistake, I’d reply. And we’d both mime a shudder. It was one of those frequent games, with cues and prompts understood by both parties.
“I don’t know. He probably got hung.” The pause drifted around the room like a ballot slip floating solemnly to the floor. “Are you serious about this?”
“Wh – why you asking me that?”
“Because we’re –” she did the bunny-ear quotation fingers, “– heading into Last Chance City now.” Both hands fell to her thighs, brushing over the folds of her trousers to end up dangling at her sides, fingers repeatedly clenching and unclenching.
“I was only joking last night, I was drunk. Take no notice of me when I start chatting shit like that.” My breath caught in my throat and waited there a moment, to see…
She hadn’t bought it, and flashed me a sceptical look. “It’s two o’clock. We’ve got, like, three hours to get down to the Council House and register if you change your mind –”
“I’m not going to change my mind.” Roughly, scared, knowing she was going to make me do this on my own. The other way round, really. I was determined to zig-zag out of their clutches for as long as I lasted. It would be her stuck in the trap, me scampering about somewhere in the woods. Still, when the gunshots started it wouldn’t matter much which side of the mesh you were on, all were doomed once the dogs descended.
Except that it did matter, to me.
Our eyes swivelled in the direction of the clock.
“I’m not going to change my mind,” I repeated, softer this time.
“OK. Yeah? OK. H -” The sound died at the back of my mouth, bobbing about then fading. Deep breath, try again. “H- h- what about you, have you changed your mind? It’s OK if you have, I’m probably being stupid and irrational and I’ll see it’s alright and then I’ll join you and the two of us will be one big happy family, yeah? Yeah, and –”
She stepped forward. I thought she was going to hit me, but she pressed her palm over my mouth. “Shut up, will you. I’m not fucking off. I said I’d do it.”
I jabbed my tongue at her hand, knowing it would make her jerk away and spoil the moment, but somehow needing it to be spoiled.
“Eeeuww, you tramp!” she cried, wiping the offending hand on my arm.
I gave her shoulder a quick stroke with one finger; a thank you and a sorry combined in one gesture.
“At least take the poster down,” she said, and reached past me to get to the window. “’Fuck the Regime’? Not very subtle.”
“They’ll come for us anyway.”
“Eventually,” she agreed, peeling away the paper edges, soggy with condensation. She moulded the poster into a soggy ball and dropped it into the bin. “But let’s not sign-post the way. I bet Robin Hood never made it easy for them.”


Posted: September 29, 2015 in Prose

Graham felt hot liquid spill from the corners of his eyes, and fought the impulse to crumple up the photograph held in his hand. Once again the guttural noises took control, overwhelming him with shakes as he sat languidly at the edge of his bed. Through the blurry film of tears, Graham could see Sam’s pale young body contrasted against the brightly-coloured paddling pool; digitally frozen in triumphant glee as he poured water over his own head with a plastic bowl.
Weeping would not bring the boy back – but he wept anyway.
No grandfather strives to outlive his grandchildren. No grandfather wishes to read in The Mirror  how his five-year old grandson was raped prior to suffering fatal head injuries. No grandfather can bear to witness his family torn apart in court. His daughter’s sobbing, wife’s sad eyes heavy with accusation, defendant ashen and mumbling. The verdict consoling nobody.
Every night Graham was haunted by thoughts of the boy. They’d had a strong bond, all those afternoons of babysitting after school. Paintings on the fridge: tall stick-figures with irregular facial features, strip of scrawling blue sky. Me and my granddad. Sandwiches and afternoon cartoons. Carelessly tossing bread to the mallards and running from Canadian geese. Good throw, Sam!
Wiping his eyes roughly on the back of his wrists, he looked again at the photograph. Exemplary innocence. Delicate ears, soft lips and primary colours. Droplets on the boy’s skin glistened in the summer heat. Graham could hear gurgling laughter as the water sluiced Sam’s face. Could hear his grandson’s screams as he pleaded with his killer for it all to stop.
Doors slamming shut.
About it.
Doors slam shut all the way down the corridor. Graham carefully refolds the picture and conceals it once again inside his underwear. The lights in his cell grow dim and he is alone.

Myself from Another Dimension

Posted: September 28, 2015 in Poetry
Benches face each other
like armies contemplating
battle charge. My opposite
number is a ginger construction
worker eating a Greggs pasty
and smoking a roll-up. Hi-vis
over a hoodie. He looks tough,
looks fed up, looks at me.
A slip of DNA, and his path could
have been mine. I want to nod
in brotherly acknowledgement,
but it would be too weird.

Sky Limits

Posted: September 27, 2015 in Poetry


The sky, a curved mirror,
reflects back  atmospheric pressure
closing in, ageing the afternoon grey.
Those from on high spit upon us.
Lowly mortals. Target practise.
There is no escape; from the
rain, from the hustle and bustle
of self-important consumers
scurrying back and forth. We do
Primark’s bidding, duck and cover
in attempts to keep dry, but we
are already so diluted. So impure.
(Translucent orange squash
poured into beakers by
a friend’s middle-aged
mother, who hen-pecks
at the threat of E-numbers
and rock music)
Warm blue splits the sky open,
divides days into brollies vs. shorts.
The clouds sidle away like bullies
under a head-teacher’s gaze, and
people barely notice themselves
breathe an inner sigh of relief.

Every Year

Posted: September 23, 2015 in Poetry
Every year, Autumn never fails
to blow my mind. I gaze at the vibrant art
pinned to trees and scattered carelessly
across the floor, mind sucking it all in
greedily like a kid at the pic ‘n’ mix counter.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now,
yet nothing in nature can be taken
for granted. I don’t worship sun gods
but I frequently gape, open-mouthed,
at the mysterious wonders of the sky.
Responding to seasonal rituals. Not Pavlovian,
Catholic chorus on auto-pilot. More like a kid
deprived of poetry, exposed to words
that actually speak to him. For the first time.