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Monthly Archives: June 2009


Ralphy wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his sweatshirt and threw the rest of the coffee into the mixer, whch was churning the next load of muck. ‘Give it a bit of colour,’ he muttered, grinning up at me from between bushy eyebrows.

I took the empty mug from him, surveying the worksite, where a week ago a stolen People Carrier had demolished a large section of the front wall. ‘We should be finished by Monday,’ he said.


He told me he’d happily use every drug going. Every one. ‘Life’s too fucking short to worry ’bout it,’ he’d say. He was a drug consumer by conviction as well as lifestyle; ‘I’ve seen some shit,’ he’d tell me, ‘and I’m not betting my shirt on a positive outcome.’

Most drugs he was using regularly, or had been using, or intended to use at some time in the near future. He didn’t go berserk, it was a long-term commitment; he paced it. Weekends was usually speed. Weekdays was dope. He worked as a mental nurse, ‘psychiatric nurse’ he’d tell me, in a serious tone, and he used his position of authority to filch the necessaries for the occasional temazi parties. He excelled in anti-psychotics. He supplied particularly potent viagra to all and sundry amongst his friendship group.

He even used crack cocaine a few times, which he described as like getting mugged by a particularly brutal orgasm.

But not heroin.

He’d tried it a couple of times. ‘Man, it was sooo nice. I tried it once and it was better than heaven, better than sex.’ He smiled at the memory of it, shivered, took a long drag on his blifter. ‘Then I tried it again and it was just as good.’
‘You didn’t try it a third time?’ I asked.
‘Naww,’ he replied, slurring a little now, ‘First time, your turning a key. Second time, you’re opening the door. Third time you’re stepping over the threshold.’

He sat back, one arm draped across the arm of the old settee, the velour covered in smoke burns, the fingers of his other hand reaching down to rake across the wiry, knobbed spine of May, the ancient lurcher who lay between his bare feet, ‘Third time is for keeps, baby. Third time is for keeps.’


I drank every night.

For years I’d brew a witches cocktail of cider and cheap white wine in a two litre jug. No fruit. No ice. Just skip the food and down to the serious business of getting hammered.

I’d get to work totally wiped-out and bloodshot with terrible hangovers. Never shaved much before 6pm on a Saturday. Lunchtime I favoured something with garlic in it, figuring it’d give me a few per cent extra in the health stakes.

Booze and unwashed and garlic. My sex life was shit.

Pulled a tooth out one night; a healthy tooth. I was drunk and found no use for it so I worked it loose. Took hours. Used to run every evening, before the booze, three or four miles, just to work up a thirst. Twice a week I’d turn up for my kickboxing club, blood pumping round my head as I warmed up and stretched, thoughts clearing by the time I got in the ring to spar. Usually.

From around one in the afternoon I’d be planning my drinking. I woke early every morning fresh and with a crunching headache but it got so that I ignored the pain.

But I didn’t drink at lunchtime – apart from my devotion to alcohol, that was my only discipline. That was what kept me holding on, just, above the precipice.

Three nights in three years I was sober. I got flu. Couldn’t get out of bed to pour a drink. Then I felt a bit better and got drunk. Then sometime later, I stopped. My drunk time was over. Whatever was that wounded me, whatever pain I hid from had diminished. My glass shield was no longer needed.

But I never felt the same, sober. Things were never as clear. No exhilaration like that first drink of the night.

Life was duller around the edges. Diminished.

I started writing.


Lazy mornings kill me. Sunday’s leave me groggy; peeling my slack body from my memory-foam matress sometime after ten in the morning totally screws my body clock and leaves me with bed-lag for most of the rest of the day.

I much prefer early mornings; when the alarm clock that’s sitting on whatever paperback I’ve left at the side of the bed wakes me at some unreasonable hour.

I don’t like getting up, but I like being up early.

Jackson was late as usual, and I was feeling lethargic – I’d had breakfast late – and was nursing an Earl Grey and a blueberry muffin while a tea and caramel shortbread sat waiting for him. He arrived all bouncy; wired and tired from working late at whichever bar is employing him this month. But as it turns out he’d been up watching a cage-fighting match live from Vegas, where his friend had just won a multi-million dollar contract after appearing in some TV show.

The cafe we sit in is out on the street and as we chat, stir our tea, eat our snacks, people keep stopping to say hello to him. For a green-eyed, sandy-haired white boy he has more ethnic friends than anyone else I know: some asian kid in a geometric shaved-in haircut, an african kid in huge white sunglasses, a couple of chinese friends from college.

Today I keep count – five times people stop to say hello in an hour. He’s off to Japan in September, he tells me, to train across various dojos with fighting champions that have names that I mispronounce; he’s got enough money to stay for a few months, he reckons.

We drink our tea. Order a fresh pot.

He’s had a fitness test; his bp and body fat are low and his BMI is high. ‘Forget about that,’ I say, ‘All power athletes are big; rugby players, judoka, rowers, they all are. So long as your body fat stays low don’t worry about your BMI.

Thing is, he knows more about this stuff than me, much much more, he’s fairly deadly in a winning-smile break-your-jaw kind of way, so I guess he knew this already and just wanted a little reassurance.

I trained with him once, did a little grappling for a half hour, asked him to show me some techniques. Afterwards asked him how good I was:
‘It was like training with a baby,’ he said with a smile.

I pause as he chats to a girl with a child in a pushchair. He rubs the kid’s hair. When they go he says to me, ‘That’s my uncle Phil’s kid, and his ex.’ We chat some more but after an hours or so I say I have to go. We leave the cafe and walk together as far as the citizen’s advice place where they sell lottery tickets and fresh juice from a kiosk.

We pause; we’re going in different directions.
‘See you later,’ I say.
‘Yeah, see you later.’
He reaches into his pocket, ‘Here,’ he says, and hands me a letter, sealed in a white envelope.

I read it when I get home and it makes me want to cry.

Wet room

Coming back from the gym I found a lace glove draped across the hedge near the garden gate that looks across the road toward the park. It was getting cold, and the glove didn’t fit me, it was small, amost child-size, so I decided it wasn’t anything I could use. I walked up the steps, unlocked the front door and went inside, dumped my bag at the foot of the stairs and discovered, almost by surprise, that I was still holding the glove. I went into the front room and left it on the oak table I have there for when I write.

Like now.

Starlight was in her basket at the top of the stairs and she looked up, eyed me as took off my clothes and dropped them in the laundry basket, and gave a plaintive cry for attention.
‘Not now,’ I told her, so she blanked me, clambered out of her basket and trotted lightly downstairs. Her sleek black back arched and proud.

Naked now, I walked to the wet room, closed the door behind me, turned everything on full and took a long, steamy shower. After fifteen minutes of this I turned the heat all the way off but left the pressure on full and took a long cold shower.

That worked.

An hour later I was back in the front room, listening to radio 4 and trying and failing to write. Some days it’s just like that. The room overlooks the garden and the late-summer light was coming in through the window in a good way and I thought I’d give it another hour and if nothing arived I’d go and drink some wine.

I’d noticed a girl hanging around outside, waiting near but not quite next to the Zebra crossing, and she’d been there a while. I went for the bottle opener, returned, dug out a glass and a bottle from the sideboard and sat back at the table. The girl was still there.

She was small, slender, no more than five one, and she looked anxious, disconcerted, or maybe she’d been stood up for a date or something. She looked lost

After another fifteen minutes, and a glass and a half of fairly cheap red wine, Starlight walked in and purred once loudly, climbed onto my lap and groomed herself with detailed and thorough care. Then she dropped lightly the the floor and left the room, turning right to the front door. I stood up and went to open the door for her.

The girl in the street saw the movement, looked up and said, ‘Hi.’ and I think she almost wished she hadn’t but we were barely twenty feet apart and it just happened.

‘Hi,’ I replied. ‘Everything ok?’
She nodded, with a small smile, and she said ‘Yes.’
But she didn’t look ok really and I said, ‘You waiting for someone?’
‘Sort of.’

She was small but she had a nice figure, waspish waist and nice breasts beneath her top, though to be honest, coming from a family of voluptuous women it kind of innoculated me against being a breast-obsessive, so her tiny waist and rounded hips impressed me more. Plus she had a nice face. Clear eyes. Bright. But I just said, ‘Ok then,’ and went to close the door. ‘If you need anything, just knock,’ I told her.
‘Ok,’ she said, but she wasn’t really listening, I don’t think.

I went inside, gave up on the writing and worked on finishng the wine. She was out there for at least another hour. Then I looked up, and she was gone.

The next night she was back.

I watched her standing on the other side of the road, near the park gate. She was staring directly at my window, though I don’t think she was even looking, and she gave no indication of seeing me as I sat there writing.

I gave up watching her, and a couple of hours later I noticed she’d gone.

The next morning I discovered the lace glove in Starlight’s basket and I thought I’d leave it there. Then the postman brought me a small cheque for an article I’d written about two years earlier and had just been re-used by another magazine so I took it around to the bank. When I got back, the girl was there, standing by my gate.
She said, ‘Have you got it?’
I opened the gate, ‘Got what?’
‘He said he left it here.’
‘Who did?’
‘Have you got it?’ she demanded.
I turned to her, hand on the gate, thinking she was a care-in-the-community day release or something. ‘Got what?’ I repeated.
‘My glove.’
I looked at her. I said ‘No. I haven’t got it.’
‘Someone must have it, ‘she told me. ‘He left it in your garden. He wouldn’t lie to me.’
I said, ‘Tell you what, come back tomorrow. I’ll ask about, see if anyone has your glove.’
‘Can you do it now?’ she said.
‘Do what?’
‘Ask about. Ask about now.’
I shook my head. ‘Most of my neighbours are at work.’
‘Why aren’t you at work?’ she demanded, like she suspected me of something.
‘I write.’
She snorted. ‘I’ll come back tonight,’ she told me. ‘About eight.’

I went inside to make myself some breakfast. Then I went upstairs to rake through Starlight’s basket to retrieve the glove, took it downstairs and washed it under a warm tap with some soap powder. Then I squeezed it out in my fist and then rolled it in some kitchen roll to dry it a bit more. Then I went out back and hung it on the line to dry properly.

About ten past seven she knocked on my front door. I opened it and was about to speak when she asked, ‘Have you got it yet?’

Starlight walked past me, purring, and curled her body around the girls leg. She bent down to stroke it like they’d known each other forever. Then she straightened up, and eyed me.
‘I’ve got it,’ I said. ‘I’ll go and get it. Wait here.’

I went through the hall and out the back of the kitchen to the yard, plucked the glove from the peg on which it hung on the line, and folded it neatly in two, wrist to fingertips. Then I took it back to the front door.

‘Is this it?’ I asked, holding it out.
Her eyes shone and she reached out for it and I thought, is she crying? Is she crying over this glove?
‘He said he’d left it,’ she told me, taking the glove from me and holding it against her cheek. ‘He’d never lie.’
Then her face changed. Became sharper. ‘Have you washed this?’ she said. ‘Have you washed it?’
My bemused silence must have condemned me. Her face contorted, ‘You washed it! You fucker, you washed it!’
‘It was dirty,’ I said.
‘He left it for me!’ her voice was rising.
‘The cat had it in her basket…’
‘Her basket!’ and she just shrieked at me. Shrieked. A distorted gutteral sound that began as a roar and rose almost to a scream.
Then she turned and stormed back down the stairs, turning as she reached the gate. ‘It’s no use!’ she hissed. ‘It’s no use!’


‘You don’t get me,’ she said. ‘All that watching me while I sleep business,’ she paused to push her hair behind her ears, ‘doesn’t mean you get me.’
‘It means that I can adore you,’ I told her, ‘it means that I can hold you in the moment, in my eyes, cradle you in my memory.’

I reached out and stroked her cheek with the back of my fingertips. She leaned forward, into my touch, pushing her face against the open palm of my hand, kissing it. ‘It means nothing,’ she said, pulling away, ‘it means I’m asleep, that’s all, and you’re staring at a sleeping stranger.’
‘Is that all we are?’ I asked, ‘Strangers?’
‘Everyone is,’ she said, eyes glistering, ‘We’re all strangers.’
‘How does that make you feel?’ I asked her.
She looked down, hair falling loose again, and the silence that followed was broken only by the light, crisp drumming of her fingernails on the table.

For a few minutes we sat and we studied other things, then some internal dialogue must have concluded, because she looked back at me, and asked, ‘Hungry?’
I nodded.
We ordered.