Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Empty House

The emptiness of the house ran through its pipes. Every time he turned on a tap it burst out fast and furious, like a bull released into the ring. Once, he’d left the bath running whilst he answered the phone. Minutes later he’d felt the emptiness lapping angrily about his ankles and by the time he’d managed to switch off the taps it was up to his knees. It’d taken days to get the house back to normal. He’d left all the doors and windows open for weeks but the emptiness refused to go, clinging to the walls and carpets like stale dogs’ piss. He didn’t dare invite anyone round until he’d had the place professionally cleaned. Especially not the children, they were too perceptive. No matter how much air-freshener he used, they’d detect the emptiness within minutes and then it would be one-way ticket to Saint Anne’s nursing home.

The emptiness was loudest at nights. It took him ages to get to sleep, its thick distressed gurgles ringing incessantly in his ears. At first he’d thought it was tinnitus, but after a while he’d noticed how the sound got louder the closer he was to a wall, a radiator, a pipe. He’d taken to keeping the central heating off, even in winter. The emptiness was intolerable when it was hot, its fiery whips lashed against his flesh until it bled. One night his neighbour came home to find him lying naked in the snow outside his front door.

Everyone had told him he should move after she died, that the house they’d shared for so many years would feel too empty without her. But that was nearly ten years ago. There was no point moving now, it wouldn’t make any difference. The emptiness had started running through his veins.

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Reasons Why

The reasons why she’d left him were numerous and varied. Some were large, noticeable and inexcusable, like the punctuation of the sign for FISH'N CHIPS’ she had to pass on her way to the station each morning. One day she would have to go in and tell them to change it, for it was a daily reminder of the ignorance of the kind of people she was forced to live amongst. Such literary carelessness would never happen in Hampstead, but of course they'd had to leave there because of his job. Oh yes, his job - one of the more large, noticeable and inexcusable reasons why she’d left him. Along with his gambling habits, his life-long affair with the brandy bottle and his on-off affair with a certain large and noticeable blonde, who probably had difficulty spelling her own name.

The other half of the reasons why she’d left him were smaller, more discreet. Take his selfishness in bed for a start; he’d refused to try anything for his snoring, said it was a natural bodily function and he wasn’t willing to have it interfered with. Then there was his tea-making – not only did he put the milk in first, but he left the teaspoon in his cup so long that all their teaspoons were either bent, stained a hideous copper-brown or most often both. And why oh why did have to suddenly stop still every time he wanted to say something when they were walking down the street, even if it was raining? Surely even men could walk and talk at the same time? For anybody else these reasons mightn’t seem like feasible ones to want to leave someone over, but after seventeen years these originally minor annoyances had become as conspicuous and unbearable as a misplaced apostrophe.

Sunday, 1 June 2008


She didn't believe in all that star-sign airy-fairy malarky. But she’d read her magazine cover to cover bar the stars and she still had ten minutes of her journey left to kill.  It was better than nothing. ‘Beware of something red, it could change your life’. Something red. Red. The bus? Not prepared to take any chances, she got off at the next stop and walked the rest of the way to work.

 Now that she was late she decided to take the lift up to her floor. Even though she worked on the seventh floor she never took the lift, not after seeing that film where all those people get trapped and…hold on, why had the lift suddenly stopped? She looked at the buttons. The number seven was no longer lit. She pushed it again. Nothing. Number 6. Nothing. Any button, any floor, just to get it moving. Nothing. There was only one button left to try.  She was about to push it but a sudden thought froze her finger mid-air. The emergency button was red. Images from the film flashed through her mind - the caged-in people, a sudden almighty jolt, a flash of white light, then the lift hurtling downwards into darkness.

But why on earth didn't you push the emergency button? Her boss had been furious, couldn't understand why she had stayed in the lift all morning without raising the alarm. Time-wasting, deliberate skiving, that’s what he’d called it. She’d felt too much of a fool to explain. Anyway it wouldn’t have mattered, it was just the excuse he’d needed. Someone had to go, the Credit Crunch had spoken.  How could she have been so stupid? She wished she’d never read her bloody stars. Read her stars. Of course, that was it, her stars…something read.


Monday, 7 April 2008

My First Bedroom

My first bedroom was where fairies gathered motionless on the walls waiting for night to come so they could dance around under the faint glow of the fairy castle lamp. Occasionally they tiptoed off the wall to tuck a silver coin beneath a pillow covered with wavy chestnut hair. In the corner stood a washbasin where tiny soapy hands scrubbed away the remains of each day’s adventures. The mirror above the basin reflected rosy marshmallow cheeks, lips plumped with a thousand questions and eyes sparkling with the thrill of the present. Next to it towered a white wardrobe with a neatly ironed green school uniform hanging on the front like a medal. Inside the wardrobe Snow White’s dress vied for space amongst hems of colourful tulle, shiny Lycra leotards and lovingly knit woollen creations.

The wardrobe was good for hide and seek and for disappearing into when I didn’t want to be found… I feel the cold metal from my tap shoes digging into my skinny legs as I crouch in the corner of the wardrobe with my eyes closed to shut out the darkness. But I stay where I am because I believe that one day the back of the wardrobe will suddenly open and lead me to a world of snow queens and talking lions and enchanted forests. A world where I can be a real Snow White, the heroine of my own fairytale. I hear my Mummy’s footsteps, followed by her voice. I know that any minute now the wardrobe door will open and I’ll have to climb back out. Back into my bedroom. My first bedroom. A room where fairies are trapped in wallpaper and can only come out at night when no one’s looking. At least they didn’t think I was. Even fairies make mistakes.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

You lose your sense of humour

You lose your sense of humour when you’ve only got a week left to write a 5000-word coursework essay and you still haven’t started even though you’ve had three months to do it and you’ve had a fever for the last week which has kept you awake at night so you’re feeling tired as well as ill whilst trying to think what to write but you can’t concentrate because there’s a contract sitting next to you waiting to be signed but you don’t know whether or not to sign it because it’s for a flat you’ve made an offer on but you’re not sure whether to go ahead and complete because everyone’s saying it’s a bad time to buy because the housing market’s going to crash and you’d be a fool to buy now but then again if you don’t you’ll lose the flat you’ve had your heart set on the flat you walked past the other day and saw the owner in the window cradling her newborn baby who she’s waiting to take to start a fresh life in a new house where another family sits waiting to move but you don’t know why because you’re not dealing with them directly because they’re further up the chain but your decision still effects them and potentially even more people because you don’t know how long the chain is or exactly how many lives could be turned upside down by your decision but you can’t think about that because you’ve got an essay to write and the deadline is drawing nearer and the page is looking blanker and bigger and you still can’t think of a word to write so you might as well switch off the computer and try again tomorrow because everything looks smaller in the light of day

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Her Mum's Kitchen

It was hard to see in her Mum’s kitchen. It was always thick with smoke. Not smoke from cooking - not much cooking went on in that kitchen. Smoke from her Mum’s cigarettes. If her Mum could’ve rolled pastry as well as she rolled a bit of baccy and paper, she doubted she’d be the size 8 she was today. In fact she had a lot more to thank her Mum’s nicotine addiction for than her skinny little ass.

It was her pert buttock that started it all. He pinched it as he passed her in the club. She saw him blow her kiss as he walked towards the bar, motioning for her to join him. Her friends urged her to follow, told her he was far too fit to ignore. And well, she deserved a bit of fun after the way Andy had treated her. So she DIO’d her Bacardi Breezer and followed the trail of testosterone.

He’d insisted on walking her back to her Mum’s. On kissing her goodnight outside the front door. She thought he’d started walking back down the path as she turned the key in the lock, but suddenly there he was pushing her inside, pushing her forwards through the hallway and into the kitchen. One hand over her mouth, the other pushing her forwards. Forwards over the kitchen worktop. Darkness. The sound of a zip opening. Her arms flaying across the worktop searching for something. Help. The sponginess of the tobacco packet first, then on top something small, hard. Grab. Flick lighter. Flame to denim. Shrieks. Obscenities. Legs being slapped.
Jeans pulled down. Off.

She watched his silhouette run from the kitchen and out the front door, then stamped on his jeans until all the flames were out. Her Mum’s kitchen thick with smoke.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

We Keep Walking

We spot a road signposted ‘To the Future’ and start walking. For the first few miles the road looks the same as the one we’ve just left. It’s a busy urban road lined with office blocks, glass-fronted flats, shops, restaurants and bars. Cars whiz along it in a hurry to get somewhere. The pavement is crowded with people shouting and bumping into one other. The road smells of money – ten, twenty and fifty pound notes fall from the sky and are snatched by reaching hands. The road sounds like a speeded up record on continuous play. Suddenly a church appears and the air is filled with confetti-shaped promises in every colour of the rainbow. After the church the road turns a sharp right. Identical suburban houses line either side of a pine-scented avenue. As we walk a large white bird swoops down, narrowly missing our heads. The bird deposits a basket on one of the doorsteps. As we pass the basket we hear a baby scream. The screams pursue us for the next five miles. As we continue walking the houses become bigger and the screams start to fade. For a while there is silence. The air is warm and scented with freshly baked bread. Gradually the air becomes thicker. Stickier. Slowing us down. A fog starts to form and it’s hard to see where we’re going. We encounter fewer and fewer people along the way and soon realise we’re the only ones still walking, although we can hear footsteps behind us. We pass a hospital and peer through the window, but it’s dark inside and we can’t see in. Not far from the hospital is another church - this time the air is cold and filled with tear-shaped memories. The road is very bright now. Empty. We keep walking.