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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Bunk

Her hands were a love heart, that’s what Helen decided. A love heart carved out of a piece of ancient and mystical wood and painted an oily red. But not just one kind of red; all the reds. Helen put her hands on her chest and waited for The Feeling to come. She decided to hear music in her head. Probably a violin and a piano. Helen pretended to look into the distance and be in love. She imagined a black dress and dinner for two and kissing on a doorstep. Just those three things. Round and round and round with no beginning and no end. She didn’t even close her eyes. She wasn’t even looking out the window. Round and round and round. The dress, the dinner, the kissing, the dress, the dinner, the kissing, the kissing, the dinner, the dress, the dinner, the kissing, the kissing, the kissing, the love heart, the Mum dress Mum the dinner it's mum the kissing no the dress wait a minute the kissing go away the kissi-mum

Don’t stop. Please. Please carry on with the kissing.

Mum poked her head round Helen’s bedroom door. She looked like a pigeon dressed up as a person. Mum's supermarket uniform had a chocolate stain (or was it blood?) smeared down its front and was a bit too small for her oval, bread-filled body. Her claw-like feet  were stuffed into a pair of once smooth, once fluffy, blue slippers.

Mum said Helen’s name. But it didn’t sound like the word 'Helen'. It sounded like this: Hellinnn? Mum’s voice always sounded like an apology. But not an apology for a big thing, an apology for something pointless. Like walking past someone. Or getting on a bus.

Mum was poking her head round Helen’s bedroom door to remind Helen that it was time for Prayer Club and that Peter and his mum would be arriving soon to pick her up. Helen and Peter had known each other since Helen was four. She used to go to his house after school every day while Mum worked at the supermarket. Now that Helen was 13, she was allowed to come home on her own after school and make herself a snack. The snack was usually six digestive biscuits with peanut butter on top. The snack at Peter's house used to be a banana followed by some prayers.

Helen looked at Mum, whose eyes were darting around Helen’s bedroom as if she’d never seen a bedroom before and didn’t know how to start talking about it. She always did this. Helen knew what was coming next. Something about one of the posters on the wall: which pop group are they? Or something about an item of Helen’s clothing: what do they call those kinds of vests? And always the sound of an apology, stuck at the back of Mum's throat, like a tiny, dusty crucifix swinging in a doorway.

Peter and his mum were in the car outside. They were both wearing cardigans and they both had the same hair. Peter's smell smacked Helen in the face as soon as she opened the passenger door. This always happened, she was used to Peter's smell. It was like a mixture of sugar and coca cola and shampoo and furniture polish. Nobody spoke as Helen got in the car. She never knew what to do with her hands so she folded her arms and thought about the love heart.

Neither Helen nor Peter were allowed to sit in the front of the car because of what had happened to Anthony, Peter's brother. There never seemed to be enough room in the back for Helen and Peter not to touch bodies a tiny bit. Peter swept his hair from his face and looked at Helen. She didn't look back at him but she could feel his eyes on her cheek. It felt like he was looking right inside her face, right into the bones of her skull. Helen's cheek got hot. Her brain was saying the same word over and over again: bunk. Bunk, bunk, bunk, bunk, bunk. She tried to send the word to Peter. She even tried to  cough it out, like code.

Peter's mum asked Helen how her Mum's depression was. Helen said she didn't really know. Helen’s knee was touching Peter’s thigh, which felt hard and competitive, like a cricket bat.

Peter was a couple of years older than Helen. They went to the same school but they never spoke to each other there. Not even when Helen used to go to his house every day to wait for Mum to finish work. Peter’s house. Anthony's house. Anthony's room. Peter’s room. Peter’s bed. Peter’s bunk bed. The top one.

Helen stared straight ahead, towards the passenger seat in the front of the car. Anthony’s seat. She wanted to say his name out loud. She had a silly thought that if she did, he might suddenly be there. He might just appear in the car and look behind him and see Helen. He might reach his arm around the back of the chair and his hand might find hers and hold it. Really tight. Maybe too tight. But she wouldn’t mind because she would know that he meant it. Helen missed Anthony. She missed him in a way that meant thinking about him was a dangerous thing to do; like it might make her go blind. Nobody knew how much she missed him. Maybe not even God. Hopefully not even God.

Nobody ever talked about Anthony. Nobody even really talked about him at the funeral. The priest said some prayers and the room was silent and the priest said some prayers and the room was silent and the priest said some prayers and the coffin was taken outside and the room was silent. That day, most of Anthony's family had spent the whole day smiling exactly the same smile. Like they had all been taught how to do  it by the same person. It was a smile that Helen would never forget. It was huge. And weird. And frightening. It had sometimes looked like their smiles had even had their own smiles. Even the backs of their heads had seemed to be smiling. She remembered seeing Peter that day. He hadn't spent the whole day smiling. She'd walked into a side room at the church and had seen Peter, kneeling in a circle with some men. Some of them were crying and some of them had their eyes closed and they were all praying, all together in a circle on their knees and Peter had looked up at Helen and she was sure that when he'd seen her, he'd looked like he was about to laugh. She was sure of it.

That was one year ago. Helen looked out the window, at the rows of houses they were cruising past. The glassy, early evening light made the houses seem less real than they were; as if she was looking at a photograph of some houses; as if she could gather the entire row up in one sweeping movement and, with a clenched fist, screw them up in a tight, glossy ball and chuck them into the road to be driven over and completely destroyed.

One year. She tried to make a mental list of all the things that had happened in that time:

Got some new trainers
Been moved down a set in maths
Nearly set the house on fire by mistake
Been to the new cinema in town
The thing with the love heart
Nearly stopped believing in God
Periods started
Got fatter
Killed mum

Not really. That had been an in-joke between Helen and Anthony. She could almost hear him laugh. But she was starting to forget how his laugh really sounded which she hated herself for. Anthony’s laugh was more of a sigh than a laugh. It was small and awkward and quiet. It didn’t come out of his mouth very much. Wait. There. There. There it was. Do it again. Do it again, Anthony.


***


Do it again Anthony

No

Go on

No, it feels weird

It doesn’t look weird, it looks good

Shut up, Hellinnn

It does. It looks really good

No it doesn’t. It looks fucking gay

They were practising walking. More specifically, Anthony was practising walking. More specifically, Anthony was practising how to walk up to Robert from Year 9. The reason for this was that Anthony was absolutely, totally and utterly, can’t eat or sleep, fucked-in-the-head, wanking every day, in love with Robert from Year 9 and Robert in Year 9 needed to know about it because Anthony and Robert from Year 9 were one hundred percent, no doubt about it, nothing else matters, ‘til death do us part, it’s so fucking obvious, perfect for each other. So, Anthony had to practise how to walk up to him because whenever Anthony saw Robert from Year 9 at school, he forgot how to walk.

Do it again. Anthony. Do it again

Fucking hell

It looks really good. I promise

What if he doesn't even notice me?

But he obviously really fancies you too

Shh! Peter will fucking hear you, or my mum

Just do the walk again

Fucking hell

Just do the walk one more time. Please! I'll do anything you tell me if you do it one more time

Like what? Say 'cunt' at Prayer Club?

No! Like kill my mum

Fucking hell, I love him so fucking fucking much. I just love him so fucking fucking fucking much

Helen swallowed too loudly. She watched, as Anthony turned to face his bedroom wall, preparing himself for another practise walk. With his back to Helen, Anthony covered his face with his hands. Helen watched, as his t-shirt rode up slightly, exposing the smooth, milky skin on the small of his long back. Helen watched as the nape of Anthony’s slender, blood-filled neck bent down, which sent his head towards his chest, to his beating heart. And she listened as Anthony breathed, slowly and steadily, self-consciously readying himself for his next performance.

Fucking hell, I love him so fucking fucking much. I just love him so fucking fucking fucking much





Some girls were looking at Helen at lunch. People never looked at Helen at lunch. Helen looked back at them from time to time but mainly she just carried on eating her cheese and crisps sandwich.

It was Josie who got up and from her seat and started walking towards Helen. She was carrying a piece of paper. The others were watching.

Alright?

Erm, hi

Is that cheese and crisps?

Yeah

Josie looked behind her at her friends who, by now, had collapsed onto each other in a fit of delirious laughter.

You're Helen, yeah?

Erm . . .

Is this yours?

What?

This letter

What is it?

It came out of your bag in the corridor

What is it?

We thought we should give it back to you before anyone saw it

What is it?

Do you properly believe in God then?

What?

How come you’re not eating lunch with Anthony?

Erm, he’s got a trumpet lesson. Why?

A sudden squeal of delight or terror or both at the same time shot out of Josie’s mouth and her arms flew up into the air as she was caught off guard by a Year 10 boy. He’d come out of nowhere to do some flirting. He jabbed Josie in the ribs a couple of times and said something about how he could feel her bra under her shirt. He snatched the piece of paper from Josie’s hand, quick and tall and determined. The Year 10 boy unfolded the paper and, as he did this, Helen realised what was about to happen. She realised it very quickly and she felt the realisation in her body before she thought it in her mind. She looked up at the boy who suddenly seemed taller than a building. He was reading the words on the paper while he dodged Josie’s grabbing hands. There was a look of amused concentration on his face. After some time, he said, fucking hell mate, this is fucked up!

And after some more time, five small words came out of Helen’s mouth:

Can I have it please?




It happened on the motorway. All the papers and all the news bulletins on the TV kept saying the same thing: it’s a miracle that nobody else was hurt. He’d just opened the door. He’d opened the door and got out. Getting out of a car is a very simple thing to do; like walking down some stairs, or turning the page of a book, or saying sorry. But sometimes, things are a bit more complicated in certain situations. Getting out of a car is much more complicated when the car is travelling at 80 miles an hour down the middle lane of a motorway. Walking down some stairs is much more complicated when it’s pitch black and you’re in a strange house. Turning the page of a book is much more complicated when you’re terrified about what’s going to happen next. Saying sorry is much more complicated when you really, really, really mean it.

Helen found out at school. There was a special assembly to tell everyone. Some of the girls started crying immediately and rested their heads on each other’s shoulders. Some people sort of sniggered. Some of the teachers started praying, silently. Helen didn’t do any of these things. All that happened to her was that her ears stopped working and her heart started breaking. The inside of her body slowly become a disgusting, thick milkshake of guts and bile and shit. She looked directly ahead of her, at the back of a head, trying not to think about being sick. She wasn’t really sure if she was breathing and she didn’t know where her arms or legs were. People started moving towards the door, slowly, sombrely. The back of the head’s face turned towards Helen and Robert’s eyes looked directly, but utterly blankly into hers.


***


Dear God

It’s Helen. You need to help me because something really bad has happened. I told Peter about Anthony and I think that Peter’s going to tell his parents and I don’t know what to do. I didn’t mean to do it, I promise. Peter made me tell him. I was at their house yesterday but Anthony wasn’t there because he was doing something after school and I was in the lounge and Peter came in and said  he needed me to help him with something in his room so I went in his room. And then we were in his room and Peter was just looking at me. Kind of watching me. And then Peter said ‘sit on the bed’ so I did. And then he said, ‘not the bottom bunk, the top bunk’ so I had to climb up to the top bunk with him watching. And then he got up onto the top bunk too and sat next to me and I asked him what is was he needed help with and he said, ‘this’. And then he put his fingers up to his mouth in a V shape and stuck his tongue out between them and after he’d done that he said, ‘what does that remind you of?’ And I didn’t know what to say. And then he said, ‘do you think if I did that to Anthony it would remind him of anything?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know’ and Peter said, ‘I bet Anthony’s seen yours, hasn’t he?’ And then I didn’t say anything. But Peter wouldn’t shut up. And he kept asking me. He kept saying ‘Anthony’s seen yours, hasn’t he?’ He just kept saying it. Every time I tried to say no or tried to say anything else, Peter would just keep saying the same thing about Anthony seeing mine. And then he started calling me a liar, even though I’d hardly said anything. He just stared straight ahead of him and kept saying the word ‘liar’ over and over again and I didn’t know what to do or say and I just wanted to get off the bed and go back into the lounge. And then he said, ‘I know he’s seen yours. And I know the reason he’s seen it. It’s because he wants one of his own.’ And then he started laughing at me because I’d started to cry a bit and I didn’t know what to do. And Peter kept laughing at me and then he said ‘What are you crying for? You shouldn’t cry about it. My parents asked me to talk to you because they’ve been worried about his behaviour and they wanted me to ask you some questions.’ I don’t think I believed him but I didn’t really know because it was all happening really quickly. But then Peter said, ‘I know that Anthony’s seen your thing. And I know it’s because he wants one of his own. And the reason I want your help is because I think I want one as well. So I need to have a look at yours too’. And then he kind of got on top of me and he was sitting on my skirt and just looking at me and I didn’t know what to say and then he pulled my skirt up from where he was sitting on it and he looked at my knickers and he said ‘truth or dare’ and then he was just staring at me. And he said ‘truth or dare’ again. And he didn’t stop saying it until I said ‘truth’. Because I really really didn’t want to say dare. And then he said, ‘You have to tell the truth though. I’ll know if you’re lying. I’m really good at detecting liars, my dad taught me how to do it from the police and if you lie, I’m going to have to do a dare and I’ve already decided what the dare is and it’s really bad. You’ll hate it. It’ll probably hurt. And the worst thing about it is that you won’t be able to tell anyone about it because, even if you do, nobody will believe you because you’re just a stupid, fat bitch. Are you going to tell me the truth?’ I just didn’t know what to do because I was really scared and he was just staring at me and my skirt was up to my waist and I sort of froze and nodded and he said, ‘Is my brother a homo?’ I didn’t say anything for a bit and then he asked me again and I still didn’t say anything and then he put his hand on my knickers and I was so scared that he was going to look inside them and do something really bad. I just knew he was going to look inside and then he said, ‘shall I count to three?’

And then I just said, ‘yes’.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Packing

Start small. Aspiration-wise. Start really tiny. Start somewhere way back. The year dot. Or maybe forward, because sometimes forward means smaller; like when the half-lives have halved their half-lives. Start in the middle of one of those. Right in the middle of one. Or, right in the middle of something. Start in the middle of a tiny light. In between the light being on and off. It doesn’t matter which light. Where are you right now? There’s probably a light switch. Let’s say you’re in the bathroom. And, let’s say there’s a light switch on the bathroom wall. And, let’s say the light switch on the bathroom wall is the only thing that’s certain; it’s the only thing that will do something. It will definitely let there be light. The light switch on the bathroom wall could be the only thing you have, the only thing that’s for you, whether the light is on or off or in between. So, start small. Start with a light switch. Let there be light. Let there be no light. Let there be in-between-light-and-no-light. Let’s say the light switch on the bathroom wall is a bit like love. Or God. Let's say, for the time being, that the light switch on the bathroom wall is God.

But, God isn’t very small (probably) so God was a bad place to start, if we're starting small.

Maybe start big. Start with a bang. Or an enormous mess. Or a helter-skelter so high that it twists up from an earthy, solid, rooted place, through the clouds to the thin, papery air where there is. . . what? God? No, not God. Because God is everywhere these days, right? Maybe. Remember the light switch. We said that could be God. For someone. Not for everyone.  God isn’t for everyone. Well, the Light Switch on The Bathroom Wall God isn’t for everyone. But God is for everyone. As in, God is on our side, yes? Even if we’re not for God, God is for us. Even if God isn't actually there, even if God is just a silent scream under a bed or a punch in the guts from a terrified bully, God is everywhere and God is for us. God is our friend the whole time and is not to be feared like before, when God was feared. God isn't scary any more, because God keeps up with the times. Like soap operas do. That's the kind of thing that happens these days, God-wise and otherwise. It's important to keep up with the times.

But let’s start small. Aspiration-wise. That’s what we said at the beginning and in the beginning, even though there might be God, who might be everywhere, there is always something small.

Like, a note on a scale, an ink spot, a finger mark on a damp window.

Or, like the back of a head, a jar of pens, a stain on the floor of a supermarket

Or, like the smell of a sugary sweet shop, the sound of a voice in a sports hall, a taste of things to come.

A light switch.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Drama

CALM DOWN, DEARS!

Nobody's saying that women can't be writers!

Just because Polly Hill, Controller of BBC Drama Commissioning has announced eight new drama commissions and not one of them is written by a woman, doesn't mean that women can't write.

They can.

Women can write all sorts of things!

They just can't write dramas.

(Actually, one can: one of the adapters of one of the dramas is called Fiona but she doesn't have a surname which probably means that she's divorced).

Honestly, women can write a whole variety of things as long as those things aren't drama-based. The list is almost endless! Here are some examples:



They can write shopping lists.
They can write wedding invitations.
They can write love letters.
They can write their signature.
They can write simple, romantic poetry that rhymes.
They can write the dates of all their friends' and relatives' birthdays in their calendars.
They can write pretty greetings on cakes with icing.
They can write down a list of all their favourite baby names.
They can write notes to their children's PE teachers when their child's ecstasy come down prevents them from doing swimming.
They can write christmas cards to their husbands' parents and, if they're really clever, they can sign the card from both themselves and their husbands.
They can write 'help' on top storey windows when they're trapped and need to be rescued by Piers Brosnan.
They can write apology letters to restaurants when they've done their period all over the seat.
They can write thank you letters to Piers Brosnan after he's rescued them.
They can write jealous and hysterical emails to the women their husbands work with.
They can write to Marks and Spencer to complain about the fact that the member of staff who held the door open for them was a woman and not a man.
They can write down an inventory of all the activities their husbands will be undertaking on their business trips to Hong Kong so that they can think about them every minute of every day.
They can write basic children's stories about witches, evil stepmothers, princesses and counting.
They can write the numbers one to ten (see above).
They can write down all the things they love about their children.
They can copy a recipe from a book.
They can write the word 'sorry' on a piece of scented paper to place on their husbands' pillows after their husbands have been cross with them and stormed out of the house after breaking some plates. 
They can write down their body measurements.
They can write down the number plate of their husbands' cars but only if their husbands are reciting it to them very slowly (preferably in person as opposed to on the telephone).
They can write down the Hail Mary (usually from memory).
They can write down a list of all the things their husbands want them to be better at (preferably while their husbands are dictating (slowly)).
They can write cheques to pay for aerobics lessons in monthly blocks.
They can write in their diaries (but only when they're not menstruating).
They can write letters to the Queen.
They can compose a text message (but only on mobile phones that make a noise when the keys are pressed; this way, women can keep focused and not drift off into a daydream about wanting babies).
They can write a polite notice for the front door to say their husbands are too tired to talk to sales representatives.
They can write letters of hope to people in prison.
They can write down quotes (but not from the Financial Times).
They can write short, positive reviews on Trip Advisor.
They can stencil an equation.
They can write dramas that are commissioned for the BBC oops!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Ducks

I'm just going to the park, actually. To feed the ducks. There's more than ducks there, though.

Do you like my badges? I can't remember what half of them are for. That one's from my niece though.

So. Yeah.

I know this journey off by heart.

Willseden Junction
Acton Central
South Acton
Gunnersbury
Kew Gardens
Richmond

Richmond's the last one and that's where I'm going.

I'm just on my way to the park.

I don't even live around here. I just go to this park because the ducks know me there.

I like going there. It keeps me feeling good. I mean it helps me feel better.

So. Yeah.

I had a bad year last year.Yeah, I had a bad year.

I had cancer and then I had cancer again, so that's twice and then my mum died and then because of all that I got really lonely and I didn't like being in the flat.

So. Yeah.

It's good to get out. It's good to be outside.

With the ducks.

They all come flocking when they see me. I think they think I'm their friend. Or maybe another duck.

No, they wouldn't think that would they? They're not stupid.

But I do love it there. I don't know why I go there, it's so far away from my flat. I suppose I must just really love it.

So. Yeah.

I take my niece there too sometimes. She's four. She's a little rascal, though. Or a little madam, whatever one you want to say. That's what her mum and dad say.

That she's a little madam.

But she's good as gold really.

But she has to come with her mum or her dad. To the park with me, I mean.

Just because I couldn't cope with her on my own, you know.

She's no trouble though.

She's a little angel, really. Children are, aren't they? The future, that's it, isn't it?

Yeah, children are the future. I look at them all running around and that's what I think to myself, really.

So. Yeah.

Blimey.

I'm glad last year's over, that's all I can say.

It's Richmond next.

So.

Thanks for talking to me anyway.

Someone Saved My Life Tonight. You know that song? By whatshisface.

Elton John. Yeah.

That's what you've just done, if you must know.

I know it's not night, it's day.

But every time someone talks to you, they probably save your life.

That's all I can say.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Bus


The thing that Ellie likes best about her new school is the corridors. They didn't have corridors at her old school. Ellie feels important when she walks down a corridor; like some kind of silent animal that knows things. Ellie likes it. But as soon as she realises she likes it, Ellie becomes self-conscious and doesn't know what to do with her hands. They feel too big and too heavy and too part of her body.

Sometimes, when Ellie's walking down a corridor, she sees Laura-Jane. Laura-Jane is half Italian. Laura-Jane says, alright? instead of hello. Laura-Jane is beautiful and dangerous and the boys think she’s fit and Laura-Jane absolutely knows it but doesn’t ever talk about it because she just knows it too much. Once, at lunch, Ellie was sitting near Laura-Jane and Laura-Jane looked over to Ellie and said, alright? and Ellie nodded and said, yeah and Laura-Jane said let's see your shoes so Ellie showed her the shoes she was wearing which was an awful moment. And Laura-Jane said cool. And now, whenever Laura-Jane sees Ellie, she says alright? and Ellie gets an adrenaline pain in her chest.

One day, Ellie is on the bus home from school and someone at the back shouts, hey.  She looks behind her and there's a boy, a man maybe, looking at her. He’s got stubble and dark, dark hair and big shoulders and his voice is deep; the kind of deep voice that you only have after having had a deep voice for a few years. He's the one shouting hey and he's shouting it at Ellie. Ellie says, do you mean me and the boy or man says come over here a sec and Ellie says why and he says cos we wanna ask you something. So, Ellie walks over to him while the bus is still moving which makes her wobble from side to side. She doesn’t know where to go after she’s arrived at the back of the bus. But then the boy or man says fucking move over, Matt, let her sit down, you prick and Ellie sits down next to him. She can smell him and his smell is sweet and thick and she likes it. He says what's your name then and Ellie says, Ellie. And he says cool, what do you think my name is and Matt and some others start laughing and looking at her. Ellie says, you’re Mark, aren’t you And the boy or man looks at Matt and says, wicked. Ellie looks out the window a bit. Then, Mark nudges her thigh with his thigh and says, how old are you and Ellie says twelve and Mark says fuck off I thought you were much older than that. And then he says how old do you think I am and Ellie says, I dunno, maybe twenty five and Mark says fuck off I'm eighteen. And his friends laugh into their jackets. So does Ellie. Not into her jacket, though. Mark looks at Ellie up and down. And Ellie says did you really think I was much older and Mark says fuck yeah, like sixteen. And his friends laugh into their jackets again.

Ellie looks out the window and doesn’t know if she’s smiling or not. She rubs her hands for no reason and she can feel that the skin on them is really dry. This is because she had swimming today. The skin on her hands and face is always really dry after swimming and she hates it. She hates how her hair goes after swimming, too. It feels like it’s made out of a cold, liquid metal.

Mark says, oi, I wanna ask you something and Ellie turns to face him and she can feel the sun coming in through the window and warming the back of her head. Has anyone ever told you that you're beautiful? Ellie feels like she needs to swallow but that if she does, it will make a stupid noise, so she doesn't swallow and when she starts to speak, there's quite a lot of saliva in her mouth and she nearly spits a bit out. And she says no, not really. And Mark says well you are. You're well beautiful. And Ellie says that's cool and clenches her jaw and gets a griping pain in her stomach.

At home that night, Ellie's mum tells her she has to have a bath. She has to get in the same bath water as her sister. The way the water looks reminds Ellie of that milk with no fat some people drink. In the bath, Ellie thinks about Laura-Jane. She thinks about the way Laura-Jane walks and the sound of her voice which is husky and cool. Ellie hears her own voice in her head doing Laura-Jane’s voice. She can tell that she’s really good at doing it. Ellie wonders what Laura-Jane’s handwriting is like. She bets herself it looks like foreign writing, in a good way. Ellie wonders what Laura-Jane’s bedroom is like. She bets herself it’s like an eighteen-year-old’s. Ellie thinks about Laura-Jane being with a boy. She thinks about Laura-Jane climbing on top of a boy and taking her top off and letting her hair fall down over her face and saying something amazing at just the right moment. And she thinks about how much the boy would like it and how lucky the boy would think he was to have Laura-Jane on top of him. And, after a little while, Ellie shakes her head quickly and involuntarily, and then she says no out loud without meaning to and feels ugly.

On the bus the next day, Mark sits next to Ellie without asking. He tells her what aftershave he's wearing (Fahrenheit), what he has for breakfast every single day (one and a half pieces of toast with marmite), who his favourite super model is (Claudia Schiffer), which football team he supports (Juventus) and what NVQs he's doing (Business, Media Studies and Health & HFitness). He gets Ellie to repeat all of it back to him so that he knows she's listened. She has listened. Mark makes jokes about Ellie being in Year Seven and asks her if all the boys in her year have squeaky voices and no stubble. Mark shows Ellie his own stubble and gets her to feel it. Ellie can see that some of the older girls on the bus are watching her do it which makes her really, really want to stop. And Mark says, a bit too loudly, you know what I said yesterday about you being beautiful, it's still true. You're really beautiful and you've got fucking good legs for a twelve year old. Ellie does a laugh that’s more a noise than a laugh and goes red and looks out the window and wants Mark to stay and go at the same time.

Mark and Ellie discover that Mark lives really close to where Ellie's dad lives. He asks her how often she goes to her dad's and she says every Wednesday night and every other weekend. Mark gives Ellie his phone number and says you can call me whenever you want. He says, you should call me tonight actually. Ellie tries to think of a secret place near her house where she can do this.

Mark sits next to Ellie on the bus every day now. His friends say, so, are you two going out now and Mark says fuck off, you bunch of pricks. He gives Ellie a picture of him so she can look at it at school. In the photo, he's wearing a suit and a bow tie because he's going to his end of year ball. She looks at it about twenty times a day.

One day, at lunch, Ellie sees Laura-Jane who's talking to some of her friends about being fingered. Laura-Jane looks over at Ellie and Ellie says alright? and Laura-Jane says have you ever been fingered and Ellie lies. Laura-Jane says to her friend, if she can get fingered so can you, Lucy, you frigid slag . And everyone laughs. Including Lucy. Laura-Jane asks Ellie if she's got a boyfriend and Ellie says yeah, he's eighteen, he's doing NVQs. And Laura-Jane says you fucking lying bitch and Ellie says do you wanna see a photo of him and Laura-Jane says yeah go on then, so Ellie shows Laura-Jane the photo of Mark in his suit and bow tie. Laura-Jane passes the photo around the group and someone says fucking hell I know him, that's Mark Hardy he's a fucking pedo.

On the bus a few days later, Mark tells Ellie that his mum and dad are going away for the weekend and that he has to look after the dog and that she should come over. Ellie wants to and doesn't want to at the same time. And she says yeah ok cool. Mark says will your mum let you and Ellie says I'm at my dad's this weekend and he'll drop me off anywhere I want.

Ellie gets to Mark's house a bit too early and he's still wearing a towel from the shower. Ellie's wearing jeans and trainers and a jumper. Mark's house is small and old and there's lots of red furniture and a dog. Ellie doesn't know how to look at or talk to the dog. The dog sniffs Ellie between her legs and Ellie laughs even though she hates it and Mark says, he’s got good taste, hasn’t he.

Mark's bedroom is downstairs instead of upstairs. There are loads of pictures of super models on his wall and he's got a double bed and his own shower room. Mark gets changed in front of Ellie and Ellie laughs a bit and picks at her sleeves. Mark says we should sit on the bed and watch some TV. So that's what they do. They do it for ages. Ellie starts to need a wee but doesn’t say anything about it because of having to walk to the loo in front of Mark.

Mark puts his hand on Ellie's leg and says I wanna kiss you and then he kisses her. He kisses her for ages until her lips and cheeks are sore from his stubble. Mark lies down and brings Ellie with him so that she's on top. They carry on kissing and Mark's face gets red and he starts to breathe a lot. He holds onto Ellie's hips and moves them up and down so that she's rubbing against him. They stop kissing so much but Mark keeps moving her up and down on top of him and closes his eyes and says fucking hell a lot. Ellie looks out the window which is at the head of Mark’s bed. She sees an old woman in the next door garden hanging out the washing. The old woman's arms are shaking and it takes her a few tries to get the sheet over the washing line. But she does it eventually.

Mark's eyes are still closed and his face is really red and really hot and really sticky. His hand moves towards the buttons on Ellie's jeans and he starts to undo them. Ellie looks down at his hand and then she sees her own hand grab his and move it away. Mark tries again and Ellie moves him away again. He tries again. She moves him away. Mark says just fucking get your jeans off and Ellie says erm, but... and sits up. Mark says fucking hell, you're a cock teaser and then his doorbell rings. Ellie gets the same adrenaline pain in her chest that she got when Laura-Jane first said alright? to her but this is the bad kind.

It was Paul at the door. Paul is Mark's mate. Paul says are we going then and Mark says yeah yeah and Paul says is she coming and Mark says, I dunno why don't you ask her

They all get in Paul's car. Ellie sits in the back. She really needs a wee but she didn't want to say before they left. Before Mark gets in the front with Paul, he puts his hoodie between Ellie's legs and says keep that warm for me will you.

They drive for ages. Ellie really needs a wee but she doesn't want to say anything. Mark and Paul talk about people Ellie doesn't know and tell stories about girls' tits they've seen and say stuff about women they drive past.

When they get to the cinema, Mark and Paul make a joke about Ellie seeing a PG. Ellie is bursting for a wee now but she still doesn't go to the loo, even though the loo's right there in front of her. She just keeps quiet about it. During the film, Mark puts his hand on Ellie's leg and squeezes her thigh and kisses her neck and whispers in her ear that she's got amazing tits for a twelve year old. Ellie crosses her legs for the whole film and when it's finished her feet and bum are numb and her bladder is screaming.

Outside the cinema, Paul bumps into a girl he knows and they all talk for a bit. Nobody talks to Ellie though because she hasn't been introduced. Ellie doesn't know what to do with her hands, but it’s much worse than when she doesn’t know what to do with her hands when she's walking down a corridor at school. When the girl leaves, Mark says she is so fucking fit. And then he says to Ellie, you could be that fit if you wanted to be and looks at her as if he's a bit angry. Paul calls Mark a pedo and punches him on the arm. Ellie can't believe how badly she needs a wee.

In the car on the way back, Mark and Paul play a game about who they'd rather fuck out of a list of famous women. They ask Ellie who she'd rather fuck out of each of them. Ellie tells them she can't decide and Mark calls her a fucking whore as a joke. Ellie starts to get really scared about wetting herself. She nearly asks if they can pull over but then she changes her mind.

After a while, Mark says to Ellie are you coming back to mine and Ellie says she can't because she has to babysit her little sister and she needs to get back before eight. And Mark says to Paul I told you she was a cock teaser.

As soon as Ellie closes the front door at her dad's house, she runs up the stairs and into the bathroom. She sits on the loo for about ten seconds before any pee comes out. She pees for ages. Maybe even two whole minutes. She hears her brother and sister playing a computer game in her brother's bedroom. They play a lot of computer games together. They know all about them. When she's finished peeing, Ellie stays sitting on the loo for quite a while. She suddenly feels tired and kind of empty. She closes her eyes for a bit and tries to remember what the film was about. She thinks about how she wished she’d bought some popcorn. And then, after a few minutes she hears her dad's voice shouting dinner! from the bottom of the stairs.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Tim

Tim sits on a patch of grass near the cathedral and asks people for cigarettes and money. His face is red and puffy because of drinking and his glassy eyes look like they’re too young to belong to his desperate body.

He calls passers by sir and miss. Like at school. But Tim didn’t go to school much.

I left when I was about 12. Just sort of ran off a lot. Went for big walks around Sheffield and out to the peak district. Fucking beautiful there though. Really sorts your head out. I mean, I was just a boy really but I had a lot going on in my head, you know? Like, my mam was fucked and my dad was a right cunt.

Tim sort of chuckles, as if it’s all water under the bridge. He says he had to get out of Sheffield when he was about 17 because people were after him. Bad people; real nasty bastards. I’d got this girl pregnant and like, her brothers and their mates were gonna kill us, you know. But there was loads of other bullshit too. Like, gangs and stuff. I dunno, I reckon I would’ve died. Yeah, I’d definitely be dead by now. I was a right cocky bastard.

Tim started drinking when he was about nine. He used to steal tinnies from the shop and drink them in the park. I got caught once, by the shopkeeper. He was a Christian. He said I’d be dead by the time I was 20. That shat me right up. Didn’t stop me though, did it? He chuckles again.

He says he does think about his child. He doesn’t know if it was a boy or a girl but he has a feeling it was a boy for some reason. He’ll be about 30 now. Tim was in and out of prison for much of his thirties, mostly for violent crimes and stealing. He talks about anger and sadness and forgiveness with the kind of language that makes it obvious that he’s picked up some of the go-to, self-help phrases from the group therapy he had when he was inside. I’m not as angry as I was but there’s still a lot of pain, like. I still don’t know what to do with myself half the time. He says that he felt more at home in prison than anywhere else. People understood each other there. There was a sense of belonging, like a family. He misses it, in a way; the security, the routine, the stories he heard, the stories he told.

He still sees his mum every now and then. We don’t really get on, we never did. But, you know, she’s my mam, so… She lives in sheltered accommodation in Chesterfield. She won’t be around forever. She’s not well. A lifetime of drinking has given her cirrhosis. Tim says that the wardens in her accommodation just leave her to it these days. She’s just wasting away to be honest with you. Bit like me; like mother like son. Another chuckle. He has a sister but he doesn't see her. She got married and moved down south. She's all posh now. She washed her hands of me ages ago. He tells a story about when he and his sister were kids and she caught him drinking behind the house. He says she was furious with him and nearly broke his arm trying to get the can out of his hand. I dunno what she does. She's probably a fucking policewoman or some shite like that.

Tim’s dad died about ten years ago. He just dropped dead in the pub. Just like that. Good riddance, I say. The world’s a better place without him to be honest with you. Tim pulls up his t-shirt to reveal a scar from when his dad stabbed him at the age of 22. They had a fight that got out of hand and the next thing Tim knew, he was on the floor in a puddle of his own blood and his dad had disappeared. I had to walk to the hospital. I dunno how I did it. Fuck’s sake. Tim shakes his head and looks around at the people walking past him. He nods hello to someone and asks if they have any spare change.


It starts to rain. Tim’s badly rolled cigarette starts to come apart in his oversized hand. He takes a drag of it, coughs violently and spits out the contents of his lungs onto the grass. He looks up at the sky and raises his eyes to heaven. Fucking Manchester weather, he says, and starts to chuckle again.