The man in the van

It was dark. And cold. I clutched my coat around me. I walked in the dappled fug of the street lights.

The van slowed down as it drove past me. I focussed on staying warm. Ignoring it. It went past. I turned into the side street. Hoping.

Yet somehow knowing.

I had been here before. It only had to go right at the bottom of the other street, right again and it would meet me where that street intersects with this side street.

I walked on. I could hear footsteps behind me but I daren’t look. They might help. They might not. I walked slowly.

I saw its headlights just as I got to the junction. The van turned into the street. It slowed down. It was right behind me. Its head lights following me. Tracking me.

There were houses on this street. I could knock on a door, ask for help. Say what. There’s a man in a van following me. I’m not sure what they would do.

He would simply drive away anyhow. Wait for me in the next street. My husband was at home but I could hardly call him.

I could still hear the footsteps behind me, perhaps they would help. Perhaps there was safety there.

Perhaps not.

I walked. He drove. Quietly, slowly behind me. I walked just in the beam of his headlights. Deliberately. I felt in my coat for my gloves. I tried to forget the inevitable.

I could no longer hear the footsteps behind me. They must have turned up the alley. It occurred to me then that I should have done that. Taken the long way home. The safe way home.

Then he said something. It barely registered. Something like, ‘come here love’ perhaps.

I was momentarily rooted to the spot. I turned to look at him but was blinded by the lights. I felt my feet approaching the van even though I didn’t really want to. There was an inevitability to it.

What was I doing?

I saw his face. Looked into his eyes. I wanted to see kindness. It was not in the gaze that met mine.

It was quick. The neck was broken, the blood drained from the body in a matter of seconds.

I reached in and switched off the vehicle and took the keys. A trophy. The others said I shouldn’t. It was too risky,  but had they read the conviction rates.

I told myself it wasn’t my fault.

He should not have been driving alone at night. He should not have driven in the vicinity of a woman. He had most certainly approached me. He was not wearing a scarf. In fact his shirt did not even have a collar. What century was he living in?

I found it hard to explain why I did not want dinner again. I hid the keys in a pot with all the other keys.

I tell myself one day I will stop. But I know that I will not.

A moment with the darkness

I look at the body. Everybody always said he was so full of life. Bubble. Pep. Verve. No one can believe he is dead. No one ever said I was full of life. I have always assumed that meant the flipside.

That I was full of death.

Perhaps in looking at him lying there dead, I am looking in a mirror. Is this how I look to the world? I get that these are thoughts I should not be thinking at a funeral. No one seems to have noticed I am here. You looked right through me. Its as if I am walking among the dead all the time. In your defence I want to be overcome with grief .  

But I am not.

I want to sob loudly and profusely. To let it all out. To do the occasion justice. But it is not my way. I have shed a tear. Just the one. A restrained one. Yet I tell myself a meaningful one.

I am stricken, in my own way.

If he sucked the juice out of life in his 28 years, I have sipped slowly in the corner in the dark. Where no one saw. I am not bothered. Everyone is wearing black.

Except for me.

I have chosen deep purple. Odd because I always wear black. I needed some way of differentiating. It is the most colourful I have been in awhile and I doubt my mother approves.

My mother never approves. Approved.

The word approved comes out in my head. Quiet tears streak my mothers face in an endless stream. They are all for him. I know what they think, what they are all thinking. Why take him? Why the beautiful golden child? I don’t pay attention to the end of their sentences. I want to scream -perhaps he got bored with your adoration? 

Your endless adoration.  

Perhaps he liked me most because I thought he was at best ordinary and at worst pathetic. Perhaps that is why I was there when it happened and you weren’t. You were somewhere else. Even now I think you are looking right through me.  

Instead of at me.

It is true he would have brightened this room in a way I never will. I walk with the darkness like a cloak. He walked in the light like the sun. It occurs to me that in that moment, the one does not exist without the other. The light without the dark.  

And then I realise the truth.

I look around me again. My mother hated me wearing black. Today of all days she dressed me in purple. I see again the stream of tears streaking down her face. Just for him? And you looked right through me. You didn’t see me. And now I hear all the words. I finally listen to the end of the sentences. Why take the beautiful golden child-too.

Two.

Two caskets. Two bodies. He was full of life, light. He has dimmed and died. I am full of death as always. Unchanged. I stand here. Unseen. Only I see now.

In some worlds the light does not need the dark.

Death changed him. It did not change me. I am gone to my corner to sip at my straw for eternity. As always, no one notices.

The great unwritten novel

They have just released a list of the best books of the century.

My book is not on it. In their defence my book is neither written nor published.

Still I feel a pang of disappointment at an opportunity missed.

We are only twenty years into the century so there is still time.

And being honest I think their list is a little premature.

Although perhaps after this point we are stopping books.

They have heard that on twitter and I have not.

Because I was not on twitter that day or didn’t follow the right literary society.

Perhaps I should be running out and stock piling books right now because not only are there no more to be written there are no more to be printed. It might be about the trees.

It might not, maybe there’s just a government decree.

I look around at all the books I own.

Will this be enough? I look at my unread pile.

It will be enough.

It will certainly be enough.

What is going to happen to all the authors?

Some will be ok, some have made enough to survive but what about ones like me who haven’t churned out their great novel yet?

Or maybe they are going to rationalise?

Perhaps everybody is allowed one novel apiece and this was simply the last list where it was a free for all. Perhaps right now they are allotting single novel slots and I am missing out. I need to follow twitter more closely.

I sit looking at the list of great novels. I am unsure what to do. Unsure who to call or where to turn. What is going on out there? How can I find out? This was the very morning I was going to start my great novel. And now I have no idea what to do.

This might be the end of my writing career. The one I haven’t started yet. I need coffee. I look nervously at my phone. No notifications. Silence. That is probably because my notifications are switched off. Should I switch my notifications on? How do you even do that? I look at the computer screen. I bring up a new word document. There is no way you can make that phrase sexy or interesting. That isn’t just me, its just not possible.

I stare at the screen.

At the blank page.

Mild panic. I don’t know what to do.

I am only certain of one thing.

Today is not the day to start my novel.

I go downstairs and have that coffee, congratulating myself I have not wasted time on writing anything.

The Scent of Nadia

He slides into bed beside her
She feigns asleep
She wonders what he is thinking
He’s brushed his teeth.
The minty smell of toothpaste
Does he think that is enough
She inhales, exhales, inhales
There it is.
A waft, a wave, that smell

The scent of Nadia

He lies there.
He wonders if she is actually asleep
She must be asleep
If she were awake
She would smell it
The vision of bodies tangled in the night
Hovers above him
He inhales, exhales, inhales
There it is.
Holding tight to his skin

The scent of Nadia

Nadia sleeps alone
Solid, physical, in a bed far away
Dreamless sleep
The room has no smell that she can sense
She sometimes feels the loneliness
Of his dishonesty
In the morning she gets up
Her head clear
She inhales, exhales, inhales
Moves the bottles around in the bathroom
Cleanser, moisturiser, perfume

The scent of Nadia

They eat breakfast at the same time
At the same table
Each one is alone
Each one showered, shaved, perfumed,
Ready to go out into the world
As they eat, he wonders
Is that a whiff of suspicion
Does she smell a rat?

She does not smell rats
She stares purposefully into her cereal
If cereal has a purpose it is to make breakfast longer
It needs more milk
She quite likes the perfume
Wonders if Nadia likes women,
Inhales, imagines, exhales, swallows, inhales to hide it
Tries to place the smell, Its quite floral, Daisy?

He wonders if she senses it.
She senses it and wonders what it is.
Nadia stands in her bathroom
And dabs it on

The scent of Nadia.

Eaten

He looked at his hand. There was less of it today than there had been yesterday. He had bound the empty skin of one toe to the next one this morning, but his left hand seemed intent on disappearing. He knew what it was. All those metaphors. All those years. It was physically possible it turns out. He laughed quietly to himself as he sat in the lounge. All those doctored photos. What else could explain it.

He sat there without the TV on. In the darkness. Listening. He could hear the neighbours, not easily. Just the odd bump to break his silence. He hated the neighbours. They were from some place else. He wasn’t sure how much else, but some place else. He felt his hand contract as he sat there. Felt it shrink and shrivel as rage coursed through him. They had no right to be there, those neighbours. The people who ought to live there, ought to be from here. He wasn’t sure what that meant.

He couldn’t articulate it but he could feel something gnawing away in his fingertips, eating the ends of them. It was so visceral he looked down as if he might see a rat there chewing the end of his hand. There was no rat but still he could feel it. The erosion of his self as a physical entity.

His rage was all consuming. He sat there listening for more bumps. A car door closing in the driveway across the road. Who were they? They didn’t belong here either. They never spoke to him. He had been certain to ensure that never happened. He had thought about putting something through their letterbox to tell them to go away.

The children two houses down were particularly noisy. Bad parenting. She worked. What could one expect. He went to bed. All night, he could feel it eating at him. His arm. He couldn’t lie on it. It was so uncomfortable. He wondered if he opened his eyes his arm would be completely gone.

He swore he could feel his internal organs shrinking each time he slept. His stomach caving in. He daren’t even walk to the newsagents to get the paper anymore. There were too many people not from around here. Too many people who did not belong here. His face was worn and tired from glaring and leering at women who let their breasts hang out of their clothes. It disgusted him.

He raged in the night and still he could feel it. Travelling around his body, eating wherever and whatever it felt like. He was filled with it, with the injustice of these people filling up his world, there refusal to live by the rules that he set. Did they not know that once he had been an engineer. He woke in the morning, more tired than when he went to bed. He had breakfast, the same breakfast he had eaten for 40 years. He looked at the left arm, the hand hanging off the end.

He know longer knew how to stop it. The hatred was eating him from the inside out.

If you write a book and no one reads it, did you ever really write it?

If you write a book and no one reads it, did you ever really write it?

The book sat on the library shelf for a good few months after she died. I wasn’t here when the original events happened, only when the end came. I had thought to put the book in the coffin but then events intervened.

Lynette was always a little odd, but only a little, not so wildly odd that you needed to worry. I managed her in the last few years she worked here at the library. Lynette wore the same plaid skirt, same olive cardigan and green shirt almost everyday. She had the same box haircut all the time I knew her. All that ever changed was the little pin she used to keep her hair off her face. Sometimes it had a tiny enamel flower on it, sometimes a little cat, sometimes a strawberry or a heart.

Truthfully I should have made her redundant when we got computers but she was compliant, easy to manage. She had the neatest handwriting and she seemed to just be part of the library. Even if I’d have made her redundant she’d still have been here every day.

The story goes that there had been an academic here, a man. Married apparently. He used to come into the library. He was always friendly to Lynette. It was no secret she was infatuated. It wasn’t returned.

There were, apparently, a lot of girls. He had his favourites, one of whom was Jeanette. They flirted a lot, in the library. He would lean in close and she would smile up at him. There were rumours. His wife was a harridan-aren’t they always though? Jeanette was by all accounts young and attractive and now I have seen a photo of her I can see that they looked good together. Too bad for the wife.

Lynette and Jeanette were friends despite Lynette’s feelings for the man. We’ll never know what really happened. They simply disappeared one day-Jeanette and this man. Just sort of ran away together. No one was surprised. Jeanette had a cousin who thought it was out of character but no one bothered with it much. The wife pressed the police but who believes a scorned wife.

There was a lot of gossip but not much else. Lynette never mentioned it.

In any event a few months afterwards, the book turned up. In the library. On the shelf. Catalogued and all. No one thought anything of it. It was his last work before he left and ran away, a hardback version, properly bound. It was the only copy we had but we assumed somehow that there were other copies out there.

We should have offered it to his wife, but I wasn’t here then and that didn’t happen. So it sat there and the only person who ever took any notice of it was Lynette. She would take it off the shelf occasionally and look at. Just look at the cover. I once told her she should read it and that’s when it became a kind of joke-if no one reads it has it ever been written. We didn’t do it intentionally but we just kind of made sure that we didn’t ever direct anybody to the book and it just sat there. There was no title printed on the spine and everyone overlooked it.

Then Lynette died. Quite suddenly. And I thought of the book and how it had made us laugh. I thought it would be a nice gesture to place it in her coffin. She had seemed attached to it, a memory of an unrequited love. She had few friends and no family. So I took the book off the shelf.

I sat down to thumb through the pages. It occurred to me after all this time I had no idea what it was even about.

I opened it. And there, where the pages had been cut out neatly to shape a space was a pair of hands bound together, severed off at the wrists and perfectly preserved and a note, in the neatest handwriting.

‘Romance is dead.’

Needle in, needle out

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

I live inside my head. I remember. Sitting by the fire with my mother. Learning to sew. The warmth, the comfort. All of that. And now this.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

The ability of clothes to transform. I have learned to block out all the noise, the pain. To pretend it’s a movie going on around me.

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Focus on the seam, on getting the two sides together. On getting it straight. Neat tidy stitches. One row after another. A new needle. More cotton. Strong powerful thread.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

The act of creation. Of making something wearable from a long length of fabric, of putting two things together to make it something new. That is not what is happening here.

They are watching, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

One stitch after another. My hands worn. Reddened. Fingertips smooth. Wrists, swollen, sore. This material is difficult. It doesn’t want to come together. It pulls apart. Flakes away.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Clothes can transform, they can take you somewhere else. One stitch after another to make something new. This material can’t be pinned.

And still they are watching me, always watching.
Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

Their desperate eyes watch my hands fly. I am so fast, so very good at this. At holding their wound together as I flay my needle across and through their wretched skin. My hands. Soaked in blood.

Needle in, needle out. Needle in, needle out.

As if the power of sewing could heal them all and stop this bloody war.

Come the apocalypse, we’ll eat the cat

My mother always said ‘Come the apocalypse, we’ll eat the cat.’

None of us took it too seriously. And then the apocalypse came.

It was more civilised than you think. It was announced on the BBC. The second the announcement was finished, she went looking for the cat. I think we all felt it was a bit too soon. I remember my Dad sitting at the dining table, pushing the meat around his plate with a fork. It felt a bit unseemly, as if there should have been a bit of a notice period. Time to say goodbye.

There wasn’t.

It was in the pot and on our plates before most looters even got out of bed. Here’s a tip, early evening apocalypses are best. People don’t believe it, go to bed, don’t wake up. We did wake up, minus the cat.

That first day my Mum visited the neighbours to see if they were ok. They were elderly. She came back laden with cans. We thought that generous at the time. There was meat for dinner again.

‘You know this street is full of elderly neighbours,’ she commented a week later. Followed by ‘enough meat to keep us through the winter.’

I commented that not all old people had cats. She looked at me blankly. I pushed the meat around my plate. I had not seen the neighbours since it happened. I don’t remember our cat being that big.

Since the collapse of civilisation as we know it, there are far fewer people around. We however seemed to have thrived with an inexhaustive supply of fresh meat.

Being honest living through the apocalypse has been lonely. There’s been the kind of atmosphere you’d expect at the apocalypse. A little doom laden, a lot of darkness. Not much water. We’ve coped. Mostly we stayed indoors, with the lights off. We’ve been out raiding other peoples houses, but we rarely see anyone.

We got through the winter with fresh meat. A lot of cats I told myself. We planted vegetables in the autumn. My mother had seeds. She was nothing if not prepared. It’s like she’d been waiting for years.

I can’t remember when Dad disappeared. Now when I look out in the garden though I wonder. There is a particularly fertile patch of soil. I’m sure she didn’t. He just wandered off like she said. Still we had fresh meat.

I think the apocalypse made my Mum happy, proved to her that all that tough parenting she’d put me through was worth it. She was never happier than after it happened. She was hardy and strong my mother. Focussed and determined.

She taught me everything I know.

She cooked well.

She tasted good.

No inspiration here

The weather is just not suited to serious poetry. So I made it a laugh, I even swore-a really bad word.

Perhaps there’s just nothing to say
In the heat and the darkness
The words drift away

There’s nothing of note
Going on in my head
No words that I wrote

Springing on to the page
My thoughts have all left
They’ve just walked away

Like words in rebellion
They’ve abandoned me here
Just up and gone,
they’ve all disappeared

What is a poet
Who can’t write a verse
Who can’t find a rhyme
Does it get any worse?

Ouch that was bad
Please rhyme it with something
Other than-

Did you see how the rhythm went all awry
How the timing packed up,
And just said good- I

Can’t write that
What was I thinking?
Do I have a brain?
Fuck its hot here,
I wish it would rain.