Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun, by 2510O6T

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									                 Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
                  Which is my sin, though it were done before?
                 Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
                 And do run still: though still I do deplore?
                   When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
                          For, I have more.


                                     John Donne




                            FIGHT OR FLIGHT



                                     1



- When I was a little girl, I used to do very naughty things. If I felt like
it, I would slap my little sister. Sometimes I'd break one of my favourite
toys and blame her. Just to see if I could get away with it like. I usually
did and eventually she got a reputation for being trouble, while I just got
better and better at it.


They had argued over something or nothing but now they lie entwined, naked
and exhausted. She had telephoned him two days and a night after the
argument, after seven months together, after years of being alone. He
thought she just wanted to forget about the argument. She wanted to forget
about everything and see him one last time. Then sleep.


(What's she saying? Why won't she let me sleep? I just want to
sleep.............When she was
little.......................................what's that?
.................uuuunnn........... knac.......)
Nicola never did anything by halves. Her mind, while not always rational,
was always decisive.
By the time she was eight years old, her dad had only fingered her once or
twice but regularly wanked onto her behind. Then a year later he started to
visit her room with a lot more than just a sticky finger.
>From the first realisation that she was not alone in her abuse, to the
boredom of the mere mention. THAT was her way of dealing with the really
heavy things.

  When he walked out on the family for the first time, she really missed
him and the fingering was almost another. Still she told no-one.




    She got older and hated the cliche of having been an abused child.
 Above all else, this she despised. All the trauma that seemingly had to
follow. It was that that made her fight it at every turn, and still she
told no-one. It was only when she was nineteen she told for the first time
the rest of the family of his abuse.
   He denied it, and they, in infinitesimally subtle ways, with ever more
infrequent phone calls, let it be known that they'd sided with him, and
didn't believe her. Chose not to believe her.

   - I felt there was a badness floating around my body. I thought it was
a disease at first, but it wasn't. Still, I could feel it, pumping around
with my blood. I couldn't piss or shit it out, and it grew when I did
anything bad. Then I realised it wasn't that way at all. It was the other
way 'round. It was the 'It' making me do the bad. I thought, "If I can
just push it back, I can control it", and I concentrated real hard like, and
forced it down my arm, into my little finger.

      ( Not comfy there....turning round............ummmmm she's so
warm.............love this........
    .......still talking........nice.........the
sounds........nice.....sleepy....
 ...............................................)

      - Sometimes I could feel it throbbing. It seemed to have a black
glow. The nail of my little finger..........black. And when I thought
stuff, bad stuff, it would pinch. Like someone biting it, like it was
reminding me it was there. No, not like a bite, not as hard, less painful,
more like a nibble. Like when a baby's teething and they chew on
.................your finger............ Yeah.
     He falls asleep still holding on to her.


    Their two golden weeks had ended with Yan's confrontation with the jerk
on the way home. The thing is, nothing physical happened. No violence. But
it was then that something crept into the relationship, poisoned their
hearts 'til the end. He thought it was her but she knew it was mutual.
 Around the same time her little finger started to swell again, and this
time she knew she couldn't control it. Soon her hand was black then her
whole arm. It would reach her heart shortly and she knew then it wouldn't
be long. She didn't want to die, she just didn't particularly want to live
any longer.




    - I just wanted to see you and wave goodbye. I don't want to infect
you so I'm going. You won't understand now but you'll live through
this.....You are strong.

                         -----------------



                                 2

You see this relationship for what it is, don't you? You see the power
struggle, the games played and likely outcome. But like it or not, The
story, their story, their lives, yes it's their fucking lives we're talking
about, not some bullshit eighties movie you'd watch right to the end titles,
not because it's good or you're enjoying it, but because you want to see
what happens, how they got themselves out of the bullshit situation they've
gotten themselves into...............like it or not, their lives are
influenced by your mental state.
The things that covertly rule your mind, e.g. Your obsession with sex .
You are and do. You cannot be anything more than the sum of your parts.
 You constantly reaffirm the fact that you were made for sexual intercourse.
 Biologically, it is your purpose in life. YOU. I know that's why you're
reading this. To get off on other peoples private thoughts and actions.
 Your friends thoughts and actions. Our lives. Nicola's, Yan's and mine,
your so called 'best-friends'.
But you've never really thought of us in that way, have you? Or thought
that we thought of you in that way. How else could you so ruthlessly raid
our lives. Spy on our emotions. Unless you're a complete shit as I always
secretly thought.
C'mon! Why are you reading this? Why are my words so important to you?
I always sensed some jealousy. I don't think you ever really liked me when
I was alive, did you? Of course it's easy for me to say that. It's an easy
option that one, isn't it ?
But really, I did feel that. Even when we were at our closest. For those
few weeks when Yan and Nic weren't at each others throats. When all of us
got on, when we were friends. Even then.
But you always loved this 'outsider'- bit, didn't you? You still do.
-Ohhh, I'm so different. I can never have any relationships that last..
Crrap!! Because you're always looking over your shoulder. From one
'relationship' to the next. One story to the next, something different,
something novel. The One!
Ha! You're a fucking joke. You're called RUT 'cause that's what
we called you. Because you're stuck in one. Because all you ever want to



do is fuck! A rutting animal from one rump to the next. Humping yourself a
slice of happiness.


You're reading this..................trying to kid yourself that it's not
you.     I know you . I know.
You're thinking -I'm not Rut.

                    YES YOU ARE

And if you're not, why are you reading this? Fuck off, now. Go on, FUCK
OFF!




     ( But you can't..................................can you? )



                             --------------


                                    3


His toe would have been alright but for the wall. Of course that's what he
was kicking, but if it hadn't been there or suddenly been moved for some
reason, however unlikely an event that would have been, he wouldn't have
hurt his foot and he wouldn't now be waiting for a bus back from the clinic.
The bus shelter was one of those new minimalist structures. A thin piece of
transparent plastic had been bent over, and affixed to, two shaky, metal
poles, probably only erected a couple of days earlier as the youths of the
area were not known for there tolerance of external, free-standing objects.
 Cars, bus-stops and strangers were the most popular focal points of
destruction, leaving lamp-posts and street signs at the bottom of the
hierarchical, demolition ladder, only destroyed in times of extreme boredom
or intoxication.
Only if a body pressed itself firmly against the plastic 'wall' could any
protection from the elements be achieved. This, like its design, was only
minimal, and the average commuter waiting for the usually late bus, was
usually buffeted by the wind, rendered freezing, and rained on by any
passing spittles of drizzle. Dougs jacket had no collars, still he pulled
them up.
A piece of him enjoyed the pain as he clenched and unclenched his toes, the
shoe a container for the blood. He listened out for the squelch but the
rain made it inaudible. Yellow pus would be nice, he thought, the child in
him demanding change, even illness. Anything from the norm.
He can't remember any details about the previous night. Just that he'd met
Danny, who he hadn't seen in ages, and they had proceeded to get very drunk.
 He can't remember where they ended up or why he was kicking a wall. Just
that. Kick a wall? Well, why the hell not? Most nights with Danny ended
like that.
He had left no telephone number for the clinic to contact him with the
results. They would have rang him if they could, but........ Three weeks
earlier he'd given a blood sample and only just received news that the
results were ready, using a convoluted relay system through his mother in
Lancashire to London to him.




Why had he used a clinic in Lancashire? Doug wasn't sure himself. He had
finally relinquished some aspects of his life to the Capital, obtaining a
Blockbuster video membership card and finding a dentist in Archway, but that
was about it. For all intents an purposes, he still lived in xxxxx, using a
variety of daft excuses for clinging onto aspects of the past..
-To see my mum?
Well, he had a key for her house, but she was hardly ever there and hardly
cared or seemed to notice when she was. She drank a lot and Doug didn't
care for any of her "mates". Sometimes after being away for a couple of
months, he would turn up and crash on her settee and in the
morning/afternoon she would walk past him and merely tut.
- To go to parties and clubs?
As Manchester was the nearest city to xxxxx, when Doug went home, he
invariably ended up going out there and had been to two clubs there in the
last year. They were alright but he hadn't enjoyed himself that much at the
Parties afterwards. He felt distant from the whole vibe and his visits were
growing less and less frequent.
- To get away from London?
 Valid.
The excuses altered depending on what mood he was in, but he couldn't for
the life of him work out why he had travelled two hundred miles to this
particular clinic. The doctor was pleasant and a good-looking assistant
worked at the reception. But they weren't valid enough reasons surely?
The pretty receptionist was absent anyway and a hirsute, unsmiling,
she-thing curtly ordered him to wait. Mesmerized, he found himself staring
at her top lip and forcing himself to look away, sat unmoving for
twenty-five minutes, too anxious to even look at the pictures in the four
month old copy of 'Womens Realm' on the waiting room table. Yes, he was
anxious. But more for a resolution than for the result itself. They were
completely different for him. Or rather, the result would merely be an
aspect of the bigger picture. He couldn't be sure how he would feel if the
result came up positive, he just wanted to know either way. A part
of him was surprised that he didn't feel that much emotion. Again the
sensation of being a spectator of his own life.. He wanted to feel, asking
himself-
How would a normal person feel?
The question was ridiculous and he knew it. A normal person is what? Why
would a 'normal' person have an Aids test? He was straight. But something
pestered. He'd slept with lots of women. Too many. It had been his thing
for years, even through the Rave scene, when, apparently, people weren't too
bothered about that kind of thing. He'd had his drugs, but even they were a
means to an end. He couldn't begin to remember the amount of young girls he
had got to know, and got into bed, through dealing. All the girls love a
dealer. Especially a generous, relatively good looking dealer. He had
slept with so many he had started to get bored of it all, not even bothering
to chat them up anymore. Besides, he was becoming a bit of a joke, nearly
thirty and still out every night buttering-up fifteen year olds. Only in
the last few years had he been able to form friendships with females, and
they were beginning to give up hope that he would ever have a proper, mature
relationship..
He was saying goodbye to his 'shagging' days and the test was all part of
it. Doug just wished he felt something either way. Mentally, he didn't
want to be positive. But emotionally, he didn't really give a shit what the
doctor said.
Finally he was called in and sat down expecting to be there for some time.
 Instead she told him she had good news saying the result was negative. As
she said the words he had the feeling that this would be the last time he
would ever see her, and before he knew it he was back out on the street,
walking towards the bus-stop.
It had stopped raining yet his foot still hurt too much to walk far. The
bus came surprisingly quickly and he got on and sat down in a daze.
- I suppose that's good news. Jesus man, think of all the poor cunts out
there who've tested positive. You should be well pleased.

But he wasn't. He felt guilty and didn't know why.

As the bus approached the town centre an old woman got on. The driver set
off before she could get her bus pass out and she started complaining
loudly. Her accent wasn't local and Doug recognized her from somewhere.
 She gave the driver a good telling off and stumbled down the bus without
showing him her pass. She seemed to want some distance between the driver
and her, as if his very proximity annoyed her. As she passed the empty
seats at the front, Doug could feel her approaching him.
-Please don't sit here. Please don't sit here!
The thought of her sitting next to him filled him with dread. He knew he
knew her from somewhere and for some reason couldn't face the prospect of a
conversation.
-She's just an old lady. What's wrong with you, you wimp!
She sat next to him, smelling of mouldy violets and stale piss.
-Oh why do I always get the loonies? A whole bus full of empty seats and
she sits right next to me.
'I told him straight. Did you here me. I said, "You can't treat me like
that. I'm old enough to be your mother. I could get you fired." I said.'
Doug heard her say quite a few things to the driver but he didn't hear her
say that. Then he realised.
'You're Mrs. Culshaw. I know you. You used to teach me English.'
He smiled, trying his best to be friendly.
'Oh really! Over the years I've taught thousands of children. What makes
you think I should remember you, eh?'
Deflated, he sat back and had to agree. He wasn't a particularly bright
pupil. Why should she remember him?
'I suppose you're right. My name's Douglas Benson, I just
thought..........'
'You 'just thought' what? Do you have any idea how many complete strangers
come up to me on the street and demand anecdotes about they're youth. Like
I'm some sort of computer that remembers every name, every spotty face.'

Embarrassed and some.
He lied- 'It's just that I thought you were a good teacher. You were my
form teacher in C-block in my third year.'
He had wanted to make her to feel nice, but instead she turned her head and
shoulders awkwardly and squinted at him.
'C-block! At St. Josephs? They tore that down years ago.'
'Yes, I know. But before that, before the fire.'
'What fire? Your mistaken young man there was no fire and I was never a
form teacher in C-block. You're mistaking me for someone else.'
He got another whiff of her and remembered she was always a little
eccentric. Her clothes were smart enough though, in a prissy, school
marmish cliche. They looked to originate from the sixties, as if she
hadn't been shopping for clothes since then, and the thickly spread
foundation on her face and neck ended in a semi-circle an inch below her
Adams apple, leaving just an occasional flash of pearlescent-white skin.
 Her eye-liner was heavy too and he thought she might have been a good
looker at some point in the past, but as far as he can remember she always
seemed old. She held herself well, but he found himself disliking the
haughty, condescending looks she gave him. Maybe it was all the years of
being a teacher, he thought, looking down her nose at ignorant, ill bred
kids.
'I always enjoyed your lessons......' he lied again, trying hard,
'.......They, I mean you, encouraged me to read stuff. Proper stuff, I
mean, not just comics and things. Books and.......'
His voice trailed off, she wasn't listening. He knew he was babbling and to
make it worse she didn't even deign him with a response. Like he wasn't
worth it or deserved the attention. From this effort he could feel his
anger start to rise. She even questioned his memory after saying she
couldn't remember herself. Silly bitch.
'Look I was only trying to be friendly! When you see someone you used to
know it's only polite to say something, you know? Hello or something.'
He knew she was ignoring him and this made him even more angry.
'I could have ignored you, but no. I thought I'd be polite and strike up a
conversation. Next time I won't fucking bother!'
Silence. Then angry silence.
'You always were a stuck up cow, weren't you? What was that kids name, the
one with the reading problem? Hanrahan, that was it. The poor lad was a
bit simple and you ripped into him every bloody lesson. That was funny
wasn't it? Even then I found it a bit embarrassing but didn't know why. I
thought, if you were doing it, there must be a good reason for it. Teaching
him a lesson or something. But there wasn't a good reason for it was there?
 You were just being a nasty cow, making him feel like shit 'cause you were
bored and annoyed and needed to take it out on someone.
You petty Bitch! You small-minded, stuck up tart. It's people like you who
give kids psychological problems. You make me sick. You didn't deserve to
be a teacher................Did you hear me? .......... I said, you didn't
deserve to be a teacher, you SILLY COW!!'
He sat forward in his seat to get a proper look at her face. He didn't know
what to expect- anger, embarrassment. Instead he found her looking out of
the window distractedly. He could see her lips moving slightly and when he
stopped talking himself, he could hear her mumbling. Her head turned as she
stared at something passing outside and Doug thought he heard her singing a
song under her breath. There was no agitation in her face, no emotion at
all and he knew she hadn't heard one word he had said. He stared at her
profile for a moment, then squeezed past her, wordlessly jumping off the bus
and into the centre. He needed a drink.



                           --------------




                                 4


I saw it yes ......... No I didn't ring, didn't have time. It all happened
so quick, see.
Well, first I heard the shouting but I just carried on making my supper
'cause you hear loads of shouting on this road, the pubs an' all that,
y'know. It's very noisy.
So I just carried on with my toast. I was goinna have an egg but it was
getting late an' they repeat on me, they do, and I only wanted something
light. So I was getting the marmalade an......... Oh!........ right
officer, whatever you say.
Well, by the time I got to the window and got it open, 'cause it sticks in
winter see, I think the frame expands, so anyway, I finally got it open and
there was already quite a few people there by then, stood round watching an'
that. I was goinna tell them, I was, 'said- "It's disgusting you know. All
you people stood round watching an' no-one doin' nothin' to stop it nor
nothin'"
So first .......... they was just pushing each other and stuff and the
taller chap, I think some of the bunch were his mates, first he was saying
something I couldn't 'ear an' the smaller chap swore at 'im, an' I hate
cursing I really do, an' they started punching each other and the like, it
was horrible it was. The crowd was shouting and goading 'em on, an' then
they started getting really nasty. The little'un, I didn't like 'im, he
seemed to be getting the best of the big fella' at first, but the kicking
an' all that blood. Ooh, it was terrible it really was, an' I was goinna
call you lot but I thought it best there was a witness to everything.
 Someone reliable, an' the phones in the other room anyway, so I couldn't.
Then I had to come back in to turn the cooker off. I can hardly pay the
bills as it is, never mind wastin' gas with nothin' cooking. So I missed
some of it doin' that and when I got back the bigger fella were on the floor
an' the other'un was kicking him in the stomach. I swear, even with all the
noise an' that, I'm sure I 'eard something cracking. No, it was like a
crack but more..... liquidy, it was horrible whatever it was. Anyway it
made feel sick.
 An' one of the others shouted something but I couldn't hear 'cause the
train went past just then. I thought the other fella' was goinna join in,
but the big chap on the floor got up and gave the little fella' a right good
wallop on the side of the 'ead. See the little 'un had turned his back to
'im and was arguing with his mate.
After that it was a bit of a one horse race. The big chap was all over him,
kicking 'im and kicking 'im over and over. Tut! It was awful!!
I was goinna shout down for 'im to stop there and then, but you never know
do you? You never know what they're goinna do. They could have smashed my
window or come up here and beat me up or something. I'm a witness y'know,
it happens all the time I've seen it on the Telly. But I was goinna say
something anyway despite everything, then a couple of them dragged him off
so I didn't need to bother.
Yeah, I think there were two women and three other chaps, well they
scarpered sharpish when the small 'un didn't get up. He seemed alright when
the ambulance arrived anyway. Well he got what he deserved I suppose. When
you fight like an animal.......... Awful, awful..... yes.
It's funny, no-one fights proper these days. My Colm, God bless him, that
was him there with Nipper, he used to do a bit of boxing when he was a
young'un. Now that was real fighting. These days it's all kickin' and
bitin' and knives an' that. I mean, what's that all about, eh?


                ----------------------------------


                                5

As the door starts to open, Yan shoulders with force, pinning Blakes head
and chest between it and the inner hall door. Skirting past into the living
room, he drags the stunned man by the hair, pulling him towards his right
fist as it shoots to just below Blakes ribs. One upper jab to the face of
the winded, bending, form straightens him for a series of pummeling,
controlled punches aimed at his nose and jaw. While Yan leisurely beats
Blake unconscious, a stick is firmly grasped in the adjoining room. A
flicker in the bloody eyes warns, and Yan rolls to the side just missing the
blow of the swinging piece of two-by-four in Vinces clenched hands. As he
rises, a sideways swing, but this is, despite its speed, all T.V.-slow-mo.
Yan is in it. Totally in it. Like all the fights he'd ever had, had led to
this. Vince was like some black and white robot, sluggish and clumsy. Yan
laughs to himself doubling over in an avoiding arc and propelling his foot
forward to crunch robot balls. So slow.
He pauses an adrenalin moment. Looks to Blake still standing but propped,
the only movement a slight circling of his cranked bloody head then back to
the doubled Vince. Camera. Action!
Next to the settee runs a long coffee table. Without pausing to think, Yan
raises the near end, sliding off the gear paraphernalia, ramming the full
length into Vince's head, throwing him across the room, pinning him with it
against the far wall. Only his head and left arm are visible to Yan. One
glance back to Blake, no change, arm back and the full weight and force of
one hundred and eighty pounds centered in a fist, focused on the bridge of
Vince's nose, crunching and collapsing and exploding with blood. Just one
kick, just one punch. Now back to the main gripe.
Breathing slower, Yan returns to Blake. He stands before him and real-time
seeps a return. The most-of-the-time-'time' of every day, not the blur of
the fury. He notices his right leg is shaking and he wills it to stop. The
side of his mouth is twitching and inside is dry. He tries to relax his
shoulders and has a sudden sharp twinge in his right hand.




He notices the smears of blood on the wall, and recalls the time at the
train station where the guy ducked, fast to, like a boxer, and he punched
the wall instead, fracturing his wrist. Cunt.
Later when the adrenalin is subsiding his wrist will start to throb/ache as
it does after every skirmish. This receding wave leaving bare the nerve
endings and the realisation of that other mans actions. The During-Man.
 Who is capable of gauging out the eye, ripping off an ear or biting free a
nose. Who pummels and batters senseless any man stupid enough to unleash
his rage.
He remembers when young the shocked and confused faces, the spectators who
were all for him just minutes earlier when the older, much bigger boy had
pushed him too far. This boy, well known for his bullying ruthlessness, had
picked on Yan, unwittingly setting into motion a four month hospital stay
and a shortened life of severe epileptic seizures. Yan had him by the hair
and was kneeling over him, repeatedly smashing the back of his head against
the pavement. This 'other' Yan quite suddenly vanished as everyday Yan
returned hearing the cries of the spectators. Their stunned faces. Their
expressions shocked him. The looks of horror and that gone-too-far-again
feeling. Why were his knees red with blood? Why the faces?
Blake was trying to speak, attempting to find out why Yan was doing this to
him. He didn't know Yan that well, just a cursory nod when they saw each
other in the street or pub. He thought they had some sort of unspoken
mutual respect. Fair enough, he sold Smack, but that didn't mean fuck all.
 He didn't think Yan was one of those tossers who thought all smack dealers
were scum. Who'd lost a friend or a friend of a friend to smack, so
naturally thought all dealers should be castrated and strung up, like they
were to fucking blame or something. He thought Yan was sound. He didn't
think he deserved this anyway. I mean, do you? The thoughts were non
verbal, more like flashes. All Yan heard was,
-Www....?
The every question. The what? when? why? of the beaten and confused.
The rage was leaving Yan but he wasn't ready. He knew that he physically
wouldn't be able to keep up the infliction, keep on

hurting
Blake once It went. And he did want to hurt him, so much more for what he
had done. He gives him a stinging slap on the right side of his face, then
with his left hand the other side. And again faster and faster slaps to
hurt him, yes.........but mainly in an attempt to recapture the anger he
could feel slipping away from his body, all strength ebbing away. The very
thought of it going when he needs it so desperately nearly makes him cry.
 Which in turn nearly makes it rise again. The host calling the tidal
spirit. But he fails and the onslaught ends.
He's exhausted now, panting, so leans against the wall, hands on either side
of Blake's skull. From a distance one might think the two lovers, an
illicit, whispered conversation. A shy non-tactile embrace.


                  ------------------


                      6

Domestic hair-dryers are usually small and light. The one that struck Yan
on the side of the face was lent to Nic by a friend who used to be a
hairdresser, but had decided one summer to go on holiday to Ibiza and never
came back. This, for some peculiar reason, like most hairdryers, was grey,
but unlike most hairdryers it was big and heavy. It was old long before Nic
got her nail-bitten fingers on to it and was designed for trade use and
built to last. I doubt if even the most optimistic of the team of designers
and electrical engineers that worked on the dryer would have believed it
could still be drying hair after all this time. All but four of the
original Italian/German team are now deceased. The dryer out-lived them.
 Perhaps their imaginary family can gain some comfort in that. It will also
out-live Nicola, as this kind of integrity-built hairdryer was not designed
to self destruct, unlike all its descendants and certain humans.
It was plugged into an extension-lead that wound round the outskirt of the
bedroom to the rooms only socket, placed inexplicably away from the built in
dressing table on the opposite side by the door. When the large Edwardian
house was converted into flats, it can only be assumed that an idiot was in
charge of the renovation. When Nic moved in she assumed there must be
another plug socket behind the wooden backing of the table. When she asked
Yan to remove it for her one day to check, they found to their surprise
there wasn't. So he stole an extension for her from Woolies so she could
dry her hair and look in the mirror at the same time.
Well that's what he told her. In actual fact, he'd merely ordered it from
an acquaintance who stole it for him, and he paid for it the next day at a
much lower rate than even the good Woolworths would ever dare to charge.
When thrown by Nicola, with the extra reach the hairdryer had acquired, it
was just able to travel as far as Yans face but no further and recoiled like
a whip. To Yan, the effect was akin to a sharp, unexpected jab by a
semi-professional, welter-weight boxer. Like the dryer, he recoiled,
staggering backward to fall on the hard arm of the chair beside the bed.
 Stinging face and coxes.




This was not the first, nor will it be the last time Nic hits her
boyfriend.. Never with her hands. Never a physical connection between
herself and her actions. As if that contact would make the transgression
more 'real' and so, definable as a mistake. Anything to hand; a magazine, a
coat-hanger, a hairdryer. His instinct shouts-
Slap the bitch so hard that she's deaf for a week!
And this is what he would do to any man that did the same. Any man stupid
enough could also expect a good kicking. Something to remember him by.

I can only take so much!

He looks up, an incredulous sneer playing his lips. All threats now
useless, he'd used them too many times; never followed them through.
 Perhaps he should? They had worked with other girlfriends. Nic, however,
instinctively saw through them and called his bluff repeatedly. She had
turned away already and he knew she was already feeling guilty and distant
from the dryer.
' Never hit a woman.'
This mantra his father had pumped into his psych-
But his dad had. Yan doesn't know but we know that Keith nearly killed a
girl when he was eighteen, before Yan was born, before he'd moved to xxxxx
and met Yan's mother. His girlfriend was three years younger, 'a
loud-mouthed, slag' who at a couple of parties had given groups of men
blow-jobs for cider. Keith had caught her outside, around the back of the
Cross Keys milking Eddie Coles prick. She screamed at him as he kicked
Eddie unconscious, thumping him over and over while the Landlords German
Shepherd barked itself hoarse. Then he grabbed her around the throat and
punched her full in the face. Just one punch, but he'd broke her nose and
knocked out a few of her front teeth. Only at the hearing did Keith find
out that Sal was really Deborah, a wild kid of a wealthy family from just
outside Sunderland.

They
brought her back to the fold and pressed charges. Keith was done for
G.B.H., corrupting a minor and having sexual relations with an under-age
girl. He was sent down for three years, eventually serving a year and
three-quarter sentence. For some reason, the screws let it be known that he
was a child molester. Technically he was, but this was the days before
separate wings for nonces, and his life took an altogether darker turn.
As soon as he finished his parole he moved away, further South, away from
all history. He married and had two kids within three years. After a
hollow attempt at a spiritual turnaround, he lapsed back to the pub. One of
the few lessons he imparted to his two sons during his ever more frequent
drinking bouts, was- Never hit a woman. It never stopped him beating the
shit out of them, but then, that's fathers for you.
Yan has the same ears and mouth his father had. Gristly and pinched,
respectively. His frame is larger, more intimidating. But this only spurs
Nicola on. She can pretend that he doesn't feel her blows.
After an attack she is left with a tremendous sense of remorse. It
momentarily engulfs her. She can't take this guilt, so often rejects it.
 More often of late, she has begun to reduce it, trivializing her violence
to such a point, that the different strings of her actions begin to unravel,
and the Reality is undone, dismissed. Then she is cleansed, and able to
start the whole cycle over again.
His powerlessness stifles, clasping his heart till he feels tears begin to
well. Not now! Not ever! He reigns in his emotions, the only one with the
right to stifle. His love is being abused. Warped into her imaginings.
 Her demons fling their stinking shit and he can do nothing. Take it like a
man. Is that what 'that' means?

           ------------------------------


                          7


The concept of her death seeped slowly into his life and gradually he became
aware that his thoughts were trapped in a state of mid-wish. A intricate
repeating request........Yans version of denial.
Another funeral, a lifetime since Dougs, yet this was altogether different.
 This was more than mere grief, this shattered and made a mockery of living.
 Grief he could just about handle, bearable in the knowledge that death was
part of life; that it was just a step on the ladder of experience, or some
such bullshit. But this was much more. Nics death brought together all the
other deaths that had happened in his life, made them much more real.
 Becoming interrelated to the point of morbidity.
He liked to think his Grans death didn't matter that much, didn't hurt him.
 He liked to think he was too young then for it to have meant much. But he
knew way down within, it was because he didn't really care that much and
didn't really like to admit it. And Doug? Let's just say that at the time,
Dougs death was painful but manageable. Yan doesn't like to talk about it
too much, but we will.
Yan had respected Doug, looked up to him in an off-hand manner. For all his
bluff, Yan knew his friend was the better man, the better human. He could
dissolve situations with ease, had a way with people. He didn't need to
bring a man down to teach him a lesson, though Yan knew he was quite
capable. He'd seen him on a couple of occasions.
He remembered their attempt to get to the Isle Of Wight, in the summer of
'93. Doug had hitched down to London from Lancashire the day before and
Yan, Rut, Cassius and him had tried to drive South in a crappy, over-heating
van, but it had broke down near Southampton. They'd decided to go for a
drink and sleep in the van which they'd get to a garage the next morning..
 But four pubs later,
- Twatting the fuck out of 'em he was. It was a pleasure to watch.
 Brilliant! Like one of those saloon cowboy fights with people beating the
shit out of each other all around ya, an I only stayed out of it 'cause Doug
was defending two Paki lads. It was one of the only times I ever stayed out
of a mass scrap.

Well I say 'defending', they were doing alright themselves, but without Doug
helping 'em out, they would have got hammered in the end.
Doug just stood out like he was in charge or somethin', and when the
bouncers jumped in, they just left him alone. He'd chatted with them on the
way in for a minute, but still. One of them might have been watching for a
while and knew the score, but, I mean, bouncers are all stupid, they don't
usually give a fuck, when there's a ruck they just beat the shit out of
everybody. They chucked the Paki's out first giving them time to scarper,
then got the Skin 'eads out leaving Doug in the club. It all happened
pretty quick. Me and Cassius didn't even get a look-in and jumping in to
help two Asian kids wasn't exactly Ruts style either. Sly little fucker
that he is, he'd have been more likely to bottle one of the Skins if they'd
looked like takin' Doug out.
And there was that time in that club in Deptford..................one punch!

He knew his friend would not want him to grieve. He'd always said to Yan,
- When I die, throw me in a ditch.
- Fuck Death, it doesn't mean shit to me. As soon as I'm gone forget about
me.
It was like a running gag,
- If I die suddenly, have a party. If my family insist on a funeral, say
something obscene . Do something really daft when they lower me into the
ground, just to show all the mourning fucks how stupid, how absurd the whole
thing is. Wear white and take the piss.
Yan grasped the memory and clung fast. It enabled him to not have to think
about Nic, about the 'whole thing'. It made it easier to the point of
almost being a cop out. Yet no more of a cop out, Yan thought, than
religion or ideas of the soul and after-life. They were the same, weren't
they? A get out clause for having to realistically handle the notion that
this person you love has gone, and you will never, ever, be able to see them
again. Passing the buck to the priest, or rabbi or God.

_ Here! It's all yours now. Take this responsibility. It scares me
shitless.

He knew, but still would not admit to himself that Doug did not think in
these ways. Doug wasn't a lazy thinker. He'd thought things through the
long, difficult route and come up with a personal philosophy of sorts. What
it consisted of, Yan had no idea and would never even pretend to understand.
 But he remembered Doug once saying that all the rituals after death weren't
for the deceased, but for those left behind. He'd laughed with religion not
at it.
Yan meanwhile had closed his eyes, like the rest of the world, hiding under
the covers, hoping death would keep back, stay away from friends and
family.. Then, when confronted with the actuality, eyes stretch wide and
the shock is enormous. How could this be !?
Then Nic.
So his life swung from denial to horror then denial again with barely a
moments thought in-between. Sleep, a numb respite, only to wake with the
sickening daylight of reality. His brand new, permanent reality.
He had woken with his arms around her cold body. He had found the pills
and remembered her weird lullaby. He had knelt next to her bed and cried
for over an hour before ringing Emergency. He'd dialed the Nines then not
known who to ask for. Oh I'm sorry, she's already dead, it isn't an
emergency.
All this had happened to him. Yet still she called his disconnected phone
and knocked on his door and walked behind him at night when he wandered the
streets alone.


                 ----------------------


                               8

  -I hate these fucking machines.
He stares blandly. A vacant anger.
-I, Doug, and the one armed bandit. No-one calls them that anymore. 'One
shows ones age when one uses that fucking phrase'. Fruit machines.
 Gambling. Flashing lights that hypnotise. They whisper- 'Give me your money
you stupid cunt.', 'Give me your hard-earned/stolen cash you weak-willed,
fuck-wit.'
And he does. Repeatedly. Handing over nugget after golden nugget.
- I hate you!
But the bandit ignores. The jerky tune rants on as he gives it more.
- I hate you more than that cunt in Sheffield who kicked me in the teeth
when I passed out on the pavement. I hate you more than Thatcher, although
just barely. I hate you more than my dad, the pus-faced, gob-shite. And if
there is a god, I hate you more than him.
It starts with a tug, the familiar pull. The lights that glaze the eye, the
conspiratorial tune that's celebratory in winning and mocking in your
defeat. As the pint arrives he asks for change from the tenner.
'For the cigarette machine?'
'Yeah.'
He lies smiling. There is shame there, yes. Ashamed of his hobby, his
habit. Like some teenage peccadillo that has clung on for far too long.
 No, not like, IS.
He knows now that knowing the reels is only of limited help these days. He
knows that to win, you have to wait and watch someone else lose. You have
to know the machines, yes, but you have to know the features not the reels.
 You have to know the pub, for every landlord or regional collector has a
say in the win rate. They say 75% pay out, but that can be tapped down to
20. You have to have a stake of over 20 quid or its not worth even
starting. You have to leave everything you win, in the machine or else your
gambling away your own odds. But that's only with certain machines.

And
if you've got a key, well that's different. He knew a guy that had robbed
one from the car of a Collector, but it had only worked for a while 'cause
the company changed all the locks on the round that the key fitted. The key
fits into the little silver lock at the front, just above the coin pay-out.
 When it's turned slightly the light display at the top gives a reading of
how much money the machine has taken. This is so the Collector knows
whether to bother emptying the machine or not. For both cheating punter
and Collector the magic number is one-twenty. This amount in pounds means
the machine is full up and ready to be emptied or pay out. For the shark,
it's now just a case of literally going through the motions until it does.
 Understandably, having a key cuts down on waiting, watching and wasting
money. The major problem is how to get one. A good way is saying in as
polite a manner as you can muster to the landlord of any given pub, that his
fruit machine hasn't paid you your winnings. Nine times out of ten he'll
hold his hands up and say- They're nothing to do with me mate, they come and
empty them every Tuesday afternoon, you tell 'em then yourself. Or words to
that effect, you get the drift. Then, come Tuesday, find yourself a seat
with a good view of the lock, and pretend to be doing a crossword puzzle
whilst drawing the key. You won't get it right straight away, but by filing
at a similar key, eventually you'll get it. It may sound a laborious
method, but it could make you hundreds or thousands of pounds.
If you don't have a key, walk away from the machine if it's not looking good
after a fiver. The most important thing of all is, you have to be patient.
He knows you have to do all these things.
- But you never fucking do".
Why doesn't he?
Because Doug's too smart. He knows all the angles. Every one says he's a
clever cunt so he has to prove it to himself constantly. That's what he's
always thought. But he's started to realise something. There's a name for
it. What is it Doug?
- I'm addicted to 'em.
Addicted. Yes, go on.




-I'm addicted to a lump of plastic, metal and glass that plays one song
repeatedly, that flashes lights at me and has a computer chip inside it
programmed to accept my money and occasionally give me a tiny percentage of
it back..
Well done. Now what are you going to do? Do you like the addiction ?
_ No
Well are you going to do something about it?
-Yeah, 'course........When I've won my money back out of this
cunt........I'm eight quid down !


              ------------------------


                       9

Yan once asked Gruff if that was his real name or a description that had
stuck. Gruff cleared his constantly cattarhed throat and began to list a
number of reasons why he thought he should have the name Gruff, and likewise
why the name was incongruous. From this, Yan deduced, and stated such, that
Gruff wasn't his real name, as a name given at birth, doesn't, or shouldn't,
need an explanation. G. then went on to list a number of reasons why the
word 'real' was inherently innacurate as it relied upon a series of
preconceived cultural distinctions that varied from time to time and place
to place, and on an over-reliance on a notion of a sensory norm. Which is,
as everyone knows, naive at best.
Here, Yan nodded and yesyessed too quickly and often for G. to believe that
he'd understood properly. G. didn't mind this, and was kind of used to it,
as a shabby, teacher/pupil relationship had arisen between the two of late.
At first, he didn't know how to take Yan. Something about Yan's manner
suggested he knew more than he was letting on, then just occasionally he'd
say or do something that would give the whole game away.
They would bump into each other at 'Munchies' on Frith Street, and as they
worked for the same bike delivery service, they'd swap stories and moan
about the company. In their earliest conversations, G. was unsure if Yan
was taking the piss or not, as nobody had ever taken his doped-up,
biker/cod-philosopher persona seriously before. It took a while for him to
work out that Yan was simply curious, studying him and learning from him,
but all in an quite innocent way. Gruff was usually cynical until persuaded
otherwise. His intelligence was only occasionally apparent, peeking through
the various roles that usually only he found amusing. He was aware that the
roles were a screen, a device to mask his once acute feeling of isolation.
 But somehow over the years, the desperateness of his loneliness had
subsided, leaving still the detachment. He used to play his games with an

audience
of one, but surprisingly, the roles had worked, and his new found confidence
endeared him to strangers.
The name was a pretty accurate description. He was spiky, but intrinsically
'nice', an adjective that Gruff characteristically despised. 'Nice', 'Pop',
and 'flange' being his top three.
Yan liked to hear him speak, so when Doug and him were having one of their
talking-shit-arguments, Yan would just sit back and enjoy. The- Who were
the hardest, vampires or were-wolves? argument always went down well. He
particularly liked the old Volvo/bus debate, that they would return to
whenever one of them developed a new angle on the topic

Doug- 'Bus Drivers.'
Gruff- 'Volvo drivers.'
'No, no, no. Bus Drivers, easily.'
'I know where you're coming from, but Volvo drivers are without doubt, the
stupidest, clumsiest, most dangerous people on the road.'
'They are, I agree, quite, quite abominable. But your average Bus Driver is
not only staggeringly dumb, but resentful of his job due to the low pay, and
endures constant hassle and abuse from school-kids and the like, all day,
everyday. I mean imagine it. As a consequence, the likelihood of him
suffering from road-rage is massively increased. Combine this with the fact
that he is driving an enormous vehicle with more blind spots than a rhino,
and what you have is a one man wreaking machine.'
'Yeah, all very good points. But what you're talking about is a careless
driver who isn't bothered by the odd bump or scrape here or there. Now the
Volvo driver is a different beast altogether. Here we have a driver who is
too careful. Bumps are not an issue with these guys, we're talking pile-ups
here, high death tolls. They drive a car so long and big and awkward to
turn, that they have to pull half way out onto a road before they know they
can turn. They are too careful whilst safe in the knowledge that their car
is built like a tank and so, very safe. A deadly combination. It makes
them drive like idiots, always thinking they are in the right.

This
smugness affects other drivers who get frustrated and angry as a
consequence, so making the roads as a whole, more dangerous.'
'Like it, like it! But what you're forgetting is, a Bus Driver doesn't own
the vehicle he works and drives about in. He doesn't pay insurance
dividends on it, he won't lose his no-claims bonus, he........ doesn't give
a fuck. And because he works for the council he thinks he owns the roads
anyway. And this becomes the mind-set in a long term Bus Driver, he
swerves, he skids, he pulls out into fast traffic, I repeat- he does not
give a fuck!'
'That is very true, and very well explained, I might add. But have you
considered, or worse still experienced, the horror that is- the Volvo
driving Hasidic Jew. Worse than the just turned seventeen,
just-passed-her-test, can barely see above the steering wheel, been handed
down to her by Daddy, Volvo driver, worse even than the middle England,
middle class, countrysided snob, Volvo driver, the Hasidic Jew Volvo driver
is the scourge of the road. They consistently drive badly, are indecisive
in the extreme, change lanes like it's going out of fashion, and don't seem
to have mastered the finer points in the workings of an indicator. It seems
that even if they're popping to the shop for bog paper, the car has to be
full of kids, and if they haven't got any, or enough, borrow a few of the
neighbours' kids. And their emergency brake lights, huh! They flash more
than Gordon..
Without a speck of racism, I say- Man and machine in perfect disharmony.
 Together they are deadly.'

They would go on with this one for hours if Yan let them. Like polite, old
professors arguing over some theological difference of opinion. But as much
as Yan enjoyed hearing them speak, even he would get frustrated
occasionally, eventually shouting at them to shut the fuck up. There was
drinking to be done and they were slacking on their rounds.

            -----------------------

                                      10
Walking home, feeling shitty, forty quid down. The money is important, yes.
 But the main issue is that he's let himself down again. After last time,
after promising. He didn't want to be addicted to anything, never mind
bandit machines. He hated that loss of control over his own actions.
Reminded of his own powerlessness, a dark introspection is triggered. He
knows it's on it's way yet tries to delay, or even deflect it, by entering a
pub. It's recently been refurbished, yet somehow managed to retain that
 tacky, seventies quality all pubs acquire after a few years. Paying for
his Guinness he sits in the corner where his epiphany awaits.
Some air-head puts Boyzone on the jukebox and he can feel his anger rising.
 Tries to get a grip, but the music surrounds. The lyrics lead to a
malevolent place beyond the merely vacuous. A Black-hole, unbelievably
empty, yet full of smugness and shallowness and contrived cheese. He feels
hatred at the emptiness of popular music, films, modern art- everything.
 The lack of any truth or sincerity in any of them. The mind-boggling
stupidity of the average person who settles for second or third or forth
rate crap time after time.
He is sitting near a speaker and the volume is high. Still, he can't move.
 Stuck, as the static in his head buzzes ever louder. Through the din,
vague, angry thoughts shout. He likes to think that if he could create
something, anything of substance, the cloud of ignorance and crassness that
has enveloped the world would be blown away. But he is trapped in a zone.
 A Boyzone.
He can sense the cynicism seep into his now sweating brow. The cynicism he
hates; that lurks in every snide comment, every business deal, every selfish
underhand trick that says- Fuck You World, I'm looking after Number One. He
knows that to succumb to it would be a kind of death, for he would become
everything he hates.
Still the music plays on as his dark alter-ego fights to gain control.
 Frustration the overriding mind-set, the ' why's' long gone. Leaving only
an uneasy acceptance of the shit that surrounds. The ever present Vapid.
The song overwhelms him and he rises in panic. Leaving half his pint, he
runs out into the winter night, up the street, as far and fast from the
music as his legs will carry him.
                 Croon Ronan, croon !!




                                 (SIC)


   It was the note that bent her mind towards him. Just that thing. The
image of his body had not always lingered. It wasn't a constant fantasy
thing. But still, it did sometimes enter her mind when she was about to
climax, alone or otherwise. Just a fragment, recalling him standing to go to
the bar, or the five-a-side last summer. The note he left after they slept
together for the first time.
   It was just sex for her, a whim fulfilled. Pleasurable in a drunken
way and pretty meaningless. Then she'd woke in his flat alone as he'd gone
to work and she'd found it :

            NIK
       GONE TO
       WORK I'LL
       GIVE YOU
        A RING
       TONIHGT
         HELP

    She had laughed aloud then thought it touching. The spelling mistake
conjured an image of Yan as a child in stereotypical school uniform, and the
'Help' made her melt. Now they had been physically intimate with one
another he could perhaps show a side of himself previously hidden. The
notes vulnerability endeared him to her and engendered the tentative steps
towards the start of a relationship. From this point she would be more
willing to look for any signs of honesty, more susceptible to the caring
word through the bluff bravado of his macho front. Their relationship grew
from her willingness to see through the crap and as a consequence his
increasing openness.
    But that was later, first she looks back on the night before more
tenderly. She can see the lime-green time flash through the note on the
alarm clock face and realises that she doesn't have to be anywhere.
    Almost unconsciously her hand slides down her body and she widens her
legs. She is moist from her waking thoughts or the night before, and
smiling, she closes her eyes and Yans body appears. She swaps hands for
the taste of the night before and the shear devilry of it makes her
lapsed-catholic, blood rise. Turning her face to the side she breathes the
pillow in deeply, his odour is heavy, making her whole body quiver. She
feels surrounded by him, protected. Within minutes she starts to come and
quietly moans, then seconds later orgasms again, pulling her knees up to her
chest.
    In the months to come this bed will always be dear to her. She relaxes
into the duvet, enjoying the moment and lets her thoughts float freely. Nic
feels safe here.
    God it's been months since I came like that....Mmm. I wonder how long he's
lived here. Urgh, they are horrible curtains, I could get used to this bed
though. Shall I be a lazy-cow and have a kip or jump in the shower. Naw
I'm starved I'll see what he's got. Where the hell are my knicks. Wooh! I
pong a bit, think I need a shower.
    She looks under the bed for her knickers and finds a collection of tissues,
dirty socks and beer cans, all crushed except for one half-full with an
indeterminate, smelly liquid. On a hunch, Nic lifts the corner of the
mattress and see's a recent copy of 'Men Only'. Flicking through she laughs
to herself. If Yan were to walk back into the room right now, he probably
wouldn't even be embarrassed. Doug would, but he'd try to hide it behind
some intellectual bullshit. She stops herself- Why am I imagining a
situation with me in bed and Doug appearing? She forces the thought aside.
    Nic knew Yan well enough as a friend to know how he would react to most
situations. He was forcefully honest, almost brash, as if over-compensating
for something. Some past misdemeanour, or more likely, someone elses.
    The womens poses were laughable yet still slightly erotic. She was
thankful the magazine wasn't a 'Razzle' or one of the
other more down-market varieties she had seen like 'Granny-Chicks' or
'Shaven Ravers'.
    Oow, gets a bit itchy after a while. Been there, done that. At least Yan
could get off with some of the women in here, if he was lucky. But if it
was a 'Playboy', that would be more worrying to me than 'Granny-Chicks'.
He'd be wanking over beautiful (but tarty) models, so he might always
connect sex to something unobtainable. I would always be less than enough.
Good ol' Yan, even his fantasies are down to earth.
    She replaces the magazine and entering the kitchen nosily hunts for some
breakfast. She doesn't have to be quiet, so noisily opens every drawer,
every cupboard, as if overcompensating for her inquisitiveness.
    Soup, beans, eggs, white bread, bacon, more beans. Jeeze, Breakfast is all
he eats. He's a bachelor-cliche, could do with some health in his life,
some greens. Two slices of toast, thank you very much.
    Buttered, she heads for the bathroom and has a pee whilst still eating. She
likes this. The chance to explore his space, alone. Like getting to spy on
someone with their permission. Invited into a secret.
    Clean bath! That's a bit out of place. Maybe he has a cleaner. No, don't
think so. Maybe his mu......, no, definitely not.
    The butter drips onto her hand and she licks, then wipes it with the toilet
paper. She then wipes her pee with the same piece and has to unroll another
to absorb all the come. Instead of a shower she decides on running a bath.
It's uncharacteristic of her in someone elses flat, but the jasmine
bath-crystals on the side decide for her and she turns on the taps and
rinses the sides. For her, part of the sex act is cleaning afterwards. Now
even more so than the ritual scrubbing as a child when washing away her
fathers filth. More than just habit. It was part of it, that she tried to
nurture as positive. An aspect of it all that finalized. That empowered
her and no-one else.
    Before getting in the bath, Nic makes herself a cup of tea and another
slice of toast to take in with her. Spoiling herself in someone elses home
made it all more exciting, like a mischievous child playing at grown-ups.
Lowering herself in, she feels a delicious shiver and takes a sharp intake
of breath. Her college work and the restaurant are fading from view,
growing more distant with each second.
   Later she will fold Yans note and put it in her handbag. When she sees it
next she will have been dating him for eight months. Opening her purse on
the bus, looking for her video membership card, she will slide the zip and
pull it out, smiling. Unfolding it, she will read the reverse for the first
time.

   YOURSELF TO
   ANYTHING.
   THANKS
     XX
      Yan

                             -------------------


                                   12


   He tells her to leave on her white underwear, the tone contrasts well with
her dark skin. The look and feel of her bush through the fabric would once
have turned him on.

Am I gay?

He's wondered this before.

I'm licking the clit of an absolutely gorgeous, young, black girl and I'm
bored out of my head. What's that all about, eh? I'm only down there to
turn myself on. Somethings not right there!

    He's sure he's not gay, doesn't find men sexually attractive, but he's sure
getting bored of women. He had taken her to a Thai restaurant earlier that
night and despite not eating all day and getting a bit crabby, he'd managed
it well and knew within minutes they would sleep together. He wasn't a big
fan of white wine, but when she was pleasantly surprised by the presence of
Sancerre on the wine list, it coincidentally happened to be his favourite
and promptly ordered a bottle. When played so effortlessly the deceit
seemed seamless. Her flirting was over the top and despite her looks he
found himself wishing he were somewhere else. She was obvious and boring,
but he had to follow it through, he had a duty to fulfill. It was a guy
thing.
    After countless inane conversations about her family, they caught a taxi
back to her flat in Hackney and she apologized about the mess and went into
the kitchen to get a drink. She didn't have a 'mess' or a CD player, just
an old LP stereo, with about fifty albums leaning against the wall next to
it. She came back with two bottles of Stella and leaning forward, put one
on the turntable as Dougs eyes flitted from her arse to the cover of Bob
Marleys 'Catch A Fire'.

   "Do you made if I make a Jay?" She said sitting back, nestling close to
him.
   Stella! Puff! This girl was turning out to be alright after all.


               ( TWO HOURS LATER )

    Just the thought of walking home through the rain depressed Doug, but the
notion of staying next to her, waking next to her in the morning, that he
couldn't stand. Too often he'd let apathy get the better of him, stayed in
the warm womans' warm bed and lay awake, thinking... and stuff. Part of him
scraped some pleasure from this part of the proceedings. The chase, the
bantering and the sex were okay, yeah..... But this calm time, the womans'
soft breathing and the wind and sporadic rain against the window. He
wondered if it was because he had the 'conquest' next to him, all the sex
stuff done and out of the way without any need for more performing, the
actual act having lost it's excitement and any sense of necessity a long
time ago. He knew the habit, and it had become a habit, was sad as the day
is long. He was nearly thirty and except for Gillian (three months) and
posh Sophie (six months) he hadn't had a proper relationship in years. Why?
He thought.      I'm a nice guy, intelligent and all that. Why do women look at
me and see right through me. They see a big bone and want to sit on it,
without all the hassle and complications of a long term coupling. That's why
all the women I sleep with seem to be the same types. There's the 'just
come out of a relationship' type. She wants a bit of hard grappling, a bit
of excitement, but not too much and no questions asked. Sometimes they
don't even want to know your name, you're the one being used, the piece of
meat, and nearly always they want you to leave straight after the act. They
don't want to wake up next to you. They're sick of making breakfast for
men. But the honesty's refreshing and despite the coldness they're always
interesting as you often get a flavour of the man before you. The Ex.
    I'm always surprised by how many women are fucked-up by the sexual practices
of their Ex's. Men are usually more aggressive in imposing their wants on
women, who want to please their men, but resent them for it at the same
time.
    So the resentment builds until they eventually split. The woman now single,
goes out, picks me up, takes me home and categorically states that I'm not
to come on her tits, piss on her, or stick my knob up her arse, all of which
I wasn't planning on doing anyway.
    Or this is even weirder: when they want you to do the things they used to do
with Hubbo, to break his spell maybe. Or they've started to like the things
they used to hate having imposed on them by him. Maybe the kinks have
become a habit and their old dealer is off the scene, so..................
    Then there's the good time girls, known in some quarters as 'slags'. But I
tend not to stand around yacking with gossips, male or female, calling
people 'slags' or 'sluts'. A woman is a woman, and as far as I'm concerned,
if she likes sex- brilliant, if she'd like to have sex with me- double
brilliant. A slag is a woman, or a chap, who doesn't have much regard for
themselves and looks for answers in sex. Simple as that. Women who like
sex and have some self respect, that's different. We shag, and both get
something out of it. End of.
    This brings me to the next main type and they're the ones in relationships
who want a bit on the side. The sex with these is usually more heightened.
They like to try anything away from the norm- bondage, S+M, you name it.
I've found myself suggesting weirder and weirder things and they nearly
always go for it. It's corny, but it's that element of danger that turns
them on.
    It's funny, but both Gillian and Sophie were in relationships when they met
me. Gillian was married to this Sales Rep who I knew for a fact was fucking
everything in tights. I knew someone, who knew someone, who knew Derek, or
Des as he liked to be called, as if that made him any cooler. Imagine
giving Des, or Dezzzz, as a nick-name when you could make something cool up
like, Flint or Chuck. Anyway, he was forever flying over to the Far East on
business trips, and as everyone knows, business-dicks who go there always
sleep with a prostitute or two and come back with a skanky disease for their
wives to contract. But this guys a beaut, he doesn't catch a thing, he gets married to one
of them over there and brings her back to England to live with him in a little flat in
Battersea. Now he's not loaded, so he has to bullshit Gillian that things
are hard at work and he's not earning as much as he used to, and for some
reason she swallows the whole caboodle. He says that because things are
tight, he has to work harder, longer hours and all that, giving him more
time to spend with Mai-Thai. So this is going on for about eight months,
when I'm out with my mate getting a new battery for my mobile, and I see
Gillian for the first time and give my mate a knock. Now he's the mate of
the mate who knows all about Dizzy and Thai-fucky and clues me in. Most
guys would hear the sorry tale and run a mile, but something about it turned
me on, and the fact that she was fit as fuck helped somewhat. I find out
where she works, where she goes and so on and hunt her down mercilessly.
It'd been years since I really went for a girl full pelt so it was fun.
    Eventually, after we'd met about four times in the strangest of places, I
'bumped' into her in this bar with a few of her mates. One of them was
really defensive- 'She's married, don't bother mate.' So I had a few drinks
with them and charmed the lot until they invited me to go with them to this
club. Sorted! By then, even the snotty sister-in-law loved me, dragging me
on to the dance floor for a Lambada. By the end of the night everyone is
falling about hammered an I've managed to persuade Gill to come home with
me. Of course, she can't let her mates know 'cause they know Hubby, so I
shoot first saying I'm working in the morning and wait for her at the
taxi-rank. Mad sex then guilt for the next week until we fuck again an
every things alright again. I'm getting all the sob story about how good
Des is to her, knowing the real story and not being able to say a word. I
get bored eventually and let it slip that a mate of mine who knows Derek had
seen him out in Clapham with this fit Asian girl. That was all I needed to
say, she did the rest. Within a month, he's off the scene, the sex between
us has gone well down hill and she's making plans to move in. For some
reason, it didn't last long after that.
    And Sophie, there's a story and a half. I won't tell you now, but let's
just say it involves jealous boyfriends, unwanted bumps and her
multi-multi-millionaire dad trying to get a contract out on my knee caps.
The sex with both of these was brilliant at first, but then they go and
leave their partners, and BANG! They, not me, begin to change, and fall
into all the old habits and patterns they had with the Ex. Everything goes
crap and we split up as soon as I can.
    Maybe it's because I'm good in the sack and I'm not possessive. Maybe
that's the role I'm going to have for the rest of my life, a buffer for
sexual frustrated women trapped in shitty relationships. They have an
affair with me, I show them there's more to life than Hubbys' sad pecker,
and they gain the strength to move on to hopefully healthier, happier
relationships.
    But they never stay with me. I'm still mates with quite a few women who
I've helped escape over the years. They admire my honesty. When I meet
them for the first time, I'm always up front and make it clear that I'm not
after any kind of relationship. They nearly always smile at this and ask
despite themselves- What are you after then?
    Shit, I should get a grant off the government. I'm a hands-on sex
counsellor for the lonely and confused. A bit like a one man 'A-team' or an
X-rated 'Equalizer', apart from the fact that I don't drive a cool car. I
think I might get a snazzy Ford Cortina for my new role, or something
suped-up like a Volvo Estate with a duvet and hydraulic, fold down seats
that form a bed.

   What the fuck am I thinking?.......................
   Nice bit of puff, that.

   He squints around the candled room, scanning for her Weed box, and finding a
healthy chunk, rolls a one skinner for himself and sits back contented.

   I'll just finish this then I'll shoot.

                                  -----------------



                                            13
    There was a unusually small amount of blood on the floor. His head struck
first the candle-holder, then the thick, grey, floor tiles and the blood
seeped slowly for just over ten minutes, then stopped altogether.
    He had suffered from asthma attacks since the age of four but smoked Silk
Cut, the same brand as his mum, from the age of eleven. Most people, when
starting to smoke, try many brands, but except for that Summer holiday with
the Rothmans which he put down to a bout of insanity, Doug had always been
loyal. He knew fags exacerbated the asthma but this made them taste better.
Then, when he got into Blow, there was no stopping him. Hammer nights were -
joint, Ventolin, joint, Ventolin, etc. The next day always carried a wheezy
hangover, with or without alcohol.
    He'd never been much of a drinker. Preferred losing it with Blow. For a
short while, Smoke ruled his world; he became one of those Gear-nerds who
slag off badly made joints and waffle on about the different effects off
different weeds. Doug didn't need to take a smack before he wised-up. He'd
got into dealing and was pretty soon ripped-off on a remarkably small
transaction, so learnt quite quickly not to be such a smart arse.
    Just lately, he'd tried to cut down on his tobacco intake by carrying a
small, wooden pipe with him everywhere he went. Instead of skinning up he'd
pack a couple of pipes or persuade the person whose house he was at to do
some hot-knives. At first, people would throw away the brown, bottomless
bottles. Then after Doug had been round two or three times and smashed the
bottoms off some more, they'd put them away till the next visit, and scrape
them meticulously in times of drought. Getting off his head after two or
three boulders, Doug would sometimes smile, picturing himself as a
missionary, converting the masses to hot-knives. It was the burn that he
craved; the hot smoke scraping his throat like a scourer, like a fag when
you're out of breath. But he didn't need a Silk Cut for an asthma attack.
The faded blue towel lay near his head. It was gripped tightly in his
raised left hand and the blood had soaked it crimson.
    There had been no candle in the candle holder and the spiked support had
ripped a two inch gash in his left eyebrow. The shower curtain had not
saved his fall. It lay over his arse, as if draped there by a prudish
passer-by.
    The police found his body the following Wednesday. They'd never charged
Doug for any offence, drug related or otherwise. But he was a Face, known
to almost certainly be a user and quite possiby a small time dealer also.
Not worth busting unless involved in something worthwhile. So when his
landlord, a Mr. Yanakis, rang and asked them to come round, they knew the
address. He said he'd been trying the buzzer for a week and his keys were
useless as there was a bolted slide lock on the inside, something he had
always forbidden his tenants to affix, stipulating it clearly in the contract.
    The door had been reinforced and took some time to break down.
On entering the flat they encountered a faint but familiar smell, finding
the body lying to the side of the bath/shower. The living room window had
been left open, so the odour wasn't that bad being concentrated in the
bathroom area. Searching the flat, they found over three quarters of an
ounce of Lebanese and a couple of grams of Cocaine so knew he wasn't
assaulted for drugs. Still, they suspected something as a post-mortem was
carried out.
   The shower was still running cold, spraying over the side of the bath in a
fine mist. A puddle had formed around his blue/grey feet and the cold air
had slowed the decomposition process.
   The coroners report stated it was an accidental death, saying the most
likely cause to have been a massive blow to the head after slipping in the
shower. There were only trace elements of Narcotics in his system,
surprisingly low levels of THC and apart from the asthma, his medical
history showed no other infirmity or likely reason for the fall other than
the purely accidental. So after a further examination, the lungs were found
to have abrasive sores, indicating a violent asthma attack, quite likely
brought on by a sudden change in temperature or a claustrophobic reaction to
the confined space.
   His bronchial tubes were raw and badly damaged as a result of the attack
which could have led to a seizure, and the arteries around his heart showed
damage also, indicating a possible cardiac arrest. The precise reason for
his death was uncertain then, having three equally likely sources.


                         ----------------


                              14

                                                             Mister William Whelan
                                                                    21, 'The Gables'
                                                                             Putney.
                                                            December the fifth, 1838
   Dear Sir,

       I have subscribed to your monthly journal for over two years now and I am
writing this missal to complain vehemently about the type of literature that
has infected your paper of late.
       I had been in the habit, of once read, leaving my 'Bentley's Miscellany' on
the side-board in the hallway. Here, if they chose, my wife or eldest
daughter, could find the paper and peruse, after me, the articles and
serials therein. Unfortunately, I have recently had to refrain from this
practice.
       It is apparent, to this reader, the topicality of the subject of
pickpockets, usurers and particularly the problem of the unruly poor folk
and children in our Capital. Since the introduction of the Poor Laws and
the establishment of baby-farms and workhouses, much charitable and pious
work has been done to help these people. Children who previously roamed the
streets, vulnerable to abuse
or corruption, now find themselves useful members of our society, hands put
to use with roofs above their heads and daily food in their stomachs. This
is the fact of the matter. One of your contributors implies otherwise.
Since the start of 'The Parish Boy's Progress' some time ago, I have been
increasingly disconcerted by the "adventures" and disturbing events in this
'Oliver Twist's story. As partial to a good melodrama as the next man, the
series of highly unlikely episodes did not offend me. Although occasionally
overly-complicated and messy, the series has been, on the whole, highly
readable.
        I must object though, to the manner this Dickens has his characters speak.
As a gentleman much travelled, I am well aware, as I am sure are many
others, that these forms of dialogue do occur, on the streets and in the
ale-houses. But, in a work of literature, is there any real need for them
to be used with their indolent and polluting ways, in place of our good
Queen's English. I think not.
        Near the start of this series, an incident occurred involving the characters
of Oliver and Noah. Is this how our Mister Dickens suggests the children of
England should behave? I was always taught that violence is abhorrent, and never
justified. Have I been misled all these years?
        And later with Nancy's murder by the rogue Sikes. This is too much! Does
Mister Dickens want our gentle ladies in a swoon with his tale, surely he
should realise the power he wields and control the passions he has, of late,
expressed all too readily. Indeed, I think it a hazardous experiment to
exhibit to our fair sex, and young-folk, the haunts, deeds, language and
characters of the very dregs of our community. Nancy's murder is too, too
horrid and too vivid for a gentle-lady to peruse. It can only disturb or
corrupt.
        For the time, my subscription will continue. I have yet to find whether the
Jew will mend his mendicant ways or Sikes will be punished. For let us make
no mistake, these men are Villains and should be written about as such, from
start to finish, a moral lesson to the reader throughout. Let us hope
Mister Dickens takes these well intended words to heart. I understand the
bound volumes of this work have been completed already. For the sake of my
wife and daughters, I, for one, will not be purchasing.

                               Yours faithfully

                                              William Whelan



                                   15

    The thought of crossing town scared him shitless. It was a mile and a half
to the nearest Tube station and all the buses seemed to go at right angles
to the direction he wanted. In Yan's mind a journey should head in a
direction and stay that way. No waste or meandering. Not unlike his
conversation - straight to the point, no bullshit.
 He used to like the Underground for this reason. He knew it wasn't all
straight lines and direct like the Tube maps, wasn't that stupid. But in
the tunnels he couldn't see the waste. Could kid himself that because of
cables and underground bunkers and secret shit like that, the way the train
went was the best of all the possible routes. That the designers and
architects would only have built the system of tunnels as straight as
humanly possible. It was a small self deception, hardly worth mentioning,
but never the less, it had remained in his head until relatively recently.
He had now walked at his fastest pace for a mile and a half and was well
fucked. The most exercise he'd had in four months. Out of breath and
sweating he stopped outside a newsagents and focused his mind to try and
work out his finances. Yep, just enough left over for a drink. He knew he
stunk and the shabby beard combined with the nearly bald head made him look
twenty years older. Yan had started to recede in his early twenties so for
years had shaved off the remaining bits of hair at each side. It was a good
image and no-one ever fucked with you. But for the last couple of months
his sartorial maintenance had slipped. Perhaps it was the aversion to
mirrors that needles induced. Maybe the two were inversely proportionate.
So now, wispy side tufts had sprouted and with the sunken cheeks he didn't
need a mirror to know he looked a walking cliche. A cliche perhaps to
anyone under fifty or a regular viewer of 'hard-hitting' T.V. pig shows. He
was oblivious, unaware or bothered if the Asian shop-keeper thought him a
tramp or a junkie.
Time, not being so relevant to Yan of late, had passed in sporadic jolts of
desperation and haze. On the cusp, he entered the shop and pondered whether
it was very early or getting late as the streets were deserted and the sky
had a luminous,
in-between quality about it.
He imagined an all-out nuclear strike had taken place while he'd dozed
earlier and this image filled his mind as he blundered around the shop
looking for the drinks display cabinet. He saw the streets filled with
people looking at the sky, then the flash and their bodies vapourizing in
the blast.
>From habit he opened the glass refrigerator door to make his choice and
remembered Nicola giving him an earful one time for doing the same.
-It's glass ain't it, ya can already see the the drinks can't ya? And the
cold air's gettin' out.
She was right of course, technically. But then who gave a shite if the
drinks warmed a fraction in the few seconds it took for him to decide. With
this thought came a stinging realisation/ remorse. It was always the petty
shit like this that made them argue. Well, no-one made them argue, they
argued all by themselves and he knew she was always right, in her manner.
Yet his bullshit, macho stance always reared with a great 'FUCK YOU!'
Dr. Pepper, Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi- whatever happened to Pepsi Max? Perrier,
Still water........ Still-fucking-water! He hated that. Not being born and
bred in London, the concept of buying Still water in a shop made him gag.
Not just that but the price, Jesus! Why the fuck was it more expensive than
Dr. Pepper or Coke? Surely all they had to do was get the water and put it
in a fucking bottle. It didn't make sense. Occasionally, when he was
really parched and had no other choice, he would buy a bottle of sparkling
water, kidding himself that the bubbles somehow increased the waters
intrinsic value and it was more like pop. A small self deception, hardly
worth mentioning but.............
No. Lucozade. Luuco-zade. Nice word that. Full of energy for lazy
fuck-wits who never seem to get it together to eat a meal more substantial
than a Twix or a packet of Wotsits.
As he turned to the counter with his drink he noticed a wary look in the
shopkeepers eyes. The elderly man was simply making sure nothing was
stolen, but in a paranoid vision, Yan 'saw' the scissors gripped in the
man's right hand. Normally used to cut open the newspaper bundles, now they
were raised like a dagger and thrust into Yan's neck repeatedly.




He jutted his head back suddenly, almost imperceptively, and imagined he saw
the shopkeeper pull back also, as if frightened. Yan stared at him trying
to figure out if he had really stabbed him or not. He eyed him suspiciously
then felt his neck.......no blood. Maybe it was a premonition. Did this
guy look capable of killing someone? Yan stretched out his arm and
cautiously handed him a pound coin. The man had a fixed smile, half nervous
grimace, half habitual politeness. Not one word passed between them as the
quid was handed over and the change given. Only as Yan left the shop,
re-entering the now obvious morning, did he think to himself,
-Weird Fucker!
The Underground clock said 6.20 and it was the first train of the day on
which he eventually sat. The booming and shunts annoyed the sole passenger.
He was coming down bad. His bones shook with the sickening, subsonic
infra-sound, and the piercing ultrasound of the screeching brake on wheel,
pried, fried and rattled his delicate brain. The sudden shifts in sound and
temperature raked his senses and stung the nerve endings. He knew they were
doing his well-being no end of harm but what could he do? Slumping down, he
rested his head against the window and closed his eyes in a futile attempt
at sleep, the vibrations hammering into his cranium.
Surprisingly he slipped under and dreamt, yet again, of watching himself
from above. The dream consisted solely of Yan asleep in an Underground
railway carriage. He was hugging his stomach and sweating profusely and
the overriding sensation was one of discomfort, that nothing in the dream
had any real place or meaning in this world, yet that was all it had.
Another shunt and from this place he drifted into an image of himself lying
on a bed with his eyes closed. The profile of Nics face was next to his and
her mouth opened and closed as if slowly speaking. But no sound came out
and before he could speak there was another shunt and he jolted to another
place.
Slowly he became aware of a distant sensation. He was being watched. He
looked up and saw just one other person in the carriage, sitting in the
opposite seat, staring at him.
A fucking Suit was checking him out. In a half-awake
state he stared back, trying to figure if the suit fancied him or was
looking for trouble. A flash of recognition was pushed back as he saw the
sneer. Cheeky fucking cunt!
-Alright fatboy, what's your fucking problem?
The kick came from nowhere and Yan's jaw was broken in an instant. Reeling
back from the blow he smashed the side of his head against the reinforced
glass. Before his vision had cleared he felt his hair tufts being grabbed
and Suit's knee bang savagely into his forehead.
-( He was aiming for my nose, fucking amateur)
The mistake gave Yan the moment he needed to recover and whilst down,
grabbed Straight-Dick's balls, wrenching and twisting for a yowl. It came
quick and loud and red-faced.
-( I know this cunt
  I can take this cunt
  He's a meaty fucker
  But I can take this cunt, I can take him, I can take      him, I can
take him, I CAN TAKE HIM!!)
A tenth of a seconds thought.

But this wasn't Yan's day. The Meaty Fucker took an upward sweeping jab at
his jaw. Already broken the pain flashed white and shouted loud, and for
the first time in twenty years, Yan doubted himself, doubted his
invincibility. A head-butt to the nose and again the same questioning.
Disbelief that this City-boy was taking him out. A fucking cocaine
snorting, Barrow-boy was beating the shit out of him, and he was letting him
do it.
One last crap attempt at a punch was easily dodged and Yan knew it was all
over. The end of an era and part of him was pleased. No more -'big, hard
fucker'. His face was a punching bag and Suit was practicing. Taking well
aimed punches at his face and rib-cage. Patiently, inflicting the maximum
amount of damage and enjoying it too. Pathetic!
He was on the floor now. Suit spat at his face and gave him one last
rupturing kick in the guts before jumping out onto the platform.
It was thirty-five minutes before someone on the then crowded carriage
bothered to inform a guard and fifty-five
before an ambulance came and carried him away.
As he lay foetal on the hospital bed, the realisation was harder to take
than the beating. The months of Smack had withered his body, his muscles
weak and useless. He kept telling himself that he'd just taken a beating,
it was no big deal. But his ego was choked and broken and he started to
cry. Quietly blubbing at first, then gradually louder.

                --------------------


                            16

 He's trying to think the thought he knows is there. It's more than
jealousy. Different. He just wants to know. Did his best friend used to
sleep with the woman he loves? Again the melodrama. Does he really love
her? What is a best friend? The longest? The nearest? The closest? Yan
has known Doug a long time but he's known others longer. Rut's the nearest
and Nic is now probably the closest, so what is it? Is it something they've
created, a myth others have buoyed and reaffirmed? And this jealousy thing,
it's a bit juvenile isn't it? Where does this intense anger come from?
Before, it would erupt into violence at the drop of a hat. Now what has he
got? The two people who have taught him that fighting is not always the
answer are the two people most directly involved.
 Doug sits opposite, smiling. Eyeing him whilst taking occasional sips on
his Extra Cold Guinness. He probably knows what Yan is thinking. He
probably knows he can handle the situation whatever unfolds. Whether he's
shagged her or not. Even if Yan recourses to violence, Doug can probably
handle it. That's what he does, he handles things. Copes. Deals with
situations. Doug knows him too well and this bugs the fuck out of Yan. He
doesn't want anyone to understand him. He wants to scream and punch
someone. To kick this feeling away, out of his head. But he's facing a
brick wall and all he's got are words. Useless fucking words, jumbled and
useless. Against Doug of all people. He's worse than Nic and she ties him
in knots. With Doug he's never even tried. He lets him talk and he
listens. One respecting the words, the other respecting the lack of a
constant need for words. Well that's the idea.

'Doug?'
'Yes, I am He.'
There he goes again! He can't just say "What" like every other fucker.
'Doug........... Can I ask you something?'
Silence. He knows. But what does he know?

Better just say it, get it out quick before you think better of it or even
worse, get angry.
'You know Nic..........I mean you've known Nic longer than me............
Well, would she tell you things she wouldn't tell me?'
'.............Depends.'
Shit! Why don't you just ask him what she wants for her friggin' birthday!
Pause.
'Do you think she loves me?'
Well, I suppose that's a good tactic. You want to ask one question, so ask
a completely different one. That'll work you thick cunt.
'No I don't.'
Oh Christ no! This I don't need. What the fuck's she said to him?
'No I don't think she loves you. I know she loves you.'
What a bastard!
Doug sits back and smiles. He takes some fags out of his top jacket pocket,
puts them on the table and stares at them. He shuffles in his seat and
says,
'Is that it? I mean, it's always nice to see you mate. But you ring up and
practically demand to meet me, in Tottenham, of all the shit-holes, and you
ask..........that. Course she loves you, you half-wit. Can't you tell?'
Doug takes another sup and his stare returns to the cigarette packet, half
longing, half contempt. His foot is manically tapping to the song that
ended two minutes earlier and he looks like he might very suddenly jump up,
or just as suddenly fall asleep.
'Forgot my fucking Ventolin. Want a game of pool? Get the drinks in, it's
your round you tight cunt.'
Yan is easily beaten. His mind is foggy and elsewhere so the balls go down
without him.




'God, you're playing like a wanker. Fancy going to Plastic People tonight?
We can do half a pill and take it easy.'
Yan can't stay angry with him, never could, and the question fades from
view.
Slippery Bastard.
'Half a pill! When the fuck have you ever just had half a pill?'
'When I had to start getting up at seven, since you got me that fucking
labouring job.'
Laughing, Yan shouts for two more pints and the girl behind the bar looks at
him like he's something on the sole of her shoe.
'Miserable bitch. She didn't have to come out and ruin our day.'
'Especially after going to all that effort putting so much make-up on.'
'Meoow, you bitch.'
They laugh, and sensing they've been talking about her, she struts back to
their end of the bar with the drinks.
'That'll be four pounds eighty, please !'
He hands her a fiver, smiling at her smarm.
'Keep the change, love. Go buy yourself something pretty.'
Not waiting for her attempt at a smart-arsed reply, he quickly turns to
Doug.
'If she finishes early she can just make it to Walthemstow for the last
race.'
Apoplectic, she screams.
'NORTHERN WANKER !!'
Oblivious, he walks away. The sober intention gone, the night became a
session. He never did ask the question.



      ------------------------------------------


                            17

GET TOP DRY-CLEANED
FIND OUT TRAIN TIMES
SORT WEED+FAST
SET ALARM FOR TEN
MEET GRUFF IN JESTER AT TWELVE

He'd already been to the station across the road and the twelve-thirty to
Preston had been cancelled. An hour's drinking time and G. being absent
left Yan with a cheap round.
First Orders at the Jester. Doors open with a waft of detergent odour
mingled with vomit and beer and tobacco. Feels like home, he thought, and
as he was thirsty ordered cider for a change. The Kiwi bar maid was
friendly, alert and efficient. Must be new, Yan said to himself.

'Pardon?' She surprised him.
'Oh...... nothing. I just thought you must be new here.'
'Yep, just started this morning. S'that obvious?'
'No, no................ It's not anything bad. Just that you're friendly.'
Nice tits as well. She smiled slightly embarrassed and Yan wondered if he'd
said aloud that thought also. Nahh!
He wasn't hung over. He'd stayed in the night before knowing that Saturday
with Doug would be a mad one. With some tins and a smoke, Friday night T.V.
was just about bearable.
The cider was too bubbly and too cold, hard to quench a thirst with. But
taking small sips often, he persevered and was heading for round two within
five minutes. Gruff was usually punctual but Yan didn't mind, he liked the
time to himself. The calm before the storm. He was half-way through the
second pint when Gruff stumbled in. His face was white and his piss holes
in the snow were ringed with grey.
'Fuck me G. ! You look like a Goth.'
Gruff gave a deadpan 'Ha' and panting, rested his chin on the table.
'And you stink. Go on, sit over there away from me. I'm having a Guinness,
I don't suppose you want a pint, stinky cunt?'
'Er......... Get me a Snakebite. No, I'm dehydrated, get me a Coke. No
........... get me a Coke and a Snakebite............... yeah.'
'Are you sure now?'
Gruff just waved his hand dismissively and slumped in a chair cradling his
head.
Perky Kiwi served the drinks in double-quick and said she'd bring Yan's
Guinness over when it was ready. He wasn't fully listening, his attention
focused into just one sensory ability, eye-balling Kiwi's lips.
When he turned back again Gruff was gone, the door to the Ladies toilet
swinging closed suspiciously.
'Dozy Git!'
After five minutes he eyed Gruff's Snakebite and unsure of the time, tossed
a mental coin. Heads, help G. along with his drink/Tails, check the bogs to
see if he's passed out. He tutted as tails won and reluctantly rose. In
the Ladies he found him sitting on the floor gasping. On the walls and
floor around him, pools of red vomit glistened and the too-bright
fluorescent gave everything a surreal tone. Gruffs skin was whiter than the
enamel bowl that he looked like he was heading for when the eruption
occurred. Bone white, except for the scarlet splash and dribble around the
still gaping mouth.
'I think you need a doctor G.'
Yan squatted next to him, careful not to lose his balance. His mind
sprinted. This is fucking serious, this much blood is like.......fucking
serious!
'Yeah, I must be dying............Ha ha, ha!'
Gruff was gasping whilst wincing, obviously in pain His grimace was
frightening Yan. Blood lips and bone skin with a rattling laugh.
'Ha, ha......! Think it's blood don't you.......Fuck me, it does look like
blood though.'




  He continued laughing as he raised his hand, wordlessly requesting a lift
from the gore. Yan stood back, silenced by the scene as Gruff turned the
taps on full, unraveled a wad of tissue paper and dabbed the sick from his
jacket.
'I finished early and went straight out on the pish. From half-two till
midnight I sat at the bar of the Intrepid Fox abusing people.'
'Nice on. Who were you with?'
'On my jack.'
'You sad git!......What's with all this red puke then if its not blood?'
'Tomato soup....................Honest........Thats all I had to eat all
yesterday. Along with about 15 Snakebites.'
'Sad and stupid. You're not gonna be much cop tonight are you?'
'I'm feeling better already. All I needed was a good clear out.'
Yan left him wiping and only realised when sat that the vomit hadn't smelt.
Weird cunt, he laughed and pictured himself telling Doug later.


The train journey was uneventful and won't be mentioned here, but they
caught the connecting train from Preston and arrived in xxxxx already half
cut, met Doug at five and avoided all the bars where Yan might see someone
he knew.
Doug was buzzing and babbling by this time.
'I tell ya, I'd been going all weekend, 'til Sunday night I was in the pub
and realized I was skint as a coot and it was fucking freezing outside. I
had half a pint left when a bus went past which went all the way to my mums.
I thought fuck it, and left the rest of my drink, which was a first, and
pegged it to the stop. Jeeze, this is good billy, G. So anyway, I got on,
went upstairs to the back and lay down coz I was knackered. Next thing I
know, its all black, I'm waking up and I don't know where the fuck I am.
I'm still half-pissed, but bordering on hung-over after the kip, and
my 'eads in bits. It takes me a while to work out where I'm at 'cause its
pitch black so I start fumbling my way to the front and finally get to the
door. Working out how to open it was the easy part. I assumed I was in the
bus depot and fuck knows what time it was 'cause it was deserted and I was
freezing my tits off. So there I was, fuck knows whereabouts, in which bus
depot, I'm all stiff and aching and I can't get out of this cunt of a place.
So finally I find this window and I'm climbing out onto the street when two
pigs grab my legs and try and nab me. They thought I was a tea-leaf just
finishing a spot of overtime. Anyway, when they saw I wasn't carrying an I
explained my story, they started laughing their cocks off. It was so
stupid, it had to be the truth. So it was pissing it down by now. Really
freezing sleet and they just started walking off towards their car, still
laughing, not even goin' to give me a fucking lift home. I thought - "You
fuckers", So I had no choice. I ran up to one of them and knocked his
helmet off. I couldn't just tell 'em I wanted them to arrest me so I could
spend the night in a nice warm cell, no, that would be too easy. You have
to use reverse psychology with these cunts. So after a bit of heave-ho they
finally nick me and I don't die of hypothermia. The court case is next week,
End of very long, you really had to be there, story, sit down Dougie B.
He takes a drink and looking up at Yan and Gruff, is pleased with himself
that they're laughing, not bothered if it's an "at" or "with". He's only
met Gruff three or four times but he's a laugh and makes people feel relaxed
so is easy to talk to. Yan obviously likes him and Doug knows that it will
help him knowing a few people when he does eventually move down to London.
Yan's been living down there for four years and they haven't so much grown
apart as reaffirmed what their friendship was always about. It was never
very deep, mostly girls and beer as Doug wasn't comfortable with anything
else. In the early days it seemed Yan wanted something more, thinking that
because Doug was obviously intelligent, then he must be deep. Well if he
was, he never showed it much when Yan was around. Now Yan had a different
life, different friends, Doug wasn't jealous or resentful, he was pleased
for him, but missed the feeling of protection that Yan gave off.
The loyalty also. It seemed the longer he stayed in xxxxx the dodgier his
friends became. It had crossed his mind to move to Manchester, but it was
too near. He needed out for good, somewhere further where he wouldn't see
anyone he knew.
'G.! You still seeing Samanfa?'
At this, both Gruff and Yan burst into laughter. Doug had met Sam only once
on a jaunt to the capital. She'd taken a Tab on a pub crawl around Soho and
ended up puking over the manager of the 'O' Bar.
'Cocktail Cath? No, he fucked her off way back.'
Doug waited for the the angle, but they both carried on laughing.
'Well, what's the Ku?'
Impressed at Doug's ever evolving London slang, Gruff leant forward
conspiratorially. His voice lowered and Doug had to cock his ear nearer.
'She turned out to be weirder than I originally thought. I don't mind a bit
of weirdness, don't get me wrong. In fact I like a little weirdness, it
gives the relationship a bit of an edge, y'know. But she, took the biscuit
tin, big style.'
He stroked his beard downwards, Mussel man style, and looked towards the
window as if recalling nostalgically. He didn't really want to talk about
it, but all the same, the words splurged out carelessly, as if meaning
nothing.
'She was too Catholic for my blood. Too holy. Too insecure. Too
everything! When we started seeing each other, she said she'd sorted out
all her problems with sex. I thought, "Huh! What problems?". Then
remembered her family were Bible-bashers. Well she thought she'd sorted the
problems out.
Now I'm no sex beast. My libido comes and goes, but by that I mean my
craving for sex, not my need for a wank. You see some people get the two
mixed up. For me, a wank is completely different from a shag. It's just a
bodily function. Often I'm down town shopping, and you know what it's like,
you see loads of tasty women, right? Well if I feel the urge, I pop into a
pub toilet and have a quick tug. No biggy.
But Sam would take it as an affront to her sexuality if I had a wank without
her next to me. Like every time I got a bit horny, I should give her a
ring, traipse all the way over to Kilburn and give her one. Not that she'd
ever have that, cause it always had to be "special" with her. I mean, she
thought blow-jobs were disgusting! That, in itself is reason enough for
most guys to give a girl the elbow, but I'm a sensitive bloke, y'know?
Anyway, things got out of hand......... Ha! D'ya get it - 'out of hand!'
Yeah well anyway, she took to checking me if I spent too much time in the
toilet or something. It was my own fault for telling her in the first
place, but it all came to a head when I met her after work about three
months ago. I said Benjy's on Wardour Street, 'cause I hadn't eaten, but
she wanted to meet in the Firkin gaff on Gt. Marlborough. Fair enough, I
thought. I'll park my bike up outside and see if any of the lads were near
the toilets. Anyway she arrives without a word and drags me into the pub
and into the toilets Fair enough again, I thinks, reckoning she's hot and
wants my body. So she unzips my fly and I think she's gonna do the do, but
she has a sniff instead and says "Have you been wanking again?" I nearly
flipped out, I mean, I was fucking fuming. But I didn't lose it, I got on
my bike and rode off into the sunset. Never seen her since.
'Fucked up bitch! She could take shit-loads of every drug going, but a
gobble was a mortal sin!'
'Yeah, well........... I mean, I don't mind, each to their own, an all that
crap. People can think or believe what they want. But when they start
imposing it on me, making out I'm the weird one, that's when I say
Bye-bye's.
Gruff drained the rest of his Snake-bite slightly embarrassed. He knew his
audience didn't see it, wouldn't even understand why. But he felt ashamed.
His story was shallow and full of lies. He'd loved Samantha, and actually
cried when she'd said she couldn't see him anymore. There was some truth to
the oral tale, but he felt he'd cheapened their relationship by using it as
the reason for their split. He promised himself not to ever talk about her
again.




They ended up in some large but grotty club. It wasn't as full as they'd
been told it would be and were blissfully unaware of being out of place.
Too old and too pissed compared to the average punter, but somehow they
slipped past the bouncers. They didn't have the coordination to dance, so
chatted in shouts whilst looking at the girls on the dance floor. Around
twenty to two it happened.
'Why the fuck did you do that?'
'You saw yourself what he did.'
'You told me what he did.'
'What, you calling me a liar now?'
'Alright, alright. Chill-out you two.'
The three of them were marching hastily away from the club. Gruff trying to
calm the other two, who were arguing and near blows as they walked through
the shopping centre towards the taxi rank. None of them were drunk any
longer. Sobered by the action of the previous five minutes.
'So he chucked a coin into the crowd. That give you the right to lamp him?'
'He did it on purpose, just to hurt someone.'
'Yeah, but does that give you the.........'
'Did you see that girls face? Did you? She was a mess, poor bitch. She's
on the dance floor having a nice night out and that twat comes along and
makes a mess of her face. For no good reason, just chucks a fucking nugget
at her.'
'I know Yan. But you didn't have to kick seven shades of shit out of him.'
'I didn't ! I only smacked him twice.'
'After butting him first.'
'The cunt deserved it. He's lucky I was in a good mood.'
'Oh, big-fucking-man! We could have just gone up to the bouncers and told
them.'
'Them cunts!'
'That is what they're there for Yan.'
'You keep out of it G.'
'No mate. I'm sorry but Doug does have a point. You acted like a prick
then.'
'Too right!'
'Oh fuck off, both of you. I saw someone act like a twat and did something
about it. You two are supposed to back me up.'
'Grow-up Yan. You see someone acting like a twat, so you act like a twat,
and we did back you up. But you didn't teach him a lesson if that's what
you think. Anyone who throws a coin into a crowd of girls is bound to be
pissed as a cunt or thick as pig shit. He probably doesn't even connect him
throwing the quid with you giving him a slap around. It'll just fuel his
anger, confirming to him that the world's violent and
meaningless.............. You gonna use your fists for the rest of your
life. Smacking people if they do something you don't like.'
'Will both of you give it a rest!............. Northern-fucking-hospitality,
Jesus!'
'No, G. This is my town, for the time being. Where I live an go out
drinking. What if I'm out one night and bump into that guy with a bunch of
his mates. They'll beat the crap out of me.'
'He won't recognize you! He was too pissed.'
'One of his mates might have seen us leaving, or his girlfriend or one of
the bouncers. It's not like London here, everyone knows each other.'
They walked in silence for several minutes as the wind suddenly picked up,
blowing through their sweat-damp clothes, chilling their bones.
'He probably bust her chin. All that blood.'
'She'll have a scar that's for sure.'
Doug had to almost shout above the violent gusts, his response to Yan a form
of cease-fire. As they walked, they constantly looked around them. They'd
got out of the club straight away, before the bouncers came over and made
them, and luckily enough, Nugget-boys' mates were on the dance floor at the
time. Still they could be looking for them now, wanting trouble. If not
them, then the Pigs, Yan thought. They might think they threw the
quid coin as well. All three were thinking along the same lines so were
relieved when a taxi actually stopped and picked them up. Danger over, they
started to thaw and relax, talking in code in earshot of the driver. Doug
grinned.
'Well, what a night! Doug, got any chocolate back at the ranch?'


                   ----------------


                     18

I don't care what anyone says, people that spend most of their lives in pubs
are invariably full of shit. I should know, I'm one of them. It's weird, I
don't know what it is that makes them feel the need to constantly bullshit,
but they do all the same. Maybe, because they are in pubs so often they
feel themselves to be failures and so make stuff up. Maybe they are lonely,
without anyone to stay in with and do whatever it is that couples do. Or
lonely in a relationship and escaping constantly from it or them. Maybe
they have to be surrounded by strangers all the time and are addicted to the
company, but unlike 'Cheers', nobody remembers most of these peoples names.
Most pubs in Britain, aren't cozy welcoming places where everyone gets on
famously with one another and humorously banters the night away. They are
miserable shit holes where the clientele all know each others faces and on a
good day might grudgingly mumble a greeting, but never anything more, and
the only conversations taking place are on the television in the corner.
They are places of bitterness and resentment, where the amount of bitchy,
two-faced comments are only equaled by the number of squabbles, fist-fights
and fall outs for petty or meaningless reasons. They are black holes.
I don't mean the two or three times a week people, but the every single day
or night, come rain or shine brigade. The folk, usually male but gradually
becoming less so, who sit in the same seat, 'their spot', night after night,
nursing the same drink, pacing themselves, supping slowly, 'cause they can't
afford to drink all they'd like to because alcohol is so expensive in this
country. The ones who drink what's on offer that week, because even if
they're working, they haven't got all the cash they feel they need. So
they're resentful and bitter and feel a need to make themselves out to be
something they are not, which leads us nicely back to where we started all
this.
So here I am. In a pub, again. The 'Coopers' in Euston Station to be
exact. I used to come here loads when I was unemployed and didn't have much
money but plenty of time.
Sometimes, even when I was labouring and finished early, I'd come down here
and people-watch. I think I'll renew the custom, it's quite enjoyable. The
bar overlooks the main concourse so you can have a pint and get a good view
of the crowd below. All the draught beer here is diabolical, but that's no
biggy, I usually just have the bottled variety. They can't mess that up.
Don't get the wrong idea, I'm still unemployed, but not officially. More -
'unemployable'. You see I don't bother signing-on anymore, it's too much
like hard work. Some of them down there at the Dole office are nice, but
the majority treat you like scum. An' I don't like being treated like scum,
it goes against the grain. They hear my Lancashire accent and immediately
assume I'm thick, down in London dossing. Well that's their problem not
mine. And all the form filling and queuing and Restart schemes, it's like
they do it on purpose so you never have time to find a job. And for fifty
quid a week? Bollocks to that! So I'm between careers at the moment.
What did people do before mobile phones? How did they exist? I mean, one
day there's no such device, except for those clunky contraptions that
annoying, occasional businessmen used to shout into on trains, then the next
day, every-fucking-where! What suddenly made them a necessity? Not
marketing alone surely? It was pervasive yeah, but not overpowering. Just
a sudden social 'need'. I've made my tone distinctive, 'Morning' by Grieg.
It hasn't made any difference, I still hear it when it's not ringing.
But how did people act when walking or waiting, without this thing pressed
to their ear all the time? And why do so many people feel the need to shout
out their business to the world? I don't want to hear it, do you? I have
no voyeuristic desire to hear all the details of their private lives. I
mean, I've got a mobile, I know you don't have to talk that loud. Maybe
it's just an exhibitionistic thing, like they're showing off or something.
"I've got a mobile, me!" or "I've got friends!". It's sad whatever.



That looks like ............................. No, he was taller.
This bar has always been a shit hole. Way before it became a 'Coopers'
even. It's like they don't give a fuck what it looks like. Their excuse is
probably that it's always so busy. Too busy to wipe the tables or hoover
the floor once in a while. I know they do really, but it's just one of
those places that always looks scruffy. You can't polish a turd.
I think I'll take a chance on the draught Caffreys. Life on the edge, eh
....... I don't know!
What's he looking at? Dirty old poofta! Why do all old gay men think they
have the right to eye me up all the time? I don't look gay do I? It can't
be just me, can it? All guys must get it. Well I hope they do anyway. I
mean old women don't eye me up, so why do old queens think they have the
right to? It must just be a guy thing, you know, constantly thinking about
sex and all that. Will you stop staring at me! Even if I was gay, what
makes you think I'd want to shag you, you fruity, old queer! Yeah, go on,
find some friendly toilets to hang out in.
Like I said, I'm between careers at the moment, but I'm not in any rush to
go out and acquire one just now, and not for the foreseeable future either.
Well not in catering anyway. However booming the restaurant trade is, I
still never see adverts in the wanted section for people with a nine year
old, City and Guilds Diploma in Catering, with fuck all experience besides.
When the world financial climate was 'chilly', as they say, I didn't stand a
cats chance of getting a job, and by that, I mean a good one. But things
are supposed to be great now, after the deep, dark 80's and 90's. For me,
they were shit for about fifteen years, only started to get better over the
last few. Which just so happens to coincide with when I moved down here.
One of the best things I ever did that. Anyway, Tony's in now, and the
economy is shaking and grooving. Now the climate's warmer, I don't really
give a fuck about getting a good job, there's too much money to be earned.
Everyone's flush and looking for High-times, and that's where I come in.



One day I realised it's all about location. No-one's ever going to get on
in life shifting tiny quantities of escape pods to losers. There I was,
dealing bits and bats to goons in shitty, little pubs around some of the
scabbiest areas of our Capital, when there were greater prizes to be had in
the Square Mile. It came to me sudden one night when meeting a mate in the
City. I thought, here are all these City lads earning a fortune every
bloody week and crying out for something to spend it on. Step forward
Dougie-boy. Charlie?............... Yes of course. Biscuits?...........
Yes indeedy. Goodbye Billy old mate. Fare you well Rocky and Leb, no-one
wants stinky old Speed or Hash these days, they're so 70's. I even shift a
bit of Crack these days, actually that's getting more and more popular with
the Traders. If you can get your hands on the right merchandise it's a
sellers market. And these boys aren't after tenner or fifteen quid deals,
we are talking hundreds. I'd say 'more money than sense' but that would be
unfair. Yeah, most of them are tossers, but that doesn't mean they haven't
got sense. You've got to have some nous to make that much money haven't
you? And I say 'tossers', but they're alright once you get used to them and
some have even become mates. Well, drug-mates, so I don't suppose they
really count. And I don't hate them, not like Yan, that mate I was telling
you about. He thinks they're all scum, the Barrow-boys and the public
school twits. I don't know why he hates them so much, it's gotta be more
than just jealousy.
That night I said about, I met him in this sports bar near Bank, and I
really thought he was going to kick off. England were playing some
qualifier or something, and neither of us are into footie that much, but
he'd heard of this place with a big screen near where he was doing his last
drop of the day, and we thought we'd have a couple and it'd be a laugh. So
I got there early, as per, and settled near the window with a good view of
the screen just before the place started filling. Anyway, Yan arrives on
his Honda 2000cc, or whatever the fuck it is he rides, and parks up right
outside. He was always one for dramatic entrances. Well it was a pretty
hot day so there were still loads of people having a drink out the front of
the place, and with all the noise of this big, monster of a bike, he got a
few evils. Now


Yan's always up for a fight and getting all these dirty looks sent him on a
paranoid one. I know what he's like, so I had to talk him round before we
got our arses whipped, birds of a feather and all that. So we're there for
a couple of hours in all, and he's still giving it the moody, but all I can
think about is the amount of money being spent. I mean. this was a Tuesday
night and I'm looking around me and it was busier than most Northern pubs on
Christmas Eve. I'm talking heaving. Not just that, the amount of champagne
being drank was unreal. This wasn't anybodys birthday or anything, this was
a Tuesday-fucking-night!
So anyway, England qualified only to get beat in the next round, but I
really didn't give a fuck, my head was buzzing. I'd decided that that was
where I'd be doing most of my supping from then on.
But it's early now . Not worth getting there for a few hours yet. If
nobody rings, I might find a beer garden and grab a pub lunch somewhere.
Talk of the Devil.............................
Yeah?........... Ola, Julian. Where are you?


                  --------------


                           19

'I was in the library at college the other day and I was reading somethin'
right, completely useless to my course, as usual. Anyway, I was reminded of
somethin' that reminded me of somethin', and before I knew it, right, I was
folding this bit of paper I was supposed to be writing notes on, and I was
folding it over and over. 'Cause I remembered somebody telling me one time
that you can't fold any piece of paper more than seven times however big or
small it is.
Well, first I thought- bullshit, like everyone else, right? And forgot all
about it. Until the library that is. So there I was, folding away......
and ........ I couldn't do it. I could only fold it five.... six times max.
And then I remembered those.... Oh what're they called them things.........
Paper Butterfly-things, we used to make 'em at school. You fold a piece of
paper until it's like a pyramid made up of four smaller pyramids. An' you
put your forefinger and thumb from each hand into the four smaller pyramids
so you can open and close them either way like a birds beak.'
'Nicola, babe. I don't know what the fuck you're on about.'
'Well listen! It doesn't matter anyway. I'm talking, you're listening.
That's the important thing. Anyway, we used to write numbers down on the
outside and ask someone to pick one. Then you'd open it and close it that
amount of times and there'd be the name of a colour written inside. Then
you'd unfold it, or somethin', but it would turn inside out and you'd carry
on.'
'How long are you gonna carry on with this? I'm gonna stop listening soon.
An' I can't remember nowt like that at our school.'
'Well maybe they didn't do it at your school, or maybe you weren't popular
enough. It was always a girl thing and you'd do it to the boys you fancied.
Right at the end there'd be a girls name written inside and whichever name
they picked, you'd say that that was the name of the girl they were goinna
marry, and the names would always be those of the girls in the class.'




'Ahh....... Well there you go. No girls ever fancied me at school, did
they?'
'Ha! Now I know that's a load of bull. Anyway, shut-up Yan, I'm telling a
story.
So there I was in the library trying to make one of these things. And for
the life of me, I couldn't do it. It was weird. I couldn't even remember
how to fold the paper, never mind do the number and name bit.
I just couldn't remember. I mean, it was so easy when I was little, I must
have made hundreds. But now I'm grown-up an' all that, I just couldn't do
it!'

           --------------------


                        20

He lost it big time. Seeing him on the way home. Recognizing his face from
the snooker hall. He should have done him that night, hit him with a
fucking cue or something. But no- 'Cool down', Doug said, ' he's not
worth it.'
If Doug hadn't been there, Yan might have fronted the two of them out,
sorted it on the spot. To think of it, Yan wouldn't have been there without
Doug. It was where Doug hung out, but if Yan had, and Doug hadn't, then it
all would have been different, wouldn't it?
Coming out of Old Street Tube, Walking up the gradual slope to the street,
Yan saw his pants first and thought- 'Naww. It can't be!' The same dodgy
red combat trousers he was wearing the night in the snooker place. He'd
thought at the time- 'Fuck me! They're awful keks.' And as he walked up,
coming parallel with the pavement, he caught his profile- 'Well bugger me!
What a nice surprise.'
His day had started with an argument and progressively got worse. Nic was
due, so gave him hassle for not tidying up- 'Just occasionally, y'know. As
you do sleep here most of the time.'
Then this Ad. twat on Golden Square had given him shit for a late delivery.
Yan had said- 'Look. I only got the call twenty-five minutes ago, I picked
up ten minutes ago, so what's your problem?' This guy knew it wasn't his
fault, but stressed-out, needed to blame someone. If Yan had hit him, he
not only would have been sacked, but would have been struck off as well and
not got work again with any other courier company. No work, no money, no
nothing, so he forced a smile and got on his bike. Even knowing the little
cunt would have a breakdown before the year was out didn't stop Yan from
fuming. Swerving in and out of the traffic he saw himself saying something
witty, showing the guy up in front of the receptionist, or taking him to one
side and slyly kneeing him in the balls.
The adrenalin seized his nerves as the violent images washed through his
mind. This rush was different from the speed kick. There was no control
here as its origins lay in frustration. This was dangerous whilst riding,
especially through heavy traffic.




No matter how hard he tried the impotent anger seethed and grew. He did
try, but that part of him that enjoyed the sensation, that justified itself
with a pretence of righteousness, would not let go. So it only grew,
festering until an excuse manifested. Any excuse.
He only punched him twice, but that was enough. Catching up with him, Yan
followed in step, marching in time until combat-man noticed and made to
turn. He looked like he was pulling something out of his pocket, a knife or
a cosh. This didn't surprise Yan as the guy had a rep, so he planted one
before he could turn properly.
Until then Yan wasn't sure what he would do. He might have just spooked him
and taught him a lesson. Then again combat-man might have been up for it
and they could have had a proper ruck. Yan didn't know, or care for that
matter, but when he went for the knife he made Yans mind up for him.
He had been clenching his fist just in case. Like in the Kung-Fu movies,
focusing all his chi into his right hand so it was like granite. ("Standing
Snake" Yim Kar-Wai, 1988.) Well that was the idea. Some half pissed
hard-man had told him this one time in a bar near Bradford. In those days
he used to look up to and respect hard-men, so took on board everything he
said. He also told him that toilets were the most dangerous place in a pub
so use them to your own advantage. If threatened, avoid like the clap or
position yourself so you can always see who's coming in. Or use them to
lure people in, for even if more than one guy follows, you can pick them off
one at a time 'cause they can only come in one at a time. Sounds obvious
but.......... This hard-guy had talked some shite as well. Like the old
chestnut of aiming your punch six inches further than the object. He'd
heard quite a few people say that over the years. 'Hard-men' all. Well Yan
knew it to be bollocks 'cause you have to place a punch, be exact with it,
because your fist has to build up speed and if you connect with the target
before the momentum has reached its maximum, then your not giving your whole
punch.




Since the chit-chat with the hard-man, he'd found out lots of stuff the hard
way. That a big part of scrapping was understanding people and
understanding yourself. Sounds like hippy bull, but it worked for him.
That Front is 90%. That when you get a man down, make sure he stays down
because if he gets up, he's not going to want to shake your hand. To try to
not let your anger take over because then it is in control and all you've
got is added strength, which won't stop a piece of two-by-four over the back
of the head. Adrenalin can make you stronger and quicker, heightening the
senses, but by itself it's a blunt sword. That's another one he'd got from
a Kung-Fu movie. ( "Debt of Honour", Joey Yee, 1995. )
That if there is more than one person, and you positively know it's going to
kick-off, strike first and make it nasty. A punch to the throat, anything,
because once you're on the floor and out of it, they're going to be goading
each other, having a laugh and showing off. Beating seven shades of shit
out of you and you could die, easily! The End. So don't fuck around
because in these situations no rules is the rule. There is no gentlemanly
conduct, just do or die because this is serious. And you've got to make
that clear to them with your Front. That if they insist on starting, then
some of them are going to end up fucked-up or dead. That if you go down at
all, then one or two or three of them are coming down with you.
The second blow was as he was falling. A downward sledgehammer aimed at his
chin, but the guy twisted and Yan smashed his fist into the back of his
head. Now on the floor a couple of kicks in the guts were called for and he
stood back panting. No-one was around. They were on a little back street
heading to a housing estate near the fire station. Down and out, Yan took
one last look at him and quickly walked away. Half a second passed, thirty
in Yans head, but he couldn't shake the feeling- 'He wasn't moving. I mean,
at all. Not even a twitch.' Taking another two steps he turned on his heel
and jogged back to the still motionless body.




Looking round again, he pushs Combat's hip with his foot, trying to turn him
face upwards. He was out for sure so Yan squats and feels his neck. He'd
seen this on T.V. and it takes him a while before he realises that he
doesn't know what he is supposed to be looking for. Finding his wrist, he
finds no pulse, and if there is one, he can't find it. Desperate now, he
rips the top of Combats shirt and feels for a heartbeat. Nothing there.-
'Shit, shit, shit! '
Some time passes, could be seconds or minutes, Yan has no idea. He finds
himself standing over Combat, frozen in place. Just as his brain starts
bubbling into action with half formed Whats and Hows, a sound slices through
his mind making him start. Not very loud, just jolting him, surprising.
Like a sample of an annoying House tune repeating.
Combats mobile was ringing. With the back of his hand, Yan flicks open the
guys jacket and sees it flashing where the knife was meant to be. He wasn't
tooled up at all, he was going for a fucking phone. Shit! Shit!! The
realisation seeped, followed slowly by the question-' Shall I answer it?'
The stupidity of the question took even longer to breach the focal point of
Yans fuddled mind, clouded with the years of a childish yearning to answer
every ringing phone, to open every unopened letter he ever saw or delivered.
He can't trace the source of the need, but he wonders if it's in everybody
or just in him and that he's retarded or simple. Still the phone rings.
-'What the fuck am I doing? Get the fuck out, dim-wit.'
He runs through the estate and on for another twenty minutes. After an
initial burst of speed, he slows to make it look more like a midnight jog.
He turns his head away from each person he passes and his brain starts to
race.
  I was probably on the C.C.T.V. coming out of the underground but I had my
baseball cap on which might have covered my face a bit but there were
cameras all over the place in London these days but I can't remember any
down that side street no I can't and nobody had seen my face anyway and
nobody could connect me with Combat anyway and Christ I didn't even know the
guys name or anything about him except that he hung out at the snooker hall
shit who saw the face-off the other night no-one but Doug me and his mate.
Shit his mate. Shit! Two punches.




Fuck if any cameras did see what happened it would look like I followed him
for a bit, then just attacked and killed him.
Slowly Yan realised- 'But that is what happened.'
' Two punches! Oh shit.'

                         -------------------



                          WORKSURFACES


                                     21



 From sensory echoes to mental constructs, his thoughts becoming more
language driven. More of an internal dialogue. Speaking in turns to
another self or to his memory of Nic. Freed by her death to be honest.
Someone had wallpapered the ceiling with chipboard paper and painted it
bright pink. Then some time later, the same odd-job bodger or perhaps a new
tenant in a fit of unplanned, ill-conceived DIY-ing, had painted over it
with a coat of 'brilliant-white' gloss. They must have been desperate to
escape the pink. It was a bad job. Like Yans landlord, who'd ordered the
decorating to be carried out, it was cheap and hasty. Pink streaks showed
and with the shine of the gloss it gave the room a hamster cage quality.
Grubby yet bright and unreal. The paint had contracted when drying,
hardening and pulling the paper underneath away from the ceiling. A home
for spiders and adventurous woodlice.
Yan has been staring at it for two hours now. He feels trapped in his own
body. Like a chrysalid squirming to find a weak membrane in the hardened
shell. An obtect captive unable to focus, all disparate thoughts guided by
the overwhelming sensation.

She cleaned me up and made me shine.
She made me clean, clean. Made me be honest with myself. With a word, then
later, just a look.
She was my Brillo pad. Scraping away the dirt. The black and the grease.
And she scrubbed herself raw, 'cause she was never clean enough. Could
never scrape away her own dirt. The filth that stained the moods and
clogged her health. Trapped in the permanent shit of her past.

There's a rat scratching at the base of his belly. Can't recall how it got
in there, but it sure wants to get out. It's gnawing on his liver and
kidneys, scrambling for an exit. Spinning around in desperate circles.




One minute it's burrowing downward, clawing an escape and chewing on
intestinal twine. The next it's upward, through the oesophagus and lung
ward, frantically scratching. It's claws crushing, ripping and puncturing,
forcing Yan to gasp for breath.
Through the lungs it senses a route and scurries up. With a lurch, Yan
spins and falls off the bed. Now on his hands and knees he urges the beast
from his chest. His breath failing, rat clogging the passage.
Get-the-fuck-out ! !
It's in his throat, Yan cranes his neck, jutting forward to eject the
intruder. As it scrambles further upwards crushing the epiglotis, it clings
to the root of his tongue, furiously pulling to edge through to the mouth.
Yan retches, gagging on empty. Gasping, he feels his jaws dislocate as the
animal strains it's head free, poking past Yans teeth. Working together, he
spews/it leaps, suddenly spurting out to scuttle across the room. His
jaws snap back, interlocking once again as the vomit slurries across the
threadbare carpet.
Exhausted he falls to the floor panting. Body twisted, with the side of his
face to the carpet, he stares out over the sick as it glistens in the light
from the window.
All memory of claws and biting animals gone with the relief of returning
air. All energy spent, he can finally rest, close his eyes and sleep.


               -----------------------


                          22

He can't handle them. Escaping again from emotions. He thinks he can deal
with them ........uhm, yeah! He deals with them by walking or running away.
By himself, he feels everything will be resolved. 'He' is the only one he
trusts, truly.
A rear garden of a quiet pub. Garden being a very loose term to describe
the dirty biege, cement floor and walls. The rotting, shaky wooden
bench/table combo creaks each time he takes a mouthful of lager or a drag of
his fag. The surrounding, broken glass-topped walls block the wind, and the
sun, left to itself, warms Yan's back through his pin-striped shirt.
The heat and the third pint glow make him feel more optimistic. He isn't
running away. Why should he have to put up with all her shite? It could be
so good. Why did people make life so hard for themselves? She just lets
things get to her, see's things darkly all the time.
The landlord shuffles out and collects Yans two empty glasses.
'Could I have another, mate?'
He takes the last mouthful and holds up his glass as if to say -I've
finished this one.
'If you want another, you get it from the bar like everyone
else..........(Shuffling away)........I'm too busy.'
Too busy! Yan laughs to himself. The only fuckers in the bar are me and
that old fart in the corner.
He shakes his head and wearily stands. The beer is doing the business and
his pocket is has enough for plenty more. Walking into the dark bar from
the sunlight, he pauses to let his eyes adjust to the change. He suddenly
feels tired and luminous spots float before his eyes, bobbing around the
pool table. He focuses and see's the 'old fart' eyeing him suspiciously.
Waiting at the bar for five minutes he's on the verge of pouring his own
pint when the landlord pops up from a hole near the bottle cooler.
'Same again?'
Nod . Yes you fat, cockney cunt!
Yan turns, sick of the sight of him, and looks out of the window with a
playful scowl. A good-looking woman walks past the pub pushing a pram. As
always, he wants to run out and say
something daft and suggestive to her. Instead he admires her arse then
thinks about Nic.
She must be the same age as Nik and she doesn't show it so bad. Ahh, single
mums are great fucks. They know what they like and aren't afraid of getting
it. It's like......... they've got a kid, so they're protected. They can
shag around and no-one can call 'em. Well, all the ones I've shagged were
like that anyway.
The thing about Nik is, she shows her age too obviously. Tight jeans; dodgy,
big, white trainers, shit like that. It bugs the fuck out of me but I don't
like to say anything. I don't want to be one of those blokes that tells his
girlfriend what to wear. She likes Lenny Kravitz as well, which really gets
on my tits, and I had to say something there, 'Play it when I'm not in the
flat, okay'. It's bad enough having the C.D.'s laying around, someone might
see them and think they're mine. The thing is, I don't stop her from
listening to them even though I hate them, which shows how open minded I am.
He pays for his pint and sits back in the beer garden.
She can do what she wants which is good for me as well 'cause then she
doesn't have much of an argument when I do what I want. Well that's the
idea, the reality doesn't always work out that way. Her moods are a real
pisser. They're not always black, they jump all over the fucking place and
that's what fucks me off. They get me down 'cause I never know where the
fuck I stand with her from one minute to the next, and I'm always on
tenterhooks that I'll say something wrong and trigger a moody. It's doing
my head in. I know that deep down I just want an easy life. No hassle.
I'm not Doug, I don't thrive on stress. I've pretended that long enough.
Fair enough, I like a tussle now and then, but I'm even getting too old for
that. I just want a bit of peace and quiet.
He drains the last of his pint and lights a fag, wondering who he's been
talking to for the last ten minutes. Even at his most honest, Yan doesn't
like to admit that he simply can't handle Nicola, that the longer he stays,
the worse the gnawing realisation that he is kidding himself. He loves her
but knows he's just too safe for her.
He rises unsteadily, leaving the dingy hole and heading on foot towards the
City, wishing all the while-
 A few beers, dinner on the table when I get home and a nice, steady
girlfriend.
  He thinks of Nicola and laughs.

                    ------------


                         23

She places the dry cups from the rack to the cupboard and turning, gazes out
of the window for a moment. Her mind wants to rest but her unsure body
won't allow, being anxious or tired. The kitchen is spotless, the cleaner
made sure of that, but she wipes the work surfaces anyway, confident that
she keeps a good house and home. Reaffirming with every wipe.
She thinks:
'Told him not to hang around with that Blake. Vincent is a good boy, always
has been. Always got good marks at school. He's going to University after
he retakes his A'Levels. A year ago he would have breezed through them.
But now............?
Coming home at all hours looking like death warmed up. I warned him, I
knew. I told him he'd fail his exams if he carried on like he was. I mean,
it's not as if I know what he's doing half the time.

Rearranging the long Iris stalks, she stands back and decides the vase needs
changing. A brand new one, something taller, more modern. She would add it
to her list of chores for the day. She could go to John Lewis's then have
lunch in Selfridges before deciding on her mothers birthday present.
She thinks:
 When Edward and I were divorced my son chose to stay with me, which was
comforting. It sent a message out to everyone that I was doing something
right. I didn't fail in that department, at least. But looking after a
growing boy is difficult. I hate to admit it, but in some respects he does
need a grown mans guidance. If only Edward were that! Maybe one day it
will happen, but I seriously doubt it. It's just that some things a growing
boy needs to talk about with his father, or an adult male if all else fails.
If Edward wasn't so busy being a teenager himself, running around with that
bint, then he might realise there's more to life than being 'free'. We both
have a responsibility to our child but I'm the only one who seems to take it
seriously. It's not just about spending money and buying expensive birthday
presents. It's about love and attention. And being there for them when
they need you, and I'm always
there for Vincent. But how am I supposed to know when or if he needs me
when he's hardly ever here, or all there for that matter! And when he does
talk to me he just mumbles words that don't mean anything to me!
It's the lesser of two evils, I suppose. Knowing he smokes 'weed' doesn't
placate me fully, but at least I know something. What it all boils down to,
I think, is that for some reason he doesn't want to talk to me. When he got
set upon by those three thugs it changed him. I sense these things. He
went even more inner. He'd never even seen them before and they just
started punching and kicking him in the middle of the street. My poor boy!
Why people want to do that to another human is beyond me. He didn't do any
harm to them. It's just mindless! Mindless thugs picking on a young lad on
his way home from his mates house. His face was a mess. It nearly makes me
cry to think of it.
He was sleeping over at his friends house that night so I didn't even know
what had happened until the next day when he came home. When I think of him
like that, in the hospital that night all by him self, not even telling the
police who he was or where he lived. It's almost like he was he ashamed of
who he was, or something?


Mother pulls the car keys off the hook in the hall, locks the front door and
heads for the Volvo. The mind twitches from Vincent to her own mother to
the traffic, from the birthday present to Vincent to the smell of the
upholstery. Here she finds a calm place, and stays there for the rest of
the day


               --------------------------


                         24

 Yan watched in silence. He remembered the last time they had met for a
drink and a game of pool. It was always difficult seeing Doug one on one
because as soon as he went anywhere in public, people would miraculously
appear. Mates and hangers-on who knew he would always buy them a pint or
get them stoned. Yan hated this. He just wanted to be alone with his
friend, not have to compete or share him with every pub-leach and thug that
happened to be strapped in the xxxxx vicinity. He could only come up and
see him every once in a while so he wanted space for them.
 Doug didn't seem to mind or even notice for that matter. He could be
describing to Yan some fish sauce he'd dreamt up at three o'clock that
morning after a hot-knife session with Cassius; be playing a game of pool
for a tenner with some straight dick, and winning, sorting some contraband
trainers off a shit they lovingly referred to as "Tyke" and skinning up, all
at the same time with an effortless grace that occasionally made Yan
envious.
 They had finally got a chance for solo chat that afternoon. Realising that
in every pub they would find some wanker trying to force his life down their
throat, they fled to the woods on the outskirts of town.
  When walking along an embankment, Yan stepped in what looked like a
shallow puddle, but it came up over his trainers, past his now muddy ankle.
He moaned under his breath. Doug picked up on this and moaned back in a
shaky falsetto.
  'Ohh look at me boots! Our Ken'll murder me!'
 They laughed, then both became silent, recalling the sad event with the
crap punch line that still made them smile.
 It had been a Saturday afternoon, the week before they broke up from their
respective schools for the last time. The exams were never to be taken by
the only one of them that could have passed them all.




 Walking towards the junction where the second hand record shop used to be,
they heard a car skidding then a thud. Both looked up just in time to see
what looked like a Guy Fawkes doll hovering fifteen feet up in the air. As
soon as their eyes adjusted they realised the doll was moving, twisting
round and round then it fell to the ground with a liquid crunch. Doug was
the first one there. He had been running while the form was still airborne.
 She must have been over eighty, her body battered, the groceries ruined.
Milk blended with the blood coming from somewhere under her thin plastic Mac
and more blood had slowly started to seep from the area where her shin bone
had snapped completely, ripping the skin where it now protruded at a 45
degree angle to where it had been just seconds earlier. Yan stood next to
her, staring at the seeping marrow. He tried to hold her hand, to tell her
it was alright, but she fought free, dragging herself along the road. It
seemed funny to Yan at that moment, he giggled then stopped himself,
embarrassed at his actions. Although her limbs were bashed and broken she
appeared to feel no pain. It was just one more inconvenience. First the
butcher didn't have any good lean lamb, the kind Ken liked, so she had to
get liver for tea, then the newsagent was so crowded that she had got the
Advertiser instead of the Post, and forgot the birthday card for Susan that
she had gone in for in the first place. Then this. Tut!
 They heard someone say they would call an ambulance and watched stunned,
unable to move as she crawled towards the pavement leaving a trail of blood
and milk. Mumbling about the mess, she tried to scrape the broken eggs back
into the carton with her twisted right hand. The bread and the liver. She
fretted about Ken's tea. Oh what a mess!

"Oh, our Ken'll murder me."




They approached the area where they used to set up camp. There were fresh
fire marks in the middle of the clearing and someone had snapped off the big
over-hanging branch where the rope swing used to be. The two silent now,
Doug lost in his own thoughts and memories whilst Yan, suddenly depressed,
couldn't shake the memory of the old woman. She reminded Yan of his
grandmother, who when he was only eight years old started going senile. His
dad had packed his stuff and cleared out six months earlier, leaving his
mother and him broke. She started at the warehouse in April and July saw
his Gran unable to cope alone. She had phoned in tears saying that she kept
burning her dinner and couldn't get up the stairs anymore. She was a
tremendously proud woman and Yan's mother knew that to admit to her, of all
people, about burning the dinner, must have been hard for her. It showed
just how desperate she was. Within days of his Gran moving into their
house, even Yan could see a change. It was as if she was letting go, after
years of fighting, years of pushing her husband to get what they deserved
and more. Then, after he'd died, the independence she showed, the
thriftiness, surviving on the measly state pension. It all passed away in
the mist of her increasingly befuddled mind. Now she had somebody to look
after her, all responsibility left her form. Soon she was unable to go to
the toilet by herself.
Not long after that she started to soil herself and even forgot her
daughters name, and the long, hard trudge towards the end began. Coming home
from school one day, Yan had found her sitting upright on the kitchen floor,
legs splayed like an infant, in a pool of her own shit and piss. When he
entered, she looked up and raised a handful of her shit to him and smiled.
And there she was again. On the road in front of him scooping her eggs. The
two women were becoming one.
Behind him Doug was laughing.
'Look! Some poor cunt's left their tent pegs. No-one ever checks their
stuff or airs their tent when they get home like they're meant to. I bet
they only find out next time they go camping. Ha, poor fuckers.'
He throws the bag of pegs at Yan and sits down to skin-up. He considers
throwing them back at him, but Doug's got his weed out now and he might
spill it. Best not. He looks up at the sky then to his right.
'It's gonna piss it down in a bit. If we go down the back way we can have a
pint or six in that shit-hole near the canal.'
'The Kings Head.'
'Aye, The Kings Head, that's it. It's always dead that place. Has it still
got a pool table?'
Doug nods, concentrating on the spliff.
'A pint, a joint, stick and balls. That's the way we spell New York....'
'Right-on.'
'Right-on!'

They laugh and head back civilization.

                 ---------------



                          25

WHISPER
'Nicola.................
 Nicola....................... Wake up.'
'Dad? .....................What time is it?'
'Never mind that. I want to show you something.'
'What? .........Where're we going?'
'We're not going anywhere.....................You remember our secret? You
remember our secret don't you Nicola?'
Nicola groans gently, she remembers. She closes her eyes hoping he'll
disappear, but instead she feels his hand rustling under the bed sheets,
resting on her leg.
'You remember our secret don't you Nicola?'
'Mum...'
'Shh .........................shh...................She can't hear us, she's
had some of her pills, she needs her rest. Now don't you go bothering her.'
His wet hand squeezes her calf firmly, then tighter. Authoritivly. Just
enough to remind her of what he can do if she misbehaves. He slowly relaxes
his grip. More and more gentle now, he rests his palm on her warm leg
whilst his fingers hover above the skin. He feels her shaking and smiles.
This, to him, is a quiver of arousal. She's enjoying this as much as him.
He's shaking now himself. The delicious thrill, his nerves tingling.
'Shh .....................shh...............C'mon Nicola, good girl. Let
Daddy feel how much you've grown.'
His touch spirals, moving from the side to the back of her leg. Then
inevitably, she feels them edge upwards.
'Turn over .....................That's a good girl. Over on your tummy.'
At first she doesn't budge, too afraid for movement. She wants so much for
this to not be happening, it almost isn't. Sometimes it hasn't ever
happened.
Then the fear of not moving prevails and she rolls over, face into the
pillow.




'Good girl, good girl.'
He pushes the blankets to the side and pauses for a moment, staring at the
folds in her nightie. The soft glow from the night-light gives her form an
unreal tone, and he smiles. My beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girl.
So slowly, he traces the flower pattern down her cotton night-gown. It's
particularly wide at the bottom. He chose it himself. Over her hard
behind, he spider fingers down her legs to the hem, which he pulls upwards
to reveal then cover her head in one smooth movement. She is hidden from
him now. Hidden and revealed.
'We won't tell Mummy will we, this is our little game.'
 Eyes wide, he swallows deeply and bends to kiss her bottom, not being able
to resist poking his dry tongue out for a nervous lick. He yanks at the
cord to his pyjama bottoms, and not waiting for them to fall properly,
attempts to raise his leg but his left foot is caught. He curses and shakes
it free, mumbling all the while,
'Come on my little girl, come on, come on.'
Now kneeling on either side of her half naked body, he starts to masturbate,
rubbing his penis on her behind. Before very long, the speed of his hand
picks up, and as the climax builds he presses the tip first onto her anus,
then her vagina entrance, stopping just short of penetration, he's her
father after all. Whenever he does this he feels he's in control, he's so
powerful. He so much wants to force it further, but he holds back. Then
within seconds he's all done, he ejaculates, spraying onto her leg and inner
thigh.
She is still frozen. She knows he's finished, but it's not over yet. Has
to keep perfectly still. He's very sensitive at this stage and if she moves
or makes a sound, he could fly into a rage.
Unstraddling himself, he meticulously wipes with the bottoms of his pyjamas.
Carefully her thighs and legs and bum, and leaves without saying a word.
Too ashamed to "Night-night" this evening. He's already in the process of
locking it away.
Deep down in some mental cellar, or wherever it is he hides his shame, 'til
next time his blood rises and he reaches for the keys.
When Nicola hears the door click shut, she still doesn't move. From way
down within the tears bubble like magma, burning her insides as the pressure
slowly builds. Until it can be held no longer and gushes to the surface,
soaking the pillow still pressed tightly to her face. When the sob does
come it is heavy and deep, more like a desperate grown mans cry. More like
the act of vomiting.


                  --------------




                                   26

A woman lies next to you, unknown to you a few hours earlier. Her naked
outline the street light contour. Her laboured, drunken breath and damp,
all too acquiescent body.
It's warm in the bed and except for the sweat-damp sheets, comfortable. Out
in the street it's blowing cold but somehow inviting. Away from the gauche
morning reminder that you two are strangers. Into the dark and solitary, a
part of you flies while the cowardly body stays awkward and warm.
Afraid of attempting, afraid of achieving. Relying on external forces to
relieve you of your self hatred. Waiting for some other person, some
saviour, to elucidate. To answer your questions. To set everything in it's
right context, it's correct time and place. Afraid of your own awareness,
of your inadequate questions.
A blip on the television screen, a small dot in the static, among the
hundreds of thousands of unconnected tiny flashes. This is your life.
Blip.
Not even an exclamation mark. Just a ............
Blip.
Signifying nothing other than itself. A fifth of a second of
meaninglessness. Here one moment, then gone. To somewhere else? Just
gone?
But now? A Lung fish waiting for the rains. The solidified dirt around
you, has been cut into a mud brick, has been built into a mud wall in a mud
hut. And in a semi-comatose, dry hibernation, you wait for the skies to
open so you can breathe, for the water to come and set you free. You wait
for the rain to come. For days and months and years.

Sick of self.


                -------------------



                                      27

Light, grey-brown hair. Wavy not curly. Long and luxuriant. She knows she
hasn't got the most beautiful face in the world so takes extra care of her
hair. Hot-wax treatment, compensation for her plainness. In and out of
vogue, her one long constant has been tied back, bleached, french-plaited,
permed, chignioned and one time, in her Goth period, even crimped and dyed
with henna.
Her face has a beauty. Not classical or stylized or modern. The beauty is
in its warmth and gravity-like honesty, with an upturned nose that makes you
want to believe all the words that fall, yet make you want to laugh, finding
them incredulous all the same.
Her clothes are favourites, old mates and dependables. That white T-shirt
she bought the day before her half-brothers wedding. A, '
I-can't-find-a-dress-so-I-have-to-buy-something ' purchase, that had gone on
to stick by her through thick and thin, from size 12 to back again.
She had gone up two sizes when she started at the restaurant, despite
promising herself that she wouldn't pick at things. Not being a regular
eater anyway, she had thought having all that food around her all the time
would make her sick of the stuff. Instead she was forced into eating. Mr.
Losa, her fifteen stone boss, made her eat two meals a day saying sometimes
he couldn't see her when she stood sideways on. He made her laugh, was a
nice old guy, but she could see he was sad deep down. His oldest daughter
had left the family home and business after an argument with him over pay.
She'd packed a bag and no-one had heard from her since. That was three
years earlier. Occasionally Nic would find him staring at nothing in
particular. A distant frown on his worn face.
It was more of a cafe than a restaurant, but napkins and real Heinz Ketchup
gave it sophisticated ambitions. With Losa's two sons, Nic kept the place
clean and running smoothly, and every once in a while somebody would even
leave a tip.
The boys were younger than her, lean and very good looking. They knew it
though and their constant preening gave


                                 them an air of
superficiality. Sometimes when she was talking to one of them about stock
or an order, she would catch them looking over her shoulder at the mirror
behind the glass counter. In a moment they could swing from being sweet and
gentle to almost unbearably sexist. One time after an argument with Yan,
she came into work upset and Alfredo, the eldest, threatened to beat up this
lout she insisted on dating. This made her smile. Yeah, right! And this
charade of him as her protector persisted off and on for months, whenever it
suited Alfie that is.
It wasn't until she went shopping for a new dress for the Uni. Do that she
realised how much weight she'd put on. Rushing home and weighing herself in
the bathroom, she had to fight the tears and hold back the looming
depression. Since she'd stopped clubbing she hadn't really been shopping
for herself. What with seeing Yan, starting college and working at the
cafe, she'd got lazy. No, content, not making much of an effort. She had
bought something loose and solemnly swore to herself that she'd lose a size
by spring.
Initially, her wage from working in the cafe was meant to be something on
the side to help with her student grant. But as time went by she found
herself losing interest in the course and enjoying work more. She loved the
idea of nursing and it was meant to be a good course, although she couldn't
understand half of what they said. Also the shit she had to do around the
subject was getting her down. She wanted to just get on with the course,
but ended up having to do electives in 'The History of Medicine' and
'Computer Skills' both of which she hated. It wasn't a proper university
anyway, she thought. Doug called it a polyversity or a unitechnic,
depending on what mood he was in, and they didn't even check on her A'level
grades which were a complete lie anyway. She had started A'level Art then
dropped out when she had the abortion. Four months! But now she was a
mature student all she had to do was fill in the forms and show she was keen
in the interview with the head of the department.
She would walk around the campus on her way to the next dreary lecture and
think- I wasn't like that when I was twenty
was I? Everyone seemed immature, stiff or just plain silly. All trying
desperately to be a 'someone', to have a personality. All trying too hard
with their silly clothes and silly hair and silly bands. At least the
course had got her reading again, although not the books she was meant to be
reading. She liked John Grisham, and Kathy Lette was funny, well funnier
than 'The History of Medicine'.
She would have to start revising soon. Revising what? She thought. She
hadn't been to half the lectures and only two of the seminars. I could
photo-copy somebodies notes. Then again, her mind turned, why bother?
Why bother?
Why bother?
The whole thing bored her senseless and she wouldn't be able to get a job
from the course anyway, even with top marks. Everyone else on the course
was in nursing already or into the administration side of things. They were
doing the course to further their chances of promotion, another feather in
the cap. The qualification in itself was pretty useless, but this only
dawned on her slowly. A few months into the course she started to get a
familiar, sickly feeling. It seemed to be her constant companion at school
and it returned all too frequently nowadays.
Everyone else knows and I don't.
That feeling again. Again she didn't know what they knew and didn't know
how to ask.
It leaves her feeling frustrated, empty and angry, but with no tangible
enemy, nothing to fight. So she's left alone, feeling angry with herself,
again.

Why bother?


                   ------------


                         28

Shouting:
"Open the door, Blake. ........
I know you're in there, I saw the curtain move. ..........
Oh for fucks sake! ........."
He bangs the front door with the side of his clenched right hand. Bad move.
It's still fractured from years back as he never had it sorted. He tries to
shake the pain away which only makes it worse. Less stinging, more of a
throbbing-ache up the whole length of the arm. Yan curses under his breath.
He strides away from the house only to turn back suddenly, shielding the
light from his eyes as he peers through the window again.
"C'mon Blake, I just want to talk. I'm not gonna cause any trouble.
...................
Look, I'm sorry alright! I acted like a real prick. ..........
Is that what you want?"
He takes two quick steps back to look at the upstairs window.
"BLAKE!! .................................BLAKE!!!!"
Two doors down, Blake's neighbour opens his door and, arms folded, stands on
the step.
"Will you be quiet."
"Will you fuck-off, ya nosy cunt!!"
Neighbour scuttles. Yan opens the letter box to look in, and seeing
nothing, puts his mouth down to it and shouts again.
"I'm here to say sorry. I just want to talk. ......... Blake.............
Please!"
He stares at the ground as if looking for something, then on the verge of
walking, he hears a sound from inside and the door is unlocked but not
opened. Wary of attack, Yan reaches for the handle and opens it slowly.
The last time he was here he beat the shit out of Blake and wrecked the
place in the process.
Cautiously, he peers around the frame of the entrance-way and see's Blake
standing in the middle of the room, baseball bat in hand. His face is still
badly bruised and his lower lip is split and swollen. He glares at Yan, and
trying to be cool says,




"What the fuck do ya want?"
Yan looks around the room trying to find the right words. The place has a
look of a badly bandaged invalid. Everything stuck back together, hastily
fixed. The shoddily repaired table leg, the sellotaped ripped poster, the
cheap, new rug covering the spilt coffee and patches of blood.
"I just wanted to say sorry."
"Right, well you've said it, now fuck-off."
Blake nervously repositions his grip on the handle and raises his chin
slightly. His bearing says- I'm not afraid of you, but his eyes scream
fear. In the brief silence that follows, his mind slips into imagining.
Within the tension, only two seconds at most, yet still he's able to picture
his arms swinging around and down with the hollow 'tock' of the baseball bat
connecting with Yan's head. He sees him fall to the ground unconscious,
maybe dead.
Then he's back out into reality, disturbed by the sick power of his reverie,
but buoyed also by the image of the sudden, violent fantasy. He could do
it, he will do it, if Yan steps out of line.
"You hear about Nic?"
"Yeah, I heard, and I heard you were seeing her and it's a shame an' all
that, ............... but I only met the girl once. You understand? Until
you barged in here and started beating the shit out of us, I didn't know who
the fuck she was!"
"I know now, I know...."
"Yeah? Well getting leathered is bad enough. But getting leathered by
someone you know and not even knowing the reason for it is ten times worse.
Vince doesn't even like leaving his flat these days, never mind coming round
here. It's done his head in....... and it's been doing my head in as well.
Not knowing why is almost as bad as the kicking."
"I'm sorry. My 'ed was all over the place."
"You're sorry! My face was all over the place. Fuckin' 'ell, Yan! Why me?
What the fuck did I have to do with anything, eh?"
The baseball bat has gradually lowered. It's no longer a
potential weapon, but he still grips it tightly in his left hand, just in
case.
"I thought..................."
"You thought what? Go on Yan the suspense is killing me."
"I thought ........................... Look I don't know what the fuck I was
thinking! I woke up and she was dead.......... she was, right there next to
me and I found a syringe in her drawer and you were the only person I knew,
who she knew, that sorted smack, alright! We'd had a big bargy about it one
time.......... She told me that she'd had it a few times when she was
younger and I could tell she didn't regret it or anything. I mean the way
she was saying it sort of implied that she'd do it again if she ever felt
like it. So.............. then later I found the empty pill bottles in the
bath, but my head was twisted by then, I didn't know what the fuck was goin'
on, I just felt this............ rage."
Head buried in his hands, he slowly lowers himself down to rest on the edge
of the settee. It's so dilapidated and sunken, he almost has to squat. He
could be weeping or praying.
  Confused as what to do, Blake goes into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
Part of him feels sorry for Yan and wants to help somehow, console him.
Another part is glad to see him fucked up, and needs to see him suffer.
>From the front room he can hear Yan sobbing, deep and desperate. Despite
the desire for revenge, the greater feeling of pity prevails, and for the
first time, he puts down the baseball bat, though still unsure what to do.
Blake isn't one of those people that likes violence or violent people, and
however sorry for Yan he feels, he is still wary. He doesn't understand and
has no respect for people that get their kicks out of causing trouble. And
just how are you supposed to console someone so unpredictable, and so
screwed up, without getting fucked up or beaten up in the process. Still,
he thinks, there's a man I know, whose girlfriend has just died, crying his
eyes out on the settee in my front room. He feels he has to do something,
but can't shake the deep, gut instinct, that whatever it is he decides to
do, he'll regret for a long time.
Without asking Yan how he likes his tea, he makes them
both strong, sugary brews, and meticulously rearranging his pony-tail, he
swallows his fear. Affecting confidence, Blake strides back into the room
where he sits in silence waiting for Yan to speak first.
Twenty three minutes later, Yan asks him if he's got any Gear to sell.
Blake assumes he means weed.


         -----------------
                                                       29

Doug- Did Nic ever tell you about that frozen cat?

Rut- .............................................

Doug- No it was Cassius' old place..............The Heights something
...................er.............oh what the fuck did we call that place ?

Rut- .....................................

Doug- Yeah "Hillview Heights". Fuck me, that place was mental.

Rut-

.............................................................................
...

Doug- Hah! And when they started chucking things down at the pigs when
they tried to raid 'em.

Rut- ...............................

Doug- ......... and that burning mattress. Jesus-Fuck! Wheelie's gaff.
That place was always full of nutters. Wheelie and the Chorltons.

Rut-
..........................................................................

Doug- No, I wasn't there that night. After Deb's flared up that time I
stopped going round. Silly tart.

Rut- ..........................................

Doug- No, Cassius was cool.......................... Anyway, Nic had phoned
for a taxi about five times and they kept bull- shitting her that it was on
it's way. So finally she gets pissed-off and tells them to stick it. It
was New Year or Christmas or something.

Rut- ..............................




Doug- Yeah. So I said I'd walk her to the taxi rank in town.
Rut-

.............................................................................
............

Doug- Fuck me, Rut! Is that all you think about? We were mates, are
mates, and yes, 'Yan-the-Man' is my oldest mate so shut it, you dirty sewer
rat. So ............. Will you let me finish my cack story so you can tell
one of your even cacker stories.

Rut- ................................

Doug- Thank you! Fina-fucking-ly.................. So we were walking
home,

Rut- .........................................

Doug- Sorry! Walking to the taxi rank............. and it was freezing. I
mean it wasn't cold, it was fucking free-zing. Piss? You'd be there till
you thawed in April. And on the side of the road there was this dead cat.
It was splattered, Man, guts everywhere. But it must have been there all
night 'cause it was solid, and all I did was tap it with my foot and it went
skidding along the road! It just looked so weird, I thought it'd be stuck
to the road. I was pissing myself, but the way Nic was acting I thought
she wanted to take it home and bury it.

Rut- ...........................

Doug- Exactly. In her front room? She'd need a jack-hammer, ha! Digging
down through to some poor old gimmers front room while they're watching
'Family Fortunes'..................... So I couldn't resist. I picked it up
by the tail and give it a good chuck. No bullshit, it flew like a frisbee
and skidded a few times on the road. Well, I had to have another do.

Rut- ...............................................




Doug- Too-fucking-right! All its insides were still attached. It looked
more like a dodgy omelette than a cat. So there I was, waving this flat cat
above my head with Nic shouting at me to put it down, when this Pig-Van
pulls up beside us and they ask what I'm doing. These Pigs must have had a
shitty night or been Christians or something, 'cause before I know it, I'm
arguing with them and Nic about the moral implications of using this cat as
a frisbee.

Rut- ...................................................................

Doug- I couldn't believe it. I was like, "It's dead, for fucks sake!!"
Well, then they threatened to take me in for swearing at them and disturbing
the peace or some such bullshit. I said, "I didn't swear at you . I swore
during our conversation, but I didn't swear at you.". Which they didn't
like one bit. So there I am, four or something in the morning, it's
fucking freezing and I want my bed. And I'm having a fucking debate with
two brain-dead, moralistic Pigs and the girl I'm with about a dead fucking
cat. I mean, I wasn't shagging it for Christ's sake!!

Rut- .................................................................

Doug- Alright then, tell us one of your fantastic tales, oh wise and
interesting one.

Rut-

.............................................................................
...........................................

.............................................................................
..........................................................

.............................................................................
..........................................................


                                    -------------------


                                       30

Her sense of self worth was so low. Less than nothing. Negative. By
breathing she was letting herself down. More breaths out than in, a
deflated and dying specimen. Useless to anybody. More harm than use.
Beyond self pity and sense, she wanders through the drizzle. In her hand a
plastic shopping bag, her coat on the hook at work. A long way away. She
can feel a cold. But not our cold of self concern. Hers is just...........
there, meaning nothing other than itself. The rain, likewise. No thoughts
of Colds or chills.
She can still feel the point where he touched her. Her light green eyes
reflecting nothing, as no thing feels behind them. She eyes the road drain,
thinking it too good. The sewer too regal a home for her. She would
contaminate the shit with her presence. Like everything else. Melodramatic
princess!
She frowns to think on what she deserves. The rancid sanitary towel under
the bed when she had her funny spell. Or the tampon she left inside which
caused all the problems.
And.......... her body was never a thing of beauty. Never, in anyones eyes,
especially her own. The things it did repulsed her as a child and since,
from shitting onwards. She'd dream of the blood flowing inside her body
that no amount of scrubbing would ever clean. Around and around, through
the arteries and filthy organs. The Kidneys, the intestine, the liver,
their very names suggested dirt and slime.
They had been closing the cafe. Losa was in the back checking the stock and
she was in the front mopping the floor. She was sure she had locked the
front door, but he walked in anyway, soaked from the rain and making a mess
of the floor.
"Sorry love we're closed"
"I only want a coffee"
His voice seemed accentless, soft and meticulous and as he squelched from
foot to foot, the beige suede shoes drained onto the lino.

"Well we've turned everything off"



He said nothing, turning his head to look forlornly towards the sky. He was
somehow familiar to her. And the clouds grew darker, outward and down.
"We've cleared everything away. The Till's closed!"
She was almost shouting now, thinking him a little simple, but also to alert
Losa in the back - Get your arse out here Losa!.........Oh why do I always
get the loonies.
"I'm sorry you'll have to go"
He turned suddenly, no longer the lost, friendly face. She noticed his
jacket for the first time. Though he was soaked she could still see the
stains and dirt, and his trousers were at least three sizes too big - He's a
bit young for a tram....
"You're nothing but a silly, fucking slag! You think you can treat me like
muck, judge me, just because you're warm and dry?"
Three seconds pass in surprised silence. She is unable to talk at first,
stunned by the force and quick vitriol of his response.
"L..... look mate.......I don't know what your problem is........ And I
don't care whether or not you've had a pisser of a day, you've got no right
to barge in 'ere and take it out on........"
"Oh yes I have....."
She wasn't normally shy with punters and could see he was a bit crazed, but
until that point where he stepped forward, she thought she could handle him.
In snake movement he slid towards her, and as he said the word- 'have',
struck her just above the left breast with his thumb and forefinger. It
wasn't a punch, but it wasn't a poke or a strike either. It didn't seem to
hurt her, at first, but the shock and speed of it stunned her to silence.
"I can do anything I want, because you're not special, no matter what you
think. Just because you're a woman you think you can push me around. Well
you can't! You're just a dirty, little bitch. A FILTHY SCABBY SLUT!"
Then like a waking dream he strode from the fluorescence, out into the
night. She was shaking. His touch still disturbed her and would for long
after, his final shout reverberating around the cafe. Lips pursed and
tense, she numbly looked left, then down at her hand, her own two
forefingers pointing vaguely. Pontiff like. A half attempt to placate or
warn. Then......... distance. Like
death, objective and cold, floating seeing unclear objects below. No
sound or movement broke the lunatic spell until Losa appeared from the
kitchen.
' What ?' Then seeing her blank gaze, worried tone,
' I was sorting the rubbish out for the bin-men tomorrow.'
She would not allow tears to run down her cheek nor leave her eyes. This
stubborn refusal her sole solace as she silently picked up the plastic bag
containing Losa's gift of the three not-so-fresh cream cakes and walked out
of the door, coatless, Losa's placations unheeded. She didn't care if the
man was waiting for her, now numb to the threat of attack. She knew he
probably wasn't but didn't care either way. She just needed to walk. That
was all.




                             NOVENT




The white rebounds off the cushion hitting the red ball into the bottom
right pocket. As the balls collide, the loud snap pinch's the chilled,
smoky room and the old man blinks a long blink. He strains his face around
slowly and the pained wince fades, replaced with an almost blank expression
that hints- Can you hit them any harder, mate?
Nipper yelps. At his feet, the small mongrel terrier wants a pork
scratching from the freshly opened pack.

( Give us one you old Irish cunt!) YAPP!

" Whished-up! Quiet, will ya?"
Dog scampers away from the sweeping cupped hand, then yanked back on the
lead, old man smacks repeatedly. Nipper's learnt, his whimper, not silenced
but controlled now. The beating stops.
"You've got to show them who's boss."
Old man 2 nods neither hearing nor caring. It's company. Better than
talking to the walls at home. Although sometimes......
"Aye, it was........ Friday night, just gone, an' I'd only been in half an
hour when it all happened."
He reaches into his jacket pocket for the battered tobacco tin and not
bothering to offer some to his friend, gets out the Rizla and makes himself
a rolly. Straining his memory to what initially seems so long ago, he
recalls that earlier Friday night, somebody had won the car on 'Brucies- The
Price Is Right'. He'd finished his second can of Bitter as he liked to have
a couple to get him in the mood before he went out, and crushing it, put it
in the bin in the kitchen. Em had half a bottle of cheap gin left and was
staying in again. She said there was a film on later that she wanted to
watch, but he knew it was just an excuse. She had been mugged earlier that
year coming up near the Caledonia road. There had been some road works and
she'd got sick of sitting on the bus in traffic- Needed the exercise anyway.
He can't have been seventeen, she later told the police, I only had a fiver
on me, and some change.
As she fell to the ground she'd badly bruised her elbow, but it was the fear
that he put into her that affected her the most.
She used to like a night out as well. These days she did all her drinking
at home.
"Our Em didn't feel like a drink, so I wandered down here around half
eight."
Old man 2 grunts a vague affirmative then looks back to the pool game. The
T.V in the corner has the racing on, and his gaze wanders back and forth
between the two.
"I said to Jack when I came in I said- Those gang look like trouble- I said,
and he leant over the bar to me, 'cause it was busy already, and he said-
Don't worry Colm, I've got my eye on 'em. I'll give ya a shout if they
start anything.- and he nodded like."

( You lying bastard! He said fuck all to you 'cause he thinks you're a
bullshitter, and he's right.) YAPP! YAPP!

"Willya shut the fuck-up, Nipper! So I gave him a wink and went over to
have a word with Charlie from the estate."
As Old man 2 gets up to go to the bar, Colm raises his hand and adopts a
puzzled, thoughtful look, as if, for a change, he might decide to have a
Babycham or a pint of brandy.
"Oh I'll just have half a Bitter. Make it a Flowers."
His drinking partner nods and turning away gives Sam behind the bar an
exagerated, exasperated face. It's a look she's seen countless times and
she joins in the game with a silent 'tut'. He had been waiting for him to
say it all day as Colm had bought him a half two weeks earlier and he'd
never bought him one back. And he knew, that even with Colm's conveniently
dodgy memory, where alcohol was concerned, the old git would remember every
single detail of a night he had not been bought a drink.
"Good health to you."
Colm raises the glass and pauses a moment before putting it to his lips. He
dips his top lip into the Bitter and pauses again before placing the glass
on the table without taking even a sip.
"So sure enough, within half an hour I hear two of them arguing with Jack
about something. So I walked over, cool as ya
please, and stood right behind 'em. I didn't want to push it, I was just
letting Jackie-Boy know I was there just in case."

(Yoouu what!! Just in case somebody needed to see a bus pass in a hurry)
YAPP!

Old man 2 smiles and gives a little knowing laugh. He looks straight at
Colms face for the first time that day and thinks to himself-
Thirteen-bloody-years I've listened to your bull.
"Cause you know they used to call me 'Cutter Colm' in my boxing days. Oh
aye, I was a tasty little fucker so I was."

(Ha! Your full of it today, aren't ya? Boxing days? You did two months at
a gym when you were fifteen. Punching a bag and plenty of skipping) YAPP
YAPP YAPP!

"Fa Jesus sake Nipper! Do you want me to leave you outside in the cold?"

(Better than having to listen to your babbling) YAPP!

"Shut" - "the" - "fuck" - "UP!!"
 Smack Smack Smack Smack

And Nipper was shut, lying down sore and bitter. Colm composes himself,
trying not to look guilty as Nipper looks up at him repeatedly. His eyes
saying- There was no need for that, I'm only a dog. His master can't take
that look so turns to his friend and overcompensates.
"Want a rolly?"
Pushing the tobacco tin to him in more a demand than an offer, Old man 2
turns his gaze from 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' in the two-thirty, incredulous at
Colms sudden change of character. He reaches for the tin quickly in case
Colm changes his mind. His nod of thanks all the excuse Colm needs to
return to his story but the throat clearing cough turns into a fully fledged
Phlegm attack that lasts over thirty seconds.
"So there I was.............................. Two in front of me and two
sat down behind. They all of them looked like they were on something,
y'know. I think the two sitting down were girlfriend and boyfriend, but
anyway, they stood up when Jack shouted at them to get the hell out of his
Bar. Well they all clumped together then and the place went real quiet.
There were two big ones and another shifty looking little'un. I can't
remember what he looked like. I tell ya, there was a big, skin-headed fella
and he looked a real nasty bleeder. I squared up to him 'cause he looked
the                                    toughest of the lot and a
couple of Jack's boys came in from the back room."
"I tell ya, ya could have cut the air in here with a bread knife. We
weren't goinna let some young punks come in here with their drugged-up
girlfriend and act like they own the place."
He drinks a whole mouthful of beer for effect and feeling generous throws
Nipper a pork scratching.
"Good lad."

(Psycho) Yapp!

The third half of Bitter is doing its job and a wave of self-importance
washes over Colm. He feels epic and magnanimous and his part in the story
is crucial. Any exaggerations will be forgotten because he's such a
wonderful guy.
"So there we were, nobody moving or saying nothing. I looked at Jackie and
he looked scared out of his pants. I thought one of the gang might have a
gun or something, so I stepped forward and said to them- C'mon on
young'uns now, you've had your fun. Why don't ya get the hell out of here
before ya all get yerselves hurt.- An' sure enough they turned tail and ran
like the Divil. You've never seen anyone move so fast in your life. Hee,
hee!"
Colm smiles, misty-eyed at his own heroic tale and in the corner 'Jumpin'
Jack Flash' romps home into first place. Old man 2 tuts and wonders if he
still has time to get to the bookies for the three-thirty at Newbury.
Behind the bar, Sam looks round
listlessly, and seeing nobody looking at her tits for a change, tugs at the
left cup of her ill-fitting bra. Nipper thinks about commenting on Colms
monologue, then thinks better of it. He sighs and spreads his hind legs,
licking his arsehole and cock and the place where his balls used to be.

                  ---------------



                              32
    You found the news more titillating than tragic. You had trained
yourself to resist those feelings of grief and pity and remorse that so many
succumb to. You knew most of these emotions to be self indulgent, totally
alien to the event in itself. His death, the car crash or was it a fight,
was its own actuality that you were just a bystander to. A voyeur of sorts.
So pity would be shallow, guilt - ridiculous, remorse - pointless, and grief
rather old fashioned and pompous.
 Better to enjoy the spectacle of your sadness not his. He didn't have
any. He was dead for gods sake. Enjoy, enjoy. Not pity for another but
self-pity as improv-theatre disguised as grief. Your stage- the street or
bar; Your audience-whoever. Claim the tragedy as your own. Go on, Rut,
feel free. It's little more than gossip emotionally but priceless as an
attention seeking tool.
     Use the event, and if one is meant to be sad, then you be the
saddest, and if one is meant to cry , you cry the loudest. It means
nothing, but what a show!
     And what a show the funeral was. Even his mum showed up, the pissed
up bitch. Tea-leaves, thugs, wife-beaters, addicts, crooks of every shade.
The pigs of three boroughs could have taken the day off.
   And you were so brave, an on-looker might have thought you his brother
or best friend. Fighting back the tears so stoically. You shook his dads
hand firmly and put an arm over his shoulder. Comforting, but stopping just
short of pathos when they lowered the cask. You were born for this role.
Was it the emotions that should have been there or the emotions that were?
Did you feel pity for his father or even his mother? Were you the honest
one and everyone else kidding themselves? Were they just following a set
pattern of behaviour that they'd seen at other funerals or on T.V.?
And the 'Do' afterwards. Ah, the Do. More of an Knees-up than a Wake. The
Duke Of Clarence was normally such a gay, bright pub. The hustle of
sometimes up to four pensioners
reminiscing over their halves. But that day was different. There were
sandwich quarters and dips. And the Landlord threatened to call the police.
Then he was threatened and decided not to bother. The air hung heavy and
sweet with smoke and somewhere, a mobile would ring every thirty seconds.
Stories and lies and a bitter smile on your face. Nic was there. She'd
helped with all the arrangements as his mother was 'too upset' to deal with
things. They'd decided to have it in xxxxx rather than London as most of
his friends and family were still there. And Yan trying to stop himself
from crying but he got there before Nic. The Beer and the Gear and the
Billy and you wanting a fight.
Doug was your fucking mate! You knew he hated his mum and his ugly, ginger
cousin. He was your fucking mate! And you crying 'cause you're a piece of
shit and He wasn't and He's gone and you're not and they're not and He is.


                  ---------------------
                        33

She really didn't believe anymore. A part of her wanted to, that was almost
the same, wasn't it? Almost-as-good-as, she felt. The Comfort Thing. A
protective aura of disbelief/belief. Little baby Jesus, in the crib, the
Resurrection and all that crap. She still has a photo of herself on the day
of her First Holy Communion. White gown and buckled shoes, with a veil and
bright red ribbon. A virgin bride of Christ.
When she was fifteen she.
When she was thirteen she watched 'Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid' for
the first time on TV. Her friend had laughed as it was the first time she
had ever seen anyone in a movie with the same surname as herself. She was
sleeping over at Maggie Cassidys, her best friend at the time, and for tea
she'd had three fried eggs, two sausages and loads of chips, which was
typical of Mrs. Cassidy. Not the meal in itself, but the fact that she had
made them a fry-up at eight o'clock in the evening. Even food was jumbled
in their world.
They lived about a hundred yards down, on the opposite side of the same
street as Nicolas family. Close-knit community and all that. For a couple
of years she'd lived there more than at home and on a school night, when she
had to be back before nine-thirty, Mrs. Cassidy would always stand on her
doorstep and watch that she got home safely, not going in until she saw
Nicola closing the door behind her.
Maggies dad was hardly ever there. Mrs. Cassidy would say he was a Brickie
and leave it at that, as if that statement alone explained everything.
Nicola would nod sagely glad to be included in the adult conversation whilst
comprehending nothing. Her dad went to work each morning and came home in
the evening. But he worked for the council, he wasn't a plumber. Later,
Maggie had to explain to her that her dad travelled to wherever the work
was, usually faraway exotic places like the Isle Of Man, Southampton or
Newcastle-Under-Lyne. Every week or two or five, thick letters or unwritten
birthday cards would arrive from him, stuffed with ten and twenty pound
notes, and his wife would have to survive on them until the next batch. On
a few occasions the letter didn't arrive at all, lost in the post or stolen,
and a variety of potato and bean dishes followed. These would lead to the
bitterest arguments. The blame and what to lose next. The telephone, the
half-planned holiday.
When he did eventually come home all the kids were given a little money and
told to stay out 'til late. This was usually a Friday so Maggie and Nic
would dress-up and if they had enough, catch the bus to the sports centre
disco, doing their bumpy make-up on the way.
Bright eye-shadow and borrowed lip-stick and two bottles of coke with straws
from the shop round the corner, cheaper than the Sports centre 'bar', and
straight to their spot near the boys toilets. Dragging two chairs over
they'd huddle and flirt, sip very slowly and laugh when the boys whispered
lewd things, sometimes not even hearing the words, but the sensation of the
warm breath on the neck was ticklish, and besides, you were meant to laugh
when boys did this. In their loo the boys would vie for who could come up
with the crudest thing they would do to the girls if they got the chance,
being careful not to be within earshot of any of Maggies brothers who were
all nutters. Afterwards, near the five-a-side pitch, two of them would get
to snog Maggie or Nic and feel their tits . If the girls wanted they would
sometimes swap boys and if the ground was dry they might lie down and let
them fumble in their knickers. Nic would think of her dad and grab a
crotch. This is for you. The boys would get what they could. These weren't
the good looking girls, the ones they couldn't understand and wanted to go
out with. They were just there.

It was Lent and sins had to be confessed before Easter. The pretence of
religion in Nics household was shunted to Maggies more heated environment
and the young ladies were sent to absolve together. Nic went in first and
after acts and contritions, admitted a lack of keenness for her father,
omitting all stickiness. Father bestowed his beneficence and she departed
and knelt before the altar with three Our Fathers and four Hail Mary's.
Maggie was in for some time, she was a professional, and finally exiting,
knelt before the previous penitant and playfully kicked her friends ankle
with the tip of her shoe. They hushed and nudged each other for a while,
pushing whilst suppressing giggles. Then suddenly Nic stood and pronounced-
Watch this.
Taking a moment to compose herself, she walked back into the confessional
box and became a middle-aged Irish woman. She was very sorry for arguing
with her husband and hitting her second youngest in a
loss of temper which she was very, very sorry for. Her accent was spot
on, being gleaned from Mrs. Cassidy and the fear of being found out
suppressed all giggles. It was funny. Probably one of the funniest jokes
she had ever done, but the sense of danger and the guilt she was feeling,
even while she lied, gave the whole performance an extra edge. There was a
quiver in her South Dublin, a nervous hesitancy that made it sound all the
more real, like she really was sorry for smacking little Dermot and arguing
with John. With the power invested in him, the priest mumbled forgiveness
as Nics heart tried to beat itself out through her T-shirt. Then the
penance which changed everything-
Three Our fucking Fathers and four Hail cunting Marys, the same as he'd
given her as Nicola. Exactly the same penance for completely different
sins, it didn't make sense. As she stood to leave, all the doubts, all the
contradictions over the years, suddenly came to the fore and she knew. They
weren't even fully formed thoughts, more a profound stab into the guts of
her consciousness. It was all bullshit, every last word. Already no longer
caring she said-"Thank you Father", a final whisper.
Maggie had finished her prayers and was halfway down the aisle, impatiently
tapping a pew with her foot. It took a lot to shock her, but as she saw
Nic, with her hands together still, pious and defiant, she couldn't help it
and her mouth opened slightly in stunned realisation. As her friend joined
her, their walk turned into a run starting to laugh as they did, and after
fifteen minutes of laughing, they found they couldn't stop. They laughed
until it hurt and Maggie got a headache, then they laughed some more.
When they got back to Maggies house, Mrs. Cassidy could sense something had
happened and they were sharing the secret, but as they were laughing so much
it couldn't be anything serious and she was too busy with the other kids so,
for once, didn't pry. Later, she made them an extra special late Tea which
they ate on their laps watching a Western on the telly.


             --------------------------------------



                         34

Today was the first day of the year I've been able to sit out in the back.
It's not a garden or anything, just a three foot square gravel roof space
that looks out over the railway-track and builders yard. The roof cats of
the neighbourhood come here to shit in privacy, but come a hint of sunshine,
it's my domain. It's not exactly warm yet, but it's a bit of a sun-trap and
no-one else in the house knows it's here. You have to climb out the window
that's halfway up the stairs, and walk along the guttering between ours and
next doors. At the end there's a bit of a drop, only a couple of feet, and
there's my patch, blocked from next doors garden by the roof of the
extension they built a few years ago.
Today I found out another old mate had died. The fourth in the last year.
Overdose, suicide, overdose, etc. When one occasionally dies of something
different, like a car crash or an accident, it feels weird. Still shitty,
but the down is less drudging, almost a break from the norm. The suicides
are always connected to drugs, but more insidiously than the overdoses, if
that's possible. Less obviously, I should say, but still, they're always
connected somehow. And when you hear another mates gone, it's like you're
trapped, banging your head against a window, seeing the same shit over and
over again and not able to get away or do fuck-all about it.
'Cause I don't live back home anymore, I tend to hear about them way after
the event. Long after the news and funeral and everyone elses shock and
upset. It's like being cheated. Not being able to see the coffin, share
the grief with the family and few mates still living, the ones still
clinging on. I've imagined all their funerals too many times, the dead and
the living. Seen the clay and the cool, long black cars. The shifty
glances exchanged wondering who will be next. Or more often than not in my
head, who I'd least prefer to go next.
And I'm never able to really let them go. They're still around. Because
I'd left and was no longer part of their lives, it's like I don't deserve to
be upset. Their deaths were distant and
I'm left feeling, well......... fucked-up. But they don't haunt me or
anything corny like that. Part of me just doesn't accept they're gone, so
occasionally I see them. Just the back of a head or sometimes a voice, just
for a second, until I realise that it can't be. I don't remember, I can't
remember 'cause there's nothing to remember. I experienced their deaths
inconsequentially, far too late and far away for them to be things of any
importance or have any true connection. Then there's the disbelief........
I know everyone feels these things to some degree, but that doesn't make
them any easier, does it? Only sharing death when it happens can help, and
the only mate I've got down here is Yan, and he moved away from Leeds years
before me so he's practically useless. So I've got nothing and nobody to
share it with. Oh boohoo, you sad fucker, feeling sorry for yourself again
Doug.
Somebody was playing a radio in one of the gardens below. It was good to
hear music and have no choice, for a change. Usually I can't listen to any
old crap, bad music gives me a headache, but just then it was perfect. I
couldn't complain or turn it down or off, and for some reason it was fine.
I sat back and honestly enjoyed listening to a Tina Turner song. The
'Backstreet Boys' were alright, and some indistinguishable Cher power-balled
didn't make me want to rip my ears off. Then, amongst the fluff the Dj
played "The Whole Of The Moon" by 'The Waterboys'. It's the only song of
theirs they ever seem to play. It was like someone had switched on a video-
recording of my growing pains. All these memories jumping into my head,
forcing me to see people I hadn't seen for years. Back then, I purposely
never experienced anything by halves, everything had to be full-on, not
caring who I shat on or crushed or hurt in the process. And music was the
one thing that always seemed to matter more than anything else. Fuck! I
sound like one of the kids from "Fame". But even when I was little, music
wasn't just a pass-time, it really was like a passion, the only comfort I
had more often than not. (Oh, you sad bastard!). Girls would come and go,
even the heavy relationships, but always to a soundtrack that reflected
where my head was at the time. And for years
'The Waterboys' seemed to play one side of what I was thinking and feeling,
and Matt Johnson and 'theThe', the other. Like the two sides of my
personality. One quite optimistic, down-to-earth but always romantic,
preoccupied with the rural, spiritual side of things. The other much
darker, the city-dweller, down with the whores, the paranoia, the fucked-up
lives and relationships. Both of them too honest, looking too hard for
answers, for a meaning to things, and singing about their failure. I was
young, and they helped me.
Then as you get older you start to think- 'What the fuck am I doing
listening to this, working out the lyrics to songs trying to find answers.'
And you drift away.
So what've I got now? I'm too mature to look to musicians for answers.
Well I think I am. Films don't have the depth or are too arty, and books
never have the answers when you need them. Friends? Are they for that?
Mine aren't. Sometimes I wish they were, but most of the time I just want
to be left alone. When I think about it, I don't want any mate telling me
how to deal with things. That's my business.
It was a good day. I didn't play pool all day or get pissed. It got a bit
chilly later on so I went inside, got my coat, and came back out. Sometimes
just having the sun on your face, thinking..............
I used to look at the clouds everyday, I wonder what happened to that.
Sunsets were big too, any nice day. Today I watched the sunset over the
railway-junction. As it went down the light reflected and all the lines
were bright streaks like a disjointed spiders web. In the distance I could
see the Telecom Tower, sorry B.T. Tower or whatever it's called this year.
As I stared at the sunset I could feel myself get a headache, it didn't
matter, the growing pain seemed irrelevant. I thought- I'll go in in a bit
and have a shower. I'll give Yan and Nic a ring and see if they want to see
a movie tonight. That'll be nice.

                   -----------


                         35

'Nic!....... The battery's gone on the remote control!'
He sits up and this time shouts more towards the kitchen.
'Nic!'
'Yeah, I heard Babe. I was just thinking if I have any of those little
batteries left.... the AA ones. (Under her breath) Was it the camera I used
them on, or were they the bigger ones.'
'What!'
'Doesn't matter Love. I was just trying to remember what I did with them.'
'Oh.'
He has to push himself up from the futon bed/settee to turn down the volume
on the television. This done, he sits back and stares not really listening
anymore. Some young, blond vet is trying to feed milk to a kitten through a
pipette, but it doesn't look hungry and the milk is spilling down her hands.
Yan sees this, but it doesn't register as his mind is preoccupied with Nics
last words. She called him 'Love' again. He knew this to be part of her
everyday vocabulary, that she used with stall holders and tradesmen and
passing acquaintances. He knew it meant nothing to her, yet still it
bothered him. He wasn't sure if it bothered him because she meant for it to
be a sign of affection to him yet used it with strangers, or because it
meant nothing to her and so could use it with him. His emotions were
jumbled as he couldn't define his feelings for Nic and resented her being so
blase about the expression of hers for him. The contradictory thoughts left
him niggly, not comforted by the one, clear notion in his head- He didn't
like her calling him that. He knew that if he mentioned anything it would
lead to them discussing their relationship, which he did not want, and would
probably result in a fight. So best to keep calm and say nothing.
He picked up the TV guide and looked through the listings for Friday. Over
the last month, Yan had been trying to persuade Nic to get Sky or cable.
Each night they stopped in together, he'd mention it, as if by mistake.




'That films on tonight.......... oh sorry, it's on Sky One.'
Or something similar. It took until the third occasion for Nic to work out
his kiddish plot. She didn't say anything at first, but laughed to herself,
wondering- Does he really think I don't know what he's up to. When he
mentioned it this time, she took him by surprise.
'Oh look Nic, that new series is on Sky tonight, y'know, the 'Angel' one,
the spin-off from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. Shame we don't have cable,
you like 'Buffy' don't you.'
As he spoke she came through from the adjoining kitchen and stood in the
doorway, arms folded, smirking at his words.
'No Yan, I don't like 'Buffy', You like 'Buffy' and I don't want to get Sky
or cable because I can't afford it, don't really want it and Paula would
never agree to it anyway as it's her flat and she's never here.'
Yan was silenced by the speed and intelligence of her response, but still
managed to mumble a vague denial, embarrassed that she'd seen through him so
easily. It was a sore topic already even though this was the first time
they'd talked about it openly. Both of them had thought about the idea of
moving in with one another, but neither had vocalized it to the other.
Things like getting cable were indicative of commitment so at this tentative
stage had to be avoided at all cost. He mainly wanted it for 'Futurama' and
new episodes of 'The Simpsons', but if he told her that, she'd never stop
taking the piss. The 'ER' on Channel Four was only a couple of months
behind Sky One, so that was alright, but 'The X-files' was a whole series
behind. He resigned himself to his fate, then almost immediately bucked
against it. This was a Friday night! What the fuck am I staying in for on
a Friday night? He felt sorry for himself, trapped indoors with an uncaring
girlfriend when he could be out on the town partying.
Nic didn't listen to him, wouldn't give him a blow job when he wanted one,
and now, to top it all, she wouldn't let him get cable TV in her friends
flat so he could watch new episodes of 'The Simpsons'. Bitch! Suddenly he
desperately missed being
single. At that moment, being free seemed the most important thing in the
world to him. Getting drunk, getting into fights with strangers over
nothing, waking up next to fat, ugly women.
He had a rethink.
He supposed being with Nic was alright, really.
But still, there was something missing that he couldn't quite put his finger
on. He sat up again, and it came to him in a flash.
'Shall I open the wine, Nic?'
'Oh, good idea. Let it breathe a little.'
Alcohol, that was it! The missing ingredient from his Friday night. Best
not to open a beer yet, I'll be sociable, he thought as he walked into the
kitchen and opened the cupboard. The odour rising from the cooker was
filling the flat and driving him crazy.
'Smells lav-ver-lee!'
'Well, I hope it's alright. I did everything it said in the book. Except
the aubergine bit, I couldn't find them.'
'It'll taste ace. And I'm so hungry I could eat the scabby arse off a
donkey.'
'YAN!! Please! Do you have to say things like that?'
'What?'
'If that was meant to be some kind of compliment, next time don't bother!'
He shuffled out disgruntled. "Let it breathe a little"- Woooo!! What did
that mean, he wondered, then decided it wise not to ask, he didn't want a
lesson off her. Just lately, Nic had started to act "all sophisticated".
Making meals, drinking wine, where would it all end? He didn't mind, but it
didn't seem right somehow. Like she was trying too hard. Opening the
bottle he poured himself a glass, immediately taking a mouthful out of
spite.
Earlier he'd ran up to the shops and got some more fags and "treats for
later on". Crisps and chocolate for him, and a nice low fat yoghurt for
Nic. She was on a diet again so he had to keep her occupied while he
stuffed his face. On the way, he'd passed the pub, packed with Friday night
boozers and been tempted to pop in
for a quick pint. He weighed up the odds and decided it wasn't worth it.
If Nic worked out where he'd been, she'd kick off, no mistake. She'd
probably say that he was a typical male, that he had no feelings and that
he'd ruined the whole evening. Way too much of a risk. But the thought had
got his taste buds going, so he bought a few beers from the offy. He kidded
himself that it was in case the wine was crap, but in reality, he knew that
he'd probably end up drinking most of the wine then drink the beers as well.
Wine by itself was never enough for Yan, quantity was what mattered.
'Yan! It's ready. Can you give me a hand.'
She brought in the cutlery and salt and pepper as Yan got the plates. When
he reentered the room, the TV was off and she'd put the cushions on the
floor.
'Since I don't have a table I thought we'd eat on the floor like the
Japanese do.'
Yan positioned himself against the settee and poured her a glass of wine as
she rummaged in the drawer, pulling out and lighting a tatty candle which
she placed in-between them. He knew she was making a real effort and
appreciated it even though the food was rubbish.

'Well ,what do ya think?'
'It's nice.'
'You hate it don't you?'
'No it's just .......................... different.'
'Why don't you just come out and say it?'
'Say what? Look I don't hate it.......... What is it again?'
'Vegetable Pasanda.'
'Vegetable......... What, just vegetables.'
'Yeah, not every meal has to have meat in does it?'
'Well no but............'
'But what, Yan? Every time I cook you a meal you turn your nose up at it.
What is it about my cooking that you hate so much, eh?'
'Nothing, I don't hate your cooking. I don't hate this, I just thought you
were making a curry tonight, that's all.'
'Well I decided to make something special instead. Anyway, It's like a
curry.'
'Yeah it is. It's just that it's got something in it, that's all. Is that
cumin seed?'
'You said before that you liked cumin seed.'
'Yeah, I do. Just not this much. It's nice, it really is Nic! I was just
surprised more than anything.'

Except for Yans occasional, over the top 'Mmm's, they sit in silence for the
rest of the meal.
Nic was going to put a CD on and make it a bit romantic, but she can't be
bothered now. Bloody curry!! If I hadn't told him it wasn't a curry he'd
never have known. What does he know about cooking anyway? All he ever
cooks are eggs and baked beans and those three minute noodles that come with
the flavouring. Cheeky bugger! Oh yeah, I forgot. He used to mate round
with Doug when he was doing catering so that makes him an expert.
She's probably thinking all sorts now. That I hate her, that I'm a bastard,
that I've got no idea about food. When Doug did those two years at catering
college I learnt loads of shit. Stuff like that you don't forget. She
thinks I can't even cook for myself, that I need a woman looking after me
all the time. She should taste my noodles with chopped up sausage!

Chewing

This meal is.... kinda alright. I didn't mean for it to come out like that,
but she's just so sensitive, she can't take any criticism at all.
Yan turns to look at her for the first time in five minutes. Her hair has
fallen over the side of her face and she's picking at her dinner now, no
longer liking it so much after Yans criticism. She did put too much Cumin
Seed in it, they had spilled out of the packet when she'd only wanted to
pour a few, but she sure as hell
wasn't admitting that to him. The candle lit her profile and her left eye
shone so brightly he thought she was going to cry. But as he lifted his
hand to stroke her face, he saw her lips move in silence, mouthing the words
to some unknown song and his fingers could no longer touch. She wasn't
angry anymore. It had faded as quickly as it had arrived.
In his eyes and mind right then, he loved her more than anything. He wanted
to protect her and make sure she was always happy, but a part of him was so
sad it felt like he was dying. He was no good at this. Relationships had
always been one of those things Yan had bluffed his way through. As if he'd
somehow missed all those lessons at school or wherever it was they taught
you all that sort of crap. He couldn't handle them and never could. Felt
out of his depth when a woman wanted to be his friend. Shagging was fine,
but a part of him thought that friendship with a girl was somehow perverse,
not natural. He knew it was old fashioned and sexist, but it wasn't a
conscious thing, he had no choice in the emotion. It was deeper than that
and filled him with dread. He knew he'd never be able to love her as much
as she loved him. The way she wanted. But it never crossed his mind to ask
her if this was the case. He assumed. And if it was true, it never crossed
his mind to think that it might be possible for him to one day learn.
Nic switched the TV back on, and moving the candle, snuggled next to him.
She looked up at him smiling and he could see no resentment in her face.
She was beautiful.
'At nine, both 'Friends' and 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' are on. Which do
you want to watch?'


                                  --------------



                                     36

'Alright Rut. Where've you been?'

'.....................................................'

'Have you seen Yan since Nics funeral?'

'...........................................................................
..........'

'Well I hardly knew the girl. I asked if he wanted me to go just for his
sake, but he said he was fine.'

'...................................................................'
'Yeah well, you wouldn't think that if you saw him now. He's a fucking
mess. Been jacking up, the shit for brains.'

'...........................................................................
.......................................'

'Yeah, I know that, that's why I'm off for the next two weeks. I had
holiday coming an' nobody wants early March off anyway. When I went round
to his and saw what state he was in, I thought, well this is more important
than a fortnight in Greece. He'd got into some fight as well......'

'...........................................................................
.........'

'Fuck knows! But he didn't come out of it too well. 'Just got out of
hospital, been in for three days.

'...........................................................................
........'

'That's what I thought. I suppose jacking-up and tussling don't mix. Yeah
............ 'first time I went round he pretended he wasn't in. Second
time, I climbed round the back an' saw him hiding in the kitchen, sad
fucker! ....................... Look, can we walk an' talk, I've got to get
back to his place. You going that way?'




'...........................................................................
.......................'

'Yeah, I'll tell 'im. 'See you around.'


Gruff hiked up the grocery bags and shook his head.
- Bullshitting Cunt! Yeah, I'll tell Yan to expect you. Muppet!
He wondered why he spent so much of his life talking crap to people he
didn't like. He thought he'd left that behind. All that conversation was
just .................... bollocks! He was angry that he'd told him
anything. As if Yan becoming a smack-head, wasn't really anything
important. Just a bit of cheap gossip. He was pissed off with himself.
Should have completely blanked him, walked right past.
The bus shot by as he approached the stop.- Shiitt! Have to walk. Getting
on and off the bus would've been too much hassle anyway and I could do with
a bit of exercise.
As always, he turned it round. He was trying to turn the situation round in
Yans head. The 'Nic' part he simply kept quiet about, but everything
else......... Doug and................ He kept quiet about a lot of things.
A lot of shit had happened to Yan in the last couple of years. If he tried
to pretend to him that everything was rosy, he knew Yan would lose all
respect for him. Things weren't rosy, they were pretty damn shitty, as it
happens. But if you just left it at that, rolled up in a ball and gave up.
Then ................ Well, where would we be then.
Gruff didn't have any answers. All he knew was- you have to carry on, no
matter what. He didn't think of himself as particularly optimistic, just
pragmatic. A realist. He knew that if he kept Yan alive long enough, he
might one day want to stay alive all by himself.
Yan had told him straight, he just didn't care either way. Wherever he was,
he wanted to be somewhere else. Out of his face was the ideal place,
anywhere that he wasn't able to think.
And when he got there, he didn't even enjoy it. For him, there were no
fantastic highs, no great Trainspotting-style epiphanies. It was merely a
means to an end, and the end was at best, a release. And when he
couldn't get any Gear; Tamazipan, Diazipan. Anything would do. Just as
long as he wasn't in his head, wasn't able to feel. Most of the time all he
could get was Methadone. Cassius, who he'd been scoring the Gear off
originally, had got busted with seventeen individually wrapped Tenner deals
on him, so he was out of the picture for some time. So lately, Yan had been
getting sorted off some kids from this estate near Dalston. Usually just
bits and bats of pills and shit, and if they ever did get any Gear, it was
cut to fuck by the time he got his paws on it.
But Gruff had stopped all that. He'd said,
- You're a skinny fucker now. You try and leave this house and I'll beat
the shit out of you.
Yan had stiffened then laughed menacingly. At the drop of a hat he could
switch from being a pathetic, pleading specimen, begging and crying like a
child, all dignity gone, to a snide, vicious bastard. Gruff just looked at
him, wearing a completely deadpan expression. Yan took the hint. He'd lost
a stone and a half in the last few months and the beating he'd took had
knocked the last of his confidence out of him. Gruff hadn't liked doing it.
Didn't like rubbing his mates face in the fact that he'd lost his bottle,
was no longer a player. Alright, being handy wasn't such a big deal, but
when it's all you've got, all you had..................
He wanted to get back soon, didn't like leaving Yan alone for too long.
There was nothing in the flat left to sell anyway, so even if he did somehow
get out, he couldn't exactly withdraw some cash from his bulging Swiss bank
account. The T.V was gone, everything. All except the little, portable
radio/cassette player that you couldn't even give away at a jumble sale.
Every single tape had scarpered too, which Yan couldn't recall flogging.
His CD's had gone long ago, but the big bag of crappy old tapes, who in
their right mind would want to nick them. Oh, junky mates, don't you just
love 'em.
He thought it was quite weird without a T.V. Gruff had lived in some real
holes in his time, but there had nearly always been a television around
somewhere. They were just about all- pervasive. He didn't want to bring
his over from the flat as it was expensive and he'd grown rather attached to
it. So every night, Gruff would make a nice big meal which at first Yan
would hardly touch, and they'd sit around smoking, listening to the radio.
For Gruff it was a whole new experience. They didn't have pictures. Radios
were things you listened to in your car, or in cafes getting your breakfast.
Not at home, in the evening. It took some time to adjust. He felt like an
Ovaltinie and he never, ever imagined that he'd get into 'Talk Radio'. For
Yan the experience brought back memories of being a kid. He'd never really
talked about his childhood much and Gruff had known enough to leave well
alone. But it was weird, even whilst reminiscing, he still managed to
reveal nothing about his upbringing. It was like his childhood was
something he'd had to endure in-between birth and the present.
Most evenings the sun would set and the room would slowly darken, and apart
from the passing of a joint or the occasional trip to the kitchen for
biscuits and tea, both of them would stay motionless, kind of spell-bound.
They'd make a point of tuning into John Peel at ten o'clock, avoiding Steve
Lamacq, who tried way too hard, then catching either Andy Kershaw or Ann
Hobbs. There was something more real somehow about the late night Dj's,
they really did love the music they were playing, especially Kershaw.
Unlike the Play-list twats, constantly speaking over the songs trying to be
funny. Early on in the evening they might listen to X-fm, which got better
later in the day as well, although that had gone down hill a bit since it
had been taken over.
This seemingly very civilised set-up was only disrupted when Yan went into
one of his rants. For some reason the withdrawal was worst for him during
the day, so Gruff had to make sure he had enough Hash on him to last. He
wasn't such a
big smoker but Yan could cane it and they averaged out on roughly an eighth
a day. One particularly heavy day going through a quarter. Hash was the
only thing un-medicinal that chilled Yan out. He had to get completely
monged-out to reduce the craving, so swallowed lumps some afternoons or
mixed it with tea. Lots of crisps, biscuits and chocolate helped,
especially Curly-Wurlys and Wotsits. As well as placating the constant
itching need for something, they were a treat, a distraction, breaking up
the long, boring days into smaller, more manageable bite-size chunks.
Gruff had moved in on a Sunday eleven days earlier. After this day, there
were three more to go before he had to go back to work. Things had been
getting easier over the last few days, but he was still worried.
Physically, Yan had been recovering. He had put on weight as his appetite
for food was coming back. He seemed to be craving less. But Gruff knew
that he couldn't make Yan stop in the long term, no-one can make a person
stop using unless they want to stop themselves. This was the real problem.
He was less depressed but still didn't seem to care about anything really.
He was apathetic about life and Gruff knew that when left to his own devices
it was only a matter of time before he started scoring again.
Three days to go. Bugger it, he thought, I can always throw a sickie for a
couple of days. There's a nasty flu been going around, perfect.
He looked round at Yan who had fallen asleep on the couch. He was snoring
quietly at first but it had gradually built in volume as he slipped deeper
and deeper. He hadn't drank his tea and it was going cold on the floor in
front of him. Gruff smiled at the open mouthed snorer and quietly but
firmly whispered,
'Yan! Be quiet.'
And immediately his snore softened, still asleep but obeying unconsciously.

                    ------------------




                       37

Like wearing an unwashed, itchy shirt. First squirming, uncomfortable with
his environment, then suddenly hot, Doug leans forward, momentarily bored of
the discussion. He wants to add to what Yan had been saying and halt it
simultaneously. To extend and cap with completion. Preventing the
expression of any further half-formed, annoying thoughts. He states-
"Well, it's illegal to lick someone else's sweat."
He leans back taking a celluloid drag of his low-tar fag. As the smoke
billows out and up, his fellow discussers look to one another. Nic and Yan
are lost and their faces show. Rut has his usual mock appreciative,
knowing-but-not-saying look. We don't Know if he knows, do we? He thought
something, then maybe decided it was in his best interest not to comment, to
listen in silence. He could be thinking that if he were another man, or
another woman, he might respond to the previous statement, saying something
like- "What?" or "Pardon?". Well, what do you think?
Doug thinks he's getting angry but it's just confusion with a sexier hat.
Disguising, he speeds through the thoughts prompted by the previous
dialogue- SLOWDOWN- his mind races over and over and.
Ha! He's hiding now. Looking at Nic- Girl you don't understand, for a
change. All three of you.
He leans back. He's testing them to test himself but his head's spinning
and his confusion is the impetus to challenge further. He's not quite sure
what he asks, but he's asking it now so has got to look/sound the part.
Backtracking now to confirm/reaffirm, to understand himself what it was he
was saying or trying to say. He repeats the last words to imply some sort
of intellectual game with himself and to remember at the same. Yes. YES!
"'Illegal'? In the sub-social. 'To take'"
Slowdown, slowdown speed reader.
"'Someone elses sweat.' Y'know.......... their work, their....."




-C'mon, c'mon. Concentrate you fucker! Don't lose it now!
They're still looking at him, waiting for him to say something, to explain.
All he is now able to do is sit still and stare back at them. He has 'that'
sensation that occurs from time to time. A frustration that leads to
disgust and onwards. Dissatisfied with his friends and their limitations he
wonders why no-one ever gets what he's saying. Why nearly everything that
comes out of his mouth is misunderstood or not understood at all. In his
mind he screams-
-Why are all my friends Fuck-wits? Every-fucking-one!
Rut sits there like a smug bastard pretending he knows what I'm talking
about when..... no, sometimes I know he does, but why pretend he understands
me all the time.
And Yan tries so hard but always just misses the point. Sometimes I wonder
if it's just his ego not letting him understand, or let him express his
comprehension. And Nic.......... poor Nic, she's away with the fairies.
What happened to the friends I thought I'd have when I got older, all the
intelligent ones. Back when I couldn't wait to get away from xxxxx.
Assumed everyone 'Out There' was more interesting/well
read/exciting/sophisticated. Then, when I finally did get away, I realised
that they weren't at all. They were all stupid like at home. THICK, THICK,
THICK! The number of the beast. And the disillusion was so great that the
realisation took years to sink in. I kept thinking that somewhere there
must be a place where all the clever people lived. Repeatedly kidding
myself, until one day it finally sunk in. I accepted it. And confused at
not having found it, I found myself forever returning to the north of
England. After all the places I'd travelled to, I'd always return. Never
wanted to, just did. Lancashire, the Crappy All-Powerful Magnet. Until the
last time I visited, I said- No More! It was worse than fags. I had to
give it up for good. 'Cause each return would have a familiar thrill, and I
realised one time, the thrill wasn't nostalgia or excitement or love, but
hope. An aspiration that something might have changed, however unlikely a
possibility that might be. But it always remained, lurking, disguised as
another. That something might have happened and everything would be
fundamentally different from then on. But it never did or was. The
despicable same old, same old. Molasses steps through cardboard housing
estates, trying to find the only-just-familiar latest dealer. Doling out
little escape snacks, rescue packs from tedium.
So I escaped, ran away to London and here I am.
Surrounded by fuck-wits.
Yippee.

                 ----------------------------



                                                 38

Rut - .............................................

Yan - Look, she wasn't a supermodel but she wasn't that bad.

Doug - Didn't you know Rut? Every woman Yan's ever shagged has been
a looker.

Yan - Fuck-off.....she did have a pretty face.

Rut - ..............................................

Nicola - Boys, boys !               Look I knew her, and Yan.........she was pig ugly.

Rut - ............................................

Doug - A pig in a wig.

Yan - Fuck the lot of you!

Rut - ...............................................

Yan - Look jus' fuck off.

Doug - Yan it's cool. We all know you've an image to keep up and you're
not, despite what anyone says, trying to impress Nicola.

Nicola - It's Nic, by the way, not Nicola. I hate being called that.

Doug - Sorry.............. trying to impress Nic.

Yan - You cunt!

Rut - ............................................
Doug - The big man embarrassed .




Yan - Look boys, me and Nik are just friends. (Smiling) Grown-ups do that
sort of thing. You two wouldn't understand.

Rut - .........................................

Yan - What? Sylvester Stallone!! How the fuck did you get onto that?
Jesus Rut, you're really showing your age now.

Rut -

.............................................................................
...................................

Doug - Yeah and they're all still shite.

Rut - ...........................................................

Yan - 'Cliffhanger'! Classic 'wank' more like.

Nicola - Rut, you only like it 'cause that girl from 'Northern Exposure'
is in it.

Rut -

.............................................................................
.............................................

Doug - What, not the amazingly crap plot.

Yan - Crap acting.

Nicola - Crap bleedin' everything!

Rut - ..............................................

Doug - Thank fuck we 'have no taste'.

Rut -
.............................................................................
......

Yan - I'm not trying to change the subject, she wasn't a hippo, she was a
really nice person.




Nicola - Yeah, a truly great human being.

Yan - I'm not saying that.............

Nicola - But, was she, or was she not, shagging you at the precise moment
her fella, her fiance, was in court bein' banged-up?

Rut -

.............................................................................
................................

Yan - She was finishing with him anyway.

Doug - Didn't waste any time, did she? You were banging her while he
was being banged-up. Hippo-slag!

Rut - ..........................

Doug - Where is she now anyway? I haven't seen her in donkeys.

Yan - Leeds.......I think.

Nicola - I heard she was in Manchester.

Rut -

.............................................................................
..............................................................
....................................

Yan - What!! No she wasn't on the game an she wasn't a fuckin' slag.

Doug - Naww..................Just an ugly, fat-arsed, two-timing, gypsy
bitch!!
Rut - .............................

Nicola - (Laughing) Where'd the 'gypsy'- bit come from?

Doug - Don't know, but it sounded good. Anyway, she couldn't have
moved to Manchester. I'd have seen her when I was home.




Nicola - Yeah, with your 'all-seeing-eye'. She might be married with
sprogs for all you know. And I still don't get all this 'home' bit!
You've bin livin' ere four years now and you still call Manchester
'home' as if you've just popped down for a visit. And you're not even
from Manchester, you and Yan are from xxxxx.

Doug - Well, I went out there a lot. Figure-o-speech like.

Nicola - Figure-ov-bollocks more like! Y'know, you Northerners are all
the same. Ya come down 'ere, steal our jobs, steal our women then
fuck- off back up North with the swag. Worse than the Paki's you lot.
At least they gave us curries. What've you ever given us?

Rut
-...........................................................................
.......................

Nicola - Flat-caps and Black pudding! Yeah, thanks guys.

Yan - Blackburn Rovers!.......(silence)..........Well Man U an'
Liverpool are a     bunch of cunts like, but they're still better than
your Cockney shite.

        (Rut and Nicola look at each other exasperated)

Rut -

.............................................................................
.....................................

Nicola - It must be the beer, Rut. They can't take our strong London ale.

Doug - What is this? North versus South............... bunch of fucking
juveniles!
                            -----------------


                      39

Poached eggs had been made and brought in on a breakfast tray with a pot of
Earl Grey. A red tea cozy covered the pot that had been knitted by her
Auntie Barbara as a stock present for no-one in particular, and had been
given to Nic in a misguided gesture of senile goodwill, covering all the
birthdays and Christmas' since she had seen her last.
Nic had drank Earl Grey for years and half the time forgot when people came
round, instinctively making them brews with 'her' tea bags. And anyway, he
had drank her brews loads of times and never complained before, but that was
usually after a night on the tiles when he was half cut. He nearly always
left for work first thing before she got up. But this was a Sunday, their
first Sunday lie-in together and if she hadn't been in such a good mood she
might have been upset when he'd said,
'What's this piss? Forget to wash the pot out or somethin'.'
But he was laughing, so smiling herself, informed him that it wasn't
P.G.Tips so he might not have tasted it before.
The toast was soggy and the eggs were runny but he ate it in a few
mouthfuls, silent throughout. He was still hungry. She could tell by the
way he finished and looked from side to side like a hungry bear cub.
'Got worms or somethin'?........ I suppose ya want more toast now?'
'Can I have jam on them?'
She almost sprang out of bed, then wondered why she was so keen to please
him. Someone had bust the toaster. Yan had said he didn't break it, and it
wasn't Paulas style to not mention anything if she'd done it, and she was
always at her boyfriends anyway. It must have been him the Friday before
last when he came back pissed. Snakebites with Rut. That just about says
it all. It was only a cheap one so she wasn't that bothered. Turning the
electric grill on, better clean that, one of these years, she bends down and
feels a peculiar twinge in her stomach. Must be my period coming on. That
sex jiggled everything around.



'Got any peanut-butter?'
She puts in four slices and shouts back.
'After poached eggs? You're an animal! I wouldn't tell you even if I did.
What about marmite? '
'What? Is that more acceptable than peanut-butter?
Smiling, she strolls back to the bedroom doorway.
'Look. You can have them on your lap or in your face. It's your choice.'
He repeats Nic's last sentence in a squeaky voice and grabs hold of her
hand, dragging her back into bed. He is still naked and the large T-shirt
she is wearing pulls up as they wrestle so their waists connect. His cock
starts to stiffen as it touches her and she too is aroused.
'Shit, the toast!!'
They both scramble out of bed and run to the kitchen where smoke has already
filled the top third of the room. Nic opens the window as Yan burns his
hand trying to pull the grill tray out. Using the tea-towel he goes to
throw them in the bin, but as they're still smoking he runs cold water over
them instead.
'I guess that's breakfast over then.'
She laughs and does an over the top yawn.
'YAAAWW!! Oh, it's a beauty outside. Let's go up the Heath. We can have
dinner somewhere or stop for a pub lunch.'
'Now there's an idea.'
As usual, within five minutes Yan is dressed and ready to go, then tuts when
he hears the water start to flow in the shower.
'Oh shit. DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE A SHOWER?'
'AFTER LAST NIGHT. YOU'RE 'AVIN' A LARF AINTCHA?'
He resigns and turns the T.V. on in a huff. Sitting on the bed, he gathers
all the pillows together and plumps them to rest back. The remote isn't
working so he throws it behind him and lunges at the switch.
Religion............religion.........more fucking religion. Finally he
settles for an 'Incredible Hulk' cartoon and settles back hoping
Nic will now take her time and have a nice long shower.
- That looks nothing like The Thing. I wonder why they didn't have the
Human Torch in 'The Fantastic Four' cartoons. Maybe he was too hard to
draw or colour in or something. Naww.               And that little robot thing
they replaced him with, Robbie or Herbie or whatever he was called. Now he
was really shit. Maybe it was a legal thing with Marvel Comics. Eye giss
will nevva know.            'Flame On !' What a crap catch-phrase. S'pose
it's better than, ' It's Clobberin Time!' Oh, Betty you big, soppy, girls
blouse.
Totally caught up in the cartoon, he doesn't notice Nic has finished her
shower and is standing in the doorway watching him. She tells herself she
doesn't need this. Can't be bothered looking after another little boy. Be
worshipped for the first few months then be mother again. Be patronized
whilst washing his undies. He kicks his foot like the T.V hero and she
can't stop herself from smiling. He does a loud Karate chop and she
realises that he's aware of her presence. He's play-acting for her and she
smiles wryly. Nic knows he's cleverer than he lets on. Playing the tough,
quiet guy gives him the best of both worlds and he knows she knows. But
nothing is said. Another unspoken understanding that binds them.
She's been caught out spying on him, so does a Kato and jumps on the bed
making Kung-Fu sounds. They kneel facing each other, sparring in slow
motion. He goes for a downward chop and she does a low, stomach punch,
doubling him over where he takes the opportunity to tickle her ribs. They
fall about the bed laughing, until quite suddenly, Nic stands up,
straightening her bathrobe, and with an intense, serious face walks across
the room. Oh shit! What've I done wrong now? Yan swings his legs over the
side of the bed and rests his head in his hands. He hears her moving things
on the dressing table. She's not banging them, but he can tell she is
moving them quickly, curtly, and her apparent anger makes him rise. Cool
down. Don't let her get to you. She's doing it on purpose to get you
going.
He needs to escape before he says something he regrets. So slowly, so she
can't hear, he lets out a built-up breath and wordlessly gets up, goes into
the bathroom and closes the door behind him. In the mirror he stares at his
eyes. They are bloodshot and his face is puffy with the previous nights
alcohol. He doesn't want the bother of a shower but still needs something
to do to give her some time. Spotting the toilet he squats and attempts a
crap.
Before Nic, he never had any problems with his colon. Shit, before Nic he
didn't even know that he had a colon. Then suddenly words like 'fibre',
'bowel', 'roughage' and 'regularity' became part of his everyday
vocabulary. He'd never had a problem dumping until he found out that he
could have a problem dumping. And to top it all, he'd wiped his arse two
days earlier and found blood on the toilet paper. Piles! He was turning
into his Old Man.
Yan hung around for twenty minutes before coming out pretending nothing had
happened. It seems nothing had happened for Nic was no longer angry, and
they kissed in the doorway before setting off.
It was a fifteen minute walk and an overly bright day for Yans pub-eyes.
Nic was wearing the shades that reminded him of Kim Wilde; dated, Eighties
and tackily glam. He decided to buy her a new pair the next pay-day.
Walking past an off-license, Yan has a yearning for a can of beer, but
settles for a Lucozade instead. Nic has a bottle of mineral water and they
walk on happy and silent.
Near the park gates they have to walk around a group of kids blocking the
pavement with their bikes. The eldest, a black kid no older than thirteen,
stares at Yan, sizing him up. He stares back and laughs out loud at the
cheek of the boy. Shaking his head, Yan wonders where they get their balls
from, if they practice at home in front of a mirror or if it just comes
naturally.




In a pub in Preston one time, he'd tried to stare-out this black guy and
eventually given up. After forty seconds or so, he'd felt foolish and
childish and eventually found himself wondering why he was staring at all.
He just felt too silly and getting bored of the whole game walked away. It
was only later that he thought that perhaps, that was what the guy wanted
him to feel.
Anyway, it was the kids you had to look out for these days, he thought. Not
just the black kids, any kids. At least with an adult male you knew where
you stood. You fight. One of you wins, that's the end of it. The kids
these days were like rats, dirty little fuckers. Trying to prove themselves
all the time. You fight one, they all jump in, and because they're so young
they have no fear of life or death or being sent down, so don't give a fuck
or think twice about sticking you with a blade.
As they enter, Nic takes Yans hand in hers and they cross the park in
silence. He wishes he had a kite, knowing he'd never fly it, but just
having one would be nice, he thought. Walking through a clearing, she
turns, watching him whilst walking backwards.
'What's the past-tense of blow-dry?'
Yan looks round Travis Bickle style.
'Yu talkin' ta me?'
'Is it "Blew-dry" or "Blow-dried"
'It's "Blewed-dryinged" stupid!'
She turns away upset again, knowing he's only joking but still hating him
for using that word with her. Her flash of anger immediately folds inward
and she's mad at herself for reacting so. Shit, shit, shit!
'Come on babe, let's have a sit down an' a fag.'
Feeling for his rolling baccy, he plumps down within good eye-shot of a
group of tasty looking girls playing with a toddler. He pretends to care
about the dryness of the grass for Nic to sit on, but is imagining himself
naked in the middle of the group. The baby is him, naked and they're all
playing with his cock.
The tall blonde with her back to him, bends down
wiggling her arse in the air as she does a little dance with the kid. Yan
can almost feel his cock sliding up her from behind.

'YAN!! I said are you hungry?'
'Oh, erm..... a bit. Yeah, I mean, I'm starving.'


'The Snackery' is too busy already and a warm gust of air blasts their faces
as they enter. The air conditioning makes their eyes water as it caters for
either winter or summer weather, not sunny days with a nippy breeze. Vainly
squinting for two spare seats, Nic hears Yan whisper close to her ear.
'I'm dying for a piss. I won't be a minute.'
And he's off, leaving her with her dodgy eyes and no specs. She's stuck to
the spot and feels everyone knows it. Why do guys always do that? Or why
do they wait until you're getting up to leave to say- I'm just having a
piss.
The whole room is staring at her now, looking at the hair that she didn't
bother washing, tying it back in a straggly pony-tail instead; looking at
the scuffed trainers that she hasn't cleaned since she bought them; staring
at the lack of make-up on her face and the faded t-shirt and tatty, blue
jeans. They were laughing at her, all of them. She could feel herself
shrinking, folding in on herself. -Where the hell are you, Yan! Where's the
fuckin' waitress?
Her raw instinct is to run but a greater fear prevails. In bold desperation
she focuses her eyes to try to see more clearly the probing faces around
her.
The relief is audible, as she exhales seeing mothers and children, prams and
the hustle of a busy cafe, like the one she works in. There are no probing
faces, no eyes judging her to be unworthy. Just normal people getting on
with their lives. Then the embarrassment rises again. -What if someone was
watching me and could tell what I was thinking, could see how frightened I
was?
The half-formed paranoia races on until, a lifetime later, Yan returns. No
conclusions have reached her fretting mind.
'There's an empty one over there.'
'You bastard!!'
But he's gone again, already legging it towards the table in a head to head
with an old woman speed pushing a pram. By the time Nic gets there, he is
sat with his legs spread wide, trying to take up as much of the table space
as possible. He grins at Nic and smiles innocently at the runner-up, who is
fuming back at him stuck in table traffic.
'Yan you big kid!'
'Hey babe, it's dog eat dog. You gotta be ruthless this day and age.'
He pulls a chair out for her.
' Earl Grey?'

                     -----------


                          40

 It was dark in that spot. I don't know whether he was pissed or off his
head. Maybe he was waiting in that spot 'cause the street lamp was bust
there. Maybe he bust it, I don't know. But me and Nik were coming back
from this shite hair show at the Con-club and it was only earlyish, about
ten I think. Anyway, things were well cool between us then, we just wanted
to get home to fuck. Y'know those rip-each-others-clothes-off fucks that
young lovers have occasionally. Yeah........well anyway, Trouble, I did
not want, it really was the last thing on my mind, and we were walking home
sharpish like, when this prick, I hadn't seen him 'til then, this prick just
spat out a mouthful of beer in our way. We were almost parallel with him,
him at the side of us leaning against this garden wall. But because of the
light not working and him being black...........well, it was a bit of a
shock, let's just say that.
  But he must have seen us coming or heard us anyway 'cause we were well
loud, chatting and having a laugh. So when he spat out all this crap we
literally had to jump back so we didn't get covered.
 Well, Nik sort of knew what I was like so she reached to the side of her
and put her hand on my chest as if to hold me back.
  I said-'What the fuck's all that about?'
 And he just looks at me with this cocky slanted face and tuts. One of
those funny West Indian blood-clot tuts.
 It's dark, but I can see he's a bit wound up about something. He's a
fair-sized Jamaican chap with two fucking massive gold rings on and a bottle
of Bud in his right hand. I clocked him straight away so shouted right in
his face-'WELL!!'
 To this he stepped back quick and smashed the bottom of the Bud on the wall
behind him. He holds it up and eyes me.
 At this point I honestly think, he thought I was going to back down. I
mean imagine some smart cunt waves a broken bottle in your face and tries to
make you look like a soft piece of shit in front of your woman. I ask you?
Is it the bottle? Or does he think I'm scared of him 'cause he's black.
Some big bad coon psyching the white-boy. I mean......fuck that!




But until this point life's a peach. Things couldn't be better and I'm all
happy and horny, so it sort of shocked me funny. Y'know when something's so
out of the blue it jolts you. Maybe thats why I did what I did. Because I
was stunned. The thing is - to never let yourself be too stunned. Never
let anything surprise you so much you lose control and let them gain the
upper hand. I think it's because I was so happy it got to that stage.
Normally I would have taken him out way before he'd even smashed the bottle,
but anyway.
 I was so conscious of Nicola being next to me. I don't know whether I was
worried for her or worried that she should see 'this', but it was happening
and I had to sort it.
For some reason though, I didn't want to hurt him. It didn't cross my mind
for a second that he would hurt me, some things you just know. I looked him
straight in the eye and said,
"You're weighing me up aren't you?. If you're any kind of fighter at all,
you already have done. So tell me.......what do you think? You really
think you can take me?
Well, I've clocked you, and you know what I think?
I think you know.
You've got a broken bottle in your hand pointing at my face but you know".
I pushed my face nearer to the bottle and shut up then for about 30 seconds
so Nic told me later, but it seemed like a few minutes with all the
adrenalin and that. Didn't say a word. Just looked at him.
Inside my head, I'd snatched the bottle off him and was crunching it into
his face over and over. I could feel the blood on my hands, feel him going
limp.
Nic said I was smiling. One of those summery "Morning Vicar!' smiles you
see on those crap old comedies. I just remember his eyes. From mean
gansta, to doubt, to confusion, to pure fear.




Ben Johnson had nothing on that cunt. I've never seen anyone move so fast
in my life. Didn't even think of chasing him, he was nearly out of sight by
the time I started laughing. It must have been the nerves, or that I'd won,
beaten the prick without a drop spilled. But I nearly split my sides, was
in tears. Until I looked up and saw Nicola.
Her face.........Oh fuck..........I'm sorry.
That look. I'd do anything to stop her looking at me like that. It was
then. It all changed.
        Oh Nic, please don't look at me like that.



PROLOGUE




Picking up the gloves, Nicola asks the stall-holder the price. Six pounds
ninety-nine, love. Does he really want any gloves? Well he 'asn't got any
so he needs some. But that's not the same as wanting some. She smiles
whilst shaking her head and walks on.
I wanna get 'im somethin' he really wants, not just loads of old rubbish.
CDs?..............Naww, I never get 'im the right stuff. He likes that
Heavy Metal crap. Thrash or sommit. S'just noise with screamin' over the
top that is. He said he liked Lionel Ritchie one time, but he was probly
takin' the mick. He's always doin' that.
Shoes? People always need shoes and stuff, don't they? How mucha they? Oh
where's the bloody price tag? .......................... Eighty Nicker!!
They've gotta cheek.
'No thanks love, I'm just lookin'.'
- Yeah, lookin' for the exit! Last time I come in 'ere.
Remembering she needs to get a 150 Watt bulb for the landing, she wanders up
the high street and smiles at the Christmas lights. Despite everything,
Christmas cheers her up. It even gives her a warm feeling inside. She
knows it's a cliche and can't for the life of her think why it does, it just
does. All the ones she had when she was a little girl were worse than
horrible. All fighting and crying and no proper presents ever. Well, not
ones she liked or actually wanted. She makes a conscious effort to try not
to remember, then stops herself, realising that it was this, now, that was
important. It wasn't all the old Christmas's that mattered, it was the ones
in the present and future that mattered, that made her feel warm. That
sense of time passing that Christmas and New Year gave her; that she'd
survived another one. Lived one more year.
She pops into Boots for some hair conditioner and picks up some cherry lip
balm while she's there.
Uuuuuuuu, these soaps smell lovely. Double the price of the normal ones and
they don't last half as long, but........................... Nic puts it
close to her nose and breathes in deeply. She looks both ways as if looking
for an assistant and slyly puts it in her pocket whilst casually walking
towards the pay counter.
The buzz as she pays for the conditioner, heart thumping against her chest
as she walks out of the shop right past the
security guard. He loks her up and down and smiles a come-on. Nice tits.
Still only thirty feet away, she looks back, as if checking the traffic to
cross, and seeing no-one following, ducks into a gift-card shop on the same
side. At the entrance, a creepy looking Santa rings his bell and smells of
cheap whisky. For some reason, he reminds Nic of her Uncle Bob, who'd died
in Hong Kong a few years earlier. But she shoves the memory aside not
wishing to stain the thrill of the steal.
In the shop she can't see anything in particular. Rather, she's not paying
attention to anything, to any of the cards she picks up and puts down.
She's drifted. The adrenalin is still pumping, but slowing now so she can
enjoy it. She feels sexy, like that biting point where she's just getting
control when coming up on an E.
She looks down and sees, as if for the first time, the 'Happy Birthday
Nephew' card she's been holding for three minutes now. She puts it back on
the rack with an over the top- 'No, not quite right.' -look, and walks out
of the shop smiling to herself.


              ------------------------
It was in the 'Black Lion' after her funeral. There was no finger buffet,
no pies prepared, so all the assembled mourners descended on the nearest
pub. Pint drinkers ordered chasers and short drinkers, doubles, milling
from the bar to the unlit fire hearth, trying to find a consoling spot. It
was a sunny day outside, bright but with a chilly wind, and the light
streamed through the green and red, stained-glass window top. For some
reason everyone avoided this area, as if it were too colourful, too cheery
for such a sombre occasion, preferring the dark corners in which to mumble
in. No-one seemed particularly distraught, except for Yan, who was burning
inside but collected to the world. They hardly knew Nic, even to talk to.
She kept her own company, as if ashamed of her past. So they sipped their
Milds and their Gin and Tonics, no personal tragedy. The room filled with a
vague, general sadness at the suicide of a woman so young.
 Rut was in the corner listening to some guy talk at him. Yan wasn't sure
if he was really listening or just being polite. The usual 'I'm really
intelligent me' half-smile playing his lips. Except for him, Yan hardly
knew a soul but stuck around to be polite. That, and a grief-induced
lethargy that had suddenly descended.
Nics older step-sister Jane had made all the arrangements. He hadn't been
in any fit state, and Nic hadn't introduced him to any of her family anyway.
Her only real sister had emigrated to New Zealand years ago, leaving Jane,
Nics father Bill, and her mum, who'd left Bill in '87, whereabouts- Unknown.
Twice previously, Bill had left her and the family, but always returned
after a few months. When she left him, he couldn't handle it, and people
said he visibly aged over those two weeks. He and Janes family lived in
Stratford still, E15, the Far East she used to call it as if it were
thousands of miles away. It might as well have been, the amount of times
she visited them.
>From Kentish Town to Stratford, an hour, an hour and a half tops, he
thought, and he didn't even know the bus routes. There had to be one that
headed that way. Maybe even half an hour if, like Nic, you were born and
bred in London and knew your way round. But he never pushed her into
visiting them and wasn't too
bothered about seeing them himself. He wasn't exactly loved-up with the
remaining members of his clan. To him, kin were people you used to know,
not people you had to necessarily still know. Like that old road safety
advert- 'Keep Your Distance'. Just about said it all really.
He ordered another Fosters and checked-out the crowd. Mostly old folks,
disappointed at the lack of a spread. God knows where they all crawl out
of, a good old Cock-er-ney funeral always does the trick. He was surprised
there wasn't all that parade and horse-drawn carriage shit. Naww...........
Eastenders save that for the really important, really special people. The
money-lenders, the old thugs and gangsters. And there was too much shame
involved here.
Behind him he could hear Jane clucking. Earlier she'd told him she hardly
knew any of the crowd herself, asked him the day before if Nic had kept an
address book so she could contact her friends. But she hadn't, so here were
the relative flotsam, the second cousins and great-aunts. Her face was
pinched and furrowed, looking ten years older than the reality. The worry,
the stress pushing itself to the surface. Even though they weren't really
related, Yan could see Nic in her. Not proper family, but with the same
cheap breeding. A diet of doughy white bread, chips with no fruit or veg.
Clothes from markets not shops. He didn't look down on them, for despite
being born nearly three hundred miles away, they were from the same stock.
Only he moved away from his stock and tried to do better for himself. Nic
just tried to avoid her stock, but they always caught up with her. Even
now. Improvement or change were not an option.
He couldn't see Val anywhere. Yan had only seen him once but never forgot a
face. He'd looked a bit Turkish, maybe with a squirt of Gypsy. Dodgy
either way. Nic had gone out with him for two years before dumping him for
Yan. Apparently his brothers and him were going to 'sort' Yan out, but
nothing came of it. Yan couldn't wait and for a while he'd had a running
joke with Nic. Every time they were out and he saw someone he didn't like
the look of, he'd say- Is that Val? Is that 'im?

What kind of a name was that anyway? Val ........?           What's it
short for? Imagine being named after Val Doonican. Yan laughed, I've got
no room to talk.
He took another mouthful of beer and swallowed bitterly. Each time he
smiled or laughed he felt guilty. She had only died on Friday. He was
keeping it together well, he thought, drunk everyday and only two fights.
Just slightly up on the average. He wondered when the heaviness would lift,
then felt guilty again. It never would, that was that. So what? Drink and
drink 'til his liver divorced him. Something had to give, but what and
when? For that moment, he had a bit of cash so was staying put, propping up
a bar surrounded by strangers. I won't talk to anyone, no-one talk to me.
'Are you one of Billy's?'
Yan tutted quietly. He closed his eyes for a second, taking another to open
them and look to his left. He didn't want company.
'What?'
He had heard him clearly but for some reason wanted to hear him say it
again.
'Are you one of Billy's?
The old man had raised his voice as if talking to an idiot or someone hard
of hearing. It still didn't mean a thing to Yan, and he sighed, resenting
being forced to think and speak.
'Who the fuck is Billy, and who the fuck are you?'
The vitriol of his response shook the old man, but only slightly. He
recovered quickly, it was a funeral after all, emotions always ran high.
'Billy-boy! Nicola's father.'
Yan fumed, then tamed his anger. This was no enemy, just an innocuous, old
man. Harmless, but still managing to be offensive and intensely annoying.
'Her name was Nic. She hated being called Nicola.'
'Right mate, whatever............... You a boyfriend then?'
'You could say that.'
Why did Yan resent this man so much? He resented being bothered, he
resented the forced familiarity of these events, but above all, he resented
the- You a boyfriend then? As if she'd had
loads of boyfriends and he was just one of them. Again, control, calm.
Part of him resented that even, like his anger was justified and he had a
right to vent it on whoever pissed him off.
'It's a terrible shame isn't it'
Yan turned to look at the old geezers face. He could barely believe anyone
could say something so trivial, so superficial and meaningless, especially
after just telling the idiot that he was her boyfriend. He searched his
face for any grain of maliciousness, but found none.
'Yes, it's terrible.'
He bought his new 'friend' a pint and a glass of Glenmorrangie for each of
them. Wordlessly they toasted and each returned to their own thoughts. Yan
wondered if there was some secret rule that prevented old men from properly
thanking you when you bought them a drink. Maybe they thought they deserved
everything you gave them so didn't ever need to bother. While pondering
this, his mind slid back to what he had said. It hadn't really registered
earlier. Billy-boy! Billy..........Was he here?
'How is Billy taking it anyway?'
As Yan fished he wondered if his question was too transparent, if the old
guy knew what he was thinking.
'Billy? Oh bad, bad. There he is over there.....why don't you have a word
with him?'
Inside Yan smiled. It was a cold, brutal smile.
On countless occasions he had imagined this moment. Pictured what he'd do
to the man who'd abused his love for so long. But in his imaginings, Nic
had always been by his side. The loss hit home again and he thought he
would cry. The intensity momentarily blinding the rage. Then he pictured
her frightened young face as her father licked her cunt, and the rage
returned ten-fold.
As he turned and saw him for the first time, all else disappeared. This was
the man Yan blamed for her death. Who fucked with her mind and body so
heartlessly that she was screwed up for the rest of her life. Who never
once admitted abusing her, making her a pariah to the rest of the family
when
she finally had the guts to tell them what he'd done. He didn't just hate
him, he hated all of them for turning their backs on her when she needed
them the most. He saw him as through a translucent funnel, all voices
merely incomprehensible sounds.

Nothing existed but this despicable human.


He thinks of many things to do to him.
He thinks all these things but does not do them.

He does not walk over to him and take hold of the back of his greasy head
and firmly grasp his straggly hair and slam his face into the table top
until his nose explodes and teeth shatter. No men step forward to try and
stop Yan as he looks up and eyes them one by one. None take another step,
too afraid for their own safety to stop this man they all know from being
battered unconscious. He does not take a beer bottle from the side table
and smash it over the mans head then crunch it into his face repeatedly
puncturing then ripping the skin with the momentum of the thrusts until his
left eyeball ruptures and his face is a mass of deep gashes and dark red
blood. He doesn't pick up the table in front of the man and push him with
it into the near wall cracking his skull open in one movement. He doesn't
approach him smiling then whack his jaw with an unexpected side swipe
holding his head against the floor as he speeds his fist for blow after blow
splitting his lips wide bashing his throat and mouth until his mangled jaw
sits at right angles to the rest of his skull and he can barely breathe.

He thinks all these things but does not do them.

Instead he looks to Nics father and does not see a target. This man is too
weak, too pathetic. Whatever he did do is past, long gone. This man could
not even feel remorse when his daughter was alive, pointing the finger. He
denied and no-one
seemed to notice the absence of his usual self-righteous rage. He was the
all-forgiving father, saddened at the wild accusations of his obviously
disturbed girl. Her lies confirmed everyones fears, that she wasn't all
there and never had been. Now topping herself proved it once and for all.
Maybe he'll feel remorse now. Probably not, Yan thought, but what does it
matter now anyway. She's gone.
Yans vision was clearing. His white rage wasn't subsiding, but channeling
internally. He could not blame or hate this man, so must hate and blame
himself. It had to be someone's fault.
His hand shot out pushing over his full pint glass. This spasm, the only
physical expression of his anger. Without another word, he rose from his
stool and left the pub, staring all the while at the floor. If his eyes
strayed upwards and caught another glimpse of Nics father, he might not have
been able to help himself from doing some damage. He knew in his guts that
if he started, he wouldn't be able to stop until the man was dead.
Numb now. Confused. As he walked down the desolate road still staring
downward, he thought he saw out of the corner of his eye, some confetti fly
past. Finally looking up, he was confronted by two rows of cherry blossom
trees, five on either side leading down the road. They were blowing in the
strengthening wind, shedding thousands of their soft pink blossoms, which
hardly had time to fall to the floor before another gust would raise them
and carry them on. Yan was taken aback. He couldn't remember seeing these
trees as he entered the pub earlier, he was sure of it. But there they
were, lying to his eyes.
He looked up Hermit road where he would begin his walk and walk.


                  ------------------




 Some are waiting for the punch-line that never comes. Rut is clueless.
Yan knows the patter but still finds it funny after all these. A hush. Nic
half knows yet feigns expectation. She is playing the foil to Doug's gag, a
willing dupe to raise the laugh.
'.............a good dump. I mean it's up there with wanking and some
shags.'
Playing the lousy liar, Yan turns towards Nic suddenly.
'Present company excluded, of course!'
'Ov course lover.'
'Ov course mate. But honestly though, it is isn't it? When you've eaten
loads of pasta or something and you're absolutely dying to go. And you
finally sit down and let her go. Man ! That feeling. It's up there
innit?'
Nic pretends to be disgusted whilst stifling a grin. He's on one and Yan
knows it. Best to play the straight man when he's like this. He has to
shout over the laughter and chat.
'Doug, Doug, Doug! That's a bit gay isn't. Getting a kick out of things
coming out of your arse. What about things going in and out of your arse.'
'Good point, Yan. Well, you'd know more about that than us, wouldn't you
eh? Tell me Nic. He doesn't like you fiddling with his ring-piece does
he?'
Nic half spurts her drink in shock and laughter.
'Whoehh, whoehh!! That's a bit....y'know.........perrrsonallikke!'
Yan's crap Scouse accent makes Rut laugh even more. Realising he's gone a
bit too far, again, Doug holds his hand up in mock apology.
'Forgive me maiden.' Bowing.
'It's me you should be apologizing to!'
'Oh fuck you, slap-head.'
Yan does an angry face and shows Doug the back of his hand. He wobbles his
head and in Noiy Yoik gangster says,
'Yu liddle punk! Why yi oughta..........'




They leave the Archway Tavern and drift down the Holloway losing Jenky and
Cas. Mick shoots to meet his girlfriends' parents and has to be forced to
get a round in before he leaves. The four remain, the night becoming more
and more of a hazy stumble. Doug leans back in his chair burning his arm on
the radiator.
'I'm giving up fags.'
'You've been givin' up for ages' Nic leans forward and offers him one.
'Cheers. No, I mean for good. After this, after tonight, no roll-ups, no
fags, no nothing.'
'.................................................'
'Especially no joints, Rut me-old-jellied-eel. There the worst of the lot.
One joint is like having six fags in tar and shit.'
Slowly Yan wobbles to his feet and slaps the table theatrically.
'Well then.... Dr. Doug. Now you're on this health tip, I suppose you won't
be partakin' in a round of slammers.'
Birthday boy smiles pretend coy.
'Wellll...........since it's such a special day and all that. I suppose I
could be persuaded. But you do realise Yan, I'm only doing this under
extreme duress. And only if it's partnered with a wee
Guinness.............. better make that a big, old Guinness.'
'Whatever you say, old codger. Whatever you say.'
Yan heads for the bar shaking his head and shouts to Rut for help. Rut
jumps up leaving Nic and Doug, and finds Yan already in a heated discussion
with the landlord. We find ourselves in Doug's head.
We find a displaced man. No longer from the north, nor from the south.
With family, but without. No religion but the smear of guilt and a lasting
resent. His history a compendium of all the things he now despises.
He can feel her staring at him. Their unspoken fondness for each other
sometimes embarrasses him, so he looks up suddenly as if to shock her out of
it, like a slap on the face- Stop! You're my mates girlfriend. Instead he
finds her staring past him and he turns with her sightline, now hiding from
her view, glad to not
have been caught out. She is looking at the doorway, where a pissed-up old
Irishman is blocking the doorway, not letting anyone in or out.
'Ya..Fuckyarrfuckingarr.....Yaa!'
Doug laughs, 'Go on you mad-ed!'
The drunk falls out, back onto the pavement, just missing someone walking
past eating a take-away from two doors down.
'Ya pissed-up twat!!'
But some locals have ran out after him. Two trying to pick him up, another
placating the irate take-awayer.
'Apparently you're barred Doug.'
Yan is back, empty handed. Rut lurks behind him in a false pose of
aggression towards the landlord who's smarmily staring at Doug.
'Yeah. You, ya cunt! OUT! And take your mates with ya!'
'What've I done?'
Doug is swaying and righteous.
'You know. Now out!'
The friends look at each other and start to laugh uncontrollably. By now
the landlords mates have stepped forward, gagging for an excuse. From
slouched bar-proppers to Titans. This is their manor. Who the fuck are
these wankers, let's show them. Nic has stopped laughing and started
worrying. As if by magic, Rut has teleported to the other side of the group
behind Doug. The room is now almost silent, stray whispers ordering their
friends to- Sshh! The Jukebox turned low.
Doug scans the bar in a second then focuses back to the landlords stare. He
smiles, the only niggle, Nic and her safety.
'Let's get this straight, shall we? ............... I'm barred from
here?.............. I'm barred from ......this little..........SHIT-HOLE!'
He looks to Yan who's staring-down two half-cut bruisers. And almost in a
vision see's much blood but on the plus side plenty of fun. He weighs the
situation up and decides against a ruck.
'Come-on. This place stinks.'
They back out as one, Yan last, offering his raised middle finger to each of
the punters he passes. Almost politely intoning,
'Wankers.'
 He grins broadly and gives the room a Vulcan farewell signal.


'Strut' is the word here. The three, and then Nic in drunken agreement,
more relief than acceptance at their actions. The weight of a heavy
situation nullified, but with their sense of honour kept intact. It was a
victory and nothing less. They'd taken on a whole pub and stood their
ground. Rut smirked, yeah right!!

Upstairs was packed and smoky. No tables were free at first, but eagle-eye
Doug spotted potential, squatting against the wall near where a seated
couple were having a subdued-blazing row. Noticing they were being watched,
there followed a few moments stoney silence. Then the man got up and
stormed out theatrically, followed soon after by his date, leaving Doug to
claim the table whilst shouting to Nic and the others at the bar.
The plan was to have a half or a short in every pub down the Holloway Road
and finish up at the club night in The Garage. But Yan refused to drink
halves so pretty soon the plan was a faint memory. Seven pubs later they
decided to shoot up Tufnell Park road and go to the comedy night at the
Tavern.
The first comedian was nervous and unengaging and shite of the highest
order. The second was halfway through her act when the couple departed and
Doug shouted to the others. She saw an easy laugh and turned on Doug and
his genitalia. Until this point, her act had consisted of a series of cheap
put downs of men and the size of their knobs. A few of her friends were
laughing too loud at the facile material, and buoyed by their enthusiasm,
she descended to even greater depths of crapness having used all her best
material in the first five minutes.
Initially Doug ignored her completely which only provoked her more. Then he
suddenly decided he'd had enough and turning
on her told her to go home and have a shave. She was visibly stunned and
one of her drunken cronies stood up and shouted something at him that he
didn't quite catch but could sense was abusive. He turned to face the
latest opponent and laughed at her.
'Are you her girlfriend? Well, if I were you I'd pull out that dildo you
left up your mates arse. All the shits starting to come out of her mouth.'
At this, roughly three quarters of the room burst out laughing with some
applauding, leaving the other quarter in disapproving silence. From the
stage the Stand-Up attacked again, telling Doug to shut up or get out. The
audience were loving it, with a few shouting their views for and against.
Doug slowly rounded on the comedienne again and smiled malevolently.
'Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do? You short arsed hairy mong!
Why don't you fuck off and leave us alone? I wasn't bothering anyone until
you started, was I? But no, you realise that no-one is laughing at your
utterly shite material, so you decide to pick on me. Well you picked on the
wrong bloke love. 'Cause I'm not going to shrink under the table at your
male baiting. Why not? 'Cause it's antiquated, unfunny, sexist crap. Yes,
you think it's one in the eye to all the chauvinists, but firstly you're
preaching to the converted and secondly you're being just as bad, if not
more sexist than them.'
' I'll tell you.....'
' No you won't, Bernadette Manning. We've heard enough of your sexist crap.
But..... I wouldn't mind that so much if you were funny. But you're not.
You're just a sad, old, fat hairy dyke. Get off the stage. Go home.
Retire.'
He sat down to silence. A couple of people started to applaud his speech,
but the major sentiment in the room was now one of pity for the stand-up who
was being ushered off the stage by the always jovial compere. Doug knew
he'd gone too far but resented the audiences judging eyes. More to himself
than the room he said.
'Well, she can give it but she can't take it.'
 Nic was the first to stand, and looking to each of her friends in turn
said.
'I think it's time to go.'


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