Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Any Old Iron

   It was one of those summers in the eighties where the dust sweltered into liquid rays. The Destructor, our name for the council tip, murmured quietly to itself, humming with flies and the putrescence of summer refuse. I held my breath when I could and tried not to use my nose.
   We were there to acquire scrap metal. Wasn’t stealing. We were helping the council workers cut down on labour hours. Giving them time for fag, tea and Daily Sport breaks. Same with the skips: saving folks money on having to rent another for the next load. And the Old Man was the Skipper: Captain of the Skips.
   I’d brag about it in school: The Old Man could make a bike out of spare parts, un-crush a crumpled sax and re-align the keys, shellac new pads into place in the space of a few hours and use that same bike to ride to a gig that very night. I made him a few customers that way. Some, more satisfied than others.
   The Old Man’s workshop was a bizarre mesh of spare parts, spread out on newspapers between half-eaten bowls of cat food. Slug slime glimmered over cracked ceramic and away over unknown, putty-like blackness which suffused the kitchen’s lino tiles. Bike chains soaked in petrol with rusty ball-bearings. Stacks of gears in various styles and qualities partnered chainsets, cantilevers, brake cables, forks; piles of nuts and long, sometimes bent, bolts with dints in the thread like a badly-ploughed field.
   I’d sit, cross-legged, for hours, pulling steel snakes from black-oil pools and rub them rust-free with tattered J Cloths. I wanted them as bracelets, but I always had to hand them over to be sprayed with WD40 and fixed onto finished frames.

   I wasn’t allowed to spray-paint the frames.
   ‘It ain’t a job for kids. You’d make it drip’
So, guzzling shandy from a pint on a trayfull The Old Man had brought from the pub, I’d watch as colour flecked onto sanded steel, or aluminium on a good day. Pixels of paint splattered newspaper in reds, blues, greens. Never pink; never metallic. He’d mask pressed-alloy badges with tape, satisfyingly peeling them to reveal his liberated trophy brand names: Raleigh; Claude Butler; Brompton; Reynolds.
   The only money he spent on renovation was on transfers from suppliers, puncture repair kits and, if and when all else failed, spare tyres and inner tubes. It didn’t look too hard to transfer manufactureship and up the price. Alloy rims, steel rims: all cleaned up, spokes straightened and re-set, then spannered or quick-release fixed into place and spun, spun, spun, the Old Man’s nose nearly skimming metal, as he checked for alignment.
   And he tested each one. The kids’ bikes, I’d be sent to ride with my pal JoJo chuddy, named for his chronic chewing-gum habit. According to legend, the stuff would ‘wrap round his heart’ when swallowed.
   JoJo Chud had a chopper. It had a springy wire attached with some sort of animal tail attached to the end.
   ‘It’s a raccoon tail’
   ‘No it’s not.’

      And then, one summer, between trips to the school lab where JoJo’s Old Man worked as a technician, The Old Man discovered the Moulton. This wasn’t any old iron to him; wasn’t any old bike. Its tiny wheels, smaller than a miniature child’s racer, squatted beneath long, erect poles, finished off with handlebars and a proud, leather saddle. It was a folding bike, light and practical. It wouldn’t just fit in a car boot when it was all screwed down: it would fit on your lap in the back-seat of a mini, or even in a large handbag if it was stretchy enough. Light enough for a kid to sling over the shoulder and run away with. And the old Man looked a proper tit on a Moulton.
   The Moulton became an obsession: suddenly, steel ‘tanks’ were being cashed in down the scrap yard to make space and time for this new habit which was to take on an increasingly comic role in the Old Man’s bike-building career. The Moulton became King of the Road, as Any Old Iron became Any Old Moulton and the Old Man began travelling miles just to pick up a cheap Moulton from the Why Magazine.
   In those days, e-bay didn’t exist. The Why (what have you?) equalled a constant supply of visitors to the crumbling shell of a house, in the form of customers. They’d come to buy anything from tables and desks, to fridges and French horns, metal clarinets and fire surrounds. What hadn’t been skip-fished or rescued from the Destructor, had been bought up dirt cheap from less skilled Why vendors, rubbed down, lacquered, plated, varnished, smoothed, de-rusted, sanded or straightened out, depending on necessity. From a dented, seized up, ten pound trumpet and a few hours’ labour, a shiny, springed-up, nearly-new number would emerge, unrecognisable and ready to market as my handmedown or unwanted gift.
   ‘Bought her a new one for passing grade five,’ he’d say, if the question arose regarding the reason for the sale. Or
   ‘Present from the Auntie. She wouldn’t take it back. Shame, really, but it’s time for a clear out. It’s got to go.’
 And as the focus on the Moultons became a thorn in the Old Lady’s ever-decreasing arse, they increased in number, lined up with bags and shit-ridden trays of dusty, grey, cat litter along the coat-hung wall of the old back-corridor.
   I think it was the embarrassment more than anything else which made her hate the things; though I felt a grown man on a fold-up shopper, in cycling tights and a beer-stained sweater should have pleased her in some ways: it certainly made me and my friends laugh. I’d invite them round just so they could laugh at the bizarre spectacle. But as the rain fell on the once-hopeful coupledom, so the Moultons were relegated to the Yard, amongst lead and copper pipes, filing cabinets, stacks of bricks and other ‘unmissable gems’ some of which were to fester in situ for the next twenty years, strangled in dandelions, buddleia, thistles, ivy and seeded grass, which grew from gaps between the crazy paving.
   And as the lead was weighed in for cash, so the screaming rows reverberated through un-plastered gypsum board and up the uncarpeted, paint-flecked stairs, where I sat, sleepless, waiting for nothing.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Gravediggin' Under the Mancy Way Chapter 7 AND THE END OF PART ONE!!!

Free Lunch

      -Excuse me, but I’m sure I know you from somewhere?
I replace the can of No Frills baked beans on the shelf and turn around to see the dishevelled figure of what could possibly be a girl.
   -No, I don’t think you do, mate.
   -Your face looks awfully familiar
   -You mean I look awful. Eyare, I remember you: you’re that Christian what reckoned god’d give us some money, right?
The girl, it’s definitely a girl, blushes slightly and holds out her hand.
   -I’m Sue.
   -Right. Gaz. Love the new hairdo.
Sue smiles in this coy kind of way and takes a moment to examine her feet.
   -Well yours is very…uh, interesting….how do you stick it up?
See how I’m progressing? Huh? I’ve even shaved me sides, bleached me mohie and dyed it green, stuck it up for the first time in a long time. Must be love eh? A peacock’s gotta woo his peahen and Kiwi deserves the best. When I get round to see her later she’ll be right chuffed…yeah, it’s gotta be love. I even got a bath round at her place, but she won’t let us move in. Too early or some such bullshit. But to be honest, I’m shitting myself. Cos Kiwi wants me to get clean. Uh-huh, you got it, not just in a bath sense. She wants me to finish with the gear.
   I wanna say something rude to this Sue, like I’ll stick it up your arse in a minute, love or I stick it up with whale jizzom  cos that’s what I usually say when people ask…cos I used to get it all the time. Not so much as an Alright or a  how are you just how do you stick your hair up? Yeah, I used to get cunts coming up to me asking me that all the time before I…how shall I say this? I didn’t exactly get disowned by my old friends, more I got sick of their constant hassle about the gear, you know? Yeah, before I drifted away…so I’m laughing at the old memories when I was down the Star and Garter and all the punk gigs, punk pillar, all that. Yeah, I used to go all over the country with them, knew punks from everywhere… good times. I miss them. So I just smile and say
   -Trade secret, that.
Sue laughs.
   -I won’t ask if I can touch it, then…I bet lots of people want to touch it, don’t they? It’s just so….tactile! So we meet again. So how are you, my friend?
   -Not so bad. Yerself?
   -Fantastic, thanks. I’m doing my first year in hospital.
   -So what are you? A nurse or a patient? They let you out of the asylum, then?
   -You’re funny. No, I’m a doctor.
Sue’s blushing again. I remember what Spid said about the ladies liking a bit of rough, oh my, oh my. Images of NHS medicine stores flit through my mind.
   -Doctor Sue.
   -Doctor Hawkins at your service. So how are you doing? Have you found a place to live?
I put four cans of beans and eight cans of tomatoes in my basket and she walks with me to the cheese and yoghurt refrigerators.
   -9p, alright, that. Yeah, I’m sorted, got a job too, off the social.
This is total bullshit, but it appears to impress Sue.
   -Fantastic. So you’re a social worker!
   -No, I got it off the social- the dole: you know. Nah, I’m an advice worker, but don’t ask us for any advice, mind, cos I’m still a trainee.
   -Gosh, how interesting. So did you read the gospel I gave you?
I’m not about to tell her it went up in smoke with the rest of the rubbish from my room, but I am tempted. After all, she told me to ask for the lord for help and the lord warmed me up when I was freezing half to death if you wanna look at it like that. Don’t look at me in a bad way. I didn’t mean it as an offence. I was cold. Right? Right.
   -No offence, like, but you’re never gonna convert me. I’m not interested and besides, I’m Jewish.
   -Are you? God has a very special place for the Jews. Do you practise?
Twenty questions, here we come. You didn’t know that, did you? Well, did you? I’m feeling like I shouldn’t have told her this. Is it guilt?
   Remembering Bubbe Ilyana, the stories she told. The woman in the wasteground. It’s very personal to me. I don’t like to let my front down this easily. There’s too much stuff. Stuff that scares me: stuff that I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling you. Why, you ask? Look at me: I let her down. When my mum got ill, I never thought she’d die. Bubbe used to cry and cry, wailing into the night when she found out my mum had cancer. No one expects their only child to die before them, but for Bubbe, it was worse. It was like after all she’d survived, all she’d seen and survived, to be punished like that, like she said; she just stopped believing in a god. In her God. Our God. She’d wail through the night to Hashem, muttering the Shema, whispering Tehillim every night, and after my mum died, she just stopped. She never lit the Shabbes candles again after that. Never.
   Yeah, don’t ask me about that. Like I said, I prefer to forget. I was just coming up to my thirteenth birthday when she died. When my Bubbe died. Just fourteen days after my mum.
   -Listen, Sue, I don’t wanna talk about it, okay?
Yeah, Sue’s god had a very special place for Bubbe Ilyana, alright, and for my mum, and for me. Except I’m sure you’ll agree, I’ve done this to myself, so just go stick all your bullshit in your gobshite pipe and smoke it up the chimney, will you? You don’t know nothing, little doctor Susie the shikse. Sorry, maybe that was out of order. But it just pisses me off is all. I wish I’d never told her.
   -Okay, but that’s brilliant
   The queues at the checkout are phenomenal. I take advantage of the crowds to check that the peroxide is securely positioned in the waistband of my trousers and fish in my pocket for change.
   -Shit, I don’t believe it! I’ve only lost a fiver. You can’t lend me the money for this lot until I see you again.
   It’s worth a try. I wish to fuckery now even more that I didn’t tell her about me being Jewish. But I’ve blown my giro already and I need my change for the phone. Sorry to disappoint you, but when the fuck are you going to understand that I don’t do all this shit because I want to?
   No one goes into that room in school where they have those little careers advice sessions, do they, and when the teacher asks them when they grow up, what do they want to be, reply, well, Miss, I want to be an intravenous heroin addict. Do they? WELL DO THEY? Yes, I’m angry, alright? You alright with that? Cos it’s not you with a fuckin heroin habit and a girl trying to put you through the fuckin land of hell is it? No? No. Then shut the fuck up. You don’t know me, ain’t walked in my boots.
   -Oh dear, gosh! You must have dropped it somewhere in here. Perhaps someone’s handed it in. Should I ask?
This is all I need. A tenner’s worth of shoplifting down my trousers and having to wait around looking like a dodgy bastard with ANARCHY emblazoned across my chest, whilst some do-gooder makes enquiries on my behalf. Thanks, but no thanks.
   -No one ever hands money in if they find it. I wouldn’t.
   -I would.
   -Well you’re one in a million, love, forget it.
   -But you can’t afford to lose five pounds either. It’s a lot of money to you.
   -Look, don’t patronise me. Just help us out here, Sue. I don’t have the time to go chasin around for five quid. I’ve gotta get back to work. It’s my first week, I’ll get the sack. You’ll get it back. It’s for food; I’ve got nothing at home. I’ve gotta eat.
   I could’ve been a doctor. Could’ve been a lot of things. Don’t look down on me; don’t pity me, and most of all, don’t think I‘m stupid. You think I’m nothing? You think I’m no one? Okay: let’s have a look at you. Think you know me, do you? There’re things you don’t know about me.
  -Oh, alright. I tell you what. I’ll pay for this on the condition that you come to dinner with me and my friends.
Now she’s scribbling her number on the back of an old receipt and handing it to me.
   -Sounds fair enough, cheers darling.
So I put my cans with Sue’s convenience foods on the conveyor belt and shuffle to the end of the checkout to bag it up. £1.08 and a not so hot dinner date. Not the best graft I’ve done, but it’s got potential.

*   *   *
   No. No. fuckin NO! It ain’t funny. I could definitely do without this. I drop the Kwik Save bag where I stand and leg it over to the front garden. The bastards, the fuckin evil bastards. I’ve squatted this place comfortably for over two years and I thought I was safe. Swear to god I thought I was safe. And now I come back and find all my worldlies scattered aimlessly over this overgrown wet grass and brambles and all the windows and doors boarded up with super-safe metal fascist barricading. Even the cellar windows. Okay, it’s not the first time. But look at my drawings, all scattered and smeared and smudged and blowing down the road with the litter and dog shit like rubbish.
I’m shouting to no one, to anyone who’ll listen, anger surging through my body, fists clenching, blood pressure going insane as I charge at the front door, kicking and thumping the brown barricade, roaring like a mad bastard.
And I want to cry, but tears won’t come. The sweat’s streaming down my face, and pure rage seeping out of my pores at the pure injustice
It’s just vindictive. Pure fuckin vindictive evil. Just because I’ve found myself shelter, just because I ain’t paying some bastard landlord who charges extortionate rent and never kills the cockroaches or fixes the roof, never mind the leaking sink. Now this place’ll probably just be left to fall down, left empty, just because if one does it, it’ll give others ideas about freedom, about squatting, right? Jealous bastards. It’s not like you think. It’s not like you think, this world. They won’t rent me their flats, won’t rent me their rooms. Don’t you know that? You fockin bastards. Pity the poor, do you? Well, don’t fockin pity me. Don’t worry about what’ll happen to me now, will you? Eh? That was my life in that room. Might look like litter to you, but it was my life.
   I need a dig. I need a fockin dig and I need it now. I give the door one, last, gut-wrenching kick before I dig my kit bag out from under my mattress, which lays now like a sad paralytic over chairs and drawers, and fill it with the sodden dregs of my life. I’m tense as fuck as I scrape my boots over the tarmac to Birchfields Park and head, smouldering, towards the rubble of some past church forgotten amongst the trees.
   I sit on a bench improvised from gravestones and shuffle through my pockets, through fucked up drawings, pencils and useless keys, looking for my works. The orange caps of syringes lay scattered around, their decapitated plastic bodies half-buried, trodden into the soil. My lighter will hardly keep its flame as I cook up. My hands are shaking and sweating despite the bag I had earlier and my muscles feel so tense that the handle of my spoon’s digging into my finger and thumb. The search for veins has become such a drag that I just give up and unzip my trousers and pull them down at the front to find my fem.
   Yeah, I know, I always said I’d never go in my femoral, ok, I said enough would be enough, that I’d call it a day. I remember saying the same about needles, the same about heroin, the same about cigarettes and the same about eating gefilte fish. So, it’s got fuck all to do with gefilte fish, but right now, I just don’t give a shit. I just need to blank it all out, get my mind off this hostile society. I’ll have a dig and gouch out here for a bit here in the park for a while; concoct a strategy to deal with the bastards. Just when I feel that snag of the needle passing from flesh to vein, Stakki’s words are playing in my head, mocking me


And as soon as I push the plunger, I know that I’ve done too much. I’m passing out onto the cemetery floor, pissing myself, dying amongst the ancient Christian gravestones. And there, in my head, before I lose consciousness, I hear Bubbe Ilyana’s voice and she’s singing:

 Shema Ysroel Adonoi elehenu adonoi echad .

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Gravediggin' Under the Mancy Way: THE NEXT INSTALLMENT! Chapter Six

Helping you Back to Work

   The doors are locked when I arrive at the Jobcentre. A few people stand around outside, smoking, so I light up in the sod’s law that the doors will open and sit down on the curb. A girl cycles up and chains her bike to the bars that they put there for security, though I don’t know why they bothered, cos they’re kicked in and bent now at numerous attempts at robbing, most of them successful by the looks of it. A mangled, rust-flecked wheel, its tyre hanging off is attached to one of the poles by a D-shaped lock.
   -I’d bring that bike inside with you love
I tell her, eyeing the wheel and looking her in the eye. She thanks me and starts wrapping an extra chain around all the parts of the bike she can. Won’t stop ‘em robbing the handlebars or the gears, though, will it? I don’t know what’s up with me. One minute I’m robbing someone and the next I’m warning skinny women to look their bikes properly. Worth the smile she gave me, though. Real smiles don’t happen much. Why would I rob someone who’s signing on at the Jobcentre anyway? I’m not all bad, you know, seriously: I’m not.
   I hear the jangle of metal and everyone turns as a young bloke unlocks the doors. Here we go now, all streaming into the faceless grey room and heading towards various desks. I join my habitual signing queue, surveying my options. This is the worst hour of any given fortnight, give or take this and that. At the first desk, there’s the Caribbean woman with the dreadlocks. She’s my best option. I can have a laugh with her; she’s friendly enough, never gives me any hassle, just lets me sign and leave. The third desk’s got that obese ex-army looking bastard smouldering behind it, General Misery I call him. If I’m next and he calls me I swear I’m going to go look at the job boards and rejoin the queue. I never get past him without grief about anything he can dream up. Last time I was in here, he was telling me I had to cut off my mohie: I mean, the cheek of it, eh? I told him he couldn’t discriminate against me on the grounds of cultural identity and you should’ve seen his face turn from puce to beetroot, nasty fucker. I asked him if my hair could read or write or fill forms and he couldn’t answer. Just like school. I reckon that if I get the other bloke, it won’t be so bad. He’s constantly skiving in the back and probably doesn’t give a toss about his job. Someone’s with the woman and the General’s calling the woman with the bike up, leaving me at the front of the queue. Leaving me with the skiver, who’s still leafing through the files. Dirty bastard: always got his fingers in someone’s drawers.
   I look around. Posters for various schemes on the grey felt notice board. The reception. The jobs desk. A wiry woman with a rucksack is leaning forward, one hand on the jobs desk, job card in the other, waving it at the spotty official.
   -What do you mean I can’t get the job because I’ve not been signing on for long enough?
The bloke looks sideways
   -Not my rules.
   -Don’t give me this I’m just doing my job rubbish either: I’ve got a double first, an MA, fifteen years’ experience, and you’re telling me I’ve not been signing on long enough!
   -All I can do is sign you up for the course, but you don’t qualify for that for another six weeks, so-
The woman’s eyes bulge.
   -A course? I don’t need a course! I can start the job tomorrow! This is ridiculous!
   -Nothing I can do; like I said, it’s not my rules.
   -And they say they want to get people back into employment? This is ridiculous, ridiculous. Honestly!
This place does my head in. And she’s right. It is ridiculous. I mean, she actually wants a job: so give her the job! No wonder this country’s got such a high unemployment rate if people are asking for jobs and the Jobcentre won’t let them apply. As for me, it’s my turn and guess who’s calling me up. The skiver’s been calling my name for ages and I’ve been so busy sympathising with the jobseeker that I haven’t heard him.
   -Mr Fitzpatrick!
I smile at him and hand over my book.
   -Mr Fitzpatrick.
The bloke starts typing stuff into the computer, occasionally looking from the screen to my book.
   -I don’t think we’ve met before.
What? He gets up without waiting for me to respond to his comment, just walks over to the filing cabinets, starts rifling through them again. I lean back, hands behind my head and yawn. The woman they wouldn’t give a job to has gone, replaced by a group of blokes with mobile phones clipped on their belts or in their hands.
   -That ent worth botherin wiv, innit, don’t wanna be applying for something like that, innit?
   -He don’t wanna work in a factory, innit, ent you got anyfink in a suit shop, know what I mean?
   -Yeah, like a fashion outlet, innit-
The bloke’s taking ages. I’m shifting in my chair, wanting to get out of this place before it stifles me. The General’s calling his third client since the cyclist and here’s me, still sitting here. I wonder if this is how he passes his day, wasting as much time as possible so he does less work than anyone else. But he’s back now, and he’s still not asked me to sign.
   -Right. Mr….Fitz…patrick.
He’s pulling up his chair now and I don’t like the way he’s looking at me.
   -So what have you been doing to look for work in the last two weeks?
Here we go. I haven’t had this in a while. For fuck sake.
   -Looked through the Metro News on Friday. Applied for a couple of jobs in there and in the Big Issue.  That was for a caseworker, right, for the homeless.
It’s not all lies, you know. I always flick through the Metro. They still put loads of crap through the letterbox of the place I live. Sometimes I’m lucky. As for the Big Issue, I know plenty of vendors and I have a look through now and again. They were looking for a caseworker, so he can check. Caseworker my arse, I’ve my own case to work on without working on someone else’s.
   -I see. Any other jobs?
   -One’s this job up in Rochdale. Outreach worker for an Asian Community project. The other…
   -An Asian project? These jobs usually specify knowledge of ethnic community languages, do they not?
   -Nah, I’m really interested in the job. Listen, do you have a problem with Asian community projects or something?
   -Of course not
The wanker’s going red now. Stupid cunt.
   -Are you saying that you think there aren’t any Asian people who can speak English? Do you seriously believe it’s my only language?
   -Just leave it out will you. Listen, there was a woman in here earlier who was asking for a job, and you know what they told her?
   -Mr Fitzpartick
   -No, you listen, Steve, you listen, they told her she’s not been signing on long-
   -Mr Fitzpatrick
   -They told her she’s not been signing on long-
   -Can we just get back-
   -Signing on long enough
   -to the interview
   -O……K….could you please keep your voice down, Mr Fitzpatrick?
   -Are you listening to me?
   -OK, can we get back to the interview now?
   -Come on then, what did I just say?
   -Right, do you keep a jobsearch diary?
   -Yeah, I do actually. And I also listen to you, but you don’t listen to me, do you?
   My mouth might be moving faster than my politeness, but I’ve heard that one before and damn, this time I seem to have lost it again. I make a sham of looking through my pockets.
   -Do you have it on you?
   -I don’t believe it. I’ve fockin well left it at home again…fock sake…no way
-Could you mind your language please? Well, you must be aware that you should bring it with you every time you sign on, surely. You’ve been signing on for a substantial period of time now and-
   -No one told me.
   -O….K….well, it seems to me that you are deliberately reducing your chances of finding full-time employment.
   -What the f…
He’s typing into the computer again now and I swing round, leaning my elbows on the desk and have a look at what he’s writing  I believe that Mr Fitzpartic is deliberately reducing his
   -You spelled my name wrong.
   -Could you move away from the screen please Mr Fitzpatrick?
   -Or Mr Fitzpartic?
   -I said, you spelled my name wrong.
   -Oh, yes. Sorry. I’ll just correct that…
   -See. I could do your job for you. I’m doing your job for you and you’re saying I’m deliberately reducing my chances of finding work. Listen up and listen up good. You don’t know me and you’re telling me that you think I’m deliberately reducing my chances of finding full-time employment. The spotty bloke over there- I point to the jobs desk –he thinks the woman who was in earlier can’t apply for a job because she’s not been signing on long enough. Figure it
   -Mr Fitzpatric-
   -No, Steve, figure it out: this place ain’t helping no one.
Shit. Shit with a capital S. I mean, I like a good rant, but if I could snatch those seven little words from his ears and unsay them, I would. He smiles. Pulls my book out of its plastic sleeve and flicks through it. Rolls up his sleeves and, elbows on table and chin cupped in his hand, he pauses, stares at me long and hard, laughing voicelessly through his nose
   -Well. This time, I’m only putting a warning against your name on the computer. But if you fail to produce a completed jobsearch diary next time you sign on, I’m going to stop your benefit.
   -For fock sake, look, I can write down what I did right now…
   -I’ve already asked you to mind your language in here. I can cut your benefits right now if you prefer. And that won’t be necessary.
He’s shaking his head and I’m writing him a list of what I just told him on one of those scraps of paper with one of those little stubby black pens they have in there and sliding it across the desk towards him
   -I said, that won’t be necessary. I’m afraid rules are rules. And with that attitude, I can tell you now that you’re virtually unemployable, so I’ll be calling you up for a Jobsearch review interview, so that we can help you to match yourself to a job which suits you. You’ll need to bring evidence of all the jobs you’ve applied for from now until the interview.
   -Look, I know what I wanna do. And I am applying for jobs. Like the woman I was telling you about said, this is ridiculous. Seriously. Ridiculous.
   -Right. I see.  The skiver’s eyes narrow significantly. –Well, the interview will help you to develop your jobsearch skills. I have an appointment for you on the Friday after next at nine o’clock prompt. Failure to attend the interview will result in your benefit being cut. If you can report by half past eight to reception, there are some forms you will be asked to fill in whilst you’re waiting.
Skiving Bastard writes down the time of the interview on a slip of paper and hands it to me along with my book, a slitty smile manifesting itself on his reptilian face. Problem is, the stupid cunt’s either playing me for a fool, or he deliberately made me forget to sign on.
   -I need to sign on. Are you deliberately reducing my ability to sign on?
   -Uh, sorry, uh…
 So after one of the biggest doses of bullshit I’ve ever witnessed in this shithole, I sign on. What a palaver. All that crap for one poxy signature.
   -Good luck then, Mr. Fitzpatrick.

   I leave the social smouldering with rage, scowling as I pass the group of wannabe suit salesmen who are now hanging around outside the door. I cross the road and walk through the car park at the back of the curry houses and head to the chemist next door to the doctor’s surgery. Inside, an Asian woman is sitting on a chair, cuddling a toddler whilst she wheels a pram backwards and forwards with her other hand, waiting for a prescription. I see Gladys at the other side of the counter as I go up and lean on it. Had enough today and the day’s hardly started.
   -Alright, Gary, love?
   -Alright Gladys. Just had to sign on. Got loads of hassle, threatening to cut off my money.
Gladys shakes her head. She’s alright, is Gladys.
   -They trying to make you do slave labour again?
   -Worse. Will you give us two bags of ten?
Gladys pulls out two silver-grey resealable bags of needles from a box under the counter and hands them to me.
   -You want a bin, love? I shake my head –Don’t you worry, love, everything’ll work out for you in the end, you see if it won’t.
   -Cheers Gladys, love.
   -Now you take care, Gary, love.
   -Yeah, you too. See ya later.
   -Tarrar, love.
   I’m moving slowly down the streets, barely looking up, kicking the cans and scattered wrappers which cling around my feet, the opening lines of a Dylan song repeating itself over and over again in my head:

   Some-one’s got it in- for me,
   They’re- plant-ing sto-ries- in the- press.
   Who-ev-er it is, -I wish they’d cut it out
   But when they will, -I can on-ly guess.-

Songs my mother used to play on her record player. She loved Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen: all that stuff.

Summer’s on its way and onto the billboards are creeping huge pictures of Tony Blair, the New Labour election candidate for the general election next year, with demon eyes and the caption


Underneath in red spraypaint, someone’s written:


Do you think I’ll be voting? What’s the point? Honestly, what’s the point. Even if Labour do get in, they’re not real Labour anyway. Yeah, same old bullshit. As I head south down Wilmslow Road, the clock in the bakery rejects shop reads ten past nine.

*   *   *

   -So, what happened after I left then?
I’m sitting with Spid on one of the benches in Piccadilly Gardens, feeding the pigeons with the remnants of a stale Netto family white thick sliced loaf.
   -Forget it.
   -No, I wanna know. What did he say after I focked off?
   -Some shit about how you couldn’t face up to reality.
   -Fockin wanker. He’s well out of order.
I rip a slice into shreds and chuck it into the mass of pigeons. A lone sparrow dives for a piece, managing to peck a crumb before being bombarded by the diesel-blackened scrawn.
   -Can’t believe he only offered us a tenner for that system. Must be worth at least a couple of hundred.
   -Go down cash generator next, yeah? Stop changing the subject. Go on, what did the cunt say?
   -Kiwi well fancies you ya know. He don’t want his little sister on the gear; ya can understand it from his point of view.
   -Yer jokin! What? Kiwi? Never!
   -I know, she’s more into her party drugs and shit.
   -Nah, I mean she fancies me!
   -She’s liked you for ages, Gaz, don’t tell me it wasn’t obvious.
   -What the fock?
I’m smiling inside now. All this time…
   -I know, mate, takes all sorts. Fock knows what she sees in you, but some women like a bit of rough-
He’s pissing himself laughing now, and normally, I’d have started getting all arsy with him, but…
   -Cheers for telling us before, mate.
   -Well you know now, don’t ya, eh? Something you been hiding then, eh?
   -Spid, mate, I fockin love that girl…
I’m grinning all over now, standing up and flinging the rest of the loaf over the path and into the grass, followed by a flea-ridden flapping of wings.

*   *   *
   Five a.m. Light oozes through the mesh of membranous curtains as I flicker out of a light and futile sleep. I shift onto my back under the heavy army jacket which lays, crustaceous, draped over my blanketed form.
   Cringing awake in still-drunk opiate need. Primary opiate, secondary opiate: risk reduction harm reduction. Flashes of history, Irish- (Jewish on the maternal side), the maternal instinct, the far side, right side, left side, left, right, left, right; wrong. Left wrong, long-gone. Cat’s got the biscuit, mother, fine-featured, long-fingered, leaning into the oven with a cloth, cinnamon-hot oven-air scorching the down on her face. Terror. They put them in the ovens. And I sob to myself, never-known pain of a generation I have not witnessed.

About time too eh? So here it is as promised...a slight delay, but not too bad! So-
Apologies for the long wait. Many thanks to all those who have followed me from the beginning and to those just starting to read now. Without you there would be no blag.
Love and inspiration to all of you
Vee X

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Gravediggin' Under the Mancy Way Chapter Five

The Whole Bag

   Nadine leaves the cinema knowing. It’s obvious. She can’t believe she didn’t think of it before. She’s discovered something new and incredible to fill the intense boredom and despair between writing essays for her BA in Film Studies. She pictures the lifelike realism of the scenes depicted in the film, the skill of the director in his use of lighting effects to capture the essence of the post-modern, urban lifestyle. She considers it all the way back to Didsbury on the bus; how it must feel, the raw hedonism, the pain. She imagines the pleasure as she lays between her Habitat Egyptian cotton sheets, fragrant with her new organic aromatherapy foaming bath oil, she pictures the room where it all took place, the faces of the characters etched into her dreams.
   She returns to the cinema four times in the week to watch the film. As she grows familiar with the lives of the characters, the subtleties of the plot, the locations, the language, she begins to embrace the sheer amplitude of the journey of knowledge and enlightenment upon which she is soon to embark. Each time she witnesses the opening scene, the music reinforcing the depth of its meaning like metal studs on a biker jacket, her determination to experience total harmony with the film’s characters is topped up withy super unleaded. On the fifth day, she buys the book.
   Lectures drag on. She’s finding it impossible to hear the lecturer over the Circle and District Line of her brain. Her notes become sketches of the main characters and his close-knit circle of friends, surrounded by the names of the actors, characters, best boys and boom operators. By the end of the week, she’s discovered the world of Longsite Market’s  pirate video vendors.
   The first person to share the pirate video extravaganza is Jont. Nadine watches his Harrow-boy countenance with interest throughout the showing, keenly awaiting the signs of disgust or fascination to register upon his thoughtful brow. Analysing his opinion in this matter proves fruitless as the plot absorbs her once more. During a relevant scene, she speaks:
   -It is, you know.
   -You haven’t! Fuck me, Nadine, that’s awful! You don’t still do it?
   -Every day…I can’t help it.
   -You…surely it’s just a matter of, well, not doing it any more?
   -You don’t understand: I’m in Hell…
After this satisfactory fabrication, Nadine finds it easier to become more deeply involved with the infrastructure of the characters’ psyches, allowing her to create for herself a more stable post-urban environment in which to exist. The transitional stages between the reality of the plot and her own life-text will be the hardest.
   The first stage could have been selected from amongst a number of action plans. To begin with, she has the notion that a purchase will be the obvious way forward, but she realises that this will barely be possible without first creating a suitable environment in which to fulfil this end. The Salvation Army are delighted with their new acquisitions, although what to do with a mattressless bed is a trifle puzzling. Stage two involves creating a general awareness of her predicament amongst friends and contemporaries. For she is, at this point, a part of her own illusion, believing she has reached the unknown, when, in actual fact she has yet to venture within vomiting distance of the clan of whom she claimed ruthlessly to be a part. Stage three proves to be wearing. But now that she is wearing the right clothes and has aquired the layer of grime which she considers obligatory, she is ready to begin.
   It’s incredible, she thinks as she looks into the grey-green eyes of yours truly: not only am I the first that she has approached, but she believes I can satisfactorily fulfil her retail needs. She’s never spoken to a real-life punk before and she’s scared. She said knew that I was a smack-head the moment she saw me: punks always are, she says, The Sex Pistols started it. They were all at it, her Auntie Maisie had told her once, ‘Like spiky-haired rats’. The high speed walk beside me down Great Western Street makes her innards fizz like bicarb and citric in water. She looks around, hoping to be seen with me, her maharishi, her initiator. As we reach a telephone box on the dual carriageway, I pull the door open, step in and let it swing shut behind me. Nadine loiters around the phone box, watching the cars flash past. Grass sprouts from the cracks in the tarmac mixed with crystals of shattered glass and cigarette butts.
   -Right, give us yer money and wait ‘ere. Be about five minutes.
   -How do I know you’re going to come back?
   -You can’t come with us- he don’t know ya. D’ya want the stuff or not?
   -Yes, but…
   -Look, you know where to find me anyway.
She reluctantly hands over a crisp, bank machine ten pound note and watches as I dodge the high speed traffic and head towards Quinney Crescent. Ten minutes later, we’re heading back the way they we came.

*   *   *

   The grains crunch tasteless between her teeth. Nadine pours the contents of the foil sweet wrapper into a water-filled teaspoon and strikes a match, following the instructions. Spikes of water hit her hand like the fizz of a dispersible vitamin C as she boils her mini-crucible. But the grains remain intact at the bottom of the spoon. She can’t be doing it right. She boils the teaspoon dry, scraping the orange-brown residue into a Rizla and adding tobacco from a Marlboro Light. As she smokes, she relaxes, lying back on her mattress, willing herself to be ushered into the dark.

*   *   *

   Facing me proves to be a trifle embarrassing, owing to her obvious lack of knowledge beside such a master. As she approaches my dishevelled form, I shift slightly in my crouched position and glance sideways at her, pulling on a crumpled rollie.
   -Yeah, I know, love. Before you say anything, I’ve got me brother to kick the fock out of him. I got fockin brick dust and all. Still got the wrapper at home on me floor. Put the citric in it and it don’t fockin dissolve. I was rattling to fock and all. Took us til six in the morning to score.
   Nadine takes mental notes on technique.
   -I’m sorry, I thought…
   -Na, love, you can trust me. You know where I am for fock sake- I’m not into ripping people off. I’m going down later if you wanna come.
   -Thanks Gary, I’d really appreciate that.
   Laindon Road in Longsite has always struck Nadine as a quiet, orderly neighbourhood. Tonight, though, the atmosphere is several rungs below the atmospherically lit room and the warm, slyly affectionate greeting of the salesman she has come to expect. Yellow streetlights buzz and hiss as kids on mountain bikes circle parked cars, occasionally stopping to lurk on street corners. She follows me out of the all night convenience store carrying the apple she’s bought for fifty-eight pence and hands me the change. I step into the phonebox and she slinks in after me.
  We lean back against the dilapidated terrace wall in silence. We’re just waiting for a taxi- waiting for a taxi. Just waiting for a taxi, waiting for a taxi- waiting for a taxi…my instructions turn into a nervous rap behind her eyes. She feels small and insignificant alongside me, acutely conscious of her southern intonation and Airwalk trainers, of the lack of dirt under her fingernails and the sweaty banknotes wrapped around the Barclaycard which she’s clutching inside her Stussy hoodie pocket.
   -Look, I’m gonna try him one more time, then I’m trying someone else. He’s fockin us about ‘ere. You might as well get off and I’ll meet you later when I’ve got it. You don’t wanna be hanging around: might be ages. See you about half eleven, usual place.
   -Alright, see you later.
   -You’d better give us yer money. You want three, right?
She’s not sure, but she thinks she hears me snicker to myself as I watch her strut off in the direction of Daisy Bank Road. They might call it Victoria Park, but that’s just a convenient way to get students living in Longsite.

*   *   *
   I’m sitting in the milkshake bar on Wilmslow Road with Lee. Liam’s just gone for a dig in the toilets upstairs and he’s made Lisa wait outside and keep on begging ‘til she’s made enough for herself, cruel cunt. Nothing I can do but tell him he’s wrong. Shouldn’t treat her like that, can’t stand to watch it. It’s nearly eleven. Splinters of hard, white rain pelt the windows, running down the pink-captioned glass in streetlight-orange rivulets. People whisk by outside, holding their collars and hoods up against the storm. Cars, taxis and buses vomit torrents of spray onto the curry-house-neon pavements, soaking any cyclist daft enough to be navigating the cycle lanes, blocked as they always are with parked cars and delivery vans. I take two sachets of brown sugar from a glass on the counter and pour one into my tea, which I stir before pocketing the spoon. The other, I proceed to pulverise through the packet with my lighter. Then I open it and pour it into the minimal contents of a re-sealable plastic bag and shake it fervently. Ha, you like this? You like my style, my grammar, my florid language? My tactics? My cunning? We ain’t all stupid, you know. Not even Nadine. She’s just lost the plot. We’re all in the gutter, Oscar Wilde said, but some of us are looking at the stars. She’s been looking at too many stars, I reckon, got her head stuck up there. As usual, I’m doing someone a favour. The less heroin, the less habit…I’m quite pleased with myself, truth be told.
   -Does this look like three bags to you? I ask.
 Lee explodes with laughter.
   Nadine’s hovering in the vicinity of Cool Wines Hot Videos, obviously edgy. Lisa sits shivering beneath her blanket on the step, mouth-but-not-eyes smiling as I approach.
   -‘ere ‘e is. Oi, Gazza, she bin looking for ya.
   -Alright Lise. Nadine, it’s all in one bag. Want a biscuit?
I pull out half a packet of cookies out of my pocket, hand Nadine a bag-biscuit sandwich, then hold out the packet for Lisa.
   -You wanna watch yerself with that stuff, it’s fockin dynamite, innit, Gaz?
I grin and nod.
   -She’s right, you know, love, take it easy, know what I’m saying?
   -What ya say yer name is?
   -Nadine. D’ya toot it or dig it?
   -I’m sorry?
   -D’ya toot it? Smoke it on foil? Or inject?

*   *   *

   The anticipation manifests itself in horror. This is it. She’s been building herself towards this moment for so long that the reality of the situation softens the contents of her large intestine and sends it arsewards. Clenching her cheeks, she speed-shuffles towards her front door, ferreting in her pocket for her keys. In the darkness, thoughts of using the pavement had crossed her mind, but fear of exposure forbade it. The key’s in the lock and her bowels are surging horribly. Climbing the stairs is horrific; she can feel the stagnant matter seeping into her Valentino knickers, smearing between her arse cheeks as each leg moves onto the next stair. Her keys drop between the banisters as she tears open her flies, flies round the corner and onto the toilet, as what feels like a pint of water cascades into the pan. She exhales hard and examines the extent of the damage. Two moist, sticky skidmarks. She’s appalled. Removing them along with her self-scissor-massacred jeans, she slings the offending items into the washbasin before realising that she’s left the front door open.

   A sweetbitter taste. More sweet. This is more like it. She dabs again at the powder, its flavour registering in her mental catalogue, before emptying a small amount onto a square of tinfoil. Better to test it safely, wean herself in gently.
   The effect is not as she expected. Nothing. This is not happening, she thinks, emptying a third of the bag onto the black broccoli of residue on the foil, an acrid taste in her mouth, in which she holds a tinfoil tube as detailed by Lisa. She tries again, the powder melting as before, but this time running down the foil as she inhales its smoke successfully.
   She feels it in her legs first, a heavy warmth, and then in her stomach. She turns to place the foil on the vegetable crate coffee table and a wave of nausea hits her, pre-vomit saliva surging as she makes a second dash to the bathroom. Nothing is left to come up as she views yesterday’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni merging with milky Special K and what could only be this evening’s portion of chips, the primary heave. Staggering to her mattress, she flops onto her back and drifts into a semi-consciousness of strange dreams and eventually, sleep.

*   *   *

   I’m onto a winner with Nadine. She wants three bags a day? She gets three bags a day, courtesy of yours truly and the Organic Fairtrade Sugar Company. Produce of Barbados. And Afghanistan, possibly: the lesser contents ain’t exactly clearly labelled, though it should be. Sell it in Boots the chemist, they should: make my life a hell of a lot easier at any rate.

*   *   *
   I’m not in my usual spot when Nadine pays her visit to Rusholme three weeks later, pins and spoon and citric in pocket. In my place sits the teen waif, Lisa. Heroin-chic heroin chick, the girl with the flaxen hair. Beautiful heroin angel.
   -Hiya Lise. I was looking for Gaz, have you seen him?
   -Nah. Wanna score?
Nadine half-smiles.
   -You going?
   -When me geezer gets back.
On cue, a gangly bloke in scraggy army surplus gear crosses the road holding a blanket.
   -Oi! Fort you woz goin’. Oo the fock’s this? Oi, who the fock ‘re you?
Lisa cowers. Liam lurches. Grabs Lisa by the shoulders and a full-scale domestic ensues, (if one could call it a domestic, given the circumstances) I do not believe it! He is actually punching her! Nadine doesn’t feel like sticking around, it’ll only be a matter of time before she gets hit too.
   -Ya comin’ then? ‘s alright, ‘e fort ye was a pig or somefink.

*   *   *
   Links corner. Behind an old, blue Ford Transit a young woman pulls a plastic bag out of her mouth. Gold teeth are visible as she opens the bag to reveal a cluster of cling-film wrapped packages of heroin. Like a bag of frozen peas. There are at least fifty. Lisa hands over a ten pound note, crumpled and sweaty. Nadine gives the woman twenty five pounds in fresh-from-the-bank notes. One for Lisa, three for Nadine. Only Lisa has to share her bag with Liam. It’s been a bad night and just for now, she’s going to straighten herself out with this little bit as best she can before she heads to Chicken Run corner to find a punter. She can’t stand to do it straight, tries her best to avoid it, but it’s getting tough to fund the two of them, and tonight’s the worst, cos the rain puts off the punters.
   Scarletts smiles at Lisa. She likes her. Shouldn’t be doing gear, not at her age. Sixteen, did she say? Looks on the downside of fourteen, but you can’t always tell. Then again, isn’t Jesmond’s little cousin out punting gear every Friday night off his mountain bike for the big man? And he’s only eight. You can’t get done when it ain’t you sellin’ and what would a little kid be doing selling brown? Too much problem for the five-O. What chance does the poor little fucker have, up to nuff shit and he’s not even hit ten. Right little gobshite, playing the hardman. Fifty-fifty he’d end up like his uncle anyway, the way he worships him. The youth start young and they die before they hit twenty if they don’t use their brains. At least she’s her own boss, to a certain extent. Regular customers- well, it’s not like it’s a hard sell. The A-1 vendors’ market. She wonders if the posh bird thinks she wants to be doing this. It wasn’t exactly her childhood dream, but it’s hard starting up in business when you’re broke. A few more months of this is all, and then she’ll have enough to buy up some stock for her market stall. Start small and work up. She ain’t doing it for a joke, you know: she knows how to put an outfit together that’d make this gimpy girl Nadine into the Dancehall Queen, no lie. But she looks out of place here, Nadine does. Messin with things she don’t understand. Naïve as they come. If Lisa’s got any sense, she’ll blag her third bag off her easy. That cunt Liam’ll knock her out and stamp on her head for the lot if she stays around long enough. It’s not as though she’ll be running to the police saying someone stole her heroin, now, is it?

*   *   *

   In the toilets of the milk bar, Lisa and Liam watch as Nadine slides the needle into a perfect vein, blue against a red-brown sunburnt arm. Blood registers first time. They exchange glances. She did say she does three bags a day…perhaps she normally goes in her legs. Shy in front of Liam…Dirt under her unbitten nails, pushing down the plunger on a one mil insulin-only. She staggers, slumps. Falls. A dull thud, then a trickle of blood on the toilet bowl. Blue skin. Blue. Check her pockets. Just the one bag, Liam’s got the other. Blue.

   -Get the fock outa here!
   -Liam! Call a fockin ambulance. We can’t jost leave ‘er!-
   -You fockin watch us leave the daft bint-
   -But Liam! Get the fock off us, yer ‘urtin us- we can’t jos-
   -Fockin gerra move on!

Down the stairs, white tiles, pink walls. Strawberry milk, mango milk, banana milk, ice cream sundae, knickerbocker glory. Glass door, taxis, buses, turn the corner.

   -Come on, ya daft bitch
   -For fock sake, Liam! We gottoh phone an ambulance! Liam!
   -Shut it. Just fockin SHUT IT! She’s the eightf person ta die this year an’ I ain’t gonna be fockin responsible fer anovva daft bitch oo lies ta lok ‘ard.
   -Liam, she might not be dead-
   -Look, bitch, I’m gonna fockin deck ya in a minute.
   -But Liam, can’t we jost-

Sirens. Flashing blue lights. Liam legs it. Lisa isn’t far behind.

Poems from Nowhere

Hey everyone,
I've added a new page of poetry to Gravediggin' Under the Mancy Way. I'll add to it as and when. You'll find the link at the top of my main blog.

I hope you enjoy reading.
Vee X

Saturday, 15 September 2012

An Intoxicating Journey with Ruth Johnston: Word Intoxication 

  Take an hour of your time. Take two. Just for you. Time when no one else is around. Hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door. Because this time’s just for you. It’s time to allow Ruth Johnston to take you to the edge of life with her new anthology of poetry. Let her tantalise you with semantics. She said it. And she’s not lying: it’s Word Intoxication. Are you ready?

   Now imagine you’re sitting in an old, oak rocking chair, padded with velvet and chenille cushions. You’re ready? No? There’s a wide, open fire burning, enough logs to stay alight for hours, a footstool to lay your feet. And if you like dogs, there’s one right there, dozing in front of you, warm and cosy in the fire’s glow. She won’t be bothering you; she’s been fed. Or are you a cat lover? There’s a cat on your lap, purring and content. Are you ready? What’s missing? Ahhh, a crisp glass of cold white wine. You prefer red? Here it is, woody and warming. The open bottle’s right beside it. Perfect. Because you won’t be leaving that chair. You won’t even notice if you need to get up to go to the toilet.

Because you’re holding Ruth Johnston’s new book. Open the beautifully illustrated cover, which is as sexy and risqué as her poems of lust, love and desire. Flick to the first page and prepare to be intoxicated.
   From her smack-in-the-face opening, First Blood, right through to the final whispers of  Sea Echoes, Ruth sure lets you know she’s in the room. Her first words hit you like a truck: unexpected, harsh, powerful. And you’re immediately mesmerised. She’s got you where she wants you. You’re under her spell.   
                                As I kneel within your mess,
                                sweet ecstasy
                                breathes within my chest.

               Nostalgia runs through Ruth’s poetry like barbed wire and jasmine petals. She calms, satisfies, then strikes. Sensual and all at once painful: the sentiments expressed are in the balance of emotions and stark, livid contrasts.

              In her passionately moving dedication to her Father, The Man In The Moon, she enchants you with smells and textures of childhood, moving chronologically through to her devastating loss, mourning and final acceptance:
                              Soft cashmere sweaters,
                              That smelled so good,
                              always of soap and sandalwood

         With the juxtaposition of the seemingly oxymoronic, she stuns you with her slyly witty proverbs, at times, reminiscent of William Blake, such as the simple yet universal short verse, Truth.

               Word Intoxication is loaded with raw human emotion. Ruth’s language is both metaphorical and in-yer-face. Her slapstick yet grey comedy will have you laughing in delight. In Washing, she fools us: within the apparently mundane, we encounter the fear of loss: in Hangover Day, the final line catches us and draws a knowing smile.
               In Word Intoxication, we are never far from the harsh, the brutal, beautiful, yet often painful realities of life: betrayal, death, fear, growing young and growing old. It’s all there: Ruth’s unflinching verse takes you through the stages of birth, rebirth, death and beyond. From tedious household chores, to the heights of eroticism, from simple pleasures of motherhood to her vivid descriptions of abuse, to the ultimately soothing, almost-sung lullaby-like motifs. Ruth’s poetry speaks right to the heart.                                                                                                                                                          
                          Your intent was never to destroy me
                          Only to enjoy me.

              The printed copy of Word Intoxication will be available within the next two to three weeks, so to get a taster  of Ruth Johnston’s work, curl up, turn off your phone and check out Ruth’s blog at:
             Word Intoxication is available now for Kindle here:


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Last Son In Havana

I gave you my life
And I passed you the bottle
We drank like a knife
Cutting Freud on full throttle
I don’t give my heart
But I gave it to you
Without her( )in the start
Of my substitute blues
And the band played boleros
The double bass snagged
Was the first time I’d cared oh
How sweet when we shagged
And the balcony shuddered
The drain stank of shit
And the cats chased each other
(You sucked on my tit)
Do you know how it happened
How good turned to bad
Or why I seek maps of
The way back from sad
I thought that I’d found it
The day that we wed
But there’s no way around it
We don’t share a bed
And strange as it seems
(Do I miss your embrace?)
I relive it in dreams
Of the dragons I’ve chased

© Vee 1993-2012 

Note: with the word 'son', I refer to a style of Cuban music, rather than a male offspring 

A Month in the Absence of Imploding Love

   The day I drove away from you, you were drinking. You said you’d take me to court to keep our kids away from drug addicts. Your voice, loud enough to qualify for a job on stage. Our daughter, our son, curling up and clinging to me. It was bed time.
“Your mother’s a fuckin junkie. Your mother’s taking drugs. Your mother’s injecting heroin.”
But you know I’m not, don’t you.
   This is how I have to love you from now. Away from the street we once shared, the same streets, the same houses and parked cars look different. On the estate, the old brown Cortina pimped with chrome has lost the smile I used to give it. In the supermarket, I buy food for our children, but never for me. I buy brandless shampoo without bothering to smell it first, and cheap baby wipes. I don’t buy rice anymore. You told me a meal is not a meal without rice. Last week, I cooked a curry and rice and left it to putrify, day after day, until the smell became too much. Even the dog seemed repulsed by it as she watched me scrape it into her bowl. Now a silence of insults and condemnations divide us. This is how I have to love you from now.
   You sent me texts asking me why. Do you honestly not know why? You say I have kidnapped our children. How can I force them to speak to you? They’ve been through enough. Don’t you think? They tell me no and no and I don’t know and my heart breaks. I am not punishing you; it’s not how you tell me in texts and emails. Oh, you. You say you still love me. Well, I heard that once with a black eye and all-over bruises. I stayed and hoped and wished and believed in romantic ill-usions. It makes no sense any more. Romantically slinging words like practise cricket balls. Prostitute; slag; descara’a; junkie; smackhead; babylon; traitor. Cunt; bastard; arsehole; shit; alchie; abuser. 

Remember when you said to me,
‘Don’t ever tell me you love me again’
 It made you angry, you said.
   Last night, you texted me that you had no money. That the house was too big, that you wanted three pounds to buy cigarettes. Our home, where I fucked you at the kitchen sink in broad daylight, still doing the dishes and laughing, me asking you if you thought the neighbours were looking. Our home, where the kids planted carrots and beetroots and moonflowers. Are the beetroots ready yet? Did you eat the kids’ rainbow carrots? The children were so excited when they bit through purple skin to find orange inside. They will be no good for eating if you leave them too long: you might as well. Our home, where you banged the bathroom door shouting
“Are you enjoying your injections?”

The moonflowers died before we left, eaten by the slugs.

   I cannot answer. I have no words. Meanings get lost in translation and as the insomniac hours draw in, I sit, alone, listening to our children’s soft, sleepy breathing. I thought we would share foreverness and the misery of old age, waiting to see who dies first.
   It wasn’t enough, our volcanic, hateful, jealous, sick love. Only self-hate could keep us there longer, with your frustrated rants concerning my 'imminent overdose'. My 'subsequent death'. You always said you’d find another woman, someone  ‘better than me’.

   But I’m still alive, still here. 

When I met you, I had six months heroin free. I traded my elixir for our wet, psycho-fucks which had me craving endlessly more. I substituted marriage for the intravenous heroin I once thought was all I would ever want or need, until I thought I’d need nothing else but you. 

It wasn’t endless, though, was it? What do you think we would achieve if I came back? It’s unexpectedly hard for me to write this. I don’t want to cry any more. I was crying every day before I left. Do you remember?

   Do you remember when we walked though Parque Central and you wouldn’t hold my hand? Do you remember sharing a Vegas, always twenty sweet-papered, cigar-flavoured cigarettes a day between us, and half and half made ten. The tiny, cardboard-petitioned room, storm rain dripping through two hundred years of plaster, wood and horsehair and landing on our naked, sweating fuck-bodies. Do you remember how I would shout 'Vete pa’ la pinga' at total strangers in the street? 'Go to the dick', a strange translation for 'fuck off'. Havana killed me with guava rum from Pinar del Rio, drank straight from the bottle, and her lecherous street boys who touch before speaking. We killed each other with obsessive, unyielding suffocation. You never believed a word I said.
“Lying junkie!”
So as I read your hidden messages to an Argentinian woman with a face like mine, as I read your romance to her, her who you called your princess of love, as I read your invitation for her to come to live with you, of your lies that we were separated, that I 'knew about her and didn’t mind', so the cravings for heroin set in. Don’t you think that reaction is normal for a ‘fuckin junkie’, no matter how long abstinence is? My only surprise is that I didn’t go score a bag and pin it up years ago. I tried to forgive you. I tried so hard. But how could I forgive, with your constant word-debacle and counter-accusations? I am not you. I did not do as you did. Neither did I use heroin. You used to ask me about every mark, every bruise. You’d look and ask me,
   ‘What’s that bruise?’
   ‘I don’t know’
   ‘What’s that dot in the middle of it?’
   ‘How the fuck should I know?’
   ‘Looks like a needle mark to me’
How I wished it was.  
   I could have done it soon after our daughter was born. I had so many contacts then. It would have taken one phone call and my old best dealer would have been waiting for me in the bus stop visible from our old front window in Sheffield within ten minutes. I could have done that when you were out. You would never have noticed.
   I could have done it when I dropped our daughter off at nursery. Half the mothers were on the gear, weren’t they? I could have had a word in their ear and gone to the needle exchange across the road, bought some citric and be straight enough to walk home happy for a good fuck in the child-free hours. You wouldn’t have noticed.
   When they gave me the diamorphine before my operation, I tried not to enjoy it. But fuck, it would have been magic if they’d put just a little more in. After the post-op pharmy smack wore off, the nurses treated me like a naughty child when I cried through the night, every night, because they wouldn’t give me enough to kill my pain. I was in agony. You were angry with them, do you remember? You demanded to see the boss and we both knew some insider was swigging the oramorph, skipping patients’ doses. Because I spent my days clock-watching for the next dose, and my hospital sheet lied. You swung from kind to cruel, telling me I had my operation so I could have a nice cunt for someone else. Don’t you think I deserve a nice cunt? You try giving birth twice and prolapsing: fucker.  
   And as I heart-wrenchingly debate a return to the pin and spoon, of morning aches and the endless search for the return to normal, you sit in our family home, waiting for me to come back. I can’t do either. Much as I crave the two kids two parents set up, I can’t go back. You and me were exhausting. Now, I can breathe. Much as I crave the needle, I think of our kids. Do you think they would notice?
   Don’t you think they noticed how desperately unhappy we were together? You sit, now, in our family home, amongst our things, my books, the kids’ toys, their clothes and writing, my violin.
   Are my dirty knickers still on the floor where I left them? When I left, the sheets were still washing in the machine. Did you hang them out to dry? Do you wank, sniffing my dirty knickers, thinking about me pissing in your mouth and how we fucked on the trampoline, naked, at three in the morning. Or is it just words? The “I still love you” line. Does it matter how much we love when we don’t know how to love without destruction?
   I was about to tell the kids a story when you started shouting, remember? Do you remember how much they loved to snuggle up with me in bed and hear the stories I invented for them? Do you remember telling me to stop telling them overexciting stories at bed time?
   So now I sit here, in someone else’s house, without you. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t have the space in my heart to be angry anymore. You are who you are and I’m not easy to live with either. I told you never to marry a heroin addict again, no matter if they’re using or not.
   ‘You weren’t a heroin addict when I met you; you were clean.’
Well, I use deoderant and like my baths. Ah, but how naïve you thought you weren't. Didn’t you tell me, over and over, year after year, how your best friend Jicoteo died of an overdose, ten years clean? I told you it was suicide. You said no; no, it was too strong for him. It gave him a heart attack, clutching his chest post-injection, crying, ‘Mama, Mama, mi corazon!’
   I’m sorry I scared you with confessions of my desire for heroin. I couldn’t handle the pain, my beautiful boy. Do you remember when I called you that, when first we were lovers in Havana? Back then, I never thought I’d hurt so much as I do now. I never thought I could love anyone like I loved you. Sometimes, I have wanted to hate you until the stars implode.  
   It’s dark and autumn is creeping up with the smell of wood smoke. Our trips to cut wood won’t happen now. Will they? Do you really think I wanted to leave?
My heart is smashed into pieces on concrete like a plated dinner thrown against suburban dining room wallpaper, pieces of steak detaching and globbing onto shag-pile carpet. Gravy running around the contours of red flocked flowers.

I never intended to stay away. But I didn’t have the choice.

Grrrr.... Hope you're all having a better time than me hahaha,
Love& inspiration, Vee X

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