Friday, 31 May 2013

Conversation with a drunk

the train’s not full but he sits next to me
and tells me he’s fifty
speaking so LOUD
the whole compartment can hear.

the train’s not full but he sits next to me
stroking a pink parrot
and telling me the country’s
going downhill FAST.

the train’s not full but he sits next to me
and tells me the parrot’s for his wife
says he’s building bridges and WINKS
or else it’s a twitch.

the train’s not full but he sits next to me
and I realize I’ve been chosen, so start
chatting with him and PINKY who
it turns out, is pretty intuitive for a stuffed parrot.

Don’t understand

I was sweating
but things were nearly done

when sensing I wasn’t alone
I looked in the office
the kitchen
the bogs

no one there
but shit on the floor
and the crapper clogged with paper

as I cleaned again
I noticed shitty footprints
leading across the lobby
up the stairs

they weren’t mine so I followed them
star of the shitfoot version of Robinson Crusoe

I found a kid in the pool room

you’re covered in shit, I said

I wanted to play pool, he said.

out, I said
and watched him go
then examined the cue

as if it held some clue
to what was in his mind

seeing it didn’t

I got on with things.

At interview

at interview I wore my old man’s suit.

the jacket looked pretty good
but the trousers were tight
and so short
I looked like Norman Wisdom.

still I went along with it
smiling so much it hurt
ignoring the tic below my right eye
and the sweat running down my neck.

the three men before me were at home in their suits
though one said
he was wearing his brother’s suit
he was only joking
not a real comedian, like me.

walking home afterwards
I was tempted to re-evaluate my whole life
but bought a beer and thought
better of it.


today I waited
for an email to arrive.

whilst waiting
I put the names
of all the people I knew
into the search engine
to see what became of them.

the search engine was most helpful
if they’d been very successful
or dead.

the screen flickered at me
I flickered back it.

I waited for an email to arrive
any email would do.
but none arrived
just like yesterday

and the day before that.

Friday, 2 July 2010

People Like Us - A Short Story

People Like Us

Their angry voices washed over him like pounding waves and he thought he’d surely drown, cringed beneath the duvet, eleven a week ago, aware of the rain beating on his bedroom window, his heart savaging his chest and the smell of the food they’d eaten in that suddenly distant other life.
When the front door slammed the whole house shook with the force.
Robbie pulled himself free of the duvet and hurried to his bedroom window in time to see the darkness shuddering around his father’s clenched, retreating body. Hearing his mother’s footsteps on the stairs he rushed back to bed before his father reached the car: was barely covered and still when his bedroom door inched open.
Still pulsing with anger, she peered through the grainy darkness. Robbie’s face was turned into the pillow and she watched the steady rise and fall of the duvet, wanting to believe he’d slept through it all. Then she edged away, a frail looking blonde, thirty-two years old though the sharp lines around her mouth suggested more. She opened two bottles of Stella and ran a bath, adding salts AND watching the colour expand like a stain. Immersing herself cautiously, she sipped lager and told herself she wasn’t a bad mother, it was just that her own life was something on which she’d never been able to get an adequate grip. Condensation formed on the bathroom tiles and the bottles as, closing her eyes, she began to hum the remnants of a tune leftover from childhood.
Once he was sure his mother had gone Robbie got up. His father would have driven away by now, he knew, yet still he moved to the window, his breath caught by the pane. Pools of water reflected sodium light. He studied the space where his father’s car had been, newly rained on.
Robbie dressed in the dark, pulling on baggy jeans, a hooded top, and scuffed trainers. His hollow cheeks drenched in shadow, he stood poised by his bedroom door, listening intently. Deciding that running bathwater would mask the sound of his descent he crept down the stairs and out the front door into the night.

Robbie was the only kid in school who didn’t take the piss out of Anton, whose house, somewhat surprisingly, Robbie now found himself at. Standing by what was left of the swing Robbie looked up, the rain scouring his eyes. He saw there was a light still on and, bending to select a small stone, flipped it up at the window and waited.
Anton hit the pause button on his game and moved to the source of the sound. Tugging aside the grubby curtain he saw Robbie, skewered by a blade of light, and opened the window. “What’re you doing?” At school Anton tried, and always failed, to deepen his voice; when it was just him and Robbie he didn’t even try.
Robbie pushed his hair off his face and shifted his weight from one foot to another. Like an unexpected gift, words came: “Come on.”
Anton scratched himself thoughtfully. “Where to?”
“Into town.” Robbie’s face was jagged with shadow. Whispering rain fell on him.
“Hang on.” Anton put clothes on over his pyjamas, a hooded top similar to Robbie’s and combat trousers in a men’s size, the extra length at the bottom cut off and trailing threads of cotton. He stuffed a handful of chocolate fingers into the pocket at the front of his top and eased out of his room. As usual the television was on downstairs and his mother was lost to it. Certain he wouldn’t be missed for hours, Anton left by the back door.

Despite the dark, Anton saw Robbie was troubled, but said nothing, just followed him across the overgrown lawn and out onto the street. Walking quickly, the boys passed a stumbling drunk searching his pockets for the success he believed was his due. Anton was breathless, but did his best to keep up, remembering the times when Robbie, almost always a team captain, picked him well before last.
The rain stopped, though streets and parked cars still shone with wet. Pretending to chew, Robbie led them out of the housing estate and into the town centre. They passed beaded steel benches, an ornamental fountain, a bronze statue erected to a long dead football hero, ghostly light ebbing from the shops on either side of the three of them. Then Robbie stopped. The pigeon shit around the fountain looked luminous. The wind dropped. “My dad left,” he said.
Anton nodded and they got moving again, turning off the high street. Here, the space between the buildings was so narrow it trapped the darkness. After passing half a dozen small shops, Robbie slowed. From a window display directly opposite them photos glared at him: Lennon, Hendrix, Bruce Lee and Elvis. “Come on,” Robbie said decisively, and as if directed by the famous dead led them into a narrow alleyway between tall Victorian buildings. Comfortingly, Robbie felt cut off. Still at his shoulder, Anton offered him a chocolate finger. Robbie took it and munched, though it seemed not to taste of anything. Bags of refuse were stacked against the walls. Up ahead was an iron fire escape that zigzagged to the roof. Following his friend, Anton climbed the ringing steps with great concentration, holding the handrail tightly. When they reached the top, his voice more high-pitched than ever, he said:
“Why are we doing this?”
Robbie didn’t answer immediately, turning this way and that to take in: the dark walls with unlit windows, the impenetrable blackness of the alley below, the sleek slates nearby and the rectangular cloud-crowded strip of sky directly above them. “We’ll get up onto the roof,” he said, turning to show his need.
“Alright,” Anton said, though he was afraid of heights, and rummaged through his pocket to locate more chocolate fingers, forced to lick the residue from his ruined teeth because they were all gone.
For the most part Robbie regarded his physical prowess with indifference, though it enabled him to scramble from the handrail of the fire escape onto the slick roof with ease. Lying flat on his stomach, his hands pale claws, he recalled his parents’ anger and the ferocity of his father’s departure... Crawl to the apex of the roof, tear off some of the slates and fling them down onto the high street... When the police came Robbie would tell them he wasn’t getting down until they found his father. He’d give them the registration of his father’s car and describe the dent along the length of the offside wing. Only when his father got here would he and Anton get down off the roof. His father would take him home and his mother and father would make up...Like memories of a favourite holiday these images ran comfortingly through Robbie’s mind. Until reality nudged them aside -
“I can’t do it, Rob,” Anton said, peering at the shifting blackness below.
“You can,” Robbie said, his voice reassuring and calm.
Fear filled Anton’s chest as he imagined himself plunging through space, his heart exploding even before his body smashed on the blackened slabs below. To climb onto the handrail and press himself against the wall of the building, then to reach up and grasp the rotted iron guttering, and finally to drag his fleshy body onto the slippery slates, seemed impossible to him…until he remembered the worst school time of all. He’d been cornered by Paul Davis in the toilets, the stink of his panic obliterating the stench of piss and disinfectant, Davis grinning and saying, “You fat little fuck,” over and over, the repetition fuelling his mindless aggression, Davis six foot tall, somebody who thrived on dishing out hurt. “Leave him alone,” Robbie said, arriving just then, his words sounding as if they were cut from stone. Davis stopped and, his eyes narrowing, turned. “It’s none of your business,” he snapped. “Anton’s my mate and that makes it my business,” Robbie said. If any of his acolytes had been in attendance Davis would have felt compelled to rise to the challenge, but since they weren’t he thought about it. Robbie was younger than him, a foot shorter and skinny, but he was known for his physical prowess and a volcanic temper. Davis believed if they fought he would win, but surmised there’d be a price to pay for victory and, deciding it wasn’t worth it, drew his cigarettes from his pocket and turned back to Anton. “Fuck off fatty,” he hissed.

Trembling, Robbie pulling him up over the edge, both of them breathing hard with the effort, Anton made it onto the roof and for almost a minute lay close to the edge with the slate cold against his cheek, his whole body resonant with his heartbeat. “We made it,” Robbie said, saw the sky was clearing and placed his hand on Anton’s shoulder, glad he hadn’t mentioned his plan to tear up slates to try and force his mother and father’s reconciliation.
“What now?” Anton asked, speaking through clenched teeth.
“We stay here for a bit and then we get down and go home,” Robbie said.
Afraid to sit up, afraid to even move, Anton nonetheless managed to frown. “Why did we climb up here in the first place?” he asked, his breath, deflected by the slates, plunging into nothingness.
To which Robbie smiled, and shrugged, and said, “People like us...we need to stick together.”

Author photographs by Garry Corbett

You Cunts - A poem

You Cunts

at me again for fucking up
and being late.
arriving with a dose of the farts,
the result
of too much of everything
the night before.
and it’s fucking cold.
and more sleep would be good.
oh, and a crap.
(best get the order
right there.)
but instead:
after a slog through angry traffic
here I am again:
at the fucking workface
being badgered
being hectored
the usual crises raining down
and the noise next door
and the arse-kissers just as smug as ever
forcing me
to drink coffee until
my head’s ready to explode.
when, unexpectedly,
I grab sheets and fucking sheets
of paper
and write on them with a BIG
permanent marker
then stand up
and hold up what I’ve written
for all to see
laughing at their shocked slappy faces
when they read: