prosetry

Soup

I had spent the week in the same way, lying in bed, flat on my back, arms straight by my sides, staring out of the window, watching the ash trees slow-dancing and the gangs of birds loitering with intent and the city skyline lurching woozily in the heat, listening to the rattle of spray cans from the garage downstairs and the mistakes made by the bell-ringers during their weekly practise peal.

On the third day, West London was on fire and the smoke was rolling in vertical waves: I didn’t think it would ever cease. And still, I lay in bed, useless, like a wildly unconvincing Frida impersonator, spitting words about inside my head, words that have already been said, already been read, counting magpies and missing dragonflies, thinking of names for the children that I’ll never have, tearing the skin around my fingernails, peeling ’til they’re bleeding, and waiting, just waiting.

In the mornings I lay waiting for nightfall. In the evenings I lay waiting for the sun. I lay waiting for sleep, for help, for silence, for affirmation, for you, for life, for a sign, for God, for answers, for revolution, for the tide to turn, for Godot, for death, for change, for justice, for love, for me, for reprieve, for miracles, for time, for everything, for anything, for nothing in particular.

Five days into my self-imposed bed rest, he phoned me up to talk about nothing in particular. He checked if I was still alive. I said that I was, that I am. I heard him smile down the phone but could not mirror the sentiment.

He told me about his brother receiving a big compo cheque for his motorbike crash. He asked me if I wanted to go to Dublin with him for a few days next month and I said “I’d love to but don’t think I could manage it.” He said that he’d picked up his neighbour’s cat off their garden wall and taken it indoors with him because it was a nice cat and he wanted to hang out with it for a while, but he wasn’t sure if that was called “kidnapping” or “catnapping” and what did I think? I said “borrowing.” He invited me to a party on Sunday night, I said, “Absolutely not.”

He told me about how Islington Council are chasing him for library fines. He said he’s lost the book somewhere in his house before he’s even read it, and that the overdue charges fine is now so huge that he could’ve bought the book brand new four times over and still have enough money left over for a bag of chips.

I asked what book it was and he said, “It was Book 5 of My Struggle, I can’t even remember what it’s fucking called.” He asked me what I was reading and I said Fireworks – short stories are easier for my broken brain to comprehend. Then he said, “I’m coming round to your place soon, I need you to I Ching me,” to which I replied, “Ooh, kinky.” He reminded me to eat and to pay my rent and to stay alive.

One day before Bed Rest I had made a huge vat of my special tramadol, tequila and tomato soup. It means that when I’m tired of being conscious I can drink some and quickly go to sleep for a few hours: when it’s cold it’s just a More Bloody Mary but is equally knockout. If I could sell this soup at the Farmer’s Market I would be a millionaire. The Grenfell death toll was creeping up and I was ready to go back to unconsciousness.

As I was crawling along the floor from my bed to the kitchen I spotted it in one of the stacks of books that line every wall of my flat. “Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard.” I only ever bought Books 1 + 2. I grabbed it and opened it. Sure enough, inside there was a stamp from Islington Central Library and a few sticky barcodes on the back.

“Fuck,” I thought. “That man will do anything to get me out of bed.”

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poetry

Mugshot

Babes,
I think that,
from now on,
whenever I get so sad
that you don’t know what to do
with me you should
gently
remind me
of the fact
that in my police mugshot
I have bright green hair
and the specific type of smirk
that may only be worn by those
who are entirely fearless.
Remind me
of the existence of that mugshot:
the hilarity of the image itself,
the absurdity of the surrounding events,
the possibility of seeing it printed in the newspapers
and the memory of a time when I was free
will always cheer me up
(or at least distract me
for a moment
while you hide all the knives
and pour tranqs into my cup).

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prosetry

Maladapted Modern Martyrs

On the night we first met, you told me that I would be the death of you. I remember we laughed at that even though it wasn’t funny. Lots of people said that, together, we were an accident waiting to happen. We couldn’t have agreed more.

Over the weeks and months we did lots of stupid and brilliant things together. We always had to push it, to exceed the limit, to go one further. We outdid ourselves, just to see what would happen. Anything that previously felt safe or comfortable we inverted, we wanted danger and knowledge and discovery. Everything became an experiment, a question of “How far can we take this?”

For example, we took deliberate drug overdoses for fun to see how much our bodies could take, to see how strong we were, to see how our bodies would recover from abuse, to see if our minds would improve from the experience or deteriorate from the overexposure, so that we could tell everyone,“This is how much Class A you can take and still be a functioning member of society, THIS is how much you can take if you want to get wild for one weekend, and THIS is how much you can take before you permanently forget your own name and believe that the black plastic bag on the floor (which you lovingly pet for hours) is a tabby cat named Greg.”

We’d replicate crimes committed by working-class black males and see how we were treated in comparison, being young white graduates: they’d get 3 years in Scrubs and I’d get a slap on the wrist. We had to commit the crimes to get access to all the people that we wanted to challenge. You try getting a Detective Chief Super on the phone for no real reason other than you want to outsmart him and subvert the corrupt policing system: trust us, you can’t do it. The only way that we could infiltrate CID was to become Criminally Investigable. We had to get in there and create change.

We had to attempt various methods of suicide so that we could tell suicidal people that, “THESE METHODS DON’T WORK! DON’T BOTHER! YOU’LL END UP WITH BROKEN ANKLES AND ONE WORKING KIDNEY! AND THE LOCAL MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES WON’T HELP YOU AT ALL AND YOUR FRIENDS WILL ABANDON YOU BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARED OF YOU AND YOU’LL LOSE YOUR JOB! DO IT PROPERLY OR DON’T DO IT AT ALL! THESE WAYS THAT WE’VE TOLD YOU ABOUT DO NOT WORK!!!

We wanted to do all of the bad things that nobody really wants to do so that we could teach people about what actually happens if you do these bad things. We saw ourselves as sort of Maladapted Modern Martyrs. We were doing all of you a favour. And anyway, we were in love.


We didn’t have the money to do all the experiments that we wanted to so a lot of our questions about life went unanswered. After years of trying to teach people about being bad we felt that we had nothing more to give. We had one question left that we could answer but it could only be answered by and for ourselves. The answer would not be shared to wider society but we felt like we’d given out enough truths to not feel guilty about keeping this one to ourselves.

We pitched our tent on the darkest corner of Mulholland Drive. We drank silken brandy straight from that fancy crystal glass decanter, laughing about how silly “bungled burglary” sounds (say it 10 times, fast). The tent felt neither safe nor comfortable and we were happy, cackling as the cars whizzed by, their tires growing ever closer to us, trying to catch the flying grit in our mouths.

We were sat almost on top of each other, existing as one skin, one being, so that we would find out the answer to our big question at exactly the same time. “Foolproof,” you said. “Perfect for two fools like us, then,” I replied. Then your nose started bleeding, trickling down over your lips and dripping off your chin and I have never seen you look so beautiful. I kissed you and wore your blood as lipstick; it tasted like the final stanza of that poem about Lolita.

“We are all waiting to die,” you said.
“Yes,” I said, “we’re simply more enthusiastic than others.”
“More excited than most.”

Then you burnt holes in the roof of the tent with the end of your lit cigar, “So you can see where we’re going,” you said. But there wasn’t time to see the stars, only smiles and cars and imperfection and sparks, our sparks, the last ones that’d ever fly between us.

Spoiler alert: one of us got out alive.

You discovered the answer to our most important question, the answer that only deadmen know. I am still picking shards of warm crystal glass out of my hair all these years later and I can’t drink brandy anymore. And we’re all still waiting to die.

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life

Ladybird

COCKNEY

I balled down the frog and toad in my Barack Obamas to nip in the offy.

“Usual please, Bossman.”

He got a box of rags and an aristotle of Oddie off the shelf behind him and a #5 scratchy out the deck.

“And a Jack The Ripper as well, Boss.”

“Which one?”

“Anything that can cook a Jeremiah.”

“I’ll pick a goodun for ya,” he said.

Most of the fighters had starkers puddings or daffy plugs or footy badges on them. I didn’t give a flying fuck what the fighter looked like as long as it Captain Kirk’d.

He goes, “‘Ere we are!” and gave me a green one with a shamrock and a ladybird on it.

“Cheers,” I went, while having a butcher’s for a nugget in the sky rocket of my Hackett.

“I’ve given you that one cos you gotta stay lucky out there and cos you’re a top bird.”

I thought I was gonna pipe my eyes out:

I’ve always been a lady but never a bird. Now I’m a bird. A top bird. A ladybird.


ENGLISH

I walked down the road in my pyjamas to go to the shop.

“The usual please, Sir.”

He got a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of vodka from the shelf behind him, and a number 5 scratch card from the roll.

“Oh and a Clipper please.”

“Which one you want?”

“Any one that is capable of making fire.”

“Ok, ok, I will choose good one for you,” he said.

Most of the lighters had naked women or silly slogans or football crests printed on them. I really wasn’t bothered about the design on the lighter in the slightest as long as it worked.

He said, “Aha!” and gave me a bright green one with a four leaf clover and a cartoon ladybird printed on it.

“Thanks,” I said while searching for a pound coin in the pocket of my jacket.

“I give it to you because I hope your life will be lucky and because you are very nice lady.”

I could’ve cried:

I’ve always been someone’s bird but never someone’s lady. Now I am a lady. A very nice lady. A ladybird.


Inspired by this scene in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73d6h_go7QI

True story:

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[Featured image source]
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prosetry

Other Girls

Once, during the summer of our confusion, you told me that you loved me because I wasn’t like other girls. I found that phrase to be repulsively hackneyed then, and still think it’s insultingly trite when men say it now, but because it was you I let you say so. I would’ve let you say anything.

I did ask you what made me different, though. And I remember you said, “You’re the kind of girl that would return to the scene of the crime.” I didn’t say anything else because I didn’t want you to know what kind of girl I actually was. Then you said in a cloud of smoke, “Through brazen curiosity, though, not stupidity,” and I still didn’t say anything and you didn’t expand on your thought any more, even though now I wish more than anything that you had, that you’d told me who I was, that you’d explained me to me.

That one thought that you almost certainly don’t remember now could have defined me. Perhaps it did, because here I am, standing at the scene of the crime and thinking about your thought while you don’t think of me at all anymore.

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prosetry

More Chronicles of Us

Read the first part here: The Chronicles of Us

FOUR.
I walked past your old flat on Eversholt Street and remembered that night we put the world to wrongs, sitting side by side on the cold kitchen floor, drinking Johnnie Walker Black Label out of teacups and discussing the pros and cons of freedom. The cons of being free have stayed with me, even though you didn’t.

FIVE.
When we finally went outside we discovered that Spring had happened while we slept. The only time that red and pink ever look good together is when the cherry blossom trees have erupted outside the fire station. I wonder what else we missed as we slept away those unwanted hours. Later, as we were eating cereal for dinner, we realised that nobody missed us.

SIX.
Out on the patio you read Le Petit Prince aloud while I shaved your head, only pausing to look at the drawings. I had to rush though once I knew that you were dangerously close to the part that reads, “Vous êtes belles mais vous êtes vides.” It’s one of my favourite parts of the story but I could not bear to hear your voice saying that I am beautiful but empty, that one could not die for me, because it is true and because I would die for you.

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prosetry

Like Alice

She was wearing that little face that she makes when she has a Big Question to ask a Grown-Up: like she’s worried and uncertain but so curious and excited to learn the truth, all furrowed brows and wide eyes, the face that only an inquisitive six year old could make.

Auntie, what happens to all the tears when you cry? Where do they go? How do you get new tears? Are there lots of tears in your head and they fall out of your eyes when you’re sad? Can you ever run out of tears? Where do they go?

Into a tissue
The sleeve of your jumper
All over your pillow
Into the toilet bowl
Onto his shoulder
The ends of your hair
Into a box of popcorn
Onto your pet’s fur
Mixed with the bathwater
Into your glass of Chablis
Hospital floors and church floors
Down your legs and into your shoes
Onto letters and photographs
And birthday cards and newspaper articles
To the ground
To the sky
Back into your eyes

Auntie? Are you listening to me? Can you run out of tears?

Yes. No. Yes and no.
You can feel like you’ve run out of tears sometimes but trust me, there’ll be more left hiding in you somewhere for another time.

If I cry too much will the room fill up like the sea like it did for Alice when she cried too much?

No, baby, that won’t happen. You might feel like you’re drowning in your tears but I promise that the room won’t fill up and the tears will go away and you’ll be okay. I promise.

Well just in case it does happen and I don’t have a boat, I can just hide in a big bottle like Alice did!

No, don’t ever hide in a bottle. Hiding in the bottom of a bottle is for cowards. You just have to learn to keep your head up and swim as hard as you can until you’re home and dry.

“I sort of know how to swim…”

You’ll learn, sweetie, I can promise you that. And if you don’t learn on your own, I’ll teach you. I’m a really good swimmer now.

“Are you as good at swimming as a mermaid?”

I’m better.


Fun fact: whilst looking for an accompanying image I discovered that Alice fell down the rabbit hole 152 years ago yesterday, on 4th May 1865 [gif source here]
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