life, prosetry

Strippers

1 / This whole “life” thing would’ve been a lot easier, for me and everyone else, if only my parents had kept a bottle of turpentine under the kitchen sink instead of premium Polish vodka. At least that’s what I tell myself I was looking for all those years ago.

1.5 / Rooting around in the cupboards, my hands covered in oil paint, a brush between my teeth, searching for paint stripper I discovered vodka instead. Art was long and difficult, and my desire to achieve perfection led to much frustration (ripping canvases to shreds, setting drawings on fire, etc). Alcohol was fun and easy and made me feel better: a revelation! Very quickly, drinking replaced painting. The painting went unfinished and the easel was dismantled (and then eventually exchanged for a £10 bag of weed).

2 / Vodka is a stripper in it’s own right. Here are some things that vodka strips me of: inhibitions / morals (some, or all) / worries / layers of my liver / senses (one, or all) / this fucking albatross (very temporarily) / memories / appetite / clothes (some, or all) / shoes (one, or both) / insecurity / fear.

3 / Drinking is affecting my work. Negatively. I feel that I’ve lost too many brain cells lately. I don’t know. But luckily for me, writer’s are “supposed to” have a drink problem so “it’s fine.” With every truth I write, every line I assemble, every poem I publish, I feel a little more naked. It’s like every story is a piece of clothing that I’ve been wearing for years and I’m boiling to death under all this fabric so I tell I story, I shed a layer, I get closer to the pure core of myself, to what’s underneath, to what’s inside. It’s frightening but liberating.

4 / Instead of stripping down, people today seem to be adding more and more layers to themselves, living further and further outside of themselves, silencing their naked truths, suffocating their reality with the strength of other people’s expectations. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we shed all the shit, stripped everything down, went back to basics, straight to the core.

5 / Your truth is all you have. Let it breathe.

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prosetry

A Brief History Of Tea

I used to resent making my father cups of tea. “Why can’t you just make it yourself?” He’d just stare at me until I skulked off to the kitchen, dragging my feet, banging the mug down on the counter, slamming the fridge door. A simple task but apparently asking too much of me.


When I was a teenager, a cup of tea and a spliff was the only way to start the day. Life could not move forward until tea had been consumed. Tea first, life second. Get your priorities straight, girl. Always tea first. Always tea. Always.


My first poem published in print was about a young girl who was addicted to tea and died as a result of her dependence on caffeine mixed with a disgusting amount of sugar. Addiction, death and tea: a portrait of my family. Nobody knew at the time that this morbid poem, written and published when I was 10 years old, was the start of my career writing depressing poetry.


All these years and you still don’t know how I take my tea.


When I was 16 I went to the dark side. Depression and psychosis were killing me from the inside out. Feeling so exhausted from the fight and zombie-like thanks to citalopram, while also knowing that I needed to do every single crazy thing my mind was telling me do, I found myself trying to find energy from any possible source. Crushed caffeine pills mixed in rum and gumming speed wasn’t enough so I decided to start drinking coffee.

I’d always said that I hated the taste of coffee but in truth, I had never tried it. I had a pal who’d dropped out of school and starting working in this failing coffee shop. I’d pop in to see him and down espressos until either my hands were shaking too much or they’d stopped shaking altogether, then rush off to do whatever mad thing my brain told me was imperative to do next. “If you don’t run 8 miles to this specific postbox and kick it with all your might using your left foot, your dad is going to die. Tick tock.”

I still don’t even know if I like the taste, but nowadays coffee seems more vital to my existence than tea. This somehow seems sinful, anti-British, maybe even anti-Dad. Father said that he drank a coffee in Rome in the 90s and it was crazy-expensive. He never drank a coffee again and never understood why I did.


Sometimes, when he was too ill to speak,
he would make a letter T shape
with his hands. That meant, “Tea, please.”


My first suicide attempt. Brother said We need to get her to hospital, I’m calling 999. Mother said Absolutely not, and confiscated the telephone. I was put on the sofa. I remember my head hanging over the edge, upside down, and my left arm lolling with it, my hand near the carpet. My organs were in my mouth. Mother said Drink this tea. I can’t speak I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t keep my eyes open. Mother is ironing and watching Desperate Housewives while I am dying behind her. When I was conscious I could see the cup of tea on the floor by where my hands were hanging. When my eyes rolled back into my head they retained the image of the tea. Dark green mug, white leaves, flecks of gold. I couldn’t move to get it. When I was unconscious for too long, Mother poured cold water on me. Drink your tea, she said. Brother was not allowed in the room. I drifted, in and out, mostly out. The tea went undrunk. Eventually my whole body slipped off the sofa. I came to, drenched, lying on the floor, to the sound of Mother shouting at me and my brother crying in the hallway. I had wasted a valuable cup of tea. I slept for 3 days.


Me + D @ university:
Tetley when our student loans dropped.

Green tea when studying, using the same teabag 3 or 4 times.
With lemon if I’d managed to swipe one from Tesco.
Chamomile when we were depressed or had period pains.
Hot water when we were skint.


We never had coffee at home (too expensive). Running out of tea caused the entire household to fall apart. Mother had black tea. Brother and I had milk and 2 sugars. Father drank several cups in the morning while waiting for the pub to open. We learned to fear the empty PG Tips box. Life simply could not go on without tea. A frantic scrambling for loose change and sending one of the kids running down to Mr Shah’s would follow. Then the parents would get their tea and the order that existed in our household (albeit a very low level of order) would return.

I was glad when father drank tea. It was better than when he drank beer.

I was glad when mother drank tea. It meant that she would take a minute to calm down and wouldn’t be so angry for a while.


Today, I am the queen of tea-making. I remember how everybody takes theirs and make them perfectly to their individual specifications. I like seeing their faces when they take the mug and peer in, nod in approval, take a sip and say, “Corrrrr, that’s a lovely cuppa tea, that is,” and they are simply happy. It’s so British it hurts.


When I began making cups of tea for my father I was about 4.

Too tiny to reach the kitchen counter, let alone the kettle. Had to drag the red plastic step over and climb on it. If there was too much water in the kettle it was too heavy to hold so I’d tip it over into the sink and refill it with just enough for a cup.

Four heaped teaspoons of sugar. PG Tips pyramid bag. Careful, careful with the hot water. Let it brew for the correct amount of time. Add a little milk (blue top). It had to be a certain colour, the tea, a very particular shade of beige. Stir stir stir so that the sugar doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the mug. That mug. It was huge. You used that mug for over 20 years. I don’t know where it is now but I hope that someone has it.

Careful, careful with dragging the mug over to the edge of the counter. Step off the step, carefully. Two tiny hot hands carrying the mug over to Daddy. “Thank you, princess.” Sometimes a critique. “A little too much milk in this one, babe,” or “Did you put sugar in this or is it all at the bottom?” or if I had spilled a bit on the journey, he’d describe the tea as being “low tide.”


I knew his mind was gone when he wouldn’t drink his tea.


Something awful happens. Make a cup of tea.

Something needs to be sorted out. Let’s all sit down and have a nice cup of tea.

Someone dies. For god’s sake, get that kettle on.

A lovely catch up with an old friend. Tea and biccies.

Bad news. Cuppa char. Good news. Celebratory cuppa.

Big news. Make the tea first then tell us all about it.

Sad news. Sit in silence holding onto your mug of tea for warmth and comfort.

New roommate, new neighbour, new colleague, new boss. Bond over a cup of tea.

Hangover. Drag yourself to the caff for a fry up and a mug of builders tea.

Hungry but dinner is ready in an hour. Have a cheeky cup of tea.

Visiting nan and granddad. Call them when you’re 5 minutes away so they can get the mugs out and the kettle boiled.

Work break. Tea and a quick smoke outside.

In hospital. Complain about the weak tea and get friendly with the nurse so she gives you extra milk and sugar.

Foreign country. Do you have any English tea?

Visiting friends abroad. Bring a box of Twinings Breakfast tea as a gift but drink it all yourself during your stay.

Break-up. How about a lovely cup of tea and a slice of cake?

Freezing cold. A cuppa will sort you out.

Heatwave. I don’t care, get that kettle on.

When in doubt: TEA.


After your abortion I didn’t know what to do
so I just made you a cup of tea and held you
while you cried.


The only words that father learnt in Polish (my mother’s language) were kochana and herbata. “Darling” and “tea.” All he ever needed.


Daddy used to write in my birthday cards,
“I love you more than all the tea in China.”
That’s a lot of tea and a lot of love.


I used to resent making my father cups of tea but now I would love nothing more than to hear him say, “Lal, stick the kettle on and make us a cuppa, would ya?” And I would. Happily. So happily.

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prosetry

Red Flag

Overnight, Cordelia built The Ritz out of silk.

It was extraordinary. I’ve never seen a spider web so complicated, so stylish. Multiple floors, layers upon layers of intricate netting, stretching from one corner of the window to the other, with apparently solid foundations and an impressive roof that glittered in the sunlight. It was too big a space for herself alone and every day I expected to find that her family or her lover had moved in. But no, just a fly here and there, caught, I imagined, when I’d carefully crack open the window to let out cigarette smoke. I loved her. Even when I was alone, I wasn’t, because Cordelia was there in her castle of cobwebs in the corner, working on her art or dozing in her floss-like hammock, listening to me sobbing, or distracting me from stabbing my thighs with a steak knife by nimbly dancing across her silver threads.

How did I know that you weren’t The One for me?
When I saw the ease and total disregard with which you destroyed Cordelia’s mansion.

A thing of beauty, a product of hard work, pure, innocuous, a place of security, of safety, a home, built by nature’s magic, harmless. I told you not to. I said I thought it was pretty and I liked looking at the web and seeing how it developed and I had named the spider (as I name all insects that come into my home) and she wasn’t hurting anyone and I thought she looked pregnant so leave her the fuck alone. But you, with your pale blue shirt-sleeve, just wiped it all away, just like that, for no reason other than to remind me how easily you could destroy things that are beautiful and fragile. And with relish, too: your stupid smile when you wiped the remains of her life’s work onto my leggings despite my fury, you laughing when I jumped up to try and rescue her from the floor before you stepped on her.

It was a warning and I took heed.
If you could do that to Cordelia, what the fuck would you do to me?

(I have a new spider now, called Regan, and you are not allowed in my house ever again)

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prosetry

Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.

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fiction, Uncategorized

Contemplating Gender Roles while Following my Wife around Marshalls

There is a man standing at the door, I don’t know whether he is lost or left, he is staring at a table of FAB-YULE-OUS LAST-MINUTE GIFT ITEMS; a bottle cap dart board, an essential oils reed diffuser, a bundle of three cheeky-Christmas T-shirts, an array of Yankee Candle Holiday collections, and so on. He is still wearing his jacket, bundled to the neck.

I follow my wife passed him, he smells cold as we pass.

My wife stops in the ceramics and begins perusing. A large man passes me, a child holding the end of his jacket, his wife speeding ahead with the cart, he is playing something on his phone. His hat is on and his beard is unkempt.

“Should we get this for my parents?”

I turn, my wife is holding a ceramic jar with a plaque on it that says “MILK.”

“Sure,” I tell her.

She picks up something else, I wonder about the last time I saw a milk carton and what must have happened to all of the runaways.

“Or this one?” my wife asks.

“Sure,” I tell her.

She frowns, “which one?”

“That one.”

“You’re not pointing at either of them.”

“The milk one.”

“They are both milk ones.”

I refocus. “Oh, that one.” I point.

“That one is for tea,” she cries.

I shrug, and she waves her hand at me, annoyed. “You’re annoying, go away.”

“Okay.”

I head back for the door. I pass a younger man in a display chair. He has a patriot’s jacket on and is staring into an aisle of discount lotions. I head for the exit. Someone has collected the man who’d been by the door. Good for him.

I stand outside the door looking out on the parking lot. I notice a spot three rows from the exit. We parked about ten rows back. I go and get the car, move it to the empty spot and sit in the heat. I notice in the rear-view that someone has moved from a spot in the first row. I reverse out and straight into it, cutting off a PT Cruiser.

Who the hell still owns a PT cruiser, I think, as the man behind the wheel flips me off.

I sit in the car another twenty minutes before slowly making my way back inside. As I pass the shoe department, I see an old man sitting on one of the stools, he isn’t trying shoes on. He is just sitting, two hands on his cane as an older woman bustles around him with an armful of sandals.

“Eight dollars, dude!” I hear someone cry out. I turn, two teenage boys are looking at a pair of sneakers.

“Eight dollars! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, eight dollars, dude!”

“Dude, ZOLA.”

“Merry Christmas, ZOOOOLLA!”

They run off with the sneakers.

I find my wife in pet accessories.

“We should get the cats something.”

I nod, watching a Hispanic man help his wife pick from a giant pile of Buy three get one free Christmas socks. Another man walks by on the phone, “WHICH ONE!—That one? You have one of those!—because you’re always THROWING IT TO MY SIDE OF THE BED!”

My wife has a Santa cat outfit held up to her own body, she is looking down at it.

“Should we get this?” she asks.

I smile and nod.

It isn’t enough.

I give her a thumbs up.

She rolls her eyes. An old lady, digging through a table of hand-creamers, laughs.

“Men are so useless, huh?” she tells my wife.

My wife laughs.

Ha-ha

The woman laughs.

Ha-ha

I laugh.

Ha-ha

Am I living in a sexist narrative, I wonder? Do I only not want to shop because I have grown up in a patriarchy? Would helping pick out a cat outfit make me a better, more gender inclusive? Is that what that means? It doesn’t seem to have impacted that guy over there.

I glare at the Hispanic man who has just made his wife laugh after hanging a pair of socks off each of his ears.

I look back at my wife. She is fingering through a rack of cat treats. I walk over and grab one off the rack.

Christmas Turkey Dressing

I open it and take one out.

“Hey babe, watch.”

She looks up at me.

I pop the treat in my mouth.

She stares at me as I chew the treat. Her face goes very quickly from curiosity to disgust, and by the time I swallow, concern.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” She asks.

I look down at the bag of treats, then to my other empty, then back up at her.

“I thought it would be funny?”

She looks at me, then to the old lady who’d also stopped, arms deep in the pillow-pile, to watch me eat a treat. They share a look. The old lady smiles sympathetically.

My wife hands me her armful of goodies and pats me on the arm.

“Go find somewhere to sit by the registers sweetie, I won’t be long.”

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fiction, Uncategorized

The Time Travel Artist

I love my job.

Someone managed to change something. They shouldn’t have been able to. But, that is the company’s problem. Someone needed to die, again.

Killing someone is not an easy thing. Killing them again is even harder. Killing them the same way as before.

That is art.

Her name was Mary Harris. Nineteen years old. Strangled.

19:23 exactly. My hands are already around her neck. Not too soft. With passion, as before.

19:24 she is dead.

On the dot. Man, I’m good. I stand up and look around. The room hadn’t been wrecked. That is always an annoyance. A simple strangulation. I look down at her. Turning blue.

“Sorry, darling,” I lie.

I would feel sorry for her, really. Her savior is in jail. Her killer is still unknown. But, I don’t. I feel hungry. I’m a professional. Only professionals know when they are hungry.

I study the room. I study the body.

One of her eye-lids is shut. I bend down and open it wide, just like in the picture. Sadness and terror, it says. I smile.

“Now, that is art.”

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