prosetry

Strong Oak

I went past him on the bus. Well I could only see his feet but I knew it was a ‘him.’

Sometimes my eyes see things that aren’t there. They are there, because I can see them, but apparently they’re not visible to other people. Like the time I saw a human-sized dog bounding towards me but nobody else saw it, even though my face was somehow covered in its slobber and I had dog hair on my clothes. Sometimes I entertain the things I see, sometimes I assume they’re not really real and ignore them. I wonder how many real things I’ve discredited because I’ve been told that parts of my brain aren’t trustworthy. But him, his feet, felt like something I should investigate.

I got off the bus at the hospital and instead of going to the psychiatric ward where I had an appointment I turned back and walked the way I’d just come, past the little park. I walked slowly but with purpose. I knew what I was going to see and I didn’t know what I was going to see.

I pushed through the willows and hedges and there he was, strung up from the strongest arm of the oak tree. Male. Late 30s/early 40s. 6ft-ish. Looks Eastern European. Blue t-shirt, navy jacket, dark jeans, white trainers. Fists clenched. Gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. Rosary in his left. I hope the Catholics aren’t right about suicide. He doesn’t look like he’s in Hell. And if his life was hell on earth then he’ll be well-prepared anyway. I’m glad his eyes were closed, it would’ve been more disturbing if they were open, less peaceful, less okay.

I stood about a metre away, lit a cigarette and looked at him for a while. He waltzed with the breeze. The only music was the rope creaking. He was a reluctant dancer. His face was pale grey and his lips were blue: he looked like a painting. I looked at the rope. A perfect slip-knot. Would’ve been painless. No broken neck. Boy scout.

I thought about him climbing up this tree, perching on the branch, tying the rope around and around, double-checking it’s secure, putting the noose around his neck, tightening it, triple-checking it’s all secure, taking a moment to look around, to breathe in, gently lowering himself underneath the branch, his arms over it, then placing one hand on the rope, then another, slowly slipping down, one last look at the world and then letting go. Bam.

I reached up to his jacket pocket and took his wallet out. Polish national. Same name as my grandfather. Oh, it’s his birthday today. He’s 38. Shit. I put the wallet back. I found two folded bits of paper in the other pocket. Oh, of course. Notes. One to his brother, one to his wife. I don’t read them even though morbid curiosity tells me to go ahead. No. I might be crazy but I’m not heartless. I put them back in his pocket. They’re not mine to read.

I looked around the tree for other clues. Bingo. A black plastic bag from the off licence. Inside: today’s newspaper, a switched off mobile phone and 4 cans of Dębowe Mocne, a strong Polish lager. In the bush nearby I see an empty can of Dębowe and at the base of the tree trunk there’s another. Creak. I go over to it and pick it up. Creak. It’s half full. Half empty. Half drunk. Half gone. Half left. Around the lip of the can I see saliva mixed with beer.

Suddenly a yappy little Jack Russell comes running over out of nowhere. He looks at me and looks at the hanging man and starts barking.
“SAMMY! Come here, boy, over here. Sammy!”
I say to the dog, “You’d better be on your way then, Sammy.”
He didn’t move, just kept on barking.

Then comes his owner. A short, tubby Irishman with a red face.
“JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH!” he says, taking his hat off. “Christ! What’s happened?”

I stare at him, blankly.

“Don’t answer that, bloody come here and help me get him down!!!” he yells and he hugs the man’s legs and tries to lift him up. I want to laugh but it’s not the time nor place.

“Fucking well help me then!” he shouts at me.
“He’s dead,” I say, unhelpfully, helpfully.
“Christ!” he says, letting go. “Have you got yer mobile telephone on yer girl, we need to call an ambulance right now, right now!?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.”
I say.
“WHAT! I thought all yous kids had a phone on yer! Right. Right. Okay,” he says, clearly losing his shit.

He crosses himself. “How very sad it is. It’s a sad thing, suicide, isn’t it? Very sad. Very tragic. Good grief. Right. I live just over that road there, I’m going to run home and call the ambulance and the police and do yer think I should phone the fire brigade? You know, to, to cut him down, like? Jesus. Oh, Jesus. You stay here, won’t yer. Just… watch him… make sure he doesn’t move.”

I don’t know what’s funnier, the thought of this fat little flustered old man running or me watching a corpse to make sure it doesn’t do anything.

Right. Stay here. Come on Sammy, come on boy. Mary mother of God. Right. Police, ambulance, fire,” he muttered, shuffling away.

I was still holding this can of Dębowe Mocne. I took a few swigs because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Then I suddenly thought about this dead man’s saliva mixing with mine, on my lips, in my mouth. I decided that I can either think of it as disgustingly disrespectful and too macabre to justify or I can think of it as a sort of last kiss, a kiss goodbye. I looked up at him. The poor bastard.

I noticed that whilst the chubby little man was manhandling this guy’s legs, one of his shoelaces came undone. I did it up. For some reason I said aloud, “There you are. All fixed” like I say when I do my nephew’s shoelace up after he’s fallen over. I wondered about this man suspended above me, about who he is, who he was. I said to him, “What was it that made you so sad?” I wondered if his sadness is equivalent to mine, or if he was even sadder than me, or if I am in fact much sadder than he was when he chose to do this but by some fluke I’m still alive and he isn’t.

I looked at the beer can. Dębowe Mocne. That literally translates as Strong Oak. I wondered if the beer was a coincidence. He killed himself on a Dębowe Mocne, on the strongest oak tree in the park. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to ask for help or to carry on. Maybe he came to this tree for strength and didn’t find any. Or maybe he just bought this beer because it’s a super-strength lager and it’s cheap to get pissed on it.

I lifted the can up as high as I could, above level with his stomach, and said aloud, “Happy Birthday, Stanisław. Wszystkiego najlepszego. To sadness. To slipknots. To strength. Na zdrowie, mate.” I necked the beer, threw the can in the bag and walked to the hospital.

“Sorry I’m late, fucking roadworks. Can I still see Dr K for my psych review or do I have to reschedule?” The receptionist eyed me suspiciously and said, “Take a seat.”

“You’re late,” said Dr K. “And you smell like a brewery. Have you been drinking?”
“Not really,”
I said.
“Well you stink of beer,” he said sternly, offering me a mint.

We went through the usual charade. How’s my sleep, how’s my energy, how’s my appetite, how’s my concentration, how’s my social life, how’s my sex life, how are my thoughts of harming myself, how are my thoughts of harming others, how’s my drug use, how’s my alcohol use, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Dr K asked me if I still see, hear, feel or experience things that aren’t real. I said, “No, not to my knowledge.” He asked if I am still taking my anti-psychotics properly and I said yes, yes I am, and he said great, I’ll see you in 6 months then.

On my way home, past the park, I anticipated the presence of a police car and ambulance, perhaps the coroner’s hearse, the area cordoned off, officials milling about the tree. But there was nothing. I stood there for a moment in shock, surveying the park. Then this yappy little dog ran up to me and started barking.

“SAMMY! GET HERE NOW!” I heard a man shout in a broad Irish accent.
I don’t understand.
This stump of a man strolls up to me and says, “Sorry about my dog. Have yer been at the hospital?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Have yer been at the hospital, like?”
“Erm, yeah, just now,”
I reply, perplexed, thinking he’s going to tell me what happened to the hanging man.
“Ah. That’s it, you see,” says the red-faced old man, “my little dog here smells death from a mile off.”

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life

Insane? Contain, Restrain, Detain

Knock Knock Knock Knock

*male voices*

Is this the one?

Yeah.

Knock Knock Knock

*opens door a fraction*

Yeah? What do you want?

We’ve received a call from a member of the public and a call from one of your neighbours expressing concerns about your welfare, can we come in?

What? No. You fucking can’t.

Come on. It’s just me and my colleague Jerry, we want a little chat.

No thanks, you’re alright.

Right, come on, open up now, there’s a good girl.

I’m fine, seriously, piss off.

*sighs*

We can do this the easy way or the hard way.

You got a warrant?

No, but we have reason to believe that your safety and the safety of others may be compromised. We can either chat to you here or down at the station, it’s entirely up to you.

I’m a smart girl, I’d never be stupid enough to invite filth into my own home.

Fine, get some shoes on and we’ll take this down the nick.

Wankers. You’re never there when we actually need you yet you’re always there when you’re not welcome.

Yep. Could you also bring with you a list of any medication you’re taking.

Nope, because that would suggest that I’ll be in your company overnight, which is definitely not happening.

We’ll see about that.

Bastards.

Right, get your coat.

I’ve pulled?!

*Jerry laughs*

*Pig #1 does not laugh*

Hang on, what the hell’s happened here? What’s all this?

Hair dye.

Hair dye?

Hair dye.

Hair dye, Sir?

Jerry, go down and get the first aid kit will ya?

Sir.

If that’s hair dye then I’m the Queen of England.

Don’t flatter yourself.

Right, I’m gonna need you step outside of the property please. I’ve had enough of your lip.

Oi, don’t you fucking touch me. My father always told me never to go off with strange men.

*death stare*

I need to get changed, you can wait outside in the corridor, I’ll be 2 minutes.

Nope. Don’t think so.

I haven’t even done anything wrong, just go away!

I’m not letting you out of my sight, sweetheart.

CAN YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF. I NEED TO GET CHANGED AND I NEED THE TOILET. UNLESS YOU WANT TO WATCH ME CHANGE MY TAMPON, YOU SICK FUCK! GOD, you people really are the fucking worst. Just back the fuck up and I’ll be out in a minute, alright?

First aid kit, Sir.

Ah, Jerry. Right. Tell me. How did you hurt yourself? What did you use?

I didn’t. Nothing. And I’m no-one’s fucking sweetheart, by the way.

Have you taken anything today?

Why, what have you got? Anything good?

Are you currently in possession of any offensive weapons?

My mouth.

Are you currently in possession of any item or items which you could use to harm yourself or others?

Wait. Yeah.

What is it?

My wit. It’s pretty sharp.

*Jerry stifles a laugh*

Jesus wept. If you don’t tell me right now I’m going to have to cuff you for your own safety and for mine. Hands out.

This is ridiculous.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT LOCKING THAT BATHROOM DOOR, GODDAMMIT.

I’LL BE ONE FUCKING MINUTE, MY GOD.

Right, I’m going to count down from 10, if you’re not out here by the time I reach 0 I am going to break the door in, right?

Sure.

10

9

8

Jerry, radio 6423 and see if they’re local.

Sir.

5

4

Tell ’em we’ve got a live one.

3

LAST CHANCE MISSY.

2, 1!!!!

Jeeeeesus, keep your wig on!

Right, let’s go.

But why?

Follow Jerry. Go on. Watch your step.

Wait, please tell me we’re not driving… your Cop Shop is 150 yards across the road, surely your motor would be more useful out patrolling the streets catching genuine threats to society?

Get in the car.

Wow. Met Police, saving the planet, one unnecessary detainment at a time.

Mind your head.

This is getting silly. I haven’t actually done anything wrong.

But you will, which is why we’re intervening now before you do any major damage.

That is utter bollocks. And I’m supposed to be the insane one, hahahahahaha, you mad, mad bastards.

Sir, is there any point of taking her to the station? Can’t we go straight to the hospital, let them deal with her?

Errrrrrrrm, yeah actually, I’ve had enough of nutters for one day: good thinking, Batman.

Sir. What do I tell Chief?

Uhhhh, pfffffft, the usual spiel: too many injuries to accurately document, urgent medical attention required, high risk psych, station’s too busy and understaffed to deal with her, blah blah blah.

Okie dokie, thanks Sir, got it, Sir.

Hey, can I go for a fag while you do your paperwork?

No.

Why not?

Because I said so.

Please?

Nope.

Bastard.

Have you got your meds list?

I’ll write you a full meds list and list of my diagnoses, plus the names and numbers of my uncaring care workers and unsupportive support staff if you let me go for a fag. How’s about that?

No.

Andddd I’ll give you the correct phone number of my next of kin?

No chance.

Hmph. Hey, has anyone ever bled to death in the back of your fancy little cop car before? “Urgent medical attention required” and yet we’re just sitting here in the car park doing jack shit.

Put pressure on it.

Er, I’m pissing blood back here!

You’ll live.

Yeah. Sadly.

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art, fiction

The Hung-Man’s Bottle Cap

She sat there, social as a dead butterfly, bending beer bottle caps in half.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

She paused, ruminated over the words “Miller High Life,” then responded.

“When I can’t do this anymore, I will hang myself.”

“What if you break your fingers?” I said, smirking.

“Then, it will be a loose knot,” she replied, without humor.

I laughed–tried to. I picked up a cap; gave it a squeeze.

“Ouch.” It dropped. We both looked at it, she looked up at me.

I frowned. “I’m not going to hang myself!”

She shrugged, looking rather disappointed.

 

 

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prosetry

Sink

He said he never brought girls back to his place because he was embarrassed about his flat.

I told him that I’d lived in some horrible places myself, with mouldy wallpaper hanging off the ceiling, mildewy curtains, bloodstains on the walls and a ground-floor window fashioned from cling-film and sellotape;

and that one time a guy took me to a crack den on our first date and he tried to kiss me while we were sitting on a damp mattress that had previously been set on fire and a rottweiler was trying to eat my handbag;

and that my friend dropped a hot microwaved chili con carne on his kitchen floor 4 years ago and it’s still there;

and that another friend’s bathroom contained a toilet that was worse than The Toilet in Trainspotting, there was no light or running water and someone had stolen the shower-head and taken a shit in sink so when anyone ever needed to take a leak they had to leave the house and go to the cinema down the road to use their facilities;

so I’m sure his flat would be lovely.

And it was. It was spotless. It was a really nice modern studio flat, high ceilings and big windows, and loads of books and records but not messy or cluttered at all.

“Got any booze?”

He hesitated.

“Yeah, there’s some beer in the kitchen sink. And some vodka, I think.”

I went over to the sink and sure enough found some bottles of Bud bobbing around in the bitterly cold water that filled the sink to its brim.

Oh, and some vodka. Not much, but enough.

And 2 pints of semi-skimmed milk.

And a pot of strawberry yoghurt.

And 500g of extra mature cheddar cheese in a ziploc bag.

And some kind of ham in a ziploc bag.

And half a cucumber in a ziploc bag.

And a handful of grapes in a ziploc bag.

I heard his voice behind me.

“This why I don’t bring girls back.”

“Why?”

“Cos I don’t have a fridge. People think it’s weird. People think I’m weird.”

“Why though?”

“Cos everyone has a fridge. They don’t know how I survive without one.”

“I mean, why don’t you have a fridge? Do you just not want one, like how I don’t ever want a TV so I’m never going to get one? Or maybe you only eat fresh stuff?”

“No, it’s not that I don’t want one. I just can’t.”

“Oh, I see… Your electricity bill must be lower than everyone else’s though, right?”

“No, well, yeah, probably. I just can’t have one. I…”

I can see he’s starting to panic.

“Hey, it’s alright, I actually think it’s cool that you don’t have one. No pun intended on ‘cool’, either.”

And then he blurts it out:

“I’m scared of fridges.”

I say nothing.

“And freezers. Fridge-freezers. Fridges. Freezers. All of it.”

“Woah. Okay. Erm. I’m guessing you had a bad experience? Did you get locked in a freezer once or something?”

I laugh and open the beers with my teeth.

His face pales.

“No. Not me. Someone else.”

“Jesus. Sounds pretty—“

“Bad. Yeah, it was. It was really bad.”

I remind myself that I am a listener, not a therapist. I am a listener, not a therapist. Listener, not therapist.

“Wanna talk about it? Come, sit with me.”

We sit on the window ledge and dangle our legs out. I light us each a cigarette.

“It was ages ago, when I was a kid. I was 9. And a half. We were playing hide and seek in the scrapyard near my old house. Me and Tommy. He lived a few doors down from me and we used to play out after school.”

I stare at him for a second too long and then flick some ash off my tights. We watch it fall one two three four floors down until it disappears. I half-hope that he’ll change the subject but I’m also massively intrigued, so I say nothing.

“We were playing hide and seek. It was his turn to hide. I counted to 30 because the yard was huge and there were so many cool places to hide, like old cars and empty skips and that. I looked for him for fucking ages. Fucking ages. In the end I was shouting TOMMY I GIVE UP. COME OUT NOW. I GIVE UP. It was getting dark. I guessed that he had just gone home cos he got bored or cos his sister came to get him or he had gone off with some of his own pals.”

Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Exhale.

“Anyway I heard my mam calling my name to tell me that my tea was on the table getting cold. So I shouted LAST CHANCE TOMMY, I’M GOING NOW, I’M NOT JOKING, FINE, I’M LEAVING NOW, BYE. Went home, had my tea, forgot all about it. Went to bed. Then my mam woke me up in the middle of the night to ask me if I’d seen Tommy cos he didn’t come home for his tea and his mam was worried cos nobody had seen him and the police were downstairs and wanted to ask me if I’d seen him. I was scared cos I thought I would be in trouble and I thought the pigs would take me to jail and they wouldn’t believe me if I said I didn’t know where he was even though I would be telling the truth but grown ups never believe kids so I didn’t say nothing.”

Inhale. Exhale. Beer.

“Next morning everyone went out searching the scrapyard, neighbour said they heard some kids playing there the night before, and we all used to play down there all the time so they started looking for him there. They had sniffer dogs.”

He tenses up.

“Then at school in the middle of last lesson we all got taken into the hall for an assembly and the headmaster told us that Tommy Greenwald had tragically passed away. That we were all devastated by the loss of such a bright young lad. That the funeral was on Friday, that the school choir would be singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the service and we were encouraged to wear our Liverpool shirts to the church. That we would be making condolence cards in class that would be passed on to his mam and sister, and that if we see his family in the street we must treat them with the utmost respect. “

Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

“Long story short, they found him in a fucking fridge. One of them massive industrial ones. The pigs in the assembly warned us of the dangers of playing in the scrapyard. They suspected no foul play, that this was a tragic accident. How he must have opened it, got in, shut the door and of course it don’t open from the inside, does it, and it was sealed shut so he fucking suffocated. Nobody could hear him scream because the yard was so big. His screaming made him die faster. He was 7.”

“Jesus H. Christ.” 

“Seven.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

Beer. Inhale. Reach for vodka. Exhale. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Beer. Inhale.

“You know it’s not your fault, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. It’s not. Even if you told the police where you were playing, they wouldn’t have saved him any sooner. He would’ve… gone quite quickly.”

“Seven years old.”

“Jesus.”

Vodka. Vodka. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.

“I should’ve looked more, for longer.”

“No. You were a kid. Something awful might’ve happened to you too if you stayed out wandering the scrapyard in the dark. You weren’t to know, anyway. You weren’t to know.”

I am a listener, not a therapist.

Beer. Spark up. Inhale. Exhale. Vodka.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever told that to.”

“What? Not even your mum, or Tommy’s family?”

“No.”

Beer. Beer. Inhale. End beer.

“Shit. I don’t even know what to say.”

“That’s okay.”

Silence. Inhale. Silence. Silence. Exhale. Silence. Inhale.

“Hey, I’m sorry to change the subject, but I’m gonna grab us another drink– I think we need it.”

“Go for it.”

“Is there any more beer in the…”

Exhale.

“Sink?”


[Featured image source]
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prosetry

Benches

​”Why are you crying, poppet?”

Because I am so devastated that there is no document that exists that can tell me every single bench I’ve ever sat on throughout my life, where that bench was and with whom I was sitting. I just need to know. I just want to fucking know.

“That’s why you’re so angry and upset? Because you don’t have a list of every bench you’ve ever sat on?”

Yeah.

“Look, I know you’re mad, poppet, all the best ones are. But you can’t be insane. Not here, not now. Not ever.”

But–

“Ahh ah ah ah. Come on now. Settle, petal.”

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prosetry

The Fascinator

Well he asked me what I was passionate about and I said writing, I’m a writer, and he asked me what I like to write about and I said oh, you know, everything, people mainly, the strangers I meet, the stories they tell, the tangled webs we weave, and he said tell me, where do you meet these strange people with all their fascinating stories? and I said honestly? in pubs, usually, and I laughed and then he laughed and he had such a fucking great laugh, and then he said well I’m a stranger that you’ve met in a pub, aren’t I? and I said yes but you haven’t done anything fascinating yet and he said oh don’t worry about that, beautiful, I’ll give you something to write about, and we laughed and smoked and finished our drinks too quickly and then I got in his car

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