life

Green Lanes

​I was standing on Green Lanes when it began to rain. It always rains on Green Lanes apart from when it doesn’t. Once I walked 6 miles of it because I lost my bus pass and that was during a heatwave. I remember it because the added heat and smoke from the bakeries and kebab houses and the Saturday afternoon crowd made the trek almost unbearable to the point where I wanted to cry but I had no tears to shed because I was so dehydrated, and never will I ever be so happy to see the Palmers Green triangle as I was when I finally made it home on that day. When I met my friend she said I smelled like I’ve been charcoal grilled. I felt like I had been charcoal grilled. 

Anyway, this time it was raining. Big, heavy raindrops, the ones that almost hurt when they hit your skin. I was early for the meeting with my solicitor so I loitered about, opting to murder my finite minutes outside a Turkish bakery a few doors down from his office. Inside the bakery I could see a group of women making baklava and some men congregating near the counter, drinking tea. I could hear the men’s animated debate and the subdued chatter of the women through the open door though I did not understand a word.

I lit a cigarette, holding it within my cupped hand in such a way as to shield it from the rain, and watched the women work. It was mesmerising, truly, seeing them expertly arrange layers upon layers of filo pastry, the filo so thin it was almost transparent, delicate and satisfying in one perfect sheet like when you peel off sunburnt skin, lifting up a huge sheet of it with such care but seemingly such little thought, a technique honed through the decades, passed down through generations. They were wielding rolling pins that were probably longer than the women were tall, never tearing the pastry, never once coughing or spluttering from inhaling the continuous cloud of starch powder that engulfed them, toned arms made strong from years of lifting vats of honey hidden under old cotton dresses, the patterns and colours of their aprons faded with age but their hair as white as sugar and their eyes as green as the pistachios that they crush in the giant pestle and mortar. Traditional, routine, precise, step-by-step, live art.

The women didn’t notice me but the men had their eyes all over me and they beckoned me in. I shook my head and held up my cigarette to say “I can’t come in right now even if I wanted to.” They insisted, but again I shook my head. The women glared at me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, and certain that they were bitching about me in Turkish. The men are probably their husbands. Then, just as I was feeling unsafe, someone came up behind me and grabbed me, digging their fingers in my ribs with an almighty grip. Without a thought I twisted my upper body around and elbowed the person in the face. He immediately let go of me and his hands rushed to his face. He was doubled over and blood dripped onto the wet concrete.

Fucking hell!!” he said, into his hands. “Why’d you do that?!” He stood up and took his bloody hands away from his face. “Oh my God, GEORGE! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was you, you scared me, I thought you were a robber or a pervert or something!” “No, it’s just me. Fucking hell, you’ve broken my fucking nose!” “No I haven’t, come on, let’s have a look at it,” I said, searching for a tampon in my handbag. “It’s not proper broken. You’re still handsome, don’t worry,” I promised, as I unwrapped the tampon and shoved it up his nose. “Fucking hell, I only came over to say hello and invite you out to this thing tonight!” he winced. “Oh, Georgie, I’m really sorry, let me kiss it better,” I said, before I kissed his nose and he laughed. “You’re a nutter, you are,” he said as he wiped his bloody hands on his jeans.

We went into the bakery, George cleaned up and we had tea and baklava. One of the men in there paid for me. George said, “If you weren’t so pretty you wouldn’t get away with half the shit you do.” I concurred that that is probably, sadly true. My solicitor called to say he was ready for me, so we hugged goodbye and arranged to meet at Frank’s in Peckham at 10 that night. I promised to buy him a drink to say “sorry about the whole elbow in the face thing” and he promised that we would catch up properly later on and that he had some exciting news.

He never turned up at Frank’s that night. Nobody had heard from him. His phone was dead when we tried to reach him, and it’s still dead 4 years later. I ring it from time to time, just in case it might be switched on.

Where did you go, Gorgeous George? You just disappeared. No social media clues, no sightings, no ideas. The grapevine mentioned you running away to Thailand but then it also mentioned you in prison, and it was even suggested that you were living under witness protection and your true identity had been compromised. I don’t think you topped yourself. I just don’t know where you are. No one does. I wonder if I was the last person to see you: I hope I was, so that you didn’t meet a fate worse than a bloody nose and free baklava. And I will always look for you on Green Lanes, especially when it rains.

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prosetry

Further Chronicles of Us

Read: The Chronicles

Read: More Chronicles

SEVEN.
You carelessly devoured me with no regard for consequence, rushing to have all of me before I got cold. Now I am the fishbone stuck in your throat. A niggling irritation, an itch you cannot scratch. I’ll stay there, stubborn, a daily annoyance, but one that you become used to over time. “It’ll go away eventually.” You’re right. I will go eventually. But I will stay until I can be sure that, when I leave you, you will notice that I’ve gone but you will not miss me.

EIGHT.
A Star Wars-esque opening crawl scrolled in my eyes, on repeat, in yellow, in white. It crawled for a long time. The instructions were clear: Remove sleeve. Pierce several times. And so it scrolled on and on and on. And so I did. I removed my sleeve and pierced my skin several times, with a knife. Stab stab stab stab. The blade went through to the other side. Stab stab stab. How many times is “several” anyway? Wait, was I supposed to stir halfway through? I didn’t stir, I just sat and let myself marinate in a bloodbath, in my party dress, with sawdust in my hair, and the spider on the wall, and watched the Star Wars crawl gradually fade into the darkness. You found me eventually.

“What the bloody hell are you doing in the attic?”
“I… I don’t know…”
“JESUS CHRIST, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
“I don’t know, it said remove sleeve and pierce several times so I did.”
“NOT ON YOUR ARM YOU SILLY COW, YOU ARE NOT A FUCKING MICROWAVEABLE MEAL!”
“But I was just following the instruc–,”
“YOU ARE NOT A FUCKING LASAGNA!”

Every now and then you call me or message me to remind me that I am not a fucking lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not your problem anymore. I am not a lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not yours. I am not a lasagna. I am not a fucking lasagna.

NINE.
We went shopping for funeral outfits. We bought the suit that you’ll wear at yours. You stole the dress that I’ll wear at mine. That dress is the most beautiful, perfect possession that I own. I take it out it’s plastic cover sometimes, just to touch it, to look at it. I am so excited to wear it. I wrote you a note and slipped it in the pocket of your suit jacket when you weren’t looking. Either you’ll be buried with it or you’ll find it when I’m gone. And I know you haven’t found it yet because, if you had, things would be so very different and I wouldn’t have to write this shit.

 

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poetry, prosetry

Sometimes

Sometimes, things come back.
Things come back to me sometimes.
Not things, as such, but rather memories.
Memories come back to me sometimes.
Only sometimes, though.
Like that fancy bra poking out from my blood-stained white blouse,
running down the hill at 3 o’clock on Christmas morning.
Prison Break, Breaking Bad, breaking up.
Yellow flowers, always yellow flowers.
Lighting my cigarettes with a blowtorch.
Bike rides along the sea wall.
Inhalers and cat allergies.
Cheese and cucumber sandwiches at cricket.
Teaching me to drive the van.
Micky Flanagan and the £8 slice of pizza.
Never drinking the final third of your Peroni.
“Babyface” and squeezing the pus out of your knee.
Spain, swordfish, sunset.
Bunk up on the bunk beds under Manchester United duvet covers.
Me throwing up in Wayne Bridge’s toilet while you fixed his cooker.
The Best Nachos in the World.
Henry VIII and Henrietta.
Freezing under floodlights.
A firework display because I wanted one.
The realisation that you’re going to prison.
Apple crumble and custard.
The decision that I’d wait for you while you were inside.
Cutting 40 onions.
The jubilation when you were found not guilty.
Glass table-top on the roof.
Coaxing the gerbils out from under the wardrobe.
Sex in a hot tub in Sherwood Forest in the middle of December.
The diamond ring and fancy watch that I can’t bring myself to sell.
Your face when the test was negative.
Your face when the test was negative again.
Your face.
Your fucking face,
the face I know off-by-heart,
the face I can still feel beneath my fingertips,
the face that I know better than my own.
Your fucking face.
Sometimes, things come back.
You didn’t.


[Featured image source here]
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epistolary

An Unsent Letter

Dear Him,

Where are you? I don’t know where you are. I wonder what your piece of sky looks like. I am sure that your sky looks different to mine, even though we’re under the same one.

We lost each other, somehow. Perhaps we lost each other deliberately, although I prefer to think of this divide as a tragic accident, our totality sliced in half by the universe and her clumsy but ungovernable path.

We used to share so many things: you know what so I shan’t patronise you by listing them, all those things we shared, all those things we lost. The only things we share now are this sky, and the sun and moon that live in it. And, even then, they are not shared equally or fairly. But at least we can say that we’ve still got something, we will always have something.

You see the sun more often than I do. You adore her, you worship her, you welcome her. You actively seek her out. You chase her. She makes you happy. I loathe her, I hide from her, I dread her arrival. I can’t stand the fact that she is so committed, so steadfast, so predictable, so fucking resolute. I hate that she never stays away for long enough and I hate that she always returns. She bores me. I am bored of the sun.

But we will always have this in common: we are both her dependants, entirely reliant on her for life, even though we never wanted to be. I’m angrier than you are about the fact that we need her. We are her slaves, we exist at her mercy; and this is a situation that we will never have the opportunity to challenge or change, a reality that was forced on us all without warning or argument or even explanation. None of us ever agreed to be solely dependent on a faraway celestial body, and yet here we are, going along with it, accepting that we will die without her but we will also die with her. It reminds me of the fact that no baby ever asked to be born.

We will always share the sun, this sun of ours. And while you worship her, I wish she would hurry up and explode. Then our sky would look the same no matter where we are because I suppose we’d be nowhere, but we’d be nowhere together.

I always believed that wherever we are in the world, however far apart, we would always share the same moon. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that even this is not the case.

I spend so many hours now just watching the sky move on the other side of the glass. All those days where I am too sad to get out of bed, people assume I am reading in bed or writing or painting or watching movies or sleeping but really I just lie there and watch our sky performing its never-ending dance, with its clouds and colours and weather and stars and sounds and speeds and aircraft and fireworks and pollution and promise and a stray green balloon. I spend so much time just watching the sky and wondering what your slice of sky looks like. I hope yours looks happier than mine.

I am infatuated by the moon, arguably obsessed with her. I always feel a strange sense of relief when I see her and I am disappointed when she doesn’t turn up, worried even, as if the sun might have burnt her to death while I was in my windowless bathroom where I couldn’t keep an eye on her. I don’t know what I’d do without the moon: if she died I would miss her just like I miss my father now.

I know that you have always liked the moon too, especially when it’s misty, or on those stoned Sunday nights we shared years ago when we’d look for words on her skin, convinced by the crater edges forming silver tattoos on her blinding, imperfect shell, like when we couldn’t unsee the word ‘SIN’ branded diagonally across her left side. We like the moon. We trust her.

But she shows me a different face to the one that she shows you. We see the same moon from different angles, at different times, in different stages, in different moods, in different countries, in different lives, with different eyes. The moon that I see and the moon that you see are the same, but different.

Like us, I suppose. We’re the same but we are different. The same, but different. Same but different. We are different people now but some things will always stay the same. So as long as there is a sky above us, and a sun and moon within it, I’m yours.

From,

Her.


[Featured image source here]
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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?”


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