Death of a Star

At around half past 3 in the morning I decided that I would go for a crafty cigarette. I was at my grandfather’s house – he didn’t (and hopefully still doesn’t) know that I smoke and I didn’t want to wake him by going downstairs and outside, so I thought it best to hang out of the bedroom window and smother the smell with perfume afterwards.

I opened the window, jumped up on the sill, dangled my pyjama-ed legs out over the edge and, before I could spark up, my attention was diverted to the meteor shower that was performing its drama in the space above me. I’d seen such sights before but never this clearly. These fizzling stars seemed so close, as if I could reach out and catch them. I half expected a piece of hot rock to land in my lap and burn through my shorts.

A voice shocked me back to Earth.

“Are you gonna light that or what?” my father whispered, a little too loudly.


He chuckled until his chuckle turned into a cough, which he tried to stifle. He was also hiding his habit from granddad (his father) – he had promised him a year before that he had quit. But here he was, also hanging out of his bedroom window, a few metres across from mine, smoking a joint and watching the shower.

He put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” and then pointed at the sky.

“I know,” I whispered back.

We stayed that way for a few minutes, together but apart, smoking in the silence of the night, watching the meteorites falling so effortlessly from the heavens, knowing that they look pretty from here but up there the scene is one of violence and destruction. We were quite content to revel in the magic of the display, ignoring the science and calculations and unfathomable numbers behind it and the reality of our insignificance (although these things did cross our minds).

“You know how stars die, don’t you?” he whispered to me, again a little too loudly.

“Erm… supernova, is it?”

“Nah. Overdose, usually.”

I giggled into my hand, before whispering, “For fuck’s sake, Dad,” in his general direction. We didn’t know that Amy Winehouse would die from a suspected overdose the next day.

We spent another minute or so watching the sky. I looked over at my Dad, his face illuminated only by the stars. His smile had gone. He looked wistful, possibly even sad. Then I felt sad, knowing we’d be back in London soon and unable to see magic like this through the pollution. Back to London, to depression and money problems and bad decisions and drug dealing and dangerous dalliances and trouble trouble trouble.

“Dad,” I said, quietly. “Am I going to be okay?”

He looked over at me from his window and smiled, and said with such certainty,

“Yes. Yes you are, babes.”

In that moment, I believed him. I locked that exchange in my heart, archived, for future reference. Then I stubbed out my roll-up underneath the window ledge and buried it among the leaves in the guttering. Then I replied to my Dad,

“Are you?”

But his window was shut and he was gone.



Peculiar Times

We live in peculiar times.

We speak Nadsat without realising, and are surprised and disappointed when others don’t understand;

start a new ashtray in a plastic yoghurt pot instead of emptying the big glass one that’s fit for purpose but overflowing, then repeat until your entire room has turned into one giant tray of ash;

wake up totally exhausted after 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep;

rely too heavily on answers garnered from an upturned glass shifting gracelessly across a ouija board;

take 133 tablets of psychiatric medicine every week and still feel so terribly unwell, like if your brain doesn’t kill you first then kidney failure will;

wonder how you still have room for all the painkillers, vitamins and narcotics that also allege to make you feel better but take them anyway, then hear them rattle inside you when you shake;

judge people based on the type, style and colour of the material covering their feet and be cruel to strangers solely because of their eyebrow shape;

feel more inspired standing outside the house that your favourite writer killed herself in than at the house in which she lived;

live and die without a single person knowing you;

drink a can of coke and then eat a mento mint and marvel at the fact that your stomach hasn’t exploded;

take our old selves for granted and then kick ourselves when we discover that we’ve lost our best self and can’t get her back;

feel offended about every single thing, all of the time;

cause offense to those who think you should be offended and are offended that you are not;

cause offense by opening our mouths;

cause offense by keeping our mouths shut;

drive to the middle of nowhere and engage in primal scream therapy;

buy a pack of 500 bobby pins and only have 6 left in your possession two weeks later;

go from an immense feeling of relief when the pregnancy test is negative to an immediate sense of utter horror when you realise if you’re not pregnant then you’ve just gotten fat;

throw away the (perfectly good) first and last slices of a loaf of bread;

pick green fur off the remaining slices;

feel unreasonably angry that the picked-at bread is taking so fucking long to turn to toast under the glowing amber grill;

hear our friend’s voice from behind us say with such solemn sagacity, “A watched bread never toasts,” and laugh and laugh and laugh until you smell burning.


The Man (With the Hat)

This is the first quarter of a short story I more or less sort of finally finished the other day when I didn’t go to work because work has been wearing me out and I needed writing time. I don’t yet know what to call it, hence the parenthetical indecision in the title.

Of course she’s sweet about it, handing mister plump and dumpy the grey newsboy cap he’d dropped a moment ago from the upper level of the train car and waddled down the narrow twist of too-shallow steps to retrieve, draped in his mauve trenchcoat with the vague, shapeless presumption of slacks falling over scuffed and dismal black dress shoes as featureless as Joe Christmas’s brogans, nebulous man on a mission and I hate him like some kind of pudgy past self crowding pushing into now, this flashbacked possible impossible me. Oh impossible me.

I see him all the time, all the fucking time, waiting on the open-air platform in that hat and coat and featureless fucking material and dress brogans for the 5:15 back to the city, doughy and pale and red-nosed, looking like a pile of burdens, like burdensomeness itself, standing with that leaned-back posture of too much belly and too little backbone, sucking on a vaporizer and emitting wispy aroma clouds that smell suspiciously of air freshener. Every day, every fucking day, sipping in regular intervals from tall cans of cheap beer held firmly by sausage fingers with unsuitably elongated, almond-shaped tips and his thin, dark red lips, almost bruised plum purple and shaded by a narrow, bushy gray-brown Hitleresque mustache, reach out to grasp the rim of his beer cans like giraffe lips tempted by acacia. I wonder where he lives, what he does for a living, how he behaves in his natural habitat and what they feed him. It bothers me deeply that we ride the same train to anywhere, ever.

He carries a thermal lunchbox, a plastic bag of backup tallboys, and a shoulder-strapped kind of briefcase or satchel or something, surely full of papers, business papers, I presume. Or maybe it’s empty and just lugged around for legitimacy, his self-awareness in a handbag. Everything is kind of, almost, sort of, or something; he’s a big mound of imprecision and indefiniteness, and I can’t help thinking he’d be useless in an emergency or devoured in the wild. It’s strange, you know, strange how strange is so often a thing I say, of all people me, strange how we develop something as strong as hatred for a complete stranger brought into our orbit by nothing more than dumb circumstance and the faculty of sight. We fall in love this way, I guess, but that’s almost stranger, stranger.

It’s dark when the train arrives, early evening.

poetry, prosetry

Even More Chronicles of Us

Read the rest of the Chronicles here:
The Chronicles of Us / More Chronicles of Us / Further Chronicles of Us

I should have realised that we weren’t going to work out on that sunny afternoon when we were wandering around that big, empty house: you were excitedly envisioning our future children playing in the garden, and saying things like, “We could make this room the nursery,” and “Can you see yourself cooking me dinner in this kitchen?” while I was internally screaming at the prospect of being burdened with relentless mortgage payments and considering which room I would end my life in, assessing which fixtures I could hang from and wondering what the bathtub would look like with red water spilling over its edges.

Forever’s never guaranteed.
But still, you wrote the F word
inside every card you ever sent to me.
And I can’t bring myself to throw those cards away –
they are proof that ‘forever’ once existed for me,
and anyway, I will throw them out eventually:
one day, someday, but not today.

Remember when you painted a declaration of your love for me in huge letters across the old sea wall? You said it would last our lifetime, that everyone who approaches the island will see how much I am adored by you. You vandalised a protected island just so that strangers would know that you love me. Perhaps if I’d been impressed by this instead of horrified we might’ve survived.




The blind old gypsy man grabbed my arm as I walked past and said quietly, “You’re in pain.” I said, “How d’you know that?” avoiding looking into his milk-glazed eyes, and he replied with a wry smile, “Anyone can see you’re suffering. It’s obvious to a blind man.

His friend across the table said to me in a broad accent, “Why? What happened to you, girl?” The blind man and I replied at the same time. I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Everything.

Several seconds passed and it was as if the earth had got stuck on its axis, skipping on its turntable, the same intense moment fluttering on repeat before lurching forward to where it’s supposed to be. The old boy dropped my arm and I scuttled away, trying to shake off the sensation of what felt like a snake writhing up my spine.

In the safety of the ladies toilets I stared at my reflection in the dirty mirror, seeing myself with my own eyes looking at my eyes with my eyes. Was I that obviously broken? How can it be that those closest to me with perfect eyesight couldn’t see how much I was hurting, but this blind stranger could? I thought then of the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul and then thought about why I always wear sunglasses, even when it’s dark, even when it’s raining. I always thought it was because I didn’t want people to see that I’m drunk or hungover, but maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to see my pain, maybe I don’t want anyone to know me. For reasons that I couldn’t quite grasp I felt certain that that encounter would go down as one of those highly significant, if not pivotal moments in my life. I wanted to talk to this man some more. No, I didn’t want to: I needed to. I had so many questions. Too many.

I rushed back out to the floor but his table was empty. There was no sign of his friend either. Just an empty whisky tumbler and the frothy remains of a Guinness dripping down the inside of its glass. I pushed past the crowd at the bar, out the door and onto the street. I looked up, down, across the road, frantic. There was nothing, there was no one. It was as if they’d vanished.

I haven’t seen the blind old gypsy man since, but I can still feel the weight of his bony, weathered hand imprinted on the skin of my left forearm, its peculiar temperature that was neither warm nor cool, his grip so surprisingly heavy, saturated with a lifetime of wisdom, the gentle squeeze that said, “I know you,” and the fingertips that said, “I know.” And I know for sure that that strange old gypsy man is the only living being on this earth that truly knows me.


Fumar mata

It’s ten minutes to 7 and mordant sunlight is pissing through the gaps in the broken curtains. I can feel the gold light on my face and understand the meaning of the term ‘sun-drenched.’ I keep my eyes closed, letting my eyelids burn under the weight of the fulgent flood. I don’t want to be alive just yet. I am somewhere else.

I am back in Spain, at the villa, with you.

The sun woke us up every day, mid-morning, dancing through the net curtains, creeping up from the bottom of the bed in which we lay tangled and naked under white sheets, dozing, until I’d get up to smoke. I’d pull on your nearest t-shirt and go out onto the balcony, stretching like a cat, inhaling, exhaling, watching the ash fall slowly to the barren valley below, spotting lizards, gauging the temperature, watching the birds fly east towards the Med.

Then I’d sneak indoors, leaving you to sleep and start on breakfast. Cereal and a cooked full-English for you plus a mug of builder’s tea and fresh juice. Black coffee and a cigarette for me. We’d take breakfast outside on the veranda by the pool. I don’t know if it was apparent then that I had bigger dreams than you, but you were hungrier.

I had exams waiting for me back home so I tried to revise. I read Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and The Italian, you watched ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and European football. We ate fresh swordfish and the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen.

We shared our first bubble bath, complete with champagne on ice. We’d only been together for 8 months and I’d been away at university for 7 of them, so this holiday cemented a lot of things for us. You and I, proving everybody wrong. The Dream Team. Us against the world. You probably don’t even remember it now.

We drove for miles along the coast following the contours of Spain’s face and everything around us was unbelievably perfect, the tiny white chapels shining against the orange cliffs and the deep aquamarine skipping alongside us. Windows down, music up, we wore smiles and suntan lotion and our faces ached.

We stopped in Benidorm, which is essentially a caricature of Britain abroad, but as we walked in the surf I was thrilled at the prospect of walking the same beach and seeing the same stretch of horizon that Sylvia did so many years ago. I told you that Plath and Hughes honeymooned in Benidorm. You didn’t know who they were. These things were warning signs at the time, for when things seem too good to be true they usually are, but I was blind to omens and had vetoed rational thought; I was young and in love and blinkered, all I could see was you and our perfect surroundings and our perfect love.

Before we left Spain I bought 200 Benson silvers as they were a quarter of the price that they were in the UK. The sign on all the packets said ‘Fumar mata.’ Smoking kills. But so does love. Love kills. God knows you almost killed me. And sadness kills, too, perhaps more often than smoking, more often than love. Falling in love should come with a government health warning. There are no billboards or pamphlets to warn us of the impending pain, the inevitable tears. Instead of printing photos of rotting lungs they should print a graphic image of a broken heart. Love kills. You always hated me smoking. You’ll kill me long before the cigarettes do, of that I am sure.

When I open my eyes I am not in Spain, at the villa, with you. I am sad, scared and alone. I hear sirens, a train, the builders working downstairs. A door slams. I am not in Spain. I realise that we were there exactly 4 years ago to the day. You won’t remember it, I’m sure. You have new important dates to carve on the walls of your skull now anyway.

But how lucky I was to be loved by you. I don’t know if the sun smothered me this morning in an attempt to mock me or save me but, wherever you are, at least we are both slaves to the same golden star. Fumar mata. Smoking kills. El amor mata. Love kills. And how lucky I was to have been loved by you, to have loved you and been loved by you in return. How lucky I was. How lucky…


Wild Horses

​You mix my medication into a pot of strawberry yoghurt and instruct me on how to eat. Open. Come on. That’s it. No, don’t chew it, it’s yoghurt, just get it down ya. There’s a good girl.

My phone is ringing but I can’t locate the source of the noise. It hurts to move my eyeballs. You find my phone and see who is calling me: it’s the guy that you’re (quite rightly) suspicious about. You pretend you didn’t notice who called but I see your aura change colour and you exhale too sharply.

I start shouting about needing a cigarette. You find my cigs and lighter and slowly walk me to the balcony. You light me up and hold me back, away from the edge. I keep dropping my cigarette. I cry. I ask you where the moon is and you tell me that it’s up there somewhere but it’s hiding.

You carry me to bed and manage to remove the chandeliers that are threaded through my ear-lobes. I am suddenly aware that I ought to brush my teeth but I don’t have the strength and the idea leaves me as quickly as it arrived. I don’t know what day it is and I don’t care. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where I am. What is this? I just need everything to stop. What is this?! I don’t like it. I don’t like this one bit. You magically produce a syringe of morphine. I am so happy to see you. I tell you that I love you.

You arrange my body into the recovery position and tell me that I’m safe, that everything’s going to be fine, that when I’m better we’ll go to the seaside, that I don’t need to apologise, that you’re here to look after me. I ask you if we can adopt some sugar gliders instead of having kids. I don’t know what your reply was, if you even replied at all, but I’m sure you would’ve said yes, of course darling, because you love me too much.

I remember you smoothing my hair and whispersinging the lyrics to Wild Horses to me until I fell asleep. Wild horses couldn’t drag you away from me. But I fear that my sicknesses might cause you to walk away, voluntarily, gladly, thankfully. That, or I’ll drag you down with me. Either way, it’s not looking pretty, and I am disappointed when I wake up with a pulse 28 hours later.