poetry, prosetry

Southend-On-Sea

We were standing on the old sea wall,
one Saturday night in August.
I was looking out across the grey
and thinking,
“You are not like me.”
I was impressed;
you impressed my 18 year old naiveté.
I liked your history, that you were older than me,
and the way you held me
and your money
and your energy
and the way you smashed the punch-bag
on that boxing arcade game
with such might that it nearly fell over.
New high score.
New adventure.
New boyfriend.
New life.
You were a good dancer
and you made me feel safe.
But there was a very real danger in you
and that appealed greatly.
I lied to my father;
told him I was with the girls,
but I was steeped in drunken debauchery
with you, by the sea.
(He caught me.
I never lied to him again.)
He was disappointed in me.
But then you made me happy,
the happiest I’d ever been
and it all seemed worth it.
But I knew, “You are not like me.”
You don’t read books,
you have a proper family.
We had the worst nachos in the world
and sticky, sickly bright green shots
that dribbled down our sleeves.
We had sex on the shingle,
in the shower, in the van, in the bed at the BnB.
We ran through the streets,
laughing, singing, thinking,
“We could do this. We could really do this. You and me.”
A drunken, drugged-up stranger approached us
and told us to “love each other endlessly.”
I was scared of love.
No, I was scared of loving you.
I was stupid, but smart enough to know that I should not love you.
But while the stranger spoke,
you grabbed my hand and looked at me, lovingly.
In that moment it was like we’d decided,
(without words, but with eyes):
Fuck everyone else, let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s do “us.”
He told us to “love each other endlessly,”
and we agreed.
And we did.
Until some years later
you ended the endless.
You ended the endless
on the day that I saw a photo
of you
and her
on Southend beach,
exactly where you had taken me
in those magic early days,
exactly where you’d promised
to love me endlessly.
Every once in a while, I think of that stranger.
Where is he now?
Dishing out impassioned advice
to other young lovers.
Dead in a doorway.
Drowned at sea.
What was fleeting for you,
was forever for me.
But I suppose I knew it
all along
that you are not like me.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Going home

Old and new

Play

Like friends who never liked each other

Standing here, I could be there

Laughing, lolling about Route 66

Your hair wax stained cowboy hat on the table

The clink of sweating beer bottles

I always did better striving than living

Being a pretend person, now . . don’t knock it

Has some draw

We laughed out of fear and the fear felt good

Like real life and grabbing things by beaded throat

We roared our mirth like tigers, at the absurdity and the sorrowful

It reminded me of my grandmother’s funeral

My dad and I weeping with hot besmerched giggles

She would have understood, she would have joined in

that Katherine Hepburn smile, and the outline of something sad

That’s just how this family rolls

We laugh when tragedy feels crushing and put reality on hold

A frozen picture on TV, static and unspoken

When the wake is over and everyone has left their condolences

In a nice row

Searching for your people

Coming up empty handed

Just as I thought I couldn’t give more away

You call me out of the blue

A stranger sharing my last name

Funny how life takes and takes

And then it gives

Like a hand on your shoulder

When you’re thinking of jumping

The both of you grew thin

I put on all your weight, inherited the space

Given away by years and wrinkles

You said; Now heed me young lady

You’re standing in for us now

Do a fine job and I saw in the line and curve of your jaw

The man you were, the man you were not anymore

Strangers and bloodlines, all running together

Now you’re both gone

I’m relieved and itchy under the skin with the lie

Pretended so long

I don’t know how to be, whatever I am

We were a tribe the three of us

Now I’m starting over

In my own land again

A stranger

Of familiar, unknown places wearing unreadable clothes

Sharing my bed with regrets and hope

Like nothing and everything has changed

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prosetry

Insight

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.

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fiction

SUSPENDED

Chris R-0317.jpg Image by Christine Renney

Three or so hours ago it seemed like a good idea. Set off this evening and drive through the night, arrive home in the early hours and sleep until late. Manage to snatch back some time for myself. But it is only just midnight and already I am beginning to flag. The road ahead is bleached by the hard light from above. It has the jarring urgency of film and I have grown weary from its unspooling. I squint through the windshield, watching, because I must.

Motorway services aren’t ever entirely deserted, not even at two o’clock in the morning. There are a handful of motorists sitting as far away from each other as possible. The service area is cavernous and my every movement is amplified. The scraping of my chair as I stand and my footsteps as I walk back up to the counter for a second cup of coffee. As I wait I notice an image printed on a sheet of paper. It is laying just beyond the till alongside the napkins. I move along the counter and reach for it.

It is the reflection of a man in one of the windows here at the services. He is sitting hunched over his coffee. The motorway fills the frame and the image is blurred. The quality of the print is poor and the paper is thin. It has the look and feel of a photocopy. But the man is much more clearly defined because someone, possibly the photographer, has taken the time to draw around him with a blue pen. And not only the man but also the space he is occupying; the chair and the table and of course the all important coffee cup. Head down, his face hidden, he is sitting amidst the glare of the headlights. I hold up the photo so that the young woman behind the counter can see it.
‘Who took this?’ I ask.
‘Don’t know.’
‘No?’
‘No, no idea,’ she shrugs and I go to put it back.
‘It’s been there for a while,’ she says, ‘surprised it’s not been binned.’
‘Do you mind if I keep it?’ I ask. ‘Save it from the trash?’
‘Yeah, take it if you want.’

I move along the walkway which divides the service area on this side of the motorway from that on the other. The man was sitting out here when the photograph was taken. I’m not sure exactly where but it was at one of the tables closest to the glass. I settle down with my coffee and I fold the image, stow it in my wallet and I gaze beyond my own reflection and down at the road below.

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poetry, prosetry

Paramour

He saw a photograph of me in a magazine and said, “I have to know her.

We met by chance in a dark room some months later.

He said, “I’m so pleased that you look nothing like you do in that picture.

*

We spoke about the Silva Method; Vingt-Quatre on the Fulham Road; old ladies with cartilage piercings and dolphin tattoos; Hanni El Khatib; Bristol; how you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their butter; John Cooper Clarke; the perfect way to die.

He knew things about me that I’d long forgotten.

*

I only realised that my nose was bleeding when the champagne in my glass turned pink without the aid of Chambord. He said it suited me.

*

He saved my number in his phone under the name ‘Amber Chimera‘ — the colour of my eyes, and a much-hoped-for fantasy that is impossible to achieve.

You know a Chimera is also a fire-breathing female monster?

I do.

*

Later I discovered that the sensation of his lit cigarette burying its face in the pale crook of my arm would be the closest that I’d ever get to touching the sun.

And thus the parameters of our unbounding love were set.

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fiction

THE TINIEST OF ERUPTIONS

chris-r-0089 Image by Christine Renney

When she was seventeen, Gemma designed a butterfly, sketching it with a biro on A4 sheets. Once satisfied with the shape, using her brother’s felt tip pens she added the colours. It had been garish but she had thought it beautiful, had taken her design to a tattooist and suffered under his needle.
Matching her colours as best he could, he reproduced the butterfly on the small of her back, but the colours had run and mixed to create, once the scabs had fallen away, something else entirely. Not her butterfly but a messy hybrid, a startled moth too close to the flame, mottled and drab.
For months, Gemma moped around in a baggy denim shirt. One night, naked in front of the mirror, turning she glanced back and noticed at the tattoo’s centre the tiniest of eruptions. Her skin was breaking through. She began to claw at it, believing the tattoo was flaking, but to no avail. It resisted her fingernails and although more of these holes would appear she could never find any evidence of this, other then when she turned to look in the mirror.

Gemma notices him noticing her and so they begin to play at that game. He is one of a group of young pups, eagerly lapping at their beer. Although early, already they are restless. He is the least jittery, less inclined to spin around after his tail. She notes all of this and smiles. If he is going to make a move he needs to do it quickly. It’s been a long week and she is tired. Still dressed in her office clothes, prim black skirt and white blouse, Gemma isn’t feeling at her best. She orders another drink; he has until it is drunk.

He becomes insistent. She agrees to go back with him to his room. Her flat is too far and his place is just around the corner.
‘It will,’ he says, ‘be better, easier.’
Outside they push against the tide of revellers. Once clear, he moves ahead and she trips along behind, struggling to keep up. He ushers her into the kitchen and switches on the light. A moth flutters noisily as the fluorescent tube stutters, bursting into life. The linoleum is split, the colours and pattern almost worn away. There is a dirty cup on the draining board and in the harsh light she can see a hairline crack.
Impatient, he holds the door open at the end of the hallway. She is first into his room. When she turns he has already kicked off his trainers, is wrestling with his jeans and boxer shorts. Pulling his t-shirt over his head he emerges, surprised to find her still fully clothed. They haven’t spoken since leaving the bar.
‘I suspect,’ she says, ‘that we won’t be sharing a cigarette when we’re finished here.’
‘I don’t smoke,’ he replies.
‘I don’t either.’
He stares blankly as Gemma unbuttons and removes her blouse. She turns, looking for somewhere to hang it.
‘What’s that on your back?’
She faces him, still holding the blouse. ‘The kitchen here, doesn’t it depress you?’
He is stalled for a second. ‘Come on, let me see.’ He starts to walk around her.
‘What am I, prey?’
‘Man, that is the weirdest tattoo.’
Gemma turns again and studies him, running her eyes up and down. Suddenly, he is very aware of his own nakedness. He glances at his clothes, discarded on the floor. She thrusts her hand out and he takes the blouse, grasping it to his groin.
‘Honestly, the kitchen. Don’t you find it depressing?’
‘No, why would I?’
‘Why wouldn’t you?’
‘What do you want me to say?’
‘Astound me. Buckle my knees with your wit and wisdom.’
‘I think you should go.’
She holds out her hand. Flinching, he backs up.
‘My blouse?’
‘Oh.’
He hands it to her. Turning her back toward him, Gemma puts it on, breathing in the silence. Taking her time, she doesn’t look back and, avoiding the kitchen, she leaves by the front door.

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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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