Three Microfictions . . .
Gazing at the bus window on the way home. If she were sitting on the top deck she would be able to see the heath but as it is only the hill is visible from her seat. When she was younger they lived on the far side, her nursery school bordering one of the gates. And after being picked up her mother would always pretend to let go of the stroller as they went down the hill on the way home. In summer, they would stop and play on the grass slopes, those days long gone now she’s finishing secondary school. She smiles, reminiscing about making daisy chains with her mum on Parliament fields. They called it daisy chaining at the party, so 'bohemian' after exam stress. And now she has to tell mum she's pregnant.
Called Off Play
She had brought the tickets. As a surprise. It wasn’t his thing really, open air theatre, but these days they did so little together that he had agreed to go. Sitting on the rug with their picnic scattered around them, most likely the last one of summer. Not paying too much attention, letting the actors' words be carried away with the breeze. And now a shower had started, only drizzling down on the far side of the audience. He watched the edge of the rain. Still half-basking in the sun; the other side holding their programs aloft like umbrellas. The scene mirrored him and her, he thought. It really was time to let her know it was over.
Snow Comes Early
He really wanted this job, it was made for him.
Nervous, palms beginning to sweat, sole applicant waiting in reception with the secretary and the trade magazines.
Wouldn't hurt; give his confidence a kick.
Flushing the toilet, covering the sounds while unfolding his wrap, the credit card chop.
Flushing again for the sniff.
They're ready for him when he emerges.
In full stride now, leaning over the smoked glass desk to emphasis a point.
A little pile of white powder falls from his nose.
Julian Baker much prefers writing to working, and really wishes he could afford to do it more. He blogs at sybawrite.wordpress.com
Jesus Saved . . .
I peeked every second day, through the banisters on the stairs at my daddy’s, at you, earnestly leaning on a rock in Gethsemane, patent light poured down in sprinkles on your face somewhere above you, the grip on the wood stripped my knuckles white. I left you a cup of tea with three sugars, allowing you time to gather your strength for me later.
Your eyes where the murkiest greeny colour, like the sea on an ill-tempered day, my fingertips took small strolls across the wiry channels the thorns made on your forehead, all the time you had a serene look sitting there, like my hands on your face mattered. I read from The First Testament, you laughed with a donkey’s bray, slapping my ass red raw. I’d have a bruise later and would ponder, while eating Mammy’s soggy fish sticks, over your caress, your flimsy, whimsical ways. Long spindly fingers seeking divination in my shitty asshole, and I was led to believe you where the masochist.
On Sunday we became part of a film on telly, a group of fairground performers dancing around a circle in a tent and we where invited to join in holding hands with them, we all began to sing an old-fashioned song, ‘ola, it’s time to talk of Anderton…’ After this Mammy sat on the toilet with the door open and hollered down the hall ‘that song is a call for nuclear disarment’ you watched her piss sayin’ nothin’.
Jesus and I sat in Bingo with Mammy, we watched her with her eyes on the card, her tongue sticking out of her gob like an utterly demented puppy. Jesus put my hand under his robe; his pubes tickled the palm of my hand, my face burned with shame. His wounds sang when he was aroused, heads done a 180 in the bingo hall.
In the bedroom I said to Jesus:
‘Let Jesus FUCK ME” Let Jesus fuck me! LET YOU FUCK ME!’ he only smiled, got very vocal about a concern for Linda Blair. When I asked if the rumours where true that Roman soldiers raped virgins in Bethlehem with live chickens he shook his head from side to side smiling and opened his robes, His cock stood as confidently as a charming man, his cum was the brightest white of fresh oysters and when I swallowed I had long strange trips where I would roam across the ceiling while he wore my Pet Shop Boys CD out, playing the same song It’s a Sin on loop.
You never wore the sandals mammy picked up in Penny’s, you walked around the yard barefoot and afterwards sank back in the chair and I would have to wash off the dirt and dogshit with a nailbrush.
I remarked once ‘I feel like Mary Magdalene.’
My mammy’s head sprang up from her crossword and exclaimed:
‘You look like her to!’ she chuckled.
Jesus looked at mammy asking ‘Do you know who Mary Magdalene is?’
Mammy’s veiny face dragged on her Silk Cut and thought of how best to answer Jesus ‘course I do, president of Ireland isn’t it’ Jesus sighed, the thorns whined and I went on scrubbing the manky yellow shite from between your toes.
One evening near Easter after Jesus and I had sat through the box set of Songs of Praise season one he jumped from the chair announcing he was going home. My body splintered with disappointment, Jesus swept the parts of me up off the floor and took me to the bedroom. Carefully he assembled me, when I was put back together, he opened his robe, his fingers crucified me before his departure.
You were a brazen comet blazing across my ken in those days. I stuck my head out of the bedroom window, your naked body was on our roof. Moody clouds gathered overhead, you looked like an illustration in a children’s book. A seer in communion with the trees, sensing the future – I went back to bed and covered my nakedness.
I woke, twisted up in his robe, my body sticky with his sweat, grateful that at times like these, sometimes Jesus did save…
Before sleep sunk me I heard the bombs begin to fall from the sky . . .
is the contributing editor to Dogmatika
. He has worked for a number of specialist magazines, Film Ireland, Pretty Scary, Penny Blood, Bookslut et al. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Beat the Dust, Lit Up, Sein und Werden, 3:AM, Gold Dust
Seven Poems . . .
the person next to me has been uncontrollably touching his hair for 15 minutes
my feeling of apathy is incredible
80-hour long sad facial expression
i believe that is a true representation of my feeling
i think people see my face and think i’m depressed
i read a story last night in front of my webcam but read the story only a little
then sat there, clicking things vacantlyi am satisfied with these lay’s original
i have stolen over six cigarettes from keith today
i have a small figure of hulk hogan, it clutches my lamp
i want to clutch my lamp
as i was typing a small piece of chip fell out of my mouth
it feels depressing
this poem was supposed to address something elsemy voice intonation, represented in a poem, completes everything i wish to convey as myself
the immense destruction of the planet
i did that earlier, my poem about society is forthcoming
escaping myself is impossible; it is not possible
brandonagain i am not sure of my reason for writing a poem
people will disagree with this as a good reason to write a poem
i’m out of coffee
really badtoday i got four emails, one was from barnes and noble
i unsubscribed from barnes and noble
the other emails were something i don’t feel like describing, they were not emails that i feel like describing
i feel the need to type, ‘i’m listening to the windows media player’
i have a pervasive feeling of impending doom, it is associated with the layout of my blogmy friend is going to japan
i kind of want to expand the time which i can predict accurately
that makes me confused
i keep looking at the coffee cups on my table
i feel like my brain should understand more about this situation
my brain just keeps trying to process ‘coffee cups’
i have felt afraid of writing poetry
i have been listening to the same playlist on my headphones for over four hours, this is so good
my legs are functional
i have at my disposal over 200 gigabytes
today i sat on my bed and looked at myself in the mirror
yesterday i showered
this morning i took the busyesterday i felt confused
yesterday when i learned it was thursday i spent five minutes trying to verify that it was not thursday, that it was wednesday
i feel confused about how it is friday, i am afraid, i feel really confused about it being friday
is it bad or good, how should i feel
Brandon Scott Gorrell.
Brandon Scott Gorrell
is the author of DURING MY NERVOUS BREAKDOWN I WANT TO HAVE A BIOGRAPHER PRESENT (Muumuu House, 2009). His blog is here
. He lives in Seattle.
Bleach the whites . . .
I was twenty-nine when men started referring to me as a woman. I wasn't sure exactly what had changed. My breasts were as pert and juvenile as they had ever been. My hips, slimmed since my mid-twenties metabolism slump and prescription oblivion. No more anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxieties, and anti-baby meds. Although, I still hated babies, I also hated the anti-sex drive, and had decided to allow my self one abortion if it were ever necessary.
Now. Condoms, and pull out. And cum. All over my chest, or back, and sometimes in my hair. Still, the sleeping pills.
"I saw you on the street after work Friday," Jorge informs me.
"I thought I should have asked if you wanted to go."
"So, would you like to go sometime?"
"Sure," I smile with the congenial nature, befitting my new vanilla job as a hostess.
Jorge raises his black eyes and lowers his chin. "Can I call you sometime?"
Oh, this is serious. My body manifests the frailness of my collarbones, as I sink against the wall next to my podium. "I have boyfriend," I confess.
"Ah! What are you doing then?"
A laugh, nervous like pointlessness, crumbles out of my mouth. "I know," I say, even though I don't.
Jorge raises one index finger, in front of his broad, handsome chest, to play his other like a bow on a violin. "Shame, Shame." He shakes his head.
"I thought you meant as friends!" I playfully defend, feeling the anger that will fuel my obsessing after this interaction is over, like a faint nat-wisp in my subconscious.
"Come on! I'm a man. You’re a woman."
"OK," is all I can get out with disgusting apologetic-ness before he trots out the door, killing his memory of me, or at least dismissing my existence in his head at an instant.
No, we're both human beings. I play in my mind as the sentiment I should have responded with, annoyed at being in a scenario in which such a melodramatic trite expression would have been my weapon of poignancy. So, I begin replacing this mantra with a new one.
Fuck Him. Cleaning up the trash on the floor.
Fuck him. Stacking the menus.
Fuck him! Seating a party of two.
Fuck him. Running upstairs to mentally catalogue open tables.
I have cramps anyway! Let him bleed from his crotch for, roughly, one fifth of every month and see how well he responds to being put on the spot, doped up on inadequate over-the-counter painkillers.
Fuck him. As a fat man in a tropical shirt and a turquoise necklace grabs my hand on the way out, smashing his sofa-cushion lips into my skin, making love to my epidermis like a hand-fetishist. I go to the bathroom and wash off this stranger's lip moisture. Three pumps of nondescript pink pub-soap and a mini-Niagara fall of hot water.
I catch the L train to Union Square after work, deciding to walk to the bar from here. A guy merges into my path, eager to sell some romance. He's a bit younger than me, dresses like a boy who will be dressing like he was in a frat for the rest of his life, even after his spunky bleached hair begins to bald.
"I just have to tell you that you have the classiest walk of any woman I’ve seen since I've been in New York.
"Where are you from?" I prod, wondering where a guy with this kind of line could come from.
Dear God. "Alabama?"
"My accent's not that thick is it?"
I shrug my shoulders.
He sighs, "Close. I'll just tell you."
This conversation doesn't strike me as being on the level of sophistication, worthy of the woman with the classiest walk in New York City.
"OK. Where then?" I concede.
"Kentucky!" he throws his hands up like it’s so obvious.
"Oh," My voice betrays the level of interest I attempt to conjure.
"Am I bothering you?" he asks.
"No. It's just that you've been walking with me for almost two blocks, now." "I just had to talk to you. You're too adorable not to."
"Where you headed?" he asks me.
"A bar to meet a friend."
"You stringing me along?"
"You came up to me," I point out.
"But you could tell me so that I'm not following you for three blocks."
"Am I supposed to assume you're interested in me?"
"Why else would I be talking to you?"
I look this vapid hick in the eye, "What's your name?"
"Go fuck yourself, ERIC. Is that clear enough?"
"You don't have to be such a bitch."
I ignore him as I walk the rest of the way to the bar. My boyfriend and I do shots at Otto’s. Then we go back to his place and I let him fuck me without a condom on top of a bath towel. The sound of him cumming is enough to make me climax. He folds the bloody towel up, telling me to remind him to bleach the whites.
lives in New York. She writes fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in such places as Cherry Bleeds, 3AM, Lit Chaos
and Yellow Mama
. She's also the winner of the 2008 Famas Poetry Prize. If this is not a long enough list of vague accolades please visit her website at www.aimeedelong.com
Small White Space . . .
I’m now a small white space like a square of light or a blank sheet. On my skin I can feel the weight of the whiteness. It’s cool and smooth and soothing like a balm. I’m waiting in here to be the me that doesn’t know what all the fuss was about. Not the me that is distorted, like I’m seeing myself through double-glazing; me and a shadow me just to one side. The shadow me is always ten years older, uglier, more out of shape. A shadow made of the smoke from a part of me that’s on fire.
I draw my knees up inside the sleeping bag and wedge the torch between them. The light bounces off the lid and onto my head. It warms my bald patch like a wool cap. In the mirror I’m holding, the wall behind me, its surface like packed ice, crisp white and crusty. I press the glass to my chest, not daring to look at myself, not yet; it’s too soon. Instead I stare at the torchlight till my eyes grow heavy. Till I’m not sure if I’m asleep or awake or neither of these. I want to sleep, crave it, but the Seroxat won’t let me. It teases me with the idea of sleep, my lashes batting at it. But the drug pulls it away before I can take hold. Gone, like it was never there, like sleep is a thing that doesn’t exist. I’m afraid I will never sleep again, but then I’m afraid of most things these days. I’m afraid because in my mind everything really does happen. I really have lost my job, my wife really is divorcing me, I really am suffocating to death in here. I live in a world where loss is an inevitability, where inanimate objects move of their own free will. I reach up, fumbling for the gap between the lid and the rim, and the piece of wood holding them apart.
This morning waiting for the train at Hemel station I saw a youth wearing a t-shirt. It said ‘If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space’ and suddenly I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t catch my breath. I had to come home. That’s why I’m in here, in this place that feels safe. This place that feels like it’s filled with forever. I stretch my legs out and press my feet against the end wall, my elbows against the sides, and infinity, it pushes back. In here, tomorrow feels possible. I feel possible. I rub my eye and feel the suggestion of sleep loosen beneath my finger. A tiny nugget of something prized. Its sand-coloured solidity is reassuring somehow. I reach for the plastic container in my shirt pocket and drop it in with all the others. I have it in mind to make an egg timer with them, which made my wife laugh. It’s been a long time since I heard Laura laugh. She used to laugh all the time before we married, before the children.
I rest my head against the back wall and close my eyes. I’m coming back to myself, I can feel it, smell it – hair: greasy; body: sweating. The sense of being inside myself is returning. If a hair moves on my body I will know it. Yes, I’m remembering how to be me again. Bringing myself back into line.
“Tim? Tim, are you in there?”
Tim. Yes, I’m Tim. That feels like a name that belongs to me. I look at my watch. 9 o’clock. I’ve been in here for twelve hours. Twelve hours made up of endless minutes. I unzip the sleeping bag like I’m removing a layer of myself and manoeuvre onto all fours. My back and shoulders press against the lid. I start to stand up. The lid lifts, ratcheting open like it’s my spine. Eventually I’m upright, bathed in the light from the torch at my feet.
“There you are,” Laura says. Her tired face thinks about smiling. She holds out her hand to me. I swallow, seeing the bitten fingernails, the redness beneath her wedding ring. It’s cold in the garage. Dark but for the torch and the light coming from the back door behind her. The children are standing in the doorway dressed in their pyjamas. Will is sucking his sleeve, half-hiding behind his sister. Amy is clutching her stuffed monkey, one bare foot resting on top of the other.
“Come on, let’s get you inside,” says Laura, taking hold of my arm. Through my shirt and fleece I can feel the detail of her fingerprints on my skin. I smile to myself. Back. Gripping the rim, I clamber out of the old chest freezer and follow my wife into the warmth of the house.
] writes and runs Beat the Dust
, which includes BTD TV, the online Bookshop and coming later this year... drum roll, fanfare, ticker tape parade... BTD Press. Her first collection of poetry, 'baby, i'm ready to go' is due for publication in September 09 by Grievous Jones Press
West Hollywood . . .
Melrose Avenue at Four a.m.
on the car's seat
on the floorboard
freaked and desperate and helpless
saying shit like - it's okay - you're gonna be okay - we'll be there in a minute - just hang on for chrissake
and more blood
Your shirt and pants sopped by it
your face white . . . drained . . . porcelain
an entire liver puked up - on the floor of my car
Hang on, goddamnit! Can you just hang on?
"I'm hanging on, fucker . . . . drive faster"
And all the love and all the lies of our friendship
the years of our days and nights together
last careless ride
Okay . . . okay . . . we're here . . . can you hear me?
kissing your head as they wheeled you in
only later remembering
Dan Fante 2007
was born and raised in Los Angeles. At twenty, he quit school and hit the road, eventually ending up as a New York City resident for twelve years. Fante has worked at dozens of crummy jobs including: door to door salesman, taxi driver, window washer, telemarketer, private investigator, night hotel manager, chauffeur, mailroom clerk, deck hand, dishwasher, carnival barker, envelope stuffer, dating service counselor, furniture salesman, and parking attendant. Fante is married and has a two year old son named Michaelangelo Giovanni Fante. He hopes eventually to learn to play the harmonica.http://www.danfante.net/home.htm
Pub, Pictures . . .
The pub, the King William was tucked away at the bottom of a stubby mews, somewhere between Sloane Street and Belgrave Square. Over eighty years old and free of tie, it was invisible to passers-by save for the pansy-filled hanging baskets, out of keeping with the other houses with their dwarf topiary, and two wooden barrels flanking the door, which smokers used as table tops. Though there were a stream of regulars who drank there: local residents, alesmen, shop workers, and a number of suits who lunched with their mistresses, it was untroubled by the need to provide the full London welcome and obligatory Ploughman’s for tourists, being happily off the map and generally unwanted. What kept the place afloat was a freehold bought in the late 60s, and a target of thirty lunches and dinners a day. The mistresses brought here were not the catering types, so fulfilling the target was easy. The establishment was small but comfortable, and satisfied with its runnings: good ale, convivial atmosphere, and low overheads.
It was also filled with paparazzi because it lay across from Jaq’s house. For over a fortnight , a group of overweight men loaded with cameras and zoom lenses the height and weight of small children, bought halves from midday until closing, and watched hawkishly by the window. At the first sign of life, the twitching of blinds or the nervous scuttle of the housekeeper, they would down glasses, forks, crisp packets and crowd around her front door. Their heckles were as repetitive as the notes from a music box, switching between arse-licking and aggressiveness. And every question prefixed, suffixed with her name.
- Jaq! Where you going, Jaq?
- Jaq! You look lovely this morning, Jaq.
- Who’s that dress by, Jaq?
- Give us a smile, Jaq.
- Have you heard from Louis, Jaq? Has he gone back to his wife?
Jaq was not a post-teenage pop floozy, still on the pill and racking up overdoses and STDs, but an Anglo-French supermodel from the 70s who was financially independent and only worked when she felt like it. The paps were there because she was in the middle of extracting herself from an affair with the owner of a reviled High Street clothing chain, and she was not the type to disappear, crying her eyes out from the seclusion of the Caribbean. Knowing her only comment was to dress through the scandal, she fell back onto the simplicity of professional language: full coverage make-up, smiling for the cameras and getting into her cab each morning. Whether they chose to make anything of her leopard print, the four-inch heels, the scarlet lips, or the prolonged moment on the front step, which allowed them the most flattering angle, was their business. (At this stage, there was no work or appointments for her to attend. The cab simply took her to her agent’s office where they would pour over the print and online coverage and discuss outfits for the following day.)
Once Jaq had left, the boys contentedly settled themselves down for the afternoon and awaited her return. They weren’t of the body type, nor had they the inclination, to jump on a scooter and follow her around all day. That was best left to school leavers. They were in their forties and no longer had an appetite for the chase. The push and pull of breaking through a crowd to get the shot, having to hold the camera above their heads for extended periods of time, flashing indiscriminately, was unbecoming, and bad for their blocked arteries. Acting as the welcome crew suited their personalities and the state of their health: a single location, good morning and good night.
As with the previous days, they hoped she would be out for the duration, allowing them to take full advantage of the pub’s hospitality and their per diem expense allowance. It was hard to turn down three courses including cheese when it was staring you in the face. Bob, the landlord’s boy, cooked everything fresh and made a good job of it, probably better than most of their missus’ if they were to be honest. True, he was cooking to order and getting good coin from it, but there was never any stress on his face or acrimony as he put the plates before them. No banging crockery or accusatory, hate-filled looks that marked mealtimes in most of their homes. It made a nice change, from home, and from fast food crap, snatched on assignments where there were fewer eateries, and so they spent freely, knowing they would be reimbursed so long as they kept getting the pictures.
They were tucking into wood pigeon and potatoes Dauphinoise, when they heard the cab as it trotted across the cobbles. One of the motorcycle boys should have called ahead, but he’d either been distracted by a tip-off, or couldn’t be arsed. They were professionals, but to be interrupted in the middle of their dinner was a pain in the arse, same as it was at home. She’d been gone two hours, and even in a different outfit, had a face like thunder.
- Jaq! What you upset about, Jaq!
- Did he dump you, Jaq!
- Have you any comment on his wife’s statement to the BBC, Jaq? Was it fair to call you a tired old slapper?
- Nice pillbox hat, Jaq. Just like that Sarkozy bird.
Her eyes, shielded by shades their fashion editors told them were vintage Linda Farrow, continued to give nothing away. The only sign that she wanted to tear their heads off was the rictus that had set in her jaw. Still, the acknowledgement of the pillbox hat was better than a kick in the nuts, and the front door closed with a click rather than a slam. Even in anger she was a class act. They made it back to the table whilst the pigeon was still warm.
After the fuss died down, the errant husband pledging fidelity, and an increased footfall in his high street stores on the back of the publicity, they continued to stake out her place. It was partly because, as they justified to her editors, she had a colourful history of rebound relationships, worth pre-empting, but also down to the pull of the William being the best office they’d ever had. The headquarters of their newspapers and photo agencies, where there was no desk, and possibly shared use of a direct line if they were lucky, had nothing on the William’s amenities: two payphones, wi-fi, table-service, ale, and a gander at Sky Sports if they asked very nicely. When the pub closed at midnight, quiet and civilised, without a chorus of meandering drunks to mark the occasion, they were at a loss; not because they were worried about losing her, more to do with leaving the cosiness of the William for the long drive to the suburbs and the chilliness of their martial beds. If Bob had let rooms in the place they’d have moved their stuff in like a shot.
Soon they began to leave their camera gear in the car rather than have it clutter up the tables, which were best left for food, halves, and the sporting pages. One of the boys brought some dice in and they played craps for matchsticks. Bob turned a blind eye so long as the regulars were either not disturbed, or invited to play, whichever was their inclination. Somebody tuned the radio to one of the golden oldie stations instead of Radio 4, so they had some proper music in the background rather than a load of newsroom clatter they could pick-up back at head office. Furniture was shifted, with the padded banquet dragged from its place under the main window to a more comfortable position facing the fireplace. Cushions and blankets were pilfered from airing cupboards and conservatories to make themselves cosier still. And allowances were given for them to use the ladies – far closer than the gents, and not involving a flight of stairs – in the absence of any females on the premises. They stunk it out by the end of the first day.
In spite of their different paymasters, they started checking in less frequently with the tip-off lads for any other juiciness in the area. Jaq was only part of the tombola. Also included in the mix were actresses and heiresses out cycling for their dope or botox fixes, children of celebrities caught shoplifting, and honoured government servants taking time from the House to screw other men’s wives. But none of these were of interest. The call rate deteriorated from twice hourly, to twice daily, and then to a more sporadic remembrance. Stomachs stretched to bursting with game and cheese, bladders shot to pieces with beer, they fell headlong into the noble vocation of bar room raconteurs, with a strong belief that nothing existed outside the saloon. So long as they got the picture. Bob cheerfully racked up their bills.
Seldom these days did they look outside the window and wonder of Jacq’s goings on, relying on frames of closed curtains and previously unseen frames of her leaving the house in different outfits to satisfy editors. Neither did they notice when she sat at one of the back tables alone, nursing a glass of red, nor the following night when she was joined for dinner by the owner of the clothing chain and they shared a two pound steak and a raspberry souffle. England ’s tour of India was going to pot and they were all hooked.
- Boys! I’m here, boys! Look who I’m with, boys! Anyone want to take my picture?
- Out the way, love. We can’t see the telly!
is the author of the novels We Are The New Romantics
and Graffiti My Soul
(Canongate). His short stories have appeared in Time Out, Stimulus Respond, 3:AM Magazine, Bad Idea, Transmission
, and on Radio 3’s The Verb
. You can say hello to him at: myspace.com/graffitimysoul
What's in Swindon? . . .
It had been ten years since I’d last seen Angela Fulton, when I’d watched her toss a three-foot stuffed rabbit into an overflowing rubbish skip. I remembered the incident in astonishing clarity, not least because I’d won her the luckless animal from a hook-the-duck stall at Wigan’s World Famous Winter Wonderland Extravaganza. As a peace offering it had had the opposite of the intended effect.
The rabbit, however, seemed far from Angela’s mind when she called me late on a Tuesday evening. I don’t know how she got the number, neither does it matter.
“You never forget your first rejection,” she said after an initial uncomfortable silence. “It’s something from which you never recover.” I didn’t know what to say. She was just so controlled and so grammatically correct. It was like old times.
I didn’t know what to say. The fridge hummed as if deciding where its sympathies lay.
“Are you with some one?” Angela said.
“Well, no . . .” I said.
“Good,” she said “Meet me this weekend.”
I had no plans, and no defence. How are supposed to say no to a woman you still masturbate about a decade after she broke your heart?
“Okay,” I said “Where?”
There was a sound at her end, like she was holding her hand over the receiver and talking to someone else.
“Are you still there?” I said.
“Of course,” she said “I was just thinking where we should go. I think Swindon.”
“Swindon?” I said “What’s in Swindon?”
“I will be.” She said and rang off.
I had never been to Swindon before. I will never go to Swindon again. She booked a room at a hotel called the Nightingale. Inside it was woody, the ambience like a downmarket Swedish ski lodge. The man behind the counter was sullen and gittish. I told him of the reservation; he puffed out his cheeks and answered the telephone. I looked around for Angela but she was clearly not there. “Sorry,” the sullen man said. “Why don’t you wait in the bar?”
I took my place at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. It felt like the right kind of drink to be seen with by an ex-lover – from a distance it looks like carbonated water. The barman was sullen and gittish. He tried to get me to order some olives. I ordered some olives.
Angela Fulton arrived as I was skewering the last greasy olive. She looked older, but in a good way. Her hair was kinky and her eyes fizzed like Coca-Cola. She sat at the bar and drank the remainder of my gin and tonic.
“Say nothing,” she said and took me by the hand.
The bedroom was brown and cream and much too bright. She sparkled in her silver dress. She pushed me against the wall and for a moment we were twenty again. She guided us both back to a time when we didn’t need worry about bullshit and bills, pensions and cancer, lies and betrayals. I made sure that she came first; I had memorised how in much the same way I can still remember how to launch Honda’s thousand hand slap on Street Fighter II.
After it was over, she looked at me expectantly and rolled over. I held her close to me and felt that this was the greatest moment of my whole life.
“Hello,” she said, “I’ve missed you.”
“Me too,” I said “I never thought . . .”
“You can smoke now,” she said, laughing. “I booked a smoking room especially.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but I quit about five years ago.”
“Quit?” she said “I never thought you’d quit. Not ever.”
I didn’t like the maddened look in her eyes: she was naked but not in a good way.
“Well I did.”
I put my hand to her neck and she looked aghast, as though I had properly let her down.
“Do you still drive that Vauxhall Viva?” she said
“Of course not, that’s long gone. I’ve got a Mondeo now.”
She pulled the bed sheets over her body and put her head in her hands.
“I never should have done this,” she said, “it was a terrible idea.”
“What all because I don’t smoke?”
“You know it’s more than that,” she said before turning her back to me then and making her way to the en suite bathroom. She had cellulite on her thighs. It was sexy in a way that women don’t understand.
“I did what you always wanted.” I said “I grew up.” But she wasn’t listening. When she came back she was fully dressed, her hair wet at the ends.
“You’ll like the Oasis centre, “ she said, throwing me a flyer, “waterslides and a wave machine. I bet you’ve not grown out of them.”
I shrugged and she picked up her overnight bag.
“At least we both know now, don’t we?” She opened the door and waved quickly, then was gone. For the first time in years I felt like smoking again.
writes about books for a variety of publications including the Guardian
, the Independent
and Time Out
. He is currently working on a collection of linked stories called “Ten Short Stories about Smoking”, the first of which appeared in Litro 86