Monthly Archive: March 2017

The Realistic

I would get in from school at about 4:00. Children’s Television would be allowed from 5:00, but at 5:45 it was switched off so we could sit down for dinner at 6:00. Tidying up at 6:30. At around 7:30 the television might be turned on for ‘Dad’s Army’ or ‘Are You Being Served’ but by 8:30 it was night time and I would have to go upstairs to bed. The 16 watt economy bulb on the landing would make my ‘Big Worry’ grow in my tummy, crawl up to my neck and finally bury itself in my ears. From downstairs, through the muffled TV banter I might catch Mum or Dad moving about or even better speaking. If there was a comedy on and he liked it, they would laugh. That was fantastic, a double helping of relief. Not only were they still there, they were happy. I knew the schedule. ‘World in Action’ at 8:30 on Tuesdays, The News at 10:00 every day, The Good Life, Thursdays, The Sweeney, News at 10:00 – Big Ben – bong, bong, bong announced a further half an hour during which my ears would be stretched open like the mouths of hungry birds. At 10:30 the TV weather forecast promised the most precious parade of sounds. The kitchen door opening and my Dad going to the outside toilet, taps running, doors being locked, lights being turned off and finally my Mum creeping up the stairs so as not to wake me. Then my Big Worry would let me off until the next night.

I had always had little worries. At six years old I heard a teacher in the school canteen say to another teacher that ‘I was the nervous one’. She may have gone on to say something like, ‘be gentle with him’ but if she did, I didn’t hear it because she whispered. The canteen was frightening and smelt of lamb and sick. My house was OK and didn’t smell of anything but my house was where my Big Worry waited, that is until my eighth Christmas morning.

In the living room our stove was lit, a Christmas treat and we had a tree with a dozen lights, but the biggest parcel in the pile was disappointingly light. I only liked heavy toys. Toys made of metal with gears and engines. I liked to think they were not really toys at all. This was cream plastic and felt like a toy. A length of skinny, plaited wire and two small cases with oval shaped gold painted grills buried in some crumbly polystyrene. It looked like the sort of thing other boys might want to get as a Christmas present – and those were always the presents I pretended to like but didn’t. I pulled the bits out of the polystyrene and read the instructions.

“Listen-in secretly from another room or even outside. The ‘Realistic’ Spy Intercom. Range 50 yards. Battery included”.

This was quite a bit better than it looked. It was a toy that did something. That worked. It was real. My Dad looked pleased, because I looked pleased, and my Mum looked relieved that whatever it was, I understood it and seemed to like it.

After Christmas dinner at 1:00 I carefully positioned one end of the Realistic on the table in the sitting room. I stood it up, like a family photo. I turned the golden grill toward the settee where they sat. Then I laid the skinny wire up the stairs, against the banister – so no one would trip. I couldn’t use sellotape because that would pull of the paint but the wire could be tucked and wound round things. They were pleased with me wanting to get it all set up so tidily. Anytime they needed me, they could press the lever and buzz me. No need even to say anything, just buzz and I would come. As Dad said, there was no need to keep the intercom switched on all the time and waste batteries. I could pop down in a trice. It took most of the afternoon to get it all just right but I was so pleased I showed them what I had done. After Christmas tea at 6:00 and Morecambe and Wise at 7:30 I was ready for bed. Armed with the Realistic I actually looked forward.

“Time for bed don’t you think” announced Dad. I kissed them both and strode to the living room door and up the stairs to the toilet. I got into bed, stretched out to full length reached over and gently rotated the dial to on. Keeping the volume as low as possible I lay under an eiderdown with a golden grill smiling at my left ear. I was amazed at how sensitive the ‘Realistic’ was. Even with the volume turned down it was able quite easily to pick out a gulp from a quiet burp or a slipper scuffing against a chair leg from the rustle of the radio times. With the ‘Realistic’ maybe you really would be able to hear a pin drop. It was important that Dad didn’t know I had kept it switched on draining the battery. I had to turn it off as they came up the stairs. I would be embarrassed if they knew how babyish I was. As soon as I heard mum tread on the bottom stair I switched it off, hung the ‘Realistic’ on its little brass hook next to my bed and rolled over, brave enough to face away from the 16 watts of dark confident that with the Realistic they couldn’t disappear. For 364 nights the Realistic and I slept soundly together. My Big Worry stayed away. That is until my 9th Christmas Eve.

On my ninth Christmas Eve I woke with the ‘Realistic’ on my pillow hissing. It took me a moment. Waking up in the middle of the night now seemed very unfamiliar, as if years had passed since the last time. I did not feel sick or need to go to the toilet but something was beginning to make me want to cry. For the first time since the Realistic I had missed hearing mum and dad come up the stairs. I had fallen asleep. The gold painted grill grinned at me caught by the 16 watts from the landing. No. Of course they were still downstairs on the settee watching ‘Panorama’. Thank you! I thrust my ear into the ‘Realistic’ and listened intently. Had I thought I would have known this was stupid. I knew the ‘‘Realistic’’ could hear a pin drop. It would hardly fail to hear a Bush television set at seven. Still I flattened my ear against the speaker. At first I heard nothing except the swirl of electronics. I raised the volume. I thought I heard something familiar very feint against the deafening hiss. No nothing. I closed my eyes and buried my other ear into the pillow to soak up any other sound. I listened. My hearing pounded. Again I heard a faint whisper. The sound of a breath but I couldn’t be sure. I wanted it so much I might have wished it. I wrapped the pillow even more tightly around my head. Time passed. Then the electronic hiss ceased suddenly allowing the fermenting sound to penetrate and reach my ear clearly. It was a breath. Held, and then another. One after another. In out, in out. It was relief. I lay face up releasing the pillow. I laughed. I could do something. I could listen really hard and the Big Worry would run away. And then another breath. Higher pitched this time. Loud and clear. A man and a woman perhaps. Surely Mum and Dad. Breathing, well, happy, still here. But asleep. Surely not. It was not likely. They slept in their bed from 10:45pm until 7:00am. They did not ever sleep anywhere else or at any other time. I stepped out of bed onto the landing and screamed. “Mum, Dad are you alright” and at that moment the ‘Realistic’ screamed back.

A deafening and absurd medley of theme tunes. The Golden Shot, Songs of Praise, World in Action, the Good Life shouted their melodies, fighting to be heard. I recognised them all. They were my lullabys. But they shouted and so did I. ‘Mum, Dad” I yelled against the shouting. They can’t hear me, the TV is too loud. Something is wrong with the Realistic. The 16 watts seemed darker than ever. It glowed dark. I reached for the skinny wire and ran it through my finger and thumb as I felt my way down the stairs. An ending was taking shape in my head and I needed to see it. I opened the living room door the noise stopped. The television was on and the room was cheerful with the Christmas tree lights. I saw it. Mum and Dad were not there.

I didn’t stay. I cleared the stairs to the landing in three stumbling leaps. “Mum Dad where are you”! Any hesitance had gone. I needed them to be back and screaming was all that I had left. I crashed through the door to their bedroom.

I had arrived. It had arrived. After years tucked up in a corner my Big Worry had slid in and now it filled me and my house. The worry spread through me, buried and chocked me down. The plot that had framed every day of my life up until that day was finally closing in and finishing. It was ending. I felt like I had when I had once wet the bed but worse. It drained down my pyjama bottoms and my stomach gulped and farted. Instinctively I strained to hold it back tugging on the closed curtain for support, preventing myself from squatting. The curtain pulled open and by the grey outdoor light I saw them.

They had not disappeared. They were on the bed side by side, absurdly symmetrically arranged. My white Mum and Dad lying on their backs, naked. The skinny wire could be seen trailing between them dividing the bed into two equal halves. Every 6 inches it was selotaped to the sheet giving the appearance of a scar expertly stitched. Their heads were meticulously presented on a pillow each. Their mouths were open. Open too far, stretched into a perfect oval. A gold painted grill caught the grey light. From the grill came a hiss. They were breathing. It was 3 o’clock exactly.

BSIS

Burning down the sports hall was easy. It was probably all the poxy rubber gym mats, and the poxy Swedish pine cladding on the walls, and the poxy polystyrene tiles. Everyone says they are really dangerous when they melt. Give off poisonous gasses, people die. They should have listened shouldn’t they. I hate them all, the sports teacher bastards I mean, but not enough to kill them. Killing is for psychos and I am not a psycho. An arsonist is the right name for someone like me, someone who no one notices, someone just ordinary, but with hidden powers like fire in their fingertips. My powers come from my books. I read a lot, mainly books on war and guns. I know what TNT, stands for, and how the Chinese made gunpowder. It’s all in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the library along with the pictures of vaginas and African tribeswomen tits. I write all the recipes down, the detail is all in there. 5, 5 , 7 is the recipe for gunpowder. You grind up Charcoal, Sulphur and Potassium Nitrate till it turns grey and like dust, then boom, gunpowder. Everyone thinks it’s really dangerous but it’s not actually, you can do it anywhere even in the front room watching Dads Army or the News at Ten. Mum and Dad think it’s for a school project. Something to do with frogs I tell them. What am I doing mashing up frogs spawn! Who knows or cares ‘it’s good to see he is applying himself.’

He was one of the posh village kids. Found himself at the rough Comprehensive and tried to fit in by being a ‘bad boy’. Doesn’t work though, they can see straight through him. The accent, the haircut, the dad commuting to the City, the books and most of all the soft skin. They all have suede skin, skin that can take a beating, take some stick.

My friends are two Steves, three including the crossed eyed one. No girls of course we are all too weird or clever or ugly for that. What with the ears as well! We pretend we aren’t interested but we all know we are desperate fucking sex maniacs. Sixteen and never had a girlfriend never even had a proper grope except Sandra White at the swimming pool but that doesn’t count because it was just an accident when I crashed into her tits in the swimming relay. Talk about passing the baton! They call me Flapper or Dumbo because of the big ears. It hurts, it’s embarrassing, but they don’t know that and I don’t tell them. I just laugh it off and pick on something about them. As I say, Steve is a bit crossed eyed sometimes but most of the time you don’t notice whereas my ears are like sodding flags, bright red, white and blue in the winter like a fucking Union Jack and bright red and peeling in the summer like a stale Mivi. Girls are always laughing at them, so I don’t say anything, just watch them using my hidden powers, staring, and sometimes I follow them home without letting them see me. I write down their addresses and imagine blackmailing them. I am an anarchist. That’s what it says on my bag. A big ‘A’ in red felt. An anarchist hates everyone, which I don’t. I love my dog and my cats and my books. Prison might be all right for an arsonist, after all it’s not for rape or sex or buggering babies or anything they could pick on you for. Just a few years to keep your head down then out with your head held high. ‘You’re the one that burnt the school sports hall down, good on ya.‘ That’s what would happen. People would know me, they might be a bit frightened of me, rightly so, you never know what I might do next.

The idea had been for three of them to do it together. They had spent months planning it. Filling in exercise books with notes and secret codes detailing the time, the chemicals they would use, an escape strategy, communications, how they would let the papers know after they had done it, everything meticulously set out. The new movement they would start – BSIS Ban Sports in Schools, the uniforms they would wear and all the girls that would come flocking to join up, but in the end neither of the other two turned up. So that left him on his own.

Believe it or not the door to the sports hall was unlocked. Just one of those fire doors, gave it a tug and it flew open. So much for fucking security. Plenty of light from the street no need to turn any other lights on. I was in like a snake with a box of matches and a tin of our special stuff. All the ingredients from Boots. They had no idea what they were selling, must have thought I was a gardener or a relapsed diabetic. Four pounds of fucking weed killer and two pounds of sugar. Arseholes. Grind it up in the right quantities pack it into a tube and bang, you have a bomb, a lot more powerful than gunpowder. The IRA use these, proper professional weapon. If you don’t pack it you have some very flammable white stuff that burns slow but as hot as a sodding firework. Enough of it and it will light a fire just about anywhere. We tested it in the woods and it seared the middle out of a dead tree in a couple of minutes. Has to be made fresh though otherwise it turns to jelly that looks just like spunk and you can’t light it. Who would want to light spunk anyway, except if you want to make a devil come alive like Alistair Crowley did. Before I could really think it through I threw a load over the rubber mats and a load fell on the floor and down my trousers. I looked like a proper tosser. The rest was still in the can so I stuck that under my jacket to use later. Not sure if I planned to light it or not in the end. No I don’t think I did. Just wanted to make a mess leave my mark, a signature. People would know it was me. The next day they would be bound to be whispering that I did it. I sort of tested the idea of lighting it. I struck a match. A spark must have flown off the match. White light and I was outside fast, the fire door closed behind me.

He walked away. It was raining now. A late goods train pulled slowly through the station. At this time and in this weather nobody was about, he didn’t really care anyway. To have been caught would have been all right, even good. There was nothing to see from the outside as all the sports hall windows were high up. For a moment he was relieved, a few burnt mats and the remains of their chemistry scattered about. Headmaster, police, expelled, kids at the gates watching him go, a caution or community service. Then from inside the hall a muffled roar followed by a crack as one of the upper windows shattered. He quickened his pace into a strut and headed down the street towards the estate.

I moved down the street to where I knew a bunch of gardens full of junk would provide plenty of cover but I could still see the my work. I settled behind the hedge on a plastic turtle, took a piss watched the comings and goings and listened to the noise of police radio and wot not. I began to think about the next step. A train passed through the station at speed, the sound drowned out all the other noise and I turned away thinking of leaving for a quieter spot. There among the discarded junk like a perfect garden statue she stood. Smaller than I remembered her, she had left the school a year ago we were never told why. I had never spoken to her but had watched her on many occasions. I had her address somewhere. She wasn’t the prettiest but she was the neatest. I couldn’t remember her name except it was something unusual. What I remembered was that her movements were all perfect, when she picked up her bag it was if she was showing the other girls how to pick up a bag. When she waited for the bus it was like a masterclass in perfect waiting. I had never heard her speak and I wasn’t going to now as somehow she made it clear that whatever conversation we were to have it would not involve words. She stood perfectly among the broken toys inviting me to leave my turtle and join her. The rain seemed to have stopped and the flickering streetlights had settled into a constant warm glow. I stood next to her, closed my eyes and flew.

The brigade arrived in about 5 minutes. It was too late. The building was gone. They doused the steaming remains but the rain had already done most of the work. No need to dig deep, at this time in the morning the building would be empty, a casual glance around and a verdict of electrical fire, after all the building had been made on the cheap. It was quite new but the cowboys who made it had certainly cut corners. An accident waiting to happen lucky it didn’t spread.

Using my secret power we flew through the empty streets without saying a word, dodging puddles, past the rec, the lower school, the rows of shit council houses with upside down cars and prams abandoned in the gardens, the occasional new town houses, where my sister lived, the Express dairy, the church and the local pubs and shops. We crossed the railway line and watched as the Boat Train swooped silently southwards towards Folkestone. We followed her riding the sky like surfers. Fire flowed through my fingers brightening the sky.

She had been walking home from a friend’s house early in the morning. She was last seen opposite the sports hall standing under one of the street-lights, she seemed to be waiting.

The embers of the fire glow on the skeletal remains of the hall. It is a Martian landscape, red from the street-lights, the floor twisted and deformed by the mounds of molten plastic and stained by the vaporised rubber. The two hover and rest at the highest point, a pommel horse that was blackened by smoke but still intact. Astride the horse they survey the crowd that has assembled. Stretching from the hall up to the school reception and beyond the paths are lined with boys carrying banners for BSIS. From the classroom windows girls wave flags celebrating the burning of the sports hall. On their knees the sports teachers lay gym shoe tributes at the couples feet. Amidst the debris, charred but intact a decapitated head and two flaming ears brighter and bigger and redder than ever before.

Charmaine, that was her name

Boating

In the park there is a model boat pool. In the middle of the pool my sail boat is still. The breeze has dropped and now the boys are laughing. I take off my shoes and socks and stand in the pool. I whistle my tune and the sails fill. The boat turns toward me and smoothly tacks across the pond to rest at my feet. I put on my shoes and socks and slip the boat under my arm. The boys are quiet now. As I leave the park I whistle under my breath so as not to worry them.

Big balloon

The balloon was a mile wide. Untethered it lifted its cargo of one thousand above the morning mist. Against the horizon its mackerel skin crossed the face of the rising sun scattering the red rays like fireworks. We were in awe. The sun was not impressed. She whitened with anger. The heat seared the mountains the oceans, the deserts, the forest and the horizon. It struck the silver fabric like a storm, boiling the air inside. The one thousand were lifted above the head of the sun and flung into space. The sun smiled red and we were in awe.

13

I sat on the landing at top of the stairs and counted the steps to the bottom. Thirteen. I knew that if the dream caught me I would leave my tummy at the top and land lightly at the bottom. Only the thick shaded light above my head was on, downstairs was a mystery. My flying record was six steps but that was in the daytime. Night meant I didn’t know. I just had to let go and see. I took off spreading my arms like the Comet. As I flew I counted the steps. Twelve.

Jill’s Daddy

Jill sat on the ground in her place at the back of the shed. She pulled her knees up, leant against the warm wood and pulled out his pipe, tobacco and matches from the secret pocket in her dress. She pressed the tobacco into the bowl, and watched the flame circle like a spell as she sucked the smoke through her lips.The sun froze the smoke still like a picture. Daddy’s shadow lengthened as he levered a heavy clod from the soil. ‘There! About time to go, don’t you think.’ ‘No not yet Daddy’ she thought to herself

Diving

As I dived into the pool my swimming trunks slipped off and I was naked. My head struck the bottom like a spade. The other boys and girls saw me so I decided to stay down. Lying on the bottom I could see their floating faces and hear their chat. It reminded me of a church or a film of a famous picture. I swam around until they had all gone and then I found my trunks. I don’t need them now because every night I swim around and every day I sit naked and dripping, listening to their chat.

Bluebell

While mowing the front grass Dad uncovered a clock. It looked like the moon in a green sky. He dug it up and put it on the mantelpiece. Every Saturday at 10 o’clock it chimed twice reminding him to cut the grass. He told me that someone must have put it there a long time ago, as the clock was very old, probably before they had mowers. We wondered why. One Saturday the clock stopped chiming so Dad stopped mowing. In the grass a bluebell grew and every Saturday at 10 o’clock it chimed twice. Now we knew why.