Life or death

 

 

Frank scuttled forward, peered over the line in front of him and returned to gazing at his well-worn trainers. Being British, Frank was not one to break the mould; he too hated a queue. This queue, he entertained, was possibly the largest he had ever stood in. It snaked left and right. At points, it was two persons wide and it had seemed to have no end. At the head of the queue, a good fifty people away Frank surmised, was a wide row of wooden-clad counters. He noticed there were no metal poles with ropes attached to help keep the line orderly and civil. This was very disappointing and unacceptable, he thought.

Behind every window there sat an annoyingly chipper assistant. They were all of them singing the same song, ‘how may I help you?’ and ‘You have a nice day’ and – this was Franks personal favourite-, ‘It’s been a pleasure serving you today’. Behind the desks were floor to ceiling windows, allowing the light to bathe the entire hall in an ethereal shimmer and glow. It looked like a grand lobby of a building he was sure he had seen in pictures or in movies. The hall itself was massive, swallowing everything and everyone inside, and hummed with the sound of a thousand voices, telling a thousand stories. It was tastefully crafted in a gothic style with slender arches that seemed to touch the sky. The vaulted ceiling looked out of place, and perhaps belonged to a splendid European cathedral from a century long gone. Frank took his eyes away from the hall and focused on the queue once again.

The queue shuffled a few feet. In front, an overweight woman with a personal hygiene issue was busy talking to the man ahead of her about ISAs and other financial issues of the day, all of which made Frank want to remove his eyes with blunt pencils. He was sure to keep his finances in reasonable health, but the finer details, and indeed any discussion regarding them bored him to tears. It immediately reminded him of a dinner party a few years previous. A man named Kent and his impossibly good-looking partner. A small grin attempted to grow across his face as he recalled her making a pass at him in the kitchen later that same night. Another lost opportunity, he sighed. Frank peered to the side again at the head of the queue. He cast a wistful look at his watch, which had stopped. He tutted, making sure everyone close was aware of his annoyance. He would have verbally berated his watch, hoping that others would listen, but as he had not had his morning coffee, he thought this unwise. Directly behind him was a young teenage boy, all slick hair and tight-fitting clothes. The young man was busy on his phone. Frank rolled his eyes and shook his head. The queue was testing his patience, but its members were tipping him over the edge.

Frank was just able to make calls and work out how to send a text, so any youths fascination with their calculator-sized life support system baffled him. The youth looked up from his phone and directly at Frank. Frank looked away. Best not to antagonise the youth of today, he reasoned.

It had been a good start to a Monday, as Mondays go. Frank had no pending meetings that morning, his boss was on holiday for a fortnight, and that night he had bagged himself a date using an online dating site. They had exchanged several messages, and she didn’t seem like a bunny-boiler or a psychopath, so things were looking up. On his way into work, he had once again flirted with the barrister at his local coffee shop and dreamed of sordid flings and weekend getaways as she prepared his skinny latte. She was, at best guess, around mid-twenties, not long out of University. This was most likely her first proper job. Frank imagined she harboured dreams to write a screenplay, travel the world and teach in a third world country. For now, she would make do with Dulwich and her daily exchanges with a thirty-two-year-old journeyman.

A good half an hour passed, and the head of the queue was starting to seem like it might be reached before the next summer solstice. Frank could almost see the faces of the assistants behind the glass, except as he looked closer, he couldn’t. He stared harder. Every one of them was wonderfully bland, totally devoid of a face except for an ever-grinning mouth. They were all white teeth and rosy, featureless cheeks. Frank stopped staring and looked once again at the watch that had stopped sometime before. The time had stopped at 8:13. Frank through hard about why this time would be in any way significant to him or anyone else, and then totally lost his train of thought as the teenager’s phone prodded his middle lower back.

Frank was now thirteen from the front.

The woman in front was now talking about the Great British Bake Off. He hated the programme, hosted by an unfunny duo, a man having a mid-life crisis, and an older woman in need of an iron.  Frank tried to unhear the conversation, but the woman’s voice was so grating, it seemed like it was only broadcasting to him, a personal wavelength to feed his already swelling annoyance at the mornings events so far. He much preferred panorama and re-runs of Bottom. He was a man of habit, he liked certain things, and he liked them in order. There was a lot of order in Frank’s life. This had most likely contributed to the breakdown of his marriage to Greta. They were childhood sweethearts, and destined to remain together forever, or so he had hoped. She tolerated him at school when nobody else would, and in time, she grew to like him. This, eventually, gave way to a strange, but workable love. They had no children, and no mortgage, and although no divorce is ever pleasant, it could have been much worse. He often thought of Greta. Her wild, blonde hair and wonky nose. The way she would giggle at the most inappropriate things. His Auntie’s funeral was not a highlight during their brief marriage.

Frank was now five from the front.

He looked again at the faceless assistants with the perma-grins attached to their egg-like heads. Just then, the most annoying thing happened. A smartly dressed, friendly young man started down the line from the front, asking people if they would like to participate in a brief survey. Frank never liked surveys. He wasn’t going to like this one, so he willed the line to hurry.

Frank was now three from the front.

The man with the clipboard was edging ever closer.

Frank was second.

He felt a skip in his heart as the shutters on all five counters came down. An audible gasp echoed down the line behind him. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Each one of the shutters was marked with a single sentence.

It read;

‘Closed for lunch.’

A small volcano bubbled in his lower gut. He was sure it was rage and not that mornings breakfast about to repeat on him. He started to get a tickly itch on his scalp; he was sweating.

He could hold it no longer. He spun around in dramatic fashion.

“God sake,” he yelled.

The sound carried throughout the entire hall. People several hundred metres away stopped and looked directly at him. Time stood still for a moment as his outburst caused the room to freeze.

Frank looked back.

A tall man in a grey suit was stood before him. He had a full head of blonde hair and a neat beard, which didn’t quite match. He was tall and had a kind face. He pulled out a small device and started to swipe at it with his finger.

“Hmm,” the man said.

“Hmm?” said frank. “Hmm?”

The man nodded, still fixed on his device and not on Frank. This annoyed Frank.

“Frank Dimbleby. 222 west Morland Crescent. Marketing assistant, single, smoker. Dead.”

“Excuse me?” said Frank.

The man chuckled to himself. He had done this before, Frank could tell.

“I’m sorry, how rude,” he said. “You died, Mr Dimbleby. This very morning. Hit by a number 37. Nasty.”

Frank stared like a child into a toy shop window. He was frozen. He had nothing to feel, no words to utter to this man. Dead? That was ridiculous.  This had to be a prank – some spotty, college dropout would appear at any minute waving apologetically, telling him it was a prank.

They didn’t.

“Number 37?” he whispered, almost to himself.

“Yes,” said the man. “It was late too.”

Frank was there, but he wasn’t. His ears were still attached to his head but he was sure they weren’t working. The delicious irony in the man’s words lost to the ether.

Frank shook his head, as if coming back from a daydream. He looked around him. Nobody was interested in him or the conversation he was having with the bearded man. In fact, nobody else in the queue seemed to notice the man.

A muffled ringtone, one Frank recognized played.

The man held his hand out apologetically, mouthed ‘sorry ‘and pulled out a phone.

“Hello.”

Frank took a good look at the man, he really studied him.

“Really?” said the man, his brows arched like a stone bridge.

The man nodded several times.

“I see,” he said, smiling. “You’re certain?”

The man looked Frank up and down, making Frank feel rather uncomfortable.

“Jolly good,” said the man. “Speak to you soon, bye.”

The man tucked the phone away, sighed and placed a hand on Frank’s shoulder. Frank could feel the weight as his hand pressed down into his bad shoulder; It was a tennis injury.

“There’s been a development,” said the man.

“A development?” said Frank. “Care to explain?”

Development could mean anything. War in the middle East? Cat stuck up a tree in Hull, these are both developments.

The man chuckled, as if on the brink of delivering the punchline to end them all. Just then, things got weird. Franks whole person wibbled and wobbled. Frank blinked furiously. Everything around him now seemed clouded in grey mist. It was like he was stuck in the middle of a dense fog. A dense fog that made him feel almost drunk. Suddenly, familiar sounds channelled into his ears, although right then, he wasn’t sure exactly what they were.  His arms and legs were bending like plasticine. The surroundings got whiter and whiter and a feint voice spoke to him.

“See you soon,” said the man.

Everything was white. The queue had gone, replaced by a brilliant nothingness. It was like a showroom from Ideal homes magazine. Perfectly bland in every way.

Frank came to, coughing and spluttering, gasping for air. The sounds he sort of recognised grew louder and sharper.

He was in the local high-street, and he was lead down.

“Stand back,” shouted a female paramedic. “He’s coming back.”

Franks vision unblurred. He could see a crowd gathered. Eyes fixed on him. One young man had the audacity to be filming the event on his phone. On any normal day, this behaviour would have enraged Frank, but today, as he peered along his body to see bone sticking through his trousers, he simply couldn’t muster the will. The paramedic leant in, placing a mask over his mouth and nose. He caught a whiff of perfume as his eyes blurred, again. His nose was filled with flowers and the scent of a summer meadow. The paramedic was smiling. Her eyes glistened with too much mascara. Frank closed his eyes – again, and not for the first time that morning, he went on a journey.

 

Taxi

 

 

The party was dull and Katie couldn’t hide it. There was only so many times she was prepared to roll her eyes in her mind and plaster on a fake smile as fellow reveller entered her precious personal space – thirteen and counting.  She wandered into the kitchen, on the search for another can of beer to numb the terrifying dullness of the occasion. She plundered the fridge, pulling out another can. She turned away, bumping into a tall, handsome man. His hair was jet back, and his tight-fitting jeans and multiple piercings suggested he was a rocker.

“Sorry,” he said.

She studied his many tattoos and spied his pierced lip.

“It’s ok,” Katie said, fingering her hair. She smiled and pressed the cold can to her lips and took a long swig. The stranger walked on and vanished amongst the throng of drunken partygoers.

She had agonised for nearly an hour. He had made three passes of her in the kitchen. Something had to break. The music was getting worse by the second, and a steady flow of drunken suiters came and went.

He instantly winced after saying it. Katie laughed.

“Nice cheekbones?” she laughed. “Is that all you’ve got? Wow.”

A few drinks later, Dutch courage flowed. They spoke about everything and nothing. Politics, the weather, their favourite films and why yogurt lids always split. She was into indie pop and jazz, he liked Heavy metal and punk.

They were so different, but so in tune. When they had finished talking, their mouths joined in a passionate kiss. One thing led to another, and then another, and then that led to the bathroom.

It was late. So late.

Amid a pile of tangled clothes, they exchanged numbers, and kissed.  She called her taxi, and he caught his train.

The intervening weeks were blissful torture. Text after text after text. There was only so much they could say in bold italic. He teased and flirted in a hundred words or less. She was all emojis and gifs. Not a word was said, but they had said so much.

As days turned to weeks, they skirted the obvious question that sat on their lips. Then, an opening; a chance to rekindle this dormant flame. A blissful reunion was on the horizon. The stage was set.

In a seafront café, where the food was greasy and the tea was cheap, hands reached out over the plastic, gingham table cover. Was this the first embers of young love? Her insides buzzed and flipped over and over. He felt a desire he had not felt since he was a teenager at an Evanescence gig some years back. They spoke about everything and nothing. They laughed and joked, the flirting was obvious and unrepentant.

Seaside sun turned to showers. People came and went without them noticing. The whole world around them evaporated, the light faded and the sun prepared for sleep. The café closing behind them.

“So?” he said.

“So?” she replied, her lip forming an almost smile.

She sighed. It was heavy and crammed with unspoken words.

“There’s my job here, and there’s my family. And you live like, miles away.”

He nodded, agreeing, but inside he fell apart. His fake smile concealing a crushing disappointment not felt since his hamster had died.

They shared another lingering kiss, as the café assistant tutted and worked around them.

She called her taxi, and he caught his train.

The prevailing weeks were horrible. The texts were less frequent. The emojis and the gifs were gone. It was polite, friendly. He assumed he was being brushed aside, so ignored all his inner instincts and refused to flirt. He wanted her, but he did not think she really wanted him. She had made a mistake. They had something, something tangible, something amazing that no words could describe. She moaned to any work colleague that would listen. She moaned to her Mum and her Dog. She felt something, it was real but…

Luck is a funny thing. A party was on the horizon, and the Gods of rumour and good fortune were her friends. She had it on good authority that he would be there. She knew she had to be there; this needed to happen, it would be a crime against love is she didn’t.

The function room was bouncing. The air was filled with music and party-acceptable chatter. All human life was here. Goths, metallers, indie kids and the hipsters. Even the trendies in their carefully pressed, overpriced shirts were accepted here. She stood, back to the bar, holding a bottle, gently fingering its lip. Others danced and jumped round with gay abandon. Good times flowed, and beer was spilled, but she could only manage a slight tapping of her foot. A few folks from the Brighton drinking scene said polite hellos and exchanged non-descript chatter, but they had been and gone. She was alone, and that was fine.

Who was she kidding? She wanted desperately for her man to appear and liven up this shindig. She would not let on, but from the moment she had arrived, she had spied the scene like a hawk, hoping to find him.

Then…

He wandered into view. He was gorgeous. Skinny jeans and leather jacket. James Dean eat your heart out. He strolled over like he owned the world.

“Hey,” she beamed. Her heart started skipping again, her chest filled with a fire.

“Hi,” he replied.

From behind him, a pretty young thing emerged and grabbed his arm. She was made up to within an inch of her life and wore very little.

“This is Nancy,” he said. “We met last Saturday night.”

“Great,” she lied. “I’m so happy for you,” she lied again. Her heart was snapped in two and would soon be at the pit of her stomach. She quickly drained the bottle and hoped for a giant hole to consume her.

“Nice to see you,” she lied for a third time.

She wanted nothing more than to cry, but she would give him that. She presented the best fake smile she could, as her heart broke inside. She turned away while Max factor led him into the crowds and away from her.

The rest of the party became a blur of nothingness. The noise died, the music stopped and the people went home.

She called her taxi, and he caught his train, and all that remained between them was the rain.

 

A Manhattan Story

A Manhattan Story

 

He rushed off the plain, grabbed his bags at a run

Through the terminal building, and into the sun

He was feeling quite jetlagged, so he hailed a cab

“To the Waldolf please,” he said to Ahab

 

The journey was short, the skyline he sighted

His heart started thumping, he was rather excited

As it grew close, with the window wound down

He heard the sweet song, of the magical town

 

At last he’d arrived, his hotel was quite grand

Out with the maps, time for a plan

He wasted no time; he was out on the street

Now it was time, to dance to its beat

 

 

Strange conversations, in accents unheard

While the lights kept him waiting, right there on the curb

The roads like a river, no place for a fellow

Are all the cars here to be coloured in yellow?

 

His camera snapped, his feet they did ache

No time for a rest, he’d appointments to make

By sundown he felt, the city was conquered

The he remembered, his cousin in Yonkers

 

As the sun went to bed, and brought out the stars

He ate in a diner, then looked for some bars

A nice little barstool, to rest his feet

What he didn’t expect, was the chance to meet

 

Karolin was her name, she was from Kent

To George it was plain, she was heaven sent

They spoke for some time, chemistry oozed

Were they meant to be, or was it the booze?

 

They drank until late, and shared many tales

She was agnostic, he hated snails

When the bar closed, they entered the city

She looked to the stars, “now isn’t that pretty?”

 

They danced and they dazzled, like lights on a stage

His heart longed for her, like he‘d known her an age

He couldn’t explain it; it was more than a crush

As he took her hand, she smiled, and blushed

 

The streets almost silent, they walked hand in hand

Time was against them, so they plotted and planned

They would meet the next day; it would be their first date

“Great,” he said, “I can hardly wait.”

 

That night in his bed, too excited for sleep

His phone was alive, every second a bleep

The texting was fun, it made his heart skip

She tangled her hair, and bit on her lip

 

As sleep finally won, his eyes slowly closed

He was drifting away, time for a doze

Perhaps he would dream, of the girl from the bar

Thoughts of her smile, from him were not far

 

Early next morning, his phone was quite chirpy

“I’m ready,” she wrote, but it was only six thirty!

No time to lose, he washed and he changed

Times Square she had said, it had been arranged

 

Already quite busy, the people a sea

Would he recognise her, oh where could she be?

For more than five minutes, despite her description

He couldn’t find her, was this all a great fiction?

 

He felt his heart drop, was it all just a dream?

He thought that she liked him, she wouldn’t be mean

Pushing through people, circling the square

She wasn’t about, “This just isn’t fair.”

 

He decided to slump, find comfort in coffee

And a nice slice of cake, most likely banoffee

“Excuse me young man, is this seat taken, Sir?”

He was taken aback, it was the girl, it was her

 

She confessed lateness, and offered a smile

His heart resuscitated, gone doubt, gone denial

She lifted his coffee, and pressed to her lips

I’ll have one of those, she said after two sips

 

They watched Times square dance, to a tumultuous din

And before too long, the thought they’d join in

Shops, more coffee, candy, they needed a rest

He thought of a place, that she might like best

 

Over burgers in a diner, they spoke with such ease

He wanted to flirt, and she was a tease

They shared all their dreams, and bared all their fears

It had been just two days, but to them it was years

 

She’d studied history, George studied art

He hated the dentist; she feared the dark

At school she was Snow White, while he was Wise man

His Mother was Rosie, her Father was Dan

 

On lots of things, they seemed to agree

Apart from their futures, they were different you see

He wanted a wife, and maybe some kids

Her affection was an auction, and ready for bids

 

She lived in Kent, he lived in the North

She lived for the now, he kept looking forth

“Live each single day, as if it’s your last”

“Care not for the future, but remember the past.”

 

She winked as she said it, but meant every word

George took her hand, and inside his heart purred

They walked hand in hand, through the streets filled with song

What a time George was having, what could possibly go wrong?

 

As the Sun kissed the buildings, and the lights took their hold

He thought he would chance it, he thought he’d be bold

He leant in for the kiss, closing his eyes

And felt her soft lips, what an awesome surprise

 

Her lips were soft cushions, her scent was so sweet

A more beautiful girl, he never would meet

Her hands left his face, her eyes filled with doubt

What she would do next, would spell it all out

 

Karolina pulled away, George felt like a berk

“Please don’t hate me; I don’t think this will work.”

“I leave tomorrow, and you are so far away”

“Can we stay friends? Maybe meet up some day?”

 

A dream fairy-tale, too good to be true

If he searched in his heart, he was sure that he knew

Things were going so well, why spoil it now?

So this was the end, he knew that somehow

 

In his eyes she saw hurt, which mirrored her own

This small little kiss, had them both thrown

What happens now, where do they go?

They both hid their feelings, and tried not to show

 

They decided right then, to enjoy what was left

Just keep things simple, it was for the best

The rest of the night, the sparkle was missing

Could all this have happened, because of them kissing?

 

They returned to the bar, where they had first met

George looked lost, Karolina, upset

She avoided his gaze, awkward it was

She looked to him searchingly, and then spoke to say “soz.”

 

She explained best she could, about her broken heart

And that a love all anew, she wasn’t ready to start

George took it well, as well as one can

Stiff upper lip, t’was taken like a man

 

 

They left the bar, and parted with a hug

She left feeling sad, George felt like a mug

He wandered Times Square, alone with the lights

Still two more days, just him and the sights

 

The next morning came, but the buzz it had died

He was going to miss, no girl by his side

Sight after sight, removed from his list

And all he could do, was think of that kiss

 

His dream trip now ended, he called for a cab

And what do you know? It was the same guy, Ahab

They talked the whole journey, about all he had done

And despite his heart, he had had great fun

 

A week had gone by, since his trip to New York

And to those that would listen, he would often talk

About the girl from the city, who’d stolen his heart

But before it begun, they decided to part

 

After Friday night drinks, he got to his flat

Where one envelope, was adorning his mat

He headed inside, and started to open

Quietly wishing, secretly hoping

 

“I am very sorry, for leading you on

Please let me explain, please let me go on.

When we met in New York, it was a fabulous time

But time’s a commodity, I have been declined.”

 

“This wonderful trip, was a dream come true

And I am very grateful, to have shared it with you

According to doctors, from them I have heard

I’m looking at months; it’s the dreaded ‘C’ word.”

 

“If fate wasn’t against me, if I hadn’t been chosen

Then perhaps to your heart, I wouldn’t have been frozen

So I guess this letter, is a sort of goodbye

I’ll finish here, ‘cos I’m starting to cry.”

 

George was dumbstruck, this wasn’t the end

If nothing else, she was still his friend

He told work some fibs, and got on a train

If but for a day, he’d be with her again

 

Her family gathered, greeted him like their own

It was fate he would be here, the seeds had been sewn

He edged to her bedside, her smile was weak

But she had enough strength, the desire to speak.

 

“To all of you here, for one reason or another

My Mum, Dad and Sisters, and even kid brother

To the kindest of souls, of my last ever trip

One day raise your glasses, and take a small sip

 

For soon I will leave you, with nothing but love

And I’ll look in on you, from high up above

Mum and Dad and the rest, I love you so dear

So please think of me, when you let go those tears

 

George, silly George, you did have my heart

I knew from hello, yes, right from the start

Your life will go on, you will taste sweet glory

But don’t forget me, and our Manhattan story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They

Mum kisses my head and says goodnight. She turns off the light and closes the door behind her. her shadow lingers outside my door. She waits for a good twenty seconds before she moves away and the unfiltered light creeps back in under my door.

I stare into the black void above my head. Aside from the tinnitus in my ears, my head is quiet. All thoughts have gone to sleep, and so should I. I don’t like it when they go quiet, it unsettles me; I haven’t heard from them in two days. I’m so sued to them talking to me, and on a regular basis, that if they break the routine, I begin to wonder. Have I done something wrong? Don’t they need me anymore? It would be their choice, but if that is what they want, I won’t pretend to like it. Ultimately, they have the power; I am just their puppet. I don’t like that term really. It gives the impression that they literally pull the strings; they don’t.

They need me. They know they do.

They’ve been speaking to me since I was six. Since then, I haven’t uttered a single word; not one. I’m now fifteen. If I told you why, you wouldn’t believe me, and you would no doubt arrive at the same conclusion as everybody else; she must be mad, she’s gone insane, she needs help. I’ve heard it all.

This behaviour scared my Mum. At first, I mean the first few weeks, she thought I was being silly, that it was all some childish game. She soon realised otherwise. She started off angry, this turned into disbelief, but then that gave way to a begrudging, and bewildered acceptance. I won’t lie, she’s not fine with it, but she’s accepting enough that it doesn’t affect me. At the very least, she’s given up asking why.

Mum has tried everything, I’ve seen the Doctor, I’ve seen a psychiatrist and a spiritual healer. I know, right? My Dad once took me to an acupuncturist, even though he knows I hate needles of any kind. Between them, I think they have tried everything. There’s no point, I’m not going to change. Why should I? If I don’t want to talk, then I won’t.

I reach under my pillow and pull out my notebook. I turn on my bedside lamp and open it in the middle. There’s a nice, white blank page waiting for me. The notebook is looking rather old now, but it does the job just fine. It’s the friend that doesn’t answer back or ask questions.

The book is a sort of diary; They told me to keep one. They said it would help to make sense of what I’m feeling, and ultimately, what it is I must do. I don’t mind doing it; I quite like writing. It helps me relieve stress, and because I don’t talk, I write a lot. At school, the teachers often praise my handwriting, and use of language. They’re not that keen on some of the stuff I write in the margins though. You can’t please everyone. When I need to write, I write. A lot of it is train of thought, and this often doesn’t make much sense to anyone who’s read it. I don’t allow people to read, but a few have managed to get their hands on it. Those weren’t pleasant experiences, for me or them.

I spend a good hour, flicking through the pages. With each sentence, I can transport myself to another time. I can pinpoint exact feelings and emotions; it’s my own little time machine.

I have a code which helps. If I’m insecure, or worried or sad, I write in red ink. If it’s a normal day, I write in blue. I write in black felt tip when I’m not having a good day.  It’s all organised, and it’s extremely private. It contains conversations with them, my own thoughts and my onions and ideas. They once warned me never to let it out of my sight. I lost it once, when I was thirteen. I won’t risk that again.

After a while, my eyes start to sting and I’m feeling tired. I place the book back under my pillow, and stretch to pull the lamp cord. I lay my head on the pillow and quiet my head. Sleep will take me soon. But not too soon, I hope, because tomorrow is Monday, and that means school.

Registration is the usual noisy din. The boys talk about boring football and video games. The girls just irritate me without uttering a word. Especially Helen Bough. She’s a bully, a nasty girl. I think her family is quite wealthy, so she thinks acting like a bitch is acceptable. It’s not. She’s the queen bee I guess. She looks down upon everyone and expects us to worship the ground she walks on. She’s a massive waste of oxygen if you ask me. She doesn’t make it easy to like her, so I don’t. I’m quite content to dislike her in silence. If I did talk, which I won’t, I wouldn’t waste breath on her.

I pull out my book and open it at a random page. Today’s a reading day. These days are relaxing, and help me focus my mind on what’s ahead.

As I stare into my book, I can feel her eyes bore into my head. I would flip her the finger. But last time I did that, I was caught doing so by Miss Grainger. The resulting detention was a complete waste of our time.

Any attempt by the teachers to understand or control me is a joke. They can’t, they never will. I think now they have given up trying, or at least appear to be giving that impression. That’s fine, it takes the attention away from me. They know the score now. Best to let it be. I’m not doing anyone any harm, so there’s no need for them to pry. It’s the children that are the problem. Given my…decision, shall we say, these underdeveloped minds just can’t cope with what it is I’m trying to do. Fair enough, I don’t talk or try to explain myself, so I can understand their confusion to a point. The name calling is fine also. I can channel out and ignore them. They taught me this. But there’s always one, isn’t there?

I like school, especially science, because we get to burn stuff from time to time. Bunsen Burners are fun. I don’t think my fellow classmates approve of my fascination with the flame, or my teachers. It mesmerises me. Something so pure, so small, can be so violent, and yet so utterly beautiful, all at once. It’s poetic in its nature.

A screwed-up piece of paper hits my head and drops to the ground. This is quickly followed by laughter. I know it’s Helen. I can tell by the gasps between shrill giggles. I stare ahead at the whiteboard. If I ignore her, she’ll stop. This isn’t always the case, but it’s what they tell you, isn’t it? It’ll do for now, besides, I don’t have the energy for anything else.

Miss Grainger enters the room. She’s about thirty, I think. She has a kind face and always has her hair tied back in a ponytail. She wears clothes that are out of date and always looks a little nervous. Helen stops being a bitch the second she walks in. I look up at Miss Grainger to see a nervous looking girl stood next to her surveying the room.  She’s frightened, I can tell. She catches my eye for a second, and for a second, I see hope in her eyes. A swirly, unsettled flood enters my gut. I feel like I might be sick. My hands start to go clammy and I can feel sweat trickle down the front of my shirt. This has happened before, four years ago, and that did not end well. I try to breathe, to remain calm and not let those memories sink me.

“Class, we have a new student today. This is Emily, I hope you all make her welcome,” says Miss Grainger.

Silence. Emily surveys the room. Her eyes are wide, her arms rigid by her side. Poor thing; she’s scared shitless.

“I’ll be assigning one of you at random to be Emily’s first month buddy,” adds Miss Grainger.

Good luck to whomever gets the job.

A pair of boys behind me whisper and giggle. I can’t imagine they were being very complimentary. Boys rarely are. But then I’ve learned that this kind of behaviour is indicative of them liking the person in question. It’s all nonsense that they have told me that I don’t need.

“Sadie Hewitt,” says Miss Grainger. She looks directly at me.

That’s my name. Why the fuck is Miss Grainger saying my name? She can’t be serious, can she? She’s picking me, the mute freak to be this girls babysitter?

I know, I know. How did I know they would choose me?

They’re not happy. They see this as a problem. When they’re anxious, it makes me head go all busy. I start to feel a little dizzy and confused. I fight them back, reassuring them and after a while, they go quiet again.

“Will you show Emily around on her first month? I think it will be good for you both,” says Miss Grainger.

Then I suggest you think a little harder, Miss. Is she for real? Given what they know about me – and that’s very little – she wants to saddle me with the responsibility of babysitting newbie? I like Miss Grainger, a lot. But I really think this is a shitty idea.

What can I do? I can’t say no. Literally. Once again, my lack of voice is my undoing. I find myself picking at the quick of my nails and fidgeting more than is normal. I don’t need this.

Emily pulls out a chair and sits next to me. She whispers a fragile hello and I smile. I would imagine somebody has told her I don’t talk? I’ll soon find out.

Too late.

“I wouldn’t bother talking to her, she’s a silent, lesbian freak” says Helen, clearly pleased with her wit.

I roll my eyes as Emily smiles politely.

“Miss Bough, outside right now,” snaps Miss Grainger.

I love it when Miss Grainger gets annoyed or angry. She’s such a friendly, timid character, it’s completely at odds with who she is. It’s like a cow trying to roar. She escorts the annoying outside. The second she leaves the room, it erupts into a chorus of nothingness. Gossip, laughter, male bullshit, bravado, bitching. Amongst it all, there’s nothing to pick out, it’s all crap.

“Do you like writing?” asks Emily.

I look to my book sat on the desk in front of me.

I smile. Oh my God – I smiled.

I nod and then place my hand on my book.

“I like writing stories, I do it a lot,”

I can’t let this happen. I can’t let anyone in. As friendly and as genuine she appears, I cannot let her seep under my skin and cause me to like her.

I’m starting to feel agitated and a little anxious. This sort of scenario should have my heart leaping and fill me with a need to talk and communicate. That doesn’t happen with me. I chose this, I also understand what I need to do and what I have to avoid. But there is an overwhelming urge to not follow code. I want to break rules. I want to rebel. Nobody has ever made me feel this way. All this time, not one single person has made me feel like this. I’ve known Emily all of twenty seconds and this has happened. I cannot have friends. I cannot reach out; I must be alone is what they tell me. But this time I don’t want to.

 

For the rest of the day, Emily is glued to me. I quite like it; I quite like her. She’s unassuming and natural. Not speaking to people has led me to developing other skills. One of them is the ability to read people. I find that I am often quite accurate. I can read Emily easily. She’s pure, like newly washed linen. She’s kind, like a loving relative and as trusting as a puppy. I hope that she never loses these qualities. She’s understood straight away that I don’t talk. She points at stuff and makes hand gestures. Straight away she pulled out a notepad from her bag and started to write things down. We already have our own little language. For the first few lessons we just pass notes to each other. The teachers could not understand why we were laughing so much; I loved it. It’s a lightness that has not touched me for so long. All this lightness has not gone unnoticed. They don’t like it. They warn me that I am being ridiculous. They remind me of the consequences. How could I forget? I recall and wince a little. I can’t get too attached, mind. I must think about things. I must be careful. There’s too much at stake here. I can’t be friends with Emily. I can’t have friends. This sits at odds with their insistence that I go to school, that I try to lead a normal life in the meantime. Normal? What the fuck is normal? I swallow my negativity and try to reset. I’m getting worked up. Emily studies me and places a hand on my arm. Her lightness of touch is like a sugary syrup running through me. It lightens me and sets me right again. How can she do this? How is she doing this?

Dammit.

Up to this point, I’ve been pretty much friendless. It’s ok, no need for violins or nothing, I have ways and means of coping with the isolation, but Emily is different. In the space of less than a day, she gets me. She doesn’t judge. She fills me with something I have never ever had.

Hope. But hope is dangerous.

On the walk home from school, Emily tells me all about her life and family. They moved down here after her Dad died. Cancer.  She has one older sister who lives in Canada and an auntie who plays bowls for England. I have no idea what bowls is. Just walking along and being, for want of a better word, normal, is nice. I mean, I am normal, but it’s nice to have a friend. I know I shouldn’t really, it’s like being on a diet and sneaking a Mars bar. Part of me doesn’t want this day to end. They’re suspiciously quiet given the day’s events. Maybe they are waiting for me to fall flat on my face. They’re waiting to tell me ‘I told you so’. I know this isn’t their way, so I don’t have a clue why they are being quiet right now. Normally, I so much as talk to the neighbour’s dog and they fill my head. I don’t like it, but I also don’t care.

I get home, eat dinner, sit with Mum for a bit. Mum isn’t that talkative, then again, neither am I. After an evening of silence, I kiss my Mum on the head, and head to my room. That wasn’t too bad for a Monday. Who am I kidding? This was a brilliant Monday. I think about Emily. My heart flutters and already I am looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.

It’s been over a week now and Emily is growing on me. She hasn’t left my side all week. That is the point of being a buddy, but, I dunno, I’m getting used to it. I like her. She gets me. I like having her around. I feel like I must protect her, and I enjoy that too. Due to her associating with freaky pants here, she gets the usual treatment from Helen. The problem is, Emily isn’t as thick skinned as me. I can tell it upsets her sometimes, and in turn, that upsets me. This is of course a risk. I’m starting to let her in. I’m starting to get close to her. They’ve warned me that she isn’t my responsibility. This is all very well, but I am not going to leave her. I will protect her. You can’t tell me otherwise. What do you know about anything anyway?

They said I was losing my way, that I was becoming blinded by silly, girlie needs. They told me that I didn’t need to fit in, I just needed to get things done. They didn’t say it, but I could tell that they want me to end my friendship with Emily. They can preach all they want. It’s all noise, a persistent hissing that fills my head. Good luck, fellas.

I’m not going to.

I’m starting to tire of it. They tell me that the time is coming, that my day will soon be here. I hate waiting. Just get it over with already. Do something. I’m ready, for Christ sake. Come on. It couldn’t happen at a worse time, though. Emily’s arrival has shaken me, and worried them. I question things now. Maybe I’m questioning them? They’d love that. They can be self-righteous assholes at times. Snidey, vindictive and self-important. I need Emily, and that means I don’t feel like needing them; they hate that, but they will never admit it. I’m throwing caution to the wind and they cannot abide it. I’m taking a huge risk here. What I’m doing, as I have known all along, does have dire consequences. I stab at the memory that tries to grow in my head. I push it back as far as I can.

I take out my book and start to write. I can only think of one thing.

 

Do you ever get days where you just want to run away and hide? Forget everything, and everyone, just go. I’m having one of those days. It’s what I call a dark day, and I don’t like to talk about them. Ever. It’s like a shadow that follows you everywhere. A raincloud that pisses on you all day long. No break, nowhere to hide. I think of seeing Emily today and the darkness is pierced. Just like the light of a solitary start that sits in the inky black of space.

I can’t wait to see her. Today might not be so bad after all. Go to hell – I’ll see her if I want to. You know better than to lecture me when I feel like this.

 

I’m sat in my room, a blanket wrapped round me. I have my book, and a few crappy magazines for company. I flick through my book, turning the ages and let the tears come. I stop at each page far longer than I should. They told me to get rid of those pages. They told me that it was all my fault, that they warned me.

Each.

Action.

Has.

Consequences.

Each word is like a knife in my side. I sit there and let them stab me over and over. The sobbing consumes me and I wallow in a grief so true, I cannot feel them trying to get in my head.

I bury my head into my bed and I just want to die.

I hate it. We’re all treated like animals. The food is crap, the people are crap and I miss Emily. She hasn’t visited, or written. All I have is my book and the notes from school that I have kept. I’ve been in this dump for two months. What a bloody stupid place to put me, to put anyone. What good can come of this? What can they hope to achieve here?  What did I expect? They don’t offer any words. They don’t care. I imagine they’re happy about all this. They probably designed it to happen this way. Nothing they do is done without purpose. So, they tell me.

I’ve become angry at them. It’s almost hate. This bitterness and contempt has given me a strange isolation from them. The angrier I am, the less they invade. That’s what they do, it’s all they ever did. The good thing is, it’s so easy to remain in a foul mood in here. It’s a place devoid of hope. It’s a place filled with fucking idiots.

The warden pops her head around the door. She nods and closes it again. Nosey cow. I can’t even grieve in peace.

I step out into the whitewashed surroundings of the social area. There’s a few tatty, old sofas, a table stacked with magazines and a pool table. The walls are white and dotted with stains, the result of a hundred different tantrums. The carpet is tatty and filled with crumbs and sick and other shitty fragments of everyone in here. The magazines are old and boring, and I don’t like pool, so I’m screwed. This is where most of the kids hang out. They scream and shout at each other like they’re in a playground. They all stand at the fringes. They all hate me, it’s like school, but worse. We’re not talking about stupid school children here. These are damaged individuals. You’d think being in a place filled with misfits I would find some comfort. I would fit in. I ain’t ever gonna fit in here. They tell me that some of these people could be useful. What the hell? They sure do change their minds a lot. These useless tossers with the collective iq of a fucking sandwich, yeah sure, be their friends. Heaven forbid I ever meet someone I like and who likes me. No, that would be terrible.

Pricks.

The wardens don’t give two shits most of the time, neither do the kids in here. There’s nearly always a fight. I’m lucky, not so much as a punch thrown…yet. At least not in my direction. I’ve been threatened, almost daily. There’s pushing and shoving, but not much else.

I slump on to the threadbare sofa and stare at the ceiling. The panels above don’t let much light in because they’re frosted glass. I never thought I would miss sunlight so much. I miss a lot of things. I miss my Mum. I sort of miss school, and I miss Emily.

The room is filling with noise, as one by one, the adolescent numskulls enter the common room. What a great idea to put a load of girls together who are despised and misunderstood by society. We’re misfits, those who cannot be tamed. We’re left in here to stew and ‘think about the consequences of our actions’. Please. Sort out society. We’re not the issue.

A fat girl called Daisy Ricketts crashes on the sofa next to me. If this were a cartoon, I’d be catapulted into the air and land on my ass ten feet away. She’s alright, is Daisy. She’s in here because she burnt down her local youth club. I think it was over a boy. She’s one of only a few who talk to me. She calls me mute. I can deal with that. It’s a good thing I don’t talk, she doesn’t wanna hear what I’d call her. I don’t think I would. She has fists like rocks. The only other girl that tolerates me in here is Fiona Mansell. She’s a real piece of work.

I’m here because I beat up Helen Bough. It was totally her fault.

I broke her nose. I messed up her face to be honest. Her name calling and general bitchiness had crossed the line.

I had gone to the toilet while Emily waited in the lunch line. She was keeping my place. When I came back, I couldn’t see her. When I did find her, she was propped against a wall with her head in her hands sobbing uncontrollably. Seeing her this upset was bad enough. That morning I had woken up with one of those dark days. It was a bad one. Despite everything, I found it hard to shift that morning. When she told me what happened I lost my shit. I found Helen and dragged her back to Emily and made her apologise. She thought it was funny.

Then I lost it. An anger and rage that wasn’t my own. Consequences remember?

That’s nothing, the look on Emily’s face when I was being pulled off her really hurt. It was a look of fear. The fact that sweet little Emily was afraid of me cut me like a knife. I had no idea what I had just done. I stood looking at sweet, helpless Emily while Helen writhed on the floor next to my feet. I didn’t even look at Helen. I fell into a sort of state. I froze. I knew in that moment that I had lost everything. The hope, the friendship, the love. Gone.  That was the last time I saw her. I was expelled, Mum had to move and I got put in here, ‘for my own safety’. Whatever.

I’m sat at the far end of the breakfast table. A skinny girl with a nose ring sits opposite. I’ve not seen her before, so I don’t make eye contact. This apparently gets you punched in here, a lot. It’s only a matter of time though with me. I sit and read my book, the very book that the authorities were not keen on me having in here. Mum pleaded with them and the judge decided it was in my best interest that I be allowed to keep it.

“What’s the book for?” she asks.

I shrug. I’m not interested…shit.

She grabs the book and waves it in my face. There’s a smirk on her face and a joy in her words. She’s enjoying this.

Bollocks. Fuck. Please don’t do this. Please don’t.

“Please give me back my book,” I ask.

I am calm. Shut up. I can handle this. I don’t need your fucking intervention again, remember? Don’t fucking lie…that was all you.

“I said, what’s the book for?”

She’s looking at me as if I’m dumb.

I bite my lip as she climbs on to the table and starts to read aloud my inner most secret thoughts. I can feel a pulsing in my gut. She reads out thoughts and feelings. I can hear sniggers all around the room. This is turning into a show. She unscrews a piece of paper and starts reading. It’s a note from Emily. My body succumbs to a numbing, freezing feeling. My feet are jiggling under the table. I slowly get to my feet, which is greeted by jeers all around.

Here we go again.

 

 

Awkward

Dennis was at his wits end. 

He hadn’t managed a wink of sleep all night. It was a barmy evening, and he had purposely left the windows open. 

He never understood why the neighbours had left Kevin out all night. 

The damn animal had been making a racket all night. 

He hadn’t felt this annoyed since Tescos decided to charge for carrier bags. 

Groggily, he lurched out of bed and stuck his head out of the open window, the warm evening air making his throat stick. 

“Jesus Christ, Kevin. Pack it in,” he shouted. 

He didn’t care if he woke the neighbours. 

Through the dark below,he could see Kevin stirring. Kevin then unfurled himself, straddled the dividing fence, and in a single fluid movement, reached up, pulling Dennis from his bedroom, swallowing him whole. 

Kevin then returned to his garden and curled himself into a neat ball. 

Dennis learned, at great personal cost, not to antagonise the neighbours T-Rex. 

Silly Dennis. 

That’s just great that is.

It had all happened so fast. Without warning.
It was a Tuesday, just after 10:27am.
The local supermarket was crammed with shoppers buying trolleys full of over-priced stuff they neither needed, nor wanted.
It was in the joining carpark that the giant asteroid struck. It was roughly the size of Kent.
Within hours, a veil of acrid smoke enveloped the Earth, killing most living organisms.
Humanity stood on the brink of extinction.
Within a day, a tsunami as high as a skyscraper swallowed entire continents.
Humanity and life on Earth were wiped out.
All humankind had achieved was destroyed in a day.
We were no more.

Meanwhile, on a small patch of dead ground near Croydon…

“What’s got into you?” said Pete.

Greg shrugged.

“I just feel different. I’ve changed. The world has changed.”

“What are you talking about?” said Pete.

Greg looked at Pete. Pete could sense he was not going to like this.

“I’m a vegetarian,” said Greg.

Pete shook his head. “You’re a disgrace to all cockroaches, you know that?”

Greg pulled a face and looked away.

Bless.

Well I never. 

Dan raced through the airport terminal at great speed. How he managed not to bowl over the small group of Japanese tourists, is anyone’s guess. Not to mention the half-dozen coffee-wielding ignorants along the way.

He could now see his gate ahead. The second he did, a sudden frosty chill gripped his chest.

The attendants were packing away their items, and it looked for all the world like they had finished boarding.

Had he missed his flight? Would he miss the single most important meeting of his life? Did he brush his teeth that morning?

A million questions buzzed around his head, vying for his undivided attention.

He reached the gate. He was exhausted.

The attendant looked at him, offering a smile she had no doubt learnt in training.
“I’m sorry, you cannot board this flight,” she said.

Dan was incensed.

“What? Why?”

The woman looked embarrassed.

“Well…you’re a cat,” she said.

Dan blew out his cheeks.

“Oh for Christ’s sake. This again?”

Poor Dan.