Temporary Passport

It is late in the twentieth century and I’m on my hands and knees for you. Down on the boards of this stationary freight train, it’s dark and your coat is our tent. Toulon: too long ago to clearly remember your hands or the feel of your mouth.

On a speeding train I took off my knickers and the open window grabbed them from my hands. We were glugging red wine from plastic flagons, going to Nice to beg on the beach.

Those sand-blasted beggars were feral, stole your knife as we slept under sheets of damp chipboard. You forced me to shop-lift a tin of sardines, if it wasn’t for you we would starve.

Busking in Brussels was futile, me screaming and you on the bongos, all you’d accept from your father, before he returned to New York. Plastic flowers bunched in my carrier bag, eyebrows unplucked, hair greasily grasping the wind.

Marseilles with a flimsy message propped at my feet, slumped against a wall trying to look hungry, my puppy fat making it difficult. You always watching from a distance, making sure I was safe.

Poverty was too much for me. You said I was too much for you.

At Bettina’s expecting a welcome, we weren’t wanted at all, but she fed us and took us to the nightclub where her boyfriend was a DJ. Our contest to see who could pull first, you seemed gleeful when I won hands down. All I did was stick my head out, under the lights at the bar.

He was a good-looking Belgian, singer in a band he said, and he wanted to buy me a dress. He came round the next day so I had a shower and he took us all out for coffee and chocolates, then dined and seduced me alone. You were angry I didn’t bring a doggy bag back, I was numb with cocaine.

Eating raw cabbage in Oxford watching lots of uppity yahs, we danced with exuberance at their party, heathens, wild for them all. You shagged some girl on the staircase, I nicked a tenner from her dressing-table drawer. It was then you knew I was yours.

I was relieved we lost her before Paris, even though the guards beat you up. I stood frozen, train jolting, as they took turns to punch you and called you ‘roast beef’, your teeth flashing broken and whiter against your open mouth slashed with red.

They threw us from their cells early morning, we walked silent streets swigging milk from the doorsteps and I loved you, your beauty coagulated in blood.

I drew you for three days in Calais, my pencil recording your fantastic face, I should have held onto those drawings, I’d have something left of you now.

You never answer my letters but you still come looking for me. You find me at night when I’m trying to sleep and tell me all about why you can’t stay.

Penny Jane Goring

~ by yearzerowriters on November 1, 2009.

31 Responses to “Temporary Passport”

  1. Bloody hell, Penny. You take a knife to our socialisation and peel it away to leave us only the raw throbbing core. I could read your words forever. They don’t even feel like words. They feel like emotions going straight from you to me with nothig in between. The closest any one of us has come to achieving what Marc wrote about in “Pain”. The only writer I know who can do anythig similar is Elfriede Jelinek (and she wona Nobel Prize). I have to say, I can’t quite believe the stuff people are producing here. It feels like I’m caught in the middle of a very special dream.

  2. I thought Jack Kerouac was dead?

    Maybe not, or maybe Penny has that same ability to just cast loose and see what happens while not babbling away incoherently. That’s one fine knife edge to walk… and takes courage too. Well done!

  3. I love this. this is amazing.

  4. God, Penny. This is fucking stunning. “You shagged some girl on the staircase, I nicked a tenner from her dressing-table drawer. It was then you knew I was yours.” I’m so envious of your ability to spear me through the heart with sparse cruelty.

  5. This is why I love Penny’s work. And I hadn’t noticed the link with the Beat writers – the juxtaposition of key images – “Eating raw cabbage in Oxford” /”glugging red wine from plastic flagons, going to Nice to beg on the beach”/”Plastic flowers bunched in my carrier bag, eyebrows unplucked”/”I took off my knickers and the open window grabbed them from my hands” – every element is essential, you can’t subtract one detail without spoiling the whole. Maybe it comes from what Joyce would’ve called an epiphany, a moment of awareness, Ginsberg said, in which you “flash” on yourself in a specific environment?

    This is major talent and one day it will be widely recognised.

  6. What I really like about this – apart from the metaphorical/symbolic currency of the piece – is the absolute dissection of an “I” and “you” relationship. It is so clear who is doing what to whom and the emotional payload around each action. How each partner takes away the action to suckle on – the £10 note, the cocaine numbness, beauty framed in blood and the reader draws the conclusion for themselves.

    It is an “I & You” relationship, but both partners are given equal weight. That is a supreme honesty and deftness of touch, because it otherwise it is too easy for the authorial “I” voice to overwhelm and objectify the ‘lesser’ “You”.

    One day I might mature enough to write a relationship rather than a stream of consciousness “I”. I hope it will have as much laser precision as “Temporary Passport”.

    I’m interested to know – did you write it wholly submerged in the words leading you where they would, or did you have a pictorial notion of the relationship in terms of who was doing what to who? A sort of map of their respective status and fluctuations within that?


  7. j’adore la france et les petits villes qu’on decrit. l’histoire semble tres personelle–est-ce parce qu’il est bien personnel, ou c’est parce que tu est si bon écrivain?

    it put me in a different place as a reader–and i hate to keep bringing this up, but the language you use is so different from contemporary american-speak, it was refreshing and really took me out of my element.


  8. Marc – I wrote the first draft in one continuous burst. I could see the shape of it. So – both.


  9. Spare and swsift and honed. I love to read your words out loud–they feel rich in my mouth. You have the artist’s sense of us, and the craftsperson’s skill to make us feel it.

  10. Thanks to all. So cool to get feedback!


  11. Truly stunning — all those grey and uncomfortable places we don’t like to talk about, and they make for the most compelling writing possible. Thank you for blowing my mind tonight, Penny.

  12. Innit cool how she can create entire scenes with three words? There’s a Finnish songwriter who wrote (my quick’n’dirty translation)

    “Little Lisa had a beer
    a bird sip from the bottle”

    which is exactly how women drink beer from the bottle (not the glug-glug-glug-glug we men tend to do). That’s why my hat’s off to Penny.

  13. Penny, I just read this again to tweet about it and cried for about quarter of an hour. There’s not many people who can write a three-hanky piece of flash fiction. You’re amazing.

  14. Dan’s said it – not many can write a 3 hanky piece. One day you’ll be a household name, kid, and a commercial publisher will be claiming the credit, although they will have jumped on the band wagon long after we started it rolling!

  15. “You forced me to shop-lift a tin of sardines, if it wasn’t for you we would starve.” SUCH a great line.


  16. According to these avatars, I’ve said so much already:-). I’ve read this for a second time and, Wow! You can really write. What must go on in that brilliant mind of yours.

    Anne L-G

  17. Very good flash fiction, Penny, stripped-down and real, yet still very imagistic. Very impressive! x, George

  18. ‘What must go on in that … mind of yours’.
    This comment nearly killed me. *Cackles* *Howls*
    Thanks Anne!

    All I can say to you, Georgie boy, is: ‘Oui! Oui! Oui!’


  19. Breathtaking. I feel like I lived a whole other life in 500words. Your words shoot straight to te feeling of viscerally experiencing them. Cinematic. I’d love to transform this in2 a 5 minute or less animated ezperimental short film-what a challenge it wud be to try and mimic w/ sound n cinema the lushly layered sinesthetic world u paint w/ punctuated, slicing speed that cuts to the bone, and with such wordcount economy!ok gotta post this, jmz train is clearing the williamsburg bridge, bout to go underground.note:everyone should reread this on an actual train, be it the subway kind or not. Give ur naybor a knicker-knowing sideglance

  20. Knicker-knowing sideglance, bloody hell, I’m in heaven xxx


  21. […] is the incredible writer Penny Goring. And this morning as I read her new flash fiction short, Temporary Passport, and I kept thinking as the words flashing frames of visceral and visual delight, “we have to […]

  22. Very powerful Penny. Gritty, sexy, raw, compelling, very well written. Nick X

  23. […] can give you acute migraine, but it has its benefits. Please see Penny’s masterful “Temporary Passports” for your illustrated introduction to ambience creation in two words or less.  And […]

  24. Amazing, Penny. So stark and powerful that one senses it rather than reads it.

  25. Mmmmm. Stunning and brief! Will return soon.

  26. […] Penny Goring – Temporary Passport […]

  27. […] Independents Biennial. It is a privilege to have her at Year Zero. Check out the amazing video of Temporary Passport by Ashleigh […]

  28. […] my friends’ tweets and happened upon a link she had posted to a story she had written, “Temporary Passport.” I fell in love with her piece (and writing) instantly, and vowed to animate it. A year later, we […]

  29. […] Independents Biennial. It is a privilege to have her at Year Zero. Check out the amazing video of Temporary Passport by Ashleigh […]

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