Lemon Squash

•January 16, 2011 • 18 Comments

Since it’s been quiet on YZ lately, I thought it would be safe to post another chapter of  The Lemon Squash Continental Hotel, work I’ve returned  to after a long layoff. The first 2 chapters were posted here in script format, but what follows is more like a novel. When I started in academia, I was warned ‘Never ask for comments on a genuine first draft. You work it up until it’s the 3rd or 4th draft, and then tell them it’s the first. Otherwise they’ll murder you.’  This really is a first draft. I don’t think the structure is going to change much – very simple, no backstory, no subplots – but hopefully the style will be refined. But does this storyline grab you? The book is a sequel to Glimpses, and this chapter follows on from one in which Guido’s father arranges for him to get a bedsitter in a house in London’s Notting Hill.


Sixty-two Chepstow Villas was an odd gaff. The exterior stucco was painted a dark ultramarine blue, so dark it was almost black. Bit creepy. Not a bad room, though. First floor front, big Victorian sash windows, plenty of light. Guido sat down on the bed, carefully laid out his Rizlas, tobacco and a quarter ounce of Afghan Black, and began rolling a three-skin joint. He noticed the bed wobbled a bit when he moved around. One of the legs was loose. Better point that out to the landlord, before he got blamed for damaging it. There was also a meter for the gas fire in his room, but it seemed to be jammed. Didn’t need the fire in this heat wave, he thought, but I’d better go and find the landlord, in case I get blamed for that as well.

Still, the room wasn’t bad for five quid a week, even if the furniture needed a bit of attention. It would do for a few months, while he kept his head down. Which meant absolutely no dope dealing, because that would be asking for trouble. Get a straight job, until all the fuss over Ronnie Fizz had died down. And pay off his gambling debt, before someone was tempted to grass him up. Pam was right about him being in the frame, because he’d been in the motor with Tommy Bolt. The Bill would try to make out he worked for the Maltese, like Tommy. Mind you, a lot of people must be in the frame over this. Everyone wanted to see that fucker dead.

He held the joint up and admired its shape: not many people could roll a joint as neat as that. Instead of lighting up, he placed the joint on his pillow, eased off his left boot and sniffed inside. Pretty vile. Luckily he had a full bottle of talc in his bag, so he sprinkled a generous measure in both boots. There was only one grotty bathroom for six rooms, and the bathroom meter took a shilling, so he wouldn’t be having too many baths. Wouldn’t matter as long as long as he bought plenty of talc. He never travelled without talc, because it saved washing all the time.

He heard a creak on the floorboards outside his room. Guido thought he’d glimpsed the landlord hiding on the basement stairs when the Major showed him around yesterday, but it might just have been a shadow. He tucked the joint on the mantlepiece behind his alarm clock, handling it gingerly, as if it was an unexploded bomb, and tiptoed to the door. He opened it as quietly as he could. As he peered into the hall, he saw the landlord lurking on next flight of stairs up.

‘Ah — the new man,’ the landlord announced. ‘I’m John Marchant. I’m the owner.’  Marchant squinted at Guido through an old pair of spectacles that had been repaired with sticking plaster over the bridge of the nose.

‘Just want to show you my bed leg,’ Guido said. ‘It’s loose. And my meter’s jammed.’

‘Show the Major. He deals with everything practical. Everything to do with the outside world is the Major’s domain. I haven’t been out since Suez. The Major helps me out with my shopping, so he doesn’t pay any rent; he’s got what you might call a Grace and Favour apartment.’

Marchant’s glasses perched on his nose precariously, and he’d acquired a habit of readjusting them whenever he spoke. Guido watched as they slid slowly down the man’s nose, until checked by a forefinger and pushed back up.

‘Glad to know my father’s of use to someone,’ Guido said.

‘You’re not a witch are you?’

‘Do what?’

‘This house is full of bloody witches. Her on the top floor, she’s one.  So’s that Denise on your floor.  If you see them together, they look like a female version of the ruddy Kray twins. Actually, Denise is quite good looking, but if anyone ever looked like a vampire, she does. She looks like that actress from the Brides of Dracula? Andree Melly?  Here, come and see all the paraphernalia in her room.’

Marchant unlocked the door next to Guido’s with his pass key and pushed it open. The scent of sandalwood drifted out. ‘Joss sticks,’ Marchant sniffed. ‘They all burn them. To cover what else they’re smoking, I expect.’  He strode into Denise’s bedsitter.

Guido hung back. ‘I think I should be going,’ he said.

‘Look at this,’ Marchant said, pulling a book off Denise’s bookshelves and holding it up for inspection. ‘The Sacred Magick of Abramelin the Mage … It’s still the bloody Middle Ages round here … Apart from all the lingerie, of course.’ He nodded towards Denise’s black silk underwear, spread over the back of a chair, and gave a conspiratorial wink.

Guido felt increasingly uneasy. What if Marchant was some kind of voyeur or fetishist?  Maybe he went around touching the women’s underwear when they were out?  What if Denise came back while they were still in her room?

‘I need to see if the Major’s down his lock-up,’ Guido said. ‘He might have some work for me, humping furniture. Needs must …’ He stopped himself from completing the sentence, ‘… when the devil drives’, in case it sounded like approval of Denise’s interests.

‘She calls these books Grimoires. Is that healthy? I mean, is it normal? … As soon as a room’s vacant they send someone round for it. The Major’s the only normal tenant left. And you, of course. They’re taking this bloody house over … Look at these daggers. What do you suppose they use them for? … How’s this for bedside bloody reading?’

Marchant had found more evidence of abnormality on the bedside table. He held aloft a large leather-bound volume of some antiquity.

Sadducismus Triumphatus, or Full and Plain Evidence concerning the Loathsome and Malevolent Practice of Witchcraft,’ he announced, reading slowly and deliberately. ‘St Paul’s Churchyard, London, 1666. The year of publication would be 666, wouldn’t it?  Just listen to this:

… these Monstrous Women take Elm, which is the Devil’s wood, and fashion a Male Member, which they attach to their Loathsome Bodies by Leather Thongs, in order to commit the sin of Sodomy upon both men and women. In this manner they worship Lilith, who was, the Church Fathers tell us, Adam’s first wife, condemned by Almighty God for refusing to serve Adam, and for taking upon herself the male birthright … And men who have congress with these Witches are corrupted, giving up their Immortal Souls to Satan, who is the enemy of God … becoming in their ignorance the Base Servants of a woman, which is contrary to Nature.

‘Would reading that settle you down for peaceful slumber, Guido? They believe in shafting men with ruddy artificial cocks. Better not bend over in front of that Denise. Not unless you’re that way inclined?’

Marchant pushed his glasses back up his nose and squinted at Guido, who felt obliged to say something macho, but could only manage, ‘Not bloody likely’.


She didn’t open the front door in a conventional way, because she had both arms full of shopping. She twisted her limbs into an impossible contortion so she could turn the key while still clutching her shopping bags, then hit the door sideways with her buttocks, so that it burst open. While manoeuvring sideways through the door, she sang in a loud and raucous voice:

Groovin’ . . . on a Sunday afternoon,

Really couldn’t get away too soon.

‘The Young Rascals,’ Guido called out from halfway down the stairs, en route for his father’s lock-up.

‘Here, give us a hand with this …’  She steadied a shopping bag with her chin and extended a hand to be shaken. ‘Denise Moorcroft. You must be Guido Roberts, my new neighbour?  Any relation to Major Roberts, our sodding janitor?’

‘He’s my father. Would you like a coffee? I can manage a jar of instant, and an electric kettle?’

‘Well, I’ve got some dried milk here, if you like it white?’

Guido gave a mock bow, and swept his arm sideways in an invitation to Denise to join him.

‘I’ve heard quite a bit about you already,’ Guido admitted, as he carried her bags upstairs. ‘The landlord’s convinced you’re a witch. You and your friends?’

‘We are witches,’ Denise said, with a bright smile. ‘We’re the real thing, not like those bloody Gardinerian witches up Notting Hill Gate. Or all the sodding Alexandrian witches who drink in the Bell. We’re the authentic wiccan lineage, the Divine Sisters of Lilith.’

‘All gobbledegook to me, I’m afraid.’ She really did look as though she was auditioning for the Brides of Dracula, Guido thought. Her dark eyes were lined with kohl, and her skin was so pale it looked as though she powdered her face with white flour. Her lipstick was black, or purple, he couldn’t be sure which.  She had deliberately created this horror comic look, he decided, because she wanted to make people keep their distance. Except she didn’t seem at all reserved or inhibited; quite the reverse. She was sprawling over his bed, rather than sitting in the room’s sole armchair.

‘Lilith is the Great Goddess,’ Denise said.

Guido wondered whether her relaxed manner meant he could score with her. She had a good figure. Big tits, must be 38 inches. Bigger than Pam’s. Bet she had big nipples. With big, black Oriole.  Or was it Areole? Or were they called Aureoles? Big, black Aureola, bigger than half-crowns.

‘I meant all that stuff about different kinds of witches,’ he said. ‘That’s double dutch to me.’

‘We’re serious about matriarchy. You can’t call yourself a witch and take orders from a man, like the bloody Gardinerians and the Alexandrians. We actually believe in female supremacy. Women are in charge in our covens.’

‘There was some Christian legend about Lilith?’ Guido wanted to change the subject and tried to remember the passage Marchant had recited.

Jewish legend. About the first Eve. Lilith was created out of the earth at the same time as Adam, but she walked out of Paradise rather than submit to patriarchy.’ Denise had become serious and rather intense. ‘Lilith was created equal, so why should she submit? She told Jehovah to fuck off. She rebelled on principle, not out of foolish pride. Lilith took control of her own sexuality and exerted her right to be a free being. So Jehovah made the second Eve out of Adam’s rib, in order that she would be inferior and accept male domination. You get it?’

‘Well, I’m not very religious, myself,’ Guido said, handing her a cup of coffee. ‘My only faith is in the gee-gees. Ask me who’s going to win the 2.30 at Kempton Park tomorrow?’

‘Gordon Bennett, another sodding loser!’ Denise threw her head back and gave a deep, earthy laugh. ‘And I thought you were going to say you were a rationalist, and didn’t believe in witchcraft.’

‘Yeah, that as well.’  He resented the way she kept laughing at him.

Denise gyrated around on his bed and sang:

There ain’t a place I’d like to be instead of

Groovin’ . . . down a crowded avenue.

‘Watch that bed,’ Guido said. ‘It’s got a wobbly leg.’

‘They all have. Your dad doesn’t do much in the way of maintenance … Anyway, you can come to one of our sabbats, if you want to know more about wicca. And as a bonus you’ll get to see me in the nude. Naked as nature intended.’

Guido swallowed hard. ‘What makes you think I want to do that?’

‘The way you’ve been staring at my tits ever since we met.’

Guido felt his cheeks burn in embarrassment. ‘Thanks, but it would depend on what Pam says. My chick.’

Denise smiled and tilted her chin at an angle, as though questioning what he had said. He felt he had been caught out telling a stupid lie.


Guido hadn’t been joking when he told Denise that gambling was his religion. It was a spiritual quest. Winning a bet was like hitting the bulls-eye for those Zen archers, it was proof that a man was in harmony with the universe. Some days begin well; you just know you’re attuned to the cosmos. Everything fits. The sun comes out, although the weatherman forecast rain; women fall in love with you, and your horse comes in, even at impossible odds. Another day, nothing works — you’re clumsy, you slip on a banana skin, you miss the bus by a few seconds. It doesn’t matter what tips you’ve had, everything goes wrong. The smart punter never bets when it’s one of those dark days.

Guido knew he was going to be lucky today. He stood naked in the bath, sprinkling talc from his neck to his feet, making sure he worked plenty of talcum powder between each toe. Then he dressed in his new Levis and a clean T-shirt. While he was dragging a brush through his shoulder-length hair, he took a call on the pay-phone in hall. Excellent news: Pam was taking the night off and would come over in the late afternoon. Today was going to be a golden day.

A song was going round in his head, and he started singing the chorus, over and over: it was Denise’s song, Groovin‘ by the Young Rascals. What was that about, he thought? Got it! Need to stay in the groove today. It was what he called a One-shot Day, when you hit gold on your first play, and then quit. Go to the betting shop, put one bet on, and then leave.

Buoyed up by a spirit of unconquerable optimism, Guido reached the bookies in Pembridge Road in time for the first race on the card, and put his last fiver on Mister Micawber to win at 11-1.  It came in first, just as he knew it would. He pocketed sixty quid, enough to treat Pam to a few drinks at the Colville that night and put aside a big stake for the rest of the week, when he would set about earning enough bread to pay off his debts. Obeying his rules for a One-shot Day, Guido walked out of the betting shop and set off in search of the Major, who he hadn’t seen since he moved in.

He found the old man at his lock-up, off the lower end of Portobello Road. The Major kept his barrow there, together with some of the stock.

‘Need a hand?’ Guido asked, sticking his head around the door.

‘Not unless you’re going to do a full day’s work,’ the Major sniffed. ‘I’m not paying you to prat about.’

‘Can’t give you a full day today, I’m meeting Pam later. But I can work tomorrow. Hump some furniture? Man the stall on Saturday?’

‘I don’t bother with the furniture these days. I’ve gone over to prints and art work. These icons.’ The Major opened the lid of a cardboard box, and Guido saw a stack of Russian icons. ‘You could make some of these for me.’

Guido picked up a gold Madonna and child, about a foot square: ‘You must be mad. No one’s going to be taken in by these. They look too new. You’ve got to age them up a bit.’

‘They’re not Sexton Blakes, you idiot. People buy them as pictures, they know they ain’t real. All you got to do is stick these reproductions on wooden panels, from the backs of those old wardrobes. Then give them a coat of varnish. I knock them out for five or ten quid. If I wanted to fake one, it would be a lot more work, and it’d sell for thousands. Not saying we don’t turn out the odd Sexton Blake occasionally, but it needs some careful work. I’ve got an artist over Ladbroke Grove does them to order.’

‘How much will you pay me?’

‘Thirty bob for the small ones, two quid for the large.’

‘Two quid each and you’ve got a deal.’

‘No, I won’t make enough. I’ve got to find the rent for this place. Thirty bob for the small ones, two quid for the large, or you can sod off.’

‘Anyone ever tell you, you’re a tight git?’ Guido sighed.

– Larry Harrison

Nothing Prepares you For the End Quite Like Christmas Dinner

•January 3, 2011 • 5 Comments

As we reflect on our seasonally ovresize stomachs, here is a wonderful monologue for male voice from Stuart Estell

Nothing prepares you for the end quite like Christmas dinner.

If I had been at my folks’ I might have made a snippy comment about the quality of the gravy, or the fact that the carrots were already cold by the time I got them.

Not to mention the bread sauce. The bread sauce seemed to be just that – pulverised bread and water. No milk. Certainly no onions.

Stuffing? No. Stuffing’s too good for the likes of me. But they did think to provide cranberry jelly. Pity I can’t stand the stuff.

The sprouts were just about edible. I’m not sure they’d allowed the frost to get to them, but at least they weren’t the sort of bitter frozen inedible horrors that the supermarkets sell.

My stomach isn’t exactly feeling very settled this afternoon. Frozen sprouts may not have stayed down.


Anyway, the gravy reminded me of the time I ruined Christmas dinner in my teens. I can’t quite recall the details, and it certainly doesn’t matter now whether I burned the gravy, dropped the saucepan, or tipped away the juices that were meant to make it – and I think, now, that it might have been the latter – but we ended up with gravy made from cheap granules that were kept in the kitchen cupboard for absolute emergencies.

I learned that day that turkey and instant beef stock don’t go together very well. I also learned how well raised voices echoed in our kitchen.

I was good at ruining Christmas for other people.

One year I was bought an electronics kit. It was educational, certainly not cheap, and in hindsight the perfect present for a young lad. But not a young lad who wanted glamorous toy robots that turned into cars and dinosaurs.

Usually I could fake being grateful but that year the mask slipped.

I was mortally disappointed.

My heart sank as I realised that the electronics kit was the Main Present.

The crack in my voice as I said “thank you” gave it away.

What made it worse was that when I started to assemble it I put the metal contacts into the plastic board the wrong way round. They wouldn’t work that way, and nothing on God’s green earth was going to get them back out again. The kit was ruined. So was Christmas Day. Not as badly ruined as last Christmas, but that’s why I’m here.


Still, there have been good times at Christmas. Good times, wild times, drunk times, and sober times – the sober ones only because I drank my way into having an ulcer.

Quiet times.

[long pause]

And then times so painful that the discomfort of the strap and the all-too-familiar horror of the dropper filling with blood don’t even register before the brown drips in and radiates out to warm all the edges and then smooth them down in a soothing narcotic bath.

Times so painful that you have to remind yourself that you have emotions other than pain. Or hatred. That you were once in love with her. That you once loved them both.

Times so dark that walking through dank, filthy streets in search of the pharmacist is the only way of focusing on a goal of any kind, whether or not you have the money you owe.

I gave them the blade as soon as they asked for it. There didn’t seem any point in trying to hide anything any more, really. They were gentle with me, to be honest, considering the circumstances.

Probably because I went quietly.

Parsnips seem to be a tricky root to cook properly. They’re either not cooked through or burned round the edges. I never understand why people don’t cut them sideways like carrots instead of in these long thin strips. It stands to sense that they’re just going to burn.


I was forever slicing the ends of my fingers. By accident of course – I may have had a habit but I never did any of that.

No, I was just clumsy. Very prone to distraction, especially when chopping veg with a fiercely sharp kitchen knife.

I’d watched them all on the telly. Copied the way they rocked the knife backwards and forwards to chop things finely. I could have a carrot in neat little pieces in a matter of seconds, and when a recipe needed “finely chopped herbs” – well, you should have seen them.

From time to time, though, I missed. Particularly towards the end of it, when I could barely keep my mind on anything other than the two of them sloping off to some seedy motel room somewhere.

Come to think of it, it was once when I was chopping parsnips that I managed to cut through the side of my index finger with such force that it went through the side of the nail as well. It should have hurt. A lot. But I found myself unaware of any physical soreness and stared at it in mute fascination as it bled. I bandaged it up, and carried on chopping mechanically.

I never meant to –

I was going to say that “I never meant to hurt anyone.” But I can’t say for sure whether that’s really true. I dreamed, both asleep and awake, of hurting them very, very badly, but not for real. Only in my head.

But last Christmas Eve I was at home, preparing what I was convinced would be our final Christmas meal together. I was home some hours before I had intended to be.

The front door opened. I turned, knife in hand, to look down the hallway to see the two of them, smiling and laughing.

He pulled out a sprig of mistletoe. They kissed. I ran at them.

[long pause]

Three hours from now, I believe, it all ends. There’s no reprieve. A priest is supposed to come and read me some nonsense about repentance before they fry me in the chair. I’m having none of it.

You’ll excuse me, then, if I tuck in to what’s left of my roast potatoes before they get cold. The warder just said that I’m the first Death Row inmate he’s ever seen eat his final meal.

I told him that nothing prepares you for Christmas dinner quite like the end.

The Castle is a Lonely Hunter

•December 22, 2010 • 7 Comments



Somewhere near Bolzano lies the castle of the count.

————————————————————–>There are more castles than people now.

In the castle of the count there is no need of money. There is no need to work. Fuck, there’s no need to do much of anything.

The ever-changing castle of Count Duckula inspires searching for more castles.

  Continue reading ‘The Castle is a Lonely Hunter’

National Short Story Day

•December 20, 2010 • 3 Comments

December 21st is the shortest day of the year – er, in the northern hemisphere anyway. And, in a fitting gesture, it has been dubbed National Short Story Day – do go and check out the central website.

We love short stories here at Year Zero, and on this site there are well over a hundred fantastic short stories to tickle anyone’s fancy. Browse at leisure.

This occasion, and several things in the blogosphere recently have made me wonder more and more: what is a short story? As opposed to flash fiction? As opposed to a novel? Or a novella?

I think I’m happy how the novella fits in – a distillation of a single idea, relentlessly pursued. But a short story? I’ve yet to read a definition that makes any sense at all. Is there one?

All I know is I love them. So, share your thoughts on what a short story is, tell us your favourites, and get involved with National Short Story Day.

The Ephemeral Man

•December 13, 2010 • 7 Comments

The old man was dying. For a long time he had sounded like the sandstorm around an oasis, when the sand attacks the palms and the loose bark of the trees is torn away by the dry, howling wind. There were better nights, especially after it had rained and the air was more humid, but they were becoming rare.

I tried to make his last days as comfortable as I could, but the thing he needed most, rest, he would not have. He wanted to talk all the time, remembering scenes from his eighty-three years on Earth, forty of which I had spent with him. He wanted me to prop him up in his divan, sit down next to him, and talk, talk all through the day and into the night. Continue reading ‘The Ephemeral Man’

What You Know For Sure That Just Ain’t So

•December 7, 2010 • 8 Comments


Their eyes focus on me

on my body

the sweat sticking and stinging

.               here I am dancing

.               foolishly dancing

.               like some teenage thing

They see my face

.               they see my wrinkled face look up

.               I smile they laugh

.               I smile they point

.               I smile they go on

.               always pressing on

.               that tear rolling down

.               my cheek

And he walks away with that blonde

he looks back and

snarls and snares

.               I sulk inside

And outside

the lights splay on my body

he turns and leaves

.               and I think of back home,

.               I think of His words on me

.               and her doing nothing

.               and her doting on Him,

.               my legs bend slightly

.               at the knee

.               I am here

.               I am my mother’s daughter

His fists pummeling her

and my escape

to the culvert

beyond our house,

.               just big enough

.               for me to squeeze into

.               I hid and

.               I screamed

And to the legions

of friends




.               splashing languidly in the shallow waters they heard me

.               they heard what I had to say there,

.               hiding there

His hand grazes my back and he bites

his lower lip

and watches my body

watching for a cue

.               I smile back

.               we kiss electric

.               our tongues

.               wagging and

.               shaking

This is where I am now it’s all the same and

it’s all different and

.               part of me knows this

.               it’s how it always was

The music vibrates through me

.               my arms tense

.               pulsating and  circling

.               the thick veins in his neck engorged

.               and sweat builds

.               in torrents

.               on his brow

.               I cringe but this

.               Is where I’m at

.               that crick that bore me

.               that crick that told me

.               how to be

.               washing away those bruises

.               those dangerous words and

.               her muted cries there

And I feel my dress snaking up

his sausage-fingers wringing my legs

pinching my muscles

in flurries

of lover’s words

gone unyielded.

Continue reading ‘What You Know For Sure That Just Ain’t So’


•December 6, 2010 • 40 Comments

I can only dream of horses and dogs in this place.  Strong, sweating beasts with slick coats and wild looks in their eyes, spittle foaming and bits clinking.  Last night the horses reared with manes flaring and the dogs stood at the fence barking barks that shot back through their muscles and tensed in masculine rhythm, their snouts wrinkled back, gums pink and pillowy.

I couldn’t see the dogs, so I imagined them as the dogs the neighbours used to have when I was a child, those same damn animals that wiggled through the fence and impregnated our dogs and then shat all over our lawn.

After a week of these dreams, I find out the horse’s name is Troy.

. . .
Continue reading ‘Laura’

Scribbling on Foucault’s Wall: Bullet

•December 4, 2010 • 9 Comments

This piece from the novel in progress by Quiet Riot Girl originally appeared on her blog.

They are in the midst of a discussion about the ‘clone’ identity that emerged in Sanfrancisco in the 1970s. Colette had read somewhere, she forgets where now, how those moustached guys in their leather and their caps, with the hair from their chests poking out from their shirts, probably invented themselves to kill the myth that all gay men are effeminate queens. They were the real men they had been looking for all their lives. But, Mike suggests, getting excited and animated by his own idea, wasn’t the clone identity really just another form of dominant masculinity and maybe not quite as radical as it seemed at the time? Because those macho macho men were making women out of other men. Not in sex he adds, hastily, those dudes can fuck each other as ‘real’ men all they like, but in discourse. Sexual difference has to exist in discourse. Somebody has to be the fairy!.  He gulps his wine in triumph and wonders if it would be too pretentious to stop the conversation and write that down. He also wonders, less triumphantly, if Luce Iragary hasn’t said that very same thing before him. Just in her usual, incomprehensible, cloyingly feminine way. For a split, heartbreaking, Freudian, terrifying second he reminds Colette completely and utterly of her father. But she feels so comfortable, and relaxed by the wine, that she doesn’t let the similarity take hold in her mind. Her subconscious has other ideas however. It joins the dots and jumps to the conclusion and interrupts him and uses Colette’s voice to ask,

‘So are you gay?’

She always expects the intelligent ones, the articulate ones, the ones who can deliver a line, the ones with the tight asses that wiggle so well in their jeans, the ones she falls in love with, to be gay.

‘No!’ he replies, laughing. ‘What made you say that? Just because I am into Foucault?’

‘No not really. More that you seem to know so much about the gay scene and, about, er, about gender’.

‘Ah, gender’. He nods and strokes his chin, in a mock-intellectual way.

‘No I am not gay. I am just not a typical ‘dude’ as they might say. I’m not even a typical untypical dude if you see what I mean.’

‘You mean you are a freak?’

‘That is correct’.

‘I don’t really bother with sexual identity, anyway, it just seems one surefire way of closing down your options. And honey, I need all the options I can get!’

‘Good answer’.

And then he gets really serious. He isn’t stroking his chin now, but looking straight at her, so she can’t escape. Colette has learned over the years to duck out of the way of positive attention the way someone else might dodge a bullet. This time she is too slow and the shot reaches its target.

‘I am into Foucault though. He is one of my favourite untypical dudes’. He pauses, for dramatic effect, and because he is suddenly struck by the blackness of her eyes, in contrast to the paleness of her skin and hair, ’But I am into Foucault’s daughter more’.


‘Yes. Oh’.

Colette sips her wine in silence. Mike continues to ponder on the blackness of her eyes. And the bullet, the bullet makes itself comfortable, lodging itself deep under her skin, somewhere that it will not be found. Not until it is too late, when the wound has spread and infected her blood, when the words have long since been forgotten, but their shadow has remained hanging over her all this time.

End of Term

•December 3, 2010 • 5 Comments

Raija stood by the field and watched weary crows trying to extract a meal from the tilled earth. A soft drizzle fell from the overcast sky, but she was barely aware of her nylon overcoat getting wet. She let her gaze traverse a full circle – not a soul in sight. A solitary swan flew low across the sky, due south, a laggard, weeks after the gaggles had flown by.

So this was how it was to be retired.

She had wanted to leave at the end of the term, in May, so as to get to enjoy her first free summer. No such luck. First the headmaster tarried with opening the position for applicants, then the young, newly graduated teacher who was selected called in and said she was pregnant. The headmaster said the only possible route was for Raija to come back in August and work until they could find a replacement for her replacement. Continue reading ‘End of Term’

The Reflection of my Patchwork Skin

•November 28, 2010 • 14 Comments

This week I’m going to be reading at not one but two gigs – Text in the City, which I’m putting on this Thursday in Oxford Castle, and Grit Lit in Brighton on Friday. Both are showacses of urban fiction, and I realised I haven’t written anything about the city in a while. So I did, and I’ll be starting both sets with it.

I haunt the street to build a life

From other people’s pieces

And souls switch off the lights while bodies do their thing

And skins naked under neon veins and leather

Sweat the madman’s shakes

And snake man screams falsetto dreams

And basement prophetesses roll their eyes

And loose-limbed priests shriek hymns at peeling skies

And jacked-up housemaids howl Baudelaire at their whores

And off key ends of torch songs promise velvet lashes

And louche ladettes in lamé queues stub half-finished cigarettes

And slickers slip one another roofies and condoms and lies

And lips wrapped up in chat slap noodle sauce on Ferragamos

And a student passes the porno door for the fifteenth time

And chalk and chucked up chips duet

And anxious eyes feel out the night for open doorways

And anxious hands are fast behind

And poetry collectives cut anarchist zines to paste in booths

And cologned and sweaty suits pass them up for Frida, firm and forty double D

And in windows the reflection of my patchwork skin

And I can’t go home.

I would not let me in

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