A desk of bricks.

Mr. Tillman — Father John Misty

Steven had no real idea what he was doing here and he was starting to think that the impatient blinking of the cursor was taunting him. His situation was exacerbated by the cacophony of keystrokes that surrounded him; dull thuds of young men venting their aggression on their keyboards, click clacking rat-tat-tats of old women’s manicured fingernails. It was as if the sound was getting louder, the taunt of the cursor punctuating each increase in volume, the white empty space of his desktop emitting a high pitched hum; he was drowning under the noise of shuffling feet and murmuring voices and glugging water coolers and droning fans.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

His phone rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

It rang again. His phone never rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

He was a back office worker. Nobody had his phone number. He didn’t even know what his number was.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

Steven finally snapped out of the maelstrom of office boredom and reached out for the handset. It was an old phone, made of cheap charcoal plastic complete with fat number buttons, a faded blue display bordered by thin buttons that Steven had never figured out how to use, and light-up flashing glass boxes for each line. Line 1 flashed at twice the rate of the frequency of the rings. He picked up the receiver and the light fixed on.

“Hello?”

These were the first words he had spoken since greeting the security guard upon his arrival to the office at 8.25am that morning and his voice was thick and croaky.

“Mr Tillman, Good morning, my name is -”

Static interfered with the line for a few seconds. Steven was about to speak when the voice returned.

“- you’ll forgive the intrusion I’m sure. I thought it best to reach you right away given the circumstances.”

“Sorry – the line dropped out there. What did you say your name was? What circumstances?”

“Yes it’s a bad connection here I’m afraid. We are quite remote so the service is pretty unreliable. As I was saying, my name is Doctor -”

Static. Three, Two, One.

“-we tried you at home but managed to find this number in her next of kin information.”

“Doctor? Are you from a hospital?”

“Oh my it is bad today isn’t it? Not exactly Mr Tillman – we specialise in ongoing care for our residents, making them comfortable. Unfortunately there’s not much even hospitals can do for those that end up here.”

“And where is that?”

“As I said, -”

Static. The longest one yet, must have been five seconds this time. Steven was stammering politely into the receiver when the voice returned.

“-you are listed as her next of kin in her entry file. She was brought to us almost five years ago now and, to be honest, we were all amazed she made it through the first week the state she was in, but now here we are. So we thought you should know.”

“Sorry – doctor – the line keeps on cutting out. Who are you calling about? I don’t know anyone in…well, wherever you are. Where are you calling from?”

“Mr Tillman I’m afraid it’s not that simple to explain. Think of us less as a where, more of a-”

Thankfully this pause was brief.

“-as I said, it’s a bit complicated to explain over the phone. I think it’s best if you came in to see her yourself before we have to begin the next steps.”

Steven racked his brains. Even though the line was poor it was obvious this was a doctor calling from a hospice or similar facility, to inform him of the death of a female patient. This woman had spent five years in their care and when she arrived, in a poor condition, had listed him as her next of kin. Five years ago he was twenty-two and living in Clapham with his university housemates; the most traumatic thing that happened to him in that period was when he got barred from Inferno’s for being caught with a gram of coke in the gents’. He really had no idea what this doctor was calling about, and was sure it must have been a wrong number, only with the freak coincidence of having the right surname.

“Mr Tillman? Are you still there?”

“Yes – sorry. It’s a bad line. I’m afraid I don’t know who you are talking about. I really think you must have got the wrong number. I’m very sorry, but really, I really don’t know how I can help.”

“Oh. Oh I do apologise. This is Steven Tillman?”

First name too – can’t be.

“Well yes, but I think you must have logged the numbers incorrectly or something, because I don’t know a-”

The man on the other end hung up.

erasmus

Baywaves — Still In Bed

There’s a group of four not-quite-adults-not-quite-kids walking through the square. They are not dressed for the weather; three are wearing grey, black and dark blue jeans, one a long fit maxi dress. Their skin is pale and they are wearing sunglasses in March. Three had emerged from the nearby supermarket, one rejoined the others from the Tabac, and they appear to have purchased groceries rather than souvenirs. They are not fazed by the Mediterranean surroundings and they are walking with purpose; they know their surroundings well but are clearly unfamiliar with the temperate spring climate in Antibes.

Kamran smiles to himself – foreign exchange students for sure. He watches them as they walk towards the restaurant and approaches them, offering a table in his silky North African French accent. He makes eye contact with the tall blonde and tries to imply with his gaze that he would like to take her home and ravage her – she is shy and avoids his gaze. A short man with glasses replies in broken French that they are not eating tonight, and leads the group forwards. They walk past and he stays in place, watching the figure of the blonde, her buttocks fill the dress she is wearing and her hips flare with every step. She turns and they make eye contact and he licks his lips.

The group eventually pass out of Kamran’s view, down a side street behind the bus station. The beautiful marble tiles are replaced with cobbles and graffiti, instead of designer shops there is a hole in the wall that sells kebabs and Iced Tea. They huddle outside a small green door on the left as the short man fumbles with his keys. The two women feel uncomfortable under the leer of an overweight African man, emptying a large plastic bucket of foul smelling liquid into the gutter. The other member of the group withdraws the cigarettes he purchased in the Tabac and lights one. The bucket man goes about his bucket business. Finally the door is open and the two women huddle in quickly behind the short man.

The corridor sucks in the dry heat from outside, its cold stone walls and tiled floors seem damp by contrast, and the cracks in the walls breathe out dust that is briefly illuminated in the light from outside. None of the group try and call the elevator behind the iron gate in the centre of the stairwell, they instead take the stairs, knowing that elevator has been out of service since the day they moved in. As the short man who is leading the group reaches the first floor, he hits a yellow plastic timer switch and the hallway is illuminated by a dank orange glow. The only sounds are their shoes slapping against the tiles and the wheezing breaths of the smoker, at the rear of the group and falling behind. They finally congregate outside a large brown door on the third floor as the short man once again fumbles for keys, giving the slow man time to catch up. The hallway light clicks off as the door clicks open.

cinema date

Young Again – Gents

The air smells of salt or sweet or butter or toffee popcorn. The corn is trapped behind an inch of plastic, when the attendant lifts the lid the scent escapes. He scoops some into a cardboard sleeve and hands it to her. She takes it in one hand and with the other picks a fluffy yellow piece from the top, smiling at me as I hand over five pounds. I smile back.

The sweets in my pocket crunch as we walk over to the attendant. I always get nervous about sneaking snacks in but I figure a fiver for some popcorn entitles me to bend the rules a bit. I hand over my ticket and the guard checks it, rips it and hands it back. He does the same for hers. The whole time he stares at his feet and doesn’t acknowledge us. I recognise his mousey hairdo, freckled cheeks and broad forehead; he is Matt Powell’s younger brother. On Tuesday Matt’s friends had thrown his rucksack onto the tracks as the train arrived, I remember his cheeks bursting scarlet from trying not to cry as he stood there and waited for our train to leave so that he could retrieve it. Everyone watched him through the windows. I respect his wish not to be acknowledged, he ushers us past the velvet rope towards the screens.

The doors are so heavy here. I am a gentleman so I have to open it for her, I fix my foot on the carpet and lean backwards to pull it open, I can’t use both hands, she’d laugh at me. As she walks past I smell her hair and my cheeks begin to flush. I enter behind her, it’s hard to see in the darkness so she reaches out for my hand. Our fingers find each other. I’m sure I can hear her heart beating.

We have an entire aisle to ourselves and our seats are right in the middle so we spread out either side, she takes off her bag first, followed by her scarf, then her jacket, and finally her jumper. I wonder how she will ever move all of her things if someone takes the seat next to us. The wrappers of the sweets in my pocket are louder than ever as I take them out, I move my arms slowly trying to muffle the noise, I’m convinced people in other rows are craning their necks to get a look at me, trying to sniff out the rulebreaker, they’ll hand me in to Matt Powell’s younger brother and he’ll get to throw me, a Year 11, out of the cinema, and in doing so win back some much needed street cred, maybe he’ll even get to ride off into the sunset with Tom Croft’s younger sister, meanwhile I’ll be the one crying on the platform, waiting to get my bag from the tracks.

After a while we are comfortable. We have retained our aisle but the trailers are yet to start and there’s no longer any background sound from the steady stream of arrivals, making it obvious that we are not speaking to each other. I can hear my cheeks go red and my mouth feels like cotton wool, I begin to wish I could withdraw the sweets again, just to drown out the silence. I build some words in my stomach but they can’t get past my throat, I look at her and she is looking at me, waiting for me to tell a joke, tell her she’s beautiful, make her smile and tell her I love her. I want to do all of it, but before I get the chance the adverts start.

The Idiot

Iggy Pop — Nightclubbing

There’s a story on the news aboutta guy who ate a dover sole whole, got it stuck down his throat til he couldn’t breathe no more, his friends called an ambulance when his face went blue; meanwhile I’m a fuckin’ idiot cos I don’t know the first thing about Tianaman square? Bullshit. Don’t even know how it’s spelt but I sure as shit can use a semi colon.

There’s a guy on the tube wearing a tweed blazer tryin’ to ignore the bead of sweat making its way from his neck to his back, he could take off the blazer an’ that bead of sweat would be no more, and yet I’m the fuckin’ idiot cos I didn’t know you’re s’posed to serve a latte with warm milk instead of boiling it first.

There’s a tune in my ear from Annie Clark about a monster hankerin’ for a sacred cow but everyone knows Hindus don’t eat cows, it’s the catholics that eat baby Jesus, and yet I’m the fuckin’ moron ‘cos it took me months to notice Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett aren’t the most famous Kurt & Courtney out there.

My yellow coat has a brown line along the neck ‘cos I wore it to a festival and never washed my neck, and when I got back I never washed the coat neither. I’ll admit that one’s pretty fuckin’ stupid.

I’m mindin’ my own business on my way to work, keeping my elbows sharp in case some prick next to me thinks the arm rest is single occupancy, realising it’s much faster to drop a few letters here an’ there when you’re talkin’ quickly but it’s a bitch to write, and then I look up from my phone and realise everybody on the tube is paused. It’s mega-weird, they’re not moving an inch.

I pause K&C halfway thru their continental breakfast and it’s like the tube-sounds have paused too. I take my headphones out and nothin’. It sounds like how I’d imagine space would sound, there sure as shit ain’t nobody screamin’, my ears have got that weird feelin’ where you need to chew somethin’ to get ‘em to pop.

The tube ain’t movin’ which is nuts ‘cos I never got that slanty slowdown you get when the tube driver hits the brakes. What were we smokin’ last night, man? That’s a line by the way, I gotta job in the city, I ain’t smokin’ nothin’ but Marlboros. There’s an old dude opposite me halfway through a page turn of his paper, if he’s havin’ me on he’s doin’ a bang up job; the other folks I can see are all starin’ into the distance or leanin’ against the pole, to be honest you wouldn’t notice anythin’ out the ordinary if it weren’t for Fred. That’s the old geezer’s name in case you weren’t payin’ attention.

I think about standin’ up but I hate standin’ up on tubes in case they jolt forwards and I fall onto an old, pregnant, blind, and black woman, so instead I sit still but get a good lean on. There’s a skinny bloke in front of me wearin’ skinny grey jeans round his skinny drainpipe legs with a skinny tie on a skinny shirt drinking what I expect is a full-fat latte and I lean forwards toward him to get a look down the tube; a real good lean, lean in so good that my hairspray quiff crunches against him and gets messed outta place. Normally I’d be fuckin’ pissed but judging from the freaky sci-fi time pause shit goin’ on I got bigger fish to fry.

 

 

broom closet

Big Black — The Model

I want your money / That’s / What I want

The lobby was grand. Black columns decorated with gold leaf trim grew out of a white marble floor, my suitcase wheels made almost no noise, gliding along behind me as I approached the desk.

A short Asian woman greeted me. One of those rich places where the staff don’t smile. It’s more honest that way I guess.

“Good morning sir. Here to check in?”

“Yes, I have a reservation under Greene.”

“Just a moment please sir.”

She tapped some keys on her keyboard, the small black machine next to her whirred into life and a white keycard slid out.

“Have you stayed with us before sir?”

This suit I had on must be working. If she had seen me in my clothes from yesterday she wouldn’t have needed to ask that question.

“No, I have not.” I flashed a shark smile.

“Very well, you are in room 427. It is on the fourth floor, the elevator is just to your right,” she motioned to the black elevator doors behind one of the columns. “This is your keycard,” she tapped the white plastic card, her eyes were hazel and soft. “You will need to swipe it to use the elevator and then again to access your room. Please do not lose it as there is a fifteen dollar charge for replacements, which will be added to your bill at the end of your stay. Breakfast will be served in the restaurant” – another point, this time to the glass doors to the right of the reception desk – “between six and nine thirty tomorrow morning. The bar closes at eleven pm, however the front desk will be staffed all night should you require anything else.” She did not smile at me. She was being rude. It was sexy.

“Thank you” – a glance at her chest, small pert breasts framed in an oversized bra cup, red text on a white plastic gold framed name badge – “Elaine.” My eyes stayed on her chest and I felt my leer being returned with a blush. Women – so fucking predictable.

Dudes in the wild

LCD Soundsystem — On Repeat

I / wish I could complain / more about the Rich / but then / All their / Chil / dren would line the streets / come to every show / No-one / Wants that

Snarling lyrics cut through the crowd like a blunt knife, kids on pills smack their lips oblivious to the taunt, kids on cocaine chew gum and kids on booze close their eyes and pretend they are on cocaine or pills. It’s 2003 in New York City and everybody is angry about something. A girl falls into me and tells me to watch it which tips my mood over the edge so I leave through the fire exit.

Outside the club a pair of storms are brewing. The sky is the arena for one and the taxi queue for another. A pair of young men wearing tight skinny jeans with matching bouffant quiffs are angrily arguing over a space in the back of a yellow cab.

“Look buddy – I’ve got witnesses here who will back me up, this is my cab, I’ve been in line for almost fifteen minutes.”

This is accompanied by a sharp jab to the ribcage of the rival.

“Witnesses? It’s a fuckin’ cab, chill man, you can get the next one.”

An open palm push into the chest of the first man.

“You’d better back off.”

“Back off?”

“Yeah”

Another open palm push into the chest of the first man.

“Push me again.”

A laugh from the rival – well, a sneer, a jeer, he asks his friend to hold his beer and begins to take off his jacket. It’s tight leather and the air is damp, either the jacket has shrunk or his arms have swelled and for a moment he’s unable to roll the sleeves down past his wrists, briefly incapacitated in a scenester straight jacket. The first man should have seized the opportunity to strike but instead laughs and lights a cigarette. It’s a mistake that costs him as the rival quickly frees himself from the leather cuffs and squares his shoulders –

Before he is able to land a blow the second storm breaks and the heavens open. It’s heavy rain, the sort that makes a small indent in your skin and makes you wonder if it is in fact hail, and the onset is so sudden that both men are briefly distracted for a second. There is a collective groan as the onlookers screw up their faces and raise jackets over their heads. Nobody has brought an umbrella ‘cos who brings an umbrella to a gig? I take refuge against the red brick wall, the wind is coming from behind the building so it mostly keeps me dry. I recognise Nancy from school in the crowd and relish the opportunity to talk to her about tonight, she might even smile at me.

The rival turns to re-don his jacket which is held patiently by his accomplice (lover?) and the first man makes his move; a swift shove to the shoulder blade. The rival stays on his feet.

“You got somewhere to be?”

It’s a bad line – they’re fighting over a cab after all – but the provocation works. The accomplice holds out the jacket but he doesn’t take it. The first man senses he may have made a mistake and the rival’s chest rises as he inhales deeply through his nose. His white vest is flecked with raindrops. Suddenly –

CRACK

He turns on his left heel, swinging his body weight through the rotation and channelling it into his arm, he punches through the air through the rain through the gasps of the crowd and connects with a dull thud into his target – the chin of the first man. His fist briefly flares with pain as the knuckles slam into bone and his wrist is jarred by the resistance it has met. The rotation continues until his torso is bent in an exaggerated post-punch contortion. His hair is now out of place.

The CRACK in fact belonged to a lightning strike less than fifteen miles away. The crowd gasp, some of them jump, unsure what has shocked them more, and the first man is knocked backwards. His feet slip on the now damp concrete and his legs struggle to support him; he falls into the onlookers, flailing his arms behind him. They catch him with a collective sigh and haul him upright again. Nancy looks bored now.

The slam of a car door. The rev of an engine. The slush of tyres.

The rival has taken the cab and is making his escape.

The first man’s jaw hurts – his teeth feel a little loose and he thinks he has bitten his tongue in shock. He can taste blood. To make matters worse the rain has caused his hairspray hairdo to flatten like candy floss held under a tap. A few onlookers murmur “are you alright man” or “that guy was a real dick” but the platitudes don’t help relieve the pain in his jaw nor the embarrassment in his gut.

I put my headphones in to drown out the sound of the club and set off down the street, the opposite direction to the victor of the fight. The rain has soaked through my converse to my socks and my feet are cold. I remember that I have homework to finish and begin to wonder why I came out in the first place.

TThhEe PPaARRtTYY

The Wedding Present — My Favourite Dress

When Steven looked in the mirror he did not like what he saw. An old, balding, fat man with sad eyes looked back at him, struggling to maintain eye contact, guiltily shuffling his pale feet, wiry black hair creeping out from the elastic rim of his socks. How the fuck did it come to this?

Steven ran a hand through his fading hair. The cut on the back of his index finger was pink where he’d scratched yesterday’s scab before it was ready; no blood but sore to touch. The juice from the lemon he had sliced earlier had burned like acid and he’d struggled to keep in a grimace in front of the guests.

Tiny creases criss-crossed across his shirt on his stomach forming a combover for his belly, a middle aged Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. The waistband of his underpants had rolled down to his hips from where he had been sitting down, folded down by the folds of his fat stomach, thankfully tucked below his felt trousers.

His drink was on the edge of the bathtub, sweating cold drops down the grooves of the glass onto the porcelain surface. Beads of perspiration dribbled down his forehead, slipping across his brow like a cattlegrid, the second line was racing to catch up with him. He inhaled through his nostrils and smelled the alpine scent of toilet bleach over the crystals of cocaine in his nose hair.

A knock at the door. A giggle. A man’s voice. A thud into the wall.

The couple looking for a room to have sex in moved on after trying the door handle and Steven splashed cold water onto his face. A drop stuck to his left eyebrow. He looked at his watch. Five minutes left of 2017.

10k BUDDHAS

Joy Division — Isolation

He didn’t have long, he thought he could hear the screams coming from the trail as his pursuer threw the pilgrims aside. His heart was beating in his chest and his lungs gasped for air as he forced his legs to continue running up the steps to the bend, ignoring the ramp to the right and instead picking his way through the ornate statues that lined the path and through the branches that scratched his arms and ripped his jeans, he reached up and grasped the ledge above him with his fingertips and used the broad back of the statue to push upwards with his feet and pulled himself up to the next level where he paused and looked behind him.

The trail snaked down through the trees but you could see its descent to the summit of the mountain from the golden buddhas that lined either side. The status were wooden with a yellow laminate coating that was in various states of disrepair, each statue depicted buddhas of various shapes and sizes; big fat ones that smiled at the pilgrims as they climbed, tall thin ones that sneered at those that struggled with the ascent, broad stately ones with outstretched arms pointing to the top of the mountain as inspiration. Alex was near the top so he could not see the three armed men guarding the entrance of the trail. He could, however, see Sylvester striding furiously towards him, a small family scattered behind him fleeing in the opposite direction, children screaming in fear at the bloody brute. He did not have the head start he thought.

Alex carried on running. The steps were levelling off as he neared the summit, and the onlookers were distracted from the sight of his dishevelled appearance by the screams of pilgrims below them that encountered Sylvester. His lungs ached, his legs felt like lead and his face was dripping with sweat but he fought onwards, the faces of the Buddha status becoming a yellow-gold blur, his path was straight and then –

An ornate red structure burst over the lip of the trail. Alex felt a new surge of adrenalin course through his exhausted limbs – he was near the village! He felt his feet gain pace and after a few more strides he stopped climbing upwards and turned a corner into a sprawling square. There was a small white temple in each corner and the giant red pagoda in the centre. He stopped running and looked over his shoulder. He seemed to be alone. He could not hear any screams.

Now uncertain of the location of Sylvester, Alex felt a knot tighten in his stomach, and he became suddenly aware of a stitch in his side after the gruelling run-turned-slow-jog. Every step caused him to wince in agony and he was seeing stars due to the lack of oxygen in his body – he made it to the centre of the square and collapsed against the building. It was wooden and the paint was peeling, leaving fat red flakes on his palm.

For a few seconds he took ragged, panting breaths, and began to feel his legs seize up when –

“Alex!”

Jean?

“Alex, up here!!”

A woman’s voice screamed towards him and he whirled on his heel, determined to find its source. The point of the pagoda shielded his eyes from the sun, and in its shadow he could just about make out the silhouette of a woman leaning out of a balcony near the top, waving desperately at him.

“JEAN! Jean-”

The sight of her was like a jolt of electricity, he hauled himself upright only his legs did not cooperate; they buckled and he fell onto his outstretched palms, his knees collided with the concrete step below him. He felt sharp stones pricking into his palms.

Sylvester had heard the voice as well, just a few hundred metres below Alex. He too had whirled round in shock but was yet to crest the summit, so had not seen the woman at the top of the pagoda; if he had, he would have perhaps taken a different course of action. Sylvester knew that there was no way to access the top level of the structure. He knew that Jean was currently in the Paris bakery. He knew the history of the village. However, at this precise moment, he was focussed on the task at hand – ensuring Alex reached the summit – and so it was for this reason he removed his gun from the waistband of his trousers and fired a shot into the air.

School

Swans — Blind

When I was a kid I had my first near death experience. It was a Thursday, the clocks had just gone back. It was cross country club after school so by the time I left it was already dark, and cold. It was year 9 and I had just turned fourteen, the age where even your teachers look sexy, there was a rumour that Ms Hills had had sex with one of the sixth formers on the school ski trip which turned double Maths into an hour and twenty minutes of adjusting my trousers. She had been wearing this perfume that smelt like honeysuckle and her skin was soft and sweet (I imagined). Henry Jennings had asked for help with something easy like a quadratic equation and she had bent over to help him, leaning her arm on my desk, her hair brushed against my hand. I wanted to make a nest in it.

I was still warm from cross country when I left but by the time I got to the foot of the hill I was acutely aware of the nip in the air. My blazer was made of polyester and was too thin, the cold breeze rattled through the sleeves like a fan and I remembered that I’d left my winter coat on the peg in the changing room. It was ten to five so it was unlikely I’d catch the five oh five train even if I pegged it, and the bollocking I’d get from mum for leaving my coat behind was worse than the bollocking I’d get for making her wait at the station for half an hour, so I turned around and trudged back up the hill. The wind was blowing in my face from this direction and it made my eyes sting and my nose run. I walked back past the hedgerow that concealed the smokers’ hole and the small white buds in the leaves made me think of Ms Hills perfume again.

By the time I had got back to the school gates the light in the reception building had gone off. The gates were at least seven feet high and made of iron that had been wrought into straight lines that pointed up like arrows, then curved to the left and right to make an arch. The paint was black and beginning to flake off. The quickest way to the changing rooms was through the main hall but I could see from the yellow porchlight that the large oak door had been shut, so I had to walk round through the car park. This was normally off limits during break and lunch, alien territory, once I had followed it round the building to the end of the maths corridor I got lost. I thought it would take me to the gym and the tennis courts but it just took me to a dark and empty car park.

The car park was for teachers only and we’d only ever get to see it when our parents would come in for parents’ evenings. My parents were always obsessed with getting a good parking spot so we’d always arrive dead early and get one near the maths corridor. I’d therefore never been round to the overflow area so it took me a few seconds to get my bearings. If the maths corridor had ended what came next…? I could only remember the changing room on my mental map – I had forgotten about the staff room.

I only once saw the interior of the staff room when I’d been in year seven and Matt Boyd had broken my arm in rugby practice. It was so embarrassing, he was one of the weediest kids in our year and he’d mangled my left arm into right angles. It was (of course) my own fault for trying to break my fall when he tackled me, but who in their right mind would let themselves fall face first without trying to cushion the blow? My arm was proper broken, it looked like I’d grown a new elbow between my old elbow and my wrist, so Mr Smith had paused the PE lesson and rushed me to the staff room. I remember it didn’t hurt but just weirdly tingled, the doctor later told my parents it was because the bones were rubbing against my nerves. Nerves are long stringy sinews of impulses that run through your body and my broken bones were trying to play them like a violin. I’d ended up sitting in one of the assembly chairs, holding my arm in front of me like I was halting traffic, while Mrs Baker had tried not to throw up looking at it. Seriously, it was a total mess. Apparently I was lucky the bones hadn’t come out through the skin.

After a few seconds peering into the darkness I remembered about the staffroom and the detention room annexed onto it, and realised I had to loop round and round again to get to the changing room exit. I had no idea what the detention room looked like, I only ever got one After-School and that was a year or so after the events of this particular evening, so it made sense how I’d forgotten about that. Once I made it round to the changing room exit I was careful to pick my way across the metal grill that you were supposed to scuff your boots on. Large clods of turf were stuck to it and I could do without an additional bollocking for scuffing up my school shoes, I’d only had them since a few days before term and they needed to last, I wrecked the last pair by playing football in them. I was at that awkward age where I’d started going through growth spurts and my mum was still working as a cleaner and my Dad down the window factory, so they’d wait until the last moment to buy my uniform in case I grew out of it. They’d make the worst fuss when I needed new shirts or trousers, like it was my fault for growing so quickly, but it was because they were strapped for cash after my sister’s school trip to Ghana. As a teenager with growing pains I stuck it on my list of mouldering resentments. As an adult with hindsight I feel guilty.

By the time I’d picked my way across the muddy sluice, got the coat, retraced my steps through the deserted car park and made it back to the school gates I spotted three hard kids coming up the hill towards me. Even though the wind was blowing away from them I could smell the Lynx Africa and wet effect hair gel from here. I immediately one-strapped my oversized rucksack, holding my gym kit in the opposite hand to offset the weight, and set my steeliest look on my face. As I got closer I recognised them as Fat Matt Cooper, Jacko and that gangly ginger git that always hung around with them. Fat Matt lived on the estate in town and our parents had once been friends. When we were growing up I’d even gone round his house (according to Mum) and we’d borrowed each other’s Thomas the Tank engine toys, though I doubt that shared memory would save me from a beating if he was in the mood to dole one out; it’d probably just make things worse. He’d stopped getting invited to my birthday parties when he’d done a shit in the pool on my seventh or eighth, most of the kids had found it hilarious but I thought it was gross, Mum did too. Probably another memory to keep to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1980s

New Order — Ceremony

The 80s never really ended. City boys just ditched their Filofaxes for iphones, swapped the baggy suits for skinny jeans, chucked the cocaine for…well, that didn’t actually even change. The banks still call the shots, counter culture is still black and although women earn more they still don’t earn as much as men. Energy companies are tabloid villains and tech is the future. There’s even a woman who runs the country, hell-bent on inflicting her own cruel agenda on the masses.

I wasn’t too happy about this particular contract. I do not like the 1980s.

The central line vomited me onto the pavement at St. Paul’s. The air was dirty and the sun was hidden behind clouds. In a phone box near the station a homeless man urinated against the glass. A puddle pooled around his ankles. We made brief eye contact and his eyes drifted down – the trail of piss had reached my black brogues. Fucking brilliant.

Normally pissing on my shoes is enough to get you on my follow-up list, but I was a little stretched for time and if Margaret Thatcher was my Prime Minister I’d be doing my best to piss on anyone dressed in a suit at St. Paul’s, so I let this one slide. Doesn’t mean I was happy about it so I stuck my middle finger up at him instead and headed down the street. My shoes left wet footprints behind me, a dark stain on the sandstone slabs that lined the street. After the sixth step my shoes seemed dry again.

I was heading to the office of Kobalt &  Kerbisher, an up-and-coming finance firm that advised its clients where to invest their cash. It was technically closer to Bank but I figured the Bank tube station in its 80s heyday would see me start the day in a sour mood, so I opted for the walk instead. I still had to pick my way through men in suits with broadsheet newspapers tucked under their arms. They were all in a similar hurry so it quickly became like a race; I marked myself against a man in a charcoal pinstripe two-piece sporting a red curtain-pattern tie, and marched at an uncomfortable pace to stay ahead of him. By the time I reached the offices of Kobalt & Kerbisher I was almost out of breath. Really needed to lay off those disco smokes I’d picked up, but they were so damn good.