christmastime

Low — Just Like Christmas

Rows and rows of trees, pine needles bristling with excitement, hard bark bending itself outwards, craning long branches poking the eyes of shoppers. Plastic loudspeakers are set up at regular intervals, playing festive music, wires adorned with white blinking fairy lights. In the centre of the yard stands the Christmas monolith, a pine tree stretching itself twenty feet into the air; thick green bushes of needles, lower branches billowing out like a petticoat, thick ropes of red and yellow lights.

The crowd is mostly couples. A few have brought their children, who weave in and out of the legs and stumps, gathering needles in their gloves, scarves and hats. There’s a low hubbub of chatter, men reach out to shake a branch and murmur to their partners, the salesmen sing the praises of each tree, the tinny music simmers above the low babbling voices. Alex and Jean are no different, taking their time to assess the quality of each specimen – too many needles on the floor, too thin branches, too sparse coverage – and they fail to notice the figure lurking behind them.

The Hunter stands out in this environment. His towering frame puts his shoulders at the height of the tips of many of the trees – he has to duck underneath the lights – and of all the people present, he is the only one that seems hemmed in, caged by the festivities. His black suit heightens this even further, a stark contrast to the puffy coats and casual knitwear of the crowd, and people hurry out of his path when they cross it. As he approaches, his shadow looms over Alex and Jean, obscuring the lights that line the path. He reaches out and grabs Alex’ shoulder.

“Hi the-”

Alex loses the words in his throat, his eyes widen in shock momentarily. Jean turns around and gasps.

“You! You’re… What are you doing here?”

The Hunter smiles.

 

tutti fruttttti

Dialogue 6 — Khotin

It’s probably too late to call. I put the receiver back in its cradle. From the next room the TV light flickers, I get up and the chair creaks. The baby starts to cry but I can’t face dealing with it.

I walk back into the room with the television. There are thin dotted lines blurring the screen, fuzzy colours reflect on the shiny mahogany floor. A female news reporter with a large bob mouths silent words, a headline ticks across the screen, another recycling accident happened today.

Jane is sat at the back in one of the seats the visitors usually take, her lumpy body melting into the hard plastic like yoghurt on a spoon. She’s got the remote and is pressing it against her top lip. I can’t see in this light but it looks like she’s licking the buttons. I want to check if any of the fluff and gunk that coats the rubber has got into her teeth but I don’t. The baby is still crying.

sunshine splatterstream moonrock brokengreen.

There’s a tap at the window. A crow is on the other side waving at me, smiling, his teeth are round and yellow. I raise my hand back and return his wave. He looks at me with tiny black eyes and I realise he was waving at Jane. I put my hand down so I don’t look like an idiot.

The baby won’t stop crying.

masterchef 2k99

Mother Hen — Audiobooks

Across the kitchen, the red team is already hard at work. Four small men are gathered around a small sink, taking turns to fill a small pan with cold water. This is then carried to a large pot on the iron hob behind them and slowly poured in, save for a small puddle of grainy water in the bottom of the pan. Each man then raises the pan to his lips and slurps the murky liquid before handing it to the next. One after the other, they repeat the process. A pile of potato skin lies next to the sink and with each slurp of the water, they begin to grab handfuls of the skin, which are thrown into the pot.

All four men are short and fat. The first in line has thick black sideburns and a bald head; the second has short blonde hair and an auburn goatee; the third has a bushy grey moustache and a thin combover masking eight irregular sized liver spots on his scalp; the fourth and final man is wearing a top hat pulled down to the brow of his small eyes.

After six minutes, the blue team grow tired of watching their rivals. They begin to clean down their workstation; eighteen large knives are plunged into a sinkful of hot soapy water, six glass bowls flaked with crusty flour and melted chocolate are stacked adjacent, three red plastic chopping boards stained red-wine red from cherry juices, and two large copper pans caked with brown mousse.

The two women fight for dominance at the sink. The short brunette elbows her teammate sharply in the ribs, the teammate kicks her in the shin. They scowl and hiss at each other. The short woman gets the upper hand when she pulls the long blonde hair of her rival and is quick to plunge both hands into the sink. She screams as her hands come out streaked in cherry juice.

A siren shrieks through the kitchen. The teams have thirty seconds left.

Both red and blue leap into action; the men huddle close, interweaving chef’s whites and red aprons around a may pole barber pole; the women straddle the oven and face each other down with the whites of their teeth; each open their ovens and plumes of grey and brown smoke fizz out and fill the kitchen; the fourth man’s top hat slides perilously down his sweaty nose; the men use their bare hands in unison to grab the peeled and roasted potatoes one at a time, grimacing from the heat, blisters forming on their palms; the women wrap their hands in tea-towels and reach for their individual trays of cherry chocolate puff pastry molten mousse.

A frail, thin child enters the kitchen. The teams gasp and hurry to the black marble countertop in front of him. Neither have used a plate, the food sits directly on the dusty surface. The smell of singed damp fabric hangs in the air. The child, his gaunt face pale and hollow, leans in to inhale the aromas. His lank hair falls onto his forehead and his nose wrinkles up pulling his lips with it – there are dark red stains on his gums.

Silence falls in the kitchen.

skiing

Terrible Voices — Cream with a K

sun snow blue board ice powder foam plastic cloud coat orange grey red thick thick puffy and thick keeps warm as pine breeze needles sting fleshy cheeks lips nose withered forehead soggy hair only eyes shielded by yellow plastic tear in bottom left scratches out blurry vision white into grey fluff cotton candy cotton wool cotton gloves tiny globes buzz past fingers curled on rubber rudders flimsy brittle matchstick poles guide flimsy brittle matchstick legs heart racing heart pounding heart bumping pumping thrumping tongue heavy thin air difficult to swallow teeth cracking wooden splints flimsy brittle matchstick pearls chattering chattering chattering

Jason flew off the edge of the cliff. His ski instructor had warned him against taking the Black slope this early – it had only been three months since Les Arcs after all – but he had insisted, and now here he was, flying through the sky with no parachute and just a pair of skis on his feet. It was poetic justice really; the sort of irony that Alanis Morisette would sing about. If his stomach wasn’t freefalling through his cavernous body, he probably would have laughed.

It took almost twenty seconds before he collided with the mountain beneath him. The intensity of the breeze that had stung his lips had increased to feel like tiny knives slicing his pink skin, he gulped for air with tiny fish lips blowing hollow bubbles, his heart was beating at a thousand beats per minute. The skis had stopped him capsizing in the air and so his feet were the first to make contact – the bone of his heel crunched and folded up into his shin, which burst out through his kneecap. The back of his skis were shattered instantly and shards of plastic-coated-wood pierced his buttocks. His tailbone thudded into the snow and the impact compressed every disc in his spine, severing the nerve endings and wiring his jaw shut. His body, limp and crushed, fell forwards and the momentum of his flight rolled him down the snowy gravel into a thick redwood pine tree. The front of his left ski was lodged in his cheek and his left eye socket was filled with blood. Snow fell from the pine tree and birds fluttered into the sky.

Seconds later he woke up and the memory of the pain caused him to scream in agony, it came out as a childish gargle. His head was wet and sticky. He smelt antiseptic, sweat and urine. A bright light blinded his eyes as they opened for the first time. A latex hand grabbed his ankles and he felt the familiar pull of gravity as he was lifted into the air – at least this time he was in a hospital.

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.

cheesy railway chase

Confidence Man — Don’t you Know I’m In a Band

My trainers are slipping from my feet, they rub against my ankles and my heels slam into the soles. It hurts but I don’t care, I need to run faster. The train leaves in six minutes.

I take the escalator two steps at a time but get stuck behind a small woman, she is wearing black leggings and the material is stretched thin around her buttocks. She is intolerably slow; one step at a time, one step at a time; I mumble ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ as I push her onto the right hand side in between a teenage boy and an old man. Her winter coat is spongy and plasticky, I wonder why she is wearing such a warm jacket when she can barely be bothered to cover her bottom half. She yells out in shock or anger but I’m gone, two steps at a time, two steps at a time.

There’s a queue at the barriers. I push to the front, I feel like shouting ‘outtathaway, I’m in love!’ like some cheesy American movie but I don’t. A thin man with a suit and trainers practically gasps when I push in front of him and slam my card onto the touchpad. The barriers open and I’m GONE

The sign tells me to take a right but I’ve been here before so I know it’s faster to take a left. I take the stairs three at a time and jump out of the way of an elderly couple at the top – what a stupid fucking place to stand – turn the corner and burst onto the street. A taxi driver is smoking and we make eye contact briefly. He looks familiar.

I’m running at full pace now, the red brick walls of the station are a blur on my left, nobody comes this way so I don’t have to avoid the pedestrian cattle. My feet THUD THUD THUD onto the pavement, the pain is more noticeable than ever and causes me to draw in a sharp breath through clenched teeth. I pump my arms for momentum and feel like I might take off.

My chest hurts. My lungs feel small and tight and my throat is filled with cold air that whips my eyes and it’s like they’re taking an ice bath, they start streaming. After a few metres I round the corner and the wind stops blowing into my face and my eyes feel better but I feel more out of breath than ever. A stitch in my stomach stabs me in the side when I slow down as I reach the entrance.

King’s Cross is like a mouth, sucking in Londoners and tourists, chewing them up and swallowing them down different digestive tracKts (get it?), I know she’s on platform 11 but I don’t know how to get to it. I stop running in the foyer. To my right are platforms 1-4 so platform 11 must be straight ahead. I look up at the clock – the train leaves in two minutes.

I briskjog through the station, weaving in and out of wheeled suitcases and groups of children (families, school trips, truants). It’s dead ahead – platform 11. She’s in coach K, seat 42.

I don’t have a ticket – obviously I don’t have a ticket – so I slam my card onto the touchpad. It bleeps three times, a red light blinks at me. I don’t have time for this so I hoist my arms onto both sides and, using every fucking muscle in my body, lift my legs up and over the barriers. I am seeing stars at this point. The guard’s eyes pop out of his skull on stalks and steam fizzes out of his ears as he gesticulates wildly in my direction. My feet make contact on the other side and I am running, hauling my weary bones with me, my legs now feel like wobbly matchsticks. One minute fifteen seconds left. I see her metres ahead of me, heading down the concourse to her carriage, the sight of that curly brown hair gives me the energy I need and I make my jelly legs solid again and run after her.

I shout her name. She stops and turns. The guard’s hand is on my shoulder.

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.

tickets p[lease

Talking Heads — Mind (2005 Remastered Version)

rolling fields rolling away thickets of trees and chunks of shrub fly past I look down at the grey linoleum flecked with yellow spots there is a brown coffee stain pooling underneath the grey metal skeleton of the chair and the stuffing has burst through the red fabric I wonder how much further and risk a glance at my watch another two and a half hours at least I decide it is time and break open my tuna mayonnaise sandwich the bread is soggy and the granary seeds get stuck in my teeth leaving a stodgy paste on my gums I lick them clean and it doesn’t budge I screw my lips up like I’m kissing and it still doesn’t budge so I sip a glug of coca cola and swill it like listerine it tastes pretty gross when I swallow a kid opposite watches the whole thing and I stick my tongue out at him and he smiles through his eyes and I turn my head back to the window the sun picks through the trunks of the trees like a comb through knotty hair it flickers on my face and my pupils are small like pinpricks wide like drainholes small like pinpricks wide like drainholes I start to see spots I turn away and orange clouds fog into my peripheral vision so I scrunch my eyes shut and instead of black everything is light brown with smudges of greens and greys trying to burst through but I rub my eyes until they go and open them and the kid opposite is laughing at me so I wrinkle my nose and make a funny face again his mother is next to him and sees me and I feel my cheeks blush but she smiles at me and tells her kid to leave me alone thank god for that I smile back at her and she looks at me for slightly too long I bet she’s wondering how old I am probably thinks I should be in school well what does she know stupid old hag she can just fuck off what the fuck does she know the stupid fucking

I manage to swallow it down before it takes over. I take my hands off my head and slowly lift my head off of my knees. The woman is still there, she looks worried. My face is red and my eyes are pricked with tears. The train doors make that awful screech and I hurl myself up and get off the train.

 

vegas burgers

ShitKid — Oh Me I’m Never

They stopped to grab some burgers on their way to Vegas. The heatwaves rose off the car’s bonnet like steam, the yellow paint looked like it might melt and drip onto the tarmac. Joe unwrapped his burger, he did not notice the splat of mustard that dripped off the paper wrapping onto his jeans. He took a bite – the bread was firm on the outside and soft in the middle, the beef patties were thin with a grilled skin, the bacon was smooth and salty, the mustard and ketchup was sweet and sticky. He felt a sesame seed lodge in between his two front teeth.

As they walked across the parking lot Joe continued to eat his burger, and the mustard on his thigh was soon joined by a dribble of ketchup. Jean waited to eat hers. The thought of consuming greasy food in this heat made her throat feel even drier, and the warmth of the burger was oozing through its wrapping into her palm, making her skin clammy. She lost her appetite. She ran her free hand through her hair, dragging beads of sweat from her forehead with it, and when she put her arm back down she felt how wet her armpit was. They needed to get the car’s air conditioning fixed.

“Of all the places to stop at, why did we pick this fucking dive? I don’t even want this,” she stared at her burger, “all I wanted was a drink and some AC.”

Joe finished his burger and scrunched up the wrapper, rubbing it on his lips to wipe off the film of sauce and grease. He stuffed the used wrapper in his jeans pocket and took a sip of his coffee. Jean looked at him and exhaled over the back of her throat, making a disparaging noise. Joe carefully considered his words.

“I know. I’m so sweaty my shirt is now part of my skin.” It was true – the thin cotton was so damp it clung to his back. “Look – we’ve only got a few hours until we get there, and EVERYWHERE in Vegas has AC. And showers. And booze. Could you hold this for a second?” He held out the coffee he’d bought. Jean did not hold out a hand in return.

“I can’t believe you got a coffee.”

“Why? It’s what you are supposed to drink when it’s hot. It cools your body temperature down.”

They paused halfway across the parking lot as Jean took the cup. Joe reached into his pocket and took out the wrapper, walked across to a chipped green trashcan and threw it, the wrapper bounced off the rim onto the ground. He sighed, and as he bent down to pick it up, his damp shirt drooped and hugged him close, the wet fabric felt cold and uncomfortable on his back. He swallowed a gasp of discomfort, picked up the wrapper, reached out and placed it inside the mouth of the trash can.

One hundred and thirty two miles to go.

party

Frog — Photograph

I found her outside, alone, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. The kitchen door shut behind me and I opened my mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of a young girl vomiting. Her friend – Tanya? Tonya? Tara? – is hunched over on the floor, almost invisible beneath the window sill. The kitchen light illuminates the splatters of sick on the patio, and as Tanya-Tonya-Tara leans forward to hurl again, the light falls on her hair – black with red streaks – and she manages to direct her next spew into the flowerbed.

I ask if her friend is OK. She asks me what I think. We both laugh and she squats down to rub Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back. A strand of hair falls down over her shoulder and dangles dangerously above a small puke-puddle. She stops rubbing Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back to tuck it back behind her ears. She asks me if I’d mind getting some water from the kitchen, so I open the door, throwing some light onto the patio; Tanya-Tonya-Tara looks up at me, black eye shadow streaming down her face and purple-red lips coated in a fine film of frothy saliva. Her eyes are out of focus, she doesn’t seem to register my presence, and burps in my direction. I step into the kitchen and search the cupboards for a glass. First try, above the sink, just like mum. I am about to go back outside but pause by the fridge –

Tanya-Tonya-Tara cradles the glass with both hands and takes a sip. She slumps back against the wall and stares into the distance, her eyes closed. Finally we are alone. I offer a can of Fosters and she takes it. I open my own and for a second we say nothing, our silence threatens to drown out the music coming from the living room, she breaks it by asking if I want a cigarette. I clear my throat and nod. She takes them out of her jacket pocket and offers me the pack. I notice there is one hand-rolled cigarette floating against the tightly packed Marlboros and my fingers hesitate slightly. She senses the pause and asks if I want a joint instead. I hear myself saying ‘sure’ and the knot in my stomach tightens even more.

We walk down a small path towards the shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s been raining all week so the grass is damp and muddy, I take care not to scuff my trainers and hop between paving slab islands laid into the lawn, but she doesn’t care; she seems to miss the slabs on purpose. There’s a small bench next to the shed made of curved iron arms and cold, wet wooden slats. She sits down and puts the thin end of the joint between her lips. I sit down next to her, I can feel the wet wood soaking through my jeans. It makes me uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem to mind. The fat end of the cigarette puffs out a whisper of smoke as she lights it; the smoke is fragrant, floral, but also sticky and coarse. I watch intently how she inhales – a drag, a pause, her nostrils flare as she breathes in again – and she watches me watch her. My stomach is now churning with nerves. I wonder if it’s obvious it’s my first time.