Oxford Circus

Oxford Circus, home to London’s most famous shopping street which is illuminated each Christmas

 

The calendar is at the end of my bed. Every morning when I wake up it’s the first thing I see. The twenty five little doors, seventeen of them already open. Each one has a small piece of chocolate inside. I am not bothered about the chocolate, each door that’s opened means it’s a day closer to Christmas. One more door and there’s no more school! I have to do one more thing at school though before it’s done with. The thing that is making me the most nervous! Once that is over I can really really look forward to Christmas.

The school play, I only have one three words but I’m scared. I asked the teacher if I could not be in it but she said it was too late and she couldn’t find someone else now. I didn’t want to be in it in the first place they just chose me! It wasn’t fair! Each evening when school has finished we go into the hall and go over the play again and again. I wait nervously each time for my three lines, when I have to run out onto the stage, dressed all in green, a little green hat and big red circles painted onto my cheeks. I so want it to be all over!

The radio is on in the kitchen, Capital Gold, playing Christmas songs. It’s foggy outside and it’s not quite bright yet. Mum comes into the room with a plate of toast and some cereal, she looks surprised to see that I am already awake. I sit down on my bed and eat it as I think about the play. How many people are there going to be there? What if I make a mistake and everything goes wrong and I make the whole play wrong. People will laugh at me and then I’ll never be able to go back to school because they’ll all make fun of me.

One of the other kids has a big part, she’s Father Christmas’ wife, she doesn’t care though. When we’re practicing she always says her lines right and the teacher is always telling her that she’s doing really well. She talks to everyone at school and all the teachers love her. Sometimes I wish I could be like that but I’m not, I’m really shy. Now I have to stand in front of the whole school and all their mums and dads. It’s just three words though, I’m sure I can do it, mum keeps telling me I’ll be fine, if she says I’ll be fine then I should be!

I know how many days it is until Christmas and I know how many it is until I finish school but I count all the doors left on the calendar again, just to make sure. I open today’s one and take out the small chocolate and eat it, making sure mum isn’t there, she says you shouldn’t eat chocolate in the mornings. Now only seven doors left. I wish I could hide inside tomorrow’s door! Then I wouldn’t have to go to the play. It’s too small though! The man on the radio says it’s eight o’clock, still half an hour left before I have to go to school.

The calendar is a picture of a house. There’s a big snowman in front of the house. It never snows at Christmas here though, I wish I could make a snowman one day. I’d make it big and fat, I’d give him a coat too so that he doesn’t get cold. There’s a cartoon that I saw last Christmas, a little boy who makes a snowman and the snowman comes inside his house and they fly away together over the town. I wonder if I build a snowman will it come alive and then I can go and fly with him! Maybe he’ll take me to Oxford Street and I can see all the lights! I really want to go there!

There’s a catalogue by my bed. I quickly put on my school uniform and then sit waiting for mum, looking through the toys. All the things that I’d love to have. I can’t have all of them though, that would be too expensive. I just want one or two. There’s a big castle made from Lego, I really want that but it is so expensive. I don’t think mum’ll be able to get that for me. One of my friends said they were going to get a bike for Christmas but I can’t get a bike, I’m not allowed to go out on my own and mum says all the kids downstairs are naughty so I wouldn’t be able to ride it anywhere. I would love a bike though.

“Time to go! Hurry up or we’ll be late!”

It’s so cold outside! When I breathe and blow out I can see my own breath. None of the trees have any leaves on them. The sky is really grey as well, it looks like it’s going to fall down. We walk slowly down the street because it’s slippery, there’s little patches of white on the ground, every time I step on one I feel my feet slip forward. If mum wasn’t with me I’d try and slide down the street but I can’t while she’s here because she’d get angry and tell me it’s dangerous, maybe if they let us in the playground I’ll be able to do it later!

There’s lights outside some of the houses, one man has put a big Christmas tree in his garden. There’s all different coloured lights and underneath the Christmas tree there’s a Santa Claus pulling some reindeer. One of my friends said that in Australia Christmas is summer time but I don’t believe him. How can you have Christmas in summer time? That’s definitely impossible. The High road is busy even though it’s in the morning. Everyone looks excited and people are smiling more than they usually do.

“I’m getting five hundred pounds for Christmas and my dad is getting me a bike and my mum is going to take me to America!”

“So?! My dad is giving me a thousand pounds!”

“Our Christmas tree is massive too, it’s so big that we can’t even fit in the house, we have to leave it outside the house, and it’s got lots and lots of lights. I bet it’s bigger than your tree.”

“No! My dad said he’s going to go to Lapland and get a tree from there and it’s going to be so big that there’ll be no tree bigger than it. He said he’s going to get my Christmas presents from Father Christmas early as well. I bet your dad can’t do that.”

We have a nice Christmas tree. I don’t know why they want such a big Christmas tree, I like our little one. There aren’t many presents underneath it yet, even if there isn’t any I won’t care, I just want it to be Christmas. I don’t believe them anyway! The teacher wants us to write a story about Christmas, I hope I can write a good one, the person with the best story will get some sweets tomorrow after the play is over. Maybe if I know I’m going to get some sweets it’ll make the play go quicker!

One day there was a boy. The boy was only seven years old. Every Christmas he wanted it to snow but he still hadn’t seen it snow at Christmas. When he wakes up in the morning he looks out the window and at the sky hoping that just one little snowflake will fall from the sky. On Christmas Eve, he thought he saw a snowflake. Only a little one! He ran down the stairs and out of his front door and looked up at the sky trying to find the snowflake but there was no snowflake. The boy was sad, he really thought it was going to snow.

One of his friends saw him standing there and came and asked him what he was doing. The boy said ‘I’m trying to catch a snowflake!’ His friend stood there with him and they both looked up at the sky trying to see if they could see one but there weren’t any. His friend got bored and went home leaving the boy alone. The sky became dark and the clouds went away. All he could see were stars and the moon. His mum shouted to him through the window to come inside otherwise he’d catch a cold. The boy looked up one more time and he saw a star moving across the sky. In his head he wished for it to snow, just a little bit.

The boy’s mum cooked him his dinner, but he was excited because tomorrow was Christmas day. He looked at the big Christmas tree in the corner. Under the tree there were big boxes, red ones, yellow ones and blue ones. All of them had big red ribbons on them and a big bow at the top. When the boy’s mum went to wash dishes he sneaked up to the boxes. He looked at the door to see if his mum was coming, she wasn’t. He tapped the boxes with his finger, then he picked one up and shook it a little bit to see if he could find out what was inside. Then he heard his mum so he put the box down and pretended to watch the television.

His mum told him he had to go to bed. He lay on his bed trying to go to sleep. His friend told him that if he counted sheep he would be able to go to sleep quickly. He counted one hundred sheep in his head but he still couldn’t sleep. He heard his mum go to bed, all the lights in their house were off. There were no noises outside, still he couldn’t sleep. I just want to go to sleep so I can wake up in the morning and open all my presents he said to himself. He climbed down from his bed and opened the curtain a little bit so he could look outside, maybe he would be able to see Father Christmas!

In the sky he saw a light moving and flashing. Maybe that’s Father Christmas! I wonder where he has been tonight already! He must have been to so many places. I hope he doesn’t forget about me, mum says he gives me one present every year but the rest of them are the presents that she gives to me. The light moves away and then it disappears. Maybe he has forgotten me. The stars slowly started to disappear too, if it’s clouds maybe it really will snow! The boy finally fell asleep sitting next to his window.

When the boy woke up it was still dark. He went into the kitchen to see what time it was, it’s still only five o’clock! He can’t wake his mum yet, she will say it’s too early and he needs to go back to bed! He goes quietly into the living room, it’s so dark! The boy is a little bit scared, he doesn’t like the dark but he is excited too! He looks out the window but there is no snow, maybe next year it will snow, I can wait one year for snow he says to himself. He sits by the window again, there’s nobody outside, no cars driving in the street, no one walking. There is a light on in the house across the road, he can see a boy jumping up and down. Why isn’t his mum angry?

At the bottom of his house the boy sees a strange shape. It’s big and round, it’s really white too. It looks like a snowman! It really is a snowman! He has a hat, and his nose is a carrot, he has a black coat on too. Where did he come from? It hasn’t snowed! The snowman waves at him. The boy looks over to the other house with the light but the light is off now, maybe his mum was angry! The snowman waves again, telling him to come down the stairs. The boy doesn’t know if he should go or not, he’s a little bit frightened, then the snowman smiles and the boy smiles back. He walks down the stairs slowly and quietly.

When he walks out of the door the snowman takes his hand and they walk down the street. The snowman can’t talk, he just smiles. He walks with the boy through the streets, pointing at the windows as the lights come on in each house, little children playing with their new toys. The boy is worried he will be late and his mum will be angry that he has gone outside on his own. The snowman turns around and takes the boy back home. When they get to the door, the snowman points to the sky and smiles, then he walks away. The boy climbs the stairs, his mum is still not awake. He looks out the window and can see that it’s snowing! He finally gets Christmas present that he has always wanted!

I hope the teacher likes it!

“That boy over there, he’s not going to get any Christmas presents. His mum and dad haven’t got a job and are poor. That’s what my mum said.”

“What’s the point in Christmas if you don’t get any presents?!”

“I don’t care, my dad has lots of money and he’s going to buy me all the best presents.”

The little boy is called Mark. I don’t ever talk to him, he doesn’t talk to anyone, he’s very quiet. I told my mum that the other kids say bad things about him and mum said that I should just ignore them. He’s drawing a picture, it looks like it’s a tree and some presents. I think I should talk to him, he must be lonely if no one ever talks to him.

“What are you drawing?”

“A tree, and some presents.”

“Is it your house?”

“No, we have a tree but there won’t be many presents.”

“Oh, why not?”

“My dad lost his job and he doesn’t have much money. It’s okay though, I don’t mind, my nanny is coming for Christmas and she always makes me laugh.”

“Why don’t you talk to people?”

“They all make fun of me, they say I’m poor so I don’t want to talk to them. I’m not poor we just don’t have much money.”

“You should just ignore them.”

He carries on drawing his picture. It’s like other people aren’t here, he’s just drawing his picture, as though he’s the only person in the classroom. At the top of his picture he is drawing lights, they are all different shapes, stars and Christmas trees and angels. I wish I could draw like that, I can’t even draw a man properly. I wonder what it’s like to have no friends? What does he tell his mum about when he goes home from school? He puts down his pens and folds the piece of paper into four and puts it in his pocket.

“What are you going to do with that?”

“I’m going to take it home and give it to my mum. I saw some lights on the television, it was on a big street, there were lots of Christmas trees and angels, I wanted to draw it for her. She’ll like that I think.”

The teacher in charge of the play is in the room. I forgot about the play! Why did she have to come into the room? I wouldn’t have to think about it then.

“Remember everyone who is in the play, you come here straight after lunch so we can get ready. Everyone will have to be on their best behaviour, all of your parents are going to be there watching and we want to put on the best play we can for them.”

I’m not sure if my mum is going to be able to make it. She has to work, she said she will try and get away early but I am not sure. If she doesn’t come it doesn’t matter, I don’t really care, I only have a tiny part anyway.

“Why were you talking to Mark? He’s weird.”

“He’s okay, I think he’s just lonely.”

“If he wasn’t so weird then he’d have some friends. If other people see you talking to him they might make fun of you too.”

“I don’t care, I was only asking him what he was drawing.”

“My mum is taking you home with us tonight.”

“I know, my mum has to work.”

Mark is in front of us kicking a stone, just him and his stone, like when he was drawing the picture, as if nobody else is on the street with him. I wonder what he is thinking? I wonder how his holidays will be? He doesn’t have a part in the play, I wish I could be him, he doesn’t care about anyone else. He goes into a doorway, the door opens and he goes inside, as we pass his house I look in the window. There’s a small Christmas tree in the window, there’s a lady looking out the window, she smiles as we walk past, I put my hand up to wave at her and she waves back.

It’s cold and dark outside when mum picks me up from John’s house. She talks to John’s mum for ages, I don’t know what they are talking about, they keep whispering and then laughing, sometimes mum rolls her eyes. I just want to go home now, I’m tired. John’s mum gives mum a drink and they close the door and sit down. I know we won’t be going home for a long time yet. They laugh and talk about people. John is asleep on the sofa so I have no one to play with. Finally mum puts her coat on and we go home.

It’s so cold outside, even colder than this morning. I blow out, it looks like a big puff of smoke, it makes me think of my favourite book about a purple dragon that had a thorn stuck in his foot and no one would help him to take it out. Puff was his name! I hold mum’s hand as we walk slowly down the road, I think she’s enjoying the walk.

“Are you looking forward to your play tomorrow?”

“No! I don’t want to do it! Can you write me a note?”

“I can’t write you a note now, it’s too late, they won’t be able to find anyone else.”

“Pllleeeaaasseee?”

“No! You’ll be fine, I don’t know why you’re so worried about it. All you have to do is say a couple of words and then it’s over, you won’t even feel it.”

“Will you be coming?”

“Yes, I’ll be able to finish at lunchtime tomorrow so I can come and see you. Your nan is coming as well.”

Nanny usually gives me some money.

“Okay.”

“I have a surprise for you tomorrow night as well. When the play is over you’ll see what it is.”

A surprise? I wonder what kind of surprise it’ll be? It can’t be a present because she wouldn’t give that to me until it’s Christmas day.

“What is it?”

“It’s a surprise, you’ll see tomorrow night. You can bring one of your friends with you if you like.”

“So we’re going somewhere?”

“You’ll see tomorrow!”

Where will we be going? I just want it to be tomorrow after the play already, I don’t want to have to wait another day.

We pass a man in the street who is drunk, he has fallen over. I think he is talking to himself, I hold mum’s hand tighter but she doesn’t seem to be worried. Another man is shouting at the drunk man but the drunk man is just laughing. I feel a little bit scared.

“Don’t worry, he’s just had too much to drink.”

I wonder if the drunk man will sleep outside all night? If he does won’t he be cold? The man shouting at him walks away, the drunk man starts singing ‘silent night’. I know that song because we sing it in school sometimes. I keep looking back to see if he’s okay, he just keeps singing, people walk past him looking scared. He doesn’t look scary, he’s just a little bit loud.

“Will that man be okay?”

“He’ll be fine love, he’s just a bit drunk.”

“Why is he singing a song?”

“He’s probably just happy.”

“Won’t he be cold if he sleeps outside?”

“He’ll find his way home.”

“Why do people get drunk?”

“It makes them happy and they can sing songs.”

Why do you need to have something to make you happy? I sing songs to myself when there is no one else around, I don’t need anything to help me. I hope the man will be okay.

We climb the stairs to our flat. I am really tired now.

“Time to go to bed! It’s late and you’ve got a long day tomorrow.”

“Can I look out the window? Just for five minutes.”

“Five minutes and then it’s bed, if you’re tired in the morning you’ve only yourself to blame.”

Every night before I go to bed I like to look out the window. In front of where we live is a bus station. The driver makes the name of the place on the front of the bus change before he drives away. Some places I’ve never heard of, I try to imagine what they would be like. One bus has ‘World’s End’ on the front. What’s at World’s End? Where is World’s End? Do they have Christmas at World’s End? Everyone has Christmas! The driver is about to go, then he stops. I see the drunk, he’s still singing, he jumps onto the bus and sits down at the back, his head against the glass.

“Bed! Now!”

Mum kisses me on the head and turns off the light in my room. I can feel butterflies in my stomach, I’m so tired but I don’t want to go to sleep because I know if I go to sleep tomorrow will be here and then I will have to be in the play. I know tomorrow morning is going to go so fast, I want it to go slowly. What if I make a mistake and then everyone laughs at me? I’ll be like Mark, no one will talk to me and then I’ll have no friends. I wonder if he is a good person? He doesn’t seem like a bad kid, he’s never naughty.

The lady waving to me through the window, was that his mum? She looked a little bit like him. All the other kids said that his mum is a bad lady because she never comes and picks him up from school. I think it’s because he only lives two minutes away from the school, she doesn’t need to come and pick him up. I wonder if that drunk man went to World’s End? Maybe the driver threw him off the bus. I don’t want to do this stupid play…

When I want something to happen the time always goes slowly. When I don’t want something to happen the clock moves really quickly. It’s the last day and everyone has brought toys to class and we can do whatever we like. Every time I look at the clock it has moved forward half an hour! Some of the other kids keep talking about the play and it is making me more nervous. Now I just wish it was over. I forgot that mum has a surprise for me. I still don’t know what it is, I can’t even guess. It’s nearly lunch time now, I really don’t want to do this!

“I can’t wait for the play! They said it will be really good this year, there’s elves and Father Christmas and they said that at the end everyone is able to get a present.”

“Miss!! He took my toys from me and he won’t give it back.”

“I’m telling my mum, you’re not allowed to bring that to school. She’ll tell the headmistress and then you’re going to get expelled!”

“No I won’t!”

“Miss! Whose story was the best one? I bet it was mine! When are you going to give me all the sweets?”

“I asked my mum if you could come to my house at Christmas and she said yes but you need to ask your mum first.”

“I’ll ask her after school.”

Why is everyone so noisy today? Some of them are running about and some of them are jumping up and down. The teacher doesn’t care, she’s just talking to one of the kids. They’re all so excited! Mark is sitting by himself reading a book, no one else is playing with him. Five minutes until lunchtime! My stomach feels funny, I wish I could run away!

“What book are you reading?”

“It’s about a dragon.”

“That’s my favourite book!”

“Are you going to be in the play today?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to be. Do you want to do it for me?”

“I’m not allowed to do that. It’ll be okay.”

“My mum and my nan are coming, is your mum coming? I think she waved at me yesterday.”

“No she can’t come, she doesn’t like to go outside. She says it makes her frightened.”

“Oh! What about your dad?”

“He went to a new job today. It doesn’t matter, I’m not in the play anyway.”

The bells rings and Mark puts the book back on the shelf and walks out, everyone else pushes past him. Today is school’s Christmas dinner. There’ll be turkey and roast potatoes and gravy and some vegetables. Most people won’t eat the vegetables though. I have to eat mine quickly so we can get changed and get ready for the play.

“Miss! I feel sick! I think I need to go and see the nurse!”

“You look fine, you don’t have a temperature either.”

“But I have a headache, and my belly hurts.”

“Really? That means you won’t be able to have the sweets I was going to give you for having the best story then. Don’t worry about the play, you only have a small part and it will be over in seconds, now hurry up and go and get your Christmas dinner before it’s all gone.”

“When can I have my sweets?”

“You can have them when the play is over. Don’t go running to any of the other teachers telling them you’re sick either because I’ll let them know you’re not.”

“Okay, Miss!”

I’m not even hungry, it doesn’t taste nice. Mum’s turkey will be much better than this. What if I ran away out the door. No one would miss me. Mum would see I’m not there, the teacher would probably come and look for me too. I throw away the dinner, I don’t want it.

“Everyone who’s in the play make sure you come to the hall in 10 minutes.”

The hall is full of kids and teachers. The kids are all excited. I think I am the only one who is nervous, everyone else is running around while the teachers try and catch them to try and put their costumes on. They tell us all to move into a corner where there’s a curtain. The teacher gives me my green costume and my hat. I put it on. One of the older kids comes over and puts red lipstick where my cheeks are, I look in the mirror and see I have big, red, rosy cheeks. I think I look stupid, everyone else looks stupid too.

“Remember everyone, I will tell you when you need to go on stage, don’t worry, don’t be nervous, everything will be fine.”

There’s a big, fat kid sat next to me in the same costume as me but his doesn’t fit properly and he looks even more stupid than I do. He keeps talking to himself but I don’t know what he’s saying. He looks at me, his big round face looks yellow even though he has lots of makeup on.

“I think I’m going to be sick!”

He runs off into the corner and I hear him throw up. All the other kids laugh and make noises, some of the girls start screaming. The teachers run about even more trying to tell everyone to be quiet. The fat kid comes back and sits down next to me and starts to talk to himself again, one of the teachers has a mop and bucket and is cleaning up his Christmas dinner.

“There’s turkey in it!”

Someone comes through the curtain, the curtain doesn’t close properly and I can see outside. There are so many people. Oh no! I didn’t think there would be this many people. I look to see if I can see my mum and my nan but I can’t see them. What if she couldn’t make it? What if I am not going to be able to get my surprise now! She might have had to work late and she won’t be able to see the play!

The girl who everyone likes is wearing her costume, everyone is telling her how nice she looks. She just smiles and doesn’t say anything. All of the teachers look worried.

“Five minutes!”

I want to be sick like that boy! Through the curtain I can see Mark, he waves at me. I look around me to see if anyone is watching and then I wave back at him, he laughs and pulls a face, I laugh too. The fat kid sitting next to me runs away again but this time he runs through the door. A teacher runs after him trying to catch him. Where’s he going?!

Everybody goes quiet and the lights go dark apart from the big one on the stage. The girl goes on to the stage and starts to sing. Some of the teachers are smiling. The teacher who chased the fat boy comes back in the door with her hands in the air, she looks at the other teachers and shakes her head. I wish I had thought of that! Now he doesn’t have to do the play. How can I make myself sick? I try to pretend I want to get sick but I don’t feel anything. The girl stops singing and the people start clapping.

I watch all the other people run on and off the stage to say their words or sing their songs. I still can’t see mum through the curtain. I don’t think she has made it. Mark keeps making faces at me. I laugh at him and one of the teachers sees me and tells me to be quiet and stop messing about, I feel my face go red but I know she can’t see it because of all the makeup. The teacher holds up her hands showing two fingers. I think she means two minutes but I’m not sure, she didn’t do that when we were doing the rehearsals.

I feel a little bit dizzy, the other kids that have finished their parts are all laughing and playing, they don’t have to worry anymore. The teacher is waving her hands up and down at me but I just look at her. I don’t want to get up. I can’t even move if I want to, I feel so heavy! Another teacher grabs me and lifts me up. They both hold me by the curtain and then I hear them both start counting to three, when they say ‘three’ both of them push me forward.

I run onto the middle of the stage next to the girl who has just been singing again. I can’t see mum, I can just see lots and lots of people but they all look the same. I look down and I can see Mark and he is still making faces at me. I don’t want to laugh though. I am shaking, I know I have to say my words or else everyone will be laughing at me and then I’ll have no friends and all of Christmas will be ruined and mum will be angry at me.

“What about Ready Express?”

My voice sounds stupid, it doesn’t sound like my voice. I look on both sides again but I still can’t see mum. The girl pushes me and I run off the stage. It’s over! It’s over! It only took a few seconds, mum was right! The teacher smiles at me and tells me I was good. I don’t think I was good, it’s over, that’s all I care about. I look through the curtain and I make a face at Mark and he laughs, one of the teachers outside tells him to be quiet. I laugh while he gets told off. In the corner at the back I see mum and nanny sitting next to each other. They can’t see me but they’re here!

The play is nearly over, the girl is singing another song. We all have to go onto the stage at the end but I don’t care about that because I don’t have to say anything and everyone else is there. Everyone walks onto the stage, the girl is standing on a box, she tries to get off the box but she falls over. Everyone starts laughing. The teacher picks her up and shouts at everyone to shut up but they keep laughing. Some of the parents are laughing too. The girl starts to cry and runs off the stage. At least I never fell over, I didn’t like her anyway so I don’t feel bad for her. The curtain closes on the stage, the teacher keeps shouting at people but we all run through the curtains to our mums and dads.

“I told you it would be easy! You were brilliant!”

“I tried to get sick but it wouldn’t work.”

“What did you do that for?”

“I didn’t want to do it.”

Her eyes roll around and she ruffles my hair. What’s my surprise?

“Here’s your sweets for your story, I told you it would be fine!”

“Thank you Miss! Mum? What’s my surprise?”

“You’ll see in a bit, did you ask John if he wanted to come?”

“Can I take someone else?”

“Take whoever you like, love but they need to ask their mum or dad first.”

“Okay, I’ll be back in two minutes.”

If his mum wasn’t here I think he might have gone home already. I run over to where he was sitting but he isn’t there. I go back to the classroom to see if he has gone to get his bag. He is there, reading the rest of the book he was reading earlier.

“I wanted to finish it in case it isn’t here after Christmas.”

“My mum wants to take me somewhere, it’s a surprise and she says I can bring one of my friends. Do you want to come with me?”

He looks a little bit sad, then he smiles.

“Yes, but you have to come to my house first so I can ask my mum.”

“Okay, let’s go.”

Mark’s mum looks like she is a bit frightened but she tells mum and nanny to come in for a cup of tea. We go inside and sit down, mum goes to the kitchen with his mum and I can hear them talking. They come back with some tea and some biscuits. I take one of the biscuits but it doesn’t taste very nice.

Their Christmas tree is small and there aren’t many decorations. Their television is really small too. It feels like an old house. In the corner of the room there are lots of books in a pile. His mum sees me looking at them.

“Have a look through them, if you like them you can take one.”

“He’s enough books of his own at home.”

“Mark, make sure you behave yourself when you’re out.”

“I will! Where are we going?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

“It won’t be too late by the time we get home.”

“It doesn’t matter, they don’t have school tomorrow.”

“Mum? Why can’t Mark’s mum come with us?”

“She’s tired love, maybe she’ll come with us another time.”

We sit upstairs on the bus. So many people are outside shopping, it’s like day time but it’s almost night time. They all have big bags full of things. The bus is moving slowly because there are lots of cars. Mark stares out the window too, he doesn’t say anything, he looks happy. I looked at the front of the bus to see where it was going but it’s to a place that I have never heard of.

The bus turns and I know where we are! We’re in Oxford Street! I can see all the lights hanging over the street. They’re all different colours, there’s lots of stars and angels and Christmas trees, there’s Father Christmas with his reindeers and presents. Mum moves us to the front of the bus so we can see better. They all look so close. I look at Mark but his eyes are wide open and so is his mouth, he looks back at my mum and smiles at her. We pass all the shops, they have trees and presents in all of their windows, I want to go inside, it looks real, like they are really Father Christmas’ house!

We get off the bus, mum holds both of our hands. There are so many people, pushing past each other, all of them with big bags, none of them say sorry, I think that’s a bit rude! I look up at the lights as we walk along the street. They go the whole way across the road, all the way down the road, how many are there? How long did it take them? How did they make all of them? Mum takes us along the road, both of us are staring upwards.

It’s cold but I don’t feel cold, I feel really warm. Some people stop to take a picture of me, I forgot! I am still wearing my green costume and I still have big, red, rosy cheeks! They don’t speak English but they laugh and smile at me as they take a picture.

We stop in front of a big shop. Nan bends down gives me a twenty pound note, I put it into my pocket. Wow! What can I buy with a twenty pound note! Inside the shop it’s filled with kids and toys, there are toys everywhere. I wish I could buy all of them. There are so many colours too, things I’ve never seen, there’s a little helicopter flying around with kids running after it trying to catch it. There’s a man dressed as Father Christmas and he has lots of elves, kids are waiting to see him. I can tell him what I want for Christmas!

Mark is looking at some Lego, it’s not big, just a small thing you can make. He puts it down again and comes over and plays table football with me. He’s quite good, he beats me three times. He goes back to the Lego toy and looks at it again, he reads the back of the box and then puts it back.

“How much is it?”

“It’s £15, I just like the look of it but it’s too expensive, I don’t want it anyway.”

“I can buy it for you.”

“No, it’s okay, I don’t want it. One day I can get it, you can buy yourself a present for Christmas.”

“No, I want to buy it for you!”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, I just thought you might like it.”

“It’s okay, I don’t want it, it’s good just to see it. What are you going to buy with your money?”

“I don’t know, there’s too much here, I want everything.”

I really wanted to buy it for him but he wouldn’t let me. Maybe he’s shy. He doesn’t seem to be unhappy, he keeps laughing and smiling as we look at all the other toys. Mum calls us both over and tells us it’s time to go home.  As we sit on the bus on the way home, I look out at one of the stars and make a wish. I wish that the snowman doesn’t come to visit me, I wish he goes to visit Mark and his mum and they can go out together.

 

Christmas post today! This short story is taken from my book of short stories ‘Queen’s Park to The Elephant’ which can be bought on Amazon. I probably won’t be posting here until the next book is out as I don’t have the time but once the book is finished I’ll be posting each weekday. Thank you for all your support this year, those who’ve bought my books and those who have even liked, commented or shared my work. It’s not been the easiest of years for me but the small things keep you going! 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/meager/

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You Must Repent My Child

Climbing the stairs John considers the meaning of life. He’s just seen Rob’s ex-girlfriend, she looks frail, sick. He never really liked her but on seeing her today can’t but help feeling sorry for her. She didn’t acknowledge him, on purpose or because she’s living in that fuzzy cloud of addiction which wraps you up and takes you away from any meaningful interaction with people, he doesn’t know. How can people let themselves go like that? You want to pick them up and slap it out of them but that would be futile. How can his best friend long for someone who is in that state? He shakes his head as he puts the key in the door, happy to be home and in the warmth.

Sandra Flynn is sitting on the sofa, head between her legs, suddenly she flings her arms into the air, looking up at the ceiling. She begins to sing, swaying as the words to a hymn John has never heard before come from her mouth. He looks at his father who is sitting in his arm chair, resigned to his wife’s new found religious fanaticism he throws out his hands and shakes his head. In front of Sandra Flynn is a bible and six candles. She looks at her son and closes her eyes, his presence emphasises the disappointment she has in him, he’s a failure in all walks of life, his soul beyond all saviour.

Scattered across the floor are newspaper cuttings, pictures of the Spice Girls cut up, their eyes having been filled in with red. Next to the newspaper cuttings are a collection of cassette tapes which have been broken, the brown tape all over the floor.  She taps the seat next to her, indicating for him to sit down. John reluctantly sits next to her, convinced his mother has been possessed. Maybe she’s been taking drugs on the sly, popping acid tabs, finally giving into the monotony of her life. She places her hand on his and offers up a prayer, then looks her son in the eyes.

‘The time has come my child.’

‘Mum…’

‘You have to repent, give in to God’s will.’

‘Mum…’

‘The time will soon be upon us John! He will come down and judge us for our sins, you don’t want to live eternity in the fiery depths of hell do you son? I’ve asked Jeremiah to come and speak to you.’

‘Who the fuck is Jeremiah?’

‘He is the man who will save your soul my dear child.’

‘Mum, I think you might need to see a doctor.’

Two weeks ago Sandra had been in the queue at Sainsbury’s when a man had pushed in front of her. Sandra wasn’t the kind of person to tut her disapproval, instead she proceeded to batter the man with a joint of beef. The man declined to call the police and Sandra gained her place back in the queue. Once her shopping was finished she went to the pub and drank herself stupid, Tony Flynn having to pick her up and carry her home. The following day was when the man turned up, bible in hand, soothing words, saviour from the ills of the modern world. Being hungover is a person’s must vulnerable time, and these characters love vulnerability.

At first he said he just wanted a chat, he wasn’t there to convert her, if she doesn’t like what he was saying she could tell him to leave, he wouldn’t mind. He proceeded to explain to her that there was evil in the world and it had come in disguise. The Spice Girls were five evil witches sent from hell to corrupt the youth. Sandra thought their songs were quite catchy but when she came to think about it, that one with the black hair, the ‘posh’ one, she did look like she might be capable of causing the apocalypse. That ‘scary’ one, she wasn’t sure about her either.

Jeremiah had come every day since. Sitting down with her they read the bible together and sang songs of praise. She had come to realise her whole life had been a lie, it had been empty, how could she possibly have made it so far in life without the Lord to guide her? Jeremiah had given her new hope, she was going to save her son. She wouldn’t save her husband though, there would be no point in saving him.

There’s a knock at the door, John looks at his father again, imploring him to help. He just shrugs his shoulders. ‘You know what she’s like, she’ll be an atheist next week.’

Sandra returns with a man behind her, she has a big smile on her face. The man, who John assumes is this Jeremiah geezer, is swaying as he walks, his hands in the air. John realises his own mouth is wide open.

‘I can feel the presence of the Lord, he is here among us.’ He points at John ‘and you my child, he is telling me that you are a bad man. You’ve done some bad things! But don’t worry! I am here to save you and through the power of prayer and Jesus Christ, today we will save you! Sandra, get a bowl of tap water, we will baptise him right here and now!’

‘Listen mate, I don’t know who you are but you ain’t baptising me and you need to stay away from my mother.’

‘John! Jeremiah is here to help you.’

‘Jeremiah is a con man mum! Dad, for fuck’s sake, help me out here?’ His father just shakes his head and reads his newspaper, passing off religious conversions by men called Jeremiah in his living room as an everyday occurrence.

‘My boy! We will save you! Your mother has told me all about you, she’s worried! She’s told me all about the girl you are seeing! She’s a harridan in disguise John! You must forsake her, she will only bring you trouble.’

John grabs the intruder and pulls him to the door. A large wad of cash falls from Jeremiah’s jacket pocket and scatters over the floor. There must be at least a couple of grand. Tony Flynn suddenly becomes interested.

‘Where did you get that kind of money from?’

‘The Lord gave it to me and it isn’t your place to question.’ Jeremiah begins to shake violently, speaking in tongues. This act must go down quite well looking at the pile of cash he’s amounted.

‘Mum, check your Christmas money.’

Sandra Flynn appears awoken from her religious experience and looks angry. Jeremiah is still flailing around, shouting about the Lord and the end of the world which is almost upon us all. She opens the cabinet door and looks inside the money box which is a bull wearing a sombrero, she bought it when they went to Spain a few years back. The money is gone. She picks up the bull wearing sombrero and lands a blow on the side of Jeremiah’s face. Realising the Lord isn’t going to save him he flees, Sandra chasing him down the stairs.

‘Dad, you need to take her to the doctor. Every day I come home there’s a new kind of madness happening in this house. Why did you let that geezer in here?’

‘We got the money back didn’t we? You know what she’s like John, she goes through phases.’

‘Fucking phases? She’s just had a nutcase in here stealing her money while trying to perform a religious ceremony and you’re sitting there reading the newspaper!’

He looks out the window, at the bottom of the black of flats he can see Jeremiah still running, just behind him is Sandra. He shakes his head, wondering how many bizarre things can happen to one person in a few days.

Sandra returns, she walks into the living room and blows out the candles and takes the newspaper cuttings, broken tapes and puts them all into a black bag and throws them into the rubbish bin. She sits down on the sofa and turns the television on.

‘Tony, do you fancy going for a couple of drinks tonight?’

‘Yeah, that would be nice.’

 

‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ is my upcoming novel about the intertwining lives of three people living in London in the 1990s. Love, loss and the moral dilemmas faced by Rob, Sarah and John set in the background of a decade which saw society go through rapid change. It’s the first of a series of books which are set in different decades of the 20th Century. You can read the introductions to JohnSarah and Rob by clicking on their names. You can also look through the previous weeks post on this blog. The novel will be available from 21st December and will be FREE digitally for the first two days before going on general sale on Amazon. Please share it with your friends on social media! Follow my blog or like my Facebook page to get the download link on 21st. 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/legend/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jihadi Mack and La La

‘I reckon he’s a terrorist.’

‘What do you mean he’s a terrorist?’

‘I went for a piss and there’s a box of screwdrivers and batteries and shit next to the door in his room.’

‘He likes to fix things.’

‘Where did you meet him? There was all mad wires coming out of a box, there’s another geezer in that room in the back as well. What if he kidnaps us?’

‘He’s a friend of a friend, don’t worry about him, man. He’s a good guy, he ain’t a terrorist. You’re just saying that because he’s from Pakistan.’

‘Nah, man. I’m saying it because I just seen a box full of wires and batteries and the guy is a bit fucking mental. Why do you bring me to these places? I just wanted to stay at home and watch the football.’

‘Free hash innit.’

A short, tubby guy dances into the room throwing punches at thin air, then making a gun with his fingers he blows off some imaginary smoke.

‘I used to be boxing champion. In Pakistan, you know?’

‘Yeah, my friend is from Pakistan.’

‘When I was in army, no one can beat me.’ He looks at himself in the mirror which is propped up against a wall. He’s obviously not seeing what John and Rob are seeing because he’s quite pleased with himself, even giving the imaginary muscles on his arms a flex. He turns around to face them again, throwing two punches into the air and then sitting down on a chair, lighting up a Benson and Hedges.

The room the three of them are sitting in is empty apart from four chairs and an old computer which is sat in the corner. It’s one of them computers you used to have when you were in primary school that can’t really do anything. There isn’t even a disk drive in it. It’s that old it looks like it should have a crank on it that you need to wind up to get it going.

‘I will start a business, in this shop. What do you think?’

‘What kind of business?’

‘Computer business.’ John looks at the computer and then back at Mack, he seems quite serious. John nods his head, not really wanting confrontation with the former boxing soldier. Not that he looks hard or anything, but he seems a bit unpredictable, and you never know what else he might have in that back room of his.

‘What do you do now Mack?’

‘Drive a taxi. My friend, La La, he drives taxi too. Now he’s sleeping, very tired.’ La La must be the fella in the back room. He can’t be hard with a name like La La. Mack takes a piece of hash from his pocket and throws it over to them, gesturing to help themselves.

‘When you going to start your business Mack?’

‘Tomorrow, I’ll pay you if you come. I want you involved in my business, you look like an intelligent man.’

‘What do you want me to do?’

‘Nothing, tomorrow you come, sit here, maybe smoke, it’s okay, no problem.’ John and Rob look at each other. ‘How much you going to pay?’

‘Now, I can not pay you, but when the business is good I will give you lots of money.’

‘So you want me to come and sit in this room all day for nothing.’

‘This business can not fail my friend. Don’t look so sad, you should be happy.’

‘I am happy, Mack. Very happy.’

‘Show us some of your boxing moves Mack.’ Rob taps John on the leg, Mack gets excited at being asked to perform.

‘One minute.’ He shouts to the back room in Urdu but there’s no reply. ‘Fucking, lazy bastard, always sleeping.’ Two minutes later he comes back with a man behind him. The man has long hair, wiping away the sleep from his eyes, Mack points to him to stand in the middle of the room. The sleepy man, who they both assume is this La La fella, obeys and stands in the middle of the room, hands by his side, not really sure what’s going on. Mack puts his hands up and starts jabbing at the air. La La puts his hands up in defence. John and Rob look at each other both wondering if the scene in front of them is really happening.

Mack throws another few jabs at La La, they land just short. La La looks a bit like one of the Beatles when they went on one of their mad acid things. His jeans are flared at the bottom too, La La evidently still thinks it’s 1964. Another punch is swung at him, he deflects it with his arm, but there’s a bit of a fire lit in him in now, he’s start to hop a bit on his feet, swaying, his hands starting to rise. Mack is shouting at him in Urdu, throwing a punch which hits him on the chest, La La falls back a bit then in one swift movement uppercuts Mack, Mack falling to the floor, La La standing over him looking like he’s going to reach into his back pocket.

‘No! No! La La, my friend! No need, no need, it was just a joke.’ La La hesitates and then picks Mack up off the floor. Mack says something to him in Urdu, he pulls a knife from the back of his flared jeans and passes it to Mack. La La now disarmed, Mack loses his shit, shouting in Urdu and pointing to one of the chairs and then to the front door of the shop. Lala, head down, picks up the chair and carries it out the door, Mack following.

‘Is there a back door in here because these two cunts are off their fucking heads and I want out Rob?’

Rob just giggles half stoned, getting up from his chair and pulling the curtain which covers the shop window. They both peer out, La La is sat in the middle of the road on the red chair, head down staring at the floor, Mack shouting out him.

‘Seriously, mate, I’m off, these two are mental and if we don’t go we’ll end up underneath the fucking floorboards.’ Before he can make his way to find a backdoor Mack is back inside, La La still outside sitting on his chair looking suitably admonished. Mack has a big smile on his face, he throws two punches in the air and gives them both a thumbs up, discounting that they just saw him get knocked to floor.

‘I want to show you something.’

‘I’m busy Mack, I’ve gotta go and see my mate about something. Show me next time, been really nice meeting you though mate.’

‘No, no my friend, five minutes.’ He lights another Benson and Hedges and looks even more excited than when he was asked to demonstrate his boxing skills. They follow him into the back room, where he reaches under his bed and pulls out a covered sword. Rob looks at John and for the first time looks petrified.

‘What’s that Mack?’

‘My father gave me, inheritance, my father was big man in the army.’

There are times in life when you consider if your time is up, it’s human to think about death and how you might eventually go. Generally people hope you they will go peacefully, not at the hands of a mad man with a sword. John turns around and sees La La has reappeared, standing behind them, his eyes look gone. This is it. All because his mate knew some geezer who knew some geezer who would give them free hash. Those shitty videos they show you at school where some kid is smoking a spliff and the next day banging up smack in a crackhouse flashes through his mind. He’s going to be the poster boy for a new drug campaign. The headline in tomorrow’s Sun ‘Hash Smoking Kid has Head Chopped Off by Mad Pakistani’.

Mack puts the sword down on the bed, distracted by the box of wires and batteries John had seen earlier. He starts shouting at La La, La La produces a screwdriver and hands it over to Mack. John and Rob look at each other, still conscious of the sword on the bed and wondering how would be best to remove themselves from the situation. Mack points at the box and laughs.

‘He stole my screwdriver, tomorrow, me, my friend we make boom.’

‘What do you mean you make boom, Mack?’

‘My friend, go to his house make big boom, have a party.’ Mack starts dancing, John and Rob laugh with him, not because it’s funny but because they don’t want to piss him off. He really does want to make a bomb, there could be explosives in here as well.

‘My friend, electrics, big problem, his light not working so I say I fix it, make boom look nice.’

Relief flows through both of their bodies.

‘Oh! You mean you’re going to help him make his room look nice?’

‘Yes, then big party! You come? La La will come.’ La La isn’t even listening and doesn’t look the type who’d be the life and soul of a party, not the best selling point, never mind the sword, boxing match and the potential bomb.

‘Sorry, Mack! I’ve got somewhere I need to go tomorrow night. Maybe next time.’

‘Okay, now you two go. I sleep, later have to drive taxi.’ They both turn around without saying goodbye, pushing past La La and out the front door, the red chair is still sat in the middle of the street.

‘Don’t ever bring me to any of these lunatics you know again. I though it was over Rob, I thought he was going to chop us both up!’

‘What’s the matter with you? We could have had him! You thought the poor geezer was a terrorist, he only wanted to fix up his mate’s room!’

‘Fuck off! I’m getting the bus home, don’t come near me for the next week.’

‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ is my upcoming novel about the intertwining lives of three people living in London in the 1990s. Love, loss and the moral dilemmas faced by Rob, Sarah and John set in the background of a decade which saw society go through rapid change. It’s the first of a series of books which are set in different decades of the 20th Century. You can read the introductions to JohnSarah and Rob by clicking on their names. The novel will be available from 21st December and will be FREE digitally for the first two days before going on general sale on Amazon. Please share it with your friends on social media! Follow my blog or like my Facebook page to get the download link on 21st. 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/inheritance/

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Turkey

Sarah is sitting next to Marjory, the old woman is telling her all about how she hasn’t seen her sister for ten years. They’d had a fight, Marjory wanted goose for Christmas but her sister, whose name she’s vowed never to say again, wanted turkey. The sister bought the goose and Marjory lobbed it out of the window and then set fire to the tablecloth. Sarah tries to look interested and not frightened, nodding her head as though the crazy old woman sitting at the bus stop is a reasonable person. Sarah cranes her head out for the fifth time in a minute, willing the bus to turn up. Marjory spits on the floor and stamps her foot, vowing if she ever went near her sister again she’d send her to an early grave.

She spots a kitchen knife in the woman’s shopping bag. To her horror the woman takes the knife out and starts to explain the virtues of having a good knife. Having a good knife is essential if you want to get anywhere in life. Marjory’s eyes are now locked on the knife, no doubt thinking about her estranged sister. Sarah decides she hasn’t been doing enough exercise recently and walking would be a good idea. She says goodbye to Marjory who is devastated the stranger won’t sit with her, wondering what she could possibly have done wrong.

A misty rain which soaks you right through is falling, she pulls her hood up cursing Marjory for being a nutcase and not letting her get the bus in peace. She didn’t even want to go to this thing today but she was persuaded by her over enthusiastic friend, the one who thinks everything is ‘great’, ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ and more than occasionally ‘bloody marvellous!’. What better way to spend a hungover Monday morning than helping under privileged kids because it’ll look good on your C.V?

Some of the kids are standing around outside the doors of the community centre. Walking past, one of them shoves a piece of paper in front of her and asks for her phone number. The kid is about eleven. She laughs and shakes her head. The kid calls her a ‘slut’ because what better represents a loose woman than one who won’t give out her phone number to an eleven year old? Inside the building is cold, the central heating broken again. She scans the room looking for her friend, hoping to God she’s arrived before her. She can’t see her, but she can see that bloke she met at the party the other night, she can’t remember his name, oh Jesus! Maybe she is a slut.

John looks irritated by the kids who are swarming around him. They’re tugging at his shirt which he bought the other day, if the little bastards ruin his shirt he’ll spike the orange juice with Valium, then the little fuckers won’t be so hyper. There was a bottle of Valium on his mum’s bedside table, he weighs it up as one of the kids runs around him in circles shouting the word ‘bollocks’ continuously. One of them might overdose though and then he’d be fucked. Another kid punches the ‘bollocks’ kid and a load of them all pile in together on the floor kicking the shit out of each other.

He spots Sarah standing on her own, looking terrified at the hordes of feral youth who they’re supposed to be looking after. Another volunteer student is trying to undo them from their pile of bodies but catches a left hook, his glasses falling onto the floor. He walks over and grabs her by the hand, walking her out the back door and through an alleyway, emerging onto the street.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘My friend, she said I should come along, she said it was fulfilling and I’d get a lot out of it.’

‘The only thing you’ll get out of that lot is abuse and a black eye.’

He checks his shirt. He doesn’t usually wear pink, not really that masculine and a couple of his mates have been questioning his sexuality owing to him not having a girlfriend. He becomes self-conscious, she might think he’s gay. She can’t think he’s gay, he slept with her the other night. She might think she was some kind of experiment though, a test to see if he really liked women or not.

‘Do you think this shirt looks gay?’ She looks at the shirt.

‘A little bit.’ For fuck’s sake. ‘We going to go back in there?’ she asks him, obviously not that bothered about the shirt.

‘I don’t really want to, I’m only here because my mum knows the woman who runs it and I’m supposed to be a good example.’ She looks at him with doubting eyes.

‘I didn’t know you lived around here.’

‘Yeah, lived here all my life.’

‘What a lovely coincidence.’

She’s trying to think of something to say but it’s awkward. He’s saved her from the madhouse of the youth centre but now they’re stuck in that limbo between ever flowing conversation breaking out or awkward silences punctuated by silly questions neither are particularly bothered about the answers to.

‘I’ve got some draw, do you wanna smoke a spliff then we can go back inside? It’ll make it a bit easier.’

‘Yeah, go on then.’

They stand together in a back alley, John trying to roll up a spliff but his hands are shaking, he feels like a teenager who’s trying to impress because he’s got a five draw of shit hash but doesn’t really know how to skin up. She’s watching his hands which makes it more difficult. He lights it up and hands it to her, she takes a large pull and holds it in, then slowly blows the smoke out of her mouth.

‘What do you prefer, goose or turkey?’

‘I’ve never eaten goose, so probably turkey.’

‘Personally I’d prefer turkey. If someone served you up goose on Christmas day instead of turkey what would you do?’

‘I’d eat it.’

‘Some woman at the bus stop wanted to stab her sister because she wanted goose.’

John looks at her, wondering if this girl is insane. She didn’t seem insane the other night. They were both out of their minds though, the insanity bar is raised higher when you’re on something. There must be something wrong with her, why the fuck is she talking about geese and turkeys. He nods his head, trying to think of something to say which would enable him to judge the level of her sanity. Any question which would require a simple answer, if she starts going on about poultry then it might be time to go.

‘What are you doing this weekend?’

‘I’m going back home for the weekend. My mum wants to go Christmas shopping. It’ll be boring, shopping with her, then we’ll probably go for a walk around the lake on Sunday morning, feed the ducks.’

She’s completely fucking mental. This is why he doesn’t have a girlfriend, any girl he’s interested in turns out to be a nutcase. She hands him back the spliff, he pulls in as much as he physically can, hoping the sweet fumes will ease the pain of his broken heart caused by the bird obsessed woman next to him.

‘What about you?’

‘Dunno, probably go down the pub or something.’ He doesn’t want to give too much away in case she changes her mind and decides she doesn’t want to go home and would rather spend the weekend with him. She is beautiful though.

‘That’s cool. I’m coming back to London for a couple of days before Christmas next week, do you fancy going for a drink?’

Her hazel eyes are slightly glazed over but he can’t help himself from looking at them. A little bit of crazy never hurt.

‘Yeah, go on then.’ He tries to sound cool, like he had to make a decision, in reality he was never going to say no, crazy or not. A piece of ash falls onto his shirt, he wipes it away. He should wear pink more often maybe it’s lucky.

‘We’d better go back inside, my friend will be thinking I haven’t turned up.’ She throws the end of the spliff on the floor, crushing it with her foot. They walk back down the alley and into the back door of the youth centre. Chaos is still ensuing, Coke spilt all over the floor, the broken spectacled student looks on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Sarah sees her friend talking to some kid, her friend waves at her. She mouths ‘I’ve got to go’, no way is she sticking around, her C.V can go fuck itself if this is what is required to make yourself look ‘experienced’ and ‘worldly.’

She waves goodbye to John who looks sad to see her go. He’s surrounded by kids who are pulling at his shirt again. The kid who asked for her number is blowing kisses at him and making limp wristed gestures. She decides to walk back home to her shared flat, just in case there’s any more Marjories waiting for her at the bus stop.

John sneaks out the back door again, this time climbing over a wall and down onto a path which leads home. He whistles to himself as the miraculously working lift brings him up to the eighteenth floor. He’s managed to get himself a girlfriend, well not yet, but it’s looking likely, she wouldn’t have asked him if she wasn’t interested. Doubt creeps into his mind, maybe she just felt sorry for him. Nah, she doesn’t seem like the type of person to feel sorry for others. Maybe she is nuts and she sees him as a willing victim. He scratches his head as he turns the key in the door, optimism has gone to questioning and then to pessimism in the space of a lift ride.

Standing in the kitchen his mum is dangling a turkey out the window, his dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen looking distraught trying to reason with her.

‘I told you I wanted a goose, why did you get a turkey? You never listen to me!’ His mother’s recent forays into the bible haven’t calmed her temper.

‘It’s cheaper, and look at it, it’s a nice turkey!’

‘It’s going out the window.’

‘Don’t throw it out the window, you’ll kill someone!’

John turns around and goes straight back out the door. The world has gone fucking mental and he’s the only sane person left in it.

‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ is my upcoming novel about the intertwining lives of three people living in London in the 1990s. Love, loss and the moral dilemmas faced by Rob, Sarah and John set in the background of a decade which saw society go through rapid change. It’s the first of a series of books which are set in different decades of the 20th Century. You can read the introductions to JohnSarah and Rob by clicking on their names. The novel will be available from 21st December and will be FREE digitally for the first two days before going on general sale on Amazon. Please share it with your friends on social media! Follow my blog or like my Facebook page to get the download link on 21st. 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/theory/

Village People and Fairy Lights

The figure lying next to him in his bed is dressed in white, two wings protruding from his back, a fucking fairy! Not the fairy of children’s books or Disney films. This fairy has hairy legs, a beard you could get lost in and looks about twenty stone. John closes his eyes, counts to ten and then opens them again, the fairy is still lying on the bed and it’s not just a nightmare or a fucked up trip. There’s really a man dressed as a fairy lying in his bed, snoring. He climbs over him, on the floor there’s a white wand with a star at the top of it, he runs his hand through his hair staring at the white clad man on the bed.

Under his bed there’s a baseball bat. It’s there for emergencies. He takes it out and holds it above the fairy, aiming to land a blow directly on to his back. He’s going to beat the shit out of him. His conscience pipes up. There could be an entirely innocent reason there’s a man dressed as a fairy is in his bed. He lowers the bat. Huge men dressed up as fairies can never be innocent. He raises the bat again. The man stirs and falls off the bed. He stands up in front of John, the sunlight shining through his two wings.

‘Some night that. Look after yourself John, I’ll be getting home.’ The fairy leaves the room and exits through the front door. Entering the lift he joins an old lady and a young mother who clutches her son closer to her. They descend together to the ground floor before the fairy takes off into the December morning.

John watches from his window. Even at eighteen floors up the fairy is unmistakeable. He climbs on to a bus and away to where ever he came from. Realising he’s still naked he clutches his arse to make sure he hasn’t been violated. It’s not sore. How the fuck did he end up in bed with a fairy?

Christmas. It’s that time of year where everyone gets excited. Your mum gets the box of decorations out of the cupboard, the weird looking, concertina like gold ones which stretch across the ceiling and look as though they should be part of a seventies disco. Stayin’ Alive would be more appropriate than ‘Silent Night.’ Whether she’s religious or not she’ll get a bit of a nativity going as well, a stable made from a Rice Crispies box, Joseph will be missing his head because he’s been around for the last thirty years, taken out carefully and with respect but launched back into the box on 6th of January each year.

His mum has a baby Jesus figurine in her hand, she’s looking at it intently. Her feet surrounded by baubles and tinsel John tries to restrain himself from laughing. His mum isn’t the least bit religious.

‘I like Jesus you know.’

‘Oh yeah…’

‘Yeah, he had a hard life though.’

‘He was the Son of God, I’m sure it could have been worse.’

‘I know, but they did some terrible things to him. I’ve been reading the bible recently.’

John raises his eyebrows, not sure how to continue the conversation and fearful his mother wants a theological discussion.

‘Where did you get the bible from?’

‘A man come to the door the other day, really nice fella he was. I made him a cup of tea and he gave it to me. Said he would come back next week.’

His father bursts in the door with a Christmas tree, a real one, a delighted smile on his face. His mother puts baby Jesus down and forgets about the bible.

‘Did you get any lights for it?’ Pat Flynn looks down at the tree and then back at his wife, his adventures in Christmas tree buying not appreciated. There’s always something missing, he could have nicked the tree out of Trafalgar Square and she still would have moaned.

‘John, the shops won’t be closed for another hour. Go and get some lights. I can’t put the tree up without any lights on it.’ John grabs his jacket, happy to get out of the house instead of sitting around watching his mother put up ancient Christmas decorations while she talks to him about her new-found interest in the word of Jesus. His dad can do that, he needs a bit of saving.

The high street is full, a couple of weeks to go before the big day. He could moan about the rampant commercialisation of a holiday which should be about family and having a good time together but he won’t because his mum has bought him a television for his room at uni. He’ll have to have a word with her about that fella that’s coming around talking to her about the bible though in case he puts any ideas in her head. He stops outside the door of Woolworth’s, the place is packed full of kids picking up toys and throwing them on the floor. The security guard looks suicidal.

Passing the pic and mix, he glances back to the security guard, sees he’s struggling trying to take a fluffy toy from a small child who doesn’t believe in paying for things and grabs a handful of sweets and puts them in his pocket. The section filled with Christmas tree lights is a bit quieter, he walks up and down trying to decide which ones will suffice, if she doesn’t like them she’ll send him back up here. There’s one with all different colours, she’ll like that, if it’s just one colour she’ll say it’s too plain.

Back out on the street he sees his friend struggling down the road with a Christmas tree. People tut and look back at him with passive aggressive anger. How dare someone buy a chirstmas tree and disturb their shopping! A tut will do though, a tut means you can express your anger but it still gives you a get out, you can say it wasn’t directed at them, you were just tutting to yourself. Anything more than a tut would be an open display of aggressiveness and that just wouldn’t do, not at Christmas, everybody loves each other at Christmas.

‘Where you going with that?’

‘Where do you think I’m going with it? You going home? Give us a hand with it mate. I keep getting in people’s way and they’re getting the hump.’

‘Fancy a pint?’

‘Will they let me in with the tree?’

‘Of course they will!’

They stumble in the door of the pub, the pines scattering all over the floor. The owner looks at the tree and then at John and Rob.

‘Where can we put it while we have a couple of pints?’

‘Put it in the toilet, only place with space.’

‘What if someone nicks it?’

‘If someone nicks it you’re fucking blind.’

Another thing about Christmas is that you can drink as much as you like and nobody cares. Any other time of the year, if you got absolutely paraletic, almost fell in front of a train on the way home and then fell asleep on a bench outside the train station everyone would start talking. ‘Maybe he’s got a problem.’ Then the rumours would start, someone saw you adding a bit of vodka to your cup of tea at lunchtime, maybe an intervention is needed. At Christmas? No problem! Drink meths, have a party with the tramps who live at the back of the church, burn your house down because you’re too pissed to turn the cooker off and finish it all off by running naked down the high street proclaiming yourself the second coming of Christ. It’s Christmas! he just got a bit carried away they’d say.

One pint turns into five as John and Rob reminisce about the Christmas’s they had as kids. After seven Rob decides to bring out the Christmas tree from the toilets. Putting it in the middle of the pub floor, inviting anyone with an eye for decoration to get involved. The tree is adorned with shot glasses, empty packets of cheese and onion crisps and finally, an upturned pint glass on top. Far more fitting than a star. John takes the multi coloured lights from their box and throws them on to the tree.

A Christmas party arrives. Freddie Mercury, the Village People and a fairy all stand at the bar ordering drinks, admiring the Christmas tree and making suggestions as to how it could be better decorated. Mercury thinks they should use salt and vinegar crisp packets because cheese and onion are too green and they blend in with the tree. The Village People become side tracked by three women who are sitting on their own. The fact that they are dressed better suited to a Soho gay club doesn’t deter them. Two of the regulars decide to try and lift the twenty-stone fairy up and put him on top of the tree but fail as they all fall into a pile, knocking the tree over to a loud cheer.

John knocks back another whiskey, buying Mercury and the Fairy one too. They’re best friends, fate has brought them together. They make plans to meet each other after Christmas, go for a drink together, it’d be a laugh. They’ll never see each other again, if they did there’d be awkward eye contact, maybe a ‘hello’ but nothing more. Rob is trying to pick up the tree, branches have snapped off, the realisation that his old man is going to kill him. He makes the decision to stay out all night and buy another one in the morning.

The landlord starts to push people out of the door, the crowds dispersing as they go their separate ways. John, Rob and the fairy stand outside the pub.

‘I’ve got a bottle of vodka, let’s find somewhere to drink it. I can’t go home with that tree, my dad will do his nut.’

The three of them sit in a children’s playground, unaware it’s freezing cold.

‘You know who I can’t stand?’, says the fairy.

‘Bruce Forsyth.’

‘What’s wrong with Brucie?’

‘He’s a wanker.’

‘You can’t talk like that about Bruce, mate.’

‘Can’t stand the geezer, that stupid thing he does with arms? Like he’s some kind of body builder? I could have him.’ The fairy gets up from the bench, agitated, John and Rob look at each other, slightly sobered by the angry fairy, concerned he might want to fight.

‘He ain’t that bad, old Brucie. I bet he gets a good a few Brucie Bonus’s himself!’ The fairy’s face softens, he fingers his beard. ‘Yeah, I suppose he ain’t that bad.’ From underneath his white lacy skirt and leggings he pulls a small bottle of vodka, opens the cap and takes a swig from it. ‘To Brucie!’, he offers it to Rob and John, both of them taking long swigs, toasting Brucie too.

The fairy loudly declares he’s drunk and doesn’t know his way home. John puts his arm around his shoulder and offers him a bed for the night, they leave Rob asleep on the bench, walking arm in arm down the street, singing Christmas carols. That’s the Christmas spirit.

‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ is my upcoming novel about the intertwining lives of three people living in London in the 1990s. Love, loss and the moral dilemmas faced by Rob, Sarah and John set in the background of a decade which saw society go through rapid change. It’s the first of a series of books which are set in different decades of the 20th Century. You can read the introductions to John, Sarah and Rob by clicking on their names. The novel will be available from 21st December and will be FREE digitally for the first two days before going on general sale on Amazon. Please share it with your friends on social media! Follow my blog or like my Facebook page to get the download link on 21st. 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/elegance/

 

These Shades of Black and White…

The ceiling above her has transformed itself into a theatre of dancing shadows. The cracks, the black marks streaked across the white paint all forming images. Pink elephants are supposed to be a sign of madness, she can’t see any pink elephants so she’s not insane yet. She wipes her eyes and turns over, facing the wall, stretching out her pencil thin legs, looking at her fingernails, remnants of red varnish scattered across them. She rolls herself of the mattress and pushes herself up so she’s standing. The light from the window in the living room is coming through the open door, it hurts her eyes.

The twenty-pound note lying on the kitchen worktop is the first thing which catches her eye. She always knew how to wrap him around her little finger. She picks it up and stuffs into the pocket of her jeans. There’s no one else in the house but the paranoia is always there, always thinking someone or something is watching you, going to take away from you what you need. She checks the worktop and then her pocket one more time. She doesn’t even trust herself.

Outside, the cold wind bites her face, a sign she’s feeling normal. If she wasn’t feeling normal she wouldn’t know what the weather was like, it’s irrelevant, the only thing driving her would be the overwhelming desire to find her white elixir of life. She pulls her hood up onto her head and lifts the collar so her face is covered. Human interaction isn’t desired unless it’s necessary and serves a purpose.

Passing a small playground she sees a little kid kicking a ball around. She has an urge to go and tell him to go to school, stop fucking around or he’ll end up like her. She went to school though and still ended up like this. The kid looks up as she passes, the collar of her jacket falls from her face, a smile appears on her lips, the kid smiles back, his face turning bright red. She pulls the collar back up and hurries her pace. She doesn’t hate kids, she just hates seeing them, she wants to be them and that hurts.

Before entering the block of flats she stops herself and walks back to the playground. The kid with the ball is still kicking it around. She uses her feet to push the broken shards of a bottle together and then pushes them into a corner next to a rubbish bin. She sits down on rim of one the swings and starts to push herself back and forward, trying not to fall through the hole that has been made by a bored kid.

‘Where are all your mates?’ The boy looks startled she’s talking to him, his face turning red again.

‘They’re all at school.’

‘Why aren’t you at school then?’

‘Don’t like it.’

‘You come here often?’

‘Sometimes, when my mum is at work I don’t like to be on my own. Down here I see people walking their dogs.’ She smiles at him, not really knowing how to carry on the conversation. He picks up the ball and throws it up in the air to himself.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

‘I want to be a football player.’

‘Keep practicing then, you’ll make it one day.’

‘I know I will.’

She stops the swing with her feet and walks up to the boy, he throws the ball to her and she kicks it awkwardly back to him, they both laugh. For ten minutes they kick the ball back and forth between them. She starts to feel weak, not having eaten since yesterday. She kicks the ball to him one more time, turning away from him with a wave and a smile.

She knocks on the door, the dog barks, the skinny man with the cap opens the door and lets her in, the dog disappearing into a doorway. She looks up at the gold framed picture on the wall, a hundred times she’s been in this flat and every time her eyes go straight to the absurd photo of the skinny man wearing a crown, the little dog in his lap. She wonders to herself if he knows how ridiculous he looks, if it’s just a form of control, knowing anyone seeing it would want to burst into laughter, but they won’t, because they’re scared. Nah. He’s not that intelligent or self-aware.

‘Did he pay for it?’

‘Yeah. He paid for it.’

‘It’s amazing…’ he looks at her with a sneer on his face.

‘What’s amazing?’

‘That he still loves someone as fucked up as you. It’s good for me though, it means I can torment him.’ She looks him straight in the eyes without replying, he shifts slightly, his eyes unable to hold hers.

‘Just give me what I’ve come for, I did what you asked.’ He pulls a small bag from under the armchair and tosses it into her lap. ‘Enjoy.’ She doesn’t want to seem eager but that’s just foolish pride on her part, she picks the bag out of her lap and pushes it into her pocket. The door to the balcony is open as usual, even on a freezing cold day. If she wasn’t an eight stone crackhead she’d be thinking about pushing him over it. Instead she gets up and leaves, the little dog around her ankles, she aims a kick at it but misses. The dog barks, Randolph laughs.

‘I’m going to ruin him, Claire. I’m going to enjoy doing it too.’

A tear runs down her face as she climbs the stairs. She pushes through the green door with her shoulder, twenty stories high, the wind is colder and stronger. She walks to the edge and looks down, her stomach drops, a shiver goes through her body. A gust of wind would do it, make it easier, take away all responsibility. She could never deal with responsibility. The wind dies down, she closes her eyes, willing herself to take one step forward. She tries to move her leg but it’s stuck to the ground, she opens her eyes again, tears now streaming from them. She steps back and sits down next to a T.V aerial, hugging her knees, not because of the cold but to have the pretence of having something to hold onto, to feel as though someone is hugging her.

She was sat on a bus yesterday and there were two girls sat behind her. They were talking about people they knew, the music they were listening to, what their plans were when they finished work. The music they were talking about she’d never heard, her bubble was impenetrable from the inside and the out. Her life was consumed by white rocks and her mattress. An empty shell of a flat which held nothing, no pictures of friends or family. A mattress, a pipe and that was her life. What music is popular, what people do with their lives she doesn’t know. She wanted to hate the two girls but she couldn’t.

The one person she’d loved in her life she was now helping someone to hurt them. This morning when he was there in her room, looking down at her she wanted to reach out, ask for help, anything to get away from the trap she’d walked into. She couldn’t. She let him go, and still he did something for her, leaving the money in her kitchen. She stands up again, the thought of his kindness and her own selfishness too hard to sit with. She walks to the edge again.

When you’re a kid, life is always black and white. You’re supposed to do something or you’re not supposed to do something. Actions are good or bad. When you grow up you realise that black and white fade into each other, there’s no line you cross between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. Someone presents you with an opportunity to make your life easier, you know it’s at the expense of someone you love and care for but your time together has long passed. So you choose black because you’re selfish.

She takes the small bag of white rocks from her pocket and holds them out. She closes her eyes and lets them go, opening them to watch as they disappear falling to the ground below. That’s one burden thrown away. She smiles to herself, it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be, if she can do that she can do anything. She looks up at the grey sky, implanting an image into her head of her and Rob walking happily to school on frosty winter mornings. She steps forward and falls. Her last memory a happy one. The loneliness was too much, regret and betrayal too consuming.

‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ is my upcoming novel about the intertwining lives of three people living in London in the 1990s. Love, loss and the moral dilemmas faced by Rob, Sarah and John set in the background of a decade which saw society go through rapid change. It’s the first of a series of books which are set in different decades of the 20th Century. You can read the introductions to John, Sarah and Rob by clicking on their names. The novel will be available from 21st December and will be FREE digitally for the first two days before going on general sale on Amazon. Please share it with your friends on social media! Follow my blog or like my Facebook page to get the download link on 21st. There will be three more short stories about their lives posted here on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. Thanks for reading and remember to share with friends!

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/varnish/

It’s a Sin…

Change is relative. Take Geri Halliwell for example. If she dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow Sarah wouldn’t care. Thousands of teenage boys would though. They’d be suicidal, distraught that the woman they lust after has disappeared and will no longer fill their screens. Baby, Posh, Scary and Sporty would have lost their Ginger, Simon Fuller would have to find himself another cash cow of talentless pop clones and the world would mourn a woman half of them didn’t give a shit about until she disappeared. This morning, her dad is the teenage boy, Scary, Baby, Sporty, Posh and Fuller rolled into one. The ginger one hasn’t just disappeared, she’s risen again and brought the seven horsemen of the apocalypse with her.

‘These people are going to ruin the country Sarah, and you’re part of the bloody problem.’ Sarah’s dad is looking at her over his newspaper. She rolls her eyes and carries on eating her toast, debating if replying to him is worth the trouble. He turns the page angrily. She wants to laugh but that will only send him off on a tirade about socialists and lazy students.

‘Maybe you’re the problem, dad.’ Her mother, who is sitting between Sarah and her father, fidgets with her knife, then butters a slice of toast which has already been buttered. Cecil Maykis puts the newspaper down flat on the table and stares at his daughter. There’s disgust in his eyes, he can’t believe that any child of his would be happy a political party who would do away with the social heiracy which has served the country so well has won the election. She’s 20 years old, his angel and he’s lost her.

‘When you grow up, Sarah, you will look back at this day and realise what an awful tragedy has befallen us.’ He stands up, banging his knee against the underneath of the table. All of his self-control is unable to stop him wincing, showing a weakness which will occupy his thoughts for the rest of the day. Being vulnerable is undesirable, and a woman, not just any woman, has made him look a fool. He storms off to his library to read books which agree with him and won’t argue back.

‘You shouldn’t wind him up like that, you know what he’s like.’ Violet Maykis throws the piece of toast in the bin, too much butter on it.

‘He’ll be fine later, I’m not around anyway, I’m going back to London.’ Violet silently offers up a prayer of thanks, no more conflict.

‘You are careful down there aren’t you, Sarah?’ Violet doesn’t like leaving the town she grew up in. Going to the big Tesco’s in the next town over is an ordeal. As far as she’s concerned London is filled with marauding gangs who rob and rape at will. Sarah imagines her mother’s image of the capital city is one of a place ringed with fire, Phil and Grant Mitchell terrorising the masses while Pat Butcher lookalikes wait at every corner, ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims. God himself frightened to come down and pass judgement on the evils that occur there. That’s what reading the Daily Mail and watching Eastenders does to you.

‘I attend drug filled orgies every night, mum. That’s why I’m going back, I need a fix, it can’t wait any longer. Look at me, I’m shaking!’ She holds her hand out, mockingly shaking it.

‘Just be careful, darling.’

‘I’m fine mum. You worry too much.’

Sarah walks through the sleepy little town to the train station. She hated it when she was a kid and she hates even more now. When she arrives all she can think about is going back to uni in London. It’s one of them places you’d make a postcard out of and people would say ‘oh, how lovely!’ and how they’d love to live there. The postcard doesn’t show the locals who want the country purged of anyone with less than white skin even though they’ve never met a foreigner, the 20 something men who roam the pubs thinking they rule the world because this place is the only world they’ve ever known. ‘Fuck this place’, she says to herself as the train pulls out of the platform.

Back in her large family home, her mother sheds a tear to herself. Like her father she feels as though she’s lost her daughter, but not because she has a mind of her own but because she was her companion. Now Sarah has grown up and left, the innocent girl who walked out the door fearful of going to university can’t wait to get away from them. She puts on her coat and takes a slow walk to the church where she lights a candle and prays her daughter will be sensible.

By the time Sarah is walking down the Euston Road she’s forgotten about her father’s strop and her mother’s words of warning. She stops at a phone box and calls her friend at their shared flat. No answer, she’s gone out without her. She lifts her backpack up with her hand, weighing it up. It’s not that heavy, it won’t be a nuisance, there’s no need to go home and get changed. She already has butterflies in her stomach, weighing the bag is just a show for herself, a little bit of persuasion that she has some self-control.

Someone has propped a drunk kid up against the wall of the pub, having gorged himself on sambuca shots he mutters to himself and shouts at passers-by. If only his parents could see him now. Inside the pub is packed, full of students, pint glasses in hand, drinking piss weak beer. She looks around for her friends, the creepy weirdo she avoids at all costs is standing by the bar on his own, he clocked her as soon as she walked in the door. He waves over at her, already convinced his unmatchable charisma and his father’s money are enough to get her home and in his bed. She doesn’t acknowledge him, looking straight past him. He’ll spend the rest of the night drinking himself into a stupor, hating the world and the people in it for not recognising his brilliance and charm.

From behind her she feels someone grab her hand. She turns, ready to chin the person invading her space, taking the liberty to touch her uninvited. In front of her is not the expected pissed person full of bravado but her best friend. They hug. ‘Let’s go, this place is shit,’ Jennifer says leading her back out the door and past the poor kid who is now lying on the floor, forgotten about, unable to walk and unaware of where he is.

‘Where we going?’ Sarah asks, being half dragged down the street and back onto the Euston Road.

‘A party. Better than being in there, I’d thought you’d want to get wrecked tonight, having been home for a few days.’ Jenny takes a pill from her small handbag and breaks it in half handing half to Sarah and swallowing the other half herself.

Outside the South London house she sits talking to a stranger. The world around her has become peaceful, the streetlights stream across her vision as she turns her head, every movement every touch feels like she’s being stroked, like a cat with an adoring owner. Her pious mother and angry father long forgotten, it seems as though it’s years since she’s seen them, not three hours. She leaves the stranger to explore the house, find someone else to talk to, someone else to share in her euphoria.

Opening a door to a high-ceilinged room she is greeted by a random person, a person she’s never seen before and a person she’ll probably never see again. Strangers in the night who cross paths in the pursuit of escape from the oppressive world around them full of rules and normals, torn down with the swallowing of a pill or ingestion of white powder. The music becomes part of her, inseparable, her movements dictated by the sounds which pierce into her soul and bring her mind to a state of love and exhilaration which will never be replicated. Next time it’ll just be a notch lower, an inevitable descent from a high that will be forever longed for.

Jennifer is in the room too, engaged in a conversation on the meaning of life and the consequences of living a hedonistic lifestyle. Only twenty years old, living life seriously can wait, what’s the point of wasting your youth searching for things you can’t find. The girl she’s talking to nods her head, proclaiming Jennifer to be a genius. Pleased with herself, Jennifer leaves the room in search of something to drink and someone else she can teach the rights and wrongs of living in a world and society obsessed with money and sanitised pop music. Geniuses are aplenty in the terraced Victorian house, Einstein would have no place here, even Plato himself would be bamboozled with the philosophical advancements taking place.

Sitting in an armchair in the corner, less concerned with spiritual enlightenment, John Flynn watches as the girl dances away, oblivious to all around her, lost in a world far away from the room she’s present in. There are times in your life where you come across someone who takes your breath away, from the moment you see them, you can’t take your eyes away from them.  The geezer next to him is talking but he can’t hear, he doesn’t want to hear, not interested. He’s already dreaming, dreaming of walking along white sandy beaches, beautiful blue skies, hand in hand with the black-haired girl he’s never met before.

Sarah floats over to the armchair in the corner of the room, the person sitting in it gets up and allows her to sit down, his smile is comforting.

‘You know what I really hate?’

‘Tell me.’

‘Nothing, right now there’s nothing in this world I hate. I don’t hate my father for living in the last century, I don’t hate my mother for thinking a candle and a prayer can solve the world’s problems.’

John nods his head. He said a prayer this morning when he was lying in his bed. Not a serious one, not one with conviction, he prayed to God because that would be better than talking to himself. Perhaps it’s the drugs, the warm feeling flowing through his body has become more intense, but his prayers have been answered, he’s sitting next to an angel.

This excerpt is a character introduction for my new series of books which are each based in a different decade. This is from the first one ‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ which is set in the 1990s. The book follows the intertwining lives of three people who are trying to discover where they are going in a decade where rapid change affects everyone’s lives. The first two introductions can be seen here and here

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/gorge/

I Think I Still Love Her

The wretched woman lying on the mattress in front of him props herself up with one hand and reaches for the crushed Coke can the other. Taking a lighter and placing her lips at the opening where normal people drink from, she flicks the lighter and holds it above the rock placed in the centre of the can. She inhales deeply and coughs, there’s a slight flicker in her eyes, not quite as dead 30 seconds ago. He feels like he should hate her, everyone else does, but he can’t, he feels sorry for her. Just eight years ago they were sat next to each other on a bus on the way home from school talking about what they were going to do for her birthday.

‘I need the money, Claire. If I go back there without it he’s going to do his nut.’

‘Fuck him! He was the one who got me here! Why are you scared of him anyway?’

‘You got yourself here, don’t start all that feeling sorry for yourself bollocks.’

‘Fuck you Rob! You saw where all this was going, why didn’t you help me?’

‘Stop blaming everyone else. Have you got the money or not?’

‘Help me out here Rob? I’ll give it back to you, I promise.’

He looks down at her lying on the mattress, legs like two matchsticks, all bone, her face is pale and sickly, her skin clinging to her cheekbones. She was beautiful and now look at her. Is it really my fault, he thinks to himself, what could I have done? He puts his hand into his pocket and pulls out a bunch of notes and starts to count them.

‘This is the last time Claire, next time he might not send me to collect the money and then you’ll be fucked.’

‘Thanks Rob. I’ll sort myself out, I promise.’

He shakes his head as he heads for the door of her flat, before leaving he pokes his head into the door of the kitchen. It’s bare, the worktops filthy, there’s water in the sink that looks like it’s been there for weeks, he stands in front of it wanting to let the water go but the smell and the colour put him off. He opens the fridge, it’s completely empty. He takes a twenty pound note from his pocket and leaves it on the side. She’ll only spend it on crack but at least it makes him feel better for not pulling the plug in the sink.

A woman comes out of her flat as he stands next to the lift, she looks him up and down and tuts to herself. The journey down in the lift is an uncomfortable one, the women sees him as the source of her problems, he’s the reason her next-door neighbour is letting the detritus of north west London hang about on their landing, why there are people coming at all hours of the morning waking up her eighteen month old baby. He wants to say to her ‘I’m just collecting money’ but that still makes him part of the problem.

Out in the open he takes in a deep breath, the horrible air of her flat and the smell from the sink cleansed by the chilly November air. He sits down in the small play area situated between two of the tower blocks. There’s a slide, a roundabout and a couple of swings. The seats in the swings have been broken so you can’t sit in them. Next to the roundabout is the remains of a bottle, glass shattered all over the floor. No wonder no one lets their kids play down here anymore.

The blocks were built in the 60s and 70s. New social housing, everyone can live together in homes in the sky, everything provided for. It would be a new kind of paradise, pictures of milkmen in their floats driving along landings, children happily playing outside. The reality was it was just an experiment that went wrong and now they don’t know what to do with them. Unemployment, drugs and the ignored all cramped into ugly looking concrete buildings where you can hear your neighbours every move.

His best mate is joining the police. He’s barely spoken to him for two years but he still sees him as his best mate, they shared too much, grew up joined at the hip. Rob envies him, if he’d have been bothered at school it could be him but he wasn’t. He was more interested in girls, football and image. Good luck to him.

A kid wanders over with a football, kicking it around by the broken glass. Rob gets up and calls for the ball, the kid passes it along the floor to him, happy to have someone to play with. They pass it back and forwards between each other silently before Rob breaks it.

‘Why ain’t you at school?’

‘Don’t like it. My teacher hates me, my mum’s gone to work so I sneak back in the house.’

‘You’re not being very sneaky if you’re out here kicking a ball around are you?’

‘What’s it got to do with you?’

‘Nothing.’

‘You’re not a nonce are you? You ain’t going to try and touch me up or anything?’

‘What?’

‘My mate, some man tried to take him away last week but he kicked him in the bollocks and ran away. If you try and touch me, I’ll kick you in the bollocks too.’

Rob passes the ball back to the kid and with a wave of his hand he walks away. He ain’t getting nicked for hanging around in a park with little kids.

His mind goes back to Claire lying in that room with her makeshift crack pipe. Two years they had been together. She was the light of his life, the reason he even went to school, otherwise he wouldn’t have bothered. She used to knock in the morning, make sure he was out of bed and ready. His old man used to let her in for a cup of tea, his sister, Jenny, talking to her about the shit that girl’s talk about. They all liked her.

They’d walk to school holding hands, talking about what they were going to do when they left school, they’d both get a job and then they’d have kids and live happily ever after. That’s how it is when you’re a kid. It all looks bright and rosy, the realities of the world haven’t hit you yet, you think you can do whatever you want. He remembers the day some woman, skinny, hair all greasy, clothes hanging off her asked them both for some change. Claire looked at her as if she was a piece of shit. Rob felt sorry for her, gave her fifty pence. Claire scolded him, saying she only wanted to buy drugs. Then they went back to talking about how many kids they’d have.

Three years later and she was doing the same thing. They’d split up in the last year of school, no reason other than they’d just got bored of each other, there was no hatred, just the way it went. Then she became a crackhead. Not just like that, but it was quick enough. Her new boyfriend was the geezer Rob works for now, as soon as she was hooked he fucked her off and now she’s lying on a mattress out of her head.

He kicks a can down the road, reaching the walkway across the road to the other side of the estate he’s reluctant to leave the can. He checks to see if anyone is looking at him then puts the can between his two feet and hops up the stairs of the walkway then carries on kicking it across the narrow bridge and down the other side. At the bottom he flicks it up and volleys it into the bushes, bringing a smile to his face, still got it Rob he says to himself.

He knocks on he door, it’s covered with an iron gate with an old ‘beware of the dog’ sign which has a picture of an Alsatian on it. He knocks again, the dog starts to bark, he can hear swearing from inside the door as a shadow appears over frosted window. It opens, a skinny man with tracksuit bottoms, a white vest and a black cap is standing there, looking at him as if he’s ruined his day.

‘What took you so long?’

‘Nothing, it ain’t easy to get smackheads to give up their money.’

‘Did you get the money or not?’

Rob looks down next to the man’s feet. A small dog, he’s not sure what kind of dog it is, he doesn’t know anything about dogs but this is a shit dog. Taking a step towards the flat the dog backs off and makes a whining sound. ‘Beware of the dog’.

‘I’ve got it.’ Rob takes a wad of money from his pocket and counts out five hundred pounds, handing it over to James Randolph. Randolph counts it himself then takes a twenty pound note out and throws it on the floor in front of Rob. He looks down at the note on the floor, Randolph’s eyes urging him to pick it up, bow down in front of him and submit to his authority. Rob laughs, turns around and heads for the door.

‘I hear your mate John, the one who fucked off to university because he thinks he’s better than everyone else is thinking about becoming a copper.’ Fuck’s sake, how does he know that, Rob turns around to face him again, Randolph has already picked up the note from the floor, adding it back to the pile he put down on the coffee table.

If you were to make a film about scumbags, this cunt would be your first choice as lead actor. His furniture is gaudy, tacky shit. Hanging on the wall above the television is a gold rimmed picture. Randolph sitting on a golden throne, wearing a crown while holding his shitty little dog. The first time Rob came in here he had to restrain himself from laughing at the picture. His dad, now that was someone who was respected, but him? There isn’t a person who knows him who doesn’t despise him. He ruined Claire too, Rob won’t ever forget that.

‘Not heard myself. What about it?’

‘I’d consider you a bit of a risk, being a mate with Old Bill and that.’

‘We hardly talk to each other anymore, whatever he wants to do is up to him.’

‘Remember Rob, if I wanted to kill you, no one would know about it. You might find yourself slipping into the canal one night when you’re pissed. Be a bit nasty that wouldn’t it?’ He’s been watching Goodfellas again, Rob thinks to himself.

Rob looks past Randolph to the open door which leads out to the balcony. He’s twice the size of the man sitting in the chair, he could easily pick him up and throw him off the balcony. Then what? Everything would be fucked. Randolph sniggers, as if he knows what’s going through Rob’s mind. He’ll wait, it’s good to be patient, apparently the old man is dying, he won’t have anyone protecting him then.

This excerpt is a character introduction for my new series of books which are each based in a different decade. This is from the first one ‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ which is set in the 1990s. The book follows the intertwining lives of three people who are trying to discover where they are going in a decade where rapid change affected everyone’s lives. The first introduction can be see here .

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/saintly/

You Wouldn’t Have Done that to Lennon

 

Oasis, Blur, The Spice Girls and Tony Blair. 1997, an optimism is washing over the country, things can only get better. The 80s were about easy money, cocaine, riots and feeding the starving in Ethiopia. The star of the show Freddie Mercury is dead while Geldof and Bono are still lingering around telling us we’re wankers for not giving money and boosting their own profiles. We don’t give a shit though because the world is a different place, the wall has long since fallen and the USSR has imploded, Yeltsin is pissed in his office and the commies can no longer come and get us. The 90s are about living life, ecstasy, new found disposable incomes and some new thing your mate has on his computer where you can watch porn for free. No more going down the newsagents and nicking magazines from the top shelf.

John Flynn is sitting in a bar pondering his future as those around him celebrate the victory of the Labour party. He takes a long pull on his cigarette and throws it on the floor and walks out. They’ll be no different to the last lot and all these students will be baying for blood in a couple of years. He had always thought philosophy was for pretentious pricks from the home counties or stoned people who thought smoking weed suddenly made them geniuses. His own moral dilemma is making him rethink that. His old man had suggested it, three years ago he’d have told him to ‘fuck off’ but now he’s giving it serious thought. Become a copper, old bill, the fuzz, bacon.

When you grow up in certain areas you don’t respect the police but you never know why. It’s just what you do. Your best mate’s old man regales you with stories of how he had the shit kicked out of him by five coppers because…well just because. That’s what he said anyway. He tells you this while you’re sitting in a room filled with stolen televisions, video tapes and microwaves. When you leave he tells you to make sure you tell your dad he’s got a few microwaves if he wants one. He never done nothing though, those coppers just picked him up off the street and kicked the shit out of him.

The thing is, Flynn isn’t particularly bothered either way. His mate’s dad just wants to make a living, it ain’t the most honest of livings but it’s how he does things. He doesn’t hate him for that, nor does he want to go on a moral crusade. So if he chooses a career path that goes against not just his best mate’s dad but half the people he grew up with, does that make him a traitor? Does it mean he has no love for them? They chose their way so why can’t he choose his?

That oh so famous zebra crossing comes into view as he turns the corner into Abbey Road. During the day it’s filled with tourists posing while cars beep their horns wishing they’d fuck off, calling Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison wankers for fucking up their day and making them late for work. Reaching the crossing Flynn looks left and right, there are no cars coming, he steps out onto the black and white lines, stopping half way across, posing. If anyone is looking out their windows now they’ll think I’m a nutcase he thinks to himself. A car comes around the corner and beeps, Flynn lifts his middle finger, the driver beeps again.

“You wouldn’t have done that to John Lennon!”

“I wouldn’t of, I’d have run him down the Scouse prick!”

The engine revs and tires screech, Flynn jumps out of the way to safety as the man in his Mercedes tears off down Abbey Road. If he was a copper he probably could have nicked him for that. He’s not sure but the thought of nicking him makes the whole idea of becoming a policeman a bit more enticing. He crosses back over and gives the finger to zebra crossing as he walks away. He never liked them anyway, not since that art teacher made them watch ‘Yellow Submarine’ twice a week because he didn’t know how to teach.

He’s still feeling warm from the six pints of beer he drank earlier in the evening, the streets are quiet and he’s feeling brave. Passing his old school in Maida Vale he chuckles to himself. After school three or four of them would pile into a shop and nick as many sweets as they could. Once they got outside they’d throw half of them away because they didn’t like them. The old woman behind the counter either didn’t see or was too scared to say anything. The thought that she was too scared makes him cringe, he runs his hand through his hair and scrunches up his eyes, as if that’s going to make the memory suddenly disappear. He looks up at the high fence of the school, climb it or don’t climb it? Them cameras probably don’t work.

Up onto the wall and then over the fence, letting himself drop to the other side. He should have been a burglar. Now what? The school doors are locked and the playground is tiny. He sits down on the wooden bench which is set against the wall. This wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had he thinks to himself. He pulls out a packet of cigarettes, pulls one from the box and lights it up. Can’t stop me smoking now he says to the invisible teachers who aren’t prowling the playground.

This bench was where his mates, his best mate specifically, Rob told him some girl in the year above them fancied him. He remembers going red and them all laughing at him. She was talking to three boys from the estate opposite his. ‘Go over to her, ask her out, she was asking about you the other day.’ He walked over, the three boys eyeing him up with suspicion, the girl Katrina’s eyes questioning why he had dared to enter her presence. He knew he was being setup, he asked her anyway, she laughed and told him to fuck off. The three boys still with scowls on their faces. No wonder he’s so shit with women, childhood scars from your mates making a fool of you.

He hears a siren in the distance and panics. Surely they wouldn’t be coming for him? He’s only gone to sit in his old school for five minutes, jumping back up the wall and over the fence onto the pavement and then walking casually down the road. The siren gets closer, he hears the car slow down and then turn onto the same road as him. His heart starts to race even though he hasn’t really done anything that bad. The car pulls up next to him, he keeps walking, scared to look. ‘It ain’t him’. The car speeds up and races off into the night. He berates himself for being such a pussy.

Almost home, the skyline looks different. His block is still there but those two tower blocks, the dystopian looking white ones with square windows which he used to stare at when he was a kid, are gone. Full of asbestos, they moved a load of homeless families in there even though they knew it was fill of asbestos, then they moved them out when it became public. Then the junkies moved in because, let’s have it right, junkies don’t give a fuck about asbestos, it’s the least of their worries, they’d probably try and take it of the walls and stick it up their arms to see if they could get a buzz from it.

There’s a geezer hanging around at the bottom of his parent’s block. He looks at Flynn with suspicion, wondering who this geezer is. A glint of recognition comes into his eyes, and he nods his head at him. Used to be in the year below him, seemed like a nice enough kid, quiet, now he’s standing outside tower blocks shotting rocks to crackheads at two in the morning. He wonders if things will get better for him? You know, like Blair says. Or maybe things are good enough for him, them rocks in his pocket are feeding him and a bit more. Dilemmas, making excuses, seeing it from their point of view, is he really cut out to put a uniform on?

He presses the button for the lift but nothing happens. He knew nothing would happen but he tried anyway, a little bit of hope never hurt. The hope vanished with the press of a button, he braces himself to walk up the eighteen flights of stairs to his parent’s flat. Halfway up he stops, opens up one of the windows and lights another cigarette. From the window he can see up to Hampstead and Primrose Hill, he wonders if George Michael is wandering about up there, looking for a bit of danger on the heath. Probably not, it’s a bit cold out tonight. He pushes himself up on to the window ledge, ten stories up, looking down that kid he passed at the bottom hands something to a passerby then walks off into the night.

His old man is asleep in the chair by the window, the television still on. He switches it off, takes the bottle of whiskey his father has by his side and pours himself a drink and fills up his dad’s empty glass. He shakes him, his father is startled, seeing his son he smiles. Flynn sits down on the armchair points at the glass and then holds up his own, his dad picks up his and sips from it winking at his son.

“I’m going to do it. I’ll join the Old Bill.”

“Good lad, just don’t nick me when I’m skint and selling stolen CDs from the back of the car.”

“Things can only get better, dad. Things can only get better.”

This excerpt is a character introduction for my new series of books which are each based in a different decade. This is from the first one ‘Angels Pop Pills Too’ which is set in the 1990s. The book follows the intertwining lives of three people who are trying to discover where they are going in a decade where there was new found optimism throughout society.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/relocate/

Bear of the Revolution

 

My little boat, my little house. All painted in green with red around the sides. Flower pots on the top and my little teddy bear on the front. Wherever I go, Pang Pang bear needs to be there. A symbol of the life I left and the life I live.

I step off the boat and stroll along the canal. Little Venice they call it. I’ve never been to Venice. I can’t imagine Little Venice is much like Big Venice! It’s quiet though, it’s why I chose it. My friends think I am crazy! Why would you want to live on a boat? Isn’t it dangerous? What if the boat sinks while you’re asleep? Funny how people always ask you the negative questions. Try it! I tell them, you’d love it! ‘No! No’, they reply, I could never live on a boat!

A couple pass by with two kids, one of them is dangerously close to the water. I want to reach out and pull him back in but the parents don’t seem bothered. He picks up a stone and throws it into the water and laughs before running back to his father’s side. A duck rushes to where the stone entered the water, it quacks loudly, disappointed, it’s not food, just a stupid stone. The boy runs to the side again but this time his father grabs him just as he’s about to join the duck for a swim.

Another question they’re always asking me back home, ‘Why don’t you have any kids?’, ‘Why have you never met a nice man?’ I like kids;  I just don’t want any of my own. I love my freedom. That’s probably why I’ve chosen to live on a boat, eight thousand miles from home and family. The silly part is that I still haven’t gone anywhere on the boat. My beautiful green boat sitting there, just waiting for an adventure but I’m too frightened something will go wrong. If I sink it, what will happen then? Where would I live?

I sit there at night, dreaming of floating through the English countryside. Me all on my own, watching the world go by. That’s what they used to call me back home, ‘a dreamer’. Dreamers are no good in China. Dreams will corrupt you and you won’t be able to find a husband who has a good job, a car and a house. Without those three things, what’s the point in life? So I left, and here I am, I’m the ill-disciplined child with the delusions of grandeur, thinking I’m better than everyone else. I’m happy and they’re not.

A boat floats by, a small man with bright clothing standing at the back steering it. That’s someone I envy, able to take off on his own, not worried about what will happen when he reaches a lock or if his boat will sink while he’s passing London Zoo. People laughing at you as you desperately attempt to keep your boat afloat. No, it’s okay where it is for the moment! Maybe one day I’ll take it on a journey. One day! I wonder when one day will be?

The lady in the café brings my coffee over. I’m the only person here, everyone else seems to be enjoying Sunday strolls instead of Sunday coffees. On the opposite side of the canal is a lady flying a kite. Rarely do I see people flying kites here. My father used to take me with him when he flew his kite out in the fields next to our old house. Our home in the countryside, fields of orange trees, strange looking insects chirping, you could only hear them, you never saw them. The heat shimmering in the distance during those sweltering summer days.

“Little Liu, we’ll go and fly the kite in the fields.”

“But dad! It’s too hot out there!”

“We’ll stand under the orange trees, it’ll be okay!”

“Always flying your kite!”

“Keep her out of the sun!”, my mother would shout at him, unsure which of us was really the child.

The kite was red and blue. I never knew where he had found it. He came home one day shouting my name as he ran down the road.

“Little Liu! Little Liu! Look what I have found! Isn’t it beautiful?”

I looked at him as if he was crazy. Off he rushed to the fields, the string from the kite dragging along behind him. He ran around the field, shouting because he wasn’t able to get it to fly. From that day on, he was out there every day with it, eventually getting it to fly, like a small child taking enjoyment from such a small thing.

One day he was lost in his own thoughts as he flew the kite, usually he would talk to me, tell me about his mother and father or the mischief he would get up to when he was a child. Other times he would tell me about things I had no care for, I would nod my head and ask questions I thought would keep him talking and happy. That day he just followed the kite with his eyes as it floated back and forth in the wind, the background of the blue sky making it stand out, a tamed dragon enjoying a few hours of freedom. The day was hot, I looked into the distance looking for a speck of cloud which might bring the promise of rain, but there were none.

Behind the orange trees there was a small hut. I didn’t know what was in the hut and I had never asked, it was just there. I assumed it belonged to us, and as curious as I was as a child, the hut held no mystery for me. It should have been a child’s dream, a strange, empty hut in the middle of a field. Mystery and temptation to go and explore, but no, this curious child who asked her mother and father endless questions didn’t care for the hut or where it had come from, even who owned it and why it was there.

On this day though, it looked inviting, my father was in his own world, the kite the only thing he could see, his mind occupied by unknown thoughts far beyond my understanding. The sun was hot enough to burn my skin and the cool looking old hut was calling out. I pushed open the door, I had no expectations, other children would have thought of ghosts and fairies, but I just wanted shade. The hut was empty, probably why no one had ever mentioned it, a bare floor and bare walls made of wood. I sat down by the door, took out my school book from my bag and began to practice my writing. I loved to write my name, one stroke by one stroke. Not all the children could write, but I could. My teacher would be impressed I thought to myself as I looked down at my neat handwriting. 小刘 Little Liu.

After writing it another fifty times, I always counted and it had to be fifty times, I looked over the small book and beamed with pride, my excellent handwriting skills were a sight to behold for my young eyes. I looked out the window, the red dot was still floating about in the sky. As I stood up I noticed a shape in the far corner of the room, hidden by the darkness. Now I was curious, what could possibly be in here? I looked again to make sure the kite was still in the sky, my father still outside, if he was there whatever was in the corner wouldn’t be able to hurt me!

As I got close, I could see it was a teddy bear. It was old, its nose and one of its eyes missing. Its fur was covered in dust, I tapped it lightly and watched as the dust fell away, its brown fur became lighter. He looked sad and tired, his missing eye and missing nose must bother him. I put him back in the corner.

“Little bear, I’ll be back tomorrow, you watch me write and I will make you happy again!”, I told him happily, watching to see if he smiled. No smile, but I think he was happier.

“Little Liu! Little Liu! Where are you?”, I could hear my father’s footsteps passing the hut.

“See you tomorrow, little bear!”

Quietly I sneaked out of the hut and sat underneath one of the orange trees.

“I’m here!”

He looked at me in surprise, wondering how he had managed to walk straight past me.

“Why didn’t you answer me?”

“I was writing! Look!”

“Very good! You’ll be the cleverest little girl in the village! We should go! Your mother will get angry at me for taking you out in the sun for so long.”

“Dad? What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing, Little Liu. Isn’t the kite beautiful?”

“Yes, it’s very beautiful.”

It’s funny how things can trigger your childhood memories. The woman packs away her kits and walks off down the canal and past my boat. I wonder if she noticed my boat? She made me remember something, I wonder if I had any influence on her? I doubt it. Her kite had taken me back to the Chinese countryside of my childhood, such a small thing opened such a beautiful memory. I drink the rest of my coffee and continue with my walk.

My father would love it here. He’d be asking so many questions. “Why’s that man wearing shorts when it’s so cold?”, “Why does that man have such a big nose?”, “Can they speak Chinese?”, “Why do foreigners all look so funny?”

I would laugh at him and he wouldn’t understand why I was laughing. He would think I was teasing him. He once told me a story of a foreign lady who had come to our village and every single person went outside to look at her. They didn’t know why she was there. You couldn’t get lost and end up in our village, it was too remote and foreigners were very rare then. My father shouted ‘hello!’ at her, the whole village erupting in laughter. The woman shouted ‘hello!’ back at him and then jumped on her bike and rode away, no one ever knew why she had been there. That was the one and only time he had seen a foreign person.

I climb the stairs from the canal up to the main road, walking past huge houses. Some would dream of living in them. I think some of my friends back home believe I should be living in one. They’d be too big for me, why would one person need such a big house. A little boy is outside one of the houses, kicking a ball and eating strawberries. His mother calls him from the doorway and he reluctantly goes back inside.

“Little Liu! Little Liu! Two of my buttons and a needle is missing, have you seen them?”

“Mama! I haven’t seen them, perhaps granny took them.”

“Always taking my buttons! Your father has to see the village cadre tomorrow and his jacket is missing two buttons.”

I remember guiltily pushing the two buttons together in my pocket, hoping they wouldn’t jump out on their own. Two buttons, they’d mean nothing to most people, you could just go to the shop and buy two more but back then we had very little and two buttons were a big thing.

“Little Liu! Go to town and buy two buttons, tell Old Wang I will give him the money next week, I don’t have it now.”

My face went red, she was getting credit from Old Wang, the shop owner.

“Go! Quickly! It’ll be dark soon.”

Old Wang. I hated Old Wang, everyone hated Old Wang. He was a small man who knew everybody’s business. He would always be having tea with the cadre, telling him tales. I walked to the village as slowly as I could, hoping my mother would come from behind me to tell me she’d found two more buttons. I remembered it would soon be dark and I was more scared of the dark than Old Wang and even more scared my mother would discover it was I who had taken the buttons.

All the other shops were open and inviting. Mr Zhang with his small shop which sold some sweets and little toys, Mrs Xia with her shop selling vegetables and fruit. She was a plump lady with big red cheeks, she loved children but she had no children of her own. None of us kids knew why she didn’t have children or even a husband. All the adults would talk about her in whispers.

“Little Liu! Come and have a strawberry, I know how much you like strawberries!”

She handed me a strawberry with a big smile on her face, her bright red cheeks shining in the sunlight.

“Xia, sister, how do you sew a button?”

She looked at me with suspicion, her smile fading away.

“Why can’t your mother sew a button?”

“She’s busy, collecting the oranges.”

Her smile came back and she went into her shop to get a needle and thread.

“I don’t have any buttons but you must do it like this. Be careful of your finger or your mother will blame me for showing you how to do it wrong.”

“Thank you, sister!”

“Come back and show me what you have sewed, I would like to see! Now run along and do what you came to do, it’ll be dark soon and you shouldn’t be walking back on your own in the dark.”

Old Wang’s shop had a door, not like the other shops which you could just walk into. It was dark inside, he was sat as his little desk. I could smell the rice wine in the air, a funny smell, sickly sweet. As I shut the door he looked up and put some paper into a box and closed it, hiding it away. His nasty little eyes looked me up and down as I stood at the door, scared to speak. I put my hands in my pockets, playing with the two buttons, looking down at the floor, why did she have to send me to Old Wang?

“What do you want?”

“My mother said can she have two buttons and she will pay you next week.”

“Two buttons? Does she not know there is a shortage of buttons?”

“I don’t know.”

“How is your father?”

“He’s working hard in the fields and has to see the cadre tomorrow so she needs to sew some buttons for him.”

“I know he has to see the cadre tomorrow. Does your father go to the city often?”

“Sometimes, but not a lot.”

“Why does he fly that kite all the time?”

“He likes his kite. When he’s finished in the fields he flies his kite and he tells me stories.”

“Do you ever see any other kites?”

“No, I’ve never seen another kite.”

“I hear you are able to write?”

“Yes! I can write two hundred characters.”

“Be careful, being curious is a dangerous thing.”

“Can I have the buttons?”

“I’ll give you the buttons. Tell your mother if she doesn’t pay me next week she will have to pay me double.”

“Thank you, Mr Wang.”

“Remember what I told you, being curious is dangerous. Little girls like you have no need to be curious.”

I put the two new buttons in the other pocket so I wouldn’t get them mixed up. Mrs Xia was still sitting outside her shop eating strawberries. She stuck her tongue out at me as I walked past her, her big red cheeks still shining, she bursts into a big smile, waving me goodbye as I walked out of the village.

The sun had disappeared behind the hills but I still skipped and hopped and stopped to look at things on my way home, happy I had two buttons from Old Wang and happy I was on my way home. Ahead of me in the dusty road I could see a figure approaching. I knew who it was even if he was far away, it was my father.

“Did you take the buttons from your mother?”

“Yes, I took them.”

I could never lie to him, he would know when I was lying.

“Why did you take them? I told you, you must never steal.”

“I liked the colour.”

“Don’t tell your mother you took them. Did Old Wang give you two buttons?”

“Yes, he told me not to be curious as well.”

“Ignore Old Wang, no attention should be paid to such an ignorant man.”

“Father?”

“Yes?”

“Whose hut is that behind the orange trees?”

“Your grandparents used to live in it, before they built the house we live in, in fact I lived in it when I was small.”

“But it’s so small!”

“Ha! You’re spoilt that we have such a big house now! You are lucky you have rice Little Liu, that’s all a person needs.”

He took me by the hand and we walked home together as he told me the story of a rabbit who lived on the moon.

I sit on the deck back at my boat and open a beer. People pass by on boats, excited and tired children on their way back from the zoo. My neighbour waves as he walks past carrying a bottle of wine.

“Hi Annie! How was your day?”

“Good! Thank you! I just went for a walk along the canal, remembering being a child!”

“I like your bear by the way, he looks good as captain of the ship!”

Two days had passed and I still hadn’t gone back to see the bear. Each day I woke up excited, thinking I might have the opportunity to go and see him. I lay awake that night, listening to the chirp of the insects, wondering how I could sneak out. Dad had not flown his kite since he had come back from seeing the village cadre. He had been very quiet, mum told me I shouldn’t disturb him because he had too many things on his mind.

The next day, as I arrived home from school I could see there were some strange looking men in the house.

“Little Liu! Go and pick some oranges for me.”

“I have to do my homework!”

“Go and pick the oranges, I will come and find you later.”

I scuffed my shoes as I dragged my feet through the field, I wanted to know who the men were and why they sent me away. I can see the bear, I suddenly remembered! I opened the door to the hut, sitting there was the bear. I shook him gently, the dust falling off him. I tried to remember what Mrs Xia had taught me, taking the needle, thread and two buttons from my pocket. I wouldn’t have to hide them any longer.

Gently I pressed the button over his missing eye, following her instructions. An eye and a nose. I bit the piece of thread, the eye and his nose sewed tight against his face. I held him up to the light. Now he had two eyes and a nose. He looked happier. I put him back down in the corner and sat next to him.

“You need a wash! Next time I come, I’ll bring you some water and I can wash you.”

I brushed his head, he looked very smart now.

“There are some strange men in the house and I don’t know why. I think it’s because of Old Wang. I really don’t like that man!”

I’m sure I saw his head move in approval.

“I need to give you a name but I don’t know what I should call you. Every night I think about it! You’re quite fat for a bear so maybe I should call you fat bear. Pang Pang Bear! There you go, there’s your new name.”

I sat him on the small window as we both looked out, waiting for the men to go and my father to come. The clouds were coming, it would rain soon. I leant my face against the soft fur of the bear, his new eye still hadn’t fallen off. I was pleased with myself. I’ll bring him to Mrs Xia one day and she will be able to see what I have done. I think she’d like him too.

Another hour passed. The rain had come and gone, the air was cooler. I was angry, why hadn’t they come to get me. Why didn’t they come when it had been raining? They didn’t know I was in the hut! I was hungry too. I hoped he would come soon. I took out my book and wrote the bear’s name fifty times on a piece of paper. 胖胖. Still no one had come, they had forgotten about me surely, I had to go back on my own.

“Goodnight, Pang Pang! I promise I will come tomorrow and wash you, you will look even better once you’ve had a wash.”

The air smelt strange after rain, a damp almost fruity smell. I skipped over the puddles of mud. The men had gone and my father was walking towards me from the house. He looked sad and tired.

“I’m sorry! Are you cold?”

“No, but I am very hungry!”

“Will you accompany me while I walk for a little while?”

“Yes, of course. Where’s your kite?”

“The kite is gone.”

He stayed silent as we walked. I wanted to ask him where the kite had gone but he didn’t look like he wanted to talk.

“Little Liu, you are a good girl. I want you to do well in school and then you will be able to leave the village and go to the city.”

“I would like that.”

“Can I tell you a story? Are you too hungry?”

“No, I want to hear your story!”

“We’ll sit here for a little while, the house is hot and the air is cooler outside.”

It had got dark, I sat there waiting for him to tell his story. I looked up at the sky, it was filled with stars, one night I will take Pang Pang out with me and we can make wishes on the stars together. My father took my hand and held it as he began to speak.

“When I was just a boy we lived in that hut. Me and your grandparents. See these fields? A rich man owned them. They would spend all day in the fields, when they came home at night they were too tired to talk.

“One morning, my father took me by the hand and said ‘YaoYao, we’re going to the city’. I was so excited! I had never been. All I knew was our little village and it was even smaller then.

“He put me up on his bicycle and he rode and rode for what seemed like hours. When we arrived in the city I was frightened. Everywhere there were people, there were strange smells, food I had never seen before. I held my father’s hand as tight as I could as we walked through the streets.

“We stopped at a shop and my father spoke to the man. The man didn’t seem friendly, not like back home in the village where all the shopkeepers smiled.”

“Not Old Wang!”

“No, not Old Wang.” His face looked angry as he said his name. “The man took a teddy bear from the back of his shop and he handed it to my father. They argued about the price, finally my father gave him some money. I don’t know where the money came from because back then there were days when we didn’t have enough to eat. My father handed me the teddy bear, he didn’t say anything, put me up on his bike and we cycled back to the village. The whole way I clasped the teddy bear so tight when I got back home my hands were white!”

“I think he gave it to you because he loved you.”

“My father said very little, not like when me and you sit outside and talk and you accompany me when I go to fly my kite. He worked very hard and said few words, even to my mother. When we arrived home he sat me down on the bed and he said to me ‘YaoYao, I say very little, but this bear is my heart.’ Then he went and sat outside and I fell asleep with the bear in my arms.”

It had to be Pang Pang bear, I thought to myself! He must know he’s there!

“War came and went, one day the cadres came to the village and gave us land and the man who owned the fields disappeared. I married your mother and then we built the new house. I left the bear in the old house so he could look after it. Maybe I was ashamed too, ashamed that as a man I had a teddy bear. Don’t ever be ashamed, Little Liu.

“One day I might not be here. When I’m gone, please remember the time we had, the simple times and the stories. When you are older you should go where your heart takes you. Your father is a simple and foolish man but you are neither.”

He stood up and I followed him back to the house. I wiped a tear from my eye, I didn’t understand, I didn’t want him to leave.

I take another beer from the fridge. I wonder what he would have thought of it here? I don’t think he would have liked it. Too many people, too different. His fields and his oranges would have been too far away. The food too, he would never have been able to cope. I can imagine his face if were to tell him they don’t eat rice all the time.

A couple of men from the pub walk past the boat. They are both drunk but they are harmless, one of them pretends to fall into the water, his friend laughs at him and they carry on their merry way.

Each day I came home from school I went straight to the fields to make sure he was still there. I still didn’t know what had become of his kite, instead he would walk alone among the orange trees. While he walked I would go to the hut and tell Pang Pang about my day. I would tell him that my father missed him and was sorry his eye fell out but he was a man now and he couldn’t be seen with a teddy bear.

He was with Old Zhang when I met him on the road, both of them singing, staggering.

“Little Liu! Your father is a bad man!” I grimaced as he said it, I knew what that meant.

Every day at school they would tell us there were bad people and we had to take the right path. If we thought someone was taking a bad path we were to report them to the cadre. I could never report my father, besides, I knew he wasn’t really a bad man. I could smell the rice wine as they swayed down the road.

“Old Wang has chosen the wrong path! A rightest! He has wrong thoughts!”

I felt my body go numb, he laughed as he said it. I looked around to see if there was anyone else about, anyone who could listen in. There appeared to be no one. Even as a small girl I knew what he was saying could be dangerous. I left them to walk back home, I continued to the village, I had Pang Pang hidden beneath my dress, I wanted to show Mrs Xia what I had done with the buttons.

Old Wang was stood outside his shop looking pleased with himself, his nasty smile spread across his face. Mrs Xia’s shop was closed. His smile turned into a laugh.

“She’s gone, that’s why you shouldn’t be curious.”

I ran all the way home, my mother was sitting outside the house.

“Mama! Mama! Where is dad?”

“Asleep, he’s drunk, leave him be before he brings more trouble upon us.”

“Mrs Xia has gone.”

She looked down at the floor and said nothing. I knew Mrs Xia wouldn’t be back there were to be no more questions. I took Pang Pang back to his hut. Mrs Xia will never be able to see him. Poor Mrs Xia, I can only ever remember her smile and her rosy red cheeks.

“I’m only a little girl, Pang Pang. Why do people have to be so horrible to each other?”

He didn’t have a smile that day, but he listened, as he always did.

“They don’t teach us to write anymore, only to sing songs and to question the bad people. I just want to go to school and learn new things. Do you think I will be able to speak English one day Pang Pang? I would love to speak English.

“I’m worried for dad, he drinks too much and he doesn’t look after the oranges like he used to. I found some on the floor today and they were nearly rotten. One day, when I leave for the city, I’ll take you with me and we can live together, away from all of these people.”

The next day, when I arrived home from school, he was waiting at the door for me.

“Little Liu! I’m so excited I nearly came to the school to pick you up and take you home.”

“What’s the matter?”

From inside the door he pulled out a kite. It was bigger than the old one, even redder too.

“They’ll never be able to take this one from me, look how red it is! Not even Old Wang is this red!”

My mother came to the door and rolled her eyes, tutted and went back inside to cook the dinner. I hadn’t seen him so happy since he had lost the last kite. Into the field he ran with the big red kite. I threw my bag down and followed him, running and laughing together. He picked me up in one arm as he flew the kite with the other. Dizzy, he fell to the floor with me in his arms, we lay there looking up at the sky laughing.

“Little Liu, whatever they tell you, you’re not to believe it.”

“Who?”

“Anyone! If someone tells you this is an orange you must look closely. If it’s not a perfect orange then you must ask a question.”

He has finally gone crazy, I thought to myself.

“How is my bear?”

“He has a new eye and a new nose and I wash him too. Sometimes he smiles and sometimes he is sad. I think he misses you. Why did you really leave him there? I don’t believe you were ashamed, you run around the field with a kite like a fool, why would a bear matter?”

“Maybe you’re too small to understand. Some memories are too hard to have near but you don’t want them too far away. He was a reminder of simpler times, Little Liu. Times when what you said and what you thought didn’t matter.”

“Dad, please don’t do anything stupid. I don’t want you to go away.”

“I won’t, don’t worry. It’s not always what we do, it’s what others say we do which causes bad things to happen. Who is your favourite person in the village?”

“Mrs Xia, but she’s gone now.”

“She was a good person. You aren’t to listen to what they say, if you do you’d think she was a bad person. All she had was her heart, it was a good heart. She meant no malice to anyone. What you think is never wrong.”

I was convinced he had gone crazy because I didn’t really understand what he was saying.

“Help me pick up these oranges, I’ve not been looking after them.”

We picked up the oranges as he told me of places he’d never been to and places he’d never be able to go to. The sun had set, the air was heavy. It felt as though you could reach out and grab it in your hands and mould it into shapes.

“Can I go and see Pang Pang before we go and have dinner?”

“Yes, I’ll wait for you here. Don’t tell your mother though, she would disapprove of you talking to a bear.”

I opened the door to the hut, hoping Pang Pang would have a smile on his face. He was gone, I would have searched but there was nowhere to search, just an empty, dusty hut with nowhere to hide. Dad will think I’ve lost him! All these years he’s stayed in this hut, away from the world and its dangers, safe, and now he’s gone and it’s because of me. Who knew he was there and why would they take him? I ran back to dad, he was lying down by the orange trees, looking up at the sky.

“The bear, he’s gone!”

He turned to look at me, smiled a forced smiled and got to his feet.

“Come, let’s go, your mother will be worried about us.”

“Did she take him?”

“No, she’d never have done something like that.”

We all sat in silence as we ate dinner. I looked at my mother to see if I could see some sign of guilt on her face, to see if she had stolen away my best friend. She just looked at me and smiled. I don’t want to believe she took him but who else would have done it?

I lay in my bed that night, wondering why everyone was so cruel. Why had they taken him away? Maybe she found out I had taken the buttons, perhaps it was my own fault, I should never have stolen them. I could hear my parents whispering to each other, they sounded angry, like they were trying to make a decision but they didn’t want me to find out.

I will never forget the dream I had that night. My father in the field, flying his kite, the bear propped up against one of the orange trees, watching him. I could see the rain coming, the wind was becoming stronger and stronger. I shouted out to him but he didn’t hear me, the wind took his kite, I watched on helpless as he ran off into the distance chasing the kite.

The next day, I sat in the school listening to them argue and sing stupid songs I had no care for. I just wanted to learn, not listen to them; none of them had a good idea in their heads. Everything was good, or bad. There was nothing in between, if you didn’t agree you were certainly bad. The teachers were gone and the children had taken over. We knew nothing and what we did know was of not much use.

Walking through the village on the way home, Old Wang was stood outside his shop, he called me over to him.

“Come into the shop.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Do you want the whole village to know your mother owes money?”

I looked down at the floor and followed him into the shop, his feet were bare and dirty, he turned around with a smirk on his face.

“Tell your mother, she doesn’t owe me anything. She can have the buttons for free.”

“Why?”

“No why! I’m a good man who likes to treat people well. Now, go home!”

There was a reason he’d been nice to my mum, I knew that much. No, not nice, he was pretending to be nice. Even me, as a little girl, knew it wasn’t real, he had done something or he wanted something. As I approached our little house I could see my mother sitting outside on the small chair.

“Old Wang said you don’t have to pay money for the buttons.”

“Little Liu, sit down.”

I sat down in front of her, trying to think what I had done wrong.

“Your father is gone. He won’t be coming back. You’re not to talk of it either, especially not at school.”

She stood up and put her hand on my cheek, rubbed it and then went back inside. It was the last I heard her mention my father. I ran to the little hut. The bear was sitting there in the corner of the hut where I had left him last. His fur had been washed, he looked as if he was new, born again.

“He’s gone Pang Pang! I knew he would go but I didn’t think it would be so soon. Where did you go? Yesterday I came and you weren’t here! It doesn’t matter, you are here now. Wherever I go, I’ll always take you with me, you come and live in the house with me now. I don’t care what she says. What will we do Pang Pang?”

I picked him up and walked back to the house, my mother was cooking. She looked at me as I came in the door, then at the bear. Her eyes went back to the pot of rice. I put him on my bed and lay down next to him, I didn’t want to eat my dinner and I didn’t want to sit with my mother. At the time I didn’t think she could be sad. I look back and think that night I should have sat with her.

The next morning, my mother put some money into my hand.

“Give this to Old Wang.”

He was standing outside his shop as usual, that nasty smile across his face. I put the money on the floor in front of him, I couldn’t possibly put it in his hand, the thought of his touch made me sick.

“I know he’s gone because of you! You’re not a good man, Old Wang!”

The smirk disappeared from his face and I walked away. I never looked at him again, my head down every time I passed. I promised myself that one day I would go back and see him, look him in the eye and tell him what I thought but I never did. Words are wasted on someone who doesn’t listen.

The canal looks beautiful as the sun sets. So far away from home but it makes me feel at home. I reach out and pick up Pang Pang, hugging him.

“I left at least, dad. They never told us where you went or what happened. The kite, I couldn’t bear to keep, I put it into the hut and left it, I never went back in there again. I didn’t give up though, I chased my dreams, I didn’t listen to anyone else. Home has changed, you wouldn’t recognise it. I don’t think you would like it, it’s not simple anymore. Pang Pang is still with me, we’re going to go on an adventure soon, I just need to build up a bit of courage. Speak to you next year, dad.”

This is a short story taken from my new book ‘Queen’s Park to The Elephant’. 16 short stories about people living around London. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queens-Park-Elephant-Seán-Hogan-ebook/dp/B075WDMLFG

I am also running a Thunderclap to promote the book so would appreciate people supporting it: http://thndr.me/HsebUQ

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/panacea/