Just in case you’ve finished The Boys of Summer and Sweetness Follows and you’re hungry for more Irish nostalgionsense.
I always thought Richie and me would be together forever. Even though we met when we were really young; even though there were nearly two years between us; even though no one gave us a chance of lasting, I kind of believed in us. And he did too, I thought. Then, in September 1991, when I was fifteen, everything changed. And no matter what either of us wanted, or what either of us did, we’d never be able to change things back to how they used to be.
“Oh my God! Aw, lads! Ohhhhhh my God, turn that up, like! Turn it up, that’s my song!” shouted Jacinta, from over at the bedroom window, where she was having a fag.
“Really? I thought the last one was your song?” said Triona, rolling her eyes. They were like chalk and cheese, those two, but I loved the bones of them both.
“Yeah, well. This one is too. Turn it up!”
I leaned over to the stereo and put it up a little, but not too much, cos Mum was downstairs, and she’d probably start banging on my floor with the sweeping brush if I put it up too loud. I didn’t even know what song it was, but Jacinta was like that – she knew all the new ones. She spent half her life in DJ boxes, chatting to yer man about the tunes, and getting bought drinks. Triona leaned over to me.
“Any idea where we’re actually going, Mar?”
“Eh, I dunno. Wherever lets us in?” The three of us were fifteen, but you’d look older with the heels and the skirt and the make-up, so it was just luck sometimes. Some places were Over 21s though, so they always asked you for ID, and I hadn’t got a fake one yet.
“Ugh, somewhere shite then?” Triona was a bit of a muppet. She liked weird music; stuff you’d hear Dave Fanning playing on 2FM. She only came to the dancey places with us for the laugh and the few drinks.
“Cheers isn’t shite, you spa,” said Jacinta, back over from her fag. She picked up the bottle and tried to look through it against the light. It was that cider that came in a champagne bottle – the sort they gave out as a prize at a nightclub, pretending it was real champagne. The bottle was dead heavy glass, so you never knew how much was left in it. I liked the way it popped like the real stuff, though. And it was cheap as shit.
“Cheers is the epitome of shite, Jaz. If you looked up ‘shite’ in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of Cheers next to it,” said Triona, drinking back the end of her glass.
“A pit o’ what? Fucking hell, Caitriona Kelly, with your big words. If you looked up ‘gowl’ in the dictionary, d’you know what there’d be a picture of?” Jacinta turned the bottle upside down to double check it was empty, and a little dribble came out onto her knee.
“Let me guess, me?” Triona had a look that could wither a plant on the spot. She’d a few of them, actually.
“Yep. That’s what there’d be. Big picture of you, with ‘Goooowwwwwwl’ written under it.” It was hard to tell when Jaz was only slagging, or when she meant it, but she was usually only having a mess. She was if she knew you, anyway.
“Why do your dictionaries have pictures in them, lads?” I said, picking up the other bottle off the ground, and one of Mum’s tea towels. They looked at me funny for a second, then they both started laughing. We were all half-cut already, but that was a good thing. Adamski was on the radio now. Or Seal. They were the same song.
“Here, d’you want me to do that?” said Jaz, pulling her boob tube up and then down again. Them things never stayed on right for long, but they were all the rage.
“No, shur, you’re grand,” I said. I put the tea towel over the cork bit and twisted the bottle till I felt the pop inside my hand. That was the best way to do it, so’s you wouldn’t take someone’s eye out. One of Richie’s friends, Jonathan, showed me how to do it last Christmas. He was even younger than Richie, but he’d an old head on him, as Dad would say. And he was tall as well.
“Right, fill her up!” said Jacinta, sticking out her glass. Triona had an empty one too, but she was kind of quiet, so she wouldn’t actually ask; she’d just wait til I offered.
“Say when,” I said, knowing she’d never say when, and I was just gonna fill it up until it nearly started spilling. You’ve Got The Love came on the speakers, and she nearly jumped out of her chair.
“Turn that up! That’s – ”
“Your song?” said Triona, winking at me, and then “Thanks, Marian,” when I poured the cider into her wine glass.
“Have ye nothing downstairs ye could rob?” said Jacinta, about an hour later. The drink was finished, but it was still a bit early to be heading out. It was a Saturday though, and it’d been a hot day, even though it was September, and we were back in school on Monday. Dad always said the weather got hot again in the first week of school just to annoy the kids. It’d been raining all week before, so maybe he was right.
“Like a nice bottle of Kia-Ora. What d’you think I mean, you spa? Booze!”
“Ah, I don’t think so, like,” I said. We didn’t have a liquor cabinet or anything like that, so the only time there’d be spare booze around was Christmas.
“Fuck’s sake, Marian. Do I’ve to do everything around here, do I? Bloody…” Jacinta got up and went towards the bedroom door. Triona give me a look, but she didn’t say anything.
“Where you going now?” I said, looking at her tiny silver mini-skirt and the boots that went nearly all the way up her legs. She’d a great figure and lovely legs, so she could get away with dressing like that without looking too much like a slapper. Even though she kind of was one.
“D’worry ‘bout me. Back in two shakes,” she said, and off she went. I made a face at Triona like to say I didn’t know what was going on at all.
“She’s a complete looper, her,” said Triona, but she was smiling, so she didn’t mean anything bad. We all knew each other from Salesian’s, but me and Triona had been in primary school together too, we went way back. She lived in Caherdavin, same as I used to. We’d to move to Kennedy Park when my Dad’s business went bankrupt, then we came to Thomondgate a couple of years ago. I missed living in Caherdavin, even though I hadn’t lived there since I was eight. I wasn’t really like most of the people around here. Except Richie, maybe. I wasn’t anything like Jacinta, but she was sound out, and it was good to have a friend I didn’t have to get on a bus to go hang around with.
“Ah, she’s great all the same,” I said, but I knew Triona thought so too, so it wasn’t really us arguing or anything. I stood up and had a little stretch.
“Right, will we get you something to wear then?”
“I’m wearing something already,” Triona said, doing one of her faces. I looked her up and down in her tackies, her black Levis, and her Queen t-shirt. I’d seen Freddie on a thing on TV the other day. He looked gaunt, my Mum said. He did and all. Pure thin. And no moustache.
“You are. And they’re lovely, like. Don’t get me wrong. But we’re going pubbing and clubbing, Triona, and you’re not coming dressed like that. Come on, let’s look through my stuff and we’ll find you something.” I wasn’t taking no for an answer. She’d thank me later when all the boys were trying to ride the hole off her.
“Ah, now. I think it’s lovely, I do. Pure romantic, like.” Jacinta was leaning out the window for another fag, so it was like we were talking to her arse. She’d come back with half a bottle of Smirnoff from her house across the green. I’d gone down for Coke from the fridge, dodging Mum on the way, in case she started trying to talk to me or something.
“Shut up, Jaz. It is romantic. Richie’s lovely. So what if he’s only thirteen, like?” said Triona. I’d got her into a tartan skirt and a belly top – she actually looked really good. She was at my dressing table mirror, trying to do her eye-shadow with drunk hands. I’d have to help her in a second, she was no good at stuff like that.
“Nearly fourteen,” I said, cos it was true.
“Exactly. Nearly fourteen. That’s hardly no difference at all,” Triona said, tutting at the eye-shadow brush and putting it down so she could have a drink of her vodka and Coke. It was Diet Coke, cos that was all we had down there.
“Ah, yeah, but… I mean, he can’t come out with us, can he, Mar? He wouldn’t get into the Henry Cecil, or Cruise’s Hotel,” said Jaz, turning around with the fag still in her mouth. It didn’t really matter, cos Mum knew I smoked, but I didn’t want the bedroom to be stinking; that’s why I said we’d to do it out the window.
“Well, no, but that won’t be for long,” I said. She had a point, though. It got annoying. I wondered how long I’d have to wait until he could do normal things with me, sometimes. I loved him, though. I had for a long time, now.
“S’pose, yeah. Well, I’ll tell you, I couldn’t do it.” Jaz smelled the Coke before taking a sip of it. I didn’t know why. She’d poured it herself, and anyway, there was no smell off vodka. Not really.
“Couldn’t do what?” said Triona, trying the eye-shadow brush again. She was making a balls of it. I’d have to take it all off for her in a minute and start again.
“Go out on the tear and not be able to shift whoever I wanted, like. Look at me, shur – All that effort, for nothing? No thanks, like.” She waved her hand up and down herself to show us how glam she looked. The fake tan looked all right just after the summer like it was now, but she’d still be that orange at Christmas, cos that was Jaz for you.
“It wouldn’t be for nothing, though. You’d have a boyfriend, like. Mar just goes out the same way any other girl who’s not single goes out. It’s not all about boys, going out. Well, it isn’t for me, anyway,” said Triona, rolling her eyes again, and then blinking lots, cos her mascara probably wasn’t dry yet. She should have put that on last, in fairness. She really wasn’t any good at it.
“Yeah, well that’s lucky then, isn’t it?” said Jacinta. I gave her a glare like to say “Don’t you start,” but she just stuck her tongue out at me.
“I get plenty, thanks, Jaz. Don’t worry about me. Mar! I give up. Come do my face, will you?”
“Plenty of lezzers, probably, yeah,” muttered Jacinta, reaching over for the bottle of Diet Coke, cos she’d necked her drink already.
“Is that your subtle way of asking me out, Jaz?” said Triona, with her eyes closed now, while I took the shadow off her lids with a wet pad.
“In your dreams, love. I’m way out of your league,” said the other one, pouring herself one last double before we hit the road. I was ignoring them both, cos I wanted to do a fancy smoky blend with the brown and the gold, and I had drunk hands too now as well.
“Morning.” Richie was sitting on the edge of my bed. Mum must’ve let him in. She was grand with him being in my room alone with me. He’d been with me more than two years now. She’d raise an eyebrow at me the odd time, but we’d had the talk, and I told her we weren’t doing nothing up there. Even though we were, usually, just not… what she’d be worried about.
“Oh, hello. Jesus…” My head was splitting. It was ten in the morning on Sunday. Way too early.
“Jesus?” Richie looked nice. He always dressed nice on Sundays, even though he didn’t go to mass anymore, and he’d no Mum around to make him.
“Ah, just my head.” I looked around for the glass of water, but it was empty. I must have drank it in the night.
“Oh right. Had too much last night?” He was doing the face again. He was always a bit funny with me mornings after I’d been out without him. It was annoying.
“Ugh, just a bit, yeah. Sorry, my breath is stinking. Have you a mint?” He usually did, cos of smoking.
“Nah, you’re grand,” he said, but he still gave me a Wrigley’s out of his pocket.
“Thanks.” I felt better then, cos he was only being nice. It must’ve smelled like dog shit. He had his hand on my hip, through the quilt. I got a bit of a nice feeling.
“Your Mam and Dad are gone out…”
“Are they? How do you know?”
“They were going when they let me up. I’d say we’ve the place to ourselves for a few hours, like.” I knew what he was getting at, and I didn’t mind. I always felt dead horny when I was hungover. I didn’t know why. I asked the girls about it once, and they said the same. You’d get really sort of… wanting to have a cuddle, and wanting to do more. But you were sort of numb down there too, so you couldn’t ever really… get to the end.
“Well then, what are you waiting for?” I lifted the quilt off my legs. I’d changed into my silky nightdress thing the night before. No bra or knickers under it. I liked the way his eyes sort of lit up when he saw me under there. Richie always made me feel gorgeous, even if I looked like shit, with no make-up on, like now. He started kicking off his shoes really fast, God help us. I did a little stretch like a cat would, and the silk felt really nice against my skin. He didn’t know whether to look at me or get on with taking off his shirt and stuff, the poor thing. He got all stuck in his top when he was pulling it over his head. He had a nice back. He had a baby face, but the rest of him looked older than he was, I thought. I moved my knee up towards my chest to give him a little flash, and he tore off his socks like they were on fire or something, bless him.
We’d hit the town straight after we finished the vodka. We walked it, cos it was nice out, and you’d be waiting ages for a taxi to come on a Saturday night. Triona was struggling in the heels I lent her. We were the same size, she just wasn’t used to them.
“I should have got a loan of a jacket off you, Mar,” she said, hugging herself and pretending to shiver.
“Will you go away ou’that, shur. It’s lovely out.” Jacinta. She’d be freezing later, though, so she couldn’t say nothing.
“Yeah, Treen. Grow a pair of balls, will ya?” I’d a warm shrug in my handbag, so I’d be okay if we had to stand waiting for a cab later. I’d been clever.
“Pffft. If I had balls you’d probably be able to see them in this…” She looked down at the skirt I’d lent her. It wasn’t even that short, it was just short for her, cos she normally wore big long hippy things. As long as our school skirts. The winter ones.
“Where’ll we go? Mickey’s?” I liked Mickey Martin’s. They’d comfy seats and we never got ID’d. The toilet was weird, though.
“Jesus, what? Mickey’s again?” Jaz gave me a look. She’d heels on her that must’ve been about six inches. I didn’t know why she did that; fellas didn’t like you being taller than them. Richie didn’t, anyway. I was smaller than him though, so I could put on three inch ones and still be grand.
“What’s wrong with Mickey’s?” I sparked up a fag, cos I hadn’t had one in ages.
“She loves mickeys, don’t mind her,” said Triona, but she wasn’t talking about the pub. I sniggered.
“Better than loving fannies, like you do, you lesbian,” Jacinta said. We were in Thomas Street now, and she was leading the way, so she was coming to Mickey’s anyway, no matter what she was saying. We turned into the alley where the front of it was, and it was packed already. They’d a few tables and chairs outside, cos it still felt like the summer, even though it wasn’t. Not in Ireland, anyway.
Richie and me were really good at doing stuff, probably cos we’d been together for so long. He knew what to do with me, I’d trained him well, as the lads said. I remembered when I first met him and he didn’t know anything really, and I’d to show him how. It was kind of sweet. He picked it up really quickly, though. He wasn’t clueless anymore.
He was under the covers with me now, just wearing his jocks. Mum and Dad were hopefully gonna be out for a good while, so I wasn’t worried about them coming back and catching us. Mum wouldn’t open my door without knocking first anyway. But, if she did, there was no way there’d be time for him to get dressed before she started asking me to open it. It was grand, though. We were probably safe for a while.
I still had my nightie on. There wasn’t really any reason to take it off, he could get to everything anyway. Easy access, as Jaz would say. The hangover thing was definitely happening – I was really up for it, but no matter what he was doing, I couldn’t quite get there. And the more I thought about it, the more it got worse. Like I was putting pressure on myself, or something. He was kissing my neck now, and along my collarbones, making me shiver in the warm. I’d forgotten my headache for a bit, but it’d probably come back in a while. I’d have to rob some tablets from the bathroom cabinet. I felt him kissing down me and I wondered were my armpits a bit pongy from dancing last night, but it was too late to do anything about that now. I’d just let him get on with it. I looked over at the chair where I’d thrown my clothes after coming in. Nice bra and normal, white knickers. I always did that when I went out without him. It was like a little ritual. Like I was saying to myself “No one’s gonna be seeing you in your bra and knickers, so there’s no need for them to being matching or look nice.” It was weird, obviously, but it was my little thing, and it made me feel better.
We got a table in Mickey’s, with some boys. There was no seats in there, but Jaz marched right over to where the guys were sitting, and talked us in there. She was like that – dead brazen. It came in handy lots.
“And what year are ye in, in the Crescent, then?” She was asking the guy sitting nearest to her. A tall rugby jock looking fella, with a bumfluff beard.
“Shhhh, will you? You’ll get us thrown out,” said yer man. He looked like he was going red, but it might just have been the lights in there.
“Ah, g’way, you handicap, you. No one’s listening.” Jacinta had a straw with her bottle of Stag, cos she didn’t give a shite about barmen thinking she was too young.
“Fifth year,” said the guy, nearly whispering. I looked over at Caitriona. She looked a bit uncomfortable, and not just from the clothes. Yer man next to her looked like a right swot. He probably thought it was his birthday. She looked like a ride after we’d done her make up for her, and she was thin, so the belly top looked nice on her, even though she’d no boobs.
“FIFTH YEAR?!” Jaz said, way too loud. The fella’s eyes nearly popped out of his head, and he snuck a look over at the bar, but the lad there was busy pulling pints.
“Shush!” He put his head down, like he was trying to hide behind his pint. I was drinking a Long Island Iced Tea, cos I wanted a cocktail, and we’d said we were going to Wiseguys after this, but no one seemed to want to move.
“Jaysus, will you look at you, like. Pure para. Who’s gonna think you’re under eighteen? Big lump of a youngfella. You’re grand. Calm down. You’ve to buy me a drink in a minute, shur.” I saw her drop her hand under the table and give his leg a squeeze. I hoped it was just his leg, anyway. He suddenly looked like he’d forgotten to be worried about the barman throwing him out. Yer man sitting next to me leaned in to say something. He smelled like too much Lynx.
“So, where are ye going after this?”
“Huh?” I’d heard him, I was just being a gowl.
“Ah, uh, are ye going out-out?” He was very boring looking. Not that I’d have been interested if he wasn’t, or anything.
“Uh, yeah. I dunno where, though. You’d have to ask Jaz.” I nodded over at the boss. She still hadn’t taken her hand back up. She was earning her free drink, definitely. Yer man next to me, Simon he was called, looked over at her, then back at me.
“She’s a bit scary,” he said, looking kind of worried.
“Yeah, she’s fecking terrifying. She’s all right, though. If you know her.”
“Haha, I suppose so. Can I buy- can I get you a drink?”
“Nah… I’ve got one. Thanks, though.” I wouldn’t have minded another one, but you didn’t want to be giving them the wrong idea. When they started getting the wrong idea, you had to start dropping the word ‘boyfriend’ into the conversation, and then they got all sulky looking, and they stopped talking to you.
I could feel Richie getting a bit frustrated with me, in the middle of everything, cos of me being so numb from the hangover. I didn’t think he realised that was what it was, I’d never talked to him about it before. He’d been moving away down there with his hand for ages, and I was making nice noises, but he knew what I was like when I actually finished, and he knew it hadn’t happened yet. I looked at him a couple of times and he looked dead serious, like he was concentrating hard on an exam, or trying to figure out a jigsaw. It made me want to giggle, but I couldn’t do that. You couldn’t laugh at a boy when he was doing stuff to you; they didn’t ever take it well. I felt him move down me, and he lifted up the bottom of my nightie, kissing my stomach. I knew where he was going, and I got paranoid about not having a shower yet, and maybe did I smell, but I couldn’t really tell him to stop, cos he got dead sensitive when you did that – he took it really personally, like I was saying he was doing it wrong, or it was rubbish, even though it never was. Sometimes I just didn’t fancy that sort of thing, or sometimes I just wanted him to come up and kiss me again, cos I missed him. You couldn’t explain that to him, though. He was a funny one sometimes, but all boys probably were.
He was on his way down now, he’d be there in a second, so I had to do something quick. Maybe I should just let him get on with it, though. It might be nice. It was usually nice. But maybe he’d be down there for ages without coming up for air, and nothing would happen, and then he’d just get annoyed. With me, or with himself. I was starting not to care about whether I was stinking now. Fuck it. He started doing what he went down there for, and I pushed my head back into the pillow. We were good together. I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else, really. Felt weird even trying to picture it. He wasn’t perfect; no one was. He’d get strange and moody sometimes – like he did when I asked him to go to the mass for my Uncle Pat’s 2nd anniversary a month back – or a few other times – but I wasn’t perfect either. We were perfect together though; even Jaz said that, sometimes, but she’d usually make a vomit noise after it.
We’d ditched the lads by the time we got down to Arthur’s Warehouse. They were going to Doc’s anyway, and that was pretty hard to get in on a Saturday night, cos they weren’t desperate to get people in there, like they would be on a Sunday. Arthur’s was grand, cos Jaz knew all the bouncers on the door. She gave one of them a hand-job in the toilets one night. Not even to get in his good books or anything. She just did it cos she wanted to. Mad tart.
Triona was steamed. She was up dancing and everything, so you knew she’d had a few. They were playing 80s songs for a bit. Absolutely sad. But we were dancing to them anyway, cos what the hell. Jacinta came bashing through the crowd in her big heels. She’d been over talking to the DJ for ages; flirting with him for free drinks. He was ancient. He dyed his hair black, but that made him look even ancienter, I thought.
“Mar! Mar! There you are! Quick! I’ve a emergency.”
“An emergency,” said Caitriona, who was still sober enough to be a gowl.
“What’s wrong, Jaz?”
“Just come with me to the toilet, Mar. I’m not joking. Seriously, like. Come on.” She dragged me away by the wrist. We nearly knocked over a few people dancing on the way. The glass boy outside the doors of the toilets was supposed to stop you going in with drinks, in case you spilt one, or someone got glassed, but he didn’t say anything about me taking my bottle in. He probably didn’t have time, Jaz was dragging me in there so fast.
“Hey. Penny for them?” I was lying up on Richie, after we’d finished messing around. In the end, I’d just pretended, made the right noises, and then I sorted him out. That didn’t take long at all, cos he wasn’t hungover, and cos it never took long if he’d been doing stuff to me first. Or maybe I was just brilliant at it, or something. He’d never complained, that was for sure.
“How d’you mean?”
“I mean whatcha thinking?” I liked this – the cuddle after. Made me feel safe, cos that’s when I wanted to feel safe the most. When I wanted to feel okay, and good, and liked, and not dirty. I’d have hated it if Rich was one of those boys that just did their business, then got all funny and awkward, and got dressed, and tried to make an excuse to get out of there. We had a while yet before my folks came back, though. And we’d hear the car coming in around the back.
“Eh, nothing really. Did you get on… was last night all right?”
“Yeah… Drank a bit too much, danced a bit too much, spent a lot too much.” I tried to keep the answer jokey, in case the question had been serious, or something. He got funny sometimes, about me being out without him, but I’d figured out ways to stop it before it started, usually.
“Where’d ye go, then? Talk to any – meet anyone ye knew?” His tone of voice was weird, like he was asking one thing and meaning something else. I didn’t wanna get into all that shite now. My headache was back, and I was tired again.
“You’ve nothing to worry about, Rich. You never do. You know that, right? You trust me, don’t you?” I looked him right in the eyes when I said it, cos I read that somewhere – that people believed you more if you looked them in the eyes when you said something. And it was true, anyway.
“Ah, yeah. Yeah, I do. I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“It’s okay.” It kind of wasn’t okay, really. Nothing worse than someone not trusting you when you hadn’t done nothing wrong.
“I just – it’s not you I don’t trust, Mar. It’s other fellas. Fellas are awful, like, sometimes. All the time. I should know, I’m one of them. They’d only be after you for one thing, you know?” He was trying to be nice about it, in his own stupid little way, but it still annoyed me.
“Yeah, I know, Rich. And they won’t get it off me, cos I’m not interested in anyone else. You should know that by now.” I knew I sounded dead huffy, but I didn’t care. We’d had this before, loads of times, and it still never went into his skull. Made me want to clatter him sometimes.
“I know, yeah, but, I mean – what if you met someone, like – someone you liked better than me, like? I just… I just do be worried about you, sometimes. Out there, on your own, dressed up all… nice, like.” He had his sulky face on now. I couldn’t believe he’d started all this, after what I’d just done for him. But I had asked him what was up, so it was half my own fault.
“Well, that’s not gonna happen any time soon, babe. Cos I love you, and just you. And, even it was gonna happen, you can’t keep me locked up in a… box, to stop it. That’s just life, shit happens, but it’s not gonna happen, okay?” I’d nearly said ‘up in a trunk, so no big hunk’, cos of the Cliff Richard song, and that made me want to giggle too, even though I was a bit cross. I looked at him, and the sulky face turned into a better one, then he put on a smile, kissed me on the top of my hair, and gave me a nice big squeeze.
“You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m just being an eejit, Mar. Sorry.”
“You are being an eejit, yeah, you spa. Anyway, d’you think I give amaaaaazing blow-jobs like that to just anyone?”
“Haha, no. No, you don’t.”
“Exactly. Just to you. And Patrick Swayze. And your Dad.”
“Hahahaha, you bollix, you.”
He whacked me over the head with a pillow, and we were back to normal again.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Jaz!” The both of us were squashed in together in one of the cubicles in the jacks. We were lucky there was one free when we got in, normally you’d have to queue.
“That’s not a fucking emergency. I was picturing some youngone half-dead on the floor in here, and you asking me to give her the kiss of life, like.” I was rooting through my handbag, but I couldn’t find the thing I needed to get for her yet.
“It’s a fucking emergency to me, like. Coming on in the middle of Arthur’s on a Saturday night, and I no jamrags with me? If that’s not an emergency I dunno what is.”
“Jamrags… you’re something else, you are.”
“Yeah, well. Fucking gutted now. Tis lucky I always have a spare pair of knickers in my bag, like. Be prepared, they says. We can fucking flush these other ones, like. Looks like a butcher’s hanky, that does.”
“Jaz!!!” She was disgusting. It was one of the things I loved about her.
“Fucking gone, they are. Weren’t even cheap, them, either. Got them in the North last year. They’re Top Shop. English knickers, Mar. Have you found me a pad yet, like? Or are you looking for the Lost Ark down there?”
“I don’t have any pads.” I’d never said I had pads to her.
“You don’t have any – what you mean, Mar?” She flushed the knickers, but they wouldn’t go down. She tore off a load of tissue and threw it down into the bowl on top of them.
“I only have tampons.” I didn’t ever use pads. They felt like nappies.
“Tampax!? What are you, a Protestant? For fuck’s sake, Mar. I’ll never get one of them up me.”
“Jesus, there’s been plenty of bigger things up there, Jaz, according to you anyway. Cop on, will you?” I found one. An applicator one, still in the little packet. Three drops on the side. That’d have to do her.
“Ah now, fuck off, yeah. I’ve just… I’ve never used one, like. How do you – do they hurt?” She was being serious as well. Some girls were really funny about using them. When we did our talk in school they hardly mentioned them. It was all pads and stuff. I’d got my first ones off my Aunt Sarah, but she lived in England, so maybe it was just an Irish girl thing.
“Of course they don’t… look, there’s applicator thing here, and… do you want me to put it in you and everything, is it?”
“Feck off, Mar. I wouldn’t be into that now at all. You’re mixing me up with Triona, like.” She was always going on about Triona being a lesbian. You’d swear she fancied her or something. I could have told her a few tales there, but I didn’t, cos that’d be lousy on Caitriona. And Jaz might end up thinking I was a bit… as well.
“Look, it’s either this, or you can spend the rest of the night… holding it in, like. Up to you, love.” I handed her the little packet.
“Ah, Jaysus, no. It’d be like a slaughterhouse floor out there in ten minutes, says you. Just… tell me what to do, and feck off out of here and let me do it, yeah?”
“Yeah, you’re welcome, like.”
“Sorry. Yeah, thanks, Mar. You’re sound out. D’you think I won’t pull now? They can tell, fellas, can’t they?”
“Tell what?” I could hear loads of voices outside the door. Probably girls waiting for one of the stalls to be free. We were probably making them piss their knickers, we were taking so long in there.
“When you’ve come on. They know, don’t they?” She took the yoke out of the packet like it was going to bite her or something, and squinted at it.
“No. How would they know?”
“Dunno. Smell of twopences off your gowl?”
“Hahahaha, I love you, Jaz.” Someone tried the handle of the cubicle door, and started swearing when it wouldn’t open. I had to go out there in a minute, and they’d think it was free, until Jacinta locked it again behind me. That’d be fun.
Since I’m being so productive at the moment, here’s something that you’ve not seen before. Enjoy.
His dressing room was as untidy as he’d left it the week before. That was how he liked it. There was a comfort in the mess; and he knew where everything was. Organised chaos. The cleaners were under strict instructions to never come in there – as were most people at the television centre. Apart from the ones he invited himself. Or the ones others procured for him. There would be a few of those, later, no doubt. Anyone who caught his eye during filming; or, if not, someone else his friends would find. He had a lot of friends, even though there was no one he would call close. Not since his mother had died. He took a half-smoked Romeo y Julieta from the ashtray and lit it with the lighter that had been given to him by a cousin of the Queen, in 1977, the Silver Jubilee. It still worked. Things back then were built to last. Not like today.
The rails on the far wall were packed with different colours of the same outfit – tracksuits, always tracksuits. The last time he’d worn anything different in public was when he received his knighthood. A suit was called for that day, even he knew that. Out of respect for her Maj, he’d said at the time. It still felt strange to him that she was gone now, even though he’d been there when they laid her to rest the October before last. Protocol had prevented him from being a pall bearer, even though there were many in the establishment, and in the general public, who would have thought it an apt gesture. It didn’t matter now; she was gone, and her son was on the throne. He was even more of a friend than she had been. Maybe when his day came, it might be different.
He wasn’t a big deal anymore. Not to the public, anyway. He was still sure that everyone knew who his was, but the days of having a prime time TV show every week, a Saturday night slot on Radio One, were over now. Since the nineties, if he was honest with himself. He still ran the marathons and raised the money for charities. He still received the odd award and opened a local fete or shopping centre, but his heyday was over. The times had changed. He still had all his connections though, and that was the most important thing. Out of the public eye was where the real, important work was done, and always had been. The man in Number 10 was a friend, and the two before him, even though they supposedly played for different teams. None of that mattered – it was all the one in the end, he knew that more than anyone. Of course, his greatest friend in Downing Street was dead now. He felt almost as bad as he did about his mother, the day they put that woman in the ground. He was outliving them all now. And, if he wasn’t outliving them, he had his freedom where others had lost theirs. The crackdowns had been many and severe in the last decade, even though they’d died down of late. He knew he was safe, though. He always had been. He had too much on the people in the highest places to ever go down for something. They knew he’d bring the whole house of cards down around him if they ever even dared. Someone knocked on the door.
“Two minutes, Sir Kev!”, some lackey shouted through the thin wooden door.
“I’ll be there in three, then,” he answered in his usual sarcastic tone. He had the sort of sense of humour that was lost on young people, he often noted, but they respected him enough to laugh along nervously, like they understood.
“I’ll let them know, Sir Kev. See you out there.”
He liked the title, even though they used it with the informal version of his name, which made it sound strange. He’d always been Kev, though. To his friends and to the nation. Only his mother had called him Kevin, and she was gone now. He stood up, stubbing out the cigar, even though it had already lost its flame a while ago. He was still in the clothes he’d arrived wearing. He usually was. There hadn’t been much point in giving him the dressing room for the duration of the series, because he never really used it. Not for dressing, anyway, he thought, chuckling to himself on the way out the door. The dressing room was only a couple of dozen feet from Studio three, and as he strolled down the short hallway, he swore to himself that he could smell the girls in the audience from where he was – all cheap perfume and new shampoo, and something else that didn’t really have a name. He was already looking forward to the drinks later on in the dressing room, and whatever else they brought him.
It was too early to be in there. It was too early for her, or for anyone else. But it was open, and there were people, so it was probably acceptable to someone. She was at the bar. She’d walked past security on the door upstairs, but the barman had carded her when she ordered her drink. Jack and Coke, no ice. She’d given him her driver’s licence. She couldn’t drive, and it wasn’t her name, but she was eighteen, so the fake ID wasn’t for juvenile reasons. She had plenty of them – fake IDs, and reasons. The Coke was warmish. He’d taken a mixer bottle from the fridge, but maybe whoever restocked it hadn’t bothered to move them around, she thought. She’d worked in a nightclub bar for a while, in Switzerland, when she was trying to be normal. She still wasn’t going to ask for ice. It hurt her teeth.
The girls were pretty today. And if they weren’t pretty, they were hot. She’d been to lots of places like this, and that was something she’d noticed before – the quality of the dancers and hostesses didn’t go down if it was early in the day. There were just fewer of them to go around. The bar was in the round, with one of the stages to the sides, so she could sit and watch them go up and down the pole in that way that never failed to impress her. She never really associated it with sex, even if it was sexy. She didn’t conflate the pole-dancing with bedroom performance. But it was still quite something to watch, she thought.
Men never hit on her – not in places like this. Women came and sat with her, made small talk – the ones who were on the job, of course, but even then that wasn’t frequent. They had a living to make, and it made more sense for them to corner tipsy businessmen who looked like their wives never fucked them, than to come chat with the little girl who didn’t look like she had money, or an interest in women, sexually. She had both; she just didn’t look like it. Either way, the guys stayed away in places like this. She guessed it was because this was the one sort of bar where they didn’t have to worry about being rejected by random women. As long as they had the money, they got the company and attention. It would be stupid to try and chat up the one woman who wasn’t being paid to be there. The girl on the stage was blonde and pretty. She couldn’t have been taller than five two, she thought. Skinny, in an athletic way, not undernourished. Hardly any breasts to speak of, she noticed. But she could move. There was a poetry to her, almost. A slightly seedy poetry, but poetry nonetheless. Downing her drink, she clicked the snaps of her purse open and picked out a purple note. Another glance at the tiny blonde inching her way down the polished aluminium made her think she might need more than one twenty. It had been one of those days, and Poppy was in no hurry to go home.
Yes. The worst kept secret in the history of Ciarán West novels drops some time next week, so here is an unsolicited sniff of its filthy gusset. You’re welcome.
Last Year, London, Emma
The taste of soap in my mouth has stopped being strange or disgusting; it’s just part of the routine now. Soap, shampoo, sometimes that special shower gel ‘made from 100% natural ingredients’. The lemon one’s my favourite, I can pretend it’s meant to be in my mouth, with a bit of imagination. I scrub the rest of me, hard, same as every other day. Especially the fingers and the beard – that’s where the smell sticks the most, and she’ll notice it. She still kisses me, and my hands are always on her. Anyone might get the impression we’re in love.
I pat my face dry with one of the towels she bought for the new house. Not our house, her house. I just live here. I look at the clock, a vintage train station one, which is like everything in this place (and the last); part of her own unique style. So unique you can find it in every copy of Living Etc. she keeps neatly stacked in the downstairs toilet, along with Crap Towns, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and other things that Middle Class people think are hilarious. It’s nearly five. I need to start preparing dinner soon. Something that feels a little like happiness, for a second, then it’s gone. I like it when she likes the food I cook. I like it when she likes anything I do.
The queue at the shop across the street isn’t long, but none of us in it are sure who’s next, cos of the strange layout, and the way people on the tills randomly decide if they’re serving or not. I just need some ginger and a bag of cashews. I’ve already been in earlier. I feel okay. Sober and lucid. There’s a headache on its way, but I’ve already had the ibuprofen before I got in the shower. The girl in front of me moves forward, stopping for a second to see which server she should go to. Outside is sunny, but it isn’t too hot. She’ll be on the tube now though, where it’s always hot, and cramped. I’m going to make Chinese. That always makes her happy. She’s never really happy. Best I can ever do is stop her hating me for a while.
The knives are sharp, but I’m used to them. I love sharp knives, and the power you feel using them. I should’ve chosen a different one for the chicken breast, but I like the way the curved one moves. I could’ve chopped the veg first, but the meat needs to sit in its marinade for a while, and I don’t have time. So I just wash it in between, with a little of the Fairy that she tells me I use too much of. It says a lot about her power over me that I’m nervous about things like that when she isn’t even here. But I’m used to that too. I slide the pink flesh into a small bowl. Some corn flour, a little rice vinegar, a good splash of soy. The rest of the taste will come from the sauce I’ll make. I wash my hands to get rid of any traces of raw meat from under my nails. The garlic is fresh and wet inside, smells good. The iPod shuffles on to the next Bowie track. It’s Quicksand. Always so quiet at the start that I feel the need to turn up the speakers. It’s half past five. I think about sending a text. No service on the underground, but she’ll get it when she comes out of the station.
Everything is chopped and prepared, sauce made, wok on the stove, rice measured out. I pick up the dog bowls and put them on the counter. The sound of plastic hitting granite makes them run in from the living room. The dogs are my favourite company. They don’t judge, and they can’t criticise. They’re loyal, even if it’s mostly down to their own stupidity. I wonder if I should start the rice, but she hasn’t replied to my text. It could end up being one of those nights where she goes for drinks people from work, and we’ll have another stupid non-argument where I sulk, and she doesn’t say much, but I know she hates me for stopping her doing what she wants. We’re always on the edge of a fight. It’s never been any different, right from the start, but we carried on. Something keeps us together, and it doesn’t always feel like something good. You don’t get addicted to healthy stuff.
My head feels okay; my mind is probably not as quick as it could be. If she came back right now, asked too many questions, I’d probably give the game away. I test myself sometimes, try to remember something specific about a piece of trivia, and see how long it takes. I remember, years ago, playing quiz machines in pubs, when the drink would slowly make me less able to get the answers right. I turn the music down to more of a background volume. She’ll turn it down again when she comes in; I think she needs to feel some control whenever she comes back to her house, even something a tiny and meaningless as that.
There was never a period of settling. I’ve been in that ‘first few months’ stage with her for three years now. Never moved on the stage where I’m her long term thing. She’s got better at it; she brings me out with her friends, and down to Plymouth to see her family. But, even then, I always feel more like some freak show than their future son-in-law. I used to be open minded about going out with people from different classes, but that was back in Ireland. English middle class people are the real deal, and they’re definitely better than me. They’re like a different species, and they look it.
Still no word, which usually means she’s coming. She’s always so stressed by the commute, morning or evening that I’ve learned not to push her on stupid things like getting back to me in texts or emails. She’s obsessed with the idea of not having enough hours in the day to do the things she wants, outside of work; that’s why she hates me. I’m the one with all the spare time, and the one who does nothing with them. Nothing she knows about, anyway. It makes her angry at the worst of times, gnaws away at her for the rest. I can feel it sometimes, coming off her like a haze. She loves me, though. That’s the weird bit. I believe her when she says it. I just don’t think she knows what it means. Or she might just think it means something different than it does to me. I don’t know.
It’s been a quiet enough day, inside my head. Sometimes the noise is so loud that I have to do something to quieten it, or give in and listen to what it says. When I do the first one, it’s touch and go as to whether the day ends well or badly. When I do the second, it always ends well for me, and badly for someone else. It’s been like that for a long, long time, and I used to let it eat away at me. I used to let it keep me up, and drive me mad with guilt, and shame, and bad feelings. And then one day I just accepted it. Accepted myself, and the things I have to do sometimes. But it’s been a quiet day today, in that respect, so I don’t want to think about that now.
Love was always something I reckoned I understood more than whomever I said it to. They didn’t get it, I did. That’s what I thought. I was a love snob. This relationship isn’t that different, but at least now I know of the root of the problem. My parents split up when I was fifteen, and I’ve been trying to find the perfect relationship ever since, as if doing that will fix the past. It’s nonsense. Looking back, I realise that it didn’t matter who I was with, just that they stayed with me. That I kept them. That I didn’t fail like Dad did. When I met her it felt different. Didn’t feel like I was settling. I’d found the one. Perfect for me in every way. That’s how it felt. But it could’ve been wishful thinking. I’d been single for five years. It could be I just met someone who wanted me, and changed myself to make her fit me better. It didn’t go both ways. She hasn’t changed a bit for me. A text from her. She isn’t coming. She hopes I haven’t started cooking yet. She’ll get something in the pub. I shouldn’t wait for her. I walk to the cupboard where my fags are hidden, behind the toolbox. It’ll be hours, I can do the soap thing again before she comes back.
It’s getting dark; I spot an empty can in the garden from earlier. I’ll have to take it out to the bin in the street, ours is a no-no. I pull long and hard on the ciggie, nice to have one after I thought I was finished for the day. After a lifetime of being unable to go two hours without a puff, I’ve now trained myself to stop in the early evening, and be fine without them until she leaves around eight the next morning. I can do it easily, unless we have a fight. Sometimes I think the nicotine demon inside me causes the fights, just so I’ll storm out of the house and light one up. Immediately after, I regret it, and have to go to the shop on the corner to get chewing gum, or a lemon drink, to hide the taste, in case she stops me before I’ve a chance to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Sometimes I think that I’m already halfway to quitting, if I’m able to go so many hours without a fix. But I know that it’s just a deal I make with the demon to feed him again in the morning, and that he knows I won’t go back on it.
I’m someone who has always been okay with keeping secrets. A secret is different to lie, in my mind. I hate lies. But if I have to tell one in order to keep a secret, then I don’t count it. That’s not a real lie. A lie is something you tell to make yourself look better, or to stop someone’s feelings being hurt. A lie to keep a secret isn’t selfish in a nasty, horrible way, like some other lies are. It’s just self-preservation, and we all need to do that. It’s not a real sin; it’s just a way of keeping afloat.
The bins are half way between the house and the shop. I feel the pull as I walk down with the can and few fag ends I picked up from the grass out back. Whenever I have some time to myself, especially when she isn’t going to come home for the night; she’s away for a weekend, or I’m house sitting for someone else, the feeling grabs hold of me, and it’s hard to shake. It’s never a question of just one drink. I’m not interested in drinking. It isn’t a social thing. You can’t be social with yourself, even if you have the internet and Facebook. I only ever want to get out of it. To get smashed. To have a little break from my own thoughts. Calling what’s wrong with me ‘depression’ is misleading. I don’t wake up with feelings of doom, and I don’t get sad for no reason. The way it affects me is apathy, and no motivation. I hadn’t written a word in months before I landed the gig at the Screen Passions website. And, even now, I need my editor to give me a deadline before I care enough to get anything done. Same as with the novels, I’m full of self-doubt, which goes away for a bit when I show my stuff to people, and they say good things. There’s no snowball effect, though. Every morning I wake up again and feel like I can’t do it. She doesn’t help. I can feel her lack of faith in me. Every time (and it’s rare) I talk to her about writing, her face takes on a look that says,
‘That’s all well and good, but when are you going to get a proper job?’
It isn’t the whole reason for the writer’s block, but having the person who loves you be supportive feels like it should be a given to me, and I hate her for not even pretending.
I go in for just one can. To take the headache away. At the big fridge, the names on the cans mean nothing, just the percentages. I don’t like beer. It’s just gas and water, never strong enough. There’s one there that’s 9.5%, but I can’t stomach it. It tastes like stout with cheap whiskey in it. The black cans of cider are the strongest. Kestrel at 8.4%, or Union Black, which is the same thing, but cheaper. I take two, cos one is never enough. I’m sober, they won’t get me so drunk as to be stupid or slurring when she comes in. And I can eat. I might eat. I can cook what is there, for one; or for two, and pack some of it away for her. I don’t know. Thinking about it makes me nervous. Thinking about her makes me nervous. Three years now, and it’s never changed. I don’t wait to get home before I crack open the first one. It tastes like hot vomit. I never get used to how it makes me gag the first time it goes down. There’s no pleasure in this. It’s the opposite of a refreshing pint of suds in the beer garden on a sunny day with your friends. It’s fuel, to get me away. But I never quite get away. Not for long. When it’s over, I’m always back where I started, and usually feeling even shittier.
The laptop’s still open. Something’s paused on the media player from earlier. It’s some episode of a show we’ve been watching together. That’s one trick I have to stop the tension and the fighting. Get her interested in some American drama that we can fill those three hours in the evening with, and while we eat. Sometimes a new recipe, to make her a little happier. Sometimes an old favourite, to comfort her. I don’t have any favourites anymore. Hers are mine, now. I don’t enjoy doing anything she doesn’t like too. At least while she is around. She hasn’t seen this one yet. I sometimes watch ahead, as it’s me who has the free time to do it, and anything is better than doing what I’m supposed to be. I won’t tell her, she hates watching anything with me that I’ve already seen. I don’t understood why, or need to. With her, it’s enough to know that a thing annoys her. The only fix is to not do it again. There’s no sense or logic to it. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. What matters is who pays the rent.
The first can is nearly finished. I remind myself to get rid of it later. The veg is still on the chopping board. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be cooked, but God knows what I’ll decide after can number two. Drink always seems like a choice to me, but after enough of them, it’s the drink that decides. And it never decides something smart. It’s like letting a blind guy walk me through traffic. Then again, I’m letting her steer us through our relationship, and she isn’t qualified to do it. Ability isn’t ever an issue for people like her. She’s in management, where the people holding the reins aren’t the ones with the aptitude or the knowledge; they’re just the biggest bastards. I smile uncomfortably as I remember a conversation we had a few years back, where she told me she would have preferred to be with someone who didn’t already have a child. When I asked her why, she looked at me with a combination of arrogance and doubt, and said:
“Well, you’ve already done it before, and I’d have preferred to experience it all for the first time with someone. That’s important to me.”
“Yeah, but I’ve been through all the scary bits too, and I’d be able to reassure you about things. Like when we think there’s something wrong with the baby’s skull, and it turned out all babies have-”
“See? That sort of thing. I don’t want to already know. I don’t want you to be the one who knows best. I want to find out by myself, and have someone else on the same page as me, do you not understand?”
“That’s just bloody ridiculous.”
“How is it ridiculous?”
“Well, cos you’re saying screw all the benefits you’d get from having someone around who is already qualified to bring up a kid, who can put your mind at ease about stuff, who can let you know that it’s not always gonna be like this, that or the other. You’re saying balls to all that, you’d rather risk the baby’s health and stuff, just so no one else gets to be better than you at something?”
“That’s not what I said. At all.”
“It is. What the hell is wrong with you? Are you that much of a control freak? Really?”
“Look, if you’re going to be like that, let’s forget it.”
“Am I not a good parent?”
“What? What has that get to do with anything?”
“Huh? It has EVERYTHING to do with everything! For Christ’s sake. Jesus, if I have to sit here and compete with some imaginary future husband of yours who comes baggage free and ready to dive head first into the exciting world of being a bloody clueless parent with you, I think it’s only fair that I-”
“This is exhausting. Can we just stop, please?”
“For God’s sake. It’s always exhausting when you’re losing the argument. Every bloody time.”
“That’s not true. I just… it’s tedious, all right. I work hard, I travel three hours a fucking day, and I do NOT need my evenings filled with arguing with you about shit I don’t care about. I’ve had enough of it!”
And then the tears start. Hugs and sorries from me. A half hour later she’ll be tired and relaxing into my chest, and I’ll be okay, and blissful, and happy again. Cos she won’t be talking, so we won’t be fighting. And she’ll need something from me, that hug, and I can give it to her. And that’s where all my happy begins and ends. I finish the second can and think about a third. I need to go out anyway, to smoke, and drop things off at the bin. It isn’t even eight yet. Plenty of time.
There are more drink options. The cupboard always has gin. She doesn’t check it. She isn’t anal like that. Sometimes I take too much, and go down Sainsbury’s and buy their brand, to top up the Gordon’s. She never notices. And the new bottle always has too much in it, so I treat myself to a few doubles, and it carries on. I don’t think I’ve become better at drinking. Spirits are tricky. In my head they’re stronger, but a single shot is the same as a half of lager. Less water though, so it’s quicker to down, and the percentages are bigger. The ‘half a lager’ thing doesn’t make much sense at the end of a long day in the pub, when the rounds of shots start. Those things mess you up a lot more than any glass of Bud does, cos you’re already messed up. I pour a few fingers into a glass. The tonic is flat. I’ll get her a fresh one from the shop later. I take a sip. That first taste always reminds me of something, but I can’t place it. It’s more a feeling than a memory. I think of one just then though. A morning on a day off from when I had a proper job. I’d bought some Cork Dry Gin, and drank it at 10.00am, while watching The Commitments and wishing I was back home. It isn’t a sad memory, but I feel sad, anyway. Gin is some emotional shit. I try counting the units I’ve had already today, but it’s pointless, cos I don’t know what units they were, and I’m not sure if I can include that morning’s session. That seems like a whole other day now. I’m drunk again, I can feel it. A fuzzy sense of everything being all right, which is what I’m on board for in the first place. I started to wonder when exactly my expectations of life dropped so much, but it starts to get me down, so I move on.
I go outside for a cigarette. There’s always some paranoia, even here, where we know none of the neighbours yet. It’s ridiculous. I’m 36. No one’s going to tell tales on me. Still, I don’t stay on the step. I walk down, maybe to the shop, maybe not. I take a route I’m sure she won’t be coming back via, off her train. Even though I know she won’t be home for hours. It’s a work day tomorrow; she won’t be any later than midnight. But you never know. It’s best to be cautious. The sky is twilight, but the air is still warmish. I’m in a t-shirt. Coming up past the chip shop where they serve massive portions for a handful of change, I stop to pick up a used scratch card. I have no shame. While we were broken up for five months last year, I was poor, and got into a habit of checking them. One morning, I saw one inside the bin in front of a shop, and reached in to pick it out. It was a £20 winner. After that, any feelings of embarrassment at acting like a tramp disappeared for good. I’m already regularly wandering the streets off my face on cheap cider, sometimes I pick up half-smoked fags, when I have none of my own.
I’m in the queue again. By now, any choice in whether or not to continue drinking has gone out the window. The only say I have is in whether I go for the slightly weaker type of cider, and even then it’s a struggle just to let my body walk away with the 6% stuff. One will be enough. One is sometimes enough. The rest of the drink hasn’t hit me yet, and won’t for at least a half hour. While I’m still in the position to be careful, I’m going to try. I need cigarettes too. There’s only one left, and I’ll want some in the morning. I think about washing my mouth out again, when I get back to the house. It needs to be done before she comes home, but another scrub in the middle of everything can’t hurt. The bloke at the till looks past me with the usual London disconnect. If there’s anything I miss about Ireland it’s the way people in shops and cafés seem to genuinely mean it when they ask you how you are. Going back there, after a seven year break, it took some time to shake the feeling that they were up to something. London shopkeepers are Asian or Middle Eastern, and the amount of ignorant racist shit and constant robberies they have to put up with makes them put up a wall that people like me can’t break with small talk or smiles.
I light up again outside, ducking into a doorway when her bus passes. She isn’t on it. Well, I don’t think she is. It’s just an in-built reaction to the numbers on the front. I’ve no idea why, but fear is one of my main feelings about her. That, and love, whatever the hell that means anymore. It’s more like adoration. People in the old days used to fear the gods they adored. I adore her, she loves me. My mum loved my dad when she left him. She probably loved all those pet dogs of mine she had put down too. Love’s no guarantee. People still hurt you. They crush you. They walk away from you. I don’t ever walk away, even when I should. I let things go to shit, rather than ending them, cos I’m a coward when it comes to confrontation. She is too. That’s why we’ve lasted so long; she can’t finish it, and I don’t want it to end. I don’t even know if that’s true. When you’re the only one holding things together, it’s impossible to know if you’d be happier somewhere else.
I take a different way back. A little walk will be good, and I’ve been going in and out the door too much, it’s pissing off the dogs. All the roads here look the same; I’ve been lost a few times since we moved, drunk and sober. It’s all Victorian houses and council flats. A little panic sets in. The street names are familiar, but we looked at plenty of places around there before she made the offer on the house, so me remembering them doesn’t help. It’s got darker without me noticing. I light up another cigarette and pick a direction. It isn’t like wherever I’m going is home. Home is a long way away, and a long time ago. I must be pissed. I’m being all poignant.
Back at the house, nothing’s getting done; on an artistic level, anyway. I either start strong, and pile through all day, or I just hit the wall from the beginning, and it’s already over until tomorrow. It’s disappointing for me, and for her. But it’s the way I am. It’s not all I am, of course. I’m lots of things, and some of them she knows nothing about, thankfully. Some of them she doesn’t want to know about, and she never will. She doesn’t have to; it wouldn’t make her life any better. There’s a me that I keep just for me, and it’s not a lie if you’re just doing it to keep a secret safe. It’s just self-preservation, and we all need to do that. It’s not really a sin; it’s just a way of keeping afloat.
Indie Publishing is the new term for Self-Publishing. But don’t be fooled by that fancy name. It still means the same thing – mostly shite, with a lot of dragons and six-packs. And that’s how it’s always going to be.
That’s not to say that trad publishing isn’t also full of dragons and six-packs (and terrible writers). It’s just to remind you that there’s more of it in the unregulated world of digital vanity publishing. And, if you’re an indie writer yourself, you may be laughing along with this, but also thinking: “Yeah, but not me!”. Yes, you. Yes, me. Yes, all of us. Because taste is subjective by its very nature. And even the greatest books ever written will still have a 3% in the 1 Star part of their Amazon reviews. Stop reading this now, and go check. I’ll wait.
You back already? Told you so, didn’t I?
No matter how great you think you are a writer, someone is going to hate your book. Someone else mightn’t really ‘get’ it. Another person might just think it’s racist. It doesn’t matter. You can’t please everyone. And, unfortunately, the people you fail to please are always the ones more likely to take the time to bang out a review, explaining why you’re so shit. You should never take this personally. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how, as the old song goes. Songs from the late 90s are ‘old’ now, mate. Welcome to middle age.
I’m not just buttering your biscuit, by the way. It’s true. People get very cross if the majority likes something, but they don’t. You see it every day. And we can’t just let it go. We feel like we have to make a stand – to reach out to the rest of humanity and tell them just how wrong they are for daring to like something that we thought was stupid, had plot holes in it, or decided to portray Moriarty as a gay Irishman. Whatever it is, we have a platform now (thanks, Al Gore!) and we tend to use it. A lot.
That said, if 90% of your Amazon reviews are negative, you might just be shit. But you also mightn’t. You could just be way ahead of your time. Like early Bowie. Or Jesus. Or the Sega Dreamcast. You’re probably just misunderstood. Future generations will appreciate your werewolf & Frankenstein watersports slash fiction, and you’ll be laughing heartily down at the naysayers from Heaven.
Everyone who sits down and writes the novel they want to write, from the heart, with integrity (rather than looking at what the market wants and trying to create to order, I mean) is a good writer, as far as I am concerned. Even if they’re a really, really, really shit writer. Even if their covers look like they let someone with Parkinson’s loose on MS Paint. Even if I wouldn’t be able to get through the first page of their book without shoving a wet bath towel down my own throat and ripping out my own intestines. (Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of 24 recently). So, if you’re one of those writers, writing that sort of book, I salute you. I’m still not going to read your books. But I’ll download them when they’re free, and delete them a fortnight later. Because that’s what being an artiste is about – solidarity.
God bless all of you, and long may you continue to clog up my inbox, with your terrible hackneyed blurbs, and your stolen photographs of men’s glistening abdomens.
Greetings, hoi polloi. I write this at you, in a non-aggressive manner, from the carpeted floor of the house I don’t technically live in, because I’m still waiting for Joel Silver to ring with that five-movie deal to make me rich enough to buy my own carpet. My mobile phone says ‘No Service’ at the moment though, so that’s probably what’s wrong there.
I’ve just finished a 5 day promo on an older book, from 2013 (aren’t they all? I hear you shout, incorrectly), and it surprised me by shifting a shitload of copies, and fondling the top five in its own specific category in the UK, and going top twenty in Horror category worldwide. I even got a new review. And it was a glowing one which, if you’re familiar at all with the polarising public reaction to Girl Afraid over the years, is a right fucking coin-toss and no mistake.
It’s odd, being back in the game after so long out, and getting used to the feedback, the praise, the criticism, the hand-jobs in train station toilets, etc. It’s hard to explain how different it is to go from being someone who’s bashed out a few books in the distant past, to someone who’s publishing again, writing again, and who can finally answer the question ‘Can I get your books in paperback?’ with ‘Yes. Yes you can. Now take your hand off my leg, sir. You’re almost touching my phallus.’
I’ve always said that the thing about being a novelist that’s different from any other job is the fact that all of your perceived failures in the rest of your life are not actually wasted efforts. Every one of them can probably be turned into a scene somewhere, a character somewhere else. It’s literally all material. And, when I read my own books, I can definitely tell the difference between “That happened!” and “I made that shit up”, because the former always has more depth and authenticity to it. Your mileage may vary, of course, but then you really should be measuring distance in kilometers, you bloody racist.
Has Sweetness Follows gone down well? I reckon so, but a few more reviews wouldn’t hurt, if you’re listening, kids. My priority isn’t that at the minute though. It’s finishing book three, so that we have a trilogy for people to start, cos you know people, they like… well… they like trilogies? I haven’t done the research. There’s a chance that something non-Boys of Summery may drop as well, either at the same time (February) or a little after, so if you liked Girl Afraid, but you’re not too keen on the Paddy McNostalgia series, that’s a bit of good news for you. If you are the opposite, move right along, because if you though GA was a little hard to stomach, this other one is gonna turn your colon inside out, paint it with iodine, and stamp on it with golf shoes made out of lava. An acquired taste, if you will.
Okay, that’s all from West Towers for today. Click a link, read a sample, buy a book, write a review, save a life, adopt a monkey.