Posted in writing

Sample of Prior Bad Acts, By Ciarán West

angryBoy 400px

 

Okay, so while I do my usual ridiculous self-doubt writer’s block dithering over chapter seven of More Than Words, here’s a bit from a forthcoming book, notable for it being the first one I’ve ever done that isn’t named for a song title. Trigger Warning: If you thought Girl Afraid or A Certain Romance were a bit too extreme for you, turn back now, this is not for you, trust me. Everyone else, enjoy.

 

 

 

 

One

 

It was Horowicz, of course. It was always him, this time of night. Shift over, about thirty minutes for me to get home, and the phone in the hall would ring. If I didn’t pick that up, he’d call my cell. Just to check. Just to make sure. Eight years on the job together and it never changed. It didn’t make me pissed, or feel like he was babysitting me. It was just his way. Partners are close. It’s not the same as being close to your husband or your kids; it’s different. Sometimes it feels even closer. Nothing can compete with what you two experience together. There were things we saw on the job that we could never take home. Things we’d never talk about outside of work. But we could talk about them together.

“Carrie?”

He didn’t sound good. Something in his voice. I couldn’t gauge it.

“Hey. I’m home.”

Every night, for eight years. Same old same old. My partner, Jeff. Just looking out for me.

“What? Oh, good. Listen, Carrie…”

“What’s up? Are you okay?”

“I’m – I’m fine. It’s… I need you to come in.”

“Come in? I just got-”

“I know. I know, Carrie. Just… trust me, okay? I need you at the precinct. Now. Take a cab.”

“What’s happened? Did you – is it Harrison?”

I’d put in too much OT in the last couple of months. Was looking forward to a whiskey and bed. The Jared Harrison case was bad. The kind that stays with you. We hit a wall with the ADA. the week before, but maybe Horowicz had something new. The hallway was hot; the phone table was next to the main pipes. I’d gotten in the habit of setting the thermostat to switch on an hour before I got in. New York winters..

“No, not him. It’s something else, something new. Just come in, I’ll tell you everything when you get here.”

“Okay. Be there in twenty.”

“Good. And Carrie?”

“Yeah?”

I cradled the handset under my chin, while flicking through the cab company cards and take-out flyers I kept in in the drawer of the table..

“You have a drink yet?”

“What? No. No, not yet.”

He had my evening routine down pat. Subway, bus, lock the apartment door, coat off, single malt, bed, trash TV, and sleep. He’d caught me just in time, though. I smiled to myself, pulling out a yellow card, with ‘A-Cars, Manhattan’ on it.

“Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

He was gone. I shivered a little, in spite of the heat. Something was wrong.

It was past 3am when the cab dropped me at the door. I pushed the hand-scribbled receipt into my coat pocket and went past De Courtney on the desk, who barely looked up from her newspaper . I pressed the elevator button and stepped into the empty car. The place was never quiet, but a Tuesday night/Wednesday morning was dead compared to the weekend. The cab ride had been quick, no real traffic going downtown. I called Jeff on the way, but his desk phone rang out. Whatever it was, he was busy with it. The doors opened to a silent room. Our workspace was open plan, and it would be usual, even at this time, to see one of the squad at their desk finishing some paperwork, but there was no one. I tried to remember who the night crew was: I figured Jensen and Crowley. They’d either caught a case, or they were with Jeff. I threw my coat down on a chair and headed to the interview rooms. There was no one in the pen. That was normal too. Our squad handled rapes and sexual assaults of adults and minors, under the umbrella of the Detective Bureau. Everyone had their gold medallion; most of the job was brain power, but we weren’t house mice. We got out. Uniform were always first on a scene, and if it was sex-related, we got the call. The Sex Cops, the Pussy Police, and all the other nicks those smartasses had for us. They treated us like a joke, a lot of the time, but most of them couldn’t handle doing what we did. A detective I knew from Queens said to me one time:

“I prefer it up here, Carrie. We don’t have no living vics in Homicide. A stiff don’t change her story a bunch of times, neither.”

He was right, but I asked to come to SVU as soon as I made Detective. Wasn’t sure if I had for the stomach for it, but I figured if I didn’t try, I’d never know. That was a long time ago. I was half way through my Twenty.

I passed the glass outside Room One, expecting to see Jeff inside with a collar or a vic, but it was black. Two was the same; no lights, no people. The only other place he could be was… I swallowed dry. Kids are the worst cases to pull. I thought about that whiskey I hadn’t drunk, and Jeff’s voice on the line. Fuck. I found myself walking slower, and my heart rate started climbing. Deep breaths, Carrie. You’ve done this a thousand times before. That much was true, but it didn’t make it any easier. The lights were on in the last interview room. It looked nothing like the fluorescent lit, bare brick of the others. It was specially designed to feel comfortable. Soft furnishings, books, a toy box, even some curtains, just for show. There was no window behind them, but it did the trick; kids aren’t supposed to be interrogated, even in cases where they’re the suspect, not the victim. We’d had a few of those over the years. All of them stayed with me after, for longer than they should have. Jeff was sitting at the reading table, across from two small children. I put about eight and nine on them. The girl looked older. Both blonde, clean, not street kids. Someone cared about them. I flicked the intercom so I could listen in. Jeff looked white, shaken. It was his voice I heard first.

“And then… and then what does your fa- what does Papa do?”

The small boy answered him. Considering what he said, his tone was chillingly matter of fact.

“Papa kills the baby.”

“I see. And where does he- where does this happen, Tommy?”

The boy went to speak, but it was the girl who answered.

“In the church. In the secret room in the church. Papa kills the baby, and then we cook the baby, and then we eat the baby.”

The boy nodded, almost excitedly, agreeing:

“Yes! We cook the baby. And we drink the blood.”

“Yeah, we drink the blood. We always drink the blood”, the girl said, playing with her long golden locks. Jeff looked like he was struggling to keep his composure.

“Who drinks the blood, Lily?”

“Oh, we all drink the blood. Me, Tommy, Papa, all the others. We drink the blood and we cook the baby, and then we eat the baby’s meat.”

I leaned against the glass to steady myself. Light headed, all of a sudden. I hadn’t eaten since lunch.  Jeff wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.

“And who are the others? Do you know their names?”

He was good at it. The obvious terror and revulsion he must have been feeling never showed in the tone of his voice. Years of practice. The kids looked at each other, and then the one called Lily spoke.

“There are lots of others. Sometimes the same, sometimes different. Miss Seaver, Reverend Alcott, Mrs Bane – she’s Natalie’s mom… Am, Mr DuBois, Mrs Theroux, lots of people. They all drink the blood, and they all cook the baby and eat the baby.”

“Okay, Lily. Okay. Who- who is- did you say Miss Seaver?”

“Yeah, Miss Seaver is a teacher. She’s not our teacher. I mean, she used to be my teacher, but she’s not anymore.”

It was too surreal. This kid, this kid who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, saying these horrible things, with all the innocence and calm of someone solving the puzzles on Dora. What had Jeff found tonight? Where did these kids come from? I couldn’t listen any longer. I rapped on the glass to get his attention. He jumped, like he’d been woken from a nightmare. To all intents and purposes, he had. I saw him get up and excuse himself, before coming through the door; tie off, shirt unbuttoned. He looked like he’d aged years since I saw him earlier.

“The mom brought them in, not long after you left.”

We were at the vending machine. It was right across from the one way glass of the room. We could still see Tommy and Lily. They were laughing at something in one of the books on the table. I had a coffee, black. I’d never wanted something stronger in all my years on the job.

“Where is she? Who is she?”

“That’s the thing. We don’t know.”

He took the lid off his drink and gulped it down. An asbestos throat came as standard in our job; you never know when your coffee break is going to be interrupted.

“You don’t know? What did she say? Did you get a statement?”

“I didn’t see her. Garcia said she came to the desk and asked for you, by name.”

“For me? How? Why?”

It hadn’t been Sal Garcia on the desk when I came in, but De Courtney had probably relieved him around two. That was the usual switchover time.

“Beats the hell out of me, Carrie. All I know is that she was acting crazy. Wouldn’t fill out any forms, kicked up hell until the deskie told her what floor we’re on. Didn’t matter he let the mom know you were gone for the night. Really shook the shit outta Garcia. He said she was spooky as shit, too. She had black eyes, he said.”

“Someone beat her up?”

“No, he meant her eyes. The colour. He said it was like looking into hell.”

“Fuck.”

“I dunno, people say a lotta shit. But she freaked him, for sure.”

“And she didn’t come up?”

“No, Garcia said she came back down a minute or two later. On her own. He tried asking where she was going, but she just ran. Alex and Sonny are out looking for her. Nothing so far though. She’s in the wind.”

Alex Jensen and Sonny Crowley were part of our six officer SVU team, under Capt. Jim Richards, at Manhattan Borough Patrol. The other two, Mannirez and Slater, were off shift until morning.

“Fuck, so what happened? With those two, I mean? Was there an outcry? Have you called up? You were in there on your own when I came in. You know 1PP won’t be- ”

“- I know. I’m just… there was nothing I could do. These kids, they walked in here, and asked to see you. I didn’t know what it was. Then Garcia called up, and I sent Jensen and Crowley to pick up Mom.”

“Did you call anyone?”

“Haven’t had a chance. And ACS isn’t going to answer a phone until the morning. And these kids… these kids just started talking. And once they started, they didn’t stop. And I could really do with a shot or three of Wild Turkey now, Carrie, so don’t bust my ass on procedure. Please. This shit is fucked up. You heard them yourself.”

He looked drained. The circles under his eyes were deep and dark enough to get lost in, and his lips were chapped and broken. He was probably right about Children’s Services, but he should have called someone. Then I remembered that he’d called me.

“I did. What else have they said? Any more names? You been able to check any of this out?”

“What? No. No, it’s just been me, remember? That’s half the reason I called you, Car. And well, just to have someone else here. Cos I’m starting to think I’m crazy. Did you see them? Hear them?”

“Yeah, I did. I wish I hadn’t, but… and there’s more?”

“So much more. Look, I could tell you, but I want you in there with me. I’ll get them to talk, from the start. I don’t wanna hear it again, Carrie, trust me. But if there’s no change in the details when they talk to you, I’m gonna have to start believing this real.”

He finished what was left in the cup, and crushed the paper in his fist. Behind him, the little girl was goofing around, making her brother laugh (I guessed it must be her brother, if the missing chick was Mom). They looked like the most normal kids in the world, but they were in our precinct, in the early hours, talking about… child sacrifices like they were recapping episodes of the Flintstones. I followed Jeff into the room, bracing myself for whatever was coming. The boy smiled at me when I came through, but little Lily seemed to only have eyes for Det. Horowicz.

“Tommy, Lily: this is Detective Burnett.”

“Hi, guys. You can call me Carrie.”

Their faces lit up, and they both spoke.

“You’re the special lady! She’s the special lady!”

“The nice lady!”

“The lady who will help us!”

“The good lady! She’s the good lady, Tommy.”

“She’s the kind lady. Mama said Police Lady Carrie will help.”

“Mama said Officer Burnett does kind things!”

I tried to look normal. There was something about the two of them that gave me the creeps, though. Not anything about the way they looked, or their voices. It was the things I’d heard them say, and how they’d said them so easily. I was thinking on my feet: it was all new to me. Was it some sort of sick prank? If it wasn’t, their behaviour wasn’t too hard to explain, in theory. Children who were the victims of systematic abuse within a family unit often acted as if the most heinous things were normal to them. They’d been conditioned, almost trained, to see the harm that was being done to them as ordinary. In extreme cases, some of which I’d witnessed first-hand, the victims would swear blind that they actually enjoyed it. Those were the worst cases, because you knew that they were almost better off with that ignorance. That months of therapy was only going to open their minds to the fact that they had suffered, and that the people who were supposed to love them and take care of them were the ones who had made them suffer. It was a quandary, morally, but in practice we had no choice. They had to be fixed.

“Well. Now I feel really special. Does your mommy know me? What’s her name, your mommy? Does she have a name that isn’t ‘Mommy?’”

The girl looked bemused.

“Yes.”

“She does? That’s great, Lily. Can you remember what it for me? Take your time, honey. It’s okay.”

“Her name is ‘Mama’.”

Of course. I smiled and didn’t let the frustration show.

“Mama, yes. And how about another name? What does… what does Papa call Mama? Tommy? Do you know?”

The boy looked at the floor. His sister nudged him and made an encouraging grunt, but he just giggled.

“Tommy? Would you rather tell Detective Jeff? You can whisper it if you like. Me and Lily won’t listen, will we, Lily?”

The girl shot me a glance that was neither conspiratorial or hostile. There was something rotten in her. Those eyes. Bad things had happened to her. She wasn’t bad herself. Or at she hadn’t been, to begin with. She was beautiful, in spite of it. They usually were. The boy rolled his eyes and gave an overly dramatic sigh, and leaned into Jeff. The whisper was faint, but I heard it clearly.

“Papa calls Mama ‘the whore.”

We’d hit another brick wall. I hadn’t smoked in ten years, but I wanted one now. I looked at Jeff, sitting opposite, with the boy. It was time for me to hear their story.

“So, Jeff tells me you guys have been real busy…”

I didn’t know how else to start it.

“Busy like the bee?” said the smaller kid. His eyes were less troubled than his sister’s, but he mightn’t have seen what she had, or at least not for as long.

“I guess so. Jeff says you have a story. Is that right? Did Mommy tell you to tell us the story?”

“Mama says to always to tell the truth,” said Tommy. Lily nodded, agreeing.

“And is the story the truth? Lily?”

“We don’t tell lies.”

Her tone was slightly abrupt and defensive.

“That’s good, Lily. Because you know what happens if you tell a lie to a police officer, right?”

“You make us die?”

She didn’t look like she meant it as a joke. I swallowed the spit at the back of my throat.

“Oh, no. No, Lily, the police would never do anything bad to you. You must know that, right?”

“Well… kind of.”

“Only kind of?”

Jeff’s voice reminded me I wasn’t there alone. The precinct was still empty. Someone would have tapped glass to let us know we had company.

“Well… yeah, maybe. Papa says, sometimes, if you tell a secret, someone makes you die.”

“Well that isn’t true, Lily. Especially not me and Detective- me and Carrie. We’re here to help you. No one is going to hurt you. I promise.”

“Will they hurt me? Will they make me dead?” said Tommy, squeezing his sister’s forearm, across the little table. They were tactile with each other. Normally it wouldn’t raise alarm bells, but abused children often displayed extreme neediness and regularly sought validation. Sometimes it came across as innocent, other times it manifested as inappropriate touching- both among themselves, and with a new adult. We’d seen it a million times.

“No one will hurt you either, Tommy. Now, who wants to start? For Detective Carrie? What you wanna talk about first?”

“The school?” said the girl, with all the enthusiasm of a star pupil who knows the answer in class.

“Or the church?” said Tommy, chewing on the sleeve of his sweater. Jeff’s interest piqued at the suggestion, and he answered.

“What about the church, Tommy? You didn’t say anything about a church…”

“That’s cos you didn’t ask us about it, stupid.”

“Tommy, stop being bad.”

Lily had been holding her brother’s hand loosely, but in that instant, her fingers closed over his, crushing them. I convinced myself I’d imaged the cracking noise. The boy’s face flushed, his eyes watering.

“I’m not being-”

His protests were cut short by another crush of fingers. I swapped glances with Jeff, wondering what to do next. He made the decision for me, taking Lily’s wrist with the lightest of grips.

“Hey. Come on now, Lil. You don’t wanna hurt your brother, do you?”

She turned her head extremely slowly, and gave him a smile that, on an adult woman, would be interpreted as almost coquettish. It was unnerving, and then it was gone.

“I’m sorry, Jeff.”

Horowicz had seen the look too. I could see it shook him.

“That’s… that’s okay Lily. But it’s not me you should be saying sorry to…”

The girl rolled her eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh. Her body language was a mess of childish awkwardness, and that unmistakably adult flirtatiousness.

“Ugh, do I have to?”

“Yes,” said Jeff, moving his chair back an inch or two. I didn’t know how conscious it was, but it was noticeable.

‘Okay. I’m sorry, Tommy.”

Nothing about the way she said it convinced me she meant it.

“Okay, tell us about the church. What church is it? Do you remember the name of the church?”

Jeff had the right tone to his voice when he spoke to kids. He was a big guy, and I’d seen him lose it in the room, or on the street, with adult perps. He had a switch somewhere, though. He was a father, and a good one too.

“It’s not a real church, silly,” said the boy, giggling. Their hairstyles and clothes were neither fashionable or outdated, I noticed. But it was hard to tell; everything looks like the 80s again now.

“It’s only a church sometimes.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Lily’s right. It’s not a church all the time.”

“That’s funny. So what it is when it’s not a church? Lily?”

I was letting Jeff talk. I took out my notebook to take down some details. We didn’t record interviews like this, usually. Not that it was an interview, or an interrogation. They were minors, they weren’t suspects, they were vics. If we decided a crime had been committed, we could take statements, but I wanted their mother there. Jensen and Crowley needed to find her.

“Ah… I don’t know. It’s a… place. It used to be a place, and-”

“It used to be a place before. But now it’s not a place. And people used to be there. There’s tables. And… chairs. And… windows. But it’s not nice now. It’s dirty, and messy, and there is probably rats there. Probably lots of rats,” said the boy, cutting her off, mid-flow.

“Okay, Tommy. Do you know where the place is?”

“Hmmm, not really.”

Lily looked up from her book, and joined in again:

“It’s across the sea.”

“No it isn’t, Lily!”

“It is, Tommy. You don’t know!”

“I do know! I never been across the sea. You never been across the sea either, Lily. You never, you never!”

“Hey, hey, hey, hey! No fighting, guys. Lily, what do you mean, it’s across the sea?”

Jeff’s voice never went above a certain volume or under a certain pitch. The room felt cold. It was probably the time of night. It was always below freezing in NY after about Eleven. Maybe the heating had broke.

“It’s over the sea. We go on a boat.”

“I never been in a boat!”

“You have, Tommy. You have.”

“Never.”

“He doesn’t know, Officer Jeff. They put him- they put us to sleep, then they take us on a boat. Over the sea.”

“Okay, Lily. And… how do you know this? I mean, if you’re asleep?”

The underarms of his shirt were saturated, even with the cold. I wasn’t imagining the temperature either. I could see his breath in the room as he talked.

“One time, I woke up.”

“You didn’t! She’s making stories, Officer Jeff! She is, she is.”

“Okay, Tommy. Let’s let Lily tell us about the boat, okay?”

“Uh… okaaaaaay.”

Tommy slumped forward on the table, but he gave in. Kids usually did what Jeff told them to. Another useful talent.

“Thank, you. Now, Lily: you sure this happened? Cos sometimes, when I’m really tired, I have a dream- and in the dream, everything is really, really real. And when I wake up, I don’t even think it was a dream. Does that ever happen to you?”

“No.”

“Well, okay then. What can you remember? About when you were on the boat? Whose boat was it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who has a boat, so…”

“It might have been sailors.”

The boy had an innocent joy about him, like most kids his age. I had to keep reminding myself of the context of what was going on, because I had no frame of reference for it. I looked at the girl, who was biting her lip, a look of annoyance in her eyes.

“Shut up, Tommy. You don’t know.”

“Okay, okay. No shut ups, no stupids. Don’t make me give you a time-out, all right?”

“Sorry, Officer Jeff.”

The weird, flirtatious thing was back. Along with the briefest of fingertip touches along Horowicz’ forearm. Blink and I’d have missed it, but I saw. I had no clue who this kid was. What she was.

“That’s okay, Lily. Now, how did you know you were on a boat? You’d never been on one before, had you? What makes you think you were going… across the sea?”

“Well, it was moving real wobbly. Yeah? And I could hear the birds.”

“The birds?”

“Yeah, but not like birds in morning, or in the forest. Different birds. The ones you hear in a movie, when people are on a ship.”

“Okay, you mean gulls? Seagulls?”

“I think so. I didn’t see them. I was in a bed. Underneath the boat.”

“Below deck, that’s how you say that.”

“Below deck.”

“Okay, well that is good. You’re good at that, Lily. Maybe you could be a detective someday. Like Carrie.”

“Maybe. Can I be a detective like you, instead, Jeff?”

I didn’t know why that offended me so much, but if it was intentional, it worked. I tried not to glare at her. She was innocent. The victim.

“Hehe, if you like, yeah. Do you remember anything else about that boat, Lily? What it looked like? A name? Did it smell like fish, or like something else?”

“Like fish!? Uh… I don’t think so. And I couldn’t see. It was dark. It was in the night. And I was pretending.”

“Pretending?”

“Yeah. Pretending to sleep. Or they would find out.”

“Who would find out?”

“The grown-ups, silly. They would find out and I’d be in big trouble. So I pretended. But I could feel the water. And hear the birds. Just like at the beach.”

“What kind of trouble, Lily? What would they do to you, the grown-ups?”

“If they caught me doing something bad?”

“Yeah. If they… What happens to you?”

“Oh, they just hit us. Or burn us with the hot things. Or do fuck to us.”

I felt myself gag. I could see Jeff’s fingers digging into the pine of the small table. Before he could answer, Tommy spoke, in a horrifyingly matter of fact way, that seemed to make it much worse.

“Yeah, sometimes hits. Sometimes burns. Sometimes do fuck. Sometime they do fuck when we haven’t been bad. Sometimes they just do it. It used to hurt a lot, but now… it’s not so bad.”

I had to speak.

“Tommy, what do you mean by- what is that? What does ‘do f..uck’ mean?”

His sister was the one who answered this time.

“Ugh, are you stoopid? Doing fuck is when the man puts his thing in you, and he moves it in and out. In the front or in the back. It’s what they do to us. Papa does it, Mr DuBois does it. Reverend Alcott does it. Everyone does fuck. Even the women do fuck. The women do fuck to us with the plastic thing. The plastic thing looks like a man’s thing, but it’s not real. And it hurts, a lot of the time. It’s bigger, I think.”

I had nothing to say back. Jeff looked shaken, but he kept on.

“And do they do this to you too, Tommy?”

“Oh, yeah. Everyone does fuck. All the people. All the kids. We don’t like it, do we Lily?”

“I do. I like it sometimes. Sometimes I really like it.”

This time the touch was anything but subtle, and her fingers stayed on Jeff’s arm. She looked at him in a way no kid should ever look at an adult. The rapping on the glass behind us saved me from saying something no adult should ever have to say to a kid. The others were back. I hoped to Christ they’d found the mother.

 

 

Two

 

They’d come up empty. Jensen and Crowley had been across the street at a bodega, on a late sandwich run, when Jeff had put the call out with the mother’s description. They hadn’t seen her, or the kids. Alex was the one who came to the room; I came outside to her, partly because Jeff hadn’t moved when the knock came, mostly because I needed a break. It had been a long time since a case shook me like this one.

“Nothing?”

“Nada. I mean, it’s not like there’s a lotta people out there. We went ten, fifteen blocks, and circled back. There’s too many alleys and backstreets. Our best chance was, catch her before she makes a turn. But she could have turned anywhere.”

“Damn it.”

“How are the kids? What’s going on?”

“They’re…”

I searched for the right word. They were physically intact, but ‘fine’ and ‘okay’ didn’t really cut it. ‘Good’ was out too.

“Tough one?”

“Like you can’t imagine.”

“Shit. Anything we can do?”

“Not right now. I’ll need you to run some searches in a while. But we don’t have details, yet.”

“They aren’t talking?”

“Oh, they’re talking. It’s just… complicated.”

“Anything you wanna share?”

She put a hand on my shoulder. She was younger, I had four years on her, job-wise. But she was a Mother Hen, always had been.

“No, I’m good. I need to get back in there. When Jeff and me figure out- when we know how much of this is real… we’ll know what to do. Where’s Sonny?”

“He’s in the car.”

“Going back out?”

“Yeah. Just came back for coats. It’s fucking ice out there.”

“Okay. Get me on my cell.”

I looked in at Jeff and the kids. The speaker was off. I couldn’t remember switching it. Maybe he had, when we came back in. The boy was sucking his thumb in a way that seemed too babyish for him, but boys grow up slower than their sisters. The girl was rapt, eyes fixed on Jeff. Her body language made me want to turn away. I paused at the door. Another coffee might help. I’d get one for him, too. I thought about getting the kids some sodas, but it would be too much to carry.

The light in hallway buzzed a little, and flickered for a second. There was something alive inside it, probably a mosquito. I couldn’t make out what it was, but I could tell it was trapped, and dying. It took me a while to get the coins out of my pocket for the machine. The sound of them dropping through the slot seemed a lot louder than normal, in the stillness of the empty hall. Everything had an edge to it tonight, if it could still be referred to as night. The early shift would be on soon, and the sun would be up. I couldn’t see either of us getting home before it went down again. I pressed the Extra Shot button. Caffeine was no substitute for sleep, but it’d have to do for now.

 

“So, if it’s not really a church, why do you call it a church?”

Jeff threw me a glance as came in, nodding his approval at the arrival of refreshments. I could see two soda cans (empty?) on the shelf behind Lily. I’d ask them if they wanted more, when there was a break in the conversation.

“It’s a church cos we do praying there, like in a real church. But… it’s not really like a real church,” said the boy. His sister agreed,

“Yeah. It’s not like, a nice church. On Sunday. When people dress up real fancy, and there’s bells. It’s not like that.”

“So what do people wear at this church then, Lil?”

“Am, cloaks.”

“Yeah, cloaks. Long cloaks. Sometimes they’re dark, sometimes cloaks are white. I don’t know why. They just are… They’re just different colours sometimes.”

Tommy’s demeanour was that of a kid who’s put his hand up in class to answer the question, but doesn’t really know the whole answer.

“I think different colours for different feasts. I think that’s it.”

“Feasts, Lily?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, they’re not feasts like feast feasts. They’re just called feasts. We don’t eat lots and lots and lots of nice food,” said the girl, smiling. She had well-kept teeth, another sign of a good home, and someone caring about her. Ironic as it seemed.

“We do eat though!” said the boy, indignant.

“Yeah, yeah we do eat, Tommy. Just not like… not like a big feast. Not like cakes and Jell-o, and ice cream, and turkeys, and sweet potatoes, and pie.”

“Yeah, we never eat pie at church.”

I wanted to laugh. It wasn’t funny, but the mixture of anxiety and strong coffee was enough to bring on a fit of inappropriate giggling; like the kind you try to keep in when you’re a kid in a classroom, or an adult at a funeral.

“What is it you eat then, Tommy?”

The sound of my own voice was alien to me, it’d been so long since I’d spoke in the room.

“We eat the baby. First we kill the baby. Usually Papa kills the baby, and sometimes he makes me help to kill the baby.”

It couldn’t be real. Jeff cradled his coffee, without taking a sip, and let me carry on with the questions.

“A real baby? Or is it just a doll, maybe?”

The first time I’d heard them talk about the babies seemed like hours ago now. It might have been, I wasn’t watching the clock.

“Oh no, it’s a real baby all right. It makes cries, and it screams, and it doesn’t like it.”

“What doesn’t it like, Tommy?”

“It doesn’t like it when it’s killed. Papa gets the curly knife, and he puts it on the baby’s neck. And… sometimes he puts my hand on the handle of the curly knife, and we kill the baby together. It doesn’t like it though. It cries and cries and cries, but when the bloods come out, it probably stops crying then.”

Still disbelieving, I looked to the girl for confirmation.

“Is this true, Lily?”

“We don’t tell lies.”

“Okay. Okay, good. That’s good, Lily. And what happens to the baby then?”

“Papa hangs the baby up with ropes, ropes around its feet. And… then the all the blood drips out, into a big bowl. And then Papa or another grown-up pours the blood into shiny cups, and we drink it. It’s not nice. It doesn’t taste good.”

They’d seen it in a film. Someone had left them unsupervised with the TV on, and the rest had just managed to work its way into their heads. They thought it was real, but it was just a movie. The only hitch in that theory, of course, was they were corroborating. Or was it conspiring? Tommy spoke now.

“Ugh, yes! The blood tastes bad. The meat is all right, though. They cook the meat. Sometimes it’s fried in like… big steaks. Sometimes it’s like stew. It’s okay. It doesn’t taste bad. It doesn’t taste like… baby.”

I tried to pretend it was normal. Stick to what I’d ask in any other situation. Get the facts, even though I was sure now they were anything but.

“And… where do the babies come from, guys? Whose babies are they? Where does Papa get them?”

“Hospitals. Babies come from hospitals.”

Tommy looked pleased he’d got the answer right. His sister shook her head.

“No, babies come from their mom’s bellies first. They come out from the front hole. And they get in there when a man…”

“Yeah, but they come out of the bellies in the hospital, stoopid.”

“I know, stoopid. Everyone knows that.”

She didn’t look at me the way she did at Jeff. We had a different dynamic, clearly.

“Okay, that’s good, guys. Babies do come out of… And, yeah, usually in the hospital. Where do these babies come from though; who owns them? Who are their moms?”

“Whores,” said Tommy, with a shrug of indifference. Lily agreed.

“Whores and sluts. Bad people. Junkies. We take away their baby because they can’t look after it. They’re bad people, and bad people can’t be moms, or dads.”

“Who told… how do you know this?”

My theory about the whole thing being the plot of some Friday night B-movie on the horror channel was crumbling with each second that passed.

“Papa says it. He says the babies come from the hospital, and Officer Joe goes with the lady from the look after kids place, and they take the baby from the whore, and then they bring it to the church and then we kill it.”

“The look after kids place?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it’s called really. They look after kids. Sometimes they come to our school and talk to the teachers. They come to the church too, and wear cloaks.”

“Okay, Tommy. Do you know their names?”

“Who?”

“The look after kids people. What are their names? What do you call them?”

“Hmmmm, I can’t remember. Lily, do you know?”

“Know what?”

“What is the names; of the look after kids people?”

“Am, one is called Sarah. And… another one is called… Alice?”

“And what about Officer Joe? Does he have another name? A last name?”

I realised then that I didn’t know their surnames. Jeff had sheets of paper in front of him, with pencilled scribbles. He’d have gotten all that before I came. I couldn’t make out what was written from where I was. But he’d have made sure he took their full names down.

“Ah… no. No, I don’t think Officer Joe has another name. He comes to the school too. He knows the teachers. Well, some of the teachers. The teachers from the church, the ones who wear the cloaks.”

“Do all your teachers come to the church, Tommy?”

Lily answered instead.

“No, not all the teachers in the school. I don’t think so. I don’t know though, cos it’s dark. And the cloaks have big hoods, so sometimes… sometimes you can’t see faces. You just hear words, when they talk or when they sing.”

“Okay. They sing? What do they sing?”

“Devil songs.”

The hairs on the back of my neck were already up, but the last bit made me feel like someone had dropped ice cubes down the back of my shirt.

“Devil songs?”

“Yeah. I think… in other churches, they sing about Jesus, and God, but not in the church over the sea. It’s different. Other churches have crosses, but we have big stars.”

“Big stars, with a circle round them,” said Tommy, with a serious expression that suddenly made him seem much older.

“And there isn’t God. God isn’t allowed in the church,” said Lily.

“Yeah, not God from the Bible.”

“Is there a different god in your church?”

“Um… kind of,” said Tommy, deliberating. Lilly agreed.

“Yeah. There’s kind of gods. But they don’t look like people.”

I looked at Jeff for support, or some kind of reassurance that I wasn’t still at home, in bed, half-way through a whiskey nightmare. He didn’t catch my eye.

“What do they… what do the gods look like, then, Lily?”

“Animals. And birds. One is like a goat, with curly, curly horns. They’re curly like Papa’s knife for killing the baby. One is like an owl, but he’s not a friendly looking owl. His eyes are too black to be friendly. I think they are the gods. But sometimes Papa says there are no gods. Papa says the real god is yourself, and doing what you want, and what feels good. That’s what he says, all the time.”

“Sometimes Papa is the gods, though. Remember, Lily? Remember when Papa does the changing?”

Jeff finally spoke, his voice was cracking like schoolboy on the brink of adulthood. His coffee was next to him on the table, almost full; cold and undrunk.

“What do you mean, the changing, Tommy?”

“It’s… I dunno. Sometimes when we are in the church, it’s a special feast. A different one to always and normally. And everyone sings a devil song, and Papa changes. His faces changes, and if you look at it, you can see him being something else.”

“Something else?”

“You can see him being a owl, or a goat, or sometimes a fox. Just in his face. He doesn’t look like Papa anymore, but you know he is him, cos you can see his shoes, under his cloak. That’s how you know the god thing is still Papa. It only happens on a special feast though. Not every time. The special feast with the special song, and when they…”

“Tommy?”

“The special feast on the special day, when all the grown-ups and all the kids come to the church. It must be a special day, cos Papa does the changing, and everyone does fuck that day. They do fuck to the kids, and to each other, and the kids do fuck with each other, and everyone is doing fuck on the ground, and no one has cloaks on, everyone is in their skin, and then Papa kills the baby on the… on the church thing, and when he puts the blood on himself, he changes. Into a owl, or a goat, or a fox. His eyes go bad. Like on snakes. His eyes are like snake’s eyes, in a fox’s face.”

“I think sometimes he’s actually a wolf, Tommy. Sometimes it’s more like a wolfy face, with yellow snake’s eyes,” said the girl, with the chilling nonchalance I was worryingly familiar with by now. A call came in on the radio, and I snapped out of my fugue to listen to what it was saying. Crackly, not clear, indistinct. A 10-13, possibly. Officer in need of assistance. Then words, just two of them, almost whispered. “Officer down.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in writing

Ciarán West 5: Electric Revelationaloo [a blog] #irishwriter #newfiction #amazon #wonderwoman #dececptivehashtags #Corbyn

plot
Whenever I write a book, it goes like this:
 
– Have idea
– Start writing
– Get to end of first two chapters
– Be stumped
– Come up with plot
– Still be a bit stumped
– Eventually have a revelation where I think of that One Good Scene that brings the whole thing together, gives it its voice, etc, and will probably be other people’s favourite bit
– Finish the book.

Obviously that sequence is followed by:

– Wait for feedback and reviews
– Wait some more
– Cry
– Inject Smirnoff into own temple
– Lose three days
– Wait some more
– Cry
– Howl at the moon
– Contemplate entire existence, self-worth, and just the very point of living
– Masturbate

But that’s for another blog. Today I want to talk about the revelation/One Good Scene part.
 
With The Boys of Summer that was the scene with Richie’s dad in the garden, and the one glove, because for me it summed up everything about being a male parent back then (or maybe even now) where it’s not considered proper for you to have emotions, or feelings, or to connect with your kid. And then that brings about the later scene where his dad tells him what’s what about life, finally.
 
With Girl Afraid, it was a different thing. It’s an action/horror book, so what I needed was a big set piece, and that turned out to be the last chapter, where it all goes a bit Line of Duty season three finale. Once I had the ending, I went back and wrote the rest.
 
Sweetness Follows, I went back to the formula of the first one, obviously, so my revelation/Eureka moment for a scene had to be about characters/feelings again, not shoot-outs and gore. My main character wasn’t as likable as Richie, so I needed to connect you with him, and the way to do that was to soften him. He’s not as expressive as Richie either, so the commentary about how he’d changed as a person had to come from someone else, so it comes from Ciara, in the nightclub after the Battle of the Bands, and it’s only a few sentences really. But once I had that, I knew I had my book.
 
A Certain Romance, I had to take a character who does really heinous things, all the time, and make people like him enough to maybe root for him, or at least to keep going with the book until the end. Obviously that was always going to be a struggle, and no matter how I did it, people were still going to hate him, or give up, or whichever; that’s par for the course. It’s not a conventional book in any sense, so I was taking risks, fully knowing that they were risks. In the end, the way to make him resonate, was to show you him getting his heart broken, because we’ve all had our hearts broken. And I didn’t do it with some dramatic fight or blow-up, I just did it with a single word from someone, which I think is far more devastating. Your mileage may vary.
 
With More than Words, well I’ve been struggling to find that one scene for months now. The rest of it is fine – it’s funny, it’s not too boring, the characters are lovely, but today, on a little walk, I thought of the exact scene that’ll turn it from a fun little Oirish romance novel into something that belts you in the belly and leaves you affected for a good while after you’ve turned off your Kindle. Because that’s basically what I’ve tried to do with all the others, so it would be a shame if I didn’t do it with this one.
 
PS. I promise it’s not a scene where I kill someone.
 
Thanks for reading this. All three of you.
 
CW
Posted in writing

Ciarán West’s More Than Words, Full Chapter One #newfiction #irishauthor #boysofsummer3

school-430781

Just in case you’ve finished The Boys of Summer and Sweetness Follows and you’re hungry for more Irish nostalgionsense.

One

 

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 what?”

“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.

“What???”

“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.

Posted in writing

So, Why Girl Afraid 2? [a blog] #amwriting #whatiwrite #newfiction #irishwriter

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Now available on Amazon (and in your very nightmares)
Why indeed? Let me start from the start, because starting from the end is very 1990s Tarantino, and you know how I don’t like to write about the 90s.
Girl Afraid was originally written because I didn’t want to typecast myself in the Oirish Nostalgia genre, I wanted to write something outside the First Person style, and I’d given up on getting representation, so I wanted to write something that every agent and publisher would have rejected due to its content. At the same time, I thought The Boys of Summer was quite niche – even though it has only ever got positive reviews, I have no gauge for how many people gave up after the first few pages due to the language barrier thing. (Or maybe because they just hated it, but they never said that in the way reviewers did with Girl Afraid, so I’ll literally never know).
 
Anyways, the plan with Girl Afraid, before I decided it was going to be all censorship-proof and shocking and controversial, was to to make it more accessible. Which meant making it dumber. If The Boys of Summer was like a movie, Girl Afraid was going to be like a Michael Bay movie. Because stupid is accessible. But once I made it about what it was about, that canceled out the accessibility, so now you had something that fell between two stools – on the one hand, it was stupid enough to impress people who found The Boys of Summer too niche, but it was offensive enough to make 80% of them get sick in their handbags.
 
So, it was a failure, right? No. Girl Afraid has more reviews, more downloads, more internet chatter, and more hard cash sales than anything I’ve ever written. Even thought I know it’s the worst novel I’ve ever written. It is the Cars 2 of my Pixar Universe. And me calling it the worst doesn’t mean I hate it, I am just putting it up against The Boys of Summer, which I genuinely think is amazing, and Sweetness Follows, which I think is even better, even though literally no one has read it yet.
 
So, is Still Ill a forced sequel? Not at all. I always had plans for where I wanted that story to go. It never really ended with Poppy, Alice and Harry in that room. It was just that I had other plans too. Some of which (Chink and After London) never really became anything, because of genre confusion worries. But, now, when I’m about to release A Certain Romance, part 3 of the Boys of Summer thingy is coming out at the end of February, and I’ll be at a loose end for what to write next, sure. And my plotting for it is pretty exciting/mental/controversial/sexy/surprising, etc. And just as pulpy as Girl Afraid was. So watch this space.
 
CW out.
Posted in writing

Sample of Still Ill (Girl Afraid#2) [a blog] #whatiwrite #amwriting #irishauthor #newfiction

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Since I’m being so productive at the moment, here’s something that you’ve not seen before. Enjoy.

One

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.

Posted in writing

First Chapter of A Certain Romance [a blog] #newfiction #irishauthor #whatiwrite #darkromance #hashtags

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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.

One

 

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.

Posted in comedy, humor, humour, writing

The Subjective Impossibility of Knowing if You’re Shit or Not [a blog] #whatiwrite #newfiction #irishauthor

notbad

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.

CW Out.