The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
From the piercing light to the bellow of dawn’s frost, all of a sudden it was Thursday. I was outside The Honch’s room and stacked among the barrels with my phone and jacket resting on my lap. The sun exposed every crack and blemish in the space around me, much like it had on my life on most mornings for years prior to that day.
My head was sore. I remember it feeling like a tiny JCB was excavating the inside of my skull in a bid to reach the outside world (if it was in there and trying to get out, it must have been completely fucking mad); I used my thoughts to let the man in the driver’s seat know that they were better off staying away from it all. I suppose it must have worked, as I don’t remember it boring a hole in my forehead.
As soon as I’d left my front door the previous evening or so, things hadn’t felt right, and lines of information were missing from my memory, just floating around the atmosphere like a school dinner: a smelly old mish-mash of waste and processed meat. Rats were roaming around the floor, foraging for their breakfast. It was bright but it wasn’t warm, I can tell you that for certain.
I staggered drunkenly, even though I hadn’t supped a drop in hours, and made my way through the shadows of the corridors, back through to the stench-ridden front bar in search of any other life forms besides germs, fungus and vermin.
To my surprise, it was completely empty, which really is unusual, even for that time of day. There were patches of damp, grease and snail trails where the urchins usually stood and the only sign of life in that husk of a saloon were the dust mites. The atmosphere was all wrong, it strangled me where I stood.
Not knowing what to do at that moment and feeling weak, I slumped onto the bar and fired up the radio: a little white noise, followed by the faraway voice of a familiar friend, Rob Robust.
“Hey hey hey, all you cool cats and clingers on out there. Welcome to Rob Robust’s Red Hot Morning Medley, coughing candy for your clogged ears… By now, you may have noticed that things aren’t so groovy outside. There is a real shit storm brewing out there so boys, girls, gents dames, dogs or those undecided, it’s simple: BEWARE. Something’s happening, something big. So, if you’re sitting down, slumped on an empty bar with a sack full of pent up frustration, a sore head and lots of unanswered questions, it’s time to get out there and face the funk. Really, you have no time to waste, time is ticking-I can hear those hands turning louder than ever like a runaway freight train…CHOO CHOO! Speaking of locomotives, here’s a little tune by a group called The Yardbirds…
Was he talking to me? As I sat there lingering in my own perspiration and desperation, I came to the conclusion that he must have been. I couldn’t believe it-my hero talking to me via the airwaves-it didn’t make sense, but then again not much had for a while so I thought, screw it, and with a newfound gusto, I whizzed outside.
It was frozen out there, man. Not frozen like ice-icicles on your testicles, but still, ever so still out on the street. Cloud covered the day’s dulcet offerings and the lamps were flickering embers that led the way to nowhere in particular. I’d never seen Stunston that peaceful. I probably won’t again before I’m in a box.
I stood there scratching my groin and basking in my town’s serene glow, but after a few moments, a creeping sense of dread filled my bones and I wanted to go back indoors. I looked behind me and yeah, the door was closed (predictable, I’m sure). Of course, nothing felt normal that day so once again, I just shrugged it off and looked for another means of cover.
In the horizon, I saw a little navy dot. As I moved closer, it morphed into a large ink splodge with milky white spouts shooting from its bottom half. My eyelids were saggier than a pair of thousand-year-old tits, but after a while, my pupils locked into the shape, which all of a sudden became human. It was that fucking postman. That silly little postman who had plagued the pitch black of my mind for days and days.
The next thing I remember is running towards him, fangs out. I was a dog in pursuit of blood-sodden steak and the more the scent punched my nostrils, the faster I ran in his direction. He didn’t even have time to run away.
I tried to grab the portly postman by the back of the legs but he clambered up onto a phone box and all I got was a shoe-and a glimpse of an up-short chicken’s neck, if you know what I mean? It wasn’t pleasant, the sight burned my eyeballs. His agility astounded me-it was incredible for a stout peabody, but I suppose as a postman, he must have had plenty of experience in running from dogs and Stuntson’s rabid out of work can claspers.
‘“Oi, now you just stop, Sam. Just stop right there.”
“How do you know my name?” I said.
“You have to trust me. I’m one of the good ones and I’m looking out for you, Sam.”
“Stop saying my name as if you know me, you piece of shit. What’s your game, postie?”
“I’m not playing games. I’m one of the only ones who ain’t. That’s all you need to know.” He seemed less jittery and more self-assured. His newfound demeanour poisoned my body with calm and my shoulders dropped.
“I need answers, postie, I need answers. You need to tell me why you’re always lingering around my house. Do you fancy me, or something? Or are you trying to have a piece of Mags before she fades into nothing, hey? You sick f…”
He slammed a fist on the top of the phone box, which made a weird sort of whirring sound, “don’t talk about her that way!”
“Struck a chord have I, pal?”
“No, just chill out. I’m around because I have to deliver mail to your street, that’s a given. But I’m also looking out for your safety, Sam. That’s all you need to know.”
“Well, that’s a bit bloody ambiguous.”
“Nothing is quite as it seems. Keep your head on tight, do a little soul searching and I’ll be there to help. And Sam?”
I remember thinking to myself that that little speech must have been the most triumphant thing he had ever said in his whole life.
Such a statement is best garnished with a bold action. The postie’s action was to fall backwards off the top of the phone box and into a thorny shrub.
“Ooooh,” he screeched, “my balls.”
The next time I saw her she was dead.
Her lips were blue, her fingertips too, but there was still a speck of life in the expression on her face, which made me feel a little better.
She was the wilting rose in the thorn bush. She was so still. It was probably the most glowing she had ever looked.
It’s funny, isn’t it? You know, losing someone you love, or at least someone you think you love. The first moment you’re faced with it, you become saturated in shock; the sorrow doesn’t kick in until what seems like a lifetime later. But, I suppose you must know something about that: no one on this Earth is exempt from heartbreak or death.
With sweaty, shaking palms I reached over to touch her when I realised that the sight before me must have been an act of foul play, I just couldn’t figure out how or why. All I knew was, I went to meet her after receiving a text and then she was gone. Struck off the list of the living. It was fucking nuts. Just. Fucking. Nuts.
I felt cold, colder than she. My bottom lip began to wince and shudder, my Adam’s apple became a Brighton beach ball, but there were no tears, only quivering knees.
For hours I simply sat there and cradled her in my arms, her head weighed heavy on my lap while I began to jabber inaudible words into her dead ear. Let me tell you, it was the closest I had ever felt to her, almost, and I didn’t want that moment to end, but I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it had to: I couldn’t stay sitting there stationary with her corpse forever, I don’t believe it would have made for a very pretty oil painting.
The sun burned holes in the back of my head as it yawned from the trees and there was a halo around us. I was in shock and needed to make sense of the mess around me. I was desperate to find out who did it. My instinct pointed me in the direction of The Honch, so I placed Daisy’s lifeless body in the solace of a bush and went wandering.
The whole time I was walking, I kept thinking this and that, this, that and the other until my mind settled on something.
Do you remember me saying about that horrible day of work experience I suffered way back when? If not, you should pay attention more; I bet you didn’t listen in school, did you?
At school, work experience was for the no-hopers. You know, the boys and girls in school that the teachers didn’t deem to have any potential. They tried to mask it as those with more practical or vocational minds, but I knew what they were getting at, even at that age.
You go here for a week, and you go there. If you don’t like it, then tough shit- there’s always the dole queue when you fail your exams. I’m paraphrasing, but it was probably something like that.
It’s great, isn’t it? Our fair and friendly education system.
So, they packed me off to the grey, smoking maze that is Stuntson Industrial Estate with some big imaginary sign on my forehead that said WORK EXPERIENCE MUG, PLEASE MAKE MY LIFE HELL FOR THE NEXT FIVE DAYS and with chattering teeth, I made my way down to the ham factory. I didn’t need a map, the smell of rotting pig’s anus’ and synthesised gloop got me there just fine.
“Are you the work experience boy then, son?” said the fat boss man.
“Yes, that’s me. I suppose I am.”
“You suppose. Well, you either are or you ain’t. Make up your mind, squirt.”
“Yes, that’s me, I’m Sam…”
“Never mind all that, stick on those overalls, then it’s down the hall, second to the right: three black coffees and a milky tea with sugar. Then bring ’em back ‘ere.”
The overall didn’t look like it had been washed that decade. On closer inspection, I confirmed that it hadn’t.
So there I was in a crusty old overall that gave me the knee joints of a geriatric and the smell of a tramp’s boot, making my way to the tea room. Lovely, I thought. Not.
Making tea and coffee is like meditation, I find. It’s a process so ingrained within your being (by the time you’re in your teens at least), that you carry out every step with military-like precision while letting your mind drift into a deep void of pure focus. Well, it’s like that for me anyway-it’s the only time I find any peace and clarity half the time. Still, us two aren’t exactly fit for making tea now, are we?
Anyhow, I had made the shitty guvnor his shitting tea and coffees and I was rattling them down the hallway on a rusty tray. All the lights were out which made the hall seem like a never-ending abyss. When I got to the other end, I wished it had been.
“Here’s your drinks, lads,” I said in my best manly tone.
“Stick ’em down there, saaan.”
I placed the tray down on a stack of wooden pallets and turned to face the Ham Factory Mob.
I scanned them all: fat, portly, hairy, sallow, greasy, suspect, crusty and fugly (fucking ugly, I mean, really fucking ugly). I didn’t catch their names, but if they appeared as the cast of the Seven Dwarves in the Stunston Christmas panto, that’s what they would have been called.
“Oi, didn’t you get the other lads their drinks? Answer me, boy!”
“I-you didn’t ask me to make them.”
“Am I gonna have to mark you down for initiative zero on your scorecard?”
It’s funny, when some people get the most miniscule sniff of power (or the illusion of power), they cling onto it like a treacly turd on the toilet bowl. He was only responsible for getting blokes to pack processed ham into plastic packets, it’s not like he produced Exile on Main Street or built the Golden Gate Bridge, or anything even close.
“You should’ve looked around, identified your colleagues and asked them what they wanted. Don’t you know what you are? Well, I’ll tell you-you’re the factory plebe, the parasite, the scum on the bottom of our collective boots. You’re a lowlife, just like your dad.”
“What do you know about my dad? My dad is dead.”
He began to belly laugh and his jowls started to dance.
I saw claret. The world felt like it was on fire and before I knew it, I found myself lunging at the tubby bastard with a molten cup of coffee in my hand, ready to declare war. I was going to burn his eyeballs, I really was. But then I slipped.
There was a patch of rusty looking water on the left-hand side of the factory floor and just as they do in the movies, I slipped back in a comical fashion. Before I knew it, I was in mid-air looking up at my steel toe caps with blobs of coffee cascading through the air, ready to scald. SMACK!
I hit the floor near the top of my spine and the wind escaped my lungs. The coffee came tumbling down onto my lips and neck in the form of a boiling, bitter blanket.
So, there I was, rolling around on the cold factory floor in that pool of rusty water, gasping for air and whimpering while a group of overweight old perverts pointed and laughed at me. I wish that had been the end of it.
When the cup hit the floor beside me, the handle pinged off causing it to roll towards the boss. He was so beside himself with laughter that he raised his left foot to tap his knee and when he went to plant it back onto the floor, the sole of said boot met the side of my cup. The momentum sent him flying forwards and he stumbled towards me like a fat, furry cannonball, which caused his toes to connect with my ribs-the force was so great that he smacked his head on the factory floor and shattered the right side of his face.
You could have heard a pin drop. There was no merriment after he hit the deck and, of course, it was all-my-fault.
I was the amateur laugh-smith in The Comedy Store getting jeered and heckled by the Saturday night hyenas and all I could do was lie there with my face down and pretend I was making endless cups of tea and coffee: one extra milky, two with five sugars, one brewed with two tea bags, two black, and so on.
They took fatso away in an NHS ambulance; I had to treat my burns by using what was left of the packing room’s 1962 issue first aid box while avoiding eye contact with everyone that walked by me. It was unbelievable, they said they were going to award me with an advanced mark of zero for the whole two weeks, get me banned from working on the estate for life (a silver lining) and said I should count myself lucky that the company wasn’t going to press any charges. I was mistreated, I was antagonised. He made fun of my father; he hadn’t done any physical exercise (other than drinking flat pints of lager and jerking off) in over a decade, yet I was the villain. Things still haven’t changed in this world and they’re not likely to.
I clearly recall sitting on a broken forklift truck in the disused car park by the side of the ham factory, sobbing my eyes out. You know, just weeping it all out. I was having spasms and everything, but no one could see me so I didn’t care.
Well, I thought I was alone, and then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Daisy. She had been working over the road in the office of the local tyre manufacturer, Rough Streak. We all used to call them Ruff Sheath, on account that their rubber seemed so flimsy, it should have been used to make cheap condoms, although if they did, the population of Stunston and its surrounding areas probably would have increased rapidly.
“Hey, hey, Sam. What’s the matter? What’s troubling you?”
It was a little while before I could compose myself and catch a full breath, so she cradled me for a bit and let me soak her shoulder.
“Why is everything so shit, Daisy?”
“Are you on about work experience? We both knew this was going to be a joke, we laughed about it at school, remember?”
“Yeah, I know but it just seems like if you don’t want to accept this is the way things are, there are no other options and you’ll just be floating around like a ghost forever.”
“Better to be a brave ghost than a cowardly lemming, wouldn’t you say?” She gripped my forearm and sat on the wheel arch of the forklift. “Look, Sam, we’re kindred spirits, we don’t want this but we’re scared of the alternatives. But you must understand: people like us don’t have any choice. It’s the way we’re wired-we don’t want to stick so we’ll have to twist. We’ll just have to, but that’s all right.”
“I’m not going to stick, or settle or throw my hand away or anything like that, but things just don’t seem right.”
“Things will work out the way they’re supposed to, just stay strong and keep the faith.”
“Oh, keep the faith they say, keep the faith. That’s what cults say to keep your brain stored up in a little cube, so they can make you part of their very own cultivated herd of lunatics, smearing shit on the walls and putting poison in the punch…”
“Please Sam, stop being so cynical, we’ll figure it all out together. There are only two more years of school, then…”
“Then what. THEN WHAT? You go off with your football friends and have orgies and drink champagne in Magaluf while I fester here in my own waste, hey? Kindred spirits? Up yours-you make me sick!”
I thought I was sobbing when she showed up, but it was when her bare knees hit the car park floor, that I knew I’d gone too far. I’d oppressed her just like those fat oafs in the ham factory had oppressed me; she was doubled over like she’d been shot and bawling her insides out onto the concrete.
“Daisy, Daisy, I’m so sorry. I really am sorry. I didn’t mean…I’ve just had an awful day. Please don’t cry, please. I love you.” As the words escaped my mouth, I knew I had made a big mistake.
Daisy looked up at me with plum tomato eyes. There was a pause. A long pause. It felt like three lifetimes.
I’d really gone and done it.
She pulled herself up, perched back onto the wheel arch and smiled sarcastically. “Where did those burns come from? Your mouth looks like a baboon’s arsehole.”
We both laughed in what seemed like the first time in forever and I can safely say, I think it was a blessed relief for the pair of us.
“Those chubby pricks in the ham factory made fun of me so I tried to throw hot coffee on the guvnor, but it ended up on me.”
“Oh my God, are you suspended?”
“Never allowed to work on this estate again.”
“Still, silver linings Sam.”
“Indeed, silver linings,” my face was glowing, “and you should see the state of him.”
“What, the guvnor?”
“Ha, yeah, he fell over me and smashed half of his face right in. He’ll get free plastic surgery and probably come out looking half like a young Elvis Presley or something, so annoyingly, I think I’ve done him a favour.”
“Haha, only you could look at it that way Sam, only you.”
She squeezed my hand and we both sat there content, filling in the time between life’s vital scenes and let me tell you, my friend, it felt good. Everything just felt, so. Right then, we needed nothing more, nothing less.
She moved a little closer and my heart raced. “Samuel, listen. I know I’ve hurt you but all I’ve really been doing is trying to protect you, but I know you won’t understand this right now.
I got sucked into that crowd through being netball captain and as you know, when you spend so much time in other people’s pockets, your world tends to orbit around theirs, like it or not. Those little boys, I don’t really care about them. I could have invited you to those sports parties and had you come down to the park to drink cider with them on Friday nights just so you could have joined the gang, but they’re bad people and I don’t want you to have to endure them. You’re better than that.”
“So what about you then, all those filthy football lads going up to your room to study at night. You’re pulling my leg if you think I don’t know what you get up to when the curtains are drawn. I live across the bloody road, Daisy. If I’m being frank, you’ve actually broken my heart on more than one occasion, there’s hardly any of it left.”
She looked gutted.
“I was naively helping them to study so they could stay in the team. You know what they’re like with their school work.”
“Obviously, those particular guys are knuckleheads, but you must think I’m really stupid.”
“LISTEN. Just listen up, you. I thought you knew me better than that. I thought you held me in at least a high enough regard not to accuse me of being that way, but you disappoint me. Yes, I kissed one of them when I was drunk on Super Scrump and yes, I succumbed to peer pressure to make life easier for myself, it’s called being a teenager, but I didn’t do what you think. I didn’t fuck!
If you really want to know, Jim the striker tried it on with me two weeks ago at my place. My mum was out so he saw it as a green light. We were going over long division or something boring and listening to the radio. Everything was going fine, and then he jumped on me like a sex-crazed animal. I told him no and he told me to come on and to stop playing games. I asked him to slow down and I took him outside for a cigarette to calm things down. He apologised and we shrugged it off. Around ten minutes later he tried it again. The bastard tried to clamp my hands down to the back of my chair and luckily, just luckily, I caught the edge of his balls with the top of my foot. He hobbled to the door like he had soiled himself and called me names I can’t even bring myself to repeat. He could have raped me. Fortunately, he left.
I spent the night sobbing. The next day I knocked on your door to speak to you about it and your aunt said you were out, but your light was on. Just like when I called up the week before to see if you wanted to go to the coast with me and the time before that when I tried to deliver your birthday present. You just weren’t around but that’s bullshit because you hardly EVER go anywhere anymore. You say I don’t care, well you don’t either.”
She bawled like a hound in a hot car. I had done it again and all of a sudden, I realised I was the awful one: a self-absorbed, juvenile cretin. I remember thinking that I should have joined the bloody football team after all, as I was no better than them.
I wrapped my arms around the poor girl and clamped her tight like I was never going to let go.
“Daisy, please, I’m so, so sorry. I know that doesn’t quite cut it but I’ll spend the rest of the year making it up to you. You mean the world to me, you really do. It’s time for us to twist,” her well began to dry a little, “I’ll even let you kick me in the bollocks and throw hot coffee in my face.” At that point, I realised that all I ever wanted from Daisy was companionship, a bond of friendship on a higher plateau, a purity. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Is that a promise?
“Of course,” I had my fingers crossed, “that’s a promise.”
“Okay, one day we’ll twist right out of this town.”
“Deal,” I said.
We sat arm in arm on the forklift and watched the ham factory pollute the town together. Whenever I see the smog over those old chimney pots, I think of her.
You know, I never quite left that moment. Holding her lifeless body is something I can now turn on and off like a switch, but that evening on the forklift just lingers and lingers, and lingers. Man, it lingers. It’s not so much the fact that I felt vaguely happy back then, it’s more the haunting realisation that I didn’t keep my promise. After all, I’m still bound to Stunston, a prisoner of my own making.
My nose was dripping with claret and pounding like the chest of a beast, it had all erupted out of nowhere. Dormant one second and rife with ash and piss and embers and soot and vinegar the next.
He pulled me up by the scruff of my neck but left his mouth wide open so I smashed the top of my head as hard as I could on his bottom lip, which split in two without warning. It was satisfying (for a moment), my sybaritic pleasure. His grip yielded as he squealed and stumbled back into the bar. My knees felt like they had been torn to shreds; my head felt like a helium balloon on steroids and my lungs were burning. I’m not sure how The Honch felt, but I did a sterling job at messing his face up.
There was plenty of panting and grasping at objects for a good few minutes before we engaged in a further dispute. I recall clasping onto the top of a fermentation tank as if it was the only thing keeping me from drowning while wondering why The Honch and his crew of half-wits hadn’t torn me to pieces (don’t get me wrong, I was grateful).
“Why won’t you cooperate with me, Honch?” I could barely catch my breath.
“You’re a fucking maniac, boy-and stop calling me that.”
“Oh right, I suppose I have to earn it.”
“Earn what, earn WHAT?”
I tapped my finger on the left side of my nose, “don’t worry, I’ll say no more, me old mate.”
“Look, you’re making even less sense than before. Why were you messing around down there by the rec? What business did you have down that end of town?”
“Stop calling me that, I fucking well told you.”
“Okay, listen. There was no reason, except she told me to meet her down that way in a text.”
“Who asked you, who?”
“You know who, scum. You need to tell me what’s going on and if this is all part of something bigger, all part of your secret society. You need to make me understand that there’s a reason for all of this.”
“You’re telling me that Mallet sorted out a seedy rendezvous with you? That just can’t be.”
“Well, Mallet to you, maybe, but I call her Daisy: the name her mother gave to her, the same name that belonged to her, before you took it away, you…”
Droplets of blood laced phlegm rained on the floor as we spoke. For all intents and purposes, it looked like La Tomatina had come to town.
“Sam, stop it, just stop it. Yes, Daisy’s gone, but she went a long time ago, you know that. She isn’t coming back, boy. You need to move on.”
I was so drugged with rage that I nearly fainted and white spots danced across my eyes. I had to sit down. I was too emotionally debilitated to fight.
“Take a breather, Sam,” he said as he knelt down to my level, “we’re in somewhat of a mess here. You were never supposed to find her. You weren’t meant to know the ins and outs of things for a while, but somehow you managed to tread on one of my mines out there.
Listen, they say never get high on your own supply, but to her, that particular sentence didn’t exist, not in any way, shape or form. I loved her, I really did-she was not only my muse but my maker too. I just hovered through the hours aimlessly as a jellyfish until I met her. It just so happened that she was the daughter of my investor, a bad bastard named Sal. He likes me, or at least he will until he finds out about this, which is why we need to work on damage limitation. Neither of us wants to die, nor do we have the desire to spend the rest of our days picking up the soap behind bars.
Samuel, you must believe me, I didn’t do this, at least not directly. She kept pestering me for the odd gram here and there, but she was functioning so I thought it was okay. Recently, she began to sink to the depths of the dregs and her abilities began to dwindle; I was too distracted to notice. Then I found her lying balled up amongst the barrels, a lifeless vessel without a soul. She was green for Christ Sake, she was green.
I couldn’t have her junkie cadaver in my gaff so I panicked and dumped her out by the rec grounds, tucked down by the train tracks, and arranged for her disposal. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, Sam, you must believe me. You’d be amazed at the services you can find in the underbelly of the internet, the unoccupied part of Gumtree is a dark place. Look, if her old man-my supplier-my boss and essentially my father-in-law thinks she ran off, then at least I can fabricate some sort of tall tale and save our collective bacon. She’s the flighty type, you see. She has been known to run off and disappear for days on end with her father’s plastic.
Mate, I’m sad, really I am, but we need to wash our hands of this for all of our sakes. The moment you saw her body and came here loaded with that kind of information, you became a part of the fabric of this dirty old mess, so you see. If you go round town telling people what happened and they get the wrong end of the stick, you’ll be meeting your maker very bloody soon, believe me.
You look like you’ve got a pair of bollocks hanging from beneath your eyes; you’ve been acting like a common oddball recently and you need to get some sleep. I suggest having a hot shower and putting your head down for a few hours.
Just remember, if you talk you are dead. You’ve always wanted to see things from the other side of the fence, haven’t you? You want to be part of the club, don’t you? Well, just keep quiet, follow the rules and you’ll have your lenses in no time.”
I couldn’t process all of The Honch’s information and my vision was smeared. I felt like my body was breaking down from the foundations upwards. I wanted to believe him, but I just couldn’t comprehend the shady nature of it all. Then again, most things in life are tarnished, it’s just that most things are wrapped up in buttons and bows.
He kept on telling me to calm down and that Mallet wasn’t Daisy, or Daisy wasn’t Mallet. I sat there and tried to suss out why he was lying to me. I know what I saw out there, alone in the vegetation. Again, I wanted to cry.
“Sam, get some rest, mate.”
I was reduced to rubble. I couldn’t conjure one clear thought. I didn’t know how to feel or what to think.
So I just sat there in silence, head down with my hands in my lap as if I was about to be reprimanded by my school headmaster for farting in the staff room. It was deadly silent in there, well, apart from the pack of wolves panting away in harmony, seeing if I would pounce again so they could pull me to pieces. They looked so refined, so demur when I first met them at the back of The Lamb. I glanced up occasionally but quickly looked back down and tried to contain my hysterics.
I heard the shuffle of moccasins and the creak of the door and there he stood-the bloody postman. Always the postman. Usually, his presence made me want to set fire to everything in a fit of defiant rage, but strangely, I was pleased to see him.
“Aw-l-right,” the pack howled in unison.
The Honch cupped his cheeks in his hand and wafted around the room like a lingering shart. “Hello Mr Postman, glad you could join us, although, we weren’t expecting you so early.”
“Well, a postman must be punctual, otherwise, people would be waiting for their post, forever.”
“Got anything for me then postie?” The Honch’s voice turned a little more gravelly than usual.
“Na, just come for what’s mine. And to talk to the boy.”
He really pissed me off saying that. How patronising, all I had been through and I was still regarded as a youngling, inadequate. I suppose that is true to some extent, but at the time, it really got under my foreskin.
“You’ll get what is yours,” said The Honch, “maybe you can talk some sense into young Mr Jacks. He’s gone a little doolally.”
“Come here then, Sam, I’ve something to show you.” I followed him into a room and hoped what he had to show me wasn’t meaty and tube-like.
The room was stuffy and perfectly square, much like sitting inside a tea-soaked sugar cube. I wondered what it was all about: not only my existing situation that had oozed out into a confused, gaping mess-but all of it. The whole darn shootin’ match, from those gory, naked beginnings, right through to becoming some hairy-balled, broken adult without the keys to the meaning of life. You don’t get to unlock the door, you just get a ticket at God’s deli counter and wait for your number to be called, and that’s it. Of course, while you’re waiting you can always fill your time with liquor and girls and heartbreak and organised fun and self-loathing and Lego-and all that other stuff that doesn’t really amount to anything. I mean, what else is there?
The room smelled of a strong charity shop musk and it looked neglected too. I sat down and noticed an old reel-to-reel tape player at my eye level caked in dust.
“Is this your room, postie?”
“It was mine, and his out there. We were in a band together years ago and used to cut demos in here. There is some other music and some radio gear knocking around here too.”
“Are you into radio?”
“Ha, I was a fan, but I didn’t have the face for it,” his grin suggested that he thought he was being funny, “I sometimes pick up airspace on my unit at home.”
“Do you know of Rob Robust?”
“No, lad, who’s he?”
“What, you mean you don’t listen to STUNT FM? That’s an outrage!”
“I do, avidly, but there ain’t no Rob Robust on there, never has been.”
“Are you pulling my plonker, postie?” Prickles of angst worked their way across my forehead. “Well you must be listening to the wrong station then, Rob Robust’s a saint. He’s dedicated his life to educating the people in this town, to let them know that there’s life outside of the Top 40 Charts and puke-coated nightclubs-maybe if you did listen to him you wouldn’t be so blind ignorant.”
I sprang to my feet ready to tear and claw but he wrapped his arms tight around my torso and wouldn’t let go. For a moment I struggled, but strangely, almost instinctively, I surrendered back into my chair during a moment of blissful calm. It was as if I was destined to be in his arms, but not in a romantic way. Let me just say that for the record.
“You need to calm down, Sam. You’re going to put decades on yourself behaving like this. I’ve watched you over the past few weeks and you’ve started to lose your hold on things. I know more about you than you think. Before you say anything I need to make something clear: I can’t tell you any more than that, as I’ve made a vow.”
“Who to? The Honch?”
“There you go again. No, not ‘ The Honch’, as you say, but someone closer to home. Sam, go and speak to your aunt. Soak up every drop of her company before it’s too late.”
My eyes poured. I just didn’t get it. Everything felt like it was being swallowed up by a part of my brain I had never used before, a part to which I didn’t have the instruction manual.
“But postie, what about Daisy? The Honch is trying to bullshit me I know it…”
“He’s not Sam, it’s all true. He’s in deep and he’s going to take you with him if you whisper a word of this to anyone. I go way back with him and one thing I can safely say is he’s bad news. He may be charismatic, but he’s cretinous. I’ve been his brother since I was born, funny enough, and he still calls me by the name, postie. I let you get away with it because you hardly know me, although I’d like to change that. Anyhow, he’s a disease for the senses. He thinks I’m here to make sure you play by his rules, but I’m not. I’m here to protect you, that’s all you need to know. You must get out of here and never come back.”
“I guess you are decent. You’re one of the good ones. Are you really brothers?”
“Yes, I don’t know what I did in a past life to deserve it, but that’s not important right now. I haven’t been good, Sam, but I try my best these days. I suppose I’m what you might call a necessary evil. It’s nice that you suddenly consider me half decent, at least.”
“There’s something in your tone that I can trust. I didn’t notice it before because you put the fright up me. I thought you were a wrong’ en. Tell me, did you leave that note that said Just checking in? It was very sinister.”
“I’m sorry about that Sam, yes it was me. It wasn’t meant to be menacing of anything of the sort. It must have fallen out from the front of a care package I left out for your aunty Mags.
He gripped my shoulder, “Sam, go home and ask the right questions to the right people, take time to make sense of everything around you, it’s not all as it seems. Cleanse yourself of all this nonsense and I’ll be waiting for you when you do.”
As I opened the door and walked back past The Honch, I saw him hunched over with his minions around him. He seemed distressed and looked like he had been crying. Although I had been warned, a small part of me still wanted to be one of the gang.
Once again, I found myself roaming Stunston’s grey walkways trying to uncover the answer in my clothes pile mind. Clarity was what I needed, but clarity is something that I’ve always looked at through the shop window: it’s the unattainable toy with the hefty price tag. I had another Tic Tac and kept on walking.
Dusk came around once again and put a cloak on the blemishes of the day. As it set in, I felt uneasy. Once more, I followed the glow of the street lanterns into town and thought about it all, the whole stomach-churning shit show.
I was weighed down with more baggage than I deserved to be carrying around. Things had been weird over those past few days. Really weird. But then I realised something, my whole life up until that moment had been one big oddity. My parents-spat on by reputation-lives shrouded in mystery, no one ever gave me any straight answers, only half-truths. All of those people who had left me, an aunt who was reduced to the state of a glorified baby, suckling on my teats daily. An elusive love that I was never able to move on from but was just too ignorant to notice. A non-existent writing career packed full of semi-baked tales of urban drudgery and masturbation. A town mutated, a town mutated from day one. Everybody took from me, kept me boxed up in a bubble, and they never gave back, not once. Not EVER.
My pace picked up momentum, winding me up with every step. I was so enraged that I feared I was going to explode into a thousand fleshy pieces and coat the window display of Woolworths as I powered down the high street. I knew then that I needed to see Daisy’s body once more, for clarification. If I was right, I was going to report the incident, rather than leaving her there for the worms, foxes, and the local rubberneckers. I almost talked myself out of it, as I thought by leaving her in all of that undignified glory, I would somehow win: yes, I would have the power in our game of love. But I could never do that to her.
When I got there she was gone. No police tape, no neon. Daisy had just disappeared. Or perhaps she had just wilted into the ground. Or The Honch had indeed dialled in a disposal. It was hard to say back then.
I still craved answers, but I knew I wasn’t going to get them until I cut away the baggage: that spine-bending luggage I’d been pulling around without any wheels. I recall a wave of anger rising as if hot steam was going to fire from every orifice in my body. I clenched my fists and thought about beating the shit out of a tree; I thought about screaming violent obscenities into the atmosphere for the Martians to hear. I wanted to kill, I really did. I lost it.
All of a sudden I found myself floating beneath the street lamps and feeling all warm inside as the bulbs softened the town’s mushy twilight. For a moment Stunston was beautiful and for that fleeting period, it was exactly where I wanted to be. Everything was perfect, except for sharp pains in my ankles and wrists.
Commotion. Unsavoury tones, like football casuals on match day or the sound of teeth grinding in the revelry of a horrific nightmare. My vision slowly came back into focus and as I snapped back into the room, swiftly realised that I had found myself right back where I started: The Honch’s den.
Six glaring faces. A dozen grey cheeks and piercing peepers cutting through me as one. I didn’t feel frightened, just on display. Are they going to ask me to take my trousers off and do a skit, I thought.
“Why did you go back to the rec, you scumbag? One of my blokes saw you,” he had his sweaty hands gripped around my jaw.
“You’re lying to me Honch, it was Daisy’s body. I held her. Why are you lying to me? And why would your missus come to see my aunt in a nurses outfit, then take me to the pub to see you? It doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re deranged, boy, you need help. She didn’t even know where you live. I wanted to take you under my wing, but you needed to pay your dues first. Look, you’re not cut out for all of this, it’s clear to me now. Plus, Mallet didn’t take you to see me, it was that trollop from down the road. She’s a barfly, a hanger-on.”
“Don’t talk about her like that!”
“Just calm down and think, boy.”
“And pay my dues? How am I going to pay? Please tell me what I have to do to prove myself. I need to understand, none of this makes a blind bit of sense to me.”
“You’re not right Sam. You need help.”
“So help me, I want to be part of this.” I was weak.
“This is not important. I suppose it’s my fault really. I was supposed to help look out for you and be a guide, but I took my eye off the ball.”
“She was gone, Honch, she was gone when I went back to the place that I left her. I left her there because I wanted to see her again. I thought you might have moved her. I got mad though, I must admit. Then I woke up here. That’s all I know. THAT’s all I know.”
“I find it hard to believe you, Sam, I really do. You need to sort yourself out. Maybe you’re telling the truth. I’m not sure, this is a real pickle. Hmm, you need to go and see your aunt, she’s not well. You need to see her Sam, Dave the postie told me. You’ve lost your sense of duty.”
“Sense of duty,” the steam bubbled up again as I shuffled to my feet, “what do you know about that you pig? I was only a kid, I am still only a kid and I’ve been cooped up wiping her arse, feeding her, bathing her and hopping her up on pills for longer than I even care to remember. And in case your memory is that pulped, just hours ago I was asking you what happened to Daisy-and you continue to play the fool. What’s going on?”
He shook me so hard that I thought my fillings were going to fall out. “You’re not stable Sam. We had to lock you in the basement the other day for shit sake: you verbally abused Mallet and called her a disgusting bitch, then you went swinging for everyone in sight-you even tried to bite me before doing your utmost to smash my newly refurbed club room to bits. And all the while you were chanting let me in, let me in. I didn’t even know what you meant. We had to stow you under the floor to calm you down. Is that the behaviour of a rational man?”
I began to laugh-hard-and I couldn’t stop. The chuckling rippled in my toes and much like any infection, it quickly spread to my eyes and mouth. All of a sudden, I was in hysterics.
“Stop it,” he cried, “STOP IT.” He had really lost his cool, but I just couldn’t stop.
The postie slipped into the room and gestured with his hand. Tranquillity suffocated the air and the noise came to a steady halt.
The Honch’s head dropped slightly and his arms fell limp by his side, “you can go,” he whispered.
“You need to give me answers, you need to tell me what to do,” I said.
He gripped my elbow in a limp fashion and then leaned in, the homebrew on his breath warmed my left ear lobe:
“Look, you shouldn’t be here. You’re not strong enough to be dealing with this. I’m sorry I shouted. But you push my buttons.”
“Is she alive?”
He sighed. “You need to go see your aunt, she needs you. Get clear, absorb, and you’ll find the answers you need.”
“And then I can be in the club?”
He looked deep beyond my pupils and cracked open the door for me, pointing his palm in the direction of the great outdoors. He looked back to see no one was watching and whispered to me:
“Face your demons first. Take them head-on and there will be great rewards for you.”
Are you shaking your head at me? Yeah, that would be the natural reaction. That mystical fuck certainly is cryptic-but if it was that easy to get into his group, it wouldn’t be half as exclusive, would it?
So, yet again I found myself struggling down that same old urban pathway, but that time, I knew where I was heading.
I became sweaty-palmed and my eyes began to stream. I thought hard about what The postie and The Honch had said to me concerning the facing of my demons and getting rid of all that was pulling me down. I couldn’t get my head around the way the postie had subdued The Honch, just like that. I suppose he must be the bigger brother.
I delved deep into the core of my brain to pick out the heaviest load in my life and there she was-Mags-the reed on the river bed, the paperweight of my nightmares. She had kept me from thriving or going anywhere, and she barely ever said thank you to me. I felt hot in the face and once more, I went weak with rage. She was the overweight bindle sack crippling my back and she had to be taken care of.
So, I thought I found my vocation as her carer, but all it turned out to be was an unwelcome distraction.
This pissing town, and all of its inhabitants bumbling around within its invisible walls. And me, too ignorant to notice that I was the same, as Pink Floyd said, just another brick in the wall.
I tunnelled deep back into the shadows of my thought organ and tried to understand what the hell the last decade of my life had been about. What was the point of it? What had I actually achieved in that time, besides producing unholy amounts of jizz, rolling perfectly formed cigarettes, pining for romantic misadventures gone by, picking up ugly girls for the purposes of rutting like a farmyard hog, and to top it all off, looking after a decaying human being. Then I thought, maybe if I didn’t have to look after my sick aunt, I would have done something useful with my time. She was the shackle. The selfish one. Was that true?
All the grey, oh the grey and the silicon greens and blues. The smog and the soot, the violent disintegration and the despair. The people of Stunston living with their ears clogged and their eyes welded shut, just clinging onto their hamster wheel of existence for dear life. They made me sick, it all just made me and sick I wanted to bawl, but instead I spat fury into the night’s sky.
I powered down the middle of Salmon Street and across Jetsam Green. I wanted to cut off the chimney tops, burn down the boozers-all those squalid pits that enable locals in their chronic mission of self-destruction-the very thing that had become my hobby, ahhhhhhhhh. I wanted to scream until my vocal cords split in two.
Mags, good old Mags. She had stopped me leaving Stunston behind and although she had taken me on when my parents perished, she was absent half of the time. As I turned the corner and found myself in the thick of my estate, it hit me like the Hindenburg: I was ready to sever the tie, for real. She needed to go and if I wanted to move on, pass the test and become a part of the club, getting rid of her was a must.
At that moment, I had a lament for Mags deeper than I had ever felt before and it knocked the wind out of me, so rather than bashing the door down and making the Hollywood-like entrance that I had envisioned, I slumped on the doorstep of our shared hell and took a moment to contemplate:
The walls and whispers caving in, The man whose cloak is draped in sin. A place in which we dance and drive; A hole where lust-filled fury thrives. But in this place of smoke and soot; But in a land where knight takes rook, Some glimmers live beneath the cracks, Some might say no to myths like that. I see the things beneath the floor; I see through walls and beer-soaked doors. To claim my place I must not wait, To show my face, to give away, And kill those things that drag me down, And fight those things that linger around. My family is my friend, not foe? That could be true, it’s doubtful though. Let it all go. Let it all go.
A fire was brewing up inside my belly but externally I felt at peace and an overwhelming sense of calm had monopolised my nerve endings. I suppose I felt like the opposite of a chicken leg that had been badly cooked on a disposable BBQ. You know, cool on the outside and molten in the middle.
At that moment I understood that I no longer needed to question things, just go with my gut. All I had to do was prove to The Honch that I was capable of giving way to my inner thoughts and following the orders of my core instincts. Yeah, that’s what it was all about. Things didn’t make any sense, but they didn’t have to and anyone who tugged against that logic would have to be cut away, immediately. It was simple: I had to get rid of aunty Mags.
I opened the lock, entered the house and put my foot on the first stair, which squealed like a banshee. For the first time in my life, I felt like a total stranger in that old pile of bricks and mortar.
You might be wondering what state she was in when I barged into her room, considering she probably hadn’t been tended to for some while. You may be wondering if she was even still alive at that moment in time-well let me tell you, she was. The room smelled sour and musty and it was dark as a thousand eclipses. I crept up to her bed and was able to make her skeletal outline; she was gaunt and pale but she looked serene, a lady who had just made her peace with her reaper.
That pissed me off, big time.
My core collapsed and a certain redness wafted out into space around me.
“Wake up Mags. You’re not going anywhere until we’ve talked. You don’t get to just slip away like that. You just don’t get to leave the room-like that!”
Her eyes widened and a little glimmer of something returned to her cheeks. I don’t know whether it was anger or shock, but she was definitely back in the room.
She tried to cough but it all got bunched up in her throat. I leaned in and tried to listen to the peaks and troughs in her parched rattling, but I really couldn’t make any sense of it. I began to sweat and my arms went tingly.
The next thing I remember is kicking chunks out of the bedside table as if I was trying to boot it through the wall. I was a madman without a straitjacket, literally.
“S-Sam, please,” she struggled as she propped her back onto the headboard with those bony elbows of hers, “I’ve written you a letter, please…”
“What, a poor excuse for a morbid Post It note. A cop-out: a bunch of scribbles? Hey?”
“No, it’s what I’ve been waiting to say to you, but I don’t have the energy. I’m on my last legs. Where have you been?”
“Never you mind, bitch,” I couldn’t quite believe the words that were escaping my lips. “I’ve been living my life, facing my demons. Daisy’s gone, you know, she’s gone.”
“Yes, I know that?”
“How do you know, what’s going on?”
She bawled tears of pure air, “you’re delusional Sam. You need help, I should’ve been more proactive.”
Mags flopped onto her front and grabbed bunches of bedsheet to help pull herself closer to me, but she fell into a fit of distraught coughing every time she tried to shift her body. Standing there watching her was both satisfying and sad, like the time I won a goldfish at the Stunston fair, only to feel like I was contributing to its captivity when I looked into its eyes.
“Stop moving, Mags, you just stop that now” I screamed and it echoed around the room.
“Please, just look,” Mags extended her breadstick finger and pointed towards the television table. On top of it stood a neat envelope sporting a tone of brilliant white. My name was crudely scribbled on the front in biro-obviously, it was the letter she had written to me. So I opened it up and I read it (I’ve got it here, I’ll recite it):
My lovely Sam, I’d like to begin by thanking you for your time, kindness and endless loyalty over the years. Without your help and love, I really don’t know where I’d be. You’re my one and only angel and I’m sorry I never took the time to really tell you that. In recent months, I’ve been able to physically see the burden my situation has put on you, it’s as if all the weight has hunched your back and swollen your eyes, and for that, I am truly sorry. My time in solitary has allowed me to think (at least when I have been conscious for long enough). I thought it would be fair to keep the creeping truths from you and place you in a little bubble, but now I see that it’s damaged you more than I ever thought possible. I am unable to open the tap of truth from my mouth, Sam-my body simply won’t allow me to generate the energy, so you must know, by giving this to you, I have made a conscious decision to be more honest. I laid these words down on paper months ago, as a supplement to my will, meant for your eyes only. I have added to this letter today (it has taken everything left in my engine to do so) as I want to tell you everything I possibly can. No more secrets. How to begin… It’s not an easy thing to explain so I’m just going to come right out and say it: I’m your mother, not Jill, and Mark’s not your dad. They also weren’t abusive, drug addicts, I was. You were conceived as a result of a drunken, hazy night-one nocturnal affair that would have otherwise blended into my many other liquor-soaked escapades. I wasn’t ready to have a kid, let alone be an adult, but I couldn’t bring myself to terminate you. I decided I would take on the role of your mother, sort myself out and do my best, but when you’re an addict, even your greatest efforts pale in comparison to a chronic craving for substance and self-destruction. I know it’s not an excuse, but I had a very dark childhood (if you can call it that) and ended up using as a way to numb the pain. It’s a cliché, I know. But that’s what I did, nonetheless. When I held you in my arms for the very first time, I knew my life was complete, if only I could get rid of my habits. You see, there were four people in the room that evening: you, me, your father and the heroin monster-and there was only room for three. I tried to go cold turkey, I even tried sticking various sedatives where the sun doesn’t shine, but my hunger was too powerful. Your dad tried to do the right thing and stick around for you, but when I became too hot to handle, he disappeared off the face of the earth, for a short while anyway. So, Jill and Mark are actually your blood auntie and uncle. They took you for the years I was in recovery and assumed the role of your parents. They were kind, honest, gentle, decent people with hearts bigger than the sun, not junkies. I moved back in with them when you were four-years-old and to fit in, took on the facade of being your aunt. You just loved them so much as a toddler, they filled your big blue eyes with so much joy and I just couldn’t burst their bubble or yours for that matter, so I played along. I thought at least that way I could still be an influential part of your life. Sadly, they did pass away. But as you may now have gathered, they didn’t die as the result of a smacked up, drunken, drugged-addled car crash. They were driving to the coast in search of a new life for us all, and they were smashed off the road by a drunk van driver. All I can say is sorry, I’m sorry from the hollows of my heart. I don’t know if it’s any consolation at all, but I did get clean and I did it because of you. It’s all because of your existence and the unquestionable respect I have for it. I knew I could never do anything but try and give you the very best. I failed, but please know Sam, I did try. Just months after your biological dad slung his hook, I found out he was shacked up across the road, literally across the road, but I was too out of my brains to actually fuss or fight so I just let it be. Less than a year after shacking up with Jayne, he fled for the proverbial hills due to mounting gambling debts-then we didn’t see him for almost a decade. What I’m trying to say to you is, Daisy, well she is or at least was your sister. You both share the same dad, but you don’t share a resemblance. When I got straight, I went over to see Jayne, not to pry or fight, but to extend my hand, as we had both been left high and dry with a child to look after all on our own. The pair of us made a pact to keep our tangled web tucked well under the carpet, you know how small-minded the people of this town can be. We thought we’d make life simple and forge our own little unit. It was us against the world for a while: do you remember all those carefree days we spent down by the seaside? The smell of salt, fish, chips and simplicity. You and Daisy became as thick as thieves but when you both came of age, as it were, you pair seemed a bit too sweet on one another, and you could see the hormones spiralling through the air like fireflies. To be honest Sam, she told her mum she was going to ask you out and wanted to marry you one day. And, that’s when her mum told her the truth, she swore her to secrecy. Sam, you had started to become reclusive and unstable, and I found out I was poorly. I didn’t tell you at the time, but I have actually been sick for many years, I just didn’t want to break it to you until it became visible; I didn’t want to break it to you, full stop. Daisy got down very quickly and couldn’t shake her feelings so she agreed to cut her ties and go to a boarding school up north. While she was up there she met her father: a fresh-faced, rehabilitated man. I know you would never listen to anyone when she went missing, even when the search party was on the news. I wish we knew what happened, I wish you could get closure, I wish we all could. I guess you’ll let it sink in, but all in good time. A few of years ago, after exhausting his efforts to find her, your dad just waltzed back into this estate as if it was paved with red carpet and demanded to be a part of your life. I just couldn’t let him intrude like that, not when you were neck-deep in a smorgasbord of antidepressants, and other wildly prescribed concoctions (or Tic Tacs as you like to call them), I just didn’t think you’d be able to handle it. He did listen but told me time was ticking and he would reveal himself to you at some point and in some way before I perished. So, he grabbed himself a flat round the corner and took up a job as a postman so he could somehow be close to you and keep an eye on us. He used to play in a top local band, and when he rebuilt some of the bridges he burned, he was going to show you how to play the guitar. He still might, if you let him. Your dad’s brother, Colin, well you know him, he owns The Lamb and Flag. He reached out to me recently and asked if he could give you a job to help offer you some structure outside of the house. Your dad must have talked to him-I’m not exactly sure how it came about. That’s why we got Jenny the nurse to take you over there. She’s a regular down at The Lamb and Flag and you used to have a thing for a short while during Sixth Form. I thought that if it all seemed organic and you felt like you had made your own choice to head down there, you would give it a try. If I asked you to meet Colin myself, you wouldn’t have gone. I was just trying to protect you, now it occurs to me that I’ve wrapped you up and manipulated you for most of your life, and it has stunted you. I would also like to offer my sincerest apologies for the sausage string of men I brought home over the years. Just like the jobs I had, I could never quite hold a man down for long, but I needed someone to share a bed with as I’m just not that good on my own. I always knew once you gave them the nickname Kevin (remember, he was your imaginary friend as a child and we’d all play hide and seek in the fields at the back of the house), you had fallen for them and it must have taken its toll when they finally left. Believe me, I tried to hold them down, but who wants a broken old ex-junkie with stretch marks, it’s a bad tonic I suppose. I just hope you understand. Sam, you’ll find my will when the time is right and I have left you everything I own. I know it’s not going to make things right, but at least you’ll have somewhat of a comfortable life. Perhaps you can sell up the investment furniture and move away, just like you always talked about. But, if you do decide to stay, just know there are people here that love you and want to be a part of your life. Between the cracks in this town lies life in its purest form: people with bonafide hearts and souls, all you have to do is take a moment to find them. All I’ve done in my life has been wrong and regrettably, it’s impossible to edit the past or travel through time, but please do remember my love for you is true. I suppose when you cut through all of the nonsense, the problem is that I’ve always needed you more than you needed me, and that’s why I stopped you from growing to your full potential. But there’s plenty of time for things to change. You’re so creative Sam, it’s unreal. You always have been. Remember those tapes you made as a kid? The ones when you pretended to be a radio presenter, was it, Rob, something or other? I forget now, but they are a real insight into the beauty of your mind. I kept them all. They’re in the loft if you want them. Not every room has a view, but when you’re in the dark, all you need to do is paint one-and I know you have enough of a brilliant imagination to create your own personal utopia where ever you may be. Enjoy the rest of your life and know that I’ll always be with you.
Words failed me. Actions didn’t.
It was all too much, the previous few days had all been a mire for the mind and I wanted to be cleansed of it all.
There she was: frail and ugly, holding her breath for my reaction. I felt pale from my head to my toes as the shock set in, which was soon followed by flickers of ember. I was the taunted bull and she was an unwitting matador.
What happened next I’m not exactly sure of, all I really remember is chanting the words liar. liar, dirty liar as part of some psychotic mantra. I also remember smashing every piece of furniture I could.
She was right, the woman had broken me and I knew right there and then that I would never forgive her for all the lies and deceit. I could have been someone, but I was just another warped soul clogging up the pores of Stunston, just an unwanted blemish on the night of a first date. The bitch, I thought, the bitch.
She clawed herself up towards the back of the bed and curled her legs into a defensive ball, trembling and terrified. I sort of remember charging at her as fast as I could. I heard a scream and then black. It only seemed like a few moments but I must have been out for some while.
As you know, the next thing that’s clear to me is waking up in here, sore, bruised and battered, sporting these leg casts, getting fed gloop and having my arse wiped by a middle-aged nurse. I’m living the dream, well, if the dream is a nightmare (mind you, some men are probably into that sort of stuff), but you know what I’m saying. You look like shit, but in all fairness, you haven’t come out quite as bad as me. I’ll give you that.
Now that’s how I remember it, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster, nor is it a timeless Shakespearean tragedy, but it’s all that I’ve got to tell. It’s the moment everything unravelled and the time when the truth shone at me in all of its scalding glory, now the ball’s in my court. I’m finally out of the dark, I think.
Someone left me this local newspaper article. It’s only short; I’ll read it to you:
Last night local resident Samuel Jacks, 28, was found outside the front of his terraced home in Stunston’s Flackbridge Estate after plummeting from a first-floor window. The accident is said to be the result of a family feud between Sam and his auntie, Maggie Jacks, 52, which resulted in a botched assault. ‘I heard shouting and screaming, a lot of banging, a bit of a struggle and then he just came diving through the window and straight onto the pathway, nearly landed headfirst,’ a local witness said. Other Stunston residents said they had witnessed Sam drinking and causing a commotion in various parts of the town two days prior to the incident. ‘I was just minding my own business, walking my dog, when he came stumbling over and told me if he saw the dog defecate on the pavement, he would rub my face in it. Then he started making growling noises at me like some rabid beast, it was very unnerving,’ explained local gardener, Jeff Wilts. As someone with a history of anxiety, depression and mental illness, Sam is said to be unstable and is on a cocktail of medication that doesn’t agree with the consumption of alcohol. Mags is said to be distraught and suffering from shock, but is in a stable condition. Further investigations will follow.
This must be a couple of days old now because I got word that she died in this morning in the next ward down. I don’t know how I feel at the moment, I’m just blank behind eyes, I suppose, seasoned with a bit of relief. Does that make me a bad person?
Anyway, all that stuff about me in the article checks out, I just wanted to share the bit with you about the dog shit: I don’t remember saying it whatsoever, but I do find it funny. After all, when you’re laid up in a hospital bed, you’ve got to get your kicks somehow.
It’s the article on the front page that caught my eye. I won’t read it out as I’m sick of straining my eyes, but what I will tell you is that it’s about Daisy’s death. The exact time, date, place description, everything, except, the name is wrong, it says it’s a girl named Zoe Pritchard, also known as Mallet.
I know what you’re thinking: it’s not Daisy, you have been told already. She’s missing. It just doesn’t sit right with me, plus, what do you know, hey?
Of all the strange occurrences and skewed details floating around in my melon, the only one that’s truly tangible is the fact that I sat there and held Daisy’s lifeless body in my arms. The bond, the face, the feel, is one of the most genuine things I’ve ever experienced in my farce of an existence, and people keep trying to take it away from me.
It was her face the led me to the pub and her smile that gave my life a purpose once again; I really don’t know why everyone’s trying to tell me otherwise. It all seems like a big old joke to me-only I’m the butt of it. Seeing as people have lied to me all of my life, that wouldn’t be so fetched, would it?
I find it hard to believe that Daisy and I are blood-related, but then again, it would explain that Velcro bond we seemed to share. Maybe things have worked out for the best-at least we didn’t end up breeding web-footed monsters. No sir.
The nurse said that earlier when I was out cold, a kind man in blue came to see me and stroked my hair while gripping my hand. She said he talked to me for a while and that he wanted me to stay with him so he could take care of me. The doctor said that it was plain to see that he loved me more than life itself.
I thought by staying in my cocoon, getting off my head at any given opportunity and wallowing in my own shortcomings, I could stay safe and sound.
Well, we both know life doesn’t work like that, how can it? There are variables, always variables and it doesn’t matter if they come in the form of a missed appointment or springtime flood, they will all catch up with you, in the end, my friend.
There’s something else that really bugs me and I just can’t shake it off: where’s my personal peace in all of this? I guess I’ll just have to say that the truth is individual, the mind is always fleeting and in the end, reality is just a one-man show. The postie may well be my sperm donor of a dad and Mags may well have been my mum in disguise, but I’ll choose to see things the way I want to, after all, you can’t argue with ignorance and apparently, ignorance is bliss.
Anyway, The Honch is called Colin? I think anyone with a name like that must have a few things to hide. I’ll just have to wait, recover, bide my time and, eventually, I’ll crack his code, you just wait and see. Someone once told me there’s life between the cracks, and it’s the only thing I will ever thank her for.
So what do our favourite TV characters do in between those vital scenes? They just shut down and block it all out, it’s what we common folk call autopilot. Most of our lives are set to autopilot: the cooking, the cleaning, the chores, work, small talk, text messaging, taking a shower, pretending to have a good time when clearly we’d rather be doing anything else in the world-it’s all just fodder.
I mean, do you remember all those times you got up, showered, made some cereal, watched the news, locked your front door and drove to work? I mean really remember each experience individually. Of course not, because it doesn’t matter. It’s just a blanket memory, a given, and things like the ironing and the descaling of the kettle, they’re not the least bit interesting to most. We only ever actually remember the times when our lives were shook upside down, shot into space or turned sideways because when it’s all said and done, they’re the only things worth telling to our friends over the dinner table or down the pub.
We’re all just stars of our own low budget soap operas, waiting for the next big scene to come and entertain us-the rest of it is best left in the broom cupboard of our plodding craniums.
Having said all that, if you do choose to open the old broom cupboard once in a while, you might just find something extraordinary that you missed, it all depends if you can be bothered to press the rewind button.
The doc said that another man came to see me about half an hour after the first one, but he wasn’t so kind. He was jittery, in a rush and rude to the staff. They explained that he poked his head into my room, stared at me with stone-baked eyes for a minute or two, slipped something onto my bedside table and then told the staff to get out of the way because he was leaving town and there was someone in the car waiting for him.
He left me a letter in a neat white envelope with the words ‘ read me’ scrawled on the front in biro. Shall we read it and find out what it’s all about? We will in good time, but all that talking has left me as dry as a stick, perhaps I’ll just take a break.
I suppose at this point, it’s all a matter of stick or twist, stay or go, safety or adventure. But I don’t have to decide right now, do I?
I’d still like to write that book one day. Maybe I’ll scrawl all of this down and send it off to every publisher in the land, but, it seems like too much hard work right now.
Now, as I said before, we’re both going to be stuck in here for some time, so you may as well tell me your story. Before you begin, may I request that you start at the most boring part possible and carry on from there? There’s no window in here so you’ll have to paint me a picture.
I’m all ears.
(Is it ever really) THE END(?)
Physical copies of Not Every Room Has a View are available at select UK libraries. Find out more or buy a print copy here.
Originally published at https://noctismag.com.