28 August 2004


I hate the 4-D room. Dead, Dying, Diseased and Disabled. Can't even look at a chicken nugget anymore. Twist the legs out, chuck it all in the hopper. Have to really stuff them in because the grinders don't work proper. Usually some of them are alive even after they've been hanging in the pen. When I had to gas chicks in the hatchery it used to give me nightmares. Todd's always off sick. When he turns sixteen they're gonna sack him anyway. There's something clogging up the grinders. Broom handle's no good so I have to put my arm in.


There's something about parks at night. People think they're entitled to a fumble, a screw, a piss in the dark. The infrared cameras see them, so do I. Just because nobody can see them doesn't make it right. People need more restrictions, not less. You can't let too much freedom in. I've never broken the law in my life. There they go, prickly little monochrome blurs, a whole gang of them. It's cold out. Bastards. Perhaps one day they'll let us carry pepper, at least. Six of them, rabbits in my torchlight. One of them's got something in his hand.


He was horny, yeah, good looking bloke. But he had the tiniest dick in the world. I never knew when he'd put it in. I didn't tell him. But there must have been something, something in him I never saw. Evening seems to come in chunks. I don't notice it getting darker until it actually is. He was my only hope and now, alone in our bed, I can hate him enough to do what he did. It's not a competition, there's no league table of despair. But I've done it better than he did. They'll know I meant it.


I had to get out of my head. Somehow got into sniffing glue out of bags. Wish I didn't give a shit about Liam, though. But sometimes I start out still fucked from the night before, that ain't no life for a baby, I know it. Glue's my truth serum. Anyway, everybody's addicted to something. Just wanna bring my fate on quick, get it over with. Dunno why anyone would want an Alsatian unless they was a copper or in the bomb squad. I think it's my dog. My memory's fucked. The stupid crap people do shouldn't be remembered anyway.


About 8:30 you get the schoolgirls with racoon makeup and belly buttons out. When I won't serve them, their childish swearing proves my point. Then it's the supporters, nasty but stupid, pissed before they even come in. Not really friends, just acquaintances who fall into each other's company for the length of the match. It's the pack instinct you have to watch out for. I can't see the telly, but it must be a goal, yells and hugs, kisses. They'd kick your head in if you called them queer. Then I notice the scuffed Adidas bag under the empty table.


There's a pool on the floor of the day room, I'm in it, I'm making it bigger, aquarium water and blood. My shirt collar's done up so tight it feels like it's about the only thing holding my head on, I can't feel anything else. The guppies aren't quite ready to be amphibious yet, dying in the broken glass and gravel. People are already murdering them underfoot, they're tiny, nobody even notices. The way they flip reminds me of bacon in a pan. Steven's naked now apart from my blood, disco dancing to a red hot cut only he can hear.


Everything in the magazine looks painful, but I suppose that's the point. The models would look better with their clothes on. But the little bastard persuades me. Even the plaster over his eyebrow looks like deliberate bondage now. I let him cuff me. He says all women should be taken like this and my gagged laugh comes out as a snort. From behind he calls me her name. OK, they're only one consonant apart, but it pisses me off. I can't breathe. What are you supposed to say to make him stop? Uncle. Uncle. No more. I can't breathe. Uncle.


I had this vague sense of disaster while I was shaving this morning. I can't seem to push it away. Concentrate on pushing the product. Nobody would buy these things without me. The lawn's going bald from front to back, like I am. Mr Bloom seems fairly standard, old but not quite senile, polyester shirt. His living room's like a 1930s show house, in a time warp but clean. You honestly can't believe anyone really lives here. I know better than to ask about the wife. Prewar wiring as well, probably. He says there's a socket down there somewhere. Careful.


Nothing ever changes. Looking for a job. Haven't heard from anyone. Had one interview. Didn't want anything I applied for. Better off on benefits anyway. Apply at a lot of hotels, a carpet warehouse, cattle market pubs. Don't hear anything from any one of those bastards. The man at the desk won't get off the phone, just hands me an application form off a big pile. Job's mine if I want it. Better off on benefits. Temporary. Third shift. Split shift. Shit shift. Graveyard shift. Zombie shift. Lunch break at 3am. Some people can take it and some people can't.


I begin to get the distinct impression the driver is taking advantage of me, motoring around in circles to get his paws on the money I've hidden in my shoe. He thinks I'm confused. Casualty's too bright and smells of nothing. The carpet tiles are the colour of burnt toast and rough like Velcro. The doctor just sits there twittering away her nonsense, absorbed in herself, alien to me. She goes away to find my files. Good luck to her, is what I say. I've written seven conflicting autobiographies and left them stashed around the flat for people to find.


You'll find that ghosts cross a person's mind at a time like this, as life erodes itself into nothing; just someone's forgotten cigarette burning in an ashtray. I'm still on your case. I hope you're able to forgive me in the end. It's only because I can't stop loving you. It would be nice to see your smile when it finally emerges again, I want to see your eyes when they decide to come up like the sun from behind your face. Don't let joy wear thin, come and go like a ghost. There are far too many ghosts already.


The street has shiny tarmac scars people drive over without noticing. The traffic lights go into stop and back. Apart from some dreadful BBC chaps who didn't know what they were talking about, nobody caused any fuss. I think certain things should be personal and private and confidential. The world will go on for millions of years. How long is a person's life, compared to all those millions? A couple of years here and the rest in the ground. Murray succumbed to natural causes. Murray had always been, and Murray always remained, a lady. One can't say fairer than that.

27 August 2004


Regret, the police, vodka, head lice, cancer, advertising creatives, other people's parents, the North Sea, versions of me in old photos, little dogs, lies, teenage girls in threes, winter, food poisoning, politicians, sex, being alone when you don't choose it, flu, Debbie, malicious Debbie, I'd like to hit her in the face with a spade even now, time, not enough of it or far too much, rejection, ambition, pain, drugs, sales reps, junk mail, Jehovah's witnesses, Jehovah, hayfever, violence, desperation, taxi drivers, waste, false histories, oysters, the top ten, grief, the human mind, driving examiners, memories. These things are monsters.


I always used to be afraid of being touched or shat on by the gulls, but fascinated with them. The way they'd swarm down on things they found washed up. I wonder where they go at night. The current's too strong, the water's too cold, it's too far away. I can just about hear the lulling sound of a boat, a long way off. I'm swimming for land against a billion blurry dots of light. Behind the beach, the town is blazing, melting into the night. I take a deep breath, fill up my lungs. And the lights go out.


My hangovers are worse these days and I need a day to get over them. My dad used to say he forgot who he was in booze. I think I know what he meant now. And who round here doesn't need to forget who they are sometimes? One time he shot three men, within 72 hours, on the same street. He had his rules, though. Not in the head, not in the groin. I'm coming out of the post office. They shoot out my knees. After they check my wallet they tell me to run. I can't get up.


Just the right amount of that good shit in me and it's gone midnight. Empty houses with the windows tinned up against thieves. Doctor said it was stupid, nicking needles out the hospital sharps bin. All I want to do is get out me head. Ste says I'm a cheeky little bitch and need to watch my fucking gob. Be normal, like everyone else. But I always say, being like everybody, ain't that like being nobody? I press for the lift. It don't seem to be coming so I put me head through the broken window in the lift door.


I tie Tommy up outside the front door and watch telly. I watch the soaps and the quizzes and I keep the door locked. I taped the curtains shut months ago. I live in the dark with Tommy and my cricket bat. Sometimes I see blurred movements out the corner of my eyes, but when I check there's never nobody there. A few years back I realised I was twice the age of athletes, actors and musicians and I'd never be one of them. As it goes I feel a bit better, just a bit tired. Not sleeping too well.


The empty windows frame the postman. He's hyperventilating into a dirty paper McDonald's bag that another man is holding. The logo scrunches in and out. Behind him the back wheel of a bike spins slowly, sticking out of a shrub. The smoke detectors sound like hungry chicks with megaphones. A fire engine draws up between us, a wall of red between us. They won't let Craig move me, but he holds me in his arms and they don't know their own strength. He kisses tears off of my cheeks, like I'm fragile, kisses my lashes closed, kisses finally my lips.


He's wearing dark glasses and I imagine grief or bruises. Is he drunk? Hungover? Perhaps he's got no eyes. Perhaps if he unpeeled the shades, there'd just be blankness. A look ricochets around the room, something unnameable and unstated caught for a second in the air. That frozen English withholding of love. I'm sick of it. He holds my hand, so provisionally I feel like a stranger. It's the first time he's touched me since I was six. His hand doesn't feel real. It feels prosthetic. Like a Marigold glove full of warm jelly. I'm too sad to tell him.


It's really hard to get worried or worked up about something you take every day. First time, Sam dared me to do it, and I didn't have no girlfriend or job so I thought what the hell. I stink of fags and blow, sweat, spilled whiskey. I climb the mesh fence, can't hardly hear what the bloke's shouting about, then I'm moving faster than you ever seen. My brain feels like it's on a stick in the sun. I dream a funeral. Take your fucking puppets with you, Sammy. I seen what a train wheel does to a human body.


Ruth, Jack used say, you're stranger than fiction. That joke wore smooth over the years, like a pebble, but I could see it in his eyes until the end, even after the doctors took his voice away. As a boy he learned how to tell one wood from another, just by the touch and smell of it. Even in the dark he could tell. Somewhere I know I'm cold and need the lavatory. The nurse has a queer look about her. I don't think I'd like to know her. She looks up from her television magazine, bored. Nothing happened today.


It looks like we're splitting up after all. I always was amazed that such a big head held such a small, narrow mind. I knew all you wanted was a clone of your last girlfriend, like she was of the one before, but you were too good looking to resist, too well dressed to ignore. Your money tan and smug smirk. You hardly seem to be here at all, just kind of a suit walking around the place. I sold out while I still had the chance. I'll be gone before you learn how to use that iMac you bought.


A production line of filthy, patched-up aeroplanes, boys in ratty overalls and Balaclava helmets cranking over engines, adjusting earphones, climbing on board, fidgeting in cockpits, faces streaky with exhaustion and exhaust. Don't see faces like that any more. Old young men. Wounded three times before I pretended the concussion was driving me mad, got myself out. Buried five children I didn't know with my bare hands. I've worn this watch for fifty years, even though it only stays on with an elastic band now. Wrists have gone away to nothing and it keeps slipping off. Time slipping away from me.


I tell Carmel what to do with the insurance. Some of it's going to Paul, for his baby, and some to Claudette to go to university. How much does a funeral cost? As I sit with them I seem to get weaker. I hear myself gasp. I suppose that's me trying to breathe. Can't speak. The air stops in the back of my throat. My breathing has worked all my life but it doesn't now and I'm happy. I love you. You can't change that now. In a way it's good that it ends now, with the love still intact.

26 August 2004


A person needs to listen their gut, even if it's the same gut that made them eat those three dented cans of salmon. Jackie was eight months gone but she never gave up trying to get rid of it. Ran onto the M1 at junction twelve. I knew when she went out that day I'd never see her again. That was twenty odd years ago. She haunts and nags and doesn't accept excuses, apologies or a note from the doctor. Then I remember that I didn't care enough to help her. And, somehow, I don't feel nearly so bad.


I smell wonderful tonight. My hair looks like advert hair. I'm not hardly drunk at all. That non-filtered butt floating in the toilet. I don't smoke. Marie only smokes filters, when she does smoke. Later someone had flushed it. I like it when she smokes a ciggie without taking it out. The girl at the arcade was doing it. Blasting these plumes of smoke from her nostrils, even harder when she got the high score. I had a perfect view. She knew it. I'm under the water, staring up, staring up through the windscreen at the sun, through the water.


I'm home because everyone knows I'm finished anyway. I have a mother, and it's not fair on her for this to happen. I shouldn't have cracked that joke about incest at Aunt Laura's funeral. I try to cough it out of my clogged lungs, but the inhalation that comes after each hack only draws it deeper into me. It's gentle, I'm exhausted. Surrounded by everyone. I seem to be bleeding from everywhere I'm open. This bed is my battlefield. I'm glad there was some pleasure, before the pain. Because the pain lasts longer. Michael raises his finger to his lips.


The windows are dirty. Faces like slow white smears. Ghost balloon heads. Footsteps of people embarrassed by God, deaf or just not here anymore. Sometimes prayers between coughs. The constant flashbulbs of nuns. Don't cry, I'm full of angels. Secret passages and passwords. Please, baby Jesus, just cut my skin and let it all out. Cut my skin. I'll feel better. Get me a bucket and cut my skin. Contact the authorities and hand over the proof I collected that Satan the Devil exists. Only He knows I've bitten away the inside of my lip rather than make a fuss.


Just give me the bloody morphine. It's to kill the pain of the cancer, to kill me as well, of course. Reds darken to maroon, blue blackens into night, yellow's solid, luminous. Buzzing, dry mouth, restless. Your hands flap around, directing invisible traffic. There's that bloody great grin on your face. You flirt with the nurse. That's good. You don't realise your grace. I know I've already done everything worthwhile I ever will. That weekend. The smell of your face. The coat you gave me. I didn't like it. The touch of your hand, I did like that. I'll remember.


I told the others I was a lesbian. I lock David in, he's eleven, old enough, and go to the phone on the corner. All the glass is smashed out. Six months on Andy's still a fine looking, friendly stranger. We're tied together by my Visa, whether or not we've anything in common. We pull off the motorway into the empty car park behind the Travelodge. It's hot, it's clicking with crickets. The smoke he breathes catches headlights. I think I've been punched. My stomach goes numb. Not punched. Stabbed. I've already seen it all. I'm not surprised at all.


Two fresh symptoms today. An ache behind the eyes and a tender feeling across the scalp. Symptoms of what, I'm not sure. Maybe not symptoms at all. Doesn't strike me as anything too serious, but Patrick's hidden the medical dictionary again. The speed makes your thoughts go so fast and you think this is good, this is what I want, where's the condom, you know. It's not like you don't worry about it, you do for a second and then the speed takes the thought away and that's that. At least my youth will never oxidise into boring old age.


I hardly go to the shops anymore because of the chemicals. They give me these pains in my chest, make me vomit. Then just sitting in the doctor's waiting room flattens me for another two days. A person can't live like this. Polly and I once sneaked into Peter Pan. When Peter asked if we wanted Tinkerbell to live, we were the ones who shouted, No! We knew life has to be tragic sometimes. I'm folding in on myself, taking a shape that's useless for living in and wants to drive me out. I suppose it will happen to everyone.


I'm sick of being buggered about. Too bloody right I am. Yeah, bugger it, that's what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna wait until those buggers come round and then in a very unemotional way tell those buggering arseholes I'm not going to be buggered about any more. I'm pissed off and this just isn't buggering on. So bugger it. It's a boring life anyway. The best thing would be her apologising for the way she's treated me. Then, when she's said she's sorry I'd say OK, It's still your fault and step off anyway. My door's got no handle outside.


I should leave off drinking on an empty stomach. Not in the lunch hour, anyway. Now I'm hardly pissed at all but I've got a splitting headache. Rattling over the roundabout I get the smell of myself, of what I've been drinking. It's like having two rugby players, big ones, catch you in mid air and tackle you to the ground. I look at my hand because it feels funny, and all I can see are the bones. Lucky I'm left handed. There's a guy curled up on the tarmac with glass all around him. Has anyone called an ambulance?

25 August 2004


Jim's like a building on the horizon. He doesn't get much smaller when he's in the distance. His skin is dark, his hair, his eyes. We're meant to be going to the reception. In the doorway Jim pulls a knife on me and tells me to drop my trousers. Straight away I know he wants to cut off my nuts. I thought we was mates. My body folds in on itself like clothes stuffed into a suitcase. I lay on the carpet, looking at the shoe buffer. He's fucking dead when I catch up with him and no fucking mistake.


The sterilisation was my idea. Afterwards I started to overcome my… the word is… Inertia. I began to make the most of summer days. I binned my ouija board and started to live. But Callum still wouldn't consider letting me have any male friends. Not yet. Once he threatened to kill me if I ever did anything like that again, ever. It was his temper talking. I knew he had a temper before I married him. I tell him about Joe. Just to test him. Just to mix things up. There's a sound like spare ribs cracked by a spanner.


In the new fitted kitchen I undress her next to the shopping. The honey jar shatters on the floor, but stays together by the label. She says forget it, I'll clean it up tomorrow. I've been patient. I've waited for her all day. Like eating a whole meal but all I really want is dessert. She kisses me like she's hungry, like the O of my mouth is a bagel and Philadelphia. She's a good kisser. She used to practice on her elbow. I go to bed happy, but with a weird sense of creeping worry and an upset stomach.


When I cover my ears your voice is still inside. I wanna kill you. I wanna smash this house, burn it down. I've got this rage that burns my eyes from the insides. I don't wanna feel like this. I'm scared of what I might do. I wanna be happy, you're the one fucking stopping me. It was me what stole the black wise man and the white baby Jesus. It wasn't vandalism. It was me. I don't care what you do with me. Feed me to your fucking Mongoloid dog if you like. You're a fucking Mongoloid and all.


Sometimes, especially on pension day when I might have had too many cans, I fall over. But I don't want any bother. Started topping up, what, ten years ago. First in the evenings, then the afternoons. Then the mornings. Because I was never really drunk, I didn't worry, even when I started packing miniatures in my handbag. Preparing for the expedition is what I call it. I sound like an alcoholic, but I'm not. I'm always in control apart from the shakes. I lost a lovely man friend who said it was either him or the tipple. That was that.


Tony sits on me next to the sofa to try and stop me screaming. Against the wall, wiping blood from my nose. Tony rips the buttons off my shirt while Peter yanks my jeans off. I've done something in them. Tony tries to fuck me and can't, Peter takes over and I think he can then Peter hits me on the head with something. There's a bubbling noise in my nose and throat, inside my face. Andy wipes my blood off with the curtains. The grunting and panting starts to sound mechanical and in the end it makes me laugh.


Pluto, fascists, horror films and I were born in the Thirties. I hardly think about any one of them seventy years on. Of course most of the people are gone now. Clarence. Coloured chap. Words mean absolutely nothing. People aren't about anything. Everybody thinks very highly of Freud because he wanted to make love to his mother. God obviously doesn't care if I believe in him, so all I'm left with is some of my teeth and some of my hair and a faltering heart. The rain washes memories from my brain. Look. Try and see the meaning. It's gone.

24 August 2004


My body pops off the bonnet. Everything goes black. There's no sound, no sensation. It's like I'm floating. Something's wrong. Air is gone. I try to shout. How long have I been like this? There's no pain. My body's ruined, I know it. I'm lit by the spinning lights of the ambulance. I'll probably be too late for the nine o' clock news. Sirens and car alarms make the street scream with me. The thresh and slice of a helicopter above. The grocer's across the road, run by Asians who never seem to sleep, will deliver anything at any hour.


Laura had the voice of a bird and the curves of a Highland road. Where are you now, Laura? Been laying here waiting for you. Where are you? The brunette woman there reminded me. I just want someone to sit a while with me. You don't have to stay all day, or all afternoon, even, not if you don't want. Just a little bit of company. It gets lonely in here, with all these people. Something takes hold of me. I'm overwhelmed by those enormous eyes and that beautiful smile even as it becomes too huge for me to bear.


I resented your twenty-four hour demands. Crawling with insults and accusations, like salmonella in the chicken you tried to hospitalise me with. Both of us sending out codes the other one couldn't ever decipher. The heating's gone off and I can smell you even now, even though you're gone. The wardrobe door's ajar again. It's that lazy catch. I can see your books piled there, furtive transvestites wearing the dresses and blouses you left. They pounce when I open the doors to look. It's getting colder now. Everything's cruel. I don't have anybody. I have the cold night. I'm tired.


Some days it's perfect, some days totally mutant. Like, you take off and think everything's cool but it starts warping, you pull up into it, so it pitches a bit and swats you. I turn up towards the wave and ride right into its face, trying to judge the best place to hit its lip, the top of the wave before it breaks. As the lip comes in I bear down with my back foot, digging into the water. I start my turn before the top of the wave. I snap the board round, already thinking about what's happening next.


The first time I tried jumping in the river at night. The tide was out and I broke both my legs. Now I take advantage of the 26th floor to end my ordeal. Looking down is terrifying. It's enough to make a person commit suicide. Like the magazine says: practical, smug and stylish. A jumper says it all this season. I don't want anything anymore. The sky's the colour of a bus station. The rain is like dishwater, grey and lukewarm. A jumper says it all. I'm going over and out. I grab hold of the city. Over and out.


She was ten. She went out with my Co-op book and three shillings to buy me a quarter of margarine. It had been snowing all week, it still was, hardly a blizzard though like some people said. She had on a navy, belted raincoat, a sky blue bobble hat, a fawn cardigan, a navy scarf, a chocolate skirt and chestnut shoes. But she never came back. Just disappeared into that white. She'd be 54, knocking 55 now. Her poor nan passed on without ever knowing what happened to her. She was a good girl. She never got into any trouble.


The door opens and closes on its own, I don't know where the draft is coming from. I can't move, but after a while I begin to feel the mass of economic rhythms, seem to sense the pulse of international trade in my bloodstream. I think I'll wear the blue tie tomorrow. When I get back I need to make some kind of order out of the jumble sale on the desk before I get a bollocking. Nonsense words begin to appear on the laptop screen, scrolling up, as if invisible fingers are pressing the keys. Maybe it's my head.


I suppose I should have been nicer to him but I was only little myself, then. It was mum's fault at the end of the day. I know I shouldn't have put the bag over Steven's head. She never forgave me. Me. She was the one to blame. And there's a curtain that falls down over me and I won't let her use it against me any more. I will not be her escape goat. I'm the one who watched Steven's face go purple. Everyone thinks I done a terrible thing. All I wanted was for him to stop screaming.


I knock over the chair as I run. Mark grabs my shirt from behind, pulling it out of my trousers as I turn. He brings the Stanley knife up, uses hardly any force at all to slide it up with his thumb and into my belly. He stands back in those few seconds of silence, as stunned as everyone else. I scream, high and shrill, only it's not me screaming. It's Gary screaming for me. The air bucks and buckles under its weight. I always thought there was something about him. A hysterically camp film heroine trying to get out.


One minute watching Saturday night telly, quite enjoying it actually. Then chest pain out of nowhere. Won't be long till I see Charlie in heaven, God willing. Seems I've been waiting for decades. The receiver's cold and plastic, propped against my face. He says stay with me Mrs Stoker, twice, or perhaps the line has an echo on it or my hearing aid's playing up again. The ambulance ambulance will be with you soon soon. The way people talk on the telly isn't how real life goes. People talk in bits. God God I think think she's gone gone gone.


There's gulls bickering for old condoms and poisoned fish washed up on the shingle. The town looks like there's been a neutron bomb attack. Sometimes people appear from where the prom meets the horizon and half an hour later backtrack. Doing the whole pointless journey in reverse, like the plastic horses in the betting game on the pier. I'm parked on double yellow lines. I doubt this will take very long. I'm too tired to wipe the windows anymore, so I close my eyes instead and listen to the sound of the engine, breathe with it, suck it all in.


Caroline's got this thing that you always need absolute control if there are emotions you're not comfortable with. Something like that, I don't pay much attention these days. She talks about control constantly, like it's a town she's moving to. I often buy books but never read them. I just put my finger between the pages. I've got loads I've never read. I open the book, it says "people deny themselves love for all kinds of reasons". The rain falls heavy and slides off my mac, off my back. I put the book inside, carefully. I cross the road, carelessly.


Looks like we've got the river to ourselves tonight. I tug my T-shirt down again and he asks me when I'm going to relax. I answer him by having another glass of wine. He's got lips like a woman but I don't tell him so. First we think the same. Now we've got the same mouth. He hugs me, just as nonchalantly puts his hand on my crotch, laughs and runs away. He strips quickly and his body is long, tight and almost hairless. He promised I wouldn't see his dick this weekend. Watch it, he says, its fucking slippery.