Tag Archives: death

A Bit of the Ol’ Feng Shoo-ee, like

The fuckin' hoose.

The fuckin’ hoose.

* Warning, written entirely in Scots.  For a brief explanation of this project please click here.

Me and big Debs pure hud it out the other day. Jesus man. Like throwin’ fuckin fire baws at wan another. I hud tae get hur telt tae calm doon else some cunt wid ring the polis, then that’d be me, parole gubbed and an away fir the wee man’s Christmas again. Anyway, the dippit wee coo was tryin’ tae tell me that the hoose needed fixin’, and than everyhin was aw in the wrang order an that. I takes this as a personal dig like, given that this cunt wis the cunt that hoisted aw the fuckin’ furniture in.

‘We need a change’ she says, ‘Ah’ve been thinkin’ that we’ve goat fuck all ay that Feng shoo-ee like,’ she says.

Well, Christ in a fuckin’ Cosworth. Feng Shoo-ee she says!? We live in fuckin’ Kirky, nae Bay-jing like.

I says, ‘You’re fuckin’ wrang love, take a wee peep in the bin, I had Feng Shoo-ee fried rice a couple a nights ago! Fuckin’ magic by the way!’

She goes, ‘Ho you! That’s fuckin’ racist, and goes well against ma new frame ah mind by the way. I’m a changed woman.’

Fuckin’ changed woman she says?! She thinks I think she doesnae take a pish in the shower. I know hur inside fuckin’ oot. And she’s packed full a shite.

‘Whit fuckin’ programs have you bin watchin’? Givin’ it aww that fuckin’ feng shoo-ee shite.’

‘Actually ah went tae see a spiritualist yesterday, and he telt that ma chi was aw gammy an aff tae fuck, an that it was probably on account ay the sofa bein’ in the rang place or sumthin.’

Ah wis fuckin’ speechless. Ah just, ah didnae know wit tae say. Here’s me just tryin’ tae watch a bit a Jeremy Kyle and she’s tellin’ me I need swap the TV wi the fridge and drag the fuckin’ bed oot ontae the landin’. No chance.

‘So who was this fuckin’ spiritualist then?’

‘You don’t know him.’

‘How don’t ah know him?’

‘Coz he’s a pal ah Leslie-Ann’s.’

‘Leslie-Ann aye? You ridin’ him?’

‘Ah um tae fuck ya cheeky basturt!’

‘Awright awright! Sorry love, just, I wis just fuckin’ askin’! Awright? So, where am I stickin’ the fuckin’ couch then?’

She looked aroon the room and I knew she hadnae a fuckin’ clue whit she was bangin’ oan about. You kin fuck off wi your fuckin’ chinky feng shoo-ee shite. This is fuckin’ Scotland. In this country the couch faces the telly, and everyhin’ else just gets fuckin’ dumped somewhere aroon it.

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Daily Warm-Ups – A Mouthful of Banana

This is the first in a lengthy series of creative writing pieces based on photographs of dead people. I have been known to frequent estate sales and purchase neglected photographs of the recently department. They’re very good mental stimulants for my writing, and I love the idea of a memory that was saved from the abyss, and interpreted without prejudice or any sense of context beyond its own borders.

I know that it’s weird, but to me there is something endearing about giving fresh life to an expired thought.

Bill and Carson

‘Bill,’ said Carson as he peeked his head around the door, ‘is now a good time to chat?’

Bill looked up from the piece of paper on his desk and turned to Carson, who was now standing in the open doorway. He’d been staring at the same sentence for the last two minutes, and the same piece of paper for the last ten. His eyes gave a clumsy flutter, as if his eyelashes were sweeping the text away. He nodded to the old man in the doorway, and smiled.

Carson walked through the office, taking in all of the jumbled piles of paper and scattered half-thoughts that decorated the surfaces. Bill carefully slipped the piece of paper into his drawer and snapped it shut. Carson gestured to the empty seat across from Bill’s seat. Bill smiled and shook his head.

‘Uh, okay. Bill, this uhm,’ started Carson, shuffling awkwardly from side to side as he looked at the piece of paper in his hand, ‘this uh, request, you made for changes in office policy. You obviously understand that this is grossly unacceptable right? I mean, you understand that right?’

Bill smiled and leant back in his chair. Carson looked to the door. He fumbled again with the paper. He moved towards the desk.

‘Listen, is everything okay at home Bill? I mean, I don’t mean to pry, but you can tell me. I’ve known you for, God, going on eleven years. This,’ he said, holding up the piece of paper in his hand, ‘this isn’t you Bill. You’re a good man. Is Marcy okay? And what about little Lewis? Is everything okay at home?’

Bill held his stare as he leant back further into his chair. He slowly put his hands behind his head, and raised his bare feet up and rested them on his desk between a pile of documents and coffee cup filled with rum. Carson let out an awkward cough. He ruffled the paper and looked back towards the door. Harold, the aging security guard peeked his head around. Below the desk Carson held out his hand to halt Harold from coming any further.

‘Bill,’ he said as he took a deep breath and puffed out his chest, ‘you’re my friend and all, we go back, but we’re gonna have to suspend you with immediate effect. Like, immediate effect. Do you understand?’

Bill’s smile came apart and his teeth appeared, glinting between his lips. He leant forward in his chair and opened his desk drawer. Next to the piece of paper was a banana left over from his lunch. He grabbed the banana, closed the drawer and reclined back again. He peeled it and took two large bites, devouring the entire fruit, leaving only the little heel and the flaccid yellow skin. He tossed the peel onto the desk between them.

‘Go fuck yourself Carson’ said Bill, with a mouthful of banana.

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Sir Alex Ferguson, and the Dog

Today has been a very peculiar day for me. I rose a little earlier than I normally would, egged on by my weekly cross-country-and-then-the-Atlantic phone call to my mother, and felt a little dusty. I called her and listened to the Skype tone as I thought about coffee, and work, and writing, and all of the things that sat before me that day. She answered, and within seconds knew that everything was not well. You get to know the inflections in your own mother’s voice when they are often the only markers of mood. Being as far away as I have been for as long as I have been, your senses become mostly dormant when pointed towards home. I can only hear my mother. Her tone of voice tells me so much.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, taking a moment to pause and quickly scan over her feelings, “we, eh, we had to take Mollie to the vet today and have her, eh…and have her put down.”

I heard how difficult the last few words were for her. I almost cried at the sound of her almost crying, and at the thought that she had been crying but thought it necessary not to for my sake. I wasn’t really affected by the dog. It didn’t matter much to me anymore. She was old, and it was best for everyone. But I was sad for my mother. She let go of something a little sooner than she hoped to.

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We got that dog when I was eleven years old, one year after my father died. I think mum felt that she needed to have something around. She told me later that she thought about a cat, but we’d had one of those when dad was around. And a cat isn’t the same as a dog. There’s something inherently sad about a cat. So one day we went to Stirling and picked out Mollie, a tiny Cocker Spaniel puppy out of a chaotic, yelping litter of seven.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the dog represented my father, or that my mother sought to preserve his memory through canine affection, but there was something in that dog that helped all of us. For a little while it distracted us. Suddenly there was something exciting, something newborn and fragile to focus our attention on. In a house that spent a year filled with a sense of loss and expiration it was so refreshing to have this little black and white ball of fluff and ears bouncing around, so upbeat, innocent and tangible. But after the excitement died off it was a companion to my mother. She had someone to run with, something to cuddle into, a fourth mouth to feed. The dog filled a void that lay desperately open for the year after my father’s death.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and the dog is now in a box in the back garden, buried by my mother and my step-father. Le temps détruit tout. Did she let go of something today? I don’t think so. I don’t see there being some kind of emotional burden of grief attached to the poor animal anymore. It shed that a long time ago. Mollie’s roll changed over the years, and yesterday she was just a dog.

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Ta’ra Mollie.

After coming off the phone to my mother I looked on the Guardian’s website, as I do somewhat compulsively everyday. Now, I’ve managed to trim a lot of the fat from my lifestyle over the last few years. Torturous levels of self-discipline and a panting notion of replete failure nipping at my coattails keeps me focused on my goals and working as hard as I possibly can every single day. But, I am prone to daily slip ups. And these slip-ups typically appear in the form of football (soccer) journalism. I don’t even watch the beautiful game anymore. I just like the new breed of football journalists. I take a sickly pleasure in reading suppressed authors douse an often tedious sport with effervescent language and stuff it with philosophical undertones far beyond the contemplative abilities of the “artists” that craft it on the field. I just like imagining their smiles as they write. Reading about football is my equivalent of reality TV. My harmless little vice.

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And today, if you’re someone that knows anything at all about football, you will have heard that Sir Alex Ferguson, the purple-nosed, knighted Scottish manager of Manchester United, retired from football after 56 years in the game, with 27 of those spent at the helm of United. He took Manchester United from being a rusting, once-great side scrambling in a deep rut, to being one of the richest, most successful and consistent teams in the world.

I’m not going to get into the psychology of the man, the controversies he courted, or even try to dwell too much more on belting out a verse upon verse of praise to the tremendous weight his legacy is sure to wield over the game. There are many more talented writers than I doing those very things at this very moment, and my words would ultimately contribute very little (mostly because I would be merely paraphrasing the writers I wish I didn’t read). But I find it hard to imagine life as a football fan without him.

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Since before I was even born, Sir Alex Ferguson was in complete control of my football club. The only team I have ever watched have only ever had one person standing at the touchline berating the players and referees. He’s the craggy faced ogre that flashed flaccid pieces of mangled chewing gum as warning signs between exasperate sighs to the journalists that asked him “stupid bloody questions”. He swept the old boys out and nudged the new ones in with the butt of his broom. But most importantly, he didn’t succumb to the modern trappings of football management, like player egos, result-based success, reactionary fan pressure, or trigger happy billionaire owners, often because he was smart enough to negotiate his way around them, but occasionally because such things simply did not apply to him. There were football managers, and then there was Ferguson. He was the last of the old school, and the world will never see another one like him.

But how does that relate to the dog? I’m not sure that it does. It seemed profound in the moment I declared it significant, and, despite all the sadness, I was tingled by a precisely serendipitous feeling. Perhaps it’s that relief. I have finally buried something I have been subconsciously reappropriating for years. Football once defined me. As a child I was a footballer, and I was a Manchester United supporter. But today I’m nothing more than someone that finds an incubated feeling of removal in reading about a team I once loved. Every day I make the decision to read something innocuous about Wayne Rooney’s goal drought, or Moaninho’s future over becoming versed in US politics, or the escalating situation in the Middle-East. I should no longer seek an escape route from the news, but a feeling of empowerment through knowledge.

Like the dog, maybe we’ve all served each other well, and can pleasantly move on with our lives. Thanks for everything. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go, and let the past be just that.

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WHERE THE WIND BLOWS – Part One

I have tried to post this story once before, but I never made it to the end of it. This time however I would like to utilize this new found enthusiasm for blogging and sharing and post it properly. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. It’s weird.

Courtesy of Quint Magazine, Dubai.

We’d walked for hours, watchin’ those old shadows of ours get smaller and fatter, then longer and thinner. As the sun became a moon, that hot turned to cold, but that wind in our face never stopped. It was sweepin’ the years off us and blowin’ them to whoever was walkin’ behind us.

*

“So?” said the old boy.

We both looked at each other, Sergio and me. Sergio looked a little scared. I think I probably did too. It was like he was sayin’ ‘fuck this’ with them eyes. What with what we’d done and where we’d been, you couldn’t blame either of us for havin’ a jitter or two.

“Eh,” I said, as I took off my hat and wiped my brow, “I don’t know exactly why we’re here. We were just told to come find you.”

“And who told you to do that?” said the old boy. His voice was like hot cracked asphalt.

We looked at each other again, Sergio and me. Sergio shook his head a little. He still looked scared. I could see those hands of his thinkin’ about that gun of mine. The old boy had his back turned. He was wearin’ an old denim jacket and sittin’ on a log. His long ponytail was flickin’ a little in the wind, like it was swottin’ flies or somethin’.

“Who told you to do that?” he said again.

“God” I said.

The old guy let out a little laugh.

“God told you did he? And what did God have to say exactly?”

“He said you would tell us where we need to get.” said Sergio. He’d puffed his chest out a bit and was standin’ tall. He didn’t look so scared no more.

“And?”

“And that was it.”

The old boy pushed himself up from the log. I saw some bugs go scuttlin’ off into the sand. He stood pretty tall himself. His shadow cut a long line between us. His head covered up the orange sun, givin’ this beam of light around him. I stepped back a step. Sergio just stood.

He turned around and stepped over the log. What with the sun bein’ where it was, we couldn’t see his face real clear. His features were like vague descriptions. Much like the shadows we was all draggin’ along. As he walked closer he came into view. He was wearin’ sunglasses. His face had hundreds of deep wrinkles what looked like perfect scars, all goin’ where they was spose to.

He stopped about ten feet from us. The two of us straightened up a bit more. I imagined myself drawin’ my gun. I imagined him drawin’ his too. But I saw him doin’ it faster and me gettin’ blown away. Call me defeatist, but that’s what I saw. He was like one of them gun slingers you see in the movies. The sort of old boy that shot young boys on the way to a shoot out.

He smiled at us. Big old toothy thing. Teeth like smoker’s fingernails.

“Did you kill a man on your way here?” he said.

We looked at each other again. Sergio’s eye’s had gone a bit soft.

“Yeah,” I said, “as instructed.”

“Good” he said.

We all stood there, quiet as mice. Dead mice.

“Now tell me, what’d he look like this man you killed?”

I thought back. I didn’t really have a clear picture. There’s certain things you remember about killin’ someone. I remember how he’d smiled. I remember how the gun kicked. I remember smellin’ that burnt gunpowder. Things went by in a sorta blur. Like it weren’t really me doin’ it. Thinkin’ back on it, stood there like we all were, I felt like I was lookin’ at photographs of the whole thing, with spaces in between where somethin’ important happened. I guess a shrink would call that selective memory, cause there weren’t a drop of blood on those pictures.

“He was a Mexican,” said Sergio, all calm.

“Uh huh” said the old boy.

“He was wearin’ a suit. Funeral suit.”

“Uh huh. Anythin’ else?”

I went back through those photographs in my head, tryin’ to see if I’d missed one with somethin’ important on it. But they was all skimmin’ past me. I was tryin’ not to think about my hand shakin’ around where my gun was.

“He had a tattoo across his throat” said Sergio. “It said ‘Donde el viento sopla’.”

“Yup, that’s him alright,” said the old boy. “Donde el viento…what was it again?”

“Sopla. It means ‘Where the wind blows’.” I said, looking at my feet.

The old boy grinned and nodded slowly. He spat again. It was like the old baseball players used to, in a long line, like nasty coffee.

“Where the wind blows. I like that.”

Silence again. We just stood, eyin’ each other up.

“So where does the wind blow then?” he asked, raisin’ an eyebrow. His wrinkles all crushed up together, makin’ deep dark lines on his brow.

“Towards you” said Sergio.

The old boy laughed silently. He turned his head back to the sun. It was almost gone behind the mountains. His ponytail hung from under his hat, restin’ still on his back.

“Well,” he said, turnin’ back to us, “not for much longer, thankfully.”

**

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Your Dash

What’s your dash going to tell people about you?
What?
Your dash. What’ll it say?
I don’t get it.
On your tombstone. Your dash.
I still don’t know what you mean.

Okay, so your stone will read Jim Collins, 1980 eh…
Four.
Right, of course. I knew that. 1984 to….whenever.
Okay.
See that dash in between the day you’re born and the day you die? That’s your dash.
Ah, okay.

So?
So what?
What’s it going to say?
Nothing. It’s a dash.
No, you’re thinking too literally.
It’s a weird question, I don’t really know how to answer it.

I know what mine will say.
What will yours say?
“Here lies a man that cheated the hand that God gave him.”
I like that.
So what about yours?
I’m not sure. I’ve never thought much about death.

The mark of a man is how he treads that dash. Remember that.
I will.
Because it isn’t long. It’s only about this long.
Well, it’s measured in years, not distance.
You really think that?
I’m not sure.

Son, you live it like you’d be happy to die.
Like ‘each day is your last’, kind of thing?
Not quite. More like, ‘In death, your unfinished business will never be held against you.’
Okay, how about this? ‘John Collins. 1984 – whenever. Died happy.’
Yeah, I like that.
Thanks dad. So why are you telling me this?

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With Love – Prequel – Part Three

I took Esmeralda downstairs. She’d stopped pulling and tugging and was just walking with me, sort of limp. She was still crying and whimpering to herself in Spanish. I tried to ignore her. I tried not to think about what Jolene was doing to her father. I tried to stay cold.

“I need two things from you: I need money and booze” I said as we walked downstairs.

“I don’t know where the money is” she pleaded.

“Bullshit” I said, tightening my grip around her arm. I pushed the gun into her side. I felt her whole body shake and tighten up. “Please,” I looked into her eyes, “Please tell me where the fucking money is.”

“Honestly, I don’t know!”

I dug the gun in a little deeper. I knew she didn’t know though. Just looking at her and that whole situation, I knew that she wouldn’t die for that fat old bastard upstairs.

“I don’t know! He doesn’t trust me!”

She started crying again. I pulled the gun out of her side. She went limp and put her head in her hands. I wanted to console her.

“Come on” I said, walking downstairs towards the kitchen. She sniffed and walked after me. I wanted to just let her go.

I walked into the kitchen and turned the light on. The whole room lit up so bright. The strip lighting that stretched across the ceiling was sterilizing. I could feel it scrubbing my skin clean.

“Jesus! Have you got some candles or something? This light is horrible.”

“What?” she said, looking at me, still terrified.

“Candles, a lamp with a nice shade, anything, Jesus, just do something about this light.”

She went to a drawer and started rummaging around. As I looked around the kitchen and let the light sink into my eyes, I looked at her looking through the drawer. It occurred to me that she could be looking for a gun. I mean, it wasn’t likely, but I wasn’t about to get myself shot. Not under this light. I held my gun up and pointed it at the back of her head. I picked my spot just as her neck faded into her skull. I watched the little marker on the end of the barrel tremble. I wrapped my finger around the trigger. I could feel my heart thumping. I could hear the footsteps of that coke running its final lap around my body.

She turned around holding two candles and a lighter. She shrieked and dropped them onto the floor. I jumped a little but dropped the gun to my side. I breathed out slowly. I felt like an asshole.

“I’m sorry. I’m…I’m sorry. I just thought maybe you were going for a gun or something.”

She was crying again. Her make-up was all but gone. She bent down to pick up the candles, watching me all the way down.

“I’m sorry. Honestly. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

As soon as I heard myself say that, I wondered what the fuck I was doing. It became obvious to me that I wasn’t cut out for this.

“It’s okay” she said. But I knew it wasn’t.

She lit the candles and I turned out the lights from above. The kitchen looked much better. There were two warm glows coming from each side of the worktop, reaching out to each corner. I felt my heart rate slow a little. She stood looking at me, sniffing, shuffling from side to side.

“Sit down, please.” I said, wiping my nose, avoiding her eyes. I couldn’t look at them.

“Where?”

“Just, I don’t know, one of those seats. Just sit down will you? Please.”

She sat down quickly. She kept staring at the gun and I. I moved the gun behind my leg.

We sat quietly for a minute, thawing in candlelight. She was probably thinking of how to save herself. She couldn’t know that I was thinking the same thing.

“Why are you here?” she asked after a minute or so.

I was just about to say that I didn’t know when I heard Jolene shout something at her daddy through the ceiling. We both looked up. She sounded really angry, but completely in control. I looked back at her step-mother. Neither of us said anything. We both knew that this had nothing to do with us. It was just the way things had to be. We were like the kids in the nasty break-up.

I sat down opposite her, sitting the gun on the worktop. I ran my hands through my hair and back down my face. I looked around the room again.

“Do you have anything to drink?” I asked her, suddenly remembering why we were in the kitchen.

“We have wine and tequila” she said, wiping her nose, looking back at the gun.

“Tequila, please.” I sat my head in my hands and exhaled. “It’s been that kind of night.”

She nodded, and started to cry again.

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Radio Robert

I got to mom’s place at six thirty. I said I’d be there six sharp. She’d called me at work. I hesitated before answering. We hadn’t spoken in a while. She was waiting at the window when I pulled into the driveway. She smiled when she saw the car. I saw her disappear in the rear view mirror. She opened the front door as I got out of the car.

“Hi Robert!” she said. She looked like she’d been crying. Her eyes were a bit swollen. Mine were too. But I was just tired. But I knew she’d been crying. Her smile was too big.

“Hi Mom” I said, as she gave me a hug. She held me really tight for a second or two. I felt her fingers dig into my shoulder. I felt her breath on my neck. She’d definitely been crying.

“Come in, it’s cold out! How have you been?”

I just smiled and walked in after her. The house was really warm. I took off my scarf and my jacket. I looked for the coat rack that normally sat next to the front door. It wasn’t there. I looked up at the hallway. Things were different. She’d changed a couple of the pictures and put some flowers on the sideboard. I just held my jacket a little tighter.

I followed her to the living room. Her old leather suitcase was lying open on the floor. There were photos scattered about the floor. I saw my family staring up at me. All different places at different times, all on the floor at that moment. I’d seen most of those photographs before. There were some I hadn’t seen, some I vaguely remembered, and some I could describe to you precisely from memory. I stopped at the door. I pulled my jacket in a little closer. I looked at mom. She looked older than last time. Her red eyes had started to swell with tears again. She was still smiling. It looked real.

“I’ve just been going through this old suitcase. Looking at some old things, you know.”

I nodded. I looked at each of the pictures. I saw one of me with my brother. We were both wearing hockey jerseys. I was holding my coat. We were in the countryside somewhere. We looked cold, but happy.

“I found this one,” she said, picking up a picture from the sofa and handing it to me. She looked at it again before she let me hold it. I knew exactly which picture it was from the colors. It was one of my father and I. We were lying next one another in exactly the same position. We were both leaning on our hands, reading a book, together. I had looked at this picture hundreds of times. But not for years. I could never tell if he was lying like me or I was lying like him. The picture was slightly out of focus.

I looked at the picture. I clutched it tightly in my hands to stop them from shaking a little. I tilted it under the light. I saw little fingerprints on the gloss. I imagined that they were my fingerprints from the last time I held that photo.

“Yeah, I remember this one.”

That was all I could say.

We both looked at it in my hands. I felt mom get in closer to me. She put her arm around my shoulder. She squeezed it tight again. I squeezed the coat under my arm.

“Is this why you called me?” I asked her, not looking away from the little boy and his father.  I could feel the other eyes in the other pictures looking at me from the floor. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers across the photo. I opened my eyes and realized I’d smudged the fingerprints. I felt that old lump in my throat build. I swallowed hard. I handed the picture back to mom.

“Mom? Is this why you called? To do this?” I asked.

She looked at the picture again, taking her hand from my shoulder and holding the picture in both hands.

“No.” She sniffed. She smiled again. “I found something else.”

She bent down and picked up a cassette tape. She handed it to me. I felt the old lump rise up again as I read the rough handwriting on the label.

“Radio Robert” I said, holding it in my hand.

I started to cry for the first time in ten years.

*

Mom poured me a glass of wine and sat down on the couch. I reached behind the TV and plugged the cassette player in. I hadn’t seen the cassette player in years. I didn’t know she’d kept it.

“Do you remember ‘Radio Robert’?” she asked.

“Yeah. Vaguely.”

“It was really funny. You used to,” she sniffed back some tears and washed them down with some wine, “you used to talk for hours. Into that tape recorder. You would interview me, your brother, your father.”

I didn’t say anything. I opened the tape deck and pushed the cassette in. It was already wound back to the start.

I hadn’t heard his voice for twelve years. I told mom a while back that I couldn’t remember what he sounded like. It was one of the only times we’d spoken about him. We both kind of pushed it all down. He died when I was ten and I couldn’t remember anything from that time. I had patchy memories from before then. I remembered him coming home from work in his uniform. I remembered him playing soccer with my brother and I. I remembered him taking us on camping trips. But I couldn’t remember those two years when we all cried. After the tears dried up he sort of disappeared. Never from memory. Just from conversation. But I’d told mom I wished I could hear him speak again. I always wondered how it would make me feel.

“Come and sit here with me” said mom. I looked at her. She cleared a space on the sofa. She had picked up the photographs and sat them on her lap.

I smiled. I pressed play. I picked up my coat and stood up. I walked over to her. I pulled my coat into my chest. I sat down carefully. I looked around at the living room. I looked at the photos in her lap. So much had changed. It didn’t look like the same room.

“Hi this is Robert here on Radio Robert! Thank you for listening!” I heard this child say. If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have known. “On today’s show we have music from my favorite band in the whole wide world, Hanson.”

We both laughed. I shook my head.

“Jesus” I said, laughing again.

“And we will have an exclusive interview with my favorite dad in the whole wide world, dad!”

I bit down on my lip and pinched the bridge of my nose. I felt mom’s hand come across my back and squeeze at my shoulder. I squeezed my jacket into my chest.

We both sat and listened to ‘Mmmbop” in silence.  I drank my whole glass of wine in three minutes. I felt myself getting short of breath as the song came closer to ending. Mom kept squeezing my shoulder. I picked up the photograph we’d looked at before. I looked at my father and I, lying there, side by side.

“Okay, that was Mmmbop by the best band in the whole wide world! Now we’ve got dad in the studio! Hi dad!”

“Hello Robert. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

I started crying again. At that moment I remembered him so clearly. I can’t really describe what it felt like. It was like having a thousand memories gush into your head at once. I felt them come in and grow bigger and bigger and turn into water and come out of my eyes. I looked up at mom. She was smiling and looking at the tape player.

“Thanks for coming in dad! How are you today?” the little boy asked.

“I’m fantastic Robert. I’m very happy to be here on the radio with you!” said the little boy’s father.

“Did you enjoy the song by Hanson?” he asked.

“Of course! I think they’re great. They’re not really my sort of thing though Robert. You know that I like classical music.”

I laughed again. I remembered what the little boy said next.

“Ugh! Your music is so boring dad! I hate violins!”

“Ahhh son, one day you’ll understand.”

“No way! I’m going to listen to Hanson forever!”

I laughed and cried. I had been listening to Mendelssohn in the car on the way here. I looked at mom. We were both crying and laughing, together. I threw my coat onto the other sofa and got comfortable. I put my arm around her and leaned into her shoulder, listening to Radio Robert.

*

Mom and I listened to Radio Robert twice that day. I heard Mmmbop four times. We sat and listened in silence the first time. I asked her if she minded listening to it again. She said she’d love to. We both sat on the floor and looked through the photographs together. She made us coffee. I picked out five photographs to take away with me. I left the photograph of dad I lying next to one another. Before I left I held the photo in my hands again. Taking in every detail and letting the memories soak back in. Before I handed it back to my mom, I looked at it under the light. There were big fingerprints on the photograph.

“You’ll come back again soon won’t you Robert?” asked mom. Her eyes had dried but they were still a little red. I could see the lines in her face from all the smiling we’d done. I could feel mine as well. They were like the memories.

“Of course. Michelle and I will come round this weekend. For dinner.”

“I’d love that.”

We looked at each other. We smiled and started to cry. I stepped in and gave her a big hug. I felt our hands dig into one another. I imagined I could feel the little fingerprints I’d left on her shoulder years ago.

I sat in the car and waved to her as I drove away. She stood out on the porch watching the car. I watched her in the rear view mirror, getting smaller and smaller. I realized I left my coat. I smiled and pushed Mendelssohn back into the CD player. Violins had never sounded so beautiful, and tears had never felt so wet.

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Dragonfly

There’s a dragonfly that lives in my room
It lives in my room
She lives in my room
There isn’t much space
In my room.
I wanted to catch her
in a box
and put her outside,
to flirt with corners and twist in the wind
There are lots of corners
Lots of space
Out of my room.
But my friend told me that she likes to eat bugs
Mosquitoes, he says
That have eaten my blood
That made me smile
So I left her there
I put on the fan
To give her some wind
As she sat high up the wall
Rolling her back
Making love to the corner.
There’s a dragonfly that lives in my room
I’ve seen “better” dragonflies
From the window of my room
Stripped in the sun
A forever flicker
A finger to the gales.
Looking in
and moving on,
but she came in
Chasing a meal
Or surrendering to thought
about the four corners to flirt
and the space she could make
her own.
I open my window when I go out
I open it wide
With the bug net drawn
Her body in,
Her eyes out
when I come back
she’s still there
Moving from wall
to wall
Like a card in spokes
Eating the bugs
Drinking my blood
Basking in the strip light
As if it were real.
There’s a dragonfly that lives in my room
I thought it was cruel
To keep her in my room
But I live in my room
The corners are small
The light too bright
Too cold for the fan
But it’s all for her.
Because she eats the bugs
That drink my blood.
Her wings fill the gaps
That her voice used to give.
Keeping my company
In my room.
There was a dragonfly that lived in my room
She fell from the wall
When the bugs were all gone
When I was out of my room
She tried to escape
The bug net stopped.
Her great escape.
I put her in a box
Drew the bug net back
And threw her outside
Her blood on my hands
My blood on my hands.
There was a dragonfly that lived in my room.
But now there’s just me
in my room.

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6. Airplane – Part Three

The fast, warm flow of blood streamed through her heart to her head. She could feel it building up in her sinuses and start to give her that familiar, drawling headache. Her fingertips started to tingle as the blood retreated from them. Her arms began to numb, like they were being wrapped in a protective film. Panic shot through the walls of her lungs and brought air in and out at twice the normal frequency. She could taste the thick copper blood in the back of her throat as it moved its way to her nose.

The plane started its big wide turn onto the runway.

The perfect plastic airhostess that denied Carina a drink sat about twenty feet away. Carina watched as the woman strapped herself in tight and gently padded her perfect Barbie doll hair with her dainty synthetic hand. Carina reached up and touched her own hair. Her natural black curls had been crumpled by nervous fingers all day, matting and tangling it. The sweat had glued long strands of her bangs onto her forehead. The woman’s make-up sat on her plastic face comfortably. The chilled sweat made Carina’s make-up slouch. Everything but Carina seemed perfectly at ease.

She looked back to Jen sleeping soundly on her right. Her headphones and her eyelids blocked her off from the world. At that moment, Carina wished that she was like Jen. Calm, comfortable, composed. But she wasn’t. And she wouldn’t be. At least not until the plane was discharged of flight, and her of wake. Or until the plane had stopped burning, and her heart pounding. Images of a smoldering plane wreck surged through her brain. Her father watching the news, trying to tell himself that her plane arrived safely. That Carina was in a hotel somewhere, sleeping off the jetlag with a smile on her face. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to people like me, he’d think. Panic and fear would recapture the family, but not Carina. She could finally break free from it all and rest.

The wheels started to turn and the airplane made its way down the runway.

Carina tried to disappear into her seat. Everything in her body throbbed at irregular intervals. She could feel a bubble forming, moving slowly from her stomach, swelling and pulsing its way towards her head. Her trembling, clammy hands let the magazine slide onto the floor.

The airplane started to pick up speed.

She started trying to grab at the seat buckle, but it was slipping from her hands, like an eel. A layer of grimy sweat had started to form on the smooth metal buckle. Her fingers couldn’t get a grip. She felt hands wrap around her neck and tighten like a vice, squeezing the bubble. The first drop of thick claret blood rolled from her nose. Carina’s elbow rubbed against Jen’s arm, causing her to stir. The cold sweat warmed on her burning skin.

The airplane hit maximum speed.

Carina was sucked back deeper into her chair. The bubble in her head made the pressure unbearable. Her fingers finally locked around the buckle and hauled it open. The hot blood rolled down the cleft on her upper lip and into her mouth. As Carina parted the belt buckle, her elbow hit Jen’s and her eyes opened. As Jen turned, she saw the drip of blood from Carina’s nose land on her white blouse, and spread.

“Carina?” she said, “What are you,” she started, stopping at the sight of the blood dripping onto Carina’s white blouse. “Fucking hell, Carina! Are you okay?”

Carina pushed herself from the seat and stood, swaying with the momentum of the speeding plane. She steadied herself and slid into the aisle. The blood flowed into her mouth as it gasped for air. She put a hand over her face and  raced down the aisle towards the bathroom. The blood filled her hands and seeped through the gaps in her fingers. She could feel every eye watching her. Their expressions shifted from calm, subdued fear to confused panic as they saw her run past. Her eyes focused only on the bathroom.

The airplane leant back and raised its front wheels from the ground.

At this moment, Carina’s free hand grabbed the handle, stopping her from being flung onto the floor. The door swung open and her heart stopped. The bright searing light burst from the bathroom, exposing the shiny plastic coating of the tiny room. Her breathing came like jolts to her lungs and screams from her mouth. She was frozen still but for the gasps in her chest.

“Mam! Excuse me mam! PLEASE return to your seat!” shouted the airhostess.

Carina heard only a warm, muffled bass, like she was submerged in oil. She swung her head around towards the voice and saw all of those anxious eyes peering back at her. The woman’s face turned from a look of perfect plastic Hollywood anger, to a look of genuine shock. That dainty plastic hand came over her gaping mouth. Carina looked down at her blouse and saw that it was soaked in her own red-brown blood.

The rear wheels of the plane lifted from the asphalt and their gradient started to rapidly increase.

Carina was thrown into the bathroom and she slammed the door shut behind her. She flung herself onto the toilet of the tiny, bright room. She squeezed her eyes shut and rested her head against the cold surface of the sink.  For a moment, everything became calm and dark. The cold spread across her cheek, cooling her down and taming her breathing. She could feel the blood drain from her head and flow back to her limbs, giving feeling and relief to her whole body. Her head cleared and all of her thoughts left behind on the ground.

The confusion and panic from the cabin seeped through the cracks in the door. The word “terrorism” hung on everybody’s lips, scared to let go and voice itself as genuine concern. The airhostesses could be heard desperately trying to calm everyone down. Carina breathed long, slow breaths. She felt the thick dense air move into her bruised lungs and sooth their walls. Everything remained dark and the sounds of panic were blunted by the withdrawal from agony.

“Hey! Open up! You can’t be in here! Open up!” someone shouted and banged from the other side of the door.

Carina’s eyes opened and took everything in. The air suddenly rushed from her soothed lungs and every pore burst with a cold, sticky sweat. She could feel the simmering blood start to churn in her head and leak from her nose, thicker and faster than before. Her eyes shot around the tiny room, taking in every detail and wincing at thought of it all. The beaming white plastic walls started to draw in on her and wrap around tight. She pulled her head from the sink and started to gasp and sob silently. Pulling her knees to her chest and hunching into a ball, she rested her welling eyes onto her knees and started to pray.

“Please god, make me a big strong grown up,” she muttered, sniffing back her tears and blood to her constricting throat. Her hands crunched at her hair and pressed onto her skull, trying to squeeze every thought of death from her head and bring her to peace. She quietly sobbed to herself as she sat trapped in her own perfect plastic coffin.

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6. Airplane – Part Two

Carina had her first panic attack at her mother’s funeral fifteen years previously. It had been a traditional open casket, Roman Catholic funeral. Carina never wanted to go, but her father insisted that she be there. They both knew even then that her father needed to have her there. His wife’s sudden death had shaken his world with so much force that nothing remained unchanged. He saw everything around him in a different, darker light. He had locked himself in his bedroom upon hearing of her death and it took the tearful pleading of his children and his sister-in-law to haul him from his hiding place some thirty-six hours later. For the next week, he sat looking from his bedroom window at the peaceful suburban street on which they lived. The same image they woke up together to for eight years only looked vaguely familiar to him. It was like a forgotten photograph of a forgotten friend. He sought his solace in silence and isolation, as if none of anything happening outside of his room involved him. He joined his wife in being a ghost in their home. He spoke only single words to only his children and waved off all other attempts at communication. Funeral arrangements, death certificates, will consultation and the duty of taking care of Carina and her brother were all left to his sister-in-law and her family. All he  had to do was turn up to the funeral and wear his brave mask for the sake of his distant children.

After begging not to go to the funeral, Carina’s wishes were overruled by her father’s simple, familiar , “No.” He had led her and her brother into the church and slowly along the long burgundy carpet towards the coffin. Carina stood with her hand on the side of the wooden box and peered in on her tip toes. Her mother looked at peace but Carina knew that was a lie. The pain and confusion her mother must have felt moments before her death were suppressed in her calm expression. Her paper thin eyelids were shaded a greenish-blue, gently closed, as if she were smelling fresh flowers. Her hair had been perfectly made up to resemble a family portrait from six years before, giving her a dated, expired look. The blood had receded from her lips and an unnatural deep scarlet lip-stick had penned the line of where her smile used to sit. The signs of aging her mother fought desperately to hold off were now on show for everyone to see. The wrinkles from her eyes were now deepening lines eroded onto her skin. The line where her loosening skin ended and her perfect, sprayed hair started was graying over, as if it had been back combed with ash. Her hands held the loose skin that rose like waves over her once pulsing veins. Her expression was one of someone bathing in the sun, deep in an afternoon nap. The agony of grief was worn on everyone’s faces except hers.

As Carina took all of this in and tried to stop herself from imaging her mom continue to quickly age in a box, she felt the air rush from every pore on her body. Her heart started to pound at an irregular beat and the moisture from her mouth and throat dried like a desert well. Her breaths were rapid and short. Carina felt like Max, their cocker-spaniel, locked in the car during summer, panicking, feeling like she’d been left forever and that each breath was one closer to her last. She felt her hand clutch around the oak wall of the coffin against her will. Her grip was so tight that the tremble from her hands moved all across her body. All she wanted to do was run as far away from this place as she could and never come back, but every fiber of her body routed her to the very spot she stood.

She felt her father’s hand come down on her shoulder.

“She looks so peaceful,” he said as his grip tightened around his daughter’s boned shoulder. Carina could feel the pressure from his hand, but no pain. She could feel it tighten more before it started to tremble. “We’re going to be okay angel, I promise” he whispered into his daughter’s ear. She felt a soft tear in her hair as her father kissed her head and sniffed, trying in vain to pull the emotions back into his body and hold them in until he was alone. The thumping in her chest grew stronger as her mouth got drier and her breathing faster. She felt like she was having a heart attack. She thought that maybe if she died at this moment, maybe they would put her in the coffin with her mother and they could rest, eternally in one another’s arms.

“Are you okay Carina?” he father asked, noticing how still and unresponsive his daughter was. “Carina? Are you okay darling?”

She stood still, routed to the spot at her mother’s side, her back turned to her father. Her breathing had all but stopped but for rapid, silent pants and the pressure in her chest made it feel like her heart would explode at any moment. Her father grabbed her other shoulder and gently turned his daughter around to face him.

“Jesus Christ, Carina! Alice? Alice!? Can you bring some tissues please? Alice!! Tissues, please!” he shouted to his sister-in-law. Carina’s eyes were damp and swollen and a river of blood ran from her nose, down either side of her dried throat and into her dress. The moisture of the blood gave her black dress a darkened gleam. Her breathing stopped and a single tear rolled down her cheeks to the tip of her chin, mixing with the blood from her nose.

Her aunt Alice quickly led Carina out by the hand to the entrance area of the church, leaving her father sobbing next to the casket with Jordan. Most people had made their way inside the church and assumed their seats, so they had the area to themselves. Carina sat on a folding chair, her legs hanging limply a few inches from the cold concrete floor. She gazed down at her hands and saw the streaks of dried blood along the edges of her fingers, more orange than red. Alice was hunched down in front of Carina, trying to tempt her to make eye contact.

“Sweety, your mom is in a better place now,” she started, “she’s with god and he’s going to take care of her. So don’t you worry. She’ll always be with us in our hearts and,” she paused as she sniffed back her emotions, “Sorry darling,” she said, gently dabbing her eyes to keep the tears from pulling her make-up down her cheeks. “We’re all having a hard time, but it’ll get better. Your dad is having a tough time with everything right now, so what we need you to do is to be is a big strong grown up. Can you do that?”

Carina nodded, still looking at her bloody hands.

“Good girl. Your dad is going to need you to help around the house, Jordan needs someone to help him with his homework and you, well, don’t tell anyone I said this but,” she leant in to her, “you’re the strongest one of us all and we need you to be strong for us. Okay?”

Carina nodded again.

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