One of the things I want to use this blog for is to give me a useful, mildly discipline-encouraging destination for the fiction that I want to get back into writing. But I haven’t done any yet, I’m just going to dump something old up here as a sort of marker.
I wrote this in 2002, for a creative writing module at university. I quite liked it at the time, and I still mostly like it, though – as I generally find with prose I wrote when I was much younger – it also makes me cringe.
In the spirit of transparency, however, I won’t touch it. Maybe I’ll pop a revised version on here one day.
I look up; there’s a corrugated awning over the platform, covered with specks of moss and twigs that I can only just make out through the translucent plastic. Sparrows patter against it, then flutter away into the trees across the track, then, after a while, flutter back.
“What time’s the train, again?” he says.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Ten o’ clock. Five past. Look at the board.” I watch him go. He walks half way to the wall where the board is mounted, then stops and comes back. He looks at his watch.
“It’s quarter-to now,” he says. “Fifteen minutes to decide.”
A breeze passes through the station, ruffling his hair. He plunges his hands into the pockets of his mangy suede jacket. I can remember when he bought the jacket, at Marie Curie, or Oxfam. Or maybe I bought it, and gave it to him – it was on the hook by my front door for a while. I was glad to get rid of it. I can’t remember who bought the jacket; only choosing it; rubbing the thick musty suede between my finger and thumb.
“Where are you staying, again?” he asks.
“I don’t know.”
“On her floor, do you think?”
“She’ll let me share the bed.”
“A single bed? I thought you hated that. I thought you said you couldn’t sleep.”
“I’ll have to put up with it,” I say. “And anyway, Jacquie and I share a single bed.”
He sits down on the cold concrete and crosses his legs. He doesn’t speak for over a minute, and I wonder whether I will ever hear him speak again. Of course I will. I try to remember his last word to me. ‘Bed’?, ‘Her’?, ‘Sleep’? The yellow digits on the clock flap forward.
“What’ll I tell Jacquie?” he says.
“Whatever you want.”
“She always knew you’d do this, sooner or later.”
Something is bearing down on me – misgivings, remorse, I don’t know. I feel like I’m being crushed; that my ribs are going to snap. Soon I’ll be in London, surrounded by high buildings, looking up at a strip of white sky. I’ll work in a sandwich shop, and get drunk with her when I can, and wake up parched and dejected. But when I step off the train today and see her standing on the platform with a blue scarf wrapped around her neck and her hair heaped upon the blue scarf, it’ll be like drinking water when faint with thirst, and I’ll feel my head fizzing like a sparkler on bonfire night.
I have to sit down.
“My chest is sore.” I rub my chest with the palm of my hand.
Through the bare trees across the track I can just make out the yellow and blue of the Jobcentre, and I feel a tiny, habitual satisfaction because it’s Saturday of the second week – only two days till I next sign on. Till I would have been signing on. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this: I won’t tramp up Berwick high street at nine in the morning any more, chatting with my queue friends. Nor will I bomb down Ravensdowne hill on my bike at seven o’ clock to play pool at the Salmon. I pinch my brow. Jacquie will lie on the couch and watch TV, not moving, like she did when her mother moved out. I look across at him.
“Is that my jacket?”
I can tell he is affronted. “I don’t know,” he says. “Do you want it back or something?”
“No! For fuck’s sake! I was just asking.”
“It’s mine. You picked it, I bought it. You had a leather one.”
“Okay fine, I was just asking.” I sigh heavily, and run my hands through my hair and down the back of my head. The seconds flap onwards. I feel like my torso is in a vice.
So I stand up.
“Fuck it. Let’s go.”
“The White Horse.”
He laughs. The grip on my chest slackens.
I have £70 in my wallet that I was going to spend on the ticket. I had saved up. I sign on this Monday. I’ll buy Jacquie a box of chocolates from the newsagent, and spend the rest in The White Horse tonight, The Salmon tomorrow, and in the Co-op on Sunday; on a bumper bacon and egg-mayonnaise bloomer, so big that I have to eat it in two goes.
I once woke up with my head against an aeroplane window, looking out over Hong Kong, a hostess’s voice murmuring over the intercom. It was midnight, and against the black landscape Hong Kong glittered with colour; pink, blue, orange, green, red, like spilled fairylights, in stacks and swirls, over high billboards, around tall buildings, and in white clusters across the ground. Still bleary, I took the city for a firework display, and expected the lights to scatter and fade.
When they clung to the darkness I felt elation – awe. I could barely breathe. I pressed my face against the glass and shut out everything else until the moment we landed, and as I held my mother’s hand through the arrival hall I framed this half-dream, as if sewing it into fabric.