Friday, April 22, 2016

Short story: Horses

This story was written for performance at 'Punk Tales and Ales', a punk-themed storytelling event at the Clifftown Theatre, Southend, April 2016.

She always said it was just temporary, just until Jody got back on her feet. She wasn't supposed to do it, but how could you turn someone away like that?

When Jody knocked on Helen's door that evening, she looked worn and wrung out, sad and sour. Lawrence had huffed and puffed, flapping the paper and eyeing Jody over the top of the business pages. Helen had fussed and made tea, arranged biscuits on a plate, got the expensive blankets that were a wedding present out of the airing cupboard and folded them neatly on the guest bed.

You won't tell anyone at school, will you? Jody had said when Lawrence was upstairs, having a bath. Helen anxiously shut the curtains just in case.

They always told her never to take a student in. Lawrence didn't understand; his world was numbers, data, processing. He talked about these new computers, but Helen couldn't hear all that. She knew about people, feelings.

Of course, when they got married, Lawrence had said she should stop teaching. It wasn't right for a woman to carry on working once she had a husband. That's when the baby is supposed to come. But it didn't. It just never did. After a while, he stopped protesting about Helen still working, and she just carried on.

She remembered the day Jody started. She walked into the classroom, steered by the headmaster, with her short, bristly hair, and black fingerless gloves on, poking out of blazer sleeves. Her first thought was that she'd have to wash all that eyeliner off.

The other kids didn't warm to her; they never do with the new ones. Helen felt bad for her - she made herself so different, it was almost as if she pre-empted the problem of not having any friends.

All the other girls were groomed for secretarial school. Jody said she wanted to be in a band. Helen listened with patience, but thought she'll come around, she'll grow up and wear some nice clothes and meet a nice boy, and everything will be alright.

Then she started to notice Jody's behaviour; drifting off in class. A mark on her arm, blooming under the white school shirt. She'd stay after lessons, finding an excuse to lag behind, then just sit with Helen, watching her eat her small sandwiches. Helen had started to share them with her. Then Jody started talking. She'd broken up with her boyfriend; he was older - her parents had threatened to kick her out if she didn’t end it, buck her ideas up. She was lonely, she cut herself.

Jody said she loved punk music. Helen didn't know what it meant until she read about it in the paper. Lawrence had his opinions. Disgusting, he'd said. Why don't they go out and get jobs like we had to?

When she arrived, bruised and cut off that night, Lawrence had shot his wife a look as if to say: don't you dare. But she opened the door wide enough for Jody to come in. She had a big army surplus bag, stuffed with crumpled clothes. It was covered in safety pins, like they all had. Funny how when Helen had pictured safety pins in her home, they would have been on a terry towelling nappy.

After the second week, Jody started to relax. She would curl her feet up on the sofa, wearing Helen's old pyjamas. With her make up taken off, and in a floral print, she looked like any other girl her age. They talked. Helen made cups of tea, and they watched television together.

On a blistering Friday in July, the school term was over and Helen knew she'd never be teaching Jody again. Did that change things? Lawrence was out at darts.

Jody still hadn't mentioned anything about going back home, and there was a crackle in the air. It felt like summer was burning. Someone at work had given Helen a bottle of Blue Nun as an end of term present.

We won't tell Lawrence, Helen said.
I've had wine before, Jody said as Helen cautiously measured out two glasses.

Jody put one of her records on. Helen was only ever used to listening to Lawrence's Val Doonican records, or the radio.

This is Patti Smith, Jody told her. Horses. I had to order it from America.

They sat in Helen's small living room. It was like nothing Helen had ever heard in her life. She wasn't all that sure she liked it. This woman sounded raw. Not like a woman at all. She sounded wild, without thought, care, or rules.

They sat and listened to it over and over again. There was poetry, sometimes out of tune, sometimes too loud. None of it seemed to rhyme. It caused a big feeling in Helen's chest and she didn't know why.

Jody poured more wine. It flushed their cheeks. They talked some more, sitting on the same settee, sometimes their elbows touched. Around eleven o'clock, they heard a car outside; Lawrence coming home from the pub.

I'd better go to bed, Jody said. They both stood up, in synchronicity, and looked at each other, jarred by their own twin movements. Jody leaned in and kissed Helen on the corner of her mouth: not quite her mouth, but not her cheek either, and slipped upstairs.

Helen staggered to the kitchen, clattering Jody's glass away so Lawrence wouldn't see, and splashed cold water on her face, sure that he would be able to tell.

In the morning, Lawrence asked Helen to make him a fried breakfast to soothe his hangover. She gagged over the fried eggs, nursing a hangover of her own, but somehow feeling more alive than she had ever felt.

But when she went upstairs, Jody had gone, her bag and clothes too. On her bedside table was a safety pin. Helen sat on the guest bed, and cried. She wore the pin inside her blouse that day, wildly awake, far too aware of her own body, and held it to her skin like a talisman.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Cossetted.

In the clamour, we only hear the songs of our own lives;
cossetted, yet searching further comfort,
always seeking:
bricks and mortar, bargains, more.
Half-formed thoughts bubble up
as we step over the puddles,
side-stepping faults.
A scroll through atrocities before bedtime,
white glare lighting our fed, full faces,
click to share this.
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wear the battery down,
ready to sleep fitful,
dreaming of walls and fear, and dirty cash.
How dreadful, you think, the news is today;
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pay the donation,
then a distraction.
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