What we were
First published in 2009
by The Green Press, London, U.K.
This compilation copyright © Willesden Green Writers Group 2009
Edited by Bilal Ghafoor
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention
No reproduction without permission
© 2009 Willesden Green Writers Workshop
All rights reserved.
Individual stories and poems are copyright © their respective authors, 2009. All rights reserved.
The authors in this collection are hereby identified as the authors of their respective works in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
||When Grandpa Stayed|
||‘You Can’t Get Through’
||Suicide is Dangerous
||The Bells at Christchurch
||How to Win at Scrabble and Life
||Where My Father Stood
||First Aid Kit Girl
||King for a Day
||Piano Smashing Blues|
When Grandpa Stayed
One time, after Mom came to live with me and my wife, she told me that Dad had cried twice in his life. Once, he had been told that I would die before my first birthday and only prayer would save his tiny son, but thats another story. The other time was when they were still courting. She had innocently asked about his Dad, my Grandpa.
He died a long time ago. Dad said to her, his eyes red and wet. I’m sorry, that’s not true.
I hated myself for doing this. I spent the entire drive to Kofis trying to reassure myself that things would be OK. It was pointless though; I couldn’t get away from the fact that I had a very bad feeling about tonight.
You Can’t Get Through
The prehistoric boulders were round like dinosaur eggs and our little brown tent nestled among them with the two orange tents of the kayak team. They sheltered us from the east wind that rippled the water among the bergs in Fairhaven. Bright light played on the tent sheet as the sun turned around the sky, never dipping below the horizon. We slept far into the next day. There was no rush to leave because the ice was impossible.
I can remember when you couldn’t speak English, I said.
I had come downstairs one morning and was pleasantly surprised to find Stephan, my son Ed’s old school friend there in the kitchen making himself a cup of tea. He had stayed the night and gotten up before Ed – something that didn’t seem to be too difficult these days.
Suicide is Dangerous
The sun, spot-welded against a late sky, slices through a row of poplars. Their giant shadows stretch across both carriageways and in the zebra crossing of light and shade cars flicker. Liam thinks this could be France. He could be driving through Normandy to a home in the country, where his wife and kids sit inside a thick walled house at a big wooden table with blue and white crockery, a bottle of red in the centre, open, breathing, waiting his return. But it isn’t France, just a section of the M1 snaking north through the fields of Northamptonshire.
The Bells at Christchurch
ONeills was heaving. A confusing warren of a place with drunkenness scoped into its very architecture, it was so packed you could barely hear the people across the table from you. Still it was good to be here. Conor didn’t make it over every year, and he was thinking now that maybe he should. Dublin didn’t suffer from the contagious doom that settled on London at New Year, that emptiness that had you feeling you were an extra in a remake of On the Beach.
The doorbell pissed on my already sputtering creativity, and I thumped the desk. The bottle of cheap whiskey staggered and I steadied it, rubbed my burning eyes, and felt myself condense back into cold reality.
I hold her head. Tight. My arm wraps around her neck, pushing her face sideways onto my skin. Her earring catches my chest hair but she remains still. With my other arm, I reach round and press into her swollen belly. Her ear is flat against my chest. She is close to my heart. I am out of breath. I listen to her breathing. In and out. I need to concentrate, to hear only her. There is noise from the street, cars, dogs, voices, heels clicking on concrete. I hear her sigh.
The inflatable flower
that you won for me
the night we met
still sits on the floor in the bedroom
filled with air from your lungs
How can that thin red plastic
hold you- even now
eight years on
and six months since
your breath ran out
Today I cracked
and finally pried
the stopper open
I sucked you up
and breathed for the both of us
Afterwards, the flower lay
crippled on the floor
and I wished I’d waited
another day, another month
How to Win at Scrabble and Life
Anyhow I’m thinking of a quick getaway after dinner but her Mum is all like, oh no do stay we like having some new blood around to play games. I don’t like the way she uses the word blood like that. The Dad is like, Trivial Pursuit, but the sister says, oh no, you always win at that, that’s not fair, and Helen’s like, Deans really good at Scrabble (which she doesn’t know because we’ve not actually got round to playing it since that first day, we’ve been too busy shagging, but she’s right, I am pretty hot at Scrabble). So Scrabble is for four people, so somebody has to sit out, so in the end her Mum sits out and the rest of us set ourselves up around the table.
Where My Father Stood
Sahaab, the man in the pharmacy is calling you.
I heard the squeak behind me and turned.
Sahaab, in the pharmacy, over there, said the teenager, pointing enthusiastically at a small shop. I did not know what to make of this but walked slowly over towards the sign that announced that the proprietor was a Master of Greek Medicine and Homoeopathy. As I approached the concrete steps up to the door, it tingled open and a small, dark-skinned man stood at the top, giving me an avuncular smile.
First Aid Kit Girl
(extract from a novel in progress)
Every day The Capricorn comments on what I’m wearing. It’s what she doesn’t say that really irks me though.
She says, Green today! if I have a green top on or Purple today! if I’ve dared to veer in that direction. What is she insinuating by this?
King for a Day
Raymond Cole held his cup of tea like a metal detector as he walked across the sitting room, scanning the area for the best seat with the least exposure. Ideally, it would be near a view of the window, but far enough from the doors and the table of tea and cakes for him to have a buffer of distance, protecting him from eye contact with anyone else in the room.
Although you are over him,
something quite ordinary
tears at your heart.
It could be anything
A key, comb or silver ring
Some innocent symbol
will fuck with your heart.
Holding it close to you,
Breathing in memories
You’re immersed, spider wrapped
in a time that has gone.
But then reality bites
And you’re back again
A comb’s just a comb again, and
It was a brutal November that year, unexpected after such a listless summer. Constant rain fell as half-hearted snow or enthusiastic hail, goaded on by Arctic winds. But Florence’s flat was so hot I had to strip down to my vest as the evening went on. I usually lost my jumper just after dessert, before she reached for the tarot deck. My t-shirt would go around the time she laid the last card in her spread and began to read.
Break Up Haikus
In summer’s fierce drought,
Strangled flowers mark the spot
Where our love lies still.
Joseph Mninsi High School crouches hidden off the main dirt road that forms the hotly contested border between Leboa and Gazankulu. The school is reached by navigating a series of sinkholes from which a vehicle may startle a flush of warthogs, their tails held up like aerials behind them.
It’s one of those Warsaw night bus scenes you know is a permanent threat. Like the gangs of burly ticket inspectors hunting for bribes. Or drunken students making stupid noise, as if mere quantity of volume made the nights of their lives. I’m two stops from home, drunk, hunched over a book, trying to focus against the sway of machine, when a muscle-mountain skinhead gets on with a freshly lit cigarette. He drops into the seat in front of me.
Piano Smashing Blues
I was setting up in Gunnersbury Park for the steam circus last Sunday. It was a gorgeous spring day, blossom everywhere. The ground was dry enough and the weather was just perfect for smashing pianos, not too hot but bright. I had placed three black ones already and I was just manoeuvring an unusual oakwood one, with inlaid flowers and scrollwork, to the back flap of the truck. I jumped down and pressed the button to lower it.