The Troubled Saviour

Lucy had not spoken much to Chris since that terrible day. If his brother had folded in on himself, so had Chris. Lucy thought that it was like a house of cards, when one was taken away, the whole thing collapsed. Where Michael had fallen, his brother and mother could soon follow.

She was grateful that Laura had taken to her. Chris, on the other hand, had seen the urgency of his brother’s situation and had devoted all of his efforts and time towards him. This left Lucy stranded yet concerned. Her thoughts about the eldest brother were complicated. He had been there in her dreams and she had witnessed the power he could harness. He had destroyed the Leathers and had chosen to appear from nowhere, just at the thirteenth hour, to save them. Yet it was not Michael who had been their saviour, but that dark and troubled archangel. Well, that was everybody’s belief.

Laura had snuck out of the room some time ago, her steps speaking of her desire to mask her exit. Lucy had played along, closing her eyes and taking deep sleeping breaths. When she heard the door close behind her, she slowly sat upright before making her way to the wall between hers and Chris’s room. She placed a glass to the wall and listened to the barely audible conversations beyond. She listened as the voices of mother and son fell little above silence and then she heard the whispered opening of their bedroom door.

Lucy adjusted her position and moved towards her own door. Once more, she placed the glass quietly against the old wooden panel and rested her ear on the cold base. Now she could hear more clearly. Chris’s voice was raised in panic. She dragged at the handle and was outside her room as Chris struggled with the stiff figure that was his mother.

“Chris, what’s happening?” she almost screamed.

“It’s Mum. She found this thing,” he said pointing at an item that was about thirty centimetres in length and was glowing, “and now she’s just gone blank. I can’t wake her.”

For a moment, Lucy looked upon the older woman and saw an unwanted resemblance to the expression she had seen on Michael’s face. It was an unlikely marriage of happiness and grief. Her knuckles were whitening around the object she was holding and the strain was in her face.

“Get that thing out of her hand,” she rushed out.

The spell around Chris was fractured. His eyes turned towards the flute his mother had lifted from the bedroom floor and he made to grab it from her.

Lucy saw that something was wrong. The woman whom she had come to know as Laura, a person whose kindness and consideration stretched out as caring arms, was now changed.

Laura snarled. She actually snarled and a bared her teeth at her middle son. There were no words, nothing that was language. The noises coming from Christopher’s mother were primitive and defensively aggressive. Before she knew what next to expect, Laura was falling upon her middle son. Lucy could stand no more. She attacked the mother.

The object in the mother’s hand was a needle, a hypodermic needle, and it was moving towards her son’s eye. Chris was struggling to keep it at bay, but he was losing. Laura had to do something significantly more than just pulling.

She scanned the corridor for a weapon. She wanted something heavy and blunt, something that would impair yet not kill. A red fire extinguisher lay on its side and she grabbed it.

The distance between the tip of the needle and the boy’s eye was reducing to nothing. The madness of the world was falling around her. Without thinking, she raised her weapon and prepared her assault.

Wise Men Say…

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My childhood was dominated by memories of The King. Elvis Presley, Aaron to be more precise. My mother was in love. She was smitten with this hip-shaking, breath-taking, king of Rock and Roll. We were the family from The Commitments who could not conceive that there was anything better than the lip-curling kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, the voice of a generation before us and one that could not be beaten. Our commitment to The King was complete and it was cemented with our mother’s undying love.

At that point, we never realised that she had another love, one that could never be requited; Rock Hudson. 

I had a particularly bad singing voice. People would stop me in the street just to complain to me about it. You see I loved singing, but singing didn’t love me. Unless I did Elvis Presley songs. Elvis and I, I like to think, were joined at the spiritual hip. We were both working class lads whose middle name began with A (mine was for Andrew not Aaron). For some reason, and this may have been only me who heard this, we both sounded like each other. I would practice at night upon going to bed. It would start with something rocky like King Creole and then move into a couple of love songs, Love me Tender and Only Fools Rush In. that helped to set the scene. With each hip-rolling lyric I was being transformed into The King. I even learned to roll my lip the way he did.

In the sixties, Elvis started to become a little uncool. He started making excrutiatinlgy unbearable films (movies to my American cousins) such as Kissin’ Cousins and Clambake. Regardless of being an Elvis Presley devotee, I kept it quiet if I ever watched these on Saturday afternoons. I did like Flaming Star, a decent western in which he showed a little acting ability and obviously Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and…the list is not endless. Still, I believed that I was becoming Elvis.

My mother loved Elvis whilst my father mocked him a little. Dad was a Frank Sinatra fan and, possibly like me, saw much of himself in his idol. He would never admit that he followed Frank, it was not manly and was certainly not the done thing in working-class West Yorkshire. I tried to keep my Elvis to myself. My mother swooned when one of his songs would be aired on the radio. She positively melted when he was on TV.

“He can only sing certain songs,” my dad would goad.

“Shut up, you. you’re only jealous!” She would snap back.

On those bitterly cold winters nights, I would retreat to the relative comfort of my bedroom, pull an extra coat on the bed, leave my socks on, roll my head to accompany the rock that was to come, and then sing my heart out.

“Shut up!” The chorus would come, “Shut up and go to sleep before your father gets back from the club.”

My singing would then take a downturn into the hardly-audible. I was praying the words, offering up myself to a greater power, the living god of Rock n Roll.

Getting older meant that certain songs could not be sung. The seventies brought Glam Rock, Prog Rock and then Punk Rock. The King must have seen it coming and decided to make himself less and less visible. Ironically, during this time, he was becoming more and more visible through his love of all food bad. His weight shot up as his fame dropped   down. I still managed a neat impersonation of him singing, In The Ghetto. That was a rather socially aware number that I believed was socially acceptable, As The Snow Flies. I have never seen snow flies, but I think that they must be rather hardy little pests.

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On August 16, 1977, The King died.

I was in bed, drifting off to sleep. Too old to sing his songs without my parents considering the option of sectioning me in our local lunatic asylum. I could hear the TV from downstairs. Mum was watching it whilst my dad shared a few pints with his mates at the club.

I heard a long drawn-out, “Oh, no.” Quickly followed by, “No. Please, no.”

I knew he was dead. I went downstairs and found my mum in tears.

“He’s dead, Mike. Elvis is dead. It’s not fair.”

My sisters were both downstairs at this point and they joined he in the ritual shedding of tears. Even my father was sad when he returned. The King was dead.

That night, I tried to summon up his spirit and channel it within me. I could think of no better use for my defunct voice box than to become the conduit for King Creole’s magnificence. It didn’t happen.

My mum got over her infatuation and moved on. She was never the same with her affections and never openly declared her love for icons until later when her somewhat secret love was no secret any more. Rock Hudson, dashingly handsome and quirkily funny in his outings in Pillow Talk with Doris Day, died on October 2nd 1985. He died of Aids related illnesses after hiding his sexuality for al of his movie-star career. My mother sobbed. My father shrugged his shoulders.

“If only he had met me. I could have cured him,” she declared.

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In those days, they had no cure for homosexuality.

Nor for unrequited love. 

 

 

 

Bookends…

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If gale-force Fortune sweeps you off you feet,

let it; ride it; and admit defeat.

 

There’s no point in resisting; it’s too strong –

willy-nilly, you’ll get swept along.

 

Palladas. Tony Harrrison

 

It was an unseasonably warm October night. The high winds of the midweek had ceased and it was still. My own turmoil was resting, licking its wounds, trying to heal itself. This was the second time we had ventured out on a Saturday evening to see my favourite poet. The first time had been a wrong call; I got the month wrong. Perhaps my father was right when he insisted that I was dateless. My wife shares this acute judgement of the strange being that is her husband. A month late, but on time, I prayed that the firmaments were now in line.

The last time that I attended a reading of his poetry was almost thirty years ago. I had gone along with a good friend and sat suitably in awe of the greatest light in modern poetry. I considered him to be one of us (UZ) rather than one of them. I came from working-class roots and confronted the received-wisdom that denied the masses so that the few could prosper. It was through his poetry that I found mine. I also found a torch that lit up the tunnels in which I could work away at the foundations of that which chose to imprison me.

It was Harrison’s School of Eloquence that originally pulled me in:

How you became a poet’s a mystery!

Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles,Joe and Harry –

one was a stammerer, the other dumb.

Heredity

 

If my father had ever written verse, I would have liked it to have been like this. My dad was a realist, not a dreamer like his son. He could not waste words on silly rhymes; life was too short and there was work to be done. So, I took Tony Harrison at his word(s) and made him my surrogate muse. Each time I came across well-trodden feet, I stopped in wonder at the things I had previously not seen. It was like waking-up for the first time, every time, and seeing the world afresh.

I was saddened and surprised by how few people had turned-out to listen to the Rhubarb Bard. There was a time when he was admired as ‘one of the most prodigiously gifted and accessible poets’ alive. He could ”speak the language” that he spoke at home, but use the form of sonnets to drive his point home at the same time. When I first read him, it was at the behest of Mary Eagleton, the sister of Terry Eagleton, another well-read socialist interpreter of higher learning. I was like Tony’s uncle; “mouth all stuffed with glottals”. My public reading had never been good, even if I did have the accent to suit the verse. After tripping through his lines, I went home to sit in my undergraduate bedsit and study his words. They were mine.

That was years and years ago in the long, long ago that will not disappear.

Tony Harrison came to the front of the small gathering, apologised for not having his microphone attached, had it attached, then shuffled the white pages of his world of words. We were in Beverley Minster, a grand building that has been used by TV companies to ape its better known cousin, the palace of Saint James. And Tony, though not in the pulpit, was at the front. When he started to read, I fell into the time between the pages and saw not an old man, now gone eighty, but the Tony Harrison of some forty years before. I caught myself mouthing the words that he was speaking and realised that I was performing an act of devotion. I nodded when lines long deep in my own memory were recited. Other people disappeared into the shadows of the ancient hall and there was Harrison speaking directly from within me.

My fellow audience members were probably retired teachers; their sensible clothes suggested as much. I recognised faces from the past and shared a greeting or two. Nobody applauded when he reached then end of individual poems. My hands were itching to give him a warm ovation, but to my shame I followed the crowd. It was like being at an opera or classical concert. Everything Harrison stood for was being filtered into their sense of the world. I actually wanted to cheer and to shout encouragement or agreement, but I merely nodded and mouthed the words I knew.

At the end of the reading, there was a little Q&A. An interviewer asked generic questions about poems that had been written decades before. It was obvious and a little puerile. I filled a void of silence when I held the microphone to tell him that I was pleased that it was being held in that setting as I had worshipped him as a poet. The wife said that that was a little corny and she was right. But at least it was honest.

A question that wasn’t asked, but was partly addressed by the poet, was about the impact he had had through his writing. At its point, his eyes fell towards the floor and he thought for a moment.

“The world has gone back to what it was like back then. I thought it would have changed. I hoped that it would have got better, but it’s back to where it was. Isn’t that what history teaches us? And we never learn.”

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“…what’s between’s

not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.”

 

 

Exercise and Exorcise

Sunday morning has come around again; much too quickly. It came with two possibilities: a passive, meaningless stretch of twenty-four hours or a moment seized and gently squeezed of its goodness. We chose the latter.

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After a two year battle with the world, I appear to be content. Contentment is so different from its superficial cousin, happiness. Contentment doesn’t wear a showy smile. Contentment doesn’t belly laugh. Contentment doesn’t leave without warning, leaving a grey vacuum that swallows the pain of having to live without it.

Contentment just is.

So here is me, content. And this morning, to build upon this feeling of being here, we went for a run in the countryside. We being my lovely wife and me.

To start with, as we drove to our route, we chunterred a little about aspects of our lives. Our middle daughter has completed her A Levels and has put off university for a year. She now sits with her smartphone, sits and sits. Her bedroom is the stuff left by hurricanes and her mother is reaching the end of her patience. My wife’s workplace is undergoing change (the type of change that has become the byword and trite idealogy of educational institutions, “We must get better and better!”). She is feeling the stress from that and I, having gone through my own psychological wildfire, am on hand to offer a comforting  perspective.

As soon as we reached the area for our run, the world began to lift.

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It’s a difficult run but so rewarding. Up and up and up with calves straining against the effort. A desire to stop to ease the rapid breathing but a continuation in order to reach the top. Once there, the panorama is reward enough.

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We run in a rough circle that takes us along trails in fields and ones in woods. It is the woods that I most like. There is a stillness about so many trees so close together. They stand and watch our passage without comment. On more than one occasion I have been on the receiving end of an arboreal prank with hidden routes reaching up from the ground to catch the toe of my trainers and send me on a slow-motion tumble. Now, I keep an eye on them.

When our run has brought us full circle we are allowed to descend the steep climbs and make our way back to the car that is parked up by one of the most picturesque churches one could wish to see.

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Fully evercised and fully exorcised, we are content.

Checking Out My History

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There’s a woman I know who had an idea for a book. She entered a competition for ‘Women of Substance’ with this idea, and only this idea. She won and got a book deal.

The book was written by both the publishers and her with the publishers doing an inordinate amount of research. She wrote about what she knew best and what she thought about the most, herself. The book sold quite a lot and she is still living off of its popularity.

At the heart of the book was the heart of her success. Her prose were not so special. Neither was the story of her life (which bookended the real tale). The thing at the heart of it all was the revelation that her great grandmother was a woman who was found guilty, with her male friend, of the murder of her abusive husband. They were both sent to the gallows together and were the last couple to do so before capital punishment was repealed.

With this in mind, I set off to find my own past. Surely, between me and my wife, we could find a murderer, sodomite, or just an everyday lunatic who was locked up in a house for the insane and met every night with lupine howls.

I started the search and was confronted by how little our parents had told us. My wife has circumstances that make it doubly difficult to delineate a family tree. Having known next to nothing about my mum and dad’s families, even the discovery of maiden names of great grandmothers or the name of my father’s absent dad brought up a lump of sadness that was unexpected.

My continued search will be for the sake of discovery and to tell the story of ordinary histories.

Dildos and Stockings To The Rescue!

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A ray of sunshine has fallen across our Saturday morning. Outside is dull and damp, but in doors there is a spot of hope.

Saturday morning started off as all Saturdays tend to do. Lucy, our cat, came gently meowing into our bedroom. The weather is grim out there, but that didn’t stop her from wanting, nay insisting, on going out. I crept out of bed, descended the stairs, opened the front door, and she was gone into the gloom. I went back to bed; it was five o’clock.

Later, we were awoken by the sound of our middle daughter moving around. We ignored this and feigned sleep. After about half an hour, my wife’s phone started to do the buzzing thing that has replaced the traditional ring. It could only be one person, our eldest daughter in France. I listened for a short time to the conversation and then went to make the mugs of tea that are so much a part of our awakenings.

Saturday mornings always follow their own traditions. Tea, talk, sample the news, and the porn; property-porn.

Property-porn has been part of our lives for over twenty years. In the early days it meant leafing through the Yorkshire Post property pages. Then it progressed to the internet where property porn is tailored for everyone’s predispositions and quirks. We originally went the French way as old houses and gardens were still the norm for most people’s tastes. After that, we went Spanish: new-builds, sea-views, and pools. Spanish properties are plentiful, although sometimes they tend to lack the aesthetic.

We can spend up to an hour luxuriating in this debauchery until the real world calls us back. The real world needs finances and I have managed to spend the main part of my life avoiding this hefty consideration. My pension-pot is puny as I thought that I would be a famous writer by now. I am not. And the wife is not overly impressed. Therefore the morning, that started off so well, the porn not the cat, started to slide downhill a little.

“Why can’t you write a bestseller?”

“I know. I wish I could.”

“But it would have to be something that people would want to read.”

“I know.”

It was still slipping downhill and towards a precipice when my wife suggested, sex.

“Sex sells.”

“Perhaps I could write some erotica?”

“I don’t really think it’s you.”

“Cheers.”

So, I am officially a sad old git who can’t get it up for a swift chase of chapters that would titivate the secretly saucy.

“Dildos and Stockings!”

The morning was starting to look up again.

“Why don’t I set up an internet shop and sell dildos and stockings? Buy a pair of stockings and get a dildo, of your choice, free.”

She had my attention.

” I think that you have something there.”

The idea had begun to harden in our minds.

Dildos and Stockings. It’s great name.It could just work.

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At last, things are looking up.

Property-porn, here we come.  

A Morsel More

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Something else was among them. Its sound, as it planted ancient feet upon the floor, indicated that it walked like a man. Alongside it, ran the first of the notes from a flute.

She recognised the sound as the one that had been in the darkness for sometime now. She had heard it coming from the mobile phones of kids in the street. The first strains had been weak, discordant, and had barely scuttled into the surrounding air before dying, and recoiling.

Over the weeks, she noticed more and more teenagers, decent looking kids mesmerised by their mobiles. And with this, the notes of the flute began to take shape, take to the air and transform themselves into something almost visible. That something, or a fragment of that something, was standing on the other side of her wardrobe door and soon, very soon, she would be able to see what the notes looked like. She waited with the words of her mantra, stuck like pebbles in her throat.

The something’s hand was upon the door handle, its damp palm pressing against the cool metal, its impetus about to push down.

The moment could have lasted forever. Then a current ran through the air; primeval electricity connected each and every particle of her being instantly. The world was frozen, trapped and petrified in an absolute of silence. For that moment, the little girl was able to enter their thoughts. Later, she would remember their cries of despair and exhilaration, hatred and fidelity, anguish and relief. There were so many voices in there, so many emotions and so much conflict. As she pulled herself out from that foul place, she realised that the night carried a howl, a distant rage of pain that cut through her aggressors’ intentions.

For a long while she listened, knowing that they had fled. She waited before resuming her mantra and watching her mind movie. That was until she heard the front door being opened. There was movement downstairs and this was followed by a short cry of pain. The first utterances of a curse was being strangled.

That’s when she decided to move from her hiding place, step slowly down the stairs, and that’s when she saw the boy who was taking the car keys.

He had the look of the gangs. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a baseball cap and his hood was pulled up. His movements were furtive and for the briefest time she wished she had not disturbed him.

She had opened her mouth to say, “Hello” and had wished she hadn’t. His eyes shot wide opened, and he stepped back hitting his leg on the hall table.

This time, he did not cry out in pain as his immediate attention had been taken up with the thing that had jumped out of the dark. This time, he just stood there waiting for what he thought would be the painful end to his painfully short life.

When the girl saw this, she spoke out again.

“So, they did not get you?”

Moments passed.

“The rats, they did not get you?”

Eventually, “No…what are you doing here?”

There was nothing in his voice which she recognised. It was defensive, sullen and, most probably, dangerous. Nevertheless, she persisted.

“Those keys are for Mum’s car.”

She thought about her mother and the movie started playing again.

“That’s for Mum’s car. You’ll need Dad’s keys, his car is parked in front of hers. It will block your way out.”

 

Again, the furtive look. He was weighing things up, trying to work out what he ought to do. On the stairs was a girl, whom he reckoned was about eight or nine, and somehow she had survived the thing that had happened. He was starting to wonder how and why when they both heard a low groan coming from the next room.

He didn’t know whether to run away or go to help whatever it was that was making that noise. The girl decided for him. She ran down the last few stairs and straight into the room from where the groan had come. As the door opened, he heard her gasp deeply and then scream.

A scream that would wake the dead.

So he ran after her, not to comfort her, but to shut her up. If he didn’t, then the rats might come back. What he saw in there would stay with him through the coming nights.

There were parts, bits that had once belonged to human beings, strewn around the room. A lampshade had been knocked over, its bulb still throwing a maniacal glare across the scene. The carpet was stained deeply red with what had been the lifeblood of the girl’s family. He clamped a hand across her mouth with a strength that shook her. Her scream bit into his smelly palm, her eyes filed with revulsion and accusation.

“Shut your bloody mouth before they hear you. You don’t want to end up like that do you?”

That was when the moan became a discernable voice. It was a voice that carried with it a name.

“Kate.” 

What was left of her brother, had spoken.

His little sister was drawn to him. She knelt and held a hand that could no longer feel. She looked into her brother’s eyes, bloodstained and drifting between worlds.

“Be careful. The boy is dangerous. He knows them.”

“What boy?”

From the doorway, Joel Podrall spoke.

“What’s he saying?”

Kate ignored the question and asked her own once more.

“Which boy?”

But the connection had been broken. Her brother was dead.

Her head bowed forward dropping tears onto what remained of him. It was as if she had lost him twice and the anger was beginning to build within her tiny frame.

The boy was still standing at the door, seemingly afraid to venture inside. Something told her that this boy was the one she had been warned about. She knew right from the moment she had set eyes upon his form, in the darkness of the hallway, that he was not right, but he was all she had.

She needed him to help her to get out of the city and she had to prove that she could be of use and not just a hindrance. She wiped her tears away with the back of a hand that still held blood.

“He said good bye.”