Don’t Be Jealous of a Fantasy Younger You

 

The roof of my mouth is icy

with waking. The ice caps

aren’t melting they’re just warming

up. I try not to get to know

technology just like I tried

all my life not to get know

experience. If this isn’t the alternative

then it won’t get read. If it

isn’t mainly in my bloodstream

I won’t steal another train seat.

Never again. My heels ache

when I think of all the kids

with their dictionaries. None

of them have the guts to really

digest things. Laser blast.  Can there be

balls of fire in space? It’s too late.

It’s written. It’s too late I’ve cooked it.

Blackened and inedible. I remember

the freezer boy stealing John Keats.

I remember a harlequin and a corn

field. She’s got strawberries all over her

lips. All this time I’ve been looking

for a line you might quote but

your shelves are so full and I’m

not a kid anymore. The world wrote a letter.

The post office charged me double.

Vignette. Forget borders and coastal

erosion. Erect monuments to robots.

I was holding the hand of a Czech girl.

I didn’t love her. I just found myself holding

her hand. I remember holding her hand

when we reached the all night garage.

I remember looking at her hand and thinking

it was a small hand. I remember the guy in

the all night garage had a face covered by tattoos.

He’s dead now. I remember walking back to her room

and giving her hand to someone who wanted it.

I remember doing things like that a lot back then.

Carskill Bay

We left the place where we thought we’d live forever because there was no time left for dreams.

            There was no money left too.

            Jairo had uploaded his last video. Kurt had done what he promised, set up nowfeed and moved to his island.  Thomas was dead and Sylvia might as well have been dead. We were the only ones left.

          We got a phone call from Kurt and that was pretty much it. She wasn’t going to stay.

            “What do you want me to say?”

            She said nothing.

            Two years later I got an email from her telling me she was pregnant. She didn’t even ask about the boy.

            Two years after that I started riding. To begin with I rode from my house to work but after that I started doing hills and not long after that I left the boy with my mother and got a train to France to do mountains.

            When the boy was fifteen he asked to visit his mother and I didn’t say no. When he’d been over there a year he told me he didn’t want to come back.

“I like the beaches.”

I had some money left at last so I went back to the old place. It was a mess. No one had lived there since we left. Kurt’s hut was infested with beetles and Jairo’s was gone.  There was a square of black ground where Jairo’s hut had been and right in the middle was his rocking chair and an ashtray. I couldn’t face going over the dunes to Thomas and Sylvia’s.

Our hut, the one where the boy was born, was where I found the old man.

He was sleeping on our old bed, naked.

            When I woke him he came at me with a spade.  When we were drinking later I realised we’d met before.

            “The oysters,” I said.

            I remembered seeing him carrying his oysters up to the village. He didn’t have a beard then and he wasn’t so old.

            “You don’t look the same yourself.”

            He said there were no oysters left and I told him about my bike. When I showed it to him he asked could he ride it to the village.

            Two weeks later he still hadn’t come back so I followed the coast to the big town and came home.

            It was very empty at home. Everything was quiet.

            Three years later I asked Kurt about my share but he never replied to my emails.

            When I was fifty I went back to the old place for the last time. The boy was home and tanned so he came with me. People get to a point in their lives where they want to see the place where they were born.

            “I thought it’d be more impressive,” he said.

            For the rest of the week he swam.

             When I was sixty I stopped riding and lost the boy.  He wasn’t a boy anymore really.  He was swimming in the gulf. They said he got tired. Just got swept away. They found his body in a reef.

            I rang her to talk but Kurt answered.

            Two years later an American newspaper interviewed me about nowfeed but I denied the truth.

            “So it wasn’t anything to do with you?”

            I told them it was all Kurt. They didn’t ask once about the others; Jairo, Thomas and Sylvia, her.

            Two years later I spent the last of my money on renovating the old place. When it was all done I took photographs and sent them to her.  I sent them to Kurt too and even Jairo. I didn’t send any to Sylvia.

            A few years later I was asleep in my hut, naked, when I heard a noise. I went outside. It was a hot day and I was too old for heat.  I stood there, naked, in the doorway. There were six riders, all of them just kids from the university. None of them seemed bothered by my nakedness, not even the two girls. The one with the yellow helmet got off his bike and came up to the hut.

            “Is this Carskill Bay?” he asked.

            I told him it was.

            “Are these the huts?”

            I told him they were. 

            “Were you one of them?”

            I told him I was.

            Two years later I fell asleep.

every poem needs a catchy title or one somehow suggesting a mediocre Oxbridge education and position amongst the higher levels of the middle classes and a good knowledge of a foreign language preferably French and you should probably have an animal in the poem too but the animal should be a metaphor for sex or marital breakdown or quasi-mythical and Châteauneuf-du-Pape mon petit pois

 

This wolf pelt you skinned is our love.

You wear it in the garden at night, mon loup-garou.

I find you feeding on your Rousseau,

every page of your cherished Descartes.

When we were at Cambridge I let you devour my innocence,

let you convince me I needed nourishment.

Now you scratch at our bedroom, push Meditations under the door.

You’re hungry. I’m not hungry anymore.

poem composed in a room

 

shadow rabbit/shadow bishop

and the rabbi or my grandfather

and the flickering or my grandfather

a grecian urn

mode

medium I mean I’m a median

I mean I’ve read Blood Meridian

it’s odd that there are shoes

but no feet it’s odd that she’s

naked and angelic a farewell

to wings I fear the sun’s rising

can’t cross bridges at sunset

river shimmering

and the river shimmers or my grandfather

jade urn

a light backed into the corner

lamp retreat

like a dog afraid of water

like a hose afraid of water

like water afraid of form

burning sage

too many moons or my grandfather

I noticed on this night

that I’m being followed

by too many self-published authors

I keep asking myself how did this happen

I’m not self-published or my grandfather

imageless can’t get the images to wake

it’s an old TV

a pine cone for your thoughts

if I’m honest I keep thinking

I should stay up all night and write

four chapters

isn’t a burden isn’t a big ask

or my grandfather

but I know in the morning this room

will be chaos

say a supernova is a red crucifix

or my grandfather

coasting I mean coasters I mean

coast to coast there are too many dunes to climb

we lit candles for my grandfather

the godly kind god waking candles

full of prayers and incense

someone hung foam stars from the ceiling

and let all but one of the candles go out

I can’t remember what prayer the candle held

I can’t remember anything from the early 90’s

or my grandfather

Glaya

 

You wake up and you know straight away that you’re not who you’re meant to be.          

            You used to know exactly who you were or at least you were getting to know who you might end up being.  Grow up to be.  I mean you knew you were tall for your age, that your skin was perfectly grey and unblemished, that most males at lessons wanted to be your truemate but you had a truemate, you had Kallos and every day after lessons you and Kallos would go to the Red Lake and sit beneath a yappay tree and kiss.  You were happy. How unfair is that, for all of this to happen when you were happy.  You even told your mother about Kallos and she made you promise not to mate with him until you were ready.  You promised her you wouldn’t even though you had no idea what ready meant.  You loved your mother so much you would promise her anything. Then everything changed didn’t it.  Everything really messed up and got bad.

            You were fourteen when the Darkening came to your planet, to Fell.

            It was summer and you were on holiday in Hashan when the news flashes started.

            Noorava City Outbreak: Hundreds Killed.

            “Will it be ok, daddy?” you asked your father.  Why did you call him daddy? You never did that anymore.  You were scared weren’t you?  You’d been connecting with Kallos all evening and he’d been describing to you how mad everything had got in Noorava. Even as you connected with him you could hear screams and distant explosions.  You were scared for him.

            “You should leave,” you told him, “why doesn’t your dad take you all somewhere. It sounds bad.”

            Kallos just laughed though.

            “Nah,” he said in that languid, laid back tone. He was always too laidback.  That’s why you wanted to truemate with him. Everyone else at lessons was so uptight, so into their career prospects, how they’d get to the top of the Dominus before they were thirty. To be honest so were you.  Your father had drummed that into you.  But Kallos was different. He didn’t care what he ended up being.

            “I’ll just go live in the Half Mountains,” he told you once beneath the yappay, “I’ll play my lat and I’ll get fans coming from miles just to hear me play. I’ll be a god.”

            You never got how he could be like that.  It seemed so alien.  If you were like that your father would have sent you to the Academies.

            It was just as the sirens started to shriek that your connection to Kallos broke.

            He was about to say something.

            “You know I…” he’d said and then his voice was gone forever.

            You kept trying to connect with him but nothing happened.  It was like he wasn’t there. He was gone.

            You ran downstairs to your mother and father as the sirens wailed.  They were staring at the screen.  The High Dominus was transmitting an emergency message.

            All Major Population Centres Overrun.  Highly Infectious Disease. Advise To Stay Indoors.

            Your father wouldn’t take that advice.

            “I have to help,” he said.

            Your father is the greatest doctor in the whole of Fell.  That’s what everyone says about him. When you were newborn he would sit you on his lap and tell you that too.   

            “There is nothing I cannot fix,” he would say.

            Then he would pretend to drop you, you’d laugh and he’d tell you not to worry, that if he ever dropped you and you broke then he would just fix you. That was what he did.

            “Please don’t go, daddy,” you said, hugging him.  His gills were blue.  He was worried. Your father’s gills never went blue like everyone else’s. He was always calm. Certain. Seeing that just made you more scared.

            “Come on now, Glaya,” he said. His voice was so cold.  He was already in Doctor mode.

            “Please, daddy,” you said, hugging him tighter.

            “Glaya I need to go,” he said sternly and he pushed you away. It wasn’t a gentle push. He pushed you hard. That’s how desperate he was to help everyone else. That’s how desperate he was to get to Noorava, to get to the Dominus and solve everything. Even he didn’t realise then how bad things were.

            “Everything will be ok, Glaya,” he said as he put on his coat and hat.

            “Do you promise,” he said.

            “I promise,” he answered.

            He lied didn’t he? Look at you now. Look at your hands, your legs, your whole body.  You have hair. Touch your head, it isn’t smooth and hairless.  Reddish hair falls about your face.  Hold out the strands. Look at it. That isn’t you.

            You’re not who you used to be. You’re not a Fell anymore.  You’re a human and there’s something growing inside you.

Jacob

 

I missed the end of the world because I couldn’t face telling my girlfriend I didn’t want to marry her.

            I was hiding in my school’s boiler room getting drunk on a bottle of red wine I’d nicked from dad’s stash.  I kept reading Charlotte’s messages over and over.

            She sent the first one right in the middle of this special family meal I was at. My brother Chris had come home from uni with the news that he’d got onto to his postgrad course in London so we’d all gone to Marco Marco’s for pizza.

            My iphone beeped right as the waiter set my spinach and ricotta pizza down.        

Jacob, I’m pregnant.

            I had to sit through the rest of dinner pretending everything was ok. Laughing at Chris’ uni stories. Nodding when dad talked about football even though he hasn’t got a clue about it.  Trying not to go ridiculously red when mum mentioned that she’d been talking to Charlotte’s mum about how we’d both applied for exactly the same unis.

            “What’s wrong, Jacob?” dad asked.  I’d hardly touched my pizza.  “Aren’t you hungry matey?”

            Dad was always calling me matey and usually that would do my head in but it just floated right over me.  What I wanted to do was to tell them all what was wrong.  Tell them I’d slept with Charlotte just once and it wasn’t even what I thought sex would be.  It wasn’t sexy and sweaty or frantic or any of that. It was just awkward and a little bit painful.  We did it in my car for God’s sake. You have to understand my car is this ancient Mini that has these seat covers made out of what feels like and smells like dog hair. It doesn’t even have an engine. I keep it in the barn in the top field.  It was so freezing in there.  Right at the point where I’d officially begun to have sex, to cease to be a virgin, I remember wondering why I’d chosen to bring her there. It was getting more and more freezing. It had been snowing all day.  There was an owl hooting all the time almost like he was laughing at my sexual prowess and the bats were whacking themselves off the rafters.  I could’ve taken her to my room. Mum and dad wouldn’t have realised what we were doing really, we could have got away with it. I think maybe we both thought we’d be like screaming with pleasure and the bed would be hammering at the wall or something.  The Mini rocked a bit but I think that was because its axel has gone and just breathing in it gets it swaying. Neither of us moaned with pleasure.  Charlotte kept making this sort of ouch noise and I grunted a couple of times but that was it. It was probably the exact same scenario that thousands, no, million, of kids our age go through every day around the world. The disappointment of losing your virginity.  The shattered illusions of sex.

            I text her back as soon as I got home from Marco Marco’s.  I was meant to stay downstairs and have a brandy with dad and Chris while mum walked Hadrian our Belgian Shepherd.  It’s meant to be this special treat when dad cracks open his good brandy and lets me and Chris have a glass but the truth is I can’t stand brandy. I never tell dad that. Usually I sip it, swill the brandy around the glass, look at the brandy like dad does with this intense appreciation. I take my time drinking it. I ask for ice even though dad always shakes his head at me. I let the ice melt and then I down what’s left in one. My throat burns, my stomach burns, I hold in a burp. Chris has been at uni now for two years so a single brandy is nothing to him. Last time he was home he told me him and the other lads in his hall had a party and they made this punch.

            “We got this bin, right,” he said, “we filled it with a few litres of vodka, six bottles of Tesco Value cider, two boxes of white wine and two boxes of red, some Pimms that Nicky had, a bottle of JD, a bottle of Courvoisier, a few bottles of gin and loads of cheap apple juice. It tasted sick, bro.”

            Chris is always saying everything is sick like he grew up in Brixton instead of Hartley Bridge.

            I sat on my bed just holding my iphone trying to figure out what to text. I could hear dad and Chris laughing in the study.  I started typing and then it was done. It was sent.

            I’ll marry you.

            That must go down as the most stupid text anyone has ever sent.  My hands were shaking after I’d sent it. I felt like I’d downed a dozen brandies.  I even put my iphone on silent just so I could pretend that she hadn’t replied but I still sat there staring at the screen.

            I don’t know what time I fell asleep but in the morning she’d text me back.

            I love you.

            That’s why I got dressed even though it was half four in the morning. That’s why I put my uniform on, my old pea coat and the deerstalker Charlotte gave me last Christmas.  That’s why I took a bottle of dad’s best Barolo.  That’s why I walked through the snow and early morning darkness to school and pushed open the boiler room door.  That’s why I sat there in the boiler room and drank every last drop of the Barolo trying to figure out how to tell her I hadn’t meant what I’d text, that I didn’t love her, not yet, that I couldn’t marry her, that I couldn’t be a dad, that I hadn’t been able to stop shaking ever since she text me. That’s why I got so drunk that I fell asleep as the boilers fired up.  That’s why I didn’t wake up till way into the afternoon.  That’s why I missed the end of the world.

 

The Darkening

I’ve started reworking the YA adult sci fi novel I was writing. That was called All Fell Down and it was about an alien invasion, a boy called Jacob and an alien girl called Glaya. This reworked (completely rewritten and bearing no resemblance really to the original) novel is less dark and more heavy with the clash of realism and fantasy.  I like that idea – how something sci-fiction-y happens in a real setting, just because aliens invade doesn’t mean everything suddenly becomes hi-tech etc.  This new book is called The Darkened and it’s about a boy called Jacob and an alien girl called Glaya.  The chapters alternate between the two characters and over 16 chapters each  we get about 4 days worth of action.

I should mention it’s also a sort of zombie book. I’m trying not to think of it as that too much. The alien invasion sort of creates the ‘Changed’. The aliens have invaded because they themselves were infected by a disease called the ‘Darkening’. 

The main plot is that Jacob is told by his girlfriend that she’s pregnant on the night before the alien invasion. He tells her he’ll marry her and then immediately regrets that. Luckily/unluckily for him Charlotte, like many other humans, vanishes and Jacob feels that he has to find her. But he’s confused – confused whether he loves her enough, confused whether he wants to be a dad, confused about the bloody great alien ship hovering on the horizon.

The other side to this is Glaya. Glaya is one of the aliens. She was infected with the Darkening.  She isn’t anymore.  She’s in Charlotte’s body now and she’s drawn back to the wasteland that the earth has become.

So you get it, both characters are drawn together but it’s not a traditional love at all costs thing. 

And just to make matters worse the Changed/Darkened humans/Fell are everywhere – hungry, red hands groping, black liquid dripping down their faces.

When I started writing this I set it an unnamed area of the UK and I was moving the action to London but then I don’t know London.I know Liverpool, Cheshire. So Jacob is from Cheshire and the space ship hovers over Liverpool.  I can visualize all that.

I’ll post a chapter or two. I’m 30,00 words in with around 20,000 more left. I’m aiming to finish draft 1 this week because my wife is off work but it’s not working out like that. I wrote the first 24,000 words quickly but that was all Jacob’s pov. Now I’m on Glaya’s and I’m having to match timelines, chronology and make her pov reach its conclusion at the same point as Jacob’s. It’s more of a challenge but nevertheless fun.

So….The Darkening Chapter 1 – Jacob…

The Gods in the Attic, the Demons in the Yard

When his wife told him she loved a woman he tried to pretend that nothing would change.

            He walked the dog. He made dinner and brought two plates into the dining room. He ate both dinners. He asked his wife to make him a cup of tea and made it himself. He hugged a pillow every night. Some nights he would kiss the pillow but the pillow would push him away. 

            It was Christmas when he finally accepted that his wife had left him.

            She sent him a card.

            To Toby,

            Happy Christmas

            Love

            Emma and Bronwen

            x

 

It was cruel.

 

He started to drink in January when the snow began to fall and by the time the snow had stopped falling he began to remember things.

            The first thing he remembered was a song.

            Mr Jones by Counting Crows.  At first he couldn’t understand why he kept remembering the song as if it was being played in another room.  He closed his eyes and thought very hard about his childhood.

            He began to clear away the lies. 

            He wasn’t an only child.  He wasn’t an orphan. He didn’t have an unhappy childhood. He hadn’t been alone.

            He had a brother and three sisters. He had parents.  They all lived together in terraced house.  It was so cramped, he could remember that clearly. He used to have to share a room with his brother but when his older sisters eventually moved out they got their own rooms. That was where the song came from, his brother’s room. His brother was older. His brother smoked pot and wore collarless shirts and wooden bead necklaces. 

            It was his brother who found the demons in the yard.

            “Wake up Toby,” his brother said.

            It was as dark as night can be. His brother stank of pot and lager.

            “Come on, get up,” his brother said, pulling away the duvet.

            “Get dressed, quickly,” his brother said. 

            He could barely keep his eyes open.

            “What’s going on?” he asked.  “What time is it?”

            His brother didn’t answer. Instead he pulled him by his arm out of the bedroom and onto the landing. He saw their parents’ bedroom door open and their bed empty.

            “Where’s mum and dad?” he asked but his brother shushed him.

            He was pulled into the bathroom. 

            “Look,” his brother said, “in the yard.

            He went to the window with his brother and peered out into the dark yard. 

            Two figures were kneeling on the paving beside the bins. Above them were four giants, taller than any of the houses on their street.  The giants were covered in hair and there was blood dripping from their teeth. They had orange eyes.  One of the giants reached down and picked up one of the figures.

            “Mum,” he gasped when he realised who it was kneeling in the yard.

            The giant bit down on to his mother. Another giant lifted his father and did the same.  His parents didn’t even struggle.

            He was crying. He would’ve screamed but his brother had clamped a hand over his mouth.  He just sobbed and trembled.

            Both of them stayed there in the bathroom watching the giants devour their parents.  When it was done his brother whispered for him to go into the attic and hide there.          

            His brother pulled the ladder down from the attic hatch and pushed him up into the dark space.

            “Can I turn a light on?” he asked but his brother shook his head.

            “I’m going to shut the hatch and get help,” his brother said.

            When the hatch was shut he began to forget he had a brother.

            He felt a cold hand on his shoulder.

            “Toby, are you feeling ill?” a voice asked.

            He turned. He was scared but he turned. He wasn’t making himself turn; something was forcing him to turn, taking away his will.

            He saw four white figures, short where the giants were impossibly tall. Their eyes were white. They had no mouths.  They were completely hairless.

            “Toby, what can we do to help?” one of the figures asked.

            He didn’t ask them what they were. He knew what they had to be. They were Gods and the giants in the yard were demons. That’s how things worked. Bad things were demons. Good things were Gods.

The Gods were good.

            They held him for all the days he hid in the attic and told him not to worry. They whispered away his memories.  They told him he didn’t ever have to be scared again.

            “You’re so alone,” they told him. “You don’t have a mother or father. You poor thing, you don’t have a brother or sisters. You’re so very alone.”

           

After Emma left him and the drinking got bad he went to a counsellor.

            “Are you having trouble sleeping?” the counsellor asked him.

            He didn’t know how to answer that. If he was honest he would have said that for many years he hadn’t slept. The last time he’d really slept was the night his brother woke him.  He’d pretended to sleep, yes, but he’d never really slept. He’d lie beside Emma with his eyes closed and sometimes even he would believe he was sleeping. Since the drinking and the remembering he didn’t even pretend to sleep. There was no point pretending to sleep when there was no one beside you to believe that you were sleeping.

A Poem for Andy Murray

July 7th 1991

 

I am ignoring the death of a relative

by playing tennis.

I swing the racket to serve.

I hit my face.

I swing the racket to serve again.

I hit my face.

 

July 7th 2013

 

Andy Murray wins Wimbledon.

I wave the TV remote in celebration.

I hit my face.

I am older now.

I do not wave the TV remote a second time.

 

Epilogue – Andy Murray Haiku

 

Boris Becker sounds

charming. Andy Murray hugs

like he hates to hug.

Class Envy in the Modern Vampire

“No one believes in God these days,” I said.

            We were feeding.

            “No one believes in anything beyond their own opinion of the secular,” he said, “it’s a form of burgeoning fascism. I mean it, give them a few more decades and you won’t be able to even hum a hymn.”

            He was like that about God.

I drank some more and poured him another glass.

            “We’re not vampires, not really,” I said, “we don’t just feed on existence.”

            He nodded. “I feel like a vampire sometimes. I feel like everyone who has a voice, everyone who’s had a taste of education, is a little bit of a vampire. These days more so. Everyone feeds off something else.”

            “It’s a middle class problem,” I said.

            He frowned.

            “You are middle class,” he said.

            “It’s my problem then.”

            We drank some more. It was nearly morning. Light pressed against the shuttered windows.

            “You know most people don’t even see that they’re a part of the problem,” he said, “I mean everyone out there who has a voice doesn’t see why they have a voice. I mean they’re so indoctrinated in privilege, even like a tiny slice of privilege, that they don’t see how they’ve benefited from privilege. Anyone who has really been fucked up by this society doesn’t get a voice and if they somehow do get one then they forget how they were fucked up, they forget where they got that voice from and they don’t bother telling anyone else how to find it.  They just have barbecues and go to Copenhagen for the weekend, grow fucking beards and bake. I bet they don’t even visit their parents.”

            We were drunk.

            The morning sunlight was pushing against the shutters. It wanted the shutters to open. It wanted to come in. We kept drinking and feeding.

            “Listen,” I said, “none of us have clue. I don’t go to those parts of the city any more. You know, even I don’t go back home anymore.”

            “Your parents were doctors,” he said, “you went to university and no one was surprised.”

            He poured me another and passed a plate across the table.

            “I’ll give you an example,” he said, “when you got your first job in London they didn’t even know you were from the north. You haven’t even got an accent, Ben.”

            I was drunk and still hungry.

            “That paper you did,” I said, “you wrote that class distinctions were fractured.”

            “You can’t climb a broken ladder,” he said.

            By late afternoon we were both feeling the sun and the drink and we were still hungry.

            “We won’t ever truly go hungry,” he said, feeding some more on the last scraps of yesterday’s harvest, “not now, not these days. Everything’s falling apart, Ben.  Once the banks finally go we’ll be made for life.”

            “What about your savings?” I asked and he laughed.

            When it was dark we both went out to find more food.