Number 51- horses are not the only signifiers of difference – part 1


 

Number 51 – Horses are not the only signifiers of difference.

Some days, when the alarm jolts her awake at 4:45, her first reaction is one of shock,a disbelief that sleep is over for another 18 hours.

From long experience, she knows that the only way forward is speed and decisiveness. It is much, much worse if she waits or God forbid, allows herself to hit the snooze button.

A deep breath and then kick the duvet back, dislodge the dogs and out of bed into the unheated bedroom.

She puts her jeans straight on, on top of her pyjama bottoms, no loss of precious body heat and then hooded top, baggy jumper and jacket.
Her gloves and hat are downstairs next to the car keys.

The dogs have already raced downstairs to wait at the kitchen door quivering with excitement as they stand there, ready for breakfast.

She checks her watch, 4.53 and puts the kettle on, makes a cuppa and drinks it standing at the back door assessing the weather before she collects up the dogs and leaving her cup half full drags them around the block.

She rarely sees anyone else, it is too early for anyone to yet be on their way to work and fate too late for even the most hardcore party animals.

The dogs know how these morning walks go and are business like,keep their sniffing and snuffling to a minimum and 10 minutes later they are back home.

She grabs work bag, packed lunch, her work clothes on hangers and her after work stuff and by 5.20 she is in the car, glad that there was no frost last night and so no window scrapping and rubbing to freeze her hands even before she has started.

She reckons that she could do this drive in her sleep and probably has done, only coming properly awake when a car pulls out unexpectedly.

At this time of the year,the whole drive is in darkness, only the world service in the radio to break the silence all around her. Over the years she has listened to hours of the world service and has absorbed all manner of strange facts. She tries to keep them to herself, but occasional one pops out, usually followed by a silence from her work colleagues and a metaphorical step backwards from them, another layer of distance.

The stables are completely dark, she uses her phone as a pitiful torch to unlock the chain around the gate and even before she parks she can hear them greeting her or at least greeting the arrival of breakfast and morning.

The horses are all looking over their stable doors.
Alice whinnies whickers, an oddly small noise from such a large animal.
Oliver starts to kick the door, panicking that today will be the day that he is left hungry and alone and the pony, the pony simply stares as he does every morning as if her arrival is simply an unexpected surprise.

She has the morning routine down pat, feed, put on rugs suitable for the weather and then the trudge to the field, hideous in wet weather when the mud threatens to suck the boots from her feet.
She once found herself wondering how long she would lie her undiscovered if she did actually fall and drown in mud that comes above her knees.
The answer was frightening and that thought,along with a whole mental box of thoughts to be ignored, has been put to one side, pushed down into her own figurative mud and left to drown there.

The stable work is reassuringly routine, she sets herself little competitions, like to shave time off her personal records and on the best days, where nothing goes wrong, she has a precious 10 minutes before she needs to head off to work and then she stands looking out towards the field and as night turns into early morning, she watches the horses become visible and smokes a single cigarette.

She needs to get the time of her arrival at work exactly right, too early and the night security man will have to let her in and will see her in all her hay, mud and straw covered glory, too late though and there is a danger of bumping into early bird colleagues before she has sneaked into the workplace gym showers and transformed into her daytime self.

Her cubicle is anonymous,no photos of family, partners, smiling faces on holiday beaches. She doesn’t have any of those and over the years she has learnt that photos of the horses,of events they have done, even a rosette or two simply set her even further apart. So, she has compromised on a photo of the dogs and a mug with a thelwell pony cartoon.

She has worked in offices ever since she left school, happy enough with the routine, the regular start and finish times, the 60 minute lunch break and the work that she leaves at the door even before she reaches the door.
She is told that she lacks ambition, but works hard, is rarely off and is happy to allow her co workers to have holidays to fit around families, Christmas and school terms. So, she stays here for the moment.
There will come a time, there always comes a time when she needs to leave and then she will gone with as little fuss as she arrived and within weeks,sometimes days, nobody there will quite be able to remember her name properly. She may leave the mug behind but she will carefully remove the dogs photograph.

TO BE CONTINUED


Number 81- to boldly go…..


 

Number 81- to boldly go…

In fairness, Paul’s always liked a challenge, enjoyed a bit of DIY and even if he says so himself, over the years, he’s been able to turn his hand to most things.

He’s managed to fit a new boiler, re-wire complete houses, tile kitchens and bathrooms and slap more emulsion on walls that are perfectly smooth once he’s finished prepping them than he can keep count of.

He’s made 2 perfectly nice houses, sold them on for a decent profit, but somehow, it’s never felt satisfactory, he’s never really felt that he’s made his mark on a house, made it his home.

Or at least, that was true,that was where he was just 3 years ago, Mr Nowhere, living in his nowhere land with nobody….la la la la.

He leans back in his chair, stretches his legs and looks upon his work and smiles.
No more Mr Nobody and you might not like what he’s done with number 81, but you couldn’t call it nowhere land.

The living with nobody, well, it’s a work in progress, in fact, it’s all about to get sorted, he’s totally on it.

And then, and then, here he will be, mR Somebody, living in his somewhere special land with somebody very special indeed.

He lifts up his cup from the cup holder he designed himself and fitted perfectly into the arm of his special chair.

“Tea” he thinks and smiles, enjoys that Friday evening feeling, 2 whole days of peace and quiet and time to get on with some routine maintenance and, he takes a very deep breath here, time to prepare for a very special Saturday night. This may turn out to be the best weekend of his life and let’s be honest, he’s had some cracking weekends over the last few years.

His Q and A session at midlands scicom.
The web based virtual tour that rocked the annual starship and time travellers festival.
His appearance in Grand Designs – the tiny designs and far out ideas show.

Yeah, this weekend has some fierce competition, but and it’s a big but, this one has something extra special going for it.
He’s going to keep his fingers crossed, but he can’t help it, in his deepest soul, he knows it’s all going to be great.

But, he’s not going to let it get to his head, he’s not going to lose his Friday programme. Routine maintenance before he lets his imagination run riot.
He stands up, stretches, pauses for moment to admire the way his uniform trousers hang exactly right, stopping just above the black Chelsea boots, originals and with provenance too, worth every penny and they were pretty much every penny in his savings account when he bought them
He likes to get it right,likes to be authentic, won’t countenance crappy rip offs, cheap copies.
In his head,that’s cheating. If you don’t do it right, why bother doing it all?
It’s worth waiting for the right thing to come along and this weekend is proving that. He’s waited so long for a Saturday night like this one is going to be, it’s going to be worth every effort, all the work he’s put in.

But now,he needs to get on.
The transporter bay still needs some finishing touches, that sound effects CD isn’t quite right, isn’t playing quite true and there’s a few chips of paint off the control panel. It just needs a little touch up.

Two hours later he is satisfied. The new app he downloaded looks fantastic on the screens in the bridge, perfect images of a Klingon war ship, you can almost imagine that the FS Enterprise is engaged in a game of cat and mouse with the Federations most deadly enemy.

He sits back in the captains chair, flicks open his tri-corder and enjoys for the 200th time,,the satisfying bleep and nods over at James T Kirk ( and yes, he does know that it’s not the real James T Kirk, he does know that it’s a life size cardboard figure, bought a great expense on a very vicious ebay auction )
“ star date November 2015, captains log” and he pauses for a moment, before continuing
“ it is mans nature,when he views the stars to feel alone “ he pauses again and nods to himself, he feels as if he channelling all those captains that have gone before him and will come after him
“ man is not by nature solitary, he seeks love, understanding and tomorrow, it is the turn of this captain to boldly go and look for love.
End of log entry”

He sleeps well, not in the bedroom he has lovingly fashioned to be an exact copy of Jean Luc Picards sleeping quarters. That room is set aside for special occasions.
Tonight, he sleeps in the small back bedroom,the room that still looks like a small back bedroom, if you can ignore the packed floor to ceiling shelving, the floor plans covering every inch of the walls and the precious, hard fought for memorabilia that is still waiting to be placed somewhere else in his home.

It all started small,a few shelves of boxed, untouched collectible figures, a poster or two, a dictionary of Klingon and then, almost by chance, he bid on and won a perfect facsimile of Kirks captains chair from the original Tv series and when it arrived, it looked so out of place,so unhappy, that he felt duty bound to give it a proper home and so he started to remodel his sitting room into the bridge of the FS Enterprise.
Of course,he made lots of mistakes early on, his first attempts make him shudder now,but he got better, more careful,more authentic and once he’d done one room,he just kept going.
And it’s changed his life, he is somebody now, he’s been on telly,well loads of times,he’s been on platforms at conventions, given master classes to wannabe builders and he’s the go to guy for anyone who’s anyone in the wonderful world of serious star trek fandom, not Trekkies, never Trekkies.

It’s made actually living in number 81 a little challenging.
The kitchen is now the transporter bay, complete with the correct soundtrack,but he’s not a great cook and he’s managed to squeeze a microwave and a tiny fridge into the back bedroom.
The bathroom is in mid transformation, by the end of the year it will be a perfect Klingon control deck. At the moment it’s still got a sink in, so he’s washing there and he’s sure that something will occur to him when that’s removed too and the outside loo is just fine, really fine.

When he wakes up, he lies on the blow up mattress for a moment and then he remembers and would, if it was possible to leap from a blow up bed, leap out, ready for the day.
Instead, he rolls onto the carpet and grins to himself.
Today is going to be a big day,maybe even the big day.

He needs to make sure that the bedroom,the other bedroom is perfect and pausing only to grab some breakfast, half a bag of Doritos and the leftover chocolate Swiss roll, saved from a late night snack,he is on task.

He pauses when he enters the room, he has had to make some compromises here. The flowers are silk and he finally settled for white lilies, but the bat-leth is perfect, hanging on the chimney breast, its blade shining under the bright halogen lights.
The tri-dimensional chess set is mid game, the moves recreating a game from his favourite episode and a Klingon version of Moby Dick is open on page 45.

He hasn’t really discussed Star Trek with her, he’s kept the surprise of his house close to his chest, wanting to amaze her and anyway, Mary at work, who found the web site and wrote his profile and read all the girl’ profiles, Mary has been very firm about this
“Don’t talk about Star Trek, ask her questions, find out about her, don’t talk about Star Trek”

So he knows a lot about her, Kayleigh, his date. He says the words outloud again,enjoys the feeling of them in his mouth
“his date”
She is 27, works in a pound shop, says she likes it, the maths are easy and when she types this she adds
LOL, LOL,LOL
And he likes that,because he knows it’s a joke, so he types LMAO, so that she knows that he knows that it’s a joke.

They have been taking on line for a little while now and tonight she’s coming here for a drink.
When they arranged it she typed
“Hope you’re not a serial killer”, but she didn’t type LOL, so he wasn’t sure if she was joking or not,so he just typed back
“No, I work in an office in a paint company” although he knew that he had told her that already.

He has two lists to get through today. His list is easy, just lots of little touches to make sure that everything is as perfect as possible.
The second list is from Mary, she wrote it on Thursday and numbered all the things she says he needs to do before 7pm.
He likes lists, even when it’s someone else’s list, so he has a look and makes a start at number 1
“ wash all over and use hot water”.

By 6pm, he is ready, he’s got to number 8 on Mary’s list

“ put biscuits on a plate and don’t use Trekkie mugs”
At 6.30 he puts on his favourite ever episode, the one about The Borg and he watches it to calm himself. He looks over to James T Kirk, James would know what to do, James always knew what to do.

At 6.46 he remembers that he hasn’t finished Mary’s list, number 9
“ don’t forget deodorant “

At 6.53 he is standing at the front door, waiting.

At 6.58 he is standing in the front garden, looking down the street, trying hard not to make eye contact with the group of men standing outside the corner shop. For a terrible moment, he wonders if they, the knot of drinkers, have scared her off.

At 7.09 he logs on, checks her profile, she is offline, he messages her anyway
“ R U on YR way”

He checks her profile again at 7.15, 7.34, 7.56 and 8.12.

At 8.31 he discovers that she has blocked him and deleted him from her homepage.

At 8.42 he piles all the biscuits onto a tray, chooses his Dr Scot mug, makes a milky coffee and sits on his captains chair, dunking wagon wheels into the mug.

At 9.08 he makes a log entry
“ loneliness is what comes with the responsibility of steering this noble vessel, these brave crew members through these distant stars.
Seeking out new lands, new peoples, new challenges”

He dips the last biscuit into the almost empty cup and licks the melting chocolate, careful to make sure that no drips land on his crew member uniform.


Numbers 1 to 98.


 

Numbers 1 to 98 and a few houses on the next street too.
Continue reading


Number 17- the seige house.


Number

Number 17 – “ He kept her locked in there for weeks, the Police had to kick the doors in”

For weeks afterwards, the neighbours would pause when they walked past, look up at the windows and remember what they were doing when it all kicked off.
Every street, at least every street with a bad end, too many rentals and cars that have seen better days, has a house like number 16.
Tenants come and go, the paintwork becomes that little bit more flaky, cracked window panes replaced at first by neatly cut pieces of cardboard and later, when the latest group of tenants care even less, replaced by bits of fabric stuffed into the holes.
The front garden is a graveyard for dead washing machines and old fashioned televisions, with a dressing of leaking bin bags and half a bicycle, front wheel missing,the frame leaning forlornly against a doorless fridge.
Number 16 causes distress to its immediate neighbours, it is at the wrong end of the street, belongs at the bad end, would fit there, be amongst its own type.
But, here at the good end, the nice end of the street, it sticks out, lowers the tone, but does fulfil one important function.

It gives everyone something to moan about. You could even argue, that in its own shabby, chaotic way, it contributes to community cohesiveness.
It is the thing that everyone, whatever their opinion of decking, outdoor Christmas lights or garden gnomes ( even when used ironically) agrees on.

The house should not be here or if it has to be here, than someone needs to do something about it and now, after all that fuss and bother, it would be, all the residents at the better end of the street agree, much nicer if the house could be done up and sold to someone, well, someone more like them and then the subject gets changed and nobody, at the nice end of the street, talks too,much about the siege day.

The people at the rough end, the dodgy end, the call a spade an F- ing shovel end of the street haven’t held back since siege day itself.
On the day, they were out in force, camera phones held up high to capture every grimace, every scream, every moment as it happened, now, live , breaking news.

And when it went official and the real news people turned up, they were quick off the mark, trying to do deals with their own grainy filming, offering interviews, shortcuts through the alleyways to get closer to siege house .
It was their moment in the sun, their time to go viral, maybe even make the proper news and no-body was going to take it away.

The people who live in the middle houses,were, as usual, torn.
They wanted to be out there,mug of tea in hand, shamelessly gawping at the action, but, yet again, they agonised, not wanting to be too closely aligned with the bad houses.
So, they found, as they often did,a compromise.
Front doors open, tasks, legitimate tasks discovered that required them to be in and out, bin bags, gardening tools in hand, even a quick wipe of the front room window. They didn’t make eye contact with each other and most definitely looked away when the children from the bad end of the street, driven almost mad with excitement and the lack of anyone dragging them up the street to school, ran down the road, getting as close as they could to the siege house itself and taking careful aim with invisible automatic weapons.
Call of duty come to life on a damp Wednesday morning.

At the good end of the street, where all the action was actually happening, doors remained firmly closed, blinds drawn down, children peeled away for the Windows and sent up stairs to get dressed, to get ready for the trip to school, as and when the police decided to open up the street and let the natural course of the day continue.

And there was a lot going on, a lot to watch, a lot to hear.
The police formed a neat line around the crumbling garden wall, facing out, they looked blank, faces carefully neutral, ignoring the offers of tea and fags from the women who moved down the street,attempting to get a better view of all the goings on.

All the windows in number 17 were smashed, thin cheap, badly fitting curtains flapped in the winter breeze. The broken glass glittered on the pavement and for days after the whole thing was over, the residents of the better end of the street found shards of glass scattered up and down their end of the road.

And from the upstairs window music blared out, impossibly, madly loud, the bass turned up so that house itself seemed to shake and listening to it made the onlookers teeth and heads ache.
“No women, no cry” on an endless loop, each time the track finished the needle roughly picked up and smashed down again.

And behind the heavy bass, another noise, high pitched, ragged, a woman,crying, no keening in fear and distress
“ for fucks sake, let me go” her voice is blurred with drink or drugs or just plain terror.

Nobody is quite sure who she is, this woman whose voice is filling the street.
The tenants at number 17 come and go, a moveable feast of too thin women wearing too tight jeans, hair always pulled back hard across their skulls, cigarette in hand, the hand not holding onto a toddler or a semi house trained staffie or a cheap folding buggy.

The police stiffen, a more important police officer has arrived, a phone clamped to one ear as she clutches a megaphone to her chest with the other hand.
She is clearly receiving orders and when she finishes the phone conversation, she stands directly in front of number 17 and speaks into the megaphone.
“ Darren” she calls, voice carefully controlled, tone modulated to lessen anxiety, encourage communication
“ Darren” she says again and the name is repeated by those watching.
Darren is known to them, a small man, thin, quiet. A man who keeps his head down, looks at the pavement, avoids eye contact with the neighbours at the better end of the street and doesn’t join the street drinkers at the other end of the street either.

There is no response from the house, the music continues, the woman’s wailing over The Wailers and just the click and buzz of cameras and the local news channel anchor woman practising her piece to camera, but no male voice, no Darren, nothing.

There is a pause, the Police look at the more important policewoman and wait and nothing happens and then everything happens all at once.
The bedroom window flies open and the woman, mouth open but no sound coming out, not any more , begins her trajectory towards the hard pavement and at the same moment there is a terrible crash from somewhere inside the house and the police who have done nothing for hours move towards the front door.
It’s flimsy, cheap UPVC, doesn’t take much kicking in, a firm push would have done it, but it is kicked in with lots of shouting and male voices and a counterpoint of women, the women in the street screaming as the body, falling in slow motion hits the pavement and because this is real life and not Hollywood and the fall is only a few feet and she is so drunk that she falls softly, she’s immediately sitting up, her left arm at an awkward angle, but her voice unimpaired and she’s letting rip with a stream of cursing that sends the people from the middle houses scurrying indoors, their faces red.
A trail of bin liners, secateurs and bottles of windowlene left where they are dropped.

Even the women from the bad end of the street are impressed with the variety and depth of her cursing, the children,still enacting their video games pause for a moment, absorb the choicest for later use and then go back to shooting up the Police from a sensible distance.

There is a pause after the para medics have carefully and cautiously gathered up the woman, who continues to swear even when she is finally pushed firmly into the ambulance and then the Police walk out of the house, Darren dwarfed in the middle of a pond, If not a sea of blue.
He is crying,making no attempt to mop up or cover up the snot and tears on his grubby face.

The police are surprisingly gentle with him, they walk him to the nearest police car and then he is gone and all that is left is the crowd, standing, not sure what to do next.

After a while, the police go away too, all the police cars, the police van and even the local radio station news van simply drive away and so the people wander off too.

There is a sense of disappointment, of things not quite working out as they should have.
Kettles are switched on, phones put away and the day goes back to being the day it should have been.


number 67- my son is a good boy, a good son.


Disclaimer – There was always going to be a house, a family on this street, in this portmanteau collection of short stories, somehow touched by Jihadism.

My thoughts are of course with all those affected by the dreadful events in Paris on 13th November 2015, but there are other families who also have to make sense of the world after such tragedies in quite different ways.

 

Number 67 -my son is a good boy, a good child.

She doesn’t say it out loud anymore because she knows how other people react, knows how they think, knows what they think and she cannot bear to read the derision, the confusion in their eyes. She does not want to have to defend the indefensible, understands that to most people, her son is as far from being a good boy as is possible.

She knows that trying to explain, to share stories from his childhood, to pull out the photographs, the family videos, his school and college reports are meaningless acts, particularly when these are put beside those other photographs, those other videos, those public images of her son.

But, he was a good boy, a good son, her youngest son, the baby growing up when Somalia had been left behind; when she wondered if they would ever settle again, ever have somewhere to call home.

He was her last link with home, the child created  as Mogadishu fell apart and staying became impossible and then inconceivable and so they began the journey that brought them to here and maybe brought him to place he now calls home.

But, he was a good boy, a beautiful child, everyone said so, strong and graceful, eye lashes so long that they curled against his clear skin, always happy, always easy.

She remembers sitting in a pavement café in Amsterdam, older children all at school and the two of them stealing time together, eating ice cream and waffles, throwing the crumbs to the ducks at the canal side and both of them fascinated by the Dutch girls, so tall, so fair as they cycled past at top speed, too busy to notice the small dark-skinned child, his face covered in strawberry ice cream.

She remembers the cat the children rescued and brought back to their freezing apartment in Stockholm, her son, with the easy linguistic fluidity of  child who are 6 years old has already lived in four countries, petted the animal and informed her that its name was Bella, Italian for beautiful.

She remembers the mother’s day card he made for her in his first year at school in this country, their final destination, their home now. She can still see the careful lettering and the time he took to teach her to read the unfamiliar swirl of shapes that eventually she could de-code into a message of love.

She remembers the bicycle he begged for as his Eid gift when he was 8, his disgust at the helmet and shin pads she insisted he wore whenever he rode the bike, but and when she remembers this, she has to sit down, bite on her own knuckles, the memory is so painful, but, he always wore them, ignored the taunts of the other children, understood that this country cared her and his free movement through it, scared her even more.

She wanted to fit in and both she and her husband worked hard at it. She went to language classes, pulled her tongue and mouth and lips into unfamiliar shapes, made noises that sounded too sibilant, too slippery to ever make meaning, but, she persevered, didn’t want to be like some of the other mothers, still unable to have the simplest conversation in this ugly, muttered language even after living here for years and years.

The children went to madrassa, of course they did and her husband walked the boys to Friday prayers, once they were both sure that each one was old enough, sensible enough to not embarrass him or call into question her parenting skills.

She wore hijab, but knew it wasn’t about religion or even culture, far more about habit and routine and seeing the reflection she expected when she caught sight of herself in a mirror or a shop window.

She tried to explain it once to Tracey, lovely Tracey, the first mother to talk to her at the school gates and Tracey nodded, got it at once, said she couldn’t leave her house without a full face of makeup, said she just didn’t feel right and they smiled at each other, went back to towelling dry children as they erupted from the swimming pool.

But, religion wasn’t a burden in their lives, yes, something they believed in, even found comfort in, but it didn’t weigh them down, didn’t set them apart, not then anyway, from their neighbours, her husband’s colleagues.

And her son, her son just wasn’t that bothered by Islam, more worried by global warming, racism, unfairness at school, bullying of weaker kids, a good boy, a good son.

At 15, he stopped going to madrassa, wanted to concentrate on his studies, wanted to get good GCSEs. She understood and he still sent to mosque, although she knew, that really he went for his father and their good name in the Somalia community.

She doesn’t know, not exactly, not for sure, when he discovered his version of Islam, but she does know that it doesn’t make him happy, doesn’t give him the quiet joy that she experienced over the years in her careful reading of the Quran, her observation of fasts and feasts.

His Islam, his Allah – praised be his holy name – is the religion of anger, the vengeful god and it makes him, her good son, the good boy, angry and vengeful himself.

Salford, she thinks, that’s where it started, when after good GCSEs and good A levels, he went off to become an engineer.

She worried and she can almost laugh at those worries now, she worried about him becoming too westernised, perhaps even meeting the wrong sort of girl, pale skinned, properly English, uncomfortable around his family.

But, he became inward looking, angry, his texts became briefer and briefer, phone calls were one sided, terse and she felt him slipping away from her.

When he came home, he was changed, prayed 5 times a day but with an intensity that frightened her, began to wear traditional clothes, grew a beard that seemed too rough against his soft skin, she could believe that it chaffed him on the outside and the inside.

There were bitter family rows, he criticised his sisters, tried to force them to wear hijab and bourkas and when they laughed at him, he became incandescent with rage and refused to speak to them again.

Finally, he told his parents that he was leaving university, was going to Pakistan to study his religion and at that point she was grateful for the lie.

She hasn’t seen him since the day that she stood with her husband watching his plane become smaller and smaller and further away.

She hasn’t seen him in the flesh since them but, Her other sons comb through YouTube, she has watched one and refused to look at any others. Last year, her own sister in Washington swears that she saw him in the background on a story on CNN from some dusty town in Syria. she doesn’t want this to be true and so, has decided that it isn’t.

Men in suits and very short hair visit the house sometimes, they ask her if she has heard from him, if she will tell them if she does, they remind her of the law, of her moral duty and she offers them good Somalia coffee and home cooked biscuits.

She is waiting for him to die, waiting for this to be over, but she prays, actually prays for a non-heroic death. His life is already over, but she clings onto this one, wants to still be able to nod to her neighbours, stand in the queue at the bus stop, and shop in local shops without being spat at, her headscarf pulled from her head, terrible thing being pushed through her letter box.

She knows that these and other dreadful things have happened to other mothers, other families and she doesn’t know if she is strong enough to bear it.

So, she prays for a pointless, stupid death for her good son, her good boy.

A car crash on a rutted road on the way to Mogadishu.

Untreated malaria with complications in some backwater in Syria.

A falling out amongst men with too many automatic weapons in   a town no-one has ever heard of on the Pakistani border.

Most of all, she prays that his death will cause no harm to anyone else.


Number 49- the man who hated noise.


Number 49 – The man who hated noise.

The door next door – number 51 slams shut, with a bang so loud it makes his window frames rattle and even though he is expecting it, after all it is 7.35, he still jumps, just a little and slops tea into the saucer, splashes some onto the draining board, he tuts quietly, annoyed with himself, he should be used to the door by now, it happens every morning. It shouldn’t be a cause for real anxiety, but today it is.
7.45 and his other neighbours- number 47 have started the litany of
Shout
Mumble
Shout
Stomp.
He doesn’t understand why she needs to stand at the bottom of her stairs and scream up to her oversized teenage son. He didn’t understand why she doesn’t simply walk up the stairs and actually speak to him.
Instead her screams come straight through the thin walls and fill his sitting room with her frustration
“ get up, you’re going to be late”
“Get up, you’re going to be late
“ I said, get up, you’re really late now”.
There are times when he seriously considers punching a hole in the wall and screaming his frustration at her and her sharp, edgy voice and for once filling her house with noise so loud it stops you thinking.
But, of course, he doesn’t.
Instead, he washes his cup and saucer, dries them carefully with the green checked tea towel and puts them both away in the cupboard next to the kettle.
He spends a moment checking the kitchen, work surfaces wiped down, cereal boxes carefully aligned in a tidy row. Sandwich box ready to go, flask filled, Apple polished and because it’s Friday, a two finger kitkat as a special treat for break time.
7.53 and a minute or two later than yesterday, the barking starts,staccato yaps, with no rhythm or pattern
Bark, bark, bark
Pause
Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark
And then a longer pause,
But, he has no time to savour this, to hold onto the last moments of peace before he must leave the house because the sullen teen has finally been prised out of bed and the thud, thud, thud of some hideous rap music has started and it’s counterpoint
“Mum, mum”
“What do you want?”
“ mum, I can’t find my PE kit”
The voice manages to be both booming and whining simultaneously
“ I can’t hear a bloody word, turn that bloody music down”
amen to that thinks the man at number 49, but it’s 8.10 and he needs to get going himself.
He collects up lunchbox, keys, waterproof jacket and a book and leaves the house, carefully and quietly shutting the front door.
The dog is still barking , but miraculously the music has stopped and he makes it to the car before the front door of 47 bursts open to disgorge six foot of teenager, all hoodie and rucksack hanging off him and the tssk,tssk, tssk of badly muffled outsized head phones.
Today, he doesn’t have to cope with the barely disguised sneer of dislike and he slides quickly and quietly into the car.
A deep breath and then engine on, the gentle purr of a car well maintained by it’s owner, check in mirror, signal and pull out onto the street.
Some mornings he listens to classic FM, playing low, almost sub audibly, but not today, his nerves are already jangling, he needs the silence of his commute to gather himself for the day ahead.
There are times when he genuinely believes that his neighbors are doing this on purpose, that they are conspiring to actually drive him insane, that this cannot be simply random thoughtlessness, that there must be some planning in all of this.
He doesn’t understand why they find it so difficult to just keep the noise down.
He is always thoughtful, mindful, careful and above all quiet.
Keeps his windows closed in all but the most freakish heat waves.
Only uses his Hoover once a week and at a time he has carefully calculated to cause the least impact on his neighbours- 11 am on a Saturday is hoovering time.
He would never dream of running his washing machine or tumble dryer at 10pm on a Tuesday night.
He saves his DIY tasks for holidays when he is sure that his neighbours are out at work.
He has never owned a pet or learnt the drums or bought a home entertainment centre or had mid week barbecues.
He keeps the volume on his television and radio to levels that can only be heard when he sits, quietly, in the armchair next to them.
But,none of this makes any difference to his neighbours, they seem completely impervious to his role modelling of good neighbourliness.
His offers of timed plugs to help them ensure that TVs and music go off at a sensible hour have caused terrible row,promises of injunctions and in one case and the threat seemed very real, the threat that if he ever knocked on the door again, he would get his face filled in.
After work, he parks his car, carefully, considerately outside his house. The dog next door hears him coming and starts to bark
“Bark, bark, bark”
Pause
“ bark, bark,,bark, bark”.
The teenager is home, his mother is not, so the noises are all recreational
Call of duty ..ack,ack,ack from the front room
A music channel from the bedroom and his voice, loud,echoing on a mobile
“ yeah, safe, yeah mate, safe, innit”
The man from number 49 puts on the kettle, waits for it to boil, takes his cup and saucer down from the cupboard and reaches Into the biscuit tin and chooses a chocolate digestive.
He sits quietly in his armchair, places the cup and saucer on the nest of tables next to him and reaches out for the book he has left on the arm of the chair.
He removes his bookmark and has just started to read when the the phone at 51 begins to ring and the dog, not to be outdone, begins to bark in answer.
“ Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
“Ring, ring”
“Bark, bark, bark”
He doesn’t mean to, but as the front door of 47 opens and slams shut, he drops the book, but gently, not to make a sound when it hits the floor and curls Into the chair, makes himself as small as possible and wraps his arms around his head, pushing his fingers deep into his ears.


Number 72- I is a big dog, I is


 

Number 72- I is a big dog, I is.

Gretchen is trying to look out of the front window, she balances on her back legs, leans her chin on to the book case, but she is still to small, too short. She is reduced to jumping up and down, getting brief, partial glimpses of the garden and the cat that is sitting on the front wall, staring in at her house.
Gretchen is struggling to bark and jump, her flattened face and squashed nose make this challenging and even to her own ears her bark is tiny, yappy, not very impressive at all.
“Yip, yip, yip”.
The cat lifts his head and stares at Gretchen as desperately trying to bounce higher, to get nearer , to look bigger, she overbalances and performs a prefect back summersault, taking a whole shelf of books with her.
The cat doesn’t even blink and returns to his quiet contemplation of the empty street.
And then the crash of books and a vase that had been left,forgotten in the great puppy proofing of 2015, half hidden by books on the middle shelf and has finally succumbed to the curse of the dog.
There is a pause, a chance for Gretchen to adopt her saddest face, ears drooping, sitting on her haunches, head bowed and then….
“ Gretchen “ the voice is loud, followed by the thump of feet on the stairs and then a pause, a taking stock of the damage, pause. Gretchen sits quietly, doesn’t move a muscle, waits with her head held low.
At 9 months old,she has discovered that this is the most effective way to head off disaster.
Look sorry
Look cute
Make the sad noise
And if all else fails, roll onto your back and show off your baby pink belly.
She is about to start this manoeuvre when she is scooped up, squeezed against a shoulder and kissed.
This is a surprise to her, loud bangs, crashes and the smashing of breakables is usually followed by the angry voice and an exile to the crate in the kitchen, but today the girl has seen the smug faced cat on the wall. She holds the dog up to the window and laughs
“ too small” she croons “ too small to even scare of that little cat”.
Gretchen wriggles in frustration, she is not too small, it is the world that is too big, the world that operates at a scale unfriendly to a French bulldog. On the inside she feels huge, a wolf of a dog, the kind of dog that struts across the park, smaller dogs scattering before her.
Gretchens reality at the dog park is something quite different, the walk preparation starts with an outfit being chosen. She has an extensive wardrobe, coats, jumpers, even a darling little tank top and matching skirt and then a lead and collar chosen to match the clothing, a quick squirt of lavender scented dog parfum and then off they head. Gretchen pulls in her eagerness to get there, but remembers her manners and is patient when the girl stops to allow the many admirers to pat and cuddle her.
The park is full of smells, scents that call out to her, that are so vivid, so heavy with information that she hardly knows where to start.
She bounces with excitement as finally the lead is removed and she is set free and with that she is across the park, mouth open in joy.
On the park she doesn’t feel small at all, she feels herself to be all dog, the wolf within let lose as she races from trees to long grass and into the patches of undergrowth where the scents are most delicious.
Here, Gretchen is the perfect size to squeeze under bushes, into the spaces between the benches where foolish picnickers leave the tastiest morsels of sandwiches and can, if she breathes in and nobody’s paying attention, slide underneath the toddler climbing castle and forage for chocolate buttons and dropped crisps.
On the park Gretchen fills the spaces perfectly, rises above the girl’s attempts to make her small, to keep her cute, to negate the dog inside. On the park, Gretchen leads a pack of dogs exploring the skate park, encourages them to turn deaf ears to owners too timid to challenge the hoodies and the emos who have ownership of the skate space and the burnt out bench.
It’s Gretchen who discovers the carrier bag momentarily ignored by the father rescuing his over ambitious five year old from the big kids climbing frame and tears it open, sharp tiny teeth tearing at the wrapped cooked chicken and its Gretchen who gets the lions share, holding her corner even from the sheep dog from across the road.
Finally, Gretchen is recaptured, her lead clipped on and still yapping her excitement, they return home and as they enter the house, she feels herself shrink, diminish, becomes all to aware of her size in a house where everything is too big.
Gretchen tries to look out into the front garden, tries to monitor the cat situation, but without the bookcase to balance on,she is even smaller and can only get brief,momentary glimpses of the wall as she leaps up and down.
There are two cats now, both seem completely unimpressed by the tiny barking dog jumping up and down to see out of the window.