Tag Archives: Short Stories

Number 47- if you don’t hold your breath…..


Number 47- If you don’t hold your breath until you get past….the bogey man will get you.

Number 47 is different to all the other houses on this street.

It’s bigger, three storeys, double fronted, large bay windows on either side of the solid front door.

Mr Harrison built this house for himself. Took some care over it, used decent materials, bullied the workmen, his workmen to take a little care, add some fancy edging, a bit of coving, a carved centre rosette to hang the lamp shade on.

Mr Harrison built all the houses on this street and the next street and the street after that.
Mr Harrison made a little Victorian empire, homes for the clerks and the shop workers and factory foreman.
Homes for the decent and the hardworking.

And just in case, in case someone didn’t know, didn’t know that he was the builder, the architect, the planner of this corner of a Midlands town.
Mr Harrison spelt out his own name in the first letters of every street where he built the houses.
Holly St
Alma St
Ruby St
Ridley St
Iona St
Smith St
Omsk St and
Newfoundland St.

Then, when all the houses are built, he moves his wife, his three daughters and two sons into his house and lives there until September 1918, when his second son, one already lost at Paschndale, is posted missing, presumed dead and then, quietly, with as little fuss as possible, he goes mad and spends the rest of his life in the asylum at the edge of the town.

His wife and daughters live on at number 47, all a little mad with grief and loss and sadness and time goes on and one by one they die and there is no one to leave the house to except a distant cousin and he doesn’t want it.
The neighbourhood has gone downhill, is still slipping downhill with no sign of the descent finishing yet
. The decent clerks and shop workers have moved on, aspire to semis with a bit of garden and somewhere to park the car and number 47 is an awkward size, too big for a family, too small to be made into flats.
So, it stays empty for a bit and starts to fall apart, just a little at first, but as the years go by, more and more shabby, more and more the kind of house that children run past without looking and adults fear strange illicit uses late at night.

And then, the polytechnic begins its sprawl and spread from a respectable red brick building So suitable for the education of draughtsmen and teachers and engineers and underwear designers and starts looking for spaces to house new courses that confuse the old guard lectures, passers on of knowledge that makes things and sends those sandwich course and evening class students into the world of real work, and so, a little mysteriously the department of cultural studies ends up, not on the real campus, but a 15 minute walk away and in academic terms, so far away as to be on another planet.

The house is tidied up, but retains its inherent housiness, desks and bookshelves and all the paraphernalia of academia sit uncomfortably in rooms that are still sitting and sleeping and eating rooms and no one remembers to get the bath removed.
In the heatwave of 1976, the pale young man who is trying to convince his senior colleagues that soap opera is a legitimate area of study, spends most afternoons lying in a tepid bath until his skin wrinkles and puckers.

Time passes and cultural studies becomes more popular, outgrows this outpost and is allowed to sneak back onto the main campus and the house becomes an overflow for the lecturers on part time posts and then, even they are found room in a new brutal tower block and the house falls empty again.

In the1980s, some graduates remember its existence and break in one winter afternoon and squat in the house.
The locals are suspicious, wary of the music that floods out of every open window.
The squatters paint the front door and all the window frames in bright neon colours and hold chaotic week long parties to which they invite their neighbours, who never come, but who do call the police and the university as the polytechnic now calls itself.

Finally, the squatters move out, the 90s are coming, greed is good and they long for the lifestyles they see each month in The Face.
Shared meals and badges with slogans and lentils seem a little sad, a little embarrassing and so,the house is left again.

The university almost forgets that it owns the house and the garden begins to move indoors and the wood on the window frames and the once sturdy front door begins to warp and crack.

Every couple of years, a resident writes to the university demanding that something is done about this eye sore and there are rumours that the house has been bought to be redeveloped or that it will be demolished or that a long lost relative of the almost forgotten Mr Harrison has been found and intends to move his or her family into the house.

But today, it’s raining and the wind is blustery, making the remaining glass in the Windows rattle.
The cats have long colonised the house. They particularly enjoy it on days like today, when they fill the rooms.
Some seek isolation, staring out of windows at passerbys,others take part in desultory mouse hunts and others yet curl up together, sharing body heat and mutual grooming.
A large black and white boy cat is snoozing, he has eaten his own science diet dry kibble, finished off a bowl of tesco value chicken flavour meat and scrounged half a sausage from a teenager eating his breakfast on the way to the bus stop.
The cat is full now, he lies on his back, occasionally licking the fur on his belly.
He has chosen his spot carefully, out of the wind, close to a hole in the wall where he is sure that the remaining mice have hidden.
The floor is padded with books left by the squatters and the last of the cultural studies lecturers.
The cat has found a good thick one, still in pristine condition, no sign of any wear and tear. It makes a perfect cushion.
The cat, whose family have called him Snuff, but whose real name is quite,quite different and much harder to pronounce, taps the front cover with his paw
“ Of grammertology “ Jacques Derrida.
The cat wonders if it’s any good.


Number 20- Je suis un rock star


Number 20- Je suis en rock star

Neal tiptoes into the bathroom, neatly sidesteps the Hans Solo action figure and the my little pony on sentry duty outside the bathroom. He pushes the door open with one finger, winces at the creak as the it opens and pauses, waiting for a sound, any sound.
But, there’s nothing, he breathes out a sigh of relief and pings on the light.

The bathroom is surprisingly large, big enough to house a book case, a battered Victorian nursing chair and the box of plastic bath toys.

Neal turns on the shower and stands for a minute looking at himself in the mirror, morning hair, morning face, everything a little out of focus, a little vague around the edges.
He steps out of his boxers and stands naked in front of the mirror, taking stock and if he remembers to breathe in, suck his belly in, well it’s actually ok.
He’s still got a bit of a tan from their two weeks in the sun, his hair is greying, but in a good way, makes him look classy and his gym going might be a bit hit and miss now, but he’s not too wobbly, too middle aged.
On the beach with the kids this summer, he could felt the odd appraising, approving glance from the yummy mummies and he liked it, liked the attention.
It made him feel as if things weren’t completely over for him, made him feel as if he still had options, other lives, other possibilities.
The shower is steaming now, water pounding against the glass. The power shower was his only contribution to the whole bathroom refit. He wanted a real shower, a mans shower, a shower that disgorged water with such force that his whole body tingles afterwards.
The kids don’t like the shower, they are bath babies, one each end of the bath, a flotilla of ducks and dinosaurs and Lego bricks floating between them, their hair twisted up into mad bathroom Mohicans and quiffs, ready for his wife to rinse off carefully, avoiding any risk of shampoo in the eyes.
He remembers the time BC, before children, when he and his wife would share a bath on a Sunday afternoon, cups of tea or sometimes Mexican beer and his soaping of her back and her shoulders and that special curve of the nape of her neck and then his fingers running down her spine and sometimes bed and sex and sometimes just talking and pyjamas and onto the sofa and rubbishy TV.

Neal stands in the shower, the water is hot and he keeps his head under the stream for a few moments and then he shakes his head, water drops everywhere, he can feel his jowls wobbling, this is what his kids call the dog shake and Neal starts to sing, shower gel in hand and today, he’s feeling a bit nostalgic, is remembering the big tunes from back in the day

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I
Can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Neal even manages a micro rock star strut in the shower cubicle, two micro steps each way, and he’s belting out the lyrics. Voice sometimes distorted by a mouthful of soapy water, but compensated for by the acoustics of the shower and the tiled bathroom.
He sounds like a god, he feels like a god.
Sometimes, he actually thinks that this is the best moment of the day, that everything is pretty much downhill after his seven minute ( two songs, with a couple of repeat choruses) of water and steam and rock stardom.
He is a legend in his own shower cubicle.

As he starts to dry himself with a Disney princess bath towel, he hears the first stirring from the kids bedrooms.
His daughter is not a morning person, takes time to surface. He can hear her talking to the cat who has at some point snuck into her bedroom and taken up residence amongst the cuddle toy mountain. Leah, will, if allowed to, stay in bed for at least another hour, arranging plastic animals on the duvet, singing songs to the cat and choosing her own outfit for the day.
Max is something else, he wakes,more erupts into the morning, leaps out of bed and grabs the day by the throat.
Neal can hear him, a whoop as he grabs his Darth Vader toy and heads towards his dad and the bathroom.
They stand together at the sink. Neal shaves. Max watching intently. They both have a dab of aftershave, Max always get to choose the morning aroma and sometimes he will decide that he’s going to be the one who moisturises Neals face and that goes as well as a three year old and a tub of Nivea for men could possibly go.

Neal can feel Sara stirring, but it’s Saturday and Saturday has a routine, he and Max have a routine and off they go. The cat weaving in and out of their legs as they head downstairs.

And later, the tray placed carefully out of reach, everyone back in bed together, Leah spooned against her mother, eating a piece of toast, eyes still half closed, a discarded pair of glittery wings just about to slide off the bed.
Max is desperate for the day to start, is bouncing between his parents, and then suddenly sidetracked, grabs the fairy wings and demands that his father fits them.

Neal leans back for a second and smiles, he manages to fit the wings and hold onto his mug of tea, only spilling a few drops.

This, he thinks, might be the best part of the day.


Number 69- Mr Loverman


Number 69- Mr Loverman.

Dave reckons its all about the detail, those little things that make all the difference and that’s why he’s leaning over the ironing board, ironing the sheets.

There is nothing more luxurious than crisp, ironed Egyptian cotton sheets and Dave reckons that even if the girl is too pissed, too tired to notice, at some subliminal level, the whole message of care and attention to detail is absorbed, helps make a night with Mr Loverman just that little bit more special.

Dave is an expert on the little details;
Food can be ready made, but it’s the presentation that matters.
You can ply a girl with booze, but you need to be a bit subtle, cocktails are good for that, plenty of alcohol, but such innocent tastes.
Candles, candles are a big part of it, all girls look better in candlelight and , complete bonus, candle light covers any cleaning failure and these days, he reckons that he looks better by candlelight too.
Cleaning, see above, but somethings have to be done properly.
Fluffy towels in bathroom
Decent duvet on top of those ironed sheets
Books on the bedside table, books are very reassuring
Sitting room needs a little artistic arrangement, needs to look as if he’s just interrupted a quiet night in to let tonight’s girl in, so, open book on the coffee table, half finished mug of tea, sometimes he goes the whole hog and makes it herbal tea, something eclectic musically and, he’s learnt this the hard way, TV both turned off and most importantly, channel changed so that when a girl sits on the remote it doesn’t blast into life with Russian housewives porn.
He’s pulled out the cushions, covered the sofa with them, put flowers, simple, non showy blooms, definitely not garage flowers, in a plain glass vase and sprayed air freshener.
He’s even dug out those photos he found in a charity shop, a family, someone’s family, Christmas and beaches and big dogs and a wedding and had framed, placed casually around. He knows that girls cannot resist picking things up, cannot resist asking questions, cannot resist making assumptions about a man who used to own a black Labrador.
The table is set, plain white China, big plates, will make the meal look smaller, reassure the girl that she hasn’t eaten much.
Dave doesn’t understand the girls and food. It’s simple he thinks, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, job done.
But, over the years and years that he has ironed sheets and sliced tomatoes and laid tables, he has never, ever fed a girl who just ate. He has become adept at walking that tightrope between providing food that’s effectively calorie free, whilst still always having a chocolate based pudding and offering at least one dish that has to be eaten with fingers and, and this is the big one, he mustn’t offer any food that risks the girl feeling fat.
Girls that feel fat, feel greedy, feel that they have let themselves down tend to make an exit, cite early starts at work, a sudden headache, a childcare problem. They have made themselves feel unattractive and cannot bear to see themselves naked even in between fine cotton sheets.

Dave isn’t against fat girls, plain girls, even downright ugly shockers.
These girls are often enthusiastic lovers, as long as he keep the lights low enough to not shake their confidence and makes sure he gets the booze level right.
For him and the girl.

Dave is pretty much an equal opportunities Mr Loverman, he has, to date, and personally he feels he has a lot more special nights in him, slept with ;
Tall
Short
Black
Chinese
Somali
Divorced
Escapees from their own hen nights
A girl he found at a bus stop
And of course the usual bevy of girls he has found, chased, captured and rewarded with a night with The Loverman.

Dave reckons he could run an evening class in getting girls, Dave reckons he’s a zen master at it, Dave reckons, that if he had a superpower, it would be this, he is a shagging superhero.

Dave has an almost 95% success rate, which must put him up there with the super stud muffins and yeah, he does know that knowing your pulling and follow through rate in % is not a thing to share with any of the girls. On balance, probably worse than the whole porn channel thing.

Dave has rules though, not rules he always keeps to, more guidelines really, suggestions, ways of avoiding complications.
These rules, if they are rules, can be summed up in one simple sentence
“ No mad birds”

Although sometimes he has to admit that you can’t always tell until it’s too late and other times, well, you have to take what’s on offer.
But generally, he avoids the actual card carrying mad, anyone who believes in astrology, girls who want him to call them women, girls who want him to call them at all
, girls who have texting habits, or crack habits or who want to take him home, introduce him to their mothers.

Dave can find a girl anywhere, doesn’t need to haunt pubs or clubs or stupidly expensive cafes, although he’s happy to use these for straightforward hunting, but what Dave likes is going off piste, going off road, taking the lane that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere useful.

So far this year, Dave has met, chased and caught girls he first saw in a queue at the dry cleaners, standing having a a smoke outside their offices, waiting for the Pilates class at the gym and he is secretly quite proud of this one, a girl who he found waiting for the family car to pick her up on the way to a funeral, in fairness to his sense of propriety, it wasn’t a funeral of a close family member.
Dave has a routine, bit of banter, couple of glasses of wine or beer or cider and then the dinner date for 2 days after this,the initial,preliminary sorte.
It gives him a chance to apply rule 1 – no mad birds and most importantly,to set him up as a really nice guy, after all, they’ve been for a drink or 7 with him and then, when most girls are expecting the heavy come on, he goes all Deliah on them and starts talking puddings.

If the spirit moves him and sometimes it does and some times it doesn’t, he will fit in another interim date, the only rule is that the timing has to be odd,the venue off kilter, so, yes to breakfast in a bagel café
Yes to duck feeding and a mini picnic after work
Yes to coffee at a farmers market
And never more than 90 minutes, 90 minutes of his total attention,eye contact, phone ostentatiously switched off and plenty of questions.
Dave isn’t actually that bothered about the answers, but he knows that girls,all,girls love talking about themselves and it saves him having to think of anything to say himself.
He sends 1 text per day to the soon to be wined and dined girl de jour and keeps an eye on the number he gets back.
He can still invoke the mad girls rule if the texting response gets too enthusiastic, too needy, too much.

And then it is D day, dinner day and there he is, sheet ironing and walking purposely around the conveniently local marks and Spencer’s.

He knows, he always knows how the evening will be end, sometimes there are small surprises.
The girl who arrives with a pair of fur lined handcuffs.
The girl who brings a friend.
The girl who cries into his chest, afterwards.

And at some point, late at night, the girl will sleep, neatly or untidily, quietly or with astonishing noise and he will be awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering when she will wake and when she will leave.

He is already thinking about the next girl, the one he has already spotted,already spoken to,already pencilled in to eat here in 4 or 5 days.

He extricates himself neatly, with polished practice from this girl,the one currently in his bed, the one who will wonder what happened, what went wrong.

She will never know and he will, within days, sometimes even hours, have forgotten her name although he often remembers the ex girls, the past girls by what he made for dinner.


Number 94- there ain’t no door that can keep me out- number 2


Number 94 – There ain’t no door can keep me out – number 2.

Kyle tries to pull the tiny slivers of glass for his thumb. He can’t see them, but he can feel sharp grittiness under the skin.
He thought he’d been more careful when he smashed the glass, had wrapped a tea towel around his fist, but here he is, leaning against the kitchen units, his hand hurting. It doesn’t surprise him that the back door at 98 had crappy old fashioned glass, the non safety stuff, the stuff that leaves splinters that will, knowing his luck, get infected and hurt like buggery.

At least he doesn’t have to worry about finger prints cos it’s not like the police are going to break a sweat on another robbery at number 98 and he would laugh, but he’s just pulled a bit of glass out and now there’s blood all over his hand, so,he doesn’t feel much like laughing.
He has a good swear instead, Kyle loves swearing, loves combining words to make mega swears, even invents new words when the old ones just don’t seem angry enough.
Swearing was what got him kicked out of the last school, well swearing and throwing a chair at a teachers head.
Although in fairness, the chair missed, missed by a mile and Kyle reckons that this proves that he wasn’t really aiming, if he had wanted to hit the teacher, he wouldn’t have bothered with a chair, so, if all just proves what Kyle already knows.
People just pick on him for no reason.

His mum went mental, screaming and shouting, but he just stood there staring at her, fronting up to her until she stopped and then he went out.

Kyle doesn’t miss school, not the lessons anyway, except maybe the ones with the teachers who lose it, whose faces go red, who spit and shake and on a really good day, the ones who cry, the ones who turn away and you know that they are close to tears.
He misses that and the corridors and the noise and the possibility of chaos and mischief, but school, what’s to miss?

He’s been to three secondary schools now, new uniform for each one, new bus route, new need to suss out who’s who and who thinks they need to show him how hard they are and who’s weak and needs to learn how hard he is.

And each time, it’s just the same shit in a different coloured blazer and he doesn’t even bother to hide what he thinks and so now he’s at home, waiting for someone to find another school or something and his mum has stopped nagging him and just gets herself up and goes to work and doesn’t say much to him and he’s never said much to her.

Besides, he hasn’t got time for school, he’s got stuff going on and some of it is proper bad. Not like the wanna be gangsters at his second school, the ones who thought that grabbing a handful of sweets from the scruffy corner shop or boosting a phone from a kid in Year 7 made them dangerous to know.

That’s not robbing, what Kyle does,now that’s robbing and if number 98 wasn’t such a cheap git then he might have a bit more to show for it than sore hands and a tenner.
He’s vexed, proper vexed. He could have gone into his mums handbag if all he wanted was a bloody tenner and he wouldn’t be standing here now, trying to dig bits of glass out of his hand.

He thought there would be more, much more in number 98, he thought it would be worth rolling out from under his duvet, worth finding an old pair of trainers, worth leaving a half smoked spliff on a plate,ready for later.

But,there was nothing.
No TV
No games machine
No laptop
No phone

Nothing and for a minute, before anger kicked in, Kyle stood there in the middle of the sitting room and just stared, not sure of what to even think.

He felt cheated, after all this was the house that kept getting broken into, in Kyle’s head there had to be a reason, there had to be good stuff there, stuff worth nicking, stuff he could sell or trade or simply keep under his bed with other things, special things, but there was nothing.

He could feel the anger growing, it felt good, his stomach knotted, fists clenched, lips pulled back in a snarl.
At school, they said he had anger issues, said he needed to learn self control, said he made bad decisions and every time some stupid no mark stood too close to him and poked their finger towards his face and he managed not to punch them,he knew that they knew nothing because the control it took to not smash his fist into their fat satisfied faces exhausted him, left him pale and shaking.
They didn’t understand why he had to shout out a really good swear and walk away, pushing his fists into his pockets, his breath ragged,short, head pounding like it wanted to explode.

But standing in the middle of this joke of a room, he could feel the anger growing in him and he was just about to do something and then his phone pinged, a text and he couldn’t ignore it, had to just check it and he was glad he did
“ R U in – bunkd off Skol- fan c a smoke 😆”

So, he took the tenner, why not and legged it back over the fence and home.

GTA, spliff and Doritos and bit of a sleep.
When he woke up, he lay under the duvet on the sofa for a minute, his hand was still stinging and it took a while to remember what had happened and then he felt the anger growing again.

That stupid twat with his books and fucking radio and his arsey stupid bird feeders and his nothing worth nicking.

Kyle sat up, fired up the half smoked spliff and then he knew what he should do.

And this time he was going to do it properly, let number 98 know exactly how bad it all made him feel.

He walked up the path, 3 steps from the gate to the front door and nodded to himself. He was going to kick the front door in, he didn’t care if anyone saw him
“ fuck that” he said out loud and then he said it again,even louder and again until he was standing there screaming and then he leant on the door, ready to smash it in and it opened.

The stupid twat hadn’t even bothered to lock the door.
Just asking for it.

Kyle walked in, took a deep breath and prepared to show the sad little git who lived here exactly how angry he was feeling.


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.