Tag Archives: suicide

Number 34- The Harrisons live here.

Number 34 – The Harrisons live here.

And I know this because there used to be a China plaque on the wall next to the front door, the 3 little pigs, in a circle, trotter to trotter and in the centre and brick house with neat cloud of smoke billowing out of the chimney and red gingham curtains at the Windows and underneath, the legend “ The Harrisons live here”.
I sometimes wonder what inspired them to choose that particular plaque or if someone else, someone with a sharper sense of humour or a streak of unkindness had gifted it to them and if so, why had they taken the time and effort to drill holes, find rawl plugs and put it out there for everyone to see .
Because the Harrisons, mother and son were fat,not quite the stare at in the street fat, not shut ins with a shadowy feeder, but fat enough to make crossing their legs a distant memory, fat enough to mean they wore jogging bottoms to cover up the joggling bottoms and crucially fat enough to make the jaunty name plaque move from comedy to quiet domestic tragedy in less time than it takes to eat a family size bar of dairy milk.
I used to walk past their house at night, and although I tried not to stare, tried not to judge, somehow I would find myself transfixed.
Curtains open, lights on and both of them, mother and son planted on the green leather sofa, those sofas with the strange nobbly green buttons which see to have no function except to make the sofas simply uncomfortable, staring straight ahead at the TV, back in the days when TVs lived on tables and sideboards and had not learnt to climb walls and become slim line.
They each had their own end of the sofa, the remote in clear view and democratically placed in the very middle of the space between them.
But, it was the tray meals that I couldn’t help but stare at, I would find myself slowing down as I neared the tiny front garden, trying to calculate if I was passing at the right time and feeling a moment of small victory if I saw them, trays resting in more than ample stomachs, sometimes the odd item placed on the shelf of bosom or man boobs and their hands clutching forks, creating the perfect circle.
They never seemed to look down at the food, but stared at the television screen and when I think about it, try and capture that image of their evenings together, I don’t get any sense of conversation , just the noise of cutlery on plates, the gentle or maybe loud enjoyment of another meal and always the TV, filling the spaces.
And, yes, afterwards, I did try and recreate what they looked like together, evening after evening, tried to understand how she had felt, what had made her do the thing she did.
But I couldn’t and I still can’t.
It’s not the suicide that bothers me, I don’t have a high moral stance, each to their own I say, but to kill yourself that way, it just seems too uncertain, too tricky, too bloody painful.
She did it one day when he was out at work, climbed to the top of the stairs or maybe she was on her way down, less effort that way, less far to travel.
She jumped from the top stair, landed in the hallway.
She was the first thing he saw when he got home, she fell awkwardly, partially blocked the front door, he only managed to open it by giving it a good shove.
And just in case,in case people called it a tragic accident, a domestic disaster, she left a note,telling him exactly what she planned to do and why.

Wait a minute.
Does this ring true? Do you really, truly believe that someone could actually commit suicide by jumping from the top of stairs in terraced house.
Really ?
Such a well padded,almost cushiony woman, surely she would land softly, perhaps even bounce.
Tragedy flicking over in a split second into a prat fall, the shameful hobble into the kitchen for ibuprofen and the bag of frozen peas. The slow, painful collection of that note, pushing it deep into a dressing gown pocket and then weeks later left to disintegrate on a 40 degree white wash cycle.
Or, is something else happening here ?
How reliable is this voice, this story/storey teller ?
Am I about to shoehorn in some clumsy,heavy handed reference back to the little pigs, make a statement that its not just a wolf that can blow your house down, suggest that behind the stone cladding of this midland terraced house that lives of quiet desperation are lived out and sometimes, just sometimes not lived out at all ?
Or, am I simply mistaken, fooled by a urban street myth, wanting to believe a story rather than a prosaic truth, a fat middle aged wOman who lost her footing and fell to an undignified death.
Or, was I lied to, sucked into a story told by another neighbour who Wanted, just once to be the bearer of something, something so tragic that some glamour, some essence of a truth that should be true, needs to be true would somehow cling to them, give them the authority, the gravitas of an undertaker, the heavy knowledge of the coroner, the status that this much proximity to misery brings.

I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
You don’t know, you weren’t there.
But, if there is a truth, this is what I want it to be, that on that morning, the last morning, when she stood on the top stair, balanced on the balls of her feet, poised like a diver, waiting to make that dive.
I want the truth to be that as she leapt into space, before she twisted and turned, before she banged and bumped and finally landed, before that, in that split second, she felt lightness and weightlessness and for that second she flew in the air,gossamer in an impossible breeze.

The house has changed hands twice in the last 10 years,finally, just a few months ago, someone removed the little pigs plaque, but if you know where to look, you can still see the drill holes in the brick work, still see the faint outline of the chimney and the cheerfully billowing smoke.

What would Elvis do ? – On the night-bus – 10

More and more he finds himself turning to Elvis as a moral compass when he doesn’t know what to do, of course, you have to be careful about which Elvis, not the bloated Elvis, hepped on goof balls and deep fried foods, lost in the jungle room surrounded by yes men and half clad teenage girls, but the young Elvis, the boy who sang songs for his mother and called all men sir, even when he knew that he was the next big thing, in the days before any next big things.

That’s the Elvis he thinks about, tries to channel, he’s got the shy duck of the head, the eyes looking upward, the half smile off to a tee, somewhere between Princess Di and the King himself, but it’s good enough, gets him through the day or more accurately the night.

Afterwards, when the union and human resources, a woman who patted his arm and changed her nail color to match her outfits, said he didn’t have to go back to driving, said he could have an office job, take long term sick leave, he paused and Elvis spoke through him, the Elvis from Sun Studios, hands at his side, deferential and he said that he just wanted to get back to work, the ma’am slipped out, but he didn’t think that anyone in that small windowless room had noticed.

So, back to the night shift, back to the night buses, back, because it was May to those morning walks home, sun shining, streets quiet, the off time somewhere between the early hours and the work day, back to the mug of tea and the fried eggs, fried bread breakfast.

Fat Elvis, deep fried chicken, jelly donut Elvis.

He sleeps in the bedroom he has occupied all his life, feet can touch the wall at the end of his bed if he stretches just an inch or two, makes him feel like a giant, squashed into furniture just that little too small.
When his mum died, he planned to move into her bedroom, is still planning to, has got as far as bagging up her clothes, stripping the bed, picking up an Ikea catologue, circling potential new bed-side tables, but knows he is not yet ready.

Elvis’ mom, watching her son on stage, hearing the screams of girls as he thrusts and plunges, face shiny back then with the sheer joy of performance.

After breakfast, the best cigarette of the day, smoked, these days, in the kitchen, knot hovering on the fire escape, plate scraped, surfaces wiped, dutiful son Elvis, homeboy Elvis and then bed, sleep.

When he first went back, the other drivers were cautious, circled him carefully, looking out for signs of slippage, but time passed and other stuff happened, Salim helped a woman give birth to twins on the Crouch End bus, someone left a brief case with 3 grand in it on the Muswell Hill Circular and he was old news.

Elvis in Vegas, forgetting the words, stopping mid song to stare at the audience who have come to see someone who used to be big.

He misses the old Routemasters, the days when the driver lived in a cab, kept separate from the passengers and the buses that actually needed driving, huge heavy steering wheels, double declutching to change gear, the smell of diesel.
Now, he is there with the fares, takes the fares, polices the fares and the bus is all power steering and reversing sensors and his job is to be the face of the company.

Elvis, his uniform specially altered, tweaked, carefully choreographed photo shoots, you’re in the army now.

The night- bus is easy, once you get past the drunks and the lost and the ever so slightly mad, flat rate fare, no change and there is room to drive, roads not deserted, never deserted, but a hint of space, a possibility of movement and sometimes, out in the suburbs, out towards the end of the line, it feels like it’s just him and the bus and the night and he wonders what would happen if he just kept driving, but that’s a James Dean thought, not the moral compass for a man on the 47 night bus.

James Dean, Jimmy Dean, flashbulbs light up the found art that is car/tree/car and your body, scarred with cigarette burns and sly slicing to your arms and wrists.

Find a happy place, take a deep breath, centre yourself, this is the 47, heading out of town, he gets a grip, stares in the mirror, checks out the passengers, checks himself, find the happy place

Elvis cradles Priscilla in his arms, his hands are huge, designed to dig and cut and work and freed from all of that when he opened his mouth and sang gospel like a black boy.

Mostly, he doesn’t think about what happened, not in detail, not for long. He knows that it is becoming a depot tale, one of the dark ones, the stories that don’t get told in the pub.

He didn’t even notice her, why would he, small, skinny, hair pulled back in a straggly pony tail, he had lots of time to look at her, afterwards of course.
She sat on the back seat, curled up into the corner, he saw it on the CCTV, afterwards and quietly, somewhere between Oxford Street and the terminus, the far suburb, the streets where foxes with unblinking yellow eyes watched the bus go by, she slashed her wrists and bled to death, unnoticed, just a huddle of black clothes, a sleeper who has missed their stop.

He doesn’t think about her very often, drive the bus, move the people, watch the foxes, ask what would Elvis do?

Elvis, on that last night, hot southern night and the pills don’t work and the girls don’t work and the food won’t fill the hunger and you walk from room to room trying not to catch sight of yourself in mirrors and you wait for day to come.



A task from my writing group – 200 words on the topic of debt.

And afterwards, saved from jumping, from falling, he looks directly at her
“I will always be in your debt” he says
and she nods, appraising the truth of this statement.

At first it is easy, a request to mend a dripping tap, chop wood for her stove, drive her and a sickly pet to the vets.

He is happy to help, ater all he is in her debt.

But, the tasks become more complex, long journeys to collect objects she says she cannot live without, heavy manual labour around her home, jobs that take up more and more of his free time.

He considers refusing, but the pause she leaves after each request reminds him that there is a debt to be paid.

And then of course, there are the calls, late at night, rambling into silence or diatribes about the unfairness of her life.
He begins to dread the sound of his phone.

He makes his preparations, travels to the beach, weighs his pockets down with stones and walks towards the water.
He feels only relief, release.

He has made sure that she is out of town this week end.