Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Faceless

Don’t fall behind. Don’t stop.

The snow is everywhere, in piles around our feet, stinging our faces in the wind, and seeping through clothes, through skin, through bone. The cold is the only thing we are certain of now, infinite in time and place; we have no memory of not being cold and no sense that there is anywhere it does not reach. Walking in that snow, in that impenetrable cold, is the hardest thing any of us have ever done. Don’t fall behind. Don’t stop.

The rules are simple. Walk and live. Fall behind and die. They pursue. So we don’t stop. Even if our living has become mechanical, functional – left foot, right foot, left foot – it is all we have and so it is all we do. We are not sure if we still feel, soaked in frost and numb to our core, but we maintain the trudge through some unconscious autonomic impulse. The impulse to live. Don’t fall behind. Don’t stop.

The longer we walk the thicker the snow drifts and the more numb we become, the fire in our heart that kept the chill at bay dying to embers. Our steps slow until movement is almost imperceptible; the weight of snow on our boots too heavy to lift. It would be easier to stop, to lay back in the freezing embrace of the white blankets that surround us, close our eyes, and be swallowed. But there is some heat yet in the ashes. Some flicker that we once remembered as hope. Don’t fall behind. Don’t stop.

We are lost now. Our eyes blinking against driving, whirling flurries of sleet and powder, tears long frozen clinging to our cheeks. There is nothing to see beyond white oblivion: we don’t know where we are. We don’t know how we got here or how we might reach somewhere that’s not here, just that we must put one foot down in front of the other and walk. We walk not to find our way out: we walk because to stop signals defeat. They pursue. Don’t fall behind. Don’t stop.

We walk to escape. We don’t stop because they are relentless. The faceless stalk us.

The faceless do not weep for they lack eyes with which to cry. The faceless do not speak for they lack mouths with which to talk. The faceless do not hear for they lack ears with which to listen.

No tears. No voice. No sound. But they know. They know, they mourn, and they pursue. And their mourning will only know peace through their vengeance on us. Us that see and shed tears. Us that shout and laugh. Us that hear so much. So much and yet not enough.

The faceless tread soft, as silent in their coming as the over night frost, as the snow ‘neath our feet. We do not hear them; as they do not hear us. But they do not rely on such things. They know. They mourn. They pursue. And their vengeance will be without mercy.

……

This is the eleventh story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. This one is a slightly abstract attempt to express how depression feels to me. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/

Anti social media

He always was predictable. Same password. Same status updates: look at me doing things with the kids, look at me doing things with her. The kids and her. There they all were grinning furiously back out from Facebook, yesterday from the oh-it’s-just-perfect hotel and today from the beach. Spain. Just like we used to. Predictable.

Forty three people like this photo. Forty fucking three. Half of them were supposed to be our friends: Caroline, we don’t want to choose sides and we really want to stay friends with both of you. Well, you chose. You, Emily Richardson, bridesmaid at our wedding: you chose liking their photos. You, Steve Jenkins, oldest friend from college: you chose commenting on their status. Hotel looks fab, have a great time guys. You, Julie Smithson, NCT partner in crime: you chose setting up the girl’s meet and greet coffee morning for all the yummy mummy’s for Year One. Chose it and invited her. Not me. Her. You all chose. You all chose predictable him and little miss I never meant for this to happen but you can’t help who you fall in love with. Fuck you all.

The key was under a plant pot near the front door. That hadn’t changed. Predictable Sam and his predictable safety mechanisms. In case I ever get locked out ! Like Sam had ever been locked out in his life. Sam could barely leave the house without triple checking his wallet and keys. Sam kept spare change in the little compartment in his car – the one specifically for spare change, the one everyone else stuffed with sweets or ignored – for parking emergencies. Sam had never been caught out in his plodding and predictable life. Straight, safe, missionary position, book before bedtime Sam.

Slipping silently inside the house was all familiar. They put so many pictures of it up on Facebook that it was easy to imagine living there. Easy to imagine but not practical in reality: not now that bitch had staked it out as territory. Behind the front door was the porch where they all line up their shoes, four pairs, biggest to smallest. That photo had topped fifty likes. His large, sensible leather work shoes – black, plain, laces – down to Mia’s tiny velcro strapped pink Lelli Kellys. They’d brought coos of delight and admiration in the comments bar under the photo. So cute ! Adorable ! Such great taste – just like her mum ! Just like her mum. Her “mum” who’d lined them up, photographed them, and pasted them out to the world on social media. Not her mum who’d bought them. Her actual mum. Her Monday to Thursday and every other weekend mum.

The hall was replete with a large picture of them all. The new family. Professionally taken, staged against a white background. Happy smiles as the photographer had shouted sausages or bottom or visitation rights or whatever the hell they shouted now. Adjacent to the picture hung a large framed sign spelling out what this new family was all about. This had garnered another fifty likes when it had been recycled onto the world wide web. This family does love. This family respects each other and treats everyone as an individual. We laugh. We cry. We look after each other. On and on with the empty platitudes. This family did deceit and divorce and lawyers and bitterness and rancour. This family does revenge.

Up the stairs it was less familiar. A private space not usually revealed and shared. No sense dwelling on the kid’s bedrooms. Clothes and toys picked out by real mum, displaced and folded away by the imposter. Certificates from school that they insisted on pinning up in their bedroom at home. This home. Not their other, smaller, Monday to Thursday and every other weekend home.

And then their room. Immaculate, of course. All pastels and cushions. Soft furnishings arranged in hard, clinical lines. A kingsize bed and matching bedside cabinets reflected back in the mirrored built in wardrobes that rolled back to reveal dress upon dress upon dress. Size eight. Of course she was a fucking eight. There was that Ted Baker dress (thirty six likes: wow, you go girl, stunning, gorgeous) from Sam’s 40th and the charity shop number that looked like a Vera Wang (forty likes: so stylish, charity chic, you have such a good eye) and the wedding dress. The wedding dress. Who keeps their wedding dress in the wardrobe ? Pulled out and flung on the bed it looked almost exactly the same as it looked on the day. In the photos at least. The ones with the kids – not the bride’s kids – just tucked in behind it, holding the train. The oh-so-fucking-cute one of Mia peeking out from directly under the train (over one hundred likes).

Pulling open his drawers was predictable. Same M&S underwear. Pairs and pairs of black socks, neatly tucked inside each other. Folded white handkerchiefs. The top drawer by the bed held two packets of condoms, one unopened, the other barely begun. Same brand they’d used. Her drawers though were a surprise. Tiny, flimsy knickers. Bitch has probably got a pelvic floor like a steel trap. Vagina like a vice. Nothing you’d wear after having kids. Nothing you’d wear past 40. It’s all coming for you darling, you don’t know it yet but it’s all coming. Then buried beneath the piles of lacy nothingness, a long, smooth vibrator. Somewhere he’d never find it. Somewhere he’d never go. So we have that in common at least.

The wedding dress cut easily. A pair of nail scissors retrieved from the en suite (our house has four bathrooms… fifty six likes the day after they’d moved in) and its simple, slim lines and discrete, classy detailing was hacked apart in a couple of minutes. Would have taken longer if it was a bit bigger. Size fucking eight. That was the first photo uploaded to his wall. Riches to rags its caption. Change your password you predictable, betraying idiot.

The vibrator took a while to break in half. Smashed again and again and again on the side of her dressing table until it cracked and split. That was photo number two. The fractured remnants atop his unopened packet of condoms and a pair of her flimsiest, laciest underwear. This one also deserved a caption: broken him in yet ?

And finally, two words smeared across her dressing table mirror in the boldest, reddest lipstick she could find rummaging through unfamiliar and expensive brands of make up. Not yours.

As they appeared on his status feed she silently pressed delete on the pictures held on her phone before leaving the way she’d come in: through the front door, replacing the key under the plant pot. Of course they’d know. He was predictable but not stupid. She wanted them to know. But they’d never prove it.

One last check of the phone, the three photographic acts of vengeance staring back out from Facebook. No likes.

……

This is the tenth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. They aren’t usually as nasty as this. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/

A Case Of You

We lay on our backs, on her bed downstairs in her upside down house. Flush. Silent. Smiling. She was resting her head in the crook of her arm, thrown back behind her. Gently she pushed herself up onto her elbow, resting her cheek in her hand to face towards me.

“First lines” she said.

I looked at her and leant over to push a strand of hair back from her face. “I was hoping for a better reaction than that to be honest”.

“Stop fishing” she grinned. “I wouldn’t be asking about first lines if I wasn’t happy about that.” It hung there a moment. “A little longer might have been nice…” She started to laugh and I pulled the pillow from behind her and half heartedly caught her round the head with it. I relented as she protested, through stifled laughter, that she was just teasing.

“First lines” she tried again. “Lyrics. First line of a song and the other person has to guess.”

“Really ?”

“It’s a good way to get to know someone” she said. “If you want this to all happen again then indulge me.”

“Okay, let me think.”

“Come on, come on, don’t think too hard about it.”

“Alright, how about ‘I never thought that it would happen with me and the girl from Clapham’ ?”

“Too easy. You can’t have that. Besides I’m from Brighton and easily jealous.”

I let my head fall back into the pillow and stared at the ceiling. She started to impatiently drum her fingers on the duvet.

“And this I know… his teeth as white as snow.” I said it to the ceiling and then rolled over to face her, smiling. “You must know that.”

She started repeating it, furrowing her brow. “Ah man, I do know that” she said. I watched her struggle to recall it, letting my eyes follow the line of her neck down to an exposed shoulder. There hadn’t been much time to look the night before. She felt my eyes on her and caught my gaze, eyebrow raised in enquiry.

“Are we playing my game or checking each other out ?” she asked, the hint of a smile.

“I thought we were doing both” I replied.

“Ha ! A clever one. Always beware the clever ones” she laughed. I watched her mouth twist and dance as she moved through expressions of curiosity, amusement, and mock outrage before leaning in to kiss her. She responded and then pulled away. “Okay, so not just a clever one. That I also remember from last night.”

We looked at each other for a minute, both lost in our own thoughts, before I broke the silence. I started to sound out the repeating, circular bass line from the song that I’d asked her to guess. Round and round, over and over. “And this I know… his teeth as white as snow…”. She clutched at her head.

“This is infuriating. I know it. I bloody know it.”

“Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let’s have a ball…” I sang quietly.

“The Pixies. It’s The Pixies” she shouted. “Gigantic. Really ?” She raised both eyebrows this time, a kind of bemused admonishment.

“You know what that song’s about, right ?” I asked, grinning.

“Stop leering” she said. “I believe that song’s about a ‘big, big love’. Don’t kid yourself mister.” I started singing the chorus softly – “gigantic, gigantic, a big big love” – only to hear her join in besides me, mockingly singing “average, average, a mid sized love”.

“Alright, alright, stop” I protested. “I have very fragile self esteem.”

“Yeah, of course you do” she said.

“Besides, it’s Pixies. Not The Pixies. Just Pixies.”

“Like I said” she groaned. “A clever one.”

I stared at her again as we lay on our sides, the duvet tracing the rise of her hip and curve of her waist. “You checking me out again ?” she asked softly.

“Maybe” I conceded. “I was wondering what yours would be ?

“Mine ?”

“First line. It’s only fair. I’ve given you two. What’s yours ?”. She looked away and, for the first time, she seemed uncertain. Eventually she looked back at me and replied.

“Here goes then. Mine’s always the same when I play this game. You ready ?” I nodded. “Just before our love got lost you said ‘I am as constant as a northern star’…” She paused.

“Constant in the darkness ? Where’s that at ?” I finished. There was a sharp, surprised intake of breath. People’s jaws don’t really fall open but surprise registered on her face. Surprise and something else; a cautious, tentative delight.

“You know that ?” she said.

“Joni ? Are you kidding ? Of course I know Joni. We’ve all had our heart broken, right ?” Again she looked away, let her eyes roam the room as if searching for the right reply, as if she’d pinned it up somewhere in preparation for this. Without making eye contact she finally said:

“Too many times.” Again, more quietly. “Too many times.”

I reached over and took her hand, tugged it gently so that she’d turn and face me again, waited until she did. “Maybe not this time, eh ?” I said.

“I barely know you” she said with a sigh. “There have been a few I’ve barely known. But, after, there’s always Joni.”

“Well Joni’s my go to heartbreak record too” I said. “So we’ve got a problem.”

“How’d you figure ?”

“If this doesn’t work we can’t both sit around, separate, listening to the same song. Knowing the other person’s listening to it. That song’s for me when I break up with someone.”

“No, no, no. It’s for me”

“Exactly. You see the dilemma.”

“So why don’t we share her ?” She asked it lightly, passing it off as a throwaway question.

“I’d like that.” I said. “I think I’d like that a lot.”

She leaned over and kissed me before whispering. “A case of you. I really, really love that song. I better still be on my feet mister.”

“You will be” I whispered back.

……

This is the ninth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/

Thawed

Amid the uniform ranks of grey and black there was the odd splash of colour; a purple tie, rainbow striped socks, shirts in a palette of pastels. Otherwise the main shade in the room was red: pages and pages of red numbers silently sounding the alarm on a failing business. Sat at the Board table Matt was regretting his choice of tie; it had been part of his resolution to be more assertive this year. Blood red, bold, confident. It mockingly reflected back the sea of negative numbers on the sales sheet in front of him. It drew the eye. Today was not a day to draw the eye.

Tom Jones, Managing Director of Jones Toys, swept into the room. He didn’t find jokes about his name remotely funny and his colleagues (he preferred “staff” but HR had told him that colleagues sounded more like he cared) had long since stopped making them. New starters were often told, by way of some twisted induction, that he found his name hilarious and should reference it to curry favour with him. Matt had fallen foul of this when he’d first been introduced to his new boss: “Tom Jones ? I guess it’s not unusual where you’re from – the green, green grass of home ?” All compounded with a cheery wink. They had enjoyed a frosty relationship ever since. Still, it could have been worse. That guy that had sung “Delilah” as his karaoke song at last year’s Christmas party was never heard from again. Decided to take early retirement said the official memo. He was only 45.

Jones sat down at the head of the table, papers neatly arranged in front of him. On the wall behind him was a large sign bearing the company logo and mission statement: Jones Toys – Having Fun Is A Serious Business. Matt felt bothered, as he did every week, by the lack of apostrophe, the Jones family were many and they owned Jones Toys. The new Marketing Director had decided that apostrophes didn’t fit into their fresh brand fundamentals: “remember to always emphasise the fun in fundamental”. Apostrophes weren’t fun. They were something kids hated to learn and adults had given up on. They had commissioned market research and it was conclusive: grammar was out and fun was in. The research agency had even headed the executive summary slide in their debrief deck “your right: customers dont get apostrophes” as their idea of getting the message across. The Marketing Director had printed it off and had it framed in his office.

Matt snapped out of his punctuation inspired reverie as Jones opened the meeting by bringing both fists hard down on the table in front of him.

“What the fuck is this ?” he demanded gesturing at the paper in front of him. “What have you bunch of moronic shits done to my business ?”

The HR Director, sat at the furthest remove from her incandescent boss, looked slightly askance. The company values were very precise on inappropriate anger and language and they were also explicit on Jones Toys not having a blame culture.

“Which of you fucking idiots is to blame for this ?” continued Jones. He glared around the room daring somebody to meet his gaze. All eyes suddenly became immersed in the detailed sales numbers in front of them; everyone shrinking back into their chairs. As Matt looked down he realised that his tie had managed to drape itself on to the table as he’d sat down: a look-at-me streak of red that ran from his trading figures straight up to his jugular. Reflexively he moved his hands to adjust it. As his brain caught up he reconsidered but, in that moment of indecision, merely succeeded in waving it around slightly before letting it drop back to the table. Jones zeroed in.

“Matt, yes. You can kick us off. Girls’ Toys. Missed forecast by nine hundred and eighty thousand pounds. A million fucking quid. Please explain.”

The other Trading Directors round the table visibly relaxed. Matt looked vainly at them for any sign of support but none was forthcoming. The whole table scented blood now: better it was his than theirs. Doug, the video games director, was looking particularly smug as he had the only set of positive numbers in the room. Matt knew, they all knew, that anyone could have sold video games that Christmas – two new consoles and little Jacks and Jills up and down the land choosing technology over toys – but that wouldn’t cut any ice with Jones. Last year Matt had worn that same expression as Doug. The Furby Christmas they’d called it. The Marketing Director had put one on his desk. Matt had taken a punt on the freakish furry monstrosities and they’d flown off the shelves. He’d been elevated to the pantheon of retail gods, up there with Jim “Pokemon” Donaldson who’d hit pay dirt on a chance supplier visit to Japan a few years ago. This year he had a warehouse full of the hateful creatures and the Marketing Director had given him the one from his desk back.

Frozen. It was all sodding Frozen. Anna and Elsa and that annoying snowman and those men that no one could remember. How could he have missed it ? Everyone else had it. He’d been chasing stock for weeks but Disney were being difficult: “you didn’t want to talk to us in July Matt… we have to prioritise some of our more loyal retailers”. How was he supposed to know that girls were going to go berserk for some emotionally repressed singing Princess with ice powers ? When he had finally secured some stock via a distributor – 10,000 snow globe Elsas, 15,000 Olaf dolls and 25,000 action figure Annas (no one seemed to want Anna) – the container ship that had been bringing them back from China had been hit by a typhoon. 50,000 pieces of Frozen merchandise were bobbing up and down somewhere just outside the Bay of Bengal.

Matt mentally prepared to make his stand. Talk about the margin rate being strong and the excellent stock position on Furby (sure to be in demand again soon). Don’t talk about Frozen. Take the barrage and it would be over. As he looked up from the table he caught sight of the sky outside, darkening in the windows opposite him. It was snowing. He wasn’t the only one that had noticed.

“Hey Matt” smirked Doug. “Do you want to build a snowman ?”. There were a few suppressed laughs. Jones didn’t laugh and, after momentarily glaring at Doug, fixed his baleful stare back on Matt.

“When you explain this million quid shortfall be sure to tell us exactly how much of that was because you failed to react to the biggest children’s movie of the last ten years.” He jabbed an accusatory finger. “Don’t you read the trade press ? Or watch the news ? Don’t you have fucking kids ?”

Matt finally met his gaze. He thought about the twins, both of whom would have been able to sing him every line from every song from Frozen. He thought about missing the three times they’d seen it at the cinema because he’d been late working. He thought about missing their nativity play. Again. He thought about wrapping them up a surplus Furby late on Christmas Eve as he’d been too busy to pick anything else up before that. Fortunately his wife had secured both Elsa and Anna dolls for both of them. Not from Jones Toys. He thought about the riotous joy with which they played with their toys and the contrast to the soul sapping process of buying them for a living. Having fun is a serious business, especially if you’re a kid. It was time, he realised ruefully, to let it go.

Pushing his chair back from the table Matt stood up, nodded his head briefly towards Tom Jones and made for the door. “I can’t explain Tom so I’m going to spend some more time with some people that can. Perhaps we will build that snowman after all.” This he directed at Doug.

Jones looked furious but oddly impotent to Matt in that moment. “If you walk out then don’t fucking come back” he spluttered. Matt nodded. “And you’ve left your suit jacket on the chair. Can’t even walk out on your own job properly.”

“I’ll leave it thanks. The cold never bothered me anyway, right Doug ?” Unable to resist he added finally to Jones “why don’t you take it Tom – just help yourself” before turning on his heel and leaving the room.

……

This is the eighth story in my series of 42 shorts that I’m writing to raise money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please share it if you liked it (or even if you didn’t…). If you’re interested in donating to a great cause then please visit my fundraising page. You know it’s what Anna and Elsa would do: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/