Story blog

My internet dating profile / Bob the pool ball

Posted in Uncategorized by Amy on 08/05/2009

Maybe in a parallel universe you’d be able to read 20 words on a page and instantly get who I am and what I’m about. But since we’re in this world, here’s a story about a pool ball called Bob…

Sick and tired of being pushed around, Bob the pool ball decided to go on a little vacation. So he got his stuff together (like his lucky lighter, and his passport with the weird photo where his face looks fat although it’s really not) and he rolled himself along the fake grass, faster and faster until he took off.

The flight was uneventful, and Bob was pleased to discover that the complimentary peanuts were honey and not dry-roasted. He ordered a bloody mary, then wondered if that made him look sexually ambiguous, then thought that if he was Spanish or Italian he wouldn’t have to worry about such things. But Bob was English, and so was compelled to worry about both his appearance and his social status on a regular basis.

But as he landed, these thoughts started to drift away, and Bob found himself sinking into a state of deep relaxation. He wasn’t just calmer, but also felt lighter, as he found himself floating on the surface of a strange, pleasing, amber pool. As bubbles massaged his aching paintwork he breathed in the hoppy smell, and was just starting to drop off when he noticed the cylindrical wall of glass encasing him. Bob was claustrophobic and the glass appeared to him like a prison within a hall of mirrors. ‘I have to get out’, he thought desperately. But it was too late, drowsiness took over, and he sank beneath the surface into an abyss of terrifying tranquility.

2058

Posted in stories by Amy on 06/05/2009

Ella is my best hatch. I plait her white blonde hair in junior assembly, and morning break she whispers in my ear. I love her best for her PowerGirl play castle and her pink fluffy Google pen. And when she says ‘I love you, bee’, and I reply, ‘I love you bee hatch.’

Ella’s also my girlfriend, but whatever you do, don’t tell my mum. After all, you have to have some secrets when you’re nearly in double figures. It’s not like we’re doing sex or anything. Bobby asked me if we were the other day. He said if we were girlfriends then we had to have sex. But I don’t care what he says, because he picks his nose and eats it, and he always needs help in his Web Usage tests.

‘So we’ve got little Eleanor tonight?’ Mum asks as we reach the school gate. She’s looking at Ella but talking to me.

‘Yep’ I tell mum. ‘Say hello, Ella.’

Ella says, ‘hello Ella.’ She can be such a smartie pants sometimes.

Mum smiles – a lazy half smile that makes her head tilt to one side. Then she looks past us, and I turn around to see Damien’s mum, walking over. She’s wearing a fuzzy brown coat that she wears all the time, that makes her look like a bear when you see her from the back. Mum opens her bag and gets out an oblong-shaped present. I know it contains cigarettes, because I saw her wrapping them last night. She hands it over as Damien’s mum reaches us. ‘Here you go. 200.’

‘Thanks Sylv,’ she replies, ‘how many is it now?’

‘Fourteen hundred.’

‘Whack it on my tab, eh?’

‘Will do. End of the month?’

‘End of the month.’

’Well, I better get this lot home,’ Mum nods at Ella and me.

As we start walking, Mum asks, ‘What would you girls like for dinner then?’

‘Hamburgers!’ we shout.

‘How about… marrow stir fry?’ Mum says.

‘Urgh. ‘ Ella wrinkles her nose in a way that makes her look like a cute tortoise.

‘We’re vegetarian,’ I explain to Ella.

‘We keep an LSGI kitchen,’ mum adds, fiddling with her phone. ‘I’ll text the food unit to start defrosting the tofu.’

We reached the corner of Downhills Park and turned onto our road. Mum says we’re very lucky to live in Tottenham. We’ve really gone up in the world since she married Simon, that’s for sure. The house we live in now is right on the park, and mum says the area is very ‘desireable’. I heard her describing it on the phone to Grandma, ‘one of those Elizabethan jobs,’ she said, ‘from the regeneration.’ Regeneration means when something transforms into something better than it was before – like when Lady Di turns into Superlady in the cartoon.

There’s a McDonald’s up the road, with a massive swimming pool and lots of exercise machines. Mum says I’m too young to use the machines, but she lets me come swimming with her, and usually buys me a bean shake to have while she goes running.

As we get to the house, mum’s phone starts ringing. She takes too long to open the door, and by the time we get in she’s having a stress, answering the call and then switching it to the TV. Mr Stavos appears on the telly. It’s Thursday. Mr Stavos’ face has a crack on his cheek where our screen has a few dead pixels.

‘Alright Sylv?’

‘Not bad Ted. How are you?’

‘Keeping well. How have you been this week?’

‘Clean as a whistle.’ Mum says.

‘Well, I’ll see you in a ten minutes, ok?’

‘Ok Ted. See you in a bit.’ Mum turns off the telly and looks at me, ‘Right. Do you need a wee, Zadie?’

I don’t really, but I probably could. ‘Ok.’ Mum hands me a narrow jar that I take to the toilet, fill up and give back to her.

Then as Ella and I run up the stairs, she gives me a funny look. ‘Why does your mum take your wee?’

‘It’s to check my calcium levels.’

‘It’s weird.’

‘No it’s not.’

We get into my room and I turn on the wendy house. Once it’s inflated, we sit inside. The wendy house has pictures of ladybirds and frogs and butterflies on it, and when you sit inside the light comes through in funny, inside-out insect patterns. ‘Let’s play the wedding game,’ Ella says.

‘Ok,’ I grin. The wedding game is our favourite. ‘Well I want to invite Mum, Simi, Thomas, Anita and… Mrs Lawrence.’

‘What about your dad?’

‘Oh yeah, and Simon.’

‘That’s six. We’re only allowed five guests each, remember.’

‘Oh no! I’ll have to drop someone. That’s the trouble with planning a wedding, you see,’ I say in a very grown-up way, ‘everybody wants an invitation.’

‘Let’s do our dresses now.’

‘Ok. Mine is going to be a pink ballgown with a train as long as a mile, so all the guests can stand on it.’

‘Ok. Mine is going to be silver silk, with pink flowers – real ones not pretend flowers.’ Ella beats me. I’d forgotten about silver.

‘Zadie?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Have you ever eaten chocolate?’

‘No! We’re too young!’

She looks at me carefully, narrowing her eyes. ‘You can’t tell anyone.’

‘I won’t.’

Ella reaches into her pocket. I think she’s going to get out some pretend chocolate, and am already fake chewing and saying ‘num num num’ when she shows me a real chocolate bar.

‘It’s seventy percent cocoa,’ Ella says and breaks off two squares.

‘Wow. Seventy percent.’ I take a square and put it in my mouth. It’s bitter and not very tasty. We chew seriously until the front door beeps, and we hear Mr Stavos come in downstairs. Ella smiles, and then I start giggling, and then we’re both giggling. ‘Let’s dance!’

I run out of the wendy house and start jumping on the bed, which is a new dance move I made up. Ella comes out and jumps about a bit on the floor, but she’s getting it wrong because it’s not the real move unless you do it on the bed. ‘Jump on the bed, Ella!’

‘Zadie!’

‘Yeah?’

‘You’ve got ants in your pants!’ Mrs Lawrence sometimes says this and we both think it’s really funny, so we giggle even more. Then Ella asks, ‘is that why your mum checks your wee? Because of the ants in your pants?!’ She’s cracking up now, but I stop laughing.

‘No! That’s not funny Ella.’

‘Yes it is! I’m going to tell everybody your wee gets checked for ants. Hey, everybody!’ and then she’s running down the stairs and I’m running after her but I’m out of breath from all the jumping so she gets to the kitchen ahead of me, where mum and Mr Stavos are drinking tea.

‘Hey!’

‘Shut up, Ella!’ But she won’t shut up. She looks directly at Mr Stavos.

‘Zadie gets her wee checked for ants!’

Mr Stavos’ usually kind face suddenly puffs up like two storm clouds coming together, and he looks at me and then at mum, and then back at me.

Yours?‘ he asks me, and I know I’m going red.

‘My mummy checks it for calcium.’

He looks back at mum and sighs. ‘Clean as a whistle, eh Sylv?’ He speaks into the voice badge on his chest, saying lots of numbers which remind me of times tables, and then, ‘I need a search warrant for 52 Downhills Park Road. Sylvia Harvey. She’s a 341… yeah… counterfeit samples… her daughter’s… ok, cheers Alan.’ The smile drops off his face as he turns back to mum. I think about the words ‘search warrant’. I’ve heard them before somewhere, maybe on TV.

‘Look Ted,’ mum says, ‘I had a bad week. I didn’t want it to show up because I’ve been doing so well. There’s no need to search the house.’

Search the house! I grab Ella’s hand and run out of the kitchen, all the way to my room. I kick the wendy house over and grab the chocolate and foil wrapping. ‘We need to hide it! Quick!’

‘Under the bed?’

‘They’ll definitely look there.’

We hear a knock from downstairs and the front door open to barking voices.

‘We can put it in my shoe!’ Ella says. ‘They won’t search me – I don’t even live here.’

‘Ok, but quick.’ I help Ella undo her laces and slip the chocolate under her foot.

‘Act natural.’

We creep out into the empty hallway. The door to mum and Simon’s room is open a crack, and voices come from inside. I tiptoe up to the crack, and see navy shapes of adults clonking about. Then I see mum’s slipper on the floor. It’s attached to her foot, and then I see her – sitting on the floor in front of the wardrobe, although I can’t see her face. A navy shape blocks her and a female voice says, ‘Can you move, please?’ I hear mum pleading, and then moving. As the wardrobe door opens I suddenly know what’s going to happen. Piles upon piles of boxes of cigarettes come pouring out, landing on the floor and fanning out across the beige carpet. White boxes. They look like paper aeroplanes, nosediving headfirst to the ground. Killing all the passengers. I hear a strange noise and realise Mum is crying.

Someone kicks the door shut. I pound on it. ‘Let me in! Let me in!’

A second later it opens, and two police officers come out with my mum between them. Mum’s eyes are red and she’s wearing handcuffs. Mr Stavos is behind, looking sad. They all stop when they see us.

‘It’s ok,’ says Mr Stavos, ‘I’ll stay till Mr Harvey arrives.’

And then they carry on down the stairs. I try to crawl between their legs to mum, but there are two many feet in the way, so I just watch as they leave. Mum calls back, ‘I’ll be back soon, Zadie. Be good for Simon.’

And then she’s gone. Ella sits down next to me on the stairs, crying and stroking my hand. ‘Bee.’

‘Yes hatch,’ I whisper.

‘I think I’d like to go home now.’

The Bread Man

Posted in stories by Amy on 06/05/2009

The best-looking man I ever slept with was a catering assistant at a company called The Altogether, where I worked a few years back.

He was a tall, lean Lithuanian called Victor which is not a good-looking person’s name, but I guess nobody told his parents that.

The Altogether co-ordinated team-building days out for other companies, which involved things like dumping forty project managers in the forest with compasses and cartons of apple juice, and I was a rep.

One of the perks of the job was getting free breakfast with the customers, brought to whichever field, army barracks, or community centre was our home for the day. This breakfast was really something special: croissants, bagels, donuts, muffins; it was like Atkins never happened. Jan and Bill carted along crates of goodies. But Victor was the best. Victor brought a little camping stove with him, for toasted treats. On Fridays he would bring in a bottle of batter for making crepes.

Victor had black hair and green eyes and he used to stare at me across the marmite and Nutella with one part inflamed longing to one part sadness at the world. I would look at him and feel hungry, any time of day. But crepe day was my favourite because it meant I could queue up to see him again and again without looking too keen, because after all, who doesn’t love pancakes? One day he made me a pancake in the shape of a heart, and then I knew.

But it didn’t happen until three weeks later. We’d spent the day doing laser clay pigeon shooting in Wokingham with the finance team from Thames Water. Laser clay pigeon shooting is a lot like regular clay pigeon shooting, except that the shots aren’t real, so it’s much less likely that falling clay will get a CEO in the eye, like on the notorious Bradford & Bingley away weekend of Easter 2005. So there we were, grass-stained and sore-kneed in the gardens of a Berkshire country club. It was a Friday, and the sweet sting of sugar and lemon juice fizzed under our fingernails. End-of-the-week adrenaline hung in the air like sweat.

Lloyd, the deputy finance manager of Thames Water suggested a pub trip. But nobody knew the area so we ended up in a vacuum-packed sports bar – the kind of place where old men bring their dogs and you can make it a double for an extra 10p.  Victor and I sat too close together and then failed to think of anything to say. But I knew that once we got going, it would turn into one of those insane verbal fucks where you challenge each other and say things you’ve never said and tear down the history of the world and write a better one. And I thought I knew how to get started,

‘So you’re reading Spinoza?’

He literally started. ‘Huh?’

‘Ethics. I saw it in with the bagels.’

He smiled, ‘Oh yeah. I borrowed it from Bill.’ Then he grinned at me, like – you’re gonna love this, ‘One of the legs came off my stove, and that book is just the right size! Lucky, right?’

‘Yeah. Wow.’

OK, so I knew that he wasn’t my soulmate. But looking in his eyes made me wonder. He had a way of looking at you, as if your soul was a glass of water and he was thirsty. I couldn’t look into his eyes too long – it hurt like staring directly at the sun. Talking to him was generally painful, because you spent the whole time concentrating on treating him like he was anybody. Like he wasn’t gorgeous. It took up all my attention until his words lost their meaning and became nothing more than a slight itch in my brain. At the same time everything he said assumed a vague irony – he’d bore me with his weekend plans, and the more mundane and detailed his account, the more it felt like we were sharing a joke. Like – look at us exchanging these crumbs of small talk like regular people when we both know we’re above all this. When we could crank this up ten notches any moment.

The rest of the evening was just killing time. Jan told me all about her mother’s hip replacement. Lloyd bought me one tequila shot after another. It was like a square dance where you mess around with other partners, knowing all along who you’re going to end up with. Knowing was part of it. The surprise of a first kiss is what makes it sweet. But the inevitability of finding yourself in a strange bedroom in Tilehurst in the early hours of a Saturday morning – that’s the taste that satisfies.

When we were in bed, he stuck his finger in my arsehole and then licked it, the way you might imagine a French chef licking his finger after tasting a particularly good soup. And even though I was disgusted by this I found it comforting that someone so good-looking wanted to taste my arsehole and I didn’t want to taste his. And I told myself that instead of my arsehole, he was touching my inner true self, and not just the dramatic, yearning, philosophical side that you feel when you put on classical music and stare at yourself in the mirror, but all the mundane or shameful bits that you don’t tell people about in case they decide that you’re not a valuable human being after all and they lock you up in a room with aggressive air-conditioning.

He was probing these bits of me with his index finger and wordlessly telling me that these bits were ok by him, and that they were beautiful.

And then we had sex and it hurt but I didn’t mind and as he pounded away my eyes suddenly filled up with tears and in that moment I felt sure that ours was a true and unbreakable bond, and even if it didn’t conform to conventional principles of love like having things to talk about or enjoying each other’s company, it was a bond nonetheless, and the pain and tragedy of its slippery intangibility just added to the romance.

But then the sex really started to hurt and it was going on for ages because he was too drunk to come and after a while we gave up and he went to sleep without offering me a t-shirt to sleep in. Well to me sleep seemed like reaching for the stars, so I got up and stood naked by the bed and my skin glowed flame blue in the blind-fractured moonlight. And the only thing I could find to put on was his thick grey hoody that said ‘NY state champs’ on it and bore a line-drawn image of an angry-looking chicken. But wearing it would have made me feel like a fraud – as if I was trying to be his girlfriend by borrowing his jumper the way real girlfriends do in normal, nice relationships where you don’t fuck on the first night and nobody gets a finger up the butt.

So instead I just crept back into bed and watched dawn make its lazy way towards us. In the white nothingness of not-quite-morning I shivered in his bed and he slept so far off at the edge of the mattress that I thought he might fall off. And I knew that somehow I’d ended up in that room with the air-conditioning on after all, and it was too late, and there was no way of turning it down, and my arse didn’t contain all the secret, lovable parts of me, but was just a lump of flesh, like a pancake heart is just a pancake.

Carolina and God

Posted in Uncategorized by Amy on 06/05/2009

Our front door is heavy and God just got out between the gap before it swung shut with a clunk and I didn’t bother to double-lock.

‘Come on God,’ I said, ‘We’re going for a walk.’

It was cold and I thought how right I’d been to wear my gloves as I left the drive, God following at my feet.

On to the street, we walked past the bus stop where there was a teenage girl waiting in a very short skirt and I felt cold looking at her and I looked away. As we walked, God started playing a game, running a few paces ahead, then waiting for me to catch up.

Everyone had told me it was a silly name for a cocker spaniel. Especially Richard. He was the worst. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, darling,’ he’d said, staring down at his jumper as he talked, looking for imaginary lint.

But I didn’t care. I loved my little God and I could call her whatever I wanted, and everyone else could go to hell.

We trudged along, God and I, under an upside-down carpet of cloud. She was so good, you know. She always kept up, jiggling like a belly-dancer, little legs skipping along. I would never slow down for her. Puppies may seem soft and needy, but you only need to be a little bit tough and their doughy hearts turn into the hardest diamond, flushed full of blood and stronger every day.

I’d found her at the pound 3 weeks before, and since then we’d walked a little further every day, but this would be our longest walk yet.

Richard never got home till gone seven, so we had all the time in the world. Just as I was thinking of Richard’s arrival and picturing his face, a gust of wind hit us and she whimpered.

‘Come on, you,’ I said. ‘That’s a good girl.’

We walked past the old Sunday school and the playground that reminded me of my own school, in a different town in a different time. Before perfectly-aligned cutlery and no split infinitives.

We walked past the post office with the nice Turkish lady and the old man who always smelled of soap, but we didn’t go in this time.

We walked past the furniture shop with the sign in the window that said ‘Closing down sale – FINAL DAY!’ Five years, that sign had been in the window. But this time it really felt like the final day, and for the first time in five years, I stepped inside to have a look. I milled around, pretending to look for a bargain, but there was nothing worth getting and I saw the sales man coming at me so I quickly ducked back out again with God at my heels.

Back on the street, a drop of rain fell on my hand, then one in my hair, and in a matter of seconds it was gushing down, and it was wonderful. I love the rain and so does God, so we were happy as Larry, two wet peas in a pod.

As my duffel coat became heavy with absorbed rain water I had a sudden feeling that everything was going to be ok after all. And as I thought this I heard the words in my head: everything’s going to be alright.

We walked and walked and the rain stopped and I could smell the after-rain smell and it smelt like a fresh start.

We reached the town centre and went in to the station where I thought about getting a coffee but suddenly I wasn’t remotely thirsty. So we walked up to platform 9 and here I stopped and dropped my heavy, zip-up bag to the floor, and my shoulder muscles woke up and the air danced around them. I knelt down and reached into the front pocket and got out the ‘single with animals’ ticket I’d bought a week ago and showed it to the ticket inspector.

Then I picked up my bag and we got on the train, and I put my bag in the overhead compartment. And I picked up God and held her on my lap and I thought about Richard coming home with his collar flapping and him fiddling with the key in the lock, and then coming in, and switching his work shoes for his slippers, and picking up the paper, and I wondered how long it would be before he noticed the empty wardrobe and bookless shelves and the radio gone from the kitchen.

Someone shouted ‘all aboard!’ and the train started moving and as the breeze crept in through the air vent I breathed 5 wasted years out of my lungs and I rubbed God’s back and my heart was singing.

We were going home.

Make yourself at home

Posted in Uncategorized by Amy on 06/05/2009

Hello. I said I was going to set-up a writing blog and here it is. See? But it felt a bit much to start the first post on a story without any foreplay, so here I am, waffling on in my usual, meta-rambling way.  Oh God, that was two adjectives, right next to each other! I might as well give up now.

So anyway, I’ll post up a couple of stories to get the ball rolling. Please comment away (hopefully with relevant feedback, rather than just random mutterings like ‘my foot hurts’ or ‘when’s lunch?’). And writing crew, get posting!