Tales From The Town #175: New Shoes

The new shoes were black and shiny and beautiful and clean. They made every step feel like a photograph.

Claire dreamt of puddles, and where to find them.

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Notes:

1. Written on June 8th, 2024

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Why Do We Love Football?

I remember when we were little, we used to play football on the field near our house. It was an obsession. It was all we did. Me, my brother, and a bunch of other kids from the estate. None of us were any good, but we never let that put us off. 



Then again, we never let anything put us off. One time I slid through dog’s muck, ended up covered in shit from my knees up to my shoulder. I ran home weeping, of course, in disgust and shame and sheer shivering horror, but I still went back the next day. I wanted to go back that day, but I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t let me. I’d already caused her enough work.



Similarly, when I sliced my shin open on some rusty piece of industrial debris hidden in the uncut grass, that didn’t put me off. Didn’t put any of us off. That time, if I remember it right, I didn’t even run home, just played on covered in blood, revelling in the gore and the carnage of it all. Blood soaked socks as I trudged home hours later once it’d got too dark to play, wet red footprints behind me on the pavement that looked black under the orange street light glow.



Football was like a mania, really, some desperate delirium. Football, football, football. The drumbeat of our lives. I was 10. 11. 12. It went on and on.

***



It wasn’t even a field we played on. Just some small patch of grass in a piece of dead space between the houses, bounded by garages and back garden fences, forgotten by everyone except us and whoever it was that parked their car at one end, there every day and gone at night, the visible dents in the doors increasing month by month, wayward shot by wayward shot.



I was too young then for music. Hadn’t conceived of the joys of drinking. Love had never even occurred to us. Football was all we had. All we wanted. All we knew.



***



I was 13 when it happened. I fired in a shot at the goal, beat the goalie all ends up. Then it the hit the handlebars of whoever’s bike it was we were using as the right hand goalpost, ricocheted off into the windscreen of that perpetually parked car, looped up high over a back garden wall, and disappeared from view. Followed soon by the sounds of shattering glass. Followed too by everyone running away.

***




Except for me.



That ball was mine. Mine. I couldn’t leave it behind. I loved that ball. An official World Cup 90 Adidas Etrusco. It meant everything to me, loomed large in my imagination in a way incomprehensible to me now.



I was obsessed with football. Not just the game, but all the rest of it too – boots, balls, kits, stickers, subbuteo, video games, everything. It was a debilitating disease of the mind. I dreamt in football. 

I couldn’t just buy a replacement. No ebay in those days, no retro shops, classic replica balls. All you had was what the dingy sports shop on the high street stocked, and by then they were probably already on to whatever ball they were using at Euro 92. I don’t even know what that ball was called, who manufactured it, can’t even remember now what it looked like even vaguely. It meant nothing to me, it means nothing to me.

 A negative artefact, anti-nostalgic.

But I can see that Italia 90 ball even know. Close my eyes and it’s there. Looming large after all these years.



So I looked around, once, to make sure no one was watching, twice, for back up maybe, then shrugged my shoulders, and climbed over the fence. No one ever saw me again.



***



Don’t worry. They did. I wouldn’t be here telling you this story if that had been the end of me. But it really did feel like I was in there forever. Part of me’s still in there now, I’m sure of it. Some things you never escape, never get to leave behind.

***



The whole place had the stink of abandonment and despair. The garden was overgrown, knee high grass and head high thorns. The rotary washing line was rusted into its hole, a solitary flannel hanging stiffly from the line. Paint peeled from the window frames, and the back door swung back and forth on its hinges, the glass from the bottom window panel shattered all around.



I hesitated there, staring into the gloom, eyes trying to penetrate the darkness, before finally stepping forward. Two big steps across the broken glass, over the step outside and the doormat inside, holding my breath as I crossed the threshold that separated two wholly incompatible worlds.

I shuffled as silently as I could across the yellowing lino of that eerily darkened kitchen. It wasn’t curtains keeping the light out, it was mold on the glass, mold inside the glass, even, yellowing filigree between the double glazed panes. But even beyond that, it was as if my eyes refused to adjust to the darkness, refused to open themselves up to the horrors in obscured that I was desperately trying to not imagine.

***

And there was something there. A white orb emerging from endless blackness, floating, hovering, the football as both heavenly object and ghostly terror.

I held my breath. I did not scream.



The figure holding the ball, holding my ball, smiled out at me over the top of it. Was it a smile? I couldn’t tell. She had too many teeth, they were too long, too wide, too white. It stopped being a smile and became something else. Predatory, intoxicating.

 The ball rested on her palm as an offering, her long fingers splayed out towards me. Even longer than her fingers were the claws, dyed the same colour as those bloody footprints I once left on the pavement all the way home. 



Her other arm hung down to her knee, her fingers undulating rhythmically, unable to keep still, her claws scratching at the threadbare paisley carpet laid down in some distant decade long ago.



I waited for her to speak. Maybe she even waited for me to speak. Who knows what we would have said, what conversations we might have had.



In the end I moved forward in a sudden savage lunge, snatched the ball in both hands and turned to leave. But before I could escape, before I could even take a step away from her, I felt those claws against my shoulders, slow tracing a line from my neck and down every bone of my spine, one shiver at a time. Her lips I felt against my neck, dusty and dry in some sandpaper caress, and as they parted, her tongue slathered across my cheek, searching slowly for my mouth. So cold, so wet. 



The ball bounced slowly away across the room. Beneath our feet the crunch of broken glass.



I fell into a dream.

***



After that I didn’t really play football much any more. 

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Notes:

1. Originally written in December 2020
2. And then posted in February 2021
3. And then this version was rewritten in May 2024
4. And posted in June 2024
5. (The rewrite isn’t really much different from the original, I’m afraid)

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Tales From The Town #174: Facts About… The First Of June

Panel 1: Facts About… The First Of June (all caps, with a drop shadow and a triple exclamation mark at the end, above a small close up of Claire and the words “with Claire!” written in a jaunty font that closely resembles comic sans but isn’t actually comic sans for licensing reasons)
Panel 2: Close up on Claire’s face – “June the 1st?”
Panel 3: Closer up on Claire’s face – “June the worst more like!”

Notes: If you would like to publish Facts About… With Claire! on your own website or in your school newspaper please contact Claire at claire@claire.claire

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Notes:

1. Written on June 1st, 2024

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Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

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Thank you!


Tales From The Town #173: May Daze

Last day of May. Picnic in the garden under a cloudless sky. Claire and Ethel cartwheel cross the grass. Tina and Daniel sitting together on the swing.

Agnes takes the picture without even thinking about. On her phone, it’s preserved in pristine condition for all eternity, and forgotten within the week. Printed out, put in a frame, the colours fade year by year. Yet the scene grows ever more vivid until eventually it fills her entire field of view.

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Notes:

1. Written May 2024

__________

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Tales From The Town #172: Returns

“Mum! Mum! Dad’s back!”

“In his cave?”

“No! He lives above a chip shop now,” said Ethel.

“Which one?”

“All of them!” Daniel said excitedly.

“Well, isn’t that nice,” Agnes said. “Even if it doesn’t make much sense. At least hopefully this means you don’t think I killed him anymore.”

“We never thought that, Mum,” Tina said.

“It was Claire that thought that!” Ethel said.

“We didn’t believe her for a second,” Daniel said. “Not one! Or two! Or three! Or – ”

“Where is Claire, anyway?” Agnes asked.

“Oh she’s still shouting at Dad,” Tina said.

“Good for her,” Agnes said.

“She’s shouting so loud not even chips will calm her down,” Ethel said.

“Or ice cream,” TIna added.

“Or chips!” said Daniel.

“Or smoothies!”

“Or chips!

“How many portions of chips can one girl eat?” Agnes wondered.

“A lot,” Tina said. “Especially when she’s angry.”

“She was going to demand a cheeseburger next,” Ethel said.

“Which was when we thought we should come home and tell you she’s already had her tea.”

“Well, at least someone’s enjoying herself,” Agnes said. “I hope she let you three have something to eat too?”

“We had ice creams,” said Tina.

“But only one,” said Ethel, possibly a little too quickly.

“And chips!” Daniel added, dreaming of chips.

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Notes:

1. Written on May 29th, 2024

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Support An Accumulation Of Things

If you like the things you've read here please consider subscribing to my patreon or my ko-fi.

Patreon subscribers get not just early access to content and also the occasional gift, but also my eternal gratitude. Which I'm not sure is very useful, but is certainly very real.

(Ko-fi contributors probably only get the gratitude I'm afraid, but please get in touch if you want more).

Thank you!