Trick Or Treat

I’d never been trick or treating before. It wasn’t really a thing when we were kids. Instead of trick or treating you’d just run around in the dark throwing eggs and flour at each other over the park until the park keeper chased you away.

There was nothing more frightening and exhilarating when you were 14 than the beam of the park keeper’s torch sweeping through the trees and all of us scattering away into the night.

So this year, as my 40th birthday treat, we decided to go trick or treating. Proper trick or treating, with costumes and little buckets for the sweets and everything.

The most terrifying thing I could think of was being a teenager again so I was dressed up as myself from 1992: long greasy hair, a ned’s atomic dustbin t-shirt, an awkward straight limbed stance, a neck dotted with shaving cuts, several thousand suicidal thoughts per second.

My sister was dressed up as some sort of cat, and my mother was dressed up as the log lady from twin peaks.

The log lady isn’t frightening, I said to my mother. She said “Well, you can’t hear what the log’s saying.”

“I suppose,” I said, and shrugged in non-agreement agreement.

Cats aren’t frightening, I said to my sister. She scratched at my eyes and bit my throat out and then dragged me back to the house and left me on the doorstep for my father to find.

I didn’t really have an answer for that.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on September 9th, 2018

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Trick Or Treating By Car

Most people seem to have a bunch of Halloween stories if you ask them, odd and unsettling events, all dressed up with dread and portent, urban legends repurposed as their own. A chance meeting with an old friend you find out later died years before, a kindly old lady with suspiciously hairy hands asking you for a lift home, a mysterious something brushing against your arm in the dark, that sort of thing.

Something teetering on the edge of plausibility. Something scary. Or scaryish, at least. Something spooky.

I’ve only got two Halloween stories, and I’m not sure either really fit that description.

The first one is pretty mundane. I made the mistake of going for a walk round here on halloween one time. I was on my own, just out for a stroll, and these arseholes ran past and egged me.

That’s it, that’s the whole story.

But I remember for a second thinking I’d been shot, not just the impact of it as that egg hit me in the stomach, but the sensation of putting my hand to my belly and feeling the wetness there, the sickly thickness of it against my skin. Then I held my hand up to the light and saw it was just a mess of egg, and that initial tremble of fear was overwhelmed by a somewhat tetchy annoyance.

Then came the mocking laughter from the kids as they sprinted away down the road, and my annoyance collapsed in on itself and I was left with nothing but a faint feeling of embarrassment that somehow lingered on for days.

My other halloween story is that last year I went trick or treating by car.

My brother turned up out of the blue in a brand new car. Some sports car. I don’t know what. I hadn’t seen him in months. He sat outside my house and beeped his horn and when I came out to see what was going on he wound down his window and the first thing he said was, “Let’s go trick or treating, Jill. Let’s go trick or treating in a car.”

He smiled. It’d been so long since I’d seen him. I loved that smile sometimes. I loved it now.

“I bet you’ve never been trick or treating in a car before,” he said.

And he was right I hadn’t.

The way he said it, too, as if this mundane idea was actually the absolute height of decadence, something so opulent there’s no conceivable way I could have ever done it before. Imagine it, his voice said through the wound down window, driving around town, demanding sweets from the innocent and the guilty alike. It’ll be glorious.

How could I say no?

In the boot he had two costumes. A wolf costume and a little red riding hood costume. We mixed and matched. I took the little red cloak and the wolf hands, he took the wolf’s head and the wicker basket.

“We’ll never pass as kids,” I said.

“Maybe I’m just a really tall kid,” my brother said, his voice slurred by the mask.

“Yeah right. A really tall kid driving a bloody car!”

“Well, okay, why not just say I’m your dad?” he suggested. “You’re short enough.”

He smiled. I hated that smile sometimes. I hated it then. Wide and knowing and filled with so many teeth.

“Urgh, okay then,” I relented. “I’ll need a mask too, though. Wait a minute.”

I went back inside, and came out wearing a kabuki mask I’d bought for some masquerade ball years and years ago. With the hood pulled up around it I looked suitably terrifying, although, I must say, the hairy hands were probably a bit much. But still, I liked them, and it was Halloween. It was going to be cold as hell tonight.

My brother looked amazing, standing there in his suit and tie, the wolf’s head on, leaning nonchalantly against this flash new car.

It was almost five, dusk already, just getting dark. We got in the car and sped off round the corner.

“Where are we going?” I said, cradling his wolf mask in my lap, running my fingers through its hair.

“I dunno,” he shrugged. “Just around. Wherever takes our fancy.”

He drove out of town first, round the bypass and then back again, getting a feel for his new car, accelerating up through the gears, before eventually we looped back towards the estate where we’d grown up.

He pulled up outside our old house, the one where we’d lived until I was five, till he was seven.

“How about here?” he said, taking his head from my lap and putting it on, placing one smile over another.

An old lady answered the door, almost old enough to be our grandmother, and my brother said, “Trick or treat?” as if he did this every year, as if he really was my father and I really was his little girl, too shy to speak.

While the old lady scuttled off to get us some sweets from the kitchen, I could see my brother leaning his head round the door, trying to get a look at our old hallway, our old stairs. Trying to see if there was anything the same, anything he remembered.

She came back with an apple for each of us, and some kindly words about being careful out there on a night like this. “And aren’t you a sweet little girl,” she said to me. I was too scared to reply and turned and ran back to the car. Behind me I could hear my brother apologising.

“I think she’s a bit scared, she’s only young… And, yes, yes, very tall for her age.”

The next few houses were just… houses. They didn’t seem to hold any special significance that I could see, weren’t the homes of old friends or relatives, as far as I could remember. But at each one they paid out handsomely in sweets, as if our journey was divinely ordained, good luck bestowed upon us by the god of cars, the angels of deceit.

After the fifth house, back in the car, my brother warming his ungloved hands above the heated air vents, he turned to me and said, “That was him. It was really him. Did you see that? It was him.”

“Who?” I said.

Him,” my brother said, before revealing some half-remembered name from our distant past. “Oh god, I used to love him so much. I used to idolise him. He used to be so fucking cool. I can’t believe he still lives at home!”

He laughed loudly through the wolf’s mask for a moment and then, suddenly, shouted, “Oh god I hope his parent’s haven’t died. Maybe he’s inherited their house. Oh god, I don’t know. It could be anything, it could be anything.”

And then, a few minutes later, when we were halfway to the next house, “He used to be perfect!”

None of the next few houses provoked anything like this from my brother, although after one he said, “That was their mum, remember, the twins, I used to go round there all the time. Oh god, she looks exactly the same. Exactly the same. I used to think she was so old, I used to think everyone was so old. But they must have been younger than us, then, younger than we are now.”

It was about eleven when we got to the last house. I only knew it was the last house because my brother whispered, “this is the last one” as we crunched our way up the gravel drive and knocked on the door.

An old man answered. My brother held up our basket, a gingham cloth tucked neatly over the top, as if rather than being filled to the brim with deceitfully gotten sweets we had brought with us a nice picnic we wanted to share.

“Trick or treat,” we said together.

“It’s a bit late, isn’t it,” the old man barked at us. “It’s almost midnight.”

He slammed the door in our faces.

“Nice bloke,” I said.

“Well, he does have a point,” my brother said, looking at his watch.

We were almost back to the car when we heard the door behind us open.

“Here,” the old man said, tossing a chocolate bar in our direction. “Now go to fucking bed.”

And the door slammed again.

“Who was that?” I said. “It’s not the ghost of our father or something is it?”

“No, no,” my brother said, and then wouldn’t say any more.

We drove back to my house, put the fire on, and sat there while our bones tingled from the heat and our skin itched as life slowly returned to it. My brother tipped out the spoils we’d accumulated on the floor between us, a huge mound of sickliness, all the sorts of things I’d never usually eat. We took off our masks and gorged ourselves on it like ravenous animals hunched over a fresh kill.

The power went out at midnight. Even the fire cut out. My brother gave a ridiculously knowing theatrical scream at this sudden descent into darkness, and we both burst out laughing. After the laughter died down, we lapsed into a prolonged contemplative silence. I sat there in the dark, eating sweets from the pile on the floor around me, our phones out in front of us, their screens our candles.

Eventually we tired of keeping our phones awake, of the constant nudging and nurturing they needed to keep their flames from guttering, and we so let them splutter out, let the darkness take back the room.

I tried to scare myself with that old game we’d play as kids on nights like this – this isn’t a sweet it’s an eyeball, this one’s snot, this one’s not a liquorice lace it’s a wiggly worm! – but I think I’m too old to make myself giddy with squeamishness now. And in any case, it doesn’t really work when they’re your sweets, when you already know what they’re not, even if you’re not exactly sure what they are until you pop them in your mouth and bite them in half.

The church bells chimed one o’clock. I listened to my brother’s breathing in the dark, the ragged breaths that implied unseen tears. A chill went through me, and just as I was about to ask if he was okay he said, “I’m dying, Jill. I’m so sorry, I’m… It’s cancer, Jill. It’s cancer and I’m dying.”

I felt it like a knife to the heart. Like a bullet to the belly.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. What can you say? What should you say? I still don’t know what to say and I still wish I’d said whatever it is I needed to say then but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t and I didn’t and I should have. I should have known and I should have said and

and

and and and

In the dark, in the silence, that seething horrible silence, I reached out to hold my brother’s hand. And as my furry wolf-gloved palm clasped his own, he let out a piercing shriek of unabashed terror and scrambled away across the room in the dark, a stark fucking howl of anguish and horror and christ knows what that broke my heart forever.

“Oh, christ, Jack, it’s just me,” I said. “It’s just me. It was just these stupid fucking wolf hands, these stupid fucking gloves.”

And for a moment then I wanted the silence back, wanted the silence of my failure and the dark of my heart to swallow me whole and never let me go, never have to let me show my face again, never have to let me live with the shame and the embarrassment and the grief, O god the grief.

But then the words came. I took the gloves off and held his hand in my own and the words poured out, poured out of both of us there in the dark, the words and the tears and every last remnant of our hearts.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on the 14th of September, 2018

__________

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There are maps of our memories, there are paths within our dreams

Chapter 1

how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how did I get here how didi i get ehere how did i egt here how did ieget howdherit ehre

***

suffocating, screaming, pleading make it stop make it stop make it stop but it never stops

the pressure and the pain
building
until it feels
like I’m going to burst

as i die i wake

***

Sometimes I wonder if the only paths that exist are the ones that I have walked down. If it is the mind that makes them real.

***

I am where I am supposed to be, at the address they gave me. There’s nothing here apart from a row of condemned houses, the windows boarded up, the drainpipes and the streetlamps all coated in an undrying paint to deter you from climbing

breaking

entering

***

I find a dead bird in my garden. A sparrow, or a starling, maybe.

I’m not sure of the difference.

Its head is turned to one side, a single droplet of blood ready to burst in its slightly open beak, and its chest has been ripped open. Whatever was once inside has gone.

***

I spend the afternoon writing the report. I tell them what I saw.

I have no idea if it is what they want to hear.

I am never given any indication, of anything. Whatever I tell them, the pay is always the same. Sometimes I have to wait longer for the money to come, and with it the next address.

I cannot tell if this is a judgement on what I say.

***

A dog is barking at me, straining on its leash, lips curled back in a snarl that reveals all of its teeth. Its owner holds him back, feet planted wide, both hands holding grimly onto the leash.

A fisherman at sea in the middle of a storm.

I watch the dog, its powerful jaws, its hate and desire, wishing that the lead would slip through the man’s fingers and the beast would be free to leap at me, its jaws biting my wrist, grinding their way through to the bone as I try to hold it off. The ligaments sever in my arm, my hand goes limp. The dog knocks me to the floor and goes for the throat.

I never scream or cry. Calm acceptance, no fighting, no attempts at escape. Everything soundless, slow, beautiful.

I see myself from above. The blood spreads around me as if I’m giving birth.

***

I post the report and come straight home. I lock the door, close the curtains, sleep before the sun even begins to set.

***

In my dreams it is a city. The streets are more tightly packed, the buildings sometimes older. The river is gone, replaced by a plain that stretches off beyond the High Street.

There is a castle, and passages beneath it, narrow cobbled paths spiralling in on themselves.

There are streets I do not know.

There are hills and there are holes.

The core stays the same, the familiar still there within the expanded whole. At the frayed edges of my memory I know it all, every street and every turn, but only after, when I awake. While I’m there I’m either lost or oblivious.

And always alone.

***

A new letter, containing:

a new address (in the town in which I live)
five ten pound notes
a return address (in a town I do not know)

Everything is always different. Everything is always the same.

***

I walk along streets I’ve walked a million times before, alleyways and pathways, fields, abandoned gardens, car parks. I count the cats I pass, the broken windows, the bent and dented streetlights, the crushed concrete bollards held together only by their twisted metal spines. I wonder what it would be like to hold a sickle to my throat, the curve of its blade a perfect fit against my neck. I pull it quickly across, a single rotation that cuts a thin smooth line all the way around. Blood flares out. I fall to my knees.

***

The address leads me to what is little more than an empty garage, its doorway rolled halfway up when I arrive.

There is nobody here.

An old mattress is leaning up against the back wall, oil stained and damp with a faint covering of mould. An extension lead marks out a trail across the floor, ending violently in the centre of the room, the plug severed, bare wires splayed out like veins. They point towards a solid lump of refined bitumen, a dark crystal, complex and angular, waiting to melt.

It looks soft, liquid, and I can scarcely believe it is not. I place my hand on it to test its solidity, half expecting my fingers to slip into it, like bones dropped in tar.

I dream of their eventual fossilisation, excavation, discovery, museum display.

***

I am lost in streets I do not know. Leaves pile up in drifts along the pavements, concealing the kerbs as they spread out towards the middle of the road. There are no cars to disturb their slow progress. No people to kick them apart.

Above me a moon as bright as the sun.

***

My bedroom is cold. My sheets feel damp, as do my clothes as I put them on. Later, as I walk to the postbox, the low sun strobes through the railings into my eyes.

I imagine it triggering an epileptic fit. I drop to the ground, my body convulsing freely in the loneliness of the street. No one comes to help. My letter slips away in the breeze, a final ponderous butterfly before the end of the year.

***

The post arrives with a new address. I do not know what day it is.

***

Snow outside. Deep, silent. The everyday boundaries of the town obliterated by its spread. Garden indistinguishable from pavement, pavement from road, road from field.

Without these lines
I feel lost
every step
a
possible
transgression
from the public
into the private.

***

The address is a road I do not recognise. Its position on my various maps is inconsistent, sometimes absent. The sun sets and I have still not found it.

***

I look at my footprints in the snow. The journey lines I trace out on my maps every evening are here made physical, echoes of my movement, my speed and my weight. The further back they go the harder it is to discern which are mine and which are not. My past lost in a confusion of information.

***

I slip and fall and land heavily on my back. The snow surrounds me, holds me in a thick embrace.

I can see the moon, a delicate sliver of crystal beyond the frozen sky.

My breath rises up towards it.

I can feel the warmth seeping out of me, down into the snow, into the earth.

I make no attempt to move.

***

Chapter 2

A map is not just a representation of space but of time as well. The date is as important as the names. Without both you will never find your way.

***

He kept searching. He kept walking. At night he would study his maps, again and again. Occasionally he would absentmindedly give his globe a spin and watch the world rotate before him. He imagined himself a traveller on the static surface of the moon, looking always at the ever moving earth above.

***

He can watch the town grow by looking at his maps in chronological order. Between the earliest ones there are the greatest gaps in date, sometimes over a century or more, and there are vast disparities in the methods of representation. But despite this he feels he can see the town as it was, barely changing from century to century, a few houses here, a church or two, roads and farms that probably date back even further, pre-Roman, pre-pre-Roman. A thousand years of gradual change in a handful of images.

The maps get more accurate as time passes, but more homogenous. They become more frequent, and yet with this decrease in the periods between them the rate of change accelerates, as if each map must contain a certain amount of new data, the publication of the new map forcing the changes, rather than the other way round.

New roads appear, new buildings, canals.

The railway comes.

The river becomes a constant, instead of a snake twisting slowly across the landscape, across time. Eventually the sea is reclaimed, first as marshland, then eventually as farmland. The town expands, contracts briefly between the wars, expands on and on.

Through it all some things stay the same. The roads into and out of the town (one north, crossing the river where it narrows invitingly; one east, which follows the river towards the sea; one west, towards the city; two south, not towards but from the villages there) seem fixed. The churches, once they appear, do not move.

The school itself has not moved for 400 years, but it does grow, keeping pace with the town, while simultaneously the fields around it shrink, a constant creep of houses encroaching across the borders.

The railway goes.

***

He has other maps. A series of detailed layouts of the High Street, each shop marked with its occupant, in ten year increments from just after the war to a few years ago, the final map showing a sudden increase in units marked “vacant”. He has plans of the park, from its construction in the 19th century through various renovations and re-landscapings over the century or more since.

There are charts of farm boundaries, boat moorings. Power cables, phone lines. The drainage network, where over the years you can see the old brooks and streams get pulled into it, eventually being buried beneath new houses and new roads, the town slowly forgetting they were ever there.

Public footpaths,
ancient roadways,
bridleways,
cattle lanes.

Tiny badly-labelled maps from flyers showing the directions to Indian takeaways, kebab shops, out of town furniture warehouses, local museums, boot sales, school fetes, birthday parties. Routes of fun runs, cycle races, summer carnivals, remembrance parades, fundraising santa sleigh-rides.

He kept photos — his own and those of others — organised by location and then date, so you could see the slowly changing faces of the town, its buildings and its people. He took photos too of old paintings of old places. There were printouts of each new iteration of the aerial photographs on google maps, and even the entire town at street level (in black and white, to save on ink).

***

Each day he traced out where he had walked during the day on a sheet of acetate. He marked his route in a blue marker, homes and shops entered were marked with red numbers, and the full details listed at the empty edges of the sheet.

He kept these sheets clipped together, grouped a week at a time, the build-up of routes slowly obliterating from view the map fixed beneath as the days and the overlays stacked up.

He aimed each week to walk every road of the town. He could, if he wished, see where he had gone on any given day from the last seven years. If he had laid them all down together the sheets would reach the ceiling.

An ice core representing almost a fifth of his life, and encompassing the entirety of the town.

***

Even with all this he could not find the place he had been tasked to find. Maddeningly, the name cropped up from time to time, map to map, but nowhere consistently. Sometimes it was the provisional name of a road on a new estate that by the next map had been renamed. Later a shop, from before he was born, the proprietor’s name on an old advertisement. The name of an old house long since demolished.

He could find places which contained part of the name, places which were phonetically similar. He walked to every one, and what he wanted was not there.

***

His favourite map was one depicting the Friars’ Path, the old route between the friary in the centre of the town and the abbey just north of the river. The map showed the abbey and the friary separated by the sweep of the river. It showed no other buildings, although a small line marked the bridge across the river. It was not aligned along the north/south axis, but instead had the abbey at the bottom of the page and the friary at the top. The winding path of the river was shown as a straight (but tapering) line, its widest point at the top left hand corner, narrowing down to a tiny sliver as it crossed the page towards the bottom right corner of the map.

The route was marked out in green. It started at the friary, crossed the river at the bridge, and then made its way to the abbey at the bottom of the sheet. But the path was not straight. Between the friary and the bridge, and then again between the bridge and the abbey, the path swerved left and right seemingly without reason, back and forth across the emptiness of the page, as if a length of cotton had been thrown onto the map and left to lay where it fell.

The map revealed a path through a labyrinth without depicting the labyrinth itself. Of the old roads that the friars walked and the obstructions they avoided, there was no trace.

The map as echo.

***

He printed out a new copy of the town map, this time making the width of the page match the circumference of his globe. He took the globe out of its stand and wrapped the map around the equator, so that the east road out of town met the west road. He cut the top and the bottom half of the map into ribbons and folded them down towards the poles. As the strips of the map overlapped each other they formed new networks of roads,
new paths,
a new town.

The river formed a sea that stretched across a third of the northern hemisphere and covered the pole. Fields and gardens were lost in the south, creating an endless tangle of housing estates that formed a tight maze of streets as dense as a thornbush. The two roads that led out of the town to the south formed a loop that surrounded and contained the new maze.

The remains of the ancient wall near the site of the old friary, which previously marked out a large U shape, now formed an equilateral triangle that entirely sectioned off the old ruins, protecting or perhaps imprisoning them within its boundary.

***

He taped the edges of the map down and looked at this tiny new world. His house still existed, but now he had new neighbours. His garden was gone, and the field behind it.

There, at the centre, where the two edges met and the east road bled back into the west. The two truncated names merged to form the address he had been looking for.

***

It was late, and the town was empty. The sky was clear above, the stars bright in the freezing winter air. Frost crunched under his boots, and he walked slowly so as not to slip. He went to the west road because it was marginally nearer.

***

He looked at his globe. This was the point. It looked no different from usual, the road stretching away in a straight line towards both horizons. The frosted tarmac a white scar in the dark.

He closed his eyes and stepped across the threshold.

***

Chapter 3

__________

Notes:

1. The original version of the was written between November 2010 and November 2013
2. And this final edit was made in April 2016
3. This also has the same final sentence as The Three Doors And The Fourth
4. I’m not sure what this means
5. But anyway that’s why I have posted both of these today

__________

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Flood

I was returning to my house after the flood. I’d been warned about the possibility of wild animals having taken up refuge in the building, scared and lost and possibly slightly mad with hunger and terror and post traumatic stress and all the other things animals feel I suppose. Badgers, especially, we were warned about, washed out from their setts and forced up into our homes here halfway up the hills.

On the bus I dreamt a bit about rabid pine martens trapped in the pipes, about bedraggled cats clawing at my hands as I reached under the bed. Rats in the bathroom, crows in the loft. The garden a writhing marsh of eels, the patio a croaking pond of frogs.

None of my dreams involved badgers because I’d never seen a badger and didn’t really believe they existed round here.

I approached from the back, stepping through a gap in the trees that lined the garden. The shed was a write-off, half sunk down into the mud, the lawnmower sodden in a puddle of filth that I didn’t have the heart to try and rescue it from.

I never really used it anyway.

At this point I feared the worst. I could see that a side window on the garage had been smashed, and one on the back porch, too, and I had a quick vision of the house being knee deep in sludge, slugs and snails spread thick across the walls, everything rotting beyond the hope of salvage or repair.

But inside the house everything was largely okay. There wasn’t even that much damage really. The lino in the kitchen was a bit damp and stained, but the sandbags had mostly done their job. And the carpet in the hall was miraculously unharmed. The house must tilt upwards from the back to the front, I thought. I never knew that before.

In the living room there was an alligator on the settee, watching tv. He seemed to be wearing one of my shirts, all neatly buttoned up down the front as far as I could see, which wasn’t far, because he was lying down, his head hanging lazily over the armrest.

He was also wearing a pair of my jeans, his back legs poking out through the pockets, his tail stretching one of the legs near to breaking point. The other trouser leg hung down onto the floor like a half-discarded skin.

“What are doing in my house?” the alligator said.

“This is my house,” I said. “I live here.”

I was talking to an alligator.

“No you don’t.”

How could you argue with that, I wondered.

“You’re wearing my shirt,” I tried. “And one of my shoes.”

“I’m wearing my shirt,” he said. “And my shoe.”

His voice had that quality whereby everything he said made you want to punch him in the face, but you knew you never would and also knew that if any punching occurred he’d be the one to instigate it and there’d be nothing you could do about it, because you’re a fucking coward and he hates you and everything about you.

And also he was an alligator. Alligators bloody love punching people.

“I’ve lived here 12 years,” I said.

“Yeah well you weren’t here when I came in.”

“I don’t have to be all the time. It’s still mine.”

“Nah,” he said.

I started to say something I think but he turned the sound up on the tv really loud and I couldn’t make myself heard over the sound of Jeremy Clarkson sarcastically crashing a car.

I noticed he had a shoe on the end of his tail. No sock though.

I’ve never really trusted men who wear shoes with no socks.

I’ve never really trusted alligators that much either.

Another alligator bustled into the room through the hatch that leads to the kitchen that you can pass food through if you want but which I never had because I lived on my own and If I wanted to eat in here I walked round from the kitchen holding my plate in my hands because it was only about 5 metres away.

She was the most beautiful alligator I’ve ever seen.

She was 100% nude.

I blushed and looked at the floor before I knew what I was doing and then I realised what I was doing and I thought what am I doing of course she’s not wearing any clothes she’s an alligator.

But then why was the other alligator wearing clothes.

It was a confusing situation.

“How come you aren’t wearing any clothes,” I shouted to the naked lady alligator over the sound of Richard Hammond’s xenophobic laughter burbling out of the tv.

“She’s a fucking crocodile,” said the beclothed male alligator. “Of course she’s not wearing any
clothes.”

He switched off the tv and glared at me.

“Well, you’re wearing clothes,” I said.

“I’m an alligator,” he said. “Are you fucking stupid, or something?”

The sexy crocodile giggled and I could feel my face go all red with shame and my heart ache with unrequited love for a crocodile I never even knew existed 33 seconds ago.

She flopped down from the hatch she was hanging half out of and flapped across the floor towards what I hoped now was her father or maybe her brother and not her husband or boyfriend or whatever the correct alligator/crocodile relationship term would be and she rose up on her hind legs and awkwardly kissed him on his huge lizardine lips and my heart nearly broke in two.

I’m sure the alligator turned to look at me smugly at this point but I might well have been imagining it.

“How did you get that shirt buttoned up, anyway?” I said.

“Clara did it up for me. She’s surprisingly dextrous,” he leered, as Clara held up her arm and wiggled her fingers at me.

“This really is my house, you know,” I sighed. “You can’t just barge in here and claim it as your own. It’s not right.”

I stopped then because I was afraid I might cry and I didn’t want to cry, not in front of Clara, even though she was a crocodile and wouldn’t even know what tears were let alone what they meant.

I was pretty sure crocodiles cannot cry.

“What’s this guy talking about, honey?” Clara said to the alligator. “You told me you bought this place with your insurance payout.”

“I never said I bought it,” said the alligator, the smug confidence drained from his voice.

Somehow this made me want to punch him even more. “I just sort of implied it, I suppose. I thought they’d all gone for good this time.”

“You nothing but a goddamn liar and you always will be,” Clara screamed. “Mother was right about you.”

At the end of this outburst she burst into tears and I realised I knew much less about crocodiles than I thought.

“Are you okay?” I said

I crouched down so as to be nearer to her face while I spoke, as I thought it seemed a bit threatening looming over her really. But now I was all the way down there at ground level I felt slightly absurd, like I was infantilising her in some way. So I stood back up sharply and took a few steps back and, basically, knowing what to do with your body while you’re talking to a crocodile is all a bit confusing. It’s a whole new fucking ball game really.

Body language has a long way to go before it’s universal.

She probably thought I was acting weird just by standing up on two legs anyway. She could probably see my socks and was busy wondering what the hell they were.

“Im fine,” she sniffled. And then she started wailing, “Oh my god it’s so unfair I can’t believe you could treat us all like this!” and thrashing her tail back and forth and it was heartbreaking to see.

“I’ll, er, get you a drink from the kitchen,” I said. “Is tea okay?”

She nodded her big teary-eyed face up at me and I resolved to make her the best cup of tea the world has ever known.

I got a couple of mugs out from the cupboard and went over to give them a quick rinse in the sink. Then I’m ashamed to say I screamed and dropped the mugs and they smashed all over the floor.

“What the fuck is going on in here?” the alligator bellowed, his head poking through the hatch and looking right at me with its cold dead eyes and its fixed unnerving grin.

“The sink’s full of crocodiles,” I said, feebly, realising as I said it that that’s probably not actually particularly scary at all for a crocodile.

“They’re alligators,” he said.

“But they aren’t wearing any clothes,” I said.

He rolled his eyes at me. “They’re babies.”

“And you said Clara’s a crocodile.”

“Are you suggesting I’m not the father?”

He lunged forward aggressively but luckily he was too wide to get much further through the hole and into the kitchen.

“I thought maybe, I dunno, parthenogenesis, or something…”

“That’s snakes, you cretin.”

“And komodo dragons,” I said. “I saw it on a David Attenborough programme once.”

“Do I look like a komodo dragon?”

I shrugged.

“Make mine a coffee will you.”

And with that he slithered back into the living room.

When I brought the drinks in the two of them were all coiled up together on the settee, smiling, laughing. Kissing, too, I think. I slammed the tray down as hard as I could on the coffee table without spilling a drop. The spoons rattled deafeningly against the saucers.

The kissing went on and it went on and I’d almost finished my tea and still it went on.

“Your tea’s getting cold,” I said finally.

There was one more kiss and then they turned towards me and their cups of tea. It was a mess of tongues and broken china and spilt milk and sodden biscuits but they looked happy enough with the result. Probably a bit sweet for my liking but there’s no accounting for taste.

“We’ve been talking…” Clara said.

“Maybe we can come to some arrangement,” the alligator finished.

“What sort of arrangement?”

“About the house,” said Clara.

“We could have the living room,” said the alligator.

“You can’t sleep in here,” I said.

“Yes I could.” That was the alligator again.

“There’s no bed,” I said.

“We don’t need a bed!” Clara said. “We could sleep under the coffee table. You wouldn’t even know we’re here”

“But it’s glass,” I said. “Wouldn’t you rather something more private?”

They shrugged their shoulders, which was quite frightening in the alligator and incredibly charming in Clara.

“And what about your children? They aren’t living in the kitchen sink.”

“The bath?”

“No!”

“We could keep them in here,” said Clara. “In a big bucket.”

“I… actually that might work,” I said. “I think I’ve got a paddling pool in the garage.”

“What’s a paddling pool?” Clara asked and I tried explaining it but they didn’t know what rubber was and they definitely didn’t understand what I meant about inflating something and in the end I gave up trying to explain and just said I’d get it out from the garage and show them the stupid bloody thing and they could make up their minds about whether it would be suitable or not for their children to live in.

I went out the front door and walked across the front garden, which was slightly overgrown but otherwise perfectly okay.

I was just opening the garage door when I thought to myself that maybe I’d been tricked and this whole thing was a scam. The tears, the children, the coquettish smile, everything. Why was I coming to an arrangement with them. This was my house. I didn’t have to let them stay just because they’d broken in and spun some ridiculous story up out of nothing.

They’d probably stolen those children like they’d stolen my clothes.

What even was their story?

Fuck it, I’m going to go back in there and tell them to get the fuck out of my house. I’m going to yank that shoe off that fucking fuck’s fucking tail and smash his fucking brains out. Watch top gear on my fucking tv would you? Put your feet up on my fucking couch? You fucking cunt. I’m not fucking having it. I’m not fucking having any of it.

The garage door swung up. A badger exploded out of the darkness and bit out my throat and I bled to death right there on the drive.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on September 6th and 7th, 2017

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A Play

I was watching a play. It wasn’t a very good play. We were sat up in the rafters, looking down at the room below. It was set out like a school classroom – rows of grey desks, uncomfortable looking green chairs, a blackboard. A pupil, oversized in his chair, uncomfortable in his uniform, a pen gripped in his fist like a crucifix. And a teacher, standing, impassive, implacable, administering the punishment with no hint of pleasure, just blank indifferent duty.

An hour of near silence, of tedium, of watching this man, this boy, copying down the text from the blackboard, from a textbook, from the teachers recitals of poetry and history. An hour of growing unease, a slow and steady increase in the animosity of the teacher towards her pupil, verbal hectoring blossoming into physical violence, torture, finally excruciating bloody death for the schoolchild beneath the barrage of her blows.

I left hurriedly at the end, baffled by the enthusiasm of the crowd around me as they rose en masse to give the performers a standing ovation, baffled by what they could have found to appreciate in such an empty and unpleasant performance. As I reached the bottom of the stairs and began the long walk down the corridor towards the exit I heard a door open behind me, footsteps on the tiled floor. And a voice, loud, clear, condescending.

“Where do you think you’re going, young lady?”

And I stopped and turned and followed her into the classroom.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on 26th February, 2016

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