CONVERSATION AT A SECOND HAND BOOK STALL
The woman working on the second hand book stall told me about the telephone text message which her thirteen year old son had sent her, perfunctorily requesting her to "fuckin fone" him. Followed by another text that he sent after she had failed to "fuckin fone" him, which stated enigmatically, "moaning sound". "That's just the way they talk these days", she told me. I tried to imagine what it might be like being a single mum with a teenage kid. You know, the indefinable dynamic of interdependence and rejection. And the "fuck this", "fuck that" and "fuck you" of it all. She told me about his smoking. Thirteen years old and still smoking? I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't a bit old for that. They're usually on the nicotine patches by that age these days. Alcohol rehab by the time they're fourteen. Penning their memoirs at fifteen.
He turned up not long after the second text; greasy fringe clinging to his face; one eye half-visible; leaning against the frail frame of the book stall as though his spine depended on it. As if it was an extension of his vertebrae without which his body would be a formless jelly of flesh and organs. Sounds came from his lips, but they lacked the necessary shape-giving consonants for me to be able to comprehend what he was trying to communicate. I imagined he was asking her for money. She took out her purse and gave him some. Money. Then, shoulderless and damp with hormonal urges, he skulked off to buy a litre bottle of white cider and some rolling tobacco. Or so I imagined. I bought a really dull book by Proust and a really dated book by Sartre. Neither of which I really wanted. I just thought a sale might cheer the woman up a bit.
SOME THINGS YOU NEVER FORGET
So, Jeanette. We met. Yes. Went out together for three months, then it all went horribly wrong at a Christmas party. But, I'm talking about the night after the night of the Christmas party, here. And not Jeanette. And I'd gone out and got a love-bite sucked into the crease between my throat and my collar-bone by a girl who was very not Jeanette. Time the Avenger: it said so in black letters above the town hall clock in Swadlincote on December the somethingth, 1984. Still does. Anyway, there was a lad I recognised from the training scheme at the brewery where I worked - I'd seen him at the Health and Safety meeting. Didn't know his name but I recognised the moon boots and the razor-blade earring. Put his fist through a glass panel in the back door of a pub during an argument with his girlfriend, on the night after the night of the Christmas party. Sat on the door step, face drained and pale as an inconsolable moon. Barmaid holding the limp and leaking fist above his back-combed mop of hair, dappled crimson with blood. Waiting in slow motion for the ambulance to arrive. And I cycled five miles home on a bike with a punctured front tyre; drunk and rattling along the cold tarmac in the black, trafficless middle of night. Made my bed in a hedge by the Stanhope Arms. And the lad with the prosthetic leg who got drunk and took it off to scratch his stump, on the night after the night of the Christmas party. Hopped to the bar and back and didn't spill a drop. Majestic. His name was Nigel. Same as mine. Next time I saw him was at my Granddad's funeral, 25 years later. In his Burton Albion football shirt and a pair of knee-length khaki shorts. My granddad would have laughed. Some things you never forget.
The sky is vast and the stars are busy doing the very violent things that stars do a very long way away. And I'm walking back to Coldean across Hollingbury golf course in the middle of the night. I've been drinking. Again. And I'm drunk. Again. And the landscape is a topography of uncompromising silhouettes: clusters of hawthorn, tangled knots of bramble and the tumorous lips of bunkers. I've stopped walking and I'm leaning on a golf hole flag pole. I think everything is going to be ok. I'm crystallising, in my little head, the idea that I must be on my way home. Now then, I did say to myself a couple of months ago that I wasn't going to write about alcohol or sex ever again, but, fuck it, I'm drunk and I'm holding on to a golf hole flag pole; urinating into a golf hole on Hollingbury golf course in the middle of the night. And I'm wondering what exactly, else, exactly, does a person write about when or if, yes, if, exactly? In my sublime condition. What else does a person write about if, when a person is not writing, a person is drinking and if, when a person is not drinking, a person is writing?
And when a person is not drinking, or writing, or writing and drinking, a person is thinking about sex. "Write about what you know": that's what they say. I know I don't know much about many things, but I do know about drinking. And sex. And just how much I get the drinking and just how much I don't get the sex. Shaking the last drip of urine off the end of my cock. Letting go of the golf hole flag pole. Straightening my back. Seeking a new direction. I get the very feeling that I've been here before. The silence of the very violent stars being very violent a very long way away is the silence of a coma. Putting it back in my trousers. Pulling up the zip. In a landscape that has no recognizable features humans are instinctively inclined to walk in circles, even though they think they're walking in a straight line. Lost in the snow. In the desert. Out at sea. Roaming the Hollingbury golf course in the middle of the night. I've somehow found myself standing knee-deep in a patch of nettles.