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TOM KELLY

POOR WOMAN
DANNY AND CHRIST
THE MACHINES
RESTING EASY
ROCK AND DOLE
BILLY
RUNNING BOY
TOMMY, THE CITY AND ME
 

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POOR WOMAN 

I keep the blinds drawn because they look in and steal me. The worldís evil, creeping in the back door, staining the carpet, clattering up the stairs, throwing bed clothes on the floor, leaving filth on walls, upsetting rooms and filling the toilet with vileness, thatís why the blinds are shut. I must save my son from this, from the rubbish that pulses through my letter box. I burn it and then collect the black ash and bury it away from our house, itís the only way of knowing that it is truly dead, that the words cannot cause any more harm. That they wonít wake in the night, crawl in and strangle my son.

I love to see the light floating through the blinds; itís Godís light shining, saving us from the blackness that tries to engulf us. I have fallen in the world and I cried and cried until I had to close my eyes, and they said, ďOpen your eyes and see your sonĒ and my son had a golden light around him and he looked like Christ. My son is my saviour. If I move all the time my son will be fine at school. His teachers must be checked. I want a tape recording of their lessons. I want a video of each day. I want to examine the toilets for graffiti. I want the syllabus changed. I want more, not less religious study. I want all books checked for profanity. I hate television and radio. They throw acid into our children's minds.

I got rid of our television and radio. I wrapped them in brown paper so they couldnít contaminate our house, their cold metallic eyes care for no-one.  They utter nothing I want. I sing in my head, sometimes so loud it drowns out all thoughts of my child and I feel guilty as if I have betrayed him but I need to sing, to praise God.

I pray until I can no longer hear the screams from next door, when the man returns from the pub and punches and kicks the woman and I feel her pain and bleed for her. I cry for all women who are beaten by the world. I then wipe my tears and listen to my childís soft breathing. My husbandís not here. He was a good man, very considerate, always put his family first. We would do everything together. We would go to church, walk side by side and people passing would be envious of such an attractive family. Weíd stand outside church and talk to our friends, we wouldnít hurry away. We would feel sorrow for those who were not like us: the perfect family.

Watching the streetlights and moving my head around and around I can see that the lights wave and agree with me, they know Iím living the right way, the correct life. Sometimes I have doubts and then I pass people in the street and I hear them swear in front of their children and take the Lordís name in vain and fall over with too much drink and they look at me with pity! I laugh into my handbag so they wonít hear my screams of joy at seeing their world spewing out evil that I have escaped. I scream. I have to take medication to stop laughing.

The doctorís refused to come out and see my son, so Iíve reported him, sent sixty three letters to his surgery. The doctor was good but wickedness has taken him and now heís a hollow man with a black bag of evilness.

Children are a chalice you must fill with goodness or the future will be black and we will not be able to open our eyes and we will have to sit in the dark and wait while sin knocks on the door and tears down our blinds. I avoid the other parents. I stand with my back to them. My husband used to collect our child, he would stand with these men and women, hold long conversations, be the centre of attention. They would look up to him, he stood tall, proud and erect. He had presence. He was a good man. Much respected by everyone in the community. Everyone.

Black lines in the pavement have filth, which clings to your shoes and creeps into your house. Iíve taken up our carpets and thereís a thick metal grid at the front and back doors which collects the dirt. I scrape clean the grids every morning and night. It stops anything worming its way into the house.  I do all this for my precious boy. My sonís had a good day at school. He has homework, maths. I donít like figures. They donít add up. I canít help my son and I get so angry.

In the past my husband would help with his homework and he would get all the answers correct, his blue maths book bright with yellow stars, like the stars above Bethlehem. I will pray and Christ will send his light. I tell my son to stand by the blinds and let the sunlight stream on to his head, he bows his head and genuflects and I feel Christís love burning into my son.  My son puts his hands on my face and I smile and he cries.

I heard that woman next door screaming last night. Her husband was banging her head. I pictured her blood on the wall, making a terrible pattern, adding red to the washed-out pink wallpaper. She must stay with him for the sake of the child. Must do. I met my husband through some friends. I canít recall where. My memory seems fresh some days and then it leaves me, like the apostles in the garden. I sometimes feel Iím Christ in the desert, searching for answers. My doubts crowd in. The priest, in Confession, said everyone has doubts. He is kind, he bathed my wounds one night. I returned home and it was broken and a man who had a face like my husbandís was crying in the kitchen. He was drinking whiskey and screaming. This man had stolen my husbandís face. He swore at the priest, and then he fell on the floor and was sick. The priest carried him to our bedroom and left him there. I told the priest that he was not my husband but he didnít seem to understand. This man is still in my house. I had to report my husband missing. He is special, not like this man that smells of drink. My husband would never do that. He never drank; he would stand near the priest and tell him jokes and stories. The priest respected my husband. Everyone did. It is three in the morning and now I can rest and check my sonís breathing.

When the glass frosts I breathe deeply. The monsters have gone and the sun is so warm, like sitting in front of a fire. It doesnít last it slowly grows cold and then the pain begins and the terror makes me shake. For these brief heaven sent moments I am free of pain. I have looked in the abyss, inched along that lip of blackness and I see the hellhole of my life. This is hell. The flames of hell will be a relief. As a child I could not imagine burning for eternity. Now I know that life is Hell.

Rest is not here. It is away from this life but I cannot go because I canít leave my child, my son. I must stay and suffer at the hands of the man that speaks and grunts and splutters with whiskey and wipes my blood from his hands and throws me around like a rag.

They said he would be better with someone else, just for a while, until I Ďget myself  togetherí. I said, ďWhatís the matter with me?Ē and they said I was not to get upset. They said my, Ďdomestic situationí, was causing the child problems, ďmy sonĒ, I said . They said, he was, crying in class, his school work was getting worse, he often fell asleep and screamed. He was upsetting the other children. They said he needs protection. ĎA special schoolí.

I told them about the man who had stolen my husbandís face and how he was beating me and my son had to stand between us and that this man threw my shoes and clothes in the street and locked my child in the cupboard on the stair-head.

They all listened and nodded their heads. And then they began washing their hands and I couldnít help thinking of Pontius Pilate but I didnít say. And they said, ďDo you understand?Ē Over and over. And they said I wasnít to cry and they would help. Their way of helping was to take my child. ĎHelpingí was to put me in this clinic and helping left that man in my house. He has taken down the blinds and allowed the evil to fly in the windows. When he leaves I will need the priest to bless the house by sprinkling holy water on the stairs and on the bedroom where there is blood is on the walls, the blood that made the woman and child cry and had the man being sick on the floor: evil has entered the house.

I go to collect my child from school but he has gone. I wait until the last parent has left and I  look in the classroom, his room, his desk, I search for him. I found his nametag last week. I took it home, to the clinic. I have it in a box with his photograph and one of his marbles that looks like a glazed eye. I turn the marble away from his photograph. I donít want him hurt by evil. The man they say is my husband wants a divorce because he has another woman.

I pray she has a body made of steel. He wants my son, he wants my son. They want my son to go with a stranger who wipes my blood from his knuckles and vomits on my bed and they want me to take that, I have accepted a great deal but I will not let that happen. My son and I have suffered more than Christ. This is not blasphemy, I have told the priest and he nodded and held my hands and said, Ďpoor womaní, Ďpoor womaní and I am. I am.

 

 

DANNY AND CHRIST

 

Danny dances outside the school, cuddling his white plastic bag to his chest. This is his child. The glue nestling in the plastic feeds his head. Itís his bread and butter, his everything. Thereís someone with him, a new companion on the journey, his odyssey of dreams. He still dances outside the school, twirls to a beat in his head. They shout at him, the young lads, thereís envy. They want to be like him, be famous. To have their names in the newspaper for causing a disturbance of anyoneís but Dannyís peace. He is a star. A major mover in this gluey constellation. He knows that, as they follow him: the Pied Piper of cheap dreams.

Dreams block out cold and disappointment that bites, that rubs him against the wall, clings to his clothes, thatís at the bottom of the glue in the bag that looks up at him and says youíre failing. You are nothing. And he injects and he breathes and he drinks and sucks but still at the heart of everything it is still there. Still there. Still there. It hurts. It cuts. It bruises, he screams at the false cut-up sky. The words spill into profanities yet they are articulate in his head but dumb as if he had no tongue, as if he had been struck dumb.

And then Dannyís apostles, all friends in glue, billow their plastic bags, as if they were holy robes, great magic bagpipes that fill their heads and dreams. They look at one another, communicate as the apostles: this is their gluey Esperanto. This is the moment they speak in tongues and all the nations of glue understand. And red tongues see-saw down, wisps of clouds from the fiery orb. Tongues of light falling from heaven, flowing into their hearts and minds, understanding each other as never before. Danny and his brothers dance to a new red beat. Christ and the apostles have their tongues of fire, Danny and his boys have truth through glue, their eyes shine despite all the rubbish they put themselves through. They scream at the sky and the sun bleeds.

And he stumbled and fell and Simon of Cyrene or anyone else for that matter wasnít there to help. He was off some place, somewhere else, carrying the cross for another Christ. ďIím here,Ē Danny shouted, ďHelp me for my sake, for Christís sakeĒ and they pointed at him and they hung him out to dry and when he looked two others were beside him and they were spitting at him and he said, ďIíll feed you with my eyes which have taken on that power. The power to hold, to feed, to make fishes and loaves last forever, and save men and make blind men see and the dumb speak and the lame walkĒ but they ignored Danny time after time.

And Dannyís in the park. Propped against a tree with mist rising, smoking around the trees as a woman levitates toward him. She offers him everything. He speaks but when he opens his mouth glue bubbles are a road block to understanding yet she cleans him and washes his face and feet and dries him with her hair which hangs like willow across her face. And she cries for Danny and loves him. And Danny holds her, embracing his dream. And she speaks and walks and cares for him and spreads out his body like a map that she explores but as the cold inches in, she disappears and itís then Danny sees Christ on the cross and Mary stands there and she has been true, despite everything. And Dannyís woman has gone and he searches the park, fearing for her. Hoping that she hasnít been hurt by people vandals. He prays that sheís been with him. And he feels the black pain of loss, if thatís what it is. At the cross Mary Magdalen stands alone and weeps for Christ and Danny as tears drape her face, stuck like glue.

And they forced thorns on his head made out of plastic because they didnít want to hurt him. They placed a lance in his side and it dripped red as if it were blood. And the school disappeared, and the end was in sight for this Christ of Glue.

His friends sat around a table in a derelict building and he shared his glue and they held it to their faces and thanked him and Danny dreamed and he rose above them and became Christ, God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and he was Christ he knew that now.

He had fought the inevitable now he knew there was no fighting it. No. NoÖ. running away to a nothing sound.

The wall was cold on Dannyís nose as he lay against the school wall and the man shouted and the woman screamed and the children hid behind their parents and Danny smiled at them and said he forgave them and that their dreams were now happening, that their dreams were being realized and donít think tomorrow will be different : Love this moment. But the words were coming out wrong, they were full of filth that kept shrieking out and he cried because he could not stop them and he said, ďSorryĒ but it came out as vile. And the man struck him and the woman approved and the children were given a warning and then a voice came loud and clear, ďthis is my child, listen to his wordsĒ and the man turned away self-righteous as his pulpit face. Danny cried. Danny cried for everyone.

 

A man in a blue suit picks up Danny. Heís kind. He carries him to his white chariot that pulses a blue light and a sound that bells the universe. He lies in the back of the chariot and smiles as best he can at the crowds and someone says his name, ĎChristí, they say, ĎChristí.

His life somehow has been put back to front. Now heís at home. He is a child, he is playing as someone approaches, lifts his clothes, feels him all over.

A stranger thatís touching him, making him feel cold and sick and he looks into the manís eyes and heís no stranger. And still the man feels and still he hurts and he cries out and his mother is deaf and the records play. And the music drowns his scream.

And the chariot burns through the traffic and the blue light flickers on his face and the man looks surprised as Danny hands him a bible with his name on the inside and the man wonders what he can do to make things better and he says, ďHow can I help you my son?Ē and the man cries, tears falling like dreams. And soon Danny will die.

He will soon fight in the ambulance, propel himself round the bed, fight with imaginary enemies, bow to crowds and give the man the chance to walk and other and other miracles.

And soon he will die and heís only thirty-three. He dies. They donít cover him and he looks happy and he lets go of his plastic bag, his thorns of pain and for the first time in a long time he smiles and offers up his life to all of us.  ďThirty three is no ageĒ, says the man as the ambulance hurries on to no avail.

His family is sick and cries for all his pain and the cross is empty tonight and Christ is no longer on the glue. No longer filling his heart and head with fumes and dreams. Heís happy for the first time in a long sad time. And his family bind together. Their pain drawing them to each other, clinging and screaming great gulps of grief. They know this day would come but they are still not prepared for it. It is the most painful of things. Danny, they say, over and over again until it becomes their prayer and comfort and they draw out memories of Danny and they are all happy, they need their balm in order to combat pain.

Heís in the garden. He asks them, his friends, his apostles of sorts, to stay awake with him but theyíve had too much of something, their eyes are closing like shutters. As he speaks he can see them shutting their eyes and he asks, ďStay with me for a whileĒ. He prays. He dreams. He tries to touch a reality. He wants to find a higher power, key into a life other than this. Christ is in the garden.

Danny is in the ambulance. Christ and Danny are growing closer together as if they were video images that can be pulled together to make one. A magic trick, Danny, the gluey, and Christ are now one.

Danny stands shaking at the window of the derelict house. Itís two in the morning, his companions snore, grumble and cry in their dreams. Christ kneels, prays and his knees sting with pain and he sweats and wants strength to embrace death in order that man will survive. Men will see his death as their redemption.

And Christ sees Danny in the future. Feels his pain and Dannyís striving to understand reasons he canít articulate and obliterate. With glue and alcohol he chased cheap dreams in battered rooms. And Christís gown is a peacock that glows and glitters and Danny sees Christ. Danny is standing at the window in the derelict house, stretching out his arms and Christ and Danny are one.

Christ smiles the most beatific smile. Danny reciprocates and he returns to the ambulance, the chariot, blue flashing lights charging through the crowded council estate where they all know Danny, to the hospital to be pronounced Dead on Arrival.

And Christ walks in the desert for forty days and nights. At night the stars come down and lie around his head, dip themselves into his eyes. He prays, getting closer and closer to his Father. There is a communion with nature, his father, life. He feels liberated. He feels so free and breathing is easy, heís moved away from tears the world has a way of bringing.

Christ sees Danny. He prays for him. He once again stretches out his hands and places his fingers on his brow and Danny feels some of Christís freedom.

Danny breathes into a new plastic bag and most times itís mostly habit but tonight itís the ultimate high. ďItís everything. Itís everythingĒ. Danny says aloud and heís alone, at the back of a toilet in the park, and the others must have gone hours ago. This is Dannyís desert: graffiti in the shelter, broken glass and angry dogs snapping at his feet. In the trees the birds are silent as the grave Dannyís soon to embrace.

Danny is stripped in the mortuary. A fresh tattoo bleeds on his brow. The coolness of the room dries goblets of blood, which are dabbed gently by the orderly. The orderly, not knowing why takes a white sheet and presses it on Dannyís face. The Mask of Turin it is not but perhaps thatís what he had in mind.

The figure stamped into the sheet is of a thirty-three year old glue sniffer and at this the orderly takes the shroud and places it on top of Dannyís meager possessions. He pushes Danny into the container as if it were a stone and the stone may roll and Danny maybe seen walking the streets with a tattoo on his brow reading, ďDanny and ChristĒ. Thatís yet to happen but I expect it somehow.

There is a crucifix in the room. Christís side is bleeding and blood seeps from his brow and when you look carefully Christ is crying. Danny and Christ are one, all that separates them is time.

 

THE MACHINES

 

I can control the machines. Win when I want. When I really need it theyíll pull me out. Iím losing at the minute but youíve got to play yourself out of a bad run. Itís part of the game, youíve got to accept it or leave the machines but if you do that youíll regret it because you can turn hot, hit the winning line easy. Iíve seen it happen; it happened to me. I got buzzed up. I was physically sick. I stank of vomit, but me pockets were full of money. Iíve never felt so good, so happy. It lasted til I got home. All I wanted to do was to run back to the arcade and play and play until I was sick again. Thatís the way it gets you. Iíve been losing for ages. Iíve got no cash. Iím going to have to get some; Iíll pay it back when the machines turn for us.

Mam and dad are out at work. Me brother and sister are married, I hardly ever see them. I call round now and then and me brother gives me a few quid. Money given like that never works for you, it seems to die in the machine: it doesnít have any life it always loses, eventually. Money that you have borrowed without the people actually knowing always works for you. The machine seems to know that youíve had to sweat for it. This is something Joe Citizen doesnít know.

He comes in the arcade, has a cup of coffee and puts a quid or two in the machines but even when he wins he takes the winnings, he doesnít feed the machine. Doesnít give himself a chance to feel the machines, itís like touching a body when itís working for you, it knows, itís doing it for you. It buzzes the same as you and me.

Sometimes homeís a strange place. Like a holiday home without the fun, the furniture youíve seen for years is all there but you donít know any of it. It shines like in a shop but theyíve had it for ages. Me mother always leaves money in the cracked cup in the kitchen, she has done for years. Youíd think sheíd find another place.

Iíll take one ten-pound note. Sheíll notice if I take two. Itíll work for me; Iíve got a chance of turning things, the machines will know Iíve had to risk things, taken a chance to win.

School was a pain. I couldnít listen to what the teacherís were saying, they opened their mouths and nothing came out. I waited for the end of the day, end of term, end of school. Iíve had jobs, been on schemes, I had some kind of training but it didnít seem right, I couldnít make it.

Dadís never spoken to me since the court case. I had to steal the handbag. The women went to the toilets and I got her purse and spent the money quickly. Somebody grassed me, somebody from the arcade. I couldnít believe that. I thought we were like proper brothers. He didnít see it that way. That was a shock. Iíll wait until he needs cash, when he thinks heís hot. Iíll chase him, kill the run. Heíll regret getting the law onto me.

The cracked cup: I seem to know every crazy line, like spindly grey veins and, sticking out of its mouth like the fish in the fountain in the arcade, stiff ten pound notesÖI know the money better than me dadÖI donít know if anyone knows him, heís Ďsemi-detachedí, me brother said. Iím not sure what he meant but dadís funny, never speaks, well hardly ever.

ďItís his natureĒ, me mother says. ďCrackedĒ I say, just like this cup. Itís only good for holding money. You couldnít drink from it.

I had a good run yesterday. I bought me tea and supper with me winnings, and helped a friend who was having a bad time. He thought he was due a good win. It didnít work out for him. He started to scream and punch the machine, over and over. The arcade manager ordered a taxi, had him taken home or wherever he lives. He had started to smell a while ago. His clothes never looked clean. I didnít like sitting beside him. I usually eat by meself anyway; a plate of chips and burger most days.

Me brother gave me a good hammering. Said I was killing me mother. I couldnít understand what he was on about. He turned into a teacher; his mouth was opening and closing just like that fish in arcade but nothing was coming out. I was going to tell him but I couldnít get a word in. I took the beating. I cried because I thought thatís what he wanted me to do, and said I was sorry. Then he cried. Then I said, Ďsorryí again saying as though thatís what he seemed to want. He cried into my shoulder. When he was crying I asked him for a tenner. He stood back, looked at me with a funny look in his eyes, and pushed a note in me pocket. He was still crying when he drove away. It wasnít a ten-pound note it was a fiver. What a bloke! All that crying and only a fiver. Who can you trust?

One of the great things about the machines is that they cut out all the good and bad words, they make everything a gamble, a chance, because youíre never sure what people have said and so I guess and nod and smile but donít really know.

The machines are all that matters, hearing them whirringís like a doctor listening to a heartbeat, keying into that person, finding out what makes them work, hear their breathing as they spin in their metal bodies. Itís love. Itís the real thing.

I used to go sea fishing with me dad, when I was younger. Weíd get up at four oíclock in the morning and walk down to the Pier at Shields. In the winter it was still dark and I felt like a warrior with me pole spearing the night.

I used to want to say these things to me dad but he wouldnít reply. Heíd say something about trying new bait, anything to avoid my questions. I couldnít stand the silence any longer; my words got too loud in me head. They seemed to grow like a balloon inside me skull. How could I say those things to him? Then the words stopped coming out of me mouth, just like me dad I suppose.

Not that long ago I had a hole in me sock, when I moved me foot it rubbed up and down and caused a blister. I went to the chemist, bought a plaster, I had to buy a pack of them; the girl behind the counter said something and smiled. I wish Iíd heard what she said. She had a nice smile and a uniform like the people in the arcade except hers was cleaner and her hair swung from side to side like the workings of a machine. I might go back sometime and see her.

She had her name on a badge. Thatís a good idea; I think everybody should have one, and then youíd know who they were. I walked past my mother the other day. She stopped and said, ďAre you not speaking?Ē Most days I donít say a lot, so I was just going to say, ďNoĒ, when I realized who it was.

Iíve got thirteen pounds fifty in me pocket. One ten-pound note and the restís in silver. I can feel the money clinging to me walking round the arcade. Itís getting hotter and needs to go into the machine, its lifeís up, it has to be spent.

Iím going to win something to day, you just know. The lad who screamed at the machine is using my machine. Heís trying to upset me. He knows it. Heís failing. Heís lost his touch. Iíll get his money. The arcade manager is asking him to leave.

Now when I get buzzed up I canít go home. The last bit of trouble meant me mam and dad donít want me. Iím in care, although no one seems to be a caring for me. I stay out of the place. I hang round the arcade most of the day and night. My mother said she could never forgive me. She knew Iíd taken money from the cracked cup, ďBut why did you have to steal from your own brother?Ē Heíd given me the key to water their plants when they went away on holiday. I kept it after that and I knew heíd been saving for a new car. He had two hundred and forty three pounds in a box in a kitchen; people must have a thing about saving in the kitchen.

I took it. I thought I was due a good win. I had the worst run Iíve ever had. I lost the lot in a day. My brother came looking for me. I told him straight away Iíd taken it and he didnít hit me. He just rang the police. Imagine your own brother doing that.

I thought at first I would be able to understand the girl that worked in the chemist. I liked her smile and swinging hair. When I saw her again she looked different, she had her hair stuck up on the top of her head like celery and when she talked she yawned and was just like my brother and all the teachers and my social worker and care worker and just about everybody really. When she talked, I couldnít understand her. She pointed at some shampoo and other things under a sign, which said Ďtoiletries.í Iíve never been back; itís a long way from the arcade.

The people that are supposed to look after us in care take my money and give me pocket money. They even put it in small brown envelopes like the ones me dad brings home and puts in his top drawer in the dining room. Then he locks the drawer. He used to have this big bunch of keys that swung like a proper gunslinger. The only time you see him smile is when he locks up his money.

Me mam and dad changed the lock on the front door but they forgot about the back door. It was a dark night and I was out by meself; I remembered those fishing trips me dad and me used to take and I thought thatís the happiest Iíve ever been until I couldnít stand the silence.

I wouldnít mind that now. I could stand it. It was three twenty, I pressed my digital watch and the time seemed to shine out in the darkness, pushing time into the night, holding time on a black wall. The night was silent as me dadís fishing trips.

Me dad had locked the drawer as usual, but the one below was open, all I need to do was take that drawer out and with a screwdriver force open the drawer from below. It snapped open like a bone being broken. The drawer was all brown wage packets. There was fifty-one. I knew what he did, my mother told us. Heíd wait until he got fifty-two then he would have the money banked. Iíd got there just in time. I knew the time on my digital watch was good sign: ĎThree twentyí it read and three twenties are sixty which is my favourite number; it had been good for me again. I scooped up the packets in a plastic carrier bag me mother had left on the next drawer, considerate I thought. I had to smile. When I stood at the bottom of the stairs I could hear my dad snoring, which is about as much noise as he ever makes. I lay three wage packets on the stairs, one at the top, the next in the middle and then one at the bottom, right beside his silent fishing gear. Heíd find the drawer open and that it was empty and silent, like him.

I didnít want to leave the arcade but I knew the police would be looking for me and I had to go. I had to look at the place, even from a distance. There was policeman in the arcade, the doors were wide open and that was a sure sign. Then the manager came out and looked up and down the street, he saw me but I knew he wouldnít say anything. I had five thousand and twenty seven pounds in my pocket. I didnít like having that odd twenty-seven pounds. I had to get rid of it. It would work for somebody else. I went to the burger place, saw one of the lads and gave him that money in one of the envelopes.

It was as if I was paying him, giving him a wage for trying, for gambling, for fighting the people who open their mouths but nothing comes out, for my father who never really spoke, for my brother and his knuckles that cut up me face and the fiver he gave me that I knew would never work for me.

I couldnít have known the arcade manager would tell the police and the policemen and the van was behind me and that the people with silence in their mouths were holding me down but the machine was still ringing in me head and the winnings were falling on me and I was screaming, ďIíve wonĒ over and over again. The machines are waiting for me, you can trust the machines.

 

RESTING EASY

 

The bairns are sound. Itís a wonder they can sleep with that noise from next door. Goes on til two or three in the morning. Iíve got the telly on loud, its distorting. I donít want to watch it. Iíd like to read but canít concentrate with the music battering me head.

If he was still here they wouldnít do it. Heíd be in there. Break a window. Poison their dog. Heís not here. Heís shacked up with a young bit of stuff. Across the road. I can see their house from our bedroom. Sheís just turned eighteen, heís thirty eight. Mind sheís welcome to him, it gives me a rest.

He used to be on my bones day and night, couldnít turn round. As soon as the bairns went out, he was at me. Rabid. Sex machine: wham, bam, thank you mam. Then out to the club. As much finesse as a shovel.

Heís not working. The curtains in their place are closed til after twelve. Then heíll go to the club, back after three then: bang, bang, bang. He doesnít bother to close the bedroom curtains. Heíll sleep til seven then out again. He smokes for England. Heíll pop off sooner than later. No doubt about that. Iím glad of a bit peace.

The bairns miss him. He used to take them to the baths, loved posing. On the dole and buys a sun bed from somebody in the club. He abuses his body but heís still looks good.

Here he comes, swaggering down the path from tonightís session. He looks tired. No wonder. Good looking bastard.

Iíll get a part-time job. Iím going to have words with next door, threaten them; itís the only thing they understand.

Mind Iím enjoying the peace. Me and the bairns are resting easy.

 

ROCK AND DOLE

 

The bairnís six months. Sleeps alright. Living with me motherís a pain. Three of us in me old bedroom. Weíve got our name down for a council flat. Takes ages, all the forms and that. Our lass is alright. Donít have many fights. Sheís nineteen in May, sheís glad to be out of her motherís. Sheís always got different blokes round.

Canít do what I want now, go out and blow me giro. Our lass is good with money, talking about getting a bank account. The scheme sheís on put her money straight into the bank, itís never there for long. Sheís got some good ideas, wants to have a do for me twenty-first. Iím not bothered as long as I have a good drink.

Me mother babysits, one good thing about living in. I hardly get to play me records now. Might get one of those ipods for me birthday. Not the same though. I like to hear the noise bouncing off the walls. The bloke next door used to go crazy, Had a heart attack. He was ancient, about fifty.

Iíve had a couple of fights the last few Friday nights. Me and me mates chased these lads for miles. I was shattered by the time we caught them. One of me mates stamped on their heads. I was buzzing. Sick as a dog when I got home.

I change the bairnís nappies. Our lass gets sick when she smells them. I laugh and put her nose under the shite. She goes mad. Heís a good bairn, looks like me, hair dead short. He hasnít got tattoos yet.

Iíve told our lass I want another tattoo, havenít had one for three months. Blackaís got one right across his thigh, itís a lion roaring. He started wearing shorts. Heís got dead thin legs. It looks like a skinny spider. I wouldnít tell him, heís hit me with a brick.

Me dogís great. Keep him in the shed. Costs me loads to feed him. Call it Rock. Itís dead hard. Itís seen off two Alsatians. Killed them. I buried the last one in the back garden. The owner knew what happened but he said nowt. The screams when Rock were fighting were wild. The whole street was out. Women telling me to stop it, thereís no chance when it gets going. Heís a pit bull. Theyíre the hardest dog you can get. Mind if it touched the bairn Iíd kill it with me bare hands. Itís had one or two cats, like rags in seconds. Youíve got to have a dog.

A good one. The hardest. Thatís Rock.

 

BILLY

 

Iíll tell him, no bother. Big shit. Might call round to see him before I have a drink. Aa could put aa brick through his windaa. Not worth the slaver: police, court, fine. Aa better watch it after Iíve had drink. Just might do it. Thinks he owns ye because he gives you aa suit. With these lapels, in this wind, I might just take off. Still itís better than nowt even if aa got it from that shit. Donít know what me sister saw in him. Mind sheís always been a funny bugger.

Might get something in the pub. Somebodyís garden to dig over, always a couple of quid there. Mebbeís more. Got fifty quid in me hand last week for a demolition job. Itís a young manís game, swinging from the rafters. No insurance. You start thinking about that the older ye get.

Tell ye what I donít know as many as I used to when I walked in the yards. Knew hundreds of lads. Never see them. Mebbeís some are working away. If youíve got a trade you can do it. Thereís no work for labourers. Itís all push button, blokes with white coats. Nowt for me.

My mate Peteyís a mug doing that security job, working for washers. At least heís out the house, away for their lass; he has no life with her. She was always a bitch. Go with any bugger. She said I look smart in me new suit. I could see she was dying to laugh. How can she laugh at any bugger? She broke the scales at Weight Watchers.

No point working when Iíve got five bairns; the benefits Iím getting mean Iíd have a job worth a fortune.  Nobody would give that sort of money. Fiddle jobs are the best I can expect. As long as our lass doesnít mind Iím alright. She gets sick. She never goes out.

I got a shock the other day, looked in the mirror, for the first time in years. I looked the double of me father. Iím bald. I suppose you always think you look the same, well in ye head. Iím fifty now. Some bugger must have lived me life. Thatís what started it. Me brother in law called me a baldy bastard.

He picked the wrong time to be funny. Our lass kept saying heís been good to us and the bairns. He acts the big lad in the club. Buys plenty of drink. I did the same when I was working. Iíve turned down plenty of drink from him, even went home sober. ĎBig maní. Big shit.

Aa like a good drink, ten or twelve pints. No point in just having a couple. Wouldnít bother going out. Iíve seen me take an hour to get up our street, two steps forward, three back.

Me father was an alcoholic. Time-served. He used to say if drink had windows heíd live in it. He did. Mother had no life. Slow she was, couldnít write her name. Read the paper to her every night, when me father went out. Sheíd say she had trouble with her eyes.

Big woman me mother. Heart attack. Went down like a ton of bricks. Me father was drunk at the funeral, cried all through the service. That was the drink. He didnít give a shit about me mother. Went straight to the bar. Hell was too good for him. Me uncle tried to push him in me motherís grave. None of our family went to his funeral, just a few of his drinking cronies. No bugger cried thatís for sure.

My shit of a brother-in-law said I was like me father. Iím going to call round to see him. Aa might put aa brick through his windaa.

 

RUNNING BOY

He sits at the back of the class. The teachers blurred voice distant as if talking in the schoolís echoing corridor or in some distant swimming baths. Teachers suspect drugs. Everyone leaves a force field around him as if touching him will shrivel them. He attends school most days but has never been there for years. His fingernails are filled with dirt and his uniform hangs on a by a thread. His brown eyes and black hair suggest a Mediterranean background he has never considered. He once created interest and pity but now he is too far away, everyone agrees.  In the staff room there is a grumbling agreement: there but never really there.

The boy leaves school alone. His too big jacket hammock from him as his belly ruptures over his too tight trousers. Black shoes and socks reveal gaping holes. No one tags along beside him. School is forgotten as he trundles to the shop. He buys crisps and can of lemonade. Coins clatter in his top pocket. He is served with a mannered indifference. The shop keeper does not like this fat boy. He is unaware of this. The boy aims to eat, sleep. The rest is permafrost.

He is shocked when his mother shouts, ĎJamesí. He doesnít think itís him.  He is genuinely surprised that someone knows his name. He doesnít find that strange. Doesnít say.  His mother examines him as she has not seen him for weeks. She is busy with her new boyfriend who stands in a blur outside the bar, his cigarette weaving from his long arms. She holds her son for a moment and places money in his top pocket. She knows where he keeps his money. Thatís one thing she does know about him. She asks him to smile for her boyfriend. He forms a smile as if slowly making concrete. The man walks toward him and takes his mother without speaking, they topple off together, her heels clack on the pavement as he walks home eating crisps that stick to his full lips. Soon he canít picture his mother.

He does not have a front door key. He clambers over the back wall and likes to listen as the key scrapes in the barrel. The old man sits by the fire and doesnít raise his head as the boy enters. They donít speak. The old manís head is lost to the fire that crackles with the wood he places carefully as if it were a child.

They appear golden as the flames rise. This is their moment. The old man should not be here but he has nowhere else to go. He came dragging a heavy suit case and the boy pointed to what was going to be his motherís bedroom and that was it. They play with silence. It is an instrument they love. They create other noises: the scraping of the old manís shoes across the bare floor the smacking of the old manís hands when the wood runs out for the fire. They sit. Old man and boy. Happy with their silence.

The old man has slipped off everyoneís register. His family have forgotten him. One son moved away. Wife dead. Daughter lost to him. She died young. Doesnít want to think about that.  He doesnít.

Night cuts in. The boy now wears a battered track suit. One of his motherís boyfriends gave it to him. He canít recall his name or face. One of the many, somebody once said. He doesnít want to think about that so doesnít.

The old man shuffles to bed, turns and looks at the boy in the track suit and nods his head. The boy notices this. They know one and others every movement. Silence they learn to live with and the looks and movement which have become a new kind of vocabulary. Like the stars. There and distant but understandable.

On the boyís birthday the mother turned up. She kept a taxi running as she gave him a card and a present she didnít have time to wrap. At the banging of the front door the old man headed to the bedroom.

His mother looked at nothing. She gave him money from her bulging purse. The boy remembered later that the purse was red.

When the new boyfriend came into the room their drink dressed breath polluted the air. They began to sing happy birthday until they remembered the taxi and ran from the flat without saying goodbye, without ending the song.

 They left him and the old man with happy silence. The old man looked out at the boyís mother falling into the taxi and spat into the fire, decided to speak. Later.

The boy stopped going to school. The address in the schoolsí records was four or five rented flats ago. His motherís mobile seven ago. Authorities decided they had left the area.  A rubber stamp made that claim.

The old man and boy began a new regime. There had never been order in the boyís life. He took it every day as it came. His father, he recalled, was tall and dark but that might have been another of his motherís boyfriends. He left years ago is all his mother ever said. She drank. Flirted. Had late nights. Moved from rented flat to rented flat. He supposed this was routine. He had been to six or seven schools. Liked no school better than any other.

Old man and boy got up early. Bought food. Not just crisps and bread and lemonade. Food that wasnít in a packet. The cooker began to be used. The old man showed the boy how to cook. They would begin by washing their hands. The old man pointed to the boys fingernails and said they should be clean. This was new to the boy.

They began to tidy the house. Bought a brush and shovel, cleared the dog and cat shit from the back yard. Filled the dustbin with the dirt that had gathered in the living room. The boy began to notice change. The old man began to be cleaner and so did the boy.

Nights were for stories.  The old Man and boy sat either side of the fire. The old man had not really spoken for years. He knew he had to do one thing. Let the boy see. Show him there was more to life than the litany of failure the boy had endured. A sense of duty was something the old man was remembering. Running was something the old man remembered and there was no pain.

ďWhen Roger Bannister broke the four minute barrier I thought I could do the same. I could run and get away from everything I didnít like or understand. A father that hit you before speaking. A mother that wanted to be young forever.  The stories of running began every night. The boy liked to hear the same stories. They had gone to the library and the boy became a member for the first time.

They read about Herb Elliott and his coach Percy Cerutty.  The boy began to run in his dreams. He told the old man. He said thatís how it begins but you must remember when you run in the real world, what you begin you must not stop. You have a duty to yourself and to running. You must be like a holy man. Work hard every day. The boy did not answer, he didnít understand. One morning as he and the old man walked to the green market where they bought all their vegetables he caught his reflection in a shop window. He was a thin boy with an old man. 

His mother banged on the door. Screamed into their front room. Her boyfriend had beaten her up and said he no longer loved her. She smelt of dried perspiration and stale drink. She threw herself on the floor. When her mobile rang the boy answered. It was the boyfriend. He was in a taxi on his way to pick her up. He told his mother and she ran to the toilet and re-appeared minutes later smiling and handed the boy one hundred pounds,Ē for crisps and stuffĒ. Then she ran out the door as the taxi reversed and left. She never said goodbye.

The old man took the one hundred pounds and laid it on the table. It remained there all night. The next day the boy told the old man he had to go somewhere. The old man nodded his worried head. The money was gone.

The old man carried out their daily routine alone: green market, butchers. He began their meal.

The boy returned at twelve. Placed the shopping bags on the table. They eat their meal before opening the bags. He produced a pair of training shoes, track suit and vest. For the first time in his life something had begun.

 

TOMMY, THE CITY AND ME

Walking out of the flickering shadows of the High Level Bridge, I head to the ĎBridgeí bar, tappey lappey down the cobbles to the Quayside, face the new pubs and clubs with taxis devouring customers at the beginning of the month.

Ships are missing, the smell of the past has gone, its Newcastle now and the Millennium Bridge, a barred half-moon drapes the river. Looking back at the Tyne Bridge a bunch of Geordie lasses scream at the sky.

Thatís when I see him, up near the Guildhall, a bag of rags; blind, empty-eyed and so foul mouthed itís painful, ĎTommy on the Bridge,í hitting the present. He scrounges tabs from young lasses; they throw him out of the ĎCrown Posada,í the smell of dry piss too much for the early doors, two pint drinkers.

Stag night lads knock Tommyís hat, it slops on the ground and he throws his stick at them as they caw at each other, cling together, throw coins, he gathers in his buckled hands. I leave him turning over the money, trying to make sense of it all.

Outside the Baltic sun glazes metal tables and Tommy makes me a shadow standing in front of me, smelling of shit and beer. I ask him who he? He spits at me, knowing only too well my game, ďYeíll see us for aa bit but weíre always heor. Donít forget that mister. Put that in ya poemĒ. He kicks my chair and it rattles as if Iím in a cage.

In the 1860ís Tommy would stand on the Tyne Bridge, straddle the line between Gateshead and Newcastle, avoid being arrested. He was at it again: not in one place or another.   

The young manager of the Baltic bar asks him to leave; he does with all the pride he can muster, farting so loud the entire bar laughs.

I followed him to the Millennium Bridge, looked upstream at all those wonderful bridges and felt a heart bursting pride. Sentimentality rose like sap and I began to cry and stood transfixed. I held the moment. Thatís easy to do. Dead easy and now itís my turn to laugh at myself.

Thomas Spence, Bewick, Hepburn, I began to list Newcastleís sons and then retraced my past: the Down Beat Club, Club Aí Go Go, the Animals, Mayfair and Cavendish. The music was so loud in my head I had to sit in the Literary and Philosophical Society Library, drown in whispers as bass lines began to fade and whining guitars became background music.

I climb down the Lit and Philís steps and at the Mining Institute the past erupts, blood seeps from books, amputated arms and legs tangle with widows round and around the corridors and I have to leave and Stephenson hands me a lamp, shows me the way out. I am bedazzled by light at the bottom of Westgate Road.

I head to Dobsonís Central Station excited and afraid as a child and I just stop myself from getting on the Metro to the end of the line. Tommy is behind me. I smell him before I see him. I am being stalked by a dead blind man.

Tommy died in 1907, collapsing in snow at Gateshead.  Here I am, Central Station to my left, dressed in muffled announcements, as I dive through traffic and head towards Stowell Street, Chinatown, down the back lane, passing Morden Tower, buried in words and the arse end of restaurants.

His heavy breathingís behind me as I fly out the cobbled lane and pass the Irish Centre, Saint Jamesí Park bending to me.  I tried to lose him but he is wise to my every move and with the Haymarket Bus Station and Newcastle University before me his sickly breath is fresh and strong on my neck as I run down Northumberland Street and to Shieldfield and Byker: he is running me out of town. 

I stand and eye the bedraggled sky on Byker Bridge, my breathing sharp as razors and know the past has me. Tommyís hard voice ringing in my head, ďThí pastís not deed. Put that in ya poem mister.Ē