DANNY AND CHRIST
ROCK AND DOLE
TOMMY, THE CITY AND ME
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
he comes, swaggering down the path from tonightís session. He looks
tired. No wonder. Good looking bastard.
get a part-time job. Iím going to have words with next door,
threaten them; itís the only thing they understand.
Iím enjoying the peace. Me and the bairns are resting easy.
ROCK AND DOLE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
one. The hardest. Thatís Rock.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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