Fiction

The first little chapter of my new novel “A Better Place Than Paradise”.

Chapter One

The Westdale Olympics    

 

 

   My name is Jesse Cartwright and I went to school at Westdale Community College – which was a state comprehensive on the outskirts of a town called Hallomby. Hallomby is about an hour’s walk from Hadrian’s Wall (some of the houses were even built from limestone stolen from the Wall) and another hour or so from the Scottish border. You wouldn’t expect it but that place had a fair reputation in nearby cities for being somewhere to send your drug supply. The veins that ran with heroin, amphetamines and cannabis led right into that quiet market town and it became known in surrounding cities as the “Brown Town”. An unsuspecting country drop-off where the sense of community had bloated like a heart clogged with tar and the warm blood from Saturday-night fights. It was one of those places that looked like it might’ve been nice once, only now the cobbled streets were spotted with chewing gum and dead flowers had withered and died in the hanging baskets. The blue public pool was empty and littered with brown glass bottles, the cinema was closed down and boarded up and the clouded windows of Hallomby Town Hall had been potted by folk who’d fallen on the wrong side of justice. This was the nearest town to the village where I grew up and my closest breath of civilization.

   There was a grammar school up the road that had entrance exams for choosing its pupils and a lot of the brighter kids went there. It was like we’d all been lumped together at Westdale, this strange mix of rejects and leftovers. A lot of the kids at our school came from isolated parishes on the fells and they were set on being farmers or whatever it was their dad’s had been. It worked differently in England to America; in America they have the Deep South and here we have pockets of the Deep North. These are communities of gardens and pubs, flowers and ales, wandering cows and rampant chickens. Most of the men have hairy hands that could fold you in half and they speak a deep Cumbrian dialect and every word in the English language can be substituted for “aye.” You don’t get much in the way of crime out there, just some dodgy dealings in rusted caravans and a few tears in the eyes of the lady sheep. That’s why I can’t really say my school was bad. We didn’t have to worry about knives or guns like some city schools; we only had to fear boredom and boredom was what made Westdale into a circus. Everyday something happened that had everyone excited, like a toilet-paper fire starting somewhere or someone climbing onto the roof of the science block. I felt like I’d arrived at some weird Olympics; watching everyone running and vaulting and climbing everyday and sweaty teachers chasing year sevens through crowded hallways. It’s hard to throw a community together and expect them all to waddle dutifully in the same direction. It’s no wonder Ofsted put us under special measures – when you’ve got a kid who was driving a tractor before he was walking, and you’re telling him to bake apple crumbles in Home Economics and compete in summertime athletics competitions.

   When I first started at Westdale I didn’t know anything about what was going on. I didn’t know what heroine or weed was. I didn’t even know what drugs were. I just thought some folk looked sleepier than others and red eyes were a sign of tiredness. I taught myself not to watch the skinny shadows bent in sideways and passages, or knelt wide-eyed, clasping horror and insanity, or the pale angels that spoke with husky breathless voices and sometimes collapsed on the pavement and screamed at passing cars.

   “Don’t be scared,” my dad would say, “come the rapture, we’ll all be outta this fucking place.”

   He always looked terrified when things like that happened and I think he was mostly talking to himself, not me. I didn’t the reassurance that every disbeliever was going to die. It was a morbid, sociopathic idea and I didn’t like it at all.

W.

 

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Poetry, Prose

The Snake and the Sloth

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Ink-black lines snake left and right
and enigmatic curls bulge
and fight like a torrid sea of glinting knives.
Yet with the fleeting glimmer of soft azure,
the vision becomes human; an illustration of life.
Thought and feeling exist behind the statue-like skin of one who has felt pain
and witnessed hurt.
The undeniable union of both weakness and strength
bound to life and in that moment, immune to death.
No hiss is heard and no teeth are seen yet danger entices the mind,
and excitement. Oh the excitement!

‘Let no action be pre-meditated!
Let no word be held back for fear of repercussion!
Speak what you feel and do as you please.
Society created you and
it is now time to un-create society.
Take these minds that for so many years adhered
and feared
the nurturing sphere that suckles the teat of politics and lies.
Take these minds
and draw outside the lines, erase the lines
snort the lines, fuck the lines.
Leave your fingerprints on the still-wet clay of history
and let no moment in life, or death, slip by.’

And I recoil, the fusion of fear and poetic lust clutching at my buckled skin
begging me to open my mind and heart and let it breathe in.
In that moment, I know I am already lost
and by I, I mean the old I, the old me.
For at the birth of those words, the world I knew burnt and was forgotten.
I looked out upon life through new eyes and
I touched the crackled leaves of fall with new hands
and I kissed the lips of my soft statue with lips that felt unlike my own.

P.

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Poetry

Us

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A smoke filled room,
Nameless faces,
Gaunt eyes glint
Across empty spaces.

Perennial as clockwork,
The room empties and fills,
The walls drop eaves,
Until conversation stills.

A friend of a friend,
Before unseen,
Voice like a whisper,
Reserved – serene.

My gaze captured and held
In a visual embrace,
The times that follow
Flowed without haste.

Yet deformed and dying
Those memories now fade,
Once shrouded in grace,
The face mutates.

The smile snaps,
The teeth bare,
Smooth skin shrivels,
Stretched sinews tear.

Flesh burns from bone,
Like bark from tree,
Pristine features,
Cease to be.

Yet weep I do not,
For life is thus,
And had that continued,
There would be no Us.

P.

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A short film about the conventions and junctions which determine the course of our lives. Essentially this collection of footage amounts to a tribute to the whistle-blowers and solitary figures that have set us free. My intention was not to present a clear political perspective but rather to observe the often incongruous relationship between politics and love.

W.

Prose

Soul

 

Image

   A friend of mine knew this girl, Alice, who he was mad about. He used to create fiction in his mind, constructing fairy tales in which he told her what she was to him and she loved him for it. Yet he never pushed them into reality and even though they were close friends he never managed to tell Alice how he felt. Eventually it came to the point where he was so built up, so frustrated, that almost every one of his actions became an excited sublimation of withheld feelings for her. Then he grew more and more violent until one night I visited him at his mum’s house and caught him charging a wardrobe against a wall with his shoulder, because, in his own way, he’d embarrassed himself in front of the girl he loved.

   I thought they would stay friends forever and the truth would always be just that little bit too dangerous to be spoken. But then we had this camp-out on the beacon overlooking the city where we all grew up, and that night everything changed.

The city itself was old and quaint, a tired place governed by little, insular thoughts. We’d just woken up from a night of drinking and smoking and the embers of our fire were still glowing amongst the blackened kindling. I wandered to my friend, who was laid on his back in the grass between the tents, soaking his shirt through with the morning dew. And I remember that huge smile which had stretched over his face, while he was drifting into a daydream looking deep into the empty, grey sky.

“What you doing man?”

“Nothing.”

He continued grinning.

“You told her then?”

“Not quite man, but all I wanted was a kiss.”

A few years later I met up with my friend again at his new flat in the city. He’d moved on from the pot haze of our younger days and was looking at some serious time for hoarding and selling powders and pills. Sweaty, thin, hunched up on his mattress on the cold wooden floor of his flat, he clasped his skinny knees and rocked like a madman; with his hair tangled over his gaunt cheeks.

Again I sat there and watched his eyes peeling off into the ether.

“All I wanted was to live,” he said quietly.

It strikes me these aren’t things that you want but don’t need, you don’t find these things in catalogues and you don’t throw them away or stop loving them when you are done. My good friend was trying to get by in a world that would stupefy and kill him, fighting the current upstream with all his mad energy because he knew that calmer water existed… somewhere.

W.

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