christmastime

Low — Just Like Christmas

Rows and rows of trees, pine needles bristling with excitement, hard bark bending itself outwards, craning long branches poking the eyes of shoppers. Plastic loudspeakers are set up at regular intervals, playing festive music, wires adorned with white blinking fairy lights. In the centre of the yard stands the Christmas monolith, a pine tree stretching itself twenty feet into the air; thick green bushes of needles, lower branches billowing out like a petticoat, thick ropes of red and yellow lights.

The crowd is mostly couples. A few have brought their children, who weave in and out of the legs and stumps, gathering needles in their gloves, scarves and hats. There’s a low hubbub of chatter, men reach out to shake a branch and murmur to their partners, the salesmen sing the praises of each tree, the tinny music simmers above the low babbling voices. Alex and Jean are no different, taking their time to assess the quality of each specimen – too many needles on the floor, too thin branches, too sparse coverage – and they fail to notice the figure lurking behind them.

The Hunter stands out in this environment. His towering frame puts his shoulders at the height of the tips of many of the trees – he has to duck underneath the lights – and of all the people present, he is the only one that seems hemmed in, caged by the festivities. His black suit heightens this even further, a stark contrast to the puffy coats and casual knitwear of the crowd, and people hurry out of his path when they cross it. As he approaches, his shadow looms over Alex and Jean, obscuring the lights that line the path. He reaches out and grabs Alex’ shoulder.

“Hi the-”

Alex loses the words in his throat, his eyes widen in shock momentarily. Jean turns around and gasps.

“You! You’re… What are you doing here?”

The Hunter smiles.

 

erasmus

Baywaves — Still In Bed

There’s a group of four not-quite-adults-not-quite-kids walking through the square. They are not dressed for the weather; three are wearing grey, black and dark blue jeans, one a long fit maxi dress. Their skin is pale and they are wearing sunglasses in March. Three had emerged from the nearby supermarket, one rejoined the others from the Tabac, and they appear to have purchased groceries rather than souvenirs. They are not fazed by the Mediterranean surroundings and they are walking with purpose; they know their surroundings well but are clearly unfamiliar with the temperate spring climate in Antibes.

Kamran smiles to himself – foreign exchange students for sure. He watches them as they walk towards the restaurant and approaches them, offering a table in his silky North African French accent. He makes eye contact with the tall blonde and tries to imply with his gaze that he would like to take her home and ravage her – she is shy and avoids his gaze. A short man with glasses replies in broken French that they are not eating tonight, and leads the group forwards. They walk past and he stays in place, watching the figure of the blonde, her buttocks fill the dress she is wearing and her hips flare with every step. She turns and they make eye contact and he licks his lips.

The group eventually pass out of Kamran’s view, down a side street behind the bus station. The beautiful marble tiles are replaced with cobbles and graffiti, instead of designer shops there is a hole in the wall that sells kebabs and Iced Tea. They huddle outside a small green door on the left as the short man fumbles with his keys. The two women feel uncomfortable under the leer of an overweight African man, emptying a large plastic bucket of foul smelling liquid into the gutter. The other member of the group withdraws the cigarettes he purchased in the Tabac and lights one. The bucket man goes about his bucket business. Finally the door is open and the two women huddle in quickly behind the short man.

The corridor sucks in the dry heat from outside, its cold stone walls and tiled floors seem damp by contrast, and the cracks in the walls breathe out dust that is briefly illuminated in the light from outside. None of the group try and call the elevator behind the iron gate in the centre of the stairwell, they instead take the stairs, knowing that elevator has been out of service since the day they moved in. As the short man who is leading the group reaches the first floor, he hits a yellow plastic timer switch and the hallway is illuminated by a dank orange glow. The only sounds are their shoes slapping against the tiles and the wheezing breaths of the smoker, at the rear of the group and falling behind. They finally congregate outside a large brown door on the third floor as the short man once again fumbles for keys, giving the slow man time to catch up. The hallway light clicks off as the door clicks open.

tickets p[lease

Talking Heads — Mind (2005 Remastered Version)

rolling fields rolling away thickets of trees and chunks of shrub fly past I look down at the grey linoleum flecked with yellow spots there is a brown coffee stain pooling underneath the grey metal skeleton of the chair and the stuffing has burst through the red fabric I wonder how much further and risk a glance at my watch another two and a half hours at least I decide it is time and break open my tuna mayonnaise sandwich the bread is soggy and the granary seeds get stuck in my teeth leaving a stodgy paste on my gums I lick them clean and it doesn’t budge I screw my lips up like I’m kissing and it still doesn’t budge so I sip a glug of coca cola and swill it like listerine it tastes pretty gross when I swallow a kid opposite watches the whole thing and I stick my tongue out at him and he smiles through his eyes and I turn my head back to the window the sun picks through the trunks of the trees like a comb through knotty hair it flickers on my face and my pupils are small like pinpricks wide like drainholes small like pinpricks wide like drainholes I start to see spots I turn away and orange clouds fog into my peripheral vision so I scrunch my eyes shut and instead of black everything is light brown with smudges of greens and greys trying to burst through but I rub my eyes until they go and open them and the kid opposite is laughing at me so I wrinkle my nose and make a funny face again his mother is next to him and sees me and I feel my cheeks blush but she smiles at me and tells her kid to leave me alone thank god for that I smile back at her and she looks at me for slightly too long I bet she’s wondering how old I am probably thinks I should be in school well what does she know stupid old hag she can just fuck off what the fuck does she know the stupid fucking

I manage to swallow it down before it takes over. I take my hands off my head and slowly lift my head off of my knees. The woman is still there, she looks worried. My face is red and my eyes are pricked with tears. The train doors make that awful screech and I hurl myself up and get off the train.

 

vegas burgers

ShitKid — Oh Me I’m Never

They stopped to grab some burgers on their way to Vegas. The heatwaves rose off the car’s bonnet like steam, the yellow paint looked like it might melt and drip onto the tarmac. Joe unwrapped his burger, he did not notice the splat of mustard that dripped off the paper wrapping onto his jeans. He took a bite – the bread was firm on the outside and soft in the middle, the beef patties were thin with a grilled skin, the bacon was smooth and salty, the mustard and ketchup was sweet and sticky. He felt a sesame seed lodge in between his two front teeth.

As they walked across the parking lot Joe continued to eat his burger, and the mustard on his thigh was soon joined by a dribble of ketchup. Jean waited to eat hers. The thought of consuming greasy food in this heat made her throat feel even drier, and the warmth of the burger was oozing through its wrapping into her palm, making her skin clammy. She lost her appetite. She ran her free hand through her hair, dragging beads of sweat from her forehead with it, and when she put her arm back down she felt how wet her armpit was. They needed to get the car’s air conditioning fixed.

“Of all the places to stop at, why did we pick this fucking dive? I don’t even want this,” she stared at her burger, “all I wanted was a drink and some AC.”

Joe finished his burger and scrunched up the wrapper, rubbing it on his lips to wipe off the film of sauce and grease. He stuffed the used wrapper in his jeans pocket and took a sip of his coffee. Jean looked at him and exhaled over the back of her throat, making a disparaging noise. Joe carefully considered his words.

“I know. I’m so sweaty my shirt is now part of my skin.” It was true – the thin cotton was so damp it clung to his back. “Look – we’ve only got a few hours until we get there, and EVERYWHERE in Vegas has AC. And showers. And booze. Could you hold this for a second?” He held out the coffee he’d bought. Jean did not hold out a hand in return.

“I can’t believe you got a coffee.”

“Why? It’s what you are supposed to drink when it’s hot. It cools your body temperature down.”

They paused halfway across the parking lot as Jean took the cup. Joe reached into his pocket and took out the wrapper, walked across to a chipped green trashcan and threw it, the wrapper bounced off the rim onto the ground. He sighed, and as he bent down to pick it up, his damp shirt drooped and hugged him close, the wet fabric felt cold and uncomfortable on his back. He swallowed a gasp of discomfort, picked up the wrapper, reached out and placed it inside the mouth of the trash can.

One hundred and thirty two miles to go.

party

Frog — Photograph

I found her outside, alone, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. The kitchen door shut behind me and I opened my mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the sound of a young girl vomiting. Her friend – Tanya? Tonya? Tara? – is hunched over on the floor, almost invisible beneath the window sill. The kitchen light illuminates the splatters of sick on the patio, and as Tanya-Tonya-Tara leans forward to hurl again, the light falls on her hair – black with red streaks – and she manages to direct her next spew into the flowerbed.

I ask if her friend is OK. She asks me what I think. We both laugh and she squats down to rub Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back. A strand of hair falls down over her shoulder and dangles dangerously above a small puke-puddle. She stops rubbing Tanya-Tonya-Tara’s back to tuck it back behind her ears. She asks me if I’d mind getting some water from the kitchen, so I open the door, throwing some light onto the patio; Tanya-Tonya-Tara looks up at me, black eye shadow streaming down her face and purple-red lips coated in a fine film of frothy saliva. Her eyes are out of focus, she doesn’t seem to register my presence, and burps in my direction. I step into the kitchen and search the cupboards for a glass. First try, above the sink, just like mum. I am about to go back outside but pause by the fridge –

Tanya-Tonya-Tara cradles the glass with both hands and takes a sip. She slumps back against the wall and stares into the distance, her eyes closed. Finally we are alone. I offer a can of Fosters and she takes it. I open my own and for a second we say nothing, our silence threatens to drown out the music coming from the living room, she breaks it by asking if I want a cigarette. I clear my throat and nod. She takes them out of her jacket pocket and offers me the pack. I notice there is one hand-rolled cigarette floating against the tightly packed Marlboros and my fingers hesitate slightly. She senses the pause and asks if I want a joint instead. I hear myself saying ‘sure’ and the knot in my stomach tightens even more.

We walk down a small path towards the shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s been raining all week so the grass is damp and muddy, I take care not to scuff my trainers and hop between paving slab islands laid into the lawn, but she doesn’t care; she seems to miss the slabs on purpose. There’s a small bench next to the shed made of curved iron arms and cold, wet wooden slats. She sits down and puts the thin end of the joint between her lips. I sit down next to her, I can feel the wet wood soaking through my jeans. It makes me uncomfortable. She doesn’t seem to mind. The fat end of the cigarette puffs out a whisper of smoke as she lights it; the smoke is fragrant, floral, but also sticky and coarse. I watch intently how she inhales – a drag, a pause, her nostrils flare as she breathes in again – and she watches me watch her. My stomach is now churning with nerves. I wonder if it’s obvious it’s my first time.

cinema date

Young Again – Gents

The air smells of salt or sweet or butter or toffee popcorn. The corn is trapped behind an inch of plastic, when the attendant lifts the lid the scent escapes. He scoops some into a cardboard sleeve and hands it to her. She takes it in one hand and with the other picks a fluffy yellow piece from the top, smiling at me as I hand over five pounds. I smile back.

The sweets in my pocket crunch as we walk over to the attendant. I always get nervous about sneaking snacks in but I figure a fiver for some popcorn entitles me to bend the rules a bit. I hand over my ticket and the guard checks it, rips it and hands it back. He does the same for hers. The whole time he stares at his feet and doesn’t acknowledge us. I recognise his mousey hairdo, freckled cheeks and broad forehead; he is Matt Powell’s younger brother. On Tuesday Matt’s friends had thrown his rucksack onto the tracks as the train arrived, I remember his cheeks bursting scarlet from trying not to cry as he stood there and waited for our train to leave so that he could retrieve it. Everyone watched him through the windows. I respect his wish not to be acknowledged, he ushers us past the velvet rope towards the screens.

The doors are so heavy here. I am a gentleman so I have to open it for her, I fix my foot on the carpet and lean backwards to pull it open, I can’t use both hands, she’d laugh at me. As she walks past I smell her hair and my cheeks begin to flush. I enter behind her, it’s hard to see in the darkness so she reaches out for my hand. Our fingers find each other. I’m sure I can hear her heart beating.

We have an entire aisle to ourselves and our seats are right in the middle so we spread out either side, she takes off her bag first, followed by her scarf, then her jacket, and finally her jumper. I wonder how she will ever move all of her things if someone takes the seat next to us. The wrappers of the sweets in my pocket are louder than ever as I take them out, I move my arms slowly trying to muffle the noise, I’m convinced people in other rows are craning their necks to get a look at me, trying to sniff out the rulebreaker, they’ll hand me in to Matt Powell’s younger brother and he’ll get to throw me, a Year 11, out of the cinema, and in doing so win back some much needed street cred, maybe he’ll even get to ride off into the sunset with Tom Croft’s younger sister, meanwhile I’ll be the one crying on the platform, waiting to get my bag from the tracks.

After a while we are comfortable. We have retained our aisle but the trailers are yet to start and there’s no longer any background sound from the steady stream of arrivals, making it obvious that we are not speaking to each other. I can hear my cheeks go red and my mouth feels like cotton wool, I begin to wish I could withdraw the sweets again, just to drown out the silence. I build some words in my stomach but they can’t get past my throat, I look at her and she is looking at me, waiting for me to tell a joke, tell her she’s beautiful, make her smile and tell her I love her. I want to do all of it, but before I get the chance the adverts start.

The Star Ferry

Weyes Bloody — Diary

Alex opted for the upper deck. He figured the sea breeze would do him some good and he wanted to take in the sights of Kowloon and Lantau; he had never been to Hong Kong and, in spite of himself, he found a growing excitement in his stomach at the prospect of partaking in a stalwart tourist tradition – The Star Ferry.

Sylvester had calculated Alex’ flight risk as minimal and opted for the lower deck. When their paths forked at the point of boarding, Sylvester sensed Alex’ pulse racing as the option of escape entered his mind, and so gently lifted the grey cotton flank of his blazer, exposing his pistol. It gleamed in the Hong Kong haze. Sylvester motioned for him to continue, walking two steps behind him over his right shoulder.

The boat was annexed onto the pier with a thick wooden board, with chunky rungs protruding to help passengers find their footing in wet weather. As the waves gently rocked the boat the board bobbed haphazardly from side to side, and when Alex stepped on it his legs felt like jelly; did he get seasick? When was the last time he’d been on a boat? That school trip when he was fourteen? Would he throw up over the side? His panic was interrupted as a large wave caused the board to rise underfoot and he almost lost his footing, his torso toppling backwards and arms flailing –

A firm hand caught his shoulder and pushed him upright. He stepped onto the boat and grasped the chain-link railing, flakes of green copper paint splintering into his palm, and turned to thank the owner of the hand. A stern Chinese man in a cream uniform looked at him and raised his eyebrows in the direction of the stairs to the upper deck. Alex smiled and stuttered a thank you before making his way up the wooden staircase.

The upper deck was less grand than he had hoped. Thin wooden benches lined the centre of the vessel and there were some plastic seats fixed onto a metal frame at the rear of the deck. These were already occupied by two conductors – or ship mates – who were wearing the same cream uniform as the attendant that helped Alex on board. They were smoking cigarettes and engrossed in deep conversation. Alex crossed over to the bench in front of the two men and took a seat on the outside so that he could absorb the view. When he sat down he spotted a wooden safety rail affixed to the bench in front with a brass hinge, similar to that you’d find when boarding a rollercoaster. He briefly wondered how fast this boat could manage – surely this was an unnecessary precaution – however still folded the bar across his lap. Just in case.