Bitten by the rainy city

Dancing in the dark she feels
the strings of her heart
interconnected

          We were animals/seduced by urban nitrate

He catches his reflection in the puddles on Oxford Road. Easier to look down. He used to daydream. Used to look back too. Back to years when Da took a leave from absence and they learnt to love those pigeons. Learnt so much that just like Da he flew South. To find himself.

          Desperately seeking further education/ red brick
          factory skylines/ home comforts and a phone line
          to mother/ three hundred long miles

Couldn’t keep the McJob. Couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Couldn’t even keep a squat in Hulme. Got scooped up by the local dogcatchers. Groomed. Rehomed. Dignity blown away in a storm of powder nights. Kick a man while he’s down, why don’t you. He rubs the recent bruising, strategic and under his ribs. He’s been a bad boy.

alive with the strobes on the ceiling

          only really rising as dusk falls/ her halogen
          shines on in our flawless skin/ hypnotized

For the punters only. He’s been told a punch of times. But what do they expect. Standing on the edge, of pavements, the hustle, from late till the end of the night. He’s not a bloody automaton. Got to rub something on the gums. Keep him able to sell anything gift wrapped in a Rizla. Have some fun kids. Look where it got me.

          Called to the boom and the jungle/ shoe gazing
          the jumping off point/ unpackaged
          this is living/ forget about/ everything

alive with this beautiful feeling

Wondering if the manager of The Firkin will let him sink a dram. An exchange for stacking empties. A little pot wash too. His lilt and the tall tales remind the old man of Derry, his own. He needs a little fire on this Baltic night of frosty eyes and pork pie legs. He thinks about the lasses on the game huddled under the bridges on Whitworth Street West. Wannabe mothers the lot of them, always a kind word for the lost boys like him.

the first to unbottle this genie

          A warehouse flirtation/ rough round the edges
          until dawn/ we become book-ends
          wear badges/with honour

He steers well clear. Always want something, women. Nearly at the nightclub door, he scours the line for the half-cut in need of a pick-yer-up or a bright light. Pockets notes, palms punters off with wraps of dash and be happy. Keeps a couple. Even the undead need to kick-back with a pipe and pretend they’re living.

ethereal
violets and auroral green
these northern dreams

Bobby Pedals

Tennis ball yellow and post office red, the bicycle sped down St John’s Street, scattering pedestrians. Freewheeling Bobby in his pirate hat and spotted scarf, laughing as he vanquished the seven seas of Greenwich. Eleven and already garnering celebrity status. Mostly for the fact that he was invariably mentioned by the tired lady that fronted Tourist Information on the odd occasion that footfall fell there.

‘He’s our resident pirate, so watch where you step’ she would shout after the weekenders she had bored out of the door.

I was in love with Bobby in the Eighties. The kind of crush that coloured cheeks cerise and left a scattering of petals around the park bench where Alice and I used the most scientific of methods to second guess whether he crushed on me too. Though I moved on, Bobby never changed.

In 1992, fourteen and more worldly wise, I re-categorised Bobby into a different folder in my head. Troubled. The playground had often been a battlefield at Kidbrooke but the day he showed up at school in full pirate regalia, bereft of a parrot (the nearest zoo was well over twenty miles away and even Bobby couldn’t cycle that far), was the day that my love for him withered.

I tried my best, but I could not avert my cringing eyes as he strode towards Thomas Parker and had at him with a plastic cutlass. It bent double as he poked him first in the chest, then the thigh. Though it might have done some damage had it reached its third target. But tank-like Thomas grabbed the flimsy weapon well before it reached his eyes and hurled it to the ground. Bobby followed shortly after, also bent double as the wind left his sails. Bobby-Pants-Down, the other kids called him following this casual humiliation.

There were whispers that the short-lived scuffle was a result of despicable shenanigans earlier that day. A spineless bully had unscrewed both pedals from Bobby’s precious bicycle. Whatever the truth, the incident sent Bobby into freefall. A piece of him was taken too. Henceforth, he took up the mantle of school weirdo. Pandered to it in many ways. Some days he wore the pirate garb, others a highwayman mask and long black leather gloves. He lurked in musty corridors and accosted lone students with paranoid and fanciful tales about stolen treasure and robbery.

I’d forgotten all about Bobby until the day I saw a skinny man with a fat beard freewheeling down St. John’s Street, legs spread wide and high; make-shift sails or brakes. The bike was rusty, grey and pedal-less. The man was in much the same state. As he sped past my daughter and I, he caught my eye and smiled dangerously. Then shifted his weight and leant round the bend almost upending Mr Yankov as he unloaded vegetables from the back of his mud-spattered van.

‘That fool’ he grumbled as we stopped to check he was alright, ‘every Friday without fail he nearly hits me. Idiot.’

His cheeks were throbbing redder that the tomatoes he was picking off the pavement so we hurried on. Bobby had gone by this time, of course. On the journey back to our tiny terraced home I started telling Martha about the strange little boy I remembered from my own schooldays. She stopped me short and said she already knew the pirate man. She said that she had often seen him reading stories at the library. He smelt funny but he was friendly enough. He made a point of telling all the children that apart from his one gold tooth he lived his life in the pursuit of memories and not materiality.

Sure enough, the following Tuesday, in the corner of the Children’s section, I found him. Sitting on the floor, cross-legged like a small boy, nose in a battered copy of Treasure Island. His stripy red and white t-shirt had seen better days and his black jeans were mostly mud and stains but he didn’t smell too crusty. From the look in his eyes he was somewhere distant. Lost in a jungle inside the book, not hidden away in a dusty library. I would have backed off and left him there, but though his eyes remained glued to the page he raised one hand and gestured that he wanted me to grasp it.

As my fingers clasped his, the hardbacks and shelving melted away to shell-strewn sand whilst the salty tang of tropical sea sharpened the warm breeze. Three distant pirates were digging for treasure in silhouette and much nearer a slim man with a waxed moustache and a fat beard stood with his back to the setting sun. In one hand a blunderbuss, in the other my own.

‘Evie White,’ he proclaimed. I corrected him; it was Algernon these days. ‘Do you remember who I am? I’ve been the Captain of the Blood and Bones crew for so very long, sailing the Pacific, fighting duels, adventuring, looting and shooting my gun that I’ve entirely forgotten how my story began. There’s a gold tooth in it for you. For I treasure that memory far more than any booty, jewellery or material gain.’

I racked my brains trying to remember his full name but he had only ever been Bobby Pedals to me. Defined by what he did rather than who he was. I could have called him Bobby Fantastic. My First Crush. Courageous Dresser. Incredibly Brave. Unforgettable. As he pedalled those streets living inside a fantasy that no one could possibly have imagined. What a wonderful individual to look at the world in such an unusual way. So I shook my head and he sadly pulled his hand away.

Our worlds unmeshed, he didn’t look up, just turned the page and tuned back into his reality. I left, marking the path to my home with a trail of petals hoping that one day Bobby might remember his way back too.

Generation. Gap

Her bile writhes between false teeth and tongue, a feral response to the union of her son to a shop floor harlot who caught him in her web of false lashes and uncouth urban charms. Uncontained disgust lurks like penny lemon drops, acidic in the sheen on her bone china top lip as her fingers whiten their grip on the starched antimacassar that Nana insisted adorn every chair. A well-mannered woman who spared her words and not the cane. Edith practices her rictus grin as she waits for the centre of her world to usher the bride to be in.

Forevergreen

I really hate taking a bath. The walls groan as they strain to break free from their confinement and plunge their thirsty tubers into my soapy water. I sooth my damp palms across parched flaky grain, uncomfortably mesmerised. It’s almost watering time.

We were among the first to move into Hambledown. An entire estate crafted from genetically engineered timber. The unique output of a ground-breaking programme that grafted stem cells to saplings in an attempt to reduce the cost of wood production by tripling the rate of tree growth. When scientists observed infinitesimal signs of sentience, the whole forest was swiftly razed to the ground. What better way to hide that costly calamity than in plain sight?

It was only over time that the residents here began to realise our mistake. But by then we were tethered. We assume that the research team were unaware that their modifications had enhanced the telekinetic ability of the trees. Or that incredible regenerative powers meant that even varnished timber could re-root successfully.

I spend my days tending to the many needs of my home. My nights are filled with autumn leaves scudding on the breeze, dank velveteen soil and the caress of worms as they wrap seductively around my limbs. Occasionally I squint through the grooves on my decking to watch the roots beneath playfully squirming and stretching. In a few years the whole suburb will be ready to move on.

The Third Spoke

I can pinpoint the moment things changed between me and Linus. Judy joined the firm right after old Mr Schneider vacated my apartment block in the back of an ambulance. As I watched them roll the trolley down the too narrow stairwell, I recoiled, nauseated at the sight of his swollen blue face. He had lain, unmissed, in his bath for days before Mary Jackson called the paramedics when he missed their regular Thursday luncheon. I regaled Judy with precise details of his wrinkled skin and protruding tongue in an over-keen attempt to get her to join me for dinner. We were engaged six months later in a whirlwind of scarcely disguised astonishment that I had managed to both hook and land such a beauty.

Linus was the only one that seemed uncomfortable. He’d been with me since, well forever. Some kids have a comforter. I had Linus Ryder. Mum and Dad used to roll their eyes as I would recount the latest instalments of our night-time adventures. I didn’t dare tell them that I never outgrew my invisible partner in crime. After all, that’s years of therapy couch fodder. Right? When he realised that Judy was more than just a regular date, a sarcastic tone crept into our cheerful banter and then he began to disappear, sometimes for nights on end. When I asked him what he was up to, he threw me a shifty glare and lowered his horn-rimmed eyes so that I was left gazing down on the dimple of his sun-bleached Stetson.

After I broke the news about the upcoming nuptials, our friendship slid even further. I woke most nights drenched, insomniac and aching. I don’t know if I’m more jittery from my constant state of terror or the steady stream of espresso that I’ve been knocking back to keep me awake. When Judy didn’t turn up at Carlucci’s earlier tonight and wouldn’t answer her mobile, I knew instantly that it must have something to do with my favourite cowboy.

So now I’m lying on her bed, tied up next to my darling and I desperately wish I’d told her about him. About how jealous he’s been. That he’s not only the cutest gunslinger in town, he’s mighty fine with a needle and thread too. His Daddy was a boot maker and his Granddaddy before him. He likes to keep the tradition alive. He’s leant over her squirming body as he uses those skills to sew her eyelids shut when he realises that I’ve joined them in this dreamscape.

“Hey dude. I’ve been getting to know your girlfriend these last few months. Glad you could join us, I figured it would only be a matter of time. She sure is one hell of a honey. Which is why I’ve come up with a way that we can all be together instead of me feeling like the third spoke of the wheel. You hang on in there, partner, it’ll be your turn next.”