Friday, 3 October 2008

Once an angel

As he sat in the field with all the other revellers, Matt’s little heart was breaking. He kept up the pretence of having fun; he smiled and smoked, drank, danced and sang. But inside he was sodden. A mess of man.
A man, you see, that’s all he was and that’s why he was so forlorn. Just that day, he’d realised that he wasn’t an angel.
Matt hadn’t believed he was an angel all of his life, though there were times as a child when he’d looked to the heavens and felt a kinship with the clouds, while the songs of birds and the music of harp or choir had always caused his heart to skip.
All of this combined at the age of fifteen to first make him question whom exactly he was. All of that, and the fact that he fell from a third storey balcony, three days after his fifteenth birthday and walked away with barely a scratch or bruise. ‘Maybe you’re immortal?’ teased his schoolfriends. ‘Or, maybe I’m an angel?’ – he pondered this thought for too long. It seemed a real possibility, to him. When one comes into real danger, when a life is genuinely threatened, one can react with a freshness of consciousness: with an intimate second to second awareness that the next move could be your last. It can change a person.
Still, Matt was always able to keep this aspect of himself hidden. He didn’t ‘seek’ his divine self. He felt that rather obtuse, and that his radiance would ultimately be ‘revealed’ to him and even to others. Perhaps this would be a slow process, or perhaps he would become transfigured one night in the pub? It was something to consider, anyway.
It has to be said that little else of any heavenly consequence touched Matt’s life until his camping trip to a music festival in the English hill country known as The Lake District. For there, by the vast stretch of Coniston Water, he came back to his mind and found himself strolling with the misty dawn. He had been awake all night, revelling. The stony beach gave him a silent place to settle and relax his body in preparation for sleep. When there, standing over the just lit waters of the lake, he saw a devil watching him. It’s grey lace wings were moth-bitten and haggard, but they flickered like a mosquito’s.
The demon’s thick black tail was coiled around its legs, but it sprang to life, arching and threatening as the fallen angel began to walk with purpose towards Matt. It drew forth clawed hands and unclenched a mouth of fangs. The unnameable wretch wished for battle.
And so Matt fled. Turned from the beast and scrambled up the beach in terror. And as he ran he heard laughing, chiding voices in his head: “You’re no angel! You’re nothing!” These demons howled their derision and Matt ran, sobbing, tripping over roots and guy ropes, collapsing miserably into his broken and sagging tent.
By the evening he’d slept and stopped shaking. He took a beer and smoked a joint. The voices had left him now, but he’d turned away and he could barely face what that meant.
Matt looked around at his close friends, gathered in a loose circle nearby. “I’m just like them now.” That’s all he could think.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The big match

It was on a drizzle-specked dud of a day that the lads attempted to claim a slice of that golden glazed glory pie they'd heard so much about.
Smigsy, G'riller, Yabbo, Dave and Chatsy where the back four and goalie. Sam, Tony, Hunter, Casey and Chav packed the midfield. Ray was up front on his own.
They'd played every mud pool across the county to reach this moment. Here they were, in a half decent stadium, which usually hosted half decent teams playing half decent football – and the ground wasn't even half full.
"Be packed if it weren't rainin!" That's what Casey said. He's always first in with encouragement for the team. Probably should be captain but the manager, Steve Lennon, is persevering with Tony – sticking with his totem, his good luck charm.
They haven't lost so far on this cup run with Tony leading the way. He doesn't say much, he gets stuck in, he's good on the ball. 'Keep him happy and he plays well, then the lads play well.' That's the philosophy of Steve Lennon.
"That's how it works at this level," he says after five pints. "That's just how it has to be!" Some of the players call him 'Lenin'. He probably doesn't mind.
His team's name is Hanley. Just Hanley. Today they're playing a team that's just called Real Livingstone Rangers. “Young, inexperienced, easy to knock around.”
They're fast though. And skilful. They score first thanks to pace and quality. They only score one more, though, because they get calmly kicked right off the park. Real Livingstone Rangers' second and consolation goal is scored from a free kick, lumped forward onto the head of a striker. It is in a similar manner to how Hanley scored their five goals.
All majesty has been slowly drained from the occasion and, with each passing raindrop to hit the green turf, Rangers' chance to play some nice football literally disintegrated underfoot.
They had a good night, that night, did the lads from Hanley. At last, their name was going to be written on the cup, just as soon as they had enough money to pay for the inscription.
The drinking and singing went on long into the night, and Casey had to go back to the pub the next day to reclaim the trophy he'd dropped there, the night before.
He couldn't believe he'd left that precious trophy behind. The last thing he could remember about the night before was Lenin reliving the tactics which had won his team the cup, saying: "That's just how it works at this level, you see. That's just how it has to be."
‘He really believed in his tactics, did old Lenin,’ thought Casey as he walked home, silver cup in hand. He couldn’t stifle a grin.
After a few minutes he put the trophy away in his sports bag, swapping it for the match ball he’d taken home with him from the final. And Stephen Case kicked that ball all the way home, just like he was a schoolboy. The edge of every fence was a goalpost to him then. Every wall, a goal.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The prowlers

Several torn containers full of sirloin steak lay near the top of the open bin. It was strange that the restaurateur should have forgotten to replace the lid on the large green waste receptacle, but not unheard of. There were no shortage of rodents patrolling the alleys and poking their little eyes from out of gutters and vents, from rooftops and narrow cracks in the pavement.
Perhaps they were all watching the restaurateur as he disposed of the meat that was past its best. That day was his birthday and his daughter had bought him a thin red mp3 player. As a thoughtful aside she had charged it up and filled it with many of her father’s favourite songs.
‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers was blasting into his eardrums during those moments when he walked away from the unclosed bin.
The birds were the first to land. It’s funny that vermin are usually thought of as an unusual presence in our lives, a creature that looks out of place in our streets, parks or gardens.
And yet the pigeons and the scavenging gulls you see each day, that caw and dive and shit without discrimination, are as verminous and multitudinous as any brown rat or white mouse you may encounter in a split second, on a quiet road, of a dark night.
But yes, once safety seemed assured, these skulking creatures of the depths and shadows came forth to see what they could seize.
It seemed in a moment they were thriving. Hissing, biting, fighting and ripping the hunks of tender meat apart. For them, it mattered not that their red meal had begun to turn green, that bacterial spores had gotten there first to massacre the meat, that its smell could turn and throw a stomach. They were just happy for the chance of survival.
And it was with thoughts of survival that the rats left the meal as swiftly as they had joined it. A tom cat prowled by.
He leapt into action, but he had not the same need for food. He was well fed, he had a warm place to sleep. He chased for sport.
The proud gulls and the lazy pigeons probably knew this, for they stayed on the rim of the bin, turning their heads to eye the cat just in case it was hungrier than it seemed.
The tom cat spied some discarded meat, sniffed, gnawed and played with it for a while.
He knew the rats would be back, but he had other things to do. Somewhere a fire was blazing and hands waited to fuss and stroke him. It really wasn’t worth the effort.
Just then he bounded away as a door opened loudly. The shopkeeper; he shooed the birds and slammed the lid of the bin, as if to compensate for his earlier absent-mindedness.
Somewhere, close by, one hundred little watching eyes drooped and seemed to sigh.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The postcard

Hi Anne,

Wish you were here in sunny Cornwall (instead of me)!
Having an awful time, as expected. Just managed to sneak away from Sylvie for an hour and thought I’d grab a coffee and send you this.
This is a picture of the beach where I’ve spent most of my week. The river runs out across the beach. It would be quite a beautiful scene if there wasn’t the odd shit floating in there from the holiday camp.
Weather has been changeable, but it’s improving now. Sylvie has been a dream, as always. I don’t know what I see in her!
So, there’s a new man on the scene, eh? I’m only gone away a week… Well, I just hope he’s better than the last one.
See you soon, anyway,

Love from S. xx

Monday, 29 September 2008

The witch tree

He took Rosy down to the edges of the lake, right where the river and meadows are subsumed by its shimmering potency, and made her sit close to him in the shade.
In the glade they felt tiny, small specks of colour within the green which rose up in leafy tree and wooded hill and even in the reflection of the water.
And just as she was relaxing and leaning back onto his chest, Vincent pointed out the witch tree.
He held his arm straight out in front, in a strong gesture toward the strange mass of vegetation growing up before them. He asked what it reminded Rosy of.
She looked for a few seconds, laughed and remarked that, to her, it seemed like one of Hannibal’s great battle elephants, rearing up, ready to crush and trample the Roman soldiers that lay before it.
He smiled and nodded, sagely, saying he was glad that she could see a creature of great potency there. Vincent however, saw a more troubling image in the strange growth of the old tree.
“It’s like a monster or a demon, there,” he said without looking at Rosy. “I’ve often thought so. Witches have always gathered there, for their Sabbaths and to mark days of great power. They’ve made many sacrifices, throughout the centuries, and the tree has grown strange and powerful, perhaps taking the form of one of their icons, their dark masters.”
Rosy smiled sweetly at him and bit her index finger. “That’s a lovely story,” she said, throwing a stone into the water, “You do take me to the best places!”
Realising he had failed to scare the girl, Vincent began to laugh. “You’ve never been here before in your life, have you?” asked Rosy, to which Vincent shook his head, grinning and scratching his eyebrow.
“In which case,” continued the girl, “I propose we take off all our clothes and swim over to inspect your ‘witch tree’. Once there, those dark pagan powers might overcome us both and then you can ravish me, if you like?”
Rosy turned her back to Vincent and began shuffling out of her jeans. Soon her milky body was preparing to step into the cool river and swim across.
“Are you coming in,” she called behind her, “Are you coming to join me, beneath the witch tree?”
But Vincent didn’t want to get up. His mind wouldn’t let go of the image he’d created and the grinning demonic tree snarled over the water at him.
How ridiculous, he thought, to grow afraid of a story of one’s own imagining. But the power of any story lies in the imagination, in the mind’s eye of the beholder, and this story had somehow reduced him to a shiver.
“I don’t feel like swimming,” he called from where he lay, “I think I’ve caught a chill.” And Rosy laughed like she never believed a word he ever said, and frolicked and splashed in the quiet summer afternoon, loving nature and loving her freedom, beneath the boughs of the old witch tree.