16 December 2006
Colin Hambrook introduces a superb collection of poems and short stories from a gritty, sensitive writer
Peter Street's poetry conveys seminal moments. With an economy of words and a crafted elegance, he tells it like it is. Whether he's reminiscing on the power of childhood friendships, recounting life and death experiences, or writing about disability and impairment. His war poems are incredibly powerful and totally overwhelming descriptions of what he witnessed as a war poet attached to a relief unit at the height of the conflict in Bosnia.
There is no veneer. Peter Street's voice is the voice of someone with a width and a depth of experience. He speaks with an understated wisdom that reveals an appetite for the nuts and bolts of life. With humility and a grace he relishes the good things and appreciates what's to be learnt from the bad things. Above all, there is an honesty and an openness, without affectation, that has a universal and a timeless quality.
Peter Street recounts some of the major motivations and influences for his writing
Disability has always been a part of my life. It is who I am. I left school epileptic and barely able to read and write. It was those experiences, both the frustrations and the discriminations, that were to eventually lead me to writing. This all seemed to come together when I developed another disability - my vertebrae collapsing in four places in 1982, when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis.
This probably turned out to be one of the very best things that has happened to me. I thought of it as being reborn - but not in the religious sense. Being reborn is what I call undergoing life changing experiences. I think all of us may experience a rebirth of some kind. It is how we deal with it. Some of us, if we're lucky depending on our thoughts at the time, may experience two, three or even four rebirths.
In 1991 I was finally assessed and declared as having dyscalculia and dyspraxia. I didn't know the name of it, but from as far back as I can remember, I knew there was something wrong. In junior school I was the only one out of three hundred who couldn't do the basic dance steps we were asked to perform.
Also as a boy scout I couldn't map read. I would often get completely lost. And I still feel lost - in a world with directions for the masses. Lost in places where everyone knows where they are and which direction they are going. Even when they tell me and point the way, I cannot understand. I get confused - but what the hell I found places the masses don't usually see - so that is their loss!
It was during my nine months in hospital when I was lucky enough to spend most of this time next to someone who became a great friend and influencer, Ged O Brien - an English Literature Teacher. Because of him I decided I would have the time to start all over again.
The biggest influence in my writing career has been the poet Matt Simpson. He has been my mentor and soul mate. He has taken me through some of the most difficult truths of being a poet and to date I have written and had published three collections of poetry.
A lot of my work is about disability. It may not always be an obvious disability just like those men women and children in war torn Croatia where just living was a severe disability in a place where children regularly witnessed their parents being executed and that little girl whose legs had been blown off, who I saw in the Children's Hospital, Zagreb.
My goal is to have my work believed.
Peter was the recipient of an award from The Royal Literary Fund from January 2008 - 2011. He is available for commissions, workshops, residencies and readings. For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Bike: for Suzanne
head first, racing, hot
I would melt, burn holes
through wind tunnels.
It cost a year's paper-round
but we became more than just boy and bike,
sharing everything - even girls
until epilepsy stopped it all.
Mum put the brakes on
and sent it to a Good Home.
It's my turn now - the worry
with my daughter, epileptic too,
whose bike leans against the radiator
in our kitchen, waiting ......
Seizure: for Suzanne
A phone is ringing towards me.
It's angry, needs to be heard.
I'm deep in a dream
with Thomas Edgar
the man who wiped away the snot
bought my first footy boots,
checked the studs
and chased big Billie Cartmel away
We were finally doing things together:
him with all the time he never had,
me without my anger.
We were now one.
Four thirty when the phone
finally lands in my early morning
and my grandson is screaming
"Mum is covered in blood!"
She was still somewhere in the back of her brain
Waiting to come back
on the settee
wearing a crimson mask
Plasticky almost like some theatre thing
pasting down those black locks
unbleached, natural, ones she'd boasted about
showed off, down to her bum.
Never be late, was knocked into me.
Fifteen minutes I sat there
waiting for the Careers Officer
where posters of young farmers
with calves scarfed around their necks
walked towards me,
in between the Royal Navy piping me on deck
and the sickly smile from a boy
standing over his lathe.
I ticked Footballer, Postman, Forester.
But the man with the mustard tie vomiting down his shirt
brylcreemed hair (a greasy tarmac road
with a white line axed down the middle)
landed me with labourer in a slaughter house
Epileptics with literacy problems don't get work: you're lucky!
The farmer wanted his cow back
the Navy pissed off,
and the engineer put two fingers up!
first published in Out Of The Fire
Trying to Escape 1
The window opposite my bed
frames part of a Victorian asylum,
coloured red and black.
Counting bricks my pastime
of the six-by-four:
a hundred and twenty two!
Like Monte Cristo
I begin to scrape out mortar
and chalk days on the walls.
My hands blister and I dream
of palm trees running down into waves
or making love in the black and yellow grass.
I riddle loose a brick from the wall,
pushing my hand through for the map
to a treasure, I pull out a wheelchair…
first published in Out Of The Fire
Astral Projection 2
Ghosting out of my body:
escape from B ward.
I velcro on my harness,
click and screw tight the karabiner
thread and sew the nine-mil rope
through a silver figure-eight:
leaning backwards onto thirty feet
I spark down the building wall.
Outside the nearest chippy
I eat fish and chips
out of yesterday's goal mouth
where Ian Rush dandruffs salt
from his shoulders.
For the lads:
new legs and spinal cords
wrapped up in a tray.
first published in Out Of The Fire- by Peter Street
Thinner than thin, sexless,
no breast to milk her babies with,
the ones she'd pushed five miles
up through Sniper's Alley
to this hotel (for Dignitaries),
her face gaunt, towards death,
floral dress a shroud.
In one hand she gripped
a plastic bag of custard, spuds,
chewed bones, while with
the other she begged for more
in good English.
I gave her ten Deutschmark,
two pounds of rice, a tin
of pilchards. She dropped
to her knees, sobbing,
first published in Still Standing
We are sheep or slaves
walking in a long line,
towed by a man on his tractor
to a Police Station with its face
Stay on the tarmac- everything else is land mined!
We chug past without looking:
bright red swastikas and dicks
painted on white walls where family life
once sang out its parties, now piled up
in the front garden.
He points to Serbian cannons.
There's a silence we've never heard
no birds, no cats, no dogs.
first published in Still Standing
rattles his big tin
under our consciences.
I slit in some change,
confess to him that I've seen action.
Good man! he smiles.
I feel my stitches, holding those scars
of war, burst. At first the traumas are
stubborn, like trying to blow a cricket ball
down your nose.
Then everything pouring out; snipers
and that wall splashed crimson,
where bits of bone and brain
clung like wool to a barbed-wire fence
and that camera-man who left me
when those guerrillas pulled out their
Guilt spills and restlessness splashes
first published in Still Standing
Something was itching my eyes to stare
over at the machines.
Only I seemed to hear the bleeping
yet my whole family was standing there
and everyone who had ever lived,
the whole universe even, all screaming
not to look. Yet the bleeping seemed
to bounce off every childhood picture
and get-well card
in the Zagreb hospital:
like a ball to my feet.
Then I made my mistake
and looked at a face,
a kind of no-face with holes for eyes
legs missing from the knees down
still stuck to all those bits of shrapnel
somewhere, which banged her life apart.
A little girl, bandaged
in mummy, almost pretty.
Some nurse had taken an age
getting each lap perfect
so proud that when we look
we might still see a person,
Isolated in a war world
standing between sandbags
stacked in bedroom windows
now blanking out all those lovers
who once pressed their hot faces
onto cold glass looking down
the narrow street
where sniper slits are now the only light
I'm in the wrong zone,
an inch tall in a valley
of stone buildings
where only the odd tree stands.
They are watching me
I can feel their minds,
that yes or no,
fingers ready to trigger.
It's now real: men and women
in a second flopping dead on the
I step over, trying my best
to be invisible
walking home to Wigan…
Love and friendship
Going Back To Then: for Sandra Simpson 1967
I am me
that's not meant to be a rude thing
but I don't want to be you
I dreamed of nothing else but being you
the pain burned holes in my hurt
I just wanted you to look at me
say hello, smile. Yes a kiss
would be too much to ask.
So instead you waved,
the kind that said
yes, we can be friends
Dinner's Ready: for Dennis Heaton
Bare-foot, on all fours,
we scramble, pull ourselves over
green-felted boulders flooded
from ancient quarries,
then jump, splashing to pieces a sun,
a yellow full stop
on a flowing sentence
that slices off our legs
just below those Cub garters,
holding up our shins.
With pebbles bumping toes apart,
we wade upstream
in a bed we can't sleep on.
Smoke from our dinner,
that's like a search party, seeps
through the woods,
catching us just inside ear-shot
with bacon and eggs
applauding in the frying pan.
first published in Still Standing
Ochre! Like he'd been dipped in it,
blue eyes falling deeper into double-barrels,
or high-powered binoculars without
It's a weight, my hand holding his,
keeping him here,
Yet that colour!
A sick joke, a set-up
for some t.v. programme
which takes advantage of the
He was sucking in the ceiling,
head back, mouth open,
when his wife walked in,
strong, calm, carrying her tears
in a black handbag
she rested on the pine floor.
She leaned over whispering
It's not good news...
and left it at that.
first published in Still Standing
Still Born: for Jenny
I piss on my hands
to ease burning
from blisters and from frost,
steam in a warm few seconds
dies of cold.
I'm tunnelling underneath
a family headstone,
cubes of oil-black clay
onto the wooden staging as
black beetle funeral cars creep in
between angels standing either side
of cast iron gates;
I take from Jenny her baby
and slot him under
a list of names
into Dearly Beloved Grandfather's arms
first published in Out Of The Fire
You must be joking!
We are the sunshine trees.
Yellow, bursting out of the ground,
Come here, cool yourself
under my slender arms,
bring a bottle, a picnic,
sit inside and find a new world.
Half-an-hour, that's all.
Start again. You'll like it
. Us weeping? Not a tear.
first published in Still Standing
Pampas Grass - Cortaderia Selloana
There's no pampering this baby.
She looks pretty
bursting out of the ground
like that. Makes you feel good.
That's what it wants you to think.
Before it goes on and floods
everywhere. Then, we think that's it.
Fizzled out. No. Just the start!
It's the turn of the flowers,
tall, slender, coquettish
especially when it's windy
a fan dance,
I've been here since England began.
When you see me, you see a tree,
not something bent over
all the time.
Come on, stand up straight!
Let's see what you are made of!
You Japanese Cherries all look the same
with your little confetti bows.
All you're good for's
wedding and coffee tables.
Ships! We became ships,
and went to places you've never even heard of,
whether they liked us or not.
first published in Still Standing
Listen,Sally said, handing Bob a mug of tea,
If we don't do it now, we'll probably never do it! It's the ideal time with the kids away all week!
She walked back cross the kitchen, put the milk away. He was still engrossed in his evening paper.
Well, what?he said without looking up.
We need to get started…
… Before they come back !he said.
He was like that. Always finishing her sentences.
I'm not starting on that loft until I get back from Blackpool!
That's the day before those two come back. We won't be able to do it in time!
Don't be daft! It's only fixing a ladder in and laying the floor! We're not doing a full conversion, for god's sake! It's a days job, if that.
Can you take your eyes from that paper for one minute?
She took a cigarette lighter from her apron pocket, walked over towards him and lit the bottom of his newspaper.
What you doing, you bloody stupid woman!he shouted, trying to kill the flames.
I've told you. I'm sick of your bloody paper. It's every time I want to talk to you!
He threw the burning paper towards her,
You can stuff your attic!he shouted.
There's no way, on this god's earth I'm doing that for you… You're a bloody mad woman!
You've got me that way!She followed him into the hallway, and watched him pulling his coat on.
I suppose you're running off to that lot in the Crown!
At least they don't try to kill me!He slammed the door.
It was two days later. She was watching the telly when the phone rang.
Yes, I'm Jim Carter's wife.
What do you mean you'll see me in five minutes! Who are…He's gone! What does he mean he'll see me in five minutes? What does he want? She ran and locked the front door. She was in the hall-way next to the hat stand, when she dialled on her mobile.
Come on, Jim, answer it. Bloody hell! What have I told him about switching it off!
The clock was striking two.
She could hear footsteps approaching the house. Through the misted glass door she could see a man's shape. He was holding a large bag.
He didn't even say his name!
The bell rang again. She leaned against the wall trying to make herself less conspicuous. Who is he? Who ever it is? If he thinks I'm going to let a complete stranger into my house, well, there must be something wrong with him! She edged her way back towards the kitchen door.
There she looked for her mobile. Then she remembered she'd left it on the clothes-stand in the hallway.
Please don't ring!she muttered. She heard footsteps going away from the house. She leaned forward to see if he was still there. He'd gone. She gave a sigh of relief.
She picked up her mobile, first checking to see if there were any messages. She walked into the front room, peered round the curtain. There was no car or van parked outside the house. She dialled.
Come on, Bob, have it switched on. Please, have it switched on! Bastard! How is it, when ever I need to get hold of him, I can't?She put the phone in her pocket.
Right, I'll get on,she muttered.
Just wait till he comes home! I wonder who he was. Right, come on, girl, get it out of your head and get on!
She was carrying a basket of clothes over to the washing machine in the far corner of the kitchen. The kettle was boiling, she was humming to herself. Then in the corner of her eye she caught sight of a man peering through the window. She dropped the basket and screamed. He was holding up a tool bag, smiling.
Sorry, did I make you jump? Did you not hear the bell?
Make me jump!she shouted at him.
Who are you ? What do you want?
You know me!
I wouldn't be bloody asking, if I already knew !
Course you do, we met at the thingy-me-jig!
Oh, that's a big help!
I'm Tom!He shouted from the other side of the window.
Bob said you were desperate to get the loft sorted… So here I am!
How do you know Bob? He's never mentioned a Tom!
He must have done. I'm the one he always beats at poker. I'm hopeless!
Bob doesn't play cards! He hates cards!
What do you think he's doing in Blackpool?
He's gone with his job!
Aye, job my bum. I would have been there but he skint me last week! I'll get him back!
Her face was turning red. She squeezed herself back towards the kitchen tops. She looked over towards the door. It was unlocked. The key was to her right on top of the microwave. She kicked the washing basket to one side, then made a dash for it and hurried over across the tiled kitchen floor and locked the back door.
He doesn't play cards!she shouted.
He doesn't gamble. He doesn't…He didn't let her finish…
Doesn't gamble!he said sarcastically.
Who are you?she snapped.
I want to know! Otherwise I'm phoning the Police.
There's no need to be like that. I've just come to do the loft!
Clothes had fallen out of the washing basket and were shrewn across the floor.
I'm sorry if he's not said anything but this was part of the deal. I lost! I'm a chippy so what better way…!
Hi,said Robert stepping out of the taxi. They were too nervous to reply. They still weren't sure what had happened. He nodded to his class mate, Steve Greenhalgh. There was no response.
Across the road his two best friends, Billy and Dave, were astride their bikes. Robert waved. They waved back. He beckoned them over. They said something to each other, hesitated. Then they went to cross the road when…
Tomorrow!his mother shouted over to them.
Come back tomorrow. He's been through a lot, poor lad!
I'll see you tomorrow,Robert shouted.
We'll go for a ride down to Bluebell Woods! See you tomorrow!
Two weeks earlier, on the hottest day in August, their bikes were a few feet away on the tarmac. Billy, the biggest of the three with a look of Marciano, sat up and asked,
Has anybody any pop left? I'm dying of thirst!Robert and Dave were too busy watching three girls in matching blue swimsuits. Dave was sucking on a piece of rye grass.
I'm glad I'm not thirsty!
I'd rather be thirsty than chewing on a piece of grass some dog has peed on! said Billy
Hmm. This dog pee is lovely! David stretched down, cupped a handful of water from the lagoon and splashed Billy.
You little bugger! shouted Billy.
Right! They messed about, but then decided it was too hot.
Come on! shouted Billy.
Let's go over on the jetty with them lot over there!
I'll look after the bikes! said David.
You just don't know what's in there! There are some really bad currents.
Billy and Robert took the long run along the jetty and dived in. Robert was the first to surface. He wiped weed from his face, and flicked back his hair. He swam further out into the middle of the lake.
Robert! Dave screamed.
Dave changed direction and started running back towards the bikes.
Billy! he was screaming.
Billy! Where's Billy?
Robert was now ducking under the water. Dave was waving like mad to catch his attention. He scanned the water again. There was no sign of Billy. He got off his bike, waved for a car to stop which just missed him and sped away towards Rivington.
Robert he screamed again running towards the jetty
I can't see Billy! He kicked off his shoes, ripped off his clothes. He leapt into the water just as Billy bobbed cheekily from the reeds near the jetty.
You swine! You bloody swine! he screamed hitting the water.
The hot sun and wind dried them as they freewheeled down the steep hill back, down towards their estate. It was almost tea-time.
They walked their bikes down Wilkinson Road towards the blocks of flats. Robert nudged Dave.
Anne Caldwell is across the road! Dave said.
I've seen her!
Why won't you go out with her? asked Dave.
She's got the biggest chest on the estate.
Oh, no! Billy said.
She's coming over!
I wish she was coming over for me, said Robert. Dave nodded in agreement.
Hi Billy, she said.
Where are you going?
Why don't you say something? Robert said,
Look at her, she's begging for you to say something!
Come on, hurry up! Billy said nervously.
I'm going, I'll see you later!
Where are you going? asked Dave.
I'm off home. I'll see you again!
The girl turned and walked away.
Suddenly, Robert was aware of a strange smell and a strong burning sensation down his right leg.
Are you alright? Dave asked.
You look funny!
Robert unwrapped some chewing gum. He shoved the paper in his mouth and threw the gum away. A kind of humming feeling was going through his body.
What are you doing? asked Dave.
Billy! Come here, quick. Robert is… Billy! Billy! screamed Dave.
He'd never seen his dad cry before.
I'm alright, said Robert.
Is your mouth still bad?
Robert shook his head.
I'm alright… Where's my bike?
The doctor said you'd not to ride it for a while. In case you have another do!
What do you mean? Where's my bike?
It's in our bedroom.
What's it doing there?
We might have to sell it. I'm sorry. The doctor said it's for your own good!
Sell it… You can't! That's my bike! I saved up for that… I'll have no friends!
You've got Dave and Billy!
They've got bikes… What will I do when they go off somewhere?
In his mam's bedroom he saw his bike leaning against the radiator secured with a shiny lock and chain. He hurried across their bedroom, sliding his hand under the pillow. Nothing. He moved over to the dressing table, riffling through various nick-knacks.
You won't find the key there! said his dad from the door-well.
Come on Dad
I can't. You know what the doctor said.
It'll never happen!
Even the doctors don't know that one.
Three days later, Billy Robert and David were sitting on the wall near the bus terminus.
Mam won't listen… I promised her I wouldn't ride it on the main roads. It took me two years to pay for that. She's going to sell it. She can't. It's mine! That's my bike. I bought that from my paper-round !
What happens, asked Billy,
if you have a fit/
Don't you start!
They heard a girl's voice shouting. It was Anne Caldwell.
Not again! Come on! Dave and Robert were laughing as they ran down the hill, towards the big roundabout where they stopped. They bent over gasping for breath.
Why are we running? asked Dave.
We don't run from girls!
I don't want to go with her! gasped Billy.
End of story.
She's still there. Look, she's waving! said Robert.
Did you see that skirt? asked Dave.
I saw her knickers!
I'd go with her! said Robert suddenly.
Well, go on then, she's all yours!
I asked her last night!
You little bugger! said Billy.
What did she say?
She said she wanted thrilling not killing!
Mind you, said Billy laughing.
I know what she means. Let's face it who would want to kiss a face like that?
Have you heard what he's saying? Robert said to Dave. They jumped on Billy and wrestled him to the ground.
Eh, said Billy.
I've got an idea… What do you think of this? The other two sat and listened as Billy explained himself.
We can't do that! said Dave
They'd find out!
How will they? asked Robert.
Tomorrow, said Billy.
It was eight-fifty-five by the time they arrived at the mill where his parents worked.. Robert opened the top door leading down to the fire-hole. The stench of sulphur, steam and heat hit him. He peered over the wooden staircase where he saw the sentry box his father would be in. Robert could hear him coughing. He saw his father's jacket hanging on a big nail half way down the stair case. He edged the few feet along the wall towards the jacket, glancing over towards the sentry box, before rummaging through his dad's pocket until he found it. It was the smallest, shiniest key of a large grubby bunch.
Soon the three of them were back in Robert's flat fiddling with the chains that held the bike to the radiator. The clock on the wall was chiming ten. Within minutes they were out of the flat. Robert jumped on his saddle and started peddling. He was peddling faster than he had ever peddled. He was laughing The warm air was hitting his face. They were laughing. Robert was punching the air.
We have got to be back before your dad gets home, shouted Billy.
Get the bike chained back up! First thing we've got to do is get a copy of the keys made and get it back on your dads key ring, he shouted.
We have got to be back for five!
No-one would ever know! Shouted Robert.
It's my bike! Tomorrow, we'll bike it up to Rivington and then go swimming in the Chinese gardens. Then the day after we'll bike it to Blackpool and the day after that we'll… Suddenly there was a kind of clicking in his brain. His head dropped for a second. He was falling further behind Billy and Dave.
Wait for me! He wanted to shout. His mouth seemed dislocated from his brain. His eyes were open but he wasn't seeing anything… The smell was back! A sweet sickly smell of something he couldn't quite put his finger on…
Two weeks later the three of them were at the terminus. Robert was getting on the Rivington bus,
You promise you'll be there?
You know we will, said Dave.
You said that about Belmont!
That was different, said Billy.
It was those girls we met up with. They wanted to go to Blackpool…!
She draped her cardigan over a wooden beam, walked over to her CD collection and inserted an Edith Piaf CD. In seconds she was singing along with the Little Sparrow in perfect French,
Non, je ne regrette rienShe moved across towards her telescope remembering her time in France, as a nineteen year old working alongside the Resistance Movement carrying her transmitter from village to village. She had been one of the youngest.
That was then. She was now somewhere in the sky with the lapwings, gliding into the next field where a parliament of magpies was taking place. She scanned this way and that over the hedgerows. Suddenly she thought she heard something coming through the open window. She paused the music with the remote control. It was a nightingale singing. She also heard machine-gun like sounds of woodpeckers. A yellow hammer was singing,
A-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese.In a distant field she could just hear tractors going up and down.
And then suddenly there was an explosion in the lane. A car was on fire! She spun her scope to where she saw two men, one was wearing dark blue jeans, and a green jumper. He had red hair. The other man was taller with blonde hair, and wore a boiler suit but apart from that there was nothing distinguishing about him. Inching the scope to her right she saw a white car, it seemed to be waiting. The driver was bald with a goatee beard. The two men were laughing as they strolled over to the car. The blonde haired one punched the air.
She noted the white car's registration X1573 BU on a piece of paper.
She went to the phone box a few yards from her house.
Police!she said calmly to the operator.
And you'd better send the fire-brigade. A car has exploded in Brewsters Lane. It's Miss Hewitt, yes, goodbye.
The next morning the grandfather clock in the hallway was chiming ten. She checked herself in the mirror, rolled her tongue over her teeth, fiddled with her white hair. Outside the door, she winced at the stench of burning, put her hand over her mouth and coughed to clear her throat.
Mr Conroy, her gardener, was digging out an overgrown peony. His cap was crooked over one eye. He straightened up, groaned.
It's like this every time. That's the fourth this year!
All the hedge was on fire!she said.
Goodness knows what happened to the birds in there!He took off his cap,
Have you seen it? It's all been taped off with that Police tape. They've not done that before!
That's because they're pretty sure it was involved in an armed robbery with shots being fired!
How do you know that?
Sergeant McCoy told me last night.
Sergeant?he said as he scratched his head.
Yes, he was a detective sergeant!
You've lost me!he flopped his cap back on and returned to his digging. They heard the telephone ringing.
She was hurrying over to the phone box,
It's the sergeant,she shouted back over the garden gate to Mr Conroy who was now walking towards her. Her back was turned to him, she was nodding her head, then shook it, as though to say no.
I'll ask him,she said. She was holding the receiver to her chest.
Could you please take me down to the Police Station?
Can I do what?
Can you take me down to the Police Station. Otherwise I'll have to wait for the…
Yes, of course I can. What's all this about?She dodged back in.
Hello, Sergeant McCoy, yes, I'll be there in an hour, bye.She was smiling as she pushed open the phone box door.
They've organised an identification parade,she said.
They think they've got them!
How come you're involved?
I saw them!
How did you see them it's easily five hundred yards from your house!
I think a cup of tea would be the right thing to have! Would you care for a digestive biscuit?
There's a car been following us, it's not a local car. I know them!She turned,
That's the car I saw in the lane!
I thought they'd got them?
One of the three was missing!
I see!he said as he turned into a country lane.
I'll tell you what we'll do… I'll drop you off at yours, never mind phoning from the box. Just get into your house. I'll phone from mine!
She ran down the path. Tyres were screeching to a halt. She fiddled for her key. Once inside, she slammed the door shut, locked it. She was running upstairs towards the attic when she heard the front door lock being blasted. There was the sound of heavy boots on the floor boards.
She ran up into the attic locked the door behind her. She hurried over to the left of the room, pulled a portmanteau from out of the shadows, clicked it open and pulled out a small leather case. Inside there was a Morse tapper and a radio receiver. There was a black and white picture of a young man with wavy hair. She kissed the picture,
Henri,she said in perfect French.
There is always trouble!
She riffled through some French papers stamped with a Nazi eagle. She pushed to one side her L'Ordre de la Liberation and her George Cross. She unfolded an oily rag. In front of her was a Luger P08 pistol. She checked it, then slammed in the full magazine. The gun was pointed to the floor. She moved across the room, inserted her Edith Piaf CD.
Someone was trying to kick open the door but they gave up and decided to blast it. She was standing in the centre of the room sideways on. She wet her lips. The gun felt right in her hand. She remembered it well. He was raising his gun when she pressed the remote control of the CD. He flicked his eyes over to where Edith Piaf started singing,
Non, je ne regrette rien.
One bullet went through his heart.
She walked back over to the Portmanteau, clicked out the magazine and returned the gun back into the oily rag and replaced everything in its order.
Through the open window she could hear Police sirens.
How long will it be yet?Jim asked.
Another ten minutes.
I'm going upstairs, give me a shout when it's ready.She shoved the casserole back in the oven, closed the door then hung the oven gloves up on the hook next to the yellow and white towel. On the kitchen unit there was a basket of potpourri. Next to that, her purse and a photograph of herself and Jim as teenagers. Their arms were wrapped around each other. He was pulling a funny face, friends who had shared a coach to Blackpool on a day-trip from Bolton. She straightened her apron, tucked loose strands of hair behind her ear, took a hair-clip from the pocket of her apron and clipped back her fringe. She generally liked having a fringe, but at times it did annoy her, besides she didn't like seeing the odd bit of grey curling down into her eyes. She leaned back against the kitchen units. I've done him rice! I've asked him enough, Why couldn't he have given me a straight answer,
You chose, he said.
then it's my fault if it's wrong. He's got rice! If he wants anything else he'll have to do it himself!… That'll be the day. Besides he'll probably end up rushing off with _them_them
? They work together, then they go and play golf together. He thinks more of Tony and Bernard than he does of me.
The kitchen floor was black and white like a chess board, everything else in the kitchen was yellow and white. She called it her sunshine kitchen. It's where she felt strongest. Facing her on the other side of the room was the picture of her at Blackpool. That August day had been the hottest of the year. Blackpool was packed with kiss-me-quick hats and candy floss. It was on the beach near the pier where, without warning, she had started to undress. No-one knew what was happening. She had the figure to get away with it so why not? She hadn't even told her best friend Kathleen Duckworth that her bikini was under her jeans and t-shirt. All the wolves were on that stretch of beach…
She was now cleaning the glasses from the display case, the ones Tony and Bernard, had used the night before.
I've told him before about this! she said.
I spend half my life cleaning up after him and his two cronies! She opened the mahogany case and slotted them in their place at the front with the other three whisky glasses.
Next to them was a picture of her mum and dad sitting on a Norton International motor bike. There were wine glasses on the top shelf, she reached over and polished the petrol cigarette lighter, and the silver cigarette case with the word Dad initialled in the top right hand corner she had given him for his fiftieth birthday. The centre piece was a Royal Albert Old Rose teapot. She knelt down. Carefully, she lifted the china pot out away from the cabinet and rested it on the floor. She turned back to the display case and wiped away the heavy dust mark where the tea-pot had been sitting. She fell back on her haunches and cried.
Suddenly she heard,
Is my dinner ready? She ignored him.
I said, he shouted again,
is my dinner ready? She walked over to the oven door and, using her apron as a glove, pulled out his dinner, turned, took the few steps to the back door and threw it out into the garden.
Your dinner's on the patio! she shouted back.
Thank you! he replied.
I'll be down in a minute.
I will have my chickens! She muttered.
Or it'll be the last dinner I make him! Who the hell does he think he is?
With her apron she wiped her tears away and then she put the kettle on. She walked back over to the cabinet, and knelt down again.
Now, where were we? She lifted the tea pot up and said,
You, my mother's best tea-pot, are filthy, you are going to have a bath! She ran some warm water in the bowl. Took off the lid. It had been three months since she had last looked at her sixties knick-knacks. Various pens and Fab badges fell into her hand together with one half of a silver plated heart with the words, He who holds the key can open my heart. Finally a tiny diary with a gold clasp, fastened with a tiny gold lock fell into the palm of her hand, together with the key. She grasped the heart and held it tight to her chest, her eyes closed.
I wonder where Chris is? she mumbled.
What's he doing now?
What did you say? asked Jim walking in.
I was just talking to myself!
He was walking over to the mirror in the front room. I thought he wanted his dinner? Hungry my foot! Him and that Windsor knot. What is it about men and ties and knots and getting them just so in the middle. What is it about him. Why is he such a tart! Look at him the way he checks his cufflinks, down so they are level with each other. Why does he turn sideways and smile at himself? Look at him he's doing it again…
I love me, shouted Lisa sarcastically.
Who do you love?
It's not my fault that I'm more particular about my looks than you are! he snarled.
Look at you, when was the last time you even went to have your hair done?
I'm happy with it, that's all that matters. Anyway, what's it got to do with you?
You know I like you to look a certain way when people are coming round!
A certain way! Who do you think you're talking to?
Have you taken a really good look at yourself lately? She ignored his jibe and moved over to the kitchen door, opened it and then lit a cigarette. Steam was still rising from the spattered casserole on the patio. Bugger it, let him see it! I want him to see it!
He was walking up behind her, his brown leather brogues noisy on the chess floor board. She inhaled on her cigarette, held it, then exhaled heavily and leaned to one side of the door to give him a full view of the patio and his smashed casserole.
Right! he said.
Where's my dinner?
I told you it's on the patio! Look at him, in his black blazer and brass buttons. He looks like a reject from the British Legion!
Have you seen Bernard's wife lately? She's making an effort. She must have lost two stones. Bernard's always been a forward man. She knows how to look after him!
Aye, and every other bloke in the street! muttered Lisa. Come on, let's see what you've got to say about this! Come on, you're always going on about power! Let's see who has the power now! She flicked the cigarette stub further down onto the patio, watched it spark over the stone flags.
It's over here, come on, it's going cold!
He stood next to her at the door. His neck was turning red, it was welling up into his face and then,
You bitch! You uncompromising bitch! I'll see to you when I get back! A car horn was sounding.
Bernard's never going to believe this. Nobody is.
It was the same every night. She made him his dinner, then he hadn't time to eat it because he's out with them. Well from now on, he'll be eating with them!
I'm getting the chickens today!
I've told you! he shouted.
No chickens are coming to this house! You're getting a job next week!
That's what he thinks He's so thick, why can he not grasp that I don't want a job! I don't want to be like the rest of them. OK, if they want to go out and work that's their choice. It's not mine. Besides the money would only end up in behind the bar in the golf club.
Everyone has to work, he said.
We get a job and we stick to it. I don't know what makes you so different? It's not as if you're lazy, you're not!
The car horn beeped again.
See what you've done. You've made me late for Bernard. I'll eat at the club house. I don't like rice anyway. Maybe you should have asked me?
Ha! Ha! Ha! That was so funny I forgot to laugh!
And bugger you! he shouted slamming the door.
The Pet Shop, in Bolton town centre was just off the high street. Two little girls were crouched on the pavement, looking at the bunny rabbits and kittens through the glass window. He'll have chickens in here? Lisa thought. If he doesn't he'll know where to get some. Once everyone used to have chickens! What's happened?
The bell above the shop clattered. No sign of chickens. A monkey was sitting in a cage the size of a wardrobe, doing nothing in particular. She walked past the sacks of bird seed. There used to be signs in these places saying chickens for sale! she thought. The bottom of the cage was full of droppings. There were no toys for the monkey to play with. An A4 size of white paper with scruffy hand writing, blue tacked to the bottom of the cage read, Please don't feed the monkey, he's got his own nuts to chew on. She stepped away from the cage. This looks like the last place I'd buy chickens! Or anything else. It's disgusting!
A tall man in his mid-twenties walked over to her, brushing his hair back from his face and holding it on the top of his head.
Do you like the sign on the monkey cage? He let the clump of hair fall back into his face. All she could now really see was his smile, and the gap in his teeth, a fifty-pence-piece could fit between. He seemed strangely familiar.
Do I know you? Lisa asked.
You're Jim Walker's wife, aren't you? God, isn't Jim a scream! he said through the hair hanging over his face.
What are you talking about?
When you and your mother caught him rubbing Flora on his private parts that time when he was on the phone! What a sight, Jim bollock-naked and Flora! He started laughing.
I still don't know what you're talking about
He moved to within inches of her face.
Come on, tell me, what did you think when you saw him like that? Did you think he'd been on the perv' lines? We've all asked him but you know what he's like for changing the subject. A cockatiel squawked.
I'll tell you what he's like! she said.
Well, sex is always at 11.30 on a Saturday night. He's always on top! It wasn't always like this!
A parrot behind her squawked and shouted
We used to have a great time, Lisa said.
We used go out at weekends, maybe have a night away somewhere. Sex was wonderful. We used to dress up in all kinds of gear!
The man had his mouth open with a kind of half smile.
He used to dress up as Charlie Chaplin and do that funny walk while wearing a glow-in-the-dark condom. It all stopped when I dressed up as Annie Oakley and told him I wanted to ride the range all night. That was it. It's been down hill since then!
The man was looking more embarrassed.
His record is two minutes thirty-two seconds! She smiled and went to make her way out. Then stopped at the door,
Oh, by the way, she said,
I'm reporting you for being cruel to that monkey! You can also tell Jim about that when you see him! Another thing before I go, I've got to ask, you are the spit of that bloke, me and my friend June, caught with his pants around his ankles up in Rivington, near the Chinese Gardens last week. Was that you shagging the arse off that St. Bernard Dog?
She turned left into the main street. She past the big store down, past a herd of stone elephants grouped nearer a watering hole opposite Boots. The town Hall clock struck 10.30. She stopped and admired the new fountains at the bottom of the town hall steps. Morris dancers were performing to her far right. I'm going to get those chickens! He can do what he likes, but I'm having them. He doesn't understand. People like him never understand. All he wants is work and more work. We are not machines. But he thinks I'm a freak because I don't want to kill myself!
She rested on a bench outside the Army and Navy stores. She was rummaging through her bag for a cigarette when she heard someone say,
Lisa, is that you, Lisa? My god, it is!
The sun was in her eyes. She knew the voice but she couldn't quite place it. Through blurred vision she saw a tall woman, slim with long black hair. Lisa rubbed her eyes,
It's me, Kathleen Duckworth! They hugged.
This is bizarre! said Lisa.
I was only thinking yesterday, about the time we went to Blackpool and I undressed on the beach! They both started laughing.
Are you still with Chris? Kathleen asked.
Is it so long? No, we, I, finished with him. It was stupid. I was stupid! I ended up with Jim Walker!
I thought you hated him ?
I did, I do, I don't know what happened!
I saw Chris about three years ago. We were both rushing off somewhere. He's not changed. I can't believe you're with Jim Walker. Didn't we catch him playing with himself in Bluebell Woods? They both laughed.
And wasn't it you who threw the pebble which hit him on the forehead?
You can still see that scar!
Jim Walker! I can't believe it!
Anyway, said Lisa,
Do you fancy having a coffee somewhere?
I'd love to, but I'm far too busy. I shouldn't have stopped, but it's been so long. Phone me. Kathleen hurriedly scribbled her number down on a piece of paper and gave it to her.
I'm not being funny, but I've got to go. I never asked you, Kathleen said as she was walking away,
where do you work?
I don't, I look after the garden and I'm going for some chickens now.
Chickens! You mean egg-type chickens?
That's right! I'm getting half-a-dozen!
And you don't work?
They both looked at each other puzzled. An old man, passing them, started coughing. He sat down on the bench, and lit a cigarette. He took a long drag, then crossed his legs and exhaled.
Phone me! shouted Kathleen. She hurried away.
Lisa watched her friend's high heels go tip-tipping away.
It's all rush, rush, rush! said the old man suddenly.
Nobody has time for anything these days!
I'm sorry? she said
Nobody has time for anything these days! he repeated.
I know what you mean!
She sat down, pulled out her cigarettes and offered him one. He put it behind his ear.
I'll have it later. She lit up.
I think, he said,
that we should have fifty weeks' holiday and two weeks' work! She took another drag on her cigarette.
My husband wouldn't like that. He can't stop working. Even on a Sunday he works, everybody in our street works. I'm the only one who doesn't work!
Before, were you saying something about chickens?
I'm going to keep chickens. My husband's not so keen. Trouble is I don't know where to start looking for them! He took another drag on his cigarette.
I used to love my chickens!
How many did you have?
Eight was the most we ever had. Mildred used to take our children twice a day for the eggs. They were beltin'. He turned serious.
Don't be fooled into buying anything. Look for a nice deep red comb. If it's pale then they are not laying!
I don't know how I'm going to build the hut. I've not much of a clue!
Course you have. It's a piece of cake. Anything will do. Knock it up with some old pallets! Course you can do it. You can do anything if you put your mind to it! He stubbed his cigarette into the floor.
I'm off to get a pasty… He said his goodbyes.
Bye, Lisa said.
And thanks! He turned, and tipped his cap at her.
From her bag she brought out the one half of the silver-plated heart she was given almost thirty-five years ago. She held it tight,
I'm sorry! she whispered. She didn't care if people were looking. Her thoughts were somewhere else with the boy she now realised she should have married. In her mind she could see and hear her mother saying,
You don't marry a good looking boy! Them are for a-bit-of-the-other, before you settle down. You want someone who will look after you. Never mind what they look like!
She took the tiny gold diary from her bag. Her fingers were clumsy with a key the size of a fingernail. Her hands were shaking, as she tried the key. Lisa turned the gold-covered cover. It was her handwriting, scruffy, all over the place in capital letters, Lisa Fairhurst, aged 15 years and 3 months. 116 Wilkinson Gardens, Bolton. There was a photograph.
God, how slim I was. I've not put much on. My bob haircut I loved my bob! She ran her fingers through her hair. A photo from the third and fourth page fell into her lap. It was a picture of a boy with short curling black hair and perfect teeth, blue eyes. There was a phone number on the back, 45756. She took a ten-pence piece from her purse, stood and walked over to a nearby phone box…