Category Archives: Writing

What friends are for

The lift said “Sixth Floor.” I walked along the corridor in the neon light which always reminded me of a Travelodge. I hadn’t been here for ages. I hoped Robert would be alone. It would be awkward otherwise. But let’s face it, it was going to be awkward anyway.

I got to his flat. I didn’t have the key any more so I would have to knock. I hoped he would be awake. Would he answer the door? I’d tail-gated into the foyer behind a neighbour so I hadn’t buzzed up. I knew he didn’t like surprises like that, but at least this way I would get to see him face to face. The worst that could happen would be him telling me to fuck off.

I knocked. Silence. Then the pat of feet inside. The spyglass in the door darkened. This was it. He knew it was me now. The door opened, the chain still on and visible in the gap. His face sagged, his eyes screwed up against the light from the corridor.

“Hi.” I said. “Can I come in?”

He shut the door. He hesitated, then undid the chain and opened it again. He was wearing Calvin Klein pyjamas and bare feet. The smell of lasagne reached me on the warm draft from inside the flat. Tonight’s dinner and always cooked from fresh.

He sighed. “Yes. You can come in I suppose… Let’s go in the living room.” He stepped aside to let me in.

I stopped just inside the door. “Surprised to see me?”

He shook his head. “Only you would turn up unannounced at this time of night, so not really, no.”

“Sorry… Is this a bad time?”

“If you mean is there anyone else here?… No.”

How did he always seem to know what I was thinking? He shut the door and we went along the hallway past his bedroom.

I saw we were not alone. “Wow! You’ve got a cat! Amazing!” I said, as I walked into the living room. Thank God the fire was on.

Robert looked down. “Yes he was Dave’s. I look after him now.”

The cat jumped onto the sofa next to me, tail up and sniffed my jeans pocket.

“I love cats.” I stroked the black velvet-soft head. “What’s his name?”

“Coriander… after his eyes. Black coffee?” he smiled for the first time.

“How did you guess?” I smiled back.

“How could I forget?” Robert went into the kitchen. We could hear him opening the fridge door and running the tap.

Coriander settled on the sofa and looked up. “So. How do you know Robert?” he asked.

“Long story. Let’s say we were friends once. Then more than friends for a bit. I haven’t seen him for ages.”

“Oh, so you’re another of his waifs and strays then.”

“You could say that, yes.” I looked into the acid-green eyes and smiled.

“And what are you after?” said Coriander.

I looked away and out of the window. Cheeky little bastard. “Nothing! I just came over for a catch up innit.”

“Yeah, right.”

I turned back. “I could ask you the same question Corry.”

“It’s Coriander.” The cat dug his claws skilfully into my thigh, just far enough to penetrate the denim and make contact with the flesh underneath. “What do you mean? Ask me what question?”

“What are you doing here? What are you after?” I did my arching- eyebrows thing.

Coriander detached a paw from the denim and licked it gently like a cowboy blowing smoke from the muzzle of a gun. “Honestly?… Dave was off his trolley all day and night, having random people round all the time. He brought me here one weekend when he went away. I’ve been here ever since. Robert likes me, it’s warm here, there’s food and water. He doesn’t bother me much”.

I looked down at my leaking trainers; the dirt on the bottoms of my jeans; the battered bag at my feet. The cat was eyeing me up, ears back, tail swishing.

“Oi! You can stop looking at me like that. You’re no better than I am you little fucker.” I said.

“Don’t think you’re going to be moving in here mate. Robert might have fallen for your crap in the past, but things are different now. He’s got me for a start.”

Shit. Was it that obvious? “We’ll see.” I pushed the cat off the sofa as Robert came back in with the coffee.

“I hope he isn’t bothering you. He can be a bit full-on sometimes.” he said.

“No, no. Coriander and me were getting on just fine weren’t we little fella?” I winked at the cat.

Coriander turned his back to me, sat on the carpet, and licked the other paw.

Robert sat down next to me. “Black coffee, with a little cold water in it…. I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you too man.” I did my looking-up-open-eyed thing. He always was a sucker for a pretty face. Especially mine.

Our lips brushed each other. My hand was on his thigh. The cat flap slammed shut behind Coriander as he went into the garden.

“Well that’s told us!” Robert said laughing.

“A bloke on the TV said that cats and dogs can sense all kinds of things around them. You know. Like ghosts and shit.”

“Yes, I’m sure that’s true. They know when there’s tension in the air that’s for certain.”

“Sorry. That’s probably me that’s upset him.”

“No don’t worry. He is a bit edgy, that’s all. Who can blame him after that upbringing?” He smiled again.

I drank some coffee. It was a treat to have the real stuff. Robert never used instant. In the distance a siren whooped.

“So… What have you been up to?” Robert said.

“Oh, same old same old.” I looked out of the window again, trying hard to hide my raw eyes. My cheeks felt damp when I put my hands up to cover my face.

“Come on love. I can see you’re not OK. What’s been going on?”

Right there – that was the reason I had come to him. After everything that had happened, and despite all my fears, he still cared about me. There wasn’t anyone else, family or friends who I could rely on like this. I knew I didn’t deserve it from him either. Why was I such a twat? I couldn’t let him see me crying now. I swallowed hard, trying to push it all back inside. But it wanted to come out and there was nothing I could do about it. This was not how I had planned the conversation.

He put his arm round my shoulders. “Oh sweetheart. It’s OK. It’s OK.”

Why was he so lovely? Why was he letting me back in? Come on. You’ve got him where you want him. Ask him! Ask him! ASK HIM!

No.

“Look… Sorry, “I said. “Maybe I should go. I don’t want to lay all this on you. After all this time. You must think I am such a piss-taker. I’ll go.” I picked up my courier bag and shifted forward on the sofa.

His arm tightened round me. “No, It’s OK. Stay where you are. Do you really think I am going to let you go back out there in that state?”

“Maybe you should. You’ve got Coriander now. You really don’t need me back in your life.”

“Maybe. But what are friends for? Stay the night, you look exhausted. Let’s talk about it all over breakfast tomorrow. Then we can decide what to do, OK?”

And that was it. As easy as that. The past was forgotten, he didn’t care about it. I wanted to tell him everything but he kept saying he just wanted to talk about the future.

I did want to tell him. Really, I did.

Catherine comes home

Adapted from “Grace Notes” by Bernard MacLaverty*

Sound of muffled street noises from outside. Catherine going up steps to the first floor. Sound of chatter behind kitchen door. 

Catherine knocks on the door. 

Mrs McKenna: Come in.

Chatter stops. Sound of door opening. Sound of women sitting at the table buttering stacks of bread. Mrs McKenna gets to her feet. 

Mrs McKenna: Catherine!

They hug and both start to cry. 

Catherine: Ma!.. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Mrs McKenna blows her nose loudly.

Friend: We’d better make ourselves scarce, girls.

Mrs McKenna: Stay where you are. We’ll go into the other room

They move out on to the landing.

Catherine: Where is he?

Mrs McKenna: In there. Your old room. But we’ll go in the living room first. Come on.

Sound of a young woman cleaning, tipping ashtrays into a bin.

Mrs McKenna: Geraldine, can you finish this place later?

Geraldine: Surely Mrs McKenna… Catherine!

Catherine: Geraldine Scully!

Geraldine: The very one. I’m awful sorry. About your father… Oh, and sorry, I’ll see you later… She leaves

Mrs McKenna: Would you look at this place? Bottles and ashtrays everywhere. There was some crowd in last night.

Catherine: Did you stay up all night?

Mrs McKenna: No.. till about two. The doctor gave me a pill to knock me out. I just went to bed and left Paddy in charge

Catherine: Paddy?

Mrs McKenna: Paddy Keegan, our barman. He’s been great. Just took over. One of the world’s most genuine men. I don’t know what I’d have done without him. He put the notice in the papers –worded it nicely and all –got Carlin’s, the undertakers –drove the whole way to Cookstown to register the death. Aw, Paddy’s been great –he’s away home for a sleep now.

Catherine: When’s the funeral?

Mrs McKenna: From here tonight at seven. Then in the morning at ten. From the church… How are you?

Catherine: I’m fine.

Mrs McKenna: So you’ve moved off the island?

Catherine: Yeah.

Mrs McKenna: To Glasgow?

Catherine: Yeah… How did you get my number?

Mrs McKenna: Paddy spent the whole day on the phone, contacting everybody. He’s a gem.

Sound of a lorry climbing the hill outside in low gear. Hammering.

Catherine: What happened?

Mrs McKenna: A massive heart attack. He’d had one or two wee warnings but . . .

Catherine: Where was he?

Mrs McKenna: He said he wasn’t feeling great. Yesterday morning. Was it yesterday or the day before? God, I don’t know which end of me is up. Anyway, he felt sickish and had a bit of a pain across the chest here. And he’d been having these pains in his upper arm, of all places. I told him to take his tablets. And off he went, down to open the bar. The next time I saw him he was dead. They’d put him on two tables, rather than leave him on the floor. Malachy McCarthy and Jimmy were the ones who were with him. The early drinking crew.

Catherine: Oh mum. Come here.

They hug.

Mrs McKenna: This is getting us nowhere.

Catherine: That was terrible about the bomb.

Mrs McKenna: I like the way you phoned to check we were all still alive.

Catherine: There’s days go by, weeks maybe, when I never see the news. I just didn’t know.

Mrs McKenna: We missed the worst of it. It went off further up the street. Your father was so angry about it. “It’s our own kind doing this to us”. That’s what he kept saying.

Catherine: The IRA?

Mrs McKenna: Who else?

Catherine: It’s awful.

Mrs McKenna: It’s a policy they have now. Blowing the hearts out of all the wee towns… You’re looking well.

Catherine: I don’t feel it.

Mrs McKenna: Is anything wrong?

Catherine: No –no . . . apart from my father being dead.

Mrs McKenna: You’d better come in and see him.

Catherine: I don’t know whether I can. Whether I want to. I’ve never seen anyone dead before.

Mrs McKenna: Did you not see Granny Boyd?

Catherine: No. You wouldn’t let me.

Mrs McKenna: Well . . .Maybe a cuppa tea, first?

Catherine: Yeah.

They go back into the kitchen. Sound of knives and an awkwardness in the silence.

Geraldine: Is that you two finished in there?

Mrs McKenna: Yes, love. I’m making more tea.

Geraldine: Some of us have work to do…. How’s the piano playing going?

Catherine: Fine.

Mrs Gallagher: Open another tin of salmon there. We’d be far better off giving everybody a couple of quid and sending them down to the Chinaman’s for chips with curry sauce.

Everybody agrees.

Catherine: ‘What’s it like?

Mrs Gallager: ‘Very handy. He’s open all hours. He didn’t do chips in the beginning –but it was the only way he could stay in business.

Mrs Steel: There you are now. That’s the wee cakes done. A feast fit for a king. She shakes an empty carton. Aw, don’t tell me… Would you look at that. There’s only one left. And I’ve another two trays to do. Imagine having only one hundred and thousand left. They all laugh. Our kids call them prinkles… Look at that.. The sole survivor.

Mrs Gallagher: The individual matters… I was that hundred and thousand… Sorry love. I hope we’re not upsetting you with our gabble.

Catherine: No, no.

Mrs Gallagher (whispering) : We’re here to get your mammy through it.

Mrs McKenna makes tea. Mrs McKenna pours the tea and hands the cup to her daughter.

Mrs McKenna: There you are… Milk?

Catherine: No.

Mrs McKenna: Sugar?’

Catherine: No.

Mrs McKenna: Changed times. I mind when you took three. I was always washing the sugar out of the bottom of your cup.

The sound of a Hoover whining and roaring from the living-room.

Mrs Gallagher: That Geraldine’s a great girl. She can do the work of ten.’

Sound of general agreement from the ladies.

Catherine: I’ll get my sleeves rolled up later.

The room falls silent. Next door the sound of the Hoover goes on and on.

Mrs Curran: Your da had a way with words, Cathy, didn’t he? Do you mind the night there was the fight in the bar –the night Barney Neary was in . . .

Mrs Gallagher: Barney Neary’s a dwarf from Newtownstewart. Not that height.

Sound of all the women smiling and chuckling.

Mrs Curran: And a battle royal started. Bottles and ashtrays were flying all over the place. And Brendan said, “The only man who hadn’t to duck was Barney Neary”. I can just hear him saying it.

They all laugh now.

Mrs McKenna: She’s an oul model and there’s no parts for her. That’s what he said about Nan in the Post Office. He heard all these sayings in the bar. There’s manys the one can hear the things but never tell them the way Brendan did.

Mrs Curran: Your father was a character.

Catherine: Maybe I should go and see him…Get it over with.

Mrs Gallagher: You’d never forgive yourself

Mrs McKenna: Who’s in with him now?

Mrs Gallagher: Bella.

Mrs McKenna: Do you want me to go in with you?

Catherine: I’ll be all right. Stay where you are.

*MacLaverty, Bernard, Grace Notes, Vintage: London 1998

Black coffee with some cold water

“How lovely. You’ve got a cat!”
Robert turned round at the door. “Yes he was Danny’s. I look after him now.”
The cat jumped onto the sofa next to Alan and sniffed his jeans pocket, tail up.
“I love cats.” Alan stroked the velvet-soft head. “What’s his name?”
“Coriander… after his eyes. Black coffee?”
“How did you guess?” He smiled.
“How could I forget?” Robert went into the kitchen. They could hear him opening the fridge door and running the tap.
Coriander settled on the sofa and looked up. “How do you know Robert?” he asked.
“Long story. Let’s say we were friends once. Then more than friends for a bit.”
“Oh, so you’re another of his waifs and strays then.”
“You could say that, yes.” Alan looked into the acid-green eyes and smiled.
“And what are you after?”
Alan looked away and out of the window. “Nothing. I just came over for a catch up.”
“Yeah, right.”
Alan turned back. “Well I could ask you the same question Corry.”
“It’s Coriander.” The cat dug his claws skilfully into Alan’s thigh, just far enough to penetrate the denim and make contact with the flesh underneath. “What do you mean?”
“What are you doing here? What are you after?” Alan arched his perfectly shaped eyebrows.
Coriander extracted a paw from the denim and licked it gently like a gangster blowing smoke from the muzzle of a gun.
“Honestly? Danny was high all day and night, having random people round all the time. He brought me here one weekend when he went away. I’ve been here ever since. Robert likes me, it’s warm here, there’s food and water. He doesn’t bother me much”.
Alan looked down at his threadbare trainers, the dirt on the bottoms of his jeans, the frayed courier bag at his feet.“Coriander. You can stop looking at me like that. You’re no better than I am you little fucker.”
“Don’t think you’re going to be staying here, Alan. Robert might have fallen for your crap in the past, but things are different now.”
“We’ll see”.
Alan pushed the cat off the sofa as Robert came back in with the coffee.
“I hope he isn’t bothering you. He can be a bit full on sometimes.”
“No,no. Coriander and me were getting on just fine weren’t we little fella?”
Coriander sat on the carpet with his back to the sofa and licked the other paw.
Robert sat down next to Alan. “Black coffee, with a little cold water in it…. I’ve missed you Alan.”
They kissed gently on the lips. Alan’s hand was on Robert’s thigh. The cat flap slammed shut behind Coriander as he went into the garden for a shit.

Paul Kilbride

Paul Kilbride was briefing a support staff member on some typing. Just a bit too close for comfort. Better get the lower drawer of the desk open to keep him back. Social barriers
seemed not to exist for him.
He was a big man, broad shouldered, tall, with rugby build. A few remaining
streaks of dark hair stuck to his sweaty head. His mouth stayed slightly open when he
was not talking, as if he was concentrating so much that his tongue might loll out at any
moment . The eyebrows were bushy and unmanaged.
He spoke fast, in bursts, loudly, breathily, like a puppy. There was always so
much to do, and so much to say, and so many people to say it to. His small eyes shifted
constantly beneath rimless glasses worn either on strings around his thick neck or askew
on his face. Who was going to get him next?
The back of his neck just carried straight on up to the top of his head with no
curve, giving him a squashed Spongebob appearance. His writing, done with frenzied
jerks on the flipchart, was close to illegible and always misspelt. There was nothing to be
done about that. The letters were forever jumbled in his head and in his eyes, so what
else to do but fight through it and pretend it wasn’t happening?
Colleagues came low on the priority list so they never caught up with him.
Conversations happened in passing on the staircase, him looking over his shoulder, tumbling down the stairs, a worn-out rucksack over a creased charcoal-grey suit, as if off on a lunchtime ramble round the City.
Energy, energy, energy, but the sort that saps. He needed these little
colleagues to get his work done. So he tried a bit too hard to be your best friend, while
locating your Achilles heel in seconds and attacking it with no let up. That’s how he had
got through school and university. That’s how he had got his first job and made his way up.
Clients loved him for the performance and the attention they got. For them he
was the larger-than-life fixer of all problems. But why bother to sustain the
performance in non-billable time? No amount of feedback from colleagues seemed to get
through. He had fought through life for 55 years and didn’t need comments from that lot on how to do it better.
He weekly-boarded in a Pimlico flat (Sandra, his wife needing five days rest a
week by the coast), worked late, walked in on unsuspecting colleagues on the boardroom
table, all seeing, all knowing, all using.
He was going to be rich one day from the client love, he knew that.
And he would always be a turd but so what?

Brave Jay

The young lad Jay decides to go for good.
How painful, hopeless, has his world become?
A selfish, angry way to scream for some,
For others now must live the pain he couldn’t.

What could we have done to change his mind
How could we have missed the signs of danger?
Could we have stopped the dreadful plan of anger?
What else could we have done to make life shine?

Nothing now, for he would end it this time.
So Jay the lad became that day a man,
He made his dark choice and his dreadful plan.
His pain is finished now, no life to mime.

Still for you he loved and left, yet he gave
Remembrance that your boy, your man, was brave.

Assignment 2

Ok. I got there. Assignment 2  is in and the tutor feedback is in. I would say 6/10. Although I have asked not to be assessed: I just want to do it for fun and the challenge.

Her feedback is as ever very precise and direct. I like it.

Now we have to get on with dialogue. No option for poetry here. Looking forward to it. You can see Assignments 1and 2 in the menu.

Loving it.

Why?

Why did I love him? He’s broken my heart three times.

When will I ever learn, idiot, fool?

He is vulnerable but hides it by faces and mimes

Good looking, big-hearted underneath the cool.

Wants not to be tangled in the past of ice

More than a year he strings along a man,

Me, for whom he meant the world at a price.

Hiding his real love: another sham.

It was pretty one-way I paid for him to live,

For nothing much back from him but talk and bluff,

‘Love you’ he said, but there was none left to give.

A year later he finally braves it enough

To answer my question, (never to fess up straight).

Suggests we could be a three, let’s try and see

So we meet, us three, for a night to stay out late

Which becomes a nightmare due to drink and me.

I am now the devilish bastard whore

To be erased for taking advantage  of his pet.

Surprised? He did it to me before and more

Much worse, but the high past we are to forget.

I have to forget my stupid fool’s dream.

I have to forget the laughs and times we had.

I love him still, despite what’s happened I mean.

I delete all the pc images of him the lad,

I love him still, but soulmates, best friends won’t do.

In tears I watch the pixels drain from the screen.

He’s chosen who, we now know both, me and his new.

My love too will drain and so will the pain I’m in.

Fun in Thailand

images
Hello all,

I am having a great time in Thailand.  The weather is consistently above 30 degrees so on the beach nearly everyday. The sea is like a bath.
There is a constant whirl of social life of course because I know so many people here from previous years including the massage ladies on the beach who let me lie on their massage beds in the shade for no cost. They cooked an amazing bbq the other night. I thought my stomach would explode afterwards lol.
My friend Max took me to the Buddhist Temple yesterday. His mother passed away too recently.
You buy special bouquets of flowers, soaps, rice and other essentials which are offered to the monk on duty. He says prayers for her,  and sprinkles water on you. You light candles and from them 3 incense sticks. Then you sit quietly and meditate for a bit. Then leave quietly when ready.
He said we should be happy because she is with the stars now and has no worries, stress, or problems as we do on earth when we are alive.
Afterwards I felt a weight lifted from me. Quite a special experience.
Needless to say the rest of the day was spent merry-making!
I am doing a few free English lessons near the guest house in the early evening before the boys and girls go to work in the bars and restaurants. Better English gets them better pay and makes it easier for them to get good jobs.
First lesson: RUPERT, not LOOPA. Perhaps on reflection the latter is more appropriate.
We talked about the meanings of names in English. One of the boys is called Dong. I said it meant the sound of a bell. Had to think on my feet there!

Thailand

It’s a place which you can come to to relax and forget about the stresses of life. The beaches are sandy, and the turquoise sea shines like Thai silk. But the stresses are in your head and body, and so in fact they come with you wherever you go.

To get the most from friends, boyfriends, relationships of any sort, you must drain your soul of stress and conflict before you seek to travel. Then you can rejuvenate, recharge, relax. There is only one way to drain them -be honest with yourself and others about your priorities.

Of course if you are honest with yourself and others you may not get your holiday. You may not keep your friends,  boyfriends, and  loved ones. But if they really love you they will love you more for it.

And then your stresses and conflict will be drained,.