Terri Aggro Mansfield, Nottinghamshire
She leaves him one Friday morning whilst he’s at work. Carrying her life in a handbag and a small suitcase, she catches the number 37 bus outside the labour exchange. Up it rattles along the north road. Meets her sister in Barnsley. He comes home drunk from The Empire and collapses into bed. Doesn’t realise she is gone until Saturday lunchtime when he calls for his mug of tea.
She lives with her sister and husband for a short while until his grumblings force her out. Lodges with a landlady who takes every opportunity to look down her nose. Gets a job in the canteen at a factory and goes dancing with the girls at the weekend. Arnold has quick feet and a regular income. Seventeen years and three kids later they are still wed. He doesn’t drink but she wishes he sometimes would. Arnold and the eldest son battle endlessly for supremacy. The boy leaves home on his sixteenth birthday. Tells them there is a job for him in Leeds.
Spending his days servicing Triumph, Norton and BSA bikes and bragging of greasing his hands with the girls in the office. He settles on Eileen, who won’t let go, now that he’s come sniffing. Renting a back-to-back in Harehills, the remnant of their wages go on the horses, football coupons, cigs and beer. They happily settle into weekends of screaming matches after nights out at the Pig and Whistle. He takes off in anger late one Saturday night on a borrowed T90 and ends up under a lorry on Roundhay Road. After the funeral, she goes home to Middlesbrough with her parents, and remains there once the twins are born.
They are the first in the family to be called Karen and Jaqueline. Karen is the eldest by six minutes and is the stronger of the two. She fights for her sister in the playground and keeps on fighting into adult life. One husband down, then another, before controlling the third. His compo from ICI, along with income support, bring in the necessary dosh. Fags, food on the table, clothes for the kids and days out in Redcar.
Two generations pass on the same street. Then the government gets tough. Gives a family one benefit whilst taking back another. Curtis finds himself out on his ear. A cousin in Whitby offers him some seasonal work at the Dracula Experience. Once there, he takes a shine to his cousin’s girlfriend. They obsess on Face Time. Vape together whenever there’s a chance. Come October, they elope to her dad’s house in Hull. Hibernate for the winter down Holderness Road. Her dad is ex-KR and stares at Curtis a lot. April comes and he’s on the road again. This time alone. He has relatives in South Yorkshire whom he remembers from weddings and funerals. Seemed like good sorts. Decides to try them out.
Curtis hitches a lift near to Wakefield then another into Barnsley. Catches the number 37 heading south.
Three Daughters, Three Gifts
The prodigal, nightmare daughter all parents dread, that’s me. Lipstick, lads and late nights out. And yes, the attitude. Defeated, Father side-stepped me like a zoo keeper might a caged lion. He thought it best to communicate through Mother, whose nerves I devoured, lion-like. I gave her what I could: ignoring curfews, starvation diets, dropping out of sixth-form, leaving my bedroom in a permanent filthy state, despite her best efforts. Oh and the fags and drugs, of course. Casting her out of my Garden of Eden, I un-friended her on Facebook. Voila! However, on the day I left for the squat she was still there with advice I didn’t want to hear, hugs I could barely stand, and tears I nearly laughed at. The gift? An envelope stuffed with pathetic origami birds. Tiny, self-made. Disgusted, I threw them out of my new window the same afternoon. Three years later, I found the crumpled survivor in an inside pocket which guided my flight back home.
I am the daughter who stayed at home and hid in her bedroom, dreaming her young life away. Videos and more videos. Replaying ‘Ghost’ a hundred times and wishing I could replace the spectral kiss given to Demi Moore with my own living lips. Imagining again and again our calm, interlocking fingers upon the spinning potter’s clay. Hand in hand, crafting something close to perfection. My first real crush was on Eva, a student babysitter. Cuddled together, she read us ‘The Secret Garden’ in her soft, polished voice. But she betrayed my secret letter and gave it to Father. Eva was replaced by Mrs Baines and Father stayed in full denial for years, even until the day I came out with Maisy by my side. As usual, Mother evaded his silence and presented us with a pair of homespun friendship bracelets. I’ve had them ready for a while, she said. In a steady hand she’d carved our names in the wood. Mine and Maisy’s. Dearest, lovely Maisy.
Fearing a repeat of my sisters’ debauched adolescence, I was encouraged to attend Sunday school at Our Lady of Sorrows. A little bit of God might just keep me from the devil’s door was Father’s thinking. However, he never reckoned on my fervour. Not for me the nominal, half-hearted response to Faith. No, mine was filled with contrition, confession, prayer and devotion. At sixteen I secretly named myself Chastity and what my sisters wasted on their lust, I gave to Christ. Body, heart and soul. My Father gave me up as a lost cause, as the lapsed are apt to do. Sarcastically, he told me I should pray a novena to St. Jude, Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases. Of course, Mother came in from a different angle. From some of her old necklaces she created a rainbow rosary, which she gave to me for my confirmation. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Fir, aspen, cedar, ash;
Forget-me-not static caravans.
‘It’s a nice community. Like the old days.’
‘Everyone knows everyone. We often have day trips together. Twice a year, there is a coach holiday. Can’t remember them on one, though.’
‘Their blinds were always closed. Even on a sunny day like this.’
Toothbrushes, toothpaste? Check.
Flannel, soap? Check.
‘I made a point of saying hello but nothing came back.
It was like talking to yourself.’
‘They shopped in the evening. Walked into town and back.
Five miles each way! Never caught the bus.’
‘Me and the Serg were gobsmacked. Like stepping back in time.
No telly, a wireless, two chairs and passports from the 1970s with blue covers.’
Family snap: Chester 1968. That’s you with Dad.
No, I think it’s you. Look, short trousers.
True. Tuck it in the rucksack behind my tablets, will you?
‘All four were beautiful. Looked like each other. Small people, tiny.
He was a heart throb at school. A miniature David Cassidy.
She was gorgeous. Thirteen going on eighteen. Big eyelashes.’
Ankylosing spondylitis. Incapacity benefits reassessed.
‘I prescribed anti-depressants but they wouldn’t take them.
Recommended Citizen’s Advice for their money problems.
Don’t know if they went.’
‘Close, very close. I wasn’t surprised they never had a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Their mother was their life. It’s been two years now, I think.’
Door locked? Yes. Could go tomorrow.
No, it’s not so bad at the mo. Let’s go.
London: £200 withdrawn on Euston Road.
Receipt for paracetamols and plasters from Boots.
Two single tickets to Dover, please.
Boxing Day: beer, brandy and & 7 Up from a corner shop.
No hotel records. CCTV: use of public toilets.
Sleeping where, how? Back to back, on a bench, beneath a bush?
‘The weather that day was variable. Sun, wind, rain; the lot.’
I wonder which one of us took this one?
They loved the Waltzer.
Not us though!
No, too fast!
‘Perhaps they were taking their parents for a Christmas walk? Perhaps.’
‘Suicide, that was the first thing out of my lips, wasn’t it Bill?’
‘Well, I don’t think they came to Dover to take their lives.
The cliffs are notorious there. I think they fell.’
Hold tight now, hold tight!
I am. Your hands are cold. Stop, let me rub them warm.
National Trust Centre signs: ‘What brings you here today?’ and ‘Why are the white cliffs so special?’
This is the highest point. Stay close everyone. Stay close.
Bodies discovered on New Year’s Day.
‘I just have to present the facts, what we know, the evidence.
The evidence does not disclose to the required standard of proof
whether there was an intention by them to take their own lives
or if it was indeed simply a tragic accident.’
Cremation: 21st April, Folkestone, Kent.
Publicly funded. Only strangers in attendance.
Four sets of ashes in the garden of remembrance.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted free on 116 123
Around and around, around and around –
The holding of hands, a circle of feet –
Inward we go with the world at our backs.
Off with the shoes and a leap from the ground –
Dropping the rhythm, one step off the beat –
Around and around, around and around –
The holding of hands, a circle of feet.
Oh! Singing in tongues, our voices are found –
The hole in the ring is more than complete –
Left of the centre, now turn and repeat!
Around and around, around and around –
The holding of hands, a circle of feet –
Inward we go with the world at our backs.
Garforth, West Yorkshire
Scratch, Scratch, Scratch
I was relentlessly teased at work about my face. All the techies in the lab were at it. It was get rid of that cat or stop beating the bishop in the brambles, that sort of stuff. Couldn’t blame them though, there was hardly a day went past when I didn’t have another scratch or two to add to my collection.
Timmy, one of my weekend gaming mates, put it down to the bedroom ferocity of my partner, Lu. Once had a girl like that, he said, but with her it was all teeth, not nails. If only, I said. Lu, by the way, did have long, sharp nails. Once a neutral colour, she had begun to paint them yellow or red to match her new hair-do and sports gear.
I became so worried about the scratching that I asked my friend Bradley to set up an infra-red motion camera in the bedroom. Bradley and I spent most weekday evenings building our robot and he was really cool with lenses and the like. Sure enough, there was plenty of footage of me tossing and turning most nights and attacking my face with my own hands. There was also quite a lot of footage of Lu, spending hours tapping away on her phone. Probably Facebook, I thought. I apologised for keeping her awake but she said there was no need, as she was sleeping straight through.
To put a stop to it, I decided to order some anti-scratch mittens, the type that eczema sufferers sometimes resort to. Unfortunately, because of my agitated state, my hands over-heated and repeatedly woke me up. Now I was losing sleep, so I came up with Plan B. I found a pair of handcuffs in the loft, which Lu and I used back in the day. She began to attach me to the head of the bed before leaving the house. It was at this time that she began to go the gym late in the evening. As she explained, all the exercise helped her to relax when I was thrashing around. A no brainer, I agreed. She even had a friend to go with, as I could always hear a car pulling up on the drive. When I asked her what her name was, Lu told me it was Viv.
Thankfully, the scratching stopped, but instead I began kicking and shouting. Lu told me I was always telling myself to wake up. Either ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ or ‘Wake up and see!’ Not only this, but I also ended up kicking Lu hard in the back one evening. That was in May, just about a month before she left me for Vivian.
The work-place psych, Ben, who’s a paint-balling hero, I can tell you, later told me my scratching symptoms were probably a result of my disturbed subconscious expressing its knowledge of Lu’s infidelity. Well, whatever. At least the scratching has stopped and my face is now as smooth as a robot’s.
Deliah Gomez, Elm City, Carolina USA
Patches On His Jacket
My patch reads ‘MALC GATES 1948 – 2011’. You’ll find me just above ‘LOUD PIPES SAVE LIVES’ and left of ‘RIDE IT LIKE YOU STOLE IT’. I first rode with Jed in sixty-nine. A gang of us met up at the lido in Scarborough and headed west. Leeds, Burnley, Wrexham, Porthmadog and hitting the sea at Aberdaron. Jed has an old photo of us on the promenade. Leathers and loose hair, posing with our first bikes; mine a 1968 Norton Commando and he the BSA A10 Golden Flash. That was his first and only real love. He never really got over her. When he wrote her off in seventy-five, somewhere along the Cat and Fiddle, I was among those who helped to mend his broken heart. He rode behind me for a while until his leg and vision got better. I’m talking about Jed because it’s his jacket and that’s where I’m remembered.
‘Daz Wright 1951-2013’, that’s me. Right in the middle between ‘BIKESEXUAL’ and ‘DOES THIS BIKE MAKE MY ARSE LOOK FAST?’ I married Gail and Jed married Leslie at the same ceremony at Holy Apostles C of E.. Malc and Babe were the best men, of course. The six of us took our honeymoon along the south coast. Hastings, Dungeness, Bognor Regis, Poole and so on. Back and forth along those sweet, southern roads, living the dream. Bumped into some old mods in a café in Brighton. Thought we might have to fight our way out. Ended up having a crazy golf competition instead. Great laughs. That was in seventy-three, I think. We both lost the girls somewhere along the road. I mean, divorce and all that. But we kept the bikes and rode on together. All those years, the four of us, until Malc got the Big C. Took his body, the fat git, all the way to Crosskirk Bay in a side car. Burned it at midnight. Yeah, a funeral pyre. Amazing. When I croaked a year later, they just buried my parts in the graveyard. Bastards.
Typical, I’m on the bottom. I suppose there wasn’t much space left by the time I spun off this mortal coil. I’m ‘BABE FOLDS 1955-2018’. Yes, in the corner underneath ‘SEE THE WORLD SOONER, NOW’ and ‘BIKERS DON’T GO GREY, THEY TURN CHROME’. I was the youngest in the gang by five months and they never let me forget it. The target for most of their jokes. How would you like ‘Babe’? My real name is Craig. I mean, was. Treat me like shit. Forever taking the piss out of my Yamaha. Just because I moved with the times. Big bunch of old fogeys. The Wheezy Riders, indeed. Family, though. Brothers. Better than any brother, actually. Have you met our kid? Twat. Anyway, less of the small talk. The bike’s clean, the tank is full and Jed has his jacket on. Tonight the brothers ride! Remember, ‘FOUR WHEELS MOVE THE BODY, TWO WHEELS MOVE THE SOUL’.
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
De Lenz, Hull, East Yorkshire
Dirty fingers divide jam, ham and corn beef sarneys.
Flasks shared between seven parched mouths.
And I am dessert.
They grab me in the tail gate.
Wedge my feet between strut and ceiling.
Hang me like a bat.
Use me as a punch bag.
Paint my face with sandstone.
Down my nose goes water
And out through my mouth.
Snuff forced up my nostrils burns the eyes.
I am sugar and they are sour.
They taste my fear on the tips of their tongues.
I grin and bear it.
Want to be seen to be laughing it off.
Don’t want dad
Being shown up in The Empire.
Then it’s over.
And it’s off to work they’ll go;
But not before Tooly, the chief torturer,
Offers me a piece of grapefruit.
Usually so bitter;
This delicious segment:
As sweet as it comes.
Armthorpe, South Yorkshire
Two School Colleagues
When Jack the Head slipped on some ice in the playground one Friday morning and nearly broke his crown on a bike stand, it was left to Greer and Evelyn to sort the situation. Instead of ringing for an ambulance, which would have taken ages to get from Hull Royal, they bundled him into Greer’s car and headed down the treacherous back roads, straight for A&E.
As Greer put her foot to the pedal, Evelyn held Jack steady in the backseat and gave him some TLC. This was as close as the two women had sat in the three years they had worked together. Usually, they kept a cool, diplomatic distance. Evelyn, the deputy, thought Greer a back-biting naysayer with teeth it was hard to look at. And Greer, the English lead, judged Evelyn to be a self-important, grade-A arse licker with a laugh a horse would be ashamed of. Their aversion to each other didn’t go unnoticed. As SENCO Sal enjoyed saying, ‘They wouldn’t warm to each other even in the same coffin.’
They arrived at the hospital only to find Jack’s wife and daughter already waiting. Obviously, the office had rung to inform them. After the fuss, they were thanked for their efforts and then Jack and family disappeared through the double doors with hospital staff. They suddenly found themselves in limbo, together but alone in admissions.
After what seemed like an age, Evelyn asked, ‘Coffee?’ Greer replied, ‘Tea for me, but yes, I’m gagging.’ There was a machine in the corridor and Evelyn was the one with any change. They sat in stillness near a big window. Eventually, Evelyn piped up, ‘D’you think Jack will be alright?’ ‘Course he will,’ replied Greer. ‘Might have knocked some sense into him as well.’ Evelyn smiled. ‘Did you see him slip?’ she asked. ‘Yeah,’ said Greer, ‘went down like a sack of spuds. That stand rang out like the school bell!’ Evelyn laughed this time. Here comes the horse, thought Greer, but considered it a nice laugh when directed at her own attempted humour. They sat a while longer, staring out of the window at the new rain, which was beginning to melt the ice. ‘Is your coffee as shite as my tea?’ asked Greer. ‘Double shite, I should think,’ said Evelyn. ‘Shall we head back?’
The shift in the weather made it an easier drive back to school. Greer felt relaxed at the wheel and Evelyn, as front passenger, saw details in the landscape she hadn’t noticed before. Between them, they struck up a gossipy conversation that wasn’t too mean, but still had bite. The office came under fire for officiousness, as did the Nursery staff, who behaved more like a secret society than even the dinner ladies. Most of their venom, though, was directed at their common enemy, SENCO Sal. Shit stirrer par excellence? Oh yes! This satisfying chatter only stopped when they arrived back at school, but when Monday came it resumed in earnest.
Cottingham, East Yorkshire
Suzie Sweet Minting, Lincolnshire
Just Trespassing Through
It’s Saturday and he’s promised to go to town with me. I see he’s made an effort, best tweed jacket, newest shoes and all. Makes a pleasant change to see him in something other than wellies and a boiler suit. He’s even combed his hair, bless him.
We’re in the Rover, just pulling out of the yard when he brings it to a sudden jolt. He mumbles some expletives and mutters something about God giving him strength. Then he’s out of the car and standing there with his legs apart and arms crossed, staring at two men and a small dog walking towards us. His chin is up in the air, just like when he’s lecturing us about socialism this and socialism that.
The two men come closer and give us a cheerful good morning. Unfortunately, they don’t get one back. Winding down my window, I hear him say, in his thickest voice, ‘Do you know this is private land?’ I’ve heard him say this before a number of times. It’s a catchphrase of his, like, ‘You’re talking Corbynite crap’. Before they get the chance to answer he’s off again. ‘This isn’t the estate, y’know. Every bloody week there’s some of you buggers roaming over this place like you own it! I’m sure you lot don’t know what trespassing means!’ His face has quickly become flushed and his nose, which is always red, is starting to glow. I’ve warned him about the whiskey and his blood pressure, but he won’t have it.
The men don’t seem too bothered about this alpha male display. They slowly turn to each other and grin. One of them says, ‘Fine motor, mister. New model, eh? Y’know, I called my last dog Rover!’ Meanwhile, the little dog begins to have a piddle against the front tyre. He steps back to avoid his brogues getting splashed. The one with the cheekiest grin comes around to my side, gives me eye contact and says, ‘Hello missus. Going anywhere nice?’ I have to smile and tell him, ‘York’. Knowingly, he asks, ‘Lunch at Betty’s, is it?’ I nod and he winks. I notice he has green eyes, a dimple and a good set of teeth.
By this time, tipping point has been reached. All those big hand gestures he’s practised. ‘Do I have to call the police, or are you two charmers going to turn back and leave the way you came?’ Again, they keep their cool, bypass the car and head towards the paddock. Cheeky shouts, ‘999, Old Bean. That’s the number!’ They don’t even turn their heads to see if he’s coming after them, which he isn’t.
Back in the car its bloody chavs this and bloody chavs that and some other choice vocabulary. I look through the mirror and see their strong frames already heading down the lane, the dog’s tail high and erect. Then he crunches the gears and we’re off to York and lunch at Betty’s, bless him.
Pontefract, West Yorkshire
chasing their careers along the lonesome trail
these boys just got back today and mean business
if they want to play we better let ‘em
and anyway we’re not gettin’ any younger
so if you’re ready Phil
all hell breaks loose
we love to hear the bass and drums come roaring
we’re on the floor shakin’ what we got
a certain female dancin’ steamin’
Molly wants more Irish in her
do you know what she’s talkin’ about
blastin’ out our favourite songs
without ‘em we cannot leave
we’ll fall to pieces
caught in the spotlight
hair sweat heels swagger
coyote guitars wail in the howlin’ wind
rollin’ us over turnin’ us around keep us spinnin’ ‘til we hit the ground
the gang break out from the encore
ride out at sundown
disappear without a trace
we’re left on the street again still in a trance
and this a tribute band thirty-five years later
sha la la
Trim, County Meath, Ireland
Cathy, Kath, Tim or Tom?
My wife Kath works at the hospice and that’s where I met Tom, one of the inmates. I was off sick for some reason. I knew I had to phone Tim at personnel but decided to join Kath for lunch instead. That’s right. She was out but I got talking to Tom about this and that. He liked to chat but I had some difficulty understanding everything he tried to tell me. His speech seemed to be breathy, slow and slurred. Several times I had to ask him to say the same thing again, so he did. He leaned his head close to mine and repeated the words so that my ears buzzed a little.
At home Kath said she was sorry she’d missed me but was interested in what Tom had had to say. Tom at personnel? I asked. No, Tom at the hospice, she said. I said he’d told me about his ex-girlfriend Cathy, his passion for motorbikes and about the crash which had caused his brain injury. Kath said he hadn’t crashed any bike but had thrown himself off the south cliff after his girlfriend had died from cancer. Don’t worry, Kath said, he suffers from dysarthria, you probably misheard him. You’ve done well to understand anything at all. However, I was as sure as I can be that I’d heard him right.
The next day I went back to the hospice following the same route or thereabouts. Cathy, I mean Kath, wasn’t there again, but Tim was. He was eager to tell me all about the bikes he’d owned: Suzukis, Yamahas and Kawasakis. He mentioned some more but I’m not into bikes so I can’t really remember them. I like walking. I’ve walked up lots of hills, y’know. He said he’d raced them all up the north roads, usually with Kath on the back. Then he told me how he’d met the blind corner on the way into Whitby to pick her up and bang, that was that. Where is Kath now? I asked. He said Cathy is living in Liverpool with a Honda freak. Who’d want a cripple like this, eh?
Later, when I told Kath, yes Kath, she smiled and said no, he had definitely jumped off the south cliff and he didn’t mean Liverpool but probably Larpool. Larpool? I asked. Larpool Lane, where she’s buried, Cathy explained. Tom was leading you on, she said. Tom at personnel? I said.
Today is Friday or one of the other days. Earlier, I climbed the steps up to the abbey to see if I could find a headstone with Kath’s name on it, but I only found some old graves. Either Tim or my wife are lying to me. I decided to go to the hospice and confront them but somehow or other I’ve found myself back at home instead. I know, let me make that phone call. Tom at personnel will know. Now where, oh where, is that number?
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
careful near that ladder lad
another step back and it’s
half a day out with the bloke in black
one slight slip and it’s flip-flop
over the top oh aye
these chimney tops are death traps
but that’s okey-dokey it’s all the
clap-trap that’ll be the death of me
have you ever fallen off mister
is the usual crap
honestly people’s heads these days
are like these bricks we’re rendering
thick and soft as cheese
all common sense got cleared out
with that goody-goody clean air act
you won’t remember black hankies and hands
from breathing and sneezing carbon and sulphur
air then tasted fuller than a young lass’s lips son
lovely and acrid like these un-tipped chokers
kept your top boiler stocked soundly it did
them old timers were more honest than daft
hard graft never did them any harm
dark satanic mills my arse
this place lit up at night like a greek palace
my sleep’s still powered by pulleys and pistons
I peer in my dreams through great arched windows
at giant flywheels and gleaming housed engines
and everywhere smoke and steam smoke and steam
no kidding you kidda
I swear on this fag’s last drag
some afternoons when I’ve had a few
and this blue view’s more grandly murky
I can see right through all them
ticky-tacky egg box houses
right into the nineteenth century
and touch it with my less-shaky hand
anyhows curly talking of pop we’ll be tip-top
for some chips and a couple of glasses
a laugh with them lasses will serve us for later
careful young un on that first wrung
you’d rather be up here this aft
than down there with the undertaker
At His Work
Worn magazines, hard seats, the faded floor
The waiting silence neither warm nor cold
Your turn in the chair
His voice friendly, not friendly
How would you like it today, Sir?
As if you have a choice
Scissoring without haste but regular
Clipping, snipping, ticking along with that clock
No conversation, only concentration
Young eyes behind an old pair of glasses
Pausing, staring, squaring your head
Yellow fingers upon each temple
Not gentle, not rough: firm
Your hair falling to his feet
Waiting for his broom, the sweeping
15 minutes: no more, no less
The uniform cut
Ready now for your wedding or funeral
Pay and tip
Not too much, not too little
Never a thank you in return
A polite nod, a thin smile, no goodbyes
Already at his work as you leave the door bell ringing
Streets later, cold air around the ears
Imagining the eyes of the world upon you
Checking yourself in a shop window
Seeing his face looking back
His fingers still gripping your skull
Turning your head this way and that
Turning right through Patrington.
Soul-vapour lifting from white fields.
Welwick, Weeton then Skeffling; gearing down for that bend, that hill.
Sunrise transforming the distant gas terminal
Into a celestial city: our destination.
Aurous dawn, red-feathered sky;
The new sun blazing through skeletal hedgerows, flecking the bonnet golden.
Daybreak resplendent upon turbines, churches, barns.
Farm house windows flash by us some diurnal code.
Blind to fly-tipping and road-kill;
Our eyes only mirror the one-light of morning.
Atop the crest, entering the village and alchemy:
Look! To our left a songbird, vocalising our stunned silence;
Gilded on the wing, flicking sunlight from its tail; an auric rising.
Ottringham, East Yorkshire
I was heading home when I caught sight of him, turning the corner at St. Mary’s church. I might have waved but he had his head and eyes to the ground. He wasn’t usually the stooping sort, just short. As for his hands, they weren’t at his sides but with the palms facing backwards. And his arms weren’t swinging, even though he was walking at a good pace. His body was rocking between them, like a playground swing. All told, he had the appearance of a little ape man. An ape man with a stub burning between his fingers. I didn’t know he was a smoker until then.
I stopped the bike and watched him disappear around the back of Church Street. What was he doing down there? He and Aunty Jean lived up and across the hill near The Comprehensive. We never went there though; Mum wasn’t keen; thought he’d made a mistake. He came to us; Sunday morning, usually.
Curious, I turned the bike around, crossed the main road and peddled slowly after him. I caught up with him on Palmer’s Avenue, heading down to the beck. Still crouched, he took a last drag of the fag and flicked it at a van. I kept a low profile on the road, zig-zagging between the parked cars. I was getting dangerously close and thought I might give up but I sneaked on. Kicking open the gate to the allotments, he made his way through. Daring not to follow him further on the bike, I stopped, dropped to my knees and watched him through the bars. He kept his head straight, pace equal and ignored the geese, the Alsatian and the old man who gave a friendly greeting. Once he’d gotten through I abandoned the bike and made my own way past the animals; nervously, even though they were fenced in. The old man also caught sight of me. ‘Morning Mister. Just catching my uncle up!’ I said. ‘Then teach him some manners, young ‘un!’ he said.
By the time I’d passed through, he was standing on the beck-side, picking up pieces of old brick. I quietly crept behind two upright plastic barrels and peeked out. Rising to his full height, he started throwing the missiles across the water at a split hawthorn tree. Each time he lobbed one across he cried, ‘Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’ I knew the word, we had a mongrel at home called Lady; but I knew he didn’t have dogs in mind.
Of course, I found all this very upsetting. One part of me wanted to quickly run back to my bike, but the other wanted to go over to him and offer kind words and a hug. Uncle was a good one for hugs. However, I knew I couldn’t do anything for him. I decided to make a move backwards but had no confidence in it. I was stuck. I had gone through the gates and was trapped with this adult, my uncle.
South Elmsall, West Yorkshire
Big Eric told Clive that on no account could he have a rescue dog in his room. But Clive whined for so long that in the end he was sure Eric had stopped saying no.
‘Where’s the dog place?’ Big Eric asked. ‘Bankside.’
‘Bankside, you sure?’ ‘Yeah, near the boats.’
‘Mmm, and how much?’ ‘Free to a good home, they said.’
‘Mmm,’ said Big Eric. Mmm, but not no.
That’s how Pal came to be at the Sanctuary.
Clive had walked from The Centre each evening, crossing Wilmington Bridge and then following the river along Wincomlee onto Bankside. As soon as he neared the mooring the dog would always begin barking and would noisily follow him along the other side of the fence. One night Clive stopped and neared the fence. He called to the dog, “What’s up Pal, eh?” This stopped the dog in its tracks. It came closer, drooped its tail and began whimpering. “I’m lonely, Clive. I’m the loneliest dog in the world. I’m so, so lonely!” This is what Clive heard and it made him very sad. He walked home with tears in his eyes. The next evening Clive was told the same thing. “I have no one, Clive. No one.” Clive believed him. Clive knew a lot about liars and lying and when he looked into the Pal’s big, moist eyes he knew he was telling the truth.
It only took a couple of days for Clive and Pal to become the closest of friends. It was all conversation to begin with, but then they realised that if Clive reached his arm through the small gap in the fence, and Pal stood on his hind legs with his front paws on some coiled rope, they could have physical contact. Clive was able to stroke Pal’s head and gently scratch behind his ears while Pal licked Clive’s fingers and rubbed his wet nose along his arm. It was heaven. ‘I’ve waited all my life for this, Clive!’ said Pal. Clive, fully understanding, replied, “Me too Pal, me too!” Clive began to stay with Pal. They talked for hours, usually until it was Pal’s nap time. It wasn’t as if there was anyone waiting up for him back in his room. Sometimes Pal woke up, and finding Clive gone, would howl long and loud. Clive heard him one night before he reached The Sanctuary and howled back, ‘Don’t worry Pal, Clive’s coming!’
The cable shears which Clive had lifted from The Centre did the job nice and quickly. In less than five minutes Clive had made a hole in the fence, big enough for Pal to crawl through. Pal moaned excitedly and spun around and around. “C’mon Pal, that’s it, out you come!” The dog came eagerly. Clive lifted him up into his arms and sprinted down Bankside. Pal beat his tail and repeatedly licked Clive’s face. ‘Thank you,” said Pal, “thank you so much! I love you!’ ‘Sshhh’, said Clive, ‘they’ll hear you talking.’
Hull, East Yorkshire