hagiography

the autogeography of a no/body

May 23

bodiesontopofbodiesontopofbodies

There’s this man – short man, tall man, thin man, fat man, it doesn’t matter – and he eats her dreams, swallows them down as if they’re pain killers.

Once up on a time, way back when, it was a little more even. He still ate and she still dreamt, but it was as if they sat up in bed, trays on their laps.

“Croissant?” she said.

He shook his head. “Coffee?” Oh yes, he always had the capacity for more coffee.

“Sex?”

Similarly.

Eventually they rose; him a bipedal mountain goat; her a shy slut. And showered. Separately. And dressed in clothes the other didn’t recognise. In their respective costumes they lived their different lives, in different places, with their different stimuli and responses.

At the end of every day: “Wine?” she asked.

No.

“Beer?” he said.

No.

He preferred his steak rare, the blood still running. She preferred her steak well done, like shoe leather. Their meat didn’t meet. Their flesh was discontinuous. She sat down before him and he stood up before her.

“We’re not in synch,” he said.

“We’re not swimming,” she said.

“I like swimming.”

“I loathe swimming.”

“The”

“Water”

“Is”

“Healing.”

“Cleansing.” He was talking about wounds. She was talking about psyche.

Bodiesontopofbodiesontopofbodies, both of them, all of them, crushed unwillingly together, corpses of forgotten dreams.

“Croissant?” she said.

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May 18

breathless

I want to read this but my head won’t stay still; my breath flashes in and out of my body between gulps of coffee and half-swallowed ideas. Maybe I should dance, or sing – singing’s good, except when I do it. Can’t sing. Can’t find my pitch. Don’t understand where the music should be coming from. Sometimes it’s high in my head, in the top part, behind my eyes. EEEEEEEE. Sometimes it’s buried in my chest, under my sternum, struggling to come out. AAAAHHHH. Sometimes, but not very often, it begins down in my womb, I think, buried in my pelvis. UURRGGHH. Can’t sing. Can’t join the bits together.

There’s a man, he plays the mouth organ, keeps it in his desk drawer, on occasion, when he’s pausing, between this thing and that, he gets it out. He knows where to start and where to end, how to breathe it in and out so it sounds melodic. He can breathe music, like a fish can breathe water. He can play a tune.

Let me dance. All I have is this contracting body, twisting, turning, stamping on the beat. I can hear the beat. I can always hear the beat; in the air, in/visible bird wings, up and down, folded and straight, this constant movement, because my head won’t stay still. Breathless. I am breathless.

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May 15

Class a bastard – first draft

“K-Ris-Teen, St-Raw-Berry Girl, K-Ris-Teen …” Bruce wove an imaginary macrame pot holder above his head, twisting his fingers in and out of the air, for all the world looking like a fat belly dancer with a goatee beard.

Christine laughed and sat down opposite him. “How are you darling?”

“All the better for seeing you.”

“Is this mine?” she said, pointing to pint of lager on the table in front of her.

“Yeah, but it’s probably flat by now. Why are you half an hour late for everything?”

“It’s a woman’s prerogative.”

He leant forwards, as if he was about to tell her a secret, instead he sniffed the air, his nose searching out her smell. “You never guess who I saw the other day,” he said in conspiratorial tones.

“Ghandi? Phil Spectre? Richard Gere naked in your shower?”

He ignored her lack of gravitas. “Captain Snort.”

“Really,” she said, her eyes widening.

“Well, you know I’m working for Steve …”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“- Eight pound an hour, cash in hand, general labouring. We had to go out on this job, house clearance, getting rid of the old furniture, ripping up the carpets, that sort of thing. It was well weird. The place was meant to be empty, but when I went upstairs, into the bedroom, there was Captain Snort, lying flat on his back, a huge Nazi flag spread across the ceiling, and him on his bed, out of his face, staring up at the Swastika.”

#

"Here’s a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what’s in it today?"

#

Christine stood on the pavement, facing the door. She’d already rung the bell three times. Inside the house Patrick squared up to Katie, his jaw muscles flexing.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” Katie said, backing away.

“You. You’re the fucking problem.,” he replied, curling his top lip, showing his teeth.

There was nowhere left for her to go. He was in front of her. The wall was behind her. “Look, we can talk about …”

“With your moaning and whining and fucking griping about fucking everything.” He was close to her now, his face right up against hers.

In the bedroom two children lay flat. One, Scarlet, pressed the headphones of her personal stereo into her ears. Her feet were cold. The other, Reuben, chewed on the fabric of his pillowcase. They were twins. Mummy and Daddy often had fights, but Mummy had explained it, “All adults have arguments,” she said, “it doesn’t matter … Reuben! Reuben! Don’t do that to your sister, she’s littler than you”.

The house was comfortable. Three storeys high. Lots of houses in the area where they lived were three storeys high. They had to be built that way due to the hills. Fifty years ago, after a winter of heavy rains, several streets of these houses had slid down their particular hill and landed at the bottom in a mangled heap. Some people died, mostly women, because the men had been out at work that day.

Katie Maraschino’s house was organised in the usual fashion, kitchen in the basement – along with a lounge – a bedroom on the ground floor, next to the bathroom, and on the upper floor two more bedrooms. Her children slept in the ground floor bedroom, their bay window looking out into the street. It was on this bay window that Christine began to tap.

Reuben stopped chewing on his pillowcase and clambered out of bed. He had heard the doorbell, tringing away, and willed his mother to answer it. She hadn’t. Peeling back the curtains he saw a familiar face. Christine gesticulated, pointing towards the front door. Reuben nodded, let the curtain fall and ran into the hall. The adults arguing downstairs didn’t hear the child’s footsteps, nor did they hear the sneck being lifted, or the entrance another adult; but Christine heard them.

“You’re fucking useless. Useless piece of fucking shit.”

“No …”

“I’m …”

Something got kicked. Whatever it was resisted with a crack and then fell silent. Within seconds Christine was down the stairs. “Stop!” she shouted. Patrick, taken aback by the sudden intrusion, slackened his grip on Katie’s throat. She slid down the wall, until her feet were touching the floor, one breast hanging out of her torn top. “What the hell’s going on?” Christine demanded.

“None of your fucking business,” Patrick spat back.

“Let go of her.”

“Or what?” With two bounds he was across the room, nose to nose with Christine, breathing stale lager into her face. “OR … FUCKING … WHAT?” The vein on the right side of his neck stood out.

“It’s OK, it’s all right,” Katie said, her voice wobbling. “Let’s just …”

Patrick’s nostrils flared and unflared. There were sweat marks on his t-shirt, under his armpits and around the neckline, staining the fabric, turning it from olive green to dark khaki. He shook his head and forced a breath out from between his clenched teeth, ripping the bottom of it off with a grunt.

Katie began to walk forwards on new-born foal legs. “It’s fine, I’m fine,” she said, bending to pick up the remnants of what had once been a coffee table. “But I think you should go Christine.”

“No,” her friend said firmly.

“I want you to go,” Katie said, lifting her eyes to meet the other woman’s.

Patrick went into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

“What about the kids?” Christine asked.

“I’ll sort it out,” Katie said.

“Reuben’s terrified.”

“I said I’ll sort it out.”

“Are you fucking deaf as well as stupid?” Patrick said as he sauntered back into the lounge, a bottle of beer hanging loosely from his left hand.

Christine quickly papered over her scowl. “Phone me later, yeah?”

Katie nodded.

Outside, standing in the street, turning as she closed the door behind her, Christine saw Reuben’s face at the window. She waved. He stared at her. The glass was dirty, where the wind had thrown rain against it, leaving grubby tears tracks dried onto the pane. She walked down the street. At the corner an Italian take away, decorated in bright yellow, shouted about pizzas. A bus drove along the road in front of her, catching a puddle and spraying it all over the pavement.

They had an agreement, Christine and Katie, neither would interfere in the other’s life, no matter what. This way, both were free to make mistakes, to own their mistakes, to not be judged for the mistakes that they made. Support would always be given and never withdrawn. But that face. At the window. Smeared in trauma.

Christine reached into her pocket and pulled out her ‘phone. “Police.”

“I’d like to report some domestic violence.”

“Ongoing, I think, I was just there.”

“Christine Abernathy.”

“47 Hillfield Road.”

“Oh, their address, 8 St Martins Street.”

“Katie Maraschino and Patrick Finnegan.”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, two, Reuben and Scarlet, six years old.”

“Yes, they’re in the house.”

“How long will you be.”

“Can you hurry?”

It began to rain again.

“And what was the nosey bitch doing round here anyway?”

“She’s my friend Patrick. We were meant to be going out,” Katie said.

He snorted. “Yeah, well, you’re better off without her, always sticking her fucking oar in, that’s what she’s like, no bloke or family of her own, so she tries to muscle in on yours. You sure she’s not a lesbian or something?”

Katie fetched the dustpan and brush from the kitchen. It was grey, matching the broom, bin, washing up bowl and cutlery caddy.

“And stop your snivelling woman. I can’t fucking bear it. Jesus, talk about ‘cry me a river’.”

Katie straightened up, pulling her torn top across her exposed breast.

“No, I like you like that,” Patrick said, “why are you hiding it from me?”

“I’m not hiding it, I just have to tidy up,” she replied.

He lunged forwards, catching her round the waist and dragging her onto the sofa. She squealed. And then he got on top of her, ripping her shirt all the way down to her navel.

“Open up. Police.”

Patrick froze. The front door rattled on its hinges. A hefty constable stood hammering on the wood while his colleague got out of their car.

“Mommy, Mommy!”

“All right baby, I’m coming.”

“Mrs Maraschino, are you in there?” shouted the officer.

Patrick was on his feet, looking left, looking right, his bottle of beer skittering across the floor.

“Mommy!” Reuben screamed.

“Police, open up.”

Katie pulled herself together and ran towards the door. Reuben shot out of his room. She tripped over him. “Coming,” she shouted, “coming”. Scarlet lay flat, hands clamped to her ears.

The police officer smiled tightly, his colleague shifting from foot to foot behind him. “We’ve had a report,” he said, straining to see around the small woman in front of him, “of a domestic incident. Do you mind if we come in?”.

“No, not at all,” she said, swallowing seven different colours of fear as she swung the door open.

“Is Mr Maraschino here?”

“Patrick? It’s Patrick Finnegan, we’re not married.”

“Right you are. Is Mr Finnegan at home?”

“Downstairs,” said Katie, scooping Reuben up and moving so the two uniformed men could walk past her.

“Reuben, you need to go to bed darling.”

The child clung to her, his hot face pressed into her neck.

“Sweetheart, I’ve got to talk to the policemen, then I’ll come and tuck you in.”

Still he wouldn’t let go. Some of her hair was caught in his grip, it pulled on her scalp.

“I’ll bring you some chocolate milk.”

Reluctantly he slid down her body and pitter patted, in his bare feet, back to his room, climbing into bed with his sister and chewing on his pillowcase again.

In the lounge the two officers stood stiffly, sweating in their stab vests. “Mr …” Policeman A frowned, “ … Finnegan?”

“Yes?” Katie replied.

“Where is he?”

“Patrick,” she called, starting towards the kitchen, but Policeman B checked her progress, stepping in her path.

“Mr Finnegan?”

No answer.

Louder. “Mr Finnegan, we just want a quick word, to make sure everything’s all right here.”

Nothing. The kitchen was empty.

“Maybe he’s in the bathroom,” Katie ventured.

“And where’s that?”

“Upstairs, directly above.”

No, Patrick wasn’t in the bathroom, or the bedroom, or anywhere else in the house.

“He must’ve gone,” Katie said.

“And when do you think he might be back?” asked Policeman A.

“I don’t know. I didn’t know he was going.”

Later, after the officers had left, Katie looked at her souvenirs: two emergency telephone numbers and a leaflet about domestic violence. She tried to phone Patrick; it went straight to his messaging service. Putting the once coffee table in the back garden, next to the mini trampoline and old push along/sit upon truck, she noticed that clumps of ivy had been ripped off the wall.

It was still raining.

She made herself a cup of tea and lit a cigarette. There was a gap in the lounge, right in the middle of the floor, where the coffee table had stood. It looked bare. She stared at the magnolia wood-chip opposite her, keeping her gaze wide of the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock. When her phone rang it made her jump. She always jumped afterwards, like a cat, her senses overly primed.

“Patrick?”

No, it wasn’t Patrick.

“Did you call the cops?”

Yes.

“I …”

Followed a shit cart and

“Thought …”

It was a funeral

“No, it’s OK, I understand.”

Sinking back into the sofa.

“He’s vanished. Must’ve run out of the back door and jumped over the garden wall.”

Getting swallowed by the sofa.

“The kids are asleep.”

She hadn’t checked.

“Fine. A bit sick. It’s all right.”

You keep telling yourself that.

You keep telling yourself that.

You keep telling yourself that.

Christine put the ‘phone down, feeling around her own hairline and throat with her spare hand. She was a spare woman, skinny, some would say lithe. Too much caffeine and nicotine. And worry. She worried a lot. Whether she did the right thing. The wrong thing. To much of a good thing. This she had in common with Katie. Patrick never worried. “A pointless exercise in self loathing,” he said when sober. “A fucking waste of time,” he said when drunk.

The night slipped by, like sand through fretful fingers. He didn’t return. The next morning Katie took the children to school. Reuben was clingy. He didn’t want juice, or a kiss, or his mother to leave him. Scarlet ran off to play with her friends. Shortly after eleven o’ clock she bit Annie, while fighting over ‘Joseph’s Yard’ in the reading corner. The incident was written down in the Report Book and Katie’s attention duly drawn to it at pick up time. She didn’t know what to say. Her polo neck sweater covered the scratch marks on her chest. That afternoon, at home, in the bathroom, she rolled up her sleeves.

“A woman,” Patrick said, between gulps of beer, “no hold on”. He waggled his finger at indiscriminate air and took a drag of his cigarette, carelessly letting the ash fall onto the floor. “You can always tell the mental age of a woman by the way she wears her sleeves.”

Katie waited.

“Rolled up, or pulled over her hands, that means she’s immature. A real woman,” and he stressed the word ‘real’, “wears her sleeves how they were designed to be worn”.

Katie turned on the cold tap and shoved her arm, white flesh side up, into the running water. She watched the diluted pink pain swill down the plug hole.

Day one: beans on toast for tea, five milligrams of Diazepam, fat Americans abusing themselves, and each other, on television. “This is a terrible tragedy. The Sarasota County, Florida, Sheriff’s Department contacted us and we are cooperating with its investigation. We’ve been asked not to comment beyond this.”

Day two: She woke up ragged. The children didn’t go to school. The dishes didn’t get done. By four she was dry retching, her abdomen convulsing, head thumping, sweat trickling down her spine. Cold sweat. Clammy sweat. She slept, helped along by vicious masturbation and a half a bottle of vodka.

Her room, that was their room, remained tidy, Patrick’s things mutely attentive. And there was the box. Her “fripperies” Grandma would have said. “Oh I do like something frivolous. Cake stands. China Teacups. Broaches. Feathers in hats.” Of course, Grandma also said the middle bits, that joined up her words, like little dots on the horizon of common sense, but Katie couldn’t remember the middle bits, the cherries and chocolate chips, or maybe she could only remember the middle bits, not the oats and biscuity goodness. There was the outside and the inside. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know where Patrick was either.

“I think you should go to the doctors,” Christine said, scrutinising her friend. “It’s been a week. You’ve hardly slept. You look dreadful.”

“Thanks,” Katie said, “that’s just what I needed to hear.” Her smile was thin, stretched to breaking point.

“I’ll take care of the kids. We can meet up for lunch afterwards, my treat.”

But there weren’t any free appointments at the surgery. Katie would have to wait. She “Could phone back in the morning,” the receptionist said.

Over lunch, in their usual cafe, where the jukebox played a selection of rare 60s vinyl, the women stoically refused to discuss the matter in hand. The signs were everywhere. Opening times, closing times. No smoking. In the street: no right turn, no left turn, no entry, one way.

“He’s never done this before, disappeared like this. I’m worried about him,” Katie said.

“I’m worried about you.” Christine replied.

“He could’ve gone to his mother’s. Or Paul’s? Or Mike’s?”

“Have you ‘phoned around?”

“No.”

Another question hung in the air between them. If Christine asked it, Katie would have to answer it. And she probably couldn’t. And it was better if she didn’t. That was the fatal flaw. The heart of the matter. Said. Unsaid. Everything reduced to a sticky mess stuck to the bottom of a cooking pan. Scrambled. Did she want Patrick back?

But Patrick didn’t come back. Not that week, or the next, or the next.

“Mommy, where’s Daddy?”

“I don’t know Reuben.”

“Why didn’t he say goodbye?”

Katie brushed the hair out of her face and dragged the soiled sheet off the bottom of Scarlet’s bed. Reuben waited expectantly, kneeling on his toy box, his face half-turned to the window.

“Mommy?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t Daddy say goodbye?” he repeated.

“He was in a hurry darling.”

Urine had seeped through the cover and into the duvet. Katie sighed. That would be the fourth time.

“Why was he in a hurry?”

“I don’t know.”

“Daddy doesn’t like hurrying, he says ‘less mess more waste … Less waste more haste … Less … What does Daddy say, Mommy?”

“About what?”

“Less haste more …?”

“I don’t know Reuben.”

“When is he coming back?”

“I don’t know Reuben.”

Later, sitting with Christine in the lounge, after the children had gone to bed, Katie cried, about Scarlet’s increasingly deteriorating behaviour, Reuben’s questions and her own confusion. It wasn’t fair.

“But that’s the rub,”Christine said, “and the comfort. If life was fair then you’d deserve this. It’s not and you don’t.”

“How can he be here and not here all at the same time though?” Katie said, exasperated, her cheeks flushed by cheap white wine.

“Because you’re hanging on to him, or the thought of him. His stuff’s everywhere, it’s almost as if you want to be surrounded by his … It’s him isn’t it?” Christine got up and walked over to a bookcase. “What’s this?” It was a statue of Buddha. “It’s Patrick’s not yours,” she said, “And this?” It was Patrick’s battered, old trilby. “And this? Yeah, what the hell [i]is[/i] this?” she said, turning the object over in her hand.

“A phrenology head.” Katie replied.

“He totally dominates the room and everything in it, and you, he takes up all the space.”

“He always did,” Katie said. “He still does. I can’t get his smell off me. He’s the last thing I think of before I fall asleep and the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning.”

“Have you even changed the bedclothes?”

Katie shook her head.

“How long has it been?”

“Three weeks, nearly four” Katie said.

“And you’ve not heard anything from him?”

“No. I phoned the police and reported him missing, but money’s still being taken out of our bank account, so I know he’s alive at least.”

“Of course he’s alive,” said Christine with force, “he’s just playing head-games”.

“You’ve never liked him,” Katie said defensively.

“Good God! He beats the crap out of you.”

“I wind him up.”

“What are you talking about? You make it sound like your fault.”

“It is in a way.”

“In what way?” Christine said excitably, her eyes shining, “This is why I don’t like him. You used to be sparky, a real live wire, and now you’re all squashed. He’s sucked the life out of you.”

Katie looked at the clock. Tick tock.

“Did you ever see that film,” Christine said, “’Touching the Void’, about those two mountain climbers?”

“No.”

“Well, they made it to the summit, then one of them got injured on the way down. The guy tried to help his friend, by lowering him on a rope, but the injured guy fell into a crevace. Even though the other guy struggled for hours, in terrible conditions, eventually he knew that he either had to cut the rope or face the fact they’d both be dead by morning.”

“Is this about me and Patrick, or you and me?” Katie asked.

“Oh God, I don’t know,” Christine said, “I just want you to cut the fucking rope”.

Katie stared hard at the gap in the middle of the floor where the coffee table had once stood. “What happened in the end?”

“The guy that fell landed on a ledge. He made it back to camp, serious frostbite though.”

“Mooooooooooooooooooooooooommeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Reuben’s high pitched scream sliced into their conversation.

“I’m coming,” Katie shouted.

“I’ll go,” said Christine, ‘”why don’t you put the kettle on?”

Reuben was sitting bolt upright in bed, rubbing his eyes. “What is it darling?” said Christine, glancing over at Scarlet, who appeared to be fast asleep.

“I had a dream.”

“Was it a bad dream?”

“Yes.”

“I have bad dreams sometimes,” Christine said, perching on his bed. “Do you want a cuddle?”

“Yes,” he said, disentangling himself from his duvet and crawling onto her lap. He was a skinny child, all elbows and knees. He hadn’t quite grown into his head yet, or his eyes, both seemed very big. And he was hot. Christine put her palm against his forehead and stroked the hair out of his face. “I was in the car with Mommy and we was stopped at the lights, cos they was on red, and this monster came right up to my door and he was pulling on the handle outside and I was trying to put the button down on the inside, only I couldn’t do it fast enough, and he got the door open and he was taking me away and Mommy was shouting, but she couldn’t stop him.”

Christine rocked him in her arms. “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Reuben buried his face in her chest. At school the boys had told him only babies believe in monsters and Father Christmas and fairies. None of them were real. And girls. Girls believe in things, but they’re allowed to.

“Monsters,” Christine said, “come out at night because they can’t stand the light. That’s why they hide under your bed and in your dreams”.

“Oh?”

“Yes, and they’ve got power spell to make you think that they’re very very strong, when really they’re as weak as kittens.”

Reuben sat up a little straighter.

“I’ve got a special spell though,” Christine said, smiling, “I call it my ‘monster go away spell’”.

“Does it work?” he said.

“Every time,” Christine nodded. “First we have to make your duvet super armoured. Let me just go down to the kitchen and get the ingredients for a potion.”

“Can I come?”

“Sure, I’ll probably need an extra pair of hands.”

In the kitchen Christine found an empty jam jar, half a lemon and some cinnamon. She stabbed the lemon with a fork and squeezed the juice out. “This is the acid liquor of monster corruption ,” she said to Reuben, “and the cinnamon is the powdered totem of success.” She screwed the lid tightly onto the jar. “All we have to do now is say the magic words and tap the top three times. Ready? After me. ‘Stingy lemon and cinnamon spark, make my duvet strong in the dark’.”

The child’s voice came out quietly.

“And tap,” Christine instructed, “with this,” she said, swiftly grabbing a kebab skewer.

Back upstairs she sprinkled the mixture on Reuben’s bedding. He chortled and bounced onto his quilt. “But we haven’t finished yet,” she said, “next we need to catch the nasty spirits. They float around like dust, waiting to land on sleeping children.”

Reuben’s face clouded over.

“Only very special sleeping children,” Christine said hurriedly, “who are brave and have golden auras. The spirits want to steal these for themselves. Have you got a handkerchief?”

Reuben went over to his drawers and pulled a creased, white square out from amongst his rolled up socks.

“OK,” she said, “you’ve got to spread this on your pillow, every night, before you go to sleep, nice and straight. It’ll catch the spirits in the gaps between the this way and that way threads. Can you see them?” She pushed her thumb up against the fabric, stretching the cotton. “The spirits have long hair and it gets tangled in the weave, trapping them. Then, in the morning, you shake it out, very hard. They’re only little and you’re big and strong, so when you do that, they fly off.”

“But won’t they come back?” Reuben asked.

Christine bit her lip. “Hmmm, have you got a box?”

He shook his head.

“What about under your bed, one we could tip some toys out of?”

Like most boys his age, Reuben’s collection of action figures and assorted plastic construction materials was fairly comprehensive. He built things, putting the pieces together and the words in his characters’ mouths. “What is it?” Katie would ask, tilting her head to one side, trying to see her son’s reality. He usually gave her a bland answer, something that made sense, ‘a house, a school’, something beige and utterly average.

But, unlike most boys his age, Reuben was scrupulously tidy. His toys were organised and filed away in an orderly fashion. He became upset if they got messy. Patrick became even more upset. And then Patrick gave up being upset and fast-forwarded to the punishment schedule. “If I stand on another one of these fucking …” – he picked up the object that had just embedded itself in his foot – “ … [i]things[/i], I’m going to bin the whole lot.”

“Here’s a box,” Reuben said.

It was cardboard, its top flaps folded in and out of each other. Where he’d pushed and pulled at them the edges were soft and crinkled. Inside, small dust balls hid in the corners. “Ah, the fluff fairies,” Christine said, “excellent, you already have increased power. So, you shake your handkerchief in this every morning, and the fairies’ll trap the spirits.”

Reuben nodded, his eyes wide and deep. Sleep was already beginning to steal him away. Christine pulled the duvet back and patted the mattress. He clambered into the cotton envelope, his pyjama trousers scrunching up to his knees. “Now you sleep tight,” she said, kissing him on the forehead, “and don’t let the bed bugs bite”. He put his thumb in his mouth, curling his index finger until it reached over his nose and onto his eyebrows. As Christine turned the light out she could hear his gentle sucking noise.

In the lounge Katie sat staring at her mobile phone. The blue-green light illuminated her ragged features. “Patrick called,” she said.

Christine waited.

“He said he wants to pick his stuff up on Friday.”

Christine waited.

“Apparently, he’s found somewhere else.”

“What about the kids?” Christine said.

“He doesn’t need me or the hassle.”

“What?”

“Have you got any money? I want vodka now,” Katie said.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Probably not. Who the fuck cares.”

Later, after she’d drunk herself into something approaching oblivion, Katie lay with her head on Christine’s knees. “Seven years,” Katie said, “seven fucking years, and for what?”

“It’s …”

“Fucking unbelievable. I hate him. I actually hate the fucking cunt,” she said, swinging her body upright and wiping her hand across her face. “What a cunt, what a big, fat, blubbery, fuckin’ … geriatric … hairy … baggy … fuck … cunt, he’s such a cunt. Why is he doing this to me?”

“He’s not doing it [i]to[/i] you Kate.”

“What do you mean?” she said.

“It’s just a situation, something you’ve got to handle.”

“Just a situation!” Katie shouted, “Just a fuckin situation! What are you talking about?”

“It’s happened. It’s what happens next that’s important.”

“Are you out of your mind Christine?”

“No, but you’re pissed out of yours.”

“Well, thank you, thanks a fuckin bunch,” Katie said.

“Look, it’s going to hurt …”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“All right. I’m sorry. Come and lay down. We’ll deal with it in the morning.”

Christine stroked her friend to sleep, but not before she’d held out a blue plastic bowl for Katie to be sick in, twice.

The next day they agreed Christine would be at the house when Patrick came round. It would be easier that way. Katie had no need to confront the issue head on, not at this time, and it would only upset the children. She’d pack up his stuff in boxes from the supermarket. Yes. And then, after he’d gone, along with his things, Katie could start thinking about a fresh start. If he wanted to talk

[“Talk, talk, talk, that’s all you women ever bloody do. Put a problem in front of a woman and she doesn’t try to solve it, she just tries to talk it to death”]

he could call her, arrange to meet up, like civilised adults, in a public place, where her safety was assured.

Christine sat on the stairs, waiting for the sound of Patrick’s key in the lock. She’d rehearsed the conversation in her head. First, there would be the cold “Hello”. Of course, his surprise would quickly give way to anger, but she intended to remain impassive. She practised her impassive face, all her muscles tight, lips open slightly so her features didn’t freeze into a grimace.

She jumped when she heard him. There hadn’t been enough time for one final run through. Wiping her hands on her jeans she rose to greet him.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he said.

“Katie’s out with the kids, we thought it best if …”

“[i]We[/i] thought?”

“Katie and me.”

He slung a large, blue holdall into the hallway. “You’re an interfering old cow Christine.”

Her face remained impassive.

“Get out of my fucking way.”

She stood her ground. He pushed right up against her, sandwiching her between the wall and his body. “Your eyes give you away bitch. You know what Kate sees in me, you’ve always fucking known, and I bet you’d like a piece of it yourself, huh. Huh!” He leant in closer. “Do you want me to lick you?”

Without replying she turned her head to one side and stared down at the floor.

“Just there,” he said, touching her neck, tracing a line to her clavicle and then fingering a pattern in the hollow above it.

She stopped breathing.

He pulled away suddenly and laughed. “Where’s my stuff, bitch?”

“In the lounge, all packed,” she said, throwing her head back.

“Right. You gonna give me a hand?”

“A big, strong boy like you,” she said, “needs the help of a poor, helpless woman like me?”

Patrick snorted. She went into the children’s bedroom and made the beds, after which she shook the rugs and folded up some scattered clothes. Ten minutes later Patrick was finished.

“I think I’ve got everything,” he shouted, one hand on the front door, the opposite foot stepping over the threshold.

Christine looked at the box next to Reuben’s bed. The nasty spirit handkerchief was neatly spread out on his pillow; he had shown it to her earlier, when she arrived, and told her, in conspiratorial tones, that it worked, because last night he dreamed of football and winning The World Cup for England. “Are they really trapped in the box?” he said.

She nodded, “Until someone lets them out”.

“Patrick, just this,” she called, emerging from the children’s bedroom.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Something Reuben wanted you to have,” she said passing the box to him.

“All right.” He tucked it under his arm.

#

"Here’s a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what’s in it today?"

#

Christine laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Bruce said.

“Oh nothing, nothing. If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. Let’s just say ‘what goes around comes around’, and he always was a Class A bastard.”

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