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an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe
is a publication of
Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138
Editor’s Welcome _____________________________ vi
Diana Sanders 12 Poems_ __________________________________ 11 Adam Thorpe “Not Near London”____________________________ 27 Matthew Duggan Nine Poems__________________________________ 63 Jo Mazelis - Ritual, 1969 (two stories)_______________ 77 The Flower Maker_____________________________ 79 Caretakers___________________________________ 91 Mark Murphy Ten Poems_ ________________________________ 111 Jay Merill “All the Voices” (fiction)_ ______________________ 129 Margarida Vale de Gato Seven Poems_ ______________________________ 175
Bakhtiyar Ali I Stared at the Night of the City (novel excerpt)_____ 187 Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac Beyond Elsewhere (verse narrative)______________ 213 Paweł Markiewicz The spring spirit like the nectar in me (nine poems)_ 225 Joan Margarit Love is a Place (poems)________________________ 237 Zöe Beck - Two Crime Stories_ ___________________ 245 Still Waters_ ________________________________ 247 Flann, the Púca______________________________ 265 Phoebe Giannisi Cicadas (experimental poetry)_ _________________ 281
A Note on the Illustrations _ ___________________298 Acknowledgments ___________________________302
TRAFIKA EUROPE 9/10 - UK IN EUROPE Editor’s welcome Admittedly, this special issue of Trafika Europe with focus on the UK in Europe is motivated by recent events – yet you won’t find much discussion of EU politics here. Trafika Europe wants to help uphold a spirit of unity, belonging and mutual regard across European literary cultures – regardless of how our politics plays out – because that’s our actual underlying reality. What we find, conducting this reality check is that the UK remains fixed in cultural unity with Europe, never more so than now. Among the UK poets in this issue, Diane Sanders comes from the wild north of Wales, Matthew Duggan is from Bristol, and Mark Murphy from Ireland. Acclaimed English author Adam Thorpe (“My favourite... English novel is by Adam Thorpe,” says Karl Ove Knausgaard) was actually born in Paris,
and now resides in Nîmes. He shares with us a new, unpublished story here -- about an art school graduate from Lincolnshire called Suzie, on a train. How very European. Jo Mazelis hails from Swansea, in Wales – and often deals with European themes and settings in her stories. Award-winning UK novelist and story writer Jay Merill gives us a chilling tale of Damien, a misanthropic character inspired by Molière, who becomes homeless. Although the writing is contemporary, there is a picaresque feel, and a suggestion of Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan tutte’. These so-called British authors are right at home in this issue with some terrific writing from elsewhere in Europe. Margarida Vale de Gato is one of Portugal’s strongest contemporary poetic
voices. Bakhtiyar Ali is a preeminent Kurdish author living in Germany; our excerpt here is from the first major contemporary Kurdish novel ever to be translated into English. French author Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac ’s poetic narrative is just exquisite – enough said. Paweł Markiewicz is a Polish poet writing in German who has now translated his poems into English here. Catalan poet Joan Margarit is one of Spain’s most unique and acclaimed writers alive today. Besides his poems, it’s terrific also to share with you his considered thoughts on life and poetry (translated by Anna Crowe), in the Essays section on our site. In the neo-noir category we’ve got two new crime stories from German author Zöe Beck . And this issue closes with Greek avant-garde poetry by Phoebe Giannisi . Her highly original, multimedia performance poetry is wild, terrific, incantatory… intense, intelligent, beautiful, harmonious and complex… whole, sensitive and meaningful… So be
Trafika Europe 9/10
sure to visit the links at the start of that chapter to get the full effect; what’s on the page is a bit of a mess. Our conclusion? The UK is in Europe, Europe is in the UK. There isn’t the slightest doubt – these cultures are so integrally wedded, their literatures so fused and intertwined; the omelet(te) is not going back into the egg anytime soon. Hopefully just in time for the holidays we’re very pleased to announce the launch of a modest curated European Bookshop on our site! Check out this bookshop launch announcement for all the details – where we help you navigate these choice offerings.
Our issue cover shows Scottish singer Kirsty Heggie hanging out in Spain. Enjoy one of her songs in our latest music video: The Fate of Man .
Diana Sanders (b. 1965) is a musician, composer and poet. Much of her inspiration is gathered from the wild landscape of North Wales where she lives. She has been involved in collaborative projects involving music and poetry and has had work published in the UK and the USA. Her poem “Birth” has won third place in this year’s International Welsh Poetry Competition.
A trespasser slips under the fence leaving streaks of green in dew cobwebbed grass. She comes with the dawn in a tangle of smoking breath, shadow boxing with birch shadows. A russet and black apparition whose eyes glitter and flame with Betelgeuse. New life knocks at her belly, impatient for the taste of fresh grass. I watch her from the window as she races the merlin over the meadow leaving two bleary eyed leverets under the rosemary bush.
Not all eyes are equal and yet..
I Squid looks up to the surface with one small eye and down to the depths with a big one. Bioluminescence twinkles
and squid contemplates the eyes of the box jelly fish unsure of which of its twenty four to look in. II The eye in my mind remembers eyes that drew me in and held me close. Eyes that looked beneath surfaces and filled with ocean water.
III The bay scallop’s hundred eyes shine with such brilliance that I have to look away but the after image floats darkly like a hooded angel.
IV Photons brush my eye from a distant star. I watch it as it moves with Orion from his camp on the horizon into the crown of the sky. Do you remember when we lay on the heath wrapped in the night’s jewelled blanket?
V We are stardust separated only from rock and scorpion by the pattern of our atoms
out of stone the voices come mute for so long joy in shouting somersaulting in wild air mute for so long wrapped in shadow somersaulting in wild air agile as birdsong
wrapped in shadow sloughing skin agile as birdsong laughing and laughing sloughing skin shackles gone laughing and laughing freedom
shackles gone joy in shouting freedom out of stone the voices come
Breton Carée de Vouvray,
a bourée riding on flutes, violins and a hurdy-gurdy. The woods spiral in a Hundertwasser blur. We weave our colours between and through.
His arms, my feet. His shirt, my dress
and one inevitable kiss.
Wind This house has been far out at sea all night,
The wood crashing through darkness, the booming Winds stampeding the fields under the window Floundering black astride and blinding wet - Ted Hughes The moon shudders and folds inwards. Pinhole stopped down pulls in the sky. Clouds are shadow puppets that rear and buck and I am like the swallow, shaken and raw, diving into holes of wind. A refuge away from the flight of shrieking tree boughs and debris. A quiet place in this topsy-turvy rumble but even the eaves tremble as the wind bites. This house has been far out at sea all night. The noise of the night has silenced the frogs; quiet now under crusts of water. They wait for beams of light to burn holes in the cold. Only then will they resume their singing. Inside I listen to the deranged musician who pounds the roof with fiendish drumming. He is the drummer, the horn blower.
Calling the revenants. They swarm in the wood and come. I cry at the hurtling: The wood crashing through darkness, the booming.
The storm brings flashes of light. Ravens harassing birth-bloody lambs.
Their eyes sparking forks and black beaks delving. Craven thieves stealing sight from the new born. There is no mercy just throats that gobble. Out of sight, a hare lies under a scarecrow, playing dead under the swaying straw man. If he ran they could not catch him. He is faster than flying geese and the raging winds stampeding the fields under the window. The rain pounds. Glass is a river, grass is a river. Wind and water is all there is. I shut the curtains and push back the night, turning inward like a dormouse. Warmth spreads outwards from orange-gold hazel. Hands and feet, a flickering yellow duet. Light turns out shadow, flashing on stone and through stone, like a daffodil growing out of rock. A stalwart beauty and yet floundering black astride and blinding wet.
from the top of the hill i jump out of myself and into mist which gives way in silver folds i pass the jackdaw who croaks a laughing hello i weep at a clouds edge as I see the wild cat scurrying out of existence i watch blind children gutter from a war that rages and yet there is such a beauty in this place that it could tear my heart in two
under normal circumstances the stone lies mute like a curled swan but in days and nights of extremes what is outside is reflected inside and it writhes screams and pounds at the threshold
mistress of the rain is crying oil chokes the orca and acid
bleaches the coral reef roads are washed away and cities are flooded but in the desert a child walks ten miles for a bottle of dirty water
step up she says you can do better you must do better
!urisis is dreaming inside the tree there are no bullies here or fights there is no rape or racism or greed
only the green silk of leaves and stillness rising like sap
Dementure Through the open window she watches the night bend in.
Memories crease like paper folded over and over.
A hot trail of stardust buried within.
The sun is an old coin falling into peat. An aureole sneaks around hare’s ears. She lowers them and folds into grass
but lifts her nose to the quiet light.
His eyes burn with after images of gold.
The farmer turns his gun away.
Fracture There is no shouting. The day is bright.
Only hairline cracks reveal a trembling. The day is bright. Pre-shocks reveal a trembling.
A portent. Pre shocks fracture. A portent. His face. Fracture. Blood falls. His face.
Too close. Blood falls Soreness. too close. A child curled up. Soreness. Only hairline cracks. A child curled up. There is no shouting.
Hair Your polished racehorse hair leaves me churning with envy. Mine, conversely, seems to heave into acquiescence and yet, when I look more closely into the mirror there is a girl; with sea matted hair who runs at the tide edge and makes rafts out of driftwood with yellow oat grass hair who lingers with beetles in the wild moor meadow with sand gritty desert hair where the Pleiades shine and illuminate her dark places
who is beautiful.
Adam Thorpe (b. Paris, 1956) is the author of ten novels, plus short stories, poetry volumes, plays and radio broadcasts including several BBC documentaries. John Fowles called his first novel, Ulverton (1992), ‘the most interesting novel I have read these last years… Suddenly English lives again!’ Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote: ‘My favourite... English novel is by Adam Thorpe called Ulverton ... a brilliant, very, very good and very unBritish novel... It’s magic, a magic book.’ He has been shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize, the BBC National Short Story Award, the South Bank ShowAward for the year’s best novel (Between Each Breath) , as well as the Sir Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Thorpe lives in France and currently teaches at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Nîmes.
NOT NEAR LONDON [SHORT STORY]
Her degree show included nine empty red fire buckets and nine blurred photos of fire buckets and nine piles of sand and a white porcelain cat on the floor surrounded by a red circle of chalk. Muddled and derivative, was the tutors’ estimation. Unproductive use of your time. When usually they just said wunnerful, well done. For pity’s sake, said her mum, you can’t do this! The external jury gave her a First. Now it was: Your Daddy would’ve been very proud, pet. ‘Shakespeare Country,’ Jasper is saying, scribbling away as the train rattles along. ‘England’s live wire. Much ado.’ ‘Much to do,’ she says,
grinning, overcome with love. He doesn’t hear, even though he is not plugged in to his music. They are now passing loud and fast through a little station that doesn’t matter enough to stop at. St Neots. St Neots. St Neots. Faces whip past above scarves, faces of people they’ll never know. Then the usual mess of retail park and out-of-town shopping and scrap areas of emptiness. Or maybe they are light industrial units, those warehouse thingies. Or offices, because something’s turning in the distance that has fancy windows and brick walls. He’s considering her exposed midriff with lips pursed in thought. ‘Navel.
The Wash is the small of the back, so where she was brought up for eighteen years was the tail bone. The rails are uneven or maybe the bolts have not been inspected regularly enough so he has problems keeping his hand steady, but he does it well. It looks better like that – a bit shaky, early Hockney or Emin or whatever. The Yorkshire Moors are the shoulder but there are no arms. That reminds her of the life class, second year, when the bloke with the amputated leg posed and no one, but no one, said anything – they just drew light and shade and felt virtuous because they didn’t comment and Suzie had felt a bit sick as she drew the stump, its puckered and glossy skin. Bike accident on the bypass, apparently. Pedal
noticed? On a map?’ The thing is, you can never really tell. Like you can never really tell what they are up to in politics or what might be going on agriculturally with those acres and acres of snowy fields fringed by trees that are now passing them slowly in the January greyness outside. Jasper won’t give up. He never does. He’s way too cool to carry around a sketchpad, right? So he is drawing on a bare patch of the Observer , where an advert for AT&T has left a lot of square inches blank to draw your attention. Deft with a pen, is our Jasper. She snuggles up to him as his map of England turns into a person with a big East Anglian lard-arse bum and a love handle above the Bristol Channel.
Not Near London
bike. ‘On the bypass? Well well well,’ her mum said, ‘no surprise there.’ But then her mum drives everywhere like she’s in a multi-storey car park. The life classes were good except for the times when the elderly came to show their naughty bits – but she couldn’t complain, or she’d risk being expelled for age discrimination. The black fineliner jiggles and joggles, never still, or only when it separates from the rubbish surface of the newspaper. Wales and Scotland are cross- hatchedshadows.Cornwall is the outstretched leg and the face glances at her sideways from the Lake District: it’s Gildor Inglorion on his way from Rivendell. Jasper drops in a little amoeba of black elfine shadow a few inches
below the South Coast. (The skill of the shadow- maker, that’s what it’s all about: forget the rest, he always says.) Oh, cool, the Isle of Wight! She’s never been there, not even for the festival, because everyone on the island is sixty-five and bright red from yachting. He signs it Jasper Crouch . In ten years’ time it’ll be auctioned at Christie’s, Suzie thinks, smiling to herself. Half- believing it. Jasper got a head start, with a name like Crouch. He doesn’t just think he’s the shit, he was born it. England is leaping. A creature of the dark dark forest, leaping like a ballet dancer. What makes Jasper extra-special, as a graphic artist, is the mystery element beyond the usual deftness. Not exactly a cartoon, more an
advanced cave drawing. He’s taught her how to blend marker colours, blender fluid applied first: lawns, trees, flowers. It’s like watching springtime happen at top speed. He can do a whole tree in five minutes. His own face in three, always with something weird attached – horns, an eyepatch, a crown, a mammoth dick. He touches in the creature’s navel with an afterthought: a few concave squiggles. Then he taps the silver stud in her own navel with the end of his pen. Because her midriff is bare, she doesn’t have to lift anything up. Tappity-tap. It gives her goose-pimples. Why is she always so tired? ‘Stratford-upon-Avon,’ he says. The newsprint blurs the
lines nicely, gives them texture. He pops the cap back on the pen and cocks his head, admiring his own work. ‘You’ve got those pamphlets on your brain,’ she sighs. ‘I am beyond genius.’ ‘You could be wrong, though.’ She feels like she’s coming down with brittle bone disease or something. Too much drink, not enough shut-eye. ‘When’s the deadline?’ ‘Er, I’d like it tobe tomorrow instead of three days ago?’ Suzie says, in a Dalek voice, ‘Ne-go-tiate, ne-go-tiate.’ Jazz shrugs. She turns back to the view beyond the empty seats the other side of the aisle, away from him, cupping her
Not Near London
chin in her palm, elbow on the armrest. In the seat immediately in front of her there’s a girl posing in the same way. The seat-back hides everything but the edge of the girl’s profile. The coastlineof her profile, to use Malcolm’s term. Suzie hears her drawing tutor’s soft Cornish voice again in class: ‘See that profile as the coastline of somewhere foreign,’ he would say. ‘All you’re doing is mapping it. No Rembrandts, please. No interior life. Just shape and gravity .’ Interior life. Malcolm Harmer’s hand on her thigh, creeping up like a heavy spider. Still life. Life class. The occasional crab or fox skull or resident jug to draw… in exactly, let’s see, guys, two minutes! Ten seconds! A legendary tutor, aren’t we lucky?
Smash and grab. ‘All I want to know is whether your muff down there is also pre-Raphaelite red, Lady Lilith.’ Oh, it is, Sir Malcolm. Sketched, she was, then thrown away. The girl in front has not yet noticed her. It would make a good image if she’d had her Canon. Two girls on a train, complete strangers, posed a few inches from each other like copycats, like twins, one pasty-skinned, one dark, different chins on their different palms, separated by a grey seat- back edged by the hot red of the padding, the train whirling on through the snowy fields. She can’t get Jasper to look without breaking her pose. She can nudge him, but he wouldn’t know
what she was on about. The girl is pretty, she can tell. Frizzy hair shorn short, ear dangling a huge silver ring like a moon. Good healthy skin, maybe half- Jamaican or something. Suzie has skin that she’s stopped blaming Nivea for. It is prone to rashes and sudden patches of red. Right now in the cold weather it looks as if she’s been trying to cheesegrate her cheeks. She is saved by what all the boys tell her is a mouth beyond mouths and green eyes that disturb other people’s relationship goals. And her thick, coppery hair. Oh, and perhaps her body. Well, of course her body. Please distract me from Suzie’s body, the call goes out on Twitter. Jasper told her once, if not twice, that her body was at ease with herself. He
was drawing her nude on the bed. Recumbent life class. ‘Sunlight and water,’ he said, which she’d heard somewhere else, maybe a poem, maybe an advert for soap. She has a sinewy waist which she is scared will fatten like everybody else’s. She is sure, looking down at it now, it is creasing too much at the navel-stud. Muffin tops, almost. Watch what you eat. Only green stuff, like a botanical garden is on my plate. Or better, skip lunch. Drink much less. She has another little jet- black stud in her ear which offsets her redhead’s pale skinandmakesher look, for some reason, slightly waif- like, slightly dangerous. That’s what the mirror in the pub toilets tells her, every time. When it’s not depicting her as a Francis Bacon.
Not Near London
That stud makes all the difference, according to Jasper. Like the highlight on the thumbnail in that Van Dyck portrait of those two young aristo mates, one of them grieving for his wife. Jasper the arts fag is into the classical stuff, surprisingly – when he sees a modern practice in them. One of the young men was holding a letter, but Van Dyck had left it white. A pure white square of paint at the centre. ‘The void, Suze. Or maybe the future, not yet filled in. Or maybe just paint. White on black. Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell.’ ‘Name-check.’ ‘What’s the other guy holding? Down there, at the bottom.’ They were looking at the original in a Tate Britain exhibition during the
spring break, only weeks before her exams. Trying to inject some intravenous inspiration from the masters. Jasper hadhis arm on her shoulder. They were in the middle of the room, people occasionally criss- crossing their sightline. She slid away and stepped closer, peered. Jasper joined her, sliding his hand up her back. ‘Er, something dark. A dark hankie?’ ‘Think, think, think, Suze. He’s grieving, right? Black square, white square.’ A grey sheet of paper, all crumpled up, half in the shadow. ‘It encapsulates death,’ she said, quickly. ‘The white one’s smooth, the black one’s crumpled. Well, it’s really grey-blue. Snow shadows, sort of.’
‘Ten out of ten out of ten,’ said Jasper. He sounded relieved. It must be annoying for the other visitors, because his voice was loud. And he was wearing Hawaii reggae surf shorts all but hidden under a long yellow-orange plaid shirt and a mauve keffiyeh wrapped round his neck. His outfit made Van Dyck look really monochrome. The grieving, sandy- haired feller was leaning on his hand, temple against his knuckles, big white puffed-up cuff, chin slightly double, and staring straight into her. Out of the painting and into her eyes. She was the ghost of his darling wife. She had just walked in. Hello, my strawberry-haired nymph. The other guy in profile couldn’t see her because she was a ghost visible only to the gaze of love.
‘Rothko,’ said Jasper. ‘That letter. Pure dark Rothko. Or Malevich’s black square. Right?’ ‘It’s not a letter. It’s sketches. Jazz, it’s got drawings on. Figure drawings. Upside-down. Two statues. Two sad women. A memorial! That’s it! Look! For her grave!’ Jasper was already walking off into the next room. She felt literal and stupid and trivial, but at the same time she knew she’d seen more. The sandy-haired feller in his slashed black tunic knew she was right, and he would never tell. Jazz would look much better in that gear, she thought. Snow. Cold and water. The train jerks and slows. It has problems because she is on it, nowt to do with
Not Near London
the weather. England’s flat and under a shroud. Jasper’s main riff is the four elements. Earth, air, water, fire. It is his whole philosophy, when it comes to understanding people. And drawing them. Drawing her. A few months ago, when she was posing naked on his sofa made out of boxes, he told her that she was three-quarters water and one quarter earth, so she replied, ‘That’s literally mud.’ His red, white and black pastels were beating away on the paper the other side of the easel, These New Puritans banging out from his silly little speakers. ‘Wrong. It’s a river bed. Water flowing over a river bed. You’re at ease with yourself, like a really calm river.’
‘I was born in the fens,’ she laughed, because you have to laugh at a statement like that. ‘A marsh girl. Burgh le Marsh was just up the road from our bungalow.’ She liked to remind him of her authentic origins in Lincolnshire, the Land that Time Forgot, with Mum struggling to bring the kids up on her own after Dad died. ‘A real yellowbelly. A slub girl. That’s what we fenlanders call mud. Slub. Among other nice names.’ Jasper, in his best public- school-twat voice, said, ‘I was raised in Rutland.’ He wasn’t really self-mocking, he was showing off. No one can help what they’re born into. ‘Slub’s a good word. Onomatopeoic,’ she pointed out, hoping he would take an interest. He did. The electric heater was on but she was slightly
before she realises. It is the girl’s in front. But Suzie’s hip-hop ringtone is ironic. She doesn’t even like straight hiphop. In fact, the phone is a Christmas present from her mum, who chose the ringtone herself – the first few bars of that big hit ‘So What’ by Field Mob and just-so- stunning Ciara from way back. Jasper’s phone rings like an old-fashioned dial telephone, something out of a 1950s black-and- white film. He’s so fucking hipster and it’s not ironic. Her best mate in the world looks up from his battered BlackBerry with its deliberately starred screen, as if a bullet’s hit it, blinking and staring around him. No, he must have dozed off. They went to bed about four, Friday night, after the party. Her mum didn’t wait up for
cold. ‘Spell that.’
‘Sake,’ she scoffed. ‘Stop pissing me over. And what are you? Fire?’ ‘I’m exactly what I am,’ he sighed, showing her the drawing. Which was brilliant, very soft and flowing it was, her hair like ripples of red weed, as if she’d drowned and he was remembering her alreadydead. Intertidal silt. A patch of red moss for her pubes. Mr Buckland for geography, the class watching for shrike with notepads in a freezing wind off the Wash. That one time they saw the bittern. Two of the girls shrieking and scaring it off. Suzie is startled out of her thoughts by her mobile’s hip-hop ringtone – she even reaches into her bag,
Not Near London
them like she used to. Birthday party, a twenty- fifth – Suzie’s best friend from schooldays, a real rude-girl turnip called Kiera, still the wrong side of the tracks, with three kids and a partner called Jed, a builder’s foreman. Jed! So many J’s in her life! Suzie had expected the worst in a sweaty T-shirt, but Jed was nice and caring, holding the kids like china in his big hands. He’d worked on that rebuilt concert hall in Scunthorpe. They nipped up there in the car and Jed showed them round in a biting wind, pushing the buggy in his T-shirt and proud of what’d been done. The place was very swanky, with plush crimson seats. It used rainwater to flush the loos. Afterwards Jasper’d stepped on his earphones
by mistake in the car park and said, ‘Please knock me the fuck out.’ Forgetting not to sound posh, to northern up his vowels. Then they drove up to the Humber Bridge, which is either empty or really packed, Keira said. Today it was empty, as in post-apocalyptic. They got out of the car and walked to halfway. The sky was grey, the estuary was grey with silver highlights, the empty bridge was grey. An allover. Jasper Johns, she thought. Her lover-boy’s namesake. But didn’t say it. Instead she said, shouting into the wind, ‘This’ll blow the dust off!’ They spent last night with Jazz’s parents near Oakham, intheirginormous old house with its nine freezing bedrooms, and she made a huge effort. It was the first time she’d
ever visited them in their own place. ‘And they’re really site-specific,’ Jasper had joked. He promised Suzie not to mention Europe, immigrants, Brexit or anything else even faintly political. They have what Jasper called a non- interactive greyhound, its balls horribly visible. The dining-room had a chandelier and a huge shiny table put to crystal, candles and bone-handled cutlery in mind-boggling rows. She was terrified of chipping a plate just by looking at it. Jasper said, ‘Oh good, all we need for a fry-up.’ The venison casserole was a challenge to a vegetarian, but Suzie stayed cool and pretended to enjoy it. ‘Well, at least you’ve passed your degree, Suzie,’ said Geraldine. ie what have you done with
yourself in the year and a half since? Finding herself. Finding her self. Trying out London for summer barwork meant she met Jasper and his web of cool contacts even before her final year of uni. Thank you, whoever controls the universe. A big smiley just for you. ‘Here’s to 2017,’ Terence said, raising the last of his red wine. ‘Albeit one- twelfth gone, almost.’ He had a boozer’s veins on his nose, flushed cheeks. ‘May it bring prosperity and hope and decent weather to the considerable remainder, now we’re back in control and not being bossed about by the bloody Germans, let alone the French.’ ‘Let’s raid the fuck out of the fucking fridge,’ mumbled Jasper.
Not Near London
A spasm passed over his mother’s face but his father ignored him, tossing back the fine claret. He still wore his suit-and-tie at home, as if about to go off to work. Offered early retirement by the corporation, times being hard, massive redundancy payment, obese pension, now glued to the garden, different types of roses, keeping trim on the tennis court, the odd fart when he serves but otherwise acting the spring chicken. ‘We’re gonna have to pay for your pension and meanwhile starve,’ Jasper has said several times to his face over the last couple of years. Terence has kept his vinyls and they include Barclay James Harvest and Procol Harum : he played them after thecranberrysponge, looking pleased as punch,
almost boogying when Jasper turned the volume up and mimicked a DJ. Terencewaswell tipsy from the wine, but that was OK. When Geraldine told her how they’d named Jasper after his birthday month’s gemstone, Terence said, ‘Not at all, it was because he came out green with red spots.’ Suzie found this genuinely funny and got the giggles, with Terence beaming away. So the visit had ended well. This success made Suzie feel paradoxically more grown-up, although she was relieved to get away, even so. ‘I was trying to give him a heart attack,’ Jasper commented, afterwards. ‘Never works.’ The snow was a good excuse for leaving early. The snow, the ice on the tracks. And there was so
much mist at one point it was like Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross . When she pointed this out, Jasper just nodded. ‘Why are you frowning at me?’ he now asks. The train is going at crawling pace. ‘I’m not at you anything,’ shesays. ‘Privatethoughts.’ ‘A peseta for ’em, bitch. Wiv interest. No diss me, yeah?’ Jasper kisses her on the forehead. He is a posh, but she didn’t go with him for that, whatever her old friends think. They reckon he’s pretty cool and gorgeous – which he is. Pwhoar, they tweet, he’s fit. Like they can’t invent their own sentences? But that isn’t the reason, either. It’s because he is so mysterious behind it, behind all the posh crap.
He was bullied at boarding school (over-sensitive), wandered into really serious whoa-no-way chems, was cleaned out by Mummy and Daddy, went off to the Blackfoot Reservation thirty years too late but came back sensible. He even got rid of his undercut. And now he’s a really brilliant graphic artist down in London, freelance, with his own agency, getting slowly known and admired. Right at present it’s pamphlets for a VisitEngland assignment, if he beats the competition, but you have to start somewhere. His agency is called Disruptive Pattern Material, the official name for camouflage, or DPM on the logo. Brilliant. OK, the agency is just him, with herself answering emails and tidying up the
Not Near London
drawing table and serving tea, but so what? It’s like at uni: the Centre for Comparative Arts Practice and Documentation was just Malcolm Harmer’s memory stick. What’s important is that Jasper knows everyone who matters, all the hippest, hottest crowd, some of them filthy rich. In with the buzz, he calls it. Jasper isn’t rich: just the opposite. Geraldine and Terence give him nothing, these days, apart from the odd restaurant meal when they come up to London and an annual subscription to the RA. They’ve learnt their lesson: being his main drugs backer was not cool. So Jasper’s Peckham flat is, like, grim. Draughts that disturb your hair, sills soft as sponge, carpet like there’s been a murder on it. The landlord a spoilt-boy
gambler from Karachi who does not give one shit and charges the fucking earth. ‘Maybe we should move to Hastings,’ they keep suggesting to each other. ‘Or Margate. If Brooklyn’s not available.’ Meanwhile, she is still temping, serving in a vodka bar three nights a week in Clapham, taking whatever else, being exploited, getting her bum pinched by the manager. She doesn’t care: life experience. Filling up the CV. Transitional period. She’s added four London gallery internships aka slave labour. Now she’s done with all that. It’s knackering just to think about. Really what she wants right at this minute is to roll up in a duvet burrito with a cup of tea and a biccie. The train decides it’s a
train again and aims for Stevenage at a respectable lick. She does not want to be here. London is coming. It’s actually moving towards her. She is out of the fenland slub now. Repeat after me: she is young, she is happy, she is Suzie Fowler BA for Bloody Awesome, but the great art career can wait, even her MFA can wait. She is not a random person, she is not Miss Lincolnshire, but she is, like, Miss Universal Peace. Time is on her side, bar catastrophe, bar something like a train crash. And (as Malcolm Harmer would have put it) you can’t build your life around the threat of a train crash. Or an earthquake, because she is definitely going to take a year off and travel the world with a rucksack, this time.
‘The Arts Festival might be interested,’ her mum said over Christmas. ‘What, in my fire buckets? I thought you were upset.’ ‘Send them a photo. Or a photo of one of your photos. You’ve done so many. You never know. Local girl.’ The Arts Fest? That would defo be a train crash. Bunch of Tories nodding off in the Mozart concert. No phones in the air, waving. But she’ll do what Mum said cos otherwise she’ll get mardy and it’ll come up every time. The girl just in front has attracted Jasper’s attention. Shouting into her mobile. ‘Hey,’ the girl yells, half- laughing, ‘he was literally in tears, right? In floods of tears. Sitting in the corner
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and literally crying, with tears all down his face.’ Love. Or maybe just work. Suzie drifts off because she is so indescribably tired she is almost at the end of her physical functionality with about two hours sleep inside her from last night and the train is rocking her away and then she’s dragged back after months or maybe two minutes because the voice is carrying on, needling her into consciousness. ‘She said she thought I looked like her acoustic cousin? Yeah, acoustic. Her cousin’s autistical, OK? And then I said, where do you live in London, and she said: near the Thames? Yeah, like she was so not intelligent. These trains aren’t as mental as she is, righ’? What? Nah, hun, we are so not near London it ain’t bloody true.’
Jasper can’t see her, but he is listening, like his ears are growing points. The girl sounds a proper Londoner, not a fake Cockney. Sarf Lunnen. Brixton, maybe. A husky voice, very strong, like an actress’s or an ageing soul singer’s – not the voice you’d expect. Suzie, whose own voice is thin and weedy and Linconshire-lite in her own opinion, catches Jasper’s eye. ‘Whassup?’ ‘Nothing,’ says Jasper. ‘Looking like you’re having your hair washed by She squeezes his arm, rubs her cheek against his jaw- line of soft beard that goes up in a point under his lower lip. Then she nibbles his ear, tasting its stud as a angels.’ ‘What?’
sudden smoothness. The first thing Jasper ever said to her – or rather, shouted – was in a club: ‘You look like Amy Adams.’ ‘Except that I’m a natural red,’ she shouted back. ‘Please,’ Jasper complains, now. ‘ So sorry…’ She needs tea and a pack of gingers like it’s an emergency. The girl has stopped yelling into her mobile, though she is still laughing. It is an amazing laugh. Husky like her voice and breaking into bubbles, little chuckles. It’s like a firework, spraying out at the top of its arc. Then they hear the girl say, ‘Been up since five, hun, so don’t expect miracles. No, I can’t make a snowman. Wrong type of snow. I’ll give him a shout on Facebook, yeah? Speak
to yo’ in a bit. See ya!’ And then there is only the sound of the train edging through the snowy fields. Edging is the word. Click- uh-tee-clack. Ithasdecided to go slowly forever, now. Like a night bus between Lincoln and Spilsby when you’ve drunk way way too much and you are literally a candidate for A&E and desperate for a piss and you’re officially in Hell. Now it’s because of the ice. We can skid on the tracks or derail, a little voice says. There must be stretches without ice, she thinks, because now and again it’s hurtled along as normal through the pancake-flat countryside. She could get her own phone out, but she’s too tired. And she’s taken a vow not to use her mobile so much. To read books. Or just medidate. Six years of addiction.
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Anyway, when she is tired, really tired, she can’t even stand music. Not even Bugz in the Attic, never mind Jasper’s indie stuff. The effort of selecting something to match her mood, the film in her head: it is huge, sometimes, that effort. She looks at her fingers. They are no one else’s fingers. They’ve gone with her all through her life, and will carry on going with her until she is old, which is something that won’t happen to her because she is going to stay young forever. Three years doing art practice as well as theory, and she still can’t draw the five fingers on a hand. They always look like tentacles or soggy chips or erect dicks. A hand disguised as a chip buttie. Her dad had the same fingers, apparently:
long and slender. The pencil just will not cooperate. Soon she’ll be desperate for a piss and she hates loos on trains. They wobble and they stink. She’s had too many wees today already. She closes her eyes and swirls away into slumber. She is singing to some people in a big open party tent with a hammer drill working next door. There are about ten people sitting there in smart kit at the tables and she has to duck under a flap in the billowing sides of the tent. Silky. She looks at the words and wonders what the tune should be: it is an old-style song, an English folk song, traditional with a hand over its ear. What is she doing, pretending she can sing? The words are stapled to the music and the people are waiting.
Then she wakes up and is saved, beamed out of there into her real life. She feels even closer to actual death, like there’s a hailstorm inside her brain. The hammer drill was the noise of the train. Whump. Whump. Whump. Tea please. Now. One sugar. No such thing as a snacks trolley on this train. Jasper is having a shut- eye, too. His mouth is pursed again, as if he is thinking hard. She loves him very much. He is actually edible. No other boy like him. Seeing Jed with the kids made Suzie think about how Jasper might be with his kids. His and Suzie’s kids. It made her go all warm and at the same time scared. She fishes out her phone, flicking it open to check for messages, sending a couple of replies that have
less thought in them than her thumb. She leans out sideways a bit, into the aisle, and sees how the girl’s elbow is jigging about above the arm-rest, as if she is having a sit-down bop: listening to her music and bopping away in her seat. Retro eighties, or something. Something everyone knows, anyway. Suzie liked the way the girl called the person on the other end of the phone, male or female, ‘mate’. Suzie wishes she could be like the girl, a Londoner able to make jokes out of thin air. The train should have been leaving Stevenage by now but instead they are chugging past a sign saying Bedfordshire: County of Opportunity .Maybeweare secretly going backwards. You wouldn’t know. Who’s the girl going to give
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a shout to on Facebook? There are so many people in the world, so many faces. The girl’s words keep running through her head like a tape loop, like one of those tape loops of a kid’s playground she used in her fire bucket installation for the degree show. Acoustic. Autistical. So not intelligent. It’s derivative crap, Malcolm Harmer had said, to someone else. Who’d told a friend, Steve Pinto, who’d told Suzie. Crap. But the jury disagreed. Maybe the one too old for his spiky hair, the one who declared, ‘I’m a videast.’ Like pederast. The woman behind her is saying, in a loud voice, to the person next to her, ‘It’s fine at first, then it gets a bit horrid.’ Maybe she is talking about
a book. Or sex! She can tell that to Jasper, but she knows he wouldn’t laugh. She wouldn’t tell it right. From the woman’s accent, Suzie imagines her as wearing pearls. She sounds like her old history teacher, Miss ‘Funky’ Lovelace, who had bleeding gums, out in the open whenever she smiled. Or snarled. Jasper likes to sleep in late and then have some more fun-time at about two-thirty p.m. Once, when they were at her mother’s, he left a sloppy condom on the dresser. He only remembered somewhere around Luton. ‘Shit,’ he said, ‘I should have done that chez Terry and Geraldine’s, not your poor old mum’s.’ Her mum wouldn’t have been fazed, though; Suzie didn’t like her being called ‘poor old’. Mum had reinvented
and slapping against the air whenever they hit a tunnel, so loud it is almost painful because the window near them is stuck half open and the heating is on too high so nobody has tried to close it. Jasper glances down at the girl in front as he passes, giving her a little grin. That’s because she is jigging around to her music. Eminem, probably. M.I.A. Young bad girls do it well. Tetra Packs are dead cool for making stuff out of but when she tried a 3-D installation like a surreal high-rise city it was mingy primary-school naff and the tutors said, ‘Suzie, is this ironic?’ She nodded vaguely because she wasn’t actually sure. ‘Like, the process was really important, getting people
herself as a counsellor, sat on trusts and stuff, never had time to be lonely. She found Jazz’s description annoying. Superior. Hoity-toity. Suddenly, he’s squeezing past her knees. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To jump off and make a snowman.’ ‘Wrong type of snow,’ she jokes. He’s already swaying down the aisle, his lovely buns sashaying really conspicuously in those skinny jeans into which she does seriously wonder how he crams in all his tackle: maybe it’s like folding a Tetra Pack carton for the recycling bin. He has to steady himself on the seat-backs because the train is hurtling along again at top speed, rocking
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to collect them?’ ‘Where’s the documentation?’ ‘Right, I meant to but I had a problem with my camera?’ But she really enjoyed painting those cartons with poster paints – pink and purple and yellow and green and one black. Windows and doors. When it came to the final assessment she kicked it over just before the exam so that the cartons were strewneverywhereandshe called it, ‘I Really Enjoyed Painting These with Poster Paints: Rubble 2’. The jury loved it, mentioning some Japanese woman she’d never heard of. ‘Yeah, I really like her work,’ she said, from a part of her she didn’t know existed. Heglancesdownontheway back, too. Much worse, it is: he looks straight at the black girl in front, gives
her one of his dazzling toff-school Prince William smiles that could blow the tits off an iceberg, then makes a remark. Talking to her. Why is he talking? Hey! Is there a child here she can kill? The girl’s taken her earphones off. Her elbow is still jigging, like someone emotionally deranged. Jasper bends slightly at the waist, head lowered, elbow on the seat-backs, hands dangling at the wrists. The train’s movement makes his pelvis sway. Rumba! Hot shit. Or just: oh, shit. Don’t we love life? Suzie shifts across into his seat: she prefers being next to the window, although there is a cold draught blowing upwards into her nostrils which is never reassuring. He is
spending too long making out with the jigging female. Suzie feels her stomach sort of fire up, sweat happening on her temples, her belly going shiny with it. Crazy! He is a sociable guy, that’s all. Says who? Another peal of laughter breaks its bubble on the train’s ceiling. She stares at nothing out of the window, feeling like the outside’s mist of greyness. Which may in fact be on its way to turning black. It’s getting dark way too early every day these days. Going backwards, again. England, going backwards. Eventually he swims back down the aisle (she always sees it as like that, like swimming, the way people steady themselves with their hands on alternative head-rests) and slumps into her old aisle seat. He is somewhere else.
He does do this phased- out thing, and not just when he’s done a bit of chem: he drifts now and again, like he is swivelled round in his own body and contemplating the interior. But it isn’t the same, this time; he is excited. His long eyelashes meet each other and his eyes are rolling about beneath the lids and his sharp straight nose – his mother’s nose – is a little rucked up, like a cushion you want to smooth out. He is breathing almost heavily; anyone’d think the trip to the toilet was a run around the block. ‘What’s up, Jazz?’ He doesn’t open his eyes. Instead he says, quietly, ‘I’ll pick up a deal.’ ‘Eh?’ ‘Earphones. The mobile. Have a hunt on the £2
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shelves.’ ‘We need a sink strainer. And an ice cream scoop.’ He nods. ‘Hey, d’you know what that chick in front’s doing?’ ‘Iknow,’saysSuzie,relieved. ‘She’s boogy-woogying.’ Jasper’s eyes open. ‘What?’ ‘Boogy-woogying in her seat? Hip hop, most like. She’s got the same ringtone as Mum put – ’ ‘She’s knitting,’ he says, interrupting a bit aggressively. ‘Wha…? Knitting? You’re not serious.’ ‘Wehada cool natter about yarn-bombing, about Dave Cole and Magda Sayeg and Ming-Yi Sung.’ ‘What, she’s a guerilla
knitter?’ ‘She’s never heard of any of ’em. Never even heard of soft sculpture.’ ‘Really? How surprising,’ Suzie says, in a tone that is almost a sneer (to her surprise). Neither had Jasper heard of them this time last year, until he read that article in art press . ‘You know what she said? She said it keeps her soul warm. And your feet, I suggested, cos she’s doing this sock, this really cool long sock. She shrugged. But she doesn’t look the type to knit just for knitting’s sake. She’s in telly. Her boss is a producer. Crap daytime TV. He must be gay. They’re all gay in daytime telly. It’s like, y’know, this camp thing? Like Escape to the Country ? Totally beyond trash?’
is pulling out all the stops because they are very late and he’s anxious for his job and, oh yes by the way he’s a psychopath but no one spotted it. It is too loud and they are swaying and the tracks smack and clatter and the noise is worse than the dentist’s. She has to press herself to Jasper to hear what he is saying, now. She feels afraid of the ice. She can’t go taking a wee when they’re going this fast, she’d be found with her knickers down, although probably headless. Dead man’s handle, is it, if the driver has a heart attack or a stroke like her dad? Jasper could easily end up in the aisle, even, if he passes out. Why should he pass out? No chems for a week. Full functionality, both of them. ‘Makes you want to pull
Suzie doesn’t reply. Her mum loves Escape to the Country. It makes her feel smug because she’s already there. ‘Then it’s no escape, Mum.’ ‘What, pet?’ ‘You have to have summat to escape from .’ ‘Fire and air, she is,’ the little homophobic prick who is her lover-boy murmurs, nodding ever so slightly. ‘Oh my God,’ she groans, part-serious. ‘With a ring, not a stud.’ ‘I’m going to sleep, please, because there’s no tea and I need to vanish.’ ‘In her navel. Her Shakespeare Country. A silver ring on her umber skin.’ She stares at him. His eyes are closed again. He is still smiling, but as if to himself. The train driver
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it,’ he says, smiling cockily. ‘Her ring. Through her navel. Like the one that stuck out of my sister’s speaking doll? You lifted up the little dress and – ’ ‘Frickin heck. Try to be an adult, Jasper. Please.’ There are limits, as her mum would say. It’s worse because, being next to the aisle now and not tucked away by the window, his voice travels further. He ignores her, even though she is squeezing the life out of his forearm. ‘You lifted her little dress and pulled the ring and when it went back in she said…’ (he adopts a really loud falsetto): ‘ I’ve wet my knickers . It made me very happy. It were so-o-o sick!’ His falsettohassentaripple through the carriage, she can imagine the heads turning. It breaks through
the train’s sound, which is beyond loud. She presses herself against him. He is bony. ‘You know the face of the earth, Jasper? Right now I want you to fall the fuck off it.’ He is rocking his knees together, excited. ‘Or, wait: I’m hungry, Mummy. ’ She whispers in his ear, so close that her lips brush the pierced but currently vacant lobe: ‘What would hers say, then? Please piss off, annoying person? ’ ‘ Hiya, handsome boy, here’s my mobile number. ’ Knit and knit and knit her way into Jasper’s heart, the girl would. Suzie pulls a face. Jasper is almost in the orgasm zone. ‘ Screwme till it hurts, bruv. Up my Bristol Channel to Chipping Sodbury. ’ It is not