Blood Brothers

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‘My friends don’t amount to one hand.’ – Mark E Smith

I picked more small pieces of paint from the wall beside my bed. It was pink. Flaked off easily once you got your nail up under the edge. The hall light shone under the bedroom door. Somewhere at the other end of the house the little black and white tv was showing something. Not loud. My parents were watching. Tired.

I never worked out why my bedroom was painted pink. I’d got some pictures of dinosaurs up on the walls, and above my bed there was a baby mobile of sea creatures: whales, dolphins, all smiling insincere grins down at me in the dark. I watched them, hardly moving in whatever draught was coming in with the light. A car came past on the u shaped road, down the hill then up the other side. Every car changing gear at almost the same point every time. I listened for them, mimicking the noises under my breath, guessing the moment.

The shelves above the tiny desk in my bedroom were full of books. I’d read them all. Even tried writing one: something about a murder on a ship. Some fantastical island paradise turned bloody. They caught him in the end. Something to do with him working alone; no help to dispose of the bodies. Mistakes were made.

I had no friends on the road. There was an idiot two streets away – Warren – but I avoided him because when he laughed, spit flew out from his goofy teeth and he looked like a cartoon character. The only people I ever really hung about with were Jack and Floyd. They lived further away on the island. We knew how to get girls pregnant. You pissed on their belly. With such secret knowledge, imparted by Floyd one afternoon to me and Jack, you had an edge over other boys. It was a frightening proposition to be in charge of creating life, and so easily. I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to piss on Leanne (my first girlfriend). I mean, we hadn’t even kissed.

The three of us played down on the mud flats, over the oyster beds. Prodding the silt with bamboo canes, digging for slippery gold. Throwing huge globs of clay at each other. Laughing. We were pretty much the Kings of the Primary school. No-one could outrun me at sports, or outswim me. And me and Jack would fight anyone, even each other, until the sun set. We became blood brothers – cutting each other’s hand with a blunt penknife and holding the two tiny cuts together while saying some gibberish about growing up and becoming men. Being bonded. Fighting forever.

We moved before my cut had healed. Before I really had time to say goodbye. Up to the North. Two hundred miles away. No friends.

 

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Child, Summer, Safety, Shit.

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The stone staircase was grand. Probably would have been grander before they’d knocked down the huge house which must have stood on the slight rise above. There was no sign of exactly where. The staircase was blackened but hardly worn. I wondered if it and the house had been in use for long. If ladies in long dresses drifted up and down them to the lake below. If martinis and tennis whites painted the backdrop to talk about the war. Money. Privilege. Oxbridge accents, eventual death and decay. I guess even some of the super rich can’t remain wealthy, or alive, forever. The grounds were now a caravan site managed by my grandparents. You could pull up, plug into blue electricity points, and settle down on fold-away chairs under the canopy of Yew trees. Then next morning empty containers of shit into a chemical disposal slurry pit. Bright purple chemicals, chlorine smell, happy faces of men wheeling barrels of human waste to the manhole cover, surrounded discreetly by a brick wall so nobody could see the lumps jigging out and down. Splashing satisfactorily below in the tank. My Grandfather would check the level, then ride off on his little red tractor to see if the shower blocks were clean. Sometimes people smeared shit on the walls in there. He’d sort it out without anger, just a quiet shrug, while I stood outside handing him a mop, or filling up the bucket with more water. I always wondered why someone would want to shit in the showers and wipe it around. I mean, the people who visited the site were mainly retired, enjoyed sitting idly watching the rabbits on the grass in the early evening, a drink or two, simple meal. They seemed normal. Staid, even. I tried to picture what drove someone to do something like that, but couldn’t. It was a secret and perverse crime. Okay, so I’d pissed out of a tree that time back on the island when a guy was walking his dog in the alleyway below, then ran through the folly laughing, but shit was a whole different level. My crime was out in the open. My victim knew who’d soiled him, saw my face, shouted in rage, and given chase. He lost, couldn’t catch me, but he knew I wasn’t a coward. I’d given him the sporting chance to make things right and settle the score. My crime was direct. Honest.

The main reason I liked the summers I spent down on the caravan site was the fact my parents hardly ever came with me – apart from my mother from time to time. My father would spend his summer break sailing with his friends, getting drunk, and finding someone or something else to rage at. Gritting his teeth, growling and screaming like an animal, fists pumping. For those glorious sunny weeks it wouldn’t be me on the end of it all. My Grandparents were kind, loving, and let me play out in the woods as much as I wanted. Although I was used to the freedom of roaming back on the island, and I did that as much as possible, it was a novelty to not be scared to come home when the light was fading. Nothing waiting for me other than a couple of warm smiles. No terror. Just talk about my day, my Grandfather telling me I could drive the tractor in the morning. An ordinary life I didn’t usually have access to. I’d always sleep well, waking in the morning without my heart in my mouth, listening to wood pigeons cooing in the trees. Safe.

 

Rich Indeed

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Jimi Hendrix choked to death on his own vomit. He was wealthy, but all that meant nothing when he was disappearing into some alpha hole he could never trip back from. Sleeping tablets and booze can do that to a guitar hero, or to you.

The wind is cold. My walking boots are failing me and wearing heavily. Prince George (is that his name? I’m not entirely sure I know for certain) has started at his first private school. Money is tight around here. The summer was a washout, tragic, really. The first shitty autumn storm came around two days ago – my birthday. Birthday… I’m forty four years old. I don’t know about you, but it wasn’t a hell of a do. Neither was the storm. I guess naming these things stops us from wondering why we never used to get them back in the days when lead was in petrol. And it is easier to believe an abstract weather entity with a name has some form of sentience than it is to admit to Climate Change. We really are that stupid. It’s been a long time since I’ve touched this keyboard. And if you can’t tell, then I can.

I started out with the intention of writing about the £4,000,000 spent in the past two years on the Duke and Duchessessess’ – whatever fucking antiquated bullshit name they’ve given themselves – home in London. I was going to spit bile about it, get worked up, and throw more tablets down my neck to stop me losing any sense of reality. I still might. I haven’t finished reading up on the renovation properly.

Shit….the place was ‘riddled with asbestos’, and had no running water. What the fuck has all the Royal income been used on over the years if the house where Prince Charles and the people’s Princess lived in wedded bliss had no running water? Where has the cash gone? Words like ‘Sensitive’ and ‘ordinary’ were used to describe the Cambridge’s views on the plush restoration of the massive house in the best part of London. They apparently paid for their own kitchen… William has no official income now he’s stopped his year or so of work – excepting the expenses for merely existing and carrying out his official engagements. Tahiti, or Stevenage? Tough choices. Oh, he receives roughly £350,000 a year from the £10,000,000 trust fund his mother left him and his playboy brother.

I can’t type any more. I can’t write any more. I’m barely managing to stay afloat today. This is a day for medication, music, and for forgetting my lowly birth.

I’m starting a DBT Advanced Group next month. My CPN is due in the morning. I don’t pay for either. I am rich indeed.

The Wedding

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It was dark on the manicured lawn. No lights, other than the shitty disco colours through cracks in the curtains a hundred feet away on the other side of a sand bunker and a small car park. Muffled music ran like thick sludge from the doors to the hole in the grass with a flag in it where I was standing. I was looking up at the stars in my hired three piece suit. The July night was clear and warm but there was an ominous feeling, like I was committing a murder, or had just felt a sudden strong gust of wind on a cliff edge. I didn’t want to go back inside. About a hundred people were sitting looking bored, or had drunk too much and decided to dance. People weren’t talking to each other. Nobody looked interested in anything other than getting the fuck out of there and back home. I was no different. I lay down on the grass, wondering how long it’d take before someone realised the groom had gone. If it mattered?

A friend of mine had driven from Leeds but was sitting in his car smoking weed. I could smell it from the eighteenth green, lush and fragrant, like a last note of many years of fantastic music. There’d be no more of that kind of thing for me. At 27 I was already so deeply into normal life anyhow that whomever I used to be had been kicked to death. And I was having my wedding reception at a Golf Club…..a fucking Golf Club….! The shitty, dull, grind of nothingness was already weighing heavily. What sort of robot had I become? Somehow I’d got with a woman so incompatible that the days lasted forever and the nights couldn’t come soon enough just so I could go to sleep and waste the hours. Inside the Golf Club hall she was sitting talking to her sister, laughing. The wedding dress was cutting into her armpits but she kept it on. It was her day.

I got up and walked slowly back inside. Shitty music now, booming. Alternate blue/green/red light illuminated faces all staring into space or down at the plates of food from the £1,000 evening buffet. I hadn’t eaten any of it. I waited at the bar to be served. Somehow I’d have to get through the honeymoon. How? I couldn’t bear to think about it. I drank the lager quickly and ordered another, which didn’t taste as bad as the first, but couldn’t have lifted the mood even if it had been laudanum.

That night, in the bridal suite, I saw someone had smeared lipstick on the mirror. Some bawdy bullshit about screwing my new bride. There was a penis shaped balloon tied to the bed. We undressed. She folded the wedding dress carefully. I chucked the suit on a chair and climbed into bed. She got in beside me. ‘Did you enjoy the wedding,’ I asked.

‘It was wonderful,’ she replied.

‘I’m very tired.’

‘Shouldn’t we….’

‘Maybe in the morning. That okay with you?’

Silence.

I slept well. Avoided any physical contact in the morning. Ate breakfast. Drove to the airport. We didn’t even have sex on the honeymoon. I managed to dodge it by saying I felt poorly, hungover, sunburned, headache, stomach ache, tired, and spent the week drinking, walking around in a daze, avoiding thinking about marrying the wrong person. Feeling like a rat trapped in a barrel. No chance of escape.

That’s Entertainment

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The island would have to be fairly decent sized. The fantasy calls for at least a hundred acres of jungle and beach. It would be too much to hope for some kind of weathered volcanic peak, bright orange magma bubbling down in the crater. All it’d need would be for the island to be inescapable. Sharks patrolling a knife sharp reef, big breakers, no chance for a dugout canoe or a raft to get far from the beach. Maybe gun boats, searchlights, the ability to launch a helicopter from my nearby private yacht – the operational centre of things – anchored a mile or so off shore and packed with every comfort known to man.

There would be a requirement for observation towers, high, with night vision cameras, giving 100% coverage of the island. Nowhere to hide. The pictures would be beamed to the yacht, where I would be sitting comfortably on a white sofa, drinking Cuba Libres, and taking just the right amount of amphetamines to stay awake so as not to miss a second of the show.

Okay, this kind of production isn’t going to be cheap. I’ve budgeted several million pounds for starters. When I begin to factor in things like the introduction of Tigers and King Cobras, and the amount of LSD I’d need to periodically poison the water supply, that total will rise. I plan to have enough money in reserve to cover those kinds of running costs. A Euromillions lottery ticket practically guarantees safe financial management of the project. I’m not worried. There will be enough surplus for cocaine, Louis Roederer champagne, and Dodo eggs. I may grow fat and lethargic, but my heart rate will never drop below 150bpm, especially if I’m watching the screens when the Tigers have been released from small boats onto the white sandy beaches by teams of animal handlers brought in from all the Worlds best Safari Parks and worst Romanian zoos. With the almost constant increased cardio load I may well live to be a hundred under such circumstances.

The island, as you’ll have guessed by now, is to be inhabited. The population will be unwilling, at first, but at bayonet point there are going to be few arguments… Here are the contestants –

  1. A Walter Mitty dog walker who I went to sixth form with. He tells people he is an expert at survival. I think it’s only fair to see just how far his bullshit is going to stretch when he’s being chased, purely as a source of meat, by the other contestants.
  2. Bez from the Happy Mondays. That drug-addled clown can’t dance his way out of this one.
  3. Pete Tong. Now, I don’t know much about Pete. He might be a lovely guy. His face, though, is what is putting him on the island. He looks likehow I imagine Satan would if he was off out to your local Town’s shittest night club to play records standing behind a wallpapering table.
  4. Wolf, from the shit 1990s TV show ‘Gladiators’. I didn’t like his hair, his claw pose when his name was announced, or his roid-rage eyes. He might be, God I don’t know, seventy [?] now, but I think his brain would still be enraged enough from the years of human growth hormone abuse that he’d be super-aggressive if provoked.
  5. Iain Duncan-Smith. That shitbag is to be a ‘special guest’ on the island. He’ll arrive after the others have formed a loose coalition based on fear. He’ll be pushed out onto the beach strapped to a wheelchair, chained to a rabid, blind, hyena. Anyone who has ever been a victim of his benefit system reforms can have this episode beamed into their homes for free.
  6. Jean-Claude Van-Damme. No explanation needed.
  7. That twat from the ‘One Show,’ on BBC1. I don’t know his name. I don’t want to – unless, by law, I’ll have to have it carved on his tombstone after his liver is eaten by the others. But I’ll make the correct lines of enquiry when that happy day comes.
  8. Jeremy Kyle. That fuck-pig will jettison out of a high speed aircraft over the island wearing a Kevlar suit – like a modern day knight. The suit will make him invulnerable to almost everything except disease and drowning. In a strange twist to his rotten life, he’ll pray for someone to talk to by the end because there is no chance of assimilating with the other freaks on the island. He really is that popular. If he doesn’t starve to death, and if he is the final contestant left alive, he is to be thrown into a pit of lie-detector failures from his show. Even Kevlar won’t save him then.

The whole experience could last a good few months, unless there’s some form of mass suicide pact or the animal handlers can’t recall the Bengal Tigers when needed. Depending on how much fun I’m having – likely a lot – I could probably stretch it out for them for a year or more; giving food parcels, rudimentary and experimental health care, and blasting loud music from the towers to ensure they remain at peak levels of paranoid sleep-deprivation and alertness. I’d need a companion to enjoy it all with, of course. And viewers to consume the experience from the comfort of their own homes at £30 a month. Entertainment like this doesn’t come along very often. Be ahead of the curve. Book now.

 

Fine Print

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Someone told me that you should just write. Doesn’t matter what it’s about – choose the first thing that comes into your head. I followed that advice for years. Even sitting doing paid gigs for magazines/websites and PR companies. Mostly the advice proved to be good. Only one Editor refused to print something I’d written without ‘Major fucking changes to the way you are blowing smoke up the ass of the W.B.C.’

Today I’m finding it difficult. Really difficult. Worse than psychotic episode brain-freeze. Or gibberish. Shit, I liked the gibberish. Reading the ravings of someone deep into a paranoid belief the neighbours are all police officers makes for fun reflection when the dust has settled. I’ve written high, low, hallucinating, starving, puking, hungover, and when it’s been so cold that the olive oil in my kitchen has frozen. But not today. There is no coherent thought I can drag along on the back of. Well, there’s one, but it’s so consuming that I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside out.

My Psychologist and I argued on the phone about how I deal with this. She’s worried. Kept asking me about my propensity to self harm. Wanting to assess the level of danger. I could hear her typing things down carefully as I spoke. ‘No……honestly, for fuck’s sake, I’m safe.’ One answer like that is usually enough, but she must have asked me four or five times over twenty minutes. Same answer, same typing. Same thought, over and over and over. Same face, same smile, same laughter.

Music on now. Loud. Someone told me it’s all about grounding yourself in times like these. I guess it works, mostly. Maybe a quick prayer will help?

Okay, God, you fucking owe me. Let’s not argue about that, eh. We both know it. I’ve borne enough bullshit and hurt to last me from here until you high-five my hand warmly as I ride through those big gates on a Raleigh Chopper. Time for that re-birth you’re always banging on about in those pamphlets that come through my letterbox infrequently. Forget the gibberish about dinosaurs and homosexuals. That stuff isn’t important. You’ve lost your way a bit concentrating on things that don’t matter. Give me this one fucking chance to feel good.

There. I told you this thing would be incoherent. But at least whatever being is tending the eternal campfire up there now has the fine print in black and white. Spiritual proof, if you will. Maybe you can write your way to anything if you let it just flow?

Nights of panic

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The house was on a new development. Mock Tudor. Hideous. I was only looking at it because my partner thought it was the right thing – the upwardly mobile thing – to do. She was bland. I guess that’s why the blandness of the little street appealed. All I knew was that it was bigger than the house we were living in. And I wouldn’t have to hear the neighbours over the road fucking in the summer with their windows open. Screaming up the hot night while I lay in bed not wanting to do the same with the woman laying next to me. Every time I heard them I imagined the kind of love and lust that was driving those screams and moans. It had never been like that in my life. Fuck those hot summer nights. We would breath heavy. Both of us knowing the other wasn’t asleep. Not touching in bed. Me staring into the gloom praying I wouldn’t feel a hand on me under the thin sheets. Having to make up an excuse.

But the new house was going to be away from all that. The neighbours weren’t going to screw all night and shout each others names into the stinking rotten Epworth air. This was a move upwards. Up Up, into the middle class. Two cars on the drive. Waving to grass-cutting middle-aged car salesmen across the way on Saturday afternoons. Pristine house. Glass of wine with Dinner. Better and better cars and sofas and holidays until the rest of my hair fell out and the pension cheques started dropping on the mat. Climbing up into the apex of fat mediocrity. Tense puckered kisses goodbye in the mornings, the limit of sexual contact. Thankful for it.

The house was owned by a single woman in her mid to late forties. I can’t remember her name but it was something like Crapper, or Merde, or some other shit-based reference. I remember laughing when I first heard it. She had curly brown hair and, possibly, an eating disorder. She was very thin, drawn, and her eyes had sunk right down into their sockets. I was shocked when she opened the door to show us around. And she was timid, really scared-looking. Mousy. Like she was about to run to a safe room and bolt the door behind her. She barely whispered when she talked. Something told me she’d seen something awful and couldn’t wash it away. I thought that’s why she kept the house so clean. The hallway and stairs had a brand new carpet, you could smell the newness. The walls had been painted cream and it looked as though the paint layers were thick and expensive. My partner loved the place, so after we looked round we went back to the estate agents and told them we’d offer near the asking price. I wondered about the new carpets in a new house. I asked what it was all about.

‘You didn’t see the news last year?’ she replied.

‘No..’

‘Her husband attacked her one night in the house with an axe. It was pretty bad. She was trying to leave and he was chopping at her as she was coming down the stairs into the hallway to the front door, trying to run. I heard she curled up into ball by the front door and he just kept on hacking. Someone next door heard the noise and called the police. She nearly died.’

‘Jesus!’

‘He got twenty years in prison.’

‘And that’s why the new carpet and the paint job?’

‘Yeah. You do still want to put an offer in?’

The sales pitch wasn’t the best I’d ever heard. But at least it was honest. Mrs Crapper, or whatever she was called, had only just come out of hospital and wanted rid of the place where she’d almost been chopped to pieces by someone she trusted. She wasn’t even living there any more. She’d moved in to her sister’s. She couldn’t face living alone. Being hacked at with an axe tends to change people.

So we bought the house, violent memories and all, and I set about cleaning the car on Saturdays, waving to the guy across the road. Losing more of me by the second. Disappearing into the middle of my life in a beige haze of nothing out of the ordinary. At least in the summer, with the bedroom windows open, the nights were still. Like they were in the marriage bed.

 

The Connection

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The chapel had been funny. The Elvis impersonator was a Chinese guy. When they said the whole ceremony could be done in less than five minutes they weren’t kidding. Even down to the karate routine at the end. Outside there was a queue. In Vegas the impersonality of vacationers lends to crazy impulses, and there is always some scheme set up to fleece the good-willed. And hordes of willing victims. Still, in there, at that moment, they were both laughing. They were in on the joke of it all. That’s the reason they came. That, and the connection they’d made that was so intense you should have been able to see it from the Moon.

In the convertible outside they sat down into the seats, put on the stereo loud, and squealed the tyres blasting down the strip to the lights at the end. There was crazy talk over the noise of the wind and the music. A sense of dangerous excitement and a big motherfucking country right out there in front of the steering wheel. Cheap motels, the desert, and the Mountains of the Sierra, all moments away. They took turns to drive, both jamming their right foot hard into the floor. Gunning the thing. Laughing. Holding hands. Stopping to refuel. Two people with some weird soul-bond, heading out under the milky way with the roof down. Maybe all the way to Alaska, Canada? Fuck, it might not end there. There were Northern Lights to sit and stare at, hold each other. Plan a crime-spree on the walls of a hick town. And wondrous, spirt-touching, intense love making to send them soaring.

 

 

Fooled

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A long time ago – is two years a long time? – I used to write about Boxing. It was mostly always a paid gig, depending on the publication and the Editor, and the strength of the subject matter. Really though, when you lay the subject bare, there is only so much you can say about people punching each other in the head. I used to try and stay away from that sort of thing and aim for the off-kilter parts of the sport: the weirdness, the characters, the underworld, and the feeling of being covered with blood splatters while you’re sitting ringside watching the Doctor playing pool on his iphone instead of watching the fight. Nights of baying crowds, high on Cocaine and cheap booze, with me sitting next to the canvas with a notebook and pen, trying not to look the fighters in the eyes when they were getting punched senseless in the corner right in front of me. Some of them even whimpered. Say what you like, but you can see pain and fear when the punches rain in. I don’t care who they are, or how they tell a press conference about ‘desire’ and ‘courage’. I know Rocky doesn’t exist outside of a cinema screen. Just like I know that blood takes ages to remove from a white cotton t-shirt.

But, ah, those sweaty nights. Locked in turmoil. Earning a crust, hating the sport, writing hours of endless gibberish with mock sincerity. Avoiding the fights in the crowd, sitting next to scantily dressed ring girls who were barely able to climb into the ring on heels you could skewer a pig with. The background soundtrack of wolf whistles, shouts of ‘I’d fuck you!’ and the drunken jeering when the round starts. Blood-lust. The smell was tangible. Testosterone, earnest machismo. Barred teeth and pumping fists into the auditorium air. One glorious, unpredictable, human machine. A combine harvester ready to go at a moments notice. Anywhere. For any reason. Mob rule pressure cooker release valve, ready to test the limits.

Some nights there was need for the security cordon around the ringside area. The fearless few always lost in the end, carried out by men in black towards back entrances and a lesson in the alleyway that would leave an impression lasting beyond the life of the bruises. Other nights I was left alone in relative quiet between gangsters and many, many handshakes and faces eager for me to write the right things about their boy. I almost never did.

When I got home after an event I was always shattered. Emotionally spent. Covered in sweat and tiny freckles of blood. I’d go and shower, leaving my face lifted up to the shower head and thinking about the meaning of all that violence. The swollen hands and noses, broken ribs, the money changing hands, futures decided in the half a second of lapsed concentration. Sated violent desire, hotel rooms, come-downs, ice baths. The spectacle of it all; steeped in history and evolution. Satisfying the crowd, but not me. I always thought everyone was being fooled anyhow. Nobody ever won.

 

Feelin’ it fast

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The cars were wrecked, covered in mud, dinted, full of hungover kids and fucked up camping equipment. Girls had tried to plat their hair but the rain and the sweating atmosphere of airless tents had rat-tailed every one of them. They looked like refugees escaping some desperate war zone. Close to the edge of panic.

Car after car sat in the gridlock in the village. The bus driver was shouting to me about the madness of camping in a field around here and listening to ‘that shit music’. I shouted back that he just felt old. Like I did.

I got off at my stop, walked slowly across the road, waved at the Romanians at the car wash. They smiled and waved back, then went on cleaning a Porsche as the fat driver stood back admiring the power of money. His sunglasses were too big for his piggy face. Trousers too tight, belly hanging over the front. Gold bracelet, heavy and glinting in the sun, hung against the top of one hand, dragging him down, nailing his soul to the floor. His teeth matched the white foam but his skin was red. Blood pressure too high. Climbed off his big-titted wife barely half an hour ago as she lay panting under the weight. Cock barely functioning despite the view below him writhing in mock ecstasy, trying her best.

He moved his head to one side, checking out the cleaning job on the car. It had never occurred to him how much you can get people to do for ten pounds. You got your car cleaned, smiled at – bowed at, too, sometimes. Language barriers make for odd gestures. The traffic moved slowly. He eyeballed the bored drivers. He thought about where to drive when the car was clean. Maybe McDonalds? Eat a burger. Then pick up the wine and get back to those tits. Man…they’d been a good investment.

I went inside my house. Put my bag down. I heard the roar of the Porsche start up. He revved the engine four or five times for maximum effect, turned up the stereo. I heard him pull out into the traffic and accelerate away up the hill, really gunning it. I wondered if his wife was ready for another go on the mountain of blubber that was heading her way in the sunshine, too fast to stop.