The muddy water washed over them as they stood shivering on the street corner. Two girls Mary and Gennie. They weren’t wanted by society; they weren’t wanted by anyone. They had a mother. Yes, a mother that lived in unclean squalor who smoked rolled up cigarettes and talked to herself. Who sent them out on an ice-cold day in January to collect messages because she couldn’t be bothered? Mary pulled her arm around Gennie pulling her towards her in a hug. No one was going to hurt her, not this time, this time mother had gone too far. She slapped Gennie in psychotic rage, the doctors had given her pills, pills that she washed down with Russian vodka. Mary wouldn’t say mother didn’t care, that was not it. She had always blamed her father far more than her mother a selfish man who’d run off at a young age with another wealthier woman. Who’d left Mary and Gennie in the care of a woman society would claimed as unfit. It was the nineteen forties and the second world war was still raging on.
They lived in London but hadn’t been fortunate to be evacuated here they lay stiff in bed at night, planes circling overhead wondering wither a bomb would drop upon their heads. Gennie suffered from mad fits of panic waking in the middle of the night shivering at the sounds of the sirens her whole body would shake her teeth chattering, her knees knocking, I cant breath she would yell at Mary , “Mary take her back to bloody bed” mother said dismissing her through a cloud of smoke as she sat in a worn armchair watching some old cowboy film on a black and white television. “You don’t have to be so selfish” She yelled at mother although she was only fourteen, she felt like the only person in the world who cared about her sister. She pulled on Genies hand dragging her into the kitchen and putting some milk on the gas hob to heat up. Gennie hopped from foot to foot as the air raid sirens wailed on. Mary wished they would stop. What good did it do? It only panicked people, people running into shelters or just running around the streets clutching at others anything to sooth their fear. Mary thought it was unnecessary and selfish of the government to panic people in such a way. Once the milk was heated up enough, she poured it into a mug and took Gennie by the hand leading her back up to bed. Climbing the stairs. She Lit a lavender candle and tucking her under the covers. “What if we get bombed” Said Gennie still shivering. Mary took her hand stroking it in a soothing manner. “Were not going to get bombed” she said as if the idea was the most absurd thing anyone could ever conjure. She took out a book Alice in wonderland and began reading to Gennie. Gennie Sipped at the hot milk as her sister soothed her into sleep that eventually came. Mary sat back on the old wooden chair; her sister lay peacefully with her eyes closed. Outside the sirens still wailed on and Mary wished she could be younger, she wished someone could sooth her into sleep, but no one would. mother sat downstairs half drunk and showed her no pity. She felt as if no one showed her any pity, perhaps she didn’t even deserve it?
The mornings were slow but easy. Make the beds, empty the chamber pots get dressed, then go downstairs for cornflakes with a little milk. No sugar, not even on birthdays. She longed for something soft and sweet like the buns she saw in the baker’s windows but there was no money.
Gennie was staggering about trying to put her tights on, they were laddered and bobbly, but again there was no money. They were both trouncing from school again, they were too scared to go as that would mean risking evacuation, and although she longed to go sit at a desk and learn poems and arithmetic in a quaint countryside town something in her just wouldn’t let her leave her mother.
Mary stared down at her black cup of tea no milk as usual. They used to get eggs and milk delivered when their dad was around. Sweets aswell once a month on payday they would go to the corner shop and chose between sherbet and liquorice balls all laid out neatly in jars behind the counter. They had nothing like that now. Now all they could get where some out of date potatoes and carrots that mary would have to cut the bad bits off to make some watery soup.
Ann lay with the sheets pulled up to her noes so that it covered her cheeks which were numbed from the cold. The darkness hung around her the silhouettes of what little objects she possessed lit up by a stream of pure light that slunk through a gap in the lace blinds that covered her window. She reached out running her slim fingers over the shaped holes in the yellowed material. A musty smell cast off them filling her lungs and making her splutter her throat burning. When she was little she’d had, the same sounding cough a great whooping one, one that made her father awaken from his sleep in the dead of night and run through to her bedroom to see if she was alright. Coughs weren’t the same when you were a child, it could have been scarlet fever or polio it sent her father into a state. If she ever had one he would run himself down accusing himself of not feeding them well enough, when in reality it was never the fault of an individual. Now her cough came from the city smog, the pollution off the factories that stuck to your skin and hair or the damp that grew from the walls where she was housed.
She rolled over, turning her back to the light and staring into the pitch black. She could feel the cold nip at her legs as she lay in only her thin vest, the thick blanket over her shoulders the only thing covering the vulnerability of her bare flesh. Not that long ago she had lay in this bed with another body whose strong arms had wrapped around her chest and whispered bliss into her ear with his warm sweet breath. She had caved in, in those moments safe in a gentleman’s arms. Just outside had lay the cruelty, poverty, decay and the selfish desperation of her fellow humans. Survivors only at the expense of another. No. She wasn’t good. No number of acts could make her pure. As no human was. We are simply animals run on fear and instinct, poisoned and diluted by intellect. No one individual was evil. Only a society could be that. A facade of the masses that hid the cruellest acts of torture, oppression, and evil in plain sight.
That night had been a one-night stand with a high ranked man in the forces. Not a working man from the pit or the site. He was not one who would be drinking in a pub around her bit. He wasn’t their “kind”. He had fair skin and hair along with clean manicured figure nails, and polished boots. A white-collar boy. He’d lured her to him. Slid up to her at the bar and made her laugh easily. Had her in the palm of his hand from the first sentence. It made her feel special that he’d picked her. She was nothing. He’d paid for her drinks and joined her at her table filling her with lager shandes after a Friday shift. They’d chatted and laughed for hours about the cold weather, his work and politics. She wasn’t very aware of politics. She’d heard rumours of the suffrage movement going on in the cities although had not seen much in the newspapers they tended to ignore it, didn’t like to give it the attention even if it be negative treated it as a disease they feared would spread. Here in a small industrial town most woman lived in the dark over the topic. She knew her older brother voted liberal the party in power at present. And whenever he talked about it he would swear a lot. This man was a member of the conservative party and said for a fact there was to be a war. She’d dismissed it as guff. They’d never be a war. Not now with all the new technology, bombs and artillery they had nowadays. They weren’t that stupid. They’d kill us all. At eleven the pub was closing up and they had been thrown out by the barman with the other late-night stragglers. A group of men from the pits, a lone chubby man, and a thin ragged alchy. Outside the rain had been pissing it down and they’d made a spur decision to seek shelter at the bookies. He’d placed a bet on one of the horses in her name chucking on ten pound the equivalent of three months’ wages. “It will win” he’d announced. He’d a confidence and asserted way to him she’d marvelled at. He held himself up straight. There seemed to her no doubt that plagued his mind. Not like them here where they doubted themselves constantly wither they could put food on the table or heat their frail bones, constantly straining to not sink to the bottom.
“Beside the sink there was a dark green bottle of disenfectant the name was in big red letters on the label. SAN IZAL. And in smaller letters under a red cross was the word. Poison. That had been spelled out to me with a warning to leave it alone.
I unscrewed the top and sniffed at the San Izal. I loved the smell of it a smell you could just about bite. I wanted to take a sip but it was poison. If I swallowed it I would die. My father said when you died that was it. Finsihed. My mother said you went to heaven to live with god.
The feeling was centred in my stomach and had something to do with the picture. I wanted my mother. I held the book close to me and crossed once more to the sink. I wanted to drink the San Izal.
I wanted to write this post centered around this story by Alan Spence. I Myself have been feeling sucidal because of current events in my life. I think feeling sucidal is a natrual thing that all humans feel. Maybe I’m worng. In this story even a young boy feels the urge to drink the San Izal and kill himself. This perhaps has to do with his enviroment he talks about the outside of his house being a wasteland “I could see our street and another leading off it down towards the docks. Rows of grey tenements , a factory , a wasteground” so perhaps he is suffering from poverty. Something enough to drive the masses to the bridge.
In this story I like Alan spences dipiction of what depression does to you. We see this in the example of when the boy eats a peice of bread. “Mechanically I picked up the bread I had left on the table and took another bite , chewed it to a dry pulp sweet sugary grit between my teeth. I Couldnt finish it , threw the last hard crust in the bucket” This shows that the boy feels to low to eat and the bread is tasteless to him. Alan spences attention to detail is also amazing. In the sink lay a knife I had used , still streaked with margarine. I turned on the tap , let the rush of water splash over it , but it didnt come clean , it was still smeared , the cold water clinging in globules to the blade. I think this image is also symbolic of how the boys feeling. It shows how hopeless he feels at his situation. And which in turn is driving him to drink the San Izal.
He also talks about wanting his mother. “I wanted my mother “ Almost as if the lonliness is enough to make him drink poison. At the end of the story all is resolved when his mother comes home and grants him safety from himself and the feelings hes had. “I heard my mothers key turn in the door and she was here she was home. The tears came now. I couldnt hold them back. ” His mother is symbolic of saftey and comfort and manages to sooth the boys distress.
He woke his body crumpled on the floor his limbs stiff. A warm stream of light that fell through a gap in the grimy curtains onto his toes was the only part of his body he could feel. He rose to his feet unsteadily reeling slightly placing a hand on the solid white walls. He wore only his pants and a dirty t-shirt. He could feel the worn stubbly stained carpet beneath his feet. It was early November and the desolate flat was deathly bitter. He reached for his jeans on the floor clambering into them desperate for some warmth. The bottom of them was covered in dry sick. He rubbed his pounding foggy head and new the headache was the result of more than the cold. He stumbled through to the kitchen of the flat where he had been squatting. It was already littered in crack needles and food packets from the previous visitors and some rat droppings due to an open hinged window. He reached for a half drunk plastic bottle of Irn Bru and some aspirin. Swallowing three pills down heavily with a slug of sickly E numbers. He grabbed his smashed up iPhone which had a little charge, and scrawled down to her number. It dialled each ring hollow. She answer it was her voice. Her sweet slightly fatigued voice. “Hello” she said hesitantly as if she knew it was him. “Stace it’s me !!” he said his voice sounded highly strung in the empty flat. There was a heavy sign on the other end “stop calling Rebus I’ve told you this or I’m going to call the police. Your harassing me” she said tiredly. “we need to talk Stace I know I’ve messed up in the past but I can change I promise just let me come back let me see jack he’s my boy I’m aloud to see him” he said desperately. “Why” she spat. “what good would you do him” there was a pause her anger fizzling out. “I supported you for years rebus. I swept your drinking under the carpet I handed you money I even did nothing when you bruised me up, I can’t do that anymore not when you lost your job I can’t support you I told you that. “ she said in a tone of hopeless despair. “I’ll change stace I promise. I’ll get a job I’ll make money I’ll provide for you and not spend it on drink you have to believe me” He begged. “no you won’t!!!” she screamed “you don’t care not about anyone but yourself do you not think I struggle do you not think we all do but I still do it” she said. “ I was ill stace I’m sorry….” He tailed off. “so what” she said “do you not think we all are do you not think I wanted to go to sleep forever when you left but I can’t because I’ve got a son to look after and bills to pay you twat” she spat. “please stace” he soothed. “don’t do that” her voice cracked “don’t pretend to be the strong one” she shouted “you’re a weak selfish man John there’s nothing more to it” she rung off leaving the line ringing emptily in his ear. He through the phone at the wall in anger so the battery fell out and clattered to the floor. He fell against the door no longer able to support his body. He wanted to be dead. No he didn’t that wasn’t it he feared death just like any animal. He just had an intense craving for relieve. He looked out the windows at the sun dancing upon the roof tops. A thought came to his mind from when he was a boy. Sitting with his grandfather beside the electric fire the old man sipping on his pipe. “At one point you realise John when you strip it all back theirs no such thing as failure it doesn’t matter where you are on the status spectrum or the buggered things you’ve done or the people you’ve hurt the people who are scared of failure and scared of success so they stay stuck they’re the only failures in life. Their the ones who get depressed and turn to drink and sex and religion and drugs and violence to block it out. They’re the ones who will die in fear. The world isn’t safe John or pleasant but there is a way to find some content. And that’s to never give up.”
Jack Walked across the site. Dirt and rocks crumbling beneath his steel cap boots , the ground he walked on dusty and uneaven. He leant down heaving up a few bricks and sliding them under his arm in a routine manner. He stumbled across to where the house was being built and began to lay. Spreading on a layer of grey murky cement and then placing the brick on top. This was the filling of time in his days. His life one brick on top of another. The mundane repetitivness enough to keep insanity and fear at bay. The soothing relieve of money into the bank account at the end of the month ; enough to allow the objections to slide. To worn down by austerity to read a newspaper , to take an interest in politics. That life couldnt be his , comfort , clarity , security. Hope. Even if he deserved it.
He allowed his thoughts to drift off to an image of his partner. Her slender figure which made him tingle with animal desire , her charming smile which drew you to her like a moth , her flattering laugh which could make you giddy. Yet now she was gone. As quick as a memory. In a box in the ground a future erased ; a life extinguished like a naked flame. How someone could be standing next to you ; merged into every part of your life and the next minuit had disapeared was completly incomprehensible to Jack. He still expected her to be their in the place he had last saw her. A disorientation that it was impossible that he could never talk to her again , laugh with her again. Hold her in his arms and feel protected for one small moment in a world no one was safe in. He still carried the greif with him like a dusty old scarve that made each breath thick , heavy and difficult.
Most nights he spent alone , lagar can in hand the echoey flat only an empty shell and not something he could call home. Possesions scattered like a shrine , items that could never belong there anymore. Without her he was nothing. A one sided coin. An empty side of the bed. A shadow of a life. He stuffed it with booze and oven chips , saturday football matches and news at six. Mundane things. Things to keep killing time. To block out the fact he was alone in the world. Survival was necessary. Living was painful , unbearable , hopeless. Yet death scared him. Like it scared most men. So he carried on. One brick after another.
He Leant against the brick wall. Th dry tabbaco floating over his lips and eveporating into the air. The process of the chalky smoke being inhaled through his mouth into his lungs , destroying little parts of him gave him the sense of twisted pleasure and relaxation. It formed a mask , against the guilt , fear and bitterness. It was a satisfactory action , to twist the slim pale ciggeret between his idle fingers. Knumbing the agitation and despair he felt. Despair as an adult wasn’t like despair as a child it paralised you steeped into every corner of your mind like cancer , dulling it.
“Jack for frig sake” his friend called to him his voice broad and masculine the tounge of the building trade. A language created as a dry attempt to keep at bay the vulnrability the men felt when they lay in their beds at night darkness cast over them , their children sleeping contently behind a door only a few steps away and the knowledge that the strength of their body was the only thing protecting them from drowning in the hands of the state. “Come on you aint got time for a cig I need this job finished today” his pal grumbled. Him eyes were heavy and worn his mind fatigued his body run down , like most of the boys. “Al…right” Jack moaned. Rumination was a fault Jack despised of himself. The inability to just accept and get on was a weakness he’d been torchered by all his days and bitter envy grew in him , of those who could escape the grasp of it.
She sat in the draftee bus station her knees trembling slightly the mettle bench beneath her cold against her thin stockings and skirt there were only a few others around her. One man sat to her left his eyes looked threatening. Angry. As they darted from one spot to another anxiously but his tattooed arms were too thin his shoulders hunched, his frail body crumpling around him. The station smelt of damp linoleum and urine. A draft came in from the open doors the building offering little warmth against the cold. She stood up stiffly and shuffled out of the building the light making her eyes stumble to grasp the outline of shapes. She peered at the times displayed on the shelter at her bus stance. There was only one other woman who stood there. She looked in her fifties her face yellowed and worn, wearing a heavy duffle coat puffing wearily on a cigarette. She stood as if she didn’t have anywhere particular to go. Like most at the bus station did walking around listlessly from the shopping centre and back only for the sake of being around other human beings. It was that or the confident of your own four walls that gave enough allusion of safety to make a soul go mad. There was a bakers in the shopping centre with a café that sold cheap cups of tea, so she decided to head up there. Trailing back through the station and up the hill past the labour exchange and bookies. She passed woman with prams, and some with children too young for school or off absent. To most children would bring joy yet here it saddened her. Children brought into this, what sort of life would they live? What sort of life was there anymore?
The man at the bus station stood up and approached her as she walked out. He was thin and bare headed and his skin was pale with a sickly yellow tinge to it. She made brief eye contact with him, only to instantly regret it. “excuse me you got any change for the bus “he asked stopping her and holding out his hand. His wrist had a prison tattoo on it a permanent marker of his inadequacy in society. Ann backed away feeling taken aback by his presence and uneasy in his company. “na sorry mate” she lied and walked on quickly relieved to get away, feeling his piercing empty eyes follow her.
She approached the cafe counter slowly. The place was deadened and gloomy there was no other customers apart from two middle aged women who sat tucked away at the window. “how can I help you luv” The woman at the counter asked. She ordered a tea and iced bun fumbling with her purse and handing too much change to the woman, who tipped a shilling back into her hand shaking her head slightly. She chose a small stained wooden table near the window in the light, so she had a clear view of the buses as they taxied in and out. The woman brought her tea over to her placing the metal pot, china cup and jug of milk down in front of her. She thanked her, and got a warm smile in return as the woman turned and walked back behind the counter. She picked up the pot her hand trembling slightly from the weight as she poured the steaming liquid into her cup. The women sat a few tables in front with their backs to her. One of them had a strong broad accent and was bitching loudly about woman from her work. “I don’t ken how they can let her do that job , she should nea be a carer, I heard one of them pissed themselves and she just left them sitin in it for a week , and now she’s aff te work for the cooncil” “Yeah” the other replied. Ann poured the milk into her tea watching as it spread out polluting the translucent liquid. She raised the cup to her lips taking a gulp it was milky and warm the way she liked it and seemed to sooth her tired body and mind.