Archive | April, 2012

Issue 7: Bloody Hell

4 Apr

Bloody Hell, it’s Issue 7.  We’d like to use this opportunity to celebrate our first anniversary this Women’s History Month  (well, it was last month but every month should be WHM) through the medium of good old-fashioned English swearing.  Yes, we’ve kept this jumble sale on the road – or pitched up in the church hall –  and kept on writing, gaining new contributors, readers and follwers along the way.

Over the last 12 months, we have brought you 43 new pieces of original writing, by 15 writers.  We’ve been read by 2,447 people, and have 10 followers.  If you enjoy our endeavours, please feel free to tell us, follow us or befriend us in one way or another.  And please feel free to write for us.  The theme for next time is Bloody Parties and the deadline for submissions is 31 May.

Bloody Hell brings you some juicy bits and pieces covering the tedium and horror of religion, ritual and faith; the many circles of hell brought on by pain and suffering; and some strong arguments that support  Mr Simone De Beauvoir’s assertion: hell really is other people, whether friends, foes or family.

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  CONTENTS

All Suffering Soon to End – by Emily

Friday Night and  Saturday Morning – by Celia

Intensive Care – by Jim

Saying the Creed – by Jane

Dad Weekend – by Emily

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ALL SUFFERING SOON TO END – by Emily

Usually I get my fix of Jehovah-approved illustrations, messages and graphics from smartly dressed men in suits who get me out of bed on a Saturday morning, all smiles, and simply “sharing the message” as they hand over their leaflets.  Or from glamorous young women with immaculate makeup and expensive weaves who walk the streets in pairs and reward my leaflet-acceptance with dazzling smiles.  Sometimes cheerful children join them as they go about their mild-mannered mission. Perhaps they are genuinely grateful that I don’t tell them where to go, that I do accept their printed matter.  Surely they don’t see me as a likely convert, but perhaps everyone who accepts their “personal invitation” to “remember Jesus” or whatever, represents an outside possibility of another soul saved.  I don’t know what their reward is for spreading the “good” news that we’re all going to hell, perhaps some kind of celestial points system.  I could find out but I’m not prepared to put the research time in. Or read the pamphlets.

What they probably don’t know is that I take the leaflets and flyers for the same reason that I buy postcards of the Virgin Mary when I visit Catholic countries.  I’m fascinated by the aesthetics of different religious traditions, the peculiarities designed to broadcast the specific message of each.  Jehovah’s Witnesses’ peculiar images would be at home in a Ladybird book from the 1960s: happy, smiling, multi-cultural people and animals, painted in an over-enthusiastic technicolour palette.  As with all religious art and design, I am very taken with the humanity of the creation.  No other evangelical religion offers such marvellous illustrations.  Perhaps they actually even help persuade some non-believers to see the light, but not this one – I find them entertaining, amusing and quite beautiful in a weird, spooky way.

I received my latest copy of Watchtower in quite different circumstances.  It must have been obvious I was an in-patient.  If my greenish-white complexion didn’t give it away, then my dressing gown and slippers would have.  I had shuffled down the long hospital corridor to the tea bar with my sister, mostly to get away from the eternal four-hour hell of visiting time and the Other Peoples’ Families this brought, but also because they don’t give you anywhere near enough tea in hospital.  A woman with a shopping trolley came past while I waited for my sister to bring the tea, and thrust a magazine at me.  It was titled What Can We Learn From Abraham? I had no idea what was going on – morphine, pain and the excitement of leaving my ward had left me rather hazy and seasick.  As the woman trolleyed on to find another potential recipient I realised that she was here, doing her duty to actually save people who might die any day.  She gave me the magazine in the hopes that I would read it and realise before it really was too late.  She was here, alone, in the evening, targeting the vulnerable, the sick, the anxious, hoping that she was making a difference to the eternal future of complete strangers.  This is how she spends her free time.  That’s how much she believes that without her intervention we really are all going to hell.

When I found the magazine in my hopsital bag once I’d got home, I was suddenly struck by the sadness of her beliefs, this pointless waste of her life.  All her time and energy spent focusing on an afterlife, and taking it upon herself to help others join her in this nonexistant future.  I looked at the cover of the magazine.  I didn’t know or care who Abraham was, or think I could learn anything from him. The illustrator has made him look rather like Clint Eastwood with a big beard and hood. It’s a bold painting, a classic from the Jehovah’s Witness school of illustration, but I feel too saddened to find it amusing.

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FRIDAY NIGHT AND SATURDAY MORNING – by Celia

I met Gemma Beck when I started secondary school. The things we pined for were Dr Marten boots, Adidas stripes and the weekly issue of Just 17 magazine which we would buy after school every Wednesday. We would then wait together for our separate buses across the road from the shops.

Gemma lived in a newly-built house on the outskirts of Manchester. One Thursday night after school, Gemma’s mum phoned my mum and asked if I would like to come for a sleepover on Saturday night. I would have to wait until after sunset for my mum to drive me to the house because Gemma was  from an Orthodox Jewish family and had to wait until the end of the Sabbath to watch TV and switch on the lights.

Before we left, my mum put make up and perfume on, which I rarely saw her do.  When we arrived at the house, Gemma’s mum greeted us at the door. She was tanned and had a short fashionable haircut. I could hear her and my mum laughing together on the doorstep as I headed inside to see Gemma. We watched the Eurovision song contest and ate pizza which Gemma’s mum had phoned for and a man brought it round, I had never had a dial- a- pizza before and it tasted wonderful.

I had a hole in my sock and Gemma’s mum said she would throw it away fro me. I was shocked as my mum always sewed up my socks with different coloured cotton when they got holes in them, but I handed the socks over.

When it was time to go to sleep, we slept in Gemma’s bunkbed. I slept on the bottom bunk and Gemma on the top. The mattress felt lumpy and uncomfortable.  I reached down the side and felt the cold smooth sensation of a magazine page. Gemma’s mum did not allow Just 17 in the house because of concern over the explicit nature of the problem page so Gemma had to stash the issues under the two mattresses of her bunk bed. The next morning we played Duckhunt on Gemma’s computer until it was time for my mum to pick me up.

I was happy when I got an invite to Gemma’s Bat Mitzvah disco. It was held in a big hall at her synagogue. Gemma had modelled her outfit on the film ‘Clueless’ and wore silver Mary Janes and knee socks with a long pink silk shirt. I looked down at my long blue hippy dress and blushed slightly. All of the boys wore ties and stood on the other side of the hall. The wooden panels of the walls were decorated by children’s paintings of animals that were labelled as Kosher (reindeer, goat)  and non-Kosher (owl, seal, tortoise).

Not long after the disco, Gemma started smoking with the older girls. She put her make up on in the changing room toilets after school and I saw a copy of More! magazine sticking out of her bag. She smelt of Dewberry body-spray layered over stale Marlboro Lights. I tried to speak to her at the bus stop and she turned to the older girls, one of whom was rumoured to have a tattoo,  and they all burst out laughing. I waited for my bus with blazing cheeks.

I remember making the note in Physics one afternoon. It consisted of one word ‘BITCH’ which I had written in block capitals across a page ripped from my exercise book and then repeated in small  joined up writing in different colours around the central design. I then angrily scrawled a much bigger ‘BITCH‘  across the whole page, obscuring some of the more delicate ‘bitches’ on the finished paper.

While Gemma was returning her lightbulb and crocodile clips to the box at the front, I let it fall from my hand into her pocket where it rested on top of her green lighter. The elderly teacher saw what had happened and asked for the note to be brought to the front and for both of us to stay behind after class. She seemed equally annoyed with both of us and told us that if we could not be friends, then we simply should not speak to each other again. We remained in school for a further four years without a word passing between us, looking away quickly whenever our eyes met. I found Gemma on Facebook recently. She is thin with golden hair and lives in Israel with her three children. My friend request is still pending.

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INTENSIVE CARE – by Jim

“Andy doesn’t look his best at the moment,” the nurse warned Brenda on her first visit.

The Intensive Care Unit was a strange netherworld, unlike ordinary wards, a lightless dungeon with the beds  arranged in a grid, each patient an island in his own hi-tech limbo.

“Is he sleeping?”

“He’s very sedated, but he might still know you’re there even if he can’t show it.”

Brenda looked round at the other patients.  Like Andy, they were unmoving and quiet but for the ghostly whisper of their attachments – the gadgets and gizmos that were keeping them alive. Fighting for their lives were these poor souls, in the martial parlance of disease – there was always someone in the news losing their battle with cancer, struggling with their inner demons or starting a fight-back against addiction – but she wondered how much being tough actually had to do with anything.

From time to time Andy’s eyes would flicker and she took this as a hopeful sign that the life force was still there.  He’d certainly always had his share of true grit, the amount of wildcat strikes, walk-outs, sit-ins and protest marches he’d led.  If character really did influence life expectancy, he was still in with a shout, but Brenda suspected fate, in combination with the wonders of modern medicine, would either eke him out a bit longer or usher him more hastily to his appointed hour.  Looking at her watch, and thinking about the Red Cross Hotel room that awaited her, she wondered if Andy might even be meeting his maker before the night was out – not that he believed in such a thing.  Perhaps he’d be meeting Karl Marx instead.  He’d always respected her faith, though, and had even persuaded their Martin to keep attending Mass long after he’d started kicking up a teenaged fuss about it.  Martin had taken his confirmation name – Francis – from a Celtic player and  thought it was all a great joke, but he hadn’t got that attitude from his father, not really.

They’d always been close, the two men in her life, but it was difficult for Martin to get back all the way from Dubai at a moment’s notice, she understood that.

It was impossible to distinguish day from night in this place, but Andy had an idea his wife was beside him during the day.  At other times when he woke there was no one except a nurse or two and he surmised that this was the night shift.

Then again, he seemed to be zigzagging back and forth in space and time, at times waking up a few days in the past on one ward, sometimes back in the future on another. He didn’t know if he’d had the operation or was still waiting, whether he was getting better or going downhill.  None of the places he woke up in were very nice.  He would try to speak to the nurses but they ignored him.  One of them had shaved him, but she didn’t speak or smile while doing so, like he was an object. Sometimes, in the night, when there were no visitors or doctors, the nurses would stoop so low as to mock their helpless patients, pull faces and sneer, even dance around the ward in hysterics.  It was hard to verify some of this in such poor light and without his glasses;  he wasn’t even sure some of it was happening.

Mercifully, there was one person on the wards who did speak to him – a jovial male nurse with a strong Aberdonian accent, obviously gay, a laugh a minute and, unlike the others, reassuring, but with an unfortunate habit of hovering in mid-air as a sort of party piece, and a tendency to make his exit through the nearest wall.  This sadly undermined the kind things he had said because it showed that, out of all these characters, he was the one least likely to be real.

There was a particular ward sister, though, who Andy was sure was no illusion.  So arrogant, the way she strode past when you were trying to grab her attention.  It was like being back iat school, feeling repulsive but desperate to be liked by the teachers and the popular kids.  He never believed he was worth loving till he met whats-her-name, the lady sitting next to him now.  After that, knowing what it was like to be bullied had become a kind of asset.  Andy promised himself that if he ever got out of here he would come back and sort that sister out, like he’d done so many other Little Hitlers, such as his first ever foreman.  “I need to ask if you’re a catholic or a protestant” the bloke had said , “because we keep the two persuasions apart on this job.”  “Well you don’t  have to worry about me,” Andy had told him.  “I’m an atheist.”  “Does that mean you’re a communist?” the gaffer fired back.  Turned out, commie or no, he was the only qualified applicant for the job.  Once in the door, he had sworn to end sectarian practices in that factory and, though it took a year or two, when it finally came to the vote, right prevailed.

But his days of winning arguments with religion were now long gone.  In fact, he was starting to realise that everything he’d ever stood for had been a delusion.  His missus’ way of thinking was closer to the truth; evil did exist after all.  He could feel it as a dark power throughout his body and see it in the uncaring faces of the nurses. The real twist in the tail was that the opposing force of Good actually didn’t exist.  God and Satan were one and the same, the whole universe an experiment in sadism and the hope of salvation just part of the joke. It was becoming clear that, as cruel as this world could be, there really was a hell for later on, and that’s where we were all headed, every one of us.  The other place, with the angels and harps, was a fairy tale – he’d got that part right.

One thing alone made him doubt his new consciousness and that was the presence of his wife.  No matter what she was called, united they’d stood for forty years, he knew that much, and he knew her very existence proved love was real.  He would like to have shown her just how he felt about her if only he could move his arms – he tried hard but seemed to have no muscles or nerves left anywhere. He was fairly sure he’d had a child with this woman too, a son.  Maybe that was the young man he could see floating around in the distance behind her.

Andy knew he was drifting off again.  Hopefully when he woke up it would be in the same time and place and she would still be there with him.  Or better still he would wake up earlier, much earlier – maybe on their honeymoon in Cummerlees.  He started to laugh in his mind, at the old codgers they’d landed amongst in that god-awful guest house.  If he saw them now they’d probably look like spring chickens.

When she went back the next day, they showed her to a different ward, to a little room where Andy was all on his own.  She noticed they had shaved him, which was a nice touch.   The nurse squeezed Brenda’s shoulder and told her visiting hours no longer applied, she could stay as long as she liked.   She knew none of these were good signs.  Andy’s eyes were shut, his breathing shallow and rattly.

Someone else laid his hand on her and she turned to find Martin standing there, so you can imagine the great flood of relief that unleashed.  She had the feeling Andy might know they were both there because he seemed for a second to be trying to rouse himself.  Still fighting, right to the end, and with his closest supporters right behind him.  She stroked his arm.  ‘You’ll never walk alone,” she said, thinking that was as close a thing to a hymn as either Andy or Martin were ever likely to sing.

She noticed Martin was crying.  “It means so much you coukd make it,” she said, looking from her weeping son to the pale, gently croaking figure of her husband and thanking God all three of them had been able to be here, together in a show of strength.

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SAYING THE CREED – by Jane

‘I saw that. Your foot went on the line. You’re out! She’s out!’

Hurry up all of you; we don’t want to be late.

(Don’t we?)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

The maker of heaven and earth,

Of all that is seen and unseen.

‘I said you’re out! Don’t let her have another turn. Stop trying to join in or I’ll tell mum. Mum! Tell her – she’s really annoying us.’

That’s enough, get a move on, and tidy yourselves up a bit.

The dawdling, dread journey of the young Apostles, on their way to Sunday Mass. Arriving (too soon) at the bland brick building, solid and conspicuous, set in Holy grounds. On Sydenham High St.

A Catholic mother from Bow

Had kids’ whose Faith she must grow

And though Mass was dire

She didn’t require

That they liked it or wanted to go

On the way in they check for childish initials once scratched on the Presbytery wall, round the side of the house, where ‘She’ hangs out the Their washing.

She does live with them, yes, but only as their housekeeper.

(Yeah right. Can’t they do their own washing?)

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,

Eternally begotten of the Father.

In through heavy wooden doors,

dipping grubby hands in cold (but Holy) water,

making a liquid Sign of the Cross that trickles down smooth young brows, (quickly wiped away with unholy sleeves).

And then a familiar attack on the senses:

the hit of incense (that fragrant smoke of purification),

the jarring practice chords of the organ,

the chill on the skin from the dark, unheated interior

(Where did all the Light go?),

the passing smiles of classmates and not-so friends.

Take your gloves off but keep your coats on.

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,

Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father.

And through Him all things were made.

Hand round the hymn books, go on, quickly. They’re over there in a pile.

 

And then we’re off.

Out He comes, a Big Man and florid, followed by the shabby shuffle

of his all-male entourage, the would-be priests and alter-serving boys.

For goodness sake! His trainers are filthy under that cassock. He hasn’t changed them since football. I told him to bring his shoes. What does he look like?

The organ crashes into the first hymn.

Our Grandmother, on high in the choir loft

Playing all of the right notes

(but, like Les Dawson, not necessarily in the right order).

Dad, out at the front, alone in the aisle,

valiantly ‘conducting’ the reluctant congregation,

Mum leading the singing, her eyes urging us to join in

(Oh God, please no).

What’s that in your mouth? You’re not chewing are you? You haven’t eaten anything this morning have you?

No (Yes)

You know you can’t go to Communion if you have?

(Jesus doesn’t like his body and blood mixed up with Weetabix).

I haven’t (I have)

There once was a good Catholic bunch

Who believed God was much more than a hunch

They went often to mass

Though it was boring and crass

And had nothing to eat until lunch.

We sit. Our bottoms slide on the hard backed, polished benches,

feet propped on kneelers that will support us in our Most Prayful Mode,

and dig into our knees.

Can I light a candle after Mass?

Who are you going to light it for? You won’t forget to say a prayer will you?


(A prayer and a candle for somebody dead, because that will probably cheer them up in Purgatory, and, of course, light their way through the Darkness).

Have you got any money? You won’t forget to put it in the box won’t you? You can’t just light one without putting in the money.

There was a young girl bored at mass

Who found the priest an unbearable ass

It was dreary to do

Just to stand in a pew

And the candles were 6p alas.

Is that your stomach rumbling? Shhh.

And on it goes.

We arrive at The Big Mad Chant (which means we’re three quarters through):

“We will now stand and say together the Creed”.

We stand. To say together the Creed, the stating of our Faith.

Zealous, inspiring, mortifying words.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

And together with the Father and the Son,

He is worshiped and glorified.

Mum?

Shhh…it’s not long now.

 

We kneel. For the final act, of Transubstantiation, that weekly magic trick!

(Jesus follows the action unblinking from his crucifix, painted blood dripping from hands and feet).

He, a true son of Cork, sweeps across his stage – up and down the Pulpit, in and out of the Nave, resplendent in full-length Holy Glad Rags – a vision in green and white, (occasionally its purple and white, we know the different colours Mean Something, but we’re not quite sure what).

Rinsing out the goblet, He dries it slowly, always slowly,

with a large, white, housekeeper-starched hanky.

(He doesn’t use it as a hanky).

Hands outstretched. Palms up. Reciting the Word of God.

He drinks down the blood of Christ (our Grandmother says it’s mead not sherry), but we know the Magic has worked, It’s the Real Thing now.

Like Coca Cola.

A big gulp, He likes the taste of Jesus’s blood.

My brother smirks as he stands by, swinging the smoking liturgical vessel in muddy trainers. Sniggering at The Big Gulp.

I snigger too. From my pew.

A young footballing boy from Penge West

Found alter-serving a test

While this made him a sinner

(though in sport quite a winner)

He swung incense like one of the best

We stand and file out of the pew, heads bowed, silent,

Joining the long shoe-shuffle to Communion.

Tongue out! Don’t chew (it offends God you know).

We believe in one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Collect in the hymn books and go and light that candle then, quickly.

Afterwards, we stand outside in the winter sunshine, waiting for our Grandmother to make her slow, creaking descent from the choir loft. The congregation chatters in the cold; a gathering of the local Catholic mafia.

Teenage girls flirt hormonally with the Parish’s latest Godly intern; a shy, red faced, redhead, fresh out of the seminary. And out of his depth.

Slowly the holy huddle drifts off, home, with thoughts of Sunday lunch.

Shall we play it again on the way home? Come on, let’s walk ahead. Quick, so she won’t catch us up, she can walk back with mum.

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DAD WEEKEND – by Emily

Sometimes we knew the people, got on with the children of the household.  Other times we’d never met them before.  The time we went to Bath was one of these and there was the slight dread about meeting and staying with strangers, the inevitable strain of awkward mealtimes and forced camaraderie with unknown children, different rules, habits, smells and food. My sister, Lou, always seemed to fit in better than me.  Perhaps she tried harder. This time, though, my anxiety about these unknowns was diluted, because Bath was special.  Whatever the trials ahead, I felt sure they would be worth it.

Before they moved into sheltered accommodation, Granny and Granddad had lived in Bath.  Visiting them in their regency council flat at number 18 The Circus was always sparklingly special.  As a young child I had not understood why it was called The Circus, as there were no trapeze artists there, or clowns, or sad looking animals.  But it was a circular street with carved acorns on the top of each house; it had a green in the middle with enormous, ancient conker trees.  The stairs up to the flat smelt of polish and linoleum and whenever we visited, breathing in that scent was like breathing in a kind of magic. Everything about the flat was exotic and different from home.  A small chandelier hung in the entrance hall, the poshest thing I had ever seen that close-up.  There were nylon covers on the sofa and chairs.  Granddad’s ashtray was on a stand next to one of these chairs. A tin of toffees always sat on a doily on a table.  We weren’t allowed to jump from the sofa onto the leather pouffe, however tempting, because the ladies downstairs didn’t like noise.

Granny had lots of fascinating things: a pink wooden darning mushroom, an egg-slicer, Parma Violets in her bedside drawer.  There were toys and books that she got out when we came: an ancient teddy bear wearing plastic pants that had been Dad’s, a dolly that cried when you pulled the string and lots of story books about a little girl called Josephine.  When we stayed there we slept in a room with ghosts and assorted ornaments on a shelf.  In the bathroom there was scratchy toilet paper and a Charlie Chaplin-shaped talcum powder bottle.  A ship’s clock ticked sternly on the dining room wall and mealtimes were kept shipshape by Granddad.  The breakfast table was mysteriously already set before anyone was up, and we ate cornflakes with as much sugar as we liked.  At teatime we had doughboys and gravy and had to drink milk, like it or not, from cups with big blue flowers on the side.

Games of rummy and whist, having our hair brushed and ribboned, being given sweets when mum wasn’t looking; it was familiar and exciting, the rituals of these visits rich and wonderful. Outside the flat, Bath opened its magical doors to us.  It wasn’t a usual city, but like a made-up place from a fairytale.  Like the flat, everything here was different and wondrous. The toyshop was the highlight of our adventures in these grand limestone streets.  We spent pocket money on fortune-telling fish and plastic flies.  Mum and Dad always took us to the Francis Hotel on Saturday afternoons to meet Granny and Granddad after we’d been out exploring.  Granny would have half a Guinness, and wore her best brooch and hat. We had crisps and lemonade and tried to sit still on the velvet couches.

The memories of earlier childhood, happier times, family intact, easily occupied my thoughts on the long car journey that Friday night.  I sat in the front, Lou in the back and we listened to Dad’s compilation tape Nice Songs twice on both sides.  I remembered the time we watched Jaws at Granny and Granddad’s, from behind cushions, having begged the adults to let our cousins stay an extra night to watch it with us.  I turned round to ask Lou if she remembered and she awoke from her reverie – perhaps she had been thinking about happy times too.  We talked about that and our plans for the weekend. Although tired from the relentlessness of school, we were excited, getting on well, looking forward to revisiting our beloved city, perhaps we would somehow catch a glimpse of our former lives. Dad seemed cheerful too, which was a relief.

We arrived late at our destination. The house was large, typically Bath, rising three storeys above a raised pavement.  Looking over the streets of this otherworldly pale stone enveloped me in a sad familiarity, a childish nostalgia that I felt in my guts. We were welcomed in to a basement kitchen and fed a delicious  Marks and Spencers ready meal. The children of the house were already in bed, so Lou and I had the slight awkwardness of being kids at an adult meal. The adults drank wine and we pretended to be grown up, feeling shy and tired. There were interesting posters in frames on the kitchen walls and a shelf with lots of teapots, but it was hard to feel we belonged there.

Dad took us out the next day for our anticipated adventure down memory lane. We went to The Circus, but it wasn’t the same visiting without being able go inside and up those fragrant stairs.  Lou and I found we had no desire to play on the circular green, we didn’t really know what to do there.  We enjoyed going to the toyshop, but I was too old to buy pocket money toys now, and left empty-handed.  We walked past The Francis, but didn’t go in.  We wandered about without much purpose, the streets familiar but somehow lacking their old magic. Dad didn’t really know where to take us. He seemed distracted and sad.  This annoyed me and made Lou cling onto his arm in that annoying way.

By the end of the weekend, even Lou had not become friends with the children at the house, and I felt oddly alienated in the spare bedroom.  I was relieved when it came time to pack and knew I would be pleased to get home to my own bed and familiar mess at Mum’s house.  I urged Lou to hurry up and pack while I chucked my stuff into a bag.  Then I noticed that she was wearing a pair of my socks. She denied it, said they were hers and when she refused to take them off, I was overwhelmed with anger. Something inside me cracked violently and I hit her, hard.  She cried out and hit me back before running down the stairs, past the kids’ bedrooms.  I followed, kicking her at the bottom of the stairs, my rage a primal, overwhelming and physical force.  She escaped into the front room where she tried to shut me out; a usual tactic of hers in our fights.  I forced my way in and hit her again, a thump that echoed and after a short pause made her scream.  I screamed back at her to admit she was wearing my socks. When she refused I grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground, from where she kicked me hard in the stomach. As I fended her off with my arms, she scratched my hands, nails digging in, drawing blood.  I kicked her, over and over as she tried to grab my foot. We were both red-faced, crying, screaming and fighting as if our lived depended on it.  We were out of control, unable to stop, the thought of it never ending was terrifying but I had no idea how.

But it did stop when Lou tried to get up and I pushed her violently against a sideboard, with a force that brought a teapot crashing to the floor.  In this mortifying moment, the woman of the house and collector of the teapots strode into the room, witnessing our crime.  “Bloody hell!” she shouted.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” We froze, shocked, an adult we barely knew was swearing at us.  “Now get out of my house.  You’re frightening my children.” She then pushed us out of the front door and onto the raised pavement, where we half-heartedly continued our fight, and waited for Dad, cold without our coats. We had never been thrown out of anyone’s house before.

When he eventually came, he was grim-faced, carrying our bags.  I told him about the socks. He said I was being silly and didn’t want to know any more.  I didn’t ask where he had been while we had tried to kill each other. The drive home was mostly in silence, accompanied by the boring drone of Radio 4.  I was confused at the injustice, at Lou’s refusal to admit she had lied. I saw her face in the rear-view mirror, sad.  I was ashamed of losing control like that.  Battered and exhausted, I wept for our fractured family, that I didn’t feel I belonged to any more. When Dad dropped us off at Mum’s, he said we had to write letters of apology to the Bath family and when I saw tears in his eyes I knew there was no point trying to understand adults. Or why everything seemed so painful, bewildering and bleak. I held no hope of ever speaking to my sister again.  We never visited Bath again.

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